Ingredients

Princess Cake

Another birthday, another cake. I keep asking the kids if they want a fancy bakery cake, but they keep saying, “No! Gabba cake!” Raymond wanted an Avengers cake with strawberries from the garden. When I asked Reta Jean what kind of cake she wanted, she looked at me like I was not so bright and said, “BIRTHDAY cake, Gabba.” Well, duh, Punky! Any other requests? Pink, sparkles, princess and jelly beans. Well, OK. Let’s see what we can do.

I pulled together everything I thought I would need. I try to make everything from scratch, but Reta Jean’s birthday landed in the middle of a week and a half of guests. I had to cheat on the frosting. Carly thought Reta Jean would like a pound cake, which was great to me since it takes lots of eggs. I baked the cake in a tube pan so we’d have a hole in the middle, and also baked 5 little cupcakes. There was a plan brewing, and all I had to do was figure out how I was going to pull it all together.

Ingredients

 While the cake was baking, I got to work on the “towers.” I’ve been on Pinterest enough to have an idea of what to do. First step, melt white chocolate and color it pink. Next step, roll sugar cones in the pink chocolate.

Melted Chocolate     Dipping Cones

It takes a couple of rolls to get a smooth coat of chocolate. If I had more time, I would have rolled the top part of the cone first, and let it dry, then roll the pointy end. As it was, there was a little time crunch, and they ended up a little messy. Fortunately, Reta Jean was turning 3, and as long as the cake resembled a castle, I thought I was in pretty good shape.

Before the chocolate hardened, I dipped the rim in pink sugar. I also sprinkled the top, and added a little candy ball. I attached the ball with a little more melted chocolate. This added to the mess, but it looked much better with the little ball. Even though they weren’t as Pinterest-y as I would have liked, I think the overall look was really cute.

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Have you been wondering about the cupcakes? They’re to hold the jelly beans in the cones! I frosted the cupcakes with pink frosting, filled the cones with jelly beans, and plugged up the cones with the cupcakes.

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The cake is done and frosted, and I filled up the hole in the middle with jelly beans. I sliced the top of the cake to make it smooth. Then, I cut a small circle from this extra piece of cake, and covered the jelly bean hole with it. All that’s left is putting it all together. I sprinkled the cake with more pink sugar, and used more little candy balls to ring the cake and cupcakes, and make a castle door.

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Reta Jean loved it so much, she clapped and did a little wiggly dance. That was all I wanted! As it turned out, the cupcake/cone/jelly bean combination was the perfect serving size for little kids.  As happy as Reta Jean was to see the cake, all the kids giggled and cheered when we removed the cupcakes from the cones and jelly beans poured out. All the adults knew there were jelly beans in there, and it didn’t occur to me that the kids didn’t know about them. It was a really fun surprise for them. When we cut into the actual cake, even more jelly beans spilled out.

Pretty easy, overall. If I bake another castle, I’ll make sure I have more time, and fine-tune some of the decorations. As long as I can get giggles, grins, and happy dances, I’ll consider it a success!

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Pageant Days

Once upon a time there was a little girl…

Reta Jean just knew she was meant to be a princess. She loves all things pink and sparkly. Her mom and dad let me sign her up for a natural pageant, and she was ready to show her stuff.

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The entry forms included questions about her favorite things and hobbies. Reta Jean’s favorite foods are marshmallows and ice cream, and her hobbies are dancing, jiu jitsu and working in the garden with papa. She also likes to cut her own hair. Which she did just  2 weeks before the pageant. A big chunk on the top of her head. Right against her scalp. In retrospect, none of these things sound very princess-y, but Reta Jean wanted to be a princess, so we did what we could to make it happen.

While waiting for the pageant to start, Reta Jean didn’t want to hang out in the dressing room with the girls. She came out to the auditorium and immediately started practicing her jiu jitsu on the mats hanging on the wall. Dad got her to stop beating up the walls, and she decided to dance instead. Did I mention her favorite TV show is “So You Think You Can Dance”? Yep, and her favorite style, right now, is break dancing. Everybody else may think she’s rolling around on the floor, but she’s DANCING! Before heading back to the dressing room, she finally showed me her “pretty feet” pose. She’s been practicing, and is quite good at it, for as long as she can stand still.

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For the opening number, all the girls criss-crossed on the stage to their spots, then all they had to do was stand still and smile. I tried to get a picture of Reta Jean standing still, but that just doesn’t happen. She was so happy that things were finally starting, she kept dancing and waving.

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Then, it was back to the dressing room to get ready for the beauty portion. Mom and I helped, but Reta Jean picked out everything she was going to wear. She loves her pretty pink dress and fancy white shoes.  Mom tried to cover her almost-bald spot with a head band, but it just didn’t work. It was better to just let her wear it down and let the short spot blend in. In reality, it just made her hair look a bit thinner. She’d be on the stage and the judges probably wouldn’t see the top of her head anyway. Hopefully.

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We had our hands full keeping her off the stage before it was her turn. We let her walk around the hall to keep her occupied and barely dodged a meltdown. She REALLY wanted her turn on stage.

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It’s always hard to get pictures of Reta Jean because she is in perpetual motion. It seems like even when she’s still, she’s “vibrating.” Whirling dervish, Tasmanian Devil, Hurricane Reta. Those all suit her just fine. Walking slowly for the judges? Not so much. She hopped onto the stage and introduced herself. “I’m Reta Jean. I’m 3. Oh, I’m 2.” And she was off!

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She skipped to her first mark, then monster walked to her second. The slow turn at the front mark? That turned into a dance spin with Mom.

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For her exit, we had practiced blowing a kiss and waving with two hands. Apparently, that wasn’t enough to capture how excited she was. She jumped up and down, blew multiple kisses, and had to be coaxed off the stage by Mom, while she continued to wave at everybody. We just knew she was going to win for Best Personality, if nothing else.

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Once Beauty was over, we watched the exiting queens, and had one more of many “10 minute” breaks, while we waited for crowning. She rested with some cookies while the exiting queens were presented, then couldn’t be still another minute. She was off and running around the back of the auditorium with the boys.

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Once the stage was available, she was right back up there. There were stage lights to check out, dance moves to practice, and excitement to burn off. No sitting quietly with Mom and Dad for our Reta Jean.

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Finally, it was time for crowning. Fortunately, her group was first. This is when we learned they had a category for “Best Poise,” not “Best Personality.” No shot there. The kid has no fear and no inhibitions. And, apparently, no poise. And that’s perfectly OK.

She won a Princess tiara and participation trophy. And…ready for this? Best Hair! I agree! Even with a chunk missing, there’s no beating her fabulous curls. She was hot, sweaty and exhausted, and THRILLED with her awards.

trophy2awards2While Reta Jean had a wonderful time at her first pageant, I don’t think the pageant world is ready for her. Pageant girls are beautiful and well-behaved. And still. And poised. If they had categories for Best Laugh or Most Sparkly Personality or Bounciest, Reta Jean would be a shoo in. Like so many wonderful little girls, Reta Jean is a sparkly peg, and will never be contained in a round hole.

I have no doubt she’ll find her stage someday. And she’s going to fill it with love and magic and sparkles. Because she’s Reta Jean.

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Princess Practice

Our family has never been supporters of pageants. I understand, in theory, they can be viewed as a positive. They can promote self-confidence and there’s a chance of winning scholarships. I think the reality can be a lot more damaging. No matter how much pageant directors want us to believe it’s about poise and personality, it’s also very much about appearance. This is not something I wanted my girls to be a part of.

We tried to raise the girls to be strong, independent young women. Through the years, they played soccer and water polo, swam competitively, and were involved in photography, art and theater. They were encouraged to pursue their interests, and  being a girl was never a reason not to try something. When Tori was in high school, a new class in stage production was offered. She had already been working on the theater sets and was excited to enroll in this new class. Initially, the teacher tried to cast her aside, and even suggested she should listen to the boys to learn what to do. Needless to say, none of us were happy with this – Grandpa had made Tori her first workbench when she was only 4 or so.  Tori kept her cool, and worked hard, and soon the boys were coming to her for help.

When “Toddlers and Tiaras” was created, the girls and I would watch it regularly. We rolled our eyes, got indignant about bratty behavior, and thought most of the mothers were awful. But every now and then a girl or her mother would catch our attention. The girls who loved to dress up, but didn’t care if they won. Or the moms who lovingly encouraged their girls to participate to help them get over their shyness or awkwardness, or to give them the opportunity to participate despite a disability. Our favorites were the girls who were out there having a great time spending time with their families.

So, maybe in the right circumstances pageants aren’t all bad. If it’s something the girls really wants to do, and her family is willing to support her to accomplish HER goals, it could be OK. We even thought the more natural pageants were pretty cool. Then, along came Reta Jean!

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This little girl is just overflowing with confidence and personality. She’s fearless and friendly and funny. She loves being the center of attention and loves to dress up like a princess. She’s also loving and not afraid to speak her mind. She’s only 2, but we have joked about her being a pageant girl for a long time. I mean, if you ask her if she wants to be a princess, she’ll very firmly remind you that she IS a princess.

Enter the Miss Gold Dust Royalty Pageant. This is a local, natural, small-town pageant, celebrating Gold Dust Days in the town of Gold Bar. The most important part, though, is this is a community service pageant. The pageant itself is used to collect food for local food banks. The contestant who wins the title of “Ambassador” is the contestant who brings the most food donations. “Queen of Queens” is a winner from the previous year, who participated in the most community events during their reign. There is a full schedule of events throughout the year, like Relay for Life, that winners are encouraged to participate in.

I heard about the pageant when I saw an announcement for an informational meeting. I asked Carly if she and Joe would be OK with Reta Jean participating, and they were willing to learn more about it and give it a try.

Carly and I told Reta Jean we were going to Princess School, because that sounds way more fun than Informational Meeting. We figured if she liked it, great, if not, no biggie. Well, she loved it! She sat very patiently during the boring meeting part, then was the first kid up on the stage to practice. She was so busy running around the stage, she ended up being one of the last to practice, but that just gave her time to see what she was supposed to do.

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She was almost a natural. The co-director, Katelynn, ran her through the walking pattern and Reta Jean took right to it. (The pictures are a little blurry because, well because it’s Reta Jean. Next time I’ll take my camera and have it set on action mode.) She loved waving and blowing kisses and being on the stage. She also had a ball throwing in extra spins and running in circles instead of regally turning. She tried to convince Carly that was how it was SUPPOSED to be done.

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Seeing how much fun she was having, and knowing she would be participating in community service events, convinced us this was for her. The big day is in just 4 weeks. There will be one more “training” party before the pageant, and we’ll make sure Reta Jean makes it to that. Meanwhile, she’s enjoying Princess Practice, as long as it doesn’t interfere with playtime.

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She won her t-shirt in a raffle, and insisted on sleeping in it. I’m sure it will be getting a lot of wear.  We think she’ll do great in the pageant. If not, we’ll all have a great time getting ready for it.

 

 

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Gabba and Papa’s Wonderland Fort

Since the kids moved up here, I’ve been working on making their little corner of our world extra magical. They’re big enough to pretend now, which makes everything that much more fun. Every time they come now, I try to have added something a little different. And they always notice. You can see the tree fort from the house, so the first thing the kids see is our new pinwheel garden. When there’s just a little breeze, it looks so pretty!

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We started with our little troll bridge, and added extra straw bales. I still want to add more to make it even more climbable, jumpable and giggly.

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Reta Jean loves to rearrange all the “santas”. They’re garden gnomes, but I’m not going to tell. She also likes the fairies. When she’s playing with them, it’s like she’s in her own little fairyland and I love it! It makes me so happy to see her pretending.

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There’s also a set of farm critters, including a farmer, a barn and a tractor. Charlie screwed together some boards into corners. This way the kids can make them into anything they want. Today they were a big barn. They’ve also been boxes and a stage. We’ll see what they come up with next.106

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Raymond prefers to run, jump, throw and swing sticks at things. There’s plenty of room for him to do just that.

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Everything is more fun if you can dress up while you play. We have dinosaur hats, fairy wings, butterfly antennae, and superhero capes. There are also pinwheels and recorders. (The Dollar Store has become my new favorite place. I can get all kinds of stuff for the kids, and not have to worry about them breaking things or getting them dirty.)

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There are several different balls to play with, too. Of course, Reta Jean has to take the one Raymond is playing with, and the chase is on!

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The fairies and gnomes stay outside, but the rest of the toys go in and out in a basket. The basket is almost as big as Raymond, but he and Reta Jean will pick it up and haul it outside when it’s time to play. The other day, Carly brought them up while I was at the airport picking up Charlie. As soon as I walked through the door, there was no hello, no hugs and kisses. I got, “Come on, Gabba! Let’s go to the troll bridge and play!” It was chilly and almost dark, but they weren’t taking no for an answer. Raymond grabbed the basket and the two of them waited at the back door until I could catch up. I really couldn’t ask for anything more!

Charlie and I provide the playground, but the kids provide the magic. Watching them love what we’ve worked to create is absolutely heartwarming. There is still work to be done. Who knows what fun things we’ll find? As long as the kids keep coming, and breaking out with their giant smiles. As long as I keep getting squeals of delight and Raymond telling me, “Gabba, this is fantastic!” As long as there are kids in our life who believe in magic, we’ll keep working to make a magical place for them to grow.

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Toddler Tuesday – Spring!

Oh, my gosh! We’re having so much fun here at Redmon Woods! The sun is shining most days, the grass and flowers are growing, and Raymond and Reta Jean are, too!

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Last year we played under the tree fort, but it was a big job just running herd on the kids. This year, they’re old enough to play and have fun, without us having to worry quite as much about them taking off in opposite directions.

Charlie and I have been hauling in straw bales to use like giant Legos. We started with a simple “troll bridge,” and it’s gradually growing.

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It’s fun to sit on, but it’s even more fun to jump off!

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Papa even likes playing under the tree. I think he was being the troll.

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Raymond started off jumping off the low bale, but in no time he was being a daredevil and taking off from the top.

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Reta Jean tries to jump, too. She did it once on her own, and once with Mommy and brother.

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But most of the time she hangs on and drops down.

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We moved the fairy accessories under the tree, and Reta Jean likes playing with them. She worked very hard to set it up just like she wants it. There is no better dollhouse than a giant old tree!

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Raymond helped with the toys a little bit, but he was more interested in being a king. He’s defending the kingdom from vicious invaders.

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We can also pretend to go fishing, or just dance in the sun speckles.

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When their imaginations get tired, there are always animals to hang out with. Socks doesn’t play much, but he likes to be around the kids.

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 I think Reta Jean will always love the chickens best, but we never know where we’re going to find them. She found them in the alpacas’ hay tub.

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With all the playing, everybody needs to take some time to relax, watch the clouds, and play with the bugs.

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We’re so lucky to have these happy little people in our lives. They take all the fun we’re having, and add just enough giggles to make all the magic come to life.

Toddler Tuesday – 10/21/14

I get teased sometimes for getting excited “like a kid” about things. Whenever I spend time with Raymond and Reta Jean, I’m reminded that none of us see things quite like kids do. The best we can do is try, and hope to come close. This is what we did this week.

I got to babysit a few days while Carly covered Tori’s shift at work. Yep, that’s McDonald’s for dinner one night, and pancakes another. Gabba tries to follow rules, but it didn’t happen this week. Besides, breakfast for dinner is cool. We also ran up and down the hall, played super-hero, ate marshmallows, and watched Letters! (That’s what the kids call Wheel of Fortune.)

