3D Unicorn Cake

I’m guessing it’s the sheer ridiculousness of the title that drew you into this post, right? I cannot claim any of the magic that you’re about to see as my own – only (most of) the words are from me. The rest is the great and fabulous talent of a very good friend of mine, heretofore referred to as HC. (Yes, there’s a story. No, I’m not going to tell it. Count your blessings.)

HC has a niece who was turning 5 this year. For whatever reason (what DOES go on in the minds of children?), her niece requested a black unicorn cake with a fairy perched on the tip of the horn. Ummmmm. Okay. Let’s break that down.

  1. A unicorn cake, in its own right, is hard enough on its own, especially if we’re talking 3D. You have to make multiple layers to give it dimension and then, of course, you have to figure out a way to mount the horn and add detail on a…vertical surface.
  2. A black cake is also incredibly tough. Black isn’t a color that’s easy to make with frosting and fondant can be a pain in the butt.
  3. A fairy perched on anything other than the cake is just absolute madness and also…a fairy…with a unicorn? I guess they are both mythical…

Anyway, despite having all the odds stacked against her, she created this gloriousness:

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Here’s how she did it.

Materials:

  • 3 boxes of cake mix (any kind or flavor will do)
  • Wilton mini cake pans (6″ and 8″)
  • Wilton frosting recipe ingredients (enough for 4 batches)
  • Fondant (she used both white and black fondant)
  • Cake board (10″ should be good)
  • Gel frosting dye (she used the Wilton neon dyes)
  • Wilton Color Mist (it’s a spray can – pic below)
  • Frosting bags and tips
  • Dowel rods (food-safe)
  • Straws
  • Fondant smoother
  • Pizza cutter (to cut fondant)
  • Fondant glue
  • Flower foam (optional – this may or may not work for you)
  • Fairy, if desired

Instructions:

  • Take a deep breath. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Party day -2: Roll out the fondant for your appendages (so, in this instance, the white fondant).
    • Eyes / lashes: roll into thin, worm-like shapes. Mold together into eye curves with lashes toward the ends and let dry.
    • Ears: Cut the shapes out of white fondant and pinch from the back to make an ear shape. Option to put onto a stick to dry (this will make it easier to put into the cake).
    • Horn:  Roll out a long worm-like piece of fondant and wrap around a straw, leaving the top a bit unfinished so you can wrap around the fairy’s foot when you assemble. Let dry. Option to stand up in the flower foam to dry. (Note, this could cause the fondant to slide down the straw; you may be better off letting it dry on its side and accepting that one side may be slightly flattened.)
  • Party day -1: Make the cakes and let them cool.
    • HC made a total of 6 of each size in a couple of flavors that’d pair well together. Feel free to get super creative and dye the mix for the layers (so the inside will be as magical as the outside).
  • Party day: Make the frosting and stack the cakes, layering with frosting in between.
    • *TIP: Use a cake board so it’s easy to move the cakes once they’re together.
    • Create two cake stacks with dowel rods through the middle to help them keep their shape: one stack of 6″ cakes and the other of 8″ cakes. As you can see from the pics below, the 8″ cakes are stacked up to 6 and the 6″ cakes are stacked up to 5.
  • Paint your accent pieces (eyes / lashes, ears, horn) and let dry.
  • Roll out the fondant for the main cake body.
    • Cover the sides of the cake stacks in frosting to adhere to the fondant.
    • Drape the black fondant over the cakes, covering each cake stack separately.
    • Start smoothing the lower part of the fondant sides with getting it to stick as your primary objective. Smooth up. Focus on having one good side (the front).
    • Use the fondant smoother to smooth into place and the pizza cutter to trim the excess fondant away.
  • Apply fondant accents (eyes / lashes and ears). You will want to use a combination of fondant glue and frosting to get the eyes / lashes to stick since they are attaching to a vertical surface. You may need to use toothpicks or straws to keep the ears standing up. Insert the horn into the cake.
  • Apply piped frosting accents. To create a multi-color effect, put stripes of frosting down each side of the bag, twist off the top and then slide it all down toward the tip. Be sure to use the frosting to cover any imperfections / the insertion point for the horn / any support for the ears.
  • Depending on when you assemble and when your party starts, you can store in the freezer to keep the frosting from sliding until you’re ready to present it. Putting the frosting and/or cakes in the freezer to flash-freeze as you make the cake is also a good idea. Your hand heat will warm the frosting which could cause your various designs to lose their shape.

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  • IF YOU MUST transport, arrange a trustworthy passenger to hold it and don’t plan on going far.

I would say “that’s it” but….well…that was a lot. Good luck. Leave a comment below if you decide to attempt this crazy feat and god speed!

Gift Ideas: White Elephant

Happy (American) Thanksgiving all! My husband’s family likes to do a white elephant exchange on Thanksgiving, so while this post may seem bizarrely timed to some of you, it’s actually about something I made for today!

White elephant gift exchanges have recently expanded in terms of meaning. From my childhood, they usually meant something you were gifted or have (generally unused) that you don’t want and choose to re-gift (I have seen gently used videos or games exchanged before, though). However, nowadays, sometimes it means a small gift (usually $10-15) that you choose to either be silly or serious. Basically, it’s become a free for all.

For our family exchange this year, I decided to do one traditional option (two items I had been gifted and didn’t want) and one creative option – a gift I “made” that would be neutral enough for almost anyone.

