Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sherlock Party: A Library Murder Mystery

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See this party featured HERE by the high priestess of all all things party herself, Amy Atlas! I am so honored to have been featured on Sweet Designs, I can't even say.

Sherlock Party dessert table. Photo: Stella Dolce Photography. 
When I'm not planning parties or chasing my kids around, I'm very lucky to work part-time for the amazing Nashville Public Library system. Once a year, my library job and my party-planning job collide, and I get to plan a big party for our incredible volunteers!

We've explored a few pun-ny themes for our parties (VOL-lywood, CarniVol), but a couple years ago, we decided to stick with book-based themes. We are a library, after all. This year's party was inspired by the great Sherlock Holmes.

Invitation made in MS Publisher with Picaboo free background and Sherlock font. 

You should know that I love Sherlock Holmes. I'm currently rereading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on my Kindle (and listening to these fantastic audiobook recordings by Ruth Golding). I love most modern incarnations of Holmes, too. ABC's Elementary is part of our regular TV rotation at home, and my husband and I are on pins and needles for the return of the BBC's Sherlock. In the UK, Sherlock returns on January 1; while here in the states, we have to wait just a little bit longer--January 14th. Luckily, that's plenty of time for you to plan your own Sherlock Soiree. Any or all of the ideas from this party would be perfect for your at-home viewing party to celebrate the return of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to 221B Baker Street.

The party was in a large conference room, and I wanted something to fill the vertical space. I planned to hang large decorations from the light fixtures, and magnifying glasses seemed like the obvious choice. I made these with embroidery and quilting hoops, wooden dowels, and a little spray paint (tutorial to come soon!). These were a little tricky to capture in photos, but they added visual interest in person.

Photo: Stella Dolce Photography
Photo: Stella Dolce Photography
For the guest tables, I wanted to bring the men's suiting vibe from our invitation into the decor. I bought 12 yards or so of inexpensive brown plaid cotton fabric and used pinking shears to cut lengths of it for table runners, simply ironing them under on the sides. The fabric was a whopping $3.50 per yard, and 12 yards netted me about 11 table runners. In my book, that is a great deal for a pretty big impact on the decor. I used a leftover scrap of the fabric  as the background for the silhouette on the dessert table. The library and I already had just enough black tablecloths between us.

One of many centerpieces: assorted Sherlock-related items on men's suiting fabric table runner. Photo: Stella Dolce Photography
Centerpieces and props. Photos: Stella Dolce Photography.
Photo: Dipti Vaidya.
Photo: Stella Dolce Photography.
For centerpieces, I gathered up Sherlock-ian things like labware, skulls, candlesticks, trunks, keys, and, of course, magnifying glasses and pipes, and grouped them together on gold chargers.

On to the dessert table, the centerpiece of any party!
Photos: Stella Dolce Photography.

I flanked the dessert table with two plastic street lamps that our library's amazing conference center coordinator just HAPPENED TO HAVE (!). I took a quote from A Study in Scarlet for the backdrop, and I grabbed a few other Holmes-y things like a typewriter and case, an old ammunition chest, and a violin for props. And now, I give you my favorite element of any party: the themey desserts. We had:
  • Mounds of the Baskervilles
  • Elementary, My Dear Waffles 
  • Licorice Pipes
  • Sherlock Cake Pops
  • Fingerprint Cookies
  • A Study in Scarlet red velvet cupcakes
Photo: Stella Dolce Photography

We also enjoyed Scotland Yard Shepherd's Pie, Mycroft's Meatless Lasagna, a green salad, and roasted vegetables for lunch.

 For entertainment, the staff (including yours truly) performed a very silly murder mystery, interspersed with our usual volunteer awards. I had to write the script myself, as I had a hard time finding anything pre-written that would fit our needs. I'm happy to share it, if you are in an oddly similar situation (volunteer coordinator, library worker) and it would help you. Just let me know!
The library's Associate Director for Branch Services is "murdered" and carted off by our our Teen Services Librarian. Photo: Dipti Vaidya. 
Two members of our panel of suspects present their defense/alibis. Photo: Dipti Vaidya.
My coworker Ryan and I award some of our amazing volunteers while wearing goofy hats.

Volunteers were given favors of detective notebooks with the inscription "It's no mystery . . . we've found the best!" on the front. The signage displays a quote from Sherlock Holmes.

We had a wonderful time, and I have no idea how we will top it next year. But for right now, I'll let myself be excited for the premiere of Sherlock: Series 3, in just a few days. Happy New Year, everyone!

Credits and thanks to our generous donors:
Photography: Stella Dolce Photography, except where Dipti Vaidya is credited. Thank you, ladies!
Cake pops and cupcakes: donated by Nashville Sweets. Thank you for supporting our volunteers!
Cookies and other assorted desserts: donated by Whole Foods Green Hills.
Waffle cookies: purchased at Trader Joe's
Licorice pipes:
Notebook favors:
Suiting fabric: Hobby Lobby
Coffee: donated by Provence Breads

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Graham's Harry Potter Junior Wizarding Birthday

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Graham turned 6 last month, and he has been begging for a Harry Potter birthday party for a long time. Since most of his friends haven't ventured into Harry Potter territory yet, we decided upon a day of "junior wizard training," and we turned our backyard into a mini-Hogwarts for the occasion. Unfortunately, the day of his party, we were all violently ill with a stomach virus, so we sent some early morning texts to reschedule for the next weekend. Luckily, almost everyone was able to come to the make-up party!

When guests arrived, they passed through Platform 9 3/4 and got right to work on making wands.

At our wandmaking station, I put out chopsticks and beads. When the kids figured out how they wanted their wand, they took their materials over to my mom, who graciously hot-glued everything together. When the wands dried, the kids painted them.

While the paint dried on the wands, we moved on to our Potions lessons.

I found some great ideas for Potions experiments here, adapting good ol' Mr. Wizard-style science with magical names and ingredients. We experimented with "fleeing spiders" (pepper acromantula eggs sprinkled in water and "driven away" by basilisk venom, or dish soap if you're a muggle):

We had fun with "dancing milk" (YouTube it), or in this case, Unicorn Milk and Phoenix Tears.

You just can't beat a good ol' baking soda and vinegar (er, Erumpet Horn and Wolfsbane Draught) explosion. It excites the kids Every.Time.

Kids were waiting on cake just to do the "explosion" over and over again. This is a good, cheap rainy day activity you can do at home, party or not. Vinegar and baking soda; what could be simpler?

We had a cauldron of dry ice in the middle of the potions table, and then we enjoyed dumping soap and any remaining liquids into that for a little "bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" sudsing action.

Finally, it was time for some singing of "Happy Birthday" and eating of cake! Look at this amazing owl cake my mom made for Graham! She also made "cauldron cakes"--chocolate cupcakes with chocolate-peanut butter ganache spilling over the sides, and a chocolate licorice handle, and some owl cupcakes with mini Oreo eyes.

Graham is so lucky to have such great grandparents, and I was so grateful not to have to  make any cakes!

At the food table, we also had broomstick bags of popcorn and some veggie snacks.

Drinks were over on the Three Broomsticks table. We served Butterbeer (cream soda, butter and rum extracts, and whipped cream), Pumpkin Juice (orange-carrot V8 Splash), and Gillywater (uh, water).

We had some grown-up beverages, as well. As always, I like to stick to the theme, so we chose beers from Magic Hat and Hap & Harry's for the parents.

After fueling up on cake and sugary beverages, the kids were ready to play some Quidditch. Mom and I made these hoops from PVC pipe, QuikKrete, and hula hoops. The broom below is made from a tiki torch and some twigs (inspiration found here). Unfortunately, after I made one, I realized I was not so excited about making nine more, so our Quidditch game was of the loosely-structured, balloon-swatting variety. Oh, and check out these amazing Hogwarts house banners my neighbor hand-stenciled. I was so excited to borrow them.

(Confession: it's been over two weeks and those Quidditch hoops are still in the back yard.)

We also had a little fun with our Transfiguration Booth, trying on robes and ties and props.

Dean was okay with trying on the sorting hat, but only if he could hang onto his cauldron cake. Seriously, he was not letting that thing go.

Upon leaving, all the junior wizards were instructed to grab a cauldron from the Owlery and fill it with their wand and sweets from the Honeydukes sweets table.

We had Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties (Little Debbie pumpkin cakes), Cockroach Clusters (Goo Goo Clusters), Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans (printable box templates here), Acid Pops (rock candy), and Dementor Repellant (chocolate sixlets).

Go home and eat more sugar, kids! (Sorry, parents!)

Happy Birthday to my sweet six-year-old. I hope it was as magical as you are!

Party planning, styling, props, and signage: Smarty Parties
Photography: Stella Dolce Photography
Quidditch Banners: Nashville Dave
Owl cake, owl cupcakes, and chocolate cauldrons: My awesome mom.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Here Comes Halloween

Pin It I hesitate to say this because that will make it automatically untrue, but I don't have any parties scheduled for the month of October*. This is fine with me because it allows me to focus on one of my faaaaaavorite holidays, HALLOWEEN, and keep the focus entirely on my own (already kind of conveniently scary, though just because of the crazy mess) house.

We don't have solid plans yet for costumes and decorations, though I'm pretty sure all of the random stuff still sitting around from Graham's Harry Potter birthday (photos to come very soon!) will be put to good use. Unfortunately, Graham doesn't want to be Harry Potter for Halloween because he was Ron Weasley last year for Book Character Day at school:

The red wig! The reeeeeeddddd wiggggg. I love it.

