Thursday, February 28, 2013


Yesterday was a celebration. A day over 2 years in the making. A day when Secora finally had enough hair for pigtails!
Baby's first pigtails might be the cutest thing ever
Sierra and Sedona both reached this point long before this age.  Sierra had graduated to full ponytails by the time she was two:
And Sedona had respectable pigtails at her first birthday:
So we'd been waiting for this for a while. Unlike her sisters, she loved them and was happy to keep them in most of the day. She kept touching her hair and saying, "cuuuuuuuuuuuute!!!"  She couldn't have been more right!

Friday, February 22, 2013

More Than A Cookie

We've been selling a lot of girl scout cookies around here.  I absolutely hated selling cookies when I was a kid.  I only did it for one year.  One afternoon, my mom walked me around the neighborhood to sell cookies.  She stood at the curb while I walked up to someone's house.  I rang the doorbell and waited.  And rather than opening the door, the person asked what I wanted through an intercom system. 

It may not seem like much, but I've had an irrational, but pronounced, fear of phones as long as I can remember.  It's only been in the last 6 months that I've been able to pick up the phone and make calls without having a panic response.  So there I was, 8 years old, all decked out in my brownie sash with my cute blonde curls and my cookie order form when I'm expected to talk on a giant speaker phone.  The only thing worse than a phone is a speaker phone.  My fight or flight response kicked in and I chose flight.  As in, I flew down the sidewalk and straight to my mom, where I buried my face in her shirt and cried.  Never sold another cookie. 

Of course, it's funny to think about it now, but there was still a primal "no cookie selling!" corner of my soul.  When the girls started girl scouts, I made it clear to our troop leader and the other moms: we would not sell cookies aside from booths.  Someone had to be the troop cookie mom though and I was happy to do that job.  I'll manage cookies, just not sell them. 

What I didn't count on is this amazing 8 year old I live with.  Turned out she had no problem at all with selling cookies.  She was happy as could be to chat people up, remind people we take credit cards when they said they didn't have cash, that they can donate to military troops if they're diabetic, and talk about her goals.  Boy did she have some goals.  Go big, or go home goals.  She really wanted to sell 1,000 boxes of cookies.  We settled on a more realistic 650 boxes for her first year.  She jumped at every booth opportunity that came along and convinced her daddy to take her door to door many nights.  One night, I watched her do the macarena for about an hour straight in front of Kroger to draw attention to a booth.  Many times I sat back and watched her make a sale that I would've let go.  She's confidently (and accurately) handled the cash box all on her own.  She's figured how many boxes she needs to sell each day to reach her goal and kept track of her sales so she knows when she's behind or ahead. 

I'll admit, I was a cookie skeptic.  But I've watched Sierra learn a lot over the last five weeks.  She started out timidly asking "would you like to buy some cookies?"  Now she has figured out that more neat dress makes a difference, that she can learn a lot from older girl scouts that have been successful, how to talk to customers, how to graciously accept rejection, how to stay motivated when numbers are down, how to set a goal and make a plan to reach it, how to handle money and make change under pressure, and how to market herself.  Now she explains to people what her goal is and how close she is to reaching it and even had the idea to make a video that she asked me to put on facebook as the end of the sale neared.  And she's done all this while following the rules every step of the way even when she saw other girls who weren't.  While the sales are going on, the girls are working on related activities that focus on 5 business skills: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics.  All those business skills the Girl Scouts talk about girls learning...I'm seeing it at work in my house.

Tomorrow is the last day of sales for our council (aside from a "clean sweep" weekend where a few final booths will be out to sell leftover cookies), and Sierra will definitely meet her goal. I still hate doing sales of any kind, it's just not my thing.  However, I can't begin to say how proud I am of Sierra for finding something she's rather good at and building on it to become really successful and meet the goals she set for herself.  Yes, mom and dad have had to put in quite a few hours supervising, but she's done all the hard foot work and learned an awful lot along the way.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

Sierra wanted to make a special treat for a slumber party she's having and I happened to have root beer extract in the pantry.  It didn't take long to figure out we should make root beer float cupcakes.  The best part is it wasn't even hard to do.  Standard cake recipe, substituting root beer extract for vanilla extract.

2 1/4c flour
1 1/2c sugar
2tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened and cut into chunks
4 eggs
1/2c milk
2tsp root beer extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease and flour pans
2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
3. Add butter, one chunk at a time and mix until it resembles sand
4. Mix eggs, milk and extract in a separate bowl.
5. Add about 2/3 of the liquid to the stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy
6. Slowly add remaining liquid and mix until combined
7.  Bake 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean

1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2c powdered sugar
1tsp root beer extract
1tbsp milk

1. Mix all ingredients until smooth.  Adjust consistency with more powdered sugar or milk if necessary.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Construction Baby Shower

Earlier this month, we had a little baby shower.  NOT for me, 'cause we are most definitely done with all that.  But one of my close friends is expecting a baby boy, so several of us got together to throw her a shower.

Hostessing is not my forte, I do much better with "make yourself at home and help yourself to whatever you need".  So I stuck to offering up our new house as the location, baking cake and prettying up some chocolate and let the other ladies handle the details.

Mom requested a strawberry cake, which was an new challenge, so it took me three tries to get the flavor I was going for.  I ended up making a regular white cake from scratch, but adding in strawberry syrup.  This technique is from Cook's Illustrated.  For one recipe of cake, you cook about 2 cups of frozen strawberries until they get juicy.  After straining, you have about 3/4c of juice that you reduce down to 1/4c, and that is added to the cake batter.  This wasn't quite the strong strawberry flavor mom was wanting though, it was more mild.  So I added strawberry flavoring also, just by continually tasting to judge how much was needed.  At the end I went ahead and threw in some strawberry jello too because I still didn't have the strong strawberry flavor of the cake I was trying to imitate.  That was probably a mistake.  Jello changes the texture of the cake, I'll leave it out next time.

After the cake was baked, I mixed the leftover strawberry pulp in with buttercream frosting and put a thick layer of that between layers.  For the outside of the cake, I used regular buttercream because I couldn't get the right color on the strawberry buttercream.

I cut a ramp into the cake, covered it with crushed oreos (I only used the cookies, not the frosting) for "dirt", and piped "grass" around the edges with a 233 wilton tip*.  

Earlier in the week, I designed a wrapper sized to fit miniature candy bars.  I used double sided tape to cover chocolates with these wrappers

They went into plastic treat bags and I made a card stock topper to close them up.  This is one side, and the other side said, "Thank you for helping us celebrate!"

Then I sat back and let other people handle food and games because I would rather kick the corner of a dresser with my pinky toe at 2am than be the center of attention at a party.

*Affiliate link

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Big Changes

Last week came with a lot of mental stress.  Some good stress, some not so good stress. 

Currently, Josh is a post-doc.  That means his job is temporary, and he's expected to move on at some point in the not so distant future.  Early in the week, he was informally offered a permanent job and waiting to hear about another one he had gone through multiple interviews for and we knew he was a top candidate for. 

Wednesday, we were supposed to attend closing to sell our old house and buy our new house.  Thanks to a completely incompetent, yet arrogant, 25 year old realtor (not ours, the buyer's), that closing didn't happen and was pushed to Thursday. 

Thursday morning rolled around and closing still didn't happen and was pushed off further.  We were told by the arrogant realtor that we should be grateful for him.  I was completely willing to call off both deals because this guy was going to be making a hefty commission, a commission that comes out of OUR pocket since we were the sellers. 

Thursday afternoon, Josh got a formal offer letter from the first job, with a pay rate the same as what he's making now.  This was a pretty good offer because it's a permanent job, and it's with the university, so he's already got several years of service under his belt that will be applied when he starts.

Friday morning, we finally closed on both houses.  There was very much an attitude of "no one make any sudden moves or the wife might walk out".  I gritted my teeth through the walk-through of the HUD statement, which details, among other things, the commission being paid out to mister "I'm, by far, the youngest, least experienced person involved in this transaction, but you should all bow at my feet because I'm awesome". 

Josh also let job number two know he had another offer on the table. 

By Friday afternoon, funding was complete and the title company let us know they had our refund check waiting for us (the proceeds from selling were used for the cash we needed for buying, and we had some leftover). 

Job number two had never responded to Josh's message, which matched up with some other things that had happened during interviews and made us uneasy about what it would be like to work for them.  So he accepted job offer number one.  His current boss just wanted him to make his last day coincide with the end of a pay period and his new boss was willing to have him start the same day, so this is his last week of post-doc research.

Once all the stress was done, the results were good.  Josh will be starting a permanent job on Monday and we officially own the new house.  The icing on the cake was yoga class this weekend.  After a great bit of relaxation, we tried some new things and I managed toe stand pose and side crow pose.  I love doing poses that are a challenge!

For all my talk of taking a break from gardening, I'm considering ways to garden at the new house now that winter is coming to an end and we have the right to change things around in the yard.  I could use some sunlight and dirt to wash away the last of the stress!


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