Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Real Tips for Road Trips with Kids (Part 1)

      
     I'm an avid reader-including blogs and magazines. Every year around this time you get the same old tired lists of tips for taking road trips with kids. Make frequent stops, let them run around, pack cutesy boxes of snacks. Yawn. And I usually laugh because somewhere near the end you will find that the author has two kids and a "road trip"  is a four or six hour journey across the state or to a neighboring state. Seriously?!

   Since I have had my own family we have traveled from Colorado to Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee. I have trekked with my sister and her kids, for a total combined number of five kids, to Washington from Colorado several times. And I am not even counting the time I drove with my best friend and a 10 month-old from Washington to Illinois! Since moving to Washington, we have made many trips across the state and driven to Tennessee twice. I have spent countless hours in the car-as a kid, and now with my own kids.

   And, no, it hasn't soured me on car trips! I actually love traveling by car, and definitely prefer it to flying (and especially to the train, but that's a story for another time). My own kids love a road trip, too. So I thought I would share my top tips with you!

1. Don't let it scare you!
This may seem ridiculous, but kids are like dogs-they can sense your fear! Seriously, you need to approach this confidently. If you are fearful that things will go badly, they probably will. Your kids can tell if you are apprehensive, even if you don't say anything.

2. Don't make promises you can't keep. It may seem like the best idea to have every minute accounted for-especially if you like schedules and routines. However, you absolutely need to bring your flexibility to really have a good road trip experience. What I tell my kids is that we have things we will do (for example: stay at a hotel) but there are things I can't make promises about (that they can swim in the pool). If I have promised them that they can swim and then the pool is closed, they are disappointed. But if they know that I will make my best effort, but there is a possibility it might not happen, we are all happier. Being totally honest with your kids that you can't control everything but you are interested in everyone having a good time helps everyone to keep their expectations in check.

3. Show your excitement. I love to talk to my kids about how much I appreciate the "mundane" parts of traveling: staring at the clouds, spending time chatting in the car, taking a nap whenever you want. We make a big deal over little things: how fun it is to pick out a dollar's worth of snacks at the gas station, pointing out silly street names, switching who rides in which seat. One of my best "car trip" memories was when my sister and I were traveling with our four young kids. Carson was two years-old and he was tired of riding (This was in the days before we had hand-held video devices in our family!). We began to point out the cows in the fields we were passing through, mooing, of course! He questioned us as to why he could not see any horses. My sister told him it was because the cows were dumb and didn't know how to hide, but the horses were sneaky, so we couldn't spot them. We still laugh about dumb cows and sneaky horses to this day and try to spot as many as we can along the way!

4. Let them make some choices. I let my kids each pick something from the Dollar Spot for the trip bag. They can look forward to getting that. We also let them have chances to pick the CD playing, or offer them two or three choices for a lunch spot. When we have snacks, I offer them a few different ones at a time, not a free-for-all of everything in the bag. Giving kids (of any age) too many choices overwhelms them, but allowing them to have a couple of things to choose from makes them feel like they have a say.

5. Keep the car clean! We drive a tiny car. It fills up with trash *very* quickly. Every time we stop I try to have a "re-set". Trash is collected when shoes go on, and everything is put back in travel bags. Ideally. I can tell you this doesn't always happen. But at least when we make an effort everyone is happier.

6. Don't go too slow. One of the biggest "tips" I hear is to limit your travel time. Even when my kids were little this was bad advice for our family. They were just as ready to be there as we were! We frequently took 14 hour trips when they were as young as 1 and 3 years-old and we took it all in one day. If you think putting your little one back in the car after dinner takes superhuman strength, picture doing that the next day after a not-so-great night's sleep at a hotel, knowing you still have 4 or 5 hours (and possibly a couple of bathroom and food stops) to go. Not fun! You have to know your limits, but don't underestimate. In my opinion, you are better off to try to "go the distance" and stop if you must then plan to break up a 12 or 14 hour trip into two days to realize everyone would rather just push through. This especially applies to older kids. If you are traveling to your destination rather than sight-seeing along the way, my kids would always rather just keep going.

