Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Snip, Snip!

This weekend I took Ethan to get his first "official" haircut at a salon. I decided to take him where I go -  Phase 2 Salon - to my stylist, Lynne, because she's great! It's been a little over a year since we first cut his hair here at home, but I decided it was time to see what a professional could do. Nothing against Josh and his clipper skills, but since we decided to let Ethan's hair grow out a bit on top, cutting with the clippers wasn't really working anymore (and Ethan's intense dislike of the process wasn't really much fun for any of us either).

For fun, let's revisit his first haircut back in April 2010 (just a month after his first birthday)...here are some side, back and front before/after views...

Wow. Poor 'lil guy. I guess it could probably be considered borderline child abuse allowing his mullet to get so long and icky! :( And yes, he will probably hate me some day for both posting this and allowing him to look so scruffy!! haha! But as you can see, Josh did a great job with the first cut. Using the clippers has worked well for the past year, since we have kept his hair short due to it's incredible ability to stand up straight no matter how long it grew!

Recently, we decided it looked cute as his bangs grew out a bit and he wore them brushed to the side. So, a clipper cut on those wasn't really going to work anymore. That is where Lynne came in. We needed someone with some scissor skills! :) So, I made the appointment, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. My mom and dad were in town for Memorial Day, so my mom and I took him for the haircut since Josh was at work. I'm glad I had someone with me to capture some pics since I ended up holding Ethan for this exciting experience.

At first he seemed to be quite interested in watching all of the others get their hair cut, but when it came time for his turn he seemed to be a bit reluctant. So, we sat him on my lap and I made everything better with a sucker. Yep, suckers can work magic with our child! He doesn't get them often as I try to reserve them for situations that require his best behavior. Maybe not my best parenting technique, but so far, it has worked. ;) Once engrossed in his sucker and with both of us dressed in capes, Lynne went to work...

He was such a goof as he checked himself out in the mirror! ;)

Yep, that's Mr. Cool!

And look at the fantastic results! :) I guess I didn't realize, once again, how bad his mullet was getting. :( Shame on me. Fortunately, he is all set now with a shorter, cooler cut for these HOT temps we have been having this week! 95 degrees in May? No thanks! :(

So that was our big adventure for Memorial Day weekend this year. I also finally completed attempt #2 at cake pops and my dad and I managed to get Ethan's new room painted finally, so I'll blog about those things soon, once I transfer pics and we get the room put back together! :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Landscaping Project of 2011

As of the end of January of this year, we have been in our Georgia house for 2 years!! Wow! Not sure where the time goes. Perhaps the addition of a child to the mix plays a part in that?? ;) So for the past two springs/summers we have struggled to grow grass in the harsh red clay of the South. We had no idea it would be such a chore impossible! :( Growing grass at our Kentucky house was a piece of cake (throw down some seed and water it a bit and in 2 weeks, bam! A lush, green yard!), but then we actually had soil there, not this messy clay stuff...It probably didn't help that every time we would get a heavy rain it would wash all the seed away down the "pit" of our front yard, or that the nice, shady trees in the back yard were not conducive to allowing Bermuda grass seed to grow properly. Sigh.

This year we decided to do something about our mess of a yard. We were tired of not being able to use the back yard at all (and just part of the front yard) and Ethan is at an age where he really, really wants to play outside (I am talking 24/7)! So, we called Rocky Branch Garden Center and had a nice gentleman by the name of Johnny Bolin out to take a look at our yard. He actually works with the Callaway Gardens too, which is known for their beauty, so we figured we were in good hands. He came up with a great plan for filling in the front yard "pit," sodding the front, back and side yards, installing a 6-zone in-ground sprinkler system, planting some Asiatic jasmine (a vine) and placing some rock on the side hill to prevent further erosion, and filling in some areas that wouldn't do well with Bermuda grass with pine straw. Sounded great to us! We were hesitant at first about doing the sprinkler system with it's added cost, but as Johnny suggested, you would hate to spend so much on sod then have it die because we couldn't get it watered properly. So, with Josh at work all day and me being super preggo, limiting our watering abilities, we said what the heck and went for it! :)

Here are some before and after pics of the results! :) This first one is of the back yard. When they graded everything, they removed over a truckload of dirt from back here to help flatten the yard out on the side the picture is being taken from.

Here is the side yard that butts up to a creek that runs through the trees. While it didn't seem to be a huge area before the renovation, it is now a decent-sized usable space! :)

Here are some shots from the front. Unfortunately you can't truly appreciate how bad the "pit" was by looking at this picture. It took 4 truck loads of miscellaneous fill (rock and such) and 5 truck loads of dirt to help get it leveled out!

