Friday, September 20, 2013

Tween Teal Room Remodel

My daughter had a big birthday this year - 10!  And that called for a big birthday gift.  We converted her pretty, pretty princess pink room into a room more reflective of her current tween tastes.  Since she loves all things peacock, we went with a palette of aqua and teal with pops of green and purple.

I also wanted to use this opportunity to improve the functionality of her room, so that meant making a few frugal changes in her furniture.  I didn't want to spend a lot of money on this, so I tried to modify what we all ready had or rely on thrifted and discount finds as much as possible. I'm so happy with the outcome.  Take a look...

We took her walls from pale pink to cool aqua.  I agonized over the color choice.  Too dark and it could have been depressing.  Too light and it could feel cold.  I ended up finding just the right color from Behr at Home Depot.  I always seem to end up picking Behr - something about the saturation and clarity of their colors just feels right to me.  We kept the high white shelves in place - they are so useful for displaying pictures and knickknacks while keeping lower surfaces less cluttered.  The area under her bed is useful for extra storage.  I found some great bins at Michaels to corral nail polish and doll clothes (and does that not say it all about being a tween - halfway between little girl and young woman - sniffle sniffle...) as well as stuff she doesn't need to access daily, like her gear and bathing suits for synchronized swimming.

We modified the arrangement of the room slightly by moving the bed away from the wall and giving her a good sized nightstand with lots of storage.  She is a big reader and needed a place to keep her stack of books and collection of bookmarks.  The nightstand was originally in the guest room and I thought it would be a good fit for her.  I painted it white with green in the cubby and did a harlequin pattern on top using painters tape to help form the design.  That lamp was originally hers, but it is now sporting a deep purple shade - a Goodwill find courtesy of my mommy.

Above the nightstand is a piece of custom art that I created from a thrifted frame.  It was originally a pale peach frame with a colonial blue matting surrounding a poem extolling the virtues of grandmothers.  I snapped it up because I liked the oval shape and that it had a mat all ready.  Once I got it home, I cleaned it up, primed it, and spray painted the frame lime.  For the mat, I painted right over that bad boy with acrylic paint and then slapped on a top coat of glitter for good measure.  I then went to and fiddled around until I created something that would fit.  My tween is really into synchronized swimming, so I populated the wordle with terms from the sync rho world.  I was so pleased with how it turned out.  All told, it cost $2 and took less than a hour of active work time.

Hanging from the window is a ribbon chandelier that I made from lots of ribbon and a small embroidery hoop.  The curtains were a close-out find at Ollie's - sheer white with aqua polka dots.  Only $5 a panel!

Her desk resides on the other side of the bed.  With a few modifications to the area, it's a little more functional now.  I covered her original French memo board with a pretty piece of calico that I found at Walmart.  Where the sheer lavender ribbon is stapled to the board, I hot glued iridescent rhinestones.  The pegs holding buckets were originally in our nursery (AGAIN with the sniffling).  I repainted them aqua and wasn't happy with the aqua on aqua look, so I tried to put a opalescent top coat on one to see if I liked it.  I'm still not sure how that will end up - I may just scrap aqua and go purple with those.  On the other side of the memo board are fabric-covered cork boards in pretty thrifted frames (only one is up in this picture, but eventually there will be two - the other one is aqua and as previously mentioned - aqua on aqua it too much aqua).  I'm a big fan of using walls for vertical storage to keep horizontal surfaces clear.  I hope that this helps her to keep her desktop clean and open and ready for work.

After I mounted all of the desk stuff, I found out that my hubby had bought a custom lattice-style memo board for the room at a craft festival.  He was so proud of himself because he NEVER buys decor (or anything really-  he is completely averse to shopping).  I'm thinking we might put that on her closet door since the desk area is full.  Funny story - the craft festival was in North Carolina - my inlaws live there - and when my husband inquired about the color choices, he was informed that (cue pretty southern accent), "his daughter might like this seafoam green and they also have a very nice Richard Petty blue."  Huh?  I've heard of a lot of varieties of names for different hues of blues, but never a "Richard Petty" blue.  Apparently that's a race car driver's signature color?  Can you tell we are not race car fans?  Does one call oneself a race car fan?

