January 18, 2011

This might be my favorite cake

For my nephew's 5th birthday party, my sister and I made him a cake.  Gavin wanted Cat in the Hat, so we delivered.  The cake turned out so great!  This was the first cake we've ever decorated with an airbrush set.  I felt like I was on Cake Boss.  :-)

Using the airbrush was easy.  The colors went on fairly even and, for the red stripes anyway, spraying the color was more effective than mixing red food coloring into fondant and cutting out the stripes.  We used ribbon to "tape off" the stripes and then outlined them with a black food color marker.

Gavin's party was at the Olympic Fun Center in Hermitage, PA.  It's similar to a Chuck E. Cheese because it has arcade games and a play area, but it also has a laser tag area, a roller rink and party rooms.  The party rooms must have been painted in the late 80s or early 90s because they are all bright yellow, orange and green.  It's a little wild as far as decor goes, but the colors made a fun, colorful backdrop for the cake.

The cake was very tall.  I think it was over two feet high.  It was also very heavy.  Cake weighs a lot!

And, what would a birthday party post be without a picture of the birthday boy?

 Gavin & Pokey

Happy Birthday, Buddy!

January 12, 2011

Something to Stare at When Staring at the Wall

While we do have some artwork and prints on the walls, we also haveve a few bare walls throughout our home.  Most of our artwork has been obtained from Goodwill stores, yard sales and auctions.  We also have a few wedding photos framed and hung in a few different rooms.  I have lots more wedding photos I would love to use, but let's face it, we don't need a million photos of us hanging up everywhere.

I found out on Dealnews.com (best site for bargains--check it out!) that AllPosters.com is having their semi-anual clearance sale with up to 75% off select items.  They have lots of art prints on sale in addition to posters.  I'm thinking of ordering a few prints for our various bare spots in our house.  Shipping is free with a $14.99 or more purchase, so it's a good deal all around. 

Here are some I'm thinking about:

This one would look nice in the office or event the bathroom.

I think this could work in our living room or maybe even our bedroom.

This would be a nice image to stare at while I'm crafting in the office.

And, I really think this would work well in our bedroom.


So, check out the sale if your looking for some new art.  With the low prices, you could pick up some thrift store frames and have some very inexpensive, great-looking art for any room in your house.

January 9, 2011

A special birthday cake

My husband's birthday is a few days before Christmas.  Because of the holidays and the last minute shopping, wrapping and cookie baking, it's the unfortunate truth the his birthday isn't always celebrated to the extent it should be (I'm a bad wife, I know!)  I wanted to turn that around this year.  He deserved a proper birthday and I was set on delivering.

For starters, I let him pick the restaurant for a birthday dinner.  He chose a high-recommended steak house on Pittsburgh's North Shore, so I made the reservation.  Dinner was amazing!  We both loved our meals (filet mignon and crab cakes) and the restaurant had a great atmosphere.

For another part of his birthday celebration, I decided to make him a cake.  I always feel bad that I make other people cakes, but have yet to make a fun birthday cake for him.  I asked him what he wanted (something simple--white cake, coconut filling, buttercream, no fondant and Pitt) and got to work.  Here is the end result:

I thought the Pitt logo in the school colors would be perfect.  He really liked how the cake looked, but I think he liked how it tasted even better.
If you want to try the coconut cream cheese filling, here's my recipe.  This has quickly become a favorite for cakes I'm making for family and friends.  It is so good!

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting/Filling


  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut flavoring
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Beat the cream cheese and butter in a mixer bowl until fluffy. 
  2. Add the confectioners' sugar, one cup at a time, alternating with heavy cream. 
  3. Beat in the salt, coconut flavoring and vanilla. 
  4. Beating until mixture is smooth. 
  5. Add additional confectioners' sugar if necessary to thicken the frosting, or more cream to thin.

January 3, 2011

Time to pick up the sticks

I know a couple of ladies who will be having babies in the next few months.  My go-to gift has become knitted baby blankets.  I just bought some yarn and I'm anxious to start on my favorite blanket pattern.  The next blanket I'll be making is for a boy.  After using a non-traditional tweedy yarn in a taupe color for a recent baby girl blanket, I really think stepping outside of the pastel pink, blues, yellows and greens makes for a unique, heirloom-quality piece. 

The mom-to-be mentioned her nursery theme and said there were different shades of blue in the palette.  When I was out shopping at Pat Catan's, I came a cross this yarn in a really mutted shade of blue.

I really like the color and the feel of this yarn.  I really think the color will transition well from infant age through the terrible two's and beyond.

So, now I just have to locate my #9 circulars and get started.  I think her due date is in April, so the shower has to be right around the corner.

January 2, 2011


Merry Christmas to me!  One of my Christmas presents from my husband was a the iPhone 4.  I thought I needed to upgrade my 3G, but didn't want to do it around the holidays.  Spending the extra money this time of year just didn't make sense.  I didn't ask for an upgrade, but Chris is pretty awesome for picking this up for me.  He was super sneaky and wrapped it in an alarm clock box, which I also asked for.  I was very surprised.


I am in love with the retina display, 5-megapixel camera (which should improve some of my on-the-fly shots I take for the blog), and the HD video capabilities.  And, Angry Birds is so much better on the iPhone 4!

January 1, 2011

A Clean Slate

2011.  It's really hard to think that 2010 is already over.  While the past year brought many wonderful moments, there were also some less-than stellar experiences.

I may have appeared to be absent from blogging for the last few months, but I remained active in my writing.  After some work and health-related issues caused me to feel defeated and withdrawn, and probably slightly depressed, I discovered the beauty of making blog posts "private" from the eyes of the world.  In a way, I felt guilty for keeping things to myself.  I know there are people, either those who already read or may potentially stumble across this blog, who might relate or be a sounding board for advice and opinions on my struggles, but I also felt that enlisting privacy on my writing gave me a personal therapy release that was more important to my mental well-being.

I've thought about making those posts public, but ultimately feel that keeping them to myself is what would be best for me.  I'm ready to move on from the places my blogging has taken me, so I'm starting 2011 with a clean slate.

I'm not one to make resolutions with the new year.  I like to think of myself as a goal-oriented person.  To me, making a resolution is deciding to make a change.  When you resolve to do something, you change your direction.  When you set a goal, it's deciding to work towards something that will improve your current state.  I think the reason most people fail at their resolutions is because it's hard to change and there is a lot of self-pressure, which can make a resolution quickly turn into a negative.  The good thing about a goal is that they don't have to be finite--you can work towards a goal throughout your entire life.  It doesn't really matter when you meet your goals, just that you see them through.  And, when you set a goal for yourself, you give yourself something to look forward to and it gives you hope.

With my clean slate, I'm going to set some new goals for myself.  Because sharing them keeps me accountable, here are my goals (which are not necessarily goals for the year):

1.  Organize.  I'm not a terribly unorganized person, but I could use some improvement in this area.  Mostly, I would like to organize my craft room/office and our basement.  We've done a good job of keeping a clutter-free house with the exception of those two areas.

2.  Start grad school.  I've always wanted to get my Master's degree and I think next summer or fall would be the time to get to it.  I'm leaning towards taking online courses through the school my husband works for (can you say tuition discount?!?) because I want the flexibility, but I'm also worried that I won't have the discipline.  When I start, I'll probably just start out with one class and see how it goes.

3.  Catch up at work.  The quick and dirty of my work situation is that the company where I worked since college, all seven years of my professional career, closed it's doors on September 30th.   Fortunately, I was able to find a job immediately and was only off work for a week.  There are some aspects of my new job that are foreign territory for me, but I am trying to learn as fast as I can.  The learning curve, along with the to-do list that was waiting for me at the start, has left me to feel like I'm on the defense with my projects.  I want to get to a place where I feel caught up so I can approach my job from more of an offensive perspective.  I think I'll be most effective once I get to that place.

4.  Try new recipes.  I'm always trying new recipes, so I guess this isn't a new goal.  I do, however, want to do a better job of documenting my cooking because I'm always tweaking recipes.  I've always wanted to make a personal cookbook through Blurb or MyPublisher, so I'd have all of my favorite recipes all in one place in a nice, bound book with pictures and notes.

