Thursday, March 24, 2016

German Chocolate Cupcakes

German chocolate cupcakes. Oh, so delicious!

I didn't know I liked German chocolate until I made these cupcakes. I think the only German chocolate nutty coconut topping I had ever tasted had probably been from a can, or on a cake from the store made from whatever ingredients allow it to have a shelf life of several months. (Seriously, next time you're at the grocery store look at the expiration date on cakes in the bakery. "Fresh" baked cakes can have a shelf life of 3+ months. My cakes and cupcakes have a shelf life of 3 days. I hate to think about what's in a product that allows it to stay "fresh" that long.)

Anyway, I made these for a customer and I absolutely fell in love with this dreamy almond coconut topping. I may or may not have eaten by the spoonful. You know, for quality control purposes...

It's a chocolate cupcake iced with chocolate ganache and topped with a German chocolate filling. A few almond slices and an inverted chocolate chip work together to make a flower that adds the perfect bit of class to this already delicious cupcake!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Spring Family Update


Photo: September 2015

I feel like we are long overdue to give a family update.

2015 went by in the blink of an eye. I had grand visions of writing more on the blog. But I didn’t. So I figured I’d write a Christmas letter. But well, I didn’t do that either. New Year’s came and went (and I missed the opportunity to finally get that letter out), but hey, lookie here, I’m so early for my Easter letter. Aren’t you proud?

Instead of a year in review however, I’m going to give you some of the answers to our most frequently asked questions:

FAQ:

How is your family? In short, we’re doing well. 2014 was a really difficult year for all of us. 2015 was a year of healing. We’re already categorizing 2016 as a year of hope. We are looking forward to seeing what God has in store for our family in the year to come!

Our days are currently filled with a whole lot of education. The kids are doing online school (see below), but the latest news on the horizon is that Rob is also going back to school! Rob is in the process of getting his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) with an emphasis in non-profit management. He’s doing this online through Corban University, so he’s able to juggle work and school. So far, anyway.

Everyone around here is studying something these days!

Are you still in Albany? Yes. However, in the past two years we’ve mentally considered a move to Salem, Klamath Falls, St. Helens, Monmouth, Dallas, Tigard, Corvallis, Portland, Oakridge (all in Oregon), Ellensburg, Spangle (Washington), Anaheim, Lake Forest, San Diego, Santa Clarita and Dos Palos (California), Denver (Colorado), and Phoenix (Arizona). We’ve also considered moving to Guam, Thailand, and Canada.

But yes, we’re still in Albany! 

Rob- Looking quite dapper!
Is Rob still working in Salem? No. He actually got a job in May in the Albany office of the Oregon Employment Department. He is helping local businesses recruit employees, while helping people who are unemployed find jobs. We are grateful to have him so close, and he is very grateful to shave his daily commute down from 90 minutes to 8 minutes.

Is Rob looking to get back into ministry? Ultimately we would really love to get back into ministry. We both feel strongly that God has called Rob to be a pastor, and he has called our family to serve the local church. We’ve knocked on some doors, filled out some applications and even done some interviews, but God has not yet opened the door for us to walk through. We are prayerful that our next ministry will be one that is a really good fit for our family and that our family will be a really good fit for that church. We’re willing to wait patiently until God makes our next move clear, but we’d both be lying if we didn’t confess that we’d prefer God to open those doors sooner rather than later!

My primary job at this point
is being a fake patient for
medical students to practice on!
Are you working? Leeann (12) asked me recently what exactly it is that I do, as in, what is my job title? Rob and I both laughed because the truth is, I have several part-time jobs in such a wide variety of fields that it's hard to put a label on exactly what it is that I "do" for a living. In this past year I have worked as a church secretary, I have filled in at a school as a secretary and a kindergarten assistant, I have worked as a standardized patient, a standardized patient coach, and a standardized patient educator at a medical school, I have provided personal life-coaching and home organization assistance, I’ve done photography, I have also taught cooking classes to kids and created baked goods as part of my small home bakery business.

In the past I have also been employed doing foster care, childcare, retreat speaking, event planning, and wedding coordinating.

Additionally, in an unpaid capacity I enjoy writing, financial coaching, instructing, and assisting wherever there is a need for my skills and abilities. Hence, the lengthy list of part-time employment!

So, back to the question, “Am I working?” Yes. However, I am intentionally pulling back on work to spend more time educating my kids at home. At this point I am mostly focusing on being available for acting jobs at the medical school, though I’m still open to picking up a random job here or there as needed.

How’s the bakery thing going? I officially got my kitchen licensed in July of 2015! I’ve spent a lot of time baking and dreaming and thinking and praying about what God might want me to do with this desire stirring within my heart. I’ve mentally done everything from baking on occasion to opening up my own commercial bakery.

The reality is that I enjoy baking and creating beautiful tasty treats. I like taking pictures of food and writing about my experiences with food. I love sharing my creations with people! However, it’s not something that I want to do every day, and it’s not something that I want to put pressure on to make enough money to cover regularly occurring family expenses. Therefore, I think I’m going to leave my little Robyn’s Nest Bakery in the hobby category for now. I will continue to bake and share my creations, and sell the works of my hands as the opportunity arises, but I’m not going to work diligently at turning it into a profitable business at this time. 

Leeann and Titus on their
"First day" of 4th and 6th grade.
I call that the beauty of home education!
What are your kids doing for school? This year both of my kids are doing online school through Albany Online. They both went to public school in a dual immersion program up until recently. We started homeschooling/online schooling Leeann spring of 2015 and decided to include Titus on this new family adventure in the fall of 2015 as well.

Albany Online is an online public school that uses K12 curriculum. So technically, we are still connected to the school district, but they are doing their school work at home. They both have teachers they receive some instruction from, but most of their instruction comes from me (their learning coach). For Leeann we are doing a little bit of a hybrid actually, some K12 and some of our own independent study curriculum. We are still trying to find the best fit for everyone!

She just throws her arms around me and
leans against me like it's no big deal!
Is Leeann taller than you? Yes. Really, it’s hardly even a question anymore, because it’s so obvious now. But still, we frequently get comments on her towering height from people who haven’t seen us in a while! Leeann (12) is nearing 5’4”. Titus (10) hit 4’2” recently. I’m holding steady at 4’11”… and a half, for the record! I feel like my kids are growing so fast. In fact, they’re hardly kids anymore. We’ve definitely entered the preteen zone and we’re quickly coming into the full-fledged teen years.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
I know these days won't
last forever. I treasure every
one of them!


We are enjoying this stage in life with our family. Our kids are a blessing and a joy, and our love for each other continues to grow and develop in ways that I never could have imagined when we started out on this journey together of life and love 15 years ago! This truly is a sweet stage in life.

Many blessings from our family to yours, 


Robyn    

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Homeschoolopoly: Making a Game of our Homeschool Routine



I am relatively new to this homeschooling adventure. I started doing online schooling with my daughter last Spring and this Fall we decided to online educate/homeschool both kids. So really, I'm more-or-less a first time homeschooling mom with a 4th grader and a 6th grader. It's not the age and stage the average person finds themselves homeschooling for the first time. But alas, here I am.

Can I just say it isn't always easy?

I feel like I've spent so much time just trying to figure out and establish rules and routines. Then I find that something isn't working, so I throw it out. And we try something new. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I was talking with a dear mama friend at a local coffee shop the other day. She's in a similar boat to me but she's way more structured than I am, so I was delighted to pick her brain about what's working for her and her family. In the midst of this conversation I got an idea in my head that I couldn't let go of. It took me a while to flush out the details, but I'll let you take a peek at my beta-test version of our new family board game: Homeschoolopoly!
The idea here is that you move around the board clockwise, but you follow continuous lines in order, and you roll the dice to determine the order of things that are represented by a line with arrows at both ends as explained in the bottom right corner of the board.

I saved my 12X12 board as a JPEG in Publisher
and sent it to Costco to get it printed out. 
First thing in the morning my kids are expected to get up by 7:10, get dressed, eat breakfast, do their morning jobs and get their school stuff out for the day. If they have that accomplished and they're ready to start at 8:00 a.m. then they get to enjoy some privileges. For us that includes bringing a stuffed animal to school, getting to enjoy music throughout the day, and having the freedom to "move about the cabin" during the day instead of being stuck doing their work at their desk or the table. I should note, however, that some of our subjects are music free and need to be completed at a desk or table, so being ready by 8:00 a.m. doesn't give them complete freedom in these areas.

I was just trying to find a way to motivate my kids to get up, get going, and get ready on their own accord!

