Sunday, November 27, 2011

25 Days of Christmas

Although this is not a party posting, a friend of mine recently shared a holiday idea that I think is perfect.  It is a way to get you and your family in the holiday spirit by carving out time in the day rather than just "waiting to see" if something will fit into your hectic schedule.  On the 25 days leading up to Christmas, you plan one holiday "activity" for your family to do together.  This can be something simple that you would do anyway, like decorate the Christmas tree..or something a bit more challenging like a holiday craft or outing somewhere.  Here is how my husband and I plan to do it with our family....
We bought this Christmas advent calendar at Target.  Inside we are going to have an M&M for our daughter as well as a small scrap of paper (fortune cookie size) with a clipart photo to tell the day's activity.  Our daughter is only 2 and our son is 5 months, so words wouldn't work for us.  We'll have a photo of Santa if our activity is visiting Santa that day, a cookie if we are going to bake cookies, etc. Since we lead very busy lives, my husband and I will decide each evening after the kids are in bed which strip to put in the box for the next day.  That way, we can make sure it works with our schedule.

Here is what our family tentatively has on our list (in no particular order):
1.  Go see Santa
2.  Decorate the Christmas tree
3.  Watch a holiday movie in our Christmas PJs with Hot Chocolate
4.  Make footprint Christmas tree craft
5.  Put up Christmas lights outside/decorate the house
6.  Build a gingerbread house (we bought a foam kit from Michaels)
7.  Make candy cane and wreath ornaments for the tree

8.  Host a Holiday party
9.  Ride the Christmas train at Irvine Park
10.  Bake cookies (okay..mine won't look like this with a 2 year old,but how cute are these!)

11.  Make holiday cards for the neighbors
12.  Wrap presents for our family
13.  Purchase a toy to donate to a child in need.  Take it to the local fire station Spark of Love
14.  Make marshmallow snowmen...

15.  Go sledding/play in the snow (this means driving to the mountains for us)
16.  Write a letter to Santa and mail it
17.  Take family holiday photo
18.  Make reindeer craft

19.  Put stamps/address labels on Holiday cards and mail them
20.  Donate old clothing to our church Gift of Giving collection
21.  Go see Christmas lights
22.  Make pine cone Christmas tree

23.  Sing at the Holiday Concert for daycare

24.  Go to Christmas eve church service/leave cookies for Santa
25.  Give and unwrap presents on Christmas!

These are just ideas we have come up with so far.  I am sure we will add/delete days as the month continues and more fun activities take shape.  If reading this inspires you to create your own list, please comment on this post!  Include any additional activities your family might do, and maybe you can inspire me to add them to my list!!

*All craft photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

THANK Goodness for Thanksgiving!

My mom recently hosted a Thank Offering luncheon at church, and she came to me looking for ideas on a centerpiece and thank you gifts.  For the centerpiece, she wanted something easy to make and inexpensive. I wanted to find something that had a personal touch as well. What I found on Playful Craft Creations was perfect...
This is very easy to make AND personal.  You can customize the strips to say whatever you are thankful for. You can even change the color scheme and use this as a Halloween centerpiece if you wanted to add to your Halloween decor.  Here is how we made them:

2 Sheets of Cardstock (2 colors)
2 Brads
Green Construction Paper
Brown Pipe Cleaner

1.  Type your "I am thankful for (insert your idea)" spaced out evenly on strips of cardstock.
2.  Cut cardstock paper into strips -- 1.5" x 8.5"  (need 10 strips for pumpkin)
3.  Make a small hole in the center of both ends of each strip. 
(Use small hole puncher or another tool to make the small holes.)
4.  Alternate the "I am thankful" strips by color and put them into a stack.
5.  Feed the prongs of a brad thru the holes on one end of the stack with the metal circle 
of the brad resting on the side with the writing.  Secure Brad.
6.  Fan out the slips with the writing side facing the table.
7.  Pull up one strip and feed the prongs of the 2nd brad thru the hole with the metal circle 
resting on the blank side of the strips.  Continue putting strips on brad going in a circular pattern.
8.  When all of the strips are on the brad and you have formed a ball, 
secure the brad by pushing the prongs down in opposite directions.
9. Cut 2 leaf shapes from the green construction paper.  Make a small hole at bottom of each leaf.
10. Wrap the brown pipe cleaner around a pencil to make a spiral shape.  
Gently slide the pipe cleaner off to keep spiral shape.
11. Lift up prongs of brad, hold brad in place from below, and slide on leaves.
12. Place brown pipe cleaner next to prongs, push prongs down on top of pipe cleaner 
to securely attach the leaves and "stem".

