Rachael’s Frozen birthday party: Doing what frozen things do in summer

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We decided on a Frozen theme for Rachael’s birthday party this year because we knew no one else would be throwing a Frozen party and themed party supplies would be readily available and not marked up.

But seriously, we knew we wanted to have her party at our local community center/pool. It is inexpensive, as venues around here go, (did I just refer to it as a venue? Wow; that’s obnoxious) it had plenty of room, and Rachael adores swimming. The angle was along the lines of Olaf wanting to do what frozen things do in summer.
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You’re Invited!
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I couldn’t buy the ready-made invitations where you just fill in the blanks. First of all, that would be too easy and not cause anyone angst or heartburn. Secondly, none of the invitations out there fit with the theme. All of them had either Anna or Elsa or just Elsa posing like the menacing snow sorceress she is. Oh, and there were the invitations which included Hans, standing all happy with the group. My reaction was, Um, have you seen the movie?

My approach to the invitations was to include the colors associated with both sisters. The blue, textured paper and the fuchsia ribbon are similar to the colors of Anna’s winter outfit. The snowflakes, of course, are linked to Elsa. I used a snowflake punch to create the three light blue snowflakes. I added a jeweled snowflake on top to create some dimension and sparkle to the snowflakes. And, of course, Olaf had to be included on the invitation.

Make with the cupcakes, lady.
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We all know what kids look forward to the most at any birthday party: the cake. I decided to go with cupcakes for the sake of simplicity. I had no desire to pretend that I have the skill with fondant that others have or pay for and post on Pinterest. It’s also easier to make enough to accommodate a large group of people.
Rachael had specifically requested chocolate cupcakes. I also wanted to have vanilla for those who don’t like chocolate. I decided to use the chocolate cake recipe from Martha Stewart that I used for Rachael’s 2nd birthday. Besides being one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve had, it’s so easy! It’s a one bowl recipe; mix the dry ingredients together, then dump in the wet ingredients and mix until combined. No creaming butter with sugar. No adding the flour and milk alternately in three additions.
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For the vanilla cupcakes, I used Old Faithful. Rachael requested that they be blue. I did a trial, layering different shades of blue. I wasn’t entirely a fan of the look, so I decided to just stick with one shade of blue.
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This is why we do trial runs, kids.

I felt like the final products turned out delicious and beautiful. Everyone seemed to agree.

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Vanilla buttercream and Sixlets

I also made some fondant snowflakes to garnish some of the cupcakes. The kids really loved them. One of the girls asked me, before we had pizza, if she could have one with the snowflake. The great thing about them is that they look so complicated, but they couldn’t be easier.
I purchased a set of four stamps from my local candy store, Fran’s Cake and Candy. This is the set I used. I simply rolled out white fondant to no more than 1/4 inch thick on a surface dusted with cornstarch. (You can also use powdered sugar. I’ve found that cornstarch gives a better non-stick result.) Dust stamps with cornstarch as well. Press down the spring-loaded button, hard, to stamp. While pressing the button, push the cutter portion into the fondant and wiggle it until the shape comes free. If the fondant remains inside the stamp, pressing the stamp button will release the shape. Allow shapes to air dry and harden.
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I wanted to add a little sparkle, so I used edible glitter spray. Make sure that when you use the spray, you cover the area around where you’re spraying. It does wipe off of surfaces easily, but it will fly everywhere.
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I wanna stuff some chocolate in my faaaaaace!
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Putting labels on everything seems to be a thing. I don’t mind it if it’s a sign card so people known what a particular food is but, otherwise, it just kind of annoys me. (The trends this year was to label carrots as Olaf’s Noses and bottled water as Melted Snow.) There is one bandwagon I jumped on, however, because it’s right in the movie. We needed chocolate truffles, and they had to be labeled!

Strawberry Cheesecake Truffles
The first set of truffles I made were Strawberry Cheesecake truffles. I did make one modification. I was disappointed by the lack of strawberry flavor in the original recipe. It just got lost in the cream cheese. So I added an additional 1 tablespoon of minced strawberries, and that did it. The sweet tang of strawberries burst through the richness of the cream cheese. The graham cracker crumbs added a nice, sandy texture.
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Lemon Chiffon Truffles
The next set of truffles could not be simpler, and they sound lovely and fancy enough for a royal ball.
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These truffles are creamy, yet light and refreshing because of the lemon zest. One recipe does not make very many, so I doubled it on the next go round. I found that the zest of one large lemon is still sufficient for a double batch.

Cookie Dough Truffles
Everyone loves cookie dough. I love the crunch of sugar mingling with the sweet dough and slightly bitter burst of the chocolate chips. I love it even more when I’m not risking salmonella poisoning from raw eggs. In place of eggs as a binder, this cookie dough truffle recipe uses sweetened condensed milk.
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If any of these truffles begin to soften while coating them in chocolate, stick the tray back into the freezer for several minutes. You can maximize your dipping time by waiting to pull your truffle filling out after your chocolate has melted and you’re ready to dip. Also, while you can melt your chocolate in the microwave, I found that using a double boiler helps to maintain melted chocolate. To dip, simply place the truffle filling into the melted chocolate. Use a fork or spoon to roll the filling around for even coverage. Retrieve the filling with a fork, and tap the fork against the side of the bowl or pan to remove excess chocolate. (I found that tilting the fork back and jiggling the truffle to around the center of the tines works best for maximizing the removal of excess chocolate while maintaining a stable surface on which the truffle sits while you tap the fork.) Using the blunt side of a knife, carefully slide the truffle onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Try to place the knife slightly under the truffle to slide it off. If a large amount of chocolate pools underneath the truffle, called a foot, then you have not removed enough excess chocolate. Don’t worry, though. You may gently snap off the extra chocolate once it has set. If you wish to add any decoration or pipe any chocolate onto the truffle, do so before setting the truffles in the refrigerator. Once the truffles have set in the fridge, you may store them in an air-tight container in the fridge or you may place them in a freezer safe bag and gently lay them in the freezer. I was relieved to find that these truffles could be kept frozen until ready to serve, so I could make them well in advance of the party.

A bit of a fixer-upper
The room we used for cake and pizza was the room in which Rachael had her gymnastics class, so I needed a simple way to bring in the Frozen theme that wasn’t just a plastic Frozen tablecloth and blue cupcakes. Clearly, recreating Elsa’s ice palace was out of the question, (although, given the time and resources, you bet your ass I’d have tried it.) The food table was going to be the best way to achieve bringing in Frozen elements in such a large room.

The Fountain
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I knew I wanted to recreate the fountain in the courtyard that Elsa accidentally froze, but I only wanted to give the impression of the fountain. I figured that would be a simple, yet dramatic, table centerpiece. I found this Sumbawa Grass at Michaels. I spray painted it a light blue, and then I accented it and covered any parts that I missed with white, multi-purpose craft paint. Once dry, (and they dried very quickly) I spray painted the pieces with glitter spray paint, which simply added some subtle sparkle. (And after smelling the glitter spray paint, I feel like I finally understand the smell of every vocal jazz singer and amateur, teen gymnast ever.) I found a great blue vase at Home Goods for $12! I filled the vase with glass accents I still had leftover from my wedding, making sure to add enough to that my pieces were secure and rising high enough beyond the rim of the vase. Finally, to add a bit more dimension and highlight the sparkle, I placed a bendable tree of LED lights in the middle.
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We didn’t manage to get a picture of it at the party, but we received many comments on how cool it was.

Signage
My husband, the comedian, is responsible for the next two decorations. He suggested that we place a sign on the table that said:

Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Snack Bar

He also said we should fill a bowl with Swedish fish and label it “lutefisk”. So we did. And it was awesome!
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Even though he has so many bad jokes and groan-worthy puns, he strikes gold every once in awhile.

