D.I.Y. Circus Marquee Sign {Tutorial}

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This past weekend I had a circus/carnival themed party at my house. When I first started planning the party, I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of money to spend on decor, but I needed to have some big spectacular pieces if I wanted my house to look anything like a circus.

Luckily, a trip to the dollar store for some plastic tablecloths fixed my circus tent situation, but what is a circus without its sign?!

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Marquee letters and signs can range anywhere from $30-$40 per letter and into the hundreds for whole signs! I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t going to spend that much on a decor item for some silly party I’m having for friends. It’s just not going to happen.

As I do with many things I can’t afford, I make them. While oftentimes making an item can end up costing more than the store bought item, in this case, it’s just the opposite!

Most of the items for this project can be found around the house or easily bought for little money.

Supply List

  • Poster board
  • Letter stencils
  • Foam core board
  • A string of LED lights (length depends on how many letters you make)
  • Ping pong balls
  • A drill with a bit
  • A box cutter/ X-acto knife
  • String
  • Pencil/pen
  • Glossy spray paint
  • Hot glue gun/ hot glue sticks
  • Masking tape
  • Ruler/yardstick

First you want to make the letter stencils. Find the right font for your sign and print the letters out at the correct size for tracing onto the foam core board. I used Freak Show font because it had fat wide letters that would be easy to fit the ping pong balls into and it looked like a circus font. Just remember, if you use a fancier font like I did, this project will take longer to edge with the poster board.

If you want your letters to be bigger than a sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper you can use blockposters.com to break your letter image onto other sheets of paper and then cut and tape them together.

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Once you have your letter stencils cut out, trace them onto the foam core. Since my sign was relatively small, I only needed one sheet of foam core. Cut out the letters with a sharp X-Acto knife. A sharp craft knife is important because you won’t have to push down as hard and the edges will be smoother. Also make sure to put something under the foam core such as a self healing cutting mat or a piece of cardboard, so you don’t cut into something you care about.

At this time, use your drill to make 1/4″ holes in the foam core where you want the lights to push through. If you need larger holes, you can use a larger bit or stretch the holes by pushing a thick pen or marker through the hole. I had to use the pen trick, because I didn’t have any larger drill bits!

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Next, cut 3″ strips of poster board. I just cut one long strip and then cut it down as I figured out the lengths I needed. I also drew myself a guide line about 1″ in on one side so that I knew where to glue the strip to the edge of the foam core.IMG_5457

To measure the lengths of poster board, take a piece of string and run it along one continuous side. Cut the string to the correct length and then measure the string for the length to cut the poster board to.

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Hot glue the strips of poster board to the edge of the foam core along your guide line. Make sure to put the shorter width of poster board to the back, so that that there is a larger lip around the letter in the front. You don’t want the ping pong ball lights to stick out farther than your edging. Where the strips meet, to create a smooth edge, place a piece of masking tape across it to seal the edges together. This will make the poster board look seamless once painted.

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Next, spray paint your letters on all visible sides. I used a nice deep glossy red paint. Glossy paint looks best because it gives it a nice finish that looks more like real metal marquee signs.

In between coats of paint (you’ll want to do several light coats until it’s fully covered) prep your ping pong balls. I used this bulk order of Ping pong balls from Amazon. They are not really made for playing the game because they are made from thin cheap plastic, but they are perfect for our uses. I sliced an “X” onto the back of each ball and set them to the side.

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Once the letters are painted and dried, decide how you’re going to string your lights through the holes. Do you want it to plug into the wall from the left or the right? Will each light fit into the next hole, or will you have to skip one to make it work? I ended up getting a 100 ct. light string and only needed about 50 lights. Since I had extra lights, I had a lot of room to make it work. As you place a light through the foam core to the front, pop a ball onto the light through the “X”. Sometimes to string to the next letter, I had to skip over some lights. I ended up with about 40 lights too many, so I shoved them behind the letters on my mantel to create a glow behind the letters. Do what works best for you.

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In the end, the marquee lights looked great in my living room circus tent! I also strung a second string of ping pong ball lights along the ceiling for added lighting decor.

