Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Don't forget to check out the first post in this series: Real Tips for Road Trips with Kids Part 1
I love a road trip! I realized that with the thousands and thousands of miles that I've driven, I've learned a thing or two along the way. I'm constantly surprised when people say they hate traveling by car with their kids. There are so many wonderful things about a family road trip-I think you just have to know a few good tricks and tips. I started sharing mine in this post, and realized I had so many, it really deserved a second post. So without further ado: more real life tips for road trips with kids.
8. Individually bag clothes. One of the best tricks I know I learned from my mom, who used it long before Pinterest was around. She would bag our clothes in outfits: pants, shirt, underwear, socks, all in a gallon zippered bag. Genius! When my kids were little, that is how I packed everything for them. It keeps things much neater in the suitcase, allows multiple kids to share a single bag, keeps you from forgetting pieces (Oh no! I brought the hot pink plaid shorts, but forgot the only shirt that matches them!), makes dressing a toddler so much easier (no digging around in a giant duffel to find the other sock), helps you keep track of outfits (I know I brought eight outfits, so I need to bring eight home.), and gives you an easy place to put dirty things (or wet swimsuits!). Now that my kids are bigger, I don't pack all their clothes this way, just the ones I put in the "overnight bag".
9. Bring an "overnight bag". When we are traveling extensively, we know we will have at least two or three hotel stays before we reach our destination. It is SO much easier to pack one bag to take in for all four of us. We simply put enough clothes and our toiletries in (Don't forget the swimsuits!) for the two or three changes we will need to make. One set of pajamas and two changes of clothes per person is usually sufficient. We know if we need extras then all of the rest of our things are available right outside in the trunk. But only having to carry in one (or two, if there are a lot of us) bag every night (along with all the electronics that will need to be charged for the next day!) makes things so much easier.
10. Pack your atlas. Road trips are a golden opportunity to teach the kids a little geography. Everyone, even in this modern age, can benefit from learning to read a map, and you will be much better off if for some reason you find yourself without service for your much-referenced phone GPS. (Not that I would know anything about traveling through most of all Montana and much of South Dakota without mine! 😜) If you think getting lost sounds less-than-fun, add in a couple of crabby, tired, crying kids! Barring direction-related issues, there are still plenty of reasons to bring an old-fashioned paper atlas. Even fairly young kids can appreciate looking at the U.S. map and seeing all the states they've traveled through. Older kids can help to look up routes, and they will love seeing how far they've gone. We make a game out of figuring out our mileage just by measuring with our fingers and the mileage equivalent scale for each state. You can also look up capitals, and most atlases contain fun facts about each state. Buy a children's atlas for kids from 4-8 years old, but also have your actual road atlas handy for reference, too.
11. Use the clock to your advantage. Say, "In fifteen minutes we will all turn off our electronics and take a rest for twenty minutes." Or, tell your kids that they can have five minutes of electronic time for every minute that they read. For younger kids, use a rough schedule. Tell them they can listen to music until snack time, then they can have a new item from your surprise bag after. Or, that after lunch everyone will take a rest and have quiet time. When I traveled with my sister we had a rule that the kids could not use electronics until after lunch. Even with my two-year old that worked surprisingly well! If they asked we would just remind them that electronics were after lunch. The DVD player (She had one in her van, my kids loved it, since we've never owned a car with one.) didn't come on until after dinner because it is hard to do much when you are traveling after dark and everyone is tired, and crabby! By setting up a routine and giving them a set point to look forward to, it makes it a little easier on everyone.
12. Bring a trip bag. I mentioned this in #4, but I didn't really explain it. The trip bag is my kids' favorite part of a road trip. The photo at the top shows what I packed in our trip bag for our recent trip to Tennessee. It has the fun things, the new things, the stuff I pull out when I'm desperate for the whining/fighting/talking to stop. When my kids were little, it was a lot of Dollar Tree stuff: coloring books, magnetic letters, board books, stickers, basically anything I thought might entertain them for five minutes! Great ideas for toddlers/preschoolers can also include things like these "busy bag" items I made for my friend's son. I've used these things since then, and preschoolers love them!
For older kids, I bring dry erase markers (They love to use these on the windows, especially for games like "slug bug"-we do tally marks instead of punches-or just generally drawing!), new reading books, puzzle books with new fun pens, CDs, cheap DVDs (We also have been known to rent a Redbox, since they can be returned to any kiosk we drag them across state lines!), and power packs for the Nintendo DS, or iPod. I usually buy a couple of cheap little toys, this time it was the crazy-popular "fidget spinners", but things like Squinkies or Littlest Pet Shop type things work well. You can also pack things that are less "structured"-bring pipe cleaners to twist into shapes, origami paper (look up tutorials on YouTube), and plain old paper (yes, kids still enjoy playing Hangman and Tic-Tac-Toe!), string (Teach them Jacob's ladder, or how to finger-knit), all kinds of things can be really entertaining when they are the only things available.
