Monday, May 29, 2017

A rockin' geology party!

Our family birthday tradition is to allow the birthday boy to choose a theme for his birthday, and then invite as many guests as he’ll be years old to help celebrate. Lauris chose a geology theme for his seventh birthday party, which pretty much planned itself!

We had set the table with some interesting rocks, desert TOOB animals and insects, and white treat boxes. Although the treat boxes had a few goodies inside – gold mine nugget bubblegum, rock candy from the SC Farmers Market, Hershey’s Nuggets, ring pops, a pencil “pickaxe” and a magnifying glass – the boxes were meant to be cases for the gems the kids would be excavating later. The kids decorated their boxes while we waited for everyone to arrive, using the minerals poster and a few books on rocks & minerals we borrowed from the library for inspiration.

As a quick snack we munched on ‘fossil cookies,’ per Martha Stewart’s recipe. These super-simple walnut cookies are easy to make, and although my ‘fossils’ didn’t come out as pronounced as Martha’s, they were delicious. The children had fun comparing their cookies and trying to decide what made the imprint on their cookie.

Once the drizzle stopped we were ready to head outside and start our excavations!  We started with a dig kit that I had prepared using plaster of paris, following these instructions. I had purchased a bag of polished stones from the Gemstore Mine downtown, and hidden those in the plaster/sand mixture along with arrowheads I ordered online. Aluminum bread pans from Wilson’s Five & Dime were perfect containers (I picked up the magnifying glasses, balloons and candy there as well), and we used the tools that came with this Dinosaur Egg excavation kit (which was a present Mikus received on his birthday) to chip away and uncover our buried treasure. It’s important to host this activity outside, as the sand/plaster gets messy!

As I was making the dig kits I had a nagging feeling that the plaster would harden to concrete and the kids wouldn’t be able to remove the gemstones (which luckily didn’t happen, the dig kits were easy enough to excavate). Since the shark teeth I had ordered online also came a few days later than expected, I decided to make a back-up excavation, just in case. Following this recipe of coffee grounds, sand and flour, I made ‘rocks’ with more hidden treasures inside. The recipe served well for the shark teeth, as the ‘rocks’ were far easier to break apart guaranteeing no one would hurt their fingers on the sharp edges.

The favorite part of the party might have been cracking open geodes. I ordered a dozen online, thinking that most of them would be duds. However, we were pleasantly surprised that each geode, although small and plain on the outside, had super beautiful crystals tucked inside; the kids were absolutely enthralled! Roberts helped each child wrap the geode in a towel before allowing them to tap at them with a small hammer and flathead screwdriver. Most geodes cracked in half with only minor hammering (although one or two were tough to break), while a few split into 4-5 pieces. We had the kids wear safety glasses just in case; luckily our little geologists didn’t mind the extra precaution.

Finally it was time for dessert! It’s always good to have something that’s not pure sugar for the kids to eat, so we had a watermelon ‘cave’ full of fruit gems that rather quickly disappeared. Pomegranate seeds make perfect rubies!

Of course there was also cake. I had initially hoped to make a ‘layers of the earth’ cake, but quickly gave that idea up when I saw the amount of food dye and other stuff utilized in most recipes. Instead, I stuck with layers – call them sedimentary if you wish – that I’ve previously used with this one-bowl chocolate cake: fudge, crumbled Oreos, raspberry jam. The top of the cake was meant to resemble a gem mine entrance, and although it was fun to make, it turned out a little messy. Luckily nobody seemed to mind, and after a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday everybody dug in. (Rock candy - Mast General Store, chocolate rocks - amazon)

The geology theme was perfect for seven year olds. The kids have learned about rocks and minerals at school, and are fascinated with pyrite, geodes and gems of all kinds. On the other hand they are still young enough to enjoy a good treasure hunt, and their joy at finding an arrowhead or shark’s tooth was easy to see. It feels like any year now Lauris will want a more grown-up party for his birthday, so I’ll take the fun cake & themed activities while I can still get them – I hope I’ve still got a few more years!

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