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What I Learned This Week – 10/26/14

Tonight I learned not to judge the middle-aged woman in her pajamas pumping gas at the gas station. She may have spent all morning trying to get the checkbook balanced, and after three hours had to settle for a 10 cent discrepancy.

One pair HAS actually been to yoga class...

One pair of mine HAS actually been to yoga class…

I learned not to judge the woman in yoga pants pushing the grocery cart around Meijer. It is quite possible she was wearing real clothes earlier in the day the first time she left the house. That would also be before she helped her husband pick up leaves, and got covered in dirt, rotting leaves, and dog poop.  Also, before the dog barfed up a combo of her own poo and grass in the laundry room.  Twice.

I learned not to judge the weary-looking mother staring blankly at the grocery store shelf. It is very likely that this is the only time she has been at the store without her preschooler in a very long time, and needs to take advantage of this by picking up gifts for him for his upcoming birthday and Christmas. She might just be racking her brain to remember what size Lightning McQueen he was most interested in three days ago when they were at this very same store together.



For all you know, that woman has worked for the last 6 days straight. She could have bitten off more than she can chew. She misses her family. She misses her dog.

I learned not to judge the woman with her hair quickly escaping her pony tail and no makeup out in public at 9:00PM. She knows damn well that she has no right to be out. But she also spent all of her day doing so many other chores, that she still needs to buy groceries, including supplies for her son’s lunch at daycare tomorrow. And when she arrives home, she still will need to put away the groceries, pack said lunch for the son, pack one for herself, and tuck the tiny night owl into bed.

Then eat some Halloween candy.

Then type up and publish a blog post.

Then start reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower as preparation to publish her own YA book, hopefully before midnight.


This week I learned that I am totally that woman. You can judge me all you want, but I am drained.  Stay-at-home moms always argue that the work they do is REAL work.  And I wouldn’t argue that point, having done it for almost 2 years myself.  But, it is DIFFERENT work.  For all the days when the house ends up more of a disaster at the end of the day than when you started, there are many more days than not where you feel a sense of accomplishment of actually finishing the dishes, making a semi-nutritional and/or delicious dinner, or spending an actual 10 minutes of quality time with your child.  Working full time makes those tiny accomplishments impossible.

What I Learned This Week – 4/20/14

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This week I learned that my son loves Easter egg hunts.


Last year, he was almost 2 1/2 years old. He really had no idea why we wanted him to collect plastic eggs.

This year, he is almost 3 1/2. I am still not sure if he got the connection that eggs=candy or stickers or money. But he knew he had to grab as many as possible.

While all the other kids at church were lined up on the bright Easter morning, patiently waiting while the pastor explained the boundaries of the egg hunt, I had my arm around my son holding him back as he screamed at the top of his lungs and waved his camouflage Easter bucket in the air.


He didn’t used to be like this. He used to be unsocialized, unsure of new situations. It is amazing what a few years will do.

Next we went to his Grandma’s house. There they color-coded the eggs, to ensure all the goodies were evenly distributed between the three participating children. It was a good system. Except my son had already tasted the glory of grabbing as many eggs as possible. His father and I had to reel him in a little.

He also spent his day playing like a crazy boy with the other kids in the church nursery, and playing outside with his cousins.

He ended the day dog-tired, with two big chocolate bunnies (one milk hollow, one white solid), $14, a new T-shirt, two new books, a new DVD, a toy helicopter, and countless stickers and chocolate candies.

I think he might like Easter better than Christmas. Where we live, it is too cold to play outdoors on Christmas!

Caboose Cake

Last year I made my son, M, a rather complex Thomas the Tank Engine cake for his birthday. You can get more info and instruction for Thomas here:

My finished Thomas The Tank Engine cake

My finished Thomas The Tank Engine cake

I did a month of preparation for it (planning, shopping, baking, freezing, studying Cake Boss episodes). My son still remembers the cake because pictures of it keep circulating on my digital picture frame.

I started asking him a couple of months ago what kind of cake he wanted this year. First he told me “a Creeper cake” (from Scooby-Doo).

The Creeper from Scooby-Doo

The Creeper from Scooby-Doo

I told him no. Beyond my skill level and too scary.

Then he fell in love with the story “The Little Red Caboose” by Marian Potter. Then all he wanted was a caboose cake. Last year was the beginning of the train, this year the end. A caboose is pretty much a rectangle. I could handle that.

My inspiration: The Little Red Caboose by Marian Potter

My inspiration: The Little Red Caboose by Marian Potter

I had two goals with this cake, which greatly affected the outcome:

1. Make it taste better than the Thomas cake.

Thomas was all about the looks. I used fondant and butter cream frosting to make him look awesome. I wasn’t crazy about the taste of either of them. This year I vowed to use regular old in-the-can Duncan Hines frosting, no matter what the impact on my finished creation would be.

Thomas was made with two boxes of cake mix. The caboose is only made from one box. I used yummy strawberry cake and layered it with chocolate frosting. I covered the outside with colored vanilla frosting.

2. Do not be stressed out.

Well, I was a little. I only had like 2 1/2 hours to assemble the cake on the morning of my son’s birthday. But that was only like one day’s worth of stress compared to last year’s weeks worth of so much anxiety I couldn’t sleep. When I made the Thomas cake, I wasn’t working. I had plenty of time to plan cakes and worry last year. Not so much this year.

So, when you judge the result of my efforts, take those two things into consideration.

I present to you, my caboose cake!

My Caboose Cake!

My Caboose Cake!

It could put a diabetic in a coma!

It is complete with smoke stack, buffers, and a brake wheel (the brake wheel is important in the story).

It…looks a little like a houseboat???

I was way too far into my hasty assembly and decorating before I realized that I had forgotten to make another lower level for the back.

But look at the fine details of the railing! The door! The windows!

I think I should at least get credit for trying. My asbestos friend said she would not even attempt such a thing. (Which is silly, because I have seen her make an adorable Stitch costume in one night. Creativity flows from one medium to another. Except music. I can’t make music to save my life.)

The ultimate test for me is if my son can tell what the cake is supposed to be. And he could!

Then he pointed out that there were only buffers on on end. And he wanted me to make the rest of the train cars :/

I pretty much used the knowledge I gained from Thomas to make this cake.

1. Draw picture.

Rough drawing  (Click on any picture to make it larger)

Rough drawing (Click on any picture to make it larger)

2. I used paper to create a template.

3. I baked and froze my cakes, wrapping them in wax paper and foil to prevent freezer burn. I used one box of cake mix and split it between 2 loaf pans. Note to Self: Level the cakes at this step next time.

Frozen cakes

Frozen cakes

4. I took them out of the freezer and cut them according to the templates.

Frozen cakes with templates

Frozen cakes with templates

5. I stacked them using frosting. (This is where I should have consulted my original drawing again. Whoops. You know what they say: Live and learn and eat a houseboat.) I slid two wooden dowels through the high part.

Stacked cakes with dowels

Stacked cakes with dowels

6. Frosted the outside.

Covered in red frosting

Covered in red frosting

7. Applied decorations. I used Hershey’s kisses for the wheels, fruit roll-ups for the windows, cinnamon discs for the lights, Rice Krispie treats for the back end, and a huge-ass Hershey bar for the roof. Most of the rest of the details are made out of licorice. Which you could not pay me to eat, but it proved to be a very versatile decorating tool. The railing was made with the help of paper sucker sticks and toothpicks (DO NOT EAT TOOTHPICKS!).

Constructing caboose details

Constructing caboose details

8. I used chocolate frosting for the ground, brown sugar for the gravel/dirt, and licorice for the rails and ties. I wanted to have green frosting for grass, but I forgot and dyed all my frosting red.

*Moral of the story: Take your time! Do not rush!

Cake showing all details and tracks

Cake showing all details and tracks

9. Apply dinosaur candles to instantly convert the caboose into one of my son’s other favorite entertainment franchises: Dinosaur Train!

Caboose with dinosaur candles inserted

Caboose with dinosaur candles inserted

10. Light candles.


11. Make wish.

12. Blow out flame.

13. Cut cake, removing all non-edible objects.

14. EAT!

Destruction: The tastiest part of cake-baking

Destruction: The tastiest part of cake-baking

15. Re-light candles. Make more wishes.

Remember what my Thomas Cake post was titled?

“Beginner’s Luck”

Yep. This is what happens when beginner’s luck runs out.

The dashing birthday boy!

The dashing birthday boy!

Blatant Product Endorsement: BRACH’S BRIDGE MIX

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While in college, I worked as a retail sales associate at one of the two gas stations in my hometown.

Sometimes it was stressful working with the general public. Other times it was boring when the stream of customers hit a lull. It was cleaning, stocking, food handling, cash register, and balancing the end of shift paperwork. It was a lot of work for little pay. It was also probably the funnest job I have ever had.

Since I can't find a picture of the gas station I worked at, here is a picture of me headed off to work, in my uniform shirt. My mom took this picture without my consent, so yes that is the face of someone saying the f-word to their mother:)

Since I can’t find a picture of the gas station I worked at, here is a picture of me headed off to work, in my uniform shirt. My mom took this picture without my consent, so yes that is the face of someone saying the f-word to their mother:)

One reason was I had a lot of freedom to spend my time however I wanted. That is how I discovered my love of finding expired food products (more about that in a future post). I sometimes mixed up the cleaning products to make a streaming mystery floor mopping solution (hey, my trainer showed me that!). I got to make sale signs on the computer using clip art. I got to hang seasonal decorations from atop a very tall, rickety, non-OSHA approved ladder.

It was also fun when I would close the store, then stay up all night with my friends, then drive by the store 5 hours later to wave high to the manager, who opened. He would shake his head in disapproval and say things like “You haven’t even been to bed yet, have you?” (Note: The manager was only like 3 years older than me, and in college as well.) Ya, those are the amazing things a college student can do with the magic of youth.

One day a week the grocery stock would arrive. I usually worked the closing shift, so my job was to price (yes, we still did that back in the ye olde days of my college years) and put out as much of the stock as I could before close. It was kind of exciting because sometimes we would get in new products.

Who would be the first to try the new kind of chips or candy?


I learned that moon pies are gross–a lesson I have not forgotten to this day.

I learned that Charleston Chew is only good if it is fresh and chewy. I also learned this is almost impossible because it doesn’t stay fresh for long, even while still sealed in the package.

I also learned about the wonder that is BRACH’S BRIDGE MIX!

Brach's Bridge Mix Photo:

Brach’s Bridge Mix

I was restocking the Bridge Mix one day and took the time to actually read the package. I had just assumed it was reserved for little old ladies playing the card game Bridge. I had always gone for brand name, flashy packaged chocolate treats, like Hershey’s or Nestle or Reese’s.

But Brach’s Bridge Mix contained a variety of yummy things. Cremes, caramels, peanuts, cashews, raisins, cherry jellies.


How did the little old ladies keep this a secret from the rest of the world for so long?

People should be giving this out for Trick or Treat on Halloween!

I have been hooked on Bridge Mix ever since that day. If you like chocolate and you haven’t tried it yet, you should. It is a chocolate lover’s dream come true. It is like a box of chocolates, but without having to guess which fillings you will like and the cumbersome box.

Surprise! I actually like all the fillings in Bridge Mix. [For more on what I will and won’t eat, click here.] I am not crazy about cashews, but I will eat them. I think the white creams are supposed to be coconut (and I don’t like coconut), but it isn’t strong enough to bother me.

I will note that fresh bags are much better than older ones. If you bite into a cream and it breaks, rather than gives, you should possibly lodge a complaint for your money back with the company.

Candy Bar Diet

NOTE: My original idea. All rights reserved.

If you steal my idea and make millions from it, I will sue your ass. And that will probably be easier than if I just tried to make millions off my idea myself.

A few years ago, I created a Candy Bar Diet. I think it is a brilliant idea. Most people don’t understand it.

The core of the diet is to track the calories you eat in a day using the magnetic, dry-erase Handy Dandy Candy Board, featured in the back of the book that explains the diet. The Handy Dandy Candy Board uses adorable candy bar magnets to track the calories you eat in a day. I created a mock up that I used myself. It was much more fun than keeping a food diary.

The following are the excerpts from the book and pictures of the mock-up.

Handy Dandy Candy Board – Daily calorie tracker and goal  © not-quite-a-diet 2010


Candy Bar Calorie Counter

It’s “not-quite-a-diet”

How It Works

Candy bars (the normal sized ones here, no cheating with King-sized) are generally average out to be 230 calories. No matter what you eat in a day, you know you are always thinking: Can I still squeak in a candy bar?  Of course you can!  Especially if you think of all your calorie counting in terms of candy bars!

Start off with the maximum number of calories you want to collect in your flabby body in a day.  Let’s say 1600 calories.  Divide that by the average calories in a candy bar: 230 calories.  That would mean you could eat calories equal to 7 candy bars in a day.  And now with the dry erase, magnetic Handy Dandy Candy Board, it is easy to track to your daily goal.


That 20oz of Coke you just drank with 240 calories?  That equals a candy bar.  The honey bun you ate for breakfast at 460 calories—sorry, that’s 2 candy bars.  Ate out for lunch & don’t know the calories?  Be honest with yourself & give it your best guess.  A cheddar bacon cheeseburger would probably be at least 3 candy bars.  No complicated math. No tracking every tiny Pez candy.  Feel free to round, but be honest with yourself.  If you cheat, it will only harm yourself.  I don’t care how much you eat in a day.  I just want you to appreciate my adorable candy bar magnets, which I was inspired to create while squandering my life & my creativity in a cubicle.

Your Tools

Decide on your calorie/candy bar daily goal.  Write it on the dry erase, magnetic Handy Dandy Candy Board .  Place a candy bar magnet on the board every time you consume 230 calories in your day.  The magnets are kept in a convenient storage pocket until you need them.  Where do those calories come from?  That is entirely up to you!

There is also a handy journal included to track your progress, if you are into that sort of thing.  There is a Calories-to-Candy Bar Conversion Chart.  Once the day is done, clear your candy slate & start over again!  Conveniently sized to travel with you throughout the day as you rack up the candy bars, er, the calories:)

Why Count in Candy Bars?

This just happens to be how my brain works!  And I AM guilty of eating multiple candy bars in a day.  Whenever I tried to keep a journal of what I ate, I never made it through one day.  I never made it through more than ONE MEAL!  It was boring & tedious.  But I realized that I was finding myself saying “well, these 2 toaster pastries equal 2 candy bars…maybe I should just eat the candy instead?!”

If you tried a strict dieting plan & became discouraged, this might be a good place to start over.  By making it easier to track what you are eating, you are more likely to actually keep it up!  Try the calorie counter with sweet indulgences figured right in!

Sometimes just keeping track of what you eat can encourage you to eat less.  If your board is filling up, and it’s a choice between cheesecake or dinner, you might just choose dinner.  If it’s a Friday night after a long week of work, you might choose cheesecake. But you will be educated & know that by eating both, you could be packing on the pounds.

The Facts

Typically a person needs 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day.  To maintain your weight, you would want to eat around 2,000 calories (9 magnetic candy bars worth a day), depending on how active you are.  If you want to lose weight, you would want to eat less.

Your best bet for an accurate calorie count is on the “Nutrition Facts” label on your food packaging, or in some cases on the company’s website.  MAKE SURE you read the Serving Size, and be sure to multiply your servings by the Calories per Serving.  Once you have that number, it is easy to use the Calories-to-Candy Bar Conversion Chart to add the appropriate candy bar magnets to your candy bar board.

And FYI…Eating 9 candy bars in a day is not recommended & will definitely result in a tremendous stomach ache.

Also, more than just calories go into making you fat, such as, well, FAT.  This is a highly simplified system, therefore we only track calories.  Consider yourself warned!

©  not-quite-a-diet 2010

Calories-to-Candy Bar Conversion Chart

© not-quite-a-diet 2010

Candy Bar Log

© not-quite-a-diet 2010

Storage pocket for Handy Dandy Candy Board candy bar magnets. © not-quite-a-diet 2010

That is the Candy Bar Diet. Do you think it would work for you?

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