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Our firstborn was about to turn two, and we wanted to give him a birthday party about something he liked. I know that in a year or two we probably won’t have much choice about what “thing” he’s excited about for a party theme, but for this year it was still kind of up to us – so we went for something he always loves to talk about when we are out for a walk or a drive: TREES.

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We had so much fun decorating the dining room up for our “tree” theme. I was so glad it wasn’t still all painted bright blue and salmon pink.

One weird thing is that I was doing a lot of my planning for this party over Christmas break and basically everything tree oriented was also bedecked with candy canes and Santas. I couldn’t find any tree-oriented invitations at any of the usual sites I like to peruse: Minted, TinyPrints, etc. Only Christmas trees or whole gardens.

Luckily trees are very, very forgiving to paint or draw. So I pulled out my watercolor set and poked around a little making some sketched trees and letters and numbers.

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Then I scanned them and combined a few, playing around with photo processing software to make our invitations:

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Since the place we were printing them, Costco, let you print the back for free, I added a photo from our summer trip to Westonbirt Arboretum and a few party details on the back.

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We uploaded them as a 5×7 jpg file and they printed in just a few days, on nice thick paper with rounded corners and free envelopes, and all for a very affordable price compared to the sites I usually look at, or even compared to printing something at home from Etsy.

Since the holiday break is a time when I really should be planning my courses, procrastination meant I did all kinds of little prep things ahead of time that were time consuming but big time fun for my DIY crafting heart.

I decided to make tree crayons.

I ordered a bunch of inexpensive bulk crayons – restaurant packs of 4 colors – from Amazon and broke them up to make tree-shaped crayons for the favors. I have heard that as kids get older there are tons of broken excess crayons and extras from restaurants and whatnot, so I look forward to doing this again sometime. It took about 4 crayons to make one chunky toddler tree crayon. I used this silicone mold and baked them at 200 degrees for about 12-15 minutes. The baking part was too messy and hot to do with toddlers but I think this could be a fun supervised craft for kids maybe ages 4 and older? Also I learned you should do all of the lighter colors first as any small bit of darker wax mixed in leaves a mark on them. No big deal but good to note for the future. Another thing I realized part way through is that the wax is very sloshy when they’re full – instead of melting 4 crayons, for the last few batches I just melted three in each, which made for a shallower crayon, but then when I took them out of the oven and while they were still hot and liquid, I broke a single crayon in half and sank both pieces deep into the pool of melted wax in each mold. This filled up the volume but meant they weren’t as hard to get out of the oven splash-free. Notes for next time, I guess. Anyway it was fun! They don’t take long to cool and you can pop them out and color away.

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I ordered some inexpensive brown organza bags from eBay and stuck in a little memo pad for a cute toddler tree favor that will hopefully be used up and not just turn into knick-knacky clutter.

Though I know crayons can become clutter too! There’s no escaping it really.

We made “Ranger Badges” with printable name tag labels (Avery 8395). 

I found a big green fabric remnant at my favorite local thrift store for $1.75 and one evening when my mom was visiting we cut simple leaf shapes out of it – we ended up getting 100 leaves out of it – more than we needed. We strung them around and made them into a banner, as well as tacking them up onto the wall as part of our big paper tree in the corner.

Here’s the spread of “tree” themed foods – mostly just green things, or natural things. The tree trunk is brownie, though in hindsight I wish we’d cut it into smaller pieces since only a few people broke off any to eat. The cupcake frosting is from this recipe and I used AmeriColor gel paste food coloring which gave a good saturated color without that weird “dye” taste that some food colorings have.

Here were our drink options, which we called the hydration station: apple juice boxes for the kiddos, Sprite bottles for their pretty green glass, and some sweet tea and ice water for the grownups:

More of the food spread, again going with the green theme – snap-pea crisps, our son’s quirky favorite snack of green olives, and some pretzel “sticks” that also had delicious guacamole foliage my friend Kelly made and brought along for dipping:

I wanted some kind of large tree for the wall, but the options at the party store in town were all too much like inflatable palm trees (college town problems) and the like – and they started at $39.99 which… no. However, I noticed that the long brown sheets of paper that come as padding in Amazon boxes had a sort of barklike texture, so I saved a few and the day before the party my friend Sian and I went ahead and tried tacking some up on the wall along with the extra fabric cut-out leaves. We just used masking tape to hold things up, and it was all very forgiving.

It turned out pretty cute and was a nice anchor point for the room. The poster I wanted (Sequoia National Park WPA poster from the 30s) was not available online in a big size for less than $80, which, well, no, so I just printed a mock-up version for the party on our regular printer via blockposters– it had paper cut lines all through it so it wouldn’t work for a real art print, but it was definitely good enough for a party decoration.

Since my son has been enjoying a few “glue dot” type crafts at preschool lately, I thought we could probably do one as a craft activity for the group, gluing leaves onto some basic bare trees. I was going to buy a leaf punch but realized I would probably not use it very much so instead I found an Etsy seller who sells prepunched leaf shapes to use as confetti. No buying paper, no punching, no mess! They arrived quickly and were great.

They seemed like a hit – we had about 8 toddlers at a time doing the craft (on a vinyl tablecloth on the floor) and with their parents helping it all went pretty great! I don’t want to put a picture of anyone else’s kid on a public blog but it was really adorable to see them all hard at work.

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Here are some of the masterpieces drying on the sofa back.

We had a great time and it was wonderful to see our dining room having fun with a big crowd the way it sounds like it used to back in the 1910s.

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Happy 2nd Birthday to our little forest ranger! We love you!

My favorite photo of the day – our 2 year old and his beloved grandma “Gaga.”

And one last picture… Something about this one just cracks me up. After most everyone had left, we found him munching away on some broccoli and apparently thinking things over. We had a great day – happy birthday little one!

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