A Safari Birthday

My son just turned 3, and I threw a Safari-themed party for him. I wanted everything to still be sort of cute and baby-ish, as opposed to life-like (since he’s still a toddler, but not for long!), so his invitation had a cute giraffe and lion on it. I sent the invite by email, because I had created it in photoshop, but not the way you’re supposed to – I’m totally clueless – and so it wasn’t looking good in terms of being able to print out quality invitations. Oh well.

I tried to have “rustic”, non-fancy food, something you might actually be able to eat while on safari, so the menu consisted of:

trail mix
Chocolate Turtle Chex mix
watermelon & cantaloupe
white bean dip w/pita chips & bread
lemon chicken kabobs
Filipino BBQ pork kabobs
vegetable cous cous

The only activities I had were decorating your goody bag with stamps, playing with the puppet theater (that I got a few days previous at IKEA on sale for $1.99!), and hanging out in the safari canopy I made. It was a featured craft in the June/July issue of Family Fun magazine. But all the kids wanted to do was play at the playground, anyway, since we were at a park.

I never figured out exactly what to do about the cake. I originally planned to ask a friend of a friend who works at a Costco bakery if she would hook me up, because she and my friend would sometimes decorate cakes however they wanted, for their own parties. Costco doesn’t allow this, but they somehow were able to. So anyway, I never got around to asking her, and ended up making it myself. My first idea was to buy some cute animals I’d seen at Toys R Us, that were only $6.99 for 6, plus a nice tree. But the set includes a tiger, which aren’t native to Africa, and I’m really a stickler when it comes to details & authenticity. I also really wanted a giraffe and zebra on the cake, and I just never found the right set of animals. I wanted at least a giraffe, zebra, lion, and elephant, and they had to be cute & friendly looking, not too life-like. Since I’m no genius with the fondant or the frosting, my only option was to make paper animals with my Cricut machine. I did, however, want to try to at least put some frosting leaves on the sides of the cake. I borrowed a leaf tip from a friend, that she had just acquired from her grandmother. The decorating set was from the ’50’s! It’s the metal kind, where you put the frosting into a canister and push down to decorate. Needless to say, the tip didn’t fit properly in my plastic decorating bag, but I tried anyway – first at my friend’s house while picking it up, where it worked ok, and then the next night, after frosting the cake. Where it didn’t work ok! For some reason, the last bit of frosting I had dyed green and placed in the bag became so runny that it was impossible to work with. I did pipe on several leaves, hoping it would work, but it was such a disaster! Frosting was coming out of all sides of the hole, the decorating tip fell out of place, and the leaves just looked awful. So I said screw it! I wiped the leaves off as best I could, and made some paper grass with my Cricut.

I had no idea exactly how I was going to place everything, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. Besides my very crooked, mediocre cake. Oh, and I’m so glad I saw a cake on coolest-birthday-cakes.com that had 3D palm trees on it, made with cereal straws. Also very glad I was able to find them, after going to 4 different grocery stores. That was a genius idea, they work very well, and look quite realistic. They’re also yummy!

Happy birthday, baby!

leaf banner

safari cake

safari cake-candles

under the canopy

safari goody bag

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A miniature sleepover

My eldest turned 10 last month. *sigh*

She said she didn’t want a party, because “no one has parties anymore”. ?? Which really ticked me off, because lately (well, actually, probably for the last few years!) all she wants is to be EXACTLY like her classmates. “Mom, can I have a —? So-and-so has one.” Or, “Mom, I want a sleepover. So-and-so AND so-and-so are having one!” And on, and on and on. I tried to explain that she should really be herself, that it really bothers me that she has to copy everyone. But a child wants what a child wants, and I’m ok with whatever – within reason.

So a little grudgingly, I acquiesced. But I wouldn’t let her get away without picking a theme. I have to have a theme. So we settled on “miniature”. She has this American Girl book, “Tiny Treats: Fun Foods to Make and Eat”, that has some really cute ideas and projects. That was one of the inspirations for the mini theme I got stuck in my head a long time ago, the other was this project on the DIY website: mini treasure chest.

mini-envelopes2

mini-envelopes

I used a tag craft punch for the mini banner:
minibanner

minibanner2

I decided this was the perfect time to try some mini burgers; I originally wanted the ones from Jack In The Box, because they looked so cute, and the commercial cracked me up. But we went with the ones from Burger King instead.

