Saturday, September 17, 2011

My first specialty cake!

This month, Pooh turned 3, and we decided to celebrate his birthday with the family when we went to my parents' house for the holiday weekend. I thought about buying a cake, but I've recently been inspired to try some cake baking of my own, so I googled around and found a couple cakes that I thought Pooh would like. Ultimately, I went with a train theme, complete with a little Thomas on top.

This being my first cake, I didn't want to be overly ambitious in my baking, so I went with boxed cake mix and canned frosting. Here are my expenses:
2 Aldi cake mixes: $0.99 each
1 Aldi cream cheese frosting: $1.29
6 eggs: a free gift from my mom's chickens
oil, food coloring, etc: shamelessly stolen from my mom's cabinet
various and sundry small snack items: gathered from my kitchen
Total cost, not including labor: $3.27

I'll let you decide how much my labor is worth!

First, I baked all the cake. One white cake mix made 2 round cakes, one 8" and one 9". One chocolate cake mix made 2 small (6X9, maybe?) oblong cakes. Once they were all baked and cooled, I gave the round ones a crumb coat and stuck them in the fridge overnight.

One oblong one I cut into 12 smaller rectangles, and gave each of those a crumb coat too. This was much more difficult since they'd been cut! It would have been much smarter to bake them all separately, or use a heavier cake mix, or even let them sit out and dry for a while before attempting any icing, even a light coat. I'll know better next time.

The second oblong cake was extra. Since we were also celebrating my dad's birthday, and he loves German chocolate cake, I just iced it with coconut pecan icing, which was as close as I could get (okay, as close as I could find at Walmart) to German chocolate.

The next morning, I gathered bowls, the food coloring, and my "freight", and got to work. My sister and her daughter had arrived by then, and they helped. Here's my niece, ready to get to work - isn't she a cutie?!

First we iced the round cakes in white, and placed them, touching, on a cake board (we used a piece of wood covered with cake paper). My sis (who has made lots of great cakes) suggested we cut out a small portion of one cake so that the two would fit together better = great idea! Then I took a toothpick and drew two half-circles on each cake, about 1.5 inches apart, to create a giant 3, then I traced the 3 with icing. I could have just started with the icing, but I'm not that brave. With the 3 made, I used pretzels to create railroad ties on it.

We decided the juncture of the 3 needed a stop sign, and luckily we had a red Jolly Rancher handy.
That was the easy part! Next came the freight cars...

Each of the small rectangular cake pieces we iced in a different color, adding 3 cheerios along the bottom of each side to form wheels. On the top, we used pretzels to create a box, and then filled the box with some kind of freight.

Ultimately, our freight included fruit snacks, smarties, a swiss cake roll, mini chocolate rice cakes, cheeries, chocolate waves, sand (crushed up cookies), and a mixture of them. The freight cars were placed around the larger cake, with pretzels connected each one to the next.

It was impossible to hide the cake from Pooh when it was done, and once he saw it, he kept climbing up on the kitchen stools asking for some. When I told him we could not have cake until after we sang happy birthday, he happily sang the entire song for me.

I'm pretty sure this cake was a huge hit - at least Pooh seemed to love it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Howdy, Pardner!

What's On My Mind today? Vacation! It's 3 weeks into the new school year and all I want to do is immerse myself in the details of planning our next vacation!

In my defense, we have not taken a real vacation for almost 2 years (Christmas 2009). Our adoption was not legal until this past May, and for the year before that, with Pooh as a foster child, travel outside the state was impossible, and even travel within the state was difficult. This summer, we simply decided that plane travel with a 2-year-old was not on our agenda, and extensive travel in the car with a potty-training-in-progress 2-year-old was an even worse idea. While we could have left Pooh with family, we just didn't want to - we wanted to enjoy our summer as a family! So, we stayed pretty close to home, with occasional weekends away, but nothing I can really define as a vacation. Even the picture above, which appears to be a vacation, was taken when I traveled to Albuquerque for a conference, without the family. um, and oh yes, it was taken summer 2010, not 2011!

Now that school is in full swing, it's really hit me that we've been vacation-less for so long! So yep, that's what's on my mind these days! If you want to see what's on lots of other people's minds, join Rhonda over at Down To Earth!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tickets to El Salvador - OUCH!

I love traveling! The discovery of new places, the chances to meet new people, the opportunities to learn about a different culture - I love it! I'm not really the "stay with the gringos" kind of person. When I lived and worked in Guatemala, I disliked going out with my colleagues, not because I didn't enjoy them, but because they traveled in packs. And that gringo bar that you think is so great? Try the little local hole in the wall - way more colorful!

Anyway, P-daddy and I have never traveled together outside of the US, but I'm pretty sure that he'll also be wanting to try the local joints rather than hunting for the gringo hangouts, once we actually make it out of the country together. And that's what I want to talk about! We discussed the possibilities, and with my work schedule, we think we are going to spend a few weeks in El Salvador in May. That may seem a long time away, but with my job, I really needed the hope of a great vacation when the year is done! So I was just checking out flights to El Salvador in May, and they are all between $650 and $700. For the two of us, that's almost $1500, plus what we'll need for spending while there. ouch. ouch. ouch. definitely keeping my eye out for good deals!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

English Schools in El Salvador?

It's been a rough 10 days! Pooh's 3rd birthday was last Sunday (Sept 4), and we were at my parents' house for the holiday weekend. Then I came back to work on Tuesday, worked 15 hours that day, 12 hours on Wednesday, shorter days on Thursday and Friday, and then attended a local (well, one hour drive from home/work) conference for 9 hours (so an 11-hour day with the drive). I'm still trying to catch up from last week, and this week is piling up. Times like this definitely make me want to live the expat life, rather than the rat race!

I wrote here about things we need to do in order to prepare to move internationally, and we've been thinking and discussing several of those issues. Two that have been on our minds are inter-connected to some degree: where to live and where Pooh will go to school. Both P-daddy and I feel strongly that it's important for Pooh to have some schooling in English, so we've been looking for international schools in El Salvador. We are only finding info about the ones in San Salvador - there are three of them, and I'll be talking about each of them in more detail as I find time to research them more. I can't help wondering, though, if the lack of online presence is a true reflection of what exists in ES. Perhaps there are others, but they simply don't have an online presence that reflects that. As I noted here, the degree to which ES is cyber-savvy is simply not the same as here in the US. Hmmm...perhaps I've just created a job for myself...

Anyway, my question is, are there English schools elsewhere in the country? If so, where? what are they like? How can I find info about them? Even a trip to ES would not necessarily give me this info, so if you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!