I have a penchant for bathrooms. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because I have a little peanut-sized bladder and drink over a gallon of water each day... or maybe it’s some weird deep-seated affinity for what can be done in small spaces... but whatever the reason, I love seeing how people decorate their bathrooms!
I’ve seen a LOT of bathrooms, because I have a lot of clients! I’ve seen everything from polished marble walls to hand-painted frescos, but nothing has ever stood out to me like the little bathroom at one client’s art studio. The client is one of these amazingly creative grandmothers who just oozes inspiration. Every time I go over to her house to plan her equally-inventive grandson’s parties, I am blown away by some new artistic addition. It could be a three-dimensional sculpture of a fairy tree, or a series of painted canvases all lined up on easels, or, in this case... a bathroom of memories!
What my client did was take tons of old photos, press clippings, articles, deeds, wedding announcements, and other family tidbits to Kinkos and had them photocopied in sepia tones on a decently-weighted paper. My client experimented with other colors, but found that black and white was too stark, and color was too overwhelming, while the sepia tones just gave it the right old-fashioned feel that she wanted. Using Mod Podge she started covering the walls like a giant collage. Layer upon layer she added facts, faces, and family to her tiny bathroom walls. The end result is a fascinating walk through time, dating back to the turn of the century. It’s totally cool.
To protect the walls once they were done, a thin coat of matte varnish was applied. This guaranteed that the images would stay flat and not curl with moisture from the shower. I’ve been told that a table is being done in a similar style over the summer... so I just might have to check back with them in September for another installation/update on historic archiving through furniture!
It’s time to make a rumble in the jungle with some serious rafter-swinging! That’s right, I’m talking about acting wild, climbing trees, and eating bananas! It’s time to get funky with the monkey with our “Monkey Business Party!”
The internet is filled with amazing images. Choose the one you like the best and print it up with words such as, “Come monkey around!”, “Get funky with the monkey!”, or “It’s time for some serious monkey business!” Make sure to include the important information: who, what, where, starting time and ending time, whether it’s a drop off or a "please stay" party, and how to dress (in our case, we usually say dress for mess!).
Anything jungle-y will work for this decor: palm trees, parrots, stuffed monkeys. Use dark green, lime green, and brown streamers around the room to create vines. You can even hang them from door frames in strips to create a sort of jungle curtain. Use fruits such as pineapples, bananas, and coconuts as centerpieces on your table. I found these cute monkey plates that I taped all around the room, peeking out from secret hiding places.
As the guests arrive, have them help you create your jungle. Use large pieces of newsprint paper (or any oversized paper -- even the backs of old wrapping paper will work. You want large pieces, though). Trace your guest’s hands twice on a piece of paper: one set on the bottom, and one set midway on the paper. Have your little monkeys then create their own monkey by using the traced hands to make the monkey’s hands and feet! Provide markers, crayons, and stamps to decorate the monkeys, then hang the finished artwork around the room as decor (don’t forget to write your guests' name on the paper so they can take it home at the end of the party).
This is a great little activity to have set up on the side, just for random fun as guests finish their monkey mural. It’s best done outside in the grass. Use nine weighted water bottles (fill each bottle with about 4 oz of sand, water, or pebbles) to serve as the pins. If you’re really industrious, you can spray paint them yellow to represent bananas. Create bumpers with pool noodles, then use real coconuts as the balls. You’ll want to buy extra as they tend to break over time! If the coconuts come wrapped in plastic, leave them wrapped. If a coconut does break, let the kids try it -- I’ll bet not many have tried fresh coconut! Take note though: some children can be allergic to coconut. Give each player a chance to knock down the pins. The fun thing is, because the coconuts are not perfectly round, they are wobbly and not easy to control, making for a bit of a challenge.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Have everyone stand in a big circle. One child is chosen to be the “jungle explorer;" they are sent out of the room. Choose one person from the circle to be the “head monkey.” The head monkey will start performing a motion (like scratching under their arms), and everyone in the circle will repeat what the head monkey does. After about 20 seconds, the head monkey changes the motion (like hopping up and down on one foot), and everyone in the circle follows suit. Once everyone in the circle has established the rhythm of following the head monkey, invite the jungle explorer back in. The jungle explorer stands in the center of the circle and is given three guesses to figure out who the head monkey is.
See No Evil
Three chairs are set up on one side of the room. Each is marked with a monkey: one with his eyes covered, one with his ears covered, and one with his mouth covered. Everyone lines up and is given a number, one through however many guests there are. The leader calls out four numbers. Those four players race to the chairs and try to sit down. One person will be left out. They immediately start counting to 5. If they can get to 5 before everyone can get into their correct monkey position depicted on their chair (covering eyes, ears or mouth), then they take that person’s place. If not, they stay standing. Whoever is left standing has to do something funny (either thought up by the players on the spot, or written down ahead of time and read by the leader). Once they have done the action, everyone returns to the line and four more numbers are called out.
One person is blindfolded. Everyone else is handed an animal card. The blindfolded person counts to 20 and everyone scatters. When the person gets to 20, everyone must freeze wherever they are. The blindfolded person now makes their way around the playing space. When they find someone by touch, they declare, “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” The person being touched replies either, “Sorry, I’m no monkey, I’m a… (the player will fill in the blank with whichever animal card they have, and if they like, make the appropriate noise)” or, if the player is holding a monkey card, “Yes, you are a monkey’s uncle!” Once a monkey has been found, a new round can be played.
Players are broken into teams and line up one in front of the other. The first person in line on each team is given a plastic banana. The object of the game is to pass the banana from the beginning of the line to the end of the line -- but hands may not be used! The banana is passed person to person, first using only the chin. If the banana falls at any time, it must be picked up by the dropper and repassed. Once it reaches the last person in line, they run to the front of the line and begin the passing again, this time using a different body part (see below for series of body parts in order). Play continues until the first person in line is back to the head of the line.
Body parts to use:
(Feel free to cut any in the list necessary to match your team numbers, or add extras: pinkies, backs of hands, etc.)
- Paper plates (the sturdier, the better)
- Paper tubes (T.P. size and bigger)
- Brown paper, paint or markers
- Green tissue paper
- Glue stick
- Hot glue gun and sticks (requires adult supervision)
- Puff balls (optional)
- If you wish, cover, color, or paint your tube (you can also leave it bare).
- Make six small cuts on one end of your tube around the tube and fold up the flaps.
- Attach the flaps to your paper plate with hot glue or tape.
- Take a sheet of green tissue paper by the center of the sheet. Gather the center, much like you would if you were making a gift bag, and insert the center into the open end of the tube.
- Twist, squish and form the edges of the tissue paper into leaves.
- Add more sheets of paper for more leaves.
- Glue puffballs on for coconuts if you like.
- Small beads or puffballs
- Large round bead (if you can get doll face beads, great)
- Wooden spool or large round bead with large hole
- Permanent markers
- Pipe cleaners (preferably the bumpy kind); 3 per monkey
- Glue gun (requires adult supervision)
- Cut the pipe cleaners so that each one has 2 bumps (if using bumpy) or into 6-inch pieces (if using regular).
- Line up all three pipe cleaners and slip them through the hole in the wooden spool. The spool should be halfway up the pipe cleaners.
- Bend down two pipe cleaners at the top to become arms. Two on the bottom become legs, one on the bottom becomes the tail.
- Draw a little face with the permanent markers on the large round bead.
- Slip the face bead over the remaining pipe cleaner and fold over the edge to secure in place.
- Glue two beads on either side of the head to make ears.
- Add beads for hands and feet (if you like).
Monkeys are a pretty healthy bunch, so why not serve up some fruit salad, banana muffins, banana bread, or eve make banana splits?
If you happen to be in a park or have a jungle gym in your backyard, then encourage the kids to climb, swing, and basically monkey around. You could even take photos of them hanging from one arm (if they feel secure enough in doing so) or hanging upside down doing their best monkey imitations. Just remember this is about having fun and acting silly, so don’t let little things throw a monkey wrench into your plans... just go with the flow and start monkeying around!
With wedding season upon us, I thought it might be a great time to bring up one of our little-shared party secrets: the bathroom basket! Lest you think I’m suggesting setting up a miniature basketball court in the loo, let me explain that a bathroom basket is basically an emergency kit for any and everything that could possibly happen during an event. Ladies, how many times have you arrived at a party only to discover that an unexpected guest has tagged along as well? (I am referring to that lovable “Aunt Flow” as my friend Pati calls her -- otherwise known as the beloved period.) This is where the basket shines like a beacon in the night, calling all those with blisters, broken dress straps, and headaches to its loving wicker arms.
If you are nervous about items like needles, safety pins, and medicine being available to small (and not-so-small) hands, you can simply set up a little sign in the bathroom instructing anyone with a need to come to the coat check (or other assigned area) where they can find the basket on display.
Here’s what I suggest including in your basket...
The thing about being prepared in this manner is that it saves any last-minute scrambling or having to send someone out during an event. It just gives a little piece of mind to a hectic day. However, you should cater the basket to your needs and your location, as every event is different.
This also may seem like a lot of stuff, and it is! If you want to do something a little more basic, just make sure to have aspirin, band-aids, safety pins, duct tape, and W-D40 (because, as they say: if it moves and it shouldn't, fix it with duct tape, if it doesn’t move and it should, use the W-D40).
I am in love with cardboard boxes.
That may seem like a strange comment to make, but you can do sooo much with a cardboard box! Especially if they are large cardboard boxes the size of, say, a refrigerator or couch.
Case in point... the “Alone Zone.”
The other day I was setting up for a party when I noticed a large cardboard box against the wall in the living room. I realized right away that this was no ordinary box; one of the children had clearly been working on it. I just assumed it was a box in the process of becoming a playhouse.
When I inquired about the box, the mom just smiled and shook her head. “That’s my son’s ‘Alone Zone.’”
“His what?” I said, a little bit baffled.
“His Alone Zone,” she said. “It’s where he goes when he’s fed up with all his homework, or is mad at his sister, or when things just get a bit too overwhelming for him... It’s his cool-down place... the place where he can be alone.”
Now, this mom is not a therapist, so this wasn’t some sort of device that she or her husband came up with to deal with some in-home social issues. This came totally from the kid. It once again leaves me in awe of the nature of children and how they are able to process their own needs. This kid needed someplace to have some space that was clearly marked out as his own territory. Not only did it give him a little safe haven of his own, but it was a clear sign to the family that when he was in this space, they needed to back off and leave him alone.
“Does it work?” I asked.
“Totally,” she said. “He’ll go in there for hours sometimes.”
“And what does he do in there?”
“Well...” she paused, “it depends. Sometimes he takes his Legos in there and just builds, sometimes he just sits in there and counts to 10, and sometimes I think he takes a nap.”
I peeked inside and saw the array of pillows, and could understand how that could easily happen. “What a great idea,” I said brightly. “I think I need one of those at my office!”
“Don’t we all!” she said with a smile.
I think what I liked best about this whole scenario is that the mom simply allowed this to happen, without dictating anything about the project. She just gave her kids a box and let them have at it! They came up with every little detail, from the cup outside that accepted tickets (your way to enter the box), to the little box set up as a desk inside where homework could be done.
So next time you’ve got a big box, don’t recycle it or throw it away! Give it to your kids, and let them “think outside of it.”
One of the things I love about my job is that fact that I get to meet and work with so many interesting, talented, and artistic people. It never ceases to amaze me, the level of intense creativity out there. So, in homage to the wonderful people I meet, I’m starting a new installment to my blog which I’m calling “Fearlessly Creative!” In these blogs I’ll strive to find and interview someone doing something really unique and pursuing it with abandon...
The first up in the series is Amanda Hylton from Akron, Ohio! Amanda popped into my frame of reference about six months ago, when she entered a duct tape contest that I held through my YouTube channel. Part of the contest was to provide photos of your entry, and although the phone case Amanda entered was amazing, what really caught my eye was the photo she sent of herself wearing a duct tape skirt standing in front of a wall of her duct tape art. It blew me away!
I started corresponding with her a bit, and discovered that in between a very hectic schedule of raising her son, maintaining her household, and helping to take care of her grandpa-in-law, she runs her own business selling duct tape items and art canvases. The canvases are very graphic in nature with a sort of print quality to them. What makes them interesting though is that they are completely made out of duct tape!
I asked Amanda a few questions about her creative process...
Where do you find your inspiration? I find inspiration from all around me and everyday life. It all just depends on the day really, which can make things quite interesting.
How did you learn to do what you do? I was with my dad when I was 12 in the paint section at Wal-Mart and they had some red, black, and grey tape. I told him I wanted to make a purse and asked if i could buy some tape. Later that night I sat down and came up with the purse I wanted, and a few hours later I had my very first duct tape purse. After that my dad would take me to Wal-Mart up to five times a week to get new tape to come up with new purses. As years went by, new tapes would come out and I would sit and teach myself how to make new things.
Were you creative as a child? Yes I was somewhat creative. I was 12 when I taught myself how to make duct tape purses and that idea was just on a whim. I don’t remember hearing or seeing duct tape things at the time, it hadn’t exploded into what it is today.
Who has influenced (or is influencing) your life and your art? I would say growing up, my dad was a big influence in the creative and art aspect. He would always come up with a new crazy contraption to do or fix something. So I think I got my think-outside-the-box ideas from him. For my inspiration now I would say my son Justin and husband Christopher. Just like any mother or wife, you want to make your family proud. That's what I shoot for. I use them for inspiration in every aspect. I hardly ever post a new product before asking my husband if it looks okay. I always take his opinion into consideration in all I do. They both inspire ideas that I come up with, as well as come up with ideas of their own. I also have a great friend Amanda whom I met through my duct tape page. She is also a fellow taper and we share ideas and things throughout the day.
When you hear the words "fearlessly creative," what do they mean to you? Fearlessly creative to me means someone who would create new things at any expense. They are not afraid to go beyond what others are doing to create something unique that others have never seen.
For my part, I hope she “sticks around” for a long time to come!
As much as I like the princess parties, the pirate parties, and the fairy parties that seem to make up about 50% of my business, my favorite parties are the ones that come out of left field. I adore the parties that are totally unexpected, and challenge me to get super creative. These mean more to me than all those standard themes rolled into one. Sometimes it’s a theme that I’ve never done before, like a “Natural Disasters” party, or sometimes it’s having to accommodate two very unique kids, as with my “Mind and Body Olympics” party, or sometimes it’s a combination of ideas that just don’t seem to fit... at first, anyway.
Case in point, my “Kiss under the Sea” party. Now before you think I’m talking about a bunch of racy mermaids with puckers at the ready, I have to clarify that the aforementioned “kiss” is none other than the 1970’s rock band, who, believe it or not, are still going strong, thanks to the impressive staying power and marketing genius of Gene Simmons.
When the mom called, she said that her son was way into the band KISS, and way into sharks, and was there some way to incorporate the two? Excited by the possibility of creating something totally outside the box, I set about putting together under the sea rock band idea. I’ve worked for this family for years, and they are obsessed with music, to the point where they have a full recording studio complete with speakers, monitors, a mixer, multiple guitars and bases, and a full drum kit in their home. Oh, and did I mention the repurposed step aerobics platform that now functioned as a stage?
Decor was no problem; I’ve been doing ocean themed parties for years, and also have a miniature stage and portable curtain setup that I use for all of my “fashion” and “play in a day” parties. All I needed were some KISS elements. This was easily handled with one online search: a KISS band cut out was on its way to my warehouse quicker than you could say “Detroit Rock City!” To add to the fabulousness of it all, my budding band promoters made their very own posters, which we hung everywhere.
The main bulk of the activities consisted of covering the guests’ bodies in rock and shark inspired tattoos and applying KISS-style face paints. I found really great diagrams of the difference KISS face paints on Wikipedia.
To incorporate both the rock and the shark elements into our crafts, I came up with the idea of making our own full sized, shark-shaped guitars. There are actually shark guitars on the market today, and so I based the design on that. With the aid of my ever-patient warehouse manager Steve, we created a three-piece project. The elements consisted of the shark head guitar body made from two-ply corrugated cardboard, a double thick foam core neck, and a tail-shaped headstock.
For those kids not as interested in sharks, we offered up a “flying V” and “Stratocaster” shape as well (poor Steve’s hands will never be the same, I fear).
This craft took about an hour, as guests decorated and embellished each part of their guitar with everything from paint and markers to assorted duct tapes, wooden dowels, string, and beads. Once all the pieces were decorated they were assembled with hot glue and a strap was attached.
In honor of Gene Simmons, we checked to see who had the longest tongue in the room, and if they could do any exceptional tongue tricks. I personally can touch my nose with my tongue (which impressed quite a few kids, I might add) but others could do things like flip their tongues over, and one could make a sort of “W” or flower shape with their tongue.
After a brief example of some standard rock moves: round house guitar strum, devil horn fingers, the one-legged air split (thank you, David Lee Roth), and the exuberant both-feet-off-the-ground, hit-your-bottom-with-your-heels jump, I cranked up “Rock n’ Roll All Night” and had everyone grab their guitars and jam. We made sure everyone had plenty of room so that no one got accidentally knocked out by a flailing limb or guitar neck!
Sharks and Minnows
The guests stood on one side of the room and tried to make their way past the big mean shark (me) in the middle of the room. If they got tagged, they had to sit down where they got tagged and wave their arms in the air like they were seaweed. To add the rock element, players could be freed if another player ran up to them and sang them a KISS song.
Big Shark and Shoe Relay Race
I split the kids into three teams and gave each team a foam shark fin and a pair of crazy high heels (remember, I do tons of fashion parties and I’m forever picking up wild heels at thrift stores). On “Go!” the first person on each team put on the shark fin and the heels then tottered over to a big bowl where they helped themselves to a Swedish fish. They had to chew and swallow the fish entirely before making their way back to their line, removing the shoes and fin, and handing everything off to the next person in line.
The final element of our party was a “rock concert” by our birthday boy and his older brother while cake was being eaten. Remember, these guys have a recording studio in their basement -- they’re practically pros!
Both the mom and I felt like the guitar was quite a substantial goodie, and so I just made simple blue cellophane bags filled with gummy sharks, Swedish fish, and chocolate sea shells, and called it an “edible aquarium.”
I have to say, this may go down in history as one of my wildest parties ever. I mean who knew five-year-olds were into metal? Which leaves me wondering... what’s next? AC/DC Knights? Punk Rock Fairies? I suppose as long as it’s not Ozzy Ozborne we’ll be fine... although I think they do make gummy candy bats now...
At the risk of “trashing” my reputation as a party planner, I need to share one of my favorite parties. I will never, until my dying day, forget the conversation I had with my client as we discussed her son’s upcoming festivities. It went something like this…
Me: So tell me, what is your son into?
Client:(In a slightly mortified whisper) My son is into garbage…
Me: You mean the band?
Client:(Pause followed by a small cough) No… I mean the substance. He loves trash. All sorts of trash. He likes recycling things, composting food scraps, sorting paper from plastic… And he’s obsessed with garbage trucks…
Me: Oh… what fun! We can invite people to come over to your house and “get trashed!”
(The silence on the other end of the phone told me she didn’t quite grasp my sense of humor.)
In any event, the party we planned was a blast! The kids had an amazing time! I think their favorite game was the Oscar the Grouch game, where kids actually had the chance to hang out in a metal garbage can, batting away wads of newspaper.
Here’s a breakdown of what we did.
A long pathway led from the driveway back to the party area, so we marked the path with fun little signs that shared facts and quotes about recycling. Freda painted giant cut outs of garbage (soup cans, coke bottles, paper fast food wrappers, etc.) to place on either side of the entryway, and made a trash truck bearing the birthday boy’s age.
I also created a personalized banner by cutting out letters in scrapbook paper, gluing them to brown paper lunch bags, and stringing them on a piece of colorful ribbon.
My favorite part of the event was the dining table. We wrapped the table in green plastic, then used duct tape to create a road and curbside straight down the middle.
Each child received a juice box wrapped in a cover that made it look like a little house. We also used blue and green cups and placed little recycling stickers on each one, so that they looked like recycling bins. Each place setting also sported tiny little trash bags of treats (I simply took regular trash bags, cut them into 5-inch squares, placed treats in the center, then rubber banded the ends and trimmed the extra corners to make them look like a tiny trash bags), a set of plastic silverware wrapped in a napkin with a “please recycle” napkin ring, and a garbage truck plate.
There was no such thing as a garbage truck plate in existence, so instead I printed one on cardstock and glued a rectangular plate in the center where the truck part would be.
The crowning grace of the table was the trash truck made entirely out of recycled boxes and bottle caps. Freda came in one Monday after an inspired weekend of crafting, and presented the truck to me! I could barely contain my excitement.
To keep with the theme, we used colorful soup and coffee cans as everything from flower vases to serving bowls.
After dividing the kids into two teams, we gave each team a newspaper and told them to take the single sheets and crumple them into as many paper balls as they possibly could. A center line was established by using a long jump rope down the middle of the playing field. The teams each set themselves on each side, and timer was set for three minutes. On “Go!” the teams tossed the paper balls from one side to the other. The goal being to have as few balls on their side at the end of the three minutes.
