Michigan Renaissance Festival: Our Day Trip

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Disclosure: I am a USFamilyGuide.com Blogger. While I received no financial compensation for this review, I received 4 free tickets to the Michigan Renaissance Festival to assist me in the construction of this post.  The thoughts and opinions here are completely my own.



Nestled deep in the woods of Holly, Michigan, you’ll find fairies, knights, kings, queens, Celtic music, and pickles. Pickles? Oh yes, pickles. Big ones, too.  You may have to endure some yelling to get one, but we all agree it’s worth it…except my daughter.  Not only did the sun give her a run for her money this year, she did not like being yelled at…and for pickles, for that matter.  She can scarcely understand why anyone would put up with that to get one.  “Gross.”, she said, but my son?  Yes, you can see by the look on his face that this is going to be his first win of the day courtesy of the pickle cart near the entrance of the Michigan Renaissance Festival.  It’s our annual Labor Day event that welcomes the coming fall season.  The weather usually cooperates with our intent.  It’s sunny, but cool and breezy.  The leaves rustle on the trees warning us that they’re aging and starting to dry and turn.  We stroll along, listening to their song until we hear others on our path…



Silent Lion.  They’re arguably one of my son’s favorite things about the Renaissance Festival.  Mine, too.  Their haunting melodies pluck the strings of my son’s Mitchell heart.  He could stay here all day.  He has purchased a couple of their CD’s over the years and listens to them all year long.


And while music may not seem the most child friendly activity for very active children (ahem, or my baby), making wax hand keepsakes most definitely is.  Each year, the kids get to pick a keepsake to remind them of our trip.  I won’t go through all the things they’ve bought in years past, but  my son got a wooden axe last year.  My daughter got a beautiful headband.  This year, they both wanted wax hands.  I’m not particularly thrilled with the choice as they lack a great deal of durability, but we’ll do our best to keep them intact.   I have to tell you something about this picture of my son, too.  When we were looking at these, my daughter said, “Thomas looks scared.”  I said, “Really?  I thought he looked mad.”  I told her to go ask him what he was thinking.  He said he was scared because the wax was under his fingernails.  He was also worried about tree nuts.  So much for being Mom.  His little sister is much more perceptive than I.   Their closeness astounds me sometimes.



He IS happy here, though.  (Good call, Mom.)  There is so much for kids to do here and so much of it is free.  I’ll give you a short list of our favorite freebies in a minute.    My kids had a blast racing turtles.  You can’t see the turtles, but my daughter lost this race.  I love this picture because you can see that the people who work here are top notch.  They’re always willing to help and they deal with loads of people each and every day.


My little gymnast wants me to share this with you because she made it to the top without falling off.  She tipped, but righted herself and kept going…and with flip flops even!  She’s 100% my husband because this is totally NOT me.  I am 0% athletic, coordinated or anything else along those lines.



My tiny princess came home with a stash of magical coins that she’s keeping in the top drawer of her dresser.  She’s so proud of them.



And among the numerous activities is an educational one!  Aaah yes, this is gold to a homeschooling Mom.  My kids loved the Glass Blowing demonstration and it’s completely free!  And here the short list of some of our favorite freebies.  50 kid friendly freebies are listed in the weekly schedule, too:

    • Puppet Show in the Children’s Realm
    • Make a Magic Wand in the Children’s Realm
    • Dance with the Maypole Dancers
    • Pet a Jousting Horse at the Stables in the Valley of Aberdare
    • Make bubbles with the Bubble Fairy
    • Watch the Joust
    • Find a Gem in the Gem Mine
    • Meet a Mermaid
    • Sprinkled with Fairy Dust by a Fairy

The fairy dust sprinkling brings me to another story. Each year, for as long as my daughter can remember, she looks for the “Green Fairy.” Maybe you’ve seen her. She has long blond hair and we often see her sitting near the entrance. My daughter hugs her and talks with her for a few minutes. When she leaves, the fairy gives her a sprinkle of fairy gems for her tiny hand. She puts them in her pocket, and then transfers them to a small, sparkly change purse she keeps under her pillow. The gems keep her from having bad dreams. They must work quite well because she rarely has a bad night.


There is so much more to do here than the few things I’ve mentioned.  The days are action packed with themed events that change each weekend.  You could spend the entire weekend here and still not see every show, take in every event, or eat in every location either!  There is so much to see and do.  Keep in mind, however, not every event is child friendly – particularly after 5pm.  These are noted in the schedule, so be mindful of that if you have small children.  We’ve never had any difficulty avoiding anything we feel is questionable.



