Author Archives: Deanna Michaels

The Best Crazy Chocolate Cake Recipe

Graphic of crazy chocolate cake

This crazy chocolate cake recipe is one we’ve been making for years. As in for over 30 years! This is probably the easiest chocolate cake you will ever make and it’s super cheap too.

What exactly is crazy chocolate cake, you ask? Well, it’s a dairy free, egg free cake that you mix right in the pan it’s baked in! Fewer dishes and no special ingredients are always a good thing!

When my siblings and I were little none of us were fans of the traditional frosted birthday cake. One year I begged my mom for one – it was white with blue flowers – and I hated it. Oops, sorry mom.

This exact recipe for crazy chocolate cake was our most common pick for a birthday dessert – it was a cake we actually loved! Angel food cake, Mississippi Mud Pie, and a few other things made an appearance as well.

I think I have only made one other type of chocolate cake in my life and now my non cake loving kids enjoy this too.

Crazy Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Vanilla extract
  • Oil
  • Vinegar
  • Hot water

Crazy Chocolate Cake Instructions

This cake is so easy! It’s the perfect recipe for your kids to add to their repertoire.

  1. Sift dry ingredients into a greased 9×13 inch pan. I have made this in both glass and metal pans. You can also make this is a 8 inch square pan by simply cutting all of the ingredients in half (and just watch your bake time). If I’m honest, on occasion I’ve even skipped the sifting step. Don’t tell anyone, just make sure you don’t have any clumps of soda or cocoa.
  2. Make three holes in the dry ingredients with a spoon. 2 small holes and one a little larger.
    Dry ingredients for crazy chocolate cake
  3. In one hole put the vanilla in another the vinegar and in the largest hole the oil.
    chocolate cake dry ingredients with oil, vinegar, and vanilla
  4. Pour 2 cups of warm water over the entire mixture! (I use water I heated in the microwave because I don’t like using our tap water. If you bake with tap water, you can use hot water right from the tap.)
    Crazy chocolate cake with hot water over the top5. Use a fork to blend the mixture gently but thoroughly.
    Mixed crazy chocolate cake
    6. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees. Start checking at 30 minutes. What kind of pan you use and how your oven cooks will make the length very. A toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean, but don’t overbake!7. Let cake cool and frost with your favorite frosting or one of the following 2 options.

Crazy Chocolate Cake Frosting:

1/2 cup butter, melted
3 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place above ingredients into a bowl and add milk or half and half until smooth.
crazy chocolate cake frosting
Spread on cooled cake.
Frosted Crazy Chocolate Cake
The other frosting option is the one to use if you are dairy free!

Frosting Option 2:

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • dash of saltStir in water until the desired consistency.

Overhead shot of a slice of crazy chocolate cake

Check out these other desserts:

Crazy Chocolate Cake Recipe

Crazy Chocolate Cake Recipe
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
 
This is the easiest chocolate cake in the world! Not only is it easy, it's my kids' favorite cake recipe. Topped with a rich frosting this is perfection.
Ingredients
Cake
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup cocoa powder (I use ½ cup)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ¾ cup salad oil (or neutral oil of choice)
  • 2 cups warm water
Frosting Option 1
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 3 heaping teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Milk (or cream or half and half)
Frosting Option 2
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • ⅓ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • dash salt
  • water
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9x13 inch pan.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients directly into the pan.
  4. Make three holes with a spoon. I one hole put vanilla in another vinegar and in the third the oil.
  5. Pour two cups warm water over the entire mixture and blend gently but thoroughly with a fork.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.)
  7. Let cool and frost.
Frosting 1
  1. Combine all ingredients except the milk. Stir and add milk or cream until frosting is smooth and spreadable.
Frosting 2
  1. Combined powdered sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt in a bowl. Stir in water until desired consistency.

 

The Best Children’s Books About Trains

Stack of children's books about trains

This post is going to be on children’s books about trains – a book list perfect for a young train lover. It will include board books and picture books that your toddler, preschooler, and kindergartener will love. My son is now 7.5 and he still eagerly listens to even the simplest of these books when sister pulls one out.

My middle child is a boy and he was obsessed with trains, trucks, and dinosaurs. I’m sure you relate! Every trip to the library included many books on those 3 subjects. The books he pulled out of our bookshelves at home were on one of those things.

To help out other parents with kids obsessed with these things, I am going to share books lists on what we checked out of the library and own to help you on your own search.

Today we will tackle all the children’s books about trains!

Use this list to see what your library has and then you can buy your child’s favorites! You can also use Amazon on most of these to get previews of what the pages are like.

The first two on this list we own and our copies are worn and falling apart – that’s how many times we’ve read them.

Affiliate links are used in these posts. See disclosure page for more info.

What have been your kids’ favorite train books?

horizontal picture of books about trains for kids

Children’s Books About Trains

 

 

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo by Kevin Lewis 
This was my son’s all time favorite book! It’s easy but he loved this and read it daily up until he was probably 5 1/2. Though, even at 7 1/2, if my daughter pulls it out to read he’ll some come running over. He still called it his favorite book when we took it out for the pictures.


Freight Train by Donald Crews
I’d say this was Spencer’s second favorite book. Our copy is very tattered. Another quite easy one great for young kids (1 and 2 year olds even, though he still loved this when he was older).


That’s Not My Train by Fiona Watt
I’ll be honest and say we have not read this book by we have read many others of the Usborne “That’s not my” series. Again, perfect for even the 1 year olds but at 5 my daughter still grabs these from the library on a regular basis.


Trains by Byron Barton
Another simple board book option for your train loving toddlers.


Trains Go by Steve Light
The last of the board books on this list. I love that board books hold up so much better under normal toddler use!


A Train Goes Clickity Clack by Jonathan London
An easy, fun picture book that we also own. Recommended for 18 months to age 5.


Trains Coming Through by Stephanie Morgan
This book, although not a board book, is advertised for ages 0-3. Again, though, they will still love it when they are older.


Trains by Gail Gibbons
My kids all love books by Gail Gibbons. This one is a simple one that is again perfect for your 2-4 year olds.


Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld
These next three are by the same author. This one is a story and preschooler (age 3-5) kids love it. The other two would be recommended for younger ones – they introduce colors and numbers with little rhymes. So most likely baby – age 3 or 4. Again, I recommended checking books out from the library and then deciding what you want to buy.


Steam Train, Dream Train 1-2-3 by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld


Steam Train, Dream Train Colors by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld


This Train by Paul Collicutt
Fun, easy book with just a couple words on each page. Your train lovers will enjoy this from probably age 1-4.


My Big Train Book by Roger Priddy
We do not have this book, but we have the Priddy Big Truck Book and it was a favorite of my sons. He pulled it out to look through by himself or have it read to him many times. Don’t discount giving little kids non-fiction books for those topics they are obsessed with! Recommended age is 1-4. (Though he read it past that.)


The Goodnight Train by June Sobel and Laura Huliska-Beith
Even though this book is for ages baby-3, it’s one that my just turned 5 year old still reads. In all of these books, she still finds them fun and enjoys the pictures. There are 2 other books in this series if your child likes the first one. The Goodnight Train Rolls On and Santa and the Goodnight Train.


The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet
These two books by Bill Peet are more like a traditional picture book. There are more words on each page but they are fun and I love his illustrations. They say recommended for ages 3-7.


Smokey by Bill Peet


Trains: Steaming! Pulling! Huffing!  by Patricia Hubbell
This is another book we haven’t read but our library has some of her others in this series that we’ve read many times. They are easy and fun. We’ve read these from about ages 2-6. (Though it is simple for a 6 year old)


The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
I’m sure you know this book. It’s one we’ve probably all read as a child. The listing recommends it for ages 3-7.


Prairie Train by Marsha Wilson Chall
A fun story about a girl who travels via train to go and visit her grandmother. Ages 4-8.


Locomotive by Brian Floca
This story is a bit more lengthy. It’s a picture book for ages 4-8. A 3 year old might still sit through it depending on attention span. (Don’t forget you can always abbreviate the pages too)


The Little Train by Lois Lenski
It’s not an exciting book nor does it really have a story, but it’s fun for train lovers (or fans of Lois Lenski).  Ages 2-5.


Train Song by Diane Siebert
As the name suggests, this book is written in song/or poem form. It lists the recommended age as 4-8, but I think age 2 or 3 to 7 is more accurate.


Steam, Smoke, and Steel: Back in Time with Trains by Patrick O’Brien
This book is for age 3 or 4 to 8. For the younger kids, you can skip the lengthier text pages and just read the caption.


Trains (Mighty Machines) by Jean Coppendale
A fun, non fiction book of trains and train facts for train lovers from 3-7.


