This Easter we had a simple meal of ham biscuits, pimento cheese, salad and this Charlotte torte for dessert.
My cousin Emily and I worked in a grocery store bakery during college, and we learned how to make these! While I think they look so festive and impressive, they are very simple and this one did not even involve any baking! I just bought one angel food cake from the bakery and we used it for the layers.
While I did use a springform pan for this torte, you could easily use a regular cake pan (just may have trouble removing it) or a glass bowl or trifle dish would also work! I happened to find these soft lady fingers in the bakery section of the grocery store but you could also use whatever you layer you use for banana pudding… graham crackers, Nilla wafers, Pepperidge Farm cookies, etc.
For the filling, I used to always use vanilla pudding + one container Cool Whip and it’s great! But because I really don’t care for the taste of Cool Whip anymore, I hardly ever have it on hand and have evolved to using some combination of sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, sour cream or homemade whipped cream… Just adding something to the plain vanilla pudding to make it more rich and decadent.
Fruit Charlotte Torte
2 packs Lady Fingers
2 large (5.1oz) instant Vanilla pudding
1 tub Cool Whip (optional- see notes below)
1 angel food cake (or 1-2 cake layers)
fruit to decorate- I love raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapes, and blueberries
Make the pudding according to the box instructions.
*Note: To make it more decadent and “thicker” than plain pudding, I usually add some combination of sweetness and fluff: either one tub of Cool Whip or one can of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) or whipped cream (or container Cool Whip) and sometimes a block of cream cheese or a cup of sour cream, mixing well.
Line the bottom of springform pan with cake layer. I keep cake layers 1/2 – 1 inch thick.
Line the sides of springform pan with lady fingers.
Add one layer of pudding mixture.
Follow with cake layer. Repeat until you reach the top, ending with pudding layer.
Then the fun part! Decorate with fruit! If I am taking this somewhere, I usually add the fruit with only a few hours to go. Especially cut fruit (like strawberries) can sometimes leak their juices a little. This one above was refrigerated overnight and nothing leaked at all.
Last year as school was winding down, I was chatting with a friend about how I had high hopes that our family (i.e. my kids) would keep the house “together” despite having the routine of school.
She had great input, adding that in years past she had high expectations for summertime which usually lasted a day or two and then went to hell.
She recommended this book. I was got it from the library and was very intrigued because it is unlike the typical parenting books that demand we “whip our kids into shape” because we are the parents and they are the kids.
This author sets the tone that it is our job as parents to educate our kids about how to grow and become independent and that they will feel pride in doing so!
So I started with one chapter and then gradually moved to another and she was right!! The kids loved it! I remember being amazed that even on vacation, they were making their beds! Great daily habits. They especially loved the jar of $1 bills (for daily chores) and each child making dinner once a week- they both really got into it! Davis even encouraged us to do Blue Apron this school year because of this book- and the whole family looks forward to the weekly Blue Apron meals!
Eventually I returned the library book, then the new school year began, and yada-yada-yada we fell off the wagon.
So here we are with a week or two left of school and they told me they wanted to do the “chore thing” again this summer! I just picked it up from the library so we shall see!
We just got back from a very relaxing trip with the kids to Treasure Cay in the Bahamas. We traveled with four other families and it was a blast! My kids have been spoiled and now say they always want to travel with other kiddos!
This beach definitely lived up to its title of a top 10 beach in the world! I loved it so because the sand was like white flour and the water was glowing turquoise. But the best part was how quiet it was! No resorts and very few people around! There were chairs and umbrellas out on the beach and there were always some available. No getting up early to snag a chair here!
I think this is a good destination if you want a perfect, absolutely gorgeous, quiet beach. If your family likes to have lots of activity, shopping, or entertainment- this is probably not the destination for you. We rented a condo (via VRBO) in the Bahama Beach Club and loved that the condos all faced the pool and the beach. It was a lovely view and if you sat on your screened porch, you could see all that was going on.
We had one chartered boat expedition that came highly recommended and then we planned to take a boat on our own, visiting the different islands, for several other days. It was pretty breezy the week we were there which made for great weather and no bugs! But if did make the ocean water choppy and the women especially did not love the boating as much as just staying in paradise. So we ended up having 2 boating days total and I have no regrets about that.
Having said that, my two most favorite experiences did occur on the boating trips. First on the chartered tour, we went out, fished for our lunch, and were taken to another desolate island where they cooked the fish for us. It was so delicious, but the most amazing thing were the stingrays!!!! The guides told us they were friendly so we had no fear petting them and letting them “pet” us! Having just read The Soul of an Octopus, I was in awe and amazement the whole time! Truly the highlight of the whole trip for me! Only when we returned home did my husband talk to several people who have been stuck by stingrays. I am so glad we didn’t know those stories before the experience!
