Monday, August 18, 2014

A Family Update

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Today officially begins a new chapter for our family! After 7 months of unemployment/underemployment, Rob begins a new job this morning. He will be working for the State’s employment department, essentially as a case-manager helping dislocated workers re-train for a new field of employment. The irony isn’t lost on us, either! 

This job is only temporary (through June), but it could certainly lead to other opportunities down the road. We are thankful regardless. IMG_2331

(He let me snap a quick picture of him on his way out the door this morning to commemorate the first day of this new adventure. The things he puts up with -----> I love this guy!)

Rob has been able to spend a wonderful summer with the kids, and that time has been precious for everyone. He’s definitely rocked the stay-at-home dad role these past few months. I think we’ve both come to appreciate the role each of us has played in our family, as I’ve been the one juggling work and home life and he’s been juggling home life while looking for work. I hope I never forget how nice it feels to come home worn out to find a tidy house and food on the table. I will definitely plan to make that a priority in the future. It’s a small way to make my spouse feel loved in a big way. I’m writing it down as a reminder to myself!

I have been working since March at the medical school in Lebanon. I have worked as a Standardized Patient off and on for the past three years, but I have had the opportunity to fill-in for a few different leadership roles within the Standardized Patient Department over these past 5 months. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, as it’s been nice for me to have something productive to focus on and the income has certainly been able to help fill in the gaps for our family.

An opportunity recently came up for me to come on permanently, but it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. The opportunity on the table was more hours than we felt I could maintain without sacrificing too much as a family. So I will continue on as a Standardized Patient, but not take the permanent position. I will continue working in my current role until they fill the new position, however. So, starting today, we are juggling Rob working full-time and me working part-time, with both of us commuting to nearby cities. Good thing the kids start school in two-weeks!

Speaking of kids, they are doing well. Jade moved in with her youth leaders at the beginning of the summer, so our family dynamics have recently changed a bit. We’ve also decided that with so much uncertainty in our own lives, that it’s time to close the chapter on foster-care for the foreseeable future, but we are grateful to have gotten the opportunity to know and love so many kids over the past five years. 

IMG_2164Leeann will begin 5th grade and Titus will begin 3rd grade in two short weeks. I still can’t figure out how my kids have gotten so old. I vividly remember those years of my own education… 20+ years ago. Seriously?

( <---- This picture is classic Leeann trying to sneak a ‘cuddle’ from Titus while posing for a picture with him pushing her away. I’m keeping it real here folks, it takes 100 of these types of shots to get one ‘perfect’ one!)

Speaking of keeping it real, I’m not going to sugar-coat things and imply that these past 7 months have been anything other than difficult for all of us. When a pastor leaves a church you say good-bye to so much more than just a job, you also lose your support system, your ministry, and to some degree, even many of your friends.

Not only for you, but for your whole family. It’s been hard on the kids to not see their friends each week. It’s been hard for us to watch them hurt while we are hurting ourselves. It’s also been hard on all of us to be a in perpetual state of unknowns. Until Rob got this job we didn’t know if we were two short weeks away from up and moving anywhere in the world at any point in time. We haven’t known if the kids would return to their school. We haven’t known if we would need to sell the house. We haven’t known if… well, anything!

However, with all of that being said, God’s goodness and faithfulness hasn’t changed. All things considered, we are doing well. We are certainly looking forward to settling in to a routine that’s a “new normal” for us—even if it’s only temporary. We are holding onto God’s love and unchanging character. 

We have chosen a local church to settle in to, even though our attendance has been hit-or-miss this summer. Rob has been doing a fair amount of guest preaching (see his new website www.RobBuhl.com for more details) so we’ve been visiting a number of churches near and far. The kids and I don’t always join Rob when he guest preaches, so it’s nice to know that we have a place to return to when we are home on Sundays.

There’s so much more I could say, but I’m going to wrap-up our family update for now. I know so many of you have been praying for us and caring for us in so many ways. We have felt a great deal of love, support and encouragement from so many of you and for that we are grateful beyond what our words could ever adequately express.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Pink Ombre Wedding Cake—Tips, Tricks and Shortcuts

IMG_1081As much as I love baking sweet treats and making beautiful (and yummy!) cakes and cupcakes, I’ve always steered clear of saying yes to making wedding cakes. Something about the pressure of doing a wedding cake has always frightened me. It’s not like you can just quickly whip up a new one if something goes wrong, ya know?

