Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 7: Organizing Activities

As promised last week, this post will be focused on the “how to” of all the little touches we’re bringing into this party. I’ll cover how to plan and execute them, along with some resources and templates. To make it easy to follow along with this series, I’ve keep the same breakdown of party “areas” and within each, I’ll detail the specifics of the elements we’re incorporating.

Area 1: The Gangway

  • SeaPass card – I tried to mock up this template to look as similar as possible to the Royal Caribbean SeaPass card (our cruise line of choice). To do that, I searched Google for an image of it and then built within PowerPoint. You can start with a basic rectangle or rounded rectangle shape, size it to the appropriate dimensions and then use text boxes / tables within it to include the various components on the image. To make it feel like a card, I’m going to run it through my laminator. If you don’t have one (I LOVE mine…and they aren’t all that expensive), you can get these Scotch Self Seal Laminating pouches. They are a perfect side for this type of card.
  • Our uniforms – the great part about doing uniforms is – they don’t have to be perfectly like what you’d find on a ship to make sense for attendees. I’ve done “uniforms” for other events before (see my Globe Trotter Bridal Shower for another example) and learned that the most important part is everyone wearing as close to the same thing as possible. This will create the uniform feel (because really, how likely is it that 4-8 people at your party all show up in the same color of pants and shirts of their own volition?). We decided on black pants with black shirts. Our nametags are going to be white, so we wanted them to pop against our uniform. For the nametags, I bought a pack of Avery safety pin nametags that you can print out or write on. These are my favorite because they’re reusable (and are also great with the Murder Mystery in a box kits, like my How to Host a Murder Parties on the 1960s, 1880s, and 1920s.) Here is the nametag template I’m using for our party.

Area 2: Their Stateroom

  • Towel animal – there are SO many towel folding videos available on YouTube. We haven’t decided what animal we’re going to do yet (likely, we will try a few and whichever looks the least pathetic is what we’ll go with…), but there are lots of choices and there’s bound to be at least one you can successfully achieve!
  • Cruise Compass – Just like with the SeaPass card, I looked at dozens of Royal Caribbean Cruise Compasses via a Google search (it’s crazy how many people post pics of them!). Then I thought about what elements would work for my event and came up with other ideas to fill the space where items on the REAL Cruise Compass didn’t make sense for the party. You can see my template here.
  • Engraved flutesthese are the flutes we’ve ordered for them. While it will make the evening even more special, they are also a nice, lasting gift for them to enjoy AND to help them remember the celebration.

Area 3: The Pre-dinner Photo

  • Photo location – we still haven’t landed on a spot, but when choosing a location for a photo, be sure to consider a few things:
    • Lighting – as someone who has had some really bad experiences with wack lighting (my wedding photos weren’t amazing, sadly), I’ve learned that this is incredibly important. Too bright and your subjects look washed out. Too dark and you can’t see them and feel like you need to squint. The good news is that if you’re using a standard cell phone camera (which is really quite good these days), you should be okay with light and exposure, so long as you choose a well lit place where the light allows the front of the subjects to be viewable. So, pick a place and think about the available lighting in it, as well as any natural light, time of day, sunset, etc. And, if you don’t have a great spot with good lighting, MAKE ONE! Grab an extra lamp or some flashlights and set them up to help light the area. Take some test photos before the event at the appropriate time of day to make sure the photos will come out well.
    • Background – you want a neutral / non-distracting background for your photo. This will help the subjects standout and will ensure you don’t go “wow, I really wish you couldn’t see my kids’ toy clutter in the background of that photo on Mom’s mantle for the last 10 years…” If you don’t have a good spot for this, you can always buy a background and create the look your going for.

