Sunday, July 22, 2012

Birthday Parties

This year Rachel turned five. I've been dreading this year for a few years now because five is a party year and Rachel has been talking about her party for months now. We've been telling her since she was about three (and started being invited to parties) that she could have a party when she turns five—a party where she can pick a theme and decide which friends to invite and make requests for games and food and things like that. We've decided to throw parties when our children turn 5, 8, 12, and 16, which are kind of milestone years in our family culture (kindergarten, baptism, graduating from primary, and being old enough to date...or drive...). It's how Andrew's family did it and I think it's rather smart so it's a tradition we've adopted. My family threw parties every now and then...but not in a set pattern that I remember.

In between party years we do small family gatherings, or (as was the case in Egypt and likely will be the case in North Carolina) informal, intimate gatherings with close family friends (because our family is too small to eat a whole cake by ourselves).

The only problem with this whole party-throwing idea is that I'm a little bit of an introvert. Big gatherings exhaust me. Thinking about having to throw birthday parties for my children stresses me out to the point where I lay in bed at night calculating how many parties I'll have to throw in any given year.

2012: Rachel - 5, Miriam - 3, Benjamin - 0 (one party)
2013: Rachel - 6, Miriam - 4, Benjamin - 1 (no parties)
2014: Rachel - 7, Miriam - 5, Benjamin - 2 (one party)
2015: Rachel - 8, Miriam - 6, Benjamin - 3 (one party)
2016: Rachel - 9, Miriam - 7, Benjamin - 4 (one no parties)
2017: Rachel - 10, Miriam - 8, Benjamin - 5 (two parties)

2017 is going to be a rough year, I can tell, but I'll get to recover in 2018 so that will be nice. Unless, of course, another little one gets thrown into the mix, but I supposed they'd have to turn five in 2018 in order to have a party that year which means that we'd have to have a baby next year and hahaha to that—I'll get off scot-free in both 2013 and 2018 or there will be tears).

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I've never actually thrown a party for my children so I was a little stressed out about Rachel's birthday this year. She's a relatively decisive person (I have no idea where she gets that from) and by November 3rd of last year had settled on being Hermione Granger for Halloween this year and that she'd like to have a Harry Potter birthday party. She's been unwavering in her decision and has been talking about her Harry Potter birthday party practically everyday since the beginning of November so I've had plenty of time to stew about this party.

Andrew made fun of me when I began searching the internet for Harry Potter party ideas back in February. I told him that I wasn't really planning her party; I was simply gathering ideas, making a list of them, and tucking them away for future reference. And I'm so glad I did!

Because Benjamin's due date was practically on Rachel's birthday (his original due date was her birthday; his adjusted due date after our first ultrasound was two days prior) we had decided we'd throw her a party sometime in June, or perhaps the beginning of July—well before the baby came.

But then the baby came! (And a wee bit too early at that).

For nearly six weeks no one thought about Rachel's upcoming birthday until one day I looked at the calendar and said, "Oh, no! It's July 13th! Rachel's birthday is next week!"

And then I quickly made up an invitation and emailed it out to the mothers of Rachel's friends (because there was no way we were going to get out to hand deliver invitations). Rachel wasn't satisfied with that because she thought her friends needed an actual piece of paper. "Perhaps the mothers will be fine with just an email but I think my friends will need an envelope," she explained while she wrote her friends names on cue cards. She then stuck those cue cards into envelopes, sealed the envelopes, and decorated them with elaborate pictures. We couldn't tell whose invitation was whose (because she had sealed their names (on an otherwise plain card) inside the envelope) so those invitations never got delivered. But don't tell Rachel.

Here's the invitation I emailed to the parents:

I then pulled out the list of ideas that I'd collected from all over the place and went to work. It really wasn't that complicated of a party since we stuck with very traditional party games (for the most part). The real challenge was in the small details and keeping within our slim budget. Rachel originally wanted to make movie sets, cast people in every part (she'd be Hermione, of course), and reenact the entire film/book but we convinced her to shrink her dreams and she ended up being happy with our low-budget, kid-version of Harry Potter.