Whenever I have a unique encounter with an animal, I google that animal’s spirit meaning. I love animals, and I have been told (and believe) that they are here to help us along this earthly existence. This is what I read about stingrays on one website:
If Stingray has come swimming by you today;
Stingray is letting you know that everything is now in place. You have the knowledge, you have the means, you have the tools and you have the skills – now get busy and get on with it. Everything you have worked toward is open to you so stop hesitating. Have faith in your abilities and follow your inner guidance.
Hmmm… this message is probably meant for me but I’m still not entirely clear what “it” is 🙂
Another thing I loved was when the adults went for a short boat ride. We found a small desolate island and we all jumped in the water and swam to it. It was just so nice- the clear water, the clean sand below, and there were a lot of big conch shells so I took one (its very imperfect- not all shined up like in a novelty shop) and brought it home.
For the most part we relaxed and read and talked and ate:) We either grilled dinner or we went out to one of 3 places. As always, the kids preferred to have dinner at home all together in one condo while the parents went out to eat every other night.
Because it is a fairly remote place, they have to import everything in. There is a small grocery store but it is pricey. Luckily, we had lots of advice from others who had been on ways to prepare and pack ahead. And that is what I have listed below because some have asked:
We were told to pack (in checked luggage) liquor and food because we all had our own full kitchens and groceries are quite pricey on the island, as most everything is brought in. This was very stressful for me to plan but now I feel like a pro. Our group had a loose plan to eat in 3 nights and eat out 3 nights. Our airline charged $25/checked bag under 50 pounds. So at 3 o’clock in the morning as I was packing the cooler, I realized it was more economical to check two bags as opposed to paying $100-$250 for an overweight (over 50 lbs) suitcase. I ended up having one suitcase with things like a medium sized plastic liquor bottle, small box o’ wine, coffee, 2 cans of tuna fish, peanut butter & jelly, seasonings like baggies of salt, pepper, seasoned salt, garlic cloves, dry pasta, protein bars, tortilla wraps, and oatmeal packets. The soft Yeti cooler (which we also planned to use on the boats during the week but did not end up needing) was packed with frozen tenderloins, cans of crab, frozen shrimp, turkey lunchmeat, sliced cheese, frozen bacon & sausage, frozen lasagna, frozen pizzas, and frozen hamburgers. Let me just say if you had heard me shlepping those bags up and downstairs at 3 in the morning to weigh on my bathroom scale, you would have heard some words!! Never did it occur to me to bring the SCALE downstairs… Some things I bought like packs of crackers/chips/club soda did not make the weigh in. In the end, was it all worth it?? Yes, it was! Each fun fruity drink from the swim up bar was $10 so the luggage fees were recouped almost immediately. And we certainly did indulge and let the kids order some fruit smoothies, too 🙂
2. Things we bought from the little grocery store were: bread, eggs, milk, club soda, and a couple snacks.
My family had a blast and especially loved traveling with other families. Adam and I would go back- it was just so beautiful and relaxing. Although I’m not sure the kids would say that. They feel they kind of “mastered” the island and would prefer to explore somewhere else.
We just returned home from a wonderful Spring Break vacation. It was so special for so many reasons but one was this book:
I read about it somewhere (probably Amazon) and bought it and I’m so happy I did. It wasn’t the best vacation read I could have chosen… I cried ALL the way through it… but I LOVED its message SO much that I really want to start a group just to talk about it and put her ideas into action! I think it could be fun to do it together with girlfriends!
After losing her mom to cancer at a young age, the author discovered that the surviving family members don’t always get the loving support they need so she began asking questions and has given us the gift of this book.
I feel like all my memory-keeping is for this end… to help show me and my kids what we did and who we are. Years ago I read a story in People magazine about a mom dying of cancer (in England, I think) and she prepared a long, detailed list for her husband. Things to remember after she had gone. Things like: check her hair for nits and let her buy a new dress for each school dance. I don’t think I realized how difficult major milestones like graduations, weddings or holidays would be for surviving children. For example, I definitely prepare the Easter baskets so that needs to go on my list of reminders. Gemini recommends simply writing a letter to be opened as a future surprise. She says you cannot imagine the comfort even just one letter will bring your surviving family 🙂
After attending several funerals over the past year, I have more work to do. Think of the funeral arrangements alone! What would that look like and how would my family be able to make those decisions while suffering with overwhelming sadness? My husband has generously over-prepared for the unlikely future without him and I want to help my family by preparing now for the unlikely future without me.
Does all this sound morbid? It brings me comfort… so I guess I just need to get started!
Because today is St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been thinking about our trip last summer to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. I expected to feel an immediate connection with Ireland, as I’ve always known about my ancestors immigration from Ireland and my dad’s family is your pretty “typical” Irish Catholic huge family.
But the place I immediately felt at home was actually in Lake District, in the county of Cumbria, England. The mountains and the water reminded me of Smith Mountain Lake, here in Virginia where we have always had a vacation home.
I also love all things Beatrix Potter. She lived and wrote & illustrated here. They had a precious little shop featuring all her books and trinkets. As a child my sisters and I had children’s china featuring her sweet characters and my couple of Easter decorations look very much like they could have some from her illustrations.
I loved touring William Wordsworth’s English home. It was so English- go figure! The fabrics, the furniture, the style- so charming! And I have always loved English-style gardens so walking through the beautiful, tidy gardens was so relaxing.
We had a delicious lunch and I will never forget my mom and Mary Fowler running to Sarah Nelson’s for their famous Grasmere gingerbread. The mouthwatering smell led you to the tiny, little shop. The recipe is top secret and it was delicious! Not at all a cake-ey gingerbread but a very sweet, crumbly texture that goes perfectly with a cup of tea.
We bought a few pounds of it and I had a little piece every day after we returned home with hot tea around 4pm. But when it was gone, I started researching online for a recipe. The best I could find was from some kind of thread where an old lady mentioned she had a little souvenir paper recipe book that mentioned a Grasmere Gingerbread recipe.
So the other day I tried it and it is a good starting point! The texture was just about perfect. My family loved it but I still want a stronger ginger flavor so I’ll keep tweaking it and then share once I think it’s good to go.
Adam’s mom sent us a picture of this framed newspaper article from his childhood. In it Adam says his dad is the best because he went on a field trip with his class. So sweet.
So isn’t it something else (not sweet) that this morning when I told Davis I would be a chaperone on his field trip to the Virginia Beach Aquarium, he handed the check back to me and said, “That’s okay, mom, we don’t need you this time. I’m going to be in my friend’s mom’s group.”
I have been taking another painting class- this time acrylic- and I am learning all kinds of fabulous things about myself! For example, I do not take risks, I am sometimes paralyzed by indecision, I am afraid of making a mistake, I focus too much on the end result instead of the process, I don’t enjoy playing in the mud (because of the inevitable clean up- duh!), and I am a perfectionist and maybe even a control freak. Awesome. Luckily I have a wonderfully patient teacher who loves the challenge… of me.
Painting is not easy for me but I am starting to make some headway. Often either with my clients’ homes or my own home, I know what kind of artwork I’d like to see in the space but I have trouble actually finding it- and in the correct dimensions. I thought it would save time and money if I could just create it myself. Easier said than done 🙂
I recently finished a piece I hoped would complete my daughter’s bedroom (picture above). It was nerve-wracking waiting for her to see it. I really wanted her to love it. I watched her eyes when I showed it to her and she gleamed! I felt so proud and happy!
Then Adam suggested hanging the one below in our bathroom. I would choose something larger but I have to admit it does add something to the room. I’m going to have to buy some more canvases this week!
It makes me so happy that my kids enjoy baking. Davis made these the other day- one of his specialties! He delivered some to the neighbors and they called later saying they were the best snickerdoodles they’d had.
Davis’s Snickerdoodle Cookies
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
Roll dough balls in 2 Tablespoons sugar plus 2 teaspoons cinnamon
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and eggs thoroughly. Add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll dough balls in 2 TB sugar plus 2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Place on ungreased baking sheet for 8 minutes. We like them “pillow” soft so we take them out a little early to cool and soften.
Last week we went out to dinner for my dad’s 65th birthday with most of his 8 siblings! I really wanted to bring a cake to the restaurant but was running out of time. Mary Fowler saved the day and baked one of our favorites: the Hershey chocolate cake. It goes so well with red wine, my dad’s favorite 🙂
So while I showered and got ready, she whipped up the cake and it looked beautiful! Everyone loved it! We definitely show love with food around here!
After an exciting week meeting with two clients, I found myself wandering around my house, aimlessly. One of my clients is building a new house so we are working together to ensure her new kitchen is beautiful and functional.
Really think through the cabinet design/ layout for storage and placement. Does everything you actually use have a place? When you have a blank canvas, you can really make it work for you. We made some great headway.