And now the "pit" is full of beautiful, green sod and the retaining fence has been removed!!! :)

This side of the driveway was notorious for washing out every time it rained. Water would pour over our driveway, down through the "pit," gouging out huge trenches as it went. Not pretty. On this side, Asiatic jasmine were planted to help with the erosion. Within a season, this vine should spread out and cover the area. They also placed some rock in one particularly bad spot.

Here is another angle of the back yard, showing the 12' x 16' outdoor building that Josh is currently working on. It still needs the garage door hung and the hardieplank siding completed, then it will be good to go for storing the lawnmower, 4-wheeler and various other items. :)

And here's one more angle of the back yard. The perfect area for Ethan to run and play now!! :)

Here are some shots looking out towards the road. This is a large area that is now much more level.

And here is a closer look at the front yard. So much more usable space now it is incredible!!

So as you can see, we are quite happy thrilled with the results of our project. Perhaps next year we will tackle a fence for the backyard (making it easier for me to keep the kiddos corralled!) and maybe a pool if we can swing it too! ;) Ethan still needs a playset built too, so we'll see if we can manage that yet this year as well. Next up inside the house is getting Ethan's big boy room finished up so we can move him over there and have the nursery ready for the baby! Whew! I guess we better hope this little guy decides to cook for the full 7 weeks he has left! ;)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Adventures in Cake Pops

Alrighty. Coming at you is the highly anticipated start to my cake pops journey. I was going to wait and blog about it after I finished my first batch, but it appears I have waited too long to do so and those yummy little cake morsels that were still awaiting their coating have started to get kind of hard. :( I guess that's what happens when you leave frosting-laced balls of cake in the fridge for nearly a week. Oops! Something to remember for next time...and I guess I'll just have to whip up a fresh batch tomorrow. Oh darn! ;)

Before beginning my journey, I watched a how-to video by the Bakerella, a lady who has apparently been making these tasty little treats for awhile now. I learned some tips and the general steps to making a cake pop. If you have ever checked out this product before you know there are some amazing cake pops being made out there. My first attempt was a simple one, but with time I would love to perfect my skills enough to make some of the stunning creations that can be found online.

I decided to use my favorite vanilla sheet cake recipe in my attempt to recreate my favorite cake pops - Starbucks' birthday cake pops - which I blogged about a couple months ago. I gathered my ingredients and with the assistance of my special helper (my nephew, Jacob), we set out to bake a yummy vanilla sheet cake. :)

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups plus 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or buttermilk (I substituted with 1/2 cup regular milk plus 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
In a saucepan, bring the butter and water to a boil. Remove from heat and add sugar, flour and salt. Beat with a mixer. In a small bowl, combine eggs, milk (plus lemon juice), baking soda and vanilla. Mix well. Add to the mixture in the saucepan. Beat well and pour into a greased and floured pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-35 minutes (depends on pan - 20 for jellyroll pan, 35 for 9" x 13" pan like I used).

After the cake was baked, we let it cool completely. 

Next it was time to crumble it up. I decided to cut off the edges first because they were a little more crisp than I wanted in the pops. Looking back, I probably should have taken a little off the top of the cake too, to give the cake crumbs a consistent color. Below is the cake, crumbled into crumbs and the frosting that I decided to use. I am not a big fan of frosting in general, especially of canned frostings, but I also don't really like making frosting either, so I thought I would cheat and try it out using a canned frosting first.

On my next attempt, I think I may try making my own frosting to use. Not sure yet though. I am also thinking about trying a simple boxed white cake mix too instead of the vanilla sheet cake. I think the flavor will be more similar to that of Starbucks' pops. Here is a pic of the crumbs with the frosting mixed in.

Next came the messy part. I think it's easiest to just get your hands in there and make the balls...

In hindsight, I think I made the balls too big. I had a bit of trouble with some of them wanting to fall off while coating, so next time, I will make the balls smaller. Once the balls are formed, I placed them in the freezer for 15 minutes, as instructed by the Bakerella. In the meantime, I got the candy coating ready by melting some pink Wilton's candy melts in the microwave.

Another tip for next time - I think using a double boiler method for melting may be a better technique than nuking them. The candy melted just fine, but by halfway through the process of coating the pops, it was starting to harden in the bowl too, making it difficult to use. I needed to be able to keep it warmer for the duration of the process.

Once the cake pops froze for 15 minutes, I took them out and started coating them. The Bakerella had instructed to dip the lollipop stick in the candy coating slightly, then insert it into the cake ball.

