Easy Spring Bake Sale Treat: Lemon Cupcakes with Royal Icing Poppies

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I made four dozen of these lemon cupcakes topped with royal icing poppies to help out my BFF, who organizes the bake sale for her boss's garden club's spring flower show. (I know, gag. Just more proof I'll do anything for my friends.)

The lemony cupcakes were a nice light treat for a spring themed event.  The poppies were the perfect level of difficulty for my entry level cake decorating skills. I'd clipped the concept from a Martha Stewart magazine ages ago and was excited for a chance to use it. This link is to the Martha Stewart website entry that coordinates with the original print article, and includes a video for how to pipe the poppies.

The original recipe called for making the flowers with buttercream, but I needed them to stand up to transportation and sitting around in a high school gym for the bake sale. So I made royal icing with the recipe right off the can, and they came out great. Yes, I know I could have made royal icing from scratch, but let's be real - I was already making four dozen cupcakes for someone else's event.

I used a #7 Wilton flower nail, piped them onto little parchment squares and let them dry on sheet trays, just like you're supposed so.  (Note: I only made the flower petals with royal icing, the green leaves I piped on with buttercream after the flowers had been placed on the cupcakes. I put the poppyseeds on as soon as I piped them so they'd stick to the flowers as they dried.)

I was so proud of my big sheet trays full of painstakingly piped poppies. I totally took pictures, just like a good little blogger. Nope, I can't find them.

As you can see from the photo, I didn't get too fussy when I applied the base of white buttercream. Let's call it a deliberate design choice for a casual event.

To keep them clean, transport them, make them easy to stack at the sale and easy for participants to carry home, I used individual cupcake boxes. I'm kind of in love with the individual cupcake box concept and am definitely looking for reasons to do it again.

If you do a project like this, do not buy the cupcake boxes from your local craft or big box store. Retail, it can cost $7 for a package of 4.  We used a online discount site and got a case of 100 for around $50, which is a pretty great deal.  If profit margins are a concern for your bake sale, make sure to take that 50 cents per box into consideration. We essentially donated the boxes.

My only goal here is to save someone else from the special hell that is trying to come up with ideas for a bake sale. These got priced at 2 bucks a pop. They're small and cheap enough to be the token purchase for the folks who don't want to buy something but feel really obligated to. And they're perfect for people who want to bring a little something home for their kids, but don't want to commit to a full size cake or a whole plate of cookies.

Go forth and cupcake!

 Here's my pin of this post.

Day of Remembrance: Autism and Wandering Awareness

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Today I join the community in remembering autistic children who lost their lives after wandering.

This is not about pointing fingers or differing points of view.  It's about respectfully acknowledging that these families are grieving for children who were deeply loved and are constantly missed.

Here are the facts that make today's observation necessary:

(Ed. note: I created the blue graphic and while I own the copyright, I purposely left off my copyright mark to encourage sharing.  A credit or link back would be nice, but is not a requirement and you have permission to use the image to promote wandering awarness.)

Wandering is a terrifying reality for many families with children on the spectrum, and the statistics demonstrate that wandering frequency increases in the springtime. 

Please keep the grieving families in your thoughts. And please keep an eye out for our kids.

Wandering Resources
Download the NAA's Big Red Safety Toolkit for Caregivers (PDF)
Download the NAA's Big Red Safety Toolkit for First Responders (PDF)

For more information, visit
National Autism Association
NAA's AWAARE: Autism Wandering Awareness Alters Response Education

ShesAlwaysWrite Posts on Wandering
Great Solution to a Common Problem
About our son's first wandering experience  - before he got his ASD diagnosis and we knew wandering was a thing - and the type of ID we got for him.

Neighborhood Outreach
My initial post on the idea I had to make wandering awareness postcards to give our neighbors.

Neighborhood Outreach Part 2: Wandering Awareness Cards Tutorial
The tutorial I wrote on making your own wandering awarness postcards after the hugely positive response I received to the concept.  Includes free templates.

My Letter From Hogwarts is Late

Friday, February 28, 2014

One of the happiest moments of my life came recently when my 6 year old Bear asked if I would start reading Harry Potter to him.

It's a moment that I - who's worn out more than one library card in my endless quest for the next great story - have waited for since I saw two lines on the pregnancy test.

Not that I was waiting for Potter in particular.  I have so many special friends, and will introduce them each in time.  He's far too young for Adams or Tolkien or Heinlein.  He's not yet emotionally mature enough to ponder the moral implications of Ender's end game.  And while I think we're getting close, he's not quite ready to go through the looking glass or travel on a tesseract.

Honestly, I wasn't completely sure he was ready for Rowling.  But... and I may have my geek card revoked for admitting this... he'd already seen the first movie.  I know. I know.  It's a violation of the natural order of things.  An abomination.  It's almost as bad as those people who don't show their kids Episode IV first.

