Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Butterfly Birthday Party

Clara chose a butterfly theme for her all-girls' 5th birthday party. Ubiquitous butterfly-themed party supplies and plentiful Pinterest pages made this an easy party to plan. Read below for the scoop from butterfly favors to food, cake, and decorations.

One of my favorite projects for Clara's birthday was preparing the butterfly box favors for the guests. I like the idea of having one substantial gift to take home rather than lots of trinkets that don't last for long (or last for too long in plastic-y piles at the bottom of Clara's toy box). 

I love Melissa and Doug's do-it-yourself crafts, and when I saw their Wooden Butterfly Chest, I thought that would make the perfect party favor for Clara's butterfly-themed party.

Just a few days after I thought I had settled on the boxes, I saw a butterfly party bag favor on Pinterest, and I decided that would make a good topper for the butterfly box. This cute little butterfly favor turned out to be a much bigger endeavor than I anticipated. And, I defeated my initial plan to give a more substantial gift since I ended up giving the guests a bag full of candy and trinkets (look inside those butterfly wings in the photo below) in addition to the nicer gift.

I was totally unprepared for how many steps were needed to make these butterfly favors. I lucked out that my artist mom happened to stop by on the day I was planning to make them. 

"How are you going to attach the googly eyes and pipe cleaners to the clothespins?" she asked.

I replied casually that I was just planning to use some of Clara's glue sticks.

After she chided me for thinking that the glue sticks would be strong enough for the job, my crafty mom went to her car and pulled out a glue gun that she subsequently gave to me because she said everyone should have a glue gun. After hours of gluing, I was a convert. Everyone should indeed have a glue gun.

The clothespin butterfly bodies individually decorated by Clara. I love that she found a way to make each one different.
My mom hard at work affixing pipe cleaner antennae to the clothespin butterfly bodies.

Rainbow sour gummy worms... I tried a few as we packaged the wings. They were disgustingly good.
Butterfly rings.
More trinkets for inside the butterfly wings.

The finished party favors


Again, Pinterest was my friend in selecting ideas for the butterfly-themed food. I had never looked at Pinterest before, but I found it to be an easy and visual way to see (and copy) what others had done for their butterfly parties. 

The butterfly sandwiches were probably the most commented upon and complimented element of the party. My husband was in charge of creating these cute sandwiches. He used a butterfly cookie cutter, added a slice of turkey and cheese, and one baby carrot and small celery slice served as the antennae. (We also made five cheese-less sandwiches for Clara's friends who don't like cheese.)

Lunch time!

I come from a family where birthday cakes were a big deal. My birthday cake often involved many, many hours of detailed work for my mom. She often reminisces about my sixth birthday request. Initially, I wanted my cake to have an image of little orphan Annie. I soon added a request for Annie to be singing, "Tomorrow." Under a rainbow. With a unicorn on the side. Although every square inch of the rectangle cake was filled with decoration, she complied with my ever-expanding request.

Perhaps because of my own birthday cake memories, I feel compelled to create a homemade cake for Clara's birthdays despite the fact that I don't have training as an artist and her birthday is the only time each year that I bake a cake. The infrequency of my baking experience means that I regularly forget simple things like how to make icing or how many boxes of powdered sugar are needed to bake 40 cupcakes if I ever even knew these things to begin with. 

We bought a natural food dye kit for the icing and while it may have been a better choice for our bodies, I wished the puce-y purple would have turned out to be a more vivid pink which is what I was aiming for. Despite these obstacles, I was mostly happy with the finished butterfly cupcake cake. I made 20 vanilla cupcakes and 20 chocolate cupcakes and they were all gone by the end of the party.

 Clara blows out her candles.

Decorating for a butterfly party was probably the easiest part of the event since there are so many butterfly-themed decorations at Target and party stores.

This massive butterfly balloon beckoned guests to enter the party.

The dangling butterflies from the door were my favorite decorations.

Butterfly-themed paper supplies were available at nearly every store we visited.

I always planned my own party games for birthdays when I was a kid, but I was glad that we decided to hire some party planners to help with the games and activities. Clara had twenty children as guests and we had about twenty parents there, so it was nice for me to be able to visit with the adults while the kids played. Here are photos of some of the butterfly activities of the day:

Flapping their wings like butterflies for an outside game.

Butterfly rainbow art ornament craft.
Making the butterfly craft.

Butterfly "tattoos"
Butterfly stickers and "tattoos"


Clara was excited to rock some butterfly attire for her birthday party. She chose to wear a butterfly dress AND butterfly sandals. I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of her guests also chose to get into the spirit of the butterfly theme, too.
Clara about to fly away... do you see the pink butterflies poking out at the top of her dress?

This butterfly dress worn by one of Clara's friends was especially beautiful.

Clara's cousins sported matching butterfly sequined barrettes.

Even the adults got in on the butterfly fun. Lisa looked stylish in a blue butterfly blouse.


Most importantly, the birthday girl had a magical day. It was special that Clara's birthday fell on a Saturday this year so that she could celebrate with friends and family on her actual birthday.

Happy Birthday, my sweet butterfly girl!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Child’s View of Time in Months, Minutes... and Seconds

Trying to make sense of time, space, and seasons with my five-year-old daughter...
“Am I 5,000 days old yet?,” Clara inquires. She easily swaps days for minutes for years in her head, not paying much mind to what the different words mean as long as she can speak in big numbers.
 After slowly doing the math in my head, I tell her that she’s not there yet. She will have to wait until she is thirteen years old to experience that many days on earth.