And now, it is with great melancholy that I bid another summer farewell. They come and go so quickly nowadays. If you haven’t attended yet this year, you have one more very sweet weekend in which to do so. The Sweet Endings themed weekend is October 3 & October 4th. They’re also open on Friday, October 2nd. Renew your vows for free and/or score some free samples of chocolate in the Valley of Aberdare. You can also take in the Cupcake Crusades or the Cake Dive for brides-to-be. A ticket purchase will also net you a free beverage this weekend. Check out my previous post to save $3 on an adult admission ticket or a free child ticket with adult ticket purchase, too.

Note: If you have nut allergies, be aware that there are roasted nut carts at this event.    

Coconut-Lime Cupcakes (a nut-free recipe)

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Coconut Lime Cupcakes

“Bruder bought a coconut, he bought it for a dime
His sister had anudder one she paid a quarter lime
She put de lime in de coconut, she drank ’em bot’ up
She put de lime in de coconut, she drank ’em bot’ up…”
~ Coconut, Harry Nilsson


No, this isn’t just your earworm for the day.  It’s the song that filters through my mind whenever I make these cupcakes.  They’re absolutely summer perfect, refreshing…and dessert!  And I have to tell you, one of the absolute best/worst cravings I’ve had with this pregnancy versus the my other two kids (bacon and cucumbers) is my horrific citrus cravings!   Holy moly, I could eat lemons and limes ALL DAY LONG.  I mean, it could be worse.  Bacon is pretty bad after all.  Lemons and limes?  Not so much. Hence, these cupcakes…Did I just justify eating cupcakes? Yes, pregnancy also equals spinmaster.
Coconut-Lime Cupcakes


  • 1¼ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs (room temp)
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons lime zest
  • 4 Tbsp lime juice (1 medium lime)
  • 1 teaspoons coconut extract
  • ¾ cup Milk (whole)
  • Frosting
  • 8oz cream cheese (1 box), room temperature
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 to 4 Tbsp toasted coconut
  • Small Lime slices (garnish)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 and line cupcake pan with liners.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.
  3. In a separate large sized bowl, whisk eggs and sugar.
  4. Add the oil, lime zest and juice, coconut extract, and coconut milk to the egg and sugar mixture.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and lightly mix until blended.
  6. Fill each cupcake liner ¾ full.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes
  8. Use a toothpick to test the center of a cupcake
  9. Allow cupcakes to cool to room temp before frosting
  10. Frosting
  11. Beat the cream cheese using a hand mixer, adding butter 1 Tbsp at a time on medium speed until all butter has been added.
  12. Add coconut extract and powdered sugar and mix until combined. Do not overbeat frosting.
  13. Fill Decorating Bag with frosting. You'll also need a Coupler and Wilton 8B Tip (or another tip) if you don't have them already.
  14. Garnish with a wedge of lime and sprinkle of toasted coconut.

Coconut Lime Cupcakes Recipe

Homemade Lemon Scrub

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Homemade Refreshing Lemon Scrub


One of the most frugal tips I have for you is to never spend hundreds of dollars on expensive scrubs when you likely have the ingredients to make your own right in your own home.   This is a very easy to make recipe for Homemade Lemon Scrub and it works just as well as any commercial product you could buy.  Plus, you know exactly what’s in it.  No mystery ingredients here.

As if that’s not enough, you’ll get some of the benefits of using Lemon Essential Oil.  I’ve said repeatedly that citrus is one of my pregnancy cravings.  I’m sure this isn’t coincidental as I’ve also had the most severe morning sickness of all of my pregnancies combined and had to take medication to control the vomiting.  I wish that I had known about an old tried-and-true home remedy of the lemon juice/water morning combo we hear so much about because it may actually helpful in controlling morning sickness for some people.  I can’t say for certain if it helped me at all, but I definitely feel much better than I did before I started drinking it – and my morning sickness lasted well into my second trimester.  Of course, you’ll only be using it on your skin, but that has its own benefits as lemon is known to kill germs and bacteria, smooth callus’, and even elevate your mood.


Homemade Lemon Scrub


  • 1 cup Epsom Salts
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Coconut Oil
  • 5-8 drops of Lemon Essential Oil


  1. In a medium sized bowl, add the olive oil and coconut oil. Combine.
  2. Add the epsom salt and blend with the oil mixture.
  3. Add lemon essential oil.
  4. Stir until blended.
  5. Transfer to a lidded container to store.