Moving to the other side of the room, we kept her 9 x 9 storage cube and swapped out the pink bins for blues, greens, and purple.  She originally had a 3-shelf bookshelf, which was woefully inadequate to hold all of her books, so we swapped it out for a tall bookcase.  We modpodged scrapbook paper onto the back of each shelf to give it some personality.  The books case is large enough to hold lots of books and her American Girl dolls.  Yay - they don't have to live on the floor any more!  I swagged the name banner that I made for her birthday party from curtain to curtain - it adds a nice touch.

Above the cube is a peacock painting we stumbled across at Ross - love it!  And for only $7!  Next to the 9 x 9 cube, we put her teal saucer chair and a little aqua storage ottoman - both from Target.  The ottoman is just big enough to hold a fleecy throw.  With a little lamp on the adjacent shelf, she now has a cozy reading nook to curl up in.

At right angles to the reading nook is her closet and then a little alcove just the right size for her dresser.  We mounted a thrift store mirror that was originally an awful pink and gold color - with a coat of glossy white spray paint, it's perfect in this space.  And then - the piece de resistance...  the custom accessory organizer.  It's made from a thrifted calendar holder.  I removed the back and sanded it down and then stapled chicken wire to the frame.  Next came a coat of primer and some lime spray paint, followed by affixing some cotton batting around the back to prevent the chicken wire from scratching the wall.  After that, I attached the lavender ribbon and screwed little cup hooks around the edge.  I am so happy with this piece.  It's fun and functional.  My tween can now see all of her accessories at a glance.  They are in one central location and are not occupying any horizontal space.  Clips are attached to a ribbon knotted through the wire.  Headbands are tucked into the wire openings.  Necklaces and bracelets dangle from the hooks.  Tiny items are corralled into a hanging bucket.  And pony tail elastics are color coded and loaded onto shower curtain rings suspended from hooks.  This project was worth every ounce of sweat.  If I ever make one again, I will remember that it's easier to snip chicken wire with scissors than wire cutters and it's easier to install screw hooks if you drill a little hole 1st (yes, I am that clueless about hardware) and I will try to find a frame with wider edges so there is more space for stapling.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Skylanders Party Planning - Part 7, THE PARTY!

At long last – I present to you... the summary of our Skylanders party. 

Yes, it has been over two months since said party took place, but better late than never, eh?

The activities went over really well.  The kids loved moving from station to station and acquiring crystals and gems to fill their customized pouches (tutorials on how to sew them and stencil them with fabric paint here).

The archery targets looked great and the flame arrows were really fun as well. 

Next time I would trim the flames down a bit to make it easier to nock the arrows.

The treasure hunt to find the treasure rocks went well.  And I was really pleased with how the treasure rocks turned out.  I used this tutorial:  Treasure Rocks.

The kids loved the ice orb smash and the tongue grabber game.

The wall of streamers was meh.  I ran out of time and wasn't able to put up as much as I wanted.  If it had been finished, I think it would have been fab.  Even incomplete, it added a nice pop to the yard.

I was very pleased with the rest of the d├ęcor. 

Streamers behind the food table provided a colorful focal point.

I was happy with my goofy centerpieces.  I used my elixir bottles and filled them with colorful beads for ballast.

I have to say that tissue tassels are definitely my new favorite thing.  After the party, I snipped the tassels off of the string, sorted by color, strung them on pipe cleaners, and hung them in the craft room to use for another time.
Sadly, the portal punch was a fail – I forgot that the pumpkin lights really only work in the dark.  Boo.  But the punch was good and the portal cardboard surround I made had a strong presence on the table.

We had too much food, as usual, but I don’t care – I love having the variety available.  Pizza, chips, water melon, and pineapple for lunch. 

The sweets table turned out really well, although we did end up moving it indoors to escape the oppressive humidity and voracious mosquitoes.  We made marshmallow pops dipped in pop rocks.  I displayed them in a diner-style shaker filled with pom-poms.

