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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Titanic Halloween Costume

In August of this past year 2018, my Darling Son (who was still 5 at the time), was leaning against me on the couch watching Spongebob Squarepants when I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween.

"Captain Smith," he answered instantly, eyes still glued to the tv.

"Uh, who, honey?" I fumbled, trying to figure out who he meant.

"You know, the captain of the Titanic," he said, snuggling closer. "I can wear a Titanic ship the same way I wore my Gravedigger costume."


Backing up, I should probably mention two things. First, my son loves the Titanic. He has countless models and toys, wall art, memorabilia, and books. He knows everything about it. We even revolved our vacation this year around seeing the Titanic exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in D.C. where we saw, amongst other things, artifacts like an actual deck chair from the Titanic, Madeleine Astor's life jacket, and John Jacob Astor's pocket watch.

Someone on the Titanic sat on this!

Madeline Astor's life vest

John Jacob Astor's pocket watch

Second, for Halloween two years ago, my son wanted to be a Monster Jam monster truck driver, Gravedigger's driver specifically. I found a Gravedigger driver jumpsuit easily online and, brimming with confidence, told him that I could make a truck for him to wear. After all, I had Pinterest on my side.

How hard could it be?

The answer is I'll never know, because luckily Gravedigger is an incredibly popular truck, and at the 11th hour I found a foam truck that had been commercially produced, and I paid a ridiculous amount for it in my relief. I might have forgotten to mention to DS that I bought it as opposed to making it, but hey, he never specifically asked, amirite?

Fast forward to this past year. "Uh, okay honey. Mommy will do her best," I told DS. Hopeful, I set out to Google. Titanic is incredibly popular too, maybe this costume already exists?

Nope. Nope it does not.

What I did find were several pics of homemade costumes that various industrious parents had handcrafted for their kids. I showed the pics to my husband, who quirked an eyebrow at me but said nothing. This is a man, after all, who has seen me struggle to draw a stick figure.

No matter. Halloween was still far away. I had tons of time. I set about collecting "Titanic-size boxes" at work, and berating anyone who threw a big box in the dumpster before I had a chance to look at it. Over the next few weeks, we had accumulated a sizable collection of large boxes which I stashed in the garage, earning me Another Eyebrow from my husband.

I found my son a passable Navy uniform on Amazon that more or less looked like the pictures, and bought him a little adhesive beard and toy pocket watch. Making progress! Feeling good! I've never assembled or spray painted anything in my life, but so what? Can't be hard. Oodles of time.

September came before I knew it. Boxes were still in the garage. No paint had been bought. Really, no anything for making the ship had been bought. At this point, the Titanic was like Schrodinger's Cat: as long as I didn't start trying to make it, there was no tangible proof that I couldn't.
Suddenly, September was gone. October. Was. Here.


I have a very technically demanding job in a STEM field, but I am painfully bad at starting tasks. So I started small. With a list. I hate starting tasks, but I love making lists of tasks. Go figure. So, I listed out the must-have features of the Titanic, and it looked something like this:
  • Big black sides
  • Red bottom trim
  • White stacks of whatever on top with windows
  • Funnels
  • Anchors
  • Propellers
  • Then the nice-to-haves:
  • Lettering
  • Some sort of railing
  • Smoke (for the smokestacks)
  • Details like windows on lower levels
The Titanic had one central propeller with 4 blades, and 2 flanking propellers with 3 blades. A Google search later, and I found clip art of propellers that looks roughly right, so I printed them on paper, and then used that as a template for tracing onto cardboard:

3 propellers! Hey, I made something! I rested on these laurels for almost a full week...

I had to just guess at the size here, because I literally had nothing else built, nor did I have any idea how to build anything!

