Monday, January 31, 2011

Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cupcakes

I'm supposed to be packing, but instead I'm making cupcakes.  There are several reasons behind this, but the main one is that the strawberries in Japan are just OUT OF THIS WORLD!  They are so good and I am leaving in 18 days, so I need to make as much strawberry stuff as possible before I can't have them anymore.  You know how you go to the store and every once in a while, you get an amazing pint of strawberries? Well, it pretty much happens every time you buy them here.  I've been making the cupcake part of this recipe for a while and baking it in my muffin top pan (makes great breakfast on the go!).

Last year, I tried a strawberry icing from Annie's Eats.  I made it 3 different times and could not get it right. I found this recipe in my Martha Stewart Cupcakes book.  I have made vanilla swiss meringue buttercream before and it came out good, so I figured I'd give the strawberry meringue buttercream a shot.

Now, what's my other excuse for making these cupcakes?  Yesterday was my friend's birthday, so I figured I'd surprise her with cupcakes, an excuse for me to make them and not feel guilty eating them all.  The inspiration continued when I was looking at Sweet as sugar cookies blog and her Sweets for Saturday post, someone made Hi hat cupcakes- something I'd never heard of before.  What would be more perfect than a "chocolate dipped strawberry" cupcake?  Mine did not come out as high as hers, but had all the taste I expected.  In my mind all of these excuses boiled down to a win-win situation for me to avoid packing and use up some more baking ingredients.


OVEN:  350'
(adapted from Martha Stewart Cupcakes- this is the half batch)

1/4 cup cake flour
1 3/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (I used salted, all I had)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/8 cup sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup finely chopped strawberries (I used 11 strawberries)

2 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter (I used salted, all I had)
3/4 cup strawberries pureed (I used 11 medium strawberries)

For the cupcakes, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl, set aside.  Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla in mixer with paddle attachment until fluffy.  Add in eggs 1 at a time, scrape down sides of bowl.  Alternate additions of flour mixture and milk and mix until combined.  Add in strawberries, mix gently.  Pour into prepared cupcake liners.  Bake large cupcakes 25-30 minutes until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

For the icing, mix egg whites and sugar in heat proof bowl over pot of water (double boiler).  Mix together over medium heat until it reaches 160'F.  Pour this mixture into your mixer and mix at high speed with whisk until cooled about 7-10 minutes, it will turn cream white, like cool-whip.  Slow speed to low and add in butter 1 TBSP at a time.  Once butter is all added, switch to paddle attachment, let mix about 2 minutes, will thicken like pudding, add in strawberries, mix until incorporated.  Put in pastry bag and decorate your cupcakes.

For chocolate dip:
4 oz semi sweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
2 tsp canola oil ( I forgot to add it to mine, but I think it would help to thin it out more to stick to shape of icing better)

To do chocolate dipped cakes (high hats), put frosted cupcakes in freezer about 15-20 minutes.  Melt semi-sweet chocolate in heat proof bowl in microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between each heating (you can also do this in a double boiler).  In about 2 minutes of this, you will have a smooth chocolate sauce.  Let cool a few minutes before removing cupcakes from freezer and dipping.

This gets better, I found a box of ice cream cones that I HAD to use up before I move, so...
To make these, fill the cone half way with cake batter, cook for 15-20 minutes.

The kids came home and were shrieking "You made ice cream, yum!"

And a cross section:

Are you jealous?

Travel Felt Play mat for Cars

As if I would only make play mats for three of my kids.  You know the fourth one is a car lover.  I've actually had it in my head to make him a travel car carrier for a while, but even better, it's a play road too.

I made it the same way as the other mats.

All cars in their lots:
Driving around:
Rolled up and ready to go, police car button closure and all:
This one was the easiest to make, the hardest part was deciding how to lay out the roads.  Happy driving!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Travel Felt Play Mat for Super Mario

So, I couldn't just work on one travel play mat, given that I have four kids.  As I was making Hazel's Kittyland, I saw poor little Addison playing with the homemade Super Mario dolls I made him for Christmas.  Those dolls that I spent hours painting, only to have the kids store them in cheap ziploc bags.  Surely,  I care more about my hard work, than to let it get ruined in a ziploc bag.  Of course, I always have Mario fabric on hand for crazy ideas like this.  

