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


Black Friday Shopping In The Digital Age

November 23, 2007

I’m getting ready to go shopping today: Black Friday it’s called. The day after Thanksgiving where crazy people attempt to jump start their Christmas shopping. I’m only venturing to a few stores, more for the adventure, than the shopping.

I’ve already received two text messages from a friend of mine, alerting me to the sales in our area. It’s a great form of communication. Last year she sent me a text message that the Harry & David store that we love was going out of business –everything was 50 percent off! I didn’t hesitate to get a few great buys from that closing.

Shopping today is so different than it was 10 years, or even five years ago.  Text message alerts, email coupons, online shopping. You don’t have to set foot into a traditional store anymore. Except for days like today, when it about getting out and seeing with your own eyes what’s out there.

Giving Thanks

November 22, 2007

I was emailing back and forth with a friend of mine this week, talking about what we were planning for Thanksgiving. At the end of her last note, she said “we have a lot to be thankful for.” And, we do. We both have kids the same age and are going to see our family this holiday. There’s nothing in the world more important.

So, I’ll be spending the day with my family so my son will get some good family time. We’re making two turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie and Grandma Ople’s apple pie.

Whatever you do today, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

Old School ‘Sesame Street’ vs. New School ‘Sesame Street’

November 21, 2007

I’ve been wondering what happened to the “Sesame Street” that I grew up with. The version I’ve shown my son is very different. All the characters are different: Bert and Ernie are rarely on, and if they are, they aren’t together (did they have a fight? are they not friends anymore?), Grover is second to Elmo and Oscar isn’t quite as grouchy. But the thing that drives me crazy is that Snufolofogous can be seen by everyone, not just Big Bird. Now he’s even called just “Snuffy.” That’s what 30 years does — changes things.

In a recent article in the “The New York Times, ” Virginia Heffernan explains all of the changes that “Sesame Street” has gone through. It’s interesting to read about some things that you never expected were bad for you. Remember when Cookie Monster used to have a pipe, then eat it? Gone.

The timing about the old episodes is because the DVD is now out, titled “Sesame Street: Old School.” Yup, we’re old school. Elmo didn’t exist. I just learned that he’s been around for more than a decade. He’s now the most popular character among pre-schoolers. Back in the day (um, that’s old school) Grover was the popular one. Now, he barely gets a scene.

Go ahead, read the article, learn how evil “Sesame Street” used to be. As a grown up, who watched Sesame Street as a kid, I think some of the changes are overblown, but as a parent to a toddler, I’m very cautious about what my son watches and I can see why some areas of the show have been changed. I wonder what version of “Sesame Street” my grandchildren will watch: I suspect it will be something about that Mr. Noodle guy.


Grover and Elmo

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.