But, when I received a request to make a wedding cake for a former foster kiddo of ours, I knew that it was time to learn the art of filling, torting, stacking, refrigerating, packaging, transporting and assembling on site. All things I was a bit afraid of before this—simply because I’d never done it.

Thanks to You Tube, and a few significant time-saving tips and tricks, I was able to create a special cake that the bride loved and if I’m being honest, I’m pretty proud of the way it turned out!

I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it wasn’t nearly as complicated or troublesome as I had imagined it to be in my head. And I learned so many things this time around that I can honestly say I’m looking forward to trying another wedding cake at some point in the future!

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Renee is one of the few foster kids I’ve written about here on my blog. You can read about her in my post She’s Gonna Make It (The Blessings of Being a Foster Parent).

I was delighted to get to be a part of her very special day. She reminded me so much of myself when I got married at her age—the ripe old age of 19! At the end of the day she just wanted to be married to the love of her life and the rest of the details were just… well… details.

So she gave me some general thoughts on what kind of cake she wanted but gave me the freedom to embellish it as I saw fit. She wasn’t picky (which certainly helped my stress level), she was just grateful for whatever I could come up with.

And I was grateful to help make her special day a little more special! In fact, I was also able to rope in a few friends (an officiant, a sound guy, a D.J., some flowers for centerpieces and a wonderful woman who helped make them) who were happy to be a blessing to this young college student and her husband who is currently serving in the Army.

In addition to making the cake and the centerpieces, I also coordinated this wedding. That was probably the most stressful part because this was an outdoor wedding and the forecast for the day was rain. But, I honestly saw the grace of God pour down along with the rain because there was just enough time for the ceremony before the rain came pouring back down. Then there was just enough time for pictures. More rain. Then there was just enough time for the dances. More rain. Then there was just enough time to cut the cake before another downpour started.

Here are the bride and groom on their very special day.

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They sure do make the cake look good, don’t they?

 

Tips and Tricks

 

  • This video was very instrumental in teaching me how to properly stack and support the cake layers. I followed these instructions to a “T”.
  • My cake layers are 10”, 8” and 6” double layer cakes, each cut in half and filled with raspberry filling.
  • I used Wilton’s Basic Buttercream recipe. I did one double batch for the crumb coat and 3 double batches for the cake itself, as well as an additional 6” cake topper for their wedding anniversary.
  • To achieve a gradient look with the frosting, I used a round tip to pipe one color at a time, starting from the top center and working my way down in a circular motion. I used the lightest color first then I tinted the whole batch of icing a slightly darker color. I repeated this process, piping a color, texturing it, then tinting the next color, adding it right back into the bag I just used and repeating the process again.
  • To achieve the textured look you see here, I use a top-secret expensive tool. My fingers. Clean, of course. Once I piped a layer of frosting on I used my index and/or middle finger to create this messy texture. Ideally, you would do this with a cake decorating spinny plate thingy. I’m sure there’s a technical term, I just don’t know what it is. Basically, you almost just keep your fingers still and turn the plate, dragging your fingers through the icing. Slowly drop your fingers once you return to the place you started to do the next layer. Stop every so often and scrape the excess frosting that has accumulated up your fingers into a small bowl to use later to fix accidents, glue layers together and to cover the transition between layers once the cake is assembled.  

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Shortcuts

If you are new to cake making, here are some ways you can lower your stress level by taking some shortcuts.

  • Feel free to embellish your cake with silk flowers or fresh (edible) flowers instead of frosting or IMG_1089fondant flowers. The ones pictured here cost me a total of $2 from the Dollar Store.
  • Use some cool beads, ribbon, candy or other embellishments instead of frosting between layers. I actually got these ones from the upholstery section at Hobby Lobby and just washed and dried them before I placed them on the cake over a fresh coat of icing to seal the layers together. The fresh icing makes a perfect glue to hold these beads in place.
  • Instead of fussing with making fruit or chocolate filling when you’re already stressed out about all of the other aspects of building a wedding cake, just see if you can buy some from a local bakery. I called my mom in a panic over raspberry filling and she gave me this priceless suggestion. Picking up some cake and donut filling from my local Mega Foods ran me $10. It’s cost in saving my sanity: Priceless. 
  • I almost don’t want to confess suggest this, but for the sake of transparency and “shortcut tutorial” fodder, you could always use boxed cake mix. I “ahem” may or may not owe the success of this cake’s tastiness to my friend Betty. Betty Crocker.

