Tuesday, March 12, 2013

3, 2, 1...Blast Off! Ted Turns Four!

So I mentioned in the last post that I had the preparations for this party pretty low key.  That doesn't mean that the party itself was low key - no way! However from experience I now know that the fourth and fifth birthdays are the zenith for organisation - all other parties through primary school will be much less stress.  Mainly because at these ages the invited guest will still be accompanied by at least one adult and often by a sibling as well.  So that means for each invitation written, you need to factor in around three people.

There are a few tips I would offer to anyone looking to hold a four year old party:

* Don't bother with games.  At this age there is still a wide variety of skill and attention levels.  Don't push your luck!  Just set up a few activities and let the children explore them at their own interest and capabilities.

* Food will be eaten on the run.  Something that can fit in one hand is best, leaving the other hand free to hoist their body weight into as precarious and thrilling a position as possible.

* If you're going to have anything slightly messy arranged, best to notify parents in advance on the invitation, so that 'best' clothes aren't compromised.

* There are usually secondhand, recycled or low-impact options available for most things that aren't going to be expensive.  Think simple - it's actually what elicits the best response from the children anyway.

Following on from my own advice, I made fruit rockets on skewers and stuck them into the hollowed out half a watermelon.  The leftover fruit pieces were just scattered around the base to satisfy younger siblings who may have struggled with a skewer.  These were a big hit and were devoured within minutes of this tray hitting the table.  Seriously.

This is an example of me not following my own advice - thinking on the run.  I found these containers while buying our organic butter at Aldi.  We go through quite a bit of butter in our lives (in baking, on James' yummy bread, etc.) and can't afford to buy the $5 - $6 organic butter on sale everywhere else, so I buy the cheaper organic option from Aldi.  When we're more flush with cash we'll support smaller dairies but right now it's not realistic for us, so it's off to Aldi every month or so to stock up again.  Their organic range of products is very cheap, so I do a quick visual sweep of what they have on offer before swooping upon the butter fridge.  I spied the cute star shaped foil tubs on sale and thought they'd be great for the party - these were the only items left behind after the party was over.  Lesson learned.

When we had the purple party last year for Ted, the twirly apple station was a major success.  Fruit made into spirals?  Who can resist?!

So we popped them out again this party and again, they were in such demand I had a little line of apple expectants watching the twirling with big eyes and eager hands. 

The world map on the wall is courtesy of our National Geographic subscription and arrived with perfect timing for the space party.  Because of course to go forward, one must have something to look back upon.  At four the levels of hindsight are perhaps not quite at their peak but it's a pretty map anyway.  Earth is rather awesome.

 Since the children were going to mostly consume fruit, I thought we should probably round out the spread with something a little savoury and even potentially full of protein.  I love this organic rye, 85% gluten-free bread.  It's soft and tastes as close to 'sandwich' bread as I've found.  Filled with some egg mix and cut into rocket and star shapes, what's not to love?  And a perfect energy boost for adults cleaning up after the party too, as I found out.

The dairy free party food extended to the biscuits.  These photograph *much* worse than they looked in real life, oddly enough.  Some dairy free chocolate, some currants and the same cookie cutters made the plain biscuit dough turn up the space volume.  They may have been still a little too plain or low sugar for many of the invited children but for my two they were a real treat.  Harriet enjoyed them, which may give you an idea on how plain they were.

You can also see a sushi plate on the table - mini avocado and cucumber sushi.  Loved by many, consumed in seconds, not made by me.  Love it.

I made some purple star bunting as you can see - I used this gorgeous scalloped elastic that I found at Reverse Garbage about two years ago that had been sitting in my stash without me having any idea on what to do with it.  Turns out it was the perfect length for some quick-fire bunting.  Reused purple cups from last year's party.  Little bottles filled with frozen blueberries and our concession to fizzing partiness, some sparkling apple juice, were drunk quickly in the high humidity, as were the apple/kiwi fruit/cucumber icypoles (one-handed food, remember!).

