12 November 2018

They Mean Well...

On Facebook, when I posted about my mermaid tail cake someone posted "#nailedit," which is a hashtag of things that are definitely NOT good, meaning you jokingly "nailed" it and in reality failed. At the party we laughed about it and she said I should really do a "#nailedit" post with my cake side-by-side with the professional photo I was trying to copy. I was really proud of the cake, so that hurt my feelings a little. (And if I made it again I could do it a lot better!) But here you go:

At church on Sunday I wore my hair down and curly, something I can do when it's A) clean and the weather is B) not hot and humid. (So those don't align too often.) The top is starting to get VERY grey and silvery. I spend some time thinking about whether to start dying or to just grey gracefully. (I've written about that before...)

ANYWAY (a different) someone asked me what was putting all that grey in my hair. I laughed and pointed to Liv and said "her and the other one." She laughed too, and I said something about thinking about dying my hair, not sure about it, whatever. She is an older lady with almost fully grey hair, and she laughed and said "OH NO! God doesn't make mistakes. He put that grey hair there for a reason." It was the weirdest thing. Like God would be opposed to me dying my hair? (As if!) Or my hair matters one way or another?

I don't know, it didn't sit well with me, and I've been thinking about it off and on. When my hair's pulled back in a pony or bun the grey isn't as noticeable (although it's definitely still there, and if I have a part it's visible no matter how the hair is behind it. My reasoning behind not dying my hair has nothing to do with thinking God made a mistake (or anything about God really). It's more about sheer laziness and cheapness, because good-looking colored hair takes time and money.

11 November 2018

Making a 7 Pinata

The rough pinata from cardboard and tape
Jane said she wanted a pinata for her birthday party, so I started pricing them. They were like $30 unfilled. For something that was so temporary and destined for the trash I thought I would make my own instead. I'm not sure it saved money, if you consider that my time has monetary value (does it?), but it was a fun project and worked out OK. Originally Jane thought a mermaid or mermaid tail would be a good pinata shape, but I didn't like the idea of hitting something person-like (not to mention that shape would have been way too hard to make at home!).

Shawn had been in a fender bender (he wasn't at fault, and he and his car are fine now), so we got new car seats. So I had plenty of big cardboard lying around. I used my X-Acto knife (purchased in Minneapolis when I made Jane's slap bracelet Valentine cards) and cut out two 7 pieces, plus the same width pieces to make it 3-dimensional. I left a flap on the top to be able to put candy and treats in.

I initially used scotch tape to close everything together, and I added some packing tape for extra security (probably unnecessary because the pinata was very hard for the kids to break in the end).

Finished pinata - pennies for scale?
For decoration I used tissue paper -- cut into strips and then the edges cut to make fringe. I used "mermaid" colors of teal, pink and purple. Jane helped me decide on the placement. I used tape to put the tissue paper on in layers, although glue stick might have worked too. Crepe paper would have been another good alternative, since it's already in a strip. But tissue is what I had lying around! I used some shiny purple tissue paper for the flat parts on the bottom (bottom square and the underside of the bar) so bare cardboard wouldn't show and so I didn't need to have fringed paper all the way on the bottom. I did most of the project while watching TV.

I poked holes in the top to put rope through for a handle, and Shawn was able to hang it from a tree using some cotton rope we had from our sledding days.

I probably should have roughed up the bottom of the pinata a little bit to give it a chance of breaking. As it was each kid got a turn with the "bat," which was a wooden closet rod. The pinata was hanging a LITTLE too high for my tastes, but not as high as Shawn had it at first! He finished it off and in the end the top is what busted to another mom flipped it over while the kids scrambled for candy on the ground.

Parents joked I should have filled it with our leftover Halloween candy. If I'd been smart (and if my kids hadn't been sick!) I could have gotten candy and treats at rock bottom prices after Halloween. As it was I had some gummy bears (Halloween themed) that Jane picked out, some Hershey Kisses and Dum Dum suckers (also Jane's choice). I like the idea of non-candy treats too. I gave each kid a brown bag to put their loot in. We also gave away "mermaid swag" at the party, so the candy was just a bonus treat.