The "trip bag" shouldn't be overflowing. I establish a time in the future when they will get something, (at 2:00 pm, at the next rest stop) and I do the choosing. I pack a beach tote size bag, and I do try to have an equal number of things for each child. If I'm not doing the driving, I will often pack a book or two to read out loud. I also put the "junk" snacks in there, and gum, which is usually forbidden at our house. Sometimes I also use the bag contents for "prizes"-whoever can name the most state capitals, recite a certain Scripture, or wins a game.
13. Pack a smart snack bag. Junk food aside, don't go overboard in the opposite direction, and only pack kale chips. Kids (and adults!) love to eat when they are bored, so don't let what you packed be a free-for-all, no matter how healthy it is! Plan a few snack times during the day, and limit the choices to two or three items at a time.Try to avoid messy foods, or things that need to be peeled, or cut, or need cutlery. I try to bring things that won't cause blood-sugar issues, usually that aren't totally sugary and have a little protein in them. I like to bring: jerky, nuts, applesauce pouches, snack crackers (like Goldfish), trail mix, corn nuts (my favorite!), and granola bars. Fresh fruit is dicey, in my opinion, as it is very delicate for the most part, and can be a little messy (apple cores, banana peels, orange skins), so we try to get our fruits and veggies in at mealtimes. Anything that isn't in single-serve pouches should be packed in a zip-top bag, so that it can be closed up once it has been opened. It's also wise to throw in a couple of napkins, and a few plastic grocery bags for collecting trash. I don't personally pack a cooler, our car is too small. Instead we bring water bottles, no one seems to mind drinking room temperature water. Juice and soda are disasters if they get spilled, so we try to limit those to meals.
14. Share stories and games. Don't think of it as being trapped in a car, think of it as having a captive audience! My kids love to hear stories from my childhood-and theirs. We talk about all the places we've visited, and where we are headed next. We discuss what we would do with a million dollars, or where we would eat if we were only allowed three restaurants for the rest of our lives. Print off a sheet of "this or that" questions from Pinterest: would you rather be able to fly like a bird or hop like a kangaroo? Would you want to be a famous actor or sports star? See a road trip as an opportunity to really get to know your kids! And share a little about yourself with them, too.
I would love to hear if there is anything that works for your family when you take a road trip-short or long. Planning to travel by car with kids doesn't have to be daunting-with a little preparation, and a good attitude, you can go anywhere! No pun intended. 😉
Thursday, July 27, 2017
I've shared my "Practically Perfect Smoothies" and my "Practically Perfect Rice Krispy Treats". The reason I've christened these recipes "practically perfect" is because, though they are so simple even a kid can make them, I've honed the tricks, techniques and ingredients to make them better than average-practically perfect!
My mom made French bread pizzas for my siblings and me when I was a child, and I have very fond memories of them. Now that I homeschool my own kids, we love to have "hot lunch", but after schooling all morning, my usual dislike of cooking is definitely greater than normal. But throwing easy, fast French bread pizza into the oven is pretty much just as easy as microwaving a frozen dinner! And my kids like this sooo much better?
And who doesn't? The last time my husband heard I made these, he complained that he didn't get any. Cheesy, crispy, saucy... these definitely qualify as a "super simple supper"-and yet it is a dinner that gets no complaints! Since you don't have to have your oven on for long, I don't even mind making them during these blazing hot days of summer.
I have a some little tips that make my French bread pizza a step above the rest. This time I also cut it into easy to handle and eat sticks, which makes it even more fun, and also would make it a yummy hot appetizer, too! Perfect for a Super Bowl party, or kids' birthday bash, or New Year's Eve. However, they are still my favorite for lunch!
-a loaf of French bread. When it is just the three of us, I only use half a loaf
-pizza or marinara sauce (Trader Joe's marinara is good, or I like Ragu's pizza sauce)
-2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
Optional: any pizza toppings you like. We always do pepperoni. My son loves mushrooms. I also do onion, bell pepper or black olives if I have them handy. But delicious even if you just top with cheese.
3. Next, sprinkle all the slices with Parmesan cheese. This is one of those steps you don't want to skip! Applying the Parmesan cheese here is one of those little tricks that makes it so much better. You can add some to the top, too, if you like.
4. Sprinkle every slice with a little mozzarella. You will add some more later, so don't go overboard.
5. Add your toppings. I just added a couple of slices of pepperoni to each piece.
6. Top with more mozzarella.
7. Place in the oven, and turn it to broil. You simply need to melt the cheese at this point, and get your edges a little more brown. This step won't take more than a minute or two, so stay nearby and keep checking it!
Sure, you can slap some cold sauce on some un-toasted bread, throw on some cheese and stick it under the broiler for a few minutes. That will definitely be edible. But by taking literally two minutes more you will have not just French Bread pizza, but Practically Perfect French Bread Pizza Sticks. Trust me, it's worth it! Easy lunch, quick and simple dinner, fun appetizer...just yum!
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
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
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.
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
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 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!)
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.
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!