The Best of Santa Cruz: Fun Vacation Guide


How we got there

We live in the Central Valley so it's a quick and easy drive for us, under three hours.  However, if you need to fly to Santa Cruz you would want to fly into the Bay Area and then rent a car.

Where we stayed

We've been traveling to Santa Cruz for several years so it's become a Summer tradition for us.  However, up until last year we always STRUGGLED with where to stay.  Santa Cruz does not have a lot to offer in terms of hotels.  Most of them are below average or there is one classic hotel but it is quite expensive.  We've tried staying in the surrounding area and even across the bay to stay in a decent place.  Luckily, last year a brand new hotel opened right in the heart of Santa Cruz.  The Hyatt Place Santa Cruz is now our very favorite spot to stay.  The location is great and the facilities are wonderful.

How to Make the Perfect Summer Snack


This post is sponsored by General Mills. All thoughts and opinions are my own.



Does anyone else have kids that are HUNGRY all day long but only for snacks?  (Come mealtime they couldn't be bothered by hunger.)  My girls could eat all.day.long and I run out of snack ideas.  I try to keep things healthy but I also try to add as much fun to Summer as possible.  So every now and then we indulge.  Insert NEW Peanut Butter Chex Cereal from Walmart...and we are NUTS about how it's the secret ingredient to summertime sweetness.  We had the perfect afternoon while brother napped "cooking" together and then a little front yard picnic for snack time.  It was so delicious we all could have finished the bowl in one sitting.  Daddy tried to hoard it and finish it himself but us girls didn't allow that.


Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 6 cups Peanut Butter Chex™ cereal
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups cocktail peanuts
  • 1 1/2 cups mini chocolate-covered peanut butter cups
Directions

  1. In 1-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag, mix together powdered sugar and baking cocoa; set aside.
  2. In medium bowl, measure 3 cups cereal; set aside.
  3. In small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on High 30 seconds; stir. Microwave 15 to 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Pour mixture over cereal in bowl; stir until evenly coated.
  4. Pour coated cereal into plastic bag with powdered sugar mixture. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on cooking parchment paper to cool, about 20 minutes.
  5. In large bowl, toss together cooled coated cereal, remaining 3 cups cereal, the peanuts and peanut butter cups. Store in airtight container.








How to Make A Delicious & Easy Sante Fe Salad

Summer is my all time FAVORITE time of year!  Hair gets lighter. Skin gets darker. Weather gets warmer. Drinks get colder. Music gets louder. Days get longer. Food gets yummier.  Life gets better. 
I love to entertain and even more so during the Summer because nothing beats a Summer BBQ. One of my favorite spots for stocking up for a party is Smart & Final because I can buy bulk all while grabbing the “normal” goods {can you say, best of both worlds?!?!}. Less stops for me is a total win.

My go-to dish for a Summer BBQ is my Sante Fe Salad that is great as a main course or a side dish.  It's fresh, delicious and super easy to make.  I think a key to this salad is using fresh corn off the cob and not canned corn.  It is a game changer when it comes to flavor and crunch.  Also it's just about as easy as opening up the can.  All you do is shuck the cob and then cut off the kernels; not cooking involved.  Another reason I love this salad is because it's so versatile.  You can add or subtract ingredients to your liking.


Ingredients:
  • Lettuce
  • Tortilla Strips
  • Cob of Corn, Cut raw
  • Black Beans
  • Bell Pepper, Sliced into thin strips
  • Avocado, Diced
  • Shredded Mexican Cheese
  • Ranch Dressing
Directions:

Wash lettuce or use 1 bag of Iceberg lettuce mix.  Place in bowl with fresh cut corn, rinsed black beans, bell pepper, avocado and tortilla strips.  Toss in Ranch Dressing and top with shredded cheese.  Use amounts to your desire of all ingredients.  If I'm making this salad for 4-6 people I use 1 cob of corn, 1 can of black beans, 1 bell pepper, 1 avocado,  and 1 bag of lettuce.  If I'm making this salad as the main entree I add chicken.

Summertime Fun- Breakfast in Bed with Blueberry Cheerios

This post is sponsored by General Mills. All thoughts and opinions are my own.




Summer is flying by way too quickly; it's our favorite time of the year.  We are soaking up all that summer brings including slow mornings.  During the school year, mornings are always hectic, rushed, and chaotic, so I make a point to make mornings more enjoyable during the break.  Every now and then, I make it even more fun because hey it's summer and I can!  My girls always are so excited to bring me breakfast in bed on Mother's Day, and so I knew they would get such a kick out of me doing breakfast in bed for them. It was even more exciting to have a breakfast party in mommy's bed.


What kid doesn't love Cheerios?!?!  So we had to give the NEW Blueberry Cheerios a try for our family breakfast in bed.  After a little taste test, I already know it will be for sure a summertime staple for breakfast, and I know it will stick around as soon as school starts because it's a quick and easy option. The girls love the fun new flavor, and this mama loves that it's made with real blueberry puree.







I'm always looking for simple ways to create memories with my girls, and I want to encourage you to do the same.  Life is crazy, and we all need opportunities to slow down and appreciate our time together. It's not about the "things" in life but way more about the moments.  Breakfast in bed was fun and memorable and only took a little milk, cereal, and a whole lotta fun. You can find the NEW Blueberry Cheerios at your local Walmart.




Jackson's Blessed Baptism


I'm so excited to share the pictures from Jackson's baptism so get ready for overload!  There are just so many amazing shots.

I think because Jack is our final baby his baptism was extra special.  I was able to really savor the sacrament and truly appreciate it.  We were so lucky because his baptism was private which made it so intimate.  It made my heart so content to have our family surrounding him on such a beautiful day.

For anyone that knows me you know how much I love throwing a party, bringing a theme to life and sharing all the details.  As much as I love entertaining I also like to keep things simple because I don't have endless time or money.  For Jack's baptism I wanted a natural theme that included succulents and eucalyptus.  

I used metal rings and wrapped eucalyptus around them.  I didn't use anything to attach them to the ring just wrapped several strands around the ring.  I found out the hard way that you can't do this ahead of time.  I first did it about 36 hours prior to the party and they wilted so I had to get fresh eucalyptus the day of the party.  The wreaths hung above a table with a bible and a sign.  The bible is intended as a gift to Jack on his confirmation when he is a teenager.  All of our guests signed the bible and highlighted their favorite verse.  I warned everyone ahead of time to find their favorite verse and keep it in mind so that people were prepared.



How to Create a Fun & Colorful Unicorn Birthday Party



Madison's birthday was in May and we had Jackson's baptism scheduled for the beginning of June so we decided to combine the festivities.  The main reason was so we didn't have to ask guests to come to back to back to celebrations.  Everyone is very busy and we felt like it was asking too much.  Also it was a lot easier on me to only have to throw one party at our home. 

Even though I was adding Madi's birthday party to Jack's baptism celebration I still wanted her to feel special so I still did a small table for her with a unicorn theme (and let's not forget the endless fun of a bounce house).  For the first time I attempted a balloon garland which has been on my party planning wishlist for a long time but I've always been intimidated by them.  I read that a Balloon Decorating Strip was a game changer so I picked up this super cheap one from Amazon.  Another game changer was a handheld Balloon Pump.  After doing this I CAN NOT imagine doing a balloon arch without one, you would for sure pass out!!!  I suggest setting aside plenty of time to blow up the balloons.  I did it over two nights; it's not hard work but just time consuming.  I also want to note that the balloons lasted over a week so you could do this ahead of time.  Blow up the balloons at different sizes, tie them off and then insert them in the strip.  I was putting two balloons to a hole and found that it was too full.  Start with only putting one balloon in each hole and then when you hang your garland you can see if there are any spots that need more.  I found hanging the garland was a little difficult.  We ended up using fishing line to hang it because tape wasn't strong enough to attach it to the wall.


When it came to dessert I enlisted the help of the super talented and creative Kaja of Kaja's Kreations.  She has done several parties for me and she blows me away every time.  I told her I wanted a unicorn cake and that we were doing the baptism at the same time so she added a few succulents to the cake to tie everything together.  It was such a nice touch and super cute.  Kaja has several flavors and everything we've ever had was delicious.  I picked strawberry for this cake so that it would be pink.  Kaja also did a few unicorn sugar cookies for us and the details were amazing!



For the paper goods I found Geese & Ganders and they offer the cutest selections.  The patterned pink dessert plates and napkins added the perfect pop of color.  For party favors I picked up rainbow popcorn from a local spot called Grandpa's Popcorn & Sweets.  Each color is a different flavor and they are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. 






Our absolute favorite photographer who has now become a dear friend, Melissa Gotelli took Madison's 5th birthday photos.  I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't taken her birthday photos since she was 2!  I never missed any of Emily's birthdays but hey second child.  I can't imagine what will happen with Jack, lol.

We can't believe our baby girl is already 5.  The years have flown and yet I don't remember life without her.  She adds laughter to our lives every single day.  She is the sweetest, most sour, and ultra spicy little girl you have ever met.  She's way beyond her years and is too smart for us.  She's super excited about starting kindergarten and I know the school years will just fly by.

Madi is fairly small but mighty and built solid.  She is obsessed with music and dancing (like her mama) and has a song request during every car ride.  Her favorite foods are mac & cheese, cheese pizza, and quesadillas.  Her favorite desserts are ice cream and cookies.  Her favorite things to do are eat donuts, get toys, ride her bike and swim.  Her favorite movie is Frozen and her favorite shows are Elena and Fancy Nancy.  Her favorite songs are Old Town Road, Champion, Whose That Chick, Ain't My Fault, Red, I Miss Me More, Runaway Baby and Youngblood (see I told you she loves music). Her best friends are Hayden and Tinsley.  (These were all answered by Madi.)




Thank you to everyone who made Madi's birthday so special including all her guests as well as all the shops.  We are very blessed!