Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zebra Stripe Graduation Cake

One of my favorite "hobbies" is making cakes.  I've taken a couple of cake decorating classes at our local JoAnn fabrics, watched bunches of YouTube videos and learned a great deal from good 'ol trial and error.

I realized I should start posting pictures of some of the cakes I've worked on. 

This cake, and the accompanying cupcakes, were made for a friend's daughter for her high school graduation party.  The school colors were orange and black and they wanted those incorporated as well as daisies, her daughter's favorite flower.

I made square cakes stacked--one white and one chocolate cake with raspberry filling and buttercream, topped with fondant.  The daisies are made out of gum paste.  I thought a zebra print would be "hip" enough for a high school girl and the colors ended up being really vibrant, which I loved!

I made the orange fondant, but decided to use black fondant pre-made so it didn't have so much food coloring.  It was going to be a hot day and I didn't want everyone with black mouths after they had a bite:)

Next time, I would find another way to stick the daisies on and work more on the bottoms of the cake where the fondant comes together (do you ever notice the little imperfections in things you do??:).

It was delicious and I was happy--success!!

Erica's Graduation Cake

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Plastic Mommy

I've made a big change in my life.

I'm not sure what took me so long to put it in writing. 

Maybe the fear of such a huge decision and so much change?

Maybe being afraid of what people would say?

Maybe not putting in writing keeps every aspect from being fully realized?

But, it's here.  If I hadn't made this decision, I would've returned to the office on August 1st.

Instead, I'm home.

Watching Wardie everyday along with other kiddos as a home childcare provider.

The transition has been full of so many things:  golden mornings where the kids are running around outside with the morning sun making little halos around their heads, frustrating lunchtime battles, naptime cries because of missing mom and dad, a surreal feeling of not being in an office for the first time in seven years, pangs of loneliness in missing friends and bits of boredom from feeling a bit "cooped up" at times. 

Sometimes I feel like a "plastic mommy" surrounded with primary colors and unbreakable bowls speaking in language that small ones will understand--wishing to be surrounded by loveliness...but then I take a moment to stop and look and listen, and I realize, I am.

I have been given a great gift.  I get to watch each growing moment of our son, and make income for our family.  I also get a glimpse into the mind of a child that I missed when I was working and rushing from place to place.  I really get to see their ups and downs, their triumphs and frustrations and the sweet giggles and personalities that I was often too busy to notice.  I have a new empathy for each of the children I care for.

The kinks are working themselves out.  I am learning how to balance daily life and to go to my "happy place" when I really just want to hang children upside down by their ankles.  (I promise I don't actually do this.)  I'm learning to be continuous in the maintenance of our home, so I'm not overwhelmed when the kids leave for the day and left with mountains of things to clean up.  I am finding outlets for my mind and creative juices that have long been stifled in the pursuit of creating as much family time as I could while working.  I am finding social outlets as a new Pampered Chef consultant and through our church.  I am also still serving others through our local food bank and other activities.

I am seeing the results of what happens when you truly step out in faith into something unknown and completely scary, and I have watched the pieces come together in the most beautiful way.

I have found that this was the right choice for our family and I believe this is pleasing to God.

I am happy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

4th of July Cookies with Swirled Royal Icing

Last weekend, I pulled out my super-awesomely-delicious Lemon Cutout Cookie recipe.
With a great deal of help from the little man, we took 700 times longer than usual to cut out flags, stars, and hot air balloons to commemorate our town's annual hot air balloon festival that happens yearly over Independence Day weekend.

I used royal icing and a toothpick to pull through for the swirl effect in the icing.  The lemon flavor and the light icing were the perfect combination for a summer cookie.



Almost too cute to eat.

Almost:)

Lemon Cutout Cookies

Ok. I'm going to share a secret with you.


Well, it's not really a secret. It's actually published for the entire world to see. My absolute FAVORITE recipe for cutout cookies.

Do you own this book?



