Tuesday, February 26, 2013

JJ Heller & More

I've mentioned before that music has a big impact on me.  It's part of my worship, it encourages me, and I often sense God speaking to me through songs.

I first fell in love with JJ Heller about two years ago when my grandma was very ill and we knew her days on earth were numbered.  There's always a specific song that God uses for each difficult patch in my life.  The song for that time (preparing to lose my Grandma) was "Your Hands" by JJ Heller.

My grandma was a rock, a never-ending source of love and stability.  She had overcome leukemia and breast cancer.  She had Alzheimer's, COPD (lung disease), and cancer in her lungs and brain.  And she was still a reflection of light and life.  God gave me as much time as possible to come to terms with her mortality before he actually called her home.

But I still knew that this world--my world--would never be the same without her.

So the words of JJ Heller's song spoke directly to my heart at that time:
I have unanswered prayers
I have trouble I wish wasn't there
And I have asked a thousand ways
That you would take my pain away
You would take my pain away

I am trying to understand
How to walk this weary land
Make straight the paths that crooked lie
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave your hands

When you walked upon the earth
You healed the broken, lost and hurt
I know you hate to see me cry
One day you will set all things right
Yeah, one day you will set all things right

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave your hands

Your hands that shaped the world
Are holding me
They hold me still
Your hands that shaped the world
Are holding me
They hold me still

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave you
When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave
I never leave your hands
If you would like to listen to this beautiful song, click here:

Several months ago, a friend sent me another JJ Heller song:  "Someday."  This was the same friend who asked me about my Peace vs. Fear ratio.  Reading the lyrics will tell you why this friend sent me this song.
One day you'll feel the sun
Warming your callused skin
The ropes will come undone
No more wars left to win

Someday my dearest friend
Someday though I don't know when
Oooo you will live in peace.

Your battered heart will soar
Your wounds turned into wings
No one will keep the score
You wouldn't care anyway

Someday my dearest friend
Someday though I don't know when
Oooo you will live in peace.

May you see redemption
On this side of heaven
May you see redemption
On this side of heaven
May you see redemption
On this side of heaven
My friend

Someday my dearest friend
Someday though I don't know when
Oooo you will live

Someday my dearest friend
Someday though I don't know when
Oooo you will live in peace
You can listen to that song here:

I got to thinking about how much these two songs mean to me, so I typed "JJ Heller" into my Pandora app to find related music.  I was not disappointed!

I have been loving listening to the JJ Heller station on Pandora when I exercise or when I'm working on crafts or chores or cleaning.  I wanted to share a few of my favorite songs that have popped up.  Many are old favorites I'd forgotten about, and a couple are new.  {Click on the song titles to listen to the songs on YouTube.}

"The Valley Song" by Jars of Clay

"If You Want Me To" by Ginny Owens

"I Am" by Jill Phillips

"Esther" by Esterlyn

I am sharing these songs because I know that a couple of you are currently feeling your world shake beneath you, are walking through a valley, or are otherwise in need of peace.  These songs stir my spirit, and I'm hoping they speak to you as well.  Sometimes it's soothing just to hear someone else put into words what you're already feeling.  These songs also encourage me because they remind me that struggles are part of this life, but God's presence never wavers.  
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  John 16:33

"For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again."  Proverbs 24:16a

"Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall."  Psalm 55:22

"The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down."  Psalm 145:15

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11
Hang in there, friends!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Happy Blogiversary!

Today is my first blogiversary!  Woohoo!

What's a blogiversary, you ask?  According to Urban Dictionary, it is "The yearly anniversary of someones web-log (blog)."

In short, I published my first blog post one year ago today.

Not too many of you have been reading for the full year, mostly because I was reluctant to go public with my blog at first.  I really like the outlet of writing, but I also feel the sting of vulnerability.

One year later, I'm super glad that I started this crazy thing.

I have really appreciated all of you following along with me on this journey.  Your comments on my posts (and in regular life about my blog) have meant the world to me.  I know you all have crazy busy lives too, and I feel honored that you would spend time reading my ramblings.  You have graciously followed along through my highs and lows, and you've helped me to keep moving forward through it all.

I look forward to sharing life with you over the next year!


