Our Family Unit
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  • January30th

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    Like I mentioned last week, one of our Family Traditions is Birthday Cakes.  The kids get to pick out the subject/theme and I do my best to create a cake that lives up to their hopes.  Jessie and Buzz have birthdays only 2 days apart and this year we were coordinating birthday celebrations with a visit from Grandpa Dan & Marmie, so we celebrated one on a Friday and the other on Saturday.

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    For her 3rd birthday, Jessie wanted a pink and purple cat cake.  But since most of the 3D cat cakes I saw online looked fairly creepy, I decided the better route was a fun layer cake with cats on top.

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    Seeing her “cat cake” for the first time.

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    I made a 6 layer Neapolitan cake, using Sweetapolita as inspiration.  I had my own favorite chocolate cake recipe, but used her strawberry and vanilla cakes.  The vanilla cake was good, but the strawberry cake was OUT OF THIS WORLD!  It’s made with real strawberries!  So. Damn. Good.

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    As a side note, Jessie got a camera for her birthday.  Other than the floor, Buzz is her favorite subject.  I have no idea where she learned to walk around sticking her camera in people’s faces.  ;)

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    Buzz 1st Birthday party was a Cat in the Hat theme.  We thought it was fitting since we actually announced his pregnancy with the help of Dr. Seuss, not to mention there are some ridiculously cute Cat in that Hat ideas on Pinterest.

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    Having the two birthdays celebrated so close together worked really well for the actual cake baking.  I ended up sharing cake batter and frosting between the two.

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    The bottom layer was more of our favorite chocolate cake, a 10″ round.  Then the middle red and white section was a 4 layer strawberry and vanilla cake using an 8″ round, and then the top layer was more chocolate, a 6″ layer cake.  For both cakes, I made my own marshmallow fondant.  It’s so easy to make and so easy to work with, I can’t justify anything else.

    Although, I do have a question, does marshmallow fondant sweat more easily than the kind you can buy?  Or is that just the nature of fondant?  I tend to have very sweaty cakes and I can’t quite figure out why.  I’m sure some of it is just condensation as it comes out of the freezer, but I haven’t yet figured out a better way for keeping it cool (and safe from prying fingers) while I work on it, usually over 2-3 days.  I’d really appreciate any tips as I have a feeling the kids’ ideas will only get bigger and grander over the years.

    Oct bdays-15We had such a wonderful time with friends and family, celebrating our littlest man’s first year.  Cakes are a tradition that help build excitement for the kids, with or without a party.  They’re a bit of creative outlet for me and Kyle, who is the true artist of the family, always improves them with his ideas.  I don’t know if you’ve been counting, but that was 2 strawberry cake recipes, 2 vanilla cake recipes, and 3 chocolate cake recipes in 48 hours!  You can see now why I’m in the market for a treadmill.

    Aren’t these two precious though?  What great excuses to overload on sugar!

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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.  ;)

     

  • September23rd

    Not to put any pressure on, but only 6 more weeks until Halloween!  I don’t think Kyle and I planned as well as we could have…somehow we ended up with two birthdays and Halloween all in the same week!  That makes for one VERY exciting week around here, and one very busy mom.  :)  I’m trying to be better prepared this year though, and at least have the costumes figured out early.  Woody and Jessie have a plethora of costumes, thanks to the Dress Up Box, but we’re a little light on baby costumes around here.  Do you have any idea how expensive baby costumes are?  Even used ones are $20!  For 2 hours of fun on one night a year that he won’t even remember…

    I started looking around for an alternative and saw this cute idea for a DIY Sock Monkey costume here and decided to try  it.  She was a little more “professional” with hers, actually using a pattern for PJs.  This is my “down-and-dirty-done-in-an-afternoon” version.  You have to take into consideration that I am a s-l-o-w seamstress, not to mention, a little person interrupts approximately every 3 1/2 minutes.  A normal person could do this in less than an hour, I’m sure.

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    I started with three men’s sweaters from the thrift store, total cost $10.  I purposely chose the gray sweater to have a zipper, which then eliminated the need for me to sew one in down the road.

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    I laid out a current pair of PJs right on top of the gray sweater, and just cut around it, leaving everything from the neck to the arm cuff in tact.

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    I was left with this.  I just flipped it inside-out and sewed three seams.  From each arm cuff in and then down each leg, and then a u-shaped seem between the legs.  The giant man-sized zipper in front made the perfect closure, so like I said before, I didn’t have to put one in.

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    Next I took the white sweater and cut two strips from each arm.  These would turn into the hands and feet, but were way too wide left as is.

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    I just made a quick seem down the middle to narrow each one.

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    Then pinned each one to the sleeves and legs and attached.  Nothing pretty here, it’s for two hours of fun on one night of the year that he won’t remember.  :)

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    After they were attached, I shaped the excess and sewed it closed.  Bodysuit done!

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    For the hat, I didn’t want to bother with finishing edges, so I just used the hem of the shirt to be the hem for the hat.  I cut the two pieces directly from the bottom of the shirt.  This is all freehand, no need for patterns.  It’s for two hours of fun on one night of the year that he won’t even remember.

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    For the ears, I sketched a pattern on paper (so that they would be roughly symmetrical) and then cut four pieces from the remainder of the gray sweater.

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    I cut the sleeve of the red sweater into a few strips for “hair”, pinned everything together and sewed around the edge to close it up.  Voila!  Hat done!

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    For the scarf, I cut the bottom three inches off the read sweater, and just looped it around his neck, again letting the hem of the original sweater be the hem of the scarf.

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     And that was it!  So simple.  I am now the proud owner of the most cuddly sock monkey on the planet!  And we are ready to enjoy the two hours of fun on one night of the year, that he will OF COURSE remember, at least via pictures.

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