Super Easy Homemade Pizza Dough… and it is Crazy yummy too!

 

 

In our family, my husband does a lot of the cooking.  Working in a restaurant or food industry for most his life, he enjoys being in the kitchen.  I have no problem with this (except for the large amount of dirty dishes he makes!). I am the baker and he is the chef!

Since we have 5 children, all with differing likes and dislikes it is hard to find one thing everyone will eat for dinner.  Which means one of our staple dishes is of course pizza. Delivery is way too expensive to have on a frequent basis and making your dough from a box mix and be coin toss.  The pre-made crusts that are hanging in bags in your grocery store seem dry to me, and sometimes stale. So we started experimenting making our own crust.  We started using the recipe that came with our bread machine, but it took 1 1/2 hours to make, not including the cooking time!  So if we wanted to have pizza for dinner, we needed to start making it over 2 hours before we were going to eat it and that did not always fit into our schedule.  In addition to that, our littlest one lost the small paddle attachment that turned all the ingredients in the machine.  Now it is just a sad looking box on our shelf, yearning for the day it will be used again, if ever the mixing part can be found. (cue the dramatic sad music).

We finally found a recipe that we love, and takes a lot less time to make.  It doesn’t need a bread machine either!

I like to call this recipe our Super Easy Homemade Pizza Dough. My husband is always posting pictures of this on his facebook page, and we get a lot of requests for the recipe… so here it is…….

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast (this is about one package of yeast)

1 teaspoon of white sugar

1 cup warm water

2 1/2 cups bread flour (it has to be BREAD flour.. all purpose will not work)

2 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

(optional spices to taste)

Oregano

Dry basil

Italian Seasoning

 

Now, as for the directions, we make all of this in our Kitchen Aid mixer.  I can’t begin to tell you how much we use this machine in our house, it is great for so many things, from making all of my cakes and cookies, to pulling the pork, once it is done in the crock pot. It really is a wonderful investment.

If you don’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer.. then GET ONE!! ha ha..But, if you don’t .. no worries, it can be done with a hand mixer

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

In a medium bowl (We use our Kitchen Aid) dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water, stir very minimally.  Let stand until creamy and foamy.  It should take about 10 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Once the yeast mixture is foamy, stir in bread flour (we always use the Gold Medal brand with good results), salt and oil along with any additional spices you would like to add flavor to the dough.  We use a sprinkle of Oregano and dry basil leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

Use the dough hook attachment on the Kitchen Aid or hand mixture and start on slow. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while it is mixing. Mix on slow until it forms a smooth ball.  It should be elastic in texture

Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly knead dough, when you knead, push the dough and fold over(do this about 5 times) so it forms a round ball.

 

 

 

 

 

When we make this recipe, we double the recipe and it will make 2 large pizzas. We like thick crust, so depending on how thick or thin you roll your dough, will depend on how many pizzas you get out of each recipe.  So at this step, we cut the ball in half and use each side for a pizza.

 

 

 

 

 

Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll it into a semi-round circle about 1″ thick.

Then transfer to a greased round pizza pan.  We use PAM spray to grease the pan. We also use a dash a salt in the pan for flavor, you can also use cornmeal or Parmesan cheese if you like.

 

 

 

Using the rolling pin, roll the dough till it touches the edge of the pan. The dough will be stretchy, so once you roll it, it will want to retract a little. If you don’t have a small rolling pin like this one, you can always use your hands to shape the dough into position.  Just make sure to not stretch holes in the dough.  You should have plenty it fit in the pan, so this doesn’t happen.  If it does, just pinch the dough together and flatten with the palm of your hand.

 

 

 

 

Use your fingers to push the edges of the dough up the sides of the pan to create the boarder of the crust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dock the dough with a fork.

Which is just a fancy term for saying get your fork out and poke it a bunch of times.  Just like you would a pie crust.  If you don’t do this step, the dough will form large bubbles in the center. ( I speak from experience!)

 

 

 

 

Par bake crust in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, or till lightly brown.

Remove from oven

 

 

 

Spread pizza sauce and cheese.  We have picky eaters and most of the kids are just fine with cheese pizza, so we stop here.  But, we have been know to go crazy and put Canadian ham and pineapple, or pepperoni on the pizza as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Place back in the oven until cheese in completely melted and golden.

Should be another 20 minutes.

 

 

 

Cut into slices and enjoy all this cheesy yummy goodness.

 

 

 

 

This really is a great recipe, so easy and inexpensive to make, and the kids love to help sometimes too.  You can use this same dough to make garlic knots and bread sticks as well.  We make this pizza on our Friday movie nights, when friends are over for playdates, and when we just don’t have the energy to be creative for dinner.

Once you purchase the bread flour and yeast, they will last for many pizzas. Which makes it a great go-to meal.  Just add a salad on the side and dinner is ready.

Enjoy!!

How to make Harry Potter cupcake toppers

 

I would have to say my most popular cupcake topper would be my Harry Potter ones.  I usually make six different designs, but today we are going to concentrate on the 3 main (and easiest to make) ones.  They are Harry’s glasses, the Gryffindor scarf and the Golden Snitch.

Harry Potter is still extremely popular even though the books and movies came out years ago.  They seem to be timeless and people of all ages love the 3 students from Hogwarts.  Now with Universal Studios opening their Harry Potter lands and rides it seems the trend will continue.

I have done these cake toppers for birthdays, baby showers and even a bridal shower. They are great for any occasion and any age fan.

Making them are quite easy.  As you can see in the video, these are the items you will need:

Marshmallow fondant….  if you don’t know how to make it, that’s ok.  You can either use the store bought fondant or read my post  “How to make marshmallow fondant” a step by step guide first.

color gel (Burgandy, golden yellow and black)

set of circle cutters

set of clay cutters (circle)

gold luster dust

piping gel

rolling mat

silicon rolling pin

x-acto knife

pizza cutter

small amount of vegetable shortening to spread on surface so fondant doesn’t stick

I have linked the supply list to items on Amazon that will work for this project.  Some of these items I use every time I have a project.  If you are thinking about starting cake decorating or just want to make more goodies from home, they just might be worth the investment.

Remember to always have fun and get creative with these projects.  It’s only marshmallows and sugar so if you make a mistake, just roll it up and try again.  Remember when you were a kid and played with Play-doh??  Well, it’s almost the same thing, so have FUN!!

 

 

 

How to make Under the Sea cupcake toppers.

I recently made cupcakes for an Under the Sea themed birthday party.  The cake I had made to go with these cupcakes had some main sea creatures on them, so I wanted to cupcakes to match the cake.  I needed to simplify the cupcakes, so that they would work on a smaller scale and be able to make multiples of them.  The 3 creatures I chose were the orange fish, crab, and turtle.

Although they may look difficult, they are quite easy to make.  I used my marshmallow fondant recipe, that I have posted the “How-To” on in a past post.  All you need is the coloring gels, in your desired color for each creature.  Don’t be afraid to have fun and get creative.  If you make a mistake, it’s only marshmallows.  Ball it up and try again.

Have Fun!!

How to make Oreo Cookie Pops

I am so excited to launch my very first Tutorial Tuesday video!!  It was a little trial and error with the set up and editing, but I know each one will get better.

In this post, I will go over how to make some really cute candy coated Oreo Cookie Pops.  They are quite easy to make, and can be used for any occasion.  You can cover them with a colored or flavored candy melt.  You can also use a dipping chocolate.  Once covered you can decorate them with sprinkles, nuts, mini choc. chips, fondant, sanding sugar.. the possibilities are endless.

Below you will find the video tutorial, but I will also share the step by step process as well.

Here are the items you will need:

bog of double stuffed Oreo cookies

candy melts

pop sticks (available at craft stores)

sprinkles

small amount of shortening

wax or parchment paper

floral foam

plastic pop covers

ribbon

 

First pop your candy melts into the microwave at 20 sec intervals.  I like to use small canning jars to melt my candy in.  It makes for very easy clean up, since I just have to screw the top back on and I can save all the unused melts for a future project.  Stir between 20 secs sessions.  The melts are done when they slide smoothly off the spoon.

