Boxcar Children Birthday

boxcar birthday 2My son Daniel loves the Boxcar Children. Seriously LOVES them. We’re either reading them together, or he’s listening to them on audiobook format or through our Tales2Go subscription. We buy them in the bookstore, borrow them from the library, trade them with other kids and have even picked up a few at yard sales. It’s a serious obsession at our house to find out what mystery the Alden children will help solve next! Naturally, then, we just had to create our own for his birthday: They Mystery of the Missing 7-Year-Old. (Spoiler alert: The 7-year-old is missing, because now he’s EIGHT!)

Months before the big day, the birthday boy and I did a search on what foods are mentioned in Boxcar Children book titles. The Boxcar Children website gave us lots of options to get us thinking.

bed pieces photo for Boxcar Children post Kelly Greenkreg joint for Boxcar Children post photo by Kelly GreenNext we started the plan for building a boxcar in our back yard. Not being overly handy, I got the idea to transform a wooden bunk bed into a boxcar. Thanks to an online auction site, we found one for $30. It was a little worn, but hey… it would become an old box car, so a few nicks and dings would add to the character!

ladybug for Boxcar Children post photo by Kelly Green

This ladybug wanted in on the fun!

We assembled it as per the instructions, but to make it extra safe, we brought out my Kreg jig to secure each joint for added support, then had 2 x 4s cut to its length so we’d have a roof. The whole thing was painted with an exterior paint/primer in an antique red color. We chose one of those OKed by the historical society to make it look super authentic.

staple screen for Boxcar Children post photo by Kelly GreenFine mesh vinyl screening was then wrapped around it and secured with staples. I used the same paint to loosely sketch out the outline of board slats, and then accented them with black and brown for more depth and realism. The pièce de résistance was the four plastic lid tops we screwed onto each of the corners for the wheels. (My son insisted that four was the proper number for our boxcar since he once saw an illustration for one of the first original Gertrude Chandler Warner books, and IT had just 4 wheels from what we could see in the picture, so to be authentic….)completed boxcar for Boxcar Children post photo by Kelly Green

decoder for Boxcar Children post photo by Kelly GreenFor the party we began with a mystery! The kids had to go on a type of scavenger hunt. Clues included having to use a cipher to read a location, various code puzzles, and they were even required to use the metal detector Daniel’s grandparents sent him as a present to dig up yet another clue (like geocaching in The Box That Watch Found). It took about 45 minutessentence code for Boxcar Children post photo by Kelly Green for the gaggle of kids to traipse from one end of our neighborhood to the other on the hunt for all the clues and to unravel the code sentences (pictured at right). look at clues

The very last clue led to the food table, where everyone (who was now acting the part of Bennie—always hungry) got the prize of some fun snacks and treats.

boxcar food for Boxcar Children post photo by Kelly GreenI of course had to get a little creative with some of the foods, though we did have a great start on the list. We served chocolate alligators as an homage to The Mystery of the Alligator Swamp and had lemonade as mentioned in The Boardwalk Mystery. My “Boxcar Brie” was the hardest to fit into the Boxcar world! After much searching, however, I found a quote from the original Boxcar Children book where “Jessie… cut the loaf of bread into five big pieces. The cheese was cut into four pieces.” OK, so she wasn’t talking about brie and habanero pepper relish wrapped in croissant dough, but the grownups wanted some treats for them, too!

cake with Daniel for Boxcar Children post photo by Kelly Green Gigi's Cupcakes OrlandoThe star item was, of course, delicious desserts from Gigi’s Cupcakes, Orlando. Not only did we have adorable cupcakes with fondant books on them (in birthday-boy-approved flavors!), but an 8″ round with a scene that came right out of The Boxcar Children books! They even made gluten free cupcakes for those at our party with gluten sensitivities. Everyone enjoyed how cute AND delicious they were. For the record, the cupcakes were Double Stuff (with a cute little Oreo on top), Italian Cream, and Miss Princess, a white cake baked with fresh strawberries, topped with a cream cheese frosting. Italian Cream was my pick. I LOVE that one!

group pic party

Reading off the first clue for the kids. What isn’t pictured is the mad dash they made as soon as I said GO!

We had lots more activities… some of which we even had time to do! We printed out little fingerprint ID cards for little guests to check in with upon arrival (one never knows when a guest might turn into a suspect!), and printed out the great word find puzzle available from the Boxcar Children website.

Some of the kids were familiar with Boxcar Children before the party, but ALL learned about them through the course of the afternoon. Daniel was happy to share his passion about the world of the Aldens, and the mysteries they uncover. What we uncovered was fun, friendship, food and fiction… from a great series of children’s series we highly recommend.

 

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Remembering Our Son’s First Visit to SeaWorld

My son is 5. Oh how those words fill me with pride and emotion. It seems like only yesterday we had him, and soon after that were visiting SeaWorld. He had some health issues at birth, so that first visit included a monitor and lots of wires. He slept through most of the day, I admit, but his parents were refreshed and renewed, taking in all the loveliness and beauty around us. A dolphin baby splashed right by us at the nursery. We smiled, looking at our little baby squirming in our arms.

We took turns holding him and pushing the stroller. We paused to watch the sea lions. All in all, I remember imagining all the amazing things we’d do here at SeaWorld with this tiny little boy of ours. Sigh.

Jump to the present.

Aforementioned baby is now 5. Five! My head spins when this kid who used to be so tiny just flies by me, running top speed. It’s birthday time, and he (again!) wants a SeaWorld theme. (To read about our other party, click here.)

Already this week we’ve sorted his “buddies” (a.k.a. stuffed animals) for the event. He wants all the penguins to be in their own habitat. No, we can’t use real ice. He’d like the birds to be in an aviary. Yes, we can put out some bird seed, but our guests do NOT have to sample it. Our remote control shark needs a pond to swim in. “Can we use the baby pool if we still have it?” he asks. It’s a lot of fun having him figure out how he wants it all to look, and what he wants people to see and do.

I’m in high gear coming up with food items for the occasion. I found some adorable penguin appetizers made out of cream cheese, carrots, and olives. We’re also serving “hot-dog-topuses.” (Check out the items I’m working on at Pinterest and if you have a great party idea, send it on!)

I firmly believe that conservation begins with inspiration. Even at 5, my son is already developing a tremendous respect and love for those with whom we share our world. He’s mindful of recycling, reducing our use of natural resources, and caring for animals. It brings me great joy that even in his idea for a party he wants to teach others about marine animals and share the love and joy of being near them and appreciating their awesomeness.

It all started with a visit to SeaWorld nearly 5, FIVE, years ago. I’m grateful!

Sesame Street Star Oscar the Grouch Was the Star of our Party

Oscar the Grouch is not one of the performers in the Busch Gardens Safari of Fun Sunny Day Theater (there’s something in his contract about personal appearances, LOL). That didn’t, however, stop us from making him the STAR of my son’s 4th birthday party.

Our invitations told everyone that, in Oscar’s opinion, the party was his “cup of mud.” And it was. And how could he not be thrilled at all the garbage trucks, disgusting sounding (not tasting!) foods, and trashy games? My son decided Slimey the Worm should be next to Oscar, crawling into the wheel.

When guests arrived, they were greeted by a huge sign that read, “Scram! No, wait. C’mon in for the Party!” with a giant photo of the monster himself. All over the back yard trash cans, garbage trucks, and recycling bins could be seen. Normally I try to clean before company, but whoo hoo… when you have a trash-themed party it’s not nearly as high on the “to do” list. We even had an autographed photo of Oscar he sent to us with his regrets that he could not, alas, attend. (I’m serious about the personal appearances clause!)

On the menu were Messy Meatballs, Dirty Rice, Filthy Fondue, Oscar Green Guacamole, Trashy Tortilla Chips, Sloppy Joes, Green Goopy Salsa Verde, and Can-D. (Get it?! In the trash can… Candy!) The cake was a recycling truck with donuts for wheels, ginger bread men for drivers, Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes as exhaust pipes, and of course chocolate pudding in the back with crumbled up Oreos and graham crackers for dirt with gummy worms.

Oscar The Grouch and Garbage Truck

Due to a sudden downpour, we grabbed the gang and headed in to our resi-dump for craft time. Before the party a friend and I cut out pattern pieces for an Oscar puppet. We pre-cut the green face shape, two eyes with pupils, two one brown unibrow, and a black mouth. Using white craft glue and glue sticks, the kids did their best at approximating facial feature placement. (You’ll find pdf files for each of the parts to the puppet at the bottom of this post.)

Oscar the Grouch Puppets

(Thanks home improvement store for the paint stir stick handles which we glued on before the party so they could dry, and Miranda for your exceptional cutting skills.)

Game time was a lot of fun, as we borrowed some bins from our town’s recycling center. We put three labeled bins on each end of the “playing field.” One of each: metal, plastic, paper. In the center of the yard we had two bins facing each other, one green, one orange. Team orange lined up behind their bin, and green did likewise. These bins had various recycling items inside for team members to sort. (Hint: If you use metal soda cans, cut circles of construction paper slightly smaller than the can top and securely hot glue them on, so as not to have a cutting hazard from the sharp opening.) Each child grabbed an item and ran to the “end zone” where a referee was on hand to point to the right bin, as many of the kids couldn’t read the words yet! After a successful dunk, they ran back and tagged the team bin, and the next child would be off to recycle!

