Thursday, December 13, 2018

FULL WALK-THROUGH: Our Harry Potter Escape Room!

Instead of a house-wide scavenger hunt for this year's party, John and I upgraded to a Potter-themed Escape Room - and we're never going back.  MWUAHAHAAAAA!

Yep, this thing was a blast to build and a huge hit with our guests. I'm already excited to start on next year's!

We used John's Game Room to set up, and limited ourselves to about half a dozen puzzles to keep the time limit manageable. We had nearly 20 teams to get through the room, so we aimed for a challenge that only lasted about 15 minutes.

Looking back, my only regret is limiting the team sizes, since it seemed like the larger teams of 3-4 had the most fun. (We suggested going in pairs.) These are definitely best done with a group, where you can shout and laugh together!

We put together a video to show you all the cool stuff, ready to see?

Now let me walk you through all the details! I'll also show you how we built everything, and link to some of the key products we used, in case you want to make your own. (Which you totally should.)

 Room overview. This space is only 10X10, so it's quite tiny!

(I know the theming is a little...meh... but we were more focused on the puzzle aspects. Next year I'll do better!)
 The other side of the room.

John built a slide-in shelf to cover our large screen TV in the middle of the wall unit:

This meant no video games for the final month while we finished prepping the room. :(   
We really sacrificed for this party, you guys.
 I had a lot of fun decorating the shelves. Everything here we already had around the house; I just gathered up everything shiny, old, or "wizardy."

Some of these decorations were already here, so that helped:

(This was a happy coincidence: all the artists of these pieces were at the party! House owls by Dennis Hansbury - who just made House-themed BATS, ermergerh. Papercut owl in the back by Charles Thurston, Sirius Black by Bonnie Wong, and the tiny badger figurine by Christie Cox.)

The rest of the stuff I packed up and replaced with more magical themed goodies:

I really like how this lower desk turned out:

That gold box was completely handmade by John, and is my favorite element in the room.

Here's a peek at the inner guts of its construction, see if you can figure out how it works:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Potter Party Pajamas: Come See What All Our Friends Wore!

As we all wait impatiently for me to get my exhausted kiester in gear and start posting final party photos and videos already (HURRY UP, JEN), let's take a look at what our friends wore! 

We had nearly 40 people crammed in our little house, so I won't show you EVERYONE - just the highlights that made me laugh the hardest or screech the loudest.

First the obligatory blurry selfie:


My badger hat is the creation of our friend and fellow CW writer Sharyn, who was our party's secret Santa Witch, giving away goodies left and right. (The badger hood I made way back when was too hot to wear, plus this one looks so much better!)

Now let's see what everyone ELSE wore:

Bahahaa! That's Dennis, Bonnie, Rachael & Matt. These two couples don't even know each other, but birds of a feather and Slytherins of a... scale?... flock together.

They all made their own Azkaban signs, and Matt and Rachael even brought their own pillows:

Plus Rachael socked it in the footwear arena:

A bunch of people made custom PJs using their Cricuts, and I was DYING over all the funny t-shirt slogans:
"The party don't start 'til I Slytherin" and "I believe in Thestrals." (I need a Thestral shirt now.)

Both Tim and Bianca are artists (along with half the crowd), so this is perfect. (Even the House stripes on their sleeves were made on the Cricut! Seriously, I need to get one of these magical machines.)

Katie and Kevin have more hysterical shirts, plus THE BEST SLIPPERS ERMERGERSH:

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Final Potter Party Update: Witches Get Snitches, A Niffler Repaint, & Our Goblet of Fire

So last night John and I filled the whole house with grease smoke from the banger we were test cooking, this morning John's foot went through the outside deck from a rotten board, and just now the garage door spring snapped (AAAAA), locking us out.


It's times like these I most love being married to John; the man is unflappable. He's a rock. He's an unflappable married rock with a cute Superman curl. Calamity strikes, and John just tilts his head, says, "Huh," and then sets about fixing every thing.

So, we have a garage repairman coming tomorrow (even we don't miss around with garage springs; they can kill you), John's already replaced the rotten board (mercifully a fluke from a pile of wet dirt underneath; the rest of the deck is sound), and the house, well, it may smell a little like sausages on Saturday. But that's OK, because we're serving sausages.

Speaking of our sausages (heyooo), quick shout-out to Whole Foods, of all places, where this fabulous meat department guy named Mark custom-made gluten-free Bangers for us - on all the properly cleaned equipment and everything, AT NO EXTRA CHARGE. Wha whaaaaaaaaat? They taste amazing, too - probably even better when you eat them in a house NOT filled with grease smoke.

