Monthly Archives: April 2012

On the Road Again

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I’ll be on the road again– well, really, I’ll be up in the air– traveling to another destination on my Places and Spaces Board this weekend.  I’ll be going here:

Image obtained from Breakfast At Sephora, with original source credit to Vogue for Fashion

Don’t you just love the green expanse of Central Park in the middle of the bustling city?  It’s striking.

New York City has been on my Grandma’s bucket list, so she and I are going together on a “Girl’s Trip.  I got us orchestra seats– 5 rows from the stage– for Chicago (scored cheap at Broadway Box), booked a walking tour with NYSEE Tours using a great groupon deal that I picked up a few weeks ago, and a hooked us up to go on a snazzy brunch and yacht tour.  We’re also going to go up to the top of the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center.   The Statue of Liberty is under renovations, and since we’re not able to go inside of it, we decided to stick to seeing it from our yacht trip, which I’ve read gets us close enough to get decent pictures.

Oh, and I scored us a private tour through Big Apple Greeter.  Yep, just me and Grandma, matched with an NYC resident who is going to show us around all sorts of hidden gems in the city that we might not otherwise know to look for.  I already spoke to our assigned greeter, Bob.  He’s actually the one who gave me the scoop on where to buy our Broadway tix.   He also gave me a bunch of recommendations on where to eat, told me all about the area we’re staying in (we’ll be at the Belvedere Hotel in Midtown/The Theater District), and gave me helpful pointers about navigating the city, like “It will take you longer to take a cab to such and such location than it will to walk” (I needed to hear that, because I’m a big fan of cars, and I would have spent a lot of time and money in cabs if he hadn’t given me that info).  He also taught me that 5th Avenue divides the Eastside from the Westside, and gave me the helpful information that the Avenues run North and South, whereas the Streets run East and West, which I anticipate will make our adventures go a little more smoothly.  He even said he’ll take us on the subway– my Grandma’s request–, so that I won’t have to figure that whole situation out on my own.  Whew!  Glad that I dodged that bullet!  Bob chatted with me on the phone for over and hour at 9 o’clock at night, and he’s even picking us up right at our hotel to take us around town.  I’m excited to meet him, I feel like we’re friends already!

How much do you think a sweet set up like Bob from Big Apple Greeter costs?

How about a big fat ZERO?!

For real.  Big Apple Greeter is a VOLUNTEER service.  You just hop on their sight, give them your travel itinerary, and they find a volunteer who is available to show you around the part of town that you’re staying in.  It’s like having a friend waiting for you in the city.  Pretty cool.  Read about it, it sure seems like the sweetest deal going.

Besides that, there’ll be shopping, and eating, and hopefully at least a little bit of sleeping!

But do you want to know the big surprise that I scored, just for my Grandma?

I got us tickets for a taping of Live with Kelly!  When Grandma asked me about getting them, I initially thought it was too late, since they didn’t show any seats available during our visit, but I took a chance and sent them a letter via snail mail and, low-and-behold, they mailed me tickets!!  (I *might* have mentioned my elderly grandma checking things off of her bucket list in that letter… hey, it’s the truth!  Don’t judge me 😉 )  So, we’ll be there in the audience on Monday.  Pretty exciting stuff, right?

So, see you in a few days, friends!  Drop me a line and tell me what exciting plans you have in store for this weekend, it will give me something to read while I’m waiting around in the airport!

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One Obstacle After Another

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I took a week off from Blogville while my guys and I took a trip to the beach.  I’m happy to report that we had a great trip, and then it was back to reality, and the next big thing to tackle on our To Do List.

Task numero uno being hosting Christopher’s 12th Birthday Party.

Christopher is past the point where he wants a true themed party, like His Majesty’s Barnyard Bash, but he definitely still wants a party.  I remembered that someone in an online mother’s group had mentioned a few months back that she created a Nerf Gun Course for her tween-aged son, and that it had been a big hit, so I asked Christopher what he thought of that idea, and he said it sounded like fun.   It was right up my alley because being that his friends are in the 9-14 age range, I wanted to do the bulk of the party outdoors.  I found some cute ideas for a Nerf party invitation from a message board on Two Peas in a Bucket, and a great idea for a cake from Cake Central, but beyond that, it pretty quickly became clear that there was a big logistical issue that would make this Nerf party idea tricky for me to pull off.

