Booking Travel Plans without wasting time or money

Are you tired of searching every site out there to find the lowest rates on accommodations?  I was.  Booking a vacation shouldn’t stress you out.  You are going on a vacation to get away from stress.  I finally found a site that searches everywhere to find me the lowest rates at hotels, condos and resorts all over the world.  If you want to simplify your travel plans, check this out.

Travel with our Table for Nine

What do you do when life throws you a curveball?

What do you do when life throws you a curve ball?  I have no idea, because I don’t watch baseball.

Today the contract on the lake property we were buying fell through.  It’s a long boring story and I won’t bore you with it.  The short story is, sometimes situations stink and the best thing to do is walk away before you get stinky too.  So this week, instead of closing on the new property, we are out looking for a new one.

This one here is a contender.  It’s a different lake.  Which my husband loves!  Me, not so much.  It’s a larger property, which we both love.  It’s going to make the whole process take longer, which we both don’t love.  But sometimes you have to roll with the punches.

Time to fall back and punt and hopefully find something we can both agree on that works out for the family.

Was that enough sports metaphors?

Grape Jelly

How to make jelly from wild Mustang Grapes.

or more appropriately (Pictures to go along with the Sure Jell directions)  Seriously people, don’t reinvent the wheel.  The sure jell people know how to do this.  It’s sort of their job.

First, don’t eat them.  The skins are bitter and they have seeds.  When we were little, we used to pop out the guts and try to spit out the seeds and eat the centers, but it’s a lot of work.  The best thing to do with them is make jelly!  We found that the vines on our property were loaded down and perfectly ripe so we decided it was jelly making day.  We are going out of town again so it was now or never.

The first thing we did was remove all the stems and wash them.  There can be some white foam on them.  No, it’s not toxic.  No, there isn’t anything gross about it.  No, it’s not bugs.  The grapes just do that when they get fully ripe.  We just filled our bucket with water and gave them a swish.  Then we pulled all the grapes off the stems and put them into a large stock pot.  We mash them up with a potato masher.

Once they are mashed up, we put them on to boil.  We don’t add water.  There is plenty of juice from the grape centers.  But don’t try to squish out the centers only.  The pretty purple color comes from those skins.  We bring this to a boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir often.


Next we layer 3-4 pieces of cheesecloth in a colander.  Then we pour the cooked grape mixture in and let it sit and drain.  This will take a while.  Don’t try to squeeze it all out, just be patient and let it sit and drain.  Go do something else.  Get your jars ready.  Those need to be immaculately clean.  We also get our lids in a small pan of water.  We bring it to a quick boil to kill any germs.  Don’t boil the crap out of it though.  You will melt the seals on the lids.

You can also get your pectin ready.  You need to stir in one package of sure jel into 3/4 cup of cold water in a small saucepan.  boil for two minutes, stirring the whole time.  Then remove from heat and set aside until you are ready for it.

Once it’s drained, you get beautiful grape juice.

Measure out five cups of the juice and seven cups of sugar.  Yes.  Seven.  Don’t act surprised that jelly has that much sugar in it.  And do a good job measuring.  I fill the measuring spoon and use the back of a knife to level it off.  If your recipe is off, your jelly won’t gel.  This is science, not art.

Put it back on the stove and bring to a simmer and add your sugar and pectin mixture in, whisking well.  I also add a small piece of butter.  It keeps it from foaming up so much.  Once this is in, bring it to a rolling boil on high heat.  What is a rolling boil?  The bubbles don’t stop when you stir.  Let it boil like this for thirty seconds.  And don’t stop stirring!  Sugar can scorch in an instant.

Take it off the heat and skim off any foam.  Then you can fill your jars.  Fill to within 1/8 inch of the top and make sure no jelly is on the rim of the jar when you put the lid on.  It will prevent the lid from sealing.  Once the jar is full, put the lid and ring on and just hand tighten.  The hot jelly should make the jars seal on their own.  If the lids don’t pop, you may need to water bath them.  We have never had an issue with jars not sealing if we use the very hot jelly mixture.

Make sure to label your jars so you know the date it was made.  We never keep jarred foods for more than 12 months.  Who are we kidding.  With seven kids, the jelly will last a couple of months at most.










How do We do it?

This is the question I get asked most, hands down.  How do you travel so much?

Wing, Plane, Flying, Airplane, Sky, Airplanes, Clouds

There are more ways to arrange travel than there are places to go!  But these are a few of the things that have worked for us.


