Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Affair With A Geek

A love affair of the heart that is.

The guys of Geek Squad (that is not a sexist statement, I'm sure there are ladies of the Geek Squad as well, I just personally didn't encounter any) came to my resue this past week in a big way and I have silently fallen in love with my knights in shining armour riding in on a white horse carrying their pomp black and and orange regal sheilds.

Of course, if I were actually having a true affair with an agent from the Geek Squad, foreplay (can I say that word, afterall this is a family blog) would be a series of dates wherein I would ask the simplest of techi questions and with naught a smirk on his face my brilliant and skillful Geek would masterfully woo me with his words, delicately explaining the answers for even the most intellectually challenged of blonde like myself to understand.  Oh my heart swoones at even the thought now as I remember the pleasure of our encounter .

I first rendezvoused with my Geek Squad (yes, I have claimed them as mine now) last week when I made that stressfull 911 call in a desperate plea for someone to revive my sick and ailing baby, my right arm, my appendage, my life line to all that is good and evil in this world, my computer.

They mysteriously appeared donned in their trademark agent uniform.  Forget secret service, think Will Smith in Men In Black.  They even call themselves agents.  I mean, come on ladies, who needs romance novels when I can have the real thing right here, anytime I want.

My Geek agent quickly went to work diagnosing my feeble baby as I impatiently paced about, wondering if there were any hope at all for my seven year old computer to survive this attack.  As uncertainty loomed about not sure if I would ever hear the hum of her CPU while I booted up her now slow and aged mind, I recalled how she had faithfully seen me through the long move from Illinois to North Carolina.  Wrapped in a big, plain box, bearing the cold February weather for two long days, not a complaint, not even a wimper.  Unpacked and hooked up she didn't skip a beat, we were one and in sync and my faithful computer had stood by my side through it all.  And now here I found myself, three years later, pacing back and forth, searching the face of my Geek agent for a glimps of some good news.

The prognosis was grim.  It had a virus.  And not just any virus, one that would require surgery.

Without delay I gently toted my baby's brain to the nearest Best But location and headed immediately to the Geek Squad desk.  And there they were, working feverishly to answer questions, calm the fatigued and stressed, remaing tranquil in the storm of emotional families, who like myself had experience some techological loss recently and who had come here, in their moment of need, looking for answers.  My knights in shinning armour stood stoicly prepared, in all their black and white glory and it was at that moment I knew it would be okay.

They hooked my baby up to their life support system on the operating table behind them and gently listened as I poured forth my woes.  I explained the accident and how much this archaic computer meant to me.  I divulged my feelings of ineptness and pleaded for someone, anyone to come to my rescue, all the while my Geek Squad stood there, listening, taking notes and soothing my worries with their gentle but confident voice.

"We'll take care of it."

"You, you mean everything?"

"Sure, no problem."

No problem?  I just wanted to jump over the counter and hug him, heck, hug all of them, but I restrained, afterall, to catch a guy you can't show him how crazy you are about him after the first date.

"So you can take the virus off my old computer, rescue years of data, set up my newly purchased laptop with all the files transfered, also download the information on a remote storage device (that you are going to have to help me pick out) then reload the operating system back onto my wounded baby so I can give it to my son and lastly come out to my house and set us up for wireless internet so that we can join the rest of the techi world in a Wi-fi life?  You can do all that?"

"Sure, no problem."

I Love you.  Forget beer commercials, I love my Geek.

And so, here I am, exactly one week later since meeting my Geeks and life is almost back to normal.  I have my new laptop with all my old files restored on it.  I have my faithful computer cleared of viruses and operating system reinstalled.  I have since relocated her to a slower paced life in our homeschool room where the living is easier and and the shine shines often. Our house is wireless now and all this evolution because of that fateful day when my Geek Squad came to the rescue.

I wanted to give a specific shoutout to the guys at the Raleigh/Brier Creek Geek Squad location in NC.  You all Rock!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Get Out of Debt - Part 5

Before I delve into Dave Ramsey's baby steps one and two as promised last week, I wanted to share a revelation I discovered late last night while my overly taxed brain recovered from four consecutive days of piecing together the broken shards of our computer dependent life.

So why get out of debt?

I mean really?

If life is generally running along perfectly smooth where even a few pumps of debt can't derail it, then why am I putting myself through this slow and tedious self deprivation lifestyle?

Sure there is the obvious point of wanting to maintain the sanctity of my marriage and of course my overt disdain for divorce court plays along with that.  And one could also argue it is because of the poignantly correct and undeniable reasons Dave Ramsey so boldly points out time and again.  But are these the real motives behind my decision to jump aboard this debt-free bandwagon or are they merely the added benefit like a gift with purchase at Macy's makeup counter?

So here was my epiphany.

I have this undisbutable, almost visceral instinctive need to reconnect with the self proclaimed hippie-chick who entered my reality at about the same moment my mother (God bless her anesthetically induced delivery) gave birth to me forty-three years ago this past June.

You know her.  Sometimes I've seen her in the faces of little pigtailed girls called Lulu or Zoey, her feet are always bare and her simple cotton dress dusted with dirt, a badge worn proudly from a day lived chasing butterflies and hunting for fairies.

I realized I've chosen this path so I no longer have to worry about Home Owners Associations, restrictive covenants or whether or not my car is pulled too far onto the sidewalk.  I'd rather be wandering down a dirt road, my dog by my side, as the heat of the rising sun evaporates away the early morning dew.

Can you smell the crisp freshness in the air?

And I want to see and smell flowers.  Lots and lots of flowers. All day everyday! Planted all around me. In the garden, arranged in beds around the house, hanging from the veranda and climbing up trellises.  I especially want to see pink flowers of every shade.

I want to hide away for a day in an eclectically built tree house with my son, dining on a picnic of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, while he shares with me all the wonders and enchanting adventures of his perfect little world.  We'll laugh a lot and dream a lot and time will stand still.

I want an organic garden again.  One overflowing with the bounty of nature's colorful treasures.  I want to pluck strawberries right off the plant and taste their succulant sweetness. I want to carry an apron full of garden fresh ingredients back to our house then set about chopping and slicing to prepare a supper for my family.  One created by God and served with love.  I can almost smell the freshly baked bread and fragrant herbs as they fill the heart of the home.

I want to take a bath with a window wide open so I can feel the warmth of the sun on my wet skin and listen to the birds as they serenade.

I want to curl up on a front porch swing in the late afternoon of an Indian summer, swaying gently as I sip on a refreshing iced tea watching the gentle play between my two most favorite guy in all the whole world.  I want  listen to their laughter as they do that male bonding thing we woman don't quite get but understand and respect none-the-less.

Yes, I stick to this get out of debt thing not because anyone is making me, for trust me when I say no one has ever or will ever make this hippie-chick do anything she doesn't want to do.  And it's not because I can then start to accumulate shiny new things as a temporary fix to prop up a deflated self-esteem.

I do this for the moment in time when I can lounge below a starry sky, snuggled close to the only man who has ever truely known me and still chose to love me, while we watch our son catching fireflies beyond the warm flicker of our campfire.  The leaves will whistle a gentle tune in the darkness as a slow southern breeze passes through to say hello.  Lilac flowers will grace us with the benevolence of their delicate scent and a hoot owl will signal his approval.  At that very moment in my husbands secure arms and the eyes of my son I will never, ever have to wonder why I sacrificed for such a very small while to have a wealth beyond all of King Solomn's riches.

I sacrifice not.  But instead I choose to get out of debt so I can live my dream life instead of just being someone who only got to write about it.

Okay, after that you're going to have to wait for next week to hear about baby steps one and two, for to do otherwise after that post just wouldn't be prudent.

Click here to move on to "Get Out of Debt - Part 6."

Live a delicous life my dear readers,  Jamie

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm back live and with a new award!

This has been a crazy couple of days around our house.  Our main home computer, the one that I blog on and my husband runs his company off of died on me, well actually it got a virus that Norton contained but could not get rid of. 

So what's a girl to do?

I called Geek Squad.

They came out Sunday morning and confirmed what I already new. Since our computer is seven years old and I was getting ready to purchase a laptop anyway, he advised us that  my money would be better spent there.  However I believe no money spent is money spent well, but such is life at times.

This was after shoveling out lots of money last week on vehicle repairs, a new window and a new GPS system when my husbands work vehicle was broken into.  Anyway, I have basically been back and forth with the geek squad guys several times a day since Fridays computer meltdown.  They have been wonderful and I'm even thinking of dedicating a post to them. 

My husband runs the day to day business of his company off that computer, so the goal of getting him back up and running has been priority number one.  I've been working to set his computer up for his business, I been working on trying to figure out Windows 7 and setting my computer back up with downloads and uploading saved files, and once they get done removing the virus from our old computer, configuing it for my son to have.

All this tech stuff and I don't even know what the heck I'm doing.

So please bear with me if I don't respoind to you quickly or if I don't do everything exactly like I should.  I hope to be back to normal by the beginning of next week.

On a lighter note I received some great news yesterday, my first Blogging Award!  Yeah!!

The Sunshine Award

Jessica from The Improbable Housewife picked me as one of the recipents of the award.

Thanks You Jessica - I am so honored!

As another stay-at-home-mom I can relate to the day to day life she writes about.  When I read her posts I always feel like we are sitting down at the kitchen table chit-chatting over a warm cup of coffee and a piece of pie. Whether she is hosting a giveaway or offering some homespun advice I know I will always enjoy reading what she has to offer.   I encourage you all to check her out if you haven't yet.

Now, to fully be able to accept this award  I must pass it along which is a privilege and an honor.

Here are the rules:

1. Put the logo in my post or within my blog. Done.

2. Pass the award onto 9 fellow bloggers.

3. Link the nominees within my post.

4. Let the nominees know they have received this award by leaving a comment on their blogs.

5. Share the love and link to the person who gave you the award! Done.

I wish I could have picked more than nine, I truely enjoy so many more of you.  I encourage you to visit their blogs.  Each brings something unique to the blogging world.  So in alphabetical order  the Sunshine Award goes to ...

Beverly at Bee Haven Acres

Erin at Homes Where My Heart Is

Ria at Life As A Wife

Renee at Life on CT Farm

Mimi Sue at Mimi Sue's Cottage

Shanilie at Shanilie's Moments

KarenSue at SueBee and Butterflies

Aimee at The Daily Apron

Kelly at The Pursuit of Mommyness

Please visit each and everyone of these Amazing Women on their blog!

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Taught Ethan to Clean Toilets Today - Oh The Drama!

For those of you who have little boys (and even some grown ones) in your life, you know that having the toilet seat left up is the least of our problems when it comes to the bathrooms in our homes.  You know what I'm talking about here.

Now, I promise you I clean my house and that includes my toilets, but no one would ever know it if they came into my home and needed to go potty.  I do have proof however.  There are three facilities in our home, one downstairs off the kitchen and living room, one upstairs for our son and one in the master bathroom.  The one in the master bathroom is always clean.  That should prove that I do clean them.  But you wouldn't know it by looking at the others.

To spare you the disgusting details I decided not to take "before" photos.  You're welcome.  I think you can use your imagination.  Just picture one eight year old boy whose only concern with being neat when he takes care of his business is in hoping mom or dad won't notice his untidy behavior.

Tired of having to go up to use my bathroom all the time because I couldn't stand the thought of using the downstairs one I took matters into my own hands today.

No more asking Ethan to be neat when he went.  No more begging him.  No more complaining.  Nope.  I took a different approach today.