Directly after Paper Wars, we presented the guests with a huge box of plastic bottles and told them to run around the playing area dispersing them randomly. Once the entire field was covered, we placed recycling bins at the end of the playing area and handed each team a claw grabber (link to claw grabber on amazon). The relay began with each team member running out onto the field, grabbing a piece of recycling, and running to the appropriate bin for disposal. Each team got a point for the number of pieces the divided correctly.
Oscar the Grouch
This was probably the favorite game of the day. Each child took turns playing Oscar, which meant they jumped into our sparkling clean metal trash can and assumed a grumpy disposition. All the other kids took turns bombing Oscar with paper balls, which he used the trashcan lid to deflect. Anyone who actually got a paper ball past Oscar, became the new Oscar.
One of the best things about a recycle/trash party is that the sky is the limit when it comes to crafts. Anything from T.P. tube maracas, to coffee filter butterflies, packing peanut sculptures, and paper napkin flowers make great crafts… However, for our party we made recycled material creatures: bottles, cardboard, masking tape, scissors, string, wire, and markers were all we needed to create the most amazing array of animals, monsters, and critters to rival the San Francisco Zoo.
PAPER BAG PINATA
Finally, we brought down the house with our easy to make, and super fun to destroy paper bag piñata. All we did was take four large shopping bags and placed them one inside the other. After filling the bags with the goodies (see below) I folded over the bag ends and stapled them shut. I took a wooden dowel (longer than the width of the bag), placed it at the top of the bag and folded the top part of the bag down over the dowel, then I secured the bag with duct tape. Using thin rope, I tied a knot on either side of the dowel to make a sort of hanger/handle. To make the bag a bit “trashier” I glued on paper boxes and newspaper strip streamers. We used the inside of a wrapping paper tube for our stick… although the piñata turned out stronger than I thought and so we eventually used a plastic baseball bat!
We filled the piñata with little fabric drawstring bags with a leaf print on each one. Each bag was filled we a few sweet treats, and a mini garbage truck. I actually purchased the bags from Oriental Trading then using acrylic paint, I added a leaf print to each bag.
Leaf printingMaterials: bags, acrylic paint, small sponge or sponge brush, paper, rolling pin
- Gather an assortment of flat leaves (the flatter the better)
- Sponge a thin layer of paint onto one leaf with acrylic paint.
- Place the leaf, paint side down on your bag.
- Place a piece of paper on top of your leaf and roll with a rolling pin.
- Remove paper and leaf.
- Let bag dry thoroughly.
The adults who stayed behind, nibbling crackers and cheese from a platter made out of an old pizza box lid, may have been mortified at the start of the party, but by the end of the event they were all getting into the theme. I even overheard one mom saying that she might have just discovered a way of getting her kids to help her with the recycling at home!
In any event it just goes to prove that even with a theme that seems a bit crazy, as long as your child is completely into it, a good time will be had by all! So go on… get as trashy as you like!
Is it just me, or have fake mustaches taken over the world? I’ve been using fake mustaches at parties for years; I love the fuzzy, sticky-backed little things. I’ve had mustache bars at spy-themed parties forever! And seriously, who could ever resist the mustache-on-a-stick prop that comes with most photobooths?
Still, this is a veritable mustache invasion! I’m talking mustache necklaces, rings, coffee mugs, bandaids, duct tape... Mustache embellished pacifiers, lollipops, straws, even sunglasses with little mustaches on chains that are meant to hang below the nose! Mustaches are popping up on stationery, pen tops, t-shirts, and phone covers, on lunch bags, wrapping paper, and shot glasses! There’s even mustache candy!
The funniest thing, though, is that with the exception of my dad, I don’t know anybody who actually has a mustache. Now that I think of it, there are very few mustachioed individuals walking around today -- except maybe on Duck Dynasty, but those guys have beards too, so it doesn’t count...
The capper, though, was yesterday. While out driving from one event to the next, I saw not one... not two... but seven cars sporting oversized pink mustaches on the grills of their cars! Evidently they are made by this fellow Ethan Eyler of Carstache LLC, but it wasn’t until I did a little research and discovered that the pink mustached cars are actually part of a new “Uber-like” app based car service called “Lyft”. Lyft is going for a friendlier (literally) approach to taxi service, by making the experience more about connecting with your driver than zooming you from place to place. The mustache helps add some levity, and also clearly identifies the cars as a Lyft-mobile.
I guess my big question becomes: how long will this mustache craze last? And what exactly does one do with a three-foot fuzzy mustache once one has removed it from one’s bumper? I suppose you could give it a good scrub and hang it on the wall as pop art... or maybe stick two of them back to back to make a pillow or bolster of sorts. I’m sure by the time that the craze has worn off, Ethan will have come up with some new product that will make people smile. But in the meantime, I have this weird vision of aliens landing years from now and looking back at 2013 and thinking, “Hmmm, levels of status must have been conveyed through facial hair... Perhaps there was some plague that took away the ability to grow said hair...” One thing’s for sure, if I make a time capsule for 2013... I’m including some mustaches!
If you are doing a big event, you are going to need to seat people. But why settle for an ordinary tent card, when you can have something fabulous and fun? If it’s possible why not match your seating cards to your theme? Here’s a couple suggestions for you to ponder -- hopefully they will get your creative juices flowing...!
This was super cute, and we had a fun time doing it. My team and I made a miniature football field on which we hung little squares of astroturf. Each name card was attached to the astroturf and had the image of a team football helmet. The football helmet corresponded to their table, as each table bore the insignia of a different team.
This was a fun idea: the Bar Mitzvah boy was a huge baseball fan, and so, in the style of the theme above, each table had a different team pennant. To seat the guests we created a ticket kiosk, where each person received their own ticket. The thing I liked best about the tickets was that each one bore the image of the Bar Mitzvah boy in different baseball pose, since he was actually a serious player.
This may be one of my favorites. It was actually done for an 8th grade father-daughter dinner dance. We took photos from each person (yes, it was a bit of a trick to do!) and placed their heads on high fashion paper doll bodies. We used them at the actual tables, which meant that guests had to walk around the room looking at all the fashions to find their seat. It was great fun, and gave the whole evening a fashion show feel.
This was so labor intensive I don’t even want to mention it… but it was also suuuuper cute! Each table was decorated with a beautiful container filled with the Bat Mitzvah gal’s favorite chocolate confections. To usher guests to their seats, I literally recreated 13 different chocolate bar labels. Where the name of the candy would have appeared, I placed the guests name (in the matching font, no less). The effect was adorable... Still, I wouldn’t recommend it, as it took me two weeks to do! I also had another client do a similar thing with a “breakfast for dinner” theme, and we used cereal boxes as place cards. However, in that case, the client opted just to put a label with the table number and name on the mini box of cereal instead of having me recreate each label. Another client did this with animal Crackers.
I loved this one; again, it was labor intensive, and goodness knows if you can even get these resin shoes anymore, but I took resin shoes, inserted a card holder in each one, and attached a standard table card. The effect was really cute, and everyone kept their shoes.
Neon was the theme, and so each person received a bracelet with a neon light stick attached. The kids ended up trading all night long to see who could get the most “glow on” by the end of the evening. It was cute, and since it was the Mitzvah kid’s idea, even more charming.
This was actually a very sweet idea, as the young lady was a dancer, and her Torah portion was all about dancing with tambourines. The client and her daughter conceived of using little tambourines as the seating cards. To display the tambourines, we created simple stands made from strips of one-inch wood with golf tees mounted every four inches. The golf tees allowed for the tambourines to sit at the perfect angle for the guests to see their names. The best part was when the Bat Mitzvah gal made her entrance, everyone shook their tambourines. It was quite magical.
Seating cards with charms
This was a simple idea that came from necessity. The waiters needed to know who had chosen meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes at each table. To make the process easier for the staff, we attached cute little charms to every seating card. The charms were a huge hit with the guests who liked them so much that they actually kept their cards instead of disposing of them. The charms matched the decor elements perfectly, so that everything blended together beautifully, and the seating cards actually became part of the table decor.
The ideas are endless, really, which is what makes creative party planning so much fun. I remember one Mitzvah (which sadly I don’t have pictures to share!) where we did centerpieces based on artwork created by the Mitzvah girl from age 2 to 13. Each person received a tiny little replica of the artwork on an itty bitty wooden easel. It was a great way to celebrate this young woman’s life in art as well as her entering adulthood.
Recently I was contacted by the mom of 16-year-old twins. She wanted to do something special for her girls, who were really into the show “The Amazing Race.” For those of you unfamiliar with the show, 11 teams (consisting of two people each) are given clues to destinations around the world. At each destination they are given a challenge. The teams literally cross the world in their quest to be the first team to reach the final destination. When discussing our options, the mom and I decided that we wanted to keep the event contained, and also keep the girls out of cars (even though some of them did have licenses). We came up with Golden Gate Park as our “world” -- and although we would have liked to have done 16 challenges (one for each year), we limited ourselves to a 3-hour race and 13 challenges.
The basic premise of the race/party was to break the girls into five teams and then send them out into the park via pedi-cabs (those four-seater bikes that look like little surreys). They would be given various clues that would lead them through the park and through a series of challenges, culminating at the Golden Gate Bandstand where they would have to perform.
To make the race work smoothly I brought along four of my team members. Each would take a location for their own, then leapfrog to another destination once they were done. In this manner we were able to get to the locations, set up the challenges, and man the station when the girls arrived. There were some true life “Amazing Race moments,” like the team that lost their bag of supplies, the team that got lost, and the surly boat dock manager, all of which only added to the fun of the adventure, and leveled the playing field for everyone.
Here’s a breakdown of how the race ran:
Challenge 1: Decorate your pedi-cab
Each team was given a bag of supplies (streamers, balloons, ribbon, tape, etc.) which they had to use to decorate their pedi-cabs. The rule was they had to use every bit of decor. We didn’t tell them how, but they had to use everything! Once they had used the supplies, the bikes were judged. The team had to receive a score of at least 21 points out of a possible 30 points (guaranteeing they would actually think about their decorating as opposed to just taping the roll of streamers to the bike’s handlebars and calling it done). If they failed to get 21 points, they could either rework their bike decor or take a five minute penalty. Needless to say, each team surpassed our expectations and did an amazing job decorating their bikes. From here the teams were handed an envelope that led them to Stowe Lake.
Challenge 2: Paddle the lake
The teams were each given $20 to rent a paddle boat. The object was to paddle around the lake, observing their location as they went. Halfway around the lake there was an old bridge. To cross under the bridge, they had to answer three trivia questions about their surroundings and about the two birthday girls. Once they answered correctly, a basket was lowered down that held their next destination.
