Friday, September 14, 2012

Minecraft Party- Games, Favors, and Decorations

We didn't decorate too much for our Minecraft party, but my son spent the anxious days before the party making these very cool paper decorations for the table.  We were inspired by an awesome party we found online, through which we found directions for the paper crafts
I snuck in a party craft without the boys noticing that it was a 'craft'. (Insert evil Party Mom laugh here.) Each boy decorated a soda holder to look like a Minecraft character or scene.  We mostly did this so that we wouldn't get drinks mixed up during the party or the 'after-party' when the families came together.

In this house, we can't resist an opportunity to make something from fuse beads. The pixelated look of all things Minecraft is a perfect match for fuse bead fun, so my boys made a cake for each guest. It gave the boys something else to do in the days leading up to the party when they seem to enjoy asking me when the party is, what time it will start, who will be get the idea.

To make the goody bags, we printed an screenshot of Steve's face (Steve is what most people call the main character of Minecraft) and glued the face to plain brown paper bags.  I love of making goody bags from plain old lunch bags!
We added the fuse bead cake, a sheet for making a cute Creeper, and any candy we could find that was cube shaped, to match the pixelated images that make up Minecraft.
Most boys would resist the idea of birthday party games, but our games were geeky enough to win over our guests.  We started with a game that was really a snack, Digging for Diamonds, explained here. Naturally, we played it outside, since it was a bit messy with all that scraping.
I've learned over the years that no birthday party is complete without a Pin-the-____-on-the-_____ game (think: tails on donkeys), so the boys indulged me with a very goofy game of Pin the Armor on Steve.

My son drew Steve and some other Minecraft characters on a poster. He even threw in some characters from other computer games. (See a little guy from Portal below.)

Then he made some armor and weapons out of another piece of poster board, cut them out, and we let blindfolded guests try to tape the pieces on the poster.  [Did I mention that these kids are 12? They are a very fun group of boys to go along with this; it was hysterical!]

But I won't lie to you.  This is a Minecraft party, after all. Once the boys indulged my Party Mom need for goody bags and party games, the real fun (for them) began: a game of Minecraft!

My son and my husband spent a few days before the party setting up a special game for the boys to play. The game was designed to take a little over an hour. We hooked up a laptop for each guest (the boys brought their own) and even had a few cousins and other friends play remotely from home since they couldn't be at the party for one reason or another.
At certain points in the game clues, maps, and directions needed to be read from secret envelopes. In the days leading up to the party, my son decorated the numbered envelopes and I emailed all the clues to the cousins who would be playing from remote locations.
The game was not without technical difficulties, especially at first while we tried to get everyone online (imagine horses in the starting gate...that is sort of how the boys acted while waiting for everyone to get online!) but once the game got started, it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed listening to their conversations...and enjoyed the opportunity to finally sit down and relax at one of my kids' birthday parties!


Minecraft Party- Cake and Food

In the computer game Minecraft, players can craft a cake if they have a crafting table and the right ingredients.  In order to make my son's birthday cake for his Minecraft party, we first needed a crafting table! We made ours by adding electrical tape to a flat wooden cutting board.

I made a favorite cake recipe using two square cake pans.

I iced the top of one, but not the sides. Then I added the next layer and iced both the top and sides of the top layer of cake so that fondant would stick to it. Look at the picture below to see me 'crafting' a cake on the 'crafting table'-- when virtual life becomes geeky reality!

I added uncolored fondant to the top layer and used kitchen scissors to cut the edges. I had tried lining up the fondant and pre-cutting the sides, but then found it was just SO much easier to put the fondant on top and cut it to shape. Finally, I added some red dye to a little leftover fondant and added the squares.Wetting each square helped it to stick to the white fondant.
We were planning on having watermelon anyway, but once I got into my Minecraft-mindset, I was seeing Creepers and pixelation everywhere...

(That is a Creeper face, if you can't tell!) My son drew the face for me and I etched into the melon rind with a knife. We made melon balls to fill the rind and the boys loved saying they were eating Creeper brains. (Did I mention that the boys are 12? Could you tell?)
Another snack also acted as a game for the party: Digging for Diamonds!
Starting a few days before the party, we put plastic 'diamonds' in the bottom of several plastic cups. We added a different color juice or soda every day. On the day of the party, each boy got a cup that held several colorful layers of ice. You see, in the game Minecraft, one way to gather resources is to dig. (I guess that is why they call it Mine-craft!!)
We had a race to see who could mine the diamonds fastest.

