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3.30.2016

Easter Recap

Another Easter has come and gone. We celebrated just the four of us, but I made sure to get in most of our little family traditions...barely.

The day before Easter, we finally got around to coloring eggs!
The waiting is the hardest part.
Seamus was finally able to take his eggs in and out by himself this year. Not to say there weren't a few drips and spills, but for the most part, he did great!
Hey look, I actually made it into a picture.  And yes, I am wearing shorts and a tank top in March! Gotta love AZ.
They were very proud of the end result, and super excited for the Easter Bunny to come too!
The rest of Saturday was pretty quiet. We watched Hop, and played outside. Then, after the kids went to bed, I decorated the Lamb Cake while watching Easter Parade. Love me some Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, although it really is a silly little movie (love this review of the film here by the way - so funny!).

Next up, came Easter morning!

The kids ran around looking for their Easter Baskets. Seamus found his (or Madeleine found his for him) under the telescope hidden by toys. Madeleine's was in the drying rack.
The Easter Bunny also hid eggs all around the house too. They had a blast running around and finding them all.
After all the morning madness, we sat down and had our Easter breakfast. This is one of my favorite traditions from my own childhood. I had a little trouble finding some of the staples though, but we made due. (Hey AZ - why no lamb butter to be found anywhere?)  We ate the eggs we had colored, kielbasa, and some Easter blessing bread.

After breakfast, Madeleine and I went to church. They held it outside, which is always nice.

After that, it turned into a regular old Sunday for a little bit. I did some laundry, the kids played outside, Seamus napped, etc. I did, however, manage a decent little Easter dinner. I had picked up a pre-cooked boneless 4lb. ham, which is the greatest thing ever. All we had to do was heat it up for an hour and boom - Easter ham! In addition, I made these Bacon Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese, green beans, dinner rolls, and the Easter Lamb Cake for dessert.
All in all, it was a really nice day.

P.S. 2015 Easter Recap | Multiplying Like Rabbits | Happy Easter

3.28.2016

Baa, Baa Lamb Cake

I hope everyone enjoyed the weekend and Easter too, if you're one celebrate it. With it being so early this year, I swear, I just barely scraped it together. One of our traditions, is to make an Easter Lamb Cake! It makes for a really fun and yummy dessert to enjoy after Easter dinner.

I thought I'd share a quick tutorial on how to make this tasty and super easy Easter treat!
First up, you need a lamb cake mold. I have this one here.
Next, prepare your cake mix per the package instructions. I always use a pound cake mix, and after it's done you'll be left with this little guy.
Now it's time to decorate! You'll want to wait until the cake completely cools before starting. As far as frosting goes, store bought is fine. I like to use Pillsbury Classic White frosting, but they were actually out of it at the store this time around; so I used Pillsbury Classic Vanilla frosting instead. It worked and tasted just as well as the Classic White.

