Sunday, July 17, 2011

Georgia Family Reunion

We spent part of mid June in northern Georgia at a family reunion with my mom's side of the family. The reunion was held at Amicalola Falls State Park. It was fun to see everyone, the weather was beautiful, and we all had a great time in wilderness.
 Mac had just finished reading Bill Bryson's book, A Walk in the Woods so we were all very excited to learn that the southern end of the Appalachian Trail is located in Amicalola Falls.
  
One of our favorites sights in the park were the Falls.  We climbed the 605 steps to the top of the falls to see the pretty views below.
View from the top of the falls.
Another view from the top
Some of the steps to the top.
 
We liked the falls so much that we brought my parents there the next day. The park has a handicap  accessible path to the falls that is paved, so it was easy for my dad to make the 1/3 of a mile walk.
 The  boys and I also enjoyed relaxing on the deck of the lodge. The same lodge that Bill Bryson stayed in at the beginning of his Appalachian Trail journey.
 Ethan was really relaxed.
The view from the deck
The lodge
 One of the cabins we stayed in.
Pretty blue hydrangeas
Some of the wildlife that we saw in the park. This is a barn owl.
A Falcon
A screech owl
A northern water snake
Mom and Aunt Kathy
In addition to relaxing and enjoying the wilderness we also spent lots of time with family. We had a great time playing games with my aunts and uncles and cousins.
There was always a game of pinochle going on.
Mom and Dad against each other in a game of Family Fued
The Smith family Uncles and Aunties



Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dobos Torte

My good friend, Helene recently passed the bar exam, the first time that she took it, and 20 years after completing law school. This was quite an accomplishment and I am so proud of her! My other friend, Amy and I wanted to do something special to acknowledge her accomplishment so we decided to throw a party.

I wanted to make a special cake for the party and decided to give the Dobos Torte a go. The Dobos Torte is a favorite in Viennese pastry shops which was perfect since Helene is Austrian. However, the Dobos Torte (pronounced doh-bosh) actually has a Hungarian origin. It was created by a well known Hungarian confectioner, Jozsef C. Dobos in 1884.

There are several recipes for the Dobos Torte but I decided to use the recipe in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. In Martha's recipe, there are nine layers of sponge caked filled with chocolate Swiss meringue butter cream.  Rather than bake three cakes and slice each cake into 3 layers like Martha suggests, I decided to bake each of the nine layers separately. This took quite a bit of time but I found it much easier than trying to slice the cakes into nine even layers. I also chose not to make the caramel decorations in the recipe, and instead decided to make the traditional caramel coated sponge layer for the top decoration.

To make the top caramel layer, I set aside one of my thinnest sponge layers. I boiled about a cup of sugar with a couple tablespoons of water until it the sugar dissolved and turned a light amber color. I then poured the caramel over the top of the sponge layer and sliced the layer into 16 wedges before it cooled completely. I also dipped each wedge into bittersweet chocolate for a little added decoration and taste. I held each wedge on the top with a roasted hazelnut.

I was very pleased with how the cake turned out and look forward to making it again!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Picnic Table For Tess

This picnic table turned out to be another joint project of mine and Keith's. The boys had a cute green picnic table, just like this one, that a neighbor made many years ago, and it had been sitting in our backyard for several years even though the boys had outgrown it.

My plan was to refinish Mac and Ethan's old table and give it to Tess for her second birthday. I knew it would be quite a bit of work because the paint was coming off, and Pongo had chewed through two of the bench boards when he was a puppy. 

Keith bought some replacement wood for the benches but when we went to pull of the chewed boards we found several other boards that were rotted. Unfortunately the table fell apart when we started pulling the boards off and the whole thing ended up in the garbage. Since I had already told Amy that we were refinishing the table for Tess, I felt obligated to start from scratch, so we did. 

Keith built the new and improved table out of treated wood so that it wouldn't rot in our Indiana weather. I stained, and polyurethaned the table, and then painted a few personal touches like Tessa's name and some flowers.

The table turned out to be a very sturdy piece of furniture which is perfect for an active two-year old like Tess!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teacup Tidbit Tray

I wanted to share a picture of this tidbit tray that I made for my friend, Steph. Well, actually Keith did the hard part. I had seen these tidbit trays online and fell in love with them because I loved the teacup on top! I knew I could make one myself so I did some research and found this helpful site by Ponderman.  It was a little hard finding the handle hardware but I finally found a source on Etsy. Keith did the drilling and even though I had doubles of all the dishes in case of breakage, we didn't need to use them because of Keith's careful and meticulous expertise.

