Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 5: The Menu

Ah, the food. The thing most often scrutinized (read: judged) and talked about long after an event takes place. No pressure, but if your food sucks, it will leave a bad taste in the mouths of your attendees (pun very much intended).

So, how do you prepare everything for a party, from cleaning to setup to activities and STILL manage to have food that wows your guests? Well, it comes down to planning, of course.

As with many of the elements of a party that I’ve covered so far, you need to think about a few key things to get started:

  • Who – the who is important for a few reasons:
    • Does anyone have dietary restrictions you need to accommodate? (vegan, gluten free, keto, dairy free – I have seen it all!)
    • Are you responsible for food for a few attendees or a large crowd?
    • Can you rely on anyone that is coming to prepare and bring part of the meal?
  • Where – this will help you determine if you should plan more hot or cold food, how far in advance food needs to be prepared / ready and what accommodations you have available for serving (both space and things like power for a crockpot or a fridge to store cold stuff)
  • When – the timing of your event should help you decide the heartiness of the meal. For example, a 2pm birthday party could be served by snacks and dessert only, whereas a 12pm baby shower should provide a full lunch.

Once you have a sense of how many people you need to feed, what size of meal you need to give them, what limitations you have on what you serve and an idea of who might be able to help, then you can start to brainstorm on the actual foods you want to include. This is the fun part. I like to circle back to my theme at this point. If you’re having a bridal shower tea, you should stick to traditional “tea foods” like finger sandwiches, mini snacks and cakes, and fresh fruit and veggies. A backyard Baby-Q would be well served with barbecued meats and traditional southern sides (think coleslaw, cornbread, collard greens, and the like).

If your party theme doesn’t help clarify your menu, then pick foods that will be a favorite of the guest(s) of honor. If your kid loves pizza, have pizza at their birthday party. If you’re secretly addicted to Chick-fil-A chicken, order a party tray of nuggs. Food that will please you and/or your guests is far more important that something overly fancy or novel.

And, while I’m at it, a quick aside about home-making vs. ordering – I’m always a fan of home prepared foods at parties. For one, it’s way cheaper and two, it gives you more control over ingredients, especially when it comes to allergens. However, there is NOTHING shameful about ordering food. This is a great option when you’re not great at cooking or have your hands full with other elements of the party. Don’t feel like you have to be a super-host and handcraft every single element of the event. Good food is good food, no matter whose hands prepared it.

Hopefully by now you’ve been able to brainstorm a number of options for your food. Now it’s time to review and edit. During this process, think about the following:

  • Do you have the major food groups represented? (protein, grains/starch, veggies/fruits, dairy)
  • Is your menu appropriate for your attendees? (think back to dietary needs, allergens, pickiness)
  • Can you pull it off? (4 dishes that all need to go in the oven won’t work, but neither will a stove top meal that needs to feed 50)

This last bullet, in particular, was a major factor in planning the menu for our upcoming party. We wanted the full cruise dining room feel, with a menu our guests of honor can order off of. This means multiple appetizers, main entrees and desserts. But, we didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen right up until dinner is served. So, we did some googling and got creative. Here is the menu we landed on:

Appetizers

  • Polenta Cakes – these are easily made ahead and re-warmed before serving or served at room temperature; we’re using a recipe from Recipe Girl
  • Squash and Apple Soup – we need vegan options for some guests, so this checks that box and is easily made in a small crockpot; thanks Nerds with Knives
  • Shrimp Cocktail – thaw the shrimp and you’re done! Can’t get any easier than that

Mains

  • Beef Tips – these are easy to make in an Instant Pot and can be kept warm until ready to serve; they also can be dairy free; we’ll serve these over herbed rice, the only thing we’ll be cooking on the stove all night
  • Chicken Marsala – this will be made in the oven and served over mashed potatoes, which we’re keeping simple by buying some Bob Evan’s trays you throw in the microwave to warm
  • Sous vide steak – this will also be served with mashed potatoes; I bought my hubs a sous vide for Christmas and we love it! You cook the steak in a bag in water for 2-3 hours and then right before you’re ready to eat, use a grill, hot oven or torch to brown the outside and create a delicious crust. It is so tender when prepared this way!
  • All of our mains will be served with a side of green beans with bacon and feta cheese, which we’ll keep warm in a small crockpot (I bought a mini trio crockpot a few years ago, so it’s getting put to use for this party!)

