Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

To Bake or to Buy? Should You Make or Buy the Birthday Cake?

November 26, 2007

Editors note: I recently moved my blog to a new server. You can find this same post (and all my others) at the new location:, where I post daily.

For my son’s second birthday I struggled with whether or not to make the cake myself. Last year it was an easy decision: You need something special for the first birthday. I need to make the cake, I thought. Months before the event, I took a cake decorating class. Not knowing that I had to bake and frost a cake every week for a month, I endured the class and learned the basics of how to frost a decorative cake.

The night before my son’s first birthday I was up past midnight, with yellow icing up to my elbows. It was worth it. (The wine helped.) The cake turned out so cute and I was very proud.

This year, I wanted to do that same thing. We matured from a duck cake to a car cake. He loves cars so how could I not make a cake in the shape of a car? If you’ve never made a specialty cake before, it takes a lot of work. And I mean a lot of work. And, it’s not that it’s cheaper than a store-bought cake. Even though I had all the supplies and I’d already purchased the cake mold a few months ago, I was still dreading the baking and icing of the cake. Shouldn’t I just call Publix and order the Disney Cars cake?

I was about to make the call, but finally decided that I wasn’t going to let myself fail. I want to make this cake and have him point to it and say his favorite word, “car.” So, I forged ahead; made a plan, baked and frosted that cake. Even as I was making it, I made mental notes to think twice about doing it for birthday number three.

Finally, it is complete. The little blue car cake is sitting on the table in all it’s splendor. It is adorable. The kids love it, the adults are impressed and Mommy feels great for doing something special for her son’s second birthday.


  • Take a class at your nearby craft store. It really helps to learn the techniques to make the perfect cake.
  • Make all your frosting several days before you are ready to decorate. Store in air tight containers.
  • Make extra, white frosting. You might need to dye it for a color you didn’t plan on needing.
  • Buy the specialty gel coloring dyes; regular food dyes only make pastel icing.
  • Bake the cake a day before you want to frost it.
  • Keep a bowl of water on the table to clean the icing tips and to use on your frosting spatula to smooth the surface of the cake.
  • Frost a layer of “flat” icing before you pipe the star shapes.
  • Leave plenty of time to frost the cake. Do it the night before or early, early in the morning, depending on the time of your party.


car cake


Travel Tips For Long Car Ride With a Toddler

November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving is upon us which means long car rides to grandma’s house. This weekend is the busiest travel weekend of the year.

“AAA estimates that 38.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday.”

OK, so I’m going to be on the road with nearly 39 MILLION other people. This requires planning. Luckily I’m experienced in traveling with a toddler since we’ve taken several long car trips with our now 2-year-old son. Here’s what I do to make the trip go easier:

  • Travel during nap-time. This will easily cut 2-3 hours of having to entertain the child.
  • Back seat is best. Sit in the back with the child. This seems so “Leave It to Beaver,” but I find it’s easier to entertain my son if I’m next to him. When I’ve tried sitting in the front seat, I just end up turning by body around as if I’m playing a game of Twister.
  • Plan frequent stops. If your journey is longer than 3 hours (we’ve maxed out at 10 hours), plan to stop every two hours: Even if it’s only for a 10-minute potty break. While one parent is “occupied” let the other parent change the diaper, then let the child run around. By simply stretching and getting a clean diaper, you will elongate the happy mood back in the car.
  • Pack things to do. Bring a portable DVD player. I’ve mentioned before that we don’t really watch TV with our son. The main exception to this is on car trips. While he’s yet to watch a full-length movie, I do pack several short DVDs. On our 10-hour trip, however, I was wishing for that full-length movie DVD. Bring books – lots of books. We read and reread all the books that I bring.
  • Pack food – very important. Pack a cooler that sits in the backseat with you, but out of reach of your toddler. I pre-pour sippy cups with milk, juice and water so that I’m not in a position to become a bartender in the back of a moving car. Snacks are key too. – things that your child will eat. On our last trip I made the mistake of bringing a box of iced bakery cookies and putting in the sunny front seat. When snack time came, I grabbed a cookie from the box, the icing had melted and dripped all over me and my seat. Of course, my son had to have a cookie since he saw me trying to eat one. It was a mess. Note to self: pack only non-messy snacks like pretzels, goldfish and teddy grahams.
  • Stop to eat meals. It’s a great excuse to get out of the car. If you eat fast food, you can go to a place that has a play place to let your kid run around. If you pack your own food, go to a rest stop that has a big open field. Toss a ball around or just play chase. Get that energy out.
  • Pack his favorite things. Blanket. Check. Teddy bear. Check. If your child uses a paci, by all means put that on the top of your list.
  • Install sun shades before you get on the road. I’ve tried a couple different varieties of these and prefer the ones that clip to the top of the window. I just can’t get the suction cups to stick to the windows. And, don’t get me started on the plastic ones that “stick” to the window. You’ll be thankful for shade when your child is happily sitting in his chair when the sun would otherwise be blasting him in the face.
  • Forget the “rules” and just go with the flow. Do what works. It’s a car ride. Enjoy the time. Look out the window. Point out the trees, the clouds and all the trucks you see. Plan to get to your destination when you get there, leave the clock watching behind.