Area 4: The Main Dining Room

  • Table setting – there’s just something about a formal table setting that makes food taste better. Whenever I want to elevate an evening at home with my hubs, I’ll whip out our fancier placemats, grab a couple of cloth napkins and set the table. It’s really not hard and makes a statement. So, for this party, we’re going full out. We’ll use white tablecloths, cloth napkins and a full setting of cutlery and glasses. (Side note: you know how when you buy silverware sets, it comes with big spoons, little spoons, big forks, little ones, etc.? Well, this is the PERFECT time to put those all to good use!) A traditional table setting has a small fork out the outer left, followed by a large fork. If you’re setting out plates, this would come next (usually a dinner plate with a salad plate / soup bowl on top, depending what you’re using). On the other side of the plate, you should have a dinner knife (typically just a “butter knife”, but could also be a steak knife depending on the meal) followed by a soup spoon (the larger spoon in your silverware set). At the top of the plate, horizontally, should sit a dessert spoon (the smaller spoon). In the top right corner, you should have both a water glass and wine glass(es). In the top left corner, you should have the bread plate with a smaller butter knife (if you have them…if not, don’t worry. People can just use their dinner knife for this.). There are lots of images of traditional table settings on Google if you need a visual or want to see other options. We’ll also be attempting a fancy napkin fold, of which there are many YouTube videos. Wish us luck!
  • Menu – while it might seem totally OTT to create and print a menu, we really wanted the experience to feel as authentic as possible (plus we have choices, so didn’t want to have to be rattling them off verbally). As with all the templates, I’ve created, I started with a Google search for a Royal Caribbean dinner menu and then built from there. For this template, I used a table in MS Word to keep the spacing and alignment. When I print this, I’ll have it printed on heavier cardstock so it feels more formal.

Area 5: The King’s Lounge

  • Love & Marriage Questions – Google, google, google. (or Bing or whatever…) It is so easy to find questions from previous Love & Marriage game shows on Royal cruises. There are also lots of questions out there for bachelorette parties or wedding showers, or for “The Newlywed Game” that can work perfectly for this. I was going to make individual cards for each question, BUT, I decided I wanted to be able to record the answers of each participant, so I just created a master template with all of the questions and the couple names where I could record their answers AND keep score all in one place. In case you aren’t familiar with how this game works, it goes like this: you have a few couples, ideally 3-4. To start the game, one partner from each couple has to exit the room and go somewhere that they can’t hear what’s being said. Then, the host asks questions of the remaining partners, they give their answers and then the other halves of each couple return and are asked the same questions. For each answer where both partners give the same answer, the couple earns 1 point. It’s absolutely hilarious, as long as you’re asking the right questions 🙂 As mentioned in my last post, I’ve removed the questions from the template because I don’t want any of the party guests to see them in advance and cheat!

Area 6: Dancing on the Pool Deck

  • The Playlist – as with any good dance party, this is the most critical element. There are so many ways you can do this. My personal favorite, especially when I’m co-hosting, is to create a playlist on Spotify and share it with my other co-hosts so we can all add music to it leading up to the event. Then, the burden isn’t all on one person and you’ll end up with a much larger playlist. It’s amazing how many songs you can go through at a good dance party. And, Spotify is cool because it lets you see how long of a playlist you have (like, 2 hours, 20 mins) so you can gauge if you need to add more or not. And remember, you want upbeat, danceable songs!!

Now that you’ve gotten a deeper dive into the “how to” of each of the elements, the next step is to go about executing each element. Especially when you’re hosting with others, it’s important to get organized together and determine assignments for each person. That’s what we’ll go through next week. Make sure you have your original project plan handy for that!

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 6: Bringing the Theme to Life

This week’s post is both part 6 (of 10) and part 1 (of 2). Today I’m going to give you a rundown of all the little touches and plans we have to create the cruise theme. Next week, I’ll dive into more of the specific “how to” for the various things, including how I approach the “creation process” and some templates you can use for your own future cruise party.

As you think about your next event, brainstorm a list of ideas that remind you of the theme. For example, if you’re having a barbecue, what are all the things that would make it feel authentic? If you’re having a mermaid party, what must you have to create an “under the sea” feel? Use that list to help you determine what you can do and how you want to bring various elements into the event (ex. you probably wouldn’t paint all your walls blue so you feel like you’re under water, but maybe you could blow up a bunch of blue balloons and have them float around the floor).

To start, we made a list of all the things we’ve loved from our cruise experiences and then divided our location into 6 main areas, each of which correspond to a part of the evening. Then, we took our list of elements to incorporate and assigned them to one of the locations.

Area 1: The Gangway

On every cruise ship, there is a designated point where you enter and exit the ship, both when you first board and ultimately depart, as well as for any ports of call. We’ve designated this as the room directly attached to our hosts’ garage. When they return from their “excursion”, they’ll enter from the garage and be asked to present their SeaPass card and ID. They’ll then be directed to “washy washy” their hands with sanitizer before heading to their stateroom to get ready for dinner. We’re planning to dress in “uniforms” and wear nametags that have our name, where we hail from and how long we’ve been with “the company”. For us children, we’ll list this as their marriage year and our spouses will have the year they married into the family listed.

Area 2: Their Stateroom

This is, quite logically, their master suite. We’ll be posting their stateroom number on the door. Inside, we will have a cute towel animal awaiting them, along with their Cruise Compass to give them all the info they need for the evening. And, since it’s their special night, we’ll have a bottle of champagne on ice with two 25th anniversary engraved champagne flutes.

Area 3: The Pre-dinner Photo

Full transparency, we’re still sorting out exactly where in their house this is going to go. I’d love to say it will be perfectly placed between their stateroom and the dining area, but we want to make sure that we choose a place with good lighting and a nice background. As such, we’re still scoping this out. But, on their way to the Main Dining Room, they’ll be greeted by our designated photographer and led to have a formal photo taken.

Area 4: The Main Dining Room

This will be set like a typical cruise dining room. They will have a table marker with their servers’ names listed. The table will be set with wine and water glassware, cutlery and salt, pepper, etc. We’ll also have seating placards (#covidrules) to designate where each person will sit at the table. Once they’re seated, they’ll be presented with menus to select their beverage preference along with what they’d like for each of their three courses.

Area 5: The King’s Lounge

This is where we’ll be hosting the main evening event after dinner: The Love & Marriage Game Show. This is in their family room, so we’ll take advantage of the existing furniture. The TV will be used to display the logo for our game show and two of our hosts will lead the event while everyone else participates alongside our guests-of-honor. I can’t tell you too much more about what I’m planning for this (and won’t next week either) because one of my sisters subscribes to this blog and I don’t want her to have a leg up on the competition during the game 🙂 If you want more information on this piece in particular, leave a comment or send me a message and I’ll give you the lowdown.

Area 6: Dancing on the Pool Deck

Since they don’t actually have a pool, some imagination will be required, but we’re planning a space where, should everyone be up for it, we can do some late night dancing. Weather depending, this will either be on their outdoor covered patio (we’ll hang up some pretty lights and set up a Bluetooth speaker) or in their basement bar (pretty similar setup plan…) Most importantly, we’ll craft a playlist of “their” music, which will probably be a lot of 60s and 70s hits. And then, of course, the wedding classics like “We are Family”, “YMCA”, and “The Electric Slide”.

As I mentioned at the beginning, if you want more of the ins and outs of organizing all of these various pieces and the components that go into each area, check back next Monday for a deeper dive into each.

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!

New Mini Series: Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 1

I’m trying something new and I hope you like it. It’s been over a year since my last post and what a year it has been.

So, to kick off 2021 (a month-ish late), I’ve decided to try a new approach to releasing content – a mini series. Rather than one long post that gives an overview of what I did and how I did it, I’m going to take you on the journey, real-time, as I put together an event. Each week, I’ll post about what I’ve done to prepare for the event and give you my best tips and tricks for any of your own events. And, of course, since we’re still in the midst of a health crisis, I’ll share the practices I’m putting into place to ensure the safety of my family and guests. So, let’s get started.

