Archives for June 2011

LEGOLAND Discovery Center

Last week, we had a really fun chance to check out something A.P. asks me about every single month when his LEGO Magazine comes in the mail.   Well, one of two things.  One is LEGOLAND.  He even has buy one get one free admission coupons he cut out from the magazine. Unfortunately, getting to and staying in Carlsbad, California from Grand Rapids, Michigan is a bit expensive. Even with coupons.

The other thing he always asks about is LEGOLAND Discovery Center.  We were invited to a “VIP Sneak Peek” event to preview the LEGO Star Wars Days. Fortunately, getting to Chicago from here is less than a tank of gas.  A a couple of Redbox movies, and you’re there.

It’s in one of those shopping centers that are built to kind of look like a city; with outside entrances to the stores because somehow, using a real door to get into Bath and Body Works feels entirely different than strolling in through a mall-type entrance between Justice and Build A Bear.

I didn’t expect LEGOLAND to be so big, honestly. It’s two stories, and about the size of a museum.  Like a museum, there is a gift shop with (of course!) tons of stuff, but it’s not the focus of the place at all.  I was very lucky that my kids were enchanted with two different activities in the same area.  I just parked it and chatted up the other parents who were hanging around.

The Technicycle

Maybelle rode this ride about 500 times.  She was close, personal friends with the operator by the time the night was over.

A.P. spent two and a half hours building and racing LEGO cars.  The process was:

  • Step 1 – Build a car.
  • Step 2 – Race your car.
  • Step 3 – If your car loses, yell loudly and rebuild it. If your car wins, yell loudly. Either way, repeat Step 2.

LEGO Racers Build and Test Track

The fact that it was Star Wars Days were completely secondary to my kids, until A.P. was ‘caught’ by some Storm Troopers and won a LEGO kit from them for excellence in Star Wars trivia.  He was thrilled, then asked me to put it in my bag and went back to racing cars.

I have no idea who that kid in the background is.

I wasn’t sure what to do with the Storm Troopers, and Darth Vader, and those guys in orange Hans Solo jumpers.  Of course I knew they were not really from the movie, but still.  It was weird to interact with them.  They had guns.

Just hanging out on the Dragon Ride.

There are also LEGO workshops, and I don’t know what happens in there except that my children went into a little room, sat down, and emerged about 20 minutes later with models of the Sears Tower and proud smiles on their faces. The employees are great with the kids.  They are all about the ‘bricks’.

We were there during dinner time, although my kids couldn’t sit still long enough to eat.  I ended up taking a lot of pizza home which, even as a leftover and having traveled several hours in the back of my mini-van was declared “pretty darn good” by my husband.

We have been home from LEGOLAND less than a week, but in that time I would estimate being asked when we could go back several hundred times already.  I don’t know exactly when we will go – but I do know, for sure, that we will.

We were provided with admission and dinner from LEGOLAND Discover Center, but I was under absolutely no obligation to share our experiences with you.  I just thought you guys would like hearing about them. All opinions are my own.


Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park

Country Day Homeschool

One of the reasons I love summer is because I really get to pretend I am a homeschooler.  As you can see on the chalkboard {it IS a classroom, after all.  When it’s not being our dining room}, last week included a field trip to Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park.  It was a sneak peek with some of our blogger friends because it’s not open yet, but they plan to be open by July 30.  You can like them on Facebook if you want to get updates from them, or chat with Rick The Reptile Guy {and trust me, you want to chat with Rick The Reptile Guy!}.

Actually, Boulder Ridge has been open for 20 years.  They supply animals to zoos all over the country, including Binder Park Zoo.  In fact, there are more animals at Boulder Ridge than at Binder Park.  They have added a Reptile House, picnic area, park tour, aviary, petting zoo, gift shop and playground to make it a fun destination for the public.

And fun destination it is.  We got to see ostrich eggs in an incubator the size of a washing machine,

Ostrich Egg Incubator

A whole bunch of pregnant zebra,


water buffalo,

Water Buffalo

and bunnies.


We also saw crocodiles, javelinas, ostrich, wildebeests, lemurs, and the craziest porcupines ever.  This place is outstanding.

