Our Family Unit
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  • January21st

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    Happy New Year everyone!  I realize I’m a little late to the party, but things have been busy around here…planning for this new year and looking back to figure out what worked and what didn’t in 2013.

    One of the things I’ve been looking at in that process is holiday traditions.  As a family with young kids, we’re just in the early stages of building out the traditions we want to celebrate year after year.  It seems like we often go through a lot of trial and error to get there, cleaning up after more than one flop that looked like it would be so easy on Pinterest.  But I think we’re making headway…
    easter2013-2One thing the kids love is Easter Baskets.  I enjoy putting them together (plus it gives me an excuse to go to Target without the kids in tow) and they love getting them.  Other Easter traditions, like Egg Hunts, I’ve realized don’t have to depend on me.  It seems there’s always at least one group of friends doing one that we can join, and it’s less stress for me.
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    I grew up celebrating Independence Day with a hometown parade and Kyle’s family never missed fireworks.  So we try to hit up both on the 4th of July.

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    Birthdays…this is one that seems to be ever-evolving.  We don’t do birthday parties every year for every kid, but we still want to make the day special for them.  So we’ve started decorating their bedroom door with birthday streamers and giving them a grand entrance to the day.

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    Another thing we like to do for birthdays is an elaborate (as I can manage to make it) cake.  They get to pick the subject/theme for their birthday cake and then I do my best to surprise them with it that night.  Lucky for me, at 5 and under they are all still easily impressed.  ;)

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    Chocolate Monster Truck Cake

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    6 Layer Neapolitan Cat Cake

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    3 Tier Cat in the Hat Cake

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I love fall, and the week of Jessie and Buzz’s birthdays seems to kick off a 2 month holiday at our house.  So far, we’ve never missed Pumpkin Carving with Dad, although cleaning the seeds isn’t really anyone’s favorite part.

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    traditions oct-2Even if our block didn’t have a Halloween Parade, I think the kids would still dress up for Halloween.  They love that dress up box so much; we’re in costumes 5 days a week as it is.  Doing it with all our friends and neighbors on the same day just makes it that much more awesome!

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    This year, in anticipation of Christmas, we took the kids to see the Christmas Lights.  It was a lot of fun and I think I’d like to continue the tradition, however we might modify it a bit for next year.  A friend of mine told me that they had their kids go through the normal bedtime routine, then when the kids went up to bed they found “tickets” on their pillow.  When they came back downstairs, the car was running and hot chocolate was ready and they drove around to look at lights.  I think that might be the way to do it next time!

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    We love decorating Christmas cookies each year, but this time around we also did Gingerbread Houses while we were at the grandparents’ house in Colorado.  I liked it because not only do I want to be thinking about what traditions the kids do with Kyle and I, but also to develop a few that are done with the grandmas and grandpas, too.  The Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Kits made it super easy, too easy to pass up.  This’ll be a keeper.

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    Sometimes this stage of life makes traditions difficult.  My kids aren’t quite ready to stay up and ring in the new year, sometimes they’re asleep before the fireworks start, they don’t always  help clean up the mess or smile for the picture.  But that’s not really my goal with our family traditions (although it sure is nice when it works out).  My goal is to be intentional about creating some family time.  The tradition is more of an excuse to do something fun and a reminder to enjoy the little things.  If things never went wrong in the middle of it, think how boring our family memories would be 20 years from now.

    I’d like to incorporate more this year…something for Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day or Thanksgiving.  Maybe swap out mediocre ones with something better or come up with a few that we can do with our friends and cousins.  Maybe something not holiday related.  I’d love to start date nights with the kids or Family Adventure Days where we all go see or do something local once a month.  What is the one tradition your family wouldn’t dream of skipping, no matter how hectic life gets? Tell me what your kids love…

  • November22nd

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    When I was somewhere around 4 or 5, my great-grandfather gave me a dollhouse.  I have so many fond memories of this dollhouse…literally hours and hours of play.  I remember decorating it with my mom, the furniture she’d made from Kleenex boxes upholstered to match our own family’s furniture, the various dollhouse accessories and, most of all, having my Barbies live here (despite the fact that they had to crawl through the 6″ doorways).

    With Jessie’s third birthday approaching, Kyle and I started talking gifts and dollhouses, of course, came up.  I loved the idea, it would be *perfect*!  I remembered how much fun I’d had with mine…I knew she would enjoy one, too.  But what I didn’t love were the price tags!  On the cheap end, a wooden dollhouse is pushing $200 (not including furniture and dolls!)  And then, once we got it, what the heck was I supposed to do with another giant toy in the house??  The more I thought about it, the more the sad reality sunk in…a new wooden dollhouse was completely implausible, illogical, and irresponsible.

    After a few days of moping around the house like a three year old (I don’t know where she gets it!), it came to me…what if my old dollhouse was still around??  I called my mom and thankfully, my parents had had the forethought and patience (and storage room) to hang onto it for the last three decades.  It was time for the renovations to begin…

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    Now, the most brilliant thing about this dollhouse design is that it’s totally collapsible!  It’s approximately a 24″ cube when assembled, but flattens out to a 24″ x 24″ x 2″ square that can be slid under any bed or pushed to the back of any closet when my little Diva changes interests.

    When my dad shipped it to me, I was actually giddy with excitement.  It was all I could do to wait until Jessie had gone to bed before putting it together.  Here it is, in all it’s mid-80′s glamour!  After giving Kyle the grand tour forcing him to relive all my childhood memories, we started talking about how to renovate it to make it personal to Jessie.

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    To say I *flung* myself into decorator mode, would be a bit of an understatement.  I pulled out mountains of scrapbook paper and fabric scraps and started a new “Dollhouse” board on Pinterest.  I even had a notebook with sketches…I know, I’m insane.  BUT I WAS GETTING TO RELIVE ONE OF MY GREATEST CHILDHOOD MEMORIES, who wouldn’t be excited??

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    I eventually settled on a 1/12 scale which means every inch in the dollhouse is equivalent to a foot in real life.  My hope is that going with one of the most common scales for “play” dollhouses will make decorating and finding accessories easier in the future.  After deciding scale, Kyle straightened up the edges and raised the height of the doorways to 7″.  Then I went to work with sanding, paint and Mod Podge.

    BEFORE and AFTER of the two floors and roof.

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    Walls BEFORE:

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    Walls AFTER:

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    I used only the scrapbook paper and fabric that I had on hand.  For all the 2D furniture, art and landscaping; I Googled images and then scaled them to the appropriate size in Photoshop.  After that, it was just a matter of printing the images and cutting them out.  Admittedly, the Mod Podge took a few attempts to get right.  The first wall had A LOT of bubbling and I ended up having to redo it.  The trick was doing 3 to 4 very thin coats, allowing for plenty of drying time in between.

    I requisitioned Kyle’s nights for making most of the furniture.  Didn’t he do an incredibly awesome job??  We used the tutorial from Blue Dinosaurs as a starting point and then scaled things up or down to fit our purposes.  I opted for the kitchen appliances to be blocks of wood, as opposed to having doors that open and close, in hopes that we’d be re-gluing things less often.  Then I just freehanded the paint and sewed a few cushions.

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    The bathroom accessories were a gift from Marmie & Grandpa Dan.  Neither Kyle nor I wanted to tackle them but we couldn’t do without as ‘going potty’ is such a big deal to a three year old.  :)

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    There were only two *actual* purchases for this project…the baby accessories that I just happened to find new at a local second-hand swap for kid stuff…

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    and the dolls themselves.  I am SO pleased with these Once Upon a Tree House dolls.  For one, they don’t look entirely creepy…which I was beginning to think was a prerequisite for dollhouse families.  Secondly, I was able to pick and choose my family members…meaning that if I have more than 2 kids and no grandparent living with us or if mom and dad don’t look identical, I can still make it fit our family.  Lastly, they are completely moldable/moveable which makes the creative play go so much further!

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    I can’t wait to show you how it turned out and the big reveal to Jessie on her birthday!  Stay tuned next week for the final unveiling.  ;)

     

  • July18th

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    The Monster Truck birthday cake was a huge hit with Woody!  I got a few emails after his birthday post about how I did it, so I figured I’d give a quick tutorial.

    First I baked my favorite chocolate cake in two loaf pans.  After letting them hang out in the freezer a bit, I started carving and shaping.  Basically, one loaf was used for the bottom half of the truck and then a portion of the other loaf was the cab.  I used one of Woody’s little monster trucks to get proper proportions and really worked on shaping the cab and hood to help it look as realistic as it could.  Then I crumb coated with buttercream frosting.