miniburgers

I made mini cupcakes for her to share with her class, as they are allowed to do that on their birthday, but sadly, forgot to photograph them. I saved some for each child that was going to be here during the sleepover, including my little ones, and this is the only photographic evidence left:
birthdaycandle

A very blurry close up:
minicupcake

One teeny, tiny cupcake would hardly suffice, so I was going to make a chocolate cake while the girls played, but we decided to go for an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins. I had a $3 off coupon, which we get by email before everyone’s birthday, as part of their birthday club. I did want one of their tiny, round cakes, to go along with the theme, but they’re supposed to feed only 2-4. So that was out. Big sister chose cookie dough ice cream+chocolate cake.

cookiedoughcake

The next morning:
sleepover-breakfast

Ach, the mini cardboard suitcase saga… these things are expensive, and not widely available. Only online, as far as I saw, and no one likes to sell them individually – maybe 2 or 3 vendors do. These are from Kate’s Paperie in New York.

minisuitcases

I recently discovered we have a Japanese “dollar store”, in the Convoy/Kearny Mesa area, where everything is actually $1.69. Unless marked otherwise. So many cute things! It’s called Marukai, or Daiso Marukai. I was so happy they had lots of tiny things to choose from.

minifavors

These bookmarks are from Target, on clearance:
minibookmarks

I bought an envelope template ages ago, you can choose from 6 different tiny ones, all on one plastic sheet.

envelopefavors

finished-suitcase

openingsuitcases2

openingsuitcases

Now onto the next one!

I love cookies

These may just be my best ever. They turned out very caky, for some reason. Well, I kind of had to eyeball the flour and sugar measurements, to a degree, because I’m missing my 1/4 cup measuring cup. I left it in our community laundry room, and when my husband went to get it 2 days later, it was gone. Nice. And of course, the chocolate chip cookie recipe I always use calls for 2 and a quarter cups of flour, and three quarters of a cup of sugar & brown sugar. Have I mentioned before how my life is governed by Murphy’s Law?

chocolate-chip-cookies

What we did Thanksgiving morning…

Little sister saw these on Noggin, and begged and pleaded for weeks… I told her we would make them, and planned to make the dough from scratch, but typical me waited until the last minute. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and I was at Target, so I just decided to buy everything there. They didn’t have the refrigerated dough, but they had a dry mix, and tubs of frosting. So bad for you, but so convenient! It worked out just fine, and they were yummy. I only dyed 2 small amounts of frosting, it was plenty, and there’s still some in the tub. The kids LOVED ’em. I didn’t mind them being imperfect, I just wanted the kids to participate and have fun. That’s something I need to work on.

Little sister’s hand made fairly big cookies:

turkey-cookies

thanksgiving-cookies

turkey-cookies2

Brrr!

I cannot believe it’s October. Coming up is my sister’s birthday, then Halloween, then Thanksgiving, little sister’s birthday, and then Christmas! And the year’s over! I hate that. Every Fall, it seems like time snowballs downhill even faster than normal. It was actually cold today. Well, just a bit. It did feel like it was getting cooler towards the end of September, but then we got this crazy heat wave that lasted about a week. I actually had to turn the air on, and I don’t normally like to do that. Anyway, I’m glad it’s getting cooler. I prefer wearing cool weather clothes to hot weather clothes. I don’t like feeling exposed! Can’t wait to start wearing my new boots with dresses and skirts and tights.
Nine West "Pardon" boots

Totally unrelated:

I made banana bread and Martha’s quinoa muffins yesterday, but tried to make them healthier by substituting a little wheat flour for the white. I didn’t make the ratio 50/50, more like 75 white/25 wheat. I didn’t have dark brown sugar, which both recipes called for, so I just used regular brown sugar. And, I didn’t have quite enough banana. Ughh. So, all these things combined, left me with a not-as-yummy-as-usual banana bread, and some pretty health-food tasting muffins. Not “pretty” as in nice-looking, but as in “rather”. Did that make any sense? Anyway, I thought the cinnamon I added to the muffin batter would help them taste nicer, as several reviewers of the recipe suggested, but they still tasted funky. I wonder if I didn’t rinse the quinoa enough? I’d better find out how many rinses it takes to get rid of the saponin before I attempt these again. My little ones actually like them, so I will keep trying. After all, quinoa is a “super grain”, and my little guy needs all the help he can get. He’s so skinny! I do worry so about his nutrition. Little sister, not so much. She looks like she’ll be taking after Dad (tee hee!).

Toffifay!

Oh my gosh, I just visited the Toffifay website for the first time, looking for an image to post here, not even knowing they had their own website! Look at what I discovered… baking recipes! I might have to give those a try someday.

I went to a 99¢ store today, to buy the composition books for the party, and they had big packages of Toffifay at the register! I had never seen a 15-pack. I used to eat these things all the time, always the 4-pack. They’re so yummy!

Holy cow, I just saw that they come in a 48-pack. What?! That’s insane. Check out this goofy picture! Hilarious!

Tofiffay
*Image from storck.us

Phew.

No Christmas around here yet. Except for my daughter’s advent quilt, which didn’t even start getting filled until a few days ago. I’m so lame. Oh, and the 3-foot pink foil tree I got for $6 after Christmas at Urban Outfitters last year. I put that in the girl’s room, under the bunk bed ladder. I had a Bratz 50-light set bought at Target for around a dollar after Christmas some time ago, hadn’t used it yet, and it fit perfectly. The lights are jewel-toned, purple, blue, magenta. The base of the tree is just round & silver, so I wondered what I could cover it with… then I saw a fluffy pink boa on the floor, and grabbed it. Perfect! I just wrapped it around itself, in a circle. I love how everything came together, it’s so sparkly and girly.

foil tree

So the reason we, or I am lagging, is because the last few weeks have been filled with Nutcracker rehearsals and preparations, driving all over San Diego, and birthday party preparations for the 4-year-old. Nutcracker season was officially over for us on the 9th. Phew!! That was the Sunday matinée, which I attended by myself. My husband went by himself the night before. My eldest is such a performer. This was her 1st year as an angel, and she loved it so much. She says she likes being an angel more than a polichinelle (those are the little girls that come out from under Mother Ginger’s skirt). Not sure why.

Then it was time to buckle down and get everything ready for the party. That included cleaning, because my house is always messy, trying to de-clutter a bit, because there’s always crap everywhere, and the usual stuff. I had to figure out the food, cake, decorations, and deliver invitations. I was going to mail them, but as usual, they weren’t finished until there was almost no point in even bothering. You’re supposed to give people 2 weeks notice? Is that right? Well, I gave them a week. I didn’t go out of my way to deliver them, I made sure to do it whenever I’d be in that neighborhood, or on my way home. Another reason I preferred not to mail them is because I used vellum envelopes, so you could see the entire front, which was a pretty castle. It would have ruined the beauty and impact if I had addressed them, and put a stamp on them, etc.

I wanted to keep the food simple, inexpensive, and “princess-y”. Is that even a word? I tried to think of foods true princesses might’ve eaten. My husband offered to order Shanghai style lumpia from this Filipino place he discovered recently in Mira Mesa, and I thought that would work, but then it got to be too late, as he didn’t tell me they need 3 days advance notice. I didn’t really want him to have to leave us on party day, and drive so far, because I like to have all the help I can get. There’s always so much to do, and I like things to be just so, and never sleep much the night before. Most times I’m still up at dawn the day of the party, putting streamers up, or making party favors, something. I don’t know why I can’t get my s*!# together, and have things ready in advance. I mean, I have my party themes planned months in advance, for crying out loud. Sometimes years! For example, I already know what my son’s birthday party themes will be for the next, I don’t know, 5 years? So it’s good that my husband didn’t have to leave. Besides, I don’t know what princess would have eaten lumpia… did the Philippines ever have one? So we ended up having mainly European princess fare. We had croissants for make-your-own sandwiches, with ham, turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, pesto, and avocado to choose from. We had the petite quiche from Costco, so yummy. Instead of salad, we had grapes, strawberries, and blueberries. I made some strawberry cream cheese to go with the mini-toast from Trader Joe’s. We love those things. To drink, we had the sparkling pink lemonade from Trader Joe’s, both regular and berry. For dessert we bought meringues from Trader Joe’s (which had the slightest pink tint), the madeleines from Costco, pink peanut M+M’s (the breast cancer awareness ones from October), Almond Roca (had to have something gold!), dragonfly princess scepters (wands) I made with pretzels, candy melts, and sprinkles, vanilla cupcakes I frosted with either pink strawberry or milk chocolate frosting, and of course, cake and ice cream.

candy.jpg

food.jpg

fruit.jpg

My mom arranged the fruit, I was pleasantly surprised. She doesn’t normally care about fancy presentation.

scepters2.jpg

Dragonfly scepters, wands, whatever you wanna call them! Time-consuming, but yummy. They taste like yogurt-covered pretzels.

meringues.jpg

Meringues. Not my cup of tea!

The cake was a dilemma for me. I had googled princess cakes a while back, and found a few cool ones I liked. They were all castle cakes, and used ice cream cones as turrets. There was one in particular I thought was the prettiest, and seemed to be not too difficult. But then I went to the cake section at Michael’s, and saw the Wilton castle kit again. Hmm. Well, I bought enough candy melts for the scepters, and the ice cream cones I would need to coat, if I made the cake I’d seen online. That was 3 bags each in pink, purple, and white, and 2 bags of blue. Overboard, much? Geez. I only ended up using 1 1/2. LOL. So I ended up buying the castle kit at Joann, with a 50% off coupon. I couldn’t resist. I hemmed and hawed (“Am I really gonna make this? Am I insane?! I only have a week!”), but ultimately, my thrifty nature got the better of me. 10 bucks? Of course I have to buy it. I figured I had at least 10 more years of birthday parties, for 3 kids, I’m sure I’ll use it again. For my son’s “knights” party, at the least! But then I started panicking. What the hell have I gotten myself into? So I called my girlfriend for advice. She told me to bring the kit over, we could talk about it then. I didn’t make it to her house for a few days, and in the meantime, I had gone to Baskin-Robbins to see if there was an alternative, something princess-y. I looked through the cake book, and only saw the Disney princess ones. I didn’t want that. Then the employee asked if I needed help, and I told her what I was looking for. She looked through the book as well, and finally found what she was thinking of. It was perfect! It’s called the “princess crown & scepter cake“. A rectangular cake with a silver tiara and wand on top. The wand had a huge pink frosting ribbon wrapped around the stem(?), and the cake’s edge was frosted in pink, with sprinkles. She showed me the “deco pak”, because I said I didn’t like the rainbow-colored sprinkles. The tiara’s jewels were also the wrong colors, so I asked if I could buy my own decorations, and have them put them on for me. She said they would do that. So I went next door to Party City, and found a silver tiara with pink and purple gems, that said “Happy Birthday”. They didn’t have any single wands, just a pack of 12, so I only bought the tiara. The day I went to my girlfriend’s, I e-mailed her the link to the homemade castle cake, and brought the kit and tiara. After some discussion, she said she thought she could make the cake. She said we could do it on Saturday, the day before the party. I still wondered if it might be too ambitious, because I knew I’d have other things to do, and kids to deal with. So I told her I’d leave everything at her house, so she could ask her sister what she thought the next day. Her sister works at the Costco bakery, and has lots of experience. I got an e-mail the next night, saying “Sister thinks I could totally do it. As long as you don’t mind if it doesn’t look exactly like the one on the box. It’ll be her birthday present.” Oh, I was so grateful! Because I’d managed to fracture my right pinky that evening, and had resigned myself to having to buy the Baskin-Robbins cake. Yes, my life is governed by Murphy’s Law. Why else would I fracture a finger a few days before the birthday party? With a child still in diapers?

The cake turned out beautifully. We had just enough food, I wasn’t left with crazy leftovers like I usually am. The painting was a little messy, especially when my son managed to get hold of one of the brush pens, but nothing serious. The best part was my daughter’s princess outfit, I bought the costume from Pottery Barn Kids after Halloween. The model looks like my daughter, that’s so weird. We even have a similar photo taken that day! Gosh, I love that costume. The cape is beautiful.

cake.jpg

castle2.jpg

prince.jpg

My little Prince.

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Opening presents.

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Party favors.

So that’s what’s been going on, that’s why I’m not feeling so festive this year. Just pooped. Trying to recover. Can’t do much without full use of my right hand, anyway. I don’t need surgery, thank goodness, but I do need physical therapy. ??? What the hell. Not only do I break it just by hitting it on my leg, I break it in such a way that I risk it being permanently bent without physical therapy. Genius. Pure genius.

Oops, forgot to mention the cheer competition on Saturday. They do usually place, and they got 2nd place this time. Her coach rocks.

cheer

Admiring her medal.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

XOX