Challenge 3: The giant slide
The girls were directed to the giant slide at the children’s playground. Here, they had to make a phone video of their entire team sliding down the slide. If the video was deemed entertaining, they were given their next clue... if not, they had to keep trying!
Challenge 4: The great climb
In the middle of the playground is a 35-foot tall climbing structure. The ladies were instructed to climb to the top and retrieve their colored ribbon. Once done, they received their next clue. The real challenge here was keeping the other kids already on the playground from untying the ribbons!
Challenge 5: The big dig
The ladies were now guided to a large sandpit, where they had to dig up colored balls. The balls came in assorted colors and they had to find one of each color of the rainbow. It was interesting to see how many could find 6 of the 7 colors easily, it was always the last color that eluded them!
Challenge 6: The building challenge
The last challenge in the children’s playground was pretty daunting. The ladies had to construct a 3-foot tall sand castle by the water feature in the park. Each castle had to have at least 16 embellishments or design elements. Once the castle was deemed passable, they had to destroy the castle.
Challenge 7: The tennis court
Golden Gate Park has an extensive tennis court layout, with over 25 courts spread out over what must be at least a half acre of land. The challenge was to find five tennis balls. Each ball was marked with their color and had a letter written on it. Once they found all the balls, they had to arrange the balls to spell a word. Once they had that correct they could move on.
Challenge 8: Flower power
The ladies were then directed to the Conservatory of Flowers, a huge glass structure set back from the road. The girls had to sift through 25 pounds of rice to find 16 sunflower seeds. The biggest challenge was not spilling any rice on the ground!
Challenge 9: Dismantle the bike
After a tricky ride back to the bike rental kiosk, the ladies were told to dismantle all their decor and recycle it appropriately.
Challenge 10: The chopstick relay
Set up at the back gates to the Japanese Tea Garden, the gals had to use chopsticks to transfer sixteen gummy worms, one by one, from a platter to their team bowl, which was located in a small pagoda 25 feet away. Once the gummy worms were transferred, they had to bring the bowl back and eat all the worms.
Challenge 11: The statue scavenger hunt
Around the main concourse in Golden Gate Park are a series of statues. The girls were given a clue sheet, and had to locate different details about different statues spread throughout the space. Only one sheet was given out, so the groups had to stay together to locate and answer the questions. The answers were then checked by a monitor; if they got more than one answer wrong they had to either accept a five minute penalty, or go find the correct answers.
Challenge 12: Count the trees
Out of all the challenges, I thought this one was the trickiest, mainly because all of the trees look as if they are placed in rows -- but when you start counting them, you realize the rows start to splay out in different directions, without any rhyme, reason, or set number plan. I personally had to count them four times to before I got the correct number, and then had my team help me count it one more time to make sure I hadn’t miscounted.
Challenge 13: The final performance
This was the very last challenge, and the one where any team, regardless of their place in the lineup, could win. Each team was given a set of song lyrics, a box of costumes and props, and a boom box. Their challenge was to perform as a team. The team who garnered the most attention and applause would win the “detour” envelope: a certificate that allowed them to trade places with any team in the lineup (and thus guaranteeing their win).
By the end of the race the girls were exhausted, as was my team, but it was so much fun that no one minded. Awards were handed out (gift certificates for the winners, chocolate bars for everyone else), but no one seemed to mind if they had lost -- it was the adventure that had been the prize. The thing that struck me was that even though the event was planned out to the last detail, things still went wrong... just like in the real race. Teams that were in the lead at the beginning got held up on trivia questions or by unhelpful boat attendants, teams that were in last place slipped ahead when a misplaced cell phone caused a momentary panic and team-wide search... Things were unpredictable, which is exactly what makes it so much fun.
I highly recommend this kind of party for older kids, families, and organizations. It’s a great team building experience that really challenges its individuals. I only wish that like the actual Amazing Race I’d been able to have a film team following each team’s progress... that would have just been the icing on the cake!
Every now and then I get a gut instinct that hits with such intensity that it spills into every moment of my day. I just had one of those days.
I should start by explaining that although I do over 250 events every year, I am not the right party planner for everyone. I know this, I’ve always known this, and over the years I’ve finally begun to voice this with my clients. Case in point a new Bat Mitzvah client whom I met with a few days ago. They were a lovely family, but I had this weird feeling that I wasn’t quite right for them. I’m one of those kid-centric planners that’s more about finding fun, cool stuff that will engage the kids, than I am about micromanaged budgets. Numbers are not my thing. Writing proposals is an agonizing ordeal. I love creating the events... I don’t like pricing them out!
The mom wanted to start looking at venues, and although we hadn’t signed any contracts yet, I could tell she was nervous about losing one of the spaces she was interested in, so I made an exception. Again, in the back of my head something was telling me I wasn’t right for this person...
The day began fine, but just as I was about to head out for my site inspections, an email came in from a very good corporate client and she needed a proposal ASAP. Quickly I pulled it together and shot it off in an email, but now I was in a race for time. I hate being late for clients! So I grabbed the folder, and my bag and sprinted out the door. About 25 minutes later I realized that I hadn’t chatted with Kelly, my assistant, about an important detail, and so I reached for my phone only to find... no phone. In an effort to drive and communicate with my office I did the logical thing: dumped out my purse on the car seat. That’s when I discovered that I didn’t have my wallet! It was also about this time that I heard the ding from my dashboard... my gas tank was on empty! Now, if this wasn’t a huge sign from above that I was not meant to go to this meeting, I don’t know what could have been stronger... except maybe torrential rains. I just kept thinking, “Oh dear... what do I do if I run out of gas on the side of the highway?” I scrounged around in my console and found 3 crumpled dollar bills and a handful of change -- not even enough for one gallon of gas! Pathetic!
The only thing I could think of was to keep going, and somehow by the grace of God I made it to the location, put on a good face, and met the client. I won’t go into the details of the meeting, but two things became apparently clear to me: I was not the party planner for her, and this was not a person I could ask for $20 to help get me home... which basically meant I was out of luck. After spending about three hours with this client, I bid her farewell, sat in the car, and pondered how I was going to get back to my office. I had no phone, no money, no gas! And here’s the worst part: I didn’t even know one phone number of anyone to call for help (except my office number) because all of my phone numbers are stored in my phone... not my head!
I sorted through the contents of my purse: client files, paper clips, chewing gum wrapper... none of this was helpful. The only thing I did have was my checkbook, but who was I going to write a check to? Just walk up to some random person and say, “Hey, I’m in a serious situation, I just need $10 to get gas so that I can get back to San Francisco... can I write you a check?” I was nervous about driving my car any further, so I took my 3 dollars, handful of change, and my checkbook and decided to walk to the nearest store that might have a phone I could use to call my office and see if anyone could come get me. Three blocks down I spied a Citibank (my bank, thank God) and I thought, “Could this be the answer? I don’t have my ID, all I have is my checkbook, but hopefully they’ll let me take $20 out of my account!”
I explained my situation to the very sweet, but slightly skeptical teller, who gratefully took pity upon me. She asked me some questions: my address, my full name, my mother’s maiden name, my Social Security number (which thankfully my mother made me memorize when I was 12), my most recent ATM transactions, things like that. When I had answered to her satisfaction she kindly passed over a crisp $20 bill.
Things got much better from that point on. I was able to get gas and get back in time for my other meetings. But as I was driving back, I considered the situation very seriously. My gut had been telling me something, and I think that the powers that be were just confirming it: it was time to cut my losses and disengage from this client. Which I did as soon as I got home via a very nice email.
I think if this has taught me anything, it’s that I need to listen to my heart more. Had I done so, I would have told the family “no” the night I met them, and not ended up in the panicked situation I’ve just described. It gave me pause though, and a new respect for those folks who are living day to day, dollar to dollar; the pressure and anxiety of living like that must be almost crippling. We’ve got to do something to help the people that are living without a safety net; it’s just too easy to slip through the cracks. And also, it taught me a serious lesson: always keep $20 hidden in your glove compartment!
I remember potluck dinners from when I was a kid. I’m not sure if people do them as much anymore, but I used to love making my way down the long row of mismatched card tables, looking at all the different dishes arranged one after the other like a row of little soldiers. At the time, I had no idea that this sort of lineup would play such an important role in my future. But when you’re party planner, food is a large portion of your life. Even though I may not personally make the food, since that’s not a service my company provides, the task often falls upon me and my staff to make the buffet look pretty.
With that in mind, I give you a few pointers that can add to the beauty of your display without too much trouble.
1. Plate placement: It’s important to set the plates at the end of the table where you want people to begin the line. Silverware and napkins can actually go at the other end if you like, or better yet, set at the dining tables so that guests do not have to balance their plate and utensils while serving themselves. If your buffet is double-sided (meaning you want guests to walk down either side of the table) make sure there are plates on both sides. Hopefully, plate placement should discourage folks from attacking the buffet from the wrong end, and thus eliminate any collisions!
2. How to set the food: The main thing to keep in mind when setting up a display is to think logically about the food placement. Make sure that you keep salads with salads, side dishes with side dishes, and entrees with entrees. If you mix up your buffet willy nilly, people won’t know their choices, and someone might be disappointed to find out there is macaroni and cheese further down the table when they’ve already loaded up on pasta salad from the other end. I always think it’s best to set your food in the way you would serve it at the table. So, it should pretty much go: bread, soups/chili, salads, entrees, side dishes (or side dishes then entrees, that one is sort of up to you).
3. Levels: A simple way to create a captivating buffet is to raise some of the items above others. This is a simple trick that can make a big difference. The best part about it is that almost anything can become a riser, as long as the top of the item is flat, the bottom of the item sits securely on the table, the surface area on the top is large enough to accommodate whatever platter or dish you are displaying, and that the item is sturdy enough to support the weight of the food. Some suggestions for levels: wooden fruit boxes (such as those little boxes oranges come in), large books, bricks, clean paint cans, cooking pots, storage containers (like Tupperware), sturdy shoe boxes, even a large-based flower pot can work. You will want to cover the item with a matching/contrasting fabric such as a napkin, so that you don’t see the actual level itself.
4. Fabric: This is an old catering trick called “clouding.” Clouding is when you simply take an extra table cloth (or two) and then bunch and scrunch the fabric on the top of your table. It creates a pretty, fluffy sort of look around the base of the platters. If you are going to add levels, you would add those on top of the clouding, with additional fabric. The main thing to remember is not to use too much fabric -- it’s there to accent the food, not hide it.
5. Props: As a kid’s party planner, I love props! Thematic accent pieces, like a wheel of fortune at a carnival party, or a piñata for a Mexican fiesta, can really add a bit of color and fun to a bland buffet. Just make sure that the items don’t overpower the table or get in the way of the food. A simple accent like curly, colored ribbons are great sprinkled when on the table. Just make sure they are kept away from anything flammable!
