Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Audio books for kids

The amount of books I read this past year in comparison to years previous, was pretty pathetic; I averaged about 1 book every two months, which means I didn't even get in all the book club books; but remember I did move this year and had the house on the market for a couple of months which meant I needed to have a spotlessly clean house at all times, and with young kids, it meant I spent ALL of my 'free time' cleaning. But I guess this doesn't count all the audio books I've listened to with my kids; if you count those, then I averaged a little over a book a month :).  I have our list of audio books below though I couldn't remember them all. We listen to our audio books about 20 minutes a day while driving to and from school. I of course actually drive 60 minutes a day, taking them back home, picking up kindergarten etc but we only listen to their audio books when they are all in the car, after we've asked how days have gone etc,  so no one is missing parts of the story. Here are the books we've read since around September, so about 5 months ago. And we are currently listening to Anne of Green Gables.

Ella Enchanted
Tuck Everlasting
Ellen Tebits
Ramona's World
Henry Huggins
A to Z Mysteries
Magic Tree House (we've listened to almost all of these now, I think there is over 50, but we started listening to these 2 years ago)
Captain Nobody
Nim's Island

We also have study time each night for about an hour where the kids work on homework they didn't have time to finish before dinner and to do reading. Elisabeth is on the 6th Harry Potter book right now; can you guess what she wants to be for Halloween? Hermoine, and she asked Charles to be Harry. It's a good thing I saved those Gryfindor scarves I made years ago for my own costume :). Right now Charles is reading the first Percy Jackson book. We're actually reading it together which I love.

Off subject, this is a poster Charles made in art at school. I like to take pictures of art projects or special writings so that they'll get printed in our blog book (which I just finished last week!!!!!) and so then I feel okay about not holding onto them. When three-year-old Jane saw this poster she said, "Charles looks creepy." :) But I guess that's kinda what he was going for. He's making a funny face and he's made himself into some sort of monster that's coming down from the sky and falling into a building.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Nora at 22 months

I love babies. I love children. I love their excitement and curiosity in anything and everything. I love that they trust and love fully and completely. I love their sweetness, innocence and relatively cheerful disposition. Nora is 22 months, almost two! I keep telling her that she should really just stay this way forever and never grow up, but she will not listen. But that's okay because I also love watching them learn and grow during this time on earth. That being said, I am so grateful that Heavenly Father has a plan for us, that this life is not the end, and that we can be forever with our families. Nora has found a favorite sitting spot: in the refrigerator. I don't know why, but I can only guess that she thinks it's funny :). And it kind of is :).

Nora's hair is getting long and it's always in her face. So she always has the bangs pulled up and out of the way, and if her nose is runny and it's windy outside, I'll pull her hair in the 'triceratops' is what Scott likes to call it. Here she is eating fresh mango and drinking the remaining contents of her bowl of granola.

The relationship between Nora our youngest and Elisabeth our oldest who is 9 and a half years old, is so sweet.  We've never had that sort of an age span between siblings yet and Elisabeth is now old enough to really care for, love and enjoy her relationship with Nora. She has become a sort of second mother to her. She loves to do all the things I do for Nora, like get her dressed and ready, help her with meals, read to her, play with her and recently she has learned how we put Nora to bed. It is so fun to watch these two together. Nora can't say 'Elisabeth' because it's too long, so Elisabeth tried to teach her, "Lizzy" but what Nora can actually say is, "Dizzy" :). We love it so it's a keeper. Here are Nora and Dizzy playing 'peekaboo'. Nora will put her tiny fists up to Elisabeth's eyes, Elisabeth will say, "Where is Nora?" and then Nora will quickly pull her fists away and smile.

Quick video of Nora singing with her favorite toy Tika

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Valentine's Day

The kids had school off Friday, which was Valentine's Day. We had a pretty laid back Valentine's this year. In the past I've normally made special foods like pink pancakes and heart shaped pizza, but Annabelle's Frozen party was the next day and I had messes everywhere, projects needing to be finished, the cake needing a few more hours of work and so we stuck to the basics. The thing we all care about the most are our love letters. And so Scott and I stayed up a little late the night before finishing off our love letters to each member of our family. We laid them out in the morning and had heart shaped cheerios and pink Naked juice/smoothie for breakfast.

Later that morning I had singing practice with some women in our stake. We went over to Melanie's house and the kids played together (around 30 kids total) while we sang. Afterward snacked on the festive foods we brought to share and visited until it was time to go home at which time I put Nora down for a nap so I could have time to work on the cake. Scott and I texted each other little love notes throughout the day, which is actually a pretty normal and regular thing :).

That evening we had Jenna, our babysitter over. She made the kids turkey sandwiches, they played games and watched a movie while Scott and I went on a date. Scott took me to a place he ate at before and thought I'd really like, which I did, called La Hacienda. I had these amazing Portobello mushroom and veggie fajitas! Seriously so yummy! Later that night he gave me a nice foot rub with some new foot spa tools. Happy Love Day!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Disney Frozen Cake-step by step picture tutorial

This is a step by step picture tutorial of how to make a Disney Frozen cake, so if you're not interested in making cakes, just skip this post :). It's a long one! Click here to see another Disney Frozen cake I made with buttercream rosettes on the top tier! I decided to break down the cake making part and include specific steps for that as well, a long with instructions for making fondant. There are lots of pictures because there are lots of steps and cakes take a lot of time. When I made the Disney Frozen cake I did it over several days because I don't ever have large chunks of time, but rather I can usually manage to find a couple of hours a day, while the baby sleeps, as long as I'm willing to let some cleaning and cooking go, which my family, I'm sure, does not appreciate but they enjoy the finished cake product :). Alright, so here we go:

Wednesday (day 1 of 4):

-Make candy 'ice', fondant and butter cream frosting.

Recipe for candy ice that I used from AllRecipes:

This recipe may not work when it’s humid outside… the humidity level can alter the way the candy sets up.
  • 3¾ cups white sugar (must be white granulated sugar)
  • 1½ cups light corn syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon, or other flavored
  • extract-( make sure that you use a non colored extract or it will tint the finished product)
  • ½ teaspoon food coloring (optional) I used 4 to 5 drop of NEON food coloring from McCormick and a drop of teal gel food coloring from Wilton… I could have just used the blue NEON and had similar results.
  1. In a medium saucepan, stir together the white sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil. Without stirring, heat to 300 to 310 degrees F (149 to 154 degrees C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms hard, brittle threads.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in flavored extract and food coloring, if desired. Pour onto a greased cookie sheet. Let cool, and break into large pieces that resemble broken ice. Store in an airtight container.

In order to get the liquids to 300-310 degrees I found that it needed to boil for about 20 minutes. I removed it from the heat as soon as it got above 300 degrees. From here you need to work quickly. Have a rimmed cookie sheet (jelly roll pan) out lined with parchment paper. I also sprayed it with Pam. Immediately mix in your color and flavored extract and then quickly but carefully (remember, really hot!) pour out the liquid onto the cookie sheet and move pan around so that it'll spread all over pan. If you need to use a large spoon to help that's fine, but move quickly because it'll start to harden immediately as it cools.

I had hot pads under my pan because it gets really hot. Allow it to sit on your counter and cool completely. Then you can break it up and store it in an airtight container or Ziploc bags. I wanted big pieces for my cake which wouldn't fit in any Ziploc or Tupperware I owned so once mine cooled down I just covered it with saran wrap and I kept it that way until Saturday when I added it to the finished cake.
Next you'll want to make up some fondant. I like marshmallow fondant or MMF. Here is the recipe I use:
Marshmallow Fondant
10.5 oz mini white marshmallows
2-3 Tbsp water
6 c powdered sugar
1 Tbsp Crisco (this is just to grease your hands while you knead so have it in a bowl that's easily accessible.)

Melt mini marshmallows and 2 tbsp. water in microwave by placing in micro for 30 second intervals and stirring in between, repeating until melted. Dump 4 cups powdered sugar into marshmallows and stir with large spoon. Once combined stir in more powdered sugar. Keep stirring until fondant gets a little dry. Now grease your hands and knead fondant. You'll knead for about 5 minutes. Add a little water, a teaspoon at a time, and knead if you need to. You want it to get to a smooth elastic ball that will stretch without tearing. If you see tiny bits of powdered sugar, knead and maybe add a few drops of water. To store, coat with Crisco, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and put in a Ziploc bag, squeezing all air out. It can be stored in fridge or on counter for several days.

Once I finished my fondant, my candy ice had cooled and when I moved it to another spot in the kitchen, a few cracks formed on their own which was perfect for my ice castle creation.
The last thing I did on Day 1 was to make my butter cream frosting. I made a double batch and had some leftover. Here is the recipe I used:
2 c Crisco (not butter flavored, it needs to be white)
2 lbs powdered sugar (8c)
2 Tbsp Meringue powder (you can buy this at Michaels, it helps the frosting set up and get crusted over enough that you can smooth it out)
8 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp butter extract
1/2 tsp almond extract(you don't have to use butter and almond extract; could use all vanilla instead)
Cream together for a couple of minutes until light and fluffy. I took out a couple of cups and put it in a separate bowl and then colored everything else a light blue color.

And I thought I should document what my kitchen looks like on days like this :). Disastrous! Stuff everywhere! Kids lunch stuff left out, dirty dishes, cake supplies everywhere.

Thursday (Day 2 of 4)
-bake, cut, stack, and frost cakes.

You will bake 2 9inch cakes and 2 6inch cakes. Line each cake pan with parchment paper and then spray with "Pam with flour". Be sure to get the sides of pans.

You can buy 'bake even cake strips' from michaels or other arts/crafts stores. I like these because my cakes come out fairly level which means I'll only have to cut a little off the top rather than a lot which will make my cakes not as tall and pretty. Follow the directions for the bake even strips by soaking them in cold water, ringing them out and then wrapping them around your cake pans.
Mix up your cake batter according to directions and then fill cake pans a little over half way full.
Bake in preheated oven and then let sit for ten minutes in pan before turning them onto cooling racks.
Allow cakes to cool completely before you frost them.
Make sure you have some cardboard cake circles ready, a six inch and a nine inch circle, so that once your cake is cool you can put it on your tinfoil wrapped cake circle. I cut out my own from diaper boxes or other cardboard boxes I have lying around. Just trace the bottom of your cake pan onto the cardboard and cut it out.
Next you'll want to level your cake. This is very important if you want a cake that's not leaning or tilted. A couple of times I haven't been as careful with my leveling as I should have been and I sorely regret it later. Ask my hubby. I can't stop whining talking about it when that happens!

Then you'll put a layer of frosting on one of your leveled cakes and then stack the other leveled cake on top of it. The leveled parts should be facing each other.

Frost the cakes. If you're getting way too many crumbs, first do a crumb coat where you frost a thin layer, stick it in the fridge for 20 minutes and then frost a thicker layer over top. I don't usually do this just because I've had so much practice that I can do it without the crumb coat, but a crumb coat might be a wise idea.

Once it's all iced, let it sit out for about 20 minutes to allow that meringue powder to do it's thing. This will allow the frosting to crust over just enough that you can smooth the cake with parchment paper or I like to use a mini foam paint roller. I don't actually ever use it for painting. Just for cake smoothing.

Looks much better now!

I lightly covered my 2 cakes with a little saran wrap just to keep them from collecting any dust. And that's day 2!

Friday (Day 3 of 4)

-Roll out fondant, put buttercream details on cake

I took out a chunk of fondant, maybe a cups worth, and rolled it out onto parchment paper (it'll stick more to the table and to wax paper). I used my pans to judge the size. I wanted it just a little bigger than the pans, but not so big that I couldn't write on the cakes in butter cream. I used a pizza cutter to go around the edges....going for a 'snow' look.
The top of the frosting was dry so I used just a tiny bit of water on a paintbrush to stick the fondant to the cake.
Once the fondant is in place, you can do the writing or other butter cream details.

Saturday (day 4 of 4)

-stack cakes, finishing touches

Saturday a couple of hours before the party I stacked the cakes onto my cake board, put a border on(tip 10 circle for top and tip 12 circle for bottom/base), frosting on the board for snowy look.

Added the characters using a little frosting on the bottoms for glue.
Add the candy ice. Leaned it slightly against the cake with a little frosting as glue.

Back view

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Disney Frozen Birthday Party

 Annabelle turned 6 today! She requested a Disney Frozen birthday party. Here are the invitations; I made them on the computer and emailed them to her friends parents so there was no cost involved:
Party preparations: I printed out a picture of Olaf and then tried my best to free -hand it much larger so we could play, 'pin the nose on Olaf'.

Annabelle invited five girls her age so I ordered 5 Frozen paperback books on to give as party favors and we printed out and stapled three Frozen coloring pages to go along with the books. The books were on sale for $2.60 each plus free shipping so not a bad price at all! I'm always trying to come up with party favors that don't include sugar since I figure they get enough with cake and ice cream.
We celebrated Annabelle's birthday the day before her actual birthday, so Saturday, since Sunday is always a special, Sabbath day for our family, reserved for church and Christian-type activities. We had her open her family presents Saturday morning as well because I knew she was getting a couple of things from family members that she'd want to have for her party like the Anna shirt and the Frozen soundtrack from Granny. But just an FYI, is a free website that allows you to search and save specific songs and you can create playlists so that's normally what we use and play during themed birthday parties. For example, I made a 'Star Wars' playlist for Charles birthday last month.
I also needed her to open the Frozen character play set so that I could put the figurines on her cake that was mostly done :).
Here's the cake. You can find a picture tutorial I made for this cake here.  I made the 'ice' candy, fondant and frosting on Wednesday, baked, stacked and frosted the cakes Thursday, put the fondant on and did the buttercream writing on Friday and then Saturday I put it all together and added the toppers and border. If you had time, you could make the entire cake in a day but I can only spend at the most two hours a day on a cake which coincides with Nora's afternoon nap. I've tried working on it while she's up and it's impossible. She climbs up to where my work area is and tries to stick her fingers in the cake and frosting and if you move her she'll just come right back; no other distraction works. And since this is the only thing I got done on those three days during nap, our house cleaning and cooking was neglected so we ate lots of quesadillas those days and cleaned a lot once the kids were in bed.
The trees I bought from Michaels and then sprinkled some powdered sugar over top to give it a snowy look.

Scott and I made paper snowflakes for the girls to decorate during the party. Scott is quite the snowflake maker. He totally outdid mine! :)
When the girls first started to arrive I had them color Frozen pictures until everyone was there. For all my kids parties, I like to have some sort of individual art/craft project going while people are arriving to keep them busy.
Then we moved to the snowflake decorating table where they used markers, glue and little pieces of paper cutouts to decorate their snowflakes; I had just ransacked my arts and crafts supply drawer beforehand and pulled out anything I thought they could stick on their snowflakes....which wasn't much :).
Once they got them looking just the way they liked they brought their snowflake over to Scott who used rubber cement and glitter over a baking sheet to add some sparkle.
The girls loved this activity and it took the most time, probably around 30 minutes.

Elisabeth and her friend Emily, who is the older sister of one of the girls at the party, helped with a lot of the activities. Here they are helping run Pin the Nose on Olaf.

Next up was cake, ice cream, fruit and presents!

We did what we usually do when opening presents: we turn it into a game by having all the girls sit in a circle around Annabelle and then they pass around a soft, toy cupcake while listening to Frozen music and when the music stops, the person holding the cupcake gives Annabelle their gift. Essentially, Hot Potato.

Then we played another one of our favorite party games. But this time we gave it a Frozen twist. I told the girls there was too much snow in Arendall and they each would have a turn getting blindfolded and collecting as much 'snow' or cotton balls as they could. We counted up the cotton balls at the end of each persons turn and kept score on a sheet of paper. We don't normally do prizes for games, just a 'good job!' and a high-five, but since I had leftover Valentine's candy that the kids had brought home from school that I wanted to get rid of,  we let each person pick out a piece after one of the games.

By the time we finished that game there were about 5 minutes left of our two hour party and I didn't think we'd have enough time to play, "Elsa Says" and the girls were really wanting to play with Annabelle's toys so we just let them play until parents arrived.
Happy Birthday Miss Annabelle! You are such a darling sweet girl! Oh, and for the record, this morning, on her actual birthday she opened one more gift from us, a nice art kit, and we had german pancakes per her request. Then tonight she chose dinner, which was hot dogs (Elisabeth and I had leftovers since we're not big meat people, and Scott made a really yummy cornbread so I had that too) and we stuck with our family tradition and went around the dinner table and each family member told one special memory with Annabelle or something we love about her. It's not hard to come up with reasons to love Annabelle. She is such a sweet tempered, friendly and loving little lady. We are so grateful she was born into our family six years ago!

And we'll end with a video: Typical Evening with the Smiths. We like to sing and dance together a lot in the evenings and this is us singing to Let It Go from Frozen; we sang this the night of Annabelle's party. Totally typical, kids dancing together, baby Nora trying to be involved by turning off the cd player multiple times :), and Jane really belting it out!