Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bye, George.

I lost my George last week, at the age of five. It was very sudden and unexpected, and caused by "a neurological event" (exactly what, we could not determine without a $3000 MRI and a time machine) and a myriad of genetic flaws that went undiagnosed until the day before his death. Over a period of about a week his body completely shut down to the point where he lost all the qualities that made him George, and he no longer had the functionality to do any of the things that brought him joy. I'm being purposely vague to save myself from launching into a detailed, tearful explanation of George's medical problems, which were shockingly vast. This entire experience has been excruciating. George's genetic problems are the result of inbreeding on a level that is to me grossly negligent at best, and at worst, highly unethical with a cruel disregard for the consequences. I had in the past raised concerns about some of these health problems that I'd observed, but they were dismissed by my former veterinarian as "behavioral problems." Even if I only learned the truth at the end, I'm relieved to know that George's quirks and problems all had a medical explanation, though nothing could have been done to save him ("George is a ticking time bomb" were my vet's actual words). In another home, George may not have lived more than a year or two. George was such a rascal, he cheated death a number of times. I grew to believe he had nine lives. Every time he found himself in a pickle, I prayed that he would survive his latest scrape, and it was such a helpless feeling to watch him die so young and be unable to help him, and to learn that I could never have helped him survive this.

My mom was by my side as we said goodbye to him. Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" was playing on the radio. I sobbed uncontrollably. As heartbroken as I am, I am glad George was mine. But I don't cope well with death or bad news. I'm not the kind of person who wants to be cheered up or is able to put on a smile and be a brave girl. I'm more likely to stay in my pajamas, in a dark room, listening to sad songs and eating chocolate, if I eat at all, and taking frequent naps. This grief is going to take a while to shake. Until then, I'll be on blogging hiatus.
"You know that place between sleeping and awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always think of you."
— J.M. Barrie

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I'm the Party of the Day!

Catch My Party

This is kinda cool. I shared Robinson's birthday party with Catch My Party, since it was such a great source of ideas for me when planning Rob's party, and guess what? Rob's party is featured on their main page as a "Party of the Day". That's so nice!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rob is One.

Robinson's birthday party was a big success! I was very touched by the excellent turnout...

"Uncle" Bean: [scanning the room filled with wall-to-wall people] This is a lot [of people]. I was not expecting this.
Me: I know! I can't believe so many people came out today!
Uncle Bean: How many people did you invite?
Me: Uhh...50?
Bean: Why did you do that?
Me: [quietly] I don't know. I didn't think anybody would come.

I don't know why I have this anxiety that nobody is ever coming to my parties. We are very fortunate to have lots of people who love us, and they all fought the oppressive heat to travel to our little corner of Texas to celebrate our baby boy's first birthday.

This was obviously my first time planning a child's birthday party, and let me just say that even the simple cake and punch home parties today are vastly more elaborate than when I was growing up. I began brainstorming and planning Rob's party way back in January, and it's a good thing I did, because it took a long time to make all this stuff and to get an education in Children's Party Planning in the Year 2011. I have to credit sites like Catch My Party and numerous blogs and sites where I researched and found inspiration in planning Rob's shindig. I feel like I ought to share some of what I learned here on my blog since I learned so much from the dozens of blogs I read. Pay it forward, right? 

The party had a vintage toy theme and a red and aqua color scheme. My inspiration? The invitations:
I found them on Etsy!
I turned the entry table into a display for vintage and retro toys and books. I "shopped my house", though I did have lofty ideas about a Classic Sock Monkey, jacks, marbles, yo-yo's, jump ropes and a Slinky. Ultimately, I chose to concentrate my party budget on the food instead of buying toys. And check out the photo collage that's hanging in the spot usually reserved for my bridal portrait. Do those pics look familiar? They are the monthly "Rob and Laney" photos arranged chronologically in a Shutterfly collage poster.  I also replaced other wall decor throughout the house with framed portraits of Rob. You know, so everyone knows that it's all about Robinson. 
Ever since I saw "sweets stylist" Amy Atlas on the Today show talking about creating dessert tables for holiday parties last year, I have been itching to create a dessert table. I had never heard of them before, but I suddenly felt that they were absolutely crucial to the success of a party.
I scoured the internet for blogs and photos to teach myself how to create a dessert table. Perhaps I could save people some of that work and share what I learned are the key elements to creating a dessert table:

  1. Identify a color palette to use throughout the table
  2. Create a backdrop. Mine is foam board covered in gift wrap, but there are loads of other clever and creative ideas. A Google Image search is a great place to start looking.
  3. Use a tablecloth. Aesthetically, the tablecloth was more important than I originally thought. 
  4. Use risers to create a height variation. Dessert tables where all items are placed flat on the table look a little "off". This riser was created using a giftwrapped box, but I've seen professional tables that use polystyrene blocks, acrylic blocks or risers...you're really limited only by your imagination and your financial resources. Mostly your financial resources.
  5. Create a symmetrical presentation. I've seen tables with a more varied presentation, with varieties of candies and sweets on pedestal stands and in jars, and it looks terrific. If you're a dessert table novice like me, and don't already have all the serving platters and pieces, it can get expensive in a hurry if you're trying to duplicate an elaborate display seen on designer blogs and in magazines. I had all sorts of cute ideas, mostly involving red rope licorice, blue sour straws, custom M&Ms, and apothecary jars. But guess how expensive it is to collect a half-dozen large apothecary jars and 20 pounds of candy to fill them? Very. Think in the hundreds of dollars, and you better be careful you don't buy old, gnarly candy from some wholesale candy warehouse unloading old product. Guess who can't eat candy? The birthday boy and most of his friends. Guess who won't eat candy? The health conscious adults who composed the majority of my guests. I loved the idea, but ultimately decided to pass on candy this year.