On a side note: We’re on a first-name basis with all of our city environmental services personnel. They are the nicest guys and wave at my son every single day they’re there. We bake cookies for them on special occasions and they couldn’t be kinder to our family. Show some love to your trash men: Baked goods or cold water on a hot day.

We really enjoy having our friends and family at our home for parties, but if we lived closer we would have been tempted to have our party at Busch Gardens this year. You can have a preschool part there! The cost includes admission (after 1 p.m.) and features pizza and cake at a special meet-and-greet. Then the kiddos get to be in VIP seating for the 4 p.m. Sesame Street show. (We didn’t have a show at our party, although I had planned on reading a story and having us sing “Oh I Love Trash!” Alas, the rain put a damper on the entertainment portion of the party.)

The Busch Gardens party cost is $49.95 plus tax which includes invitations, decorations, party favors, package pickup for presents and special treatment with some very special monsters. Guests who are Passport members are $23 per person.

They also have a Birthday add-on for people who are already attending a “Dine with Elmo and Friends” event. (The Dine with Elmo breakfast is $18 for adults and $13 for 3- to 9-year-olds. Lunch with Elmo and the gang will cost $22 for adults and $15 for children (ages 3-9). The add-on is a single charge that will provide your party with reserved seating, a cake, and a special birthday wish from the cast during the dine.

(Times, costs, and availability change from time to time, so be sure to visit http://www.buschgardens.com for current information.)

Say, I wonder if an adult can have their birthday party there? I’m over the preschool age—not saying HOW over!—but I STILL love those monsters.

Here are the pdf files you’ll need to create my adorable (IMHO) Oscar the Grouch puppets:

Oscar the Grouch Tongue; Oscar the Grouch Unibrow; Oscar the Grouch Eyes; Oscar the Grouch Face; Oscar the Grouch Mouth

SeaWorld Birthday Party and Cake

There’s so much to celebrate at SeaWorld… conservation, beauty, marine life, family. We enjoy it so much that when my son suggested a SeaWorld theme for his birthday party we were all for it! And the icing on the cake was, well, the cake!

I started out by baking two half sheet cakes in one flavor, and three 8-inch rounds in another (so chocolate lovers could have their favorite, and non-chocoholics were good to go, too). Not sure how a person does not like chocolate, but who’s to say?!

I made a strawberry filling for the yellow cake filling and a chocolate ganash for in between the chocolate layers.

The fondant was store-bought and I added blue food coloring until I got the just-right ocean-y feel! Meanwhile, a friend of mine helped by whipping up a batch of buttercream frosting. (Thanks MW for everything!) We had two bowls: one was for the blue color, and one was for white.

I rolled it out and covered the 8″ rounds that were now filled and stacked. Once the two large rectangles were similarly filled and layered, I covered that part of the cake with the blue buttercream icing. Then I placed the fondant-clad round off to one side, touching both a long and short side of the base cake.

The sides of both the round and base cakes were given a fresh garnish of additional white icing, just piped on really thick at the base. Then I put a fork into the blue gel food coloring I’d used to color the fondant. I pressed it into the white and made a wave-type of motion and… voila! The dark blue mixed with the white to create a pretty realistic wave, if I do say so myself.

Since I’m not a professional cake maker, I couldn’t sculpt the whale, penguin, and dolphin out of sugar or gumpaste or chocolate or any other edible product for that matter, I simply used three of my son’s “Little People” characters and made waves around them.

What was awesome and edible were the sharks, “baby” penguins, fish and rocks that completed the look. (Thanks again MW!) Purchased at a candy store, these little jimmies added dimension and were absolutely delicious. (I could eat a bag of the chocolate rocks right now!)

After pushing the gummy sharks into the sides of the “wave area,” covering the “ocean floor” with rocks, and placing the bright-colored fish into the “foam” of the water, all that was left was to write happy birthday. I used some more of the fondant and cut the letters with plastic alphabet shape cutters.

We had a “baby pool” filled with stuffed dolphins and whales. We even created a “Penguin Encounter” (as per my toddler) where all his penguins and puffins could line up and the people at the party had to walk by “real slow” so they could pretend they were on the conveyor belt.

“Daniel is Three. Celebrate with the Sea,” stated our invitation. Everyone had a “whale of a day” and ate lots sea-themed foods and ocean-blue punch. We then had our cake and ate it, too.