Dessert

  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Cups – we’ll make dairy free chocolate cups and fill them with this divine pudding from Mr. Food
  • Apple spice dump cake with ice cream – this is another dairy free option and can be made in a crockpot!
  • Cheesecake bites – another “make ahead” option that we can even plate ahead of time; check out the recipe from Crazy For Crust

Drinks

We will have coffee, water, wine, and spirits with a specialty cocktail called Giggle Juice.

One of my next steps in planning is to sort out the presentation of each of these options – the soup will need an attractive bowl and I’d love to use martini glasses for the shrimp cocktail. The rest still needs some work. I’ll be back with more on that as I get into assignments and supplies needed to pull the evening off.

But, as a quick update, our party date has changed (again) and we’re back on for April 10, so, as a special edition this week, check back on Friday to learn more about what we planned as our event “primer” to get our guests of honor out of their house so we could take it over for the event.

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Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 4: The Invite

Creating an invite is usually one of the first things I do once I decide to host a party. In fact, outside of my initial brainstorming, it’s the first thing I did for this event, even though I’ve posted about a few other activities before it. For me, it sets the tone for the event, both in how I start to think about and plan for it, but also in the minds of my guests. It provides valuable clues for what they can expect at the gathering. And the invite for this party is no exception, but more on that below.

The whole concept of “priming” your guests for an event, of which the invite is an important part, is something I read about in the book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. I highly recommend it if you enjoy hosting gatherings, personally or professionally, which I assume you do if you’re reading this. The basic idea of priming for a party is no different than in any other context the word may be used – you prime something to prepare it. You prime a wall before you paint it, you prime a lawn mower before you start it, therefore why wouldn’t you prime your guests for your event before they arrive?

So, how can you start this business of priming with your invite? Well, there’s a few things to plan for in what you create (or have created… or buy…):

  • Include the basics:
    • Who – the host / the invitee / the guest(s) of honor
    • What – the type of event
    • When – date & time + when RSVPs are due, if you’re requesting them
    • Where – the address and if the event is indoor or outdoor
    • Why – the reason for the gathering
  • Highlight your theme – unless you’ve already sent a Save the Date or shared details of the event with all of your guests some other way, this is your first chance to give your invitees a taste of what to expect at the party. A child’s birthday invite might be colorful and fun and contain their favorite characters who will decorate the party. A backyard BBQ invite might be simple and homey. A Mother’s Day tea invite might be fancy and whimsical. Let your invite introduce not only the important facts of the invite, but the mood as well.
  • Remember you’re in charge – now, this might seem high-handed, but it’s your event. You get to set the rules. And the rules are there to ensure all your guests (especially the guest(s) of honor) have the best experience possible. If you have specific ground rules, state them up front so that anyone who does not wish to comply can opt out of attending.
    • Ex. Stating that a murder mystery dinner requires all participants show up on time, in costume and actively role play.
    • Ex. Asking guests to bring a book in lieu of a card to a baby shower.

Here’s the invite I’ve created for my upcoming party. It’s nothing more than a highly customized table created in PowerPoint. You’ll see that I’ve conveyed all the important facts (who, what, when, where, why) in some way, shape, or form. And, I’ve used the structure of the invite, mocked after a Royal Caribbean Set Sail Pass, to start to set the stage for the cruise-themed event. I’ve also set some expectations for attendees: they must wear formal attire for dinner, they need their reading glasses and masks for the event, and they must come ready to party. 🙂

Using a non-traditional invite format is probably one of my favorite ways to prime guests for an event, convey important information and personalize it. Check out my Globe Trotter Bridal Shower post for one of my favorite invites of all time.

