Free or $.99 eBooks of the Week

6 Jul

Sometimes we need to let loose and read a good book.  I realized that I should share cost-effective books with others.

For the kids:


Dog Aliens:  Raffle’s Name by Cherise Kelley
Target Age Group: Middle School

 Clem is a dog with a secret: he is an alien from outer space!

Abandoned in the mountains, Clem meets a she wolf and discovers his talent for manipulating the thoughts of others: wolves, other dog aliens like himself, and even humans. This talent comes in handy when he finds himself in a cage at the animal shelter, but Clem’s about to find out why he has this talent, and what he’s supposed to do with it. (In the process, he gets a new name: Raffle.)


A Measure of Disorder by Alan Tucker
Target Age Group: Middle School

Jenni Kershaw’s ordinary, eighth grade life becomes a thing of the past when her science class goes on a field trip. Armed with only their notebooks, MP3 players, and wits, Jenni and her classmates are magically transported to another world. Follow Jenni and her class on their extraordinary adventures in their fight to find their way home and discover who — and what — they really are.

 

For the Adults:


The Wolf Within by Cynthia Eden

FBI Special Agent Duncan McGuire spends his days—and his nights—tracking real-life monsters. Most humans aren’t aware of the vampires and werewolves that walk among them. They don’t realize the danger that they face, but Duncan knows about the horror that waits in the darkness. He hunts the monsters, and he protects the innocent. Duncan just never expects to become a monster. But after a brutal werewolf attack, Duncan begins to change…and soon he will be one of the very beasts that he has hunted.

Dr. Holly Young is supposed to help Duncan during his transition. It’s her job to keep him sane so that Duncan can continue working with the FBI’s Para Unit. But as Duncan’s beast grows stronger, the passion that she and Duncan have held carefully in check pushes to the surface. The desire that is raging between them could be a very dangerous thing…because Holly isn’t exactly human, not any longer.

As the monsters circle in, determined to take out all of the agents working at the Para Unit, Holly and Duncan will have to use their own supernatural strengths in order to survive. But as they give up more of their humanity and embrace the beasts within them both, they realize that the passion between them isn’t safe, it isn’t controllable, and their dark need may just be an obsession that could destroy them both.

Sky Hunter by Chris Reher

Air Command pilot Nova Whiteside is assigned to a remote outpost to guard the construction of a new orbiter, Skyranch Twelve against rebel sabotage. The difference between the well-ordered Union air fields and this dusty garrison is made painfully clear when she runs afoul a brutal commander of ground troops.

When she is trapped behind enemy lines in a bloody uprising she meets Djari, a civilian whose trust in the governing Union is shattered by what he has witnessed.

Her assignment takes her from the midst of a bloody uprising to the elegant new space station where she hopes to train for her Hunter Class pilot grade. But not all runs according to protocol and she soon suspects that more than farming is being done up there. When she uncovers the treacherous and illicit schemes taking place, it seems that local riots are the least of their troubles.

Happy Father’s Day

15 Jun

To all those fathers that are in their children’s lives: Happy Father’s Day!

For those who are not in their children’s lives but should be: You are missing out on great memories. All it takes is one little surprise letter, book, gift, phone call to keep your connection alive.

As I mentioned a few days ago, Skyler was singing at the Rockland Boulder’s game at Provident Bank Park. Today was her big debut and she wowed the crowd.

Father’s Day – The Star Spangled Banner

8 Jun

If you live in the NY Tri-State area and not sure what to do for Father’s Day(June 15, 2014), you should consider coming to the Rockland Boulder’s game in Pomona, NY. Of course, I am slightly biased because Skyler will be performing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the game.  The game begins at 2:00 PM but there is always so much to do before the game that I would come early.  It really is a great deal for a family trip because you don’t lose your shirt like at some other baseball stadiums nearby.

Celebrate Father’s Day at Provident Bank Park and come on to the field for a post-game catch with Dad! Arrive early for a special giveaway from Kinchley’s Pizza!  Don’t forget- it’s Sunday, which means Kids Run the Bases after the game, brought to you by JCC Rockland!

Skyler was fortunate enough to have a practice run while we were on vacation by singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at Sunny Hill at the request of the fantastic DJ Pat in honor of D-Day.

Day Trip: LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Westchester

26 May

Lego masterbuilderLego - Sky
Last summer, the kids had a visit from the Granddad and Aunt from England. We took a day to check out the new LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Westchester in Yonkers, NY.  I regret that we never got to LEGOLAND® California Resort before we moved from Las Vegas to New York so this little trip was a big deal for Tristan.

