First Ten Pages of For Your Eyes Only

These are the first ten pages of my unpublished novel For Your Eyes Only.

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Falling & Flying Birthday Party Game

Falling and Flying is part of life and so are snarky party games

You don’t need a lot of party guests to make someone feel cherished on their birthday. Falling & Flying is a funny little party game that I invented to play on my husband’s birthday when most of the kids were at college. We only had three people on hand to celebrate, but that didn’t stop us from having fun. For practical reasons, I think you should only use the Falling and Flying Theme if your only guests are immediate family members and have a good sense of humor.

Remember when I said that you can base your party theme on absolutely anything? It’s true. This party is based on the song Fallin & Flyin (written by Stephen Bruton and Gary Nicholson) that Jeff Bridges sang in the movie, Crazy Heart. The tune got stuck in my head, so I made a birthday party out of it.

I never meant to hurt no one
I just had to have my way
If there’s such a thing as too much fun
This must be the price to pay

Funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while
Funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while
Like “Bad” Blake in Crazy Heart, this party theme is a little bit lovable and a little bit awful. This party could be named “the party in which you get family members to do things you love and force family members to do things they hate,” but there’s not a catchy country song for that. Obviously, this party is intended for teens and adults who are snarky enough to enjoy forcing family members do stuff they would rather not do, but nice enough to not go overboard with power. Keep your particular family dynamics in mind when you write the cards. And of course, play the Flyin & Fallin song in the background.

For this party, guests will take turns inventing their own games and choosing the prizes for winning and the penalties for losing said game. You can assemble items to help players design their games and Flying and Falling Cards should be made by the party planner in advance. Rely heavily on your own personal family dynamics when writing your cards. For example, we live in Hawaii and the only down side of that is the frequent appearance of cockroaches in the living room. Everybody in our family HATES killing our “Aloha Pets,” so “You have to kill the next cockroach” was definitely the Falling Card I wrote that nobody in my family wanted to get stuck with.

falling airplane2

flying airplane1

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Doctor Who Quiz: a fun activity for a Viewing Party or Birthday


Pizza Dalek!

Doctor Who
made the news on July 16, 20127 when it was announced that Jodie Whittaker will be taking over the iconic role from Peter Capaldi after the 2017 Christmas episode. My family used this quiz as part of a Dr. Who Birthday party, but it would work well for a Dr. Who viewing party too. I suspect that most Whovians will gather to watch The Doctor regenerate into a female for the first time. Keep reading after the quiz for ideas on how to incorporate this quiz into a party setting.


The Quiz


This Whovian villain that we all despise

Is at her most dangerous when you close your eyes.

Who is she?


This is the galactic bad guy we love to hate

His catch phrase is “Exterminate. Exterminate.”

Who is he?


Rose Tyler liked this guy when he was a dud.

Martha married him when he became a galaxy saving stud.

Who is he?


This fashionable time lord sports a fez and bow ties,

He reappears looking dapper each time that he dies.

Who is he?

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Lady Mary’s Viewing Guide: A fun way to watch an episode of Downton Abbey

How to Play: You can consider this a cleaned up version of The Lady Mary Drinking Game.

  • Print the below list of things that often happen during an episode of Downton Abbey.
  • Cut the phrases out so that each phrase is on its own strip of paper.
  • Taking turns, players select the things that they believe will happen most often during a selected episode of Downton Abbey. You decide how many strips of paper each player can have, but it’s more fun if each player has enough that it’s hard to keep track of all their Downton happenings.
  • Give each player a piece of paper and a pencil.
  • Turn on an episode of Downton Abbey and have players give themselves a point every time one of their selected events occurs.
  • This is more for fun than for prizes, but you can certainly reward the player with the most points at the end of the episode if you want to.
  • After you play a round with the ideas shown below, you might want to try having your players make up their own categories of things that always happen during an episode of Downton Abbey. Enjoy!

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Princess Riddle Hunt

Princess Riddle Hunt

A Tea Party for Teenage Girls

IMG_2659To complete this riddle hunt, teenage players will rely on princess knowledge gleaned from their childhood as well as princess expertise derived from teen movies and Broadway. I call this a Tea Party for Teenage Girls, but we all know that Tea Party is just a clever euphemism for a Princess Party. We did this hunt on my daughter’s birthday, but any day is the perfect time to bring out your grandmother’s tea set and serve fancy finger sandwiches and elegant desserts to your teenaged daughter and her friends. This hunt is just one more way to make a Tea Party special.

How to Set up the Game

  1. Find an image of each princess and a separate image of each prince.
  2. Lay the matched pairs of princesses and princes out on a table and then flip them all over so you can write on the backside of your images. (You may want to mount your images on index cards so your writing does not soak through.)
  3. Write the first half of a word or phrase on the princess image and the second half of a word or phrase on the prince.
  4. Using this method, you can write a secret message to your party guests that they will only be able to read after they have found all of the princess and princes, matched each princess with her appropriate prince, and put all the pieces in the correct order. Your secret message should probably tell your guests where to find something they want (presents, food, silly string, or whatever you think would be a good reward for solving the hunt).
  5. Create an answer key to help your players document the order in which they find their princesses. (Only the princesses need to be documented on your answer key.) If you use all the riddles below, you will need to number your answer key paper 1-17 and put a line after each number so your players can document the order in which they find their princesses. For instance, the answer to the first riddle is Princess Jasmine. Since you must document the order in which you find the princesses, your players should write Jasmine’s name after the number 1 on your answer key. If the next riddle answer is for a prince, his name does NOT need to go on the answer sheet.
  6. As with most hunts, you will give the first riddle to your players at the start of the game. The first clue stands alone and is NOT taped to the back of an image. Subsequent riddles should be taped on the back of all of your other prince and princess images. (Make sure that you don’t put the answer riddle on the back of the image it is describing.)
  7. Mix your clues up! It’s too easy if the Aladdin clue is the one the players find right after the Jasmine clue.
  8. Hide all of your princesses and princes around your party venue.
  9. It’s a good idea to set your riddle hunt up and then play it yourself to make sure that you have not made any mistakes or that none of your hiding spots are too clever for your age group. This is also a good opportunity to let a sibling and his/her friend help you out by trying out your game in advance. Nothing is more frustrating for the party planner or the party guests than a treasure hunt that does not work.
  10. When it comes time to play the game, your players may utilize the answer key you made them or they may decide to lay their princesses out on a table in a vertical column as they find them. Either way is great. As long as the players are able to recreate the correct order of princesses, they will be able to flip the cards over at the end to reveal the secret message you have prepared for them.

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Downton Abbey Treasure Hunt

Downton Abbey Character Riddle Hunt:


Downton Shabby decor

For my daughter’s 18th birthday, we threw a Downton Abbey Party. We called our house Downton Shabby since our abode is not nearly as grand as the Crawley family estate. For this riddle treasure hunt, pictures of Downton characters guide treasure hunt players around the party venue.  At the end of the hunt, lucky treasure hunters should be rewarded with a Downton themed prize. To play this game, you need images of Downton Abbey characters.

How to Set up the Game

  1. Find an image of each of the Downton Characters – Refer to the Downton Abbey Riddle Answer Key for the list of characters you will need. I found full body images of the characters on the Internet and cut them out so they would fit nicely on the poster board described below. I also made an outline of each character on the poster board so that the final product would look as much like the iconic Downton DVD cover as possible.
  2. As with most hunts, you will give the first riddle to your players at the start of the game. The first clue stands alone and is NOT taped to the back of an image of a Downton character. Subsequent riddles should be taped on the back of your character images. (Make sure that you don’t put the answer riddle on the back of the character image it is describing.)
  3. Hide the characters around your party venue.
  4. It’s a good idea to set your riddle hunt up and then play it yourself to make sure that you have not made any mistakes or that none of your hiding spots are too clever for your age group. This is also a great opportunity to let a sibling and his/her friend help you out by trying out your game in advance. Nothing is more frustrating for the party planner or the party guests than a treasure hunt that does not work.

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Essential Elements of a Fabulous Birthday Party: Part II

This is Part II of Essential Elements of a Fabulous Birthday Party. Click here if you would like to read Part I.

Structured Activities and Unstructured Activities: Most parties benefit from having both structured and unstructured activities. Don’t attempt to control every aspect of the birthday party and relax if things don’t go according to plan. I love open-ended play and I include it in most of our birthday parties. If your party guests are of the pre-school variety, your party may consist entirely of relatively unstructured play opportunities. My best advise for little tykes is to take an activity that they love to do and let them do it in a way they have never seen before. For example, every little kid loves bubbles, so if you are going to play bubbles at your party, visit a museum gift shop and get unique bubble wands or giant bubble makers so that you are able to take bubble making to the next level.

Unscripted play is especially fun for big kids, so relax and enjoy even if your teen guests take your carefully crafted party plan and turn it on its ear. Remember: some of the most charming party happenings occur in unscripted moments. Here’s an example of what unscripted play might look like at a party for older teens: During our Spy Academy Birthday Party, our party guests knew that they had to lure the headmaster of the spy academy out of her office so they could change their failing grades to A’s. Our guests understood their task, but they had to free-play how each team of spies would accomplish it. My mother, a former middle school teacher, played the role of our headmaster and being a former teacher, she refused to fall for the lame tricks our spies-in-training initially tried to pull on her. Our funniest pictures from that day involve the moment when one ingenious team of spies covered a team member with ketchup and posed her on the sidewalk outside our house. They rang the doorbell and dramatically told my mother some insane story about a hideous bike accident. When my mother exited the house to care for her bloody spy student, a team of spies slipped into the office to change their grades. Another team distracted our spy headmaster by dressing up as door-to-door magnifying glass salesmen. If you ever wonder if older kids like to play dress-up, throw a spy party and enjoy the lively array of teenagers wearing trench coats, glasses, and bad mustaches!

Games: Games are fun. Play games. Always plan an extra game or activity. Sometimes one of your planned activities turns out to be a dud. Sometimes an activity you thought would take 45 minutes takes ten. It happens. Be ready for it by having something extra you can pull out of the closet.

If your kids love it the first time, do it again: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. In fact, if you notice your kids enjoying a specific party activity, don’t be ashamed to pull it out year after year. I often incorporated my children’s favorite stuffed animals into their early birthday parties. Curious George was especially good at donning a costume and finding a place to hang out during parties. Personally, it would break my heart if we ever had a birthday celebration and Curious George was not posed somewhere in the house doing something silly in keeping with the party theme.

My husband’s role at birthday parties is probably my best example of bringing back a party element if you children love it the first time. During one of our first parties, we made safer sword light sabers for every guest at the Star Wars party. The kids were perfectly happy dueling each other in the back yard, but then my husband jumped out of the garage brandishing a double-bladed Darth Maul light saber. Nobody had to inform a group of seven-year-old boys that it was game on! Thus ensued the biggest Dad against kids showdown our family has ever seen. It is a truth universally acknowledged that my children love a rumpus showdown with a bad guy played by their dad. For years now, my husband has been cast as the bad guy at almost every party. When we had a Harry Potter party, my husband was the grumpy Snape guarding the potion locker. During our National Treasure themed party, my husband jumped out from behind a park bench and stole the children’s treasure map. When it was time to do a Sherlock party, the kids were on pins and needles knowing that their dad (Moriarty) must be lurking in the bushes waiting to do something awful. My point is this: if your kids love it, do it again.