Then, I went shopping:

  • From Michael's, I bought two miniature metal anchors about 1.5" tall each, and some bronze acrylic paint. I also bought a variety of gold craft adhesive letters.
  • From Staples, I bought two white 24" mailing tubes with a 2" diameter for the funnels (I also bought 3" diameter tubes because I wasn't sure which size would be best, but they were way too big).
  • I also grabbed 3 FedEx Priority Mail small boxes.
  • From Home Depot, I bought this adhesive-backed Velcro tape.
  • From Amazon, I bought this White Star crew patch to add to DS' Navy costume, and after reading a blog post about the likely color of Titanic's funnel (a color called "White Star Buff" which apparently had two different hues pre- and post-1920), purchased this spray paint for the funnels along with glossy white. I also bought this dollhouse picket fence because I thought I might be able to make a railing from it.
  • Walmart was the real jackpot. I went to the store for brads, which I wanted to use to attach the propellers and anchors. While I was there, I spied this 20x30" black foam poster board, and bought 4 pieces. I also bought several sheets of 18x24" white foam poster board, as well as a few sheets of red (not foam) poster board. The white foam board had a faint iridescent grid pattern that came in handy later. I also grabbed a yellow tape. I also got some tools and peripheral items: low-temp glue gun, double-sided Scotch tape, an exacto knife (a ceramic one which I regretted, more on that later), 2 long rulers (one was clear plastic 18"), a geometry compass for drawing circles, and a variety of black Sharpie markers of varying thickness.

The first thing I did was paint the 3 propellers that I had cut from cardboard. I also painted the metal anchor charms. The latter was far more difficult, as the paint I bought wasn't made for metal, but I flipped them over and painted the textured back, which helped the paint adhere better. I'm not sure I saved myself any time using the charms, it probably would have been just as easy making anchors using the same method I used for the propellers.

The main body of the ship was made from the 4 black foam boards. I cut the red poster board into 4 inch strips, and used double sticky tape to adhere them to the bottom of each board. Because the red board was 6" shorter than the black, I also cut 4 additional 4x6" pieces and taped them into these gaps.

I realized that I would need to have some white on the black boards as well, so I decided to cut 2" strips from the white foam boards. This is where I regretted my ceramic exacto knife, because my cutting edges were sloppy. Luckily this was less obvious on the finished ship. And as with the red, because these white boards were only 24" long, I had to cut 4 additional pieces, this time 2x6". For the white strips, I used the compass with a fine tip Sharpie in it to trace 1" circles to look like circular porthole windows. The centers of the circles (where I placed the needle) were 2" apart from each other.

Future portholes
Then, I filled all of the circles in with black marker. Once the white strips were dry, I double-side taped them to the tops of each of the 4 boards. I used the yellow tape to cover the seam between the bottom of the white strip and the black board. Now, I had 4 black boards lined with red and white, with a narrow yellow stripe. I decided to use 1 board each folded in half for the bow and stern, and one each for the sides. For the bow and stern folds, I sliced through the red and white pieces I adhered, as well as the top layer of black poster board and foam down the center of the board, but left the bottom layer of poster board (used for the inner edge facing the inside of the boat) intact so it would make a sharper fold.

I chose the piece I wanted for the stern, and used a brad to attach the center propeller to the fold's seam. I flanked this propeller with the smaller ones on either side.

On the bow piece, I used the gold adhesive letters to spell Titanic on either side (later I re-enforced this with cellophane tape to prevent peeling). I punched through the black board on either side with the anchors. Then, I took the mini picket fence and carefully pushed it into the top of the black foam up to the bottom wire. This made holes in the foam which meant that I could easily remove the fence and put it back again as I built various other pieces.

The fence pushed into the black foam

Next, I start figuring out how to make the interior of the ship. First, I cut each mailing tube in half (12" long after the cut), intending to have the side with the cap be the top of each funnel. I spray painted the funnels with the yellow paint. Sure, I painted the grass yellow too, but I got it done. I let those dry for a few days while I tackled the upper decks. My vision in my head was to build a structure at the bow and stern that suggested the deck and the upper part of the ship, while leaving the center open for my son to stand in.

