Friday, 27 February 2015

Back to school!

I will admit that there's times I wonder if I should've been a teacher. A teacher who finds amazing and unique <cough-fromPinterest-cough> artworks and activities for my students to do*, and a teacher who's classroom is always so neat and organised and colourful.

I convince myself that this could still be achieved despite my inability to keep my own house neat and organised...

It is colourful, though: It has a green chalk smear on that wall, a trail of white toilet paper through the hallway, blue toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror, red spaghetti still on the table from last night, and oh look, the lounge room is covered with bright and colourful toys and quilts... again.

Clearly, I occasionally have a fairy tale image of what a teacher is/does, making it out to be the easiest job in the world, when I know that it is most definitely not.

When these moments of teacherhood wonder and enthusiasm come, it's usually when I'm printing, cutting, and laminating pieces of paper, feeling super organised and creative.

But, suddenly that bubble of creativity pops when my hungry children start demanding that I make them food, and I look towards the clock to see that it's bedtime already and we haven't had dinner yet, when I realise that there is no way I could do this every day.

Which is why I am so grateful that there are people in the world who have chosen teaching as their profession, and who now get to look after (and teach, mentor, entertain, and care for) all three of my children all day so that I can have a few hours of silence to catch up on housework and not listen to kids (not just my own) talking/arguing at/to me for many consecutive hours over many consecutive days...

School has recently gone back. And by "recently", I mean 5 weeks ago and we're suddenly half way through the first term - and how did that happen again??

But, hey, better late than never, right***?

Since before the new school year started, I wanted to make something small but special for my kids' teachers. Being partly inspired by my stationary cake (which, really, could be given to teachers at any time of the year rather than right at the end when they have to wait for school to go back to actually use it); and also by various teacher gifts I'd noticed on Pinterest (during the 'procrastination lesson' I thought about preparing).

Of course, days went by, and weeks, and I still hadn't made anything.

But what really inspired me to finally make something, was when a friend posted this funny list of 'very real teacher ailments and diseases' on Facebook.

I thought the list was great, and with anything you think is pretty great - you want to share it. So I got creative and typed, printed, cut, and laminated them all for the teachers that have the, uh, pleasure of teaching my crazy offspring this year.

Of course, credit for this list has and still goes to A Crucial Week blog.

Fitting to the theme of ailments and diseases, of course, is hand sanitiser. So once the little lists were ready, I collated and attached them to a bottle of Germ Eraser Gel for each of the kids' teachers:

 With this picture stuck to the other side:

... Because germs aren't cool! But teachers are :)

* Because that's all teachers do, right? Painting and craft?**

** I'm totally joking.

*** Does this apply for birthday cards, too?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The reasons I eat.

I've been thinking a lot about my eating habits lately.

I've decided that to fully understand the reasons my brain convinces me to eat, I will do this little experiment and record how I'm feeling when I eat, for deeper insight into these trends I've been setting for myself.

So here they are; the top 10 reasons I eat:

1. I'm hungry.

2. I'm bored.

3. The TV is on.

4. I might get hungry later.

5. I'm happy.

6. I'm sad.

7. It's been more than 10 minutes since I last ate.

8. I need inspiration.

9. The kids are home.

10. It's so yummy!

And there you have it. The results from my experiment tracking the reasons I eat, rounded down to just ten.

... Now who wants ice cream?

Friday, 13 February 2015

Heroes in a half-shell!

No matter how many episodes, movies, or even minutes of just one single episode a boy has seen... Which of them does not become obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at some stage in his lifetime??

Heck. Who in general hasn't chosen a favourite Ninja Turtle to imitate in the playground or <cough> at the workplace. Costumes come in adult sizes for a reason, you know. And if that's your thing, then good for you. Just be careful when boarding a train armed with pretend swords... You can never be too careful who might think you're not just dressed as a fictional character on their way to work for a fundraiser.


Last month, I had the pleasure of designing and making a Ninja Turtles themed cake.

I began my research, and designed a city/skyscraper landscape, similar to what I did with this Batman cake. My Google research seemed to steer me in the direction of a blue night sky, complete with  a full moon.

And though there's ample cakes that have the beloved turtles emerging from a sewer, I felt it most certainly necessary to add another one.

For the 'sewer', I used two mini cake boards and covered one in grey fondant, and the placed a grey fondant ring around the other. The birthday boy, who's name is Ralph, was turning 5, so I imprinted (with a cookie cutter) the number into the fondant, and filled in the rest of the 'lid' with, well, marks from the handle of a teaspoon.

I relied on a YouTube tutorial for the making of turtle heads - the shape mainly, as you need an indent for where the eyes and masks will be... because I didn't think that, all by myself, I could manage a round ball with a slight curve in it.

One by one, colour by colour, eye by eye, bandana by bandana, and mouth by mouth, these miniature Ninja Turtle heads were made and assembled.

I discovered quickly that the easiest way to add this green gang of sword-fighting brothers to the cake was to place them on top (totally unrealistic, by the way, emerging from a sewer on top of a city; but I like to think of it as a contemporary piece, where you really need to step back and appreciate the art form, rather than look too closely at the detail and how completely wrong it is).

With made-up-as-I-went-along turtle hands (or are they really feet?) squished under the heads, the turtles emerge from the mini cake-board sewer in the sky, and good ol' Donatello is the chivalrous brother who slides the sewer lid to the side to make room for the others.

I'm pretty sure in any episode and movie I've seen, they can't all fit out of the sewer at once, so just go along with it, okay?

Lastly, for the final touch on the cake - birthday wishes. Since the birthday boy's mother is a writer, Husband assured me that she would appreciate the word pun on the cake, turning Ralph into his favourite of the ninja turtles - Ralphael.

And here's the ah-mazing food display set up at the party! The birthday boy's dad made four fruit & veggie platters in true Ninja Turtle style!! With matching dips and everything. It was impressive :)

Happy birthday Ralph!!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

I bought a zoo!

The last time I went to a zoo, I was holidaying solo in Queensland about 6 years ago. It was on my last day, and I'd already left the hotel and dropped my bags off at the airport. According to a sign or brochure that I had, the zoo was "a small train ride away".

What I didn't realise, was that it was also a 3km walk from the train station, in an unclear direction! With all of my carry on luggage with me (more than I'd anticipated, as usual when travelling), I finally made it to the zoo, got out my camera to take a photo of the sign (the only reason I wanted to go to the zoo was to take photos of everything), and the camera battery dies right in front of me!! ... Totally devastated, I still went in (having walked for half of the day to get to the damn thing), and I will admit that it was a less than impressive experience. The ground was muddy, animal enclosures were blocked off, and I couldn't take photos of anything.


Still. I wandered around, bought my children some souvenirs, and then left for the long walk back to the train station, to head back to the airport and come home.

That's been my only horrible zoo experience.

Saying that, it's been one of my very few zoo experiences, also. The most recent was with my children, and my mum, at a nearby wildlife park. Going to an open zoo is a lot different to going to one where everything is behind cages. Especially if you take a 4 year old with you! Yes, I freaked out when the emu chased my youngest son. Yes, I freaked out when he grabbed the kangaroo's tail. And yes, I freaked out when he climbed to the top of the Tasmanian Devil semi-enclosure, and poured some of his drink down on him, because "he looked thirsty."

HOT TIP: Do not take Jonathan to the zoo if you are on heart medication, and/or suffer from anxiety.

Well, guess what! I bought a zoo!

... Sort of.

I bought fondant, and made some zoo animals- does that count as the same thing??

I was asked by a family friend if I could make the decorations for a zoo themed cake she was making for her niece's 1st birthday. Having little to no experience with making animals from fondant, I accepted this challenge head on, and got to work figuring out how I was actually going to do it.

The idea was to make a mum and a baby of each animal.

To see how time consuming this challenge potentially could be, I looked through the book that our friend had given me to use (an instruction booklet on making fondant animals), picked one called "chick", changed the colours, and made the first animal pair - penguins:

Using the same method I used for some baby shower duck cupcakes, I also made two ducks:

Getting into the swing of it all, I then tried my luck on making seals. As per the book's instructions, and the request of our friend, I made the 'mum' purple, and the 'baby' pink. I used wire for their whiskers, and propped their heads up against various kitchen supplies to ensure they would set in the right place:

From here, I felt confident that I could move onto some more complicated animals. So, of course, I chose the giraffe. Why, oh why choose the tallest and skinniest animal to make next??

I coloured my fondant to be a caramel colour, and divided it all up into the various parts that were needed for a big and little (yet still both little) giraffe.

I can't remember where I saw the idea (I'm pretty certain I didn't come up with it myself), but I used uncooked spaghetti to hold the parts of the body together. I'm not sure exactly why I feel it necessary to add that it was uncooked, as really - who would try to thread cooked spaghetti through pieces of fondant?

Piece by piece, leg by leg, I assembled these miniature giraffes, and stood them against more kitchen gadgets to set in place (they got a bit top heavy!):

As it turned out (to my daughter's delight), what was meant to be the mum (or dad) giraffe, was far too big, so I used the baby giraffe to be the mum. As it took a few hours just to get to this stage, I waited a few days before making the littler baby giraffe:

Since a couple of the animal pairs were being made of different colours (e.g. the purple & pink seals), I decided to do the same with the giraffes. Husband claimed that different colours would mess with my OCD, but I actually felt that their wonkiness affected me more than the colour did anyway!

I suppose it's not the first time I've made something wonky, though.

My ideal outcome for this zoo project/challenge/character-building-segment-of-insanity, was to have many different animals, and a variety of colours. So to add some colour to the zoo I was making, I made turtles next! Basically I shaped and stuck the legs, head, and tail together on baking paper first, and then squished a brown ball of fondant on top to make the shell. And then added eyes, smiles, and little shapes onto their shells to finish them off:

I could sense a pattern of bouncing from basic to complicated with each different animal pair that I made, because next, I attempted to make a pair of zebras. I prepared and lined up the parts of them that I'd need, similar to what I did with the giraffes:

Using more spaghetti, which has become one of my essential (and edible) tools in fondant moulding now, I attached bodies onto legs, and heads onto bodies.

Then started singing "the right foot's connected to the... rib cage". Wait, what?!

Seriously, though. Wherever the spaghetti idea came from, thank you!!

The decorating part was really tricky, though. Next time I will just use edible paint, I think! (Or not make zebras). Teeny tiny pieces of black fondant, mixed with a teeny tiny white background and sticky glue is just asking for mess! They were cute anyway, though:

Crocodiles were fairly straight forward animals to make. Once I'd moulded a big and a little one, I used a pair of scissors to create 'spikes' along their backs (a tip from the decorating book). These were a great animal to make, because they could lie flat to set, and didn't need their heads to be propped up against anything:

Using the same spaghetti-and-prop techniques I did for the seals, giraffes and zebras, I moved onto making some elephants. On the birthday girl's party invitation, there was a green elephant, so, along with a purple 'mum', and pink 'baby', I couldn't help but make a matching green 'dad'!

And I made a little bow for the baby, and gave some hair to the dad, to add some character:

Each animal had it's fiddly part/s, but it was really great practice making all these animals. Some were simple, some were insanely tricky, and some couldn't help but look slightly weird or lopsided. With the pandas, I think the eyes were the hardest thing to capture on them! Too big and they look like they're abusing the wrong substances, and too little and they look like they need coffee to wake up!

And what's a zoo without a lion!? Well... The zoo I went to in Brisbane, I suppose. No lions. Just birds and iguanas. And before you tell me, I know that a baby lion, let's call him "Simba", shouldn't have a mane, so I'd like to encourage you to think of this baby lion less as baby-Simba, and more... as adolescent/pubescent Simba, growing his first lot of facial hair, knowing absolutely everything there is to know about being an adult and a king.

Because don't all teenagers know more than their parents?

Lastly, I made a gorilla and a monkey. I know, I know they aren't 'technically' the same animal, but they worked really well at pretending to be a daddy and a baby! Or a mummy and a baby. Or an uncle and an adopted mentally challenged fur-kid who likes to eat bananas all day.

The monkey was one of the most enjoyable to make, because you don't need to give him facial expression to make him look playful! Of course, I gave them both a banana to hold :)

Because I'm all about stereotyping.

Though it took a while,
and some animals took a lot more time to make than others,
I had made a zoo!

And here they are on the cake, and with the birthday girl at her party :)

Happy birthday Estelle!!