Sunday, September 11, 2011

Harry Potter Halloween: Miniature Village

Inspired by this post on Dollar Store Crafts that shows how to spray paint the Dollar Tree miniature village all one color, I went out right after Christmas and bought a bunch on sale.

Now I am finally able to use them. I wanted to pick a color that was both cheap and that could be used for Halloween and Christmas. I choose a bright navy blue. The cans of spray paint cost about a dollar at Menards or Walmart.

At first I was going to go with a simple abstract design but got so into it that it turned out rather detailed. This year's Halloween theme is Harry Potter so I decided to do a Harry Potter themed Miniature Halloween Village. I almost got everything I needed at the dollar store.

First I divided all the houses by shape. The flat roofed ones I used for Diagon Alley. The pointy roofed ones for Hogsmead. The church with the biggest steeple became Hogwarts and for Hagrid's hut. I used one of the small white ceramic houses with light.

Then I laid them out where I thought they looked best. I chose a random few to paint black for variety and painted the others blue. On the black ones, I wanted to use rubber cement and superfine black glitter to sparkle up the roofs and eaves. I kept a few unpainted for the Christmas set. I'll remove the black ones and replace them with the unpainted ones which I'll color in a more festive color like white, baby blue or bright pink.

For the base and levels I used disposable pie and baking tins inverted. I covered the large oval pan with brown fleece for Diagon Alley. For the double leveled area that Hogwarts and Hagrid's sits on, I used rubber cement to cover the sides with decorative sand. I cut moss sheets to fit the tops. The lake is a square mirror with the frame removed. I covered three sides if the mirror with a cutout of sandpaper to build the banks of the lake. Then added black electrical tape on the raw edge to prevent injury.

Hagrid's garden is a piece of mass with bits of flowers and tiny pumpkins from a craft store floral pick hot glued on.

The forbidden forest is green pine trees from the same Christmas Village set and a large fuzzy black spider from the Halloween section.

Then I just had fun adding to it with a bag of pebbles, more sandpaper cutouts, moss sheet, spanish moss, "mossy rocks", etc. (The gravestones in Godric's Hallow are from Michaels.)

I made the cobblestones of Diagon Alley with a permanent marker on a strip of sandpaper. I later replaced it with a printout of cobblestones but either will work.

The final touches were printables of the hippogriff, moon, Durmsrang ship, the Hogwarts Express and ribbon banners. I made the cutouts stand by taping cardstock triangle to the backs of the pieces. I made the cobblestones of Diagon Alley with a permanent marker on a strip of sandpaper. I later replaced it with a printout of cobblestones on cardstock and taped together. Either method will work.

I labeled it all with printed ribbon banners.

Finally I printed this map on two sheets of paper and stuck it behind the village with ticky tack.

Unfortunately I had the finished photos on a phone that died so you'll have to image how they looked painted.

I can't wait to see how I can convert it for Christmas. I already bought a sheet of white flannel "snow" that I plan to lay over these same baking tin risers.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cheap DIY Kitty Playhouses and Beds

One of my goals this year is to make our home into a kitty fun playland while keeping a modern style. Our cat Sushi loves his soft sided carrier and sleeps in it often. I wanted to make some fun play houses like this cardboard one from Martha Stewart. It's clean, simple and elegant.

I also like the design, and price tag of this tube playhouse from Modern Cat. The carpet sample bed below is also their design and would be a great addition to the tops of the radiators, and speakers as extra cat perches.

both from Modern Cat

For those who like to sew, Simplicity has (had?) this pattern #9004 for a 2 tent patterns and this adorable fish house. I think it could be very elegant with jeweled eyes and in all blue/green or natural tones.

I also thought of slipcovering a dining room chair with a box slipcover and cutting a hole for the cat to climb in.

And finally, I want to pick up more carpet sample and doormats from the dollar store and use then to designate a cubby in the bookshelf and a cupboard in the kitchen just for the cat.

If I wasn't renting, I would for sure add wall shelves as cat stairs and fit them with carpet squares or tiles or rubber grip mats. I know cats like to be up high, so we're trying to think of ways to let hime use that space like on top of the TV (we have a big boxy one) and the refridgerator.

Any other ideas that you can think of?

Teacher Appreciation Ideas

A collection of craft ideas for teacher appreciation:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Year of Date Nights Wedding Gift

SPOLIER ALERT: Amanda and Tyler, I know you wanted to make each month a surprise so look no further ; )

Here's a projects I've made before for a bridal shower and am making again for a friend's wedding gift. A Year of Date Nights binder for the couple to be. The concept is that the binder includes twelve envelopes, one for each month of the year starting with the month after they are married. Inside each sealed envelope is an idea for a date night and some props or accessories to go along with it. The couple opens one envelope at the beginning of the month and then picks a day that month to go on their date. When the year is complete, the couple can refill the envelopes with things for next year.

This project is an accumulation of a lot of sources of inspiration and I hope I can give credit to all the right places. If I miss anything, please let me know in the comment line.

I chose a 2" binder from Target with clear pockets on the cover and spine so I could slip pictures and words inside but it's not necessary.

There are two ways to go on this one. You can go the spendy route and fill the envelopes with gift cards, concert tickets, etc. Or go the creative, and easier on your pocket route, and fill it with clever date ideas and fun props from the dollar store.

Here's what I did:

First glue the intro to the inside of the binder cover:

A Year’s Worth of Date Nights

After you begin to settle into married life you will find yourselves getting busy and filling each day with daily activities, but it’s important not to forget to make time for each other.

There are 12 envelopes here (one for each month of you first year of marriage) to give you ideas (and props) for one date night a month for just the two of you.

Simply open one envelope at the beginning of each month and schedule it in to that month.

I hope you enjoy your outings and if your first year goes well, you can reuse these envelopes next year! Fill it with gift cards, props, menus, gift certificates etc. to keep the romance alive and remind yourselves of how lucky you two are to have found each other!


First label each envelope with a month title and three hole punch them. Place them in the binder in order starting with the month after their wedding.

Gather supplies for 12 different date ideas. Write up a quick explanation with title and a list of the item's needed.

Here's my write-ups. Just add clipart.

Then fill each envelope with pros and the instructions. Make sure to sort the activities by weather each month. Most of the supplies, if not all, are from the dollar store. The rest were printed on paper or card stock. Here's a picture of each:

January: The Early Bird Gets The Bookworm

February: Mall Rats

March: A Very Merry Un-Birthday

April: Downtown Julie Brown

May: The Land Down Under

June: Grow Up

July: Vintage Romance

August: Garage Sale Smodge Smale

September: Night Games

October: Live Well, Love Much, LAUGH Often

November: Bowl Me Over

December: Secret Asian Man

And here are the printables and sources for additional props:


Addition: Here's the copy and pasted write-up pages as Google Docs still eludes me:

Mall Rats


Hipster Bingo Cards

Star Stickers

Mall Scavenger Hunt List

Pencil or Pen

A ride to the Mall and back

A Copy of “Mall Rats” (optional)

Not only teenagers can spend an entire day at the Mall doing nothing in particular.

Head on over to the closest or best mall in your area around happy hour for a food court and mall restaurant progressive meal. Each course of the meal must be eaten at a different venue. Try appetizers at the cheese store, a drink at a mall bar, salad in the food court, entre in a mall restaurant and dessert and coffee at a coffee shop.

In between courses, grab a bench for some people watching. Play Hipster Bingo. Decide on the rules in advance (4 corners, 4 in a row, cross, etc.) Use a different color star for each round.

You can also play Mall Scavenger Hunt. No cash required!

Still want something to do after dessert? Head home and watch a copy of “Mall Rats” on DVD while you check out your new pile of free mall goodies.

Night Games


Glow Bracelets

Star Gazing Cards

Picnic basket or bag

Picnic blanket

Assorted cheeses, fruit and chocolates

Blindfold (optional)

A secluded area with a view

How many times in your life have you ever taken a moment to watch a sunset? How about with the one you love?

After dinner, head to the grocery store for an assortment of desserts such as cheeses, chocolates and fruit for a sunset dessert picnic. Pop it all in a picnic basket with a knife and head to a high park with a view.

Lay out the blanket and enjoy your desserts up until sunset. To make it more interesting, take turns being blindfolded and try to guess which items you’re being fed.

Watch the sun set together in silence.

Then put the glow bracelets on and get out the star gazing constellation cards. Lay on your backs and see how many you two can find.

Before leaving, find the brightest star and each of you make a wish: “Star light, star bright, brightest star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. I wish…”

Live Well, Love Much



Sponge Capsule Prescriptions

Glass of Water

Printed Disguise Kit



Laughter is the best medicine.

Start at home with your comedy prescriptions. Watch the sponge capsules develop into little critters. You should each take three and think about places you can hide them for your spouse to find later. I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face.

Then off to the arcade or mall with your disguise kit! Cut out all the pieces and take your photos in the photo booth “Amelie” style. Make two sets. One for you and one to rip up and leave out for other to find.

Then off to the comedy club for jokes and drinks.

Grow Up


Childhood breakfast cerals



Hopscotch Kit with Sidewalk Chalk

Punch Balloons

Flavored Chapstick

Cash for a Slurpee

Hang out like you did as a kid again!

Wake up on Saturday and watch Sat morning cartoons while eating your favorite sugar laden childhood cereal.

Walk or bike to the gas station and buy a 44oz Slurpee or Freeze (2 straws) and head over to a nearby park.

While you’re there be completely childish. Have a bubble gum blowing contest. Learn the rules of hop scotch and play it. Use the chalk to write your initials on a tree or draw portraits of each other. Blow up the punch balloons and see who can do the most punches super fast without messing up.

Find a spot under a tree or behind the bushes and practice kissing with flavored chapstick.

Bowl Me Over


Money for clothes

Permanent Marker

Funny Socks

Bowling Drinking Game Rules & Variations

The couple that bowls together stays together.

First off to the local thrift store to pick out bowling outfits for each other. Look for bowling shirts or button down shirts in fun colors. Without washing it, put them on. Use the marker to write pet name for each other on the backs. Head to the bowling alley.

When you’re there, put on your fancy bowling socks and grab a couple of beers. Make sure to enter your pet names into the computer. Order some bar food and play the first round normally with the drinking game rules.

Then add a variation to make it harder and play again.

At the end of the night use the marker to write in the name area of the front of the shirt either “High Roller” or “Gutter Ball King/Queen”.

A Very Merry Un-Birthday


Large Cupcake or small Cake to share

Candles and lighter

Mini Birthday Gift Bags

$3 each

Tea and a tea service

Let’s get in our birthday suits!

First to the dollar store or dollar spot to shop for each other’s birthday gifts. Rules: can cost no more than $3 and must fit in one of the little gift bags. Be creative! Include items to use together or items that are symbolic of things you have or want to do.

Grab a big cupcake or a small cake to share from the bakery on the way home.

At home. Light the candle and sing happy birthday or Alice and Wonderland’s “A Very Merry Un-Birthday.” song.

Blow out the candle together then exchange gifts. Finish the night by watching Alice in Wonderland while you drink tea and eat cake.

“Change places!”

The Early Bird Gets the Bookworm


Money for coffee and sweets


Glue stick or tape

Pencil or Pen

A Digital Camera or Camera Phone

Bookstore Hunt Cards

Book it, Baby!

One morning, head to a good bookstore.

Using the hunt cards and a camera, take pictures of everything on the list. Take time to explain your finds and share jokes.

Reward yourselves with a coffee and sweet from the coffee shop area.

Then buy each other a book and dedicate it to them with one of the bookplates.

Downtown Julie Brown


Disposable or digital camera

Photo album

Around Town Scavenger Hunt list

Pen or Pencil

Around town or in the city, this scavenger hunt sure is witty!

Take your camera with you and head downtown, uptown or into town for this photo scavenger hunt.

When you’ve completed the list, got to a photo-printing kiosk and print them out.

Head to Subway or another favorite eatery and relive the fun while putting the photos and items in your photo album.

The Land Down Under


Zoo Bingo Card

Pen or Pencil

Trail Mix ingredients

Plastic Ziplocks or Tupperware

“G’Day Mate!”

Start at home making a batch of your favorite trail mix. Chocolate, pretzels, cereal, nuts, etc. Bag it up and head to the Zoo.

Using the bingo card. Try to find as many Australian animals as you can.

When you’re done, head to The Outback Steak House for dinner. Make sure you both order a Fosters (It’s Australian for beer!)

Finish off the night at home watching “Crocodile Dundee”.

Vintage Romance


A roll of pennies

Cash for a horse drawn carriage ride

Victorian Manners Cards.

Follow the old rules of courtship.

First head to the mall for an Old Fashioned Photo. Choose a Victorian style and make a romantic pose.

Then to downtown for a horse drawn carriage ride.

Feeling gentlemanly? Offer the lady a bouquet of roses from the market first.

On your ride, read each other the Victorian manners cards.

Have the carriage drop you off at a fountain and using the roll of pennies, make wishes while taking turns throwing them in.

Afterwards go to a fun store and buy each other a “token of love” trinkets, items of clothing and accessories are popular choices. Explain why you chose that item.

Secret Asian Man


Wok Tok Game

Take Out Box


Chinese or Japanese Take Out Menus

Kung Fu Movie

Everybody Wang Chung Tonight!

Start by picking out a fun Kung Fu Movie like “Crazy Kung Fu” (campy), a Jackie Chan film (funny), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (Dramatic), or “Kill Bill” (violent).

Then order your favorite Asian delivery food.

While you’re waiting for it, cut up the strips of Wok Tok and put them in the take out box. Take turns pulling them out and guessing the answers. Put the ones you can’t get aside and at the end, you can check the answer sheet.

Then curl up with your food and movie.

Garage Sale

Smodge Smale


Garage Sale hunt list

Pen or Pencil

Permanent Marker

List of nearby garage sales

Using Craigslist or the newspaper, make a list of garage sales to visit (times and addresses) on the blank garage sale card.

Hop in the car and start cruising the neighborhood.

Use the hunt list to see how many items you can find.

Who knows, you may find a super find for your little love nest. If you do, make sure to use the permanent marker to mark it “Date Night” and the date.

Dollar Store Magic Props

At Red Bicycle Parties, I sometimes do comedy magic shows and the Dollar Tree is a great place for do-it-yourself magic props. Here's some of my great finds:

Cups and Balls

The knitted balls were $4 at a magic store and the rest is from Dollar Tree. The plastic tumblers nestle perfectly and came in packs of three. I like how the blue contrasts with the red balls. The clown nose and glasses came in a kit in the kids section. I used the clown nose as a ball that grew bigger and the glasses to help locate the invisible fourth ball. The fake apple is for the surprise finish! Coffee cups and other glasses will work too. Change the fake fruit to a lemon or lime to fit under smaller cups.

Total Cost: $7

The Svengali Deck

I suggest buying two and using the second one for disposable force cards that you can make appear in oranges or rip up or sign a name on etc.

Total Cost $2

Manilla Envelopes

The half sheet size are perfect for mental predictions, producing colored silks or cut and restored tricks.

Cost 3-6 for $1 (depending on size)

Jumbo Coins and Bills

I use the jumbo quarter in my magic change bag with a regular quarter and kids are amazed to see the quarter grow in size. The bills and coins can also be used to do stage size money magic. I am trying to learn how to do coin juggling like this guy below too. And here's a cute riddle/gag about coins that you can use the jumbo coins with:

  • For the Penny, Nicholas and Dime Routine you’ll need a penny, a nickel and a dime.
  • Present your left hand palm up, fingers together, to create a table for your effect.
  • Spread the coins out in your palm, heads up, in a line. Place the penny nearest your finger tips, the nickel in the middle, and the dime nearest your wrist. This ordering will move the energy of the game directed toward you as you do the pointing.
  • Now say and do the following:
  • “Ben’s mother had three children: Penny, Nicholas, and …”
  • When you say “Penny”, point at the penny.
  • When you say “Nicholas”, point at the nickel.
  • Then point at the dime and keep quiet. She’ll feel the conversational lead and attempt to fill in the verbal blank.
  • They might say something like, “Dime-o”, or “Dime-us” or some other name that isn’t correct.
  • Go ahead and stop reading this passage for a moment, and figure out the right answer for yourself.
  • Got it?
  • The third child’s name is Ben because this whole game started by saying “Ben’s mother had three children…”

Total $2

Kids Magic Kits

These kits contain cheap magic tricks made of paper and plastic but it you are well versed in magic tricks, you know which ones can be recreated to create stage size illusions (like cups and balls!). Simple instructions are included. Check out the little kits and start making props. You can use dollar store stuff to create large versions. One of my kits had a tiny purple plastic vase that you emptied of water and it kept refilling itself. I'm thinking I can make an excellent version of this for adult magic shows using a martini shaker! Not all the tricks in the kits are good. Most are childish or just lame but there's gems in there! Nice quality ones like the metal rings can be used for pocket magic. (Caution: one of my kits had no instructions!) The kids section also has great magic item every so often like these magic tutorial DVDs and this magic appearing top hat. The hat is cheap and would be better for your young assistant than yourself but the concept is great and can be adapted to a wire rimmed witch hat for Halloween too.

Total $1 each

Magic Wands

I have lots of magic wands. I have a regular wands, breakaway wand, appearing wand, rising wand, etc. But sometimes I like having special magic wands for themed parties. Dollar tree has princess wands for princess parties (party favor section) fairy wands (dress up section) and glow stick wands (kids section or halloween). Replace the handles with more durable or longer ones if desired or give one to each child to wave during tricks. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for something like a wizards or Harry Potter wand and a Mad Scientists wand. I also made a paper magic wand that rolls up to look like a black wand with white tips. There's magic tricks inside for the children to do. I use little black hair binders from the hair and beauty section to keep them rolled up.

Total $1 each or 6 for $1

Bandanas and Scarves

Perfect as is for any scarf tricks you want to do or for covering things up during a trick. Get fancy and make your own Color Changing Hankies, Haunted Hanky or other.

Total $1 each or 2 for $1

Decks of Cards

I've bought lots of decks of cards from the dollar store. I use some as is for card tricks. One became a fortune telling deck. One got stapled together for a gag electric deck. There's a two pack of red backed and blue backed cards. Use this for a color changing card trick. Keep your eyes open for mini and jumbo playing cards too for other card illusions. I got a jumbo deck at the magic store for $5 and I think Party City has 4 packs of mini decks of card in their favors section. I used three of my jumbo cards for a mind reading trick and saved the jumbo version of my Svengalli Deck's force card for future use.

Total $1 each or 2 for $1

Gag Bag Dog Routine.

The dollar store had all these great props to use for the Gag Bag routine where you're trying to find your dog in the bag (it keeps squeaking) but each time you turn the bag inside out, you only find another one of his belongings. At the end you find him in the zippered pocket as a deflated twisting balloon that you twist into of course. I chose the rubber bone but the raw hide ones would work too. I just thought it might get icky.

Themed Props

Lots of small favor items can be used in conjunction with other illusions to make it thematic. I use gold rings from a pack of 50 wedding ring favors with one of my rope tricks. I can use plastic pacifiers for a baby shower or pirate compasses for a Pirate party.

Total $1 each

Magician's Assistant

My kitty loves the little bunny I found at the dollar store but I planned on using him as my little assistant and make him appear and disappear during the show.

Total $1

With a bit of creativity a magician can have a lot of fun at the dollar store!