Wednesday, 19 November 2014 15:27 it (yawn) up

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After being led to a semi-circle of rearranged dining room chairs, where a dozen or more other people look up with a mixture of real and pasted-on smiles, I’m worried.

When I’m handed an inflated purple balloon with a slip of paper coiled up inside, and warned by the game leader, “Don’t pop it early,” my heart begins to beat sideways.
And when the person next to me offers a mutually-understood look of anticipated humiliation, I know it. We’re in hell. And hell looks a lot like a surprise birthday party.
It’s not the first, and likely not the last, clandestine celebration I’m likely to attend.
Not, mind, because people might stop wanting to
throw them. Rather, because I intend to become better
at talking them out of it. Or catching the flu. Or both.
For now, however, it’s too late.
 I’m here. And no amount of pennies on the tracks could derail this runaway train of a party that’s being thrown for two family members, each staring down their own personal milestones this year.
“This going to be so much fun!” the party makers said when my plan for an intimate dinner with just family was outvoted.
I, you see, am the family stick-in-the-mud.
Although, when assignments were handed out, I did willingly become responsible for making cheese dip. Along with duping one of the two birthday boys, and bringing him to the party.
Bringing, that is, Chefhusband, who is, secretly, also a stick-in-the-mud.
“And make sure you invite all of your friends, too.”
Having, however, spotted a Big Book of Party Games for six- to 12-year-olds, circa. 1972, I quietly declined, with the exception of our oldest friends, who agreed to come for moral support.
At the party now, it’s my turn. And, as I’ve already seen demonstrated by the stricken face of my very pregnant best friend, I bounce up and down on my balloon until it finally pops and I land on the floor with
a not-small thud.
I find and read the note tucked inside.
Then, as instructed by said note, I mimic the sounds
of five different farm animals until someone correctly guesses each one.
It doesn’t take long, but when I’m finished, I feel the heat in my cheeks continue to burn.
Next comes the frozen Mars bar eating competition, where I come in last and lose a critical bit of dental work.
After that, we pair off, and one partner, with
their mouth full of dry crackers, whispers a secret instruction into the other partner’s ear.
 I don’t understand the point of the crackers, but with crumbs in my ear, I allow someone to tie a string to
my back belt loop, after which I bob up and down and around, trying to make the end of the string go into the mouth of a pop bottle placed on the floor.
Dollar Store prizes are handed out to winners and losers alike. And then, and only then, are we allowed to tuck into the cheese dip.
It’s good cheese dip, too. Made with a creamy blend of three white cheeses, melded together with cream, and mildly spiced with chilies and cumin.
By now, with a trip to the bowling alley still ahead of us, I need a bowl of cheese, which is as close to a bowl
of courage as I’m going to find.
Cake comes next. And when I can’t figure out how to end it all with a plastic fork, I pull on a second pair of socks to protect me from a visceral dread of rented shoes.
And, as we all pile into cars to head to the lanes, I get to sit next to Chefhusband for the first time today. He pastes on a smile that makes me laugh, and we get ready for one more game.

Queso Blanco (Mexican White Cheese Dip)
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup shredded white cheddar
113 gram can green chillies
3/4 cup half and half
1/8 cup finely chopped onion
2 tsp ground cumin

Place all ingredients in a double boiler over medium heat. Cook until cheese is melted and well combined, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula.
Serve hot, immediately, with tortilla chips for dipping.

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