It’s also self sustaining.  They grow the hay the need to feed the animals, and it’s a nice little Lion King/Circle of Life lesson for the kids.  The kids get to find eggs and take them to the incubators.

Except  they’re kids, and sometimes they drop things.  So the broken egg? No problem; that’s someone’s dinner.

Want to see more pictures and hear about what the other bloggers had to say? Their links are below!

What do you think – will you visit Boulder Ridge?


It’s The Fourth of July – Declare Your Independence from Frantic-ness

Source: via Big on Pinterest


I sat down today with a very different post in my head than the one that came out.  I meant to give you a nice listing of Fourth of July Festivities; fireworks, parades and such, just like I did last year.

But this quote from Julie Bowen (who plays Claire Dunphy on Parenthood) has been nagging me.  When asked if there were more pressures on mothers these days, she said;

For sure.  There are times I wish I didn’t know that there’s a kids’ concert in Santa Monica on Saturday morning and a family environmental event in Los Feliz at noon.

What you do not need need is another listing of fireworks and parades.  That has been thoroughly covered by GRNow, WoodTV, GRKids, and the West Michigan Tourist Association.

What you need is a Best Bet.

The best fireworks are those in downtown Grand Rapids.  It’s as much the backdrop of the city as the actual display itself that makes this a really special event.  With families though, it can be a bummer to drive downtown early enough to get a parking spot, then hang around and wait until dusk for the big show to start.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum has a “Front Row For The Fireworks” which includes free parking and a sweet seat, but it would cost my family $45 plus $5 each if we wanted to eat.  I like the idea, but I can think of other things I’d rather spend $65 on.

This year, there is so much more going on downtown than just the fireworks and even better – there are events for kids! And a parade! The parade will begin at the corner of Lyon and Ottawa NW at 5:00 PM and end at Veteran’s Park.

Then at Ab Nab Awen Park starting at 5:30 you can go to a kid oriented park party with games, prizes, music, dancing and entertainment – ALL GEARED towards young families. It runs all the way until the Fireworks begin.

My girl Cindy has some suggestions for making the most out of your parade experience.  You could save a bunch by taking a picnic to the park party, and Megan has some patriotic fruit and brownie skewers that would be perfect.

Relax.  Enjoy your freedom.


We’re Going On Week Three… {How’s It Going?!}

Sometimes I wonder if it is exhausting to be my kids.  They rarely seem tired, but here is a recap of our past week:

Watusi. Their horns can get up to 8 feet long!

Monday – we had a special tour of the soon to be opening Boulder Ridge Animal ParkYou guys will love this; I’ll write up a post about our adventures there soon!  There are tons of animals – and Rick the Reptile Guy is phenomenal.

Tuesday -we finished signing up for all of the reading programs around town.  I have been waiting a long time for the day that I could check  the”Read To Self” box for both kids.  Ahhhh – independent readers.

Wednesday – we saw Little Red Riding Hood.  It was a little warm in the church, but the performance was fantastic, it was SO fun, and the audience was comprised largely of Big Binder readers! Did you go?

Photo Credit: LegoLand

Thursday – we had a sneak peek of the Lego Star Wars Event at the LegoLand Discover Center in Chicago – it was super fun and I’ll write up a post about that, too :)

Friday – We saw “African Cats” at the cheap seats.

Saturday – I have no idea what happened Saturday.  I really don’t.

Sunday – We went to Binder Park Zoo using a Living Social pass I bought in April.  It looks like Living Social has a new “families’ deal program and you get $5 for signing up but I don’t know what the deals are yet.

We won’t be seeing too many Lego Lions, lion movies, Big Bad Wolves or Water Buffaloes this week.  We’ll be a little more low key and doing some of the fun, free things around town.

Paleo Joe is at the library a few times this week, and Michaels has some fun “Passport to Fun” cultural projects going on too.  Don’t forget to check the ongoing free and low-cost events around town, or check the calendar for more special events.  It’s almost July! What memories are you creating?


Recipe Roundtable – Swedish Pancakes

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Well, this is a bummer.  We stopped at an Ikea store this past week and my kids saw a recipe card for Swedish Pancakes or “Pannkakor” and asked if we could make them soon. I promised we would.

Michigan strawberries are at their prime right now, and we are having strawberry everything.  Unfortunately, my special breakfast pictures are nowhere to be found.  Maybe they were so delicious, my camera ate them.

Here is the recipe card that inspired my creation; however I didn’t realize that 1) there was strawberry jam in the recipe and 2) it is probably not really a breakfast food.  On account of it’s a cake.

Mine pretty much looked like that, except it was sloppier.  The Strawberry Jelly may have been the glue that held the layers together, but I liked it just how I made it; which is:

  • 2 cups of Bisquick
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. lemon emulsion (I would have used lemon juice, but I didn’t have any but because I am ridiculous, I do happen to have lemon emulsion).

Mix together and make thin pancakes with the batter.  I used butter instead of oil to fry them.  This made about 12 pancakes. Set aside.

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, halved or quartered if they are large but if they are large, they are probably not Michigan strawberries and you should really see about getting yourself some…
  • powdered sugar, for dusting

Whisk whipping cream in mixer or by hand.  After it ‘fluffs up’; add the sugar.

Layer pancakes, strawberries, and whipped cream until you run out.  Sprinkle powdered sugar on top.

Do you have a great recipe to share? Link it up! Recipe Roundtable is a weekly feature is co-hosted by Big Binder and Sarah’s Deals. Each blog will host it’s own recipe, but share a common linky. The co-hostesses links will appear at the top of the list and you are welcome to join in. Please link to your ACTUAL POST and not just your home page so people can find it easier. Also please put the recipe title in parentheses to help out the other readers. Old recipe posts are fine. While we appreciate a link back or the addition of the button above, it is NOT required. Be sure to leave a comment after linking. Thank you for participating!


Great American Backyard Campout

Yup - that's my actual backyard.

Today is the Great American Backyard Campout! I think this is fantastic, because it brings back memories of camping in our neighbor’s back yard.  We didn’t have fancy, lightweight North Face tents or sleeping bags that could protect us from sub zero temperatures.  We had a huge, canvas, heavy tent with poles about as big as tree trunks.  We had Snoopy sleeping bags.

We had fun playing Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat; holding terribly giggly seances, and telling secrets.  It didn’t occur to us that our parents were probably listening the entire time – in our minds, we were completely independent.  Except when we had to go to the bathroom.  Or get a snack.

It is a little chilly tonight here in Grand Rapids for yard camping, but that’s OK.  The National Wildlife Federation would just like you to get outside and camp sometime this summer.  Even if it is just in your backyard.  You can register your camp out on the website, and get camping tips too.


What To Take On A Picnic {Top Ten Tuesday}

Top Ten {Tuesday}Happy official first day of summer! It’s high time you went on a picnic, don’t you think?! But… what to take? Don’t worry.  I’ll help you.  Here is my list of  Top Ten Things To Take on a Picnic:

  • The perfect picnic basket.  This is mine.  I love it more than it should be possible to love a picnic basket.

  • A picnic blanket.  It is vinyl and waterproof on one side; and nice and soft on the other.  Also, this one rolls up into a nice little shape and has it’s own carrying strap.


  • Sandwiches.  Invest in good bread; it’s worth it.  The cheese and meat on this sandwich are ‘odds and ends’ from G.B. Russo’s Grocery store.  It’s the little cuts of very nice deli meat and cheese that are too small to cut anymore and sell, but since they’re like $16 a pound they can’t just throw them away.  They just sell them for a lot less and you get what you get. The tiny loaf of bread cost more than everything else.  Also, I like to wrap the sandwiches in waxed paper because then they look all old-fashioned-y and nice.



  • Little cheese knives.


  • Drinks. I’m pretty sure this is why Pellegrino started making plastic bottles.


    • Napkins.


  • Take home containers for leftovers. The cookie container will work; because there won’t be any leftovers.

What would YOU take on a perfect picnic?  I want to know!

PhotobucketThis post is linked to Top Ten Tuesday at Oh! Amanda.


Recipe Roundtable – Madelines

Madelines are a nice, refreshing, light cookie.  They’re kinda spongy; like Twinkies but with much less scary ingredients and no Kreem Filling.

