Corban’s 5th birthday party

I have fond memories of my fifth birthday party. It’s always stuck in my mind as one of my favorite childhood birthday parties. I don’t know if there are pictures or videos recording parts of it (probably, but I haven’t seen them in decades) so all that my mind really has is a vague sense of fun and joy, and memories of jumping in a bouncy house in our backyard on a warm summer day.

It’s strange to me that my firstborn is now old enough to have these types of memories for himself—perhaps an internal recording of excitement and happiness that will stick with him in the coming years. With that in mind, I wanted his fifth birthday party to be a special one.

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(I should note it was nearly three months ago, but birthday parties are apparently the one thing I feel obligated to record here regardless of how long it takes me to do so.)

While I wanted the party to be special for Corban, I also wanted it to be really simple for me to plan. After Mara’s Three Little Pigs shindig a few months earlier and his pirate party last year, I wasn’t really up for DIY and creativity. So I booked a party at our favorite local gymnastics place (Swiss Turners) instead of hosting it at our house.

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The party included an hour of gymnastics fun for Corban and a small group of friends followed by a half hour of scarfing down pizza and cupcakes and opening presents in the party room upstairs.

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The kids had a blast in the gym. The two instructors did a great job keeping the little ones in line (with some parental support).

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Pretty much all I did was jazz up the invitations provided by Swiss Turners, bake cupcakes, slice some raw vegetables and make a birthday banner. We didn’t need to do much to the party room.

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I used two tried and true recipes: Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes and Buttermilk Chocolate Cupcakes with this fudge frosting.

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There isn’t much else to say about the party. Corban had a ton of fun with his friends (he said the trampoline “boat” game was his favorite) and it was sweet for me to just sit back and watch him and the other kids run, jump and play.

I shot a bunch of blurry, poorly lit photos to try to capture the moments. Here are some highlights.

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It’s a little late to end by saying “happy birthday, Corban,” so instead I’ll get emotional for a moment after looking back at these photos.

Five is such a milestone age in my mind. It feels lightyears older than four, and it’s the age at which Corban will go off to school for the first time. (Sob!) Birthdays are such a bittersweet reminder of how quickly the months go by and how fast our little people grow and change. I love this boy so much and am enjoying every stage with him.

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Three Little Pigs 3rd birthday party

Every day, Mara asks me to tell her a story. “Three Little Pigs?” I say, knowing the answer.

“Three Little Pigs.”

At Mara’s request, the pigs are girls. Their names are Flopsy, Mopsy and Toesy. Sometimes Flopsy is the smart one who builds her house of brick; sometimes it’s Mopsy. But usually it’s Toesy.

When Mara jumps in to tell the tale, it gets very condensed.

She races on with the story, skipping words in her excitement: “Not by hair my chinny chin. I’ll huff and I’ll blow your house away! [blows] Ahhh!”

So, for Mara’s third birthday, I couldn’t think of a better theme than the Three Little Pigs.

We celebrated with two different parties (more than a month ago now)—one at our house with my parents and a handful of friends and one in Missouri with Peter’s family.

Here are the highlights. I’ll start with my pride and joy, this cake.

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I painted wooden pegs to make the three little pigs (inspired by a photo I saw on another blog) and made a tiny bunting from construction paper.

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The cake is my favorite simple buttermilk chocolate cake recipe (also seen here). Except I multiplied it to make four layers, and added stabilized whipped cream filling.

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Despite wooden skewer reinforcement, it didn’t quite last through the party.

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So maybe next time I’d cut it down to two or three layers. But it was delicious, so no complaints! (Seriously, try that recipe next time you want chocolate cake. I love it so.)

The cake toppers made a second appearance at birthday party no. 2 (I did not make this cake).

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My other pride and joy were these pig party hats I made from construction paper and tissue circles (and lots of Mod Podge).

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There were also a few black and gray wolf hats. Don’t ask how much time I put into them, or why, for that matter, but they were a good excuse to spend a few nights binging on “Bachelor in Paradise.”

We also brought out our traditional Mara birthday banner for both parties (here it is at party no. 1).

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And the party favors were these creepy pig snouts from Oriental Trading.

