Glory and Baking

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My beautiful neighbor, Brandy, died last night in her sleep. She had been diagnosed with ALS a little while back and her husband, Rick had been keeping us updated through emails about how she was doing and how their faith an prayer was holding them together through this crisis.
I was shocked to learn she had died, but I knew it would happen one day. I think of Rick and the future, I think about the 6 years we have lived here and how Brandy was such a light in the life if so many if us. I remember her vigor, her smiles, her kind short little emails to me, encouraging me in parenting and teaching.
I sat the kids down together and told them. They were sad and sorta confused. Yet, they knew she was sick, we prayed for Brandy often every night. We talked about how Brandy knew the Lord and that it was so merciful that she fell asleep in Jefferson Heights and woke up in the arms of Jesus!!
It shook me. All the things you think about when someone leaves the earth for good ran through my brain. And in a move of self comfort and reflection, I went to my grandmothers cookbook and tried to find a cookie recipe with no eggs (we have no eggs). As I found a neat gingersnap recipe, I began to think that this would be something Brandy would love. It’s from scratch, fresh organic ingredients, and just enough of a treat to make it worth while. It’s the simple pleasures that she loved. So I’ll make something simple, sweet and perfect for sharing to remember my neighbor, Brandy.
And then, we can enjoy them and keep living with the memories.

Tessa’s Birthday Breakfast Party

Tessa has a birthday 4 days after Christmas, and I have been wondering ever since hr first birthday, how I was going to integrate a birthday party for her into our world. Since she is only three (but she has two older sibs to tell her that birthdays are the shizzel) I was thinking, “Let’s just put off the party until everyone is over Christmas and ready to party again!”

So that’s what we did. I was almost ready to throw in the towel, January events were beginning to pop up, and with Joel looking at a major baby of a new career, he has extra obligations. Was I ready to dive into birthday planning? Then my sweet Tess uttered wonderful words, “I want a waffle birthday!” Yes! That’s an awesome idea! I had broken my mixer this Christmas making cut-out cookies (darn it all!) and making breakfast was something just me and my wooden spoon could handle! No pun intended. So I made the half-assed commitment of facebooking potential guests and asking them to “save the date”. Then, I worked up the verve to think about it more. It was easy, and not nearly as difficult as The Ninja Party.

Then, on a grey blustery day that I basically decided “No way am I going anywhere….. except to pick the kids up from school”. I went through my small birthday supplies box, praying that I had enough to throw a party. Yes, I had blue and pink balloons, and my trusty Target brand ‘girl’ birthday banner. Money well spent! I loved making paper flowers for Cat’s bridal shower, so I just made HUGE ones, and wired three of them together to make puffs to hang from the ceiling. I used whatever color tissue paper I had for them. I wanted it to be a breakfast theme, but it isn’t a slumber party. So when I thought of colors, I wanted to have a sunny golden yellow, some pinks (it’s a little girl’s party) and I have a linen light grassy green tablecloth that dresses up my sad dining table.

Another important factor to this party was pajamas. I set the time of the party at 9am, there was no way I could physically not be in my pj’s let alone my kids! It was perfect, kids and mom’s alike came in jammies. It made for a super cute crowd.

In my mind, a party just isn’t a good one without a lot of good food. And breakfast food is awesome. I made a big quiche, full of veggies, bacon and cheese. I cooked up little smokies. I cut up several oranges and a couple bananas. I made a blueberry buckle, and took a chance and made muffins with the batter rather than putting it in the 8″x8″ pan. They came out great. I got juice boxes and I made waffles, a double batch. I got blueberries and whip cream and real maple syrup. Coffee and tea flowed as well. Ah, it’s great to eat breakfast. I mean, that’s why Cracker Barrels exist right?

The sunshines were fun to make. I had bright yellow paper, and I traced a kiddie bowl and free-handed the rest. Eden was dying to “help”. But if I give her something that she can’t achieve to the same level as I can, she flips out. I did not let her make the pom-pom paper flowers, but I let her make some sunshines. They look so cute. I got little dowels, and some floral foam and stuck the sunshines to the dowels along with the phrases “Happy Birthday” and “Good Morning”. I made one for the table, and one for the front porch. Happy sunshines.

The birthday girl wanted a birthday waffle, so when we sang Happy Birthday she got a waffle with some whip cream to hold the candles up a bit. Besides getting a little bit shy, it was fun for all.

One of the most important things for me when I have a birthday party at home is to KEEP IT SIMPLE. When you make it over the top, it can be amazing, but is it for you or for the kid? I’m alright with it being for you, it’s pretty dang fun to coordinate thematic stuff, but don’t expect it to matter as much to the kid. I only bought food, plates and plastic ware. I had all the paper and decoration supplies at home already. That was my personal goal. Of course, I am an art teacher. But with all the other events I have thrown, I want to make sure I use what I have. I think that’s important. Or you might as well have a Chucky Cheese birthday party where they make the food and decorate for you. It’s not less expensive, unless you keep it simple.

As I said for The Ninja Party, these are little children, they remember things as being big and awesome. They remember your joy in doing it for them. Make that the most important thing. For my three-year-old Tessa, she loved wearing her jammies, eating waffles, staring up at the pretty pom-poms and people watching. She had a great day with her buddies, and by noon, it was all done. Yes.

The No Power [Bridal] Shower: Sweet and Spicy

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At the end of April we had Cat Collier’s bridal shower. This was the big one that you invite all your family friends too and give the gifts that you’ll use up until they break. Stuff like mugs, and muffin tins, towels and a waffle maker. All of the bridesmaids came together and planned this and that. We came up with the theme “Sweet and Spicy”. Now whether we pulled off this theme to the fullest is obvious, we didn’t. But we did have a really cute shower even though the tornadoes knocked out the power and we sat in the sunroom and the candle lit dining room enjoying the treats that we could serve without a heat source, or a working refrigerator. It just had to be OK, and honestly it was wonderful.

Suzanne, Cat’s little sis, and I went to a wedding expo with Cat, Nano and Cat’s mom. We loved the photo booth idea. Which is obvious.

I grabbed up some kiddie dress up items from home for our photobooth outside of the Collier home on a beautiful day. I made a quick chalkboard for everyone to hold, which ended up being especially cute when held by Cat’s new nieces. And also, Suzanne found the most delish popsicles at a local Latin food market. Photobooth with dress-ups and pops=super cute!

We stuck to Cat’s power themes of metallic colors and paper decorations. Laurie sent out some cute metallic invites, and we began to brainstorm about paper decorations. Laurie had a vision of white flowers made of paper attached to long branchy sticks to be a “sweet” decoration. And I started brainstorming about something “spicy” to go with it.

I wanted to make a lot of colorful “spicy” flowers, so I searched for a simple tutorial where I could make a lot, and look good together. Martha has a bunch, but this one was exactly what I needed! I got red, orange, and dark pink tissue paper, floral wire and floral tape and got to work!

I was making flowers everywhere. At Mom’s group, during Tessa’s nap time, during Sunday basketball games on TV, on our get away to Ellijay with friends. Good thing Ms. Genia Hawbaker is a wiz at making these! Hers were super perfect. Suzanne and I were in charge of decorations, and she said that she was not just making white, but she was making silver and goldish ones too. Uh-oh, I needed to make mine kinda metallic-y too. So, out comes the silver glitter spray paint!! I also make little leaves with silver on one side to kinda sparkle under all the color. They came out perfect!

