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Railfanning

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I first discovered this word a year ago, but I have actually been doing it all my life. It is kind of like when I discovered the word shipper.

All my life whenever I am near railroad tracks I hope that a train will come along so that I can watch it go by. It seldom happens. Unless you work for the railroad, you don’t have anyway to know when a train will arrive. I love to listen to the cars as they thunder by, their couplings creaking with each variance in the track. I was fortunate enough to live near railroad tracks for half my life. But it was not a busy track.

This, my friends, is not a problem in Fostoria, Ohio. It is known as the Iron Triangle because so many trains (around 200 per day, I have been told) travel through the city. Fostoria has built a great rail park within the triangle where you can just sit and watch the trains go by. I was really impressed with the facility. There was a small roof for shade/rain protection, speakers that played the latest scanner communications, and a very well-kept bathroom. We must have seen about ten trains pass by in the few hours we were there.

Here is a new video I uploaded on my YouTube channel of a Norfolk Southern double-header passing by.

If steam engines (and possibly ones from the island of Sodor) are more your thing, watch this video of mine that already has over 2,900 views. And please like or subscribe or whatever it is people do over there on the ‘Tube. I am old. I can’t keep up with the young whippersnappers anymore.

From the broken mind of Jennifer Friess, the joining of hearts & souls…
NOW AVAILABLE! Troll Gurl and the Cursed Kingdom

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Artsy Fartsy Pics: Greenfield Village Edition

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My family went up to see Thomas the tank engine at Greenfield Village this weekend. We all had fun even though the weather didn’t cooperate. I can’t call it a “typical Michigan spring day” because I only experienced rain, sun, clouds, and wind. I didn’t see any snow until the next day.

I had fun taking pictures. I had even more fun after I got home adding filters and effects to them and generally making a gloomy day appear a little brighter. Some might think this is overkill, but I love them.

GREENFIELD-Tractor

Steam Tractor

 

 Back in the days when anthropomorphic engines regularly crossed the countryside.

Back in the days when anthropomorphic engines regularly crossed the countryside.

 

The Depot

The Depot

 

The Roundhouse

The Roundhouse

 

The Workshop

The Workshop

 

Train Crane

Train Crane

 

The gnome that lives under the buffer.

The gnome that lives under the buffer.

 

I can picture this flickering as some sort of stop-motion movie you would pay a nickel to watch inside a machine.

I can picture this flickering as some sort of stop-motion movie you would pay a nickel to watch inside a machine.

 

You gotta have a caboose...

You gotta have a caboose…

 

Vibrant Thomas

Vibrant Thomas

 

An out-of-sight very orange engine, by request of my child.

An out-of-sight very orange engine, by request of my child.

 

Sir Topham Hat’s view, or as I like to remember it: Too dang cold to stand outside any longer.

Sir Topham Hat’s view, or as I like to remember it: Too dang cold to stand outside any longer.

Hope you enjoyed it!

 

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It THE CONTINUING ROMANCE!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

 

What I Learned This Week – 5/10/15

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Last weekend my family took a day trip up to Owosso to visit the Pere Marquette 1225 steam engine at the Steam Railroad Institute museum. It is the engine that the was used as a model for the movie The Polar Express, and the actual sounds of the train are used in the movie. The railroad actually runs a Christmas train every year. I am still deciding if we should try that out.

In lieu of having time to write an actual post, here are some pictures from our adventure! Enjoy.

Pere Marquette 1225. So big that I couldn't get a proper picture of it.

Pere Marquette 1225. So big that I couldn’t get a proper picture of it.

This is my son and I next to the drive wheels.

This is my son and I next to the drive wheels.

An actual turntable!

An actual turntable!

The firebox of Pere Marquette 1225

The firebox of Pere Marquette 1225

Boiler

Boiler

Flagg Coal 75

Flagg Coal 75

Inside of a caboose

Inside of a caboose

Lantern

Lantern

Another lantern

Another lantern

My first book, The Wind Could Blow a Bug is NOW AVAILABLE!

PURCHASE as a Paperback or eBook on Amazon.com TODAY.

What I Learned This Week – 8/25/13

On Sunday, my family and I went to the Day Out with Thomas event at the Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad in Flint, Michigan. This is our second year. It was kind of nice to know what to expect.

I wanted to look at all the Thomas stuff they had set up for the kids. My husband wanted to look at all the historical stuff at Crossroads Village that is always there, because he is into that sort of thing. My son just seemed pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing. He mostly just wanted to play with the toys that were set up. So much so, that he threw a glorious fit when we removed him from the gift shop toy table. He was not the only child throwing a fit when they were forced to leave that area. But, as i don’t have good behavior to brag about, I will boast that his fit was the loudest and most impressive.

My husband spent a lot of time walking around hand in hand with my son. I spent a lot of time pushing the stroller and taking pictures with the camera. Not quite the cozy family outing I had hoped for (In my head, I am holding hands with my husband, as we both push the stroller with my quiet, well-behaved child in it *sigh*), but we all said we had fun at the end of the day. I think my husband wouldn’t have taken a stroller at all. But it was worth it, because the Thomas-themed bag I took weight a ton, mostly from the full water bottles in the bottom. (Why pay $1.50 at the Village, when you can buy them for $.89 at the Speedway gas station on the way!) I consider an outing a success if we make it home with all the stuff we left with.  And we did.

The BEST part of the day was when we rode on the double-decker paddle boat on the lake at the end of the day. We just caught the last boat as it was about to leave. I got to sit! There was shade! There was cool breeze! There was fresh sea lake air!

CHILDREN WERE MELTING DOWN ALL OVER THE PARK!

BUT WE WERE NOT IN THE PARK! WE WERE ON THE LAKE!

Of course, some of the children on the boat were melting down too. I fortified my son with some crackers and cookies and we were good til he got in his car seat and passed out as we got on the expressway to head home.

Because most of you probably don’t give a flying fig about Thomas, I will post here my arty-fartsy pics from that day.

If you want to see Thomas, pop over to my Facebook page and I will post a couple over there.

If any of you reading this happen to have a little engineer at home and want to make them a Thomas cake for their birthday, you can click here for my own experience. (Go on, check it out. It is lopsided, but still kinda cute!)

A building at Crossroads Village

A building at Crossroads Village

Cider press

Cider press

A quiet train ride moment, frozen in time

A quiet train ride moment, frozen in time

Barns from the boat

Barns from the boat

Dam from the boat, with birds

Dam from the boat, with birds

Boat from the boat

Boat from the boat

Love my new camera, but sometimes the pictures it takes are very devoid of color. Maybe that is a problem that happens with the zoom. Anyone with any photographic advice on how to get more colorful pictures, I would love to hear it. I just have a little Panasonic DMC-SZ3.

And if your advice is “Buy a better camera”, I will delete your comment. Oh yes, I have that power…

Beginner’s Luck (The Post With The Thomas Cake)

I have beginner’s luck. I may have first realized this while bowling.

I make it a policy never to throw warm-up balls when I bowl, because all the throws after that will be worse. So I save those for my first few frames that count. It works every time. I always have a better score in my first game, than any game that follows.

My son turned two recently. We were to have a Thomas & Friends-themed party. I was counting on this to be the case with cake-making as well. I think I assumed correctly.

I have never made a layered, sculpted, shaped, character cake or used fondant before. May I present to you, the most elaborate birthday cake I have ever made in my life.

My finished Thomas The Tank Engine cake

Once I came up with this idea in my head, I just knew that a flat sheet cake with a Thomas picture or toy on it just wasn’t going to do. I must give credit where it is due. I would never have attempted this if I had not found a great Thomas tutorial online by Wendy Lindsey at http://thomasthetankenginecake.blogspot.com/ .

I did make some deviations from her directions, mostly due to budget constraints. Then I was dead-set on using fondant, so I probably spent any money I saved on that:P

This is what I used for my recipe:

2 boxes of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
2-3 boxes of Wilton Buttercream Icing Mix (more on this later)
2 boxes (24 oz each) Wilton Rolled Fondant, pastel blue
2 dowels
1 8″ lollipop stick
1 very strong cake board or several weaker ones bound together
wax paper
aluminum foil
fondant shaper
food coloring in yellow, black, and red
clay shaping tools
small paintbrush
toothpicks
Crisco
powdered sugar
rolling pin
1970’s aluminum cake decorator w/tips (feel free to substitute piping bags and tips)

I highly recommend if you are going to make this cake to study Wendy’s 14 pages of highly detailed directions and tips. What follows is my experience and deviations from her great work!  All measurements given in inches. (Click any picture to see it larger.)

The picture I used for the face and the toys I used for the body

This is what I based my cake off of. Thomas is a little different in every toy, so that can drive a person nuts.

This is Thomas’ face made out of fondant. Make it at least 4 days ahead of time so it has time to dry.

First I made Thomas’ face out of fondant. I didn’t want to have to color my fondant to be blue later (which would have been impossible anyway), so I only purchased blue fondant. I knew that after adding black, the face would look gray and not blue. I was sure to put the stick in before the face dried. Because I was being cheap and didn’t buy any white fondant, I finished the eyes, mouth, and pupils later with buttercream icing. I made the face on Tuesday for a Saturday party.

9″X13″ metal cake pan with paper pattern

9″X13″ glass pan with paper patterns

I don’t have a sheet cake pan, so I baked two 9″X13″ cakes. I created paper patterns ahead of time to visualize how I would stack my four layers. I used these patterns to score the cakes before I put them into the freezer, wrapping them in wax paper, then covering with several layers of foil. I baked and froze the cakes on Wednesday for a Saturday party.

Assembling the frozen cake

On Friday, I prepped my cake board. I taped three 14″X14″ boards together, covering the top with wax paper for easy removal of stray frosting and crumbs later. I lined the edge with blue electrical tape because, well, that is what I had in the house.

Here you can see that the third layer is actually made of two long pieces

Then I removed the frozen cakes from the freezer and assembled them according to my pattern. Using two 9″X13″ cakes did not leave me very many scraps to work with. But you will see I did have enough to make a funnel and steam dome. These are fragile, small pieces. Note that I made my third layer out of two long pieces of cake. It would have been more stable if that layer had all been one piece.

My kitchen floor slants downhill, therefore my oven does as well.  I was too cheap to buy a cake leveler, but now I see that a cake that is more level will yield a better result (and be easier to stack).

Crumb coating

Then I covered the whole cake with the buttercream icing, to form a crumb coat.

After days of watching Cake Boss to try to figure out what the f*** to do with fondant, I attempted to cover my cake. I have never used fondant before. I have never eaten fondant before. I have never even seen it used IN PERSON before. Frosting would have been more cost effective and perfectly acceptable. But in my head my Thomas had a smooth finish I knew I could never achieve with icing.

I used Wilton pre-made rolled fondant. I have no idea if it was good or not because Wilton codes their expiration dates. (If someone knows the decoding secret, please let me know. Thanks.) I bought them at Hobby Lobby. Never having used fondant before, I have no idea if it was the right consistency, but it seemed very stiff to me and I didn’t know what to add to fix that. At this point I was glad I bought the fondant pre-colored, as there is no way I could have kneaded it enough to have ever added my own color. I almost sprained something trying to roll it out with the rolling pin. Even then, it was still a little thicker than the 1/4″ inch thickness it was supposed to be. I wished I had one of those rolling machines that the Cake Boss uses.

Because the fondant was so thick, it cracked when I put it on my cake. A LOT. I made many patches using Crisco and powdered sugar and additional fondant, which actually turned out REALLY well. I was afraid of losing my funnel and steam dome putting on the fondant. If you just frosted a cake, I don’t think they would cause any problem. If I had modeling chocolate like the Cake Boss, I think that would have been a better solution for my fondant-covered cake.

And here is the result…

Fondant covered cake. After it set up for a few hours, I used a paint brush to dust off the excess powdered sugar.

It wasn’t as smooth as the Cake Boss, but I think damn good for a first try!

At this point it was late and I was tired. I was unsure then (and still am unsure) what I was supposed to do with the cake once it was covered in fondant. I put it in the fridge uncovered overnight, and then took it out in the morning to finish the decorating. (If that was wrong, someone let me know.)

Side details with colored buttercream icing

This is where I was glad that I had an extra box of buttercream icing mix. I probably could have gotten by with only using two, but one of them I mixed too thin, and there is no way I could have used it for the fine detail of decorating. (And be sure to leave out your margarine or butter to soften ahead of time! That almost bit me in the ass at the last minute.)

I just decided what details were important to me to include and which weren’t. I actually put in more than I had planned. Being budget conscious and lazy, I also tried to control the amount of colors I needed to use. I only decorated with black, red, and yellow. The wheels on the toys I have are actually blue, but I liked the ones on the cake as black (and I didn’t have to mix up any blue!).

I was too cheap to buy piping bags & tips, so I used my mom’s ancient aluminum cake decorating kit that I last saw her use in 1982.  The frosting holding part of the tool blocked my vision sometimes, so that is why some details are a little messy.  (Yes, that is my excuse.)

The face, with white and black buttercream icing added

Here is the face, with the eyes, eyebrows and mouth filled in with icing. The face really does make the cake. Mine almost came out too big, so that should be a caution to the next person who tries to make this. When the lollipop stick got trimmed, it got cut too short. It is important that the bottom of the lollipop stick touch the cake board, so that it can support the weight of the face. (I didn’t fully understand this until I reached this step.) I ended up cutting another small piece of stick and taping it to the too short face stick with white electrical tape. (I LOVE electrical tape!)

I was afraid to put the face on because I thought the weight of it would make it fall forward into the red frosting. I didn’t buy any piping gel (which I was supposed to use to stick on the face), so I just used buttercream frosting instead. It stayed on just fine!

Top view

Back view showing the roof, the coal, and the rear light

Here is the finished cake. It ended up being approximately 10.5″ long by 5″ wide by 6″ tall. The face is approximately 3.5″ across.

Finished product next to the toys I used as a guide

Here is Thomas after the party…

CAKE!

The fondant was kind of chewy. As I have never had it before, I am unsure if that was due to the age of the fondant, not enough kneading, too thick, improper storage, or if that is just normal.

After we cut off the rear, I realized that by turning it upside down, it looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!

Raphael?

So, I guess if you want a Ninja Turtle cake, just turn Thomas upside down. Hahaha.

It was a lot of work, but I think it was worth it to prove to myself that I could indeed do it.

Unfortunately, this all made me have lots of anxiety and I had trouble eating or sleeping the last two days of cake making and party preparation. Every year, I ask my husband if he wants to have a birthday party for my son. He says yes. I tell him he will have to do all the work. And then I make all the food and clean the house and drive myself crazy trying to make it all as seamless as a television sitcom.

It is stressful trying to live by television standards in the real world. Thank God for my beginner’s luck.

Anyone else out there gotten in over their heads with a birthday cake?

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