Build-up to a birthday

Tucker turns 7 this year, but this year he had his very first birthday party.

Because he has a summer birthday (and because I never want to test the elements again) he agreed on an indoor shindig. And because our daily reality goes something like this:

Keep Calm

We went with a Lego theme. There are Star Wars Legos. Super Hero Legos. Ninja Legos. Tucker could be content to manipulate, build, deconstruct and re-imagine with Legos for hours. And there just happens to be a place in town that specializes in Lego Birthdays. Can I get a whoop whoop?

So, we sent out invitations.

Photo by: Valerie Bogle
Photo by: Valerie Bogle

And I pilfered Pinterest. There are fab freebie printables out there. My favorites were the labels we wrapped around Powerade.

prep

Yup. I referenced the deuce.

Now, at our house, I’m always the potty-words police. You have to regulate with two little boys, so I usually poo poo the ew talk. But for Tucker, this was the ultimate hilarity. This and the whoopie cushions for the goodie bags.

goodie bags

With another free printable, we made a mask for each guest.

Masks

And we filled an assorted collection of glass jars with an assortment of white, yellow and red candy. To be all Lego-y.

color coordinated candy

Then, it was party time. Bricks 4 Kidz was ready to celebrate the birthday boy.

signs

The venue is a comfy old home they’ve transformed into a play palace. Each room hosts a new building opportunity. So, the only thing I had to do was set up the food table. With my sweet Mom’s help, that was a piece of cake. Or donut.

table 2

table 1
Lego candy was a must. You can eat it and build with it. A chance to play with your food? 7-year-old heaven.

Tucker’s buds jumped right in to playing while we waited on all the guest to arrive. (I need a table like this for our house.)

table play

When all of his friends were there, we started the first activity–an outdoor Lego relay. Then everyone trooped back inside for the first build–an electric Lego car.

electric cars

I’ve never seen such a polite and patient group of little people. Their fingers were twittering between parts and pieces and they shouted encouragement to teams across the table. Tuck, my thoughtful and meticulous one, was in his element with his favorite friends. Then, as the final ta-da, their motorized creations actually moved with the touch of a button. Legos have come a long way, folks.

After everyone’s vehicle had its victory jaunt, it was time for Happy Birthday.

singing

Tucker chose donuts over cake, which was just fine with me. And I know a few kids reached for seconds (and thirds). Sorry, parents.

Disney Digression
Disney Digression

A-buzz with sweets, it was back to the building blocks. This time, they each built a car they got to keep. So, the selection process was a serious business.

Notice which two goofs are the only ones who kept the masks on? Those would be mine.
Notice which two goofs are the only ones who kept the masks on? Those would be mine.
Birthday Boy
Birthday Boy

When each oh-so-carefully-constructed car was complete, we hit the high note. They got to race their creations side-by-side.

racing 1

racing 2

The acoustics in that old house were built for lego car racing. Those few minutes of high-fiving and hollering made the room sing. And my boy’s excitement was electric.

But, we only had an hour and a half. So, after the races, there were goodie bags and good-byes.

goodie bag table

I asked the boys and their Marmee (grandma) if they had a good time. And this was their response:

expressions

Lucky seven. Lucky me.

4

Morning Music

I’m in NYC for work this week (cue the piano and Alicia Keys). Oh, so smitten with this city.

I feel small here—beautifully small—in the best way. Here, the city’s electric current is charged by the millions of heartbeats packed in so few miles. And—whether it’s your hometown or a hotel stop—this city is built to love.

NYC

Beyond the energy and the artistry and the food (oh, the food!), I’m also giddy in the city when I get to see this guy—my baby brother and Actor Boy extraordinaire. He’s gonna make it big in the Big Apple. Meet Tim.

Katz

Norwood

I haven’t traveled a ton, but traveling means trying and NYC has gifted me a lot of firsts. My first taste of oysters. My first Lambrusco. My first subway ride.

subway

And, sometimes, I’ll see a show. (Disney Digression time.)

NEWSIES

Traveling also makes me want to write. Write by hand, on actual paper. I’ll steal a quiet minute and let my pen go. There, on a page wedged between radio concepts and casting specs, I’ll detail everything and nothing. Sometimes, I’ll write so fast & loose that I can’t even read my own writing.

Early one morning during my first visit to Canada a few months ago, I snuggled in a booth in the hotel diner to write. It’s a 24-hour diner, so there was ketchup & mustard and honey & jam on the table. This was a place of possibility.

Toronto, sleeping just outside the window to my left, was so cold I could feel the chill seeping through the pane. The kitchen to my right was alive with warmth. A man was singing in there—low and silly and free—and I wrote that everyone should sing in the morning. He sang songs, but he sang when he talked, too. Notes instead of words. “The soup of the day is broccoli and cheese,” he sang out to the staff. And I wished he would sing out all the ingredients, too. He sang out with all the pride and joy of the person who decided that today is the perfect day for broccoli and cheese soup. I have broccoli and I have cheese and that is exactly what I’m making, thank you. And I’m going to sing as I make it, thank you very much.

