5 Fool Proof Cake Tips – From one mom to the next!

Since becoming a mom I have loved making the boys their own special birthday cakes and enjoy decorating them. I’m by no means a professional or have any kind of training – but I have learned a few things along the way as the evolution of photos at the end of this post shows! I thought I would share some of the simple tips that have made a big difference in my cake game, from amateur mom baker to another.

Make it easy on yourself – I don’t make the entire cake from scratch… I’m all about jazzing up a box cake mix (using milk instead of water, butter instead of oil). If you want to try to do a fun decoration don’t feel like you have to DO IT ALL. Make things easier where you can!

Invest in a cake kit. The first few years I didn’t spend the $17 for a cake kit and I kinda wish I had. A turntable, a scraper and a couple decent spatulas can really make a big difference. This is the one I bought this year. They sell ones with dozens of more pieces but I opted for something simple.

Freeze your rounds – this was a tip I discovered last year. Freezing or chilling your cake rounds makes frosting SO much easier!! There’s none of that crumbling you normally experience and it doesn’t take away from the taste or texture. Just make sure to wrap them in plastic wrap tightly if you plan on chilling or freezing for longer than 30 min.

Start small and pick a design or style that you’re excited about – I get most of my ideas off pinterest & I try to pick cakes that feel doable. Over the years I have slowly expanded what I felt like was “doable” 3 years ago I would have never even tried this Cars cake. The idea of doing a fondant checkerboard bottom alone would have been too much. Even this year, I was fully prepared to scrap that detail if it wasn’t working out!

Stop by your local bakery! – did you know most grocery stores will sell you their cake frosting?? This year I went to Safeway and bought a bunch of white frosting directly from the bakery & then dyed it red! I’ll definitely be doing this going forward. Again, make things easier where you can! Maybe someday I’ll have time to perfect my own cake frosting but for now this is a short cut I’ll be taking!

BONUS: Have fun with it! Even if your cake flops it won’t be the end of the world. I have store-bought cupcakes as a back up & I focus on the fun aspect! Also don’t underestimate the power of crumbled graham cracker or Oreo cookie as a way to add texture and make the cake look more detailed!

Cars cake for Will’s 4th Birthday (2022)
Dino Cake for Will’s 3rd birthday (2021)
2021 “Wild One” for J’s 1st Birthday

“Two the Moon” Will’s 2nd Birthday (2020)
Smash cake for Will’s 1st Birthday… to show we all start somewhere!

The Monday in March That Started It All.

For most people March means the welcoming of Spring & St. Patricks Day. But for me, March will always make me pause, make me look around and think about all the different ways my life could have gone. Three years ago on a random March Monday our world flipped upside down. I thought I was taking my husband to the ER for an unmanageable migraine. In the hours that followed, his mentation deteriorated, I held my 10 month old son, and watched as my coworkers work fervently trying to figure out what had caused my high functioning husband to suddenly become unable to finish sentences, use his hands, or even follow commands. I sat beside him as a machine breathed for him, in the same room I had cared for countless intubated patients over the years. Stunned that this was my reality.

About a month after Chris’ “outage” as we jokingly refer to it now, I did write a post about our experience with viral encehphalitis, you can read it here . It’s funny because there are similar threads, thoughts on immense gratitude for life but reading it now it’s clear that at the time I thought “welp processed that, time to move on”. I refer to Chris’ recovery in the past tense, when in reality it would be over a year before he truly felt like himself again. And I would spend the year having intense flash backs and resisting attempts at truly processing it. Perspective baby.

I wish I could say that those nights in the ICU were the hardest part but the weeks and months that followed would be far more arduous. The get well flowers wilted and life outside our apartment walls went back to normal but inside I felt shell shocked. I was on edge wondering if every bout of dizziness or return of a headache was the start of Chris’ encephalitis returning. In the midst of balancing the household responsibilities and caring for our ten month old son the trauma loomed over us. At the time, I remember mostly saying “I don’t wanna talk about, let’s just move on”. Spoiler alert – you can’t just move on from your trauma without ever processing it.

I resisted for so long, thinking the walls I was building up would protect me. My decade as an ER nurse has been a masterclass at keeping trauma at arms distance, emotionally detaching myself from immense sorrow. It’s how us nurses are able to go from compressing a lifeless chest one minute & doing a vision test the next. A skill that I’ve since learned should be used with measure. When it came to this, the more I turned away the more it hurt. As much as I yearned for everything to “be normal” again it wouldn’t be. And that was the point. This was meant to transform us, if we’d let it.

I started recognizing that even though I didn’t want to “relive it” I already was, and it was happening out of my control (usually at work). Those memories seared into my brain, played like a movie with crystal clearness. I would get flashes of what happened that day, my coworkers sprinting around. The looks on peoples faces. The same hallway I walk dozens of time per shift, that I sat and sobbed in, all those memories loomed under the surface, red hot. About a year ago I was transferring a patient to the ICU. The patient was going into the same room Chris had been in. When I crossed the threshold in an instant I was taken right back to being at his bedside. The first two nights I had ever spent away from my son. As I wheeled my patient waves of overwhelming heaviness and fear washed over me. Fear of not knowing what life would be like when he was extubated. Wondering what would he remember, how much PT would he need, how far from baseline would he be starting at? Would I suddenly be caring for my son & my husband? All the feelings and fears I never allowed myself feel in real time because I was flexing my detachment muscle as hard as I possibly could.

That night I went home and wrote. I wrote about what it felt like to walk back into that room, I wrote about my fears, I wrote about the last twelve months. I wrote about things I didn’t even realize were below the surface. Some of which would be the skeleton of this post. My younger self used to fill journal after journal growing up. That habit abruptly stopped when nursing school took over my life. Writing in journals suddenly felt juvenile, like something I did only as a kid, before I had real problems. But here I was watching the words pour out of me. Chris’ encephalitis albeit life altering and terrifying has been the single biggest catalyst for change for not only Chris but myself as well.

This transformation certainly didn’t happen overnight, and in writing this, I know it is still ongoing. In some ways this experience feels like yesterday and other times it feels like a lifetime ago. It isn’t until you’re met head on with life’s raw fragility that you’re faced with either growing and evolving or hiding away. I could have continued to turn away, continued to say “I don’t wanna talk about it or relive it” but I’m convinced I wouldn’t have grown. Instead, eventually, I turned into it.

Right away we prioritized physical health – Per his doctors recommendations we did the Whole30 diet to figure out what had caused his body to be in such a hyper-inflammatory state. Chris embarked on Neuro Physical Therapy. I leaned into my at home workouts that I knew were keeping me from totally losing it. We slowed way down. Chris started talk therapy, and I actually agreed to open up about my experience. We discovered our enneagram types and recognized the role they played in our relationship, our daily lives and the way we communicate with one another. I started writing again. And last year I started meditating. Sitting with my thoughts, creating space and stillness has opened entire new worlds for me. I started intentionally choosing to use that experience to shape my life going forward. I recognized that through bettering myself, through facing my trauma I could help others.

This March I felt a very strong pull to lean back into things that bring me genuine happiness. I bought a doodle pad, I dusted off my sewing my machine, I’m reading books that make me laugh and cry. I’m posting here more! I’m planting flowers in every open space in our yard. I’m filling journals again, I’m overcommitting to projects (because I secretly love that)!

So this morning, this March Monday, I’m up before the sun. I’m giving my mind the gift of pausing. I’m moving my body and overall I’m thankful. Because even thought it may not seem like it it. It’s all connected. Your gifts, your circumstances, your purpose, your imperfections; your journey, your destiny. It’s molding you. Embrace it.

5 Toddler Books for BIG feelings!

If you have a toddler then you already know, the feelings are BIG. Here are some our favorite books to help make sense of these big feelings. I bought The Invisible String, before going out of town and Will LOVED it! So I thought I would share our favorites for anyone else navigating those BIG feelings.

1. The Boy with the Big, Big Feelings 2. The Invisible String 3. In My Heart 4. The Color Monster 5. My Heart

Things I love about each book:

  • The Boy with The Big, Big Feelings – does a great job actually explaining what it feels like when we get upset “feelings push out of our eyes” aka tears.
  • The Invisible String – I just love this book and the concept that we are always connected to the people we love even if we aren’t with them at that moment. Plus Will LOVED this book!
  • In My Heart – This one has so many emotions & the design is cute!
  • The Color Monster – Will also refers back to this one about feeling mixed up & feeling lots of emotions at once!
  • My heart – I love the illustrations in this one & the simple message!

Do you have a favorite feelings book? If so I’d love to hear what it is!

5 Things to Add Riced Cauliflower to & not even notice…

Cauliflower rice is one of my favorite ways to sneak veggies into meals! It easily absorbs flavors of other foods which makes it the perfect versatile veggie for adding in. Below are five dishes that go beyond “cauliflower rice”

Fajita veggies – For taco night you can find me making bell peppers, onions and riced cauliflower for fajitas. Inside a taco, burrito or quesadilla you’ll never know extra veggies snuck their way in. My kids will notoriously pick out and onion or bell pepper but the cauliflower is here to stay!

Pasta Sauce – I love sneaking riced cauliflower into red sauce that I use for pastas or lasagnas! My kids never notice because the flavor of the meat sauce sauce is front and center.

Protein Shakes – This might sound weird but instead of adding ice to your protein shake, add 1/2 cup of frozen riced cauliflower. It adds a creamier consistency to your shake, plus you’re getting a serving of veggies!

Chili – a dish like chili is SO flavorful by itself it makes adding riced cauliflower easy! These are chili stuffed sweet potatoes & you’d never know there cauliflower in there.

Casseroles – last but not least next time you’re making a casserole try adding in a cup or two of riced cauliflower. Like I’ve mentioned before it absorbs any flavors and easily goes unnoticed!

I also buy riced cauliflower at costco and keep a ton of it on hand. Whenever I feel like we’re running low on veggie servings that day it is my number one go to for an extra serving!

July, My Month of Mindfulness

31 days ago I committed to meditating daily. In July I spent 253 minutes meditating. I missed one day, (day 12). 253 minutes of breathing in the moment right in front of me. Over four hours of awareness brought to my thoughts.

Somedays I found my thoughts in my parked car before work, other days sitting in the grass in our yard. Somedays it was difficult to be still for even 5 minutes, I would spend the entire meditation pushing away distractions. Other days the mindfulness came easy and I would be a world away in 8 minutes.

Here’s what I have discovered after 30 days. Meditation like most things becomes easier the more you do it. And 30 consecutive days is a long time to practice something. I love that every time I meditated it was different. Meditation doesn’t require you to be in shape. It doesn’t cost any money. There’s no equipment. You can practice anywhere & for any length of time. And about half way through the month I started to really crave and look forward to these moments of mindfulness. Our worlds are so saturated with notifications, pings and pulls for our attention constantly. And there is something magical about being still & being thoughtful, it’s this superpower. The ability to rule your own mind. And you can access this power whenever. One morning this month Will and I had a rough start to the day, patience, and tempers were short. When I got Johnathan down for his morning nap, I let Will watch his beloved Mickey Mouse & I snuck into my room and did a 5 minute meditation. And it completely changed the tone for the whole day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on here trying to say if you meditate your kids won’t have tantrums. BUT! You might find you have a lot easier time responding to toddlers disproportionate range of emotions & not meeting their chaos with more chaos. You might discover a new ability to pause when you’re first confronted with chaos. And that concept of being able to meet chaos with calm carries over in every aspect of life. Suddenly bumps in daily routines, difficult patients, traffic, personal conflict, things that constantly throw us into reactionary modes are met with more thoughtfulness and patience and in turn cause us less strife.

I know I’ve only just dipped my toe into the benefits of meditating and after a full month all I can say is I don’t want to stop. I love the way it makes me feel I love the calmness and sense of intermission mediation brings. It wakes you up to the moments right in front of you. With kids it is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day. Just crossing days off a calendar. Meditation has made me look at every day with thoughtfulness.

I used the Insight Timer App for my meditation – I used the totally free version. They have over 100k meditations that are free, you can search A-Z category wise, you can filter by length of time or theme. I also love that it keeps track of consecutive days meditating as well as total minutes meditated and provides a space for quick check ins.

Meditation is the journey from sound to silence, from movement to stillness, from a limited identity to unlimited space

Sri Ravi Shankar

Wild One

This month we celebrated Jman with a Wild One themed birthday party! He is our sweetest surprise & our pandemic baby. Born in July, his birth month flower is a lotus. Which grows in mud, retreating each night back into the mud only to bloom clean the next day. Lotus flowers symbolize spiritual awakening and rebirth. My eyes filled with tears when I read the description of this. Johnathan was our sweetest surprise, little did we know he would enter our lives when we needed him most, in the thick of the pandemic he would be the brightest light. His birth would remind us of the circle of life as we went on to lose my aunt a few days after his birth. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful symbol for his birth month.

We had family and a few friends come celebrate with us. I got this “wild one” birthday kit off amazon for $30 and was impressed with how great it turned out. The day of the party ended up being well over 100 degrees, luckily we had a small pool from target set up & the kids loved splashing in it. It was wonderful to celebrate our happy guy and watch him demolish his smash cake! He decided to take his first steps right before turning one and he held out on getting any teeth his first year!

Links: table cloths / wild one party kit / splash pool / my dress

Three Rex

We celebrated Will’s 3rd birthday with a Three Rex theme. This birthday felt so emotional, he just seems so big all of the sudden. He’s going to preschool in the fall, he’s taking swim lessons, he tells funny little stories & is constantly asking “wanna know…” Ex: wanna know what that sound was, wanna know what’s in mama’s mouth, wanna know what Johnathan’s doing and on and on. Will turned two a month into the pandemic. While the world shut down in 2020 Wills world expanded beyond measure. We moved, he became a big brother, he learned to ride his scooter, he got stitches (see previous), he cooked with me a TON and asked Santa for knives. It’s SO fun to watch him become his own person & every birthday is just a little reminder of how quickly time goes! It was so wonderful to have a small party to celebrate our guy and Johnathan got to meet some family he had never met yet so that was extra special.

Party decor was primarily from target. His cake I can proudly say I baked & decorated! It’s a Ghiradelli box cake mix & Betty Crocker chocolate frosting & funfetti vanilla frosting that i just added green food coloring to, for the dirt – crushed up Oreos. I took inspo from a picture on pinterest & I was so happy with how it turned out! My biggest tip is to freeze your cake for 20-30 min before trying to frost it. It seriously makes a HUGE difference!

Winter in Yosemite

Last month we went on our first trip in exactly one year! We went on a road trip & visited Yosemite. A few months leading up to this trip Will started enquiring about seeing snow. We landed on visiting Yosemite, because as much as I wanted Will to see snow, the idea of three days with a toddler & infant with snow as the main / only attraction did not seem like my idea of fun. So we landed on going to Yosemite & it was the perfect getaway! I thought I would share what hikes, trails we went on that were kid friendly, info about snow play areas etc in case you find yourself in a snowy yosemite with a toddler & 6 month old!

Cooks Meadow – Located on the valley floor, this trail has incredible view of half dome & Yosemite Falls & you are surrounded by beautiful meadows. There are boardwalks that make pushing a stroller easy. We were able to pull off the trail and have our lunch in a meadow with Yosemite Falls in the background. So serene.

Lower Yosemite Falls – This is a 1 mile loop that is paved, easily manageable with a stroller or a toddler. (although when did this hike it was day 3 & will was exhausted so he opted to ride in the stroller, but on any given day he could easily have walked this trail!)

Badger Pass Ski / Snow Play Area – did you know Yosemite had a ski resort?? I did not, until researching for this trip. At the time the actual ski resort was closed & lifts were not running. however the snow play area was open to visitors. William had a great time sledding. We took our monkey mat and put it down in the snow & Johnathan got to watch. We also packed tons of food for this portion – I premade a batch of chili for our trip, heated it in the morning & stored in a XL Thermos. When we got done playing in the snow we had a picnic in the back of the car with warm chili! I would say be sure to pack lots of food because to & from badger pass there is very little / no food options & I did not want to risk and hungry toddler or husband after playing in the snow for two hours!

Tunnel View – If you’ve been to Yosemite you’ve probably stopped at Tunnel View – there’s not much to do, it’s purely a vista, but I love stopping there & taking it all in! (I just popped out of the car to grab a few photos, no pulling toddlers out of carseats for this stop.

Things to consider

  • If you are planning a trip to Yosemite be sure to check which entrances are open, because many roads are closed during the winter months.
  • Be sure to check if reservations are required to enter the park as of Feb 2021 they were.
  • Depending on accommodations, at the time we booked our trip the Awahnee was still closed for overnight guests, however we booked an airbnb about 30 minutes from the gate. Something to consider is the driving factor – although we were only 30 minutes to the gate, often our actual destination was an hour or so away. So it made for LOTS of time in the car.
  • We loved our airbnb, it had stunning mountain views, a hot tub that you could enjoy the sunset from & was SUPER kid friendly, including a play structure, miniature horses & everything from highchairs to pack n plays! This is the airbnb link in case you are looking for a place to stay!

Have you ever visited Yosemite in the winter?? I would love to hear about your experience or your experience taking young kids to national parks! After this trip Chris & I are really making an effort to take the boys to more parks around us! Leave me your favorite parks in the comments below!

Johnathan’s 1 Month Photos

Can’t believe it’s been a whole month with this guy and in true second child fashion this post is going up 2 weeks after these photos were taken. This first month has been wonderful, Johnathan got to meet both sets of grandparents & William has fully embraced big brother duties. Johnathan also moved out of our room & into his own, but he’s still snoozing in his bassinet. Per usual time is flyyyying by, but we’re over the moon with our littlest man.

Pregnancy Favorites

I decided to compile a list of some of the things I’ve been loving this pregnancy – I would say this second time around I’m way more relaxed & honestly have barely bought or started planning anything (and I’m nearly 30 weeks!). By 30 weeks with Will we already had 80% of the nursery done, I’d had my babyshower & was elbows deep in organizing baby gear. I think this is a rather common phenomenon with non first children!

  1. Care Of Vitamins – you might have seen these being promoted by celebs on Instagram, but I tried them & love them. When you’re pregnant you’re taking your vitamins daily & I love that they come in individual packs which are perfect for travelling. And I like that you can change up what comes in the pack every month. When I had really bad morning sickness I was adding B12’s, and now with all the crazy pandemic stuff I’ve added immune support like elderberry & probiotics. I love that I don’t have bottles of vitamins on my counters or cluttering up my cabinets. & the little packs they come in are compostable!!
  2. THESE Old Navy lounge pants. This pregnancy I’m having a hard time finding things I find to be comfortable. I’ll be wearing leggings & or maternity jeans & out of nowhere I’ll be annoyed with how tight around my belly it is. But these bad boys are SO comfortable & so soft. I honestly wear them 5 nights a week! In fact I have a second pair in an online shopping cart.
  3. My Hydroflask! Something I use every.single.day! I’m so thirsty when I’m pregnant or breastfeeding & I crave ICE cold water. I love the hydroflask because it doesn’t sweat, it keeps water cold for hours on end. I usually fill it up with pebble ice from work before I leave and the ice is still solid when I wake up in the morning! I have a narrow bottle which I prefer because it fits in cup holders. Right off the bat it might seem pricey but it’s literally the only water bottle I use & I take it pretty much everywhere I go!
  4. Belly Band – I never wore one during my first pregnancy, but this time around by lower back kills me by the end of the day. I ended up getting one off of amazon that said it was good for back pain, & oh my goodness does it make a difference! I wear it whenever I’m working out (except yoga) & when I’m doing a lot of walking or standing. I usually end up wearing it in the afternoon when I’m running around chasing Will, & standing to cook dinner. At less than $25 it’s worth it if you’re struggling with lower back pain & still have months till delivery!
  5. Thred Up – this online second hand retailer is awesome in general but it’s for sure a favorite when pregnant. I hate shelling out full price stuff for maternity jeans, shorts, dresses etc. Usually maternity stuff is lightly used & less than half priced – WIN WIN! I also use thred up to clean out my closet. You can order a clean out bag for fee & they’ll send you a bag that’s already had a shipping label on it & you fill it up with your items & ship it back – they’ll pay you for any items they choose to list & donate whatever they don’t want! Talk about easy!
  6. This one you don’t have to be pregnant to enjoy, I recently ordered DAE hair shampoo & conditioner & have been LOVING it. It’s a little on the pricier side but it’s a super clean product – free of sulfates, parabens, formaldehyde, less than 1% synthetic fragrance. I’ve dabbled in pricier hair stuff before & always been left a little unimpressed, but this stuff seriously makes my hair SO soft & way less frizzy when air dries!