Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Halloween on the Hill"

Here in Des Moines, trick-or-treating is done the day before Halloween on Beggar's Night. Kids go around, tell jokes, and get candy on the 30th! When we moved here last year, we did Beggar's Night and then looked for something to do on Halloween night. We read about a free event in Sherman Hill called "Halloween on the Hill."

Sherman Hill is the oldest neighborhood in Des Moines. People who live in the neighborhood opt to decorate their houses for this event, and some really go all out! There are also people dressed up as monsters who wander the streets.

You start out near Smokey Row at 19th & Crocker/Cottage Grove. They collect canned goods out front of the "Kathedral," or the international church, and, in exchange, they give drivers and walkers a map that marks the decorated houses, the monsters, and the Thriller dance that takes place every 15 minutes.

Here are the kids looking out at the "cemetery" where the zombies do the Thriller dance:

I took a video of some of it, but it's pretty dark. They did an amazing job, though! Oliver started dancing along as he watched.


We had a great time! We saw Frankenstein and his monster again this year. Last year, we got out of the car and got "scared" by Frankenstein. This year, we drove by slowly in the car with the windows rolled down, and he reached in at Oliver. It was so much fun! He was just a little scared, but later he said it was the best part. He's already making plans for his own Frankenstein costume to wear next year.

Here are a few other photos of the decorated houses:

We really love this event. I love that the neighbors put it on themselves and that it's free for us to enjoy. I think we'll be going for many years to come!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

LEGO Birthday Cake

I made Oliver & Jo's LEGO birthday cake! I'd seen a few cakes like these online, but couldn't find any tutorials on how to make them. I did my best, but I wish I'd taken the time at the beginning to cut the sides of the cake to be completely straight. The final product looks a little bumpy. Live and learn, right?

I started work on the bricks a few days before I baked the cake. I bought silicon LEGO block molds that were fairly inexpensive on Amazon (3 for $7.75). I also bought fondant this year instead of making my own. I used an online coupon from Michael's and bought fondant for $5.

I used a melon baller to help measure to make sure my blocks were all about the same size. The first set of fondant LEGO blocks got stuck in the mold. I dusted in the inside with powdered sugar, and that fixed the problem. The rest came out without any problems.

My final supply list:
Fondant pack of green, red, yellow, and blue
White fondant
Powdered sugar (to dust the inside of the molds)
Silicone LEGO block molds
2 boxes of cake (and the ingredients needed to make the cake--eggs, oil, etc)
1 can of frosting (for the crumb layer)
Black gel frosting for the lettering
LEGO figures to decorate the cake

I didn't want to use the blocks up the size of the cake. Instead, I just cut out rectangles from rolled fondant to look like the sizes of the LEGO blocks. I kept all of the fondant pieces in the fridge so they wouldn't lose their shape. 

Two nights before the party, I baked the cake. I used two boxes of cake mix, and I made two 13x9 inch cakes. The next day, I frosted and stacked them as a crumb layer. That afternoon, I covered the cake in a very thin layer of white fondant. It will save you a lot of trouble later if you make sure all of the sides are as flat as possible! I dampened one size of the rectangles (water helps the fondant stick), and I built up the walls in a LEGO brick pattern. You can see my progress here:

When I finished, I added some strips of rolled white fondant and made it look like Emmett was unrolling it onto the cake. I stuck fondant on the bottom of the LEGO figures to get them to stick to the cake.

To make the lettering, I just printed a picture of "Happy Birthday" in LEGO font. I set it over the fondant and cut out the red. Then I set it over the fondant and cut out the yellow, and then I set it over the fondant and cut out the white. I stacked them, and then outlined the white lettering in frosting. I made a makeshift frosting bag out of fondant for Good Cop to hold to try to make it look like he was writing "Happy Birthday."

I found the candy letters at the grocery store. I wanted to give each of the LEGO Movie characters a job, so Benny got the letter R to look like he was spelling out the names.

When the fondant was still soft, I stuck Wyldstyle's arms in the block. I refrigerated her and the block until it was hard, and then I added them to the cake.

Larry the barista is helping make the cake, too!

There's the finished cake! I'd added the white frosting shells to the top to conceal the spot where the sides met the top. I didn't like how it turned out, so I covered it up ;-) I finished the evening before the party and then kept it in the fridge so the fondant wouldn't get too soft and start to droop.

It took a lot of planning and work. I really wish I'd spent more time getting the sides straight, but I still love the cake. It's a lot of fun!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Star Wars Reads Day at the Library

It was Star Wars Reads Day at the library, so Darth and Obi Wan insisted we take them to the big event. The first thing we did upon our arrival was figure out our jedi names, and then the kids made lightsabers out of paper and tape. They got to practice their lightsaber skills against a bunch of balloons!

There were plenty of opportunities for photo ops:

And then the kids discovered the "trash compactor." I'm still cracking up over this. There was a giant box filled with crumpled up paper and empty plastic bottles. The kids climbed in and rolled around, pretending they were in the famous Star Wars scene. Apparently, it was a lot of fun. Our kids had so much fun in the box that other kids started to line up for their turn in the trash compactor. Oh, geez, that's funny.

After surviving the trash compactor, Oliver dodged lasers.

Thankfully, he survived the lasers, too. We played a few trivia games, and the kids won prizes (candy and cards). It was a big hit! The library offers some amazing programs, and nearly all of them are free! To find current events at the Des Moines Public Library, check out this link here.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Camping at Ledges State Park

We headed up to Ledges State Park this weekend to take the kids camping! Ledges State Park is less than an hour's drive northeast of Des Moines. Not surprisingly, it's a popular camping destination for people from Des Moines and Ames. It's known for its canyons and ledges, but it's also full of forest. I wanted to go check out fall color, but we discovered the trees haven't started changing yet!

We set up camp ($11) and built a fire with wood we purchased there ($5, I believe). The emerald ash borer has just hit this part of the state, and so there are a lot of restrictions on firewood going in and out of counties. Campers shouldn't transport wood across county lines. Anyway, Andrew got the fire going, and I got the tent set up. There were a lot of hazelnut trees/bushes around, and the ground was littered with the shells of hazelnuts and even possibly some pecan shells. I swept as much of it away as I could because they would be sharp to sleep or step on through the tent floor! The kids helped. Once the coals were nice and hot, we made dinner. I'd purchased some pre-cleaned, -sliced, and -mixed veggies from Hy-Vee that turned out great. We made the kids some hot dogs, and Andrew and I ate quinoa burgers.

After dinner, the kids spotted some other kids from a nearby tent. They ran around with the other kids until it got too dark, and then we made smores and went to bed. It wasn't the longest visit, and we didn't get to hike or explore much more than the campground, but we enjoyed our time there.

A duet:

A quick video of the kids having a good time with their campground friends: