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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life Without a Microwave, part 2

Well, we’ve continued our microwave-free life for about three weeks, and so far, only Chase, our ten-year-old son, has complained. He enjoys oatmeal for breakfast and only knows how to cook it in the microwave. I figure with summer fast approaching, I can merely cook it on the stovetop for him.

I did mess up and buy those microwavable mashed potatoes to serve with left-over pot roast because I knew we wouldn’t have any left-over potatoes. Oops. I could probably transfer them into a pot to heat if they expire before we get a new microwave. That reminds me… The main probably with not having a microwave is more washing dishes by hand. You see, when I cook veggies or melt cheese in the microwave, I use my Pyrex bowls. Those fit in our dishwasher just fine, but I don’t like putting our pots and pans in the dishwasher. Most dinners this week required three to four pots to wash when I would have gotten away with just one or two if I had my microwave. Oh well.

 Also, most Friday nights my husband and boys like to watch a movie together, and we pop pop corn in the microwave for those occasions. For the last two weekends, they’ve had to go without, so I bought some Jiffy Pop. Remember that? When I explained it to Chase, he said, “Mom, I’m going to write a book called Little House in the Suburbs. He seriously thinks life without a microwave is a hardship! Ha! As they were watching X-Men for the bajillionth time, I offered to make them pop corn. The boys eagerly hopped up to watch it. Then sat down after five minutes of nothing. I don’t remember it taking so long as a kid and told them they wouldn’t have survived in the 70s.

Finally, after my husband turned up the heat higher than it instructed, we heard a few kernels pop, so the boys hopped back up to watch. While impressed by the growing aluminum ball, they still questioned whether it would taste okay. It did! Thankfully, it didn’t need any butter because I didn’t feel like scrubbing out our small saucepan that I used to melt cheese in for dinner. The Jiffy Pop experience was great though. We’ve realized that life today must move at a faster pace and require less physical activity than 30 years ago. Shaking that pan quickly for eight minutes was a good little arm workout!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

S'mores Crunch Snack

One of my favorite snacks as a kid was s'mores. The downside to this treat was it required a fire, something that isn't easy to come by during most of the year. So when a fire wasn't burning, I would stack my graham cracker, chocolate piece, and large marshmallow on a plate and microwave it for about 30 seconds. It's fun watching the marshmallow puff up too!

As a mom, I wanted to share this treat with my kids but with less mess. Of course, we do the real thing when we go camping, but for a fun after-school treat, we make this version: S'mores Crunch. It's simple enough that my boys can now make it themselves though I have to watch them as they will sneak extra chocolate chips while pouring the three ingredients together.
All you have to do is mix Golden Grahams cereal, chocolate chips, and marshmellows in a bowl. I don't use measurements; I just pour a slightly equal proportion of everything into a cereal bowl for each kid. The boys love it, and since I'm one of those mean moms who doesn't send a dessert in their lunch boxes, it's their sweet treat for the day. At least the cereal has some nutritional value, right?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Patriotic Tutu

Yes, I let my 22-month old daughter pick out her outfits from her hair bow down to her shoes, and she does a great job. Okay, I guide her hair bow selection, but I do let her choose whether she wants to wear her hair up or down. The girl may only be speaking about a dozen words, but she sure knows how to make her opinions known through her dynamic gesturing. Unfortunately, as much as I adore her purple tutu, she doesn’t pick it out as often as her other outfits. I must admit that I beam when she picks out something I’ve sewn for her.

Regardless of her lack of interest in that tutu, I’m determined to make another partly because it’s just too easy not too. I had a vision of a cute patriotic tutu outfit for our neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July parade, and then I realized that I shouldn’t limit her outfit to one holiday. Memorial Day is Monday. Thankfully, I had already purchased the blue onesie and red and white tulle. Now I just needed to get wrapping, cutting, and attaching! If you don’t recall how I did that from my previous post, here you go:No-Sew Tutu. We had eaten all those crackers, so I had to measure my boxes again and settled on one that was an inch shorter. Perhaps my princess would prefer a lighter tutu anyway. And since it is summertime, I decided to make it thinner. This time, I only made 32 strips of tulle. It's still full enough to cover the elastic. I just had to keep from pulling the tulle too tight.

Well, here is the final project just in time for Memorial Day although I'm considering embellishing the top with stars somehow before the next holiday. I figure, she can wear it this weekend, on Flag Day (which is June 14th), Fourth of July, and Labor Day. Then, I could actually replace the blue onesie, which I’m sure she’ll outgrow by fall, with a long-sleeved green one and let her be a precious elf come Christmas! Okay, that may go too far, but we’ll just have to wait and see. And hopefully, she’ll be a trooper and wear it during all these flag-waving holidays.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An Elementary-School Graduation Letter to My Son

I wrote my son a letter. As a mom, we have all these amazing ideas that run through our minds, often after midnight when we are trying desperately to sleep or in the shower during our sleep-deprived morning haze when we can’t even remember if we’ve already shampooed our hair. Then we fall short. Beds need making, meals need cooking, floors need cleaning, and, most importantly, children need raising. Amidst scrubbing crayon marks off walls, searching for the lost baseball cleat, and running to the craft store for poster board late at night, we simply run out of time to do those wonderful ideas we come up with or read about. And before we know it, when we think we might have time, we look back and realize our kids are growing up.

I don’t want that, but sometimes I can’t avoid it. Some days I just have to be content that my children are wearing clean clothes, brushed their teeth in clean bathrooms, and got to school on time while scarfing down breakfast bars on the golf cart only to return home eight hours later with flyers to read, homework to help with, dinner to eat, and practice to attend before 8 pm. When are we supposed to do those awesome activities that both nurture a love of learning and encourage higher level thinking? The weekends aren’t any better between birthday parties, games, and church. However, my kids love their activities, and I find value in them, so I’m not suggesting we quit anything. Scouts, music lessons, and sports all help my children to be well-rounded, active, and insightful kids. They promote physical and mental development. I’m all for them. And I’m off topic.

I wrote my son a letter. He’s ten and a half, and in a few days, he will no longer be an elementary school student. He will be entering the domain of the intermediate school. A middle schooler. Eek! He thinks he’s ready, but I know I’m not. I realize the years I have left with him living under my roof (I hope) are lessening. I have seven years left until he graduates. Will he be ready? Will I?

Last night, around midnight, when I really wanted to be sleeping, all those thoughts came to my mind. I knew I wanted to share with him words of encouragement, support, and wisdom as he transitions from a kid to a pre-teen. I decided against handwriting the letter even though I do see such value in handwritten notes. In fact, earlier today while eating lunch with my daughter, I read through his reading journal he brought home from school, one of those tell-tale signs the school year is coming to an end. I loved not just the words he wrote but the messy handwriting he used, the doodles he made in the margins, and even the misspelled words (despite my years as an English teacher) because it personalized those notes. I saw my son in them, and I smiled. However, I know myself, and while I recognize my son’s handwriting (and will hold onto that journal for the future), I hate my handwriting, hate how much faster my mind thinks than my fingers move. I new I should type my letter. After all, I’m an online writing instructor, so my son sees me on the computer, knows that’s how I compose my words. I think it will fit better for him if I typed it.

So, as my daughter napped, I typed. It didn’t take long to compose. I must have wanted to say these words for a long time. I then rolled up the letter like a diploma and wrapped a leather and metal bracelet I had bought for him from Mardels. It says “courageous” on it to remind him to have the courage to make good choices in the future as he has done so in the past. It’s from the Bible passage I chose in eighth grade as my confirmation passage: Joshua 1:9. It’s still one of my favorites and one that has helped me through difficult times my entire life. Perhaps it will help guide him too.

As parents, we have so many plans for our children yet so little time. We have great intentions, but those crafts, games, and projects may never happen, and that’s okay as long as we are with our children, supporting them, guiding them, teaching them, loving them. As long as we develop a close bond with them. So next week, after we come home from the last-day-of-school pool party, and after we hop on his bed to read together and chat about the day’s activities, our bedtime ritual, I will hand him this letter. I will kiss him goodnight, and I will give him the privacy to read it. I hope he will put it somewhere safe and remember the words in it… since I only have seven years left until he’ll be graduating.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Life Without a Microwave

About a week ago, my husband decided to heat up some leftovers while I was in my office, and he announced, “The microwave isn’t heating.” I thought it was humming rather loudly. It was working earlier in the day when I melted some sliced cheddar cheese on crackers, a snack my dad taught me when I was a little kid and microwaves were new and exciting appliances that took up a large portion of your kitchen counter and lived forever. Sadly, today’s appliances are made so cheaply they aren’t meant for repairs. Ours is less than five years old. Ugh! I’ll never buy GE Profile appliances again.

The next day, I looked into our home warranty, but appliances only have a one-year warranty, so we were out of luck there. I knew I didn’t want to repair it after hearing numerous complaints from neighbors whose same microwaves met untimely deaths too. You’d think the wife of someone who works for a large electronics retail chain would get a new microwave the next day, but we wanted to research it and get one with the best reviews. Sadly, they all seem to be lousy these days.

And now I sit without a microwave, and surprisingly, we haven’t missed it. Spring helps. I don’t need to heat up water for cocoa when it’s already 90 degrees outside. However, it’s become an unmentioned challenge for my husband and me. He said he hasn’t missed it yet. We’ve reheated leftovers either in the toaster oven or on the stovetop, and they’ve tasted much better that way.
The timer still works, which is something I continue to use regularly, but now I’m curious to see just how long we can live without this appliance before going mad. So far, so good. Tonight, while at my son’s tae kwon do practice, I received a text from my husband asking what he needed to do to finish dinner. I had already thawed a bag of frozen crunchy chicken (add link) in the fridge overnight, so I told him to pick a veggie from the freezer and a side from the pantry. He then texted me that he had never cooked any frozen veggie on the stove before. He’s smart, so I knew he wouldn’t burn down the house while I was away. When I came home, dinner was ready, and his corn tasted great!

Now I know living without a microwave is no monumental accomplishment. After all, my mom managed without one for her first 20 years as a wife as did every other person from the previous generations. And today, as people question the safety of cooking food through the use of microwave technology, many have stopped using theirs by choice, but I know we will eventually get one, but for now, we are enjoying learning what it was like to live in the old days (insert sarcastic smirk).

I'll be sure to update you on how it's going.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Asian Fried Rice

Growing up, I enjoyed helping my mom in the kitchen; unfortunately, she preferred to cook alone. The kitchen was her domain. It didn’t upset me though because she was a wonderful cook; she still is. In fact, every Sunday afternoon, we all head over to my parents’ house to spend the day together and eat an amazing dinner. Even though my mom didn’t seem too interested in letting me help her in the kitchen when I was younger, she did let me experiment in it. One of my experiments was Chinese fried rice. We didn’t have the recipe in any of her recipe books or boxes, and this was before the Internet, so I decided to make up the recipe myself. Our favorite Chinese restaurant served fried egg, peas, carrots, and meat in their fried rice, so I included those. I also doused it with various seemingly Asian spices and sauces that I no longer remember, just what I found in my mom’s fridge and spice rack.

After I met my future hubby, I was introduced to Japanese food. Previously, my only experience with it was Benihana’s with the chefs who seemed to enjoy juggling knives and food on an enormous hibachi grill. One of the recipes his family made was Japanese fried rice, which he had learned from his Japanese grandmother. It was good, but I missed my eggs, peas, and carrots. Once we got married, I decided to mix the ingredients to create our own Asian fried rice. My kids have grown up eating it and love it, so I’m happy to share it with you all.


o     5 cups cooked white rice

o     1 pound ground sausage

o     3 eggs

o     1 yellow onion

o     1 pound bag of frozen peas and carrots

o     3-4 green onions

o     Sesame oil

o     Soy sauce

1. The day before, cook 5 cups of white rice. We prefer Japanese rice because of its stickiness, but feel free to use what you are used to eating. Refrigerate overnight so it dries out a little. Typically, I’ll make 6+ cups of rice the night before and serve some of it with a chicken meal. Then, I’ll refrigerate the left-overs to make into fried rice the next day.

2. Cook the sausage in a wok with some sesame oil. Meanwhile, chop the yellow onion and the green onions, keeping them separate.

3. After the meat is done, push it to the outside edges, off toward one side. Crack the three eggs on the other side and scramble as they cook. Then push it to the outer edges and add in the yellow onion.

4. Once those three ingredients are fully cooked, pour in the rice and drizzle with soy sauce to taste. Once the rice is fully heated, add in the frozen peas and carrots and green onion. Stir fully and cover.

5. Let sit on low heat while it steams those remaining veggies for five to ten minutes.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Ruffle Skirt

Recently, someone in my neighborhood created the most wonderful Beg, Barter, Buy, and Sell page on Facebook just for our neighborhood. It’s quite addicting, but my goal is to break even. I’m doing okay so far by not staying in the red. My latest find was a huge box of fabrics and sewing related items. I couldn’t resist. After all, the price was a donation to go toward the Avon’s breast cancer walk. I pulled out some of my favorite yards of fabric and decided it would be fun to share with my other crafty friends, especially those who quilt and those who sew home décor. However, there was one item that was just too fun to give away: material to make a duck pillow. Every house needs a duck pillow, right?  When I get around to it, I’ll be sure to post pictures.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to spend today’s blog on making a duck pillow. I am, however, going to share how I made a ruffle skirt from instructions I found on because this lovely box of fabric had several lovely yards of fabric just screaming to be turned into summer skirts. For once, I actually followed the instructions without making my own modifications, so I actually have an easy Friday since I don’t have to type up what I did. I can just send you to the wonderful site and let you follow her PDF instructions: If you want to get to the website, you can go here: The instructions were very easy to follow, and be assured, I’ll share pictures I took as I made the skirt.

You'll see in this first one that I actually used newspaper to create my skirt instead of the wrapping paper she suggested simply because I'm cheep. I know I mentioned not liking newsprint before, but I wasn't in the mood to piece together my free sheets of copy paper. After all, I was on a timeline. My middle son had just finished reading the first Harry Potter book, so he, his older brother, and Dad were watching the DVD, and I wanted to work on as much of my project as possible during their movie time.

Now I get to digress a bit. Eight years ago, we had just moved to another town, and for Christmas I was determined to give them boys a playset. Being the thrifty mom that I am, I knew we could save money by buying a kit and building it ourselves. I also knew if I searched online, I could save even more money. Someone told me that I could find the kits sold at The Home Depot and Lowes online at I found one in the clearance section after price comparing many kits along with the added cost of lumber. My parents promised to drive up to visit us right after Christmas to help build it, and my dad brought his various saws and tools. My goal was to get the boards measured and cut before my hubby's family arrived to help on Saturday, so Friday evening, my dad taught me how to properly measure and cut boards. "Measure twice; cut once," he reminded me throughout the evening. It makes sense, doesn't it? If you can't uncut boards, you better make sure your measurements are accurate.

I have always remembered that lesson, but in my haste of making my skirt, I didn't really think about why that lesson is so important. You see, I had 1 1/8 yards of the darker green fabric and only a 45" by 18" scrap of coordinating lighter green fabric, with which to make the waistband and ruffle, which is a few inches smaller than the instructions called for. However, when I had made my pattern, I knew I could make it work with less fabric if I cut the four rectangles out carefully, but when it came to cutting the fabric, I forgot. Thankfully, I was still able to make the skirt, but my ruffle is about an inch shorter than the instructions called for. I'm still pleased with it. Now I just have to find an off-white fitted t-shirt to go with it. Who would have thought finding that color shirt would be so hard?

