Saturday, November 29, 2014

Wild Waterparks: An Indoor Adventure

Today's post includes some options for indoor waterparks, particularly in the Great Lakes area, although most sections of the country now will have an indoor waterpark or two. When the weather turns cold, why not spend a night or two and enjoy some summertime temps.

One of my favorite indoor waterparks is Great Wolf Lodge, with locations scattered throughout the country. I like the multitude of things for the kids to do and it has always been very clean. Of course, it is going to be more crowded and expensive during the school breaks and weekends, but if you can swing going during an off-week or on a weekday night, it becomes much more affordable. We always try to do a Sunday night-Monday day combination right after the spring break rush and it is fairly deserted. The kids ask to go there all the time and there really is something for all ages. If you sign up for their mailing list you will get savings offers in the regular mail or thru email.

Another popular destination in our neck of the woods is CoCoKey Resort, which can be found in many places around the country as well.  While smaller than Great Wolf, it is not quite as expensive and day passes are also offered. The only caveat to the day pass being that it could also be more crowded since people would not have to stay overnight at the hotel. They have plenty to do for younger kids and older kids so it is perfect if you have a large age-range in your family. This link gives a list of most of the Coco Key locations.

Of course, the granddaddy of all indoor waterparks would be Kalahari in Sandusky, Ohio. There are also locations in the Wisconsin Dells and Pennsylvania. I know the Ohio location used to be and might still be the largest indoor waterpark in the country. Beautiful place to stay and lots to keep the kids busy, perhaps even a little extra for the more adventurous kids. My children were in awe of how big it was and they enjoyed the outdoor animal park and safari theme.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Creamy Italian Noodles

This pasta side dish is very simple to make and goes well with most chicken/beef main dishes. My kids love it and will eat several helpings. It would also be good with some chopped vegetables added.

4-6 servings

1 pkg. (8 ozs.) wide egg noodles
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup whipping cream (can use half and half if you do not want it as rich)
2 tsps. Italian salad dressing mix
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle

1. Cook noodles according to package directions.
2. After draining, place in a bowl and toss with softened butter.
3. Mix the remaining ingredients together (except Parmesan cheese) and then pour over noodles, stirring well.
4. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

5 Unique Gift Ideas

Christmas gift shopping can be a daunting task: trying to find unique gifts and not buying the same thing every year. "Gee thanks for the fruitcake. I think we still have the one you gave us last year."You get the idea!

It is difficult with children because they want something tangible, but getting them to understand that some gifts can keep giving all year long will really open up the gifting opportunities.

I've listed some non-present gifts that can offer the spirit of giving all year long. Many of these ideas are also great for birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

1) Museum, zoo, amusement park membership passes. My dad buys our kids a pass for birthdays, Christmas and Easter. We really get a great deal of use out of our zoo pass. I remind the kids every time we visit that this was a gift from Grandpa. When grandparents or family ask for ideas for Christmas or birthdays, suggest a year-long pass to your favorite museum. It can be a present that is ideal for the whole family. While those broken toys are communing in the closet, you can be out enjoying your local zoo or amusement park.

2) College fund contributions. This is a wonderful long-term legacy that grandparents can leave for their grandchildren. There are many different types of funds to chose from and different amounts that can be contributed annually. My children have had contributions made by grandparents since they were young. It may not be fully appreciated by the kids at this point in their lives, but those funds are growing quite nicely and they will embrace it wholeheartedly when they aren't paying back school loans someday.

3)Wildlife Adoption Program. My kids love animals and it is so exciting to them to think that they have an animal that they have sponsored. I have used the World Wildlife Fund, but there are many organizations that do this type of gifting. If you have someone interested in astronomy, there are name a star registries that would make a unique gift as well.

4) Subscriptions. Most people like getting mail. Why not gift someone with their favorite magazine subscription? It is the gift that you will be reminded of whenever the mail comes!

5) Event tickets. Most large or small theaters have multiple-event packages. We were once given a children's theater package of 4 shows for a gift and it was a truly wonderful experience for the kids. Perhaps tickets for an upcoming circus, ice show or concert would be appreciated.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

ABCya: Free Computer Games for Kids

ABCya is a website with FREE educational computer games for elementary aged children. The games are modeled after elementary grade lessons and incorporate fun graphics. My kids both enjoy playing on ABCya and I have used the website with them for years. There are games for kindergarten through grade 5 and they include lessons in reading, math, science, social studies and holidays.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Baked Custard

Baked custard seems like it might be a time-consuming endeavour to take on, but this recipe is so simple that you can have it in the oven within 5-10 minutes. I like to put whipped topping, caramel or fruit on top before serving.

