Knight invitation

As usual, I was late getting my party inspiration juices stirred up for my son’s Medieval Times birthday invitation, so I ended up at the computer one very late night, googling “royal proclamations.”  I lucked out: the first entry I found (from 1723) was almost perfectly worded for my purpose.  A few modifications, and this is what I wrote:

Lawrence George 1, by the grace of God,Inside Knight invitation Knight of Castle (1234) Sanditon, and its backyard Commonwealth, defender of the faith and of our Church in earth the supreme head, to all our most loving and faithful friends and family, and also our mostly obedient pets, and to every of them, greeting:

Where it will please Almighty God, on Saturday next, the 18th November, to call together the afore-mentioned parties to join in the revelry, celebrations, and goings-on that attend the twelfth birthday dinner feast of the same Lawrence George 1, hereafter known as Sir Lance, at Castle Medieval Times of Buena Park, to witness in all the full glory, regalia, magnificence, etc. the tournament of jousting, swordplay, and horseplay that ensues. Carriage departs from Castle Sanditon at half after four o’clock in the afternoon of the same day. Return will be by same later in the evening.

The favor of a telephonic reply by 12th November is requested at 123-456-7890.

Crossed letter-openersI printed the text in a plummy-red color (using Word 2013 Blackadder font) on vellum, that I trimmed down to 7 1/2″ x 10″.  The next day, I got my son to sign all the vellum sheets and I added a wax seal of his initial to match the ink color.  Then I glue-pasted the printed vellum to a gold Venetian-marbled sheet, measuring 8 1/2″ x 11″.  (I had pre-printed the marbled paper with the crossed images of two letter openers that I borrowed from my son; I simply scanned one letter opener, then rotated a copy of the image on top of it.)

Then I folded the proclamation in thirds and wrapped it with a “ribbon” of plum-red velour paper trimmed to 3/8″ x 9 1/2″.  I glued a “jewel” to the end of the ribbon and affixed the tab with a glue dot (so it would be re-sealable).Invitation outside

The folded proclamation fit inside a business-sized, buff-colored envelope – and off it went!

Medieval Times/Knight party for a 12-year-old boy

As my kids got older, the backyard lost its appeal and birthday parties were more appealing if “we could go somewhere.”  So, when my son turned 12, he got the idea to go to Medieval Times with some off his friends.Medieval Times guest knightsAlso, our house was under construction at the time, so throwing a birthday party away from home was almost a necessity.  This was a real departure for me – a dedicated DIYer, but I was wisely able to relinquish total control with grace and dignity.

I also came up with a cute and really easy invitation:Invitation outside

Fortunately for us, Medieval Times is practically in our backyard, so renting a van to transport all those boys (with my husband as chauffeur/bus driver) was a no-brainer.  (I drove the girl-car for his sister and her little friend.)Damsels in no distressPre-dinner entertainment was graciously provided by Medieval Times in the manner of group photo ops, sword-making demonstrations, sword displays, heraldry displays, and the purchase and use of the ubiquitous foam sword for each of our visiting knights (and ladies).Sword photo

The use-your-hands dinner and jousting tournament was enjoyed by everyone.  Frankly (and snootily), I had assumed that watching this pretend production would be cheesy and silly, but I was happily surprised.  The equestrian display alone was impressive; the Medieval Times performers are remarkably good stunt men (and women) – and I would be happy to see them again.  And the food was tasty enough – considering that I didn’t have to lift a finger (except to eat), it was delicious.  After the show was over, we brought all the party guests back to our house for the birthday boy’s favorite (and easy) ice cream cake (decorated with Hershey’s chocolate battlements and ribbon pennants) and snickerdoodles.Birthday desserts

In the immortal (and probably inaccurate) words of Shrek’s friend, Donkey, “My little baby’s all grown up and off slaying dragons!”  Fun times at Medieval Times…

 

Frontier Party for 6-year-old

There’s a general, well-known rule of thumb for the number of guests at a kid’s birthday party: Child’s age + 1 = number of guests. That works really well until your child enters compulsory education; then his classmates become his daily playmates, and ideally, he can’t narrow down his list of closest friends to just seven. In a perfect world, I like to think that means I’m raising a child who is inclusive and friendly. In the real world, when my son turned six and was just in kindergarten, that meant that I was faced with managing 38 (including my own) children for two hours. (The two-hour time limit was my arbitrary window of insanity.)The birthday boy

Well, my son came up with an idea that was actually do-able: a Frontier Party. He was very clear that it was not a Cowboy Party, or a Pioneer Party. All the days we’d played hooky from preschool and gone to Disneyland instead had paid off, and he wanted to recreate Tom Sawyer’s Island and Fort Wilderness in his backyard for his birthday. I think he also thought he wanted a coonskin cap, like the one Daniel Boone wore, and were then available in Adventureland in the Bazaar. (Now, I think they can be purchased at The Briar Patch, just past the Haunted Mansion, on your way into Critter Country.)

