Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Still Pulling Myself Together

I know Christmas is over, but I still can't face the day to day regular routine of my life. I guess you could say I'm in denial? So, instead of a step-by-step party instruction (coming soon by the way) here is a cute picture from Christmas eve with my kids and their cousins. Aren't they cute?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to All!

Have a wonderful day and I will "see" you in the new year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Family Holiday Card

About three seconds ago, I clicked the "order now" button from Kodak Gallery's website. I feel as though a weight has finally lifted from my shoulders!

To make this card, I purchased several yards of saturated green felt from the fabric store (on sale!) and taped it high on the wall. Three of my family members posed in front of it while my trusty tripod took several photos (before the felt succombed to gravity). Meanwhile, my daughter decorated her gingerbread house. She had such a good time!

Then it was all about the photoshop. I found a tutorial, online, for removing the "green screen" from the background - using a green fabric just makes it fairly simple to "cut" the people out of the background. I had to play around with the coloring of both photographs, the "gingerbread" photo was red in comparison to the "family portrait" photo. I also had to put shadows in behind the "family portrait" photo to make it look as though we had the same lighting as the other photo.

And voila! Sillyness ensues.

"green screen" portrait

Autumn's gingerbread masterpiece

Final combo photograph

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Giveaway from See Jack Draw

I saw this one with my own two eyes! See Jack Draw is giving away one of their most popular collages. A nine square, 12"x12" photo collage of your child's artwork - a $70 value - could be yours!

all they ask is...
  1. enter the contest before Midnight PST on Sunday, December 7th
  2. just make a comment on See Jack Draw, one comment per person
  3. for an additional chance to win, post about their contest on your blog
  4. one winner will be randomly picked and announced Monday, December 8th

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

At Last... A GIVEAWAY!

Be sure to check back on Monday (eat your turkey, shop on black Friday) for a "Just in time for Christmas shopping for the in-laws" giveaway from See Jack Draw!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Christmas is Coming

Yes, yes, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but aren't you feeling the pressure? The decorating, the shopping, the entertaining... ahhhhhh! It's enough to make any Martha wanna-be scream.

What I've been thinking about lately, is what our family Christmas card will look like this year. Being a graphic designer and a fairly decent photographer (meaning I know how to use photoshop), I think there is some expectation that it really be a winner. I've got to hit it out of the park. It must be one for the books.

etc. you get the picture.

And to top it off, the past two Christmas cards have been pretty funny (if I do say so myself). Do I do a funny card again? Should I go traditional? Help me! I can't figure out my Christmas card!

Barnes Family 2006 (note my 2 dimensional husband)

Barnes Family 2007 (click to view this one a little closer, do you see me in this picture?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide

Thanks to Amy, over at Mom Spark! She has put together an extensive list of business owners, creators and inventors into one big Holiday Gift Guide. Take a look and see if you can find someone you know.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dinner Party

yup, these are my cream puffs... yummy, huh?

I'm having the girls over for "Dinner Club" tonight, and I have to admit, I'm a bit nervous. I am not a cook.

Last month, we ate grilled shrimp and scallops with cantaloupe and black bean salsa at Brenda's. I am feeling the pressure.

If I can't wow them with dinner (how about sliders with grilled onions, sweet potato fries and salad?), then I'll wow them with what I can do… homemade Cream Puffs!


Sunday, November 9, 2008

School Carnival ~ Cake Walk

Last Friday, my daughter's school held their annual Carnival. One of the activities scheduled was a cake walk. One of my own fondest childhood memories, is of the Cake Walk from my grammar school carnival. You can imagine how quickly I jumped at the chance to make cakes.

From deep in the unused-pan-cabinet in my kitchen I found an unused mini-bundt cake pan that was probably a wedding gift. Who knew it would finally come in handy more than 13 years later? Smart and Final supplied the box-o-cake mix (sorry, I just couldn't do from scratch this time) I did make frosting myself and used yellow and orange sprinkles from Surfas.

How did I come up with this fantastic packaging you ask? Some small colorful paper plates (which were cut into smaller circles), curling ribbon and celo bags from Alin party supply.

How many did we end up with? Well, 36 was all we could manage, but it was enough for the Carnival. The Cake Walk made a good amount of money (to send our 8th graders to Washington D.C.) but more importantly the families had such a good time!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Desperately Seeking Cake?