If you’ve read my Happy Birthday: Poem Candy Board post, this concept will be familiar for you. Essentially, you create a short message and replace some words with candy. For this one, I went a little wild and bought a bunch of candy that I thought could work and wrote the message after the fact. It actually helped me to think outside the usual candy I could come up with. Plus, I wanted all bagged candy for how I planned to put it together, so I just went to the Dollar Tree and bought what I thought would work. I was working with a $10 limit, but I did go over by $2 (oops!). You could totally stick to $10, but I just wanted to get them all!

Materials:

  • Bagged candy with words that can replace parts of your message
  • A message that works for your theme (birthday, family, Christmas, congratulations, thank you, whatever)
  • Ribbon 
  • Index cards – I used green ones, as you can see in some of the photos
  • Permanent marker
  • Hole punch

Instructions:

  • Write your message and identify what candy you need OR hit the store and buy candy that could work and live dangerously.
  • Plot your candy in order and determine what parts of your message need to be written on cards; create the message cards using a marker and index cards. Punch a hole at the top of each card.

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  • Use the permanent marker to cross out any parts of the candy name that don’t work for your message.

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  • Starting with the middle of the message, string your candy and message cards onto the ribbon working from the middle to the beginning and then from the middle to the end (especially if you have thick ribbon like I did, this part can be tough, so working outward from the middle is more efficient).
  • Tie off the ends of the ribbon so you don’t lose any candy and that’s it!

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Note, I chose to string mine on a ribbon because I didn’t want a massive gift, which is what it would have been if I’d used a tri-fold board or foam/poster board. I wanted it to fit nicely in a gift bag, but still be in the right order, hence the ribbon and bagged candy approach. Here’s my message:

  • What’s one RIESEN you’re thankful this year?
  • Is it for the (sour patch) KIDS in your family? They’re the future.
  • Or, more generally for YORKin (like…your kin).
  • Hopefully you get to see them both NOW AND LATER
  • as we enter the season of silver and (Hershey’s) GOLD.
  • Maybe you’ll see them at (Milky Way) MIDNIGHT mass.
  • Be sure to hit them DUBBLE (bubble) time
  • with lots of (Hershey’s) HUGS and (Hershey’s) KISSES.
  • And remind them to be (Mr.) GOOD(bar)
  • if they want Santa to bring a BUNCHA (crunch)
  • Christmas (Maple Nut) GOODIES.

Thanksgiving Food Fun

Whether you’re going somewhere for Thanksgiving or hosting the big event yourself, there are TONS of ideas out there for how to get creative with your food to increase the level of festivity. That said, nothing…and I mean NOTHING, should replace the focus on the core classic foods you have at your annual feast (in my opinion). But, if you’re looking for a way to spice up a side dish or have fun with dessert, below are a few ideas.

If you are hosting this year, be sure to check out my Thanksgiving Crafts (for Hosting) and if you’re not, be sure to peruse Thanksgiving Crafts for All.

  • Turkey trays. This is 100% not how it sounds (it is not trays of turkey). It’s a great idea if you want to have raw fruits or veggies as an appetizer for your meal. My MIL often asks me to bring a side like this for our celebration at her house and, because I just can’t do anything normally, I’ve gotten creative for the past two years with layout. Last year, was a veggie turkey. This year was a fruit turkey.
    • Veggie turkey: veggie dip (I like to buy a ranch packet and sour cream and mix it up myself, but pre-made dip is equally great), a mini cucumber for the head with a pepper for the waddle, carrot for the lips and mini chocolate chips for the eyes + peppers, cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli for the feathers / accents (feel free to use whatever veggies are most to your liking for the feathers – it doesn’t really matter as long as there is color variety)
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    • Fruit turkey: Pear for the fruit body + a little chocolate frosting for the eyes (see Turkey brownie bites below for why I had chocolate frosting); grapes, mandarins, pears and kiwi for the feathers (you could use whatever fruit you want / whatever is in season – it was slightly slim pickins’ at the grocery)
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  • Turkey brownie bites. If you’re tasked with bringing a dessert to your Thanksgiving dinner, why not spice it up (not literally) with some turkey-themed brownie bites! Below are the instructions:
    • Materials:
      • Boxed brownie mix (feel free to also make from scratch)
      • Chocolate frosting
      • Mini-cupcake tin liners (and a mini cupcake tin)
      • Candy corn OR peanut M&Ms (make sure you get the regular or fall colors – DO NOT get Christmas or your turkeys will look odd) – side note, my husband was not a fan of the candy corn option, hence the M&M replacement, but candy corn would make better feathers
      • Reese’s pieces
      • White chocolate M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces
    • Instructions:
      • Bake the brownies as directed in the mini-cupcake tin. Remove from oven and let cool until just warm.
      • Insert the tips of the candy corn or peanut M&Ms around one edge (just about half of the circle) so that a little over half of the candy is sticking up; these are your turkey feathers, so if you use M&Ms, vary the colors.
      • Add a dollop of chocolate frosting right in the middle and then insert an orange Reese’s pieces right into the middle of the frosting ball as the beak (put it in sideways so you can only see half of it sticking out).
      • Finally, add two white chocolate candy pieces as the eyes and put a small dot of chocolate frosting right in the middle.
      • Voila!

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Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! I hope you have a wonderful time with your family, friends or with whomever you spend the holiday!

If you’re like me and love to get down with some Black Friday shopping, check out my Shopping Team Shirts post too!

Back to School Graduation Party

If you’ve read my wreath blog, you know that crafting runs in my family, to an extent. The credit for this one goes entirely to my niece. Sadly, I didn’t even get to attend this party, but it was too cute not to post. The party was to honor her husband, who had just graduated from college with his teaching license for K- 4. So, her theme for the party was primary school.

