Thursday, August 28, 2014

When the Fair Comes to Town

I'm not one to go all gushy-mushy pie-eyed over the funnel-cake promises of a summer festival or even the tilt-a-whirl and beauty queen pageants of the county fair. Many a summer fair have come and gone and I've missed them all without a single regret (with the exception of my home county fair this year where my little cousin won Miss Congeniality in the most accurately awarded ribbon given all summer long anywhere, I'm sure). But the state that is a whole different herd of cattle.

I love the state fair.

No, I simply ADORE it. Maybe it's one too many Curious George episodes because that used to not be the case. Kentucky State Fair? Eh...take it or leave it...leave it most years. That was for the 4-H nerds and FFA cowboys, of which I was neither. Give me a show on Broadway any day of the week but let's just cruise right on past that fair and hit the outlet mall.

Not anymore, my friends. I'm completely eat up with the state fair.

And it could be because I'm also a little eat up with my home state now that I'm back again. I'm so very Kentucky Proud that I cook almost exclusively food grown here in Kentucky. And when friends come to visit, I load them up with Maker's Mark bourbon balls and Weisenberger Mill banana bread mix and a lovely Talon Winery red or white. I don't remember any time before now when Kentucky has had so much to offer in the way of goods and services. And the Kentucky State Fair is a 2-week celebration of all things home-grown and home-bred. I would be heartbroken if I missed it.

Last Thursday, I asked a friend who has a son that's just 6 weeks younger than Blue if they wanted to join us for a walk through the fair. They are from Colorado so I deemed it the perfect opportunity to rain down some Kentucky pride, even if it was mostly unsolicited. She said yes...even at 24 weeks pregnant. Love her heart. I owe her more than a bag of grits for walking it with me for almost 3 hours. But what a great adventure we had!

The Kentucky State Fair is held every year in August at the Louisville Exposition and Fairgrounds. It's right on I-65. You can't miss it - you can either go to the Louisville airport or the fairgrounds. There are signs everywhere. And you can see the stadium from the interstate. The farm animals are in the west wing, which most people find by following the smell and the growing number of cattle trailers. I was so preoccupied with making sure Blue did not pet a cow that I forgot to take a picture. But here are a couple from last year:

Gah...I can't believe the difference a year makes. Blue wasn't in shoes because he wasn't really walking at the time. He was mostly just stumbling from one stationary object to another. This year, he seriously would have run from one cow to another, pulling tails and cowbells if allowed.

This year, we couldn't find the evil-eye bunnies
or the pubes pigeons
or the I've-got-teets-Focker-can-you-milk-me DIY station
BUT, we did discover...
a pile of pigs...complete with one tiny pink snout peaking out from the bottom. These are potbelly pigs and now I see why Doc Hollywood had one....
and the most beautiful black and white sheep I've ever seen (OK, let's ignore the fact that his rear door is a perfect oval of black and that the guy's face is way too close to the business end of a sheep and that perfectly colored sheep has a bizarre urine-colored stain in an unfortunate spot - making him look more like me after I've done 20 too many jumping jacks at the morning workout...let's forget about all remarkable are his legs, belly, and head? Just lovely.)...
and a sheep in the shearing process (to be quite honest, Blue gets mad when I hold his head like that...I can't imagine the sheep likes it any better. Also, please don't call CPS...I don't hold Blue's head like that. Often.)...
and a pig competition (this actually is a Curious George episode - George and his country neighbor Allie, who is 6, train her uncle's pig to compete in their state fair. This is my favorite picture of the entire day. Westminster dogs ain't got nothin' on a hog with a leash)...
and the jumping chicks that had returned this year (as well as the hatching ones over in the corner. Our friends had never seen such a thing - just one more reason why we are beaming with Kentucky pride)..
and apparently the sheep from Shepherdsville made it to the fair this year.

But also there were the cakes. Oh...the cakes. You remember this beauty from last year...
Somehow it got second. Clearly, I was not asked to judge. That is blue ribbon all the way for this girl.

But the cakes were back and even better than ever....
A couple of creative cake decorators took their cues from Hollywood. And 29,000 points to me because, between the Ken Burns documentaries and the PBS specials, I've actually seen both of these flicks. Also 40,000 points to me because I've almost gotten Pandora to quit playing any music from the Frozen soundtrack on the toddler channel. It took awhile.

