"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
...and not just because it was 75 degrees and sunny here in the lovely STL. Today we had Hayden's 3rd birthday party -- 8 days late because this was when the place we wanted to have it was available. And that place was "Whittle Short Line Railroad" -- a building out by the railroad tracks in West County that used to be a hotel back in the days where trains would stop and let you off for a meal and sleep for the night. Now it's a model train shop where the owner makes his own wooden trains and accessories for kids. And they also host birthday parties.
We kept the party small ... because Hayden doesn't know that many kids and also because it's just a lot nicer that way. When you get there, you hang out in the main store area, which has a gigantic train table.
There were seven kids there altogether -- Schroedter and Hayden, Theo and Seth (two kids of friends of ours and fellow Forsyth faculty with Robin. Theo is Hayden's age and Seth is Schroedter's, so it works perfectly), Jake (another Forsyth faculty kid), Caleb and Cormac (kids from Hayden's daycare).
It was amazing -- 90 minutes with seven kids and no fighting and (basically) no tears. Somebody call Guinness! Everyone had a fantastic time.
After everyone played downstairs for awhile, we hauled them all upstairs to the party area. First stop was a cute little room where they sat on a painted railroad track on the floor and the kids each took turns hitting a pinata shaped like a train. Most of the kids are little -- though a couple took really good whacks at it. Schroedter turned into a physicist and tried to figure out the exact point upon which exerted pressure would break the thing open.
Seth finally knocked it off the string, but not open, at which point the WSLRR party person just cracked it open and emptied it on the floor. Again, everyone had a great time. Hayden even held the bat the correct way a few times (but not in this picture).
Then it was time for cake -- you can see the cake ... actually four small cakes in the shape of a train. As we only had seven kids (and parents to match), we only made it through one cake and now have three in the freezer (come on over!).
This is one of those "roll the dice" moments of a kid's birthday party. You never know how a child is going to react when all of a sudden all the attention is trained on them and everyone is singing to them. Frankly, I thought it wouldn't be a Kodak moment because even though he really likes music, about 95% of the time you start singing around Hayden he'll yell "Stop it!" at the top of his lungs. I didn't think the odds were good for the Happy Birthday chorus.
But I was wrong! Hayden started singing along and, as you can see, had a big grin on his face. Afterwards he blew out the candles (only took two tries ... and I really think he got them all and not Schroedter) and then 7 kids proceded to cover their faces with green icing and probably ingest some cake along the way.
Then it was presents (which were lovely and reasonable and mostly train-related so Hayden was thrilled). Schroedter's favorite of Hayden's haul was Darth Tater, a Mr. Potato Head that is dressed up in Darth Vader clothes (I'd seen one on the Daily Show). Hayden isn't too much into Star Wars (though Schroedter thought a spud with a light saber was too cool), but he did like the gift well enough to shout "Mr. Potato Head!" "Mr. Potato Head!" much of the way home (for him, it's yet another member of his beloved Toy Story collection).
Then it was into another train room where the kids played and played and played. At one point an actual freight train went by the window and the engineer waved at them, which all the kids thought was just the coolest thing. The parents actually got to hang out and talk a little at this point (which was nice, because some of the parents we really didn't know).
One of the things you noticed upstairs was that the walls were covered with little painted handprints. It's a tradition there for every birthday child to put their handprint on the wall so that 26th century archaeologists can be utterly perplexed if this building is the only thing that should happen to survive the coming apocalypse. (a bizarre cult?).
Of course, it's really great ... 'cause next time we come we can sneak upstairs and see Hayden's handprint. And, as you can see, as with everything else at the party, Hayden absolutely loved it.
The party was over in an hour and a half, but it zipped by in what seemed like half that (always a good sign). Everyone left happy and full of sugar and with train whistles and train cars ... and grateful to Grandma Suzanne and Grandpa Ray, whose gift this great party was!
... and yet, that wasn't all!
A Wonderful Day (Part II)
Because today was also the day of the Great Forest Park Ballon Race. It's a fantastic event, with the sky filling with tons of hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes. We used to go into Forest Park and watch them take off, but the crowds have gotten absolutely enormous ... and we also figured out that it's more fun to get into the car and chase the lead balloon (which is a giant pink Energizer Bunny balloon) and follow it until it lands and spreads out its target and then watch the other ballons try to hit it with their dropped beanbags (or whatever they are) ... which is how you win this thing that really isn't a race, strictly defined.
So we got into the car at 4:30, which is when the Bunny is supposed to hit the air. Now, again, it's like 75 degrees and sunny, which is wonderful ... but there is also no wind (actually, the radio said 5 MPH) -- which isn't really what you want from a balloon race.
We started driving around the outskirts of the park looking for the Bunny so we could follow it Finally, we saw the ears rise above the trees -- and other balloons started to take off, too. But before we could get a bead on where it was going ... it went down again.
A quick check of the radio confirmed that the Bunny Balloon had risen about 40 feet in the air and then sank down to earth again and toppled over on its side by the Great Forest Park Tennis Courts (I'm sure Homeland Security investigators are already on site). Too much balloon and too little wind.
That wasn't a problem for the rest of the balloons, which took off with no problem. Well, they did have ONE problem -- since the object of the race was to follow the lead balloon and then drop your beanbag near the target it lays down -- the absence of a lead balloon tended to remove any sense of coherence from the procedings.
But it was still fun. We followed the general direction of the balloons and then when we got to a point (near our old house) where they were all traveling overhead -- at pretty low altitude because of the lack of wind -- we parked in a parking lot and got out and watched. We being Robin, Schroedter and me ... Hayden, already exhausted by the day's procedings, was asleep in the car.
Then, we picked one balloon (the one with the giant rat on it) and decided to follow it. This was made easier by the fact that we found ourselves directly behind the truck/trailer driven by its crew. We followed it until it went down in an area where we couldn't get near it.
Then we noticed that a lot of the balloons seemed to be drifting close to the ground. In fact, it looked like a couple of them weren't going to get over nearby power lines. On a day like this (no wind) a couple years ago, the Bunny balloon landed in Heman Park, just down the street from our old house. We figured they might be headed toward that, too ... but then they started to pick up steam and altitude and looked like they would make it further. So we got back in the car and followed.
We were heading northwest still, into an area that had a lot of cemeteries. We decided to follow a rainbow colored balloon with a Ronocco Coffee banner on it (you can see it going overhead of Robin and Schroedter on the left in this picture. (Because there was no lead balloon, it was pretty much every zeppelin for itself and really all there was to do was pick one ... so we did.) It ended up working out pretty well.
We turned into a cemetery and once again found ourselves just behind the crew truck. We drove to a stop and jumped out of the car and ran toward it just as it hit the ground (you can see Schroedter is the little speck in the foreground running toward it).
Then a bunch of other balloon stalkers who had pulled up and I ran to the basket and helped guide them to a spot that was grave-free so they could set down for good ... then helped do all the tilting and pulling and other stuff that was necessary to get the balloon down and everyone out and working on deflating it.
Schroedter had a blast. Hayden, who was awake by this point, had a good time but appreciated keeping some distance from the flames shooting up into the thing.
After that, we loaded back into the car, went out for some BBQ that couldn't be beat, and then headed home. I don't think you could pack more fun into a day like this (and I didn't even mention Robin and Schroedter's soccer practice and Hayden and I playing "Buzz and Zurg" around the bouse this morning before the party.
I imagine if you've read this far you're either family, like family, or have a debilitating medical condition that makes it impossible for you to change websites. Either way, we wish you could have been with us to share this great day!
| Mike at 9/17/2005 09:33:00 PM
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