But Mommy needs her magic fix and leisurely reading time is in short supply.  So, I cracked. I let my kid see The Philosopher's Sorcerer's Stone before reading the book.  But... there's a but! A very important but!

I only let him watch after talking about all the ways in which the book was better. (Yes, I'm one of those people. Let's do us both a favor and skip the part where you pretend to be surprised.)  The thing is, he was really excited there's a book.  And eventually, he asked me to read it to him.  At which point my heart burst with happiness.

Which brings us to actually reading it.  Of course, I had my little fantasy of a freshly bejammied Bear, snuggled up with with his blankie, raptly listening as I read to him the story of The Boy Who Lived. 

And of course, we all know it really went down like this...

"...As he pulled into number four, the first thing he saw - and it didn't improve his mood - was the tabby cat he'd spotted that morning. It was now sitting on his garden wall. He was sure it was the same one; it had the same markings around its eyes."

Bear: Why was the cat outside all day?

Me: Because....

Bear: Why didn't they let the cat into the house?  What if it was hungry?

Me: Well...

Bear: Could they bring the cat some water?

Me: That's not the...

Bear: And why was it sitting on the wall? And where did the map go?

Me: What map?  Oh, that was...

Bear: What if the cat got cold?

Me: But it wasn't...

Bear: Don't they LIKE cats?

And so it went.

It's been 3 weeks.  We've made it through 3 chapters.  I haven't yet been able to start reading Chapter 4 - The Keeper of the Keys - to him because he won't stop asking when "Hagrid with the wand hiding in the pink umbrella" (say it real fast like it's one big name) is going to come get Harry.

Charitable School Valentines

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day is upon us.  If you're anything like me, just last week you finally threw out the candy from the Advent calendar the kids got bored with halfway through December, and are still finding expired Halloween candy lurking in the hiding spots it got stashed in back when the trees still had leaves.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I loathe the bags of cheap candy and crappy plastic toys that some misguided parent handbook is apparently insisting we send to school for holiday celebrations.  I'm not comfortable giving the kind of stuff to a room full of kids that I'd never consider giving to my own.

I was chatting about this with a fellow blogger and she gave me this idea. I love it so much I decided to do it every time the kids are obligated to show up at school with something to pass out. I don't care if I get the reputation of being "one of THOSE moms." I firmly believe that on this topic, the status is not quo.

The idea that people are blowing money on candy for these kids is particularly upsetting in our community, which has a significant population of families below the poverty line and a food pantry that can't always keep up. Our elementary school held a winter coat drive for their own students, so it was no surprise when the class newsletter asked if any of us can supply valentine cards for the kids whose families can't afford them. 

Which brings me to... this charitable alternative for school Valentines.

Step 1 - Donate
Make a donation to your local food pantry.  I give $25 because it's what I can afford, and it's about what I'd have to spend on bags of candy.  If the donation site provides a field for it, I say it's in the name of Teacher's Name Xth grade class.

Bonus: the donation is tax deductible.

Step 2 - Make and Print Cards
Make a sheet of little cards that says you made the donation.  I use the Avery 5371 business card template built into Word because they're the perfect size.  I print them on card stock and have my son help cut them out.

Last year I made cards with the saying on the front, picked up a heart stamp in the dollar bin at Michael's and had my son stamp the back. This year I went with a nice graphic because there just wasn't time for anything else.

You can make your own cards or use either of these free printable templates I created. (And yes, I legally purchased that graphic.)

Download PDF - Charitable Valentine card template with a general "community food pantry" donation statement that can be used as is.

Download Word Template (dotx) - Charitable Valentine card template in Microsoft Word with a space for you to insert the name of your local food pantry before printing.

Step 3 - Attach the Cards to Valentines
I don't want to make my son to stick out like a sore thumb among his peers (the autism is already not doing him any favors in that regard), so I don't just send the donation cards by themselves.  I include them with a token gift the kids will recognize/expect. There are as many was to do this as you can think of.  Two methods I've used are:

Method 1
Hole punch the card in two spots and thread a lollipop stick through it. (Yummy Earth are our favorite organic suckers - they're a reasonable size, really tasty and have natural ingredients most kids with food allergies can eat.)

I thought I had a picture of the hand stamped cards from last year, but I can't find it.  So here's what that looks like with this year's cards.  Last year I threaded the lollipop stick through the pre-punched pencil slot style valentines alongside the pencil.

Method 2
Tuck the donation card into the envelope of the kind of store-bought valentine card that comes in boxes including a small non-candy gift like a pencil, eraser or temporary tattoos.

In a perfect world we'd make it a family project to create our own Valentines, but I live in the real world and sometimes you've just gotta buy the box of Spider-man cards and move on. This year I was sick for the two weeks leading up to V-Day, and found myself with only 48 hours to spare staring at the nearly empty Valentine display at my local superstore. I bought a box for us and a box to send to school for kids who needed them.

I'm hoping the fact I also bought some for the kids with struggling families will keep Pinterest from revoking my membership card.

Start a New Tradition
The best way to eliminate the perception that this concept is a subtle insult from a holier-than-thou parent is to involve other parents.  Send a note to the teacher early in the month asking if she'll talk to the kids about supporting families in need.  Maybe even ask if the teacher is up for making it a class project to see how much you can raise.

Do you have a class directory? Email all the other parents on February 1st and ask them to do this with you. Send them the link to this post so they can download the free templates, or make one of your own and include it in the email.  Send them a link to your local food pantry so they don't have to look for it.  Point out that it takes less time and can cost less money than shopping for all that candy. When something is cheaper and easier and makes them look good, people are much more likely people are to do it.

Food Pantry Resources
Not sure where donate?  Here are some resources to help you identify your local food pantry.

FISH of McHenry County

Greater Chicago Food Depository

Feeding Illinois is the state association of 8 food banks serving the entire state, their site explains how you can donate or volunteer.  They also link to the Take Action section at Feeding America, which provides information so you can advocate for hunger programs.

FoodPantries.org is a great resource that lists all the food pantries in the country, organized by city and state.

The Adventures of Rosie Rumnoggin

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It took all of 24 hours after adopting Rosie Rumnoggin - my very own Elf on the Shelf - to discover that her personality suits me perfectly.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Creepy

Saturday, December 7, 2013

One of my clearest memories from early childhood was running around my Grandma's house looking for the Elf on a Shelf. When they recently surged in popularity I found myself wanting one in all their creepy glory.

I found out my cousin has the one Grandma used to hide for us, and then I found out how much the Christmas Retail Marketing Conspiracy wants for them, and then I gave up because I'm cheap. Until yesterday, when I was all ZOMG Freecycle! I posted the want and had one in hand - new in box, no less - by dinnertime.

Speaking of Retail Conspiracies... please tell me I'm not the only one disturbed by the whole "I'm a girl!" paired with "Skirt sold separately!" on the packaging?  

This is a special edition girl elf tutu from the Claus Couture Collection.  
Because of course.

Anyway. Bear was all over it. I told him a baseline version of the story - that they move around the house and it's fun to find them - because I decided it would be ridiculous to tell a child with anxiety disorder that it was watching him for Santa like some freakishly festive nanny cam. 

The elf was still boxed and on the kitchen table when he went to bed.  When he came down this morning, he failed to notice her comically lazy placement on the mantel and grilled me about how she got out of the box.

     Me: I guess she got out after we went to bed.  We should go look for her!

     Bear: Mommy... why are you saying lying things?

Grand plans for creating whimsical childhood memories? Foiled! Not that I really expected any different from my little Sheldon.

On to Plan B!  In which Bear helps us move the elf around for this baby brother to find!  He's actually pretty psyched about that, so I'm calling it a win.

Since then I've been brainstorming elf names and fooling no one with my feeble protests that I would not actually label her once said name is established. (Or the brand new box she came in. That I will totally keep. And label.) 

After much consideration (and, let's be real, some holiday cheer), I settled on a name.  That may or may not be based on said cheer.

May I present...

Rosie and I look forward to many wonderful years of messing with my children.  I'm sure their future therapists will thank me.

Pirate Party Birthday Cake

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This was the year that Bear was old enough to decide he wanted to move his birthday celebration from Thanksgiving to Halloween, and he firmly declared that he wanted a pirate theme. I happily dove into Pinterest and when it was all said and done, the party was a huge success.

I was just as surprised as everyone else at how the cake came out, and I couldn't wait to share it!

No, it's not perfect. I'm a rank amateur and would never make such a claim.

Yes, that name is Photoshopped.  And yes, I realize that won't really protect my son's identity on the interwebz.  Hush up and let me enjoy my little delusion.

Yes, I know the top is off center.  Someday I'll splurge on a proper cake lifter - for now all I've got is a grill spat and I'm just happy I didn't drop it on the floor, seeing as how this was my first attempt at two tiers.

Yes, I know you can see the top edge of the cake through the frosting.  Sue me, it was midnight.

Yes, I know that the fondant bits are uneven and have rough edges.  It was my first try working with fondant outside of the class I took 3 years ago.

The thing is, I'm not sharing this pirate birthday cake because I think it's a masterpiece.  I'm sharing it because it made me and my son very, very happy.  And to show that even an utterly unskilled working mom who took a cake decorating night class at the community college a few years back can still turn out surprisingly delightful creations.  If my time in triathlon has taught me anything, it's that my calling is to be the "if she can do it, I can do it" person in life.  And I'm ok with that.

So take a look, maybe have a laugh at my expense, and maybe be inspired to skip calling the bakery next time your kid needs a birthday cake.