If not, you should. It's the 1963 edition of Betty Crocker's Cooky book, still in print. This book brings back wonderful memories of Christmas cookies for as long as I can recall.

I use it for EVERY single cookie I make.  Honestly.

And, it contains my favorite cutout cookie recipe. Sweet, but not too much so, with a touch of lemon--yum!  I just can't make regular sugar cookies because I just love these way too much.

Merry Christmas Cookies

Ingredients:
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup honey
1 tsp lemon extract
2 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Preparation:
In a large bowl, cream vegetable shortening, sugar, egg, honey, and lemon extract until light and fluffy. Sift in flour, baking soda, and salt; stir until well blended. Refrigerate dough at least 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F . Lightly grease cookie sheets.
On a lightly floured board, roll dough 1/4-inch thick with your Rolling Pin; cut into desired shapes with your favorite Cookie Cutters. Place onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown.  Be careful not to overbake; cookies will harden slightly as they cool.

The recipe says it yields 5 dozen cookies, but I like to roll them out a bit thicker, so I typically get a bit less than that, but I almost always make 2 batches--they go quickly!

Then, I take the leftover dough, roll it into little balls and then in a cinnamon/sugar mixture and bake the little dough balls.  Perfect for little fingers:)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Delicious Food:)

I'm linking up to Sweet As Sugar Cookies' blog for a linky party today.  Check out all these other great recipes...mmmmm:)




Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever...

There's just something about picking your own strawberries that makes them taste that much more delicious.


And, WAY more affordable than buying them in the store!  We went picking twice this season, and the second visit was right at the end of the season, so the berries were super cheap.


We used these berries to make Strawberry Rhubarb jam and Strawberry Rhubarb pie...sooo good!


Wardie was especially helpful in the baking process.  He really pushed himself to make sure that the entire kitchen, not just some of it, was covered in flour.  Luckily, I don't care because he's so darn cute:)


And, the finished products.  I ended up with 14 jars of jam...


And 3 lovely pies:)

I can't wait for blueberry picking time...maybe later this week or early next.  I'm thinking some blueberry basil jam is in order.  I'll make sure to share the recipe, too!



Strawberry Rhubarb Jam


You should make this.  For reals.  Usually when I make dessert, I don't eat as I go, and even though this isn't technically a dessert, it was so sweet and delicious, I may or may not have been eating it with a spoon... And, I may or may not have restricted hubby's jam intake so we have enough to last the year:) 

I use a great resource, www.pickyourown.org, for all of my canning info, as well as my Ball canning book.  I have had great luck with both!

So, here you go.  Recipe used from www.pickyourown.org.

You'll need:

4 cups crushed strawberries (1 1/2 qts of whole berries)
2 cups cooked rhubarb (just chop it up and boil for a minute or two until it's soft)
7 cups sugar (yup, you read that right.  kinds of gross.  but, if you use the low-sugar pectin, you can reduce the sugar to 4 cups...still gross, but less, ha!)
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh, if you have it)
1 1/2 packages of pectin (again, try the low-sugar if you like)

Basically, just mix everything, saving 1/4 cup of the sugar and the pectin, and heat over medium to medium-high heat in a large pot.  Keep stirring it pretty often until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. 

Then, add the remaining sugar and pectin, and take to a full boil, stirring often to incorporate the pectin.

Finally, skim off the foam and follow normal canning procedures (I used a water bath) to finish.

Then, hide them somewhere you'll forget so you don't find yourself with a spoon and a jar of jam!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summer Lovin'

I'm a fall and winter girl at heart. 

Typically, when I feel that chill start in the air, I find a new energy for life and get so excited to cozy up and hide out for awhile.

But, we have been enjoying the heck out of summer this year.

From the early morning chill in the air to the standing heat of the late evening.  We have been soakin' it up.

Family.

Cozying up with one of my uncles, who apparently, is a great snuggler.

Visiting with Great Grandpa.