In addition to all of the above that I’m conveying with this invite, I also threw in a few other details to make it truly special for the recipients:

  1. The cabin number – their anniversary date is April 6, so I used this in numeric format as their assigned “cabin number” on our “ship”.
  2. The King Kruises name / logo – originally I built the invite using a Royal Caribbean logo, but we decided that personalizing even further was worth it. I used a free logo creator website and whipped it up in 10 minutes or less.
  3. The “prepaid excursion” – I referenced this last week in my post about the location. This is the activity we’re sending them out to do so we can set their house for the party. More on this in a future post!

You’ll note that the date on the invite doesn’t match previous posts. Due to some scheduling conflicts (aka work), we had to bump it back a week, which means 1 more week of posts and anticipation before the big day.

If you want specific advice on your invite or help designing one for your next event, leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch.

Next week is all about the best part of any event – the food and drink. We’ll walk through how to plan what and how much and I’ll run you through how we’re tackling a multi-option 3-course menu for our event. Stay tuned!

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 3: Choosing the Location

Depending on the type of event you’re planning, choosing the location can either be a big to do (like a wedding / reception) or a total no-brainer (where else would I have it but my house??). Nonetheless, like any event decision, it shouldn’t be a throwaway.

There are a few important considerations you should account for when selecting your venue:

  • Number of guests – you won’t know your final attendee count when you choose the location, but a good rule of thumb is to plan a space big enough to fit 75% of the guests you invite. Inevitably, some people won’t want to come, will have to work or will have other plans, so this will give you an idea of the space you need to comfortably fit everyone.
  • Activities – this is important for a few reasons. Firstly, if you’re serving food, you need a location that has any needed food prep / storage / warming or cooling accommodations. Secondly, it needs to be big enough to set out tables for guests to eat. I always like to have a minimum of one chair per person when I’m serving food, even if they aren’t all at a traditional table setting. Depending on the type of party, everyone may or may not sit down to eat at the same time, but it’s nice to have the option should that happen. Finally, if you have other things planned beyond eating, you will either need space to fit those activities too, or you’ll need to either move to a new location (a different room, another part of your yard, etc.) or “flip” your space. This might include breaking down tables or putting food away and should be planned into your event flow.
  • Weather – I talked about this a bit in Part 1, but does the geographical location and time of year dictate that you’re indoors? Does a likelihood of unpredictable weather mean you need a backup plan or do you have a covered outdoor location that’d work either way?
    • Funny story about covered outdoor locations… I went to a baby shower for my SIL toward the end of May. This was some years ago now, but I’ll never forgot her shower. It was outside under tents / in the garage, so definitely well covered from the beautiful sun. However, when it randomly started down-pouring with hail and huge gusts of wind, the tents weren’t a whole lot of help to the guests under them!
  • Safety – this is even more important for any events happening now with COVID social distancing measures, but also applies to general safety and well-being. Here are some things to think about:
    • Do I have adequate room to allow guests to safely move around the space and one another? (think 6 feet distancing and fire safety)
    • Are there any dangerous elements I need to protect my guests from? (think grills, fire pits, stairways without railings, sloped yards, uneven pavement, pools or hot tubs)
    • Will all guests be able to attend without restriction? (think wheelchair access, if required, safety for small children, pet allergies)

Sometimes, with all of these items considered, you may land on a location you never thought you would. Let yourself think outside the box and keep the happiness of yourself AND your guests top of mind.

For our party, we landed on the home of the couple we’re celebrating as our location. It’s the biggest, has two spacious areas where we can host the different parts of the evening and has everything we need for food prep. It will also mean the couple doesn’t have to drive, so they can imbibe freely.

At first this seemed like a bad idea because we have a lot of setup and prep to do and don’t want them to be there for that. But, after some creative thinking, we’ve come up with a way to get them out of the house for some added fun and “priming” for the event since it ties perfectly into our theme. More about that in future posts…

Speaking of, next week I’ll be walking you through my process for creating the invite, a critical part that sets the tone for your guests. Stay tuned.

