Friday, March 14, 2014

TToT16: I Conquered the Birthday Party!

You know I love a good craft project. I love to create something pretty for display (bonus if it's functional). And, unlike many, I trawl Pinterest in my downtime.  For fun.

But when it comes to my children's birthday parties, I feel so terribly inadequate. Have you looked at the party ideas on Pinterest? I mean, a lot of them are ludicrous, yes, but still, some are reasonable and still far beyond the scope of my abilities and energy. This is where I understand the Pinterest haters.

Plus, the whole birthday party planning experience is shrouded under this feeling of what the party should be like and how I should love it. And I just don't. I don't like crowds (especially of small children), I don't feel like event planning is my thing, and I don't like performance decorating. Yet, I can't help but wonder (I've watched too much SATC, clearly) if I skip the party, am I not robbing my children of an important childhood experience of attention, cake, and presents?

Fortunately, my children are born four days apart (well, two years and 361 days). That means they're getting a joint party for as long as I can get away with it. And this year, this year folks, I think I conquered the party. I managed to plan an event that was not too overwhelming, yet pleasing to the senses. I managed to perform adequately while still honoring my children's preferences. And the cake. I knocked it out of the park with the cake, guys. Just you wait and see.

1. Shopping. One long date with Amazon on a Friday night and done. Budget set, presents selected, Amazon Prime membership borrowed from my MIL, and presents in time. Boom.

2. Leo's main present actually came from Etsy. I ordered it in December (for Christmas) and it arrived in late February. Oh well, it's not like he knew any better. And it is so stinkin' cute. I've got a boy who loves balls and loves soft, cuddly toys.
Perfect combo, and the seller worked with me on colors, theme, everything. She was slow, but she delivered in the end. And Leo loves it.

But on to the actual party:

3. Maggie and I went to the "balloon store" the weekend before, and I let her pick some basic decor. Balloons, streamers, tablecloth, plastic utensils, treat bag stuffers, etc. I limited categories of items we could purchase but let her have free reign within those areas. And then I worked on putting the house together. And I really think I came up with something fairly attractive. Festive even.

4. I even came up with a frickin' theme for this party: carousels (you'll see why later). I downloaded a carousel horse picture and created a craft for kids to do. No one did it, but who cares? It was there, it was free, and it worked with the theme.

5. Only two children attended; one for Maggie, one for Leo. We invited four, but two didn't show. Some might be sad about such a development, but I was overjoyed. We did our duty by inviting back, and we still didn't have to deal with crowds.

6. Leo's little friend had a ball. He was perfectly comfortable at our house and had a great time. Maggie's little friend wanted to sit her mother's lap the entire time and hardly uttered a word. Maggie didn't either. They did not have to interact, but they both got cake. Win-win!

7. When I asked Maggie what kind of party she wanted (Leo gets no say until he'll talk to us) a few weeks ago, she said she wanted to ride a carousel. Carousels are a dime-a-dozen around here, but most don't open until April. Except for the one on the National Mall. You know the one outside the Natural History Museum? Of course you do.
So I hatched a plan. If there is one thing Maggie likes to ride as much as a carousel, it is the Metro. We partied it up at home, had cake, and then took off for the Metro.

8. And, the guests Maggie most wanted, her cousins from NC, arrived just in time to accompany us. My nephew Charlie provided, for me, the highlight of the day. Smack dab in the center of the National Mall, surrounded by crowds, he announced he needed to pee, and while I was brainstorming bathroom locations, he dropped trou and told us he'd take care of his business right there. Fortunately, my expression of surprise must have made him tense up, and we avoided any release of fluid. Boys.


9. I get no credit for this, but the weather was amazing. Blue skies, breezy, and a high near 60. The first nice day of 2014. That meant everyone and their Aunt Lillian was on the Mall, but they'd brought their soccer balls, and the boys had such a grand time running, running, and running some more. And Maggie got a special second ride with just her daddy on the coveted turquoise horse-sea-dragon. If you've ever ridden this carousel, you must remember it.

10. And now for the cake. It's out of order, but I saved the best for last.
Maggie started talking about her birthday cake back in mid-January when I started discussing my own. For nearly two months, we have heard regular reminders of what kind of birthday cake she wanted: peppamint cake with tat-tat (chocolate) syrup. We were rather puzzled until we realized...i-pim (ice cream).
I am a loyal member of the "show your love by baking your family members' birthday cakes" club so I started doing some research into ice cream cakes. I came across this recipe via Google, and this is a site and chef I follow and trust. Her recipe describes how to make the ice cream, the cookies for the crust, and the hot fudge sauce. Welllllllllllllll, I bought the ice cream and the chocolate cookies. But hot fudge sauce is easily made and miles beyond what you can find in the store. I added peppermint extract and red food coloring to one carton of vanilla ice cream, and the Dude came through by forsaking happy hour and finding a springform pan (how do baking pans disappear from your cabinets?) at the last minute.