Food – she created a ‘pack your lunch’ buffet with brown bags and pack-able foods, like:

  • Nut/snack bars
  • Fruit snacks
  • Small bags of chips
  • Clementines
  • Small packs of cookies

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*Note, these were more of ‘goodie bags’; she had a regular menu of food for people to eat that wasn’t pre-packaged. You can see a pic of the full buffet below (see banner pictures). She also created a veggie tray with crayon-shaped labels to teach the different colors:

  • Green – celery
  • Orange – carrots
  • Red – peppers
  • Yellow – peppers

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For dessert, she had school themed items:

  • Apples – chocolate covered oreos using red chocolate with a bit of green frosting at the top
  • Pencils – she cut vanilla wafers (not the cookies, the bars) into a pencil shape and then used white chocolate for the tip and pink chocolate for the eraser. She tipped it with a chocolate chip for the lead!
  • Graduation scrolls – she used Pirouettes and tied ribbon around them

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Decorations:

  • She made a triangle banner using various patterns of red paper to say ‘Congrats’
  • She made a banner of primary colored poofy balls by threading string through them
  • Finally, she made a primary colored banner with the numbers 0-9

For other decorations:

  • She made a decorative cup surrounded by pencils and crayons
  • She also had two posters made for his classroom (on Etsy, I assume), that did double duty as decorations AND a gift 🙂

 

Maybe you have someone in your life going into the same profession, or maybe you want to plan a back to school party for your kids. Either way, I hope this post gives you a few fun ideas to get creative!

Double Dare 2000 Party

Well, I’m finally sitting down to do this after a year of procrastination. Better late than never, I suppose.

If you’re a child of the 80s or early 90s then you’ve probably heard of Double Dare 2000. It was (and is again, since its return a few months ago) a TV show on Nickelodeon that featured quiz questions and messy challenges. YouTube it if you have no idea what I’m talking about – it’s worth a watch.

Anyway, for a very long time, I planned on having a party in the style of this show (I like parties with activities) and finally made it a reality when the hubs and I bought a house with a 2.6 acre yard. Here is how it went down:

1.Party basics: I knew my what but I needed to set a when and who, so I picked a date and made my guest list. For my invitations, I wanted to introduce the theme since it would require folks to get messy, if they chose to participate. Here’s what I landed on. This was made through a combination of images online and a little help in Photoshop. (I blurred out some personal information.)

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2. Game accessories – for this party, I knew I had to make shirts. All contestants on the show wore the signature Double Dare shirts, so I had to do it. I picked up some cheap plain colored shirts from JoAnn Fabrics for $3/piece and then got a pack of dark t-shirt transfers and got to work designing the logo. Again, with a little help from Photoshop, here’s what I ended up with:

I also decided that whichever team won the two trivia rounds and got to the final obstacle course should get prizes…just for suffering through the messiness. I made 4 gender neutral baskets and allowed each team member to pick their favorite.

Car care: car wash mitt, window wipes, interior wipes, a jug of car wash, an oil tray, an air freshener, tire foam and a microfiber towel. Most of these materials I got from the Dollar Tree.

Outdoor fun: marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate, roasting sticks, a S’mores scented candle, a long lighter, kindling wood and two homemade fire starters

Movie night: popcorn and topping, water, a movie, movie candy, and popcorn bags

Relaxation package: back scratcher, lotion, candle, face mask, chapstick, adult coloring book, and homemade hand scrub

3. Plan the games. I don’t have photos for all of these, but here’s what I did. First, I planned the trivia. That part was pretty easy – I just did a little searching for trivia and compiled a list of my favorite 20 questions. I tried to pick questions that I thought my friends may or may not know. I avoided anything super hard or too easy.

The messy games for physical challenges and the final obstacle course was part two and the fun part. I chose games with cheap, easy materials that would create mess or get people wet. Here are my physical challenges:

  • Water balloon baseball – just how it sounds – you have to hit a specific number of water balloons with a baseball bat in 30 seconds

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  • Ball dunk – this one was hilarious. Using ladies’ pantyhose and water balls (the kind that suck up water and you can wring out – you could also use sponges) from the Dollar Tree, I put the balls in the foot part of both sides of the pantyhose and had the contestants tie them around their waists with the balls hanging in between their legs. They had to run to a bucket and dunk in to absorb liquid and then run with the wet balls back to another bucket and squeeze them out. The goal was to move enough liquid from one side to the other to reach a line on the bucket. (Note, I also used a variation of this with giant sponges that two players had to toss back and forth to achieve the same objective.)

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  • Twister- For this, I took your standard version of Twister and did absolutely nothing to it. It was challenging as a kid and even more so as an adult! I used this game to open the first round and the team that had a player in the longest won control of the round.

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  • Spaghetti Spell – I used this game to open the second round. Each team had 30 seconds to dig through alphabet spaghetti and pick out letters to make a word of at least 4 letters.

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  • Splash Head Catch – for this game, I picked up a cheap version of Basket Head and used the basket head for one player to wear on his head. The other player tossed a dripping wet water ball (sponge would work too) and his team mate had to catch it in the basket.  (Note, I also created a version of this with a colander hat and eggs; do NOT use eggs with the basket head – that will hurt!)

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  • Water Balloon Catch: for this game, one contestant put on a pair of over-sized pants while his team member tossed water balloons toward him. He had to catch 3 in his pants in 30 seconds.

