Shoebox Packing

One of my favorite charity activities every year has long been packing shoeboxes! I LOVED the advice I got last year from this blog “Unsolicited Advice About Shoeboxes” and it changed WHAT I pack but not so much HOW I pack.

If you have tips share them in the comments!

Here is a diagram of my box for a 5-9 year old boy:

The bottom layer: pack of 8 colorful ink pens, box of colored pencils, unsharpened neon pencils, blue bandana, comb, bar of soap, fat 4X6ish notebook & turned against the side of the box a pouch with a toothbrush, toothbrush cover & toothpaste in it. 20161029_185810

Top Layer: Melamine bowl with cars on it (least weird design I could find) and a matching sturdy cup turned sideways to fit in bowl. Inside the cup is a blue led flashlight with batteries in it and a three pack of new extra batteries, a pencil sharpener and 3 large erasers. Next to the bowl is a green string backpack folded up, a 3 pack of green washcloths folded, a squishy ball that looks like Earth, a pair of sunglasses with a 3 pack of decorative striped and polka dot socks folded through the middle and finally hard candy and bubble gum sprinkled everywhere it can fit.

Tucked in between the backpack & washcloths (so hard to see): a small squishy soccer ball, plastic gold coins, 2 self inking stampers.

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Lid can close securely but will still be rubber banded for extra closure. To be added is a personal note from my son & our prepaid shipping form.

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I’m Proud to be a Clevelander; Win, Lose or Draw.

When I moved here in 2006 from Alabama what I knew of Cleveland came from watching The Drew Carey Show growing up and the jabs national media would take at the Mistake on the Lake. Needless to say I came in with low expectations but my then fiance’s enthusiasm for his hometown was hard to ignore.

We dove in and embraced the city, seeing and doing a little of everything it had to offer and I am happy to report that almost 9 years later Cleveland is still delivering. I’ve been trying for almost a decade and I still haven’t done everything worth doing here! I continue to find something new and exciting all the time.

There are the big things of course, I mean seriously The Cavs, Indians, Browns and even the fantastically exciting Lake Erie Monsters AHL hockey team are all givens. Then there is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Horseshoe Casino, more museums than I can start to name, botanical gardens, zoos, aquariums, etc.

Our theater district is second only to NYC and even just won a Tony, we get all the best Broadway shows and plenty of local productions too packed into any one of the 14 gorgeous theaters! (Plus, our theater district has innovative programs like their smart seats that cost only $10 and are available for most all shows allowing any income level the opportunity to experience live theater!)

There is a festival almost every weekend, more cultural groups and areas than you can count and world class dining, thanks to people like our very own Iron Chef, Michael Symon.

You can’t forget the hidden gems either like The Emerald Necklace! This amazing system of metroparks cover over 21,000 acres and offer countless nature centers, playgrounds, hiking, biking and horseback riding trails all for free!

I would be remiss not to include our public library system, regularly ranked as one of the top systems in the country for populations over 500k! The 28 branches offer creative, unique children’s play areas, tons of free programming and, of course, access to the over 11 million items available for checkout!! (Yes, 11 MILLION).

I’ve also had the pleasure of living here for the birth of both of my children which allowed me access to the world renowned Cleveland Clinic hospitals! (But don’t worry if they somehow don’t have what you need we have University Hospitals too! Yeah, two amazing system in the same city).The quality and availabilty of healthcare in Cleveland is so far beyond what I had ever seen prior to moving here.

I could literally type for days and not hit all the gems hidden in this city: Westside Market, Little Italy, The Cleveland Orchesta, The Free Stamp, Food Truck Fridays…. And what’s not to love about a place that can land the Gay Games AND the RNC? We are a diverse lot! Plus, you saw Captain America right? Our city looks cool in movies!

I will continue to watch the Cavs, have heart attacks in the 4th quarter every game, and scream my head off as we hope like crazy for a championship but I wanted to remind us that win, lose or draw this is a city worth being proud of.

We are more than titles, more than any one team, we are Cleveland. I’m ALLin and not just for the finals, this city will always have my heart.  (Even when snow lasts so much longer than should ever be possible and I start to daydream about Florida because that happens every winter 😉 ).

Now GO CAVS!!!

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T.R.A.V.E.L. with Young Kids

Whats the secret to traveling with young kids?

 

Lots of wine, just kidding I actually don’t really drink but it seemed fitting 🙂

For me it all boils down to T.R.A.V.E.L.