  Sooo, I just realized I have so many more things to tell you. I am not the "road trip with kids" expert, but I do have a whole lot of real life advice about traveling with children by car! I'm going to pause here for now, and label this "Part 1". Making a cross-country trip (or just one across your state) with little people doesn't have to be overwhelming or frightening. It can even be fun if you know what to expect and how to handle it!


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Make Your Own Sweet Cream for Cold Brew Coffee

    If you are someone who is very intuitive, and figures things out quickly, just skip this post, will you? However, if you are at all like me, and not able to deduce things at first glance, then you might just find this post helpful!

    I love coffee. Especially what I consider to be "summer coffee". Summer coffee is always cold, and comes in many forms: iced, blended, cold brew, affogatos, and my new favorite calorie bomb: an iced coffee float made with carbonated coffee from my local coffee shop. However, neither my wallet nor my waistline appreciate having those often so I stick to my other favorite: sweet cream cold brew from my not-so-local place. (You know the one with ubiquitous green logo?). However, even though that drink may be a little cheaper and more calorie conscious it still isn't something I can afford to indulge in every day!

    I usually have a cup of Trader Joe's Cold Brew most afternoons. Last summer I was content with throwing some of my average coffee creamer in it and calling it good. Then, one day when I was treating myself to some Starbuck's they unknowingly revealed a secret to me. I watched as a hurried employee dumped generous quantities of flavoring syrup into a pitcher of milk. And the lightbulb turned on: this was the magical "sweet cream" that makes their cold brew so delicious!
  

      So, while I certainly have no trouble having Starbucks on occasion, I am more than happy to treat myself to some homemade sweet cream every day. And the really great thing is that I can have far more flavors than just vanilla. You might ask (as you are well-entitled to): why is it better to make the cream rather than just adding coffee syrup and milk to my cold brew? Well, I discovered a few  things: the flavoring melds with the cream when mixed separately, and it truly tastes different. Secondly, it makes it much easier to whip a cup up every day. Third, the syrup seems to mix better with the cream than it does when I added them to my coffee individually. Overall, it gave me a result that was much more like Starbucks than when I tried it other ways. And trust me, I tried a lot! 

   And it is definitely a massive improvement over my regular creamer. Because I used half-and-half the fat content is higher and it gives the coffee a much more creamy and rich flavor. Also, the flavor of the syrup is more concentrated than the flavors in many creamers so it makes it taste more "coffee shop". 


     So if you are interested in trying it for yourself it only takes a few simple ingredients. I faithfully use Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate, because while it isn't the cheapest it is my favorite. Use whatever your favorite brand is, or make your own!

To make the sweet cream:
Add 1/4 c. Torani syrup (for a traditional Starbucks flavor use vanilla syrup, but I had Creme Caramel on hand so I used that. If you have never tried it it is amazing!) to 2 c. half-and-half. I store mine in a mason jar. Stir thoroughly and refrigerate overnight before using.

To use:
   Add 1/2 c. coffee concentrate to a large glass filled with ice. Add 1 c. milk I actually love to use coconut beverage or almond milk instead of dairy milk, as it reduces the calories and I like the flavor, especially of the coconut milk. Stir thoroughly. Stir your sweet cream (I found out that if you shake it it becomes very foamy and hard to measure.) and drizzle 2 tbsp. of the cream over your coffee. Mix with a spoon or straw and enjoy!

  Your cream should keep in your refrigerator as long as the half-and-half would by itself. (I like to write the expiration date on the lid of my mason jar.) You can add more cream to taste, but I thought that 2 tbsp was just about perfect without being too sweet. The calorie count is about 60 calories per serving, which is actually less than the creamers I normally use. 

   Anyway, I've been using this for several weeks now and I am loving it. It makes my coffee seem a little more decadent, and it comes together in a snap! I should probably make it my next goal to learn to make my own cold brew, but for right now I will just take the easy way out and stick with TJ's. One thing at a time!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Garden Gloves Appreciation Gift


   I promised you more gratitude gifts, so I'm back! This idea has been percolating for a while. I actually purchased the gardening gloves back in March! I saw a nine pack of gardening gloves at Costco and they kind of demanded that I buy them-and definitely not for myself. This apartment-dweller has limited use for one pair of gardening gloves, much less nine! I knew they would be the basis of a great thank-you gift, and since I had a couple of months to figure it out I snatched them up.