The problem was that we don’t have trees in our back yard.  At all.  No trees= no hiding places, and furthermore, it means that hanging up targets would require a lot more thought/work.  I solicited one of my BFFs, my former work husband Don, who happens to participate in many firearms competitions, and I asked him for his help planning and putting on the event.  I envisioned something along the lines of a military inspired training course, with tires to run through and barriers to climb over and hide behind and things of that nature.  You know, like paintball, except that the goal is to hit stationary targets instead of each other.  Don tossed out some ideas, but again, the lack of barriers and trees seemed to the hold back.

So, I moved on to another plan.  Bringing in on site Laser Tag.  I didn’t even know that this existed, but they bring everything– guns, vests, obstacles, EVERYTHING– right to you, just for things like birthday parties and Senior Class Graduation Night and Family reunions and things like that.   But, alas, yet another obstacle in my way:  The company is located more than 2 hours away from our home, and after 20 miles, they charge by the mile and by the hour for the trip out, which would basically double the price.

But, I wasn’t ready to give up that easily.  I decided to look on Ebay, to see if I could buy some laser tag stuff.  And I learned that laser tag stuff is not cheap– not if you want it to actually work, that is.  Plus, it still wouldn’t solve the lack of trees/hiding spaces/etc in our back yard.  So, that idea got nixed as well.

Back to the drawing board, and naturally, I turned back to Pinterest.  I found a few things, but nothing that screamed out to me as being workable for the age range we would be hosting.

But then, I found this on Martha Stewart’s website.  It’s literally entitled “How to Throw an Obstacle Course Party”.

Jackpot.

The nine item list sparked memories in my head of Field Days in elementary school.  Did you guys have Field Day at your school when you were a kid?  It was a huge deal at my school, and it was awesome because not only did you get a day out of the classroom, but you also got to PLAY OUTSIDE.  Heck yeah, those were good times.  I presented my idea to Christopher and he sparked an ear to ear smile like you would not believe.

And so, just like that, we were throwing an Obstacle Course Birthday Party.  And let me tell you, it was AWESOME!!

Decorations were minimal.  I made him a birthday banner that we hung on the back wall of the house.  We decided to hang it indoors because there was a forecast for rain, which thankfully, held out until later on in the evening.

Fabric Pennant Birthday Banner made with the help of a great tutorial over at Martin Family Living.

I made a poster board up with simple rules.

The rules!

My husband made wooden stakes and stapled the station numbers and the goals for each station onto them.  Then we placed them throughout the yard in the designated locations.

I called on a few friends helping us with the set up, which took bout an hour and a half.  My friend Don, mentioned above, oversaw the “firing station”, my friend Elena took the photos, and her son Xavier helped out with all sorts of things.  Oh, and my friend Melissa’s son arrived two hours early because I wrote the wrong times on the invitation, so we put him to work helping with the course set up.  LOL, leave it to me to write the wrong time on an invitation!  Thank goodness it was just ONE invitation! During the course, I ran alongside the kids and kept score on a simple score sheet I made in Pages (the Mac version of MS Word), and my husband kept time on a stop watch.

Looking out at "the course".

We set up 13 different stations.   Before we began, the kids and I walked the course and went over the goals for each station.  The stations were all pretty simple.

Station #1:  The kids spun around 12 times with their foreheads on a baseball bat. 12 times for 12 years old! (Supplies:  A baseball bat)

Station 2:   They moved one rock at a into a box a few feet away until they’d moved 12 rocks.  They had to run them one at a time and place them into the box, they couldn’t throw them.  My friend’s husband called these “Suicides”.  (Supplies:  A box or container and objects to move– I used a cardboard box and  small golf ball sized rocks.)

Station 3:  Crossing a “balance beam”. (Supplies:  concrete blocks and two 8-feet-long 2×4’s screwed together)

Station 4:  Hopping from one hoop to another to the next station. (Supplies: small plastic hoops purchased from Oriental Trading Company)

Station 5: Digging through a bin of corn to find a hidden Easter Egg. .  You may recognize the bin from the sensory play scavenger hunt at His Majesty’s party last month.   I just used it, still full of farm toys, and buried a few plastic Easter Eggs within it.  Believe it or not, this is where the kids lost the most time.  It wasn’t easy to find at all! Once they’d found the egg, they had to pick up a hula hoop and roll it around a bunch of cones to the next station. (Supplies:  rubbermaid plastic storage bin, 2 large bags of feed corn, and a small object to search for.  You could also fill the bin with sand, dry beans, rice, bird seed… whatever you want! You’ll also need a hula hoop and construction cones.  I bought my small colorful cones at Oriental Trading Company.)

Station 6:  Ring toss, with time deducted for a “ringer”. (No photo) (Supplies:  we had a plastic ring toss set that came with an outdoor yard game set we bought years ago, but you could easily do this with wooden stakes and small plastic rings purchased at the dollar store, or change it up and use horse shoes.)

Station 7:  Crawling under a Streamer “tunnel” .(Supplies: this is so easy, it’s just a rectangular serving table with streamers taped over it.)

 

Station 8:  Walking with an egg on a spoon, with time added if the egg broke.  (No photo) (Supplies:  a tablespoon and some raw eggs.)

Station 9:  Jumping rope 12 times, counting out loud. (Supplies:  a jump rope.)

Station 10:  Bean Bag toss.  (Supplies: bean bags, or even small plastic or foam balls, and containers to toss them into.  I used empty containers of sour cream, oatmeal, and ice cream as the targets, and gave the  kids anywhere from 10-40 second deductions for getting the bean bag into a container.)

Station 11: Jumping Jacks, while counting out loud– 12 of them, of course! (Supplies: NONE!)

Station 12:  Using an air soft gun, the kids shot at empty pop cans (weighed down with dried beans and corn so that the wind didn’t knock them over).  Don and Xavier stayed at this station to make sure it was done safely, and they also refilled the “clips” in between rounds so that all the kids had to do was put on the safety goggles and take aim.  The kids got 5 seconds deducted from their time for each can that they hit.  (Supplies:  An air soft gun and appropriate plastic pellets, a table or stand to hold the weapon and ammo– we used a tall empty cardboard box– and a table to set the targets on.  Our targets were about a dozen empty Pepsi cans.)

Station 13:  Blow up a balloon, tie it, and make it pop.  Most of the kids sat on them to pop them, but some squeezed them, jumped on them, and one guy even BIT into one! (Supplies:  Balloons.)

After they’d completed station 13 by popping the balloon, they ran to the finish line, where they had to sit down in order for their time to officially stop.

The actual times ranged from 3 to 6 minutes, but most of the kids also earned deductions for their performance.  The winning time, after deductions, was 2 minutes and 14 seconds!

Afterwards, we fed them pizza and salad.  I ordered our pizzas online from our local Papa John’s, and was able to schedule delivery for right in the middle of the party.  I could even leave a “comment” for the delivery driver.  I took that opportunity to write “Please deliver to the back yard”, pretty much expecting that it would go unnoticed, but sure enough, right at the scheduled time, the driver appeared in the backyard, pizzas in hand!  It was so easy, I highly recommend it.   When everyone was enjoying their dinner, I presented the winner with his prize:  A $10 Cold Stone Gift Card.   I did it American Idol style, too, even taking a “commercial break” just before I announced the winner!  I had wayyyy too much fun with this party, can’t you tell?

We gave everyone some time to eat, and then the kids ran out for a little more time on the obstacle course before we called them in for cake and ice cream.   Christopher chose a “Cookie Dough Delirium” ice cream cake from Cold Stone. I thought it was just ok, but my favorite part of cake isn’t the cake, it’s the frosting, so don’t go by my opinion in that regard.  The kids and parents seemed to enjoy it.