We also had chocolate dipped pretzels, a mini-cake with a simple buttercream stripe pattern topped with the logo on strwas, cupcakes with character and logo toppers, and my personal favorite - the Chompie Truffles.  I thought the red fangs made from candy cane jimmies (sorry – showing my Delaware roots – jimmies are sprinkles) were fun.

I was also excited to serve pre-scooped ice cream.  I bought mini-mason jars and put a scoop of vanilla bean in each the night before.  It was so easy to pull them out and stack them up on the sweets table.  I have a thing about sticky hands and drippy sticky containers, so I will be doing this from now on.  This little step easily reduced my stress level by several clicks.

For favors, we gave out silver take-out treat boxes.

They were filled with the same red and gold cello used for the flame arrows, which was very frugal of me, I think.

Inside we put:
Trigger Happy Chocolate Coins

Double Trouble Gumball Orbs (still leftover from Easter - will we never be done with these freaking gumballs?!?)

 Pop Fizz Pop Rocks (Dollar Tree)

 Zap's Sea Slime (Target Dollar Section)

 And Hex's Bone Erasers (no pic of those, unfortunately.  They were in the Target Dollar section with the grilling-themed stuff.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Go WEST!!!

So... I've been a bit remiss with the blog lately.  I can explain - you see, I've been really, really freaking busy.  Between birthday parties and a long trip out west and a room remodel and renovations on the house, plus all the regular stuff like laundry, cleaning, and making sure everyone gets fed and loved, oh, and being a full-time scientist leading a major testing effort as well, yeah, I've been a bit busy.  I'm finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, thankfully, and I'm eager to get back to the blog and share some stuff.  First up - some of my fave crafty things spotted on our trip. 

We spent a little over 2 weeks tooling around the great American West (Arizona, New Mexico, a teeny bit of Texas, Colordao, Utah, and a teenier bit of Idaho), and let me tell you - it was splendiferous.  And BIG - holy cow, was it big.  Coming from the East Coat where you can hit most of the states in a single day, it was shocking to drive across those massive states for hours and still be miles away from anything.  And it was also really, really hot.  And you know how everyone always says, "But it's a DRY heat"?  This is true.  You know what else is a dry heat?  An oven.  Yep.  You know you're in trouble when you have to sprint across the pool deck to avoid burning your delicate north-eastern tootsies.  Or open the car door with your hand tucked into the hem of your shirt to avoid burning your delicate north-eastern finger-ies.  (Why is there no "tootsies" equivalent for fingers?)  Anyhoo, we perserved through the heat and were rewarded with absolutely stunning scenery and unforgettable experiences.

First up - Roswell, New Mexico.  Just as cheesy and weird as I hoped it would be.  One of my favorite things - this store, named "UFO and Alien Stuff".   Hmm...  I wonder what they sell there?  I love a business that avoids ambiguity.

In Santa Fe, which is now on my list of favorite places in the world, along with New Orleans, Caen, and Martinique, I wandered into a jewelry store and saw this beauty on the wall.  A longhorn skull bedazzled with turquoise chips.  That is EXACTLY what a jewelry store in New Mexico should have on the wall.  I applaud you, Jewelry Store - you've done that steer proud.  I don't actually recall the name of the store.  See?  This is what happens when you use ambiguous names.  The Jewelry Proprietress should take a page from the proprietor of UFO and Alien Stuff.

Another  from Santa Fe - every business and residence we saw had chiles strung up to dry outside.  They take their chiles VERY seriously.  After having eaten some, I see why.  Delicious!

I was surprised to learn that there is a Colorado-style pizza.  I've heard of New York style, Chicago style, but never Colorado style, so we had to try it.  It was pretty tasty and we thought it was cool that they serve honey on the side to dip your crusts into.  I never would have thought to do that, but it was really good and the kids loved it.  We didn't need any dessert after.  (Although we had dessert anyway.  I mean, let's not be crazy here.)

