Detective Birthday Party — Cop Props

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Being a visual person, the Detective Birthday party couldn’t be just cerebral puzzle solving.  This party and my sense of artistry needed some props and decorations.  This party was like 60% for Logan and 40% for me.  In any case I planned for each table to have some sort of prop so that it wasn’t just a flat table with paper on it, as well as overall decorative elements for the rest of the room.

Cardboard Brownie Camera — Detective Skills Station

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Before I found a typewriter at the thrift store, I toyed with the idea of purchasing a vintage camera.  Those were almost as expensive as a typewriter, and I really wanted a typewriter.  I also really wanted a camera.  A little search on this thing called Pinterest showed some templates for making a camera box out of paper.  That seemed a lot easier than making a typewriter out of paper, go fig.  I figured covering the right kind of box would work pretty well.  I literally scrounged in my recycle bin at work and found a full size Kleenex box with the plastic slit at the top (not the half circle) that was a little squashed.  I cut about 1/3 of it off and inserted it into the remaining 2/3 to make a smaller box.  After that I cut a paper box template out of white craft paper and covered the box as seamlessly and tightly as possible.

Once that was complete out to the garage I went, to the delight of my neighbors who like to see “What’s she doing now”, to spray paint the box and a one inch wide strip of cardboard from a cereal box for the handle.   I have a great affection of oil-rubbed brass spray paint, as it is mildly metallic (like an accountant who likes to listen to Metallica in his sensible Honda Civic) and has a warmth to it.  In this case those qualities actually made the paper look almost like leather.  It’s hard to describe but it ended up being perfect, a happy accident.  Once it was dry I attached the handle to the top and applied two small wooden circles painted silver to the handle to simulate fasteners.   I was ridiculously pleased because it was already starting to look like a camera.  Next I found some clear rectangular silicone cabinet stops for the lens on the top and side of the camera.  Actually I don’t know what those things are but I think that’s what you look through to focus your shot.  It’s not like these kids or anyone other than me was going to give a crap, but I like to strive for accuracy.  Anyway, I then painted a large and medium wooden disk silver to simulate whatever the dial thing is on the side of the camera, as well as small wooden disks for pretty much decorative purposes on the front.   Finally, I used the cap from a baby food jar as the actual lens of the camera.  If I had a little more time a label like “Leica” or “Kodak” or some sort of faceplate would have been nice, but I decided to stop there and call it a camera.

Cardboard Microscope — Who’s Shoes Station

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Besides a camera, I figured another piece of equipment a detective uses is a microscope (well the CSIs do but whatever). I searched high and low for an old telescope at the thrift store but no dice, so the next best thing of course if to make it out of cardboard. Naturally. I cut a 12 inch diameter circle out of cardboard, and then a 10 inch circle inside that to make an “o” about 2 inches thick. I cut the circle in half so I had two half circles, than taped them to a toilet tube to help keep the circle in place and provide a solid surface to glue to the base.

Unfortunately I did not measure the final length, but I inserted a paper towel tube into another and adjusted the length between the two half circles at an angle until it resembled a microscope. I taped the tube pieces together and blue taped it temporarily in place to figure out where the slide platform should go. I cut out a 3 by 5 rectangle and placed it at an appropriate angle on the mocked up half circles, marking them with a pencil. I notched out a slot to wedge in the platform snugly. I then cut four 4 by 6 rectangles for the base and modge-podged them to make a four layer base.

As a final touch before putting it all together, I cut two cardboard circles about 2 inches in diameter. I made a hole through the two circles and the cardboard tube with a heavy duty needle. I skewered the two circles to the outside of the tube with an obliging toothpick to mimic the dials on the microscope. I later wished I had used brass paper fasteners so it could be rotated but hell no I glued it all in place.

And with that irreversible gluing, the hot gluing commenced all over the microscope, card board tube to half circles, half circles to base, and anywhere else it needed it. After that is was back out to the garage for the oil-rubbed brass spray paint. Microscope complete.

Fireplace — Sherlock’s Library

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As mentioned in the Vintage Detective Party blog, I just happened to have a cardboard fireplace leftover from a Christmas door decorating party.    Taking an old cardboard box, I traced its outline on a larger square of cardboard and cut away the box outline to make a facade. Using a piece of butcher paper larger than the facade and painter’s tape. I taped out a brick pattern and spray painted it gold because . . . well that’s all the paint I had.  I wrapped the facade in the paper and then turned my attention to the inside of the fireplace.   I painted the inside of the box black and taped it to the facade.  I then added a thin black box with supports and tape to the top of the facade to make a mantle.

