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Category: Birthday party planning

Murder at the Grand Gatsby

Murder at the Grand Gatsby

We had ourselves a Roaring 20’s evening of mobsters and murder at my house last night. When two rival crime bosses meet at a speakeasy to talk about bootlegging practices, and bring their heavily armed henchmen, and mingle with an assortment of molls, film stars, singers and reporters…what could go wrong?

After clearing almost all the furniture out of our living room, we set about creating our speakeasy. We turned a couple walls into brick, added some bullet holes, and hung autographed pictures of famous gangsters. We even rented round tables and lit them with table lamps for ambience. I was worried that the lighting would make it hard to take photos, but it all seemed to work out pretty well.

Since I’m a history nerd, I printed out a bunch of newspapers from the 1920s and made a collage over the buffet table. I just did it for fun, but some of them actually came into play when part of the mystery involved figuring out what year certain events occurred.

We had a bit of everything: waitresses who wanted to be singers, singers who wanted to be molls, a pilot who couldn’t find north and a murder victim who drunk-texted his wife from the bathroom (long story). We even ended up with three murders instead of one, which was a pretty cool twist.

A great way to celebrate turning 40!

The Force Was Strong at This Party

The Force Was Strong at This Party

The Force awoke with a roar at Brayden’s Star Wars laser tag party. I’m fairly sure we could be heard from anywhere in the galaxy. If you give a bunch of nine-year-old boys a laser weapon and set them loose in the dark, then add copious amounts of sugar…well, you know what you’re going to get.

For the first hour, all I had to do was wait in the party room while the boys played a couple rounds of laser tag. That was easy. It was when they came into the room for snacks and cake that the decibel level exploded. After having some Jedi Juice, Chewbacca Chips, Wookiee Cookies and Galactic Goodies (and after we got them to stop crawling under the table, dismantling the chairs and tearing up the plastic tablecloth), I led them in a few rounds of Star Wars trivia. That brought the noise level down a bit, but boy, they were wild.

Happy ninth, Brayden!


A Super Super Mario Party

A Super Super Mario Party

When I asked Justin if he just wanted to have a few guys over to play video games for his birthday (on the theory that 11-year-olds are too cool to have birthday parties), he looked at me like I was crazy. “Can’t I have a theme?” he pleaded. As someone who built a 10-foot pirate ship in her living room for her last birthday (see Murder Among the Mateys), I could hardly say no. So we decided on a Mario theme.

I didn’t really want to let the boys play video games for two solid hours, so I came up with a few Mario-themed party games we could do first. We started with block hopping: I split them into teams of three and gave each team four floor tiles that kind of looked like the blocks from the games. Each team member lined up standing on a tile and passed the extra tile to the guy in front; then they all stepped forward caterpillar-like and repeated the process until they made it to the finish line. We were hoping to do this outside, but the weather didn’t cooperate, so we had to snake a line through the living room, down the hall and into Justin’s room. It was still pretty fun.

We also did the Yoshi egg race (your basic relay race with plastic eggs on wooden spoons), and I was kind of surprised at how many times they dropped the eggs when all they had to do was walk slow. It seems boys are all about speed.

The biggest hit was the scavenger hunt. The premise here was that Bowser had stolen all of Mario’s gold coins. Each clue was a word search grid: the boys were supposed to cross off all the letters that are found in a certain word (say S-T-A-R), then unscramble the letters that were left to figure out where the next clue was. They all got a bit stumped with F-O-F-C-E-I (office), but eventually they got it. The last clue led them to a question mark block filled with chocolate gold coins, all of which quickly got devoured.

After snacks and cake, I set them loose playing video games. In addition to all the Mario games we have for the Wii, we borrowed my brother’s original Nintendo system so the kids could play the original Super Mario Bros from 30 years ago. Way cool.

A successful party!

Murder Among the Mateys

Murder Among the Mateys

Buccaneers, booty and bloodshed were the order of the day at my annual murder mystery birthday party last night. After plundering their way around the Caribbean, the pirate crew of the Jaded Jewel celebrated their return to Port Royal at the Salty Sea Dog Tavern, where a colorful group of nobles, sailors and townspeople had also gathered. Trouble was sure to transpire. Shiver me timbers!

I can’t see how we’ll ever top this one. Seriously, what’s cooler than building a 10-foot pirate ship in your living room and turning the rest of your house into a seaside tavern from 1688?

I really went all out this year, starting with the invitations. I created a card that looked like old parchment and stuck it in an envelope sealed with red wax. I also used the wax seal on each person’s character description and clues for the game. I printed some other documents on tan-colored paper, soaked them in coffee, and burned the edges. All that work really set the tone for the party.

