Always ready for a party? Here are plenty of ideas for various holidays as well as anytime you feel like a little fun! The most recent party prep posts will appear at the top, then you can keep reading to see how crazy my annual party schedule really is! ๐Ÿ™‚

Holiday Happy Hour 2017

It’s an especially busy holiday season for us this year with wedding planning at the same time as party & singing season, but we still managed to decorate and have our annual Holiday Happy Hour party! 35 of us enjoyed lots of friends, fun festive food, and even Santa flying across the moon with snow falling outside!


Glen made his family cheese ball recipe without any nuts as the Delicious Dairy Dalahรคst this year, and I cut back some cookie varieties in hopes of a more sane party prep schedule, but most of the menu was the same since I always love it so much…Swedish meatballs with lingonberries, pickled salmon vs. pickled herring in a Santa dragon bowl, holly wreath Brie en croute with homegrown spiced loquat preserves, build-a-sandwich, manchego with homegrown quince “carne de membrillo”, krumkake, pepperkakor, Caroling Cookies, and a cookie decorating table enjoyed by kids & adults including frosting as well as special Christmas Coloring Cookies! Glen added some extra spicy cheeses this year so we arranged those on the pointy tree plate as a warning for weaker tongues like mine! ๐Ÿ˜‰

There are several gargoyles and dragons that stay out year-round, so they got Santa hats and some even sported tartan bows that looked quite cute! We had the 8-foot moon up for Halloween 2017, and this might be its last year ever if we remodel my house like we hope, so I left it in place on the roof weighted with all its sandbags so I could project the same Santa flying across the moon with snow falling video I created for 2015. ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy Holidays from Brittahytta! Jingling bells approach as Santa and his reindeer fly across the cold winter full moon with falling snow, dripping icicles, big ornaments in the front tree, giant wreath on the garage door, red ornaments and garlands decking the fence and windows, a peek into the living room with lots of lights and the main live Christmas tree, another tree on the front porch with a homemade door wreath, a Santa dragon bell, and my new haunted eyeball doorbell is even in the holiday spirit!


Please enjoy the full photo gallery below, and we hope everyone has a happy holiday season!

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last update before the big party!

Here we go…our Haunted Hollywood front show will be ready by the Friday deadline for the citywide decorating contest, perhaps Thursday if the programming goes well, our costumes are ready, and there are 25 unique menu items still to prepare for my big party on Saturday night!

Ghoulish Glen got me a whole kit from Hot Wire Foam Factory for my birthday, and the hot knife cutting tools have been fantastic for all the foam carving I’ve been doing this year. The kit also came with several of their coating products meant to protect foam sculptures. Our first major foam coat attempt was the garage proscenium arch, where we painted it with brushes that quickly got ruined, but we must not be applying enough coats for any real protection, since corners still crumble off easily, but adding more coats risks filling in the engraving I’ve done. Glen was so impressed the sarcophagus I built for the Mummy that he wanted to protect it. He rushed to buy more foam coat, concrete pigment, and a texture sprayer since he saw a video that the texture sprayer set to fine stream coated the foam with a thin coat. Everything arrived for Saturday spraying spread out on a tarp in the backyard, but the nice smooth foam carving I did with the heat cutting tools ended up looking more like a popcorn ceiling, plus barely catching the corners still chip off, so that was a big fail. The foam coat allowed cans of spray paint to work for the large areas of gold (normal latex paint with my sprayer would have done the same), and at least the delicately-carved hieroglyphics didn’t fill in too much, but all the detail painting of straight lines and face detail took much longer due to the bumpy texture, and none of the gold is smooth enough anymore to shine. Ah well…it still looks impressive at least!

We had rain forecasted last Thursday night, so Glen taped all the electrical junctions while I bagged the monsters, just after I had finished dressing Nosferatu, including hotgluing all his tiny buttons in place, and wrapping the Bride in bubble wrap, packing materials, dishwashing gloves stuffed with polyester batting, and a big roll of silver duct tape. The wind was worse than expected, and it poured so hard I couldn’t hear myself think, so I ran back outside to tie the bags better around the monsters. Those made it through fine, as well as the brown paper tree that had no glue but three coats of spray marine varnish…whew! I painted the tree with three dry-brushed layers of different brown which looks a lot more realistic now, then after painting I could finally pad and dress the werewolf in his red flannel lumberjack shirt.

The front show videos are ready (Ebony keeps trying to sit on the monitor shelf right where I need to see!), with last placement adjustments completed Monday night now that all the front monsters are in final position, fully dressed and lighted. The show is two separate videos synced together to show on the garage screen and the front projector on the monsters in the yard and the moon above the Hollywood hills on the roof. Now Glen gets to program them in VSA so they stay synced (see last year’s frustrating attempts to sync 2 videos via QuickTime where it never loops exactly in sync!), plus add a new fancy programmable LED strobe light with the show for some last surprises!

We did get the canopies up this weekend with the backyard furniture arranged a bit, and one of the movie poster slideshows is already set up on the lighted movie marquee on the back fence! Starting tomorrow I’m taking three days “vacation” from work to decorate inside my house and backyard, and plow through all the food prep for my big annual party on Saturday night! We have two interactive displays featuring famous monsters that are still in progress and depend a lot on Glen’s time, so I think I will leave those as surprises for now! Thankfully my dear friend Natasha is coming early on Saturday with her daughter so they can be house-elves, and Glen has already offered to help with food in the evenings too, so I have high hopes we can get most everything done in time!

Hope everyone has a happy Halloween weekend!

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more Haunted Hollywood progress…

Aaaah! Only TEN days left until my big party, and the front show must be ready before then since for the first time ever there is a citywide Halloween decorating contest, and I might have a chance at winning! Here’s how far along we are, with more behind the scenes details than the Eerie Elegance Facebook page

As of the first October Friday, we were getting to the point where I must be careful about giving away any surprises! Ghoulish Glen has been working on our first pneumatic prop, the Webmistress of the Dark is getting a new scratch-sewn outfit including a new steel-boned corset, and the front projector is hidden in final position, but I can’t show you any projections until it’s all finished!

Ghoulish Glen and I have been hustling constantly the past couple weeks, with me staying up to 4am way too many nights in a row, but as of last night we finally have all our classic movie monsters in position out front! Some still need to be padded and dressed, and the Mummy just needs some aging, but his custom-carved sarcophagus is waiting for some special supplies to arrive before it can be painted this weekend. Video work is still underway since I really want the front show ready to run by Tuesday night, then it’ll be 3 whole days off work for party food and finishing arranging inside decor.

All along I had been hoping to have fun making the Mummy’s sarcophagus detailed and realistic, but it was coming down to crunch time two weekends before the party and I hadn’t even started yet. Thankfully all the foam we thought we bought for monster exhibit backdrops was exactly enough to build a life-size sarcophagus of stacked foam deep enough to hold the Mummy figure we made, and all my new Hot Wire Foam Factory tools & products were essential since I could never have carved this much detail with my kitchen knife or jigsaw! We already ran out of the sample kit of Foam Coat and we both think this sarcophagus is worth protecting for years to come, so we are hoping a rush order of more Foam Coat will arrive by the weekend, and Glen has bought a texture sprayer to mix black paint with Boost & Foam Coat so it’s protected from elements, nicks and scrapes, and has a basecoat of color in one step before I have fun painting it gold with traditional Egyptian blue stripes. Yes, all the hieroglyphs are authentic and translatable!

We have had plenty of fun along the way as always. We finally got the tree and skeleton built for the werewolf last weekend, hacking a fake ficus tree Glen had at his house, so I used foam scraps from the sarcophagus to rough in the tree trunk shape large enough to hide the werewolf’s torso. Glen said it looked like the werewolf was wearing a dress, so I joked to Scary Jerry that it was my first draft of my wedding dress! haha… I continued the next day by using brown packing paper I’ve saved for years to make bark texture, strategically hotgluing to the base form and twisting roots at the base. I’m out of time so it’s not proper papier-mache, but it has been covered with three coats of spray varnish so far, and it still needs some brown accent paint before it’s done.

At least our costumes are very close to complete! My updated modern Webmistress outfit is almost done! The spiderweb mesh lace cape has new support for the standup collar that works much better than the 18-year-old original plan, plus I cut apart the teal web cape we found at Target as a second cape layer plus around the sleeves and inside the collar, and I absolutely love it! Even Ghoulish Glen was impressed at the collar! The steel-boned waist cincher is complete with laces, and I made a new dress from the same pattern as years ago, which now just needs to be hemmed after I try everything on together to check the length. I’ve also made a red brocade vest to update one of Glen’s several cheapo vampire outfits, but it still needs buttons & buttonholes, and I’m still hoping I can throw together a lace cravat better than the shiny ruffles attached to the costume shirt.

I am stressing that no party food has even STARTED yet with only ten days left to the party since in years past I’ve usually been more ahead of the game foodwise, but thankfully Ghoulish Glen has offered to help with any non-artistic recipes, so next week he will stir & mold all the gelatin body parts, make his family recipe cheese ball in a special surprise shape, and he is already an expert at the Violent Vertebrae from several years of experience, so that will be a huge help!

Hope all your Halloween projects are going well! Wish us luck getting everything finished, and I hope my next update will be public front show details… *crossing fingers*

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Halloween season has begun!

I am sooooo behind on updates but at least for happy reasons! I have been able to post a few photos every so often to Facebook throughout the year while we’ve been working on Halloween, so I will link those here for posterity. You can follow the Britta Blvd and Eerie Elegance pages on Facebook, and Britta Blvd is also now on Instagram. Eerie Elegance is specifically for Halloween and spooky style, but Britta Blvd is for all my creative pursuits like parties, steampunk, costumes, edible art…and will also soon include projects for my own wedding in April! ๐Ÿ˜€

Since I had never seen the old classic monster movies, we started watching them in January, and I insisted on spooky selfies with the monsters…heehee!

Haunted Hollywood Scream Team 2017 with our buddy Boris as the Mummy

Haunted Hollywood Scream Team 2017 attacked by the Wolf Man!

We have been saving up the free Amazon points from my Prime Visa card all year to finance as much Halloween as possible. This has been immensely helpful since red velvet ropes and officially-licensed premium quality monster masks are not cheap, and getting them on Amazon completely FREE is infinitely better!

Free Amazon credit card points are already being invested in monsters for Haunted Hollywood! Fresh out of the folded flat box these already look good, and with some coaxing back into shape they will look great!

The two newest additions to our Haunted Hollywood crew have arrived!

Successful Haunted Hollywood Scream Team meeting today! New recipe testing, several display ideas solidified, front show outline well underway…glad we have several months since it’ll be a lot of work!

Ghoulish Glen and I took a quick trip to Florida in May…guess where we went? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I bought the Madame Leota and Haunted Mansion wallpaper dresses at the new Dress Shop in Disney Springs, and we almost bought everything at Memento Mori, including “spirit photography” custom lenticular portraits! Now back to working our own Halloween projects this week…

Halloween hacking last night revealed we will need to explore pneumatics after all, but also produced our first “live” monster for Haunted Hollywood! I hacked an old motion-sensor candy dish whose hand disintegrated years ago with a plant puppet on loan from Scary Jerry. This result is hilarious as is, but if we can change the audio to “Feed me!” it will be even better!

Haunted Hollywood work continues! We think we have most of the other monsters dressed with thriftstore finds and easy fabric wrapping, but Nosferatu has a distinctive button-front coat that I will need to sew. I think one of my pirate patterns can be adapted easily enough by adding a collar. I could make stuffed dummies myself, but I can use $44 of free Amazon points to purchase these dummies, where buying fabric & stuffing must come out of my actual Halloween budget, plus my time to make them! We can always add PVC skeletons, wire, and more stuffing where applicable. Most of our monsters need special gloves anyway, but it is nice that these dummies have plastic hands already attached.

Gothic garden and ghostly greenery update! I’ve been nursing along the dark purple calla lilies I bought in pots during Halloween season for several years now hoping they would rebloom, and it’s not the right timing for Halloween unfortunately, but one has finally bloomed again! If I can track their bloom time reliably, maybe I can figure out how to force the bloom time to Halloween by when I plant the bulbs. Several dusty miller starts are growing well in pots and in the ground. My Japanese painted ferns had to be moved and I don’t think they’re getting enough sun for the new growth to be mottled, but my striped and solid purple secretia plants are so happy that I need to prune them more regularly!

Haunted Hollywood Scream Team writing day today! 8 hours of writing our front show today, a good start but still more to finish before August filming! Also, after attempting to carve my own foam heads, it looks like fabric stretched over a molded foam head might work best for a projected face.

Finally made it back to the electronics flea market but we bought more chemistry glassware for our Library Laboratory than electronics! We did score a nice vintage wooden & brass RCA Victor cathedral radio with stripped insides for only $20 which will be perfect to insert our own Bluetooth speaker!

Imitation is flattery? Spirit is now selling a Jack figure whose movement is eerily familiar. I guess we should have expected corporate copycats after we posted our how-to video of #JackSkellington for #Halloween2013, our very first #animatronic figure: #EerieElegance #nightmarebeforechristmas #halloween #animatronics #spirithalloween #stilllikeoursbetter

The #WebmistressOfTheDark was hard at work this week signing pre-ordered copies of #EerieEleganceEats: A Halloween Cookbook of CreepyCuisine! Get a personalized autograph in your own book by buying your copy from! …but did you notice the new bling? Ghoulish Glen proposed with a stunningly sparkly and naturally fluorescent diamond that glows in black light!

The moon has risen again! Haunted Hollywood is underway…

It’s so much easier to work outside in the cool of the evening that I was able to sketch and carve the entire vintage movie theatre proscenium header for the garage screen. Ebony snuggled up with some of today’s Halloween purchases, and enough work got done that we can enjoy a chocolate liqueur nightcap in our new spiderweb glasses from Target’s Halloween 2017 collection.

Sunday Halloween progress in 95F heat…ugh! The pipe organ is out of storage needing some minor repairs as expected but is in place for the Silent Silver Screen! My new hot foam knife made slick work of the Hollywood Hills, but I kept carving freehand scrolls & leaves with my woodburning tool in place on the garage until I finished the entire design. Edge cutting then painting will happen on the ground…

I hacked some cheap blowmold fancy skull frames from Michaels to fit our Haunted Mansion ghoulish portraits, plus the Haunted Hollywood Main Theatre Screen projector is now mounted and ready to be hidden by the chandelier! It was tricky since it couldn’t be centered on the window anchored on a ceiling beam, so I found enough scrap wood, shelving, nuts and bolts and had Ghoulish Glen as human clamp to make it work!

More tech Halloween progress last night: Glen found an amplifier on Amazon that made it an easy hack to play vintage radio in our vintage radio case! It took a $90 Thunderbolt to dual-link DVI adapter also from Amazon, but I am now up & running with Glen’s 30″ Dell monitor for video editing, starting with our buddy Bela…so much easier to see than my 15″ Retina Display MacBook Pro screen! I even got the Bluetooth Magic Mouse set up too!

By the end of this weekend, the Hollywood hills were painted and anchored to the moon with wooden reinforcements against the wind, and the carved foam garage proscenium was covered with foam coat, sprayed black, and back anchored in place around the garage, almost completely handpainted gold. Tonight I am absolutely exhausted but glad for this much progress for Haunted Hollywood!

Here’s a summary of this week’s Haunted Hollywood Halloween progress at Eerie Elegance! The 8 ft moon is rising over the Hollywood hills near the gilded vintage proscenium for the garage movie screen, and the living room is beginning to look like a theatre with the red curtains and custom carved foam frames ready for gold…and there’s even a center medallion for a crystal chandelier designed to hide the ceiling projector!

Stay tuned for Haunted Hollywood projects to continue after Annual Halloween Shopping Weekend!

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new book Eerie Elegance Eats is now available!

Eerie Elegance Eats Front CoverFor 2017 Britta Blvd presents Eerie Elegance Eats: A Halloween Coookbook of Creepy Cuisine! This new book celebrates over twenty years of delightfully disturbing both children and grownups alike with Halloween recipes in a niche between gory horror displays and cute but tame kid-friendly foods, making the world smile with a touch of spooky style. Over thirty exclusive new recipes plus all your favorites from both previous Eerie Elegance books are now available as one convenient Cookbook of Creepy Cuisine organized in eight chapters:

Mad Scientist Body Parts
Beverages, Brews & Potions, with safe dry ice and edible glow effects
Creepy Cuisine Contest Champions
Scary Savories
Dastardly Desserts
Spooky Spiders & Skeletons
Dia de los Muertos Delights
and Gingerbread Goodies, including the giant Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House!

Autographed copies of Eerie Elegance Eats are now for sale directly from the author for $24.95 +S&H, Amazon is selling it worldwide, and a digital version is coming soon! See the order page for details!

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A Star Trek Beyond Birthday

Star Trek Movie Night MenuWe had the smallest group since 2010 and it was roasting hot, but we still had a fun movie night for Star Trek Beyond, and Glen surprised me with an early birthday cheesecake! Thanks to the 7 die-hard movie-goers who celebrated with me and enjoyed Ice Trek Cocktails, Starfleetza Pizzas and S’more Trek not only with custom chocolates and homemade marshmallows, but even matching chevron graham crackers!

Trekkie CoupleI wore my classic Trek miniskirt uniform for 50 Years of Trek last year, but costumes are nowhere near as fun when it’s over 100F, so this year it was t-shirts and hair up for comfort! Glen fit my early-90s convention era Starfleet Academy shirt, and I wore my even older handpainted Spock tee with film camera tripod earrings in honor of movie night…I’ve enjoyed my Spock tee for about thirty years already, but I will sure be sad when it finally disintegrates, since it already has one small hole right in front!

Homemade Trek Chevron Cookie CuttersI have made several styles of Star Trek S’mores over the years, from 2010 for Star Trek II on National S’mores Day and Free Enterprise in two different styles using a homemade silicone mold and custom-bent cookie cutter, to 2013 for Into Darkness where I used marshmallow creme sandwiched between matching chevrons, to last year when I made matching chocolate and marshmallows, but ran out of time for matching graham crackers. Since I now finally have three chevron shapes in nesting sizes, I was determined to customize all three ingredients for S’more Trek!

Making Homemade MarshmallowsHomemade marshmallows make the most mess, so they were first! I used Alton Brown’s marshmallow recipe again, but for some reason I’m always almost out of corn syrup, so I add honey to make Spreading homemade marshmallows into the prepared sheet panup the difference, which gives them a nice flavor. You definitely need a stand mixer for this recipe! While it’s mixing, prepare a sheet pan with wax paper dusted thoroughly with powdered sugar so it’s ready when you need to work quickly.

Once the marshmallows have finally fluffed to the top of the bowl, spread quickly into your prepared sheet pan. Anywhere not liberally dusted with powdered sugar will glue permanently, so fair warning! I can never get the top surface perfectly flat, so I do the best I can while spreading them into the pan, then I use a greased sheet of wax paper to burnish the Smoothing the surface of the homemade marshmallowssurface by rubbing in circles with my hands. Again, be very careful, since if there is any plain wax paper that touches the marshmallows, it will stick forever! Let the marshmallows set overnight before cutting.

Cutting Chocolate Chevrons for S'more TrekWhile you’re waiting for the marshmallows to set, you can cut your chocolate! I had made chocolate chevron molds before that were intentionally the thickness of a Hershey bar, but they were sized for the classic movie Trek belt buckles, which was a small serving of chocolate. I had leftover modeling chocolate that hadn’t been eaten as previous Tray of finished Chocolate Chevrons for Trek S'moress’mores, so I remelted it in the microwave, spread it for thicker chocolates, then used the medium chevron cutter to cut as many chocolate chevrons as I could. If the chocolate is too soft, the cuts reseal themselves too quickly, but if the chocolate has hardened too much, it will crack as you push the cutter in, so try to find the sweet spot. Refrigerate the chocolate chevrons if it’s summertime, but don’t freeze chocolate.

Custom chevron homemade graham crackersNext were the custom chevron graham crackers! I’ve been using this vegan graham cracker recipe for years, and it’s always super-tasty with no special ingredients required to purchase. It is a very crumbly dough, and whole wheat flour doesn’t absorb water as well as white flour, so have some water handy to knead in when it gets too dry. It doesn’t roll into sheets very well, so I pat the dough together as much as I can to prevent holes, then use my rolling pin to smooth out the top surface, leaving the dough a good 1/4″ thickness so the graham crackers don’t crumble apart. Cut the shapes on a silicone mat so you can pull away the extra dough instead of transporting the finished shapes, since they are too fragile until after baking. Store just like cookies in an airtight tin for up to two weeks.

Cutting marshmallow chevronsAfter the marshmallows have set overnight, it’s time to cut them! Keep a bowl of water handy for dipping your cutter, or else it gets sticky too quickly. You can dust the cut edges with powdered sugar for plain designs, but I thought that my pearlized sugar in command gold, sciences blue and services red would be the perfect pop of color! Since the cutter pushes the marshmallow at the edges of the design, leave space when cutting the next marshmallow, otherwise you’ll have an oddly-shaped edge. As soon as I cut the marshmallow slab with the chevron cutter, I gently removed the marshmallow chevron from the cutter, dipped all the cut edges into a bowl of the colored sugar, then set aside, making sure I had an even number of colors for variety.

Completed platter of S'more TrekIf not serving immediately store your marshmallows in an airtight tin or bag so they don’t harden. When ready to assemble your S’more Trek, stack the chocolate and marshmallow chevrons on the matching graham crackers for display. For eating, remove the marshmallow from the stack to roast on a stick over the fire, then smush the melted marshmallow between the chocolate and graham cracker chevrons. Yum!

Chevron CheeseSince I always have an assorted cheese plate and the smallest chevron cutter fit the slices, it was easy to make a plate of Chevron Cheeses! Since there was more white cheese than orange, I made gold chevrons like Classic Trek shirt emblems. I had a few white stars leftover from the 4th of July, so I added those around the center.

Starfleetza Pizza crusts ready to grill!Grilling pizzas is popular for my movie nights since you can completely customize your own pizza! Starfleetza Pizzas are the perfect name (courtesy of my friend Eileen several years ago), and the chevron shape is not only fairly easy to form from pizza dough, but it also holds toppings well. I made the crusts from scratch using my bread machine with the same whole wheat sourdough recipe I’ve been using for years now. The dough is pliable enough that it’s fairly easy to form into any shape you like, then parbake on silicone sheets for 2-3 minutes to set the shape. Store in gallon zip bags with wax paper between crusts, and refrigerate for about 3 days or so, but if you are storing for longer, freeze instead.

Ice Trek CocktailsAs for the rest of the menu, Federation Fruit Salad was just my normal summer fruit salad with a fun name, and I recycled the Ice Trek Cocktails from last summer since they were tasty, using hard raspberry cider, raspberry syrup and vodka for The Redshirt instead of premixed margaritas and extra tequila, but I made more elaborate recipe cards for them.

Starfleetza with Chevron CheeseWe grilled some watermelon along with our pizzas, and I added a Chevron Cheese in the middle of my pizza to highlight the matching shapes. Everyone had a good time watching some funny Star Trek comedy sketches before the trailers and the main feature.

Small audience but still fun!Partying People on the PatioStarfleet Academy Glen

Surprise Early Birthday Cake!After the movie, Glen brought out a cheesecake with candles and everyone sang Happy Birthday to me! I was completely surprised! Glen was sneaky and used his car running in the driveway as the refrigerator for the Surprise Early Birthday Cake!cheesecake, otherwise I would have seen it for sure! See how the candle in front is shorter? He said “It was a small cake, not much room for candles, so I used the natural logarithm of Britta’s age = 3.8 candles, knowing how Britta appreciates geek humor.” Hahahaha…love it!

You can click below to read the full Ice Trek Cocktail recipes and see the rest of the photos…and stay tuned for the summer season finale of Cinema Brittahytta!


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Fireworks & Fun 2017

For 2017, a fun crowd of 28 enjoyed Fireworks & Fun for the Fourth, with festive food, new patriotic patio furniture & decor, and a Rock Band and s’mores after-party as the traffic gridlock died down around our creative parking! Thanks to the City of Santa Clara for the show and everyone who helped us celebrate!

Since the 4th was a Tuesday, I had a whole 3-day weekend to spread out party prep, which worked well, since we had Halloween Scream Team work sessions that same weekend! I started with a patriotic pedicure before dressing up for Margarita Friday, mixing the custard base for the ice cream before dinner, which gave enough time to chill in the fridge to churn into ice cream after dinner, then it was into the freezer to harden and not touch until the party! I love the velvety smooth vanilla but that’s also why I only make 6 quarts of it once a year…sooo good!

I decorated the inside over the weekend, then cut and toasted the tiny star croutons, prepped the pastry brie, did all the advance prep for the various salads, and went for a solo 5-mile hike on my Monday holiday. I don’t hike with that hat, but I was going shopping for some last ingredients afterwards! ๐Ÿ˜‰

The 2017 spring patio furniture overhaul was inspired by two turquoise adirondack chairs my grandma gave me for Christmas. I had been in the market for new patio furniture but never finding anything I liked enough that fit my style. I finally found some dark-bronze cast aluminum love seats and bistro table sets at Target with free shipping online. Those all required assembly (whew!), and Target’s aqua/turquoise cushion color for 2017 blended well enough with the wooden chairs that I decided I could have everything matching for summer, but what about other holidays where turquoise & aqua are not in theme? The first such holiday was 4th of July, so I thought red & white stripes using the turquoise as the “blue” should work well enough, plus work with my blue-green wicker plate holders I use for movie nights all summer. I found red & white striped plates that fit my wicker holders, and I bought red & white striped fabric online to sew a quick set of 4 pillow covers to fit the gold pillows that have now moved from living room decor to patio decor. I think it looked pretty nice!

This was our first fireworks party that Glen & I hosted together, but it was also our first 4th of July without party kitty Onyx, and I dressed Ebony and Obsidian in their patriotic collars and got a couple decent photos of them well before any guests arrived, but they hid the whole party as they always did. On party day Glen helped with sweeping, arranging outside furniture, setting up the “cornhole” bean bag toss game, & getting party ice, but it was still too hot for my hair to be down, so I twisted with red, white & blue hair and wore blinking LED jewelry with new patriotic earrings. Glen didn’t have any patriotic t-shirts, so glad he fit my Yosemite flag tee I got several years ago!

I ran out of time for my menu chalkboard, but we had mostly the same menu as recent years past, with the newly-added watermelon keg, and Glen wanted warm nacho cheese with tortilla chips, so I got out my small crockpot to keep the cheese warm on the inside patio table. Since I missed my bacon-in-the-batter mini Corndog Sparklers for 2016, I made sure to make them for 2017 (yum!), and Glen went extra decadent by dipping one in warm nacho cheese…wait, what?!? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

On the bar was lemonade, the watermelon keg new from 2016, and my traditional make your own Razzle-Dazzle-Tini station. A guest had brought a giant stars & stripes vodka bottle, so Skip bravely tried layering with that! Ellie had fun making her own without the vodka, perfectly layering her mocktail Razzle-Dazzle-Tini! Maybe she’s channeling her dad’s bartending skills?

Snow cones are always a hit on a hot day! Thankfully we not only had expert snow-cone maker Ellie in attendance to show everyone how to make their own snow cones, but the Ouye girls enjoyed them too! One of these years I’m going to have time to make myself a spiked snow cone again! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here was the rest of my menu for 2017: Patriotic Pastry Brie with Smorgabritta Spiced Loquat Preserves, Aged Manchego Slices with Smorgabritta Quince Preserves, Cheery Cheeses and Grilled Sweet Potato Salad, Tricolor Quinoa Apricot Cashew Salad, Old Glory Green Salad…

Festive Fruit Salad had the full assortment of summer fruit I enjoy, but since I put the pineapple, blackberries and raspberries on top in stripes, I took a photo before stirring everything together. ๐Ÿ™‚ Those are the new Fireworks Oreos you see in a bowl, with popping candy inside the cream so they are like fireworks in your mouth! Not homemade but so fun that I’m going to look for them next year!

Since my poor loquat tree died over the winter, leaving my shed roof exposed, there was no storage location for the patio castle walls and archway, so we left them in place after Halloween, including the columns with the new copper dragons, who joined in the festivities by holding American flags for the occasion! I hadn’t hung the bunting yet, so Skip & Keith hung them from the patio ceiling, a new idea that looked great over the BBQ station & all the guest food!

I always like my Sparkling Sugar Stars with no frosting, just red & blue sugars sprinkled on the sugar cookie dough before baking. I usually make them with non-dairy margarine and egg-replacer powder so they are vegan. They are only slightly sweet, so refreshing if others bring more decadent desserts, and they are perfect with my annual 6-quart batch of Homemade Old-Fashioned Vanilla Custard Ice Cream. I dish up the ice cream just in time so we can all enjoy our dessert with the fantastic fireworks show, which was a blast yet another year! Thanks to the City of Santa Clara for the show!

The downside to living so near to such a spectacle is that everyone has parked in our neighborhood to walk to the park, so parking near my house is always a challenge, especially later in the evening closer to the fireworks show. This is why I start my party earlier, so people can stagger their arrival times and usually they get parking without walking too far away. Some first-time guests arrived too late to find anything close enough to walk, so we pulled both our driveway cars as close to the garage as possible, and with aiming guidance from Glen & others, I drove the Briata up on the grass to park sideways across my driveway, completely legal since no sidewalk was blocked! This freed up the sidewalk spot for our guests, and they were last to arrive, thank goodness! However, even a half-hour after the fireworks had ended, the street STILL looked like this…total gridlock, so might as well stick around for the after-party fun! ๐Ÿ˜‰

This time I cut thick stars of dark modeling chocolate for the Star-Spangled S’mores, and in case no one wanted a fire like some previous years, I pre-melted marshmallows them in the oven over the graham cracker squares, leaving the chocolate stars separate until party time. This year we did have a real fire while waiting for the traffic jam to subside, so we roasted new marshmallows anyway!

You can see the full photo gallery with all the partying people by clicking the link below. Huge thanks to everyone who helped and had fun yet another year! Hope Santa Clara keeps having annual fireworks so I can keep having my Fireworks & Fun party! 🙂


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Young Frankenstein for 10 Years of Cinema Brittahytta!

Igor & Inga with Fancy FrankWe opened our 10th summer backyard movie season with the first movie ever shown at Cinema Brittahytta…Young Frankenstein! Most of us had seen it before, but little Ellie had a ball viewing it for her first time, at the same age I first saw it! 14 adults & 3 kids made for a great celebration, enjoying the special themed menu, our Fancy Frank standing tall ready for Puttin’ on the Ritz, cloaked Glen with hunchback as Igor, yours truly in my lab coat as Inga, my new theatre trailer, and my new lighted movie marquee!

I first started showing backyard movies 10 summers ago, and I kept improving the experience over time with an 8-foot screen, better projector, and nice speakers. I didn’t edit my theatre policy trailer until a few years in, a very basic Star-Wars-style rolling credits into the distance over a basic starfield with my logo, but I thought it would be a nice 10th anniversary celebration to edit a new theatre policy trailer. I used the same soundtrack of audio clips from some of my favorite movies and my same hand-drawn logo, and the same text for the credits thanking everyone who contributed to Cinema Brittahytta, but I added teal theatre curtains opening to an aqua nebula moving starfield, and I added a little basic 3D to the logo spinning in from a distance at the end. Maybe for the 20th anniversary I’ll have finally learned real motion graphics? ๐Ÿ˜‰

New Movie Marquee in the backyard!The other new feature for my home theatre is a digital lighted movie marquee! I had purchased several 32″ flatscreen TVs for previous Halloween use, and I didn’t have a use for them the rest of the year, so I thought why not build a frame and load a slideshow/video on a USB stick and use one of the TVs as a digital poster frame movie marquee! Since the TV isn’t balanced to hang vertically without a wall behind it, I had to mount it on the back fence, where I happen to have a bare spot for a few years until a new tree grows. Full construction instructions will be coming soon in a separate post, including lessons learned how to improve my next attempt, but I think it works really well!

Mixing a Walk This Way cocktailWhen guests arrived for Young Frankenstein, we started with two custom cocktails as is now my summer tradition. Here some brave souls are using my Young Frankenstein the Musical shot glass to mix a Walk This Way cocktail, which was quite tasty and popular, so it might return in another disguise for a different movie someday! This “Walk This Way” cocktail is as dark as Igor’s cloak. Once you Walk This Way enough, you too will say, “What hump?” Pour equal parts blackstrap rum, chai tea syrup, lemon-lime soda over ice into a rocks glass. Stir to combine, and enjoy!

Partying people on the patioFor flavor variety I also created The Frau Blรผcher: This straitlaced black & “white” cocktail is why the horses rear in fear every time they hear the name of Frau Blรผcher! *whinny!* Pour two parts lemon-lime soda into a martini glass. Gently layer one part black vodka over the top. Enjoy the black and “white” layers, but stir before enjoying a sip. Some of the partying people on the patio were partaking in that one. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Young Frankenstein 2017 MenuHere is the full menu for Young Frankenstein, listing the two custom cocktails Walk This Way and The Frau Blรผcher, then Abby Normal Brain Pate and Assorted Cheeses for Puttin’ on the Ritz, Franken-Fruit Salad, Rollz in Zee Hay, and Franks-In-Steins! Can you spot the small foam Abby Normal brain that was a souvenir from the touring musical? ๐Ÿ˜‰ The Abby Normal Brain Pate is the same Halloween recipe I’ve been making for years, still as delicious as ever with cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese, shrimp & creole seasoning, Authentic Ritz crackers for Puttin' on the Ritzthen my traditional cheese slices were there too, both ready for Puttin’ on the Ritz on a plate with the logo added front and center so everyone would realize they were the authentic brand crackers!

Franken-Fruit SaladFranken-Fruit Salad was just my normal summer fresh fruit salad renamed for the occasion, but our Rollz in Zee Hay really cracked me up, since they are Rollz in Zee Haydeep-fried eggrolls that are supposedly so addicting they are locally called “crack”…haha! I bought some canned fried onion strings for the bed of “hay” under the egg rolls, and voila! Rollz in Zee Hay! They are very tasty so there weren’t many leftovers. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Franks In SteinsSometimes a clever name creates a recipe you can’t resist. These are basically pigs in blankets, a vintage classic appetizer, but by forming the dough differently and adding a pretzel handle, you have little Franks-In-Steins! These will appear again for our Haunted Hollywood Halloween this coming October, as well as in my new Eerie Elegance Eats cookbook!

Partying PeopleIt was a lovely evening, not too hot and not too chilly, so we didn’t use the firepits, and we have a new projector arrangement that allows for even more seating space! The original Cinema Brittahytta projector had developed some sparkles at the Young Frankenstein 2017 audienceedges by the end of last summer, not bad for a 9 year run, but since now I have so many other projectors for Halloween illusions, one of the newer short throw projectors was perfect nice and close to the screen, so less trip hazard of power & HDMI cables through the grass, plus more people can sit in the center for an even better view!

You can see a few more photos of our 10th anniversary summer season premiere in the gallery below. Stay tuned for a couple more movies this summer, starting with a trip back to the Wizarding World for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them…


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Beauty & the Beast Bookookies

Britta and her Beauty & the Beast BookookiesFrom November 2010 to September 2011 I was buying new hardware and setting up the new site, so there is a large gap for all my Cinema Brittahytta summer movies that year! Since the new Beauty & the Beast live action remake is almost here, it seemed a good time to catch up with details about when I showed the original Best-Picture nominated animated masterpiece in June 2011, especially my Beauty & the Beast Bookookies!

Closeup of the Beauty & the Beast BookookiesMy Beauty & the Beast movie night was when I originally had the concept of Bookookies that later appeared as my Caroling Cookies for Christmas. My inspiration was the opening story told along with gorgeous stained glass panels, so I transcribed the relevant phrases from the movie and sketched my own smaller versions of the matching stained glass images that could stand the limits of piping and food-coloring pen resolution. That determined the size of each large cookie.

Custom cookie cutters in processI could have cut the sugar cookie dough with a knife around a cardboard template, but I decided to make it easier on myself and make a custom cookie cutter out of copper pipe strap tape bent into shape then joined at the overlap using self-adhesive metal flashing tape. The holes in the copper strap make it a little tricky to Custom Bookookie cutter worked great!clean if your dough is too tall, but that usually isn’t a problem for me. These need to be handwashed of course, but I’ve made lots of custom cookie cutters this way over the years, including life-size Mardi Gras Mask Cookies!

Flood coat of royal icing as smooth as possibleAfter the cookies were baked and cooled completely, I spread a flood coat of white royal icing that dried overnight so the books would be as smooth as possible for drawing and lettering such details. I didn’t get my first edible printer until October 2011, so these original Bookookies were all hand-drawn and hand-lettered, sadly messier than I hoped since I was trying to make the book page curve without any guidelines to spoil my nice smooth white royal icing surface. I drew all the black stained Piping black royal icing between the color blocks of the stained glass designsglass lead lines and lettering with a food coloring pen first, then I went over the color block outlines with a thin bead of black royal icing, which also needed to dry overnight before I could continue.

Once the black royal icing was dry, I used the small tubes of gel frosting plus custom-tinted Adding the stained glass gel frostings and final edge details to the Beauty & the Beast Bookookiesclear piping gel to have a full assortment of colors for the stained glass effect. I waited until after all the gel was finished before using food coloring pens to draw the page edges and the purple book cover edge. Even though the gel tubes were small, I still needed to use toothpicks to get into the corners and the fine detail areas! You also cannot spread the gel around too much across any black lines or it will re-moisten the black food pen and smear black into the gel. The other drawback is the gel frostings never dry, so you cannot stack these cookies for storage or they will stick together and ruin the Patio table display for Beauty & the Beast, including my brass candlestick, a small clock, teacup and teapot as you-know-whodesigns. However they did give a beautiful effect, enough that my friends lectured me on making edible art that is too much work so they felt too guilty eating them! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I also decorated my patio table using my brass candleabra, a small clock, teacup and teapot Glass cloche over a real red rose from my garden that happened to drop petals during the partyas you-know-who, a glass cloche over real red rose from my garden, that happened to drop a perfect amount of petals during the party, plus I displayed some Disney collectibles and my Disneyland photo with the Beast by the Cinema Brittahytta movie clapboard sign.

Disney collectibles and my Beast photo by the clapboard sign

It was a fun night with a simple backyard barbeque menu, 10 adults, one kid and one dog. We had at least one viewer who had never seen the movie before, and he enjoyed it enough that we have reserved seats for opening night of the new movie version this week!


Click below to view all the photos of the party, including closeups of all six designs of the Beauty & the Beast Bookookies!


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Halloween 2016 – The Party!

The Webmistress with her portraitWhew…another great Halloween party this year! The rain that had been threatening all week drizzled a little in the morning and the afternoon gusts of wind made it difficult for tablecloths, but the weather stayed clear for the party as the Webmistress hosted a Victorian Halloween, with most of the special spider-themed menu as planned, many clever and gorgeous costumes, and even small children loved my Waltz of the Spiders front show and enjoyed posing with and hugging Winnifred the Giant Tree spider, even if the jumping and shaking spiders along the front walkway were a bit scary for them. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think The Webmistress with one of her "babies"we were 58 adults and 11 kids even though I think I might be missing some of the friends of friends…but from the amount of glassware I washed immediately afterwards and rushed to pick up outside the next morning as I heard the wind and rain starting again, that seems about right! This is definitely an example of the perfect quote for me: “I am thankful for the mess to clean up after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.” ๐Ÿ™‚ Thursday night party prep!Thanks to everyone who helped me celebrate my favorite holiday!

