Monday, February 28, 2011

Vanilla Buttermilk Cupcakes and "Magical" Frosting

For Nate's 1st birthday, I tried my hand at homemade birthday cake.  I was very disappointed in that they were extremely dry and . . . . well, horrible.  So, I had decided I need to find the perfect "white" cake recipe and the perfect chocolate cake recipe of this next year so that I have a "go to" recipe.  I did NOT think I would find one this quickly! 

I made this recipe for Vanilla Buttermilk Cupcakes recently and they turned out perfectly.  They were moist and slightly dense and so tasty!  I also experimented for the first time ever with Frosting and there is no word for this frosting other than "Magical".  It is soooo good!  It does take planning but is actually very easy to pull together as long as you read the recipe first and know what you have to do!

Both of these recipes come from Mels Kitchen Cafe

Vanilla Buttermilk Cupcakes
*Makes between 16-24 cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 for light, aluminum or silicone muffin pans or 325 for dark, nonstick muffin pans. Line about 16-24 muffin cups with liners and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in eggs and egg yolk one at a time and then mix in the vanilla. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Combine. Add 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Mix. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Mix. Add the final 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Mix and then add the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Mix until combined and the batter is smooth. Spoon out batter into lined cupcake pan, filling only halfway or just barely over halfway.
Bake for about 15-18 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven based on the type of muffin pan you have), until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out with moist crumbs. Don’t over bake!
Remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely. Frost as desired
No, I did not make these LOL  These are from Mels Kitchen Cafe.  Once I master the cake and icing part - I do want to try my hand at making the cuties like these!
The Best Frosting (Or Magical Frosting)
*This frosting is so magically delicious, it would be perfect on everything from sugar cookies to pumpkin bars to cake. Options are endless!
*Note: this frosting takes a bit of advance planning since the frosting needs time to cool so plan ahead! Also, the frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week. When ready to use, let the frosting stand at room temperature until softened, about 2 hours. Beat with stand mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about one minute. Finally, I pipe a lot of cakes for my kids’ birthdays (think: Spiderman covered in Wilton stars) and although I haven’t tried it, I highly suspect that an hour or so of chilling time will lend this frosting nicely to being piped. When I try it, because I will, I’ll update the recipe with my notes.

*Makes about 4 cups frosting (plenty for two 9-inch cake layers)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1% with stellar results)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) butter, cut into 24 pieces and softened at room temperature

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Slowly whisk in the milk until the mixture is smooth. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a medium saucepan and pour the milk mixture through the strainer into the saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture boils and is thick enough that it starts to become difficult to easily whisk. This could take anywhere between 5-10 minutes, depending on your stove, heat, etc. It should bubble quite a bit at the end (be careful of the splatters) and thicken considerably.

Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and cool to room temperature – this is extremely important! If it is even slightly warm, the frosting won’t beat up properly. I refrigerated my initial mixture overnight. If you do this, make sure to pull it out in time to let it warm back up to room temperature. If you try to proceed with the rest of the recipe and the mixture is too cold, the butter won’t absorb into the frosting like it should.
Once the frosting is completely cooled to room temperature (it should have no hint of warmth at all!), beat the mixture with the vanilla on low speed until it is well combined, about 30 seconds (a stand mixer will work best for this). Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat the frosting until all the butter has been incorporated fully, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and let the mixer work it’s magic. Beat the frosting for five minutes, until it is light and fluffy. Let the frosting sit at room temperature until it is a bit more stiff, about 1 hour. I suspect if you chill it for an hour or so, it would be stiff enough to actually pipe with instead of frosting with a rubber spatula.

Chocolate Version: Add 1/4 cup cocoa powder to the sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt mixture in the first step. Once the frosting has been mixed for five minutes and is light and fluffy, mix in 3 ounces of semisweet chocolate that has been melted and completely cooled to room temperature.
*Note from Mel: I made the chocolate version a few days after I originally posted this recipe and it is delicious! The color wasn’t quite as dark as I was hoping for; it definitely made for a lighter-colored chocolate frosting but the chocolate flavor is deep and terrific. I increased the melted chocolate to 4 ounces when I made it and may even do 5 ounces next time
My Notes:
1. I seriously could have eaten the bowl of frosting without a cupcake.  Yes, it was that good and I am not a frosting person at all.  My husband also said it was fantastic
2. I mixed up the cupcakes first and while they were cooking, I did the frosting.  When cooking it, it turns from "easy" to whisk to "not easy" to whisk almost all at once so don't walk away from it.
3. Once done, I just let both cupcakes and frosting cool on to room temp for a few hours and frosted them. (I did read recently that you can put the frosting bowl on top of a bowl with ice in it to cool it faster - haven't tried it but you could if you are in a rush!)

