Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Princess Kaiulani Sheraton

I posted about my trip to Hawaii  Friday.  I had an incredible trip, and as I said at one the end of the post, Hawaii is the one place I'd tell everyone they had to visit at least one time.  You go once....you'll  see once isn't enough.  As a teacher, I certainly haven't found a clever way to make enough money that going on any vacations doesn't mean careful saving, but my Mom has always been really good about finding great deals for vacations.  She searches for months, on random days via the internet. We try to do a mother/daughter trip each year.  She found a great deal this time (pretty much for the same price I've paid for a plane ticket to Brazil the last few years. I was able two fly direct and stay the week in the Sheraton for an equal price to the ONE to Brazil).  There are always tons of options when traveling as far as hotels go, and thus far we've stayed in three different hotels.  Truly,the Sheraton was my favorite.  It's definitely where I'd try to stay next time in in Waikiki.    I got an upgrade in room when I told them I was blogging about them, but I can honestly say this was the nicest hotel we've snagged regardless of the upgrade room-I really am fond of Sheraton hotel rooms.  The expense of Hawaii is the travel, and the point is to hit the beach (at least for me), so I've tried to locate hotels closest to the beach in the past, but not on the beach-this was the best location and the nicest room by far.   With one day completely rained out, it turned out a  nice room was a great idea-with a big balcony to overlook the city.  All the rooms have balconies overlooking various things (ours had a slice of ocean on one side, the International Market (with nightly music wafting up) and the city to the other side (there are two towers-and your location=the price of the room, but they all have fun views of various slices of Waikiki and balconies).  There is a main road that runs along the beach and a few hotels that directly back up to the beach, and on the other side of the street (and several streets back) house most of the hotels).  This is directly behind the Moana Surfrider.  The beach is one street away, and you can see it from the hotel.  
The thing that struck me the first time we went to Hawaii were the number of 'open' rooms...one side= walls, and the other side-flowers and pools and fresh air.  Even the airports have this same set up, so bizarre.  I guess with the difference between winter and summer being 5 degrees (80 vs 85) it's not a big deal to be able to hide from the climates.  One side of the lobby (the left here) is open to the pool area that leads to the street/beach.
 The room was big, and the best part-bath tubs (I'm sorry, but whoever started building hotels without tubs-I can't take it.....I'm just a soaker....and I want my options open on vacation).
 The one thing I always love about a Sheraton-pillows and beds.  Oh.  My.
 I was there a week, and this greated me-a snack pack filled with Hawaiian flavors:  Maui chips (I ate so many my tongue is raw), chocolate covered macadamia nuts (I ate so many my feet better be sore soon so I can run those off), tropical drinks, and lots of fruit (also provided in bowls by the pool).
View to one side-the water (the other side of the hotel would be facing the water as well, along with Diamond Head).  
 Side two-a view of the city, and below is the International Market place, which serenaded me nightly.  I opened the balcony every night to listen.
 Two bottled waters left in the room daily (a fridge is also in the closet), towels you can trade out to take to the beach by the pool...
 ...and beach chairs you can take with you to the beach to hang out.  They also had drink service on the beach during certain hours....
 During the day there were 2-4 people who brought their local crafts (an artist with some really beautiful carvings, a lei making sessions, a man with wooden carvings, he was even creating one on site, ladies with quilt kits (of course, I got a little something there), and lots of jewelers.  Every night they have a band/hula dancers poolside (that take request) and then they seemed to move (all three steps) in the restaurant (which is open towards the pool and has pretty great looking buffets-I didn't try it out because there are only so many meals in a day, but it was always crowded.
 They also have a show on sight that includes dancing and tells the story of the various Polynesian islands.  Again, I didn't go, but got to see the crowd coming out happily taking photos with the various acts.  It was the one night I used the gym (once....better than none-and they had a great set up with free, bagged, headphones and towels you could snag to take with you to the equipment).  
Next time I head back to Oahu (please let it be soon), I am going to try to stay at the Sheraton-it really has been my favorite, with the best set up, and the nicest rooms.  I wanted something affordable, but close enough to the beach that I didn't forget where I was.  I love the location-beach in front, King's Corner to one side, and International Market place to the other side.  Super clean rooms, great balconies, regardless of where you are housed.  The staff was really helpful at the check in counter/pool side, and the bell hop by the drive was always quick to find out what we were waiting on (tours/pick ups etc) to help out.  I know so many people that don't think Hawaii is a viable option, but it's one of my very favorite spots, and it's a lot more affordable (room wise etc) than most of the big cities I've stayed in throughout the country.  So if it's your dream-check it out before you check it off as something that's not an option-it's a pretty incredible state that the US gets to claim!  

