Carnaval 2013: Gold Stars and Blue

I planned a party. It was a little over a week ago, but the pictures just came out.


The party was really a benefit, held for the mission organization of my church. That’s their logo, which is not just relevant because the benefit was for them but because the majority of my contribution consisted of bringing that shape into the decorations. Its a ten-pointed spiky-not-chubby star.


That, combined with shades of blue, were our driving force behind the decorations. Every table had a blue tablecloth (in several shades) and a centerpiece with a glass base wrapped in a word representing one of the mission programs, and gold stars in some form.

Short Centerpiece

The short centerpieces, clustered on the first two rows of tables out from the dance floor, had shallow vases filled with gravel (on top of a styrofoam cake form to save on gravel cost/weight) with a 3D papier mache star in gold. They also had small gold stars in two sizes (painstakingly punched by, um, my students) and several candles scattered around.

Medium Centerpiece

The medium centerpiece had three vases, each with a different texture, lit from within with LEDs. Each vase was on a gold star, and the shades of gold were slightly different. I used wrapping paper for the stars, so they were not expensive, and they looked very nice as bases. The tallest vase had cellophane crinkled inside and then was filled with water (I was skeptical, but this actually looks really cool as long as you are careful to fold under the top crinkle so it doesn’t try poking out), the medium had plastic crystals (they look like ice cubes) and the shortest had clear water beads. The different textures lit up looked really neat.

Tall Centerpiece

The tall centerpiece was pretty simple, with these large stars illuminated from within with LED lights on gold-covered pole (wrapping paper on PVC), held up in a dollar store vase with a word representing one of their programs or missions. The base, which you can just barely see, is an 18″ 10 point star. I made a template (math in real life!) for all of the medium and tall stars so they would look like our inspiration star above.

Illuminated Star

The stars looked really neat when the lights went down, and I loved how they looked with the lights in the room.

Wine Auction

The dance floor held the bottles for the Mystery Wine Auction during dinner–you buy a ticket for a bottle of nice wine, and one lucky winner gets three really valuable bottles instead. I used three extra stars and some creative height-makers to give it some dimension and it really popped. Kathryn even ordered the gobo in the shape of the stars to project on the curtain behind the band.

The process was pretty cool–the committee chairs, Kathryn & Brad, both bought various things they thought could work with our very vague theme of “shades of blue,”  “something that goes with the cool lights” and “stars like the logo.” Kathryn found these amazing spiky gold balls that I loved, but they didn’t end up being the best fit for everything else. My main contribution was to say I could figure out how to make all the gold stars for the bases–so basically they asked me to be on the committee because I’m good at scissors.

M&M at Carnaval

Oh, and I was there too. At a table with a tall centerpiece, my friends from the committee and Boyfriend. We had a lovely time. Boyfriend even got us a hotel room since I was on the committee (it was super modern with bright teal carpet)!

My Shoes Match

Also, my shoes matched my dress. I thought you should know.

What’s the biggest event you’ve worked on? Ever decorated for 500 some people?!


Gingerbread Party: The Invites

I’ve written a lot about my Gingerbread Party, but I’m back with one last* (boring-ish) post–this one on the technical side.

Pro Winner Shannon's Nativity (she's an architect, but this is her first win and she was beyond excited. She even had her husband come back and pick it up so it could be there for the judging, and it apparently is still on their coffee table)

Pro Winner Shannon’s Nativity

This is the fourth year I threw this party, and the guest list gets tougher every year. Who do I invite? Does anyone not get invited this time around? I think having an annual party makes this a lot trickier–even as relationships grow and change, the party remains constant. I don’t want to leave out old friends, but there isn’t much room in a one bedroom for new ones if its full of old.

So I have a spreadsheet. The past-winner couple (he designs, she builds) entertain tons and have struggled with invites as well, and she gave me great advice (that I initially made fun of) to keep a spreadsheet. It actually helps a lot, especially if you have an annual event and want to invite as many people as you can.

Someone's Boyfriend took second place in the Amateur Division with his very first house ever.

Someone’s Boyfriend took second place in the Amateur Division with his very first house ever.

Mine look likes:

Affliation* Name*# in party* 2012 Status (y/n/m), and then Invited/Attended/Replied for each of the past two years, which makes it easy to see where people fall.

I don’t want to stop inviting anyone who has attended, or who has not attended but rsvped. If I’ve invited someone and they didn’t rsvp, I won’t feel as bad about dropping them, especially since that will allow me to invite someone I’m closer to now. I’ve thought about not inviting people that I was much closer to in the past, but after someone said to me last year, “It just isn’t Christmas until your gingerbread party!” no one’s off the list.

Having those records make it easier on me in a couple of ways:

  • I don’t forget that I invited that acquaintance last year and leave them off this time around
  • I realize I only thought about inviting Bob last year, so I’m not dropping him if he doesn’t make the cut this year.
  • All the information is in one place, so I realize it if I accidentally invite 50 people to my one bedroom.

To give you some perspective, 2011 I think 60 people were invited, and about 40 came. It. Was. CROWDED. At one point, there were four people in my hall. It was so crowded it was uncomfortable.

This year, I had 58 adults and 8 children on my yes/maybe list and cut 30 people who were past invitees, including a couple who came once, but who I really don’t talk to any longer (so I’m okay with offending them if it happens). What was at issue were two basic questions:

* Two people who were married and are now divorced–I’m in the same social circle as the man, who is dating someone new, but have also socialized with the woman. Both have been invited in the past, and I’m not sure what to do here.

* Work. Right now I have nine coworkers on the Maybe list. And realistically, if I invite them, there are another half dozen I should invite as well. Most of those coworkers come with significant others, so that’s even more people. I’d love to invite them, but I don’t feel like I can invite everyone, unless they promise to stay outside. The issue? Two of them actually came last year, and I feel rude not inviting them again–even though they aren’t the ones I’m closest to. I AM inviting two coworkers, but one is my other half (we have the same first name & last initial and are always together, so I could easily invite her and no one else) and the other I did a 62 mile bike ride with in September, so I think hanging out one on one qualifies.

Ultimately, I left the divorced couple off the list, and invited only the two closest coworkers.

My party had plenty of room to breathe and I actually talked to my guests. Next year I might put some more coworkers back on the list if I feel like there will be room, but having my spreadsheet updated and ready for the 2013 party makes the guest list a much easier process once it’s time.

Do you keep a list of who gets invited to what? Do you think I’m crazy for having one?

Do you invite coworkers to parties? What is the biggest party (not wedding) that you have ever thrown?

*This is the last post about this unless I get the really awesome photos back from the official party photographer or the recap video.

Gingerbread Party: The Houses

Remember my epic gingerbread party?

Well, the 2012 version happened, and some pretty intense building. What do you think?

All this, plus ten boxes of graham crackers and six bags of powdered sugar on their way to becoming icing

All this, plus ten boxes of graham crackers and six bags of powdered sugar on their way to becoming icing

On the way to the judging, the dining room looked like this:




Not everyone built houses. I only built one the first year, and plenty of others weren’t there long enough/were too intimidated to make one. Don’t worry, I still had fun hanging out with my favorite little girl!

Hi there cutie!

Hi there cutie!

And then they were done.


Pro Winner Shannon's Nativity (she's an architect, but this is her first win and she was beyond excited. She even had her husband come back and pick it up so it could be there for the judging, and it apparently is still on their coffee table)

Pro Winner Shannon’s Nativity (she’s an architect, but this is her first win and she was beyond excited. She even had her husband come back and pick it up so it could be there for the judging, and it apparently is still on their coffee table)

Robyn's Classic Cottage finished second (she took first last year)

Robyn’s Classic Cottage finished second (she took first last year)

Someone's Boyfriend took second place in the Amateur Division with his very first house ever.

Someone’s Boyfriend took second place in the Amateur Division with his very first house ever.

And a few other houses…

Gingerbread Lyman & Angi

Gingerbread Danny

It was a lovely party, and definitely a tradition I want to continue, but I’m pondering changes for next year. I think I may make the houses in advance and have next year by only about the decorations–and ask everyone to bring one decoration to share and nothing personal to use (I allowed that this year).

Did you make a gingerbread (or graham cracker) house this year?


Christmas Cookie Exchange

Last week was a big week for me in the holiday entertaining department.

On Tuesday, I hosted my sorority’s annual holiday cookie exchange. Our best turnout year had over a dozen people, but this year was a paltry four. One girl made Snickerdoodles, another made peanut butter cookies and the third made potato chip cookies. The potato chip cookies were pretty interesting (a hint of saltiness)–I’d heard of those before but never tried them.

It’s a super simple party to throw–evite, get some drinks (I just did hot chocolate, and everyone only wanted water) and remind people to bring copies of their recipe and an empty container for all their cookies!

I made a recipe Lesley pinned from Recipe Girl for Peppermint Sugar Cookies.

Recipe Girl's Peppermint Sugar Cookies

Recipe Girl’s Peppermint Sugar Cookies

They turned out pretty well. I wasn’t totally in love, but I liked them, and they look really pretty. After reading the reviews I subbed granulated sugar for some of the powdered sugar. It worked fairly well (but its not like I know how the recipe would work as written).

I served hot chocolate and we sat around and chatted and snacked on cookies before we exchanged. This was also a great plan for holiday party prep–I scheduled it so that I could use my cookies for dessert at my Christmas party on Saturday.

What’s your favorite kind of cookie?

Thanksgiving Prep

I’m hosting Thanksgiving again this year, if by “hosting” you mean having two people over for dinner. I’ve hosted for the past several years, which I didn’t find terribly stressful, so I thought I would share a little of what I did for first timers. My first Thanksgiving was 7 people, which still isn’t that many, but qualifies me a lot better than serving dinner to two people. One of whom is my mother. An important disclaimer is that I’m single, which means I never got married, which means I never registered, which means there are a whole mess of Thanksgiving related things I had to hunt down because even not-entirely-average single girls like me don’t randomly have carving boards and gravy boats and a whole mess of serving utensils.

My main concern was all the random stuff I wouldn’t think of until I had a pan of gravy on the stove with no receptacle, as well as messing up the timing and having a cold ____ because it came out of the oven an hour early. So I made myself a poster. People teased me, but it helped–even with a minor* issue, things went off quite well.

My categories are dish, ingredients (which to me is things I could potentially not have on hand, so I don’t include butter/flour/oil/staple items), prep (again, special tools I might not have, so “knife” isn’t on there but “roasting pan” is), serving (everything here–this is where you determine you own two serving spoons and need five) and timing (how long does it take/early should you start/temp & time in oven).


With all of this information, it was pretty easy to work backwards from my desired serving time, call my mother in a panic and tell her to bring spoons, email my aunt to ask for a carving board and figure out when to put in the stuffing**.

Also, helpful side note: You are going to screw up the rolls. The timing is impossible to get right unless that is someone’s sole responsibility.

Have you ever hosted Thanksgiving?

*When the stovetop timer went off, my mom helpfully hit “Off” on the oven panel, turning off the timer. And the oven, which is where the turkey was, and I didn’t notice for 20 minutes.

**This is a lie. My family doesn’t like stuffing, so I didn’t make any. We mostly eat mashed potatoes. The rest is just details.

Gingerbread Party: The Rules

Time for the nitty gritty….

I’ve talked about my annual party before, and I’m making sure me evite is ready to go out the day after Thanksgiving. I feel funny doing it before that, but I have already told people who asked the date.

This will be the fourth year, and its gotten really popular. That means everyone has an opinion and the competition has heated up–people started trash talking in October.

Last years winners caused some serious drama, so this year I’m going all out official on the rules, to prevent another situation like this one:

Beach Cottage. Well-researched, well-executed, and the most contentious thing to ever happen at a party.

So make fun of me all you want, but this party needs some rules. I figured if I’m doing rules go official, so here’s what I have. Please feel free to share feedback. These will be official on Thanksgiving when invitations go out. And make fun of them all you want, I’m happy as long as they are specific enough to prevent drama.

Gingerbread House Party Rules

Children’s Division: 6 pm Judging

Amateur Division: 7 pm Judging

Professional Division: 8 pm Judging

There are two divisions adults can enter their houses under, Amateur and Professional.

Amateur houses use a standard gingerbread house structure and are decorated with standard decorations (those provided to all guests). While amateur houses have some additional decoration, fully decorated boards would be considered entrants into the pro division.

Professional houses are any sort of gingerbread structure (with a limit of xxx crackers?) and may use provided materials as well as entrant supplied. If you are an architect/designer/engineer/cookie ninja this is your division.

This year, there will be two non-entrants serving as division judges. Non-entrants are defined as an individual who is neither entering or closely connected to an entrant (as a significant other, for instance). Division judges will provide the final say for which division a house is judged in.