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Budget-friendly camping tips from The Penny Hoarder

24 May

Camping on a budget can make you a very happy camper!

It’s the end of May, Memorial Day weekend is just days away. I can almost taste the summertime…if it would just stop raining! We had some hot, 100 degree days last week, and the flip flops and tank tops were out, the sun shining, kids playing in the yard, I could see the lazy days of summer just ahead.

If summertime includes camping for you, as it does for us, you’ll be happy to read the most recent post from The Penny Hoarder’s site, “Get the Vacation You’ve Been Craving on a Budget: Go Camping.” The post contains six tips for budget-friendly travel through camping.

If you’ve been a fan of The Whole Bag of Chips recently, then you know that we purchased a new-to-us camper in 2015 and used it to travel in a budget-friendly manner over the past couple of years, touring the country in 2015 and touring NYC this past spring. We also traveled to Mystic, CT and to Meredith, NH as well as hanging out by the beaches here in the Ocean State in 2015, 2016 and again this coming summer in 2017. Having our own camper is thousands of dollars cheaper than renting a beach house in New England for a week every summer.

I was so thrilled when Lisa Rowan, writer for The Penny Hoarder, reached out to me for some tips to include in their camping post. The only thing that makes me happier than being able to do things because of the fact that we budget, is to be able to help others achieve their own goals by doing things on a budget as well. Stretching a dollar has helped us to achieve so many things, including all of the recent travel that we’ve been doing.

So if you are wishing you could do more traveling, but just don’t have the means, be sure to read the above post, or check out my travel pages #crosscountryadventure2015 and #thecowartstakemanhattan2017 for some tips and tricks for traveling and camping on a budget.

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Fun Friday: Ideas for a fun camping-themed birthday party

31 Mar

My daughter started planning her camping-themed party months ago and this shirt was a gift from one of her sisters to wear that night.

We are campers.

We have camped across the country for weeks on end, we are one Eagle Scout and four Girl Scouts. We definitely know camping and we love it. Therefore, many months ago during the winter, when my youngest daughter asked for a camping-themed birthday for her party this spring, I was excited. It was something we hadn’t done before as a birthday party theme, and although as our kids get older their parties get much smaller, it was a fun theme for any sized party, and one that was relatively easy and very inexpensive to plan, especially for a small group.

The Taco in a Bag meal even includes some veggies, if they choose to take the lettuce and tomatoes as their toppings.

This daughter also happens to be the daughter that has to follow a gluten free diet, so that makes planning meals somewhat more challenging, but for this party, it was relatively easy. As Girl Scouts, one of the favorite camping meals is Tacos in a Bag. As a family, we have a favorite summer taco salad which is similar to this one from Tasty Points. Tacos in a Bag is the best of both worlds if you’re a kid. To make them, you take individual packs of Doritos (which are now gluten free), the kids crush them up while they are in the bag, and then they layer their desired taco fixings in the order in which they want them, eating them right out of the bag. Be sure to either use a homemade taco seasoning mix or one that is gluten free. The brand we used was McCormick and was gluten free, and we prefer to use ground turkey rather than ground beef. To be on the safe side, I also grabbed a regular-sized bag of Doritos to have on hand for extras in case I needed them. I did not, so we have them to use here at home when needed.

I already had these on hand, so the recipe I found was perfect!

Initially, she thought of S’mores as her dessert of choice, but I hesitated, as I was recently having some trouble finding gluten-free graham crackers, even though I knew we’d had them before. I needed a different plan in case I couldn’t find them again in time for the party. Oddly enough, one afternoon, a recipe came across my Facebook newsfeed for this vegan, gluten free recipe for S’Mores cupcakes. Although we are not vegan, this recipe from Pickles and Honey provided me with just the inspiration I needed to formulate a plan to make my own S’Mores cupcakes for the party.

I already had graham cracker crumbs on hand that were gluten free and I had plenty left. To create my cupcakes, I filled two muffin trays with paper liners and sprayed the liners with nonstick cooking spray. I put about a teaspoon of the crumbs in the bottom of half the paper liners and left half without, in case anyone didn’t think they liked the graham cracker crumb idea. I used a gluten free Funfetti cake mix to fill the liners with batter and cooked them according to the package directions. To keep track of which were which, I used two different patterns of liners, one for each kind of cupcake. The white liners had crumbs at the bottom and the green did not.

My most favorite camping party idea. Thanks to Pickles and Honey for the initial inspiration!!

Although I normally make my own frosting, and I had one in mind that I had planned to use for the party, the day of the party came quickly and it was a busy one. When I was out picking up last minute things for that night, I saw a container of pre-made frosting, realized I could save myself some unnecessary stress and some time by just using that for the kids. I had planned on letting them frost their own cupcakes (sharing one little bowl of frosting between two kids) while I got ready to roast their marshmallows over my gas stove burner. The pre-made frosting would be just fine for our purposes.

When it came time for dessert, these cupcakes were a huge hit and I was so excited as to how they came out. I used a low, back burner and skewers to roast one marshmallow at a time, and I did them myself, rather than letting the kids do them for this first time around. The cupcakes went quickly, both varieties, and at the end of the night there were just a few left over and a little bit of frosting to keep in the fridge for them.

When your sister gives you glue, glue and more glue for your birthday, you have plenty to spare for a little party slime-making.

For the rest of the party, we had two crafts. First off, they made the currently very popular DIY slime, since my oldest daughter had given her sister several bottles of glue as part of her gift, and I’d been sure to restock all the food coloring, baking soda and corn starch we might need, depending on the DIY recipe they used.

I had also asked a summer camping friend who was going to be at the party if she wouldn’t mind teaching all of the kids to make friendship bracelets. While we were together this past summer at the local campground, she’d done a really great job teaching all our kids how to make the bracelets, and we had all the materials here. We just needed her expertise. I even picked up safety pins so that they could pin them to their sleeping bags or pillows and work on them while they were camped out in our living room watching a movie.

For our movie choice, we opted to show the old 1960’s version of “The Parent Trap,” which has some summer camp and family camping scenes in it. We had found it on Netflix ahead of time. We also had the remake recorded here at home, but we felt that the older version was one that the kids might not have seen before. We thought that if there was time the next morning, or if they wanted to at night, they could watch the newer version instead of or in addition to the older one, but they never did. They got a kick out of the older movie and had not seen it before.

All in all, it was a great night, with a fun group of kids and this is a party theme I’d highly recommend for those who are camping fans. It got us looking ahead to our camping days this coming summer, which will be here before we know it, and we’ll be having S’mores and campfires outside, and making friendship bracelets all summer long.

 

Fun Friday: Crazy for Crust’s Homemade Brownie Mix

21 Aug

Today’s post is one that started out as something we were using for our cross country trip, but we’ve used since returning home also, and I plan to continue to use it at home, especially during the crazy school year weeks.

I had been looking for a pre-made brownie mix that I could duplicate to take along with us on our trip so that I would have an easy to make dessert on hand all the time. We were bringing five mugs with us so that we could make Nutella mug cakes, and I had the ingredients for that, but I didn’t want to have to have a lot of other ingredients on hand because our pantry was small. As I searched, I came across a homemade brownie mix that could be made up ahead of time, stored in an airtight (mouse tight and ant tight) container and only the wet ingredients would need to be added. I decided to make a double batch of the mix. I wasn’t sure we’d even use it, but I thought it would be good to have on hand. Our oven in the RV was tiny, so I brought a 9×9 square baking dish, as it was an option for the recipe as were 9×13 and loaf pan sizes.

brownies 2The recipe I chose was from the Crazy for Crust website, and you can visit it here to take a look around. We made up our double batch of the mix before we left and put it in an easy to store container that would fit into our pantry. I made sure to print out the recipe which contained the details for adding in the wet ingredients as well as the dish size options and the bake times. I put the directions into an envelope with the flap cut off and taped it to the top of the container for future reference.

brownies 1While we were on the trip, we decided to try out our oven. We’d gone many nights without dessert, and on other nights we’d had mug cakes, we’d had ice cream, but now I wanted to give baking a try, and we were really craving something good.

I found the recipe very easy to use, very quick to prep because we’d done the dry mix ahead of time, and as I mixed it all together, it looked thick and fudgy, just as a brownie mix should. We put everything in the pan, put it in the oven and I crossed my fingers.

Brownies 5A little over 20 minutes later, our brownies were done! They looked and smelled delicious, and we were thrilled that they tasted delicious also! Our first-ever baking experiment in our camper’s oven was a success, but more than that, I’d found a perfect brownie mix to keep on hand at home for future use. So often we need a last minute dessert and don’t have a mix on hand to throw together. I recently used this mix to make another couple of batches of brownies at home: a 9×13 and 9×9 batch at the same time, and there is still a little bit of dry mix left over!

I can’t wait to make another batch of this homemade brownie mix, and I can’t thank Crazy for Crust enough for sharing their recipe with us! I hope you’ll pay their site a visit so that you too can have the best homemade brownie mix ever. It’s a great, user-friendly recipe for kids and adults alike. You can see some amazing photos of their own freshly baked brownies while you’re there checking out the recipe!

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#crosscountryadventure2015: Final Cranston Herald newspaper article

13 Aug

SD to RI quilted map 1So here it is…the last Cranston Herald article about our trip. This is the seventh article in the series of seven, and it will share with you our final week of cross-country adventures. One might think that with so many days of driving in a row and no sightseeing that there might not be much to tell, or many adventures to have, but surprisingly enough, there were many things to share from that last week of travel. It was actually my longest article of the seven. This final article also summarizes our trip and you’ll see how it played out budget-wise as well. I hope you’ve enjoyed the articles! If you’ve missed any you can scroll back through the blog and you’ll find them all posted. Click here to read the last one.

#crosscountryadventure2015: This week’s Cranston Herald article is up!

6 Aug

20150806_152621It is with mixed emotions that I share this week’s article. My emotions are mixed because it is the last of the sightseeing articles for our trip. The next and final article will chronicle the final week, the ride home to Rhode Island, and it will run in next week’s paper. This week’s article that I share with you today follows our journey out of California, through Nevada, into Arizona (again), through Utah and into Montana and South Dakota. It shares the exciting things we did while we were in Montana at Yellowstone National Park and in South Dakota at Mount Rushmore. We had a great time and made more wonderful memories together. I hope you’ll click on this link to read the Cranston Herald article for this week!

#crosscountryadventure2015: Watch the video

6 Aug
Twenty-nine states traveled in thirty-four days, staying overnight in seventeen of them.

Twenty-nine states traveled in thirty-four days, staying overnight in seventeen of them. (Graphic created by Don Cowart II)

There are still a few #crosscountryadventure2015 posts left to go, but today’s means a great deal to me. For months leading up to our trip, our oldest daughter Caroline kept talking about her goal of making a video of the trip. Photo and video work are her passion, and she was really looking forward to doing this. She bought specific songs on iTunes before we left, working out the soundtrack in her mind. Throughout the trip, she took quick snip-its of video showing the changing landscape, the major landmarks we visited, and even some of the family we got to see during our trip. Clearly you can’t capture the entire five weeks’ trip in any less than, well, five weeks, but she sure did try. In eight minutes she has given an amazing, make-me-cry-every-time video of our trip. The first time she showed it to me, I only looked at the cover photo and started to cry, so she knew it was good. At that time, the video was not finished and only covered up through California. Last night she finished it, capping off weeks of compromised storage space on her phone as she accumulated video after video, and worked for many hours editing video and pictures through her phone as we traveled. I can’t thank her enough for this video. It will forever hold a spot in my heart.

#crosscountryadventure2015: The Cowarts go to Hollywood

30 Jul

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This week’s article is filled with all of the exciting things we got to see and do during our visit to California. Click here to check it out!