And now for the final obstacle course (sorry for not having pics for all of it and for the dark – the day got away from us and it was pitch black by the time we started it. Of course, the hubs provided everyone with head-mounted flashlights…)

  • Obstacle 1: The Sundae Slide- I had an old kids slide (probably from the garbage somewhere) that we put on our hill and drizzled chocolate syrup all over. The object was to slide to the bottom, find the flag in whipped cream and then pass it to the next person.

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  • Obstacle 2: Water Run- Person #2 had to run down the hill while the other team chased with water balloons. At the bottom, they had to grab the flag and pass it to their next team member.
  • Obstacle 3: Pop & Goo – Person #3 had to pop shaving cream filled balloons to find the flag and pass it on to the next person.

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  • Obstacle 4: Shower Search – Person #4 had to dig through buckets of shampoo, conditioner and body wash to find the flag and pass it on to person #1 (each person had to complete 2 obstacles).

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  • Obstacle 5: Dirty Dress – this obstacle required the participant to put on a shirt and pants that had been soaked in pancake batter, grab the flag and pass it on (sorry, no picture).
  • Obstacle 6: Flour Shower – team member #2 completed this challenge by standing at the bucket and getting a bag of flour dumped on him; the flag was in the bag. He had to grab the flag and pass it on.

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  • Obstacle 7: Egg Canal – this challenge required the participant to crawl through the tunnel, filled with raw eggs and maple syrup. To create it, I took pool noodles and fit them onto stakes in the ground. I also laid down a tarp for ease of crawling through.

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  • Obstacle 8: Bucket dump – little effort was required for this challenge. The participant just had to pull the string to dump a bucket of soapy water onto himself and find the flag.

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And that’s it! It was a ton of planning, prep and set-up, but it was a ton of fun to do and watch. It’s probably not one I would ever throw again (once was plenty), but I’m still super glad I did it!

How to Host a Murder: 1960’s Hippie Trip

As you may know from my other How to Host a Murder posts, I like to purchase a boxed set on Amazon as the basis for the party. I’ve written murder mystery parties before, but I always feel a little sad that I can’t participate since I decided who the killer would be. That’s why these boxed sets are awesome – the murderer doesn’t actually even know he/she committed the murder, so all players can have an equal shot at winning the game! This party was Mystery #13: The Tragical Mystery Tour. I chose this theme because the time period (late 1969) fascinates me and I wanted to have a chill night with great music and some fun. As with my other posts in this series, here’s the low down for making a successful party:

  • Choose your guest list. For this party, we went with the usual suspects – 2 friend couples and a single sibling and friend. Every one had previously met one another at my Circus Party, so the stage was set for a fun night.
  •  Plan your food. I decided that I wanted a super low key dinner and dessert- essentially, I wanted a meal where everything could be pre-made so I wouldn’t be rushing around cooking at the last minute. So, I went with a pot roast in a crockpot, which was actually typical of the late 1960’s (well, at least the pot roast part). I paired that with salad, which I tossed ahead of time, and cake and candied pecans, all ready ahead of the party. This made the night of much easier and lower stress. Since this was a hippie party, I wanted to feel mellow from the start. Also, it happened to fall near one of our guests’ birthdays, so the cake was decorated for him. 20141108_171549

  • Set the mood. Because these games require a seating area big enough for 8, I decided I needed to add some furniture to my small college house living room. I used some pallets and a memory foam pad to make a low sitting couch which I covered in a variety of blankets and pillows. I also pulled in a papasan chair from another room and found an awesome (and cheap!) hammock online which the hubs built a stand for. I used card tables in my dining room to create a long dinner table which I topped with some lace scraps and a funky vase. The playlist for the night consisted of all the greats (Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Rush, etc.) and was mostly historically accurate. You can find the playlist on Spotify under n.neiger – it’s called Hippie Party.HippyDecorAll

  • Prep for the game. As per usual, I found a good spot to set out the map, booklets, clues, and little notebook/pen sets for my guests to capture clues and facts. The tape (yes, cassette tape) for this game is actually pretty funny to listen to, so try to dig out an old tape deck. Check in your attic. I also went way overboard and created a time period specific “newspaper” to help my guests understand the current political, scientific and economic climates of the time. I don’t think it helped the game at all and my guests might have thought I was a little crazy.20141108_183208

  • Get costumes. I was a Rastafarian chick and my hubs was an activist from “U.C. Burpley.” Actually, as you can see below, all of our guest decided to go for it, costume-wise.HippyCostumes

As always, these parties are a great time. I would highly recommend hosting one – they are pretty easy to plan and set up for and once you get started, the game will flow. Have fun!

How to Host a Murder: 1880’s Western

I am glad to report the success of another great How to Host a Murder party with friends. The theme for this murder was the 1880s in a western town called Roadkill. You can purchase this boxed set on Amazon. My hubs chose the theme – I guess he had long dormant dreams of being a cowboy. Anyhow, I have to say that once I started to get into the theme, I really enjoyed getting creative and planning some fun ideas. As with my other How to Host a Murder posts, there are 6 key components to making these parties a success. In this instance, I’ve combined 1 and 2.