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If you want to spend a little more money you could get the nice 25 ct. glass globe light strings they sell as places like Target, but your marquee would probably be heavier and more delicate.

I made my sign for about $26 total! Of course the total for your sign will vary depending on how big your sign is, how many letters it has, and what materials you already have around your house. But I think it’s safe to say, that your sign will come in way, way under the price of a regular marquee sign. Good luck with your project, and leave questions in the comment section below if you are unsure of something or need help.

For more about my circus party, and the tasty desserts I made for it, stay tuned this week!

Here’s an easy image to pin on Pinterest!

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The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Just in Time for the Finale! #review #giveaway

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a Mad Men fan for years. As difficult of a time as the 1960s (and now ’70s) were, Mad Men has always made this decade seem so sexy and cool. I’ve had a long time love affair with mid-century decor and watching Mad Men is like TV porn for me.  The costumes are so specific and structured, the sets are so stylistic and unique, and although the food of the ’60s isn’t featured on the show as much (outside of alcohol, so, so much alcohol), the food of the ’60s was also very interesting.

When I find a cookbook from this era, I get really excited. The colorful, yet desaturated photography of the time made the food look almost plastic, and in some cases unappetizing, but I still feel a sort of whimsy when I see the recipes from so long ago.

One book that captures both the recipes of the time and the show Mad Men is The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin. This book delves into the food and drink that appears on the show. Featuring recipes from some of the restaurants and bars mentioned on Mad Men, and cookbooks of the time, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook gives us a nice sample of of the cocktails, entrees, and desserts of the ’60s. Many of the recipes are paired with a show reference, history of the dish, or a suggestion for a character from the show. This is a cookbook that informs you of the past while teaching you the recipes. I love that!

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While there is a lovely section of full-color pictures from some select recipes, this cookbook is more focused on print information than photographs of the final products. What that means is the book is packed with more than 70 recipes that represent mid-century eating and drinking and the stories that go with them. Speaking of drinking, over 25 of those recipes are cocktails alone, which isn’t a surprise when you consider alcohol is one of the most consistently prevalent things on Mad Men.

One of the recipes I tried from the cookbook was the Manhattan. I love Old Fashioned cocktails, just as Don Draper does, but since I’ve had those before, I decided to try the Manhattan. It’s a similar cocktail, using whiskey and bitters, but with less ingredients and not nearly as sweet.

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 Manhattan

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Maraschino cherry, for garnish

Pour whiskey, vermouth, and bitters into a mixing glass with ice cubes. Stir well.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry.

**recipe reprinted with permission


This version of the cocktail is from the Oak Bar on Central Park South in New York where Don and Roger Sterling stop for an after-work drink in season 1 episode 7.  One thing that makes this cookbook unique, especially for a Mad Men fan, is that it points you to the episode that the drink or dish appeared, or could have appeared, in the show.

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I also wanted to try one of the desserts, since this is a dessert blog after all. I settled on the Date Nut Bread. This recipe was adapted from Pat Nixon’s recipe that appeared in the “Hints from Heloise” newspaper column in 1961.

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Date Nut Bread

Yield: 1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces pitted dates, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar**
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to a 350*F. Grease and flour an 8 x 4 x 2 1/2- inch loaf pan.
  2. Place dates in a large bowl. Add baking soda to boiling water and pour over dates in bowl. Set aside and let mixture stand while mixing other ingredients.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well. Strain water from the date mixture into batter. Add flour and beat well. Add nuts, dates, and vanilla and combine until all ingredients are well mixed.
  4. Pour the mixture into greased loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of bread comes out clean.

Notes

**You can substitute 2 tablespoons of brown sugar for 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

recipe reprinted with permission

http://shaneskillercupcakes.com/2015/05/the-unofficial-mad-men-cookbook-just-in-time-for-the-finale-review-giveaway/

This recipe was delicious! I’ve never had date nut bread before, but I’ll definitely be having it more in the future because it’s tasty and versatile. It’s great in the morning for breakfast with some eggs, a simple snack in the afternoon with some tea, or even as a dessert at night. I could literally eat this all day long!