After a few practice runs, I baked this cake from scratch, y'all. My baking adventure deserves it's own post, so stay tuned for that. The bottom tier of this cake is 7-Up pound cake with lemon buttercream filling. My great grandmother used to make 7-Up cake for me when I was little, so it's a sentimental favorite. Added bonus: its density makes it ideal for stacking tiers of cake. The top tier is red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting filling. I covered the cake in marshmallow fondant. I won't lie, it's kind of a big undertaking, but I wanted a big cake, and I knew that a professional cake this size covered in fondant would have likely cost over $100. How much do I estimate I spent in supplies and ingredients to create this cake, plus the previous cakes I made as my "trial runs"? Let's not talk about that. I think by his third or fourth birthday this little investment will have paid for itself. Plus, I had fun. It was a great creative outlet for me. I wish I had cakes to bake for him all the time!
My kid likes banana pudding, and Paula Deen's "Not Yo Mama's Banana Pudding" is the tastiest recipe I've tried. So that's the story behind that. Not everybody at the party tried the pudding, but everybody who did try the pudding went back for seconds and requested the recipe.
It was important that I made treats for the party that my son and his buddies could eat, but that the adults would also want to eat. Hopefully I struck that balance with the blondies, brownies, and chocolate chip cookie bars that rounded out my dessert table. If I had a little more time, and table space, I think I would have included something like sliced strawberries. I offered no fruit at this party, and I think this group would have enjoyed something like that. I think next year I will omit one of the baked goods in favor of some fruit and a cream cheese dip.

Everything at this party was available in miniature. Miniature brownies, miniature burgers, and a miniature Radio Flyer as a cake topper! Apparently Radio Flyer made these a few years ago, but no more! I scored this bad boy on eBay.
I was convinced this party required a "birthday banner" and I enjoyed making this for Rob.
Sliders and mini hot dogs (or hot dogs that we cut in half, if you want to get technical). I called them "baby burgers" and "hot pups". You know, because it's a party for a baby. It seemed fitting.

 I may have gone a little nuts making tent cards to identify everything.
I made a huge batch of homemade mac n cheese, but even if nobody but Robinson ate it, the effort was well worth it! He had THREE bowls!

For all my planning, I wasn't quite sure what to do besides make sure everybody had a beverage and that all children who locked themselves in the bathroom were rescued. About an hour into the party, I asked one of the guests, a father of three, "What do I do? Cake, then presents?" Turns out you do presents. Then cake. This is what Robinson wanted to do while we were opening presents:
He's fascinated. Lucky for me, who felt a little silly and self conscious about opening a dozen or so presents intended for a one year old boy by myself, while my child sat absentmindedly nearby, there were a couple of sweet little girls who were super stoked about opening Rob's presents for him. Blogger's Note: Rubik's Cube was decoration from entryway, not a new gift.
 Could these sweet girls be any more excited to open these gifts?
"Look, Robinson!"

This party hat was made on impulse earlier in the week. I didn't even expect him to wear it, but "Uncle Scotty" was quick thinking and balanced the hat on his head in the middle of singing "Happy Birthday" so that Angie could snap a quick photo. He looks contemplative, yes? He was actually really happy to have all of us singing to him and cheering for him. I knew that could be a little overwhelming for a tot, so I practiced with him in the week or two before the party. Every time he sat down for a meal I would sing "Happy Birthday" and cheer enthusiastically. By the time of the party he was accustomed to this and smiled big.
A birthday bib might have been a good idea. I actually didn't plan a bib at all, and if he got dirty that was fine with me. It really made no difference. He played with the frosting a little, and ate a couple bites after some coaxing from me. By the time he blew out his candle, he had eaten the three bowls of mac n cheese and two cups of chocolate milk. He was STUFFED.
This was a favorite moment: Scotty took Rob's hands and plopped them splat against either side of the cake, and Rob just kept them there. I'm not kidding, he didn't move his hands for a full minute or two.

All the beautiful photos in this post were taken by Angie. Thanks, girl! It was great to be able to enjoy the party, mingle with guests and be "in the moment" without having to sacrifice having photos. Plus your camera is bad-ass, and you're highly skilled and loaded with talent.

We had a wonderful day. Thanks to everyone who helped make Robinson's day extra special, and for being so wonderful throughout the year! We love y'all! Already thinking about next year...