Friday, April 10, 2015

Thomas the Train Pinata Birthday Cake Tutorial

 For LilBro's second birthday this year, we went with a Thomas theme. Well actually, only the cake was themed, because we kept the party very small and went to Chuck E Cheese with only the grandparents. But the cake was themed!

This was my first year since having kids of not doing a big themed party. No matter how small we tried to keep it, it always costs so much, and I always get behind on making the decorations, snacks, cake, and spend the whole party stressed out. This year, we are truly keeping it small. It's better for our bank account, and I get to enjoy the party, too. And let's be real, a two year old doesn't even care, as long as there is cake!

The one thing I cannot let go of, or leave up to anyone else to handle, is the birthday cake! It must be delicious, and it must be themed! LilBro likes Thomas a lot right now, or more accurately, just trains in general. I think when boys are 1.5 to 2 years old, it is in their contracts to love all things trains. This was the exact same time BigBro loved Thomas, because his second birthday was the same theme!

Ok, enough chit chat! Let's build a cake! I wanted to do something more fun that would be a surprise for both of the boys, so I decided to try a Pinata cake! Fiesta!

Start by baking two or three round cakes, depending on how tall you want your pinata to be filled. I only did two 8 inch round cakes. You could do this in any shape, as long as you can slice in into layers and stack it. I used a white cake recipe that I LOVE. It's so fluffy and moist, and really is perfect. You can find it on the blog I Am Baker, HERE.

After your cakes are baked and completely cooled, slice them into two equal halves, giving you four layers of cake. One of the tops of one of the rounds will be the top of your whole cake. Set it aside and do not cut a hole in it (I did on accident, but I just stuck it back in the top and put icing on it. It was ok!).

One of the bottoms of one of the rounds will be the base of your cake. Put this bottom on your cake board, and do not cut a hole in it. Put icing around the edge of the bottom layer of cake, so your next layer will stick to it. Try not to get icing in the middle of the bottom layer, so your pinata contents don't get all moist and sticky. I put my cookie cutter in the middle and iced around it so I would know exactly where to put the icing.

The other two layers you have left will be the middle layers of the cake. Use a round cookie cutter (or a knife around a glass) to cut holes in the middle cake layers. This will be where you put the goodies!

Put the first middle layer on top of the bottom layer that has the icing around the outside edge. Fill the middle of the layer with your candy of choice. I used Mini M&M's. Next, you will do it all again for the next middle layer: Ice the outside edge, put the next layer on top, fill with candy of choice. Ice the outer edges of the top middle layer.

After the middle layers, you will put the top layer on that you set aside to close up the cake. In the picture above, you can see where I accidentally cut the hole out of the top layer! Oops! But I put that part back in and it was all fine and dandy!

Next, you want to do a thin layer of icing to seal everything up all nice and cozy. No one will ever suspect there is a special treat inside! I did what is called a "crumb layer" of icing first in white, but you can just ice it once with your main icing if you want. I had the extra white icing from the layer assembly, so I went ahead and used it, and it does keep crumbs from getting into your final icing layer on the finished product. 

 For icing, I always make my own, and I do it from memory. But the recipe is basically, two sticks of butter, softened and beaten until creamy. About 4 cups of powdered sugar (half a bag), sifted and added to the beaten butter gradually until desired consistency. I add a dash of vanilla and almond extract (about 1 tsp each). You can also add a dash of heavy whipping cream and turn the mixer up to make it very fluffy.

After the white icing dried up a bit, I took the blue icing I made and did a nice layer of it to make it all look pretty. I'm not the best at getting smooth icing, but it always tastes good!  Then I added some Kit Kat bars as the train tracks. I tinted some of the icing grayish brown (it's hard to make gray out of red, blue, and green!) and used a flat icing tip to make the tracks all the way around. 

Then I took some green icing and the icing tip with all the little pin point holes in it, and made some tufts of grass. I also used the grass for my border around the bottom of the cake. 

Notice the reinforcement Kit Kats under this side of the tracks... I knew I wanted to put a train on there, so I had to keep that side from slanting on the cake. Then I just added some more grass in that area.

I drew a 2 in the middle, and added some sprinkles.

Then last but certainly not least, I put the Birthday Thomas on the cake! It was the first thing my son saw, and he would not let it go! 

There you have it! A Thomas the Train Pinata Birthday Cake! And below you can see how a pinata cake really makes a statement when cut into! We had several people stop to look at and comment on our cake!

Valentines Heart Door Hanger

It is one of my goals this year to have something festive on my front door for every occasion and/or season. Our front door is beautiful, and red, and arched, and has stained glass, and is just the perfect door for celebrating all occasions! I love my door, and I love to dress it up!

For February, I wanted to do something Valentines-y, but I wanted to make it myself and not spend much. I saw an idea for a "rag wreath" where you tie strips of cloth onto a wire wreath to decorate it. I chose to do this same idea with a heart shape for our door. I did not take pictures along the way (shame on me!) so I only have a picture of the finished product. But it was simple enough, and I know you can do it!

I took a wire hanger and shaped it into a heart. It did take some work to get it how I wanted! I had some flannel scraps left over from a girls baby blanket and quilt I made a couple years ago. I have boys, so I didn't use the scraps on anything, and the colors were perfect for this project. I like that it wasn't just pink or red, but there is some green and blue in there, too. 

I cut the flannel scraps into about 1.5 inches by 5 inches strips. It did take quite a few pieces, but I was able to complete the whole thing with just scraps, so I would say not even half a yard of total fabric. Then you just start tying them on the wire! I just tied them once, in a simple "first part of tying your shoes" knot (I don't know the technical term). 

Hint: you can rip the fabric strips, instead of cutting, to give them a more frayed look, and to save time on cutting. You just cut a 1.5 inch wide slit at the top of your fabric and then rip it all the way down the length of the fabric. Then you just have to cut every 5 inches down the strip to get your smaller pieces! And it makes the finished product less manicured!

Here's a father away pic of our house. Doesn't that door just make you want to come visit?! I love it!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Christmas in April: A Christmas Decorations post four months late!

This year I am really trying to be more creative, and document that creativity with this blog. Hopefully it will inspire me further, and inspire others along the way! 

Well, I did some small Christmas crafts last year that I wanted to share, and since I am just recently committing to updating this blog more, I am just now posting about Christmas! Good thing Santa wasn't this late... the kids would have been heartbroken!

As I said in my last post, this was our first Christmas in our new home. I knew I wanted some fresh decor this year, but couldn't spend too much. I ended up making some inexpensive paper garland for around the house, making pine cone ornaments, and painting some artwork for our mantle myself. I also chose to do a different kind of tree skirt.

First I made the paper garland (can you see it up there in the window?? Sorry there is not a closer picture!). I bought one of those big pads of paper in Christmas theme from Michael's, on sale of course. What I love about those is all of the designs coordinate and are made to go together perfectly! I cut the sheets into squares with a paper cutter, then cut out the wedge at the bottom with scissors. It is hard work, but so cute! Then I punched hoes in the top corners and ran regular old yarn through to string it up. I had extra yarn from something else, so all it really cost me was the $10 for paper, time, and hand strength. It doesn't look like much in the picture, but it added a nice punch of color and cheer to our house... we do still have white walls after all, and need all the color punch we can get!

Another of my projects this year was to make my own christmas art for our mantle. I looked at buying some fun prints, but decided I'd rather spend that money on presents for the boys instead. So I had some canvases and paint already on hand, and went to work! I made a pretty evergreen, a pine cone (my obsession this year!), and a "may your days be merry and bright" sign. I liked it. I also took some extra pine cones from my last project (see the wreath post below) and tied yarn to them to make pine cone garland and ornaments. It was very simple, and prickly.

While I was in my art space painting, miss Birdie Bird Dog kept giving me the "Really? Let's go inside" look. Even though she was impatient with me, she's the best painting companion!

 For our "tree skirt" we did a train-scape! It was so fun and whimsical, and I was so glad that we just happened to think of it while playing trains with the boys one day! I kept thinking "now how am I going to do a tree skirt without spending too much, and clashing with the rug", and so on and so on. Then one day we just didn't pick up the boys' trains and I put them together under the tree and it was so cute! We may do it every year because it was adorable and they got to play there. We did start to get presents wrapped and ended up putting them in the fireplace (we haven't used it), but eventually we had too many and the train had to go. But in the beginning before we had presents, it was a cute way to make that space not seem so bare!

See the presents in the Fireplace??

Christmas Wreaths on the Cheap

This year was our first Christmas in our new home... our first single family home to ever live in, let alone own! Since being married for 7 years, my husband and I, and eventually our two sons, have moved 5 times. We live within the city, and of course city living is a bit more expensive than the suburbs, even without getting extra space. On top of that we live on a modest income. We are not in need, but not in excess either. So buying a home was never really on the radar... it was more of a pipe dream for sure! Especially since we wanted to live in the city, and know that it costs more. So we've rented for the last 7 years. And with renting there is always something you don't like about the space (or lack of space). Thus, we moved almost every year. This was also a result of adding members to our family.

Last year we were blessed enough to be able to buy my husband's Aunt's home, located in an up and coming (and old and charming!) neighborhood just miles from downtown. The home was also my husband's grandparent's home before they passed away, and the house his mother lived in for the latter part of her childhood. It really is special that we now get to raise our boys here, with so much family history all around. One day I will post all about the house, and the renovations and transformation it went through. I really have to get my photos together for that post!

But anyways... today I will post about our first Christmas in our house. As I was saying, we never lived in a single family home, so I didn't have any decorations for outside! I knew what I wanted to do to decorate, but quickly realized that I could easily spend a fortune on beautiful wreaths and pre-lit garland! I set out to find a way to get what I wanted for cheap.

I found these plain wreaths at Wal Mart for $3 each. I got three of them for three of our front windows, and one larger $4 wreath for our door. They are the wiry kind where you can fluff up the sprigs and adjust how you want.

A trip to a local park allowed me to pick up all the pine cones I desired for my project, and I saved about $10... store bought pine cones... so silly.

I bought Epsom Salt in "mint eucalyptus", I think, for the fake snow and sparkle on my pine cones. It smelled really good while coming in the door all season. All I had to do was put some mod podge (or any liquid glue) on the pine cones, roll the cones in the salt, and let dry before hot gluing onto the wreath. I already had the glue, and the salt was about $4, but I was able to do all the wreaths, and have some left for baths.

Here is the finished wreath, before I made bows and hung them. I really apologize for my very busy, very tacky table cloth! I am going to start taking better pictures now that I know I'll be posting more of my projects!

I also took some cheap plain garland and bought lights for them, and made my own "pre-lit" garland for a fraction of the cost (not pictured). The garland had the same wiry sprigs so I used those to secure the lights, and packed them up all still together, as if they were always meant to be together. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving

In catching up on blog posts that I meant to post, but never did, I wanted to post about our Thanksgiving last year. This was my first ever attempt at hosting Thanksgiving dinner for our family. We wanted to stay home this year, as it is our first year in our first owned home. Since we live on a modest budget, we wanted to keep it small and only invited our parents to join us. We are so glad they were able to, as we wanted to spend this day giving them a great meal as Thanks for all of the ways they have supported our family over the years!

Thanks to The Pioneer Woman for her Holidays Cookbook. This book was my guide in hosting this first Thanksgiving! I definitely made way too much (and I didn't even do everything in her plan!), but it was all good and timed out perfectly thanks to her help.

I love Fall, and really wanted a very Leafy fall decoration... and that is what we had. No lack of leaves here! Now that I see it so many months later, it is a little tacky, but it was perfect in the moment, haha!

We used plain brown paper as a table runner, and a wood crate my hubby made, pecans from the back yard, and a few small pumpkins for our centerpiece. It was cute, but definitely simplified and on the cheap. BigBro, who was just learning to read and write at this time, wrote everyone's names in their spot.


The best part about having a small family get together, is everyone fits in one room! Here we are in our TV room watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade because I missed it while cooking, and watching it is a must for me every year!

Belated Halloween Glove Monsters!

Last Halloween season BigBro and I made glove monsters! It was so fun, and this was his first experience with sewing. I bought some cheap gloves at Michael's in fun colors. First, I sewed the thumb shut by turning the gloves inside out and sewing along the thumb opening, and part of the wrist opening, leaving enough space to stuff the monsters. BigBro stuffed the gloves and sewed up the little opening. I helped him close them up real tight after he did a few stitches. I gave him a pretty chunky plastic needle, and he used embroidery floss to sew the gloves up, so it was safe enough for a 4 year old.

We then hot glued all the eyes (buttons) and mouths (cut felt) and other decorations on the monsters. He told me what he wanted and where, and I did all of the gluing. I might have burned my fingers while gluing some of the small pieces, but I think my reactions to that were a good deterrent for BigBro ever touching got glue!

These turned out super cute. We still have them, with the exception of one or two that Birdie Bird Dog thought were pretty tasty!

The idea for this craft originated HERE

Belated Halloween Post: Cheap DIY Batman and Robin costumes!

Last year my oldest wanted to be Batman for Halloween. I like to go with themes, so we had little brother be Robin. Our themes may not go as well next year when LilBro can actually speak for himself!

Growing up my mom always made my Halloween costumes. It was probably more out of necessity and lack of funds, but mom is also creative and likes to make things herself. The costumes were not grand sewing projects or anything (mom doesn't sew!), but as a little girl I thought they were the best and most unique costumes, unlike anyone else's from the store, and I still love that she did that for me!

This has translated into my adulthood in that I now make all of our family's costumes, and refuse to spend the money on the cheap (quality) store bought ones. Now, these aren't fancy, by any means! Anyone can do it, even if you can't sew! They are fun, inexpensive, and pieced together with a little imagination, but the boys love it and use the costumes year around! I love seeing their faces light up when the costume is finished and ready to wear.

I know that someday they may insist on the store bought costume, because all of their friends get to buy theirs. And I will probably give in at that point. But for now I will relish being able to make their Halloween dreams come true while they make believe to be someone else for a night, in something I created for them :)

Back to Batman and Robin... For Batman, I found a gray sweatshirt and sweatpants at the thrift store ($1.50 each), added blue felt cuffs, and "boots" at the bottom. Then I cut out a Batman emblem and utility belt with yellow and black felt, and sewed it all on. I just kinda cut and sewed as I went, because that's kind of how I work, but if you want a plan then you can lay it all out and pin it together then sew it all at once. Then I just sewed a blue felt cape on the back and it was done! I did sew, but you could also iron all of this on if you prefer. I knew they would wear it after to play in, so I wanted to make it where it won't come apart as easily. The felt was probably about $5 on sale at JoAnn's Fabrics. I never buy fabric for full price, because they always have sales! I found the Batman mask on Amazon, for like $10. It was my splurge, because I wanted BigBro to have a great mask!

For Robin, I found green pants and a black shirt, again at the thrift store, for about the same price as Batman's suit. I added a red felt "sweater vest" shape to the front of the shirt (not the back). Then I made the same kind of utility belt and emblem and buttons as with Batman, with yellow and black. and added black "boots" to the bottom, and a black cape on the back. Robin had more colors, so I had to buy red and more black for felt for his outfit. It was probably still around $5 for his felt, too. Bet you never knew Robin needs a paci and Giraffe blankie with him to fight crime!

Batman is doing a little dance here... ready for some candy! 

Batman and Robin on the porch... I will cherish this picture and moment always :)