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We had water balloons—something that my kids are obsessed with, yet still don’t quite know what to do with once they get their hands on some. Praise hands for those contraptions that fill 100 balloons in 10 seconds. Worth it.

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The kids also played “Pig, Pig, Wolf” (Duck, Duck, Goose), set off stomp rockets and built some impressive structures from our giant Jenga set.

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Dinner was Portillo’s Italian beef and chopped salad. Drinks were a few growlers of beer.

Oh, and there was cotton candy! We purchased a small cotton candy machine for the occasion, and I think Mara would have bathed in the stuff if we let her.

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Party no. 2 also featured cotton candy and pig party hats.

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Instead of Italian beef, we ate grilled burgers, hot dogs and pork tenderloin.

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And instead of “Pig, Pig, Wolf” we played lots of baseball.

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Despite this fake pout, Mara had a pretty spectacular double celebration for birthday number three.

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Pirate-themed 4th birthday party

Ever since Halloween, Corban has had his heart set on a pirate birthday party.

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I thought this would be a good age to have his first “kid” birthday party (as opposed to past birthdays where we’ve either just had family or invited all of our friends). We kept it small (by our standards) and resisted the urge to invite everyone we know, instead letting Corban pick a handful of friends and their families.

The invite

Of course every party starts with an invitation, and I’m game for any excuse to mail one. I used this ship font to make it in Photoshop. (This site has a bunch of awesome, free pirate fonts.)

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I wanted to add an interactive element, so I cut bands from red construction paper and tied them around the invites with baker’s twine.

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Inspired by all my reporting on hand lettering (for this story) I attempted a little pirate lettering on the envelopes. Not easy!

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I also get giddy over picking out stamps, and was pleased with this vintage rose option in stock at our post office. I know, nobody notices stamps, but it made me happy.

The decorations

On to the party itself! I think this was the most fun I’ve had planning a party.

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To start, I designed a few posters to get printed as engineering prints (black and white) from Staples.com. Unfortunately there are no Staples stores near us, so although the prints are a steal, the shipping fee is not. Anyone know of a place near Milwaukee for affordable engineering prints?

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For the banner, I just cut 8.5-by-11-inch black paper into quarters and painted the white letters on with a paint brush. The framed skulls and anchor are also just white paint on black paper.

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I found a bunch of huge black frames in Corban’s closet. I bought them on Clearance from Michael’s YEARS ago and never had a use for them, so decided to put them to use for the party. I desaturated and upped the contrast on some Halloween photos of Corban and us dressed as Jake and his crew and printed them out.

Then, of course, there wasn’t really anywhere to hang them so they ended up as the backdrop for the drink station.

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I also framed some Jake quotes (possibly will be putting the designs in my etsy shop). However, as my mom observed, most of the kids couldn’t read and most of the adults probably didn’t recognize the quotes. Oh well!

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My mom put up crepe paper, which is still hanging because I love how festive it is.

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This was my favorite detail (printable from etsy).

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The food

We kept it really simple. Jimmy John’s sandwiches for lunch (our go-to for parties), chips, veggies, dip, grapes and pirate bananas. I forgot to put out the cheese I bought.

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I saw this pirate ship-from-a-loaf-pan idea on Pinterest and attempted to re-create it using my favorite chocolate cake recipe. The results weren’t quite Pinterest perfect, but still fun. I used this fudge frosting recipe.

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I also made vanilla cupcakes using this recipe (which I will definitely be saving) and this vanilla buttercream frosting. Flags are just toothpicks and red Scotch tape.

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The games

We gave Corban his birthday gift the night before the party—another Jake toy to add to his collection of pirate ships—and I had all of his pirate toys out for the kids to play with as they arrived.

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I also offered each child a red bandana, spyglass, pirate sticker and Jake temporary tattoo.

Peter made a little “walk the plank” game that none of the kids really paid attention to.

We had name tags out with a framed sign to help everyone find their pirate names. Peter’s name was the best—Stinky Creeper Chumbucket. I designed my own version of this and changed a few names.

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The first official game was a treasure hunt. It needed to be appropriate for ages 19 months to 6 years old, so I drew pictures of spots around our house on index cards, with a red “X” on the back of each card. The kids (as a group) had to use the picture to figure out where the next clue was.

