Bakery, Barbells and Bargains I own a bakery, and I like to lift weights and shop

November 16, 2017

Unexpected Education

Filed under: Mommy Life,Vacations — shuss @ 10:29 am

When we planned to visit California, we planned it for the fall season to avoid peak crowds and to see the fall colors. This did mean taking our first grader out of school for the week, so I started with a call to the school social worker to let her know about our plans. She told me to write a letter to the principal with details of what we were doing each day and she could excuse days depending on the educational experiences.

While writing my letter, I was pretty confidant that the days in the national parks were education but I thought Disneyland and Hollywood would be hard to justify. During the trip, I found some learning opportunities I had never thought of that reminded me that all travel is educational. Here is what I learned.

Flying! Airports and airplanes have a lot of rules and little ones are full of questions. Learning opportunities here included time management, reading directional signs, listening to the flight crew and going through security. We had two bags that required searching, due to me forgetting to put my sunscreen in the checked luggage and we had a bottle of water. We explained this part as best as possible without scaring our child with stories of terrorist, she’s a bit young for that. On one of the plane rides, Sammie was thrilled to get to assist the airline attendant in giving the safety talk and she got a free drink out of it. You’re never too young to learn how to get some airline perks. ūüėČ

At Disneyland we had some other opportunities come up that I had not thought of. The first was time management. Sammie had previously looked at the rides online and knew which ones she wanted to ride the most. We would be near one ride, and she would be excited to go ride another instead….way across the park. We talked to her about making the best use of our time by riding things in order as we arrived to them.¬† This was also a good lesson in patience and self control.

Another thing Sammie was curious about were the signs instructing you how to properly sit in the rides, with a simple illustration of one person sitting correctly and another falling out of the seat. We explained how you have to sit down to stay safe and best enjoy the ride, and we also told her how the person falling out of the ride was making very poor decisions and how you do not want to be that person.¬† We actually discussed good decision making a lot on this trip….staying on marked trails, not approaching wildlife, staying with mommy and daddy and following directions.

Disneyland is also a great place to talk about budgeting because there are many things kids (and adults too) want to purchase. I did not do the best job at this because I did splurge and let her get a few more souvenirs than promised, but we did agree to forgo a cotton candy treat to get a stuffed bear.¬† The bear was a few more dollars but at least the bear wouldn’t cause more cavities.¬† So we did not do the best job at this, but it can be a good learning opportunity if you want it to be. But if not, no big deal, its not every day you visit Disneyland.¬† Just remember to remind your kids that Disney is a special place and that is why they get treats.

The final thing I noticed was reading. Sammie read all over the place at Disney. Signs describing rides, signs with rules, menus, maps, and even the signs telling you where you could read a copy of a ride’s inspection report at town hall.¬† Out and about in Hollywood she read store signs, street signs and more.¬† She read everything she saw and asked questions about all of it.

The final day of our trip spent in Hollywood was a bit harder to find learning opportunities so I had to dig deep on this one. The first thing that comes to mind is just seeing another area of the country and a different lifestyle. We live in a small mountain town and our nearby city is still small for city standards.¬† Driving through LA, GPS took us through all sorts of different neighborhoods and I found it great to see what other residential areas look like. On Hollywood Blvd, there were many people “hustling” to make a living by dressing as Batman, Wonder Woman, Mickey Mouse, ect. This is not something she has ever seen before and does not see on a regular basis. On a sad note, she saw homeless people sleeping on the streets for the first time and asked about them later.¬† She has seen people with homeless signs during the day before, but not the actual reality of someone having to sleep on a sidewalk bench.¬† It was an opportunity to explain how our world has lots of need and ways we can help.

So these were just a few little unexpected learning opportunities.¬† I am thinking we could make Hawaii or Italy an educational trip next ūüėČ

October 27, 2017

California 2017

Filed under: Vacations — shuss @ 10:37 am

Last time, I shared the Disneyland portion of our trip and today I am going to share the national parks portion. Enjoy!

