DIY Birthday Cakes for Your Kids

I love a good DIY project and decorating cakes is a hobby that makes me happy so putting those together is fun for me!

About half way through the mess of baking, I tend to remember that Costco and Sam’s both sell 1/2 sheet cakes for less than $20.

But, alas, my kids like for me to bake and decorate their birthday cakes and that makes me happy.  It is a labor of love and actually quite fun to see their ideas come to life!  The delight that they get from them is worth every minute.  They really are truly excited and appreciative.

For this year, my twins asked for two totally different cake styles.  Apparently when you turn eight, it is no longer cool to share a theme.  My cat lover wanted a cake with “tangled up cats.”  My horse lover wanted a pasture scene with horses.

Although I have an excellent home made white cake recipe, I went straight to Wal-Mart to aisle 9 and picked up my favorite boxed white cake mix.  You just cannot go wrong with this one!

For the chocolate cake, I used this devil’s food mix.  I am not a chocolate lover but apparently it is yummy.

I only have one set of round pans and one rectangular cake pan, so I helped the girls to decide that is just what we needed to have the perfect cakes.  The power of persuasion was strong.

So, after a morning of baking, cooking, and leveling the cakes, we were ready!

I used a basic Wilton frosting recipe for the white cake and this chocolate buttercream recipe for the other.  It is the best chocolate one that I’ve tried.   Yummm!

My cat lover is also a foodie.  She loved the strawberry cream cheese filling that I had used on her daddy’s birthday cake so she requested it for her own.  It is really, really good and takes a cake from basic to amazing.

I let the girls choose a set of Toobs to use for the figures on their cakes.  This was like a little gift before the birthday and they put A LOT of thought into just which ones to get.

You really can’t go wrong with “tangled up cats.”  This was super easy to decorate. To make the yarn balls, I covered a bouncy ball and a marble with icing.  This worked well but kept me on my toes at the party to make sure that they got removed before becoming a choking hazard!

It was a bit more fun to decorate the horse cake.  I would have really liked to add a fence  (my idea was to use pretzels and icing) but she insisted that her horses were free roaming. 😉

Overall, we had a really good time with these. It was worth the effort and I felt a bit like superwoman as they oooohed and aaahhhed over the results!

They are already planning for next year!






What is a CSA and Why I love them

Last week, I collected the veggies from my garden.  Count them…..two sugar snap peas and three tomatoes.  I ate them slowly and savored every bite.


We do try to have a small garden.  We manage to grow enough mint and rosemary to put it into every dish.  However, that just wasn’t cutting it!  I want fresh veggies.  A friend recently told me about a CSA in our community.  I had done a little research in the past about the local CSA’s in my area but didn’t pursue it further.

Today I received my first box.  As soon as I posted this picture on  Facebook, a question and answer session began!

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So….what is a CSA?

CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  What does that mean?

It means that you pledge to support a local farmer’s business by buying his produce throughout the season.

Some CSA’s require that members work some hours each month on the farm. Others do not.  That’s the one I chose. 😉

I just get all happy knowing the my food that is on my table tonight was grown and picked by a local farmer and that by purchasing it, I have also helped that family.

If you’d like to find a CSA in your area, I think this post from the Department of Agriculture will help you to get started on your search.

Now the next question: What ever will I do with all those peppers?


Ways to Save Money on Vacation

Summer, Holiday, Holidays, Recovery

Ahhh…summer.  That time of year when many travel for summer vacation.

I am very fortunate that summer vacations have been something that I’ve looked forward to every year since I was a kid.  Many of my best memories were made during those trips.  It seemed that every year this time was set aside for my family to reconnect by spending hours together on the road (I’m not sure if all those are fond memories) and experiencing whatever thrill my dad had planned.

It has been important for me to continue that with my kids.  While we don’t do elaborate vacations, we do try to get away together for a short time each summer.

Vacations don’t just pay for themselves though!  They can really be tough on a budget if we’re not careful.  My husband and I have a set amount transferred from our bank account into an savings account each month specifically for vacation.  Otherwise, we might look up in June and realize that we have no money to travel.

While it is vacation and some of the fun is not to pinch every penny, here are some of the ways that we save without feeling like we are scrimping on a good time.

1.   Find a good deal on a hotel.

I shared here about how I saved money by asking for an educator discount.  If this is not applicable to you, then there are other ways to save.  If your dates are flexible, ask for better rates when you call the hotel to make the reservation.  If you make a reservation online, don’t forget to use your Ebates account to get cash back.  If you are willing to do a walk or a drive (think about parking $ though) you may also choose to stay a bit of a distance from the “scene” and pay quite a bit less for a hotel room.  You can read more about my hotel up “the hill” here.

From my personal experience, it is wise to have a hotel booked before you travel.  I have ended up in a few places where I was tempted to sleep with one eye open and would not let my children touch anything.  You don’t know what other activities may be in the area and hotels could be filled….at least the good ones could be ! 😉  If you’re a bit more courageous than I am about that, I’ve heard that you can wait until the day of your arrival and score a great deal on rooms that are left.  The hotel had rather have the room occupied, even at a lower rate.

2. Pack snacks for travel.

By far, this is the biggest way that we save. Avoid convenience store and amusement park prices for snacks!  We made a trip to Costco and bought things that we could easily pack and eat during the drive and throughout the week.  I can’t even begin to calculate how much money this saved us.  We took a cooler in the van and packed it with drinks, string cheese, and fruit so that we had snacks during the drive.  My husband packed a backpack each day with bottled water, juice boxes, fruit roll ups, rice krispie treats, crackers, and other small things that were easy to pack for being out and about.  We had snacks ready when the kids’ moods and sugar levels started to plummet!

3. Look for coupons in a local attraction guide.

You can almost always find coupons and deals in attraction guides.  When you arrive, go to the welcome center and pick up travel brochures.  A quick google online can also leave you with tons of options to save money on the attractions.  Buy 3 slices of fudge and get the 4th free…yes, please!

4. Skip the souvenirs.

This is possibly just my opinion.  One can only have so many pieces of $9.99 junk to drag home and later send to good will.  To be totally honest though, those things did have some appeal when I was a kid.  I mean who doesn’t need a snow globe, gigantic pencil, and paperweight with the city’s name on it?  But now that I’m the adult, I don’t want to spend my money on those things and thankfully my children don’t seem to be attracted to it.  I’ve gotten pretty good at distracting them!

Whatever our budget, I try to use this time to reconnect with my family and not stress over funding it.  If I can do little things to take the financial stress away, I can also come away without a stack of bills.  For me, this makes the trip more enjoyable!

If the budget doesn’t allow actually traveling away from home, then do a stay-cation.  More coming about that soon!

What are your tips for saving while on vacation?  Do you try to save or just forget budgeting altogether for the sake of having a good time?

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