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, (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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Favorite Floral Shirt

My summer has been consumed with running around, sports, pools, meals, and kids...I have loved our wild, busy, and lovely summer, but it doesn't leave a lot of time for sharpening my summer wardrobe. I do not claim to be a fashionista, but I do enjoy finding and sharing easy, inexpensive, and flattering pieces when I come across them.

I recently made an impromptu mall stop (I had a couple of free minutes!) and found the perfect floral tee at JC Penney.

I LOVE this shirt! It fits loosely but is super flattering. I have tucked it into a high-waisted, tan pencil skirt for church, worn it out with fitted skinny jeans and flats, and tucked it in to a pair of white shorts. I have loved it every which way and it should transition into fall nicely. It would also be great for a newly pregnant mom or one who has just given hides and slims and the pattern is great for any age. One downside is that it runs big and the smallest option is a small which fits a lot more like a medium. The upside is it also comes in an XL.

On sale now for $21.99...find it HERE.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Eyelashes with 4 Men 1 Lady

I was recently introduced to 4 Men 1 Lady, a design and DIY blog that I adore. If only I could get Michelle into my home and work her magic, I may be able to fill up some of my bare walls and pillowless couches. Her energy and talent are enviable. You must check her out for serious inspiration.


Today, she is doing a little review of the 3D Fiber Lash Mascara on her blog...spoiler alert, she loves it, and you can see why:

PicMonkey Collage2

I am still completely sold too. Comparing my eyes in the last 2 TV segments I did (here and here), I notice a major difference in the second one because of the mascara. These photos below look horrible next to Michelle's, but the difference is still pretty obvious. 

I wrote a rather lengthy post HERE about the mascara, but I have had a few recent questions, so I thought I would answer them today: 

Q: How long does a tube of mascara last?
A: On average about 3 months, but if you use it less frequently it can last up to 6 months.

Q: Does it work the same on everyone?
A: I have watched lots of women apply the mascara, and the results do vary depending on your eyelashes, but the results are overwhelmingly amazing for most.

Q: Is it water proof?
A: No, but it is water resistant. So, wear it while you work out or even to a sad movie, but not to the pool. It washes off easily with a little facial cleanser and water (or water and eye rubbing :).

Q: Does it ruin your lashes?
A: No! It will not cause them to fall out or break or anything at all. In fact, I think mine are in even better shape than before I started wearing it.

Q: Does it come in brown?
A: No, sorry.

Q: How many coats do you put on?
A: One coat will make a difference, but two coats is ideal.

Q: What if my eyelashes seem a little clumpy?
A: Sometimes with a new tube you may need to use a little eyelash comb separator, but the more I do it, the more I get the hang of it and they don't clump much at all anymore. Another trick is after the first coat, only apply the mascara to the tips of the eyelashes if it seems to be bothering you. 

Q: What are those fibers made out of?
A: They are Green Tea Fibers. The mascara and fibers are natural and gluten-free. 

Q: What if I don't love it?
A: 100% Money Back Guarantee. 

Q: I would love to see it in action. Is there a video?
A: This one is great, here

Q: What if I love the mascara and want to have a party, what do I do?
A: We can do parties online or in person (if you are in Utah). Online parties are pretty simple and are done through social media with photos and recommendations from you. Home parties are also really low key...I bring some mascara and make-up samples, people give it a try, love it, and you get free make-up. Contact me for more details.

Q: What if I am considering selling it...what is the company like?
A: Younique is an awesome company to work for. They pay you directly through your website (you don't have to collect money or distribute product) and it is all incredibly streamlined and simple with very little risk. Here is a link to more detailed information. This month, their presenter kit has free shipping, which saves you about $10 and comes with some pretty fantastic make-up. If you have questions, I would be happy to answer them! 

Anything I am forgetting that you need to know? Just ask! 

To purchase the mascara, click HERE

15 Tips for Making Friends After a Move

It was so much fun to be on Studio 5 today chatting about these tips! To see the video, click HERE

We have moved 9 times in our 14 years of marriage. Some moves have taken us across the country and other moves have taken us to the city next door. Surprisingly, every move is hard in its own way. Making close friends quickly and easily only happened 1 out of 9 times.

After so many moves, I realized that the faster I make friends, the better I like our new spot. The longer I wait, the more I regret not becoming closer to people sooner. That being said, making friends is a lot of work, but it's so rewarding. So, if you are new to an area (or not so new) and feeling lonely, dive in!

My 15 Tips for Making Friends After a Move

Start before you get there. If you have decided to move, tell everyone you know. You will be shocked at how many connections you already have to your new city. Use that "friend of a friend" or "sister's husband's cousin" to really acquaint yourself to your new area from afar. If people are willing, grab their email address and phone number and use them to find answers to your questions. Let them know when you will be arriving and meet up with them. It's fantastic to feel like you have any connection to an unfamiliar city.

Play the new card. This might sound funny, but people are SO willing to help people out who are new to their area. Any time we move, I ask random people every where about everything regarding our new city: dentists and doctors, fun things to do with your family, local restaurants, etc. Take advantage of being new and create easy friendships through these types of conversations. Which leads me to #3...

