Our Strawberry Shortcake took the neighborhood by storm. Since Halloween fell on a Saturday this year AND we had good weather (not too chilly, and no rain!), we hit up more houses for trick-or-treating than we ever have before.
We had to wrestle and totally bribe our owl to even get her into her costume (and to be completely honest, away from her beloved Curious George on TV) but after a house or two, she was totally into it. She never even showed interest in actually eating any of the candy… apparently it was just fun to go up to people’s houses and gather things to put in her basket. She IS our little bag lady and collector, after all, so I guess I should’ve realized that this would be right up her alley.
My mom made the Strawberry Shortcake costume. I bought the leggings and wig on Amazon but the dress and hat were all Grammy. Perfection. So, so cute and she loved it.
Up until about five days ago, we were planning to put Vivienne in a hand-me-down puppy costume. Michael and I were both kind of underwhelmed by it but I really felt like she was going to give us problems wearing a costume (and to be fair, I was right), so I wasn’t particularly motivated to spend time and/or money on a new costume for her if she wasn’t even going to wear it. BUT I didn’t want to look back—or have her look back—at pictures of this Halloween and think that I half-assed it for the poor second child, soooo… Pinterest to the rescue. It took me a few hours over the course of a couple of nights, but I made her cape out of nothing but felt and hot glue (and a couple pieces of ribbon). We had the hat already. WINNING.
On our trick-or-treat outing, she eventually was super enthusiastic about shoving her hands into candy bowls to grab anything and everything. And always ended with an adorable little “tank you!” as we trotted off to the next house. One annoying neighbor stood there for an awkward amount of time, withholding the candy from her. I said trick or treat. He goes, “I’m waiting for her to say trick or treat.” DUDE SHE IS SPEECH DELAYED. And two. For crying out loud. I wanted to kick him in the face. Here I am all proud of her thank yous and this guy is the trick or treat police.
For costumes, it’s always fun to see what Nora comes up with each year. This year was definitely the year of Strawberry Shortcake since it was the theme for her birthday party AND her Halloween costume (just as last year was the year of Frozen). Next year, I’m sure Vivienne will have her own opinion on her costume as well. I’m looking forward to that. :)
Perhaps even more fun than trick or treating for Nora was getting to hand out candy to other kids after we came home. She and her cousin sat at the front door, watching out the storm door as they ate their selected pieces of candy from their haul. So adorable. Fun memories being made, for sure. I love our tradition of trick or treating with all of the cousins!
We tucked the girls into bed an hour or so later than usual, hoping it will help to offset the time change tonight. Because let’s be real, there is no “gaining an hour of sleep” when you have kids. Will it be wrong to put them to bed at 6:30pm tomorrow? HAHA.
As I’m sure you can tell, blogging has taken a major hit for me this year, but especially lately. Life is good, I’m just… living it. Tonight I felt compelled to put something up for the first time in a long time. So… I did. That’s all. Again, I update way more often on Instagram so if you’re on there and want to follow, I’m @heatherkj.
Happy Halloween to all! I can’t believe tomorrow marks the start of November already. I saw something on Facebook a couple days ago that said there are only 9 weekends left until Christmas. How? Maybe I’ll get around to posting a few more times before then. :)
Today was Nora’s first day of kindergarten. She handled it like a champ.
She woke up a little earlier than she has been recently—around 6:30. She came into our room saying that the “Ready Confetti” her teacher had given her worked. “It really helped me!” she said. We snuggled for a few minutes and she said she was excited to go to school.
I had barely slept myself. It took me a while to fall asleep last night, and then this morning, I woke up at 4:30 and could not drift back off. Only about five hours of sleep… and feeling anxious, not knowing how the day would go.
Things happened quickly and over the next hour and a half, we got everything ready to leave. We went outside to take photos. She got annoyed with it quickly (to be expected).
The neighborhood began to come alive with the sounds of other parents and children making their way out of their houses and down the street to the bus stop. It was time. We walked, Nora confidently and excitedly leading the way.
We met up with the bus stop crew and it wasn’t long before the bus was coming down the street. As soon as I saw it, I felt the tears stinging my eyes. I brushed them off, fought them away, annoyed by my own emotions. Nora was holding it together; why couldn’t I?
The bus pulled up to our stop and Nora fell into line behind the other neighborhood kids. I gave her a quick kiss and she climbed onto the bus like it was no big deal. In fact, I had to yell to her to turn around and look at me for a quick photo. The bus driver was a sweetheart, as she made sure to remind Nora to turn, too. She yelled out at us with a smile, “Take your time, get your pictures. I totally get it!”
I lost sight of her as she walked back into the aisle. I waved aimlessly, in case she could see me but I couldn’t see her. She told me later that she sat by the window, but clearly she was on the other side of the bus. The kids were loaded up and it was time to go. The doors shut, the bus pulled away.
The tears flowed.
Vivienne may have sensed my emotions because she insisted on being held by me in that moment, when she almost always prefers Michael (she’s a Daddy’s girl, what can I do?). “Nowa?” her little voice chimed in. “Nora went to school,” I told her. “And you’re not ever allowed to grow up, okay? Just stay this little forever.”
That has, perhaps, been one of the hardest parts of this whole kindergarten thing—at least for me. The fact that Nora and Vivienne will not be together during the days anymore. Vivienne has never known more than a few hours at a time without Nora. She’s never really been without her.
Anyway, I let myself be sad for a few minutes and then I pulled myself together to be excited again. My neighbor friend and I hopped into the car and drove to the school to see the kids off of the bus. Again, I didn’t know what to expect. Did Nora freak out on the bus ride? Start crying? Was she going to be a mess?
She came down the steps like she had been doing it all of her life. Okay then. Good stuff. She was a little disoriented in the crowd so I reminded her that when she gets off the bus every day, she needs to walk inside and find her classroom. I followed her steps and guided her only when she needed it. Soon enough, we were in her classroom and it was time for me to go. I gave her a quick kiss and as I walked out, I turned to look—she never even looked back at me. Girlfriend so had this under control.
In the middle of the day, I got an email from her teacher with a photo of her smiling, playing with some little blocks at her desk. “Having a great first day!” she reported. YES. So good for a parent’s soul to get an update like that on a day like this.
The day CRAWLED. I couldn’t wait to leave work to go pick her up from the after-school program she’s at.
When I did first lay eyes on Nora again, she was standing in a line of students waiting to go outside. I immediately noticed she looked like a zombie. Hot. Tired. And maybe upset? I noticed she was clinging to my leg, something she hadn’t been doing all day.
Eventually, she confessed to me in tears on the way home that she had been missing me. Not during the school day, but after school. She said she got upset and cried because I didn’t come to get her when she expected me to. I know now that she didn’t fully grasp the new routine. When her teacher said at the end of the day that it was “time to go home,” she took it to heart, not remembering/realizing that she had somewhere else to go to spend some more time before she’d be coming home. Poor thing.
But that was our only hiccup. Well, that and the fact that I sent her with apple slices for a snack that apparently “got yucky” due to the crazy heat in the classroom (it was near 90 degrees today and there is no A/C in the school), so her teacher gave Nora her own apple to snack on. (I need to get some of those really thin ice packs, stat.) Oh, and she lost one of her pretty new hair bows. And Michael forgot to put the straw in her Thermos so she “couldn’t figure out [her] cup.” HAHAHA. We told her tonight that we’re all new at this and we’re all learning. We’ll all do better tomorrow, with everything.
Overall, though, the day was a serious success. She says she’s ready to go back tomorrow, and I’m hoping that she’ll adjust quickly to the after-school routine. We celebrated with ice cream.
We’re ready to tackle the second day of kindergarten tomorrow.
Remember when I wrote you on the day before you started daycare? That seems so long ago now, yet just like yesterday. Time is a trickster, because…
Tomorrow, you start kindergarten.
It is so hard for me to believe that you are already entering your school years. No longer a baby at all, just a big kid. This is the stage of life that will now carry you through high school graduation, and that is mind-boggling. Thirteen years ago, I was a junior in college. Your daddy and I had already been dating for more than six months. I remember that time pretty vividly, because it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago. To think that you’ll be heading off to college in that same amount of time is… well, I can’t think about that right now.
It was not an easy decision about whether you should go to kindergarten this year, or wait until next. There were arguments (from others) on both sides, so Daddy and I debated for quite a while. Ultimately, so many signs pointed us in the direction of sending you. We took a leap of faith and registered you last winter. Then we had information night in May, and screening a few weeks later. You took it all in stride, yet I don’t think it seemed real—to any of us.
Yesterday, we went to your school to meet your teacher. Mommy and Daddy went first, by ourselves, to sit in your classroom with all the other parents, to set eyes on the woman who will be responsible for you during the weekdays for the next 10 months. The good news is that she seems lovely. Cute and funny and… she was nervous. It was endearing because I think it means she cares. It’s important to her to make a good impression, for all of us parents to trust her with our precious children. I sat in your tiny little desk chair and found myself fighting back tears through a few parts of the presentation. To think about you being there, doing all of these things they talked about—it was overwhelming for me.
Then we went to get you and brought you back to school with us. Your demeanor changed a bit as we walked into the classroom for the first time. I could feel your nerves. I wondered how this was going to go. For perspective, on your first day of preschool last year, I walked you into your classroom and stayed for a few minutes, taking pictures. You eventually turned to me and said, “Mommy, are you going to go now?” When I said, “Yes,” you said, “Yay!” So I hoped this would be your element. I still hope (for tomorrow). But I also know that kindergarten is perhaps a whole different animal.
We set you to work in your classroom, with the scavenger hunt that your teacher created for the morning. To find different areas and objects in the classroom, to familiarize yourself with it all. You started to loosen up a little bit. We followed your lead, let you make the choices about how long to spend in one place, and where to go next (cafeteria, school bus, library, exploring other areas of the school, back to your classroom, etc.). We ended up back in your classroom no fewer than four times.
When I thought for sure we had seen everything there was to see, you asked to go back to the classroom one more time before we left. I was thinking, “Really?? Again??” but reminded myself that you and I really didn’t have any other place to be. There was no rush. The school was getting quiet, as most students and parents had already come and gone. When we walked into your classroom again, it was just the two of us and your teacher. She invited you to walk around freely and check things out, touch things, ask questions. You took advantage and I swear, during that 10-15 minutes, I felt you grow comfortable. I saw it in your face. I heard it in your voice.
Finally, you told me you were ready to leave to go out to lunch. We told your teacher we’d see her on Wednesday, and walked out of the classroom. In the hallway, you asked me when you could come back. I explained, “The day after tomorrow is your first day of school.” You CHEERED and jumped up and down. “I didn’t know it was so soon!” you said. It was funny because I feel like we’ve been telling you forever, in an effort to prepare you. But something about being there, seeing it, and then being told it was “the day after tomorrow” made it real for you. You’ve been cheering and jumping up and down ever since.
“I have the nicest teacher in the world,” you tell me.
“I can’t believe tomorrow is the first day of school!” you exclaimed repeatedly today.
“I LOVE SCHOOL!”
You asked me 10 times today if it was time to make your lunch for school tomorrow.
You keep recalling the things that your teacher said to you yesterday, keep telling me stories about the stuff in your classroom and the things you’ll do. You’re excited. You seem genuinely ready.
I’m trying to prepare for all of that to turn on a dime tomorrow morning, but I’m really hoping that it doesn’t. As much as I love you needing me, I’m also ready to let you fly. At least a little. (It is “only” kindergarten, after all… not college.)
Tonight, I feel like tomorrow is my first day of school. And I guess it kind of is. I’m letting my heart get onto that school bus in the morning.
I know you can do this. I know we can do this. I just can’t believe that it’s already time to do this. Weren’t you just a tiny baby? Wasn’t I just putting you to sleep with your face in the crook of my neck?
Daddy and I are so proud of the little girl that you are. We can’t wait to watch you grow and soar.
I saw this on a friend’s Facebook page this morning, one who also sent her daughter off to kindergarten. It seems an appropriate way to end. It’s from the wise Dr. Seuss, in Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
You’re off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting… so get on your way.
I love you, Nora Grace. More than ice cream. More than roller coasters. More than vacation. More than the stars in the sky.
Go get ‘em.
With a million hugs and kisses,
As I mentioned in Vivienne’s 2nd birthday post, we decided on a beach theme for her birthday party this year. I figure it’s the last year we’ll really be able to pick for her, and it seemed like it would be cute. Once that was decided and the invitations were ordered, I started browsing cakes. My initial searches focuses on “beach cakes” and I found a ton of ideas that incorporated edible sand. I figured I would be doing something with sand, but I wasn’t particularly inspired by any particular designs. Eventually, I stumbled upon a sandcastle cake and I was sold.
Sandcastles! It was perfect. And I want to share with you how I did it.
Now, if you search Google Images for sandcastle cakes, you get a lot of different variations. I pinned a bunch of them on Pinterest and figured I’d come back to it. And I did… but not until a couple of days before the party, when I was ready to bake cakes! I came up with a loose plan based on some of my inspiration cakes and decided to kind of wing it. I had a bunch of supplies on hand to incorporate—or not. It all depended on how it was going as I went along.
I had every intention of taking photos along the way. I started doing so on “assembly day” (the afternoon before the party), but things quickly got messy—just literally messy, my hands were constantly covered in frosting and “sand”—so the photos unfortunately fell to the wayside. But I’m going to try to do my best to describe and/or illustrate what I did. My kitchen was a disaster. There was a ton of cleanup involved. But overall, this was a pretty easy cake that I think even an inexperienced cake decorator can tackle. (Not saying I’m a professional or anything, but I’ve had a lot of practice over the years.)
So here we go. Let’s start with what you’ll need:
- (2) 9″ cakes and (2) 6″ cakes. (I used three batches of this doctored cake mix recipe. You’ll have extra batter.)
- Buttercream icing (I made a double batch of my favorite Wilton recipe.)
- 1 package of graham crackers
- 1 box of Vanilla Wafers
- Bag of marshmallows (“regular” size, like you’d use for s’mores)
- Chocolate candy melts (your choice of colors)
- Wilton seashell candy mold
- Cake circles
- Cake dowels
I like homemade baking, of course, but for making cakes like this—ones you need to stack, carve, shape, or whatever—I have not found a better solution than the “Durable Cake for 3D Cakes” recipe from Cake Central. Plus, it tastes so much better than regular ol’ box mix. Soooo much better. And as for buttercream, I always stick with the Wilton recipe because that’s what I learned with, and I don’t like to mess with it.
Vivienne’s party was on a Saturday. I baked the cakes on Thursday night. After they cooled, I wrapped them in plastic wrap to store them overnight. On Friday afternoon, Nora and I made the frosting and set up to start assembly.
STEP #1: Make the Edible Sand
Before we started frosting the cakes, I wanted to make sure we had the edible sand ready because I wanted to make sure to stick it to the cake before the frosting crusted over and became less sticky. So we started there. It was really simple: Take out your food processor. Throw in a bunch of graham crackers and vanilla wafers and process. Done.
I liked using the two ingredients in combination—the graham crackers and the vanilla wafers—for the slight variations in color, which is true of real sand. I thought it looked pretty realistic! Adding a couple of chocolate wafer cookies of some kind (not too many!) would probably make it look even better, but I liked my clean, “white” sand, too. :)
STEP #2: Level + Stack the Cake Layers
Now it was time to build this cake. You’ll want to stack your layers—just the matching ones at first. A quick note here: I always level my cakes before stacking. You know the “dome” that bakes on top of your cakes? That’s problematic when stacking. Even if it’s a subtle dome, it can make a big difference in the look and stability of your cakes. You can use a simple serrated bread knife to hack off the dome to give it a flat surface, or if you’re more OCD about it (like me), you can use one of these cake leveler doohickeys. I love mine, I seriously use it with nearly every cake I make.
So once they’re leveled, stack your 6″ cakes together (with a healthy layer of buttercream in between), then the same for your 9″ cakes. That’s where I’m at here:
You’ll see that before I put the 9″ cake on the cake board, I put some wax paper strips down around the edges then stacked the cakes on top (don’t put the wax paper ALL the way under the cake or you’ll have a hard time getting it out from underneath! that’s why you use strips and not one big piece). This is to protect the cake board from the icing so that you’ll get a nice clean look without gobs or smears of frosting on it. Also, in this case, it was critical to have the wax paper there to catch the excess sand as I was decorating.
The 6″ cake is also on a cake circle, by the way. I had some 8″ or 9″ plain cake circles in my stash and I cut one down to a small enough size so that it was just slightly smaller than the 6″ cake itself. That way, it would be easily hidden with frosting once I stacked my cakes.
So that’s where I stopped taking photos. I know, I suck.
STEP #3: Make Cubes to Use as Grooves on Top of Castle
Before you go any further, you should prepare your little squares to make your castle “grooves” on top of the cake. I did not do this at first since I didn’t have a plan—I iced everything and had to work VERY quickly (stressfully!) to make my squares so that my icing wouldn’t crust. I debated over how to make those little grooves at the top and came up with the idea to use marshmallows. But I wanted them more square than round, and wanted them smaller, so I used kitchen scissors to cut marshmallows into rough little cubes. That’s probably pretty self explanatory, but here’s a little diagram.
The dotted lines are my approximate cut lines. Just hack your marshmallows until you get cubes that are roughly the same size. :) Then, spear each of your cubes with toothpicks. Set them aside.
STEP #4: Ice and Stack the Cake Tiers, Add Cubes/Grooves to Top
Next, ice both cakes with your vanilla buttercream. You want to ice both cakes separately (your 6″ two layer cake and your 9″ two layer cake), before stacking your tiers. The nice thing about these cakes is that they’re going to be covered in sand, so you don’t have to be very meticulous with your icing. Just get a good layer on the cakes’ tops and sides and smooth it out a bit.
Now, let’s talk stacking of the tiers. When you have a multi-tier cake like this, you may be tempted to just throw the smaller cake on top of the larger cake. I’ve done this before, actually, in an effort to save time. It’s not worth it, because then I spend the next day—up until I’m cutting into it at the party—worried that the cake is leaning, it’s going to collapse, etc. So don’t just stack ‘em. The cake is really a lot sturdier when you take the time to properly support it. I promise. For this cake, I used four wooden cake dowels to support the second layer. A good, simple tutorial for stacking layers is included within this blog post about making wedding cakes (scroll down and start at “Stacking Step #1″).
Once my cakes were stacked, I touched up the icing and made sure to cover the small gap between the tiers. Now, take the marshmallow cubes on toothpicks and use a butter knife to smear all sides with frosting. You don’t want to glob on the icing too thick because you want them to keep their shape, but get enough frosting on there that it’ll hold the sand. Once covered in icing, stick them onto the cake by pushing the toothpick into the top. This keeps them nice and securely attached to the cake.
STEP #5: Make the Doorway
Oh, and then there was the little “doorway” on the front of the bottom tier. I had to think on the fly for this one. At first, I thought maybe I could build up the icing enough to make the doorway shape out of the icing, but that was not going to work. Funnily enough, Nora was the one who initially suggested using marshmallows. At first, I didn’t think it would work, but then I happened to glance down at my marshmallow scraps. The ones from making my cubes for the top of the cake. They were small and thin and looked like they might actually do the trick. I picked up a few pieces and started rolling them between my hands (like you might do with Play-doh) and made little “snake” shapes with them. Sure enough, they stayed in that shape—didn’t rebound—so I was able to piece together little snake shapes and stick them onto the side of the cake to make the doorway. I again used a butter knife to cover the pieces in frosting.
STEP #6: Cover Everything in the Edible Sand
Now it’s time to get busy with your sand. It’s messy. Very messy. But I simply took my bowl of sand, grabbed handfuls, and then pushed sand onto the sides of the cake with my palms. It takes a few passes to get a good covering, but it goes quickly. Then, for the tops of the tiers, you can obviously just sprinkle sand over it—that’s the really easy part. Use your fingers to apply sand to the sides of your little marshmallow cubes, too. Once you have everything adequately covered in the sand, you’re done!
Carefully pull your wax paper strips out from underneath your bottom layer, which will clear away the excess sand with them. Do any necessary touch-ups (of frosting or sand) along the bottom of the cake.
STEP #7: Add Decorations and Embellishments
As a final step, you can add embellishments if you want. I made chocolate candy seashells using a Wilton mold. Just follow the instructions on the mold or your candy melt package, it’s really easy. Microwave the candy melts, pour/spread the melted candy into the molds, then pop into the freezer for a couple of minutes. Remove and ta-da, you have candy seashells. I positioned them on the cake to decorate it a bit. At one point, I also considered making paper flags to stick into the top layer but ultimately decided against it because I thought the seashells were enough. I’ve seen other versions where people use ice cream cones to make castle peaks on top, so get creative. Do your thing!
Everyone at the party loved the cake, and it tasted delicious, too! And our little girl had a wonderful 2nd birthday party.
AboutI'm Heather. I'm 33 and have been married to Michael for seven years. Together, we have two beautiful little girls we love more than anything, and a miniature dachshund who drives us crazy. I'm a full-time working mom who has very little time for my own "stuff" these days, like home improvement, cooking/baking, cake decorating, and photography. Despite the team not making the playoffs since 1999, I'm STILL a Buffalo Bills fan, which I think speaks to my loyalty AND sense of humor. I can't wait to pick up the pace with travel again some day... you know, when we're done being ruled by tiny fists. Welcome to my blog.
Heather Drive Archives