Several bakers were obviously inspired by the season. The big green egg with its shish-kabob contents took the blue ribbon. They actually got it right this year. Imagine what that person could do for Blue's third birthday party! Oh wait...I may be getting ahead of myself...
Even though this one didn't win any awards, I'm pretty sure she scored Mom of the Year. It's a dragon-slayer's dream. I wonder if, when you cut the dragon open, it bleeds red velvet. That's so much cooler than an armadillo.
Honorary mention goes to the one cake I think I could actually replicate. I'm not hatin' just sayin' icing, a Costco purchase of Kit-Kat bars, a few of Blue's goldfish and the rest of my stash of Swedish fish. Done, done and done. I'm making this for my birthday next month.

Lastly, as the boys started to melt down and we begged them both to take little stroller siestas, we quickly cruised through the quilt section. I've recently gotten into quilting...or, rather, the pinning of beautiful quilts and the lengthy and complicated directions on how one goes about taking up quilting. Someday. When Blue is in his 3rd semester at West Point and Neal has taken the camper on a tour of the national parks, I'm going to quilt. And it's going to be roughly as awesome as this:
I'm going to make this for Blue's son and it will be e-p-i-c. Grandmother of the Year, over here.

So that's our jaunt through the state fair. I'm omitting the live music (which you can see in just about any wing at just about any time of the day) as well as the cooking contests, beauty pageant, booths about the 126 counties in Kentucky, the health fair, the petting zoo and approximately 35 other exhibits and contests. With double the 2-year olds in tow, you have to choose your fair sights wisely. But there is so much more. If you go, make sure to grab a Krispy Kreme doughnut burger and say Hi to Freddy Farm Bureau...
He talks. He will talk to you. If you walk up to him and ask him a question, he will answer you. He's not Siri...he's Freddy. And he's been there for as long as I can remember. Almost as long as Alex, the Kroger Butcher. 
I hope y'all enjoy your long weekend. We are taking the new camper out for a spin at the local KOA on Saturday. Oh...we bought a camper. Technically it's a pop-up hybrid travel trailer, but camper sounds better when you put the word "crappy" in front of it, as I did so often when we ended up camping in the rain a few weeks ago. On the whole, it is not at all crappy. But if you are interested in following along with our adventures on that front, Neal and I have started a his/her (he said/she said) blog called Shank and Yaw. There is also a Facebook fan page. We would love to have you over! 
Happy Weekend and Cheers! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

2 @ the Zoo

Neal and I had been talking about having a zoo birthday party for Blue since right after his Birthday Luau last summer. After looking at some petting zoos and a non-profit exotic animal rescue, we decided the facility that would best be able to accommodate our event was the Louisville Zoo. Surely they do birthday parties, right?


No. Not exactly. Or, Neal's favorite answer of all time, "yes and no." They offer party rooms that are big enough for 15-30 people and employ a catering service for these events. Basically, they can host an event, but not specifically a birthday party. Or...not anymore. I'm not sure what happened but the zoo is non-profit and perhaps they decided their attention and energy was better suited elsewhere. At any rate, we could have our event at the date I requested at the time I requested. Who cares what they call it?

The zoo's event coordinator contacted me fairly early on and she kept in good contact until the day of the party. If I emailed her a question, I was guaranteed an answer within 24 hours. I like that. Here are my only 2 sticking points with the zoo's process for event hosting: depending on the size of your party, your 2 room options are "Treetops" (15-20 people...although we managed to squeeze 33 in there) and "Zoo Vision" (25+ guests). Because we were originally only going to invite the closest family (grandparents, friends with kids, etc) we chose "Treetops" and we were assured that it was the best of the 2 rooms. When we signed our contract, we were required to pay the full amount for the number of guests up front. There is a $2 difference between kids (3-12) and adults (ironically, the 2-year old birthday boy was the only freebie). We decided to just pay the money for 15 guests and then hope that 15 people showed up. And then I did what any mama would do...I sent out about 30 invitations.