These cute turkey magnets are also very easy to make. To make these cuties you need:

An artificial sunflower or gerbera daisy
Beige, red, and orange cardstock
Googly eyes
Small magnet

 1.  Trim the petals from one side of the flower as shown in photo. 
2. Make the turkey's face by gluing two googly eyes and a colored card-stock beak and wattle onto a large brown button or paper circle (cardstock was used here). 
3.  Glue the face to the flower center.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Merry Thanksgiving Party

I love the holidays.  Spending time with family and friends is so amazing which is why I love both Thanksgiving (my mom is a fabulous cook) and Christmas.  In 2008, my monthly dinner fell just after Thanksgiving at the very beginning of December. I decided to split the holidays, and host A Merry Thanksgiving dinner.  This would enable me to have the yummy food from both of these great holidays.
Decor:  I decorated my table to be half Thanksgiving and half Christmas.  On the Thanksgiving side, I used a gold tablecloth and a fall leaf designed runner that I folded in half to only cover half the table.  Each place setting had a fabric napkin made out of a similar fall fabric. I placed an orange candle as part of the centerpiece as well as a pumpkin I made out of a dryer hose.
Pumpkin Centerpiece
28-30" dryer hose that is 4" in diameter
Floral Wire
Orange paint (I used Delta paint from Michaels)
Cut wire with wire cutters.  Use floral wire in several places to hold cut edges together to form a complete circle (drawn close in middle).  Paint with orange craft paint. Once dry, glue a twisted piece of a brown paper bag to the top center as a stem (glue upright).  Add a piece of small silk ivy as the vine 4-6" or less, if desired.

The other half of the table I decorated with a red tablecloth and Christmas table runner and matching fabric napkins. I used a Santa head cookie jar as my centerpiece on this side along with a white and red Christmas candle.
The placecard was a turkey wearing a Santa hat which I made stand up using a Hershey kiss behind it.  This was before I owned a Cricut machine, so the turkeys were cut from a pattern I found online at the time.
On each plate, I also had a simple activity/task for guests to complete which we shared aloud during the meal.  The top half of the activity asked guest's to list two things they were thankful for, and the bottom half asked guests to list two things that they wanted for Christmas.  I used holiday theme scrapbook paper to back each.  This is my card for the night on which I announced my pregnancy for the first time!

Menu:  The menu was traditional meals that are normally served at these two holidays. As our main dishes, I served turkey and ham which I paired with mashed potatoes and stuffing.  I also served a small plate with two jellos -- one a mandarin orange to represent Thanksgiving and the other a cranberry red to represent Christmas.

Cranberry Marble Mold
 2 (3 ounce) packages of cherry jello
2 cups boiling water
1 (8¾ ounce) can crushed pineapple
1 (1 pound) can whole cranberry sauce
1 cup sour cream

Dissolve jello in water.  Stir in pineapple.  Chill until partially set.  Fold in cranberries and turn into an 8” square pan.  Spoon sour cream a top.  Stir to marble.

 Mandarin Orange Salad
 1 (3 ounce) package of orange gelatin
1 cup boiling water
1 (6 ounce) can frozen orange juice
½ cup cold water
1 can Mandarin oranges, drained
2 bananas, sliced

Dissolve gelatin in hot water; add frozen orange juice and cold water.  Chill.  Add Mandarin oranges and bananas.  Chill until firm.  Serve on lettuce lined plates.  Serves 8.