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I recently told you about my trip to the library.  I checked out the book Look Me in the Eye and wrote a review of it.  Then the author of the book commented on my blog!  Twice!  Just thought that was worth mentioning one more time. :)

Anyhow, while I was at the library looking at the book sale, I spotted the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I had watched the movie last year and absolutely loved it.  You can read about that here.

I have a rule about movies based on books:  I always read the book first before seeing the movie (never the movie before the book).  However, I loved this movie SO much that I decided it would be worth reading the book.

Let me tell you:  it is so worth reading this book!  This might be the best thing I've ever bought for $2.

Part of the synopsis of the book on Wikipedia reads as follows:
The main protagonist of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell. Oskar Schell's father Thomas Schell dies in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, before the narrative begins. While looking through his father's closet, Oskar finds a key in a small envelope inside a vase, on the outside of the envelope the word "Black" is written in the top left corner. Curious, Oskar sets off on a mission to contact every person in New York City with the last name Black, in alphabetical order, in order to find the lock to the key his father left behind. The novel also tells a separate narrative that eventually converges with the main story through a series of letters written by Oskar's grandfather to Oskar's father and by Oskar's grandmother to Oskar himself, based on real life events.
There were a lot of differences between the book and the movie, and I have to say I prefer the book's version of this tale.  I had to adjust to the unique writing style in this book, and at times I had trouble following exactly who was talking.  I didn't mind using a little extra brain power to follow this incredible story.

In the movie Oskar says he was tested for Asperger's, but there is no such mention in the book.  I still connected with Oskar in a way that I probably wouldn't have if I did not have a son with Asperger's.  I think the author's portrayal of Oskar gives any reader more appreciation for people who are quirky or different in any way. 

Not only did this book make me cry on many occasions, but it also made me smile and laugh out loud over and over.  There were admittedly a few parts that I had trouble believing (mostly involving Oskar's grandparents), but I didn't let them detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

This book now holds the distinction of being my current favorite fiction book.

If you loved the movie, read this book.  If you haven't seen the movie, read this book.  If you didn't like the movie, well, I suppose I leave it up to you to read the book or not.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Internet is Teaching Me to Clean

So, remember my house cleaning woes?  Whenever I actually make time to clean, I just don't know what I'm doing.

Well, I finally won one victory!

My stove burner grates are impossible to clean.  They have been covered in brown/black spots no matter what cleaners I use.

Well...feast your eyes on these!

How d'ya like me now?  :)

I used the "Miracle Cleaner" from One Good Thing by Jillee.

I must admit that it took A-LOT of elbow grease to scrub those burner grates.  Plus they have a billion sides, curves, and nooks.  It took a lot of time and energy to get all parts of the grates clean.

They're not totally perfect, but this is the best they've looked since the stove was brand new.  No other cleaner has done this good of a job!

Here the left side is not yet cleaned and the right side is clean and pretty:

Don't worry, I cleaned the left side after I took the photo. :)

By the way, I used these sponges that are scrubby but not scratchy:

I really put one of the sponges to WORK!  Unused on the left, and the one on the right was only used for the burner grates:

I did spend more time cleaning other things that weren't quite so victorious.  I had seen on Pinterest a blog post about how to make your stainless steel sink shine.

This particular blog post suggests using vinegar, baking soda, boiling water, Goo Gone, and olive oil.  I thought that was a bit excessive.  So I started by placing vinegar-soaked paper towels around the faucet, sprayer, and back part of the sink.  I left them for about an hour.  I was super impressed with how the vinegar broke up the hard water deposits!

Then I used the "Miracle Cleaner" I mentioned above to scrub the entire sink and fixtures.  After I rinsed off the cleaner, I wiped everything dry.  Unfortunately, I could see the familiar haze and spots left by our stupid hard water.

The very thorough blog post on cleaning your stainless steel sink ended with buffing the sink with olive oil.  I borrowed that idea with my own spin.  I used the mineral oil that is for oiling my wooden cutting boards.  I just poured a little on a paper towel and wiped down all parts of the sink.  Wow!! It made a HUGE difference.  My final confession:  the sink started to show signs of hard water haze the next day.  I don't have the time and energy to detail and oil my sink every single day.  But I'll be doing this occasionally, and I'll definitely remember it for when we're having company over and I want my sink to look really clean and pretty.

My final swing-and-a-miss came when I tried to clean my shower/tub.  I used Jillee's "Tub and Shower Magic."