Next you place the cake ball into the candy coating and turn it, coating it evenly on all sides. Then you are supposed to hold it over the bowl and tap the hand that is holding the cake pop lightly to allow the excess coating to drain back into the bowl. Hmm. The balls coated just fine, but I had trouble getting any excess to come back off. :( I think the coating needed to be a bit thinner somehow. So, I was left with a pretty thick candy coating on each cake pop. So thick that 14 oz of candy only managed to coat 17 cake pops! And I had a lot more cake balls leftover that needed to be coated...For my next attempt I bought some Ghirardelli white chocolate to use as a coating. I may try adding some almond flavoring to it too and hope that I can get the coating much thinner and easier to work with.

Sadly, I did not think ahead and get something to put the lollipops in to dry/harden. The Bakerella suggests styrofoam blocks, which would be great for sticking the sticks into and allowing the cake pop to stand and harden into a beautiful round shell. So, I had to improvise and chose to just set them on their tops on some wax paper. As you can see below, there is plenty of excess coating at the bottom/tops of the pops and you can also see how rough the coating was starting to get as it cooled down. :(

And now for the final product...They were fairly close to Starbucks as far as moistness was concerned. The shell was a bit too thick for me, but I am going to work on that next time. The taste was good and hubby said he actually preferred it to Starbucks' version! :) Now I need to work on making them more beautiful.

And one final pic of my favorite little taste tester, who, of course, loved them! :)

Stay tuned for part two to my adventure!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quite a Bit of Catching Up!!

Whew! I am not really sure where the past month has gone since things have been so crazy around here.

Ethan has become quite the independent little man with a mind of his own. A few weeks ago he took off the usual white socks that he wears because he wanted to pick out his own socks. Here was the result...

Long, dressy black socks wouldn't have been my choice for an 80-degree day, but hey, at least he picked black instead of brown, right? ;) I guess he just thought they matched his outfit better!! haha!

We celebrated Easter here at the house with an egg hunt. It was a quick one so that the candy wouldn't melt in the super hot temps we had that day, but I think both Ethan and Daisy had fun searching for their respective eggs. :)

At the end of the month Ethan had visits from two of his grandparents. We wonder if he was a bit confused at the lack of a match - his Grandma Frank and his Grandpa Seeley were here at the same time. My mom came down to help watch Ethan so I could get some things done around the house in order to prepare for this little guy's arrival. Josh's dad made the trip down to help Josh work on his outdoor building. In just three days they managed to get a lot accomplished. All of the walls are up and the roof is on and shingled. Now he just needs to get the hardiplank siding on, hang the garage door and man door and get it painted! :) Next up for outdoor projects...we are having our yard done!! Yay! We will have to be sure to post before and after pics of that once it is completed.

While my mom was here, I walked in the March of Dimes March for Babies walk (with my local MomsLikeMe team) in downtown Atlanta. The walk was set for 5.5 miles, but unfortunately, my almost 30-week preggo body couldn't handle the entire walk, so a little over 3 miles in, my friend Tammi and I took the "pooped out" van to the finish. I was proud I was able to accomplish that much in 80+ degree heat with an extra 15 pounds on my tummy! It was great to finally meet Tammi in person since we had been talking online for over a year and a half. Thanks again to my friends and family for their very generous donations to this great cause!

Last Friday afternoon, Ethan's new bedroom furniture was delivered. Yay!! We found a great bunk bed at a nice family business (Goree's Furniture) down in Opelika, AL. So we purchased that and a matching dresser for his new big boy room. They came in much faster than anticipated, but we were excited they made it in time for the Corbett's visit so that cousin Jacob could test them out for us! :) We still need to get the room painted and curtains hung, then we will be ready to move Ethan in, but for now, he definitely enjoys climbing up the ladder and playing on the top bunk! Yikes! I'm so not ready for that!! haha! I'll add more pics once the room is finished. :)

My sister and her family (the Corbett's) came for a visit this past weekend. On Mother's Day, we decided to make the trip over to Pine Mountain to go through the Wild Animal Safari. Ethan loved it last time we went (in October), so we wanted Jacob and Rachel to experience it too. It was a warm day again, but the kids had a blast in the zebra minivan, feeding all of the animals! :)

After our excitement at the park, everyone zonked out for awhile back at the house, then we decided to go to Red Robin for our Mother's Day dinner. We had a yummy, uneventful meal with three kids three and under! Nothing better than that! ;) haha. The next day we got some yummy smoothies at our local smoothie shop and Jacob helped me make my first batch of cake pops! Woo hoo!! Stay tuned, more about those later... :)

We also had a photo session with the cousins and got some GREAT shots for a change! :)

We had a fun visit and the two fur kids, Daisy and Pickle, got to meet too! They loved playing together after getting the initial meeting part out of the way! ;)

Whew. Well, I think that is all for now. My next post will hopefully be coming soon!