That many invitees plus limited time (I admit, his birthday had snuck up on me!) meant I needed an invitation that was easy to do. I found some printer-friendly paper at a local stationery store (my paper was decorated with cartoon-like mountains and trees, but any paper with “Mountain Scene” or “Fall Foliage” would do), and one night (very late) sat up and typed out the text. I was a little bit punchy, but the end result had a cute flavor and I think worked out well:

Frontier Invite-Blog-RevisedHowdy!  This here is a formal invite to head west to the edge of the Eastbluff Wilderness and rendezvous with the Scouting Party gathering there to celebrate Danny Smith’s 6th birthday on Saturday, November 11th from 2:30 – 4:30 pm…  Explore the frontier on a scavenger hunt, cook up some wild grub, tell tall tales ’round the campfire, and generally have a hoot…  Rsvp to the bona fide, certified rangers at 123.456.7890 by November 6th…  Hope to see you there!

(Because we were inviting everyone in his kindergarten class, I didn’t even have to pay for postage: I just dropped off the invitations the next day at school, and one of the volunteer-moms distributed them in the kids’ take-home bags.)

Frontier envelope

Once the date and time were set and the invitations were done, I had to plan the actual party. I started with activities; I was looking for ideas that were kindergartner-friendly and wouldn’t break the bank, and theme-oriented, of course. I figured the kids could do crafts for the first 20-25 minutes of the party, while everyone was arriving. The second half-hour would be devoted to the scavenger hunt (ahem, the tracking party), followed by 30-40 minutes of cooking lunch (hot dogs and s’mores) over campfires, eating cupcakes (instead of birthday cake), and finally, opening gifts. After that, it would be time for the guests to go home – phew!

By party day, we had 30 scouts to accommodate. I rented three kid-sized tables and 30 kid-sized chairs; I covered the tables with plastic tablecloths from Party City (light greengreen, and orange), and purchased paper plates and napkins in similar “frontier foliage” colors: mostly dark green, and some brown, orange, and yellow. (I didn’t need cups because I was serving juice boxes for beverages, and I didn’t need silverware because the food was all handheld).

The party starts

I also printed up name tags (just pre-printed package labels with a sticker) for each guest when they “checked in” at the front gate; I wanted to make sure the adult-helpers could identify each guest by name.

Name tag girl

The craft activities were simple, but cute and easy to execute:
1) Wampum bracelets (for trading with Indians) – made out of leather laces (that I pre-cut) and pony beads.

wampum

Serendipitously, this reinforced the patterns and sequencing tasks the kids were doing in school, so it was definitely age-appropriate.Lance6bday32) Bird seed feeders – made from toilet paper rolls smeared with peanut butter, then rolled in bird seed, and strung with red yarn for hanging. (I also had a box of baggies and a black sharpie – to stash the finished feeders and label the bags.)

Making bird feeders3) Pretzel log cabins – made from stick pretzels and peanut butter, stacked like Lincoln Logs. (The scouts constructed these on small paper plates that were then labeled with each scout’s name with another black sharpie, and placed in a baggie.)

Peanut butter crafts

4) Leaf rubbing placemats – made from purchased plain white placemats, various leaves collected at our local park, and crayons.

placemat

5) Coloring pages – reproduced from some very old Disneyland coloring books, with images of Trapper Mickey heading off into the forest with Goofy, or sitting around a campfire with Chief Donald.

Lance6bday2

Wolf TrackCrafts were followed by a scavenger hunt, thanks to the creative talent of my party-planning-friend-in-arms (hmm, -cahoots).  The scouts were divided into six scouting parties of five, each led by a mom or dad who had volunteered to help.  RaccoonTracks

Each scouting party was given a brown bag with handles (recycled from the local supermarket), and labeled with the party’s name.  Each bag also contained a small compass, and a baby-food jar with a punctured lid for collecting insect specimens.

