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All Tomorrow's Parties: The best ideas for birthday parties I never threw

In a fit of back-to-school cleaning, I started tossing old files from my overstuffed filing cabinet in the kitchen last weekend. Some compulsive hoarders collect canned food, toilet paper, stuffed animals. I collect ideas. I have file after file of newspaper and magazine clippings for all my big plans: stories I'll never write, contents I'll never enter, gifts I'll never send. When my kids were first born and I was still giddy about the notion of birthday parties, I started a file on party ideas that is now about two inches thick. The only problem is that, between my 2 kids and the party-every-other-year rule we had, I only had the opportunity to throw about 10 birthday parties before they hit age 10 and I petered out. Now that they're tweens, we're content to keep it simple: A small group of friends for a movie or lunch, a family trip, a special present. Still, I'm finding it hard to part with this manila folder of decade-old tattered clippings. The only way I can bear to do it is to pass on the best of the untapped possibilities. So here's my list of all the parties I never threw. Please add to it with your own party themes. Somewhere, at some point in time, some hoarder mom may end up printing a few out and saving some in her own bulging file (or actually throwing one).

· Blind 'Em With Science: A Mad Scientist birthday party, with invites to the "lab" written on graph paper and personalized lab coats as take-home treats. Have kids make their own slime (out of Elmer's glue, food coloring, water and Borax; recipes are online).

· Masterpiece Theater: A painting party for little ones with the invitation painted on tiny wooden palettes. Pair guests up and have them paint each other's portraits, using paint, magic markers, pencils and crayons. Hang the paintings on a clothesline across the yard to dry. Have each child dip her hand in fabric paint and make a handprint on a plain white T-shirt as keepsake. Put out sprinkles, colored sugar and tubes of icing, and have guests take turns decorating the birthday cake. For party favors, fill small buckets with brushes, paints, pads and other cheap art supplies.

· Chalk It Up: An outdoor chalk drawing party, with guests drawing outlines of each other's bodies and playing sidewalk games like hopscotch.

· Breakfast of Champions: An edible jewelry making party for little girls, with all kinds of cereals in different bowls and yards of stretchable string or licorice for them to design their own creations.

· Berried Treasure: A strawberry picking party at Knaus Berry Farm in the Redland or some other you pick'em farm. Strawberry Shortcake fans take note.

· Dream On: A slumber party or camping party in which the kids make their own dream catchers.

· Tomb Raiders: A King Tut party with mystery scroll invitations and a backyard treasure hunt with hieroglyphic clues.

· It's All in the Hand: A puppet party where kids make their own puppets and create their own short shows on a makeshift stage.

· A Shore Thing: A castle building party at the beach, with messages in bottles as the party invites.

· Rock My World: A space-age party with a space shuttle cake, stars hanging everywhere, Milky Way candy bars. Paint 50 or so rocks with silver glitter paint, then hide them around the yard and let kids keep the ones they find.

· There's A Story: Have kids come dressed as their favorite storybook characters and feature a professional storyteller at the party. Decorate with classic children's books.