Are you living in the Pleasant Hill, California area and in need of an AWESOME cake? Then look no further. My step-sister Maura Houston (also a graphic designer) has recently decided to broaden her horizons and branch out into cake making. Using her existing creative genius, she can make pretty much make anything you can dream up - including shaped cookies and themed cupcakes.

Just check out these recent baked goods she has produced...

Her website is still under construction, mostly because she is so busy making cake, so try her at: maura@persnicketycakes.com... your wish is her command.

Me on Mom Spark?

Look out people! Just when you least expect it... there I am.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Wedding Party

This weekend, I was honored to be asked by my good friend to take photos at her wedding. It was a quaint little gathering at a public park, with bubbly and cake afterward. This couple has been together for 17 years, and they have two children together... don't you think it's about time they were married?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Appreciation

Dropped the kids off at their respective schools this morning, and as I got back to my car to run the three thousand errands I had to do before pickup - surprise! The car would not start. By coincidence, my friend Julia was there with me and tried to jump start my dead battery, to no avail.

I waited for AAA during what was supposed to be errands number 1, 2, and 3. He did jump start the car but advised to not turn the engine off until I reached the auto mechanics shop where I should buy a new battery. I waited at the auto mechanics shop during the time allotted for errands 4, 5, 6 and 7. After paying for a new battery and service, I realized that I just spent the money earmarked for errands 8 and 9.

To make a long story slightly shorter, when I finally got back to my house (after skipping the rest of the errands) guess what was waiting on the porch for me?

3 spider web and 3 ghost cookies

A giant thank you to Laura of A Dozen Eggs for the scrumptious cookies she made and sent to me as the winner of her Halloween Super Spectacular Giveaway!

This is going to turn my day around, I just know it.


Those cookies were delish.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Surfer Girl Birthday Party

My daughter and I take so much pleasure in talking about and planning for her birthday party. For this “Surfer Girl” party, the theme was chosen more than one year in advance of the event itself. It’s not that we are obsessive compulsive when it comes to planning birthdays, it’s that we use these conversations to connect with each other and have some serious mommy-daughter bonding time.

So, back to this “Surfer Girl” party… It was pretty tough to find any store-bought kits, decorations or paper goods that fit this theme. I usually look around at least a little bit for inspiration and to see what other people have done in the way of a cake for every birthday I throw. I don’t know what would happen today if you were to google it, but a couple years back there was nothing, nada, zippo.


Taking inspiration from my husband’s surfboard collection, I came up with a surfboard shape for the invite (you can print your own blank). I also found a pink and orange hibiscus print scrapbooking paper to use as a backing paper for the surfboard. Writing some surf inspired lingo for the invite was pretty fun:

surf’s up! Autumn is turning 4
you are invited to catch a wave and hang ten with us

saturday, february 4 at 10:30am

wax up your surfboard and paddle on over to

1234 main street, regrets only 562-555.1212


One of the most versatile decorating items I have is the fish bowl style glass vase. It comes in handy for every party, I’m not kidding. I have 4 of them and you’ve probably seen them before at my parties filled with cars, but for this party they are filled with seashells. I purchased a bag of shells at my local party supply store to augment the meager group I already had at home.

I also used beach towels (that we already owned) instead of tablecloths, and cut giant surfboards out of colored butcher paper to a hang on the walls (you can see them here in the background).

TIP: if you want to hang decorations on the walls and from the ceiling, but don’t want to repair and repaint the drywall, try “Command Strips” from 3M. They come in a variety of styles to fit every need and I promise they come off without a scratch!


This party started at 10:30 in the morning, so I was able to have brunchy snacky items instead of a meal. I made pumpkin muffins and chocolate banana muffins and served them in conjunction with smoothies. Not just any smoothies, but, custom build-it-yourself smoothies. Here is how we set it up: I made a little banner matching the invitation graphics and hung it off the countertop where the blender was set up. Each child filled a red plastic cup with their choice of frozen fruits, to which we (okay, my husband) added orange juice and yogurt. We did purchase some sippy cups with straws from Oriental Trading Company to eliminate spillage, and VOILA! Breakfast!

Pumpkin Bread (this is a big batch - yeilds 3 loaves)
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 3 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 lg. eggs
  • 1 c. vegetable oil
  • 2 c. canned pumpkin
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (opt.)
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Butter your containers well. Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the eggs, oil, pumpkin and water. Beat thoroughly with electric mixer. Stir in the walnuts. Pour the batter into the containers, filling each only half to two-thirds full. Bake for 60-90 minutes depending on the sizes of your containers. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out on rack.


For this group of 4 year olds, we had a craft project and a non-competitive (although prize winning) game. The craft was putting together an aquarium themed picture frame that I purchased, once again, at Oriental Trading Company.

The game we planned was “Freeze Dance” with a bit of a non-competitive twist. The game is meant to be played like this: have a group of children dance while the music plays, and freeze when the music is stopped. If a child moves after the music stops, they are “out” and go sit down on the sidelines. The “winner” gets a prize. Now, because the kids playing this game are only 4 years old (or less) we wanted to be sure all the children felt included and that they didn’t need to compete with one another for a single prize. So, we gave each child a prize as they were called “out”, the child could decide if they wanted to go back in to dance or sit out, and the “winner” was not actually singled out as the big winner of the game but given a prize just as everyone else had gotten.


I loved making this cake! Let me start though, with the “cake topper”. After searching high and low for something, anything, that could sit atop the cake and match our surfer girl theme (girl being the operative word, as there were plenty of boy surfer cake toppers), I actually ended up sending away for an adorable salt and pepper set that matched our theme perfectly.

For the cake itself, I did vanilla cake with blue buttercream frosting. To give the effect of water I separated the frosting into 3 batches, tinting each a slightly darker shade of blue. After a thick coat of two shades of frosting on the sides, I pulled a cake decorating comb through it making little wave patterns. For the top of the cake, I kept the buttercream a touch on the thin side and pulled peaks up with a spatula. The board underneath the cake was also coated with a layer of the dark blue buttercream.

I cherished every moment planning this party with my daughter. It just goes to show you, your theme can be one of a kind or straight from the TV. Use some creative thinking to make it your own, spend as little as possible and make it look homemade - even if it isn't!

Friday, October 10, 2008

For the Love of Polka Dots

Sally, owner of Polka Dot Market and writer of the ever so cute Polka Dot Birthday blog, wrote the nicest post about Piece of Cake Parties! Thanks Sally.

Anyone who loves a Polka Dot will find everything they could ever dream of...

Polka Dot:
  • clothing, hats and shoes
  • party accessories
  • invitations
  • favors
  • crafts
  • games
  • you name it!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

So NOT a Party

Today, I cleaned the alley behind my daughter's school.

Let me back up.

My daughter goes to a GREAT charter school in an up and coming neighborhood - you know, one with a lot of potential? Anyway, it is in the alley behind the school that we conduct drop off and pick up of our little ones, and it is not pretty. Graffiti, trash, a couch, someone's old fence, a dresser, a few abandoned cars, well I think you get my drift. This is an alley that the children not only see everyday, but several of the families walk through it to get to the school.

Our high school kids helping out.

In addition, (and I almost wasn't going to bring this part up because I'm a little concerned about libel?) there is an auto/body shop, very close to the school, that could possibly be polluting the air with bondo dust and spray paint particulates. They also park the cars that they are working on and are about to work on in the alley and on the school property. It is extremely frustrating to see what is going on there and feel like there isn't anything permanent we can do about it.

Julia, wielding her tools.

Now, my good friend (and fellow parent of said school) Julia has spent the last year working as a committee of one cleaning the alley on a regular basis. This fall, when school started up again, it was as if she had never touched the place. She had worked so hard back there! So, I decided to take matters into my own hands - literally my own typing fingers. I emailed every city service I could think of, including several that had nothing to do with the problems. I even emailed our district's city councilwoman's office.

Lots of illegally dumped furniture.

Yay for our City! First off, there is a Neighborhood Clean-Up Assistance Program that gives you supplies - shovels, rakes, brooms to borrow, and trash bags, gloves and masks to use FREE OF CHARGE! Thank you to Jim!

Pressure washing does remove graffiti!

Second, our City sent out their wonderful Graffiti Prevention Services crew, and 4 trucks and painted the entire alley. I'm talking, a long "Y" shaped alley with every surface covered - they used blue, black, green, tan, pink, grey and white paint. Thank you to Javier!

A little bit of blue paint goes a long way.

Third, and YAY for our city councilwoman, a representative from her office came out in person to see all the problems in our alleyway. Since her visit, she has secured a meeting with some higher ups on the City's police department. Thank you to Claudia!

Claudia and I discussing alley plans for the future.

Julia working on covering the wall with vines.

And lastly, this would not have happened if not for the volunteers. Julia, Rick, Tami and about 20 others that flew past me at the speed of light with their sweeping, shoveling, planting and trash throwing. Thank you to everyone for giving their time and effort to cleaning up and taking back such a small little piece of the City.