 

 

Line a cookie sheet with wax or parchment paper.  Then open the Oreo cookies up and place them on the paper with the cream side facing up. Put the cookie wafer top, off to the side.

 

 

 

 

 

Place a small amount of shortening into the melted candy and stir.  This will improve the viscosity of the candy.

 

 

 

Then place the tip of the pop stick into the melted candy.  You only want to cover about 1/2″-1″.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then press the stick into the cream of the Oreo. You want to make sure you press all the way through the cream, but do not press so hard, that you break the wafer part of the cookie.  You also what to set the stick towards the top of the cookie, so that you have a lot of surface area that will cover the stick.  Then place the wafer part of the cookie back on top of the cream.

 

Place in fridge for 3-5 minutes.

Have a little bowl nearby and the sprinkles or what ever you are going to cover the cookies in close too.

 

 

 

Take pops out of fridge and dip into melted candy.  The candy should still be good to dip the cookies in, but if you feel it needs to be a little warmer, pop it back into the microwave and stir.  When you dip the cookies in, it is a quick in and out, make sure the candy fully covers the cookie.

 

 

Hang the cookie over the jar, to let the excess candy to drip off.

 

 

 

 

I sometimes tap the stick on the edge of the jar, just to make sure all excess candy will drip off.  The is done quickly, since we don’t want the candy to harden.  If that happens the sprinkles will not stick well.

 

 

 

As soon as the excess candy is off, hang the cookie over the bowl and pour the sprinkles all over the top of the cookie and sides.  If you want both sides done, turn cookie over and pour over back side.

 

 

 

 

 

If you only have sprinkles on one side, place cookie back on baking sheet. If you have covered both sides of the pop, you will need to place the pop into the floral foam to harden.

 

 

 

Place back into fridge for 3-5 min.

 

Once the candy has hardened you can place the pops into the clear covers and tie with ribbon.

You are all done!!  Enjoy

Depending on the sprinkles you choose you can make the pops perfect for any occasion.

 

 

An outing at K1 Speed

 

My son was invited this weekend to K1 Speed in Anaheim for a end of year celebration.  We have never been to one before, although we have passed it many times on the 91 fwy, so of course we jumped at the chance.  The closest my son has come to driving anything is Autopia at Disneyland, and well, lets say you can’t go far with those cars, with a track down the middle.  Plus, you can’t go very fast in them either. Needless to say, he was very excited to be going.

To take a line out of a popular movie “He had the need…. the need for speed”.

 

 

The pricing for K1 is:

$19.99 for 1 race which is 14 laps around.. I did inquire about a AAA discount, since I saw they offered one online.  It is $2 off one race.

$35 for 2 races                 $48.00 for 3 races

I would look and see if there are any Groupon, or Living Social or other deals before you go.  I have seen them on Groupon a few times. This could cut down the cost of your experience, especially if you have multiple children who want to race.

There is a height requirement.  You must be at least 48″ to drive any of the cars.  They have Junior racers and Adults.  Adults are those races who are 58″ or taller, everyone else is a junior racer.  You also must have closed toed shoes…. no sandals.

The cars are electric.  So there are no nasty fumes in the building.  In fact, the place was spotless.  I was surprised how nice everything was.  There is even a small snack bar and arcade in the corner.

 

 

The track was a lot larger than I expected, it twisted and turned into two areas, and I loved how the cars went through two underpasses lit up with colored lights.  There is a seating area with sofas and TV’s upstairs, and the track passes through it.  The kids had fun watching the cars drive under them.

 

They have 35 locations, in 14 states.  We went to the Anaheim location, located off La Palma Ave. near Kraemer Blvd.  There are also locations in Irvine and Ontario.

After spending 3 hours there, which is WAY longer than we planned, I have some helpful tips for any new visitors.

TIP 1:  MAKE A RESERVATION!!!

Oh my gosh… I cannot stress the importance of this tip.  We did not have reservations.  The worker there said “Oh.. if you come at 10am on a Sunday morning, you should have no problem”  2 hours later my son finally got his turn.  It turned out that another group was there for a party.  So, of course they got to go first.  Since there are two categories of racers (Junior and Adult), they alternate.  The cars are electric so they need time to re-charge between races, which is why they alternate. This means your races will not be back to back. You will have a wait time. The the kids with that party group got to have there 2 races, plus the adults with the party had there races, and so on and so on until we were finally called

TIP 2: Check Groupon and Living Social for deals

I though $20 was kinda pricey to ride a glorified go-cart, but I have seen K1 on Groupon quite often, so if you think you will be going in the future, purchase the Groupon when you see it or look for other deals.  The nice thing is, if you think you will go often, you can purchase multiple races and use them on different dates.  So if you purchase the 3 race pack (they do have larger packs as well) and  you only race twice one day, you can come back and use the race you have left at a different time.

TIP 3: Make sure everyone in your party is around the same height

I know this sounds kinda funny, but our boys were 10 years old, and some where the height to ride with the adults and some were Junior riders.  So they did not get to race together, which was kind of a bummer.  They do not allow the Junior and Adult riders to mix. So just be aware, if you are going as a family or in a group, you night not be able to race against each other.  It seemed like the adult cars went faster too, so I can see why they would not want to mix the groups.

TIP 4: Leave yourself time

Even if you have a reservation, it still takes time.  They only allow around 11 cars on the track at a time.  If it is busy, you will be there for a few hours, specially if you want to do multiple races.  They do have plenty of seating available for you to wait, and they call the names of the next racers over the loud speakers.

TIP 5: Bring your camera

There are a lot of great photo opportunities here.  You receive a head sock to wear under your helmet and a picture of your child in that alone is worth it.  There are also race cars and podiums for the kids to stand on or near, for some great pictures.

so, here is my review….

Did my son have fun??      You bet.

Would it be a great place for a party??  Absolutely

Will we go back??  Probably.  I have 4 sons, so I will be keeping my eye out for a good Groupon.  If I can find one, we will definitely go again.  I don’t know if I would pay full price.

Overall experience:  Good.. except for the wait, which is our own fault for not having reservations, so I cannot fault them for it.  My son loved it!!  I’m glad he got the experience of go-karting.

If you want more information… just check out their site here.

How to make your own fondant from marshmallows

I have people ask me all the time, about fondant.  Some people shy away from it, because they might have had a bad experience with it tasting bad. Well, I’m here to tell you that fondant has come a long way BABY!!

Fondant is a great tool to use when decorating cakes. You can use it to cover the entire cake, and get that perfectly smooth finish, you are looking for, or you can use it to just add accents to your cakes.  There are so many uses for fondant, and I’d have to say, it is my favorite medium to use.  I like to call it play-doh for grown-ups, since that is kinda what it is. It feels and act very similar to it.  The best part of this adult play-doh is… you can actually eat it, without your mom yelling at you.

There are many types of fondant you can purchase, and now that it has become more popular, most grocery stores have it on their shelves at the store.  I think the most readily available type you can find would be the Wilton brand.  It is available in many colors and is carried at stores like Michael’s and Wal-mart. When I first started cake decorating over 10 years ago, the Wilton brand tasted horrible, but I am happy to tell you that they re-did their recipe and it now has a nice vanilla taste to it. Some of the other brands you might find at the cake store is Satin Ice and Fondx.  Hobby Lobby also carries their line of fondant as well. (I will be reviewing all the brands of fondant in a future post, with their pros and cons).

One drawback to using fondant on your cakes is that it can be quite pricey.  Of course you can use your 40% off coupons for it at Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, but when you have to purchase a lot, it can become a hassel. A box of fondant from store can run you anywhere from $11-$15.  You might need more than 1 box to cover a cake, depending on it’s size.  That can significantly increase the cost of producing your cake.

So here is the CAKE WALK way of cutting the costs and making your own fondant at home.  It’s actually quite easy and only takes a few ingredients you can find in any grocery store. Let’s get started….

ITEMS YOU WILL NEED:

Shortening, 16oz. bag of mini-marshmallows (do not buy the 10oz. bag), 2-2 1/2 tablespoons of water, extract of your choice, and 2lb bag of powdered sugar.