True story: Some friends of ours were providing music for the wedding and they were raving about this being “seriously the best cake they ever tasted”. I just grinned and tried to keep my mouth shut (my husband encourages me just to say “thank you” and let it be). But I couldn’t help but confess my secret. They were genuinely surprised. And now I’m confessing my secret to the world—he would be mortified! Sorry love! 

And this is the real-life part of the Real Life Pastor’s Wife. I make gargantuan messes when I bake. As in, my whole kitchen is layered in a fine layer of powdered sugar. Frosting is everywhere and cake paraphernalia can be found strewn throughout my kitchen and dining room for days.

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This is what I woke up to the next morning, my KitchenAid mixer, just as I left it. Unfortunately no cleaning elves invaded my kitchen in the middle of the night. *Note*, don’t leave pink frosting sitting over night on your white counters. Trust me. Not that I would know all about how it stains your counters or anything. 

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But the end result of seeing this cake come together, and of getting these two wonderful young people married off, was well-worth every bit of the mess and stress. Mission accomplished!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dr. Seuss Themed Giant Cupcake Bouquet *Graduation Style*

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Is there any better way to display several dozen cupcakes?

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This was a graduation “cake” request in pink, turquoise and lime green. I was quite pleased with how it turned out. I really liked these colors together.

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I enjoyed getting to use my silhouette cameo for a few parts of this cake, including this fitting quote from Dr. Seuss.

I was also able to cut out these cute little flower pieces to perfectly fit on crazy straws that I cut down to size.

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I was going for somewhat of a whimsical theme. If you want more details on how I constructed this giant cupcake bouquet, you can see this post for a rough idea of how it’s done. This particular one requires a great deal of tissue paper, crazy straws, round toothpicks and a cutting machine. However, I was just introduced to Hobby Lobby which opened in my city this weekend. I found tons and tons of ideas that would create a similar look without the machine. Think ting ting, floral sprays, glitter balls, butterflies, lollipops, etc. Really, I must have found a zillion things at Hobby Lobby that could have worked to embellish a cupcake bouquet like this. I’m not sure I’m exaggerating! <------ Okay, maybe just a tad…

 

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I used this buttercream frosting, and made the roses with a 2D tip. I have officially decided I prefer this tip to the 1M, though they both work just fine.

Did I mention we just got a Hobby Lobby? They have so many cake decorating supplies that I am beside myself. I’m sure there will be another Giant Cupcake Bouquet in my future.

They have fake flower embellishments in every color you could imagine.

They have myriads of cupcake liner colors.

And icing colors.

And pretty things that sparkle. Lots of pretty things that sparkle.

I told Rob he could pretty much buy me anything in that store and I’ll probably love it. There will be no need for him to ever go to another store to purchase gifts for me.

The signs.

The stamps.

The party supplies.

The decorations.

I’m seriously so in love. With a store. Which is pathetic.

But I own it. Not the store, my pathetic-ness.

Could you imagine if I actually OWNED the store?

It’s a beautiful thought, but for your sake one that I will not expound upon.

I need to get going and get back to reality, unfortunately. 

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Feel free to click here to see more cakes and cupcake bouquet ideas. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Finally, the time came to say goodbye

Love Story 59

Finally, the time came to say goodbye. The team gathered in front of one of the dorms and packed their things up into a big white van. It was a bit hurried and rushed—not the least bit like what I had imagined it to be in my mind. I had wanted to take a long walk and settle ourselves before we parted ways. I wanted to debrief regarding what was about to happen. I wanted reassurance that Rob wanted the same thing that I wanted. I felt desperate to know that he loved me and was committed to me as much as I was to him.

But none of that was in the cards for that morning. Instead, I watched as this team leader that I wanted all to myself checked off tasks on the task list and gathered those who were there to see the team off to pray. We prayed for their safety and a fruitful ministry and we prayed for God’s will for the Summer. We prayed for each of the people heading out and committed their work to God’s hands.

As soon as we said “amen”, one by one people started saying their goodbyes. Rob walked me to my car and I slipped him my little construction paper heart. He handed me a Nichole Nordeman CD and told me to listen to track #4. He gave me a quick hug and told me he loved me, then shut my car door and walked toward the van.

There was no fanfare. No fireworks. No tears. In fact, it didn’t seem the least bit difficult for him to say goodbye. Clearly his focus was elsewhere that morning.

I put my car in reverse and drove out of the parking lot unsure of how to make sense of what just happened. I slipped the CD into my car and quickly found track #4.

I drove toward Bend where I would spend the next few days with Ruthi. I rolled the window of my Nissan Sentra down as the music began to play and the sun started beating down on my face. As the words to this song hit my ears the tears started to fall.