First, some details – my mom and step-dad are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in April. My sisters and I have decided to put together a small celebration for them. To determine the type of event, theme, plan, etc., we started with some basic facts and brainstorming by answering a couple of key questions about our event.

1. Who do you want to invite?

This is usually my favorite place to start. Knowing who, and more specifically, how many, is helpful in making subsequent decisions, like type of event, where you can have it and what kind of food to plan. Since we’re still battling COVID19, we decided to keep the event to a total of 10 guests, adults-only. This would allow us to properly social distance, especially while unmasked to eat. For events larger than 15, think carefully about any activities you plan – you’ll probably need to plan on multiple, simultaneous, “opt-in” activities versus one big activity everyone does together. And, especially right now, try to stick to outdoor events or large spaces with good ventilation.

2. When will the event take place?

Like “the who,” the when can help you make other decisions. An event in the dead of winter in Ohio is going to be an indoor event… And the same could be true of an event in Arizona in the peak of summer – A/C will be required. Also, usually this is an easy detail to get out of the way if you’re trying to celebrate a specific date and can also help determine what all you can realistically achieve for your event based on how long you have until the event. So, get this decision out of the way early and, if there’s anyone you really want to be at your event, give them a heads up to save the date. We picked April 10 – their anniversary is early April, but we wanted to avoid Easter weekend. Since we are still finalizing this plan, we texted our mom to “hold it open” with more details to come. (but let’s be serious… No one has plans these days anyway…). This gives us time to plan while also creating some anticipation for her!

3. What are some themes or activities that could work (if you want one/some)?

Depending on the type of event, you may want a theme, an activity or both. For example, a birthday party for a child probably just needs a theme (and maybe doesn’t even need that!) but a dinner with friends could be enhanced with an activity (and a theme if you’re up for it!). For this event, we did some brainstorming on both. Ultimately, we landed on the theme of “On a cruise” (since they can’t be right now with COVID) and the activity of the Love and Marriage Game Show since it’s an anniversary celebration.

  • Themes
    • “On a cruise”
    • 90s (since they were married in 96)
  • Activities
    • Murder mystery in a box
    • Escape room in a box
    • Love & Marriage Game Show
    • Hollywood Game Night
    • Family Feud

Answering those three questions are enough to get us on the same page to start further planning for the event. Now that we’ve decided on who, when and what, our next step is to build out a plan of all the activities that we need to accomplish between now and April 10. Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll dive into project planning an event (my favorite part!).

Posts will release every Monday from now through Monday, April 12. Subscribe to receive notifications or leave a comment below to let me know what you think or what questions you have!

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!

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: Awkward Cat Calendar

If you read the title and thought ‘I don’t like cats,’ you are not alone. But don’t stop reading! Even if you are not a cat lover like I am, you can use the information to create a custom calendar about something you DO love…like your family, dogs, flowers, nature, etc. It’s totally customizable.

As this year was handcrafted Christmas, I decided to finally give in to what one of my sister’s had been basically begging me to make for years – a calendar full of awkward cat pictures. She does not have cats, so she finds it absolutely hilarious when they sit in awkward ways to lick their butts or generally lay very strangely. So, what better gift than 12 months of weird pics of cats? Here’s what I did.