When guests arrived, they were greeted with the skeleton of Toothless Willie hanging in our stairwell with a sign around his neck that read: “Pirates ye be warned.” I also used the directional signs that came with the mystery — they pointed guests to Port Royal, the Salty Sea Dog, and a few other sinister-sounding locations.

I had pirate music playing (everything from “Drunken Sailor” to “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate”…the play list was a big hit) as guests came up the stairs to the main party area. Here they entered the Salty Sea Dog. The walls were adorned with various signs as well as an actual map of the Caribbean circa 1720 that I found online and enlarged at Costco.

My china cabinet was filled with beer bottles labelled as Davy Jones’ Lager (get it?), an actual wine cask I found at Value Village, and some old growlers. For the tables, I had pirate tablecloths, candles, and BBQ sauce bottles labelled like growlers.

Also in the tavern was our storage-bench-turned-treasure-chest stuffed with pirate coins and assorted booty. Part of the game involves trying to acquire as many coins as you can, by any means necessary — so I helped myself to a bunch of coins from the treasure chest. A few other people tried that too, until the governor put a stop to it by closing the chest and parking his ass on top. (I stole the gallow master’s coin purse right out of her cleavage, but she chased me with a noose and threatened to hang me if I didn’t return them, so I had to give those up. It probably wasn’t wise to steal from the executioner. My bad.)

We served grog (rum with brown sugar, lime juice and water), though I forgot to label it as such, and some people had a whole lot of it thinking it was iced tea. Oops.

To keep things authentic, I used tin pie plates and no cutlery. We ate things like hardtack (cheese and crackers), salted meat (cold cuts), arr-tichoke dip, cannon balls (meatballs on sword picks) and scurvy savers (fresh veggies). I made a ship wheel with the tavern name to hang over the buffet table; I covered the actual table with a brown tablecloth and some fish netting.

But the coolest attraction was definitely the pirate ship. Complete with crow’s nest, sails and cannons, it made an amazing focal point in our living room. My brother, who was kind enough to build it based on plans I gave him, even went so far as to router the name of the ship into the wood. AWESOME.

Next to the ship was the dockside area with a huge British flag and a sign proclaiming this to be Port Royal, Jamaica. I made a large barrel by putting two planters together; I bought two smaller barrels on eBay. With some cardboard boxes and fish netting, it all looked pretty impressive.

The costumes were beyond amazing. I was especially impressed that my husband rented full colonial attire for his role as Governor Napier — this is the same guy who only reluctantly wore a king’s robe a couple years ago for Once Upon a Murder. The first mate took some liberties with his outfit and showed up with an eye patch, a peg leg, and a codpiece that was making its way down his leg by the end of the night. There’s no end of laughs when that guy is around.

Prizes this time included gold chocolate coins and a bunch of magnets I made with sayings like “I wanted to be a pirate, but I couldn’t get my ship together” and “Work is for people who don’t know how to plunder.” Once we solved the murder and handed out the awards, we just kept drinking rum and partying like pirates for another couple hours.

How will we ever top this for my 40th next year?

Crafting an Awesome Minecraft Party

Crafting an Awesome Minecraft Party

There was never any doubt about the theme Brayden would want for his eighth birthday party. There was some doubt about my ability to pull it off, however, since all I knew about Minecraft was that it was basically an online Lego game with retro graphics. I was such a noob. Fortunately, Brayden was happy to explain the basics, and of course there were many ideas available online (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what did parents do before the Internet?)

First up was a game of “Knock over the creepers.” I bought a bunch of green floral styrofoam cubes from the dollar store and put creeper faces on them with electrical tape. The kids stacked them up and threw a ball at them to see how many they could knock over…which almost instantly degenerated into chaos, but they had fun. I was wise enough to leave the plastic wrap on the cubes so my house wasn’t littered with bits of green styrofoam — score one for Mom.

Next came freeze tag with a Minecraft twist: Chris was a zombie out to get the kids, and when he tagged them they “died,” and they could only “respawn” when another kid touched them. The kids quickly figured out that Chris couldn’t get them if they hid under the trampoline, so I joined the game as zombie #2 to flush them out (I can fit under there). It was a surprisingly hot day, and there was so much running, so everyone was sweating by the time this one was done.

For a change of pace, we played a few rounds of Minecraft bingo. This was a freebie download that kept them quiet and still for almost 10 straight minutes — amazing.

Then it was on to some crafting recipes. I printed out a bunch of the Minecraft icons needed to “craft” a torch, a TNT block and some cake (hey, it’s a birthday party!) I hid the icons all around the family room and the backyard, split the kids into two teams and set them loose to hunt down the materials. Each team ended up with a redstone torch and a block of TNT (to be used later) plus the right to eat cake.