Tricks, ask friends, family & the internet for their favorite travel tricks and choose the ones that suite your child & destination. I think my favorite travel trick for almost all age kids is candy! I pack a bag of dumdums and m&ms, and use them as bribes, rewards and to help ears pop on the plane 🙂

Research, not everyone loves research but it really does make for smoother travel. I watched parents turned away from a flight for arriving too late for check in, waiting in line for a ride their child could not ride and begging their children to stop crying when theirs ears began to hurt because she’d forgotten to bring anything to help them (I passed out suckers on this one but not everyone will have a helpful stranger). All of these little joy suckers were preventable by research.

Adaptablity, Be prepared to change plans! I love research, i’m a planner by nature but I am very willing to adapt the plan if it’s not working for us or a better option comes along! We got to do everything we wanted in Epcot by lunch thanks to short lines early so we adapted by heading to Hollywood Studios which I had done some research on as a backup anyway and I whipped out my phone to double check a few things as we rode the bus too. Some really special moments happened there that made the day and were never in the original plan!

Vigor, Ok this isn’t fully in your control if you have health issues but be as physically ready as possible! Keep everyone well rested, well fed and have necessities like water, sunscreen and bandaids readily available. It makes a big difference in your ability to enjoy the goings on of travel!

Expectations, I can’t stress enough how important it is to manage your expectations when you are with small children! If you expect them to keep up with an adult pace, or to have no little meltdowns or issues you are setting everyone up for failure and disappointment! We had at least 1 teary episode per day (usually less than 2 minutes but still tears!) over everything from a scary loud toilet to chicken that tasted wrong. I consider this 100% success. Having less than 30 minutes of tears total per day was my goal for the 1.5 & 4 year olds and we came in well under so I was ecstatic!

Luck, It would be intellectually dishonest to tell myself there isn’t luck involved! Even with the best planning, attitude, kids, etc. there is always an element of luck! We had no flight delays, pleasant weather, no lost luggage…in other words alot went our way! Any of these could have thrown a wrench in a lovely vacation and made it less pleasant but thankfully they didn’t for us… this tim

 

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Clean Eating: The Newbie Mom’s Take

I’m a little over 2 weeks into a shift to clean eating in my household. I had been researching it for a few months so when a friend ran a 30 day challenge it seemed like the perfect chance. I had hoped to transition our family to 75% clean eating (allowing for processed cheese and some premade bread, etc) but going hardcore 100% clean for 30 days seemed like the perfect way to jump in. Here are some things i’ve learned so far:

1. It’s hard. It takes alot of effort to plan meals and i’m probably spending an extra hour or so a day in the kitchen since i’m making everything from scratch.

2. You must educate yourself. Sugar has a dozen names and it is hiding in the most unneccesary places possible at the grocery store. Avoiding all added sugar means not just learning the names but alot of time reading ingredients even to buy something as simple as natural peanut butter (I had no idea I would have to mix and refrigerate that by the way, live and learn, but it’s delcious!).

3. It can be a little more expensive. My weekly grocery bill jumped by about $30 BUT in all fairness that kind of comes out in the wash since eating out is next to impossible so we are really eating all but maybe one meal a week at home where we used to eat out around 3 times a week (counting breakfast, lunch and dinners).

4. It is worth it. It really is. We have more energy, i’ve lost 10 lbs in 2 weeks, basically all from my waist and thighs, and most importantly I feel great about what i’m feeding my family. I know i’m not filling them with chemicals or sugars and we are already healthier for it.

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DIY Halloween Costume – $5

How to costume posts aren’t very helpful after Halloween if you ask me. I always forget them by the next year. So here is a quick DIY post based on Jidge’s costume last year.

He wanted to be Woody, which was great except he was also going through a phase where many clothing items were deemed uncomfortable, and therefore unwearable, within minutes of putting them on. I was NOT willing to pay 20+ dollars for a cheap looking costume that he might refuse to wear. Plus I hate wasting money on something I think I can do.

I bought a cow print vest and brown cowboy hat at the dollar tree and already had a red bandana and play badge laying around (but those are only about a buck also).

I found a white button down of his that had a few stains anyway and bought a 3 dollar bottle of yellow RIT dye.

With the shirt dyed yellow I took out my red sharpie and a ruler and set to work on the lines.

The whole costume cost me $5 and took about half hour of work (not counting the time I just left the shirt sitting in dye).

The finished product? Cuter than the store ones if you ask me and most importantly more comfortable, he wore this costume for fun months after Halloween ended.

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The Making of a Smoothie Pack

My son, husband and I all love smoothies, even my 8 month old likes them, but buying them is expensive (and often involves adding unnecessary sugar!) and making them is a hassle so we didn’t enjoy them as often as we should. I wanted to be able to have them daily without getting out 14 containers and making my kitchen a mess.