Next - I still need to try her chocolate cake recipe and another frosting recipe she has as well :-)

Weekly Challenge Week 4 - The Kitchen

It's time for another challenge!  This week A Bowl Full of Lemons is challenging us to get our kitchens organized.  I know it sounds like a huge task for one week but, if you have followed her challenges since the beginning of the year she also did a 21 day challenge in January where we conquered quite a few individual areas in the kitchen so there is less to do than you might think . .. unless you are me LOL  This is another challenge, like last week's gift wrap challenge, that will not get done this week.  Funny thing is, I just started a kitchen "re-do" last week and part of that process is totally re-organizing my kitchen by moving things around in cabinets to make it more user friendly.  I have one cabinet painted and some sample colors on the wall but other than that, progress will be slow! Here are a couple of pictures for you - hopefully I'll have a few more later this week!  Make sure you check out the link above, though, to see how Toni has organized her kitchen - it is wonderful!!

The first paint goes up!  The cabinet is painted and the door is done, just need to put it back up.  This is also a well organized cabinet :-)  I did this one along with the recent Recipe binder challenge from a few weeks ago.  The colors on the walls are samples - I know the dark green is a no go - the other two are still in the running but I have a third color to add to those as well as soon as I get it mixed.

This is the next cupboard to get done - we are planning to make this the trash cupboard.  The pots and pans are moving!  And, of course, if they move, that means I have to organize another cupboard and another . . you get the idea LOL 

This cupboard is organized and is not changing so I figured I would post this photo now. 

Toni is also hosting a give-away and it is perfect!  It's a Tupperware package and, the funny thing is, I was just thinking that I might have to search out a Tupperware site to see about getting some storage items for my kitchen - what better way than to win some!  :-)  So check it out and follow the instructions to enter if you want to try for it too!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Happenings in this House

 Our week started with a surprise getaway for my husband's birthday.  He was jumping for joy when we got to the hotel :-)  IT has been a long time since we had been able to get away without the kids - just the two of us.
 I love this picture - it is on the balcony of our room, which overlooked the pool.  See how beautiful the sunshine is yet look outside and see the snow?  There was a huge snowstorm just 24 hours prior to this picture.
 One of our stops was the Museum - Darryl loves to read the history at the displays.  (I just like to walk around so I always finish first!)
 Ummmm . .. .Wednesday morning this is what was waiting for me - no PJ's, no Diaper.  Nate will no longer wear PJ's with snaps ;-)  

 Look at that smile!!!  Waiting for dinner to be served :-)
 Everyone is waiting . . .well we are waiting for the boys food to cool so we can eat.
This was taken before nap time on Friday - I was snapping lots of pictures of him to get those last photos of those curls because we had an appointment to get his first haircut.
 This photo was taken after nap - see the sad face all snuggled in . . .Nate woke up running a fever of 102.  Needless to say he did not get a haircut . . only Josh and Darryl went - poor little Nate :-(   We gave him some fever reducer and he seemed to do better but by bath time his fever was back up to 101.  Than, when we got him up at 3:45 to take Darryl to work - his fever was again back up to 103.  Needless to say, Darryl didn't go to work thinking we would have to take him in to the doctor but when he got up the fever was gone and he was 100% better!
 Hahaha - don't you love the outfit?  When I got him dressed he didn't want his PJ's off so he played super hero for awhile before finally deciding he wanted a shirt on instead.
 Our week ended with a birthday again - Darryl's family celebrates the February birthdays (long standing family tradition) so we all gathered for that today.  Thankfully Nate was feeling better, as you can see from this picture.
 Both boys are always so good - I pack a bag of toys so they have plenty to do.
 Hehehe - Just look at that smile! (I think he secretly likes his mullet full of curls and didn't want it cut off ;-) )
 Such a handsome little boy with a fresh haircut!  That cow is my favorite - it moos when you move it LOL
 They all wanted to help Darryl open his gifts.
And Josh shared his cake - chocolate of course :-)

That is the happenings in this house - we had lots of fun!!

Creative Memories Spotlight

February is quickly coming to a close and so are the great February deals. If you want to take one last peek, you can look at the full flier here - these deals end on February 28th.  Don't miss out on getting a great deal on something you've been meaning to pick up :-) **These specials are "while supplies last" so a few items are now no longer available **

With February ending - guess what?  March specials begin on Tuesday!! YIPPEE!!  AND there are lots of new arrivals coming out this spring too.  The products are not up on the website as of yet but I snapped a few photos of the March/April mini catalog for you to get a sneak peak!

 One of the things I'm soooo excited about is the new Rugged Power Palette collection and two new Rugged Baby Boy Additions!  I love the more neutral, muted blues, yellows and greens that this collection shows.  I also think the new 12 x 12 Baby Boy cover set is the perfect thing for that first year of pictures.
 Of course, it wouldn't be fair if there wasn't something new for girls!! 

The Make-A-Wish collection is adorable - the colors are beautiful.  There is a great "Bundle Up" package that is a normal retail value of $85.00 but will sell for $63.00. 

Those are just a few of the great items.  I always enjoy the spring roll out because there are so many new items - it gets me so excited to scrapbook.  There is also a new Cricut cartridge and a few more bundles including a Ltd. Ed. national Scrapbook Day bundle in an awesome pink color and a Hummingbird Bundle.  Look for a spotlight soon on the Bundle combos - those are such great ways to get a lot of product for a great deal!!

What are your scrapbooking needs?  Digital? Traditional? Check out my Website* and find what you need!  There are "specials" and "clearance" items that change - those are a great way to pick up some supplies for fantastic deals!

Please feel free to pass this information on to any of your friends/family - I would appreciate the business :-)

* My website is very new and I'm still working on figuring out how to set it so that it is super pretty and easy to navigate .. . .I'm a slow learner LOL

Friday, February 25, 2011

Savings Angel

**If you aren't interested in coupons or hearing what I save please skip this post :-)  This is for my benefit more than any one else so that I can see the benefit of hours spent working on coupons and price matching**

Welcome to another week of shopping at the Koll house!  On Thursday, while I was working on planning next weeks menu, doing coupons through Savings Angel, matching coupons to deals and getting everything organized, I mentioned to my husband that this is a full time job.  Seriously.  I spent at least 6 hours working on all of that stuff.  It goes to show you that honestly, if I did not have to use coupons or worry about a grocery budget I would not do it - I didn't do it for years!  I planned my menu and went to the store.  End of story.  Now though, we need every penny we can save so it is part of the way that I "earn" money for my family!  I really didn't even feel like going to the store tonight - I was tired and here it is 11:15 at night and the alarm will go off at 3:15 am so I can take my husband to work (the joys of one car still are with us LOL) Because of this - I don't feel like I really watched the sale prices well (sometimes they really aren't sales but only off by like $0.10) and maybe could have done better!    So here's the total:  This week the items in the picture would have cost $110.31 but they only cost me $51.90 - a difference of $58.41.  Not quite as good as last week but honestly, it is better than I thought.  There didn't appear to be as many coupons . .. until I got to the checkout and people actually left my lane because I had so many ;-)  My best deals were:
1. Laundry Soap - Normally 11.98 but I got it for $2.98
2. Lance Crackers - 2.98 but I got them for $0.74
3. Ole Jose Frozen Mexican items - Normally $9.98 but I got them for $2.99
4. V8 Fusion - Normally $6.86 but I got them for $2.00
5. Oreo Cookies/Graham Crackers/Milk - Normally $12.44 but I got them all for $6.00 (Milk was free if you purchased three of the other items plus I had a coupon!!)
This week I did buy some things that I would never have purchased without such a good sale - like the Ole Jose frozen items.  I've always wanted to try them but would never pay the money for them. If they aren't good I'll tell ya! :-) 

As always - here are a couple of closer pictures so you can see the items a little better

Last week I shared a few items I wouldn't buy again but this week there is one item that I purchased last week that has become my secret craving.  I'll be watching for sales/coupons just so I can buy more!

Oh, are these ever good.  I picked up both the brownie bites and the Caramel brownie cakes and they are to die for without a doubt.  The Caramel brownies are something I could live on for like a week.  The little bag of bites are great for grabbing a quick sweet and they are only 60 calories each, if I remember correctly.  So, next time you see them on sale - grab some and try them out!

I think that is all this week :-)

It's Been a Year

The Unworking Mom

It's hard to believe that I've been an "Unworking" Mom for (just over) a year.  As I reflected on this past year I thought I would share the top 10 things I've learned on this journey.

