Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Make a Tie Dyed Cake

I've been having a lot of fun with cake lately :D I've recently learned a really easy (though sometimes time consuming) technique that makes the inside of your cakes really fun. You can use this to make zebra striped cake, camo, or tie dyed.

For tie dyed cakes:

First, mix up your favorite white cake batter. The colors turn out a little better if it's a true white cake, but I tried it with a white cake recipe that uses egg yolks and it still turns out awesome.

Divide your batter evenly into six bowls (or however many colors you'd like - for camo, divide into two bowls, either vanilla and chocolate or dye the batter the two colors you'd like to use). Dye each batter the desired color.

Then add to the pan. For rectangle/square pans:

You really just get to be creative :) Take about 1/4 cup of batter and start plopping it around. Once all your batter is added, gently jiggle the pan to even it out.

For round:

Take about 1/4, start with one color and pour directly in the middle of the pan. Add the second color directly on top of that, alternating until all batter is added. Gently jiggle to even out.

Bake according to your recipe's directions, and you end up with something like this :D

(btw the colors are much brighter than this picture shows. Really pretty!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Baby Turns 9

9 years ago today was one of the most terrifying days of my life. I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter, and was told that she would have to be delivered in order to save both our lives.

Since then, she has far exceeded every expectation I've ever had. She's such a strong, intelligent, independent, beautiful little girl. My heart bursts every time I look at her :)

Happy birthday to our little peanut princess!!!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

DIY Fruit Wash

I don't always have the time to prep my fruit, but I really try to as often as possible. I love for my family to be able to just open the fridge drawer and have a big pile of fruit ready to eat. Especially now that we are all trying to be a bit healthier (and now that it's summer and all the yummy fruit is in season we are buying even more!)

But I don't love all the potential nasties that can be covering the fruit. There are all kinds of fruit washes you can buy if you want something a little tougher than plain water. But really, you can do it yourself with a little of that magical vinegar and a sinkful of water.

Most sites I've been to suggest a 3 to 1 ration of water to vinegar and that always works great for me. I was nervous at first that the fruit would pick up the vinegar and it would ruin the taste, but so far that hasn't been the case.

I run a sink of water, add the vinegar, and then dump in the fruit. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then rinse under cold water, rubbing the fruit as you do.

The first time I did this I was shocked that I could actually FEEL whatever it is that is on the fruit washing away beneath the water. Especially on apples. I think it's the waxy substance they add to them to make them shiny. Whatever it is, it's NOT something I want my family to be eating.

(Strawberries soaking)

(What the water looks like after the strawberries soaked for 10 mins)

I usually lay the cleaned fruit out on paper towels to air dry for a minute while I get another batch going and then stack it up in the fruit drawer in the fridge.

My fruit lasts soooo much longer this way. So I don't worry about stocking up because I know it will last (though fruit goes pretty quickly in this house no matter what lol). Berries especially were a problem, going soft and mushy within a day or two. But after prepping with like this, they last...well, I'm not sure exactly how long they'll last as my kids don't let them sit long, but I've yet to have to toss any when before I'd have to throw away at least a few.

If your family stocks up on fruit like we do, this can be a little time consuming, but sooo worth it in the end. And if you buy smaller amounts, this really only takes 15 minutes or so. Definitely worth it!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

DIY Ant Repellents

I'm fairly sure that my house is being supported by nothing but ant hills. I've actually seen two of them near my front steps *shudder* This is concerning in and of itself, but it's also a pain because the little buggers get inside the house no matter what I do or how clean the house is (and ha! Let's face it, a house with kids is rarely sparkling clean).

But with the kiddos and pets running around, I really don't like spraying poison. So I googled around and found a few natural solutions.

1. Citrus
Ants supposedly don't like citrus, lemon in particular. So, if you mix one cup of lemon juice with four cups of warm water and then wipe the mixture on counters, cupboards or wherever they are a problem. This is supposed to keep them away as they don't like the lemon scent

2. Cinnamon
Again, ants supposedly don't like the scent so if you dust cinnamon along problem areas it should get rid of them. This one I have tried (in very small areas). I do think it helps and it does smell much nicer than poison, however I don't like having trails of brown dust all over the place. I've also mixed it with water to make a paste and shoved it in cracks where I've noticed ants coming out and that wasn't quite as bad.

