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So – you’re looking at the quintessential Christmas tree lot (in my head, anyway). Since moving to Oregon, we’ve been able to cut our own tree every year, but this is the lot I wished we could have visited in all the other states we’ve lived. Housed with a vintage “canned ham” Shasta Travel Trailer, complete with generator, the lot offers both Blue Spruce and Fraser Fir trees and wreaths and an abundance of free JOY.

The challenge with this year’s creation was the curves of the trailer. I’m actually more of an Airstream gal, but wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull off that sort of aero-dynamics with gingerbread, so I went with the oh-so-adorable Shasta (that doesn’t make a real one big enough for my family… hence the airstream-love) in red and white. Love the little wings/fins on those.

So – the curves were basically made by slightly under cooking the piece on a Silpat baking mat and pulling it from the oven and immediately bending and curving the dough to take shape – still on the baking mat. After cooling for just a bit in a curved shape (and allowing the “glass” to cool enough to separate) then remove it carefully and attach with icing to the already baked and cooled side. It worked! The first try. I was amazed and thought for sure I’d have a few attempts at it. Dumb luck – but it worked. I reinforced what I could on the inside with icing before adding the other side.

From there, I had many trees to make. The Blue Spruce is rice, mixed with food color and egg white and then baked in a 200 oven for about 20 minutes. The Fraser Fir is the same process with shredded wheat. I made tree shaped bases with gingerbread, then coated with frosting and dredged in the grains.

The light strings are long strands of fruit-by-the-foot, with icing attaching silver dragees – big ones – I had from another project.

A happy accident when I needed one more price listing on my sign “Trees $25, Wreaths $12, Joy Free.” I had extra space and needed to fill with another price. My original thought was the joy people have when picking out their tree – that comes free with purchase. The happy accident was when I decided to use letter crackers to represent wooden letters, or words, to sell like “PEACE” and “MERRY” and well… “JOY.” So I scavenged the cracker bin and found all the JOY’s I could. I stacked them up by the pallets and extra wreaths, so now there is an abundance of JOY to give away on my little tree lot.

So I have to mention the generator. I needed something to go behind the trailer. My original thought was the pallets, but they were too big once I placed the trailer and the posts. So I looked up pictures of generators for some reference and found an orange Tootsie Roll, and orange Starburst and some black licorice nibs in my kids’ old Halloween candy stash. I used some colored gingerbread for the frame and some black licorice rope for the cords. Top it off with some gray frosting for the gas cap, fan and control buttons and you have the cutest edible generator I’ve ever seen! I swear it might be my favorite part. I almost squealed when it was done.

Well, after three days of a powder sugared haze, I’m back to the grind of the real world. I have to actually function, do some laundry, feed my family and NOT scream at my kids when they come within five feet of my miniature tree lot. Some traditions cannot be replaced… sigh. Until next year gingerbread-land.

Star Wars Birthday Party

September 3, 2013

We finally had my son’s Star Wars themed birthday party! And after all the prep, I must say things went pretty smoothly. Of course we only ended up with nine kiddos, and all the parents stuck around to help out — so I guess we were ahead of the game right there!

We started with the specific theme of a Jedi Training party. My son watched this happen last summer on our trip to Disneyland and was hooked on the idea. We thought it would also make the party “activities” much easier to plan.

I made the invitation using a similar Star Wars font, called SF Distant Galaxy, a couple of free light saber png’s I found online and a stock space photo. I happened to have leftover 5×7 black cards from another project, so I gave the invite a gold border, trimmed them down after printing on glossy paper and attached to the card. Using the same elements, I created the Jedi Training certificate, favor name cards (used non-perf biz card sheets) and the food signage.

For the party decor, I bought three of the dollar store black plastic table covers and cover our long dining table and our kitchen counter for the food table. My husband happens to have a lot of Star Wars toys and figures saved from when he was a kid, so we had a couple of larger ships, Darth Vaders and R2-D2’s that we could use on the tables. I used gold paper plates, created little light sabers out of the napkins (black construction paper cut and rolled and held together with silver duct tape) in red, green and blue, and had DIY R2-D2 cups with black and white straws. No need for utensils on the table, as I only served finger foods until the cake. Each place had a Lego Star Wars plastic cup that contained their training certificate, glow bracelet, Star Wars fruit snacks and some Star Wars markers.