For dessert, I made turkey cupcakes and mini cherry cheesecakes.  The turkeys are very simple to make - just use chocolate frosting to cover a cupcake adding extra to use as the head.  Chocolate sprinkles add feathers to give the turkey's body texture.  I used candycorns for the tail feathers and nose.  The eyes are piped on using white and red frosting.  For the cheesecakes, I used a holly cupcake liner to tie it with the Christmas theme.
 Petite Cherry Cheesecakes
 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
24 vanilla wafers
1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling

Beat cream cheese, sugar, eggs, lemon juice, and vanilla till light and fluffy. Line small muffin pans with paper baking cups and place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each cup.  Fill the cups 2/3 full with cream cheese mixture.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 15-20minutes or till set.  Top each with about 1 tablespoon pie filling; chill.  Makes about 20.
 *Need 1½ times the recipe for 24 muffin cups.

As Thanksgiving approaches this year, I would like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. May you enjoy this time with family and friends.  If Thanksgiving passes and you find yourself needing to plan a dinner, why not try out this fun mix of both holidays.  Just love this season!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Red, White, and Blue Through and Through - Part II

Part II of Red, White, and Blue Through and Through is a party I hosted on December 7th, 2010. Since the Monthly Dinner party fell on this date, I decided our theme would be Remembering Pearl Harbor. I asked guests to dress in Navy or Nurse attire or to wear red, white, and blue.

Decor:  I used a red tablecloth and set up my old Hasbro Battleship game as the centerpiece.  I draped the game with white pearls and added small American flags. The runner and napkins were made with patriotic fabric found at Joanns.  The place card at each setting was a dogtag I bought at Party City and then wrote each guest's name.  I also printed out Japanese flags and wrapped them around shot glasses to serve kamikaze shots.

Menu:  I wanted to make sure the menu somehow went with my theme, but I was having difficulty deciding.  I finally decided to serve a simple chicken dish over rice, but it serve it in MRE kits.  I used tinfoil to create origami boxes with lids and added a label on the front. I served the food in these.  I bought peaches already packaged in individual plastic containers to serve as my fruit.

My favor for the evening was homemade caramel corn that I shaped into balls and wrapped in tinfoil to look like bombs.  I added a paper fuse and a tag that read "Thanks for making this dinner the BOMB.  Hope you had a BLAST!"  Anytime I can be cheesy, I usually am!! 
 Caramel Corn

2 ½ quarts popped corn (10 cups)
2 ¼ cups brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
½ cup butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup salted peanuts

Keep popped corn crisp in oven at 300-325 degrees.  In large saucepan, combine sugar, syrup, water, butter, and salt.  Cook over moderate heat stirring occasionally until syrup reaches soft crack stage (290 or 270 degrees).  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
In large buttered bowl/pan, mix nuts and popcorn.  Pour syrup in a fine stream over mixture.  Working quickly, mix well until coated.  Spread out on thin buttered cookie sheet.  Quickly separate into bite-size clusters with two buttered forks. Cool. Makes 3½ quarters.

Again, I want to thank those that serve in our armed forces at home and abroad this Veteran's Day weekend.  To the many Veterans including my dad, thank you for your dedicated service to our nation.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Red, White, and Blue Through and Through - Part I

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I would post two of the parties I have hosted that have been a patriotic theme.  The first party (hosted in November of 2008) was a Rock the Vote party in honor of the Presidential Elections that year, but the color scheme/patriotic theme/menu could definitely be used for Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, July 4th....any day to celebrate the good ol' red, white, and blue.

Decor:  The table was a simple red tablecloth with a red, white and blue hat centerpiece.  My mom made the hat out of needlepoint.  I placed small American flags and wooden stars coming out of it. I also placed white and blue star confetti along the table, and used white plates and blue napkins. On each plate, I made jello jigglers for decoration:

Jello Star Jigglers
 Stir 2½ cups boiling water into 2 packages (8-serving size each) gelatin in bowl for 3 minutes or until dissolved.  Pour into 13x9 inch pan.  Refrigerate 3 hours until firm.  Dip bottom of pan in warm water about 15 seconds.  Cut into 1-inch squares with star cookie cutter.  Lift from pan.
Since this particular party was centered around the Presidential Election, each place card was a voting box.  I used origami to fold a box and cut a whole for the "ballot" which had the guest's name written on it.  We also had a voting themed game which asked guest's to Rock the Vote by choosing their favorites: Coke vs. Pepsi, indoors vs outdoors, etc.  This was a great discussion starter for various topics and stories throughout the evening.

