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blue girl presents: black forest cake
Over the weekend, we went on a mini road trip to visit Hubby's Great Uncle.  Everyone in the family simply calls him Uncle.  Uncle turned 91 last month, which most definitely warranted a celebration.

My Mother-in-Law asked if I could make a Black Forest Cake, because Uncle is a fan.  I had never made one before, but I love an excuse to try new things.
blue girl presents: black forest cake
I used Brown Eyed Baker's Black Forest Cake recipe with a few changes.

For the cake: I threw in a tsp of espresso powder for kicks.  Recipe books and television bakers always say coffee or espresso enhances the flavor of a chocolate cake.  I had some, so why not?

For the cherries: I bought a bag of fresh cherries (which I sadly can not eat fresh due to allergies.)  I pitted them by hand.  (It was very difficult to resist licking my fingers.)  I had about 18oz after reserving a dozen for the top and a handful for Hubby.  I put them in a pot with 1/2 C sugar and 1/2 C water and stirred them around for several minutes.  Then I thickened the syrup with a bit of cornstarch.  I brushed the syrup on each cooled cake layer before assembling.
I tend to be conservative when adding sugar.  If you like things sweet, more sugar would have been fine.  Also, at Uncle's I learned what fresh sour cherries look like.  If I could get my hands on those, I'm sure that the cherry filling would have had even more pronounced cherry flavor.

For the whipped cream:  I doubled the recipe.  Also, in an effort to ensure the cake would survive a three hour car ride, I stabilized the whipped cream with gelatin.
blue girl presents: black forest cake
It survived!!!!!
blue girl presents: black forest cake
The cherry flavor was not especially pronounced.  I am sure it would be more pronounced with the canned cherries and/or addition of cherry Kirsch used in Brown Eyed Baker's recipe.  However, I really liked the idea of using fresh cherries, and using alcohol didn't make sense for this particular family gathering.   If I can find them, I would like to try fresh sour cherries next time.  Perhaps soaking the cherries in juice would also help bring out the favor.
Still, the cake was delightful, and everyone gobbled it down.  The chocolate cake was wonderful and paired beautifully with the whipped cream frosting.

We were also spoiled with a super tasty Berry Crumble from my Sister-in-Law.
berry crumble
Topped with ice cream, it was one amazing treat.
berry crumble with ice cream
Our bellies were full, full full.  They were also happy, happy, happy!
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blue girl presents: peanut butter chocolate extravaganza (peanut butter layer cake with chocolate frosting)
In my Party in a Box post, I mentioned that my Sister-in-Law of Love Deliveries is super talented.  In addition to the ones that I already mentioned, one of her talents is making beautiful cakes.  Becky is always making these fabulous cakes for her kids' birthdays and for various showers and events.  In the past, she has also sold elaborately decorated cupcakes.

When planning Becky's birthday meal, my Mother-in-Law put me in charge of dessert.  I don't quite have the type of patience and finesse required to decorate a cake (though, I'm working on it!), but I knew I wanted to do the best I could to create an amazing cake for the girl who is always baking for others.  (We just got a cranberry nut banana bread this week that was yummy yum!)

We are a family that LOVES peanut butter and chocolate.  LOVES.  But Becky takes that love to a different level.  So the flavor combo was a no brainer.  I just had to find the perfect recipe.

I recently discovered Sally's Baking Addiction, and immediately knew that was where I would find my inspiration.  Spend any amount of time on that blog, and you will quickly learn that Sally LOVES peanut butter.  LOVES.  I hit the jackpot when I found the recipe for Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting.  Hooray!

Now, I really love baking cupcakes.  In fact, I'm in that group of people that enjoys the idea of turning anything edible into a form of cupcake.  However, for whatever reason, I had my heart set on baking a Birthday CAKE.  So that's what I did.

