Egyptian mummy birthday

Frequent readers of this blog know about Finley’s love affair with Egyptian mummies. Ever since he saw his first mummy at the Getty Villa, he’s been obsessed. So, when it came time to celebrate his 4th birthday, we opted for an Egyptian mummy party.

He took these mummy cupcakes to school. We spread a thin layer of icing on the cupcakes, and then used a flat tip to apply the bandages. The eyes were mini M&Ms dotted with food-safe decorator markers.

Because I couldn’t find a lot of Egyptian decorations, I used my newly acquired Silhouette to print and cut the gift bags and banner. Most of the artwork came from PhillipMartin.com, which has some adorable clip art. My mom used an online hieroglyphics translator to find out what the kids’ names would be in Egyptian. The gift bags included mummy pretzel sticks made from drizzled white chocolate and M&M eyes, as well as an Egyptian activity book and bookmark from Amazon.

We planned three games. The first was a chariot race. My mom made a pharaoh costume for Spider Man. He rode in the “chariot,” which was the trailer for our wagon outfitted with a harness (thanks to my husband and mom). We timed each child as he ran the course, with the fastest child winning. There was a catch — if King TutanSpidey fell out, the child had to stop and put him back in.

Just for fun, we let the children take turns wrapping each other with toilet paper to make mummies.

Finally, I downloaded The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” for a modified version of musical chairs. Instead of chairs, I printed out Egyptian clip art and glued it to card stock. The children had to scramble for squares instead of chairs. Those who were “out” got to walk like an Egyptian on the sidelines.

For the cake, we baked a sheet cake and covered it with icing and graham cracker “sand.” We cut graham crackers to make pyramids and then added a Nile river. We used LEGO Pharaoh’s Quest figures for decoration.

The birthday was a success!

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Holiday Open House

Entertaining when you have small children can be a challenge. I haven’t yet relegated the kids’ toys to their bedrooms, thus every time I entertain, I have to pick up Legos, trains, planes, etc. and move them out of the family room. Couple that with the fact that we are still slave to naps and super-early bedtimes, and the end result is that we don’t have that many big blowouts.

With that said, the one party we haven’t jettisoned is our annual Holiday Open House. For a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in December, we open our home to friends, family, neighbors and coworkers who come and go as their schedules permit. Some drop in for a brief respite from Christmas shopping, while others stay for the duration (typically three to four hours). Children are always welcome, and often the weather is nice enough for them to run around the backyard for a while. I normally hire a sitter to keep an eye on my kids, so I can hostess and socialize.

Since I’ve been doing this for at least 8 years now, I’ve got everything down to a science. Before we had children, I did a soup and sandwich menu, and held the event closer to lunchtime in the early afternoon. Now, with small children, we’ve shifted it to a late afternoon event, so I can use nap time for final preparations. I focus my effort on homemade cookies, cakes and candies and rely on store-bought appetizers.

I typically spend the week leading up to the event baking cakes and cookies and making candy. The children often get into the act, especially when gingerbread men are on the menu. Cookie baking often leads to a scheduled cookie baking/exchange night with my girlfriends. And, my mother-in-law, who is here most Christmases, normally pulls spritz cookie duty. We buy plenty of beer, wine, juice boxes and bottled water. I make my parent’s wassail recipe, which is a hot apple cider, which tastes delicious and smells inviting. On the savory side, I normally make a hot dip from scratch and a hummus. This year, a friend gave me a ton of sweet potatoes, so I made a sweet potato spread to serve with pita chips. I typically buy a spinach/artichoke dip, which I serve in bread bowls with tortilla chips. Brie and grapes are always on the menu. And friends often bring their own favorite foods to share.

With the exception of some minor furniture moving, decluttering and toy stashing, a Holiday Open House is a pretty simple way to entertain. To make things easier, I record quantities of purchased items and numbers of guests for each year (How much beer do I need for 75 adults again?). I even take pictures of my setup, so I don’t even have to think about it. I know exactly which serving dishes to use, where to place the tables and which linens to use. All-in-all it’s a fairly simple way to ensure we see all our friends during the holiday season.

Labor of Lego Love part 2

Just to recap: my elder son is obsessed with NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, launching Nov. 25th. He’s also a Lego fanatic. So this year we combined his two interests in a “Lego Mars Rover” birthday party (his idea).

Cake features a Lego moon buggy and Hot Wheels Sojourner Rover

I found a lot of great resources for Lego parties on the internet and adapted them to our needs with the help of my Mom and husband.

Our first project was crafting goody bags. We found blue and red gift bags at Walmart and decorated them with coordinating construction paper circles to make Lego bricks. I filled the goody bags with miniature bubbles (Target), a Lego Creator pack and Lego Minifigure Cake Pops. I found a Lego Fun Favor pack online, which included 8 Creator packs as well as a free admission to Legoland and VIP Club membership for each child.

