Saturday, July 5, 2014

Charm City: Why You Should Take a Family Vacay to Baltimore

Each summer, we have a one week window to take a vacation where Jeremiah is off. Since we had our daughter two years ago, we have been participating in "stay-cations". The truth is, it is serious business traveling with a young child.

Now that Ryann is weeks away from being two, we figured we better take advantage of the two year old limit for a lap child before we missed our window. After chatting about a few options, we decided to venture to Baltimore. Biggest deciding factor: my sister and almost brother-in-law reside in Baltimore and although Jeremiah and I have been there, we have never take Ryann to visit them.

We booked our flight and off we went. As I mentioned before, traveling with a toddler is hard work!

A week after returning home from our trip, I am so glad we decided to take Ryann to Baltimore. Here's why:

  1. The Harbor: All kids love boats, carousels, music and diverse sounds. You can find all of these elements in the harbor. Harbor Rating: 4 out 5
  2. Fed Hill: "This neighborhood is known for its excellent view of the Inner Harbor and Baltimore skyline, as well as the postcard-perfect walkable streets. Imagine brick-front houses, cobblestone sidewalks and quaint storefronts displaying a diverse range of goods and services. Locally owned shops, restaurants and Cross Street Market, one of Baltimore's cool public markets, make this one of Baltimore’s most popular and welcoming areas. - See more at: If you make the climb to the top of the Hill (there is actually a hill), you will discover an awesome park with unmatched views of the harbor. 
  3. The National Aquarium: This is an absolute must if you are in Baltimore. As a lover of all things science related, I can not imagine a better place to share my passion with Ryann. This was my second trip to the aquarium and I was just as in awe as I was on my initial visit. Things to check out: the dolphins, the sharks, the simulated rainforest habitat and the jellyfish. Regardless of age, all family member with have a fabulous experience! Aquarium Rating: 5 out 5
  4. Proximity to Washington DC: It is a 45 minute drive into Washington DC. Yes, Ryann is only two. However, she took in all that she could from this historic locale. We started at the Museum of Natural History and Science where we were able to experience everything from insects to the evolution of life. The best part is that admission into all of the Smithsonian Museums is FREE and they allow you to bring in strollers! After lunch, we ventured to the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and the Lincoln Memorial. It was a pretty warm day but we survived. I was also very impressed with all of the clean bathrooms along the way. With a recently potty-trained toddler, this was a huge concern and the ease of accessibility reduced all of our anxieties. We ended the day in Georgetown. Main Street is an eclectic collection of shopping and diverse food choices. Upon the insistence of my sister, we braved the line at Georgetown Cupcakes. My Review: if there is a line, PASS. While they were not terrible by any means, a 30 minute wait for a $3 dollar cupcake that was less than stellar is not worth it. Overall, it was a great experience in DC and I hope Ryann feels a sense of pride when she see the pictures of herself exploring this rich, historical city. Washington DC Rating: 4.5 out of 5
  5. Camden Yards: This was on our “to-do” especially since the Orioles were playing our hometown Rangers while we were there. We ended up not making it to our planned game because we spent more time than anticipated in DC. However, I have been to Camden Yards years ago and regardless of your feelings about baseball, this is an awesome place to catch a game.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, we definitely wrote a short novel during our trip to Baltimore.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Delectable Coconut Cake

About 3 years ago my teaching partner at the time, Amanda, made me the most amazing coconut cake for my birthday. I was hooked. She was kind enough to share the recipe with me which she discovered in one of her mom's old cookbooks. If you are looking for a moist and melt in your mouth coconut cake, you have to give this one a try.

Note: I have made a few variations to the recipe but included the original at the very bottom of this post. 

What You Need:
For the cake
1 yellow cake mix
2 1.5 oz instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil*
1 1/3 cup water
2 cups shredded coconut 

For the icing
4 tbsp butter divided
12 oz cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp milk
3 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups shredded coconut

* I try avoid vegetable oil at all costs and sub coconut oil. However, if you prefer, you can use 1/4 cup vegetable oil.

What You Do:
  1. In a stand mixer, combine yellow cake mix, instant vanilla pudding, eggs, coconut oil and water. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in shredded coconut.
  3. Pour into three 8 inch round pans. The batter will be extremely thick and you will likely have to spread it out in the pans. (I highly recommend greasing and flouring the pans as opposed to using cooking spray.)
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Do Not Over Bake! Turn out on cooling racks and allow to completely cool.
  5. While the cake is cooking, add 2 tbsp of butter to a pan and toast the shredded coconut. Be sure to continuously stir as once the toasting starts, it happens quickly. Spread out on wax paper or paper towel on the counter to cool.
  6. Cream the remaining butter, cream cheese, vanilla and 3 tbsp milk.
  7. Add the confectioners sugar 1 cup at a time scraping the side of bowl between each cup. If the icing is thick, add remaining 1 tbsp milk.
  8. Stir in 1 1/2 of the toasted coconut saving 1/2 a cup to sprinkle on top.
  9. Assemble layers adding icing I between each layer and finish by icing the entire cake.
  10. Sprinkle the remaining toasted coconut on top.
Cover cake and place in refrigerator for a few hours to "set". I actually prefer this cake cold but it is delicious either way! 
Enjoy! I know my hubby is pumped to get to enjoy this sweet treat for Father's Day!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bluebonnets 2014

Each year as Spring advances, it is common to see families pulled over to snap a few images of their families swimming in the sea of bluebonnets that cover the sides of Texas highways. As cliche as this practice may be, we decided on a whim to capture a few of Ryann. Note: Yes, we know you are not supposed to pick bluebonnets. Try telling that to an 18 month old. No judgement, please.
Taken  May 18th, 2014 at 7:50 pm in Grapevine, Texas
All images © 2014 Ashley Chapman.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chevron Quilt

Since I took up sewing as a hobby a few years ago, I have made multiple modest baby blanket quilt tops and even a queen size t-shirt quilt/blanket. However, I had not actually "quilted" through any of these. Until about 6 months ago, I never planned to quilt anything... that was until I saw this tutorial for a Chevron Quilt (the easy way...) posted on Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom
Make a chevron quilt the easy way!
I wanted needed this quilt for Ryann! First stop, Etsy! Needless to say, I was less than impressed with the selection (and price). So I talked myself into doing it myself. The original inspiration post said it was "easy", right?

First stop, Hobby Lobby. Ryann and I hit up our local store in search of fabric. Ryann of course wanted "meow, meow" fabric so we settled on a playful print featuring puppies and kitties as wells as other coordinating fabrics.

Cutting and sewing the half square triangles was not that bad. The pressing, on the other hand, is a whole other story. I loathe ironing and there was a lot of time spend on this quilt doing just that.

As per the above tutorial, piecing together the quilt was cake and then it was just a matter of sewing the squares together. This is where my quilt hit a pretty big stall. I was scared to death to try and baste/bind my quilt. I considered sending it off to have someone else quilt it. However, after about a month of letting it sit, I finally got up the courage and made it happen. 

 I scoured the internet for binding tutorials and opted to use adhesive spray to baste the quilt. Thank goodness it was still cool outside because this was a workout!
 The directions on the adhesive spray recommend use outside so I utilized our garage floor.

 Thank goodness for all of my husbands weights! They worked perfectly to hold down the layers.
 For the quilt backing, I used a queen-sized flat sheet from Walmart. If you go this route, make sure you select a sheet with a relatively low thread count so that your machine does not skip stiches.

Since this was my first time doing this, it took a lot longer than I had hoped and I end up enlisting my husband to help me get it smooth. In retrospect, I probably should have tried a more modest size quilt first:)
Once it was all basted, I trimmed off the extra fabric and batting. I also checked to make sure the edges were at 90 degree angles. 

Commence dramatic music... then I started to "quilt". I sewed around the outside first to keep everything secure and then moved on to the straight seams working form the middle out. I had originally planned to quilt through the chevron zigzags but had yet to screw it up and decided to stop at with the perpendicular stitches. At this point I was pretty impressed with myself!

Last step, binding. I went ahead and purchased a twin-sized sheet from Walmart in the same color as the backing to use as binding. I followed this tutorial here to create the binding. However, I machine sewed the binding instead of hand stitching.

 A sweet quilt for my sweet girl made with love to be cherished for years. #quiltsuccess