I mixed the hot vinegar and Dawn dish soap and sprayed it all over the shower tile and tub, as well as the fixtures.  Everyone in my house complained at me for the smell.  I let it sit for about two hours, and then I rinsed it off with a giant wet sponge.

My results:  It generally cleaned the tile and tub, but it didn't bust through the rust stains, it slightly worked through the hard water deposits, and it didn't touch the tub crayon that is embedded in the tile grout.  It was fine as a maintenance cleaner, but it didn't work any miracles for me. 

Hey, at least my stove and sink are clean!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Not What I Ordered

Some days life is interesting.

You might be wiping your kitchen counter while your children are eating lunch.  You hear a strange noise and turn around to see your three-year-old daughter choking.  You might even have to tip her over and hit her back and watch her try to start breathing again even as her hands and face turn a strange color from lack of oxygen.

On this particular day, you're most likely still fighting Strep throat.  You're taking those strong antibiotics that you only have to take once per day for five days.  And when you sit at the kitchen table and open the little foil packet to get out your bright pink magic pill, the pill falls to the floor and bounces out of sight.  Then you can't find the bright pink mischievous pill, even when you move the kitchen table and chairs and even sweep the whole kitchen floor (and then mop it while you've got everything moved).  Even little helpers down on the floor looking around can't find it.  It's gone.  No pill.  Any chance that four days worth of antibiotics will do the job of all five?  Your aching throat isn't so sure.

Maybe you might notice that it's time to pick up your son from school.  You decide to quickly use the restroom before getting your younger children up from naps.  And then when you stand up, you feel the odd sensation of wetness on your backside.  Turning around and surveying the situation reveals someone else's urine all over the toilet seat, lid, and floor.

Or perhaps you might be preparing dinner for your family.  Edamame may be the vegetable side of choice.  So you pour out the remainder of the frozen little green lima bean look-alikes into a bowl for heating and discover something other than edamame.  Something that's not even edible.  It's small and brown, and when you pick it up you recognize it:  a snail.


All of these things happened to me.  In one day.  Today.

Nora cried for a long time but eventually got her breathing and color back to normal.  The bathroom got a good cleaning and disinfecting (and a stern lecture was handed out to the offender).  And I will be writing the edamame company to let them know that I didn't order the escargot.

Yes, there is an actual snail in that shell.  And I seriously need to moisturize my hands.

I hope you have a great, no-snails-in-your-vegetables kind of day!


Monday, February 18, 2013

More Easter Costumes

I just finished this year's batch of costumes for my church's Passion Play (Easter Play).  You may remember when I made three costumes last year that turned out to be the most difficult sewing project I had tackled.  You can read about those here:
This year's assignment was much easier.  The director gave me some costumes that were made with fabrics that she didn't think were accurate for Biblical times.  She gave me a few bolts of solid fabrics so I could remake the costumes.  I only took on two costumes this year.

The original costumes:

I had to take apart a few of the seams so I could use the old costumes as my pattern for the new ones.  I also had to make head coverings for both costumes and new belts and ties for the head coverings.  It took me a few weeks to complete them, but I'm finally finished!

This costume replaces the blue one above.  It includes an ivory head covering, green head covering tie, and brown belt.

For the head covering and ties, I had to press the edges under twice and topstitch to give a nice finished edge.

I didn't have brown thread for my serger, so I had to use black on the insides of the brown vest.  I hope it doesn't show on stage!

This tunic has a rounded neckline with a slit in the back and a hook-and-eye closure.

I had to make bias tape to finish the neckline edge.

I used my serger whenever possible for the construction of the garment, and I pressed under and topstitched for the hem.

And the other costume:

This one replaces the lavender costume.  It includes two different sizes of head coverings, a green head covering tie, and a tan belt.

This tunic has a boat neck.  I serged the edges before pressing them inside the garment and stitching them in place.

I serged the bottom edge before hemming the tunic.

For the ties, I had to press under twice and topstitch the edges.  Hours at the ironing board = b-o-r-i-n-g!

It feels so good to finally erase "Make Passion Play costumes" off my to-do list white board!  It's nice to be able to find a way to use my sewing skills to help out at church.  I'm just glad this year's assignment was so much easier than last year's!

