Friday, February 19, 2016

Barrett turns TWO!

Our sweet second boy turned 2 years old this week! We celebrated first with a party for him on Saturday with the family and then on Tuesday (his actual birthday) when he opened his birthday gift from us. On Saturday we also started a little kitchen remodel and on Tuesday it was going full swing, so we didn't do anything too elaborate but I think he still had a blast. 

Poor little guy has been getting over a very nasty cold. I had an appointment scheduled for him on Monday because I was sure it was a sinus infection at that point. But that day he woke up from his nap feeling a tiny bit better, so I called the office and they told me to give him another 24 hours. Twenty-four hours later, on Tuesday, he still seemed on the upswing so we were able to avoid antibiotics this time.

His party was so much fun, both the party itself and getting ready for it. When I throw parties for people I generally tend to just think about the food. I'm not very good at coming up with fun and clever activities or cute decorations. But since he is only turning two and didn't really know any better, I figured what he would like the most would be his favorite people coming over, balloons, streamers, and cake. And he did!

The cake! I'm so happy with how it turned out. I wish I would have taken more pictures though. I am NOT a cake decorator by any stretch, though I do love baking. I feel like the baking gene and the cake decorating gene are totally different. Anyway, I was going to try to tint white frosting a couple different colors and draw a picture of a police car or a Jeep on top of the cake. I didn't want to spend a lot of money or time on a simple cake for a simple party. Then, one night, while I was shopping at Meijer all by myself after the kids had gone to bed, I took a look at the clearance toys and saw a matchbox-size Off-Road Lightning McQueen and a Sandy Dunes car, both half off. The boys have recently discovered the Radiator Springs 500 1/2 Cars Toon DVD that we had, stored for about a year now and never opened, so they've watched it several times in the last few weeks. I had the clearance cars in the pantry, waiting for an occasion to give them to the boys, and at the same time I was despairing (ha) because I didn't think that I'd be able to draw any kind of decent looking vehicle on top of the cake. Then it occurred to me! Why not use the cars to decorate the cake? So that's what I did! The two layers, which baked up concave to my dismay, actually worked out perfectly. I frosted them with buttercream and covered them with graham cracker crumbs and cocoa powder. (Barrett helped me process the graham cracker crumbs to a very very very fine dust. He really loved pressing that food processor button.) Then I rolled some large marshmallows in extra buttercream and rolled those in graham cracker crumbs, then positioned them on the cake to make it look like a rocky canyon. I flicked cocoa powder all over it and then put the cars in between to make it look like they were racing. Finally I added a paper banner supported by a straw (cut in half) that said "Barrett's Birthday Race." It was all very simple and the result certainly was not bakery-worthy, but the boys absolutely loved it and that's what's most important. They sat and looked at it for quite some time when I unveiled it at the party... and of course there were no tears when I had to cut it because then they got to play with the new cars!

The week before the party I had William cut out some shapes from construction paper and then I hot glued them to some twine to make a simple banner. He was so excited about the result and the entire time he was cutting he was talking about how much Barrett would like it. I made sure to tell everybody about about "the shapes that William cut." He was proud of it. I was really happy with this, because I want the kids to learn to do nice things for each other on their birthdays and holidays, but it's not quite right to go to the store and have him pick something out "for Barrett" because really he's just picking out a toy that he wants (knowing his brother will share!) and there's no self sacrifice involved. The banner looked adorable. The morning of the party, I put up balloons and the streamers and when Barrett came down for breakfast he looked around the room and said, "Fun!"

Becca was here the whole weekend (Friday and Saturday night) and was a HUGE help. Brian started tearing up the kitchen countertops, and thankfully she was there to help me keep the kids out of the kitchen and prep the food. And because I kept it simple, she and I were able to have fun painting on Friday night after the kids went to bed. I wasn't thrilled with MY result (her painting was gorgeous) but it was still a blast.

The food! When it comes to a party, I love planning for food. I wanted a menu that I could substantially make ahead of time. For the chicken pasta, I pre cooked the chicken and mixed it with all of the extras so I could dump it into the pasta and sauce and bake it quickly. I could have made the pasta and the sauce ahead of time too (and I should have), but I ran out of time the day before.  I made the dressing and croutons for the salad the day before, and re-crisped the croutons in the oven while the pasta was cooking. I cooked the bread ahead of time. I washed the lettuce ahead of time. I made the cake several days in advance, froze the layers, and then assembled and decorated it Friday morning. The frosting kept it fresh.

We had:

-Chicken Alfredo Baked Penne ( It was good! I doubled the recipe but quadrupled the sauce, per the comments; I also added spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and two cans of artichoke hearts. Next time I'd add four cans. They MADE the dish!

-Pam Anderson's Chopped Caesar Salad (from a cookbook; recipe at the bottom of this page: Meh. Call me a heretic, but I don't like homemade croutons. They sog up way too fast. I'd make this salad again, if I had enough time beforehand, but I'd use store bought crunchy croutons (or sprinkle the homemade ones on each individual serving). The lemon part of the dressing was great. More of that, less oil next time.

