Thursday, May 30, 2013


A couple months ago, Griffin started asking us how many days until vacation.  We would do our best to estimate the number of days, but Griffin always presses for exact answers.  {He often asks how many more minutes until we get somewhere or Daddy comes home or whatever.  He wants an exact number of minutes, even when I'm not sure how many minutes it'll take.}

I found an easy solution by putting an app on my phone.  The app is called "Countdown."  I just input the date that vacation is starting, and it automatically tells me how many more days until vacation.

So every couple days when Griffin would ask me, I could just bring up the app on my phone and tell him exactly.

Well, Nolan decided to add another countdown on my phone's app.

That's right.  Nolan started a countdown to his 18th birthday.

So every time I look on my phone to see how long until our family vacation, I see a harsh reminder that my days of raising Nolan are literally numbered.

Can you believe I only have 4,000 more days until my oldest son is an adult?!

It's a good reminder for a girl like me, who tends to get stuck in survival mode.  Each day with my kids is a fragile gift.  I can't just survive these days.  I have to make the most of them. 

Pretty soon our vacation will be over and the countdown to Nolan's birthday is going to start with 3,000 rather than 4,000.  Every day that number will go down. 

I thought we'd never sleep through the night.  I thought we'd never be done with diapers.  I thought my kids would be home with me all day everyday forever.  The hard stuff passes, but so does the good. 

Whether you know it or not, you're on a countdown too.  I hope you make each day count!


Monday, May 27, 2013

Graduation Cupcakes

I feel like I birthed 144 babies.  I completed all 144 cupcakes for our friends' graduation party, and they were safely delivered and eventually devoured by party guests.  It's weird to look around my kitchen and see blank counters after a week of trays of fondant shapes taking up every square inch.  Good weird.

Overall, I'm pleased with the end results.  Let's be honest:  I spotted several imperfections.  But I forgot about those when one of the two graduates walked into my kitchen and gasped and smiled when she saw all the cupcakes.  It brings me great joy to help her and her twin brother celebrate this great accomplishment. 

The twins' mom is our Children's Director at church, and I have worked closely with her over the years on various projects, committees, and boards.  This weekend she got the rare opportunity to just be "Mom" rather than director, teacher, leader, etc.  I can only imagine how hard it would be as a mom to have both of your kids graduating and going off to college at once.  But this is also a really exciting time for their family, and we look forward to seeing what God has in store for them next.

Cheryl, the graduates' mom, told me the cake flavors and frosting flavors that they wanted.  She also asked me to make toppers shaped like diplomas, graduation caps, and discs with the kids' initials.

She asked me to make a "flavor key" that showed the flavor combinations for each cupcake.  I used my Silhouette software to create the key.  Then I took a screen shot on my computer, cropped it in Paint (to cut off the extra screen stuff), and then imported it into PhotoShop to crop it to 4x6.  Whew!  Then I printed it on 4x6 photo paper, and Cheryl put it in a picture frame on their food table.

I made the pictures accurate with liner colors, frosting colors, and toppers. 

I made 48 red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, 24 yellow cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, 48 chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and 24 yellow cupcakes with vanilla frosting (according to the family's requests).

Wanna see the cupcakes?  I thought so.

The "T" for Tyler toppers:

They're made out of gray marshmallow fondant circles and letters piped with homemade royal icing.  I don't have a very steady hand, and it's most evident in the "T" toppers.  Therefore, these were  my least favorite decorations.

The "B" for Brittany toppers:

They're made of red marshmallow fondant discs (cut with a scalloped circle cookie cutter) and letters piped in royal icing.

The diplomas:

I cut rectangles of white marshmallow fondant and rolled them up.  Then I rolled thin ropes of red fondant and shaped them into bows (very time consuming!).  Then I rolled more thin red ropes and wrapped them around the diplomas and secured with a tiny bit of water.  I used a tiny bit of water to "glue" the bows on top of the red "ribbons."

The graduation caps:

I started with strips of red marshmallow fondant, and I overlapped the ends to make rings.  I also rolled out some red fondant and cut it into squares.  Once those were dry, I used powdered sugar mixed with water to "glue" the rings and squares together.  Then I rolled white fondant into little ropes, cut them to the right length, flattened one end, and made little marks in the flattened portion to look like strands of the tassels.  I followed the fantastic tutorial on Glorious Treats.

More cupcake shots:

I asked Jared to take some pictures of all 4 types of cupcakes while I finished up the last few.  I thought he'd line them up and make sure the letters were facing the right way.  This is what I got. :)

We went to the actual graduation party, and I snapped a few quick pictures of the food table with my phone.  They refilled the cupcake stands right after I took the pictures, but you can at least see what they looked like at the actual event.

Happy Graduation Brittany & Tyler!


Friday, May 24, 2013

In My Spare Time

Now that we survived Jared's two-week trip around the world and enjoyed Nolan's birthday party, it's time to turn my attention to vacation preparations.  And then there's also the small matter of the largest cupcake order I've ever accepted.

Griffin is finished with school, but Nolan is still going and Nora still has TLC on Wednesday mornings.  So this week, Griffin and I spent Wednesday morning together.  It was a rare treat of alone time with Griffin.  We had a blast!

We ran lots of errands and made lots of little purchases for vacation.  He was great company and very cooperative with everything I wanted to accomplish.  I feel much better now that I've started gathering stuff we need for vacation, and I also really enjoyed time alone with my middle child.

Among other things, we purchased little travel pillows for the kids to use in the car (and also at the vacation condo).

We couldn't find pillow cases for these pillows.  Because something in my brain is broken, I decided I'd just make pillow cases.  You know, in all my spare time.

So I did make pillow cases last night after the kids were in bed (and finished this morning).

Nolan's is made of robot fabric left over from the boys' Christmas pants from two years ago.  Griffin's is made of monkey fabric left over from last year's Christmas pants.  Nora's is made of pink polka dot fabric that I'm sure is left over from something, but I can't remember what. 

Those pillow cases were just a side job.  Most of my "free time" has gone toward the decorations for the graduation cupcakes.  The party is on Monday, so I'll be baking the actual cupcakes this weekend.  The fondant decorations need to be made ahead of time so they can dry and hold their shape.  I've spent days working on various components of the decorations.  Here's a sneak peek:

The rings and squares will be joined together to be graduation caps (and I'll add tassels).  The gray circles and red scalloped circles will get the graduates' initials piped on with white icing.  The white rolled up shapes will be diplomas with red fondant ribbons wrapped around and finished with the tiny red bows.  I'll try to remember to take pictures of the finished products to show you next week.

I hope you're enjoying whatever free time you have!



Guess what I've been doing...

No, I haven't been performing surgery.

Those are food-safe gloves.  I wore them to make red marshmallow fondant for my current cupcake project.  The cupcakes are for twins (brother & sister) who just graduated from high school.  Their school colors are red and white.  It took 1.5 containers of food coloring gel, but I finally got red fondant!

That was step 1 out of about 548.  More to come!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Nolan's Sea Monster Birthday Party

My firstborn baby is now 7.  Seven!

By the way, he designed that shirt he's wearing.  I bought a t-shirt from Walmart and washed and dried it.  Then I came up with a design using PowerPoint.  Then Nolan came in and changed the picture and the fonts until he was happy with it.  I printed it onto transfer paper and ironed it onto his shirt.  It turned out a little darker than we wanted, but he said it's his second favorite shirt ever.  So I think we did okay.

That's sorta the way his whole birthday was this year.  He had an opinion about every little thing.  This is the first year where he's cared about the details.  I made invitations on the computer, and then I wanted his approval.  He made tons of changes, and they ended up being very different than my original vision.  Even though it was harder to include him in every decision, and I wasn't able to execute everything the way I wanted to, it was very fulfilling to truly make his birthday party exactly how he wanted it.

Here's the final version of his birthday invites.  I printed them onto white cardstock, trimmed the edges, and folded them in half.

This is the outside, so the right half was the front of the invitation.
This is the inside.  I loved the pictures of Nolan reading one of his many books about sea creatures.

I searched the internet, but I couldn't find any other parties that were mysterious sea creatures.  I found lots of cutesy under the sea parties, but they were all too juvenile or just not quite right.

So I started a Pinterest board of any ideas I could gather for Nolan's party.  He loves any mysterious water creatures, both fresh water and salt water.  He also loves learning about interesting sea creatures.  You can view my complete Pinterest board here.

We didn't do too many decorations.  I bought an assortment of little sea creature figures from Oriental Trading a few weeks ago when they had free shipping.  We just scattered those around on the food table.

I also copied pictures of interesting or weird sea creatures from around the internet, and I put them in a PowerPoint document to make little cards.  I added an interesting fact or two about each creature.  I printed them on cardstock, cut them apart, and we pinned them up on our fence and the wood paneling in our garage using push pins.

This is one of four pages, so there were 16 cards total.

Several weeks ago, I found aqua table cloths on clearance at Walmart.  I thought they would be great for the party since they're sorta the color of ocean water.

