28 November 2014

Our Epic Hunger Games Party

Here it is at last - Dash's 12th birthday Hunger Games party which has consumed my imagination (and creative energies) for months. As a total Hunger Games fan (the books AND the movies) this was a party I got so excited about creating. Right from the start I knew just what I wanted it to be: a water battle in our backyard arena (complete with cardboard cornucopia) and then hanging out in our very own Hob where we would indulge in delights from Mellark's Bakery and cook fresh rabbit (AKA chicken) over the fire...

Here's how it went.

Creating the Atmosphere (decorating)

The Hob (for the uninitiated) is the place in District 12 where Katniss first finds her Mockingjay pin. It's where she goes to sell the squirrel/birds/rabbit she shoots; it's the Black Market where people from the district trade illegally. It's grotty and dingy... and fun to recreate in our carport with the help of pallets from the dump, coffee sacks from Geoff's Emporium ($2 a pop) and a bit of graffiti/stencilling...

The lemonade stand was reworked into a rustic version of itself, with the drink dispenser sitting pretty on a log I found under the deck and the extra straws in a clean-but-rusty tin can. The "refreshments" sign ("no tesserae required") was a piece of leftover rotten decking, swiftly hand-lettered with old housepaint, to match the one I threw together for "The Hob".

I individualised my mini milk bottles with printable labels from each district, to make it easy for kids to keep track of their bottle. (Printables here; paper Straws from KiwiCakes).

The Mockingjay symbol was stencilled onto sacking using housepaint and an old rag; I used an old door and stapled-up black building paper as the background for yet more graffiti: the ironic rebels slogan, "The odds are NEVER in our favor" (from Catching Fire when Katniss spots the symbol and words flashing by the train).

On the other side of the carport we have Mellark Bakery - you know, the one belonging to Peeta's family? Peeta Mellark??? (printable sign and and bread wrappers here)

The Plan
Such a simple Plan. The tributes arrive dressed in black (if they read their invitation), and hang out in the Hob until all are assembled.

Then we have a Reaping to determine which Tribute represents which District (actually predetermined with names written on District slips ahead of time). Each tribute receives a wristband with a hand-stamped District tag. This represents their life in the Games. It also helps them keep track of which drink bottle is theirs.

The idea is that when the Games (water battle) begins you have to preserve/protect your own "life" while collecting other Tributes' lives on your other arm. Once your "life" is gone you are out of the games. And a cannon will sound (a sound effect I found on iTunes). The tally of points will be recorded on the blackboard (more points for staying in longer, extra points for collecting "lives"); the Victors will be determined by the points and receive a handy stencilled Mockingjay gear bag filled with treats.

We'd invited twelve Tributes, one for each of the Districts (appropriate since Dash was turning twelve), but on the day we were one Tribute short... so I came up with a cute plan. We wrote Scrag's name down on the slip for District Twelve and when his name was reaped, he pretended to quake with fear and his brave big sister stepped forward and said: "I volunteer as tribute!" Sound familiar? Haha.

To help the tributes battle it out I prepared a cardboard box cornucopia - what else? - with gear bags, water guns, water bombs etc spilling out...

The Tributes waited on their pedestals (foil plates, in circle) until the gun went off and then... let the Games begin (and may the odds be EVER in your favor!)...

The Action

Once the start cannon sounded, it was all on. Water water everywhere. It proved pretty hard to take people's lives off them: the kids must have actually listened to the pep talk the Gamemaker (Mr G) had given them about "no kicking, no punching, no dangerous tackling..."

So mostly they just threw water at each other and had a blast...

If things got a bit crazy the Gamemaker intervened with his hose... (no lives were lost)

Did I mention that we spent all of Friday afternoon and evening putting up a 16-foot pool in our backyard? 19,000 litres of water and all day/night to fill. But it was worth the sting on our water bill.
Even though it was freezing (because our spring has been PATHETIC and the sun was not shining) the kids did not care...

