Backyard Halloween Carnival; or, ghouls and fools

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It’s that time of year again, where kids change their minds every hour on what they want to be for Halloween, each more implausible and impossible to create than the next.  “Batman!  No, a dragon!  No, Spiderman!  No, Ironman!”  Make up your mind kid, so Mommy can create it!!! A few years back around this time, my husband was going through a serious health issue.  Once he was out of the hospital, I felt that we all needed something to look forward to and distract ourselves.  Well really mostly me — my answer to a stressful situation is apparently to craft, and craft hard.  What the hell, plan a party!  A Halloween party!  A backyard carnival where kids can wear Halloween costumes as opposed to day care where they are not allowed to do so on Halloween (I found out the hard way one year.  I love you day care, but that rule about no costumes on Halloween still bothers me.  I get it, but it bothers me)!   Let it go, Mel.  I needed a party that was economical and relatively easy to set up. Most everything I chose was based on if I had the components on hand or would not cost me to much out of pocket.  This was my first attempt planning a party beyond the usual family gathering and at this scale.    I was intimidated but determined to distract myself:

I am a list maker.  A spreadsheet maker.  A lover of Excel for its ability to sort and filter.  I created what has become my standard for planning a large party that is craft-heavy (so, all my parties).

  1. Create list of games, food, decorations, invites and goody bags and needed supplies for each
  2. Determine cost of said items and refine list as necessary to stay under budget
  3. Create list of all tasks needed to complete list of games, food, decorations, and goody bags
  4. Assign a complete-by date to each task
  5. Create calendar which breaks down what will be accomplished on each day, saving big projects for the weekends.

Is it anal?  Oh yes, ever so.  But this method works for me.  When my friends ask “How in the hell did you find time to do this?” it is because I usually give myself 6-8 weeks, and I do little projects each day on my lunch breaks or after the kids go to sleep.

I started with the invite, going with a carnival ticket theme.  I played around with layering clipart and fonts in MS Word and came up with this:

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I printed it out in color, cut it, and pasted it on to brown card stock, and used a pack of envelopes I already had.

For the Halloween carnival, I decided on 3 games:  Candy Cornhole Toss, Can Toss, and Pin the Spider on the Web.  I decorated each station with balloons, and simultaneously deafened and scared the caca out of myself when one of the balloons popped in the trunk of the car as I was loading it.

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The Candy Cornhole Toss was a large appliance box, covered in brown craft paper which I already had on hand (ahem stole from my husband), and orange, yellow, and gold paint.  I traced the holes in the box and cut them out, and then covered it with the brown paper and cut the holes again.  I painted a candy corn shape on the front to represent the small, medium and large holes.  I had some candy corn material inherited from my mom which had been watching me for years, just waiting to raise its hand and say “Ooh ooh, me me me!  Pick me!!.”  I made some little toss pillows from those scraps of fabric, so that did not cost me a dime.  Candy Cornhole Toss, done.  All supplies were on hand, so zero cost.

The next game was the Can Toss, which I unfortunately did not take a picture of.  I cut off the top and one side of a small packing box, leaving about a 2-inch lip at the bottom, like a stage for a diorama.  I painted the box silver because . . . it needed to be decorated somehow, and then filled it with sand (hence the need for the lip).  I collected various sized tin cans over the course of a few weeks and covered them in orange, purple, green and black construction paper, and anchored them in the sand in a pyramid shape.  I had a couple of fabric balls in the toy box which were for tossing in the cans.  The kids ended up using the cans to scoop up the sand.  It was at this point I realized I should probably have assigned people to stations to show the kids how to play the game, but then the adults don’t get to have any fun.  Lesson learned!  Again, all supplies were on hand, so zero cost.

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The last game was Pin the Spider on the Web, which was a piece of leftover cardboard covered in paper with a spiderweb painted on it, decorated with insect cutouts.  I made pompon spiders with goggly eyes and black construction paper legs I cutout a spider shape and glued the pompon to it, with double-sided tape on the bottom.  This was one of the projects I did at work, and the big boss wandered by and did a double take at al these pompons on my desk, walking over and rubbing his eyes as if to say, “What the hell?”  I offered no explanation, just very innocent eyes, and he wandered away as silently as he had arrived.  After that interlude, I then  wondered how each kid would know which spider was theirs.  At this time I had not invested in a metallic pen, so I settled for the next most logical thing which was to give the spiders orange pedicures.  I mean that’s only natural, right?  I painted one leg for the first spider, two legs for the next, etc etc through 8 spiders.  The kids kept cheating at this game but it really didn’t matter, it’s not like it was the Olympics or anything, as long as they had fun.  The pompons were approximately 3 dollars, the goggly eyes were 2 dollars.  The other items I had on hand.