    I have done gloves before, so I had an inkling of what I wanted to do, and if you have read that post you will already recognize my favorite hand cream. (I've also done a garden/plant gift, too, if you are looking for something different!) I knew that I wanted to do that again-and I felt like it fit well with the theme, although not the color scheme. (The gloves came in purple, turquoise and green.) 



       I finally decided that I wanted to put in trail mix. It seemed seasonally appropriate, and I know several of the women who I was gifting these to would be more appreciate of something slightly more "healthy" than my usual candy. I was thrilled to find trail mix that didn't include peanuts (I try to stay away from such a severe allergen.) It was providential that they were purple to boot! Thank you, Target.

     I rounded out the gift with a little pack of seeds. It seemed more than fitting! I bought an easy to plant and care for flower variety.

Everything was relatively inexpensive:
-Garden gloves, $1 each (The package of nine pairs from Costco was $9)
-Nivea Creme, $1 (from Target)
-Trail mix, $0.70 each (package of 10 from Target-always check for a Cartwheel to save a little more!)
-Seeds, $0.20 (from Walmart. I wanted this particular package because I liked how it looked. You could definitely spend more!)

Not shown: cello bags (I keep these on hand from the Dollar Tree because I use them. All. The. Time.) and ribbon  and paper from Hobby Lobby. The ribbon was $1.50 and the single sheet of paper I needed was $0.50.
   These literally came together in minutes. I used a 2 inch (ish) scallop punch to cut the paper and then stuck it to the hand cream with a glue dot. I skipped printing on those, I thought the patterned paper was pretty enough. I popped that, the trail mix and the seeds in the bag. I printed off the cards, trimmed them with my paper cutter (I decided against lines, as I have trouble cutting them off neatly. This way I didn't have to worry about that.) and put them in. I laid the bag on the gloves and gathered the top of the bag and wrists of the gloves all together and tied them with a simple bow. Voila! So simple, but fun.

 Find the printable here: "Garden Gloves Printable from Clare's Contemplations"

The cards say:
"You had a big hand in cultivating my love of learning this year!"
"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing." 2 Thessalonians 1:3

   They were a huge hit! This is such a great gift for this time of year-even for someone who isn't an avid gardener. Even I can make use of a pair of gardening gloves-and I don't have a yard! If the recipient doesn't actually garden, they most likely have a yard, or at least or a plant or two. It would be so easy to increase the value of this gift by adding it to a plant, or putting in a gift card to a home improvement store or local nursery.

      I'm not finished with thank-yous yet! I have one more left to post here. I totaled it up and I have put together more than twenty gifts in the last few weeks. It's a busy time of year! I'm glad we homeschool-that means I am almost done. But if you have school teachers to thank (and you're with me on the west coast, where school still has a few more weeks left) stay tuned!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tea-rrific Appreciation Gift for Teachers and Volunteers


    I debated sharing this, because it isn't an "original" idea, but let's face it: often things that I think I am the first one to do I find someone else has already done, because as Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun!". I know I do enjoy seeing others' interpretations of things, though, so I decided I would share mine!

    This is that time of year when there are so many people to thank. Honestly, anytime someone willingly volunteers their time and energy I feel that it is worthy of a thank-you gift, even if it is only a very small one. Even if someone doesn't value the "thing" they will most likely recognize the thoughtfulness behind it and appreciate it. I was once given an angel-shaped pin as a thank-you gift for volunteering in Awana. I don't really "do" angels, and I never wore pins, but I was so honored by the gesture. It still remains as the only thank-you gift I ever received from a parent for working in Awana. (I have been privileged to work with wonderful directors and commanders who have given me many lovely gestures of appreciation, so don't feel too sorry for me!). 

   Another time, when I was directing Vacation Bible School, I was given some wildflowers stuffed in a mason jar and tied with twine. So lovely!  I hadn't directly taught that woman's child, or lead them in music, or crafted with them, but the mom realized that I had still played an important part. Even I am guilty of forgetting to recognize the "leadership" in many situations-the steering committees, directors, commanders, and all the higher-level leadership that make so many wonderful things "go".