With the costumes finished, my "free time" has been spent taking care of sick children, telling myself I don't have Strep Throat (turns out I do), gaining weight despite killing myself with P90X, and cleaning my house.  I think I'd rather make more costumes!


Friday, February 15, 2013

Griffin's Super Power

Even before Griffin was diagnosed with Asperger's, I had heard about autistic "super powers."  Basically, people on the autism spectrum are lacking in social skills (and often language skills and motor skills), but they excel in some other area.

When Griffin was a young toddler, he showed an incredible interest in music.  He loved musical instruments, toys and books that played music, and he was obsessed with his musical aquarium (it hung in his crib and then moved with him to a twin bed).  He used to sing the tune of a familiar song but use a single word over and over.  For example, he would sing the word "Mom" to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

So we started to think that Griffin was our musical child (despite the fact that I'm tone deaf and Jared has no--I mean no--rhythm).  Then his musical interest shifted to manipulating music.  He got a toy for Christmas that played music, had a small keyboard, and had turn tables and dials to control the tempo, volume, and sound of the music.  He loved it!  We eventually had to ban him from taking it in the car because he wanted to take it everywhere.  The loud music (his favorite song over and over and over) was too annoying for the driver (me).

He loves to use an app on my old phone called HeyTell to record songs, sayings, and noises from his favorite movies, shows, games, and everyday life.  The app is designed to let you record a memo and send it to someone else (like an audible text), but Griffin figured out how to HeyTell himself so he can listen to his recordings over and over.  He even plays his recordings from the phone as he records them on the iPad so he can further manipulate his music and sounds.

Griffin still seems to have a special interest in certain aspects of music, but he's not obsessed with it anymore.

The next candidate for Griffin's super power was reading.  I didn't even know Griffin could read yet until one day when he read an entire book to me.  It was roughly a first grade reading level.  He was four.  I read to my kids a lot, but I hadn't even started teaching Griffin how to read.  He somehow learned it by himself.  And then we went through months of him asking questions about our ridiculous language, and he noticed every exception to every pronunciation and spelling rule.

I have no idea what his current reading level is, but I'm pretty sure it's at least a third grade level.  One day a couple weeks ago, I had just picked him up from preschool and we were driving home.  He told me he had an important note for the parents in his back pack and he tried to hand it to me right then.  I told him I was driving and needed him to read it to me.  He basically took one deep breath and read the whole thing without even pausing between sentences.  It had words like "participate" and he didn't even hesitate on the tricky words.

So I thought maybe reading was Griffin's super power.  But lately another power seems to be rising:  math.

Griffin has been interested in numbers for a long time.  It can even become a problem at times.  For example, he might ask how many bites of something he has to eat at dinner.  I tell him the amount of food I want him to eat (like all of your green beans and half of your meat).  He insists on being told a number of bites to eat.  Then we both start using less patient tones as I say, "I don't care how many bites it takes you; just eat your green beans," and he pushes with, "but seriously how many bites?"

When Griffin was very young, he took notice of numbers around him and started asking me simple math problems.  I answered his question and then looked around to get to the bottom of why he asked.  One day (he was probably 3) he asked, "What's 2 plus 2 plus 2 plus 1?"  After I told him the answer, I followed his line of sight to the rug where we take off our shoes.  On the rug were three pairs of shoes and one lonely shoe without its mate.

I could tell that Griffin was processing numbers and relationships between numbers.  He would ask me more math questions as we drove from place to place.  Sometimes his problems were too tough for me to do in my head.  Or he would talk too quickly for me to keep up ("Whats 5+6+7+8+9+10?" while I'm merging onto the highway, for example).

Eventually Griffin's math questions took us into areas I wasn't sure a preschooler could understand.  Months ago he was asking me various subtraction problems.  Inevitable, he asked me about a smaller number minus a larger number (like 10-12).  So, remembering the way my grandma would always answer our questions with the matter-of-fact truth, I told him the answer was a negative number.  I briefly explained.

Now he understands without my help.  Several weeks ago, I was cleaning the kitchen and Griffin yelled from the next room, "Mom, 40 minus 50 is negative 10."  My jaw dropped.

Griffin received a toy cash register for his birthday.  It holds money but it also houses a working calculator.  He loves it!  He started taking it every time we left the house, even though it's way bigger than his lap.  He loves typing in math problems.  I thought I was brilliant when I bought him a little calculator to put in his Christmas stocking.  It only cost $1 and it's really small.  But Griffin still kept taking his cash register everywhere instead.  I asked him why he didn't take the smaller calculator.  His answer?  "The little calculator can't show as many numbers as the cash register."  Sure enough, the cash register has a larger display for more digits.

There have been several occasions of Griffin applying math to time, as in calculating how many minutes until something.  Last Tuesday I had a dentist appointment, and the kids went to my friend Megan's house during my appointment.  Griffin kept asking me how much longer until they could go to her house.  At one point, I told him an hour and a half.  Ten minutes later, he asked me yet again.  I told him it was now an hour and twenty minutes.  He replied, "So, 80 minutes?"

Now Griffin is applying math to everyday life.  Yesterday he and Nora were playing with play dough and Griffin was trying hard to convince Nora to give him her play dough.  After lots of lobbying, he said, "Nora, I need 1,000 play dough and I only have 900.  So I need 100 more."  She bought it and gave up her play dough.

Last night Griffin and I made cookie dough together (we freeze it in little balls and pretend that we'll keep it to bake later, but everyone in my house ends up eating the dough balls for dessert/snacks).  I was seriously enjoying the time with Griffin.  He insisted on reading the recipe card (which he's never done), so I got to teach him about fractions (like 1/4 cup) and abbreviations (like tsp.).

We had to melt two sticks of butter.  I put them in a bowl and put the bowl in the microwave.  Griffin loves pushing the buttons on the microwave.  I told him to start with 30 seconds.  The butter was barely even softened.  So I told him to do 20 more seconds.  He said, "Then you should have just said 50 seconds the first time."  I chuckled, he did as I asked, and the butter still wasn't even starting to melt.  I told him to do 20 more seconds.  Without missing a beat he said, "That's 70 seconds."  I looked at Jared in disbelief that Griffin was keeping a running total in his head.  The butter just started to melt.  So I told Griffin to do another round of 20 seconds.  "Ninety seconds," he said as he punched in my request.  We checked the butter.  It was fairly melted with a few stubborn solid parts.  I suggested that we do 15 more seconds, but Griffin felt we should do 14.  He punched in the numbers and hit start.  I asked him how many seconds we had microwaved the butter altogether, and he smiled and said 104.  Seriously.

I have no idea the depths of Griffin's mind.  I am continually shocked at what I discover he already knows, which begs the question of what he knows but I don't know that he knows (you know?).  He may or may not have a musical super power or a reading super power or a math super power.  He may just have intellectual growth spurts in these areas and then slow down as the rest of his peers catch up.  {For my fellow "Friends" fans:  Griffin is like Ross' "Science Boy."  What's was his super power?  "A super human thirst for knowledge."}

What I do know is that this is thrilling and exciting, but I'm terrified of what will happen when he starts kindergarten this fall.  He needs much more than what kindergarten curriculum has to offer.  Yet he will likely struggle with many of the social aspects, as well as his tendency to take things strictly literally and his inability to be flexible.  I am going to have to work very closely with his teacher to keep him engaged and also anticipate and alleviate his meltdowns.  It will be interesting!

After Griffin and I successfully made the cookie dough, learned about reading recipes, and discovered Griffin's mental math abilities, I was overflowing with joy.  "Griffin!"  I squealed.  "How did you get to be so handsome and so smart?"  He smiled a genuine, sweet smile.  And he let me kiss him four times on his face.  Then he ran off with a spoonful of cookie dough.  I stood smiling in the kitchen, thinking about what a super kid he is.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day friends!

I already told you that I'm taking it easy for Valentine's Day this year (with the kiddos and their classes).  I bought the boys' valentines from Oriental Trading when they had a free shipping code, and I took Nora to Walmart to pick out her valentines.

A couple weeks ago I saw a cute Valentine's Day idea on Pinterest, and then I noticed that the Pinterest user had pinned it to a board called "Things to make other moms hate me."  I never want to be that mom.  When I do go the extra mile and make something homemade, it's because I enjoy the process and find crafts to be a nice distraction from all the cleaning, disciplining, and wiping other people's rears. 

Life is just too crazy for all the adorable Valentine's ideas I found this year.  But that's ok. 

Nolan's valentines are Pixy Stix made to look like an arrow shot through a heart:

I started putting them together one afternoon while he was at school, and then I realized I should have him participate too.  So we finished the rest together after he got home from school.

For his valentines box, we started with an empty shoe box (remember that I'm a box hoarder).  When I first told Nolan that I bought him Pixy Stix valentines, he was majorly bummed.  He said that he really wanted Marvel superhero valentines.  So I picked up a box of lenticular (the kind that have two pictures that you can see from different angles) Marvel valentines from Walmart for less than $2.

We broke the valentines into strips of three and also some single valentines.  We worked together to figure out how to arrange the valentines on the box, and I hot glued them on.

We covered the lid as well, and I used a craft knife (like a scalpel) to cut out the rectangle in the middle of the lid.

Nolan's finished valentines fit perfectly inside his box for transport to school.

Griffin and Nora had parties at school yesterday (preschool for Griffin and church program for Nora).  They both decorated bags at school.

I just wrote their names in the "from" spot on their valentines so they could easily pass them out to their friends.

Now our house is once again filled with candy.  We were still working on candy from Christmas.  And Jared's birthday.  And we'll probably still be working on Valentine's candy until Easter.  Griffin said, "Mom, we'll probably always have candy."  I think he's right!

Have a great day!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cupcake Contest

My mother-in-law's office has an annual cupcake contest, and I get to be her ghost baker.  Don't worry, we're not breaking any rules.  Her coworkers know that I make the cupcakes for her.

Last year (the first year I participated), I made the most delicious cupcakes I could muster.  I had recently finished perfecting my Cookies and Cream Cupcakes recipe, and I was proud of my tasty little treats.  However, apparently the goal was creativity, not flavor, and I didn't win a darn thing.

So this year, I'm focused on creativity.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not interested in serving something less than delicious.  But I wanted to focus on making something almost too cute to eat.

I did the logical thing and hopped on Pinterest.  I gathered lots of potential cupcake ideas.  There are SO many cute ideas out there!  Ultimately, my mother-in-law and I chose these hot chocolate cupcakes from Diary of a Lady Bird:

I went to Deals and found little clear plastic plates that I thought would be the right size for the saucers under my cupcakes.  I also found little silver plastic spoons to complete the ensemble. 

I found two versions of heart-shaped marshmallows at Walmart.  I thought they would be a nice touch on my "hot chocolate" cupcakes since Valentine's Day is this week {I ended up just using the bag with both pink and white marshmallows}.

The day before I needed to bake the cupcakes, I prepared my favorite recipe of marshmallow fondant.

I wanted to make Milk Chocolate cupcakes, but it turned out that I didn't have that mix on hand.  I did have a Devil's Food mix on hand, though.  Yes, I could have made them from scratch.  Yes, they probably would have been a lot tastier and I could have made a recipe using actual hot chocolate mix.  But I got this cake mix for $0.88.  And I'm not going for the prize of Most Time Spent on One Batch of Cupcakes, ya know?  Anywho.

I prepared the cake mix according to the box directions.  Since I knew these cupcakes would be wrapped in marshmallowiness, I wanted to amp up the chocolate.  I coated about a cup of milk chocolate chips with a tablespoon or so of flour.  This keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the cupcakes.

I mixed the chocolate chips into the cupcake batter and used my scoop to portion them into the prepared cupcake pan.  I just used leftover Halloween cupcake liners since they'll be removed after baking anyway.  Nora thought the pumpkin wrappers were hilarious.  I baked the cupcakes for 18 minutes.

Once the cupcakes were cool, I removed all the liners.

I pulled my marshmallow fondant out of the fridge and warmed it up slightly in the microwave so I could knead it easily.  The fondant in my inspiration photo is white.  While I thought the white cups were beautiful, I also thought it was a missed opportunity for creativity.  I thought about making mine red or pink to go with the Valentine's Day theme, but I ultimately defaulted to my favorite color:  aqua.  I colored half of the fondant aqua using the tiniest bit of teal food coloring gel.

This half of the fondant was just the right amount to cover half of the cupcakes (one dozen).

In order to make the fondant stick, I needed some frosting for glue.  I considered using a can of store-bought frosting, but then that super annoying voice in my head said, "Really?!  A cake mix AND store-bought frosting??"  So I decided to make my own.

