Camping Party in a Panic – Bringing the Outdoors In

Camp Harper Banner

Camp Harper Banner

My little guy turned 5 on Oct. 29. FIVE! How does it go by so fast?? So, since it was what I consider a “milestone” birthday, we planned a camping themed birthday extravaganza at a local park near the river. Plans included fishing and a scavenger hunt, s’mores and cupcakes….lots of fun, outdoor, fall activities. It was going to be so adorable and fun…I couldn’t wait!

Then, the weatherman delivered the weekend forecast….not sunshine and cool temps, not

20% rain, BUT a 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms. Great. Invites were out. Activity supplies were bought and ready. Now what were we going to do??

Happy Camper!

Happy Camper!

Well, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?

Being a communication professional by day, I wanted to first and foremost make the party changes quickly and get the word out to our guests. We had to move the party to our house.

The question was, “how were we going to entertain 25 5-year-olds for two hours??” And the even bigger question was, “where are we going to put them all??”

Camping Decor

I began researching indoor party ideas and solutions, pinning everything I could to try and salvage what was going to be an EPIC outdoor event. The solution ended up being our garage and driveway. I purchased 20 green plastic tablecloths from the Dollar Store, borrowed tables & canopies from my sister and asked all our guests to bring their camping chairs.

Transformed garage with green dollar store table cloths

Transformed garage with green dollar store table cloths

Please keep in mind, our garage is not one of those neat and tidy spaces you see in the uber organized households. It was a hot mess and I was in beast mode to get it spic and span before party day (it was Tuesday before the party on Sunday and I work full time…panic set in!) With the help of my hubby and our boys, we repositioned most of the clutter and I lined the walls with the green tablecloths (masking the areas we would rather not share with our guests). The space quickly transformed into a lush, green forest!

We added to the ambiance by setting up our tent and placing a piece of green turf in front of it. I also had a super cute alpine tree from our Christmas décor and added it to the scene along with our stuffed moose and black bear. Threw in a couple of sleeping bags, too! I used camping lanterns for table centerpieces and added camping touches to the food table with a checkered tablecloth (from, binoculars, small fishing nets and our camp coffee pot.

Keep ‘Em Busy

Go Fish Game

Go Fish Game

For activities, I went back to the days of my childhood when we would launch a foe fishing rod over a screen and miraculously catch a prize fish. This was simple to make – I purchased a tri-fold presentation board, covered it in a blue plastic tablecloth, slapped some cut out fish & the words “Go Fish” on it and BAM – fishing at Harper’s house was complete. Hubs rigged Harper’s fishing pole with a clip and my sweet niece sat behind it all afternoon tugging the line with prizes. These kiddos were pumped!

I also set up a coloring station with some free printable coloring pages with a camping theme and had them available with a rainbow of crayons. One of the most favorite things I ordered for the outdoor party were Camp Harper Scavenger Hunt cards. I attached them to brown paper bags with twine and ordered little golf pencils for the kids to mark off their treasures. Since it was raining, my intention was to use these for goodie bags, but the kids wanted to do the hunt in the drizzle and their parents were totally cool with it. Worked out!

Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunt

I wanted to keep these kids busy, so I also set up a pinecone owl making station. With the help of my sister and her girls, we had felt cutouts of beaks and wings, as well as googly eyes, pom poms and pipe cleaners for embellishments. The only thing that didn’t work with these is the glue. Ideally, a glue gun works best. Glue dots worked ok, but liquid glue did nothing. (Just a tip)

Yummy Treats

Trail Mix Bar

Trail Mix Bar

For food, I went pretty simple. We had a trail mix bar with different dry cereals (Chex and Cheerios), M&Ms, Gummy Bears, Gold Fish & pretzels. I had miniature brown paper bags and the kids had a blast filling them up with their favorite treats.

We also broke out the fire pit and did s’mores. I set up wooden skewers,



mini Hershey bars, graham crackers and jumbo marshmallows. It was good ole messy yumminess!

The birthday boy wanted cupcakes, so I ordered a variety of colors to match our camping theme and topped them with marshmallows on a stick (mini marshmallows &  pretzels), woodland creature rings (from and green trees.

Woodland creatures, trees and foe s'mores topped the cupcakes

Woodland creatures, trees and foe s’mores topped the cupcakes

I also felt like I had to offer a semi-healthy option, so we had cut apples and my Toffee Caramel Dip.

Saying Thanks

To say thanks to our friends and family for coming, mini-flashlight party favors with simple “Happy Trails from Camp Harper” tag made their day. A couple of parents even complimented saying “that’s a party favor that keeps on giving!”


Mini-Flashlight Party Favors

One additional tip that made life easier was to set out a stack of plain white envelopes and ask guests to put their child’s name and address on them. These are used to thank you notes so you don’t have to search for address after the fun is over!

In addition to the décor, food and activities, I had to order my guy a cute camping themed shirt to wear for his big day (image at top of post.) My cousin made this adorable shirt and has many more designs available. Check out AKWedgworth Creative for the cuteness!

