Category Archives: Birthdays

A Rainbow Birthday

After what seems like a long break from blogging while we settled into our new home, we are back, with the news that little baby F is one!  And what better way to start than sharing her birthday celebrations.

The theme was decided by L and N.  We have been learning about the weather, and they have been captivated by rainbows.  We have made our own tiny rainbows with a glass of water and a torch like this, and by lucky coincidence seen this brilliant rainbow in the sky.

Rainbow

L and N requested a rainbow tea party, and so F’s birthday theme was decided.  L and N painted their own rainbow t-shirts to wear on the day, using fabric markers:

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And Mummy had fun making a special one for F!

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It worked brilliantly – bright, bold colours were perfect for a one year old, and it was such a fun theme to carry out.  This is what our playroom looked like:

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The decorations were:

  • A crepe paper curtain – literally just strips of rainbow coloured paper sellotaped to the door frame.
  • A rainbow banner – the letters of F’s name cut out of craft foam and threaded along a string.
  • Paper bunting – easy peasy triangles of coloured paper fixed to a stripy ribbon using double sided tape
  • A rainbow mobile – made of craft foam, PVA glue, and threaded onto yarn using a needle, and attached to two bamboo skewers tied together in a cross shape.

The “party” itself was quite low key – just ourselves and Nana, who was visiting.  I wanted to be able to focus on F, and give her attention rather than entertaining people – also, we thought she would probably be overwhelmed by lots of people.

So we had a trip to the farm, and a tea party with lots of colourful and sensory things to explore.

The toy tray was very easy, and brilliant in that it gave a new lease of life to toys that haven’t been played with for ages.  L, N and I sorted toys that were safe for F to explore, into the colours of the rainbow, and arranged them in an empty drawer.

I tried to give her a range of textures, noisy toys and shapes to investigate.  Some of the things we included were:

duplo blocks

large wooden numbers

pieces of fabric

an unused toothbrush

Rattles

toy cars

a bottle of coloured water

coloured paper

a hair scrunchie

wooden blocks

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We also put together some rainbow discovery bottles.  The beauty of this was allowing F to investigate some of the forbidden objects that fascinate her, in a safe way – hairbands, pipecleaners, pens, paperclips, beads, coloured rice… At first I found it hard to decide whether to group things by type (ie. a bottle of rainbow rice, a bottle of multicoloured pipecleaners etc) or to group them by colour.  I decided on the latter when a friend pointed out that we could then use them for single colour learning.  Another friend suggested a final bottle with an object of each colour, which I plan to do once we’ve emptied another plastic bottle!

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I was concerned that including a variety of objects in each bottle would be overwhelming and prevent F from focusing and investigating them fully, so I limited the number of things in each one, and tried to make the bottles different in terms of the sounds they made and the kinds of objects they contained.  There really are infinite ways of doing this and all of them good!

We ended up with:

  • Red pipecleaners cut to different lengths
  • Orange dyed pasta shapes
  • Yellow pom poms and pieces of drinking straw
  • Green bay leaves and dyed rice
  • Blue tissue paper and microbeads
  • Indigo pens, pencils, crayons and shiny fake gems
  • Violet beads and hairbands, plus a purple necklace of mine.

F has had great fun rolling these along the floor, shaking them, banging them…I wondered if shie might be frustrated by not being able to empty the bottles but so far she hasn’t tried (the lids are stuck down with strong glue).

We also had rainbow handprinting (I picked up the rainbow handprint sponge from The Works).

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…and F received some fantastic rainbow presents, including Melissa and Doug Rainbow Sound Blocks, a large colourful activity cube, and musical instruments including a rainbow xylophone.

Our present to F was a sand and water table, which will never be limited to sand and water – for the birthday, we filled it with strips of coloured paper, rainbow dyed rice krispies (an alternative to rainbow rice that’s safe if eaten), and shaving foam which we later added food colouring to for marble painting.

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We finished up with a rainbow layer cake.  This was actually easy if time consuming, although no more so than other birthday cakes we’ve had.  It just involved making a huge quantity of sponge mix, dividing it into separate bowls, and dyeing each a different colour using gel food colouring.  The gel gives a beautiful vivid colour with only a few drops, whereas liquid would be likely to ruin the cake batter as you’d need so much colouring.  The layers are then sandwiched together with buttercream.  We covered ours in fondant too, as no matter how much buttercream you make, it will never be enough for this cake!

The bonus of using gel colour is that  the gel can be used to dye fondant really smoothly.  Here is our take on the rainbow layer cake:

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We served the cake with a rainbow fruit platter (easier and more toddler-friendly than skewers):

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And here is the birthday girl, enjoying her day:

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A Princess Birthday

My big girl turned three on Saturday – cue lots of misty-eyed reminiscing and cries of “I can’t believe she’s three” – but I really can’t.  Here is how we celebrated…

N had waited long and patiently for this day, having shared a joint party with her brother two weeks ago and not quite able to understand why they shared the party but not the birthday.  I really didn’t want her day to be a replica of L’s, but she seemed to be looking foprward to having her turn at exactly the same thing…so here is how we kept some elements of the day she was waiting for, whilst adding some special surprises just for her…

There was an unintentional “princess” theme to the day, partly because she has caught the princess fever that seems to be compulsory for three year old girls, and also because all toys/decorations aimed at three-year old girls come with built-in princesses.  It’s a chicken and egg situation, but N loves it, and seeing as it was her special day, I put my reservations about just how much this princess thing is taking over to one side for the day and focused on doing what she would really love and remember.

N ate her breakfast on a Princess throne.  The inspiration for this was that I remember having a special chair decorated for my seventh birthday party, and how, well, special it felt.  I couldn’t quite believe that chair was just for me.  I wanted to pass that feeling on to N.

This didn’t cost a penny.  Because I made it up as I went along.  I took a large piece of while netting from my sewing stash, draped it over the chair until it looked suitably princessy, and pinned it in place with safety pins.  I tied a large pink spotty ribbon around the middle and added a fluffy pink cushion.  I used a fabric marker pen to write “Princess Nancy” across the front, and decorated with assorted odds and ends from the sewing and craft stashes – some miscellaneous pink fluff, some beads, some shiny streamers.  I’m thinking this could be easy to do for a variety of themes, and with a bit of advance planning some really complex themed chairs could be pulled off – but it’s not something I’d want to do too often because for me, the charm is in its “one-off” specialness and complete surprise.

I also made N a princess garland to wear, which with all the gratitude of a three year old, she didn’t want to wear.  But I did get a very sweet picture of her wearing it before it was discarded (she will no doubt love it another day, so it’s gone to the dressing up box).

This was made very simply and easily by threading silk flowers through craft wire, and weaving ribbon through.  I had planned to try this tutorial, as I think these crowns look amazing, but I didn’t have any liquid or powder starch and spray starch just didn’t do the job.  I ran out of time to try stiffening the fabric with a sugar solution.  But I still plan to make the crown at some point in the future.

After breakfast we played with N’s presents.  I had made a Pink Birthday themed sensory box, which L and N played with for ages and was a huge success.  again, this didn’t cost a penny.

My first thought had been to use sparkly multicoloured rice as a filler, but knowing this would be played with in the lounge I lost my nerve.  Also, we have done a lot of play with rice recently which was a good excuse, and I decided to use party decorations and wrapping – I literally put them in the box for the children to do what they liked with  and explore.   I find it hard not to have ideas of what they might like to do with the materials, but this time I had no ideas – their ideas were plentiful; I needn’t have worried.  I added some miniature birthday cards (made my folding card toppers in half – these were mainly ones I got free with craft magazines, or had been squished at the bottom of the craft drawer.  Ditto some cardboard fairies.  I added two fairy wands, some ribbons of various textures, some of those cheap and shiny rosettes for present-wrapping, a giant fuzzy pipecleaner twisted into a heart shape, some squishy butterfly shaped gel packs  and some sequins (I chickened out on the glitter).  I found some lovely shiny wrappings, spray painted some bubble wrap silver, and just threw them all in.

The centre of a cupcake stand worked well to divide the box up, as well as conveniently being shaped like a princess castle – you may recognise it from our fairy picnic.  Ditto the miniature tea set which was included because it reminded me of a birthday tea party.  I also added my silicone cupcake cases (some pleasingly heart-shaped) and a jar of beads and candles.  the finishing touches were a pink “birthday princess” balloon left over from their party, and some textured decorative tape stuck along the edge of the box.

The first thing L and N did was to host a picnic for their dolls and toys.  The beads became “food”, the bubble wrap was spread out on the ground and the tea set used for the dollies’ picnic.  The beads and tea set were all tiny, so lots of fine motor development going on here.  This is our third sensory box, and this time L didn’t ask me what the materials were for, he just got stuck in, and I think he initiated the picnic 🙂

This has been an ongoing game for three days now, with bead cupcakes being designed and candles added.  N has played at it by herself today (and she never plays by herself!):

N enjoyed a completely self-initiated sorting activity, sorting the beads into their different colours to make different coloured cakes, and they both practised alternating colours to make patterns.  When they have had some time to play without my intervention I might suggest making necklaces for the dolls, practising further motor skills and more complicated repeating patterns.

The pink tinsel was a hit – it has been a river next to the picnic, a dressing up scarf, a relay baton, a train track, the piston of an engine as they ran around the room being a train, one at each end of the tinsel.  They have practised jumping over it, skipping with it, walking along it without falling off…

The castle has been a home for the assortment of playmobil fairies N received on Saturday.  Although this was a very strictly supervised playtime for baby F, she enjoyed handling those materials I gave her access to.  She didn’t seem to mind not joining in, as the wrapping paper from N’s presents was her favourite anyway!

F plays with a giant pipecleaner

Wrapping paper fun

The dressing up box  was brilliant, it made for a memorable day of eclectic outfits and pretend games, here we have a selection:

Princess jasmine and Woody make cupcakes for tea

Woody and a snowman get ready to make paint

A skeleton sweeps the decking

As you can see, we had a crafty interlude where we made cupcakes (I’m saving that for another post, but suffice it to say they were pink and delicious), and more paint for the bath.

But first, we had to see what Daddy had been doing in the garden:

“LOOK!”

And we had a great time bouncing on our new trampoline!  Bouncing turned to hopping, skipping, and follow the leader.

Jump

Skip

hop!

Hop like a frog

Lots of gross motor development happening here 🙂

Even little F had a turn – cue very sweet sibling bonding moment…

A tea party with Nana and Grandad to follow, giving L and N the opportunity to show off their cupcakes, followed by the last surprise of the day – a fairy-themed sensory bath.

Pink food colouring in the water of course, along with flower-shaped sparkles and rose petals (I cut up an old hair scrunchie with a flower embellishment) made a perfect fairy pond.  I also found these flower-shaped paint palettes in Home Bargains, which made perfect lily pads and allowed the opportunity for mixing paints.  I sat a plastic fairy on each one.  Here is what it looked like:

All three children joined in, F joining for the first part, and enjoying watching the coloured water being poured.  I think soon she might enjoy a tray of coloured water on her high chair tray for her own playtime.

We repeated a lot of the ideas from this sensory bath, because that was what L and N wanted – it has struck me during our recent playtimes that whilst I want to keep things new and exciting, children love repetition, and that they get different things out of an activity each time it is repeated.  They seem to let you know when they have exhausted the learning potential (and therefore the fun).  There is always something they can get out of it, even if it is just demonstrating to a younger sibling, or a sense of accomplishment from practising something they are already adept at), and they will very quickly find it. The thing I love about this sort of activity is that it is adaptable – we can add or take away from it as it fits the children’s needs, and unlike a shop bought toy which they outgrow and becomes redundant, this type of play evolves with the children.

So out came the paints again!  L and N ask for this every bath time and I keep reminding them that it wouldn’t be special if we did it every day.  This time they added a lot of water to the paint, which i let them do in the name of exploring the properties of the paint and finding out what happened, then wondered if i’d made a mistake and allowed them to spoil their own fun – we poured away the water and there was still enough paint left for play time.

We added a bit of fairy magic to our bath for ‘s birthday – fizzy heart shaped bath bombs leaving “fairy dust” in the water (L wanted to do this again and again and enjoyed the feel of the fizzing on his hand, and exploring ideas about what happened to the material – I had to admit that I don’t know how a bath bomb works and promised him we would look it up!).  and we used magic blue water to turn the bath purple (N’s other favourite colour).

After the bath, all that was left was to read a princess book in bed, wearing her new Tinkerbell pyjamas:

And for the first time I said goodnight to my three year old daughter!

Frugal Finds

I love my charity shops.  With N’s birthday coming up on Saturday, what better time for a forage?  My first idea was to put together a dressing up box, and I have!  Princess dresses galore, ballerina tutus, snow white, a snowman, an elf, a hairdresser, a doctor (nicely cancelling out the gender implications of a hairdressers outfit, I feel).  I added some beads, and a tiara, and some old handbags of mine.  Plus an old Buzz Lightyear costume of L’s, a ladybird costume she already owns, and a home made pirate outfit, again outgrown by L, although the idea is for them both to have fun  dressing up.

There is so much I want to add to this – an old shirt (artists smock), and some “job” related things – fireman and policeman’s hat for example, but for now, I have something she will love to open on Saturday, play with endlessly, and can be added to infinitely.

I also found this little beauty:

Which I thought would make the perfect bed for this creature:

In case you’re wondering, this is Wilfred the Mouse, inspired by the Brambly Hedge books (beautifully illustrated stories about the adventures of some charming little mice) and made out of felt a couple of evenings ago.  Now picture the wooden bed painted, with a home made quilt and pillow, and Wilfred the “cheeky little mousey” snuggled inside.  This image pleases me greatly.  Nancy has been carrying around an imaginary “cheeky little mousey” for some months now, occasionally looking for him when he runs away and generally stopping him getting into trouble.  I wanted to give her a cheeky little mousey to hold and cuddle, and I’m thrilled that he has his own bed!  I’m thinking there may be more Brambly Hedge mice joining us at Christmas, perhaps with little felt clothes and acorn teacups…

The other thing I found today was this:

They are not for N, but for baby F, and are Wonder Cubes , originally from the Early Learning Centre.  The other day at a baby group, I noticed F playing happily with some stacking cups, and was quite surprised that she was ready for them.  I seem to remember this with the others too, that when you see them day to day you almost “forget” they are developing so quickly and it is easy to miss the opportunity to introduce new toys.  F was enjoying putting a smaller cup inside a bigger cup over and over again.  So, while she waits for me to get some toys out of the garage at the weekend, we have these.  And i love them for many reasons.
I like toys that can be played with in different ways and develop with the children.   And also toys that all three will play with in different ways, and encourage them playing together.   These bring opportunities for stacking, counting, colour recognition, learning the names of animals, making noises, learning rhythm…and no doubt other things i haven’t thought of yet that the children will discover for themselves.  They also have some beautiful visual effects incorporated – holograms, a kaleidoscope, transparent coloured plastic, confetti, a mirror – perfect for a six month-old’s sensory development :-).  And even as I write I’m thinking of emotion recognition games involving the mirror, as well as F learning to recognise herself.  For the moment, she seems to like the way they reflect light in patterns across the floor.
I also found two wooden-handled skipping ropes, something I’ve been intending to buy for a while, since L’s sports day last year when I noticed that most boys couldn’t skip!  I see opportunities for exercise, developing co-ordination and co-operative play – but most importantly, fun!
Watch this space for a post on learning to skip!
Last but not least, we bought a trampoline a few weeks ago off a second hand website, as a joint birthday present for L and N.  We had originally planned to get it out on L’s birthday, but then thought that N’s birthday deserved some excitement all of its own, seeing as she has already had her party.  So we’re crossing our fingers for decent weather and looking forward to the excitement on their little faces when they discover a trampoline in the garden.  I think it will burn off some of their energy in those winter months when we don’t get out and about as much, as well as providing endless fun for all three next Summer!

Birthday Bonanza (and lessons learned)…

Last week we celebrated two birthdays at once (L’s fifth and a slightly early celebration for N’s third, with a big joint birthday party).  This year I felt strangely emotional about L’s birthday, five being a bit of a milestone and coinciding with his starting full time school.  And somehow managed to convince myself that this birthday needed to be the biggest, best birthday that ever was.

