The Perfect Minecraft Party Tutorial

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We did it! We threw a Minecraft birthday sleep-over party for Sam’s eighth birthday, and it was awesome. From the planning, to the shopping, to the actual party, Sam has repeatedly and emphatically stated that this has been his best birthday ever.

If you want to have an equally rockin’ party, here’s the short list of what worked for us:

1. Less is more. In terms of the guest list, the amount of presents, decorations, planned activities, really everything. Except for gummy bears. Buy a lot of those.

2.  Cleaning house before a sleepover is completely unnecessary. Just don’t.

3.  Ogle over Minecraft party tutorials on pinterest to your heart’s content, but in the end do as little or as much as makes you happy. For us that boiled down to a green tablecloth, red licorice TNT, a Minecraft youtube mix playing on the iPod, and a homemade birthday banner made of green and black paper. Don’t stress over details like perfectly copying the Minecraft font, or plastering everything with proportional Creeper faces. Ultimately, the kids don’t care (at least mine don’t).

4. Remember it’s a party, not an agenda-driven meeting. We had a few ideas for open-ended activities from a Frugal Family Times post we found through pinterest (decorating torches and popping wild balloon pigs). We blew through both of those activities in about two minutes, and the kids spent the rest of the time creating their own fun, including Nerf wars, wrestling, tree climbing, eating prodigious amounts of gummy bears, and oh yeah, playing Minecraft.

That’s it. If you have a Minecraft fanatic in your family, you don’t have to stress over the perfect birthday party. Relax, enjoy the chaos, and brew an extra large pot of coffee for the morning after.

The Real Family Lab



Practically perfect in every way.

He likes to shake hands and dance.

His favorite place to hang out is under the dining room table.

He only barks when strangers come to the door.

He protects our yard from rabid squirrels.

He doesn’t eat shoes and he never digs holes in the yard or in the garden.

Girl’s Best Friend

72567_10151359346706288_853470346_nSaturdays were going to be about getting the family involved with volunteering and helping others, but our plans changed today. Michael brought home a black lab named Guinness, and he immediately became the center of attention. You could say that we’re helping Guinness, because he needed a home, but of course he’s the one bringing joy and a sense of levity to us.

Isabel is especially in love, talking to him constantly, sure that he understands everything she says. They followed each other around the house all day, both looking for extra snacks. Tonight she fell asleep in minutes, but only after Guinness had settled next to her bed.


Make It – Minimalist Drink Markers

IMG_8134These are our super-minimalist party glass markers. When we make stuff at home, most of our projects are:

  1. Simple and easy to make
  2. Open-ended – there’s not one right way to complete the project
  3. Made from materials we already have at home (in this case, old Scrabble tiles, bottle caps, buttons, string, twist ties, bobby pins, and velcro tabs)

We’ve been using our fancy glasses every day this week, and since they’re all identical, creating simple drink markers was a useful project. Because our goblets have a downward taper, we had to make skinny markers that rest at the bottom of the glass. At first I was playing around with paper clips and pliers, but I quickly realized that the metal wasn’t flexible enough. Shower curtain rings were way too big, and rubber bands slipped down the glass too easily. The best ties for our glasses turned out to be twist ties, bobby pins, and string.


We threaded the various types of ties through old buttons, and then worked to attach either Scrabble tiles or bottle caps to the buttons, using velcro. I like this design because the tiles and caps are interchangeable. The tiles could also be attached using glue.


Now we’re ready to make a toast and go for a double word score – Cheers!


Eat Your Words: Party Edition


If I was forced to choose just two current cookbooks featuring party foods, I’d go with Hors d’Oeuvres (DK, 2012) by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille and Real Snacks (Sasquatch Books, 2012) by Lara Ferroni.

Both titles are filled with beautiful photographs, if not the simplest of recipes. I’ll take gorgeous food shots over easy recipes any day, because the photos are the key to getting me re-inspired and re-interested in cooking and eating. Not that I’ve ever had any real trouble eating, but every once in a while I dip into a phase of just going through the motions, either eating unconsciously or eating for energy alone, enjoyment forgotten in the wake of five thousand responsibilities.

Hors d’Oeuvres is a lovely book that will strengthen your will to host honest to goodness parties, and hopefully inspire you to liven up your day-to-day meals. The authors have created “6 ways with…” features, which include innovative approaches to crostini, wraps, skewered foods, and more. I think that skewered foods are going to be a big hit at our house.

Real Snacks is basically Pandora’s jar (yes, I do mean jar!) in book form. If you open it, even once, I cannot guarantee your safety. You’ll most likely be persecuted by snack demons, demanding that you try every last recipe. Think of any favorite, guilt-inducing processed food snack (goldfish crackers! potato chips! TWINKIES!), and chances are that Lara has created a sublime and somewhat healthy version. So far we’ve only drooled over the book, but the first recipe we plan to try (hopefully tomorrow night) is her version of fried mozzarella sticks. Lara’s blog and web-site are also amazing, and to top it all off, this photography and snack food goddess is from Portland. As if I didn’t have enough reasons to want to move back…


Kings Day Crowns – One Simple Seam

IMG_7957We decided to make some Kings Day crowns today. There are tons of great felt crown patterns out there, but I decided to go rogue and create our own ultra-simple crown. Our crowns are made using two rectangles of felt (the standard size you can buy at a craft store), and one ribbon. We added some additional embellishments that we already had at home. This tutorial is so simple, it’s almost embarrassing to write it up, but here goes!

Start with a rectangle of felt – the size doesn’t even matter that much – it should be roughly the size of a sheet of notebook paper, but use what you’ve got!




Fold your original rectangle in half, creating a long fold. Cut down the line that fold created, to make two skinnier rectangles.


Take one of the skinnier rectangle and fold it in half, lengthwise, a “hotdog” fold. The fold should be facing you.


Now, fold the other skinny rectangle to make a “hamburger” fold. Not so skinny anymore!


Cut the top two corners off of your hamburger, as shown above. The exact dimensions aren’t important, but notice that you maintain part of the folded edge, because…


…you’ll unfold your hamburger to make twin peaks, or upside down vampire teeth.


Sandwich your upside down vampire teeth inside the long skinny rectangle. See how this is coming together?


Now take your other sheet of felt, and cut it in half, lengthwise, to make two rectangles, just like you did with the first sheet. Take one of the rectangles and make a hamburger fold.


Cut a triangle out of the top of your hamburger. Now it kind of looks like a fish trying to eat a triangle.


Unfold the hamburger/triangle eating fish, and position it on top of the upside down vampire teeth.


Fold the long skinny rectangle back up over the layers, and then position a ribbon about an eighth of an inch below the top of the skinny rectangle. Then sew the ribbon on, using a straight stitch. I used a sewing machine, but it could also be stitched by hand. It might be helpful to pin the ribbon to the crown before sewing, but it’s not necessary.



You’ve got yourself a crown! Sam had fun choosing buttons to decorate this one, but he’s still not convinced that he wants to wear one. His main form of celebrating will be helping to eat the new cake that we made today.

Kings Day Party Planning


We’re planning a Three Kings Day Party and you’re invited! Today’s our day to feature a recipe here, so we made a Kings Day cake. There are versions from many countries, including Mexico, France, Germany, and Spain. We decided to go with a Spanish version, simply because it called for adding dried fruit and almonds as a decoration, and we didn’t have those ingredients on hand yet.

We made a few changes to the original recipe, which we found here, in order to incorporate wheat flour. And that’s when things went terribly wrong. I have a lot to learn about the perfect balance between flours. The “cake” is a lumpy, misshapen, dense ring of way-too-much-fiber for anyone’s diet.

But like our friend Pete the Cat, we’re not wasting time crying over our disastrous results. I’m thinking that we can hang the first cake out for the birds and squirrels, as long as it’s securely tied, because I really don’t want to kill any small animals in the name of this holiday. We’ll start over, which is our constant life lesson. The experience also reminded me that sometimes traditions are meant to be flipped, particularly culinary traditions. So that’s what we’ll do! Instead of a traditional epiphany recipe, that’s actually bread disguised as cake, I’m going to make something a little more…cake-y. Maybe even coffee cake, cut into a ring, because you can’t go wrong with coffee cake (unless you make it with wheat flour, or bake it too long, or forget a key ingredient or…you get the idea).

Tomorrow we’ll be back to share some easy party ideas, that are guaranteed to be less disastrous! If you’re planning a Kings Day Party (traditionally held on January 6, but we’re holding ours on the evening of January 5), you’re welcome to use our Three Kings Day Party Invitation.

What do people do all year? 13 for ’12


It’s time for the big wrap up! The thirteen posts below were the most popular during 2012 (according to wordpress), and include many of our favorite moments.

The biggest surprise was that the spinach ice cream made the list. Nobody has expressed any interest in using that recipe again. The two kids are lobbying for plain chocolate and strawberry, and I’m plotting the pureed veggies we could sneak in… Here’s to another year of family adventure, inquiry and play – we hope your life has been equally blessed.

What were the top 13 events in your life during the past year?

24 Hour Party People

Okay, the photo is completely misleading. I am actually not a 24 Hour Party Person, though I dressed as one for Halloween in 2008. But everyone else in the family turned into Party People today, even that little Punk Pumpkin Sam.

They ended up at three different parties this afternoon and evening. None of them wanted to come home. That’s a huge new thing for Sam, so I guess it’s worth celebrating. The new thing for me is that I’m letting go of expecting myself to be a Party Person.

I went to two of the parties, chatted a little, ate good food, and then when I was ready to leave (way before everyone else), I gracefully left. It’s such a simple story. I don’t have to stay until the very end. And when I leave, I don’t have to feel bad about being the person who leaves. I can be the 24 Minute Party Person and that’s enough. This is my story, after all. I’m happy to be writing it my way, and I’m happy that Bella, Sam, and Michael are each writing their own stories.

I hope you get to party this weekend too, in the way that brings you the most joy and peace.