Gift Ideas: Daddy Kit

If you’ve ever been pregnant, you know that you get a TON of gifts for your impending baby. During my pregnancy, I also found that I got a fair number of “mommy” gifts to pamper myself or make it through pregnancy (which, I actually really enjoyed – both the pregnancy AND the gifts).

The one person who seems to be forgotten in the gift giving occasion is the dad (although my hubs did get one gift solely for him at our shower). So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and make him a little Daddy Kit. The goal: stock him up with snacks and treats for the hospital, along with a few other essentials and fun things to make him feel special.

Here’s what I put in my kit:

  • Snacks / treats – I decided to go a little overboard with this (shocking, I know) and themed the snacks as a rainbow; I chose 1 healthy snack and 1 less healthy snack for each color of the rainbow. This could be a fun gift idea in itself for anyone in your life!
    • Red: trail mix and cheese crisps
    • Orange: almonds and kinder joy
    • Yellow: Sunsweet dried mangoes and peanut M&Ms
    • Green: chia seed bars and Mountain Dew
    • Blue: coconut water and gummy worms
    • Indigo: nut & dried fruit mix and truffles
    • Violet: oatmeal and Double Bubble gum
  • Tylenol – for any headaches from sleep deprivation or a crying baby
  • 5 hour energy – ’nuff said
  • Chapstick
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Ear plugs
  • Mini pack of Tissues
  • Matching Daddy/baby shirts – there are lots of cute ideas for this on Pinterest. I opted to do copy/paste as my husband is a software developer and would appreciate this. I used my Cricut to cut the design out of iron-on vinyl and applied it to a white tee for Dad and white onesie for baby.
  • I assembled the kit in a handy tool box/bag with structure and lots of pockets. It gave it a great look and also gave him a cool new tool storage solution.

Other ideas you could consider including are:

  • Mini bottle of alcohol (a “shot”)
  • Cigar to celebrate
  • Reusable water bottle (and you could customize it with permanent vinyl!)
  • Coffee / coffee drink

He really loved it and the snacks were great for him to pack in his hospital bag. Plus, it was fun for me to pick out snacks I knew he’d enjoy and put it all together. Win, win!

Gift Ideas : “Oh shit” Baby Kit

Although I recently had my first child, I made this kit for my SIL (but I’m thinking I’m going to have to make one for myself too). I got the idea from Pinterest (no surprise), where you can find lots of additional ideas of what you can include in your kit, but I’ve got a pretty solid list below for your consideration.

Ultimately, the point of this kit is to throw it in your trunk and forget about it until you need it… Maybe you run out of diapers, your kid has a major blowout, spits up, etc. It’s essentially a backup to your diaper bag for when things go awry… And as I’m learning as a new parent, they WILL go awry at some point. (I’ve already been peed and pooped on so many times…)

So, what are the essentials you should include? Here’s what I put in the kit I made:

  • Diapers size 1-4 – since I was stockpiling diapers for myself, I was okay buying packs in a few sizes and taking a couple out of each to include in this kit. If you don’t have a baby, you could buy very small packs and give the rest to your expecting recipient separately from the kit. They will be appreciated!
  • Outfits size 0-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-18 months – hit the clearance section for these so you don’t blow your budget. And remember, for babies, a onesie can totally count as an outfit. Also, as a nice touch, I opted to wash all the outfits in baby-safe detergent so the kit would be totally ready to use.
  • Plastic gallon bags – these are nice to stash dirty clothes in. I made little packages of diapers and an outfit in plastic gallon bags to organize the kit and make the sizing easy to find (frazzled moms and dads will appreciate this!)
  • Mini trash bags – get scented ones if you can (for stinky diapers); I found a small roll at the Dollar Tree
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bib
  • Pacifier
  • Boogie wipes
  • Tissues – I just included a small pack rather than a full size box
  • Clean shirt for mom – I went with a nice, neutral white so it could match almost anything she might be wearing in case of emergency
  • Paper towels
  • Clorox wipes
  • Bandaids – this is great for parents with multiple kids, especially some that are older
  • Ointment – see note above
  • Tylenol
  • Car freshener
  • Lint roller

I assembled the kit in a reusable shopping bag that had a stable bottom so it’d be easy to transport but could easily hangout in the trunk until needed. It was a hit and I’ve heard from my SIL that she’s already put it to good use!