The blurb before the recipe that explains why this recipe was chosen for the book fascinated me. Even though this particular recipe wasn’t available to the public until after the first time date nut bread was mentioned in an episode of Mad Men, the authors got into the mind of Betty Draper and decided that when this recipe was published, she definitely would have seen the article and used it in her own kitchen. That’s the beauty of this cookbook. It’s not only a history book and a recipe book, it’s also an examination of all the Mad Men characters we’ve held so dear for the past 8 years.

The Mad Men series finale airs this Sunday, May 17th at 10/9c. This cookbook would be great for a finale party you might be having.

If you’d like to win a copy of your own, enter my giveaway for one below!

Giveaway

To Enter: Fill out the mandatory entry below with your name and email. Extra optional entries will be displayed once the mandatory one is completed.

Rules: Open to U.S. residents 18 or older. Giveaway will end at 11:59pm PST on 05/18/15. For complete Official Rules click here.

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Cherry Amaretto Cordial Cake Hearts

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Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and one thing that goes well with romantic holidays is chocolate and alcohol. These take a day or two to prep for, so if you want to make them for Valentine’s Day this year, better get to it (okay, okay, it’s my fault I didn’t get these posted sooner)! You can make them for any time of the year though so don’t fret if you don’t have time to do them this week.

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There are a few things you’ll need to make these. You’ll need a silicone mold of some kind that has slightly deep wells (I used a heart treat mold), some melting chocolates in your favorite colors or flavors, chocolate cake mix, canned frosting, maraschino cherries, cherry topping, pie filling or cherry jelly, and some amaretto.

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The amaretto doesn’t have to be the expensive kind. I got the cheaper stuff and it worked well for this recipe. For the cherries I chose maraschino cherries because they are bright and sweet. Fresh cherries could work too, but would change the flavor a bit. The cherry topping I found actually tasted more like fresh cherries and was dark in color but it went great with all of the other ingredients.

The first thing you want to do, is pull the maraschino cherries out of their syrup, drain, and dry them a bit. I just rolled them around in a couple paper towels. Pop them into an empty jar and pour the amaretto over them. Let them soak for 24-48 hours.

On the day you make the treats, bake the chocolate cake first and let it cool. While it cools, make your cherry sauce by adding 1/4 cup of cherry topping (strained of fruit pieces) with 1/4 cup of amaretto, set aside. If you’d like to omit the alcohol, don’t soak the cherries in it and only use the cherry topping for the sauce. If you’re using cherry jelly and need to thin it a bit, mix a little cherry syrup into it instead of amaretto.

Prepare your silicone mold by melting the chocolate/candy melts and coating just the bottom and sides of each heart well. The back of a spoon and a pastry brush helped me get it covered. Make sure there are no holes! Freeze the mold for 5 minutes. I suggest placing the mold on a baking sheet to keep it from bending.

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Once the cake is cool, crumble it up in a bowl and mix in 1/2 cup of frosting until it is completely combined. It should have a consistency of clay. It’s a messy job, but I like to mix it with my hands, I find it easier to combine this way.

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Next take the mold out of the freezer and spoon 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the cherry amaretto sauce and one cherry into each heart well. Close up each treat with a small piece of cake clay so that the sauce does not spill out. It can be tricky to get the cake in there without squishing the sauce out too. Just work with it until it’s all covered and no sauce leaks out. Leave a small space on top.

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In the small top space spread more melted chocolate to seal the sauce and cake inside. Make sure to cover it well or sauce could drip out once it’s set. Chill the mold in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes so the chocolate sets.

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Pop the chilled treats out of the mold and you’re done! If you want to decorate the tops of the hearts, spread a little melted chocolate on and then sprinkle with decor. I tried adding the sprinkles in the bottom of the wells before I filled them with chocolate but it didn’t work out. The chocolate oozed around all the sprinkles and made a messy looking treat.

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These are a bit messy to eat so make sure to have a napkin when you bit into them!

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The cherry amaretto sauce soaks into the cake and makes everything taste awesome together. They also remind me of those liqueur chocolates or cherry cordial candy.