Thursday night was opening night for our front show the Waltz of the Spiders at Castle Brittahytta even though we stayed inside working on party food. It was drizzling constantly all evening but thankfully no wind, and everything still worked fine through the Backyard lightingadvertised showtimes as some friends & neighbors watched, but despite all our waterproofing efforts Canopy table lightingincluding investments in specialty outdoor boxes and taping the heck out of every exposed connection, by 11pm the front show circuit was down, and by 2:30am even the pathway electrical for all the jack o lanterns and the front webcam was down. This also meant that Glen couldn’t work on the backyard party lighting that night because it wasn’t safe to work with open power Small tables in the backyardcircuits in the rain. Thankfully Friday afternoon & evening was clear to get everything out Glen's backyard lighting worked so well!front working again by showtime, then Glen did a FANTASTIC job with the backyard lighting! He set up the purple beanbag spider with fun colors, enough lighting for playing the bean bag toss “cornhole” game to the side, and using my new paper lanterns with clamp lights and 100W CFL bulbs, under the canopies it was almost as bright as inside! We are definitely keeping that arrangement for future parties!

Inside food tableI wish I had been able to take more days off work, since by party week the only completed food were the Spiders of the Sea black rice crab cakes ready in the freezer and all the faces drawn on the Mandarin Jack O’Lanterns, but in the 3 days I did have, I finally caught up on food prep: 6 dozen hand-formed Sourdough Spiders, baked & piped 8 dozen Ginger Web Cookies, made 6 dozen Patio food tablePumpkin Pasties using the filling & pie dough I had prepped earlier, baked 7 dozen Ghoulish Gravestone cookies and Edible Medals for prizes, prepped 4 Slimy Spiders sculpted from cream cheese for green jalapeno jelly, prepped the Spiderweb Brie en Croute, and Glen and I finished his new recipe brainstorm Fal-Awful Arachnids!

I did pipe several dozen royal icing spiders and made cotton candy TWICE for Spooky Spiders in Wispy Webs after discovering my oldest cotton candy machine had finally given up the ghost after 15 years, but the seals on the spice jars were not as airtight as advertised, since Creepy Cuisine table in the backyardless than 24 hours all 48 bite-size butterscotch Wispy webs inside the jars had already melted from ambient air moisture. *sigh* I made more cotton candy the next day to keep in reserve in plastic bins, plus spun more webs on the bamboo picks, also saved in plastic in hopes of adding to the jars just before party time, but that recipe ended up cut for time, hoping no one noticed it was still listed on the menu board! Thank goodness I only spent free credit card points to buy the 48 spice jars. I thought I had finally solved how to serve cotton candy at a party but I was still foiled again…we’ll see what I can find by 2018 when the Webmistress hosts again…

The Gargantula Cheese Ball!Thankfully most of the special spider menu went reasonably well, including the hilarious and tasty Gargantula Cheese Ball, and those will be exclusive to the new Creepy Cuisine recipe collection book from Eerie Elegance, hopefully on sale by summer! However, as I finished the menu chalkboard on Friday night and it almost didn’t all fit, I agreed with Glen when he said “I think that’s too much food!” I usually have too many ideas than I can execute and expect some to be cut for time, which is one reason I wait until the end to write the Menu chalkboard with glass cauldron of Bobbing Apple Punchmenu chalkboard, but I was as prepared as possible for the make-ahead food, and I was hopeful for the last-minute fresh food. However, as it came down to crunch time with only Glen and me this year and no house-elves arriving early, the fresh fruit & veggies never happened, and the cheese plates, cookie plates, and apple slices with caramel dip barely happened only with gracious help from Keith & Doug when they arrived first.

I did have full my costume on before 7:30pm, but as I directed the last food being set out and let Cyd set up the lab experiment bottles, I insisted on using my new lighted test tube racks Glowing Ectoplasm Experiments!so I quickly poured green Powerade vs. green Gatorade into the test tubes, turned on the lights under the racks, and took some Ectoplasm Experiments photos! Then I finally socialized at my own party! ๐Ÿ™‚

We were trying for Ogle the Owls and Ectoplasm Experiments as the party activities, but I knew the mix your own experiment hasn’t gotten much participation since it debuted in 2005, and even though I had quiz sheets ready on the coffeetable for Ogle the Owls, I ran out of time to verify what owls were out! People partied through the entire house, enjoyed the Watching the front show the Waltz of the Spiders at Castle Brittahyttabackyard couch seating areas and small food tables, played my new bean bag toss “cornhole” set, especially the kids, and roamed outside to watch the front show, then as people started trying to leave, I gathered them to the backyard to award the prizes…

We don’t always have Scariest Costumes, but this year the votes went to ghostly Jacob Marley complete with heavy chains and chin bandage (Nicholas), fancy Jack the Ripper with his stylish victim (Sean/Laura), and since I didn’t have a prize for Epic Hair, I gave Juanita a medal for Scariest Hair ๐Ÿ˜‰
Scariest Costumes Jacob Marley and Jack the Ripper with his victimI didn't have an Epic Hair award so I gave Juanita Scariest Hair instead!

Most Creative Costume went to Melissa as a black & white photo even with gray makeup, Robin’s amazing spider braids with classy corset, and adorable seasonal fairies Winter Fairy Nola & Autumn Fairy Violet. I joked with Robin that I’ve lost count how many times she has won Most Creative Costume! ๐Ÿ˜‰
Most Creative Costume Winners Melissa, Robin, Violet and NolaRobin's amazing spider braids! Definitely Most Creative Costume!

The Ultimate Costume category never disappoints! This year three groups went all out!

Star Wars Clan with Kaelyn as Padme, Karin as Leia, Ellie as Rey, Kevin as Kylo Ren, Alex as Obi Wan, and Nathania as Hana Solo
Ultimate Costume Star Wars Clan

The Barbieris arrived as the Edwardian-era Downtown Abbey Clan
Ultimate Costume: Barbieri Downton Abbey Clan

Last but not least was the Ghostbusters Family including Abby & Erin with inflatable proton packs (Annalise & Kira), clueless Kevin (Mike) and a glowing blue ghost (Angie)! I also insisted on taking a photo in the lab with the glowing Ectoplasm Experiments. ๐Ÿ˜‰
Ultimate Costume Ghostbusters Family! Ultimate Costume Ghostbusters Family with glowing Ectoplasm Experiments
People were already leaving and I was requested to show Nola where all the owls really were, so no other prizes were awarded as a group, but I had seen some very clever Creepy Cuisine arrive, so I awarded prizes to those who hadn’t left yet, and have a couple saved Edible Medals for others who won in absentia:

Creepy Cuisine awarded individually: Mari’s Mum’s the Word mummy pizza pockets, Sheila’s Spider Deviled Eggs
Creepy Cuisine winner: Sheila's Spider Deviled Eggs

Creepy Cuisine in absentia: Robin’s Vampire Donuts, Ashlyn’s Beheaded Cauliflower buffalo style, Kian’s Zombie Balls pizza monkey bread
Creepy Cuisine winners in absentia: Robin's Vampire DonutsCreepy Cuisine winners in absentia: Ashlyn's Beheaded Cauliflower and Kian's Zombie Balls

After the prizes were awarded many of the early-night crowd left as they usually do, while the late-night people stayed to chat, including lighting the gas firepit on the patio for a little After-party around the gas firepit on the patiowhile, but I wasn’t able to join them. Even my traditional overnight guests had to get home for morning commitments this year, so Enjoying the outdoor furnitureall the guests had already left by midnight, very early for my Halloween parties, and no after-party for me to sit down and relax this year! I did get a couple of Sheila’s delicious deviled eggs and a couple cocktails so that was better than many past parties. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I put away the food and did the worst dishes, then pooped out around 3am. It did feel much better to get 6 hours of sleep rather than get up early to make brunch for guests, and we were able to relax on our free day with morning rain. As the sun came out again, Glen took a long nap while I retaped all the power connections in advance of the next sprinkles so we could run our front show again, then we headed out to look at other local Halloween home haunts for a change, which was fun!

The full photo gallery is included below for your viewing pleasure! I was extremely lucky the past few years with fantastic professional photographer Cat as a party guest, but she moved to Texas, so I am extremely thankful this year that Tracia, Sean, Robin, and Keith took photos to add to mine! Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!

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Halloween 2016 – Waltz of the Spiders at Castle Brittahytta

Happy Halloween everyone! Tonight is the last chance to see our 2016 show live while The Webmistress Hosts a Victorian Halloween at Castle Brittahytta. Over 10,000 spiders emerge from the castle doors and crawl over the towers, ramparts and gravestones of Castle Brittahytta to an original musical soundtrack while the Ghostly Guardian watches over the castle as she has done for a thousand years. Here is the video in 4K for your viewing pleasure!

I hope everyone has a fantastic Halloween! My party photos from the weekend will be coming soon, so stay tuned!

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The S’mores Awaken

B-Rey-Ta and BB-8It was the most anticipated movie of 2015, and even though everyone most likely saw it already, 18 of us enjoyed watching Rey, Finn, BB-8, Han & Leia in The Force Awakens as our last summer backyard movie! The S’mores Awakened the fun food, including Starkiller Cocktails, Frozen Lightsabers, and my carefully-arranged BB-8 Cheese Plate, and I even pulled together a quick Rey outfit to go with the purple lightsaber I built at DisneyWorld!

B-Rey-ta from The Force AwakensSince my heart has always belonged to Star Trek, I have never dressed up as anything Star Wars ever before, but since the votes landed with The Force Awakens for our Cinema Brittahytta summer season finale, I figured I could quickly throw together a Rey outfit for fun. I know my lightsaber is the wrong color, but I built my own at DisneyWorld and I liked purple best since there was no aqua or teal blade. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The hair was perfect for a hot summer day, and we mimicked some poster poses pretty well! For the full details how I assembled the outfit, see my separate costume post here.

Menu & Cocktail CardsI got lucky and was able to brainstorm plenty of fun menu and cocktail ideas for this theme, like Frozen Lightsabers, Millenium Fal-cones (Make Your Own Snow Cone), Jakku Sunset, Starkiller Cocktail with Glowing Lightsaber Stirrers (“an elegant stirrer…for a more civilized age”), Kylo Ren Kettle Corn, and Finn’s Fresh Fruit Salad. I grabbed images from online and designed menu and cocktail cards with the free Star Jedi font, which looked pretty good!

Menu chalkboard with The S'mores Awaken, BB-8 Cheese Plate & Finn's Fresh Fruit SaladI wrote out the menu chalkboard in the same classic Star Wars font, starting with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” in the blue font from the opening credits, listing the menu in the classic Star Wars font, ending with The S’mores Awaken – Light Side or Dark Side?

Due to lack of s’mores consumption this year, I have been attempting to recycling homemade marshmallows all summer! What started as the Trek chevrons for 50 Years of Star Trek were cut into small stars and rolled in blue & red sugar for Star Spangled S’mores for the 4th of July Fireworks & Fun, then to transform them into The S’mores Awaken I used the white stars with The S'mores Awaken - Light Side or Dark Sidenormal milk chocolate bars as the Star S’mores Light Side vs. black modeling chocolate slabs and black stars for the Dark Side…heehee! Thankfully I still hada stash of black modeling chocolate I could soften and roll just fine, and painting the marshmallow stars with black food coloring went fairly quickly.

Robin says, “May the S’mores be with you!”

Cutting lightsabers from cardstock for popsiclesFrozen Lightsabers aren’t an original idea, but I still had a ton of single popsicles from a kind donation in July, so I figured why not use them? I found a nice graphic of whose lightsaber is whose and enlarged them to cover the popsicle stick and as wide as the popsicle. I printed onto cardstock, cut them out, then prepped with double-stick tape, since I couldn’t assemble these Ellie enjoys her Frozen Lightsaberuntil people arrived or they would melt! I arranged them popsicle down in clean ice in a big bowl, and Ellie & I enjoyed ours, but I’m afraid most of them melted before others had their chance.

Millenium Fal-Cones ready and waiting to make your own snow cone!Millenium Fal-cones Make Your Own Snow Cones were all set up and ready to go on the kid-height table by the waterfall, but since Ellie has been making them all summer, they weren’t used until later in the evening….when E & V suckered their dad into shaving the ice for them…lucky kids! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Millenium Fal-Cones shaved by dad! Millenium Fal-Cones shaved by dad! Millenium Fal-Cones shaved by dad!

Beware the menacing red Sith glow in the Kylo Ren Kettle Corn! 
Some of the fun food was just renamed. Finn’s Fresh Fruit Salad was a new name for one of my favorite summer staples. I can always enjoy leftover fresh fruit salad! The Kylo Ren Kettle Corn was our normal kettle corn in the Cinema Brittahytta popcorn boxes but with a menacing red Sith glow from the depths! I do love my little submersible LED puck lights adding a little glow almost anywhere!



Creating Glowing Lightsaber StirrersI have been using glowstick bracelets as drink stirrers for years now, so of course they were natural Glowing Lightsaber Stirrers “an elegant stirrer…for a more civilized age” just by printing smaller versions of the same Frozen Lightsabers images onto cardstock, cutting them out, then using thinner double-stick Glowing Lightsaber Stirrers tape to add to the ends of the unwrapped glowsticks. I left them uncracked until the party (except for the proof of concept test) so they would be ready for my custom cantina cocktails!

I designed two themed cocktails that could both be made as mocktails for others and that could use the Glowing Lightsaber Stirrers. The Jakku Sunset was inspired by a Tequila Sunrise but with pineapple juice and gold rum for a more exotic feel. The Starkiller Cocktail was a color story using my knowledge that the black vodka layers nicely over full-Kevin plots using his Starkiller Cocktail...beware!sugar blue raspberry mixer…and the bright red maraschino cherry looked like the eye of the beam! We used my LED glasses to make them glow, I still had star ice cubes from Fireworks & Fun that gave that extra Bartender B-Rey-Ta with her custom cantina cocktailsfinishing touch floating on top against the black vodka, and Kevin sure looks like he was plotting for the First Order and the Knights of Ren as he sipped his!

I do believe that of all this fun food, I am most proud of my BB-8 Cheese Plate, not only for the rhyme and the mosaic-style execution, but that I didn’t see any other BB-8 Cheese Plates online! You might have seen my carrot cupcake fail from earlier this year, so there was no way I was going to go through that Creating my BB-8 Cheese Platemess again…but I always have sliced cheese for parties anyway, so this was the perfect answer! BB-8 is already orange and white, classic cheese colors, so I only needed to paint some black food coloring accents and it looked great! When Ellie walked in and saw it, her jaw dropped to the floor and she couldn’t wait to eat him! Robin & Nathania were also jumping at the chance to make him BB-Ate…haha!

Had to take this photo! ;)We could have started the movie earlier since it was dark early enough, but there were still some on their way, so we finally started at the normal 9pm summer movie time…and I couldn’t resist taking the iconic shot of the words scrolling into the starfield! 18 of us was a nice full house for our summer season finale…and we did have two kids Lightsaber fight!who brought their own lightsabers to duel with Rey! No fair that E had TWO red lightsabers…those Sith are sneaky! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I sure had a blast that so many of my friends could enjoy summer backyard movies with me again. Hope everyone enjoyed their summers too! Stay tuned for next year’s 10th anniversary season of Cinema Brittahytta with special surprises in store!

Lightsaber fight! Lightsaber fight!

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Rey from The Force Awakens

B-Rey-ta from The Force AwakensSince my heart has always belonged to Star Trek, I have never dressed up as anything Star Wars ever before, but since the votes landed with The Force Awakens for our Cinema Brittahytta summer season finale, I figured I could quickly throw together a Rey outfit for fun. I know my lightsaber is the wrong color, but I built my own at DisneyWorld and I liked purple best since there was no aqua or teal blade. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The hair was perfect for a hot summer day, and we mimicked some poster poses pretty well!

Rey & BB-8Star Wars heroines always have unique hair! Rey has essentially three ponytails that aren’t pulled all the way through, so they stay in floppy loops. I don’t have very thick hair, and what I have is fine and currently layered, so even with brand-new elastics and Rey Full Outfitstarting with gel added to fully wet hair, I had trouble with my loops slipping out of the ponytails, especially at my neck. I always get so warm during summer movie nights that this hairstyle was a nice treat!

Rey is a scavenger so it was appropriate for me to scavenge her outfit from what I already had in my closets and craft supplies! I have new khaki hiking pants that tie at the knee which were perfect so that was easy. I didn’t have a cap-sleeve ivory Chopping a competitor swag tee into Rey's tunictunic, so I cut a competitor swag tee I had never worn and left it unhemmed. My mom had given me some fur-lined black boots that were the perfect look, so glad I kept them!

Cutting leather jacket scraps into Rey's double-beltI found some leather scraps in my steampunk stash so I was able to hack together Rey’s double-belt that stayed anchored with safety pins. My wrist cuff was an old brown belt also from my steampunk stash wrapped around my wrist then buckled.

Before I found my gothic wrought-iron Castle Modern bed, I had a garden arch as a headboard with some faux floral draping over some long loose-weave muslin I had dyed a pale periwinkle to blend with my darker periwinkle sheet set. I have kept the muslin of course, and not only did I know exactly where it was, but there were two matching fabric scraps the perfect length for the arm wraps! Since I’m taller than Rey, I was concerned I might not have enough muslin to drape front and back properly, but it was so long I actually had to pin it shorter!

B-Rey-ta from The Force Awakens Rey Poster

B-Rey-Ta and BB-8I had to have the lightsaber light my face while holding my BB-8 Cheese Plate, and we even had a lightsaber battle after the movie…no fair that E had TWO red lightsabers…those Sith are sneaky! ๐Ÿ˜‰ For the full story of our Cinema Brittahytta summer season finale, you can click here

Lightsaber fight! Lightsaber fight! Lightsaber fight!

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Hogwarts Fun to Prepare for the Cursed Child

7th year Hogwarts student Britta show the new recipes Golden Snitches and Chocolate Frog S'mores to Prepare for the Cursed Child

Back in 2011 I thought I was retired from Hogwarts parties because the last movie was being released…then lo & behold, in 2016 not only was a new Wizarding World movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” due in November, but a new Harry Potter story in July! It is only 320 pages since it is the script of the stage play in London only, but since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts, this was the perfect occasion for 16 of us to enjoy some Hogwarts-style summer Cinema Brittahytta fun and watch the final movie with the 19 years later epilogue to Prepare for the Cursed Child!

Full Hogwarts chalkboard menu with Chocolate Frog S'mores and Golden SnitchesI got out my Potter paraphernalia from storage, including collectibles like Honeydukes candies, my interactive wand, the Hogwarts crest tapestry, and the Mirror of Erised, plus my homemade decor like my spellbooks, Horcruxes, ballpoint feather quills and homemade leather Sorting Hat, I set out the Ogle the Owls contest with prizes, and I wore my homemade Hogwarts student uniform from 2003 with robe but no gray house sweater since it was too warm. I brought back classic recipes like mini Cauldron Cakes, Butterbeer Light, Frozen Butterbeer, and Polyjuice Potion Punch (aka Bubbling Witches’ Brew), Herbology Fruit Salad, included my two summer staples Four Bean Salad and Cheeses & Crackers, plus I added two fun new recipes: the Golden Snitch corn muffins, and custom Chocolate Frog S’mores! Ellie and I even had an intense wizard duel, and an early birthday present “magically” appeared as I cast Wingardium Leviosa!

Elias pulls a Butterbeer LightI still had some unopened diet cream soda in my stash, so a whole 2 liter bottle plus 1 1/7th cups of sugar-free Torani English Toffee syrup made a spigot jar of Butterbeer Light with “all the alcohol & calories charmed away!” Elias claimed one of my four Butterbeer mugs from Orlando and pulled himself a pint or so. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I also had some flat leftover non-alcoholic sugar butterbeer that was perfect to freeze into pucks for my ice shaver, but it took a full 24 hours to freeze because of all the sugar. Beware that if you try to freeze the original alcohol version it might never freeze solid! Since I wanted the ice The Sorting Hat enjoys a Butterbeer Lightshaver available as Frozen Potions Class, I shaved all eight butterbeer pucks right before the party, and stashed the Frozen Butterbeer in a covered bowl in the freezer to scoop into cups or mugs during the evening. I was even lucky to have some left and still fluffy when I started reading my copy of the Cursed Child book the following weekend!

Hogwarts Student Ellie with some disgustingly foamy Polyjuice Potion punchSeveral other kids were expected but only two attended, so there was too much other fun like Ogle the Owls to do the Frozen Potions Class Ellie added some more potion ingredients to her Polyuice Potion Punch...would it yield unexpected results?!?with the snow cone machine. I did have some potion bottles set up plus my foamy Polyjuice Potion Punch, also known as Bubbling Witches’ Brew in my book Enhanced Eerie Elegance and in my video series on YouTube. Ellie added some more potion ingredients to Disgustingly foamy but extremely tasty Polyjuice Potion Punchher Polyuice Potion Punch…would it yield unexpected results?!? All I noticed was lots of energy into the evening for an intense wizard duel AFTER the long movie! ๐Ÿ˜‰

"I open at the close...and I'm quite tasty!"I had scanned & printed edible Golden Snitch wings back in 2012 to add to a gilded modeling chocolate orb for the Hogwarts student cake for Piper’s Potter Party, and I always planned to make a batch of cupcakes to demonstrate possibilities and post the wafer paper sheets for sale on Etsy, but I never got around to it. Here was the perfect Same vegan corn muffins as Luscious Little Lionsopportunity, but I already had SO many sweets on my menu, I tried to think of something savory. Voila! The tasty vegan corn muffins that have appeared at two previous movie nights as Luscious Little Lions should be perfect! Cutting a thin slit to insert the cut wafer paper Golden Snitch wings I only had white whole wheat flour and not even a milk alternative, plus I used my shallower mini muffin pans, so they ended up a little drier than usual, but they still looked perfect once the wafer paper wings Completed Golden Snitch corn muffinswere carefully tucked into small knife slits in the crumbly cornbread! I couldn’t believe that I didn’t even think about Harry’s winning Quidditch catch in his mouth before we took photos! “I open at the close…and I’m quite tasty too!” ๐Ÿ˜‰


Cutting around custom-printed Chocoloate Frog Card frosting sheets on homemade marshmallows
I didn’t have my edible printer until after I “retired” from my Hogwarts parties, and I had so much fun using the papercraft projects I had designed for my parties as edibles for Piper’s Potter Party, I wanted to try something new! I had already made Chocolate Frog cards & boxes as cookies, and s’mores are my summer special dessert, so Chocolate Frog S’mores were born! I didn’t have time to create new card designs, so I used the fun photos of my friends that were the original test batch years ago, including Dobby & Nearly Headless Nick from my Year 7 at Hogwarts party in 2007, Captain Glen, and myself as a couple different characters, printed them on frosting sheets in my edible printer, cut out all the cards, mixed up some homemade marshmallows (only 2/3rds of a batch this time but the same recipe as 50 Years of Star Trek), smoothed out the marshmallows as best I could, then gently set the cut frosting sheets on the sticky surface of the fresh Cutting the perfect size homemade vegan graham crackers for the Chocolate Frog marshmallow cardsmarshmallows while they set overnight. I crammed them closely together with just enough room to cut between them, and I was lucky my small metal spatula server was the perfect size, since my rolling pastry cutter would have overshot too much!

While I was waiting for the marshmallows to set, I baked my now-traditional vegan graham crackers, using the frosting sheet backing papers to cut the graham crackers into pentagons that were exactly large enough around the marshmallow cards to show. I didn’t bother making matching top crackers this time since I was already rushed for this party from too much July chaos.
Painting eyes on the custom-molded Chocolate FrogsOf course the chocolate was the frogs! I insisted on a realistic frog mold for my papercraft boxes and used the cutesy version for my Peppermint Toads, but the realistic frogs are quite small, so I thought the cutesy frogs would be a better amount of chocolate for the s’mores. It took a couple times of spooning melted Ghirardelli 60% cacao baking chips in my two molds to get enough frogs, then since now I have nifty Completed Chocolate Frog S'moresChoco-White edible paint, I added googly eyes to all the frogs…heehee!

The marshmallow cards sat on the matching graham crackers, but setting the chocolate frogs on the marshmallows completely covered all the fun people details, so I set the frogs in a separate footed dish in the center of the large tray so everyone could take a frog with their s’more.Why did everyone choose Dobby to roast?!?

With all the choices of cards, I’m not sure why everyone chose Dobby to roast?!? Poor Dobby! The frosting sheets don’t roast like the marshmallows do, Ben enjoys is roasted Chocolate Frog S'morehomemade marshmallows melt easier than storebought, and the lack of top graham cracker caused logistical issues, but Ben still enjoyed his Chocolate Frog S’more!

As we were enjoying the evening chatting, eating, and some playing Pokemon Go, since I had my wand out, Glen asked me what the levitation spell was. “Wingardium Leviosa” I replied. He said, “You Glen flies the USS Enterprise 1701-A drone right at me!have to do the right wand motion,” so I did my swish & flick. Then he said, “Now do it to the couch”…I did, and magically the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A floated up into the sky!!! I had seen earlier this year that there was a 50th anniversary drone due in July, and he found it for my birthday! All the crashing was extra hilarious after seeing Star Trek Beyond the night before. Glen demonstrated his newly-practiced drone flying skills all around the backyard, Elias had fun catching it with a bean bag when it fell, and I got a couple fantastic photos and The USS Enterprise 1701-A drone complete with birthday bow on the bow! ;)funny videos! My first attempts flying inside after my first lessons were pretty bad, so I will need more practice for sure! Thank you so much, Glen!

Here are some videos of the 50th anniversary USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A drone in flight! Glen demonstrated his newly-practiced drone flying skills all around the backyard!

Frozen Butterbeer with my Hogwarts dinner!After the movie was finished, no one had any Butterbeer Floats, but some more Frozen Butterbeer was enjoyed, and several were toasting their Chocolate Frog S’mores over the fire pit. Outstanding Owl Ogler Ellie winning her prize from the treasure chestEllie wanted a prize so I told her she at least had to try to find some of the owls! She found quite a few, so I awarded her Outstanding Owl Ogler with her selection from the treasure chest! Not too long after, she challenged me to a wizard duel, which was quite a battle! Thanks to Glen for capturing all the intense wand action! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Wizard Duel: Ellie vs. Britta Wizard Duel: Ellie vs. Britta Wizard Duel: Ellie vs. Britta

After such a fun party plus the refresher of watching the movie, I was definitely Prepared for the Cursed Child! You can see how much fun everyone had by clicking to view the rest of the photo gallery…and there’s one more movie before this summer season is over, so stay tuned!


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Fireworks & Fun 2016

Fireworks 2016We had another year of fantastic Fireworks & Fun for the Fourth of July! The parking shuttle service was used for the first time ever, and 24 of us enjoyed a warm afternoon but a chilly evening with barbecue, snow cones, several salads, a new Fresh Watermelon Keg, Sparkling Sugar Star cookies, my traditional homemade vanilla custard ice cream, and new Star Spangled S’mores! Thanks again to the City of Santa Clara for the stunning show!

Festive Fourth Friday OutfitsThis year I paced myself much better by decorating and only making one or two food items each night, so during my weekend before the Monday holiday, I had time for Margarita Friday with friends, a patriotic pedicure, and even a Sunday evening hike! Little did I know that was an even better plan than I knew, since I woke up 5am party day miserable with suspected food poisoning…ugh! I called my mom to ask for any tips getting through it and if there was Professional Patriotic Pedicureany chance I might feel better by evening, then my dad insisted she drive the 3 hours to come help me. Thank you very much, Mom! I didn’t touch any food all day, party or otherwise, carefully sipping Gatorade & ginger ale to stay hydrated with electrolytes and sugar calories, and my mom set out all the party food and disinfected doorknobs and surfaces just in case I was contagious. I had to take several Mom taking a photo of the impressive fireworks!breaks to lie down, but thankfully all the guests had a great time as usual. My mom had been pondering coming to see “my” fireworks one of these years, and she was really impressed how close they were and such a perfect view from my yard! She was even taking photos to post on Facebook…haha!

Cutting stars from Star Trek chevrons...can't waste all those homemade marshmallows!Since I had made 50 special s’mores with homemade marshmallows for 50 Years of Star Trek movie night the week before, but not many were eaten, I found a Dipping homemade marshmallow stars in red & blue pearlized sugarmetal star cutter that fit just inside all the Trek chevrons to cut star marshmallows. While the edges were sticky, I dipped them into a mix of red and blue pearlized sugar, then used normal Hershey bar squares and the same graham crackers as the Trek s’mores. I had these all assembled and Assembled Star Spangled S'mores 2016 version, ready to arrangecovered on the big baking sheet so all that was needed on party day was to arrange them on the big silver platter. Robin did a great job!

Menu Chalkboard with Star Spangled S'mores 2016 versionThe fresh watermelon keg was new this year since Robin had seen it online & really wanted to try it. I was able to get the tap kit from Amazon in time, but Tracia scooped the watermelon to be the keg, and my mom & Kian turned the extra watermelons into juice, plus Ben brought more he had juiced at home. I heard it was refilled three times Fresh Watermelon Kegduring the party, so it was definitely a hit! I immediately froze the extra watermelon juice since I think another watermelon keg will appear before this summer is over. ๐Ÿ˜‰

No one made Razzle Dazzle Tinis this year since I usually lead by showing everyone how to make them, and I quickly erased the Corndog Sparklers from the menu chalkboard since those were scheduled to be made the morning of the party and didn’t happen. My first guests Main Food for Fireworks & Fun 2016are always kind enough to help finish setting food out, and all the help was really appreciated this year since I couldn’t touch anything! In addition to the s’mores, Robin also arranged the Sparkling Sugar Stars, Kian helped using the stick blender to pummel the watermelon juice into submission, Rob & Bethani set out all the new patriotic fans I got in case it was too hot, and Tracia finished arranging my new little red, blue & white LED star lights on the tables, then I could take photos!

Outer Patio Food Table with WaterfallThe outer patio table with the bunting was for more guest food, the Sparkling Sugar Star cookies, and grilled items. Ben’s Chocolate Frosted Banana Cupcakes were tasty on their tier tower! Since that table was also already getting too full, we decided the kitchen dining table would be for desserts like Rob’s famous cheesecake, Sheila’s patriotic coconut cake, Nathania’s Oatmeal Fudge Bars, and Jerry’s Cherry Tart.

Here is the full menu of what I provided for Fireworks & Fun 2016:

Fireworks & Fun FoodRazzle Dazzle Tinis
Fresh Watermelon Keg
Make Your Own Snow Cone
Patriotic Pastry Brie with Smorgabritta Spiced Loquat Preserves
Aged Manchego Slices with Smorgabritta Quince Preserves
Celestial Cheeses
Four Bean Salad
Grilled Sweet Potato Salad
Outer Patio Food Table
Apricot Cashew Quinoa Salad
Old Glory Green Salad
Festive Fruit Salad
Sparkling Sugar Stars
Star Spangled S’mores
Homemade Old Fashioned Vanilla Custard Ice Cream

Ellie, Master Snow Cone Maker!Ellie is a master snow cone maker from all her practice during several summer seasons now, so she showed Elias how it was Ellie serving Marco a snow conedone, then they kept walking around asking everyone if they would like a snow cone…what excellent service! I wonder if their arms were sore the next day from all that manual ice grinding? I even had a couple plain ice snow cones myself. It was the only crunch I had all day and it tasted so good! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Playing Rock Band before fireworksWe got out Rock Band while the sun was going down, but we didn’t turn everything on until the sun was completely off the screen, about an hour before the fireworks started. At Homemade ice cream ready to enjoy during the fireworks show!9:15 my mom dished up my homemade ice cream, this year on the outer patio table – why had I never done that before? We brought the fruit salad out and arranged with the star cookies as a little sundae More Rock Band after fireworksbar. With only 24 people this year, there is even more ice cream left over. At least I knew it tasted as good as usual since I licked the spoon on Friday night after I made it! ๐Ÿ˜‰

The fireworks were over by 10pm, but traffic is a total gridlock all around my neighborhood for at least an hour, so some played Rock Band, while at least a couple others tried melting some Star Spangled S’mores over my new gas firepit. It sure was easier to light the gas firepit AND turn off, but I’m not sure if it gives as nice of a char flavor on the marshmallows? Kevin and Ellie seemed to enjoy them for sure!
Roasting a star marshmallow Freshly-melted star marshmallow on a Star Spangled S'more Kevin & Ellie enjoying their Star Spangled S'mores Kevin & Ellie enjoying their Star Spangled S'mores

There were plenty of fun things I missed but at least I took a few photos of partying people, and even attempted a quick selfie in hopes of showing my red streak in my twisted hair and my LED star necklace. ๐Ÿ˜‰
Tracia & Cyd Marco, Ben & Robin enjoying the shade on the patio couch Partying People on the Patio Sheila feeds a Celestial Cheese to Festive Onyx
Finally some shade in the grass Partying People on the Patio Pile of Partying People? Party selfie with red hair streak and LED star necklace

I was able to put out a few flags, the paper lanterns, and my front door wreath the morning of the party, and I had decorated inside in advance, but totally forgot to take photos inside this year. A few more decor photos are in the full gallery below.
Outside Decor Outside Decor Outside Decor Patio Decor

You can see the full photo gallery with all the partying people by clicking the link below. Huge thanks to everyone who helped and had fun, especially my mom who went above and beyond the call of duty! Hope Santa Clara keeps having annual fireworks so I can keep having my Fireworks & Fun party! ๐Ÿ™‚


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Cinema Brittahytta Season Premiere – 50 Years of Star Trek

Lt. Peterson to Enterprise...let's celebrate 50 Years of Star Trek!This weekend 18 of us celebrated 50 Years of Star Trek as the Cinema Brittahytta Season Premiere…as Jen said in her RSVP, “Yay, it’s officially summer!” Since it was so hot, I wore my Classic Trek lieutenant’s uniform I made 15 years ago, complete with vintage boots, and we enjoyed Redshirt cocktails and grilling Starfleetza Pizzas, but no one melted any of my homemade marshmallows of the 50 S’more Trek special s’mores I made, one for each year…darn!

Personal Trek Fun and ToysThere is so much great Trek to watch that it is hard to choose only one to watch to celebrate all 50 years, but for the sake of the next movie “Star Trek Beyond” opening in July, I chose to watch the 2009 reboot with Spock Prime and the new cast. Many of us had forgotten what an entertaining movie it is, and we were thankful we could still enjoy Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin on screen even though they are no longer with us.

This was rushed decorating, since I only had 4 days after returning from a 2-week vacation in Spain seeing 26 castles in 10 days, so I only put up a few posters, got out all my Trek uniforms, and arranged all the Trek toys, collectibles, and photos I could easily find. I didn’t get the table Some of my Trek costumes and tshirts on displayarranged until after the first guests arrived, but then it looked great! I especially love how so many eras of my life have fun Trek photos to make me smile!

Special Trek slideshow then trailers before the movieI was able to throw together a quick slideshow of all the movie posters, some blooper shots from several TV shows & movies, plus my personal Trek fun since 1991 that included several friends who were in attendance. Little Julianna found me to tell me excitedly that she saw me on TV, and it was pretty funny to tell her to watch for her dad Jeff and Uncle Louie on TV too!

Sheila got into the Trek spirit by wearing the Spock shirt I painted in highschool!I have even more Trek tshirts in storage, but I got out the shirts I could easily find to be available for anyone to wear if they wanted, so Sheila got into the Trek spirit by wearing the Spock shirt I painted in highschool! Classic Trek style soft-focus courtesy of my smeary lens…we’ll call it an intentional effect! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Partying People on the PatioThankfully the sun was behind the trees by the time people started arriving, so even with fans running on the screened patio, outside was much cooler. I was running around so much that my face never cooled down until after dark!

50 Years of Star Trek menu with S'more TrekHere’s the menu for the evening, with some of the quickest chalkboard art I’ve ever done right before guests arrived…it turned out much better than I expected. ๐Ÿ˜‰

50 Years of Star Trek Menu: Ice Trek Cocktails with custom ice cubes from Classic Trek and The Next Generation! More details about Romulan Ale, The Redshirt, and the Vulcan Death Grip below. Starfleetzas – Grill Your Own Pizza, Chevron Cheeses, Federation Fruit Salad, Commbadge Chocolates, using NextGen commbadge molds I made in 2002, then hand-gilded with gold and silver luster dust, and finally S’more Trek, a full tray of 50 special s’mores, one for each year!

Ice Trek Cocktails on the barI knew I wanted to make a cocktail called The Redshirt, but it wouldn’t be Trek without some vivid blue Romulan Ale, then I added something green to be the Vulcan Death Grip. Yes, those are Trek shot glasses from my collection! The complete cocktail recipes are at Glen was brave enough to add more tequila to his Redshirt cocktail!the bottom of this post if you can’t read the cards in the photo. Only Glen was brave enough to add even more tequila to the already-mixed berry margaritas, but thankfully he survived the traditional redshirt fate! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Classic Trek Chevron Ice Cubes for Ice Trek CocktailsBefore I left on vacation, I made several rounds of ice cubes using the custom silicone molds I had made years before, the Classic Trek chevron I made to fit custom s’mores several summers ago, and the Next Generation commbadge mold I made for the first Trek Mystery party in 2002. After I had enough ice cubes, I started molding chocolates, just melting my trusty 60% Ghirardelli baking chips and chilling in the fridge until set. I also made 30 Trek chevron Starfleetza pizza crusts before the trip, safely stashing them in the freezer, then I was on my way to Spain…

Pouring melted chocolate into the custom Trek chevron silicone molds Pouring melted chocolate into the custom NextGen commbadge silicone molds Unmolded Trek chocolates, ready for decoration Barely baking the Starfleetza crusts to keep their shape 

When I got home, there was still all the luster dust to paint on the chocolates, plus decorating and making other food! It was only a couple hours to add the gold to the Classic Trek chevrons, but it took a couple evenings to finish all the gold and silver on the Commbadge Chocolates. Too bad I didn’t see anyone eating them, but at least they looked great…ready for Captain Picard to tap and say “Picard to Enterprise!”

Painting gold luster dust onto the Classic Trek Chevron Chocolates Painting both gold and silver luster dust onto the Commbadge Chocolates Finally finished gilding all the chocolates! Completed Commbadge Chocolates 

I had a new idea this year to make my Violent Vertebrae rollups into Trek chevron shape as Reboot Rollups. The lavash bread doesn’t bend into points very well so the shape is only Reboot Rollups for 50 Years of Star Trekapproximate, but they worked pretty well. Spread the jalapeno artichoke dip on the lavash bread, taking out any large chunks, roll up inside foil, but instead of leaving as a round roll, squash lengthwise into a point on one side, with the two legs of the off-center chevron on the other side. Freeze overnight in this roll shape so they are nice and solid. Remove from the freezer and use a serrated knife to gently saw slices away from the roll while keeping the chevron shape. Arrange on a tray while they are still frozen for easier handling, then cover and let thaw completely in the fridge before serving.

Spreading the artichoke dip onto lavash bread for Reboot Rollups Forming the rolled log of lavash bread and artichoke dip into the Trek chevron shape Forming the rolled log of lavash bread and artichoke dip into the Trek chevron shape Cutting the chevron shapes away from the frozen rollup log 

Bending custom cookie cutters for Star TrekThe whole reason I finally bought a stand mixer was to make my own marshmallows several summers ago….but the cookie cutter I had custom-bent into the chevron shape back then had disappeared since it had been Cutting Star Trek Chevron Cheesesborrowed! To cut marshmallows you need a solid tall metal edge, not my copper tape I use for other custom cookie cutters, so thankfully I had another simple oval in my stash to bend a new Trek chevron. While I was at it, I made a smaller chevron a better size for custom Chevron Cheeses, which worked great!

Mixing the thin ribbon of boiling sugar syrup into the bloomed gelatinFinally, with the new cutter ready, and the pans prepped with wax paper, non-stick spray and lots of powdered sugar, I was ready to make the marshmallows! This time I used Alton Brown’s marshmallow recipe (full recipe at the bottom of this post), but I added some honey since I was at the tail end of my corn syrup. This added a nice extra flavor without affecting Marshmallows almost to maximum fluffthe sugar crystallization. After the thin ribbon of boiling sugar syrup was finally mixed into the gelatin and completely fluffed up stiff, it was ready to spread into the pans to set. I wanted to make 50 special s’mores, one for each year, so I filled one sheet plus almost half of the other, only Homemade marshmallows spread and dustedabout 1″ tall. I sprinkled more powdered sugar over the top then patted the surface with another sheet of wax paper to smooth the top flatter, then let them set overnight. The next evening I Flipping over the marshmallow slabflipped over the entire slab of marshmallow onto a freshly dusted sheet of wax paper, then using a dish of water to keep the cutter from getting too sticky, I was barely able to get 50 chevrons cut, but there are cutting scraps of course. Maybe I can save them for winter to cut up for hot chocolate, but it’s Cutting marshmallows is sticky stuff!too hot right now to enjoy them that way! As each was cut I dusted the reverse side with more powdered sugar and set them on another wax paper lined tray. I kept the cut marshmallows covered one Closeup of S'more Trekmore day until I assembled with my gilded Trek chevron chocolates and the purchased graham crackers into a full platter of S’more Trek!

I blew it and only took before photos of the Starfleetza pizzas in action, not any of the ones everyone made for dinner! Big thanks to Sheila for bringing a cheddar jack cheese mix to add to my mozzarella, plus setting out all the pizza toppings in my custom-melted space-age dishes I saved from the 2002 Trek Mystery party. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Starfleetza Pizza Crusts ready with the USS Enterprise pizza cutter!Of course even though I made the crusts small enough they didn’t really need cutting, I had to get out the USS Starfleetza Pizzas ready to grill!Enterprise pizza cutter I got as a Christmas gift a few years ago! Heehee… It did make for an awesome photo in front of the perfectly positioned pile of pizza crusts!

As is usually the case with my movie nights, I am finally assembling my own dinner as the trailers are running, then I get to sit down in the cool night air and enjoy my dinner on my lap in front of the big screen. When I realized I didn’t have any finished Lt. Peterson's dinner: Starfleetza grilled pizza, Reboot Rollup, Federation Fruit Salad, Chevron Cheese, Commbadge Chocolate, and S'more Trek!Starfleetza pizza photos, I decided to take a photo of my dinner plate in front of my 25th anniversary Trek print with Kirk and Picard…then saw my own reflection too!

Keep reading for the full photo gallery plus complete recipes for the Ice Trek cocktails and the homemade marshmallows…and stay tuned for two more movies this summer!



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Holiday Happy Hour 2015

HolidayHappyHour2015 - 26I took a break for 2014, so I was eager to have my Holiday Happy Hour again in 2015! This year had a theme…Crystals & Diamonds! Not only do they go well with ice and snow, but December 13th, 2015, was my crystal anniversary marking 10 years of HolidayHappyHour2015 - 25Brittahytta, and it is also the house’s diamond anniversary at 60 years old!

I think it was a new record for Christmas parties, since the grand total was 53 of us celebrating the 10th anniversary of Brittahytta and Lucia Day Swedish Festival of HolidayHappyHour2015 - 29Lights at my Holiday Happy Hour! Not much food was left, two batches each of hot cider and mulled wine, refills of cookie plates, and the absolute disaster of the cookie decorating station are all evidence of all the fun. I even had some new edible art this year with the Delicious Dairy Dalahรคst cream cheese dala horse, so that will get its own post. Everyone enjoyed my special new outside decor too, especially the kids, and that is best shown by the video included here. ๐Ÿ™‚

Please enjoy the full photo gallery below, and I hope everyone has a happy holiday season!


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Halloween 2015 – The Party!

Halloween 2015 Scream Team with the full front show!Whew! My Halloween 2015 party was thankfully another grand success! Since people brought friends I didn’t know I’m not exactly sure, but I think it looks like our total this year was 67 people including 8 kids. Not an all-time record but not shabby at all! The weather cooperated this year, thankfully not raining until a couple days later, my new backyard canopies worked perfectly to spread out the crowd, I had international help for party prep this year, and I have one of my favorite Halloween Scream Team photos yet with my skeleton boys Scary Jerry and Ghoulish Glen standing with me as La Muerte in the ghostly graveyard next to the “live” skeleton mariachi band under the giant glowing harvest moon!

Glowing GraveyardThis year, we were inspired by the uniquely beautiful and creative Mexican traditions of Dia de los Muertos for our own Day of the Dead celebration! Our front show was the major effort this year, with a โ€œliveโ€ skeleton mariachi band singing and playing for their ghostly ancestors in a joyous graveyard celebration lit by hundreds of flickering candles below a glowing harvest moon! Even though the show wasn’t fully ready for prime time until the wee hours of Friday morning, everyone at the party loved it! Some comments we enjoyed hearing were “your skeleton banter toed the line of too The Mariachis de Muerte have an audience!corny and succeeded” and “the graveyard looks just right and these stories are like the tall tales I heard at home in Oaxaca” plus “another amusement-park quality display!” Everyone said we outdid ourselves yet again, and even we aren’t sure how we can top this one! At 6am Friday morning when the skeletons were finally dressed and the multi-colored papel picado-style banners were hanging in the graveyard, Ghoulish Glen said to me, “I know we always try to plus it, but I think this time we multiplied it!” haha…

Skeleton Boys and Mariachi SeanSo many party guests took the Day of the Dead theme to heart, so we had so many painted skull faces and some fabulous outfits! I had my makeup on and was wearing a fun sugar skull tank top Carla & Erica with my front porch La Catrinawhile I was still performing the last party prep tasks as guests began arriving, but at least I was in full La Muerte costume out in the graveyard by 8:30pm!

Skull Sheila!The Calavera Cookie Contest decorating table was in use all night, so much that by morning there were only a couple cookies left of SEVEN DOZEN when the party started! The only quiz this year was Spot the The Calavera Cookie Contest table was in demand all night!Skeletons to find all the skeletons at the party (skulls-only didn’t count), but even though there were people sitting on the living room couch for quite a while, none of them ever looked up when they heard the knocking, so they missed the coolest skeleton of all, waving in the skylight to people below!

Partying people in the backyardPeople had already started leaving before 10pm, so I quickly tried gathering everyone in the backyard to Partying people in the backyardvote and award the prizes. You must be present to win, but I saved some edible medals for my favorite costumes and Creepy Cuisine!

Without further ado, here are the winners!

Creative Calavera Cookie: Ellie, Katie, Kian, Annalise
Creative Calavera Cookie winner Ellie! Creative Calavera Cookie winner Katie! Creative Calavera Cookie winners Kian & Annalise!
Spot the Skeleton: Supreme Skeleton Spotters Mari, Meghan, Nancy
Supreme Skeleton Spotter Mari! Supreme Skeleton Spotter Meghan! Supreme Skeleton Spotter Nancy!
Scariest Costume: Brock as Herman Munster
Scariest Costume winner Brock as Herman Munster!
Most Creative Costume: Katie as Jackie Kennedy, Robin & Charles’ outstanding paper masks
Most Creative Costume winner Katie as Jackie Kennedy! Most Creative Costume winners Robin & Charles for their outstanding paper masks!
Ultimate Costume: Brock & Shannon as Herman & Lily Munster, Gnome Family Cyd, Mike & Elias, Barbieri Mariachis with Piรฑata Ashlyn. Honorable mention in absentia for Jen the Pumpkin Boxtroll!
Ultimate Costume winners Brock & Shannon as Herman & Lily Munster! Ultimate Costume winners the Gnome Family Cyd, Mike & Sleepy Elias! Ultimate Costume winners the Barbieri Mariachis with Piรฑata Ashlyn! Ultimate Costume Honorable Mention in absentia for Jen the Pumpkin Boxtroll!
Creepy Cuisine: Scary Jerry’s Mexican Chocolate “Poo” cupcakes, Debi & daughters for their Puking Pumpkin. Honorable mentions in absentia: Erica’s adorable pretzel Skelly-Cakes & Kevin C’s delicious chicken wings
Creepy Cuisine winner Scary Jerry for his Mexican Chocolate "Poo" cupcakes! Creepy Cuisine winners Debi & daughters for their Puking Pumpkin! Erica's adorable pretzel skeleton cupcakes! Kevin C's delicious chicken wings
Ultimate Distance Award: all the Canadians! Not only did Shannon’s extended family travel the furthest to attend this year, but all of them helped immensely with party prep! I thanked them profusely in front of everyone, and I thank them again now!!!
Ultimate Distance Award: all the Canadians! Not only did Shannon's extended family travel the furthest to attend this year, but all of them helped immensely with party prep!

Party guests watching the front showAfter the awards were presented, everyone kept chatting, eating & drinking, sometimes going back out front to watch the show again, since it ran every 20 minutes. The last guests left around 3am, and I was so completely exhausted from only 4 hours sleep over The after-party...heh!2 days that I barely got the perishable food put away and some dishes soaking in the sink before I had a quick shower to get my makeup off, then crashed in bed at 4:30am…whew! What a fantastic night!

You can click to keep reading for my detailed party post-mortem, or skip to the end for the combined party gallery of ~300 photos from Cat, Kevin C. and me La Muerte in the Glowing Graveyardif you like, and you can also click over to Facebook or the professional album for all the photos taken by the fabulous Photography by Cat (aka Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy for this Halloween).

There will also be other posts coming soon of our public show run including Halloween night, and for other behind-the-scenes projects including my elaborate La Muerte costume with giant sombrero and flickering candles above and below! Hope everyone had a fun Halloween like we did!


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Giant Gravestones!

More foam to make giant gravestones!My artistic vision for this Dia de los Muertos inspired Halloween has a secret plan that requires truly giant gravestones, larger than I have ever made before! Even though I recycled as much of the Spirit Materializer and other foam scraps as possible, those weren’t large enough for the main structures of the seven gravestones for this year, so I tied 6 big sheets of 2″ thick insulation foam to the top of my car and started designing.

Scary Jerry had given me a nice Day of the Dead coffeetable book for Christmas, the movie The Book of Life showed several designs I thought would be appropriate, plus I searched online for actual Mexican graveyard photos in hopes of adding some authenticity to the look. Those inspired my designs for shapes as well as colors. I’ll admit I never saw quite so many vividly-painted gravestones so close together without plain ones between, but I did see all my gravestone colors represented in real graveyard photos…yes, even the turquoise one! ๐Ÿ˜‰

An extra-long jigsaw blade makes foam cutting a breeze, but leaves fuzz all over!In August, Scary Jerry & I worked on cutting and carving new giant gravestones. I had learned my lesson from previous foam cutting and purchased an extra-long jigsaw blade so I could cut all the way through the 2โ€ณ thick foam insulation sheets. I couldnโ€™t find a smooth blade though, so the fine teeth spit fine foam dust everywhere! Sure glad I could use my back lawn for all this mess!

Adding levels for interest, including the old doorway archI had planned for levels and shelves to add interest as well as stability, so I used a lot of toothpicks toed in at angles along with glue to assemble all the shapes. For the shelves and brackets, I used scraps of old broken stone walls. Each gravestone also had an altar slab, with the gravestone sitting on the altar slab to hold them in place together. I Anchoring the glue with toothpicks toed in at angleswanted altars with stairstep levels that I had seen on so many authentic Mexican gravestones, but I didn’t want to double my foam cost, so I cut strips to make a vertical inset border that gave the impression of stairsteps. These strips also helped keep the vertical gravestones in position.

Gravestones with new sidepieces for stability and hiding effectsOnce I got them all standing, I realized that they were so tall that just rebar in the gravestones wouldn’t be enough, let alone too much of the secret setup in back would be revealed. Luckily I had enough large foam left to cut side panels for each tall gravestone which helped a lot with stability. I had tried drilling the rebar into the foam then inserting PVC, but this pellet foam will all of a sudden compress instead of drill cleanly through, ending up with giant PVC channels glued into the corners to slide over rebar pounded into the grass holds the Giant Gravestones in place even in wind!holes, cracks, or even complete breaks. After I repaired those, I used liquid nails to glue the PVC lengths into the inside corner of each side panel. Having that slide over the rebar plus tightly nested with the altar strips has held stable for all seven stones for a month now, even 7ft tall Seรฑor Kilja only barely wiggling in some really gusty wind, so I’d call that a success! Whew!

Scary Jerry was using his own woodburning tool as our foam stone texture carver extraordinaireAs I finished carving the epitaphs and fine detail, Scary Jerry was using his own woodburning tool as our foam stone texture carver extraordinaire, “chipping” away Assembled giant gravestones hidden away looked pretty silly!at edges very artistically so they really looked like stone. I had to pack up for the last summer movie night then leave 9 hours later for a work trip to Brazil, so I crammed all the giant gravestones into my side yard to hide them and keep them safe, but it looked really silly! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Yours truly spraying colorful Mexican-inspired basecoats on plain white foam gravestones...On Saturday of Labor Day weekend we went from plain white gravestones to painted and aged, thankfully using my handy sprayer with custom-mixed colorful Mexican-inspired basecoats from cheap acrylic craft paints. It was hot enough that the basecoats were dry quickly enough for Scary Jerry to try his hand at my water and spray paint aging technique. By Monday evening all the Front layout with test sombrerosgravestones AND skeletons were standing in place so we used some test sombreros to see how the full display might look…exciting to see the potential!

Scary Jerry aging gravestones with spray paint and dripping water after basecoats were quickly dry in the hot sunshine...The next weekend we were all working hard again. Scary Jerry was learning to accent paint gravestones Eerie Elegance-style, which means not so dark that it looks like cartoony like you drew with black marker, but dark I never thought I would need a stepladder to paint a gravestone!enough to read all the carvings at night. My previous gravestones have been table size at most, so I would accent paint them while I was sitting at my work table. I never thought I would need a stepladder to paint a gravestone!

First graveyard test of homemade PVC candles over custom-wired flicked LEDsI will save the complete candlemaking details for another post in case anyone else would like to try making some, but the short version is that I finally used all the rest of my old backyard sprinkler system pipe that I’ve been saving since 2006 chopped up into candle sizes. To get enough candles, we had to buy some new PVC, and make sure to get the thinner wall PVC for the best candle glow. We also discovered during our initial graveyard candle testing of the newly-wired flicker LEDs showed that the PVC glue drip candles work best without paint so the translucent glue drips refract the light better, plus that big blobs were best. For the rest of the candles, I sanded the lettering off (nothing else worked!), and since the old PVC was too grungy for sanding to get them clean, I only painted the bottoms, leaving the hot glue drips unpainted for best glow.

Ghoulish Glen at the soldering party assembly lineWe had a soldering party assembly line at my dining table to configure 80 flicker LEDs with pigtails long enough to run through the foam gravestones for custom-controllable candles. The soldering party assembly line continued until 2am, but we got all 80 flicker LEDs wired, soldered, heat-shrunk, tested & sanded!

Soldering such tiny wires together, but I did it all myself!The candles around the altars are battery strings of 10 small candles meant to clip onto Christmas tree branches. I found them as the perfect size for my La Muerte hat and our resident electrical expert Ghoulish Glen agreed it would be easier to solder strings together and change the power supply than to keep wiring individual LEDs. After a quick soldering lesson, I configured, tested, soldered, heat shrank and tested again for 200 candles on 20 battery strings to be Gravestone with candles alight, some decorations, still needs FLOWERS...ready to decorate the seven gravestones. Sure glad I can focus on such tiny work!

Some recalculations and a trip to Fry’s electronics store ended with Ghoulish Glen adding inline resistors to the top candles before wiring together with the battery strings. When he flipped the switch at dusk, I literally clapped my hands in joy as I saw all 273 candles flickering in the graveyard! ๐Ÿ˜€

Gravestone decorating is underway with all the loaves of Pan de Muertos I made and sealed with varnish and so many skulls I decorated, and we finally got the graveyard lighting design settled Sunday evening, thanks to our resident lighting expert Scary Jerry! The graveyard is entirely lit by the new indoor-outdoor colored LED spotlights from Spirit, including a color-changing one placed in the tree for some overall light. The skeleton mariachi band is on their decorated all LED lighting for the graveyard, including the candles!stage in the driveway, ready for programming, hats and jackets! Unfortunately the moon screen fell off Sunday afternoon, so we are building a new one from 1/4″ plywood and hoping to get it hung tomorrow.

If you click to view the entire gallery of step-by-step photos, you might be able to guess at my secret plan why these are such Giant Gravestones. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m very glad I took the next three days off work since there is still too much costume work, decorating and food prep to do for any more posts until after my party is over! Wish us luck getting everything done by Saturday and staying working through Halloween night!


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modifying skeletons to move!

One of our major projects for Halloween 2015 is the Mariachis de Muerte, our skeleton mariachi band! We had already hacked one 3-axis skull kit to make Jack Skellington’s head for Halloween 2013, so Costco "poseable" skeletonswe felt pretty confident we could make the band talk and sing, but we also wanted them to play their instruments too.

The “poseable” skeletons that Costco has been selling the past few years won’t move in all the directions we need This shoulder only rotates on one axis nested inside the socketto play our musical instruments, so I’ve been working on modifying them all summer. The shoulders only move forwards and back, not a true rotation to get any angle to the arm, and the wrists only wave back and forth, no rotation either. Luckily I had one more expensive skeleton in my stash who had some better-designed joints, Better joint design on a more expensive skeleton from my stashso I used those as a model to modify my three cheaper matching skeletons.

The model skeleton had what looked like thin molded pipe straps, but the only molded pipe straps I could find at Cutting galvanized pipe strap tape for the new shoulder jointmy local hardware stores were the wrong sizes, plus were so thick I didn’t think my dremel would be able to make a decent hole through it. I found galvanized pipe strap tape instead that had predrilled holes and was easier to bend, so I used that for both the shoulders and the wrists.

Better designed wrist joint that waves and rotates vs. Costco wrist joint that only wavesThe wrists were fairly easy because the hand end and the arm ends were both solid enough to screw into. Make sure to screw the hand in first, or you can’t reach a screwdriver in the small gap after the arm ends are in place. If you need a servo to move the wrist, you might Completed and exploded new wrist assemblywant it a little looser than if you want to pose it to stay in position all season. I used metal washers between the metal and the plastic in hopes of not having the metal tape edges scrape away the plastic.

The shoulders were trickier because there was no actual socket to anchor the strap tape. These original shoulders removing the original shoulder showing the extra knob that nests insideare just an extra ball attached to the shoulder ball so that the tension of the socket New shoulder assemblyaround the thin junction between balls lets it rotate on one axis. I loosened the socket screws to let the whole shoulder knob out, cut off the extra ball joint with a box cutter, then used the extra ball piece as my anchor inside for the strap tape. This is not ideal since it wiggles around loose inside the shoulder, but at least we can get the proper angles for playing trumpet, guitar & violin!
New shoulder assembly exploded to show construction
I haven’t seen any skeletons with poseable fingers, but at least these hands weren’t molded mittens like some I have seen. Since the fingers needed to be poseable to play our instruments properly, I decided to try making not The finger bones were thin enough to cut apart with a box cutteronly poseable fingers for this year but articulated hands that could be controlled by servos in future years. Kids, do NOT try this at home! After all this frustration I didn’t think it was a coincidence that a couple skeleton hands were in a “certain” position! ๐Ÿ˜‰ A box cutter and elbow grease cut the hands apart well enough, however these finger bones are so thin and the plastic melts so quickly that drilling through them cleanly is nigh Finger frustration and failure! Kids, do NOT try this at home!impossible. If you want controllable finger joints, don’t even mess with this plastic and just sculpt your own bones around notched tubing like I did for Jack Skellington in 2013. Aren’t you glad I learned this hand lesson the hard way so you don’t have to waste your time? :/

So, since that plan failed miserably, I wired what I could through the few successful holes in the finger bones, which unfortunately still would spin freely around the wires. In desperation I finally resorted to using my own Using my fingers as clamps with cool melt hot ready for tender fingertips!fingers as clamps to secure the cool-melt glue between the finger bones and wires so they would stay in position. Do NOT try this with anything but cool-melt glue, and if you’re not an experienced glue gun shooter or have other reasons for calloused fingertips, be very very careful since it will smart like a minor sunburn.

At least I finally ended up with poseable fingers, albeit fragile!My hot glue hack is lasting okay, but it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, since as we kept moving the skeletons to engineer how they need to move for the animatronics, finger bones kept falling off. Thankfully I found most of the pieces, so after getting the hands into final position, I reglued them in place, and now they will probably stay the season. I think an off-season project will be to sculpt my own finger bones around tubing for all these skeletons so I can change from wire to string inside depending on the effects we need for the next project. Maybe I’ll be able to make molds and sell skeleton hand kits next year? Hmmm…

Building stands for the skeletonsWe needed the skeletons to stand on their own, and I was planning ahead for future years where the skeletons most likely will not be standing together, so we mounted each on its own scrap plywood platform, using the Spider Hill PVC feet we had custom PVC skeleton stands being painted bone color to blend inpurchased for Jack Skellington for Halloween 2013 and the Spirit Materializer pipe for Halloween 2014. We used smaller heavy-duty PVC so it would hide behind the bones better, but we needed to find the 1″ to 1/2″ reducer bushings that fit inside the 1″ feet tightly, since you can’t use an external joint reducer.

Trumpet in position!Now that they could stand on their own, how could we engineer their arms to play their instruments? We tackled the trumpet first, since that seemed to be a simple fixed arm position with a lever to rotate the shoulders. Little did we know! I didn’t want any permanent modifications to the skeletons so we could use them again for other scenes, so I only used wire and hot glue that I could peel off later. I spent an entire afternoon wiring the elbows and fingers around the trumpet so that it could rotate up into proper playing position, but I finally got it to look good! Glen spent another few days engineering a PVC assembly where we could pull down in back to rotate the shoulders up, but it stayed as mechanical only for a couple weeks.

violin and guitar working on servos!The violin was next since we expected it would be the trickiest, and it was! I wired the right elbow at a decent angle and wired and glued the wrist in place with the hand around the bow, so only the shoulder needed to move. I worked on wiring and gluing the left shoulder in a decent violin position while Glen worked on engineering how to get the shoulder to move at the correct angle. After a lot of trial and error we got him playing well enough using the servo tester…our first moving instrument! I do apologize in advance to all my string musician friends for the improper posture, but he’s only a skeleton without tendons or muscles! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Next was the guitar, another fixed arm with a moving arm. I commented that half the shoulder joints I painstakingly modified were being glued and wired into fixed positions…heh! Ah well, at least they’ll still work Can you tell this guitar is only papier-mรขchรฉ, cardboard & paint? ;)better for future years. When I built the guitar in the spring, I didn’t decorate it because I expected we would have to cut into the structure to add the servo movement, so I expected more papier-mรขchรฉ repair work as well before any painting could happen. Luckily we learned from the violin shoulder and decided we could mount the servo on the arm and drive the elbow directly, not cutting into the guitar at all! I figured out how to wire it Skull tuning head and skull fret marker on the guitarthrough the main hole to the spine, leaving the wire in place to remove the guitar for finishing. I had fun with woodgrain painting techniques, decorating the tuning head as a skull, and even adding tiny skull and bone fret markers. The neighborhood audience we acquired while testing outside didn’t believe it wasn’t a real guitar!

Shaving away the shoulder socket for smoother servo and lever movementWe had the violin and guitar working great on servos, but the trumpet took the largest hobby servo plus a lot more testing power from larger batteries to lift properly. Since this setup rotated the shoulders every movement, we adjusted everything we could to make sure nothing was rubbing or binding, including shaving away plastic from the shoulder socket so the metal hinge would stop scraping. Sounds like the shoulder surgery my parents have both had. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Carefully cutting the thick plastic skulls accurately was trickyThe skull kits came without teeth installed, no hole for movement clearance, and very detailed instructions. Even with our combined arsenal of tools, we still had trouble cutting the large hole! The plastic just melts when drilled or sawed, so by the time you have continued cutting around the circle, it has melted back together in too many spots. It took my new multi-cutter tool with the smallest blade Glen had, then I made all the cuts so Glen wouldn’t be blamed for ruining anything. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thankfully he agreed to be my vise at least! He drilled Ghoulish Glen working on the skull electronicsthe hole for the jaw rod, assembled and installed all the electronics, and even glued in the teeth for each skull, then they were finally ready to install on the skeletons. Now Glen thinks he has done enough skull engineering that he might be able to install the electronics in any plastic skull with a moving jaw, perhaps even the much lighter weight $5 ones from Target!

Adding JBWeld inside the neck pieces after spray foam insulation wasn't enough supportAnchoring the animatronic skulls to the skeletons was another challenge, since the skeleton neck pieces conveniently twisted off and on again, and the original skulls popped off a neck knob, but the neck piece itself was hollow, not enough to anchor the threaded shaft for the skull to stay firm while moving on its servos. I had a can of spray insulation foam left, so I cut off the knobs and filled the neck pieces to be solid, but the foam wasn’t tight enough to hold the necks on the skulls, ready for the skeletonsthreaded rod either. I tried filling with JB Weld down the center hole, which is solid for drilling, but it was too difficult to get enough JB Weld inside, so that still allowed the threaded rod to twist slightly…so it was back to my trusty friend hot glue for a big blob around the rod, neck, and nut to fix it in place. Sure hope it holds for all the shows but at least it’s easy to add more hot glue. ๐Ÿ˜‰

painting the bright white animatronic skulls to match the skeleton patinaThe skull kits came with bright white skulls, so they needed to be painted to match the skeleton patina. I should have painted the skulls before mounting them to the skeletons, since that made for very awkward painting technique. Glen thought I looked like a mother wiping her child’s chin. Haha! We Hiding the mini controller board inside the skull...sneaky!did get the mini controller board hidden inside the skulls so only the CAT-5 cable ran down the back to the controller board, but we also should have planned to hide the control wires through the PVC before it was glued together, but Glen wasn’t convinced that was a good idea until afterwards. The spines hide the wires well enough until the hips, but I All three skeletons ready for jackets, hats and programming!drilled through the PVC feet and plywood bases then also through the top of the hip elbow joint so the wires can slide down one leg into the stage platform that will hide the speakers and controller board. Now all three skeletons are ready for their jackets, hats and programming!

Those of you who might want to try these modifications themselves can view all the step-by-step photos in the gallery below. Stay tuned for the rest of Halloween 2015!


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Halloween 2015 is well underway!

2014 purchases for Halloween 2015!I had decided my Halloween 2015 theme last summer, as soon as I saw the first trailer for the movie The Book of Life about the Mexican traditional celebrations of Dia de los Muertos. I really wanted to make the costume for La Muerte with her candle-filled giant sombrero, so I decided to finally use one of the many theme ideas that had been on my Halloween list for years to go with my costume! As you can see in the photo, last year’s Halloween shopping weekend was mostly purchases for this year!

All-day Halloween work today with my Scream Team!I had brainstorms for a big front show like Halloween 2013, and we had several discussions, but April was our first all-day marathon, sorting through the old projects to recycle wood for new uses, checking sombrero sizes compared to my skeletons, and brainstorming story ideas along with decor walkthrough ideas.

Some of the many Dia de los Muertos traditions are decorating your ancestors’ graves and celebrating in the graveyard to remember them, sometimes even with music, so my idea was for our graveyard celebration to be hosted by a skeleton mariachi band! I found perfect toy toy trumpets from the dollar store!trumpets at the dollar store that I could easily spray paint gold…hooray! I earn Amazon points with my credit card, so I look there next for anything I need in case I can get for free. I found a toy plastic violin with now that was more realistic than I would be able to make, so that was “purchased” with free points. However, all the toy guitars were too expensive compared to making one from papier-mรขchรฉ, plus making one would be lighter-weight and easier to hack Papier-mรขchรฉ guitar in processfor animatronics where necessary, so I used my own steel-string guitar as a model. Bonus of making one completely custom is that the tuning head can be a fancy decorated skull with the tuning anchors incorporated into the skull design. ๐Ÿ™‚ I thought of making the body as another skull, but since real skeletons are playing, I’d rather have it be recognizable as a guitar.

The Scream Team working on the show scriptI don’t want to spoil any surprises, but we had planned new characters and needed to film them with enough time for HD video editing, which takes a lot longer to render. However, we needed enough story and characters settled before we could film! It was already getting hot, so thankfully Scary Jerry hosted our Scream Team writing session in Halloween Scream Team 2015 ready for filming!his nice cool air-conditioned house! In 5 hours we got enough written to film the following week, when we set up the greenscreen studio, again thankfully in Scary Jerry’s very comfortable air conditioning, and filmed until midnight! I knew the greenscreen bodysuit I bought for $5 on Halloween clearance two years ago would come in handy someday!

Another Scream Team writing sessionWe were finally 75% finished with the script after another 10 straight hours on a Saturday. Thanks to Scary Jerry for hosting again so we could enjoy his cool air, and we even celebrated Ghoulish Glen’s birthday early with a striped candle in a slice of carrot cake and a new tackle-style storage box for his animatronics & electronics components. It took another Finally finished the script, with an assist from Onyx!several hours on another workday Saturday in September, but the Halloween 2015 show script was finally finished with an assist by Onyx! The following Saturday, we completed recording the entire show script my makeshift sound studio at the dining table. 3 hours Recording the show script on a super-hot Saturday with no AC & no fans...whew!using 3 mics to 3 laptops to record 3 separate vocal tracks while able to react to each other for better performances, all in record-breaking heat with no AC and fans off for noise reduction…whew! Now to build all of this into a working graveyard show!

Golden flowers purchased all summer have overflowed their boxes...Another iconic image of Dia de los Muertos is decorating everything with marigold flowers. Fresh flowers wouldn’t last the entire month I planned for my graveyard display, so I was on the hunt for the cheapest but decent-looking golden flowers for abundant decor. My local Michaels didn’t put out their fall and Halloween stock in early August, but I scored all summer at my local dollar stores and using Amazon points, so now my boxes are One of 12 marigold garlands from Amazon for free points...woohoo!officially overflowing with assorted stems of marigold approximations, but it seems like this still won’t be enough flowers for my vision for Day of the Dead! I’m not finished with my costume yet, which will require a lot of flowers but might end up with extras, but I have dedicated around 1600 blooms and 12 garlands to party decor for $360 so I have stopped buying. I’ve pretty much cleared out stock from both Michaels and both Dollar Tree stores in my wider neighborhood anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Scary Jerry = foam stone texture carver extraordinaireIn August, as Scary Jerry & I worked on cutting and carving new giant gravestones (more details to come in another post!), Ghoulish Glen worked on the animatronic skull kits, realizing he would indeed have to buy more servos after all. I had learned my Webmistress Britta hard at work with the jigsaw, getting foam fuzz everywhere!lesson from previous foam cutting and purchased an extra-long jigsaw blade so I could cut all the way through the 2″ thick foam insulation sheets. I couldn’t find a smooth blade though, so the fine teeth spit fine foam dust everywhere! Sure glad I could use my back lawn for all this mess! As Ghoulish Glen testing & assembling animatronic skull kitsI got the pieces cut, Scary Jerry was using a woodburning tool as our foam stone texture carver extraordinaire. I had to pack up for the last summer movie night then leave 9 hours later for a work trip to Brazil, so I crammed all the Assembled giant gravestones hidden away looked pretty silly!giant gravestones into my side yard to hide them and keep them safe, but it looked really silly! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Labor Day weekend is a major build day for many home haunters, and my Scream Team had a marathon! On Saturday we went from plain white gravestones to painted and aged, thankfully Yours truly spraying colorful Mexican-inspired basecoats on plain white foam gravestones...using my handy sprayer with custom-mixed colorful Mexican-inspired basecoats from cheap acrylic craft paints. It was hot enough that the basecoats were dry quickly enough for Scary Jerry to try his hand at my Scary Jerry aging gravestones with spray paint and dripping water after basecoats were quickly dry in the hot sunshine...water and spray paint aging technique. We also built some screen frames, and even wrote more of the show script after dinner. Sunday we finished the frames and started the skeleton support mounts, then enjoyed a fun evening together with Front layout with test sombrerosa few more friends at the San Francisco Dungeon. By Monday evening all the gravestones AND skeletons were standing in place so we used some test sombreros to see how the full display might look!

Scary Jerry learning to accent paint gravestones Eerie Elegance-style... The next weekend we were all working hard again. Scary Jerry was learning to accent paint gravestones Eerie Elegance-style, which means not so dark that it looks like cartoony like you drew with black marker, but dark enough to read all the carvings at night. My previous gravestones have been table size at I never thought I would need a stepladder to paint a gravestone!most, so I would accent paint them while I was sitting at my work table. I never thought I would need a stepladder to paint a gravestone! As As you can tell by Ghoulish Glen's face, we are still working on skeleton engineering...and to think just a few years ago I hadn't even started decorating before October 1st!you can tell by Ghoulish Glen’s face, we were still working on skeleton engineering…and to think just a few years ago I hadn’t even started decorating before October 1st!

Soldering individual flicker LEDs to long thick pigtail wires to thread through the foam gravestonesAfter our script recording was complete, we turned the fans back on and had a soldering party assembly line to configure 80 flicker LEDs with pigtails long enough to run through the foam gravestones for custom-controllable candles. The soldering party assembly line continued until 2am, but we got all 80 flicker LEDs wired, soldered, heat-shrunk, First graveyard test of homemade PVC candles over custom-wired flicked LEDstested & sanded! After our dinner break, our initial graveyard candle testing of the newly-wired flicker LEDs showed that the PVC glue drip candles work best without paint so the translucent glue drips refract the light better. Duly noted for the rest of the candles I’m still making!

Another iconic Dia de los Muertos sight is lots of loaves of special Pan de Muertos bread, decorative Pan de Muertos bread loaf, bones and skull rising in shape before assemblyespecially as offerings on the gravestones, so I needed a lot of them! When I thought of making them all of papier-mรขchรฉ I was discouraged, and I thought even one mold then using spray insulation foam would get very expensive, plus I would have to paint them all to look decorative Pan de Muertos loaf assembled and bakedrealistic. So instead I bought a 50-pound bag of all-purpose flour for $12 and I have used almost all of it baking 27 loaves of decorative Pan de Muerto for the gravestones! These were just my normal sourdough bread recipe, so I didn’t have to buy 27 loaves of decorative Pan de Muertos from almost 50 pounds of flouryeast, just kept feeding my sourdough starter before I left for work, started the bread machine when I got home, formed the shapes to rise a couple hours, then baked by bedtime to dry out completely in the still-hot oven overnight. Now these will be sealed with marine varnish like the papier-mรขchรฉ so hopefully no critters will eat them while they’re on display in the graveyard! ๐Ÿ˜‰

After a break for my Annual Halloween Shopping weekend, Ghoulish Glen and I were back at work all weekend, struggling with getting more skeletons moving, and most importantly, salvaging the giant moon screen from Halloween 2013 so it could hang above the graveyard. Repairing and reinforcing the 8-foot moon screen up on the roofWhen we built it the first time, Glen insisted the moon should have a single support so it would really look like it was hanging in the sky. That worked for two weeks thankfully through the party, but the following day, I heard a crash on the roof…the support fell sideways in the wind so the moon snapped in half! We got it repaired for Halloween night, then when we dismantled it, I stored it flat on my roof since no one could see it anyway. I should have covered it since the foam in direct sunshine for 2 years degraded a bit, but it was still usable with a little reinforcement of lots of Liquid Nails, thin Ghoulish Glen tried pushing the reinforced moon support but it wouldn't budge!scrap wood, and nail gun action…but I insisted on more stability for the support frame. After a couple redesigns, we came up with angled side braces and two full 2x4s as long feet, plus weighted with 60 pounds of sand in 4 flood control sandbags (bonus that I can use the sand for refreshing my brick pathways that I do every spring), and you can see it is so stable, neither Britta tried pulling the reinforced moon support but it wouldn't budge!of us could budge it! It was dusk by then, and really windy all day anyway, so the moon itself waited until the next day, after I painted the supports black to blend into the night. I really wish I had a photo of the Painting the moon screen above the graveyardsplits I had to do to move the center anchor brace of the 8-foot moon screen flat on the roof before we could hang it! hahahaha! Since this year’s video has the real moon image instead of just a yellow disk, it was a bonus that the weather had discolored the foam to look 2 years of weather exposure looks like pretty realistic moon craters!like real craters! I did give it a coat of primer to fade the darkest spots, but I kind of like the effect. ๐Ÿ™‚

Ghoulish Glen demonstrating proper soldering techniqueI’ve been working on my costume in spurts for several months, but I needed Ghoulish Glen’s help for the candles for my hat and skirt, so I got a proper soldering lesson, and we reconfigured the strings so I only have one battery pack for the hat with the candles in the correct position, and a separate battery pack for the ones Soldering such tiny wires together, but I did it all myself!around the skirt. This also meant that I was able to reconfigure all TWENTY candle strings for the graveyard all by myself on Tuesday evening, stripped, tested, soldered, heat shrunk & tested again!

There are even more photos in the gallery below if you’d like to keep reading. Stay tuned for more updates since we still have LOTS more to finish before we are ready for my party on Saturday October 24th! Hope all your Halloween plans are going well so far! ๐Ÿ™‚


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The Hills are Alive with a Birthday Cinema Brittahytta!

Birthday Girl with The S'mores of MusicMy summer movie nights are good chances to view old favorites again, and 2015 is the 50th anniversary of a true classic…The Sound of Music! I invited my friends to sing along to help me celebrate my birthday weekend with a menu including A Few of My Favorite Things! 15 of us including 3 kids enjoyed Jerry’s delicious chocolate birthday cake with a crazy singing lotus candle, but since the movie was so long, no one ate any of The S’mores of Music I made…darn!

Teal Girls Unite!I didn’t have many decor ideas, so to go along with A Few of My Favorite Things, I used teal and aqua plates, napkins, and clothes. Ellie and Robin also wore teal in honor of my birthday, so we had to take a teal-girls photo! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Iced Tea (a drink with jam & bread)It’s too hot in the summer for a proper cup of hot tea, so in the spigot jar I had Iced Tea (a drink with jam & bread). A few adults tried the special Edelweiss Cocktail. Cyd wasn’t able to attend but she helped design this custom cocktail using a sugar cube as the snowy Alpen peak in the bottom of the glass. Elderflowers are similar to edelweiss so I used St Germaine liqueur and it Elderflower liqueur Edelweiss Cocktails in several glass styleswas tasty. I found some drawings of edelweiss for the recipe card:

Edelweiss Cocktail

Edelweiss, Edelweiss, Every morning you greet me,
Small and white, clean and bright, You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, Bloom and grow forever,
Edelweiss, Edelweiss, Bless my homeland forever.

1 part chilled vodka
1 part St Germaine elderflower liqueur
2 parts lemon-lime soda

Rim the glass with white sugar snow. Set two sugar cubes in the glass. Pour in the vodka, then the St Germaine, then top with lemon lime soda. The bubbles should mix the drink without disturbing the sugar cubes so your drink will be clean and bright. After several minutes, the cubes will turn into mountains like the Alps!

The Hills are Alive with the Smell of SausagesSausages are very Austrian and a summer BBQ staple for me, so I called them “The Hills are Alive with the Smell of Sausages” to be funny. I make several summer menu items all the time because I love the leftovers, so those and the last of my homemade ice cream from the 4th of July were A Few of My Favorite Things, plus my special request for Jerry’s fantastic chocolate cake!

Cutting wafer paper sheet music to fit marshmallows for The S'mores of MusicThe special s’mores this time were The S’mores of Music! The chocolate stars and graham crackers stored fine as leftovers from Fireworks & Fun, so I printed out some pages of sheet music from Do Re Mi and My Favorite Things onto edible wafer paper. Even after shrinking the music Can you read the songs on The S'mores of Music? :)smaller and using the giant marshmallows, only a short phrase would fit, so I cut them freeform by hand to make sure it was a recognizable musical The S'mores of Musicphrase on each marshmallow. That left a lot of music scraps, so I’m glad I used the much cheaper wafer paper than the expensive frosting sheets that I’ve used on marshmallows before! If you look closely you can see do, re, la, ti, and a few favorite things on the finished s’mores. ๐Ÿ™‚

Partying people Partying people Partying people Partying people
Birthday girl with the crazy lotus candleWe enjoyed chatting, grilling and eating, then I showed 15 minutes of special pre-movie “vintage” entertainment before we used one of my silly lotus candles for my birthday cake. We had tried one of these candles for Cyd’s 60s cocktail party birthday but it never sang until 5 hours later. This one sang but Birthday girl cutting the delicious chocolate cakeonly turned very slowly. We were all listening to the candle instead of singing, until Robin tried to sing matching the squealing high pitch of the candle…haha! Jerry’s chocolate cake was delicious with my homemade vanilla custard ice cream!

Fantastic quality widescreen on the Blu-ray edition!This movie is so long that it even has its own intermission, but the die-hards made it through the whole thing! The film transfer looks fabulous, and so many of us had Ready for the movie!never seen the true widescreen version, which really makes a difference. Several of us sang along of course!

Last but not least, here is the special pre-movie “vintage” entertainment I showed on my big screenโ€ฆhighlights from my performance as Maria in our 6th grade class production of The Sound of Music! I had no idea how to do anything but belt out the notes since I wasn’t quite 12 yet, and everyone on stage is my age except for little Gretl. Even though we trimmed the show down, I still had 14 costume changes, and was often wearing double costumes in the Sacramento summer heat. As you forgive the brand-new consumer VHS recorder technology of 1983, watch for my wimple wardrobe malfunction, my Do Re Mi flub, and my intense “acting”โ€ฆenjoy!

The full photo gallery is included below…and stay tuned next month for The Book of Life!


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Fantastic Fireworks & Fun for ’15!

Fireworks & Fun 2015Another year of fantastic free fireworks from Santa Clara so I had another fabulous Fourth…hooray! I love living one block away from the park with such a great fireworks view from my backyard! This year was the smallest fireworks party yet, but we were still 22 people and one little dog enjoying decent weather, fun food & a spectacular fireworks show! Keith took a video of part of the finale, and you can hear Doug next to him saying “Wait, that wasn’t the finale?!?” ๐Ÿ™‚

This year was more hectic for me, since not only had I just hosted the last movie night the previous weekend, and I was frantically finishing sculpting & gilding some steampunk robot cake decor for Benjamin’s birthday, but I was also leaving for a 2-week vacation with Grandma touring Festive Homemade Ice Creamthe Canadian Rockies immediately after, so I was trying not to have too much food leftover that I couldn’t freeze. I did pretty well, giving the green salad away at the end of the party and taking the last of it as my airport lunch, but my freezer was packed absolutely full of leftovers. Nice to still have so much apricot cashew quinoa salad for work lunches when I got back from Canada!

I made pretty much the same menu as last year because most people enjoy it AND I don’t mind all the leftovers, especially the once-a-year Corndog Sparklers and homemade ice cream. ๐Ÿ˜‰ This time the Sparkling Sugar Stars Cutting Chocolate Stars for S'morescookies were just red & blue sugar dusted before baking, so not overly sweet, but the Star Spangled S’mores were totally Finished Star-Spangled S'mores 2015different from last year. There were so many Big Hero S’mores leftover that I retrimmed the marshmallows, then mixed up some modeling chocolate and cut stars with another cookie cutter. The stars fit just right on top of the round marshmallows and looked great.

Stars & Stripes Brie 2015For the Stars & Stripes Brie this year, I scored stripes into the pastry under cutout pastry stars, but the scored stripes puffed too much while baking so you couldn’t really see them. Good thing the stars worked just fine!

Festive FromageI prepped the plate for Assorted Cheese & Crackers a couple nights before, so I had time to cut tiny stars from the white cheese. It looks so nice and it’s so easy, just takes some time and effort to poke the cheese stars out of the tiny cutter! The cheese scraps from around the stars are good for omelets or grilled cheese sandwiches. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Fireworks & Fun 2015 Food TableHere is the main food table by the patio bar, with the chalkboard menu decorated the most ever, including fireworks, firecrackers, sparklers, red, white & blue stars, and even two accurate American flags at the bottom! Can you spot the Apricot & Cashew Quinoa Salad, Sweet Potato Salad, Festive Fruit Salad, Old Glory Green Salad with homemade star croutons, blueberries & balsamic strawberries, Stars & Stripes Brie in Pastry, Aged Manchego Slices with Quince, Corndog Sparklers, Sparking Sugar Stars, Star-Spangled S’mores and Uncle Sam’s Stevia Lemonade? ๐Ÿ™‚

Sheila's Delicious Deviled Eggs!Sheila was wondering what she should bring, so I requested her absolutely delicious deviled eggs! I could have eaten the entire tray, so I was trying my best to stay away, and I was texting egg updates to others Shade-sitters had deviled eggs hand-delivered to them! ;)since I was afraid they might miss them! ๐Ÿ˜‰ To make sure everyone got a chance, Sheila passed the tray personally to everyone who had already moved chairs into the one corner of afternoon shade. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Outer food table ready for potlock goodies!The outer food table was decorated with a spare full-size flag and bunting for grilled foods, potluck goodies and the snow cones that didn’t get made because there were no kids this year and the adults didn’t want to work so hard! Fancy popcorn: kettle corn plus gourmet homemade popcorn from Ben!I buy the tasty kettle corn from Trader Joe’s for my Cinema Brittahytta popcorn boxes, and lucky for us that Ben made some fancy gourmet seasoned popcorn that was extremely tasty!

Making so many Razzle-Dazzle-Tinis at once!I created my Razzle-Dazzle-Tini layered cockatil recipe several years ago, but I had never made so many at once! All the shade-sitters wanted one, including a couple without alcohol, so the red lights were alcohol “danger” and the blue were safe. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I lined up the glasses on the bar, sugared the rims with my red-white-and-blue sugar I mixed up ages ago (keep it in an airtight plastic tub and it keeps great!), then used the red Layered Razzle-Dazzle-Tini with star ice cuberaspberry sugar Torani syrup and the blue Rose raspberry mixer so they layered nicely. That’s all sugar, which balances fine with the clear chilled vodka, but it needs lemon-lime soda for the non-alcoholic version. Pour gently otherwise you end up with purple! Add a star ice cube and serve!

I served almost four quarts of my Homemade Vanilla Custard Ice Cream right before the fireworks started so we could enjoy dessert with a view, and it was another impressive show! I always love when the bright fireworks light up my backyard audience! ๐Ÿ™‚
Fireworks 2015 Fireworks 2015 Fireworks 2015 Fireworks 2015

After the fireworks, since traffic leaving my neighborhood is horrible, I lighted the firepit for Star-Spangled S’mores! Since Louie was using the last of the coals in the dark, can you tell he added his own lighting for the photo? ๐Ÿ˜‰
Sheila Roasting Marshmallows for Star-Spangled S'mores Roasting Marshmallows for Star-Spangled S'mores Jenna & Julianna Roasting Marshmallows for Star-Spangled S'mores Louie Roasting Marshmallows for Star-Spangled S'mores

All three of my kitties have matching patriotic bandanas, but as usual only Onyx was roaming the party, so I had to wait until everyone left to take photos of Ebony and Obsidian…who were so anxious to get out the patio food, they ended up SHARING the windowsill! You don’t even know how rare that is! ๐Ÿ˜‰
Onyx was roaming the party as usual Princess Pose Siddy, I promise I'll take it off as soon as you hold still enough for a photo! ;) Ebony & Obsidian SHARING the windowsill!

I had my normal patriotic decorations in the front yard and inside the house, with my flagpole in a different spot this year since my plants have grown too much for the flag to fit along the front pathway anymore. Here are just a few, and you can see more decoration photos in the full gallery below.
Patriotic Brittahytta Front Porch Living Room Festive Floral Fireworks

Hope you enjoyed your Fourth of July! You can click to continue reading to see the entire photo gallery below. Sure hope Santa Clara puts on another fireworks show next year so I can have another fun party!


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Cinema Brittahytta – Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 Menu with Special S'moresFamilies with kids understandably often have to change plans on a dime, so instead of the 16 expected, we just had a cozy crew of 8 this weekend for Big Hero 6 at Cinema Brittahytta, thoroughly enjoying our grilled pizzas, snow cones & special s’mores! An hour after everyone else left, 4 more special guests stopped by and made a little Ouye After-Party with more s’mores, kettle corn & fruit salad. ๐Ÿ™‚

In the invitation I asked everyone to “bring your favorite San Fransokyo-inspired topping to recharge your batteries with grilled Personal Healthcare Companion Pizzas!” so obviously I had fun naming the menu, with representation of all major characters! I think my favorite name is Fred Zilla Fruit Patio food tableSalad…say it five times fast? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I grabbed images online & made menu cards to make sure everyone understood the names, and I wrote them all our for the menu chalkboard, including drawing Baymax waving at the bottom. I didn’t make cards for Microbots Manchego with Quince, Callaghan Cheeses, or Krei Crackers, and the snow cones & pizzas were outside, but can you spot the signs for Hiro-Cane Cocktails, Honey Lemon-Ade, Wasabi Peas, Fred Zilla Fruit Salad, and Big Hero Smores?

Personal Healthcare Companion Pizzas cardSince the pizza table is outside and often has more of a breeze, I wanted to make the Baymax card stand up vertically for the Personal Healthcare Companion pizzas. I printed it full page onto cardstock, folded the bottom back across the bottom of the image, cut in along the bottom to fold the sides backwards, cut along the shoulders for shape, then folded the top down to stabilize Hiro’s head better. I used thin double-stick tape, then cut around Hiro’s hair so all the edges matched. After the shoulders were trimmed, bending the sides backwards met behind Baymax’s neck, so a little tape there held it perfectly. It looked better leaning back at a slight angle, so I kept trimming the folds where the sides met the bottom until I had the angle I wanted. This stood up pretty well on its own, but a breeze could knock it over, so I also used normal tape to stick the bottom flap to the vinyl tablecloth. Thankfully it stayed standing during the entire party!

Standup Baymax Card 1 Standup Baymax Card 2 Standup Baymax Card 3 Standup Baymax Card 4

Quick & Easy Baymax Paper PlatesI only had 11 plates left of my heavy-duty paper plates, so I quickly made them into Baymax plates for the pizza table out by the grill, and red square plates leftover from Lego movie night last year for the inside food table.

Assembling Hiro Toothpick FlagsSince I decided on Hiro-Cane Cocktails that ideally should have an orange slice & cherry garnish, and I had images of Hiro in his normal clothes and his super-suit, I thought of making toothpick flags, one side for each Hiro. I printed these on a single Assembling the Hiro-Cane Cocktail garnishes with the Hiro toothpick flagssheet of normal paper, cut them out, then used double-stick clear tape so it would stick to itself as well as around the toothpick. These came out perfectly and were so quick to Hiro Toothpick Flag Garnishesmake! After I sliced a couple oranges and notched them into half-moons, I was able to stick the toothpick through the cherry and into the top of the orange rind, and they sat in my glass holder just right!

I had designed the cocktail so it would still look cool without any alcohol in case any of the kids wanted to try it. Here is what the card said for the Hiro Cane Cocktails:

Hiro-Cane CocktailsHiro-Cane Cocktails

This tasty concoction is inspired by the classic Hurricane cocktail and our hero Hiro Hamada. Enjoy it as just a fruity mocktail or level-up to full knockout power by adding a boost of rum!

3 oz pineapple orange juice
1 oz sugar-free red raspberry syrup
1 1/2 oz dark rum

Pour the juice into a glass over ice. Gently pour the red raspberry syrup on the top edge to not mix into the juice. Carefully float the rum on top of the syrup and appreciate the layers as pretty as a sunset over San Fransokyo. Stir to mix well before sipping responsibly, since you might be called to action anytime as a member of Team Big Hero 6!

Personal Healthcare Companion Pizza crust, ready for the grillGrilled pizzas have been a big summer hit for several years now, so I thought round crusts with Baymax’s face would be perfect as Personal Healthcare Companion Pizzas. I made the same homemade whole wheat sourdough pizza dough I’ve been making for years, formed into circles, then before baking I used a small rectangular spatula and a round tea infuser to press the eyes into the unbaked dough. I Personal Healthcare Companion Pizza Tableonly bake these 3 minutes on a side so the shape is set but they don’t overcook on the grill. I also make these a week or two ahead and freeze them in bags with wax paper between them. If you have leftovers, they last in the freezer Pizzas on the grill - can you spot Baymax?quite a while, which is great since I love these pizzas…perfect for a small dinner!

I set out pizza topping basics, red sauce, habanero sauce, mozzarella cheese, goat cheese, real pepperoni & turkey pepperoni, crumbled bacon, sliced olives, artichoke hearts, fresh sliced tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes, so people could load their crust how they liked, then set them on the hot grill off to the side. Can you spot my Baymax face pizza with pepperoni eyes? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Dino & Little Go-Go Harley make Go-Go Snow ConesFor sweets we had Go-Go Snow Cones and Big Hero S’mores! The snow cones were more popular as an Drawing Baymax's face on marshmallows with my black food penappetizer, with my hand-crank ice shaver and several different syrups and juices, cone cups and spoon straws. Little Harley even came dressed as Go-Go, which was adorable!

How can an entire box of graham crackers have the middle pack completely broken?!?For the Big Hero S’mores, of course the obvious design was Baymax’s face on the round marshmallow. I cut the gigantic marshmallows in half to make a shorter disc shape, setting the sticky side down on wax paper, then drew the faces with my Finished Big Hero S'moresblack food coloring pen. Except for my brand-new box of graham crackers having the entire MIDDLE package broken and mostly unusable for pretty rectangles, the s’mores were an easy assembly of Hershey bar squares on the graham crackers, then placing the marshamallow faces on top…voila Big Hero S’mores!

Eileen is always clever, so she brought Go-Go Vegan Truffles, complete with hand-lettered sign in the Big Hero 6 font, plus some really tasty sushi!

We ran out of time beforehand, and the firepit had gone out while we were watching the movie, so we used the still-hot grill coals for marshmallow roasting. Here are our resident roasting experts demonstrating the Baymax Fist Bump: Balalalala! ๐Ÿ™‚

Roasting Baymax Doing the Baymax Fist Bump Balalalala! :) Big Hero S'more

This was the first movie night ever to have sprinkles of rain! It made for an absolutely gorgeous pink sunset, with even a rainbow! I’d never seen a rainbow at sunset before, and it was pink! Since Dino & Harley were the first to arrive, they claimed the garden couch!

Sunset Rainbow! Chilling on the garden couch But it never rains on movie night?!? Thankfully just a few tiny sprinkles...whew! Ready for the show!

An hour after everyone else had left, Jeff texted me asking if they could still come by. They had two different votes what to do that Saturday, one for fishing and one for movie night, so Jeff thought they could do both with fishing first. Well, the fishing was several hours away, and poor Julianna was really sad they missed movie night, so we used the last glowing embers of the grill to roast more marshmallows, they enjoyed fruit salad, and even the rest of the kettle corn. Nice fun little after-party! ๐Ÿ™‚

Ouye After Party Roasting over the last of the coals, an hour after everyone else left. Yummy! Ouye After Party

Two movies down, with two more to go before this summer is over!

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Cinema Brittahytta Season Premiere – Paddington!

Ren, Joe, Paddington, Britta & MikeWe had a fun crowd of 13 lucky viewers for Paddington, the season premiere of Cinema Brittahytta! Mike, Ren & Joe won the longest distance movie night attendance awards from the UK and Massachusetts, but Jeff & Louie won the oldest friends awards from 1990…ack!

The 2014 live-action movie Paddington got short shrift getting shoved out of the Christmas season here in the US, but it captures the goofy but sweet flavor of the classic books about Paddington Bear, who has always been a well-meaning klutz who often misunderstands his new world after moving from Darkest Peru to London. The movie includes a Paddington Menubunch of British self-deprecating humor that modern audiences will appreciate, and some just plain gorgeous cinematic storytelling moments, with fun references and a great message for kids of all ages.

My summer season premiere is often a little chaotic with getting the yard ready, reconnecting equipment, changing projector settings, so I don’t usually kill myself with the menu. The main themed food was Marmalade Sandwiches “in hat for emergencies” of course! I luckily had been given some homemade three-citrus marmalade by Nathania, so I spread that on my homemade whole wheat sourdough bread, and displayed them in a glass bowl inside an oversized hat I made Paddington's favorite Marmalade Sandwiches, in hat for emergenciesfrom scrap red felt.

While I was making the giant hat for the sandwiches, I made a smaller hat for the lemonade jar. I also Dressed-up lemonade jarmade a replacement red hat for the Paddington Bear my mom had made me when I was still in single-digit ages, since back in that era, Paddington had a yellow hat so that’s what she made for me. Of course I also displayed the tiny Paddington Bear I bought on my first visit to Paddington Station back in 1996.

From Darkest Peru custom cocktailEven with a basic menu, I usually can figure out a creative custom cocktail that goes with the theme, so this time we tasted From Darkest Peru, using Black Seal dark rum, unsweetened 100% blueberry juice, and ginger ale. I designed a little card with Paddington holding a serving tray, saying “Our friend Paddington Bear doesn’t often drink cocktails, but perhaps his dear Aunt Lucy would enjoy this creation inspired by their origins From Darkest Peru.” It was super tasty and super dark, barely allowing the glowing ice cubes to shine through!

British Style Bangers!I had already purchased some fancy sausages for the grill, which is a summer standard, but when I saw these “British Style Bangers” for sale, I had to get them! I made sure to keep these in their original packaging for everyone to appreciate before putting them on the grill. Mike is British, and he got a big laugh seeing these, trying to figure out what made them so British compared to other sausages! They were tasty though. ๐Ÿ™‚

Jerry brought Bear Claws! haha!Jerry had the clever idea to bring Bear Claw pastries, and they were delicious as our dessert, after the grilled sweet potato salad, fruit salad, and five-bean salad that are also summer staples for me.

We finally got settled out in the yard after dark, so the movie began! Everyone enjoyed it, from kids to adults, and when Paddington finally acquired his traditional blue duffle coat, an icon was born again on the big screen. ๐Ÿ™‚

An icon is born again on the big screen Cinema Brittahytta Season Premiere Audience

Stay tuned for next month’s movie…the Academy-Award-winning Big Hero 6!

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Cyd’s 60s Cocktail Party!

Cyd's 1960s Birthday Cocktail PartyHow do you celebrate a milestone birthday when the birthday girl doesn’t want the milestone announced? Have a 1960s cocktail party instead, and see if anyone clues in that’s the decade when she was born. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I knew Cyd had seen some fun cake boxes showing tie-dye and other wild colors, but her favorite is angel food cake, so I decide to try a Psychedelic 60s Tie-Dye Angel Food Cake, plus my co-hostesses scrounged the internet for more fun ideas, like classic cocktails and a Vintage 1960s Pineapple Cheese Ball I couldn’t resist making!

60s Robin posing with a cookie cigaretteWe all got out our family heirloom fondue pots and used them for Mary’s mom’s vintage meatball in sauce recipe, cheese fondue, and smokey nitrates a la orange, one of Cyd’s favorites, all at the “warm food” side of the buffet. Mary’s delicious deviled eggs and Robin’s asparagus spears in blankets were in the middle, then Joan’s 60s green salad dripping in mayo dressing, chopped eggs & bacon, some cookie cigarettes, and my Vintage Mary enjoying the food in her vintage hair & outfitPineapple Cheese ball and the tie-dye birthday cake held down the other end of the buffet. We had a ton of food for our cozy group, and we all enjoyed it!

The bar was in the other room, stocked by yours truly, the portable party! To keep the bottle juggling to a minimum, we decided on Mai Tais in honor of the pineapple cheese ball and the popularity of tiki bars in the 60s, which gave me the chance to use my tiki ice cube tray, my new Disney tiki souvenirs, and my tiny teal tiki shot glass from Hawaii. ๐Ÿ™‚ Here’s what I printed on the Classic Mai Tais with tiki accessoriesrecipe card:

Classic Mai Tai

Thereโ€™s an age-old argument regarding who was the original inventor of the Mai Tai. Some say Don the Beachcomber and some say Trader Vic. Weโ€™d rather drop all the drama and get to the part where we make this time-honored drink using Trader Vic’s recipe.

"Flaming" Mai Tai by the fire pitThis classic cocktail was invented by Trader Vic at the original Trader Vic’s restaurant back in 1944, when he decided to create the world’s finest rum drink. While he was mixing ingredients, some friends from Tahiti happened to come in. They 60s Britta with her Classic Mai Taitried the results, and declared “Mai tai – ro aรฉ!” which is Tahitian for “Out of this world – the best!” And that’s how the drink got its name.

Trader Vic’s Famous Mai Tai

4 oz Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Mix from the pitcher
2 oz dark rum

Pour over ice into an old fashioned glass. Stir well and garnish with cherry, mint and lime.

To make a Honi Honi (Hawaiian for “kisses”) substitute fine bourbon for the rum.

Mix Your Own Old FashionedFor our other classic cocktail, we chose the old fashioned, featured the past few years as Don Draper’s favorite on Mad Men. ๐Ÿ˜‰ However, I never knew until researching that the classic old-fashioned cocktail has such controversy and rabid opinions surrounding it! I brought bitters, sugar cubes, maraschino cherries & orange slices, plus a rye whiskey, Canadian whiskey, and a bourbon for everyone to try their own combinations based on the various old fashioned rules. Since I knew the birthday girl had been wanting to try St Germain liqueur in new drinks, I added the Dolled Up Old Fashioned too. Here are the full instructions for both, plus the birthday girl’s snazzy 60s dress and homemade fur-trim coat!

Birthday Girl at the Bar!Classic Old Fashioned

The old fashioned has been the old-fashioned way to make a cocktail for about 130 years, during which time it has been in and out of fashion. Rye whiskey, bourbon or blended Canadian whiskey have all been popular. There is also a bone of contention whether the fruit should be muddled into the drink or only served as garnish. Mix your own variety and decide which you like best!

whiskey of your choice
orange slices
maraschino cherries
sugar cube
The professor uncomfortably sips his old fashioned while his wife and college student mistress get acquaintedโ€ฆyes there were backstories for these outfits!
Place a sugar cube into an old fashioned glass with a splash of bitters. Add an orange slice and maraschino cherry if you like. Muddle together until the fruit is mush, or until the sugar is dissolved. Pour in your choice of whiskey and stir well. Taste and add more sugar or bitters if you prefer. Add ice, then garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Serve immediately and drink slowly.
Robin demonstrates a classic cocktail
Dolled Up Old Fashioned

2 shots whiskey
1 splash St Germain
2 splashes bitters
1 splash sour mix

Combine all ingredients in an old fashioned glass and stir well. Serve with ice and an orange slice.


Tie-Dye Angel Food Cake with Crazy Lotus CandleWe all enjoyed the lovely April evening around the fire pit, then decided it was time for cake! I had ordered these crazy lotus petal multi-candles from China online, and they were supposed to rotate while they petals opened, revealing several small candles already lighted, plus it was supposed to play the Happy Birthday song. Here’s what it looked like before we started…

How niceโ€ฆthe candle came with abstract poetry on the box! ;)โ€ฆbut first, we were laughing so hard at the poor translation on the box instructions that Robin had to read them aloud as poetry!

I lighted the center wick with one hand with my phone ready to record video with the otherโ€ฆwhoosh, the center flame lighted immediately and they weren’t kidding to stay back 40cm! After the big flame subsided a little, the whole candle Whoa! Big flame!started rotating slowly and opening its petals. What I bought was supposed to have 14 candles and only had 8 inside, but it was still fun to watchโ€ฆbut it never sang! We waited watching it a bit, but still no singing, so we sang so Cyd could make her wish and blow out the candles!

The lotus candle starts to rotate and open its petals... The birthday girl dances as the lotus candle turns... It's open but it's still not singing! Time for us to sing! Make a wish!

The tie dye cake was a hit!We cut the cake, with everyone enjoying how the tie-dye showed through the entire cake, and I piped a bunch more whipped cream frosting on each slice for serving. Very tasty and the birthday girl loved it! After a game of Yahtzee – classic 60s party game! – we cleaned up and went our separate waysโ€ฆbut at 1am Cyd texted me that the candle had started singing from inside the garbage can! Hahahaโ€ฆ.and it kept singing all night well into the morning! Better late than never I guess? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Don’t forget to read the full instructions for the Psychedelic 60s Tie-Dye Angel Food Cake and the Vintage 1960s Pineapple Cheese Ball, and you can see all the party photos in the gallery below. Hope you are inspired to host your own 1960s cocktail party someday! ๐Ÿ™‚


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Halloween 2014 – Studying Spirits with Miss Hermione G. Wells

If you follow Britta Blvd or Eerie Elegance on Facebook, you’ve been able to see each ghost video as I posted them on YouTube over the past couple months, culminating in this master walkthrough of all the ghosts. I’m still working on more video editing for the rest of the party, but you should watch this video in full before you will be ready to understand the Halloween 2014 Main Event!

Discover all six spirits haunting Castle Brittahytta as you explore the grounds, then listen carefully in the steampunk Library Laboratory as Miss Hermione G. Wells explains how and why she needs your help so you will be prepared for what comes nextโ€ฆ

Studying Spirits with Miss Hermione G. Wells

โ€ฆplus separate videos with more details,
one for each of the six spirits haunting Castle Brittahytta:

The Phantom of the Pipes Haunting the Garden Chapel

The Watery Wraith Haunting the Wishing Well

Swashbuckler Sally Haunting the Front Tower

Merry Madam Mead Haunting Her Jar

The Pumpkin Queen Haunting the Castle Garden

The Ghostly Guardian Haunting the Main Castle Tower

Now are you prepared to help Miss Wells? Stay tuned for the Main Event video coming soon!

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New Year’s Eve 2014

Happy New Year 2015!I didn’t have a Christmas party this year because I was asked to host New Year’s Eve! It was a small affair with 14 of us chatting and having a blast playing Rock Band until about 3:30am, with even an elusive 100% on Expert vocals with some Triple Awesomes for harmonies!

New Years Brie En CrouteThis time my party menu was fairly basic, with a couple sliced cheese plates, and several purchased items. I baked a round whole wheat sourdough loaf so the bread cubes could be for chocolate or the purchased spinach dip I displayed in the bread bowl. Cyd has a New Years tradition of reducing orange juice concentrate over Lil’ Smokies mini sausages, so I had to make the Smokey Nitrates a la Orange. ๐Ÿ™‚ Trader Joe’s has some brown rice crispy treat bars that I cut into bite size fondue pieces, and I love their honey wheat pretzel sticks. I did make a pastry brie with stars and 2015 on top, but no other edible art, just my chocolate fondue fountain…which ran fine until about 1am, when we heard the motor burn out! Thanks for probably a decade of fine party Mini Oreos in the swan song performance of the Chocolate Fondue Fountainservice, and now you can rest in peace. The extra bonus is that fountain was always a pain to clean since you can’t rinse the chocolate down the drain or risk clogged pipes when it hardens, so this time I just tossed the whole thing in the trash, chocolate and all. ๐Ÿ˜‰

When friends are too tipsy to hold cameras steady, you must resort to selfies. ;)My fanciest bit of fun was my New Years hat! I removed all the steampunk accessories from my black top hat fascinator and redecorated with a shimmery gold and aqua scarf, and some wired teal foil ribbon. That fascinator is perfectly balanced and the elastic fits perfectly behind my ears under my hair, so it’s easy to wear all night long!

Here are all the photos from our party with full descriptions this time. Hope everyone is having a Happy New Year so far!

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Halloween 2014 – The Party!

Miss Wells in the Library Laboratory explaining why she isn't at her own party and why she needs your helpSorry for such a delay, but everyone has been super busy, myself as well as my several photographers, so I’ve just barely gathered all the party photos and taken all my catchup photos. I still need to prepare some video to give you the full idea of my decor in a separate post, so my first tale told will be the party experience!

I say “experience” because this year was not just a party. In addition to the 6 ghosts and 7 moving portraits featuring the Verdigris family of Castle Brittahytta, Miss Hermione G. Wells was in the Library Laboratory explaining why she was not in person at her own party and why she needs your help, but that was just the beginning! The main event was an interactive mystery with an intricate plot told in 7 short acts over 2 hours, using two projectors and two VSA controller boards in the giant glowing-green-ectoplasm-powered steampunk device to show the “mad scientist” transmitting from Europe, the dead psychic medium leading the seance from inside an astral gateway vortex, and five ghosts summoned inside the large crystal ball using the energy of all the party guests participating in the seanceโ€ฆand there was even live interaction The Spirit Materializerwith Sir William Crookes and the Glowing Ghostly Guardian! You can get an idea by several photos here, but to understand and appreciate the full show experience, you will need to be patient for the full video I will be posting soon. In the meanwhile, some comments from party guests included “You really out-did yourself!” multiple times, “Loved solving the mystery!” and “Awesome main event! It was like being at a full scale amusement park!”

Of course our most ambitious party yet had to be threatened by the worst Halloween weather I have seen in 21 years! Couldn’t the California drought have continued for just a few more days? The only days it rained were the day of my party and Halloween dayโ€ฆ*sigh* Definitely a lesson in worrying about what you can actually control, admittedly not a strength of mine, but also a lesson that my metal patio roof isn’t as watertight as it looks, since really forceful rain can push the overlapping roof pieces apart dumping water onto my normally Borrowed pop-up canopies saved us from the weatherdry patio! On Friday the wind was terrorizing me so badly I was literally frantic, and I was asking on Facebook for everyone to pray to anything they believed in for the afternoon to dry out to safely run electronics for my party, so Louie came to the rescue with a couple pop-up canopies for the backyard so we could still use the much-needed space for food tables and seating. Thank you so much, Louie! I think I will now be investing in a couple of those canopies for myself!

By party morning the wind had stopped but it was soaking wet everywhere. I thought I had covered all the electronics enough, but unfortunately two power circuits died overnight and wouldn’t come back just from GFCI reset because a couple power strips got wet from ground splash back, and they controlled all the front I couldn't have made it through party day without Tash & Glen! THANK YOU!!!yard & roof lighting plus those ghosts, the patio fridge and all the lab lighting! Ghoulish Glen came over before noon, used my hairdryer to dry out what was the riskiest, and waited for others since the rain had stopped by early afternoon. He had the knowledge & his circuit tester to isolate the bad connections to remove them from the chain. Thankfully the fridge was back running first so the party food was safe, and he had everything running again by party timeโ€ฆhooray!

With all that weather mess and the extra delay of putting up the canopies the night before, plus unable to set the tables early as I hoped, I was way behind on food prep even though I had scaled back my menu this year intentionally! My dear friend Tash, featured each year for Annual Halloween Shopping Weekends, came by herself this year all the way from Truckee, so she arrived at 3pm and said she was my “minion,” tackling anything I asked, no matter how dirty the job! There is no way this party would have happened without her and Ghoulish Glen both helping on party day! Thank you both so much!!!

Watching the main show live on the patioWith them both helping, I got the last unused steampunk junk stashed in the garage, and barely jumped in the shower at 6pm! The biggest food project that couldn’t be done by others was a plot point, so I got my makeup, wig & most of my costume on by party start time, but no crown or cloak since I was still doing food prep. That ended up working well, since I didn’t match any of the ghosts not in full costume, so I didn’t have to be in character, and I was another part of the Watching the main show on the living room webcam feedmystery until my big reveal in full costume in Act 7! The first act of the main show started at 8pm just as advertised, I switched the big TV from the portrait to the patio webcam feed, and I was out watching the audience and the show along with my Scream Team, excited that the guests were intrigued and loving it! Then I was back in the kitchen busy frantically mixing up 6 different flavors of jalapeรฑo jelly green ectoplasm slime test tube shots before they were required at the end of Act 6!

Backyard Food Table by TashA few guests were driving to the party in an absolute downpour of rain with wipers on full blast, but thankfully we only had a couple drizzles during the party, and the wind stopped by around 5pm so we could reset all the towers & spires yet again barely in time. After all our bad weather luck causing delays, we pulled it out in the end, all ghosts and portraits worked, the castle stayed intact as needed, and the main event worked, but I didn’t get many photos of my own, so I am very thankful both Tash and Cat did such a great job taking photos! I never would have seen any of the Creepy Inside Food Table by TashCuisine if Tash hadn’t been taking food photos! Only 56 of us for this party compared to 80+ last year ended up being a blessing, since that made sure everyone who wanted to could watch the main event, either live on the patio or in the living room on the patio webcam feed on the big TV and speaker feed coming all the way from the back patio. Very glad that all worked, and even all three webcams stayed working all party, at least on the local network!

We had a ton of fantastic costumes despite the weather, too many to post individually, so check out the full gallery below. I am so glad everyone could show their creativity, and that Cat was able to get most of them Studying Spirits quiz sheets by Catdocumented for posterity! Costume prizes and Creepy Cuisine are traditions, and even though I thought Ogle the Owl must be getting old by now, a longtime guest told me how much she looks forward to it, and several newcomers loved it too! The problem is I have so many owls by now that it was too hard to edit my collection down to 21 on party display, so maybe next time it will be an undisclosed number of owls & see if anyone finds them all? ๐Ÿ˜‰ We Exploring Ectoplasm Essences quiz sheets by Catalso had two new contests related to the main show. Studying Spirits was to find the true names of all seven spirits haunting the castle using the portraits and other family heirlooms around the castle, and Exploring Ectoplasm Essences was matching the flavor profiles to which ghost’s ectoplasm collection location. I made Edible Medals again and had extras, so a runner-up was awarded in each category as well, using the loudest cheering for the costume awards. Here are the winners!

Scariest Costume: Kevin S as Silence from Doctor Who, Billy as Skeletor
Most Creative Costume: Lori as R2D2, Comic Suit Kip
Ultimate Costume: Firefly Family, Gangster Family
Supreme Spirit Savant: Keith & Doug
Exceptional Ectoplasm Essence Explorer: Ashlyn, Erica
Outstanding Owl Ogler: Eleanor, Angie, Katie, Mike
Creepy Cuisine: Scary Jerry for Toxic Cupcakes, Tracia for Coffin Cakes, Kevin C in absentia (and Kip because I still had cookies) ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Webmistress contacts Queen Meresinine in the crystal ballSince the main show ended about 10:20pm, after the awards several people started leaving, but that was the “how did you do it?” question time! There were actually more story questions than technical questions, which surprised us. We admit the story was probably a bit too involved for a party, when sometimes people would end up talking or laughing over plot points, let alone a bit complicated for people imbibing alcohol, so next time we will work on a less intricate mysteryโ€ฆ.but overall the feedback was Halloween Scream Team 2014 by Catpositive and people liked the story! Go Ghoulish Glen our Ghost Writer! ๐Ÿ™‚

The very last people to stay around waited and watched the portraits to see our new surprises for this year. Queen Ergelise left her piano portrait in search of her sister Sarina over the fireplace, and in the hallway Queen Meresinine aka “Merry” sneaked into the Merry sneaks into the Pumpkin Queen's portrait to tease herPumpkin Queen’s portrait to tease her. They must have just barely missed her the first time, since it took over 20 minutes of watching, but they were rewarded! ๐Ÿ˜‰ The full gallery for this post is below, with photos from Tash, myself, and I’ve included some of Cat’s here, but to see all of her fantastic photos, either go to her professional website for the full glory, or go to her Facebook album to see comments along with the photos. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks to everyone who braved the weather to come celebrate with us!

Brittahytta Bed & Breakfast Brunch for 7 in the Backyard!I had a record number of overnight guests, and it was a lovely Sunday morning after the storm, so we ate our waffle and baked egg brunch in the backyard after I had only 90 minutes of sleep after doing dishes into the wee hours! I was so exhausted after they left that I took a 3-hour nap, then only had time for a quick peek at my own photos Sunday night while I did laundry and packed, since what do you do when you’ve just pulled off the most ambitious Halloween project in 21 years? You go to DISNEYLAND! ๐Ÿ˜€ Stay tuned for that amazing trip, then back to more detailed party decor!


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last Halloween update before the party!

ACK! Only 4 days until the big event! Overall we are doing well but it is definitely final crunch time! More wind was frustrating Sunday afternoon as I fought with more pieces flying off the roof, so I am not setting out the spires until the last minute. We had some sprinkles on Monday, At least this was the only rain damage from yesterday's weatherenough to make the contact paper garage door cover fall off completely (*sigh*), but gladly very light so I had time to quickly cover everything that might possibly get damaged, but as of now Saturday’s forecast is a 60% chance of morning showers, clearing by the afternoon. Clear later is good news for the party itself, but having rain that morning means that all the tables & chairs in the backyard can’t be set up until after the rain is finished, and I was hoping to set them up Friday night. We will have to go with the flow and hope for the best!

My pumpkin is still green & growing bigger every day!Due to the rain I was glad we hadn’t set out the plethora of pumpkins quite yet, since that also requires more electrical runs for all the lighted pumpkins, so that is scheduled for tonight instead. No more baby pumpkins set but my one is getting even bigger! No chance of turning orange in 4 days but maybe by Halloween night next week? Otherwise I’ll have a nice big Thanksgiving pumpkin to bake!

Mounting the Pumpkin Queen projectorSunday night we got the new Pumpkin Queen setup working, this year using my full-size Sharp projector firmly mounted under the eaves of my house with a $25 metal projector mount, instead of the UltraProjector that wasn’t bright enough. Ghoulish Glen tested the light spill saying Ghoulish Glen gets stabbed by the Pumpkin Queen“I’m a giant pumpkin” and receiving the stab perfectly! Haha! I’m impressed we can see the ghost even when using camera flash! Now all six ghosts are set up, but final tweaking and decoration is underway, and all seven portraits are working, including their new surprises!

Steampunk construction is still underway, using PVC scraps and joints like LEGOs then painting them “brass” which look great. I am on my EIGHTH roll of gold duct tape as riveting edging, but More Steampunk Silliness - can you spot the tagboard Victrola horn?boy does it look great and save time! I might be gluing rivets on the last sections down to the wire!

The giant device needs a “speaker” which wouldn’t have existed in 1914, so I made a Victrola-style “metal” cone from scrap tagboard then painted it gold. It really looks like metal now with the perfect curves, and it looks great on the giant device! I’ve even been cutting tagboard coverplates to clean up the edges where the PVC enters the foam. Cutting tagboard flanges to cover PVC seams into foam panelsThe main VSA projector is the fancy short-throw BenQ I bought last year for the pumpkin chorus, but our backstage space is so limited that my projector tripod box couldn’t work, so I build a custom tilt shelf that mounts directly on the fence. Even anchored in my old fenceboards, that Positioning the main VSA projector before building a custom tilt shelfisn’t going anywhere now! VSA programming is still underway too, but there is enough done that looks really fantastic, and a lot of what’s left is copying & pasting sequences from one section to another. I think we will actually make it!

