Sunday, January 24, 2016

How to train your toddler: Dragon themed cupcakes for Millie's Birthday Party.

Millie has a birthday coming up. Some of you may remember my strong cupcake game from last year, which unfortunately has backfired, since Millie is expecting an elaborate theme again this year. Luckily, this weekend during Millie's nap, I had an amazing brain wave.
how to train your dragon toothless cupcakes toddler birthday party
For those of you who have never seen "How to train your dragon," it's a movie that all toddlers love.  It's about a gangly teenage viking exploring his various career opportunities, and discovering that dragon training is his most marketable skill.  The viking community where he lives has a weird thing for sheep, which are used in their strange, airborne version of viking Quiddich, which provides much comic relief to the movie and its sequel.

"Toothless" is the name of the coolest dragon of all, and he looks like this:

The best thing about making these cupcakes it that anyone can do it.  I know some cute cupcake ideas require a certain level of expertise with frosting.  These do not.  The only thing you will need to do with frosting is to slather it vaguely in the direction of your cupcakes, and also squirt it from a ziplock bag directly into your mouth. Here is how you can get started:

Bake some cupcakes.
The first thing you should do, is bake some chocolate cupcakes.  You can make these from scratch, or go out and buy a box mix.  I don't care. In fact, if you choose to buy some mix from a box, I will swear to everyone that you made them from scratch, using sustainably harvested cocoa powder and agave nectar, because that's the kind of loyal, trustworthy internet friend I am.

Gather your materials.
While your cupcakes are baking and cooling, gather your materials for decorating.

You will need:
1. White frosting (you can make or buy this)
2. Food coloring (I use the "neon" colors, because the results are so bright!)
4. Graham crackers
5. Mini-marshmallows
6. Chocolate chips (two sizes, normal, and "mini")
7. A few plastic sandwich or ziploc bags
8. (optional) A nail file to shape the cookies (buy a new one, don't use the one from your bathroom, nasties :)!)

DIY party cupcakes

Color the frosting:
Get three small ziploc or sandwich bags.

  • In the first bag, put two small drops of plain green (neon) food dye into the bag on top of the frosting.  Squish the frosting inside the bag until the green is all mixed in (note: if you feel more comfortable, you can mix the dye in outside of the bag, I just do it this way because dishwashing is for suckers.) This color will be your light green.
  • In a second bag, repeat this process, but put an extra drop of blue dye in with the green.  This will be your dark green. 
  • In a third bag, scoop some plain white frosting. 
  • In all three bags, snip the corner off of the ziplock bag.  You've now created your professional cake decorating tools!

To make Toothless:
Start with a plain chocolate cupcake.  I didn't put any icing on this, because the un-frosted cupcake looked "scalier" and it was also healthy (it's the agave nectar!) I pulled two halves of a normal oreo in half, scraped the frosting off the back with a nail file, and broke it in half to get started with the ears/horns.
Ok, so I know the nile file thing is weird.  Someone had just given us a new "nail tending kit" for christmas, and since I"m about as likely to tend to my cuticles as the viking king, Stoic the Vast, I decided to put these tools to good use. For me, it really helped shave the cookies into exactly the shapes I wanted them.
Once the cupcakes cooled off a bit, the top became a little crusty, and  it helped to cut slits int he top of the cupcake where the oreo bits would go. 
I ate a massive amount of oreos in the creation of these cupcakes.  I'm sure you will too, so take some of the shrapnel, and stick it in the top, to a make a ridge like the one Toothless has. 

Start with he dark green, and make vaguely oval eyes.  These do not have to perfectly smooth. 
Haha! Look at those eyes.  They look awful. 

Next, put in a layer of the light green over top of the dark green.  Make sure you leave a little of the dark green peeking out of the sides. 
See! I told you that you don't have to be a professional cake decorator! So far, this cupcake looks terrible. Now comes the best part.  Get two of the chocolate chips (the regular size, not the minis,) and  stick them on.
Voila! All of the sudden, your cupcake looks 100% less shitty than it did!  I found that making Toothless vaguely cross-eyed gave the most realistic/cutest effect.

To make the Sheep:

Slather white frosting all over a cupcake. At this point, you should probably also have some frosting for yourself.
Get a rectangular section of graham cracker.  Round out the edges with the nail file.
Break some pieces of graham cracker and carve out some little ears.  These can look bad-- don't sweat it. 
Stick 3 marshmallows on each side, and 2 along the top, leaving space for the terrible little ears you made. 
See, I told you the ears would look ok. 

Using the bag of white frosting, make two large dots for the eyes. 