The Big Book of Trains by DK
My son has always gravitated toward non-fiction books in the Youth section over fiction books for the topics he’s crazy about. (That means dinosaurs, construction trucks, and trains.) Starting from even 4 and 5 he’d sit and pour over the pictures in these books and we’d read (or summarize) the information on the pages for him. Don’t limit your library adventures to just the board book and picture book section.

One last tip! Don’t forget to check out your kids’ favorite series to see if there are train themed books. From Curious George to Daniel Tiger or even early readers like Henry and Mudge you might find some more options.

What other children’s books about trains am I missing?

graphic with a pile of kids' books about trains

Easy Baked Home Fries

Crispy baked home fries on a white plate

Potatoes. They are cheap, kid friendly, and easy to fix! My kids all prefer roasted potatoes over mashed so this recipe for baked home fries is a winner in this house. In fact, my kids eat them like they are candy.

These potatoes are perfect to serve for breakfast along side eggs and bacon. They would also be great to go with hamburgers or baked chicken. Baked home fries are so versatile.

Home fries are basically another name for seasoned, cubed potatoes that you bake in the oven or cook in a skillet until crisp. They can be a substitute for French fries or hash browns. So, yes that means the kids enjoy dipping these in ketchup.

Check out how easy these are to make.

Baked Home Fries Ingredients

  • Potatoes (I typically use russets because they are cheap, but I love Yukon gold potatoes and baby potatoes)
  • Oil (olive oil, refined coconut oil etc)
  • Bell peppers and onions, optional
  • Seasonings: garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt. I love adding rosemary too.

Baked home fries on a pan ready to go into the ovenBaked Home Fries Instructions

  1. Dice your potatoes into similar sized pieces. (Peel, wash, dry and then chop them or scrub the peel, dry, and chop.) Cut between 1/2-1 inch chunks – your preference. The smaller size would cook faster.
  2. Put your potatoes into a bowl and toss with olive oil (or oil of choice) and some seasonings (but not the salt).
  3. You can add diced onions and bell peppers if you’d like. I love these, but some of my kids prefer without. They are totally optional. Add these halfway through the baking process.
  4. Bake on a large baking sheet (you don’t want your potato pieces to be touching) at 425 degrees. Once or twice during the baking you will want to flip the potatoes so they get crisp on all the sides.
  5. Remove from oven and salt to taste.

picture of baked home fries on a plate

Baked Home Fries
Author: 
Recipe type: Side
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 cups cooked potatoes
 
These baked home fries are easy, frugal, and so good! The perfect recipe for breakfast or a side to go with dinner. Kid friendly and flavorful, these will be a favorite.
Ingredients
  • 3-5 Potatoes (you want 4 cups of cubed potatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary, optional
  • ¼-1/2 cup diced bell pepper, optional
  • ¼-1/2 cup diced onion, optional
  • salt, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Peel , wash, dry (or leave peels one and simply scrub and dry) the potatoes and cut into ½ inch cubes until you have 4 cups. Place in a bowl.
  3. Place olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and rosemary (if using) in the bowl with potatoes. Stir to coat evenly.
  4. Spread potatoes onto a baking sheet. You don't want your potatoes to be stacked. A small amount of space between each piece is ideal to help with even cooking.
  5. Bake for 35-45 minutes depending on size. Use a spatula to flip the potatoes after 20 minutes. Add the onions and peppers at this point, if using.
  6. Cook another 10 minutes and check. Keep checking potatoes every 5 minutes. When they are the desired crispness, remove from oven, season with salt and enjoy!

 

Easter Basket Ideas for Tween Girls

An Easter basket full of gift ideas for tween girls

Easter is right around the corner! Today’s post is full of Easter basket ideas for tween girls. Tweens are kids between ages 9 and 12.

My oldest daughter is 10. Honestly I’m loving these years and she is so fun to buy for. She has new interests and likes more grown up things but also still really enjoys the more “kiddie” type of things as well.

We actually keep Easter gifts quite simple in our house, and don’t even use the basket. Each of the kids will just get a couple of inexpensive items (often candy and something else) and they are happy and look forward to it each year.

On Easter, we start our day with a big service and breakfast at church and afterward go home for a lunch and the kids’ treats. The baskets aren’t the main focus of our day, which helps with the ability to keep them simple.

All that to say, don’t feel that you have to go overboard on Easter baskets – do as much or as little as you’d like. Set a budget and stick to it.

Now, let’s get on to this fun list of tween girl Easter basket ideas. My daughter even helped compile this list for you.