  • Choose your guest list and pick your game. Since I already knew we were going to have a Western theme, I chose my guest list based on who I thought would be interested in the theme (or who in general loves parties and would be down for whatever). For this party, we invited three male/female couples and it worked out nicely.
  • Plan your food. For this theme, I wanted to keep the food relatively simple. Since the murder is set in the 1880s, I figured I should try to at least honor the period. For this party, I went with fried chicken (which I ordered from a local supermarket – this is a great low-stress option for your main), baked beans which I warmed in the oven, steamer broccoli (which I presented in a crock over a flame) and cast-iron skillet cornbread (which lent a nice touch to the theme). For dessert, I had a combination of mini pies (I only made the apple and pecan) and maple-candied pecans. Everything actually turned out pretty amazingly and we enjoyed a delicious meal.
  • Set the mood. I sort of had a lot going on decoration-wise for this party. Maybe that’s because my house doesn’t really look like an old west town, or maybe I just found more quick, easy ideas and spent the time to get them all done. Either way, this was a CHEAP party to put together. Okay, here we go. For the beginning of the night, I direct guests down to the Saloon (which was in my basement). At the doorway downstairs, I put up cardboard Saloon doors. To make the doors, I bought a tri-fold board from the Dollar Tree and cut the center section into two saloon doors. I then taped off the sides that I would attach to my doorjamb and spray painted the white side of the door part with brown spray paint (images below with another craft).  I put them up with extra command strips I had laying around – I never seem to use all the strips they give you in a pack so I save them up in my junk drawer. I actually ended up using probably 10 command strips for this party, so thank goodness for junk drawers. Saloondoors For the main saloon area, I made a sign out of foam board and brown permanent marker. I ended up drawing and coloring this by hand and while it took FOREVER and the marker kept drying up, I found the activity to be quite soothing. When I finished drawing and coloring, I then used some black tea to stain the white background and give it a worn feel. I also hung this up with command strips behind a hand-me-down bar that has come in handy for several parties now! For appetizers, I decided to get some whole shell peanuts. To keep things tidy, I made a cardboard ‘barrel’ table with a trash bag inside. The table was a real pain in the butt to make round, but I think it ended up okay after some finessing. To assemble the table, I taped together a few old Amazon boxes and then used hot glue to attach the foam board circle top which I had spray painted brown. I cut a hole in the middle and attached a trash bag before putting onto the cardboard base. I then added tape around the middle, top and bottom to attempt a barrel look. I put the peanuts on top in little silver barrels.SaloonpicsFor the main floor of my house, where the majority of the game was played, I kept lighting super low and used a TON of candles to create the ‘no electricity’ atmosphere. My table setting consisted of tin pie plates, red and blue bandannas, mason jars as glasses and tin can candles. I also made a longhorn skull out of foam board, marker, and burlap ribbon. First, I drew (in pencil) and cut out the basic skull shape. Then I added details with the marker and loosely wrapped the horns in burlap ribbon from the Dollar Tree. I put this up with a command strip as well. Above the table, I put up some borrowed lanterns to cast light over the whole table. The tin cans in the middle were saved from previous dinners I’d made. I pounded holes into them with a mallet and pokey tool thing that the hubs gave me. You could just as easily use a nail.  TablesettingwesternMy final major decoration in the main space was a directional sign. I used cardboard from what I cut off the tri-fold, cut it into equal size rectangular sections and then taped out different old west places in block letters. After taping out with blue painter’s tape, I spray painted them brown (you can see the saloon doors here too). Once I removed the tape, I had clean block letters in white text. I wanted to put this up at a corner by my breakfast bar. Thankfully, the hubs had a corner cardboard piece that I spray painted brown and attached the mini signs to. Before putting them up, I used an exacto to shape one end of each as a point. Then, I staggered them and made them point different directions by using hot glue to affix different parts of the sign to the corner piece. I put this up with (you guessed it!) command strips and I was pretty darn happy with how it came out. Directionalsign
  • Prepare for the game. On one of my counters, I set out the game materials (name tags, clues, booklets, crime scene map) along with notebooks and pens and some decorative elements. The TNT was made by using old toilet paper roles, cut in half and rolled together and taped up with red duct tape from the Dollar Tree. I then used some white string to act as the fuse. A little black marker and black tape to hold them together and I was done! The other thing I recommend when preparing for the game is to get a few small prizes for the winner(s). A go-to I love for adult parties is a bottle of alcohol with a mixer. For this party (sorry, no pictures), I paired coke with whiskey, vodka and Sprite, lemonade, and orange sparkling water, and Baileys with coffee. Gamesetup
  • Get your costumes. My character was a saloon girl, so I went with a corset, black dress, stockings and a garter. The hubs was a cowboy and wore fitted black jeans, a flannel shirt, cowboy hat and boots. He wanted a big belt buckle, so I took some scrap foam board and drew a longhorn skull in black marker and filled around in gold. I attached some plastic to the back that his belt could run through and voila!WesternCostumes

Even if you don’t want to go all out for parties like I do, I still highly encourage you to try out a How to Host a Murder game set. They are such a great time!

How to Host a Murder: 1920’s Mediterranean Cruise

As you might imagine, I like to write. For my 17th birthday, I decided to write my own murder mystery party by creating all the different characters, clues, and ultimately, the premise of the murder. I then sent out packets and prepared for the day. The party itself went well and was a lot of fun, but I was sad I couldn’t really ‘participate’ – since I wrote everything, I knew who the killer was and therefore didn’t get the experience of using the clues to solve the case. So, I went online to do a bit of googling and came across boxed murder mystery party sets by How to Host a Murder (I usually order from Amazon). I’ve now played two of these (and have two more on deck to be played), so I feel I can say with confidence that these games are legit and a great time. I don’t have many photos from the first one (How to Host a Murder: 1969 Hippie Party), so hopefully you find this post a little more informative.

