Monday, January 27, 2014

Handmade Thank Yous

This year I decided to actually make some New Year's Resolutions. This isn't something I typically do. I guess it's because I figured that I wouldn't actually DO what I set out to do, and why in the world would I want to start my year out failing right off the bat. That is definitely the "pessimistic" way of looking at it. This time around I didn't want to start a new year with a pessimistic attitude. This year I've designated 2014 the Year of "Change" (this was actually inspired by a spot I saw on the Today Show about dedicating a "word" to each year and putting all your energy into living up to that "theme." You can read more about it here One Word). So keeping the word "change" in mind, I decided THIS year I'd set some resolutions. My list contains some BIG resolutions and some small resolutions. This blog entry is about a small one…writing Thank You Notes.

Some of my New Year's Resolutions

Seems pretty simple, right? You get a gift from someone, someone does something nice for you—you send them a Thank You note. It doesn't take long, but somehow I never seem to get to them. I remember I don't get to them and that weighs on me and makes me feel bad about myself—I need to "change" that.

January is the perfect time to start working on achieving this resolution. The holidays were only a few weeks ago. The family has gotten a whole lot of stuff that we need to say "thanks" for. To help motivate me even further…I still have an envelope of school pictures of the boys that I haven't passed out to family members (dirty little secret—I haven't given out school pictures for the last 2 or 3 years…I pay $45 for each package and they have just been sitting there, in the envelope they were delivered in…what a waste!!! Definitely another thing to "change").

Now, I KNOW I have Thank You cards floating around the house somewhere. I have actually written a few over the years. But of course, I when I really need them, I can't find them. I was going to go out and buy some new ones, and then I came across a picture I had "Instagrammed" of my boys on Christmas morning. This picture was just begging to be shared with family and close friends. I decided that I would make my own "Thank You" cards.

Instagram photo of my two little sweeties. Aren't they adorable? Boy #1 had told me on Christmas Eve "Mom, when we wake up, we're going to go downstairs and you're going to take a picture of us in front of the tree." Sounded like a good plan to me, and look how cute it came out. What a smart kid!

The benefit of making my own cards was that I could use up some supplies I have around the house. I'm always picking stuff up because I figure I'll have a use for it at some point. Or I have left overs from other projects. I love being able to to find uses for this stuff, even if it's been hanging around for years.

First step, get the photo printed...

I used my handy-dandy photo printing app, Kicksend (I really, really love this app) and sent the image to Walmart and printed out a dozen (TIP: Walgreens and Walmart both print out 4x4 pictures. Walmart is 10 cents cheaper per print).

Second step, design the Thank You card….

I knew I had some 5x7 folded card shells in the house from a past invite project I had done. These cards are photo is square. I really wanted to avoid printing ON the card shells, for a couple of reasons: 1) I didn't have a lot of paper and didn't want to risk wasting any if they didn't print correctly. 2) my printer was actually low on ink. A layout came to my mind…I would place the picture, off-center, horizontally on the card shell. I would balance it with some ribbon or trim that I had around the house and add some sort of little "Thank You" graphic on top of the ribbon.

Third step, finding said graphic…

With all the little scrapbooking and card making materials the local craft stores have, I figured there MUST be some little "Thank You" graphics that you can buy on a sheet. I headed over to my local Michael's and went aisle by aisle looking for said "graphic"…NADA! Probably didn't help that A) it was right after the holidays and others were probably also making their own "Thank You" cards, and B) this particular Michael's is getting ready to move across the street and isn't keeping it's shelves stocked.

