Sunday, March 24, 2013

Take that Dream Vacation.......even on a Military Budget

So, I just don't want this to be another just about cooking blog, but also ways of Living Well. Here at LW, we've taken plenty of nice vacations, even on my income.  I've never had a vacation as a kid, but I try my best to take my kids to nice vacations at least for a few days a year.  And here's how:

Save Money:  Yes, it is important to save money.  For our very first family vacation to Walt Disney World, I saved money.  I knew what I wanted, how much it was going to cost (minus food) and saved as much as I could before hand for food and toys.  For $1500 (yes, our family was much smaller back then, who would have guessed), I stayed at a WDW Value Resort, and have 7 day park hopper passes for 3 of us!  We were able to eat for $500 more, even though my husband paid for it later because he ate a lot of hotdogs.  Because we were at the resort, we didn't have to pay for parking, or gas to get to the parks, and it was the very first year that WDW introduced the Fast Pass.  Also, by being resort guests, 3 days a week, there were Disney Character meet and greet breakfasts that we were able to attend.  A full 7 day vacation for about $2000!  Of course, that was 11+ years ago.

Travel During the Off Season:  Early Spring or late Fall are awesome times to travel, although not always a good time to travel because of school, but great for hotel rates.  However, there are those 3 day weekends that your kids get from school that you can use to travel on.  Mini-vacays are just as fun, and so much more affordable for school aged kids.

Research Vacation Homes:  This is the best yet!  Since I have been stationed in Germany, I've had the luxury of renting vacation apartments in both Paris and Berlin!  And, it was awesome.  We'd normally eat lunch out, and I'd cook a small breakfast and/or dinner if we weren't dining out.  It is absolutely the best way to vacation in the most wanted vacation spots for such a large family.  We did get a week in Paris for $1200 overlooking the city!

Use your Tax Refund:  Yes, every year Uncle Sam pays us back some of the money that we over pay in Taxes.  We've used it to pay our credit cards, and a few times, pay for our vacation.  With any money left over, you can invest, or start a savings account just for vacations.  

Plan, Plan, and Plan some more:  I can't stress this enough.  A dream vacation just doesn't happen, you have to plan it!  The best way to give your family the vacation of their dreams is to plan, way in advance.  Sometimes, you'll snag deals.  By planning in advance, you can create a dream itinerary that'll suit everyone in the family.  Also, by early planning, you'll know which days has the best prices for the attractions that you want to visit.  You'll also need to know when the attractions are closed.  For instance, the Louvre Museum (in Paris) is closed on Tuesdays, but most Museums in Paris allows visitors under 18 in free.  Some restaurants (like Applebees) give a military discount only on certain days.  And some restaurants are booked months in advance.  My husband has done a great job at planning our vacations for my R&R leave to Cocoa Beach, FL and Berlin.  But, he's done it months in advance.  

Beware of Discount Ticket Vendors!  Many discount ticket sites sell tickets that can't be used by any other person that who purchased them.  For example, WDW uses a thumbprint machine to verify that the person who is using the ticket is the same person who purchased if you go to a street vendor, you may get a discount ticket, but it will be invalid.  However, you can always find deals online, special group rates, and military discounts.  Also, for WDW, Sea World, and many other theme parks; military members, retirees and their families get a free day at the park, or very discounted tickets.  For non-military, look around for discounts, but be careful where you purchase the tickets.

I'm including some links to vacation rentals so that you can plan your Dream Vacation for your family this summer, all on a Military Budget.  

Orlando Vacation Homes (w/pets)
Berlin Vacation Homes
Paris Vacation Homes
Vacation Homes in San Francisco
Asheville, NC Vacation Homes
New York Vacation Homes

These are just a few.  Have fun planning your dream vacation for your family!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Honor of Saint Patrick

     Many people do not know the history of Saint Patrick, the story behind this great man, but to make a long story short, Saint Patrick is credited for spreading Christianity throughout Ireland.  When he was 16, he was captured and was forced to live as a Pagan and as a slave.  He escaped, returned to his family, became a Christian, and later returned to Ireland to preach Christianity.  Historians believe that he died on March 17th.

     Saint Patrick used the shamrock as a way to teach the Trinity.  People believed that the green shamrock stood for rebirth and eternal life.  So, while we are wearing green, and wishing each other to have the luck of the Irish, we are really celebrating how Christianity spread through Ireland....not much to do with luck.

     In honor, I made a cake, in the colors of the Irish flag: orange, green & white.  Here's how I did it.

(Yeah, I cheated a bit, but time was short.)


White box cake - mixed using egg whites instead of whole eggs.  Add 1 tsp of mint extract to the cake, and divide in half.  Color 1/2 the cake mix orange, and 1/2 green.

Layered cake batter.

 Using a tablespoon, (or 1/2 measuring cup) spoon each color on top of each other in the cake pan.  The spoonfuls of batter will spread out, covering the bottom of the pan.  

Tip:  Do not rush the layering.  Allow the cake time to spread to cover the pan, or you'll have once nice layer, and a very thin layer like I did.  It was my first time using this method, and, why not.  It was a perfect day to try the bi-color cake.

Bake cake according to instructions.

Finished cake.

 While the cake is cooling, mix up a butter cream icing but use a teaspoon of mint extract instead of vanilla.  You may want to try 1/2 teaspoon, and then add the flavor to your taste.  I didn't follow a recipe, and added too much milk, and created a glaze instead of an icing, but it was good anyway.

Layer, and ice the cake as normal.  When you cut into the cake, you get a really neat visual effect.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day Everyone!  Erin Go Brach!