Sally says that you can "pour the batter into a 8-inch or 9-inch square or round baking pan and bake for about 35 minutes."  I made two batches for a layer cake, and only had to bake each round for 25-27 minutes.  I whipped up 2 cups of heavy cream with a box of instant chocolate pudding to make a simple filling.  Then I frosted the whole cake with Sally's Dark Chocolate Frosting

You are all lovely.  You are.  But unfortunately, I don't yet love you enough to pause before dessert to take a photo.  Instead, I waited a day and a half when we just had a little chunk of cake left and took a photo of THAT for you.  Awful, I know.  Forgive me?

blue girl presents: peanut butter layer cake with chocolate frosting
This cake is rich.  It absolutely begs for a mug of coffee or a tall glass of milk.  But it is good.  It tastes like a peanut butter cup in cake form.  Covering the top with mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups definitely doesn't hurt.  Hooray for birthdays and an excuse to eat cake!
blue girl presents: peanut butter layer cake with chocolate frosting
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blue girl presents: birthday box card
This month is my Sister-in-Law's birthday month.  I'm pretty sure she has super powers.  She is a full time Mom and wife, a lot-of-the-time labor and delivery nurse, and the owner and creator of all things at Love Deliveries.  She can do pretty much everything...and she can do it well.  I tell her she is crazy quite often.  But she is crazy in the most wonderful way.

You should check out Love Deliveries for some fun gems like this crazy cute tie bib.  I love these!
Love Deliveries: Baby Boy Tie Bib
Or this beautiful quilt.
Love Deliveres: Pink and Grey Throw Quilt
Or this sweet cupcake shaped oven mitt.  Isn't it darling?
Love Deliveres: Cupcake Oven Mitt
We celebrated Becky's birthday over the weekend. 
blue girl presents: birthday box greeting
A fabulous girl needs a fabulous card!
blue girl presents: exploding box birthday card
I created an envelope for the top flap so that I could tuck in a card that had extra space for a personal message.
blue girl presents: exploding box birthday card
The squirrel was cut with my Cricut (an amazing gift from Becky!).  The flower and heart shapes on the miniature gifts, and the rounded corners were cut with punches.  All of the other details were cut and shaped by hand.
blue girl presents: surprise birthday box greeting card
Thank you for visiting.  Come back tomorrow, and we'll talk about dessert!
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blue girl presents: exploding box card
I'm learning how to quilt.

Kind of.

It's something that I have always wanted to do.

When I found out that my Sister-in-Law quilts, and my Mother-in-Law quilts, and that they are both connected to a whole network of quilters, I was really excited.

For the past three years, I have been attending an annual quilt day at my church and a quilt retreat that is held close to the middle of nowhere.  In that three years, I have finished hand-piecing the front of a wall hanging, and machine sewing the top of a table runner.  My Mother always picks on me for hanging out with quilters all the time but having no finished projects.

The thing is, quilters are REALLY nice people.  They love having show and tell sessions, and are always so supportive and encouraging.  My first quilt day, all I had to share was a little nine-patch square, and the quilters cheered for me as though I had finished a king size quilt.  Every six months, the quilters gather again, see my additional couple squares and cheer as though I finished another king size quilt.  It's really quite lovely.  You can only imagine what it's like when someone really does share a king size quilt! 

Tom and Madge are two of our quilt mentors that attend the quilt day and the quilt retreat.  They are the cutest couple.  They are kind, hilarious, encouraging, generous, and God-centered.  Madge always has fun activities planned that include prizes.  Lots of prizes.  Madge also likes to plant encouraging little notes by everyone's seat when they aren't paying attention.  During our gatherings, Tom will service anyone's sewing machine.  For free.  He is skilled with all types of machine problems and user defects.  If you're interested in quilting, and you don't have a machine, Tom and Madge will make sure you get one.  It will either be free or an insanely amazing price depending on the machine and the circumstance.  They are always full of energy and filled with ideas. 
blue girl presents: exploding box card
This week, Tom turned 70. 
blue girl presents: exploding box card
Madge threw him a big open house style party.
blue girl presents: exploding box card
Tom has many other interests, so it was a "Trains, Planes, & Automobiles" themed party.