After the kid party, we had our guests' families join ours for dinner and more fun. For that
 'after-party party' I made cupcakes, or "cut cakes" as some people call them.
When I first started Googling 'Minecraft party', I was inspired by the Creeper face cupcakes I saw on many blogs and Pinterest sites. 
A good friend who would be at our party has food dye intolerance, so we tried to make sure he'd be able to enjoy the party foods as much as anybody else.  The sodas and juices we used for the Digging for Diamonds snack used natural coloring, and the Minecraft cake had only a few spots of red dye that were easy to remove.  These Creeper cakes presented more of a challenge.
Thanks to the amazing Internet, though, I found my new best friend: avocado icing!
It sounds gross, but it was the hit of the party.  Believe it or not, the avocado icing doesn't taste at all like avocados or guacamole (which gets most of its flavor from garlic, after all!). Instead, the high fat from the avocado makes a fantastic butter replacement and the green color can't be beat! It stayed bright green for days, too.
I found my inspiration recipe from Alton Brown, but after looking at several variations on the web and experimenting the week before the party, I learned that adding some vanilla, lowering the amount of lemon, and halving the amount of avocado gave the best results for what I wanted.
My Creeper cakes aren't the most beautiful things in the world (if you want those, try Candy Bar Cupcakes' method--they are fantastic looking!!) but they were quick to make and our guests ate them ALL.
I used a favorite chocolate cake mix, baked in a glass baking dish. When cool, I cut them into equal squares, iced them with the avocado icing, and decorated them with leftover chocolate icing from the Minecraft cake.  I cut a plastic yogurt lid to be my template (see picture below) and smeared the icing with a spreader. The green icing needed to set for several hours before adding the chocolate icing.

Minecraft Party

Like so many birthday parties in this family, the story of this one starts with an enthusiastic child announcing grand plans for a really fun party. It always sounds easy enough. But then I look into where I can buy decorations, cake toppers, goody bags, and invitations-- and it hits me that no party supplier makes the theme my child wants (at least not in the US, as with the Doctor Who party)!
So, the challenge this season is: Minecraft party for a boy turning twelve!
Luckily, this time, a Google search brings forth many creative party ideas from talented people all over the world who also have children interested in Minecraft.
So, even though I can't go to Party City for this one, we can have a great time.
And even though I don't really play Minecraft (often) my son is a fantastic resource and an eager helper.
I'm not sure about your kids, but every once in a while, my kids get obsessed with memes. We turned the Minecraft Creeper meme into our invitations. Using the meme generator site, we got a great screenshot that we pasted into an invitation.  It is apparently common for a Creeper in Minecraft to compliment you and then try to steel something from you. For instance, it might say something like, "That's a nice pick ax you've got there. I think I might take it." We played on that saying: That's a nice party face you've got there; I think I might...invite you to my birthday party! We invited friends for a few hours and then had their families join ours for an evening party.
Have I ever made a better looking invitation? Absolutely (in all modesty, of course)! But please remember these boys are all 12-14 years old. They love things to be simple. I can live with that!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Honey Harvest

Finally! After a year of bee keeping, we have a sweet result.  We spent five hours last weekend extracting the honey (a topic for another post), bottled it today, and now have five gallons of honey!

Saturday, May 19, 2012


My daughter was swinging on the playground set this morning and heard a buzzing sound.  She turned around and saw a cloud of bees coming from our apiary towards her. She describes it as something from a sci-fi movie. (Bees are practically harmless when they swarm, so my daughter knew she was in no danger.)

We couldn't get the camera fast enough to capture an image of the swarm because the bees settled in the tree above our playground and formed this lovely clump around their queen. They'll rest here while scouts go look for a suitable place to set up a new home.

My husband is now rushing to the state line where a farmer we know makes hive parts. I called the farmer, and his wife told me she's had two hives swarm today and has had customers coming in and calling all morning.  Apparently this is the day to swarm!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Woodland Birthday Party: The Activities

Our Woodland party started off with a calm activity that children could join as they arrived. Along with their snacks, we set up a table full of Playmobil forest animals and trees. I printed several coloring pages with the Woodland theme (found them on the Internet) and asked each guest to color a tree with his or her name on it.