FoxTracks

Our six groups included the Bear, Wolf, Porcupine, Cougar, Fox, and Raccoon groups. Each bag had a large picture of that group’s footprint or track.PorcupineTrack

This was important because each group had to find their “track” clues in the neighborhood to help them collect the items on their scavenger list.

The tracking clues were simply plain pieces of paper decorated with a group’s specific track and then taped to the ground.

CougarTrackUnder the paper was the actual item to be discovered or a clue as to where the next item could be found. BearTrackThe supervising parents, or “guides,” had been given some directions as to where to lead their scouting party in case finding all the items became too daunting.  (Earlier in the day, we had distributed water bottles and feathers for later collection.)

Frontier Scouts’ Scavenger Hunt Directions:
Porcupine Team

Follow the trail, and you shall find
All these things we have in mind.
With your eyes only, watch out for:
   someone wearing green clothes
   a flag
   a dog
   a cat
   someone on a scooter
   a spider web
Leave the Scout Camp gate and head south (right).
Beware of a monster poisonous spider in a tall palm tree as you hike.
A brainless man with straw for arms you shall pass.
   Don’t be fooled by his smile.
   Keep on the path headed south.
DO NOT DISTURB THE OCCUPANT. It could be Dracula’s home. Save your blood. Continue slightly south-east.
Don’t forget to stop for water by a bush with yellow flowers. Scouts can’t get dehydrated.
(At Tommy Smith’s house: 1234 Buckingham):
   Two short palms guard the gate.
   Enter now – don’t dare wait.
   At the door, you shall meet
   A fair lady that you shall greet:
   “Lady, lady, what windy weather
   Will you please give us a feather?”
When two roads cross, it’s a dangerous place. Make sure that the direction that you face is east (left). Cross with care. Crazy wagon drivers may be there.
Trudge up a steep hill.
   Another crossroad you shall find.
   Stay with your leader – don’t get behind.
   Cross safely… if you can.
The third crossroad is very tricky… a wrong turn would be fatal. Go west (left). Proceed to a great open wilderness (park).
Remember – no collecting from settlers’ or squatters’ yards. It might make them ornery and cantankerous. Collect from the great open wilderness:
   6 different leaves
   6 different flowers
   6 stones
   1 piece of litter
   6 sticks
   1 pinecone
   1 sweet gum ball
   1 live bug
   1 lost toy
   1 bottle or can
Leave the northern edge of the wilderness, heading west. Under the porcupine tracks, find a penny. (Please retrieve the track!)
At the street sign that begins with “A,” you will find a scout’s collection. Collect a picture of your team animal.
Head down the mountain and at the second street that begins with a “B,” turn south (left), and return to Base Camp. Welcome Home! Now, c’mon in and we’ll rustle you up some grub!

But it was just daunting enough, and all the kids had a great time running through the neighborhood, stopping at some pre-arranged “cabins” to collect items that couldn’t be found in nature, and going to our local park (a five-minute walk away) to collect the nature items.

Meanwhile, I stayed at home and set up the “campfires” – portable, disposable barbecue grills that I purchased at end-of-summer sales at our local super market (of all places!).

Roasting hot dogs with help

Two more volunteers helped me get the coals going, and set up the food supplies: juice boxes, wooden dowels (that had been pre-soaked in water since the night before) for skewering, hot dogs, hot dog buns, ketchup and mustard, plates, and napkins. The roasting activities were all supervised by the parent “guides” and any parent stragglers who were hanging around – and believe me, there were plenty of stragglers!

There were also healthy alternatives, like celery sticks, baby carrot sticks, grapes, and black olives for sticking on your fingers (of course).

Eating lunch

Hot dogs were followed by s’mores: marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers.

Finally, the s’mores were followed by singing “Happy Birthday” and cupcakes, one of which had birthday candles for the Birthday Scout.

Some of the party-goers started going home at that point; each guest left with a Kraft bag labeled with their name in green or copper-colored puffy paint (for that tactile feeling), and filled with a small compass and flashlight (both from Oriental Trading), and their craft activities (the bird feeder, wampum bracelet, log cabin, placemat, extra coloring pages, and a homemade shortbread cookie in the shape of a maple leaf.) I heard one of the moms say how pleased she was with the low-key nature of the party favors – they were simple and personal.

The scouts who wanted to stay helped my son open his gifts. And that was the end of the party! It was two hours of jam-packed fun. It was not outrageously expensive, but being organized and prepped meant that every minute was filled with meaningful activity.

Lunchtime