I was just about to give up and figured I'd just have to go ahead and print my own little graphic (keeping the ink coverage down to try and get as many pieces printed as possible...remember, I was low on ink). I looked over one more scrapbooking/card making display that was right before the registers and BAM! The most perfect little "Thank You" graphic!! A sheet of 8 for just $1.50. The Crafting Gods were looking down on me for sure. I scooped them up with a big grin and headed for home!
"Thank You" stickers found at Michael's for only $1.50


Fourth step, assembly…

So, I had my photos. I had my blank card shells. I had my "Thank You" graphics—I was ready for production! My "vision" was to place the photo of the boys on the card using little black photo corners. I KNEW I had those around the house….well, I thought I did. I looked through my whole craft cabinet and all the other places I store away crafting supplies and NADA! Groan… I was about to scrap the photo corner idea when something in my head went "BING!" and I remembered that I  had a paper punch to MAKE photo corners (my hubby had given it to me for Christmas the year prior). I pulled out by paper punch collection and low-and-behold, my memory was right, there is was…still in it's packaging. The Crafting Gods were still with me and my Craft Cabinet of Requirement (a fellow crafting friend dubbed it that when I told her this story) supplied me with what I needed.

My "Craft Cabinet of Requirement" bestowed on me a paper punch to make photo corners and little photo mount squares.

With paper punch in hand, I found some black paper, and punched out my own corners. I actually ended up liking them better than the basic corners. They are more decorative. Took longer to assemble this part of the Thank You card layout, but in the end it was worth it.

Making my own photo corners. Punched them out of black paper, attached a little square photo mount to each corner of the picture and let it stick out a bit so the paper corner would get stuck to it. Placed the picture and corners on to the card shell and burnished it down along the end of the picture.

Once the pictures were in place, I found some assorted red ribbon that I had around the house and attached a strip to each card with double-sided stick tape. To finish off the design, I placed the cute little "Thank You" sticker on top of the ribbon.
Some of my ribbon stash. I keep ribbon "odds-and-ends" in a couple of glass canisters that I had actually gotten as a wedding gift years ago. I stopped storing sugar and flour in them a while back and found they were the perfect storage container for my crafts.
TA-DA! Handmade Thank You Cards!
Finished "Thank You" Card
I'm really happy with the way they came out and I had fun putting them together. Crafting makes me happy, and when I'm happy, I'm productive…in all aspects of my day.

Fifth step, writing out the "Thank Yous"…

Some people would probably think MAKING the cards was the hard part, but not for me. Once I had the cards done, I sat there and stared at them. What do I write? What do I say? Seems really simple "Thanks so much for the thoughtful gift…", but I wanted to add more of a personal touch, but I seemed lost for words. To get past this speed bump, I considered what the gift was that we had received and gave some thought to who I was writing to, and was able to pull together some thoughtful words. (TIP: make note of who gives you what when you're opening gifts. REALLY helps when you are writing "Thank Yous". I'm adding this to my Resolution list right now…). I really AM "thankful" for all that people do for me and my family, and the gifts they are able to give (whether large or small), and I want the person receiving the note to know that.

Sixth step, mail cards…

I luckily had some very cute Disney movie stamps floating around the house which made an excellent final touch to my cards. I dropped them in the mail and many arrived the next day. I got a text photo from one friend who said "What a nice surprise when I got home." That made me happy.

Stamped Thank You cards, ready to be mailed.

I'm feeling pretty good about my New Year's Resolutions. I'm actually accomplishing things. And pulling this blog entry together is helping me to accomplish another one…"Blogging regularly"

Before signing off, I want to also thank all of YOU who take time to read me thoughts, ponderings, and creative ramblings. I hope some of what I share inspires you to make something, do something, say something. 

Wishing everyone as creative and fulfilling 2014!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Party Time - Skylanders

I can't believe I haven't posted anything in nearly 3 months. Where does the time go???

October through January are very busy months for me. My youngest son's birthday is near the end of October (as mentioned in my entry about the "Baby Stinky Costume") and then we move right into Halloween. From there I blink and Thanksgiving is upon me with Christmas on it's heels. And then BOOM! The year is over and my First Born's birthday is right on top of me. Yup, that is definitely where the time goes.

Well, New Year's Resolution time…get back to blogging about all my "creativity adventures." There was LOTS that I did between my last entry and right now, but I'll start with the one that is the most current in my memory...My First Born's Skylanders Adventure Party!

I started with the "theme" parties right off the bat. Son #1 had a Football party for his first birthday (it happened to fall on Super Bowl Sunday and our team was in he could it NOT be football themed?). You could say I cursed myself, but honestly, I really enjoy it. I know that it may seem to some that I'm going "above and beyond," but what I pull together really doesn't cost me a whole lot and it is typically something I can pull together in a week or two (with LOTS of late nights…but hey, that's how I roll).

Let's remember, Creativity is my super power, so themed parties just come to me naturally.


So Son #1 asked for a Skylanders party. Both my boys are BIG into Skylanders, and have loads of the figures, but honestly, I didn't know much about the topic. So off to the Internet I went....

FIRST STEP, hit Pinterest and see what others have done for inspiration. There were of course lots of great ideas. I noticed that lots of people played off of the different characters to come up with game ideas. There was also lots of ideas around the different "elements" that each character gets their "powers" from. (You can check out my Pinterest Party Board here to see the types of stuff I pinned)

SECOND STEP, learn who the different characters were and what each one did. I was able to get this info via Wikipedia pages—so helpful. I started making lists of the different characters under the different elements and brainstorming ideas for games and such.

My brainstorming list for games and activities for the Skylander party.

Invitation Creation

Between the Christmas/New Years break and the snow days after the first of the year, I had to make an invite quickly for my son to bring to school the Monday before the party. I asked him who his favorite Skylanders were and I was able to find images of Wash Buckler, Stink Bomb, and Blast Zone on the Internet. I had seen the idea of customizing the Skylanders logo to include the child's name, so I decided to do that for my son. He thought it was the best thing EVER! I pulled all the elements together into a 4x6 layout and saved it as a JPG. I sent the layout to my phone and then from my phone, through an app (I love Kicksend), to Walgreen's. I had a dozen invites ready to go an hour later.

Skylanders Party Invite - I cropped the top half as seen here to use for decorations.
I printed full 4 x 6 copies at the local Walgreens. Quick and inexpensive!

Decor Galore

Once I had the invite done, I used the elements from the layout to make decorations: banners, garlands, table decor, and cake toppers.

To add to the decor, I also downloaded files for all the Skylander elements: Wind, Life, Undead, Earth, Fire, Water, Magic, and Tech (I knew there were different "elements" in the game, just didn't know there was so many!!) I used the Elements graphics for party garland and for cupcake toppers.

All my decorations are typically made out of paper. It's easy…at least for me! For the decorations, I just print out color copies of the graphics, trim them out (sometime silhouetting them—which I do by hand. I don't have a Cameo...which I would LOVE to have) and tape or glue them, whatever works best.

Assorted Skylanders Party decorations. Garlands and banners. Tabletop decor and cake toppers.

Let Them Eat Cake!

Or should I say "cupcakes". Several birthday parties ago I discovered that doing cupcakes was WAY easier than getting an actual cake. Why? Because you don't have to worry about cutting anything (it can get SO messy). It also saves time. The kids just grab themselves a cupcake after the candles are blown out. Super simple!

I order the cupcakes from the local market's bakery. I'd loved to make them myself, but that would be just one more thing I'd have to do. It's way easier to just order them plain and add my own decorations. For the Skylanders party, I ordered just white frosted cupcakes, because I wanted them to feel "cloud like." I made Skylanders Elements "toppers" (printed on card stock and punched out with a 2" hole punch), which I placed on top of each "cupcake cloud."

I did also do a small round cake as the "centerpiece". This is usually just to hold the main decor of the "Birthday Cake", but this time it also got eaten (we had a LOT of people).

For the cake decorations, I found a paper craft "portal" online that I downloaded, printed out on cardstock and put together (you can downloade it here). Worked perfectly! (Tip: when doing paper cake/cupcake decorations, be sure to use inks that are NOT water soluble. If it's typical ink jet ink, then the ink could run once it comes in contact with the frosting). I then printed out one of the Skylander images I used on the invite, trimmed him out, and attached him to the portal. I did also glue the whole piece to a large plastic cover, so that the paper portal wasn't sitting directly on the cake.

