Saturday, June 20, 2015

An Awesome Minecraft Party!

My son recently had a birthday, and he wanted a Minecraft party.  Fortunately, while Minecraft doesn't seem to have made it to the pre-bought party supplies yet, the style is pretty easy to capture.

First, the decorations!

The Decorations

We bought the balloons and streamers from Amazon: here, here, here, here, here, and here.  I also bought the 'grass' tablecloth from Amazon, but I'm not going to link to it because I thought I was buying a flocked tablecloth and it turned out to just be a cheap grass print.  Save your money and just get a green one at a party store.

It's hard to see in the above picture, but we also did this to the windows:

These are tiny squares of white electrical tape.  It took 10 pieces per pane, 12 panes per window, on six windows; yes, that's over 700 tiny tape squares.  The cost was extremely low(two rolls of tape did the whole thing), and the effect was stunning, but it took three days to put up and another two days to take down using copious amounts of Goo Gone, a paint scraper, and a spray bottle of soap water.  If I was doing this again (and despite everything, I still think the effect was worth it) I would probably try an art tape like this one to hopefully make the cleanup easier.

Now, on to the food!

The Food

My son requested a 'Minecraft-Cake cake', so that's what he got:

I had to buy some square cake pans, but those will come in handy in the future, I'm sure.  I based mine off the one on this blog, which had a ton of great ideas, and used the marshmallow fondant recipe she recommended.  In the past I made my fondant from scratch, but this was much easier and tasted better.  The brown frosting is just regular canned chocolate frosting.

The napkins are these lime green ones, and I bought these square plates that look remarkably like the ones in the game for cake and snacks.  Steve at the head (heh) of the table was actually this mask that my son got for Christmas.

I made a creeper out of Jello squares:
For the black Jello squares I followed this recipe - minus the alcohol, of course.

You can't tell (at all), but the lime squares were supposed to be two different shades of green.  I didn't realize when I was buying it just how many packets go into a Jello jiggler, and I thought half lime/half lemon would be lighter than all lime, which it obviously is not.  Instead, I should have made half of the squares lime and half of them lemon with just a tiny bit of the lime mixed in to make them greenish.

Oh well, next time.
The grass blocks are cocoa krispie treats with green frosting and sugar, and I made the TNT labels for the Twizzlers with the minecraftia font from  One of these twizzler TNT packages went in the pinata.

For the lava punch (yes, it was really glowing), I mixed berry lemonade punch with vanilla ice cream.  Then I threw in a handful of these waterproof tealights.  The 'buckets' are these silver paper cups.  The effect was great, but in retrospect I'd want to put most of the tealights in the cups, so that the kids' drinks would glow as well as the punch bowl.

So, now that all the set-up is out of the way, let's get to the party! (Click for more)

The Party

The first thing we did when kids arrived was have them make a mask:

I got the idea from here, but we decided to use full cardboard boxes so that the kids could actually wear them.  To figure out the size, I measured my son's head, and added an inch to the longest dimension, so what we ended up buying were 11" square.  They fit quite nicely.

The glue-on squares are construction paper (roughly 1 1/2 inches square).  I bought this pack for the skin tones, which had several shades of peach, a few different browns, and some bright white.  I bought three packages, but it turned out that one was plenty for 10 kids.

Here's my daughter modeling hers:
So much fun!

We also used this template to print up some creeper party bags, using these bags.  The bottoms tended to get stuck and jam the printer, though, so if you get them, before printing you should scotch-tape the little flaps on the bottoms down.

Once every kid had a mask and a goody bag, we went down to the basement to start mining!

To make the 'blocks,' we took our cube shelves and taped minecraft diamond wrapping paper to the fronts(that link goes to Amazon, but we bought ours at Thinkgeek).  Each cube got its own square of paper so that they wouldn't accidentally break more than one block while mining.  We bought several packages of paper, but papering the two shelving units only used a little over one package.

