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! :)

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! ;)

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. ;) 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.” :) 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! :)

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 ;)
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! ;)
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. ;)
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. ;) 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. ;) 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! ;)

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! ;)

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. ;) 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! ;) 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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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. ;)

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! ;)

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! ;)

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. ;)
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! :)

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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! ;)

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. ;)

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! ;)

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. ;) 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!




Romulan AleRomulan Ale

A classic known throughout the galaxy as highly intoxicating even for robust Klingon physiques!

blue raspberry mixer
lemon-lime soda
clear vodka
blue curacao

Add equal parts into a glass and stir to combine. Garnish with a Starfleet ice cube even though this spirit is currently illegal in the Federation…don’t worry, we won’t report you! For a tamer version, omit the vodka and blue curacao.



Glen was brave enough to add more tequila to his Redshirt cocktail!The Redshirt

Wild Berry Tequila Margarita
grenadine to taste
…add even more tequila if you feel brave!

Warning: Redshirts sent on away missions might not return!



Vulcan Death GripVulcan Death Grip

Supposedly “there’s no such thing as a Vulcan Death Grip”…but why not taste for yourself?

sour apple mixer
lemon-lime soda
black vodka

Pour the sour apple mixer and lemon-lime soda into a martini glass. Gently pour the black vodka along the side of the glass so it layers on top. Garnish with a Starfleet ice cube to honor the first green-blooded Vulcan in the ranks…Fascinating, indeed.



Mixing MarshmallowsAlton Brown’s Homemade Marshmallows

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar (2/3 cup)
1 cup light corn syrup (2/3 cup corn syrup + 1/3 cup honey)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Spread the marshmallow mixture into a pan to setPROCEDURE
Combine the gelatin with 1/2 cup of the cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Have the whisk attachment standing by.
Combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, the granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. When the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.
Turn the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment to low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all Dust the top of the marshmallows before setting overnightof the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.
When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit Custom cut homemade marshmallowsuncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel or knife dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

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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 Dalahäst 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. :)

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 “live” 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 Piñata 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 Piñata 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!

Party Post-Mortem:

I took the three days before the party off work, and I really needed it this year! Working on everything for the front display was all-consuming for so long, so I wasn’t anywhere near as Final Dress Painting - HW15MainPrep20151021-0154far along as usual on the party food. By Friday I did have the edible medals printed and cut, cookie dough mixed in the fridge, 128 baked sourdough Bone Breadsticks in the freezer, the chocolate sauce dip in the fridge, the pumpkin empanada filling chilling in the fridge, a few cream cheese Sinister Skulls molded, and the chili lime corn ready to spoon into the tortilla chip cups. However, after proudly having my costume ready a couple weeks early the past few years, this year my La Muerte costume still needed the final touches finished, with final dress painting continuing past 2am Friday morning, and all the candles and flowers attached by Friday at 5pm…hooray!

We did get the new moon hung on Wednesday since Glen came by on his lunch hour from work, and I had marked the position using bricks so we could rebuild it further back from the edge, then move it back into position. Thankfully that worked so I didn’t have to remaster the Glue gun hems dressing the Mariachis de Muerte at 5am Friday morning!video placement! We were still adjusting the skeleton movements with programming and there was no point in dressing them until that was completely finished…which didn’t happen until 6am Friday morning! There I was “sewing” with my glue gun, and then the mariachis were ready to perform! Poor Glen only got a little sleep until 9:45am when my housecleaners arrived, then he went straight to his office all day, coming back about 5:30pm to keep working on party prep with me. He realized for Halloween 2013 how much last-minute party prep there is for food and decor including the last grocery store trip, and I really appreciate all the help!

Cheesy Shannon - HW15MainPrep20151023-2205HUGE thanks to the Canadians! Shannon & Brock arrived with their 5-year-old daughter Carmella around 7:30pm on Friday, just in time to watch our front show dress rehearsal, which went well enough not to run again until Saturday. They tucked Carmella into bed, then they both worked on party prep until 12:30am! So much more fun to have fellow Halloween haunters to help! Shannon set up the spooky Arch-Building Glen - HW145OfrendaPrep20151023-2151 glassware, set out Jerry’s decor on loan around the living room, prepped the cheese plates, including cutting the tiny swiss cheese skulls (poking the eyeholes without breaking the shape takes precision care!), and we used Brock’s height to hang the Brock Banners & Ofrenda - HW145OfrendaPrep20151023-2359banners inside the house since he didn’t even have to stand on a chair! Brock did a great job hanging my new red patio curtains, adding the garlands to the main ofrenda after Glen built the garden arch, working on backyard lighting, and adding flowers to both patios! After they went to bed, I kept running around doing my list while Glen kept working on the backyard lighting, until I found him at 2:30am crashed on the love seat! Tired but helpful Canadians!Poor guy! He hadn’t been home since Thursday morning, so he left about 3:30am for some proper sleep and a shower, plus his costume! Since this was my last chance to see anything in the dark, instead of baking I frantically set out the lighted pumpkins along the walkway, dressed a skeleton as a Poor Glen hadn't been home since Thursday morning!La Catrina on the front porch with extra lighting, and worked on the backyard lighting until I was finally satisfied, sadly around 5am when I knew little Carmella would be getting us up around 7am!

Shannon filling the vertebrae rolls while I cooked our breakfastSaturday morning, Shannon finished prepping the vertebrae and I baked all 7 dozen skull cookies while our breakfast was baking, then they headed for a day out in San Francisco. I absolutely could not keep my eyes open so I closed my eyes about 45 minutes, then kept going with my party prep to do list. I was still in my pajamas trying to get the music going without ever succeeding, when Shannon’s dad knocked at my door! Dave & Nancy were staying with Shannon’s aunt & uncle at an apartment not quite a mile away, so they all decided to take a walk to see if they could find my house. They stayed to help decorate the tables and the backyard area for about an hour, getting all the sweeping done, cushions on chairs, tablecloths, paper lanterns, luminaria bags with candles, and the last of the flowers set out! What a HUGE help! Glen arrived with the last groceries and bags of ice just as they were leaving, and they teased him that they already did all his work! ;)

Face tattoos while Brock wanders - HW15MainPrep20151024-1800I had to break for a shower & getting my own elaborate La Muerte makeup on, and my makeup took longer than expected so that pushed me later, then I had to help Glen get his temporary tattoo skull face on, which finished exactly at 6pm, our deadline for starting the show so it would already be running on schedule when people arrived! Shannon, Brock & Carmella returned around 5:45, got their costumes and makeup on in the guest room, then cranked through my fresh food prep list while I set up the Sourdough Skeleton, and Glen set up the Violent Vertebrae using his new cheese disc variety idea.

Herman Munster makes a good-looking veggie tray!I had already given up on decorating any Calavera Cookies as examples, so all seven dozen skull cookies were just set on the cookie decorating table with all the sprinkles, colored frostings and food color sprays for the Calavera Cookie Contest. I had baked the edible medals but never gotten the ribbons added, so those were all set up in hopes I could quickly do that while the party was starting…but more people started arriving and I still wasn’t in costume, so as the last food was being arranged as everyone arriving helped out, I finally got my costume on about 8:15, going straight out front to the graveyard for photos before I might melt since it was so warm inside! I stayed out front about an hour taking photos and chatting with people watching the front show, then went out back to the rest of my guests, finally able to enjoy my own party!

If you’ve read this far, you now know EVERYTHING that happened…congratulations! :) Enjoy the rest of the photos below, and I hope to have some more Halloween 2015 videos and posts to show you in the next few weeks!

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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! ;)

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 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!

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 Señor 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! ;)

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! :D

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. ;) 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! ;) 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! ;)

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-mâché, 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-mâché 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. ;)

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. ;) 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. ;)

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-mâché, plus making one would be lighter-weight and easier to hack Papier-mâché 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. :) 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. ;)

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! ;)

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-mâché 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-mâché so hopefully no critters will eat them while they’re on display in the graveyard! ;)

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. :)

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! :)

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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! ;)

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. :)

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 screen…highlights 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”…enjoy!

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?!?” :)

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. ;) 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. ;)

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? :)

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! ;) 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. ;)

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. ;) 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! :)
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? ;)
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! ;)
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. :)

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? ;) 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? ;)

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! :)

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! :)

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. :)

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. :)

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. ;) 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. :) Here’s what I printed on the Classic Mai Tais with tiki accessoriesrecipe card:

Classic Mai Tai

There’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. We’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 aé!” 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. ;) 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 acquainted…yes 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 nice…the candle came with abstract poetry on the box! ;)…but 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 other…whoosh, 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 watch…but 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 ways…but at 1am Cyd texted me that the candle had started singing from inside the garbage can! Hahaha….and it kept singing all night well into the morning! Better late than never I guess? ;)

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! :)

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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 next…

Studying Spirits with Miss Hermione G. Wells

…plus 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. :) 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. ;)

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 seance…and 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 day…*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 time…hooray!

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 jalapeño 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? ;) 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) ;)

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 mystery….but overall the feedback was Halloween Scream Team 2014 by Catpositive and people liked the story! Go Ghoulish Glen our Ghost Writer! :)

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! ;) 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. :) 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! :D 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. ;)

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! :D

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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? ;)

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. ;)

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! ;)

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! :)

Sourdough Bone Breadsticks

2 tsp dry yeast (1 envelope) (optional)
10 Tbsp warm water
1/2 c sourdough starter, recently fed
2 tsp sugar (less sugar than original recipe for paler bones)
4 tsp veg oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp soda
3 c flour

Feed sourdough starter overnight. Use 1/2 cup fed starter along with dry yeast and warm water, then add the rest of ingredients to bread machine, and start dough-only cycle. (If your sourdough is vigorous, the extra yeast is not necessary. I didn’t use extra yeast for mine but you still need the water.) After dough has risen, remove from machine and form into breadsticks. Form in a non-stick bone-shape baking pan, or form by hand, cutting strips, rolling them smooth, then cutting the end of the strips in half to make the joint ends. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes or until done. These will be crispy crust but pale colored instead of browning, perfect for bones!

Rachel Ray Crunchy Breadsticks before bakingCrunchy Breadsticks

1 1/4 ounce package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon table salt


In a large bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and 1 cup lukewarm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees ). Let stand for 5 minutes until bubbly. Stir 1 1/2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the table salt into the yeast mixture. Stir together with a wooden spoon or beat with an electric mixer until the dough is shiny and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup flour and mix until incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, cover with an inverted bowl and let stand for 15 minutes. On the lightly floured work surface, knead the dough until smooth and springy, 5 to 10 minutes. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes.

If using a bread machine, combine the yeast, sugar and 1 cup lukewarm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees ) in the bread machine. Let stand for 5 minutes until bubbly. Then add 2 Tbsp olive oil and the table salt into the yeast mixture, then add 2 1/2 cups flour. Set for the dough only cycle, and let rise about an hour after the cycle is complete.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil over 2 baking sheets if desired, or use parchment paper or silicone mats. Divide the dough into sections, then roll and stretch small finger size bones until the baking sheet is full. After the pan is full, use kitchen shears to snip the ends of each bone and spread out the cut ends to make a bone shape. These really puff up so leave enough clearance between them. Bake until golden and crisp, about 30 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to a rack and let the breadsticks cool completely. To freeze for later use, do not drizzle with olive oil and bake just long enough to set the shape but still pale and soft inside, then freeze when cooled. When ready to serve, bake until golden and crisp, about 30 minute from frozen, shorter time if they are thawed to room temperature.

Thin 'n Crunchy Breadsticks after bakingThin ‘n’ Crunchy Italian Breadsticks

2 teaspoons instant yeast (one 1/4oz package active dry yeast)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon Pizza Dough Flavor (optional, but tasty)
1 tablespoon King Arthur Easy-Roll Dough Improver OR Baker’s Special Dry Milk OR nonfat dry milk (optional)
3 cups (11 ounces) King Arthur Italian-Style Flour (I used TJ’s AP Flour)
3/4 cup (6 ounces) lukewarm water
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) olive oil

Mix and knead the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, supple dough. Divide the dough in half, cover with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rest and relax for 15 minutes (or for up to an hour or so; work it into your schedule as you see fit).

Working with one half of the dough at a time, pat or roll it into a 9″ x 13″ rectangle. Brush the dough lightly with the egg white and water, and sprinkle it with the seeds. Roll the dough lightly with a rolling pin to press the seeds in.

Use a pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut the dough (the short way) into strips about 3/8″ wide. Twist the ends of each strip in opposite directions (as though you were wringing out a washcloth) to make a “twist,” and place them on lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover the breadsticks and let them rest and rise for 30 to 60 minutes, till they’ve puffed noticeably. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Bake the breadsticks for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a rack.
Yield: about 3 dozen breadsticks.

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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? ;) 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! haha…There 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. ;)

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! ;)

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? ;)

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! :D

You can enjoy even more photos in the gallery below. Thanks to everyone for another fantastically fun summer! Until next season! :)

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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. ;) The winner got the festive umbrella pick to scoop up the DNA. I love using science in my kitchen! :)

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! ;)

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. :)

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 time…and 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! Heehee…

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. :) 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. ;)

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 projector….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! haha…We 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! ;)

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. ;)

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