Luckily I'd also told them to bring a change of clothes... (luckily most of them actually read their invitations).

What can I say? It was EPIC. Not quite to plan because they all played super nice and were therefore hard to "kill" but in the end it didn't matter because they all had FUN and got super duper wet.

Which was a good thing we had a nice fire going in the Hob to get them all warmed up aye?

Food and Drink
Hungry, thirsty twelve-year-old tributes need a lot of sustenance. On offer we had...

"Burning coal" chocolate cupcakes and Nightlock berry bites 

TO DRINK: delicious green tea  sugar-free nightlock berry punch...

and Capitol WATER... (until someone stole the supplies for the water battle)...

 Delicious crusty loaves from Mellark Bakery...

A gratuitous fruit offering in the form of orange segments, and some Cola Rollers (from Kiwicakes) in a cool-as metal gumball machine...

And of course, we served up fresh rabbit (shot by Katniss this morning)...

We cooked our "rabbit" skewers over the fire...

And also sizzled sausages...

Hunger Games Party - cooking sausages over the fire

... to munch on with Mellark's finest bread...

Hunger Games Party - sausages in Mellark Bakery Bread

...and finished off our feast by toasting marshmallows.

Hunger Games Party - cooking over the fire in the Hob

You just can't beat toasting marshmallows.

Toasting marshmallows

When all was said and done, we brought out the Mockingjay birthday cake...

Mockingjay birthday cake

It looks OK now but what a drama I had making this cake! It was all coming together and then, I messed it up. Luckily I was able to save it with the help of some melted barley sugar flames. I'll be sharing that story soon: how NOT to kill a Mockingjay cake.

Hunger games birthday party

Back to the party (which by now is winding down); there was an attempt to light the candles before the wind blew them out... the birthday song was sung and some very sweet speeches were made by the birthday boy and his friends to each other.

Favors: Mockingjay pendants with printable district tags

Parents arrived, tributes received their "Thank you for coming" Mockingjay pendants (which I found on this awesome Etsy shop; you can contact the owner directly for supplies) and we waved goodbye...

[I stencilled the bags with a Mockingjay - how to's here]
All that was left was to have a sleepover with three friends and go to see the much-anticipated MOCKINGJAY movie to finish the day (woop). Nobody won the Hunger Games*** so we took the unclaimed Victors bags of treats with us, one per sleepover guest (they were stencilled with Mockingjays and everything).

The party was over. We survived the Hunger Games with no loss of life or limb. It was crazy, it was wet, it was noisy, it was EPIC.

And the birthday boy called it "an unforgettable day" (on his IG birthday selfie). Which is what matters most after all.


*** Haymitch actually says this to Katniss in Catching Fire. "Nobody WINS the Hunger Games. You SURVIVE the Hunger Games..." Ironic much?)

27 November 2014

Groundhog Day (At the Emergency Room Again)

Another day goes by without me writing my Hunger Games Party post. Today was going to be the day, but gravity intervened - SOMEBODY needed to visit the A&E* to get their big toe x-rayed.
Any guesses as to WHO might have required medical attention this time? Anyone? Anyone???

OK, no prizes for guessing. It is - of course - Miss Fab. The girl who lives her life in a whirlwind, who regularly tangles with gravity; the girl who has her very own cast collection and a stack of ACC letters that could keep a bonfire burning for days.

Yeah I'm exaggerating, but only a little. There have in fact been THREE (count 'em) White Cross A&E visits in the past month. A week and a half on crutches with a pinched nerve in her ankle. An infected bug bite and now, the icing on a the cake: an actual broken bone.

But wait there's more. Along with the usual inconvenience of hours lost in waiting rooms and the chance to catch up on celebrity gossip in old doctor's office mags, this injury also comes with a helping of mummy guilt too.