  • Choose your guest list. I’ve had one friends party and one family party thus far and both have gone well. It was important for me to think about who would actually get into costume and character to make the evening fun. It’s okay if some of the participants aren’t completely all out for it – you just need them to be willing to dress up and play their roles. If you have an SO, you’ll need to invite 6 guests. I’ve done a mix of all couples and couples + singles. Both of the games I’ve played haven’t had couple alignments in the characters, so it doesn’t matter if you have couples or not, BUT you will likely need 4 guys and 4 gals, unless someone is willing to cross dress (which is always good for photos). Also, one super critical factor in putting together your guest list is reliability. If someone doesn’t show for the party, you won’t be able to play (unless you have someone play two roles). Pick people that you can count on to show up. Finally – plan a date that works for your guests to make things easy. The hubs and I will pick out a few dates that work for us and then shop them around to our selected friends. Once we find a date that works for everyone, we lock it in asap.
  • Pick your game. I like to go on Amazon and browse all my options, which includes reading as much as possible about each game (through both the product description and product information). There are a variety of different time periods and themes – I would encourage you to think about your guest list when picking the period/theme. You’ll want to make sure it’s something you think they will get excited for so they are more likely to put effort into their costumes and the game play. Once you receive your game, be sure check for all pieces (usually 1 host guide, set of clues, set of name tags, cassette tape or cd, invitations and envelopes, map of the crime scene, 8 character booklets) and then read the host guide. This will walk you through how the game is played and will even give you suggestions for food. The invitations will give you a description of each character and costume suggestions so you can assign each guest a role that fits him or her and also make sure they have ideas for what to wear.
  • Plan your food. While the menu suggestions in the host guide are very helpful and usually pretty decent options, I like to do some research and craft my own menu from scratch. In planning my menu, I’ll think about any dietary restrictions of my group (we have a friend who is no dairy, for example) and also my time period / theme. For this party, I did a lot of research on Mediterranean cuisine. Generally, this type of cuisine can include influences from a couple of countries – Italy, Greece, Croatia and sometimes even France. For an appetizer, we decided to go with a charcuterie board, which came out absolutely amazing. My sister put this together and she did a fantastic job. We used two wooden cutting boards to give them a rustic feel. The boards included a selection of sliced and spreadable cheese, grapes, olives, sliced salami, rolled prosciutto, tomatoes and peppers. We also included little ‘bread crackers’ to pair with the meats and cheeses. Our second appetizer was Bruschetta which was super easy to prepare and was a hit. For the main, we went with a Mediterranean Chicken and Pasta Bake, which make food prep super easy because we just had to pull it out of the oven at the right time. My other sister made this and it was delicious! We also paired this with a sliced Italian loaf (are you sensing a theme with bread…). For dessert, we served Homemade Cream Puffs and chocolate dipped strawberries dusted with edible gold. My sisters and I all like to cook, so we went homemade for everything. You could easily buy the cream puffs and charcuterie tray, or even get takeout from somewhere if you don’t like to cook.MM-MCFood

  • Set the mood. Since this mystery is set on a yacht, I thought it might be fun to set up the outside of the house as a gangway for my guests to walk down to ‘board the ship.’ I did this by grabbing a few logs from my backyard that were each about 3ft tall and then wrapped some sisal rope around them and draped it between. I made a very simple white sign that I placed in my front window with the name of the ship (The Gilded Vessel) to further set the stage. As you can see from the above photo, I went all out on my table setting to make it feel luxurious, like dinner on a yacht. I used recycled glass bottles filled with water to create a more fancy experience (filled these up from my fridge!). I also used cloth napkins and place mats, along with silver chargers to complete the look. All in all, I probably spent about $30 on the cloth and decor for the table, which isn’t bad considering I’ve reused all the pieces multiple times (you may recognize the table setting from my Globe Trotter Bridal Shower). I would encourage you to look on Amazon, at local discount or dollar stores, or even at thrift stores for your table setting components. You never know what you’ll find and if you buy simple pieces, there’s a good chance you won’t just use them once. The last component to my decor was the huge bar I placed in the middle of my living room. My husband’s grandfather recently gave this to us and I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. However, it has come in handy for many parties I’ve had thus far, so I’m glad I kept it / didn’t refuse to accept it. I set the bar with the components for making cocktails, but also used an extra silver tray to stack champagne glasses on for my guests to have a toast to commence the party. These glasses were a snag from my local thrift store at $0.50/glass. What I love about them is that they also help set the mood for the time period since they are more old school looking than the normal flutes you see nowadays. If you have non-drinkers at your party, you can easily sub in sparkling grape juice.MM-MCDecor

  • Prepare for the game. If you don’t do anything else, you must do this step. Pull out all the materials from the game box and set them up for easy game play. From left to right, I’ve laid out all 8 character booklets, a copy of the invitation (for character description referencing), the crime scene map, name tags and the clues for each round. I also decided to purchase mini notebooks and pens from the Dollar Tree for everyone to use to note any information revealed throughout the game that might help them with solving the murder. This ensures my guests don’t write in the character booklet so I can resell or share the game with a friend so it’s used more than once. (If you happen to have a game and want to swap, leave me a comment to let me know!)MM-MCGameSetup

  • Make a playlist. I did a little bit of research on music from the time period to build a playlist that would help set the ambiance for the evening. I pay for a Spotify Premium account (which I LOVE, since I don’t regularly buy new music), so I was able to find a lot of songs and build a playlist that I could bluetooth through a speaker for easy listening and control. You can look me up on Spotify by n.neiger.MM-MCPlaylist

  • Plan your costume. This is a critical step you can’t forget – if you expect your guests to come in costume, you better be ready too! Use pinterest and google to find the appropriate period clothing. Also, definitely use the costume suggestion provided in the invitation. I found almost everything in either a thrift store, my closet, or on Amazon.