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They got pretty into it (at least the older ones did).

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The treasure hunt ended in the basement, with little goodie bags and treasure map sticker activities for everyone.

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I had way too much fun picking out junk for the goodie bags. In each bag there was a bag of fruit snacks, pirate stamper, pirate notepad, gold doubloons and stickers.

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Next we played pin the eye patch on the pirate. The pirate face is a framed engineering print, and I punched the eye patches out of black paper using a 2-inch circle punch and painted the kids’ names on.

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After the party, my heart was full. It means so much to have friends and family who love our kids. Corban and Mara had a blast, and I actually felt like I was able to relax and enjoy it (which can be hard when you’re hosting). It was a really sweet celebration of our boy and we all felt very loved.

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A ‘Peter Rabbit’ themed 3rd birthday party

I have several things I have been wanting to write about for the past few months, so I’m just going to catch up in chronological order. First on the docket: Corban’s 3rd birthday party! (Yes, it was back in December, but… time flies!)

As hinted, we had a Peter Rabbit-themed party with Peter’s and my immediate families. Our little Peter Rabbit was excited to have four grandparents, one great-grandma, two aunts, four uncles and one cousin all come in from out of town for a “bunny brunch.”

I kept things really simple, but still enjoyed playing around with little details for the party… starting with these paper invitations.

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Keeping it old school with handwritten invitations. I gave them a little modern update with some “font” mixing.

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Kudos to Peter for picking out these farmers market stamps. I love a good coordinating stamp.

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We said the party was at Mr. McGregor’s garden, so…

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The brunch menu started with carrot and beet hummus with crudités in a clay baking pot.

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It’s sitting on a cube from a Peter Rabbit block set my aunt gave Corban for his birthday.

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I used the other blocks in the set as part of the table decorations…

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…along with burlap, radishes, a watering can and lots of kale and carrots.

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The menu was very simple, but it still managed to destroy my kitchen, my sleep and nearly my spirit the night before. But in the end it was worth it. 🙂

Breakfast strata (adapted from this recipe from Food52 — I added sausage and zucchini, eliminated mushrooms and generally futzed with it).

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Fruit salad (tried to keep it easy with grapes, honeydew melon and pomegranate, but I owe my mother-in-law big time for seeding the two pomegranates!)

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Cinnamon rolls from scratch. Oh yes! This was my first attempt at homemade cinnamon rolls and I would definitely recommend this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s simpler than other recipes I came across since it only requires one rise. They’re topped with a coffee glaze (not a strong coffee flavor though).

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Roasted red potatoes, sweet potatoes and purple sweet potatoes — nice and colorful.

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For drinks we had coffee, orange juice, mimosas and chamomile tea (a Peter Rabbit reference: “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: ‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.'”).

It was a relaxing meal.

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(At least for the adults.)

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I wanted to do some sort of guest book type thing, but not anything too formal, so I printed out some cards and asked everyone to write a little time capsule message about Corban. This worked since the party was all family.

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The cake was chocolate carrot cake, a compromise between my theme obsession and Peter’s desire for chocolate cake. The recipe was a State Fair winner, but next time I would pick either chocolate cake or carrot cake and not combine the flavors.

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Decorating the cake was a blast. I taped a popsicle stick to the invitation and stuck Peter in the middle of the garden. Chocolate cream cheese frosting made good dirt.

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I used this easy method to make the carrots and radishes (but used a wide, round pastry tip) and a star tip for the lettuce.

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The “three.” shirt was a steal from Old Navy (much, much easier than sewing a shirt like I’ve done in the past!).

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(A little egging on from Aunt Lauren…)

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We forewent the afternoon nap for him, and instead relaxed with family. It was so sweet to have everyone hanging around our home.

Of course there were presents, too.

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This Hot Wheels set was the big winner. (Thanks, Uncle Brian!)

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After Mara’s nap the two of them got to work playing with every new toy simultaneously.

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I love big bashes with lots of friends and family, and I seriously considered having this be a kid party and just inviting Corban’s friends, but in the end I think a small family brunch was the perfect way to celebrate this year. Corban got to spend quality time with those who love him most, and vice versa. And the fact that Peter Rabbit was included in the festivities? Well, that just made it extra-Corban-special.