 

 

First:

Pour your bag of mini marshmallows into a glass or ceramic bowl.  Do NOT use a metal bowl, we’ll be putting it in the microwave…. and you all know how THAT ends.

 

 

Then:

With this step you can use either 2 1/2 Tablespoons of water (it will give you whiter fondant), or use can add 2 tablespoons of water and 2 teaspoons an extract of your desire for flavor. WARNING: If your extract has a tint to it, it can affect the color of the fondant.

 

Finally:

Place the glass or ceramic bowl into your microwave for 2 minutes.  You want the marshmallows to be melted, but it is ok if the ones on the top have still kept their form.  They will be soft enough to go into the mixer after 2 minutes.

 

So, while those little cylinders of happiness are melting away, we are going to get ready for the next step.  It should look similar to this, once the two minuts are over.

 

 

 

 Get out your handy dandy KitchenAid and the hook attachment.  You cannot use a paddle attachment to make fondant, motor burn-out would happen in no time!!  If you don’t have a kitchenaid, it’s going to get messy for you, but you can get gloves, coat them in shortening and mix.

 

 

 

Now, that those minis are melting away in microwave, get out your mixer bowl and put just a dab of shortening in the bottom of the bowl.  It is not really an exact science, but I would estimate it at about 2 tablespoons.  This will make the fondant just a little more pliable.

 

 

Ok, so now our marshmallows are melted, our hook is out, and our shortening is in.  We then will use our spatula to scoop the marshmallows out of the glass bowl, and into the mixer bowl.  It should pretty much slide right out, you will only have to scrap a little out of the bowl at the end.

 

 

We are almost done!!  Now open your 2lb bag of powdered sugar and pour it on top of the melted marshmallows.  It is best if you have the bag open and ready.  We want to mix everything fast, before the marshmallows have time to cool too much.  I usually open my bag while the marshmallows are in the microwave.  You’d be surprised how much stuff you can do in those short 2 minutes!!!

 

OK, so now everything we need is in the mixer.  Attach your hook, place the splash guard on (if you don’t have one, just put a towel over the mixer so you don’t get powdered dust everywhere), start the mixer on the lowest setting.  Here is the trick.. you don’t want to mix the fondant for too long because it puts too much air into the mixer, and when you roll it you will get these little pockets.  So keep it on low for almost the whole time.  I will turn mine up one notch in the settings if I see there is still some powdered sugar stuck to the side of the bowl.  Even then, it is a quick few seconds then back down to low setting.

 

 

 

Once everything is mixed, the fondant will either form it’s little ball at the bottom, or if it has attached itself to the sides, the hook will just go around the middle.  It happens both ways for me and either is fine.  When this happens, you know it is done and shut off the mixer.

 

 

Pour this mixture onto a lightly powdered sugared surface.  I use a rolling mat to roll out my fondant.  They are sold in lots of stores, including Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Sur La Tabl, Amazon and others.  If you have granite or some other hard stone surface countertop, you can do this right on the counter, but I really like the rolling mats.

 

 

Go ahead and start kneading the fondant.  You can pick it up and pull it like taffy, or just keep pulling and folding on the mat. incorporating the powder you sprinkled on the mat, and just knead until you feel you have a good smooth consistency.  TIP: Sometimes this can be a sticky job, so just coat your hands with a little shortening and it will prevent the fondant from sticking. Shape into a little ball and you are done.

Coloring fondant, if you desire:

If you would like to make different color fondant.  You will to purchase gel colors.  Regular food coloring is too wet, and will make the fondant too sticky, plus it is not as intense in color as needed.  Gel colors come in a rainbow of colors and tints.  There are many brands of color gel, such as Wilton, Americolor and Chef Master.

 

 

To add color to fondant, start off slow with a few small drops.  Some colors take better to fondant than others, so a little might go a long way.  You can always add more color to your fondant, but if you add too much, well… your going to have to use more white to mix in and possibly waste fondant, since you will have more than you need.  I have done that MANY times, especially with the pink tones.

 

 

To mix the color in, knead again.  I find pulling it like taffy works well.  you will see the color start swirling through the fondant.

 

 

 

Keep adding color gel and kneading till you get the intensity of color you are looking for and it is well blended.

 

 

 

Now, grab a little shortening to coat your rolling mat very lightly and you can start rolling your fondant out. either to cover a cake, or you can grab your favorite small cookie cutters to make cut outs.  Remember in the beginning when I said this was Play-doh for grown ups??  Well go ahead and start sculpting with it too.

 

 

Not as hard as you thought…. it’s a Cake Walk…  ENJOY and be creative.

 

A Day at Oak Canyon Nature Center- A hidden gem in Anaheim Hills

In a quest this summer to be more active with the family, we have decided that we are going to go on more hikes and do fun things that don’t involve a lot of cost.  It is really my goal this summer break to cut the children’s screen time down.  I always have to remind them that life and the world are happening around them and not on a little screen.

Today we ventured out to Oak Canyon Nature Center,  located at  6700 E Walnut Canyon Rd, Anaheim, CA 92807.  There is a nice shady parking lot, that is free, no permit needed.  We have been there a few times, but today we decided to hike a few trails we had not been on before. One of the nice things about OCNC is that a lot of the trails are short.  Since the center is nestled in a valley with lots of oak trees it is a very shaded area, so you can go on hot days and not really feel the heat.  Plus, there are tons of little streams and sitting areas that make for a really relaxing day.  Lots of benches are located along the trails, so bring a lunch and have a picnic. (There is an “official” picnic are next to the parking lot)

To enter the Nature center there is a small path you need to walk from the parking lot.  As you pass the small sign, it is almost like entering into another little world.  My little guy made a comment “look mommy, we are in a forest!” and it is true.  There are so many trees and foliage, it is hard to believe you are standing in the middle of Anaheim Hills.

As you go up the first little path, you are greeted by the Nature Center building.  It is a small rustic type of building that contains a wonderful little hands on children’s museum/ exploration room. Inside there is an information desk, in case you have any questions about the trails or upcoming events.  The room to the right of the desk has small lizards,turtles and rodents native to the area.  There a small library and large tree that the kids can sit down and read, plus hand puppets and other toys to play with.  They have a table with different animal hides that the kids are welcome to pick up and feel, along with real, stuffed animals on display to get a closer look at.

 

 

 

 

Across the path from the center is a great little play area, that has logs, dinosaur shells, snakes and turtle shells to climb in and on.  It is small by the kids have a great time wanting there pictures in the shell or being squeeze by the snake.

CAUTION: Go to the play area after you do your hiking.  It is so hard to pull the kids away from playing, and then they are in a bad mood while you are hiking…. I may be speaking from experience on this one!!

If you walk up the main trail a short ways, right past their amphitheater area.  You will see a sign that says OAK CANYON MINE.  Go into it! They have a mining set area set up with some really cool information about the mining that happened during the 1800’s in Silverado Canyon… who knew right???  Perfect for your 4th grader who studying the gold rush.  They have an old sluice,mock mine entrance, and camp set out.  Make sure to read all the signage!

Another really cool thing about Oak Canyon Nature Center is all the different types of Cactii they have on the trails.  It was fun for the kids and adults to check them all out.  Since we went in the Spring (end of May) the Cactii were blooming!!  The flowers on them were amazing.  Most of the Cactii we saw were located on the Heritage Trail.

We then ventured to the Stream Trail.  It is a lovely trail, very shady and great for kids.  Lots of bridges to go over, and it follows a stream, hence the name, so there is a lot to look at.  We saw the most beautiful Egret sitting on a tree branch over a babbling brook… like really… where else in Anaheim can you see that???  it was magical and I know the pictures from our cell phone will not do it justice.

We took few other short trails and then ended our day there. I have to mention, that while we were there a wedding was taking place in there amphitheater area.  I have seen two other weddings there as well in the past.  It might be something to keep in mind if you are thinking about going towards the evening on a weekend.  You are still able to move freely around the center, but we did try to keep the kids while the ceremony was started.  It was kinda neat for them to see the bridal party and bride walking down the path.  I’m sure that the pictures of their wedding will turn out amazing!!!  There were also other families there with photographers having photo shoots, but check with the center, since I believe you have to get a permit to professionally photo shoot there.