All-in-all, this party was a success! No amount of rain can dampen my sweetie’s day!

Happy Birthday, Harper!

Healthy Tortilla Casserole

We LOVE Mexican & Tex-Mex style recipes, but we get tired of tacos and nachos. So, when I stumbled upon a tortilla casserole recipe on Pinterest, I had to try it (and make it my own!)


Here’s what you need:

1lb ground turkey

1 taco seasoning packet

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 small white onion, diced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp chili powder

1 can whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can diced tomato (with green chilies would be delicious)

1 cup light or fat free sour cream

4-8 large soft tortillas (I used regular flour, but you can use whole wheat)

2 cups shredded cheese – sharp cheddar or colby jack

Brown ground turkey and taco seasoning packet. Set aside to cool. Heat olive oil in skillet and saute peppers and onions for 5 minutes. Add chili powder & remove from heat.

In small bowl, add tomato and sour cream together and mix well. In another bowl, combine corn, beans and pepper/onion mixture.

In a round covered casserole dish, layer in the following order: tortilla, sour cream mixture, meat, tortilla, vegetable mixture, cheese. Repeat until you reach the top of the casserole. Make sure the final layer is cheese :)

Cook, covered, in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove cover and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes or until bubbly. Cut into 8 pie-like pieces. Serve with light sour cream!


Chicken Ranch Pasta with Spinach & Bacon

I love pasta. I also love chicken, cheese, bacon and ranch. So, when I came across a Chicken Ranch Pasta on Pinterest, I had to pin it….and then tweak it for my family!


2 chicken breasts, cubed and cooked (I cooked mine in a little olive oil until slightly seared)

1 1/2 cup penne pasta (cooked and drained)

4-5 pieces of bacon cooked & chopped

2 TBSP butter

1 TBSP flour

2 cups Milk

2 TBSP dry Ranch dressing mix

1 1/2 cup shredded cheese

bag of fresh baby spinach

Cook chicken and bacon and set aside. Cook pasta according to box directions and set aside.

In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk for 1 minute. Add milk and let cook until thickened. Add ranch mix and cheese and stir until melted. Add chicken, bacon and pasta to cheese sauce and stir to coat. Add spinach and cover to wilt. Stir in spinach and serve!

Cream Cheese Red Pepper Bacon BBQ Dip (aka Tori Dip)

Fall Saturday’s are Dawg football watchin’ days at our house! I always like to have something to munch on and this is my go-to dip. I call it “Tori Dip” because one of my best girlfriends – Tori – shared it with me a few years back…..


1 – 8oz pkg cream cheese (softened)

1- red bell pepper diced

1 – pack of bacon bits (or make bacon and crumble)

3-4 tbsp – your fave BBQ sauce

1/4 cup of shredded cheese

green onions (for garnish)

On a serving platter, spread cream cheese into a thin layer. Drizzle the BBQ sauce on the cream cheese and sprinkle bacon, peppers, shredded cheese and garnish with onions. Serve with your fave crackers.

I’ve added different colors of peppers, tomato, etc. to this, as well as eliminated items I don’t have on hand and it is delicious every time!

Toffee Caramel Dip

This was another recipe I found on and used for Harper’s 2nd Birthday party….it was so delicious and simple and it could be slightly modified to a lighter version using light cream cheese, but where’s the fun in that??

Here’s the recipe:

With hand mixer, blend cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Refrigerate. Before serving, sprinkle toffee bits on top. Served with sliced apples!

Serve with sliced apples…yummy!

Crescent Roll S’mores

I found this recipe on Pinterest and my hubby & Jacob (my oldest son) had just returned from a camping trip with plenty of Hershey’s chocolate and marshmallows leftover. I happened to have a tube of Crescent rolls, so I thought “why not?” I love trying new yummies on the fly….

Here’s what you need:

1 Crescent Roll 8-count

Hershey Chocolate Bar

Marshmallows (the new ones for s’mores are fantastic because they are flat!)

Lay the crescents out on a greased cookie sheet.

Add one rectangle of chocolate and one marshmallow (or several small ones if you don’t have the flat kind). Roll into the Crescent and bake according to the package.

Serve warm and they melt in your mouth!

Jacob approved!

White Chicken Chili

This is one of our faves! I make it several times a winter….so delicious!

White Chicken Chili
1 large onion, chopped
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1 can Cannellini Beans or Great Northern Beans
1 – 4oz cans whole mild green chilies, drained and chopped
5 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about 2 pounds), cooked and shredded
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack (about 6 ounces)
1/2 cup sour cream

In a skillet cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter over moderate heat until softened. Add remaining 6 tablespoons butter over moderately low heat and whisk in flour. Cook roux, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Stir in onion and gradually add broth and half-and-half, whisking constantly. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in Tabasco, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Add beans, chilies, chicken, and Monterey Jack and cook mixture over moderately low heat, stirring, 20 minutes. Stir sour cream into chili.

Garnish chili with sour cream and serve with tortilla chips.


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