Now let me show you more party crafts! Our final Big Build is in the Puzzle Room, so that's staying under wraps for now, but I have a ton of small silly stuff to share:

The second I spotted these gold ornaments at Dollar Tree I knew exactly what they were:

Giant Snitches! They even have the swirly design! 

All I needed were some of those silver glittery leaves/feathers you see everywhere at Christmas... until you start LOOKING for them, at which point they evaporate into the ether. I finally gave up searching and cut some thrift store leaves instead, which John spray-painted silver. Drilled two small holes, a little hot glue, and bam:

Giant snitches!

I even had the perfect place to put my big balls. (Oh, like I wasn't going to use THAT joke):

 Right over the Kitty Quidditch Tower! Which you can see I decked out with a little garland wreath around the window. (And you get a bonus kitty action shot.)

Eva says hi.

I hope to have better photos for the official party post, btw; these are all phone pics taken at night.

I assumed the cats would try to destroy the snitch garland, but amazingly, not a single nibble. They're too busy eating every other piece of garland and greenery I have out.

I'll walk you through all the Puzzle Room builds in a separate post, since there are a lot and I don't want to spoil it for the guests, but here are two small things:

Remember my $3 thrift store cage? I suspended my Soot Sprite (by the amazing Monster Cafe, go follow them!) from a bit of fishing line inside, so it's floating. This made me unexpectedly and ridiculously happy. :D I think it'll be staying out year-round in the Game Room after this.

And a slightly more complex craft:

I made all these rune markers from rolled out clay, which I cut with a bottle top. I used a straw to poke holes for the leather cords, pressed the symbols in with a wooden stick, textured with a stiff paintbrush, then painted & dry-brushed with craft paint. I already had the clay, tools, and paint, so this was a freebie craft. Love those. Plus I think they turned out really looking like stone!

The runes are attached to various potion bottles around the room, and are part of my favorite puzzle. You'll see all of that later, promise.

Not my craft at all, but I think you'll like this:

"Beware the Nargles" mistletoe, hanging over the doorway to the deck! This was a gift from one of you readers a few years ago (I'm sorry I don't remember which one!), and I love having the perfect spot for it this year.

The weekend after Thanksgiving - when I was still so weak from being sick - my one and only outing was to stagger to Box Lunch with John to buy this Niffler game:
 It was $20, down from $30. Honestly it's barely worth that much, but it's a ridiculously easy game for parties (you stack coins 'til the plate tips) and super cute, so, SOLD.

All the plain plastic pieces were making my eye twitch, though:

So... plasticky.

You know the drill: I slapped a bunch of black paint on everything, then quickly wiped it off again. Annnd:

 Look what a difference! Aaaaaa, bliss.

The coins took a teensy bit longer (HA), because I aged both sides of all 64 coins, then Rub N' Buffed both sides of all 64 coins. My hands looked like they'd been tarred and gilded by the time I was done.

Now you can see the designs in the coins, though, which look surprisingly cool!

This is mostly a game of dexterity; it's VERY HARD to pick up the coins with the little wand shovels:

I also aged the base, but the Niffler didn't need anything; he's great as-is:

And I found the perfect plastic tray at Walmart for $2! This way I can move the whole game around while keeping the pieces together. (It'll be on the coffee table in the Common Room.) 

 I have so much more, you guys, but let me end with the one that's made us laugh the hardest:

A few weeks ago we found the most incredible urn/vase thing at a thrift store for $8:

The inner jewel thing is orange swirly resin. I didn't realize before this, but WOW does that look cool in photos! It's actually a little less impressive in real life, ha.

Anyway, at first I thought it would go in the Common Room, since it looks like a trophy, but I never found the right spot for it. Then, as John and I were brainstorming ways to give out some door prizes, a FLASH OF INSPIRATION.

(Brace yourselves.)

We are hilarious, you guys.

(When I texted this photo to John he reported back that half the aisle at Walmart now thought he was insane, he laughed so hard.)

I should mention John has a long-standing, much vocalized dislike for Michael Gambon's portrayal of Dumbledore (#NotMyDumbledore), so a lot of our friends have sent this meme his way, and love to bring up the famously "calm" Goblet of Fire scene. (If you're lost, a quick Google will give you all you need to know - plus some laughs.)

We've also determined that, during the drawing, John will wear a long fake beard and attempt to body-slam the winners into the wall. You know, for authenticity.

And on that note, I'm off to try to finish this baby:

We won't stop thinking of new things to make 'til the moment the party starts. It's a sickness. A beautiful, stressful sickness. :D

Stay tuned for so much more. Just... just so much.  

Love you guys. TTFN!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Bringing Our Life-Sized Gingerbread House... To Life

Time to show you guys our second big build for the coming Hogwarts slumber party! (If you missed the giant stone fireplace build, you can check that out here.)
The last few years John and I've put up a fake brick entry to our back room, like this:

After two years we wanted a change, though, and wracked our brains for an appropriate entry to the Hufflepuff Common Room.

Eventually I narrowed it down to basic 'Puff priorities: fun and food. Throw Christmas into the mix, and of course you get a life-sized gingerbread house, right?

Here's a teaser to get you to keep scrolling. Muahahaaaa.

The basic structure went up lightning fast: John was done in barely two days. He used cheap 2X4s to build the frame, keeping the whole thing in two pieces for easy installation:

 Testing the fit inside:

 You can see here how we're narrowing the entry to give ourselves room for the side walls of the gingerbread house. Gotta have that symmetry!

 From there John clad the walls and roof in Masonite panels:

 (This thing took up most of our garage, so this was as far back as I could get for photos!)

My initial design included two small turrets, but they were such a struggle to work around that we eventually - and very reluctantly - nixed them to make room for these House mascot cookies I drew instead:

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Best of Orlando's Festival of Tree 2018, Part 2


I've got a full course of antibiotics in my veins, a song in my heart, and a raging case of insomnia.

Who wants to look at more Christmas trees?! (And wreaths.)

Let's start with a fun one, which I will present in the form of a riddle:

Q: What do you do when you're stumped for a tree topper? 

A: You take a cue from Captain Picard:


(Hoo boy, you're getting 4:30-in-the-morning Jen right now, gang. Sorry/YOU'RE WELCOME.)

This tree was sponsored by a local fabric store - so genius theming - and was covered in hundreds of pretty trims and fabric scraps:

Check out the garland; this would be a fun way to use leftover fabric:

I also like the idea of covering ornaments in fabric, like little wrapped presents!

Next, another bright green and bronze beauty:

That ribbon placement... I think I like it?

This tree had rotating ornaments - super fancy - but my favorites were the mini terrariums:

It doesn't show well in photos, but those terrarium balls were gorgeous in person. Like little hidden worlds tucked inside the branches!

The best part of this next tree was introducing John to the term "Putz House," which he 100% thought I was making up, and even looked mildly scandalized when I said it again - loudly - as a group of elderly ladies walked by.

Putz Houses are little paper Christmas houses like this, though, promise. :D

This tree was FULL of pretty Putzes (hee), but the best is that church topper with the tissue paper windows:

The snowy shelves at the base of each house are clever, too; really helps the houses stand out.

There were TWO Nightmare Before Christmas trees this year, here's the second:

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

When You've Got Zero Thanks To Give


Did you like how I posted about getting ready to do ALL the Christmas things, right before I dropped off the map, unexpected-trap-door style?

(John made this gif. Bless you for correcting that glaring omission in the gif world, sweetie.)

Fortunately I'm guessing most of you have been too distracted by the Thanksgiving long weekend to notice. See, I'm a master of scheduling sickness that way. (Or a... sick scheduler? Eh? EH?)

This past week has been a hazy blur, quite literally as I've been locked in my bedroom with the humidifier cranked 12 hours a day. (The framed art on our walls has actually wrinkled. ACK.) I can't remember the last time I was this sick - if ever - so I'd forgotten what it was like to have life screech to a halt.

Well, of course LIFE didn't stop, but I sure did. It wasn't so much like hitting a brick wall as it was like skidding over a soggy sponge and floomphing down into a mud puddle full of piranha and those freaky ear bugs from Star Trek: Wrath of Khan.

(Sometimes, when I freestyle, my analogies lose confidence.)

Anyhoo, I won't bore you with details, but going from viral bronchitis to a sinus/ear infection and then I think some flu mixed in? was negative five stars, would not recommend. I'm still on the mend; stabby ice picks in both ears and super weak, but I'm able to stay conscious for a few more hours each day. I'm even wearing a bra again (you're welcome, universe), which is really the crappiest way to celebrate feeling better, right? It's like, "Oh you can breathe without coughing again? Quick, go put on restrictive clothing and answer a month's backlog of e-mail! YAY ADULTHOOD!"

(Kidding. I never answer e-mail.)

