This Sunday was a big day in our household: it marked our Penny’s 18th birthday. She is now legally an adult—but don’t tell her that! :-D
We decided to throw a party for her to celebrate. She hadn’t met many people yet at school, but invited the kids she had met that she liked. We made up the difference inviting a bunch of our friends whom she had met and all of whom she liked. I have learned by now not to shop till the day of the party, but still, we had about 6 cancellations Sunday morning, and of course they all came after I ordered the pizzas! AUGH!
Penny had never had a big party in her honor before and she was powerfully excited about the whole thing. For her birthday, she is used to going to the Buddhist temple and giving food to the monks. We don’t have a Thai temple near here, so Penny’s parents and sister continued the tradition in Thailand in her honor while we celebrated here the American way.
The inspiration for Penny’s party came from our first shopping trip together when she arrived in the US. She went through the candy and chip aisles and happily proclaimed, “I love American junk food!” So we decided on that as our theme. When I was lamenting on Facebook that I didn’t know how to keep everyone happy and busy during a teen party, fellow AFS mom Nina suggested that we use her idea of a scavenger hunt. Her AFS son, Gianluca, had a birthday shortly after arriving from Italy, so Nina organized a scavenger hunt all over Seattle (read about his hunt here). I decided that sounded like an awesome idea, so she sent me her list and I amended it so it would work in Fredericksburg. The plan was in place, the invitations went out, and then we could settle down into the nitty gritty details of what else we needed.
Negotiations were intense over what to feed everyone, but finally we decided on pizza because it is a) pretty inexpensive to feed a crowd; b) sort of junk food; c) something most everyone loves; and d) didn’t require me to do anything other than call Papa John’s and have them deliver. On Football Sundays, Papa Johns offers free toppings and a bunch of other deals, so I ordered 6 pizzas and we were in business for meals! I went over to the store and picked up lots of chips and candy to make “The Candy Bar” and then Penny and I began discussing her birthday cake.
Penny loved the Carvel cake I had at my birthday party and said she wanted the same thing. Of course, I am no idiot, so I agreed to get her that, since I love it too. But then my buddy Amy Wells said she thought we should have a Hostess cake to go with the junk food theme. I didn’t know what a Hostess cake was, so she sent me a picture of a tiered cake covered in Hostess snack cakes. I was sold. I Googled for more pictures and came across a picture of a Rice Krispies Treats wedding cake, and that sold it. I would put the two together and we’d have a cake!
Penny’s birthday weekend got off to a great start. Saturday morning, we all went out onto the porch after breakfast to enjoy the beautiful sunny day. We found a box out there, and it was addressed to Penny! She kept saying “no, no!” like it wasn’t for her, but I showed her the label and got her a knife to cut the tape to find out what was inside. (One of the beauties of being from a foreign country is that you have no idea what FTD is, so it’s all a big surprise, despite the description being on the box.) She was blown away to find a big, beautiful bouquet of orange roses (one of her favorite colors is orange) waiting for her inside. We dug around for a card a little and found a note from Nana (my mom), and Penny was just thrilled. We called Nana right up and she got on the phone to say thank you. Leah was excited by the box and the wrappings, so it was a win-win!
Saturday evening, we returned from our neighbor’s 2-year-old’s birthday party, where Penny met a neighbor who is also in the senior class and they hit it off just great! I was so happy when Courtney even agreed to come to Penny’s party the next day. She floated home on a cloud so happy to have finally made a friend. Then we decided to get down to business on the cake. Penny hadn’t made RKT’s before, so it was kind of exciting to teach her a little something new. She loved them hot and gooey from the pan. I wish I had taken pictures, but by the time I thought about it, we were done. She did all aspects of the job, including smushing the treats into the cake pans, melting butter and marshmallows, adding the cereal, the whole thing. I kept feeling her arm muscles and telling her she was getting stronger and stronger. She said her arms were killing her—no doubt: the cake took 6 batches of treats to complete!
We set the pans aside till Sunday. Afterwards, we sat down to our regular game of Skip-Bo and I asked Penny to teach me to write “Happy Birthday” in Thai so I could put it on her Carvel cake. She happily agreed and then laughed her head off at my attempts, although there was one particular letter or symbol that she said I made much more nicely than she does. It was entertaining!!!
The next day dawned clear and bright. I was up at 4:30, unable to sleep, so I went out and decorated our driveway with Leah’s sidewalk chalk and then baked homemade scones for Penny’s birthday breakfast. Penny got a nice surprise when the phone rang at 9:00AM and it was her best friend in Thailand, who asked if they could call Penny specially for the occasion, to which we agreed. Then we popped the RKT’s out of the pan onto a platter and I was so happy at how great they looked. I could really see the thing as a wedding cake if you like RKT’s that much. It was cool! The treats popped out of the pan pretty easily, courtesy of how well I’d greased them, no doubt, and by really getting them densely packed into the pan, there was no doubt that we would have them crumbling or falling apart. It was great!
Around 11:30, my father arrived and Penny was just beside herself with excitement. She’d been dying to meet “PopPop” and ever since he announced he’d be visiting that weekend, she was just thrilled he’d make it for her birthday. She gave him a T-shirt as a gift, and he decided to wear it in honor of her birthday (the day I get my dad to wear a shirt with pink and purple decorations and gold glitter, well let’s just say “that’ll be the day!” and leave it at that, but Penny managed it after 5 minutes!), and then Michael decided to wear his, so I decided to wear mine for the first time too. We visited for a while and then it was getting to be party time, so we all put our shirts on and went outside to greet the first guests to arrive and get a picture of our family together in our Thai T’s.
At about 1:15, we detailed the rules of the scavenger hunt for everyone who had made it. There were 5 or 6 teenagers and a bunch of adults, so that was great—Penny was pleased with the turn out and so was I! They all broke into teams and headed out to complete their tasks. They had 3 hours to get everything done. Let me tell you, this is the way to have a party. Have everyone over and then get rid of them for 3 hours!!!! Plus, I didn’t have to cook anything, either! AWESOME! We decided to put the cake together while they were gone, and the spirit of the thing really captured my dad’s imagination. He even went out to get an extra box of Ring Dings so that it was done right. We were all tickled by the final result.
Then I wrote the Thai on the Carvel cake and screwed it up royally because I ran out of room and had to put the last letter on the cake border, but the same thing happened when I wrote on it in English, so what the heck!
Meanwhile, all the kids and adults participating in the hunt were having a blast. No one team completed every task, so we had to calculate all the points for each team and then declare a winner, but they all had a great time doing it and it broke the ice for many of the kids, as none of them knew each other. Here are some pictures from the hunt:
The top picture is Misty from the winning team, eating ketchup-covered fries without using her hands. The second picture shows Juliana at the Fredericksburg Visitor’s Center learning about our town. The third picture shows Penny’s entire team down on the city dock, with their team mummy, JB, who rides the bus with Penny. The final picture shows Melissa eating a banana split with one of Leah’s baby spoons. These were just some of the tasks, and every team did an amazing job sending back fun pictures that induced lots of laughs from our birthday girl.
After we calculated the points and handed out prizes (everyone got a prize ranging from DVD’s to Halloween flashlights to glow stick necklaces), Penny’s non-scavenging guests arrived and her AFS liaison, who had popped in for a few minutes, had to leave. As the hub-bub of the party started to kick in, the pizzas arrived and we all ate well. I also set out all the goodies on the Candy Bar and everyone was able to pick at that stuff. We had made Penny treat bags for the bar that read “Look out World! Penny’s 18!” and everyone was able to stuff lots of treats into the bags. Penny likes fruity candies more than chocolate candies, so we got the traditional things like peanut butter cups, Hershey miniatures, etc. and supplemented them with Starbursts, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, and the like. There was definitely something for everyone.
After pizza, we had Penny open her gifts so that everyone’s meals could settle a bit. Penny got some really nice gifts, ranging from practical (gloves for the winter, photo albums), fun (gift cards to the movies and a game for the Wii), glitzy (bracelets), and even cash.
Mike and I had decided to get her a charm bracelet. Exchange students acquire lots of “stuff” while on their exchange years, and we thought a charm bracelet would allow us to constantly add small charms to her bracelet and not give her a bunch of things to try and lug back to Thailand. Unfortunately, right after I started ordering charms, Penny told us that she had a charm bracelet already and didn’t much care for all that stuff on her wrist!! So I made a trip over to Things Remembered and asked for their advice. They had charm necklaces available, so I bought her one of those. I added a charm for the US and one for Virginia, as well as a K so she could always remember that she is a Kosior, a school house with the date of her first day of school engraved on the back, and a charm with a big 18 on it so she could commemorate her 18th birthday.
We still hope to give her charms throughout the year and I hope she likes it and wears it as a remembrance of her time here, which frankly, is just going by so darned quick!
After her gifts were opened, we got out the cakes, and of course, a wind kicked up just in time to light the candles!!!!!!!! I finally got them lit and we took a bunch of pictures. Penny held Leah tight as protection against all the attention we were lavishing on her, and we all sang to her and she happily accepted our good wishes before blowing out her candles.
She made quick work of cutting up the Carvel cake and serving everyone and we all picked at the Hostess cake. By then, the party was more or less over. Everyone started leaving, except my dad, Melissa, and Andy, so we all cleaned up the yard and then went inside for a Yahtzee contest. Yahtzee is one of three games we’ve taught Penny so far and she LOVES it. She was really excited to play against my dad, since he is the most down and dirty full contact yahtzee player the world has ever known. We played 2 rounds, and then put Leah to bed and Melissa and Andy left and we all just finished cleaning and relaxed.
It was special to share Penny’s big day with her, and she gave me a huge hug afterwards and said, “I love you!” Special moments, let me tell you, for all of us involved in this girl’s exchange year!!!