MM-MCCostumes

Globe Trotter Bridal Shower

My niece and I are pretty close in age and she got married last summer. In her honor, my sisters (including her mother), our mother and I decided to throw a bridal shower for my niece with the ladies in my mother’s family. Since I have an absolute love for planning parties, and my niece didn’t really  have any special requests for the shower (oddly, she was not a Bridezilla at the shower phase of her engagement…), I decided to come up with a creative theme that I could ‘go all out’ with. As such, here is what I referred to as the Passport Bridal Shower, hosted in my home.

Invitations. Since my niece had already had two other showers (she has a big family / church), we decided to throw her a personal shower. Basically, this is different from a regular bridal shower in that you get personal items for the bride, rather than things for the home or off the registry. As such, I wanted to give out her sizing info for clothes, shoes and underthings. I also had a pretty big guest list that I wanted to nail down for seating arrangements, so I needed to get all the info out and collect RSVPs. To go along with the travel theme, I decided to make a passport and airline ticket filled out with all the details. The passport is printed on robin’s egg blue paper and I incorporated red on the passport and ticket, as these were my niece’s wedding colors. I was able to print 3 tickets per page (I just used white printer paper) and two passports per page. I printed the passports double-sided and then cut them in half with my paper cutter.Invites Combined20170211_162833

Shower Favors. We kind of went all out for these, but in the end, I actually don’t think they ended up being all that expensive, just time consuming with a lot of components. In keeping with the travel theme, we decided to make mini suitcases filled with travel goodies, including mini shampoo and conditioner, chap stick, and a luggage tag. I ended up getting a pretty good deal on everything. The mini shampoo and conditioners I found for $0.25 a piece at Big Lots. My sister bought the chapstick at Wal-mart for $1/piece. The luggage tags and suitcase boxes both came from Amazon at $0.30 and $0.63 per person respectively. All in all, each box cost us about $2.45. We made a total of 20 boxes, so total favor cost was $50. A few weeks before the shower, we got together and had a whole craft day to put these and some of the other party items together. Below is the final product and how I set up stations to make suitcase assembly relatively easy.Noted assembly line

Game Prizes. For the main attraction, we played one of my versions of Hollywood Game Night (hoping to write a post on this soon – will update when available). For this game, we needed 5 prizes, as it’s played with two teams of five players. We decided to make little cocktail sets using a mason jar with a handle, cute straws and ribbon, a mini can of mixer and a mini bottle of alcohol. The combinations we used were: Baileys and coffee, Kahlua and coffee, Vodka and pineapple juice and vodka and cranberry spritzer (x2). The glasses were from Pat Catans, the ribbon was from Jo-Ann Fabrics, and the straws were leftover from a previous bridal shower. The alcohol and mixers were from a local grocery store. The prize pack you see on the right below was for a second ‘game’ we played. When the guests arrived with gifts, we made sure one of us wouldn’t see who brought what. After all gifts had arrived, my sister went out and ‘tagged’ the two gifts she thought were the cutest. The tag was a long slim piece of red paper which said the following: To ensure the bride is fully prepared with personal items to delight her groom, The Sexiness Administration (TSA) is required to inspect all gifts. As part of this process, some gifts are randomly identified for additional inspection by the bride and gift opening audience. Your gift was among those selected for additional inspection. During the inspection process, your gift was deemed to be ‘adorably packaged,’ ‘cutely bagged,’ or ‘nicely wrapped.’ As a result of this identification, your gift will now be opened by the bride and inspected for ‘sexiness,’ ‘total cuteness,’ or ‘ooh, I love it-ness.’ Regardless of Taylor’s reaction to your gift, you are now the proud winner of a prize. We hope you enjoy it and thanks for joining us today. We appreciate your understanding and cooperation through this process. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please do not contact us at tsa.gov. The giver of the gift with a tag then won the little kit of tissues, gum, a mini bottle of vodka, a TUMI pen, a lip gloss and lotion set and a pair of socks. I travel a lot for work and had saved a few nice TUMI case sets from a couple of flights in first class. They worked out perfectly!prizes

Thank You Cards. As is tradition at most bridal showers, we wanted guests to write down their name and address to make it easy for the bride to return thank you notes after the shower. In keeping with our theme, we decided to get post cards from all over the world and have guests choose their favorite locale to address. This was really well received because not only did they get a thank you note from the bride, as they should, they also got a scenic photo to hang on their fridge!Thank you cards

Decorations. To set the environment and give guests an overview of the shower, we created an Arrivals board like you would see in an airport with all flight details. Rather than flight details, we included the itinerary for the day. This was set behind the bar where guests filled out their thank you cards and grabbed their ‘complimentary champagne’ upon arrival. We also had seat assignment cards on the bar to direct guests to either ‘First Class’ or the ‘Business Class’ tables. Then, as guests left, we used a luggage rack with an old school suitcase filled with the mini luggage boxes for guests to take as party favors on their way out.DetailsBoard1