Turkey Hot Line and Apple Pie — MMM-MMM Good!

November 14, 2007

What is happening to the month of November? Thanksgiving is next week. NEXT WEEK! It’s early this year, which means the Christmas season starts a week early too. Already, a house on my street is decorated for the holidays: green garland is up on the porch railings and the lights are strung around the roof of the house. Wasn’t it just Halloween? Don’t people take the time to celebrate Thanksgiving?

I’ll be making my Grandma Ople’s apple pie this Thanksgiving, even though I have no idea who Grandma Ople is! Several years ago I found the recipe on my favorite recipe Web site: I made the pie and it’s amazing. It drips with caramel sauce so silky that your mouth waters just looking at the finished pie. So, this year, for the first time, I’m going to make it for my entire family. Here’s a link to the recipe so you can try it too.

If you are like me, you don’t know a lot about making a turkey; Butterball turkey company started a hotline for people like us. Every year on Thanksgiving (and Christmas) Butterball opens a “Turkey Talk-Line” for newbie turkey cookers to call when in a turkey crisis. You can imagine the types of questions they get; Associated Content decodes three of the most unusual calls the company has had.

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Inspirational ‘Love Notes’ For Teens

November 12, 2007

Editors note: I recently moved my blog to a new server. You can find this same post (and all my others) at the new location:, where I post daily.

The art of letter writing is dead; you practically have to go on “Survivor” or “Big Brother” to get letters from home. Recently I learned of a teen retreat where the kids would be given letters written by family members, telling him/her how much he/she is loved. They were deemed, “love notes” for the teens.

Read the full post here.

What’s On Your 5-Minute List?

October 24, 2007

People that are being evacuated, 900,000 by some reports, from the wildfires in California are being told to do so immediately. They are told to leave their homes, and everything in them. They aren’t given time to think about what to bring with them. It’s gotten me thinking, what are the things I would bring if I had to pack up and only had 5 minutes to do so. Here’s my list:

  1. People
  2. Pets
  3. Personal objects
  • Wallet/Purse
  • Documents — we keep important papers like insurance information, a video DVD of our possessions, and other key papers in one place
  • Journals – these aren’t replaceable. Simply not replaceable. They chronicle my life and are a really important part of my life as a writer. These are very high on my list.
  • Jewelry — hopefully, I’m already wearing my wedding rings. But I’d also like to take a few other sentimental and/or valuable pieces of jewelry. Pieces that came from my mother, grandmother and one from my great grandmother.
  • Favorite toy — my son doesn’t really have a favorite toy, not yet, but I’m sure he will one day. One that will be worn and loved.
  • Computer hard drive — we backup our computer onto a small, external hard drive that includes all of our work and photos.
  • Wedding album

I think I could grab all of the above in 5 minutes, at least I hope I could. Melody Hobson, “Good Morning America’s” Financial Contributor was on this morning taking about what you should take. Her suggestion for what to take in a disaster can be summarized like this:

  1. Photo ID
  2. Copy of recent utility bill. Hobson says it is the universal proof of residence. Unlike a driver’s license, which doesn’t require updated addresses.
  3. Cash.
  4. One credit card.
  5. Take photos or record a video diary before you leave your home.
  6. Important documents — “birth certificate, wedding certificate, stock certificate or mortgage papers, should all be stored in a safety deposit box at a bank.”

The unfortunate fires in California are giving residents a huge challenge as they not only try to survive the current situation, but as they eventually will try to rebuild their homes and their lives. Let it be a motivator to the rest of us to get our homes in order and prepare for the worst. Ask yourself this question: What’s on my 5-minute list?