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.

 

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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 to Dave 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 he knows me well enough to not even ask, shake his head and say “WTF?  Now?” to himself.  Hasn’t divorced me yet, folks!

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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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Mickey Mouse Birthday party; or a fool-proof toddler party.

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Lately, I have occasionally felt like my soul is in danger of shriveling up.  The job (the one that pays money, not my mom job which pays in sweet smiles and horrific messes around the toilet but not in it) is kind of kicking my ass and sucking the sparkle out of me.  I mean look at me.  Two days I still can’t think up a clever pun incorporating ‘mouse’  ‘disney’, or ‘fool’ for the title.  Are my crafty powers in danger?  I’m starting to get worried.  That can only mean one thing.  I need to craft, and craft hard. And then blog about it.

But I have no time to craft on that scale at the moment.  I can blog, but I can’t craft right now.  Fortunately, I have a birthday party in my back pocket.  I am so worn out inside I would need to plan a craftastic state dinner to cheer myself up.  So to remind myself of happier crafty times, I’m taking myself back to the happiest place on earth, and the Great Rat himself who presides over it, Mickey Mouse.  At one time Lil’ Bro was all about Mickey Mouse, and so his birthday skewed towards that theme.  We had already tried to go to Disneyland when he was 14 months old.  It was an unmitigated disaster — I swear he set out to ruin that trip.  Screaming, vomiting, crying and keeping everyone awake.  It was horrific.  So this time we decided to save our money, keep it local, and then craft the hell out of it.

Invite:  After my usual over-research of Google, my brain was prepped.  I am not going to show the invite because quite frankly I over designed it.  But I came up with my color palette: black, red, yellow and white.  Oh OK, just you can see it is possible to be over-crafty . . .  It was that stupid MM ribbon that I had left over.  I was determined to use it.  Sometimes frugal just overpowers crafty, so strong is it.  Yeah, that’s it, it was the ribbon’s fault.  Anyway, I’m just prolonging the moment:

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Decorations:  In addition to the obligatory and already on-hand black red and yellow streamers leftover from a Cars party, I added a few details:

  • Mickey Mouse paper chain:  It all started with the Mickey Mouse paper chain, which was basically a paper chain with little MM ears attached to it. The ears were cut on a piece of construction paper with the top on a fold, and little tabs on the bottom to fold over the width of the paper chain.  So it formed kind of a triangle, much like the Yoda ears and shark fins from previous pirate and Star Wars parties.  This was only for the black rings.  Yeah I got tired of cutting ears and made what I call an artistic decision but it was actually a worn out Mommy decision “Aw hell it’s 11:00 and I’m sick of cutting little tiny circles.  Umm, how about just the black ones?  yeah, that’s the ticket!”

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  • Mickey Mouse globes:  I used the same premise with the ears, plus the old “sphere made of out strips of paper” to make some Mickey Mouse paper globes.  These I was quite proud  of because I did not see them anywhere on the internet.  They are probably there, but I like to tell myself it was original.   I cut four strips of paper about 1 inch wide, and made two crosses with tape.  I made an asterisk out of them and taped the bottoms of the two crosses together, and did the same with the top.  I then attached ears.  Finally, when I was ready to hang them I used fishing wire, and hung them from the chandelier, entryway lamp, and patio table umbrella.  I made black, red, and yellow globes.  You can see another “executive decision” mouse with red globe and black ears — must have been another long night for Mommy.

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Goody bags:  

I was also quite proud of the goody bags I made.  They were inspired, if I do say so myself.  I made a template of a Mickey Mouse hat.  Using an ordinary brown paper bag, I rounded the top to match the template.  I cut a whole hat and ears out of black card stock and glued it to the bag.  With all this (wonderful) crap at the top of the bag, I tried to figure how the little Mouseketeers were going to carry it, because they couldn’t roll it.  So I decided to cut out a handle in the top.  On the front of the bag, I cut out a red rectangle to represent Mickey’s pants, and of course added white buttons.    I also printed out each child’s name in yellow to mimic the embroidery you get on a hat.  Boom — a goody bag.  I still love the hell out of these.