Monday, May 30, 2011

More Cookies!! High Heel Cookies!

I made these high heel shoe cookies for friend who was competing in a local charity dance competition/event. Not being a trained dancer, she worked really hard learning all new dance steps, and I wanted acknowledge her hard work with a special treat!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Two Very Musical Months

The months of April and May were full of recitals and concerts. Mac had three Musical Arts Youth Orchestra (MAYO) concerts, two school orchestra concerts, two piano recitals, and a state violin competition. Ethan had a recorder recital and a piano recital. I'm not sure how we all survived but we did, and I can't say that I'm disappointed that the recital and concert season has come to a close and summer break is almost here.

Mac completed his Suzuki Piano School, Volume 2 last November. The Suzuki piano program requires that the kids give a book graduation recital, and Mac spent the first part of the year preparing for it. He had to play seven pieces, two that were required and another five pieces of his choice. Three were from the Suzuki book, and he also chose to preform one Bartok piece and one contemporary piece by, Martin Kutnowski.  We decided to  have his first solo piano recital at our home, and invited a few close friends and were especially happy that Mac's grandparents were in town and could attend as well.
 

I made a special piano cake for his piano recital topped with a chocolate grand piano. I was in Philadelphia the week prior and was able to get to the Naked Chocolate Cafe to pick up the chocolate piano and some special piano truffles -- Mozart truffles filled with hazelnut cream. Yum.
 
Our piano recital guests also received these music note and treble clef cookies as party favors.

A couple days after Mac's solo piano recital, he had a MAYO concert. This was the first orchestra concert that my parents were able to attend, and we were lucky to have them in town for two very special events!
 Mac was a member of both MAYO ensembles, the Concertina and Symphony ensemble.


The  boys also had their studio piano recital and Ethan had a recorder recital at the IU Jacob School of Music for the Pre-College Recorder Program.




This is a picture of Ethan and his teacher, Laura. Ethan played an early music piece, a solo, When Laura Smiles.......Philip Rosseter (1575-1623), and also an ensemble piece, Rigaudon........Esprit Philippe Chedeville (1696-1762).

Our final concert of the season was Mac's school orchestra. This concert is a special one because the director acknowledges all the 8th graders. She was especially proud of Mac and his friends Gabe and Roger for their gold medal trio performance at the state level. It is rare for a middle school trio group to get to preform at the state level. Mac and Roger also had Science Olympiad competition the same day, and the fact that they were able to follow through on two very different events, and perform well in both is quite an accomplishment.

Mac also sat 1st chair and was the concertmaster this year in his school orchestra. We are very proud of him and of Ethan for all their hard work and musical accomplishments.

Unfortunately in the rush to get out of the house for the final concert, I forgot both the camera and the video recorder. However, I was able to capture one piece on my phone which isn't the best quality sound or picture, but decided post it anyway.
video
The Tri-North Orchestra playing, Symphony No. 2..........Tchaikovsky/Dackow.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fun With Cookies

It seems like I've been making a lot of cookies lately, and I wanted to share some of the fun ones that I've recently made. Above is an order I had from a flight attendant who was traveling to Italy. She wanted to bring the flight crew cookies shaped in airplanes and clouds. She also wanted the clouds to have international airport codes written on them.

These were very fun to make and I think the clouds turned out especially cute. I  improvised and used a medal flower cookie cutter for the clouds. I just stretched it out a little to make it look more like cloud rather than a flower.


  
 Both of theses teapot cookies were made for birthdays. The monogrammed teapots were for a 6 year old's "tea party" birthday.  And the orange teapots were a birthday treat that I sent to my friend, Steph for her birthday.


I made these music cookies for Mac's solo piano recital. (I'll write more about his recital in a future post) These cookies accompanied a piano cake, and were wrapped in cellophane bags for his guests to take home.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Science!!! (and the science of baking)

 Mac with 3 Science Olympiad medals and one ISSMA gold medal

 This was Mac's second year to participate on his school's Science Olympiad team. There are fifteen team members and each team member participates in at least three events. For the regional competition Mac's events were Junk Yard Challenge (technology and engineering), Can't Judge a Powder (chemistry), and Experimental Design (inquiry & nature of science). 

The regional competition took place at Butler University in Indianapolis. This year was unusually challenging for Mac because he had an ISSMA state competition scheduled for the same day as the Sci-Oly regional competition. Fortunately the two events were 15 minutes apart in driving distance, however; his ISSMA performance time was scheduled 20 minutes after his last Sci-Oly event. Keith and I went first thing in the morning to speak with the ISSMA judge to see if we could buy some extra time. Thankfully, he was more than willing to work with us and told us to get there as soon as we could but not to worry if we were late. That helped to take some of the pressure off of Mac during his competitions.

Mac and his teammate Alex building a tower for Junkyard Challenge. For this event each team was allowed to bring in supplies from a provided list. All of which must fit inside a box with total dimensions no grater than 90cm.   They had to be prepared to build one of three things, a tower, a bridge, or  a catapult out of essentially nothing more than Styrofoam cups, paper plates, tape, straws, and craft sticks. They found out at the competition what they needed to build which turned out to be a tower. They were given 30 minutes to build, and the tower had to withstand holding a golf ball at the very top without collapsing.  

As you can tell their tower almost reached the ceiling, Alex is standing on top of a table to reach the top of the tower to place the golf ball. They came in second place, just 2cm under the winning team's tower. 

Not all of the events can be viewed by the public. Both of Mac's other events were behind closed doors which is why we didn't get photographs of those.

His team placed 1st in the regional competition. Only the top two teams go on to compete in state. Mac also received a gold medal for his ISSMA performance which made all the running back and forth from the two events worth while.

 Mac's team and coach showing off their 1st place plaque 



About 5 weeks late the team was headed off to the state competition which was held at Purdue University Calumet  in Hammond Indiana. This competition had some challenges of it's own. The very first event started at 6:30am on Saturday morning. Purdue Calumet is about a 4 hour drive from Bloomington and given the early start time we knew we needed to arrive the night before. Despite the early hours, the kids all  seemed wide awake and eager to go.

  
Mac and Alex in Can't Judge a Powder

Mac had to give up one of his events for state because it had a time conflict with another one. He was taken off Experimental Design and put on Write it Do it, which was also an inquiry and nature of science event.
 
I love this picture of Mac and his partner Scott giving each other a "high five" after winning a medal in Write it Do it. 

Mac's team received 5th place in the state competition which is quite an accomplishment, and 2 places better than their 7th place finish last year! We are so proud of all of them.

 

The team and trophy after taking 5th place in the state!


I had fun baking "science" treats throughout the year for the kids. Below are a few pictures of some science related cookies, cupcakes, and a cake to celebrate their hard work and achievements.

cookies

 cupcakes

A t-shirt cake the same color as their team t-shirts with a science Olympiad medal

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cincinnati!!!

A couple weekends ago we spent some time in Cincinnati with our friends, Geoff, Amy, and the McKim family. Mac had a tour with his youth orchestra so we took the opportunity to go along for some fun. Mac was on his own with his tour group and Keith, Ethan and I stayed at Geoff's parents' lovely home in Ft. Thomas.

When we arrived on Saturday,  all the boys (and Tess) went to the St. Patrick's Day parade downtown, while the ladies went to tea.
 The kids had a great time at the parade, and it turned out to be a beautiful day to spend outside. It was a little windy, however, so Ethan and Grayson had fun testing their weight against the wind.
While the boys were playing downtown, the ladies enjoyed a lovely afternoon of tea, savories, and pastries at Orchids at Palm Court. Orchids is located inside the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. The hotel was built in 1931 and is a registered National Landmark. It is a beautiful example of French Art Deco architecture.

The tea menu was exceptional as was the service. I was so impressed by variety of food we were served, especially the pastries. All the sandwiches were delicious, my favorite was salmon with creme fresh.

The pastries were unbelievable! In addition to two types of scones, we were also served chocolate croissants. My two favorites on the dessert tray were the raspberry macaroons and the citrus - berry tarts. 


Saturday was also our wedding anniversary so Keith and I decided to join Mac's orchestra tour group, and enjoy the evening at Music Hall with a concert from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

On Sunday morning we all took a walk across the Purple People Bridge before heading out to Mac's concert in Mason. The day was chilly and overcast but we still enjoyed our time together. The Ohio River water level was very high and some streets along side it were flooded.


We ended the weekend with MAYO's Musical Legends Tour and enjoyed pieces from Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, and Bizet's Carmen.  It was a very fun-filled weekend thanks to Karen and Bill for their kind hospitality, and all of the McKim family for spending the weekend with us and showing us around town!