10. We can survive on one income - we've learned this twice over.  First, when I quit work, my husband took on a second job to help cover costs.  Than, we REALLY moved to one income when he lost his job in December but was able to go full time at this second job for the time being.  I've learned to cut my spending habits, price match, cut coupons, and, did I mention cut my spending ? ;-)  (I'm still working on that - as a matter of fact, I'm working on a very detailed March budget to force myself not to spend anything that isn't planned . . .. we'll see how that goes!)

9. Our Consumers Energy Bill is higher - duh!!  Last summer, in the midst of the heat wave we were SURE we were being over charged.  I mean - how in the world could our bill have jumped so much in one year.  I started comparing usage on bills from a year ago when both my husband and I went - DUH!!! I'm home all day with kids!!!  Which means - more lights, more TV/stereo, more laundry, ect ect ect.  We are slowly replacing appliances out of necessity (like the fridge that died - kinda had to replace it LOL)  which is supposed to help our bill but, I must admit, I've yet to see it! 

8. Muffin Tin Monday, Funky Food Friday, snack time and the special treats of M& M's and Chocolate Chips are better than business lunches any day!  Why, you might ask?  No one cares if my make-up is done, my hair is in a pony tail or, quite honestly, if I (we) have chocolate on our faces LOL  Nothing is better than a smile from a two year old who has chocolate lips ;-) 

7. Playing in the park, Walks in the sunshine and blowing bubbles in the yard are the best kind of business meetings - need I say more?

6. Plans seldom work out - even when they are written in the planner.  Everything takes longer with kids and nothing goes as planned!!  We were laughing recently as I showed my husband the 2-3 things I had planned in January/February where either I would get a day out or we would  do something as a family and not one thing worked out for various reasons.  I always say I'm going to stop planning but I never do :-)

5. Yes, I do "earn" money even though I don't work - Cutting the grocery bill "earns" us money because I spend less; Not driving somewhere every day "earns" us money because gas is less; Cooking meals at home "earns" us money because we aren't spending $20-30 a day eating out.  My husband may bring the money home but I work to keep it in our pockets helping us in the long run.

4. My house is never clean - you would think that being home all day, I'd have a clean house - but wait, I'm home all day with two (actually three!) little boys . .. it is never clean.  It is actually dirtier/messier because we are home to mess it up!  My dishwasher is always full, the laundry is always going, and - if I'm lucky, the vacuum gets run twice a week.  So don't look in the corners or do a white glove test when you come here - just smile and watch the kids have fun LOL 

3. I never have enough time - I used to think I was busy, until I stayed home.  Now - I'm REALLY busy.  Sometimes I tell my husband on Wednesday that I am still on Monday because I'm that far behind. hahaha  I make my list, check it twice, and than look at it on Friday and realize that life happened in between all of those things I did not get done. 

2. I work harder now than I did before - I experienced both sides of the working/not working mom thing.  When Josh was born, I went back to work.  Everyone wonders how you work and have time for the family - I found it wasn't that hard.  I dropped my child off, went to work.  That meant, the house was clean all day; no dishes were used, no toys messed up, no clothes thrown on the floor.  At work, I did my job and, often had time to work on things that I needed for home - grocery lists, menus, party planning, etc.  When I got home, we only had an hour or so to play before the little guy was to tired to stay awake.  Than, I would scrapbook, read, watch TV or anything else I felt like doing.  I didn't cut coupons - we both worked; I didn't keep a budget - I didn't need to.  Since the house was "clean" all week, we did our cleaning on Saturday morning and were done.  Now that I'm home all day - there is a TON of work and not that many hours to do it!  Between cleaning, planning meals and grocery lists, laundry, and keeping kids happy, most days, I'm exhausted by 8:00.  Crazy, I know - but it is so true!

1.  This is the best job in the world - I would not trade being a stay-at-home mom for anything.  I get to see the smiles of new discovery and watch eyes open in wonder as they figure something out for the first time; I get to kiss the bumps and bruises and tickle until they giggle.  I get to see new expressions, hear new words, and watch personalities devolop.  I get to see them at their best (and sometimes their worst!) and watch as the learn something new each day.  I'm blessed to be able to teach them, read to them, and play with them daily.  Not to mention the sloppy kisses, the quick hugs, and the Iuveu's (I love you!) that come out at random times.  Sure there are days when I hear others talk of pay raises, promotions, new jobs and going back to school - it makes me wonder what I'm accomplishing - is it really worth what they are doing? I traded business trips, lunches, meetings, promotions for this??   Than I see that chocolate covered face smiling up at me and I realize that I'm doing something far greater than any of that - I'm building lives; shaping minds; and nurturing hearts of two boys that will grow into fine young men.  Than, I can say - "Job well done" and know that I had the best job in the world. 