Walmart bags all "Legoed up"

Using construction paper, we made the banner below. I started by creating minifigures using the Lego Minifigure pattern. Then I trimmed pieces of construction paper to make them the same size as the minifigure. I cut circles out of construction paper and added them to the bricks before laminating each brick and minifigure. We decided to outline the circles on the bricks using a black Sharpie to make them stand out. We attached the Lego bricks and minifigures using brads and laminated tabs of paper.

Lego banner

I also bought square yellow plates at Target, and spruced them up by gluing a rounded rectangle to the top. Using a Sharpie, I added a face, and — voila — minigure plates.

Lego minifigure plates

I found Lego dot-to-dot pages on the Lego Web site; these served as our gathering activity as children arrived. Once everyone arrived, our first game was “Musical Bricks.” I had made several more construction paper bricks, one less than the number of children present, and taped them to the floor. The children marched around in a circle to music. When I paused the music, they had to scramble to stand on a brick. The child left without a brick was out. I removed a brick and started the music again, repeating this until we had a winner.

Meanwhile, my husband hid four construction paper minifigure cutouts, which I had made while making the banner. The children had to hunt for the minifigures in a game of “I Spy the Lego Guy.” We also played “Who’s Got the Lego.” Instructions for both can be found at Delia Creates by clicking…..here.

We also did a Lego build activity. Our goal was to build a spaceship to blast off from Mars. I gave each child three bricks and 15 seconds to add his or her Legos to the Lego base, building upon what the children before him had done. At the end, I added a couple of Lego flames and an astronaut, and we simulated a launch.

Finally, we made “alien goop” using borax, food coloring and school glue. I had bought some small containers for the children to put the goo in, so they could add it to their goody bags. For the recipe, click……here. I doubled it, and it made enough for 8 children.

All in all, we had a lot of fun!

Sources:

Delia Creates: http://deliacreates.blogspot.com/2011/01/lego-birthday-party.html

Crunchy Catholic Mama: http://crunchycatholicmomma.blogspot.com/2011/07/lego-party.html

Labor of Lego Love

We love Legos in our house! Legos are some of the best toys on the market in terms of play value for the money. Plus they last forever; my mother-in-law still has my husband’s Legos from his youth, and they certainly would work with today’s sets.

From what I understand, Lego lovers are split into two camps: the instruction manual followers (like me) and those who prefer to build their own free-form designs (my children). I have to admit, there have been times I’ve spent hours after the kids are in bed rebuilding a Space Shuttle or some elaborate Star Wars vehicle that’s been smashed into bits and modified. I’ve now realized that’s an exercise in futility, and I’ve pretty much given it up. However, whenever the boys get new Legos, they do let me build the sets from the instruction manual at least once.

Anyway, everyone in my house was thrilled when my eldest picked a “Lego Mars party” as his birthday party theme. There are so many great blogs out there with ideas for Lego parties, and I’ll share more ideas that I’ve borrowed and modified later in the week. However, my first task was a true labor of love: Lego minifigure cake pops.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am neither a baker nor a candy maker, so this was way out of my comfort zone. After some internet research (thanks to Living Locurto) and consultation with my cake-baking friends, this is what I came up with:

Lego Minifigure Cake Pops (makes about 40)

1  18.25-ounce box cake mix (flavor of your choice)

1 container of frosting (flavor of your choice)

40 lollipop sticks (buy these at Joann’s or Michael’s)

1 individual-size package M&Ms

Additional frosting for attaching M&Ms

2 packages yellow candy melts (again, Joann’s or Michael’s)

Food decorator pens (found some Wilton FoodWriter pens at Walmart)

Before you begin: Line 3 cookie sheets with wax paper or parchment paper.

1) Bake the cake according to package directions. 2) While the cake is still warm, crumble it into a bowl, mash it up with a fork, and mash in the container of frosting until well mixed. 3) Using a tablespoon-sized disher (or melon baller) scoop out tablespoon-sized scoops of cake/frosting mix. Roll into a ball, and form into the shape of a large marshmallow. 4) Insert lollipop sticks into one of the flat ends. 5) Attach an M&M to the other flat end in the center using frosting (I used Wilton’s Royal Icing mix from Joann’s.).

6) Put your cake pops in the freezer for a couple of hours. 7) Melt the candy melts in a bowl according to package directions, and swirl each pop in the candy coating, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Lay the cake pops back on the parchment. 8 ) Once the candy shell has hardened, draw minifigure faces using food decorator pens.

NOTE: The cake pops really need to be kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat them.

These are far from perfect, but I’m excited to hand them out in the goody bags. Stay tuned for more Lego love.