We bought a time share.  Wait.  Before you start, realize that ours is not like the old fashioned time share.  We do not have one week at one resort once a year.  Our time share is very different.  Believe me, we went fully prepared to say NO!.  But when we heard how different this program was, be both agreed it would be a great opportunity for us.  We have over 60 different resorts, most in the US, that we can go to any time we want, no trading necessary.  Every resort is given a point value based on time of year, day of the week and size of the unit.  Most of ours come with a full kitchen, which I love!  I get tired of eating out every meal every single day.  Some times, I just want to cook a quick meal and get on with the sight seeing.  When you buy into our time share, you purchase a certain number of points.  You can choose how and when to use those points.  We can stretch our points really far by going Monday through Thursday and travelling off season.  I prefer to go some places when it is less crowded anyway.


Wakoola Springs Pool

This is one of our favorite resorts in Orlando.  We always plan a day or two to just hang at this fabulous resort when we take a trip to Disney.  If you would like more information or a really inexpensive three day/two night stay at one of our condos, just shoot me an email to michelle@ and I will send you a link to arrange a trip.


What about getting there, Michelle????

I’m getting to that.  Some places we drive to.  We don’t mind car trips.  And we usually stop at some nerdy educational place along the way.  We geek out over historical markers.  If it’s too far to drive to, or we are flying out of the country, we have a companion pass.  Which means that when I pay for my airline ticket, I get to take someone along with me for free.

How can I get one of those companion passes?  Well, we have a rewards card.  It takes 110,000 points to get one.  Again, if you are interested, send me an email to michelle@ and I will send you a link to apply.  When you apply with the link I send you, you will get 40,000 points automatically.  Once you get to the 110k, you get a companion pass for the rest of that year and the entire year after that!  If you don’t want to put your household bills on that card, there are other ways to get points.  We booked a trip through a program called rocketmiles and got 40,000 points for going to Cancun for three nights.  You can’t beat that with a stick.  We booked a really reasonably priced trip and I earned a companion pass for a year and a half.


We have several other tips and tricks for inexpensive travel, but that’s a lot of information for one blog post.  Keep checking back for more ideas, travel destinations, tips and tricks.  You can also follow us on facebook, instagram, pinterest or google+ to stay connected.


Happy Trails

from my herd to yours!

Torr Na Lochs Winery

We decided to take a leisurely sunday drive today.  We wanted to go by the property we are buying to see if they had surveyed it yet so we drove towards the Texas Hill Country down Highway 29.  As we were getting close to Burnet, I remembered that a friend had recommended a new winery that opened up.  We had our nine year old with us, but she had assured us that it’s family friendly.  And dog friendly too.  When we pulled into the gate, it was clear that they had spared no expense creating an absolutely stunning winery with adjoining vineyard.  The view from the deck of their tasting room was spectacular.  Even thought it is close to 100 degrees today, we opted to sit outside and enjoy the view.  There was plenty of shade from the patio umbrellas and luckily for us, there was a breeze that helped cool things down.

We opted for both of the appetizer plates since there were three of us and it’s a good thing we did.  Both plates paired well with the wine and our adventurous eater tried everything.  (except the wine!!!)  We both know our wine tastes pretty well so instead of doing the wine tasting, we both opted for a glass of wine.  My husband prefers sweet wines so he went with the sweet sunset and I tried the Fion Dearg.  I would order either one again.


We didn’t stay long, mostly due to the heat, but I can’t wait to grab a few of my friends and head back.  If you want to stop by, keep in mind that their tasting room is only open Thursday through Sunday, 1-6.  If you want to sample six of their wines, a tasting is only $15.

Aruba, One Happy Island

Image may contain: 8 people, people smiling, people standing, sky, ocean, outdoor and nature

Usually when we go to Aruba, it is just a few of us at a time.  This time, we took a lot of extended family and it was definitely a different experience for us.  Most of us met in Austin and got a connecting flight from Houston with Southwest Airlines.  The flight from Houston to Aruba is about 4 1/2 hours.  We usually drive to Houston and take a direct flight, but this time the flight from Austin was the same price so we tried that.  I have mixed feelings about taking that connecting flight.  The drive to Houston takes about the same length of time as the layover, so if going to Houston saves any amount of money, I will choose that.

from the airplane


Once we arrived on the island, we grabbed a couple of taxis and headed to our resort.  There are two main resort areas in Aruba, the high rise hotels and the low rise hotels.  Our resort is in the low rise district on Eagle Beach and we love it.  Eagle Beach seems a little less crowded to me and it is definitely a quieter area.  The high rise district is on Palm Beach and has more of a party atmosphere.

feet in sand


My husband likes to get up early and go down to the beach and grab a front row cabana.  They go quickly so if you aren’t an early riser, you may end up a few rows back.  It’s not a bad place to be, I just like to be closer to the front to keep an eye on the kids.  Going down to the beach early in the morning means it’s quiet and peaceful and the sun isn’t beating down on you so ferociously.  I love sipping my coffee from a cabana on the beach.

sea turtle hatching


Early and late hours means you may catch a glimpse of the sea turtles hatching.  The island does a great job of keeping the nests safe and having volunteers help with the hatchings to make sure everything goes well for these amazing creatures.  If you see the orange and white barricades, DON’T cross them.  Go around.  They are there for a reason!

in the mangroves



We always do an excursion or two when we go to the island.  For this trip, we did several so everyone would have a chance to do what they really wanted.  It meant less down time for us, but it is always fun exploring the island.  This was the first time I have ever gotten to see the mangroves up close.  The sand is a little rockier here so I would suggest water shoes, but the view was spectacular.  We did a full day tour of the entire island in open topped Range Rovers.  Having been there before, I knew traffic rules were a little loosey goosey, but until we drove around the island in a tour like this, we didn’t realize that they don’t seem to apply AT ALL!  Seriously.  Traffic rules are nothing more than a suggestion.  Speed limit?  What speed limit?  And don’t even get me going on the honking.  Honking there is not at all like in the States.  They can speak an entire language with just honking.  Some honks mean ‘Hi!, glad to see you’.  Some honks mean ‘I’m about to blow through this stop sign without even hesitating! Get out the way!’   Don’t plan to drive around the island unless you can handle some seriously aggressive drivers.  Stick to the taxis.  The drivers are friendly and can give you some awesome information about the island.



avery cave






One thing we ALWAYS do?  Snorkeling.  That’s my happy place.  We love taking a catamaran out to Boca Catalina and spend time exploring all the sea life in the coral.  I am going to get scuba certified now.  It’s on my bucket list.



The other thing we love to do?  EAT

One of our favorite restaurants is in the south part of the island in San Nicholas.  If you don’t have a car and a willingness to brave those streets, the taxi ride can be a little costly.  But the food is delicious and cheap.  So it is still definitely worth it!  This is the dock at Zerovers.

Aruba is my favorite place to go relax and unwind.  Everyone speaks English, they accept US currency and since tourism is their main industry, they are super friendly!

Change of Plans

Oak St Lot 26, Kingsland, TX 78639

Hubby is retiring in exactly one month.

It’s exciting.  It’s terrifying.  It’s overwhelming.

We are going through massive changes in our lives and I am not one to deal well with change.  But today, we made a decision that I feel good about.  It totally changes our plans.  No more log cabin.  Instead, we put in an offer on a lake front lot.  It will allow us to build a small home and start living small so we can live big.  So cross your fingers, your toes, say a prayer, send good vibes.  Whatever you do, hook a sister up.

Time to go get rid of approximately 75% of what we own.  No pressure.


Lincoln, New Hampshire

We decided to take a quick trip to New Hampshire, just the two of us, for the husband’s birthday.  It was really good getting away for a few days, just the two of us.  I have not traveled up north much so I was really surprised by how incredibly beautiful it was.  It reminded me of travelling to Aspen or Breckenridge.  We love to hike so we spent two days exploring the White Mountain National Forest.  When we got tired of hiking around the forest, we hopped on a train that took us further up into the mountains.

new hampshire 1

new hampshire 2

new hampshire 5

new hampshire 3

new hampshire 6

new hampshire 7

new hampshire 8

new hampshire 9

new hampshire 10

We took this trip in May and we loved it.  We love travelling in the off season because it is way less crowded.  Spring is the only off season in New Hampshire.  In the summer, there is hiking and water activities, followed by spectacular scenery in the fall with the changing of the leaves.  Winter means snow.  This is definitely ski territory.  Most of the ski slopes still had snow lingering on them and it actually snowed one of the days we were there.  Most of it was gone the next day but it was wonderful seeing snow on my husband’s birthday!  Texans aren’t used to snow, especially in May.

Cooking tamales in a pressure cooker

I did it.  I succumbed to the peer pressure.

I bought a pressure cooker.  We don’t do anything half assed, so we bought a giant 10 quart so we can feed our herd.

First, we used it to make the pork roast for our tamales.  Because it’s Christmas eve, and tamales.  It’s tradition and shit.

Once we had all the tamales rolled up and ready to steam, we realized that as usual, we went a little overboard and had more tamales than would fit in our two giant steamers.  So I pulled out the pressure cooker and tested a batch.




We didn’t have enough to fill the giant 10 quart pot, so I stuffed some aluminum foil around the edges to keep them upright.  Then I added three cups of hot water to the bottom of the pot and cranked that puppy up.  I clicked pork and then adjusted the time to 22 minutes.  I honestly didn’t expect them to be done.  But they were.  I was wrong.  I can admit it.  It doesn’t happen often so it’s all good.


22 minutes later and I had perfectly steamed tamales.  Not dry, not undercooked, just right.  I was seriously impressed.  We had already invested a few hours into this, so any time savings is worth it.  So now we know.  Yes, you can steam tamales in a pressure cooker.  But seriously, what can this thing NOT do?