We’ve all had a life changing moment – doesn’t matter how big or small.
Maybe it was the birth of a child, or falling in love; maybe it was discovering your favorite dessert (it doesn’t matter how big or small!). Whatever it was, it forever changes the way you look at the world.
And for me, that moment was throwing a birthday party.
Allow me to explain…
I’ve always loved going the extra mile for celebrations.
As a father of two girls, I’ve had many opportunities to flex my “party throwing muscles.”
But there has always been one idea that seemed too big to tackle.
An idea that involved going the extra triathlon, not just mile: completely transforming my house to make it look like an old world castle for my two young princesses.
This would require most of my weekend time (not to mention tons of cardboard and multiple colors of paint…). But I knew I’d regret it if I never tried. So a few weeks before my daughter Kyra’s fifth birthday, I decided to start the project that would change my life.
The refrigerator that had just been delivered with giant sheets of cardboard may have had something to do with it!
I started by laying the cardboard on my driveway. I used some leftover stain to make each piece resemble stones of an old castle, which I temporarily attached to the walls of my dining room.
As the wall panels grew, so did the scope of the project.
I began painting stone after stone on the cardboard panels. I painted windows with flower boxes and sweeping vistas.
I hung fabrics as drapes to give a sense of intrigue and grandeur, until our whole dining room, head to toe, resembled the castle I had imagined!
And this was my first mistake. I was making the castle I imagined.
I quickly realized this after my daughter, Kyra, examined her dining room of a castle, like any diligent princess would.
“Daddy,” she said. “This doesn’t look like a castle”.
I stopped dead in my tracks. How could this not look like a castle?
I’ve planned everything like an architect from the middle ages! Did I need more vast landscapes? More intricate stone panels?!
Nothing of the sort.
Simply put, I had imagined an old Disney castle from my childhood, not Kyra’s. And Kyra was used to a very different type of castle – an ice palace, to be exact.
So, I did what any dad would do with only a week left to plan his daughter’s party!
I began decorating another room, this time the kitchen, determined to make it look like the ice palace of my daughter’s dreams. This time, twirling streamers along the walls, floating iridescent stars, more designing, less sleep.
But hey, it worked!
And looking out from the newly transformed party space in the kitchen, I told her that it would be our neighbors (in the stone castle next door) who would be hosting the sit down luncheon.
It’s safe to say this idea involved going the extra marathon, not just triathlon or mile…
Our party was nowhere near complete!
For the cake, I decided it was going to be the shape of a castle (can you blame me?).
I signed up for a local cake decorating class, but as anyone with a February birthday knows, there’s a real chance for snow, and of course the class was canceled due to a blizzard! Nevertheless, I was too determined to change course, so with some online tutorials I learned the basics (very basics…) of cake designs.
Side note – the cake would have been SO MUCH better if I had taken the class.
I know this because I did the make up a few weeks later at @nycakeacademy with Lisa Mansour, and it was amazing.
I learned tons of icing methods and tricks – I might as well be a baker from the middle ages now too!
Next up, my daughters and I baked sugar cookies in the shape of snowflakes and frosted them with a cool marbled glaze we found on Pinterest.
We then purchased white and blue chocolates to melt and drip over long pretzels with sugary crystals to use as princess wands.
Can’t have a palace without some magic!
We also made cupcakes with a homemade buttercream frosting, which I piped on with swirled colors and added them to the palace snack bar. They had those in old time castles, right?
As if we didn’t have enough treats, we decorated store bought cookies with more icy white and blue frosting and pearl sprinkles. Divine!
And lastly, which turned out to be a huge hit, Olaf lying in a pool of Jello!
It was finally party day and the treats were complete.
Time to put out the crudités and set the table!
Since I’d already been shot down over the stone palace walls, I wanted to make sure my table ‘chilled’ the room. I went with an icy blue table cover with pink and azure gems scattered across, a soft palate of peach roses mixed with lamb’s ear, and thistle filled shiny julep cups.
I had also ordered large goblets for our royal court to swill from as they lined the royal table scattered with gems and crowns.
A spread of fruit bowls, crudités, cheese boards and a couple of amazing lasagnas satisfied the rest of our guests of the court.
And a few well-placed vessels filled with color coordinated M&Ms and candles filled the window sills around the room, providing the finishing details for the party.
Last but not least, the morning of the party my daughters and I made favor bags filled with different size marshmallows, a small pretzel stick with two chocolate chips (so the kids could build little snowmen!), and some other treats including the pretzel wands.
That’s when we opened the castle doors and…. the party was a huge success!
The bags were a hit! The treats were delicious, and most importantly my princess was happy.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… I started this by talking about a life changing moment, and then went on to discuss dozens of moments!
So what moment during this project changed my life?
Honestly, none of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast making all the designs and treats, but at the end of the day this project took A LOT of research, sourcing and work.
A fun idea – but very time consuming.
So how could I make this easier?
How could I accomplish this every year for each of my children?
How could I help others have this package, but take away the stress and research?
Give them the experience of an old world castle (or ice palace, if you prefer), without having to stain dozens of cardboard pieces!
How could I streamline this all? Better yet, put it in a box?
In the middle of Kyra’s party, I remember watching her laugh, drinking from a goblet. She wore a toy crown and was sitting with all her friends.