As RSVPs started to filter in during the last week of July, Neal and I quickly realized that we were going to exceed our 15 guest limit. A few days later, we realized that we were going to blow that number out of the water. 15...30...what's the difference? The zoo's only concern was that we pay for the additional 15 people before the day of the party. And this is where I have a beef with their event policy. We had to give a final number and pay for that final number BEFORE the day of the party. This wasn't properly explained to me during the initial conversation about a birthday party and it never occurred to me to ask. That meant that once we gave them the credit card for X number of people, we could not allow anyone else in the party. Why, if we had guests who were able to attend at the last minute, we couldn't allow them in (even just to the party, not necessarily for lunch...although we had gobs of food left over) was absolutely beyond me. And having to tell my cousins on Friday afternoon that they couldn't attend because I had already given my "final number" made me feel just awful.

But that was truly the only downside to having our little soiree at the zoo.

As it turns out, Treetops was amazing.
That wall on the left side? Is a floor to ceiling glass wall that looks directly into a play area for whatever animals they wanted to put in that day. I believe we had one orangutan and one gorilla, but my ape knowledge is pretty shaky so if I'm off on that, just let me know. We provided the tablecloths and decorations but the catering service provided tablecoths for the cake and lunch food tables.
"Someone" wanted to come party, too! These guys were so interactive and curious that it was impossible to not interact back.
They especially want to know what's in your purse, bags and boxes. There are a lot of those things at a birthday party!
I know. It's so hard to resist that face. I swear, if I could have opened up a tiny hole in the glass and given him a piece of birthday cake, I totally would have.
Shana probably would have taken one home if it had fit in her carry-on bag.
I can't even tell you how much fun these guys were. They hung with us for most of the party.
They hung for longer than the birthday boy did. (Actually it got pretty toasty in there after lunch, cake and presents and I think he was just looking for a cool spot to lay his cheek.) 

Also, earlier in the week, I had taken Shana to visit the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. It is an entire museum dedicated to furthering the belief that before Adam and Eve ate the apple, there was no death, no disease, no hate, no disabilities of any kind. Dinosaurs were plant-eaters (who were also on the ark, by the way) and the Grand Canyon (along with any other variation in topography) was all formed by the Great Flood. Oh...and we are not evolved from apes. We were created just as we are today, all descendents of Adam and Eve. I apologize if this is your thinking and I am coming across as mocking, but after spending 4 hours in a room with 2 apes, separated only by a glass wall, I don't understand how anyone can seriously believe that we aren't evolved from apes. This guy?
and my toddler
are pretty much the same. Right down to their little grabby hands...
I've seen Blue make this face...
and I've certainly seen him eat like this...
Yep, apparently I am not a creationist. Huh.

Our event fees included lunch for all guests and then ride wristbands for unlimited trips on the merry-go-round, the train and tram, as well as admission into the zoo and the splash pad. It was approximately 85 degrees with 80% humidity and a heat index of at least 90. To the splash pad we all went.

It was a splashtastic good time. The water and the sun and the big birthday bash was too much for Blue and he completely conked out in the stroller before we ever got back to the car. And then he slept the entire 45-minute trip home and for another 2 hours, just like this:

Of course, if you are doing it right, that's how it's supposed to end...crashed out on top of someone with your wristband still on. 

We were quite satisfied with the zoo birthday party and at the end of the day, we felt we had gotten our money's worth from the zoo and the catered event. I would, without hesitation, recommend the Treetops room at the Louisville Zoo and their catering crew for any party you may be hosting. It's 2 high fives and a fist bump.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It Takes Two

I have to disclaimer this post. It has taken me almost a month to write because I wrote it and it was amazing and then I went to publish it and it completely disappeared. Poof! Now you see it, now you don't. Nor will you ever see it again. 

I nearly died. 

And then I said a lot of words that rhyme with otherducking luck muck tuck. Except I sound way more like Dr. Seuss right now than I did then. 

Then I slammed the laptop shut and turned on Pawn Stars. 

So, here I am...several weeks later, re-writing and saving every 6th word. I hope we all make it out alive. 

Last week we celebrated Blue's 2nd birthday.

And in honor of that, I'm going to regale you with his birth story.

All 15 hours of it.

Hahahaha. No, I'm not. Not even I want to rehash that kind of crazy. It hurt. It took them almost 90 minutes to get the epidural in. Then I took a nap. Then he was born. And then I had a chicken sandwich from Wendy's.

And here we are, 2 years later. To be quite honest, I'm a little surprised that he is growing into a very loving, kind, adventurous, and flexible little boy. I know that's due in no small part to Neal's playful love and attention and me dragging him all over God's green earth to visit friends, relatives and Civil War battlefields. He's amazingly well-traveled. Not as well-traveled as my nieces, who both had and had used their passports by their second birthdays, but moreso than the average toddler.

In continuing with our tradition of ridiculously over-the-top birthdays, Neal and I decided to have Blue's 2nd birthday at the Louisville Zoo. I mean, if you can't give your only child an elephant when he turns 2, what's the point?  So, the date was set, the invitations mailed (which were these adorable customized zoo tickets from the Etsy store, Nowanorris. That is not Blue, by the way, but how freaking cute is that kid? And apparently, my invitations scored off the charts for realistic appearance because I got all kinds of questions about needing more tickets for the rest of the family and should they bring these tickets with them to get in? Just FYI should you go this route.)
and travel plans made for guests far and wide (which really just included Shana, who spent a chunk of her departure day sitting on the tarmac at JFK and my sister and nieces who left the heat of FL for the heat of KY.). 

Due to total lack of time and energy, I failed to complete all of my normal OCD-OMG-you-must-be-kidding-why-are-you-making-straw-flags-for-a-toddler-birthday-party tasks and settled for what I could find in the big box stores. Michael's was a total bust, as was Party City. Apparently, if your son's birthday party theme isn't Thomas the Train, Elmo, Daniel Tiger or Spiderman, you are up a creek without a cute plate/cup/napkin set. Ditto for girls. Your daughter isn't a princess? Good luck, Chuck. So, I had to do the unthinkable. I had to go to Hobby Lobby. (I know, I know Webb...I'm so sorry). But there in aisle 10 was the zoo party stuff and it was completely acceptable. I gathered. I purchased. And on my way home, I prayed that every female staffer who wants to be on birth control will win the lottery and buy out Hobby Lobby and provide a bowl of Ortho-Tricycline on the break room table. 

The last little detail was the cake. The zoo, at great expense to us, required their own catering service so lunch was covered. But the cake, should we want one, was up to us. Of course we want a cake. Isn't it a party? Isn't that how you SPELL "party"...C-A-K-E? Yeah, thought so... 

Shana sent me a pin. I think we should do this, she said. It will be fun, she said...

I chuckled. I snorted. And then I rolled my eyes. Sure thing, cupcake. I'm all over that. Oh wait...I don't bake. I will whip you out a rosary with one hand tied behind my back but I don't freaking bake. But, apparently, Shana does. She was confident we could pull this off. So I agreed. And then I ran by Nord's in Louisville to solidify plan B. 

If you would like really excellent step-by-step directions on how to bake this cake, I would suggest clicking on the above link and following it exactly. If you would like some snarky, basic directions on how to bake this cake but with a different design for the number and a totally different frosting on the outside, read on, my friend. Also, spoiler alert: I have pictures of Shana in a zebra mask.

1. So, step 1 is to realize approximately 48 hours before your party that no store in your rinky-dink Army town carries an appropriate set of number cookie cutters. Wal-wart gets close but they only had Wilton's 2" numbers and we used a 2 1/2" number. You could go smaller but I think the number would run together and the total effect would be lost. So, hop on Amazon and order the 2 1/2" numbers. Bonus points if you do it in the middle of Wal-wart with less than 17 minutes to go before shipping is extended to the day AFTER your party. Make sure you do all of step 1 for the best possible story later.

2. Gather your supplies...
* 1 box of pound cake mix (yes, they make this. Neal learned something in the baking of this cake, too.)
*1 box of whatever cake you want the around the number to be. (We used yellow. Or butter. I can't remember. You'll have to ask Shana.) 
* Whatever ingredients the box mixes call for...eggs, oil, water, etc. 
* Assloads A lot of food coloring in multiple, yellow, green, blue. I had all of these because we've been making sidewalk chalk all summer, which I also highly recommend. 
* A really good loaf pan. All of my pans are in questionable condition. While I don't mind to occasionally cook some rust into my family's meatloaf, I didn't want to poison any of our guests so I spent the $5.86 at Target for a new loaf pan. Shana said that baking this cake with a brand new pan made it much easier. 

