Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Where There's Newprint, There's a Way

Like me with my Brady Piñata, my Mom hadn’t dealt with papier-mâché in years when she went about making her fantastically scary Shelob. Once she got going, however, she was inspired to further inventiveness with this incredibly handy and versatile craft-form. First, Mount Doom, but later, masks to represent orcs and Ringwraiths. (In this case, no human actually wore the masks, but they were mocked up to be terrifying on their own – and can I just say that I’m not sure I would really want to wear a papier-mâché mask on my head, at least not without its having the opportunity to air out for several days. The flour/water paste combined with newsprint is an incredibly foul smell to have so close to your nostrils.)

She started by inflating several standard-size rubber balloons to about the size of a human head, maybe a bit bigger. These she covered with two or three layers of standard newsprint papier-mâché. This yields an egg-shaped base, which when dry can be cut in half to make two basic “masks.” When I arrived in Georgia, she and my nephew had already made a couple of these into orcs by applying features such as eyes, nose, scars, and scary lumps to the half-eggs with other bits of newsprint molded and dipped into the flour glue.

Here's her orc after having its newsprint features applied.
The night before the party, while Mom made two other masks into Ringwraiths, she asked me to do a couple more orcs from the remaining bases. For inspiration, I pulled out pictures from the Lord of the Rings movies showing some of Weta Workshop’s especially unpleasant creations.

Orc #1 was based on this attractive guy:

It was quite helpful to look at this image as a model, as I immediately realized that, while the egg shape made a good base, I would need extra dimension to really bring him to life. Taking fists-full of soggy newsprint (and momentarily oblivious to the fact that he would need to be dry and painted in less than 24 hours), I first started building up the sides of his face to form his high, elongated cheeks. I did the same to build out an area around his mouth, so that it would appear to be a cavity in the mask rather than something applied to it, and for fun added a protuberant tongue. (For lack of time, I didn’t attempt to build any dimensional teeth - perhaps a mistake.) Again for the eye sockets, I built out newsprint both below and above, mainly above. The nose was fun – more clumps of newsprint, up into which I stuck my thumbs (yes, gross) to create deep nostrils. I knew I couldn’t recreate this orc’s massive batwing-like ears without some kind of extra support – maybe cardboard? – so I went for a smaller version of the same thing. Because I was working fast, and sloppily, I found that my surface was pretty rough – even ridgier than that of my lovely orc model. Given more time, I suppose you could let the built-up papier-mâché dry and go back over with a couple smoothing topcoats of newsprint. But these are orcs after all, not beauty queens, so I wasn’t too worried about the wrinkles.

Orc #2 was based on an orc called Grishnakh – different looking but just as generally disgusting as the first model. I used the same process as before – this time giving him a wider nose and heavier browbone. I should say that all this built-up wet newsprint gets a bit heavy, such that especially for this guy the shape of the mask was somewhat distorted by the weight. In a way he looked more clownish and silly at this point than scary, but the great thing about making orcs is that it’s nearly impossible to mess up – your result might be different than expected, but it’s no less an orc. Sum total I probably spent about an hour and a half on both orcs, getting my hands completely gooey in the process, then left them to dry overnight.

Next day, I had two still quite soggy orc masks sitting on the counter. Seeing as the newsprint was more than an inch thick in several places, not too surprising. With the party a few hours away, I pulled out a hair dryer and, switching back and forth between the two orcs, began drying. I regret to say that the carbon footprint for this project was relatively large, as I spent more than a half-hour blow-drying orcs, passing the time reading Entertainment Weekly, until they were still clammy but dry enough to paint.

(That's Grishnakh on the left, Orc #1 on the right.)
As with my vase, the orcs looked quite cool in their bare-newsprint state – somehow about as scary and gruesome as you’d want them to be. As before, though, I knew that to achieve a true orc-y effect, I needed to go ahead and paint them. Again using my images for guidance, I squirted several different shades of acrylic paint onto a palette: grayish hues for #1, reddish brown ones for #2. Working quickly and haphazardly, I daubed different colors from each of the chosen palettes over each mask; this achieved a nice blotchy skin tone which to some extent made up for the loss of the patchy newsprint effect. Because I had defined the features so well dimensionally, I found not too much additional painting was necessary beyond the blotchy skin tone. However, I added dark paint to the insides of any crevices or cavities to exaggerate the depth, and did some general shading around the cheeks and brows. Then I used a pinkish white color for the eyeballs of each, and gave the grey one a reddish-black tongue and the brownish one rotted-looking teeth.

As party time neared, I was charged with the task of setting up the orc ambush scene. Mom found several odd garments to use for their bodies – old graduation robe, pancho, lengths of old fabric – which I took out to the chosen cluster of trees, along with coat hangers, wire, duct tape, and the four orc masks. Working with my brother-in-law, I found that the best method for hanging the orcs was to make two holes in each mask: one at the bottom (below the chin) and the other at the top (above the forehead). We pulled the coat hanger hook up into the bottom hole, secured it inside the mask with duct tape, and wrapped a length of wire around the top of the hook which we pulled up through the hole at the top of the mask. Then we tied the other end of the wire around a tree branch at about head height. Afterwards I draped the fabric and clothes over the coat hangers, trying to suggest some type of body mass beneath. Some of my judgments here, however, were questionable: particularly the pairing of a red length of fabric with a black graduation robe, effectively turning Grishnakh into a University of Arkansas grad. Anyway. To add a little ferocity, I found several long branches, which I propped up alongside the orcs to represent some type of staff-like weapon. (All the "real," plastic weapons were in use by the party guests.)

Once assembled in the woods, the effect was pretty cool. Somehow my initially clownish Grishnakh proved the scarier (despite his Razorback regalia), while the pointy-eared orc looked a bit goofy. Perhaps it was the lack of teeth. Neither actually came out much like my model - I guess the images wre more inspiration for my own unique creatures than literal models to be copied. My nephew’s and Mom’s orcs looked equally good, and the grouping as a whole made a great backdrop for the archery contest.
The whole papier-mâché dimensional mask idea is one that I'd love to try again - given more time it would've been fun to add stringy hair, build out the ears, use cardboard to make teeth, and otherwise get these guys a little closer to the Weta models. However, I think it was pretty good work considering the time constraints. Maybe for Halloween. Or if my brother ever decides he's Peter Jackson.

Lesson Learned: Where there's newsprint, there's a way: Dimensional papier-mâché sculpting is a really fun and reasonably quick way to achieve great effects; however, next time allow at least a full day for the thick, gloppy newsprint to dry.

Midsummer Madness: A Birthday in Middle Earth

As noted in this space before, I come by my slight creative insanity honestly. This was clearly in evidence on my recent trip home to Georgia. One of my nephews (we’ll refer to him as “Legolas”) had just turned twelve, and my visit coincided with his party, to be attended by two friends of approximately the same age, his brothers and sister, and several of his cousins, ranging in age from two to sixteen. These kids have celebrated each other’s birthdays for years, and it’s always fun to see them have a good time together. Last year, Legolas’s parents put together an incredibly elaborate and fun Harry Potter party, which featured various activities related to Hogwarts classes, etc.; this year, he wanted a Lord of the Rings theme. (What can I say? The kid has good literary taste.) Over the course of several weeks, and making ingenious use of dollar store finds, my Mom and sister set about planning a range of activities that could see the kids through the major highlights of the saga. (My own contributions to the party were minimal [insert link], but the party as a whole is worth posting about, so due credit will be given as appropriate.) I have to say, too, that one of the things which really made this party work is the fabulously diverse nature of my parents’ lot, which provided amazingly convincing settings for many Middle Earth locales.

Before I get to the activities, I should mention that several of the party-goers were in costume: Legolas complete with pointy prosthetic ears, Aragorn, Éomer, and others in mail shirts with shields, etc., boy Hobbits in tunics (Frodo with a gold ring on a chain around his neck), girl Hobbits in cheerful vests and skirts, Éowyn in a more Rohan-esque vest, blouse, and skirt, and of course Galadriel in white gown with golden crown (crafted from a dollar store windchime). Nearly all of this was made by Mom in the days leading up to the party.

First stop for the group was The Prancing Pony, otherwise known as my parents’ back patio, where Barliman Butterber (the cleverly disguised father of the birthday boy) served the guests salty snacks with beer (that would be IBC for some, barrel-shaped HUGS for others) while local fiddlers, possibly recognizable to their party-going children as two of my violin-playing sisters, provided entertainment.

When all had had their fill, Barliman escorted the group around the side of the house to the front yard, where (possibly transformed into another character?) he instructed them on the basics of fencing, before leading them up to meet Gandalf (another brother-in-law, complete with cloak and staff) at Weathertop – conveniently located on the hill in front of the house. Here, the fencing lessons proved life-saving, as two terrifying Ringwraiths – papier-mâché masks, spray painted black, suspended on coat hangers with flowing, weblike black fabric – were awaiting them amidst the trees. Each member of the group, including the two-year-old, got a turn fighting off these fearsome baddies.

video

After Weathertop, the party proceeded through a creepy patch of woods, where they were ambushed by four gruesome orcs [read here about orc fabrication]. These they fought off with bows and arrows (of the suction-cup variety). Safe at last, the group continued around the other side of the house and down a steep incline to Lothlorien, the (spray-painted) golden wood. (Yeah, we skipped the Mines of Moria. This way Gandalf didn’t have to go anywhere.) Here our lovely Galadriel was put to work, presiding over her silver mirror and testing each of the other guests’ knowledge of Tolkien lore with LOTR trivia questions . Upon a correct answer (younger ones were given assistance), guests were presented with a bag of lembas, a popsicle (maybe not canon, but very appropriate considering the Georgia midsummer climate), and of course a green cloak with an attached leaf brooch (cloaks made by Mom from dollar a yard Wal-Mart fabric, with my sister and I on brooch assembly: silk leaves, stripped from their plastic veins, ironed onto a sturdy fabric backing, and highlighted with gold paint).

On around to the swingset frame, where none other than Shelob – papier-mâché piñata courtesy of Mom, with wiggly hairy legs of doubled-up pipe cleaners and eerie bulging yellow eyes – awaited the group for yet another challenge. Each guest took a blindfolded turn at defeating the horrible spider, armed only with courage and of course Sting, one of many plastic swords in my parents’ grandchildren-friendly collection.


video

The spider proved so formidable that our initial Sting actually broke from its hilt and had to be replaced. Mom had cleverly given Shelob a segmented body, with two separate balloon-formed cavities. The nice thing about this was there were actually two piñata-bashing victories, and two candy spillages. When at last the beast was bested, its sugary sweet insides collected by the assembly, the group proceeded inside for the final challenge.

The front hall may not look like Mordor, but there at the foot of the stairs rose the fiery Mount Doom, another of Mom’s papier-mâché creations. Each guest was given ten gold rings, and standing above the mountain, took his turn at destroying the Ring of Power (or actually, getting the highest out of ten into its opening). (The rings were a dollar-store deal: 100 for $1.)

Next, all gathered round the table to celebrate by feasting on Mount Doom cakes – mini chocolate bundt cakes drizzled with fire-colored frosting and bedecked with more of the gold rings (made by Mom) – along with miniature Ents – made from pretzel rods and green-tinted chocolate (courtesy of my sister).
That's our lovely Éowyn with an Ent in hand, partially obscured Mount Doom on her plate, with Legolas besider her (note the Vulcan - er...Elvish ears).Desert plates were then whisked away and replaced by cards for a special LOTR version of Bingo (my sister’s creation), with L-O-T-R across the top of the card and various characters arranged below each letter. As characters were randomly drawn and called out (eg., “R-Treebeard”), players marked off their scorecards with precious gems (er…dollar-store green glass tiles). Adults were amused that each round of the game was won by one of the very youngest party guests, but that’s the lovely, equalizing nature of Bingo.
Finally it was time to depart Into the West – that is, about five minutes away to the home of Legolas – where presents were opened and Hobbit-hole cake (made and decorated by my sister) was served.
Then, exhausted with knife, sting, and a long burden (or something like that), the adults crashed while the older kids stayed up watching The Return of the King and younger folk watched the much shorter Lord of the Beans
. A fitting, restful ending to a truly fun and memorable day.

Lessons Learned:

#1 Kids' birthday parties ought to include cake and ice cream, but that's not to say you can't also introduce a little bit of culture into the festivities.

#2 Never underestimate the potential of papier-mâché: from piñatas to fearsome creatures to fiery mountains, newsprint and glue can be a great friend.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cake Decorating Class - Course 1

I took the Wilton's Course 1 Cake Decorating class.

I learned a whole lot. Apparently. I mean, I couldn't make roses and now I can make cabbages that resemble roses.

Also, I learned that the best decorator's frosting is made with vegetable shortening...with trans fat. So don't use Crisco, folks. It contains zero trans-fat and that makes it not as good as your store brand vegetable shortening when making pretties for a cake.

An additional lesson learned is that you should always put on a crumb coat (very thin layer of icing) before you ice your cake. Basically, this coating of icing will contain the crumbs so that when you go to put the icing on later none of those nasty cake crumbs will be showing (well, hopefully). You can add Meringue Powder to your icing and it will set up nice and firm, not so sticky as without. Meringue Powder can be added to any frosting you choose to ice the cake. I wouldn't suggest the vegetable shortening icing...only because it seriously tastes just like powdered sugar added to vegetable shortening, but that's just me. I hate it.

Be sure that when applying the crumb coat that you do not put your spatula back into your icing. It probably has crumbs on it and once you get one crumb in your clean icing, you get a million crumbs (they multiply like rabbits, y'all). Use a clean spatula to get icing out of your bowl.

Here is the official buttercream frosting that Wilton uses for their cake decorating class. Note that there is no butter in the frosting: butter melts at 80 degrees and guess what temperature your hands are? Well, hopefully they are 98.6 degrees! That would melt your butter into a nice mess.

1 cup solid white vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon Wilton Flavor (vanilla, almond or butter - our instructor used 1/2 tsp. each of vanilla and almond)
2 Tablespoons milk or water (use water unless you plan to refrigerate)
1 lb. pure cane confectioners' sugar - approx. 4 cups (10 x powdered)
1 Tablespoon Wilton Meringue Powder

Cream shortening, flavoring and water together in a large bowl. Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until all ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together. Blend an additional minute or so, until creamy.

There are three basic consistencies for this icing: stiff, medium and thin.

Stiff icing is what you get with the basic buttercream recipe.

Medium icing is what you get when you add 1 tsp. of water for every 1 cup of (stiff consistency) frosting.

Thin icing is what you get when you add 2 tsp. of water for every 1 cup of (stiff consistency) frosting.

Now, if I had just gone to Wilton's website and watched their little rose video, I would never have figured out how to do a rose being all left-handed and such. With that said, I would recommend taking a Wilton course near you...otherwise just watch the video on their website and Godspeed. Seriously, you will need some help from a higher power because this rose making business is not easy. I'm still making cabbages.

In Course 1 of the cake decorating class, you learn roses, sweet peas, shells, leaves, bows, etc.

So enjoy my cake images (she gave us about 15 minutes to decorate our iced cakes) from my final class...I still have a lot of work to do!!

Devil's Food Cupcakes with Marshmallow Filling

Something you should know about me: I'm a cupcake fanatic.

There. The first step is admitting you have a problem, right? Anyway, with this cupcake fanaticism that I suffer from comes the need to bake cupcakes and eat cupcakes anytime I can, regardless of worries of weight gain or unhealthiness. It doesn't matter. Cupcakes are the sacred dessert to me.

I usually try to bake a cake for everyone in the office when it is their birthday. It gives me an outlet for baking and a reason to bake, without the guilt of having to eat the goods all by myself. I can practice recipes and know that they are going to a good cause: the bellies of my coworkers. For some reason, I find it interesting that as of late I associate cakes with the men and cupcakes with the women. Is a cupcake really more feminine than a cake? Doubtful, but they are daintier, just like women (usually). Hence, cupcakes for a female's birthday this week.

Now, I have to admit that as usual, I didn't make this recipe up myself. I got a little help from Sunset magazine (Okay. A lot of help.). But I have made it so many times that it has nearly become my signature in cupcake baking.

Cupcake baking:

I was lacking in time when I baked these tasty little cakes, so I chose to go the route of the cake mix. Don't sue me! Cake mix can be very handy when dealing with cupcakes. I would NEVER use a cake mix for a normal cake (unless it was a decorating practice cake). However, these cupcakes are all about presentation and what's in the middle that counts, so I used a cake mix. I believe I went for the Pillsbury Devil's Food mix. Most cake mixes contain pudding so they will almost always be moist, unless you TOTALLY forget them in the oven. Not good. Never, under any circumstances, leave a cake alone for the last 10 - 20 minutes of its baking time. Most of the time, it will bake much more quickly than the time states it will. Cookies are okay if overbaked. Cakes and cupcakes are just down right raunchy.

So never overbake your cakes....even if from a cake mix.

I have used the recipe from the Sunset site, but didn't love it. I would suggest finding a good Devil's Food recipe to use if you don't want to use the Sunset one or a cake mix, but make sure to make Devil's Food.

Let those little cupcake guys cool before moving on to the next step.Cupcake filling:
Your first step should now be to cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake. Be sure not to dig too deep or near the sides or you will bust out the sides. Not so good if you don't want sticky fingers. The Sunset magazine says to cut a 3/4" cylinder out. I say try a cupcake out and see how much you want to cut and go for it. Practice makes perfect, right?
After the tops are cut off you are left with a hollow cupcake. Now the fun part!
Take a plastic decorator's bag or even a Ziploc bag and scoop your marshmallow creme into the bag, cutting a small hole at the end to allow it to come out. DO NOT attempt to use a spoon to scoop marshmallow creme into the cupcakes. It won't work and you'll just be left with a big, sticky mess.
Squeeze the marshmallow creme into each hollowed out center, allowing a little room on the top for the top of the cupcake to sit upon.
Don't forget to have a little snack of marshmallow creme before tossing the bag.Taking the tops you cut out recently, cut off the excess cake with a knife, leaving only a thin shell to go back onto the top of the cupcake.

Cupcakes after putting the top back on shown below.Cupcake Icing:

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese - room temperature
1/2 stick butter - room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
6 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa

In a stand mixer (or hand mixer) on low speed, cream together the butter and cream cheese until well blended. Slowly add the cocoa to the mix, then the powdered sugar until well blended. Crank that baby on high and make it fluffy and smooth...usually about 2 minutes.

Now, the Sunset recipe tells you to sift your cocoa and powdered sugar together. Fine. But that's just a lot of work you don't need to do. For one thing, if you buy a 10X sifted powdered sugar, like Domino, your sugar has already been sifted 10 times (hence the 10x). It's pretty darn fluffy.Also, the recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar. Dudes. Have you EVER measured powder sugar? No. Because it's too fluffy and there's too much air in it. Basically, one 1 pound box of Domino 10x powdered sugar contains 4 cups. I used the whole box because I like my cream cheese frosting to be a little sweeter and more dense. However, I add it slowly in order to make sure it does not become hard to work with. You will have to do a little fine tuning with your frosting recipe to come to a similar (or different) conclusion. Don't worry...it's nearly impossible to mess up as long as you use the right ingredients!

For this batch of cupcakes, I chose to spoon the frosting into a decorator's bag and use a star tip instead of the normal spreading of the frosting. It all looks good. And they will eat it. I added chocolate jimmies this time to give it a little spark. Everyone was very impressed with the star tip frosting and it only took me an additional 15 minutes (if that).
Presentation is key.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chocolate Sheet Cake

No pictures of this one (yet). Sorry. Just the recipe, which is great for outdoor events like picnics or family reunions and potlucks. It's quick and is a mix between brownies and cake.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a large sheet pan (cookie sheet with sides).

Combine in a bowl and stir:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar

In a sauce pan combine and stir:
1 stick butter (or margarine - I use Parkay)
4 Tbs. cocoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup oil
Bring to a boil, then pour over flour/sugar mixture.

Add the following:
1/2 cup buttermilk (or add 1/2 tsp. vinegar to 1/2 c. milk) Don't make the mistake I did the first (and only time) and add 1/2 CUP vinegar to 1/2 cup milk. Gross!!!
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix well. Pour into pan and bake for 20 minutes. Be sure to check the cake (toothpick comes out clean) in order to avoid over baking.

While cake is still hot (directly out of oven) mix the following in a medium pan over heat for icing:
1 stick butter (or margarine)
4 Tbs. cocoa
5 Tbs. milk
Bring to a boil. Take off heat and add a box of powdered sugar (1 lb.) slowly. You may not use the entire box. If the icing gets too thick, add a bit of milk. Too thin, add more powdered sugar.
Add 1/2 cup (to 1 cup) pecans
1 tsp. vanilla.

Stir.

Spread over warm cake quickly as it hardens super quick!

Eat and enjoy.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Decoupage me!

So Christie's post about her amazing pinata demonstrates how to paper mache. Personally, minus those two or three times in summer camp for various what nots, I have never paper mached. I know, call me crazy! I think it's amazing and well, her pinata looks great, but I have never really required paper mache for a project.

However, decoupaging IS something I partake in quite often. Boxes, letters, more boxes, more letters...I have Modge Podge on over half of my winter sweaters (making J & C boxes a gazillion years ago). Currently I have Modge Podge on my nice wood dining room table. Only because each time I put down paper, my letters (which is what you will get to see today) kept sticking to the paper and then getting the paper print imprinted on them. Therefore, I went with the table (testing that the glue, with careful scrubbing with a soft paper towel and water) would come clean.

Let's begin with the basics of decoupage. First, you need some kind of object to decoupage. I used a chipboard letter (well, lots of letters, but whatever). If I ever can find it online, I'll post a link.

Oh...I should put a list of items you will need first:
Modge Podge (use the kind you feel comfie with...I usually just use the Classic kind)
Object to be decoupaged (box, letters, frame, canvas, etc)
Paper or fabric (I love ordering paper from Paper Source)
Exacto knife (No. 1) with a No. 11 blade
Extra No. 11 blades
Cutting mat
Metal straight edge
Brushes


After you choose your object, you need to choose something to cover it in. You can use fabric or paper. I used paper because fabric has a tendency to get saturated with the liquid part of the glue and turns an odd color. But sometimes it does fine, you just have to experiment. Kara did a fairly amazing job decoupaging fabric onto a dresser. It's a great project in general for a furniture facelift.

In truth, you can use almost any kind of paper. I've used handcrafted paper, printed paper from an inkjet (make sure it dries well! It will still have a tendency to bleed though), cardstock, stickers...pretty much anything. Cardstock is a little harder to work with if you need to bend something around an edge, but you can do a pretty good job if you cut it. On this particular project, I just found different papers I liked ranging from cardstock to handmade paper.

Your first step would be to brush your letter with Modge Podge (make sure you have it facing the correct way if using letters - the "correct" way is reading as the letter when it faces you with the paper over it - unlike my finished, backwards "J" shown below).
I usually go ahead and brush the paper with Modge Podge also. Then, I simply place it face down and stick a heavy book on top of it and let it hang out overnight to dry.

After it has dried, I take my metal ruler and cut the excess off the paper. Because I want to fold the paper over the edges to cover the sides of the letters, I measure the average distance to cut. It turns out that the perfect distance is the width of my metal ruler. Woo!

When using letters or even boxes, it gets a little tricky when corners are concerned. We'll start with a square corner. There are several ways to do a square corner. You may just have to experiment a few times to see what works best for you. My favorite (and in my opinion, the easiest and least thought) is to cut a straight line from the corner out to the edge so that it ends up being square. Do this for ALL your corners before moving on to more gluing. After all your corners are cut, gently fold the corners how you want them to get them to be shaped. You'll probably want the corner tab you've created to be under the opposite edge.

Before gluing your corners, if you have a letter with curves or what not, you will notice that your folds may not cover the sides of the letter (or object). In order to fill in this void, you will need to cut strips of paper from your leftovers (once again, I just used the width of my metal ruler). Place this strip in the area you need to cover and measure it, cutting off any excessive ends. Go ahead and glue this strip (or many strips in some cases). After the strips dry you can continue to the next step.
After shaping your corners, you can now go ahead and apply an even layer of Modge Podge to the inside of the paper and then fold them where you want them. Try not to go overboard with your glue as too much glue means you'll be holding a corner for a while. Too little glue, however, means that you will have bubbles in your paper. Not so good as you can't exactly go back to get rid of them as this is your big moment.

So, up until now, basically all that you have accomplished is gluing your paper to your letter (box). Guess what? The easiest is yet to come: actual decoupaging.

Now, just cover your objects (over your paper) with a layer of Modge Podge. Make sure not to do every side of it as it's likely you're not going to want to sit around and hold your object while it dries. That would just be silly!

You can do another coat or two if you like (after it dries of course). I usually do two coats and that seems to do the job.
Here are my finished letters for the kids (note I used the backwards "J" for Jace's name and simply mirrored the image in Photoshop so you could see the finished product).