3. Baby powder
Supposed to work like the cinnamon. Just sprinkle it around problem areas.

4. Vinegar
Ah, another use for the magic that is vinegar. Mix this stuff 1:1 with water and spray on ant trails. I've also seen some people suggest adding a tablespoon of peppermint oil to the mixture.

5. Borax
There is a slightly more elaborate solution that apparently works really well. I found it at The Happy Housewife. You'll need 1/2 cup sugar, 1 1/2 cups Borax, 1 1/2 cups warm water, and some cotton balls or cloth. Head to her blog for full instructions but she had a lot of success with this method so it's worth checking out.

Monday, June 2, 2014

How Do You Find the Time?

I have lost track of how many people have asked me how I find the time to write. The answer is easy….I just do. It’s a struggle. It’s not easy. There are some things I have to sacrifice. But it is doable. And since my kids are now both in school, it's gotten a bit easier. I can treat it more like a "real" job (more on that below).

These are a few things I do to find the time to write, but many of them can apply to anything you need to make time for in your life.

1. Carry a notebook and pen, a recorder, laptop, etc.
One thing I noticed about myself is that even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. Story ideas, conversations between characters, ideas for scenes…these are always running through my head. I tend to get epiphanies when I’m in the shower or doing the dishes. I may not have time in the middle of a load of dishes to rush to my computer and write a scene the moment it occurs to me, but if take a second to jot down a few notes, then I have something to work on when I can sit down at my computer. This both saves me the frustration of trying to remember something I really wanted to include in my book (because my memory is SHOT nowadays) and saves me precious minutes of think time when I am in front of my screen.

2. Get chores and errands done in a timely manner.
This is an ongoing struggle lol But I do try ;-) If I can get my household chores and errands completed early in the day, then whatever spare moments present themselves can be used to write. I can concentrate on my story instead of feeling guilty that I should be doing dishes or laundry instead.

3. Treat it like a job.
This is easier said than done. Working from home has its perks, for sure. But it also has its drawbacks. There are a lot of distractions. The kitchen is RIGHT THERE. The t.v. is RIGHT THERE. There is no boss making sure I don't play online all day long. Other people assume because I'm home all day, I can take off whenever I want or that I'm not actually doing stuff. But I am. My job takes a lot of time. And if I don't treat it like the actual job it is, it doesn't get done (unless I stay up all night, and the older I get, the harder it is to keep those vampire hours) :-) So, I have to keep on top of things, stay organized, make goals, meet my deadlines, and get my projects done whether I feel like working or not. It's not always fun, but it's always worth it in the end.

4. Prioritize your activities
We all have spare moments in the day. What we do with those moments is what is important. If you truly want to find the time to write (or do anything else), you have to be willing to sacrifice. I have a lot of television shows that I love. I love to read. I play the piano and cross-stitch. I have children that want to play with their mommy (although I would like to note that time with my children is NOT something I sacrifice in order to write).

This is where the whole "treat it like a job" comes in. I try to keep my work hours contained to when my kids are in school. That means when my kids come home, I can play with them and just be "mommy." Sometimes looming deadlines cuts into this and I have to readjust, but I try to maintain a somewhat regular work schedule.

But sometimes it requires a bit of sacrifice. Sometimes I need to DVR those shows so I can work after the kids are in bed, or I don't get to that new book I wanted to read for a few weeks. It's just a matter of deciding what's more important. And I'd rather sacrifice watching the new episode of Game of Thrones (though thank goodness for DVR!!!) and get some kid time in than sacrifice time with my family to write.

Now, let’s face it, Real Life is going to get in the way sometimes. It’s going to throw carefully crafted schedules right out the window, probably on a daily basis. But it shouldn’t matter. If you want to write (or do whatever it is that you are trying to find time for), you will do it. Find the time. Eat dinner a little faster and use the three minutes you saved scarfing your meal to write a few lines. Carry a recorder around and dictate your book while you vacuum. Scribble on Kleenexes while you wait at the doctor’s with your sick child (just be careful not to use said Kleenex for said sick child’s nose).

The time is there…you just have to find it and use it.

