Mockingjay cake!

mockingjay cake

My daughter is a big fan of The Hunger Games series, so she decided she wanted to watch the newest movie for her birthday party. So, I needed to make another Hunger/Games-themed cake.

Cake from last year:

I used a toothpick, a table knife and some edible modeling dough to form the bird. To make the ring that sits under the bird, I rolled out the dough like a snake, put it on the flat rim if a glass bowl and smashed it down. I know, we’re super high tech here. To get the brassy color, I sprayed the bird and ring with black edible spray paint then layered that with gold edible spray paint. It took a few layers to get it right. Then I brushed yellow gel over the top to make it shiny.


For the fondant, I roll it over the cake then steam it with my iron to make it shiny…the only time I seem to use the iron, BTW.


Rach loves helping me. To her, it’s like playing with Playdoh.


To get the fire, I used a combination of red, orange and yellow sparkle gel frosting and brushed it into peaks with a paint brush.

I also chose to cover the board edges with the black fondant. I thought it looked better than the silver board.


And I tried not to cry when we cut it up and ate it.  Ha! It turned out super cute. The girls loved it and said I was cool. You can’t get a better compliment than that from a bunch of 13 year olds!

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Reasoning in the pits.

by Jennifer Dyer

The other night I noticed Rachel’s ball pit looked rather sparse.

A short investigation brought us to …

Because I had cleaned out the ball pit the other day, she had decided it was time to move her precious stash of items to a safer location. Like a squirrel hiding a nut stash, she had slowly moved items to the guest room, where we rarely visit.

Urg! When I walked into the room and saw the debacle, my knees turned watery and my stomach flipped over. I clamped my mouth shut because I really wanted to scream. Why? Why does she do these kinds of things? I know she has obessessive compulsive leanings on top of her autism or maybe because of autism, but keeping up with her messes is as easy as grabbing the wind.

I stared at the mess for another moment then turned out the light. It was too late to deal with it and I wasn’t going to anyway. I would, instead, hope a magic fairy came during the night to pick it up.


The next night, hubby worked with her while Eldest and I were gone. Together, they took balls back to the ball pit and threw some of the trash away. This is the only manner in which we can see to deal with the issue. Making her clean it step-by-step, with us being impartial, unemotional monitors during each of her screaming, agonizing, tantrum-filled moments.

I was still in the magic-fairy-hopeful stage this morning when I realized a game her teacher had sent home from school was missing.

I found most of it in the Room of Doom, as the guest room should be called. However, several pieces are still missing, probably under the layers of shredded tissues and papers.

I pressed my fingers to my temples. I couldn’t help but ask: Why is everything so difficult? Eldest was downstairs having a crisis about her lunch and I was trapped in the Room of Doom doing a geological dig to uncover two stupid magnets that are so small they might be in the trash or in the dog’s stomach.

I still haven’t found those magnets, but as I walked the dog a few thoughts occurred to me.


As a youth, I thought unorganized and messy people lacked motivation and discipline. As a mom, Payback keeps taking me to lunch, ordering the lobster, and sneaking out the bathroom window to leave me with the bill.

Life isn’t simple. It doesn’t come with a neat little box full of comprehensible instructions.

Yet, those overwhelming challenges leave me a better person, even if it is simply a change in my own attitude toward judging others. Pain usually brings understanding and compassion.


I realized I’d recently prayed for motivation to clean up the upstairs… Whoops. Losing an expensive school material certainly gets me moving. So, who says God doesn’t answer prayers? Lol.

Perhaps the biggest thing I need to grasp as a special needs mom is the key to surviving difficulties are to grow in them.

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Graduation cake ideas.

by Jennifer Dyer

It’s graduation season. I rarely make cakes anymore, but this has some cute and easy elements, so I wanted to share. This isn’t the best picture (the cake had an incident on the way to the party), but I can’t access all my older pics at the moment.

If I remember correctly with the cake pictured, one of my dipped strawberries took a dive in the car, so it was smeared with frosting. (But still yum-o.) My hands are shakier than they used to be, so don’t focus on my penmanship. Overall the cake was a huge hit.

I made two 15×11 cakes and put them together and frosted them with cream cheese buttercream. For this cake the only decoration I used was my graduation strawberries and some chocolate diplomas (I bought the mold for those at a cake store.)

For the strawberry hats I used milk chocolate Ghirardelli squares and Reese’s peanut butter cup miniatures. To make the hats:

  • Put the squares on a cookie sheet, plain side down. 
  • Melt milk chocolate Ghirardelli chips.
  • Dip the smaller end of the peanut butter cups into the melted chocolate to act as glue. Place it in the middle of a square. 
  • Let them set up at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

I made the diplomas from purple dipping melts that I bought as a craft store. Use a bit of the dipping chocolate to glue those to your hardened berries. (Try to place the diplomas on about the same height of the berries–something I learned after seeing this pic. Lol.)

I also dipped the strawberries in melted Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips, so the hats match the strawberries.

Here are some tips I’ve learned after making numerous dipped strawberry displays:

  • Make the graduation hats ahead of time. They will keep for quite a while.

  • Instead of rinsing the berries, wipe them gently with a sightly damp towel. I wipe them again with a dry towel to make sure there is no water left. (Water will cause the chocolate to seize up). If you rinse the berries ahead of time they tend to release more water and appear to sweat after being dipped.

  • Dip the strawberries the day of the event. I know it’s a pain, but they get runny if dipped too far ahead of time. If you can find stemmed berries, they tend to stay fresh longer, so you can dip those the day before.

  • Don’t overheat the chocolate. I heat it on 50% power in the microwave in a small mug or little bowl, stirring every 30 seconds. If you heat the chocolate too high, you will wind up with streaking. If your chocolate does get overly hot, just stir gently it until it cools down. (You want to be able to cup the bowl comfortably with your hand.)

  • Assemble everything you need before you start dipping in an assembly line. Dried berries, small bowl with chocolate, cookie sheet covered in wax paper. It goes pretty fast if you do your prep work.

  • Spread waxed paper over a cool cookie sheet. (I sometimes put my cookie sheets in the freezer and pull them out right before I start dipping, especially in the Texas summers.) Set the berries on the waxed paper after dipping. I sometimes stick my berries into the freezer for 10 minutes to help them set up.

  • Be gentle when you pull the berries out of the chocolate so the green stems stay in tact.

  • After the strawberries set up, I use a small spoonful of melted chocolate to glue the already dried hats to the top of the berry.

Here is a pic of another graduation cake I made. If I can find the others, I’ll add them here. 

 Hope this gives you all some great ideas as we head in graduation season!

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Christmas picture ornament tradition.

by Jennifer Dyer

Yesterday, our family pulled out the Christmas tree and the ornaments. I wish I had captured it all on video. Eldest, currently 10, squealed as she unveiled each ornament, narrating the significance and her memories. She would grab Rachel. “Remember this?”

Among both girls favorites? The ornaments my mother made for them. Each year, Grandma buys matching picture-frame ornaments for all her grandchildren. She puts a picture of the child in the frame, usually from our treks to see Santa. On the back, she always writes the grandchild’s name and the year, if it is not on the frame. (Both names and years are important in our family, since the girls look so much alike and their mother can’t remember well. Lol!)

I can’t tell you how much this means to the girls and myself. It is a great conversation starter, a precious bonding experience, and so sweet to see their faces on the tree and treasure Christmas memories. Plus, it helps Rachel. With her autism and communication issues, it gives her a visual, and makes her feel special to see her pictures rotating around the tree.


Another fun and sweet tradition my mother-in-law has always followed is to buy matching ornaments and put all the family’s names on them. Each time a child is born or a spouse is added, their beautiful red apple goes on the tree. It was very special to me to have my apple and my girls’ apples added.

What are some of the special Christmas and/or ornament traditions your family follows? Please share!

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Just enough for today.

By Jennifer Dyer

When I first started writing, words flowed from my fingers like a river at high flood. I couldn’t get them out fast enough. They weren’t necessarily well-crafted words, but there were lots of them.

Over the years something has changed. Writing is sometimes more like poking myself in the eye repeatedly: hard, painful, and full of questioning myself why I bother. I sit at my computer and stare at the screen, wondering if I’m done before I even get started.

The other day, I heard Dr. David Jeremiah talking about The Prayer for Provision  and how it relates to the Lord’s Prayer, specifically “Give us today our daily bread.” Dr. Jeremiah said some of us also want tomorrow’s bread, a guarantee on next week’s bread, perhaps even a statement of how much bread will be there next year.

I thought about how this relates to my writing and life in general. I have ideas, but they require painful flushing out. There are things in my head to write, but I am anxious that the whole picture isn’t there yet. I want it all there in my head before I even start.

I wanted tomorrow’s words today, tomorrow’s trouble today.

