Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Make Your Own Hummingbird & Oriole Food

We have this little perennial garden area along the walkway to our front door, which I've dubbed "the bird garden."  It has become the home to all my random bird feeders I've gotten at garage sales, thrift stores, and as gifts, as well as a little birdhouse that my great aunt Violet made which is home to a family of wrens.  It's a perfect spot as it's just outside the kitchen bay window, and a great spot to bird watch! I also have a couple feeders that stick to the window with suction cups.  It's my mini bird sanctuary.  The boys love to look out the window and watch the "birdies" and they help me fill the feeders when they get low.

It's no fun when birds dig through seed, dump it on the ground while digging for the sunflower seeds, and then you end up with a bunch of stuff you don't want sprouting all around the feeder.  We learned years ago to just buy the bags of 100% sunflower seeds.  That way the birds aren't rifling through everything else to find them.  Sure, they do still occasionally drop a seed or two but what's the worst thing that can happen if a sunflower sprouts? get gorgeous flowers in your yard!!! Last year I pulled all the flowers that sprouted around the feeders, but this year I decided to let them go and let them grow because I love sunflowers!  They all started blooming this week and they are awesome.  Many are growing out of the rocks.

 I took a screen out of one window so I could get some bird photos.  These are really blurry but here are a few of the birds we see regularly...

Hummingbird...This feeder is actually in the back yard on our deck, but we see several hummingbirds a day at both feeders. Every night around 6 or 7 pm there are two birds who fight over this feeder!
Oriole on the oriole feeder
The prettiest oriole I've seen this bright!! Can't seem to lure him onto the feeder yet...he keeps his distance.

So anyway, the point of this post...I've been making my own food for years for my hummingbird feeders and oriole feeder and I thought I'd share because it's super easy.

The Recipes:

Oriole Food: 5 parts water, 1 part sugar, red + yellow food coloring (orange)
Hummingbird Food: 4 parts water, 1 part sugar, red food coloring

Directions: Bring water to a boil.  Add sugar, stir until dissolved.  Add food coloring and cool.  Store extra food in the frig.

That's it.  You really don't have to buy any special mix.  This is the only thing I've used, and we get birds several times a day!  Be sure to empty, wash out, and refill your feeders often, especially if it's been really hot.  A good clue that you may have waited too long would be if the color has faded to clear, you see dead ants floating in it, or any other gross stuff floating in it. (You can't blame a bird for not eating that)

I like to store mine in these coffee creamer containers.  They have a great little spout for pouring into the small opening on your feeder.  I just recently made little labels for each one, and  I took the liberty of uploading my labels for you to print for free!  Download them here! I printed mine on sticky-back paper, but put a piece of mailing tape over it to help protect it.  Of course if you print them on an inkjet and get it wet, it will run.  But, hey, the printable is free so you can always make another.  There's a little reminder on the label to help you remember the recipe for refills!

Happy bird watching! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cruise Themed Birthday Party!

It has taken me months to finally post about this party because we simply did SO much, that blogging about it seemed like a daunting task!  I want to be thorough enough that you can at least find links to some of the stuff we bought, and maybe do some of these things for your own cruise party, so it took hours just to compile this post alone. But here it is, finally!


After a few years of my dad fighting lymphoma and achieving remission, my parents were all set and super excited to be planning a cruise vacation again which they previously had done every winter!  But, alas...cancer returned with a vengeance and they were forced to cancel their vacation to go back to an even more aggressive battle.  Both of my parents turned 60 at the beginning of this year, and my siblings and I decided to throw them a blow-your-mind AWESOME cruise themed party on a date when they would have been on their trip...and that's just what we did.  We brought the cruise to them and invited their friends and family to board the ship.  Here's how we did it.

The THEME...
It can be a very dangerous thing when the forces of myself and my sister are combined for one project, but it made for quite the recipe for a mass creative juice overload.

Invitations - we opted for Evite instead of printed, so we could put more resources into the party itself.  We gave our parents two orders...choose a date, and email us a guest list...then do nothing until the party date. We didn't let them in on who had RSVP'd.  But, we had to let them pick a date in order to time it right between my dad's chemo rounds and before his bone marrow transplant.

My sister Heidi, an illustrator and graphic designer, created the "branding" of the party...including an official logo (based on Royal Caribbean's logo) for the party.  With that came signage labeling the cruise terminal, the various "decks" and rooms in the "ship," the coat room, the "head," the "pool deck," etc...

Sign on our front door...we had a red carpet leading up to the door as well
Heidi ordered this awesome custom floor decal online!

The foyer..."Birthday of the Seas" ship sign, and a table of "boarding passes."
 Everyone got a "boarding pass" upon entry, which had their name and how they knew my parents.  Heidi got some clear ID badge sleeves online and I picked up some lanyards at Office Depot.