We dished up the ice cream into cupcake liners a few hours before the party started, an idea pinned from Real Simple that saved a lot of time when it came time to actually serve the ice cream.  I bought peanut butter cup ice cream, too… in a suspicious turn of events, my husband claimed that he”forgot” to scoop some out for the party… and it just so happens to be his favorite flavor… so you do the math on that 😉

I also made  Oreo Pops for the kids to nosh on, an idea pinned from Hip Hip Hooray, a blog with dozens of ideas for kid’s parties.  I displayed them in a flat foam wreath ring wrapped in streamers.  

Lastly, the kids got to stuff goody bags with treats from the “Candy Bar”.  They’re a little old for goody bag “toys”, so we went with all edible stuff.  M&Ms, Sour Patch Kids, Gum Balls, Reese’s Cups, Skittles, and various candy bars.  This was a huge hit with the guys. They loved stuffing their bags.

It was a blast.  I got a chance to exercise my inner drill sergeant, and the kids got to run off some energy.  The kids and parents all told me that they had a good time, and we had great friends helping us out.  Not only that, but the weather couldn’t have been better, and every invited guest not only came, but RSVP’d!  High five for good manners!

But the best part was seeing my Christopher enjoy himself so much.

Happy Birthday Baby Boy!  May all your dreams come true.

 

 

 

Quick and Easy Dump Cake

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I first heard about Dump Cake from a woman named Lilly that rode in a vanpool with me, back when I was still collecting a pay check in my name.  She told me that all you need is some dry cake mix, and a few cans of fruit, be it peaches, blueberries, cherries, apple pie filling, whatever, and then you dump it all in a pan, add some butter, and bake it.  She said she brought it to family reunions, pot lucks, housewarming parties, wherever, and always received compliments on it.

Now, I know enough about baking to know that I’m getting a gift of a recipe if someone tells me about it and can’t give me exact measurements.  You know– “a little bit of this” and “a few handfuls of that”.  Those are the keepers.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have wished I had paid more attention to my paternal grandfather as he stood in the kitchen and effortlessly made flour tortillas from scratch over a gas stove.  No measuring, he just knew when the dough was perfect.  I have never had a tortilla as delicious as the ones that he made for me in his kitchen, and how he got them to be perfectly round is an art that I never took the time to study.  Having said that, do yourself a favor and call your mother, grandmother, father, aunt, cousin, whomever makes something they are “famous” in their circle for, and ask them to teach you how to make it.  You know what recipe I’m talking about, that famous french onion soup of your father’s, or grandma’s lasagna, or your cousin’s perfect buttercream icing.  If you don’t, that recipe might one day die with them, just like the recipe for my Papa’s tortillas, and that my friends, is tragedy that can easily be prevented.

Anyway, back to Dump Cake.  Lilly told me about it a few years ago, and I don’t have the benefit of standing in her kitchen and watching her add a little of this and a little of that.   So, I googled it.

What what should return but Pioneer Woman’s version of Pineapple Cherry Dump Cake.

You know Pioneer Woman.  Author, bloggess, homeschool mom, star of her own TV show, THAT Pioneer Woman.  She is the master of all things, and I LOVE reading her blog.  And SHE has a version of Dump Cake.

I did a happy dance, and I said to myself “Self, PW has a Dump Cake recipe.  It. Is. ON!”

So I made one.

And my whole family, and some of my friends, are glad that I did.

You only need four things.  A box of dry cake mix (I used yellow), 2 large cans of fruit (I used cherry and crushed pineapple, like PW did, but remember, Lilly said you can use any fruit you want.  I want to try it with cherries and peaches next) and 1.5 sticks of butter.  (Yes, as in one-and-a-half sticks of butter.  PW says you can make it with a stick of margarine and a half stick of butter if you want, since that’s what she did, but I don’t have margarine, and it turned out fine using only butter.)

Start by preheating your oven to 350, and then go ahead and dump both cans of fruit, juice and all, into a 9×13 baking dish.

Mix the fruit together to make it uniform.

Then cover the fruit with the entire box of dry cake mix, and pat it down to break up any big lumps.