Bring your Wallet, Credit Cards, and Right Arm!

The first shock you will get is the ticket prices:  $18 a child and $22 an adult.   They also tell the kids about a special activity badge they can buy that includes a booklet on a lanyard with stamps to collect at each location and some puzzles for an extra $4 each.  Well, no kid seemed to go past the ticket seller without upgrading their package making their price the same as the adults.   So for the 5 of us, it cost $110 just to get in the door.

Your first stamp/stop is the LEGO® Factory Tour where the kids to pretend to make LEGOs®.  There was a feature for seeing how much you weighed in LEGOs® but this was not working the day we were there.  It basically said each of us weighed the same number of blocks.

Your next stop is Kingdom Quest which is a short ride that has laser guns.  You travel through an adventure where you have to shoot the “monsters and stuff” to gain points.  The kids felt the ride was too short considering how long they waited to have their turn.

You travel through MINILAND® to get to the rest of the center. MINILAND® was definitely the adult favorite of this trip with a LEGO® replica of New York City. I will post pictures from MINILAND® area at the bottom of this post.

As you enter the main center, you realize that it is a swarm of madness and chaos. This is a large, warehouse type room fill with strollers and LEGOs®. In this main room there is LEGO® Racers: Build & Test, Merlin’s Apprentice Ride, LEGO® Fire Academy, LEGO® Construction Site, LEGO® Master Builder Academy, DUPLO® Village, Earthquake Tables, LEGO® Friends, and LEGO® 4D Cinema.

The hands-on activity areas were:

  • DUPLO® Village (Ages: 1 – 5) – A Mommy and me type of area for the younger crowd.
  • LEGO® Fire Academy (Maximum height allowed inside is 54″) & LEGO® Construction Site (36″ to 54″ Tall) – A climber system with just the kids allowed inside. It was utter madness in there with little ones being taken out by plush LEGOs®. Not for the nervous parent. My kids were on the older side of things. There was really no monitoring system to make sure the smaller ones were not in the older area. Most kids in here were on average 4-5 years old.
  • Earthquake Tables (All ages) – A station with several tables to test your building creations against the powers of an earthquake. The kids enjoyed this station but for the amount of children in the facility there was really not enough tables. There were many parents not keeping an eye on their children here so the kids were just pushing others out of the way to take tables away from kids that had been waiting.
  • LEGO® Racers: Build & Test – (All ages) A building area to make your own car and test it on a race track and stunt track. As with the Earthquake area, there really was not LEGO® wheels to go around for the kids to make cars with. The kids were crawling all over the floor looking for lost wheels just to have their cars have enough to race.
  • LEGO® Friends (All ages) – This area is dedicated to the “girl line” of LEGOs® which rather annoys me because I loved playing LEGOs® as a kid and did not need pink and purple blocks to make my own houses, dog bowls, robots, etc. Skyler loved this area because there was karaoke.
  • LEGO® Master Builder Academy (Suggested Age: 7 and up) – A private classroom where the kids build a pre-made kit like the ones you can buy at the checkout. There is a at schedule for the classes and each class has a maximum number of kids allowed inside. A less-than enthusiastic “Master Builder” talks the kids through building their LEGO® kits. Tristan found himself moving ahead because the instructor was really slow. There is a catch to this class: you have to pay for the kit you just made if you child wants to take it home. So budget for some extra cost. I asked at the shop and they said these kits can run as much as $10 depending on the class.

The experience areas were:

  • Merlin’s Apprentice Ride (Minimum 36″ tall to ride, Up to 48″ must right with an adult) – This is the one ride that is in this center. This one ride has a line longer than most at any Six Flags. By the time you get to the front of the line, your kids are hanging from the rafters. According to my children, this ride was not worth of the wait. The phrase “it just plain stinks” was used to describe the ride.
  • LEGO® 4D Cinema (All ages) – This was the highlight of the trip. The kids wanted to keep going in over and over again. There were two movies running that day with LEGO® Legends of Chima™ 4D Movie Experience and LEGO® City: A Clutch Powers 4-D Adventure. Both movies kept my kids amused and they loved the 4D effects that were featured. We are just glad it was not in Smell-O-Vision. The kids still quote the skunk featured in the Chima™ movie with a sheepish “sorry”.