As a support structure, I took the 3 still-flat FedEx boxes, and spray painted one white. After it was dry, I cut all three down the center crosswise in half -- since each box is 12.25"x11", each half was ~6"x11". For the two halves that were painted white, I used the compass to trace two 2" diameter circles per half, which I cut out of the top part of the box only, with my exacto knife. These holes were for the funnels, so they could be secured via the cutout of the first box, and stabilized with the other two boxes underneath. I then assembled the 6 halves into two stacks 3 halves high each, alternating the cut and sealed ends, with each spray painted half as the top of each stack. The stacks were held together with the tape.

I then cut 4 pieces of white board to cover the front and sides of each stack (so 8 pieces total). The front and back faces of the boxes were 11"x5" so I cut 4 of those pieces. I cut the sides of the stacks to extend little longer than the 6" length of the boxes, at 9"x5".

For the front and two side pieces per stack, I used the Sharpie and a ruler to draw windows and shadows to approximate what I was seeing in pictures of the Titanic. When I did this, I laid the 3 pieces per stack in a row with the front piece in the center, because I wanted to create the illusion that the windows and awnings were wrapping around from the front to either side. I used glue to put the front and sides on each stack once they were dry. The markings didn't line up perfectly, but they were close enough.

Once the funnels were dry, I used the Sharpie to color each one black for 2 inches from the top. If I had more time, paint would have looked better, but I was loathe to buy anything else or take any more time. Once those were dry, I put glue around the rim of each and fitted them down into the holes of each stack, 2 per. I glued cotton balls into the two funnels of the bow stack, and the first funnel of the stern stack (because only 3 of the Titanic's funnels were functional, the 4th was there to make the ship look more symmetrical).

I then attached a back piece to each stack to cover the cut boxes from view. I attached each of these with a piece of mailing tape across the top so that the flap could open like a hinge (more on that in a minute).

The day before Halloween, I stumbled upon an illustrated cutaway of the ship's interior online that seemed made for the dimensions of the costume. Even though no one would see it but my son, I added it to the interior face of each stack as a last-minute detail. So, I ended up with 2 stacks like this:

The two stacks
Looking down from the top, you can see where the poster board has been glued on the sides

This is the illustrated cutaway of Titanic's interior with the Grand Staircase running down the center -- DS loves this detail!
The hinged back
  I needed a good way to support the stacks, so I took my bow piece, and traced the interior onto the white board, and cut out a roughly triangle shape that I glued into the bow like a deck. This piece had a part that extended as a rectangle towards the body of the ship, as a platform to support the stack. This extended part was fitted to the shape of the ship but not glued in (important detail). I then did the same with the stern, custom fitting a white board to that piece.

The "deck" platform. It is only glued to the bow up to the seam with the side of the boat
The stack Velcro taped to the deck

Around this time, I started to realize that my life would be a lot easier if I could make the stacks detachable. In fact, the more parts that could reversible be taken off, the better.

Enter the Velcro tape.

I used the tape to adhere the stacks to the decks, which is why the hinged back of the stack came in handy - I could flip it up and it gave me a way to grip the stack to get it off the deck without accidentally yanking the white board off of the sides.

Instead of permanently glueing all of the black boards together, I decided to use the Velcro tape again.
The tape came as 1.5" wide, the hook and loop sides already pressed together, with adhesive backing on each. I cut 4 long strips, each almost 20" long to cover the majority of each seam between the black boards. Then, for each seam, I peeled the hook and loop pieces apart, and sliced the hook piece (the hard side of the Velcro) in half lengthwise, to get two 3/4" hook pieces. I took the adhesive off of the hook pieces, and applied them to either side of the seam between the black boards. Then, I was able to take the loop strip (still 1.5" across) and span both sides of the seam, binding them together in a reversible way. I left the back paper on the loop strip so that it wouldn't be sticky.