Jane seemed to like the pinata, and I think she appreciated the work I put into it. A 7 is an easy shape to make. I don't think I could make anything with curves. According to tutorials you need to get corrugated cardboard that will bend, and probably tracking that down would cost as much as a finished pinata! What I'm saying is I won't be making a 3 or an 8 for next year's parties!

The pinata as hanging decoration

10 November 2018

Seventh Birthday Party, Mermaid Style

The weak ass decorations
By the time it came to decorating for Jane's party I was kind of over it and half-assed things. We decorated the sun room and I did the crepe paper on the awning by the back door (otherwise plenty of people, including me, would bonk their heads). We did some tissue paper fish and this swirly crepe paper swag I'd bought from Oriental Trading and called it a day.

Because it was so chilly (forecasted high 56), I figured we might be inside some so I set up a coloring station by tearing apart a mermaid dollar store color book and getting out the girls' crayons and markers. No one used the coloring station, although plenty of people came inside and played in the living room. There's a draw to other people's toys, and it was a mess! I should have put toys away or at least gotten out things with fewer pieces! Ha.

The food.
For food we had a popcorn machine with the bounce house (and chairs and tables), and I made hot chocolate in the crock pot, had chips, carrots and ranch dip and a "7" cheese plate of grapes, sliced cheese and crackers (all things I already had/not specially bought for the party). The hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course) was a major hit, and the kids ran through it quickly. I also made a pot of decaf, and several adults did half hot chocolate and half coffee. YUM. I quick made half a batch again, although it didn't really get hot (the recipe calls for 2 hours of low cooking time). The kids didn't mind and basically drank chocolate milk.

The pull apart cupcake cake was a hit, although I forgot to take it out of the fridge early enough so the frosting was pretty set up still and it was hard to pull the cupcakes apart. (We used a spoon, although a knife would have worked much better.)

7 Pinata by Mari
The homemade 7 pinata was a good thing too, and I liked it as decoration too. I built it a little TOO sturdy, as it was hard for it to come apart, and in the end the top was what busted and we tipped it over to release the candy (Hershey Kisses, gummy bears and dum dum suckers - Jane's choices).

Everyone went home with a few pieces of candy, some mermaid-themed swag (pencil, stamper, glow bracelets from Halloween clearance, punch balloon and mermaid craft). Jane got some very nice gifts and had a mostly good time. There was some scuffling, as happens when over-sugared kids are in a tight, bouncy space! But in the end she was glad to see all her friends and is bouncing as long as possible until the rental guys come to pick up the bouncy castle.

Bouncy castle of our dreams

09 November 2018

Mermaid Pull Apart Cake

Jane got the idea for a mermaid party by looking at the Oriental Trader catalog, so we've run with the idea as best we can. We have mermaid-themed goodie bags, and her invitation had a mermaid on it. The bounce house place didn't have a mermaid-themed bouncer, but they did have a castle that we decided could look like it's under-the-sea. (If the rain doesn't stop we'll really BE under the sea for crying out loud. It is supposed to be clear and cool tomorrow.)

Cooling cupcakes
For the cake Jane originally wanted a sheet cake with mermaid pictures on it. I MAYBE could have done something like that (using cut outs or toys on the top), but after a perusal of Pinterest I found a cupcake pull apart cake in the shape of a mermaid tail. I showed Jane several versions, heavily influencing her to pick the one I liked/thought looked best and easiest. I also liked the idea of a cupcake pull apart cake in the shape of a 7 using the mermaid colors of teal, pink and purple, but she liked the tail better. So here we go!

I baked two boxes of cupcakes, and I got 23 out of each box. I used an ice cream scoop I bought specifically for this project to try to keep the cupcakes the same size. It didn't really work because I was impatient and sloppy. But in the end it was OK. I let them cool while Liv and I went to her Spanish class, ate lunch and she laid down for her nap.

I'd made the buttercream frosting Wednesday -- I made it and the chocolate frosting for Jane's birthday birthday cake on the same day. One batch of chocolate and three batches of vanilla -- dyed two batches pink and split the third between teal and purple. I was making the frosting just before we left to go to supper at church on Wednesday, and I couldn't find my specifically purchased food dye. (It was with the party favors instead of in the pantry!) So I put the buttercream in the fridge, went to our meal and came back to try to dye it. I let it warm up but not enough -- dying it was SUPER hard. Today I left the frosting out all morning -- so probably 4 or 5 hours -- so the icing was smooth and spreadable, and I could have easily added the dye today. Oh well. (Remember how anti-food dye I once was? I still am, but I've kind of given in somehow and not sure how to return to my puritan ways.)

In formation!
After Liv laid down I got to work. I tried laying out empty cupcake wrappers to get an idea of how the cake would look, but they didn't hold their shape. So when I was ready to frost I just laid out the cupcakes, following my inspiration picture. I had read some tips online, so I knew they might slip around. I didn't want to waste icing (or make things even messier when we eventually EAT the cake), so I tried double sided tape on the cupcake wrapper bottoms to keep things stable. It didn't really work, but luckily the cupcakes didn't move around too much.

I had a ton of frosting, and I scooped it on before using my offset spatula to spread it around. I worked from top to bottom - purple, teal and pink. I added white sparkle sanding sugar and then tried to pipe on scales and details like the picture. I had bought a Dollar Tree piping bag to try, and it was the PITS. My frosting was too thick and it broke the "reusable" bag. I salvaged what frosting I could into a regular piping bag (because of course I got those too) and almost ran out. In retrospect I should have laid out my lines with a knife -- just sculpting it in the frosting before I piped on the lines. I've seen videos where they do that for details, and it's such a smart idea. Luckily Jane doesn't mind unrealistic scales! I also need to buy more couplers to use with the regular piping bags -- I only had one, even though I have many types of tips.

The finished product!
I made quite a mess of the kitchen and had enough frosting left over for the 10 extra cupcakes that I didn't use. (Nine are available for the party -- I snuck one of the butter yellow ones -- YUM.)

I used a cake box made for a sheet cake, and it worked fine. I didn't get the cake exactly centered, but it's not bad. The box was able to fold up around it, and there's a lid. I put the whole thing in the fridge -- will take it out before the party to come to room temperature, but this way it will stay fresher I guess?

Not sure how eating the cake will go, and I definitely could have made things neater and prettier (those scales will haunt me). But it was fun to research and execute, and Jane is happy! Hope it's a hit at the party!

08 November 2018

A Perfect Age

The two-layer chocolate cake I made this morning.
Seven is my favorite number. I like crossing it when I write the numeral. I like 14 as well, which is 7+7. Jane thinks that's pretty funny -- that I have a favorite number plus I like its double. (She's learning about doubles now, in addition to lots of great math skills.)

Today Jane is 7.

I don't know that it will be the perfect age, but I know we will hold on by our fingernails and toenails whatever it brings us. After being sick last week she's been even grumpier and grouchier than usual. My Baby Center email today wishing her a happy birthday said seven is a great age -- kids are more independent but still look up to you and seek your guidance. Maybe Jane is ahead of the curve, because she HATES when I tell her what to do. So I'm doing my best to regulate myself and give her the chance to do what she needs to do without me nagging.

Jane and I ate lunch together at her school. It was fun to drop in and spend time with her in the middle of the day. She got new Chucks from her grandparents, something she'd wanted after seeing a classmate's high tops, so I wore mine too.

We're planning to hit up the Knock Knock Museum after school (there's a special mini book making class, and she can do it because she's not scheduled for play rehearsal today). Tonight we'll have supper at Red Robin ... yum! ... because we have a free kids meal coupon (and Jane loves it). We'll eat the cake and open presents from us this evening too.

The birthday party is Saturday. It's supposed to be dry but cold. We'll have a bouncer in the back yard (really hoping the lawn people will come and take care of the leaves and grass in time -- Shawn told them about the party, and it needs to be done). We'll have hot chocolate and hot popcorn plus inside activities. Oh, and I made a #7 pinata (which will be its own post). I'm trying to scale back the food -- was planning to do cheese, grapes and crackers in the shape of a 7, chips, carrots and ranch dip, etc. Of the 12 girls in Jane's class only 2 RSVP'ed (one yes, one no). Perhaps first grade is when all-class parties are less of a thing? We invited plenty of non-school friends, so we won't be alone at the party. But still a weird deal.

A birthday girl and a birthday balloon. My heart, my love, my baby girl.

07 November 2018


We are on the other side of mid-terms; election results were not surprising to me. Here all of the people I voted for lost, and only a few of the amendment votes went the way I wanted. I'm heartened by the Democratic control of Congress, and I hope there will be SOME kind of check and balance of this terrifying, authoritarian presidency.

The most disheartening thing is the gerrymandering and how, once again, Democrat candidates as a whole received many more votes than Republicans. It's just that the Republicans drew the maps to be sure their candidates have a stronger hold. I realize a vote for Candidate A is not always a vote for Party B, but it's still a disgusting reminder of the crappiness of this system.

Some white guy on Twitter posted something like "elections are important, but remember than 99.9% of your every day life will not change based on what happens tonight." I saw that retweeted with comment so many times dissing it because what a privilege to say that. And that's *probably* true for me, but it would take one bad accident, one diagnosis, one job loss to put me in a bad situation. But even more than that I CARE ABOUT PEOPLE OTHER THAN MYSELF. I care deeply about the vulnerable populations of people who are being abused and mistreated by our government.

In another kind of nightmare, I had a "divorce dream," not necessarily about an actual divorce but certainly dreaming about Shawn leaving me for another, younger, beautiful woman. There's nothing in my life to suggest that actually happening other than my insecurities and general misfiring brain. But it still tinges my day with sadness even though it isn't real. The human brain is wild, man.

06 November 2018

Mortality in a Kids Book

A Special Trade
Livia picked out this book when we were at the main library on Saturday. There was no reason to get it other than it was at her eye level and was small. She pulled it off the shelf and said "I want this one." So we checked it out.

It's pretty long/wordy, but a nice story. I was not prepared though because it's about a girl and her old man neighbor, their friendship and how it changes as she grows up and he gets even older. I started crying while reading it out loud for the first time.

[Spoiler] The old man doesn't die in the book, which was what I was expecting/why I was crying. He has to start using a wheelchair, so their roles reverse from when he pushed her around in her stroller to now her pushing his wheelchair. It was still pretty emotional, at least to me. There's nothing like being a snotty mess while your kids look at you like you're a lunatic!

Jane's reading progress now is about fluency and looking for messages in the books she reads. What was the author trying to say and do you have a personal connection to the story? Jane started talking about her personal connection about her Popeye and his recent health things. (He fell in an open manhole and had a kidney stone, both of which have worried Jane terribly -- he is on the mend now from both things!)

But then as that sat with me I started thinking about loss and explaining that to a kid. I was lucky enough that all four of my grandparents lived until I graduated high school. When I graduated college I was down to two living grandparents, and when I finished grad school I had only my Gran left. She died when Jane was 3, so she got to directly know and love the person who made me a mama. I know she loves/loved/will love Livia too.

I recently read a couple great books about death -- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity, both by Caitlin Doughty -- so it's been on my mind, at least the back of my mind. But this was my first time really connecting the idea that my daughters will EXPERIENCE loss like that and it shook me a little bit. It's just the nature of life, and how things go. But it wasn't something I was expecting to be confronted with when reading to my girls from a random, 1978 library book.