Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What to do with 24 hours in Ann Arbor! Day One!

I have some good friends who will be visiting Ann Arbor this fall and I promised them a "must do" list. While there are many amazing places and eateries around town, I thought I would recommend my favorites that are unique to Michigan or things you just have to experience while in The Mitten State.

Each recommendation comes with a link to my insider tips, directions and review. I promise, you will love every second of your trip to Michigan!
*two quick tips before we get started...get reservations every where you possibly can and use the Blue Bus if you are hoping to ditch your car...it's free!


This historic diner right on campus has a few of our breakfast favorites. On a weekend, be prepared for a bit of a wait or head in early or after the breakfast rush. 

One of the prettiest places in all of Ann Arbor, The Arb lets you see Michigan's wild right next to the city. Bring your walking shoes.

If you come from a city with less of a main street, Ann Arbor's will completely blow you away. It is where I first fell in love with the city.

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If you love the perfect souvenir from you travels, this store is a "must stop." There is something for everyone inside.

Don't you dare walk into the big house with your red on! This is the perfect place for all things Michigan for adults and kids!

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I have not reviewed Zingerman's because it's good enough for Oprah and Obama, so there isn't much more I can say. Incredible breads, meats and cheeses and just walking through the store is a treat. That being said, your sandwich will run you $15 on average...not even kidding and you will want a whole one. The first time we ate there, I about died at our tab. However, it is delicious and an Ann Arbor staple, so it is a "must visit." Beware of intense crowds. Go at "off" times or be prepared to wait.

Thrifty Thea's Red Bag Lunch

Eat lunch at Krazy Jim's Blimpie Burger
I know I already recommended a place for lunch, but I could not decide between Zingerman's and Blimpie Burger because in my mind, both are absolute musts, so I guess you will have to eat two lunches or stick around for another day. Our family adores Blimpie Burger and we are so happy it is re-opening in a new location. Opening is slated for the end of August. Happy Day! New address is 304 South Ashley Street in Ann Arbor. Click the link to see why you can't miss it!

This might sound "ho-hum" but it is the perfect way to understand the history of the University and therefore the city in barely over an hour. Make sure you book online before your trip!

If you go to a football game, you MUST walk to the stadium from central campus and down State Street. This way you can enjoy all the tailgating and people watching. Football at the big house is like nothing you will ever experience, take advantage of it if you can!

image via HERE
Ann Arbor does food really well, and Pacific Rim is the perfect place to enjoy some of the best. The Asian fusion cuisine will perk up your palate and leave you wanting more. 

Want to know what to do in your next 24 hours? Tune in tomorrow! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Super Run Ann Arbor: September 6th...free registration and free cape!

This Saturday, September 6th, the Super Run is coming to Ann Arbor!


The event will be held at Gallup Park (one of my favorites) from 8:30-11:30, and the money raised will go to local charities.

Dress up as your favorite Super Hero and run for cause! The 1K is only $10 and the 5K is $30. For more information or to register, visit The Super Run. There will also be lots of family friendly giveaways and activities at the event, so come enjoy a beautiful morning!

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The Super Run was kind enough to donate two registrations and one fun super cape to 3 of our lucky readers. To enter, leave a comment below, one comment if you are entering for the run one comment if you are entering for the cape! The contest will close Wednesday evening.

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Happy Running! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To My Boys Before the First Day of School

Last year's first day of school. Can't believe it is already here again!

To my favorite boys,

This summer has been more than I hoped it would be. I enjoyed every moment of being with you crazy 4 and will honestly be so sad when you 3 big ones walk out the door on Monday. I will miss your wild, your loud and your annoying, your hugs, your kindness and your love for each other and for me. I will look forward to 3:30 every day.

I remember being younger and the palpable excitement before the first day of school; in fact, I still feel it. I know you are all a little nervous, a lot excited, and perhaps a bit bummed that school is already here. Because I am your mom, I wanted to share a few things with you before the big day that I hope you will remember.

