Tips & Guides
Summertime means spending time outdoors; without a huge backyard for the kids to run around, my husband and I often take the kids to local parks or the botanical...
My kids don’t know that I recently visited Walt Disney World without them – and that I plan on doing it again. Does that...
Tips & Guides
Summertime means spending time outdoors; without a huge backyard for the kids to run around, my husband and I often take the kids to local parks or the botanical...
Chicken fajitas can be a surprisingly easy weeknight meal — and I don’t mean by trekking out to your local Mexican restaurant. In about...
Summertime means spending time outdoors; without a huge backyard for the kids to run around, my husband and I often take the kids to...
Do children and museums mix? They do when it’s the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, a three-story building on Pittsburgh‘s North Side. The building connects historic buildings in the city: the Allegheny Post Office Building and the Buhl Building, and...
I boiled two dozen eggs this morning for the kids to decorate for Easter. Of these, guess how many broke in the pot while they were simmering? Five! I’m not one to waste, so I put together a quick recipe for egg salad but with a healthier twist. Egg Salad with Avocado, Not Mayo Hold the mayo! What’s usually a staple in my egg salad recipe was left in the fridge today, replaced with the healthier avocado. Full of good fat (instead of saturated, gross, oily fat), the avocado added a creaminess and tastiness to the egg salad, not to mention fun green tint. Avocado Egg Salad Recipe (makes about 4 servings) 3 hard boiled eggs 2-3 hard boiled egg whites 1 ripe avocado (choose a soft but not browned avocado for maximum creaminess) 1 tablespoon dijon mustard salt and pepper to taste Combine eggs, egg whites and avocado in a small bowl, mashing with a fork. Add mustard, salt and pepper, and enjoy!
If you’ve been on a Bahamian Disney cruise, you’ve probably been to Castaway Cay. This little piece of paradise in the Bahamas is Disney’s private island, run by Disney crew and kept for Disney cruisers. As part of the recent media preview cruise of the Disney Fantasy ship, I spent an afternoon on this island, exploring the white sandy beaches and sparkling emerald waters.Photos were taken with HTC Rhyme phone, which is a good phone and even better camera. Settings allow users to edit and size photos right on the phone, and lots of different settings like ISO, white balance, and contrast make for photos that don’t look like they’re from a phone. This is a sponsored post by HTC Rhyme and TravelingMom.com. I received the HTC Rhyme phone for review purposes and will return it. My cruise accommodations were provided by Disney Cruise Lines.
My baking stone is quickly turning into a Rorschach test, with blips and blobs that resemble all sorts of things. When I bought it, it was a beautiful warm beige, a span of pristine ceramic that almost seemed too pretty to use. Fast forward to a few weeks later, after baking several loaves of bread and one or two less-than-successful pizzas on it, and it’s turning darker, thanks to some cheese drips, stuck-on bread loaves and other mishaps—and I’m learning the ins and outs of how to use it. The blackness is a badge of honor of sorts—apparently many cooks aspire to owning black baking stones, which are virtually nonstick thanks to a dark patina of stains. As it is, it’s getting somewhat nonstick and easier to clean; after it cools, we scrape off anything baked on, wipe with a damp cloth, then back into the oven it goes for another baking session. In fact, I’m already resting the dough for a loaf of super easy wheat bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and pizza’s on the menu for tomorrow night (come back soon for a recipe and photos!). Do you have a baking stone? What’s your favorite thing to bake on it?
No matter where I travel — across the country or across town — there’s one thing that seems to be a constant: the misuse of quotation marks. On a road trip to western Pennsylvania we saw a few doozies. Like this: and from the same establishment…. Seriously, whose food is it? And this…. OK, I know about Ladies’ Night, but Sweatpants Monday? (Note: this was in a college town, where it can only be assumed that every day of the week is a sweatpants and/or pajamas day.) What ridiculous signs have you seen in your travels?
As a parent, it’s important to me that my kids love to read. As a person with an English degree and a job in editing, it’s important to me that these books be grammatically correct. My daughter, on the other hand, wants to read every children’s book on fashion and/or cats. It’s a bonus if it’s about both. So when my husband took her to the library, she found Frankly, Frannie: Fashion Frenzy and wanted to bring it home. Okay, sure. So we did. And, that night, began reading. It’s a chapter book for children ages 6 and up, so my husband read it to her. And was quickly surprised by the language involved. Apparently Frannie likes to make up words. Like distractified. And suspensiful. And tragical. And workerish. He had to stop reading before blood started coming out of our ears. Now, I get that kids like to make up words. It’s one of the many ways they express their creativity. But in a book that younger kids are going to want to read, is this really a good thing? I know that when my five-year-old listens to this book, she doesn’t know that these are silly words that silly Frannie made up. She might think it’s a real thing to be distractified. Or to have a secret, inside-face smile (whatever the hell that is). Don’t we owe it to our children to provide them with books that are written grammatically correct so they’re not learning the wrong thing? Or am I just a curmudgeon whose ear sockets just can’t appreciate such horrendimous writing?