Food. We decided to go for a Europe food theme, so we chose items from 12 European countries (see menu for further details). These were placed at each table so the ladies could review while other guests arrived / everyone got settled. Also, it made food selection a lot easier when people were going through the line because they knew what everything was. We also had little signs next to each dish to identify them against the descriptions in the menu. For more information on the menu items, including recipes, see the bottom of this post.tablesettings

Costumes. Finally, my sisters, mother and I decided it would be fun to play-act as ‘flight attendants.’ We all wore a navy skirt, white top, and red chiffon scarf (made out of 1 yard of fabric from Jo-Ann Fabrics). I also made us little name tags with the flat back safety pins, a slip of red paper and some glue. As guests arrived, we strategically placed ourselves around my house to direct traffic and move them through the different stations and ultimately to their seats. Once everyone arrived, I made an announcement using a phone handset (not connected to anything) so it’d look like the handsets used on planes. My announcement was: Good afternoon ladies! Welcome onboard Virgin Airlines Flight 709 bound for the United State of Matrimony with a layover in Europe. I’m your In-flight Service Director. Your cabin crew this morning also includes Sister #1, Sister #2, and Mom. We’d like to kindly remind you that the use of phones to share sexy lingerie pictures with the groom is strictly prohibited. We have 4 exits located…In the event that the fun level dips too low, please help yourself to additional libations at the bar. As we’ve reached our cruising altitude, please move about the cabin as needed. Restrooms are located…Our in-flight entertainment today will be the Cleveland wedding game, which will commence following the lunch service. Our lunch service today will feature a variety of cuisines from all over Europe. Please refer to the menus at your table for further information. You may begin serving yourself once the bride has gotten her meal, and once again, thank you for joining us today on Flight 709.

The party was a great time and it seemed that everyone loved the theme all around!

Recipes:

Where to buy:

Thanksgiving Crafts (for Hosting)

This past year my husband and I were drafted to host Thanksgiving, which was coincidentally our first Thanksgiving in our new house. With a guest list of about 20 and having never prepared a turkey, I started to feel a little anxious. But, rather than freaking out, I decided to calm my nerves by planning some crafts for the big day to make things fun!

Invitations. Although my guest list was pre-defined by the ‘regular crew’ for Thanksgiving each year, I decided this would still be a nice way to set the mood for the day. I used 5 simple materials: plain yellow and orange printer paper, dark brown card stock, silk leaves (I bought mine at the Dollar Tree for $1), some string or ribbon, and some permanent markers. First, I cut the brown card stock in half so that each invitation would be 5.5″ x 8″. I used my paper cutter, but you can easily fold in half to cut a nice edge. Then I cut the yellow and orange sheets to be a little bit smaller than the card stock. If you don’t have a paper cutter and aren’t good at cutting straight edges, try using some wavy scissors. These are a lot more cost effective than a paper cutter and will hide the fact that you’re edges aren’t perfectly straight. Finally, I hole punched two holes at the top of each invitation. With a little glue between the card stock and paper and paper and leaves, plus the string or ribbon tied through the holes, the whole thing comes together very quickly. After mocking up what I wanted to write on a scrap piece of paper (event, date, time, address, R.S.V.P.), I proceeded to knock out all the invitations by hand. I did use a straight edge to keep my dots in a (relatively) straight line. See below for the finished product:

YellowandOrangeInvites
Place Settings. Because of my guest list, I needed to have more than one table in a not huge area. So, I decided to dress them up to add to the cozy and inviting dining area. For the ‘adults’ table (aka, our parents and grandparents), I used a white table cloth I bought on Amazon for $10. This was a great find for me because I have a 5′ square wood table that is pretty challenging to find linens for. Anyhow, I also picked up some silk fall flowers from the Dollar Tree (at the same time as the leaves above) for around $4 and made a little arrangement in a glass jar I had. (Jars also available at the Dollar Tree for…you guessed it…$1).  Sorry, this picture came out a little blurry 😦 I’ll do better next time.adultstable

To identify the seating assignments, I grabbed some twigs from my backyard (well, my husband did), cut them down and hot glued them together with some small name slips to make super cute place cards. Simple, yet charming.Place cards

For the ‘kids’ table, I was contending with a 6′ folding table, so I decided to get a little funky. I have a huge roll of brown paper that I found in the attic of my old house (it’s a long story) so decided to use that to make a brown paper table cloth like they used to (and maybe still) do at Macaroni Grill. To spice it up, I used a paper plate to trace circles in front of each chair and wrote the seat assignments in the center of each ‘plate.’ The great thing about using the brown paper as a table cloth was that it made cleanup a cinch! Finally, I finished both tables off with cutlery wrapped in fall napkins and tied with string.kidstable

Banner. Since I had all my supplies out for the invitations and place cards, I decided to also make a nice banner to hang over my fireplace. We don’t have a mantle over it (yet – hopefully I will have a post on this in the not too distant future) so I couldn’t put up candles or a swag of some kind, but I figured a banner would do quite nicely. Using the brown card stock, yellow and orange plain printer paper, and my permanent markers, I cut my paper, drew my letters, punched my holes and added some leaves. This one took a little longer because I tried pretty hard, and I think it came out just fine. Once I finished with the paper crafts, I took some 1/2″ white ribbon and strung through the holes to make a cheap, easy, and pretty banner.

banner.jpg

To learn more about the centerpiece from the photo above, read Dead Tree Centerpiece with Candles.

[Updated 11/21/18] For more Thanksgiving ideas, read Thanksgiving Crafts for All and Thanksgiving Food Fun. Or, check out how to gear up for Black Friday with my Black Friday Shopping Team Shirts post.