As with most places, you exit through a store. Exiting through a LEGO® Store can be a harrowing experience with exhausted children. All in all, this place is really for younger kids more than anything. If you child is around 5-7 years old, that would be the ideal age. Beyond that they will be bored with most of the activities.

LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Westchester
39 Fitzgerald St
Yonkers, NY 10710

Lego Statue of Liberty

Lego NYC8

Lego NYC7

Lego NYC6

Lego NYC5

Lego NYC4

Lego NYC3

Lego NYC2

Lego NYC1

Spaghetti Pie

25 May

Spaghetti Pie FinalThere was one unusual thing that my mom would make us as kids that my friends always loved:  Spaghetti Pie.  It is a very simple recipes that offers a unique experience and, if there are kids around, will have them begging their parents to make it too.  My friend, Jane, came over on my Birthday with breakfast and a little crumb cake with a candle on it.  We decided to have Jane and her son over for Spaghetti Pie.  Not only are the ingredients simple, if you have a gluten-free diet you can use this recipe as well.

Spaghetti Pie

Makes:  3 -4 pies

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of spaghetti (You can use gluten-free is needed.)
  • 1 small tub of ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb of shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese mix
  • 1/2 lb of ground meat (We used ground beef but you can use any ground meat or Italian sausage with the casings removed.  My sister once did this step with TVP.)
  • 1 jar of marinara-based sauce or make your own
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 – 4 pie tins

Directions:

  1. Cook the spaghetti as directed on the packaging.
  2. While the spaghetti is cooking, brown the ground meat.  You can season it if you like with some garlic.
  3. Prepare you pie tins by greasing them with the oil of your choice.
  4. Beat the 6 eggs in a small bowl.
  5. After the spaghetti is cooked, drain thoroughly and divide into the pie tins.  You may need to press down with a spoon to help it fill the tin to look crust-like.
  6. Pour the egg around the edges of the pie tin coating the outer “crust” of your pie.
  7. Pour a good amount of sauce in the center of each pie.
  8. Top the sauce with the ground meat.
  9. Top the meat with the ricotta cheese.
  10. Top the ricotta cheese with a little bit more sauce.
  11. Top the pies with the shredded cheese.  (If you choose to prepare this a day ahead, save this step until halfway through cooking the pie.)
  12. Bake for 35 minutes as 350 degrees.  (If you are putting it in the oven from the refrigerator, bake for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.)

Spaghetti Pie 1Spaghetti Pie 2Spaghetti Pie 3Spaghetti Pie4Spaghetti Pie 5Spaghetti Pie 6

Sailor Moon (‘Let It Go’ Parody)

24 May

Sailor SkylerSo you have all seen her dress as Sailor Moon….twice(here and here).  And you have seen her sing ‘Let It Go’…..twice(here and here).  The next step seems pretty obvious.   Skyler wanted to sing a ‘Let It Go’ song all about Sailor Moon in honor of the Sailor Moon goodness that is happening.  So I sat down and wrote the lyrics for her and she practiced.   I made any repairs to the costume that needed doing since being worn for NY ComicCon, a Girl Scout Halloween Party, the school Halloween party and Trick-or-Treating.

We used a black plastic tablecloth for the backdrop with a moon taped to it.  We found the kitchen had good enough acoustics to record the song and then we were set.   Well, after 10 takes due to wardrobe issues (accidentally ripped off her bow), lyric oops (started singing ‘Let It Go’ at parts), and prop distractions (almost took the camera out with the wand).

This song is dedicated to a wonderful nurse that moved away.   Nurse Kate, you were amazing and I don’t think that any nurse will ever live up to the bar you set in the kids’ eyes. Where else are we going to find someone who loves the same things as all 3 of us?  From Doctor Who to FireflyMeowchis to Sailor Moon, and, most importantly, Cosplay Tips, you made every visit with you memorable.   We miss you terribly and hope you are having a wonderful time in your new state and job.

Frozen Party Theme

29 Apr

Did I mention being a bit behind? Also a bit out of order? Although I just posted my son’s birthday cake for this year, his sister’s birthday was February 2nd but I haven’t shared her special cake….or should I say cakes.

Skyler really wanted to see the Broadway musical Matilda. Instead of a birthday party, she agreed to have two friends over to watch Frozen and have a mini-party.

