What’s in a name?

I may have gotten the cart ahead of the horse a little when I started this blog without a title.  On creation day I called it “A Working Mom’s Blog” but never had the intention of keeping that.  It was just a place holder.  But, it was a place holder that didn’t really express what I want this blog to be about.

Last week I read a blog post praising stay-at-home moms and their role within their homes.  The author then went on to say that all women should stay home and raise their children and that parents who outsource this care are contributing to the downfall of society.  Obviously, I found the second part ludicrous and highly offensive!  I’m not going to get into the debate about who has it easier/harder/better/worse.  We all have different challenges but none are better/worse than others.  Just different.  In engineering, we tell contractors what we want built, not how to build it.  I think parenting is kinda the same.  We all have basically the same end goals:  happy, healthy kids while maintaining our own sanity.  How you get there is up to you and I won’t be judging you for the path you choose.  That’s my two cents on that.

But, the whole debate got me thinking about my own blog… I didn’t want my haphazardly thrown down title to alienate anyone.  Yes, I’m a full time working mom.  I’m proud to be it and I feel like it was the best choice for our family for many reasons.  But, this blog isn’t really about that.  I got discouraged reading some of my favorite blogs because they often made me feel like there wasn’t time in my schedule to do the things that were being presented.  The “working mom” blogs I found were mostly just complaining about how busy they were. 

Yes, I’ll occasionally talk about “working mom” specific things (like a three week hunt for nap mats).  But, I hope that everyone can find something here they enjoy.  It’s not a blog about being a working mom per se, it’s just a blog about me and some of the things I enjoy.

Unfortunately, it’s also a blog without a name.  If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  Otherwise, I’ll let you know when I think of something clever…

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DIY Stencils

This is a project I’ve been excited to share.  It is a trick I picked up in architecture school and I’ve found it helpful for all sorts of painting projects.  On Patrick’s side of the family, all the adults buy little presents for the youngest kids.  There are 8 kids so even something inexpensive can add up when you multiply it by 8.  Here’s what I came up with:

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I found these little bags at Hobby Lobby for $5.00 each and was inspired.  I was even able to buy them at 30% off.  Yay!  Even though I love how these bags turned out and think they make great little gifts for almost any age, the real point of this post is to show you how to make stencils that can be used for almost anything.

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The supplies you’ll need are:  something to paint on (the bag in this case), contact paper, paint, X-acto knife, cutting mat, and a printout of the image you want to create your stencil.  Print out your image on plain old printer paper.  Keep in mind that your image needs to be basically black and white.  But, unlike a traditional stencil, you don’t need to worry about it being an image that is “connected.”  It can have holes in it.

Once you have your supplies gathered up, cut a piece of contact paper about the same size as your image.  Then take the back off your contact paper and place it sticky side down over your image.  You will have to peel the paper off of your contact paper later.  This shouldn’t be a problem.  But, if you have especially sticky contact paper, you can place it on your clothes or your floor before putting it over your image to take some of the “stick” off.  Next, cut through the contact paper and printer paper over the lines of your image.  Be careful and precise.  I’ve had quite a bit of experience with my X-acto knife (thank you architecture school).  So, I’m comfortable free-handing it.  But, practice or use a straight edge if you need to.  Also, make sure you are using it good sharp knife, it makes it so much easier!

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Once you have cut out around your image, punch out the positive (part you want to paint) of your image and keep the negative (or background).  Make sure to keep the “holes” (like the center of the ‘O’ and ‘A’ in my example).  You’ll need these!  Next, peel the paper off the back of your contact paper.  Again, be patient and careful.  The contact paper is pretty sturdy.  But, if you have a delicate design you can tear it if you aren’t careful.

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You should now have a clear-ish stencil of your image.  Place it down on whatever surface you are going to paint.  I know these pictures are a little hard to see (that’s the problem with a non-professional photographer trying to take pictures of something clear).  Anyway, don’t forget to use the “holes” pieces and place them where they go.  This is the real beauty about this technique.  Because the contact paper is sticky and will stay in place, you don’t have to have little connection pieces like in a traditional stencil.  Now you’re ready for the fun part: painting!

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I switched which bag I was taking pictures of (Eli’s instead of Logan’s) but, I used the same technique.  For these bags I did an ombre thing but you could paint whatever color(s) you want.  After you are done painting, just carefully peel the contact paper off.  Let the paint finish drying and stand back and admire your work.

Total Project Cost:  $3.50/bag + $15 in fabric paint – I already had a roll of contact paper, knife, and cutting mat

Total Project Time:  A few hours (did I mention I made 8 of these things?! ).  If I were only making one, it would have taken less than an hour.

I hope you enjoyed this post (and that it made sense).  It’s a cool technique that I have used for several types of projects.  It’s only limited by the size of your printer, the size of the contact paper, and your patience.

P.S.  If you happen to be the parent of one of the kids set to receive these bags, let’s just pretend you didn’t read this come Christmas!  =)

Two Quick Projects

I’ve had a TON of craft and DIY projects floating around in my head and on my to-do list lately.  So, I wanted to share a couple quick projects I’ve crossed off in the last week.  The first is a diaper cake that I made for a baby shower last weekend.  I wasn’t initially planning on blogging about this (there are a lot of good tutorials out there) so, I didn’t take a bunch of pictures as I was making it.  What I like about diaper cakes is that it’s a good way to give the mom-to-be something she really needs (diapers) but in a way that still provides the “cute” factor.  I’ve made several and this one is one of my favorites, so I’ll go ahead and share a few tips:

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You will need:  One large box of diapers (I used a 96 count box of newborn sized Pampers), rubber bands (at least as many as you have diapers), ribbons, a “cake topper”, a few wooden skewers, and additional toys or small items to decorate the cake with.

For the construction of the cake, roll each diaper into a little burrito and secure with a rubber band.  Then take one diaper and put six diapers around it to form a circle and use another rubber band or plain ribbon/string to tie them together snugly.  Add more diapers around the circle and tie a ribbon around those, adding diapers in concentric circles until you have the size you want.  You may have to adjust your core size some (maybe starting with 3 in the center instead of just one) to make your number of diapers and tiers come out even.  But, don’t obsess about it too much, once it’s all put together it won’t matter if they are perfect.  Once you have each of your three tiers made, use the wooden skewers to carefully put beween the diapers and extend up and down through the layers to provide some stability and keep the tiers centered on eachother.  Be careful not to puncture a diaper.  Now you’re ready to decorate your cake.

I think there are two main keys to making the diaper cake look nice: 1) choose a color scheme and 2) fill the cake up visually.  I always start by choosing my cake topper, usually small stuffed toy or rattle.  I then use that as my jumping off point for the color scheme for the cake and make sure my ribbon and other toys coordinate with the topper.  Secondly, you want to make sure the cake seems “full” and “layered”, visually interesting.  Do NOT make the mistake of taking this to mean that you have to spend a bunch of money on lots of little toys and rattles.  Those things can easily drive the cost up.  Not that there’s anything wrong with spending a lot of money on a baby gift.  But, look for small items sold in packs to stretch your budget (like the 6 pack of socks I used).  I saw a can of small plastic bath toys that would have worked great, especially for a boy’s cake.  You can also create visual interest with non-gift items.  I used some cheap silk flowers that I already had on hand and I think it really gave an elegant, finished feel to the cake.  For a cake I made a couple of years ago, I had a really tight budget and didn’t buy any extra toys or items to decorate with.  Instead, I bought a couple of different width’s of ribbon in different colors (that matched the topper) and layered them to create a very minimilist but pretty look.  One last thing to keep in mind while you are choosing items for your cake:  it will look much nicer if you take everything out of the packaging (and you can sperate items and make your cake look more full).  However, that means the items most likely won’t be able to be returned.  So, make sure you buy things you know the mom needs, or items that don’t have much packaging so you can leave it on without it taking over your cake.

Once you have your items gathered, tie your pretty ribbon around each of the tiers to cover the rubber bands and string you used during cake construction.  Next, attach your decorative items.  Depending on what you have, this can be tricky.  I generally use double sided tape.  It won’t secure things really tightly but will keep them from falling off in transport and is easy to remove from the diapers and other cloth items.

And that’s pretty much it.  There are dozens of variations you can make depending on what you are including in your diaper cake. But, I’ve found that this is a fun way to give a useful baby shower gift even on a smaller budget.