Since Cat was marrying Fernando, and our theme was “sweet and spicy” we had to go with Tex-Mex food. Oh darn! I mean, I love that food, I could eat it 3 times a day. Cat’s mom has some Latina friends who made some amazing pico de gallo (YUM). We wanted to have some Mexican style quiches and I dreamed of coming up with the perfect Mexi-chocolate dessert. But with no power, we scrambled and got pastries, and nixed the quiches. I did make a chocolate pound cake and it was really good! We made mimosas because it’s the bride’s fave and we put out some Kahlua for the box of Starbucks coffee Mary ran out and got. For party favors our dreams were realized. This was a really fun to put together, and pretty affordable! I was searching for glass jars that were less than $1 a piece. It was harder than I thought. But after hunting dollar stores and thrift stores good old Walmart pulled through with cute squatty Mason jars. I found a cute template for labels, and thanks to a brilliant friend of mine (Tessa Ross) and her awesome idea brain, we wrote cute names for the two kinds of salsa we made.  We had a mild, sweet-fruity salsa and we called it “first kiss”. The spicy salsa was called “wedding night”. Tee Hee! I grabbed some quick supplies at Costco, including pre-made salsa and Suzanne made the special flavors with fresh ingredients. Eden and I washed the jars and put all the labels on. Thankfully, Mason jars have little stickers that come with them to go on the front, so Cat and Nano plus the wedding date could adorn each jar on a cute, small sticker!

I really wanted to get a Spanish newspaper and make big doilies with them, but I just couldn’t get to one of the many groceries and restaurants that have them. Maybe I just got lazy. I did use some contrasting tissue paper from the colors of the flowers and make big doilies. They came out great! I just cut them like huge round edged snow flakes. If they weren’t round enough when I was done foling them, I tidied them up after. They went home with Suzanne for a Cinco de Mayo party the next week. I loved how they looked against the vases and the flowers.

It all came together with some beautiful Cinco de Mayo paper banners that Cat’s aunt got, and also the paper goods echoed our cute theme. It was wonderful when Nano’s sister Monica said, “Aww, did you do this all for me?” She was kidding, but it did make me smile inside, like we did something right. Please check out Tim’s blog post with awesome pictures from the shower. He’s SO good at what he does!

Ninja Birthday Party: A How to?

Josiah wanted a ninja birthday party for his 8th. I began to google and I could find very little. What?! I mean, I know I am a creative mama, but am I the only one who has tried to pull this off? I don’t think so. If you, cyberspace friend, have done a ninja birthday party (that does NOT involve turtles) than by all means, speak up! But in my web wanderings, I found enough ideas to make a party. So I am doing the world a service to put this blog post out there, to help other mama’s out.

1. First, start with an eager birthday boy who already has a ninja costume. It also helps to have ninja gear for the whole family. We had a Master Ninja (Papa), Mama Ninja, Girlie Ninja and Baby Ninja (who sorta looked like Stevie Nicks.

2. The location. I called a local dojo to see what their prices were like. It was $200 for 2 hours and some instruction and plates and cups. If you want to do this, than you might not need this whole post, but I chose to save money and do it all myself. So I convinced Grandma she wanted to host 🙂 It was perfect.

3. Color scheme. I went with black, red and gold. It helped  a lot that Josiah’s birthday was ON the Lunar New Year this year so party stores were stocked with Chinese New Year decorations (in the tiniest corner in the back, but it was there). I invested in a good luck banner, and some little favors: spiral notebooks, tic-tac drums (think Karate Kid drums), and little ninja figures. I also got red and black balloons and streamers. I got two bamboo placemats to go on top of a black tablecloth. I also think it would be cute to have a bamboo floral arrangement, or chop some down for a centerpiece but I didn’t get to that one.

I had a desperate five year old daughter who wanted to help with the decorations. So I had her little artistic fingers make some “sneaky eyes” for the balloons in stealthy ninja style.

My mom had these images cut out and I didn’t think I would end up using them, but since I didn’t have a big Happy Birthday Banner, they made the front door and table look cool. My mom and her historical correctness.

4. The cake. Now, this was so fun. There actually is a tutorial out there for ninja cupcakes. Zakka Life has a printable template to make little ninjas that pop out of cupcakes. Since I do not have a massive Kitchenaid mixer, and we’re not a big cake family, cupcakes are perfect. I had gold wrappers and made chocolate (straight from the box) cake; I do make butter cream icing from scratch though. I sprinkled the tops with red sugar and Eden and I inserted little ninjas into each one. I’m sure I loved them the most, but Josiah thought they were funny.

5. More food ideas. Again, super fun, I loved this part! I did find another idea out there to make Ninja-bread men! And lo and behold, my neighbor had the ninja cookie cutters! I recommend getting these if you have a boy, mandatory if you have more than one boy. They are so cool. I made sugar cookies and decorated them. I made the egg white icing that was part of the cookie recipe and I added TONS of cocoa powder to get it dark (black icing creeps me out). I added about two drops of blue and green and got a dark greyish color. I add peppermint flavor to the icing too, makes the sugar cookie a bit refreshing. I did get a tube of red to give each Ninjie a sash and mask. So worth it. I got some Japanese rice crackers and some sesame candy. Other than that, I stuck to my typical party food for kids: juice boxes, popcorn, grapes, peanuts. Almost everything was consumed. I stuck some chopsticks in the bowls for fun.

6. The personal touch that’s all me. I am a painter, and an art teacher, so when I look at decorations, craft blogs, design blogs and books it goes through the filter of “can I make that?”. And I wanted so badly to make a big dragon for the WOW factor at Josiah’s party. I am kicking myself that I didn’t use it as a ninja portrait backdrop. Ugh. Not enough hours in the day for all the ideas rattling around. So, I hunted down some clip art and found a beautiful serpentine dragon. I brought home from my school the roll of newsprint and asked my mom how long her dining room curtains were. So one afternoon I sketched out a 65 inch dragon and painted it with watercolor on the newsprint. Big calligraphy brush and all. Everybody’s mom has a super-power right? My mom could sew, and I can make stuff with paint and paper. My pride and joy, the dragon: simple, yet perfect. It is after all, a two hour party for 6 to 9 year old boys.

7. Games. This is where the Master Ninja (that is, Joel) came in. I researched, got props, mapped out where things should go. I decided NOT to buy ninja swords for all 12 kids. It was an awesome day outside, so that made things nice. I had every intention of making origami ninja stars for a ninja star throwing game. I was awful at it. So I grabbed a piece of black mat board and cut out about 15 ninja stars. Sturdy enough to be thrown in a game, not that painful if it gets thrown at you. I bought three buckets and they were supposed to try and get them in. I thought we could assign point value and make a cool backdrop for it too (another circular dragon perhaps?) it didn’t happen. But maybe your party will 🙂 Here’s the birthday boy cheating!

We also did a chopstick relay where they split up into two teams and had to carry marshmallows from one bowl to another. I was stunned by how many of them did not want to even try to learn how to use chopsticks! I gave them my speech in my antagonistic teacher voice, it still didn’t work. But the ones that stuck with it (about half the crowd) had fun trying to beat the Master Ninja and shoveling mini marshies in their mouths after.

Hide and Go Sneak was the most popular. Having somebody’s dad dressed as a ninja trying to catch you can be fun and terrifying at the same time, but it worked for us. I also think a simple obstacle course would be ideal.

There was also a lot of keep the balloon in the air. Put chopsticks into play and it can be a challenge!! Everyone had both eyeballs when we were done.

8. Party favors. I got gold take out boxes from the dollar store and filled them with a ninja figure, a tic- tac drum, and a couple chocolate balls. They were cute.

So here’s my effort for my Josiah who turned eight. I hope this is helpful to someone. I believe that parties are magical and perfect to the kids memory no matter how much effort you put in. Some things I do for myself, but I wanted him to get what he wanted which involved simple things. Go all out if you must, but for me simplicity equals fun. Cuz that’s what childhood is about. Happy Birthday little ninjas.

Any Given Sunday

Last night Joel and I went to Cat and Nano’s engagement party. Much fun was had, and this morning there was nothing that was going to move us from the house. One lovely thing about being home all morning and being the Mama is the joy in making something special to eat for a late morning snack. Now that Christmas is long past, and art shows and projects are tapering, I have enjoyed cooking and baking. Being creative with food. Of course, it helped that we were snowed in. Creativity is very helpful in those times of upheaval. I have mostly been motivated by the large quantities of things I have bought from Costco. It’s a challenge to find things to do with, for instance, 4 lbs of quinoa. I want to use it, not super quickly, but I want to use it. On Angry Chicken, Amy had posted Martha’s Quinoa Muffins recipe. It was easy enough. Eden has wanted to “make something” almost everyday, and this was an easy one to do with her. I made a few substitutions that Amy suggested and I also made a few changes myself. I put a smidge of molasses and I used half wheat, half white flour. It’s always a winner for my waffles recipe. I sat down and curled Eden’s hair with our new curling iron while they baked and then much  yumminess was had by all. Some butter and honey. Mmmm. So I of course neglected lunch. In my new snobbery for good bread with a short ingredient list, I didn’t have any quick sandwich options. I was watching the clock and dreading the future melt downs of my children since nothing was ready to eat! So I began to scour all my cookbooks. Another food challenge I have from my Costco purchases is a 6 pack of canned salmon. I love salmon, but I’ve never tried to use it canned before. I did use two cans for a seafood cream sauce over noodles, but it still felt really fishy after cooking it. The left overs weren’t getting eaten, so I probably won’t try it again. In my trusty Whole Foods for the Whole Family cookbook (La Leche League) there was a recipe for Salmon patties. Yes.
I looked at the recipe and I was missing quite a few things, but I knew I could fudge it. And it came out quite well:
3 6oz cans of salmon, undrained
2 eggs
1/2 onion chopped
1/2c ww flour (or more)
1/4c chopped sweet pepper
1/2 tsp garlic salt
pepper to taste
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp thyme
small handfull of chopped fresh parsley
dash of white wine
1/4c-1/2c olive oil for frying
Flake salmon and mash well. Add all ingredients (except oil) and mix well. Heat oil on medium heat. Pat salmon mixture into 3″patties, make sure they’re firm. Fry in oil until golden 5-7min total for both sides. Serve with lemon and tartar sauce. YUM!!

One of my most favorite Costco purchases is a big ole bag of brussel sprouts. I made some the other night with dinner and I thought Joel’s tongue was going to fall to the floor he loved them so much. So I thought these little boogers would go great with fried fish goodness.

I have a recipe for brussel sprouts in a cook book by Heidi Swanson called Super Natural Cooking. It’s a good intro to super foods that are super good for you. Anyway, anything that takes a veggie, cooks it lightly, with a bit of oil, salt and pepper, lemon and a sprinkle of parmesan in awesome in my book. So yummy. My kids reaction is one for the ages. Typical reaction to brussel sprouts, “Ewwww!” Oh well, I’ll keep trying. I will wear them down, moo-hahaha!

Joel a I couldn’t help ourselves when we served up the fish patties, we just had to reference Sponge Bob’s Crusty Crab. The kids gobbled them up. I might just have to make sure Plankton doesn’t steal my recipe too.

Snow Day Soup

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Oh what a glorious snow day we’re having! The anticipation, the cancellations. One. by. one. After a sleepy TV session last night, I woke up on the couch at 2am to a glowing livingroom. Somebody turned up the lights! The whole house was glowing from about 5 inches of snow. I woke Joel up (who was on the opposite couch) and we went to bed, feeling at peace that all the hype was not for nothing.
Before I could even change outta my jammies, we were heading out to the playground to slide and throw snowballs. Then we decided to get brave and sled down the mound that the snow covered bulldozers had left for us. Perfect kid sized sledding. Hunger began to set in.
Now I’ve been trying to be good. I gained 8 lbs over Christmas break, and whoa boy I was feeling wretched! But I had the craving for soup and it wasn’t going to be fat-free.
My latest trip to Costco, I picked up a HUGE bag (everything is) of broccoli florets. And I had a huge bag of cheddar that we were chipping away at in the freezer. Brocoli cheese soup was in order! Here’s what we did:
1/2 onion 3 cloves of garlic sautéed in olive oil. 4 cups of water and two cubes of chicken bouillon. 1tsp salt, pepper to taste and a 1/2 tsp thyme. 2lbs of broccoli (this was only half the bag). Steam it for just under 10 min. Puree with stick blender til smooth. Add 1/2c half n half (oh yes). And I had some Muenster deli slices that we were having a tough time getting through, so a put three slices of that, then another handful or so of mild cheddar.
Oh my goodness it was so good! After 20 minutes, you have a light green blissful cream soup that we will be eating all day! Unless Joel invites people over to eat it for us. Of course, Joel made himself a cheese ball with a huge block of gorgonzola we got from Costco over Christmas. Yes, my husband made a cheese ball. I love him so.