To take the fireplace from mere cardboard to cardboard art, I twisted some brown paper bags to resemble logs, and did the same with red, orange, and yellow tissue paper for flames.  As the piece de resistance, I added LED tea light candles to the tissue paper for a more realistic glow.  This did not win the door contest, and again that is a miscarriage of justice because none of the other doors came close to this.  However, it did double duty as a fireplace, so there’s that.  Hmmm.

Turkish Slipper and Tobacco — Sherlock’s Library

Any close reader of the great Sherlock knows that he keeps his pipe tobacco in a Turkish slipper on the mantle.  This seemed like a minor detail that virtually no one was going to notice.  Naturally, I decided to take the time to make one.  After a little research to see what a Turkish slipper actually looked like, I decided to take some license and found a pattern for felt elf clogs on Pinterest, and figured with some modifications to make the toe more . . . Turkish I could make one, using the felt to help the shoe keep its shape and brocade to make it more . . . yeah, Turkish.  Using this pattern, I hand sewed the felt pieces together.  I intended to modge podge the brocade the felt but this was a spectacular fail.  That’s on trend with how I feel about my life sometimes, but fortunately this was just a shoe and a hot glue gun might do the trick.  Not sure what the life equivalent of a hot glue gun is, but when I find out I’ll let you know.  Anyway I cut brocade pieces slightly larger than the pattern and started gluing.  I didn’t do as neat a job as I would have liked, and the slipper was bordering on what a Turkish person would wear whilst lounging in Holland.  If I had not glued the crap out of it I would have liked to have cut down the sides of the slipper to make it more interesting, but . . .

 

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I didn’t want to sprinkle anything messy in the shoe for tobacco, but it needed something.  Again, a minor detail, but since I made the slipper might as well go all out.  I sewed a quick muslin bag and stuffed it with three tea bags so there would be some sort of aroma kinda like tobacco.  I tied it off with metallic yarn and then labeled it from that well-known imaginary tobacconists shop, Lestrade of London.  Again another nod to Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock canon.  Y’all know I don’t do nothing by chance.

I also added a bookcase from home to house all the books.

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Purchased Items

Since I  committed to decorations on the other tables, I had to purchase or re-use items for the other tables, too:

Globe — Map Table:  A quick trip to TJ Maxx produced a reasonably priced bookcase globe (again none at the thrift store).  I also printed off clocks from different time zones to post above the map.

Scooby Van — Puzzle Table:  Just happened to have a Scooby Doo van (Logan’s, naturally) that also held chocolate coins that were the treasure at the end of the Scavenger Hunt.

Typewriter and In Box — Bletchley Park:  After scouring Etsy, Ebay, and Facebook and finding typewriters that were out of my price range, I decided to take one last crack at thrift stores for a typewriter.  After 5 stores I FOUND ONE.  It wasn’t the 1940’s style I wanted, but it was 40 bucks, which was way cheaper than anything I was finding online, and vintage enough.  it worked fairly well and my boys were enamored with it.  I had a rose gold wire basket leftover from the Maltese Falcon table (see below) that made great in basket.  I put some scrap paper in there so the kids could type if they got bored (and they obliged).

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Maltese Falcon — Escape Room Table:  I toyed with many ways of making a Maltese falcon (including an ill-fated paper mâché experiment) before opting to find a ceramic bird to spray paint.  Again, TJ Maxx came through with a bird that was not a sparrow.  I was so excited to find something that looked un-sparrow that I didn’t realize till I spray-painted it with the oil-rubbed brass that it was a parrot.  Ooops.  Like.  The kids.  Cared.

I also purchased some inexpensive rose gold baskets from Walmart that I used to make a cage for the Falcon.  Since this was the focal table, I added a tablecloth for a little extry.

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Invites

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I took some pictures of Logan in his detective fedora from Christmas (yes the detective thing goes back that far) and a suit jacket, holding up a magnifying glass.  I created a background of detective names from novels, tvs and movies, and added a transparent fingerprint and a Top Secret stamp as well.  I cut out some newspaper (I know, who reads newspaper) to give it that vintage look before gluing it on the invite.

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Some invites I was able to hand deliver, so I put them in small manila envelopes and used a “Confidential” stamp from work for that extra touch.

 

Clipboards and Answer Sheets

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I would have liked to have used small clipboards, but it felt extravagant.  so I got a little cheap and cut cardboard rectangles.  I prepared answer sheets for each of the stations and stapled them to the “clipboards”.