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Goodies:  Mickey Mouse Rice Krispy treats; DIY Coloring book

  • Mickey Treats:  Using a Mickey Mouse cookie cutter, I cut out Mickey Mouse Rice Krispy treats and bagged them in ziploc bags.  I covered the zip part with a folded card stock strip of paper, with some accidental extra prints of the kid’s names left over from the goody bags.  I also included MM bubbles and stickers.

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  • Mickey Mouse Coloring Books:  The treats, bubbles, and stickers seemed a little skimpy, so I printed out some MM coloring sheets and made little coloring books with construction paper covers.  They looked really plain on the front so using the MM cookie cutter I traced some MMs on black and red polka dot scrapbook paper and pasted them on the front.  I also covered the stapled spine with masking tape, which I kind of liked the look of, almost like a bound book.

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Games

  • Cardboard Blocks:  since Lil’ Bro was 2 at the time, there was no sense in making a big deal about the games — free play was the name of the game.  I knew he liked to play with blocks, so I covered some boxes with brown craft paper and added MM Clubhouse clipart I printed and cut out.    These were just huge boxes the kids could stack and of course knock over.  Why do they do this?  If it keeps them occupied who cares, but it’s so bewildering to painstakingly build something only to destroy it.  Word of caution — when the blocks are knocked over, make sure there’s no one on the other side.  We have a great action shot of Big Bro shoving boxes in his best friend’s face, and she looks most displeased, surprised, and . . . cringe-y.  Anyway, I also laid out some craft paper for them to draw on, and they played at the new water and sand table we got for Lil’ Bro.

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  • Mickey Toss:  The title sounds like we tossed Mickey, but I think that would have traumatized the kids.  “Who’s ready for slingshot Mickey, kids?  Two points if he clears the cedar tree!”  I used the box from the Candy Corn Toss.  I simply added a sheet of brown craft paper to the front with holes cut out in the right places, and drew MM ears to the outside of the holes.  I glued glove, pants, and shoe clip art randomly on the front.  Done.  Lil’ Bro loves this game, even though he stands about 6 inches away from the boxes and places the bean bag in the hole instead of throwing it.

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Cupcakes

To be honest, I don’t recall what I served to eat.  It was probably hot dogs to go with the “Hot Dog Song” on the MM Clubhouse show.  However, Lil’ Bro is allergic to many things and has never taken to hot dogs.  Or to be truthful, there are a number of things in the gallery of world cuisine that he could eat but won’t.  Yeah he takes “picky toddler” to a new level.  So I could serve anything I wanted, which is probably why I forgot.

However, with the cupcakes I made simple white and chocolate cupcakes and frosted them with white frosting.  Using black candy melts, I put the melted candy in a squeeze bottle, which to be honest didn’t work all that well after the first 30 squirts (there may have been a black candy melt explosion out of the lid of the bottle).  I made MM silhouettes out of black candy melts on waxed paper, then put the paper in the freezer.  I kept the ears in the freezer until the day of the party and then placed them on the cupcakes.  Mickey Mouse cupcakes, done.  If you can draw circles, you can do this.

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For a two-year old’s birthday party, this was just about right-size.  Not too much fuss, and just enough details to satisfy a crafting fool like myself.  And just look how cozy this little guy is afterwards with one of his presents:

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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.

Pirate Birthday Party; or, thar be no fool’s gold here, only doubloons — savvy?

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Lil’Bro doing the Captain Morgan at cake time

Prior to the Star Wars Birthday Party, there was an easier birthday party to plan.  Aye, me hearties, ’twas a pirate birthday parrrty.  Why was it easier?  If it’s okay that everything looks rustic and requires a great deal of brown craft paper and red paint that you already have in abundance, it’s easier than a Star Wars party.  This was actually a Jake and the Neverland Pirates party for 3 year olds, but why limit yourself to one Disney show when there is such  large pirate universe to explore?

Cardboard Box Pirate Ship

It all started with a box.  Again, that pesky bat in the spare bedroom that caused me to want to sell the house was the reason why I had so many boxes sitting in the garage.  In the midst of searching the internet to get pirate ideas, I came across this post for a cardboard box pirate ship.  It was on like Donkey Kong then — “Well I already got me some boxes cluttering the garage!”  This was the point when Dave knew I had lost my mind, when I started dragging huge boxes in the house and tried to say very nonchalantly, “Oh, I’m just building a pirate ship.  Well actually two.  No biggie.”  Batten down yer hatches, me darlin’ husband.

Using the inspiration from the post, I took a microwave appliance box (yes!  The very same box that later spawned the Star Wars styrofoam spaceship window!) and a wardrobe box (yes!  The very same box that later spawned the Millennium Falcon Wading Pool!) to create the stern of the ship and the bottom and sides.  I cut off one panel of the wardrobe box and used that piece to form the nose of the ship.  It was kind of scary how easy the frame came together.  After I completed the second one, I had to clean out the garage to make space in order to answer Dave’s very good question: “You made ’em — now where the hell are you going to put them?”

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I toyed with the idea of spray painting them, but it was gonna take a lot of spray paint and possibly convert me into a tagger or a huffer.  This caused me to toy with the idea of not painting it at all, but that un-perfectionist insanity was short lived.  Where did I turn?  To craft paper of course.  I measured the circumference of the ships and unrolled a length of paper a little bit longer than that.  I folded the paper lengthwise (quite a chore) about three times to get six rows.  Using brown acrylic paint, I painted lines on the folds, a simple step which took a lot longer than I imagined.  A very very thick Sharpie might have been quicker but then again maybe not.  Anyway at random intervals I painted vertical lines to resemble wooden planks on the sides of the ships.  Now here was one of those little steps that made me do the Happy Crafty Dance (It looks a little like the Cabbage Patch and the Elaine put together and it ain’t pretty).  To mimic the nails on the boards, I dipped a wine cork (thanks Jen for the selfless hours of wine drinking to create that cork collection!) in black paint and stamped away on the 4 corners of each board. Boom.  Nailed it.  I taped the paper to one end of the ships and wrapped it around the ship, and then folded it down over the edges.  After looking at the silhouette, I ended up adding two small packing boxes to the top of the stern (the helo deck my ex – Navy co-worker Chris called it, remembering that fine tradition of pirates and helicopters).  I wrapped those too and glued them to the ship.

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The ships were pretty much done.  A few weeks later I decided to add a porthole made out of blue and yellow paper, and a leaded glass window made to of blue paper and black electrical tape.  The last one did not stay on too well but it looked cool while it did.  I also found some blue striped wrapping paper to make sails — I ended up double siding them together to make them stffer, and printed out the Jake gold doubloon symbol to glue to it.  On the day of the party I took some spare moulding to make a mast and scuttled the ship (i.e. cut a slit in the bottom) to anchor the mast, and then taped it to the small packing boxes.  I hadn’t thought this part through beforehand and didn’t count on how the wind might actually catch the sail and kind of threaten to literally drop the boom on some poor kids, so I would advise further anchoring the mast in the ground or otherwise securing it better.  I made some cannon balls out of packing paper wrapped in small sections of black plastic trash bags, and invited the kids to have a battle between two ships, or try to sink the small “boats” I made out of leftover “wood siding” and diaper boxes.  Moms are never at a loss of small boxes while there are diapers in the house, heeyyyyyy.