I was full of plans… he would be woken on his birthday to a room full of balloons and a tower of home made pancakes topped with a candle, and dinosaur-shaped toast.  He would take to school home made goodies for all his classmates, and come home to a mimi-version of the weekend’s birthday party after school, with a treasure hunt, lucky dip with home made prizes… the effort I put into this would be directly proportional to my love for my boy, indeed, my efforts would prove how much I love him, he is my best boy and deserves the best birthday, no?

Well, no.  Or yes and no, because he does deserve the best birthday ever, but not  in the way I thought.  I was seeing his birthday through adult eyes, and making that classic mistake of thinking that the hard way is always the best way.  I didn’t enjoy the days preceding his birthday at all, so stressed and busy was I.  And L watched a lot of telly while I busied myself preparing this perfect occasion.  The day before his birthday, the rainbow lollies for his class looked amazing but tasted like play-dough, I had not had time to make the space rocket N wanted to make him, I had not even brushed my hair…I realised this was not what I wanted, to dread  the birthday celebration and breathe a sigh of relief when it was all over.  I wanted some happy memories for me and all the children..

So on his birthday morning, L was indeed woken to a sea of balloons, but a candle in a pain au chocolat replaced the pancakes (he doesn’t even like pancakes, he thinks they’re Yorkshire puddings).  But he was very pleased with his birthday breakfast, just as much as if I had got up at six to make pancakes..

Here are the things he enjoyed most on his birthday:

  • Waking up to a room full of balloons (this was easy, and he thought they had arrived by magic)

  • Being allowed to choose the food completely himself for a tea party with his two partners in crime from school.  The food snob in me was almost embarrassed to buy this but he chose frozen pizza, fish fingers, crisps, chocolate biscuits, ice cream and blackcurrant squash.
  • Taking biscuits to school (I  binned the rainbow lollies and made shortbread).
  • A bandge from the pound shop that announced to the world that it was his birthday.
  • A very easy round cake covered in sweets, and a rendition of Happy Biiorthday from his family and friends

Happy Birthday L!

  • Having his friends to play with his presents (no structured activity, lots of hide and seek and present-opening).
  • A birthday poem the night before, which delighted him and he asked for again and again…

“When I’ve said my evening prayer,

And my clothes are folded on the chair,

And Mummy switches out the light,

I’ll still be FOUR years old tonight.

But from the very break of day,

Before the sun comes out to play,

Before the darkness turns to gold,

Tomorrow I’ll be FIVE years old.

FIVE candles on my cake

And FIVE kisses when I wake!”

This is in fact a poem I remember from my own childhood, proving its worth in the making of happy birthday memories, and how lovely to pass it on.

  • A surprise note in his lunch box:

  • And the time he had to read his new set of children’s encyclopedias (my little geek almost trembling with excitement as he cried “look, Mummy, these books teach you about the World!” (allaying nana’s fears about giving him a borning present, and confirming for me that children love learning unless they are taught to find it boring, or forced to learn in a way that focuses on performance rather than learning itself)

And playing on his new scooter (£10 from Tesco, N’s donated by a lovely friend whose daughter has outgrown it), proving that there’s no need to buy expensive presents to make a child happy:

And the things I enjoyed:

  • The excitement and joy that simply being five brought to L.  His beautiful conviction that his feet were bigger because he was now five, and his insistence that I measure him (and me stretching the truth to let him think he had grown in the night).  Telling him throughout the day “look how tall you are, you can reach the cupboard now” etc etc.
  • Seeing how much he loved having his school friends and what good friends he has made at school.  seeing him socially confident.
  • N’s joy at celebrating his birthday, with no jealousy.  This after I’d anticipated sadness on her part when he opened all the presents, but in reality she couldn’t wait to come home for his birthday tea.
  • A chapter of The Faraway Tree and reminiscing about the day at bedtime.

My lesson learned: the simple things make the best memories. 

The weekend brought the party.  My one concession to making life easy had been to hold the party in a leisure centre and not try to decorate a village hall as I have in previous years.  yet I wantded to make the food myself plus a few handmade touches that would make the party personal top my children.  the one thing they wanted was a bouncy castle, so we settled on a theme of “Bouncing Birthdays”.