Education is a privilege. You boys are so incredibly lucky to be going to a great school for FREE. Kids all over the world wish they had this same opportunity. A girl in Pakistan was shot because she wanted an education. Kids in Haiti can't afford school. Many children in America attend school but never feel safe there. You have a beautiful school with a fantastic principal, qualified teachers and volunteer parents that show up every day to educate YOU! I know there will be times when school is "boring" or "too hard" or "no fun," but try to remember how positively lucky you are. Education means opportunity, and opportunity is priceless.

Be kind. There is no excuse for mean. Use your words wisely. Say only things that build others up. Look for ways to include not exclude. Two rudes don't make a right. You've been taught kindness...it is what we expect.

Find someone who needs a friend. Just last year you were the "new kid," so you know how hard it can be. During the first week of school find someone who needs a friend and make them feel a part of things. Don't let anyone sit alone. Don't let someone play by themselves on the playground. Having a friend can literally change someone's life; be that friend.

Never lie. Lying is the quickest way to destroy a friendship and break trust; find people who like you for the real you and allow you to stay true to who you are. Make a pact with yourself to be 100% honest this year.

Never cheat. Cheating eats at your soul and takes away your confidence. No test or paper is worth your integrity. If you make a mistake or forget an assignment, accept the natural consequences for your actions and resolve to do better next time. 

Know when to walk away and when to take a stand. As you get older, kids will talk about and do things that make you uncomfortable. When you are in those situations be bold enough to change the topic or activity or, if you must, walk away. If what they are doing or saying is hurting someone or destroying something, be brave enough to tell an adult. All of these things are hard to do, but you are stronger than you think you are.

Respect your teachers. Your teachers spend countless hours preparing inventive ways to share knowledge with you and your classmates; they cannot do their job with incessant interruptions and problems. Do your class a favor and contribute to a good educational environment; encourage others to do the same.

Keep the competition on the real field. Sports at school, on the playground or in P.E. are for expending energy, growing friendships, and learning new skills. Save the competition and intensity for games that actually matter. Don't make up rules. Don't be the referee. Never lose a friend over kickball.

Ask questions. Never feel ashamed for wanting more information. If you don't understand something or need to know more at home or school, ask, search, find out. Questions are what real learning is all about. 

Work hard. Millions of children would love to be in your position; show your gratitude for what you have by working hard, all the time. We expect your PERSONAL best...we would be failing as parents if we allowed anything less.

Get it done. You have quite a few responsibilities because you are all getting older. Most of life is hard work with a little play mixed in. Learn to enjoy work. Don't waste time whining or complaining about homework, piano, practice or cleaning, just get it done! If you can accomplish the important things first, I promise there will be plenty of time for your favorite activities later.

Look for the good. There will always be good and bad parts of your day, focus on the good. You will be infinitely happier if you do.

Fill the need. Be the kind of kid who sees a need and fills it. When walking by desks, push in the chairs. See a wrapper on the floor? Pick it up. Notice a friend who is sad? Make her happy. Is there a classroom job everyone hates? Volunteer for it. Someone who never gets chosen first? Choose him. All three of you are smart and capable, give back by making the world a better place.

Enjoy differences. It is easy to get close to people who are just like you, but when you do that, you miss out on some really amazing friendships and growth opportunities. Take advantage of situations when you are with people who are different than you are...learn from them, become friends with them, enjoy them.

Talk to us. We LOVE to hear about your day, not just what you did but how you felt about it. Share with us your favorite moments and the times that were hard. Never feel worried or embarrassed to tell us something that made you feel uncomfortable. If you are struggling with grades, teachers or friends, we want to know. We cannot fix everything, but we can support and love you through anything.

Pray. At times it can be easy, even in a whole school full of people, to feel alone or confused. God is always there to listen, comfort and guide you. Begin your day speaking to Him and asking for strength and clarity. Offer silent prayers during the day in difficult moments or times of need. End your day with gratitude to Him for the blessings you enjoy.