I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do.  I let the kids choose a background felt color and at the time, I had some precut felt shapes on the table that I bought at the 100 yen store.  Next thing I knew, the two older boys were arranging them as they saw fit on their felt backgrounds.  I went with it, and just pinned them and sewed them into place.  Then, I sewed a piece of Mario fabric on the bottom edge of the felt, and sewed lines down to provide little spots to slide the dolls into.

All snug in their beds:

I cut out a thin piece of quilt batting and  a matching Mario fabric the same size as the felt and sewed them together like the Kittyland.  I flipped it around, stitched around the edges, and sewed on a button for easy closing when it's rolled up (of course it HAD to be a star):

These I actually finished before our house hunting trip and let me tell you- WOW!  They played with these on the plane, they were perfect sized for the tray.  They played with them in the car and at the hotel.  

They fly, they flip, they jump, they sing, they get bad guys:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Travel Felt Play mat

Before Christmas, when I actually thought I'd make my kids mostly homemade gifts, I came across this idea to make roll up play mats.  Coincidentally, Hazel was getting 7 plastic Hello Kitty dolls for Christmas and she already had two.  The two came in a plastic travel case/play house (which broke days before I got this idea).  I didn't have enough time to make it for Christmas, but I decided it would be worth it to make one before our big trip home to give her something to do on the plane.

First, I cut out six squares of fabric measuring 11" by 11" (3 pieces of felt, 3 pieces of cotton fabric). I sewed three pieces together to make the back (between two of them, I added a piece of bag strap to make a handle).  I sewed on a Hello Kitty button of course to keep it closed when she's not using it.

The remaining three pieces were for the front play area.  I decided to make a bedroom, a playground, and an eating area for her kitties to play in.  I alternated between fabric and felt on the front and then the opposite for the backside.  First, I cut out squares of fabric and sewed them on to make the beds (perfect use for cute scraps you just can't bear to part with).  Then, I used felt for the table and playground.  Once all the "accessories" were sewn onto the pieces, I sewed them together:
Then, since her original plastic box had a few pieces of kitty furniture that we couldn't part with, on the backing pieces, I made a pocket.  First, on the back of the felt, I sewed on a zipper, with its front facing the back of the felt backing:

Then, I cut out another piece of felt and sewed it on over the zipper, it was a rectangle shape and not even edges, who cares, felt doesn't fray and Hazel will never know.
I turned it over and just cut out a tiny rectangle of fabric between the stitches, to expose the zipper:

Look inside:

Then, I cut out a piece of scrap very thin quilt batting the size of the three squares sewn together and laid it down.  I put the front piece on top of it, facing up, then I put the backing on, with it facing the front of the top:

I pinned a hair tie in the center of one of the side edges (to use as a latch to close it).  I pinned all the edges down and sewed around the whole thing, leaving a four inch opening.

After sewing, I pulled the whole thing right side out through the opening, then pinned it closed, and sewed around the edges to give it a more finished look.

Nine little kitties all snug in their beds:

Waiting for their dinner:

Swinging on the swing:

Hanging out at the park, we have a slide, hopscotch, a bench to hang out, a pond, a trampoline, a tree for picnicking under, and a swing.

And, maybe the zipper pocket is her favorite part of "Kittyland".
It all folds up nicely, holds the toys, and is a great size for a small suitcase, or for bringing with you when you need to go somewhere where you need something to keep a little person busy.

All rolled up and ready to go:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peanut Butter Dulce de Leche Cupcakes

I found this recipe right around Christmas and was just waiting for an excuse to make them.  When my neighbor invited us to her New Year's Eve party, I think it took me about 1 second to say "yes, and by the way, I'm bringing cupcakes".  Living in Japan, it is very rare, almost non-existent to find any type of treat with the peanut butter/chocolate combination. All of us out there that love reesee's have to import or improvise by making lots of peanut buttery/chocolate combinations at home- in fact, this Halloween, I gave out a few of my precious precious reesee's bars and a woman came back and was like "where did you buy that candy you gave my daughter?  I have been searching and searching."  Boy, did I feel awful when I had to let her down that it was in fact brought over in my carry-on.

When I search through new blogs, I always type in peanut butter to see what recipes they have.  This one about jumped out of the screen and grabbed me.  This recipe is from a food blog I have been reading lately called Smells Like Home.  If you don't want to do the extra step for the peanut butter dulce de leche filing, this frosting is the BEST peanut butter frosting I've ever made.  But, trust me, the whole thing together is a party in your mouth, and seriously don't make them unless you have a party to go to because your scale might read a bit higher than normal afterwards ;)

OVEN:  350'


3/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot water
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) butter (unsalted)
2 1/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
4 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour cream

Dulce de Leche filling:

1 cup Dulce de Leche (you can buy it or make it- I made mine by the oven method from this link)
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/4 - 1/3 cup heavy cream (depending on how thick you want the filling to be)- I used 1/4 cup

Peanut Butter Frosting:

1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cup peanut butter
8 TBSP (1 stick) unsalted butter room temperature
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
3/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the cake, prepare cupcake pans with paper liners.  I made 24 mini cupcakes and about 18 large ones.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and hot water, set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine sugar and butter, mix on medium heat until butter is melted.  Transfer this mixture to the bowl of your mixer with paddle attachment and mix about 4-5 minutes until it is cooled.    Add the eggs in one at a time, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Mix in vanilla and cocoa mixture and beat until combined.  Slowly add in the flour mixture, alternating with the sour cream until just combined.  Scrape down sides and mix one more time.  Then fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full of batter.  Bake in oven 20-22 minutes for large ones about 14-17 minutes for minis ( a cake tester inserted in the center should come out clean).  Let cool completely on wire rack before filling and frosting.

For the peanut butter Dulce de leche,  in a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, mix Dulce de leche, peanut butter, and 1/4 cup cream.   Whisk together until mixture is smooth, if it is too thick, add more cream in tiny amounts.  You want it to be thick enough to be the center of a cupcake and this will thicken as it cools.  I didn't add any extra cream.  Once the mixture is warm, remove from heat.

For the frosting, place confectioner's sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in bowl, cream together, use paddle if using kitchenaid.  Add the cream and beat on high until fluffy.

To assemble, it is best to use the cone method for filling the cupcakes.  This means cut the top off of each cupcake at an angle, so it's like you are removing a cone-shaped piece.  Once I removed the cone shaped piece, I cut a big part of the bottom triangle off and saved on a plate for later.

I put the Peanut butter Dulce de leche in my frosting bag and then squeezed a generous amount into the hole in the cupcake.

Then, I placed the top back on the cupcake.

Once all cupcakes were all filled, I frosted them.  I had some leftover Reesee's peanut butter cup trees from Christmas, so I cut them into small chunks and place one on top of each cupcake:
A cross-section:
They all got eaten:

I took the excess cake that I cut off when filling the cupcakes, crumbled it in my food processor, mixed it with the leftover peanut butter Dulce de leche, rolled it into balls, and put them on wax paper.  I put the balls in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  While they were in the freezer, I melted some semi-sweet chocolate in my double boiler.  I removed the balls from the freezer, dipped them in the chocolate, then set them back on the wax paper to harden.

These peanut butter Dulce de leche cake balls were delicious too!

I linked this up to a new blog I found Sweet as Sugar Cookies, she does a Sweets for Saturday post and there are a LOT of good looking things to bake over there.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jet Lag

When I announced last week that our family would soon be moving from Japan, I mentioned that there would still be posts in the category "Life in Japan" for some time to come.  I want to tell you right now something I won't miss about life in Japan, JET LAG!!!  Right now, I am on day 2 of my 5 day house hunting trip and I am suffering from the worst jet lag of my life.  So, yes, if for no other reason, I will be happy to repatriate for the simple fact of not having to have jet lag on a semi-regular basis.

I know there are those of you out there that think I am completely crazy for even mentioning jet lag as a reason for not wanting to live over seas anymore- and that's probably because you've never had it.  My husband used to travel to Europe a lot for his job.  I had never been overseas to experience true full on jet lag, let alone done it with 4 ticking time bomb alarm clock kids.  I always thought it was in his head and didn't understand how you couldn't sleep if you were tired due to some problem with your own internal clock.  

Well, my first true jet lag experience came when I went on my house hunting trip to Japan 4.5 years ago.  I was 35 weeks pregnant with my third son and had a very painful varicose vein in my leg, needless to say, even in first class, I didn't sleep at all on the flight over.  I was so tired, I thought I'd have no problem sleeping- WRONG!  I'd go to bed at 8 every night and be up at 2 in the morning, laying there, staring at the ceiling.  Being pregnant, I couldn't test out my husband's sure fire jet lag reducing method of drinking a few beers before bed.  After that trip, I started to believe him that there was such a thing as jet lag.

When I moved, with the kids, I firmly believed him about all of his jet lag warnings and started to listen to all of his advice, except the drinking beer before bed part.  I didn't take naps (under any circumstances) and I stayed awake late the first few nights.  Now, this advice is pretty good, except for one tiny problem (KIDS).  They were going to bed early, in fact, one night, my son fell asleep in the tub at 5 PM, so staying up late doesn't matter, when your kids get up in the middle of the night anyways.  Does my husband take his own advice - NO!  On many occasions after business trips, etc. or upon arrival to the US a few weeks after us, he can barely keep his eyes open past 3 in the afternoon (which means an early rising,since he didn't have tired kids waking him at 2 or 3 am). What's the bottom line?, don't listen to your supposed expert jet lag dealing husband's advice!  Don't nap, don't give the kids naps the first few days, but when they go to bed, YOU GO TO BED TOO!  There is nothing worse than dealing with overtired cranky kids when you are overtired and more cranky than them, trust me.

So, yesterday after an exhausting and downright depressing day of house hunting, I could barely keep my eyes open at 3:30 in the afternoon.  I didn't want to go to bed for fear of waking at midnight and being up all night.  However, when Hazel fell asleep at the same time, I should have taken my own advice and gone to bed when she did.  I stayed up until 8, then I woke at midnight with her anyways.  From midnight until 5 AM, I tossed and turned - of course, she fell back asleep, but I lay there with my mind racing.

I tried everything, counting sheep, yoga breathing, repeating the ABC's over and over in my head, but nothing would bring sleep.  What was I doing?  I was not excited about looking for houses, I did pray that the ones I see today did not consist of the following categories 1) smell of wet pond dog fur the minute you enter the house, 2) pantry smelling more like dog food than the bowl probably does, and 3) carpet used as a dog toilet, so much to the point, that I didn't want to take one step on it even with my shoes on.

Those thoughts led to me thinking of Penzey's spices- we drove by a Penzey's today, which was right across from Barnes and Noble's.  A gourmet spice shop across the street from a book store full of cook books I need to explore.  I was thinking of all the recipes I could try without preparing for them months in advance, all the cookbooks I could run out and pick up.  I was not thinking about where I was going to live to do all this cooking.  This led me to think about juice because I was thirsty, but unfortunately, being pregnant, I can't drink in the middle of the night because my heart burn is too bad.  I was imagining myself walking into Target and looking at all the juice varieties and which ones I would choose to drink today.  I wonder if I'll actually make it to Target today or if I'll be too tired to care about drinking that juice.  

