December 23, 2013

Christmas Party Places

We've set up a couple of Entertain Yourself Areas for our guests on Christmas Eve.

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Party Place One
First, there's the ubiquitous Photo Op Center.
Although there are dozens of free props to download on the internet, I took advantage of Hallmark and Etsy. In addition, I raided my grandchildren's dress-up bin for hats, scarves, and clown noses In the end, we had plenty of props.
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It's always a good idea to practice ahead of time. I made several adjustments (the height of my background and lamp placement). The lighting wasn't great, but it was improved with a little tweaking.

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I found that moving in for a tight shot was the best.
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You can encourage shy guests to pose for pictures by telling them these pictures are not beauty shots, so they can feel free to make silly faces.

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The background frame's feet are held in place with plastic ziploc bags (double bagged) filled with sand.
I provided two stools in case a number of people the same height wished to be photographed in two rows.
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Party Place Two
On the outdoor chalkboard, normally used to display the menu, there was a Name-That-Christmas-Movie Quiz.
The name of two actors and the date they appeared in a movie were displayed. It was the reader's job to name the Christmas movie in which they appeared.
Old Mid-century Movies were listed for the seniors in attendance.
Movies that are always telecast every December were included for the Thirty-Something and Under Group.
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Answers are displayed at the bottom of the chalkboard. CloseupBottom photo ff0a55ed-e40c-4200-b0d8-bd631351f72d.jpg

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This was a last minute idea. I had about 30 minutes to put it together.
How I left out It's a Wonderful Life, I'll never know.
There was room to include some animated movies too. Just too rushed, I guess.

December 17, 2013

Little Christmas Gifts for Each Dinner Guest

Looking for inexpensive Christmas dinner favors? Me too.

I like to give a small gift to my dinner guests on Christmas Eve.
This year, I'm having over 20 guests. Multiply 20 by the cost of each gift, and the total can get pretty costly.

I came across these little succulent plants at a Farmers' Market last weekend ($1 each)
and decided these were to be my presents.
I dressed them up with a little sign and some red spray paint on some of the pots.
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I plan to place a plant at each place setting.
Sometime toward the end of the dinner, I'll read the following poem:

Please accept this tiny plant.
It’s one that you will find,
May have a hue or funny form,
That’s often quite maligned.

Some say these plants are real weird.
I say, “They are unique.”
And I am hoping you will find
They’re modern and très chic.

Succulents are worry free,
From time to time, you dust ‘em.
But they can grow on air alone.
And water just might rust ‘em.

In the Land of Practical,
Their purpose is not blurry,
They add a touch of Interesting,
Without the need for worry.

So take yours home, choose its place,
It thrives in any site.
In a corner, shade’s OK,
But it prefers the light.

And don’t forget from whence it came,
For this you can believe:
We are so thankful you are here
Tonight, on Christmas Eve.

I'm also taking a number of these to a retired teacher pot luck, so I wrote an alternative ending.
You can substitute the words "our house" for the person's name if your party is not on Christmas Eve.

Alternative ending:

And as it grows (or maybe not),
You’ll see it and remember,
How we came to laugh and eat
At Jeanne’s this December.

I'm linking to Cuisine Kathleen's 91st Let's Dish.

December 10, 2013

A Dickens Village Tablescape

I am participating in Kathleen's Inspirational Challenge at Cuisine Kathleen.

My inspiration was a tablescape created by Susan at Between Naps on the Porch.
Susan created a Christmas Village Centerpiece using houses from her Dept. 56 Snow Village collection.
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As you can see, Susan's tablescape was created for a dinner in her formal dining room.

My table, which is located on our covered patio, has a much more casual feel.

This is where we will all be gathering for dinner on Christmas Eve.
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A 60 Second Video Tour of the Village

The tablescape centerpiece uses pieces from the
Dept. 56 Dickens Village collection.
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I started this collection over 30 years ago.

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I'm having 21 guests this year, so I'm mixing china and flatware patterns.
Susan used red stemware for an added "oomph" to her table.
I don't own enough colored stemware to duplicate that detail.

In a last minute attempt to add a little flare to my Dollar Tree glasses, a sticker was added to the water goblets.

I printed 21 circles with a picture I found on the internet and used white glue to attach the circles directly to the goblets.

Two Christmas china patterns were placed around the table,
alternating the china patterns and the accompanying flatware.
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Both dishes are Lenox. The larger Tartan plate is really a buffet plate.

I have a feeling a black tablecloth might have set all this off a bit better.
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I placed a few of my larger accessories at either end of the table, directly on the tablecloth.
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A final long shot.
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A few people have asked me about the curved table.
If your interested in how I built the table, click here to see how it was made. It was pretty easy! All you need is a jigsaw and a screwdriver. (Although a power drill with a Phillips bit will save you scads of time.)

Display Tutorial

Many of the display techniques in the centerpiece tutorial are shown in a Dept. 56 How-To video.

Place your tablecloth on the table and cover it with butcher paper.
Arrange your houses down the center of the table ALONG WITH YOUR PLATES AND STEMWARE.
This will help you determine how much area you can devote to the village and still allow your guests to dine comfortably.

Trace around the area taken up by the houses.
Move the houses to the side and cut along the line to remove the area occupied by the houses.
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Peel the silver film from a 2-inch thick 4'X8" sheet of polystyrene insulation.

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Transfer the butcher paper cutout onto the 2-inch thick insulation.
Cut out the shape (Mine was in two parts.) with an electric kitchen knife.
An electric knife will help to eliminate shedding.

Place the cutout insulation on the table.
Arrange the houses on the insulation, with an equal number of house facades visible to diners on each side of the table.
Place them so that they are not all in a row like little soldiers. Vary how they face the diners - some straight on, some facing left, some facing right.

Susan (Between Naps on the Porch) appears to have placed her houses back-to-back. Doing so helps reduce the amount of visible electrical cords. If your table is wide enough, back-to-back is the way to go.
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Remember, it's no fun trying to find a place to safely set down your water glass. So try and make as much room for your dinner guests as possible.
If need be, draw additional lines along the edges of the insulation and trim off the excess.

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Install the village house lights. Cut groves in the polystyrene insulation to create channels for the cords.
To secure the wires, place duct tape over the channels.

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You will need a cord to connect the electrical portion of this centerpiece.
I used a "Christmas Tree Extension Cord" which has an on/off switch
and three outlets along the cord.
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 photo 03e6842f-76e3-4d5a-84e1-5edde71bb452.jpg Cut holes in the insulation to accommodate your adapters and plugs.
The top layers of the removed insulation can be used (secured with white duct tape) to cover the large holes.
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Remove the paper stickers from the bottom of your village street lights.
Insert shortened skewers into the bottom of the village lights and place along the village scene. No more toppling street lamps!
The evergreen trees can be unscrewed from their white bases and the wire "trunks" inserted into the insulation. Place the trees throughout your village. Place two or three evergreen trees tight against the back of your houses in order to cover electrical cords and light bulbs.

My extension cord was covered with a strip of fabric. Had the cord been white, I might have left it as is. A giant button hole would have allowed me to run the cord underneath of tablecloth. . . perhaps, next time!
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Add village people to bring the village to life.

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Sprinkle snow throughout your village.
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Dinner plates: Holiday pattern, Lenox
Buffet plates: Tarten Holiday, Lenox
Sterling: Burgundy, Reed and Barton, wedding gift
Flatware: Hampton Forge, Kingsley Gold, Macy's
Stemware glasses: The Dollar Tree
Tablecloth and napkins: fabric from Joann Fabrics
Village Houses and street lights: Dept. 56
Polystyrene insulation: Lowes

October 19, 2013

Toddler's Christmas Tree

 photo file-23.jpg In addition to being just plain fun, this "3D felt board" can also provide a way to reinforce the names of colors, shapes, and Christmas images. My granddaughter will be 23 months old when December rolls around. She can play "Decorate the Christmas Tree" to her heart's content.

I still have to make more Christmas specific ornaments: stocking, Santa, angel, etc., but the tree is almost ready to go.

Yes, I know it's still October, but I wanted to post this early. It seems to me this is the sort of project there's no time for when we get into November.

I made the largest 1/2 circle I could make out of green felt and lined it with a double layer of bathing. (Why double? - because there was so much of it and I figured if I paid for it, I might as well use it.)  photo file-10.jpg

The radius of the half circle was 35-1/2 inches.
When shaping the half circle into a cone, I only overlapped about 1/8 of the half circle. I wanted the slope of the cone to be fairly gradual (like a Hershey's Kiss). That way, the felt ornaments would be more likely to stay in place when a toddler "slapped" them on. You can't tell how wide the base is here, as the back of the cone is collapsed in this picture.
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The whole thing took 5-1/2 bags of poly fill, plus the left over scraps of batting. I wasn't careful about stuffing the tip of the cone. So, after it was all put together, I had to go back and rip open the seam just enough so that I would be able to insert my finger. Additional filling was added until the tip was firm.
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A circle was cut from 1/2-inch plywood.
Quarter-inch would have been sufficient (and a lot lighter too), but I used what I had on hand. After cutting it out, I had to trim 3 times before it was the right size.
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The cone was stapled to the bottom of the plywood in about 8 places. Then I finished stuffing the base and stapled all around.
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I stapled on a handle, as the base is wide and this made moving it around a lot easier.
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A green felt circle was glued to the base. The edges of the circle wouldn't stay down long enough to dry, so I ended up whip-stitching it all around.
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Painted some tree boughs and added a star.


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October 1, 2013

Why Did the Skeleton Miss the Halloween Ball?

Because he had no body to dance with!
I just love stupid Halloween jokes.

You can still eat outdoors in Southern California if you can find shelter from the Santa Ana breezes.
In fact, some nights you may WANT a breeze.

This skeleton arm centerpiece is one of my favorite Halloween decorations.
I use it every year.
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A large plastic glass is wired to the skeletal hand.
Colored water passes for a bloody cocktail.

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The skeleton was bolted to a board. The glass of water adds significant weight to the upper portion of the centerpiece which causes the arm to tip over. Make sure your wooden base is long enough to add some additional weight (bookends, heavy books, brick, etc.) to counterbalance the arm.

An alternative solution is to mount the arm on a wedged-shaped base so that a glass of water is needed to keep the arm from falling backwards.

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The bloody wine glasses are made from Dollar Tree glasses.
Hold the wine glass horizontally by its stem and rotate it, all the while squirting a ring of red glass paint around the outside.
Sit it upright and let the paint dribble down.

Little plastic skeletons help tie up the black and white napkins.
The skeletons came from an old skeleton garland.
Lots of them had lost a limb or two, so I cut the garland apart and used the skeletons that were still in tact for napkin rings.
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Red metal picnic plates serve as chargers. Red metal bowls join with white Heller melamine to complete the setting. There's no possibility of breakage using these babies! Photobucket Candle holders are milk glass goblets.
Isn't this fun??!!!!!
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