I pulled together a couple of different recipes to make one especially for my family.  We like a nice lemony flavor, but if that’s not for you just leave out the lemon zest and replace the lemon extract with almond extract, or just use all vanilla.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon emulsion
5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
powdered sugar, for dusting

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Whisk eggs and sugar together until the mixture is thick, light, and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

Whisk in the the lemon zest, vanilla, and lemon emulsion.

Using a rubber spatula, dry ingredients. Mix in the melted and cooled butter. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 3 hours (batter can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter and flour the pan. You do need a Madeline pan to make get nice ‘shell’ look. Fill each little hold almost to the top. Don’t over fill, they will puff up and smooth out when they cook.

If you have small molds, bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Mine are big, and I baked for 11 minutes. The Madelines will be puffy and golden brown and sort of crusty on the edges.

Remove from the oven and let them sit for just a minute, then gently pop the cookies out using a butter knife to pry and loosen. Put them ‘shell side’ up on a cooling rack. When cool (or just less warm, really), dust with powdered sugar.

Do you have a great recipe to share? Link it up! Recipe Roundtable is a weekly feature is co-hosted by Big Binder and Sarah’s Deals. Each blog will host it’s own recipe, but share a common linky. The co-hostesses links will appear at the top of the list and you are welcome to join in. Please link to your ACTUAL POST and not just your home page so people can find it easier. Also please put the recipe title in parentheses to help out the other readers. Old recipe posts are fine. While we appreciate a link back or the addition of the button above, it is NOT required. Be sure to leave a comment after linking. Thank you for participating!


Immigrant Story

Last weekend, we went to World Day.  It was uncrowded but busy; a vibrant celebration of the very diverse Allen Neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan.  There were performances, and booths, and demonstrations.  Oh, and food.  Awesome food.  It’s  exactly the kind of event I like taking my kids to.

A.P. had an experience that on the surface, looked like a little boy wanting to play a game.  I stood in tears behind him; understanding there was much more going on.

Several men were standing in a circle, playing a game that looked like Hackey Sack, but with a bigger ball.  A few were wearing skirts.

A.P. sat, and watched them.  He was unobtrusive at first, then started running after the ball when someone kicked it out of the circle.  He was at their service.  Helpful.

Eventually he got the courage to join them, and they were kind but not too gentle.  At first they treated him with extra care, then sent him hard passes to catch after a while.

He made it to the center of the circle; the meaning of which I have no idea, but he was thrilled to be there.

The whole time I thought of immigrant kids.  Like my brother, who came from Viet Nam as a four year old.  He looked different.  He talked different.  Over and over, as he joined different social groups in this country he performed the same steps as A.P.  Shy, then interested, then helpful, then integrated.

We think kids from other cultures are shy because their culture values meekness.  That might be true.  But watching my tall, outgoing, white, American kid follow the steps, I realized it is just how kids do things.  I found it heartbreakingly beautiful.  No words were needed.  None at all.


Do NOT Panic. You Can Do This!

It is the first week of summer.  It is beautiful outside.  I know that some of you are full of ideas, and activities, and plans.

And some of you are in a complete panic.  Take a deep breath and keep reading.  This is for you.

Today (Monday), visit the John Ball Park Zoo.  There are some sweet buy one get one FREE coupons you can print for:

  • Zipline (Don’t chicken out like I did)
  • Ropes Course
  • Swan Boat Ride
  • Combo Zipline/Ropes Course

Tuesday head down to the Grand Rapids Art Museum.  It’s free after 1:00!

Wednesday try the bus.  For free! Use the Grand Rapids Public Library’s “Ride to Read” program and get a bus ticket to the library.  While you’re there, sign up for their Summer Reading Program!  You can also ask what is available for “Check It Out” program that gives you FREE passes to museums and cultural events!

On Thursday if you signed up for a Moms In Tow Membership, you can go visit Java Gym for 20% off!

Take the kids bowling for free at AMF Lanes on Friday, then it’s time for date night!  Have a great dinner with a coupon {use the code “DEAL” today for an extra 80% off!} then head out for a free music concert.  Need a sitter? Here you go.

See? You did it!

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