We are driving in the car. Clara asks how long it will be until our destination. 
“One hour,” I say.  
“Is that a long time?” she asks with resignation.
Clara doesn’t like long drives, and we have had many long drives this summer. She starts counting from 0 to 100 to the highest numbers she can figure out. Her slow and steady voice provides the hypnotic soundtrack for our summer travel, as she moves methodically through the numbers.
She is disappointed that she can’t yet count high enough to fill an hour with just counting, and so then she asks how many more minutes it will take. “Ten more minutes,” I tell her. “10…9….8…7," her little voice continues hopefully in the backseat.
Clara seems to think that time moves faster by counting down rather than counting up. Her ability to count down is a newish skill, and perhaps she think it has magical qualities like the countdown to the ball dropping in Times Square, that her ten seconds of counting will magically make the ten minutes of driving disappear into a big poof of arrival. 

I think for many children the wait for Christmas or their birthday feels intolerable. I remember even the twelve hours between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning seemed like years to me as a child. Clara, however, begins to think about these special dates many months in advance. 
“How much longer until Christmas?” she asks in March.
“How much longer until my birthday?” she asks in June even though we just celebrated her birthday in May.
She counts down to the seasons, too, asking several times a week when it will be spring or summer or fall. 

I imagine that time must feel big and unknowable to a small child. Clara is proud of herself that she can count to 100+ and knows the days of the week and the names of the months. She has the pieces that help to define time and place and season but not all the knowledge to put it together in a meaningful way.

Like Clara, I am entranced by time. I have always been fascinated by other cultures’ views of time, particularly the idea of dreamtime from  the aboriginal people of Australia. Scientists, philosophers, and others have debated the true nature of time since, well, the beginning of time as we know it.  Clara’s questions help me to re-examine what is fact, fiction, or perhaps just popular belief about time.

Sure, it is frustrating to have to answer Clara’s question, “How much longer until nighttime?” for the tenth time. Most of the time, though, I feel grateful for a little girl who keeps me thinking about time in new ways. Without Clara’s regular questions about time, I might have missed out on the second chance to count down to Christmas with childlike anticipation and the mathematical challenge of keeping track of our ages in days, minutes, and seconds.

As one of my favorite authors reminds me, "The days are long, but the years are short." I'm glad that Clara keeps me in the moment by reminding me that each second with her is worth counting.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Unexpected Raspberries

I'm not saying I wished the raspberries into being. But, it sure felt like I did. 

A couple of weeks ago on Facebook, a friend posted an adorable photo of her daughter holding some freshly-picked raspberries from their backyard. 
 "Wow, those look delicious," I thought. "I wish we had a patch of raspberries in our backyard." 
The thing is, we do have a raspberry patch. However, for the past four years, whenever we looked at the raspberry patch, the raspberries were in various stages of not being ready to be eaten or just eaten by various wildlife. I think I have eaten a total of three raspberries from this bush in the past four years. 

Last week, I ventured out to the raspberries with tentative optimism, and I was amazed to see hundreds of ripe raspberries ready for the picking. I motioned Clara to come over with wild hand motions and a whispering voice as though if I talked too loudly the raspberries might disappear. It almost felt like they were a figment of my imagination. We spent half an hour eagerly filling up a colander with our discovery and the bounty was sufficient that we even left some ready raspberries on the bush for another day.

After washing our raspberries, my mind began to dance with raspberry recipes. I never had enough raspberries to actually make something with them in the past so this was a daunting but exciting thought. I went to my computer to research raspberry recipes, and about ten minutes later, Clara came into the room and asked sheepishly, "Is it OK if I ate them all?" I actually could not believe that she could eat that many raspberries in one short sitting, but sure enough, there were just six or seven lone raspberries hanging out at the bottom of the bowl.

Alas, my visions of making raspberry tarts, cobblers, and parfaits are on hold until the next berry picking adventure. However, I do have a favorite raspberry recipe that my dear cousin shared with me. It's better for the cooler months because you do have to turn on the oven, but it is amazingly easy and equally delicious.

Pear-Raspberry Tart

Source: Everyday Food, November 2012

  • prep 15 mins
  • total time 1 hour 15 mins
  • servings 6


*1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
(I recommend Dufour brand available at Whole Foods- decadent and unbelievably flaky. I heard that Trader Joe’s also makes a decent Puff Pastry.)
*2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for parchment
·  3/4 cup fresh or frozen raspberries (4 ounces)
·  1/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
·  2 teaspoons lemon juice
·  1/4 teaspoon fine salt
·  2 small firm, ripe pears, such as Bartlett or Anjou (3/4 pound total), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
·  1 large egg white, lightly beaten

The first pear-raspberry tart I made a few months ago. The Dufour puff pastry crust was otherworldly.
1.     Step 1
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place puff pastry on a lightly floured parchment-lined baking sheet and gently stretch into a 9 1/2-inch square. With a paring knife, score pastry 3/4 inch from edges, creating a border. Freeze 10 minutes.
2.    Step 2
Stir together raspberries, sugar, lemon juice, flour, and salt. Lightly mash some berries to release juices and let stand 5 minutes. Very gently stir in pears. Spread evenly within border of pastry. Brush border with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.
3.    Step 3
Bake 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake until juices are bubbling and crust is deep golden brown, about 30 minutes more (tent crust with foil if overbrowning). Dip a pastry brush in juices and glaze fruit. Let cool 15 minutes before serving (or let sit at room temperature, up to 8 hours).

May you find unexpected berries or other happy surprises wherever you roam this summer.