Tag Archives: Birthday Party

When a dinosaur comes to a party, it wears its best hat

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Birthday fortnight is over. Well, not really – H’s birthday is still to come next month, though because he’s blown out a glittery ‘5’ candle, he’s convinced he already is. And I say: fair enough. You can be five for a few sneaky weeks. Five is great.

It seemed like a good idea to move H’s party forward to before the end of term, to catch his friends before they went on holiday. He’d asked for a party, after all – unusual for this beloved people-wary child – and since we weren’t sure how many years he’d want one, we wanted to make this one good. Until we realised that we’d scheduled two consecutive party weekends for ourselves, which is the sort of way madness resides.

He chose a dinosaur theme. He wants to be a palaeontologist – he can pronounce this better than I can spell it – and most days I have a scheduled bare-feet run-in with a tiny rubber ceratosaurus and some muffled howling. So I went and drowned myself in Pinterest for a few days, spent a few more days whimpering at the extravaganzas on Pinterest, then chose a few decoration and game ideas I thought I might be able to do. I even made a spider diagram. This was getting SERIOUS.

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A word to the wise: even the simplest home-grown party is going to cost you some money. Party bags, my guys. Party bags. I know for a fact that when H comes home with a party bag full of small plastic bits, he is thrilled to his core while I’m only waiting a couple of days before I can quietly slide it all into the bin. It seems silly to spend money on them. But buy anything twenty times, let alone five or six things, and you’ll be weeping soft tears at the checkout regardless. In the end I was lucky, and found most of what I needed in pound shops and sales. You just have to suck it up.  I got these little paper bags from Party Pieces in red and green, and they were great: sturdy, and not so big that you felt the pressure to over-fill them.

So here we go. We’d hired our local village hall – inexpensive, roomy and with a good stock of child-sized tables and chairs – and arrived there with decorations to set up. I loved these balloon dinosaurs I found on the ole internet, and they really were easy enough to do: I wasn’t sure that sellotape would hold the arms and legs on, but it did. I hole-punched their heads in strategic places, and Tim strung them up in the air with sewing thread. Marvellous.

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I also spent a full hour of my adult life making tiny party hats for our larger dinosaurs. I did kiiind of feel like something had gone a bit wrong at this point – OR WAS IT VERY RIGHT – but hey. We got two helium balloons to tie onto their tiny claws, and they sat as centrepieces for the tables looking like they were terribly glad it was H’s birthday.

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I was lucky enough to find this set of dinosaur tableware – cups, napkins, and lovely straws – on sale a couple of days before. Why do kids get all the best party gear?! We’ve got some straws left over, and every now and again I use one so that my drink can feel ferocious.

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We played four games: a pin-the-horn-on-the-triceratops, a dinosaur egg-and-spoon race, a pass the parcel and a version of musical statues where they danced like dinosaurs and froze into fossils. It all sounded a bit cheeseball on paper, but with seventeen four- and five-year-olds leaping around, it was seriously adorable. Then we finished with a T-Rex pinata – a terrifying, crumpled beast we found on Amazon that was made, apparently and unfortunately, from strengthened steel. No matter. They had a whale of a time beating the heck out of it.

H's new photo face: look like someone's died. Think it'll catch on?

H’s new photo face: look like someone’s died. Think it’ll catch on?

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Making the cake was my favourite part. H has dedicated tastes when it comes to cake, and every year requests a chocolate cake as though he’s never eaten one before. So I used our old reliable standard, the Cake Hunter’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake, and put one of our behatted dinosaurs on top, holding a Happy Birthday sign. It cheered me up for days, honestly. Who knew that festive dinosaurs were such a tonic.

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By the time we got to the party, I’d been thinking about it for several weeks, and was starting to wonder if it was going to be more trouble than it was worth. But his face: surrounded by friends, feeling like the cool kid. I will never forget it. The next morning he woke up and said ‘I wish I could have slept at my party and had breakfast at my party and never left!’ When you’ve sat gluing spots onto party hats for toy dinosaurs and wondered how on earth you ended up here, those are the parts that remind you. Here you are, and here you should be. Pom-poms and all.

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How a bear does birthdays

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Ok, ok, just one more about T’s birthday, and then we’re done. PHOTO AVALANCHE AHOY, CAP’N. So help me, I cannot narrow them down more than this.

(There’s something about having a birthday midweek and then a birthday tea at the weekend that seems to make it last f o r e v e r. Lucky T. He sees any old open flame these days and yells ‘happee birthdee day!’)

We are in the middle of redoing our little garden at the minute – more about that later – so we wanted to celebrate in ways that would be fun, but also relatively inexpensive. I found this balloon wall on You Are My Fave, and it looked perfect: five bags of heavy-duty coloured balloons from Hobbycraft cost £5, and boom, done. Or should I say, boom, much late night fiddling with tape, bicycle pumps and string, done. I’ll do a quick tutorial for this later in the week, because we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we found one that did.

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You should’ve seen his face when he saw it. His mouth fell into a perfect O.

The thing about being a second child is that basically everything you play with belongs to your older brother. One of the nicest parts of the morning was seeing him overwhelmed by opening new, exciting things just for him.

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We’d given H the day off from nursery, and planned to go into London and visit the Natural History Museum. First though, lunch. On your birthday you want to eat your favourite food, and the problem with this two-year-old is that there aren’t many grape-and-strawberry-yoghurt restaurants. But he does love…curry, of all things. So we found a fabulous curry house just off Covent Garden and had a grand old time. They had a children’s menu, and we introduced T to mango lassi, which as a combination of milkshake and yoghurt (two of his favourite things) blew his tiny mind wide open.

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We will pass over the Tube trains we took on the hottest day of the year. Nothing like marinating in a sardine-tin sauna, air shimmering with the sweat of strangers, hanging on to two overheated and angry boys for dear life.

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H, I bless the day you got yourself a photo face. HAHA.

It all got better once we got to the Emirites cable car. It was like stepping into another world: cool breeze, open sky, and the blue Thames glittering ahead. And I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the cable car, but you MUST. If you have a day travel card you get a discounted ticket, and it is so, so worth doing. The views are incredible, and it’s just thrilling.

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At the other side we found a few splash pads next to the O2, and what looked like a worldwide Salvation Army convention enjoying the sun and spray. The boys were desperate to pull off their shoes and get wet, so we shrugged, and saved the museum for another day. They spent an hour running in and out of the water, soaking their clothes and cooling down before we headed home. Honestly, it was wonderful.

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Then on Sunday we had some family over for a little birthday tea (I am firm in my belief that it’s pointless to plan themed birthday extravaganzas before they can remember it). Most of the food was low-prep and easily done: veg and dips, fruit and chocolate fondue, scones and jam, chips and cookies. I found these brilliant watermelon napkins and cups at the supermarket, along with cocktail stick forks, which I found far too exciting for someone who claims to be an adult.

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The cake – oh, my giddy aunt – was an unmitigated disaster. I wanted to make the cinnamon roll cake we love, but in round tiers rather than a single tray. But the layers were too dense after baking, and became even more so after leaving them in the fridge overnight. The cream cheese frosting I’ve made before with no problems went through a terrifying cottage cheese stage, where the butter refused to mix properly into the rest. Then it wouldn’t set firm. Then there wasn’t enough to cover the cake. I’ve had many a cake horror before (you know this, loves) but never one in which, twenty minutes before guests arrived, I sat in a corner deep-breathing and saying ‘he has no birthday cake. HE HAS NO BIRTHDAY CAKE’.

Anyway, it slapped together with minutes to spare. Good enough for candles. And T was thrilled. He was getting the hang of this blowing-out-candles thing by this time, and kept trying to get it done before we’d finished singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

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That’s the main thing, isn’t it? Happy boy, covered in chocolate, running round the garden with a new helicopter. The balloons are still on the wall. We’re getting through the cake by heating it up into cinnamon roll pudding. The new toys and books are well worn already. It ain’t a bad life.

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Party for one

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I have decided that first birthday parties are the best of all possible parties. Really, they are.

First, the whole thing is basically a happy celebration of the two of you looking after a baby for a year. He grew some inches, he crawls and he’s eating food: you win everything, parents!

Second, the celebratee has no idea what’s going on, so there’s no pressure: no need to go all out with elaborate themes, bouncy castles or housefuls of sugar-hyped children if you don’t fancy it. You can make it exactly what feels comfortable, however big or small that is.

I have years of badly-made costumes and bouncy castle hire ahead of me, I know. But for now I can get by, oh, very happily indeed, on a nice cake, a small crowd and a bit of bunting. I always end up messing around with the bunting some time after midnight the night before — but then, commemorating a year of baby with a night of no sleep has a certain poetic resonance. I have kept many a midnight watch with you, little bear. Let’s do it once more for the memories, eh? And the bunting.

Speaking of, I got this exceedingly simple idea from the marvellous You Are My Fave. I am drawn like a moth to a flame towards things that can be made using only a pair of scissors. If you are the sort of dunce that is intimidated by buying fabric [raises hand], then here’s a tip: go to Hobbycraft, and look for fat quarters. My mother-in-law, who sews, tells me this is A Thing, and not a joke. It’s actually a little selection of small pieces of fabric. Cut them up into strips, tie them on, and hey presto! I kind of want to leave this up all year.

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So much for bunting. For the cake, I made Nigella’s Autumnal Birthday Cake, from her How to be a Domestic Goddess. The title is not terribly self-explanatory, so let me tell you that it is maple syrup cake, with a meringue frosting. WHAT THE. My baking muscles are very rusty, and I started the thing at 11pm with a headache, but it still turned out alright. Because meringue frosting is the business. It keeps its swirly shape exactly, and sets with this slight crackle on top. I left out the nuts and threw in edible glitter. Teddy was a fan, and so was his face.

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(PS, is this where I throw in extra-casually, as per mummy bloggers, that this was Teddy’s first taste of cake and oh my gosh he loved it? Um, no. It’s not true. I have a feeling that will never be true of any of my children.)

Apart from that, I bought straws, nautical napkins and ice cream pots from the supermarket, strung up some photos, and that was it. The punch was a carton of cranberry juice mixed with a bottle of cloudy lemonade, with frozen raspberries floating on the top.

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We ate cold meat and salad brought by our family, then had birthday cake, chocolate fondue, and jelly and ice cream for dessert.  Note to self: find out how jelly moulds are supposed to work. Because right now you don’t know.

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We ate, opened presents and then went to the park. It was a sunny, gentle afternoon, and Mr Birthday had a great time. I have two more days till I have to really think about him outgrowing his babyhood, but for now this was a lovely way to ease us into it. And costumes can wait for another year.

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