Monday, July 23, 2012

Carnival Party ~ Behind the Scenes

I am a girl who loves cotton candy, and kettle corn, and face paint and squeals of laughter, and any game that could possibly end in prize winning. I am a girl who loves carnivals. Fortunately for me, my little girl happens to love all of those things too. So, a few months back when we thought we were moving at the end of the summer, I promised that carnie loving chica a big birthday bash to not only celebrate her big day, but also to make memories with her dear friends one last time before our departure. After Grammy & Grandpa’s home burned down, we decided as a family to postpone our move to be here to help them rebuild their home and their lives. Although we have put off our move temporarily, I couldn’t bring myself to cancel or even scale down Azure’s ‘farewell’ birthday carnival…so…the show went on. However, I will admit, that my attention was certainly placed elsewhere for the weeks leading up to the party. Thus, this event was thrown together in one week’s time. While it was not Martha Stewart style perfection, it was eight year old girl style elation.

Just in case you are ever considering throwing your own backyard carnival, or just in case you are the type of person who will find yourself haphazardly volunteering at the first PTA meeting of the upcoming school year to head up the annual ‘Fall Festival’, I’ll give you a behind the scenes look on how I whipped together Azure’s fair, to help you get those creative carnie juices flowing!

I designed the invite on Publisher (I know, so old school) and printed them at Costco as 4x6 photos. We ran them around to friends and neighbors one week before the party…and ended up with 34 friends with ‘yes!’ rsvp’s.

You know all those lovely 11-13 year old neighbor girls who love to come over to play? They make the best booth helpers! These sweet girls came early, helped with set up and were some of the most adorable carnies I’ve ever met!

Make a plan, and do NOT invite the wind. Heaven help me. I cannot stand the wind. Remember the backyard wedding reception we threw that was dramatically different than planned due to consistent 40mph wind that day? Apparently, two years is long enough to forget that every day is a windy day here, and that while I had quickly sketched plans for the carnival backdrop to look like this:
it ended up looking like this:
Sweet hubby bought rebar from Home Depot to stake the conduit poles into the ground, tied string across the tops, and we hung red and white alternating cheap plastic tablecloths (54”x108”) purchased at Hobby Lobby by stapling and taping them to the string, and securing them to the ground with big rocks in the back.  Sadly, it didn’t matter how they were attached/secured, the wind whipped them to and fro like they were thin, cheap plastic tablecloths or something. If you have the funds and minimal wind, canvas fabric would work well, or perhaps oversized beach towels.

I designed the signs to be printed at Staples as a 36”x90” $12 Engineer print. Right click, copy and paste, and you can use it too! Happy Birthday to you! Cut out the signs with a little white around the outside edges. I backed mine with blue and red poster board purchased at Target, punched holes in the corners, strung red ribbon through, and tied the blue signs over the red backdrops, and the red signs over the white backdrops. If your neighborhood is riddled with wind as mine is, it might be a good idea to simply staple gun these signs to wooden stakes and plunk them in the ground in front of each booth.

I gave each party goer a polka dot bag with their name on it as their favor bag. I only put a clown nose, a pixie stick, animal cookies and circus peanuts inside, and then they had to earn the rest of their favors by winning the carnival games. They were given a piece of candy for each game they conquered.
Giant Bowling- (purchased from Wal Mart.) Knock over all the pins in 3 tries, and you win! 

Ring Toss - tape colored paper around water bottles, and toss 6 mini discs (from Hobby Lobby) around them. If you get at least 3 rings around the bottle, you win!

Spray Away - stick golf tees (WalMart) into a block of styrofoam (Hobby Lobby), place ping pong balls (WalMart) on top and let contestants attempt to knock the ping pong balls down with a blast of water from a squirt gun. I had six golf tees & ping pong balls, but three would do it. It was difficult for the booth helper to get the balls steady on all the tees in between each player.  

Use Your Noodle - Duct tape 6 skinny pool noodles (WalMart) together as circles, then duct tape those to two thicker pool noodles that function as support poles. Use rebar (Home Depot) inside the support noodles and hammered 6" into the ground to make the noodle structure stand. Each contestant gets 3 skinny noodles to use as javelins to attempt to throw through the circles. Get all three through a hoop, and you win!

 Tin Can Crash - Wrap large tin cans (donated from friends) in colorful paper. Stack, and give contestants 3 tennis balls to use in attempt to topple all the cans. If they can crash all the cans in 3 tries, they win!
Clotehspin Drop - contestants try to drop 10 clothespins in a large glass mason jar. If they get at least three in the jar, they win! (somehow we didn't get any photos of our pin drop game)

Fortune Teller - elect a helper to dress up gypsy style and either give fake fortunes on the fly, or arm them with several paper fortune tellers and let party goers pick their own fortunes.

Face Painting - I purchased my Snazaroo face painting pallet from Amazon, and was quite pleased with the quality. I would suggest to do all the face painting AFTER any water games, as lots of painted faces got washed away during our water balloon fight!
Photo Booth- Who doesn't love to don a feather boa and a cowboy hat every now and again? I freehand cut black paper mustaches and hot glue gunned them to skinny wooden dowels (Hobby Lobby). I gathered props and costumes from our playroom as well as Hobby Lobby and Party City. 
As much as I love carnie games, at a party like this, it’s a good idea to have other group games planned as well. It gives you a chance to gather all the kids up for a little structured play time before you do cake and presents .

which quickly ended up in a (parent sanctioned) WATER BALLOON FIGHT.

 An obstacle course, relay race, and/or hula hoop contest would all work really well here too. We just ran out of time.

I am a simple country girl. I don’t know if there is any food I love more than Navajo tacos and elephant ears. I needed to keep it a little more simple for this carnival though, since I knew I would be busy keeping close tabs on a lot of kiddos, coordinating all the events and running the face painting booth as well. The food needed to consist of items that could be prepped before hand that little fingers could help themselves to. So, I decided on some of mine and Azure's other favorite fair treats…kettle corn, cotton candy (machine rented from Bruno’s Party Time Rental), licorice, salt water taffy, pretzels from Costco with melted Velveeta cheese, sugar cookies made to look like Whirly Pops, and cake & cupcakes made to look like buckets of popcorn. 
Yes, my dears, get your printers are the RECIPES for my homemade fair fare:

Make your favorite cupcake recipe. Mine is found at the cheekykitchen.
Top with your favorite butter cream frosting, mine is found here.

And then follow one of the many guides to making mini-marshmallows look like popcorn. I watched this one, and modified.
In an effort to save time whilst creating 80 cupcakes, I did not cut my marshmallows – I ripped and twisted and pinched and then placed them on the buttercream topped cakes. I scoured my city and couldn’t find red & white striped paper anywhere, and remembered while standing in the middle of the fifth store on my search, that I had red & white striped wrapping paper tucked away in a closet back home. That’s what I used, and though it was a little flimsy, did the job. {Thanks Grammy for helping with cupcake paper wrapping!} I also did not get to the 'butter' painting. I saved that for very last of all my things to get done that day, just in case I had spare time. Clearly, I did not have spare time, but I think they looked just delightful, even without it.

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup whipping cream
*cream together
5 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
*mix together
Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. milk
2 tsp. light corn syrup
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
red food coloring (only for swirls)

Insert the sucker stick immediately after baking, with cookie lying on cooling rack. Let cool completely. Frost with white icing. Let harden. Ice with red swirls. Put in freezer over night to harden. Place in clear treat bags (purchased at Target), and tie with red ribbon. Return to freezer for up to 2 weeks until the day of your party.

MOCK KETTLE CORNair popper style, (popcorn bags from Hobby Lobby)
½ cup unpopped popcorn
¼ cup corn syrup
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup butter
½ tsp. vanilla
1 tsp salt

Pop corn in a hot-AIR popper
In a small saucepan, combine butter, corn syrup and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Cook over medium heat 1 minute, continuing to stir gently.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Sprinkle salt over popcorn, then pour syrup over popcorn and stir to coat evenly.
Let cool slightly before serving.

And there you have it. A carnival fit for a king, or a sweet eight year old girl, and 34 of her closest friends.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Through the Ashes

Once a pond a time, (that’s how my little Azure begins all of her writings) I was a blogger. I wrote to feel useful. I blogged to hopefully inspire someone, anyone. I tapped out words on my keyboard to share some of the little things I’ve learned in this life that maybe, just maybe, you would like to learn too.
And then, I went through a period of time when I felt a little less than inspiring. A little less than useful. A little less than wise. Nothing big happened to change anything. I just let myself get busy with this thing called life, and failed to take the time to internalize the daily lessons, light, and knowledge that we’re all given if we look hard enough.
My tender-hearted Dad is someone who always looks hard enough. I remember sitting at a volleyball game with him once, and after seeing his eyes get misty, asked “Dad, are you ok?” I have never forgotten his response, though I think I was merely 11 years old at the time: “Oh yes. I was just thinking, isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it amazing that we are blessed with these amazing bodies that can run, jump, leap, dive? We have so much to be thankful for! Life is amazing!”
Life is amazing. Even with its twists and turns, its disappointments and trials, it is amazing. 14 days ago today, my husband’s parents’ home burned to the ground in the blaze of the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs.
It has been beyond devastating. When they rushed out to beat the flames that were racing their way, Grammy and Grandpa were able to grab a couple outfits each, a few photo albums, the small safe with important documents (but not the keys to said safe), and their vehicles. They suffered no physical injury (thank the heavens!) but the emotional pain has been heart wrenching. Their home of 24 years, where they raised their 6 children, where they housed their parents’ heirlooms, their memories, and their hopes, is now a pile of twisted metal and ash.

I have had the great pleasure to house, hug, and feed them. I have had the great honor to see the goodness of our community as they have reached out in thoughtfulness, blessed kindness, and beautiful generosity to them.
 I have had the opportunity to return to the burn site along with Grammy, Grandpa, my husband, my brother-in-law, and three sister-in-laws to help remove rubble and sift through ash. We worked harder together than we’ve ever had to before.

We cleared the space of huge pieces of corrugated metal roof. We hefted the metal innards of recliners, sofas, refrigerators and appliances into a towering scrap pile. And then we searched, through square foot by square foot of ash, for anything worth saving.

We found broken china, charred silverware, Christmas mugs with melted glass caked to the sides, and the remains of Grammy’s jewelry rack.

But we also, bless the good Lord above, found two treasures that once belonged to my husband’s grandmother. Sweet Grammy was heartbroken that she didn’t snatch up anything of her mother’s on her way out the door; but through the Lord’s tender mercy, these two heirlooms, one a small statue, and the other, a ceramic pitcher, were saved from the fire and the falling debris. The small statue has some damage and melted glass affixed to it, but it’s in one piece, and it has retained some of its color.
With a good cleaning, the pitcher will be pristine.  
This is truly incredible in comparison to the condition of nearly everything else that once filled their home. It feels nearly miraculous.We unearthed a few other treasuers as well, including the remains of Grandpa's military medals, a salt and pepper shaker set, some handmade kid pottery, and several charred, yet intact pieces from a seventies dish set, that by today’s standards is slightly unsightly…oh but heaven help me if those dishes weren’t the most beautiful site to behold amidst the filthy, grey ash.
Life is Amazing. Devastating. Trying. Frustrating. Intriguing. Enlightening. Humbling.  Exciting. Life is amazing, and I am immensely grateful that I have so many amazing people to share it with, even if some happen to be (temprorarily) homeless. J