Monday, 31 October 2011

No TV in my house

Everyone is always so surprised when they hear that we don't have a TV. I'm sure we're not the only ones. Surely there must be other families out there who have chosen to go TV free.

 I'm not posting this to be self-righteous or holier-than-thou. I just get so many questions about this "lifestyle choice" that I thought I'd write about it. We're not fanatics. We're not crazy. We just don't happen to watch cable TV at our house. It is what it is.

What?! Not even 1??
Full disclosure: we actually have a TV set in our basement. It was given to us by a friend and we used it as an excuse to get a Wii and DVD player. :) It's small, and doesn't show the picture completely right, but it does the job. We do not have cable or rabbit ears etc.

SO, when I say we have no TV, it means that: we don't have cable; we don't flip on the tube after dinner; there is no unintentional background noise from the box in the living room. [Actually, the living room has a stereo and the notebook - but these play noises we choose to hear.]

It wasn't really a conscious decision. In uni, my roommate and I only had a tiny set with the rabbit ears that picked up all of one channel. When I moved to Europe, I didn't really feel any desire to watch shows in a language I didn't understand. When I first got married, we were not in a position to justify another bill. Then, when we were in a position to, we just didn't.

But you have a computer...
Screen use in our house is very intentional. Yes, our 2 computers log a number of hours each day. I use a computer for work, so does the Man, and it is our main source of screen entertainment. If the kids want to go online, they have a set number of minutes before they need to log off. They don't just sit mindlessly clicking. We use the main notebook to watch movies we borrow from the library and certain shows that are available online. We may try Netflix soon...

What do your kids do all day?
During the week, my kids are in school most of the day. When they come home, they spend their time doing homework, fighting, playing outside, reading, arguing, playing etc. They're just kids. They don't need the extra distraction. I honestly don't see how they could even fit TV time into their "schedules". Every other day or so, they get the urge to play on or something similar, and they'll get 45 minutes to do it. Any more than that and the seem to go brain dead. Once a week they'll borrow a movie from the library. On the weekends, there always seems to be stuff to do that doesn't involve any screens. I wouldn't say they're deprived. They still get to watch when they are at a friend's or family member's house, but I see what it does to them and I don't like it: irritable beasts who don't pay attention to what's going on around them.

Have you seen that show....
Probably not. :( There are so many shows that I've heard about that I'd like to watch - but I don't. We do have a few favourites. For example, almost every Sunday night in the summer you'll find me at my mother's house to watch True Blood. That is one show I will not wait to watch. Everything else [Big Bang Theory, Community, How I Met Your Mother] we can watch via our internet provider. Yes, we see them a week or two after they air, but it's not the end of the world. I do admit, I feel lost and out of the loop when friends start talking about the latest episode of [fill in any show here]. I get over it though.

Are you going to get TV?
Again, probably not. We've managed to make it this far (10+ years) without one, I can't see why we'd want to spend the extra every month for something that offers no benefit except as a way to [passively] pass time. I can pass time on the interwebs just fine. :)

What about you? How long have you gone without TV? Could you manage a week? a month? a year?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

October Cake Review

It's not a secret. I am the owner of Dolcezza Custom Cakes. I'm also the head designer and chief dishwasher. Definitely keeps me on my toes. I love working with creative people and being a part of their celebration.

I can't show all of them, but here are some of my favourite cakes from October....

I'm partial to the LadyBird. :) Which one do you like best? What's your favourite cake flavour? Do you prefer buttercream or fondant? 

Friday, 28 October 2011

Funerals and other fun childhood activities.

Last night, about 20 minutes before pj time, the Girl comes running up to me, practically glowing. She thrusts an ello creation in front of my face and gleefully asks: "Do you like my sculpture, Mama?"

I give the appropriate response of "ooooh... I love it. How, um, colourful!"

"Do you know what it is?!" she asks expectantly.

"Ummm..... it's a... well, obviously it's......"

"It's a funeral home, Mama! See, all the flowers everybody sent are around the coffin and the poor little dead baby has a beautiful little round coffin. Isn't it so cute?"

I tried to mask my horror in the face of her excitement. "Very interesting."

A little back story: In the past 14 months, I've gone to 5 funerals. The kids came to 2 of them, because they were close family members. Yes, I take my kids to funerals of close family members. Yes, I know they are only 6 & 8. They are allowed to approach the coffin, but we've never forced them. We've taken them since they were babies. I was taken to funerals as a child and learned two very valuable lesson which I've tried to pass on to my children:

  1. Death is an unavoidable part of life. To live is to die.
  2. There is no reason to fear a corpse. The dead can never hurt you - only the living can. 
They've seen us solemnly dress and prepare for funerals. They've seen my husband cry in public. They've seen me sob uncontrollably into my husband's arms. They've seen my husband don the white gloves as a pall bearer. They've seen the sealing of a tomb in a mausoleum. They've helped clean and light candles at the graves of predecessors they've never met. 

In my eyes, all of these are positive experiences. While they should never become routine, they've become familiar and less scary. 

Now though, I have to deal with "funeral home sculptures" and "Mama, do you want us to bury you in the ground or in a wall?" and "let's play funeral" and "look, Mama, I designed the perfect cemetery!". [That last from the Boy, who discovered the delightful combination of graph paper and bird's-eye-view drawing.] I've also had to deal with the Boy suddenly starting to cry at odd moments because he remembers that life is "too short". I've been able to deal with those episodes with open discussion, books like What's Heaven, and emphasizing the beliefs of our faith, but they still happen. 

What are your thoughts? Is there a place for children at a funeral? How do you explain death to children? In what death rituals should children be allowed to participate? Have your children seen you cry?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Halloween Fairy

Does the Halloween Fairy visit your house? No? Well, maybe she will this year!

On Halloween night, after all the children have gone to bed, the Halloween Fairy may pay a visit. Like her sister, the Tooth Fairy, the Halloween fairy likes a good deal, and is willing to barter. For the small price of a carefully selected bag of candy and other treats, this frugal, tummy-loving fairy will leave a special non-edible treat. At our house she has been known to leave a book or game for each child.

This is how my monsters prepare for her nocturnal visit: after trick-or-treating for an hour or two, my ghouls come home to empty their bags onto the kitchen table to scan and sort their loot. After I take out all the unwrapped, old-looking and otherwise too-nasty treats, the beasties are welcome to pick what they would like to keep. I've never set a limit on how much they can choose. I always say: "Take what you want". For the past two years, they've not kept more than 10-15 pieces each. As for the rest, the happily throw it back into their bags and hang them outside their bedroom doors in anticipation of the morning. They prepare for bed with glee and [I assume] dream of what the dawn will bring. They seem to believe that the "better" the bag, the "cooler" the gift will be. I've done nothing to temper that belief. :)

For the price of a couple dollars per kid, the Halloween Fairy helps them stay away from sugar overload and upset tummies. Hopefully this year, she'll remember to take the price tags off.

Usually the Fairy is kind enough to leave me a small stash of Smarties and other special snacks that can be used as bribes doled out as treats every once in a while to make me look like a hero. I'm sure the rest is composted *whistling innocently* or taken into work by the Fairy's good husband.

Here's a pic of my little freaks last year:

That's Fronk N. Shteen on the left, and Spider Fairy on the right. This year I have to come up with a Jedi master [where am I supposed to find a brown robe to fit such a skinny little dude?!] and a Fairy Witch Princess.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wordless Wednesday : My Cake Disaster

This is what happens to a wedding cake when the delivery vehicle is rear-ended.

tiered cake decorating class at

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Halloween: Tricks or Treats?

I'm contemplating whether I should be a witch this year. Not a black-pointy-hat kind of witch, but your general let's-egg-her-house witch. I've got this bee in my bonnet that is suggesting I give out pencils instead of candy.
Fun fact I feel I should have known: Lead has not been used for writing since Roman times. [Lead poisoning from pencils was caused by ingesting the lead paint of the outer coating when chewing or sucking!  --> Thanks, Wiki!]

Is this an invitation for beasts, large and small, to throw rotten eggs at my house, smash my triangle-eyed pumpkin and decorate my maple with tp? We only get about 50-75 kids. That's 6 or 7 packs of pencils. If we have leftovers it's not like I'll be scarfing 3 or 4 of those babies down at a time. Do the kids really need that much candy?

What are your thoughts?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Canadian Blog Hop!

The Canadian Blog hop is back!!!

Please check out the latest Canadian Blog Hop at:

Tales of a Ranting Ginger

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Finding [re]purpose

I've made another dent in my stuff-to-do-before-Christmas list. I know. It's only October. But another way to look at it would be: it's already October. That means November is coming and then it's just a blink before I realize that it's Christmas eve and I haven't taken down the handprint turkeys the kids brought home from school.

So... like many out in blogland, and other fantasy worlds, I will take baby-steps each day and be completely prepared for whatever's done, is done by Christmas.

Here's my start: I made some gifts! Yay me! I've always wanted to make gifts for friends and family but have never made the time to do it. Well, with my belt cinched a little tighter [and not because I lost any weight] this year, I'm making myself make time. 

This gift was inspired by The Wellsprings of Life, who was in turn, inspired by others. But visit her site for more info and how-to. I started with a thrifted placemat [set of 4: $1.50].

I made sure to get one that had corners and wasn't rounded off. I folded and pressed. Sewed up the sides and made 1" straight seams where the pencils go. The most time was making the straight seams, but all in all it took about 1/2 hour, start to finish. And here it is:

I'll add a pack of coloured pencils and ta-da! The sparkly bits and teal ribbon will appeal to my niece and little cousin. Add some colouring pages, books, maybe some paper dolls and the entire gift will cost less than $15. 

My godson's 1st birthday is coming up in a few weeks and here is part of his gift:

I was inspired by LilBlueBoo for this one. I loved bean bags when I was a kid. I also know that my kids would rather play with blocks or builders or boxes etc than flashy plastic light up toys. Sure, those things hold their attention for all of 5 minutes, but it's the non-moving toys that last the longest and get the most use. So, this is my contribution to my godbaby's collection of stuff he'll actually play with. 
The fabric is upcycled pillowcases. Even the cute dragon print on the back of the bags! I gave them a good thorough wash, cut to shape, pressed, stenciled the letters in fabric paint, let dry, sewed, turned, pressed, filled, topstitched, done! These took about 1 hour to do and most of that was cutting out "perfect" squares [note to self: get rotary cutter!] and the stenciling. I let them dry about an hour before I put them together. The Girl "helped" me fill the bags with dried beans and then had to test them out for 1/2 hour before I reminded her that they were for the baby and I would make her some of her own. 

What do you think?

Next up, I'm going to try my hand at some scarves.....

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Friday, 14 October 2011

Pods for breakfast

I've been working on the pods again. I've got 3/9 done so far. But I'm stuck in the middle... I don't know what it is I should do. Treat it as a mantle and decorate it? Leave it empty as a statement? Ha! Who am I kidding? That thing will fill up with bits and bobs by the end of today if I don't put something specific into it!

So, what do I do, when I don't know what to do? I eat. Yep. Luckily, I usually pretend to know what I'm doing so I can avoid noshing at all hours, but it's true, I do. Also lucky that I decided on this conundrum in the morning, when the house is empty, and it's my breakfast time.

Ooohhh... look at me. So healthy. It's actually quite tasty though. Bought it on sale, and I had a coupon, so it came out to less than $2. I DO NOT like the brown sugar variety. Truly gross. And while that bowl looks quite massive, I promise you, it's just the spoon that's super tiny. :)

So here is the latest cleaned out pod. You will pardon the lack of "before" pic. Honestly, it was just too pathetic. Just picture a tumbling out pile of papers, toys, books etc. that attacked you every time you opened the door, and sometimes when you just tried to sneak by. But behold, what now it...holds.

Yay! It's now our library/word game/borrowed film pod! [It all kinda goes together, right?] I was looking for more baskets around the house, but I guess I tapped out on the last search, so instead I found two cardboard boxes that will do the job. I wish they both fit on the same shelf, but it's okay like this too. I think I'll cover the boxes in pretty paper "one day". 

Top box is to keep our "library bag", cards and any items that need to be returned. The bottom box is for items borrowed from the library that we are not done with. Why do we need these boxes, you ask? We are major library addicts users goers members? [WHAT is the word I'm looking for?!] We go at least once a week, but more often you will find one of us there 3-4 times a week. Who can't love their library? Squillions of books, just waiting to read, billions of dvds waiting to watched, millions of audiobooks longing to be heard, thousands of magazines you don't need a subscription for, dozens of quiet hiding places to sit and read, socialization and entertainment for the kids. Forget everything else, the library is THE place to be. And it's free! Come on, I'm hard-pressed to find a decent reason to buy a book. However, I digress. To corral all our library items, this is the system I've devised, which beats our old system of checking under the sofa in a mad rush for anything to be returned. 

On the bottom shelf I've also added a blue bin to hold dvds that we borrow from friends. And on the top shelf are also some of our unboxed word games that don't fit into the game pod. (More on that pod, at a later date.)

This is the empty pod: 

So lonely. Desolate even. What can I stick in there? Any ideas?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

My Messy Little Secret - Pod 1

It's true. I have a secret. Don't tell anyone.

Doesn't everyone have one of these, though?

Some time ago, the Man and I purchased this lovely piece from Ikea:

It's currently residing in our 150 sq.ft. living/family/great room. It was bought with the intention of using it for extra storage. I was tired of looking at the kids stuff, books, board games, stereo, notebooks, dvds etc lying around. All we had were 3.5 bare walls [and one of those has a window across most of it] a sofa, loveseat and a coffee table. (Since then, we've added an end table [ooh la la!] and a thrifted bedside table cum end table.

I may have mentioned this a time or twelve, but I'm not exactly an ideal housekeeper. As I write this post I am looking at 3 empty used mugs on the table. (Why he needs a new mug every time he makes a new cup of tea, I'll never understand.) So, it seems to have happened that my Shangri-la of a storage unit has become the fifth circle of hell. That is where Satan stashes his stuff in a mad dash when guests are coming to visit, right?

Yep. Shelves, clearly do not work for me and my family. What you see there is a mix of books, paper, craft supplies, dvds and various flotsam. I hit the end of my patience when the Girl tried to open the door just a crack to find a certain colouring book. When I asked what she was doing, she explained that she didn't want anything to fall out. *sigh* At that point, I took a trip around the house on a mission. Surely, the solution lay somewhere. To my great relief, I found a couple semi-unused baskets. I emptied them of their useless contents and refilled them with purpose!

To be perfectly honest, I recycled/threw away most of the stuff in there. The books found their way back to the bookshelf in the basement, large toys went into the toy box, dvds went back to the dvd boxes near the dvd player (novel idea!) and the phone charger the Man has been looking for these last few weeks went back to his bedside table. The rest [colouring books, blank paper, craft supplies and small toys] went into this configuration:

Much better, don't you agree?

And guess what! There are 8 more pods to go through....

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

How to make an Elmo cake

This is a cake I made for a my friend's son's first birthday. And here is how you can make it too!*     

Step 1: Bake a round cake.
There were to be about 20 guests, so I made a single layer 10" cake.
Step 2: Put it on your board and trim about 2.5cm/1" from the "top.
Make it a slightly rounded cut. 

Step 3Torte the cake. [Cut in half horizontally.]
You'll notice it's a bit crumbly. For fewer crumbs, pop your cake in the freezer for an hour or so.

Step 4: Dam and fill the cake.
I made a raspberry Italian meringue buttercream for the filling. It's a bit denser than regular IMBC so I made a dam of icing around the perimetre of the cake to prevent any unsightly leaks.

Step 5: Using your trusty, clean, kitchen shears, trim off the sharp edges of the cake.

Step 6: Brush away any loose crumbs on and around your cake.

Step 7: Pile on a good amount of icing.
It may look like a lot - because it is a lot. But that is the secret to having no crumbs sneak into your icing while you're covering your cake. The fact it, more than half of that icing you see, ends up back in the bowl.

Step 8: Cover the sides of the cake, pushing the icing from the centre of the cake, removing most as you go. Use a palette knife or spatula. 

Step 9: Clean up the sides.
Here, I'm using a bench scraper that has never scraped a bench. :)
Handiest icing tool I own.

Step 10: Remove all excess icing. This does not have to be perfect. It's okay if you can see the cake in some parts, it will be covered by fondant. Pop the cake in the fridge now and let it rest there for at least 15-20 minutes.

Step 11: Completely clear your workspace of crumbs and icing. Then weigh out your fondant.
For a 10" cake, plus the board, I use about 1 kg. This will be more than enough. Technically, you can get away with using about 800g, but with a bit more, there is more room to play.

Step 12: Add your colour. RED. I'm using a good amount of Super Red gel paste colour.

Step 13: Start kneading. And kneading. And kneading....
This may take about 10 minutes.

You may want to use gloves. :)

Step 14:  Once the colour is mixed in, let it rest for about 15 minutes or so. This would be the perfect time to wash your hands. 

Step 15: Prepare for rolling out.
When I'm rolling out coloured fondant, I always use icing sugar instead of corn starch.
The icing sugar is absorbed into the fondant, whereas the corn starch will remain on the outside and will spoil some parts of the colour.

Step 16: Knead your fondant into a ball. Slightly flatten with your hand.

Step 17: Start rolling!
To get a near perfect circle: roll up and down twice....

....then twice to the left....

...then twice to the right....
and repeat until it is the size that you want.
Only roll out to about 1/8" thick.

Step 18: With your rolling pin near the top of the fondant, flip over about 1/4 - 1/2, then lift your fondant to rest.....

....over the cake.

Step 19: Smooth out the top of the cake with a smoother or your hand chasing out any air bubbles. Smooth out sides, and on to board.

Step 20: Cut excess fondant away from cake.


Step 21: Using a blunt edge tool or cel stick, imprint the smile. 

Step 22: Using your shears, cut in the fur, trying not to cut all the way into the buttercream.

Step 23: Using a cel stick or other similar tool, lightly imprint the fur texture.

Almost done!
At this point I airbrushed the entire cake red to give the colour more depth, but this is not a necessary step.

Step 24: Take 4 crisp rice treats. I find that the store-bought variety are more conducive to molding than homemade.

Step 25: Scrunch them up into a ball.

Step 26: Using your shears, cut the ball in half.

Step 27: Form the nose using 3 crisp rice treats. 

Make sure they are the right size for your cake!

Step 28: Roll out a small amount of white fodant. 

Step 29: Cover the eyes.

Step 30: Cover the nose with a small amount of orange fondant. 

Step 31: Attach them to your cake with a small amount of icing. 

Step 32: Fill in the mouth and add the eye details with black icing.
I used royal icing.

Step 33: Stand back and look on in awe at your creation.
Try not to giggle maniacally.

So....what do you think? Did I leave out any steps? I'd love some feedback!

*[Please note that Elmo's image is protected under various laws and such and should not be sold in any way without rights. This cake was made for personal use.]

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