Gift Ideas: Craft Basket

Wow – I can’t believe how long it’s been since my last post! Needless to say, I’ve had some other things going on (namely, a baby, which you can read related posts about here).

If you’re up to date on what I’ve written about so far this year, then you probably know I’m on a gift basket kick (and it doesn’t stop with this one… A coffee basket, “oh shit” baby kit, number of prize baskets, little explorer set, college survival kit, and local flavor basket are still to come!).

This gift was for my niece who turned 4. Kids get SO MANY toys these days that I wanted to get her something that’d be fun and she could get excited about, but that wouldn’t just be yet another thing she’d outgrow and would clog up her bedroom or playroom.

This is also a great gift if you have a set budget for two reasons:

1. You can get as few or as many things to go in it as you can afford. It’s totally customizable.

2. You can get lots of great additions at pretty cheap prices without sacrificing quality. I made this entire basket from a trip to the Dollar Tree.

Below is a list of items I put in my basket, but remember:

  • Customize it for the recipient – I wanted easy to work with materials for little hands; for an older recipient, you could get paints, brushes, and other more advanced craft tools and supplies. Or, if you know your recipient has specific craft passions (like using a cricut or a sewing machine), you could get items that specifically work with that.
  • These are just a starting point – if you see something that speaks to you, go for it!
  • Present your collection of items in a usable basket or container and finish it with a cellophane wrap and some ribbon.

Items in my craft basket:

  • Ribbon
  • Double sided tape
  • Glue stick
  • Washi tape
  • Glue dots
  • Pop up dots (for 3D crafting)
  • Sticky note pads (I got one that is shaped like the letter of her first name and a few others in fun shapes and colors)
  • Crayons (neon and glitter – all kids need both, let’s be serious)
  • Kid scissors
  • Pompoms
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Mini clipboard and notepad
  • Ruler
  • 3 Hole punch
  • 2 colors of glitter paper
  • A pad of colored paper and half sheets of colored paper

And the best part… The shopping! This gift is not only great for your recipient but will be enjoyable for you to put together too. Have fun!

Gift Ideas: Vodka Soaked Chocolate Covered Strawberries and BONUS: Chocolate Covered Strawberry Martinis

As you may know, Christmas 2018 was a handcrafted Christmas. Some of the gifts I made were more family-friendly (like the homemade board game) and others were more geared toward the adults (like the Awkward Cat Calendar). As such, there were a few instances where I needed (well, wanted) a small gift for either the adults or kids in the family.

For my brother and his wife, they live across the world and are only home every 3 years. This can make gift giving tricky because I can’t do any of my obvious DIY gifts for the home since it’d be really hard for them to take back with them. So, I opted for a “disposal” gift – vodka soaked chocolate covered strawberries. First, who DOESN’T love chocolate covered strawberries, and more importantly, who doesn’t love a little booze in their dessert? I know I do.

This was a really simple recipe. Here’s what you need:

  • Chocolate flavored vodka – I used Van Gogh Dutch chocolate infused vodka; any kind will do, but this was oddly one of only 2 brands available in a chocolate vodka at my local grocery store (pic below)
  • Strawberries
  • Melting chocolate – lots of people will tell you to get the special wafers that are meant for melting; they aren’t wrong, but I prefer the taste of milk or dark chocolate, so I tend to get regular chocolate chips or chocolate squares, melt it and then cut it with a TINY bit of coconut oil to thin it up so it’s easier to dip
  • Coconut oil (optional, see note above)
  • Wax paper
  • A cute tin or tupperware for storing the strawberries

These are DEAD EASY to make:

