Living in, and through, your remodel

Remember that TV show Trading Spaces? The one where friends overhauled each other’s living rooms, sometimes with amazing success? My husband and I loved that show, and were inspired at the time to think that we could take on the task of repainting our kitchen cabinets. The home we lived in had these really dark brown circa 1972 kitchen cabinets that were just oppressive.

We learned the hard way that there are professionals for a reason. Although DIY projects are fun, and lots of people are capable of tackling these kinds of projects and having great results, we are not in that group of people. Our cabinet repainting project was not an amazing success. At all. At our next house, we worked with professionals, and we learned that home upgrades, when done by someone who knows what they are doing, are not all that bad. We enjoyed seeing the progress every day. The changes we made helped us sell that house and buy the home we live in now.

Our current home was effectively the same as it was in 1959, with updated appliances and flooring. We are now approaching the end of a significant remodel of this house, and we have stayed in the house through the entire process, except for three weeks we spent in a hotel when we had to leave due to health and safety concerns – you know, like asbestos removal. We started the project in August 2016 with the outdoor demo. It is now June 2017 and we still have a couple months to go.

Many people cannot afford to do their project if they have to move out and rent an apartment or second home, so staying in their home during the work is a popular solution. Living through a renovation is a serious decision that you and your family must commit to so you don’t run into too much family conflict. Had we fully known what to expect, we might have done a few things differently, so I wanted to share some of my learnings to hopefully help you make the plunge into happy home renovation.

Here are my tips on how to prepare for living in – and through – your renovation.

  1. Plan to discuss every decision with your partner openly, and reach an agreement together before taking any action. If you don’t agree with each other, you have to find some way to come together in compromise so you can happily live in your home once the work is done. Communication is important in general so that you don’t harbor any resentments or negative feelings that may develop during the project. Your remodel is a huge step in home ownership and should be one of excitement, not lingering anger or annoyance.
  2. Decide what your style will be. Once we realized we liked and wanted to embrace the mid-century modern style of our home, everything was easy. When you have no idea what you want things to look like at the end of the project, there can be confusion about floors, walls, door styles, baseboard styles, cabinets, etc. You don’t want styles to clash or not work with the flow of the home. You may choose to work with a designer, and that can be helpful if you are uncertain about what coordinates, but be sure to interview potential designers to make sure they “get” your style and you. We also spent literally hours researching on the internet. Any minor thing we were unsure of we looked for pictures. How should the baseboards meet the kerf jambs? Look on Houzz. Should we use light or dark grout on the kitchen tile? Google it. Another resource is YouTube. There are literally thousands of videos that just show snapshots of a theme – if you want to see French country kitchens, retro diner inspired interiors, or homes made out of Airstream trailers, well you can.
  3. Pare down your belongings as much as possible. This one is a hard one for many people, but what is the point of doing a massive remodel or upgrade, just to fill it up with “stuff” once finished? I’m not saying you have to get rid of Grandma’s quilt or Uncle Fred’s baseball collection, but do have storage solutions for the things you are going to keep. I have a collection of family serving dishes so we built a china cabinet into the kitchen cabinets so it can all be displayed and used. Referring back to #2 above, if you are changing your style, there is no sense in keeping things that won’t mesh with it. You can get rid of your old dishes and buy all new once your home is finished if you like. More importantly, if you are planning to live in your home during your remodel, you don’t need your stuff 1.) in the way or 2.) getting damaged. Keep only what you absolutely need for day to day. If your project will last several months like ours, make sure you keep your winter clothes handy while you are packing in late summer, otherwise you will find yourself cold and shopping in December (not that I speak from personal experience, ahem.) Be prepared to continually pare down your stuff as the project progresses. Finally, if you are planning to store your stuff off site, carefully evaluate whether the cost of storing that single-use appliance or collection of soup ladles is worth keeping them. For us, the answer was frequently “no” and the people at Goodwill knew our car by the time we finished packing.
  4. Work with professionals. Unless you are a general contractor, most people don’t have the contacts in the industry to hire all the necessary trades, schedule all the different jobs, arrange for city or county inspections, and manage the overall process. A licensed, insured and bonded general contractor is worth every penny. They will spell out everything in a contract so you shouldn’t have have any questions, and if you do they should answer them all. They also know lots of people and companies in the building industry, and can tell you who to talk to, and guide you to brands they have good experiences with. Any additional personnel you hire should also be professionals – architects, designers, landscapers – and should be able and willing to work with your general contractor to move the project along toward completion. When the trades work against each other it only creates delays and headaches. Finally, if there is an issue during the project your general contractor should be your advocate to ensure you get what you want.
  5. Negotiate pricing wherever possible. We worked with a local appliance wholesaler who would price match. You bet we searched every item on sites like Amazon and Best Buy. When we were researching tile for the kitchen, we talked not only to the distributor our contractor likes, but several others, and we did shop them against each other. No shame here, this is a major investment. Get the best price you can without being cheap or rude. Remember that the people you talk to at the wholesale houses just work there. If the tile you like gets discontinued before you place your order, it’s not their fault so don’t scream at them. Don’t forget that you get what you pay for, so be educated on the differences between laminate, hardwood, vinyl, and tile, for instance. If you buy cheaper supplies, you may have to replace sooner than later.
  6. It will be much more dusty, dirty and inconvenient than you could imagine. We were fortunate to have two bathrooms and the ability to split our project into two parts so we would have a full working bathroom throughout the project. However, sharing a small bathroom with your whole family involves coordination and patience. Try to keep routines whenever possible (for kids in school, work schedules, etc) but be flexible with one another. Keep the spaces you use as tidy as possible. Cramming your whole family into one bedroom can get crowded, and clutter will just make Mom and Dad irritated, leading to yelling and crying – no fun for anyone. There is very little privacy. Consign yourself to wearing slippers and/or shoes all the time – if you are like me and like bare feet, this is no fun at first but there will be nails, screws and splinters dropped on the floor. Drywall dust is pervasive and you will find it everywhere, even in the rooms you don’t touch. If your kitchen is being redone, consider setting up a place in your house for a toaster oven, microwave and coffee maker. This will be your kitchenette for the duration, and will help keep you more healthy than if you eat out every meal. Don’t forget that you will be washing dishes in your bathroom sink. If you enjoy wine, don’t be afraid to drink it.
  7. Accept that there will be delays and things may take longer than you expect. There will inevitably be delays. Things happen and there will be situations that are out of your control. We had a window get delivered in CO instead of CA and the extra shipping broke it. Getting a new custom built window delayed us almost a month. This is no one’s fault. The installation of flooring is precision work and should be done with care and attention to detail. If your contractor budgets 2 days to tile a 2000 square foot house, something is not right there. Some days we could hear the workers hammering but had no idea what they had done all day. While demo, framing and drywall are very visual and seem to go really fast, the detail work is slow but just as important.
  8. Draw a line in the sand on change orders. As you install wiring for a wall-mounted TV, you may be tempted to install wiring in every room in the house. If you did not include it in the original project, this is a change order, and change orders are what send well planned projects over budget. The new kitchen cabinets may make the unchanging bathrooms look shabby. If you paint the walls but keep the existing floors, the floors might start to look dingy. Prepare for changes during the project but agree upon a point where there will be no more changes. This will save you money and heartache in the long run.
  9. Be prepared to cut things from your project. This can be necessary if there is hidden damage exposed when drywall comes down, or previous work on your house isn’t up to code. Having a set amount of money is a blessing and a curse at times. You only have so much, so you need to prioritize how you spend that money. When it came down to it, we chose to replace large plate glass windows with safer tempered glass and we cut into our A/V spending. Health and safety come over in-wall speakers.
  10. Get to know your crew. We have developed a healthy respect for the various trades and the people who perform this work for us. Living and working here, we see them every day. Not too many people ever think about what goes into building or remodeling a home, but it is the largest purchase most of us will ever make. Know the people who are helping to make your house into your dream home. Not only will you appreciate their workmanship, they will want to do the very best job they can for you.

BONUS ITEM – Take tons of pictures. Of course, you will take pictures! Take more than you think you will need. We have saved ourselves some pain long after the fact because we took pictures during the framing, plumbing, electrical, and every other stage. Once that drywall is up, you might not remember where the sheer wall ends, where exactly those pipes were set, or where the electrical wires wind through a stud. A photo can give you and your team a better idea when they have to make adjustments. If your camera can do a panorama view, take a few of those from the same location throughout the project. It is fun to see how that space changes over the months. We used a time lapse camera for some parts of the project, such as framing, drywall installation and flooring. It really works best in a large space. We also did monthly video recordings updating what had happened in the previous month. These will be fun for us to review in the future.

I hope that these tips help you as you prepare for your remodel. Make it as enjoyable as you can so that once the project is concluded, you will have many happy memories of it coming together. For some fun, check out my Instagram feed for pictures of stucco going on, custom cabinets getting installed and more.

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Girl Scout SWAPS Ideas, Tips, How-To

My girls are progressing on through Girl Scouting and are finishing their first year as Juniors. We have camped a few times, and girls are always encouraged to trade SWAPS with other Scouts. What are SWAPS?

Special Whatchamacallit Affectionately Pinned Somewhere

When I was a girl we called it a potlatch. It is the same basic thing – a doo dad you trade with another scout. It can be simple or elaborate. It can represent your troop or the event you are attending. SWAPS need not be difficult to make and they do not need to last forever. Some girls collect their SWAPS on a jacket, hat or banner. There are museums with tremendous collections of SWAPS that include items from all over the world. It is a little reminder of the fun event they attended, in addition to any patches or other keepsakes, and they are completely optional. The younger your girls are, the easier to make the SWAPS should be.

For a recent trip, the girls could not decide on one SWAP idea, so we gave them the option to make up to three different ones. Can I just recommend for all leaders out there considering this, it can create drama so think carefully about your group before making this an option for your troop. If Suzie wants to make 10 rainbow clouds but there’s only enough supplies to make 5 per girl, there may need to be some negotiation and conflict management happening.

There is a thriving industry out there of Etsy shops and the like selling kits for making SWAPS. You can do what works for your troop. We just decided to brainstorm and create our own – parents donated the materials. What have we made, you ask? Rainbow Clouds, Troop Crests, S’mores and Unicorns. Following are some quick How-to’s on these. Click any picture for a larger image. I’m not an artist, but I was able to free hand all of these shapes because I like easy SWAPS. Each item should be around 2″ diameter or smaller when finished, for ease of portability and collection.

All supplies were purchased at a chain craft store. Patterns to trace were made out of a manila folder.

Rainbow Clouds

Supplies

8.5×11 sheets of white felt or fun foam

1/4″ ribbon in rainbow colors, cut into 1″ snips

Craft glue

Safety pins

Marker

These were cute and very easy to make, except for the cutting out part. I ended up cutting out all the clouds and rainbow snips. Depending on your Scouts’ ages, they may be able to do that part. Trace the pattern onto white felt or fun foam. You can get 20 on an 8.5×11 sheet. Cut the ribbon into 1″ snips. I used little cups to catch them so they didn’t scatter everywhere.

Use craft glue to attach the rainbow ribbon snips to the back of the cloud. Allow to dry, turn over. Then using a Sharpie marker or similar, write in your troop number and/or whatever else you want. Attach safety pin. Total assembly time is about 10 minutes including glue drying time.

PS these would be cute for a bridging activity!

Troop Crests

Supplies

Green fun foam

Craft paper in red and light yellow

Flower punch

Craft glue

Safety pins

Marker

These took about the same amount of time to assemble but much longer to prep. This particular crest is the Hawaiian Lei. You will need a paper punch to make the flowers, they are about $5 at your local craft store. Again, I did all the cutting and punching but you can adapt to your troop.

Trace the crest shape onto the fun foam. You can get more than 20 per 8.5×11 sheet if you space them well. Punch the flowers from the red and yellow papers. I punched them into a little cup to keep them from scattering. Also, you can space the punches so as to maximize the number of flowers you get per sheet of paper. I worked it out so I could get 17 flowers on the 11″ side of the paper and was able to make 7 rows.

Using craft glue, glue alternating flowers in a circle. You will need 3 of each color. Once dry, write your troop number above the lei, and add the safety pin. Maximum assembly time was 10 minutes, but really closer to 5 for the faster girls.

S’mores

Supplies

Fun foam or felt in light brown, dark brown and white

Craft glue

Safety pins

Markers

These are a popular one and super easy! Plus the cutting is mostly in straight lines so might be easier for younger girls. Cut out the light brown squares as 2″ squares. Cut out the dark brown squares as 1.5″ squares. Cut out the white circles as 1.5″ or so circles.

Glue two light brown squares, one dark brown and one white circle. Use a marker to draw on the little dots you see on graham crackers. On one side, write on your troop number and whatever else. Add the safety pin. We found that glue on fun foam took much longer to dry than on felt, so use it sparingly.

Unicorns

Supplies

White felt or fun foam

1/4″ ribbon in rainbow colors, cut into 1″ snips

Sequins/crystals/googly eyes

Markers

Safety pins

Craft glue

Did you notice that the Rainbow Clouds and Unicorns have almost the same supply list? Haha that’s because I had enough left from the Rainbow Clouds to make another SWAP! Use resources wisely, right?

Trace the unicorn shape onto the felt. You can get 20 on a sheet of 8.5×11 when they are spaced tightly. These ones are a pain to cut so if YOU are doing the cutting, give yourself a few days to make a lot. I ended up procrastinating and trying to cut out 100 before the meeting and the hand cramp was wicked.

Glue the ribbon snips on one side of the unicorn shape and let dry. Turn over, then draw on the “twist” of the horn and a mouth. Our girls also filled in the ears with pink, some added bows, smiling mouths, etc. Write the troop name at the bottom of the neck. Next, glue on the eye. My coleader found a ton of crystals at a garage sale, but you can use pretty much anything cute here and don’t have to break the bank. Add the safety pin and you are done. Total assembly time was longer, maybe 15 minutes because of the ribbons being on the back of the shape and needing the glue to dry before turning over for the rest of the face.

Dancing Queen

2016 Recital 4

Thank you once again to Impact Dance Center in Los Alamitos for an amazing recital! Melody performed in three dances – I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning, Pink Cadillac, and Space Cowboy.  Her love of tap dancing hasn’t ebbed at all, and we look forward to more tap and jazz lessons in the 2016-2017 season.

2016 Recital 6 W 2016 Recital 1 2016 Recital 5

Fairies

Melody continues to be fascinated by fairies and fairy gardens. Our outdoor garden is going to be demolished this spring due to some construction we are planning (both yay and boo), so this past weekend she picked up all her various fairies, houses, bunnies, benches, etc. But not to fear! We stopped by M&M Nursery in Orange for some nice indoor plants and moved the fairies inside!

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Fairy magic

You can see in this overview shot that Melody selected a palm, an African violet, some pink leafy things and a small evergreen (?) thing. I am not exactly the right person for naming plants, haha, but I can assure you that these were all recommended as able to thrive indoors. There’s a lot of detail in this garden, so let’s zoom in.

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Details, details

From the right side you can see the pink leafy things a bit better, the kitty keeping watch by the front door of the house, and the mailbox just waiting for a note. The pink fairy is holding a picnic basket. Is she heading out to meet a friend? There is a beehive on the far side so the violets will be well pollinated, and beyond that a small fairy boy swings over the side of the planter. The pebble path has captured some of the sparkly jewels that fall from the fairies when they fly past.

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A hidden garden in the miniature garden

True to their natures, these bunnies got into the vegetable patch, but Mr Dog spied them and they are scurrying away!

The captivating thing about fairy gardens is that the imagination can do so much with these tiny figures. As she created this vignette, I was thinking back to a mermaid garden I imagined and I wonder if I will be able to create that at some point. Melody has two books on fairy gardening, but there are many on the market with hundreds of clever bits and bobs to display along side your plants. If you ever find yourself in Orange, stop by M&M Nursery on Tustin Ave. They have many beautiful fairy gardens that are thriving, magical and oh, so creative! If you don’t live locally, you can shop their online store too.

Girl Scouts: Money Management Game

Our troop has grown a little this year and we have several new members who have not sold Girl Scout Cookies before. They are excited and so enthusiastic! It has really inspired some of our continuing members to step up their game and try harder to achieve their goals.

As a leader, it isn’t always easy to teach or lead the girls to cookie sales success. Especially for Brownies, they are still in the realm of needing to be lead to their goals to some degree. They are not always good at math. They don’t always grasp what Cookie Share is or does. They sometimes forget that we raise money for fun AND to give back to others. For our first meeting covering cookies, I made them a poster to help with some of the information they need to remember. We plan to use this at our booth sales and show a bar chart of our troop goal achievement.

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For our second meeting, I wanted to be sure they knew their math and money management. It’s easy to get confused when giving out change or having to count money, so while a parent would be helping during individual or booth sales, it is important for the girls to know this information. Fortunately for us, cookies are priced at a good multiplication factor – $5 per package. I found a game online that I adapted for the girls.

Money DiceCookie Game 1

Each of these images was printed on card stock paper, then cut out and taped together to make a 2″ square die. For our troop we focused on the cookie die. I also provided play money for each girl consisting of 2 5s, 2 10s, and 1 20. Here’s how the game worked:

  • Each girl gets an envelope of play money with $50 in it
  • Girls pair up by two and each pair gets one die
  • One girl plays a customer, the other girl plays a Girl Scout, and they switch back and forth
  • The customer rolls the die which will tell her how many of which variety of cookies she will purchase. The Girl Scout will tell the customer how much she owes. The customer pays the Girl Scout
  • Switch sides and the second girl plays the customer while the first girl plays the Girl Scout. Repeat the rolling of the die as above
  • Continue until one of the girls has earned all the money, or one girl does not have enough money to pay for the cookies on her roll. Money can be intermingled in the girl’s envelopes
  • The girl with the most money wins

We played this as a tournament – we had five pairs of girls, then the winners played each other. The girls loved the dice and so they were given out as prizes at the end of the meeting along with the play money. The girls learned visual recognition of the cookie varieties as well as reinforced their knowledge of common pricing in a selling situation.

The game can be expanded for older girls to use more money and to keep track of the number and type of cookies “sold” during the game. I feel really good about this game! Feel free to download the images and use them yourself. I didn’t make up the game, but I did adapt what I found online into something my girls could work with, you can too!

Gift Review: The USA Time Line 4D Puzzle

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A gift under the tree this year, this is a review of the USA History Over Time 4D Cityscape Puzzle model 40008, available from multiple retailers, including the National Geographic online store and 4DCityscape.com. The puzzle is intriguing, offering to teach first the order of westward expansion, then the order of statehood, and finally the great national landmarks in their order of creation or inception. The puzzle was a gift to Melody, but with 806 pieces in the base layer, she became frustrated and I did most of that part. The instructions say to organize the pieces by color and then put them together in the various territorial expansion. However, with Mexico and Canada being the same dang color, that was tricky, and as we all know, puzzles don’t always lend themselves to good organization! The edge pieces along Canada and the Pacific and Atlantic were often difficult to determine if they really matched and we took those sections apart numerous times during the assembly. We ended up working West to East on the puzzle because that’s just how the pieces presented themselves. Ocean was difficult, but we muddled through. The base puzzle has several different sizes and shapes of pieces, from large cross-shaped pieces to your standard small connectors.

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Once completed however, the base layer is beautiful and interesting. I didn’t remember the Gadsden Purchase and had not known the bit of land above the Louisiana Purchase had been ceded by Great Britain. Had this been the complete puzzle, I would have been satisfied. It took three or four days of an hour here and an hour there to complete. But, once the base layer is complete, there is a second layer of foam pieces in the shapes of the states. Users are directed to assemble these in the order of statehood, but that really didn’t work for us. We just put them together. :-) Melody was very involved at this point and was insistent on doing the assembly. The foam pieces for the most part are very sturdy except for very small states, such as Maryland with its skinny portion around the Bay and Alaska’s finger. These pieces easily became bent. There are four call-out sections for Delaware, Rhode Island, South Manhattan and Washington DC. The foam pieces were slightly warped in some cases, the larger the piece the more warped it was. I’m looking at you, Texas.

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The next series of pieces were the plastic landmarks to be inserted into the foam pieces. I have two gripes about this sequence.

First, the pieces are formed on the sort of plastic rails you find in model kits, which is fine. They are numbered according to the landmark poster included with the puzzle. Still fine. However, the font is so tiny as to be nearly indecipherable, and in some cases was not etched on the outside edge but inside the piece. This led to us needing a flashlight to first see inside the tiny figures and then hunt for the numbers. They are also not in any sort of organized collection, and I couldn’t really figure out why some were silver, some matte brown and some a bronze color. Weird. The Statue of Liberty is the only item that shipped separately and green. It goes without saying that one of our most recognizable landmarks needs no special instructions.

My second gripe about this section is that the poster offers no help in finding the location of the various landmarks on the puzzle. Yes, they are numbered on the poster and on the piece, but there is no number on the puzzle. The foam pieces have “placeholder” blocks in a beige color that are to be popped out and the plastic item inserted in place. The placeholders sometimes have an obvious shape (L-shaped buildings and round auditoriums, for example), but they are not numbered or named. Let me tell you, one lighthouse looks a lot like another when all you see are round dots in a sea of foam puzzle pieces lol. We ended up having to google many of the landmarks just to find out what state to search. With 93 landmarks, this part of the puzzle was both very interesting and very tedious. First searching multiple plastic rails numerous times since the pieces are not organized by number, then looking them up on google, then having to actually take the puzzle apart, remove the placeholder block, insert the item, then put the puzzle back together was a process. We ended up pulling out the landmarks for 10 items in a row, then placing them before starting over with the next 10. We placed the landmark on its corresponding picture on the poster.

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You can see that the names of some of these locations are sometimes rather mundane. I can’t tell you how many Old Grist Mills there are on google. The more we handled the foam pieces, the less tidy they were going together again. Some of the small tabs became mashed and wouldn’t lock into place after a while. One item just did not fit into the allowed space and we ended up accidentally tearing the surface paper forcing it through the hole. One casualty of the process of breaking out the landmark pieces was the Las Vegas sign. It broke in half unfortunately.

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The puzzle instructions also indicated that once the foam layer was made, it should be tacked in place using two sided tape. However, I do not recommend this at that stage. It was far easier to push the landmark pieces up from the back side of the foam pieces than mash them down through the top side. Plus, removing the placeholder blocks was at times a struggle because even though they were laser cut, they still had to be dug out of the larger piece, and some of those spots were quite small. The most effective way to remove the placeholder block and insert the landmark was by holding the individual state in our hands. This necessitated the constant disassembly of the foam layer of the puzzle. The kit did include some double sided tape, but it was so dried out it just flaked off its sticker sheets. Oops.

Even with all these sorts of nit picky complaints, we enjoyed this puzzle quite a lot. There are other 4D puzzles available for major cities worldwide, such as London, Paris and Tokyo. I think if we were to take on one of those other puzzles we would apply our learnings from this kit and probably be more satisfied. So, if you attempt one of these 4D Cityscape puzzles, I recommend the following order of assembly:

  1. Assemble the base layer by color but do the edges last.
  2. Organize the foam layer by regions but only assemble the pieces in general sections.
  3. Break out the landmark pieces and organize them numerically.
  4. Insert all the landmark pieces and then assemble the foam pieces into the top layer.
  5. Stick the foam layer onto the base layer if desired.

Peanut Butter Eggs, Made

Gram's Recipe Box

Not too long ago, I posted three recipes for peanut butter eggs, and at the time I thought they sounded pretty easy. So, this past weekend I decided to try one of them! Here we go.

IMG_1334 Ingredients for peanut butter eggs

Here’s the ingredient list:

1 lb box xxx sugar

3/4 c melted butter or oleo

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 T cocoa

5 T peanut butter any kind

I omitted the salt, as my friend and frequent site reader Diane B commented, a pinch of salt in a pound of sugar sounds irrelevant. I used creamy peanut butter and unsalted butter.

It's like brownie batter It’s like brownie batter

Once combined the mixture was a bit loose, like a pudding. Hm, I thought, how am I going to shape these into eggs? Off to the store for a candy mold! Joanne’s is a dangerous place for a woman and child…

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