Menu:  I wanted to serve very American food at this dinner.  What is more American than fried chicken and corn on the cob!  Here are the recipes I used:

Oven Fried Chicken
 12 chicken thighs
3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
½ cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place flour in shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Put the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl and beat the eggs in another bowl.  Dredge the chicken piece by piece in the flour, then the eggs, then the bread crumbs, until all pieces are coated.  Pour the oil into a 9x13 inch baking dish.  Add the chicken to the dish and sprinkle with paprika to taste.  Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then turn the pieces over and bake for another 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and drain on paper towels.

Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds of potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of half and half
6 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and quarter the potatoes.  Add the potatoes to a large pot with enough cold water to cover them by an inch or so. Add salt and bring the water to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife. (About 15 minutes). Drain the potatoes return them to the pot and cook the drained potatoes over low heat for a couple of minutes to evaporate some of the water still in the potato. Mash by your method of choice. Blend in butter, half & half, and any other ingredients you prefer. Season with salt and pepper.

Grilled Corn on the Cob
Ears of Corn
Salt and Pepper

Rub ears of corn with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Wrap completely in tin foil and place on the grill for approximately 15 minutes.

For dessert, I made a Flag Cake with blueberries and strawberries.  This is popular recipe I see in magazines all the time near the 4th of July, and I had always wanted to try it.*

Flag Cake
2 pints of strawberries, divided
1 pkg. (10.75 oz.) frozen pound cake, thawed, cut into 10 slices
1 1/3 cup blueberries, divided
1 tub (12 oz.) Cool Whip Whipped Topping, thawed

Slice 1 cup strawberries; set aside.  Halve remaining strawberries; set aside.  Line bottom of 13x9 inch baking dish with cake slices.  Top with 1 cup sliced strawberries, 1 cup blueberries and whipped topping.  Place strawberry halves and remaining blueberries on whipped topping to create a flag design.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Makes 15 servings.

It is always the right time to celebrate American and all that we stand for.  This Veteran's Day weekend, I really want to thank all the service men and women who have fought and those that continue to fight for our freedom.

*Since I did not happen to take a photo of my cake, this photo was found on Google.  However, it represents the exact cake I made.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"B" Fun, "B" Creative...A Just "B" Party!

If you haven't figured it out already, my party themes tend to not conform to the generic/common ones.  This monthly dinner was no exception.  The party was pretty close to Halloween, but to put a twist on the generic costume party, I decided to throw a Just "B" Party.  If it starts with the letter "B", it was acceptable at this party.  This party would be a great theme for any type of gathering -- a birthday party (especially if the guest's name begins with B) or a baby shower.  The possibilities are endless.

The invitation for this party was a giant "B" I cut out of card stock in the party colors Blue and Burgundy.  The text on that back played up the "B idea..
Halloween may "B" over,
but the fun is just "B"ginning
"B" prepared to have some fun
and "B" a little crazy
at a
Just "B" Party!
Dress up & "B"come something that starts
with the letter "B".
(bee, bus driver, biker babe, etc.)

Don't "B" afraid to get creative.
bold and have some fun with it!

Hope you can "B" there for the fun!!

Decor:  With the help of the woodshop teacher at my work, I cut out a giant wooden B, painted it blue, and placed it at the entry door. I added a few burgundy and blue Balloons as well.

The table was set with a burgundy tablecloth and two blue pieces of scrapbook paper.  I painted a cheap charger I purchased at the 99 Cent Store and filled some vases with B items -- bumble gum balls and beads. Also on the charger, I stacked jars
of bubbles, a large letter B painted blue, and a pillar candle with a B.  To make the candle, I painted thumb tacks burgundy and stuck them into the candle.  The place cards were simple blue card stock that I added a burgundy B to before writing the guest's name. 
On each plate, I also wanted to have the menu listed.  I decided to use Bingo to display the menu.  We used the beads in the centerpiece to see who won and got to hit the dessert table first!

Attire: Guests were instructed to dress in something that started with the letter B.  It added to the laughter and fun of the party.  We had everything from a Boy Scout to a bull!