 

Magnifying Glass

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I happened to have some large styrofoam circles that my co-worker Pepsi saved for me.  One already found its way into Wakanda as a shield, and another was now pressed into service as a magnifying glass.  I took one of Logan’s detective pictures and printed it on 11×17  paper.  I cut him out and glued it to the styrofoam.  I then added a black paper strip to the edge of the styrofoam, as well as a black circle edge to the front of the styrofoam.  I fashioned a handle out of rolled up craft paper and spray painted it black.  Fantastic Friend Jennifer rightly noted that in order to tape it to the wall it needed a paper backing in order to stick.  Somehow in my stress to get the room set up I misunderstood her to take that to mean we needed a lot of paper, which is why there is a ridiculous runner of paper down the door.  However I took some of the leftover placemats from the table and added them to the paper to make it look not so . . . paper.

I had a pennant banner that I have used at several birthdays that came in handy here.  I meant to put paper decorations in the windows but my “team” and I ran out of time.   Jennifer made a great display out of paper fans and goody bags.  So glad she and my dad agreed to help me set up that day.  There’s no way I could have managed it.

By far this party was maybe the hardest I created and the most rewarding and fun.  No party ever comes out exactly the way you plan it, but this one had enough really stellar parts to outweigh the ones that just missed the mark.

 

Halloween – Wakanda fool am I?

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Superheroes keeping the neighborhood safe from too much chocolate

Not having got the whole of Wakandan universe out of my system, I decided to challenge myself to make the Dora Milaje costume.  Out of t-shirts.  Challenge accepted.

 

It all starts with a drawing and a list 

Every creative undertaking starts with a drawing and a list.  And a timeline.  For a creative person I have some really rigid  tendencies.  After all, I was trying to approximate this:

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Without the Hollywood budget.  After mentally toying around with using pleather or vinyl to create the Dora Milaje harness, I wondered if I could modify a T-shirt with some strategic cutting.  From there I figured another T-shirt would do for the skirt.  After that it was a case of that creative hamster on a wheel that comes up with all the ideas, which resulted in this drawing and list:

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Preliminary list. Shut the Front Door means on top of all this I have to decorate the front door, too, dammit.

Harness and top – try it on again, and again and again . . .

Part of the beauty of this idea was I already had a red long sleeved t-shirt, which had already looked upon a previous Halloween as Wonder Woman.  I purchased a brown T-shirt, a man’s medium.  At the last minute I opted not to go for a snug fitting shirt because what if it was too snug?  It’s easier to take something in.  Using my own fitted T-shirt as a guide, I traced its outline with chalk on the wrong side of the brown shirt.  I sewed along the chalk a tried it on for fit.  Satisfied, I used chalk to outline the areas to cut out, referring to the picture of Okoye.  The one mistake I made was outlining the bust too generously.  It made my upper story look too big.  I guess if it were an actual comic book that would be ok but that’s not really my aesthetic.  I eventually had to add back material to the areas I cut so if I could do this over again I would cut conservatively first.  Also, it was going to be dark so no one would see the rough areas.  Since this was T-shirt material and stretchy, I also added interfacing along the bust line for some structure.  Along the way I kept checking fit and I ultimately had to tack some areas to get the harness to fit snugly in the right places.  The harness was my miners canary – if it didn’t work out I was going to stop right there.  However, I was satisfied with how it turned out.

Adding the skirt

I next bought an XL women’s mustard yellow tank top and cut it right below the arm pit to maximize the amount of material I had to work with.  The hem was rounded and high low, so that was favorable.  I took it in a little bit around the waist as if I was fitting a skirt.  After comparing against the picture, I cut away the front of the skirt at an angle and sewed it to the harness.  Believe it or not due to my screwed up brain I had such a hard time figuring out how to pin which side to which side to sew it correctly.  Easy stuff like this confuses me, or rice krispy treats, or jello squares.  Anyway, after 10 billion tries I figured it out.

Tasseled choker

Although the skirt and harness were the most difficult to construct (or destruct in the case of the harness since it was a lot of cutting), I was really stumped on the choker.  There was no way I was going to attempt to garrote myself with a bunch of actual wire. That would be super uncomfortable.  At the fabric store I found some crushed gold material in the fancy section I never shop in, that looked like wires.  Next I found some gold tassels, which in another time would have looked fantastic on some Victorian drapery.  I cut a piece to fit my neck and backed it with muslin to give it some structure then added Velcro to the ends to secure it.  After that it was a simple matter of attaching the tassels to the gold material, and the choker was done.