-Sundried tomato garlic cheddar toast, my own recipe! It turned out great! I've never used this "method" before but I will again for a party: I baked the bread a couple days before and froze it. When I pulled it out of the freezer it was still nice and moist. I sliced it in half lengthwise, buttered it, broiled it, and then sliced it like garlic toast. It was so nice not having to deal with bread dough 45 minutes before the guests arrived. In fact, I bet I could even just thaw the bread the day of the party and just re crisp it in the oven if I wanted to avoid the extra calories of butter. But... Why? :)

-Chips and guacamole

-Potato chips (for the birthday boy)

-Apples and caramel dip ( The dip turned out great. At first I thought it'd be a huge flop. It had tiny dark brown pieces in it (almost like I burned it at some point) and but it didn't taste burnt so I felt bad throwing it out. Definitely do not stop stirring the sauce for a moment. Also, the cooking time in the recipe must refer to a cooler stove; my burners tend to be hot and by the time it cooked for 7 minutes, my caramel dip was a very thick glob. Thankfully I did not pitch it, but instead thinned it out with a good amount of milk and then put it in the blender to get rid of any lumps. It turned out beautiful and perfect! People liked it a lot. And it was homemade with recognizable ingredients. I'll for sure make it again over buying it in the store.

-Pam Anderson's Tender Yellow Cake (similar recipe here, just without spices: with Buttercream Frosting ( This cake tastes delicious, but both times I've made it at has sunk dreadfully in the middle. I think I need to give it one more shot, however. Both times I have used a different method to mix the ingredients because the written method seems odd to me. Beating softened butter into the dry ingredients? Funny. The recipe reviewers agreed, so both times I have mixed it using the traditional cake method: sugar and butter, followed by eggs and vanilla, then adding in the milk and dry ingredients alternating. I will give this recipe one more shot and use the method written, but if it doesn't work that way, I'm moving on! The frosting is better with vanilla and a pinch of salt, but couldn't be easier.

-Ice cream, of course! And pink lemonade.

I really enjoyed having my siblings and parents over, as well as my grandpa (Grandma "Go-Go" Jo Anne was out of town!) and Becca. It was hard not having Erin for the first time. Barrett had such a fun time until bedtime at 8 p.m. I had planned to play games but we all just sat around and talked for a couple of hours. It was a very nice, low key night, and I'm looking forward to getting together with everyone again for the March birthdays.

On Tuesday (Barrett's actual birthday), the kitchen renovation was in full swing so we really didn't have time to do a big night for Barrett's birthday. I reheated leftover lasagna and baked some french fries, so the kids loved that as much as any gourmet meal. Grandpa came over and they opened Barrett's big gift. William was very lucky in that Barrett's big birthday gift included a gift for him. For his birthday, Barrett got a new copy of Meet the Cars (which still hasn't arrived yet) and a super cool three wheeled scooter. I knew it would be more fun for the boys if they each had a scooter, so William got one too. I really hemmed and hawed about whether or not to get these. For Christmas, Brian's grandma gave Brian and me each $100 to spend. So much fun! The past two years I have used it on Barrett's birthday present. :-) This year, I was very tempted to buy myself Barrett some Magformers. I have been wanting a set of those since I first laid eyes on them. But I think the boys are still a little young to appreciate them. I came across the scooter idea somewhere on the internet and started researching. The ones I ended up buying have a weight limit of 77 pounds and an adjustable handlebar, so they will grow longer with the boys than the other three wheeled scooters I researched. They also are more quality built than the typical $20 scooters at Toys R Us, and they have a cool lean to steer feature that's more user friendly than turning the handlebar. But it was hard for me to spend a hundred bucks on something that I wasn't sure would be a hit or not. Eventually I just told Brian I was going to forget it, that we could just take Barrett out to dinner and then to the toy store for his birthday and let him pick something out for his toy. But the more I thought about it, the more I figured we'd probably spend over fifty bucks on a dinner out and a trip to the toy store, so why not spend a hundred and be able to stay in and have a fun family evening and then have something that they could use all summer long together? (I also didn't think at the time that Brian probably wouldn't want to put the kitchen renovation on hold for a whole evening, and this way he didn't have to.) So I got the scooters and I'm so glad I did! They ride them constantly. William is getting pretty proficient. Barrett "rides" his by holding the handlebar and walking on each side of it. He will learn. It's so nice to have a toy that he likes but can also grow into quite a bit. I'm really looking forward to taking them up north in the summer to Nana's house and letting them ride in the quiet streets. It will be so much fun.

Of course I don't have any pictures of them riding the scooters because I was too involved in helping them figure out how to ride them. This always seems to happen, I get too involved in the moment and never take any pictures. But suffice it to say, they really like them, and I'm very happy about that. So that concludes Barrett's 2nd birthday. I'm very happy with it. I know this seems like kind of a silly post, but in the past I have either way overdone birthday (too many presents, too big of a party), or way underdone it and felt sad and guilty later. This time I prayed that whatever I did for Barrett would not stress me out (therefore stressing my poor little family out) or be a burden, but would be a pleasant time for Barrett and all of us, and that his gift would be a blessing to him. And the Lord answered my prayers. We kept it simple and he loved it. And I had fun too.

Cake, before the "race" banner.
Brian's sister, Christie, and her family sent Barrett some cool crayons and construction paper!
The birthday boy on his actual birthday, wearing Neva's cupcake bib (which he thought was REALLY cool) and a blanket "hat."
Christie also sent a "party in a box," which served as a centerpiece for the party until they got to make a fun mess with it on Tuesday.
Christie ALSO had balloons delivered for Barrett, from his cousins! She's something.
The boys looking at the cake on Saturday.
Barrett wasn't allowed to blow on the entire cake, because germs.
He carried the 2 candle around all day and couldn't WAIT to use it.
Of course, he wouldn't be Barrett Bri the Science Guy if he didn't stick his finger into the flames first!

Poor sick little guy was a good sport!
About to open their scooters with Grandpa!

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