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Roguish Decorations

Once I get a good idea going, the ideas just seem to keep on coming — my brain is like a hamster on a wheel sometimes.  I mean roll of brown craft paper, will craft.  I decided to make a birthday sign, table runner, and door sign that referenced a pirate map.  There was a great deal of cutting of gold doubloons printed from the Disney website, black sharpie treasure trails, and Disney character cut outs.  By the end, there were little bits of brown paper all over the house from weathering the sides to look like maps.

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I also took some scroll printer paper and created a useless but cute map of the house to show first time visitors where the bathrooms were, basically (or poop decks, and I didn’t even care if that is not what a poop deck is).

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Using more character cutouts, scrapbook paper, fishing wire, and some wooden pirate cutouts from Michael’s, I created some dangling centerpieces for the table.

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A totally inexpensive idea was the cutlery table.  I spray painted a wine box you get from the grocery store with a glossy red paint — it was a glossy surface so it took the paint well.  This was a utensil and napkin caddy.  I also happened to have a striped bedsheet which mimicked the ship sails, which i used as the table cloth.  Had it been slightly bigger I would have used it for the table.

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Treasure chest and Loot bags

I really had no need for a treasure chest but it was such a damn good inexpensive idea.  A styrofoam cooler chest, painted brown, and glued with more wooden pirate cutouts from Michaels.  If I could have lined it with velvet I would have, but I did take a scrap of brown pleather and some leftover upholstery nails to cover up the top of the chest.  I decided to use it to hold the loot bags, which were large brown lunch bags with a pirate map glued to the front.  I made telescopes out of cardboard paper towel tubes, the scraps of pleather, and yellow paint.  I also included gold chocolate coins, gold Rolo-nuggets, and colorful Hershey kisses to mimic jewels.  I also included cheap eyepatches, Jake bubbles, and Jake stickers (the girls got pink patches, and I tied those bags with pink string instead of twine like the others).   BIG hit, like a cannonball on a British frigate.

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Games

It has been my experience that corralling kids at a party for organized play is like herding cats, so I am a big believer in free play.  I set up a few stations:

Cardboard ships of course:  as explained above

Cork ships in a wading pool (yes!  The same wading pool that spawned the Millennium Falcon wading pool): At the last minute I decided to make a water station using a very clever cork ship idea.  My friend Jennifer came to my rescue with wine corks — I glued four together with two popsicle sticks for masts.  I cut pieces of craft foam for the sails.  I did test them beforehand and they floated fine, but at the party it was like Admiral Nelson and the British Navy beat the crap out of pirates — the ships fell apart.  I wish I had used the skewer and cork catamaran I tested before:

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Unfortunately I did not take any close up pictures of the pirate ships, but since they apparently weren’t seaworthy, just pretty, it doesn’t matter.

Walking the plank: My dear husband, after much prodding from me, made a simple plank from a 2×6 and some other wood scraps.  I added a blue sheet to mimic water and made some shark fins from black card stock in a triangular shape (much like the Yoda ears from the Star Wars birthday party) weighted down with stones.  You can see it in the background (barely) below:

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Food and Cupcakes

I made a pirate themed menu with little cards using the pirate map template and card stock.

  • Fish & Chips (Goldfish and potato chips)
  • Cannonballs and Peg-Legs (olives, carrot and celery sticks)
  • Guac the Plank (Guacamole and tortilla strips)
  • Fruity Booty (grapes, apples and pineapples)
  • Lemon Grog (lemonade), Apple Grog (apple juice), & Sea Water
  • Map-aroni and Cheese
  • Sea Dogs (hot dogs) — I had to look this up to make sure it wasn’t some obscene pirate reference but it’s Sir Walter Drakes’ crew.

Cupcakes were decorated with white frosting, mini chocolate chips to mimic a treasure trails, and strips of red licorice to make the X that marks the spot.  With some of the leftover batter I made a small cake for Lil’ Bro to blow out the candles, and decorated it basically the same way:

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That was our Pirate party — there was fun for every-booty!  Even the grandpas made fools of themselves:

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