Here’s a side view:

Chop your butter into slices and place them all over the top of the cake mix.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, until it’s browned on top, and the filling is bubbly.  I checked it through the oven door every 5 minutes after the 45 minute mark and took it out after 55 minutes.

I let it cool for little while, and then I scooped it out and topped it with whipped cream– the kind you spray out of the can.  My kids were pretty stoked about it, they pretty much think spray whipped cream is a dessert all on its own.  Poor deprived kids.  But I think I made up for the fact that I don’t make whipped cream from scratch by simply serving up this awesome concoction.  Christopher was pretty pleased.

We served it when we had friends over for company, and everyone had more than one serving.  People can’t believe how easy this is to prepare.  If you didn’t tell them, they’ll think you slaved in the kitchen to make this, it is just that good.   Then we made it again a few days later so that my husband could take it to work for a pot luck luncheon, where it was also a big hit.

His Majesty got a taste, too. Look how he’s hawking the bowl.  If you want him to like you, give him food.

I only gave him a bite if he answered the trivia questions correctly.

“Who loves you the most, baby?”

“MOMMY!”

That’s my boy.

This recipe is one to hang on to, but then again, EVERYTHING I’ve tried that is PW inspired has been a surefire hit.

What about you?  Do you make something that you are a legend among your friends and family for?  Is there something someone you know makes that you keep meaning to get the recipe for?  Do you have a favorite Pioneer Woman recipe?

Lemon Sugar Hand Scrub

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Lemon Sugar Hand Scrub

I love spring, partially because it’s warm enough to be outside, but not so hot by noon that it makes me want to hibernate with the shades drawn and the AC set to South Pole, but mostly because of the flowers and the garden and the yard work.  A lot of yard work.   It don’t mind though, because it’s generally work that I get to be immediately rewarded for.  I can see the results of my efforts right away when I rake out leaves and set more mulch and prepare the ground for another round of annuals (our frost date is April 15, and I can hardly wait!).  Then there’s the garden boxes that will need planting, and some potted herbs and lettuce given to me by my awesome friend Emily.  I really enjoy this time of year.  I really just enjoy getting to play in the dirt.  There’s something kid-like and soothing about patting down soil and handling mulch and mud.  I don’t wear gloves unless I am messing with something “picky”, so I tend to get good and dirty.

And so do my fingernails.

Which is pretty gross.

Enter this recipe for  lemon sugar hand scrub, which was inspired by Stephanie Lynn at Under the Table and Dreaming.   I made some of Stephanie Lynn’s version for a Christmas Bazaar a few months ago, and gave some away as gifts, and it was so easy.  I figured that I might as well whip some up to keep around my kitchen.

Three ingredients: Lemon juice, sugar, and vegetable oil.  Stephanie used olive oil, and you can also use sunflower, grape seed or safflower oil if you prefer.  This is a pretty flexible formula.

I’ve learned that the ratio of sugar to oil when you’re making a scrub is 2:1, so 2 cups sugar to 1 cup oil.  Then add a few tablespoons of lemon juice (I used 4, like Stephanie Lynn suggested) and blend it all together.  You can also use a few drops of lemon essential oil instead of the lemon juice.  I used my stand mixer, because it’s this is all obviously edible stuff, but you can also use a big bowl.  If you mix it by hand, literally, mix it BY HAND.  It will be easier than using a spoon and you’ll get everything blended better. Plus, you’ll exfoliate your hands while you mix it.

Once you get it mixed to a uniform consistency, spoon it into a wide mouthed container.  You want to container to be large enough at the opening so that you can fit your hand inside.

This recipe makes a little more than 1 cup of Lemon Sugar Scrub.  I stuffed mine in an 8 ounce mason jar, and used the rest on my hands right after I finished making it.

Perfect to have around the house for yourself, or to give as a gift to a friend!

Do you make any of your own beauty supplies?  Care to share any ideas?

