Thursday, March 28, 2013

Egg Hunt: Decor and No-Crying Tips

The decor for this event was very straightforward.  Easter eggs are so colorful and bright and that really inspired everything.
I also tried to work in pops of Peeps.  I love the look of Peeps (the taste, not so much) - they are so iconic and graphic and colorful.  To bring in the Peeps, I served Peep kebabs, added a "Keep Calm and Peep On" framed sign, and made my fun peep garland.  Check out that tutorial here:  Peeps Garland Tips and Tricks and read on for a link to the food post.
I relied on the food table to serve as decor as well.  The key there was variety and height  See this post for specifics:  Egg Hunt Food

With the peep and pennants strung behind, I think it made a nice presentation.  I was going to try to hang some curtain panels behind everything, but it was just too windy.  Next time!

Geeky Crafty Tips for a No-Crying, No-Whining, All Fun Egg Hunt

I love taking my kids to egg hunts, but I do not love scooping up puddles of crying kids because they only found 3 eggs and the older kids got 15.  In fact, I remember BEING that puddle kid, sobbing piteously because I would spot an egg and run for it, but a big kid would beat me to it.  That is no fun for anyone.  I will not have that at my egg hunt.  I will not HAVE it.

To even the playing field, I did 2 things...

Separate the little ones and the older kids
This idea came from an article on Kids Out and About:  KOAA Easter Egg Hunt Tips and Tricks.  (Check it out for other great tips as well.)  We put the hunt for the little ones in the front yard.  This allowed them to hunt without getting trampled by big kids as well as prevented them from climbing the slick rungs of our playscape and allowed the parents to keep an eye on them while socializing and snacking.  The big kids were in the back yard, which is bigger and provided more space for a more challenging hunt.  Because we separated them, we could really make it hard for the older kids.  I dislike it when egg hunts are over in about 2 minutes, so my husband REALLY HID those eggs.  The big kids were hunting for a good 15-20 minutes.  Victoire!
Customize the eggs for each kid
I designated a color for each child attending the hunt.  This required a little more work upfront and a disadvantage is that you do need a solid RSVP count to pull it off, but it was worth it.  It allowed me to control exactly how many eggs each kid got (i.e. they all got the same amount), ensured that all the eggs were found, and allowed me to customize the treats for each child.  For example, one kid has braces and can't eat gummy candy... no problem - all chocolate in his eggs.  Four kids with severe food allergies...  no problem, they get the candy that specifies that it's allergen-free.  I also tried to mix it up and have some eggs with candy and some with toys.  Customizing the eggs ensured that girly girls got the eggs with hair clips, less girly girls got eggs with stickers and bouncy balls, boys got the eggs with race cars, girls who like race cars got an egg with race cars... you get the idea.  It worked out beautifully. 

Tips for Next Year
The hardest part was getting enough egg colors, but even that wasn't too bad.  Target has a nice variety of colors and because I had hunts in front and back yards, I could use the same colors in those hunts.  Next time, I will get some eggs with designs as well to increase my options.
I was initially going to just TELL each kid their egg color, but after I realized that it might be a challenge for a bunch of kids to distinguish between wedgewood blue and cornflower blue or spring green and lime green in the heat of the hunt, I ended up giving each kid an empty egg in their color to start with.  Instead of making a master list, I just put some tape with the kid's name on the sample egg.  Easy peasy.
I had stocked up on eggs last year in the after-Easter sales, which not only saved my a ton of money, but it also forced me to actually do the hunt (I've wanted to do this for years, but never got around to it.).  When I buy my eggs for next year, I will look for bigger eggs this time.  It was hard to find non-candy treats small enough to fit in the standard-size eggs.  And regarding toys in eggs, I was very careful to only put in things that were obviously not edible.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Egg Hunt: Food

Our first neighborhood egg hunt was very successful despite the snow.  (Our apologies to the kid looking for the white eggs.  Oops.)  We got lots of compliments on the idea and how it brought everyone together to spend time with one another and chat.  I've always wanted to live in one of those neighborhoods where people hang out together all the time.  This isn't that neighborhood YET, but I've realized that I can help to make it happen if I want to.  Be the change you want to see in your neighborhood, one party at a time.  That's a direct quote from Gandhi, people.*

*OK, maybe I tweaked it a bit, but I think that Gandhi would have loved a good block party.

