Gift Ideas: For the Host(ess)

I’m actually giving this gift at a party I’m going to tonight, so banking on the fact that the host of the party isn’t reading this post before he receives this (hi Adam!).

The hubs and I were invited to an X-mas Xtravaganza this year. We’ve never been to the home of this couple, so I wanted to take along a little host(ess) gift for them. Since we’ve never been there and I have absolutely no idea about the style / design aesthetic of their house, I decided to go low risk with a small gift basket with the following:

  • Hand-designed mugs. You can see a few other options for designing these in my post Gift Ideas: Couple Christmas Kits (coming Christmas 2018). For this basket, I decided to go with their first name initials, using the dot technique. I chose yellow, as I found out that’s their accent color in their kitchen (and mugs go in the kitchen….).
    • Materials:
      • Mugs – I got these at the Dollar Tree. Be sure to get oven safe ones.
      • Oil-based paint marker – Joann Fabrics sells these in packs or by themselves and has a wide variety of colors.
      • Letter stencil – I have a big book of pre-cut letters (which you’ll see I use in many of my crafts – it was a great purchase) which I used here, but you could also use letter stickers for this one. If you have a paper letter, you’ll also want a glue stick to attach it to the mug.
    • Instructions:
      • Choose what side you want the letter to go on / which way you want the handle facing. I chose to have the handles opposite each other, as it makes for cuter presentation when the two mugs are together.
      • Attach the letter in the center of the mug. Then, make a bunch of small dots around the edge of the letter so you have a good outline (but not completely solid). Then, get crazy with dots out and around the letter. I usually try to make a generally circular shape around the letter with good dot coverage and then add a few random floaters fanned out slightly from there.
      • Remove the letter stencil and let dry overnight. Then, bake at 250°F for 2 hours on a baking sheet. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

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  • Fireside Coffee Mix. This has been a holiday favorite of mine for over 10 years. My high school art teacher first shared it with me (I cannot for the life of me remember why) and I’ll pull it out every few years to make for myself or as a gift.
    • Materials:
      • Jar – I got this one from the Dollar Tree. There are tons of varieties you can get; a mason jar works great too.
      • Ribbon + tag – I made my tag out of Christmas craft paper I have (not pictured).
      • Ingredients for the mix- powdered coffee creamer, instant coffee, hot cocoa packets, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon
    • Instructions:
      • Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together:
        • 4 packs hot cocoa mix
        • 1 cup powdered creamer
        • 3/4 cup sugar
        • 1/2 cup instant coffee
        • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
        • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
      • Transfer to the jar.
      • Cut the ribbon long enough to wrap around the mouth of the jar, with some extra to make a bow. TIP – I ALWAYS underestimate how much ribbon it takes to make a bow. You can always cut excess, but you can’t add more, so give yourself some length to work with. Then add the tag, tie the ribbon and that’s it!
  • Kahlua. This is a great addition to any cup of coffee and will be especially tasty with the cinnamon-y, chocolate-y goodness of the Fireside Coffee.
  • Chocolates. Lindor Lindt truffles make for pretty presentation in a mug or floating in a basket. And, they come in a variety of colors / flavors, so they can be a perfect, addition to many types of gift baskets, especially the color baskets (like this one). I chose gold (caramel and milk chocolate), as it would align with the yellow kitchen accent color. Then, I added teal and royal blue (milk chocolate and sea salt and dark chocolate, respectively) as the hostess’ favorite color is blue.
  • Cute basket. Since this was a home warming gift, I wanted to get a small basket that they might actually use in their house. I chose this sisal rope + navy basket because navy is pretty neutral (and again, blue is her favorite color) and the natural element of the sisal seemed like maybe it could work for them. We’ll find out!

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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.

Large Group Getaway Planning: Make It Work

I recently took a new approach to planning a large group getaway that I found very helpful due to the very narrow set of parameters with which I had to work. The group size is 21 – all my adult siblings and their families. My brother and his family come home from overseas every three years and this year, my mom had her heart set on a cruise (let’s be serious, we ALL were super down). More about my ladies’ cruise this past summer later…that’s what started cruising fever.