Gorgeous Garden Boxes

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While I was busy planning for my trip to Michigan over the past few weeks, and pinning ideas to help me decorate my little brother’s new home (the trip went great by the way, on time flights to and from, awesome people seated near me on the flight, and a half empty plane on the way home with lots o’ extra space to store stuff), my husband was busy making raised garden beds using inspiration from a set of Ana White’s amazing plans.  Ana White makes easy to follow plans for pretty much every piece of furniture you can think to make, and my husband has also used her plans to make floating wood shelves for Christopher’s school room (which I have yet to blog about because I haven’t found things to put on said floating shelves yet, but once I do, you’ll hear all about it).  He used these plans more for inspiration than for the actual construction of our boxes, but he said that her plans would be great to follow exactly if you want a simple box.

Simple would have been great, however, because we don’t have a fenced yard, and because we’ve also seen deer and rabbits in our unfenced yard, we wanted to build a fence into the box to hopefully gain some protection from the wildlife.  So, he had to modify the plans a bit.  He got creative.  Just wait until you see what he did with this pile of wood and fencing.  Don’t mind our messy garage, it’s on our never ending list of things to do. 

The biggest thing that he borrowed from Ana White’s plans was to use cedar fence planks as the foundation for his boxes.  They were less than $2 per plank.  He left the dog eared portion of the planks intact, since he knew he was going to be using pine boards to support the fencing he would add, so a gap wouldn’t exist, and no dirt would escape.  

Pine boards placed in the corners formed the frame for the fencing that we hope will give us some protection from animals (and stray footballs).  

The thin pieces of cedar that you see at the corners and placed vertically along the boxes are cedar planks that he cut into thirds, and then ripped down to the size that he needed to give the planks some extra support, not only when he moved the box to its home in the yard, but also for when many pounds of dirt would be pressing against them.

He used the wire fencing to wrap the pine 2×4 boards, securing it into place using a staple gun along three sides of the box, leaving one of the wide sides open.

Next he constructed doors for the box, again using pine boards, secured with screws and wood glue for extra support at the joints.

More fencing was applied to the doors using a staple gun and then hinges were applied.

He then decided to apply fencing to the bottom of the box, to help keep moles and voles out.  That idea came from our next door neighbor, who liked our boxes so much, that he asked my husband to make him a few, without the gate.  He didn’t take a picture of that part, but he again used a staple gun to secure it.

At this point, he applied latches the door and carried the boxes out to the yard. 

There are two gates on each box, opening out, to allow for planting, weeding, harvesting, etc.

And when we don’t need to have access to the soil, we can just keep them closed and latched.

Once the boxes were in place in the yard, he filled them with a compost soil blend.  He and our neighbor split the cost for the soil and delivery.  We try to do that whenever we rent equipment or have something delivered.  It saves money on delivery fees, plus, sharing is caring, or so Christopher used to remind me when he was little and wanted something of mine (like my ice cream, after he’d eaten all of his in 30 seconds, and I’d savored mine to enjoy every last bit. Of course, the same principle wasn’t always on his mind when I wanted something of his…).

The boxes he built for the neighbor look like this.

Same general principle, but no tall fencing or doors.  He placed his closer to his house, so maybe wildlife will be less likely to feast on his crops.  Time will tell, and then I’ll tell you.  The fencing was the most expensive part of the project, so if the neighbor’s stuff survives unscathed, we will feel better about constructing any future boxes without it, and you can take that knowledge into consideration as well, and maybe save yourself some money.

So there you have it.  While I was planning a solo trip out of town, my sweet and handy husband was hard at work in the garage and in the yard.  

He’s a good guy, that one.  Extra good, in fact.  Because when he was done placing the completed boxes, he cut the grass.  He’d been feeding me some line about how letting the grass grow longer would crowd out crabgrass, but a girl can only take so much, and I think he realized that I was on the edge.   The man takes cues and he takes initiative, plus he’s a hard worker, and he’s sweet and cute, and handy with power tools and kitchen appliances.  Plus, he reads stories, gives His Majesty baths, and changes diapers.
Did I score a real prize or what?  Who needs the Mega Millions, I’ve got the real jackpot right here 🙂
Do you have an awesome person in your life?  Or are you working on a beautiful garden?  Or have you scored a fantastic pair of shoes?  What’s good in your life lately? Feel free to brag about it!!