3. Make your batter for the number cake using the pound cake mix. Then divide that batter into bowls. Number of bowls = number of different colors you want to use. We baked a practice cake and learned that it takes WAY more food coloring than you would expect to create the vibrant colors for the numbers. Like more than you would think is healthy or wise. A total red dye #5 overdose. Shana said she thought about how much red food coloring you use for red velvet cake and let that be her guide. (That also kinda turned me off to red velvet cake for...forever, I think.)

4. Stop to take a picture of the process for future blogging purposes. 

5. Layer the colors of batter in the loaf pan. All 1 color on the bottom, then the next, then the next, and so on. Once the loaf pan is full, give it a few taps on the counter to get the bubbles out. This keeps the cake from doming in the center when it's baking. Doming = BAD. If the middle is tall and the ends are short, it will be hard to get numbers cut from the short ends. And you really need to be able to cut numbers through the entire cake. The goal is to have the baked cake just as flat across the top as when it started.

6. While the pound cake is baking, stop to make some really fabulous party gifts (or is it "parting gifts"? It was always hard to tell when I watched The Price is Right.)
And photograph the awesome Birthday Shirt you created using your child's handprint, some stencils and craft paint. Congratulate yourself on winning at this whole stay-at-home mom thing. Ignore the fact that you let your child watch 2 hours of Sesame Street while you painted said shirt.

7. Imagine what your child will look like wearing his Birthday Shirt (which is quite different than his Birthday Suit, but which also eventually makes an appearance as he has figured out how to remove all of his clothes and his diaper.)
Congratulate yourself again and then take the cake out of the oven.

8. Slice cake the width of your cookie cutter. (Basically, when you place your cutter cutter into a slice, the enter slice will fill the cookie cutter...if that makes any sense whatsoever. If not, ask Shana.)
9. looks like this:
10. Do that for all of the slices, setting the 2's to the side and building a stockpile of scraps that everyone in your house will snack on for the rest of the night (and perhaps with coffee the next morning).
 See the "2" on the cutting board? That's what happens if you half-ass the food coloring. Go big or go home.
2 other sidenotes about this picture:
a. If ever you have the opportunity to purchase that green tractor at the top of the picture for your toddler, do it. Do it without hesitation. It is the sturdiest toy I've ever seen. I can't tell you how many times it has been launched down the big kids' slide at the playground, hit the bottom with at least 5 end-to-end rolls and launched again. For almost 3 months now. Just buy it.
b. If ever you are tempted to buy those blue IKEA bowls, forget it. Just walk away and remember my voice saying to you, "if you microwave often and value your fingerprints, step away." If you have decided to take up a life of crime and couldn't care 2 squats about your fingerprints, by all means, proceed.

11. Line up the 2's in the loaf pan (preferably all facing in the same direction, but if you get one turned around, it's just a fun surprise for whoever gets that piece) and pipe the second batter in around the 2's.

It's best to pipe it. You don't have to be fancy about it. Ziplocks with the corner cut off work great. See?
Oh, and Shana put on some frog boobs and a monkey mask for this step.
That part is completely optional. But I do think it made the cake taste better.

So, it may be at this step (or, perhaps earlier if you are planner) that you realize we baked the numbers twice. I was quite worried that would dry out the numbers. And if it did, it was only very slightly and was offset by the once-baked (twice shy...oh I slay me), cake and the assloads tons of frosting you'll be using on the outside. So soldier on. You're almost done!

12. Tap cake on the counter. Exorcise those bubbles.

13. Admire your handiwork. (or your BFF's handiwork...whatever...)

14. Let cake cool completely before frosting. Ignore all temptations to cut into it and see how it turned out.

15. Frost cake in whatever way you deem ideal. We had a zoo theme so Shana frosted this zebra print. Let me rephrase that...she frosted this zebra print on the day of the party, in the party room, while I was delivering tickets and ride wristbands to our guests at the front gate. Girl's last name should be Wilton. Or Shilton.
16. In your excited rush to cut open that cake and see if the number trick worked or not (in front of 35 of your closest friends and family), COMPLETELY forget to take a picture. For the record, it worked. It was absolutely awesome and never again will I plan B one of Shana's ideas.

Is it really 16 steps? No, it's like 4. But why would you omit any of them? Particularly frog boobs and the monkey mask.

I have one more post about the party itself because I think the Louisville Zoo should be given some love for the fabulous event they helped provide. But y' it's time for Pawn Stars....