I cannot wait to see what this year brings for you 3 big boys of mine! I never thought it would be possible but I love you more each year and am constantly amazed by your energy, talents and good hearts. Thank you for just being you.


Other articles you might enjoy:

why we are taking the FUN out of life
A note to parents of elementary age girls from a mom of elementary age boys....
"No Leprechauns, No Valentine Boxes, No Elves and Why that is Okay."
Best of Mom Explores Michigan

Monday, August 18, 2014

Indoor Fun: Kalamazoo Air Zoo

If you and your kids are looking for a little day trip adventure to round out your summer, check out the Kalamazoo Air Zoo! Ann Luke and her family had a wonderful time exploring all it had to offer! 

My friend Amy and I are finally at a place in our lives where all our kids are of an age where we can go and do things together without having to deal with strollers, diaper bags, or nap schedules.  It’s really wonderful and we are enjoying our “family double dates!”  Our first adventure took us to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.  I had watched an episode about the Air Zoo on CMU Public Television’s Destination Michigan show (part of segment 504 which starts at the 1:53 mark) and thought it looked like a lot of fun.  While I didn’t think my girls would be super interested in looking at all the airplanes, the facility has amusement park-style rides that I knew they would love, so I figured there was something for everyone!

I don’t know if it was the day we chose to go, or just the fact that the building is enormous, but it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  The kids were able to go on the rides over and over again without ever having to wait in line and they were delighted.  The rides included a 26-foot indoor Ferris wheel, bi-planes, a paratrooper jump and, their absolute favorite, the hot air balloons.  There was also a play area for the younger (3 and under) kids, and for older kids and adults the Air Zoo has a 3D space shuttle ride and full-motion flight simulators.  My husband tried the simulators and spent a fair amount of time flying upside down!

We managed to pull the kids away from the rides long enough to take in the 4D movie.  We watched Salute to Heroes which was a presentation of the final flight of the B-17 Kalamazoo Gal during a World War II bombing mission over Germany.  This was definitely a film for an older audience.  I think most of the content was lost on our young kids, but they did enjoy the special 4D effects.  In reviewing the Air Zoo website it seems they offer another movie called Making the Invisible Visible which shows images of Earth, auroras and star trails which is likely more kid appropriate!

The airplane collection on display includes more than 50 airplanes from a replica of the first Wright Flyer to World War II era fighters and bombers to my favorite, the one of-a-kind SR-71B Blackbird - the fastest plane ever built (it can go from New York to London in under three hours!).  There was also a wonderful space exhibit.  All in all, we had a great time and stayed until the place closed (far longer than I expected!).  If you need a break from the sun or you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day, I highly recommend you head over to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.  We’ll definitely be back to see their new exhibit, “Tigers: Tracking a Legend” which highlights how space and aviation science are used in conservation efforts around the world.

A few final details…  We paid for the Ultimate Ace Package ($16.50) for everyone when we went.  As someone who doesn’t do well on rides, it probably would have been smarter for me to just get the General Admission Package for $10.  The same thing goes for my 5 year old who only went on the four amusement park-style rides included in the general admission price.  My 3 year old was free, and the full package was worth it for my husband who went on everything.  The facility is open Monday – Saturday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ann Arbor Area Kid Birthday Parties Round-Up 2014

Let's face it...a really creative, themed birthday party at home for your little one sounds like a great idea until you realize all the work that has to go into it ;). If you would rather celebrate birthdays out of the house, there is no better place than Ann Arbor...incredible options in price, variety, and fun!