The cut hook pieces are adhered to, and flank the seam between the boards. The top loop part can span both sides and hold the boards together

The loop side, fully down, holding the ship together

I decided to employ a similar method for the shoulder straps to hold the ship up on my son. This time, there was no slicing of the tape, I left the whole thing as 1.5" across. I had my son stand in the boat to approximate the length. Then, I cut 1 long strip, in excess. I decided that one strap would be hook, and one would be loop, so that they would latch when crossed over behind my son's shoulders. I separated the two sides but kept the paper backing on the adhesive for both.

One strap is hook, the other is loop

I cut two 12" pieces of Velcro for interior anchor points for the straps. Because I wanted the straps to cross, I needed to place the anchors diagonally from each other -- in other words, if the interior hook piece was on the left at the bow, it needed to be on the right at the stern, and vice versa for the internal loop pieces. I peeled the backing off of the internal pieces and positioned them. Then, I added the straps, with the hook strap adhering to the diagonally-places loop pieces inside the ship, and vice versa. Then I was able to slide the strap between the deck and the black board, because it was not glued at this position.

Strap adhered inside the ship. You can also see one of the seams right next to it

One final touch, I downloaded clip art of 3 flags: US, UK, and the White Star flag. I printed each out as mirror images duplicated horizontally so that I could fold them over a wooden dowel (1/4") with double-sided tape. The Titanic was oriented with the US flag at the bow (where the ship was headed), the UK flag at the stern (where the ship was coming from), and the White Star flag somewhere in the middle. I should have adhered then with glue, because I just forced the dowels in, but I was already pretty tired by this point. I wish I had secured them better however, since they kept slipping throughout the day.

US flag on the bow

UK flag and additional lettering on the stern

And then, I hot glued that White Star patch on my son's costume uniform and, because I can't quit, I also downloaded the emblem from Captain Smith's hat, printed it out, backed it onto foam board, and glued it to my son's hat.

You can see the hat and uniform patch
Here is the beard. It looked great, but he only wore it long enough for me to take this picture

On Halloween, we went to my dad's house prior to school, and while I was in the kitchen, I heard my son wailing "Dziadziu, noooooo!" When I came back into the living room, I saw that my dad had glued cotton balls onto the 4th funnel, because he assumed they had fallen off 🤣. After I picked off the interloping cotton balls, we were off to school.

Here is the full length ship, at my son's school, at 5 feet long and 3.5 ft high (with the stacks on):

It just fit into the back of my Honda Pilot diagonally with the 3rd row folded down, and the stacks/funnels off.

Parade pic

His costume took up So. Much. Space. I didn't intend for it to be so big, it just kind of happened

Trick or Treating

The captain

I thought my son would get tired wearing it for Trick or Treating, but he had so much fun, he didn't want to come in, we were out for about 4 hours (the longest he has ever lasted), and he wore the Titanic the entire time. Once he got his "sea legs" so to speak, he maneuvered around just fine despite the bulk of the costume.

There are some things I might do differently a second time around, but I have no regrets about taking on this project, as much work as it was. I'm pretty sure my son's memories will last a lifetime, I know mine will.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Coconut Macaroons

I'm always on the lookout for a good coconut macaroon recipe, and this is definitely a great one. It is Alton Brown's Paradise Macaroon recipe (with minor modification), which was his contribution to Food Network's 12 Days of Christmas Cookies circa 2008.

Now, these are coconut macaroons, which are the most common kind of macaroon in the US, although I am sure everyone is also familiar with the French cookies of the same name as well. Why two such variant desserts under the same name? Well, it turns out that "macaroon" is a rather loose term: it can be used to describe a light, small cookie or cake(ish) baked good, commonly with egg whites, some kind of nut and/or almond paste, sometimes coconut, and sugar. The coconut macaroons are most common in the US, while French macaroons, also called macarons, are meringue cookies filled with some type of ganache or buttercream. People tend to use the term macaroon interchangeably for either the coconut or cookie macaroons, and while some people try to exclusively use macaron when talking about French-style macaroons, there isn't a universal convention for distinguishing between the two

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Snoopy Baby Shower

I meant to write this post ages ago, my baby shower was back in September. But better late than never!