Here were my parameters. Regardless of the approach you take, defining these are the essential first step:

  • What/Where: Cruise somewhere warm on Royal Caribbean; we’ve tried a few other lines and didn’t love them quite as much. Royal is very opulent, but also accessible and not stuffy.
    • WHERE: Must depart from a port that we can drive to within a semi-reasonable amount of time (ie, not CA or WA since we are midwest). This left the East Coast tip to tail. Texas would be doable, but a bit of a stretch.
    • This could be what city/beach/area/country you want to go do AND what types of activities/vacation you want to have (hiking, biking, beach, shopping, sightseeing, wilderness, you name it). Also, don’t forget to consider travel TO the location (how long / how much / types of travel available).
  • When: Must occur between June 16th and July 6th (and be complete no later than then)
  • How Much: Must be comparably priced per person to the summer cruise we took (21 costs a lot more than 5)

To start, I got down to business researching. Using a number of filters on the RC site, I left Cruising To blank, but hand-picked Cruising from (my preferred departure ports) and the Departing time. From there, I got a number of results. I sorted by price lowest to highest and then created the document you can find here (we priced everything at an interior room – a balcony is a nice touch but the ocean view isn’t really worth it. I’ve personally found that I never really spend enough time in my room to justify the additional cost), stopping at my max budget per person.

I color coded the same cruises on different weeks all in the same color and used different colors for each unique itinerary. Each line contained the order of ports, price and ship name. I also included links to the ships, as the amenities onboard are important to us (but not deal breakers). If you’re looking for a certain ship, you can look at sailings on that vessel only. I wouldn’t recommend this, as it’s fun to try them all!

To make our final decision, we considered the following:

  • Destinations – we hit The Bahamas and Cococay on our recent cruise, my sister just got back from Bermuda, and we ruled out New England for its cooler temps. This left a combination of Key West, Havana and Cozumel.
  • Depart & return dates – we picked a cruise with Wednesday and Monday, which means air travel may likely be cheaper and less busy than a Friday, Saturday or Sunday; driving traffic too!
  • Boat – this really played into our decision; even though Mariner was our top choice in this category (it was what we just went on and it was AWESOME!), we felt the ship we chose, Majesty of the Seas, still had enough to do for both kids and adults.

From there, the decision was made and we’ve been working with a Royal Caribbean group specialist (available for room bookings of 8+ – they also allow for lots of nice perks with booking this way) ever since!

As we start to build anticipation over the next 9 months, we’re planning a few different things, like must-packs for a cruise list & assignments, themed dinner attire on a few nights, and some sort of coordinated item. We’re thinking lanyards, as it’s a nice thing to have to carry your Seapass card. As we make decisions, I’ll come back and update you here. Pics will be included as they become available. And I’m trying something new with the linked document above, so leave me a comment if you aren’t able to access it. Thanks!

 

Gift Ideas: 40th Anniversary

If you’ve seen my 33rd Anniversary post, you know I like color-themed baskets, especially for anniversaries. This basket celebrates the 40th anniversary, for which the traditional gift is a ruby. I was gifting family friends for a surprise anniversary party, so I figured a color basket would be the perfect gift that’s not too over the top but also still thoughtful. Here’s what I put in mine:

  • Apple pie candle – a candle is a staple for every color basket for me – you can find them in pretty much any color / flavor and at a number of price points (the Dollar Tree even has candles!). This one was $3.33 at Walmart.
  • Red duct tape – this is another staple for me, especially when the basket is for a couple; it’s also one of those things available in almost every color. This roll was $3.48 at Walmart.
  • Skittles – there are boxed candies out there for pretty much every color too; I like to get a chocolate and non-chocolate option unless I know specific flavors the recipients like. These were $0.98 at Walmart.
  • Lindt Milk Chocolate – sometimes it’s fun to get (semi-)fancy chocolate; the milk chocolate is the red bag (blue is dark, white is white, and there’s probably a few other options with flavors). This was a more expensive buy at $3.78 from Walmart.
  • Big Red Gum – must do for a red theme – the theme is in the name! I think this came in around $1.98 for the three pack at Walmart.
  • Red mini spiral notebooks – these are a fun addition that is neutral enough that anyone will like it! These were only $0.27 each!!
  • Red pens – to go with the notebooks; these were $2.48 at Walmart.
  • Red sticky notes – again, pretty neutral (who DOESN’T like sticky notes??) and available in a variety of colors; also, very cheap, coming in at $1.27.
  • Trail mix – I got lucky and found a trail mix in the checkout line of the grocery that had red packaging; I thought it’d be a nice, small addition (and they were super cheap at $0.47/bag at Aldi!)
  • Red mini cups – these were an impulse, fun add-in. I got them at Walmart for $1.99 and then sadly found them at the Dollar Tree for $1 😦
  • Red plush heart – again, this was an impulse buy, but at only $1 from the Dollar Tree, I couldn’t say no.
  • Basket – also a Dollar Tree buy; I highly encourage you to buy all your ‘fillers’ first so you can find the right size basket. I probably could have gone with a slightly larger one. I was also able to pick up the red cellophone basket bag. This was totally a bonus buy – I have never seen colored bags like this at the Dollar Tree, so I totally got lucky.
  • Apples (not pictured): we are going apple picking on the day I plan to gift this basket, so I’m planning to get a few, nice Red Delicious apples to add in as well!