There is also a kids summer camp there from 9-12 during the summer.  My children have participated in it before, and it was a really cute, well run camp through the city of Anaheim Recreation.  The nice thing about it too, was I did not have to worry about them getting sunburned or overheated, since it is such a shady area. I would say, if you wanted to visit during the summer, to wait till after noon to go.

There are many different programs that they offer too, such a Family Nature Nights, Tiny Tots during the school year and Discover Nature Family Programs.  In the past they have offered Movie Nights during the summer, but after inquiring about it during our trip, I was told they WILL NOT be offering them this summer 2017.  Overall it is a wonderful place to take the family.  The kids can run around in nature and get really dirty.   A lot of the trails are short and well marked, so the kids can run along ahead and explore.  Like I said, if you go pack a lunch and spend the day.  it is a hidden treasure here in Orange County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Cake Creations

 

It’s a bird,it’s a plane… nope, it’s a really cute Superman Cake.  The man of steel is watching over this birthday boy.  The Superman Logo was hand cut, using the transfer process from an image that was downloaded.  They do have cutters that will cut the logo for purchase.  Since I do not know what size I will actually need until the order is places, I just hand cut it.  If you are looking for the cutter, you can find them here...http://amzn.to/2rPcV9L  It also includes the Batman cutter in 2 sizes.  The cutters do make the process faster, and the smaller ones would be perfect for cupcake toppers.

 

 

 

I have used this large cupcake pan many times. Usually I make 1st Birthday smash cakes with this design.  When I make smash cakes, everything is buttercream, except for a few decorations.  Since this was for a 7 year old, I could cover the bottom of the cupcake with fondant.  I still use buttercream to make the swirls on the top of the cupcake, since it makes it more authentic looking.  There always has to be buttercream frosting on top of a cupcake right???   This cake pan takes 1- 1 1/2 boxes of cake mix. The pan is also non-stick, so you just need to spray some cooking spray all over the inside.  Be generous with it. The combination of colors for this cake are great.  I really love the purple and lime gream mixed in with the pink. This cake pan is becoming a little harder to find these days, but if you are looking for it on Amazon, here is the link http://amzn.to/2rB3lIF

I really like using the lettering molds that I used on this cake.  The font is nice and I like the fact it has an upper and lower case alphabet.  You push the fondant into each letter mold and then peel back the silicon form.  The letter come out quite easily, especially if the inside is lightly coated with shortening.  This is the lettering set I used http://amzn.to/2sOtU0i

 

4th of July is right around the corner, and this is the perfect cake for your BB-Q.  This cake is quite simple to make.  The blue swag is made by cutting a large rectangle and then folding it similar to when you make a fan,but loosely,then gather the ends together.  The star cutters I used were from 2 different sets.  The larger ones are from the Wilton star set.  The smaller ones are a set of plunger cutters from PME.  I LOVE plunger cutters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t you just love the gang from Sesame Street??  They are iconic and so lovable.  Such a cute and fun theme for a first birthday.  The cake is a two tier, with the characters being made from marshmallow fondant.  The stars at the top, that spell out Conner, need to be placed last, and you can not keep pulling them out, because the stars will start to spin, since the hole is now a little loser.  A letter might start facing in the wrong direction.  We don’t want it to spell CO NOR!!

 

 

 

 

The “Little Prince” is a very popular theme for 1st birthdays for little boys.  I have seen it done with all shades of blue.  The crown of this cake is made from fondant with Tylose powder, which is used to make fondant dry quicker.  The crown has to be made AT LEAST a day in advance, so it can dry into shape.  I form it around a tall storage canister. Once it is dried and able to stand on it’s own, it is then sprayed by airbrush with the gold coating.  The crown imprint needs to be done before drying.

 

 

 

 

My son love Star Wars- The Clone Wars, so when I was asked to make this cake, I knew he was going to love it.  I used a transfer image to create this design. That means that all the elements on the cake were hand cut, using exacto knife.  It is a tricky process, since you have to make sure all the edges look nice and it is in the correct place.

 

 

 

 

Moana was such a fun movie.  I was excited to get my first request for a cake with this theme.  I love all the colors that were in the movie.  Trying to capture them all in a cake is impossible, but we gave it a try.

 

 

 

 

 

I creating matching items for a birthday party.  This party is an “Under the Sea” theme.  Smaller 2 tiered cake 6″ and 9″ with matching cupcakes.  I love the colors.  Look for our “how to” on making the cupcake toppers.

 

 

 

 

Our Newest creation.  A very special graduate, got a very special graduation cake.  The colors, letters and year of graduation on the bottom, with her future university and mascot on the top. Reaching higher and welcoming her to her new life as college student.  We wish you all the best Miss. Emma G.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a simple way of doing a BB-8 cake.  It is an 8″ round cake. Using just the main elements of the character.  The antennae are bamboo skewers covered in fondant.

How to make a candy lei

2 Hawaiian candy Leis

 

Every year on the last day of school, it has become a tradition that each child receives a candy lei at school as soon as they get out of class.  It is just a cute way for us to celebrate all their hard work and say.. “Yea!! Summer is here. Let the good times commence!”

For my now 10 years old son’s 1st birthday I ordered poly tubing from a site called East Coast tropics, made especially for candy leis.  I have been using them every year, until last year, when tragedy struck and I ran out of leftovers.  To my dismay, I went online to find that they are so longer in business…..insert sad emojii here.  I went on Amazon to find other options.  They do offer candy lei kits you can purchase or rolls of poly tubing in which to make them.  I thought the kits were kind of pricey and I really did not want a design on them.  I though it would cover the candy too much.  The rolls of poly tubing were even more!!  Although I do want to add that the rolls would be great if you wanted to make them for a party with a lot of children, or other function.  They do make the process a little easier.

There had to be a less expensive way to make these.

So here it is!  Don’t worry, it’s pretty simple too.

2 Hawaiian candy leis ready and waiting

Here is what you need.  I bought everything except for the scissors at the Dollar Tree, so it is very easy and one trip is all you need. Just make sure you purchase enough candy for all the leis you need.

Here is everything you will need to make the lei
  • 1 roll of cellophane
  • 1 bag of curling ribbon
  • tape (make sure it is clear)
  • scissors
  • don’t forget a selection of assorted candy your children enjoy. Remember, you can fill the lei with whatever you would like, so if you would like little bags of healthy snacks, or other items you can do that as well.

First you want to roll out the cellophane on a large flat surface. Dining table or kitchen island work great.  I rolled out my piece to about 48″ but you can make them longer if you would like. Then lay out the candy you want to have in the lei, in the order you want them to be in the lei.

candy layout

Then, you need to cut the roll of cellophane so that there is enough to encase the candy in a tri-fold fashion. In my case, it was about 7″-8″ wide. (so the total dimension on my piece of cellophone is 8″x 48″). 

Fold the front section of the cellophane over the candy and tape down in sections.

8″ x 48″ strip of cellophane

Then fold the remaining piece of cellophane over the first and tape.  It doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty, because we are going to cinch it with ribbon.  Now, the candy is wrapped as snug as a bug inside all the cellophane.

Candy is now wrapped twice and taped.

 

We now want to cut our curling ribbons into pieces long enough to curl once they are tied. Mine are probably about 8″-10″ long.  It’s not an exact science.  You want to tie the ends of the lei first to make sure all the candy stays inside.

Ends Tied

Now, we are going to just continue to tie the lei between each section of candy.  Make sure that you tie then tightly and double not.  We are almost done!!

candy tied individually

Proceed to curl each ribbon end with the flat side of your scissor.  You can always add extra pieces of ribbon if you want a really festive look.

Curled Ribbon

Now, depending how long you made your lei you can either just tie the two ends together, or like mine, I cut a long piece and used that to connect the two ends.  I like my leis this way, so it is not as bulky around the neck and does not get caught in my childrens hair.  Plus, that hot and sweaty little neck can melt the chocolate!!!!

Ends tied

See… it wasn’t so bad, you might even say It’s A Cake Walk.  Now get creative, go crazy and make your kids some Happy Campers on the last day of school.  Well, they are going to be happy campers anyways, because afterall….it is the last day of school!!

2 Hawaiian candy Leis

 

Making a sountrack for your life!

 

Ever watch a movie and think…  wow!  that would be so cool to have just the perfect music playing while you were running on the beach or BBQ-ing in the backyard.  Well, why don’t you??

About a year ago, my husband brought home a house speaker that can connect to his phone through a Bluetooth connection.

I was like “what the heck is that?” When he took out a black mushroom shaped unit that sat on our sofa table like an odd shaped vase.  It was a Harmen Karden – Aura speaker.  When he plugged it in and started playing songs from his iTunes account, it filled the house with a great even sound. It is now one of our favorite purchases.

Well let’s just say we got that little guy cranking.

Now, I’ll tell you a little secret… Kids clean the house A LOT better when music is playing.  Perhaps Snow White was right when she sang “Whistle while you work”, or perhaps when Mary Poppins (who we all know is practically perfect in every way) sang

“A robin feathering his nest has very little time to rest, when gathering his bits of twine and twig… although intent in his pursuit he has a merry tune to toot, he knows a song will move the job along”.

Forgive me, singing makes blogging go by faster as well.  I know cleaning my house is always better with a little Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars. It gets me in a better mode, and I actually clean faster.

Let’s talk dinnertime…. we have all walked around Crate and Barrel or Williams and Sonoma dreaming of cooking with all those wonderful shiny gadgets.  As we sauntered from one aisle to the next with the melodic tunes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday playing in the background.  As I picture myself making wonderful dishes of homemade pasta from scratch with the KitchenAid pasta extension and finishing it off with a dessert of Crème Brulee in pristine white ramekins and finishing them with that torch thing…. wait where was I??? Well, we can’t take all the gadgets home with us (well, at least I can’t), but I can bring home the music. Playing the music that inspired me in the store can do the same at home.  Who knows, it might actually make the food taste better too.

Summer is weeks away!  Which means lots of activities to do with friends and family.  Try creating a list of fun Disney music for the car ride to and from outings for the kids.  The kiddos will have no time to fight in the back of the minivan if they are too busy belting out the words to “You’re Welcome” from Moana or “Love is and Open Door” from Frozen, but NEVER   “Let it Go”, we are SOOO over that song.

Are you going to the park for the day?  Bring a speaker for your phone, and get “I’m walking on Sunshine” from Katrina and the waves going.  Kicking a soccer ball around is a lot more fun with the tunes playing.  Can you imagine how much fun the kids would have in the trampoline when “Jump” from Van Halen comes on!!

Now, where do we find all this great music?  There are some great apps for that of course.  If you have iTunes, you can always use that, Spotify is another great playlist app, where you can build a list of the specific songs that you would like to hear in the order that you would like to have them play.  If you do not want to incur the cost of signing up with a monthly membership, just try creating a station on iheartradio or Pandora.  You can help them personalize the station more by giving a thumbs up or down to the songs that come on. Although we might not have a retro Walkman with foam earphones like Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy, we all can make an Awesome Mix Vol.1

 

So comment below and let us know what your life sounds like.  Who know maybe we’ll add it to our playlist!!

 

 

Banana Coconut Crunch Muffins…So Tasty

Banana Coconut Crunch muffin breakfast muffin

 

I have been looking for a good banana muffin recipe, for quite some time now.  We always have bananas that are left over and turn brown and mushy before we get a chance to eat them.  I have always hated throwing them away and wasting them.  When I make banana bread it is always so dense and by the time I get the inside to cook, the top is so dark and crusty.  Plus, bread takes so long to cook, and it has been such a hot summer here I was looking for another option that might be quicker.  So the search was on for a really good banana muffin recipe, one that is not too dense and cooks fast enough to keep the tops light and fluffy.

I came across this recipe and as soon as I saw coconut, I knew I had to try it!  I’m also a sucker for crunchy so this was perfect. I like to make large muffins, like the type you buy in bakeries and coffee shops. A muffin is sometimes a breakfast meal in itself, so a cupcake sized one is just a little too small.  This recipe will make 12 large sized muffins.  I also added walnuts to my recipe since I like a crunch in my muffins, but feel free to add any extra goodies you would like.

 

Banana Coconut Crunch Muffins…So Tasty

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Category: breakfast

Yield: 12 Large muffins

Serving Size: 12 Large Muffins or 24 small cupcake sized muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 overripe bananas
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • additional coconut to sprinkle on top ( to desired amount)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a medium to large bowl, add flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together and set aside.
  3. In a separate large bowl add bananas , vegetable oil, sugar, egg and vanilla extract, and whisk together until well blended.
  4. Add flour mixture slowly to the wet ingredient bowl and whisk together until it is well combined.
  5. Add coconut as well as any nut you might want to add.
  6. Divide batter between the 12 large muffin cups. I like to use an ice cream scoop to make sure I have evenly filled muffins. It is usually 2 scoops per muffin tin.
  7. sprinkle extra coconut on top of muffin mixture. Pat coconut down gently so it will stick to muffin when it rises in the oven.
  8. Bake for approx 25-30 minutes, when the tops get light brown and an inserted toothpick in the center of the muffin comes out clean.
  9. Take out of oven and cool on a rack.
  10. Enjoy!!
  11. Muffins can be stored in an air tight container for about 3 days, but they are just too yummy to wait that long.
http://69.195.124.202/~itsacake/2017/09/02/banana-coconut-crunch-muffins-so-tasty/

 

 

Banana Crunch Muffins breakfast
Adding the coconut on top
banana coconut crunch muffins breakfast
All done and out of the oven.

Children’s Birthday Cakes!

Looking forward to that perfect cake for your child’s birthday party??  Come check out some of our designs.  All of our

designs can be customized to your theme, as well as the size of the cake, to meet your guest serving size needs.

Under the sea Cake, Ocean creature cake, Fullerton, Corona, Orange County, Irvine, Tustin, Orange, Anaheim, birthday cake, Rivierside, Chino Hills, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Yorba Linda, Brea.
Under the Sea Cake

Under the Sea Cake

This cute creature cake is made with all fondant decorations with a graham cracker/ sand finish. All animals can be customized to fit your party theme. This cake is a 6″ and 9″ stacked cake that will serve 35 guests.


 

 

 

Hot Wheels Cake, Racing, Cars, birthday Cake, custom, Orange County, Riverside, Corona, Chino Hills, Anaheim Hills, Anaheim, Yorba Linda, Fullerton, Brea, Placentia, Orange, Tustin, Irvine, Buena park, Newport Beach, huntington Beach, Costa Mesa
Hot Wheels Racing Cake

Hot Wheels Racing Cake

I think this might be every little boys dream cake.  What a cute theme for a birthday party.  It was really quite fun to make.

Did you know that most of our cakes come with 4 layers of cake and 3 layers of filling.  It’s just yummy-ness in every bite.

 

 

 

 

Camping tips for families

 

We have been camping now for about 5 years with our sons’ cub scout pack.  When we first started, we were really apprehensive about going.  Neither my husband nor I had camped as children, so we really had no idea what we were doing or what we needed.

We knew that we wanted our children to grow up with memories of family camping and experience being out in nature as much as we could. Going camping with the scouts gave us a great opportunity to do this.  We knew there would be people around us to show us the ropes and help us where we needed it. Also, if we forgot something, all the families are so nice and are willing to share and help each other out.   We go twice a year, the fall camp out is always farther away, while the spring camp out is at a local camp ground.  I always watch those families that have 2-4 people in them, as they set up their cute small tents, that take about 5 seconds to put up.  Then they have those 2 chairs neatly out front, one on each side and a small table with a lantern on it, and boom!!!  they are all done setting up.

