Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wilderness Escape VBS Day Camp Decorations

Our church has a week-long program for the kids with a VBS-type morning (songs, crafts, Bible lesson, games, snacks) followed by a field trip each afternoon (rollerskating, bowling, zoo, mini golf & swimming).  It's an intense week!

I was asked to help with decorations and this year's theme used the Wilderness Escape curriculum from group.com.  It was all about Moses and the Israelites in the Wilderness.

The first thing I did was make the Registration Table a little more exciting to drum up some enthusiasm in anticipation for Day Camp.
The background is blue bulletin board paper and I painted some clouds on it for the "sky".  Along the bottom is some scrunched up kraft paper for the "land".  We raided the storage room for various plants/trees and set those alongside the background and on the table.  You can't see in the photo, but I put some blankets on the floor under the table and added some props like a jar, some baskets, rocks, grapes, things like that.  We re-used a lot of this stuff in other areas during Day Camp week.

Then Day Camp week arrived.  We decorated the foyer area where the kids arrived so they'd be greeted with a glimpse of the theme.  It makes a big difference, doesn't it?

The doors led to our Israelite camp, so I made a sign and hung some fabric over the doors.  Some of the boys made a directional sign (broom handle in a bucket of sand with cardboard arrows) pointing to the Promised Land, Egypt, Mount Sinai, and the Red Sea.  The church already owned the working waterfall which was reminiscent of Moses getting the water out of the rock, so we just jazzed it up with some more plants from the storage room.  I strung some rope around the plants and added a drop cloth on the floor to discourage kids from climbing on the fountain.


The campers then were assigned to one of 12 tribes and gathered at their tent in the gym.  We already had the tents from a previous year when we had a western theme, so that was easy.  I made banners using kraft paper and a different color of duck tape for each tribe.  We also stuck the duck tape on the floor to delineate each tribe's area.

The opening program took place in the main sanctuary every day and we made a stage set to look like mountains with a tent in the foreground. I didn't get a very good picture of it, but here it is in action.
We had the 8-foot backdrop boards and painted them to look like a wilderness mountain.  The little parts of the mountain that stick up above the boards were made from foam insulation board. The boards were set on some risers to give them more height, and we covered the risers with drop cloths.  The tent was made from an EZ-UP tent covered with drop cloths.  Again, we raided the storage room for palm trees and set those around, and made a little campfire with real logs and rocks.

The Bible story was supposed to take place in Moses' tent, so I transformed one of the nurseries so it felt like you were in a tent.  This was a lot  more time consuming than I thought it would be.
We attached some zip ties to the supports for the drop ceiling, tied rope to those, threaded the rope through PVC pipes, and draped fabric from it.  Our church fortunately owned the fabric already because it was a lot of yardage!  For the back wall of the tent, we attached more white fabric to the drop ceiling supports using binder clips.  Binder clips also helped close some of the gaps between pieces of fabric.  Then we threw various sheets/blankets/rugs on the floor and added some accessories (from the registration table) to complete the look.  We re-wrote parts of the curriculum to add more drama and characters to make the story come alive for the campers.

One of the days, the campers crossed the Red Sea.  This was a fun project to figure out.  We used two rolling room dividers to make the Red Sea in the hallway.  When the campers first approached, they saw the land and and sky (re-used from the Registration table) and the blue fabric was spread across the hallway like it was the water.  Then  Moses parted the sea (some helpers rolled the one room divider across the hall) and the campers walked between the room dividers covered with blue tarps made to look like walls of water.  Also, as the room divider was pulled across the hall, a drop cloth was pulled along with it, creating the "dry ground" between the walls of water.
I had a ton of help with this, so the main set up only lasted one afternoon.  It was the first time I had done something of this scale, and it was a fun challenge!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cardinal Cookies

Normally this time of year, it's starting to look like spring.  But this year we still have several feet of snow on the ground!  In honor of the hearty cardinals that stick around up north all year adding color to the white landscape, I decided to make some cardinal cookies.


Usually, I use the outline-and-flood method for frosting my sugar cookies.  But I decided to try something new: 20-Second Icing.  Sweet Sugarbelle has a fantastic tutorial on achieving this consistency, somewhere between outlining and flooding consistencies. (click to see tutorial)  Using 20-second icing, I can eliminate decorating bags and just use squeeze bottles. It's a lot faster!  The frosting is runny enough to flow nicely and dry smoothly, but it's stiff enough to stay where you put it.