Library Laboratory is looking lovely!Scary Jerry did a lovely job setting up my lab table, even “harvesting” some interesting foliage samples around my yard and mystical black cat hair clumps off my floor…brilliant! haha! More will be added since this was just the new glassware from this year plus the alcohol bottles, nothing at all from the big lab equipment box! I guess I need to go through my collection and keep only my Assorted Specimens Harvested by Scary Jerryfavorites now, since there’s not much space to actually mix beverages anymore. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thankfully both manuscripts are on schedule to be done in the next couple days, and I’m very pleased with how they are looking! I even bought some fancy trim for bookmarks, and dressed them up with some of the metal scrapbooking corners I had in my steampunk stash. The other Bookmarks for one of the illuminated manuscriptsfour spires still need to be sewn, but since I know they take an hour each and that the technique works, I’m getting other projects done first that haven’t been attempted before since they might need reconfiguring.

What’s left to do? A lot of course! One more large-scale drawing is required by hand due to size, and all the steampunk signage is still pending, but I will print them together to maximize the expensive gold label paper, so I want to make sure we’re not missing any labels first. I haven’t designed or printed the three quiz sheets, but they should be quick, since the text is all ready, just a quick layout job, then printing & cutting them. I plan on costume voting by crown noise Love these big gears I got for FREE!again so that saves a little paper and ballot counting time. The final grocery shopping will be in the next couple days, then since no gelatin body parts this year, my food prep will be completely different. I have a lot of fresh fruits and veggies planned, so there will still be a last-minute flurry to get all the food ready Saturday afternoon, and I will be running the oven pretty much all day to bake the 8 dozen Pumpkin Pasties, crisp the 258 Bone Breadsticks, bake the Brie En Croute, and bake the Spicy Bat Wings.

That’s it for now! Good luck if you’re hosting or attending parties this weekend! My next post will be after the party, but I can’t promise exactly when since we’re hitting the road bright and early Monday morning for Halloween at Disneyland! ๐Ÿ˜€

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less than two weeks to go!

This pumpkin is getting even bigger!First of all, if you’d like a Frightful Skull Fountain Kit, no one has any skeleton hands left in stock now, so I only have one kit left until next year. If you act fast, you can buy lucky number 7!

I’ve had a couple more baby pumpkins appear since last week, hand-fertilizing again with my paintbrush whenever I see them open, but so far the only one that has set is the one that was already growing larger last week, and it is even bigger now with a giant stem that seems like it might grow even more! Maybe I’ll have one orange Halloween pumpkin in prime walkway location, and it’ll be a game who can spot the one real pumpkin with all the fake ones in the vines? ๐Ÿ˜‰

The inside is looking pretty good now! Scary Jerry helped me check the batteries and place all the black LED flicker & real candles everywhere, I got the rest of the portrait gallery up, including the enhanced moving portraits, and the guest bathroom is now all eerily elegant too!

Twelve of the ghosts & portraits received various enhancements since 2012 which required re-editing & re-encoding them all, but at this point the videos are completely finished for all the ghosts, all the portraits, and a new surprise, so that is a huge milestone to be that far along! I’m still cranking through some final video editing since we know a major display will need pre-skewing to keystone them properly, but I am very pleased that is the only video editing left!

Castle Brittahytta with roof lightingThe castle is still getting stabilization enhancements as time goes by, which is the drawback to attempting to set out decor earlier in the month since it has to survive the elements for longer. I love how clear fishing line is invisible, but it is so thin it ends up cutting into the foam so loosens the anchor, so this year I tried some rough brown twine. It seems to be cutting less into the foam, but there is also the drawback that you can see it. For the square towers it’s hidden in stone block seams, but I tied the round towers criss-cross front to back since that’s the direction the wind keeps blowing, and I can see the twine in daylight which is disappointing. At night it will be less visible, but now that we have added the spotlights, the next plan is to paint the visible twine a dark gray or black and see if that makes them invisible at night but not too bad in daylight. For years I have tried to make my Halloween decor look good 24 hours a day, not just at night.

Scary Jerry is our resident lighting expert, and all three of us were involved Saturday night rearranging spotlights for highlighting the towers without having any too brightly lit. I really like our setup, and to make sure everything can be seen from all vantage points, I was on my stepladder pruning in the dark while Scary Jerry stood at the different view points telling me what to prune…haha! It was much more efficient than me having to get down, run over to look, then run back & prune again, which is often what happens. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Castle Brittahytta in daylightAs you can see from their absence in the photos, I’m still working on stabilizing the tower spires. Even the square spire was still going wonky in the slightest breeze with the tower pieces already tied down, and I couldn’t figure out how to stabilize the spire better. Scary Jerry had a brilliant idea to use the foam bubble grip you use to prevent throw rugs from slipping, and I had some, so I cut a strip, anchored it with a few toothpicks around the top edge of the tower, and put the spire back in place. Great idea! For the round spires, I decided to try one by opening the hula hoop, sewing a hem casing to fit, threading the hoop through the casing, then taping it back together before attaching the cone closure with the double-hook tape, and I think that will work. That is the one round spire you see in the phtoos already on the roof and it is still intact just fine. It will just be a matter of cutting through the hula hoop tape each time I take them apart for storage, then re-taping when they go back up. Now I still have to finish all the sewing though, and it’s taking about an hour per spire!

Pieces blown away by 20mph winds today :(I am very glad I wasn’t finished with the spires yet, since just as of this morning rare 20 mph winds have been blowing all day, even blowing interlocked-corner, tied-down pieces off the roof onto my porch around the corner! I have re-tied everything as tightly as possible three times in three hours already, and taken down the square spire and anchored it with bricks in hopes it won’t go airborne, but as I left for work, the round columns were still working themselves out of their bases and stretching the ties yet again. I hope the ties at least keep the columns on the roof and don’t break anything…and I sure hope this wind stops soon! The extended forecast shows at least 10-14mph through the end of the month, but I have nothing to measure to know how fast the normal breezes have been the past couple weeks when things have been stable enough on the roof. Wish me luck!

dollar store score of woodgrain contact paper...I even have some leftover!I did get the garage door converted to my wood planks at least! I found a whole bin of matching dark woodgrain contact paper at my local dollar store this spring, but I was afraid using its own adhesive wouldn’t come off the garage door segments to be able to be stored well for the next castle year. I would love to have magnet panels but those are pretty expensive, so I started with some double-stick tape instead, leaving the backing on the contact paper. Since my garage door rolls up, I can only attach the panels at the top unless I cut them, and I was afraid that cutting them might make the edges crunch together as the door panels moved. This was cheap contact paper, so a full roll was only half the height I needed, so I stuck two rolls together, overlapped to keep the backing paper on, then I did the same overlapping between the adhesive and the backing paper to stick all the vertical lengths together in one giant curtain. It was tricky to lift it all by myself to put into position, but I got it done. In the moist night air, edges have been curling, so tape around the edges will be required, but then I can’t open the garage door. The white border around the edge bothered me, and I don’t have enough spare foam to make a “stone” border this year, nor do I want to paint the border to match the house walls, since it looks better white the rest of the year. However, I did have more flagstone gossamer, so I taped that around the white border. It doesn’t match all the tan castle walls in the daylight, but at night it blends okay. At least now my garage door looks much more like it belongs at a castle, especially with my big 6-foot thick plastic rusty chains hanging like the driveway is a drawbridge, and I can still open it, but it’s been getting so Window insulation shrink film to reflect the ghost inside the shedwrinkled at the edges by opening the door and today’s wind was blowing it every which way, that I taped it all around and decided I just won’t drive my garage-parked Miata until the decor comes down.

Our major setup for this weekend that has continued into the week has been setting up the shed for the Phantom of the Pipes Peppers Ghost illusion. I saved the black-painted frame and screws inside the shed behind the organ, left the black fabric hanging Taping the shrink film onto the custom-built frame inside the shedinside the shed, and marked the floor positions with chalk last time around, so the setup should work out okay. Glen has a receiver & speakers to make the pipe organ louder (sadly it couldn’t be heard very well in 2012), so that has made it a tighter squeeze for equipment in the small space behind the Steampunk fun with a plasma globe!organ. That took most of Sunday evening, so Monday we built the frame and got the shrink film taped on, ready to shrink with the hairdryer tonight.

I can’t Ghoulish Glen & Scary Jerry wiring more lightsshow you too much of the other secret steampunk work we’ve been doing anymore since it would give too much away, but I can tell you it’s going well! Ghoulish Glen let Scary Jerry try some wiring too, and it works!

Handlettering for one of the illuminated manuscriptsI’ve also made good progress on both illuminated manuscripts but with still a lot of work left, and have a couple smaller Steampunk Photo-Chapeausteampunk prop surprises still to finish. However, since I have COMPLETELY FINISHED this fun project in just one day, I have written its own post…the steampunk Photo-Chapeau, otherwise known as the HatCam! See here for the full details and construction photos.

Most of the fruits and veggies can’t be prepared until party week, but I could make these adorable little Mandarin Jack O’ Lanterns! My friend Teje in Norway made these last year so I gave her a Making Mandarin Jack O'Lanternslong-distance Creepy Cuisine award (yes, I mailed her a prize!) and was inspired to make some myself! I drew a slightly different face on 74 mandarins, and will display them in two see-through bowls like this wire one. You could use full size oranges but Adorable Mandarin Jack O'Lanternsthe mandarin oranges look more pumpkin shaped and are a better size for finger food. They last several weeks in the fridge, and since you just draw faces on the rinds with a black marker, these can be done plenty ahead of time…and extra bonus that they are a healthy treat!

Unbaked Pumpkin Pasties in the freezerI am so relieved that my party baking is DONE! For my ever-popular Pumpkin Pasties, I bake the filling first, from frozen pumpkin puree I roasted myself from last year’s Halloween pumpkins. After the filling is cool, I spoon it into a plastic container, and it saves in the fridge fine for a week or so, ready for whenever I have time to make the pie crust dough, roll and form into pasties. Now 8 dozen Pumpkin Pasties are made but unbaked in the freezer, spaced apart on parchment sheets stacked inside my sheet pans with the plastic lids, ready to transfer to baking sheets on party morning. So glad I figured that out so many years ago! Gone are the Special Tasty Tombstonesdays of baking pumpkin pasties all night on party eve!

Since the Tasty Tombstones are specific to this year’s plot, there are only 7 designs, so 16 of each means I now have 112 cookies, not quite 10 dozen, so hopefully that will be plenty! Since not as many were eaten last time, I plan to split them into two plates in different areas of the party so they have more exposure.

Edible Medals ready for prize winnersThe same cookie dough makes the Edible Medals for the contest prizes. I am so thankful I did the artwork, edible printing, and cutting way back in April and May, since that takes a long time! Then I just had to mix up the cookie dough the day before to chill in the fridge, then spend the marathon evening rolling & cutting the dough for hours for both kinds of cookies. After they were cool, I added the ribbons, plenty long to go around even the largest noggins! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Handcut Sourdough Bone BreadsticksI’ve also been a little frustrated how the sourdough bone breadsticks were more chewy than crispy, so I have tried three different recipes. I need 5 bowls of bone breadsticks so set around different areas of the party, so I figured each bowl could be a different kind, encouraging people to roam for different food. Using the cool metal non-stick bone pan for my sourdough breadsticks made them pretty large and more chewy than crispy, so this year I tried making smaller bone shapes by forming by hand and snipping the ends with kitchen shears. I also tried two other non-sourdough normal yeast recipes, so now there are 258 bone breadsticks safely in the freezer ready to crisp in the oven on party day! You can keep reading below for the three recipes I used, altered for bread machine use.

Next week will be the last pre-party post…sure hope we get everything done in time! ๐Ÿ™‚


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Everything is AWESOME!

Everything is Awesome!The Cinema Brittahytta summer season finale this year was The LEGO Movie, so of course Everything was AWESOME! I always love celebrating creativity, so this was the perfect chance! I think we set a new Cinema Brittahytta summer record with 33 of us for LEGO Movie last night, including 2 babies & 6 kids! A few of us played LEGO Rock Band and grilled our personally-constructed Master Builder Pizzas until it was dark enough to watch the Simpsons LEGO episode, then laughter was everywhere during The LEGO Movie in 3D with old-school red/blue 3D glasses!

Clapboard with Candy Bricks Spelling LEGOExcept for one tiny Harry Potter collector set, I actually don’t own any LEGOs anymore, and my mom recently donated our family stash without asking me first (waah!), so I had none for decorations. I did find stackable interlocking candy blocks online so I bought those and built the LEGO letters for display, but they were pastel chalky colors like Sweet Tarts. I even searched in case there were cute LEGO plates and napkins I could buy. Alas, I didn’t find any that I liked enough, but I did see a ton of adorable party plate and napkin ideas, so I used those as inspiration to construct my own.

A white paint pen, and red and black permanent markers were enough to draw 24 different LEGO faces on cheap yellow paper cups. I used the LEGO Movie trailer I had downloaded last summer, pausing at different faces I liked and sketching them freehand. Hand drawn LEGO cups - every one is different!Can you find Emmett and Wyldstyle? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I also saw square yellow plates turned into the faces online, but I liked the round cups idea better because they looked more like the round LEGO minifig heads, plus food would cover up the faces on plates. On cups we can not only keep appreciating the faces, but they also function as cup identification!

Custom LEGO paper plates using food ink printer on transparent labelsAt my local dollar store, I found square paper plates in bright primary colors, so I made those into 2×2 LEGO bricks by printing the LEGO logo circles with my food coloring printer onto transparent label paper. I knew from the Ghostbusters plates that the food coloring ink could still run if too much moisture got on the labels, but since it was only food coloring, no harm done to our food. You could also use a black food coloring pen and draw them all freehand, but that takes a while, plus you wouldn’t be able to run an embossing filter to make them look 3D.

Britta as Wyldstyle!I already had vivid red and bright teal clip-in hair extensions, and since I also have a black hoodie, I decided I could be Wyldstyle for the evening! I know it wasn’t the exact shades of turquoise & hot pink, but pretty close for stuff I already had on hand. I used some teal duct tape that matched my hair extensions to make the WS line artwork on the hoodie, curled and poofed up my ponytail with volumizing powder, used 2 cans of black hairspray, added the red & teal streaks in front of my hair, and added heavy black eyeliner and bright red lipstick, with a couple freckles drawn on each cheek too. Everyone assumed I was wearing a wig! hahaโ€ฆThere was so much hairspray, it felt like a wig, or that I had curlers in my hair! I was very glad it all washed out before bed, but it did take two full shampoos, and gray splatters all over my shower that needed rinsing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Since LEGO is all about building your own creations, of course we built our own food! There were supposed to be at least a few kids coming, and I still had plenty of frozen pucks for the snow cone machine, so I was prepared to build our own Princess Unikitty Cloud Cuckoo Land Snow Cones with lots of rainbow colors from all the flavored syrups. Closeup of Construction Cheese & CrackersThis is great to entertain the kids since they have to turn the crank to grind their own snow! But the first kid to arrive was already when pizzas were being built, and the next kid wasn’t feeling well, so no snow cones this time…darn!

I always provide cheese slices with crackers, but this time I added pips to a few slices by cutting them out with with a drinking straw to look like LEGO bricks and called them Construction Cheese & Crackers! My standard summer party food was also renamed in theme as Kragle Corn (sticky kettle corn), Wyldstyle Fruit Salad (for her colorful stripes), Awesome Sweet Potato Salad (because everyone always loves it), and Bricksburg Bean Salad.

"Where Are My Pants?" CocktailsI laughed when I thought of the custom cocktail for this party…“Where Are My Pants?!?” Hahaha! That is the name of the goofy TV sitcom advertised all over Bricksburg, so I thought if you drank too many of these, you might also be saying the show’s tagline, “Honey, where are my pants?!?” heehee! It is still pretty layered LEGO colors by omitting the vodka, so safe for kids to enjoy as well. We discovered on the 4th of July that the sugar-free Torani red raspberry syrup blends into the Rose’s brand sugar Blue Raspberry mixer, but if you have the full sugar red raspberry syrup, it sinks under the Blue Raspberry mixer.

Nicely-layered "Where Are My Pants?" Cocktail“Where Are My Pants?”

1 oz Blue Raspberry mixer (Rose’s brand)
1 oz raspberry syrup (Torani brand)
2 oz yellow lemonade
1 oz 100-proof vodka (chilled)

Pour the lemonade into the glass until about half full, adding vodka if desired. Carefully pour the Blue Raspberry mixer down the side of the glass so it settles at the bottom in a blue layer under the lemonade. Gently pour the red raspberry syrup the same way so it settles at the bottom in a red layer under the blue. Garnish and chill with some colorful LEGO brick ice cubes. Appreciate the colorful layered construction worthy of a Master Builder, but stir the layers before drinking for best flavor. Beware that if you drink too many of the vodka version, you might also end up saying, “Honey, where are my pants?!?”

LEGO brick pizza crusts for Master Builder PizzasMaster Builder Pizzas was a no-brainer, and I made the sourdough whole wheat pizza crusts into squares this time, gently using a round cutter to make the 2×2 pip imprint in the dough before baking just long enough to set the shape, even though it would be covered by pizza toppings before eating. They were cute sitting in the blue bowl on the pizza table and everyone noticed Cutting cheese pips for the LEGO mozzarella sliceswhat they were! I did the same with rectangular cheese slices, using a metal piping coupler that was the perfect size to cut pips. I made the mozzarella as 2×4 but the cheddar was pre-sliced in squares, which gave some nice variety. I left the other toppings normal…it’s hard to change pepperoni, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, mushrooms & artichoke hearts into rectangular shapes! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Mozzarella LEGOs for Master Builder Pizzas Cheddar LEGOs for Master Builder Pizzas Pizza table all prepped!
Anna's LEGO pizza before grilling My own Master Builder Pizza on the grill Craig's Master Builder Pizza and Minifig Cup

S'mores of the Special with molded chocolate bricks and rectangular homemade marshmallowsSince this was the last celebration of the summer, of course we had to have more s’mores! I had borrowed a brick silicone mold from a friend, so I used that to make ice cubes, using food coloring to make bright colors without affecting drink flavors, as well as the milk chocolate bricks for the s’mores. Each individual chocolate brick fit perfectly on the S'mores of the Special Gooey Goodnesssmallest section of a regular graham cracker as a mini s’more, and Galt & Lyle offered to bring homemade marshmallow rectangles, so we were all set to build our S’mores of the Special!

Galt Scarfing a S'more of the SpecialCyd the self-proclaimed pyromaniac enjoyed getting the grill started, and she & Mike helped me set out all the toppings, so pizzas were already underway before the majority of people arrived. Lyle started the firepit for me to get the marshmallows roasting, and I caught Galt scarfing a S’more of the Special!

LEGO Brick Melon Salad by Sean & LauraSean & Laura earned huge geek points by bringing their LEGO Brick Melon Salad! They cut various melons into matching rectangles, then they used a drinking straw to cut the pips, then stuck them back in only halfway. Excellent effect!

We can’t see the screen properly until the sun goes down completely, but we can see well enough to play Rock Band about an hour earlier, so a few played LEGO Rock Band this time, and with the LEGO band on the screen, it was fun to watch for the rest of the crowd who wasn’t playing. By the end of August it is dark enough for good projection by LEGO Rock Band8:30, but everyone is used to the rest of the summer needing to wait another hour, so we never get started as early as we could. As long as that means everyone is enjoying themselves, it’s all good…or should I say AWESOME? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Instead of 15-20 minutes of movie trailers before the feature presentation, since The Simpsons had a special LEGO episode this spring, I thought the 20-minute episode would be perfect! It was a great episode with a good message, and not too far out like Big crowd for LEGO Rock Bandthe Simpsons can often be, so I felt it was appropriate even for the littler kids in our group. This was finally my chance to make my own pizza and mix my own cocktail to be ready for the movie, so I wasn’t out watching with everyone, but I heard lots of big laughs from the LEGO Simpsons audience, so I’m glad they enjoyed the LEGO Simpsons!

Then it was time for the main feature…in 3D! You have to spend in the 5-digits or use two identical projectors and crazy DIY setups for passive 3D projection, or one of my projectors can do active 3D with special glasses that cost $100 each, so there’s no way I LEGO Movie in 3D with old-school red/blue paper glasses!could afford to do that for a crowd. However the Bino freeware app can take a 3D version of the movie, display it split-screen right-left or top-bottom for passive-3D-capable TVs, convert it to red/blue or green/magenta 3D, or show it in normal 2D. I bought the old-school red/blue paper glasses in bulk online and figured we could try watching in 3D, then if there were too many complaints, I could quickly switch to 2D on the fly. There is a color shift even though the software is attempting to compensate for the red/blue split, so I don’t think I would do this for more impressive effects in a live-action movie, but it worked fine for LEGO Movie, and I got a great photo with everyone wearing their 3D glasses! We had several people who hadn’t seen the movie before, and I heard huge laughs coming from all of them…truly Everything is Awesome! ๐Ÿ˜€

You can enjoy even more photos in the gallery below. Thanks to everyone for another fantastically fun summer! Until next season! ๐Ÿ™‚


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Slimer Shots

Slimer Shots on the barMy scientist friend Amy had sent me the strawberry daiquiri DNA cocktail video a while ago, thinking I might want to use it for Halloween or some other crazy party. I had already decided to show Ghostbusters during my summer movies, so I thought of using kiwi as green ectoplasm Slimer Shots!

Amy works in labs and is a plant scientist, so she helped me figure out what to search for to find out if kiwis would even work with this process. Strawberries are perfect since they are octoploidy, with 8 copies of chromosomes, so there is plenty of DNA to extract. We found that kiwis are hexaploidy, so not quite as much DNA as strawberries, but it should still be enough to see Chopped Fresh Kiwi in Freezer Zip Bagthe DNA strands come out into solution. Since pineapple juice is already in the recipes along with rum, I thought kiwi would taste great with that combination, so full steam ahead!

So my ingredients would still be fresh, I didn’t actually start testing until the week of my movie night party, and when I was looking for the exact ingredients, I found that you can’t use canned pineapple juice or even pasteurized fresh juice, since the heat treatments have already deactivated the bromelain required for DNA extraction. The video just Hand-crushing the thawed frozen kiwi with frozen pineapple concentrate said “fresh pineapple juice” but didn’t explain why, but I found this detailed Instructable that used frozen pineapple juice concentrate, and had proportions to prepare more than just one cocktail at a time. I only looked at two major grocery stores, but I only found a pineapple orange blend, so I used twice as much to my 2 cups of chopped kiwi, hoping there would still be enough bromelain in total.

I peeled and chopped my kiwi into quarter-slices, then froze them overnight flat in a zip freezer bag. The Instructable warned against using a blender because you might chop up the DNA too much for long strands to be visible in solution. I added 1/2 cup of frozen pineapple-orange concentrate into my bag of frozen kiwi, let it thaw at room Straining the chunkstemperature (while I worked on more Stay Puft S’more details!), then smushed all the kiwi by hand inside the bag until I had close to a puree.

Next I used a fine mesh strainer and several passes with a spoon to get as much of the puree away from the seeds and thicker chunks, which took a while. I didn’t have quite 2 cups of final kiwi-pineapple-orange puree, more After lots of spoon squishing through the strainer!like 1.5 cups, but since you only use a couple tablespoons (50 ml) for each shot anyway, I figured that should last for quite a few cocktails. It was a lovely slime green color too!

Now it was time to test! I have an extensive shot glass collection, so I chose a couple Jack Skellingtons for testing. You need high-proof alcohol to extract DNA, recommended 80 proof or higher, and I had some Absolut 100 I had Absolut 100 vs. Bacardi 151never found a use for yet, so I decided to try that and compare results to the recommended Bacardi 151. I chilled the alcohols in the freezer, and refrigerated the purees (while I worked on more Stay Puft S’more details again!), then when everything was nice and cold, I ran my test.

I poured the chilled alcohol gently into the shot glass already filled halfway with kiwi-pineapple-orange puree, careful not to mix it into the puree, then I watched and waited. Bacardi 151 crowned the winner!It does take about 15 minutes for maximum DNA extraction, but I definitely saw fluffy, cloudy strands appearing in the clear layer! There were definitely more strands and they appeared more quickly in the Bacardi 151 test on the right side, so I still have my Absolut 100 waiting for a good recipe someday. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The winner got the festive umbrella pick to scoop up the DNA. I love using science in my kitchen! ๐Ÿ™‚

So, I can handle strong drinks, but even I could not sip the Bacardi-kiwi shot, even after it was stirred together! I filled the rest of the glass with lemon-lime soda and stirred well, then that was a tasty drink and nice to sip. Hooray!

Party Slimer Shots CloseupNow that I had a successful test and a whole bunch of prepared kiwi slime, I poured it into two small fancy serving pitchers, then there was just enough left to prepare 4 shot glasses. I covered them all with plastic wrap and stashed them in the party fridge, with the whole bottle of Bacardi 151 in the party freezer. I printed up a recipe card for the bar, complete with Slimer himself, got out a bunch of my tall shot glasses from my collection in the lighted corner cabinet, and Slimer Shots were all ready for the party!

Picking up the DNA with an umbrellaAfter we had already shared a bottle of tasty Riesling, the first round of guests were game to try some Slimer Shots! We definitely saw slime, and topping off with lemon-lime soda and stirring well resulted in a tasty tropical cocktail, with a festive umbrella pick to collect the slime. When my fellow tech-geek friends pull out their iPhones to take multiple photos, I know I succeeded! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Below is the full recipe I used, plus the instructions from the recipe card for serving. I hope you enjoy your Slimer Shot DNA Cocktails!


2 cups peeled and chopped fresh kiwi
1/2 cup frozen pineapple-orange concentrate
Bacardi 151 chilled in the freezer
each cocktail = approx 2 Tbsp/50ml chilled prepared puree + 2 tsp/10 ml ice-cold Bacardi 151

Slimer Shots

fresh kiwi puree mixed with frozen pineapple juice
ice-cold Bacardi 151
lemon lime soda

Pour the chilled kiwi-pineapple puree into a tall shooter glass no more than half full. Gently add no more than 1 inch of ice-cold Bacardi 151 on top. Swirl a little to encourage the extraction. Over 15 minutes you will see fluffy DNA strands appearing in the clear layer that you can pull out with an umbrella pick to inspect the slime. After the extraction is complete, fill to the top with lemon lime soda, stir, and enjoy your Slimer Shot!

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Who Ya Gonna Call?

Birthday Girl with Stay Puft S'mores and Ghostbusters DecorGHOSTBUSTERS of course! Not only is it the 30th anniversary this year, but there is a tie-in to the Halloween plot, so perfect for my birthday movie night! I have loved Ghostbusters from the beginning. I wanted to see this movie so badly I went on opening day BY MYSELF on the last day of school when I was 12. Going to a theatrical release all by myself is unheard of even to this day, so that shows how excited I was to see a movie that featured Zener cards with parapsychological research, let alone ghosts and science! Plus it looked really funny. ๐Ÿ™‚

Hole in Vintage Tee - sadness!I bought a poster, since this had come out long before my movie theatre employment days, but I still have the logo tee I had made 30 years ago! I wanted it immediately after the movie and there wasn’t merchandise yet so I went to the screen printing shop in Sunrise Mall and had my own printed on the same powder blue I saw in the crowds at the end of the movie. Well, I have changed shape a bit since I was 12, so it’s much tighter to wear, and even sadder, the cotton wore a hole right on the chest! Guess it would just be a decoration this timeโ€ฆand I was glad I had acquired a new Ghostbusters shirt last Halloween I could wear instead.

Custom Ghostbusters Paper PlatesI didn’t find any Ghostbusters plates online, so I decided to make my own. I found plain paper plates very close to the same powder blue as the shirt, then I printed the No-Ghosts logo onto my water-resistant label paper but using my food ink printer. The water-resistant label paper works great with ink-jet inks, and I use it all the time for any bottle labels, but the food coloring inks don’t lock in the same way. First I cut the interior holes with a craft knife, then I cut out the rest, then centered each one on a plate. I thought 24 should be enough and I had extra plain blue plates if necessary. The plates worked great even though any moist food did make the design run, but at least it was food coloring so no harm done!
Stay Puft S'more Proof of Concept Success
My main creative menu items required some proof of concept testing in advance. Of course as soon as I planned to show Ghostbusters in the summer, I immediately thought of Stay Puft S’mores! You can read the full details of design, development and creation in a separate post, but here’s the first successful proof of concept Stay Puft S’more! Heeheeโ€ฆ

Slimer Shot TestingThe other testing was inspired by the DNA cocktail strawberry daiquiri that’s been going around the internet lately. I thought using kiwi instead of strawberry would give a nice green slime effect perfect for Slimer the Ghost, so we could have Slimer Shots! Full testing and preparations are in a separate post, but Bacardi 151 did work better than Absolut 100, so I went ahead with the rum version with the bottle in the freezer, and the kiwi-pineapple slime all ready in the fridge, since you need everything chilled for the best DNA extraction. Yay, science!

Stay Puft S'mores Finally Finished!I was trying my best to have everything ready in advance, and I did pretty well, even while melting in the 100F heat with no air conditioning in my house, but the final assembly of the Stay Puft S’mores took longer than I expected, so I was finishing those in the kitchen when the first guests arrived. By the time I Birthday Girl with Two Dozen Stay Puft S'moresfinished, Ben & Lyle were taking photos even before I could get out my own camera! They loved them and so did I! There were benign happy faces as well as the angry Gozer faces, which made me laugh even more. ๐Ÿ™‚ I insisted on some photos of me holding the Stay Puft S’mores in my No-Ghosts shirt by my Ghostbusters decor before I melted even more, then we were ready to party!

Slimer Shots at the BarWe did a couple Slimer Shots next, and those were also a hit! It does take about 15 minutes for maximum DNA extraction, and since kiwi is only hexaploidy where strawberries are octoploidy, there isn’t as much DNA in the first place, but we definitely saw slime, and topping off with lemon-lime soda and stirring well resulted in a tasty tropical cocktail, with a festive umbrella pick to collect the slime. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ghostbusters DecorYes, I bought the soundtrack album on VINYL 30 years ago, displayed here as decor under the movie poster, along with a summary storybook complete with photos. I even tried a tiny No-Ghosts logo in chalk on the clapboard, but that was Drawing the No-Ghosts O so small in chalk is tricky!trickier than I thought!

Below is the full Ghostbusters menu you can see on the chalkboard, mostly mundane summer staples with silly themed names. Thanks to Jerry for a couple fun names when I got stuck, especially for his delicious chocolate cake he made!

Tee, plates, s'mores & menu chalkboardCinema Brittahytta Kettle Corn
Blueberry Blast Hard Cider
Slimer Shots
Keymaster Cheeses & Crackers
Egon’s Sweet Potato Salad
Gozer’s Green Salad
Zuul’s Frightening Fruit Salad
I Ain’t ‘Fraid of No Bean Salad
Proton Packed Sausages
Chocolate Crossed Dreams Cake
Stay Puft S’mores

We grilled the sweet potato salad & sausages, and the boys were grinding their own snow cones again, but I slacked taking photos since I was running around trying to talk to everyone. There was a lull when we thought it would be a smaller crowd, then about 8:30 all of a sudden there were twice as many people! One of the boys asked if he could light the fire pit for s’mores, so I did get a couple really good photos of an angry Mr. Stay Puft being torched, smushed and chomped, then my iPhone said it was too full for any more photos! Doh!

Torching Mr. Stay Puft We almost got him! Mr. Stay Puft almost defeated... Mr. Stay Puft chomped and defeated once and for all!

No-Ghosts plate full of food, ready for the feature presentation to begin!
We started the movie just as I finally filled a plate to eat, with a tall glass of my blueberry homebrew cider, which was a hit again, but I don’t think we used up the whole 2 quart growler I mixed up that afternoon. Glad they enjoyed it, since it doesn’t last! I still didn’t cool off in the nice night air during the movie since I was directly in the path of all the hot air venting from the projectorโ€ฆ.darn! At least everyone else cooled down!

Happy Birthday to Britta!
We waited until after the movie for my birthday cake, an absolutely delicious dense chocolate cake with fudge frosting made by Jerry. Everyone sang but they got started slowly and dragged even slower, so several people joked that it was a dirge! hahaโ€ฆWe used the last of the No-Ghosts plates for the cake, which didn’t smear the designs at all. Victor had brought a bottle of 14-year old Mead of Poetry, so we shared tastes with everyone, then some people hung around past midnight chatting this time! What a fun birthday movie night! Thanks to everyone who was able to come enjoy a true classic!

Angry Stay Puft S'more with Ghostbusters Decor Surviving Stay Puft S'mores

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Finally More Fireworks and Fun for ’14!

Britta watching the fireworks!Sadly the city had stopped their fireworks show for several years due to budget concerns, so I had to find other fireworks to attend instead of hosting my party, but finally in 2014 I could host again…hooray! What was only 16 RSVPs the day before became 28 people including 2 babies and 4 super-excited girls under 7! It was warm but thankfully with a nice breeze making the flags fly and requiring jackets after dark. I brought back my favorite foods from previous parties, plus some new Star-Spangled S’mores, and we were able to have a great game of Rock Band for an hour before the fantastic fireworks started!

I think this might be the quickest turnaround time between two totally different major parties, since only 6 days earlier was the big Cinema Brittahytta Frozen Sing Along! I have had fireworks Cutting Star Croutons from homemade whole wheat sourdough breadparties soon after other movie nights, but those aren’t usually a major production. This time I quickly undecorated from Frozen and cleaned up, then it was full blast into the 4th!

I had made star croutons before out of some thin frozen cocktail bread in the freezer leftover from Christmas appetizers, but those were long gone, so this time I used a small loaf of homemade whole wheat sourdough I had baked and frozen. While it was still pretty hard, I cut very thin Toasted Star Croutonsslices, then after the slices had thawed, I used my tiny star cookie cutter to cut all the croutons. On a non-stick cookie sheet, I sprayed them with olive oil and sprinkled some garlic salt and lemon pepper, then toasted them at 350F for about 5 minutes or so. They were nicely crunchy but not even browned, which was perfect. I had new guests who were amazed I even had star croutons! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Apricot Cashew Quinoa SaladI’ve been trying to experiment with all these new “superfoods” like chia seeds and quinoa, but I haven’t liked them in any recipes yet. Since my tasty Apricot Cashew Rice Salad always was better with wild rice anyway, I thought I could try quinoa and see how it worked. I thought I was making a double-batch so I made the oil dressing accordingly, but even only pouring a single-batch amount of the dressing on the double-batch of quinoa, it didn’t soak up anywhere nearly as much as rice, even after 2 days in the fridge! Duly noted for Frying the Corndog Sparklersnext time, but everyone agreed it was tasty! Too bad it’s because of all the olive oil, cashews and the wine-soaked dried apricots, so all that probably offsets any of the superfood qualities of the quinoa. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Corndog SparklersI did get the Stars & Stripes Brie baked and the Corndog Sparklers fried by 2:15pm, but that wasn’t early enough, and I didn’t quite have as much ready the night before as I would have liked. This meant I was still trying to write on the menu chalkboard while the first few guests were arriving. Ellie set out crackers, helped assemble the green salad and stirred the fruit salad, and Sheila dished up the sweet potato salad and arranged the s’mores, including breaking up the graham crackers and chocolate bars. Thanks for being such good helpers!

Snow Cones!Since the food was set out, I had time to socialize, and not forget to take photos this year…hooray! I had lots of leftover ice pucks from the Frozen Sing Along party so why not make more snow cones? The girls had lots of fun with this! Ellie and Annalise making snow conesAs soon as Annalise arrived, she & Ellie were on snow cone duty, asking everyone else to be a customer so they could grind another ice puck into snow. Lucky me got to be their first snow cone customer…yum!

Face Painting and Snow ConesThere was also an advance request for face painting, since Ellie had just done it at school, so I got out my kit and my big hand mirror, and set them up at my plastic table in a shady corner on the grass. I think Ellie was the only painter, but the girls looked like happy customers to me!

Guest food table and waterfallBy the time we had more shade in the backyard, most of the guests had arrived, thankfully no one ever needing the parking shuttle service I had prepared for yet again, and the guest food table on the outer patio was chock full of deliciousness! The grill was going thanks to Kevin on coal duty, including grilling some watermelon (yum!), and plenty of partying people were enjoying themselves all around the yard. There was no way anyone should go hungry with two big tables of food like these!

Fireworks & Fun FoodAll my food was inside with my menu chalkboard by the bar. I even had my parchment scroll copy of the Declaration of Independence on display by the plates and napkins! Here is the full menu for 2014:

Make Your Own Snow Cone

Aged Manchego Slices with Smorgabritta Quince Preserves

Assorted Cheeses & Crackers

Stars & Stripes Pastry BrieStars & Stripes Pastry Brie with Smorgabritta Spiced Loquat Preserves

Festive Fruit Salad โ€“ white peaches, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries looked very patriotic

Old Glory Green Salad โ€“ greens with grape tomatoes, strawberries marinaded in marionberry balsamic vinaigrette, fresh blueberries, with star croutons, add your own chopped red onions, chopped walnuts, & feta cheese

Sweet Potato Salad โ€“ sweet potatoes, peaches, red onion, red pepper, lime juice, olive oil, cinnamon and nutmeg, steamed in the oven this time for more grill space for others

Apricot Cashew Quinoa Salad โ€“ dried apricots plumped in white wine, cooked red quinoa, green peas, garlic, onion, olive oil Sparkling Sugar Starswith cashews for crunch

Corndog Sparklers โ€“ miniature corndogs with a sparkling surprise in the batter ( = BACON! :-9 )

Sparkling Sugar Stars โ€“ non-dairy/vegan sugar cookies

Star-Spangled S'moresStar-Spangled S’mores

Homemade Old Fashioned Vanilla Custard Ice Cream

Stevia Lemonade – complete with jaunty Uncle Sam top hat ๐Ÿ˜‰

Red Branch Hard Cider – pear, black cherry, and raspberry in growlers

Brittahytta Brewery Hard Cider โ€“ Patriotic Peach worked but I ended up without any Sheila's layered Razzle-Dazzle-Tiniblueberry juice after all, so no Blueberry Blast this time

Razzle-Dazzle-Tinis – I only saw Sheila have one of my specialty layered red, white and blue cocktails, and we learned that the sugar-free red raspberry floats above the blue raspberry mixer, where the sugar red raspberry from years before would sink! The wonders of relative specific gravities of different ingestible liquids. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Playing Rock Band while waiting for fireworks
While waiting for the fireworks to start, we played Rock Band 3โ€ฆwoohoo! We couldnโ€™t see well enough until the direct sunlight was gone from the projector screen, but that still gave us a whole hour to play! ๐Ÿ™‚ It was mostly the little girls pounding away, which was just as well because all the equipment was having the worst technical issues I have ever experienced communicating to the game, so I don’t know what happened since it was last borrowed. At least they still had plenty of fun!

Fireworks 2014I served my homemade old-fashioned vanilla custard ice cream right on time at 9:15, just before the fireworks were going to start. The fireworks were as impressive as ever, making me smile from ear to earโ€ฆand the finale was as bright as the sun! Wow! Jerry was behind me and asked me to turn around so he could get a photo of me with the fireworksโ€ฆwhat a fun photo! Thanks Jerry! Itโ€™s always fun to hear the wows & oohs at the fireworks, and this year it was Emma shouting, “Take pictures Mom!” every single timeโ€ฆhaha!