Menu:  I always have to work the day of my monthly dinner parties, so I need menu items I can either make ahead of time or that do not involved too much prep (remember, I have 2 young kids).  For my "B' items, I served:

Barbeque Ribs
Betty's Baked Beans
(a recipe from my husband's grandmother)
Baked Bread

I couldn't decide on which dessert to have at this party, so I decided to create a dessert table.  I used card stock to create B ornaments to hang from branches in a vase.  I also had a Bottled Beverages pail to serve the drinks.

We had several yummy desserts on the table -- bacon brownies that I stenciled a B in powdered sugar on top, mini berry cheesecakes, frozen banana bites, Butterfinger and Baby Ruth bars, and Blow Pops in a B mug I found at Michaels. I used chocolate syrup to create a B on the dessert plates give it another special touch.  Instead of doing a separate favor for this party, I decided to make to-go bags for the guest's to take home the extra desserts and the decor from the table.  

This would make a fun baby shower party or a birthday party if your birthday boy/girl has a first name that begins with B.  Or you could choose another letter & do many of the same ideas. Either will "B" a fun party!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Try a Triathlon Party

Last October I competed in my first triathlon.  It was a neat experience, but it definitely showed me the poor swimmer that I am! Oh...and biker too!  Oh..and not that quick a runner either!  Pretty much the only thing I succeeded in doing well was the party after!! I decided to host a triathlon themed party for my monthly dinner and titled it Showdown @ Sundown.  Your invitation to a triathlon themed party could be an entry form like you would fill out to enter a race or a water bottle with the invitation details rolled up inside. I had guests dress in shirts from past athletic events they had done or running gear.

As guest's approached the door, I had a Race Expo center. I designed a race bib on Microsoft Word that I printed out for each guest.  The clipboard gave directions for racers to find their bib number on the white list, then find their bib for the race.  The table had safety pins for them to pin the bib on their shirt as if they were preparing for the triathlon.

Decor: The table was divided into 3 sections. First was a blue tablecloth with swim caps and goggles for the first section of a triathlon. Second was a black tablecloth with yellow lane dividers and a bike helmet and pedals as a centerpiece. Third was a gray tablecloth to symbolize pavement with running shoes and a water bottle.

Each place setting had a menu card and a PowerBar.  The PowerBar served as the name card with each guest's name written on it -- "Mile-to-Go Michelle, Water-Stud Wendy, etc"

I set up a water station as my beverage table.  I used a huge Gatorade judge as a cooler with ice to chill the bottles of wine.  The Gatorade cups were filled with wine and used as our cups for the evening!

Menu:  I decided to theme each course after a leg of the triathlon.

Appetizer: Ocean Swim
Shrimp Scampi Bake

1 cup butter
2 tablespoons prepared Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 pounds medium raw shrimp, shelled, deveined, with tails attached

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley.  When the butter melts completely, remove from heat.  Arrange shrimp in a shallow baking dish.  Pour the butter mixture over the shrimp.  Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until the shrimp are pink and opaque.

Main Dish:  Bike Course
Beef Teriyaki Wheels with Rice

1 pound beef round, cut in julienne strips
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Cooked Rice

Cut beef while frozen (1/8” or so thick).  In small bowl, mix together soy sauce, sherry, sugar, ginger, and garlic powder.  Stir in meat and let marinate 10 minutes.  Thread on skewers accordion style and broil 4” from heat 1-2 minutes on each side or until done as desired.  Arrange the skewers as the spokes of a tire and serve on rice.  Makes 4 servings.

 Dessert: Run
“Running” Chocolate Fountain with Dippers

2 bags milk chocolate chips
¼ cup vegetable oil
Dippers: Strawberries, bananas, pound cake, dried apricots

To polish off the evening "race", I treated each guest to a recovery bag as their favor.  The bag contained a bottled water, lotion to massage soreness away, and a Vitamin C recovery boost! To my good friend that let me borrow her bike for the race, I gave a 6 pack of Fat Tire beer that I altered to be called "Flat Tire" -- a joke because I happened to get a flat tire during my triathlon.  That was no fun, but this party definitely was!