Author Kenneth Atchity said: Every human being has exactly the same amount of time, and yet consider the output of Robert Louis Stevenson, John Peabody Harrington, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury,William Goldman, Neil Simon, Joyce Caorl Oates, Agatha Christie and John Gardner. How did they accomplish what they have? They weren’t deflected from their priorities by activities of lesser importance. The work continues, even though everything else may have to give. They know that their greatest resource is themselves. Wasting time is wasting themselves. When people ask them, “Where do you find the time?” they wonder, “Where do you lose it?”

Friday, May 30, 2014

Soccer Themed Name Letters

Finally finished Little Man's name letters. He had a bit of a hard time deciding what he wanted. At first, he said soccer. But then he wanted Hunger Games themed letters. Wasn't sure what I was going to do for that, but said okay. Then, we found some cool Minecraft stickers so he changed his mind again. THEN he thought Minecraft Hunger Games would be cool...with the Os in his name soccer themed. Luckily, he went back to soccer themed for all his letters. Made life a little easier ;-)

Or so I thought LOL Things are never as easy for me as I assume they will be.

As usual, I found a picture online that I could print out and use as a stencil. I took his letters (which were dark green and brown with dinosaur stickers) and painted them white. And then put my stencil over the letter and started tracing. With a ballpoint pen.

Don't ever do this.

Because if you mess up, you are stuck. This is after five...that's right FIVE...coats of white paint. It was a black ball point, so the black went away but those blue lines...yeah, there was nothing I could do to cover those puppies.

My solution...I decided to paint the Os black. It ended up being a happy accident because the Os ended up looking great breaking up the soccer ball pattern of the other letters.

I went back and forth over adding the soccer ball pattern on the black Os in white, which I think would have looked really cool. But we found some fun 3D stickers and in the end, I think it ended up looking really good :-)

Then, back over to the white letters. This time I traced the pattern in pencil. Worked MUCH better. Black paint for the little inside bits and a fine-tipped Sharpie for the lines and I had some soccer ball-looking letters :D

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chug the Jug

Chug the Jug is my family's new motto :-) We all need to be drinking more water, but this is especially true for my kids, who are active in sports and who will be spending their impending summer vacation playing their little hearts out under the hot sun.

The importance of keeping them hydrated is something that cannot be stressed enough. A little boy on my son's soccer team became overheated during last night's game. It's scary how quickly this can happen. And it's terrifying how serious this can be. The hotter it is, the harder they play, the more important it is to make sure their little bodies are getting all the fluids they need.

While drinking water is extremely important, it's not the only thing they can do to keep hydrated. It's the best way, yes. My family has decided we are all going to start carrying around gallon jugs of water that we can continually sip through out the day. That way we'll always have water on hand and we won't have to worry about refilling a smaller bottle.

But there are other ways to help with hydration as well. Add a few flavor drops to make it a little more palatable for the kiddies. Drinking sports drinks and fruit smoothies is also good. Even eating foods high in water content like fruits and vegetables can help. 

So while you are out playing this summer, make sure to keep everyone good and hydrated!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hero Projects

It's that time of year again....Hero Projects. I like these projects - I like that my kids get to learn about someone that has done something remarkable. It's always inspiring and my son had a lot of fun doing his last year.

But at this age (my daughter is 8) there is only so much they can do themselves when it comes to creating these fabulous projects that they are expected to turn in. Which means Mommy spends a lot of time helping. And for this mommy at least, it's hard to curb my OCD tendencies and let them glue things on crooked and color out of the lines lol

I do, however, want my kids to do as much on their own projects as possible. So, other than manning the hot glue gun and box cutter, my Little Miss was in charge of her project.

With gymnastics being, in my daughter's words, "her life", I wasn't surprised that she chose a gymnast as her hero. She spent weeks researching Nadia Comaneci, coming home excited each day about new facts that she had learned. We discussed what she'd like to showcase for her project and she decided she wanted to make a gym and show Nadia doing all the events.