Materials:

  • Paper – I used a thicker cardstock
  • Laminating pouches & laminator – optional, but this will not only create a better looking final product but, if you laminate like I did, you can create a calendar that can actually be used for years to come
  • Printer
  • Scissors
  • Markers – also optional, but I drew some designs on each page. You could totally print these off when you print the basic calendar layout if you don’t like to draw
  • Hole punch – I used a cat paw shaped one for some added fun; feel free to get creative
  • Binder rings – you will use these to put all the pages together but still allow it to fully open and hang; you could also use ribbon or similar, but I wanted something a little more hearty. I used these ones.
  • Picture corners – totally optional, but I wanted to give my sister the option to replace the cat pics with others in the future, so I put all the pictures in using these picture corners.
    • If you don’t end up using these, you’ll need glue or double-sided tape or some other way to attach the pictures to your calendar

 

Instructions:

  1. Choose your pictures – you will want anywhere from 3-6 pictures per page, depending on the size of the photo. I had a number of 4×6 pictures that I cut down to a much smaller size because, well, cats are smaller than humans, so they take up less frame. Since my calendar was all cats, I selected all my pictures and then organized them into themes and matched the themes up with the months:
    1. January – snuggly kitties (since it’s cold outside)
    2. February – all pics of Dex, since he was born in February
    3. March – all pics of G; we lost him in March of 2018 😦
    4. April – window perch pics since it’s starting to get a little nice out
    5. May – all pics of Jameson, since he was born in May
    6. June – Gemini sign, so pics of my “twins” – they are actually from different litters, but the same mama, but they act like twins with how they’re always together
    7. July – cats and humans
    8. August – sun porch pics
    9. September – all pics of Molly since she was born in September
    10. October – I call this the ‘murder series’ – my cats are indoor/outdoor and they are pretty serious hunters and, as such, bring us lots of ‘presents’
    11. November – twosomes and threesomes
    12. December – cats in boxes (like Christmas…with presents…ya know…)
  2. Print your calendar – this part is easy. You can use my calendar template here. I did not include the numbers for the month because I laminated my calendar. When you laminate paper, you can easily use dry-erase markers on it like on a whiteboard. So, my sister can add the dates on the appropriate days of the week depending on the year and use this calendar for years to come.
  3. Draw pictures and laminate – after I printed each of the calendar pages out, I felt like they looked a little bland. I’m not a huge fan of clipart, so I decided to hand draw two small images on either side of the month name. I chose images that I could (mostly) successfully draw and that would make sense for that month / their family. After everything was drawn, I laminated each page.
    1. January – New Year’s party hat and confetti / noise maker and a snoman
    2. February – snowflake and hearts
    3. March – shamrock and an Easter egg (although, unfortunately, Easter is SUPER late in 2019 at April 21)
    4. April – flowers and balloons (they have a birthday in April and April flowers bring…May showers…)
    5. May – balloons and an umbrella with rain (they have two birthdays in May and April flowers bring…May showers…)
    6. June – sunglasses and a flip flop
    7. July – American flag and balloons (they have a birthday in July)
    8. August – a sun and a schoolhouse (my sister is a teacher, so it’s back to school for her!)
    9. September – an apple and a football
    10. October – leaves and a pumpkin
    11. November – turkey and shopping bags (we LOVE Black Friday shopping)
    12. December – Christmas tree and a present
  4. Organize your pictures on the page – for this part, I HIGHLY encourage you to punch your holes on each month FIRST and then layout your photos. I made the mistake of not hole punching first and laid out all my photos, stuck them on and then had to try to work around them to create the holes on each page in roughly the same spot without ruining any pics. It was annoying; do better than I did. As a tip, you need holes at both the top AND bottom of each page. The holes at the top of the picture page will be used for hanging and at the bottom will be used to attach it all together. Be sure to remember that when you flip the month page up, it will be upside down and backward, so you need to put your pictures on correctly so they don’t end up upside down.
  5. Stick your pics and add the rings – once I had all my pictures cut to size and arranged, I started placing them on the page. After all my pics were in, I put my rings through to put the calendar together and that was it!

 

To complement the calendar, I provided my sister with two command hooks to hang it up (I thought hanging from two spots would be better than a center hole since the calendar had some weight to it) and some ultra fine point dry erase markers to write on each month (these ones).

Here are some pics:

(Apparently I didn’t take a photo of December…oopsies!)