Well, we camp with a family size of 7!!  There is nothing small about our campsite… it is like moving a small army around.  Our kids range from 4-13, so they all have different needs and interests.  Plus, not all of them love to camp, so having enough stuff to do to keep them entertained during the down time is a challenge too.

We actually have to bring two vehicles with us, when ever we go.  Once you fit 7 people in a minivan, there is very little room for anything else.  You might get the 7 folding camp chairs, the tent and a stove, but that is about it, and we all know that is not enough.

So through the years, we have purchased items every trip to make life a little easier, some we love… some we could have done without.  I’m going to take you through what we bring with us on a camp out.

Of course we have our family tent.

It says it sleeps 10, but we double kids up on cots, so we have room to walk inside.  It is a Coleman tent, and although it is big, it is fairly easy to put up.  The poles are color coded, so it makes matching the poles and the slots they go in faster.  This Ozark Trail one on Amazon is very similar to the one we have.  I like having straighter sides to the tent, so I can really get my cots into the corners. I find it stabilizes the tent better as well.

We use folding cots.

Ok, well it might be glamping a little, but I really prefer to sleep on a cot.  There are 3 reasons I prefer cots for sleeping.

  1. They are easier to pack.   They come in bags, just like the camping chairs, with a strap, so you can carry them over your shoulder.
  2. They are easier to set up than inflatable mattresses.  No need for pumps, taking the time to inflate and deflate, and you don’t have to worry about them getting a hole in them.
  3. You can store your clothes, or other supplies under them, so they don’t need to take up extra room in the tent. It helps to keep things tidier inside the tent, which can become a mess with 4 little boys running in and out.

We have different types of cots we use.  Two of them are Colemans They fold open and then they have a end bar on each side that has to get popped in.  It takes some muscle to get them to pop, and sometimes we just skip that part.  The cot is tighter and more sturdy if the end bars are in.  But, they are a good quality cot and usually run between $30-$40 (same price as an inflatable mattress and will probably last a lot longer).

We recently bought a Rio Adventure Military Cot and we love it!!  It is so easy to set up, just place a loop over each side piece and step down on the pedal and it locks into place.  They are a little narrower than the Coleman, but good quality as well.  Our kids are young and narrow is good, it means I can line more of them up.  If I purchase another cot for us, I will be getting this one again,

Battery operated paper lanterns

I love these and bring them on every trip.  I hang them up inside the tent and they give off a very soft glow at night.  That way if one of the children wake up to use the restroom, the tent is not pitch black inside.  Since they are LED lights, 2 AAA batteries will last the two nights, even being on all night long. The kids love having them on too.  They don’t get as scared and they love the little glow as they go off to bed.  Plus, when you come back from the restroom in the middle of the night, it is a little easier to find your tent, since it will glow, just a little (but not enough to bother other campers).  They come in a variety of colors, so pick your style.

The Camping Drawer

I have a plastic Sterilite Drawer that I use to store all the little parts.  It holds the extra batteries, mallet, extra stakes, zip ties, rope, ziploc bags, small flashlights, hooks, screwdrivers, scissors, all those little things you might need while camping. It is the greatest thing.. we always know where to look to find what we need.  It gets stored on a shelf in the garage, so if I come across something that might work for our next trip, I just have to pull open the drawer and pop it in, and it is ready for our next adventure.  I also bring one for food utensils.  Inside that one, I put things like cooking spray, aluminum foil, paper towel, spatulas, utensils, spices, etc.  It gets set up on our cooking table, so everything you need when you are cooking is right there and contained. They stack, and can be stored under the cots at night, if needed.

Hot Hands Body and Hand Warmers

I will admit it.. I am a wimp.  The only thing I really dislike about camping is how cold I get at night.  It doesn’t matter how warm I dress or the sleeping bag I am in, I get cold.  That keeps me awake and it is the only part I dread sleeping out in nature.  I have bought these hand warmers on past trips just to get that extra little burst of heat.  Wow, do they really heat up too, and they last for about 8-12 hours, so it is perfect!

 

Single Burner Stove Top

We have a full cooktop from Coleman and have really enjoyed it, but we are trying to downsize where we can, and this worked out perfect for us this trip.  The butane canisters are smaller than the gas ones, and seem to last just as long.  We brought along our cast iron skillet and made all our meals on it. We cooked hamburger and hot dogs, taco meat, then made quesadillas and for breakfast we had fluffy pancakes. As you can see from the picture, they turned out really well.  It comes with it’s own little case with a handle, so it travels really easily.  We are thinking about bringing it to the beach with us next time. Although it is small, it was enough to cook for our whole family, and left extra room in the cars for other essentials.

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor Rug

It’s always a good idea to have some type of mat in front of your tent.  You can leave your shoes on it before tracking dirt into the tent.  We bought a large one from COSTCO a few years back, and we love it.  It gives you a soft place to rest your feet, and gives your little ones a place to sit and play, if you don’t want them in the dirt at a certain time.  It really cuts down the amount of dirt and dust that come in the tent as well.  It is able to be folded, so it packs nicely into the car. When we get home, we get the vacuum out and clean it up and store it for another camping adventure.

 

Bring toys

Yes, we know that the kids will be busy exploring the great outdoors, but there is some down time at camp and kids still need to have things to do. When we go camping with the cub scouts the boys play,play, play.  When we don’t bring toys they just pick up sticks and run around with them.  We have found that Poke-mon cards and NERF guns are the toys of choice.  We have also done R/C cars and of course different types of balls to play with.  For the little kids we pack bubbles, a dump truck so they can collect things and push them around. This is our youngest, ready to defend the camp.  The boys run around ALL day like this.  They have so much fun.

 

 

 

glow sticks

I like to bring glow sticks with me to camp.  The kids love to wear them at night, and it helps me to find them easier.  We bring either the ones that can be connected into necklaces, or the ones that have a large glow stick on a string that can be worn as a necklace.  I have also brought these with me to Las Vegas when we went walking on The Strip.  It made it easier for me to see the kids walking on such a busy street at night.  The kids think they are fun to wear, so I don’t get any push back from them about wearing them. Win-Win!!!

 

Neon shirts

This is a great tip I saw another parent do this past camp out.  Her son had the brightest neon yellow shirt on.  It was actually a scout shirt but you could see hi from a mile away,  Since we have 5 kids, running in 5 different directions during our camp outs, it gets hard to keep track of them.  Although they all know not to go past the camp site or explore anywhere without an adult, we still like to do the “count the kids” drill every once in awhile, just to keep tabs on their location.  If you put them in the brightest shirt possible, you will be able to look out on the field or in the cluster of trees and find your child a lot faster.

Bring a Folding Wagon

These little guys are life-savers.  It doesn’t matter where we have camped, we have always had some type of walk to make to the campsite.  Bringing a wagon with you makes transporting all your gear to the site so much easier.  By having a wagon, you can also enlist the help of your children.  It is sometimes hard to get the kids to help once you have reached the campground.  They have been in the car for awhile, and they just want to get out and play.  But, you still need need help unloading the cars!!  Well, the kids love pulling wagons, so you can usually get them to help more if you add a little bit of fun to the chore.  These little wagons are really durable and you would be surprised how much stuff you can pile on top of them.  We have a wagon with the thinner wheels, but if we were to purchase another one, I think I would definitely spend a little extra and get the ones with the wider wheels on it.  They can maneuver across sand and gravel a lot better than the thin wheels.  The wagons are also a great play thing for your kids while you are camping.  They have so much fun loading it up with their friends and then taking tuns pulling them around the campsite.  It’s also good for transporting tired little ones back and forth to outings, since you may not have a stroller with you.

Of course you will need to bring more items with you camping, like the basic sleeping bags, flashlights, chairs and more.  These are just the items that we have found to be extremely useful for us, since we camp with many children of different ages.

Camping is such a great family outing.  My children have wonderful memories of camping with the Cub Scouts.  If you have never gone camping before and are apprehensive about it, I say “GO FOR IT!!”.  Pick a campground close by, borrow equipment from friends to see if you like it, go with a group so you can learn and ins and outs, but just try it.  Who knows you might love it.