The main thing to remember when setting a buffet is to allow the food to shine. You want to be careful not to make food difficult or dangerous to reach (so don’t place a giant 36-inch platter on two overturned flower pots -- that’s just a recipe for disaster!). Always use common sense when it come to setting your buffet, because really, the star to the show is the food. The rest is just dressing!
A problem I’ve encountered at my larger events is what to do with people’s belongings when they arrive. The simple answer, is of course a coat check, meaning an area where folks can hang up their coats, store their bags, and basically know that the items will be safe and sound when they need them. Usually, if you go to a restaurant or hotel, they offer this service. You hand the staff person your belongings, and they hand you a numbered ticket. Now this is all well and good for most adults (unless you lose things like me!) and those with pockets, but if you are a teen in a cute little dress, you probably don’t have anywhere to store a ticket. Since young adults and kids are my primary focus, I’m always looking for ways to simplify these types of situations, and so I offer up a few simple solutions for easier coat check.
#1. Make sure you have a reliable person that mans the station all night. People are entrusting this person with their property -- it’s a serious job.
#2. Make sure that the coat check area is well situated with enough hangers, shelf or floor space, and staff to accommodate the number of guests you have.
#3. Instead of giving out number cards, print up strips of cardstock with your event title. Cut out the strips and place an oversized hole punch at one end. As guests arrive, have them write their first name and last initial on the tag. Place the item on the hanger and the tag over the neck of the hanger.
#4. For bags, backpacks, shoes (yes, shoes!), and larger bulkier items, use binder clips or clothespins to attach the name tag to the item.
#5. For cell phones (I know this seems crazy, but there are a lot of teens that just arrive with a cell phone and nothing else) create a cell phone drop-off. Get a bunch of same sized plastic bins (like you use to store leftovers) or little plastic baskets (we get these at the Dollar Tree). Write the person’s name in permanent marker on the side of the container lip (you will have to write small) or place a piece of tape or a label on the side with their name. You can then stack multiple cell phones on top of each other without fear of confusion or damage.
#6. If you have the space, cubbies are an excellent way of storing things during an event. Just assign each person their own cubby. Place the name tag hanging down from the top of the cubby so it’s clearly marked. I found this amazing cubby system made out of 12 x 12 wire panels that snaps together. It’s perfect because you can configure the cubbies any way you like.
Once the initial rush of arrival is over, your coat check person can arrange all the items alphabetically, which saves time at the end when the guests return for their items.
Now, if you are super-worried about the items, you can also create a checklist to match the items. This way, individuals actually sign their items in and out... but truth be told, that’s never been an issue with a private party before.
The best part about this system is at the end of the evening, when you get that inevitable sweater or sports jacket that’s been left behind, you’ll know who it belongs to. Jacket delivery, anyone?
If you're late on getting ready for Easter get togethers… hop to it! Here's a roundup of every craft, game, activity, and blog I've got on this chocolate-bunny-filled holiday. Get your baskets ready, and start your hunt for some Easter fun!
Growing up in Pennsylvania, my Grammy Yocom would always throw the best Easter egg hunts. It was always cause for trampling my Poppy’s newly-bloomed daffodils as we searched for our ever-elusive Easter baskets. My Grammy was the queen of Easter baskets, choosing not to fill them with hard-boiled eggs, but each of our personal favorite treats. I’ve been allergic to chocolate since I was a child, so for me she would always tuck in jelly beans, marshmallow Peeps, and a white chocolate bunny (she had tried carob one year... that was a huuuuge mistake that she never repeated!). My cousin Greg would always get a huge, one-pound peanut butter or coconut egg (this was before all of the candy companies started making Easter versions of their candies) so what amounted to an enormous Reese's peanut butter cup was a huge treat.
When I moved to California and became a nanny, I started the tradition with the children that I baby sat. In fact, up until two years ago when they left for college, I would still make the early morning pilgrimage to Sam and Hannah’s every Easter, where I would secretly stow baskets on their front porch. Which leads me to believe that you are never too old for an Easter basket!
Everyone loves a little treat, and a basket is the perfect thing to fill; it’s not too big, it’s not too small, it’s just right for a few sweets and an “I love you.” So this Easter, why not try putting together baskets for the ones you love? You could theme them according to their tastes and hobbies. For example...
For those that love cooking...
The Meal Basket
Meal baskets are fun because they include a recipe card tied with a bow to the handle and all the ingredients necessary to make that dish. You’ll want to do something that doesn’t have meat or an item that need refrigeration, but veggies, pasta, and canned items work really well. Choose a favorite dish or dessert that may be new to your receiver.
New Cook Basket
If you’ve got someone who is just discovering the joys of cooking, then a good basic cookbook (like the Joy of Cooking) and some important basic kitchen essentials like measuring cups, measuring spoons, mixing bowls, a whisk, a good wooden spoon, a timer, and the like would make a super fun basket.
The Gourmet Basket
My sister is known for doing the best gourmet baskets! She goes into little specialty stores and find the most amazing spreads, crackers, breads, and treats. Everyone gets excited about little treat that they’re not used to, and so mixing up a variety of different tastes and flavors can be thrilling.
The Baker Basket
Why not gather a basket full of ingredients to make something sweet? A box of mix, muffin tin, baking cups, icing, food coloring, and tiny candies to decorate cupcakes would be fun. Who knows, perhaps your basket’s recipient will share the tasty treats it makes with you!
For those who love working with their hands…
The Crafter Basket
If you are someone who loves crafts, you can never have too many supplies. Fill plastic Easter eggs with little baggies (to keep things from flying all over when the eggs are opened) full of supplies: glitter, sequins, jewels, and other tiny embellishments. Put in packs of duct tape, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, glue, felt, paper, crayons, markers... the sky is the limit!
The Sewer Basket
Fill a basket with needles, thread, bobbins, pins, measuring tape, fabric, patterns, and a good pair of scissors. A book of sewing projects would top off the basket.
The Do-It-Yourselfer Basketr
How about a little basket filled with tools: hammers, nails, screwdrivers, working gloves, a battery-powered drill, a tool belt, and a “How to fix Everything” book.
For those who need a little escape time…
The Spa Basket
What better way to relax than a basket filled with bath salts and bubble bath, nice shampoos, a thick washcloth or loofah, face masks, moisturizers, candles, chamomile tea, and a romance novel?
I love puzzles, so getting a basket filled with word search books, crossword puzzles, a dictionary, easy Sudoku books, and a pack of pencils would put me over the moon!
I also love to read, so a basket filled with suggested novels from my friends would be amazing. Cater to your age group; do teen novels, comic books, graphic novels, books on tape, whatever fits their personality.
The point here is that Easter baskets are a great little gift for anyone and any age. You don’t have to be a little kid to enjoy the thrill of a basket. Just remember when creating your basket you’ll want one central, large item (a book, a piece of equipment, etc.) and then surround that large item with a bunch of smaller items. Each basket always needs a crowning jewel, whether it be a chocolate bunny, or a book on knitting. One thing’s for sure, anyone who receives a basket Easter will be hopping up and down with joy!
Every now and again I get a client who really wants something that doesn’t seem to exist. Never one to back away from a creative challenge, I am usually able to come up with some sort of way to make the non-existing item, often to the detriment of my tireless team. Case in point: the infamous sewn “faceless” bunnies.
A sweet four-year-old girl requested faceless bunnies for her party so she and her friends could personalize them and make them outfits. It was a wonderful idea! The only problem was I couldn’t find a high-quality, low-cost, 16 inch stuffed bunny anywhere, not even a pattern for that matter. And the party was a week away!
Now, my mother is an amazing seamstress. She has spent a lifetime sewing: clothes, quilts, purses, a plethora of amazing Halloween costumes, and she’s even currently making my sister’s wedding dress. The woman can sew! Her specialty has always been creating anything my sister and I could draw. When I was a child I had the best Barbie wardrobe in town; 50% of it created from patterns my mom would make out of newspaper. I, on the other hand, am not the best seamstress. However, I knew this was important to this little client, and so I set about trying to channel my mother.
First, I had to get together a sketch of the basic look of the doll. From the child’s description, I came up with a pear-like form for the body so the bottom could be weighted and our little friend would easily sit upright. I also wanted the legs and arms to fall and have some weight, so I designed those with a teardrop shape so I could fill the tips of the hands and feet with rice.
This is the pattern I came up with. I needed to cut two body pieces, four arms, four legs, and four ears.
The fabric had two sides: a soft side and a coarser back side. After cutting the pieces, I pinned the ears, arms, and legs together with the back side of the fabric facing out, and sewed them together, leaving the points of the teardrop open.
I used a pencil to turn the arms, legs, and ears inside out. I filled each limb with a tablespoon of rice and then used a pencil to push a small bit of stuffing into each. I made sure to leave about 2 inches at the end unstuffed. I only put a wee bit of rice in the tips of each ear, then used the pencil to lightly fill the ears with stuffing.
Once the extremities were filled, I laid out one side of the bunny body with the soft side facing in. I then laid the ears out where I wanted them on the body and pinned them in place. I did the same with the arms and legs. I then folded them in on themselves so they were all enclosed within the perimeter of the body. I laid the other side of the body on top of this and pinned that in place. Note: this is why I left 2 inches unstuffed on each limb!
It was a bit tricky, but I then sewed around the perimeter of the body, including the extremities in the sewing. I left a hole in between the legs. Next, I turned the bunny inside out via the hole between the bunny’s legs.
It was starting to look like a cute stuffed friend! I really wanted this doll to sit up on its own so I took a sock, filled it with dried pinto beans, and rubber banded the ends of the sock so it was a nice little oval beanbag. I did this because I didn’t want the beans to “travel” through the bunny with time, and end up scattered all around. The sock ensured that the beans would stay put in the bunny’s butt! After stuffing the body with fiberfill, I inserted the sock-ball of beans and stitched the hole between the bunny’s legs shut. The end result was a basket of fun friends ready to fulfill a child’s birthday dream!
I wish I had photos of the decorated bunnies, but as often ends up happening at my events, I was just too busy to take photos! But I can promise you, the bunnies were adorable. Each one had its own personality to match its creator.
Wouldn’t you know it, this same client then asked me to do a similar thing for her older daughter, only with horses... I let my mom handle that one...