Homemade Lemon Scrub

10 Must-Have Kitchen Gadgets for Healthy Eating Under $10!

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10 Must-Have Kitchen Gadgets for Healthy Eating Under $10


I refuse to say that this has anything to do with warmer weather! We have access to fresh fruit and vegetables all year round, so there is no excuse to not eat more of them – all the time.  If you’re like me, though, coring a pineapple can be a huge deterrent to buying a whole one vs. pre-cut slices from the deli.  They are not much fun to slice, that’s for sure.  The problem with buying the deli version that this costs twice as much as doing it yourself.  Plus, you know I have cleanliness issues.  I don’t have the vaguest clue WHAT kind of environment in which that pineapple was handled, and I always feel as though I’m putting my health at risk.   Being pregnant, there is a risk of listeria, so that’s a realistic concern.  With that in mind, I’ve put together a round-up of 10 Must-Have Kitchen Gadgets for Healthy Eating Under $10 shipped that’ll help you in your mission to eat fresh.




1.)  Stainless Steel Pineapple Easy Slicer, Corer $4.15 shipped



2.) Stainless Steel Strawberry (and Tomato) Huller $6.21 Shipped


3.) Kitchen Active Spiralizer Spiral Slicer Zucchini Spaghetti Pasta Maker Black for $7.97 (free ship with Prime or SSS over $35)
4.) Good Cook Touch Apple Wedger $5.99 (free ship with Prime or SSS over $35)
5.) This is a serious problem solver. For most recipes or side dishes, I only need half an avocado. You know what happens to the other half.  Ugh.  They turn brown so quickly. The Avo Saver really does what it says – keeps the other half of your avocado fresh. Check out the ratings on it. They’re very good. It’s $6.45 (ships free with Prime or SSS over $35)


6.) OXO Good Grips 3-in-1 Avocado Slicer, Green is the best avocado slicer. It slits, pits and slices the avocado and the pit remover is the most important feature. There’s an oval indentation in the tool for you fit the pit into and twist it out instead of a hook. It’s $9.95 (ships free with Prime or SSS over $35)

7.) RSVP Herb Scissors $9.75 (ships free with Prime or SSS over $35)


8.) I have this, too, and it’s so handy. NO ONE can use that whole bunch of cilantro from the grocery store in one meal or 3 or even 5. Chef’n SpiceCube Herb Freezer Tray  is $9.99 (ships free with Prime or SSS over $35)


9.)  Corn Kerneler  $2.63 shipped.





10.) Citrus Slicers 4pk $1.32 Shipped.  These are great to pack in lunches along with an orange to make it super easy to peel.

Note: Amazon prices can change at any time.  These deals are valid as of 6:10pm on May 27, 2015. 

Need an Amazon Prime membership?  There are a lot more benefits by signing up for an Amazon Prime membership than free 2 day shipping on every Prime eligible order you place, whether it’s 50¢ or $50.  In addition, you’ll have access to Prime Instant Video (lots of free movies!), Prime Music and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.   Sign up now for a free 30 day trial.

Another way to get free two-day Prime Shipping is via the Amazon Mom program.

You’ll also receive:
• 20% off diapers with Subscribe & Save (Exclusive to Amazon Mom).
• 15% baby registry completion discount (Exclusive to Amazon Mom).
• Unlimited movies and TV shows with Prime Instant Video.
• Unlimited music streaming with Prime Music.

Also, did you know that you can pay as little as $19.80 for your Amazon Prime membership? You can if you split the cost with up to 4 other household members or co-workers of a small business.

S’Mores Cupcakes! (Nut-Free Recipe)

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S'mores Cupcakes


Summer’s coming and that means camping, hobo pies, and marshmallowy, gooey, chocolatey s’mores!  I can hardly wait.  Since I’m so impatient, I thought we could both use a taste of summer a little bit early.  And what better way to do that than with S’mores Cupcakes!  They’re chock full of everything we love about those tasty summer treats…and more…frosting.  Oh yes, S’mores with frosting.  Is there anything better?  I think not.   Well, one thing.  They’re completely nut-free!


S'mores Cupcakes


  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 3/4 cup Cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 2 Eggs, room temp.
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1/2 cup Mini-Marshmallows
  • 1/2 bag of Graham Crackers (from box like Honey Maid)
  • Frosting
  • 1 cup Salted Butter
  • 2/3 cup Cocoa
  • 3 cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1/3 cup Milk
  • 1 tablespoon Marshmallow Extract
  • 2 Hershey Bars, broken into squares (garnish)