Please enjoy this complimentary bag of stuff
While roaming the Pinterest to get favor ideas, (because I really hate giving people cheap crap that will either be thrown away or annoy the parents to no end) I found baked marble necklaces. Look it up. They’re really cool! But Mike was afraid that I’d go all Ralphie and put my eye out somehow. Fortunately, before I went and did them anyway, he came up with a much better idea: fire crystal necklaces. I’d be able to tie in the oft overlooked trolls, create something that was unique, and hopefully give the boys something that wouldn’t make them scrunch up their noses and say, That’s for girls.
I was able to find different types of crystals in the bead and jewelry aisles at Michaels. I used really thin elastic cord, (0.5mm) to string the beads because it fit through the thin holes in the crystals and would potentially lower the choking hazard risk for some of the younger kids.
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Printable tags

I was able to make the next favor on the cheap. Homemade play dough is easy and cheap to make, and it always a hit with kids. I found the recipe for this particular dough here. If you’re making dough from this recipe for a lot of people, I recommend doubling, quadrupling, (or more) the recipe. For those who have never made homemade glitter play dough, here are a couple tips.
1) Never walk away.
You do need to constantly stir, skim the bottom, and scrape the sides to avoid a burned skin forming. If you’ve ever made it, it’s kind of like making Cream of Wheat. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes for it to come together, so you won’t be stirring long.

2) Get it out of the pot quickly!
This dough came together almost instantly. One second it’s liquid, the next it’s a giant dough ball. Have a pan ready to dump the dough onto. The longer it stays in the pot, once it has come together, the more likely it is for the dough to change color and burn.

3) You’re going to need glitter. Lots of glitter.
I was surprised at how much glitter was needed just to make the dough mildly sparkly. I patted the dough to a medium thickness and covered the surface with glitter, (I used both fine white and blue.) Fold, knead, repeat. Continue until you reach the desired level of sparkliness. I suggest pulling a portion of dough off, forming it into a ball, and judging the sparkle level that way.
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Zoë enjoyed helping pat the dough. She played with it as I packaged it saying, “Look, mommy. Anna’s footprints in the snow.”

“But, Julie,” you say. “Don’t glittery things fall into the ‘will annoy the parents’ category?”
Not this dough. Once the glitter was mixed in, it did not get on hands, clothes, or furniture.

I had several empty baby food jars that I had saved for crafting purposes from when Zoë was a baby, so I decided to package the dough in those.
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Rachael said it was the best birthday party ever! I hope this was helpful in throwing a Frozen birthday party for your prince or princess, and that they say the same to you!

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Daisy tea party

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The lovely little ladies of the Daisy troop I lead have been asking to have a tea party for months. May has Mother’s Day, spring flowers, and gentle sunshine; what better month to have a garden tea party? And what better reason than a tea party to craft, put together beautiful flower arrangements, and make flaky, fluffy, mouth-watering scones?

The first thing I wanted to do was to make a gumdrop topiary. They’re a little bit whimsical and an edible decoration.

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Step 1
Decorate terra cotta pot. If you choose to paint the pot, you’ll need paint that says it’s suitable for terra cotta or outdoor uses.

Step 2
Choose or cut a dowel rod to the appropriate height. These topiaries are going to be top heavy, so you don’t want the dowel rod to be too tall or thin. Paint dowel rod. Cover the hole in the bottom of the pot with heavy duty paper. Hot glue the dowel rod to the bottom of the pot in the center.

Step 3
Mix plaster of Paris according to package directions and fill the pot 3/4 of the way full. Allow plaster to set. This step prevents the topiary from toppling over once the gumdrops are on top.

Step 4
Choose a styrofoam ball for the top. You’ll want the ball to be smaller than the pot, because once you affix the gumdrops, the ball will be a bit larger than the pot. Once the plaster has set, put the ball onto the dowel rod approximately 1/3 of the way into the ball. Remove ball.

Step 5
Cover the ball in foil so that styrofoam bits don’t get onto the gumdrops. I chose to use colored candy foil, which you can purchase at your local cake and candy store. Hot glue foil onto the ball.

Step 6
Using toothpicks, affix the gumdrops to the styrofoam ball. I push the toothpick through the gumdrop most of the way and then push the toothpick into the ball. I use the flat edge of a butter knife to push the toothpick the rest of the way through the gumdrop. Use two toothpicks to secure the gumdrops on the underside of the ball.

More decorations!
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I found these chalkboard painted items at my craft store. I used liquid chalk to write on them. I thought the little daisy clips would be perfect to keep track of each girl’s plate.
I love the flowers I end up finding at Whole Foods. As flowers go, they’re inexpensive and always look full and vibrant. For this party, I decided on Gerber daisies, (you have to have daisies) peonies, and hyacinth. I was absolutely tickled when I found a teacup flower planter at my craft store. How could I not use it for a flower arrangement?

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But I think the most beautiful flowers came from one of my Daisies!

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Food
It’s always fun to get dressed in frilly, puffy dresses and pretend to be proper, drinking tea with pinkies elevated. But the best part of any tea party is the food. The Daisy moms pulled together and made some fabulous garden party food: tea sandwiches with egg salad, chicken salad, cucumber, Nutella and fruit….no, not all on the same sandwich. We had juicy fruit and crunchy veggies, chocolatey cookies, and gorgeous cake pops.
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I made one of my favorite party drinks, blueberry lemonade punch. I also had a genius idea: made blueberry lemonade ice cubes. It keeps the lemonade cold, but doesn’t dilute the punch once they begin to melt. The only problem with this genius was that once the cubes did melt, the free-floating blueberries got in the way of the drink dispenser. But at least it looked pretty.
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I was excited because I made the scones, a quintessential part of every tea party. I had never made scones before and was excited to try my hand at it. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did try one of the recipes for teacher appreciation week, which resulted in some pretty major Pinterest derp.
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At least they tasted good.

Fortunately, these scones turned out much better than my first attempt. It’s amazing how that can happen when one follows directions! I made blueberry scones, cheddar bacon scones, and triple vanilla scones. I’ll make the recipes separate posts and link them here. But until then, be tempted and drool over pictures of the final products.

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Everyone had a good time at the tea party, especially the girls. Proper lemonade sipping and scone nibbling soon gave way to sliding on our slide backwards and upside down, dog piles in the play room, and games of tag that led girls under tea tables covered in bright tablecloths. I’m sure the sugar they had had nothing to do with it at all.

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Safari baby shower

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I met Christy in my freshman year of high school in our World Civilizations class. I didn’t really know anyone, as most of my friends from junior high had gone to the other high school across town. She took pity on me and befriended me. We were fast friends and remained so for years to come. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, where she met her husband to be, Mark, in the buffet line at our reception. Now, 18 years after our first meeting, I had the honor of giving a baby shower for Christy, Mark, and their baby boy to be.

Once Christy asked me to throw her a shower, I took to Pinterest to gather ideas. I was a little scared I was going to have to have a John Deere themed party, as Mark is a country boy and loves John Deere. Everything I found, though, was a little…how do I put this delicately? It made my eyes puke a little. This was my favorite one.
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Realistic and classy.

I was relieved, then, when I joined Christy to help her with some registry shopping and she settled on a blue and brown safari animal theme. And I learned something new about my friend; she adores giraffes.

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Decor

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Christy wasn’t particularly keen on anything super babyish, so I wanted things to convey baby without being overly cutesy. One of my favorite things lately is canvas art. It’s not expensive, it’s not too terribly difficult, it’s not necessarily time consuming, and the paint dries quickly.
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For this project, I began by painting the entire canvas in a solid color. I like using the black wedge foam brushes for the even coverage. I left the canvases a little streaky so it would seem a little more wild and rustic. Once the paint dried, I used letter and animal stencils. I thought it would be cute to create something that mimicked learning flash cards, i.e. G is for giraffe, E is for elephant. The bonus of this decoration is that it can also be used to decorate the nursery.
My dining room table would serve as the buffet. Since it has been sufficiently loved, it was going to need a tablecloth. Neither my co-hostess, Sarah, nor I could find a tablecloth we liked that fit with the theme. So it was decided that Sarah would make one. Incorporating a chevron pattern into the theme was important to me, given how much Christy had squealed over a blue and brown chevron baby blanket. So I may have squealed a little in the fabric store when I found the perfect chevron fabric.
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Check out Sarah’s online store, Sarah’s Stitches.

You never know where inspiration will come from and when it will strike. My bank account and I have noticed that it tends to strike while wandering around the craft store. This little bit of safari flair came while I was perusing the silk flowers and found safari print flowers.
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Favors
I feel like favors can be the hardest part of shower planning. You don’t want to spend a huge amount of money, but you also don’t want to give people something that is going to make people limply say, Gee, thanks, and then lose it or throw it away. I find that food is usually the way to go to avoid all those pitfalls. For this shower, I decided to make savannah animal chocolate lollipops. While they aren’t particularly difficult, they can be a bit time consuming, depending on the detail of your mold. I found for the small details, like the zebra stripes and eyes, it was easiest to simply use a toothpick to dab the chocolate in place. If you decide to make any sort of chocolate mold, you will need to use tempered chocolate. You can find it in most party supply, craft, or cake/candy supply stores. If you decide to flavor the chocolate, (which is probably a good idea for the white chocolate, especially) make sure you use oil based flavorings. Anything with a water base will cause the chocolate to seize and clump. I flavored my pops with amaretto and champagne flavorings.
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For game prizes/favors, I simply made Bon bons with my leftover chocolate from the lollies, which I filled with ganache.
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Games
Let’s be honest; shower games are the worst. Paper and pens are handed out to everyone, and then everyone puts their heads down and scribble silently, (with the occasional exclamation of exasperation because it’s on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t think of the name) unscrambling words like onesie and stroller. So I tried to keep the games short, sweet, and entertaining. For the first game, I split the group into two teams so there would be interaction. I simply had them guess the baby names of different savannah animals. (Hint: most of them are calf.)
The second game was a little bit of payback for Christy. When I had my first baby, she and our friend, Jill, decided to have us all play “guess the poo”. (Because, let’s face it, when you become a parent, you become an expert in inspecting and deciphering healthy poo.) To play, you simply melt various different candies, (preferably chocolate) into different diapers. They must then write down their guesses for what type of poo/candy is in the diaper. Note: It’s probably good to consider your guests and whether anyone is squeamish or overly appropriate/prude…..and then do it anyway because watching everyone squirm is fantastic!
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Special Gifts
Sarah and I wanted to make sure Christy and Mark had a couple special gifts/supplies for the hospital and once baby comes. The first is a hospital survival kit. We packed it with comforting goodies like soft socks, lip balm, lanolin, gel nipple pads, and snacks. (They are on orders to sneak food into the delivery room so she can keep her strength up during labor, even though everyone knows it’s a great idea to practically starve a woman during the birthing process. *Liz Lemon eye roll*)
The next goodie was Sarah’s diaper cake, complete with her homemade cloth wipes, embroidered cloth diapers, and wet bags.
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Sarah’s Stitches

Food

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I tried to keep the food simple and easy to eat. I think my favorite thing was the soup shooters. I found the 2 ounce cups at my local cake and candy supply store.
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For the sandwiches, I made tarragon chicken salad, smoked salmon with cream cheese and dill, and cucumber sandwiches.

Creamy tomato soup shooters
Spinach artichoke dip
Can be lightened up with light mayonnaise and cream cheese.
Cucumber bites
Fruit
Crudités with hummus
Blueberry lemonade herb punch

I’ve realized this post has gotten really long, so I’ll save the cake for a separate post. I will leave it with a picture of the final product.

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Crazy busy

I’ve been crazy busy this week preparing for Christy’s baby shower. I’m trying to pace myself so I don’t completely overdo it and end up useless by Saturday.

I did the grocery shopping for the shower today. One of the games we’re playing is “Guess the Poo”, wherein melted candy is placed inside a diaper, and then people guess which candy it is. It was done to me at my shower. Payback is awesome! Of course, to play the game, it meant buying several candy bars at the store. So, here’s the fat girl, leaning over with butt in the air, grabbing 8 candy bars. That was fun. Especially when I ran into someone I know.

A post about the shower will be up soon after the party. Until then, I offer up some party crafting and Rachael cuteness to tide you over.

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Party decor doubles as a gift for baby boy’s nursery.

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Rachael wanted to make a card for Christy and Mark. It’s a picture of a baby under a star mobile and a bunch of hearts. She asked me to spell the words out so she could write, “Your baby is special.”

Christmas is over. Party planning has begun.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Festivus, or Wednesday. Santa came to our house and both girls were pleased. After reading both my Facebook and Twitter feeds, it seems as though Rachael may be the only little girl her who didn’t receive a Barbie Dreamhouse. (When did this become a thing again?) Christmas Eve found us at church for the first time in months. We went to the my children can get away with screaming and dancing in the aisles family service, which had the children present a live Nativity. It. Was. Hysterical! Mary sat with Joseph on a quilt-covered bench. In her shiny black kitten heels, she looked about as forlorn and nauseated as I’m sure the real Mary must have felt after giving birth as a young teenager. (Side note: Even if the birth of Jesus was devoid of the miraculous, i.e. Virgin birth my ass, it’s still an awesome story. Rather than following the custom and dropping Mary’s ass after knocking her up, Joseph still married her.) The angels clomped forward, resplendent in lacy, golden tablecloth fabric, and kneeled before the holy family. The three shepherds meandered forward uncertainly. The oldest appeared or be about 8, while the youngest looked around 3. They held staffs. Someone had decided it was a good idea to give three little boys staffs. It all devolved from there. In between carols, the pastor read Isaiah and Luke with all the zeal of a lima bean. About the time that a two year old wise man walked forward, Zoë started testing the limits of her boundaries. By the time said wise man dumped his chest of gold, she discovered her reflection in the grand piano. The shepherds were full on sword fighting by the time Mike left the sanctuary with Zoë. I feared for the poinsettias and the wise men, which were placed on the communion altar far from the Nativity scene, (as they should be.) The angels began to wonder around and disrobe, while the oldest wise man, (a girl of about 12) sat at the front looking embarrassed and bored. Everyone in the congregation breathed an audible sigh of relief once the pastor called over the buzz of the kids that they could return to their seats.

This morning, Zoë woke us sweetly with sounds of vomiting. Our trip to Mike’s home in North Carolina delayed, I’ve been hanging out on the couch with Zoë and scouring Pinterest. I was asked to throw a baby shower for one of my oldest friends yesterday. She’s due in late April, so I don’t have too terribly long to put something together. I have to say, I really don’t understand cakes with baby faces or the pregnant torso cakes. They’re cute….until you realize that you are eating a baby. I mean, maybe cutting into the torso cake is a creative way of telling everyone that you’re having a scheduled C section? I think if I did that kind of cake, I’d have to go all out and make it out of red velvet cake and have some kind of gelatin in the middle for the afterbirth. Apparently another popular cake design is a raised baby toush under a blanket with feet sticking out. It’s bad enough imagining that you’re eating baby feet and whatever was in that diaper, but what about the other half of the baby? That is some serious King Solomon shit!
I think I may be required to throw a John Deere party, as dad is a country boy, but I hope not. There isn’t a lot on Pinterest to copy from which to draw inspiration. Much of what is there is ugly or…… “classy”. I mean, we’re talking recreating the butterfly tattoo mom has on her belly on a pregnant torso cake classy.

The other party is Zoë’s 3rd birthday. She is obsessed with Sheriff Callie on Disney Junior. We’ve been watching the same six episodes that are out over and over again. As I write this, we’re making our way through the list for the second time today.
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Related: If anyone happens to know Mandy Moore, I can pay not much for an appearance at a birthday party.

So the planning for a Kitties and Cowgirls birthday is underway. There is a farm nearby that does birthday parties where you can meet baby animals, (which would be perfect in April!) and wagon rides. I made the mistake of looking on Pinterest for cowgirl birthday parties first. Everything was pretty much the same: light brown and dusty rose desserts, ruffles, and accents; the girl’s name was written in thin rope on a board background, (admittedly cute, but done again and again); categorized as vintage cowgirl. What the actual fuck is vintage cowgirl? I mean, besides something some party planner made up so they could charge a family with too much money to spend extra because they used the word “vintage”?
A couple of “glamping” pins were thrown in too.

Glamping acceptable only if Aziz Ansari and DJ Roomba included.

Of course, when I searched for cowboy parties, there was variety and creativity. It would have made me ragey had I not been grateful for the search results.

So, I suppose stay tuned for lots of party planning angsty posts where I wonder why the universe has not already created what I have in mind so that I don’t have to figure out how to make it myself.

Homemade gingerbread houses

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Yesterday and today have been snow days for Rachael. We had sleet and freezing rain on Monday and a couple of inches of snow that hit during rush hour today. Since the government is closed, Mike is working from home. So we were able to all go outside as a family and play in the snow for a bit.
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They named him Olaf.
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I am unbelievably sore from playing outside. It was not helped by the fact that Mike tackled me to the ground during a snowball fight. Yes. He tackled the woman with fibromyalgia to the ground.

I decided that yesterday and today would be perfect days to make gingerbread houses with the girls. I wanted to make them from scratch, rather than using a store bought kit, for a few reasons.
1) Store bought kits can be really expensive.
2) The “gingerbread” in the kits is stale and gross.
3) The candy in the kits can be stale, too.
4) The pouch the icing comes in is really difficult to use.
5) A kit a friend bought ended up having a couple of maggots crawling inside the box. Just..eww.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say this process is quick and easy. If you really just don’t care about eating the house and want to make the house in quick order, (although putting together a kit isn’t a super fast process either) then just get a kit. But if you want to inhale the wonderful warm smell of orange and spices as you assemble your house, knowing that you’ll have a fantastic snack for later, a Christmas party centerpiece, or even a gift, this is for you.
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It’s a Christmas-themed snack.

Gingerbread

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp + a tiny pinch kosher salt

2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Sift together into a separate bowl the dry ingredients, flour through salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, and orange juice. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

Mixing on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Scrape the bowl to fully, making sure to check the bottom of the bowl, as necessary. Add the molasses mixture to the bowl. Mix until all ingredients are fully integrated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.
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Divide batter in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Try to make the batter uniform, patting it into a flat disc. Refrigerate for one hour.
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Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Take out one portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Flour a clean surface and knead some flour into your dough. When you take the dough out of the fridge, it will be firm, but still wet. Kneading some flour into the dough will make it manageable when you cut out your pieces and lift them off of the counter. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. (The thicker the dough, the more difficult it will be to bake it uniformly and use for assembly.) Cut your pieces using a sharp knife with a smooth blade. I used these templates from Martha Stewart’s website: 1 and 2. Use a metal spatula to lift the pieces. If the dough is really wet and not coming off of your rolling surface easily, knead more flour into your dough and try rolling out your dough again.

Bake your pieces at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Smaller pieces will only need 8 minutes, while larger pieces may need 10+ minutes. If the middle of your large piece still feels extra soft to the touch, it may need some more time. Once out of the oven, allow your cookie sheets to cool on racks for about 5 minutes. Transfer pieces to cooling racks to cool completely. The larger pieces will be fragile, and require the use of a very large spatula, (I used a pancake spatula) for the transfer.

So, you’re going to need some glue to hold this all together. Enter royal icing. It’s super simple to make.

Royal Icing

Ingredients

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp meringue powder
5 Tbsp water, plus more for thinning

Combine the ingredients in your mixing bowl, fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low for 5-7 minutes, until the icing is no longer shiny. At this point, your icing is going to be too stiff for decorating. Add a small amount of water, about a teaspoon at a time, until you are able to pipe it through a piping bag and tip. If you add too much water, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it back up. When not in use, keep the icing covered in a air-tight container. If the icing is already in a bag, wrap the tip with a damp paper towel and place the bag in an air-tight container. The icing will keep on the counter for 1-2 weeks. If you want a color other than white, you can tint it with gel food coloring. Liquid food coloring will thin the icing out.

Assembly

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You’ll need to pipe a line of icing and settle the front piece into the icing. Have a can ready to keep your pieces standing until the icing hardens. Allow the bottom pieces to set before attaching the roof pieces. Use your candy of choice to decorate, using the royal icing as glue.

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Gingerbread recipe adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network.
Royal icing from Annie’s Eats.

Creepy creepy crawly crawly

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I finished Boris 2.0 yesterday. I had painted him and then set him aside since I was consumed with other things: Girl Scouts; the costume dance; laziness. But I had to finish him yesterday, not just because it was Halloween, but because Jill and Kevin were coming with their girls to trick or treat with us. We spent time carving pumpkins, eating food, donning glow stick bracelets as we tromped around the neighborhood on a mild, rainy night, and stayed up way too late talking and making up for lost time.

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Trick or treating was a set of wonderful memories that will last forever. Rachael and Ella, our goddaughter, held hands as they walked from house to house as different versions of Rapunzel. Ella made sure to inform homeowners, in her adorable, proper British accent, that she was a fairy princess Rapunzel. Zoë knew exactly what to do and trotted up to each house without prompting. We only had to retrieve her once after she decided to invite herself into Rachael’s friend’s house. Lucie, almost 13 and only mildly angsty, ambled along with the little ones in her zombie attire. I was proud of my girls as they bravely approached the “murder house”. Zoë didn’t seem to notice the dismembered body on the bloody slab in their driveway. Rachael was really nervous, but I gently coaxed her along, reminding her that none of this was real. My small, sometimes shy girl clearly and audibly said trick or treat to the ghostly princess and masked murderer who held her sugary prize for braving the darker side of Halloween. Later, Mike told her that she didn’t have to walk up to any house she didn’t want to. She replied, But I really wanted the candy. Overcoming fear for candy. She has priorities! Next door to the murder house, spooky organ music played from a stereo system through their second floor speakers. Lit tiki torches illuminated, (auto correct tried to make that “ill unitards”. I should have left it alone) skeletons hanging from trees. Rachael was frightened again by the homeowner answering the door as a Crypt Keeper. But can I just say, that was my favorite house of the night. The CD for the music kept skipping, stealing all of its spooky thunder. It was the musical equivalent of The Albino coughing in the middle of scaring the crap out of Westley.

How to make Boris 2.0

Boris wasn’t difficult to make, but he was pretty time consuming. This isn’t really a project you can knock out at the last minute. You’ll need:

Two balloons
White all purpose glue
Brush of choice (I used a foam wedge brush)
Newspaper cut into approximately 1, 2, and 3 inch rectangle strips
Black paint
Googly eyes
Large chenille pipe cleaners

Determine what sort of spider you want to make. That will determine the size to which you will blow up your balloons. I used this little guy, who was hanging out on our neighbor’s deck, as inspiration.
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Tie your balloons together.
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Pour glue into a disposable cup and add some water to dilute it. The ratio is about 4 parts glue, 1 part water. You’ll want something around the consistency of whole milk or heavy whipping cream. Paint the glue onto newspaper and where you will place the paper on the balloon. Putting it on the balloon as well will help the paper adhere to the balloon a bit better. Use the larger strips for the larger areas and the smaller strips for the smaller areas. If your strips are too large, they will pucker when placed on the balloon. As you place the next piece of paper on the balloon, make sure you paint some glue on the piece of paper already on the balloon and slightly overlap the pieces of paper. Continue until everything is covered.
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You’ll want to repeat this process for at least two more layers, letting each layer dry before applying a new layer. Try to place the paper on the next layer in a different direction than the previous layer to ensure maximum coverage and avoid seams. I found it’s pretty easy to get lost as to where you’ve been when placing new layers. To avoid this, use a dark marker to divide the balloons into quadrents, clearly marking the intersection. Once you’ve finished all the layers, paint your spider however you choose. I just used washable black tempera paint. Allow paint to dry. Depending on the paint you use, you may need to paint a few coats to hide the newsprint.
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Now you’re ready to make your spider as silly, scary, or anatomically incorrect as you’d like. Use scissors to punch a small hole in the spider’s abdomen. The balloon will pop and your head will pop off.
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Do not freak out. Trim some of the popped balloon off. Pull out your hot glue gun and smother the tied off portion of the head in glue and insert it back inside the hole where the abdomen and head separated. Hold the head in place until the glue cools and the head is secure, just a couple of minutes. Place chenille pipe cleaner inside the hole you’ve created and repeat 7 times.
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Boris wants to give you a hug!

I also placed shorter pipe cleaners in the head for his chelicerae. Glue on googly eyes in whichever pattern makes you happy. Check out close up pictures of spiders before gluing on the eyes. It will scare the shit out of you and make you check behind your toilet before sitting, but you’ll have a great idea for placing the eyes.

Mounting
I chose to use cheesecloth. I know it was realistic for spider web because in the few seconds I spent going inside for tape, a small spider had taken up residence in the cheesecloth I had already hung from the plant hanger. I used hot glue to attach the cheese cloth to his abdomen, and then tied the cheesecloth to the plant hanger.
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