Max was obsessed with dinosaurs. Like, crazy obsessed. From Apatosaurus to Zigongosaurus, he knew and loved them all. And as his birthday approached, all he could talk about was how excited he was for his dinosaur party.
He wanted a cake shaped like a zigongosaurus. Do you know what a zigongosaurus is? Neither did I. Google did. And I soon realized that a zigongosaurus cake was well beyond my skill level. Since Max can tell each dinosaur apart, I was afraid my zigongosaurus would look like an apatosaurus, or brachiosaurus, or an I've-never-heard-of-it-osaurus, so I talked him into to a cake shaped like any sauropod. That way, I knew that all I had to do was make a dinosaur with a long neck, and he wasn't going to be disappointed. With that, I headed back to Google, and found instructions to make a cake shaped like a sauropod, here. Make sure that if you're going to shape your own cake, you bake one from scratch. If you use one from a box, it will crumble apart.

    So, what did the little paleontologists do at the dino-mite party? First, they went on a dinosaur hunt. I got a bunch of little dinosaurs and other dinosaur themed stuff from Oriental Trading Company, stuck them in some plastic Easter eggs, and hid them in the backyard.
    When the guests arrived, they all decorated a bag with stickers and markers. This kept them entertained until everyone had arrived, and was ready to hunt.  

    After the dinosaur hunt, the kids dug up some dinosaurs. This took a while to prepare. I got each kid a little dinosaur skeleton (also from Oriental Trading Company), and buried it in a plaster mold. To make the molds, I used some styrofoam take-out containers from my in-laws, and filled them with a mixture of plaster, sand, and water. I hid the dinosaur skeletons in the plaster, and set the molds out to dry for a few days. When they were dry, they were little bricks of plaster, waiting for the kids to chip them out.

       Then, I made each kid a little mallet and a chisel out of wood dowels. I got a 1 inch wood dowel, and cut it into sections, 2 inches long to form the mallet. For the handle, I used 3/8 inch wood dowels, cut into 6 inch sections. I drilled 3/8 inch holes halfway into the middle of the hammer pieces, and put the handles in, with a little wood glue to keep them in place.
    For the chisels, I used 1/2 inch wood dowels, cut into 6 inch pieces, and used a pencil sharpener to make the point.

    The kids absolutely LOVED digging out the dinosaurs. We all sat out on the patio, while the kids chipped away. The plaster and sand mixture was strong enough to hold together, but even my 2 year old daughter was strong enough to chip out her dinosaur. Then, once the dinosaurs were out, the kids rinsed them in a bucket of water, and brushed off any extra dirt, just like real paleontologists! 

    We served dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets for our carnivore guests, and had salad and veggies for the herbivores. Everyone had a great time, and the whole thing cost about $100.
    For Lily's 2nd birthday, she said she wanted a carnival in a
circus tent, and a circus cake. I had about $100 and a pretty vibrant imagination, so I decided to turn my house into a carnival. 
     First, I made a tent for the front door. Whenever I have any structure to make, my material of choice is always PVC pipe. It's only a couple of dollars a stick, and all of the fittings are about 25 cents each. It's very easy to work with. To cut it, all you need is a PVC cutter, and once you glue it with PVC glue, that sucker's not going anywhere. For the tent, I used 1/2 inch PVC, but if you need something to support any weight, you'd have to use a larger diameter. Once I had the tent framed, I draped sheets of plastic red and white striped table cloth over it, to form the tent. I zip tied the tablecloth to the PVC to hold it in place, and it turned out to be a pretty decent tent for about $10.

    Inside the house, I hung cup holder hooks from the ceiling in each corner of the room, and tied a string from each hook making kind of a clothesline around the room. Then, I cut sheets of the striped table cloth and hung them from the string, leaving room for the windows to let in the light. This was great, because I didn't have to take down any pictures; I just hung the table cloths in front of them. I also used different colored table cloths along the walls where the games were, and hung the signs for the games from the string at the ceiling. My amazing neighbor painted the signs for the games.

    Every carnival needs games! Since this carnival was geared toward preschool kids, the games weren't very difficult, and everyone was a winner. These were the games we had and how to set them up:
    Strike Out: For this game, we used bowling pins, a playground ball, and a table. We lined up the bowling pins on a table in the backyard, and the kids stood back behind a line and threw the ball at them to knock them down. Knock down the pins to win!
    Gone Fishing:  For this game I used an inflatable pool from the dollar store, a stick, a magnet, string, construction paper, and paper clips. First, I tied the magnet to the stick to make a fishing pole. Then, I cut the construction paper into the shape of some fish, and attached paperclips. I cut up some blue construction paper to look like water, and threw the "water" and "fish" into the dry pool, and the kids went "fishing." Catch a fish, win a prize!
    Carnival Cups: If you went to college, you probably played "Carnival Cups," but called it something different. For this game, I used disposable cups, a piece of cardboard, ping-pong balls, and a table. I glued the cups to the cardboard in the shape of a triangle, and put it on the table. The kids stood back behind a line, and tried to throw ping-pong balls into the cups. Get one in, you win! You can also have each cup labeled with a different prize.
    Shootin' Range: For this game, I used a large cardboard box, styrofoam, golf tees, ping-pong balls, and a loaded water gun. I glued the styrofoam to the top of the box, and stuck the golf tees into the top of the styrofoam in a line. Then, I placed the ping-pong balls on the golf tees, and the kids stood back behind a line and shot the ping-pong balls off the tees with the water gun. Shoot 'em down, win a prize! It doesn't work well on a windy day, because the balls get blown off really easily. If you do try it on a windy day, stock up on prizes, because you'll have lots of winners.
    Pony Shoes: This was basically short range horseshoes. Get the horshoe around the pole, win a prize!
    Kerplop: For this game we used a stepstool, an empty bottle and some clothespins. The kids stood on the stepstool and tried to drop the clothespins into the bottle. Get one in, and you win! 
    Walk the Line: For this game we used a wooden spoon, waterballoons and some duct tape. I taped a line across the backyard, and the kids walked the like while holding the waterballoon on the spoon. If you can make it down the line and back without dropping the waterballoon, you win a prize! This was great for the little ones, but it was pretty easy for some of the bigger kids, so we turned it into more of an obstacle course.  
    We also had face painting.

        Don't forget the prizes! Most of the budget for the party went to ordering the prizes from Oriental Trading Company. Since Lily had invited a bunch of kids, we needed a ton of prizes. I hung an unused piece of trellis netting from my garden from the ceiling, and clothespinned some of the prizes to it to create a big display. I forgot to take another picture after I put up the sign and the rest of the prizes, but you get the idea.

   For the cake, I baked 3 sheet cakes, and stacked them on top of each other with frosting inbetween, making a huge block of cake. Then, I cut the top of each side at an angle, to make the shape of a circus tent. If you are going to do this, I advise baking a cake from scratch, because box cakes are really fluffy and crumbly, so then you try to frost it, it might come apart. Cakes from scratch are more dense, and hold their shape better. If you use a box cake, then I would cover it with fondant instead of frosting, so that you don't see all the little crumbs.  I frosted the whole thing white, and piped on red stripes. Then, I made little colorful flags out of construction paper and toothpicks, and put them all around the edges of the cake. It actually did look like a circus tent! Lily loved it! I was impressed. 
    We put the cake out on a table with a bunch of different candy and fruit, and covered it all with another PVC tent.

    We added balloons to everything just before the guests arrived, and everything turned out great! I decorated our outdoor bar to look like a ticket booth, and handed out tickets to the guests as they arrived. The whole thing ended up costing about $100, which I thought was pretty reasonable for a carnival!