And then add two smaller dots for the nostrils. 
Yep. It's pretty simple. 
sheep cupcake how to train your dragon party
For the finishing touch, add two mini chocolate chips for the eyes.  Then, take a celebratory swig of frosting, because that sheep looks GOOD. 

Are you feeling smug?  I think you should be, because when your toddler wakes up from her nap, she is going to FREAK OUT.

I hope you enjoyed making these cupcakes, which will trick everyone into thinking you are the Michael Phelps of cupcake making.  (Tip: do not let actual Michael Phelps near these cupcakes, he will eat them all.) I'm a pretty proud of them, but I'm also starting to get nervous about raising the bar for next year's birthday party. Luckily, that's a year away, and for now, I've got about three ziploc baggies of leftover frosting calling my name...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Oregon, A Visitors Guide (Subtitle: how I peed in the Metolious River)

This blog post is a PSA for anybody who is considering visiting Oregon.  DON'T GO THERE. CANCEL YOUR CONCERT TICKETS AND MARIJUANA DISPENSARY APPOINTMENTS.  Turn around now while you can, because once you get to Oregon, every single thing you encounter will be so beautiful, you'll want to puke your puking face off.
visitors guide oregon
Last summer, Sean and I made a huge mistake and took Millie on a vacation to Oregon.  Life has been really hard for us now that we've returned, because compared to that place, Ohio looks like the frozen ice planet of Hoth. Here's an overview of what we did.  My only hope is that this blog post will serve as a deterrent to other reckless wanderers, whose eyeballs have been heretofore unassualted by the pristine beauty of that North Western Harlot, Oregon.

A Primer: 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Oregon is a state/microbrewery along the pacific coast of the United States, just north of California. It is most famous as the destination of the computer game, Oregon Trail, and as the place where my sister, Kelly just moved.
visitors guide oregon
Every single store in Oregon offers growler fills.  As you can see, even this corporate shell station has succumbed to the state's powerful microbrewery lobby.
Things to See in Oregon

The Forest:

When you're visiting Oregon, it's important that you visit the forest.  It's not important which one you choose, because each one of them, including the ones adjacent to highway rest-stations, look like something out of a Sierra club calendar, or the hit movie, Harry and the Hendersons
visitors guide oregon
I call this photo "Tree on the side of the Road."  I can't decide if this forest is crawling with ancient tree shepherds, or with Sasquatches, but either way, I am obsessed with it.
The Campsites

Oregon is home to some of the country's most beautiful rivers, all of which will be too popular to find campsites along. You and your husband will drive from site to site,  for several hours until you are eventually driven up into Oregon's high desert, at LaPine State Park-- Oregon's only unattractive campground.

visitors guide oregon
I peed in this river.

visitors guide oregon
Campsite at Opal Creek

visitors guide oregon
Campsite by Haystack Rock.

visitors guide oregon
Errr..... Campsite at LaPine.

LaPine state park was easily 1000 degrees during the day, and below freezing at night.  The only interesting wildlife we encountered there was a colony of felonious ground squirrels, who would abscond with any unattended food items lighter than a jar of JIF peanut butter.  For this reason, I recommend all visitors there eat exclusively Vienna sausages and hanks of local bison during your stay at LaPine.

* Pro-Tip- Use your growler to weigh down your shampoo-- or those little shits will take that too.

The Coast:
Another "must see" on your visit to Oregon, is the coast. One advantage to visiting the coast with your family, is that immediately upon entering Oregon's coastal watershed, all tourists are immediately transformed into talented professional photographers. Here are a few photos from the Oregon coast, all of which look like they were captured by David Attenborough, but were actually taken on my cell phone-- and generally after I had been patronizing one of the coastal open fermentation microbreweries. 

visitors guide oregon
I call this shot "Maybe I should move to Oregon"

visitors guide oregon
This one is called "Okay, I'm definitely moving to Oregon."

visitors guide oregon
I call this one, "Sean and Millie exploring our new home, Oregon!"

I call this photo, "Kelly, I just looked up housing prices in Oregon, and I am furious with you."

The Pig-N-Ford
While you're on the coast, it's important to go to Tillamook county, home of the "Pig-n-Ford," our country's greatest sporting event. The "Pig-n-Ford" happens every year at the Tillamook county fair, and involves contestants sprinting to a pen full of live pigs, hand-cranking a Ford Model-T with a 20 pound swine in one hand, and holding it in their arms as they make laps around a dirt racetrack. Then, they repeat this process, because there are NO LIMITS TO THEIR COURAGE, OR THEIR GROWLERS FULL OF WHAT I'M ASSUMING IS MOONSHINE.

 The most important video you'll ever watch.

The Cities:
After all that camping, you are probably going to want a shower, and a trendy brunch somewhere. I recommend any of Oregon's cities, as long as those cities do not contain any real estate agents.  You are in a vulnerable emotional state, and real estate agents are to be avoided at all costs, unless you want to end up paying $700,000 for a 1200 square foot Arts and Crafts cottage with a backyard full of heirloom rhubarb and a xeriscaped front walk.

Per Oregon building code, all dwellings built after 2011 must prominently feature hop vines climbing up a pergola or trellis. 

The Airport: 
Eventually, you will run out of vacation leave and need to return home from Oregon. Remember to leave for the airport early in order to give yourself time to navigate the crowds of healthy, attractive, socially conscious travelers flying out of PDX.

I call this photo "Me weeping, as we leave Oregon."

A few travel tips:
  • Bring some extra cash so your husband can rush to buy a sweatshirt from the Rouge Brewery at the other end of the concourse before you board.
  • Don't fill your growler with local, Marion-berry cider before you go through security, TSA will not let you in the concourse. 
  • If the person sitting next to you on the plane tells you she is a real estate agent from Portland, ask the stewardess to change seats.
  • If the person sitting next to you tells you they are a park ranger from LaPine State park, surreptitiously check their carry-on for stow-away ground squirrels.
  • If the person sitting next to you is the 2015 champion of the Tillamook County Pig-n-Ford, ask them for their autograph, and to be your child's godparent.

The Pictures:
When you return for Oregon, it's likely that your co-workers will want to know how your vacation was. What are you supposed to tell them?  Oregon is a magical land, filled with organic hops and sea lions?  That there is not a single mosquito, alive anywhere in Oregon? That your retinas are now forever etched with the majesty of those Sasquatch filled woods, and that from now on 75% of your "office time" will be spent looking at $500,000 bunglows on zillow?

No, you will lie.  Lie and protect your innocent colleagues from the temptation that is Oregon.  Or, if there is a particular co-worker you don't like-- someone you wouldn't mind seeing a 6 hour plane ride away---well I guess there is no harm in showing them just one picture.

visitors guide oregon
Dibs on your office, Larry.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Goodbye 2015, Don't let the door hit you in the Ass on the Way Out.

Some of you (by which I mean, probably just my parents), may have noticed that I haven't been updating Sean and Katie's place much in 2015.  There are two very good reason's for that. One is about 30 pounds, and knee high, and wants to be a flute player/dragon rider when she grows up.  The other reason is a little sadder.

 Some of you may remember the Spring of 2015, when I announced that I was pregnant, after failing to convince my neighbor Bill that I was going on a cleanse. Sadly, 4 1/2 months into this pregnancy, I went into early labor.  Our second daughter, Adeline was born on June 2nd, and did not live. I debated whether or not to even mention this on Sean and Katie's place, because the tone of this blog is so playful, but I've decided that it's important for readers to know this about us, if you plan on following along in our lives.  I've written extensively (mostly for myself in order to process grief) on a separate blog. To read about our Adeline, click here.

The health complications that followed for me have been shocking. For months after Adeline's death, I dealt with extreme blood loss. I had 3 surgeries, 4 blood transfusions, and went into something called "septic shock." (given it's name because it feels like you are being buried alive in an actual septic field.)  On three separate occasions, I was in critical condition and on three separate occasions, Sean and I said our goodbyes to each other. And, if you think that last sentence sounds dramatic, wait until I tell you this.  At one point, I was rushed in a helicopter to the ICU in downtown Cleveland by a life-flight Paramedic whose ACTUAL NAME was Alan Jackson. Then, a medical student stabbed an IV in my ACTUAL NECK, while I was still awake.  It was crazy.

For all these reasons, as I reflect on 2015, I just have one message for this awful year, which is best expressed in picture format:

2015 go f yourself

And then in break up letter format:

Hey 2015, 

We need to talk.  I've been thinking for a while now that this isn't going to work out. It's not me-- it's definitely you. I just can't keep living with this much DRAMA.  Actually.... it's kind of awkward to talk about this, but I've recently been seeing someone new.  His name is 2016.  He's older, more mature, and has a better job than you. I think we're going to be really happy together. 

See you around,

And then is hashtag format:


So cheers.  Let's all raise our glasses to 2016.  I hope this year is full of blessings, toddlers pretending to ride dragons, and women saying goodbye to abusive relationships with time-periods.  As for me, I'll be sitting in my house, soaking up the good times with my family, and listening to Alan Jackson's "Chatahoochee."

Happy New Year