The cake was tasty!
blue girl presents: tom's birthday cake
There were several cute stations around the yard with fun things to see or do.
I thought this mini car show was so adorable.
blue girl presents: madge and tom's mini car show
blue girl presents: madge and tom'smini car show
Here is Tom's train set.  They had wooden house forms available for kids of all ages to decorate and add to the scene.  Tom made the bridge out of a bed frame!
blue girl presents: tom's train
Here is a photo of one of Madge's quilts.  Isn't it darling?  I just kept staring at it and getting excited about all the fun little details.
blue girl presents: madge's library quilt
It was a privilege to be able to celebrate such a special day with such a fun couple!

p.s. the bunny from the card was cut with my Cricut, using the "Give a Hoot" cartridge.
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blue girl presents: party giraffe greeting card
Are you tired of my animal cards yet?
blue girl presents: paper elephant party
Because I have so many other ideas...but the animals REALLY wanted to party.
blue girl presents: parade of party elephant greeting cards
Everyone loves a good party right?
blue girl presents: party owls greeting cards
Woohoo!  Let's celebrate!
blue girl presents: giraffe party greeting cards
I hope you're having a wonderful day. 
blue girl presents: party owl greeting card
Thanks for visiting.  Hooray!
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As a kid, my best friend Lauren lived two streets away.  When we first met, she lived right around the corner, but then my family moved...two whole streets away.

Both of us were kind of dorky and a little bit nerdy.  I leaned more closely to the dorky side.  She leaned more closely to the nerdy side.  She might disagree, but I promise it's the truth.  We both had pretty huge glasses throughout our elementary school years, which probably helped enhance our dorky nerdy side.  Somehow, Lauren managed to escape braces and really bad perms.  I was not so fortunate.

We felt that we were far too creative to play board games like other kids.  (To be honest, that's what Lauren thought, but I had too much fun being creative to argue.)  Instead, we spent a huge bulk of our down time together on two activities.

1. Making yarn bugs.
2. Playing mailbox.

Lauren's Mom had this yarn stash that we were given access to one day.  We discovered that we could cut small pieces and tie them in colorful multi-legged knots or rub little pieces between our fingers to make fuzz balls.  These were our bugs.  We took our yarn bugs very seriously.  Our bugs lived in special jars.  Hours were spent creating a million variations and trading them.  This phase went on longer than you could imagine.

Playing mailbox was our other favorite indoor activity.  Our mailboxes were emptied Band-aid tins.  (Remember when Band-aids came in little tins instead of cardboard boxes?)  Using any supplies we could find, we would create mini-catalogs to send each other.  We offered inches of yarn or embroidery floss, placing tiny samples and color choices next to rows of check boxes.  We offered original artwork, or stickers created from cut-up magazines.  Boxes would get checked, catalogs were sent back, and orders were received.  We spent countless afternoons playing, and it never seemed to get old.  Actually, I not-so-secretly wouldn't mind another afternoon of playing mailbox. 

An activity that occupied much of our time outside our homes, was dance lessons.  Lauren took just about every dance class available.  I was only enrolled in tap and ballet classes.  For a few years, we took semi-private tap lessons together.  It was so much fun. All of our steps were written down in little notebooks, and we would practice in her basement.  One year, our theme for the final dance recital was the Irish Jig.  We each had a big sequined shamrock that sat on top of our heads and a cute white tutu-ed costume trimmed in green and more shamrocks.  A photo of us in those costumes has become quite legendary in our families.  We even recreated the pose for another photo more than twenty years later.

Today is Lauren's birthday.  To celebrate, I just had to make her a card that pays tribute to that special dance we did and our many years of friendship.  Judging from my glitter job, I was also channeling my inner 8-year-old. :)
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Having always been fascinated with the art of quilling, I decided it was time to try it myself.  It turned out to be quite simple, fun, and rewarding. 

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