All righty then :)

We found pictures, typed up all the facts, printed out letters, and Little Miss spent days cutting everything out and gluing them onto cardboard for me to cut out with the box cutter. She said she wanted to display Nadia's name on triangle flags across the top, she wanted her facts on gold and silver medals, and she was very particular about where each and every piece was placed on the display :)

She wanted to show Nadia flying off the bars like in the picture she found.
I just hope the glue holds up lol
It was a very long 4 day weekend and I am still finding scraps of paper and strings of dried hot glue stuck to furniture (and a few body parts) but it was well worth it. My daughter has a beautiful project she worked hard on, and she has a head full of amazing facts about her wonderful hero.

How do you feel about school projects? Do you love them or hate them? Or both? :D

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Father's Day is Coming Soon!

My hubs is like the typical man, I suppose. When it comes to any occasion when he might receive a gift, he likes the usual "manly" things: a new grill, a new fishing rod, tools, that sort of thing. He's also a really great cook, so he often gets cookware and fun kitchen gadgets :)

But homemade gifts are also a hit (especially when the bank account won't quite support that new deluxe grill he keeps fawning over at Sam's Club) ;-)

These are a couple things we've made him in the past:

A collage of the kids fishing with their dad. The kids decorated the mat with special messages and stickers of their daddy's favorite things

I took a photo of our dog that my husband took one afternoon while they were out pheasant hunting. Walmart's photo shop is a fantastic place to play with pictures (they did the collage above as well). I sent it to them, blew it up, had it sent right to the house, and I framed it.

We've also made him video montages, coupon books for hugs and help with chores, and guilt-free time to go sit on a river somewhere :-)

Father's Day gifts don't have to be expensive to be a big hit. They just need to be thoughtful and filled with love :-)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Minecraft Play Set

My son is an absolute Minecraft nut. We have to monitor his time on the computer. In fact, I once told him to get off the laptop he was playing on and when I went back to check on him, he was on the desktop computer watching youtube videos of other people playing Minecraft O_o

We'd also discussed making his new block letters for his name Minecraft themed. Which was harder than I anticipated. So when I came across these at Target the other day, I got a little excited. I figured I could take a few and glue them to his letters and he could play with the rest. Not bad for $10.

Turns out they are probably too big to glue to his letters, but they were actually a lot of fun to put together, and he has been having a blast playing with them :) 

If you have any Minecraft kiddos out there, these are a pretty good buy. They are made from paper, but it's very thick and sturdy, and so far my son has been able to play with them (as roughly as boys tend to do) without destroying anything :)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

We Want Watermelon!!!

I love watermelon. LOVE it. Could eat it all day. In fact, when I was pregnant with my first child I went through a watermelon a day. By myself. It was grand :D Yummmmm :D

So I love to find fun things to do with watermelon. I found a watermelon cake on Pinterest once that looked so beautiful I just had to try it.

You cut the rind off until you had a cake-shaped hunk of watermelon, ice it with whipped cream, and decorate the top with kiwi, strawberries, and blueberries. The picture was gorgeous. Mine...not so much lol Could NOT get the whipped cream to stay on the watermelon. At least it tasted incredible. I did not, however, take a picture because...well, it just wasn't as pretty as I'd hoped ;)

Not Quite Nigella seems to have done a great job though - check out her blog for instructions!

I did come across this little beauty on Pinterest - it's gorgeous even without the cream! And it's a great alternative for anyone who can't have regular cake (or would prefer not to).

Have you done anything fun with watermelon? 

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's a Bundle of Bandits!

I have a new book releasing today! Well, technically it's not "new" and technically it's not just one book. Three of my books have been bundled into one fantastic release.

That's right, it's release day for the bundle of all three Blood Blade Sisters novels!! If you haven't read these yet and you think they look even remotely interesting, now is definitely the time to get them. For a limited time, this entire bundle will be on sale for only 99 cents!! All 3 full-length novels for less than a dollar!!  You seriously can't beat that price :) Don't miss out!! Click here for a sneak peek and links for available retailers.

The Wild West just got a little wilder...

In a time when justice is hard to come by, three unconventional sisters become one notorious bandit - The Blood Blade - robbing from the corrupt lawmen to give back to the innocent.

A Bandit's Stolen Heart Under the persona of the bandit, Blood Blade, Cilla Richardson robs from the corrupt and gives to the poor. But an accidental kidnapping leaves her with a very handsome captive named Leo Forrester... and an idea to save her town.

