Got Mail

The little kids are getting to that really awesome age where they are beginning to take in more of their surroundings, ready to learn all about things outside their immediate vicinity.


I really love the preschool age. Everyday events are just fun, fun, fun with preschoolers.


One day over the summer all the little kids wrote letters to each other, and we went off to the post office to mail them to ourselves.


We addressed the envelopes, and bought stamps to put on them. Then we pushed the letters through the mail slot at the post office.


On the way home, we stopped at the library to check out some books about mail service. The kids were really curious about what was going to happen to their letters.


The very next day, all the letters arrived back at our house, and we found them in our mail box.


There was a very excited flurry of letter-opening, and everyone had a letter from someone. Not all of it was decipherable, but it was all written with love.


Gater had the biggest surprise in her letter.

That was really fun.

Why I've Been Away

Life is never dull around here, I can tell you.

August saw the start of a new homeschool year with a high schooler, a junior high student, a second grader, two preschoolers and a baby. Mamma knows when Mamma needs help, and this year we chose to enroll the three school-age children with K-12, online public schooling.


This is what we got in the mail.


Crazy, huh!

I thought they were going to send teachers, but came to find out that it was just me again, with more stuff and someone else's schedule.


The 2nd grade curriculum wreaked utter devastation on our formerly happy, laid-back style of homeschooling.


It's been a heavy couple of months.


Pulled the 2nd grader out.

Sending a lot of this stuff back.

The 8th and 9th graders are doing fine. They started very well and are continuing on that way.

Good now.

Post more soon :-)

Super Fancy Cake Decorating Tutorial for Broke Monkeys

This is a tutorial to show you how to decorate a cake that makes you look pretty clever.
The beauty of this method is that you can put anything you darn well want on a cake. Your kid likes a certain team and you don't trust Stuffmart Bakery?

No problemo. All you need is a picture off the webz (or a coloring book page, or a drawing you did yourself) and you can make any design you want.

In this case, Gater wanted a "Dora/Princess" cake. I didn't know how I would do a "Dora/Princess", but all I had to do was spend 10 seconds on Google, ("princess dora coloring page") and there was a coloring page all ready to print out.

First, bake your cake and let it cool thoroughly. It needs a flat top, so do what you have to to make it flat.
Make your icing; a buttercream made with butter is best. You want an icing that is smooth and soft, but that hardens in the freezer. You will probably want to make a double batch to be sure you have enough to divide into all the colors you need.

*When you make your icing, you will want to sift the powdered sugar and mix the icing up quickly so you don't get lumps. You don't want lumps clogging up your icing tips in your detail work. Your icing should be of medium thickness, not too stiff. Soft peaks.*

Ice your cake. You want a flat-topped cake. The icing job does not have to be perfect, just flat.

Print out a coloring page, and make sure it is the right size for the top of your cake. You need at least 1/2" space around the edge of your design on the cake.
*your design will be reversed, so if you are doing a team logo or similar, you will want a mirror image of your original printout.*

It is a good idea at this stage to decide how many colors you want to use in your finished design. You might want to mark those colors in the appropriate areas on your coloring page with markers. I didn't this time, because the design was simple and I was lazy.

Trim your coloring page, and tape it to the back side of a flat piece of glass. I always use glass from a spare picture frame.

Tape a similarly-sized piece of wax paper to the front of the glass. Now you have a coloring page/glass/wax paper sandwich.

Mix up the colors you will need for your design. Don't forget to include a dark color for outlines and details.

*I prefer to use paste colors because they are vibrant and easily blendable, they don't thin out your icing, and they last pretty close to forever. One little jar of each of a few basic colors will last you for years. Sometimes you get lucky and find a marked-down pack of specialty colors, like I did. If the specialty pack has a couple good basic colors in, or ones that you are likely to use in any case (for example, the Diego colors I bought for $1.99 had a skin color, blue, black, and brown -- all good colors,) by all means -- pick those suckers up, and some for your mommy friends too.*

Now the fun part! Fill your icing bags. For the finest details, use a #1 decorating tip -- and you don't have to get fancy if you don't have actual decorating tips, they just make it easier. As you can see in the picture below, for some of the colors I just used ziploc bags with the tiniest speck of the corner cut off.