While we placed the food out on the table (really in the morning the only things we had to do were make the fruit skewers and pick up the sushi plate), Ted dressed in his space suit, ran to the front door and yelled out in a unique hybrid of enthusiasm and plaintive concern - "GUESTS!  GUESTS!".

You may be relieved to know they arrived.  We sure were.

To keep in theme, we had joyously received the offer from our incredibly talented friend Amelia to make Teddy's birthday cake.  And when she sent me the idea of a Wallace and Gromit rocket cake, I nearly fell over when I saw the concept in a photo on my phone.  I knew it was something Ted would absolutely delight in, and gave Amelia the go-ahead. 

In 99% humidity we drove over to pick up the final product the day before, from her mother's house in Surry Hills.  When I saw the cake I nearly fell over.  Luckily I didn't fall over on to the cake; I think Amelia may very well have disowned me as a friend in that case, or at the very least scooped up the cake before helping me to my feet.

It was incredible.  And we were under strict instructions on how to care for it prior to the rabid hoardes descending, knife and plate in hand, upon its orangey glow (an almost thermonuclear glow one might concede; I wonder if Gromit's splitting an atom inside there?).  Amelia's wringing of hands (there may very well have been real life wringing, but I'm sworn to secrecy) over the melting fondant and collapsing Wallace arm were, to be fair, very real concerns.  The weather was completely atrocious - the whole of Sydney was  talking of nothing else bar how to remove the smell of mould, where to air clothes best, how to control ant infestations and which natural weaves prevent one from stinking like an old cheese.

Considering our own ant issues at home, we nervously housed the cake overnight in our pantry, and handed over the precious pedestal fan to the most important member of the house - the rocket.  On the morning of the party I awoke, heart in mouth, to race down to the pantry and breathed just about the biggest sigh of relief one could expect to release over something so orange.  It was fine!

In fact it was more than fine.  In the aftermath of the party we all collapsed, exhausted and spent, in front of A Grand Day Out and I can say with immediate comparative experience, that Amelia created a better Wallace than even Nick Park did.  How is this so, I hear you ask?  Well my friends, if Baudrillard has taught us nothing else, he has at least taught us that the hyperreal should be afforded some authority.  See that green vest detail to the left here? I dare you to find such perfect, incredible detail in the original vest of Wallace in the movie (it's only twenty minutes long, go on, find it and watch it, it's fun).

The piping tip (I'm sure it has a more technical name but my experience of cakes is limited to the dilemmas of purple icing as can be attested by last year's post) was propped under his arm to give it a little support.  I'm sure Amelia will be mortified that we left it there but to tell you the truth, it looked really groovy!  When someone asked what it was, and it was described as "that's the tool he was using to make the rocket", there was much nodding and it did tie in perfectly.

We 'do' the cake thing first at our parties, so that the cake energy is burnt off by the children during the party and we aren't left with a huge chunk of cake at the end. So everyone gathered around to see the cake emerge from the fan-powered pantry, and immediately there were "oooh"s and "wow"s and a flurry of flashes as everyone snapped a photo.  I think if you look under the IG feed for Transition Gold, you'd find a run of rocket cake photos taken from every which angle possible. 

Hidden within the fondant was the delicious Jude Blereau chocolate and beetroot cake that we made last year.  And since no-one really eats fondant (attested to by the plates we picked up) I know that the beetroot-y goodness was still pride of place. Yet Amelia still worked hard and long on achieving all of this dairy free.  Yes, dairy free fondant. 

Amelia, we all bow down to you.  You are incredible.

So what else did we do for the space theme?  Well surprisingly the weather cleared to a steamy, sauna-like morning, so the one area of the house I hadn't been able to clean all week (ie: the backyard) was where everyone played and sat and chatted.  *sigh*  Of course. 

