Tuesday, May 29, 2018

3rd birthday - Music and Trains

As our kiddo's 3rd birthday approached, we began to discuss party ideas. The last two parties had been pretty easy - just local family coming over to the house for pizza and beers - with plenty of time for me to hang my streamers and decorations. This year would be very different - since we no longer have any local family, and the expectations here were that the entire daycare was invited to a party location - not a house.

The Prep
About a month out, I started looking into venues and panicked - most were completely booked and extremely expensive. Other parties we'd been to or been invited to didn't seem right either - lots of bouncy houses, mud parties, and trampolines that I knew he just wouldn't enjoy. Finally, I found the perfect thing - a company of musicians that did party entertainment, and a local church rec center that was available. We booked both, and then I made invites for the class based on his two current favorite things - music and trains.

the invite sets the theme - cute right?

he was very excited about this part of the invite

Once over one hurdle - the next began, as I panicked about the rsvp's. Unfortunately, we had accidentally scheduled the party on a three-day weekend (didn't realize they celebrated memorial day here), so we had a few immediate "No" responses because of travel.  A handful of "Yeses" came in, and then there were a bunch of "No Replies". I was very concerned that we wouldn't have a critical mass and the whole thing would be a disaster.

I ordered a number of train-themed supplies, plates, napkins, decorations, and party favors, assuming about 8 kids would be there. The expectation here is that the kids get a full meal, but there's nearly nothing for the adults - so we planned lunch boxes for the kids but also wanted a few adult snacks. I ordered grocery delivery for the day before, and started working on the cake.

The Cake
In fitting with the train theme, I researched train cakes on pinterest and had a decent plan. I had two boxes of cake mix - one vanilla, one chocolate- and two bread loaf pans. The vanilla mix was spread evenly between the two pans and baked for train cars. The chocolate was poured first very thinly into one of the pans, baked briefly, and then rolled up into a small swiss roll cake for the front of the engine. The rest of the batter was baked into a really tall cake, that I then cut in half for the back of the engine and a caboose. Everything got a few layers of icing and Oreo wheels, and then I built little foil-covered boards out of a spare box to carry it. In the end, it was clear what it was meant to be- even if it didn't look exactly as I imagined it.

cakes getting ready for icing

the engine coming together

the whole cake (minus one train car that got left at the house)

The Last Minute
Late the night before the party, we got 3 more RSVPs, which put us up to 10 kids confirmed, with 2 more that had never replied. We panicked, since there weren't enough food boxes or treat bags. Spouso ran out to a local party store and bought a whole lot of crap - that we then frantically packed into the treat bags, while putting together the lunch boxes and snack trays. The kiddo at this point decided he wouldn't take a nap (clearly too much party build up), so we got behind schedule. We were allowed half an hour to set up - and arrived at the place 15 minutes late, with parents already waiting outside.

The Party
Thankfully - the parents turned out to be good sports.  The few early arrivals helped us set up - blowing up balloons while we tried to pour a few drinks and put out snacks. The kids were fine just running around chasing the balloons for a while, until the entertainment showed up. I imagined that she would entertain the kids while the adults stood in the back, but it was clear that everyone had to be involved. Again- thankfully, everyone was a good sport - and all the parents joined the circle to sing and dance and generally be silly. Most of the kids had a great time, ours especially, but a few needed coaxing.

sitting right up front - eating all the oreos

all the parents and kids jumping around

parachute time

all the kids under the parachute - a big hit

After her hour was over - we moved to the table where the kids ate while the parents lumbered awkwardly behind. Everyone seemed to get enough to eat and drink.  Then there was the cake - which is usually just for the kids, so the adults seemed to appreciate actually getting a slice. Everyone hung around for a bit longer, and then made their exits, taking a favor bag and a book (another thing we've seen at a lot of parties).  We quickly cleaned up and got out of there.

lunch boxes getting eaten

the kids form a train with small chairs by themselves

the party wagon ready to go back home

This was a very different party than his last two. It was nice to have so many kids, and really felt like a special event by being in a different location with entertainment. It was worth the fee to have people not in our house. Sadly though, with so little set up time - most of the decorations never even got hung - and the food was pretty half assed - just bags of chips opened up on a table. It was nice to just be 2 hours and done with.

In the future - as a guest, I will definitely be better about RSVPing well in advance (and let's be clear that means both yes and no responses!). As a host - I would definitely buy extras in expectation of late or non responses. It would be great to build in extra prep time if possible. Otherwise - it was a success!

We spent the rest of the weekend slowly opening the gifts, eating the massive cake and many leftovers, and relaxing.

ice cream shaped bubbles! 

Edinburgh, Scotland

So we just got back from our Italy trip and were getting settled back into things - when Spouso needed to go on a work trip up to Scotland. Since he would be gone for a couple days, with free air fare and hotel - we decided to join. It was a bit of a last minute decision, but turned out to be a beautiful long weekend. 

all the way up in Edinburgh
Day 0: Travel
Because he had already flown up, I had to travel with the kiddo by myself for the first time. It wasn't easy - getting from our house, on the tube, then walking through town to get to the train station, to get the train to the airport, then through security and onto the flight - but I managed ok. I brought as little luggage as possible, and relied on paw patrol on the iPad for the flight, which was thankfully just an hour. Then we landed at the airport, where Spouso was waiting for us - and headed into town.  We had just enough time to grab dinner and get back to the hotel before the kiddo and I both collapsed.

playing with the huge Edinburgh sign at the airport

a quick pic with a bagpiper

Day 1: Kiddo and I Explore the Town
Since this was a working trip, he went off to the office, and the kid and I went exploring. First we went down to the Princes Street Gardens, which is a beautiful garden full of flowers and playgrounds to play. Then we walked through the New Town - which was built by the Georgians after the Old Town got too crowded. Like everything else from that era - it's super organized and lovely, filled with statues, and older than our entire country. We took a quick snack break in one of the many parks, swung by the Scott Monument (the largest memorial to a writer in the world),  and then climbed the huge hill back up to the Old Town, where we stopped in the church and then went back to the hotel for a nap. After the nap, we went back down to the park to meet Spouso, who was finished for the day. We grabbed another amazing dinner, and everyone crashed. 

Map of downtown Edinburgh (but it's not as flat as this appears)

Princes Street Garden

view of the castle above the garden

very excited about this bear statue

playground time

even the playground is gorgeous

a statue in New Town

another statue in New Town

snack picnic in a park

the Scott Monument

St Giles Cathedral

inside St Giles

St Giles from the other side

back to the park to feed the bear

Old Town up on the hill above the park

climbing the hill to Old Town

dinner - i think this was venison

night walk through old town (inspiration for Harry Potter's Diagon Alley)

Day 2: Sightseeing Together
Now that it was Saturday, we were all together to do some sightseeing. We started off with the city's main attraction - the castle- which is up on a hill looking down over the city. It's very old and beautiful, with a few exquisite rooms where Mary Queen of Scots lived briefly. After that, we wandered down the Royal Mile, which runs from the castle down to the palace (which we didn't quite get to), and passes through a lot of the old town. After the nap break, we tried to go to a pub famous for local folk music - but got thrown out. Apparently you're not supposed to bring kids into pubs - who knew? It's a real shame though, because it looked really charming, everyone wanted a break from walking, and the kiddo was very excited about the music. Instead, we walked on, and grabbed some street food, as we went back down the hill in search of dinner in New Town.

waiting to get into the castle

castle looking down over the city

not sure what this pose is

old castle

a rare family selfie

Mary Queen of Scots' bedroom...

...has great ceilings

walking down the royal mile in search of whisky

really winning the parents of the year award at a whisky shop

me and David Hume. (long story)

Day 3: Flight Home
We had just enough time to grab breakfast before heading down the hill and back to the airport to fly home. 

Traveling with the Kiddo
So this was another difficult trip with him. After the last one, I vowed to make more of an effort to have a regular nap time, in a bed, at the right time - but it still didn't matter. He was just exhausted the whole time. Early the morning of the second day, our big sightseeing day, he was already crying to go back to the room because he didn't want to see any more stuff. I think it was a combination of a couple things:
  1. Instead of having an apartment with a different room for him, we were all together in a hotel room. We used the blackout curtains to make a tent around his bed to separate him from us - but it didn't work great. 
  2. We were way north - so the sun didn't set until around 10pm and rose around 4am, so even with the blinds closed - no one got a lot of sleep- especially since our blackout curtains were being used for the tent.
  3. We had just gotten back from the long trip to Italy and hadn't gotten turned around yet.
  4. Because I was trying to pack as lightly as possible, I didn't bring any toys for him. So when he might've liked to just zone out with his trains for a bit, he wasn't able to. Instead, he got hauled around to see the sites. 

sleeping in the tent bed

So Scottish food was kind of a weird mix of things. On the one hand - the city is very close to farms, so there's a great farm to table thing going on with really fresh ingredients prepped very lightly. Our first two nights were just delightful, and not at all what I expected. On the other - there is clearly a very long, cold winter here, and there is food to match. They drink a lot, so there is some heavy, fried street food to go with it. We tried to grab a small snack for the kiddo a couple times, and had a hard time finding anything. We ended up with a huge, deep fried steak pie and french fries smothered with curry sauce - all of which made everyone feel pretty gross. Unlike Italy where there are a lot of shops that sell snacks right onto the street - there isn't a lot of street traffic here (I'm guessing because it's too cold most of the year), so you have to go into a bar and get a seat. So no dessert breaks for us. One nice surprise is that there is a lot of good French food, something to do with old political alliances to overthrow the british monarch. This meant great croissants in the morning, and a nice bistro on our last night. The kiddo didn't enjoy most of the food, so that was a bit tricky. Thankfully, there was a big breakfast buffet included with our room, so he really filled up in the mornings and then grazed for the rest of the day.

Hotel Breakfast: nutella for me, blood pudding for him.

When we were trying to set up the move to London, and one point they offered us Edinburgh instead. We debated it, but ultimately turned it down in hopes that London would come through. After having finally visited - I still think it was the right choice. It is a really beautiful city and a great weekend trip, but I think we would not have been happy living there for long. It's definitely a lot smaller than London, with a lot fewer choices for restaurants and things to do. It was also quite cold - even in mid May we still all had our heavy jackets on, and it got down close to freezing each night. I would happily go back again though - especially if we could do without the kiddo - since this really seemed like a non-kid-friendly city.

Otherwise - we have one more trip coming up, and then nothing scheduled. This is going to be a really travel-intense month, mostly just by coincidence of this random trip getting scheduled. Then I think we would all like to slow down a bit.