Kisses for Great Grandma.

Friends.
I have 32 first cousins.  Seriously.  And, many of them now have kids.  And we watched the now "big" kids taking care of the new littles. And they love my son.  And that's awesome.
On our friends' new boat on a lovely lake with hundreds of sailboats around...perfect!

Fresh produce.
One of my besties threw a family backyard campout.  I'm not a camper and was super-hesitant about trying to sleep with a toddler, but I was so wrong.  It was AWESOME.

S'mores.
Seriously, where have you guys been hiding these things!?
Drinks.
I'm just sayin'--you can't beat a margarita in a ball jar.  Period.

Camping. Swimming. Visiting. Gardening. Grilling. Planting. Weeding. Sewing. Fires.

Having Wardie around allows me to see so many things new through his eyes.

I heart summer.


Our lovely home:)

Play hard and sleep harder:)


After fighting a nap, he slept for 3 1/2 hours. No joke.
 For the first time, I know it'll be over much too quickly.



Sunday, May 22, 2011

Healthy returns

Ok, it's been a long time since I've posted.  For real. 

But, I'm back.  And so happy about it.

This week, I'll be sharing about what's been going on in our lives for the past month or two and my upcoming post plans include various projects, delicious summer recipes and lots of random thoughts:)

Stick with me, I'll do better:)

One of the cool things that I have coming up is a mini-triathlon in September (yes, I'm serious).  I've always wanted to do one and this is an all-women's race benefitting breast cancer research.  The race consists of a 250 m swim, 7 mile bike ride and 2 mile run. 

We now have a jogging stroller and a bike seat for Wardie, so I've been enjoying my workouts with him.  Now, if I could only figure out how to strap him to my back in the pool...:)  The race is September 17th, so I'll be counting down and keeping you posted on my progress.

We've also had a little competition arise at work to see who can lose the most inches/weight/bmi throughout the summer.  I had my measurements taken and they were VERY eye-opening.  I'm glad to have a few goals to train for.

Hubby and I have also been trying to make a point of riding our bikes anywhere in town that we don't need a car to get to--helps with saving $$ and getting fit.  All this plus LOTS of summer grilling and fresh food and we are so excited for a healthy summer:)

What are your summer health goals?  Jump on board, we'll get healthy together!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Grounding

I feel, oftentimes, that we live in such uncertainty.

There are so many things in flux...jobs, children, homes, income, health, the economy...and the list goes on.

Sometimes when I feel the lack of certainty with such intensity, I go into what a friend dubs, "paralysis by over-analysis" mode and I have a hard time moving forward with anything at all.

This weekend, I have been thankful for so many certainties.  Family. Friends. Love. Home. Happy.


My little, fascinated by every new thing we do.

Fresh air and screens in windows; welcoming in a new season of growth and beauty.
Quiet, focused time with my two favorite boys (one behind the camera).
Independence coming so quickly..."Do it 'self mommy."

Happiness and lovely.

Creating something beautiful and delicious for others--fully homemade chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes...

and Iced Lemon Poppy Seed scones.

And an early visit from the Easter Bunny, who brought mostly games and just a VERY small bit of candy:)
After the day-to-day uncertainties, I am so grateful for the peaceful reminders of things I never question.

Looking forward to Easter Sunday and the joy the Lord's resurrection brings!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Is this legal?

I was going through old pictures and videos yesterday and came across this one again. 

video


Two questions:
  1. Is it legal for grandparents to do this?
  2. Is it wrong that I find it funny?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Birthday to my favorite little!!

Wardie's second birthday happened a few weeks ago.


The day was perfect.  He asked for a choo-choo cake, so mommy made one.  (After returning from a 11 hour bus ride building houses with 200 college students and no sleep.)  It was a stupid great idea to have his party the day after I got back.


I used four mini-loaf pans and two boxes of cake mix, making 8 cakes total.  Two of the mini cakes were used for the engine, and the rest made perfect train cars.



Then, I iced the cakes, used oreos for wheels, kit kats as the ties between cars and various candy for the "cargo" coming out of each car.  Overall, it turned out pretty cool.



The engine had a little accident, so I had to do some emergency surgery.



Wardie thought it was delicious.



Once he realized everyone was singing to him, he just lit up--I think he felt so special and loved.



And he spent the rest of the afternoon surrounded by family and friends and WAAAAYYYY too many birthday gifts.

Wardie at one year old posing with mommy.

To our baby:  Ward Christopher Schaaf, you were always wanted.  We loved you long before we even knew you were coming and you continue to be a constant joy in daddy and mommy's world.  You are determined and sweet and funny.  We love to watch your love for music and books and the outdoors continue to grow.  Mommy and daddy feel so lucky to have you--you have made our family wonderful and perfect.  We can't believe so much time has gone by and that you're already two but we are so happy we are the ones who get to watch the time pass with you.  We love you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I am a Parent

Well, shock of the century, here's me spouting off about something again:) 

I worked on this post after reading a post from Sarah, whose blog was the first one I ever read and happens to be my favorite to this day.  Seriously, she's amazing, and cracks me up because she gets all awesome-fiery, and does it with such tact and without apologizing--LOVE that!

Anyway, she really was talking about the teenage girl (and younger) phenomenon in regards to clothing, magazines, movies, music, etc. and how we could ever combat that as moms looking to raise basically, wholesome kids.  She called for a parenting revolution--and, as usual, I TOTALLY agree with her.

I've long thought that parents should have to take a vow, similar to those we take when we choose our life partners.  Although I'm sure this will evolve over time, here are my beliefs on paper.  (And, just to clarify, my husband is a wonderful partner, but I was looking at these things as something each individual would need to choose themselves, so that's why it's written in the first person!)

I am a Parent.

I am a friend to my peers,
but not to my child.

I will not use my child
to fill my own voids
in love,
image,
or popularity.

I am a soft place to fall
and sometimes a hard place to land
because I have standards
that I will not compromise,
disown,
or lower 
for any reason.

I will teach my child
about God
and His wonder
and tell him
about how He has changed
my life.

I will let my child roam free in nature,
growing, touching, climbing, learning,
and even sometimes falling
all on his own.
I will be there to dress his wounds
but I won't hover.

I will not get in the way
of my child's core being,
but I will direct his energies toward good.

I will allow him to fail.
A lot.
And develop the confidence
that comes after finally figuring it out
after so many failed attempts.

My child will understand the value
of hard work
and money
because he will learn by doing
and by example.

He will learn
there is no task he is too
important to complete
because he will be
made to do
some mundane
gross
difficult
but necessary
tasks.

He will not have everything
he wants
or everyone else has.

I will teach my child
that our bodies
are temples
and we must treat them
as so
in all we do
in regards to ourselves
and others.

I will not be a part of
teenage gossip
drinking
sexualization
or inappropriate trends.
I am not a teenager.

I will not allow him freedom
in all things.
media
fashion
friends
play
in my home
will all happen
and sometimes not happen
under my watchful eye
as I deem appropriate.

I will not
inherently trust him,
but I will allow him
to build trust over time
and enjoy the privileges
that come with trust.

I will not allow him
to quit something he started
midway
or not try his best
at all times.

I will allow him
to choose
what he loves
and pursue those things
with enthusiasm.

I will not complete
his school projects
at 3am
on the due date.
He will take an F
and the consequences
that come with it.

I will encourage
questioning
but I will
have the final say.

I will continue to
learn
read
talk
research
about parenting
because I know that I
don't have all the answers.

I will make
well-informed choices
that suit our family
even if and when
they may not be
popular.

I will do my best
to make our home
a place that fosters
happiness
creativity
peace
love
fun
respect
from and to
everyone.

And I will
mess up.
A lot.
And I will
apologize.
A lot.

