Friday, December 23, 2011

11th hour Christmas Presents

Do your kids do this....they get the Toys R Us (or other) catalog and suddenly they want a toy from that catalog that you have never seen or heard of before? Or make a list for Santa that does not include ONE thing that "Santa" has already bought for Christmas?? Please, please tell me (even if you have to lie) that I am not alone in this!

This year my son has been all Lego, all the time, so we told everyone "Legos, get the kid legos for Christmas! He loves them, hardly plays with anything else!" and felt quite safe with that, after all he's been making lists from the Lego catalog since his birthday (September). And then, quite suddenly, two weeks ago he spots an Angry Birds board game in the TRU catalog and suddenly that's the ONLY thing he's talked about. He even wrote a letter to Santa (twice) to ask for that game.

Well, I did not buy that game (and to be honest, after seeing it's price tag I'm not going to either) so now I'm left with THE dilemma. Give the boy the other 50 (a slight exaggeration, I hope) gifts he's getting and let it go at that, or find a way to get him the thing he's been asking for?

Luckily, I remembered a blog post from Obsessively Stitching that has all the patterns to make your own set of Angry Birds and Pigs. She has patterns and tutorials for making a complete set, truly amazing! And in my case, a major lifesaver. So, I got busy making the Angry Birds and Pigs for my kids ( because little sister's favorite phrase is "Me TOO!") ***Note: although I did use some of her patterns, I did not follow the tutorials exactly, and I used felt for some of the pieces because it's what I had on hand. Any mistakes I made are my own.***

And as of 11pm last night, this is how far I've gotten.

One big Pig (who still needs a crown)

2 Yellow Birds

2 Red Birds (right now these guys are my favorite)

2 baby Pigs

So, tonight after the kids are in bed, my plan is to make them each a blue bird and a crown for the big pig, and DONE!

Then we can combine these with some foam blocks we got a few years ago from my sister in law and have a game similar and just as fun as the store board game. Fingers crossed!

Have a Very Merry Christmas 
and Happy New Year!!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Super-Easy Ruler Picture Frames

I know school pictures were a while ago, and I meant to put this post up months ago (really, really I did!) but let's roll it out for the holidays because I think these would make really cute gifts.

I was inspired by the fall Pottery Barn catalog, where so many of the kids' rooms and playrooms had a back- to- school theme. I noticed that there were a lot of rulers used as accents in the rooms and inspiration struck. Why not use school rulers to frame the kids' yearly school photos?

So I went over to Target and picked up a bunch of plain wood rulers for just 50 cents each. Then, off to the Dollar Store for some plain wood frames for, yes, only $1 each. I bought 8x10 frames, one for each kiddo, and then I liked these so much I went back and bought some 5x7 frames for the smaller photos.

And here's how I made them.

First, lay out your rulers on top of your frame and set them how you like them. I wanted mine to be offset on each corner, so I laid mine out with about an inch and a half extended off each edge.

I marked where I needed to trim the rulers and cut them on a band saw to the desired length. There is a metal edge, which I discovered you can easily pull out using a pair of needle nose pliers. Clip to match the length of the cut down ruler and push back in. Or you can cut through the metal as you're cutting the ruler on your saw, whichever you prefer.

Next, grab some glue (I used Elmer's wood glue) and glue the cut pieces of the ruler to the wood picture frame and set aside to dry.

Last, insert your child's school photo. Done!

How easy was that?! And total cost, $3.

You could easily add embellishments or, do a dry brush or light stain on the rulers to change the colors to match your room or decor. I'm a plain kinda gal, so I kept mine the way they were.

And how much would Grandma like her school photos in a cute new frame this year??

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Costumes Aplenty

Wow, where have I been??

Oh yes, I have been making Halloween costumes. Seven, to be precise. And now that I'm finished, I think the time has come to share them.

First, an adorable giraffe costume for an 18 month old sweetheart, whose favorite zoo animal guessed it, the giraffe! When her mom and I tried this on her, at first she wanted no part of it, kept shaking her head "no". So we put it on quickly for size and took it off again. She spent the next 20 minutes trying to get back into it, silly girl!

Next, the little brown bear. Now this little boy, he was serious, he came to my house to play with toys not try on costumes! We did get him in the suit, but decided not to force the hood. My daughter ended up wearing the hood for the next hour.

I made both costumes using Simplicity pattern # 2783, one of my favorite all-purpose jumpsuit patterns. It's very easy to add different ears and tails to customize this pattern.

Next were the sister and brother bumblebees. Big sister chose the theme for these and I think they are going to be adorable!

Girl bumblebee (size 4-5T) front view.

Girl bumblebee (size 4-5T) from the back.

Toddler bumblebee romper, back.

Toddler bumblebee romper, front  These were fun to make, I patterned the romper myself using an existing one from the little boy. And I finally got brave enough to attempt shirring on my sewing machine for the bodice on the girl's dress. I was so excited when it worked! I swear, I wanted to shirr everything in sight!

The next was a challenge. A 4 year old girl who wants to be Jewel, from the movie Rio. Ummm, okay. And this little girl has opinions, strong and many. So her mom and I took her shopping, had her pick out her colors and sparkles and feathers and then I took it all home and left it in a bag to marinate. Seriously. I needed a week (more like two) to wrap my mind around that one. Then I remembered a link I'd seen on Pinterest for wings. Using this tutorial translation from PluckyMomo as an inspiration, I made blue sparkly wings. Once the wings were together, the rest of the costume came together quickly.

The look on the little girl's face when she saw this! Oh, it made my whole day!

And finally, my own kiddos.  My son had asked to be C-3PO for Halloween this year one night at the dinner table, and little sister piped up with "I'll be R2D2" so this year they're a pair. And what a pair they turned out to be. I just love the way the costumes came out, and of course I love the kiddos wearing them.

So, that's what I've been up to lately.  At least I am done a week before all the festivities start, so now I can relax and enjoy all the candy!

 Happy Halloween!!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Craft Swap

Back in June (or July, I forget exactly) I posted on Facebook the idea of a craft swap. Not sure where I was really going with this idea. I suppose at first I was hoping that a bunch of people would get together and trade supplies, patterns, items, that everyone could bring something they didn't want and leave with something that they did. And then, as it will, life got in the way and I never really followed up with the idea.


A totally unexpected thing happened.  One friend called me and suggested a different spin on the idea. She had seen the bean bags I had made for my kids and really loved them. She has a daughter the same age as mine, and asked if I would make a ladybug bean bag for her 3rd birthday.  In return, she would make me a mosaic of my color/style choice.

Holy cow!! I have seen her mosaics, they are stunning! And that's not really something that I know how to do, and to be honest, not sure that I'd have the patience for.  So I said (after squealing loudly) YES!!!

One of the coolest things about craft swapping with a friend is that you have an idea about their style. In this case, I knew she wanted a nice bright red ladybug but not totally traditional. So I made the body with red polar fleece, added the black face and eyes, then started experimenting with color. I made some "antennae" with braided, variegated yarn, and rather than doing the spots in black, I made them multi-colored to go with the colors in her daughter's bedroom.  I was so excited about it that I started texting her sneak peek photos while she was on vacation. Like this one---

And then, when they got back I brought the finished bean bag over while her daughter was napping. And I was lucky enough to be there to see her reaction when she got up and saw her birthday present.

The ladybug bean bag, front view. 

 Side view.

Other side view.

I loved watching her daughter run across the room and pounce on the bean bag the same way my kids do with theirs, I think that's a sign of love. Seriously, have you ever seen a beloved toy? They are the most worn out, beaten up things, you feel equal parts sympathy for them and envy for being the number one lovey.

So what about the mosaic? Oh, yes, I got my mosaic! When we talked about it I knew I wanted one for the big, empty wall in my kitchen. And since we're neighbors, our houses have similar layouts so she knew exactly which space I meant. My kitchen is yellow, white and a bit of pale green and I have a great little cafe curtain in my corner window with embroidered daisies. So I wanted something to coordinate with that, and I just love what she came up with.

I love the lower strip of wood that I can add hooks to for coffee cups or dish towels. And I love the bright colors and mirror to open up my small kitchen.

This is such a fun addition to my kitchen, I just love it!

So, even if I didn't follow up on my original idea with the craft swap, I got super lucky to have a crafty friend (and neighbor) to have a totally different take on the idea of a craft swap. I hope that she is as happy with her part of the swap as I am. And I love her interpretation of the craft swap. I'd love to do this again with someone.

Hint, hint.....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Cake!

Since I have cake on my mind right now, I thought I'd show you my other favorite birthday cakes.  This one was for my daughter's first birthday.  I actually found this cake on the Wilton decorating site, and fell in love with it.

I changed up the colors a bit and accidentally made the caterpillar go the wrong direction, but it all worked in the end.

I used the Wilton ball cake pan and did yellow and chocolate cake, alternating segments. This was a big cake!

And the one from my son's 4th birthday, again a Wilton pan.

The purple Monster Truck.

I don't remember why it had to be purple, but it was an absolute must! And my son will only eat yellow cake, no chocolate (crazy child!) so the donut wheels alarmed him, but they're yellow inside so he ate them anyway.

 My daughter's princess party on her 2nd birthday. (yes, I love the Wilton cake pans.)

And here's an one of my earliest attempts for my son's 3rd birthday.

Looking at this one, I realize how much I've learned about cakes and frosting in 6 years. 

These were all so fun to make (and eat!) but I have to admit that I am really glad that my kid's birthdays are 6 months apart, because I need the recovery time. 

That said, I am gathering up my supplies for another one right now.....wish me luck!

Monday, September 26, 2011

R2D2 Birthday Cake

So what birthday week would be complete without a party and cake?  Yes, I did make my son an R2D2 cake (in addition to the alien cake pops for the class).  Frankly, I wanted to try this one out so I kind of persuaded him into it--sometimes it's hard for my kids to fully visualize the end result when I'm begging them to "let" me make the cake/halloween costume/cute outfit of my dreams for them. I usually get funny looks and "ooookay, mom" as a response. But they're still of an age where they believe just about everything I say, and so far we've had only good results.

I'm going to go find some wood to knock on right now.

Without further ado, here's how I made the cake.

First, I assembled all my stuff. I used a 2" deep, 6" round Wilton cake pan for the body because it matched up with the ball pan I already had. I baked 4 round cakes and 1/2 of the ball cake for the top. I used the leftover batter for mini cupcakes, most of which I put in the freezer for later use.  I like the Wilton buttercream icing mix (I know it's just sifted powdered sugar, but I like it anyway) and the pre-made Wilton white fondant, some Rice Krispie treats, and sparkle gel icing.

Bake all the cakes. After they've cooled completely I take a large serrated knife and level them off.  Then I wrap them in tightly in cling wrap. I usually do the baking a few days in advance and put them in the freezer.

I assemble and frost my cakes the night before a party.  So, I gather up everything I need and head to a large work area, which in my house is my dining room table.  I start with the cake board, wrapping it in foil (easy clean-up and a little fancy) this time I also used some blue cling wrap I had on hand to give it a spacey look.  Then I made the base. I cut a piece of styrofoam slightly smaller than the circumference of the cake and wrapped it in white fondant. Then, using icing I "glued" it to the center of the cake board.

Then I put more icing on top of the base and "glued" a cake board, cut to the same size as the cake, on top of the base. I was hoping to add some stability with the cake board. Then using the same idea, I started layering my cakes using the buttercream icing in between layers.

After these 2 layers, I added another cake board, partly for stability and partly to help separate the cake when it came time to cut it. After layer number 3, I put a large skewer through the middle of all the layers down into the styrofoam. My hope was that it would keep him standing upright. (***see note below)

Last, more icing then added the half ball on top. I had intended to use 4 layers, but scale-wise 3 worked better, so I put one back in the freezer.

Then I took a bag of icing with a large tip and filled in the spaces where the layers met. Once that was done, I frosted the lower half of the cake white, then tinted some icing gray and frosted the top. Then, using the sparkle gel, and a handy reference book, I added embellishments so he looked like this--

I got so involved in what I was doing, I forgot to photograph the next steps, but basically I took a bunch of rice krispie treats and squashed them all together and molded them into the shape of his "arms".  Then I covered them in white fondant and attached them to his sides using icing and skewers. Then I used the black sparkle gel to add detail to the arms. And here he is assembled---

From the side----

And the other side---

(***Notes: When I went to sleep, he was standing upright, I thought the cake boards and the center skewer were enough to hold him upright. Well.  The next morning he had a slight backwards tilt, which although it still looked good, scared me to bits so I ended up using my big stock pot to brace him up until party time.  So where I might have gone a bit wrong; first, I need at least 3 skewers, or dowels in the cake to help hold him together as he shifted and settled. Second, the cakes were still somewhat frozen in the centers and I think as they defrosted, the weight shifted and when he started to lean backwards the single skewer was not enough to hold him in place.  I'm not certain that the weight of the arms came into play, but they were heavy so I would try to make my arms less dense.***)

Having said all of that, when it was time to debut R2D2 for the birthday party, he was still standing!  And that's really all that matters. Well, that and a very excited birthday boy---

Both of them look pretty happy to me!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Alien Cake Pops

In a total fit of insanity last weekend, I asked my son if he'd like me to bring cake pops to his class for his birthday (which is today).  I had planned on bringing mini-popsicles (bought from the store) which were a big hit last year. And yes, in Tucson, it is still PLENTY warm enough for popsicles!   Everyone likes them, they're small enough for the kids to eat before they melt, and they require very little effort on my part.

But, I had to go and bring up cake pops. So this is all my own doing. And while cake pops are not hard to make, it seems like I always forget they have a lot of steps, which means they take a lot of time. At least I talked him into simple alien heads, rather than the more detailed robots he wanted originally.

For a complete tutorial on making cake pops, I highly recommend Bakerella, she is SO amazing, I bow to her artistry with cake. Check out the Garfield and Mr. Potato Head pops!

I had some leftover white cake, which I had tinted blue, in the freezer that I crumbled up and added vanilla frosting (this is for the non chocolate lover, remember) to make the cake balls. I shaped them as oval as I could and then put them in the freezer to firm up.

Then I took my alien green candy coating and melted a small amount to "glue" the heads onto the sticks. (Note: this green is a Halloween color, so it just happens to be available right now.)

My husband was nice enough to photograph the steps, so I could use both my hands, thanks honey!

Be careful when you are putting the sticks in the cake not to poke them out the top.

I use a block of styrofoam to hold my pops. Once I have them all on sticks, I put them back in the freezer while I work on whatever other parts I need.  In this case, only eyes.  Red, by the birthday boy's request.

For the eyes I used fruit roll-ups. In hindsight, there are probably a hundred easier ways to make eyes, but this is what I had, so this is what I used.  My thought was to cut out eyes, peel them off the paper and then stick them on the pops. 

Nope, didn't work. At all.  

So instead, I pulled little bits of fruit roll ups off the paper and rolled them into 52 eyes. 

Yep, probably even a thousand easier ways to make the eyes....

Then I heated my candy coating, and prepared to dip the pops. My candy coating was really thick for some reason, so I used some shortening to help thin it out.

So you just sort of dip, and twirl them around---

 Use a spoon to scoop some around the stick if you need to.

And while the candy is still tacky, add the eyes.

One alien cake pop, coming right up!

There are so many fun ways to display these too, but I also had to factor in driving them to school without them falling over. So I asked my husband (who was very helpful during this project) to wrap a cardboard box in some space wrapping paper we had and I poked holes in the top to hold them as upright as possible. 

And just like that, it's an instant alien party! 

Happy 6th Birthday to my amazing son! I love you!!

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Down at Fraggle Rock!

My son is turning 6 next week. That fact alone fills me with equal parts relief, sorrow, wonder and a huge amount of JOY! In case I have never mentioned this before, I love the heck out of this boy. He is so much like me that sometimes we can barely be in the same room, and yet.....every day I am grateful (when I'm not tearing my hair out that is....) to have been given such a remarkable gift in this little boy.

But we were talking about cake, were't we?

Well, we'll start now.

I thought I'd show you last year's cake as a preview since we are still negotiating this year's cake. Lucky for him I can work quickly!

I love Jim Henson, (how's that for a segue??) but I do, and frankly, with all the TV programming available, I still prefer Sesame Street, the Muppet Show or Muppet movies and especially Fraggle Rock. I love the Fraggles, and I so wanted my kids to love them too. I think I bought the first dvd collection when Elliot was 18 months old, and I'm not even sure he watched TV then. But by the time he was 2 1/2, that kid was a Fraggle addict! He was Gobo Fraggle on Halloween when he was 3 and this year is considering being Boober Fraggle. I love this kid!

So, last year, on the milestone 5 year birthday, he asked for a Fraggle cake. And like a good Fraggle groupie, I said "Whoopeee!"  And then, like any other mom, I thought "oh no! how am I going to make that?!"

Well, the cake part was easy, I would make a whole bunch of different size and shape cakes, stack them together, frost them kind of unevenly, maybe carve them a little bit and that would look like rocks, no problem. So I gathered up my cake pans, borrowed some from friends and laid out a rough idea of how the cake would stack.

But the actual Fraggles, well, there's really only one way (that I could think of) to do that.

So I bought some pre-made white Wilton fondant and started sculpting.  And slowly, over the course of about a week, the characters started to take shape.

I sculpted only the top half of Red, so she could be in the Fraggle pond.

And Boober.

Then Wembley, I like to think he's wembling in this picture.

And Gobo and Mokey.  Gobo was the only one I managed to make stand up, everyone else is sitting.
They were heavier than I thought they'd be, you'll notice that I propped them all up using foam and toothpicks so they could dry without falling over.

Junior Gorg wound up being pretty big and surprisingly heavy, so he was the only one I had to sculpt out of Rice Krispie treats and cover with fondant. Didn't want him to sink into the cake or fall over!

And as always, the boy asked for the one character I didn't do, Sprocket the dog. But, since I had enough fondant left, I made him too.

I left the figures to dry for a few days (the addition of a little gum paste to the fondant helped) and went back and painted them with watered down gel colors. If I were to do this over again, I would probably tint the fondant with the gel colors first. The colors turn out much more vibrant and you save yourself an extra step.
So, here's everyone painted.

The gang.  I hope by now you're hearing the theme song in your head.

And Sprocket and Junior.

After a lot of baking and frosting, I assembled the whole thing.

And we were "Down at Fraggle Rock!" I have to say, I was thrilled at how this came out!

And the next morning, when he got up----

I think my 5 year old was too.  Just look at that ear-to-ear grin! I'd say that's one happy kid. 

And a great party, and a happy family.

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