Bracelets and epaulets

I ended up using the choker material to make bracelets, too.  I intended to use spray painted vinyl but I cut it wrong, and the choker material was quicker to make and stretchier and therefore easier to put on.  However, the vinyl did work well for epaulets.  I cut four trapezoids (two for each arm) from some leftover vinyl I had, and spray painted them gold.  I opted not to hot glue Velcro to the vinyl but instead stapled it.  Not really up to my standards but I know nothing about sewing vinyl and this was not the time to break my machine.  I added Velcro to the brown T-shirt to line up with the epaulets.  In retrospect I should have cut six epaulets and added elastic to go around my bicep on the last one but . . . Next Black Panther movie I guess.

Hangy thing/tabard

I don’t even know what a tabard is, and I refuse to use a word I don’t know.  But hangy thing down the front with beads on it clearly makes me sound … well not like a 44 year old woman who knows what she’s doing.  Nevertheless, I busted out some fabric paint to start making the beaded designs.  Before I added the paint, I did add interfacing to give it some structure and make it hang appropriately, otherwise no one would know it was a hangy thing.  I dotted paint in chevron designs and cut a belt buckle out of gold card stock which ultimately did not make it on the costume.  Uhh, someone, I’m not gonna say who, forgot.  Also, FYI tabard is not what I thought it was but I’m just going to leave it there.

Spear, pants, boots, make up and hair – should I shave my skull?

If you’ve read my Black Panther post, you know making a spear ain’t no thang.  A cardboard blade affixed to a slit in a cardboard tube and spray painted silver.  I found some leggings that had some detail that ultimately could not be seen, but made me feel authentic.  I added my rain boots and all costume articles were ready.

Now what to do with the face?  The Dora Milaje are pretty well made up, so I couldn’t go in all naked face, even if it was dark outside.  I did way more eye make up than usual/ever, with some vibranium purple eyeliner and shadow.  I followed that up with a dark lip color to accentuate all of Africa that is housed above my chin and below my nose.

And the hair.  The one time in my life when naturally curly, frizzy, African American hair was a plus.  Just a tad too short to really give that African emphasis.  First I went the Nakia in Korea route and I started looking like Mr. Glass in Unbreakable.  Uh, no.  Shave my head like a real Dora Milaje?  Noooo, I don’t think so.  Bantu knots?  “Knot” enough hair.  Afraux-hawk?  Nope.  I finally did some Afro-punk meets 1940s (just thought that up now, but if I could dress myself the rest of my life according to that mantra I totally freaking would) with three roll ups, like curling the hair minus the rollers, across my crown, and two rows of twist corn rows on the sides.

How’d it go?

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Post trick or treat glory, ready to use my spear on some Almond Joy’s.

The best part was walking around the neighborhood trick or treating like a badass and waiting at the end of each walkway like a bodyguard while the boys hit up the neighbors for candy.  Granted, it didn’t seem like many people knew what I was but I was channeling the two women at the beginning of the film who stroll in and eyeball everyone like don’t F with me.  I forgot to mention as an introvert I NEVER look strangers in the eye, I am strictly “hey, look at that interesting object on the ground.”  So that was a lot of fun.  The best was these two older boys with wolf masks passed that were kind of being obnoxious, and I stared them down until they said “Wakanda Forever” and part of me was like yeah keep walking wolves, and another part was all giddy I finally got some recognition.
So long answer to short question, you can make a Dora Milaje costume out of two t-shirts.  Challenge accepted.  And won.

The Wakanda Skirt

As I mentioned on my Black Panther party post (God help me every time I say “Black Panther party” I think of Forrest Gump apologizing for having a fight “at your Black Pantha party”), I was inspired to make an African print skirt to wear.  I typically steer away from sewing clothing unless it’s converting t-shirts into skirts.  I’ve made a few of those and got pretty comfortable with that concept so I figured I could maybe make this happen.

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A Foolish Inspiration; or a message/inspiration board

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So . . . this is WordPress?  I say that because I am pretty sure I last posted something in August.  Maybe.  Thank goodness I remembered my password.  To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot of time for creativity lately, which is probably why I have been so cranky.  Well that’s my excuse.  Clearly somewhere between August and November, I realized I had gift cards from my birthday nearly a year ago that I should probably use, one of which was for the fabric store.  I knew I should use the card for myself — normally at the fabric store I am buying fabric to make something for someone else.  So this was a real exercise in selfishness.  Me.  Me me me me all me.  I discarded several notions and came up with creating myself a message board, if nothing else to take up space on the blank wall above my sewing table, where I could pin lists, timelines,  scraps, ideas etc.  At first it was going to be just fabric on cork board, bam I’m done.  But it is never that simple.  I’m a complicated simpleton.

I wanted something usable, practical, and easy to hang.  Molly screws and drills intimidate me, and when I start a project I just want to get it done.  So I elected to use foam-backed poster board and hang it up with ribbon (which didn’t happen.  Not to give away the surprise ending or anything).

Now what to cover the poster board with?  What was my theme?  At first I was going to buy some of that beautiful brocade fabric I always drool over, but then I realized I do not want to be damaging this material poking holes in it with push pins.  So the French message board with padding and fabric and ribbon went out the window.  I considered other themes, such as a Turkish message board with crisp white linen, tassels and a jaunty fez, but I managed to be talked off the ledge on that one.  So I opted for rustic burlap.  Now here’s where I got stupid.  I could have just bought printed burlap and been done with it.  But I wanted to do something way more personalized (read: time-involved).  So I decided to paint my Crafting Fool on it instead.

With this idea in mind, I gathered my supplies:

  • Two 24 by 36 foam poster boards
  • 2 yards of burlap
  • hot glue gun
  • stapler
  • black glossy acrylic paint
  • fabric medium
  • decorative ribbon

I attached the two boards together on the short side by hot gluing a piece of sturdy cardboard where the two pieces met.  I attempted to iron the more obvious wrinkles out of the burlap, and then laid it down with the poster board on top and trimmed it with a good 2-3 inches clearance on all sides.  Starting from the middle and pulling the burlap as tight as possible,  I stapled the top and bottom center, and then the center of the sides, until all the edges were stapled.

 

I tested out the acrylic paint by itself and with the fabric medium on a scrap of burlap, and both seemed fine. I opted to go with the medium because I was afraid the paint alone would crack over time.  I traced the outline of a jester (a Fool, if you will) with a Sharpie, followed by a paint palette, scissors, and a sewing machine.

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These I filled in with black paint, and accented the palette and scissor handles with color.  I considered adding some color to the Fool, but I think I just like the silhouette.

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Now here is where I got a little Valerie Clark creative.  I took some very thin ribbon and hot glued it in a vine-like fashion away from the needle on the sewing machine as if the thread was unspooling from the machine.  Normally you would not want this to happen with your machine because it means either it is: 1) in desperate need of maintenance, 2) hopped up on meth in its downtime, 3) a Bizarro machine in which everything works backwards, or 4) in need of an exorcist because it is spewing thread.  However, I like to think that the wayward ribbon represents the flow of ideas that usually develop when one is being creative.   That last bit is why those who know my thoughts and writing best say I could go either way in the advertising world, depending on if I’m in a pessimistic or optimistic mood.  When you could describe your bathroom wall color as either chocolate pudding or dookie colored . . . well, we all have choices.

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Back to practicalities, the ribbon also took up some dead space as well as added some color.  In keeping with this idea of colorful dead space, I added some two inch wide ribbon to the opposite corner to either tuck larger pieces of fabric, or photographs, or whatever the hell else it is you would do, and because I had extra ribbon, I added some purely decorative red bows from the thin ribbon I used to represent thread.

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Since hot gluing the board to the wall is not an option (but an interesting one), I bought some old-fashioned antique-finish binder clips, and clipped them to the top of the board.  From there it was a simple question of marking with a pencil on the wall where I wanted to put the nails.  From there it was a not so simple question of getting the holes level without the use of a level, because who wants to walk down three flights of stairs to rummage in the cold garage for a level designed for exactly this purpose when you could hammer ten holes in the wall trying to get it straight?

In any case, I am now the proud owner and creator of a personalized Crafting Fool message board.  My next step is to make a companion, Frenched-up board for the opposite wall with white burlap and the two inch wide ribbon.  But for now, message board impossible is complete – cue the Lalo Schifrin Mission Impossible music.  Excuse me while I get my bongo drums.

 

Portable Rocket Ship Height Chart; or, when crafting calls the fool must answer.

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“Portable” might be stretching it, but when your choice is to take a board or take a wall with your childrens’ height on it, guess which one you can put in the back of a U-haul? We’re packing up our whole house, which is a perfect time to make a height chart, right?  We had been measuring the boys’ heights on the wall, and we wanted to transfer the record so we could take it with us. In fairness, I bought the supplies well before we decided to move, and just now decided to put on the finishing – oh let’s be honest – starting touches.  For the design I tried to think of . . . well, tall things.  Not trees, not giraffes, too cliche, something like reaching for the stars. . . . Rocket ship!  3, 2, 1 and we have crafting lift-off!

