Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Clara's 3rd Birthday Garden Party

Clara turned three years old on Monday, the 19th.  But since we were planning on a birthday party for her and since Paul would at work for the vast majority of Clara's actual birthday, we just told her that it was on Saturday, instead.  She woke up to 2 dozen birthday balloons and was very excited about that.  She kept trying to count but gets lost around 12 or 13.  I love sneaking into her room at midnight and floating the balloons up to her ceiling for this surprise.  It is one of my favorite birthday traditions that we do for her because you can just tell that to her, it is absolutely magical.  Plus, then we always have balloons for party decorations later on.

After breakfast (just bacon, eggs, toast and fruit), Clara got dressed in a new dress that Grandma Cece bought for her.  I ordered a special birthday dress for her that was yellow and magenta with cupcakes on it 2 or 3 weeks ago but it still hadn't come (darn it, Zulily - I didn't realize it took forever for you to fulfill orders!) but the blue sailboat dress was darling anyway and special to her because she hadn't worn it yet and had been eyeballing it in her closet for weeks now.  I can hardly believe she is wearing size 4.  Then she got to start opening her presents from mommy & daddy.  Once again, we went overboard.  We have seriously got to rein things in at some point.  Clara was pretty sure she was getting a shovel to help dig in the garden.

And daddy also got her a toolset so that she can help him work on the new house.  Because she's 3 now, so child labor, right?

Paul also found her the most perfect sleeping bag ever for a girl who is obsessed with the color purple.  Clara wasted no time getting in it and "pretending" to sleep.  Summer camping, here she comes!

I picked out a broom set for her (the handles are birds - like the umbrella handle in Mary Poppins - so darling!) and a new leotard, as well as some Schleich dinosaurs, which were a big hit with her.  Not that she knew about dinosaurs beforehand or at least cared much about them, but she thinks they are pretty awesome to play with and has been trying to learn their names.  And I have to admit that Paul and I are having lots of fun playing dinosaurs with her too.  Her favorite is definitely the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which she carries around the most, probably followed by the Triceratops. 

My sister, Jennie, crocheted this bag for Clara and you can tell that she is pleased as punch with it.  She has been carrying it around with her the past few days and sticking her dinosaurs in it.

After she got everything opened, I laid it all out on the coach and asked her what was her favorite gift that she received.  She immediately grabbed the power drill, followed by the dinosaur.  I love that Clara can be obsessed with dresses and Frozen but also still be interested in tools and dinosaurs. 

Maybe a month or so ago I started asking Clara what sort of a party she wanted for her birthday.  I hesitated to even ask because I was dreading her saying that she wanted a Frozen party, but thankfully her only requirement was that it be a purple party, and she repeated that in no uncertain terms, over and over, through the following weeks with no variance.  So I brainstormed what might work well and allow me to incorporate lots of purple and other things I knew Clara would like and came up with a garden party. 

We invited all her little friends (and their parents and siblings too - why not, right?) to come over from 11-1 for tea sandwiches, croquet, and lemon cupcakes.  I wish my timing had been better for this party but I just didn't get enough done up front and ended up having to scrap a number of ideas/projects (I wanted to cut the white roses from the front yard and put them in small vases on the tables but it didn't happen and I was going to do rainbow fruit kabobs and had all the fruit purchased but we ended up just throwing it in bowls rather than taking the time to skewer it all and I looked high and low for inexpensive kid gloves for the girls to go with their pearl necklaces but couldn't find the cheap ones I found for Clara for her Easter basket) and I didn't get great pictures of the setup before the party started.  But thankfully we have amazing friends who pitched in as soon as they showed up helping me finish up the food and taking pictures with our camera, etc. 

The kids played Pin the Tail on the Donkey and croquet (a friend let us borrow a set that she borrowed from her in-laws) while the food was being laid out.

We borrowed a kid-size table from our friends around the corner and set it up along with Clara's picnic table and craft table to create a long child-size banquet table, then set purple plates out for each guest with costume pearl necklaces for the girls and bow ties for the boys (that I made - so easy and totally free since I just used scrap fabrics that I already had on hand).  I pulled together décor from Rose and Clara's rooms (the white bird case, purple pot, silver birds, green and white lampshade, etc.) to decorate the banquet table as well as the food display table and picked up a few ornate china pieces painted with purple pansies or other flowers at a local thrift store for cheap to use for serving food and as additional décor.  I also used my sillhouette machine to cut out a 3D number 3 that was about 10 inches tall, then I assembled it, filled it with rocks, and covered it in gold glitter to add a little sparkle.  Throw in a purple and white M&M mix, some purple and gold almond Kisses, the balloons, and a fluttery purple, gold, and white garland that I made from dollar store tissue paper, and I think it all came together nicely.  If only I had followed through with the white roses the banquet table would have looked much more complete.  Oh well, next time I guess.