The first step is to crumb coat your cake. This is basically just spreading a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake. It blocks any of the cake crumbs from getting mixed into the final layer of frosting and keeps everything looking nice and clean. I also use this step to fill in any cracks or crevices in the cake that were created during the baking process; just fill any you find with frosting. Apply with a small spatula and then put in the refrigerator afterwards to harden.
Now it's time to break out your cake decorating tools. I took a Wilton cake decorating class at my local Michael's a few years back, and bought a basic decorating set (similar to this one here). I used Tip #16 to make the lamb's wool. It's just a little swirl motion, and I alternated doing some clockwise and some counter-clockwise.
You'll want to make sure your icing stays on the firm side. Your hand will warm the frosting and make it too soft after a while. Just pop it in the freezer here and there as you go along. If the frosting is too soft the swirls will start to get messy and droopy. Also, if you're a novice decorator like me, you'll probably end up with little peaks on the end of each swirl. Once the icing hardens a bit, you'll be able to pat each of those down, so don't worry about it too much. I'd recommend starting at the back of the cake too as you get yourself used to the technique.
Next, I mixed up a tiny little bit of pink frosting and used a spatula to apply to the ears. I also applied a bit more white frosting to the face area and smoothed it the best I could. Then I continued to pipe the swirls all around the face and front. Afterwards, I put it in the refrigerator to harden up a little bit. Notice a theme here. It's not hard, but it's not something you can just plow through quickly either.
Next up, time to add some grass...or leaves actually. Mix up a little green icing and use Tip #67 to pipe on a bunch of leaves. They're easy to do and nicely cover the little gap between the cake and the plate. You'll also notice that by this point I have patted down all the little peaks made from when I piped on all those swirls.
The final step, is to add the face. I mixed up some black icing and used Tip #3, although I think I should have probably used Tip #2. Tip #3 was a little thicker than I wanted, but I was okay with it. After all, my primary audience was a 3 and a 5 year old, and they loved it. Seamus kept calling it the Happy Birthday Lamb Cake.
Happy Birthday Lamb Cake or Easter Lamb Cake...whatever you want to call it, this cake makes for a really delightful little addition to your Easter table. Enjoy!

3.25.2016

Hangin' Around

Last year, for Father's Day, we got Bill a cool hammock (this one here). But...we never picked up a hammock stand for it! It has literally sat in our hall closet for almost an entire year. Wah-wah.

At a recent trip to Target though, I spotted a stand and decided to pick it up (this one here). Now, we're living the good life, just relaxing in the sun.
If you have the space, I highly recommend getting one of these things. It's an instant stress reliever. The kids love playing on it too. They've only flipped it just the once so far!

3.23.2016

Mini Vacation - The Grand Canyon, Part 2

On Friday, we were up and out by 8am. We ate breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge, then headed over to the Visitor's Center to see about renting some bikes from Bright Angel Bicycles. They didn't have a Burley trailer available for Seamus though; but said one was expected back by the afternoon, and they would call us when it was returned.

So, we decided to take a walk heading East along the canyon instead. As you can see, there was a paved trail mostly bordered by rocks and boulders, but not much else between you and the Canyon. By this point though, we had Madeleine trained to stay on the path. I may or may not have told her that she could fall into the Canyon and die if she went off the path.
Bill carried Seamus on his back, and we had the stroller too in case Madeleine got tired (which she did). Oh, and Seamus continuously kept saying he wanted to go back to "Mommy's hotel."
I was getting pretty tired too, but come on, look at this place!
We did end up going back to the hotel to eat lunch, and then we got the call from the bike place that the Burley trailer was back. So, our next adventure was biking!
Bill towed Seamus in the Burley trailer, and Madeleine had a Tag Along bike that hooked onto the back of my bike. It allowed her to ride and pedal, but I was the one doing all the work. We headed off, and almost instantly ran into a herd of Elk! It was so cool watching them in nature being all Elk-like. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.
Our bike ride was ambitious (for me at least) - a 20 mile round trip ride to Hermit's Rest, the farthest West point of the South Rim of the Canyon, and back again. The problem was, the starting point and ending point were both uphill! (And also, I'm horribly out of shape) So, I cruised from the starting point down through the village, but the climb up to Hermit's Rest was awful. We ended up making it only to Hopi Point before deciding to turn around. We weren't sure if we would be able to get the bikes back by 5pm if we kept going. It was still quite a sight from this viewpoint though.  
After the ride, I hurt everywhere, but was able to hobble along the rest of the day. The kids completed their Junior Ranger activity book. They were sworn in by a Park Ranger at the Visitor's Center and received a badge they could pin on their shirts. We checked out the gift shop, picked up a few souvenirs, and headed back to the hotel to clean up and have dinner. Again, we collapsed into bed by 8pm completely exhausted.

The next morning we hit the road after breakfast and rolled back into Phoenix around noon. It was so nice to spend a few days together as a family, just being outside and exploring nature. The Grand Canyon is really gorgeous, and I can't wait to go back again! As the kids get older there will only be more and more things we can do there. It's pretty cool to live so close to something this awesome.

3.21.2016

Mini Vacation - The Grand Canyon, Part 1

Over Madeleine's Spring Break, we decided to take a couple of days off and finally see the Grand Canyon! We drove to the South Rim of the Canyon on St. Patrick's day - taking a slightly longer route that allowed us to see a couple of other sights along the way.

The first stop was the Little Colorado River Gorge.
The gorge is on Navajo land, so there was a small donation requested to get into the viewpoint area. The depth of this thing was insane, and pictures do not do it justice.
Just to give you an idea of what we were seeing...this rail is right at the cliff edge, then it's a 3000 foot drop straight down. Needless to say we were holding onto the kids for dear life.
It was on to the Grand Canyon after that. We hit the Desert View Watchtower viewpoint at lunchtime, sat at the picnic tables and ate a packed lunch we had brought with us from home; then finally got our first views of the Canyon! It did not disappoint.
We climbed to the top of the Watchtower for some more amazing views.
Next up, we decided to check out our hotel. We stayed at Maswik Lodge, which is in the Grand Canyon Village. We were lucky to get a room inside the park (they book up really far in advance), so we thankfully didn't have to worry about entering and leaving the park every time we needed to go back to the hotel. I really enjoyed Maswik Lodge. It's a little rustic, but so are all the hotels in the park (they're all pretty old). It's really conveniently located and had a decent enough cafeteria style restaurant on the premises. We ended up eating all our meals there except for one breakfast. Honestly, my only complaint was their pillows. I would have slept much better if I had remembered to bring my own.

After settling in, we headed to the Visitor's Center. We wanted the kids to participate in the Junior Rangers program, so we picked up their activity books and listened to a Park Ranger Program where we learned all about the Javelina (hey, remember when I ran into a couple here).

After a yummy pizza dinner at the hotel, we decided to try and catch the sunset along the canyon. We headed west along the Bright Angel Trailhead. It was paved, which allowed us to use the stroller for Seamus, but it was also mostly up hill. Ugh. There was also no railing, but the trail was bordered by rocks and had a few feet on the outer side before it eventually dropped off. We found a nice and private little viewpoint and enjoyed the view for a while - just the four of us.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was after 7pm. We got the kiddos in their pj's and watched a bit of TV. Bill and I had loaded our iPads up with movies to watch after the kids went to bed, but we were both too exhausted. So, instead we all crashed for the night shortly after 8pm.
It was a pretty fun day, and I couldn't wait to explore more the next day. Stay tuned!

3.18.2016

Seamus' Third Birthday Recap

Look out! Someone just turned three in our house!
That's right, our little Seamus recently celebrated his third birthday. I feel like he's been waiting so long for this to happen too; constantly asking us over the last few months if it was his birthday yet. He also went through quite a few ideas for his birthday theme; dinosaurs, then jungle animals, but ultimately he decided on a shark birthday!

So, the Sunday before his birthday, we headed to the aquarium - Arizona Sea Life Aquarium to be exact.
It's a super cute little aquarium in Tempe; oddly located in a mall of all places. It's totally catered to kids though, so it was perfect for Madeleine and Seamus.
It's not huge by any means, but the exhibits are done really well. Lots of different fish, crustaceans, turtles, stingrays, and of course sharks! Little sharks, but they were big enough to delight Seamus.
We all had a fun time oohing and aahing. We even found Nemo and Dory!
After the aquarium, we had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe, which I actually have never been to before. Another fun place for kids, and you should have seen Seamus' face light up when they brought him a cupcake with a candle and sang Happy Birthday to him. It was a really fun day.