I baked the same sugar cookie stars as before, since it’s nice to have something not quite Anna, Angie & Kira Roasting Star-Spangled S'moresas sweet as the homemade ice cream or other desserts people might bring, but I had a brainstorm after the Frozen Sing Along party that I could make some Star-Spangled S’mores! (full recipe instructions coming soon!) After Roasting Star-Spangled S'moresthe fireworks were finished, we quickly built a fire in the fire pit and enjoyed roasting marshmallows for our Star-Spangled S’mores. Hopefully the s’mores fun lasted long enough so most people avoided the traffic mess in my neighborhood, as was the plan. ๐Ÿ™‚

People were mostly leaving by around 11pm to midnight, until it was Jeff & Audene trading turns on the massage chair and Rob chatting. We always seem to have at least one kid fascinated with Onyx, and this year it was tiny baby Kira. She did very well gently petting him so I even was able to get a photo. Iโ€™m so glad Onyx is such a good Rob even got to pet Siddy!calm boy! Ebony and Siddy were both hiding under the bed most of the party, but they both came out when most everyone else had left so that not only was Ebony begging for attention, but Rob even got to pet Siddyโ€ฆthat is very rare! I finally was ably to start putting food My festive 4th outfit, including red & blue stripes in my hair!away around 1am and finally got to bed about 4 with the dishwasher runningโ€ฆwhew! Great party!

Since some previous years I was too busy and forgot to take people photos, I made sure this year to at least have my iPhone always at hand for a quick photo, so I got a lot of fun onesโ€ฆand even got a couple good photos showing my festive stars & stripes pedicure and the red & blue stripes I put in my hair for the occasion! The full photo album is below if youโ€™d like to see all the front yard decorations and my Festive Floral Fireworks. I hope everyone had a fabulous Fourth!




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Fashioning Food & Festivities for Frozen

My Cinema Brittahytta Frozen Sing Along party was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work fashioning such festivities! I was able to get everything done in time because my parents and I already had acquired lots of Christmas snowflake supplies over years of collecting, plus I spread out my projects and food preparations the whole month leading up to the party. Of course my Elsa the Snow Queen costume was finished a couple months before, thank goodness! I’m so glad I planned this well, because then I was able to enjoy my out-of-town guests and have a great time at my own party!

Hexagonal Pizza Crusts for Grilled Snowflake PizzasFirst up were the pizza crusts since they stay fine in the freezer for several weeks. I know they last that long because I love eating a pizza for dinner if there are any party leftovers. ๐Ÿ™‚ I used the same whole wheat sourdough pizza dough recipe I’ve been using for a couple summers now, since it is always a hit. Since my plan was Grilled Snowflake Pizzas, I made hexagonal whole wheat sourdough pizza crusts so everyone could arrange their toppings to make their own pizzas as unique as individual snowflakes!

Cutting Sliced Mozzarella into SnowflakesI have a whole collection of modular make your own snowflake cutters from long before I became a Frozen fan, so in addition to using them for the Frozen Fractal cookies, I used the same cutters on two packages of sliced Mozzarella Snowflakes for Grilled Pizzasmozzarella so we could add various white snowflake shapes on top of our pizzas. I ended up with two full plates of stunning snowflakes, even the tiny stars that were cut out of the middles. The tiny stars were very popular with the tiny kids!

Snowflake labels as stencils with aqua glitter spray paintNone of the plates and napkins I found for sale fit my vision, so I decorated clear lightweight plastic disposable cups and plates with my own snowflake designs and aqua spray glitter. For the plates, I used removable label Finished Icy Snowflake Platepaper in my new cutting machine to cut more of the same snowflakes designs I had used for Elsa’s Sparkling Snowflake Cape, stuck the snowflake labels to the back of the plates as stencils, then used aqua glitter spray paint to give a sparkling coat of ice. Since this was only on the back of the plate, there’s no risk to the glitter getting into any food. I was able to resuse the same labels several times before they got so much glitter on them that they started curling upwards instead of sticking to the plates. I think about 4 pages of labels were enough for all 20 plates, but I did go through 3 cans of spray glitter, which was the largest expense. I used coupons on each can, but they were still $5 each and only small cans. One tip is that the glitter clogs the spray nozzle, so try to use up a Handpainted white snowflakes on plastic cupswhole can in one session, or you might end up wasting the rest!

For the cups, I used a white paint pen to draw assorted snowflakes by hand, lower than anyone’s lip would touch the cup just to be safe. After all those were dry, I used the last of the aqua spray glitter Finished Icy Snowflake Cupscarefully pointed away from the lip of the cup to spray only the bottom edge, using short sprays so the glitter would fade from clear to more aqua at the bottom.

I really love how these turned out! So elegant and just like Elsa’s ice creations in the movie! They were technically disposable, but since the plates were fairly sturdy plastic and none of the cups had cracked, I carefully washed them all by hand afterwards so I can use them again someday. I did spend about $35 on the full set of 20 plates and 20 cups, so nice to be able to keep them. ๐Ÿ™‚

Glowing Food Table (by Debi)Lucky for me that my parents have a bunch of snowflake lights and giant plastic snowflakes for Christmas, so I borrowed those, and they made a huge impact! Even the small snowflake lights I taped to my tier trays, and it was so festive for an evening party. The larger snowflake lights had a subtle twinkle effect, not blinking enough to be annoying, but just a twinkle, which was Olaf and Elsaperfect. I used 4 strings around the outer patio and across the grape arbor bench which looked lovely over the firepit, one string across the french doors from the kitchen entering the patio, and another string over the food table across the posters. Some people did notice Snowflake Lights on the Patiosthat I placed the snowflake lights very carefully compared to the posters…one is in Elsa’s hand!

I love snowflakes for Christmas as well, so in addition to the cookie cutters for the Frozen Fractal cookies, cheese and pastry, I also have various snowflake silicone molds. I used one of the molds for decorative ice cubes but forgot to take any photos of them…oops! I wasn’t originally planning on s’mores since we already had “Do You Wanna Build a Snow Cone?”Pouring chocolate snowflakes for Love is an Open S'more to make, but as soon as I thought of “Love is an Open S’More” I could not resist! The less intricate snowflake silicone mold was the perfect size to sit on a standard graham cracker square, and also the smallest Frozen Fractal cookies fit on top perfectly! I have made custom s’mores Love is an Open S'Moreseveral times before, and I love my semi-sweet Ghirardelli, but s’mores just need the Hershey’s milk chocolate flavor to be proper s’mores. Two bags of Hershey’s milk chocolate chips melted in the microwave were plenty to make 18 chocolate snowflakes. The molds were deep and intended for Tash demonstrates how Love is an Open S'morebaking, not candy, so it was tricky to judge how thick to make the chocolate so I could remove it from the mold intact but not to be too thick for a s’more. Two spoonfuls ended up as too thick, so one spoonful of melted chocolate spread around into all the corners was just thick enough to remove from the mold, and only slightly thicker than a Hershey’s bar…perfect! They were set up as open sโ€™mores on the plate, then you needed enough love to warm up your marshmallow to melt the โ€œfrozenโ€ chocolate. Good enough story? It didnโ€™t matter since they were sโ€™mores! Delicious!

Cheese Snowflakes on the Cheese TrayI was on-schedule enough that the night before the party I had time to cut more cheese slices into snowflakes for the cheese tray. I used the normal rectangles for most of the tray, and I only had one snowflake cutter that fit inside the precut cheese slices, so I cut those out and arrange them on top over the cheddar so they would stand out. I love adding little details like this!

I realized while making the Brrrie in Pastry that I don’t think I have it as searchable recipe instructions. I think I can get some better photos from the beginning for the upcoming Patriotic Pastry Brie, but here are the basics. I purchase the baby Brie rounds and frozen puff pastry sheets. Thaw the puff pastry in the fridge for a few hours, unfold one Placing the Brie on the filling and puff pastrysheet, pinch the folds back together, then roll in all directions to stretch out the sheet. I use a large silicone mat so I don’t need any flour. I would recommend parchment paper if you don’t have a silicone mat. Keep flipping the pastry over between rolling it out or it will get too thin to lift off your rolling surface. Use the cardboard the Brie came in to gently mark the dough in the center. This is where to spread your fillings, and so you know you have rolled your sheet large enough. I used apricot preserves with dried cranberries for years, but after I started making my spiced loquat preserves from my own fruit tree in 2006, that became the hands-down favorite filling!

You can spread the filling to bake only on top of the Brie, or have it come down the sides a little. If the filling comes down the sides, you have a greater risk of developing leaks in the pastry, so fair warning. After spreading the filling, do not wait too long before putting the Brie round in place, since the pastry can start getting soggy and refuse to release from your rolling surface. Fold the pastry around the Brie, starting with the flat sides since they are the shortest. Trim the corners and fold them also to the center. This side doesn’t need to be pretty since it will be hidden, but you want to secure all the pastry so there are no holes, so pinch everything together well. Immediately pull the entire Brie in pastry gently off the rolling surface and set on Brrrie in Pastry ready to bakegreased foil on a cookie sheet, with the pinched pastry ends on the bottom. If you wait too long to flip it onto the cookie sheet, you will also have problems with the weight of the Brie squishing the pastry too thin.

Now you can roll out the corners you trimmed away and cut out whatever decorations you would like on the top. For this Brie I used snowflakes of course! If you work quickly, you should be able to stick the pastry decorations on the Brie just as raw dough, but if it takes longer to construct your design, you might need milk or egg wash as glue. I use a piece of foil large enough I can pinch it sealed as a tent and keep in the fridge overnight before Brrrie in Pastry and Little Baby Unicornsbaking just before the party. If you are saving it overnight, it is better to add the final milk or egg wash just before baking so it doesn’t get gummy. However, if you don’t use any sort of protein wash at all, it won’t brown very well. Bake in the oven at 400F for at least 15 minutes, maybe longer, but keep checking. Once it has browned and no spots are doughy anymore, remove from the oven. Let it cool several minutes, then pull away the foil to set carefully on a serving plate. If you set it out too quickly, your guests could burn their mouths! Since the Brrrie in Pastry is extremely decadent, add something healthy nearby like a plate of baby carrots as Little Baby Unicorns. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Except for the plates and cups, most of the food styling and decorations were very inexpensive since I was reusing what I had or borrowing from my parents. I did splurge to Olaf standee as purchasedbuy two posters and the lifesize Olaf standee, but the diecuts around Olaf left too much white cardboard around his arm and his twig hair for my taste. I knew that was for stability because those areas were too skinny and easy to break, but I decided to try cutting them out and reinforcing them from the back. I used an extra layer of scrap cardboard behind Olaf standee after trimming and reinforcing his twigshis arm, but the twigs were too skinny for that. Since I was using hot glue to anchor the scrap cardboard to his arm, I tried building up layers of hot glue on the back of the twigs and the arm, letting each layer cool and harden before adding another. Not only did this reinforce the twigs pretty well, but they could also now even bend without creasing! Kids were Olaf and Three Elsas with Ice Hands! (by Natasha)even able to hold Olaf’s hand for photos. ๐Ÿ™‚

I was very thankful that had finished all the final food prep the night before, and all the last dirty work to get the yard all arranged was done early enough for me to shower and cool down enough for all my Elsa makeup before my special guests arrived from a 5-hour drive! My dear friend Natasha brought her two daughters to their first Britta party, and Excited sisters!they were so excited! I had turned all the snowflake lights on already, so as they walked in their first view was of the twinkling snowflakes, Frozen posters, and the food table…and they gasped & hugged each other! Violet helping so well!I’m so glad they had such a fabulous time!

I had set aside safe ways they could help, like setting the crackers on the plates, putting the water bottles in the ice bowl, and stirring the fruit salad, but we ran out of tasks they were so helpful! They even each helped me put on one Elsa ice shoeโ€ฆhaha! We were all in our Elsa costumes and I was putting the last final touches on all the food displays when our next guests arrivedโ€ฆwhew! This doesn’t always happen for my parties, especially for the crazy time that is Halloween, so I told Kevin how proud I was that everything was set out and our costumes were on before the party started…and he said we should go out and buy lottery tickets…haha!

Hope you can use these tips to create your own Frozen festivities! Don’t miss the full Frozen Sing Along party, including an adorable sing along video of Let It Go Live!

#Frozen #Elsa #Olaf #Fractals #recipes #snowflakes #snow #costumes #parties

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Queen Elsa at the Cinema Brittahytta Frozen Sing Along

Olaf and Four Elsas with Ice Hands! (by Natasha)Oh, I have been looking forward to this party for months, and my Cinema Brittahytta Frozen Sing Along was a grand success! 24 of us had an icy blast, including 1 baby, 8 kids, 1 dog, no less than 4 handmade Elsa costumes, including my full Elsa the Snow Queen regalia, and even Olaf made an appearance!

Thank goodness the weather was nice, not too hot but not too chilly, because I was in several layers of costume including my thick platinum blonde Elsa wig…whew! I had finished all the final food prep the night before (how-to Elsa finishing party prep (by Nathania)posts will be coming next), and all the last dirty work to get the yard all arranged was done early enough for me to shower and cool down enough for all my Elsa makeup before my special guests arrived from a 5-hour drive! My dear friend Natasha brought her two daughters to their first Britta party, and they were so excited! I had set aside safe ways they could help, like setting the crackers on the plates, putting the water bottles in the ice bowl, and stirring the fruit salad, but we ran out of tasks they were so helpful! They even each helped me put on one Elsa ice shoe…haha! We were all in our Elsa costumes and I was putting the last final touches on all the food displays when our next guests arrived…with Ellie as another Elsa! Photos were best in the shade, so we took a LOT of photos of the four Elsas with Olaf. We’ve all heard of “jazz hands,” but I said, “Everyone do your ice hands!” and they all knew EXACTLY what I meant! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Snowflake lights, giant plastic snowflakes and waterfall lightsI had way too much fun with the food and decorations for this party. Of course I had fun with the names for the menu board plus I made signs or labels to display with each item, which you can see in the full gallery below. Lucky for me that my Menu chalkboard with bottles of Melted Snowparents have a bunch of snowflake lights and giant plastic snowflakes for Christmas, so I borrowed those, and they made a huge impact! Even the small snowflake lights I taped to my tier trays and it was so festive for an evening party. I love snowflakes for Christmas as well, so I already had the cookie cutters for the Frozen Fractal cookies, and various snowflake silicone molds so I made a bunch of snowflake ice cubes as well as the chocolate for Love is an Open S’more. I did splurge to buy two posters and the Custom-painted cups Olaf cardboard standee, and since all the plates and napkins I found for sale didn’t fit my vision, I decorated clear plastic cups and plates with my own snowflake designs and aqua spray glitter. They were gorgeous! I carefully washed them all by hand afterwards so I can use them again someday. I even Snowflake stencils reused as decorused the snowflake stencil labels I cut as decorations around the patio since they were coated in aqua glitter too!

Olaf's Summer Cocktails with customized drink umbrellasWe started the evening with small bottles of Melted Snow, and also Olaf’s Summer Cocktails: Mix whatever drinks that make you feel all nice and warm inside, then add a festive summer umbrella! I had bought a giant bag of cheap cocktail umbrellas, picked out just the blue and green ones, then used my cutting machine to make custom snowflake labels just the right size to stick on the open umbrellas. Lots of people used them, but of course I was the one who forgot to add an umbrella to my pina colada…oops!

Do You Wanna Build a Snow Cone?Do You Wanna Build a Snow Cone? I had everything set up on the bar to make your own snow cones, including “adult” snow cones as a pre-mixed bucket of snowy-white pina coladas safely tucked away in the Three Elsas enjoying the snow cones they built togetherfreezer…yum! Here are three Elsas enjoying the snow cones they built together!

Grilled Snowflake Pizzas ready to goWhen the coals were hot enough, we started our Grilled Snowflake Pizzas. The entire outer table was set with homemade hexagonal whole wheat sourdough pizza crusts, two plates of sliced mozzarella cut into various snowflake shapes, sauce Elsa's ice magic must work to make pizzas, too! and various yummy toppings so everyone could make their own pizzas as unique as individual snowflakes! Gail was the one who was able to keep her cheese in the snowflake shape, but arranging the toppings in six-way symmetry Gail's pizza kept the snowflake cheese shape!worked too. They were delicious as long as you remembered to take them off the grill before the bottom of the crust got too crunchy! ๐Ÿ˜‰

We were finishing our pizzas by the time the other two clever food items arrived. I had baby carrots on my menu as Little Baby Unicorns, but Audene’s friend Debi, a first time guest, cracked us up with a carrot cake with piping saying “Like a Little Baby Unicorn!” Very clever! Eileen Two Elsas Dancing in the Falling Snowcontinued her streak of creative food contributions by bringing Frozen (Artichoke) Heart Dip and even printed her own sign! They obviously fit right in! ๐Ÿ™‚

It was finally getting dark enough to see the looping snowfall video I had used on the front of my house for Christmas, so two Elsas started dancing and singing in the falling snow as Roasting marshmallows at sunset for Love is an Open S'moreothers started roasting marshmallows at sunset for Love is an Open S’more. I thought of the phrase and it made me laugh every time I said it, so it had to be done! I decided that milk chocolate snowflake shapes Tash demonstrates how Love is an Open S'morefrom one of my silicone molds would fit perfectly on a graham cracker, and I topped them with an extra Frozen Fractal sugar cookie. They were set up as open s’mores on the plate, then you needed enough love to warm up your marshmallow to melt the “frozen” chocolate. Good enough story? It didn’t matter since they were s’mores! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Souvenir Bubble BottlesBefore we all got settled into our movie watching locations, we made sure everyone had one of the special souvenir bubble bottles. I admit I got this Blowing bubbles any time snow was falling during the movieidea from the Castro Theatre Frozen Sing Along, but it was really cute when the shadows of the bubbles floated across the screen whenever snowflakes were falling, so the three young Elsas spent a lot of the movie blowing bubbles!

It’s always difficult to get a photo of the entire audience when they spread out all over the grass, but Tash made a valiant effort! You can see we had quite a crowd in chairs, bean bags, and blankets. We even had a few more people to the left out of the frame! Large audience at Cinema Brittahytta - ready for Frozen!I couldn’t lean back too much because of my corset and my battery packs on my back, but sitting up properly helped my sing along posture. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Speaking of singing, we had to rely on Kevin to sing all the male voices, of course doing an excellent job, but there were plenty of enthusiastic female voices of all ages and all abilities! I asked Tash to get up & try to get video looking back at us singing along to Let It Go, figuring if we got anything at all it should be cute. The beginning of the song was too dim on the screen to shed enough light on us, so I tweaked the image as much as I could, but as the ice magic gets brighter you can see us better, and you need to watch all the way to the end for maximum adorableness! ๐Ÿ™‚

More bubbles and an Elsa shoe! ;)In their attempts to get the bubbles into the projector beam, my other two Elsas ended up sitting at the end of my chair. Violet had a sparkly snowflake headband (did you see her take it off at the exact time as the crown during Let It Go?), but Nola’s hair is long enough for an Elsa french braid, and Tash had made some of my aqua shimmer cut fabric snowflakes into Elsa-style hair clips…so cute!
Still enjoying the firelight towards the end of the movieWe actually had two people in the audience who had never seen Frozen before, but thankfully they said our singing and general merriment didn’t distract from their enjoyment of the movie. However, you can tell who had already seen it countless times by who preferred to keep roasting marshmallows over the firepit. It made for a nice tableau!

Olaf and ElsaAfter the movie was over, I couldn’t pack up the projector cart and speakers until I got out of my outfit, so I asked if anyone wanted photos with Elsa and Olaf before I changed…so there was another line, just like the princesses at Disneyland…yay! When everyone else was satisfied with their photos, I asked for some of me and especially the cape, since I didn’t get to take nighttime photos before. We still need to do a proper photoshoot like we did for the coronation dress, so hopefully before the summer is over we will get that chance, but this one with Olaf is pretty darn cute. ๐Ÿ˜‰

During my photoshoot with my “fans,” everyone else cleaned up the outside for me! The regular movie night guests know to bring in everything off the grass onto the patio, so that usually happens quickly as everyone carries something, but even everything off the pizza table had already been taken inside before I could get a chance to take any more photos! I finally got out of my wig and dress (probably only 5 hours this time?) and into shorts and a snowflake t-shirt while a few stayed chatting all the way until 1am! What a great party!

Thanks to everyone who made it such a fun night! You can see the rest of the party photos in the gallery below, and watch for more posts how to make your own Frozen Fractals cookies, snowflake cups and plates, Brrrie in Pastry, and Love is an Open S’more!

#Frozen #Elsa #Olaf #Fractals #recipes #snowflakes #snow #costumes


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Mary Poppins Movie Night

Backyard Movie NightThe Cinema Brittahytta summer season premiere this weekend was the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins! 14 people and one cute doggie enjoyed the movie, even though the evening got a bit chillier than some expected. Maybe I need to get out the old solid wool army blanket next time?

I had spent all week getting the backyard and house party-ready, including prepping the food, baking cookies and frosting them Custom Cookie Cutter for Kite Cookieswith a thin coat of royal icing the night before, using a new custom cookie cutter to make a flying kite shape with space for a fluttering tail. While the coals were heating on the grill out back, my last task was decorating the Let’s Go Adam decorating Kite CookiesFly a Kite Cookies using my food coloring pens. The first to arrive were first-time guests, and Adam and his mom were enthusiastic to decorate their own kite cookies…hooray! They had never seen food coloring pens before, so they were excited to find some for their own edible creations at home!

Onyx "helping" Ellie decorate cookiesWhen Ellie arrived, Onyx was “helping” her decorate her kite cookies, but he moved too quickly for a good photo. I think the other cats know they are the talk of the party when they stay hidden in mystery. Every kid wants to see if they can find the other kitties! ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Mary Poppins menu for Brittahytta Bar & Grill was Theatre Kettle Corn in the Cinema Brittahytta popcorn boxes, Jolly Holiday Cocktails, Fresh Fruit Salad, Grilled Sweet Potato Salad, Cheese & Crackers, and Kite Cookies! I had Mary Poppins Menufun with my new chalk marker pens. There were lots of reviews that these chalk pens don’t come off of new chalkboard paint and are only for real slate or non-porous surfaces, but I have enough years of real chalk residue on my painted chalkboard that these wipe cleanly off my board…whew! I think these will be quite fun for all the movies this season, plus my other parties!

Jolly Holiday CocktailsThe Jolly Holiday Cocktails were my simplest specialty drink yet, since I made a little card for my top hat holder saying “Choose a cheery parasol to make the beverage of your choice into a Jolly Holiday Cocktail! Add some extra magic with a glowing ice cube!” I had bought a ton of paper cocktail umbrellas at a discount party store, so they Magical Jolly Holiday Cocktailwere set up in my garnish display. Glowing glasses and glowing ice cubes help you find your drink during the movie, plus even work as flashlights for cleaning up afterwards. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Our old family 8mm film projector was back on display inside the large lantern with the movie clapboard leaning in front. I’m not sure if the chalk colors work for the clapboard, even though I was able to layer the powder blue over the neon green to get a quasi-aqua color…should I go back to classic white for the old clapboard Movie Night Centerpiece & Kite Cookieslook? Since that was the centerpiece for the inside food table, I set out some old photos of my own Mary Poppins costume from when I was 10 years old. You can spy the finished Let’s Go Fly a Kite Cookies, and since I have a plastic top hat ice bucket, I used it for the crackers with the cheese plate…heehee! Even the lemonade jar had a tiny top hat but I didn’t take a photo of the whole bar…oops! I also missed the new Concessions marquee sign on the patio fridge, and the snazzy VIP ENTRANCE sign hanging over the gate. I’ll make sure to photograph those next month when we all enjoy my backyard Frozen Sing-Along, complete with Elsa the Snow Queen in costume…stay tuned!

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Holiday Happy Hour 2013

Partying People My Holiday Happy Hour was the first week of December this year. So many years it’s been too warm inside for my holiday party even to light candles, let alone turn on the furnace, but this year’s chill more than made up for it! The mulled wine and hot cider were scarfed, and good thing it was just under 30 of us since the patio bar was too cold to stay out there for very long, even with candles and space heater going! Cozy cookie decorating and chatting inside was a nice evening, with a bonus that the outside “snow” surprise showed through the windows inside too, especially the triangle window above the piano showing the moving blue glow looking like real snow falling!

Decorating early with MomThis year my Christmas decorating was a bit different because I had implantable contact lens surgery the week before Thanksgiving and was told not to lift anything or bend over while I healed! My party was scheduled only 6 days after my family Thanksgiving trip, which didn’t leave much time for baking or decorating, so since my mom was staying with me to help out when I was healing, she got out all my Christmas boxes and we decorated my house together, hanging all my garlands, and even putting up my outside lights just not turning them on. That was fun while I was attempting to be a patient patient (I’m not very good at patience or taking it easy!), and she got inspiration how to organize her Christmas decor better for storage. ๐Ÿ™‚

Party before the partySince my party was on Sunday, I was able to attend Sheila’s snow party the night before hosting my own! Every 2 years, Sheila buys snow that is delivered to her house, and her husband arranges it on their front porch and their courtyard. I wore my long red velvet dress since it gave me the chance to wear my fiber-optic shawl and purse again…don’t you think the fabric sparkles echo the real snow on the ground? ๐Ÿ™‚

Let’s start with outside decor because of my new surprise! I bought dripping LED icicle lights last year, so that was all set already. Since I had the whole-house projector, custom wooden projector box, and lighted present boxes already made for Halloween, I thought it would be fun to project snow falling on my house. With one good eye & my mom’s two eyes, we tested if the projector would send a focused image through the clear acrylic, and it was fine. What I didn’t consider was the projector not having enough ventilation, even with near-freezing Snow falling on Brittahytta!temperatures, causing the projector to shut down from heat after about 15 minutes. Finally after cracking the present box lid open a hair near the projector vent and propping the acrylic side away from getting sucked into the vent, it stayed working for the rest of the night in the chilly air. (Click the photo to see video!)

The snow looked much better in person since many people said the different size flakes and the different depths of foliage at first tricked them into thinking it was really falling from above somehow! The movement of the dripping LED icicles worked perfectly Closeup of Snow Falling on Brittahyttawith the falling snow. (Click the photo to see video!) Luckily this free snow video loop I found online was just the effect I wanted. The only thing I would improve for my situation would be for the background to be entirely black instead of the fade to blue at the bottom, since that shone too much light on my grass and slightly marred the illusion. I was so happy to have such a great reaction from all my guests. Several kids wanted to run into the grass to try to catch snowflakes! I would love to have real snow like Sheila’s party, but this is the best kind of snow, with no messy cleanup!

The rest of my decorations and menu were mostly the same, with the indoors cookie decorating table a hit yet again, so this will definitely remain a tradition as long as kids keep attending! My traditional menu of Scandinavian family recipes Decorating cookies!were all there, like krumkake, pepperkakor, fudge, toffee, pickled salmon, and Swedish meatballs, plus cranberry chicken, build a sandwich, cheese & crackers, manchego with quince preserves from my tree & a snowflake pastry brie with spiced loquat preserves also from my own harvest. The beverages were sparkling cranberry punch and hot cider plus mulled wine and full bar for cocktails. I only made 5 dozen krumkake instead of 10 dozen, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to do the snowflake cookies justice this year, but I did make my Caroling Cookies again to match my caroling luminaria bags on the tables.

Kitty Paw Stockings on the MantelI did finally get a third paw stocking for my third kitty, but I had to make one! Since I could only find super-fuzzy red material, I decided that now the stockings match each kitty by fuzziness level: middle fluff for Ebony, smoothest plush for sleek Obsidian, and super-fuzzy for super-fluffy Onyx. ๐Ÿ™‚ Unsurprisingly, Onyx held court the whole party and had a great time. I even heard someone say “Onyx thinks he’s king of the party!” as they saw him draped across one of the dining chairs where he could see everyone! Ebony & Siddy stayed hidden until it was just Cyd and me chatting after others had left…then Ebony was sneaking manchego off the table while Siddy was finally allowing Cyd to give him tummy rubs for the first time. ๐Ÿ™‚

I hope everyone had a happy holiday season! Click below to view all the photos of the 2013 Holiday Happy Hourโ€ฆ


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Twenty Halloweens!

Only some of the front yard displayI am over the moon that last Saturday night was a very successful 20th Halloween party! I know we had over 70 people including kids & babes in arms, but we might have actually broken the 80 mark, and STILL had food left over! I couldn’t keep up with all the costume photos, so I am extremely thankful to fantastic photographer Cat Rodery for all the fabulous photos she took with her professional equipment! You can view the full resolution versions in all their spectacular glory on Cat’s website, but by viewing the album on her professional Facebook page you can see all the fun comments so far. ๐Ÿ™‚

First of all, thank you to the party guests and trick or treaters who donated to my Eerie Elegance Trick or Treat for UNICEF Fund since we raised $115 for a good cause! There is still time to donate via PayPal until November 5th if you’d like to join us!

Eleventh hour chaos with two major secret projects (to be fully covered in separate posts later) led to gingerbread assembly of the Halloween Town village not even started by late Friday night, so I decided just Spiral Hill with the glowing moon, glowing pumpkins and new Tim Burton-specific Tasty Tombstones should still be an impressive centerpiece. It still took me probably 5 hours and 3 big buckets of Duff Goldman Edible Spiral Hill Centerpiecechocolate fudge frosting to cover it all! Since the two halves of the observatory worked as bowls, I served the gingerbread pieces as Deconstructed Halloween Town. The way the gingerbread was bending through the night from ambient moisture, it might not have survived assembly anyway. Otherwise I only had minor details from my wishlist that didn’t happen, like the spiderweb snowflakes, food signs saying Edible Art Details on Edible Spiral Hillhow long I’ve been making them (Eerie Eyeballs since 1994, etc), the Winners Wall, and carving any fruit or veggies into fun faces, which often is cut for time anyway. For so many ideas I’ve been saving for years now, plus having added those major projects and displays just this year, I am quite pleased at how much we were able to do!

Halloween Scream Team 2013 screaming we actually did it! :DOf course the only reason we could do so much were the Halloween Scream Team plus my house-elves on Saturday afternoon, Kathy and my mom, also first-time Halloween party guests! My house-elves blasted through the list I printed for them in the two hours before the party, which was all the fresh fruit, veggies, Violent Vertebrae, cheese & bat wings, even including Kathy painting the eyeballs for me! That was the first time anyone else has Helpful House-Elves Kathy & Diane (Mom!)ever painted eyeballs for my party, but since she uses the techniques in my Enhanced Eerie Elegance book and Easier Eerie Eyeballs video, she did a great job!

My last major decor project in the afternoon was getting the stripey bows and autumn ferns arranged in the graveyard, then I was in full makeup and most of my costume by 5pm but no wig, gloves or eyes, and wearing my teal skeleton apron so I could keep working on all the final setup. Glen made all the tables and chairs look Ruth & Sheila at one of the backyard tablesnice, batteries into lights and small jack o’lanterns, and hauled 6 big bags of ice for the big cauldron and party reserves in the garage sink, while I put final touches on all the decor. At 6pm, we got the main projection working and aimed properly, all battery lights turned on, turned on the Jack and Zero setup, I turned on the Sally projection in my bedroom, then I Partying people in the backyardthoroughly sprayed Glen’s black wig into Tim Burton messy style, touched up my makeup a little, then had my wig on by 7:20pm! Jen & John helped fill the punch bowls when they arrived, and my last projects as other guests were arriving was to change the arbor bench to an impromptu food table, and finally arranging Jack’s lab to show off all his experiments…whew!

Partying People in Jack's LaboratoryBy 8:30pm the party was already full of people as I got the bat wings out of the oven, then it was party time for me! I passed out the Haunted Headstones and Ogle the Owls quizzes for everyone to do at their leisure. I got whatever photos I could, but there was so much going on that Cat was a true lifesaver with her attention to getting good photos of decor AND people! By 9:30, Sally Britta leading the Spooky Music Quizpeople were starting to talk about leaving, so I hurried to start the Spooky Music Quiz. I had planned the quiz to be run from outside, but enough people were in the living room that I stayed there mostly anyway, going out back to adjust the volume using my iPhone though the conductive thread I had added to my costume gloves. It was very nice that I had finally thought to record the number in front of the audio clip so I didn’t have to yell this time. ๐Ÿ™‚ After we were done, I ushered everyone out to the backyard so we could grade the quizzes and vote for costume and Creepy Cuisine prizes. I really like the interactive group voting instead of the paper ballots I did for years, so this is the new tradition….and here are the winners!

Jessica Ties for Spooky Music QuizWe had a tie for 100% on the Spooky Music Quiz, which was various unique covers of the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack you had to put in the order you heard them played. I was very glad I made both Edible Medals and little trophies, so I had plenty of prizes! Here Jessica is awarded the Edible Medal for Spooky Music Quiz.

Nathania triple-medaled with Spooky Music Quiz, Outstanding Owl Ogler and Haunted Headstones Hero!Nathania not only tied for Spooky Music Quiz, but also was Outstanding Owl Ogler and Haunted Headstones Hero!

Nathania and Kaye tied for Haunted Headstones HeroNathania & Kaye tied for Haunted Headstones Hero, but Nathania got the bonus question of which Singing Scarecrow was which member of the Halloween Scream Team!

Scariest Costume Grumpy Cat Jen & Bob Ross JohnAfter the quizzes were awarded, it was onward to costume voting by crowd cheers and applause. Scariest Costume was a tie between Grumpy Cat Jen & Bob Ross John…the Edible Medal almost didn’t fit over that epic hair! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Most Original Costume Mayor Doug and Talking Rose KathyMost Original Costume went to Mayor Doug and Talking Rose Kathy, both excellent costumes! Boy was I glad I had double prizes to award!

Ultimate Costume Galt & Lyle's Retrospective of Twenty HalloweensUltimate Costume went to Galt & Lyle’s Retrospective of Twenty Halloweens! They put together pieces from costumes from all sorts of costume parties I have hosted. Brilliant idea!

Creepy Cuisine winner Scary Jerry for many delicious entriesThe first Creepy Cuisine award went to Scary Jerry for so many delicious entries like pumpkin cupcakes & meat pies!

Creepy Cuisine Rozanne the Pin Cushion Queen for her Finger Meat PiesSeveral more were voted in absentia like Robert & Maureen’s Mummy Fruitcake and Kevin C’s coffin smoked potatoes, but I couldn’t award them prizes when they had already left…darn! Glad Rozanne the Pin Cushion Queen was still around to accept a prize for her Finger Meat Pies! Not bad for a first-time attendee! ๐Ÿ™‚

Since I had strongly encouraged costumes from anything in the Tim Burton universe, we had a lot of duplication, especially from Alice in Wonderland, but boy were they all fantastic costumes and so much creativity in interpretation, like Baby Alice Kira was wearing White Rabbit slippers while her mom Angie was the teal Cheshire Cat! The only group we didn’t get was all 3 Tim Burton’s together. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Cat herded everyone together for some fabulous group photos…and I didn’t realize until someone else pointed out that the Nightmare Crew photo has THIRTEEN people…how perfect!

The Nightmare Crew of THIRTEEN

Of course the Jacks hit the Jackpot with the giant bus poster as well as animatronic Jack!

Jacks with the Jack Bus Poster Jacks with Animatronic Jack

Barrel Obie, Shock Marcie & Lock Steve demonstrate effective minimalist costumes! ๐Ÿ˜‰
Barrel Obie, Shock Marcie & Lock Steve

Quite an Alice crowd!
Quite an Alice crowd!

There were so many Mad Hatters they had their own tea party!
Mad Hatter Tea Party

Tim Burton Craig & Tim Burton Glen Directing the Outside Display
Tim Burton Craig & Tim Burton Glen Directing the Outside Display

At least we caught two of the Tim Burtons in action “directing” the outside display (Craig & Glen)! For the other Tim Burton movies, we had a Pee-Wee Herman (Marco), Sweeney Todd & Mrs. Lovett (Nicholas & Elisabeth), a few from Dark Shadows (Nathania, Kaye & Jeff), a Corpse Bride (Mary Jo), and of course Cat’s own costume was so absolutely perfect for her since Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice also carried around a giant camera. Cat was so dedicated to her costume authenticity she brought her other big camera to hold while her best camera could take a photo of her! ๐Ÿ˜€

Pee Wee Marco & Santa Jack Ben Dark Shadows Duo Kaye & Nathania Sweeney Todd Nicholas and Mrs. Lovett Elisabeth

Corpse Bride & Jack Camera Girl Cat as Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice

Diane as Britta from the FutureMy mom isn’t really enthused about costumes these days, even though when I was young I remember she & my dad going to adult Halloween parties without me as a Rubik’s Cube, outhouse, and other creative things. When I heard she was coming to this party, I thought of how we look so much alike, and thought an easy costume for her would be to wear my giant Nightmare top hat with Jack scarf, duplicating this photo of me, and saying she was Britta from 25 years in the future! She found a great old photo of her at my current age and had a name tag showing the photo of me in the same outfit she was Mad Hatter Jeff and familywearing. She didn’t win a prize but people got a kick out of it! ๐Ÿ™‚

I don’t know where Jeff & Audene were for the costume voting, since I really think they should have won Most Original Costume. The concept was brilliant: Little Julianna was the Danny Elfman Music Fairy, and Jeff as Johnny Depp could change between movies by changing just a few accessories! I saw the Mad Hatter in the tea party group, Willy Wonka inside for a while, and Barnabas Collins towards the end, and I don’t know if I missed any others! His vampire cape was the one I made him in 1994 when I made my first Sally costume, so it was also a celebration of Twenty Halloweens!

Willy Wonka Jeff Dark Shadows Jeff and Sally Britta

As the party was winding down, we ended up in the Undead Room watching the slideshows and videos of all of my 19 past Halloween parties, having fun reminiscing and laughing. When the bleeding heart came on one video, we decided we should sever and serve this year’s! Thanks to Eileen for catching it on video! You can see the little Danny Elfman Music Fairy being indoctrinated into Halloween spirit by helping catch the blood stream in the goblet! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Now let me take you on a tour of the decorations. As you approach the house, you see three Singing Scarecrows, the Pumpkin Chorus in the graveyard of 13 all Tim Burton character gravestones, Jack in the Box peeking out, Snakey chomping the presents & Christmas tree in front, and the 8-foot moon screen above it all. They all sing This Is Halloween from the Nightmare Before Christmas movie of course!

Front View of the Front ShowThis was a huge amount of work by the entire Scream Team, not only Snakey and the lighted present boxes and new gravestones, but making larger papier-mache pumpkins than I could buy, filming our own faces made up as black & white jack o’lantern faces and lip-syncing to the song many many times, lots & lots of video editing by me, and the final evening it was still touch & go getting placement correct plus a final render that was finally party-ready at 6:30am! Full details will be forthcoming in another post of course. To give you an idea of the full experience, here is a walkthrough from the front sidewalk around the tree and up the walkway to the front door…

Ghostly Greenery urns in daylightAs you come up the walkway towards the door past more jack o’lanterns and black urns filled with gorgeous Ghostly Greenery, Jack Skellington turns and starts talking and gesturing to you and to Zero the Ghost Dog back at the gate. I made our life-size animatronic look like Jack, including body design, angles, head, functioning papier-mache jaw joints, moveable fingers & clothes, but my Jack & Zero on the front porchHalloween Scream Team was essential in making him come alive. Glen did all the research for servo work, electronics work, infrared trip sensor, and did all the movement programming, with Jack accuracy review by me. I wrote the script and barked as Zero, and our Jack voice was Jerry then digitally altered to sound more like Jack. Home-filmed footage of Zero barking & flying in loops was rear-projected at the gate on a screen with his physical carved foam gravestone in front. We were so pleased how it turned out and everyone at the party absolutely loved it! A Halloween Scream Team group effort for sure! More details of the trial & tribulations of this setup will be in a later post.

Halloween tree and spiderweb lace curtains frame the Undead RoomNext you see the Halloween tree through the spiderweb lace curtains, then enter to see the Undead Room in all its festive decor, with the Catoween tapestry, spooky pillows, black pine garland decking all the halls, orange lights, gargoyles covering the piano, and even colorful wrapped presents under the tree.

Marcie's Jack Cake in front of Edible Spiral HillContinuing into the dining area, you see the edible Spiral Hill from the movie with glowing moon of fondant over glass tabletop, glowing sculpted pumpkins and shortbread Tasty Tombstones of all new designs I carved in foam this year for the pumpkin graveyard.

jack's Library LaboratoryAs you follow all the partying people, you enter Jack’s Library Laboratory, with bookcases at either end, and luscious red silk curtains framing the view out the “window” of Spiral Hill, where Jack is wandering, taking a break from performing his chalkboard calculations and Christmas experiments on his lab table, such as boiling ornaments, dissecting a teddy bear, and attempting Christmas candy that turned spooky. Even his purple tufted velvet chair is still ready to continue his experiments. The brie Jack Skellington Cheese Ballen croute was Jack’s face this year, and I covered a glass bowl vase with cream cheese to make a glowing Jack Skellington Cheese Ball. Yes, I saved that big moon main section of the movie theatre standee for 20 years since I was working at the theatre during the original movie release! It made a great “view” since we could see the glowing foreground pumpkin graveyard through the glass tabletop.

Sally's Sewing CornerThrough the archway door and stone columns, my outer patio was another food table with two punch bowls, skeleton hand goblets, and a projection of Sally mixing potions from the movie on my bedroom sliding glass door. Here is video of Sally’s Potions area, with Frog’s Breath Punch, Dr. Finkelstein’s Bizarre Brain Pate, the Frightful Skull Fountain, Sally’s Sewing Corner, a Halloween tree, and Sally mixing Sally's Potionspotions in the window. I saved my real trees from both past Christmases out in my yard, but all the needles still clung strongly to last year’s tree, so I thought it looked nice with orange needles and we had enough ornaments to decorate both trees. Sally’s sewing corner was an antique sewing machine on the corner table, with scrap red velveteen and white fur like she was sewing the rest of Jack’s Santa outfit, since the hat with beard was already finished on the stand.

Frightful Skull Fountain and Sally's PotionsFrog’s Breath Punch is my Bubbling Witches’ Brew recipe in a new glass cauldron with dry ice. You can also spy Dr. Finkelstein’s Bizarre Brain Pate and Sally mixing potions in the window. You probably already saw the construction of Dr. Finkelstein from the party progress posts. I considered this a minor detail but several people were very impressed how movie-accurate he looked and that the concept was so perfect for my classic brain recipe. ๐Ÿ™‚

Some backyard setupWhen I put out chairs on the back lawn in previous years no one seemed to use them, but this year Jerry suggested small tables with chairs. This worked very well and will be a new tradition too! Since I actually had my two small round tables free, plus the half-cardtable we’d been using all summer as a work Giant web & spider over the backyard food tabletable, I got out all the extra chairs and set them up with a food table under the movie screen trellis, moving all the other yard furniture and the wishing well to discourage anyone wandering into the projection area towards the fence and gate. I hadn’t planned to use my giant web or any big spiders, but when I got the food table set up, the trellis Battery Jacko and Chomped Cheese Jackowas practically screaming for it! ๐Ÿ˜‰ The 4 prelit short Halloween trees I got on clearance last year decorated the food table and the cardtable, and each table got a small battery jack o’lantern, plus a Glowing Jack O’Lantern Cheese Ball. Huge thanks to Glen for getting all the chair cushions on, tablecloths on and batteries working for this to look great when guests arrived!

Halloween night I only got about 85 trick or treaters, but a few groups were so enthusiastic, videoing everything and pointing out details to each other, that gave them a guided tour of the inside decor as well. My Trick or Treaters watching the whole showfavorite of those enthusiastic groups was a family with their little boy about 5 years old who just came back from Disneyland and has been watching the Nightmare Before Christmas on constant rotation the past few weeks. He was so amazed by talking Jack, the singing pumpkins, and everything that it was a real joy to see! He even answered Jack a couple times, and kept excitedly pointing all the details out to everyone. I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps of my new “fans” watching the front show. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We took the moon screen down on Halloween night around 11:45pm, and I took the gravestones and all electrical in the night of Nov 1st so I could finally turn my yard irrigation back on. I need some time to saw apart all the scarecrow branches and spooky fence (we pin-nailed them really well!), and all the pumpkins are still up for a while until I figure out where I can store them all.

My gallery of over 200 photos is included in this post below (a few are crops from Cat’s collection), and don’t forget to look at Cat’s 200+ photos on her main website, or her professional Facebook page too! Plenty of party photos for you people to peruse while I keep working on the big how-to posts for the secret projects of Jack and Zero plus the Singing Scarecrows and Pumpkin Chorus! Hope everyone’s Halloween was as fun as mine!


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Last Halloween progress update before the party!

Boy is it crunch time! This was the last Halloween Scream Team work weekend before the party! It’s definitely a marathon this year going into the last push this week, so we’re trying to make sure we all get enough rest so we can make it to the finish healthy enough to enjoy it!

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet here is that to celebrate my Twenty Halloweens, I’m collecting for Trick or Treat for UNICEF, in cash at my party and trick or treaters Halloween night, but also via PayPal if you’d like to help celebrate! I will take everything collected by November 5th and send the total to UNICEF. I hope we can be festive for a great cause, since UNICEF’s Trick or Treat program has been running since 1950, and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF spends 90.4 cents of every dollar they receive on programs that help children. Only 6.7 cents goes to fundraising, and 2.9 cents to administration. So Hallway Decormany other charities have so much money go to marketing and administration, but UNICEF sends most to the children who need help.

I have taken my Nightmare Before Christmas collectibles (except shirts, pajamas & slippers!) and distributed them around the house on shelves, bookcases and things, so that should be fun for people to discover during the party. Here you can see the only spot large enough to hang my giant bus poster from the original movie release is covering my hall closet doors! You can also see some of the black pine garland with extra fun decor over the archway.

Skellington SlippersSpeaking of slippers, I bought these probably 10 years ago at Disneyland, but have been saving them in my closet so I wouldn’t ruin them. I decided that wearing them these couple weeks they should survive, and it’s the perfect time to enjoy them. Nice that it’s finally cool enough at nights to enjoy my flannel Jack pajamas too. ๐Ÿ™‚

Jack O Lantern Cheese Balls using Fun Foam FacesAll the food I can do in advance is done until I start gelatin body parts on Thursday evening so I can paint them late Friday. The Brie en croute and other cheeses will be tackled on Friday, and fresh fruit and veggies aren’t until the day of the party.

Happy Cheese BallsI’ve taken a previous winning Creepy Cuisine entry and turned it into small Glowing Jack O’Lantern Cheese Balls to surround the gingerbread village and make all the food tables festive. The Creepy Cuisine winner used hard cheese for the face inserts so it would be thick enough for a wide cheese wall before the glass. The cheese has a tendency to crack for more intricate designs, so I decided to try using some of the fun foam scraps, washed thoroughly first of course. The foam is thin, so you can’t have as thick of a cheese wall, but I compensated by adding extra cheese to the sides and back. After the cheese has set solid in the fridge, you need to scrape any cheese edges away from over the foam and peel carefully, but it works great! Using the same technique over a larger glass bowl (that first needs to be baking support for Dr F’s lab building), I will make a big plain cream cheese glowing Jack Skellington head that will be in his laboratory. ๐Ÿ™‚

Exploded Pumpkin DonutsThanks to Scary Jerry manning the deep fryer while I prepped them, we blasted through 9 dozen Donut be Scared Peekaboo Pumpkins on Friday night so they’re in the freezer for reheating day of the party. However if you get too much flour in the folds when re-rolling the dough, your pumpkins can explode like these! Nice to have snacks for all three of us, especially while smelling them the whole time we were making them!

New Tasty TombstonesThe new Tasty Tombstones & Edible Medals are baked, also using the plastic trophies with updated labels. One new quiz sheet is ready to print, with Haunted Headstones and Ogle the Owls, plus a secret extra bonus question. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Edible Medals all ready!This year’s Spooky Music Quiz is all ready to go, including clips that include what number they are so I don’t have to yell. Why didn’t I think of that before?!? The AirPlay Remote app is working with my master iTunes on my MacMini and whole house speakers, so I can control volume, stop & start playlists on my iPhone, and I even added conductive thread to a couple fingers on my Sally gloves so I can use the touchscreen in costume! This means I can run the quiz from the backyard where there is more space, and everyone can play anywhere in the house or yard, as long as there is enough light to see the quiz sheets. ๐Ÿ˜‰

My third webcam arrived on Friday, and I got it working on my internal LAN by IP + port, but can’t get the Mac Mini server to allow connections through it using DNS so it’s not reachable from outside yet. If I can’t figure that out this week, at least it can be image captures during the party showing Sally’s Potions and a bit of the backyard tables and chairs. Whatever is working by then will be live during the party at, but fair warning my Comcast internet service has been nigh unusable many evenings this week, so I can’t guarantee they will be accessible during the party…sorry!

Jack’s clothes are well underway and looking quite dapper! We need the clothes to be removable for the last few days, so the planJack's Jacket and Torso is all seams to velcro in back. I’ve made a big white pillow as his torso, stuffed with 16 years of batting remnants after making baby blankets for friends, cut the arms and legs as long rectangles so they can be pinstriped before sewing, then fitted his jacket with tails to the torso pillow. I need to find a button in my stash, and only the arms have been pinstriped by Jerry so far since the paint pens were running out so I have a lot more painting to do, but the jacket is completely sewn except the arms, including interfacing on his squiggly coattails so you can actually see their shape hanging behind him.

Making Jack's Batwing BowtieI am loving Jack’s batwing bowtie. For the costume version, I used black fabric and wire, but after using the fun foam for all the graveyard fence spikes, I thought that might work better to support itself. It still needed wire reinforcement from the back side, so I hotglued some stiff electrical wire from my stash between a scrap foam layer, but this looks awesome on him!

Snake EyesI had sewed most of the snake last month, but due to other projects I didn’t get to sew the head until Saturday, then I dye both sections yellow but alas it wasn’t the bright yellow-gold I wanted. I couldn’t find matching balls the right size, so I sacrificed 2 of my gold shatterproof Christmas Spray Painting Snakey's Stripesornaments and painted them white. Sunday afternoon I spray-painted black stripes using scrap cardboard as masking along the way, then filled between with a brighter yellow spray paint. Jerry stuffed the entire snake with all the bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and newspaper I had, not an easy task since the Snakey lives!tail is sooo long! This is almost exactly what my vision was, how he curls around the tree perfectly, he is already digesting one of the presents, and has almost finished chomping a whole tree!

The lighted present boxes had also been started a couple months ago, but finally finished this weekend. I had cut acrylic sheets & clear corner protectors to the right Softly glowing green presentsizes a while ago, and prepped interfacing to diffuse the lights inside. There was enough wrapping paper Taller present is too brightleft that looked good so I only drew one design from scratch. The black bows are large mesh ribbon doubled over, and the orange bow on the biggest present is all fun foam so it will keep it’s shape. I really love all the color variety out front! Snakey needs a spotlight, and I Fun Foam Orange Bowneed a smaller light for the tall skinny present since I like the soft glow of the small green one better, so I’ll be shopping for more lights tonight. Glad I have a couple more evenings to try out more lighting design!

Patio decorating has begun but still has a way to go. I have rearranged the couch and table for Sally’s Potions in Dr. Finkelstein’s lab on the outer patio, but that table still has a couple final projects in process before it can become food display for the gelatin body parts and other classic “experiments.” Jerry decorated my other tree on Sunday, and it looks great with its natural orange needles! I switched the skull fountain into a Skull Fountain and another Halloween Treenew watertight cauldron so no leaks this year. The bar area is well underway turning into Jack’s Library Laboratory, with a new Laboratory Libations sheet to mix your own experiment, but the Christmas experiments in process still need to be set out along with the potion bottles, glassware, and there are a bunch of Halloween storage boxes still out there for now.

Gingerbread baking underway!Last night I started baking the gingerbread Halloween Town in hopes I’m done by Friday, since there is other food prep starting Thursday night! I’m a few hours behind since the dough was fighting me until I figured out to only make a quarter of a batch so I could roll while still hot. I’m trying to embed textures in the gingerbread so I can paint instead of icing everything, but that is only working intermittently. My structural gingerbread recipe includes soda which makes it puff, so tonight I’ll try a batch with no leavening at all to see if the textures stay better during baking. We did get the tablecloths under the foam base Sunday night since I don’t plan on moving the base after decorating it all. I hope to put all the final decorating touches on the rest of my house during the downtime during baking or waiting for pieces to dry or set, and have Halloween Town fully photographed so we can demolish and consume it before people leave the party!

I wish I could have taken the whole week off work, but I am taking Wednesday through the rest of the week off. All that “extra” time will be finishing the gingerbread I’m sure! There are still some major secret projects underway we’re hoping will make it in time, so Ghoulish Glen will still be working on those every night this week!

See you after the party…woohoo!

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Merry Madam Mead & the Phantom of the Pipes

Since my parties are in tight quarters with guests roaming around at will, I never had a good location for a Pepper’s Ghost illusion. You need double the space to hide the original item that is being reflected into your final display, plus the illusion only works from a controlled viewing angle. I have always wanted to do a Pepper’s Ghost, and finally for Halloween 2012 I not only had the perfect concept and location for two Peppers, but also enthusiastic help!

The smaller ghost in the bottle of Merry Madam Mead should have been the easy one, but it ended up less successful because of bottle shape and ambient lighting. We will refine that one for 2014, but the Phantom of the Pipes inside my shed was called “Disney quality” by one of my guests! I do admit that of all six spirits from Halloween 2012, the Phantom of the Pipes was my favorite!

Merry Madam Mead

This Renaissance era Merry Madam Mead keeps giggling while pouring herself even more mead when it is obvious she has already imbibed plenty. Show this 2-minute clip reflected inside a bottle or jar in your bar to add some humor to your haunt. Perfect Too much halofor projectors, video screens, and especially reflected Pepper’s Ghost illusions. You are welcome to edit after purchase for your personal use as long as it is not distributed.

Merry Madam Mead was the first ghost we filmed, in the same exact outfit after filming her portrait inside, so we had not yet refined the double front lighting technique. With only direct front lighting, it lighted the black backdrop behind too much, so the best I could do in editing was a large fuzzy halo around her. This large halo also made it difficult to see any detail after being reflected plus in ambient lighting. Since it wasn’t a difficult filming setup, I might refilm this one with the better lighting setup for 2014, but I’ll need to borrow that wig again. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The ghost in a bottle setup is simple: a video with audio looping on a digital photo frame placed flat facing up but hidden inside a fake book, reflecting into the bottle above through a thin piece of clear plastic cut to fit exactly inside the bottle at the correct angle to reflect to the viewer. The book is cut so the hole exactly matches the open bottle bottom, but the tower of books is intentionally tall so not many people were looking down on the bottle so they wouldn’t see the photo frame underneath. It was also placed in a corner so no one could really look at it from the side or behind.

Cutting the plastic for Merry's bottleI had spent awhile cutting that plastic to shape so no glue would be required since glue or tape would be visible and affect the illusion. Somehow when we set it into final position the plastic was no longer at the correct viewing angle, so my cohort was trying his best last-minute cutting as guests were arriving. I also never saw the double reflection at the top curve of the bottle during my testing. I had searched all summer for a big bottle shape with open bottom and this was the best I found which still was not good enough. What really irks me is that I had a spigot jar where the bottom broke cleanly off back in 2007, saved it in my garage for a year, then finally got rid of it a few years ago when I couldn’t think of any use for it. Sadly it would have been absolutely perfect for this! I’m almost tempted to buy another straight-sided spigot jar and see if I can duplicate the clean break for 2014!

The Phantom of the Pipes

This 18th-century French style Phantom of the Pipes peers knowingly over her shoulder at the viewer while sadly playing her own spooky fugue-style composition on a physical pipe organ (not included in the footage). This was designed as a life-size Pepper’s Ghost illusion to interact with a physical pipe organ prop. You could display this reflected onto a piano or your own custom-built props, with the reflection generated from a video screen or a projector. The pipe organ fugue on the soundtrack First shed Pepper's testis an original composition by Britta Peterson. You are welcome to edit the video after purchase for your personal use as long as it is not distributed.

After the Gate Ghost was successful, my partner in crime said “what about next year?” and my first reply was “I’ve been wanting to try a Pepper’s ghost using my pipe organ inside my shed.” He was shocked I immediately jumped to that elaborate of a setup! Talk about a challenge! We used an old glass tabletop that we could move around to check reflection angles, and our first testing using my existing projectors showed that we needed a much shorter-throw projector, since even lengthening our stream by The new Epson just might work!bouncing it off a mirror in the back corner, we were still nowhere near life-size to sit at the pipe organ. Luckily a new Epson projector was available for just under $500 that was the perfect throw…whew! At that point we knew our setup, which you can see in the diagram. By shoving the pipe organ all the way to the wall Peppers Shed Layoutand angling it for the keyboard and ghost hands to be visible, we could just barely put the image screen along the open door, large mirror in the corner, and projector in the other corner behind the pipe organ, with the reflective film at an angle but stopping before it would interrupt the projector beam reaching the mirror.

Original music this yearSince this ghost was playing the pipe organ, she needed music! I could have used some old pipe organ spooky standards, but I took this as an opportunity to compose a 3-part fugue, transforming the theme she plays on piano in her portrait into a haunting minor melody. I worked it out at my piano, but Garage Band didn’t have any good sounding pipe organs, so I connected my vintage Yamaha DX-7 keyboard to my MacBook Pro, and recorded each part live into separate tracks. It was really fun to write this kind of music again, and I’m glad not only did I really like the result, but even though during final testing it was running over & over to the point of annoying, I heard my cohort humming along, commenting “it’s kind of catchy,” so he liked it too! ๐Ÿ™‚

Filming the Phantom of the PipesAfter we had the final music all ready and knew the final setup, we knew where to place the camera to film the ghost. We aimed for an average viewing height of 5 feet, hoping that would be midrange for both kids and adults. I covered the walls and ceiling of the shed plus the organ bench with black weedblocker fabric that stayed in place through the illusion, but the floor was old plywood that was fairly dark, so I left that uncovered. We knew we couldn’t get any image to be tall enough for feet up through the tall hair, so we blocked most of the skirt with the bench to lessen the ghost image area. For filming only, I also covered the pipe organ with black weedblocker fabric, then had to remember where the keys were while miming my playing! Since the costume includes a fancy white wig and is already pale lavender, I didn’t alter any of the costume, but I did brighten it during editing. We avoided too much halo so the detail would be more distinct. I definitely needed a director for this, since the back of a ghosts’ Taping the heatshrink film on the framehead is pretty boring to watch, so we finally settled on peering over my shoulder periodically like “I know you’re watching” which turned out pretty spooky!

For the final setup, we purchased large heatshrink window insulation film for about $20, and I built a frame of 1x2s since thicker wood would have messed up the Taping the heatshrink film on the frameangles, especially squeezing the door end where it needed to be. I spray painted the frame pieces black outside, but I had to assemble the frame inside the shed since the door opening isn’t large enough for the size frame we needed. To make the frame blend in with the floor I spray-painted with the frame base in place, fading the black from the frame out both sides to the normal floor color. That also made nice lines for knowing when the frame was in proper position. The heatshrink film is taped on first as stretched as you can, then you shrink with a normal hairdryer since a heat gun is too hot. We had read that Heatshrinking the film with my hairdryer to a taught mirror finishafter shrinking the cloudiness would go away, but there were still some places that remained fuzzy, and it collected lint & dust from static electricity. The problem is that once it was in place, there was very little room to access the ghost side of the film. I had just enough room to reach in from each side to light the battery candles on the pipe organ, but there was no way to wipe the dust off the ghost side of the film farther than my arm’s reach.

Final Setup in ActionHere is a still photo of the final setup “behind the curtain” side, and you can see how our angles made the image stretch wider than projected. I compensated for this by squishing the original footage by about 25% percent so she looked normal sitting at the pipe organ instead of extra wide. Sure wish I could do that in real life! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I had the navy blue crushed velvet curtains in my Halloween Squished footage to compensate for projection angle wideningdecor stash, so that draped over a “rod” of scrap 1×2 sticking out at the top of the film frame to hide the projector glow and the mirror. Since peeking in through the doors you could turn to the right and see the entire “behind the curtain” view shown above, we fixed both doors in place using bricks and my big stone urns so the opening was narrow enough that not even kid-sized heads could squeeze through, but you could put your face right up to the opening and see the ghost perfectly.

She's looking at you!The point of all the candles was to see them through the ghost, and that worked really well. I arranged them in an aesthetically pleasing way and made sure not to block her face or hands. We were hoping the projection would be enough light for the keyboard but from 2 bounces and a reflection, it had lost so much light that we added an aimable & dimmable battery LED light aimed directly at the keyboard. That was the perfect lighting to see The Phantom of the Pipes taken by Cateverything in the background without washing out the ghost projection. The only drawback was that we thought the sound was plenty loud during all our testing, but ambient party noise plus the small door opening caused some people to miss my favorite ghost! It is such close quarters that it was very difficult to take still photos to explain the full setup, so you can watch this video below to see a walkthrough explanation of the setup while the illusion was running.

Whew! Now you know how we made all six spirits for Halloween 2012! Hope this inspires you to host your own ghosts someday! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Only two weeks left!

Scary Jerry Decorating the Skeleton TreeAnother exhausting weekend of party prep with the Scream Team, plus all week before that on my own every evening…whew! I now have 87 Brittle Bone Breadsticks underbaked in the freezer, ready for finish baking the day of the party, and my costume is now ALL DONE…hooray! Inside decorating is looking great, even though decking the halls still seems like Christmas even with black pine garland and orange lights. ๐Ÿ˜‰ All the spooky wall art is up, but the black LED flicker candles still need to be set out. My dead Christmas tree from 2 years ago was still hanging on to its needles, but I finally got them off enough to bring it inside as a skeleton of a tree. Last year’s tree is clinging to its needles so I will use it outside as another tree to decorate. Scary Jerry put the lights on the inside tree and started hanging ornaments yesterday, but there are plenty more I’ve collected over the past several years on Christmas clearance and Disney Store online deals. Jerry has taken “homework” of present wrapping with him for this week to use all the fun ribbons, wrapping paper, and tablecloths as wrapping paper over empty boxes of various sizes, so under the tree will New favorite plant: Lion's Tail!look festive too. I hope there is still time to make the spiderweb snowflakes I designed, but that might get cut for time in favor of larger & more important projects…crossing my fingers!

When I was at Home Depot yet again for more project supplies and 2 for 1 mums for my potted urns, I found a new favorite spooky plant: Lion’s Tail! These blooms are sooo cool cut for Halloween displays, and it’s a drought-tolerant plant that will hopefully do well on drip-irrigation in my side yard and get larger. Here’s hoping!

Nightmare Gravestone Handpainting in ProcessAll 8 new gravestones are nicely aged and fully complete, including photos for new Tasty Tombstone cookies and a new quiz. I did the garden hose & spray paint aging one evening, then hand painted accent details over two evenings while watching the first 2013 Halloween Wars and the first episode of American Horror Story: Coven. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I love how the aging technique makes the foam look just like real stone! In this photo you can see how the aging technique alone doesn’t bring out the carving detail quite enough, which is why I hand paint where necessary with watered down black paint. You can always go over again to add darker coloring, but if you start with too dark, it’s too cartoony and you might as well have just written the lettering with a Sharpie pen instead of carving. You can watch this process in action in the Tombstone Trilogy on the first DVD “Eerie Elegance: 13 Fabulous Frights” or watch the Eerie Elegance episodes available online.

Pile o' Pumpkins!All the hand painting on 13 pumpkins is almost done! There are 2 here in the pumpkin pile that have not yet been handpainted…can you spot them? I told the Scream Team that it looks like a lot of pumpkins all assembled together, but I was afraid when I spread them out around the yard they wouldn’t look like enough…but I was told they look like even more by Sunday evening when most were in final position, so that’s excellent. ๐Ÿ™‚ Now to buy the fresh pumpkins to add to this pile!

Gluing the foam spikes on the fence postsSaturday after dinner after a long building workday, Ghoulish Glen and I cut and glued 152 foam spikes for the 76 fence posts, while watching the pilot of Game of Thrones and the Dark Shadows movie he hadn’t seen. ๐Ÿ˜‰ This technique is from Stolloween which I saw from Jerry’s blog last season. Brilliant idea to make menacing looking spikes that are completely safe, just like a rubber knife! The spikes had to be Beware: Boys with Paint Sprayers! ;)glued together first so they could slip over the top of the post, then hot-glued in final position. Some of the seams popped open during painting so we need to touch up, but they look fantastic!

Both guys started painting on Sunday while I finished gluing the seams on the rest of the spikes, then I kept gluing the spikes on the posts while they were painting the fence panels that were already glued. I thought I had more of my oops paint than only Graveyard fence and only some of the pumpkinshalf a gallon, so we ran out of paint by 4pm…ack! I ran to the store and bought a new whole gallon of flat black, so that was plenty to finish, but then our sunshine left before the last coats went on, so we decided they could dry just as well in final position, then I could touch up with a can of black spray paint where necessary. We had gotten the first two panels up before I ran to buy more paint, and when I drove back and saw this view of the bright orange pumpkins nestled among the lush green foliage peeking through the elegantly spooky black fencing, I beamed from ear to ear! ๐Ÿ˜€

What a mess!Outside building is almost done! Over 2 days it went from gigantic mess spread out all over the front yard with painting tarps all over my backyard to almost party-ready! I will let you guess how this will all work together since I’m still saving several surprises. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We used enough of my branch collection since the spring that the rest are now in the yard waste can or cut up for firepit use. The gravestones won’t be placed until next weekend when I have all the fresh pumpkins going into position with them.

Gluing the moonYes, that is a giant moon you spotted! A bit difficult to hide, so I’ll show you the funny story, but still won’t tell you everything. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I have wanted a moon as part of this decor for several years, but I know that foam catches the breeze much too easily, and a large sheet of foam with a seam would be even trickier. Between my three ideas and Ghoulish Glen brainstorming at Home Depot Saturday morning, by Saturday evening we had a plan we thought had the best chance of working, including the wood frame built and ready to paint, but I needed some really good adhesive for the foam. I bought the adhesive Sunday morning and got everything glued together in my driveway before the rest of the Scream Team arrived. This is two 4x8ft sheets of insulation foam 1.5″ thick, Moon Support in Positioncut into half circles, the seam glued from the back down the length, a scrap of plywood perpendicular to the seam, then the corner scraps of the same foam sheets glued around the edges to help reinforce the foam from snapping off in any wind. I even notched the foam to fit snugly around the plywood edges and glued those down with weights to give it the best chance, then Glen went over everything later from all angles with the pin nailer in hopes of acting like hooks in the foam.

Passing the moon up to Glen on the roofWe had painted the angled wood frame on Sunday afternoon, and I wanted as long as possible for the adhesive to set before we attempted moving the moon, but I didn’t want to run out of daylight, so we started around 6pm to get it up to the roof. We used Glen’s Workmate portable workbench as a base, firmly anchored the angled wood frame in the vise of the workbench, then we passed the moon up to Glen on his Lifting the moon back to verticalback on the roof…haha! He held that position until I got up to help him, and then we figured out quickly that we would need Jerry up there so we could each hold a side of the moon while Glen could screw the bracket onto the top of the frame. Even though Jerry Jerry overcoming his fears!was worried, he thankfully screwed up his courage and helped us…thank you SOOO much! We absolutely could not have hung the moon without Jerry’s help! I did notice the ladder angle was pretty steep, so I repositioned it so it was more like stairs, and we got Jerry down safe & sound.

Hanging the MoonAfter we got the moon in position, we were still worried that if we did get a gust of wind and the foam did not snap off, it might act as a sail and send the whole structure off the roof into my Lashing the moon frame to my roof drain vent pipesyard…so in addition to using Glen’s exercise dumbbell he had brought before for other testing, I got my strongest rope (yes it happens to be aqua!) and we lashed through the corner of the wood frame around both drain vent pipes on my roof. The foam might still snap off if we get a strong wind, but so far it seems pretty darn stable, so it just might work!

There is still so much more to do, especially the secret projects I can’t reveal. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Jack still needs clothes, more front yard props still need finishing but are at least in process. The patios have been messy work areas still, thank goodness I can spread out there, but now I think we are done enough with major building and painting that I can clean those up this week, arrange furniture, then decorate there. Jack’s laboratory might be a bit tricky so I want some time to see what works best. I will leave you with my front door wreath made from 95% clearance black pine wreath & garland, plastic battery Scary Door Wreath Reaching For You!eyes I’ve had for probably over a decade, purple battery lights from Ikea and fun wire ribbon from Hobby Lobby. It’s harder to tell in the photo, but the hands at the top of the door are reaching out, but anchored to the door at the wrists so it’s safe and won’t get tangled in anyone’s costume as they open the door all night. All it needs now is some teeth, and I just splurged on some pumpkin teeth from Spirit that should look great!

That’s all from me until next time, but there’s probably only time for one more party prep progress update before my party! Hope your Halloween season is fun so far!

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Halloween Shopping Weekend and more!

Ready for Annual Halloween Shopping Weekend!A full week ago was another successful Halloween Shopping Weekend! I love that even with both our lives getting busier every year, my childhood friend Tash and I can still make time to meet in Roseville for our Annual Halloween Shopping weekend! Roseville has superstores of Michaels & JoAnn, and Halloween City in addition to Spirit, plus a great Goodwill, Dollar Tree, and killer 99cent store that rarely disappoint. We Skellingtoesstart with a pho lunch, keep shopping until we stop for dinner at Strings, then hit Target after dinner, often closing down the store, then the next day we hit the rest of the stores on our lists. Not only do we wear fun spooky clothes, but this year I was inspired by the viral Jack Skellington manicure to do my own Skellingtoes! haha…

Halloween HaulBy the last store visit on Sunday, my new SUV looked like this! You can’t even see everything that was behind or inside the giant cauldron, but it cracked me up that one pumpkin never fell out after settling into that precarious perch. I did reorganize a lot and consolidated enough room to fit all the cornstalks my dad grew for me bundled inside a tarp that sat over the seats up to the front passenger window. Thanks again Dad!

Varnishing 13 PumpkinsThis year I have added these to my plethora of pumpkins:
10 more uncarved plastic pumpkins (cheapest were Home Depot & Target)
15 carved plastic pumpkins
13 large papier-mache pumpkins

Painting Pumpkins in ProgressI still need to get out my previous pumpkins from the shed to see what my grand totals are, then I will still need to buy fresh pumpkins to bring my count high enough! I am finally done with papier-mache (hooray!) so during last week I used over a gallon of marine/spar varnish for all 6 sealing coats (3 top & 3 bottom) on all 13 pumpkins, then on the weekend we sprayed the orange basecoat on all of them! Now for the hand-painted shading to make them more realistic…

Dr Finkelstein is finished!Speaking of hand-painting, Dr. Finkelstein is all finished! It was a bit tricky to paint inside his mouth, but I do like how he turned out. He was also sealed 3 full coats with the marine/spar varnish, and he survived standing water inside his head during a freak torrential downpour a couple weeks ago, so that varnish does work! Since even semi-gloss/satin is too shiny, I’m using acrylic paints over the varnish, and that brings the finish back to matte, much better for the original pale skin texture for the Doctor. I propped it up here so you can see his rivets from the front angle, but his head will be fully open at 90 degrees with a plastic tray inside, ready to serve my classic recipe the Bizarre Brain Pate. Yum!

Sally is almost doneSally’s gloves are finished with black plastic nails, and her dress has the handstitching still underway and taking forever. I can only do about an hour at a time since my finger loses grip to pull the thick needle through multiple layers of fabric. It should still be done this week at the latest. I will be very glad to have it finished during the first full week of October!

8 new gravestones8 new gravestones were carved and painted this weekend, but I can’t show you epitaphs because they will be a new quiz for this year. I can show you this one, since it will be the obvious one. I Nightmare Keychain & Gravestoneused my vintage keychain to duplicate the Nightmare Before Christmas logo to use for the 20th anniversary gravestone. When the movie came out, this was the ONLY item the Disney store had at all! It has yellowed over the past twenty years, but it’s nice sturdy metal with enamel design, so I’m sure it will last another twenty! This Jerry using my sprayer for the gravestoneswas the first time I could use my nifty sprayer on gravestones, and actually Jerry painted them for me, getting his chance to try my sprayer…it goes so much faster especially in all the carvings! Now I can use the garden hose with black spray paint aging technique, then hand-paint the detail in the carvings where necessary. I need to finish these soon so I can photograph them to be a new set of Tasty Tombstone cookies!

Outside building underway!Outside building has begun! Rotting fence boards scavenged from my parents’ spring house projects plus tons of branches collected from neighborhood spring cleaning are transforming my yard. They’re not finished yet, but can you guess what these will be?

Scary Jerry has an amazing Halloween village collection for which he designs custom carved and painted foam base structures to arrange all the buildings and accessories…so of course I asked for his expert assistance carving the foam base for under my gingerbread Halloween Town! All this foam will be covered in foil, the light strings will poke through the foil, then covered with buttercream frosting, and some Foam Base and Lights Ready for Edible Halloween Townchocolate cookie crumb dirt here and there, plus chocolate rocks. To save me some strife, I have bought 3 buckets of Duff Goldman chocolate frosting from Michaels using coupons plus a bunch of black & blue decorating spray to cover all this terrain. I will be mixing my own royal icing for all the gingerbread though. The moon you can see in the photo is a glass table topper that is wegded into a thin slot in the foam mountain base. This is such a tight slot that it is holding the glass just fine. Once the glass is cleaned, covered in white fondant everywhere it’s exposed, then hand painted with pale yellow shading, I think the lights behind the glass will make it glow like the real moon…here’s hoping!

As for general party prep status, I was freaking out a few weeks ago because there were no projects actually completed yet, then finally feeling better last week that so many items are at long last being marked DONE on my list…but there is still so much to do, and some really major things are still so up in the air, that now I’m wavering back and forth from optimistic to freaking out…I sure hope enough is successful that I feel accomplished this year! At least I’m sure we will all have a fun party no matter what!

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humble beginnings

Part of my Halloween 2013 celebration plans include showing the past twenty years of party photos and videos in the background, which includes going back into the dark ages for the two Halloween parties I had before the original Britta Blvd began in 1996. There aren’t many photos, one thing I learned over the years was to document everything better, but here’s what I do have. You can see they are very humble beginnings – hey, First Eerie Eyeballseveryone has to start somewhere! – but the Eerie Eyeballs are there on the 1994 table along with the bleeding Haunted Human Heart!

Sally 1994 with budget decorThis was my first apartment after college, and I was on a very small budget from the insurance job I could find during that 1990s recession. I had made the Addams Family crest by handpainting cardboard in my tiny college dorm room for the movie promo in 1993, so I used that plus my Morticia costume on the walls as decor, along with some spooky movie posters. That was the Vampire Jeff 1994year with competitive apple carving since pumpkins were too big and expensive for me to provide, and we had plenty of fun costumes, including my original Sally, and I sewed the high-collar red-lined vampire cape and sash for my roommate Jeff, who wore his choir tuxedo for the rest of his costume.

Click here for the full page for Halloween 1994

Halloween 1995 was a much smaller party since that year my friend Tracia & I both had parties back-to-back, so we mostly chatted, played with the ancient camcorder and drank all night like you might expect of young twenty-somethings. This is when I Animaniacs!slaved over three full costumes turning us into the Animaniacs cartoon characters, but we got out of costume to be comfy pretty early in the evening. However that was when I added black tablecloths stapled to the walls, even though not full coverage due to expense, and my roommate Noah & I found fallen willow tree branches for attempts at more atmosphere. Noah bought a bunch of black & red candles and worked hard at melting them artistically into a big pile on a wooden board, which did look really cool. We were all MST3K fans, so I cut movie theatre seats with a ghost, witch & skeleton in the style of Joel and the Bots out of black paper and taped it across the bottom of my TV. I had black cardboard coffins to serve chips, and you can even spot my first First Mad Scientist Black Light Displayplastic cauldron that I still have today! This was the first black light mad scientist display, and also when we tested how the non-toxic fluorescent poster paints tasted when mixed with vodka and soda. There was so little paint in the solution that we had no adverse affects as expected, but it tasted very chalky so I do not Spooky Tree in Chalk on Black Paperrecommend it. It sure looked fun though! You might as well just use tonic water for the same effect with a solution that is intended to be ingested. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I had traveled to New Orleans with my grandmother that fall, so I was inspired to draw a Scary Tree draped in Spanish moss in front of a full moon using sidewalk chalk on black butcher paper…which I still have and will hang this year in the hallway gallery in honor of my Twenty Halloweens. ๐Ÿ™‚

Click here for the full page for Halloween 1995

Looking back at these now I am almost embarrassed, but they do prove a point I have made in both Eerie Elegance books and always tell people when they are amazed at what I do these days: Even starting small, you can build your Halloween collection over time, and two decades later, maybe you could be hosting extravaganzas like I do now!

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more Halloween party prep progress…

Three Homegrown Sugar PiesIt’s been a very busy summer, working on Halloween between Cinema Brittahytta movie nights, and visiting my grandmother in Seattle, but now it’s back to all Halloween until November 1st!

The only other surviving pumpkinSince my last update, I have harvested the 3 sugar pie pumpkins since they were already falling off the stems, and since they already started getting soft, I quickly roasted them and froze the puree so I could use them in my Halloween baking. I saved all the seeds to plant next year, since that was a good hardy crop! However the Dill’s Atlantic Giants must not like my yard or conditions, since about 6 Pinstriped ornaments ready for the Halloween Treehave set and grown to about 8″-10″ diameter, but then the rinds never harden and they rot on the vine. They are still blooming so more keep setting, but I’ve already given up hoping to get any of those by Halloween. From the seeds I bought with free Amazon points, I still have some blue Jarrahdale and white Lumina seeds I’d like to try next year when the Pumpkin Queen’s patch is needed again.

papier-mache pumpkins in progressAll the pinstriping on the black ornaments was finished back in August thanks to Scary Jerry! He’s helped with a lot of the papier-mache too, but I’ve designed all the pumpkin shapes myself. I just finished the final paper coat on all 13 large pumpkins that still need to be sealed and painted, then I will be purchasing some fresh ones, plus adding to my collection of plastic pumpkins to get up Garage spikes ready to impale pumpkinsto the number we need. When I said a plethora of pumpkins, I wasn’t kidding. There will be 9 just above my garage roofline, among other places! Jerry & I were able to build the base for the spikes those 9 pumpkins will be impaled, using scrap planks and scrap 3/4″ PVC, but with purchased flange bases shimmed to the 1:10 pitch of my roofline.

Jack & Dr Finkelstein getting multiple coats of spar varnish sealerIt will come as no surprise that I want a life-size Jack Skellington at my party! However, I am saving some surprises to reveal during the party, so I can’t show you everything. I can show you that his head is now almost finished, including 3 coats of spar varnish to protect against moisture dissolving the papier-mache, plus paint over the varnish to avoid the shine.

Jack & BrittaHere you can see how Jack will be standing opposite my front door just off my porch. He is crouching down to fit under the wisteria and my roofline, but I think we have the scale of his limbs pretty good. We are definitely expecting people to want to take photos with him, just like me! ๐Ÿ˜‰

These are Jack’s hands, in scale with his arms and face. These are made from two different structures since we learned the first material wouldn’t work as well, so it was remade into his left hand cocked at his hip. After the tubing was cut and notched, I Jack's hands being sealed with spar varnishadded a single layer of paper strips so the finger bones wouldn’t bend with the tubing, then sealed with varnish and painted white like his head. There has been a LOT more work happening, but that’s all the progress I can show you so far. Once I get him dressed I’ll be able to show you again. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Improved Sally EyesMy Sally costume is almost done! Since I’m using the same shoes, socks, wig & tights as 19 years ago, it should have been done much earlier, but I have been slammed with the secret projects that have been taking a really long time to troubleshoot. Since my yarn wig was only a loop of elastic band, and that elastic had pooped Improved Sally Eyes with 19-year-old yarn wigout to overstretched anyway, back around May I handstitched it all to a wig cap to improve it. In June I took the original felt eyes I shaped around eggs and mounted them on the wire frame I used in my 1997 Sally reprise, then added the temple pieces of some lenseless sunglasses I had saved. I also added black yarn eyelashes and used fabric stiffener to keep them the correct shape. Now I have perfect Sally eyes that I can easily remove when I actually need to see!

Painting Sally's DressI still do have enough of my Blythe Spirit pale blue pancake base for my face and neck, but there was no way I would be able to keep makeup on my arms and hands with all the hostessing duties I do these days, so I searched long enough to find opera length pale blue matte stretch satin gloves that actually do reach almost to my armpits! Extra bonus since I was able to use free Amazon points too! I was hoping to handstitch yarn for 3D effect, but since the gloves are so stretchy, I don’t think that will work, Handpainted Sally Dressso I just drew the stitches with a permanent marker, just like the tights. I’m hoping to find some fake black fingernails during Halloween Shopping Weekend that I can just hotglue to be easier and more realistic shape, otherwise I’ll use black nail polish directly on the gloves.

I had to make a new dress since I have changed shape in the past 19 years, mostly in the chestal area, so this time I sewed an unbleached muslin sheath dress with added pockets (no, not the pocket she uses in the movie, but hidden seam pockets at each hip), then I handpainted all the designs as movie-accurate as I could, using textile medium added to a hand-mixed acrylic paint palette. You can’t see every view on her back in full lighting in the movie, so I had to take some liberties, some of which were inspired by more vividly-colored products like my Disney pins, shirts, and other collectibles. I am really quite pleased with the handpainted texture since I think it better represents the handmade stop-animation feel of the original Sally. I still need to handstitch the black yarn on all the “seams” for the 3D texture I want, then my costume is ALL DONE, maybe even before October begins!

Scary Jerry working on the graveyard fenceAfter years of wanting one but not wanting to store it, let alone the expense and work, I finally have a real need for a proper graveyard fence this year. Of course I had saved my original graveyard fence from Halloween 2003, so I thought it would be fun to use that as the design for a Ghoulish Glen & Scary Jerry helping with the graveyard fence3-foot high fence. Since we could screw the plastic edging in two places to each PVC post, we only needed to drill the bottom 1×2 as the cross-brace. This was a bunch of busy work, not difficult, and the most expensive part Graveyard fence ready for foam spikes and black paintwas the rebar I bought to pound into my grass so the fence posts can slide over the rebar to be stable. Next will be foam spikes on the top of each post, then I will spray everything black with my handy compact sprayer in a couple weeks.

Ghostly Greenery v1Since I have been making the rounds of hardware & home improvement stores almost every weekend for other projects, I couldn’t resist buying cool spooky plants when I saw them. Finally I found my dark purple ornamental millet again, this time in 1 gallon pots for only $6 each, vs. the 5 gallon pot for $25 I found a couple years ago. Each pot was badly rootbound and contained three plants in each, so I split them apart for several urns, plus planted two in the ground already, since mine died in the winter last time, probably from too much water in the pots.

Ghostly Greenery v2I was also able to split my pots of black mondo grass that have been doing so well in my window box. They were running out of space too, so I cut the entire outer layer away and split into the 4 black urns. My big dusty miller bush out front is starting to poop out, so I got some small 6-packs of starter for the pots now, and I can plant them in the ground after Halloween to keep my ghostly greenery supply going. Some red grass, purple sweet potato vine, and orange mums fill out the rest of the displays. So far the urns have lasted over a week in the sprinkler spray and drip irrigation, so hopefully they will stay looking nice through Halloween night!

Cardboard mockup of Halloweentown ready for gingerbread bakingAnother major project is my gingerbread Halloweentown! I won’t start baking until 2 weeks before the party, but I knew if I didn’t design it ahead of time, there’s no way I could execute with everything else last-minute that always ends up happening. I used my lighted collectible Halloweentown as models, then created mockups out of cardboard for each building at larger scale so they are easier to add details. The plan is to bake gingerbread around a glass bowl vase I have for the lab observatory “bubble,” and I hope that I will be able to pull sugar into the curly mountain. I’m not sure if I will make figures yet, since those are really tricky to make freestanding without cheating and adding internal structure, especially for Jack, so I’m ok if I do not have any Halloweentown residents as edible art this time. I have saved the battery tealight fondant jack o’lanterns that I made for the Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House from 2011, so that might be enough to decorate around the curly mountain graveyard pumpkin patch. I’ll use new Tasty Tombstone cookies in the curly mountain graveyard too. Hopefully this will be arranged on the dining room table inside on carved foam levels that I can cover with frosting and cookie crumb “dirt,” then there will still be room for some food plates in front as well. I’m not completely sure of all the setup yet.

I can’t believe I used to not even start major Halloween projects until October began! I remember I built my pipe organ the weekend before my party only five years ago…boy has this grown by leaps and bounds in only a few recent years! Hope your Halloween plans are going well!

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The Pumpkin Queen & Swashbuckler Sally

Onward to pirates & pumpkins! Both Swashbuckler Sally and the Pumpkin Queen were rear projected onto screens, both using compact specialty-use UltraProjectors, what you might think would be a simple technique, but there were some execution surprises both good and bad…

The Pumpkin Queen

This Renaissance era Pumpkin Queen approaches while menacingly sharpening a large knife, raising it as though to attack as she moves even closer, then she stabs and smiles while carving a pumpkin into a jack o’lantern. This 30-second clip for sale on Eerie Elegance was specifically designed to interact life-size with a large physical pumpkin on the ground in front of the image projected from the rear onto a scrim, but you could also use a video screen or reflected Pepper’s Ghost illusion.

Pumpkin Queen on setSince I had to get up sooo early to film her portrait with the live pumpkin blossoms before they closed up for the day, we filmed her ghost a different night. I used my dad’s antique knife sharpener since it looked authentic and made an ominous spooky sound, walking carefully towards the camera over the black backdrop on the grass, gently letting the sharpener hand to my side as I walked, but when I raised the knife, we could not get it to catch Backyard Filming Stagethe side lights that were carefully positioned to light me without lighting the black backdrop. My director/cinematographer lashed an LED headlamp to the end of the long piece of scrap PVC, and aimed that while I was walking and twisting the knife to catch the light. It took several takes past a lot of giggling due to his positioning of the pole and my “pumpkin shimmy” that was rated not for kids, but we finally got a few good takes! No physical alterations to this costume to make it ghostly, just faded the contrast and colors in post-production in Final Cut Pro, including adding the stabbing pumpkin sounds I recorded by stabbing a real pumpkin with that same knife used in filming. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Pumpkin Queen Brandishes Her Blade The Pumpkin Queen Carves a Pumpkin

This was the same location as the Gate Ghost in 2011, which was a sheer black scrim with a full-quality HD projector, but we were reserving the big projector for another purpose, so we tried an UltraProjector behind a gray bedsheet. The UltraProjector is only 320×240 resolution with a super-bright LED as The gate screen in daylight with pumpkins placed properlythe bulb, so we had to place it over 10 feet away from the gate to get the Pumpkin Queen anywhere near life size. You could see her in person so we thought it would work okay, but she didn’t gather as much attention as the brighter Gate Ghost the year before, and I couldn’t get her to show up on video at all, only at the highest manual ISO setting on my good still camera. The lesson learned here is the Ultra-Projector is too small and too dim for life-size full-body people projections, but we knew we were pushing its limits.

UltraProjector in position behind the gate screenIt was very nice that the UltraProjector was lightweight enough for a normal tripod, only needed a power cord (and speaker if using sound), and it was already black so it was easy to hide, but despite killing myself the last two weeks before my party with various video protocols and converter software, I could never get the audio to stay in the file after conversion through the proprietary UltaProjector software, so no one could hear the ominous knife-sharpening or the thuds as she started carving the pumpkin. Thankfully this summer I have been able to work with Richard of and figure out the right format and encoding using other video converters for files to work with sound on my two UltraProjectors, so I’m Ghostly Pumpkin Queen Ready to Stabextremely glad that won’t be a problem in the future. He has new models out this year that can accept many more video formats, so that will be even less hassle for new buyers. All of this means the gate location will not use an UltraProjector in the future, but we do have other locations where the UltraProjector should work fine.

Since the Pumpkin Queen was designed to “interact” with a physical pumpkin in front, you need to supply that yourself, but that could be as easy as setting a real pumpkin on a stand in front of your TV or a digital photo frame while it displays the ghost. She’s definitely a Halloween spirit giving chills until the punchline, and you can own a copy from!

Swashbuckler Sally

This 18th-century pirate Swashbuckler Sally is brandishing her sword fighting an unseen foe from side to side. This 3-minute clip for sale on Eerie Elegance is perfect for projectors, video screens, or even reflected Pepper’s Ghost illusions. At Castle Brittahytta, Sally fought bravely all night long back and forth between three windows in the center tower. (Apologies for the video glitch when zooming in.)

Before you can project a ghost, you have to film the video. Sarina’s portrait and Sally’s ghost were filmed the same very warm day, and boy that’s a lot of hot plastic hair to wear! Since it was difficult to see her hair, hair, boots, lapels & cuffs against the black ghost filming backdrop, I used talcum powder to dust those to Raw Footage with Talcum Powder Dustingbe a lighter gray. This worked pretty well as a non-destructive alteration technique, since I was able to wash the talcum powder off afterwards. To make her more ghostly, I altered the contrast and saturation in Final Cut Pro.

This one rivaled the Watery Wraith for filming hassle, since it was high summer almost 100F that day, barely cooling down to the high 70s after dark, I had to wear 4 layers of clothing, long hot wig, giant hat, socks and boots, AND jump around brandishing my weenie plastic sword, hopefully keeping proper fencing posture (golly that coat was heavy to hold up my arm for so long), all while trying not to scoot the black backdrop out of position on the grass…whew! I weighed myself the next day & had actually lost 2 lbs of sweat! After my director had been chiding me for my sagging posture and asked me to try an ill-fated spin, Sally setup before darkI challenged him to try it himself! His feet got stuck really quickly, and he was in much more comfortable clothing and no wig or hat. ๐Ÿ˜‰ At least we got plenty of usable footage for all that effort!

We were already running out of project time so we decided not to bother with any sword sounds or a speaker. Just as well since this was another UltraProjector and I didn’t get my audio issues worked out until this summer (see above). I have added sword swooshes and clangs for the version for sale, and she’ll be back in the tower for 2014 with speakers this time around.

My original plan was to aim the projector so it would reach across all 4 windows, but my cohort thought the different focus ranges would be problematic, so he came up with Sally setup in actiona clever solution. We placed a mirror held in position by bricks at an angle in the space between the front two windows such that the mirror reflected into a side window without blocking the image from the front two windows. When the ghost moved across the projected field and hit the mirror, she jumped to the side window. Since she was jumping around and disappearing a lot, this worked really well not knowing where she would appear next! This video (or click the photo) shows the rear view in action to be completely clear.

Sally in the Tower even before dark!Knowing how the UltraProjectors are not very bright, we were worried the huge streetlight by my driveway would wash out the ghost, but I was very pleasantly surprised that not only was the streetlight not a problem, but the ghost was plenty visible even before full darkness! The windows were the same gray cotton sheet as the gate, taped & stapled in back to the foam. Gray was perfect since it was dark enough to look like empty windows in daylight but not so dark as to dull the projection. Since the UltraProjector was aimed perfectly at the mirror and up on my roof out of easy reach, I left it in place from the night before my party through Halloween night just fine. Howling wind and rain might be trouble but the weather-resistant construction is a great feature of the UltraProjector, and the mini-tripod included with purchase worked great for this setup. Now you have two real-world detailed examples in case you’re in the market for an UltraProjector yourself. ๐Ÿ˜‰

As I remind you that you can purchase Swashbuckler Sally complete with audio from the Eerie Elegance website to use as a projected or reflected ghost anywhere in your own haunt, I will also leave you with a video of Castle Brittahytta showing the Tower Ghost as well as Swashbuckler Sally in the center tower.

Now that you’ve learned how to display these ghosts, you will finally be ready for the Pepper’s Ghosts coming soon! Stay tuned for the secrets of Merry Madam Mead & the Phantom of the Pipes!

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The Watery Wraith & the Tower Ghost

Of the six ghosts for Halloween 2012, there were two each of three different display techniques, so I might as well group them by technique. The easiest displays were the plain video screens showing the Watery Wraith in the wishing well and the Tower Ghost in the tallest tower, so I’ll start with them…

The Watery Wraith in the Well

Watery Wraith in the WellThe Watery Wraith Haunting the Well was an easy display setup with just a digital photo frame sitting inside the well, but quite challenging to film the ghost footage! I have a small wooden garden wishing well that has been in my backyard since before I bought my house. I’ve always wanted to use it for Halloween but had no good ideas until we needed ghost haunting locations. Why not have it haunted by someone wrongly drowned as a witch? This was the only ghost who was filmed before The Watery Wraithfilming her portrait, since this was my ghost dress from 2003 that was already in tatters, also the Ghost In Chains dress from my first video ghost in 2011. The Watery Wraith was also the very first ghost filmed for 2012, so we learned lessons that helped as we went along.

In the brainstorming emails from last spring, my mom offered that we could film me “drowning” in their backyard swimming pool 3 hours away from me, and my annual Halloween shopping weekend friend Tash made a special trip to be there to help with filming! I sewed a bunch of black weedblocker fabric strips together to make a large Pool Filming Setupblack backdrop 10x12ft, with a casing on one end for a 10ft PVC as a curtain rod so it could be used for filming other ghosts too, but I didn’t realize it should have been even larger to make sure there was enough background all around me.

For the proper perspective of looking down into the well, the camera needed to be directly above me, so I brought one of my microphone stands with an adjustable boom arm, and lashed a mini tripod to it to hold the camcorder. My ghost writer’s idea was to film under the surface of the water so we could put a layer of actual water over the image for realism, but we didn’t have a wide-angle lens or a deep enough pool to get my entire body in field that way, so the camera was about 5 ft above water level Camcorder lashed to the mic stand boomabout about 4ft out over the water from the pool edge, which was far enough we needed some exercise weights on the stand base to counterbalance the camera and boom arm. This setup showed the surface ripples in the water, which was perfect when shown on the digital photo frame, without any actual water required over the surface for the illusion to work.

We started in the deep end so I could actually pretend to drown. Getting the lightweight black fabric to stay on the bottom was tricky, since it wanted to float, and Ready for filming in the deep endstill needed rocks to hold the edges down, and it still wanted to float up in the middle when I moved above it. Treading water in a waterlogged dress while trying to look like you are drowning, all while being totally blind without contacts or glasses and only able to hear directions when your ears happened to be above water, was quite a challenge! I ended up sputtering & coughing up a bunch of water after each take. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Since the chain was hollow plastic, it kept floating up around me, so I looped it through my big toes to try to pull it down, making it extra hard to tread water. You can see some “behind the scenes” footage here. We Filming the Watery Wraithstarted filming as soon as the direct sunlight was gone, and we tried artificial lighting but the best lighting was natural dusk that made the white dress & hair glow against the black background, so we were done before sunset.

After reviewing the footage we did get, we decided I could use the following evening moving the whole setup to where I could stand, thinking I should have more control without as much “actual” drowning & sputtering (so much for that plan, as you can see here), plus the backdrop being immediately under my feet should help maximize the black area behind my floating arms. Good plan, except that I had problems with too much floating! I had to balance exercise weights on my thighs to keep my butt Filming the Watery Wraithfrom popping up in back when I’d try my best to sink! After a bunch of giggle fits, I finally got the hang of it, plus getting the proper hand placement to cover wig edges when the hair would float as I sank, and slyly pulling the chain down with me, so we got enough usable footage to be worth the second setup. The wig & dress dried out fine, and I was able to handstitch all the tatters into the hems and add bright gold trim to film her portrait the following week.

I knew the actual audio wouldn’t be very usable except maybe some of the end sinking bubbles, so I set the camcorder on the pool edge and filmed a bunch of audio in the pool, gurgling, bubbling, and rattling some chains against an old metal anchor my The Wishing Well with black spray paint fading into the depthsdad had in the garage. I used those during editing to add enough sound to attract attention for passersby to lean over and look into the well. The volume on the Revealing the Well Display Setupdigital photo frame was pretty good, even though I had the edges covered with black felt to hide the rectangular display area.

Since the wishing well isn’t very deep, I helped the illusion of depth by spray-painting the insides black, fading from blackest at the bottom up toward the edge. In daylight everything was obvious, but outside in the dark it was quite believable. Since the well has a roof, I had to prop the digital photo frame at an angle using the power supply so Snow White Watching the Watery Wraith in the Wellit wouldn’t glare at the viewing angle. The kids really liked this one because since it was perfectly at their height, they could watch it for quite awhile. ๐Ÿ™‚

What could improve the effect would be a smaller video on a larger screen with a bottomless tube you could set over the screen so you don’t see any rectangular display. However, you would have to disguise the portion of the screen that sticks out around the bottom of the tube, and you wouldn’t have the ability to adjust the viewing angle if you need to peek in under a roof. You can try it yourself by purchasing the Watery Wraith video including sound, from!

The Tower Ghost

I’m sure you recognize the Tower Ghost as my Glowing Ghostly Guardian costume, which you already know was a lot of work through the summer to make all the accessories like the spear, shield, and crown. Since I knew I was wearing the costume as a ghost for my party, we filmed Queen Brittahilde’s portrait first in early September, then I added the sheer white fabric to the leather bodice and talcum powder to the crown & spear for filming the ghost. I had made the ghost chemise and skirt earlier in the summer to be ready, and I braided the white wig to match when I Backyard Filming Stagebraided the copper wig for the portrait. By the time we filmed this ghost, we had enough practice with the backyard stage setup, hanging the black backdrop on the movie screen trellis, weighting down the corners on the grass, and lighting from each side to avoid lighting the background. Having no light hit the background improved the auto-contrast in the camera, and made the black match the absolute black I was able to generate by masking in Final Cut Pro, so it worked great.

The Tower GhostThis was easier filming than many of the 2012 ghosts, since standing in the tower, she only had so far she could move or she would be out of view. We knew we wouldn’t see her legs in the tower display, but I wanted to film the full body since you never know how we might want to use the footage in the future, or who else might want a full stature warrior queen ghost. ๐Ÿ˜‰ My big fan was running to give some flutter movement to all my translucent tatters on the sleeves and skirt. We came up with a way to change hands with the spear that looked cool, and I imagined looking at the sidewalk and the front pathway, scrutinizing everyone coming near the castle, pointing when I saw someone extra suspicious.

My partner in crime had a spare 24″ computer monitor that conveniently rotated vertically on its stand. He also had two sturdy collapsible workbenches that stacked, so I designed the tall tower around the setup, aiming the arched balcony “door” to fit Tower Ghost Techexactly with the monitor. When we hauled everything up to my roof 2 days before the party, we realized my tower roof stabilization pole could snap into the back of the monitor stand and fit into one of the holes of the workbench. That was fantastically stable (which was a huge relief since none of that was my own equipment!), but it made the tower pieces not fit as planned, since the balcony opening had to be as close to the monitor screen as possible for the illusion to work. You could only see the offset tower walls from the far sides though so I didn’t worry about it. There was a bit of glare from the monitor surface and blue glow from the “black” areas of the video, but adding one layer of sheer black scrim taped taut over the monitor screen worked perfectly. It really looked like she was standing in the tower, looking down at everyone below, even looked like the spear came outside in front of the window in spots!

The Tower Ghost was even visible before total darknessAs for the video, if you read the Seven Moving Portraits post, you know I was scrounging for media players that would run video, and had a few iDevices of different generations at my disposal that were easy to hide, but getting them to work with the various cables I was able to acquire was a challenge. We had the space inside the tower to use a DVD player, but since my iPad was available and we did have a Dock to RCA cable, that worked fine with the iPad sitting on the lower workbench under the monitor. The trick was that none of the iDevices allow looping video (still annoying!), so I had to encode a 6 hour mp4 file to load onto my iPad, and was very glad that the battery lasted fine. I obviously didn’t leave the iPad out overnight, but since the foam tower structure provided cover from average overnight moisture, we were okay with leaving the rest of the setup through Halloween night.

The Tower Ghost of Castle BrittahyttaOf course Halloween day there was enough breeze to start tower failure…aack! Even though I had used monofilament to lash all the foam pieces to each other and bricks to keep them in place at the bottom, I had to reset everything quickly before any trick-or-treaters showed up. All the trick-or-treaters loved all my ghosts, and luckily they were gone by the time it started drizzling. I couldn’t manage the heavy monitor by myself on the ladder so I brought a trash bag up and covered it tightly to keep it safe, until its owner could come over and help me get all the equipment off the roof and dismantle the castle walls. You can see both the Tower Ghost and Swashbuckler Sally in the middle tower in this video.

Even though there is no audio track, the Tower Ghost is one of the best values, since you get 21 minutes of continuous footage of an ancient tattered medieval warrior queen silently watching and pointing toward the living, twirling her spear periodically from side to side. Buy your own copy on for only $5, no shipping!

Of course these were the “easy” ghosts…they get more complicated as we go along! Stay tuned for the Secrets of Swashbuckler Sally & the Pumpkin Queen…

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Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz MenuThis summer has already been so busy that I’m almost 3 weeks behind telling you about the Cinema Brittahytta Season Premiere! I loved the new Disney movie from March, Oz the Great and Powerful, so I was very pleased it was out on disc just in time for my first summer movie night! I reprised a few of the still-applicable recipes from my Wizard of Oz birthday movie night a couple years ago, including finally completing the Cheddar Brick Road that was cut for lack of time back then. It was over 100F that day, very rare for the South Bay, so my new Over the Rainbow Popsicles were a hit!

Ready for the movie!I knew I wanted to show Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my birthday in July, and every two weeks seemed to be too much compared to the Halloween plans I knew were coming, so I decided on every four weeks this year, which only allows for three movies total (well, four if we count the Return of Clue as an indoor Cinema Brittahytta feature). Less frequency, plus new friends, and a new movie many had missed in theatres resulted in 18 of us enjoying the evening! It cooled off nicely as the sun went down, and it was nice not to need any blankets or jackets during the movie this time.

Grilled Sweet Potato Salad at the beginning of the Cheddar Brick Road
Everything I made was quite healthy as well as fun! The popsicles were 100% fruit, no sweeteners or artificial colors, the rainbow fruit salad also 100% fruit, the Emerald City Green Salad was pears, grapes, artichoke hearts over spinach and greens, with the Field of Poppies and Over the Rainbow Fruit Salad along the Cheddar Brick Roadonly dressing from the artichoke heart marinade. My Grilled Sweet Potato Salad is a summer BBQ staple that only has 1/4 cup olive oil with a bunch of healthy produce. In case any of my non-dairy friends arrived, it was Tofutti non-dairy creamy spread inside the tomatoes, so the worst thing for us was the Cheddar Brick Road. We still indulged, since a lot of the potluck Emerald City Green Salad Field at end of the Cheddar Brick Roadfare was decadent like fried chicken, pizza, and dulce de leche rice cereal treats…yum!

Which Witch Will Win?I don’t want to spoil anyone, but it shouldn’t surprise you there are several witches in this story. I created cocktails with alternate mocktail versions for each witch, calling it “Which Witch Will Win?” but the reasons for the ingredients of each I will let you discover from watching the movie yourself. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Making the Field of PoppiesFor the Field of Poppies, I used a very sharp paring knife to cut small tomatoes into five segments but still joined at the bottom. Depending on the seeds, some fell out on their own while others needed scooping for the cream cheese Finished Field of Poppiesto nestle between the wedges. Last time I had spooned the non-dairy cream cheese into the tomatoes, but this time I got smarter and used a piping bag without a tip. A tiny spoon helped place the chopped olives so they didn’t fall all over, and voila, a Field of Poppies!

Over the Rainbow PopsiclesThere actually weren’t any rainbows in this new Oz movie but there were lots of bright colors so I thought I could get away with Over the Rainbow Popsicles. They were all fruit purรฉe no added sugar or artificial colors or anything, and full details are in a separate post here.

Oz Menu ChalkboardNot in theme but perfect for summer, I had dug out my old manual ice shaver and frozen a bunch of the specific puck shapes to see if anyone would be up for the work of making their own snow cones. Some first-time boys read the menu chalkboard, and when they read “Make Your Own Snow Cones” they got so excited! After checking they could reach the bar and the shaver handle (I knew the glass table wasn’t stable enough for that action!), I Make Your Own Snow Cones in light-up martini glasses!got out the Torani syrups and light-up martini glasses, and the kids went to town, instant new best friends with regular guest Ellie! All my Toranis are sugar-free so at least they weren’t on a sugar high from those. ๐Ÿ™‚

Everyone did have a good time, no Rock Band since adults were chatting & eating, but I said they could play any games they found on the PS3 until it got dark enough to show the movie, so a raver version of PacMan provided a bouncy soundtrack for awhile. ๐Ÿ˜‰
Popsicles + Kids PS3 Raver Style Pac Man waiting for darkness
Hope you’re enjoying your summer too! Stay tuned for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy next!

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Glowing Ghostly Guardian

Glowing Ghostly Guardian & PortraitOf course May is ending and I’m already well into plans for Halloween 2013, so it won’t surprise you that a year ago I was already working on my Halloween costume for 2012! I’ve already explained how it was last March & April when the ghosts & portraits were being worked out, and since I had splurged on a medieval style leather dragon bodice at the NorCal Renaissance Faire the previous fall, I figured I could be the First Queen in the family, the one who built Castle Brittahytta originally back in medieval times. This was the one completely new costume I made, and it was really two whole costumes since we filmed the portrait in full color, then filmed the ghost with different dress & wig, and I was the Glowing Ghostly Guardian live for the party, complete with glowing battery-powered fiber-optic hooded cloak!

Normal Density vs. High Density Fiber Optic FabricI had seen the fiber-optic fabric a couple years ago online but it was soooo expensive and hard to figure out a project that would be worth all that. I saw it referenced again on another blog last spring and thought that could be awesome as a ghost cloak! Bonus is that a hooded cloak could go over ANY future costume as a glowing ghost, so it could be an investment vs. a single-wear costume! The rest of the costume didn’t cost much at all, but because of the leather bodice & the fiber-optic cloak, this was the single most expensive costume I have ever done. I discussed options with the sellers since I needed panel sizes they didn’t offer in stock to make my cloak, and the higher-density weave sounded much better for my transparent glowing look, but at the same time I bought 2 normal-density panels to make a shawl & clutch just for fun. When they finally arrived in mid-June, I was very glad I paid almost double since the normal-density fabric has a more fabric-like drape but looks stripey as you can see to the left. Since there are over double the plastic fibers in the other, it is much stiffer to work with, but the starry field effect was perfect! I was a bit embarrassed how expensive it was, but hey, I know other women who spend a bunch of money on shoes & purses which I never do, so I considered this 20 years of fancy clothing expense I had never spent! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Glad everyone at the party agreed the effect was worth it!

The First QueenA lot of the coordination for the portrait & ghost filming was how to ghostify pieces without being destructive, or at least film the portrait before any pieces would be altered to become ghostly. This was one where I had to film the portrait first so I could alter the bodice, boots & crown for wearing as the ghost for filming and the party. The portrait costume clothing was easy, since I wore my renfaire chemise & brown full-length skirt, my big lace-up 70s disco/Amazon Goddess/Valkyrie boots, and a gold choker from my stash. I scored the wig on Amazon for $14 of free points & braided some dollar store extensions into the wig to make it longer like the white wig I already had. What took so much work were the crown, spear & especially the shield!

Cutting the copper shieldMy parents have had a small sheet of plain smooth copper up in their garage for over 10 years never using it, so after begging for years but this time with a specific use, they finally let me have it. I have no idea how much this would have cost to buy, but seeing how copper wiring is stolen from random places, it’s probably a lot! Very glad this was free! The sheet was the perfect size for a shield, so I made a paper template for perfect symmetry, using the same design I had already made for the Ready to pound!fabric stained glass window, and used tinsnips and heavy gloves to cut the shape. I designed the spear point to use one of the larger copper scraps, but I knew there wouldn’t be enough for the crown, plus we decided gold was more royal for the crown anyway.

I sketched the dragon face in chalk on the back side of the shield, finally getting it just right, then I started my first metalwork! I had my mom’s old woodcarving chisels, a Dragon outline completerubber mallet, my big hammer, and two old throw rugs. I set up my station on the floor in front of the TV, but while I was pounding it was too loud to hear the TV anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Since I wanted the dragon face to stick out from the rest of the shield, I pounded the outline of everything from the backside first. The main rug was to protect my floor, but the other rug was folded Dragon becoming 3Dup inside the shield as plenty of cushion so I could actually bend the copper sheeting into shape. After a lot of pounding and bending, the edge was curved for safety, and you could tell from the front side it was supposed to be a dragon…and after a lot more trial & error pounding from both sides depending on the desired shape, it was a lot more lifelike, even with scale texture from a curved chisel!

Verdigris paste immediately after first applicationSince this is the Verdigris family and I was working with real copper, of course I tried my own real verdigris solution to accent the dragon on the shield. A paste of vinegar, salt & flour was the recipe I found online, and scrubbing with citrus peel first to make sure the copper was perfectly Adding more verdigris accents & rubbing away for shading effectsclean of any grime or skin oils, so I tried it. Once I got it to the proper paste texture that wouldn’t dribble into areas I didn’t want, it worked great, getting more intense over time, and I added more paste in areas like the eyes and the wings for more color there. I used more citrus peel & a nylon scrubber to fade areas away for shading effects. I like how it came out, but unfortunately it hid all the metal shaping I Verdigris complete!had done. I could have done flat verdigris for all you can tell…lesson learned! Also, the verdigris was fine for about six months from summer through Halloween and to Christmas, but after Christmas I noticed the thickest sections started flaking away, leaving the copper fine behind it. Lacing the strap to the back of the shieldObviously the flour was what acquired the patina from reacting with the acid and the raw copper. To keep your verdigris intact you should probably use a clear sealer to protect it.

Carefully placed holes for the strap lacesNot only did I have to hold the shield for the portrait, but it was to hang over the fireplace mantel as decor, so I added a scrap leather strap in back at an angle. Proper battle shields usually have a vertical strap for the forearm, but that wouldn’t hang on a hook on the wall, hence enough angle for both uses. I carefully chose some places to pierce holes that wouldn’t detract from the design, used some thinner strips of matching leather as lacing through the holes so Cutting the spear point to match the design only a small brown stitch could be seen from the front, then a chunk of scrap brown leather strap laced in back. The shield was ready for battle, or at least a battle portrait. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I cut the spear point from the largest scrap of sheet copper, and used a long closet rod dowel from my wood stash as the spear shaft. I thought a darker wood would look better against the copper, so I Staining the spear shaftstained the pole first, and I cut the notch in the top for the spear point to fit. Of course the sheet copper was too thin for a real spear point, but for looks it was fine.

Sculpting the dragon claw on the spearI’m fond of Sculpey clay that I can bake in my oven, but since I had to form the dragon claw serpentine tail on the pole, there was no way I could bake it. I found some air-drying clay instead and hoped that would work okay. For the most part it worked great, only a little shrinkage factor made one section crack so I had to repair it. I sculpted nice knobbly finger claws so the spear point was the index finger claw, and used a smaller curved woodcarving chisel twice for each scale all the way down to the tail. I really like the look, but those scales took a long time…I almost didn’t finish before the clay was already hardening too much!

Brown wash over the copper gilding to age & highlight textureAfter the clay was dry and I masked the pole with tape, I used copper gilding paint over the entire dragon claw, making sure to get into all the texture. After the copper was dry, I used a thin wash of brown acrylic paint to give it some age. The gilding paint stays tacky, so even after the brown wash it still needed a coat of clear acrylic matte sealer. I made the mistake of trying a non-acrylic spray sealer once over this gilding paint and it ruined the color completely! Modge Podge works great so I stick to using that. Finally after several weeks the spear & shield were ready to go, but there was still the crown…

Cutting the crownI was actually working on these projects concurrently, since I could only pound the copper for so long until my hands were too tired to grip properly, so I would take a break or move to doing something else. Each coat of verdigris paste took overnight to show what it would turn into, so the clay work was happening while that was taking its time. I cut the crown from an aluminum ventilation pipe back when I was cutting the copper Baking Sculpey edges on the metal crowninto the shield and spear point. I could bend the bottom edge where the vent was supposed to nest inside the next pipe, and that was good for where it sat on my head, but the aluminum was too brittle to bend all the cut edges for safety. I could fit the entire crown in my oven so I used Sculpey baked directly onto the metal for safe & decorative rope edges.

Dragon medallion before bakingKnowing how much room I had on the crown, I sculpted the dragon medallion from Sculpey with the three horns as separate pieces, and made a silicon putty mold of the dragon so I could make a matching medallion for the Adding pearls to the crown Pumpkin Queen’s crown. I hot-glued the dragon to the crown along with some plastic pearls by the yard for some extra detail.

I spray painted everything gold so there would be no brushstrokes from the gilding paint, and I painted the dragon medallion for the Pumpkin Queen’s crown at the same time. Spray painting the crown goldAnother bonus is the gold spray paint doesn’t need final sealing like the gilding paint does, but it doesn’t shine quite as nicely either. To bring out the detail in the Final brown wash to age the crown after painting the eyes dragon especially, I used the same brown acrylic wash as I used on the spear. Finally the crown was ready, too, so the First Queen was ready for filming her portrait!

After the First Queen’s portrait was filmed, I could continue ghostifying her. Paint would risk permanent damage to the leather bodice, and that sucker was $200 so I didn’t want to ruin it forever! I started by covering the bodice and changing the laces to white cord. I had chosen the fabric carefully, wanting something translucent enough to see the dragon design, but still white enough to be ghostly, but boy this fabric Slipcovering the leather bodicefrayed a lot! I was also very careful with the seams, cutting them so they would fold to the inside out of view. Once all the pieces were covered, including handstitching the openings closed around the leather pieces, I cut tiny holes, not protecting them from fraying, but poking the white cord through the small holes sometimes caught threads, making them pull & puckering the fabric. Once it was all intact it looked fine, thank goodness!

Whitewashing the bootsThese old boots were already on their last legs, with the surface flaking apart and disintegrating, so I decided I could whitewash them without doing any further harm. I used thinned acrylic paint to let the texture show through just pale, not stark white. If I need laceup brown boots for future costumes, I will have to invest, but the white paint is staying intact so far so at least I have ghost boots now!

Tattered ghost dressFor the ghost dress, I bought about 5 yards of sheer white crinkled fabric that draped well. The dress is full length with long sleeves, but I made separate tattered cuffs so I could remove the cuffs when I needed to perform hostess duties! I used the same white cord as the bodice laces inside casings for the neckline and the sleeves so they can be altered to fit easier than using elastic (plus it’s more authentic). Yes, it’s very sheer up top, but the leather bodice was plenty opaque so I wasn’t concerned. For more layers of tatters, I made a separate two-tiered tie-waist skirt to wear over the dress. I didn’t shred the tatters until everything was in place on the dress form so I could see what should hang where. I sat on the floor shredding for quite awhile until the tatters were to my taste. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I knew I could use some post-processing to fade the colors, but since the majority of the costume was already very pale, the color contrast wouldn’t match, so since I didn’t want to permanently alter the crown or spear, I dusted them liberally with talcum powder. That gave them a pale look, but you need to re-apply after a lot of handling. Since the tall tower window could only be so large because of the 24″ monitor we used for display, we decided against holding the shield so I could point at possible threats and have the tatters fluttering in the ghostly breeze. For filming, we used a large black backdrop that continued onto the grass in my backyard, two clamp lights on tall stands to light the subject without lighting the backdrop, and my tall fan oscillating on low to create the breeze. This is a screencap from the final ghost footage, not the raw video, but I love how it turned out!

Chief Engineer Glen soldering & rewiring the fiber-optic cloak At least that much of my costume was done before September even began, but the crowning glory was constructed last! One major drawback to the higher-density fiber-optic fabric is that there were more battery packs & LEDs required vs. the fabric width, and each battery pack was for 3 AAA batteries. Not only was that weight, but they were black battery packs and bright spots of LEDs I needed to hide at the neck seam and the bottom hem. Thankfully my partner in crime was not only my ghost writer, but he also has an electrical engineering degree & offered to rewire my fabric…how awesome is that!!! The power requirements for 6hrs straight use were too high to use any tiny coin batteries, but getting 13 packs down to 2 was so much easier to manage! He thought about wiring the 2 packs together, but that would require a wire down the full length of the cloak, and I thought it might be useful for the bottom pack to stay off, giving a fade-out effect. Each extra power supply had to be Wrapping the LEDs & wiring inside the hemscut out and a T junction inserted to wire the bundles inline together. The final design was one battery pack neck center back so it was hidden inside the hood, and the other at the bottom hem corner.

After everything was resoldered, I wrapped the LED bundles as tightly as possible with bubble wrap, but you cannot bend the fibers of course or they will break. I thought the bubble wrap would provide some cushioning against bending the fibers too far, plus there was plenty that came in the shipping box. You can see how the LEDs at each
Painting ribbon to cover the bottom hem LEDsend of the fabric panel are really bright, and those spots of light detract from the mysterious sparkle of the panels, so they needed to be covered. Around the neck I needed to roll the extra hood fabric over the seam anyway, plus there were so many LEDs closer together it looked more like a brighter glow than separate lights. But the bottom seam was bright spots that really bugged me. White felt wasn’t opaque enough, nor even white fake fur scraps I had, so Painted ribbon over bubble wrap around LED bundlesI resorted to some large wired brocade ribbon I had, painted it white with fabric paint so it would still bend, and folded that over the hem. That STILL wasn’t opaque enough, so I added some layers of tatters from the dress scraps too in hope of a fading effect. The final result still Power supply pocket in the bottom hemlooks like spots of light to me around the bottom, but such is life.

At least the ribbon folded over nicely to create a corner pocket that hid the power supply very well. I added a matching ribbon flap that tucked in around the top of the power supply and that kept everything in place just fine. Weight wasn’t an issue since it was the bottom hem anyway.

Carefully sewing the hood back seamI was concerned about catching both sides of the ribbon while concealing all the wires & fibers, so I hand-sewed around all the LED bundles. The only seam I felt safe using my machine was the back vertical seem of the hood, but it made me laugh sewing on glowing fabric! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Cloak closureSadly the weight of the cloak & battery packs was just a little too much for the filigree clasp I bought, since it broke the 2nd time I tried it on, AFTER I had painstakingly hand-sewed it on of course! I used some of the same white cord from the dress & bodice lacing, tied it into the ends of the clasps, and ended up with a tie closure that lasted through all the wearings so far, thank goodness.

The wig was the same as my 2003 ghost just braided, and I added plain white makeup so I looked pale instead of a clown, then I was ready for the party! Of course I had to pose with my Tower Ghost partner behind me!

Two Ghostly Guardians Glowing Ghostly Guardian at the party
Happy Party Ghost

Everyone at the party was thrilled with my costume so I couldn’t help breaking character & smiling! I am so glad it turned out this well, and now I can have fun thinking up future ghosts who can wear the same glowing cloak! ๐Ÿ˜‰

(even more photos continue below…)


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The Candlestick

Candlestick Clue CardI’m sure you already saw my costume for the Return of Clue party, but did you figure out how I made it? Here