We used the decorated trees on the birthday cake table so that everyone knew where to sit. It was also handy to have a designated 'home place' so that throughout the party, each child could put his or her cup/hat/etc. on or under his or her chair. That made things easy when parents came for pick-up!

One thing my son really wanted to do with this party was a gardening activity.  I found mini gnomes at JoAnn Fabrics and garden signs at Michael's Craft Store.  We painted some of the signs with chalkboard paint.  Each child added contractor sand to the bottom of a tray, topped it with potting soil, and planted lots of rye grass seeds. This was a messy activity, so we did this in the garage.  Once the rye grass grows, the children can cut it with scissors (give that garden a hair cut!) and add other toys to the small garden.

Each child was given a hat and a tunic.  We used the hats as a place to pin treasures we found on our hunt! A garden gnome left clues around the property. The children found buttons, feathers, beads, and the small key charms that were hidden behind this tiny door!

The gnome's final clue lead the children to our basement where each found a bow and three arrows.  Now, you can imagine that I'd be crazy to let first graders loose with weapons, even seemingly benign plastic bows and arrows. But the children were so thrilled with this gift ("Can we really KEEP them???") that they were extremely respectful of our archery rules: take turns and only shoot the cups.  I had a few middle school kids helping me teach the children how to shoot the arrows, and the stairwell kept the arrows contained. It was a non-competitive game with children working together just to get some cups knocked down.  After a while, I allowed some children to also aim at a poster on our basement wall since it was delightful to see the suction cup arrows stick!

 [I got the archery sets from Rhode Island Trading Company. Each set came with a dagger, quiver, and target. I recycled the targets since they had pictures of cowboys-and-Indians; I don't mind each separately, but I'm not a big fan of glorifying that conflict. It didn't fit our theme anyway. My son wanted to do archery because he associates Woodlands with Wood Elves of the Lord of the Rings or Robin Hood genre.

I also threw out the daggers. The daggers were plastic, but sharp, and I couldn't imagine any good coming from handing those out to a bunch of little kids hyped up on cupcakes!]

Woodland Birthday Party: The Food

Food is such an important part of any birthday celebration. For my son's Woodland party, we had a cake that resembled a tree stump, cupcakes that looked like wild mushrooms, and other food to carry the theme. The birthday table was decorated with a burlap scrap for a runner and some Playmobil trees. (Playmobil is our party theme decoration of choice!)

We used more burlap to wrap candy for our goody bags.  Each bag was fixed with some twine and a wind-spinner. We displayed them in a small evergreen. The artificial Christmas tree was shocked to be dragged from the attic in May!

We started the party with snacks.  These s'mores-on-a-stick are easy to make.  We dipped marshmallows in melted chocolate and then rolled them in crushed graham cracker. Notice the stuffed animal decorations; I was glad to finally have a use for the 2 million Beanie Babies we own!

Other snacks included 'Mushroom Tops' and Woodland Mix. The 'Mushroom Tops' are really pizza bagels with pepperoni bits; my son thought they resembled the tops of wild mushrooms and, surprisingly, none of his friends questioned this.  For the Woodland Mix, we let the guests mix blueberries, strawberries, Strawberry Yogurt Cheerios, and Annie's Homegrown Organic Bunny Crackers.

The cake was a simple round cake decorated with chocolate icing. I used a serrated knife to spread the icing, creating the texture of wood, and I added spots of dark food coloring that I blended into the icing to make 'knots' in the wood.  Fondant was used to make small twigs sticking out of the tree stump, bees, and leaves.  We made acorns by slightly melting the flat sides of Hershey kisses and sticking them to mini-Nilla wafers.  The candles on top formed a "7".

The cupcakes (in the top picture) were chocolate with a vanilla icing. In the butter cream frosting I used more red food dye than I care to admit. My son used the cap of a McCormick's flavoring bottle to cut the circles from plain fondant to give each cupcake its spots.