I started with making floating candles since that was something Rachel had really wanted. Collecting enough toilet paper rolls in such a short amount of time was a cinch—because remember how we'd had the intestinal flu? We went through a lot of toilet paper in those two weeks and the recycling bin was full of toilet paper rolls. Silver lining, folks.

The floating candles seemed to be the most impressive decoration at the party, which is funny considering they were bits of trash held up on transparent nylon strings...

I had originally been hoping to have them be a surprise for Rachel. I was making them at night when she was in bed and storing them in the closet of our former office-turned-bedroom-for-Uncle-Jacob (he comes home from his mission this coming Tuesday) because it was empty and no one had any reason to go snooping around. But then Andrew was so proud that it was empty (because it meant that we were making some headway in all the packing we're supposed to be doing) that he said to Rachel, "Go look in the closet!"

"Honey!" I whined.

"What?" he asked before it dawned on him. "Oh—oops."

"What are these for?!" Rachel squealed. "Are they for my party!"

So as it turned out I didn't have to spend all my evenings in solitary confinement making fake candles out of toilet paper rolls and instead got to do so in broad daylight with the help of an almost-five-year-old and a two-year-old while juggling an infant. I'm not sure which was worse, really, but the candles turned out really neat.

Rachel was thrilled.

You probably noticed she's wearing Hogwarts robes. She's been bugging me about those for a long time, too—because she's going to be Hermione Granger for Halloween this year. The night before her birthday she got out of bed to ask me when I was going to make her Halloween costume.

"Oh, I don't know," I sighed. "Let's worry about that in October, shall we?"

"Alright," she sighed back. "It's just that it would have been really useful for my party tomorrow."

Little did she know I had made her Hogwarts robes the night before. Out of an XL men's t-shirt—I just snipped it right up the middle in the front, sewed a snap on and embellished it with a fancy button and a Gryffindor badge we'd ordered from Amazon. 

We let her open that gift on the morning of her birthday before we'd even had breakfast. She just about died of excitement. We ate breakfast that morning on the back deck—Andrew and I had set up some of the tables banquet-style and decorated with streamers the night before, which to our imaginative five-year-old as good as turned the place into Hogwarts itself.

Miriam was a little jealous of Rachel's costume so Grandma dug around in her costume box and found the little graduation robe she had made for Andrew when his dad graduated from college (twenty-seven years ago). Both girls wore it when Andrew graduated—Rachel first, when he graduated from BYU, Miriam second, when he graduated from AUC (Benjamin missed this third he didn't ever get to wear it). It was a little short on Miriam but it served the purpose of making her ridiculously happy.

The girls and I made that banner together using paper we'd picked up at a Stuff Swap and yarn that I've had since before Andrew and I got married. The girls' wands are sticks that Andrew found and sanded down—the girls have kept them by their bedsides for months now (watch out, intruders, or they'll poke your eyes out).

Let's see...we made a brick wall out of paper grocery bags and stuck it on the gate so that the kids could run through platform nine and three-quarters.

I love so many of these pictures but this one—this smile—has got to be one of the best:

And then I love how Miriam is pointing in this picture even though she's not holding a wand. Andrew had said, "Point your wand at me, Rachel!" and Miriam, who was off in two-year-old lala land (see above picture where you can see she's totally zoned out) heard the command "Point..." and responded immediately. She's obedient like that.

My dad drew (and the girls and I coloured) a mountain troll (closely resembling the one featured in the second film) for a pin-the-tail game of sorts, only instead of pinning tails we made paper clubs and played "Knock Out the Mountain Troll." It was wildly successful even if the first child we blindfolded broke down in tears because she couldn't see. Fortunately we had an older child present at the party and in all of his 8.5-year-old maturity he volunteered to go first to show the younger children how to play the game without crying.

We used another piece of poster board to make some Gryffindor banners. Rachel and I coloured these together after I had printed out a lion, cut it out, and traced it onto the poster board. 

We hit up the dollar store for the streamers, some black spoons (for our potions class), some red plates and napkins (for serving cake), some glass stones (for our Sorcerer's Stone Hunt), some suckers to make ghosts (for transformation class) and some bubbles to use as Liquid Golden Snitches (for Quidditch Practice).