Total Project Time:  about 45 minutes, plus shopping time

Total Project Cost:  about $50 for this cake ($25 diapers, $8 topper, $8 socks, $7 bibs, the ribbon, rubberbands, skewers, silk flowers, and two hair bows are things I already had on hand.  If I hadn’t, they probably would have cost an additional $10.) But, you could make a nice cake for as little as $35, maybe less if you find your diapers on sale.

The second project I want to share with you is a cover I made for the nap mat because the fitted sheet didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.  The cover is basically just an oversized pillowcase and as easy as it gets for sewing projects.  Since I’ve already written WAY more than I expected to about the diaper cake, I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.

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Total Project Time: an hour and a half

Total Project Cost: $15 (with quite a bit of extra fabric due to the way I had to cut it)

I just wanted to include this because I always feel so accomplished after a sewing project.  My first real sewing project was about 6 months ago and it literally took me longer to figure out how to thread the machine and get thread onto the bobbin than the entire rest of the project.  But, with each project I gain a little confidence and insight and realize I don’t have to be afraid of my sewing machine.  It’s opened me up to a whole new realm of crafting possibilities… and that’s a good thing!  Despite what my husband my say…  =)

P.S.  I have a DIY Christmas project that I’m hoping to start next week and that I’m REALLY excited to share.  So, check back in a week or two to see that.

Nap Mats, Seriously?

Parenting, and especially motherhood, is challenging.  No matter what.  Period.  But, each different situation comes with different challenges.  As a full-time working mom that has to go in to an office every day, my biggest challenge:  DAYCARE!  Now, let me just say, I LOVE our daycare, and I still hate it.  I feel very blessed to have a place that I can send Emily that I trust the workers and can feel confident that she is well taken care of and loved every day.  But, it’s the little things that you have to deal with in corporate daycare that can make you crazy.  I present the following rant:

The story starts with a note from our daycare director informing us that the kids will no longer be sleeping on cots and that we need to purchase a 2″ thick nap mat and that we could get the mats on sale from Wal-Mart for $10.  Innocent enough, right?  Little did I know that it was going to kick off three stressful weeks and a state wide man hunt across over a dozen stores and 100 miles.  Yeah, that’s right… over nap mats.  Seriously?

Apparently DHS has implemented a new requirement that kids sleep on 2″ mats this year and so EVERYONE was looking for the stupid things.  Target and Wal-Mart were both carrying them as part of their back-to-school items.  But, once they sold out they wouldn’t get more because they were “seasonal.”  *eye roll*  Target, your job is to have what I want, when I want it, every time!  Beach balls in February?  Yes!  Cute mittens in June?  Yes!  But I digress…  I personally visited 6 different stores (and some of them on multiple occassions before realizing they wouldn’t be getting more in) looking for these stupid mats.  I called a half-dozen others trying to find them all with the same response “We have the 1″ mats, but none of the 2.”  Damnit.

Finally, last week I called a Wal-Mart and a sweet old lady said they had them.  “Are you sure? That’s a miracle!  I’ve called everywhere!  You’re sure you have the 2-inch mats, not just the 1-inch?!”  She said she was pretty sure but that she would go double check and came back on the phone a few minutes later confirming “Yes, we have a whole bunch of the 2″ mats, they are $13.97.”  Awesome!  So, that night after dinner we loaded up in the car and headed over to this Wal-Mart (did I mention that it is not in a very good part of town and I won’t go there by myself).  It is dirty, gross, NASTY!  We are talking about the Wal-Mart that had the “toe-licker”, a guy who would hide under cars and then lick womens’ toes as they were getting into their vehicle.  Yeah.  Let that marinate for a while…

So, we get to there and sure as shit, no 2″ mats anywhere.  The “worker” was a huge bitch and just kept pointing at an endcap with the 1″ mats (priced $9.97) telling me “They are right there!”  I don’t know how the old lady on the phone got the size AND the price wrong.  But, I couldn’t find a single damn 2″ mat or even a place where they were supposed to go.  FML.

The next day I went to Mardel’s because they had said they *may* get some in that morning.  I was beyond excited when they actually had one.  Even though the retail price was $28.99, the lady gave me 30% off for signing up for their emails.  Done.  And done.  Sidenote:  I LOVE that store.  I hardly ever go there but it really is great!  And I love what they stand for.  I worked there for several years in high school and early college and it was a great place to work too.  =)

Other things I asked myself along the way:  Why is daycare making me hunt all over town for this damn thing instead of just buying a whole bunch of them from a education supply wholesale kind of place and being done with it?  If it is my responsibility to buy the mat, then why does DHS have a say?  I mean, I’m the parent, if DHS wants to set the default requirements for the daycare providers, fine, that’s their job.  But, as a parent, if I choose to bring something else and I say a 1″ mat is cushy enough for my little sweetling, then by god a 1″ mat is good enough, DHS needs to butt out.

Okay, I’ll leave it at that.  I’ll take my 2″ mat and count it a win.  That was my week last week.  How was yours?

Topsy-Turvy Cake, Attempt #1

Last year for Em’s first birthday party I made a rainbow cake that turned out really well.  (I’d provide a tutorial but there’s already a ton of them out there and I don’t think I really have anything to add other than “Go for it!”).  Anyway, this year I have set my sights high on a topsy-turvy cake for a Cat in the Hat themed party (I’ll share more Can in the Hat inspiration and party planning goodness later).  But, it’s pretty ambitious for me, so this weekend I decided to make a practice cake.

I read a few tutorials online and thought “bake, cut at an angle, stack, frost, I can do that!”  Hmm.. yeah, it didn’t come out quite like I’d planned…  Hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes:

I started out using two different boxed cake mixes (yep, boxed cake, that’s how I roll).  I already had the white cake mix on hand and I wanted to test to see if I like the red velvet mix.  So, anyway, I made the red velvet mix according to the instructions on the box and baked it in two 9″ round pans.  Here they are baked and cooling (little tip: if you cool them upside down they flatten out a little and you don’t end up with quite so much you have to cut quite as much off the top).

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Then I got the white cake mixed and in the oven.  One box was the perfect amount for 3 layers in 6″ round pans.  While the little cakes were baking I worked on stacking the larger cakes to make the bottom tier.  I trimmed the dome off the first cake and then sliced the other at a diagonal.  I didn’t think leaving the dome on the second cake would cause a problem.  But, it did.  I ended up using some of the excess I’d cut off the top of the first cake to fill in and it worked okay.  But, certainly starting with nice flat cakes would be easier.  I just hate seeing those domes go to waste!  Here’s how it looked stacked and then with aquick crumb coat:photo-23photo-24

I followed the same steps for the 6″ cakes.  I made sure to cut off the tops of the cakes this time and it made it much easier.  I also trimmed around the base some so that it tapered in towards the bottom.  I got a little heavy handed with my trimming but it turned out okay.  Here it is:

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Then everybody got to hang out in the fridgerator for awhile while I went and picked up my car from getting new brakes.  I was nervous about how stacking the cakes would go because you have to cut out a portion of the lower tier so the top can sit on a flat area.  Fortunately this wasn’t too hard.  Honestly, I just eye-balled it and got pretty close.  But, I’ll probably be a little more exact and use a piece of paper cut to size as a guide for the real thing.  I also used a few wooden skewers that I had on hand to help hold everything together.

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Then I just iced it as smoothly as I could (I don’t do fondant!) and even piped on a quick border.  I’m certainly not an expert piper so I may do something else for the actual cake.  But, the contrasting color made a HUGE difference in the look of the cake and helped emphasize it’s topsy-turvy nature.  Overall I was pleased with the outcome (considering I’ve NEVER attempted this and I wasn’t sure what I’d end up with at the end).

A few lessons learned for when it comes time to make the real one (afterall, lessons learned was the whole point of this exercise).

-The proportions of the cake weren’t quite right, I felt it needed to be taller and thinner.  To accomplish this, I plan on using 8″ cake pans next time instead of 9″ rounds for the bottom tier.  I will also use a 3rd box mix so that I have an extra layer for each tier (3 layers on bottom and 4 layers on top).  Unfortunately, I may have to expand the guest list because I was also planning on having cupcakes.  And 4-5 boxes of cake for 25 people is a bit absurd…

-The white cake was easier to work with.  It wasn’t as dense and didn’t fall apart or crumb as easily.  I’ll use all white cake for the topsy-turvy cake and red velvet for the cupcakes (this was my plan anyway but the practice cake confirmed it).

-As with all baking:  go slow and don’t cut corners.  I think what I like about baking (and what so many other hate) is the meticulous nature of it.  The little things make a huge difference: cut parchment paper for the bottom of the cake pans, allow the cakes to cool completely before cutting them, put them in the refridgerator or freezer before sculpting the cake or stacking them, use support structures within the cake, etc.  All those little things people do on TV… yeah, there’s a reason they are on TV…

-Buttercream is never going to have the smooth finish of fondant, either get over it or learn to use fondant.  Actually, maybe there is a tutorial on that somewhere.  I know what I’ll be researching on my lunch break tomorrow…

So, that’s it.  If anyone has any tips or tricks they’d like to share on making topsy-turvy cakes, I’d love to hear them.  Now I just have to figure out what to do with all my practice cake.  Maybe I’ll bring it up to work.  Gotta love working with nearly all men, something tells me they won’t care that it doesn’t look quite right!  =)

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Pantry Organization

I want to share a project that I actually did a few months ago:  cleaning out and reorganizing our pantry.  This is the first house I’ve lived in that has pantry and it was selling point for me when we bought this house.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before it started looking like this:

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Ugh!  That’s embarrassing.  The shelves were really deep and despite the clear tubs I used as drawers, food was constantly getting lost at the back.  And lets just not even look down at the bottom part.  Patrick and I had a Friday afternoon off so we decided to leave the munchkin at daycare and tackle this project.  Step one, take all the food out of the pantry and tear out the old, sagging, ineffective shelves.

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After reading some other blogs and organization websites, I had a plan of how I wanted to lay out the new pantry.  I made a sketch of approximately where I wanted each item to be (I wish I had kept it because this planning step is really important).  I decided to have two 18″ deep shelves on the bottom and four 12″ deep shelves above.  With my plan and measurements in hand, we headed to Lowe’s.  We used an adjustable shelving system and had Lowe’s cut the shelves down to the appropriate length for us.  Honestly, waiting for the cuts to be made was one of the most time-consuming parts of the whole process!  Installation of the shelves was pretty simple, just make sure to use a level and keep everything nice and straight.  Then load up those shelves and reclaim the kitchen table.  Here’s the finished product:

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The picture on the right is a little hard to see.  But, wanted to show how we installed 6″ deep shelves running up the left side.  Along the right side, I’ve installed a couple of hooks to hang aprons and reusable grocery bags on.  The red tub on the floor holds some of our overflow items that we tend to buy in bulk.  The bottom to shelves are for all of our kitchen appliances.  Then we have snacks, pasta and rice, baking items, and serving ware going up.  On the small shelves on the left are mostly cans and some snack food.

Overall I was thrilled with the results and I think the biggest thing to prove that it was a success is that it still looks good and neat almost 5 months later!  The shelving system cost about $300 which is a little pricey for my typical projects.  But, I think it has proved well worth it!  I can’t say exactly, but I’d guess it’s already paid for itself in keeping us from wasting food.

Everyone who know me, knows I’m not much of a cook and I really struggle getting a homemade meal on the table each night for dinner.  Having a neat and tidy pantry has made it so much less stressful.  I can come home and quickly see what we have to put together a meal.  It doesn’t matter if you have huge walk-in pantry, or just a few cabinets designated for food storage, if it’s not well organized, I would HIGHLY encourage you to take an afternoon to clean it up.  You’ll be glad you did!

Welcome

Welcome to my blog!  I’ve been thinking about starting this for a long time and I’m excited to finally be jumping in. I’m still trying to get the hang of how the website works. But, I wanted to at least get something posted!  Please be patient with me as I continue to tweak the look and feel of the blog as well as add content and get it all organized how I want.

Even though I don’t think this is the direction my blog will normally take, I wanted to share the article below. It’s a fantastic article about “having it all” that I’ve read a couple of times. The author’s perspective/situation is a bit extreme. Nevertheless, I think almost all working moms can relate on some level. It is not short but, I’d encourage EVERYONE to read it if you haven’t before.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

I’d love to write more and include some of my thoughts on the article. But, I’m knee-deep in the WordPress “Getting Started Guide.” So, maybe next time…