I flipped through my recipes and found this one that I used for Griffin's first birthday cake.  He was allergic to dairy (I'm SO glad he has outgrown that allergy!), so it's a dairy-free chocolate frosting.  I followed the recipe and just used regular butter and milk.  I think this will be my new go-to chocolate buttercream.

I used an offset spatula to spread the frosting around the outside of each cupcake.

Before I frosted all the cupcake outsides, I measured one to get an idea of what size to cut the fondant.

I rolled out the fondant on a handy dandy non-stick mat that I purchased at Ikea (See, Jared?  I did find a use for that!).

I rolled the fondant to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Then I used my fabric cutting ruler (clean, of course) and a pizza cutter to cut the fondant into strips 2.25 inches wide and 8.5 inches long.  The fondant stuck a little in a few places, so I spread a little bit of Crisco on the mat and on my rolling pin.  Worked like a charm.

The fondant strips stretched as I wrapped them around the cupcakes, so I started cutting the strips 7.5 inches long instead.

I wrapped a strip of fondant around a cupcakes and cut off the excess so the ends met exactly or overlapped slightly.  I used water to bond the ends together.  Each wrapped cupcake (now a tiny little mug) went on its own little clear plate.

The fondant was a funky shape when I first applied it to the cupcake.

I gently stretched the top of the fondant so it flared out slightly to be more of a cup shape.

I got really frustrated at this point.  The fondant was bumpy and warped and just didn't look like smooth little cups.  Jared said, "It's very apparent that they're not perfectly round."  Who wants perfect cupcakes anyway?  Oh wait, I do.  I think it would have helped if I had underfilled my cupcake liners so they wouldn't have the bulge where they baked up over the liner.  

I cut narrow strips of fondant for the handles and made them 2.5 inches long.  I wrapped them over the handle of a wooden spoon and let them dry for a bit to hold that shape.

I used a tiny bit of water to adhere the handles to the cups.

When it was time to color the second half of the fondant, I decided to go ahead and make it pink.  I used a tiny bit of pink food coloring gel to make it pretty pastel.  I followed all the same steps to frost the outsides of the second dozen cupcakes, roll and cut the fondant, and apply the fondant to make little cups.  I made the cup handles the same as I had done for the aqua ones.

To finish off the decorations I needed two things:  frosting and marshmallows for garnish.

I started by preparing the cute heart-shaped marshmallows.  They were too fat to sit on top of my little treats, so I cut them to make two toppers out of each mallow.

Then I got to work on the frosting for the top of the cupcakes.  I was running out of time and decided to stick with a recipe I know.  I used my recipe for Royal Icing.  I typed it up and didn't keep record of the original source, but you can easily search the internet for a basic recipe.

I made a little change though.  Instead of adding water, I added water mixed with instant espresso.

Even with the espresso, the icing was pretty light in color.

I added all the brown food coloring gel that I had left, which wasn't much, and the frosting ended up about the color of a cappuccino.  So I supposed the finished product is a little confusing as to whether they're little mugs of hot chocolate (hence, the marshmallows) or little cups of cappuccino.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I glopped some of the espresso icing onto a cupcake and then used my offset spatula to coax it to the edge all around the inside of the cup.

Then I added the marshmallows (sticky cut side down).  I used both pink and white marshmallows for each color of cups.

I did the same for all the aqua cups and all the pink ones.

The final touch:  the little silver spoons!

The finished treats:

They may be bumpy and imperfect, but they're still cute, right?

My tips if you decide to make these:
  • Don't fill cupcake liners enough that they'll bake up over the top of the liners.  Or try jumbo cupcakes.  Or just trim the muffin tops.
  • Roll fondant thicker rather than thinner.  I think at least 1/4 inch is best.
  • Allow time for fondant handles to dry and harden.  Also allow time for fondant cups to dry and harden.
  • Do NOT refrigerate fondant-covered cupcakes and do NOT store them in an airtight container.  We put the cupcakes in plastic containers with lids for transporting, and they sat in them overnight.  The fondant absorbed the moisture from the frosting and got soft and droopy.  Yuck.  All my hard work to make the cups round and nice was for nothing!  Be sure to leave the finished cupcakes out overnight so the fondant can set.  Don't worry, the fondant and frosting keep the cupcakes from drying out.
And now, drumroll please...

My cupcakes won first place in the Creativity category!!

Now I have to start planning for next year...