And finally, I saw these old tubs used for a salad bar and thought it was very clever.  I love things that are clever.  And I also love a salad bar.  So this was a double whammy.

I don't have any pictures, but we happened upon a farm / craft market in Salt Lake City and there were all sorts of cool things there.  I sampled some mojito salsa - Delish!  There were pretty cake stands make from colorful wood platters and pedestals.  There was also a vendor selling fresh lemonade served with striped paper straws.  I desperately wanted one, but we never found the booth.  Sniffle.  Paper straws!  I want.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Rock Climbing Party - Part 3, THE PARTY!

My daughter just celebrated her 10th birthday.  I know this is the ulitmate cliche, but where did the time go?  My beautiful little Gerber Baby has grown into a beautiful young lady, poised on the edge of tweendom, growing like a lovely sunflower - I love her to pieces and am so proud of the independent, smart, caring person she is becoming. 

We celebrated this milestone birthday with a joint birthday party with her dear friend, E.  Both girls turned 10 within a few days of one another (which is remarkable in our district, where tons of the kids are "red-shirted", i.e. parents opt to hold their kids back before starting kindergarten, which means that kids start school at 6 instead of 5.  A lot of the 4th graders in her class were 10 at the beginnging of the year.  I had never heard of choosing to hold your kids back before moving here...).  Anyhoo, both girls wanted a rock climbing party, so we doubled up on the fun with a duel party.  Their joint party was a great success.  The two birthday girls had an amazing time climbing and being feted by their friends.  Here are some of the highlights.

Pizza and drinks were included in the package, so our only food contribution was birthday cake.  For E., there were from-scratch cupcakes with Etsy flamingo toppers.  For my M., I made a kit-kat cake with peacock-colored M&M's on top.  I made the cake from a butter recipe mix, but amped up the fun by using my checkerboard pan.  I finished it off with a cardstock pennant and sound some cool Wilton candles with blue and green flames.  (I set the orange and red candles aside to use at the Skylanders party next month...)  To make the moment special for both girls, we sang to each one separately.

The cake table served as the focal point for decor.  It was topped with a (wrinkly!  boo!) white cloth (a thrift store sheet that I repurposed).  I wish it wasn't so wrinkly - how do you get linens to a destination without wrinkles?  The cloth was adorned with handmade name banners for each girl (denim triangles with iron-on letters sewn to seam binding). 

I made a little vignette with glittery initials, some sentimental baby pics, and a fun pic of both girls together with a birthday message added in Picasa.  The backdrop was made from my tissue paper garland mounted with zip ties from Dollar Tree.  I had planned to mount them on painted wooden dowels, but that didn't work.  I improvised and zip-tied them to the pipe railing instead - it looked awesome!

Scattered on the table were the various favors - a water bottle and free climbing coupon provided by the facility, little cello bags filled with shimmer gumballs (last minute addition when I remembered that we had a ton leftover from Easter) stapled with a scrapbook paper topper, and monogrammed favor bags filled with pop rocks, a carabineer, and a little thank you note mounted on pretty scrapbook paper.  The note read "Thank you for your generous donation.  We're so glad that you were able to help us celebrate our 10th birthdays.  E and M".  We went with a generic thank you since there was no way to know who gave what to the birthday girls.  This was because our girls opted to not receive gifts and instead asked guests to consider bringing an item to donate to their chosen charities - a local food cupboard for M. and local animal shelter for E.  This really warms my heart.  Once upon a time, I was one of those poor kids RECEIVING food from food cupboards like this one, so it makes me so happy that our family can give back and also that my child WANTS to give back.  Not every kid would be willing to pass up birthday presents like this, so kudos to you, E. and M.!  To make transport easy, we brought plastic bins to serve as the donation receptacle.  Each birthday girl made a sign for their charity to add to the bin.

Checkerboard Kit-Kat Cake

As I've mentioned before, I am cake-challenged.  When I need a cake, I try to put a lot of thought into the plans to make sure that it's something I can do successfully.  My oh-so-practical daughter helps me to stay humble on track.  We'll look at cakes online and she'll say, "Do you REALLY think you can make that, Mommy?  Remember the castle cake..."  She'll totally discourage me from trying something if she thinks it's too ambitious.  She is wise beyond her years.