I found this cake surprisingly easy to make. It's a lengthy process because you have to soften the ice cream and then wait for each layer to freeze before adding another, but there's very little hands-on time. And the final effect is beautiful. And tasty.


It's been a week, and I am still on a high from my triumph. I kicked that birthday party's hiney! And now I have a whole year before I have to plan another.


34 comments :

  1. Wow Sarah, I'm super impressed with that cake! My bestie is an absolute Queen of Cake Making, and she insisted on making my daughter's first birthday cake (perhaps she didn't trust me??). I have yet to make an impressive birthday cake for anyone. When I finally do so, I may actually start to feel like a real adult finally :) I love the ball you found on etsy. Such a unique gift and definitely worth waiting an extra two months for it! Gosh that's a long time though ... did it have to come from the other side of the world via tugboat or something?? I did do a double take for a second when I read your children were born 4 days apart! LOL. Gorgeous photos of your family. Love Maggie's expression in the last one! xx

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    1. If making that cake makes me a real adult, I am ancient. The truth is I've always loved baking from the time I was a preschooler and my mother let me make "cookies" out of flour and water.
      The woman who makes those balls warns you upfront she needs a couple months, but then she had all sorts of personal emergencies. So I don't want to give her too hard of a time about it. We all need a little grace, huh?

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  2. Ok so you're maybe hopefully not going to want to be my friend any longer, but I've never baked my son a home-made birthday cake. In my defense, our family all lives far away, and we've not yet had a birthday party HERE, so, um, that makes it okay right? Also I love your cake and that your 361 days apart kiddos can do the birthday together because BIG stuff that!!!And I love the photo of you mugging it up for the cam with the cake. And AHHh I loved that weather here, too. Did you hear we're supposed to get another like 6-8 inches of snow on Monday? Where exactly are you? We're in Oakton and might need you to just come over please.

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    1. Of course I still want to be your friend! I may have strong opinions, but I'm far from thinking all my friends have to share them. Ugh, I know about the snow!!!! We played at the park this morning to get our wiggles out before we're cooped up again. I'm a complete wus about playing in the snow (we divide along gender lines on that in our family). We're in Silver Spring, and I don't think we'll get as much as 6-8 inches. I hope, I hope. Then, surely this will be the last snow. Right?
      I had to look up where Oakton was. We should meet at the carousel sometime!

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    2. This BETTER be the last snow. I'm over it. Even sledding, which I usually enjoy taking Tucker to do has lost its appeal. It's freaking cold! And YES I'd love to meet at the carousel!

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    3. F*&k, f%^k, f$*k! Am I ever eating my words?!?!?! 8 inches here! I am SO SICK of this!

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  3. Now I wish I'd been part of that!! Looks like it went down really well!

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    1. Awww, you're invited next year! But be careful flying in your part of the world!

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  4. You totally rocked it lady, and your kids are so lucky! There is nothing better than BIRTHDAYS TO A KID. You are a lovely person and those are great photos. Sweet! jean!

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  5. Wow, looked like the perfect birthday party to me. I seriously would love to ride that carousel and oh my to the cake. It is almost 8 am here and haven't had breakfast yet, so I am starving and would love a piece! Seriously though, so glad it was a wonderful day and for the spring like weather, too. Have a wonderful weekend now, too :)

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    1. The carousel is a lot of fun. But I am looking forward to the ones closer to our house opening in April. Riding the Metro is fun, but it does take about an hour.

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  6. That cake looks amazing! Had to laugh when I read your son dropped his pants LOL! Have a great weekend!

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    1. Boys, huh? You have at least one, right? You've been there, right?

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  7. That cake sounds delicious- send some to Boston! A successful birthday party :)

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  8. Look at Maggie's SMILE! My dear, that says it ALL. And nothing more needs to be said, and no further accolade of just how very damn well you did.

    You ROCKED this.

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    1. Yes, the smile is my reward. That, and getting to eat the cake, too. Thanks, Lizzi!

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  9. It was great meeting you at the vid chat in actual living color if not actual person! The cake is spectacular! You should be sooooo proud you def. kicked bday butt! My God if your kid smiled any bigger she's be spraining her face! Great post...made me very happy!