Did I mention that we kinda “Glamp”??  Yes, this is our Pack having a movie night at our camp out, complete with popcorn.  We did pick a “scouting-like” movie, Disney’s UP!.  Russel is the ultimate Wilderness Explorer.  Who says you can’t have fun while camping too.

Top 10 tips to staying at a Great Wolf Lodge

Have you been thinking about going to The Great Wolf Lodge?

A new one opened last year near us in Southern California, we could not wait to go!!  It was a Christmas present for our children last year, we had made reservations for opening day (not the official opening, but the first day open to guests.) We had such a great time, we have been 3 more times since.  I guess we are Gold Members now.  Which doesn’t really mean too much, except we get gold wrist bands each time, instead of colored ones. What it does mean is that I know a little bit about staying at a Great Wolf Lodge.

 

The Great Wolf Lodge (GWL for short) has 16 locations throughout the United States and Canada.  The other closest ones to us are Washington State and Texas, so needless to say we were happy when they came to California.  We have always gone to the Southern California GWL, located on Harbor Blvd, down the street from Disneyland, in the city of Garden Grove.

There are many different room types to choose from.  They can sleep 4-8 guests depending on the room you choose.  We have stayed in two different types, since we have a larger family, the basic rooms will not work for us. For this post I will talk about the Wolf Den room.

There really is so much to talk about with this place, but you know me… I like to list all of my tips.  So here we go.

TOP 10 TIPS TO STAYING AT A GREAT WOLF LODGE

TIP 1: It’s not as expensive as you think… so GO!

A lot of people I know have sticker shock when they see the prices of the rooms.  You have to remember that this is more than just a hotel, it’s a full waterpark as well.  I looked into going to Soak City once with our family, by the time I added all the admissions and a cabana (we had a little one at the time and didn’t want to be out in the sun) it was over $300!!  We would have only had one day too. At the GWL you can check in at 1:00 on the day of your arrival, spend the rest of the day at the waterpark, it is open till 9pm. It is an inside waterpark, so it is always warm!  Then get up the next day and stay the entire day as well.

TIP 2:  Look for a Groupon or Living Social deal

The Great Wolf Lodge, just like K1 Speed is always running specials on Groupon or Living Social.  This time we are staying on a Living Social Deal that comes with a $50 dining credit with your stay.  That means…. Dinner is FREE!!  Just to be aware… the living social deal did not included taxes and fees, so when we went to check-in there was a $90 charge for that.  I purchased a Wolf Den room that slept 6, came with 6 wristbands for the park, and the dining credit for $299.  I found a promo deal online for an extra $20 off, so ended up paying $27 plus the $90 taxes and fees (just can’t escape that), so $369 total, but $50 still have the $50 dining credit.

$319 for a staycation with a family of 6 and two days at waterpark.  I think that is a pretty good deal

Smaller rooms are less.  We had a theme room with a separate little cabin inside with a bunk bed and TV.  The rooms have a microwave, coffee maker, and a mini-refrigerator.

TIP 3: Sign up for their e-mails

Go onto the greatwolflodge.com website and sign up.  We get lots of emails with different deals attached with them.  We have used these deals in the past to stay, when we did not have a Groupon or Living Social deal.

Check carefully!!!  The rates on their website will tell you how many people the base is for.  That means if the room sleeps 6 or 7, the rate they are giving you is for only 4 wristbands, you then have to add $50 for every extra person you have in the room to have a wristband for the waterpark.  So they deal could look good, but once you add the extra people it can be pricey.  This is why I liked the Living Social deal ( it already came with the 6 wristbands).  The prices they show do not include taxes and fees either.

The e-mails they send also keep you updated on different events they have throughout the year.

Tip 4: You only need one night

Since you get 2 days of water parking in your trip, you really only need to spend one night.  I know people who have spent 2 and have said one night would have been enough.  Believe it or not kids get tired of 3 days of slides and wave pools.  Yes, there are other things to do there, MagiQuest, bowling, arcade, and others, but they come at a cost and really aren’t needed to have a great time. The waterpark and lobby activities will keep you more than busy.

Note: You can purchase a PawPass that includes these activities, if you are interested and it does cut down on the cost of the add-on activities.

TIP 5: Don’t pack a lot

You spend most of your day in your bathing suit. Then at night, they have a pajama party and story time in the lobby. Parents wear their PJ’s too.  Then, the next day, you are back in your bathing suit!!  So the need for packing a lot of different outfits is unnecessary

 

Tip 6: Have dinner at Hungry As the Wolf

Not only is it almost the title of a Duran Duran song, which I could like for that reason only, but I find it to be the most affordable restaurant there. You can get a large cheese pizza for $15.99 (totally reasonable!!).  The pizza is actually good too!!!  They also sell 2 liter bottles of soda for $5.  Now, I realize that is more than in the grocery stores, but we are at a hotel, so what do you expect. I love the fact that they do this!!  If your family can agree on one type of beverage, you can all share which is better than spending $2.50 per drink.  They also offer yummy salads and bread sticks, as well as pasta.  We eat here everytime, and sometimes have it for lunch the next day.  Kids never really tire of pizza!!

Tip 7:  Order a Tipping Bucket Sundae

This is a must for your stay.  At the snack bar in the waterpark , they sell a sundae called The Tipping Bucket.  It is $14.99, which I know is pricey.. but it is HUGE!!!  It can easily feed a party of 6-8. It is vanilla soft serve ice cream, topped with brownie bites, chocolate chip cookies, gummy worms, gummy bears, whipped cream and sprinkles.  The kids will LOVE it, as you are walking towards them with this monstrosity. This is also a tradition for us now when we go.  You won’t regret it, and it will give you the sugar rush you need to keep going on more slides.

Tip 8: Take a picture with Wiley or one of the other characters

In the lobby you can usually find one of the characters at all times.  Also, at the storytime at night one of the characters come out and will stay at the end for pictures.  They have some great backdrop areas in the lobby to take pictures in front of, and they always turn out super cute.  It is a must for documenting your stay there.

Tip 9: Don’t expect a nice view from your room

This is only for the Southern California location.  The Lodge is located on a busy street.  The property that it is located on is large, but the hotel and parking structure take up all of the room, so all the rooms face neighboring apartments, strip malls or a busy street with a view of a McDonalds.  Don’t worry, you really are not in your room a lot anyways.

 

Tip 10:  Go only if you want to have fun!!

This is not a relaxing type of getaway. It is a go, go, go sleep over.  By the time you are done slip sliding away on the first day, it will be time to get dressed, grab dinner, and get ready for the storytime.  It is a great family bonding vacation.  Our family loves to swim together, and screaming altogether on the Howling Tornado are memories we will never forget.

We love it here and will defiantly be coming back again and again. So, get your wolf ears ready for a good time.

 

School band programs….. ways to save money

So your child comes home at the end of the school year and says:

“Mom, I want to join band next year”.

All of a sudden you panic and think to yourself, How am I going to afford this?  I don’t want the expense of buying an instrument.  I don’t want to have an extra monthly bill for renting an instrument. But… I really think it would be great if little Johnny learned and instrument and I know that learning to read and play music is a great learning experience.  As well, being in band can be lots of fun in high school and a great way to meet new friends. Well, no need to worry.  I have some great tips for you to save lots of money on those instruments.

In our home, we are going on our fourth instrument.  It all started when our oldest daughter wanted to play clarinet.  Her other friends were joining in 5th grade, and she wanted to as well.  School started in the fall and the flyer came home to go to the music instrument fair one evening.  Well, we are not big fans of renting items in our house, so I went to the fair with the intent of purchasing the instrument outright.  When we got to the front of the line to inquire about purchasing a new clarinet, the woman from the music store told us that the cost would be between $450 to $600…. Ummm… excuse me!  “Well, she continued, you could rent one for $35 a month, and at the end of the year part of the rental money would go towards the purchase of the instrument.”  So, as I stood there, I was doing the math in my head…. approx. 10 months at $35 a month ($35 x 10= $350!!!) and I still don’t own the instrument at the end of the year.  Also, if you have young children in the house, visions of a little one opening the case and hitting it against the coffee table speed through your mind.  What if another child breaks it, and I’m only renting this.. aaahhhh!  There had to be a better way.  So I politely said.  “We’ll just take the assigned book for right now, Thank You!”  We left empty handed and my daughter was a little disappointed, but I reassured her, Mom was going to find a way to work this “clarinet thing” a better way.