As anyone reading my previous posts on my bridal shower and the various baby showers that I've assisted with, I love event planning. And I've always known that, if I were lucky enough to have a baby, I would want a Snoopy-themed baby shower.

This presents its own difficulties, as many Peanuts-themed items are becoming rare and expensive. And the ones that are available are more naturally geared towards children's parties, and I didn't really like the look of them. So instead, most of the items at my shower were handmade by myself or my family. Here is a quick rundown of what we did, in case anyone else out there would like to do something similar.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pie (aka Minny's Chocolate Pie)

I read. A lot. So much that my house is currently overflowing with books, most of which live in cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling. And that doesn't even count the books I left at my parents' house when I moved (much to their chagrin), which would easily double, if not triple, my collection. But I can't help it -- I love reading. But it got to the point where my husband put his figurative foot down and said that we couldn't possibly fit any more books in our house without the whole structure collapsing in on itself, creating some sort of biblio-singularity which would punch a hole in the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe. Maybe not his exact words, but that was the general gist. However, being my husband, he came up with an elegant alternative: a brand new iPad with Kindle and Nook apps on them, and a gift card to Amazon. That was about a year and a half ago, and I have since become an e-book convert (although it took me a few days to get used to reading on a screen). I have 60+ books on my iPad already, because buying them when I have a whim to read or see something interesting is way too easy.

But why do I bring this up on a baking blog? Well, it just so happens that the very first e-book I downloaded was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. And in this book is a pivotal plot point which I won't spoil here, but it involves a chocolate pie. Minny's chocolate pie to be exact.

When the movie came out, I had my first good look at the movie-interpretation of said pie, and I was surprised to discover that it was not a chocolate cream pie like I had been imagining. It was some sort of baked confection, looking almost like a brownie pie, and I was intrigued. A year and a half later, on a whim, I google "Minny's chocolate pie recipe" and out pops this page -- the screen-used recipe for Minny's pie! Not only did it sound delicious, it sounded almost too easy, so I had to give it a whirl. And thank goodness I did!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Peanut M&M Cookie Bars

Yes. These. These are my Peanut M&M cookies in a bar form. Identical batter, but a lot less time and fuss. They are chewy, so they do lack that cookie crunch, but they taste delicious nonetheless. I can't decide which I like better, in truth, but I know for certain that when I am short on time, I will definitely be making the bars.  I gave a detailed workflow of preparing the batter in my cookie post, so I won't rehash it here. Instead, I will pick up the recipe where it diverges from the cookie recipe:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chocolate Peppermint M&M Bars (Easy Things to Do with Cake Mix #4)

Better late than never! This is a Christmas recipe, three months late. Which means, in fact, that I am getting worse, because my Thanksgiving recipes were only two months late. Oh well.

Incidentally, I think I'm going to change the tagline of my blog to: "Good food...crappy pictures." Seriously. I have no sense of artistry. I snap my pics on my iPhone, in my garish kitchen light, on a messy counter, on a paper plate. If there are Seven Deadly Sins of Food Photography, I commit them all. Simultaneously.

But, don't let my lack of artistic flair deter you from making these bars, because they are super quick and yummy. And like Thanksgiving, with my new kiddo, quick and easy was the name of the game this year.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Impossibly Easy Pumpkin Pie

I'm continuing to (slowly) slosh my way through a backlog of posts, and this is one that I have been meaning to get up on the blog for months.

Now, I love me some pumpkin, but oddly enough, I've never posted my go-to classic pumpkin pie recipe. And today is still not that day, unfortunately. But instead, I have another variation of pumpkin pie to post -- the "Impossibly Easy" kind.

Why? I'm glad you asked. Necessity. I needed a quick pumpkin pie recipe using the ingredients I already had on hand in my pantry, which did not include pie crust, or butter or shortening, which precluded me from making a from-scratch crust (also working against me was the time factor). But, what I did have on hand was Bisquick.