Frozen 1The Frozen Cupcake

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of ice-cream sandwiches
  • 1 Wilton White Sugar Sheets Edible Decorating Paper
  • 1 Wilton Blue Sparkling Sugars
  • 1 Wilton White Pearlized Sugar Pearl Sprinkles 5oz
  • 2 tubs of White Frosting

Directions:

  1. Cut a ice-cream sandwich in half.Frozen cake
  2. Frost the top of one side and place the other side on top.  This will create a layer effect.
  3. frost the outside of the layered ice-cream sandwich.
  4. Place in the freezer.  Repeat until you have done all the ice-cream sandwiches this way.Frozen 2
  5. Freeze at least 1 hour before going to the next step.
  6. Frost the outside of each “frozen” cupcake once more.
  7. Sprinkle the top with Blue Sparkling Sugars and White Pearlized Sugar Pearl Sprinkles.
  8. Serve on light or aqua blue plates.

 

Frozen DrinkThe Frozen Float

Ingredients:

  • 1 carton of vanilla ice-cream
  • 1 blue colored juice (Note:  If you wish to avoid “bad colors” you can color white grape or apple juice with natural blue dye from Color Garden or another natural food color.)

Directions:

  1. Place 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream into a clear glass.  (I used plastic wine glasses.)
  2. Pour blue juice over the ice-cream.
  3. Serve on white plates with white spoons.

Now you are ready to pop some popcorn, slide Frozen into the Blu-Ray, and watch 3 8-year-olds sing through the entire movie.

The Family Cake

Frozen main cakeWe live in the same town with a lot of our family.  Both of my sisters live here with their families and my parents live here as well.  Family birthday cake time is a big production in our family.  Skyler has wanted 1 cake for the last year.  She saw this cake 2 weeks after her last birthday and never forgot it.  There is a bakery one town over called Carousel Cakes.  They sell a wonderful Blue Velvet Cake accented with silver pearls and sugar snowflake.  I used Wilton Blue Ready-To-Use Icing to write on the cake.

The Blue Velvet Cake is unique because it is vanilla.  My mom is allergic to chocolate so this is a nice change of pace from red velvet.   They also come in cupcake form.

Huge bonus:   They ship nationwide so you don’t need to live here to enjoy them.  Check their site out because they have amazing cakes of all kinds including a Pink Velvet Cake during the month of October with a $1 of the purchase going to breast cancer research.  Their Red Velvet Cake is apparently one of Oprah’s favorites that they renamed it:  Oprah Red Velvet Cake.

Matilda

MatildaAs for Matilda and our Girl’s Night in Times Square, Skyler had a blast. We browsed through a few stores before eating at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company which, sadly, I felt was WAY overrated.  Shrimp should not really be almost clear.  At the theatre, I experienced massive sticker shock when we bought 2 ordinary-sized candies, a water, and an apple juice which totaled $24.  The play itself was wonderful and amusing.  Skyler said she was fighting herself not to sing along with the kids.

TARDIS Birthday Cake & Math-A-Thon

24 Apr

mathathonIt was my son’s birthday yesterday. His birthday wish is really sweet. It is too raise $500 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the Math-A-thon.  So please feel free to donate to such a worthy cause.

Time is short this year so I needed a quicker cake to make for my son’s birthday.  No Dalek Cake Toppers this year.

TARDIS Cake

Here is a pretty simple TARDIS cake that anyone can make.

Ingredients:

  • 2 small Tootsie Rolls (I used the Vanilla Midges)
  • 1 Wilton White Sugar Sheets Edible Decorating Paper
  • 1 Black Wilton Icing Color 1oz
  • 1 Royal Blue Wilton Icing Color 1oz
  • 1 Wilton White Icing Writer™
  • 1 Black Pearlized Sugar Pearl Sprinkles 5oz
  • 1 Cake Mix (Any flavor)
  • 2 tubs of White Frosting

Directions:

  1. Bake the cake mix according to the instructions.  Be sure to use a rectangular pan.
  2. Put one of the tubs of frosting in a small mixing bowl.  Using the Royal Blue Wilton Icing Color mix in the color a bit at a time until you reach TARDIS blue.
  3. Unwrap the tootsie rolls and knead them to soften. Pull 2 small strips off to shape into door handles.   Shape the rest into the light for the top of the TARDIS.
  4. Take the Wilton White Sugar Sheets Edible Decorating Paper and on the plastic side draw the shape of the TARDIS windows and 2 police box(call box & pull to open shapes) signs.  Using a clean pair of scissor or sharp tipped knife, cut out your shapes.
  5. Make sure your cake is cool.   Using the white frosting, light frosting the outside of the cake and then place the entire cake in the freezer for 30 minutes.
  6. Take your chilled cake and frost completely with the TARDIS-blue frosting.
  7. Take a little of the white frosting and mix it into the TARDIS-blue frosting to give you a lighter shade.  Place the Tootsie Roll light at the top of your TARDIS cake and frost it with the lighter blue.
  8. Peel your cut outs off their plastic baking and place on the cake.
  9. Using the Black Wilton Icing Color 1oz, paint the top police box sign black.  If you have a fine detail brush, you might try to paint the pull to open sign as well.  Let dry. (Note:  Make sure either the brush is new or only used on non-toxic paints.)
  10. Using the Wilton White Icing Writer™, draw the square door panels on the cake and write ‘Happy Birthday’ or another message on the black police box sign.
  11. Take you 2 small tootsie roll handles and press into place.
  12. Take 1 Black Pearlized Sugar Pearl Sprinkles 5oz and press into place for the door lock. (I still had my jar from the Dalek Cake Toppers.)

If you do have extra time, making a few Dalek to accent the cake would be really fun.

Day Trip: Van Saun Park (Bergen County Zoo)

14 Apr

Van Saun - AlligatorOne great thing about living in this area is that there are many fun places a short drive away.  One of those places is Van Saun Park.  My family had been going to this park for as long as I can remember.   When i was a child we would have out annual family picnic here and the highlight was going on the train ride and seeing the zoo.

On the grounds of Van Saun Park is the Bergen County Zoo.   It is a great zoo for younger kids and it is not as exhausting or expensive as the Bronx Zoo.   Located in Paramus, NJ, the zoo has a small train ride and carousal ride for additional $1.50 a person.  Another neat feature is their special exhibit which was the Butterfly Pavilion last summer.  The kids enjoyed the Budgie Experience that was featured for several years before.  Butterflies can’t compete with a bird landing on your finger or even your head.

Van Saun - elkVan Saun TortoiseVaun Saun - Bald Eagle

The old Budgie Experience(2009):

Recent Van Saun Highlights:

 
Van Saun Park
216 Forest Ave
Paramus, NJ 07652

The TARDIS Trunk

13 Apr

Tardis Trunk
Trunk Before 1It all started so innocently.  I have always wanted an old-fashioned trunk.   Towards the end of the summer, I passed a garage sale on my way home from work and came across a very beaten up trunk.   They were actually selling the stuffed animals inside of it and you got the trunk for free.  For $5, I bought my trunk and donated the stuffed animals to charity.  The new trunk had seen better days.   Someone had painted the outside bright green and then used green and pink shelf paper to line the inside.Trunk Before 2

I got to work scraping and cleaning the trunk as best I could.  I peeled away all of the shelf paper.  Using sandpaper, a paint scraper, and buffer, I cleaned, peeled, smoothed and scraped away the inside until it was clean enough to look slightly presentable.  While cleaning a plan had formulated.  I was going to turn this trunk into a TARDIS.
Trunk Before 3 Trunk Before 4

To start changing this trunk into the TARDIS I needed some materials from both a hardware store and the craft store.

The Trunk Base

Supplies:

  • Several cans of Blue spray paint
  • 1 large plastic tarp
  • Several rolls of Blue duct tape
  1. In a well ventilated area, place your plastic tarp on the ground and slide the trunk on top.
  2. Spray the entire outside of the trunk Blue.  (This may take several coats and turns.)
  3. Cover the entire inside of the trunk with the Blue Duct Tape. (I did try painting it at first but it didn’t work so well on this texture.  I also tried contact paper which would not stick to the wood.)

Now that we have a base, the hard part starts.  I was going to paint each bit but then I got a better idea.

At work,  I used Rowmark LaserMark Blue/White to laser cut out the door panels.  The windows and door signs are designed by me and laser cut from Rowmark Flexicolor White/Black with 3M backing.  The Police Box sign was also designed by me and laser cut from Rowmark Flexicolor Black/White with 3M backing.   Once I put it all together, it looked FANTASTIC.

Tardis Trunk Top

Tardis Trunk Inside

I tried to think about what inspirred the idea of making the trunk into the TARDIS and I think it was a Neatorama article about a TARDIS Bookshelf.  I remember thinking how cool it would be to turn my own furniture into Doctor Who-themed items.