My husband divided the kids into two teams, and had them answer some basic Minecraft trivia questions.  Whichever team answered correctly got to send someone up to mine a block, using these foam pickaxes.  I was worried that the paper might be too hard to break but it worked beautifully.

Inside, they found a gold bar filled with chocolate rocks, and one of these minecraft toys:

The toys inside are tiny but detailed.  We went ahead and opened them before we put them in so that everybody could see which one they got immediately.

As soon as we finished that game, we began pin-the-tail-on-the-Enderdragon, using the cardboard box masks as blindfolds.

I enlarged the Enderdragon picture to print on four sheets of paper, but that's the only change from the printable at the download link above.

As soon as we chose a winner from that game, we went upstairs to fight the creeper hit the pinata.
I made this handsome guy out of one of the extra mask boxes and some other leftover boxes, taped together with kraft paper tape and covered in tissue paper and some of the leftover crepe from the streamers.

Lessons learned: when using tissue paper for paper mache, it's best to paint the paste on the box like glue and then lay the tissue paper over it, because it's too thin to soak-and-apply like you'd do with newspaper.  Also, I should have cut a hole between the body and the head, because that's where he broke, but because they were two entirely separate boxes the candy didn't spill out  and we just ended up tearing them open.

However, I was so pleased with the masks - they made fantastic blindfolds, and the photos came out awesome!
The swords we used to hit the pinata, like the pickaxes, came from Thinkgeek - they also have a ton of great Minecraft stuff. I spend way more there than I probably should.

As soon as we were done with the pinata it was time to eat all the snacks and cake and open the presents, and then there was just enough time to try out the new toys before parents came.

I'd thought up a few more fun things - like having them make perler bead minecraft toys - but we ended up having plenty to do.

I hope this gave you lots of ideas for your own party!

Using the Amazon links earns me a little money, so if you use them, thanks!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Kindle Paperwhite Covers

I just got a new Kindle Paperwhite.  I still prefer reading the old-fashioned way, but with the kindle reading app I have a book in my pocket all the time, which is nice.

I mean, I can't carry a paperback into the bathroom at work when I'm really sucked in to a story without raising a few eyebrows, but nobody cares there's a phone in my pocket, right?

Also, since I have an Amazon Prime Membership, I am able to borrow books for free, but only if I have a kindle device.  The reader won't do.  And since I like to read books in bed, I wanted the backlight.

However, now it's naked, and that simply won't do.  So here's a roundup of my favorite covers, all under $15:
Butterfly cover case, $14.99

This one is really pretty, and it's currently my favorite.  However, I have a case for my iPad that has a little tab like that, and it's annoying - even when the case is open the little tab keeps blocking my view.

According to the reviews, it has a soft inner cover to protect the screen and auto wakeup, but it's not really leather.  Honestly, I doubt any of these have any leather, and I don't know why they all insist that they do.
Aceguarder Outdoor Walk, $10.05
Nothing says 'I wish I was reading a real book' like a book-styled cover for the Kindle.  Auto-wakeup, magnetic close, microsuede inner front cover.

The fancy script fake title says 'Aceguarder' and the subtitle is 'Noble Enjoyment.'  I suppose that's better than ignoble enjoyment.

UPDATE: This is the one I bought, and so far, I have to say I'm not impressed.  It's warped and cheap looking and not really black.
Omoton PU Leather Case, $14.99

I actually have this case in purple, and I love it - the Kindle snaps right in snugly, the inside of the front cover is soft, auto-wakeup works really well, and the outside has this neat bumpy texture.  I'm really liking these map patterns, though, and I can't decide if this one or the brown one is my favorite.

Moko Slim Shell, on sale for $13.99

This one comes in a variety of colors, patterns, and styles.  It also has the most reviews of the lot.  Like the others, it has a soft interior and auto-wakeup.

Finitie Smartshell, $12.99

This looks basically like the Omoton up above, and it also has a map pattern.  I like this burgundy color, though, it's very classy.