Supplies:

6 foot board (1×6 inches)

Acrylic Paint

  • blue for night sky
  • white for ship
  • red or orange for fins
  • gray for windows, bolts
  • yellow for accents

You could paint the background first, or paint the ship first.  I chose the former and as with all first decisions, wish I had done it the other way to save blue paint.  Anyway, I created a ship template on craft paper nearly the length of the board, traced the outline on the board and painted it white.   I then let the board season on the floor of our living room for approximately 2 months.  This was critical.  I have to say that because otherwise it means I procrastinated for no good reason and for two months four people who know my housekeeping style (step over a rubber band on the floor for weeks instead of just picking it up) and random guests who were too well mannered to comment passed by a blue board in the living room.

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Once the procrastinating seasoning was over, I picked today of all days to squeeze past all the crap in my garage to get the board, and cut out parallelograms on craft paper to trace the tail fins.  I know it looked like I just popped up from a post-Target nap and wandered in a silent trance like zombie to the garage to pull out a procrastinated board, but hey.  That’s me.

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Anyway I traced the fins onto the ship and painted them red.  At some point in the process I was lured outside by the boys and finished the painting outside.  I felt like frickin’ Monet, the birds were chirping, the leaves whispered, and of course after the boys went back inside I heard what I tell myself was a squirrel making some menacing chittering noises, so I started to paint faster, images of a sitcom-like situation with the boys watching tv while over their shoulders through the sliding glass door you see me struggling wildly and silently with a aggressive squirrel, covered in paint and squirrel scratches.  Sometimes I think I watch too much TV.  I used a tin can to trace round windows/portholes, and painted them gray.  I am still toying with the idea of decoupaging the boys’ pictures in there, but we’ll see.

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I used a balding pencil (i.e. very little eraser left) to dip in black paint, deciding the gray might not show up too well, and stamp rivets up the middle of the ship.

I then free-handed a crescent moon that started out looking like a gravity-challenged banana in the corner.  In the past, when I painted stars I painted small asterisks and didn’t really like the effect.  The background looked a little plain though without stars, so this time I dipped the handle-end of my paint brush in yellow paint and dotted the background, clustering the stars more closely towards the top and spacing them out further down.  It’s ridiculous to be that pleased about what amounts to polka dots on a 6 foot board when I painted so many other larger things, but the effect was just right.

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I decided the nose of the ship needed some definition, so I Rudolphed it up with some red paint.  I then added in the heights of the boys and then measured them today.  Height chart done.

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I may go back and add in their names somehow as a part of the ship design, or add a name for the ship on the nose, or the aforementioned decoupaged pictures.  For now the height record is preserved — as a historian I know there’s no going back (“scrooch down like it’s October 2013, baby, so I can falsify your height progress”) to capture the moment, so I’m happy we can take this with us when we move.

Gifts in a Jar; or (almost) fool-proof quick gift ideas.

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‘Tis that time of year when a wife, mother, worker bee, Santa, and blogger has to choose at least one hat to sit on the shelf, and that hat is the blogging hat.  I have some projects in the wings which will be posted all in good time (like, when I finish them and have a chance to wrote about them, but for the moment I harken back to Christmases of yore when I gave the kid’s teachers gifts in a jar. Ah yes, ye old gift in a jar.  I don’t know what fascinates me about this concept, but it’s just so clever.

S’mores in a Jar:

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Yes, that’s Mary Poppins in the background

 

Last year I searched and searched, and found a recipe for S’mores in a Jar.   It is basically teddy grahams, brown sugar, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows layered in a jar and later mixed with melted butter and baked in a pan.  I made a nice label to cover up the glue and paper I was unable to scrape off.

I willfully ignored the part about the size of the jar required, only to find I did not have a jar big enough to make a full pan of s’mores, so I made these ridiculous instructions to fill muffin tins (about 2 or 3) with the mixture.  In retrospect, maybe a different gift in a jar would have worked out better, especially since I didn’t get to test the recipe.  Neither of my kids were flunked out that year so I guess they went down ok.  However, I did have about 4 teachers to make gifts for and I was a little pressed for time so  . . .

Other quick gift ideas:

Relaxation in a Tin

I realized I forgot a teacher, and so I whipped up a gift in a tin, which was some Bigelow tea bags, some biscotti, and a scented candle, and of course some fancy ribbon.  I whipped it up so fast I did not take a picture.   I also made some foot scrub from sugar, olive oil, and lavender essential oil, and created a laminated label for the jar with my printer, paper, and some clear contact paper.  I also spray painted the lid of the jar — “pickle relish” and “foot scrub” do not read well together. This was truly a gift in a pinch.

Pasta Dinner on Me

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For out neighbors, I had some across some baskets at Michaels that were 50% off.  I bought a jar of pasta sauce, a box of pasta, and included some of the biscotti tied with twine.  If I was sure if they drank wine I would have included a bottle of wine.  I packed this all in the basket and added a card saying dinner on us as a way of thanking them for all the dinners they provided us when my husband was sick and in the hospital.  They are such great neighbors.  I meant to include our recipe for Pasta Bake, which is a deconstructed lasagna in a casserole dish:

  • layer of cooked pasta (any kind — rotini, penne, farfalle)
  • layer of ricotta or cottage cheese
  • sprinkle of mozzarella or monterey jack
  • layer of meat sauce (we use ground turkey in vodka sauce)
  • a little more cheese on top
  • bake in the oven at about 375 till heated through and cheese is melted.

Bam — dinner to feed the masses or enough to freeze for later.

I of course forgot to do this but this is what the instructions would have looked like:

pasta bake recipe

So these are just a few different ideas I used last year for those gifts for the people you appreciate in life but never get a chance to say thanks for all you do for my kids, or for the helping hand you gave us this past year.  You’re a fool if you go with the old fruitcake stand-by.

Batman Birthday Party: or, in which this fool goes bat crap crazy

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Before he discovered Star Wars, Big Bro was enamored with Batman.  He still is, trying to cram his face into the Bat helmet I made for him 2 years ago that he’s outgrown.  You know how kids be doin’ sometimes.  I mean I had to put an extender strap on the dang thing but no no Mom, it still fits!!  So of course when his 5th birthday rolled around, he wanted a Batman theme.

Decorations — Using Old Comic Books for Maximum Effect

For me the decorations started with the idea of using comic books as my palette.  At the time I just figured they were cheap — since then I have at east come to appreciate some of the artwork.  I knew one of my co-workers was a big comic book fan, so I asked him if there was a store that sold used or otherwise cheap comic books.  He very generously allowed me to have a bunch of his that he needed to get rid of.  I love a win-win situation.  After I verified with him “Ok you know I’m going to tear these up, right?” I got to work on this treasure trove of friction’ free artwork.  First I went through all the books and pulled out all the usable pages, because some just weren’t appropriate for 5 year olds (you  know, the violence and the objectification of women and other small details.  I could expand on this but my time is limited . . .).  I started sorting them based on the color palette of each page and what would work together.  I used them 4 ways:

  • Birthday Banner Background  — I pasted pages down on a piece of brown “painter paper” (paper in a roll about 12 inches wide used to protect the edges of molding when you are painting.  Whatever that is called, I used it), then I used a stencil to paint Happy Birthday on the pages.  If I could do this over I would try to get the letters to stand out more because you had to be right on top of the banner, ultimately, to be able to read it.  What the hell I made it, so up it went

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  • Cityscape sign — I created another sign that was a cityscape, and then cut out Big Bro’s name in the comic book paper to make a sign that said Big Bro is 5.  I guess I really didn’t need another sign but I was inspired so up it went too

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  • Tablecloth — I decided to cover the tables the kids would eat at with the remaining comic book pages as a table cloth.  I basically just taped them down and then covered it with clear contact paper.  If you can imagine 5 year olds needing a conversation starter, a philosophical discussion ensued about who was a bad guy — it would have made Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in Unbroken proud.  I really liked the way this turned out

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  • Coloring book cover — In a last ditch effort to flesh out the goody bag in an inexpensive way, I recreated the old DIY coloring book trick, and used the comic book pages as the cover with a Batman emblem on the front.  To be honest, I wasn’t totally happy with the way these turned out but they were pretty low on the totem pole so I just closed my eyes.
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(I know, it’s Superman but this is the only one I had left to take a picture of)

I of course included the obligatory black and yellow streamers.  I still have some of those comic book pages left over in my scrapbook paper box.  Some pictures are so cool I will probably never use them for a project.  When we put the house up for sale due to the actual bat in the house incident (an early party crasher?), I used some of the pictures to fill the collage frame in the boys room and cover up the family pictures.

Invitations — This was a lot of fun.  I saw online an invite made to look like a comic book cover, so I thought why not me?  I found some cityscape clip art in MS Word, and then pasted a picture of Big Bro is his Batman Halloween costume, with some comic book type captions in there.  I almost always do my invites postcard style, so I pasted the invite onto yellow card stock. Done.

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Games

Clothespin Batman Zipline Game

I started by thinking, “what would Batman do?”  Somehow I couldn’t get the idea of  a zipline out of my head.  Clearly a real zipline was totally unsafe and out of the question (but how cool would that be??), but I got the idea of creating zip lines out of fishing wire so the kids could race a clothespin Batman to the top of a building.  I now, it sounds crazy and like where the hell do you come up with that idea, but I was SO inspired.