Since I needed a better way to do a household task I, of course, turned to pinterest.

What did I find? Smoothie Packs! The concept is putting stuff you need into baggies so your smoothie is kind of prepacked.

But as I have learned things on pinterest are RARELY as easy as they seem so I tackled the task to see if it really was simple.

I decided to make:

The spinach/kale cubes since keeping fresh greens on hand is hard in my house (they either get used the first night or they get forgotten and wilt).

The greek yogurt cubes, frozen juice concentrate and banana halves  since we eat this stuff like crazy and it would get eaten leaving none for smoothies between shopping trips.

First, fill blender with fresh spinach and kale and a cup of water

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Blend until liquid (took me like 3 sets to do most of the bag) (Check out our super modern blender 😉 )

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Pour liquid into ice cube trays.

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Later, when frozen, get them out. This was harder than it looked but with a little warm water run over the bottom of the tray

I dumped it upside down on a baking sheet and squeezed each individual cube slot until I felt the cube pop free. Not “easy”, but not hard either.

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Next, repeat the step with the yogurt cubes (fill trays, then when frozen, pop them out)

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Finally, assemble bags I put two yogurt cubes a few spinach cubes, a 1/3 or 1/2 banana (some family members don’t like heavy banana flavor),

2 tablespoons of juice concentrate (I alternated orange and apple).

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I marked them with an A or O for the juice and noted the amount of banana them put them in an ice box in my freezer.

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Next, I tested out an assembled bag by dumping it in, adding 1 cup frozen fruit mix (we have a tropical blend and a berry blend so we can change flavors easy) and a half cup either water or milk to thin it out a bit. We are awaiting a new blender we ordered but until then all the frozen ingredients is a little tough on our 1970s blender but all in all super easy, minimal clean up and delicious!

This pinterest idea is actually *almost* as easy as advertised AND, in my opinion totally worth the effort.

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A Time Saver and A Life Saver

Two little tips and tricks that I love:

First, a time saver. I’m sure i’m not the only one who hates chopping onions but finds herself needing chopped onion multiple times each week..sometimes in the middle of cooking when I realize I need a little more flavor. So a few months ago, fed up with this constant dilemma and the time constraints of two children I started buying frozen chopped onion. I quickly realized you don’t really lose much flavor wise which is nice but you do lose money! Onions are cheap, frozen chopped ones are not.

So I decided to make my own.   I bought a bag of onions and set out to chop them. Thankfully my husband knows I stink at chopping vegetables and stepped in. 15 minutes later I had a large mixing bowl full of fresh, fragrant chopped onion.

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Next, I took a 1/2 cup measuring cup and a stack of “snack size” ziplocks (which incidentally hold almost precisely one half cup) and divided the onion up for freezing.  My 5 onions yielded 7 cups (14 half cup bags).

 

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Finally, I froze them. Next time I will place the snack size bags inside a gallon bag because I could still smell them when I opened the freezer for a day or so.

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Now when a recipe calls for onion, or I just feel like throwing some in, I can do it quickly and without a mess or fuss :).

 

That is my time saver, but I also wanted to share a life saver.

So, my husband drinks hot tea everyday, usually multiple times so his mugs are A. really important and B. get alot of use.

None of this was a problem until recently though. When we moved into our new house something changed, I don’t know if it’s just because our water composition changed or what but suddenly there were stains building up inside EVERY SINGLE MUG. Alot of these are sentimental so throwing them out was a last resort only but no amount of soap, scrubbing or dishwasher seemed to help.

These mugs were scrubbed, with dawn and a dish scrub brush by hand, then they were run through the hot cycle on the dishwasher and they came out still looking like this. I was so annoyed. We’ve been cleaning these things for YEARS and suddenly they just can not be cleaned. It just didn’t make sense.  Plus it was really gross, look.

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Enter my friend baking soda. Why? Because I’m half convinced baking soda is left over dust from the manna

God sent the Israelites left here on Earth to save me from daily insanity.

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I made a little paste with water and used my hand to rub it around inside the mugs.

It was clear that something was happening since the paste immediately began to turn brown.

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A minute or two of scrubbing gently with my hand and baking soda and….

CLEAN.

I had scrubbed this thing for weeks using the dishwasher, soap and tears only to apologize repeatedly to my poor husband

for making him drink out of an increasingly disturbing looking set of mugs and now. VOILA! Cured!

Thank you manna from heaven baking soda! You are a life saver.

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