My kids always always want pinatas at their birthday parties.  I think it's ridiculous to pay $20-25 for the pinata (that just gets beaten to a pulp or ripped up) and then another $10 or so on candy (that none of the kids really need anyway).  So this year I convinced Nolan that we should have a couple of games instead of a pinata.

I bought the games from Oriental Trading.  One is a ring toss octopus game, and the other is a bean bag toss fish game.

For drinks, Nolan chose a blue Hawaiin Punch, and I poured it into a dispenser I have that is already aqua in color.  I also made a big jug of water with lemon slices in it (just because we love water with lemon!).

We don't have an ice maker, so we usually just buy a bag of ice from the grocery store or gas station.  However, for this party, I found a little silicone mold at Hobby Lobby that has little fish (it was $2.99).  For the last week, I have been emptying fish ice cubes and refilling the little fish cavities with more water.  Over and over.  Just to have cute little fish ice cubes.

And now for the fun stuff...the food!

The main dish was sandwiches from La Gondola (a local Italian restaurant).  Nolan, who has never liked sandwiches, recently discovered that he loves their gondolas.  So we bought several of their gondolas and called them "submarine sandwiches."  They didn't really look like submarines once we cut them up.

I had seen a cute snack idea that had a yellow pepper upside down in some sort of dip (like a squid/octopus head) with strips of yellow pepper like tentacles.  I tried to replicate it with hummus.  Between my giant yellow pepper and small container of hummus, it looked a little more like a spider (ew).

I had pita chips and fresh veggies to dip in the hummus.  I cut up cucumbers as well as mini sweet peppers, and I also included baby carrots.

Nolan is a fruit lover, so I knew we had to have some fruit.  I found this cool carved shark watermelon here.  Our local grocery store didn't have any regular watermelons (just the really small round ones) until this week.  I told Nolan that God loves him so much that he told a farmer to plant some watermelons just in time to have them ripe for Nolan's birthday.  He smiled with his missing teeth.

The shark's eyes are grapes (cut in half crosswise and secured with toothpicks).  I filled the shark mouth with chopped watermelon and raspberries (I let Nolan choose the second fruit).

I let Nolan pick two flavors of Goldfish for his party, and Griffin and Nora each thought they should pick a flavor as well.  So we had four flavors.

I also made Velveeta Shells & Cheese, which Nolan loves and I very rarely make (because the regular Kraft blue box is cheaper).

I made octopus hot dogs by cutting the hot dogs before I boiled them.

My dad helped a friend with a crawfish boil earlier that day, so he brought a cooler full of goodies to add to the party (crawfish, corn, potatoes, and sausage).  They fit the party theme, and everyone thought they were tasty.

After our meal, we moved on to cake and ice cream.  Nolan requested that I make him a Loch Ness Monster cake.  I didn't want to spend a tremendous amount of time on it, so I tried to keep it simple.  I baked a Funfetti cake (his choice) in a 9x13 pan.  Then I put the cooled cake on a wooden cutting board and frosted it with aqua blue vanilla frosting, swirling it to look a bit like waves.

I made Rice Krispies Treats and used some of the mixture to create a long neck with a small head and a hump to be the Loch Ness Monster's back.  I covered these pieces with purchased black frosting.  The neck wouldn't hold its shape, so I stuck it in the freezer until we were ready to get out the cake.  I also let Nolan apply the fish sprinkles that came with our frosting.  I used the orange frosting with the writing tip to write "Happy Birthday Nolan."

It wasn't a professional looking cake, but it made Nolan happy.  I'd rather have it be what he wants than spend tons of hours making something that looks nice but isn't what he had in mind.  {I'm slowly learning as we have more and more birthday parties!}

Nolan chose cookie dough ice cream and strawberry ice cream, and we also had the leftover Rice Krispies Treats.

Then Nolan opened his presents, hugged each person after he opened his/her gift, and then we all hung out in the back yard talking and playing with the kids.

Enjoy some pictures of the birthday party festivities.

The family prayed "God is great" out loud together at Nolan's request

Nora figured out how to swing by herself, and now she could swing all day if we let her.

My handsome Griffin

My goofy Nora

I absolutely love this picture of the kids huddled together.

Nolan and Great Grandma Parsons

Layla showing Nolan how to work one of his new guns

The gun in action with Layla and Charlie watching

The girl cousins playing in the sand box

Baby Addison laughing in the swing

And she was laughing because Griffin was playing peek-a-boo!

And my favorite picture of the day (thanks to my sister Kristi!)...

We were getting ready to pray.  Jared and I each wrapped an arm around our Nolan.  I love his sweet face and the way he's touching Jared's hand.

Happy Birthday Nolan!