John, meanwhile, is still coughing after nearly a month, though he says he feels fine. He also claims he doesn't need tea or steam or honey or medicine or hot liquids, so let's all have a collective Liz Lemon eye roll in his general direction:


Now a little serious talk.

I decided a bunch of years ago that I would never post anything hopeless online. That no matter how sad or panicky or angry, I would always at least end by sharing a little light, or a little faith that things will be better. It's been a beautifully helpful guideline, if only as a reminder to myself to look up when things get dark.

All that to say, I've been offline not just because I was sick, but because I haven't been able to find that light. I've been so excited, eagerly planning these few weeks all year, and I was already behind, than BAM. Suddenly not being able to move - much less work or shop or decorate or craft - left me darn near inconsolable. Being sick was one thing, but missing out on my favorite holiday crafts and sales and time with friends while simultaneously watching both blogs grind to a halt? Oof. Not good. I've been angry and petulant and so sad I've literally sobbed into my soup - twice. I'm not proud of this, but I'm putting it out here for a reason.

Actually, a couple of reasons:

First and foremost, I think it's poetic I was feeling so entitled and angry on Thanksgiving. I needed that kick in the teeth, that reminder how much I take for granted. The day hit me especially hard - so weak! - but with John's help I emerged, wraith-like, from my fog cocoon to have dinner with friends. Almost everything went wrong: John's bread rolls imploded, inedible, and his turkey was - well, it was turkey, how good can that be? - the gravy was watery, then our friend accidentally used salt instead of sugar in the sweet potatoes, and honestly by the end we were all laughing so hard that it was the best Thanksgiving meal I've had in years. Afterward I crawled right back into bed, but for those few hours I remembered what was important. For those few hours, I really was thankful.

Which is the other thing I've been contemplating: that this, too, is temporary. (Well, let's hope with the sickness thing.) Some people - some reading this post right now, even - are in pain ALL the time. Some people are always this weak. Some people never have the option to make pretty things or decorate their houses. Even at my worst, I have the hope and promise that I won't always feel this way.

And finally, the main thing I'm taking away from 7-days-and-counting of Life on Pause: it's not just about the little things, you guys. It's about the tiny things.  John holding my hand on the couch. A fresh cup of tea. Seeing what necklace Kim Joy is wearing today on Great British Bake-Off. When we're miserable we get tunnel vision, usually laser focused on everything bad. But this past week when I could shift that focus onto a good thing, even a little, that's when I remembered there is light.

The trouble is, I didn't remember those tiny things matter in what I'm doing, too. I let myself wallow. I forgot my rule. I dumped all my sadness on John, and made him suffer, too. Maybe if I'd made myself write for you guys, I'd have remembered to look up.

So hey, if you're out there wallowing right now, look for the tiny good things. If you have someone to hold your hand, grab on. If you find yourself spiraling, turn on British Bake-Off, or start a meme war with a friend on Facebook. Don't be like me and isolate yourself to focus on what you're missing or what's wrong; find some good right here, right now.

I'm still a million miles behind with a splitting earache, but I'll do what I can and try to take it easy on myself for all the rest if you will. Deal?

Now let's watch this rap battle so all the non Flight of the Conchords fans out there will get my hee-LAR-ious reference from about 10 paragraphs ago: 

[Warning: mild language]

"Did Steve tell you that?!" :D

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Best of Orlando's Festival of Trees 2018

It's my most wonderful post of the year, you guys: CHRISTMAS TREEEES! 

... And a few wreaths.

John and I are *both* sick now (and laughing to keep from crying, ha), but the fact that I'm still this stinkin' happy to sit down to edit photos and write I think shows I'm making proper life choices.

In case you're new here: every year I check out our local Festival of Trees, photograph my favorites, then report back with all the latest designer tree trends and my favorite ideas to steal. It's a hoot, promise.

So let's head in!

The lobby tree this year was a vision of fluffy white feathers and bright red cardinals:

Plus see all that extra greenery? Those lime greens look AMAZING with red and white, and that color combo turned out to be pretty popular this year. You'll see more in a bit.

We spotted one of my top favorites first thing:

LOOK AT THESE COLORS. They decorated a whole tree and mantel based on that fabulous wallpaper!

In the tree there's a mix of peacock feathers, pomegranates, oranges, and more lime green... greenery:

Obviously the orange and teal are my favorites, but that indigo blue really steals the show:

It practically glows. So, so pretty.

Over on the mantle there's this fantastic garland of dried autumn leaves and berries:

I would never think to use Fall leaves for Christmas like this. It's so good with all the citrus!

Moving on with a bad pun segue, 'cuz you guys, I've never felt this way before: