Friday, May 12, 2017

Disney Princess Party - Food & Decor

This little girl turned 4 this week, and it was her year for a party! (We alternate years with her brother) Of course Pandora picked a pink and purple princess theme. I decided to base the decorations and food on the Disney princess movies instead of just going fully 'princess' with tiaras and pearls, and ended up having a little too much fun browsing Pinterest and planning everything out.
 Happy Bday Girl

Whole parties have been planned around each princess, so there were a lot of ideas out there. I tried keeping a list of our definites and maybes, but soon I was desperate for something more visual, and I started slapping together an image to sort everything out. The top section shows everything for the table, and the bottom section is for the goodie bags (since some things could be on either). The picture ended up being a great help as we planned, because I could easily see how many sweets, salty foods, and healthy options we had. I even ended up marking which plates and decorations I wanted to use beside each food, since I had to bring it all with me, and it was so easy to reference.

Party food & goodie bag planning

First we'll start with Cinderella, who's Fairy Godmother got some Pokky sticks for magic wands. I saw this idea done with chocolate covered pretzel sticks, which is also cute, but sometimes those things are just too big. When I saw the Pokky I thought the size would be better for snacking, and was also excited I wouldn't have to make anything! Then I bought some cheese cubes for her little mice friends. I found an ornate metal tray at the Dollar Tree, and set it on top of a bowl of ice to help the cheese stay fresh through the party. It didn't get sweaty, just a little dry, so I'd call that a success. 

Cinderella with Pokky wands & cheese cubes

The Fairy Godmother and mice pictures I just printed out and taped to the vase/plate. I made the standing Cinderella (and the other skirted princesses below), and will be posting a tutorial for those soon!

Of course Snow White *had* to have some nice red apple slices, and I made this caramel dip to go with them. I soaked the slices in club soda to keep them from turning brown.

Snow White, red apples, & caramel dip

Behind Snow White you can spy Belle's rose, which I'll also share a tutorial for soon ~ 

Belle & rose

And Belle's food was Chip's chips!

Belle & Chip's Chips

On this side of the table we also had Merida with some gummy bears. I had printed out a picture of the little bears from the movie and forgot to stick them on beside her, oh well ~ 

Merida with gummy bears

On the other half of the table we had an Elsa and Olaf doll with some white cheddar popcorn for 'snow'. I looked everywhere for white cheese balls to use as snowballs, but could find them no where, so I finally had to settle for something a little less obvious. ~ 

Elsa & Olaf with popcorn snow

Jasmine was a hard one, since the only food ideas I saw for her were chocolate golden coins as 'treasure'. Finally I remembered the cute tiger oranges a mom had made for cub scouts, and so we have her friend Rajah ~

Jasmine with tiger oranges

The oranges are a simple idea, but ended up being a big pain to do. The oil from the orange peel kills Sharpies, and I ended up with one pen after another dying on me. As I struggled with the pens it took forever to do a dozen tigers, and so I gave up and left the rest of them blank. I wouldn't recommend this one!

These sour filled Twizzlers look incredible as Rapunzel's hair! Better yet, the package comes with only red and yellow colored Twizzlers, and you can buy them lots of places, so they are an easy addition. (I used 2 packs)

Rapunzel with yellow twizzler hair

I saw so many awesome ideas for Ariel, it was hard to narrow down! With all of the cheese cubes and apple slices we had tons of kid-friendly food, so we chose these crab shaped sandwiches with the adults in mind. We had pimento cheese, ham & swiss, and turkey & swiss, with a range of condiments on the side. I searched several stores before I found sew-on google eyes, which have a tab sticking out on the back the perfect size for a toothpick. I finally found two sizes at Hobby Lobby, and the search was worth it in the end when I was able to pop them right on the toothpicks and avoided gluing on 30+ eyes.

Ariel with crab sandwiches

The Ariel decoration was created a little differently than the skirted princesses, so I'll have a separate tutorial for her.

We waited to reveal the best part, an awesome castle cake!

Castle cake - at home

This cake is actually simpler than it looks, as the towers are created with two stacked ice cream cones (cake cones), and then topped with a pointy cone (sugar cone). I covered all of the cones with frosting and rolled the pointed cones in pink sugar. They ended up looking super glittery in person and prettier than I'd expected! For the actual cake part there are two layers of a square cake on the bottom and two smaller circle layers on top (I just used a normal circle pan and then cut them down to size). This is topped with another cake cone and sugar cone in the center.

Castle cake - at party

I debated for a long time what to use for the rectangle shapes around the edges, and had heavily considered using pink wafer cookies or mini marshmallows. In the end I couldn't find cheap wafers, and the marshmallows were too irregularly shaped, so I searched the candy aisle and found some perfect mini white chocolate Kit Kats! For the door I cut a graham cracker into shape and covered it with the pink sugar, piping a little white frosting around the edge. I cut the tips off the corner cones until I had a hole big enough to fit some slender candles, then piped a little icing over the hole. The four towers were perfect for our 4 candles!

Blowing out candles

I built the cake on a large, sturdy air bake pan we have, which was first covered in wrapping paper and then a layer of Press'n Seal. I cut a cardboard box down to size to transport it, having the box open at the front so I could slide the tray in & out. It traveled well, other than the center tower, which kept toppling over. If I were to do it again, I'd mix up some royal icing to really cement the side towers together, and then take the center tower off when the cake needs to be moved. (Cutting a small hole in the top of the cake might have helped too)
The party went really well, other than having to battle the wind to set everything up. The wind was ripping things from my hands, and actually blew gifts off the present table!! I was able to get everything well secured, and it mostly calmed down for the party. Everything went really well, and I think our little one definitely felt like a special princess for her birthday.

Monday, February 6, 2017

1 Month with Swagbucks & InstaGC

So you may have noticed that I barely post on the blog anymore. That feels pretty weird after 10 years of regularly posting! But right now I have so much 'stuff' to keep up with that I haven't spent much time working on any fun crafts or new recipes. I decided to cut myself a break and not worry about forcing anything just to make sure I write something once a week or once a month, and just post whenever I have something I want to share! Next year my littlest one starts Pre-K, so in my fantasy world I'm instantly going to have oodles of time to work on everything I want. We'll see, haha.

Today I wanted to share my newest obsession with you ~ Swagbucks and InstaGC! I started with those sites 1 month ago and between the two I've already made over $160!! You can see why I'm hoooked. I've been using this for fun money and was able to buy a Instant Pot, a new printer, and more.

Join Swagbucks!

I'd heard the name thrown around a lot in the past, and even checked out the site before, but thought you mostly got a few measly points here & there for doing web searches & stuff, and so I wasn't very interested. Recently I was reading a post that talked about some of the rebate apps I use, as well as a few other money making sites, and when the author she said she was making $25 a month through Swagbucks I decided to give it another look. 

There are tons of ways to get 'points' on the site (100 points = $1), but the best way I've found is through surveys. If you can do one survey you should be able to hit your 'daily goal' easily. (Some days that is easier than other!) You can also get some nice cash back from online shopping, just like eBates. Best of all, there are lots of nice bonuses that add up, like getting a few points for finishing the daily 'to-do list', for entering 'swag codes', special promos, or big bonuses if you meet your daily goal each day that month. This month I was expecting about $2.25 for meeting my daily goals, and somehow ended up with a $5 bonus! Gotta love that. By the end of the month I had made $55. 
To cash out, they have tons of gift cards in stock like Amazon & eBay, some as low as $3 (they do take a couple of days to process). If you save up though, you can trade 2200 points for a $25 card once a month for a nice discount.

Tips -
♦ There are 2 daily goals, which will both give you a few bonus points. Your 1st goal will be around 40 points the first week, and then will go up to maybe 80 after that. I found that when I hit the 1st and 2nd goal every day, the amounts just kept getting higher & higher until it was hard to even meet the 1st one. When I started just meeting the 1st goal & staying below the 2nd, the amount stayed around 80 each day. Much more manageable!
♦ Most of the daily 'to-do list' items are super easy to knock out, other than finding a 'Discover' option that doesn't involve spending money. I usually go to Offer Toro and let an EngageMe video play until I hit a point, or choose the lowest paying offers from Peanut Labs and click through a slideshow or something for 1 point. The to-do list is completely optional anyway, you just get some bonus points for completing it.
♦ I downloaded the Swagbucks TV app and earn 10-40 points a day running some videos on my phone when I'm not using it. Go to the 'Home and Garden' section and favorite all of the "10 Sec Tip" videos, which are super short. Then you can watch just your 'favorites' and will quickly rack up the points until your videos max out of for the day. I have also tried the main Swagbucks app and their 'Answer' app, but those have been mostly useless.
♦ These sites change things up over time, so if you are looking for info on something, make sure to look for results no older than a year.

I'll admit, I was not a fan of InstaGC after the first day! It seemed like every offer wanted you to register on some site or spend money or give them your email address. I was able to make $2 the first day without doing any of those though, so I stuck around. I learned about the site from the same post I mentioned above, and the author's claim of easily making $5 a day seemed impossible. After a week or so I figured out my way around the site better and actually did start making about $5 a day! But only by doing as many surveys as I could. I was happy to keep plugging away though as I saw my points rising, and by the end of the month I'd made $108!!

The reason I make twice as much on InstaGC is simply because they have so many more surveys available. One of my favorite spots to look for them are under "All", click on the "InstaGC" button (they call them "walls"), and then look for Live Sample,, and Your Surveys. You do need to give each of those survey groups your email address, but they are only used to track users (they won't send you emails or give out your address). My other favorite survey spot is under Earn > Surveys. New ones are added there throughout the day, so I check back frequently for well paying ones. If surveys are not your thing, I've seen many users who avoid them and still manage to make more than I do per day, but I'm guessing they are doing some offers I wouldn't be comfortable with.

Tips - 
♦ After you earn $5 you will be able to see a chat window running along the side of the page. It's a great place to get your questions answered quick, and to see tips for good paying surveys and deals.
♦ On the InstaGC wall I went through and hid all of the deals that wanted me to register or sign up for a free sample (250+ offers!) so that I can clearly see just surveys there. It takes a while to do, but if you hide a few here & there, they'll soon be all gone. 
♦ Just like Swagbucks, you can earn points by letting videos run in the background. I go to Earn > Watch Videos, turn the volume almost all the way down on my computer, and keep them going on another tab as much as possible through the day. Since this is a slow season, details on the videos have changed quite a bit even during the month I've been here, but I've been able to make about 25-50 points a day from those. (100 points = $1) VideoLab on the Offer Toro wall is even better paying, when they are available, but you can't shrink down or hide those. Those are great to pull up when you are about to leave the house or just won't be using the computer for a while.
♦ InstaGC has a much larger collection of gift cards, for all different amounts, and you get the codes instantly! After you've cashed in $50 worth of cards you can even start doing Paypal deposits.

So have any of you tried Swagbucks or InstaGC? I know surveys are not for everyone, but I was already involved with two surveys sites with *much* lower results, so I was thrilled to find these! Even if you only aim to do one survey a day you could easily have $30 of fun-money by the end of the month, and it's so easy to work on them while you're watching TV & hanging out. Seeing my points climbing up, and knowing I can cash out any time, definitely keeps me motivated to try for another and another.