But for the initial details, you are better off with an icing bag and a #1 decorating tip if you can get one.
Now, trace over the outlines that you want to see on your finished product. This bottom layer will be the top layer -- the one you see -- on your design.

Once your bottom detail layer is established, you can fill in larger areas over the details with other colors of icing. You can't go back in and put details in at this stage if you leave them out, so think logically, one step at a time. It isn't hard and you can fix things later if you need to, so don't stress too much about it.

Color in all the areas with the icing layers to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Fill in right to the edges and on top of your detail lines, so your whole design is supported by that 1/4" thickness of icing.

You can hold your glass up to the light to see if there are any pinpricks of light shining through your icing design, so you can fix those thin areas before you go on.

*This is when your children will come in and inform you that you have screwed up and your icing job was a good try, but it does not look like Dora. You may chuckle to yourself at how ignorant impertinent amazed they will be when you reveal the final design.*

Now, take the whole coloring page/glass/wax paper/icing design sandwich, and slip it into the freezer. You want it in the freezer until the icing is hard to the touch. I don't really know how long that takes, but I'd venture at least fifteen minutes.

Now is a good time to busy yourself with making the sides and bottom edge of the cake look pretty, or doing the dishes, or having a beer, or whatever.

Now -- the magic! Take your coloring page/glass/wax paper/icing design sandwich out of the freezer and make sure the icing is nice and hard.

Un-tape the wax paper/icing, and quickly but carefully, up-end your design onto the cake. Press it down a little so it sticks.
Then, also quickly but carefully, before the design softens, peel back the wax paper to reveal the design.

Now, make the top edge of the cake look pretty with some stars or whatever (a #16 tip is good to use for decorating the sides and edges) and pipe your message.

Voila! You are a genius!
Or a broke monkey!
COME ON OVER and see how it worked for Lea!


This post is now over four years old and still every day you lovely visitors arrive to see how to do this brilliant technique.  Since there is so much interest in cake decorating, I'm just going to post this little affiliate link here for you all, from Craftsy.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE Craftsy classes.  They are top-quality educational experiences taught by really good, qualified, personable instructors.  I love them.  I've been a Craftsy student for ages and have taken numerous classes.  Right now, this little party-cake-decorating class is half price.  Here's the link.   Charming Party Cakes (w/Zoe Clark)

Gater's Third Birthday and a Trip to the Museum

I think the next several posts are not going to totally be in chronological order. I don't know why, I think I just got bored with that. Anyway, perhaps you would like to see what we did for Gater's 3rd birthday.

Daddy took the day off work in honor of her birthday, since Joman had cross-country training that night and there wouldn't be enough time to celebrate otherwise.

Miss Rose dressed Gater in an appropriate princessy-dress (the same one Miss Rose wore for her fourth birthday -- a Princess Party!) and off we went on a special outing.

We made a re-run to the Cincinnati Museum at the Union Terminal. I took the kids there in May for a free school function, but we weren't there five minutes when Roks threw up, so we hastily left. He was mortally disappointed, as the museum is expensive and we hardly ever go. This time, we bought a membership. Clever of us, hey!

We thought the little girls especially would have fun in the Children's Museum part. It really is a super-fun place, all hands-on and interactive.

It was a crazy noisy place when we were there, overloaded with preteens who were loaded up on pop-tarts and off their medication for the summer (true story, I heard it in the bathroom,) but the little kids managed to have a really fun time, anyway. There was a shop to buy groceries from, a cafe, a house, cars to drive and fill with gas, a post office, mailboxes at every station, a nursery, a veterinary office, a water discovery center, buildings and construction "vehicles" and so much more.

One of my favorite parts is where they have all different kinds of homes, from all over the world, to go in and have a look at. That was really interesting.

As an aside, I kind of want a yurt.


Roks and Bert got to visit the state where they were born! Western Australia. This was a display of some Aboriginal folks who live up north of the state, and below, is a letter the little boy wrote about Perth, the capital city where my little boys were born.