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Goody bags and prizes

I kept the goody bags relatively simple, just a brown paper lunch bag with each child’s name printed and glued on the front in a fall theme.  Now that I think of it, I probably could have used the carnival ticket template from the invite, but . . . maybe next time.  2 bucks for brown paper bags.

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I had imagined the prizes for the carnival would be awarded as each game was done, but this party turned out to be the last time I expected kids to follow some sort of plan.   I had an enormous tin of Happy Meal toys and other still in their package filler-type toys which I let the kids dive into.  So it sort of cost me 0 dollars to do this because I already had toys on hand, but this also represented 4 years of investing in Happy Meals.  All those fries stolen from Big Brothers plate.  Yes, I took the hit and sacrificed my waistline for the sake of a Halloween party.  It was tough, but I managed to make myself do it.

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I also made Spiderlicious Hot Chocolate.  I am proud of this idea because I thought of it myself.  Lil’ Bro was young enough where he was still eating baby food out of glass jars, so I saved the jars and also ensured I bought more baby food to have enough jars.  I removed the labels and spray painted the lids silver to cover up the Gerber logo.  Using the same spider template from Pin the Spider on the Web, I made more spiders on black felt this time, minus the pompon but with googly eyes, and glued that to the top of the lid.  I filled each jar with Ovaltine, mini marshmallows, and mini chocolate chips.  I then printed instructions for the hot chocolate, which was basically 1) heat up milk; 2) dump jar in milk; 3) stir; 4) drink, on a carnival ticket label, and pasted it to the front of the jar.  They were super cute, though — I loved them.  2 Sheets of felt, 1 dollar.  Googly eyes already bought.  All other ingredients on hand — yeah baby!!

Decorations and Food

As far as decorations I kept it to a minimum — I basically used streamers, green and black, and orange and yellow.  Sometimes I feel that orange and black are kind of overdone for Halloween, so black, purple and green are sometimes a nice change of pace.  All streamers on hand.  I have the Skittles assortment of streamers, I must have just about every color.  For one hysterical but cool moment, I considered making a spiderweb out of back streamers in a concentric circle around the dining room lamp.  But I didn’t.  I still think it would be a great idea.  Maybe next Halloween.

Food:

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This is the menu I came up with:

  • Chicken Drumsticks ($8 for 10-12)
  • Cornbread (all ingredients in the pantry)
  • Little Smokies ($6 for two packages)
  • Calexico Pizza ($3 cheese, $2 olives; $2 tomatoes; $2 beans)
  • Spiderweb Sugar cookies (all ingredients in the pantry)
  • Rice Krispy treats ($3 rice krispies; $2 marshmallows)

I think everything on here is self explanatory except for the Calexico Pizza.  I happen to have a bread machine that I use to make pizza dough.  I had some chicken with Mexican seasoning in the freezer, and was trying to figure out if I could work this into the menu.  So I came up with the Calexico Pizza:

  • Pizza dough (I made it in the machine)
  • Mexican seasoned chicken (or beef)
  • 1 can of Mexican seasoned stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can refried beans
  • Grated cheese (monterey jack or cheddar)
  • sliced olives
  • green chiles or jalapeños — optional

Spread the pizza dough on the pizza pan and par bake for about 7 minutes according to the directions.  Spread the crust with refried beans.  Puree the stewed tomatoes (I’m anti-chunky tomato, so if you like your tomatoes chunky, ignore this) and spread on top of the beans.  Sprinkle with the chicken or beef, then the cheese, then the olives.  Finish baking in the oven until the cheese is melted and crust is baked through.  I this case, I cut the pizza into small bites to make more of an appetizer.  A Calexico pizza doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Halloween but it sure as heck tasted good.

Spiderweb Sugar Cookies

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I dyed some sugar cookie dough orange and then melted some black candy melts (leftover from a previous project) and poured them into a candy squeeze bottle.  I made a swirl on each cookie, and then used a toothpick to drag lines radiating from the center to make a spider web.  I ran out of candy melts, so I made a quick green frosting from butter, powdered sugar and milk, added a smudge to the top of the cookie, and made a pumpkin sugar cookie.

The party went over very well.  There is a lot more I could have done, but given all the bad luck over the previous couple of months and the fact this was my first larger scale party, it didn’t turn out too bad.  Just like me — a little more foolish than ghoulish.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathyann
    Sep 21, 2014 @ 08:14:44

    You have really gotten to the true fun spirit of Halloween…love those spider’s web cookies. I want one!

    Like

    Reply

  2. Melody
    Sep 22, 2014 @ 13:24:19

    I mostly stick to making costumes now but you never know — a carnival could always be in the making . . .

    Like

    Reply

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