And this morning, in this city, it feels like a sing-about-your-soup kind of day.

Peace

Lucky Charm

We met out-of-town friends at Animal Kingdom yesterday. Magical day!

Disney Digression

 

And I saw a lot of tattoos. Hundreds. I like to think there was a story behind each one of them. There’s definitely a story behind mine.

I never thought I’d get a tattoo.

Enter my mother:

girls

“You know what I think?” she had said, placing her hands on the table in a way that we knew she was telling and not suggesting. “We should get matching tattoos.”

Newly free from wigs and chemo treatments, Mom was piloting life her way. And, up until that moment, I was an eager front row seat passenger. But there are certain things I don’t do, a few unwritten personal rules. I don’t let different foods on my plate touch. I don’t wear white after Labor Day. And I don’t do tattoos. It’s not so much the flawed stigma that goes along with them. It’s just that for someone who never does the same thing twice, a tattoo is a pretty permanent accessory. There’s also my fear of needles.

My sister Lindsey, though, who has as much ink as a Bic, squealed at the mention of a new tat.

“On our feet,” she said. “The top of our left foot.”

“I was thinking the inside of an ankle,” Mom said.

They both looked at me.

“I was thinking…no.”

“C’mon, Min,” Lindsey said, rolling her eyes. “For all your so-called free spirit-ness and whatever, you are no fun. Have you ever done one crazy thing?”

With no decent reply, I blushed the truth. And, after much discussion, I agreed to a stamp on a toe—a teeny, tiny tat that maybe, just maybe, could be mistaken for an unfortunate freckle.

The next day, they got me in the car and we were on our way.

The Big Kahuna tattoo parlor was edgy and cold and terrifying. Possibilities were plastered on every corner of the walls and counter—symbols and serpents and fairies—and my indecisive soul was already quaking with panic. Mom and Lindsey were flipping through a big black book on the counter and I slid between them. Three pages in, I saw a three-leaf clover—each leaf was a heart and the shape was created with Celtic knots so that you could trace the entire design without ever lifting your pen from the page. I pointed.

“A heart for each of us.”

“That’s it,” Mom and Lindsey said on top of each other, nodding, nodding yes.

A guy walked down from the other side of the counter, joining us where we hovered over the page.

“Ah. Good one,” he said. “Luck Forever.”

“We each want one,” Mom said. “On our second toe.”

He was tapping tattoo-covered fingers on the counter. “We can’t do toes. Or fingers. Plus—see the detail in the knots? If it’s not at least this big, you’ll lose all that. It’ll just be a black blob.”

“I gotcha. Okay. Well, how about the inside of my ankle?”

He nodded. “Fine.”

Lindsey crinkled her nose. “I still want one on the top of my foot.”

“Yeah. Fine. And how about you?”

I shook my head no. “Not getting one. I’m just the cheerleader.”

Mom sighed. “Min. This is something I really wanted to do with you girls.”

Oh, the guilt. Thick as organic peanut butter. Without the jelly diversion.

“I was only okay with the toe because of you guys. I really don’t want one.”
She wasn’t going to push further, but I still felt awful.

“I’m still represented,” I offered. “Three hearts.”

But they had given up on me. And soon they were each settled in a different artist’s seat, tipsy with luck, ready to paint the town.

I sat between them, green-eyed as they laughed through the stinging. I sat there, safe, familiar and not without pain, wondering how many times my rules had kept me from tasting, from trying, from feeling something new.

The tattoos were small and simple, and only in black ink, so it wasn’t too long before Mom and Lindsey’s new additions were wrapped in hot pink cellophane that crinkled with fun. We left and I was conscious of my naked legs as we walked. Then we stopped for dinner. At the table, Mom’s legs were crossed and the arc of what I imagined was my heart was peeking through the transparent pink.

She caught me.

“Do you want one, honey? We can go back. It’s just down the street.”

My silence must’ve given her hope.

“We’re going back.”

The guys at Big Kahuna welcomed us with hugs.

“So. Where do you want it?”

“The inside of my left ankle,” I said, motioning to my Mom’s. “But maybe a little smaller?”

Twenty minutes and a roll of paper towels later, the final knot was tied. I had to look away at the first sight of blood. But, after my sweaty palms were under control, the pricking was (almost) exhilarating. Later that night, when I peeled the cellophane away, the black ink winked against my pale skin in triumphant relief.

The pigment has faded a little now. But my tattoo is as much a part of me as all of my unfortunate freckles. And, at first handshake, you probably would take me for a buttoned up, plays-by-the-rules girl. My clover betrays me, though. And I’m always happy to twist and twirl my ankle to show off my lady luck forever.

photo(35)
Mom. Me. Lins.

How about you? Do you have a tattoo (and a story behind it)? Ever broken your own personal rule?