Disclaimer: I'm not being paid to write this, but if you use the links on the photos above I get some amount of money, I think.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wreck It Ralph Medal Tutorial

So October was pretty insane.  I know I promised the rest of my Little Mermaid review, but I had to make costumes for my family and I just haven't had time to type it up.  Also, my computer exploded just a tiny bit, but that's another story*.

To make it up to you, though, I have a tutorial for you!  My husband was dressed up as Wreck-It Ralph, and as a finishing touch to his costume I made him the medal from the movie.  You know the one:
If you haven't seen the movie, you really really should.  It's fantastic.
This is my version:

 I know it's past Halloween (sorry, I tried) but I'm sure there are people out there who will be dressing up as Ralph for cons.  At least, I hope there will be.  This makes a fantastic finishing touch.

It's cheap and easy to make.  The only downside is that it isn't quick at all.

This is what you need:
*Elmer's glue.  You can use an off brand but I don't know how it will turn out.
*White bread.
*Puff paint, in brown, blue, and white, and possibly black.
*Pink Ribbon
*Pastel seed beads for the sprinkles(technically nonpareils).  I couldn't find these for some reason, so I used the pink puff paints in my set instead.

I paid around $20 altogether, but $16 of that was for the giant multipack of puff paint(I couldn't buy the brown individually), so if you can find the colors of puff paint you want individually this will easily cost less than $10.

Also, once you have your materials, you might want to plan to make a whole bunch of them just in case one breaks or gets messed up.

The first thing you need to do is cut your ribbon to the right length.  The ends are going to go inside the cookie, so don't worry about sewing or anything.

Then you make the clay dough.  One piece of bread is about the right size for the cookie medal.  All you need is the soft insides, so tear off the crust.  You want to keep most of the white, but the bread right under the crust is a little too dense to let the glue soak in, so don't worry about losing it.  Now you want to pour the glue on:
This amount or more.
You want to really coat the bread with it.  Pretend that it's the filling of a glue sandwich, because the more glue you use, the smoother your 'cookie' will be.

Then you're going to smoosh it.
Alternate gluey massages and rolling it between your palms
This is crazy sticky.  Like, so sticky and messy that you'll be certain you used too much glue, and you will probably question why you listened to an anonymous blogger because now your hands are coated with a layer of sticky mess that doesn't seem like it's ever going to come together and wait a second:
Keep working it until it does this.  Ta-da!

For some reason, only the bread clay stuff on your palms will actually get doughy.  Don't make the mistake of trying to work the stuff from your fingers back into the dough, it's already too dry and you'll just end up with little dark lumps in your cookie.  Trust me on that.

Now, you want to flatten the ball.  I flattened mine to about 1/2 inch thick, although you could go thinner.  A thicker cookie like mine is less likely to break (this clay is somewhat brittle) but will take longer to dry.  Then you want to split it at the top for the ribbon to go in.  I tucked the ends of the ribbon almost to the bottom of my cookies.
You don't have to worry about the ribbon coming out, because the clay is made of glue.
Once you've done this, you can start shaping it into a heart.
It's a cookie, so don't obsess about getting it perfect.
Now you have to let it dry.  This takes a long time.  You'll know it's dry when it no longer gives when you push the center and it doesn't feel cold to the touch, which takes about 3-4 days.

  If you're in a hurry, you could try setting it someplace warm (a car dashboard in the sunlight, perhaps), but it will still take some time. However, you'll be happy to know that you don't have to wait for it to be completely dry to start painting it, it just needs to be dry enough that it won't grow mold.  Definitely let it dry overnight, 24-48 hours is better.

Now, according to my reference photo, the blue side of the cookie actually had a white frosting layer underneath the blue, so that's what we'll paint first.
You only need this at the edges of the blue, so don't worry about getting the paint all the way to the center.

Puff paint dries much faster than the clay.  In the thin layer we're using, it only needs an hour or so.