During the week, on his actual birthday, we had a little celebration after school and work. A few streamers, a few balloons, pizza for dinner, and a little cake for dessert.
In between all that there were lots of FaceTime/Skype calls with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
He was all smiles all night long. It made me so happy to see how happy and excited he was.
And of course, there were presents. He is all loaded up on dinosaurs, trains, and cars. This kid is all boy.
It was a big birthday for me in a lot of ways too. Seamus was not the easiest baby and he definitely went through the terrible twos, but now we're starting to see the light. Finally, we can actually talk with him, and it's so much fun watching his personality develop. He's funny, sweet, and a little mischievous too.

Happy Birthday, Seamus! I know you think you're a big boy now, but you'll always be my baby.

3.16.2016

Let's Go To The Movies - Zootopia

Madeleine is on Spring Break, so we headed to the movies yesterday and checked out Zootopia.

Animals big and small, predator and pray all live together in relative peace and harmony in the bustling city of Zootopia. When, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), becomes the first ever rabbit to join the Zootopia police department; she's determined to make a difference despite a total lack of respect or confidence from her boss, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Desperate for a chance to show she has what it takes, she stakes her career on solving a puzzling missing mammal case. With no help from within her department she forces a reluctant, con-artist fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) into helping her solve the mystery.

Man, Disney is good. I had no idea what Zootopia was about going in. I just new Disney + animals and thought my daughter would enjoy it. As the story started, I figured I knew where it was headed. Nobody thinks the bunny can be a police officer. "I get it," I thought to myself, "this is a film about how anybody can be anything they want to be if they're willing to put in the work. Cool, that's a good message for my daughter. I can get behind this." Then the bunny got to Zootopia, and before I even knew what happened I realized I was watching a film about sexism and racism and fear mongering and racial profiling! I was so impressed they were able to tell such a complex and layered story so subtly, all the while making it really colorful and fun for kids. It was truly an amazing fete of storytelling. I highly recommend taking your kids to see this one. Yes, it's a cute movie, but it's also a great opportunity to start (or hopefully continue) teaching our children about equality.

Also, the sloths were hilarious.

3.14.2016

Can you handle it?

When we last left off on the kitchen refresh we had finally painted the cabinets grey (see here), but we had yet to install the new hardware - gold hardware to be exact.

Yes, that's right, gold hardware is totally back in fashion. Not the brassy, shiny gold hardware of the 80's and 90's though, but matte golds (and rose golds) in simple, classic shapes.

I knew I wanted to do pulls, as opposed to knobs, and that I need them in a couple different sizes too. They also needed to be affordable, as we needed 33 of them. After a very long internet search, I finally pulled the trigger on these babies from KnobBrands.com.
Most cabinets and drawers got the standard 3" pull, but the three long drawers next to our refrigerator got the 17.5" long pulls. They look super sharp.
Changing the hardware is such an easy update you can do to any kitchen to instantly make it feel more modern.
A handy hardware template makes it easy to install everything straight and level too.
I'm so pleased with how they turned out!
They're the perfect compliment to our newly painted cabinets, and they look truly finished now. The cabinets that is, not the entire kitchen yet.
Next up, the back splash! Although it might be a little bit before we're done with that. In the meantime, you can catch-up on the entire kitchen refresh project below. Stay tuned!

I'm Dreaming Of A Grey Kitchen
Bye-Bye Backsplash
Prepping For Paint - Part 1
Prepping For Paint - Part 2
Three Shades of Grey
Yay for Grey!

3.11.2016

Fan Girl - Outlander

I'm so excited for Outlander to return in April! Check out the beautiful promo pic - that red dress!
If you're not watching this show, I cannot recommend it enough. It's history, romance, and science-fiction all rolled into one; and it's stunning. Now's the time to catch up by watching the first season.

Or better yet, read the books then watch the show.  Season one is based on Outlander and Season 2 will be Dragonfly in Amber. The second book also moves the story from Scotland to France - specifically the court of Louis XV, so the costumes this upcoming season should be really amazing.

Also, I'm dying to find out who they cast as Brianna and Roger. I can't freaking wait!!

3.09.2016

Book Report - All The Light We Cannot See and Metamorphosis

Well, I've officially started reading again, but before I can get into the new books I've read I have to finish up the reviews of the ones I hit in 2015.

First up, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
All the Light We Cannot See tells the parallel and intertwining stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl, living in Paris with her father; and Werner, a German orphan, placed in a Hitler Youth academy during World War II. As the Germans get closer to Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee for the coastal town of Saint-Malo to stay with a strange and reclusive great-uncle and hopefully escape the invasion. Meanwhile, Werner's expert radio skills move him up the ranks at his school, into the war as a soldier, and eventually lead him to the same Saint-Malo town where the two stories converge.

I really enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See. Anthony Doerr does a fantastic job of describing the settings and characters. Like painting a picture, I could see everything he described so vividly. It was such an interesting take to view the horrors of World War II (on both the French and German side) through the eyes of children. Marie-Laure was such an extraordinary character, so brave at such a young age. Werner's story was especially fascinating, and the inside look at a Hitler Youth academy was terrifying. This was an extraordinary read that I can't recommend enough.

Next up, the classic, Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.
One morning, Gregor Samsa, awakes to discover that he has turned into a giant insect. Gregor attempts to adjust to this new life, while his parents and sister, are burdened with the task of caring for him in his altered state all the while simultaneously disgusted by his new form.

The entire time I was reading Metamorphosis, I kept saying to myself, "What a strange story." There is no explanation ever given for why Gregor transforms into bug, and I didn't know if it was supposed to be an allegory for something bigger. A quick Google search didn't result in an answer, so I just took it at face value. Gregor felt himself a burden to his family, and they, obviously, did not deal with the circumstances well. His situation can easily be compared to when a young, healthy, and able person suddenly falls ill or becomes disabled. He doesn't want to be a burden, but he is also incapable of doing anything for himself. He's entirely dependent on a family that, each day, cares less and less for him. It's a quick read, but the dark subject matter is sure to stay with you much longer.

I read both these books as part of the Pop Sugar 2015 Reading Challenge. All the Light We Cannot See marked off "A Pullitzer Prize winning book" and Metamorphosis marked off "A book more than a 100 years old".

3.07.2016

Yay for Grey!

We're done painting, and the kitchen is back put together! It's obviously not done yet, but it's functional again, and well - grey!! So, yay!
We used the same technique to paint as when we primed (see here). First, we laid all the doors on our living/dining room floor propped up on books that were covered with plastic sheet to protect them and the floors. We used a small angled brush to get into all the crevices and a small foam roller for all the flat surfaces making sure the to apply as thinly as possible. It took two coats.
As careful as we were, we still ended up with a few drip marks and bubbles though. After each coat dried we lightly sanded any we found and touched up with the paint where needed.
The paint color looks great against the counter tops. There's a moodiness to it that I really like.
Also, you can still see the wood grain on the cabinets when you look closely. I knew that going in, and like the look. It's not a manufactured, matte-type finish. If you're looking for that look, this is not the technique to use. Be warned, the finished product here looks like painted wood.
I talked about the paint color we chose (see here), but not the actual paint. We used Benjamin Moore Advance, which is a self-leveling paint perfect for cabinets. Again, we chose the color Stone Harbor in a Satin finish.
I love how they turned out, and can't wait to finish up the project. We still need to, among other things, install new hardware (you can see a sneak peak of the handles we picked in these pictures), put the new back splash up, and paint the walls yet.

Working around the kiddos, it took us exactly two weeks to get to this point. So, for now, we're just patting ourselves on the back for finishing this part of the job.

P.S. I'm Dreaming Of A Grey KitchenBye-Bye BacksplashPrepping For Paint - Part 1Prepping For Paint - Part 2Three Shades of Grey