Okay, so I know I'm admitting to my out of control perfectionist side here, but I wish that the table had been centered under the garland.  These are the mistakes that happen when I rush things and don't have time to step back and look at it all before guests arrive.  Can I just say how much I adore the new drink dispenser I picked up at Target? 

The menu consisted of PB&J sandwiches, ham/cheese/pesto sandwiches, and cucumber sandwiches (they are seriously so good if you have never had them before.  I ate them all the time for lunch while living in Germany during my first summer of law school.  You just chop up fresh basil and mix it with cream cheese to spread on one side of white bread, then chop fresh chives and mix it with soft butter and pepper to spread on the other piece of bread and sandwich spinach and thinly sliced cucumbers (and okay, thinly shaved carrots if you want) between the two slices).  There were also deviled eggs, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, kiwi, and grapes (Clara LOVES fruit so I made sure there was tons of it) and homemade lemonade.  For dessert we served homemade brownies, lemon cupcakes (recipe at the end of this blog post for those who asked for it - they really did turn out excellent), and homemade blackberry ice cream with dark chocolate chunks (I had to figure out how to give Clara purple ice cream and this worked out nicely although next time I would do a vanilla base with a blackberry puree swirled in rather than an overall blackberry ice cream).


When it came time to blow out the candle on the birthday cupcakes, Clara was all business.  These pictures of her crack me up because she was so serious about it. 

These are probably Clara's favorite cupcakes yet.  She isn't huge on cake to start with but she actually ate 2 cupcakes (one at the party and one later that day when she asked for another).  Granted, she mostly went for the frosting, but she ate some of the cake too.  And clearly enjoyed it.

Then she went back for seconds and thirds on the lemonade.  That girl LOVES to drink lemonade.

The natives started getting restless about opening presents so everybody gathered around to watch the birthday girl open gifts.  Little kids are so funny.  You push them back into an orderly semi-circle so they can all see and within 3 seconds they are all pressed up against the birthday girl "helping" to open presents and squeezing in to see like sardines in a tin can.  Clara got some lovely gifts and the kids all especially enjoyed the bucket of bubbles with multiple blowers which was a great way to close out the party. 

I am still working on getting her birthday interview recorded.  She wasn't really in the mood for it the other day but hopefully soon.  All in all, it was such a wonderful birthday for her and we could just tell that she felt extra special all day long, which is just how a birthday should feel.

Here is the Lemon Cupcakes recipe, for anybody who is interested:

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
Lemon zest from 2 lemons
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners.

Sit together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix them together until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.

Beat in the vanilla and lemon juice, then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, still beating at medium speed. Add in half of the buttermilk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the buttermilk and eggs, beating until the batter is smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Pour into prepared cupcake tins and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the touch. A thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Do not overcook. Cool completely before frosting.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 cups powdered sugar
2-4 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (the juice of 1 to 2 lemons)
Mix softened butter and cream cheese together in a bowl with a hand mixer until completely combined and smooth. Add lemon zest, vanilla, 4 cups of powdered sugar, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and mix until smooth. Adjust taste and consistency of frosting with additional powdered sugar and lemon juice to get to desired balance of sweetness. I used the full 4 tablespoons of lemon juice because I like a powerfully lemony frosting and the additional two cups of powdered sugar were necessary to balance the sweetness and keep the texture of the frosting stiff enough for piping but if you like a more mildly lemony frosting then 2 tablespoons of juice should suffice.

Scoop frosting into a heavy-duty Ziploc bag and snip off one corner to use as a pastry bag to pipe frosting onto cupcakes. Makes enough frosting to generously frost 24 cupcakes.


  1. What a fun birthday for such a lovely little girl. The picture of Paul playing dinosaurs cracks me up. I love how you wore your pearls for the party.

  2. So sweet!! So sorry to have missed it! Happy birthday, Clara!!

  3. Very cute! Looks like you had a great turn out and the kids had fun! I have that same drink dispenser :) It's cute but I've noicited the flow isn't the best and it drips...hope yours is better!

  4. The food was absolutely amazing and the whole party was beautiful. I've been such a slacker with getting blown-up balloons, I always just do the kind on the ground, but it's smart to get helium balloons and then just re-use them for celebrations. Maybe I'll get it together in the future. Thanks for letting us celebrate with you!

  5. Hi Amy! I just logged onto your blog for the first time in a while. I love this post for so many reasons, not the least of which is your adorable little birthday girl. Man, Clara has the sweetest little expressions--I love her with her favorite birthday gifts.

    Although slightly less important, I also love your hair color and bangs...And the party food.

    It feels like it has been a long time. Congrats on your other little doll, Rose. The photos of her in a later post are too cute, too. And congrats on the new house. So many exciting things happening. I'm thrilled for you! Tell Paul hello.



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