I tease Clara often that she isn't allowed to grow up any more and that she had better stay little. To which she always giggles and does something naughty like stretching as much as she can and asking me if she is getting bigger or sassing me and saying in a sing-song voice, "not gonna happen mom!" And it usually ends in tickles and hugs and I-love-you's. She loves when I tell her I want her to always stay just the same. About a week ago, we were in the car and out of the blue she announced to me that she was never going to have kids and so I would never be a grandma. A little baffled by where this was coming from, I asked her why and she sweetly pronounced, "because I love you just the way you are and I always want you to stay just the same."
So the night before her 5th birthday, as I was giving her a hug before bed, we were doing this routine when the realization hit me as I said the words, "Clara, this is the last time I will ever get to hug you as a 4-year old!" She beamed (she has been aching to be 5 for months - I think because so many of her preschool classmates are 5 already) and I about started bawling. Normally I'm not super sentimental about stuff like that, but gosh 4 has been a great age for Clara.
Initially Clara told us that she wanted to have a "Frozen" birthday party (insert groan) which was strange because she seriously doesn't even watch that movie any more and has other things that are definitely more interesting to her than Frozen. So we were happy when she was easily talked into a "Wild Kratts" party, figuring we would just do an animal theme or something. And then a week or so before her birthday she announced that she had changed her mind and wanted to have a "Zootopia" party instead. Silly girl. In the end, I way simplified things by just inviting her friends to a local park and bringing pizza, watermelon, and cupcakes and decorated with rainbow colors rather than try to go all out with a theme. This jaw surgery business dashed any ideas I had about a party at our house with zootopia themed games and party favors. Fortunately, a friend with amazing cookie decorating skills made a couple dozen Zootopia cookies for the party. Clara's favorite character is "Gazelle" (played by Shakira - Clara has been memorizing the song "Try Everything" from the movie) and was super excited to eat a Gazelle cookie.
But that party ended up being the day after her actual birthday. Her real birthday was Thursday and we had a very full and busy day. First off was waking up to birthday balloons (always a huge source of joy for the girls) and a birthday breakfast of bacon and eggs (her request) and blueberry pancakes (my addition to round things out because we have bacon and eggs all the time anyway!). Then we spent a lazy morning around the house playing board games, reading books and taking our time getting ready for the day. Clara was so excited to wear her cupcake dress which I bought for her TWO years ago and it still fits because the sizing was totally off and it was huge on her when she turned 3! Which is why I am totally scared to ever buy things from Etsy even though there are so many cute boutique-y places to shop on there.
Then it was lunch from Mr. Pickles (her favorite sandwich place) and preschool, where she got to bring cupcakes (red velvet - her flavor of choice when we go to Nothing Bundt Cakes and what she wanted to take for her preschool friends). Another little boy, Aveah, shared the same birthday so his family brought the fruit kabobs and we brought the sweets. I was scheduled to work, which Clara loves, so it was fun to spend all that time with her. But what was even more special was that Paul worked from home and came over for the outdoor recess and snack portion of the school day and wore the visitor apron. Clara loved having both of us there for her and was so happy to pass out cupcakes to her friends. The preschool has a "cake" that they put candles on to celebrate birthdays. It's just styrofoam but it really is so cute how the kids love it and how they get to blow out candles at preschool. This is Clara with Mrs. James, the head teacher at her school.
Then it was off to the park to celebrate another friend's birthday. That was the most confusing part of the day for her - she was ready to celebrate her OWN birthday. She wasn't upset or anything, but she did ask me, "but when is the celebration going to happen for my birthday?" and I kept telling her it was the next day. In hindsight, I should have talked with this other friend's mom and we should have just done a joint park party with two cakes or whatever so it could have been on Clara's actual birthday because when you are 5 it is so weird to have a party on a day that is not your actual birthday.
When I asked her a couple of days before her birthday what she wanted for her special birthday dinner, her first response was bacon and eggs (which we covered with breakfast and she reiterated she would have for dinner as well). Her second choice though was "a whole fish and a salad with croutons and lots and lots of vegetables". I had grilled a whole Arctic Char for Sunday dinner the week before and both girls loved it (rub with olive oil, salt and pepper it, sprinkle with thyme and then stuff the belly of the fish with slices of lemon, garlic, and more thyme, then grill) so it wasn't super surprising that this is what Clara requested for dinner. She also got a huge kick out of the meal preparation because I made the fish "swim" around in the air while I was rinsing it off and getting it ready for the grill, which she thought was hilarious. Fillets are definitely easier for eating, but there is something to be said for cooking the whole thing and the flavor and presentation it gives. The salad was simple - she likes it with carrots and cucumbers and radishes, plus I added some hard boiled egg and avocado.
Unfortunately, Whole Foods didn't have any Arctic Char (our favorite for this type of preparation) so I went with a few smaller fishes (Paul's dad and brother both happened to be in town and celebrated with us which is why there was so much fish, btw) - 2 small trout, 2 small branzini, and 1 yellowtail snapper. I didn't like how the trout turned out at all - this is definitely not how I will prepare trout in the future as I much prefer it pan-fried. But the branzini was excellent. It is a meditteranean sea bass and so, so delicious, especially prepared this way on the grill. The yellowtail snapper was so-so.
After her special dinner, we had a surprise party planned for her. Paul had told her beforehand that he would take her on a special daddy-daughter bike ride on her birthday. Clara told us a few weeks ago that she was ready to start riding her bike more and was feeling like she could "ride with the bike pack" now. She has been getting much braver about it and we have been riding a few times since then as a family and she is starting to pick up speed and find her balance. Hopefully this will be the summer that her training wheels come off and she will be able to ride her own bike in Yosemite this fall. So while Paul was keeping Clara busy, the rest of us (me and Rose, Bob and Dave) threw all the presents into the car along with party decorations and cake and ice cream and drove to a nearby park where we met the Hamby's (Paul's cousin's family with four boys who our girls love) and set up with her birthday balloons and everything so that when they rode up we could yell "Surprise!". Clara thought it was great to be having a surprise birthday party (and to finally be celebrating for her instead of somebody else!).
She was so enthusiastic about opening each of her presents: a new purple 2-wheel big girl scooter from Grandma Cece and Grandpa Russ, which she immediately got to try out on the path around the park; a trampoline from Grandpa and Grandma Nash, which turned out to be too big and had to be returned and we just got the new, smaller version last night and have to set up - she is so excited!; some books, a gift card, a new game called Rangerland about the national parks from Kayli's family in Texas (which she loves and we have played almost every day since), a new outfit from Renita, Judy, and Great-Grandpa and Grandma Johnson (my aunts and grandparents), a butterfly growing kit from her Kayli (the caterpillars just came in the mail yesterday and Clara is so, so pumped about this project of growing butterflies), and a new leotard and "sparkle shorts" from me & Paul. Paul mentioned a day or two before her birthday that he thought maybe we should get her some more things but we both knew that she would be getting a lot from other people anyway and didn't want to overdo it. Plus, I told him that after hearing Clara plead for sparkle shorts every week at gymnastics for months, I knew that she was getting exactly what she wanted. And boy, was that ever the right call. When she saw those sequiny shorts that go over her leotard, she was practically overcome. We could tell because after her initial squeal of delight and recognition, she could not stop beaming and came right over and hugged me long and tight and then didn't say anything, just smiled more and hugged me again before going and giving her daddy hugs, smiling her content, all-is-right-with-the-world smile all the while. It was perfect. I'm going to have to get some pictures of her in her new gymnastics attire to add to this post now that I think about it.
And then it was time for cake and ice cream. Clara requested cherry cake, and when I asked her to elaborate I learned that she wanted it to be pink and have lots of cherries. So I came up with this gorgeous cake, which was unbelievably delicious and definitely going in my cookbook for the future. I used a jar of maraschino cherries in the cake itself, but then got a second jar with stems just for decorating. I made the cake the day before and frosted and decorated it after the girls had gone to sleep. When Clara came out on her birthday morning and saw it, she gushed, "wow, mom! you did a great job on my cake!" After pretending to blow out candles (it was much too windy for them to stay lit even when we tried to shield the cake with our bodies) she immediately set upon those cherries on top, plucking them off one after another and popping them into her mouth. I half-heartedly tried to stop her at first, but the Hamby's said that none of their boys like maraschino cherries anyway and the adults didn't care, so Clara got all the cherries, then declined any cake in favor of practicing on her scooter some more. Silly girl.
The next day we were joined by church friends at Val Vista park for pizza, watermelon, cookies and cupcakes. I just picked up 2 Costco pizzas (one cheese and one supreme) and we only had a few slices leftover, so that worked out great. Other than a tablecloth, plates, and balloons, I didn't do anything else to decorate and didn't mess around with party favors or games or anything. Which was fine because they kids just had fun playing on a little mountain structure and playset anyway. We're so lucky to have friends who came to join us and celebrate our big 5-year old girl.
I had to take a close shot of the unreal cookies that my friend made. Not only did they look amazing, but they were seriously so, so good. Everybody loved them and sure enough, Clara was so happy about her Gazelle cookie. And Rose chose a bunny (no surprise there either).