Hanging from the chandelier over our table, we spray painted a paper lantern silver and drew lines and such to create a Death Star. We hung black balloons (to represent space), and an x-wing and tie fighter toys of my son’s. Then in the center of the table we had additional toy Star Wars spacecraft. Pretty simple — but it did the trick.

The food was all pretty much ideas I found online, some with my own take. I had seen “Han Burgers” but didn’t want to be stuck at the grill, so we had “Han and Cheese Sandwiches” on a tray with “PB and Jabba Jelly Sandwiches.” I also saw a photo of “Thermal Detonators” labeling malted milk balls. I didn’t want to serve the extra sugar, so I did the same thing with red globe grapes. Jello Jigglers were made as “Carbonite Slabs” with one of them on the plate encasing a Han Solo figurine. We also had “Vader Veggies” and a “Yoda Soda” for a punch. I made up a green punch and simply used a few scoops of lime sherbet, 2 liters of lemon-lime soda and then I added another liter of club soda, just to take off some of the sweetness.

The Jedi Training was pretty simple. We gave each kid a light saber created using foam pool noodles, cut in half, and one end duct taped with black and silver to look like a hilt. We found many versions of these online. My husband went out and bought a bunch of helium, mylar balloons at the dollar store and spray painted storm trooper faces, Darth Vader faces and even Chewbacca’s face onto them. He weighted them and set them up throughout the yard. Also, he set up our 10×10 pop tent for shade over a “shooting gallery” of sorts, for using Nerf guns with other Star Wars adversary targets (boxes with images taped to them). The idea was the kids could practice battling one of these balloon adversaries rather than each other, and were somehow supposed to distinguish the bad guys from the good guy (chewy) etc. Well, it didn’t work out that way in the end, as they just battled every balloon they saw, but they still had a great time. They even went back out to play some more after the food and cake was done. It turned a bit to “Lord of the Flies” when they would all gang-up on one balloon until it was popped. But at least it wasn’t another kid!

My son decided he wanted a Millennium Falcon cake. I am not the best cake baker, and when it comes to kid parties, I usually use a box cake mix. I am fussy when it comes to frosting though, and love a good buttercream — so that is scratch. The cake was three layers of 9 inch rounds, a large cupcake and a small loaf or square pan. After leveling and cutting the “points” of the ship, I had some cake leftover from my two box mixes.

I had to use two long bamboo skewers and some chip board that was cut to fit and shoved between the top and middle layer to help support the “points” of the ship. Then I carved out a chunk of the cake and added the large cupcake on its side to create the window/portal thing (I have no idea what this area is called!!). After a good crumb coating, I covered the bottom third in black frosting and the upper cake in gray – so the ship would look like it was flying. Then I piped all sorts of lines and dots and such, just to make it more Millennium Falcon-like. I would have had Han Solo standing next to the cake, but he was sort-of tied up in the Carbonite Slab – Jello Jigglers at the time.

All in all, a great party for a good group of six-year olds and I always try to keep things less expensive. It’s amazing what a little imagination and ingenuity can do. Besides, they are six!!

R2-D2 Cups

August 29, 2013

R2-D2 CupHere’s a fun little printable if you have a need for R2-D2 cups (like I do for an upcoming Star Wars party).

I found these small, white coffee cups and lids at a local restaurant supplier. I didn’t need all 50, but the price wasn’t too bad and I figured I’d send them to work with my husband and maybe save some for the colder days when cocoa and hot cider is being consumed daily.

I’ve seen a version of this cute little cup online somewhere, and first tried drawing one by hand. It was okay. But I didn’t want to sit and draw 20 little cups when I have many other things to get done. Plus it was a bit shaky drawing on curved surfaces.

So I decided to create these stickers out of the white shipping labels I had on hand. Now I can direct my husband to cut them out and stick them on, while I get something else done!!

R2-D2-beforeThey are sized for 8 oz. solo coffee cups. Print on Avery label #5264, that has six labels per sheet, each label is 3 1/3 x 4 inches. I used the white labels. Clear would probably work, but I’m not sure if the margins are the same. Be sure to print a sample on a normal sheet of paper to see if your margins will match up. And set your printer’s margins to “0” all around.