Heidi came over to my house 5 days before the party with a car loaded to the roof with stuff, and added to my garage full of stuff, we got going with the decorations early.  My husband was on a business trip, and boy was he surprised when he got home!  Here's how everything looked the day of the party...

March in Minnesota...we had snow.  But this string of nautical flags in the front yard made it easy to see where the party was...
The invitations made it clear that our guests were to come dressed in tropical attire....or else they would be subject to us dressing them!  To be prepared for the un-festive guests, we pulled together some tropical shirts and lei's from thrift stores, my sister had the hat with the dreadlocks, she got a coconut bra from a party store and I bought a captain's hat online.
The weather was going to be iffy that day, so my husband had the great idea to utilize our heated garage....and boy did we ever!  This photo below is of my parents seeing the garage for the first time. We each spent probably 10-12 hours at least on the garage.  Heidi found the deck rail and ocean backdrops online...two ocean backdrops and two ship deck backdrops covered every wall of the garage!  We hung the top one first with duct tape, then taped the ship deck to the sky/ocean backdrop.

 My hubby and I hauled our deck and gazebo furniture into the garage, which included the little bar in the corner, the umbrella, etc.  We bought some pieces of large rug and astroturf and covered the whole floor and duct taped it down.  We strung little twinkle lights all over the ceiling, and hung sparkly palm trees from the ceiling (the gold fringe you see in the center is the "trunk") You would NEVER know it was a garage when you were in literally felt like a ship deck.  It was AWESOME.  Even my husband was reluctant to tear it all down after the party, even though he couldn't access any of his manly tools for a week.

Heidi found a customizable "Paradise Bar and Grill" sign online and they printed "Birthday of the Seas" on top for us!  Looked SO cute hanging over our little bar and it was really well made.  I got a really nice seashell garland which is hanging just under the front edge of the bar.  We brought out fake trees and real palms to decorate too.  The hanging baskets with ivy came from our deck.
More garage!  I hung some shiny foil palm tree garland on the deck rail (thrift store), you can see the two foil hanging trees which were cute!! I actually only ordered one but they sent me two.  Score!  The nautical flags were everywhere too.

Here you can see the lights pretty well.  I got a bag of those little round paper lanterns at a thrift store and stuck them on random lights.  Heidi brought bright colored tablecloths and we put some of the food in the garage...salads, chips/snacks, and some desserts.  So inside the house was the fancier midnight buffet setting, and in the garage was more of a casual ship deck.
Me and Heidi! We wanted to have some sort of photo backdrop and get photos of every guest in front of it.  In the corner of the garage we set up a spot with a palm tree, astroturf, and a beach themed shower curtain!  We were looking at photo backdrops online that were super expensive, and then Heidi got an idea to get a shower curtain!  It was a little wrinkly but worked just fine...we hung a light behind it so the sky would light up. I sett out a camera on a tripod and captured most of the guests.
 Now, into the HOUSE decorations...

pendant flags in the living room

View from the TV/family room looking into the kitchen.  Streamers, nautical flag pendants, and lighted tropical flower garland!
I got a grass table skirt that fit just right on the three showing sides of the cake/fruit table.  We have a long ledge shelf thing up above in this photo, and for the party I cleared it off, laid a strip of rope lights up there, and then taped balloons in a row.  When the sun went down the balloons looked pretty cool being lit from behind.
My parents used to own this "FurReal" parrot and they gave it to us a while back as our boys love it.  He sat inside the foyer on the table where people picked up their "boarding passes."  Throughout the night he moved his head, talked, and made parrot sounds. I programmed him to say things like "Happy 60th Phil & Rollie,"  "where's the birthday boy?" and "Thanks for coming!"

What's a cruise without towel animals?!  Years ago my mom gave me a towel origami book and it got some use for this party!  I set several animals in each bathroom.  I picked up a few pairs of cheap sunglasses at Goodwill since my hubby and I both wear prescription glasses and don't own any.  They turned out pretty cute!

towel monkey

Towel elephant

So, with the fancy buffet in the kitchen and the more casual beach-y theme of the "ship deck" in the garage, we turned our other living room area with the fireplace and piano into the "Viking Crown Lounge" (an actual name of the lounge on Royal Caribbean ships).  The atmosphere here was all about mood lighting! 

"Viking Crown Lounge" sign - sitting on a mini easel on our mantel, lit up with a giant glow stick
After my boys were in bed we lit some of the candles down low on the bay window.  We sprinkled seashells around candles too and covered my end tables with white tablecloths topped with a red cloth napkin.

Looked pretty cool from the kitchen!