So for this birthday, I wanted to do something that was fun and likely to be a hit with a group of kids, but most importantly, was within the scope of my abilities.  I saw something called a Kit-Kat Cake on Pinterest and thought that with a few tweaks (making a checkerboard cake and swapping the regular M&M's for specialty ones in her fave colors of aqua, lime, teal, and purple), it would fit the bill.

As mentioned before, I always like to do a demo cake if I can.  Once again, it was well worth the trouble and expense.  I realized many things...  1st that 1 box of cake mix was not enough to yield cake layers tall enough to match up with the Kit-Kat sticks.  I also ran out of blue batter and it was very hard to match the hue later with only a small amount of batter (see the dark greenish bit in the center - that was trying to be blue). 

I also did not have enough Kit-Kats!  For the demo, I purchased 4 of the king-size ones and was short several sticks.  Doh!

Learnings here - this cake needs 2 boxes of mix to yield taller layers.  One box-worth of batter should be tinted green and the other box tinted blue.  2 cans of frosting would be good as well.  And 5 king-size Kit-Kats are definitely be in order.  The amount of M&M's was good - about a pound.

I also learned that I should not do the frosting and Kit-Katting too far in advance.  The demo cake was made a day before eating and even though it was stored in a sealed cake carrier, the Kit-Kats definitely had a stale taste to them.  For the real cake, I baked it a day before, let cool overnight, and frosted and added Kit-Kats just a little before.

To achieve the checkerboard effect, I used my handy-dandy checkerboard cake kit.  I received it as gift from my hubby for our 1st Christmas as husband and wife - aww!  It consists of three round pans, each with a detachable plastic insert that looks like a 3-ring bulls eye.  The idea is to alternate the layers of color - 2 pans should have the same pattern and the third should be the opposite.  So if 2 pans are blue green blue, the third should be green blue green.  You add the batter, remove the inserts, and bake normally.  When assembling, put blue green blue on the bottom, then green blue green, then top with blue green blue.  When the cake is cut, it looks checkered.  My tip for adding the colored batter...  spoon your batter into a large ziploc baggie, snip off a end (make a deep snip - about an inch), and pipe it in.  It's much easier than trying to spoon or pour the batter into the rings.  Another tip is to choose a recipe that makes a fairly thick batter - the ring inserts are not attached to the bottom of the pan, so a really runny batter would seep under the inserts and ruin the effect.  I made this with Pillsbury Butter recipe mix (don't judge!), which yields a really nice, thick batter and a sturdy, dense cake.

Here's the finished product.

I was very pleased with it!  After baking and cooling overnight, the assembly of the cake only took about 30 minutes.  That let a little time to pop it in the fridge before leaving for the party (it was 94oF and HUMID on the day, so we wanted to chill it a bit as a preemptive strike against melty fosting.) 
The checkerboard effect was very cool - I love my checkerboard cake pan!  I wish that I had taken a close-up of the inside of the cake, but as I mentioned, it was 94oF and HUMID and - surprise!  The facility wasn't airconditioned.  So I was a little off my game with heat delirium.  Sorry!  You can sort of see it here...

And lastly, I topped the cake with a homemade pennant.  I used twine and scrapbook paper to make it.  I wanted to spell out my daughter's name, but she insisted on "10" and "M" only.  This being my 1st go-round with a cake pennant, they ended up a little wonky.  I wasn't sure that the straws would stay up unsupported, so I threaded bamboo skewers through the straws for extra oomph.  Unfortunately, the skewers I brought were longer than the straws, so I had to deeply angle them to not show.  Next time - shorter or no skewers are the way to go.