Get a phone number. I know, you probably thought you were past the whole, "Can I get your number" stage, but when you move it is like dating all over again. If you meet a mom you click with in the classroom, neighborhood or at a park, get her number and ask if she and her child would like to meet up some time, and then call her!

Start meet ups. After you have gotten a number or two, text your new friends when you decide to do something fun. You can give them notice for a big outing like the zoo, or you can shoot a quick text to let them know you are heading to a favorite park, lunch spot, or going on a walk and see if they want to join you. This method is so easy and pressure-free for everyone; they can come and mingle without feeling obligated to stay too long, plus it allows you to bow out when you need to go too. I have found that people are usually very happy for an invite to be social. This works with older kids and entire families on a weekend...we like to bring take out to a park or pool and let the kids and adults play and chat. I also love that it limits my investment in the get-together since the invite is casual and to a place I was already planning on going. If no one can come, it's fine; if someone joins us, it's a bonus.

Find a group. In order to make friends, you have to put yourself out there. I have always found great friends through my church and my neighbors. If you are not a church going person or don't have many neighbors in your stage of life, join a mom's group, a gym, the PTA, take a class or volunteer. Try to make yourself a part of something as quickly as possible and don't limit your friendships by age or stage of life...some of my favorite relationships have been with women significantly older or a bit younger than I am.

Start or join a club. I love to read, so one of the first things I find in a new area is a book club. If one doesn't exist, I start one. The great thing about starting something you love is that it doesn't feel like work and it's okay if only a few people are interested. If books are not your thing, how about a crafting or cooking group, a card or running club?

Don't complain about your new city. There is no better way to alienate new friends than to talk about how horrible their town is. Go ahead and share some of the differences between your new and old city or some of the funny quirks you've found, but no one wants to hear that their neighborhood is a million steps down from where you came from. See the good, and if it is hard, let your new friends help you find it.

Don't glorify your old spot. People are generally interested in what life is like in other parts of the country and world, but talking about your old stomping grounds like they are celestial gets old. Share the good and the bad about where you came from, but don't make your neighbors feel like you wish you were still there. Show them you are happy to start fresh.

Open up. I know it can be tough when you are new, but closeness comes so much more quickly when you are willing to be open (of course, within reason). No one I've met is interested in being friends with someone who is perfect or emotionless. Honestly share things that are hard for you and be willing to be open about the things you love and enjoy. In return, ask your new friends questions and take the opportunity to get to know them too. When you are new, it can be easy to forget to reciprocate that kindness and interest in others.

Say yes. Moving is busy, but take a break for a little fun. I have found that in the beginning, people are especially nice and welcoming, so take advantage of that and say yes as often as possible when you get an invitation to connect with new friends and neighbors.

Give service. Look for ways you can help in your neighborhood or with your new friends. Offer to watch kids during a doctor's appointment, drive some extra boys to soccer practice, or bring in dinner after a baby. Going out of your way to be kind really helps people feel more comfortable in making a connection with you.

Accept service. I know this sounds a bit strange, but some of our closest relationships have blossomed because we allowed others to help us out. Multiple times we have had men offer to help us unload our items from the moving truck and women offer to keep an eye on our little boys while we unpack. Their generosity was incredibly meaningful and we felt close to them instantly. That being said, don't be a drain on others' time or resources; take help when you really need it, but don't cross the line of taking advantage of kindness.

Feed people. If you really want to get to know someone, offer them food. It is rare that an invitation to our home for dinner or dessert gets passed up, and it is our favorite way to really get to know a family. I usually cook (check out my easy recipes for a crowd HERE.) and keep it simple with paper plates and utensils, or you can always just order pizza. If that seems like more than you can handle, invite people over for dessert (ice cream sundae bars are easy and everyone loves them). Breaking bread together offers entire families a chance to chat and get to know one another on a more personal level. We often have a game to play (indoors or outside) after the talking and eating just in case things are a little slow. We have found that this is the most effective way to meet new friends.

Deliver dessert. Have you ever lived somewhere for years and never met your neighbors? I am ashamed to say that we have, and it is so embarrassing. This problem can be remedied by taking cookies to your neighbors soon after you move in, if they don't come over first. It allows you to skip all those awkward encounters years later when you realize you've lived next to each other for 5 years and don't even know each other's first names. It can also be the beginning of a great friendship. It's so easy to deliver dessert and say, "Hey, we just moved in on the corner and wanted to meet our neighbors." Breaks down barriers right away.

Start a tradition. I saved my favorite tip for the end. Decide, as a family, if there is a tradition you would like to start in your new area that happens yearly and people look forward to. For example, our family, regardless of our location, has decided to do a Marshmallow Snowball Fight during December. We invite all our friends and neighbors and have the best time. We have taken part in Valentine cookie decorating nights, 4th of July BBQs with potluck fireworks, outdoor summer movie nights with popcorn and candy; a Halloweenie roast with hot dogs, s'mores and homemade root beer, neighborhood Easter egg hunts, caroling parties, water fights, Superbowl parties, etc. There are lots of fun things you can do, but make it something you love and look forward to. It is an especially great way to meet people when you are new to an area.