I've started to pin my ruffle fabric to my skirt.
a close-up of lining up the ruffle to the skirt

after I've sewn on the ruffle but before I pulled out the thread
using a wire hanger to pull elastric through the casing
I've just pulled the elastic through the casing.

I couldn't figure out from the instructions how to sew the casing onto the skirt, so my inside is not nearly as clean as hers.

The finished product! Once I get a shirt, I'll pose for you! Aren't you lucky?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Crunchy Chicken

I like to give my granite counter tops some TLC on a regular basis (notice I don’t say how regular) by scrubbing them clean with some mild soap and purified water followed up with some granite polish. (No, it’s not a homemade polish, nor is it even green. I’ve yet to find anything I like better than this one that’s full of chemicals, but it does make our Uba Tuba sparkle.)

I’ve discovered it’s the ideal time to really dirty up my kitchen though by making at least three meals at once. On this particular morning, I made a batch of my beef and cheese enchiladas for that evening's meal and two batches of my crunchy chicken breasts. For now at least, we can get by with four large chicken breasts to feed all six of us. Would you like that recipe? I hope so because here it is:


o     1 stick of margarine (melted)

o     4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (still frozen but rinsed to remove ice from outside)

o     1 cup crushed Corn Flakes

o     ¾ cup Parmesan cheese

o     Italian seasoning packet

Step 1: Mix the last three ingredients in a one-gallon freezer bag.

Step 2: Dredge each chicken breast in melted butter and coat with seasoned Corn Flakes.

Step 3: Store all four chicken breasts in freezer bag, label, and return to freezer.

Step 4: On the day before you actually want to cook this meal, put the bag in your refrigerator to defrost. Then bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes on a greased baking sheet.

By making this recipe twice in one morning, I’ve done the dirty work for two meals and will now have the hard part over with, so on the evening I’d like to cook this chicken, I have an easy main course. I can then pull out some of our frozen organic corn or green beans I love to keep on hand and some other simple side dish, and I have a real home-cooked meal with very little mess the day of.

Now I better get back to cleaning my kitchen so I can polish those counter tops.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Chore Box

I can’t remember when I came up with the idea, but it was at least a year ago. You see, as a mom, I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to encourage my children to help around the house. Over the years, I’ve tried stickers on charts and similar reward systems for completing chores, but that becomes daunting to keep up with. At ages 7, 8, and 10, my boys are capable of helping around the house, and I have read about the importance of requiring chores at home because it helps children learn responsibility and increase their self confidence.

One of the chores they’ve had for the past two years is putting away their clean clothes that I’ve folded and set in their appropriate section across our sofa while they are at school. They are required to do that after snacks and homework a couple times a week, depending on the days I decide to do laundry. They are also expected to bring in the trash can and recycling can twice a week. Picking up after themselves and helping me out when I ask is also expected, but I decided to create a system to help them earn extra money.
Basically, you need a plastic box, poker chips, and sandwich or snack bags. Then decide on chores of varying levels of time and difficulty. You can see mine from the picture below. Get your kids involved in the list and help them determine how much money each chore is worth. Then, assign the poker chips a monetary value. For instance, our green chips are worth $5 while our black ones are worth $.50. Type up your chore chart, print it up, and tape it to your box. Nothing fancy. I did put a scripture at the top that I thought was appropriate: “Work willingly at whatever you do.” Colossians 3:23. Put a child’s name on each of the sandwich bags, and place the bags and chips into your box. You are now ready to go.
When the children decide to complete a chore, make sure they get your approval because if it is something that doesn’t need to be done that day –no, you just watered the plants yesterday; they are practically drowning – you need to tell them to pick something else. Once they’ve completed the chore to your standards, they get to put the appropriate colored poker chip into their sandwich bag.

When they need the money, they can swap out the poker chips for cash, empty out their bag, and start again.

Obviously, some of these chores may never get done, so you have to be willing to do them yourself or simply require them to do the particular chore. For instance, my boys LOATH picking up the toy room. I require they do it once a week so I can vacuum. Maybe I should switch that over to a non-paying chore… As the boys get older, I will adjust the chore list and most likely have to increase the pay. Young kids are pretty cheap labor, but in reality, most of these chores take fewer than five minutes to complete, so the hourly rate is pretty good to a kid.
Let me emphasize that these have to be voluntary chores beyond their required chores. Encourage your child to complete one of these chores, and if he/she is saving up for something big, your child will eagerly do them. In the summer, I like to take the kids to fun places like the children’s museum, skating, berry picking, etc. If they want a souvenir or something extra like ice cream, they have to pay with their own money, which they’ve typically earned doing those chores from the chore box.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beef and Cheese Enchiladas

Do you remember Hurricane Rita? If you are from the Houston/Galveston area, I know you do. For the rest of us, this was the first major hurricane after Hurricane Katrina, and I know no matter where you live, you remember Katrina. While Rita ended up sparing all of Houston and Galveston, it did send all of southeast Texas in a tizzy trying to avoid getting trapped like the poor folks of New Orleans. The news reports showed computer-generated images of how Rita was going to destroy Galveston, literally erasing it off the map. Interstates were at a stand-still as people actually listened to the media’s and government’s requests to leave.

My parents were in Italy the whole time, so I didn’t have to worry about them. My very pregnant sister (yes, you can be very pregnant; just ask anyone who’s had a baby) and her husband chose to head east on I-10 to his Louisiana farm, and my other sister headed west on I-10 to her in-laws’ vacation home. Meanwhile, some dear friends of ours asked if they could make the 240-mile trek to the DFW area to stay with us. We were happy to open up our house to them.

Thankfully, Rita fizzled down a lot and decided to veer east. Meanwhile, we made the most of our friends’ visit. Their children and our children always have a blast together, and they had brought a large cooler of frozen food, assuming their house would be without electricity for an indefinite amount of time. To thank us for our hospitality, they offered to cook dinner one night. I love Mexican food, but during that time in our lives, we avoided going out to eat as much as possible. We had a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and an almost one-year-old with several food allergies, so eating at home was simply easier. Okay, so nothing was easier in those days. How I survived those years is still beyond me, but I have digressed.
The meal Rhonda prepared was amazing, partly because it was easy, partly because it came from items I could stock up and keep on hand, and partly because both of my older sons actually liked it. (Now that my youngest son has outgrown all his allergies, he enjoys it too. And my daughter wolfs it down as well.)

Now I’ve never promised to give you healthy recipes, so don’t point out the fat content. Just add a side of veggies and enjoy a quick meal!

Beef and Cheese Enchiladas:


o     1 pound ground beef

o     Taco seasoning

o     1 can enchilada sauce

o     3 cups shredded Mexican cheese (or cheddar/Monterrey jack mix)

o     10 flour or corn tortillas

  1. Cook the ground beef on the stove and drain any excess fat.
  2. Add taco seasoning and water according to seasoning directions.
  3. Preheat oven to 350.
  4. Pour ½ can of enchilada sauce into pan with beef.
  5. Turn off burner and stir in 2 cups of cheese.
  6. In an 8x10 Pyrex dish, pour ¼ can of enchilada sauce across bottom, just enough to cover it.
  7. Take a tortilla and fill it with the cheesy meat mixture; then roll.
  8.  Repeat until all 10 tortillas are filled.
  9. If you have any remaining meat mixture, pour on top. Pour remaining enchilada sauce on top, spreading to make sure every tortilla is covered.
  10. Sprinkle  remaining cup of cheese on top and cover the entire casserole with aluminum foil.
  11. Bake for 20 minutes.

Now, if you want to go all out, you are welcome to make a side of homemade salsa while the enchiladas are baking. I got this recipe from a co-worker while I was a preschool teacher. Now you can’t frown at me for not serving any veggies for dinner, right?  I’ve never bought store-bought salsa since. In fact, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I was determined not to have to get induced, so I tried almost every suggestion given to me. Sorry, but I couldn't put myself up to the Karo syrup one, or was it Castor oil? Anyway, I figured spicy food would work since it seemed to help with my oldest son. My water broke the next morning after eating some spicy crawfish etouffee my brother-in-law cooked for our family's Sunday dinner. Remembering this, I thought I'd make this salsa with extra spice, so I used all the seeds from the jalapeno pepper. Unfortunately, it didn't work, and I had to be induced a week later. She weighed 9 lbs 7 oz. so it's not like she wasn't ready, just too comfy cozy I guess.


Chop 1 jalapeño pepper (after removing half the seeds) and ½ red onion. Dump one can of plain stewed tomatoes and one can of diced tomatoes and chilies (aka Rotel) in a blender with the chopped pepper and onion. Mix very briefly in blender.

Okay, I’m now craving a margarita!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Buried Treasure Pirate Party

When my oldest son was turning four, I convinced him to have a pirate-themed party, mainly because I needed a yard of topsoil for our flower beds. Well, that’s why I wanted the party. He just loved the idea of digging for buried treasures. In fact, this party was such a hit that several years later, we did it again for our next son when he was turning five though we really didn’t need any topsoil!  

For both parties, I had the topsoil delivered to our driveway that morning. With the help of my best friend, we buried Mardi Gras beads, fake gold coins, plastic gemstones, and other assorted pirate treasures all within the huge mound of earth. We then set out to hide the treasure map in the backyard. I had made it the night before with a large strip of brown packing paper I already had since I had been busy selling stuff on Ebay at the time. I carefully burned the edges with a candle to make it authentic looking.

To make the cake, I baked a yellow cake mix in my largest bread loaf pan. I then carefully cut the top ¼ off and dirty iced the whole thing with butter cream icing. (Dirty iced means icing it lightly with frosting without concerns for crumbs mixing in. You can do it and put the cake in the freezer. Then when you ice the cake carefully, you won’t have to worry about getting crumbs in your icing.) I had bought as much fake jewelry candy as I could find like ring pops, Smarties, Gobstoppers, Jolly Ranchers, and sugar necklaces, and I added Fruit Gushers to look like rhinestones. I set them all between the top and bottom pieces so it looked like they were flowing out of a partially closed chest. To create the handles and leather straps on the treasure chest, I used red Fruit by the Foot or Fruit Roll-Ups.

The first party, I made one large cake; the second year, I made two. First, let me explain how I got away with one cake for the first party. Besides baking a yellow cake for the treasure chest, I baked a chocolate cake using a 9x13 pan and iced it with butter cream icing. I had previously smashed up a package of graham crackers, so right after I iced this cake, I sprinkled the graham cracker crumbs all over it to look like sand. Then I set the treasure chest cake on top.

For the second party, I decided to make a pirate’s hat cake along with the treasure chest. To do this, I baked a chocolate cake in two 9 inch round cake pans. Once cooled, I stacked the two cakes and iced in between them so they’d stick together. Next, I cut the two circles in half. I then cut one of the half-circles in half again, so I had a total of two half-circles and four quarter-circles. I propped up the half-circles on their side and iced them with chocolate icing. I then put the quarter-circles on either side, facing out and iced them as well. To finish off the pirate hat, I used some white icing in a tube with a fie tip to draw my skull and crossbones and outline the hat. We also served bowls of Goldfish crackers as a snack since pirates must eat lots of fish while at sea!

Both parties were structured the same way, and here’s what we did. As the guests arrived, they were turned into pirates. I applied a pirate tattoo and gave them each an eye patch and pirate hat to wear. Once everyone was ready, I read a children’s book titled How I Became a Pirate to get them thinking and acting like pirates, not that a bunch of preschoolers really need any help. I then informed them that I had a feeling there was a buried treasure close by and suggested they all search the backyard for a treasure map. So, with toy shovels and empty goody bags in hand, a dozen tiny pirates scoured my backyard for several minutes in search of a treasure map. When it was discovered, we held it up and showed them how we needed to follow it to find the X that must mark the spot, so through the backyard, around the house, and across the front yard we marched until we spotted the mound of dirt. Boys love dirt! For the next fifteen minutes, they dug all through that stuff, filling their bags with pirate-themed trinkets like plastic rings and tiny telescopes.  

 Afterward, we cleaned up our pirates and brought them in to have the cake and open presents. Thanks to hardwood floors, I wasn’t worried about them tracking in the dirt, but if you have carpet, you may want to have this party held entirely outdoors. We had guests ranging in age from two to nine at both parties, and all of them enjoyed the treasure hunt.

If you need to landscape your lawn, consider having a pirate party for your child, so at least the expense of the topsoil will also serve as entertainment for your birthday guests!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

update on tutu dress

Today, I took my daughter to Costco to get some childhood videos transferred to DVD and pick up a few groceries. On our way to the cashier, we passed two little girls sitting sweetly in their parents' shopping cart. Meanwhile, my daughter was running next to me because she is no longer willing to sit still unless confined within a five-point harness like her car seat. Unfortunately, for me, my little Houdini is able to crawl out of any lap belt, so I have given up trying and allow her to walk with me. The two little girls we passed noticed my daughter and squealed with delight, one of them declaring, "Look, Daddy, a real baby princess! She's so cute!" Of course, I'm beaming. 

Guess what she was wearing? Her tutu dress I sewed last month. Afterward, we headed to one of our neighborhood parks because it was just too pretty of a day not to be outside. Okay, truth be told, I was trying to wear her out so she'd take a good nap today. I have a long to-do list involving way too many chores that my princess simply isn't good at being my helper with. However, while she's content sitting hear munching on some animal crackers, I want to share some more photos of her in her tutu dress from the park.  If you want to revisit the instructions on making this dress for your real baby princess, you can go here: tutu dress/onesie.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dessert Sushi

When my oldest son was three, he could recite his favorite book titled Yoko by Rosemary Wells. It’s about an adorable Japanese kitten who brings sushi to lunch every day in a Bento box. Unfortunately, all the children make fun of her for it. I loved the book, and so did my son. Several years later, when I taught preschool, I decided it would be fun to read the book to my students for “Y” week, partly because there are so few books that begin with “Y.” However, to make the book more fun, I decided to serve a special snack to go with it: sushi. While my children have grown up eating California rolls, I didn’t think many of my preschoolers would appreciate such a snack, so I decided to make some dessert ones out of Rice Krispie treats and Fruit By The Foot. The kids loved them, but the following year, I taught math instead of language arts, so I didn’t get a chance to make them again for my students. Now, four years later, I came across a picture of strawberry shortcake sushi on and remembered my snack. If you’d like to make some, here is how to do it:

o     Rice Krispies cereal (6 cups)
o     Marshmallows (4 cups)
o     Margarine (3 Tbs)
o     Fruit by the Foot fruit snacks (6)
o     Twizzlers (4)

This will make 30 sushi rolls.

Step 1: Cut the Twizzlers into one inch strips.
Step 2: Make the Rice Krispies treats, according to directions:, but spread them in a thin layer, so they are about 1/2 inch thick. I used a cookie/jelly roll sheet I sprayed with olive oil first. (I also spray my hands with olive oil while I'm rolling the sushi to keep it from sticking to my fingers.)

Step 3: Slice the treats into 1 inch wide and 4 inch long strips.
Step 4: Cut the Fruit by the Foot fruit snacks into 6 inches each.

Step 5: Now you are ready to roll, seriously. Place a 4 inch strip of Rice Krispies treat on your 6 inch Fruit by the Foot strip. Set a cut Twizzler in the middle and roll up. Repeat with remaining strips and candies.

I made these recently as a dessert, and all four kids loved them. What did I cook for dinner? Japanese fried rice, of course. I told the boys we were having fried rice and sushi for dinner, and they were excited because they love California rolls, but when I brought out the plate of dessert sushi, they were even more excited!

Let me know if you'd like my fried rice recipe. It's one my husband and I created by combining his family's authentic Japanese recipe and my American version of Chinese fried rice.

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