This cake was a HUGE hit with kids AND adults.  I'm adding this to my easy showstopper arsenal...  Kit Kat Cake, meet Rose Cake!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Girl Scout Journey Celebration

My daughter's Junior troop recently completed their Journey to earn their Get Moving badge.  They spent the last year diligently working on it, learning about energy and conservation along the way.  The Journey concluded with an event at a local park to celebrate their accomplishment.  Because I love parties, I volunteered to assist the mom leading the event.  She was gracious enough to let me be her collaborator on the project.  It was so much fun to share this project with her - thanks, T.!  We are kindred party-planning spirits!

To honor the journey, we stuck with an earth and conservation theme and worked to bring in lots of color as well as upcycled and reclaimed elements with some pretty vintage touches as the cherry on top and is that a run-on sentence or what?

Dirt cups:  Chocolate pudding and crumbs with whipped cream, enclosed in mason jars - the ultimate eco-friendly party tool.  T. gussied them up with cupcake wrappers on the lids for a punch of color.  She stacked them in a beautiful dark wood crate, which I totally covet!

Earth cupcakes:  Modified from this post (skipped the heart center), these were a hit.  Topped with a simple buttercream, they were quick, easy, and festive.  Side note - when I tinted the batter, I wasn't thinking and did more green than blue and it irritated me all day that my ratio of "land" to "water" was skewed.  Did I mention that I'm a geek?  Anyhoo, regarding the frosting - I did hear from some girls that the frosting was a bit too sweet.  Does anyone have a buttercream recipe that's less sweet?  Mine is 2 sticks butter, 4 cups powdered sugar (which I reduced to 3 cups), and a splash of milk and a bit of vanilla.  My favorite frosting is the cooked frosting recipe listed here - it is TO DIE FOR, but I was worried it wouldn't hold up in the heat - even the buttercream got a little flat and melty and buttercream is MUCH stiffer than this cooked frosting.  (And in case I wasn't clear - this frosting = AMAZING.)  But if you make it, do yourself a favor and do not use store-brand butter.  Name-brand butter only.  You may also want to do a practice run before trying to make it for an event.  There are some traps that can make things go very wrong.

Fruit Skewers:  T. and I split them up and each made half.  I really liked that approach because we ended up picking different fruits, which made for a nice variety in terms of taste and color.

The food table was covered in a blue cloth (originally, it was covered by T.'s creamy vintage lace tablecloth, but the high winds knocked over a pitcher of lilacs that some idiot put on the table (moi!), so we had to improvise.  Food was arranged around the aforementioned crate (me want!) and accented with some pretty pansies and a sweet little doily.  In lieu of water bottles, T. brought a beverage dispenser filled with cool water.  We supplied plastic cups which were cobbled together remnants from other parties.  We also made sure to bring recycling bins to the park.  The paper straws added a nice pop of color.  The final touch was a simple banner that T. put together with twine and vintage napkins - the napkins were draped over the twine and pinned in place.  Even in teh high winds, it held together nicely.  The vintage napkin banner was just the right little touch to bring some vintage elegance to the setting.

The girls sat picnic-style on blankets spread under trees to enjoy their treats.  The idea was to have jugs and jars of lilacs scattered around, but it was just too windy.  The lilacs were grouped in a pretty basket and used to accent the food table instead.

In keeping with their focus on recycling, the girls made jewelry from reclaimed hardware.  We have a Tool Thrift Shop in town where donated items are resold at low prices.  All proceeds go to a local senior living facility.  I was able to find a ton of washers in various sizes.  A quick coat of primer and they were ready to be enameled with nail polish.  I found several sets of mini bottles at Big Lots and Marshall's and the girls went to town making unique pieces.  We provided hemp twine in bright colors to string the finished product.

The event concluded with the leaders talking with the girls about the highlights of the Journey followed by passing out their patches.  For a fun presentation, the patches and a seed packet with a vintage-inspired label were bundled into a colorful bandanna hobo pouch tied with jute twine.  Because the whole troop earned the same patch, there was no need to personalize the bandanna pouches.  In retrospect, we should have considered handing them out rather than letting the girls pick their own.  I noticed that while the leader was speaking, some of the girls were more focused on creeping closer to the bandannas to ensure that they could be the 1st to pick their color.  Oops!