  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Add your eggs, milk, and oil.
  5. Beat with a mixer for 2 minutes.
  6. Set aside.
  7. Break graham crackers in half and place in Ziploc bag.
  8. Pound with blunt object (like rolling pin) until finely crushed.
  9. Scoop 1 tablespoon of graham cracker crumbs into cupcake liner.
  10. Place a scoop of chocolate cake batter onto graham cracker crumbs.
  11. Push 3 mini-marshmallows into the center of the cupcake.
  12. Bake for 20 minutes.
  13. Remove from oven and allow cupcakes to cool. Once cooled, put on wire rack.
  14. Frosting
  15. Place softened butter in mixing bowl and add the cocoa and powdered sugar.
  16. Mix on low until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary after each step.
  17. Add the extract.
  18. Add heavy cream.
  19. Fill Decorating Bag with frosting. You'll also need a Coupler and Wilton 8B Tip if you don't have them already.
  20. Pipe frosting around the top of cupcake.
  21. Garnish with graham cracker crumbs, marshmallows and a Hershey bar piece.

Note:  You can use Hershey’s Miniatures if you don’t have nut allergies in your home. They have more a more finished look.

Patriotic Tiered Watermelon Cake (Nut-Free)

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Patriotic Tiered Watermelon Cake

I am the resident dessert baker in the family. It has always been this way – even before we knew our son was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. I love to bake and everyone knows it! In the summer, though? Meh, not so much. It’s too hot to bake most of the time, so I always try and choose desserts that don’t add any heat to the house.   The problem with that? No bake desserts sometimes lack good presentation.

That isn’t true for this light, refreshing, cake-esque dessert that makes a fabulous centerpiece for your summer table!   Just pull out your star cookie cutter and you’re ready to go!  Plus, this won’t set you back a ton either.  All of this fruit is generally on sale in the week leading up to either Memorial Day or July 4th, so you won’t spend a lot to make something that looks extravagant.

To make this, I use:
1 – whole seedless watermelon
1 – pineapple
cherries, halved
Whipped Topping (piped using a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off. You can use a tip and coupler, too, if you like)
toothpicks (to secure pineapples and cherries)

Directions:  You can assemble this anyway you like, really.  The only stipulation here is that you make sure that you do not cut directly in the center of the watermelon to cut it in half .  Cut it as though you’re cutting the middle out of the watermelon instead.  Then, use the “ends” to make the next two tiers. The picture is otherwise relatively self-explanatory.  I know. I never say that, but it’s true!  You can see what I did.  Haha!

You may need these items:
DayMark 115435 12″ Hand-E-Grip Disposable Pastry Bag with Dispenser (Roll of 100)
Ateco 4-Piece Set of Standard Couplers
Ateco 14-Piece Cake Decorating Set (use #2 tip)
Ateco 6-Piece Graduated Star Cookie Cutter Set

tiered patriotic watermelon cake

Double Birthday Party: Princess Cake & Blue Swirl Cake!

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Princess Castle Cake

Wondering where I’ve been this weekend?  Labor Day weekend is when we host our double birthday party for both kiddies.  This year, we’ve been so busy I didn’t even have time to remind you!  That said, I thought I’d let you know now that things are slowing down a bit and share a few pictures with you of the cakes I made!

I have to say that, for once, I love the way my daughter’s cake turned out.  I only wish I had used sugar cones for the turrets (I use the Wilton Castle Cake Kit).  I forgot them at the store!  I would have used Wilton Color Mist in Purple to paint  them and then Pearl Lustre Spray to give the nice pearly, sparkly appearance.  Instead, I sprayed the plastic cones that came with the turret set.  Yeah, that doesn’t work out well in high humidity.  She loved it.  That’s all that matters to me.

Roses on Princess Castle Cake

This is the best close-up should I could get of the pearl spray.  My daughter thought it was pixie dust.  I love her perfectly sweet innocence.  My precious tiny girl.

 Blue Swirl Cake 2

My buddy did not want a cake with a lot of bells and whistles this year.  He  wanted to make sure his teeny sister had a really nice cake, so he settled for a swirl cake.  It’s my first one, so it didn’t turn out like I hoped.  He loved it so much that he wants a tiered one just like it next year.  We’ll see if my skills improve some by then.  I’ll practice throughout the year and we can compare them next year.  🙂

Oh, and we planned to go to the zoo, but the kids didn’t want to go there…again.  We went to the Renaissance Festival instead.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful Labor Day weekend!  I’m sorry to see it end, but I’m looking forward to getting back to work, too!



In The Kitchen: Chicken Caesar Lettuce Wraps!

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chicken caesar lettuce wraps


If you don’t follow us on Facebook, you probably don’t know that my Mom broke a bone in her foot last Monday…trying to ride a bike.  Hah!  My crazy mother.  She has been staying with us all week and went home last night.  That said, we’re starting to get back on schedule around here, so I have a little more time to work!  It’s bittersweet, for sure.  We love having her here.

Anyhoo, this summer has been less than summer-like here in Michigan, and a lot more like fall for most of July and early August.  Right now, though, we’re in a heat wave.  It was 70 when I got up at 7am this morning, and 90ish during the day.  I’m NOT complaining.  I love the heat.  I just don’t like cooking dinner in it.

Since I figure you’re in the same boat much of the time, and have been all summer, I thought I’d let you know what we had for dinner tonight –  in the event that you’d like to try it, too!  It’s the easiest thing to make!

chicken caesar wrap supplies

It takes right around 15 minutes to assemble our favorite Chicken Caesar Lettuce Wraps – depending on your toppings.  For us, we let the kids make their own because we’ve found that, “If they make it, they eat it.” Both of the kids love the chicken and toppings (like bacon and croutons) so much that they overlook the fact that they’re eating lettuce.  This is a huge dinner win in our house.  I’m sure it will be in yours, too!

Chicken Caesar Lettuce Wraps


  • 1 pkg Tyson Grilled & Ready Chicken Breast Strips (or leftover and/or cooked chicken breasts - 4 of them)
  • 1 head Romaine or Boston Lettuce
  • 4 tablespoons Bolthouse Farms Caesar Parmigiano Yogurt Dressing
  • Toppings
  • Chopped Croutons
  • Grated Carrot
  • Cooked and Crumbled Bacon
  • Celery, finely diced
  • Bell Peppers, finely diced


    To Prepare Chicken Filling
  1. Chop chicken into very small pieces.
  2. Pour dressing evenly over chicken.
  3. Stir to coat.
  4. To Prepare Lettuce
  5. Remove outer wilted or broken lettuce leaves. If they're just broken, clean, chop, and use for something else like salad.
  6. Clean intact leaves.
  7. Dry with salad spinner or paper towels.
  8. Lay them flat and fill with chicken mixture.
  9. Add your choice of toppings.
  10. Fold and enjoy!


25 Delicious Recipes from the Garden!

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25 Delicious Recipes from the Garden


There is nothing more satisfying than growing your own vegetables.  After all, very  little tastes as good as a crisp cucumber, juicy tomato, or buttery squash…that is, until you’ve eaten 50 of them.  The same way.  Because it’s all you know how to do.


If you’re struggling to come up with new recipes to make use of your harvested goodies, take a look at these 25 delicious recipes featuring all sorts of fresh vegetables from the garden!

1. Dijon Apricot Goat Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms
2. Fried Zucchini
3. Peach Honey Ice Cream with Lemon Verbena
4. Zucchini Roll-Ups
5. Margherita Pizza
6. Sweet Summer Fruit Salsa
7. Eggplant and Tomato Pasta
8. Heirloom Tomato and Goat Feta Salad
9. Vegan Tomato Basil Soup
10. Snap Pea and Corn Red Currant Salad
11. Roasted Beet Salsa
12. Bobby Flay Corn
13. Feta Stuffed Tomatoes
14. Chocolate Mint Cookie Bars
15. Peach Caprese Salad
16. Bruschetta
17. White Bean Panzanella
18. Half-Sour Pickles
19. Frozen Blackberry Mojitos
20. Kale Spanikopitas
21. Pineapple Basil Soda
22. Garden Fresh Gazpacho
23. Stuffed Zucchini with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
24. Strawberry Banana Coconut Smoothie
25. Delicious Farm Fresh Salsa

10 No Bake Cookie Recipes!

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Baking. Everyone loves to make delicious treats in their home – but when it’s warm outside like it is now – who wants to turn on the oven? Not this gal. But, don’t worry – there’s still a way to make those mouth-watering yummy treats! Just make no bake! Not only does this make baking much easier, you also have no muss or fuss to worry about with the oven! And the best part is these cookie recipes are delicious! Your whole family will be begging you to make more!

So break out the mixing bowls and your grocery list – because you’re about to make some delicious cookies!

10 No Bake Cookie Recipes

  1. No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Bars
  2. No Bake Peanut Butter Cups (Buckeyes)
  3. Skinny Mint Cookies / Busy Cooks
  4. Graham Cracker Sandwich Cookies / Busy Cooks
  5. Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies / Shugary Sweets
  6. Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies / Eat.Drink.Smile
  7. Cream Cheese No Bake Cookies / Sophistimom
  8. Nutella No Bake Cookies / Six Sisters’ Stuff
  9. Thin Mint Cookie Truffles / Six Sisters’ Stuff
  10. No Bake Almond Bites / Taste of Home