Skylanders centerpiece cake and Element cupcakes.

Keeping Them Busy

Over the years I have developed a formula for all our parties:

  • Coloring/Crafting Activity as guest arrive
  • 1 - 2 Games
  • Pizza/Food
  • Let the kids run around
  • 1 Game
  • Cake
  • 1 (more) Game
  • Goodie Bags
  • Presents*
    *I use to do presents second to last, but this part of the party sometimes gets really out of hand…all the kids reaching for the gifts, wanting to (help) open them. I've started to wait until most of the guest are gone so it's a little more calm. Usually there will be a few people who'll hang out afterwards to join in on the fun.)

This time around we had a REALLY big group…26 kids!!!! I wanted to keep the "running around" to a minimum and decided it was best to try and keep to a schedule and keep them busy.

We started out having each child choosing a Skylander they wanted to be and make a name tag that included the Element they wanted to be. With such a large group, I decided I would break the kids up in groups for each game—by their Element. This worked out very well.

Skylander Name Tags. Each guest choose a name and an Element.

I also had some coloring sheets to keep them busy as guest arrived. You can find all sorts of color pages online. download and print - DONE!

Once all the guests had arrived, we started with the games...

Sonic Boom & Star Strike's Sheep Corral

I split the kids up into 2 teams. Each child in each team had to "corral" one balloon "sheep" into a "holding pen" using either a balloon inflator hand pump (Sonic Boom) or a plastic fan (Star Strike). The team with the most sheep won.

Sonic Boom & Star Strike's Sheep Corral

Trigger Happy's Target Practice

Used Nerf plaster with suction cup bolts to shoot at a target I had made on a large mirror. Kids were broken up into the same two teams as the last game.
Trigger Happy's Target Practice

Trigger Happy's Coin Toss

2 teams once again. Each team got a bunch of plastic coins and had to throw them into their bucket. The one with the most in their bucket, won.
Trigger Happy's Coin Toss

Wrecking Ball's Element Grab

I had made a bunch of Element Cards on card stock. I placed them on the floor in a square area and had each child come up to the "Element Well" and try to "grab" their Element with a "sticky hand" (like Wrecking Ball's tongue). The person who grabbed their Element first, won!
Wrecking Ball's Element Grab

Shroom Boom & Eruptor's Troll Attack

A simple game of tossing a ball at a stack of "cans" (trolls). I had found some cool bouncy balls that looked liked cooling lava (though green, not orange) and blinked when tossed. The players got to decide if they wanted to shoot them off with a slingshot (like Shroom Boom) or just throw them (like Eruptor). They quickly realized that throwing was easier….but it was fun trying to use the sling shot.

Shroom Boom & Eruptor's Troll Attack

Thank You Treats

For Treat/Goodie Bags, I used dark blue lunch bags (Tip: I found these bags at Target in the paper bag/plastic sandwich bag aisle. They cost less than $2 for 40. Way cheaper than the same size bags you find over in the party aisle) and made little "Thank You" tags that used the Skylanders logo I had on the invite. I had seen this look on Pinterest from another party and I liked how simple and easy it was. I filled the bag with stickers, tattoos, a bouncy ball, some candy, and a print out of a Happy Meal activity sheet, that I again, found online.
Skylanders Treat Bags / Goodie Bags

Wrapping Up

A gift Walker got from one of my "creative" friends. She always makes a custom tag for the present. The Skylander bag was found at Target...which was PERFECT timing for the party...he got 3!

It was a loooong and crazy day with lots of "children corralling", but when it was all said and done, Son #1 said "Mom, it was the BEST party EVAH!!!!" That is really what it's all about….making memories.

Birthday Boy and his little brother Sprinkles