That led me to think about this blog and that I wanted to write about jet lag, that I wanted to learn how to use photoshop. I began wondering if my blog is too busy with all the stuff I write about and if I should seaparate it into two different ones, one for cooking stuff and one for all the homeschool/kid craft stuff I do.  I kind of like it all together, it's who I am, I am busy, and jet lag aside, I normally get up when I wake up because my mind races as soon as my eyes open.  Then I wondered if it was just too much in one place, what do you think?  I like to encourage people that life can go on when you have kids, that you can do these things with them and when you have them.   Thoughts?

Finally, I couldn't stop thinking about Cook's Illustrated, and how much I love their recipes, and their explanations.  I have a chemistry degree and cooking is kind of like chemistry, you need to find the right combinations and take care with your measurements.  I like that my kids like to cook with me and that they are learning how to carefully measure and the purpose of all the ingredients. I can't wait to buy all the Cook's Illustrated cookbooks I've been wishing for and start putting them to use.  I can't wait to not have jet lag anymore, so my days aren't wasted with early morning bursts of energy and inspiration, only to be followed by afternoons full of wasted time because I'm so tired I feel sick.

The only fun thing about jet lag is the first day you get home and you are up early and dressed before the rest of the world, and you know you'll be the first one in line at Starbucks that day.  Once you have that coffee in hand, you will be ready to take on every single aisle at Target to catch up on everything you missed for the months you were away.  That's the only thing I'll miss, that first morning excitement that jet lag brings.

So, yes, my current number one thing I'll miss about life in Japan, jet lag, it's a nasty little thing!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake with Whipped Vanilla Icing

Have you ever seen Pollyanna?  Well, in the end of the movie, there are lots of cakes in the kitchen at her house, layer cakes, and they look delicious.  I remember that being one of my favorite parts of the movie, I had never seen or had a piece of layer cake before.  I have always wanted to make one and I've only ever made a 2-layer cake.

As many of you know, last week, almost everyday one of us was sick.  I saw this cake on Annie's Eats last week and I really wanted to make it- one thing I've been craving is chocolate cake with vanilla icing.  She got the idea for the cake from the book The Pastry Queen (I've already added it to my wish list, my bday is just around the corner ;) I thought making this cake would be a good way to celebrate all of us being healthy again.

The icing recipe was really what stuck out at me because it only needed 1 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar and it was going to make enough icing to cover three layers.  I have been rationing my confectioner's sugar so that I have enough left for my last month here.  Plus, I thought that a cake that big would be too rich with a standard vanilla buttercream icing.

Before I put down the recipe, I need to note that this is the LARGEST quantity of cake batter I have ever made in my life!  I started mixing the initial dry ingredients in my kitchenaid, but it got too full, so I ended up having to do the last few steps with a hand whisk.  Unless you have a party with like 15 people to go to, you might consider halving the recipe and using two layers instead.  This cake seriously could have fed like 30 people easily!

Oven: 350'

4 cups flour
4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup canola oil
2 cups water
4 eggs
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup buttermilk
1 TBSP baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBSP vanilla

4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla

Prepare your cake pans, I lightly buttered them, then added flour mainly to the sides.  I cut out circles of parchment paper, by tracing the bottom of the pan on the parchment paper and place the parchment paper inside each pan bottom.  HOLY COW, can't believe I've never used parchment paper in a cake pan, the cakes popped right out of the pan so easily!  I will always use parchment paper now!

For the cake, in a LARGE mixing bowl, mix together flour, sugar, and cocoa powder.  Set aside.  In saucepan, heat oil, water, and butter, until butter is melted.  Add melted butter mixture to dry ingredients, whisk together.  Add in eggs one at a time, scrape down sides.  Whisk in buttermilk.  This is where I had to switch to hand mixing, the bowl was too full (you might be lucky to have a 6Qt mixer and be okay).  Add baking soda, salt, and vanilla, mix to incorporate.  Pour into three 9" round cake pans (or 2 10").  I had so much batter, my 3 pans were more than 1/2 full.  The cake rose a lot in the oven, but when they cooled, the top came down and I didn't have to cut any off to make it flat when I assembled the cake.