5. Create opportunities to be creative.  I need to make more room in my life for my creative outlets.  Whether it's knitting, scrapbooking, cake decorating, home decorating, writing, singing, sewing or photography, I want to continue to be creative and improve on my skills.  I want to push myself to learn more and to try new things.

6.  Put more into my blog.  I'd love to update the content more often.  I'd love to maybe start a blog just for all of the things I wrote about on private settings.  I'd love to get a blog design makeover.  Oh, and I'd love to finish blogging out our wedding--which can happen now that I got the rest of my photos from my photographer when I picked up my album last week.  I'd also like to be more interactive on other blogs.  I think I follow some great bloggers and I would like to make my presence on their sites a little more known by being a more active commenter.

7.  Read books.  I have a lot of books laying around just waiting to be read.  I pick most of them up at yard sales and thrift stores, so I get them pretty cheap.  Not paying much for them makes me want to buy more and leaves me with no sense of urgency to read them.  I got my husband a Kindle for Christmas.  He really likes it and, no surprise, I like it, too!  I think I want one, but I need to read more to justify it.

So, that's it.  These are the goals I'm putting on my plate, sans deadlines.  But, here's hoping at least some of them can be achieved in 2011.

July 23, 2010

Cake Makin'

The last few months have brought some first, paid cakes for my sister and I.  We have been making cakes for a few years now, mostly for our nieces' and nephews' birthdays, family events and church functions.  Through a few referrals, we've been approached to make cakes for a baby shower, a wedding and a first birthday party.

Last weekend, we baked and decorated the wedding cake and it turned out looking great.  (I was told it tasted good, too!)

The couple wanted a simple, fondant covered cake with purple ribbons.  They wanted it to look similar to the card box they made and they gave use some artificial flowers and petals to use for the display.  

Their cake topper was simple and elegant and a simple cake design complimented it nicely.

The baby shower was back in June and, for the cake, we were just told "it's going to be a boy, so put some blue on it."  He had some fun with it.

The giraffe was modeled from fondant mixed with tylose powder. (a hardening agent)

We also made some iPhone app cupcakes for our oldest sister's May birthday.  She was attending a meeting for app developers on the day of her birthday and made the request for these.  Some of the cupcakes were custom made for apps designed by those in attendance.  They were a big hit!

And I made some floral-themed, fondant-covered cupcakes for Mother's Day.

I'm really excited about the recent business.  We've been wanting to make a cake business/home bakery official for a while and are in the process of making that happen.  I've been thinking of some potential business names and brainstorming some ideas for marketing our services.  The pieces are falling into place!  :-)

July 22, 2010

Adventures in Gardening

I never really showed an interest in gardening until this year.  My parents always had huge gardens and I hated having to help them weed.  To me, gardens always meant too much work.  When we bought the house, I thought it might be nice to try growing a container garden with a couple tomato plants and a few peppers.  I bought some large pots and vegetable-friendly potting soil, then figured I would pick up a few plants the next time I was at Lowe's or Home Depot.

One Friday, when the Mr. and I were at a large flea and farmer's market in Rogers, Ohio, we purchased a flat of vegetable plants for $12.  This was way more plants than what would fit in my containers and pots, but I thought that maybe I could plant a few among the landscaping and see what would happen.  We got Roma and Beefsteak tomatoes, red, yellow and green bell peppers, hot banana peppers, red chili peppers, and one each of  cucumber and zucchini plants.  After thinking it through, and potting a few plants, I asked my dad to use is rototiller to prep a small garden space behind our garage.  I had low expectations for our garden since I did nothing to prep the soil, but I figured it would be worth a shot at growing more plants since I'd only be out the $12.  I still didn't have enough room to plant everything, but I got a nice mix of vegetables in and they started to grow.

I picked up a couple of herbs (basil, parsley & mint) and some more pots and we were well on our way to becoming green thumbs.

Since then, I've seen a lot of growth in my garden.  This hasn't been without a few losses.  We have squirrels and rabbits that created some damage early on, but things are really starting to produce.  I've learned some things along the way and am already thinking about changes I'll make for next year's garden.

Just yesterday, I noticed that our tomato plants are starting to turn.  Check this out!

This is a Beefsteak.

And we are starting to see some color changes in the Romas.

Right now, in all of my bell pepper plants, I have four tiny peppers.  There are lots of flowers, so we are expecting a few more.

The banana peppers are really taking off!  I have already picked two of them and there are lots more on the way.

So far, we've only had one zucchini, but I know these plants are big producers.  We are expecting lots and lots more!

And lastly, here are some chili peppers growing nicely in one of my pots. 

I don't have pictures of my cucumbers, but they are super small right now (about the size of a pinky finger).  The basil and mint is also doing well in the pots.  The parsley, sadly, was lost due to bunnies.

For the garden, I laid some black plastic to eliminate my need for weeding.  So far, it has served me well, but I will have to watch my plants closely as we enter into the hotter months to be sure the roots aren't suffering from heat damage.  I might try mulch next year.

It looks like we are going to have lots of ripe, red tomatoes soon and that makes me pretty happy!  I figured I'd be lucky to get a few veggies and it looks like I'll be getting a decent amount.  I'm also really excited about the hot peppers.  I love hot peppers!

July 12, 2010

The Big Kitchen Reveal

I'm sorry if I teased you with a sneak peek of our little kitchen and then slacked off with posting some more pictures.  The good news is that today is your lucky day!  We had an open house with a small group of family and friends on the Fourth of July and I finally got the kitchen/dining room looking presentable and somewhat decorated.  So, that means there are some pictures to share with you!

First up, let's not forget where we've been:

A kitchen in this bad of shape left little to be desired.

And paneling so ugly, it had to be removed.  Heck, this entire wall needed to go.

The tiny dining room seemed so dark and cramped.  That paneling wall is what's on the other side of the fridge photo above.

And carpeting in the kitchen?  Very bad.  This whole space was very bad.  The only answer was to completely gut and start over.

So, we got to work.  On demolition day (back in August of 2009) we started the transformation.

Goodbye paneling wall!  That's my dad getting down to business. Notice how bad the floor was under the carpeting.  We found a layer of tile under the carpet, which was applied directly on top of our hardwood with some type of tar glue.

The cabinets all came down, along with all the paneling.  (Chris' mom got in on the demolition action.)  Nice hole in the ceiling, huh?  Turns out, the previous owner had some plumbing problems in the upstairs bathroom and whoever she contracted to fix it just hammered a hole in the ceiling to access the pipes.  She patched it herself by placing cardboard from a pizza box in the hole and covering it with what we believed to be spray foam.  That was a fun discovery.  

And then, with the wall down and the paneling gone, we got to work chiseling the tile off the hardwood.  

Over the next several months, our kitchen received new drywall on both the walls and the ceiling.

My father-in-law installed a bulkhead.

And then he started to install our cabinets and counter tops.

The floor in the kitchen was tiled and Chris and I sanded and refinished the hardwood in the dining area (and everywhere else in the house!)

And I got busy painting the cabinets, which were purchased on eBay.  Thanks to Edie at Life in Grace, I was inspired by how great painted cabinets can look!

Things started to fall into place after we painted the rooms, installed subway tile and had appliances delivered.

Thanks for hanging with me!  Sorry to drag this on, but I thought you might appreciate the next series of pictures more if you saw what all was done to get it looking this way.

So, here goes!  Our ugly little kitchen was transformed into a bright, beautiful space.  We still have some more to do, but for now, I am in love!

Being that Chris & I are both tall, having a refrigerator with a bottom freezer made a lot of sense.  We love it! Having our food at eye level is super convenient.  

The subway tile turned out great!  I was a little worried about white tile with white cabinets, but I'm so happy we went this route.

Here's a close-up of the tile job.  My father-in-law did a great job.

With the wall removed between the kitchen and dining room, the space is much more open and bright.  I'm a huge fan of the poppy and aqua color combination made popular by Martha Stewart.  I really like how the white kitchen really makes the little red and blue accents pop.

I love my little "baking center."  The shelf was purchased at Cracker Barrel, of all places.  I bought it when we stopped for breakfast on our way to Cleveland to get the eBay cabinets because I loved the color.  I'm still debating what to hang on the wall on either side of the shelf.  I may try and pick up some red-handled antique kitchen utensils. 

