Monday, October 13, 2014

Brownie Cupcakes

Tonight's project .. basic brownies in cupcake cups,  frosted, with sprinkles

Sunday, October 12, 2014

No Bake Cheesecakes Bites

Jello No Bake Cheesecake is my husband's favorite dessert. Lucky me. It's also extremely easy to make, and requires almost no effort or skill. (Even if you have some skills, it's nice not to have to kill yourself over a dessert recipe once in a while.) While's he's out getting dirty with guys, I'm surprising him with this. Today I'm trying something new and using mini muffin cups to make bite size cheesecakes.

Line 3 mini muffin trays* with liners, and mix up the crust mix according to the box directions. 

Press a half teaspoon of crust mix into each cup. I used my thumb inside a ziplock bag to avoid getting my fingers in every single one of them. 
If you have a helper you can prepare both the crust and the filling at the same time. My helper was not very interested. She really likes her Falken RC car though.
In a separate bowl make the filling mix. I got to use my brand new mixer finally. Woo hoo! :) 
Spoon the filling mix into a quart size zip lock bag and snip 1/4" off one corner. Don't cut too much or it will come out to fast!

Squeeze filling into each cup in a circular motion like decorating a cupcake. I filled mine to just under the rim of each. 

From this one 11 oz box mix, I didn't have any crust or filling left over, so don't "taste test" too much while mixing!

Pop them in the fridge for at least an hour. :) If you want to add fruit, do that just before serving. A small dab of cherry pie filling or chopped strawberries and whip cream are really good on these. :) 

Each bite is approximately 57 calories with sugar and whole milk, or 54 calories each with Stevia and 2% milk. :) Not a big difference but it's what I had on hand.

*If you don't have 3 mini muffin trays, you can do one dozen at a time. Press the crust and squeeze filling into the first batch then remove the cups from the muffin tray to go into the fridge on a platter or plate. Then use the same muffin tray to do the next batch.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Business with Pleasure

"Choose a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life." ~ Confucious

I never thought I'd really be quoting Confucious to anyone. :)

Most people have jobs they can't wait to get free from for even a moment. We're always counting the mintues until 5:00, and asking "Is it Friday yet?" That being the case, wouldn't it be great to have a job that actually consisted of something you love, that you didn't have to feel the need to escape from?

It used to be that "vacation" meant taking a whole week off and getting away. That is a rarety when you have a Monday through Friday schedule, kids, pets, and other countless obligations. I've learned to be completely satisfied with 2 days away from home, or even ONE, as long as it's away from the routine. It doesn't matter where I go... I'm happy if it's out where the air is clear and there are friends to see and fun to be had. "Stay-cations" and single over-nighters have become some of my favorite times.

Making a living out of a hobby or talent has long been the working person's dream. I have friends who are artists, writers, and musicians. And almost all of them have "real" jobs, too. SAD. Why is it so hard to find success in doing the things we love? Shouldn't creative skills be worth more? I think so.

Finding your niche and marketing yourself to the extent that you develop a lucrative business, is the key, of course. There's no fool-proof way to do any of it. Giving up a bill-paying day job is not an option for most of us, unless we have stockpiled our savings and moved in with Mom and Dad. :)

Here is the run-down on a few things I've tried in the past, in additional to a full-time "regular" job, with the idea in mind that it could grow and become my amazing new "fun" job, doing something I love... 

Stampin' Up Demonstrator: Similar to Creative Memories, crafty, scrapbooking workshops. Business Plan - Invite a group of ladies and demonstrate instruction on several cute, hand made items, and offer discounts on their purchase if they book an additional party. Additional parties generate more customers, more sales, more parties, more customers, etc, and you end up raking in the dough by making crafts all day. Actual Result - Booked a few parties, spent all my free time at home prepping for the demos, made very few sales, booked fewer than expected parties, spent all income on more craft supplies for my own personal use. Decision - Sold all supplies on Ebay, went to Lake Tahoe for the weekend and bought a new refrigerator. NEXT!

Melaleuca Distributor: Similar to Amway, as much as I was determined to prove everyone wrong. Environmentally safe household products that are so amazingly great in quality and value, they would naturally sell themselves to anyone you know. Business Plan - Purchase the starter kit, get to know the product line, refer your friends, explain the awesomeness, and start collecting orders. Note *you must personally purchase a minimum order per month to retain your seller status. Actual Result - Spent more than I should have on things I didn't really need, discovered I am not a sales person. Decision - Cancelled my membership and eventually ran out of the really awesome shower cleaner. Sad face.

At this point, you can see how keeping the day job was a good idea....

Massage Therapist: MASSAGE! Who does not love massage? Well, I loved it so much, as well as having a knack for giving a great back rub, naturally I knew this would be my calling in life. At age 30 I took out a student loan and committed to 18 months of night and weekend classes to put myself through massage college. Business Plan - Offer great massage including Deep Tissue, Acupressure, Reflexology, Sports Therapy, and Swedish Relaxation for un-heard of prices. Build clientele, eventually reduce day job hours and open my own salon. Actual Result - 9 years later, I still have the same 5 regular customers, all of whom have become wonderful friends. :) Still paying off student loan. Business has gone up and down, varying between 8 and 45 hours per month. It never quite became steady enough to justify quitting the day job, thankfully, as now I have early arthritis symptoms in my hands and I know I could never do this full time. Decision - By the end of next year, I will no longer be a Masseuse. :)

Finding something I love to do and finding a way to make a full-time living doing it, will always be my ultimate goal. At this point in my life, that "something" has begun to take shape in the outdoor, health/fitness, and off-roading arena (if there is such a combo). :)

As the ideas pour in and the brainstorming begins, it's fun to imagine the possibilities. I hope this write-up has a part 2 down the road, in which I will share the newest venture and it's successes.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Spa Fashion Makeover 13th Birthday Party Guide

When it comes to group get-togethers and coordination of outings, I can do it all with my eyes closed if it involves camping, a holiday dinner, or a baby shower. But this time I put myself in charge of my boyfriend's daughter's 13th birthday party. An at-MY-home, full scale shindig for 14 teens was new territory. 

She chose a nail spa slash fashion make-over theme, and neither of us really had any idea what that might involve, so I hit the Internet. I found several helpful but scattered ideas, and was really not feeling confident. Now that our party is in the books, and it went over SO well, I thought a How-To Guide might be helpful for others out there, who might be looking for tips as I was. 

To begin, I wished myself luck and started making a list, and slowly my vision of the day came together. We started by picking theme colors. Pink, Teal, and Black. This would be the palette for everything party related. 

Ideas: We sat down and old-school brainstormed on paper, for activity ideas, food options, games, prizes, etc. She chose do-it-yourself make-up and nails, followed by pizza to keep the food simple, a fashion challenge game that we would later develop, and ending the day with a movie. 

Budget: Next I set the budget. Decorations, snacks, food & drinks, prizes, accessories, cupcakes, movie rental, all included came to just over $250. I figure you can't take a family of 4 to Disneyland on that anymore, so affording a party for 14 teens on the same amount seemed like a great deal. ;)

Decorations: Party City has everything you could possibly need. I found it helpful to look online first to get an idea of what theme sets are available, versus what you can buy individually. We opted for a variety of colors and styles of hanging paper/plastic fluffy, hangy items. 

Invitations: Whether you're making your own, or ordering printed invitations, be sure to do this several weeks in advance. I believe 4 weeks is proper notice for a birthday party, so allow that plus shipping time for your order. We ordered online from Vista Print. She chose a simple pink and black contemporary design with a floral graphic, at about $1 each after tax and shipping. We kept the info simple, mentioning the basics only, date and time, the fashion/spa theme, and asked them to bring items they could cut up as part of our fashion challenge game. Giving kids too much info, they might think "that sounds lame" or "too complicated".... Just get them there and let the details be known once the party is under way.

Party Itinerary: Knowing that we had a lot to pack into 7 hours, I made a schedule for the day. When making your party schedule, be sure to allow time to pick up the food, and other various tasks you will be doing throughout the day. Also keep in mind that you will need to keep things moving during the party. Think about how long each activity will take. Give yourself time to do any work involved while the group is entertaining themselves. Then cut in and get them on to the next thing, to avoid a lag in the activities (and the fun). I had an assistant (boyfriend/birthday girl's Daddy) helping out, with pizza pickup and crafts, and his tasks were part of the schedule also.

Set up: We arranged the house so that each activity had it's own area, with seating and all necessary supplies. Don't be afraid to completely rearrange tables and couches. It is only temporary, and you should consider, does your typical living room layout really work best for what your party will include? Think "badly set-up buffet line"... Be sure to have enough space in each area so that everyone is not cramped. Most likely everyone will not be in the same area at the same time, but if they are, try to have good flow to your spaces. 

"Parent Area": To keep track of lists, schedule, and of course to Facebook the whole event periodically, be sure to keep a "parents only" space somewhere. This was easily done in our space by turning the dining room table opposite it's normal direction, using the half farthest away from the crowd in the room for "parent stuff". The kids had no reason to come to that side of the table, with all their activities clearly set out in other parts of the house. I then had room for the various things I would be doing throughout the day. This also makes a good seating area for grandparents, other moms and Dad/assistant, to keep clear of the crazy kids' areas. 

The girls began arriving right on time. We made an area for shoes to be left by the front door, and each girl was given a pair of "spa day" socks. As more girls showed up, the socks started going over pretty well. 

Activities and Games: For our party, half of the dining room table was the make-up and hair area. The coffee table was pulled in to the dining room as well, for the nail spa area. To protect the tables from nail spa products, we used a simple plastic table cloth. This setup made it fairly easy for the fun to begin right away. Not much direction or coordination was required to get them started. Teenagers and makeup go together like PB&J. ;)

Our game was fairly elaborate so we did only one ... The Fashion Challenge. I picked up one yard each of several fun, sparkly fabrics at Joann Fabric, and made a bag containing fabrics, safety pins, and scissors for each team. Three girls volunteered to be judges. The rest were split into 2 teams, Pink and Teal. They had 30 minutes to design an outfit and dress their model. They were judged on 4 categories: Originality, Wear-ability, Accessories, and Overall Style. 

Prize bags were awarded to both teams, with one small extra item in the winning team bags (nail polish). Prize bags consisted of nail files, hair ties, candy, spray glitter and other inexpensive but useful girlie items. For a few extra special Judges gifts, I crawled way back in the bathroom cabinet and found a few 'regiftable' items from Bath & Body Works that I had been saving. I knew I would someday find a use for those lotions and body sprays. ;)

Party Favors: I decided on a unique party favor idea, one of my Internet finds. I picked up plain wooden frames from Michael's for $1 each and spray paint in our party theme colors. After getting into their spa socks, each girl chose their frame color and a felt cupcake accent decoration. Later, during lunch and game time, Dad did the painting. After the fashion game we did a "Fashion Photo Shoot" including a group photo. Then much later, during movie time, we printed the best of them and did assembly of the pictures in the frames. They turned out so great and everyone loved them!

Dessert: Some parents really get into baking, and I'm usually one of them. :) This time I opted for store-bought cupcakes at Albertson's. There's nothing wrong with going the easy route when you know you've got your work cut out for you in every other area of the event... Let's not pretend to be Super Heroes. Again, using the party theme colors on the icing, we pulled off some pretty spectacular looking cupcakes. We added a crafty touch by ordering some brightly colored/leopard/fashion print circle cut-outs on EBay. We glued them back to back on toothpicks the night before the party, and inserted them into the cupcakes. I also picked up these really cute cupcake stands at Ace Hardware, of all places, for $4.99.

The night wrapped up with gifts opened, a lot of teen chatter and screaming, a couple of movies, and countless mini-bags of kettle corn, which I will be finding in my couch cushions for a week, I'm sure. With all the planning, setup and craftiness, everything staged and ready, I think the party was destined to be a hit. It was a day jam packed with fun and laughs. The key to pulling it all together was the prep the night before, and a well planned schedule for the day. I like to spend more time planning ahead and less time dealing with what I forgot during the event. 

The main thing to keep in mind is, you are in charge of the fun for the day. You have to somewhat play Cruise Director, keep it fun, but let the activities take their own course. You don't need to direct every moment of every hour; Just oversee. Maybe wear earplugs... With this many teens, it's a bit like herding cats, but it can be done. :) The hardest part was the clean up. ;)