I pretty much just pulled out all of the candles we had in the house and grouped them on top of the piano.  Underneath them I had some cute fake palm leaves and sprinkled seashells.
Heidi made these floating candles in mason jars on the right, with shells in the bottom.  We had them outside on the sidewalk, and in the "viking crown lounge."
One of my end tables.  We put little battery powered tealights in candle holders with shells.

...And now down to the basement...

I had one rope light left, and it was the perfect length to run down the railing of our spiral stairs to the basement!
We didn't do a ton in the basement...not many people went down there anyway.  But, we wanted it to be cute too just in case we needed some overflow, as we were expecting more than twice as many people as we've ever hosted before!

I hung crepe paper across the ceiling with balloons along the track lighting strip.  (Side Note...we can't use those lights as the cord is broken...don't put balloons and paper by lights that you plan to turn on or you'll get popped balloons and possibly a fire!)

We have a couple antique trunks in our basement that were my great grandma's.  I figured it would turn them into cute themed decor if I decorated them with travel patches, so they would look like the cruise ship guests' luggage!  I did a Google image search for all the images and just stuck them on with masking tape.
Another thing we did downstairs but I can't seem to find a photo of at the moment... Heidi got a tropical fish aquarium backdrop that was really long like the garage backdrops.  I hung a piece of it over the front of our basement fireplace, with a light behind it, so it looked like an aquarium.  (The rest of the backdrop we hung on the front of our countertop in the kitchen under the buffet)  We also had a party trivia DVD looping on the downstairs TV, tropical music playing, and another little round table with chairs and a candle.

The FOOD...
The food, ooooh, the FOOD!  We dug deep into our photo archives of the family cruise vacation our parents took us all on years ago, specifically the midnight buffet!  What's a cruise party without a jaw dropping food presentation?!

The Midnight Buffet! (No, we didn't wait until midnight to serve it, much to the relief of many of our guests who took our invitation a little too literally! Ha!)
Silver backdrop behind the chocolate fondue, lighted punch fountain, and ice sculpture!
I bought this Rival chocolate fondue back when I worked for Best Buy's corporate HQ with my employee discount.  It has been a hit at several parties!

Fondue food in a starfish dish (from Goodwill) with palm tree picks and color changing LED ice bucket
My brother Ben made this awesome cruise ship cake! He even made all of those little windows out of chocolate...quite a centeripece!

The cake table, surrounded by fruit and veggie displays

Heidi carved this parrot out of a block of cheddar!!! Yes, we do have a family full of artists.

Having a sister with a restaurant came in handy too...Heidi brought several beautiful little pre-made appetizers to have on hand along with the tons of food we made ourselves.

Another beautiful creation by Heidi...amazing chocolate cake! I also made a flourless chocolate cake because it was what my mom loved to order on their was really delicious but not that photo-worthy.

I saw these flip flop cookies in Family Fun magazine and HAD to make them!  They took hours to make but were worth it. I used Pepperidge farm milano cookies and Nutter Butters.  The straps are made of licorice or gummi worms, and are decorated with flower shaped and pearl sprinkles.


more treats!! One key to the midnight buffet "wow factor" is to work UP in your display.  We used a lot of tiered trays, and we created various levels by stacking blocks, boxes and bins on the counter and covering them with pretty satin silver tablecloths.

Again...vertical!  The lighted punch fountain was really cool and actually not a bad price at $29.  Watch out though, it'll leave tiny splatters on it's surroundings...but made quite a statement!

My brother made two pineapple tree stands with a wood base and metal rod.  We drilled holes in pineapples to make the tree, and Heidi got some fake palm leaves for the top.  Heidi also made the melon swan, the squash bird, the fruit...awesome!  And she brought whole, un-cut fruits to add to the display.  It really helps add to the cruise buffet look of "excess!"

Fruit kabobs!  We stuck them into a half melon, and then set the whole display on top of an oval shaped mirror I bought at a thrift store a while back.

Heidi's swan, carved out of honeydew melon, and awesome flowers!!

Heidi working on her chocolate cake

This was the view as you entered the house on the right side.

There are a lot of food items I'm not even posting here that we had...there was just too much to mention.  We planned to just not have everything out at once, so that we had a steady rotation of new menu items all night long.  As a side note, we also planned ahead to start putting together to-go boxes full of a little bit of every food item, to send home with Mom and Dad.  I figured they would likely be so busy visiting with their friends, that they wouldn't get to try everything.  Let's just say that all of our families ate well for a long time after this party!

More pretty little desserts!  We carried around trays (this palm leaf tray I got at a thrift store) and offered guests bite sized appetizers and desserts throughout the night.