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Reta Jean can’t wait to get the the pacas and hens. She’s my farm buddy and likes to help with chores. I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture, but she was trying to eat grass like Tajo. We convinced her to just feed him some hay. Finding eggs is always exciting, and she’s even learning to set them GENTLY in the basket instead of just dropping them in.1017141335-1  1017141341

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While Reta Jean was helping with the animals, Raymond was off with Auntie Tori, picking flowers.

1017141344cThere are all kinds of crawly critters this time of year. Sometimes it takes toddlers to remind us how cool it is just to watch them and touch them.

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Raking up leaves is fun when there are happy faces just waiting to jump into the piles. Carly must have raked them up 5 times. They’re still a mess around the yard, but we were having too much fun to actually haul them away.

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Reta Jean loves following Brother.

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There’s one game left this season, and Raymond is finally getting the hang of soccer. He still likes to stop and watch the birds, or pick the grass, but he stays in the game. Reta Jean is too young to join the team, but she’ll totally be ready next year.

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And no week would be complete without breakfast at Steve’s. Raymond has figured out how to roll his tongue. I think I’m the only person on the planet who can’t do that. Maybe Reta Jean won’t be able to, either.

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Raymond was practicing writing words on the menu. He can’t just write cat or dog. Nope. Our Raymond writes Xray Fish. Two years until kindergarten. His teachers are going to have their hands full.

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Have a great week!

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Breakfast at Steve’s

When you live in the same small town forever, you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know. Some people find this annoying, I found it comforting. Same checkers at the grocery store, same parents on the pool deck, same staff at our favorite restaurants.10402095_738445949552145_6835165190414361763_n

We knew moving to a new town, we’d have to make an effort to find “our places” and carve out a new life with new routines.  We tried a few different restaurants before Steve’s American Café and Grill opened a few months after we arrived in town. It quickly became our favorite. (Its location even has a small-town description: In the red barn, next to the Shell station, on Hwy 2)Papa and Ray

Most everything at Steve’s is made from scratch, on-site. Good ol’ American comfort food! Bearcat Burgers named for the local high school, chicken biscuit pie, mac & cheese, and meatloaf. (I’ve never even been a meatloaf fan, and I LOVE Steve’s meatloaf.) Whenever we have out-of-town guests, we make a point of taking them to Steve’s.RJ

As good as their lunch and dinner are, it’s breakfast at Steve’s that has become our routine. Every weekend, unless we absolutely can’t make it, we’re there. Carly and Joe have also let us make it part of Raymond and Reta Jean’s routine. Saturday is the first day of the week the kids mastered. If anybody says “Saturday,” they respond with “Eggs and pancakes!” Guess what they always get. 0914140928a

The kids are too young to realize it, yet, but they’re so lucky to be part of the Steve’s family. They’re always greeted with enthusiasm and smiles. Sharon, the owner, will always take a minute to dance and giggle with Reta Jean. Raymond gets hugs from the manager, Jen, who also lets him check out her sparkly jewelry. I think everyone who works there knows most of our order, without asking. Charlie usually likes to try out the new specials, so they have to check with him. There are other morning regulars, who make a point of saying hello to us and the babies. 09141409150914140906

When people are happy to see the kids, it makes me proud of them, and of their parents. Carly and Joe know it’s their job to raise their kids to be able to function in society. That means they’re not allowed to be brats, but they are allowed to be kids.

To some, it may seem like a simple breakfast. To me, as a mother, grandmother, and former teacher, it’s so much more.  They’re learning they can count on Gabba and Papa to have fun. They’re learning how to interact with adults, both friends and strangers. They’re learning restaurant manners in a place where it’s also OK to be toddlers. They’re learning that they’re likable and people want to be around them. They’re learning shapes, colors, letters, numbers, counting and reading. Most importantly, they’re learning to be part of a community.

"D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori's car" -Raymond

“D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori’s car” -Raymond