When I was a kid, my Grammy Yocom always had my cousins and I over to dye Easter eggs. I loved it! My favorite part was measuring out the vinegar and hot water into her assorted tea cups and dropping in the little colored tablet. I would sit there completely engrossed as the aspirin-sized tablet dissolved, releasing swirls of magnificent color like smoke rising from a fire. The smell was a heady mixture of cooked eggs (there was always at least one that broke in the boiling water, forming a sort of Quasimodo mutant egg), vinegar, dye, and steam. I remember carefully popping out the little cardboard disks on the back of the box so that we’d have the perfect drying rack, and then pushing a toothpick through the pre-punched hole in the center of the disc to make a top. The people at Paas (the company that makes the dye packs) were brilliant, using every little bit of packaging to create the overall egg dyeing experience. I can still remember the little copper wire egg retriever (you had to bend it just right so you could scoop the eggs out of the cups), the wax crayon so that you could write a secret message on your egg, and the lick and stick stickers (that usually peeled off)!
Nowadays the kits have gone high-tech and you can get everything from glitter to marbled egg kits -- there’s a veritable “egg”-splosion of kits out there on the market!
As an alternative to the traditional method of dying eggs, I thought I’d offer up some alternatives to egg decorating. Remember, you always want to use a hardboiled or blown-out eggs. Never decorate raw eggs, as they could break during the decorating process and cause quite a mess!
To blow out an egg so you can keep it for years, simply gather the following supplies:
First, take your pushpin and gently poke it into the top of your raw egg. Pull it out, flip the egg over and holding it gently, do the same to the opposite side. Use your nail to gently widen the hole on one end of the egg. Insert your toothpick into the widest hole and poke around till you puncture the yolk. The toothpick will start coming out yellow as you work it up and down and around inside the egg. Hold the egg over a bowl, with the widest hole facing down, and hold the straw in your mouth, against the smaller hole in the egg. Blow. The insides of the egg fall out of the larger hole. Make sure you blow all the yolk out. Rinse the egg with water then in the same way, blow out any water inside the egg. Let it dry and then it is ready to decorate!
To make a great stand for your eggs as they dry, simply use bottle tops from soda, juice, or half gallon milk containers. Turn them upside-down so that the flat part rests securely on the work surface.
Here are a few ideas to decorate blown-out eggs...
Use lace or ribbon. Use a glue dot to secure the ends of your ribbon or lace to the top of your egg, then wrap the ribbon around until it meets the ribbon end, and secure with a second glue dot. You can do multiple wraps so that it takes on a sort of circus tent quality, or do one around the middle of the egg, like a belt.
Use jewels. Use tacky glue, hot glue, or glue dots to secure flat-backed jewels or sequins to your eggs. Get wacky and tacky! How many jewels can you glue to your egg?
Wrap in yarn. Place a glue dot on the top point of your egg. Coat the upper half of your egg with tacky glue. Secure the end of your yarn to the glue dot and begin wrapping your egg in a circular motion. When you get to the middle, set the egg aside to dry. When it’s dry, flip the egg over, and do the same thing. Place a glue dot on the end, and coat the remaining egg in tacky glue. Continue wrapping the egg where you left off, secure end at the glue dot and cut yarn. You can also employ this method on the side of the egg, as pictured.
Decoupage. Rip or cut tissue or thin wrapping paper into small squares. Make the binder by mixing water and white glue (1 part glue to 1 part warm water). Apply glue mixture to egg, and place paper on glue. Continue layering and gluing until the egg is covered. While the decoupage is still wet you can dip part of the egg in glitter for a nice effect.
Paint with nail polish. Got any old, about to be used-up nail polish? Well eggs are a great place to use it up. The glossy finish looks great on an egg. You can also add glitter and jewels while the nail polish is drying, and it will serve just as well as glue!
Here are a few ideas for decorating hard boiled eggs...
(Note: make sure that you remove them from the refrigerator ahead of time, let sit till they are room temperature, and wipe with a dry cloth to remove any moisture before decorating.)
Color with Sharpie markers. Just remember not to draw on your clothes while doing so! Sharpies are awesome because they have a great point and come in amazing colors! Just doodle away on your eggs.
Crayons. These are a great way to decorate eggs with young children. They perform on the eggs well and are not messy. Because crayons form a wax resist, after kids decorate their eggs you could always continue with the standard dyeing practice.
Stickers. The one thing I have learned about using stickers is that the eggs need to be left unrefrigerated once they are decorated. The reason is that when the egg gets cold, moisture builds up behind the sticker and it simply pops off. Stickers are still great for very young kids though. The egg pictured is an example of one left in the refrigerator.
Acrylic sponge painting. You can get a great effect with a sponge and a tiny bit of acrylic paint. You don’t need much, just a teaspoon on a plate and a slightly damp sponge. Dip the sponge into the paint and wipe against the plate edge so that there is only a thin layer of paint on the sponge. Then dab the sponge on the egg.
Personalize it. Give your egg a personality by adding features such as googly eyes, yarn hair, puff ball ears and noses, etc. The wonderful thing about an egg is it makes a great base for any number of creatures, critters, and cuties. Turn it on its end to make a head or long body, turn it on its side to make the body of an animal, fish, car, or airplane. Eggs are versatile bases for artwork! When I work with kids, I actually like to use plastic eggs for this project because they take well with glue dots, hot glue, and can last getting left in backpacks or cars in case they get forgotten.
No matter what technique you choose, the best thing about decorating eggs is hanging out with your friends and family... and egg salad. That is a super yummy byproduct of egg art!
The other day I received a very sweet inquiry from an 11-year-old girl that I thought I would share, not only because I was so touched by her generosity of spirit, but because I thought it was a nice inspiration to others. The thought of sharing a little gift for no reason other than to let someone know you are thinking about them is lovely, and the idea of it being something homemade that comes from the heart really appealed to me! Here’s her note and my response...
Hi Sophie! (:
My name is Kaillie, and I'm 11 years old. I make bows and other little things. Recently I’ve been thinking and I have decided to give this little girl with epilepsy some bows, and other cute stuff, mostly homemade... You have really awesome and easy crafts! Could you give me any suggestions for gifts to put in for her?
What an incredibly sweet gift you are offering to this little girl! I'm sure she will be so excited to receive anything that you make for her, but I might suggest the following from our site...
You could start by making a small paper bag basket and filling it with fun things.
Another simple idea is to put together a little art kit that she can use. Maybe then the two of you could make things together!
I applaud you for your generosity of spirit and time. It's a very commendable thing that you are doing. It will mean so much, I'm sure.
Wishing you the best,
In a world that is racing by so quickly, it’s really wonderful to know that there are still people out there willing to take time from their hectic lives to make a difference. I am so proud of this young lady and I do hope that others follow her example to reach out to others as she has!
My sister is a crafting genius, and her latest creation only goes to further prove that point! The other day, Simone mentioned that the Washington Post was holding a Peep diorama contest, in which folks were encouraged to create miniature worlds inhabited only by Peeps and Peep byproducts (like the Peep bunnies and other sundry marshmallow friends). The light that lit my sister’s Freda’s eyes upon hearing these words could have powered New York City during a blackout! She was on fire! The contest was ending on that upcoming Monday, and so, with a work free weekend ahead of her, she embraced her inner Peep to create the most amazing “Peep show” ever!
I will let her explain her inspiration and process, because I wouldn’t even know where to begin! Just know that I think it’s spectacular, and I count myself one of the luckiest people alive to view these Peeps live and in peepson... er, person. The only thing that makes me sad is that it’s very difficult to capture in photos the absolute magnificence of this diorama. It is, without a doubt, “the greatest show on earth.”
I chose “Peep T. Barnum Circus Sideshow” as my theme for this diorama because I absolutely love old sideshows and admire Barnum’s ability to spin a good story. As he once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I enjoy being one of those people who can suspend belief, even if just for a moment.
The diorama is 18 inches wide, 15 inches tall, and 11 inches deep and is constructed out of a Dixie Cup box. It took me about 10 hours total to complete, and I made it in a single sitting.
I started by cutting the box into the rounded shape I wanted, then glued in the red and white striped “big top.” It took me a few tries to get the fabric to lay just right, giving the illusion of the inside of the tent. Once I was satisfied with that, I glued down the fabric base. From there I used a whole bunch of odds and ends to create the platforms for my mini performers.
First I made all the performers’ environments, stands, and posters. Once those were in place I made the Peeps to match their posters. I used colored pencil and markers to make the posters, and drew them on canvas paper to give them a worn, old timey feel. For the Fiji Mermaid and the Fire Eater, I then cut my drawings out and mounted them on fabric so they would be more flashy.
I chose to make a tattooed Peep because were at the forefront of my brain; many of my friends are into tattoos and they are always on my friends’ Facebook feeds and Pinterest pages. I also really like the idea of a tattooed person from a sideshow back in the day because they were a person that choose to cover themselves in pictures and display themselves; it’s a fascinating life choice. I also think it’s funny that nowadays people have far more tattoos than the sideshow tattooed men and women of the era!
I chose to make the conjoined twin Peeps because Cheng and Eng are the most memorable sideshow performers to most people. I wanted to turn my Peep twins into a musical duo as well so they had something else going for them then just being stuck together!
The Fiji Mermaid is by far my most favorite Barnum creation. He advertised it as a real mermaid, but after people paid to see it, what they found was the torso of a mummified baby monkey sewn onto the tail of a fish and covered in paper maché. People were outraged then delighted by this sideshow gaffe and even after it was well known to be humbug, people would pay to see it anyway. I love. love, love the Fiji Mermaid and actually made one of my own years ago to be the central fixture of a sushi bar at a Halloween party... Sadly it was never used because the client’s child took one look at it and declared it too creepy even for Halloween.
The final performer in my Peep carnival is the Fire Eater. I wanted to make this little dude because I thought it would be fun to make pipecleaner fire!
After creating my “freaks,” I made their sideshow barker and his captive audience of eager bunnies. The last little finishing touch I added was the baby on his mother’s shoulder. I am also particularly fond of the two rich lady bunnies with their fur coats and purses. I love the one bunny’s seashell hat!
All in all, this was a great way to spend a Saturday. Watching movies and creating this wonderful tribute to an American icon, “Peep” T. Barnum.
Bounce houses rank right up there along with balloons as one of my least favorite party elements. At the risk of sounding like an old codger, “those darn things are just plain dangerous!” No matter how many precautions we take, there always seems to be at least one child who ends up in tears. But, kids love them, they come in every theme and configuration possible, and in the great scheme of things they are relatively inexpensive entertainment. So for all of these reasons, I must concede that they are a pretty significant party staple, and something I must therefore embrace, even if it is begrudgingly.
But that won’t stop me from sharing a bit of insight on those dreaded behemoths in the hope that you can avoid some of the pitfalls that come with renting one of these inflatable monstrosities.