In this trip, we flew into Fresno and from there went to visit Yosemite and then the Giant Sequoias/King’s Canyon. This wasn’t my first trip to these parks but my first time actually staying inside of them. We spent two nights at each park before flying back to Los Angeles.

We first went to Yosemite and stayed at The Big Trees Lodge just inside the park entrance. The Big Trees Lodge is definitely memorable. It is a very pretty white hotel made of several buildings nestled perfectly in the woods. There is a golf course, huge porches and one large dining room for meals. I kinda felt like I was on the set of Dirty Dancing. It was also very historical, the rooms were small with antique furniture and fixtures. It had original 1920’s wiring (you could not use a hair dryer) and a claw foot tub…..that was interesting, for some reason I have a fear of claw foot tubs, shudder! Fortunately, we booked rooms with private bathrooms as many are shared and you have to go outside to get to them, yikes! The rooms had no WiFi or television. We actually kinda just stood in the room clueless when we got there, haha. It was all good, we were still jet lagged and all in bed by 8 pm those first two nights.

Outside the main lobby at the Big Trees Lodge

While in the park, it was about an hour drive to the main Yosemite area. While beautiful, the very high mountain roads gave me some serious anxiety so I am glad we only had to make the drive two times a day. What I really liked about Yosemite, was once you were in the valley everything was close by. We parked at one area where we all enjoyed playing on some rocks and fallen trees, Samantha really enjoyed climbing rocks!

Playing on the rocks

Driving from our hotel to the valley

Miss Sammie exploring


Next, we took a nice paved trail to see some waterfalls and then took the shuttle bus over to visit the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. This luxury lodge is right in the park and very beautiful, we were lucky enough to take a tour and check it out. We ended our full day in Yosemite with lunch at a pizza place, browsing the souvenir shop and just enjoying the scenery. My favorite things in Yosemite included the amazing views of Half Dome, the Majestic Hotel tour and the animals, deer and chipmunks were everywhere.

Sammie loved seeing deer so close


The next morning after breakfast at the lodge, we headed out for the Sequoias. While Yosemite was stunning, I think everyone in our group was ready for a hotel with more modern amenities.   When we arrived to the Sequoias, we stopped at a nice area near our hotel with nice trails among the giant trees and had lunch at a nearby restaurant.  After a nice long walk, we checked into the John Muir Lodge for the next few nights.  I was thrilled to see a hair dryer and normal bathroom, Sammie was thrilled to see a TV and we were all very happy to have WiFi.  We had a late lunch, so that evening we had a small dinner on the porch.

Enjoying the new lodge

Looking for baby chipmunks

Our full day in the Sequoias included driving to many different stops including the Sherman tree which is the biggest tree in the world and a hike up to the top of Moro Rock.¬† What a hike, 300 feet up!¬† I wore my CrossFit shirt that day and I am pretty sure I heard it laughing at me as I huffed and puffed my way up the steep and terrifying stairs.¬† The top view was beautiful and worth it.¬† Other sites included the Grant Tree which is known as America’s Christmas Tree, the Tunnel Log, the Auto Log and a lovely loop around a huge meadow where we saw lots of huge trees and a sweet family of deer grazing.¬†¬† My favorite thing about Sequoia was just how incredible the trees were, how quiet it was and the cute deer.

The next morning, we headed back to Fresno so four of us could fly to LA for Disney.  What a wonderful few days of exploring all the natural beauty!

October 25, 2017


Filed under: Vacations — shuss @ 10:15 am

Hello all! We just returned from our very first time at Disneyland California and I wanted to share some stories and tips from our trip.

To start, we are East Coast people, so we normally visit Walt Disney World which I have written about previously. When we planned a big family trip to visit the Sequoia’s (more on that later) we thought it would be fun to spend half of the week in the LA area and visit Disney. There are a lot of similarities and differences so I wanted to write and share both. Hope you enjoy and find this helpful if you are planning a trip.

What’s Similar?

Well, it is Disney so you will find a clean park, smiling faces, helpful cast members and lots of Disney magic at every turn. The prices for tickets, food and merchandise also seemed the same. Both resorts have a Downtown Disney District, on-site lodging and resort transportation.

If you have been to Disney World, you will find that the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland are very similar. Both have a charming Main Street that leads to a beautiful castle, then various lands branch out from there. The rides are also very similar but we were thrilled to find some rides in CA that are not in FL like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Matterhorn.

Both locations also had great parades and impressive night shows, I really enjoyed World of Color at California Adventure.

So what’s different?

The first big difference I noticed was the size. When approaching Disney World, there are multiple exits off the interstate depending on which park/hotel you are going to and a huge arch over the highway to welcome you.¬† The parks and hotels all have a large distance between them.¬† At Disneyland, you basically walk or drive down Harbor Blvd in Anaheim and you will see a sign that says Disneyland Resort, you just turn in and you’re there!¬† After walking past all the bus stops, you go through security and you are in this center area between the two parks and just turn left or right depending on where you want to go, easy!

The other big difference, on-site hotels!¬† I always recommend staying at a Disney hotel when in Disney World because there are so many options for different budgets, hotel parking is free and there are shuttles to the park.¬† Disneyland offers three beautiful hotels but they were on the expensive end so we opted to stay at what they call a Good Neighbor hotel.¬† Good Neighbor hotels are listed on Disney’s website and you book them on your own.¬† Our hotel was about two miles from the entrance, offered a shuttle, included breakfast and we had a nice roomy suite.¬† The cost was around the same as a moderate level resort at Disney World.

Dining was also a bit different in a few ways.¬† Disneyland seemed to have less table service places and less character meals.¬† We were able to book a princess lunch that was excellent but I think it was the only non-breakfast character meal.¬† Disneyland also does not have a meal plan.¬† I know you pay regardless, but that meal plan is just so dern convenient.¬† Somehow it stings less to use your snack credit to buy that Dole Whip rather than forking out the $14.¬† And this is not dining specific, but I did not see any Magic Bands at Disneyland.¬† I just loved those things at WDW….your room key, park ticket, meal plan and credit card all on your wrist.¬† No purse, no backpack, nothing in the pockets, PERFECT!

Since I like to write about budgeting, onto cost.¬† Cost is a scary thing at anything Disney but there are a few ways to save.¬† First all, you’re going to spend some money so just go ahead and accept that way before you go and save up.¬† Second, if you are a responsible credit card user, consider a Disney credit card.¬† We were able to use our points to cover almost all of our ticket prices, we all three got into the park for two days for just $85, that is less than a one day ticket for a child.¬† You can also use your points redemption card (a gift card) for purchases in the park such as food and merchandise.¬† It will take a while to earn a lot of points so plan ahead on this one.¬† Another way we saved was bringing our own bottled water and a few snacks into the park, Disney allows this and it will save you a little cash.¬† We also chose a hotel that included free breakfast.¬† Research and compare prices and you can get a hotel that includes breakfast for the same cost as one that does not.¬† We stayed at a Hilton hotel and since I am a Hilton Honors member (free program!) I got a lower price on the room and used some of my previously earned points to pay for the room.¬† To do this you will need to book directly through Hilton and not a third party site.¬† For even more savings, Hilton does own Hampton Inn which generally costs less per night and offers similar amenities.

The final thing I really liked about Disneyland ‘s smaller size was we really only needed two days to enjoy both parks.¬† This gave us the opportunity to spend the rest of our week exploring other areas of California.

So my favorite parts of Disney?¬† Guardians of the Galaxy Breakout (formerly Tower of Terror), Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Matterhorn, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan.

Overall, if you want to go to Disney, I would recommend going to the one closest to your home.  You will spend less money getting there and you will have a great time at either location.  However, if you are are visiting the Southern California area anyways and love Disney like me, it is totally worth the visit.  I have some pics from our trip below to share!


November 20, 2014

A Savvy Mom’s Guide to Disney

Filed under: Vacations — shuss @ 4:32 pm

Two weeks ago my family took a magical vacation to Walt Disney World. My first time as an adult, Daniel’s first time since college, and Samantha’s first time ever! ¬†We had a great time looking at the beautiful parks, going on rides, eating yummy food and meeting characters. ¬†I’ll share some favorite memories and photos on a later post.


Several people, especially with kids, have asked me for some Disney tips and since I am determined to post regularly, I decided to make a full post on it. ¬†I am basing my advice today on what we did, I’ll add some suggestions for what might work better for others and also add what I would advise against. ¬†This is a long posts because Disney is a big place with tons of options! ¬†Please feel free to send me any questions!

-First off, book with a travel agent! ¬†Your cost will be the same but they will help you out so much. ¬†You may have a hotel selected, but they will show you some other options in your budget. ¬†They will also let you know if any sales come up that you could take advantage of, even if you have already booked your trip. ¬†They will also call in your payment to Disney. ¬†It is much quicker to call your travel agent with your payment info than it is to wait on the phone for a Disney rep. ¬†If you’re thinking of taking a vacation soon and want my travel agent’s contact info, please let me know.

-Stay at a Disney resort on property.  I often read advice to stay off property because the price is cheaper, but I have to disagree.  At Disney there are levels of resorts ranging from value to deluxe villas.  Pick one in your budget, I got a value level room in November for $108 a night, I have stayed in chain hotels for more money at way less exciting places with zero themes.  All Disney resorts have transportation to all the parks and guests can take advantage of Magic Hours.  They all have great themed pools and fun decor.  We stayed at the new Art of Animation Resort and I think that one is perfect for children.  The themes are Nemo, Cars, Lion King and Little Mermaid.  We stayed in the Little Mermaid area and our room was perfectly animated!  Even if you can get an off-property room cheaper, to me the convenience is worth the price.  No daily driving to the parks, no parking fees and it is so easy to go back to your resort for a mid-day break.  With young children this is especially important to be able to take breaks with ease.hotel

-Get a dining plan! ¬†The food at Disney can be expensive and after adding up my receipts compared to what the dining plan cost, we saved money on food. ¬†There are a few options to choose from and we went with the Plus Dining Plan which included one quick service meal, one table service meal and one snack per day. ¬†Both the quick service and table service meals included your entree, drink and dessert. ¬† Other options are a two quick services meals per day and one snack for a lower cost. ¬†For a higher cost, you can select the Deluxe Plan with three meals per day (sit-down or table service, table service includes an appetizer) and two snacks. ¬†There are further upgrades from here that include other options which can be viewed on Disney’s site. ¬†There you can also look at the various restaurants along with the menus, location and what types of dining plans are accepted. ¬†It was also tell you which restaurants are considered Signature Dining, meaning you may need to trade in two sit-down meals off your plan for one meal. ¬†Gratuity is not included, except for Signature Dining.

While the Deluxe Dining Plan looked very tempting and delicious, and I may try it in the future, I think the Plus Dining Plan is the best way to go to both save money and have a fun experience.  With that plan, you are only paying out one meal gratuity per day (which get expensive due to the high food costs, 18% is recommended) due to only eating at one table service place.  The portions and selection for both quick service and table service are generous, the drinks are big and the desserts are good too.  I often got cookies or brownies for dessert because they were individually packaged so I would have them as a snack for later.  And oh the snack credits, you can really maximize snack credits at Disney, more on that later  Below is a breakdown of where and what we ate daily with the Plus Dining Plan:

Day One – Magic Kingdom all day

Breakfast – in room, rooms have a fridge!

Lunch РThe Friars Nook (quick service) Рyummy mac&cheese meals, I had mac&cheese topped with pot roast.  For dessert we had apple slices and chocolate chip cookies.  Due to a mix-up Samanthas meal was free so we had an extra meal credit.

Snack – Main Street Bakery – Large Starbucks drinks for Daniel and I, a special Frozen cupcake for Samantha (they even added a birthday message!)


Dinner – Cinderella’s Royal Table (signature dining – 2 meal “points” each) – even though we had to trade in two meals each for this experience, I would do it again. ¬†It included some extras that are not included with other table service meals in our dining plan such as gratuity, appetizers for all three of us and prints of Samantha with Cinderella and a print of the castle at night….all packaged up in a cute Cinderella folder. ¬†The Disney Princesses all came to visit us at our table and posed for pictures. ¬†We were seated by a window with a fabulous view of the fireworks, the girls were all given a magic wand and boys were given a sword (adults too) and each table received a Wishing Star keepsake. ¬† For dinner I enjoyed a cheese tray appetizer, steak and shrimp with veggies and a yummy chocolate dessert made to look like a clock striking 12. ¬†Samantha was given a big birthday cupcake with candles in addition to her dessert. ¬†Absolutely wonderful evening!

Day Two – Epcot and Downtown Disney

Breakfast – in room

Lunch РThe Coral Reef (table service) РCool place with huge windows to see right inside an aquarium.  Yummy seafood, pasta and steak dishes.  I think I had a steak with veggies and cheesecake for dessert

Dinner РWolfgang Puck Express (quick service) РHands down the absolute best quick service we had all week, the menu had the most variety and after ordering at the counter, you were waited on.  Daniel and Samantha had pizzas, I had spaghetti with meatballs.  Brownies to-go for dessert.

Snack – We skipped snack, too full!

Day 3 – Hollywood Studios

Breakfast – in room

Lunch – ABC ¬†Commissary (quick service) – Burgers and fries type place, I think we all had burgers. ¬†I had chocolate mousse for dessert, Daniel had cheesecake and Samantha had cookies to-go. ¬†Kid’s meal also came with grapes.

Dinner РSci-Fi Drive In (table service) РWe paid out-of-pocket for this meal, as it had the lowest price menu of all the reservations we had made.  We needed to pay for one meal out-of-pocket since we used two credits each on Day 1.  We had a simple meal without dessert.  The restaurant looks like your outside at a drive-in and the jumbo screen plays old movies.  The tables are cars from the 1950s.  Lots of shakes, burgers and salads on the menu.  I had a big salad with chopped apples and sunflower seeds.

Snack – The ice cream shop on Magic Kingdom’s Main Street. ¬†Daniel and I had the ice cream sandwiches which were two enormous fresh baked cookies with dipped ice cream of choice in between, I could not finish mine. ¬†Samantha had an adorable big scoop of ice cream on a cone with two little chocolate cookies for Mickey ears. ¬†We enjoyed our snacks while watching the castle being transformed into an ice palace by Elsa, followed by the night parade.

Day 4 – Animal Kingdom

Breakfast – Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. (table service) ¬†Full buffet with characters. ¬†Any breakfast food you can think of, all the Mickey Mouse characters visit your table to sign autographs and pose for photos.


Lunch – I do not remember the name, but it was a quick service pizza/pasta/salad place in Animal Kingdom

Snack – Samantha had a popsicle from a cart, Daniel and I later got custom dipped Mickey rice crispie treats from Goofy’s Candy Company in Downtown Disney.

Dinner РSince we used a meal credit for breakfast and we had returned to our resort for swimming early, we opted to eat off-site.  We had Chick-fil-a about 5 minutes away then went to Downtown Disney for the evening.  I normally do not suggest eating off-site but since we were finished in the parks for the day, it worked the best.