2 cups milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a blender, combine all ingredients; cover and process until smooth.
2. Pour into a greased 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
4. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour; refrigerate until serving.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

FREE Santa Greetings

Delight and surprise your child this Christmas season with either a letter or video message from Santa Claus. I have always used the free versions of each service although they have additional services for a fee if you want to add to your letter or video. I appreciate the fact that even with the free option, there are many ways to customize the message for your child and it is easy to use, taking only a few minutes to put together. We have done this for a few years and the kids are always so happy to get a personal greeting from Santa.

Free Letters:

Free Videos:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

3 Go-To Travel Websites

I love travel and I like to find not only the best deals on travel, but the best things to do, restaurants to visit and hotels in a certain area. There are three websites that I always check when planning a trip. They have provided me with valuable insight and reviews of attractions and lodging.

1) Kayak- I love using this site to quickly compare pricing for hotels and flights. It saves me time and money.

2) Trip Advisor- Whenever we are going somewhere new and I am not sure of the attractions and reputations of attractions in the area, I check out Trip Advisor. When you go to the main page, you can search by area and look up lodging, restaurants and things to do. I find their reviews to be pretty accurate after I visit the place myself and I trust most of the feedback shared on the site. Plus, it will list pricing for most lodging choices.
Trip Advisor

3) Virtual Tourist- This site is similar to Trip Advisor. I find the advice invaluable when planning vacations. If you check Trip Advisor and Virtual Tourist and they both are giving an attraction or lodging 4 stars based on many reviews, you can be assured that it is a quality stop.
Virtual Tourist

Before booking or planning things to do on your next trip, check out these sites and save the hassle of a bad booking or stop on your next vacation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

10 Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Kids

Boy, this time of year crept up fast! Here we are already talking about "everything" Christmas. I have compiled a short list of 10 stocking stuffer ideas for kids.

1) Favorite candies- I am sure everyone is full of candy coming off Halloween and Thanksgiving as well as Christmas parties, but who doesn't appreciate a few of their favorites.

2) Personalized paper pads and crayons/markers- There are several places that print personalized paper pads very cheaply.

3) One-Time Use Digital Camera- Kids love taking pictures so why not give them a cheap camera to take some Christmas morning shots. And, you won't have to worry if it gets dropped.

4) Deck of Kids' Games Cards- Add a game of Go Fish, Uno, or Old Maid

5) Flavored Chapsticks- There are so many novelty chapsticks these days that taste like popular food brands.

6) Dollar Store Gift Card- My kids love going to the dollar store and having a small gift card makes them so happy, they feel like they can get so much.

7) Pieces of a Nativity Scene- A nice tradition is giving a piece of the nativity scene each year as a stocking stuffer until it is completed and the child has a whole nativity set of their own.

8)Trading Cards- They make trading cards for so many popular kid brands and sports teams. Pick up a pack or two and add them to the stockings.

9) $5 Gift Card towards a new Kindle or Ipod app or ITunes card

10) Mini Snow Globe- Start a cute tradition as well as a collection by adding a miniature snow globe to the child's stocking each year.

I hope a few of these ideas will help you on your way to gathering stocking gifts!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

3 FREE Online Radio Choices

I like freebies and I like music so it makes sense that I would find some radio alternatives that are free of charge and able to be customized to the music I want to listen to. These days there are lots of choices for online music streaming. I have listed my top three picks. I prefer to choose the genre or search by artists and listen to other artists that are similar. While these radio alternatives are free for use of the basic service, there are options to purchase non-advertising listening and further control of "stations".

My favorite and probably one of the best known would be Pandora. I think that it is easy to use and the advertising is not too overbearing.

AOL Radio is another option for free music. You can search by pre-made stations or create your own station or playlist.
AOL Radio

Grooveshark is a third option with lots of potential listening choices. There are many genre stations to pick from including classical to hard rock to rap. A paying option is also available for more access to songs.

Monday, November 3, 2014

FREE Thanksgiving Recipe Ebook

Some of the best meals and favorite dishes are centered around Thanksgiving dinner. I have compiled my favorite holiday recipes to include in this Thanksgiving mini-cookbook and you can download a free copy of this ebook at Smashwords and Barnes and Noble: