Archive | June, 2014

What We’re Doing for Fun This Summer: Letterboxing

30 Jun

Look, we found a letterbox!

ORIGINALLY POSTED JULY 30, 2012

Have you ever heard of letterboxing?

It’s so much fun, it’s free, and it’s great for a family activity during any season that’s not freezing cold. For us, that’s 3/4 of the year, but we really only get to do it in the summer for the most part because that’s when we have time to do things.

Things that aren’t school and work things.

Fun things.

Like letterboxing.

I first heard of letterboxing so long ago, I don’t even know if we had all three kids yet. I read about it in Family Fun Magazine. I don’t get that magazine any longer and I can only imagine all the amazing ideas I’ve missed, but I used to love it. I credit all our letterboxing fun to the article I read in Family Fun.

I remember reading the article and saying to Don, “When our kids are bigger, I want to do this,” and I never forgot it. In 2008 we began our letterboxing adventures. Alexandra, our youngest, was three.

You’re probably saying, “Get to the point! What IS letterboxing???” I take the long way around sometimes, when I tell a story.

Okay. Here’s what it is and here’s how you do it:

All around the world people are hiding, and finding letterboxes!

All around the world, literally, people are hiding these little boxes in secret places and uploading the clues to help you find them, online.

I kid you not.

It’s like a giant treasure hunt, really.

Here’s what you need to get started:

*A notebook of some kind (Mine is super fancy because I’m crafty and I actually have notebooks like this just hanging around in my office. However, it can be a simple composition book.)

*A pen

*A rubber stamp (some people make their own. I used a Stampin’ Up! stamp of a globe. I thought it appropriate.)

*An ink pad

*Something in which to store all those things. I used to use a gallon ziploc bag. Then I used a big manilla folder. Now they’re in an expandable file I found in my office. That’s the most durable thing I’ve used so far.

Now here’s what you have to do:

1) Visit this website for Letterboxing North America (assuming that’s where you live).

2) Click on the state you want to explore. Click on the area of the state. Ours is set up by counties.

3) Check out the list of letterboxes in that area and pick some to print out. I read the clues first to see if it says the last time the box was found or if it’s missing, or if the terrain is notable in any way, such as rough or rocky or easy.

4) Print out the clues for the boxes you want to look for. We started with boxes right in our own city to get the hang of it, and then expanded to nearby cities and now we do them even if we’re traveling on vacation and think we’ll have a chance to look for a letterbox.

Now you take your clues and go.

1) You park your car where they tell you to, and start following the clues until you reach the hiding spot where they say the box is. We told our kids right off the bat that sometimes the boxes are missing or we won’t find them, just so they wouldn’t be so disappointed if that happened, but it’s not been the norm for us.. Usually we find them.

2) When you get to the hiding place you find the box. It’s usually a tupperware type of plastic box. Open the box. Find their stamp, ink and notebook.

3) You stamp your stamp into their notebook and we like to leave a little note with the date and our last name, so they know at least when the most recent one was found. We sometimes will look back to see how long the boxes have been hidden in that spot.

4) Then you take their stamp and their ink (or use your ink if needbe) and stamp their stamp into your notebook. Put the date and where you are so that you too, can look back in the future and see all the places you’ve explored and found letterboxes, and how long you’ve been doing it.

5) Put all their stuff back in their box and REHIDE the box. Don’t just leave it out there in the open. Put it back where you found it and cover it back up as it was so that the next person can find it.

That’s it! Done! Fun times!!

We never even knew this spot existed until we followed the letterboxing clues. The box ended up not being there, but the stunning location we found instead made up for it.

We have not only found some neat letterboxes, but we’ve found some incredible spots, gorgeous places that we never knew existed in our own state. We’ve also explored some neat historic places both in our state and in other states, where we’ve found letterboxes.

Letterboxing makes a day trip double the fun.

Some state parks have a series of letterboxes in them, sometimes three or four of them. You can spend the day hiking through the park and finding them.

A few things to keep in mind:

Dress appropriately. Sneakers work better than flip flops, for example.

Sunscreen, snacks, water, tissues and band-aids are all good things to bring with you. You never know what you’ll need but those basics have served us well.

Next time you’re looking for a fun, active way to spend the day together with your family, give letterboxing a try!

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Fun Friday: Welcome Back Summer Timeline, I missed you!

27 Jun
I couldn't do it alone this year.

I couldn’t do it alone this year.

If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog over the years, you’re familiar with our Summer Timeline that I started a few years back. It was my version of a clothesline timeline I’d seen on a blog one day years ago that I’d decided to adapt for a project at our house that summer of 2012. It was a huge success. We easily filled our timeline with pictures and events from our summer and at the end of it all we had a great way to look back on all the fun things we’d done. Later on that fall we put the pictures and labels into a scrapbook to preserve the memories forever.

Last summer we did it again, extending our timeline around the room and being quite liberal with the photos we added, knowing that we’d be adding to the summer scrapbook from the year before. We loved the timeline of 2013 and left it up for a long time.

And then, we left it in a pile on the floor in the corner of my bedroom for the next ten months.

It’s still there.

I was out of 12×12 scrapbook page sleeves to do the newest pages. I had no double-sided tape to add the photos in. I’d get some. Soon. Next time I went to the craft store when I wasn’t spending a lot of money on something else that I needed right away.

In my free time.

We had an incredibly hectic school year this year, probably the most difficult yet, since all three started school. The time never quite made itself available to us, and the timeline and scrapbook were never a priority. It kept going on the “some day” list and before I knew it, it was summer again.

And so, the burning question: Do we do another summer timeline?

It didn’t really matter what the answer was, ultimately, because at the end of the school year I didn’t have a single spare second to put it up. It doesn’t take forever, but it takes a little bit of time, and we were out flat with commitments at the end of the year right up through the night of the last day of school when three kids had to be in three different places at the same time all by 5pm, with me as the sole driver. The timeline greeting my kids on the last day of school as they walked through the door just wasn’t going to happen.

Well, it was a nice idea while it lasted. Fun when we did it. Maybe some other time we’d do it again.

But, that first week of summer, I already missed it. We ate out one night after a full day of dance recital rehearsals (with lots of photo opps) grabbing dessert at a dairy farm where there were cows and chickens and gorgeous farm scenery. I was snapping away, taking loads of pictures.

We went strawberry picking for the first time ever since I was a kid. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. The berries were red and ripe, the leaves of the plants bright green and there wasn’t a cloud in the sunny blue sky. It was picturesque.

We went letterboxing for the first time of the season. The letterbox was in a location that had a historic memorial garden. We toured it, taking photos of World War II Quonset Huts and war memorial statues and plaques, an amazing letterbox for our first find of 2014.

Water slides, light houses, lunches out at local hot spots.

Pictures, pictures, pictures.

I missed our timeline.

Luckily as things usually go for us, we had a sick day one day shortly after the water slides and light house day. We had some down time, time when we were stuck at home.

I noticed the blank wall in our hallway, a nice, long stretch of space that would make a great summer timeline spot for 2014. It wasn’t a spot we’d used before, but it looked inviting.

And so, up it went on that afternoon, but this time, I had some help. Alex was going a bit stir crazy that day, not being the one who was not feeling well, and looking for something to do. I had her help me, and although giving up a sense of perfection is hard for me, giving up all creative control isn’t something I do well, I turned the whole project over to her. We put the paper up together and put the strip down the middle together because those are the two hardest things to do.

“Mommy,” she said. “How did you DO this all by yourself before?” she asked.

Good question.

“Can I decorate it a little bit?” she asked.

Sure, why not?

“Can I put our name on it? Can I put ‘by Alexandra’ on it?”

And so she went to town, occupied for a good half hour at least, adding a sky, some blue and purple tones to it, some happy faces, hearts and flowers.

She had a blast.

My hands were free, my worries about to do or not to do the timeline were gone, and it’s up on the wall.

Yesterday I bought refill sleeves for last year’s photos and I bought a pack in advance for this year’s.

It’ll all get done. It doesn’t really matter when, in the grand scheme of things.

I stand by the fact that anything we can accomplish in the memory preserving category is more than nothing, and that’s something.

We love our summers most of all, the time we spend together and the fun activities we do, and once again this year, we’ll have the summer time line from 2014 to look back on when we enter the rat race of the 2014-2015 school year.

And really, that’s all that matters.

 

 

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Tortellini, Shrimp and Tomato Soup

25 Jun
Sometimes impulse shopping can be good!

Sometimes impulse shopping can be good!

Grocery shopping on an empty stomach…never a good thing. Grocery shopping with a bunch of kids who all have empty stomachs, also not a good thing.

At least, not usually.

At the end of the school year, the kids and I were power walking through Aldi’s, trying to pick up a few things to get us through the next bunch of days, but we were all hungry. There was lots of, “Can we get this? Oh…we haven’t had this in a while, can we get it….Oh Mommy I LOVE these, can we get them,” I’m sure you know how it goes.

I mostly said no to many of the requests unless it was something I knew we actually needed. I try to keep my big grocery trip to a paycheck week only, and I knew that this could quickly get out of hand if I didn’t keep my kids’ requests to a minimum.

However, one of the requests I said yes to was my daughter’s plea for Tortellini. We hadn’t had it in a while, I did need some meal fillers, and it looked good just in the packaging because it was tri-colored pasta.

We threw not one, but two bags in the carriage and moved on. We passed the frozen shrimp section next. I love putting shrimp and pasta together so I threw one bag of that in the carriage also.

I wasn’t sure what I would be doing with the items I was purchasing, but I couldn’t wait to get home and do Google search and see what came up. I didn’t just want to do plain old pasta and sauce. I’d done that in a pinch too many times this school year.

Sure enough, my Google search led me to a great recipe for Tortellini Tomato Soup. I knew I could add shrimp to that without a problem. Funny enough, one of my other daughters had been begging me to find a recipe for Tomato Soup that could equal the sample we’d had earlier this winter at Whole Foods. At $4.99 for a small jar it was a once-only treat for us, and I’d promised to find her a recipe to equal it or surpass it.

The recipe I found, from Two Peas and Their Pod.com, was great. It didn’t take long to prepare and it had easy ingredients. I knew that I could throw the shrimp into the mix without a problem.

The soup looked amazing as it cooked. Cooking time didn't take very long at all and the ingredients were simple.

The soup looked amazing as it cooked. Cooking time didn’t take very long at all and the ingredients were simple.

In my house there are such a wide variety of tastes that it’s hard to please everyone. I knew that this recipe had the potential to work for everyone. I could separate some of the soup before throwing in the pasta and shrimp, for those who wanted just plain tomato soup. Then, anyone who wanted tortellini and shrimp in theirs could have it (me) and anyone who wanted one or the other could do that too. There was definitely something for everyone with this recipe.

I also threw the ingredients into my bread machine, a newly rediscovered toy this year, to make a French Bread to go along with our soup. The recipe on Two Peas and Their Pod showed the soup with a nice crusty bread, and I couldn’t get that image out of my mind when I was prepping my meal.

It turned out to be a fabulously delicious dinner, and everyone was happy. I had enough leftovers of both the plain soup and the loaded soup to have lunch for a couple of days, and the bread was the perfect accompaniment to the meal. The use of Greek nonfat yogurt in the recipe made it ideal for our family’s dietary needs, as we have to stick to a pretty lowfat diet as much as possible. The soup was still just as creamy as it would have been had we used a heavier cream.

I definitely would make this soup again, and I did indeed keep my promise of finding my daughter a soup that’d match the one she’d sampled in Whole Foods, and for a fraction of the cost of one small jar in their store.

I have copied the recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod below, just as they have it on their site. I encourage you to pop on over to their site as well, they have lots of great recipes on there. This is not the first time I’ve visited it myself!

I was essentially able to make two soups with one recipe: one loaded with tortellini and shrimp, and one creamy tomato soup.

I was essentially able to make two soups with one recipe: one loaded with tortellini and shrimp, and one creamy tomato soup.

TWO PEAS AND THEIR POD CREAMY TOMATO TORTELLINI SOUP

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
2 (28 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 (32 oz) container vegetable broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 (9 oz) packages fresh or frozen cheese tortellini (we use Buitoni)
Grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil, for garnish, optional

Directions:

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bay leaves and crushed red pepper flakes.

2. Add the diced tomatoes and vegetable broth. Stir in fresh basil and season with salt and black pepper, to taste. Simmer on low for 15 minutes.

3. Remove the bay leaves from the pot. Use a hand immersion blender to blend the soup (or carefully transfer soup to a blender to blend and return to the pot). Stir in the Greek yogurt until well combined. Stir in the cheese tortellini and cook on medium-low until tortellini is cooked, about 7-8 minutes. Serve warm.

Fun Friday: Peach Cobbler from GirlsGoGames.com

20 Jun
After a long, hard day, this was a great dessert to come home to, thanks to Liz.

After a long, hard day, this was a great dessert to come home to!

This was a long, tough school year. Lots of hard work, lots of time and schedule commitments. Oftentimes our kids, just like lots of other people’s kids, could be found on some device or other during their downtime, if they happened to have any. They’d make Video Star videos to their favorite songs, play a game or chat with friends.

I was surprised however, when one day my daughter approached me asking if she could make a recipe from GirlsGoGames.com. I didn’t even realize Girls Go Games had recipes. I wasn’t even sure if they were real, doable recipes or not, but when I took a look, they were. The site listed tons and tons of recipe ideas, complete with ingredients and directions.

I immediately said yes, we definitely could do that. We chose a peach cobbler, an easy recipe which used canned peaches, even though I’m sure you could substitute fresh if you had them. It wasn’t quite peach season here yet, so we were going with the canned option.

Having the ingredients here at the house, now that was another story. It turned out that we were low on lots of stuff and and there wasn’t one recipe on that particular day, that we had everything for. We had to put our baking plans on hold temporarily until I picked up a few things we needed.

Sunday turned into Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday, and you know how the days fly by.

“Mom, WHEN can we make my recipe from Girls Go Games????” she asked.

I didn’t really have an answer. There wasn’t time to do it when I was home, at least not for a few more nights until the next weekend arrived.

However, one night while I was out, I got a text from home. The text contained a photo of a bubbling peach cobbler coming right out of the oven at that very moment, courtesy of my daughter and my husband, who helped her make it that night.

“I’m on my way home!” I wrote back, as I thanked him profusely for taking over the cooking project for me.

SUCH a good dad.

I arrived home, just in time to be handed a pretty plate of cobbler with vanilla ice cream on top.

It was amazing. So delicious, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe such a great recipe that was kid-friendly could come from an online kids’ game site. It was definitely a keeper.

My kids work hard and they play hard, and I don’t mind giving them down time ever. I think they need it as much as I do. They read a lot but they’re also on their devices a lot too. It was nice to know, at least this time around, that it wasn’t just mindless time spent staring at a screen. Although I don’t mind them having that kind of down time on occasion too, it was great to see that their screen time turned into a delicious treat for all of us.

I’ve linked over to the recipe twice in this post. If you have a daughter who likes games and likes to cook, you can have them check out the site, and maybe one day you’ll come home to a yummy dessert at your house too!

Hot and bubbly, this recipe was definitely a keeper!

Hot and bubbly, this recipe was definitely a keeper!

 

It’s summertime!!!

18 Jun
It's here! It's finally here!

It’s here! It’s finally here!

ORIGINALLY POSTED JUNE 24, 2013:

Yay!!

Yahooo!!!

Woot, woot!!!!!

Today is our last day of school. Tomorrow is our first day of summer vacation.

At times during this school year, I seriously did not know if I’d make it through to the end of the year. But I did,  we did, and now it’s summer!

I.love.summer.

Today I will make the same type of disclosure statements to you that I made last summer.

I promise that my posts may not always be on time.

I promise that I won’t be sharing them on Facebook at 6:30 in the morning each day.

I promise that they may not always be on the same posting schedule as they are during the school year, so there may not be three a week.

I promise that I am putting my family first and spending lots and lots of time with them.

I promise to sleep late, wear sunscreen and eat supper on the beach. Often.

And I promise that if we do anything super-cool, or eat anything super-delicious I will share it with you so that you can do it too!

Enjoy your summer, enjoy your family, and remember that summer will be over in the blink of an eye.

Make the most of it!

Fun Friday: New blender review and recipe

13 Jun
A new blender for all our delicious smoothies!

A new blender for all our delicious smoothies!

You know you’ve been married a long time when a new blender in the house is super-exciting news.

We used to have a blender that we’d had for years and years. It did a decent job and it got quite a bit of use in our kitchen. However, it couldn’t really handle ice, especially when we wanted smoothies, and it was extremely loud when we used it with ice. It didn’t matter though, we kept on using it. If it’s not broken, as they say, don’t fix it.

Well, that philosophy worked until the day smoke came out of the old blender during a smoothie-making session. My husband was making the smoothies and he called out to me from the kitchen.

“I think the blender’s dead,” he said.

“If it’s that black stuff that shows up after you use it, it always does that, it’s fine,” I said.

“And does it always have smoke coming out of it?” he asked.

“The blender’s dead,” I said.

What a bummer: Time to buy a new blender, just a few weeks after our toaster-oven had also passed on into the world of over-used appliances.

But, on the bright side: Yay!!! I get to go blender shopping!!!

I decided that this time, I would shop with purpose. I wanted an affordable blender that could handle the blending of ice and frozen fruits which are so often the ingredients in our cool, refreshing smoothies.

As I wandered through Target one day, the Ninja blender caught my eye. It caught my eye because it had one of those great little red Target signs that alerts you to the fact that not only is something on sale, but you also got a gift card with its purchase.

In this particular case the blender I was looking at was on sale for $139 and you received a $25 Target gift card back with the purchase. Additionally, I am a Red Card carrier, which means I get an additional 5% off of my purchases all the time. The Red Card can be a debit card or a credit card, and ours is a debit card so our purchases still come out of our checking account.

I examined the blender box. It was an 1100 watt blender. It came with not one, but TWO travel-sized cups that fit right on top of the blender so that you blend right into them, cover and you’re good to go. The blender had three speeds as well as a Pulse button, which I never truly understand the purpose of, but it must be important so it’s good that it was there. It had a pour spout on the big blender pitcher, which I loved and it was easy to take apart and clean.

Best of all: it was advertised as being powerful enough to take on ice.

Frozen strawberries gave this smoothie a nice frozen consistency and the blender had no trouble with the frozen fruit.

Frozen strawberries gave this smoothie a nice frozen consistency and the blender had no trouble with the frozen fruit.

That’s really all I needed to see. That and the gift card special and I was sold.

On my way out of the appliance section I swung by the frozen fruit case and grabbed a bag of frozen strawberries. I could already envision a delicious smoothing coming together in our new blender that very afternoon.

Once we got the blender open and out of the box, I was really able to see some neat features on the new blender, things that I loved that I didn’t even knew were priorities.

I loved that the cover of the blender locks on and needs to be released to come off. I loved that the cover has a pour spout that opens and closes.
I loved the single-serve shake options. I loved that the measuring markings on the blender were in dark print. My last blender had a glass pitcher and the markings were raised glass so they were hard to see.

Best of all, our smoothies have been delicious.

The smoothie above has the following ingredients in it:

Two bananas

1/3 cup Nutella

1 pkg. frozen strawberries (I used 16 oz.)

about 4 cups of skim milk

This smoothie was delicious and had a decent amount of fruit in it for an after school snack!

We’ve also done chocolate/peanut butter/banana/vanilla low-fat yogurt smoothies and even a couple of “adult beverage” “smoothies” for a Memorial Day cookout we hosted. The blender has been great. It’s quieter than our old blender when we use ice and so far, no smoke, no black “stuff.” My husband has utilized the single-sized option several times and takes his smoothie to work with him in the car.

This is definitely a product I’d recommend to others. The price-point was good for our budget and the gift card helped us out too. If you’re in the market for a new blender I encourage you to consider the Ninja blender as an option! Although I have not been compensated by Target or Ninja for this review, I am so pleased with the product, I thought I’d share my opinions and experiences with you.

From after school snacks, morning breakfast to go, and adult beverages, this blender has been a great addition to our appliance family!

From after school snacks, morning breakfast to go, and adult beverages, this blender has been a great addition to our appliance family!

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Kielbasa and Cabbage

11 Jun
This meal was tasty and a good way to combine a lot of things I had on hand.

This meal was tasty and a good way to combine a lot of things I had on hand.

You know how it is this time of year. Crazy, crazy, crazy busy. Some weeks I don’t get to plan out a menu of meals for the week. Some weeks I don’t get to do a “big shopping” at the start of the week either, and I’m left to pick up things as I need them on the run, or to make meals with whatever I’ve got on hand.

Today’s meal is a combination of all of those situations. I hadn’t done a menu for the week. I hadn’t done a big shopping. I was hurriedly picking up things as I went along, between runs here there and everywhere.

That’s why I mistakenly grabbed a head of cabbage one week instead of a head of lettuce.

That’s a whole lot of cole slaw, and it’s not really close to St. Patrick’s Day either.

That’s why early one afternoon, I was now Googling “kielbasa and cabbage recipes” one day, as I tried to make a meal with whatever I had left in the house: a single package of turkey kielbasa, a head of cabbage, and a bag of egg noodles.

Our go-to site, Allrecipes. com had a good recipe for Kielbasa and Cabbage that looked doable and not too crazy with things my kids wouldn’t like. It called for simple ingredients and looked quick. It would also allow us to use up half the head of cabbage. I decided we’d try it. The only difference I’d make would be to serve it over the egg noodles we had rather than over white rice.

The recipe was tasty and well-received by my family and I used up half my cabbage and my single package of kielbasa. It also gave us a different kielbasa recipe to try, which was a nice change. There was none left of the main dish and really, only some of the noodles remained.

Below is the recipe as it appears on AllRecipes.com.

KIELBASA AND CABBAGE
INGREDIENTS

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

  • 1 large onion, cut into rings
  • 1 medium head cabbage, sliced into strips
  • 1 pound kielbasa sausage, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

DIRECTIONS

Heat the oil in a skillet, and cook the onion and cabbage until tender.

Place kielbasa over cabbage.

Season with Cajun seasoning, pepper, salt, and Worcestershire sauce.

Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

*We served ours over cooked egg noodles.*