  1. Soak the strawberries in the vodka overnight. I put them in a glass container laid out side by side (so the strawberries didn’t get any soft spots) and poured about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch of vodka into the dish.
  2. Remove the strawberries from the vodka and dry thoroughly. Don’t SQUEEZE them (you don’t want to lose the infusion), but you do need them to be dry to the touch if you’re going to get the chocolate to stick.
  3. Melt your chocolate and cut with a tiny bit of coconut oil (if using) to thin to a nice, dippable consistency. I have a little chocolate melting pot, but you can use a double boiler or pot of boiling water with another pot with the chocolate in it sitting down in the water. Try to avoid just microwaving the chocolate if you can – it’s really easy to burn. Also, microwaved chocolate tends to cool more quickly, making the last strawberries that you dip a little ugly…
  4. Dip strawberries in the chocolate and place onto wax paper to dry. Put into the fridge to speed up the cooling process.
  5. Arrange in a decorative tin or “treet” yourself!

TIP: Save the strawberry infused chocolate vodka! A few days later I made really yummy dairy free chocolate covered strawberry martinis that I adapted from this recipe. Instead, I used the following:

  • Chocolate syrup – to line the glass; just get crazy and drizzle it all in there
  • Strawberry infused chocolate vodka (from above) – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Pinnacle Whipped Vodka – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Sweet Creme coconut creamer – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Ice
  • Blended strawberries

Put the vodka, cream and ice into a shaker and mix well. Pour into a chocolate syrup lined martini glass and top with a glob of pureed strawberries. Stir them in just a little bit and serve!

Gift Ideas: Reversible Drawstring Toy Bag

As with many of my recent posts, this was another item from Handcrafted Christmas 2018. I made this for my SIL, as she has two boys (3 and 1.5 and one more baby on the way!) so figured easy toy clean up and transportation is definitely something important to her.

The original idea for this gift (and subsequently, this post), came from a number of my fellow pinners on Pinterest. I looked at pictures to get some inspiration, but ultimately sorted out how to made this step by step on my own, so here’s what I did.

Materials:

  • 2 yards of soft, flannel fabric in two patterns (1 yard of each) – you don’t have to use flannel, but this gave the bag a really nice feel, so I opted to; it also makes the bag feel a bit more durable
  • Liquid stitch – you could also hand sew or use a sewing machine to make this bag. Since I didn’t have a sewing machine at the time (though I’ve since gotten one, thanks, MIL!) and I didn’t particularly feel like hand sewing it, I opted to use liquid stitch and it worked great
  • Grommets & kit – by “kit,” I mean the tool to install the grommets (see below pics for what mine looked like); I used this set
  • Something sharp to punch your grommet holes – the hubs had this random tool (see below pic) that I used that did a nice job of punching the hole, but you honestly just need something sharp to get the hole started
  • Super glue – I used this to keep the holes from fraying and expanding and opted for the brush-on super glue, which was helpful to keep it clean without getting my fingers stuck to anything!
  • Hammer and a small piece of scrap wood– if needed, to install the grommets
  • Rope – I used a dark blue paracord; get the appropriate size to fit through your grommets; I got mine at Wal-mart
  • Drawstring piece – this is completely optional – the bag works completely well without this part, but I just used one from an old coat; you can also get them on Amazon
  • A marker and scissors – to trace onto the fabric and then cut out your desired shape

Instructions:

  • First, I cut my fabric into circles. To do this, I flipped the fabric over and found a large, circular object (the bottom of my custom cat stratcher) and traced the circle on both pieces of fabric. Then I cut it out. It doesn’t have to be perfectly cut / edged as you will not see the rough cut edges once the bag is finished. Be sure to trace the circle on the back of the fabric.
  • Then, I took both pieces of fabric and put them face to face (ie, the sides of each that I wanted to show on the outside were facing each other with the opposite sides facing out). I used my liquid stitch to glue around the edge of the circle to bind the two pieces together. Be careful to stay as close to the edge as possible and make sure to leave a little bit unglued so you can turn the fabric inside out (so the right sides of the fabric are facing outward and the rough edges are hidden in the seams).

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  • Once you flip the pieces inside out so the right sides are facing outward, carefully finish folding the seam and glue the two flaps together. Your final seam should look like this.