But, I will not become
complacent
about parenting.
Because I love
my family
and my child
and I know
that all children are 
precious gifts.

And I truly believe
that raising a child
to be a 
competent
confident
happy
healthy
fulfilled
faithful
adult
is the greatest
opportunity
challenge
blessing
responsibility
joy
that I will ever know.

I'd love to hear your thoughts/additions:)  What would be in your "parent vows"?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lessons from a 2-year-old

As he just turned 2, Wardie's language is just exploding and he's like the mayor--saying hi to EVERY person he sees no matter where we are.  No, really.  I mean everyone.  No one is immune.  The toddler, the grandma, the angsty teenager, the grumpy old man. 

But, it doesn't stop there.  He says hi to people that I (even though I hate to admit it) would probably never consider talking to.  Worse yet, I would probably go out of my way to avoid them.  People who don't look "safe" or "healthy" or "good" in my eyes.  And, I've made this oh-so-insightful determination in a split second, mostly without even thinking or knowing anything at all about the person.

But not Wardie.  He gives them a big grin and raises his little hand in a wave and says, "hi" in his sweet sing-song voice.  You know the funny thing?  Most of the people I would normally walk by quickly with my head down turn right to him and answer "hi" back.

Now, I don't plan on letting him run around making friends with any stranger he sees on the street.  But, what real harm is there in saying hi?  When did we become so scared of others and/or so judgemental that we can't even look people in the eye?  So what if that person isn't "good"--are we more likely to be hurt by them?  Or does it just move us out of our comfort zone more than we're comfortable with?  And who determines the level of "good-ness" anyway? 

When I saw his little face today full of joy just in saying "hi" to someone, it almost made me tear up.  It warms my soul when I see how pure his little heart is. 

As a parent, we're given so many responsibilities in making decisions for our children.  Some believe that success is molding our littles into who they should become.  For me, I hope that Wardie just becomes more of himself because clearly, he's doing just fine.

Perhaps we all could learn something from him.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Homemade Headboard!

Our bedroom is the catch-all place. 

I think it's the room that I know nobody will just waltz in unless invited, so I don't worry as much.

And, I'm totally ok with that, but our bed was looking ridiculous.  We are grown adults, and we needed an "adult" bed.

Since my two strongest characteristics seem to be cheap and stubborn, I decided that we should make it ourselves.  So, I did what I always do when I want to take on something new--I read and read and read.  Mostly blogs with lots of pictures (thank you, bloggers!!). 

The next step was convincing Bryan.  Thankfully, he's usually on board when it involves saving money, and after seeing the steps online, we decided to try it, and we LOVE our results!

First, Bryan did the preparation steps--cut a piece of plywood to fit the wall space in our room (ours couldn't be too high because we like to rearrange the furnitre, and we have eaves in our bedroom) and sand the edges just a bit.  We happened to have the wood on hand, so the cost = $0 for that part.

Second, he measured out equal distance between where we would space the buttons for the tufts and drilled holes there.  Then, he played FIFA on his PS2 for most of the evening.

I took it from here.  I went to JoAnn's and bought a very large piece of foam, 2" thick.  You MUST use your 40 or 50% off coupon here--the foam would've been about $120 without it!  I had batting at home, so the cost was free, and I found the perfect fabric in the clearance section for $6 a yard--such a deal!

I also picked up plastic buttons to cover in fabric and some spray glue.

The first step was to put down an old sheet and use the spray to glue the foam to the plywood.


Of course, this headboard was really just a very expensive toy.


Anyway, after that, I laid the headboard foam-side down on the batting (which was on top of the fabric) and stapled the batting all the way around.  Note: small pieces of foam may be used as swords.


Or, if you wish to make the project take twice as long just to help mommy, sit on it and watch Yo Gabba Gabba and refuse to move.


After moving all small children out of the way, I attached the fabric.  Basically, I just pulled the fabric tight and stapled it, too, taking special care with the corners.


Then, I decided to take a break to take a pretend nap with Wardie and all of the friends he brought to his "pillow" aka leftover foam, which included 2 babies, a soccer ball, a toy camera, plastic farmer and steering wheel.  In our world, even the smallest baby dolls sleep face down and inanimate objects also get tired.


After said distraction went to bed, I made the fabric buttons which was easy peasy and attached them to the headboard which was AWFUL.  So awful that it made me question my sanity and wonder if it would look as nice just left as is.  NOT fun.

Here's what I did.

I took a long needle with several thicknesses of thread and poked it through the back of the holes through the foam and fabric and attached the button.  Awesome.  Simple.  Perfect.

Then, I had to pull the needle back through the same VERY tiny hole to pull the button tight and create the "tufted" look.  Not awesome.  Or simple.  Or perfect.



But, after about an hour, I had them all pulled through and stapled, although I think I ruined my thumbs in the process. 


Finally.  All finished.  Bryan added legs attached all the way up, and we attached it to the frame on our bed with bolts rather than the wall; again, because we (aka I) like to rearrange. 



We are SO happy with the final product.


If I were to do this again (and I honestly would), here are the things I would and wouldn't do again.
  • I would make sure to save up my coupons and wait for sales at JoAnn's.  Crucial.
  • I would do the tufts again.  I love the look of them and the detail they add.
  • I wouldn't use string to pull the buttons.  I need something stronger, although I'm not sure what.
  • I wouldn't make the stinkin' holes for the buttons so small and IMPOSSIBLE to find with the point of a needle.  Bad choice.
  • I wouldn't do the project with a 22-month-old running around (unless I had to, of course).
I told Bryan that recently, I saw a blog with directions to upholster an entire bed...

I'm waiting on Bryan to file the divorce papers:)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wintertime blanket-making

There is nothing I like more in the winter than to cozy up under the covers with some trashy reality tv and a project to sew:)  Lately, I've been working on baby blankets for friends. 

This one is a pattern from Lion brand yarns online called "Bright Flower Throw."  I chose different colors (Little Boy Blue, Sweet Pea, Chocolate Cake and Lamb) mainly because most of my friends seem to have boys:)

I started off by making bunches of the same granny hexagon:)


And, then simply whipstitched them all together to form the pattern.


This looked wonderful, but came out about the size of a placemat, so I decided to double the pattern.  Then, I realized that with hexagons, the part where they came together wouldn't have been even, so I made a strip of the "lamb" hexagons to be the bridge between the two blankets.


I think it turned out pretty nice overall, and I was much happier with the finished size of this one.  (Excuse the Christmas decorations on the table, this post should've been finished a LOOOONG time ago!)  Anyway, it made a lovely gift for our friends Ward and Jodie's new little boy, Rafferty.

So, I made a blanket, and Wardie made this.



Very creative use of the crochet needles, don't you think?

The sad part is, this is probably what my sewing looks like in his eyes...sigh...I also found some of my needles in the bed of his tractor.  I think I rounded them all up, but we'll see when I start the next project.

Crocheting is awesome.  MUCH easier than knitting, in my opinion.  I'm knitting a blanket right now, and it takes me forever to keep counting stitches and make sure I'm not dropping any, etc.  What a pain!  Crocheting is almost foolproof and clearly, I need that:)

I have a book of blankets that I love for knitting, but I found the Lion Brand website that has both free crochet and knit patterns on it.  Here are my thoughts about the Lion Brand patterns on the website after trying a couple of them.
  1. The website is awesome.  Easy to navigate, easy to find colors in projects, and easy to order the yarn right then and there.
  2. They send you free email newsletters with sales and new patterns to try--very cool.
  3. However, the patterns seem to be MUCH smaller than expected and the yarn called for seems to be less than needed, too, which of course means more expensive projects than originally anticipated. 
I'll have to try some projects other than blankets to see how those turn out before I make my final call.

Happy sewing!