I told him we were going to do a project together.  He got all excited when he heard this because he loves doing projects with mom.  Little did he know that the project was going to be learning to clean toilets.  (Okay, I did feel a little quilty here, I mean I had him all excited about doing something fun with mom and then whammo - I burst that balloon right out of the sky.)

Our pleasure trip started with about five minutes of his trying to escape the bathroom repeating the mantra, "I'm not going to do it, I'm not going to do it."  I wish I could have gotten some pictures of that for you but I was too busy blocking the door.

This is Ethan's Bathroom

Once he calmed down and resigned to the fact that he was going to have to clean the toilets the theatrics came out a blazing with double barrels.

"This is disgusting!  This is gross!"  sniffle, sniffle.  Since level one (complaining) wasn't working on me, he decided to move it up to level two - crying.

See the open mouth?  Just insert a lot of noise coming out of there.

Okay, before we go any further I promise you I am not a bad mom, really I am not.  But if I had caved here and let him off the hook of cleaning the toilets I would forever be forced to go to the neighbors each time natured  called.  Besides, I'm doing this for his future girlfriends and some day future wife.

So between the crying (okay whaling), occasional escape attempts and pretend vomiting sound effects he managed to do a very good job.  I had him clean the toilet in his bathroom and the one downstairs, I cleaned my own myself.

This is the downstairs bathroom

After that I needed a stiff drink...of vitamin water.

Send your good vibes out to me because little does he know, this has become his very own personal new chore around the house.

"Ay Carumba!"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rosetta Stone For Homeschooling

Do you use Rosetta Stone in your home?

In your Homeschool?

For yourself or your kids?

We started with Rosetta Stone about a year ago and I really love the program.  Why?  With Rosetta Stone, while there is an initial cost involved, I can purchase one package of software and every member of our family can use it at their own pace.  No need to buy it for each individual person.  Love that.

I encourage you to go to their website for more details.  To me, what makes it such a great choice is that all different ages can use it, it works on spelling, pronunciation and hearing.  For people like me who need all the help we can get, I say it is a win-win situation.

For those of you who homeschool, Rosetta Stone has an e-news letter called  Stepping Stones that you can sign up to receive.  It always has some good nugget of information to offer.  It is also good to note that when you sign up for their newsletter, whether it is the homeschooling one or the one for personal use, they offer discounts on their products from time to time.

Currently Rosetta Stone is organizing a Homeschool Language Learning and Networking Trip where they say you can "put your language curriculum to use in the real world as you explore Spain and France."

The trip is to Paris, Madrid and Barcelona from August 2-11, 2010 and you can get more details here.

If you use Rosetta Stone or have questions about it I would love to hear from you on this topic.

Have an Amazing Day!  Jamie

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Get Out Of Debt - Part 4

If you are just reading this series for the first time and want to catch up on all the drama click here  then just work your way from the bottom up.

In the last part of this series I talked about how we were spending on average 5% more than we earned.  That was fun to discover.  Okay, so let's recap what we know at this point into our new committment.

1.  We were in huge debt  :(

2.  We were spending more than we were making

3.  Dave Ramsey had a step by step plan for us to follow

4.  We were really ready to make a change.

So it was time to make a budget.  Dave Ramsey tells you to make a new budget at the beginning of each month, because each month can bring with it different expenses then the previous month.  For example, our auto insurances are paid four times throughout the years.  So this is not an expense we have every month.

Something to take into consideration when you are planning each months budget is how you want to handle large purchases, like Christmas gifts, that family reunion you plan on attending, the new tires for the car you know it will be needing soon (we are actually planning all those in our current budget.)

At this point I'm not going to get into how much you should be spending on Christmas gifts or even if you should make that family reunion, I'll address that later.  For now let's just assume you are doing those things and they are reasonable to do given your current financial situation.  So how do you budget for these them?  Well it takes long term planning and thinking.  Being one step ahead of your families needs makes all the difference.  Lets address some of these examples individually.

Budgeting for Chirstmas gifts.  I've always been pretty good about making a list and a budget at Christmas, and because of this I know fairly well how much money we are going to need.  I also budget in wrapping paper and possibly a new decoration or two (although this year I didn't engage in those extras.)  Think of every expense you can that will come up during the holidays.  Next you have to think about all the birthday gifts you purchase throughout the year.  Take your time and don't leave anyone out.  Lastly, think of anything else that might come up during the course of a year that you spend money for as gifts.  Are you going to be planning a baby or wedding shower?  Will you have to buy any graduation gifts this year?  What about Valentines Day?  Easter?  Teachers and birthday party gifts?  I think you get my point.

Once you've collected all this information add up the total cost.  It also doesn't hurt at this point to keep your data to refer back to when it is time to make a gift purchase.  Now, take that total and divide it by twelve months. How much did it come to?  This is how much you need to put away in an envelope every months to pay for this category of expenses.  Were you shocked by the amount you needed each month?  When doing your monthly budget which we will talk further on in a minute, if this amount doesn't allow you to pay off your debt, you need to reconsider how much you are going to be spending on gifts this year.

New tires - or any other major repair /maintenace purchase for your house or automobiles is our next example.  Right now we need new tires for our car.  I am planning on driving 12 hours to see my parents the first part of April.  I would like to have the new tires before we go since I have to drive through the Smokey Mountains.  After price shopping several sources, we finally made the decision of where we would purchase them from.  The grand total comes to $594 now we just need to budget for them.  Once we knew the cost involved we decided to put the money away for them over the course of a three month period. Next month I will have the cash to get new tires on my car.

As I mentioned I'm going to be driving from North Carolina to Missouri to visit my parents soon.  Since I've done this before I have a very good idea of my total expenses including gas, dining out, hotel and miscellaneous expenses.  We simple budgeted the same way as I just explained previously for the tires.  After that trip we will be flying up to Minnesota to visit my husbands family and will do exactly the same to budget for that trip as well.

Since we are working to get out of debt we are not taking any vacations other than to see our respective families one time per year.  No fun vacations to the Bahamas or Vegas.  This is strictly for family visits only. 

Using my examples you can see how your budget will not always be the same each month throughout the year.  Also, go easy on yourself in the beginning.  It took us a few months of creating a budget before we got good at it.  Dave Ramsey also says to sit down with the budget having both spouses agree on it.  Very important.

For us, since we were spending 5% over our income on average every month, we needed to find places to cut expenses.  I simply went through each category and assessed them.

First thing was the grocery budget.  Here is a place I knew I could gain major financial ground.  If you remember we were spending on average $1200 a month for three people!  Uugh!  I knew I could get it down to $600 a month and I did.  Then I tried for $500 a month.  Did that.  Now I'm working at $400 a month and I think I'll make it this month.  What did I do?  I studied what others were doing.  A great source is Coupon Mom.  I also started cooking a lot more and from scratch.  Now we use a combination of coupon/sales and large discount warehouses such as Sam's Club.

Some things we basically elimated all together.  Like what you ask?  Like no more dry cleaning, next to no dining out (big one), very little entertainment that wasn't free or close to free.  No more housekeeper.  No more babysitter and since we don't go out anymore that hasn't been an issue.  No more manicures, pedicures or massages. Sigh :(

I also cut some budget categories down to almost nothing.  Clothing for example is usually less than $10 a month.  I've learned to shop at yard sales and thrift shops.  If I do need to purchase some clothing, usually for my son, that I wasn't able to find used, I budget  for it that month.  Like if I know he is going to need some new shoes or jeans.  Before you snub your nose at thrift shop and yard sale finds let me tell you that I am a fashionista in a big way.  I swoon for anything Louis Vuitton.  I am into designer clothes big time so if I can make this work I know you can.  Just yesterday I was in our local thrift shop and saw a Dolce and Gabana shirt for $3.49.  Looked brand new just not my size.

So on went the process of putting together a budget.  Once we had it together and printed it out all that was left was to follow it.  Now, you can do this one of two ways.  You can make an envelope for each category and put the cash in at the beginning of the month.  When the cash runs out no more spending.  This is what Dave Ramsey advises.  Or, you can simple write down your expenses directly on the budget you printed off your computer, subtracting left over spending cash from appropriate categories. 

We kind of use a combo of both.  We have found that on things like utilites, car paymets, etc, it is easier just to write the expense down and subtract it out.  For things like vet bills, groceries, big ticket items that we have to save a few months for the envelope system works best.  You will figure this out on your own.  Again, it takes a few months to get the hang of it so don't get discouraged.

One other thing Dave advises and I recommend, is to list all your expenses, smallest to largest on a piece of paper.  I made this in Word on the computer so I could adjust it each month.  Then we taped it onto the refrigerator.  Nothing makes you think twice about spending extra money then staring at your debt all day everyday.  Also, it is out in the open and we discuss it casually with our son.  One of the great bonuses of this process is that we are teaching Ethan how to handle money properly and he is getting too see what NOT to do first hand via mom and dad.

Each month then I update the new balances on the debt and use the yellow highlight button in Word to cross out whatever was paid off.  Boy are those days fun.  Almost as good as (no it is as good as) purchasing a brand new pair of  heels hot off the Must-Haves list for Spring.  It is always a big celebration around our house.

So we made our budget and followed it.  By the start of our second month we paid off our first credit card!  Yeah!!  I did this great little happy dance around the house for that one.  That debt represented 6% of our overall debt.  Just so you understand how enormous that accomplishent was it was the equivalent of several thousand dollars.  We had gone from spending 5% over our income each month to paying off 6% of our debt.  We felt fantastic and for the first time in a long time in control of our future and finances.

Next week I'll talk about how the next several months went as well as explain Baby Steps One and Two according to Dave.  I'll also address replys I hear often from people who think this can't be done or how it is simply too strict or my favorite one,  " I want to have a life."  Of course I highly recommend you refer to Dave Ramsey for details.  He also has some budgeting tools on his website if you need them.  Until then...

Click here to go on to "Get Out of Debt - Part 5."

Have an amazing Day!  Jamie

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Homeschool Blog Hop - My Family

Happy Beautiful Tuesday Everyone!

Today I am doing a Homeschool Blog Hop and the theme is FAMILY.

Ken and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this past December.  We met when we were both stationed in the Air Force at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado.  He asked me out that first day and we never missed a day together after that.  That was 22 years ago this coming May.  He is my best friend, the love of my life and the only man I know who could put up with me.  He saw me through eight years of college to get my doctorate degree and has always supported me on any endeaor I could come up with, and I never failed to come up with them.

Ken has run his own company for the past seventeen years.  Dent Dominator is a paintless-dent removal company.  He absolutely loves what he does and will probably never completely retire from it.  I've always been thankful that he has passtion for his career choice and that he looks forward to doing it everyday.  It shows in the quality of his work and how his clients think of him like family. 

Ken is an amazing man who puts his family first.  I don't know how I did it but I lucked out and got one of the good ones out there.  He is a Muscle Car enthusiast, something we as a family can share together.

Twelve years after we were married we had Ethan.  Up until that point I was either working or in graduate school and I knew I didn't want to have a child only to put him or her into daycare, so we waited until I was finished.  When you've been married with no children for twelve years and then have one, let me tell you, it sure changes the dynamics of your marriage.  But we wouldn't have it any other way.  Ethan has brought such joy and love to our family.

I have been homeschooling Ethan for a year now and love every miute of it.  He is smart (I know, all us moms think our kids are smart and we should) fun, curious and engaging.  He also inherited my personality traits and is very, very strong willed.  Our mission in life as his parents is to help him turn that into a strength and not strangle him in the process.

Ethan loves his Legos.  If you came to our house you would think it was a Lego factory, they are everywhere.  He is also a big reader.  He's gone through all the Harry Potter books a couple of times, and is on his second round of Percy Jackson books, so weekly trips to the library are a norm for us.  He also loves Star Wars.

We used to live in southern Illinois next to St. Louis Missouri, then my husband relocated his company here to Raleigh, North Carolina three years ago last week.  We abolutely love it here and consider ourselves southerners already, (although I jokingly say I'm half southern by blood because my mom is from Texas.)  We absolutely adore going to the beach in the summer, it is our number one past time.

That is our little family in a nut shell.  Of course, I do need to mention our three cats...

 ...Domino (he is little here much, much bigger today)...


 ...Dino... well as the world's cutest of all dogs, Lego to make our family circle complete.

Hope You Have An Amazing Day - Jamie

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mini Gourmet Cupcakes

This year for Valentine's, since my All American Guy took me to Bahama Breeze for dinner (ymmy) I decided to whip up the dessert as part of my gifts to the guys in my life.  So I came up with these super simple but elegant and yummy looking mini gourmet cupcakes.  What do you think?

I decided to use these mini muffin pans from Wilton to cook them in.  Don't pans like this just make you want to come up with a use for them?

Using a paper towel and some butter I greased each mold...  (sorry about the poor photo - student here,)

...then floured them.  Prep work done it was time to make the cake batter.

I hope I don't offend anyones sensabilities, but I went with a Devils Food boxed cake mix here.  I always keep some on hand (purchased of course for a fraction of the original price) for when I don't feel like working hard at baking extraordinary things that make me look bloody genius.

According to the package directions I added the eggs...

...oil and water...

...then mixed.

Next, using a one gallon ziplock baggie I spooned the batter into this to make an easy-pour tool.  From experience I knew trying to get the batter into those smaller cupcake molds would require a bit of finesse.

I snipped off one corner of my plastic bag creating about a 3/4" opening.

This made it a lot easier to pour.  I still had to go slow - the batter wanted to flow out quickly.

I filled each mold about 2/3 of the way full.  Much harder than it sounds but I think I did alright.  I was able to fill two full pans and probably could have filled most of a third.  Since I didn't have one I just poured the extra into a regular cupcake pan.  I then baked these at 350 degrees for 13 minutes (up to 15 depending on your oven - my runs a bit hot.)

Once they cooled I popped them easily out of the pan.  So adorable, they look like little chocolate buttons.


Next (don't crucify me on this one either) I used a store bought can of cream cheese frosting.  Yes once again I cheated.  But figuring this was my special day too, I find in life it is more important to put your time with the things that matter most.  In this case spending time with my family mattered more than homemade frosting. 

I put the icing in a piping bag and using a wide decorating tip squeezed a big ol' dollop right on top of each mini cupcake.

Next, I used about a half a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips,  microwaving them for about 30 seconds, then mixed in a little milk until the chocolate was like a ganache.
 I used a spoon and just drizzled it on. This was the lazy moms way. While I liked the whole abstract art thing going on I think next time I'll use a little squeeze bottle so I have more control.

Now came time to decorate.  I had collected a few items over the past week to bling out my mini cupcakes.

Aren't these the cutest sprinkles?

And of course candy hearts.
I decided to sprinkle some edible glitter on them.  Isn't that cool.  Now be honest, haven't you ever looked at sparkly glitter and thought to yourself "That looks good enough to eat"?  Well now you can thanks to Wilton.  Life doesn't get anymore fun then with edible glitter.
I popped them in these cute mini paper Valentine liners...
...and displayed them on a three-tier desert pedestal I purchased last year at HomeGoods.  Shout out to my favs -  HomeGoods stores!
What I love best about these besides their adorable bite-size cute factor, is that they could easily be decorated for any occasion or even "just because."