Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fall Housecleaning Hacks

With the advent of fall comes – what else? – fall cleaning. It’s the time to wash and put away the summer clothes, bring down the boxes of fall clothes, and deep clean the house. So in the spirit of fall cleaning, here are a few household “hacks” that I’ve picked up over the years.

Easy Steaming
The worst part of bringing out next season’s clothes is ironing out the deep creases that come from being packed in a box for months. But why iron when you can steam? Most people are familiar with the trick of steaming wrinkles out of clothes by hanging them in the bathroom and running a hot shower. But there’s an even easier way to steam out wrinkles – in the dryer! Any clothes except those made from the most delicate fabric can be “pressed” in the dryer by tossing them in with a damp towel for 10 minutes or so. Take each item out, give it a good shake, smooth it out with your hands, hang it up, and voila! It looks like you just walked out of the dry cleaners. And you can steam a bunch of clothes at the same time; just add another damp towel or two.

Let It Soak
I always make sure that last season’s clothes are super-clean and stain-free before I pack them away. OxyClean is great for spot stains, but what about those yellowed undershirts and stinky socks that need an all-over deep clean? My mom taught me to keep a bucket of water with a few handfuls of Axiom or Biz pre-soak next to the washing machine. Items that need a little boost get thrown into the bucket as soon as they’re taken off, where they can happily soak for several days until the next load of wash is ready. Then just dump the whole bucket, water and all, into the washer, add the rest of the laundry and a regular amount of detergent, and you’re good to go.

An Old Toothbrush: The Miracle Tool
Being a frugal Yankee, my mom saved everything. But she used it all, too. One of her most-used and best-loved re-uses was an old toothbrush. You can use a toothbrush to clean anything from grout, to your fingernails, to those hard-to-reach corners of windowpanes, to sink and tub drains, to the gunk under the setting of your diamond ring, to the dust in the little nooks of your tchotchkes. And the older, more flared, and more broken-down it is, the better it works.

Newspaper in Tupperware
As the weather cools, I tend to cook more comfort food, and in larger batches, so it’s time to break out the Tupperware. You know that weird musty smell that unused Tupperware always seems to have, no matter how carefully you scrub and dry it before you put it away? Toss a piece or two of crumpled up newspaper inside when you stick it up on that high shelf and it’ll smell freshly-washed even months later. And if you have a crock pot that sits around unused during the summer months, this trick works for it, too.

Window Polish
Another great use for newspaper? Use it to dry glass surfaces like windows, mirrors, and glass tables after you wash them. Something in the chemicals leaves the glass sparkling and streak-free, and with none of the bits of lint stuck in the corner like you always get with paper towels. Get your newspaper fix online and don’t have any papers handy? Use a coffee filter instead.

Baking Soda Magic
Freshen up your carpets by sprinkling them with baking soda and letting it sit for a few minutes before you vacuum. It absorbs old, lingering odors and the little bit that stays in the carpet will continue to freshen things up during those closed-in months of cool weather.

Lemony Fresh
In the summer months, I use a lot more fresh vegetables and fruits, and therefore I get a lot more use of my cutting boards. So when fall rolls around, I try to give them an extra-good scrub before tucking them away. Try cutting a lemon in half and using it to scrub the board before you put it away. The acid and roughness help to disinfect, deodorize, and even remove stains from both wood and plastic cutting boards.

Hose It Off
Before the weather gets too cold and you turn off the outside hose for the season, take your Venetian blinds outside and hose them off. The force of the water will knock the dust off, no scrubbing required. If your kitchen blinds have a coat of grease that doesn’t want to come off, give them a few squirts with Windex or Fantastik and let the grease dissolve for a few minutes before spraying them off.

Any other fall cleaning cheats you love to use?

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Struggles of an Introverted Mom

Many of my friends are extremely surprised to find out that I am an introvert. Being an introvert means that I get recharged by being alone, rather than by being in a group of people. I don’t necessarily dislike being in a large group, but I do find it exhausting rather than invigorating, and at a certain point I need to take a break away from other people to recharge my emotional batteries.

