Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shopping Bag Cake: Tutorial in Text

I had so much fun making this shopping bag cake for my Aunt's birthday! I started with two 9x13 cakes cut in half lengthwise and stacked 4 high. The great thing about this cake was that I was able to slather buttercream between the layers and over the entire structure without worrying about neatness.

I cut 4 sheets of fondant to fit the dimensions of the cake and wrote the store name in black food coloring. Then I tinted and rolled fondant and cut random shapes for my tissue paper. I let all of this dry overnight.

I applied my sheets to each side of my "bag" and used buttercream on the corner seams. I twirled 12 " strands of black fondant and folded them over the top of of my larger panels for my bag handles. My tissue paper laid on top of the cake.

On the side was a fondant gift tag with a Happy Birthday message paired with a "bracelet" made from black fondant "beads" strung on florist wire.

And there you have it! I would love to do this shopping bag cake again in a couture label or maybe a Victoria's Secret. It was such a simple design but would work for so many occasions!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Homestead

As my family drove down the gravel road that led to my grandparents' homestead, we stopped the car to take in the view one last time. My grandma's house could be seen long before it was actually reached. All my life, I'd welcomed the view of the old house on the hill. As we drove closer, I would watch to see whose vehicles were parked in the driveway. Sometimes we were the only visitors, but more often than not, we were welcome additions to a home already filled with conversation.

Now that hill stands void of the home that held a lifetime of memories, but I was blessed with quiet moments of solitude spent documenting and reflecting on my most cherished memories there.

A white gate greeted visitors at the front of the yard. As children, we would ride as it swung closed. The gate kept us within the safety of our yard games of make-believe, tag, and tree climbing. When we were given permission to explore the land beyond the yard, the gate opened to the grove of trees in the field, from which would would yell at the hill beyond and wait for our echos. The maze of tree roots proves the perfect floor plan for games of house or school. Sometimes we'd trek even further, to the creek and the rock hills that were scattered with wildflowers in the summertime.

The swings were old, made of wooden planks and rusted chains secured to a heavy, metal frame. If you were a seasoned swinger, you could stretch your legs all the way through your toes and just brush the trunk of the old tree that stood before the set.

Beneath the old hickory tree stood a pump house, filled with canned goodies from the garden and fresh cool water that was carried into the house for drinking. When the old heavy door was swung open, I was greeted by a cool, fresh dampness almost like air after a spring rain. A wooden swing hung from a branch of the tree. It was replaced over the years, but the swing always proved the perfect place to visit with my grandma. As children, we'd gather hickory nuts and crack them open on the concrete base of the well. Piles and piles could be gathered at the right time of year.

When Grandpa was alive, we'd watch with anticipation as he stood at the front of the dock, spreading a coffee can of fish food atop the surface of the lake. Sometimes there would be a frenzy of perch, but the real excitement came when someone spied the whiskers of a catfish gulping the pellets. Then it was time to cast the lines and watch for the bobbers to disappear into the water. On overnight visits, we'd take the old fishing boat onto the water and set baited jugs for the catfish, and in the morning, we'd pull the jugs in to see what we'd caught. What a shock it was to find a snapping turtle hooked one morning!

Though my grandparents' home no longer stands behind the old Dinner Bell, the memories and stories are not forgotten. And although it was a sad day when we gathered as family under that roof one last time, I was able to see the excitement of my younger cousin who, at 18, rang the iron bell for dinner for the first time. I was able to hold my grandma's hand and watch my children play with their cousins. I was able to help my kids select trinkets to carry home with them and receive special pieces of my own, so that each of us have a part of that home with us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Little Star

Christmas is still weeks away, but most people have already begun to prepare for the celebration, be it shopping and crafting gifts for loved ones, baking and freezing cookies, or even displaying a Christmas tree. In my home, funds for Christmas gifts are working into the budget in advance, but short of that, little preparation for the celebration begins before December. The weeks of Advent are traditionally a time to prepare ourselves for Christ's coming. That preparation is two-fold. We prepare ourselves to celebrate The Savior's birth, but perhaps more importantly, we take extra care to see that we are prepared when He comes again. My November preparations, this year, have centered around finding ways to prepare the hearts of my family for Jesus. God sent me the perfect tool to remind my children of Christ's sacrifice for them.

A while back, I was blessed with the opportunity to receive and review a truly great children's book, This Little Prayer of Mine, by Anthony DeStefano. Recently, I opened my mail box to find his newest children's book, Little Star. What a truly unique view from which to tell the Nativity Story! Let's face it, when it comes to The Nativity, it's all too easy for the events to seem mundane, common in the eyes of our children. Mary and Joseph ride a donkey to Bethlehem, have to camp in a stable when there's no room at the inn, Baby Jesus is born, angels sing, shepherds and wise men come. The end. I find it vital that such a sacred story, a gift with such unfathomable value, be presented in a way that instills reverence, excitement, and gratification for God's sacrifice. Little Star accomplishes all three.

As exquisitely illustrated pages turn in this story about the Christmas Star, a beautiful parallel is drawn between the star's role in Jesus' birth and the role that Jesus plays in our divinity. One Little Star gives everything it has to Jesus, and Jesus gave everything he had in his life on Earth for us. The comparison was easily understood by my four-year-old son, and the story continues to stir conversations about The Nativity.

For now, I've tucked the book away, waiting until the Advent season to bring it out again. I'm praying that the story continues to feed my children's awareness of God's sacrificial gift of His Son. I pray that you, too, are given tools this season to share the true meaning of Christmas with your children, not so much kindness and charity (though these are important), but the celebration of Christ humbling himself so that we may live forever with Him in Heaven.

Happy Holidays,