Reciprocity. Please realize that just because you have people to your home for dinner or invite them to fun activities does not mean that they will reciprocate the invitation. It also does not mean that they don't enjoy their time with you or your family. I did not realize this in the beginning and felt bummed that few people ever invited us to their home or to their planned fun. We have probably had 10 times as many people to our home than have ever invited us to theirs and I have probably coordinated 10 times the get togethers as I have ever been invited to, but I know that people have enjoyed our nights together and our acquaintances have blossomed into real and lasting friendships because of it. It no longer bothers me at all. People are comfortable showing friendship in different ways (and some hate to cook or have a limited budget), so don't wait around for someone to invite you might be waiting forever and really miss out.

3 Strikes, You're Out. While I don't expect a reciprocal invitation, I am not a glutton for humiliation. So, we have a 3 strike rule. If I invite someone to join us 3 times and they say no without saying something like, "Invite us next time though, I'm sorry our schedules are so off!" or if they don't respond at all, I will wait for them to initiate something before I invite again. There are lots of people in the world who need and want friends, so we try to focus our efforts on people who are excited about getting to know us too!

For more moving advice, check out: 
13 Practical Ways to Help Kids Adjust to a Move
21 Great Ways to Welcome New Neighbors

To see Mom Explores Michigan's most loved articles, click HERE!

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Day at Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, Utah

If you are looking for an incredible Utah get away that is a bit off the beaten path, our family LOVED Capital Reef National Park. We had spent the weekend in Fish Lake, so we only had one day at Capitol Reef, but we certainly made the most of it.

If you go for one day with kids in tow, here are my recommendations (forgive our "roll out of bed" look):

1. Stop at the Visitor's Center. Pop in for a few minutes and watch the video. I know, sounds like something you would skip, but it is about 18 minutes and so informative about the area. I love having historical context when we travel and my boys enjoyed it too. They were also incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. Don't feel shy about asking questions either...they gave us great pointers for hiking and exploring with kids. There are restrooms and drinking fountains at the Visitor's Center too, which we used for pit stops and to refill water bottles. There is a geological tour at 10 am that we wish we would have known about.

2. Hike Cohab Canyon Trail. We found this was the perfect hike with kids. We found a few animals hiding at the start of the trail, which always excites my boys. After the animal caves, there are some rather impressive switchbacks but the trail is well worn and easy to navigate so even little feet won't have too much of a problem hiking up or down as long as you have some patience or a good backpack. The views are fantastic from every point of the trail and we all found ourselves saying, "Look how amazing!" over and over again. After the climb to the top, you are inserted into a slot canyon where the terrain changes. One thing we have learned about hiking with little ones is the more variation the better! My boys were crazy about climbing inside the slots and we all appreciated the shade and cooler temperature. There are some areas with sand where we sat and played, buried a couple of boys and tested our own echoes.

The trail (one way) is 1.7 miles, but after you have seen enough of the slots, you can turn around at any point. There was so much beauty to take in! We all agree that Cohab Canyon is one of our favorites...challenging, interesting and fun. If you only have time for one hike, this is the perfect one.  (For a guide to all the hikes and trials, click here).

3. Try the Junior Ranger Program. Capitol Reef National Park is so family friendly! My boys participated in one of the Junior Ranger talks and thought it was awesome. They learned all about geology and how the canyon was formed. It was quick and engaging. If you are sticking around for awhile, it's a nice way to break up the day.

4. Take the Scenic Drive. If you haven't seen enough red or incredible land formations, or if your crew is not up for hiking much, the scenic drive will give you an overview of all you really need to see. Our kids thought it was a bit of a snooze, but we (as adults) enjoyed being able to see it all. 

5. Walk Golden Throne. The actual Golden Throne hike was not our favorite, but we really wanted to see the names carved into the rock from the Mormon pioneers who founded the settlement. It was incredible to see the names and dates from those who lived and settled there so long ago. We saw the names about 20 minutes into the hike then turned around because of heat, complaining children and more gnats than any of us could stand!! 

6. Things I wish we would have done but didn't have time for:
7. A few tips after our first visit:
  • Bring $5 in cash to get into the park.
  • Bring PLENTY of water bottles! It is hot and the elevation is high, so you will need more water than you think you will. You can fill up at the Visitor's Center, but have plenty for your family for as long as you will be out. 
  • Sunscreen and more sunscreen...hats too! 
  • Bring a backpack and food for your family. You can bring a cooler in your car, but a backpack is necessary to carry water and snacks for little ones. We have found that a pocket full of gummy bears keeps an almost 3 year old walking.
  • Kids can only handle one long hike per day (or that is all ours can handle). We should have done more of the other stuff instead of forcing the second hike. 
8. For more specific info on hours, reservations, and camping (there is even comfy, shady grass camping!) check out the home page here

We had such an amazing time and we can't wait to return! On our way out, we were starving and stopped at Slackers in Torrey for burgers, fries and shakes. The perfect ending to a perfect day! For more places to explore in Utah, click here