the trip we took to LEGOLAND Florida last year. My four-year-old daughter and I were invited to attended the grand opening of LEGOLAND and explored the park on a sunny, summery day. Our first stop at the new theme park was Duplo Village, an area of the park geared toward toddlers. It didn’t take long for my daughter to find the bins of LEGO bricks tucked in among the slides and play equipment in the outdoor Playtown and indoor Duplo Farm, and she happily sat and built bridges and castles with the bright colored bricks. Throughout the park, there are LEGO sculptures tucked away in hidden spots, as well as out in the open. Part of the fun – at least for the older set – is finding these little unexpected surprises, like an alligator in the grass. Read more about our trip on TravelingMom.comMy daughter is still talking about
purchase a baking stone due to a renewed interest in pizza baking. What’s more, the weird, damp, cool spring temperatures we’ve been having make me want to run the oven each evening just to get a little extra blast of heat into the house. Hence, the bread baking. While I might enjoy kneading dough and letting it spend the afternoon rising, I don’t enjoy waiting all afternoon to bake it. I’m more of an instant gratification kind of baker, and have found my match made in bread heaven: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (affiliate). The recipe for the base dough, or boule, is simple and easy to follow and bakes up into the most delicious crispy-outside-and-soft-inside bread that I almost don’t have to buy bread anymore. I’ve played with the ingredients a bit and found that using white wheat flour results in nearly the same bread as using the white flour—and is more healthy. If you don’t have a baking stone, a cookie sheet placed upside-down in the oven on the lowest rack can work nearly as well, but if you’re really serious about good bread, a baking stone is worth the (ahem) dough.I was inspired to
One of my favorite parts of travel is the planning. I love scouring websites and brochures, reading reviews and looking a photos taken at my destination. I’ll pore over maps to get a sense of the place and its layout (and maybe mark the location of a Starbucks or two) and check weather reports to see what sorts of clothes to pack. But there’s something else I’ve recently started looking for. Adventure. I’m not talking about skydiving or swimming with sharks (because I don’t usually swim unless several life jackets are involved), but rather lower key adventure. Like zip lines. I first experienced this activity in Ohio’s Hocking Hills region, where another journalist and I steeled ourselves for an adventure we had never done before – and thought we would end up too chicken to do. I can’t speak for the other person, but I loved every second of it and didn’t want the day to end. I stopped thinking about how I was hanging many, many yards above the ground (and sometimes water and trees and a cave) with only a line of cable and some hooks keeping me from falling. There was no danger; I felt safe, happy and somehow at peace while sailing over the treetops, from one platform to another and nothing but nature around me. It was probably my favorite part of the trip, and an experience I couldn’t wait to enjoy again when my family and I visited Boyne Mountain Resort last year. My kids were, unfortunately, too light to zip but I was eager to give it a go. Honestly, it was a little lonely being a single among families, but it was just as fun as before. I’m not sure what adventures might be in my future… I’d love to take a hot air balloon ride, or maybe try out stand-up paddleboards (or, as the cool kids say, SUP’s), which are becoming popular on the many Michigan lakes. What adventures have you experienced on your travels – or do you hope to experience?
My husband and I are currently keeping a secret from our children. Well, truth be told, we keep lots of secrets from them — most of which they will end up finding out about sooner or later (hopefully later). But this one’s a good one — and one we want to hold onto until the day it happens. It’s a trip out of state to see Thomas the Tank Engine at the Day Out with Thomas event (you can read about our experience last year on TravelingMom). We’re keeping it a secret to see the surprise and joy on their little faces when Thomas peeps into the station. And, if you must know, we’re also not telling them because, the second we do, they will immediately think that we are going to get right in the car and go and see Thomas right then and there. But we won’t. For a couple of weeks. And in kid world, it might as well be in the next century. Do you keep travel secrets from your kids?
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Don’t ask my daughter; as of now, we’ve
sheltered denied her knowing that sponge.
in fact, after several days at the Nickelodeon Hotel (read more about our stay here), she’s none the wiser to the underwater creatures. She did, however, meet Dora, Diego and a couple of her favorite Wonder Pets.
As for Sponge Bob, we’ve kept her from knowing him not only because we try to limit her TV exposure, but we also try to keep things age appropriate. Of course, travel — whether it’s across town or across the country — can teach kids all kinds of thing, including those that you might not want them to know.
On the other hand, it’s also a way to expose her to new sights, sounds, tastes, cultures and adventures that you just can’t find at home — or on TV. I just wish this time it wouldn’t include that sponge.
Need something family-friendly to do? You almost can’t do any better than a festival. Last night my family had an early Father’s Day dinner downtown, then wandered over to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival‘s opening night. Linda Yohn of WEMU was making the opening announcements when we walked over, and mentioned that there were juggling lessons going on in the KidZone tent. So off we went, where my five-year-old daughter watched in awe at the volunteers (part of the Ann Arbor Juggling Arts Club) who were demonstrating their skills and teaching the kids how to juggle. My daughter and I attempted to try to juggle (it’s not as easy as it looks!), then she played with the rings-and-sticks game. Next we headed toward the mainstage to listen to Rio and the Rockabilly Revival and sit down for a while. The kids chugged some water and then were ready to go again, and raced each other around the grassy area where other kids had gathered. We let them run out their energy for a while, then started heading back home. We’re already planning another stop to the festival, which runs through July 8. Next time we’ll pack a picnic and plenty of blankets and bottles of water and make an evening of it.
We always have bananas on hand for the kids, which means we often have spotty, over-ripe, catnip-to-the-fruitflies bananas sitting around. What to do? Banana bread? Banana muffins? How about frozen banana sandwiches? These treats are quick to put together and so delicious on a hot summer day! The mashed up banana takes on the taste and texture of ice cream, and what’s better than chocolate and peanut butter?
Just lay out some graham crackers (the chocolate ones are a good match for the peanut butter) and spread with a tablespoon or so of peanut butter. We use the natural stuff, which tends to thin more than the regular stuff.Then top with some mashed up banana. Top with another cracker, then pop them into the freezer for an hour or so. Enjoy!
With restaurants popping up all over town, Clearwater is becoming a foodie destination. On a recent trip I was able to experience some of the best restaurants the city has to offer. Here are my top 5 best bites in the city. Hilton Clearwater Beach‘s shrimp and grits. As a northern girl, I’d had grits only once before — and didn’t care for the mushy texture. This shrimp and grits had none of the mush, but all of the savory flavor. I can’t wait for the next time I visit the South to have grits again. 2. Palm Pavilion‘s gator nibbles. These tasty little deep-fried morsels were slightly chewy — and a whole lot delicious. And yes, they did taste similar to chicken. 3. Crab cake at Rusty’s Bistro (inside the Sheraton Sand Key resort). This is no ordinary crab cake; it’s a crab feast. I ordered a dinner salad and one crab cake, and almost didn’t have enough room for dessert — which leads me to Bite #4… 4. Bananas Foster at Rusty’s Bistro. Dessert lovers can thank Mayor George Cretekos for this one — he personally made sure this sweet treat was put back on the menu at Rusty’s. Thank you, Mr. Mayor! 5. Grouper sandwich at Frenchy’s. No visit to Clearwater Beach is complete without a grouper sandwich — and this one lives up to the hype. Available fried, baked or in a reuben, the grouper is fresh and the portions are big.1.
This isn’t my usual muffin recipe. The ingredients are decidedly different — and more colorful. My kids love those multi-colored crayons at the store and their playgoup; my husband I don’t love the price of them. We also don’t love the scads of broken crayons in the kitchen. What’s a parent to do? This thrifty one couldn’t see throwing all those crayon ends that no one wants to draw with away. Instead, I made new, multi-colored crayons. Just take the broken bits of crayon, peel off the papers and chop them on a cutting board lined with waxed paper into smaller pieces (mine are about 1/4-inch long). I made red multi-tonal ones for my daughter and blue tones for my son. Preheat the oven tabout 250. Line muffin tins with cupcake cups, then fill the cups about a third to halfway. Pop the muffin tin into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the crayon bits are melted. Allow to cool, then draw, color or write with your new crayons. These would also make a great gift for kids or a favor for kids’ parties.
Call it a “staycation.” While our daughter was Up North with grandparents, my husband and I made plans to do some fun things with our three-year-old son. As plans rarely go as, well, planned, we ended up cancelling a trip and staying home. Wanting to take our son somewhere fun yet close by, we headed to the Matthaei Botnical Gardens, operated by the University of Michigan. We parked and fed the newly installed parking meter ($1.20 per hour or $5 for all day), and headed inside to the conservatory — for which admission is now free with the paid parking. There are all sorts of sights in the conservatory, from unusual plants not native to the Midwest (such as a banana tree, pineapple tree and bizarre sausage tree) to the succulents room with cacti larger than you’d probably ever see in Michigan. Then we headed outside. Our son made a beeline to the Gaffield Children’s Garden, a few-years-old installation on the grounds that has rotating exhibits and activities for kids, such as bells to ring, a slide and a sensory garden. One feature that seems to be permanent is the sandbox, which, today, was more of a dirt box with wet sand. But it didn’t stop our son, who happily dug and built sand castles with the tools and molds kept in the box. We were hoping to get a glimpse — or tour — of the MiSo solar house near the children’s garden, but it wasn’t open. (Now we have an excuse to go back!)