Anyhoo, here's what I made...  and please disregard the unsightly siding on my house.  Superstorm Sandy did a number on it and it's been too cold to repaint.  We are getting vinyl this summer, hopefully!


This was so much fun and I was very proud of my little economies.  I tried to get variety by using some of the same ingredients in different ways.  For example...

... I used one box of cake mix to make both cupcakes and cake pops.  Cupcakes are topped with homemade buttercream (you can make a delicious ton with just 2 sticks of butter, some powdered sugar, and a splash of milk - it's super easy and you will get mad props from your peeps for making homemade frosting) and both cakes and pops use sprinkles from the dollar section at Target.  Link to printables is posted below.

... and I used a bag of Oreos to make both Oreo truffles and Oreo pops, also topped with $1 sprinkles.
I love them on the bed of Easter M&M's - so colorful and who doesn't love edible decor?  By the way, the glass tray was a thrift store find for $2.00.  It's actually a candle plate.  I bought it because it's very shallow and therefore wouldn't require a ton of filler. 
I used my old standby of marshmallows to fill things out a bit for a buck.

Plus I found a bag of cotton candy at the Dollar Tree and that filled a bowl nicely, also for a buck.  Incidentally, the candy jar here and the fishbowl holding the Bunny Tails are also thrift store finds.
I wanted some height and whimsy and more peeps, so I skewered some chicks on kebab sticks mounted in a styrofoam ball.  Iridescent Easter grass from the Dollar Tree was a great, cheap bucket filler.  I added height with a sturdy box covered in Dollar Tree wrapping paper and a sheet of scrapbooking paper.

I wanted to mix it up and have some things that weren't too sweet as well.  Baked Cheetos and Veggie Straws fit the bill and went over well.  I lined the basket and tin with waxed paper to 1) avoid grease stains on the cloth basket liner and 2) ensure that nothing harmful leached from the tin into the food since I wasn't absolutely certain if it was food-safe.

My most time-intensive treat was my parfaits in a jar.  I loved the spoons tied to the jar with the same yarn used for the pennants.  It was very practical because I didn't have to put out a separate container for utensils.  Check out this post for details on how I made this treat:  Parfaits in a Jar  They were a big hit.  I did notice that people were taking them home rather than eating them there, so if you make them yourself, be prepared to bid your jars adieu.  The cake pedestal that holds them was an after-Easter-sale purchase at Target a few years ago.
For drinks, a big jug of water and a tin bucket full of Orangina.  And a pretty jar of colorful straws.  I know that plastic straws are soooo passe, but I like the vibrancy of the colors here.  And I liked the price as well - $1 at Target.
I used a great set of free printables found on Catch My Party, designed by Autumn Leah Designs for the cupcake toppers and food signs:  Chick Printables

The "Keep Calm and Peep On" free printable was found here:  Peep On  It wasn't quite 8x10, so I trimmed it and mounted on cardstock to fill it out.  I popped the whole thing into a frame from Ollie's.  I use this frame for a rotating series of seasonal art.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Parfaits in a Jar, Cake Crumble Tips and a Tasty Mousse Mix

A coworker was kind enough to give me 8 of these adorable jars.  Walmart sells sliced peaches and pears in them.  I just think that they are the cutest little things and wanted to find a way to use them on my food table.  And then it hit me - parfaits in a jar.  Perfect!
I spent some time Goo Gone-ing the label stickies and I used a Magic Eraser to scrub of the inked lot/expiry info - it worked like, well, magic.  The good people at Mr. Clean don't lie.
I washed everything well and then painted the lids with 2 coats of brown acrylic paint (because I have a lot of brown for some reason).  The base coat color is irrelevant and only serves to cut down on the number of coats of chalkboard paint I needed to use.  Chalkboard paint is more expensive so I always try to get by with one coat.