Then I returned home to my kitchen (sad face). I started to feel sorry for myself because I have more cabinets than I care to admit jammed full of crap!
When I read this post from one of my favorite bloggers, it reminded me to follow my own advice! EDIT your stuff!
So I started with the cabinet under the island. Pots, pans and lids everywhere! I think even the dogs were fearful every time we opened a door because something loud could fall out. I had my brown paper bags ready to get rid of any extraneous pieces. Three bags later, only my prime pots and pans with matching lids remain. And it only took about 15 minutes. They are stacked neatly- and here is the key- They will be put back in the exact same spot after use!
Then it was on to one of the two foyer closets. I even found some things I’ve been looking for!
I am hoping to tackle some more cabinets, closets, and bookshelves… 15 minutes at a time.
PS It really helps me to put on some good music first.
My kids are just now in their second week of school and it is still as hot as the dickens (what does that even mean?). So, before the crisp, full-of-pumpkin fall arrives, I want to write some highlights down. This summer was so GREAT: so happy, so sad, so full, and so complex.
CELEBRATING The end of school this year was something incredible. When we moved here 5 years ago, probably our biggest focus was making sure the kids had an easy school transition. We met with a professional and she recommended we not overthink this but simply find out where educated parents send their kids to school.
Well, as one child is beginning her last year of middle school and the other is beginning last year of elementary school, I received the gift of confirmation that we made good decisions. We want our kids to do well in school, and they do very well, but it is of higher importance to us that they are kind, respectful, grateful, and receive the support as they figure out who they are and how they want to contribute to this world.
Two women (one friend, one teacher) came up to me at separate times, but on the same day, to tell me of their L.O.V.E. for Davis. One told me how funny and well-mannered he is and the other told me what a great guy in the classroom he is. She kept coming up to me and saying, “I just love that boy!”
The next day Adam and I had to separate to attend two awards ceremonies at the exact same time, one at each school. I was so proud of Davis’s straight A’s all year as well as some other accomplishments that hadn’t come so easy for him. But when he and another little girl from his class were awarded the Citizenship Award, I felt such immense joy that he is thriving right where he is.
I signed Davis out and together we raced over to Mary Fowler’s school just in time to see her receive some awesome scholastic awards, as well as a HEART award. My girl is a hard worker but that HEART award is still up on the fridge! Adam was stopped by 3 different teachers who told him: 1. your daughter is so very special, 2. your daughter’s personality is just so FUN! She is a great student but she is also funny and social- just a delight to be around, and 3. I hope my 2 year old daughter grows up to be just like Mary Fowler!
I was kind of floating that morning. Adam took us all out to a family brunch and I could hardly talk because I was processing my fears/concerns/worries to the reality that my kids are just fine… thriving, really.
Because I can worry with the best of them, I think I may begin listing my fears on paper so I can later write down examples that may help alleviate those fears.
DECORATING Just this week, I got around to visiting two different friends who hired me to help them with some work on their houses. What validation it is to see these beautiful spaces. Both projects felt so clean and calm and refreshed.
Sometimes when I look through magazines I start to question if I really know what I’m doing because I have zero desire to do big-time, crazy-expensive projects like the ones you see featured in magazines. My favorite projects are normal families who just want a crisper, calmer, simpler, but well-designed, pretty space. And seeing the completed spaces added to my confidence.
Additionally, one of my neighbors has hired me to help with a larger scale project and it so far has been so gratifying to help her get more bang for her buck than she expected. We are still in the very early stages of planning and budgeting but this kind of work is fulfilling to me.
EATING Once school started, I was hell-bent on making sure we continued having family dinner together every.single.night. I knew once after school activities started it would be hard but I still really want to try our best to have dinner together, around the table, followed by some kind of family game. Nothing crazy- sometimes just 15 minutes. The key to my success was going to be planning ahead. So I wrote out the simple meals we would have each night. And if it’s a crazy day/evening, that means I have to plan ahead for a crock pot meal. Planning.
It is worth it. Sitting at the table together makes the kids talk so much more than they would if we were in the kitchen moving around, some sitting, some standing…
Afterwards, I usually have to drag everyone to play Rummicub or basketball or football, but 2 minutes in, EVERYONE is on board! It is worth it.
Davis chose golf and theater for two of his activities this fall. And he also wanted to order Blue Apron to make dinner for the family 2x a week! For me, this is an expensive option to my normal monthly grocery budget, but I am viewing this as a cooking class for him to justify the cost 🙂 One other potential benefit: we didn’t have a choice of delivery day; Friday was chosen for us. So, while most Fridays we order or make pizza, we will be replacing that with some pretty special meals by Davis! I think it will be great!
Tomorrow is our first delivery so we’ll see how it goes!
EXPLORING This summer involved some exploring! And I’m talking about exploring of the travel and spiritual kind.
In June we spent some time at the lake with family and friends. I always love seeing my family and the addition of friends who now have a place at the lake added a fun dynamic! The kids and parents all had a blast together! My kids have much younger cousins, who they love, but having friends the same age to play with is a different kind of fun!
Truth be told, I was a little anxious because soon after was our trip to the United Kingdom. Mary Fowler’s school planned this and my parents have always wanted to go to Ireland so my sweet husband sent me and Mary Fowler on another European trip, less than 3 months apart. I owe him!
What is really awesome is that my mom had some big things she wanted taken care of that she and my dad kept procrastinating about. So this trip was a wonderful motivation. They got done what they needed just before we were driving to the airport. And more change for them was to come. I have wonderful parents but they have always struggled with some forms of “taking action.” There has been something about this trip that has helped with this dynamic. And I notice a lightness in them.
Not to mention, this trip was just so special in so many ways. I wrote all about it with pictures in a photo book. We were kind of exploring our English and Irish heritage and I know I came away with a better understanding, and even more curiosity! Because I was the designated photographer for my parents, I completed the book really fast and sent them their copy. Then I quickly made the Italy book, too. Getting my pictures in print form has always been one of my passions.
We had another very relaxing and soul-filling family beach trip with Adam’s mom. We are water people. I love it when Adam and I take walks together. And playing in the ocean with the kids- all together, then jumping in the pool for a little play before going in for lunch or dinner- it’s just a nice daily rhythm. I took pictures, though not as many as last year and I look forward to making that book.
Spiritual exploration is constant for me but there this summer held a couple of family illnesses –Several of my aunts and uncles were suffering with uncertainty in their health and my beautiful cousin who I have always looked up to was undergoing treatment for lymphoma and two tragic deaths that literally took our breath away. The first was the kind-hearted dad of one of Mary Fowler’s friends. His death had Adam and I asking a lot of questions and opened up a lot of conversation. Attending his funeral was a gift. His family is very special. Mary Fowler was with us and I imagine it will be one of those major life-altering memories for her and for us.
The second tragic death was a young man in high school. He is the stepson of one of my sweet friends. His funeral, too, was a gift. The family was so honest and loving and strong. The masses of people, most especially children, attending this funeral was remarkable. For these kids to be a part of this will promote life and light and good. It also reignited my desire to attend this particular church.
LOVING This summer I loved that I felt more present.
I love that my kids and I played tennis together.
I love that I played in the water more with my family.
I love that we spent a lot of time together as a family.
READING When I was little I remember my mom and my aunt Debbie taking us to the library regularly over the summer. My mom can read about a book a day so we would pile our arms full! When I take my kids (usually kind of begrudgingly) I walk in and feel such excitement and hope! All these books! All free! So much to learn about!
My kids are not usually as excited as me.
I can’t remember everything but I try to take pictures of what I’m reading. Mary Fowler had to read The Book Thief and The Outsiders over the summer so I read The Book Thief, too, and really enjoyed it. She also has really enjoyed NO FEAR Shakespeare (for school). She said it really helps you understand and makes Shakespeare enjoyable! So that may be helpful to someone with kids.
Book Thief 5 stars
The Little Paris Bookshop 4 stars
My grandmother wanted me to read this and it has surprisingly stuck with me.
The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly 4 stars
I really liked this one and may need to purchase. I tried several of her suggestions and I really need to post about them. I was shocked at how well my kids responded!
Cleaning House 4 stars
I borrowed this from a friend and read during the Ireland trip- really good! I actually watched a movie on Netflix called The Fundamentals of Caring that I thought was similar and better.
Me Before You 3 stars
After You 2 stars
To Heaven and Back 5 stars
A Man Called Ove 4 stars
The Language of Flowers 5 stars This would be a great book club pic!
Davis really loved Swiss Family Robinson and Tom Sawyer. We read them aloud. He also loves graphic novels (cartoon-strip-ish books) on his own. I have never liked graphic novels or comics for that matter??
Well, that’s a wrap of the highlights of summer. I do plan to continue my weekly digital scrapbook pages but I am so far behind that I may do summer and then try the little Instagram Chatbooks for the daily mundane? I have started a totally private, no following/or followers family insta site and supposedly every 60 pictures it can be printed into a Chat book for $6
I don’t know if it will satisfy me but we shall see…