Pretty cool!

I guess all the continents were represented, and there were drums and thumb pianos and all sorts of things to play with.

Gater and Bert spent the most time at the veterinary clinic. They looked at x-rays and examined their animals.

Roks got to play at his dream job in the cafe. He constantly talks about having a restaurant. He informed us that when we die, he is turning our house into a restaurant. There was more to that conversation, which was very funny, but I can't remember it now.

He can be a bizarre child.

When we got home in the afternoon, we had cake-and-present time. Gater had requested a "Dora Princess" cake, and that is what she got. It occurred to me that I post a lot of pictures of these type of decorated cakes, which are so simple and cheap to do that a broke monkey could do it, and perhaps I should do a tutorial. I will try to do that tomorrow.

Miss Rose had made a whole box of Easy-Bake Oven mixes for Gater. It was a great effort, and Gater was so excited to receive them. We haven't baked any yet, but we will.

And Gater's present from Mamma and Daddy was her very own big-girl Princess Bed, with all the beautiful Princess bedding. She has been sleeping in a crib this whole time, and she was finally ready to move up.

I think she had a great birthday.
Happy Birthday, Gater!

Adventures in Eating -- Cooking from the Pantry

Jumping to the present time, for a moment, since it only takes me approximately 5 minutes to forget whatever it was we just did, I want to talk about something small that I'm doing right now that is making a bigger impact than I expected on my kitchen attitude.

Simply, I've put my mind and energy to really using what is in my (fairly extensive and eclectically-, if not well-stocked,) pantry. You see, I had just completely lost my motivation to cook or do anything in the kitchen; there was no creativity in it any more. I mean, I made up an 8-week rotation of menus, I would go buy the stuff, I would cook the stuff, we would eat the stuff. Good stuff, but really boring for the kitchen help.

Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to create something from "nothing". I guess it comes from growing up with little money and few toys. Once the creative spark is planted as a child, and, as a child, you make very pleasant and useful and pretty things from "nothing," -- found objects, cast-offs, what-have-you -- well, it is kind of a let down to be able to get whatever you want to make whatever you want. It feels spoiled and, frankly, boring.

I've always preferred scrappy quilts to designer quilts, just for this same reason -- the pleasant surprise of never knowing quite what you will find put together in it, but knowing that whatever it is, if a clever person put it together, the end result will be delightfully more than the sum of its parts.

Well, that is a very long way of saying that my cooking has gotten to be like a designer quilt, and my pantry has gotten to be like a hoard of scraps, leftover from my designer (not gourmet, lol) habits. It's a boring way to live, and it can turn out to be wasteful, too.

We aren't going to do that any more. It's time to find a use for the random tins of coconut milk and seaweed flakes, before they go bad. It is definitely time to not be so squeamish about the squash bugs and just get out there and pick the dang squash and then not let it turn into fruitfly food, but actually USE it (btw, I still do have a butternut squash in the pantry that we harvested LAST fall, will try to do something with it tomorrow!)

We celebrated Gater's birthday recently, and instead of going out and buying gourmet goodies, I used what we had. I only had to purchase sandwich meat and cheese, lettuce, and bread for sandwiches. And a bit of generic pop. The rest -- homemade baked beans, potato salad, 3-bean salad, homemade cherry pie, the birthday cake, and the other assorted goodies, were assembled within a couple of days, from pantry and fridge goodies. I used up ALLLL of some veggies that normally get discarded before they are completely gone...celery, for example (embarrassing, but true. I'm sorry.) It's not that I don't know what to do with the stuff, it is just that using it all up doesn't fall as conveniently into the schedule as I would like it to.

Anyway, (and it is very late and I fear I am rambling), we had leftover birthday cake (will do a birthday post soon) last night, and this was the verdict from Wannie:



At Gater's party, the first time we had the cake, I had to pry the empty plate out of Wannie's cold dead hands. Not literally, but that was definitely the message she was giving. Oh my.

The cake was a Pig-Pickin Cake, deliciously fresh-tasting and moist, and made with pantry/freezer ingredients.

Well, as though two birthday cakes and a cherry pie were not enough dessert-y goodness for one week, today I went cleaning out the fridge in preparation for (rather random) grocery shopping tonight. I located 2 elderly packages of cream cheese and a just-out-of-date tub of sour cream -- and I had just processed a whole bunch of opened-but-not-finished packs of graham crackers into crumbs. And I had this leftover apple caramel dip that I had made for the party, plus some leftover pineapple and some leftover cherry filling from the naturally I had to make this:

Caramel-swirl cheesecake

and a half-dozen plain mini-cheesecakes to top with that leftover cherry filling and pineapple.

Oh, sooooo bad, but honest, I had to do it. Those ingredients had to be used up. It's the right thing to do.

Mothers' Day 2011

Deb and I had many adventures! We went to Amish country with Miss Rose and E, visited our grandmothers, and braved the rainy weather to see sights around the town as much as we could in a short time. But the day before Mothers Day, Deb and E had to go home to the other babies and Larry.

My kids and Daddy anticipated that it would be a sad Mothers Day for me, and they did everything they could to make it happier.
In the morning, I was encouraged to stay in bed for a while and read. When I was called to breakfast, all these gorgeous smiling faces greeted me.

Some very-much appreciated gifts had been bought! A tablecloth I had wished for, and this pretty petunia plant, and a bird-decorated ironwork hanger to hang it from. And some gorgeous handmade cards from my gorgeous, thoughtful children.

The kids had made baked oatmeal, fresh strawberries, orange juice and coffee, and there was probably other delicious stuff too, but I have a really bad memory, even for things that I really appreciate.

Early that afternoon, a praying mantis somewhere became a mommy. We had seen this funny thing in the japanese maple, and thought it was some kind of cocoon, so I was surprised when I walked out in the yard, to see this wet-tissue-looking mass hanging from the "cocoon."

When I went closer and saw what it was, wow -- it was so fascinating watching the teeny tiny praying mantises squeezing out like little worms, and then unfolding their antennae and legs, one by one by one. It was very methodical and machinelike and lifelike all at the same time. All the children came out and watched, and the neighbor kids came and had a look too.

When Deb and I were up in Amish country, we did some spring yard-saleing at whatever interesting sales we came across as we were driving around. We picked up such a lot of cool stuff, books and music and clothes and crystal candy jars -- but of course, the item that really got the baby girls going was the Easy Bake Oven.

I think I have wanted an Easy Bake Oven, myself, for, like, forever. I mean, how fun are they!
On Mothers Day, we spent the afternoon baking little cakes with Gater and Bert. We found that ten minutes per cake is a very long time to wait when you are two or four years old. But wait they did.

Our first cake was such a bright pink, and it tasted pretty much like cooked playdough. I learned since then that it is a better idea to just throw the ingredients together myself. I've been cooking a long time, lol.

But anyway, Gater very much enjoyed serving teeny tiny wedges of cake to everyone in the family. Ellie wanted some too but Gater was very adamant that the cake was *not* for doggies.

Wannie was sold on the cake for sure.

Gater thought it was pretty good. She immediately wanted to make more, in different colors.

Miss Rose enjoyed the cake too, just as much as anyone can enjoy cake with the color and aroma of playdough.

This is to remind us of why we should wash out-door-babies' hands before they eat. Oh well, call it natural vaccination. She survived. She even liked it.


Align CenterThis centerpiece is brought to you by Roks. He made all those flowers, all by himself, which is quite a big undertaking for a six-year-old boy. I was pretty impressed and I asked him where he got the great idea for those flowers. He was too embarrassed to tell me! Which made me all the more curious, because I could not imagine why he would be embarrassed -- was he looking at something he shouldn't have? Well, he finally admitted that he learned how to make the flowers from that "whiny baby show", Caillou! LOL

Roks also made the beeswax candles. He had made four hand-dipped candles, and gave them to his most favorite people. One for the pastor, one for Mrs. F, and two for me. He is such a sweetie, and has such a creative spark.

So that was my Mothers Day this year, and it was not too sad after all. It was a very good day.

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