Friday, March 29, 2013

Oahu

Over spring break (a few weeks ago) my Mom and I took our annual vacation.  This year we found a great deal and headed to Oahu....one of my favorite spots on planet earth.  Minus their lack of craft stores, it's paradise.  I have been years before, but it was in the summer, and I've always wanted to head to Oahu in the winter to see 'the waves and the whales.'  This trip provided an abundance of both.  
I've been blessed to have had the opportunity to see quite a few places in this world I call home.  So many incredible buildings that man created, and though I am fully aware that God is the ultimate creator of man who built these places, there is something really pure about Hawaii-it's beauty is all a testament to God.  Nobody else can take credit for this incredible masterpiece.  
I've touched down for a day on two on the other Hawaiian Islands, and my hope is to someday visit those islands again and actually rest my head on a pillow for a night or three, but Oahu has so many adventures still waiting for me, I can't help but go back again...and again.  
It's definitely the 'busiest' of the islands-it's a stopping spot for many Japanese and Australian tourist coming to the closest American location for great shopping-and Waikiki caters to that, but despite the crowds, it doesn't deter from this incredible beach overlooking Diamond Head.  This just may be one of my favorite views on planet earth.  
 Look back towards the beach, many hotels line up along the sands, and I love that there are some walls built to allow for swimming without fighting the currents (or in my case, floating).
We spent several days just exploring Waikiki again, but we also spent three days driving to other spots on the island.  If you visit Oahu and think it is summed up by Waikiki, that is so far from the truth-there are many quite, beautiful spots all over the coast, and I think anyone who is concerned with the business of Honolulu and Waikiki perhaps didn't get to make this journey North.  After stopping at some of my favorite coves and beaches, we finally made it to Pipeline.  I've seen it before in the summer with small waves, but this round of site seeing didn't fail to impress.  Check out how much bigger the waves are than the surfer.  
 The waves curl over and great a 'pipe' that the surfers surf through.  We happened by during a jr pro surfing contest, so we got to see some really great rides....and one pretty impressive wipe out with lifeguard via jet ski waiting in the wings.  The waves really do thunder in, suck the tide out 20 feed before rushing in again to surprise those sitting on the shore an additional 30 feet.  I saw quite a few watchers scrambling for new spots up the drastically slopping shores.  The professional photographers were set up with their long lenses, and after an hour of camera envy we headed on up to Haleiwa for lunch and snowcones-truly spectacularly delicious-if you go-get one with ice cream at the bottom.
We also stumbled upon a beach with sea turtles sunning.  These are commonly seen on Turtle Beach (not to be confused with Turtle Bay).  Two were on shore, and a person (not a lifeguard, not sure his exact role) stood with a red rope that couldn't be crossed.  The turtles are protected and you can't knowingly go within a certain number of feet (not a problem for me).  These guys rested on the shore, while others surfed the waves.
 We also swung by Dole plantation-this pineapple is the size of my thumb-I wanted to name it and take it home.....but it warred with the desire to not be arrested, so I left in there....for now.
We also visited Pearl Harbor.  I went 13 years ago, but it was just as moving the second time.  My grandfather served in the Navy during WW2.  He was too young to sign up when Pearl Harbor was initially attacked, but it didn't stop him from trying.  As soon as he was able to get on the list, he enlisted and served in Japan to help with the clean up after the atomic bomb.  He had many stories to share about the kindness of those he encountered in Japan, learned the language, and loved the people he met serving in Japan.  
The memorial is built over the Arizona, you can get (free) tickets in advance of the visit (and should b/c by the time we got there at 7 they were giving away walk up tickets for 11:45 and out by 10:00).  A boat goes over and you get to spend 15 minutes on the memorial before heading back.  
We got to see a number of really beautiful sunsets, but one morning we drove to the Westside early enough to catch a sunrise on this beach covered with lava rocks.  Watching the sun hatch above the horizon and bring it's crayon box of colors with it was worth the early morning wake up (not so early on Texas time).  
We only rented a car for a few days (Waikiki and Honolulu are not fun to drive through-too much stop and go traffic, but we did rent one for a few days while we headed to the West and North coast).  There are city buses that also go all over the island for a steal, but we decided to use our car to drive to Hanauma Bay before the first bus arrives.  This is a popular snorkeling spot.  It's an old volcano whose end gave away to the sea long ago.  (I'm pretty sure Elvis filmed one of this movies in this spot).  Whales were swimming at the opening o tfhe bay, but all the darker spots are actually coral that snorkelers and scuba divers explore.  
I'm not a ginormous fan of swimming with large fish-I generally live in denial when I'm out in the ocean, but in this case-I invented 'florkeling'....I use the snorkel gear by laying on a float.  One positive-you can go over some pretty shallow coral you aren't supposed to step on it, and considering the residents that call the coral home-I wouldn't want to).  There are eels, and octopus, turtles etc, but what I saw were a large variety of urchins, living coral, and a plethora of strange looking fish.  I took an underwater camera and florkeled until I ran out of film and then I high tailed it out of there before any of those huge fish got friendly.  
Another stop along the way-we took a whale watching cruise.  You could see whales breaching all along the shore, but I wanted to get a little closer (incidentally, whales terrify me-so it's like-you ride roller coasters for the 'stomach drop' emotion).  When we were headed out we ran into a large pod of dolphins.  There were at least a hundred of these spinner dolphins.  They are smaller than the 'Texas' dolphin, and it was like running into the middle of an animal planet filming as they traveled in their bobbing herd, and then they started putting on a show as they spun out of the water.  
...it would have been a fabulous way to spend the afternoon, but a whale showed up on the other side of the boat and we all got a little distracted.  Check out the size of the head of this whale compared to the boat in the distance!  
We were able to catch a lot of diving and whales spouting.  The mom's and their calves were all over, and I learned on this go round, there were usually a third whale called an 'escort' whale traveling with the new family (either a male or larger female whale).  The boat we were on was large....I was glad I wasn't on that little boat...
One other thing we tried this time was Tea on the Veranda overlooking Waikiki (I could have literally reached out and touched the sand from my table).  This is one of the older hotels (it's been there since 1901) and it was worth the price (and the desserts were pretty spectacular as well).  Ironically, I'm not a tea fan, but I love going to 'tea'....the scones and desserts make up for the untouched drink I usually leave after my first sip, just so I can say I tried it.  
I'm taking a ton of memories to get me through these last months of school....lots of great meals, great beaches, and random hula shows.  
If there is one place on earth I'd say you have to visit at least once.  If they had a convenient line of craft stores to feed my crafting needs (and maybe a few folks I'd miss)-I'd say you could visit me there because I'd move in a heart beat.
For an obnoxious number of photos from the whole trip, my facebook album is housed here.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Chocolate" Bunny Sugar Cookies


Today I'm bringing my chocolate themed basket treats to GMT.  I'm going with chocolate bunny themed baskets for friends this year, but trying to think outside the chocolate bunny box.
I'm sharing these chocolate bunny sugar cookies.  I drew a little pattern and just cut it out and laid it on the dough and cut around the shape with a sharp knife.  Here is the free pattern (uploaded upside down...ooops...should still print fine).
Basically, you can use a store bought dough, or make your own sugar dough.  Here's my favorite dough recipe (because it holds it shape well when it bakes). 
The attached icing recipe goes well with these, you can dye it a brown color for your chocolate, or this year I'm cheating.  I bought some canned brown frosting.  I added a little bit of powdered sugar so it's not quite as runny, but the trick is to add karo syrup to icing if you want it to harden/be able to bag it up nicely like the gourmet grocery stores.
 I add about 1 T. of clear Karo to 1 cup of icing, then snip the edge of a plastic bag to create an outline, fill it with icing, and smooth with a knife.  Smooth it right away b/c if you let it sit too long, especially with the karo it's start to harden and not be easy to spread. 
I usually let these air dry over night before bagging them up.  The karo syrup keeps the icing from sticking to the bags.
I'm also sharing these 'chocolate' plastic eggs....
 
I posted the super simple directions to these eggs here.   
Here's a link to a version of 'paint your own egg' using chalkboard paint. 
...as well as these 'chocolate' bunny pouches.  
 
I posted the chocolate bunny candy pouches yesterday, with a free template you can print for the shape.  I'm a giver.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Chocolate" Bunny Candy Pouch

This year I'm working on a chocolate bunny themed Easter basket (how novel, I know).  Anyway, I've been seeing little candy pouches made out of shapes lately, and I'm sure this is out there, but....here is my version of a chocolate bunny.  I free handed a silhouette, it's free to a good home, just click here to download.  I traced this first guy on some tan paper b/c I wanted to ink the edges.  
 I cut out two pieces and then I took the ink pad and brushed it along the edges and the top-it looks kind of hairy.
 I ran some hot glue on the inside (non inked side), but not the whole thing, I left the ears open so I could slip the chocolate inside....
See, it's still opened.  
 If any of the sides start to lift (you have to work fast with hot glue, go back and glue some more.
 Once I filled it with candy, I glued it shut.
I added a ribbon around the neck, just like a 'real' chocolate bunny, and I'm filling my baskets with these guys.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Easy Chicken Taco Pie

 This is an easy dish....and when you are speaking food "easy" is actually a nice description.  If it requires thought, or time....I throw that idea out the window after a long day at work, but this one is a keeper because it didn't require either, AND it reheats well.  As a single gal....this is also a good thing....eating a pie in one sitting is generally frowned upon, so a left over worthy meal....yay! 
I found this recipe via BettyCrocker. 
Easy Chicken Taco Pie
Ingredients:  2 c. cut up cooked chicken (I did this the night before so I could just pop it out of the fridge the next day when I was ready to put this together), 1/2 c. chopped onion, 2 T taco seasoning mix, 1 c. bisquick mix, 1 c. milk, 2 eggs, 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Instructions: 
1.  Heat oven to 400.  Grease a pie dish.  Mix chicken, onion and seasoning mix.  Place in bottom of the dish. 
2.  Stir together bisquick, milk, and eggs with fork until blended.  Pour into pie dish. 
3.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake 2+ more minutes until cheese is melted.  Garnish with lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream.  Serves 8. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Family Tales and Bunny Tails


 This is my static electricity, slide riding niece, Blythe.  She came to visit last month, and my heart actually hurts as I write this.  I know most of my blog is more about crafts and food-and I have over a hundred post set to post all craft and food related, but first....I realize anyone visit inghas their own little family to care about, but this little girl inspires me....
 She is the recipient of many a craft, and her personalty fills up my world.
Last year her mama and daddy added this little guy to the mix...
They live in a land far, far away called California, and they come for a visit once a year.  Thus far, we have also been able to get up to see them once a year, but it will never be enough time.  I was able to spend time with them each day they were here for the entire week, but a lifetime of daily Candyland games and singing made up songs wouldn't be enough.
I missed our traditional zoo day this year (boo to staff development days), but we tried out the Rainforest Cafe this year, which was a little scary at 3 1/2.  
At 14 months, Jonathan was less concerned about his surroundings being scary.  He currently stays at a home daycare and his provider is most comfortable speaking Spanish, which makes for interesting toddler babble.  Thus far, the only thing I understand is his request for agua.  He also likes to jam out to any music he hears that originates south of the border....so cute.  I think the hope is to continue this in his life and eventually enroll him in a bilingual program....which gives us 3 years to catch up to this guy.  At this point he's laid back and does those cute baby giggles.  
I had the family over one night for Easter dinner since we won't be together this year and for dessert we made bunny tails....(cotton candy with my little machine).  
 Blythe thought I was saying bunny tickles...until she saw the end product she got really nervous about a what a bunny tickle would be and wouldn't stand close for tail number one....
 We also did our annual craft, or 'crat' as Blythe let the rest of the family know we were making.  We've made an ornament together every year.  This year=macaroni art-so appropriate because home girl could eat (and does when allowed) mac and cheese for every meal.  I cut out some cardboard with a hole punch and I added some glue dots and let her select from some random noodles.
 I sprayed it silver, then added adhesive spray and had Blythe glitter it all up.
 She hung this proudly on Nana's fridge until she left....and then for ornament two....
This one she was the most proud about.....She told me she wanted three noodles only....
After the first one I thought she'd forget about this one, but she asked for it over and over again every day I saw her until I finally brought it....it's kind of my favorite thing right now....
Among family dinners and barbie playdates I stole my cousin Holly and cousin-in-law Lydia away.  We went downtown and I did a live craft segment on GMT.  I took the morning off intending to get out nails done and grab some lunch together at a tea room.  It turns out the show was doing a live audience this morning, and so they snagged my cousins to be a part of the audience.  This made for an even more interesting experience....so fun.  They were forced to dance with props.  
...and now I'm going to apply for jobs in California.  Then Tennessee.  Then Florida.   I can't take all this separation from these cute children.  Jobs, bills, and lack of lottery winnings is really holding me back, man.