Woodland Birthday Party: The Invitations

My youngest child wanted a Woodland birthday party this year. We had a lot of fun meeting the challenge of planning a Woodland theme that wasn't too girly, too babyish, or too violent. (I always have to throw in that requirement when I'm having a party for little boys whose idea of a good party plan would involve many weapons and lots of uninterrupted free time to run around hitting things/people.)
We made the invitations on blank note cards. My son cut strips of scrapbook paper to be our trees. We added stickers from the Martha Stewart collection at Michael's Crafts. We added, "Join a small group of friends in the Woods for a birthday party," with all of the party details. We do not live in the woods, but we hoped to transform our home and yard into the Enchanted Woods for the party.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chickens in the Garden

We use a lot of mulch, so much so, in fact, that I have a set of neighbors who call me "Mulch Lady".
That's ok.
What is not ok is when I find gross things in the mulch pile. I find bones, dead animals, and lots and LOTS of bugs. Hey, I get the fact that decomposers are necessary, but when I'm putting down mulch for a vegetable garden, I start to wonder just how many termites are good for tomatoes. I'm no expert, but I'm guessing I have too many.
So, I put my chickens to work!

They LOVE eating bugs from the mulch.
And a bonus is that it keeps them busy while the babies test out the chicken yard:

Right now the babies are a bit overwhelmed by the yard, even their little quarantined section of the yard where the rye grass has grown so happily. Huddling together behind the waterer seems like a good idea. The older chickens aren't too fond of the babies and squawk loudly at me as if to say, "There are some strange birds in that grassy area of our yard! Do something!"
The babies still come in at night to sleep under their heat lamp in their refurbished pack-and-play.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Apple Wine 2012

We've bottled 44 bottles of apple wine this month.  I love the color of it.  We are experimenting with using blue bottles, but already we've learned that they make it difficult to see the level when bottling the wine;  a lot of wine ended up on the floor. (Shameful, I know!) The other new thing we've tried this year is making the wine from cider, rather than from the apple chunks we've used in the past.  We're hoping it makes the flavor a bit more rich.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Robin Hood Hat

It is party-planning time again! This time, my 6 year old has requested a Woodland Party. My children are notorious for requesting party themes that are too obscure for Party City. I searched the Internet for Woodland themes and found many hits for fairy parties and baby showers, but none that would suit a boy turning seven.
The only site I found useful, Zhinka dinka doo, had a clever idea for an activity in which a woodland elf leads children on a hunt for treasures by leaving notes for them: a scavenger hunt! But, alas, the link to the pattern was broken and I needed to improvise.

I first made a template from newspaper and cut felt to match.  The straight side of the semi-circle is 18 inches long. The highest point in the arch is 11 inches.

After folding the semicircle in half, I sewed both straight sides.  The side that had been the straight part of the semicircle needed a 1/4 inch seam, but the fold only needs a seam that runs right along the fold (the purpose is to provide just a little bit of support to the fold).

I folded a flap on either side and glued it in place. 
This was so easy to do that I was able to make 8 hats in (far) less than an hour!

Special thanks to my mom for modeling and providing much needed
emotional support through this craft! : D

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Tale of Katniss, Our Survivor Chick

 This is the tale of Katniss, our survivor chick.  Like the character in The Hunger Games, Katniss just keeps on going! She started off her young life as the dominant chick in our new batch of three spring babes.  She had a knack for posing for the camera, too.

 "Girl On Fire!"

 At age 2 weeks, Katniss got her foot caught in a perch in the middle of the night.  Who knows how long she dangled upside down by her small leg.  When we found her (on our way out the door for school) she was lifeless.  But once we held her for a while, she perked up!

 The vet told us she had nerve damage (she was lucky not to have any broken or misplaced bones) and would take time to heal. She needed to be quarantined for her own safety, since a chick who can't stand up is bound to be at the bottom of the pecking order.  Chicks are very social and need to see and hear each other, but at night, they also need to snuggle together. So we placed a fish tank inside the chicks' playpen and put a stuffed ducky in the tank to keep her company while she sleeps.

One of the sweetest things I have ever seen, though, was the next morning: Katniss was sleeping in the corner and her sister chicks were sleeping on the outside of the corner. (In the pictures above and below, Katniss hobbled out of the corner before I got the camera, but you can see her sisters waiting for her return.)  So, even though they couldn't all huddle in a cozy pile of downy feathers, they still managed to be together.  So sweet!

Katniss has made a fantastic recovery and is now out of the fish tank and back in the huddle with the other two chicks.  She is now using her foot again almost completely normally and we couldn't be happier for our Chick on Fire.