Creative little hummus display in a red cabbage

I had to get this color changing LED ice bucket from Amazon.  I only paid about $25 but can't seem to find them for less than $50 now. You can set it to rotate colors, or pick one.  I kept it on this blue, since our buffet color scheme was aqua, white and silver.  It has a rechargeable battery or you can use the cord, and has a remote control.  Fun!
This is actually my mom's Christmas pinwheel cookie recipe!  I just made blue instead of chocolate for one color, and before slicing them I rolled the whole thing in sparkly blue, silver, and pearl sprinkles to get the pretty edges.

I found a photo online of a cute lemon fish, sent it to Heidi in one of the thousands of emails we had flying back and fourth, and voila!  She made one way cuter.

My dad loves mint and chocolate, so I had to try these bars I found on Pinterest.  They were AWESOME.

My dad always loves getting rum balls on their cruises, so my sister made some! (and the little signs we put by each food too)
Rum balls and an assortment of fancy cookies

I made these little beach cupcakes...the cake is rum cake, and then I used some homemade cream cheese rum frosting on top.  The sand is made using crushed graham crackers, the beach towel is a sour candy, and the umbrella of course is a cocktail umbrella.

Heidi made some wonderful salads and set the large bowls in a Rubbermaid bin filled with ice to keep them cold.  This table is in the garage...the big garbage can behind the table is covered with a hula skirt I got at a thrift store.

Swan ice sculpture! Heidi found an ice sculpture mold on Amazon and made several of these for backups.  She put it in a clear glass pan, on top of an upside-down clear plastic bin.  The sides of the bin are lined with foil inside, and it is filled with lights to create the lighted base. I'm sure there must be a trick to getting the ice clear and not cloudy, but it looked pretty sweet!

This cute little tree is made of a sweet potato for the base, and I believe watermelon rinds for the branches!  Oh, and don't forget to use plenty of fresh parsley for garnishes everywhere!

My brother and sister-in-law's pretty veggie the idea of serving dip in the pepper!
I found a recipe online for some crock pot tropical meatballs and my sister-in-law made and brought them. I think she did a double batch...they were gone before I could try them so I'm guessing they were pretty awesome!  We also had a meat/cheese/cracker display, and I made some jerk chicken kabobs that my hubby grilled.  There were so many food items, I didn't try them all...I think if you took one bite of each dish you wouldn't be able to try them all!  We figured, better safe than sorry with the crowd size we had...I believe it was about 65-70 people.


With all there was to eat and see in the house, we didn't need much for entertainment.  It seemed people were pretty entertained just visiting, looking at the food sculptures and taking photos! So, we didn't really plan much else and that worked out just fine.  Don't stress about entertainment...the party itself is entertaining!

We were lucky enough that my parents have a friend who is professionally trained in hula and Polynesian dancing!  What are the odds?!  She came up with the idea to do a quick little hula lesson and it was really fun and entertaining for the people she called forward, but especially for everyone watching!

Hula lessons!
Music... We have Pandora through our Tivo box. I started at least a month in advance honing in a tropical station with steel drum music and Jimmy Buffet, which we had playing all night. We also had an iPod and sound dock in both the garage and the basement.

I made up a limbo pole by wrapping some colorful ribbon around a tension rod.  The idea was to pull it out whenever the limbo song came up on Pandora.  But, the party was so busy I never noticed the song so we didn't end up using it.

I also made a photo slide show in iMovie and played it on our DVD player throughout the night. It was full of general cruise-y photos from our last family cruise vacation, and some of the photos my parents had taken of themselves on their past cruises. 

Okay, yeah, my boys were actually entertaining for many of the guests.  I was planning to get them to bed promptly on schedule, however, they were being so good and such little charmers that we were getting threats from the guests that they may take them, we let them stay up a little later than normal.
In Closing...

You should see the massive Google Doc we put together when we started planning.  There were probably dozens of ideas we just didn't get time to even do, and many things I still haven't even shown in this post, but we can happily say that we did as much as humanly possible! Maybe once my eyes stop burning from staring at the screen doing this post for so long, I will come back and share some more ideas and links.

All in all, the party was a raging success.  The most people we've ever hosted in our home, the best food, the best decor, hands down.  And we host a lot of parties. I told my parents not to expect much for their 70th birthday because there is just NO WAY we could EVER top this party!  Ha!  Many guests came up to Heidi and I and asked if they could hire us to plan a party, or told us we should do this for a living.  We both immediately agreed that no amount of money would motivate us to put this much time and energy into one night again... only for Mom and Dad! (sorry!)  But what we can do is share what we did...I hope this post inspires you to go all out if you're planning a cruise themed party, or at least gives you a few ideas!

And if you haven't gotten enough link love in the post above, here are some more links to cruise party stuff...just do some searches for cruise party, tiki party decor, tropical decor, etc and you'll get tons of fun ideas!


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