First I bought wooden clothespins.  In retrospect plastic may have worked better for slide-ability but next zip line I guess.  I painted them black and then cut out two halves of a Bat cape in black felt and glued them to the back of the clothespins so the hinge would still work.  Batmen done.  I then covered 4 diaper boxes in black trash bags, and then glued squares of yellow paper on the boxes so they looked like buildings.  On the day of the party, I drove stakes through the boxes to anchor them to the ground, and then attached fishing wire from the stake to the storage shed for each building.  Now at first the zipline worked, the Batmen were zooming down to Gotham no problem.  Then for some reason Batman got a little pouty like the spoiled rich boy he used to be (no offense Bruce Wayne) and had to be coaxed down the line.  In retrospect a little candle wax or WD-40 or graphite wouldn’t have been amiss, but I’m no engineer, I just come up with these half-baked ideas that sort of work.  Or I probably could have weighted the clothespins with a nickel or button or something.  It was a good concept, however.  And hey I thought of it therefore it is cool.

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Batman Beanbag Toss

The obligatory Beanbag Toss, now in its 3rd incarnation.  I painted the front of the still-kickin’ Mickey Mouse no wait Candy Corn Toss with a city scape with the hole cutouts being where the the bat signal should be.  It’s a little hard to explain so here’s a picture:

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Felt Batman Capes

I used craft felt to make (virtually) no-sew capes.  I bought enough felt to make 10 18×24 capes.  I cut a pattern based off of some Google research and the actual cape was basically done once I cut them all out.  I cut some yellow felt ovals (and some strong and powerful hot pink ovals for the girls), and then 10 Batman emblems.  I layered them and sewed them down, but it didn’t take a lot of time.  The Bat emblems I sewed down in kind of a asterisk shape, not around the edges to save time.  If I had it to do over I made would have used micro fleece or something not as scratchy as felt, but since it was August I thought that might be a bit cruel to the kids.  The picture’s not great but you get the idea.  Maybe.

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Goody Bags

Returning to my go to goody bag, the large brown lunch bag (which curiously enough I don’t think I have ever used for lunch), I painted the front to resemble Batman’s torso, and added some cardstock cutouts for the belt and Bat symbol.  I then filled the bag with the coloring book mentioned above, a Batwatch made out of some black ribbon I had leftover from a pillow purchase that was just waiting to be used.  I added some sticky back velcro to the end of a section of ribbon, which I measured way too big for Big Bro’s wrist, and added a Bat symbol cutout laminated with clear contact paper.  It sounds better than it turned out, I only wish I had cut the ribbon a little shorter to fit in the wrist better.   The cape also qualified as a goody bag item.

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Cake — I went to the store intending this time to just get a Batman cake.  Which they did not design.  I decided to decorate a plain store-bought cake, using the old crushed up Oreo trick I used for Big Bro’s Cars cake, figuring I could handle a simple bat outline.  Theoretically, this should have worked and ultimately did but not without raising my blood pressure.    For starters, the poor kid at the store had no idea what I was talking about.  I asked for a plain cake iced yellow.  He asked if I wanted any decoration on it and I made the mistake of saying nothing on top but you can make the rest look pretty.  He took that to mean girly pretty and I said no this is for a boy, so boy-pretty.  I walked away worried.  The actual cake decorator called me the next day and I explained what I wanted to do and the theme I was going for and between the two of us I got a yellow cake with a gray trim, with Happy Birthday written at the top.  Perfect.   I threw some Oreos in my mouth for quality audit purposes, and then threw some more in the food processor and crushed them up fine.  I took a Batman outline in waxed paper and etched the outline into the top of the cake, then scooped away the frosting to leave a 1/4 to 1/2 inch depression in the frosting.  I filled a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off with the Oreo crumbs, and then very carefully tried to fill in the silhouette.  I intended to practically draw the Oreos on there. but that so did not happen.  I ended up taking a toothpick to push and smooth the crumbs inside the outline, and this was quite tricky on all the right angles and corners. Plus I almost spilled some crumbs which would ruin the outline. It turned out very very well, but I will never do that again without more frosting to pipe around the edges of the Oreo crumbs.  Something I didn’t think of before.

 

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At the end of the day Big Bro was most pleased with his party.  The zipline idea, even though it didn’t work as planned, was a great moment, the outer limits on my imagination.  Even sitting there at my desk I said to myself “Fool you are bat crap crazy for thinking this s*#t up.”

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