Each sheet makes FOUR cups.

Printable download here: r2-d2-stickers

Oh! And don’t forget the striped paper straw. I got mine for a dollar a pack at our craft store (part of a circus party set) Happy Star Wars planning!!

Twig Chandelier

August 19, 2013

Twig ChandelierI had been searching for some kind of lighting to hang from our pergola on our deck. Scouring garage sales and thrift shops for a light fixture that I could repurpose and really finding nothing that quite did it for me.  Finally I was visiting family in Anchorage and went into this great bead shop. She had taken a ladder, woven twigs and branches throughout with twinkle light strings. Then hung it up horizontally with cable. I loved the look and was determined to repeat it for my pergola.

A month or so later, a friend had us over to “play” and we had the kids in her backyard. Her husband had been pruning and there were little piles of sticks and branches. I suddenly started sorting and gathering and she (of course) let me take all I wanted. Now, I have an old rustic ladder, but it is being used as my coat tree (perhaps another blog post?) so I just used some of the bigger branches as a base and added in the smaller twigs and such. I used black zip ties to hold it together and then hung it with thin cable from eye screws and s-hooks (two on each, in opposite directions). Then I strung two strands of globe lights all over it, drooping and swagging where needed. I love the look of it. And with the s-hooks, it is easily removed for larger storms or come winter.

Broadway Tables – Act 3

February 19, 2013

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The annual fundraiser for the local performing arts theater was yet another Broadway themed success! This year the Broadway Themed Tables (sold at a higher price) sold out quickly and I was asked to create two more at the last-minute. Five tables in all, each with specific decor and details and character servers!!

The original three tables were Spamalot, Jersey Boys and Les Misérables (Les Mis is to be the summer community musical this year). The added two tables (because I knew I had the resources and could make them come together quickly) were Sister Act and Hello Dolly.

Spamalot, I knew needed a few key props: the giant wooden rabbit (I made out of a small wooden blocks car with wheels, cardboard diaper box, shims, chip board and hot glue), a shrubbery, the Holy Grail, Spam and the man-eating rabbit. I also made big clouds hanging overhead with ropes and found a great knight’s helmet in the prop and costume room. The servers were King Arthur, who had a coconut assist by Patsy. They didn’t sing – but were entertaining just the same.

Jersey Boys was a tough one at first. It was a requested table from the folks who bought it during the auction the year prior. I wanted to capture New Jersey, but didn’t really know how until I started looking at city-scape photos. Finally I decided a Jersey water tower could be made using my galvanized water cooler and a friend welded the base for me. I stenciled on the “Newark NJ” and decided to use it like a vase with sparkly foliage in the “four seasons” of colors coming out. From the center of the foliage, and old-fashioned microphone was popping out. I found some old records (35’s) and stacked them below the water tower, and spray painted a few gold. The theater had a large metal, gold star that we hung and then attached the other gold records to it. Overall the effect was impressive. And of course a skinny-tie-wearing server showed up singing about Sherry Baby and telling his table to Walk Like a Man.

Les Misérables was fairly simple. In the center was a large burlap bag with silver spilling out (including candle sticks). One of the silver pieces used to hold up the red revolution flag and the French flag. White cloth and red napkins finished the look. The server was a singing inn-keeper named Thenardier and very entertaining.

The Sister Act table had to be all glitz and glam. I used a disco ball, feather boa and gogo boots with a microphone whose cord wrapped and held the disco ball in place. Floating above the table were three nun’s habits. Two simple and plain with only a flash of sparkle and the third shimmered and had bedazzled sunglasses on the head. Sister Mary Catherine was the server.

Hello Dolly was the easiest to pull together. There were many hats in the prop room already that had been used for other community musicals like The Music Man and the like. They just needed a little spiffing up. I then begged and borrowed some hat stands and found a cloth that fit the era and used gold brocade napkins. I then hung a couple of the hats to give more height. This table’s server didn’t sing either, but she was very busy matchmaking throughout the event.

I’m not sure yet, but I think three more tables were sold during this auction event. Usually we give the buyers the choice of Broadway theme. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what I’ll be creating next year!

My youngest boy is really into planes, trains and automobiles. Most recently, the monster truck variety – thus the theme for the party.

His favorite color is blue – so the main color was decided. I used red and orange and black and white check to set it all off. This allowed me to use race car and other truck decor and design elements as well as his toys and things we already had around the house. I created the flag bunting out of paper and ribbon (he still has it on the wall in his room) and printed a  flame pattern, black and white checkered pattern and repeated the invitation design, then cut them into triangles and taped them to ribbon. Also, I borrowed a bunch of collectible oil and gas cans and auto signs and even a small gas pump (my father is a collector). Placed outside the front door and around the house, along with a couple of “parking” and “truck route” signs printed off the internet, really gave it a vehicle feel.

His birthday is a winter one – so we were able to have our main activity as sledding (we happen to have a pretty good hill behind our house, and it is my boy’s favorite thing right now) so the party games and activities were sort-of skipped. Though I did use our Mac Book’s photo booth app. I found monster truck rally photos on the internet and added them into the custom backdrop. Then set up a “green screen” photo booth so we could have our photos taken “at a Monster Truck rally.” Every one left with several souvenir photos. Also, we streamed an “All About Monster Trucks” video for the kids to watch right after sledding, while we got the food heated and ready to go. Each got a cute black and white box for popcorn (bought from “circus” themed set – but totally worked for this!).

Since it was cold outside, I had hot spiced cider in a galvanized insulated cooler and labeled it “anti-feeze” and had some lemonade available as “coolant.” Other snack foods labeled with auto-themed names and set up with vintage oil cans and other large truck toys completed the party buffet.

The table was pretty simple with checkered flags, traffic cones (bought at the Dollar Store in the educational/teacher section) and red and orange balloons. I did customize each guests’ plate with a cutout monster truck. Each in different colors with their name on the flag. Then I used two small black plates for the large tires. I used a large craft (or popsicle stick) to connect them together with hot glue. They then just simply sat on top of the cut out truck.

The goody bags were red with a black and white checkered ribbon and contained small monster truck toys, stickers and erasers. Simple. No candy needed.

The cake was created using loaf pans and a mini-bundt cake pan. A smaller loaf pan created the cake (leveled and split for layering) base. I used two mini-bundts for each wheel after leveling and “glueing” together with chocolate butter cream. I then piped the buttercream on the wheels to look like mud, but hide the seam. The wider of the cake pans was used to create the truck itself. I used the rounded tops from my leveled layers to create the curve of the hood and roof of the cab. Licorice and Smarties are my roll bar and lights. Keeping with the same coloring as the plates – I made it a blue truck with flames. Three candles (two stars and a number 3) were placed in the truck bed.

That pretty much did it for his birthday. I usually never go any bigger than 12 kids (including my own) when we are having the party at our house. My table can’t handle it, and frankly… neither can I.  Happy Monster Truck Birthday planning!!

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This year’s gingerbread house competition had a theme of “Star Spangled Snowflake” for the annual Snowflake Festival. Thinking of patriotic colors, I also thought of the East and Alexandria area row homes. So the red, white and blue row home idea was born.

This time around I used more sweet edibles than my last ski-slope gingerbread house. Cookies, big red gum, peppermint sticks, broken hard candies, rolos, and lots and lots of gingerbread. Piped gingerbread made most of the doors and windows. I even made a batch of gingerbread with light corn syrup and no cinnamon, so I could get a better coloring out of it.

I tried to add many details like the potted plants, welcome mats, wreaths, light fixtures (dried pineapple chunks and lemon drops) and even ice melt sprinkles on the side-walk.

In transport to the competition site – the most nerve-wracking thing was the flags. They were attached to their spaghetti noodle poles with a line of royal icing – that’s it. They survived the car ride, but not the public viewing. Luckily I think they were still attached when the judging occurred. I did win first place for my class. The Grand Prize winner was well deserved with a fondant mushroom-shaped masterpiece. Also, based on the overall winner, I found out that we do NOT have to adhere to the festival theme every year. Hhhhmmm… that may make it harder to decide what to create in the future.

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