Nature and Animals


Bricks 4 Kidz (Dexter)

Club Scientific (travels to your location)

Indoor Playgrounds

Jungle Java (Ann Arbor)

Xtreme Bounce Zone (Ann Arbor)

Planet Rock (Ann Arbor)

Zap Zone (Ann Arbor)

Chuck E. Cheese (Ann Arbor)

Arts and Crafts

The Scrapbox (Ann Arbor)


FLY Art Center (Ypsilanti)

KidzArt (Canton)


Ice Skating

Ann Arbor Ice Cube (Ann Arbor)


Colonial Lanes (Ann Arbor)


Ann Arbor Cooks (Ann Arbor)


Zoey + Joey (Ann Arbor)


Quest Martial Arts (Ann Arbor)

Champion Gymnastics (Ann Arbor)

University of Michigan Sports Parties: soccer, women's basketball, women's gymnastics, baseball, lacrosse) (Ann Arbor)

Peachy Fitness (Ann Arbor)

Open Rental Areas

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

5 Summer Salads that will make you forget about the Main Dish

Summer time is salad time around here, and with my growing garden I'm even more motivated to use my produce wisely (especially the tomatoes!). So, I thought I would give my readers a little round up of my favorite salads that I make all summer (and winter) long!

Spinach with Peaches, Bacon, Blue Cheese, and Candied Nuts (in the fall I use pears, in the summer...peaches!)

Asian salad mix with Edamame, Tomatoes, and Peppers

The BLT (try adding avocado!)

Spinach Pasta with Cashews, Sesame Seeds and a Ginger Dressing

Southwest Chopped Salad with Sweet Lime Cumin Vinaigrette

Here are two more that I have had recently that are sooo good and perfect for summer!

Quinoa, Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella (The Pioneer Woman)

Berry Poppyseed Salad (Pretty Life Girls)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fustini's Oils and Vinegars: The Perfect Date Night or Girl's Night Out, Ann Arbor, MI

I am so envious of Ann Luke! Her experience at Fustini's Oils and Vinegars was fantastic. Sounds like the perfect (and economical) date night or girl's night out! Thanks Ann!

I have spent a fair amount of time over the last couple of years learning how to cook, so a night at Fustini's was right up my alley. Up until now, I have always used regular or extra virgin olive oil and plain balsamic or red wine vinegar in my cooking, so I knew a night at Fustini's would open up my options and my palate.

The class was held in the charming Kerrytown Shops in Ann Arbor, but there are also locations in Holland, Traverse City, and Petoskey for you Michiganders who might not be in southeastern Michigan. The night was spectacular and fellow bloggers from clovereats.com, foodandwinehedonist.com (both fantastic blogs for finding the best food in Ann Arbor), and I watched Chef Andy prepare dishes under the theme of “Fin Fish and Shell Fish.” 

One of best parts of attending a cooking class is that I am much more open to trying all sorts of things I would never make at home or sample in a restaurant because in a cooking class, there is nothing to lose! I am always pleasantly surprised at what I end up loving.

Chef Andy’s dishes were no exception...they were all excellent. Our menu consisted of Crab Stuffed Peaches, Parmesan Crusted Tilapia, Whitefish Grenoble, and Shrimp Fra’Diavolo.  While I thought the crab dish was the one I was going to like the least (crab and peaches just didn’t seem to go together in my mind), it ended up being my favorite!

Chef Andy travels to all four locations and teaches the cooking classes. He is knowledgeable and interesting and easily created an comfortable rapport with the group and kept us engaged the entire evening. I also appreciated the the techniques and skills he taught along the way. The classes are themed by month, and I can't wait to see what they have in store. You can learn more about all of their class offerings on their calendar of events.

The cooking or sampling classes are a perfect way to mix up the traditional "let's meet for dinner" routine. For only $25 per class, you get an incredible meal, engaging company and cooking tips and tricks. You also receive a $10 voucher to use toward the purchase of products like the Tuscan Herb Olive Oil I brought home. It really kicks up the flavor in my home cooking!

You can't talk about Fustini's without saying a bit about their oils and vinegars. Sampling all the store had to offer was a fun addition to the night. The bottles are beautiful to look at and even better to taste; they are a great addition to your home pantry or the perfect hostess gift. I can't wait to get back to Fustini's for the classes and for the oil and vinegar!

Disclosure: Mom Explores Michigan was invited to attend the class for free in exchange for this review, but the views and opinions expressed are entirely my own.