I used one brown and one green plastic tablecloth to make the table look like a grass block. Since everything in Minecraft is cubed, I used square black plates. The game even has certain foods, so I used that as the basis for the snacks: carrots, melon, redstone (strawberries), fish (goldfish crackers) and of course cake (courtesy of Wal-Mart).

When they’d had their fill, we moved on to the hotly anticipated grand finale: our version of “Light the TNT.” We had a couple big bottles of Diet Coke and some Mentos, and when you combine the two you get an explosion that boys of every age dream of. I swear that Coke shot up 25 feet in the air. Good stuff.

And now my baby is eight!

Let the Games Begin: Birthday Olympics

Let the Games Begin: Birthday Olympics

For my sports-obsessed first-born son, there seemed to be no better theme for his 10th birthday party than the Olympics. And there was certainly no better venue for that than the school gym, which came with all the sports equipment you could ever want, a full kitchen for preparing food, and a helper to run the games. Plus it kept the craziness out of my house, so that alone was worth the price of the rental.

As the kids arrived, they drew names out of a box to see which country they would represent (Germany, Russia, Sweden or the USA — I deliberately didn’t have a Canada team because Brayden had pointed out that everyone would want to be on it). Then they got a pinnie in their respective team color.

Before we got started, I talked to them about how the Olympics are not about winning, but about competing — and then I had them all raise their right hands and take the Olympic oath: “I solemnly promise to play hard and play fair in the true spirit of sportsmanship.” This was my attempt to head off any tears, whining or excessive celebrating. It seemed more or less effective, so hey.

For the opening ceremony, Justin held the torch and led the procession of athletes around the gym while the Olympic theme song played over the sound system. I thought the kids might find this part kind of lame, but they all held up their team flags and seemed to be really into it. Then it was time to let the games begin!

We had two individual events (long jump and discus throw) and two team events (relay race and floor hockey). For the long jump, we had each kid stand on a line and see how far they could jump. They each got three tries and we took their best score. For the discus throw, we put a bunch of hula hoops on the floor at different distances and had each kid throw four frisbees — the furthest hoops were worth the most points.

The relay race had each team running to the wall, picking up a ball, and running back to dump it in a bucket, then tagging the next team member. This one was the toughest to judge because we had to know not just who finished first, but who also finished second and third. If I had to do it again, I’d probably have each team go individually and time them. That would’ve been easier.

Floor hockey was the main event, of course. We had two games going simultaneously, then the winners played each other for gold and the others played for bronze.

We handed out gold, silver and bronze medals for each event and then added up the team totals for the final standings. Gold medals were worth three points, silver was two and bronze was one. We just happened to end up with a tie for gold, so all four teams got at least one medal, which was probably the best thing that could have happened.

A great party!

Murder at the Deadwood Saloon

Murder at the Deadwood Saloon

We had us a rootin’ tootin’ good time at my annual murder mystery birthday party last night. This time it was a night of mystery and mayhem in the Old West — at last, a theme that even the guys could get excited about!

Turning the house into a 1870s saloon was a ton of fun. I got checkered tablecloths, red plastic plates, mason jar glasses, and even bandanas and ropes for napkin settings. I also tracked down some old tin pails to hold peanuts and pretzels. There was just enough space in the living room to place two folding tables parallel to each other — last year we had one long banquet table for Once Upon a Murder, but this time I thought two separate tables would give more of a saloon look. The two-table setup also made it easy to move around and chat with everybody, so that was a huge bonus.

I even managed to get my brother and my husband (neither of whom are big on costume parties) to craft real saloon doors to place at the entrance to the kitchen. This was no easy feat, but they pulled it off, and the effect was amazing. People were wandering into the kitchen for no real reason just so they could go through those doors.

The guys were more than happy to undertake one other project, too: drinking enough booze that I could fill my china cabinet with old bottles. The murder mystery came with vintage liquor labels that were totally awesome.

I used a Michaels coupon to get a cheap woodburning kit just so I could burn the “Saloon” sign, but it turned out so well that I decided to use the kit for the “Saloon Rules” sign too. It was a really slow process to burn all those letters (good thing I started early!) but it really added to the Old West ambience.

The premise of the mystery was that we were all gathered at the saloon to celebrate the end of a poker tournament, so I tried to carry the Wild West-poker theme through the names of the food: Full House Nachos, Chuckwagon Chili, Ace-High Apple Pie and so on. (I briefly considered using the woodburner for the menu sign too, but had to pass when I realized I had neither the patience nor the fine motor skills to burn letters that small.) I made pulled pork for the first time ever — thankfully it turned out all right.