Here are L and N, kangaroo and ballerina respectively:

And again:

The ballerina’scostume was straight from the shelves at Matalan.

The Kangaroo costume designed by moi.  I sewed a piece of brown felt to a brown T-shirt to form a pouch, and inserted a stuffed kangaroo.  I cut out two simple ears from craft foam and sewed them to the hood of a brown hoodie.  The tail was created by cutting two bits of felt, filling with upholstery wadding and sewing together.  I attached this to a belt so that it could be removed for playing.  Brown trousers added, and voila!  I was pleased with the result, after having worried when L decided to go to the party as a kangaroo.

Aunty J sent face paints as a birthday present, which really added to the fun:

And we created a very cute baby rabbit costume for F by sewing a white pom-pom tail to a pair of tights, and adding a hat with ears (again by Chateau Matalan)

The dressing up, which some people consider a faff, is something i would definitely keep in the plan – the effort is rewarded in making the party feel special and memorable to the children, and it really didn’t take very long.  This is worth the effort in my book – that, and the cake…

Buzz Lightyear’s space rocket, for L.

L has been excited about a space rocket birthday cake pretty much since last year’s pirate ship.  I really wanmted to make a 3D standing-up rocket rather than a cake cut into the shape of a rocket, and the only way I could think of doing it was to stack round cakes on top of one another and dowel them, creating an enormous cake like a wedding cake, difficult to transport, leaving us with a lot of cake to eat (not necessarily a bad thing!) and potentially dwarfing N’s cake.  Until I found a tutorial online that suggested using a transparent plastic cup on top of a cake baked in a pudding basin, topped with an ice cream cone.

http://www.coolest-birthday-cakes.com/coolest-rocket-cake-20.html

So this is what I did, adding a lego Buzz Lightyear and using Buzz Lightyear’s colours.  The pudding basin is coated in green fondant, the ice cream cones coated with buttercream, then white fondant, then sugar dyed blue for added glitter (and a nod to L’s favourite colour being blue).  The board is coated in purple buttercream with white chocolate stars, and lego alien added for effect.  The purple buttercream was then used to embellish the cale and hide the join between cake and cup / cones.

I can’t take any crredit for N’s cake, since she designed it herself.  But I will say that her idea came from my wedding cake book, when i was making this wedding cake for my sister:

Shameless showing-off!

So, N decided that she wanted a chocolate cake in the shapwe of a number three, iced in pinky-purple (her current favourite colour obsession) with daisies (her current favourite flower) and multicoloured flowers.  Here is my husband’s  creative interpretation of her instructions:

And very happy it made her too!

Not many photos of the party due to not wantiong to post pictures of other people’s children, but therte was lots of bouncing and playing.  However, I have to say that next year it’s the village hall again for us – I never want to feel rushed, and the staff did keep trying to deflate the bouncy castle before the end of the party to allow them to tidy up and go home (since we were the last party of the day)…and I had to be a little bit “assertive”… and when we brought out the pinata, they did keep asking me how long it was going to take.  Also, the hour and a half slot did feel rushed, which only made me stressed, and meant I didn’t get the chance to talk to anyone during the party.

We managed to make our own party bags though.  Brown paper lunch bags served us very well with a printed label.   I had planned to let the children decorate the bags but we ran out of time – I don’t think it mattered.

We made a colouring / activity book using free online printables (colouring, join the dots) plus a simple wordsearch containing bounce-related words.

L and N enjoyed making recycled rainbow crayons with old broken crayons by breaking them up, melting them down in silicone cupcake cases and letting them cool and harden.

Breaking up crayons

Arranging them in cases before heating in the oven…

With added glitter, rainbow crayons all round!

These actually looked even better out of the cases, so I wish I had a picture.

We added a fun sized chocolate bar and a slice of birthday cake.

All in all, a successful party, but we won’t repeat the leisure centre experience.  Party in the hall next year, but with one key difference.  The things I spend time on will be the things that matter to my children, things they will notice and remember.  And on the birthday itself the only prop I will need is a paper crown, since my plan is that I will make the child King / Queen for the day and let them choose everything we do.  I have already started by asking N what she would like to do on her real birthday, next week.  She would like to eat chocolate and make a donkey!  I think we’ll have a lot of fun…