The Kinder and 1st graders marching to maracas holding high their handmade banners and thank you cards.

Put it all together, and it spells "Gracias"

Monday, October 6, 2008

Me? A Contributor? Wow!

Yup, it's true, I have arrived.

My own post about a Scooby Doo Halloween party is now appearing on Little Shindigs (you have to see this!) There are just so many ideas swirling around in this vortex of a brain of mine that I now have to spread them around other people's blogs.

Can you tell I'm having so much fun with this?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Halloween Party?

I’m not big on Halloween. In fact, I hold my breath till it’s over, especially now that I have a couple of young kids that do not like anything remotely “scary” or surprising. This is the only time of year that we completely avoid the party supply store. A store that is just around the corner and that, during non-Halloween times of year, we frequent regularly.

My 6 year old daughter (Autumn) has decided she wants a little movie night with her friends as a “Halloween” party. Normally I would say, “Sure! Sounds like fun!” but because it’s being billed as a Halloween party I’m kind of reluctant.

So, here is my plan…..


In keeping with the “non scary” theme to this party, I found a stock photo of candy corn (bigstockphoto.com) and typed the information over it. Alternatively, you can easily do this with scrapbooking paper and vellum. I chose not to use envelopes this time because my daughter can easily hand these out to the few friends we are inviting.


The whole reason for the party is to watch a movie, the main event! We’ll set up all the sleeping bags and pillows in front of the couch so that all the kids can see and hear Casper’s Scare School.


It dawns on me as I write this section… should cookie cutters be renamed? We will be using these Wilton brand cutters (available for a little over $3, they are all about 4 ½ inches, the perfect size) for lots of different foods, none of which are cookies.

Using alternating white bread and wheat bread, we will serve an assortment of peanut butter, plain cheese and lunch meat sandwiches in these shapes.

And how about Halloween shaped Rice Krispie Treats?

You will need:
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 16 oz. bag of large marshmallows
  • Orange, green and/or purple food coloring
  • 9 cups of Rice Krispie cereal
  • Cookie sheet
  • Wax Paper
  • Halloween shaped cookie cutters
  1. Lightly coat the cookie sheet with cooking spray and set it aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Add the marshmallows to the pot and stir frequently until they are melted.
  4. Stir in drops of orange (for the pumpkins) or green (for the monster head) or purple (for the ghost) food coloring until the mixture is the shade desired.
  5. Stir in the Rice Krispies until they are evenly coated with marshmallow.
  6. Spoon the Rice Krispies mixture onto the cookie sheet and allow to cool for one minute.
  7. With waxed paper, flatten the Rice Krispies mixture to an even thickness.
  8. Press the Halloween cookie cutter into the flattened mixture to create the shaped Rice Krispie treat you desire.
I figure, you have spent the money on the cutters, so why not add Jello Jigglers to your buffet? Jello comes in a ton of flavors and colors, just remember that these take more than 3 hours to complete, so maybe work on them the day before.

To round out this dinner plan, I will be serving fruit salad, slightly steamed carrots, edamame (they actually like these!) and pita with hummus.


Yes, I am going overboard in the sweets department. Maybe by the time I do the actual shopping and cooking for this event, I’ll save the Rice Krispie treats for a different day? Moving right along, I can’t imagine a party without cupcakes! Chocolate with cream cheese frosting is my daughter’s favorite! And to finish them off, I will print out my cute Casper the Friendly Ghost images, glue them on party picks and stick them on top.

Okay, I swear this is the last one – I’m adding here mostly because I can’t stop myself. Have you seen these on Martha’s website? I’m going to modify the original recipe slightly to save, myself.

Boo-Nilla Shakes
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 pints vanilla ice cream
  • Whip cream in a can
  • Magic Shell Chocolate Sauce (you know, the kind that hardens to make a crunchy shell?)
Directions: Decorate the insides of 6 glasses with ghostly faces. Blend milk and 1 pint ice cream in a blender until smooth. With machine running, add remaining pint ice cream, one scoop at a time; blend until smooth. Pour milkshake into glasses, filling them 3/4 full. Squirt mounds of whipped cream on top of milkshakes. Serve immediately.

And there you have it, non-scary non-spooky Halloween fun for my over imaginative daughter. I can almost guaranty there will be NO nightmares after this party. The only thing I can’t guaranty, is no tummy aches. I’ll take photos of the actual bash to post later, so that everyone can see that anyone can pull off this semi-homemade party.