   Anyway, this time there is no fancy printable tag, but I didn't have to make a million of these, so I didn't mind hand-writing them. Both of my kids were in the same part of the program so I only had a few leaders and the director to thank. I usually try to stick to a $5 limit for year-long programs (co-op, Awana) because I usually have between 12-18 people who I give gifts to in May. I bought myself one of these insulated cups earlier (they had a version with cacti on it, which I am totally obsessed with at the moment) and I liked it so well I thought they would make a great gift!



   These came together quickly, and would have been even easier if I had made them all the same. I made them individual to each teacher and filled them with:

-tea bags. The blue cup had chai and Earl Grey tea, the yellow cup had orange and lemon ginger. I bought a box of the chai because I wanted to try it myself, but the others were purchased individually in the bulk bins at WinCo. $0.15 each makes them a bargain! I put four bags in each cup.

-candy. The blue cup had salt water taffy (huckleberry and raspberry) from the bulk bins.I bought less than a half a pound so it was super cheap, about $0.75. The yellow one had Sweet and Sour Starburst, which were $2 from Walmart, but I did not put the whole bag in.  


   I also put in a few things you can't see. The yellow cup had two packs of Juicy Fruit gum, and the blue one had Ghiradelli chocolates in it. The total for those things was about $1 each.

  I had the ribbon on hand, as well as the kraft tags.On the tags I wrote, "Thanks for being a "tea-rrific" leader!".  I wrapped those with a little washi, tied them with some plain white ribbon  and then slipped them over the straws. I tied a decorative bow on in coordinating ribbon (I was so pleased that I already had pineapple washi AND ribbon for the yellow cup!) and they were done! I could have easily purchased everything at Walmart, but I couldn't decide what I wanted while I was there, and I wanted to mix and match tea bags without having six or eight different boxes of tea!

   Isn't it amazing how I can find *so* many words to describe something so simple? Essentially boiled down: buy cup, tea bags and candy. Write tag. Put tag on. Tie ribbon. Gift! They were well received- I would have liked one myself!

    So, who are you "thanking" during this ending of things? We still have soccer coaches, dance instructors, and co-op teachers to go. Summer brings swim lessons and VBS, too! I have at least one more gift I will be sharing, but not until it's been gifted. I know school is ending for many of you, but it won't be done here until mid-June, so I have some time yet!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Black Friday

        
    My first "real" job (read: one where I had to fill out a W-2 form and all that jazz) was working retail. I worked at a boutique clothing store that sold pricey, trendy clothes. Which was a little bit odd, because I myself was not very trendy, and I would have said my preference was definitely more towards the frugal side of things. However, I soon realized I loved clothes and didn't mind paying a bit more for higher quality and really unique items. Thankfully, we had many customers who felt the same way. I say that because it was a commission position, so my paycheck depended on how much product I could move. It was much easier when people were on board with paying $100 for a pair of jeans, rather than $10. 
 
    But anyway, it was while working retail that I fell in love with Black Friday. I know that sounds like an odd thing to say, but when you work commission there is no better day than when customers flock to you in droves, desperate to get the deals and steals they are convinced exist. There is so much energy, and excitement when you know all your hard work is going to result in a big fat paycheck. Plus, we generally had pretty decent customers. When the average total was usually in hundreds (or even, on very rare occasions, over a thousand) you are just dealing with a different type of person. They aren't your average "pick a fight over the bargain bin DVDs" sort of shopper. So, I learned quickly to enjoy Black Friday and the big fat commission checks it brought.

   I did wonder why it was called Black Friday, though. I asked around and heard from various sources that supposedly it gained that title after the Great Depression when the Friday after Thanksgiving was considered the opening to the Christmas shopping season, and due to the massive increase in sales thanks to holiday shoppers, retailers would go from being "in the red" to "in the black", accounting-wise. So I while I still thought that was a little odd, as usually "black" has a more negative connotation, I was satisfied.