A Bandit's Broken Heart Determined to make a fresh start with her daughter, widow Brynne Richardson gives up her bandit activities and leaves California for Boston. Working for a handsome doctor fulfills her need to be useful and independent, but he creates another yearning she can't deny. But will he understand when she has to resurrect the Blood Blade?

A Bandit's Betrayed Heart Lucy Richardson's bandit sisters may have taught her to sling a gun and pick a stubborn lock, but nothing prepared her for the agony of her first heartbreak. Her sisters taught her to fight like hell for what she wants... and she wants Finn.

All three books in the Blood Blade Sisters Series on sale for the price of two. Now that's a steal...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Name Letters

When decorating my kids' rooms, one thing I always like to have up on the walls is their name. You can get the block letters fairly cheaply at any craft store, even at Walmart, and decorating is a blast :)

I've seen some pretty elaborate designs and I'd love to try to get a little more fancy, but you can create really cute letters with very little time or money. I just redid my daughter's letters. She did have a princess theme:

These were created very simply by painting the letters in the colors of her choice, and then adding those 3D puffy stickers. A little ribbon stapled to the back and we have a cute set of letters for her wall :)

However, I was recently informed that she is now 8 years old, almost 9, and that means she is a big girl and doesn't want princess stuff anymore :) So, she chose a new color and theme (gymnastics and peace signs, her two favorite things in the world). Again, very simple, just paint and stickers, but they turned out so cute :)

For my stepson's adorable baby, I went a little more elaborate. His nursery is jungle themed, so I printed out a zebra stencil and painted the pattern onto his letters. It's  hard to tell (if I did these again I'd probably alternate designs, making half a giraffe pattern or just polka dots or something) but the A, T, and N are painted brown with white stripes, and the X and O are white with brown stripes. A few jungle stickers and some giraffe print ribbon and Axton's letters were ready to go :)

At the moment, my son has a dinosaur theme. 

He'd like to change his, but he couldn't make up his mind between soccer and The Hunger Games lol So, we are going to combine them (his idea) and make the O's in his name soccer balls and the other letters Hunger Games themed. I'm still working on these, but I'll post them when I'm finished :)

Doing these letters really is a lot of fun, and it's an inexpensive way to jazz up a room. You can get really elaborate with them, either painting more complicated patterns or using wallpaper or contact paper to cover them, add feathers, glitter, jewels, ribbon, or any number of the fun pins/medallions/charms, etc that craft stores carry, to make these really special and one-of-a-kind. Or go simple with a coat of paint and a few stickers and you still end up with something cute to go on the wall.

And what's nice is that these are super easy to redesign when your kiddo decides he or she wants a change. Just peel off the old stickers or materials, repaint, and add new bling. The letters can be up to $8 a piece, depending on the size and style you want. But since you can redesign them over and over, they aren't a bad decorating investment :)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Playing with Pancakes

I've always been a firm believer in having a blast with every holiday or special occasion that comes along :-) A really fun and easy way to make any day special is to make our breakfast pancakes a little extra special :-D

For Easter, we like to make Easter egg pancakes:

These daisy pancakes are fun for the first day of spring. I made these for Mother's Day one year:

(these are really cute with yellow centers but I was out of yellow food coloring so we stuck with white)

For Christmas, we usually do Christmas tree shapes. For Valentine's, pink hearts (of course) :-) I'll sometimes do the kids' initials just for fun. 

For their birthdays, I let them choose what they'd like. One year, my son wanted one that looked like his face LOL 

My daughter chose peace signs and blueberry tie-died pancakes one year:

And butterflies another:

For St. Patrick's Day we usually do gold coin pancakes with green shamrocks. We tried leprechaun hats one year:

But....well, we are sticking with the shamrocks from now on ;-)

And of course, we can't forget May the 4th, that most wonderful of all nerd holidays :D I made these this morning :-D A bit terrifying maybe lol But mostly identifiable and fun nonetheless :D

(Darth Vader and the Death Star)

(the beautiful Princess Leia :-D )

(Another Vader and a slightly better Death Star)

So if you have a fun day you want to make a little extra special, try playing with your pancakes :-) 

Oh, and