1. Check out the company you are renting from – make sure they are reliable. I personally have gotten into the habit of telling the rental company that the party starts two hours before it actually does, just to make sure that the jumpy is set up in time. Make sure you have a contact number for the person delivering the bouncy, and call them two days in advance to confirm their arrival.
2. Make sure you have enough room for the jumpy. Don’t try and shove the thing into a driveway with the access only from the street. Kids are prone to fly out of these contraptions with the G-force of small jets, so make sure there is room surrounding your jumpy and that it is secure (I’ve actually witnessed a bounce house that moved a total of 10 feet due to the undulating motion created by its bouncing captors). Make sure the area is flat; there’s nothing more unstable than a bouncy on a hill!
3. Make sure you’ve got enough power. These babies just keep getting bigger and more powerful. Some can take upwards of two whole circuits to run efficiently. Make sure that if you are plugging the bouncy into your house that there is nothing else plugged into that circuit, or ask the company to supply a generator for the blower. Make sure that they bring one with enough power. It should be their responsibility to know what they need, however, you can never assume anything, so always check that the generator you are renting has enough power to power everything.
4. If you have big kids and little kids, consider getting two jumpies, or set time schedules so that only little kids are with little kids, and big kids with big kids. The sheer force of a normal 12-year-old boy colliding with a 2-year-old peanut in braids would make car crash test dummies wince!
5. Man the jumpies. Have a responsible adult or teen watch the jumpy for the following:
- No shoes
- Number of people jumping (each jumper has its own limits)
- Age of kids jumping (mentioned above)
- If there are slides or other such obstacles, that only one person is sliding at a time
- That the exit path is clear
- Don’t let kids run “up” the slide when someone else is coming down
6. Place a mat or tarp at the entryway so that kids can remove their shoes without getting dirty.
7. Be very careful if you are using a jumpy in the rain, or with wet guests. Nothing is slipperier, or can cause a bad fall quicker, than a wet jumpy.
8. Watch out for deflating jumpies. This is actually quite serious and can happen for any number of reasons, such as…
- Popping a circuit (this can happen if someone accidentally plugs another power-zapping appliance into the jumpy’s circuit; this can happen when people don’t realize that separate plugs are on the same circuit.
- The generator runs out of gas or turns off
- The air blower gets disconnected from the power, or the actual tube gets twisted or compromised.
9. Have parents of little ones stand close to the entrance. Nothing is more fun than watching that little 2-year-old bopping around like a piece of popcorn, but sometimes this can be too much for little ones. Make sure that a parent is close by to coax the child out safely.
10. Make sure that parents realize that there are dangers associated with jumpies. Accidents can happen. They still may glare at you when their child bursts into tears, but they can’t say that they weren’t warned.
11. If you’ve hired an entertainer – turn the bouncy off when they are performing. Nothing can make an audience lose focus faster than the lure of what amounts to a giant air-filled pillow.
I hope I haven’t taken all the fun out of your party or discouraged you from renting a jumpy -- I just speak from years and years of experience! I’ve found that as long as you plan for the worst, nothing happens, which is exactly what you want. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared!”
In an effort to stretch my duct tape even farther, I have been investigating alternative materials that can be used for the “base” of my duct tape fabric. The issue is when you are creating something large out of duct tape, such as a purse or backpack, it can take upwards of an entire roll of tape just to make the base fabric. For those of you unfamiliar with duct tape projects, fabric is made by overlapping strips of tape to create a sheet of tape. The fabric needs to be taped on both sides, so if you are making a piece of fabric to make a 4 by 6 inch clutch purse, you’re going to need about 15 feet of tape, which is about half of a roll of patterned tape. That’s just to make the base fabric! At $4.99 a roll, you can see how it adds up.
Knowing that my audience using this tape has limited budgets, I thought it wise to start investigating alternative materials to use instead, the idea being that one could embellish like crazy with fun patterned and designed tapes as long as one had a good base that adhered to the tape. And thus the search began!
Fabric can work... I’ve used felt before... but the issue is that the item becomes sort of bulky, and thinner materials such as cottons fray. So what to use that has strength, flexibility, thinness, and will adhere to tape? The answer came to us (I say us because we were all sitting around brainstorming about this... and I believe it was Simone who threw out the final answer) in a flash of brilliance when we were considering some of the reusable bags piling up in the corner of Simone’s office... PAINTER’S TARPS!
Any of you who have ever had to cover an outdoor object to protect it from the elements probably knows what I’m talking about. People use them to cover loads in the back of a flatbed truck, cover tables for art projects, keep items clean when painting, even use them to keep the rain out of little houses with holes in the roofs! They are made out of a thin plastic with a woven sort of webbing, which adds strength without bulk. They come in pretty standard colors: brown, silver, and my favorite, blue. But the best thing about them is the price: one basic 8 by 10 foot blue tarp will run you about $5.00 -- enough to make over 50 purses, or 40 backpacks!
So you are probably asking: how do I use this material? Basically, you cut pieces to the size of duct tape fabric you normally would use for your project. Then you’ll want to embellish the outside as you wish, then trim the decorated fabric to size.
When securing any seams (places where you fold over and attach one item to another) you’ll want to make sure to use small pieces of tape going horizontal to the seam, then come back and secure the ends of the small pieces with a strip of lengthwise tape on either side of the seam, and one final lengthwise strip over the seam. You’ll want to do this inside the item as well, but that should normally just take a longwise strip right down the seam.
Freda and I are looking into alternative ways to seal the plastic as well. One thing we have in the office is a heat sealer. We use it to seal mylar balloons and plastic goodie bags, but we’ve discovered that it seals the plastic tarp as well. So our next project is to figure out if there is something that can seal the tarp that is a common household tool. We’ll keep you posted on what we find out! In the meantime, if you’ve got an old tarp lying around... why not give it a try? You may find that you’re needing to make less trips to the craft store!
I know it’s a very un-California way of thinking, but I like my plastic grocery bags. I love how I can load those paper-thin bags onto my arms like a string of fish on a line, lugging 50 pounds of groceries up the stairs in a single go -- even if the thin, twisting handles wrapped around my wrists cut off my circulation for the trip! I save them, I use them, I make crafts out of them. And yes, I know they eventually end up in landfills and water systems, and that they’re bad for the environment, but I still have an affinity for them.
This may be why I’m having such a hard time accepting this “no plastic bag” policy that is sweeping our state. The thing is, I have so many reusable bags -- in fact I’ve got about 10 of those giant blue tarp like ones from IKEA alone -- but I can never seem to remember them! Instead, they sit piling up in the corner of Simone’s office. There are so many now that they’ve set up a permanent residency on the paper supply shelf (much to the chagrin of the office supplies).
In an effort to save myself the 10 cents retailers now charge for bags, and to hopefully inspire myself to break my illicit love affair with plastic shopping bags, I researched ways in which I could remember to take my own bags with me wherever I go. Here’s what I came up with...
The doorknob technique
My sister Freda heard this tip from a shopkeeper; she said that as soon as you have unloaded your day’s purchases, hang the bag on your front door doorknob. Then, when you leave the next morning, there it will be, and you can grab it and take it with you.
Keep some in your car
I was chatting with one guy who said he keeps a box in the back of his truck along with a few reusable bags. That way, if he forgets them when he goes into shop, he just uses the cart to wheel the stuff out to the car, and then proceeds to load up the box and the bags. He makes sure to replace the box the next time he gets into his truck. He says that for him, the box is better because it keeps things from sliding around. I think it just makes him feel more manly than carrying around some Non-Woven Polypropylene sack!
Keep it on youAmazon carries a ton of reusable bags, some that are so light and tiny that they collapse into the size of a credit card case. Some even have cute little carriers with clips so you can attach them to your backpack, purse, or best friend.
Make a note
If you’ve got it down to where you’re actually keeping bags in your car, but keep forgetting them every time you go into the store, then why not make yourself a dashboard note. It could be something simple like, “Got Bags?” Tape it in a very obvious place in your car, like on the dashboard above the radio, or on both sides of the visor (that way you’ll see it in either position). Make a note for your front door as well. I know, it’s a bit goofy, but it’s the only way I can remember to pack things for certain parties, so I think it will probably work for bags as well! Whatever the case, the bag needs to be in a place that’s easy to grab, like the glove compartment, or those built-in shelf units in the door. If it’s not conveniently located, even a flashing neon sign isn’t going to help!
Put them everywhere
If you are like me, and you’ve accumulated lots of these reusable bags, well then... why not distribute them in places where you know you will use them? Hang them in the garage, the mudroom, the kitchen, the closet where you keep your coats, anywhere that is convenient to heading out into the world. If you disperse them throughout the house, chances are that one will catch your eye.
I suppose the real thing I’ve got to tackle, other than my ambivalence to reusable bags, is the simple fact of remembering to take them wherever I go. Like buckling up my seatbelt when I get in the car, I need to make it second nature. I read somewhere it takes about 21 days of diligent behavior modification to create a new habit. If this is correct, and if I actually take my own advice, I should have kicked my plastic bag addiction by the end of February, early March... I’ll have to check back in then -- maybe by then I’ll have an update on the surefire way to never be caught bagless again. Although I still have my doubts about those IKEA bags...
Obviously, I do not advocate underage drinking (and after chaperoning a Sweet Sixteen party where I had to keep a sharp eye out for teens trying to sneak alcohol, I definitely do NOT!), but that being said, I still love the idea of a “kids’ bar.”
At most of my large events now, it has become common practice to have a designated bar that is just for kids. This bar usually consists of fruit juices, sodas, waters, and the main staple of kid’s mocktails: the Shirley Temple (a mixture of ginger ale and grenadine with a cherry). Glowing glassware purchased from online sources like Windy City Novelties and Flashing Blinking Lights add to the magical quality. And while some bars might offer specialties like smoothies and milkshakes, most just offer the basics. That’s why I think it’s fun to add a creative twist by naming the bar thematically (to suit the host or the party theme) as well as the drinks.
Below, I’m offering up a few themes and possible ideas to inspire you to create your own thematic bar at your next event!
