Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cupcake Conundrums

We’ve just come off of a big birthday week. Not that there were a lot of birthdays, just a lot to do for a birthday—our baby turned four! We had a small celebration at kindergarten and then a big Dora party and dinner at home.

Every year I find I cannot remember what was not successful in the way of cakes and cupcakes and how to ice them. It’s often a hold-your-breath-and-see-if-this-will-work feeling for each birthday! Living overseas has meant learning how to create something edible and appealing to a multinational audience without a cake mix and a carton of icing. You can find mixes in Germany and Portugal, but many people say they are dry and certainly less sweet than American mixes.


Mickey cupcakes in Germany 2 years ago—couldn’t tell you what I used for the cake and icing


A nice break from the challenge using pink marshmallows, cake mix and carton icing during our time in America last fall for our oldest daughter’s Strawberry Shortcake birthday party

This year I decided to use a Portuguese cake mix for the school party since I was feeding cupcakes to mostly Portuguese children. We’ve had German kids refuse to eat icing and even the cupcakes made from American recipes. I had cream cheese on hand so that made some nice smooth cream cheese frosting.


I cheated with a strawberry cake mix my American friend gave us for the Dora cake to save time. I ran into a problem with the “decorator frosting” that called for shortening, supposedly to make it easier to pipe frosting. I used what I’ve been told is shortening and the icing turned out grainy. With all the colors I used, you couldn’t tell too much, and hey, it was my first theme cake to ice. I used leftover icing to frost the rest of the cupcakes.


Later my mom told me about a frosting she read about on The Pioneer Woman called “That’s the Best Frosting I’ve Ever Had” that uses FLOUR! I will have to try it out—all of the recipes I’ve made from her blog have been great so far! Then I saw a post from Simple Bites that gives tips and recipes on making the best cupcakes and a really cute idea for an Easter cupcake. Maybe these will be the birthday cake sources I need! (Check out the beautiful cupcake wrappers you can download and print at Shabby Blogs too!)

To end on a different note, I wanted to share some cupcakes that cannot be dry or have runny icing, only cute. Theses were wall decorations in the kids’ area at The Chocolate Festival we visited:

DSCF5734   DSCF5735

What tried and true frosting and cake recipes do you rely on?  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where is my guest room?

This was a verse I have probably read over multiple times in the account of Jesus’ preparations for the Passover feast.  Jesus told his disciples to ask the owner of the house this question (Mark 14: 14), “Where is my guest room…?”   Notes in my Zondervan NIV Study Bible say: “It was a Jewish custom that anyone in Jerusalem who had a room available would give it upon request to a pilgrim to celebrate the Passover.”


This line of the verse stuck out to me today as we’ve nearly finished our new guest room upstairs. We have felt it was a priority to get it done so there would be a place for missionaries to stay if they needed to before The Haven duplexes were purchased. So, this line came as an encouragement, like Jesus was asking me where His guest room was.

That may sound strange to some of you, but I believe hospitality is on his heart! There are several Scriptures that touch on this:

  • Matthew 11   40"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. 42And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."
  • It is a command to practice hospitality in Romans 12:13 and 1 Peter 4:9.
  • It is a prerequisite for an overseer in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8.
  • Paul noted the hospitality of others in Acts 28:7 and Romans 16:23.
  • 2 Kings 4  8 One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. 9 She said to her husband, "I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let's make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us." 

Study notes on this last Scripture say: “By her hospitality the woman was able to assist in sustaining the proclamation of God’s word through Elisha.”  I like that a lot since that’s what we’re called here to do by faith!


I know that everyone does not have the space for a guest room. I think the alternative would be having a plan in place that would accommodate guests for various purposes. Jesus wasn’t staying over night in the guest room he asked for. He was sharing a meal with his disciples. Are you mentally ready for guests?

The Reluctant Entertainer is a great blog that encourages laid back hospitality over perfection, if any of you need a good dose of that like me! Check out her posts on Hospitality and Inspiration.

Addendum: This post was written a few weeks ago, but delayed in publishing due to a small crisis in the guest room and bath. Nothing like a deluge from the 2nd floor through your ceilings and lights to get you to wash all those towels that have sat in the cupboard too long! Really, it was a blessing in disguise: We had to re-do flooring that needed it and received a nice compensation from our insurance company. Thankfully it’s all put back together for our first international guest coming today!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patty’s Day, Sweet and Special

My girls have not known about St. Patrick’s Day living overseas as long as they can remember. Hopefully, it was introduced today in a fun and memorable way!
First, we watched a video of a pastor telling a little history of St. Patrick. I retold the main points, having read different versions of the story, so the girls might understand the story better. Then we looked at the map of Europe—where Ireland is compared to Portugal and England (where St. Patrick was supposedly from, although I’ve seen different opinions on that). Next we talked about the shamrock being the traditional symbol of Ireland, and how it may have been a tool that Patrick used to share about the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) with the 3 leaves. We went outside and found a few clover.
Back inside, we made Shamrock Smoothies from National Geographic Little Kids:Photo: Green smoothie
I made a few adjustments since we can’t buy limeade or lime yogurt here. I just used plain yogurt and added 1/2 cup lime juice and 1/2 cup sugar. We all enjoyed it, even with the spinach! I think this might be the next things to try for freezer pops this summer!
Then I explained there are some stories that go along with St. Patrick’s Day that are made up but fun to know about, specifically leprechauns and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This gave the girls a chance to search for chocolate coins (no gold ones here, just copies of the different Euro coins) to match a sheet I’d made with coin denominations on it—a variation of No Time For Flash Card’s “Gold Hunt”. She really did have fun with the search and match, despite the I’m-bored look!
While they were snacking on a couple chocolate coins, the girls looked for four leaf clovers on a page I got from Printables 4 Kids.

Then I gave the girls some pots of gold—a little dish of pineapple jello (there’s no lemon jello here) cut up in little squares in a bed of whipped cream. That idea came from Family Fun as well as the homemade stamp we used to make clovers. They recommended a heart cookie cutter, but I cut a heart into a potato with a knife instead.  Shamrocks, pots of gold, a leprechaun, and 5 year old copywork:
Something I read: “May the Good Lord always hold you in the palm of His hand, and may the blessings He sends you be more plentiful than all the shamrocks in Ireland.”

I’m sharing this at Works for Me Wednesday, back at We Are That Family and

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fun Times in Choco-land

Yesterday was the last day of the VIII Festival Internacional de Chocolate in Obidos, the medieval walled city 10 minutes north of us. We went three times! Helps we bought a season pass to all their festivals. Obidos in itself is a site to see, but they do put on some outstanding festivals!

I’m taking the pictures so you can’t see the chocolate on my face!


This was not just a child’s delight! Lines of people came to see unbelievable sculptures in chocolate…



amazing cakes and the artists at work (I think they’re making a chocolate roof here)…



great kid friendly and well planned activities like chocolate cake baking and decorating…


and of course, the chocolate food! I think our family tried chocolate cake on a stick, chocolate iced cookies, hot chocolate that’s more like a thin pudding, chocolate covered marshmallows and fruit, fruit in chocolate fondue, chocolate tarts, and chocolate filled waffles on a stick. Worth three visits so you don’t have to try all of that at once!


The air was lively there too with big cupcakes, bakers on stilts and the like walking around. By the way, does this guy remind you of an oompa-loompa  from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory years ago?


The place looks like a set from the movie or the Candy Land Game. See my friend Cristi’s post for more pictures. You need to plan on it for next year!


Friday, March 12, 2010

A Cupboard of Organized Space

Our short cupboard has been so functional for us over the years we’ve been married. In our first two homes it was used as additional food pantry space. In our last house in Germany, it was used (as intended) to hold clothes, but we added 2 rods going side to side to hold our daughter’s clothes (baby and kid clothes fit that way) rather than using the nifty slide out rod going front to back that came with it.


Our new house in Portugal came with closets (very different from Germany!) so the cupboard has been sitting in our hallway waiting for some good purpose. Meanwhile our girls’ art supply box in the living room was busting at the seams. Finished “art” and supplies were a nightmare to get through!  This came to an end with the decision to keep our vacuum system hose in the house in that box. All the supplies went to the hall cupboard, mainly using the side shelves we’d left in it. Everything else stacked on top of a metal office paper stacker.

Last weekend my husband added adjustable shelving on the inside so the organized mess would no longer be a mess (and hopefully stay that way!). Real pleasure came when the girls looked inside after I had put all the boxes of supplies back in, and they said “Wow!”


It is not perfect, but it works for us. The things I have in different containers: markers, crayons, colored pencils, Color Wonder markers, broken crayons, twistable crayons we grab for the car, glue sticks, scissors, stickers, paints, glitter, little notepads, and the girls home school supply boxes. I lined up all the coloring books on the bottom. The metal paper stacker has blank paper or construction paper on top, Color Wonder books in the middle and water paint books on the bottom. Other random supplies like stencils have their spot too.

It is a great feeling to see my girls put their supplies back where they belong. Amazing to have a working solution to something that once seemed out of control! If I can do it, you can too!

I’m sharing this at  

Furniture Feature Fridays

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Baskets of Fun

Amazing what a box of plastic Easter eggs can do to entertain young kids! We have quite a stash after my mom hit the Easter sale at Wal-Mart several years ago. She wanted all the missionary kids who visit to have enough! So most stay tucked away until we have visitors. Even so, we have enough out for a plethora of activities.


Without being encouraged to, my oldest daughter started putting the separated eggs together with another so that two eggs stuck together (remind anyone of cellular replication in biology?). Then the girls lined them up, counted them, made sure every had the same amount of glitter eggs and so forth. I could come up with several uses for them in our home school plans. They’re worth every penny and bit of storage!


I’m sharing this at Coffee With Me’s Thursday Tips.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Growing Green in the Garden

I got the idea of  planting seeds in cardboard egg cartons from my friend Cindie. I googled it and saw how you can plant the seedling and its piece of the egg carton right in the ground since they’re biodegradable. Great! We had always been drawn to those nice little seed planters in the store that you put right in the ground too.


Let me tell you, this method is working wonders around here. The seeds in the cartons have all sprouted, while the ones planted in normal pots are still holding out on us!


The other green gardening idea was more of a necessity. We bought some larger seedlings at the local market for very little (like 7 big broccoli seedlings for 50 cents!) but it was probably too early. We are eager for spring and gardening!

I know some of the vegetables we bought like cooler weather, but our ground temperature cannot be above 60 degrees F when the outdoor temp doesn’t even reach that daily yet. For a while, we let these seedlings grow inside too. But with a lack of indoor gardening space and their great growth indoors, we needed to move them outside. Our cucumber plants were about to bloom!


We used part of an old clear shower curtain to cover our climbing cucumbers and covered the rest of the plants with large clear water bottle bottoms. Attractive? NO. Maintain order in the house and possible get a head start on the growing season? Yes! Hopefully we won’t need all the plastic coverage soon. And thankfully there’s the plastic trash in Portugal too that means there’s a good place for it to go when it’s had it’s second use in life. I haven’t moved too far from green living in Germany.


Something a little prettier popping up in my front flower bed:

DSCF5650 “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”  Isaiah 61:11 ~


I’m sharing this at Works-For-Me-Wednesday, this week at Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Outside the Scrapbook

Scrapbook embellishments are VERY appealing to me. The problem is that I am not really a scrapbooker (except for those 2 scrapbooks I’ve promised myself to finish of my girls’ first years…and how old are they now?!).  Thankfully, I’ve found ways to utilize some of these beauties on something besides a page in a book.  I am trying to be in a use-it or lose-it mode these days. 
On a side note, have you heard what Clutter Diet means by a “UFO”? Un-Finished Objects!  Those of you who know me know I’m the queen of those! Another reason to share with you the finished victories!
Back to embellishments… I thought I’d show how I put some of these to work:
I used K&COMPANY stickers (I bought on sale at Michael’s back home) on these frames. Please excuse the short picture. I was too eager to set it out before I found something to hide that spot (European frames and photo sizes are not standard American—while the picture is!).
This frame road in my car for who knows how long before I moved overseas waiting to be returned to JoAnn’s. Not sure why I bought it or wanted to return it or never did. Funny it made it over here, but I’m so glad it did!
This lamp shade has been in need for a while. It was missing it’s edging and had stain spots. I used beige bias tape for the lower edge.  The flowers are brads but I used hot glue to attach them. After I glued them on I felt it needed a little something else. I ended up sewing the buttons on since my first hot glued button was not the look I was after.
I just re-did another lampshade in need. Hopefully I’ll get it posted soon!
I’m sharing this at:


Monday, March 8, 2010

Peace in the Wind and Waves

Yesterday was our first visit to the beach for 2010. So different from the summer with loads of people. Although the waves were crashing and the wind howling, it was very peaceful.  Quite a nice surprise when the weather has been unseasonable dismal and my husband had been in the throws of a stomach bug hours earlier. I hadn’t planned on such a great afternoon…



DSCF5761little waterfalls in the rocks

DSCF5770 just fun to see someone else looking so free

DSCF5773Wish you could hear it!


I’m sharing this at Studio JRU:   



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