What we do while we wait

The days between when school gets out and when family arrives is sheer torture sometimes! What do you do while you wait? Turn on the TV and veg for 7 days? On top of the regular chaotic schedule, the kids had a couple of snow days, which added to the torture. I have my traditional cookie recipes that the kids help with, that gets plenty of cheers. We make a cut out cookie that is basically flour and butter and brown sugar with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. They’re wonderful. We like using the non traditional cookie cutters, like dinosaurs, helicopter, and guitar. Eden loves the little bitty Goldfish cracker sized animal cookie cutters. My fave is the little horse. It looks Swedish.

Then we made Russian Tea Cakes which are affectionately called snowball cookies. My big kids did GREAT this year rolling the dough in little balls. And no complaining from Eden that they had nuts in them! I was also amazed at they restraint they had as I asked them to roll the baked cookie balls in powdered sugar. No licking of fingers (until they were given permission)! I’m so proud. Then we made Rolo Turtles. Basically, it’s a small pretzel with a Rolo on top and after it’s popped in the oven to melt a bit, a pecan is squished on top. My big kids unwrapped a whole bag of Rolos without munchin on them, then they planned strategies as to what pattern they would use for their pretzels (I got the holiday kind which had different shapes). I told them to fill their cookie sheets with at least 12 pretzels and no more than 18. They dedicated so much time to organizing, adorning with Rolos and then squashing the pecans down. After a short stint in the freezer, I was proud to reward them for their efforts.

I bought 4 plain glass ornaments for our yearly ornament project. I never make a huge deal about the outcome because for me it’s mostly about the process. Some years I buy the kids special ornaments, and they already have a good collection from various Sunday School events and from family. It thought these glass ones would be fun to put stuff into, or paint on top of.

Eden enjoyed it immensely. I was also so proud of Josiah, he asked if he could use my big silver paint pen and since he almost NEVER wants to color, I let him go for it and he put the most free and expressive swirls and squiggles on it. It was just enough, and now I’m thinking that nothing needed to go inside. The clear glass is so pretty.

I have a small Rubbermaid tub full of little project stuff. It’s helpful when I have to plan a craft, or a lesson. I haven’t had to do much lately, so this was a great reason to pull out the stuff. We stuffed Easter grass, cut out butterflies from wrapping paper, flower stickers and “snow” made out of cotton balls and hole punches. We also had pipe cleaners. I suffered and struggled trying to make little trees that I could shove down the hole in the top of my ornament, I wasn’t too successful. But we got some pretty cute animals and bracelets out of it! You really can’t go wrong with pipe cleaners. I recommend always having some around. Eden made two big horn sheep (she called them goats).

I thought to preserve their cuteness they needed to hang out with the other goats and sheep next to the baby Jesus.

Another crafty thing that always gets some attention when I bring it out is these bead creations. I bought a few templates way back and a couple boxes of the beads. As my big kids get older, more patient, better at problem solving, they love making these! Bringing them out at Christmas means that everyone in the family needs one! Once completed, they are ironed, and of course, made into ornaments. Yes, I was sweeping up quite a few from under the table, but we only had one big spill, and even Tessa helped picking up the little bits.

So today I need to come up with another project because Josiah has the stomach bug and we are homebound. Which I really don’t mind. It’s gloomy outside, and I’m done with my shopping. But it does make me sad, Joel and I wanted to go check out the Honest Pint tonight. Parenthood, it’s always a gamble. If you’re tapped out of ideas for the kiddies, and if you’re homebound like me, you can always hand your camera to your kiddo. You might end up with some sweet photos that make you smile.