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An easter basket loaded with goodies for a tween girl

Easter Basket Ideas for Tween Girls

For even more Easter basket ideas, be sure to check out this post!

What are your favorite Easter basket ideas for tween girls?

A close up picture of an Easter basket for tween girls

What I Read in 2020

Stack of some of the books I read in 2020I love books. A lot. They are one of the ways I both relax and learn. 2020 wasn’t my highest reading year ever, but I’m happy with it and still read lots of good books!

I broke the books into 4 broad categories:

Fiction, biography/memoir, non-fiction, and chapter books read with the kids. Be thankful that I left off the hundreds (over a thousand) picture books we read over the last year. 😉

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Books with an asterisk were my very favorites!

2 stacks of books I read last year.

Fiction:
Ivanhoe
At the Back of the North Wind
Anne of Green Gables*
Anne of Avonlea*
Anne of the Island
Anne of Windy Poplars
The Winged Watchman
Bridge to Terabithia
A Girl of the Limberlost*
Freckles
Stepping Heavenward*

I hadn’t read any of those books in probably close to 20 years. My oldest daughter and I read the Anne books separately and want to finish the series this year. It was so fun fun re-read those. (Next I need to have a movie watching party with her.) Of course Ivanhoe and At the Back of the North Wind are great classics too.

If you haven’t read A Girl of the Limberlost do so, but read Freckles first. They are such enjoyable books. A side note, there is an old move of A Girl of the Limberlost and I watched it in my early teens. It was horrible and I despised it. One day my mom said the next thing she was going to read aloud to me was that book. I pitched a fit but ended up loving it!

Moral of the story is: Never judge a book by its movie.

Non Fiction:
Mere Christianity*
Girls’ Club
The Deepest Well*
Forgotten God
Approaching God: How to Pray
Grace for the Good Girl
Stop Calling Me Beautiful*
Why Motherhood Matters
She’s Still There
Who Made God?
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
The Years That Matter Most
Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes*
Evicted
Your New Money Mindset
Tears We Cannot Stop
Glow Kids*

You need to read The Deepest Well. It will help you understand others. If you interact with kids, are a teacher, volunteer in kids ministry – please read it. It has also helped me be more understanding towards adults I struggled with.

Glow Kids is a great, eye-opening, sad look at kids and screens. Parents and people that work with children/teens need to read it, just to be aware!

This is my second time through Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes and I still find myself referencing it. Another must read. Of course Mere Christianity is always up there too.

Stop Calling Me Beautiful. So often we, especially women, are given a watered down Christianity. This is the call to go deeper with Jesus and dig into the Word which I am all about.

Biography/Memoir:
The Choice*
Union: A Democrat, A Reuplican, and a Search for Common Ground
Finding Chika
George Mueller
1776*
Three Cups of Tea
Hidden Figures
Atlas Girl
Jumping Through Fires

It feels like well over a year ago that I read 1776, but I enjoy reading anything by David McCoullough. Learning history is enlightening and needed. (Read John Adams after this one.)

loved The Choice. Edith was a survivor of Auschwitz. She tells her hard story of finding freedom well after the war had ended and her journey as a therapist and a few individuals she helped worked through their own trauma.

Even thought I only asterisked 2 of these books, I actually quite enjoyed all of them! It’s fascinating to learn the stories of other people, perspectives and times. They are worth reading.

Read to the Kids:
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Cat Stories
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
Happy Little Family
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
North! Or Be Eaten
The Monster in the Hollows
Wednesdays in the Tower
Thursdays with the Crown
Charlotte’s Web
Pippi Longstocking
Shiloh
The Tale of Despereaux
Winter Cottage
Rabbit Hill
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

So many fun books I got to enjoy with my 3 kids this year. The first 3 books in The Wingfeather Saga were such a looked forward to part of our evenings as we listed to Andrew Peterson read them aloud each night on Facebook.

My 7 year old boy’s favorites from the list are: the 2 Little House books, the 3 Wingfeather saga books, Wednesdays in the Tower, Thursdays with the Crown, and Winter Cottage. (The Little House series is also one to discuss with your kids the treatment of Indigenous people and how they are talked about in the series.) 

The 9 year old says Wingfeather Saga topped her list.

My 4 year old proclaimed Rabbit Hill her favorite.

Hopefully this list gives you some reading inspiration. If you need more ideas, you can check out these posts from previous years:

A pile of books stacked on the floor that I read in 2020