When you’re a stay-at-home mom, you don’t often get chances to be alone. Your children are always with you. To someone who is an extrovert, or who falls somewhat in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, having small children around barely counts as having people around. But to a true introvert like myself, it can be a struggle never having a moment alone to recharge, away from your children. When I wake up in the morning, my kids are either running in to greet me or waiting for me to come and play with them. When they’re playing games, or eating lunch, or reading a book, they want me close by to keep them company. When I go in my office, or the laundry room, or the bathroom, there is nearly always a small person following me, asking where I am and what I’m doing. When it’s time for them to go to bed, they beg for me to read to them, to sing to them, to tell them a story, to come and give them just one more kiss. I am NEVER ALONE.

It’s exhausting.

But here’s the real struggle: I love being with my kids. Honestly, I adore spending time with them. I don’t want to miss that moment when they figure out how to put the puzzle together or how to sound out that long word or how to do a somersault without any help. I WANT to be with them all the time. Except for the part of me that needs a break.

Luckily, my daughter still takes a nap every afternoon, and my son is old enough to have a bit of unsupervised computer time while she sleeps. That brief window is what allows me to survive my day. For maybe half an hour, sometimes even for a whole hour, I get to sit quietly and read a book, or fold laundry, or scrub the kitchen counters, or sit in the sunshine, or take a shower, ALL BY MYSELF. I don’t have to talk to anyone, I don’t have to smile at anyone, I don’t have to acknowledge anyone. I can pretend that there is no-one else on the entire planet except me.

And after that brief interlude, I’m ready to face the world again. My batteries are recharged, my energy has returned, my spinning mind has quieted itself. I am ready to have a conversation, whether it’s with one of my children, one of their teachers, the cashier at the grocery store, my husband, my best friend, or some random mom at the playground.

And even though I can’t tell yet whether my children will turn out to be introverts like their mom or extroverts like their dad, I think they kind of like having that little break from my company, too. I just hope they don’t like it too much. Introvert or not, I still love spending as much time as I can with my children, while they are still children. There will be plenty of time for me to be alone when they’re grown up. 

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Emmy Award Fashions 2014: The Year of “Almost But Not Quite”

I’m not a big television watcher (other than, obviously, all PBS kids’ programming, Nick Jr. On Demand, and everything on Sprout), so the Emmy Awards don’t particularly interest me. I do, however, love covering red carpet fashions, so although I didn’t watch Monday night’s awards show, I did very eagerly look through the red carpet photos the next morning. And I have to say that for the most part, I was unimpressed.

But what was surprising is that so many dresses were almost wonderful, but not quite. They were 95% of the way there, but then took a horrible wrong turn somewhere. Here are a few examples of “almost but not quite.”

I love Mayim Bialik, but she has no fashion sense. Her natural tendency is to dress like a homeless person – a cute homeless person that you want to hang around with and talk to, but definitely one who doesn’t have a lot of clothing options or much of a sense of style. She always looks vaguely uncomfortable on the red carpet. But this bright blue lace dress really has a lot going for it. The neckline and sleeves are feminine yet simple enough to suit her style. The color is absolutely stunning on her. Her choice of hairstyle and accessories are unfussy and appropriate. But it’s just too voluminous. If the bodice had been paired with a sleeker, narrower skirt, it would have been much more flattering. Almost…but not quite.

Betsy Brandt’s dress was similarly close. The watercolor printed fabric is lovely, and the general lines of the dress from the top down to the hips are lovely. But the stiff crinoline paired with the too-long-for-tea-length but too-short-for-floor-length hemline made it look clunky. Almost…but not quite.

Katherine Heigl’s dress had some lovely features – gorgeous, champagne-colored fabric, a soft geometrically curved neckline, lovely panel detailing at the waist. But the hem was too long, the three-quarter-length sleeves were too casual, and the overall style was a bit too retro wedding gown. Almost, but not quite.

Sarah Hyland’s two-piece outfit looked cute on her, but it also looked a bit like a 10th grade sewing project. It was not well-fitted, with wrinkles along the darts, a baggy waistband, and a wildly uneven hem. Almost, but not quite.

Hayden Panettiere had perhaps the most potential of any of the gowns that just barely missed the mark. Maternity wear can easily go awry, but this gown started off beautifully: crinkly, draped, silver pleating; just the right amount of cling to flatter her burgeoning figure; diagonal lines making her look like a sweet starburst. But then a giant fake (note the obvious modesty panel) plunging neckline clinging oddly. Almost. Not quite.

Teyonah Parris came pretty close in this two-part gown. Gorgeous color combinations, with a simple striped bodice in striking contrast to a pale lime green skirt, all the colors setting off her lovely skin. But the structure of the skirt is just a bit…off. Is it a long pencil skirt with an overlay? Is it a stiff, lumpy ballgown skirt? In other photographs, it appears that the overlayer of the skirt can be lifted to form a long narrow cape of sorts that is attached at the back of the waist rather than the back of the neck. Nice try, but still only almost.

Julia Roberts’ source of “almost” is hard to identify. I like the cut of the bodice, with its deep V-neck, fitted sleeves, and asymmetrical peplum. I even like the bumpy, textured, vaguely sparkly fabric. But something looks disproportionate. Maybe the skirt is a bit too short, or perhaps it’s a bit too full. Maybe it needed one more layer under it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s definitely an almost but not quite kind of look.

Kerry Washington’s orange column with silver seaming and black lace underskirt just barely made it into the not quite category for me. The lines of the dress are lovely, but some of the details are just wrong. The black peekaboo looks too much like bike shorts, the bodice is not smoothly fitted or supportive enough, and the placement of the waist seam is not flattering. A few fixed details and this would have been a winner, but as is? Almost, not quite.

Vanessa Williams landed in this category merely due to an overblown peplum. The color, the wrap bodice, the trumpet skirt – all gorgeous, and gorgeous on her va-va-voom figure. But the stiff, overblown peplum made this dress look more like a flower costume from a third-grade play than a red carpet gown. Almost, not quite.

There were, of course, a few complete disasters. No almost about any of these gowns.
Oh, Lena Dunham. I love that you love to be eclectic, but you can do better than this fluffy, multi-layered, multi-colored monstrosity of a skirt paired with a demure private school uniform blouse. Worst of all, the outfit doesn’t even look comfortable. But your platinum locks are a knockout and your makeup is flattering and balanced. Just get a gown to match and we’ll all be happier.

Sarah Paulson often lands on my worst-dressed list, and this outfit was no exception. Although I like the concept of a slimmer gown with a floaty, ethereal overlay, the execution in this case fell flat. The double peplums on the underdress ruin the smooth silhouette that could have been, and the red dots look too much like so many bits of lint from the red carpet hovering like a slo-mo explosion. Like Lena, Sarah does redeem herself with lovely hair and makeup, at least.

And lastly, Amy Poehler chose a gown that undoubtedly looked stunning on the runway where it debuted, but it just doesn’t work on a lesser mortal. The clinginess of the fabric and the waist seaming which should be emphasizing a small waist instead calls attention to her thick (NOT FAT!) waist and hint of belly, and the way the fabric falls together below her knees is reminiscent of a wide-legged pantsuit from a production of Mamma Mia. Poor Amy could have – and should have – and has – done so much better.

But there were a few true winners who hit the nail right on the head, fashion-wise. Here are a few of my favorites.

Danielle Brooks’ stark white column with lace halter bodice and high slit was a stunner, and her choice of a circle bracelet echoing the halter was spot-on. Love the contrast of her slightly-mussed 'do, too.

Edie Falco’s cobalt blue crushed satin with wide straps and a tiny train was feminine, sexy, age-appropriate, and brought out those gorgeous eyes of hers.

William H. Macy could have used a haircut, but other than that, he and wife Felicity Huffman were the perfect pair: she in a simple but elegant black column with a square neck and the tiniest of flares at the hem, accessorizing with an adorable plaid bag and understated hair and makeup, and he in a shiny charcoal gray tux with black lapels, hand-tied tie, and impeccably polished patent shoes. Perfection.

Allison Janney was another stunner in this magenta velvet concoction. Ruched velvet often looks bulky and clumsy, but somehow the lines of this dress still manage to look smooth and sleek, with just the right amount of structure in the bodice and just the right amount of soft swing at the hem. Top the look with long wavy locks and a hint of silver bling in jewelry, bag, and shoes, and voila! This is how it’s done.

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss rarely misses on the red carpet, and this dress was no exception. A delicious reddish-coral column with tiny details like a hint of gathers at the neck, a slim belt, dart detailing, and a barely-there flare at the hem, and the simplest of hair, makeup, and jewelry made the perfect package. 

Melissa McCarthy vacillates between terrific and terrible when it comes to her red carpet looks. While this isn’t the best gown I’ve ever seen her in, it’s so much more flattering than what I’ve seen her in at times that I had to include her here. The jet black against her fair skin, bright coral lips, and new darker hair color is a knockout. And the wide sequined belt shows her curviness in a way many of her gowns don’t. It’s not easy for a large woman to pull off a full ball gown, but the soft bell shape of the skirt balanced by the square shoulders and high round neck of the bodice is perfectly proportioned and flattering. And those happy dimples – often absent when photographed in her less-successful red carpet looks – show that Melissa agrees.

Octavia Spencer can also be hit or miss on the red carpet, but when she does hit she hits perfectly, and this deep red sari-inspired gown was a definite hit. I love the way the one-shouldered chiffon drape over the bodice twists into a knot at the waist then spins out into a hip-skimming (but not clinging) skirt with a small train. Utterly lovely.

See you all at the Golden Globes in January!! 

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Trading Places

When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I heard a lot of old wives’ tales about pregnancy, some of which I’d heard before and some of which were new to me. One of the weirdest ones, and one I hadn’t come across before, was the claim that if a woman develops acne during her pregnancy, she is carrying a girl, and the baby is “stealing her beauty.” There might not be much truth in that particular legend (I had great skin with both my pregnancies, which produced one boy and one girl – who are both, for the record, quite beautiful), but over the course of time, I have discovered that there are a lot of “exchanges” that go on when you have children.

For example, sleep. Babies sleep all the time. Parents get no sleep at all. There is a period of childhood when both children and parents go on to get reasonable amounts of sleep, but then along come the teen years and the parents once again get no sleep while the teens sleep till noon whenever possible. It’s as if the kids are “stealing” their parents’ sleep.

Or how about bodily functions? My children are reaching the age where they are learning to use the bathroom and to “hold it” until they can get to a toilet, while I am reaching the age where I pee whenever I sneeze, or cough, or laugh really hard.

And then there are all the aspects of learning. My children are developing an impressive vocabulary and learning lots of new words, while I am often stuttering and stammering in an attempt to find a word that I am certain I knew five minutes ago. Their ability to read is gaining ground every day, which is a good thing because I am finding that I can no longer read without taking off my glasses or holding the book at arms’ length, or both.

Speaking of glasses, I recently discovered that threading a needle is much more difficult than it used to be, so it’s pretty convenient that my children are developing their fine motor skills enough that by the time I can no longer do it at all, they’ll be able to do it for me.

I suspect they’ll also be doing lots of technological stuff for me in the near future, as well. They’re starting to learn how computers and phones and tablets and mp3 players and all kinds of new technologies work, just as I am beginning to be baffled by the newfangled inventions that came so naturally to me in the past.

I suppose it’s all a part of handing things over to the next generation. We, as parents, find it difficult to let go and allow our children to take charge, so humans are designed to begin to fail just as our children are coming into maturity. We have no choice but to allow the next generation to step in and use their new-found skills to replace the skills we are slowly but inexorably losing.

I know that there are many years before my children have the skills, maturity, and experience to take their adult place in the world, and that there are many years before I lose enough skills that I truly need their assistance, but I hope that it’s a graceful transition. I hope that I can use the interim to let my children take baby steps to build their confidence in their abilities. I think I’ll start by making sure my kids know how to tie shoes. After all, my own feet seem to be getting further and further away.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Here's That Rainy Day

(Dov Severinsen and Tommy Newsome performing "Here's That Rainy Day")

Boy, is it ever a rainy day today. It started raining last night, so when I woke up this morning my allergies were kicking up so my eyes are sore and swollen and itchy, and my joints are achy. Rainy days are not my friend, health-wise. And since I am a stay-at-home mom of two small (and extremely energetic) children, rainy days are not my kids' friend, either. So what to do on a yucky, rainy day? Here's a list of things that kids and moms can do or enjoy to throw off those rainy day blues.

  • Bake something. A chilly, rainy day is the perfect time to let the oven heat up the kitchen and drive away the damp, replacing it with wonderful, homey smells. Let the kids help - it'll keep them busy, and they're more likely to eat something they helped make. (Especially if it's dessert.)
  • Have a dance party. This may sound like it's just for kids, but it works just as well for adults. Crank up your favorite tunes and get moving. Do it while you fold the laundry or sweep the kitchen or scrub the bathtub, do it as a break between calling clients, do it just by itself for a few minutes. Or for more than a few minutes.
  • Get creative. Color, paint, draw, glue something to something else. Dig out some feathers and glitter and construction paper and balloons and whatever else is languishing at the back of the kitchen junk drawer and create something. 
  • Re-read a favorite book. Reading for pleasure tends to get shoved aside in our busy society. We barely have time to read a book from cover to cover, never mind reading it twice. So dust off something from your bookshelf that you loved years ago and love it all over again. Find one of your kids' favorite books that you haven't read in a while and read it out loud together.
  • Play pretend. Create a blanket fort under the dining room table. Make the couch into a pirate ship. Find an old box and pretend it's a rocket ship to the moon. Make puppets out of old socks or clothespins or paper bags and put on a puppet show. Imagine you're the characters in your kids' favorite TV show or book and re-enact one of their favorite episodes, or make up a new one. 
  • Put comfort food on the menu. Serve chicken pot pie, or lasagna, or stew, or pretty much anything made in a crock pot. They call it comfort food for a reason. 
  • Jump in puddles. Embrace the wet, put on your raincoat, rain hat, and rain boots, find the biggest, deepest puddle you can, and get splashing. One of my favorite memories from my college years was during finals week when there was a horrible rainstorm, and my roommate and I took a study break and puddle-jumped on the quad for an hour, they came home and made hot cocoa. There's something incredibly emotionally renewing about jumping in puddles.
Here's that rainy day! Make the most of it.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, August 9, 2014

How to Make a “Frozen” Cake, No Artistic Talent Required

I, much like my mother, have zero artistic talent whatsoever. But I, also like my mother, for some unknown reason, feel a pressing need to make artistic (or at least, “themed”) birthday cakes for my children while they’re young. Last year, when my daughter turned 2, she was all about dolls and Barbies, so of course, I made her a Barbie doll cake. I ordered a mold and a creepy legless Barbie doll on, picked up a couple of cake mixes, a tub of pre-made frosting, and some decorator frosting-in-a-can at my local supermarket, and went to town. And I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the result.

The best thing about this cake, for me, was that it was completely free-form. It pretty much had to be pink and be generally recognizable as a dress, but other than that, I could do whatever I wanted. And I did.

But this year, 2014…when you have a 3- (or 4-, or 5-, or 6-, or – well, you get the idea) year-old daughter, 2014 is the year of Frozen. It is the year of Anna and Elsa and Olaf and Kristoff and Sven and Hans and the trolls. It is the year of “Let It Go” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “In Summer.” Honestly, the only choice I had this year regarding the cake was whether it would Anna or Elsa. (Olaf and Sven were absolutely out of the equation, and Kristoff and Hans were only options if they were willing to wear ball gowns). So I checked out their various dresses, and since Elsa spent a great deal of the movie (the coolest part of the movie, ahem, so to speak) wearing a blue gown decorated only with spangles, it wasn’t that difficult of a choice to make. 

(I’m rather partial to redheads, but Anna is a little too fond of complicated embroidery in multiple colors. White snowflakes I can handle; elaborate tole painting designs, not so much.)

So I gathered my supplies: I dug out last year’s cake mold from the back of the shelf (after searching for it in 16 other places), a cake plate on a stand, some white and silver decorator sugar I had bought to sugar the rim of cocktail glasses a few years back, and a bottle of blue food coloring that I’m pretty sure I bought in 1993. I went to Target and picked up the cheapest blond Barbie I could find (yet another reason Elsa was the better choice – no way could I have found a red-haired Barbie for 6 bucks on short notice). She came with a pink tiara but my husband had bought me a woman’s silver and rhinestone ring shaped like a tiara which happened to be exactly cheap-Barbie-doll-head-sized. And a final grocery store run yielded a couple of yellow cake mixes, a tub of white frosting, and a can of decorator icing, also in white. I poured myself a glass of wine, and I was ready to begin!

Step 1, rather obviously, is to bake the cake. The doll mold looks deceptively small, but I discovered last year that it takes two whole cake mixes to fill the mold!

It’s the TARDIS of cake pans: much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

I discovered this year that this year's brand of cake mix was just enough bigger that the mold overflowed when it baked, but I was fortunate enough to notice it early and lined the bottom of the oven with tin foil to catch the drips. This resulted in a sample that was perfectly baked when I checked on the baking halfway through.

Once the cake is in the oven, you can move on to Step 2: Doll Preparation and Insertion. If you are using a normal doll pick, there really isn’t much to this step. If, however, you are using a cheap Barbie doll that is intended to represent a recognizable character, there’s some work to be done here. In this case, Elsa needs her trademark side braid and her tiara. So first, you’ll need to braid her hair. Her shiny, very shiny, oh-so-shiny hair. Do you know what hair feels like when it is shiny, very shiny, oh-so-shiny? It feels slippery. Very slippery. Oh, so slippery. Which means that a) it is extremely difficult to braid the wee little 3-inch length of it, and b) a tiara will not stay on. Luckily, my daughter also has about 3 wee little inches of slippery hair, so I have some degree of practice, as well as access to teeny-tiny hair elastics. Also luckily, I am a seamstress and therefore did not hesitate to stitch that little tiara right onto Elsa’s hair. Well, mostly her hair. Possibly her head a little bit. But mostly her hair. I'm not a monster here, people.

Now that Barbie has been transformed into Elsa, it’s time to cool and unmold the cake and put Elsa’s dress on her. The doll I used last year was technically a “pick,” which meant that instead of having legs, the torso stopped abruptly at the waist and there was a single spike projecting downwards. It was a bit disturbing, but it did hold the doll in place quite snugly.

This year, since I was using an actual doll with all the usual appendages, I had to cram the legs into the cake. This was extra complicated because this particular doll had one knee permanently bent, but I managed to get her in there relatively solidly. 

The final part of the Doll Preparation step is to make sure that a) no frosting gets into the hair, and b) no hair gets into the frosting. The easiest, if not the least creepy, method is to wrap the doll’s head in plastic wrap and tie it tightly.

Much like the weird stuff they often put on your head at the hairdresser,
it feels stupid but the final results are worth it.

Step 3 is Plating the Cake. This is a somewhat precarious step. Before I attempt it, I am very careful to gather all the needed materials: the plate, a knife, a sketch of my planned decorations, and a glass of wine. (The latter is the most important.)

You don’t want your doll to wobble on the plate, so before you move it, be sure to color your frosting to your desired shade and spread a nice, thick blob of it on the plate to act as cement.

Then all you have to do is knock back some of the wine, take a deep breath, grab the cake gently but firmly with both hands, say a quick prayer, and slap that baby onto her pedestal.

Once she’s centered and firmly attached, you can begin Step 4: Frosting and Decorating. If you want to be really fancy and professional about it, you can start by doing a rough “crumb coat” and letting it set in the refrigerator before neatly applying a smooth, final coat. Yeah, ain’t nobody got time for that. I brush off the crumbs and slap on one really thick layer of frosting (partly so the crumbs don’t show but mostly because, let’s be honest, the frosting is the whole reason we eat the cake, right?). I use the smooth edge of a butter knife to roughly spread large globs of the frosting on the center of the cake, then go back and neatly (well, sort of) fill in the top and bottom edges.

Luckily, even cheap Barbies have articulated arms, so I swiveled them up in the air to get them out of the way. It made her look like she was screaming for help and trying to rip off the plastic wrap, but I told her she was making a sacrifice for her art and just kept frosting. 

Since my doll already had a white, painted-on bodice, I only had to pull the frosting up high enough to cover the pink, but if you need to create a shirt, it’s much easier to use decorator frosting and a star tip than to try and create a decent-looking shirt out of regular frosting. At least, it is if you have the kind of fine motor skills and artistic eye (by which I mean a complete lack thereof) that I do.

Once you have a smooth coat of frosting, you need to move quickly to add the fine details. For this cake, the only tools I needed were a can of white decorator icing with a star tip and my fancy sugars.

Elsa’s gown is covered with icy sparkles, so I started to sprinkle the sugar down her gown, reaching close to her body to avoid ending up with dull spots. I started with the white glitter, then attempted to add some silver but it just bounced off instead of sticking to the frosting. Eh, all white is good. Snow and ice are white, right? Who needs silver, anyway.

As you may have guessed from the sketch in one of the above photos, I had originally intended to add some swirls and snowflakes with the decorator icing, but given a) how pretty the dress looked with sugar alone, and b) the fact that when I tried the icing using the smallest tip, it looked like snowman poop rather than delicate snowflakes, I opted to leave off the fancy work.

I did need something to finish the dress at the bottom, since it’s hard to get the bottom edge of the frosting to look smooth. So after wiping the excess frosting off the plate with my finger a damp paper towel, I added a row of fat white stars to edge the gown. I always practice one on a paper towel before starting on the cake, and then throw it away. This is always the most perfect star of the whole batch. 

Which is why I always start at the back, because by the time I’m halfway around, the quality of my stars has finally started to approach the perfection of that first one.

Once that final detail has been added, it’s time to free Elsa from her plastic wrap bonds! Be careful not to accidentally pull her out of the cake or dislodge her hair elastic, especially the latter, as it’s likely to take you less time to re-bake and re-decorate a whole cake than it is to re-braid that bloody shiny hair.

And voila! Princess Elsa!

This cake isn’t going to win any awards, but it IS going to make a certain little princess in my house very, very happy!

And there's both wine and frosting left over, which is going to make a certain big princess in my house very, very happy, too. 

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Little Things That Make You Happy

There are lots of little things in life that can give you that little boost, that little smile in the middle of a stressed-out day, that quick burst of happiness in an otherwise lousy day. Some of them you just stumble across unexpectedly, like a rainbow or the smell of a really good cup of coffee, but a lot of them you can choose to create yourself. Here are a few of my favorite ways to give myself an emotional pick-me-up when I’m having a bad day.
  • Play with a small child – Sit down and color with your own kid, play peek-a-boo with the wee one in front of you in the checkout line, stick your tongue out at the kids in the back seat of that car stuck next to you in traffic.
  • Wear a favorite piece of clothing – Bonus points if it’s something secret that no one else knows about: sexy or silly underpants under your boring khaki uniform pants, a T-shirt with a funny or obnoxious saying carefully hidden under your shirt and tie, socks with goofy animal pictures tucked inside your boots.
  • Eat something directly out of the container – Peanut butter, ice cream, hummus, frosting. Grab a spoon and go for it. You’ll feel even better if you put the rest back and don’t tell anyone.
  • Take a dance break – Channel-surf until you find an upbeat song from your high school days, crank it up, and move with the music. Do it in your living room, in the car, even in your office if you have understanding coworkers. Even better if you grab some random object to use as a microphone and lip sync. If you’re in your car, don’t even bother with lip syncing – just belt it out! You’ll give the people in the next car a little pick-me-up, too.
  • Doodle – It doesn’t matter if you’re artistic or not. If you (like me) can’t draw anything recognizable, make shapes and squiggles. Use pens, pencils, highlighters, crayons, markers, chalk, whatever’s handy. Draw on a napkin, a post-it note, your desk calendar, the back of an envelope. It’s amazing how cathartic merely making marks on paper (or any other convenient surface) can be.
  • Hide in the bathroom – No, really. Think about it: Where does 99.9% of your stress come from? Other people, right? And where can you almost always hide from other people? In the bathroom! At work, you can hide from your demanding boss and your annoying co-workers; at home you can hide from your demanding AND annoying children; in a crowded store you can even escape the throngs of other shoppers there. Lock yourself in a stall, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths (this is best done in a particularly clean bathroom), and mentally escape from the world for a few minutes. If anyone asks you where you’ve been, be sure to grimace a little as you groan out, “Bathroom.” I promise, they won’t press for details.
  • Read your favorite kids’ book – We all have one or two favorite books from our childhoods that make us happy. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel? Hop on Pop? Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? The Giving Tree? Charlotte’s Web? Where the Wild Things Are? I bet you have a copy tucked away on a bookshelf somewhere. Break it out, sprawl on the couch or the floor or some other convenient surface and go back to your childhood, when everything that ever went wrong in your life could be fixed with a kiss from Mom.

Now, GO! Make yourself happy. Here’s a little something to get you started.

Bookmark and Share