I filled the jars with alternating layers of chocolate cake crumbs, chocolate chips, and chocolate mousse.  Here's my super-frugal, efficient tip for those cake crumbs.  Whenever I make a cake that involves trimming it or say I make 2 cakes from a box mix and I only need one, I don't toss the extra bits - I throw them into a zipper bag in the freezer.  This way, I always have cake on hand for dishes that don't need a full cake recipe, like a trifle or a parfait.  Try it! 
Now, regarding the mousse...  I have made chocolate mousse from scratch before.  The first time was a huge fail (because I grabbed half and half instead of heavy cream - oops!) and I ended up with chocolate soup.  But now that I think about it, I recovered gracefully by heating up the soup and BAM - it became the best hot chocolate ever, so I'm changing that to a win.  Life gives you lemonades, people.*  My second go-round with mousse was a bit more successful, but required more time that I had last week, so I bought one of those box mousse mixes near the pudding and Jello mixes.  It was actually very good.  Oetker Dark Chocolate Truffle Mousse  I recommend it if you are in a pinch.
So, back to details.  The parfaits were prepped, lids were applied to jars, "Parfait" was written on said lids in chalk, and the whole shebang was finished off by tying on purple spoons with multicolored yarn.  I wanted baker's twine, but it wasn't in the cards, and yarn worked just as well.
I grouped the jars - 4 at a time - on a cake pedestal.  I had to put out the other 4 jars like 5 minutes into the party because they were a huge hit.  I did notice that people were taking them home, so if you do this, be prepared for your jars to walk.  I'm cool with it, though.  My coworker really likes sliced pears.

*I have a friend whose husband always thought that the quote was "life gives you lemonades" instead of "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" and I think that is the cutest, most uplifting story.  I love positive people and I strive to be more like that.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Peeps Garland Tips and Tricks

We just had our first neighborhood egg hunt yesterday and it went very well in spite of being ridiculously cold.  (Nothing like hunting for eggs in the snow.  Oh Spring, you foul temptress, changeable vixen... why dost thou tempt us with splendiferous sunshine only to snatch it away when outdoor events have been planned and evites sent?  Why?  WHY?)  I'll be posting more details later, but for now, here's my Peep garland, which was the inspiration for the whole event.  (Does anyone else throw parties purely to give them a reason to make something they saw on Pinterest?)
I ended up needing 2 boxes of yellow bunny peeps for this.  The first step is to open them up and separate them.  The separation points are quite unsightly, so if I do this again, I will have yellow sanding sugar on hand to patch them up.
After separating them, leave them open for a few days and let them go a little stale before trying to work with them.  It helps the needle to go through if they are a little stiff. 
So after a few days in the open, thread a large needle with at least 2 strands of embroidery floss.  I used yellow in the same color.  Now that I think about it, it might be fun to try it with fishing line so they look like they are floating in the air - maybe next year!  Push the needle through both ears and  pull the thread until about 12 inches from the end.  This is your allowance for hanging to garland. 
 Make a double knot with the tail end and another double knot just past the 2nd ear.  This will help to keep the string in place until the innards adhere to the thread and immobilize it.  More on that later.  Repeat this process, spacing the next bunny a few inches away from the first. 
Do this until all the bunnies are threaded.  Leave another 12 inch tail to allow for suspending that end.  Now, let the whole thing sit undisturbed for at least a week.  This will allow the peeps to harden even more and it will allow the interior marshmallow stickiness to adhere to the thread so that when you hang the garland, the peeps stay in place.
Things that I learned...
These things drop A LOT of sugar.  I mean A LOT!  If you can work on this outside, do.  If you can't, try to work over a tray or something. 
This is not the craft for you if you can't deal with sticky fingers.  You will be a gooey mess.
This is harder than it looks, especially the knotting part.  The first few are OK, but as your hands get stickier and the string gets stickier from multiple passes through the bunny innards, the string starts to get tanglier and your hands get clumsier and it can get frustrating.  You may want to do several shorter strands and just tie them together.
But even with that said, the end product was totally worth it.  It was fun, bright, cheap, and a great focal point for my food table, especially when paired with some quick felt and yarn pennants that I made as well.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Easter Fabric Flower and Carrot Centerpiece

On Saturday, we will host our 1st ever Easter Egg Hunt for neighborhood kids and friends.  I'm very excited about it and have been busily filling eggs, assembling supplies, and making some decorations to add to the fun.  Today I'm sharing a play on a flower arrangement that I made using some basement finds.

The vase was from a flower arrangement that my husband sent me a few months ago.  The flowers were amazing, the sentiment was touching, and the vase was WOW.  I just loved the color, the shape, everything.  What's nice about it beyond all that is that it's SUBSTANTIAL, but the opening is narrow, so you don't need a ton to fill it up and have it look full and stay upright.

I tossed in a few chunks of Styrofoam to serve as a base.  I then turned my attention to the fillers.  While unpacking my Easter decorations, I found a little baggie filled with fabric carrots and flowers that my mom had made.  She was making one of those cloth baby books where you have numbers to match, buttons to do, zippers to zip, etc.  She didn't like the way her carrots had turned out, so she started over and gave me the rejects.  I had planned to make a garland, but hadn't gotten around to it.  Anyway, with a little hot glue and some bamboo skewers...

... I ended up with this.

I really like how it's a fun play on a floral centerpiece.  I also like how it was free.  I like that part a lot.
It will look great (I hope hope hope) on my treats table.  Lots of height and visual interest.  And did I mention that it was free?

Skylanders Party Planning - Part 2, Elixir Inspiration, Portal Punch, and Archery Targets (in progress)

The planning continues for the Skylanders Party, albeit slooooowly.  (My attention has been focused on our upcoming neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt.  More on that later...)  But I have had some cool finds and ideas that I'd like to share.  Firstly, while enjoying a nice bottle of Orangina, it occurred to me...

 ...that an Orangina bottle sure does look a lot like the Healing Elixir bottles found in the game.

Emptied of Orangina, labels removed, and filled with blue liquid (dyed water, Kool Aid?  Do kids still drink Kool Aid these days?  Will I be shunned by the other mothers for serving dyed sugar water?) with an ankh sticker slapped on the front - this is going to look amazing!  It will be a sacrifice to have to drink 16 bottles of delicious, sweet Organina, but I will do it.  Because I love my son THAT much.  Hold your applause.

Next, my son recently accumulated enough stars for good behavior to earn Spyro's Adventure.  While looking at the Portal of Power in action, I realized that it cycles through different colors...

...which you can NOT see in this picture, but trust me.  It does.  You know what else cycles through different colors AND we have at least 4 of in our basement?  The color-changing lights we put in our Halloween pumpkins.

Color Changing Pumpkin Light

I'm going to try to mount my punch bowl over the pumpkin light and have the colors illuminate the punch.  I'm thinking that a sherbet punch might be the right mix of cloudy and translucent and will allow the light to shine through in the same milky, mystical manner as the portal.  I will also try to fashion a cardboard surround painted to look like the portal and wrap the whole contraption.

I also started construction on some archery targets.  I found huge sheets of cardboard at BJ's (they put out little boxes all the time, but they do have big sheets of cardboard in the back - just ask) and did the pushpin-with-string-tied-to-a-pencil trick to get nice big concentric circles.  I have 4 cut out and will start painting soon.

It doesn't look like much YET, but wait until I paint it!  Then it will have STRIPES!  In ALTERNATING COLORS!!  Boom.  Amazing.  (OK, fine.  It will be like any other archery target you've ever seen, but I worked so hard cutting 4 of these bad boys out that I felt they deserved a mention...  and...  OK, fine.  So I only cut out 2 and I made my husband cut out the rest.  But in my defense, it was REALLY HARD cardboard.  BJ's cardboard is legit.  It don't play.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

DIY Clearance Aisle / Donation Salvage Chalkboard

So I found this picture at Marshall's on Clearance a few years ago for $2.00.  It depicted 3 French-looking chefs holding a variety of foods and the image was mounted on a black and white checkerboard background.  It was an odd little picture, but it actually worked really well in our old black and white kitchen.  When we moved into our new house, we now had a grapevine kitchen and the picture no longer fit, so I tossed it in the To-Be-Donated box and forgot about it.  Fast-forward to a few months later, when I realized that I really, really wanted a chalkboard in the kitchen to list daily reminders for the kids.  I decided to make my own and packed up the car to drop some stuff at the Goodwill before shopping there for a suitable frame that I could repurpose into said chalkboard.  And there it was in my box - the weird French chefs.  SCORE!  It was just the right size and shape to become a chalkboard.
I painted over the chefs with gray Martha Stewart chalkboard paint from Michael's (coupon!).  Once that was done (3 coats), I painted the background with a little of our leftover green living room paint and then glossed it up with some antique bronze glaze.  Not bad for free!
My lesson from this - shop in your house first.  You might have the perfect thing languishing in your basement or garage, waiting to be transformed into something fresh and new! 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Paris Party - Art, Fashion, and Cuisine

For my daughter's 9th birthday, we came up with a Paris in Pearls theme because we love all things French and pearls are her favorite.  We decided to focus on fashion, art, and cuisine to reflect the theme.
For Fashion, we created a beret-bar.  I made berets out of fleece (no hemming required and unlike felt, it stretches so fit was easy) for each attendee.  I used a tutorial for a Super Mario hat, but just omitted the brim.  I can't find the tutorial now, but I will try to recreate it in a later post if I can.  I deliberately made them all in ivory so there would be no fighting over colors.  I also made a bajillon pins using pin backing from the craft store (use a coupon!) and  fabric rosettes, beads, pearls, rhinestones, silk flowers, whatever I could find that was cheap and fit the vintage-y color scheme. 
The girls could decorate their berets by selecting items from the beret-bar.  We also provided lots of long pearl necklaces and I made a ton of bracelets using stretch magic and stringing beads and pearls.  I threw a few silk flowers glued to ribbons in there as well.  After adorning themselves, the girls could don sunglasses and pose with French thought bubbles in our makeshift photobooth.
Art was the biggest part of the day.  I really wanted the girls to be able to paint, but knew that I didn't have the table space for all of them and couldn't possibly afford 12 easels.  My solution?  I took to the trees!  I tossed a heavy roll of florist ribbon over a branch, cut off the roll, and stapled both ribbon ends to the back of the canvas.  I then repeated this process to suspend a canvas for every girl. 
Covered with a thrift store lace tablecloth, the picnic table made a great area to hold long paint brushes (bought in assorted packs with a coupon at Joann's) in galvanized tin buckets from the thrift store, repurposed mason jars filled with water, a crate of acrylic paints, and little painting palettes bought on clearance at Michael's.  Those were a huge hit. 
My suspended canvases worked out so well and I loved how it served as activity, favor, and decor in one.  One of the mothers gasped when she saw it and said "It's so magical!"  That was one of my proudest party moments!  Bonus - the paintings dried so quickly as they swayed in the breeze.  AND we were able to just snip the ribbons and send them home with short lengths still attached so that the girls could use the ribbons to hang them at home. 
Cuisine was easy - we served brie and Camembert, mini croissants and quiches from BJ's, chocolate mousse, and they sampled Orangina (big hit) and Perrier (big loser).  We also had fruits and veggies and everything had a label with the food item in French and English.  I had also made French-English phrases sheets with phonetic pronunciations - which I forgot to pass out - oops, so I included them in the thank you notes.  We made French cookies (madeleines) and passed those out as favors for departing guests.  And the cake was my very easy and very beautiful Rose Cake, with edible pearls of course -see post here:  Cake Fails and Triumphs