Our total cost of throwing this party? 

Eleven whole dollars:

streamers: $2
glass stones: $1
bubbles: $2
suckers: $2
plates: $1
napkins: $1
spoons: $1
food colouring: $1

There were also a few other things that once cost money but which we already had on hand, like glue and tape, scrap paper, markers, and crayons, as well as:

Printing: we printed colouring pages for the kids to colour while we waited for everyone to show up + about 6 pages of printing for decorations 

Poster board: we purchased this for another project in 2011 but ended up using fewer pieces than we thought we'd need. I don't remember how much they cost...maybe 50 cents each?

Nylon thread: This was given to me in a big box of craft supplies back in the 1990s. It can be found on for as little as $3 a spool (and as much as $30, but rest assured that if we had purchased this we'd buy the $3 spool).

Vinegar and baking soda: Both are relatively inexpensive; we used what we had on hand.

Had we paid for the cake I'm sure it would have broken our budget! 

Grandma volunteered to make Rachel's cake, though, and it turned out amazingly awesome! Rachel wanted a Hogwarts castle and Grandma delivered. She spent hours working on this cake and declared several times that she's been watching too many cake shows and needs to stop because she is "not the Cake Boss." I'd beg to differ...

She used the towers and things from the castle cake set that we used last year for Rachel's princess castle cake and dug through the big bin of Lego to find the Harry Potter pieces from days of yore when she had her own Harry Potter fanatics living and playing under her roof.

Inside were layers of strawberry, custard, and lemon filling. It was both delicious and beautiful!

I think we managed to pull off a rather impressive, inexpensive, memorable birthday party. I know my little Harry Potter fans had fun...and I guess I had fun, too, even if I was too exhausted to move by the time it was over!

Benjamin Harry Potter
Professor Miriam Trelawney
Time-traveling Rachel Hermione Granger holding a young Benjamin Harry Potter


  1. You are awesome! I think you did an amazing job!

  2. When Andrew posted the first pictures on Facebook, I went 'mental'!!! I couldn't believe it!!! Wow, what a birthday party complete with Benjamin Harry Potter!
    Great, great achievement! (Including the wonderful, awesome cake! Warm congratulations to Karen!)
    Can't wait for 2014 now...
    With lots of love from France to Hermione (much better looking than in the movies) and Professor Trelawney and the whole Gryffindor family!

  3. Had I known, I would have had you throw me a birthday party last week! :) It looks SO good!

  4. Great cake, Karen! I love how well Rachel reflects Hermione. Her hair is perfect!

  5. Nancy - I'm impressed with your party throwing skills! Everything looks so awesome. =) However, I'm curious who will be getting a party in 2016?

    1. Awesome! I love it when I make mistakes that make me happy. You're absolutely correct—2016 is yet another no-party year! :)

  6. Good, cheep parties ARE THE BEST!!!
    Loved all your decorations, and that cake?!!! Is that not the coolest thing ever?!
    Well done.
    Have a nice little rest until next time. :)

  7. Amazing! You are gifted beyond all reason. Lucky girl!

  8. What a great party! I'll bet she loved every minute of it. The cake beats all! Impressive. I'm good if I can get a 9x13 to not burn. ;)

  9. I'm Amy's (two scoops) sister. She sent me the link for this fantastic party. My daughter has almost finished reading the first Harry Potter book with daddy and I'm thinking we'll do a Harry Potter party this year too. I gotta ask, what did you do with vinegar and baking soda? And did they just get to chase the golden snitch bubbles all around? What a great idea! That cake is amazing. I'm thinking my skills are more along the lines of Hagrid's version of b-day cake. (Maybe I won't sit on it, maybe I will.)

    1. Hello Katy, Amy's sister!

      There's a better explanation of the games here. With the baking soda/vinegar I put a drop of food coloring in a black spoon and let it dry (yellow didn't ever dry, just a head's up) and then at the party I gave the kids a scoop of "exploding rock powder" (aka baking soda) to stir into the "gillyweed water" (aka vinegar) and told them to make up their own magic words. They were pleasantly surprised when their potions turned different colours.