First Birthday Party: Apple of Our Eye

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This is the last time I’ll throw a First Birthday Party, and I knew what theme I wanted for Veronika almost from the moment of her birth. With big apple cheeks that were a constant topic of conversation all year, she was instantly the “apple of our eye”. The theme also fits perfectly with my autumn baby’s birth date, with apples and apple picking in the air!

It was so fun to play around with the theme for a first birthday party. Rather than inviting baby friends, it’s nice to keep this celebration partially about the parents, inviting those relatives and close friends who have helped you come through.

A beautiful Apple of Our Eye template (from Etsy) was personalized for the event to set the stage.

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Next up were the outfits, brand new ones for the family!

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Mama dress from Cotton Rose Boho, baby girl dress from SmockedALotbtq and brother’s shirt from 7ate9apparel.

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Now it was time to set up Veronika’s orchard! I filled bushels from the craft store (Michaels) with fake apples. Some were set up inside, and another bushels greeted guests next to a cheery chalkboard sign.

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Inside, the apple colors continued with a red-checked tablecloth, burlap napkins, and red and white balloons.

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I strung red pom pom garlands and glittering red dot streamers (both Party City), and hung up folding red fans which quickly morphed into giant apples thanks to a pipe cleaner stem and a construction paper leaf.

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I also strung a banner made of photos adhered to red construction paper (with Mod Podge), featuring one image for each month of her life.

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A birthday slate with an apple background was a great centerpiece for the food table.

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We kept the food to light nibbles for this mid-afternoon gathering. Apples were everywhere, including a kid-friendly serve-yourself station of applesauce pouches, apple cereal bars, and apple juice.

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Add Babybell cheeses (round like red apples!), caramel popcorn, a scattering of apple lollipops, and a few platters of antipasti for the grown-ups.

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On tap: local cider for the kids, and apple sodas and hard cider for the grownups.

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Kids at the party ranged in age from 14 years down to 3 months, so we need a variety of activities!

Activity 1: Apple checkers

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Cut a slab of wood (from Home Depot) into a 20 x 20 inch square. Divide into 8 squares per side, each measuring 2.5 inches, and paint in alternating squares of green and red.

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Add green apples for one opponent and red apples for the other and place the board atop hay bales (Michaels craft stores).

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A framed image of the rules served as a quick reminder for anyone who needed it!

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Don’t be surprised if the kids make up their own rules or just play around with the apples, though… And that’s just fine!

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Activity 2: Apple stamping

Set out pie tins, various paint colors, and apples cut in half. Poke a fork firmly into each apple.

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Show kids how to press the cut apples into the paint of their choice and then apply to a blank tote bag. These make great keepsakes to take home; in fact adults might want to stamp one, too!

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Activity 3: Apple faces

This was the biggest hit with younger children at the party. Cut apples into 1/4-inch thick slices and brush with lemon juice to prevent browning.

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Set out cups with nut butter for “glue” and decorations like raisins, cashews, chocolate chips, and o-shaped cereal. Now each child can make an adorable little face on their apple slice.

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The kids will love eating their creations!

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Aside from that, the affair was very laid-back and unstructured. Then came the big moment for her cake. We served Happy Birthday Vanilla Cake with Cider Glaze. Add cider doughnuts for older guests and everyone ends on a sweet note.

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Again accounting for the big age-range in guests, we sent kids home from the party with a simple goodie bag: fall-themed stickers and apple lollipops.

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Veronika, you are the apple of our eye!

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Fifth Birthday Party: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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It’s official: I have a five year old and he loves all things Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Following his lead, I made the party this year all about the lean green ninja team. Compared to past parties, this one was a cinch to decorate for because “TMNT” party decor is easy to come by.

Set the tone right away with the invitations. Using green cardstock as the base, I glued on strips of additional cardstock in the colors of the four Turtle masks (red, orange, blue, and purple). Add large wiggle eyes for the finishing touch!

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The reverse of the card had all the deets for the day in a Ninja Turtle font.

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Next up: New outfits for the ninja clan here at home!

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The birthday boy got a custom shirt (Etsy) with the turtles on the front and his name and age on the back. Mama wore shades of turtle green (Universal Thread) and baby sister had a custom TMNT tutu (Etsy). She stole the show a little bit in that one!

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For decorations, I purchased a TMNT wall banner and birthday sign to adorn the room, as well as balloons (some in plain green and some with an image of the Turtles).

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A slime-green tablecloth was the perfect base for TMNT plates, cups, napkins, and a bucket filled with green plasticware (all Party City).

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Food was equally easy, because what do all Ninja Turtles like to eat? Pepperoni pizza of course!

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We ordered both regular and vegan pizza from a nearby restaurant, which had all the guests delighted. Keep up the green theme with easy sides like sliced green cukes and cubed honeydew melon.

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To drink, I printed these clever Ninja Turtle mask labels to affix to Gatorade bottles.

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The only problem? I couldn’t find green Gatorade anywhere! A little science helped me find the perfect solution: add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the blue Gatorade, and you have the perfect turtle green shade.

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Meanwhile, grown-ups had a special treat of their own: bottled green beer in an ice bucket labeled “Mutagen” (which anyone who has seen the Nickelodeon cartoon will understand).

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For dessert, we served Turtle cookies! These were ridiculously easy to make but made a big splash with grown-ups and kids alike. I made sugar cookies from a mix (vegan, gluten-free) and topped them with frosting (Wholesome Sweeteners) tinted green with a little all-natural food coloring.

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To make the masks, cut Airheads in the Turtle colors (red, orange, purple, or blue) to size with a pizza cutter.

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Place in the center of each cookie and add two mini chocolate chips as eyes, using just a dab of frosting for the “glue”.

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Now it was time for activities! We started with a round of “Pass the Present.” As the TNMT theme-music played, the kids passed a wrapped present around the circle. Whoever held the present when the music stopped was the winner! We gifted Ninja Turtle coloring books and a Ninja Turtle water bottle. As the game wrapped up, there was some commotion by the door…

…Rafael had arrived!

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The kids were amazed and we had an hour of superb entertainment from the actor, who demonstrated martial arts moves, wrestled with the kids, played hide and seek, and joined in a dance party. He stayed to pose for pictures before making an exit.

As the final flourish, have a pinata! You can make a Ninja Turtle pinata easily from a big balloon covered in green crepe paper. This would have been my recommendation, but my husband went all out with a huge pink pinata meant to look like the enemy (Krang) from the Nickelodeon cartoon. The kids had a blast battling Krang to the finish!

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Send your little Turtles home with treats in a slime-green bag (of course). Ours included: mini skateboards for riding those sewers; green candy (jelly beans and dum dums); a TNMT sticker; and turtle slime.

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Cowabunga dude!

Third Birthday Party: Rock ‘n’ Roll

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Age three is the first year that my son was very aware that his birthday party was his special day, marking the event of his birthday. So I wanted to build the party around the things that make him happiest in the world right now: music and guitars. Once we’d picked the rock ‘n’ roll theme, it was time to sort out the details.

Starting with a guitar-printed shirt of course!

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To give the 2-hour party a focus, I decided on a music concert. No need to hire expensive musicians for your rock ‘n’ roll gig, though – if you have a family member or friend who plays an instrument, or even just sings, you have instant entertainment for a group of children!

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Just add instruments for the children to play along – bongo drums, maracas, tambourines – and the main part of your party takes care of itself.

Before the concert began, we set the stage (pun intended!) with fun rock-themed decor and games for the kids.

third bday (6)I used a simple red, black, and silver color scheme, which we picked up in balloons and serving pieces throughout the room.

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Each child got a cardboard guitar cutout to decorate with stickers, feathers, and glue sticks. I cut the guitars freehand from cardboard, but luckily children aren’t art critics!

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Next head on over to a backdrop for rock star selfies! We added silly sunglasses, boas, bandanas, and rock star tattoos of course.

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Because the party was mid-afternoon, we kept food very simple with cake as the main event. Noshes included chips, pretzels, sliced watermelon, and a cheese platter for grown-ups.

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The rock star touch was rice krispie treat microphones!

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To prepare: Melt 3 tablespoons Earth Balance butter over low heat. Add 4 cups Dandies marshmallows and cook until completely melted. Pour the mixture over 6 cups puffed rice cereal, stirring to combine. Shape into balls and place atop sugar cones!

Cakes were from local vegan bakery Sweet to Lick, featuring rock star decorations and sprinkles.

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Goodie bags were the finishing touch, including guitar-shaped bubbles, guitar crayons from Etsy, and a CD mix of my son’s current favorite songs.

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Rock on!

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Second Birthday Party: Construction Trucks

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By his or her second birthday, your toddler will have definite ideas about what they like and don’t like. Pick a favorite theme and make their special day truly all about them (unlike the first birthday, which I always feel is more of a milestone for proud mamas and papas!).

Travis shakes with excitement for trucks – diggers, cement trucks, steamrollers, bulldozers, you name it – so it was only natural to go with a construction truck theme. I didn’t go crazy with decoration, but wanted a few construction touches throughout the event.

Line the display table with caution tape, and use large toy dump trucks as containers for party snacks.


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To wit, we had potato chip “rubble” and pretzel stick “beams.” Use trucks you already have at home… or make them a birthday gift for the lucky boy or girl!

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Continue the food play with “cement” (hummus for dipping cut veggies), “rocks” (fruits such as grapes and blueberries), and “wrecking balls” (clementines). A few strategically placed construction cones (from Birthday Express) completed the decor.

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And of course you’ll want “diesel” (beer!) for the grown ups who need fuel.

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Dessert was a huge hit with the under-3 set: Chocolate pudding “dirt” cups. You can make your own pudding, but to simplify life I purchased Zen Soy’s chocolate pudding, and filled each cup with cookie crumbs (made from Newman’s Own chocolate alphabet cookies). Vegan sour worms from Surf Sweets were the finishing touch – and arguably Travis’s favorite part of the whole party!

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For the birthday cake, we had to go with Dump Cake of course!

Rather than overwhelm young guests with too many games, I carefully curated the toys to fit the theme. Fill a small sandbox with dried rice or beans, and add all the trucks and vehicles you have around the house for the ultimate construction site play area.

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I set out cupcake crayons and coloring book pages featuring construction trucks; Travis’s various toy tools and hammer boards; Birthday Blocks to build with; and empty soda cans for kids to pile into the highest tower they could.

Party favors continued the theme, with a mini truck for each guest to take home, construction cone sippy cups, a yellow construction hat (also from Birthday Express), and “pop rocks” candy – maybe better for Mom and Dad to eat at this age, but the closest candy I could think of to fit the theme!

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The birthday boy got a special extra… his very own construction vest and tool belt.

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First Birthday Party: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

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I’ve always felt that first birthday parties were more of a celebration for the parents – we made it one full year! – than for the child, who’s not quite old enough to understand that the day is all about them. So for Travis’s first birthday, I kept with a simple theme. The event was low-key, a 2-hour afternoon time to socialize with friends and their children, but with no organized activities or big meal.

Travis latched onto Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as an early favorite song, imitating the hand gestures from about 9 months on, so it was a natural theme to choose. Stars lend themselves perfectly to little decorative touches!

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Star toothpicks and a shooting star from Etsy helped make the vegan cupcake display (care of Babycakes) into a twinkling display.

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I continued the star theme throughout the menu. Use cookie cutters to make stars out of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches:

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And homemade tortilla chips:

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Sliced star fruit atop a simple bowl of fruit salad adds a beautifully whimsical touch.

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Star bubble wands (also from Etsy) were a great toy for older children at the party, as well as the perfect favor to take home.

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The final touch was 12 enlarged photos of Travis, one from each month of his life, arranged in the shape of a 1. A beautiful trip down memory lane!

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Birthday Blocks

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It can be hard to plan games for kids to play at a birthday party for a one- or two-year-old. At this age, kids are still engaging in “parallel play,” so you’re not going to have great luck corraling them into organized games of Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Simon Says. Instead, foster their enjoyment and let them socialize side-by-side with this cute idea, care of 365 Toddler Activities That Inspire Creativity.

Before the party, wrap any building blocks you have around the house in wrapping paper. I used alphabet blocks,leaving the alphabet face of each block uncovered, to encourage the children’s curiosity about what was hidden underneath the paper. If you prefer, you can wrap the blocks completely.

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Kids can either build with the wrapped block or – more likely! – will want to tear the wrapping paper open and discover the blocks inside; this way everyone gets to tear open a “gift” at the party! Whichever way they play with them, the kids are sure to have fun.

Dump Cake

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We had a construction truck theme for Travis’s second birthday. When I stumbled across this recipe, I thought: what better name for a construction party cake than a “Dump” Cake?

It turns out the name has nothing to do with dumps or construction sites, but rather with the fact that all of the ingredients are simply dumped into a baking pan, no mixing or measuring required. That means your toddler can literally make it him or herself! It was a doubly-perfect recipe for his second birthday cake.

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  • 2 (15-ounce) cans sliced peaches in juice (such as Native Forest)
  • 1 box vegan yellow cake mix
  • 12 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  1. Grease a 13×9-inch baking dish, and have your child dump in the peaches, including the juice.
  2. Sprinkle the cake mix over the top of the fruit. (Adults: you can step in and make sure the mix is sprinkled evenly, if your child is concentrating things in one corner).
  3. Add 12 tablespoons of butter, spaced evenly over the top. (Again, adults may need to do a little “clean up”).
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour – the cake should be bubbly.

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You can also prepare a version using 1 (15-ounce) can crushed pineapple and 4 cups cherry pie filling. Native Forest’s canned pineapple is vegan, but I needed to step in with a tiny bit of prep for a homemade cherry pie filling, meaning Travis didn’t quite make the second version all by himself… but close enough!

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He was so proud when the moment came to blow out two candles, and tell relatives he had made the cake his “whole self.”

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