    I have maintained my fondness for Black Friday since then, although the reason I like it now has more to do with spending time with my family (we all love to shop) and getting good deals. So that might be part of the reason that I slip up, and when referencing Good Friday (as in the day we commemorate Jesus' death on the cross) accidentally call it "Black Friday". (I know you thought I had lost my mind talking about Thanksgiving shopping at Easter! Don't worry, I do have a point.) I wondered if maybe there was anything in common between the two days so I decided to look up the history of Black Friday, as I am already fairly familiar with the history of Good Friday (Thank you, Jesus!).

    I was interested to find that I had been given bad information. The term "Black Friday" was first used in the sixties, and *not* for positive reasons. It was used by the Philadelphia Police Department to describe the chaos and confusion caused by the masses of shoppers, and was perceived by the PD to be a rather dismal day indeed. As the term continued to gain popularity, it was not highly favored by retailers, and for good reason. When you think of "black" it doesn't really incite positive vibes. Also, it is hard to not to think of things like "Black Thursday"-the name for the day when the bottom fell out of the economy in the U.S. and the Great Depression started. Or, that when we are mourning someone's passing we wear black. It is a color devoid of hope.

   However, with the upbeat-ness that usually accompanies the ability to run a successful retail operation, stores decided to turn things around, and that is where the explanation of the phrase "Black Friday" in terms of financial gains came from. Why not use whatever you can to your advantage? So, they perpetuated the rumor that the moniker came from the profitability of the day, going from being "in the red" to being "in the black".

   And I don't think it is too far of a stretch to say that there are definite similarities between those Fridays-Good and Black. Good Friday-taken alone, without the joy of Sunday, had to feel black. The blackest of any Friday, ever, actually. I cannot begin to fathom the despair that those who had followed Jesus felt. However, before any religious group applied the term, to the enemies of Christ it had to seem like the most good of any Friday. They had won! Or so they thought.

    But just like Black Friday, it seems Good Friday experienced a little bit of an image overhaul. And the turn-around was pretty darn quick. To those who had sought Jesus death, dreaming of the day the would be rid of that trouble-maker, rabble-rouser who turned so many of their carefully protected religious rules on their heads, their victory was short-lived. Good Friday had a black eye by Sunday in their minds. But for those who loved Jesus, Sunday was the day that turned that black day into something Good.

   And now, to me, this day is a day that can be fairly represented by both adjectives. Black, because we should recognize the severity of the price our sin-my sin-exacted on our precious, perfect Savior. A day to remember and mourn the cost of my unworthiness, my unrighteousness.

" ...He poured out His life unto death,    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For He bore the sin of many,    and made intercession for the transgressors." Isaiah 53:12 NIV
   His pure, holy, blemish-free life. For my worthless, ragged, wretched one. It was the most unfair of trades. But, like Black Friday, it took my account from debt to riches. From reddest red of His righteous blood, my glaring hell-red debt was paid, and name added to the "paid" column, from the "owed" line to the "saved" one.

" And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross." Colossians 2:13-14 HCSB (emphasis mine)
  Good Friday is good because it was a black Friday, too. Black from the sin, the doubt, the heaviness that cost Christ His life. So, so, good because I was reprieved from the death I was owed as the wages of my sin, what I had worked for and earned was eternal separation. But my debt was paid in full. From red to black.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23 NIV 
  I don't need to shop around, the deal of any lifetime was given on Good Friday. His sacrifice is all I need, no cost-comparisons are necessary, I will never find a better offer. Nothing for everything. Death for life. Friday's blackness for Sunday's light. Filthy as night rags for the whiteness of robes of purity.

   I love this Good Black Friday. It is my favorite Friday to celebrate for certain. So, even when I slip up and call it Black Friday, it doesn't really matter because the significance is the same. Today, I stop, I sit, I ponder the wonder of the day that Jesus *willingly* suffered death for me!

"[Jesus]  Who, being in very nature God,    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,    he humbled himself    by becoming obedient to death        even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place    and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,    in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:6-11 NIV
   Those who  plotted and planned Christ's death thought they had a good Friday and got a black Friday. But I got all the best parts of both when I asked Christ to be my Savior. Accepting His gift of salvation erased my debts and made every day good-worth living to His glory. I am thankful for all of that day, the black and the good.





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