Kudos to everyone for really getting into character! The costumes were outstanding and there was some seriously funny ad libbing going on (something about Jesse Wales’ unnatural relationship with her horse…I never did get the full story on that one.) We voted on best actor (Montgomery Money) and best costume (Gambling Jack), plus there were prizes for who ended up with the most money (Holly Hickok) and who correctly guessed the murderer (I was the only one who got it right and no, I didn’t know beforehand…really.)

It was a blast!

Everything Was Awesome: The Lego Movie Birthday Party

Everything Was Awesome: The Lego Movie Birthday Party

Could any party theme be more fun than Lego? The colors, the shapes, the endless activities…I had a great time putting this one together.

The kids started by coloring their own minifigures, but they clearly needed to do something physical, so I sent them out to the trampoline to burn off some energy. Then we came back inside to build with the giant Lego blocks I created out of cardboard boxes, wrapping paper and foam. I worked for weeks gathering and wrapping boxes, and it was totally worth it, cause the kids had a blast stacking those things up and knocking them down.

I’d come across a website¬†that lets you download and print out masks for many of the characters from The Lego Movie, so the kids put those on and posed for the camera. I had them draw names to see who got which mask, but there were still some unhappy customers, namely Brayden, who really wanted the Batman mask but who ended up with President Business. But we got past that and moved on to the next activity: a team Lego building challenge. I split the kids into two teams, gave them each a bucket of Lego, and told them to design a spaceship. The idea was to build as a team, but most of the kids ended up doing their own thing anyway. It kept them busy for half an hour, so whatever.

Finally, we did a treasure hunt to find the Piece of Resistance (which I made by wrapping a toothpaste box in red wrapping paper). I made up nine clues and hid them in various places around the house, and the kids had to solve a little riddle in order to find the next clue. I wasn’t sure how this one would go, but it was actually pretty popular. And I designed it so that when we found the Piece of Resistance (in the fridge!) we were in the kitchen, ready for snacks and cake.

As for snacks…I made some adorable crackers and cheese that looked like Lego bricks. I’d read online somewhere that you could slice string cheese and it would be round like Lego studs, but I tried that and found that the studs weren’t really round at all. I ended up taking the lid from a marker and using that to cut circles in the cheese slices. They were labor-intensive (each cracker took eight studs) but they turned out great.

I was pretty proud of the cake. I ordered a plain white cake from Wal-Mart, then decorated it with Lego chocolates I made with a mold I got online. The chocolates look so much like the real thing that when I took a bunch to my autism moms group the night before the party, no one realized they were actually edible. Very cool.

So anyway, the cake — and the party — was a roaring success.

Happy 7th, Brayden!

An All-Star Hockey Party

An All-Star Hockey Party

This was one of the easiest birthday parties ever — at least for me. Justin had a couple friends over for burgers and cake, and then Chris took them to the hockey game. All I had to do was decorate a bit and make the food.

And even that was pretty simple. I used a white plastic tablecloth and red and blue electrical tape to turn the kitchen table into a hockey rink, with Justin’s Stanley Cup piggy bank as the centerpiece. I also bought black paper plates and used the extra ones to make a Happy Birthday banner (the first “H” kept threatening to fall down, prompting Dave to comment that an “Appy Birthday” would be OK too.) The overall effect was pretty cool.

As for the food…baking is not my forte, but I had an idea for a hockey cake, so I decided to give it a try. I made a round cake with white icing and stuck a Hershey’s chocolate Stanley Cup on top; I also bought mini Oreos to use as “pucks” around the edge. That was my “Cup” cake. Everybody ate it, so I’m calling it a success.

And now my first-born is nine!

Once Upon a Murder

Once Upon a Murder

I’m so thankful to have friends who are willing to indulge my passion for games. Once again we gathered for a night of murder and mayhem to celebrate my birthday. This time it was a tale of treachery and treason in a kingdom far, far away.

The official intro:

After the mysterious disappearance of Cinderella, Prince Charming is throwing a ball to find a new wife. Some of the kingdom residents question how the prince could move on so quickly, while others are jumping at the chance to become the next princess in the palace. As the evening escalates, a killing occurs…leaving you to write the final chapter.

I’d been planning this party for months, so I had lots of time to come up with costumes and decorations. (The secret: get the details sorted out in October, when Halloween stuff is everywhere.) This theme was especially fun, since we were all well-known fairy tale characters. That made it a lot easier to ad lib and go with the flow.

I was Rapunzel, which makes lots of people laugh, since I have the shortest hair of any woman I know. Chris was Prince Charming and got to spend most of the evening fending off romantic advances from three different maidens. (“Not enough touching,” he commented when I asked how he’d enjoyed that. Eww.)

Good times!