Cherry Amaretto Cordial Cake Hearts

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 55 hours

Yield: Makes 24 treats

Serving Size: 1 treat

Ingredients

  • Amaretto (I used about a 1/3 of a 750 mL bottle for the whole recipe)
  • Jar of Maraschino cherries
  • 1/4 cup cherry topping, pie filling, or jelly
  • 2-3 bags of candy melts in any colors or flavors
  • 1 box of chocolate cake mix (and any ingredients it calls for)
  • 1 can of frosting (white or chocolate works)
  • Silicone heart mold
  • Optional:
  • Candy sprinkles/other decorations

Instructions

    1-2 days ahead of time:
  1. One to two days before you plan to make the treats, drain and dry the maraschino cherries and put them back into the jar. If you want to save the cherry syrup, put the cherries in a small/medium mason jar instead. Pour the amaretto over the cherries until the jar is full and let them soak 24-48 hours.
  2. On the day of:
  3. Bake the chocolate cake according to the box directions. Let it cool
  4. While the cake is baking, prepare the cherry sauce. Mix 1/4 cup cherry topping with 1/4 cup amaretto. If the topping has pieces of fruit, strain the sauce out and use 1/4 cup of the sauce without the fruit bits.
  5. Melt the chocolate/candy melts according to package directions and spoon into heart mold. Use a pastry brush and spoon to cover the bottom and sides of the mold well. Make sure there are not holes or open spots.
  6. Once the wells are covered in chocolate, freeze it for about 5 minutes for it to set up. I suggest placing the mold on a baking sheet to keep it from bending.
  7. When the cake is cool, crumble it up and mix 1/2 cup of frosting into it. It should have a moist clay-like consistency. Chill briefly in the fridge while you prepare the heart wells.
  8. Take the mold out of the freezer and spoon 1/2-1 teaspoon of cherry amaretto sauce and one cherry into each heart well.
  9. Remove the cake clay from the fridge and place a small piece of cake on top of each heart well, making sure not to push the sauce out of the top. Experiment with how much cake you need in each well so that the sauce is trapped inside and there is a small amount of room left on the top.
  10. To close up each treat, remelt some of your left over chocolate and cover the cake, making sure to seal up all of the edges.
  11. One more time, chill the cakes in the fridge for a few minutes until the chocolate sets.
  12. Pop out each treat. If you want to decorate the tops, spread a little melted candy on top and add sprinkles*.

Notes

*I do not recommend putting decor sprinkles into the treat molds before adding the melted chocolate. The chocolate ends up covering up the sprinkles and looks messy when they are popped out of the wells.

Total time includes the 24-48 hours for soaking amaretto cherries. Day-of total time is about 3-4 hours.

http://shaneskillercupcakes.com/2015/02/cherry-amaretto-cordial-cake-hearts/

Have a great Valentine’s Day! Let me know if you tried these treats and if they were a hit.

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Product Spotlight: Tiny Hands Jewelry

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Lately I’ve been posting a lot about Tiny Hands Jewelry on my Facebook page and you may be wondering why I’ve been obsessed with it so much recently.  I got the opportunity to become a Tiny Hands Ambassador this past month and I couldn’t be happier. What this means is that I can bring you Tiny Hands jewelry at a discounted rate, and in return I’ll get a small commission from each sale made through my Shane’s Killer Cupcakes Facebook page. Keep an eye out for future sales! All the money I make from this adventure will be funneled back into the blog, and I’ll be able to offer more giveaways in the future, so it’s a win-win for all of us!

I came across Tiny Hands jewelry a couple of years ago and fell in love with it immediately. All of the adorable artistry is thanks to Mei Pak, the founder of Tiny Hands, and her assistants. You may have seen her work before and not even realized it. She’s had her jewelry featured in many lifestyle magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray and InTouch Magazine, and even Amy Poehler’s character Leslie Knope wears her maple scented waffle necklace on NBC’s Parks and Recreation.

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I also own the maple scented waffle necklace and it smells and looks as good as you can imagine. I’m a huge fan of Parks and Recreation, so I just had to have the same necklace that Leslie has (I’m also about as crazy for breakfast as she is too).

tinyhands-owner-mei-lowresBack in 2006, Mei set out to create a product that combined quality with sweet, feminine charm. What she’s ended up with is a lovely collection of delectable scented food jewelry that comes in necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets and even customized pieces. All of her polymer clay pieces are created in the USA at her Minnesota studio. Do you like desserts and comfort food? If you do, then Mei will have just the piece for you! Currently she offers miniature versions of your favorite foods (cupcakes, ice cream, bonbons, donuts, popcorn, corn dogs, bacon, etc) which can be worn daily or even saved for a special occasion. The quality and expertise imbued into each piece is remarkable.

As you know, I LOVE sweets, but one thing that always keeps me from enjoying them is those darn calories! With Tiny Hands deliciously scented jewelry, now you can have your sweets without all those pesky calories. Sure, you can’t eat them (I wouldn’t recommend it) but when you’re craving a dessert maybe just looking and sniffing some of Tiny Hands jewelry will suffice! And it’s zero calories! Whoo!

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Tiny Hands jewelry is perfect for gift giving. Each piece is packaged in a lovely gift box. When I bought my piece last year, I was surprised how pretty the packaging was. It was like a surprise gift I received in the mail even though I was expecting it to arrive!

Take a look at her full collection. It just makes me hungry looking at it! For just a sample of her beautiful jewelry take a look below:

In the coming weeks/months, I’ll be running flash sales featuring pieces of Tiny Hands jewelry marked down 10%-15%. I want to offer you discounts on the pieces you want to buy, so let me know which pieces you love in the comments and maybe you’ll find them on sale soon!

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Mini Birthday in a Box

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Birthdays can feel a little stale as we get older. I know I don’t look forward to my birthday with the same excitement and wonder I had when I was a child. And birthdays are even less exciting when you don’t have the ones you love with you to celebrate them. That’s why I put together this mini birthday in a box for my boyfriend when his birthday rolled around earlier this month and I couldn’t join him for it.

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The BF had to relocate for work about 1250 miles from where I live and seeing him has gotten a little difficult. It didn’t help that his move also had to happen right before the holidays and we were apart for about 3 holidays and his birthday in the past 2 months. But to make him feel as much like he is at home (and to keep my mind off the fact that he’s MOVED 1250 MILES AWAY!), I’ve been sending him little care packages whenever I could. One of them was this mini party in a box for his birthday.

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The small 5in x 5in x 5in box includes:

  • Mini birthday banner
  • Birthday pirate badge
  • Tiny party hat
  • Balloon
  • Jar of candy
  • Confetti with instructions on how to distribute it
  • Candles (including ones that remind him of his “old age”)
  • Polymer clay cake and an itty bitty pastry box
  • Small wrapped birthday present
  • An “It’s Your Birthday!” sign that I repurposed from a bookmark

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The clay cake was a new area for me. I make real cakes all the time but making a miniature cake from clay was a totally different experience. I watched a few tutorials to get the hang of working with polymer clay for tiny food, but it was still much harder than I expected! I have new respect for the adorable clay food jewelry I see on Etsy and Tiny Hands Food Jewelry. The pastry box was much easier. I just found a cake box template online and then downsized it and cut it out of pink card stock. Even the glue marks that were left on the paper looked like authentic grease spots!

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For the mini party hat, I made a circle by tracing a bowl onto the patterned paper I wanted to use. I cut it out and then cut it in half. Next I wrapped the half circle into a cone and glued it together. When the glue was dry, I hot glued a sparkly pom onto the top. I attached the strings to the sides by tying them to small holes I punched on either side of the hat.

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Luckily, my boyfriend puts up with all my crafty projects and may even enjoy them.

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Do you do anything special for holidays or birthdays for friends and family who live far away? I’d love to hear some of your ideas for care packages!

****Disclosure: I am a Tiny Hands Ambassador.  I make a small commission from Tiny Hands sales made from my Facebook page.**** 
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