So, today I sat at my computer and prayed. “Lord, please give me today my daily words. Let me honor You with the words I write today.”

I hope this bleeds into all areas of my life. I especially need this with my parenting. Being in the trenches with autism every days leaves me exhausted and on edge. Just give me enough for today, Lord.

Lord, give me what I need for today. You take care of tomorrow, but keep me focused on today.

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Fall decorating … mom style.

by Jennifer Dyer

Fall has arrived. BC (before I had children) I used to decorate each season. Table linens, wall hangings, floral things, and more.

As most of you can imagine, life has changed. A lot! Most of my decorations didn’t survive the early years of children and the multiple moves, but the hearty ones in the attic called to me yesterday. “Let us out!”

“No!” I said. I will not. No time, no energy. Besides, some of the Christmas decorations are still out, which makes me early for that season.

But I thought about how much it means to eldest when I make any effort to make things decorative.

I gave in.
I put out two tablecloths, one old floral garland, and one turkey. Mission accomplished. And I think it turned out rather well. The orange color of the lightsaber on the mantle really sets off the fall garland, don’t you think? And the Christmas decorations on either side of the lightsaber lend a touch of … something, right?

Laughter aside, eldest really did perk up when she got home. Who knew a few things could make such a difference?

Even Rachel got into the spirit with her orange duct tape strips. How fun is that?


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Indoor swing set.

by Jennifer Dyer

Indoor net swing

Several years ago, I attended a conference on sensory issues both for continuing education hours and learn more ways to help our autistic daughter. While there, I bought this wonderful doorway swing kit. It has since been re-marketed by bigger toy companies, which is great. It is called the Rainy Day Indoor Playground We have used it for YEARS. If your child has lots of energy or needs extra sensory input, I’d highly recommend this. I followed the instructions to screw it into the door frame to give it extra stability, but it can be portable, too.

Attachment of swing equipment--it's that easy!

This is the doorway to Rachel’s room. Behind this, you can see another swing we set up and the closet, which contains her ball pit. :-)

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Easy Star Wars toy trunk

by Jennifer Dyer

I’ve had these two steamer trunks for over two decades. They’ve served as coffee tables, storage, and benches. I have covered them with fabric to match rooms and even put bench padding under the fabric to make them more comfortable. With this last move, I needed a place to store my Star Wars toys–I mean the kid’s Star Wars toys… I thought, why not make it obvious?

So, I bought two yards of Star Wars fabric from JoAnn Fabrics and went to work. This latest project took me less than an hour.

Basic steemer trunk covered in Star Wars fabric
The front of the Star Wars trunk

Starting on the lid, I glued fabric along the inside seam using Mighty Mend It bonding agent (see pic below). (I’ve also used a hot glue gun.) Think of wrapping a tricky present or making a bed. The fabric goes around the sides and front, with small triangles in the corners to gather the extra fabric.

Inside rim of trunk lid

I then glued the fabric down by putting lines of glue around the edges of each surface, starting with the front of the lid. For the lid’s part of the clasp, I put glue around the metal section of the clasp then locked the trunk down so that the glue would bond the fabric to the trunk. (see pic of trunk clasp below.) After this bonded, I worked my way across the the top of the lid, the backside of the lid, then the back. (Think of outlining each rectangular surface on the trunk with glue and pressing the fabric down.) I kept going around the bottom and back up to the front.

Trunk clasp

The clasp on the front side of the trunk was a bit tricky. I had to cut a slit into the fabric so it would go around the metal clasp. Instead of cutting a rectangle out of the fabric, I cut a slit in the fabric the same length as the clasp and cut little snips to the left and right of the top and bottom of the slit I’d cut. (My cuts made a shape like a capital letter I.) This helped me get the fabric around to the backside of the clasp so I could glue it down. I made small triangles of the excess fabric at the corners and glued those down too.

Fabric glued to inside of the trunk.
Inside the trunk

The sides gave me a bit of trouble until I decided to wrap them like a present. I made triangles from the top and bottom sides of the fabric then glued them to the side of the trunk. (If you need more visual, I linked to this video. At 2:08, starts wrapping the ends of the boxes, using the method I used on the trunk.) I then cut a rectangle of fabric and glued a seam all the way around the sides, so that no ragged edges showed. I glued this over the edges of the triangles and under the trunk handle, so that trunk could be easily moved. (The last time I covered the handle, but didn’t like that as much.)

Side of trunk

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