Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Mermaid's Tale

It has taken me awhile, but I wanted to document Mia's 4th birthday party, which in my opinion, was a huge success! Mia's favorite movie is "The Little Mermaid" so we celebrated "Under the Sea" on January 29, 2011, her actual birthday. I did quite a bit of planning during January and I will be the first to admit I probably went overboard, but it was a really nice party. Everyone seemed to have a great time. (And I spent much more time than money, which was my goal.)

The Invitations:
Most of the guests (friends and family) were invited by email. I used evite for this. They didn't have a mermaid themed invitation so I used one that was intended for a pool party. For the remaining guests (three kids from preschool and one down the street), I made invitations using pre-made cards and rubber stamps (some sea shells and one that allowed me to fill in the details for the date, time, and location of the party.)

The Decorations:
Mia and I made a few under the sea craft projects to use for decorations including paper plate fish, which we taped on the walls in the dining room. We also made toilet paper tube octopi and I made some star fish cut from cardboard egg carton cups and painted with acrylic paints, both of which we used as table decorations. I just set them on top of the blue plastic table cover I bought at the dollar store and then cut down to fit our dining table. In one of my moments of inspiration while preparing for the party, I decided to use clear packaging tape to secure the table cover. (Basically, I remembered what a pain they can be since they slip all around-- not good when you have a bunch of young children eating! Anyway, this was a good idea, and I will tuck it away for the next birthday party.) There was some left over, so I used it for the card table we set up for extra seating in the living room. 

Other wall decorations included a package of tropical fish cut-outs from the dollar store and taped those on the front door and on the wall in the living room. I also got two different shades of blue curling ribbon from the dollar store. I cut these into strips, which we alternately taped to the arch that is between our dining room and living room. It looked like waves and I thought it was fun for people to walk through. I think this was worth the time because it really helped set the undersea look without costing much money. 

The single decoration I am most proud of (and yes I will sound crazy when you find out how long I spent working on it!) was a four foot tall cardboard Ariel. I bought this online from Birthday Express. It was on clearance for $2.99 so I actually spent more on shipping than for the kit itself. It was intended to be a child's coloring activity and came with some cheap quality crayons. I, however, painted mine with acrylics, which took a total of about 6 hours over the course of a few evenings. If I didn't find painting relaxing, this would have been a really insane endeavor, but for me, it was fun. Then, the four main sections had to be connected like a giant puzzle. My only complaint was that the outlines of Ariel, Flounder, Sebastian, and the other little characters were this odd magenta color, so I had to go over everything with a black Sharpie for it to look finished. I managed to keep this a surprise from Mia and she thought it was pretty amazing to have a life-size Ariel at her party. I took pictures of all the kids with Ariel as they arrived, and then printed off the pictures to include in the thank you cards.

The Food:
Brett was kind of annoyed with me when we had leftovers of food that we don't like (which, yes, in retrospect wasn't wise), but I wanted to have the theme of "Under the Sea" continued with food. We served shells and cheese, hot dogs (I was planning for "octo-dogs" ~ I saw this idea online: Supposedly you can slice eight sections into a hot dog, boil it, and the ends will curl up to look like tentacles. The reality is that I am not that talented with a knife! I tried one, messed it up completely, and decided that it was really not worth the frustration when kids are perfectly happy to eat regular hot dogs), and tuna salad sandwiches (I was thinking of shaping the bread into fish using a cookie cutter, but didn't have time for that. Besides, I figured I had done enough already.) There were goldfish crackers, "sea cucumber" slices, "sea grapes," and "coral" (Cheetos) to eat. We had punch to drink. I made this mixing Sprite together with blue Hawaiian Punch. For dessert, we had blue Jello cups with a Swedish fish in each. (It seemed like a good idea, but personally, I would not do that again. The fish were hard to see and they ended up kind of slimy so the kids wouldn't eat them.)

The cake turned out great! I impressed even myself. The base for the cake is just a flattened cardboard shipping box reinforced with packaging tape and then covered with aluminum foil. Mia had requested a cake that looked like a mermaid, so I found this idea and improved upon it. (I found it too weird that the mermaid had no arms and a disproportionately large head!) The original plan calls for a 13" x 9" cake pan and an 8" round cake pan, but I decided to use a 10" round pan instead. Once it was baked, I traced a smaller circle in the center using a lid from a large margarine tub. After cutting out the smaller circle, I used half of the outer ring for arms by simply cutting it into two parts. The last section I threw away (gasp!). Wasteful, I know, but there was a lot of cake after using two mixes. I cut the tail exactly the way the website shows and skipped the cupcakes for hair. Mia had selected Golden Butter flavor by Duncan Hines, which was really yummy. I normally buy Betty Crocker but I am considering switching. To make the mermaid's flesh tone, I mixed red and yellow gel food colors into white canned frosting. For the tail, I used green gel food coloring. For Ariel's purple shell bra top, I mixed red and blue gel food coloring. I used about 2 whole tubs of white frosting altogether. For decoration, I was inspired to use M & M's for the scales on the tail after I saw this cake online. Then, I decided that licorice would make perfect "Ariel" hair after I saw this picture. The main difference is that I used Twizzler's Pull n' Peel, which I think looks better. Plus, it's softer, and I'm assuming that makes it easier to cut the cake.

Some cake tips I have picked up along the way: 
  • When making a layer cake or in this case, a shaped cake, spray the pan generously with cooking spray and line it with wax paper. This makes it much easier to get the cake out of the pan. 
  • I also set the cakes onto wax paper to cool completely before cutting them. (This was something I tried this time around since my cake stuck to my cutting board last time I made a layer cake.) 
  • I discovered this time around that gel food coloring works better than the liquid. (Basically, the frosting slid right off of Logan's 1st birthday cupcakes because of heat and I am assuming, liquid food coloring.)
Under the Sea Activities:
Other than having photos taken with the stand-up Ariel and having "The Little Mermaid" soundtrack playing during the party (I bought it on eBay.), I only had two games planned, which seemed to be the right amount for 4 year olds. The first was Pin the Tail on Ariel which I made by coloring a large picture of Ariel using colored pencils. Then, I spent $2 to have it laminated at Staples. (It's now hanging in Mia's bedroom as a poster.) Next, I used tracing paper to trace her tail, cut that out and used it to make a template. I traced this several times onto green construction paper and cut them out. We used a scarf for a blindfold. Everyone enjoyed this game. After that, we had Sebastian's Crab-Walk Race, which was hilarious! I simply lined the kids up across the living room and had them crab-walk the length of the room. This was fun for the kids and fun for the adults who were watching.
This party turned out to be a lot of fun! It was a fair bit of work getting ready, but I think it was worth it. And really, most of the ideas were ones I found here, so it's not like I had to come up with everything myself.

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