Then, paint the other side brown.
I didn't like the color brown my paint was, so I mixed half brown/half black to get a more chocolatey color.
Shortly after this I stopped using the brush, smoothing the paint by finger is much easier and smoother.  Learn from my mistakes.

Once that's dry, or if you're willing to hold the cookie in one hand while you paint, you can paint the blue frosting side.  The benefit of using puff paint is that it dries shiny and with some 3-D texture, so it really does look like cookie frosting.
If you're using seed beads, now's the time to stick them in the paint. If you're making them with puff paint, hold off for now, adding them will be the last step.

Now, really let it dry.  Like overnight.  Because the next part is the hardest: the writing.
Lots of practice.
Here's where puff paint is tricky, because it doesn't do thin lines well, and it wants to run together.  You also run the risk of air bubbles messing up your lines.  My solution was to go slowly and carefully, but if you have a better method or product, I'm all ears.  Maybe whatever people use to get those intricate lines on their fancy manicures?
Now, the main reason why you want to make sure the frosting layer is completely dry before you start writing on it is that if you make a mistake or you run out of space, you can wipe the cookie off and start again as long as you're quick.
If you're making sprinkles with puff paint, wait until your writing is dry.  That way you don't have to start completely over if you mess up.
That's it!  For all of you out there who use Pinterest, I made this pinnable graphic:

*Just the power supply, really.  It still surprised the snot out of me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

How to have a (nice!) wedding on a dime

So it's wedding season again, which means the inevitable articles about how much the average wedding costs ($27,000, with a median of $15,000 as of this writing).  When I was a bride, I was pretty frugal, but I've picked up a bunch of tips since then on how to save even more.

If you really want to go as cheap as possible, all you really need is a marriage license, an officiant, and a witness, which will run you around $20 for the license.  If you want to throw a party to celebrate the start of your new life together, though, you'll need a bit more than that, but you don't have to spend the down payment on a house or the price of a new car to have a perfectly lovely wedding.

The downside? You're going to have to rely on your friends, family, and other connections a lot more.  Hopefully you have the kind of people in your life that would be honored to help and you can have your wedding as big as you want.  Otherwise?  Keep your wedding small, intimate, and private, and you can still save boatloads of cash.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Getting Your Feet Wet With Buffy

One of my most popular posts is my Abbreviated Guide to Buffy, but recently I realized that that post only works for people who've already decided that they want to start watching the series.  But what if you haven't decided how you feel about the show yet?

Here, then, are ten good stand-alone episodes to give you a feel for the show.  They're in chronological order, but feel free to watch any of them that catch your fancy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Abbreviated Guide to the First Three Seasons of Buffy

Didn't every 90's teen show have this photo shoot?

Confession: I skipped Buffy the fist time around.  I had 2 main reasons.

The first is that I wasn't interested in vampires.  I'm not really into horror.
The second is that it was too damn popular.
I've heard some geek revisionist history about this, such as it wasn't really all that popular, it was just popular with a lot of geeky people, etc.  But that's not true.  In my high school, it was only talked about slightly less than 'Friends'.  It was popular with girls like this.   Sarah Michelle Gellar was on the cover of all the teen magazines, Alyson Hannigan was suddenly everywhere, and I even read an interview with the twin brother of the guy who played Xander.  It had seven seasons and a five season spinoff.  Networks don't do that for shows that are only kind of popular.

Now, there's nothing wrong with popularity.  Star Trek and Star Wars were both fantastically popular, and that doesn't stop them from being geek touchstones.  And now that I've seen it, I really regret not watching it when it was on.  Teenage me would have loved it, and I was the exact same age as the cast(well, the age they were playing), which would have been awesome.

Here's the thing, though: a lot of the early episodes kind of drag.  I went in knowing that the series would become awesome, but if I hadn't, I probably would have quit halfway through the first season, because so much of it just feels like monster-of-the-day filler episodes with very little continuity.  I imagine that's just because it was a new show because later, once there's an established fan base and a history, the show is really freaking awesome.

So I made an abridged guide to the first three seasons.