What perfect looks like

I made it as a mom more than 6.5 years before I finally gave in to hosting a birthday party. Oh, we’ve had plenty of celebrations and cake and unbirthdays (read: plenty of celebratory cake).

But I’d never done the official pick-a-theme-invite-all-your-friends-stress-me-the-heck-out kind of party.

I finally decided this was our year and for our littlest guy’s (that’s Case) 4th birthday party, he landed on dinosaurs. So, I did the sensible thing and spent a late night (or five) binge pinning clever, adorably easy-looking DIY dino party ideas. Roar.

Roar

Then, eyeball-deep in dino decisions, my namby-pamby right brain had a melt down. It’s the reason I hadn’t planned a party yet. I don’t plan. I don’t list. I don’t allot. Schedule. Formulate. Organize. Nope.

This is going to be hard, I thought.

This is going to be the best party ever, my then-3-year-old Case squealed, with innocent, absolute faith in me.

Determined to do it myself on the cheap, I reserved a pavilion in our neighborhood park and forced myself to make lists. I asked Case what he wanted. A dinosaur piñata and dinosaur cupcakes. Check.

I added a few things that I wanted: a themed invite to, you know, set the mood, themed activities, a suite of themed, designed signs, platters & such. Balloons for every kid, which I read was a must.

invite

I checked off a few lists and hoped for a dry, sunny day. The forecast tortured me for a week, calling for a 60% chance of afternoon storms during our afternoon, outdoor party.

The day finally came—a dry, shiny, blustery day.

That darn wind. Not the sweet, gentle spring-type breeze.  No, no. It was a don’t-wear-a-dress (guess who wore a dress??) kind of wind.

The wind was totally PMSing.

I swear, my sister and I re-set the tables 3 times. We couldn’t even tape down the kraft paper. Hats and buckets were flying. My oh, so clever signs defied duck tape. The balloons that I had envisioned whimsically hovering beneath the pavilion roof were more tangled than Tiana and Naveen’s froggy tongues (Disney digression).

Tiana/Prince Naveen tongue tangle

Then the unthinkable happened. Guests started arriving before I was done. Before the table was set. Before my Pinterest-perfect party was ready to be beheld.

The party was windswept before it even started. I sent the punctual guests to play on the playground while I tried to squall-proof the set up by just setting out the basics.

Hats

Dino buckets

Sweet Eaters 2

Plant Eaters

Meat Eaters

Soon, all the kids, giddy with the promise of digging up treasure, were bounding back to the pavilion. So, we launched Operation Temporary Tattoo with a super sophisticated system—paper towels and water. Each kiddo was branded with a prehistoric critter.

Now, official paleontologists, they claimed their tools by writing their names on their bucket tags. Then, it was off to the Dinosaur Egg Hunt. I found these awesome eggs with a fun texture and a great prize inside. We were scheduled to be in full force egg hunt fun for at least a half hour. These super sleuthy kids found all the eggs in a matter of minutes—like, less than 5—and stashed them in their buckets.

name tags

Tucker's tag

The Egg Hunt

The next item on the ‘ol trusty schedule was activity #2, so we gathered at The Dig Site. This activity was the kids’ favorite and I wish I’d gone with deeper tins. They were content for a solid half hour (yay, schedule!) to comb through the sand with tiny paintbrushes, committed to finding each buried treasure. We’d hidden these dino skeletons and shiny confetti in the play sand and they kept every piece they found in their buckets.

Dig Site

Digging

Digging 2

Right before my birthday boy’s coveted piñata pull, the wind threw a tantrum and knocked over a glass bottle that was filled with edible dino eggs (jelly beans). So, we went on an impromptu Jurassic jaunt around the park while the dads made sure each shard of glass was tossed.

parade

PSA: Glass bottles and mason jars? Cute and festive and presh, no doubt. Outdoors on a windy day? No ma’am.

Finally, the piñata pull commenced and Case’s life, to that moment, was complete.

After they collected all the candy in their buckets, we passed out the dinosaur cupcakes and sang happy birthday.

Cupcakes

His candle was sweetly snuggled in a sea of jelly beans in a mason jar. I was going to pluck it out for the song, but I didn’t want to tempt the wind or attempt to light a match. So, he didn’t blow out a candle. And that’s okay. I’m hopeful that his wish had already come true.

Because, after that, the real party started. My activities only took us through an hour and a half of the two-hour time frame. But his friends all wanted to stay and play. So they ran around and roared at each other and watched balloons wander through the sky and collapsed in a sweaty kid heap. They had ridiculously amazing unscheduled fun. Imagine that.

friends

balloons 1

ROAR

I had imagined this perfect party for my littlest one’s birthday. All Case wanted was to have candy and cupcakes with his friends. For him, perfection was as simple as giggles and sweets. That’s it. And I never want to forget what that kind of perfect looks like.

 my heart

 (Special thanks to my pal Francisco–the super skilled dino sign designer. To my amazing sister who worked MacGyver-like miracles with duck tape. And huge hugs to Martha who captured so many sweet memories that day.)