I hang my measuring spoons and baking utensils from the hooks on the sides.  My flower sifter is on the top and the mason jars, given to me by my mother, hold our flour, oatmeal and powdered sugar. Cupcake liners and cookie cutters are stashed in the drawer.  I keep sprinkles in the jars next to the sugar tin, which was a Hobby Lobby clearance steal at $1.80!

The cupcake print was purchased on sale at Joann's.  It came in that frame and I only paid $7.99.  I love how the colors coordinate with other decor elements in the room.

Our built-in shelf, which was a window at one point long before we owned the house, still needs a little decorative assistance.  For now, it displays my serving dishes and a few plants given to me by my sister out our open house.

Those baskets are great for hiding the little stuff I don't use very often, like our gravy boat, sugar & creamer set and some candles.

On the opposite side, I have a small shelf and a mirror made from an old window.  You can kind of see our dishwasher (black part of the peninsula counter).  I was part of the eBay kitchen and we made an offer on it while we were there removing the cabinets.  I'm so happy we have a dishwasher!  (Who wouldn't be, right?) It seems to blend in well because it's black, but one day I hope to replace it with a stainless model to match the rest of the appliances.  For now, it works and doesn't look too bad.  That's good enough for me!

The mirror was purchased at Goodwill for $5.  I bought the shelf at a yard sale for $2 and painted it.  It's the perfect size for this space and gives us some much needed storage for glassware and a couple serving pieces. This wall still needs some more decorations.

Just for the fun of it, here is the shelf before I painted it.  Paint is like a magic wand.

Here's a good shot of our light fixture, with the lights out for a better look.  It was purchased at Lowe's and installed by me.  Electric work is a little scary, but you can do it!  Just be sure to kill the circuit breaker!  The artwork in the dining area (can I call it a dining room?) is also from Joann's.

And here are our floors!  A tremendous amount of hard work was put into these, but it was worth the effort!  I'm still amazed by how good the wood looks.  I was so discouraged when we saw the tile beneath the carpet.  My dad told me the sander would make it better.  He was right!  The kitchen tile is ceramic and we chose it in a slate color to coordinate with the counters.

My kitchen makes me so happy!  Lots of cakes and cupcakes will be made here!  

We moved into our house in April.  I told you I was a big slacker with posting pictures!  Although, hanging stuff on the walls was one of the things we didn't do until last week, after deciding to host the open house.   I think that after patching so many holes, we were a little hammer shy when it came to putting any new nails in the walls.  It's amazing how hanging a framed print or some curtains can really dress up a space and make it look more finished.

Things we still have to do in this space include:
  • Find a corner hutch for the dining area
  • Add some more decorative elements for the walls and shelves
  • Finish sewing the curtains for both windows.  I bought some aqua-ish blue fabric, but ran out of time before the open house.
  • Purchase new stools and dining chairs.  The current stools were picked up by Chris' mom at a rummage sale and the dining table and chairs came from my parents' neighbors.  Er, umm...from my parents' neighbors' junk pile on neighborhood clean-up day.  Yeah, that's how we roll!

And, here's a little breakdown on some of the details:
  • Cabinets - purchased on eBay (I won the auction by 3 cents!) and painted with Ace Hardware's Cabinet and Trim paint in Contemporary White.  (This paint is amazing!  Our cabinets have a smooth, brushstroke-free finish.)
  • Appliances - All from Sears.  The fridge is LG and the stove and microwave are Frigidaire Gallery.
  • Paint - Walls are "Linen" and trim/shelves are "String of Pearls".  Both are by Valspar from Lowe's
  • Subway tile back splash and ceramic floor tile - Home Depot
  • Light fixtures - Lowe's

Thanks for checking out this extremely long and picture-heavy post!  I'm super proud of all the hard work we did and of how we were able to complete the whole project on a limited budget.  Our only splurge was the stainless appliances, and I think they were worth it!  Of course, we would never have been able to do all of this alone.  Our parents, especially Chris' dad, were amazing in helping with everything!

I'm planning on doing some posts very soon on my little vegetable garden and also on the buffet of mini desserts I put together for the open house.  So, stay tuned for yummy treats! And, of course, I'll have to get around to taking some photos of the rest of the house.  


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