So, on the phone I went, calling friends and looking online.  A friend of mine said

“Have you tried Sam Ash?? I know they sell used instruments.”

Umm.. No.. No I haven’t, but I sure am going to try now.

TIP 1:  SAM ASH

Try calling Sam Ash Music Stores (if there is none in your area, see if they have a store similar).  Sam Ash is in 16 states and has 45 locations, so it’s possible they have one close by. CALL FIRST!!  If you call first, ask for the used instrument department and ask if they have any of the types of instrument you want in stock.  If you wait till school starts in the fall, they might run out of used models. If you call during the summer all those kids who bought instruments but don’t play them anymore.. well… their parents are trying to re-coop their money, so they are selling them back to the store.

I called a local store and asked what they had available.  The nice man on the phone said they had used clarinets starting at $60- $250.  Now, we are talking my kind of money!!  We went down to the store the same day and picked out a great little beginner clarinet (she is not in the philharmonic symphony yet, so it is all a 10 year old needs).  It was $79… you heard me $79!!!  They took it in the back, to make sure everything was in good order, all the pads were nice and working.. perfect.  They even had an insurance policy available for an extra $29, in case anything happened or you wanted to bring it in for extra cleanings.  So, now we are up to $109, but have it insured, just in case the vision on my little one banging it against the coffee table ACTUALLY happens.  At the end of the day, I walked out of the store with a perfectly working clarinet in a case, with an insurance policy and some new reeds and cork grease for $130.  Plus, we own it!!  It’s much better than the $450-$600 we were quoted at the music fair, and my daughter doesn’t care, she has a working clarinet to take to band class.

 

TIP 2:   CONTACT THE BAND DIRECTOR

A year passes and oldest daughter says..

“I don’t want to play clarinet anymore, the band is offering violin next year.. I want to learn the violin.”

Ummm… what??  We just bought you a clarinet last year!!  OK, shock over, what do we do now??  Call Sam Ash (of course), but I have waited till Fall to purchase and of course they do not have any good prices on used violins (such a bummer).  So, I think… I’ll just re-sell her old clarinet back to Sam Ash and put the money towards a violin.  NOPE!!  That didn’t work out.  Sam Ash only wanted to give me $40 for her clarinet, and I knew I could get more for it.  So we buy a new violin.  It was only $160, so the damage was not too bad.  She needed the violin quickly and I was lazy and didn’t want to search for a deal (I will now bow my head in shame)  But, here is what we did and it is a great tip.

CONTACT THE BAND DIRECTOR AND SEE IF ANY PARENTS ARE SELLING THEIR KIDS INSTRUMENTS!!

I contacted the band director and said “Hey, Mr.Band Director.  We have a great little working clarinet that my daughter doesn’t need anymore.  You know it is a good clarinet, since you worked with her and have seen the instrument.  Do you know any parents looking to buy a used one.  I am selling it for $85.”  He put an e-mail out to all the parents and BAM!!  I had like 4-5 parents interested in buying her clarinet.  No hassle, easy to make arrangements for the sale.  They got a great price on a good clarinet.  I got more money than selling it back to the store.  That is what I call a WIN-WIN.  So, basically my daughter played the clarinet all year long for FREE!

TIP 3 Craigslist

The next year roles around, I have another child in 5th grade and wants to join band.  Of course, he gives me two weeks advance notice before he has to have an instrument.  He wants to play the Saxophone.  Well, I didn’t realize there was such a price difference between clarinets and saxophones.  Wow!!!  are they expensive!!  I tried the Sam Ash route, I tried the band director route… nothing.  I even inquired into renting one. They are $65-$75 a month to rent.  So now, I had to resort to Craigslist.  Craigslist can be a little tricky, because you want to make sure the instrument is in good working order.  Repairs can run into extra costs and you don’t want that.  Luckily, I played flute for 5 years in school and have some experience around instruments.  I was able to find my son a used Saxophone on Craigslist for $240.  It was from a man who’s son played it during high school and had just graduated and moved onto guitar.  It was in great working condition and came with the cleaning insert, it just needed a neck strap.. easy enough.  So here goes the calculations in my head again.  If my son played this saxophone for at least 4 months, It will have already come out better than renting. (4 x $75=$300) this sax is only $240. DEAL!

This is what you want to look for when you buy a woodwind instrument on Craigslist.

Check the underside of all the buttons/keys.. whatever you want to call them.  The underside has pads on them that cover the holes when they play and make the different notes.  You want to make sure none of the pads are starting to peel or are loose.  You also want to press all the keys to make sure they are not sticking and pop back to open as soon as you release it.  A tiny dent is not really a problem.  Check the cork areas.  Make sure the cork area is still intact where the mouthpiece connects and between any other connections where there should be cork.  Saxophones only have cork at the mouthpiece area.

Are you counting??  That is 3 instruments in 3 years.  It’s a good thing this Mom supports music in school or I might go crazy!!  But…. we are not done yet!!

TIP 4:  ASK AROUND

We kept the violin, since my middle child said when he gets into 5th grade he wanted to play violin.  Great!!!  I thought, we already have one of those.  Good boy!  Going to save your mom some money.  WRONG!  Middle child will be in 5th grade next year and has decided he wants to play the trumpet. Umm… we don’t have one of those lying around the house.  What to do??  Well, my niece played the trumpet in Junior High and her first year of high school. She is now graduating, so I’m guessing the trumpet thing, is a thing of the past. On the phone I go, to call my sister.

“Hey sister!  Do you still have niece’s old trumpet?”

They sure do!!!  Except it is missing the mouthpiece.  No problem.  Mouthpieces are very easy to purchase separately at most music stores.  So ask your friends and family if they have or know of anyone who has an instrument the are not using.  The guidelines I mentioned above about checking the instrument out still applies when getting them from a friend.  A lot of people hold on to instruments just for the mere fact they don’t know what to do with them.  The thought of passing down their child’s instrument to another child who needs one is a great feeling. So, put those feelers out.  Who knows you could get lucky.

TIP 5:NO BUYING ONLINE

I love to buy items online.  It’s easy and it saves money, but instruments are tricky things.  Let’s go back to our daughter’s clarinet.  We looked online and saw all these cute clarinets in different colors and they were only about $100-$120.  I thought, maybe this is an option!  Until, the band director sent the e-mail home.  DO NOT buy the colored instruments you see online.  They are all not reliable and he has had issues with them in the past.  Since you can’t actually see and feel the instruments sold online, you don’t really know what will be arriving on your doorstep.  It could be great, and then again it may not be so wonderful.  Returning a not so great instrument online is a hassle too, so if possible I would try my first 4 tips first.

TIP 6:  CHECK WITH THE SCHOOL FOR BIGGER INSTRUMENTS

This tip is for all you lucky parents that have the child that wants to play something like the Tuba, Baritone and sometimes even the french horn.  Check with your school.  Sometimes the schools already have these instruments and your child can just loan them from the school for the year.  A school band, especially in Junior High and High School need all different types of instruments in their bands and realize parents can not afford such large pieces.  They need the players and you need the instruments.  It’s another WIN-WIN.  Although this is not usually the case for elementary school.  Elementary School band teachers usually travel from school to school in the district to offer the classes (at least that is the case in California).

As you can see, there is no need to stress too much when the music bug hits your little ones.  There are ways to lighten the burden of the costs involved.  I have been through them all, and still have 2 kids left to go!!  Music is such a great way to enrich the lives of your children.  I have wonderful memories and friends from my time in high school band, most of them I still talk to today.  The trips and performances build friendships that last a lifetime.  Plus music is a great math tool and improves the grades of some students.  So, get those earplugs, get ready for the squeaks, honks and ratta tat tats.  There soon will be beautiful music filling your homes.

You can do this… IT’S A CAKE WALK!!

 

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