Bake cakes 35-45 min, until a tester comes out clean.  Let cool on countertop for 15 min, then remove from pan and cool on rack until completely cooled (I let mine sit 3 hours).

For the icing, add the cream to a medium sized bowl.  Using an electric hand mixer, beat on high until stiff peaks form (consistency of cool whip)- if you over beat, it will get thick like butter.  It took mine about 4-5 minutes, so be patient.  Then, mix in the confectioner's sugar.  Frost the top of the bottom layer, stick on the next, frost the top of that, put on the third layer, frost all the sides and then finish off frosting the top.

Let side about 1 hour in the fridge, I left mine on the counter, my fridge was too full.  Then make the glaze.  Put the chocolate in a small bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan until simmering. Pour the cream over the chocolate, let sit a few minutes, whisk together until smooth.  Add in corn syrup and vanilla, mix.  Then put in a small container with a spout for pouring, let sit 10 minutes to harden slightly. Pour over the top of the cake, I started in the center and swirled out in a spiral until I reached the edges and let it drip down.

I added some strawberries for color.

Now, for the fun part, eat it!  But, be careful if you think it looks cute on your tiny pedestal.  This is a LOT of cake, I was trying to show how big it was in this picture, but Hazel would not cooperate (however she is saying "cheese" and doing the "v-sign), but I hope you can see it's size compared to her.

When you cut it, watch out, because on your tiny pedestal, if one side is being cut to eat, the other side gets very heavy and this might happen:

My advice to you if you make this cake, put it on a plate or flat board.  Needless to say, I did not get any pictures of the nice slice showing the three layers.  I was proud of my hard work, you'll just have to trust me it looked pretty.  But at the cost of getting that picture, we all had a really good laugh and now it's in a trifle bowl.  It was very very good, and we will be eating it for days and days now!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Homemade Library Book Bag

When my oldest son started going to school a few years ago, I was surprised when one of the items on his supply list was a library bag.  I went to the store and decided I could make it cheaper myself, it was just a rectangle after all.  I liked the idea of the specific library book bag so much, last year, I made them for each of my nieces and nephews and put a book inside of them for Christmas.

A few months ago, my youngest son's bag had a cat-a-nine tail in it, unbeknownst to me.  Well about a week later, it was full of spores and there was no way to clean it out.  Finally, 2 days ago I got around to making his new one, which I got even better fabric for-so he LOVES it even more.

Here, in Japan, prequilted fabric is very popular.  I swear it can be half the selection in some of the fabric stores.  They mostly use it to make bags, they LOVE bags here.  I make the bags out of the prequilted fabric and I can have them done in less than 45 minutes.

I cut the fabric into two 14"x16.5" pieces.  For this bag, I decided to put a small pocket on the front (perfect for holding a library card).  I cut a small rectangle, folded the top down, sewed it in place, then folded the remaining edges back, pinned it to the front of the bag and sewed down the sides and across the bottom to attach it.  (you can barely see it, it's the ambulance in the center):

After attaching the pocket, I put the two pieces of fabric facing each other and sewed down the sides and across the bottom, using a 1/2" seam allowance:

Then, I had bought some strapping (mine has a design on it- couldn't resist this one), I cut two pieces 16.5" long each.  I folded the top unsewn edge of the bag down about 1", then I inserted the straps into this fold (with design side up), each strap was 3.5" from the side seam.  

I pinned them into place and sewed around the edge about 1/4" from the edge of the folded down top to tack the straps into place:

Then, I flipped the straps up and sewed one more straight line around the upper edge about 1/4" again from the upper edge to hold them into place so they'd be sticking up:

Turn bag right side out- you are done!