As you put together your basket, you may want to accent with red tissue paper. Since all of my fillers were truly red, the basket was red enough without any help. I finished it off by making a card to explain the gift and put it in a red envelope (of course).

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Take A Trip: Las Vegas

This past weekend, I went to Las Vegas with some girlfriends. As with 99% of my personal travel, I started planning this trip by creating a powerpoint with options for flights and hotels and ideas of things to do, along with an estimated cost per person. When you’re planning a trip with friends or family (or really, even at work), this is an important first step. If you’re familiar with “business,” you might say you’re creating a business case (what/why) and part of that is budget.

I considered a few different hotels for our Vegas trip:

  • The LINQ
  • MGM Grand
  • Excalibur
  • Luxor
  • The Flamingo – ultimately, this was the one we went with; we liked that it was on the strip, relatively centrally located, one of the originals and fairly priced. Overall, it was fine. I’ve never been to Vegas before, so I have no comparison, but here are a few noteworthy things:
    • POSITIVE: They offer luggage hold for before or after you’re checking into/ out of your room AND they’ll bring it up once you get checked in.
    • POSITIVE: They have a very clearly marked Uber/Lyft area; this may seem simple, but we visited a view other hotels for shows / bars and it was pretty tricky to find where to meet our driver at most of the other properties.
    • POSITIVE: They have a range of food options – at least 2 cafes, a buffet, a grab-n-go station, two restaurants and a few bars. Plus, it is right off a pedestrian mall that has other options, like Starbucks, In-N-Out, Sprinkles and other places to get tasty treats. Walk across that and you’re in the LINQ, another hotel with many other restaurants/bars/etc. The LINQ is also the hotel that operates The High Roller, which is a massive enclosed ‘Ferris Wheel’ (think ~20 people per pod, some of which have a bar inside!). It was nice to be so close to this.
    • POSITIVE: When you check-in, you can get a Total Rewards card, which gave us a free drink and a free prize slot play. With the free prize slot play, we won a BOGO for the High Roller.
    • NEGATIVE: The adults-only pool cost $11/person, even though we were hotel guests; it was a weekend day (Saturday), but still seems excessive, especially when we were already being charged a daily per person resort fee.
    • NEGATIVE: The room wasn’t quite as advertised. We booked the Fab Executive and in the pictures, a couch is shown. We had a party of 3, so we requested two queen beds, but figured the couch would be good for hanging out. However, the room we received didn’t include a couch, but rather a chair. All in all, not a huge deal, but somewhat of a letdown.
    • NEGATIVE: Random, unexpected security check. My friends were sitting outside and I was heading to meet them when I got a knock on the hotel room door and Security announced themselves and asked to be allowed to do a random inspection of the room. There were two men – one entered the room and went to the phone to enter a code and the other stood at the door. It was really quick, but just odd and not anything the hotel informed us could happen.
    • NEGATIVE: We also attempted to hit the family pool, but were turned away because we had water bottles. We’re not sure if it was the fact that they didn’t know what was inside or that we had the bottles themselves, but we were told we couldn’t bring them inside (not asked to dump them).
    • NEGATIVE: The bathroom was pretty tiny and outdated.
    • NEGATIVE: The A/C was just okay – it was about 110 degrees, so I get it was working hard, but I wouldn’t say it was ever “cold” in our room.