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    One little trick I figured out this time is how to get a super smooth crumb coat.  In every fondant tutorial I’ve ever read, the experts say that getting a smooth crumb coat is vital in making the fondant look its best.  But no matter how much I smoothed with the frosting knife, I couldn’t eliminate all the indents and ridges.  This time I tried something new.  I kept putting the cake in the freezer between working on it and other projects, which definitely “chilled” the butter in the buttercream.  Then I used my finger to warm and smooth the buttercream frosting so there were absolutely no ridges whatsoever.  It definitely made  a difference when I topped it with the fondant.

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    For both the John Deere Tractor cake and the Noah’s Ark cake, I used store bought ready-made fondant.  This time, I tried making my own.  I used the Wilton recipe for Marshmallow Fondant and it worked really well.  Not to mention that the bag of powdered sugar and bag of marshmallows are about 1/10th of the cost of the boxed fondant.

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    I made the Monster Truck Tires out of Rice Krispies and followed this AWESOME tutorial.  Last year, I put the tire tread “V’s” on the outer layer, but this time I put them underneath.  I think it made it look more realistic.

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    Another lesson I learned from the John Deere cake was that heavy layer cakes like this need a lot of support, especially in the heat.  Sadly, the tractor was already stuck in the mud when the party started.  This time I had Kyle make a cake stand out of plexiglass and dowel rods.

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    Then I covered it in Saran wrap and wrapped the legs in black fondant, to disguise them.  The tires ended up basically just leaning against these legs, not having to support the actual cake/truck at all.

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    To make the flames, I colored a bit of fondant yellow, orange and red and laid them next to one another on wax paper.  (I like using Wilton food coloring since the colors are so vibrant and true).

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    Then I just just started smearing them together with my figner, up and down, until it looked “flame-y”.  I covered the flames with another sheet of wax paper and used a rolling pin to flatten it out.  Then I stuck it in the freezer to get good and hard.

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    When I was ready, I just free-handed a couple flame shapes to apply to each side of the truck.

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     Again, learning from the John Deere experience, this time I rolled out a HUGE piece of fondant, large enough to cover the entire truck.  Then I cut off the excess and cut out areas for the windows.  This worked much better than trying to piece it all together, like I had done with the tractor.

    For the final touches…the roll cage is just straws wrapped in gray fondant and I used a Play-Doh cut out for the “5″.  The ‘dirt track’ was, of course, OREOs that I’d put through the food processor.  (Best ice cream topping EVER!)  The assembly was ridiculously easy: Set cake on cake stand.  Lean tires against cake.  Serve.

    Tip: Don’t do this in a house that is 90 degrees!  I think the marshmallow fondant was sweating as much as I was.

    As always, if you make it…I’d love to hear how it goes and see pics.  Good luck!

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  • July16th

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    My oldest baby just turned FIVE!  I truly cannot believe that.  In my mind that somehow means we’ve graduated from having ‘children’ to having ‘kids’.  Children are innocent and young and have rookie parents, but kids are smart and surprising and have parents that are supposed to know what they’re doing by now.  Oops!  I think I’m a bit behind.

    On his actual birthday, we were helping some friends move and so rather than do the cake & presents that day, we went out for a special breakfast and opened just one special gift.

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    An original Nintendo that we picked up off of Ebay and a few games that Kyle and I had saved since childhood (after a bit of blowing on them, they worked just fine).  ;)

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    That afternoon, he and dad had some serious bonding time!

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    The next week, when Grandma Carol and Mike came to visit we did the rest of the celebration.  Pizza is still Woody’s favorite, but Mexican food is the “stuff he eats more and more of” (meaning he always asks for seconds and thirds).  So we had make-your-own-loaded-nachos for dinner.

    The day after his John Deer birthday last summer, he requested a Monster Truck cake for his fifth birthday.  About a month ago he told me, “Mom, don’t forget!  I want a Monster Truck cake that tastes like chocolate when I turn five!”  So that’s what we did.

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    He is such a great kid!  So full of life and personality and silliness.  He so freakin’ smart it scares us sometimes.  He’s an amazing big brother to both Jessie and Buzz.  We are just blessed beyond belief to have him be our son.  I just wish he had more expressive facial features…

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