So, that is what I've learned in the past year.  When I mentioned this to Darryl, his words were - "And to think, we are still making it" LOL  All Ihave to say is that I love my crazy, good life with all three of my boys!! (Darryl is just as much of a kid as they are!!)

Lemon Blueberry Poppyseed Bread

This is another recipe that I've had for years!  Before my oldest brother and his family left for the mission field, we had a family Thanksgiving at their home in Ohio.  My sister-in-law made us an awesome breakfast that included this bread.  It is one of our favorites and I have friends that beg me to send them slices of this bread it is so tasty!!

Lemon-Blueberry Poppy Seed Bread
1 package Duncan Hines Bakery Style Blueberry Muffin Mix
2 tablespoons poppy seed
2 eggs
¾ cups water
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease one loan pan.  Rinse blueberries from mix with cold water and drain.  Bread – combine muffin mix and poppy seeds.  Break up any lumps.  Add egg and water.  Stir until moistened.  Fold in blueberries and lemon peel.  Pour into pan.  Sprinkle with topping from mix.  Bake one hour.  Cool in pan 10 minutes.  Loosen loan from pan. Remove.  Combine sugar and juice for drizzle.  Stir until smooth.  Drizzle over loaf.

 This is just a picture of the box mix that you use for the base of this recipe - I will say that it is seldom on sale but it SOOO good it is worth the cost (about $3.25 a box)

The final product - I really don't like it when Blogger flips my photos though!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tot Time - March Plans

Earlier this week, I shared this post with all kinds of ideas to work on for St. Patrick's Day.  I've used those ideas and other ideas I'll share here along with some other generic ideas to get us through the whole month. 

First up, check out this awesome free downloadable subway art!  Today's Fabulous Finds graciously has posted many different versions of this art so please click the link, pick your favorite, print and make sure to leave her a comment!
I was so excited to see these activity cards posted by Mydeliciousambiguity - the same place I picked up the Valentine's cards last month.  These are my spring board for many ideas to use with my kids throughout the month and I'm so thankful for the work she puts into these.  (I was secretly hoping she would post something awesome like this!)

MooMoo's and Tutu's has also just recently posted a St Patrick's day packet.  You can purchase it for a small fee and get tons of ideas. 

And, one last unit that just came up is from Musings of Me - she always posts such great ideas!

In looking for some other ideas to do outside of just St. Patricks Day, I went back to one of my favorite blogs and that is Musings of Me. (same as the one I just mentioned!)  I've picked out two themes to incorporate.  One is her Space Unit

She is also doing a "trekking across the state" them and has several units out already.  We are going to start with Alabama unit and just work through items slowly.  She also created a Passport that is super cute.  We aren't going to use it yet but I have it saved to use down the road as my boys get bigger (Yes, we will do these same units several times over the next few years by adding more of the activities as they get older and also adding more things that I find elsewhere.)

One other idea I started throwing around is this Tot Book from 1+1+1=1 based on the Movie Cars.  Currently the movie the boys LOVE to watch when we travel is Finding Nemo.  But both boys love playing cars so this seems like a naturally fitting movie to tie in now. 
And then there is one that goes with Nemo too!
And Thomas
I should also include this - the New Cars Preschool Pack as well
Overloaded yet? I am LOL  But, I took ideas and have plugged them into our calendar.  It is a general plan for the month.  This week, I'll be working on the ideas for the first two weeks of the month with much more specific ideas.  Than, I'll work on the last two weeks during the first weeks of March.

If you would like to check out my March calendar just click here.  Just remember that it is my plan - it doesn't mean I will get to everything but if you don't plan, nothing gets done!.  I tried to include links on the calendar as there are some things, like file folder games, that I didn't list in any post. (I created it before adding a few of the links above so I may change and/or incorporate different ideas as well!)

Enjoy :-)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Birthday Getaway!

My husband's 45th birthday was on Tuesday, the 22nd and I planned a great two day getaway for him, if I say so myself!  The best part of all was that he was TOTALLY surprised! 

I actually started his little birthday surprise a week before by sharing with him a "Few of my Favorite" things about him along with some of his favorite things.  First of all I printed off these cards.
I gave him the poem and the first card (along with a treat!) 5 days before our get away.  Each day he would find one stuck in his bag or left in the truck.  You can get a copy of the poem and the cards at oopsey-daisy.  She actually did a blog swap with Dating Diva's and that is where the post came from too! 

On to the surprise.  My plans were almost foiled when we got hit with a HUGE snowstorm on Sunday afternoon into Monday morning.  I love snow but this one threatened ice and I knew if we got ice, there was no way I could pull this off but, thankfully we "only" got about 12 inches of snow AND my parents only got snow too! 

This whole two day date was based on clues that I had written.  On Monday morning, I waited for my parents to arrive, planning to give Darryl the first clue when they walked in the door but, wouldn't you know it, he just happened to see them turn the corner LOL  He was dumbfounded!  I don't think he even really knew what to think or what to do!! 

We hit the road and the first clue gave him a rhyme to tell him where we were eating - he had to sing the song "Rockin' Robin" to figure out we were going to Red Robin . . .but, just that morning I had seen a coupon for $5.00 off of $15.00 at TGIF so I gave him that option and we switched restaurants to save some money :-)
 Once we finished our fantastic burgers, he had a clue that gave him the choice of two activities - (both in secret rhyme)  - either bowling or a movie.  He decided a movie was in order.  I had printed off the sheet with movies and highlighted the times that worked.  We decided to go see "The Tourist" mostly because we both love Johnny Depp as an actor.  It was a good movie but not very deep (and it does have a couple spots of language in it . ..just saying) And of course, we had to have popcorn! LOL
Now, due to all of the snow, my parents arrived a little later than originally planned so . .. something had to give in my plan.  I had originally planned that we would next go to Target and each buy some treats for a game we would play later.  We tossed this out but you can check out the idea at Dating Diva's and may decide to use it yourself :-)
We did stop and buy a few snacks a little later since I hadn't brought anything as I normally do but we did not play this whole game.

Instead, I gave him his clue of where we were staying and we headed to our Hotel.  I love Travelocity - I got such an awesome deal, which is why we could go away over night, on an incredible hotel!!

Darryl was very excited to be at a hotel - can you tell?

Our room had a balcony that overlooked the pool - it was awesome!

The Pool Area.
My next clue had to do with dinner - even though I had picked a place we liked, I let Darryl make the final decision and he picked my second choice (sometimes rhyming with one is better than the other LOL).  We went to dinner at The Crazy Horse Saloon - a fantastic Steak Place.

It is tradition to put a $1.00 on the wall at the restaurant.
Than we just headed back to the hotel, which was pretty much empty, swam in the pool and relaxed.

Tuesday morning, his actually birthday, his first clue sent us to the Mall where he got to pick lunch (We ate at Panera Bread) and than, I had a game planned at Barnes and Noble.  This is another Dating Diva's idea and is a blast.

If you read her post, you'll see that they only got to three at a time - well, she's right.  It takes awhile to do the first set of three but is so much fun!  Here are pictures of our recipes that we found:

We are planning on each making the recipe we picked out over the next two weeks so that should be fun!!!

From the mall, we headed to the Grand Rapids Public Museum for the Bodies Revealed Exhibit.

It was really pretty amazing to see all of the different systems within our body and how they work.  Both Darryl and I really studied the section on the lung trying to figure out how much of her lung my sister-in-law had taken out !!  The tickets included the whole museum and a free ride on the carousel!

I'm the baggage LOLOL

Darryl is saying "I want out of here fast!" Yes, we always do dorky stuff like that!

Finally, the last clue sent us to a restaurant that we always have wanted to go to - Charley's Crab - and we were not disappointed.  Get this, the day I made my whole plan and solidified everything, Darryl came home with a $12.00 coupon to THIS restaurant!  What's the chances of that?  Needless to say I hid it away to use for dinner.

This was by far one of the best meals either one of us have had in a very long time!  Yes, it will be a once a year treat but it was so worth it!! (And this replaced "The 1913 Room" on my 40x40 list . .just saying LOL)

Then, we headed home :-)  It was a fantastic and much needed get away . .. I think I could have almost used just one more day!

OHHH one last thing!  His gift.  Darryl has seen those stickers on vehicles for awhile that show the members of the family and just really liked them.  So, I did some looking and found a fantastic site called Say It On the Wall and got him this:

Isn't that awesome???  And Laura was fantastic to work with!!  She responded quickly, gave me all of the options and explained the process well; than I had my vinyl within just a few days!  Check out that site if you are looking for some neat things for your wall or vehicle!!  I also gave him the date cards that I talked about in this post.