Once they've gotten ready for their day they start with Bible and Cursive while a history timeline song plays in the background. Then they move on to math. My youngest also completes a "Jump Start" page, front and back. It's basically just a skills update worksheet that covers some math, handwriting and basic language arts.

This is the perfect place for fines, loose change
and other random goodies. I think it's my
 kids' favorite reward!
After math they are free to roll the dice to see what's next. They complete that subject then roll the dice to see what's next and repeat until lunch time.

Right after lunch they need to finish anything from the morning that wasn't complete, but after that they can move on to "specials" for whatever time remains in the afternoon, rolling the dice to see what's next.

You will notice that there are four spots on the board for cards. We've turned old playing cards into four different categories of cards that are used throughout the day.

Congratulations cards are given out as a reward. I give them out for good attitudes, chores well done, insentive to transition well, and even I even use them for bribery. I've gone so far as to use them to get the kids to do stuff for me that I don't want to do myself, like make me cereal! Basically, I use them to encourage behavior I want to reinforce. 
Consequence cards are used mainly to correct attitudes or behaviors. So far we've had a need to copy down dictionary words such as "cheat", "accomplice" and "priorities". Sometimes a student isn't quite ready to start work as evidenced by their attitude so they get an opportunity to work off some steam by completing some tasks prior to starting or getting back to work. Titus recently remarked, "You can pretty much get us to do anything with red cards!"

I have one child that isn't necessarily quick to do what they're asked to do. Now, instead of repeating myself or getting frustrated I will say something like, "Put your math away and get out your next subject." If they don't immediately respond I will say, "Red card in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1..." and they magically bust into gear, usually by the time I get to 3. It's a beautiful thing!  
Choice cards ensure that I never hear the words, "I'm bored" again. These cards give my children some direction for the chunk of time between when school ends and dinner begins. Some of these cards are a great reminder for them to pull out things that they enjoy, but tend to neglect or forget about. 
Chore cards are drawn at a few points during the day. They help the household run smoothly, but it also gives my kids a little break here and there where they have to get up and get moving. Most of these chores can be done in 5 minutes or less. 
  
Sometimes the cards are used right away, and sometimes they are saved for later, it just depends on the card drawn and where we are at in our day. We discard the used cards until the whole stack has been cycled through. My kids are really enjoying the surprise elements of this game, while I really enjoy the flexibility. If one of the cards isn't working for us I can just remove it from the deck. If I think of something else I want to include, I can just add it in. If I don't want them to complete a subject that day I can just cover it up or add a marker to that spot so they skip over it when they are playing the game. 


It's like structured chaos. 


That's how I roll.


This is what the board looked like just before lunch today. The buttons show what Leeann has completed and the Lego parts and weapons show Titus's progress. 


We are really enjoying making this game part of our homeschool routine. Our family loves board games so this feels like a natural and fun solution to our search for a routine that will actually work for our family and our life of structured chaos. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Little Mermaid Cake

Look at this stuff
Isn't it neat?
Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?
Wouldn't you think I'm the girl
The girl who has everything?
Look at this trove
Treasures untold
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Looking around here you think
Sure, she's got everything
I've got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I've got whozits and whatzits galore
You want things of above?
I've got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
I want more...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Red and Black Wedding Cake with Cascading Flowers

IMG_4873

This cake has a 14" chocolate pound cake base with a chocolate ganache buttercream filling, and a 10" and 6" white cake with a cinnamon buttercream filling.

IMG_4860

It is finished with a rustic buttercream icing finish. And can I just say, it weighed a TON. I could hardly twist it, let alone pick it up. I’m so grateful for my husband’s willingness to be my personal cake delivery man. I quite literally could not have done this one without him!

IMG_4919

And this is me with one of my creations. I sure have enjoyed learning a little bit more with each cake I’ve done. I can’t imagine how people learned all the ins and outs and tips and tricks before blogs, online forums and Youtube. I still find myself Googling a great deal of questions during each of my baking sessions. I am grateful that so many people take the time to share their knowledge with the rest of us. Maybe someday I’ll get some “official” training, but in the mean time I’m enjoying trying my hand at different techniques as I continue to learn the fine art of baking from others via the world wide web.

If you’re a baker, what resources have you found to be most helpful in your own learning process? I’m always open to learning new things!