For the actual day of Halloween, Graham was Luigi and Dean was . . . Mario? Of course not! He was Dumbo.

"Seriously, you guys. What is this all about?"

Graham with his buddy Aiden, in an awesome Sonic the Hedgehog costume that his mom made, because she is better at that than I am. Poor Dumbo Dean is slumped over in the stroller, fed up with all of us.

This year, Graham sort of wants to be a detective, which he envisions as just holding a notebook and asking people questions with one raised eyebrow. I told him that might not be quite visual enough? He loves detectives and mysteries, and one of his favorite book series is Nate the Great. Nate is a blonde kid who wears a Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker hat and a trench coat, so I think that may be the direction we go.

Nate the Great image courtesy of Random House.
Graham was also very interested in all of the science items and the lab coat from September's party , so he may want to be a Mad Scientist. We conveniently have a lab coat, crazy glasses, and test tubes at the ready, so that costume is another winner in my book.

One of my favorite Halloweens was Dean's first, because of Graham's obsession with the solar system, and Dean's last-minute coordinating Rocket Baby costume. I literally whipped that rocket together for about one dollar's worth of felt, a dashboard sun visor thing I found in my basement, and some safety pins to attach it to the Baby Bjorn. Graham's solar system bike helmet was a bit more . . . involved.

Marianne over at HGTV's Weekday Crafternoon has a great video tutorial on how to make your very own rocket baby costume, if you are so inclined.

Happy Hallooween-ing! I'd love suggestions on a costume for Dean to coordinate with either of Graham's ideas!

*Of course, after I wrote that, the whole family caught a nasty stomach bug, forcing us to move Graham's September 29th birthday party to October 5th. Photos coming soon!

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Smart and Sassy Science Party

Pin It I had so much fun styling this bright and beautiful science-themed party for a sweet (and smart!) seven-year-old girl over the weekend.

I designed her name banner to resemble elements of the periodic table. The significance of the "7" is that it's her seventh birthday! The significance of each "element"? I have no idea. I am your stereotypical English major, I'm afraid. The backdrop is a sheet of foamcore covered with aqua fabric (I bought a sheet set specifically for this party--it was actually less expensive than buying yardage of aqua fabric, and I thought it would look better than painting the foamcore). The lettering is Cricut's "Short Stuff" font from the Extreme Fonts cartridge, and I cut the big Erlenmeyer flask freehand, with one-inch and one-half-inch hole punch "bubbles."

We went with simple orange- and aqua-frosted cupakes, with a special fondant sculpture inspired by the birthday girl. The cupcakes and fondant work are by the talented ladies at Nashville Sweets.

The rest of the dessert table was chemically inspired. Molecular gum, crystallized sucrose (rock candy), potential energy pellets (Nerds and Jelly Bellies) and (not pictured) molecular chocolate (blue sixlets). I filled labware and other science-y shaped glass bottles with colored water just for a little extra color.

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen me working on this atomic mobile. I think it came together nicely--it's just spraypainted Dollar Tree hula hoops, zip ties, and balloons! I wanted to make two, but thunderstorms kept me from getting outside to spray paint the night before the party. I thought it looked pretty cool hanging over the kids' table:

Each place setting had a pair of goggles, and in the middle of the table were some foam letters, stickers and jewels, with instructions to customize them.

I created  a little photo booth for the guests/"future scientists," with another backdrop, a lab coat, some wacky oversize glasses, test tubes filled with colored water, and the hosts' own fabulous vintage chair, which was conveniently within our color scheme.

For drinks, we had Citric Acid Solution (lemonade) and H2O (well, even I know what that is) labeled to coordinate with the theme. Speaking of this theme, I had the idea of molecular models in my head, and I was delighted to find that I could make a number 7 out of "molecules." This little design sort of became the party's logo and inspired a lantern-and-dowel version, pictured below.

I had planned to make a few of these and hang them, when we had planned to have the party outside. However, the rain drove the party inside, where there were no handy hooks and nails, just lovely white walls that I was afraid to damage. But I think the "molecular seven" looks pretty awesome in this window, if I do say so myself.

The guests were entertained by someone from Mr. Bond and the Science Guys, and I myself learned a lot about dry ice from her presentation.
My talented friend Niki had left at this point, so I snapped this blurry pic with my iPhone.

Little scientists took home their goggles and a test tube full of candy from the dessert table.

Excuse the hurried iPhone photo here.
This party was stylish and smart, two things that Smarty Parties always aims for. I really enjoyed it, and I think the birthday girl did, too!

Photography: Stella Dolce Photography, except where noted
Party planning and styling: Smarty Parties
Cupcakes: Nashville Sweets
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