Prepare for all Your Kids to be Delighted: Obviously, the birthday boy or girl is the star of the party, but make sure your other kids have fun too. We always give our children the option of inviting one of their own friends to their sibling’s birthday party. Whether it’s scaling a climbing wall or racing through the woods to find Sméagol’s ring, it’s more fun to do a party activity with an age-appropriate peer. Don’t forget to use the power of older siblings. Your older child and his friend can be enlisted to race through your treasure hunt right before the other guests arrive to make sure all the clues are findable and still where you left them. It will be fairly obvious from your family dynamics and the ages of your children whether your non-birthday boy and his friend would rather do the party activities with the birthday group, before the other guests arrive, after the party animals finish, or not at all. Even if your older teens choose to grab a plate of food and then hide in a back bedroom, they will appreciate the option of having a friend at the party.

Being a party guest can actually be stressful for little children – especially the part when somebody else gets to open birthday presents. It is important that all of your guests have a good time. This is a place where Elements of Anticipation can give your party a boost. At my daughter’s unicorn party, the biggest decoration in the room was a pair of big unicorns and a nest of tiny unicorns. Kids are smart. The minute that they stepped into the room, every kid at the party suspected that there was a baby unicorn in that nest for each of them. Of course, they were right. As a side note, I never do party bags. I am of the opinion that one small gift for each party guest is far better than a store bought party bag full of plastic rings that pinch tiny fingers, candy, and disappointing plastic yo-yo’s.

That One Crazy Thing: At every party, I hope that I can incorporate at least one crazy element that the kids will talk about for years afterwards. Dress an unlikely relative in a truly outrageous costume. Arrange for real dogs to arrive at the end of a pre-school puppy party. Set the kids loose on a treasure hunt and at the end of the hunt, force them to go up to a complete stranger (prearranged shopkeeper) and say something dumb in order to collect a prize. For her National Treasure party, my excessively shy daughter had to find a specific treasure among the antiques at one of those especially crowded and dusty shops, whisper “City First” to an antiques salesman, and walk out of the shop without paying for her item. Of course, an outing like that takes pre-planning and obviously, pre-payment, but the payoff is huge! Hint: over the years I have found that shopkeepers in mom and pop stores (especially in Edmond, Oklahoma) are amazing resources and great sports when you ask them to take part in playful party planning.

Your child’s age and temperament are important considerations when planning your one crazy thing. This example is truly awful and I’m almost afraid to admit to it, but my kids used to be fascinated by Boss Nass’s jiggling jowls in the Star Wars Phantom Menace movie. Therefore, at our Star Wars party, we had each of the kids fill their mouths with water and then do their best Boss Nass impersonation on the driveway on a hot summer day. We had a tape measure and measured the distance between the furthermost splatters that came out of each kid’s mouth. This would be a terrible idea at a teen party when young adults are self- conscious. But for a group of ten-year-old boys, it was the perfectly gross thing that they wanted to try over and over again to get a better score.

Kids love a good mess, so it’s not terribly hard to come up with your one crazy thing if you aren’t afraid to get messy. One time we set up a string of glasses carefully filled with the right amount of water to create musical tones when the glasses were struck with a mallet. Each child had to play Row Row Row Your Boat on the glasses. Each child got to practice a few times before they had to perform. If they messed up, which of course they did, uncles armed with super soaker water guns were on hand to punish them. If you are sensing a trend in my party planning, you’re right; I do make heavy use of the adult members of my family who enjoy assaulting children with water, slime, light sabers, silly-string….

Pictures: Take lots of pictures. Duh.

Laugh, Love, and Relax: Plan ahead, but on the day of your party relax and go with the flow.

Thank You Notes: It’s important to foster an attitude of gratefulness in your children. If your child received a gift at their birthday party, insist that they write a thank you note within a week. Good manners don’t just happen; foster them.

Savor the Memory: Don’t be in a rush to take down the party decorations! Your kids will probably enjoy revisiting party games after their guests have departed and the whole family would probably rather eat in the Mos Eisley Cantina than in the boring old family kitchen.

Tell Your Kids that you Love them and that You’re Glad they were Born: They know, but tell them on their birthday every year anyway.