Road Trip to Michigan

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Wow, where do I begin? 6 days in Michigan with my husband and 4 (soon to be 5) year old son. I love reading blogs about other people’s travel experiences so I’m sharing our story and adventure! This was the other side of Lake Michigan for us, the west side of the state. We live in Chicago and go to the beach, see Lake Michigan all the time… but not like this. Honestly, I need to pinch myself because it all seemed like a dream….

We did so many fun things and we all had a blast!  Looking back at pictures, it seriously doesn’t seem real or like we were somewhere else…. more than just a 5 hour drive from home. Let me begin by saying I LOVE to travel and see other parts of the country and world and to do it now, in my 30’s with a son is the best ever. As a child, we went on a lot of vacations. I was fortunate to experience many airplane rides because my dad was a US Air mechanic and we spent a lot of hours in airports. I loved it. It’s what I knew. We also drove to places as well. It’s fun! And I’m fortunate now to have a kid who is SO GOOD in the car (thank the Lord!)! Seriously, when his time is up on his tablet he’ll either sleep or just sit there and look out the window.

I’m not trying to brag. I’m really not. Kids, and people in general, do not need much. I’m such a minimalist and realized at a young age how little we need to survive. And I think that’s why I enjoy traveling so much. Even just going to the beach. We need a towel, a few toys, water, snacks. Done. No need to bring your entire garage. Half the time your kids won’t play with what you brought. Chairs? You sit in a chair every day. Sit in the sand! The same goes with taking a vacation. If you forget something, who cares! Chances are you don’t really need it, or you can find a store and buy it when you get to your destination.

Ok, enough chit chat. Let me begin our Michigan adventure. Here we are, car packed ready to go!

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We even brought our bikes! Our first stop was Traverse City. We rented a little cottage through Airbnb for 3 nights. For us, this was a 5 hour drive. We stopped once to eat lunch at a Burger King.

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Island View Cottages is where we stayed and I highly recommend if you are ever in TC. We had a kitchen, our own room, Liam slept in a pull-out couch and the property has it’s own private beach! Literally, our cottage was 15 steps to the beach. I was in love!!

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Beautiful, clear water. Nothing can beat it.

The first day we were here we did a 2 hour canoe ride at Riverside Canoe Trips. The night before we went to Meijer and got breakfast and lunch food. We brought a picnic lunch and had a great time!

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After our canoe trip we drove to Glen Arbor with our bikes. Here, we did an 18 mile, HILLY bike ride. I was so mad at Ferro (my husband) for picking the route. I swore at him  a few times which is very unlike me. But when we got back to our car, I was glad! It was hard, yes, and we kept going and saw some beautiful sights that not everyone gets to experience.

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And let me say this now. None of these pictures do this trip justice. These are all taken with my iPhone 7 and this hill just above… holy cow! The hills up were SO hard and the hills down, I thought my brakes were going to go out! But it was fun and I thank my husband for being the biker in this relationship and making me do it 🙂

The next day we kept open to relax…. well, relax for us. We visited the Traverse City Commons and went on a little hike.

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Ferro took some really good family pictures with his DSLR and we got to enjoy some nature. We then had lunch at Spanglish, a restaurant I recommend if you like tacos (I mean, who doesn’t?!).

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It’s right next door to Barefoot Charlie Winery. Oh, come on, you didn’t think I’d go to Michigan and not go to a wine tasting, did you? And yes, Liam was with us the entire time. They even gave him a juice box and crayons and a page to color. Bring the kids! They will accommodate you.

When we got back to the cottage we ate leftovers for dinner and made s’mores on the beach. Definitely my favorite night of the entire trip.

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I mean, a glass of wine in hand, fire blazing, toes in the sand? There is nothing else I want in life. Besides world peace.

The next day we had to pack up our stuff and hit the road to our next destination- Charlevoix. But first… let’s check out the Sleeping Bear Dunes. It’s about a 45 minute drive from TC and $15 for the pass that you need to display in your car. Done.

And… leave it to us to pack a lunch, climb down the dunes, eat, and climb back up, disreguarding the warning signs posted at the top saying that it may take you 2 hours to get back up. Well… We did it in 25 minutes! That’s right, all 3 of us, Liam too and he didn’t cry or whine! Hallelujah!

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But that view? Come on! How can you not go down there?! Side note: We are a very fit and physical family. They have the signs for a reason so please be careful! However, if you do decide to climb the dunes, I recommend going barefoot and using your legs and not doing the zombie crawl like you will see most people doing.

After that, we hit the road again to our next Airbnb in Boyne City, just outside of Charlevoix. Here, we really only had 1 full day. We drove and took a ferry to a place called Castle Farms. It’s a beautiful place where you can walk the grounds yourself. We fed ducks and fish and had a picnic lunch. They have an awesome train set up that of course Liam loved! It was very neat and we all enjoyed ourselves.img_7693

After we explored Castle Farms for a couple hours, we drove to Michigan Beach. It was a bit too chilly for us to go in the water but it was still a beautiful day to swing on the swings, go down the slide and see the lighthouse!

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We then drove back to Boyne City and the boys fished (with no luck) and we enjoyed our last evening relaxing, by the water, having dinner and getting ice cream!

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On our drive home, we stopped at a Jimmy Johns in Grand Rapids. Another awesome city to drive through and stop quick if you are ever near there. And then we made it home! Seriously, the worst part of travel is packing, then unpacking and having to do 3 loads of laundry. But who cares! Obviously it’s totally worth it.

So I hope you enjoyed reading about our Michigan journey 🙂 Please leave comments about your experiences or questions if you are planning on a trip there yourself!

Take care, and enjoy life!

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Gingerbread Play Dough

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Attention all parents, nannies, and just anyone who loves play dough! Make this over winter break. I repeat: make this over winter break! It’s so easy, super fun, and smells delicious! You probably already have all the ingredients on hand and it’s hours of fun for your little ones (or you). Liam made this at school and his teacher gave him the recipe to make at home.

Here he is having a blast rolling it out…

We had a ton of fun playing with it, probably a good hour!

A while back we made regular play dough which was also fun. There’s just something about making “Christmas” play dough that’s special 🙂 So here’s what you need:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1/2 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup water

Mix in a bowl and knead until smooth. Have fun! Store in a ziplock bag.

Traveling with Kids

What? You’re going on a trip WITH your toddler!? Yes, yes I am and I’m here to tell you that our trip to Puerto Rico with our 3 year old was the best! You can do it, too! I’m going to tell you how amazing it is to create memories with your kids via vacationing because we had an extraordinary week in Puerto Rico and I cannot wait to do it again!

At first, I was VERY hesitant to fly with Liam who is 3 1/2. In a car he is great! When he was 2 we drove to New Orleans and it was awesome. But flying is a whole new ball game and I am already anxious just in day to day life. The stress of packing and dealing with people and airport security and a 5 hour flight, etc… You can come up with a million excuses NOT to go on vacation with kids. But what about the excuses TO go somewhere and share the experience with them!? I’m going to share my experience traveling from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico with my husband and 3 year old son. We chose Puerto Rico because it’s a tropical island and you do not need a passport to travel there! (for now)

To start, I did a lot of research online about flying with kids. Let me just say, it is not nearly as bad as you would think. Actually it’s quite better because you get priority for everything! TSA security line, boarding, you name it, if you have a kid, it’s like VIP. We flew with jetBlue which was absolutely perfect! No delays, flight crew was so nice and it’s unlimited free snacks on the plane! Hell yes! Here is Liam’s first boarding pass and the pin JetBlue gave him:


So fun! Also, we decided to bring his car seat on the plane. Why? Because our son LOVES his car seat, he’s comfortable and familiar with it, and most importantly it’s safe! Yes, it’s big and bulky and heavy  (there are airport carts you can get for walking to/from your gate). But you are going 500 miles per hour at 36,000 feet. Turbulence can be bad and takeoff and landing is pretty rocky. So in my opinion, if you are traveling with a kid 4 or under (even babies!) bring the car seat.

See? Here he is happy and comfy eating some McDonalds hot cakes 😉


And… Here he is fast asleep mid flight

Another reason we brought the car seat was because we wanted to rent a car for the day to explore the island ourselves. Sure you can rent a car seat, too but it’s so much nicer having your own!

Ok, moving on to where we stayed. Embassy Suites in San Juan. Close to the airport, awesome pool with a kids area, free breakfast AND happy hour and a beach. I’ve stayed at multiple Embassy Suites in various locations and all have been great. The price is right especially if you use all the facilities they provide. This one in particular had a casino for adults and a game room for kids. They have a special pool area for the kids with a slide and a play house. And, when you are going to the beach, they have beach toys that you can bring and use so you don’t have to pack your own! Then, when you get to the beach, they have chairs, umbrellas and towels free of charge for guests. So great! I mean, you really can’t ask for anything else. They make it so easy and convenient for you.

Next up, what we did while we were there. Besides the obvious, pool and beach, we also did a tour of the rainforest called El Yunque National Forest. I wasn’t sure if Liam would be able to handle it since it was from 8 am to 2 pm but it was great. If you have a 2 year old or younger, wear them. But 3 years old and up can definitely do the hike if they are physical like my little guy is. The tour was very educational and the forest is beautiful! Here is a picture of us:

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After the hike we had lunch at a tiny little place just off the side of the road. Probably one of the best meals we had. Then, Liam fell asleep in the taxi ride back to the hotel so… major plus.

The other fun thing we did was rent a car and drive to Old San Juan and then to Ponce for dinner. I highly recommend renting a car at least for a day if you go to Puerto Rico because it is a fun adventure. Old San Juan is a must as well. I mean… just look at this view:

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Gorgeous! While we were here we parked the rental car in a parking lot for maybe 4 hours and it only cost about $3. We saw the 2 forts and took advantage of the free trolley ride. I’m not sure what the forts were actually called and I’m too lazy to look them up right now but it’s probably the #1 thing to do in Old San Juan. The history here is amazing so I highly recommend.

Then, we drove to Ponce which is on the south end of the island. We didn’t have much time here, only ate dinner but I’m so glad we made it to another city. The drive through the mountains was so breathtaking, it was so worth it. When we got there, we found a free parking spot on a street and quickly looked up on TripAdvisor a restaurant for dinner. Here is Liam with his Shirley Temple:

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We went to a place called Lola and ate outside (while also getting eaten by mosquitoes). The best part- Liam was able to create his own cupcake and of course I freaked out when our server brought out mini pastry bags!! OH MY GOD THAT IS SO CUTE!

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He ended up giving it to us free of charge which may or may not have been because of my freak out but who cares. So cute. We then drove back to the hotel and left the next day.

I want to go back so bad! When Liam is older there will be even more to do but for now, this was honestly the BEST vacation. I hope you get inspired by reading this post to take an adventure with your kids because in my opinion it is so worth it. You come home refreshed and have a new outlook on life. Seeing other cultures really opens your eyes and makes you appreciate the little things that we so often forget. So get out there and travel, my beauties!  You won’t regret it 🙂

 

St. Patrick’s Day Fun

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! As a stay at home mom I feel I need to do something fun and creative for all holidays. Yes, it’s so stressful and I hate doing crafts. So, then why do I do it?! Because seeing my little guys eyes light up in wonder is the best. As a parent, we are the magic makers. And as a baker I always like to try new things. Being creative is great and it helps pass the long days. So here are some things I did this St. Patrick’s day. Let me know your ideas and if these are helpful to you!

First, I made green chocolate chip cookies. Super easy, just add a few drops of green food coloring to your cookie dough.

Next, we made these leprechaun binoculars! They are made from toilet paper rolls and construction paper. Really easy but also really tedious. I was going to make 5 for all of Liam’s friends. But… I made 2 and was done!

Here are the supplies I used. It was easier to use Elmer’s glue than a glue stick in my opinion. Or you can use tape.

The binoculars are to see and find leprechauns! I printed out these cute little guys,


colored them without Liam knowing, and then used painters tape to stick them around the house so he had to find them in the morning! So fun. I also colored the toilet water green and told Liam that the leprechaun had to use the bathroom and didn’t flush 🙂


We had some friends over to share in our festivities and we had a blast!

Don’t worry, the bubbly was for the moms 😉

 

Honey Rolls

Yum! Who doesn’t love bread??!! I mean, if you don’t, we can’t be friends. Bread and cake. My two favorite foods. Of. All. Time. Homemade bread is quite difficult to make, especially if you do not have a stand mixer to knead the dough. I’m sure it gets easier with experience, but I never know how much flour to use! The dough gets so sticky. But these turned out great so I will let you know my tricks.

What you will need:

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 large egg
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)

For the top:

1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon honey

In the bowl of your mixer, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let rest for 5 minutes. Add in the egg, honey and salt and mix until combined. Add in the flour. If using a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, knead for 5-7 minutes. With my KitchenAid mixer, this was the 2 setting. If kneading by hand, knead for 8 minutes, trying not to use too much flour! The dough becomes more workable the longer you knead it.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours. Tip: My house was chilly so I preheat my oven to 170 degrees fahrenheit and then turned the oven off and placed my dough inside to rise. The perfect place!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Lightly oil a round cake pan or cookie sheet. After the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and work it so it’s not too sticky. I had to add more flour because it stuck to my hands too much.  Shape the dough into 12 balls and place in pan.

In a bowl, mix together the melted butter and honey. Brush over the rolls. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned.

Serve warm with butter or more honey. Enjoy!

Sweet and Salty Pumpkin Seeds

Yesterday was the day of pumpkin carving in my household! It is so fun and brings back many good memories of my childhood. However, Liam was grossed out by the pumpkin! I mean, yes, it is pretty nasty, feels weird and smells but I enjoyed myself. And of course I saved the seeds! Last year I made drunken pumpkin seeds, but this year I wanted something simple, sweet and salty. So, go wash your pumpkin seeds and let’s roast!

What you will need:

1 cup washed pumpkin seeds (I got this from 1 medium pumpkin)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit. Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 30 minutes to dry them out.

Once dry, take out seeds and set your oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until all the seeds are coated. Put the seeds back on the parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the seeds are lightly golden brown. Enjoy!

Yum! Such a great snack. And here is our mess from carving…

 

Have fun!

 

Popeye Muffins

Yes, these are GREEN muffins! Made with spinach and bananas, sure to please even the pickiest eater. Feel free to call them whatever you want. I chose Popeye because, well… he eats spinach 🙂 But if you make these during Christmas, they can be Grinch muffins, or during St. Pat’s they can be Shamrock, etc. Both my 3 year old son and my husband enjoyed these. I had a bag of spinach that I needed to use up. And I’m just not a salad person. So naturally I found a way to bake with them! Go start your ovens and make these perfect snack!

What you will need:

8 cupcake liners

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 banana, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 3 large handfuls of baby spinach

Note: This is half the recipe and made 8 muffins. Feel free to double it if you need more! Oh, and there are no eggs 😉

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a blender (I used a Magic Bullet), blend oil, milk and spinach until there are no chunks. Pour into the dry ingredients and add the mashed banana and vanilla. Stir until combined.

Pour into liners about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 16-18 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Enjoy!