Bless the day

This restoration is complete

Dirty dusty something must be underneath

So I scrape and I scuff

Though it's never quite enough

I'm starting to see me finally

A gallery of paintings new and paintings old

I guess it's no surprise that I'm no Michael Angelo

Every layer of mine hides a lovely design

It might take a little patience

It might take a little time

But you called me beautiful

When you saw my shame

And you placed me on the wall

Anyway

You who have begun this work will someday see

A portrait of the holiness you meant for me

So I polish and shine

til it's easier to find even an outline of mine

But you called me beautiful

When you saw my shame

And you placed me on the wall

Anyway

Anyway

And you placed me on the wall

Anyway


I started out writing Our Love Story in real-time (only 10 years later) in the months leading up to our10th wedding anniversary. Now our 13th anniversary is just around the corner—but hey, true love takes time to fully develop, just like this story! You can find additional stories in the series or start from the beginning by clicking here, or by going to the Our Love Story tab at the top of the page.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Lemon blueberry scones with a candied lemon crunch

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Despite the fact that my husband resigned from his position as Lead Pastor this past January, we decided to continue meeting with our small group for the remainder of the year. I’m so glad we have done so. Sundays have been really hard for me, now that we’re unemployed and church shopping—but I always have our Sunday night small group to look forward to! 

Saying good-bye to these amazing friends will be difficult. Though, I am confident we will keep in touch with this great group of people. They are some of the best! And when I say some of the best, I mean some of the best people, some of the best friends, some of the best encouragers. But what I also mean is some of the best cooks! As in, seriously, some of the BEST.

So, we decided to spend this year doing Sunday night dinners together before small group. IMG_0783

We pick a theme and then each bring something to contribute. We’ve had taco bars, salad bars, soups, a southern food fry, Thanksgiving dinner and so much more. Last night we even had a Mongolian Grill night. Heavenly!  

I was in charge of dessert. My husband has been on a lemon blueberry kick since he sampled some of the candied lemon crunches that I made for my recent batch of Lemon Cupcakes. My friend, Jessica who hosted last night’s Mongolian Grill also loves all things lemon. So, naturally, I decided to try my hand at some lemon blueberry scones. They did not disappoint!

I used this recipe with a few adjustments:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/blueberry-scones-with-lemon-glaze-recipe.html

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Namely, I doubled the scone recipe but kept the glaze recipe the same after reading the comments that said there was enough glaze to do two batches. You could also keep the recipe the same and just halve the glaze recipe. Six in one hand, half-dozen in the other, right?

I chose to cut mine differently too. I just made round, mounds of dough (6… I think) then cut them like a pizza into six triangles. My doubled batch made 26 medium sized scones.

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Additionally, I zested two lemon peels. I used one peel to create the glaze as stated in the recipe.

I used the zest of the second lemon for something delicious. First, I put half straight into the scone dough to add a little lemon flavor to the scone itself.

But then, I used the other half of the lemon zest to make a candied lemon crunch topping.

I have a new best friend.

I should have taken pictures of the work in progress, but you’ll have to use your imagination as I explain how this is done.

Candied Lemon Crunch Topping

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Zest a lemon peel using a medium grate (you don’t want these to be tiny, they should be big enough to actually see a little bit of the texture of the peel, but not as big as a standard cheese grater.

Then, set them out on a plate while they are still kind of wet. Sprinkle the top with sugar. Then mix it around and repeat. Keep doing this until you have a plate full of wet, lemony sugar sprinkles and candied lemon peels.

If I had to guess, I probably used around a half-cup to three-quarters of a cup of sugar for half a peel. Just keep sprinkling and stirring until the sugar no longer gets wet from the peels. Don’t skimp on the sugar, or you will miss out on these lemon sugar clumps that turn a lemon blueberry scone into something magical!

Let this sit for several hours if possible. If not, you can put them in a warm oven to speed up the crunching process.

When you put the glaze on these scones, immediately top them with some of the candied lemon peel and some of the lemon sugar sprinkles. 

Then sit back, relax and enjoy the moist, flaky, crunchy goodness of your lemon blueberry scones. And beg someone else to do the dishes. Because making something this yummy should automatically give you a pass from having to clean up after yourself, in my not-so-humble opinion.

However, since my family has been working in the yard this morning while I create this blog post, I suppose it’s only fair that I go clean up my own kitchen. I’m willing to do so only because I glazed the scones on a cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet. That means I have a puddle of lemon glaze waiting to be consumed… you know, so I can wash the pan…