Because this injury occurred yesterday, people.
The school called (yesterday), and said the Fab had injured her toe but "no need to come get her, she's fine."
Problem: she was not fine.
She was in fact hobbling around on a badly broken toe.
This morning, still unable to walk on it, she begged me to take her for yet-another-xray (and I resisted with all my might, thinking of my to-do list), so she turned to her daddy for backup. Daddy examined the (swollen) appendage and pronounced, "It looks bad. You need to take her."

He was right. I DID need to take her. But if he hadn't insisted, guess what? I probably WOULDN'T have taken her.

See, I have spent far too many hours of my life this year already in that gosh darned waiting room.
I have stood by as x-ray after x-ray turned out to be "just a sprain".

I cringe when I walk in that A&E door. I worry that somebody is going to flag the number of ACC injuries this ONE CHILD has against her name. More than fifteen in the last five years, FIVE of them just THIS YEAR.

I admit it, I was embarrassed and I was busy so I was reluctant. And I left a girl with a SEPARATED GROWTH PLATE in her toe to hobble around, undoctored, for 24 hours.

Like I said, a nice helping of mummy guilt with this injury!

Luckily my girl is very forgiving. She has happily put aside her crossness at my resistance as soon as she got the verdict: A broken toe.
A nice helping of I-told-you-so is all it took: "I can't believe I have a broken toe! And you didn't believe me! Well, you DID believe me, you just didn't want to go to A&E..."

There's a splint, some strapping, a borrowed moon boot and a return appointment to the fracture clinic next Thursday. Three weeks in the splint. But then the kicker: NO SPORT FOR 2-3 MONTHS.

There were real tears shed right then, as she realised what this means.

The Fab has just been selected for the Elite level Cheerleading team at our club. She was so excited at starting training with her new team ("I'm an ELITE cheerleader!") on Monday.
Then there's the fact she's meant to be starring in a solo dance in the finale of our church kids Christmas production.

"No Sport" means no Cheerleading, NO DANCING. No cartwheels, no biking, no swimming, no trampolining... all the things my whirlwind loves to do, because she just hates to sit still.

Poor girlie. What a suckie time of year for a broken toe.

Ahhhh so there you have it. Another day in the life of a whirlwind. Ouch.

Anybody else out there have a kid like mine???

The Life and Times of Action Girl (a recap of all Miss fab's White cross adventures)
24 November 2014

This is Not a Party Post (I have a 12 year old )

I didn't realise (nobody told me) that hosting a party for twelve years olds is just not the same as doing parties for younger children.
The kids are different - they're "Cooler" (as in: "Don't be too enthusiastic in case someone thinks you actually want to be here"; "Don't look an adult in the eye or do anything more than grunt when they greet you, they might expect you to talk to them.")

Dash, bless him, did try to warn me, kind of.
He said months ago, before I was knee deep in mockingjays and district symbols, "Mum, kids my age don't really have theme parties; maybe I could just have a few friends over..."
Did I listen? NO, course not.
I replied, "Son, nobody your age has theme parties because their parents don't know how to do them like we do. Trust me, your friends will love it!"

[The Birthday Boy helped me make the cardboard cornucopia]
Later, when I pulled out the pink wig I bought to wear as Effie Trinkett... Dash was in horrors.
"NO mum! PLEASE don't dress up as Effie Trinkett! It would be so embarrassing!"
"What??? But I'm going to be Effie and I'm going to make Dad be Caesar Flickerman... it will be funny!"
"Noooooo mum! Seriously, I'd be so embarrassed!"

I put the pink wig back in the drawer, sadly. No Effie Trinkett. No Caesar Flickerman. We are dealing with Tweens, who are highly sensitive to embarrassment. I didn't know - but I do now.

I put in loads of work on this party - partly because I LOVE Hunger Games and was having a blast coming up with the ideas, and partly because I really wanted my (easily embarrassed) son to have the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER. Of course.

But it turns out that I needn't have bothered, really.
Not that his friends didn't like it, they did. Apparently. From the txts I got from parents later.
Just at the time, you'd never know it.