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  • Next, poke your holes for your grommets and fit the larger piece through the hole. Use your super glue around the hole / rim of the grommet to prevent the fabric from fraying.

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  • Finish the grommets by taking the other piece (the smaller part that looks like a washer) and fitting over the cylinder piece. Use your grommet tool and hammer to fit it into place and finish the grommet. I watched this video before doing my own grommets and it helped.
  • Finish the bag by threading the rope through the grommets. I choose a “middle” to the bag and threaded the rope from there around both sides rather than feeding it through all the grommets starting at one end and working back around the circle. Once the rope is threaded through all the holes (and long enough for the bag to be fully laid out as the circle), cinch the bag closed and put your drawstring piece on to hold the bag closed. If you decide not to use the drawstring piece, you can just tie a loose bow knot at the top of your bag.

I decided to finish my bag by putting some cute little toys inside for my nephews. This helps with the bag presentation (makes the bag shape a little better) and also demonstrates the purpose of the bag for the receiver. Tada!

Gift Ideas: Custom Board Game

A lot of people have asked me where I came up with this idea for handcrafted Christmas / why I decided to do this and I, unfortunately, don’t have a great answer. I can’t really remember! So, regardless of the catalyst, I decided to make a custom board game for one of my nephews. He is turning 7 this month, so he is reading and starting to become aware of his surroundings, including his neighborhood.

As a kid, I was always a fan of the Game of Life, but could rarely get anyone to play it all the way through with me. As I got older, I found the game Mall Madness and LOVED it, so when trying to come up with the premise for this game, I decided to marry the two to create: My Actual Neighborhood (the hubs picked the title).

Here’s how I did it:

  • Create the game premise. Before you start designing a board or anything else, it’s important to have a plan for how the game will be played. That way, you’ll know what the board should look like and what pieces, cards and other materials you’ll need. I decided that I wanted to include pictures of his neighborhood, so, for the gameplay, each player would draw a card that would give them a “mission” for the game. This “mission” would include 3 places on the board that they’d have to go to in order to win. I then created cute little scenarios to accompany each combination of locations. For example, one scenario was: You’re having a sleepover with your cousins at Grandma’s. Start at home and pack your bag. Then, go pick up your cousins from their house. Lose a turn at their house because they aren’t ready. Finally, head to Grandma’s for a night of fun. Other scenarios require the player to go buy something (like craft supplies for a gift for mom or dad), for which they must first earn money. In order to earn money, they can either complete chores at any of the locations (each location has a corresponding chore and payment amount) OR they can get lucky and land on a board space that pays them (for losing a tooth, having a birthday, etc.). I outlined all of this FIRST so I could think through how to design the board and what other pieces I’d need to create.
  • Design the board. My next step was to draw out what I wanted the board to look like. I did this on paper first and really started by thinking about the locations I wanted to include (I included 6: his house, his school, our house, another aunt & uncle’s house, houses of his grandparents on either side and his mom’s work, which is Wal-mart, so it worked out for a few of the missions) and where they exist in relation to one another. My original sketch was pretty tough to follow, so I added color and it looked like this:

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Note, I added the park as somewhat of an afterthought because I had a lot of dead space and I also wanted a neutral location for all players to start. The same is true with the Community pool (I had a few extra blocks I didn’t know what to do with).

  • Create the board. Next, I transferred my design concept onto the actual board. I wanted to get an understanding of the sizing of each space / the board overall so I could create the other pieces to scale. Since my original design was on a letter-sized sheet of paper, I wanted to try to scale it so I wouldn’t have to rework all the spacing. My final sizing was roughly 4:1 (just under) with the fold down the middle of the board. This required a little math to convert onto the board, but I just counted the number of spaces I needed vertically and horizontally and then divided the length and width dimensions of the game board accordingly to create evenly sized spaces. The materials I used to create the board included:
    • Tri-fold board from the Dollar Tree – I used one side flap and part of the main board piece to create a board that had a pre-built fold down the middle.
    • Exacto knife and cutting mat – I used this to cut the top and side to get the size I wanted. It’s really hard to cut straight, so a metal ruler would have been incredibly helpful for this part, but I didn’t have one so I free-handed it (after making line markings, of course).
    • Ruler and pencil – for measuring and marking everything; as mentioned, if you have a metal ruler, even better as this will help you with cutting too!
    • Calculator or brain – to do math