We also explored a variety of options for what to do:

  • DID: Magic Mike Live at The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino; this show was excellent. If you’re looking for a Chippendales or male strippers, this is not the show for you. If you like cool dancing, ripped fellas and humor, you will enjoy this. I highly recommend you watch Magic Mike XXL prior to seeing this show, as it will make you appreciate it all the more.
  • DID: Drag Supper Club at Senor Frogs (inside Treasure Island); this show was ALSO excellent. The ladies were incredibly done up with gorgeous dresses/costumes and very well done routines. There were even some cool acrobats throughout as well. We got the VIP option and had great seats, decent food, open bar and a short meet & greet with a photo with the girls after! They also have a brunch option.
  • DID: High Roller; as mentioned above, this is a 500ft. tall observation wheel. We went at night and it was very cool to see the strip all lit up.
  • DID: Fremont Street – this is the old strip with some cool, classic casinos, random shopping, street performers (and extremely interesting ones, at that), a number of bars, a zip line and cool overhead light show in the evening. Definitely a neat place to walk around and people watch. Oh, and did I mention you can hit one of the bars and walk up and down the pedestrian mall with your alcohol?
  • DID: Hit the outlets – we opted for the North outlets (there are north and south options). Both are pretty close off the strip. We decided on North after reviewing the list of stores at each.
  • DID: Experience a self-driving Lyft!! This was such a cool experience. Sadly, it was only for a super short drive and we weren’t allowed to take pics or video, but the car still took over and drove! It was a BMW 5 series, so a pretty swanky car, but does have a small backseat, so three was a squeeze.

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Finally, we had some damn good food.

  • Holstein’s (inside The Cosmopolitan) – this place has insane adult milkshakes. Like, never in my life have I been served a milkshake of this kind. They also have yummy burgers and fries (plus a few other options). Below is the Donutella and the Cookies & Cream.
  • In-N-Out (just outside The Flamingo) – I live on the East coast of the Midwest 🙂 so I don’t get this option all that often, unless I’m traveling. If you’ve never had it, do. The burgers are yummy and you can customize and the fries are thin and have a nice crisp. Milkshakes are good too.
  • Sprinkles (just outside The Flamingo) – BOMB ASS CUPCAKES. This is an LA-based cupcake shop that has expanded to Las Vegas. They also have a super fun cupcake ‘atm’ for after-hours cupcake needs. I got the red velvet and it was so creamy and just melted in my mouth. HIGHLY recommend. (Oh, and they had a vegan option!)
  • Nacho Daddy – this is just off the ‘old strip,’ aka Fremont Street; nachos are huge and delicious, the desserts and margaritas were also yummy and they have a number of good vegan options. Below are blood orange, strawberry and mango margaritas, the BBQ nachos, fried ice cream and the churro dessert.

I hope this helps you with some ideas of what to explore in Vegas. I highly recommend doing some research (if you’re looking for other interests beyond the above) and planning ahead / pre-purchasing tickets before your trip. Also, you really only need ~4 days there. We had three full days and nights and that was plenty (but we didn’t gamble).

Gift Ideas: Mommy’s Night Out Basket

Really, this could be a ladies’ / girls’ / guys’ night out basket, but the general idea is supplies you’d need / want for going out or to a party. I made this for my sister-in-law who has a young son (and now, a year later, another one on the way), as I know how much she enjoys the rare occasions to get out of the house and have a little fun.

As with most of my baskets, I started by picking my theme, creating a long list of materials to pick up and then hitting The Dollar Tree to find as much as possible. Of course, there are always things I can’t find there, but it’s a good way to get a deal on a number of things so I have more room in my budget for bigger ticket items or to build an even bigger basket of stuff!

For this basket, I included the following:

  • Her favorite drink to pregame with (Crown and Coke – mini bottles of each)
    • I tend to use old school glass bottles for baskets I make, where possible; I think it gives a more sophisticated look (it’s probably all in my head)
  • Water
  • Aleve / Tylenol
  • Band-aids (hello blisters!)
  • 5-hour energy (to go all night!)
  • Chapstick
  • Gum
  • Ponytails
  • Dunkin’ Donuts gift card (for coffee/breakfast the morning after OR a super late night drunk snack – open 24 hours)
  • And of course, the “basket” which was really just a small tub from the DT

I kept this basket pretty small, but other ideas you could include are:

  • Mini / regular flask
  • Foldable shoes (I tried finding these for her but couldn’t find a pair I liked)
  • Uber / Lyft gift card
  • Condoms (depending how you roll…)
  • Glow sticks
  • Mixed CD or playlist
  • Any other essentials you / your friends always need on a good night out!

Happy basket building!

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: 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!