Then yesterday one of Dash' friends was over and he said to me, "Simone, that was the best party EVER on Saturday!" and my heart lept.
THIS is why I do the parties, make a fuss creating the atmosphere, spend weeks on  creating all the details...
So what did this boy love so much about the party...? I couldn't wait to hear. Was it the hand stamped district bands? The Capitol Water Bottles? The stencilled Mockingjay victor's bags...?

"The water fight! It was AWESOME! We got to just throw water at each other and go crazy... it was THE BEST!"

The water fight. Not the party Mellark Bakery signs, or the stencilled Mockingjays or the cardboard cornucopia... just the chance to throw water at each other.
Ha. there you go Simone, let that be a lesson to ya!

I have a twelve year old son. His friends are tweens of various stripes.
Some we know, some we don't know at all.
Some we have a great relationship with and have known before they were "cool" (THOSE are the ones who would have enjoyed Effie and Caesar making an appearance).
Others we've only recently met, some just on the day (the ones who wouldn't look us in the eye, who acted like they didn't want to appear like they were having too much fun).

I learnt a lot from this birthday, and I now know that after a certain point, everything changes.
We're at that point now.
Dash has probably had his LAST theme party. Waaaaaaah :(
He doesn't WANT theme parties any more.

He said months ago (and I quote), "Mum I think I'm getting too old for theme parties..."
And I said, "But Dash! Theme parties are what I DO! It's what I'm good at! Just think of all the cool themes we can do now you're older... Survivor, Amazing Race, Fear Factor..."

What I was really thinking was "Don't cut off my source of blog material! Don't tell me it's over!"

This weekend we pulled off a party that (on the surface of it) was cool in every detail but somehow just lacked the .... heart. The buzzy feeling of celebrating with your son's besties on his special day in a way that is super fun. The kind of party that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling.

That's what parties are for.
Somehow, whether it was that the numbers were too big (12?!), that a number of the usual long-time friends couldn't make it and there were a bunch of kids we didn't know, or whether the few "too cool" kids that walked in looking unimpressed loomed too large in my mind... I don't know.

(Though they don't look unenthusiastic in this IG selfie and the birthday boy called it an "unforgettable day")

I just know that I won't be doing that again. Not on that scale. Not for that many. Not for this age group.
Next year, just a couple of besties. No party. Just a celebration.
And guess what? My twelve year old is super happy with that plan.
I'm half sad and half relieved.

Bottom line, I have a twelve year old son and everything's different. He's seriously growing up.

Happy 12th birthday Dash.

DISCLAIMER: The Hunger Games Party Posts will follow soon... because even if it wasn't my favourite-feeling party, it was still AWESOME. And I did work my butt off. And Dash called it an Unforgettable Day.
17 November 2014

Truisms (for my almost-45th birthday)

This week is going to be mad, by which I mean CRAY-ZEE. It's my birthday on Wednesday (woop??) but my glorious 45th anniversaire is likely to be overshadowed/swallowed up in the last-minute party prep for Dash's 12th birthday Hunger Games party on Saturday.

And since I JUST KNOW I'm going to have NO TIME to write myself a reflective, soul-searching, what-have-I-done-with-my-life happy birthday post, I thought I'd steal a few moments today to share with you the sayings I (try to) live by.

These are the truisms of my heart. You'll notice kindness features rather a lot - Kindness is VERY important to me. I don't always manage to live up to my ideals (who DOES, right?) but I AIM to live by them.  Because... if you aim at nothing you'll hit it every time (yet another true saying I just didn't have time to make a pretty picture for).

So Happy Middle-of-my-life Halfway-to-ninety Birthday to me. Forty Five??!! Who knew I could be so old and yet still feel like I'm just starting out?

Here are my favourite sayings to live by...




Which saying is your favourite from this bunch? Do you have sayings that you live by?