By the time I finished adding the wings, the beaks were dry enough to outline in black.  I waited about a half hour before frosting the rest of the bird to give everything else a chance to dry a bit.  It doesn't have to be completely dry, just dry enough to not flow together.


20-Second Icing wasn't the only new thing I tried for these cookies.  I tried making them gluten-free.  I've made a couple other attempts at gluten-free sugar cookies with disastrous results.  These are actually pretty good.  I'm going to tinker a bit more with the recipe to get the taste a little sweeter and less dry before I share the recipe.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies


I've been baking chocolate chip cookies since I was a kid.  I wrote all about it in this post.  Then my son was diagnosed with celiac disease last November and was prescribed a gluten-free diet.  At first, I was enthusiastic about trying new flours and I was sure that I'd come up with some fantastic baked goods that were gluten-free AND delicious.  Well, after a few failures with the packaged "all-purpose gluten-free flour" baking mixes, I decided it was time to start experimenting with creating my own flour mix.

I used my own blend for the first time in my banana bread recipe.  (I find that baked goods that already have a bit of a texture to them are easier to switch to gluten-free without anyone noticing.)  Then I tried it again in my chocolate chip cookie recipe. I am thrilled to say that these cookies are delicious.  They are a bit less chewy than the original recipe (but maybe that means I baked them a tad too long?).  I had a couple people try them and they said they wouldn't have been able to tell they were gluten-free unless I told them.

Can't wait to try them?  Here's the recipe!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies


Mix together with a whisk in a large bowl and set aside:
1/4 cup almond flour
1 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the following and beat until smooth and creamy:
1 cup softened butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package (4 serving size) Jello instant vanilla pudding mix

Beat in 2 eggs.

Gradually add the flour mixture.  Then stir in a 12-ounce package of chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheets.  Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Make a Fabric Princess (or Prince) Crown


My niece is going to turn two years old soon and we are planning a pink and gold party.  I thought she'd need a pink and gold crown to wear at her party.  I had made a couple blue and gold crowns for my sons when they were younger, so I used the same technique here.

The first step is to make a pattern.  I had a foam crown from Oriental Trading that fit my boys' heads and I traced it on to tracing paper to make a pattern.

Cut one each of gold and pink fabric.  To make sure my crown ended up looking symmetric, I folded my pattern in half and I folded my fabric in half.  Then I pinned the pattern to both pieces of fabric at once with the fold of the pattern on the fold of the fabric.  Both of my fabrics were thin so cutting through four layers at once wasn't a problem.  (I got my fabric from the remnant bin at JoAnn Fabrics because you need less than 1/2 yard of each color.)

Lay both pieces of the fabric crown, right side down, on a hard surface.  Fold up the bottom edge of both pieces a 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch and iron it so it stays put.

Pin the right sides together and sew around the whole crown except for the bottom edge.  Leave the bottom edge (where you ironed the hem) completely open.  After sewing, trim the tips off of the crown points close to your seam.  Then turn the crown right side out.


Stuff the crown lightly, using a pencil to push the stuffing up into the points.


Pin bottom sides together.  Topstitch along that bottom edge sealing up the crown.


Sew strips of velcro on the ends of the crown to hold the crown closed. (If you want a neater crown you should sew the velcro on the pink and gold pieces of fabric before you sew the crown together.)


And you're done!


I can't wait to see my niece with this crown perched on her blond curls!


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Minecraft 8th Birthday Party

My son just turned eight and wanted a Minecraft-themed party.  There are plenty of great ideas out there on the internet.  Here's what we ended up doing.

Decorations:
Minecraft papercraft -- We used free printable templates found at instructables.com.  My boys chose several things they wanted to make, I printed them out on white cardstock and they went to town cutting and assembling. They made this lovely Minecraft display for the party all by themselves!

Birthday Banner -- I cut 3-inch squares out of kraft cardstock as the base, punched holes in the corners and strung brown ribbon through the holes. (For a few of the blocks, I used dark brown and green cardstock instead of the kraft just to keep things interesting.)  I found a "grass block" image online and used Photoshop Elements to create one 2x2 block for each letter I wanted for the banner.  The font for the letters is a free download on dafont.com.  Type the letters on the grass block, print them out, cut them out, and glue on the cardstock squares.


Torches -- I used a Minecraft wall torch template that I found here. I resized it for 8 1/2 x 11 paper and printed out two of them.  Once they were cut out, folded and assembled, I stuck them to the wall using straight pins and tape.  I crumpled up some yellow tissue paper to stick in the top of the torches to make them look more like they were on fire.

Pixelated Window -- My husband drew on the window with window markers to make them look like the glass you use in your Minecraft houses.  He also drew a creeper and a zombie face as well as a few blocks.


Steve and Zombie heads -- one of the talented guys in our youth group at church was Minecraft Steve for Halloween.  He let us borrow his costume for Steve and a Zombie made out of cardboard and paint.  (These became part of a game later!)



Food:  The world of Minecraft includes food so I decided our party menu should include things available in the game.


We served carrots, watermelon, apples, chicken (nuggets), and potatoes (french fries). To drink we had water bottles and "creeper juice".


The Choose Awesome blog has a fabulous blog post about hosting an epic Minecraft party.  The blog made my life so easy because she posted many of the free printables that I used for our party.


The "creeper juice" was some kind of sour warhead green drink that I saw on sale.  I used the water bottle labels from the Choose Awesome blog post and then modified them a bit to make the creeper juice labels.  The boys at the party were very excited about the creeper juice.


Activities:
We had several crafts and activities planned for the party.  As the guests arrived they got to craft their own chest.  We provided brown paper lunch sacks and pictures of various Minecraft characters.  (Again, I printed the images from the Choose Awesome blog.)  They glued the images on their bags.  These became the party favor bags: I added some square candies (Starburst, Now and Later, Nerds) and the guests put all the things they made at the party into their bags.


The guests could also make a torch like the ones I made to hang next to the banner.  I gave them each a glow stick to put inside their torches, too.



Later, they could make a Minecraft pickaxe.  I found an image here of a diamond pickaxe and had several copies printed out for the guests.  The guests cut out the images and glued them on to cardboard axes we had cut out ahead of time.  Because cutting the cardboard (or foam board) required an X-acto knife, we did that job prior to the party so the kids wouldn't endanger any of their fingers.


Surprisingly more popular than the pickaxes were the perler beads.  Perler beads and Minecraft go together so well because they both have that pixelated look.  I had printed out a few examples of things other people had made out of these beads (thank you, internet), and let the kids use their imagination.  Here are a couple things my niece made.  Aren't they cute?


In between the crafting sessions, we had a game for the kids to play.  First, we had scattered some "diamonds" and "ore" around the yard (vase fillers from the dollar bins at Michael's).  The two teams had to gather up all their diamonds/ore and stash them in little square boxes (dollar spot at Target).  Later those boxes filled with treasure became each team's "flag" in a game of capture the flag.  To spice up that game a little, my husband and I dressed up as Steve and the Zombie and ran around trying to tag the kids.

Here's my niece in the Steve costume after I got too hot.

When it was time for cake, we had one more game for the kids.  In the game of Minecraft, you have to collect eggs, milk, sugar and wheat to "craft" a cake.  We made them find all those ingredients hidden in Easter eggs in the yard before they could have cake.


I made a square cake to look like the ones on Minecraft.


Happy birthday to my sweet eight-year-old.  May creepers never explode your house.

Edited to add .jpg files for the cake crafting activity:


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Make Your Own Hunger Games T-shirt


I had this t-shirt from Old Navy and I decided to give it a little Hunger Games makeover.  The shirt already said "LOVE" but I wanted it to say "LOVE changed the game" with a mockingjay.

I ran a piece of dark t-shirt transfer paper through my cricut machine and cut out all the letters I needed. When you iron the letters on the shirt, they just remain white.  If you wanted a different color letters (or if you don't have a cricut) you could use your computer to print the letters onto the transfer paper and cut them out with a scissors.

For the mockingjay, I found the image online and printed it on regular paper first.  Then I taped a strip of dark t-shirt transfer paper over the printed picture and ran it through the printer again.  That way, I didn't have to mess up a whole sheet of transfer paper for my little one-inch image.


Once you get everything cut out, you just line it up where you want it on the shirt, and follow the directions for your t-shirt transfers to iron it on.


Then you can wear your new t-shirt!


Who's excited for the Catching Fire movie coming out this fall? This girl!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Easy Brave Party Food

My mother-in-law let the boys pick her birthday party theme this year and they went with Brave.  So I put together a relatively simple menu and gave each dish a Brave-themed title.


For the cake, I baked round cakes and frosted them to look like Merida's archery targets.

I used a couple bamboo skewers and some cardstock to make "arrows" to stick in the bullseye.

It came together pretty quickly and was eaten quickly, too!