Name of the bar: “(Host’s name) Remix” i.e., Danny’s Remix
“Choc-it like it’s hot” (hot chocolate)
The Blues (blue raspberry syrup and ginger ale)
Sweet Melody (Shirley Temple)
Rock N’ Roll (Roy Rogers - coke and grenadine)
The Ballad (water)
Oldies but Goodies (basic sodas)
Name of the bar: The Inside Shot
The Grand Slam (hot chocolate)
Blue Thunder (blue raspberry syrup and ginger ale)
The Slam Dunk (Shirley Temple)
The Touchdown (Roy Rogers)
The Recharger (water)
The Extra Point (strawberry lemonade)
Bench Warmers (basic sodas)
Twilight (the book) bar
Name of the bar: “Breaking Dawn Bar”
Bad Moon Rising (root beer float)
True Blood (blue raspberry syrup and ginger ale)
The Renesme (Shirley Temple)
Jacob’s Juice (Roy Rogers)
Human Hydrator (water)
Bella’s Bar (basic sodas)
Name of the bar: “Snowdrift Saloon”
The Blue Blizzard (blue raspberry syrup and ginger ale and a white gumball)
The Snowball (Shirley Temple)
Black Ice (Roy Rogers)
Yellow Snow (lemonade)
When you’re coming up with drink recipes, the easiest way to create a tasty but unique drink is to start with a clear soda like Sprite or 7-Up and add some sort of fruit juice or puree for color. If you are looking for a tricky color, such as blue or green, just turn to that beloved mixer for kids: Gatorade! It adds great color, without too much flavor. One of my all-time favorite drinks that we offered up was Sprite, orange juice, grenadine, and a cherry bomb -- it tasted great, and everyone loved dropping in the cherry.
Once you’ve got your drink list, you’ll want to display it. There’s no need to buy a fancy acrylic stand, just make one out of cardboard!
Just remember: it doesn’t really matter what it is you’re serving up -- just make sure to serve it with a smile!
I love to read kid novels as opposed to adult novels. Yes, I could blame my reading habits on my young clients, claiming that it’s all research, but the truth of the matter is I just enjoy the subject matter much better. Case in point, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. One of the kids at my library program suggested I check it out a few years ago, and since then, I’ve been gobbling up the books whenever a new one is released.
I think what I love best about the series is that, like Harry Potter, it lends itself so readily to a party! So with that in mind, I give you a few ideas for a Percy Jackson party.
Roll up a piece of paper like a scroll. If you can, use a parchment type paper, or use the tea staining technique to make your paper look old, all the better. Write something along the lines of, By order of the Oracle, all Half-bloods are requested to attend an emergency session at Camp Half Blood. Then give all your basic information and request that they RSVP to Head Camp Counselor Chiron. Chiron is a centaur, so if you wanted to sign the invite with a hoof print, that would be fun!
Camp Half Blood is just that: a camp. The thing that makes it different it that it’s a camp for kids who are half God and half human. Make a funny camp signs like...
- Hephaestus’ Forges .5 miles
- Armory .25 miles
- Amphitheater .35 miles
- Pegasus Stables .1 miles
- Mt. Olympus (pointing straight up)
- Ancient Greece 3,426.2 miles
Print up a copy of the Camp Half Blood map from Rick Riordan’s site.
You could make a pretend campfire using branches and stones. Use red and yellow cellophane to look like flames. If you are feeling super adventurous, make simple banners or signs to represent the different cabins and arrange them as they appear in the book. (You could also make this an activity that the kids do as they arrive). Finally, print up pictures of mythical creatures from the web and place them all around.
As the guest arrive, break them into their cabins by having their Godly parents “claim” them. It’s up to you to decide how many houses you wish to represent, but it's wise to keep the teams manageable with 4 or 5 kids per team. Use our template to create tokens. Have each guest choose a token as they enter, or gather everyone in a big circle and have each guest choose their token one by one from an urn (bowl).
Once all the guests have been divided into their cabins, set out paper, stickers, scissors, glue, pictures of Gods, etc. and have each team make their own banner for their cabin.
A big part of Camp Half Blood is training to do battle with monsters. Set up stations and have each cabin rotate through the stations, spending 10 minutes or so at each station.
Cut pool noodles in half to use as swords, or follow our tutorial to make your own foam swords. Remember safety is always important, so setting up a dummy (just tie some pillows to a chair for a simple target) for the guests to practice on is a smart way to go.
ArcheryAmazon carries a bunch of really great foam-arrowed crossbows that are perfect for target practice (and make a great gift for the birthday child to keep), or you can make your own, like we did for a Hunger Games party. Set up a bunch of cans and see how many each cabin member can knock down.
Set up an area where your campers have to “fight” a trainer one at a time to get from one side of the playing field to the other. Use a pool noodle quarterstaff (which are easy to make!) as the weapons. Arm both the trainer and one camper. To make this really fun, have the trainer “loose limbs” every time the camper makes contact with a body part (i.e., if the camper hits a leg, the trainer hops on one leg, two legs they get down on their knees, etc.). If the camper touches the head, or can slip by the trainer they are given a round of applause. Let each camper try one at a time.
These are always such fun. Create an obstacle course out of pool noodles and household items and time your campers to see how fast they can safely make it through.
Percy and his pals go on many quests throughout the books. You can simulate this with games, or if you like, make the quest a treasure hunt. Here’s a few game ideas based on the first book’s quest.
This is basically freeze tag. One camper is chosen to be Medusa; Medusa wears a hat to represent her snake-filled hair. Players run from Medusa, and if she tags you, you must freeze solid. Campers try to remove Medusa’s hat. Once the hat is removed, Medusa is “dead” and everyone else unfreezes.
This is basically dodgeball with a twist. Seven kids stand on one side of the playing field each armed with a "fireball" (a squishy, medium sized, non-painful ball). These kids are are the Hydra. "Percy" and his friends stand on the other side. The hydra starts the game by throwing the balls; if the hydra hits someone, they are out of the game. If the hydra throws a ball and the kid catches it, then that hydra dies (and joins Percy). Percy and his friends may use the balls that are thrown on their side to hit and kill the hydra. If Percy’s side hits a hydra, it dies and becomes part of Percy’s team. If the hydra catches the ball, the person who threw the ball becomes an extra hydra head (they join the hydra on their side and become part of their team). Play continues until the hydra is defeated or Percy and his team is defeated.
In this dice game it’s a race between teams to see how quickly their team can escape the "Lure of the Lotus Hotel." Each team is given a pair of dice, a bowl of “lotus flowers” (cotton balls in a bowl), chopsticks, and an empty bowl. (If you have room, set up a table for each team with all the items except the dice). The first person on each team races up to the table, sits down, and proceeds to use the chopsticks to transfer cotton balls, one ball at a time, into the empty bowl. Meanwhile, their teammates proceed to roll the dice until they get a double. When they get a double they yell “Freedom!” and the person who was moving cotton balls returns to their group while the next person in line takes over the lotus flower transfer. Play continues until everyone in the team has gone. The team must then, as a group, roll snake eyes (double ones) to win the game and gain release from the Hotel.
Final Task: Getting out of Hades
Campers form a circle holding hands. They are the circle of Hades. One team of campers is placed in the center of the circle. They must try to break out of Hades, either by dashing under or breaking through the arms of those in the circle. Teams get one minute to break everyone out.
Get one of those Light-up glowsticks and draw a lightning bolt on the side with a sharpie marker. Hide the “bolt” somewhere and have everyone hunt for it (this is super fun if it’s hidden in a dark place).
- Bag of chocolate coins (golden drachmas)
- Light sticks (like the ones mentioned above)
- Camp Half Blood necklaces
- Mythical creatures
- Copy of one of the books
The thing I do love about this series, is that not only is it a fun adventure with great characters, but it also brings the old myths to life, and gives them a fresh outlook. If you haven’t read the series, I highly recommend it!
At the risk of shooting myself in the foot, I’m going to make a statement that might shock some people: I think that some kids get too many birthday parties. I realize that my party planning business’s clientele is not the norm, and that I live and work in a tiny pocket of the world that is privileged and sometimes trends towards excess... But when I see the same kid three times in one weekend, I can’t help but think that there may be too many parties.
I’m not making this up -- this happened to me recently!
It started on a typical Saturday. The first party was a princess party in San Francisco from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, the second was a Scooby-Doo party in Marin from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The little girl guest’s mother and I had a laugh when they showed up at the second party and I was there. “You changed!” said the mom with a smile, noting that I had ditched my pink dress for a pair of nerdy glasses and black pageboy wig. The little girl, who had clearly been to soccer practice in between parties, still wore evidence of the morning’s party: a hair wrap, a stick-on jewel earring, and an armful of Disney Princess temporary tattoos. “I guess we can tell who’s popular around here,” I replied, plopping a pair of dog ears onto her daughter’s head.
But I wasn’t prepared for the next day, when at my Sunday morning party, the same little girl skipped in with her brightly-wrapped present and an even brighter smile. My eyes met the mom’s eyes and we silently agreed: this was more than a coincidence; her kid needed to slow down on the party scene or she was going to kill her poor mother! Her mom looked bedraggled and harried as she handed off her ward, then looked at me with glassy eyes and asked, “This is a drop-off, right?”
“Please tell me you don’t have another one this afternoon!” I said, as I placed my hand reassuringly on her arm and steered her toward the exit. “No,” she said with a sigh. “This party actually overlaps with the afternoon party, so I put my foot down and made her decide between one or the other.” My mouth fell open. “You’re not serious,” I said with total disbelief. “Four in one weekend?”
She nodded sadly, then looked over my shoulder to make sure her daughter was engaged in getting her face painted. “She’s got one of those all-inclusive schools, where everyone has to be invited to everything. Then add the soccer team, the drama class, and Tae Kwon Do, and before you know it, every weekend is a party weekend.”
“You need a party car service,” I said.
“Yeah, and take out stock in Toys ‘R Us,” she smiled weakly. “See you in two hours.”
As I watched her leave I felt terrible. When I was a kid, I had three big parties: one when I was 6, one when I was 12, and one when I was 21. And you know what? That was enough. Oh sure, I had family parties every year, and my special day was never ignored, believe me! But the notion of having a big birthday party every year, with classmates and themes and entertainment, never even crossed my mind. To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember being invited to all that many birthday parties. Before you start to psychoanalyze me and say that I am now over-compensating for my lack of parties as a child with my professional aspirations, I ask you to look back at your own childhood and remember the number of big parties you were invited to...
I just worry that we are overindulging and over-celebrating with our kids. Birthday parties have become big business with entire websites and stores dedicated solely to decor, invites, and goodies. My fear is that kids will become so jaded that they won’t be able to enjoy the simple pleasures that a party should bring: hanging out with friends, playing games, making little projects, eating forbidden treats -- all because they will be over-programmed by the time they are 8 years old. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good party. I love coming up with fun ideas that haven’t been done before, and I love the challenge of entertaining kids for two hours straight. However, when I start to see the same kids day after day, it makes me question whether or not we shouldn’t set a limit on the number of events we throw. Maybe it becomes an every-other year event, or just one for the big numbers, like 6, 10, 12... I’m not sure I have the answer, but if I could offer any solace to the parents out there, I’d like to do so now...
So to all you parents wondering if you are a bad parent for not hosting a blow-out party every year... “I absolve you!”