The rocket was placed on the grass, and I had bought a $12 air mattress to place next to it so that the low-gravity experience of walking on the moon could be recreated by those who chose to undertake the journey.  As expected, this was a huge hit, but I didn't get a chance to take a photo unfortunately.  We needed a new air mattress for camping anyway, so the timing worked out beautifully all 'round.  The children reveled in being able to jump on something that is normally not a part of their jumping environment, the sun was out, and everyone had eaten enough fruit rockets, juice icypoles, twirly apples and beetroot cake to sustain a full morning of unbridled fun.

After about an hour and a half, I brought out the tarp and set up the children all around the edges.  I introduced them to some deliciously messy alien slime.  To you and me it's cornflour, water and green dye (to enhance the alien-ness of course, because lime is the preferred colour of the extraterrestrial apparently) mixed to a consistency to be a non-Newtonian liquid (aka 'oobleck').

For the uninitiated, it's something that allows you to pick it up like a solid, but as it lies in your hand it runs out like a liquid.  You can smack your hand on the surface and it doesn't react (as if it were a solid), but you can slowly run your finger through it like a liquid.  It is truly awesome, fun stuff and the perfect activity to focus and consolidate a group of energetic four year old children towards the end of a party.

Did  someone mention the end of the party?  Because yes, alas, birthdays do come to an end eventually and everyone left with a party bag and a set of jetpacks.  These packs were such a hit that I kept receiving texts and photos about them and their new owners all week.

I had been inspired to make them after reading this post about a space party on a blog.  The main issue I had was sourcing the drink bottles, since we don't know anyone who drinks the stuff.  I put the call out to my fabulous local community group and over the next week I amassed the necessary level of plastic to reuse into something much more awesome than landfill. 

I made the prototype for Ted with the flames as pictured first over there, but for the second lot I tried out the streamer style flames, and although they don't look as organised and 'pretty' to photograph, rest assured that this was the preferred flame method for the four year old who wears it strapped to their back.  I also rejected the more streamlined look of grey fabric around the arms and chose a more practical wide elastic to ensure it stayed secure.  Please observe Ted demonstrating the fluttering awesomeness whilst wearing his Dorothy dress, below.

 I also made some bags inspired by the one Lou made for Ted years ago, decorated with this super sweet 'rocket club' material.  James photocopied some pages from one of Ted's space books that illustrate in comic-style little tales like 'A Typical Day on Board the ISS', 'The Story of Apollo 11' and 'The Story of Laika'.  Plus some other bits and pieces.  These were all made and assembled just slowly over the weeks leading up to the party and didn't really cause me any stress at all.  Who knew being prepared could make the sewing of twelve bags, construction of twelve jet packs and painting of one large box so enjoyable?
In a moment of madness we had agreed to meet up for dinner with a new family we hadn't spent time with before at a hotel in Enmore for dinner that night, so the afternoon was spent doing as little as possible in the high humidity and heat to ensure we were on our best behaviour over dinner.  Here Harriet and Ted have assumed the position known as 'post-party slump' while watching A Grand Day Out (a fitting conclusion, one would have to agree).

No, it turns out Teddy did not agree.  His idea of the perfect conclusion was, in perfect Ted-pastiche fashion, to enact the part of the Wicked Witch of the East inside his rocket.  He slumped the whole box over, somehow managed to clambour inside, and stuck out just his feet.

"Apollo Eleven is Dorothy's Kansas house, Mama!" he shouted at me from behind the cardboard.

Ah yes.  This is a much more Ted-style ending to his space party experience.  Now, back to our regular programming.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

O my God! The party looks amazing! I haven't had a chance to check out the blog & never get to play the video's at work ;-) So I have just sat in bed & wet my self at Tedd's video antics...and there is truly something hilarious in the way he has interpreted James!! That kid may only be 4 but he must have been strutin' the boards in another life man! So sorry I missed the party (sick again all weekend- I need a holiday!!) Hope to see you guys soon with Ted's prezy :-)
xx Lis