  • Add board details. Once I had the basic layout of spaces, I went back through and added pictures of each location and other board accents. For the pictures, I printed them out at home on plain computer paper and used double stick tape to attach them. I decided to include arrows on each space to indicate which way a player could move (like how roads work). I also added stoplight symbols on some spaces and location markers on others; more about what these mean below. To finish the game board, I applied a thin layer of mod podge to the bottom. I decided against applying a layer on the top because I was worried it would prevent it from folding nicely and/or would make the colors run.

  • Create your supplemental materials. Now that the board was done, I needed to create everything else to go along with it. The supplies I used (referenced below as well) included: paper cutter (super helpful for getting straight cuts!), stamp pads in red and blue, letter stamps and a location symbol stamp, number stickers (Dollar Tree), colored dot stickers, printer and a few colors of paper. Note, the preview / google docs version of some of the below templates don’t display correctly. For best results, download and open with Microsoft Word.
    • Money – I looked at pictures online of board game money to get an idea (and also based this off of the style of American money since that’d be familiar for my nephew). You can see my money template here.
    • Mission cards – I used Microsoft word to create 4 cards per page and wrote out each mission using a numbered list. I made sure to keep the formatting consistent so each card would be the same size. Then, on the back, I used stickers and stamps to label each as “Mission” with a number (so they can switch up what mission number they have each time they play). I made a total of 10 missions. You can see my template here. 
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    • Stoplight cards – as I mentioned, I drew little stoplight symbols on the board with marker, so I needed cards to go along with them to indicate what they mean. Each stoplight card had some sort of driving-related incident – a speeding ticket, out of windshield washer fluid, ran out of gas, etc. If the player lands on the space, they must draw a card and then either pay the fine (if they’ve earned money) or lose a turn. Again, I used Microsoft Word; you can see my template here. I printed these on colored paper to distinguish them from the mission cards. For the back, I used colored dots to make the little stoplight symbol.
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    • Location symbol cards – these are like bonuses throughout the game. If you land on a space with a location symbol, you’d draw a card and earn money for some reason (babysitting your cousins, helping an elderly person carry their groceries, picking up your neighbor’s dog’s poop, etc.). I used a different color of paper for these and used a location symbol stamp to mark the backs. My template (Microsoft Word) is here.
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    • Instruction sheet – definitely don’t forget this! You can see my template here. I laminated it after printing just because I love laminating.
    • Location Chore Payment Card – as mentioned, if the player needed to earn money to make a purchase, he or she could choose to visit an additional location and lose a turn to earn some cash. I created this little guide here to indicate how much money would be earned at each location.
  • Make the game pieces. Thankfully, my husband got a 3D printer for Christmas in 2017. I don’t have any great recommendations for you on how to create pieces without one (maybe find random knick-knacks around your house that you could include? Maybe make little cardboard people or stands?), but here’s the pieces we used from Thingiverse:

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  • Make the game box. I found a really helpful blog about how to make a board game box here. My husband was adamant that he didn’t want to just use a clothing gift box, so I followed the instructions using a couple of boxes I received some shipments (Amazon, Wal-mart, etc.) to create a custom-sized box. Then, I covered the entire thing with thing brown paper (from my massive roll I’ve used for all my gift wrapping). I used mod podge to adhere the brown paper to the cardboard. Then, I printed out pictures of all the locations on the game board and a few others (his dad’s work, restaurants and stores they go to in their area, the mall, a park, etc.) and used these to cover the top and sides of the top piece for the box. I used mod podge to adhere the pictures to the box and then applied a thin layer of mod podge on top as well to give it a shiny finish and protect it. I also made sure to include the name of the game right in the middle.

 

Once I had everything done, I used baggies and a little box we had laying around to keep the cards, money and game pieces organized. Here’s the final product:

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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!