Day 5 – Magic Kingdom

Breakfast РMain Street Bakery (snack credit for Daniel and I, quick service credit for Sammie).  Since Samantha had an extra meal credit, and we all had an extra snack credit we had breakfast out.  Large frappuccinos for Daniel and I, a breakfast sandwich and milk for Samantha.

Snack – Popsicle for Samantha

Lunch – (quick service) Do not remember the name, but we had bbq sandwiches and cake at a place in Frontierland

Dinner РThe Crystal Palace (table service) Рfull buffet with Pooh characters.  The selection was good, yummy food and excellent service.  You could see the castle from the porch while waiting to be seated.

Snack – Starbucks drinks at Epcot while watching the fireworks show

Whew, so that is what we did to give you an example of what you get for the dining plan. ¬†Remember to maximize your dining plan by getting the good snacks, look at the bakeries and candy shops to get the best bang for your buck. ¬†You can also take food into Disney, so take in your crackers, granola bars, apples, ect. ¬†Because while you can use a snack credit to buy a banana, you can also take one in from the room and use that snack credit for a Starbucks drink or ice cream sundae big enough to share….I think those big turkey legs are considered snacks as well. ¬†Our package also came with a refillable resort mug for each person that could be filled at our resort. ¬†We filled those each morning and didn’t need to buy any extra drinks in the park. ¬†They are nice insulated hot or cold cups with lids and Mickey characters, I still use mine.

-Next topic РIf you have a smartphone, use it to your advantage.  You can download the Disney app and link it to your account to show you your entire itinerary for the day.  You can also search for places to eat, look at menus, gps attraction locations, find characters, check wait times and change fastpass selections.  We changed several fastpass options after comparing wait times to make the best of our time as possible.

-The Disney Credit Card – I know many try to avoid credit cards and I do not believe in carrying credit card debt, but I do believe in using a credit card like cash, paying it off in full monthly to avoid interest, and taking advantage of the rewards! ¬†We had the Disney card for less than a year and the rewards were still very noticeable. ¬†We paid for everything including the trip and gas to get to Florida on the card. ¬†Onced at Disney, we just popped into Guest Relations and traded in our points for a giftcard, easy! ¬†We used the card to pay gratuities all week, a sit-down meal for 3, a teddy bear, an autograph book, a Christmas ornament and a Christmas gift for Samantha. ¬†In fact, for the entire time, we only paid cash for a pair of Mickey ears, an autograph pen and a dinner off-site. ¬†I have also made purchases at the Disney Store with a discount when using my card. ¬†I’m really excited to continue to use this card so I can rack up enough points to help pay for my next Disney vacation. ¬†Just remember, it is a credit card, so spend responsibly and use it to purchase what you are spending money on anyways.

-Drive or Fly? ¬†Daniel drives a Prius and we were visiting with his family near Disney for the weekend prior to our trip, so driving was the best choice for us. ¬†We are also at a distance where we can make the drive in one day with being able to wake up and go to bed at normal times. ¬†Also, when we left we had so much luggage, I was relieved we didn’t have to pay those luggage fees. ¬†We also only have a regional airport near us that tends to be expensive, and has stops. ¬†We would need to drive 3 hours to a big airport in Charlotte or Atlanta, wait around another few hours at the airport, then fly for about 1-2 hours….by the time that is all said and done, we could be there by car. ¬†However, if I could ever score one of those last minute Asheville to Orlando cheap flights, I’ll take it! ¬†So this component of your trip just depends on you and where you’re coming from.

-Pack for any weather if you go in the fall or winter.  Warm days, cold evenings and just warm enough to swim.  Be prepared and maybe schedule some time to run back to your room for warmer clothes before dinner.

So those are my tips based on my most recent trip, my first as an adult!  I would like to give a big thanks to my parents for taking me to Disney so many times, it is a fun vacation, but its a lot of work too!  Next year we may have to take a relaxing Disney cruise.



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