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  10. Congrats on a successful party, and happy birthday to your kiddos! I'm firmly in the keep-it-simple group when it comes to children's birthday parties. I distinctly remember one young invitee--probably 8 or 9 years old-- coming up to me after one of my kid's birthday parties. She bluntly told me, 'When I first came here, I thought this party would be really boring, but it turned out to be the best one I've been to." We had a very basic cake (served out of the 9x13 pan), ice cream, presents, and childhood games--such as Red Rover and a carry-an-egg-in-a-spoon relay. I think sometimes that parents forget that their children haven't played the games of their parents' childhood. I wasn't trying to keep up with the Joneses, but after her comment, I REALLY didn't worry about the trying to keep up with the elaborate parties that other parents gave.

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    1. Yeah, I'm definitely with you, Kristi. I often think extra fuss is wasted. On my kids, at least. But then there's that voice in my head that says I'm not doing it well enough.

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  11. Yes, you did indeed kick some birthday party hiney! And Maggie's smile is proof. Great job, Mama! You know what, I cannot remember the last time I wanted a piece of cake as badly as I do right this minute....

    Great post and Happy Birthday kiddos!

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    1. Time to get baking, I guess! Or go shopping!

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  12. Happy birthday!! I like the cake & the ball too. Glad you weren't bummed about the no-shows. Good you were able to take it in stride.

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    1. I'm always usually pleased to have a smaller crowd. Always usually.

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  13. Nice work with the party! Simple, at home ones are the best. (That Monkey Joe's one of ours was the only away-from-home one we ever did, and only because we won it.) You rocked it!
    While I always make our cakes, I've never tried an ice cream one before. Go you!

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    1. Turns out it's super easy! The springform pan is key, though. Any of your kids love ice cream?

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  14. I love, love, LOVE peppermint ice cream! We can get it year 'round at one of our stores, so I'm afraid I would have cheated that way with the peppermint ice cream. But the cake looks totes delish! (I'm a Pinterest person, too. Love trying new recipes from there, especially.)

    You live in such a cool place! How fun to be able to hop on the Metro and be at the National Mall just to play! And I totally get your nephew dropping trou to pee, because the one thing that is a problem when visiting DC is finding bathrooms, especially if you're there when the museums are closed. The Department of Agriculture just doesn't let you walk in and go potty.

    Love the ball for Leo. Love even more than he gets no say-so on the birthday party theme until he can tell you what he wants (Maggie can live it up until then).

    Great party! Great list!

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    1. See that's interesting, Dyanne. I don't actually like peppermint ice cream. Tastes chalky to me. And I definitely can't find it around here other than in December. The pink kind, that is. Mint chocolate chip is year-round. Hence the extract and red food coloring.
      DC is a neat community in many ways. Then there's the traffic. I really love having the freedom on non-driving options. This is the first area of the country I've ever lived in with reliable public transit. And if you're ever back, try the Smithsonian offices (the red castle building). Good bathroom in there.

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  15. Totally filing that hint about the Smithsonian potties away for future reference, thank you. See, this is what I envy about boys - that they can (and will) pee just about anywhere they damn well please. If I could, I would seriously consider it.
    Awesome job on the party. You know, I'd totally prefer to have an at-home party for Zilla's birthday - she is hot to have one now that she's in Kindergarten and ALL the kids do it. But our house is just not laid out properly for a gathering of that type with friends and their parents. Skinny townhomes just don't cut it for that. So. We're looking for an option. I know - we're coming to your house! Your party looks great and I'm way impressed with the ice cream cake.
    Last year Zilla and I planned her birthday (only family for that one) starting in February when she fell in love with a fruit cake. Not a Christmas fruitcake, but a cake made out of fruit - like a watermelon, berries, pineapple, etc. I had no idea how to do that, but I gave it a try and it worked splendidly! And I got to tell everyone my kid picked a cake made from fruit all on her own - because she totally did. Actually, she planned the entire menu, my little chef girl. :)

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    1. Blogger hates me. Never lets me finish my comments!
      Anyway, happy birthday to Leo and Maggie and to you, Mom!

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  16. I LOVE your approach to birthday parties - and have to agree. NOT my thing. I pulled off my first "for kids" party when my daughter turned 4 and I have to say .... pressure. We played a number of traditional little games and I hired my friend, who has a make-up business to paint the faces of the 6 guests. Other than that? My extroverted husband was my secret weapon. He organized them in to all sorts of silly activities and DONE!

    But I laughed at your happiness at guests not showing up - because ... yeah ... once there is enough for a party - all good! Your cake looked great - and the little jungle ball is awesome! I surf Etsy but have never bought. It might be time.....

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  17. I don't think I realized there was a carousel there, but I haven't been to the Natural History Museum in forever.

    Looks like a great time!

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