wild 'n' crafty fun for the four year old

My son turned 4 a couple of weeks ago and we celebrated with a birthday party at the Oakland Zoo.  I blogged about the zoo/safari/jungle themed invites I created using a few of Neal's illustrations well over a year go, but took this opportunity to tweak a design I was never fully satisfied with.

I guess the end result isn't all that different, just a little simpler, and printed on the very eco "paper bag" card stock from Paper Source.  Coordinating paper products included little favor tags and thank you cards:

The favor tags were attached to my, in the end, somewhat pathetic attempt at a pinata alternative, not because I have anything against a good ol' fashioned pinata (though I am a fan of the pull-string variety), but because, for some reason, the Oakland Zoo does not allow them.

I had already bought a big bag of candy from Costco when I read the fine print. I had to do something with all that candy!  So I stuffed three or four pieces each in a dozen large, plastic Easter eggs, wrapped that in tissue paper and attached the favor tag with brown baker's twine.

Favor bags this year included not a single, handmade-by-an-Etsian item! I know, right?!  I didn't even take a picture of the mass-produced items included within but in the goody bags kids found binoculars, sunglasses, a little mug with a zoo animal on it, and limited edition "jungle animal" green and white Mothers Cookies (you know I'm a fan), topped off with animal print bandanas.

Party decor was pretty simple, consisting of orange table cloths, and plates, etc., in blue and brown.  I had ordered these little animal finger puppets as possible cupcake toppers/favors but didn't care for them so ordered an alternate set and had these on the tables instead.  Most of them came home with us, unfortunately (what, you don't like chintzy finger puppets?!).

Instead of balloons, which I always find to be problematic (does one parent spend half the morning schlepping professionally helium-filled balloons from party store to party site, do you spend twenty bucks on one of those DIY kits, or do you blow them up yourself, pass out, then hang them from a tree?), I ordered these animal print "lanterns" instead.  Unfortunately I didn't really brainstorm how I'd quickly install them so after trying a few things, in the end used the orange crepe paper I had to hang a few grouped together in three or four spots.  These would be really cute for an outdoor, evening party, assuming you have the space and time to string some outdoor lights through them.

The only other DIY project I tackled for this party was the cake. This was our biggest birthday party yet (with about a dozen kids and even more adults) so while I was seriously tempted by a Costco cake, in the end I went ahead and baked up a double-layer nine inch vanilla and chocolate marble cake and a dozen vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. And it's a good thing I did because we only went home with about two pieces of leftover cake. The kids all wanted cupcakes, of course, then asked for servings of cake, too!  I don't know why I was shocked by this (they are kids, after all) but I have to admit I was a little taken aback.  Perhaps more by the parents' willingness to allow me to totally jack their kids up on sugar? At any rate, I was pretty pleased with how the cake turned out. I dabbled in Pinterest for this party, saving ideas here and using some of my favorites, including pirouette cookies for the outer edge of the cake (kind of like a bamboo fence, I guess), this circus train topper (I also ordered animal print cupcake liners from her), pieces of Hershey bars for the train tracks and a much nicer set of zoo animals for the cupcake toppers.  I frosted the cupcakes and the birthday boy helped me sprinkle the tops with crushed chocolate cat cookies from Trader Joe's, to look like dirt and grass. For the cake itself I used Trader Joe's box mixes (they are really so good) and for the frosting I used my go-to recipe for white chocolate buttercream and a mixture of Trader Joe's chocolate frosting mix and caramel for the filling. Yum.

For activities, we "led" a scavenger hunt through the zoo for the first hour or so. Somewhat disastrous, not surprisingly, what with trying to keep a dozen kids more or less together to answer eight or so questions that they can't actually read while you walk through hilly terrain, all in an hour's time. Then the kids came back, enjoyed some pizza, a few rides (the party was in the rides area of the zoo), and the two other activities I'd come up with - photos with this safari Jeep photo prop (what can I say, it was six bucks) and temporary tattoos I'd printed using the same illustrations used on the invites and paper goods.  The temporary tattoos were a huge hit. Initially I thought about face painting but I knew I wouldn't have the time to do it nor did I want to spend $150 or more to hire someone.  We went to one of several Easter egg hunts this spring at this place called Pump It Up and one of the activities they offered was a temporary tattoo station.  Brilliant!  This is the paper I used to print the tattoos (you do not need a Silhouette machine - just an inkjet printer). It's a little pricey considering you only get two sheets but I could fit 8 or 9 pretty large tattoos on there so if you size them a bit smaller you actually get a pretty decent amount, assuming you don't make any printing errors.  The birthday boy is above, sporting one of the snake tattoos. Clearly, this birthday stuff is very serious business.

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