Look at this, your child can go around the library and put the books they choose in the bag, and check out all by themselves.  You can keep them in the bag at home so you know whose are whose and which ones need to go back to the library!  We can't wait to go the library every week when we move.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Busy Busy Year

It's official, my life can't get any crazier.  Last November, my husband found out it was possible we'd be moving before the summer as we had originally thought.  Well, guess what, the official job announcement came out today and we are going to be moving back to America.  It's funny, a few years ago, after I'd first moved here, I was talking on the phone to one of my good friends from North Carolina and I was going through my schedule for the year with her, trying to decide when my life would not be so crazy- and she said "you're life is always going to be crazy!"   Boy was she right.

In February, the kids and I will broken heartedly move from Japan to America.  Can you believe you can actually hear someone say that they will miss taking that 24 hour door to door flight with their 4 (soon to be 5) kids, half the times alone?  It will be weird boarding the plane with a one way ticket, knowing that I may never return to this place that I have come to grow so fond of.  When I moved here, I always knew I'd be returning to America for summers and most Christmases.  Living here, I could have my Japan and America too.

In the end of February, I will hopefully join my husband on a trip to Illinois, where we will be relocating to eventually and try to find a house.  SCARY thought, having to buy a house and take care of it again.  In the past four years, we have had this amazing property management company, Shioya Tochi, that has pretty much done everything for us besides lift a fork to our mouths.  It's incredible the services and assistance they've provided.  To think, we are actually going to have to take care of a house and yard ourselves.

In the end of March, I will have my fifth c-section.  I am getting nervous about it, but I am excited too.  I found out the other day for sure, it is a girl, it only took the Japanese doctors four ultrasounds before they would 100% confirm it for me.  I plan on enjoying all five days in the hospital- it's going to be my vacation.

In the end of April, provided there were no complications for me or the baby, I may go back to Illinois to continue looking for houses if my first trip is unsuccessful.  Or it may be to help my husband try to unpack, paint, sort stuff out before the kids arrive.

In May/possibly June, I will drive 17+ hours across the US from Massachusetts to Illinois with my five kids, one of them a newborn who will need to eat every three hours.  This time, I will stop at a hotel.  It ought to be a special treat, this trip, since the longest trip my kids have had in the car was 3 hours going to Maine last summer.  We do most travel by plane or train here.  This drive may end up taking much longer than that 24 hour door to door from Japan, who wants to race me?

In July, who knows, I might be crazy enough to go back to Massachusetts for another visit before August rolls around and school starts.

In the meantime, I spent the past 8 days with one or the other of my family members vomiting, great timing since I'm supposed to be sorting through everything that we own.  I am fortunate enough now to have the task of getting rid of anything that might take up too much space in our shipment, yes, my life is about to get packed up into a many small containers, driven down a steep windy hill, put into a bigger container, put on a boat, sail across the Pacific, get on a truck, driven halfway across the US, and hopefully delivered all in one piece to my new doorstep.  Then, there's the whole issue of what is irreplaceable and too risky to send on a container that could fall into the ocean- which by the way, if it does and my life ends up on your beach, please return it.

I would like to thank all my family and friends for their support during this time and during the whole time we've been here.  Thank you for listening to my adventures, even if I told them to you more than once and please bear with me when I move.  I heard moving back can be harder than moving away.  And don't fear, the Life in Japan category will still have plenty more entries before I leave as I dote on all the things I will miss and remind myself of those that I won't!  And, with all my free time while I'm at my parent's (cackle), I plan on organizing all my photos, and there's some great things we've done since we've been here, that never made it on.

Stay tuned, this could be my busiest year yet!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Melted crayon window decorations

Guess what happens when you are home with the third sick kid in a week?  You take the leftover crayons you peeled yesterday and grate them with your cheese grater:
Then, put them between two sheets of waxed paper, with a towel on the bottom to catch drippings:

Place a thin towel on top, take your hot iron and press to melt the crayon shavings:
(I do wish I put a bit less shavings on at once because if you do get them to melt to almost liquid, they do spread, the speckled areas could have used a bit more melting, but they were at the edge of the paper.  Also, the darker colors blended together and made a brown- not very Valentiny :( )

Then, you cut out your desired shapes, we chose hearts since Valentine's Day will be here before we know it: