Aspen Princess: All aboard the party train

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

“I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified,” my friend Catherine said when she saw the spread I’d put out for my son’s second birthday party. “Are you going to become one of those moms?”

I sort of shrugged it off, like no big deal. Just because I’d spent the better part of three days on my choo-choo-train party theme, what, making traffic lights out of pretzel rods I’d hand dipped in chocolate, with a green, yellow and red M&M on each one. It had taken me forever, trying to get the M&Ms to stick. I’d made everything from scratch, from the wagon wheel mac ’n’ cheese (Get it? To go with the train theme?) to the mini corn muffins for Ryan’s famous elk chili, coming up with a menu days in advance and scouring the internet for the best recipes. If you would have told me I’d spend that much time perusing sites like and Pintrest, I would have choked on my pint of beer and probably said something flippant like, “You can pay people for that noise,” or something to that effect.

Catherine and I have known each other since way-back-when, when we were a crew of ski bum party chicks who used to bond over cigarettes out in the cold, huddled in a tight circle of gossip and heartache, the steam from our breath intermingling with smoke.

Catherine dropped into parenting first, popping out two kids around age 40 like it was nothing, and then proceeding to carry on at her normal hard-core pace, hiking the Bowl until she was about to pop. She’s the antithesis of the helicopter parent. She’s brave and bold in her choices and because of that, her kids are, too. Sure, I thought she was nuts to hike to Crested Butte with a baby in her backpack or to hike the Bowl with her 6-year-old daughter. There is also a part of me that applauds her bravado.

It turns out I am somewhere in the middle, preferring cuddling under a warm blanket to hauling my baby into the backcountry or up to the top of a mountain. Maybe a little too laid back.

That said, I’ve got some serious skills with construction paper and glue.

You should have seen me, sitting around the dining room table with my in-laws, assembling a train for the table out of tin bread pans and cardboard and paint. We made these little railroad signs out of paper and sticker letters that said “two-year-old crossing” and “wet your whistle” that we stuck into these little wooden platforms my father-in-law cut outside with a table saw and drill. (Yes, power tools were involved).

I laughed out loud as I stirred black frosting into a pan of melted marshmallows at 7 o’clock in the morning for the rice crispy treats that are supposed to look like coal.

“This is probably a really bad idea,” I told my friend Dina. “Like that time we decided to have a white-themed birthday party.”

It’s not unusual that I come up with some kaka meme idea that doesn’t translate all that well into reality, and that white party was one of them. Dina is another friend from my early Aspen days, and our birthdays are a week apart in mid-winter. We decided we wanted to have a snow theme. We went to City Market in El Jebel and came home with a car full of white frosted cupcakes, white powdered doughnuts, yogurt dipped pretzels and cookies with white icing. We arranged all these white treats in little bowls and put them out everywhere. People came to the party, thank god, but they sort of stared at these bowls full of sugary treats in total dismay and opted for beer. I don’t think we served any actual food even though the party started during the dinner hour. Admittedly, my memory is a little hazy (likely because we drank too much on empty stomachs).

I stared into the pan, the swirl of black and white beautiful in its own way but still looking nothing like edible food, I laughed out loud, not unlike a crazy person. I really lost it when I then decided to put the Oreos the recipe called for in the Vitamix instead of crushing them by hand, not wanting to make a racket and wake everyone up. I ended up with something between coffee grounds and dirt. I had to dump it and start over, laughing to myself some more.

In the end, the coal came out perfect. It wasn’t too gross-looking, the kids loved it, and it looked awesome in my food train (with a handmade label that read “coal car,” of course). I also had pretzel rods for lumber, carrots and celery for produce, and grapes for fruit. I did a cupcake train instead of a cake with cars made out of graham crackers with marshmallow and Oreo wheels, held together with vanilla frosting. I got a toothache just looking at it.

The party was a huge success, with just our closest friends and family. Levi only tried to kill a couple of kids for playing with his toys, chasing them down like he was on the football field for the full-body-slam tackle to wrench the toy out of the poor kid’s hands while screaming, “No! Mine!” at the top of his lungs.

“Stop acting like such a 2-year-old!” I scolded him.

The kids loved the coal treats; at least the two kids there who are allowed to eat sugar. Catherine ate most of the pretzel traffic lights, but that was only after she made fun of me for making them.

I fantasized about posting all my photos on Pintrest and other social media channels with little tips and stories about how to throw the perfect train-themed party. And then it hit me — I’m just not one of those moms.

The Princess is praying for snow. Email your love to


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