Sometimes the best way to acclimate yourself to a new place is by trying its food. I recently traveled to western Pennsylvania (read all about it here on TravelingMom) and came back with more than just memories and vacation photos – but also food ideas I’ve already put to use. (A sandwich with fries and slaw inside? Don’t mind if I do.) It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but this was my first fajita. Ever. Steak, onions and peppers sizzling in a skillet with a heady mix of spices and wrapped in warm tortillas, and I was sold. I’ve since made chicken fajitas at home several times – and continue to keep this dish in regular rotation. My husband and I enjoyed a rare night away from the kids at Seven Springs Resort and Spa and indulged in restaurant meals during our stay. Reuben with chips: Flatbread pepperoni pizza: Breakfast included a continental buffet with the freshest fruits I think I’ve ever had in a hotel restaurant. And best of all, we had our own pot of coffee! And finally, a trip to western Pennsylvania is not complete without a stop at Primanti Bros. Behold, the pastrami sandwich with fries and cole slaw between the bread:
I’m not a raw foods freak — sure, we try to eat healthy as much as we can and maintain a mostly clean diet with little processed foods — but I recently discovered how amazing raw fruit crackers can be. At the risk of sounding like a crunchy granola mom, I will reluctantly admit that we recently purchased a food dehydrator and have been running it almost nonstop since taking it out of the box. There. I said it. I took a class on food dehydrating at Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor and learned that dehydrators aren’t just for making raisins out of tomatoes and chips out of apples — you can make fruit leathers, veggie leathers, spices, powders, and yes, even crackers. The teacher had a veritable buffet of crackers set out for us, using ingredients like apples, pears and even sauerkraut and roasted peppers. Look at all the treats we got to sample! I stayed safe and used fresh apples for my first batch of crackers. Then I expanded to pear crackers, and even tried to make pumpkin leather, mixing pumpkin puree and honey with pumpkin pie spices. I think I’ll stick with pumpkin spice lattes instead, but the fruit crackers have all been a success. For the apple crackers, I combined 2 apples and 1/4 c applesauce in a food processor and processed until the apples were small shreds. Then I added 1/4 cup each flax seeds and chia seeds, and a splash of lemon juice. Let the seeds soak for an hour or so, then spread onto the dehydrator tray lined with parchment or with an insert so it doesn’t drip down into the rest of the trays. I dried the crackers for about 40 hours at 115 degrees. The crackers turn out crispy and slightly chewy, and the raw seeds help to make them a little more substantial than just pieces of dried fruit. They’re great for my kids’ snacks or for traveling — they aren’t terribly brittle so crumbs don’t end up all over the car.
Fall’s here, and pumpkins seem to have found their way not only onto our porch but into the kitchen as well. I’ve baked the requisite pumpkin bread (I will post about that soon!) and now it’s time for a true fall treat: pumpkin spice lattes. I don’t even buy pumpkin spice lattes anymore – if I have a craving (and with the air as crisp as it is, who doesn’t?), I just cook up a batch of pumpkin spice syrup at home. It’s like pumpkin pie in a cup – but with fewer calories and more caffeine. What’s not to love? To make the syrup, first make simple syrup in a small saucepan (I combine 1 cup each of water and sugar) and simmer until dissolved, stirring often. Then add pumpkin pie spices (either about 2 tbsp. prepared pumpkin pie spice or make your own by combining 2 tbsp. ground cinnamon and ½ tsp. each ground cloves, ginger and nutmeg) and simmer for five minutes. Strain the spices out of the liquid using a sieve or cheesecloth, then add about a tablespoon of pure vanilla. Once cooled, the syrup can be stored in the fridge for about a week — if it lasts that long! To make a latte, combine two shots of espresso and 1 tbsp. of syrup in a mug. Fill with steamed milk, and enjoy!
Free Night Fall promotion? As part of the promotion, I have two two-night stays to give away to two lucky readers! Each free night voucher is valid for one free night, standard room, double occupancy at any North American Country Inns & Suites of the winner’s choice. The vouchers expire one year after the issue date. The full terms and conditions are located on the room night voucher. Entrants need to reside in the US or Canada and must be at least 18 years old. Disclosure: Country Inns & Suites invited me to help promote their Free Night Fall promotion, and I was compensated for my participation. All opinions and comments within my post about the promotion are my own.Need a vacation? How about a two-night stay at your choice of any Country Inns & Suites in North America, as part of its