Saturday, June 11, 2016

Tips for traveling with kids: backpacks

We made it to summer vacation!  Wowzers this year went by so quick. Ethan is officially a second grader and Weston is telling everyone he's going to be in kindergarten with such pride.  Both boys have worked so hard this year that we are ready for a break.  Ready for some much needed margin and adventure. This year, we are doing our biggest trek ever and we are super excited!  This year, we are flying to Denver and heading North and checking out spots like Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park, as well as seeing some family that we haven't seen in years.  It is going to be quite the adventure! 

Today, one my biggest goals is to get the kids backpacks all packed up.  I had to wait to do this until Ethan was done using his for the school year and now it's ready to be packed with super fun activities that are, for the most part, new to them.  It makes it exciting and kind of like Christmas when going on a trip.  We only do this for the Big trips and then a lot of the stuff gets put in travel bag or in a box in the car, so they are available for other trips during the year.  Here's some of my favorite things from last year. . . some of them will be used again this year. 

I usually start gathering up stuff a few months ahead of time and keep them in a secret hiding spot where the kids can't find them.  I use lots of 40 percent off coupons, free printables, and dollar section finds.  We also splurge on a few items, but look around to see where we can find them cheaper. 

Busy Bags are great for traveling.  This one is I found here.  I printed the patterns out and laminated them (I have my own, which helps a lot.  You can also get self sealing laminating pockets or just not laminate them, but they last so much longer when you do!).

Last year, Ethan really got into crossword puzzles and the Target Dollar Spot had tons of them (this year, I haven't been able to find them so I ordered a couple of these off of amazon).  I think he finished this Avengers one before summer was over. 
Devices are great.  They each have some form of leapster with some games.  This will probably be the last year Ethan uses his leapster (he's getting a little old for it).  Ethan, who is almost 8, has been playing a lot of the Ispy game and I'm not going to lie. . . it's got some hard ones that I can't always figure out.  Weston likes to seranade us with the Leap Frog punctuation and alphabet songs. . . it's quite fun (for a few minutes anyway!).  We also have games downloaded onto the Ipad and a movie that usually plays on repeat.  For this trip we had zootopia and last year it was Big Hero 6.  It came in handy on days when we spent more time in the car or evenings in the camper when they needed some downtime before bed. 

Paper, stickers, coloring books, & colored pencils.  Anything to keep their hand and minds busy.  I like to stock up on stickers from the target dollar spot. That thing is awesome!  This year I am making them binders with paper and pencil pouches and printing out some online travel games.  I also made Ethan a travel journal for this trip.  We don't take crayons with us on summer trips because they just don't mix well with the heat of the summer.  I like Crayola's twistable colored pencils, because you don't have to sharpen them.  We also have a pencil box with these coloring pages and some pipsqueak markers that are lots of fun.  This year, we are adding the Star Wars pages!  
Melissa and Doug travel toys.  Last year, I bought Weston the Memory Game and Ethan the hang man game and they have been used so much!  They now stay in the car all the time for trips and hanging out in the air conditioned car waiting to get Ethan.  They are wood, so they are a bit heavy.  Ethan's went in his backpack and Weston's went in mine, mostly because he had a smaller backpack last year and it wouldn't fit.  These aren't coming with us on this trip because they aren't exciting anymore.  They still get used, but we are getting new things for this trip.
So, the best $20 my husband said we spent on the trip last year was a rubbermaid container and some legos.  I picked up this set at Target and the kids played with it every night in the hotel room.  We took that container with us on all our summer adventures last year and it really helped keep them entertained while in the hotel room.  We even added to it when we found a Lego store!  We will be doing the same thing this year because it worked so well.  We were able to leave it in my parent's camper and get it when they made it back home, but this year, we will just have Ethan carry it on the airplane.  I think it would be nice to have them in the airport too, to play with while on a layover. 

I had forgotten about these roads I had laminated awhile back, and we brought them with us to Disneyland.  Weston loves them and can't wait til they come out.  These only come out when we stay in a hotel, so they are super special.  You can go here and print them out and grab some hotwheels from your child's stash and you are good to go.  So sorry for the sideways picture!
Some other fun things that we pack them are:
Magnetic checkers and tic tac toe
deck of cards
Uno cards
Spot it and Spot it Jr.
Travel Bingo
Books to read

Traveling with kids doesn't have to be overwhelming at all.  As long as they have something to do, during down times (airplanes, hotels, and cars), they are really better behaved.  We have gotten compliments on how well our children travel and it's nice to hear.  But, they aren't perfect and if they are tired or over stimulated, you can tell.  I won't lie.  Before we even made it on the airplane, Weston had a meltdown over an airplane and hit his head on a chair.  Things are not always perfect, but their surprised filled backpacks really help make things easier. 

Happy Traveling! 

Monday, June 06, 2016

Becaues Mondays call for chocolate cake!

This is our last week of school.  We are all kind of done. There are 3 more mornings where we have to get up and rush out the door to get to school.  We are tired.  We are hot.  We throw the white flag up and surrender the hot, laid back days of summer.  We are looking forward to screen time and fun and no real plans (well, once we get back from vacation, that is).  I am super excited and well. . . this cake makes me wish another one would bake itself without heating up my house.  I am actually wondering what I could make with the last two eggs in the house.

Are you drooling yet?  I am and I made it!  You should probably make this cake now.  As in today.  It's a great way to start your week of great.  Monday's call for chocolate, right? 

Best Chocolate Cake
Source: Good Housekeeping

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9 inch round cake pans.  You could even try this tutorial. . . it looked really cool.  Dust pans with flour. 

In mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars until blended.  Increase speed to high and beat for 5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Stop every now and then and scrape the bowl sides to make sure you are getting it all.  Reduce speed to Medium-Low and add eggs 1 at a time.  Beat in vanilla and then slowly add dry ingredients alternating between buttermilk.  Beat batter just until smooth. 

Spoon batter evenly between both cake pans.  Place both on middle rack side by side.  Bake for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and continue cool for about 45 more minutes.  Then frost and eat. 

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup boiling water
1 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp powdered sugar
12 ounces melted semi sweet chocolate chips, cooled.

Whip together in mixer until all incorporated.  Once cake is completely cool, frost. 

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Friday Favorites: Dairy alternatives

Welcome to my first Friday Favorites post.  It's actually Saturday and it's just now getting posted, but it's the end of the year and things are crazy! Recently, I have had a lot of friends ask what some of my favorite non-dairy products were and I thought that it would make a great blog post.  So, here it goes. 
I know that I bake a lot with milk and whipping cream (i mean, it's kind of hard to make scones without it), but what I don't talk a whole lot about is the fact that I have a pretty yucky milk allergy.   I will be honest with you, having a dairy allergy pretty much stinks, but it's a whole lot easier than when I was a kid.  When I was three years old, I had tons of scratch testing done (still have a thing against long, sharp, pointy things and the Dr.'s office) and we found out that among a lot of things, I was allergic to milk.  Back then, there really were not a lot of options out there.  Switch to goat milk (which I thought was nasty as a kid) or just cut out dairy.  But, eventually I outgrew it and consumed ice cream (because that's really the best thing that comes from dairy. . . right?)  Unfortunately, as I got older, I started having stomach issues and after each pregnancy, they got really bad.  The culprit. . . milk.  So, by the time Weston was born my diet was pretty much dairy free.

When Weston was born, we didn't notice that he had a sensitivity to dairy like most people see in infants because I wasn't consuming dairy.  Once, we switched to formula we noticed a lot of really bad blow outs and super bad eczema.  It wasn't until he was 1 and we switched him to soy milk (and no change), and finally, to rice milk where we noticed a complete change.  Weston also has a soy allergy that he has not outgrown and this is probably the most difficult thing because manufacturers put it in everything! 

So, we are a dairy free/soy free (kind of. . . the other half of the family eats it!) house.  And, I really feel we are blessed to live in a time where there are alternatives, that are actually quite tasty and enjoyable.  We do have allergies to both the protein and the sugar that is found in dairy products, so this is an actual allergy and not a lactose intolerance. . . which some people get confused about.  But, if you struggle with dairy that this post will be of some help for you.

Here are some of our favorite non dairy alternatives.

Ice Cream - we love brands like SoDelicious, but Steves Ice Cream is probably the BEST coconut milk ice cream out there.  They make their ice cream in small batches and add fun flavor combinations that make me not feel left out at the local ice cream shops when everyone else is getting fun flavors.   Once Weston tried Steves, he refused to eat the So Delicious pint that was in the fridge. . . even my 5 year old could tell the difference! 

Earth Balance Butter - I won't lie.  Sometimes you just have to have butter.  We found this one (Earth Balance) at Whole Foods and love the fact that it doesn't have soy either (they have other kinds that do).  It tastes pretty close to actual butter, which is great because Weston loves to put butter on his bread.  Earth Balance also makes sticks that I have heard bake really well.  We haven't tried them because we can't find the soy-free sticks.  Bummer.

Green Valley Organics - This is my favorite.  It's lactose free, so if you have an allergy like mine, it will still have the dairy protein in it, which is what causes eczema.   But, when I want a dollup of sour cream on a taco, I get this one because it tastes just like sour cream (because it is actually dairy. . . without the lactose).  I can deal with a little bit of eczema, but the intestinal issues. . . not so much.  They also make a fantastic cream cheese that I can't wait to try making some cheese cake with it!

Cool Whip - I mentioned SoDelicous earlier and while they do make terrific ice cream, they make a fantastic cool whip.  Now, it is so easy to make coconut whipped cream.  But, there are times that you just don't have a can of coconut cream sitting in the fridge ready to be whipped up for 8+ minutes.  This can be frozen, defrosted, and thrown back into the freezer.  I don't recommend the low fat one. . . it doesn't have a good consistency of whipped cream.  The full fat one tastes just like cool whip, with just a slight coconut taste (after all it is coconut). 
Daiya - This brand is probably my favorite non-dairy/non-soy product.  It tastes pretty close to the real thing and melts really well.  Companies like Pi-ology and Blaze pizza use it on their pizzas (which makes us SUPER happy!).  I've been able to make enchiladas and a few other cheesy dishes because of it.  Daiya has also just recently come out with frozen pizzas and cheesecakes.  We haven't tried them, but they do exist. 

Go Veggie - This brand is okay.  We buy the cheese slices because Weston will eat them.  If you have a soy allergy, be cautious because normal grocery stores DO NOT sell the soy-free version of this cheese.  I personally think they taste like chalk, but Weston eats it by itself and in grilled cheese sandwiches.  

Jarlsberg - In high school, I got to take a trip to Norway and meet distant relatives and ate the most amazing cheeses.  Never once do I remember my stomach bothering me while there and I ate a ton of cheese!  I noticed a few months ago that the Jarlsberg swiss cheese slices don't contain lactose and it's amazing!  Real cheese.  No tummy issues!  This is a regular on our whole foods shopping list.  You can find large packs at Costco, but we don't go through it fast enough to make it worth it.

Guittard - So, this may be our favorite find so far.  High Quality Chocolate with no soy.  Chocolate is a tricky one and high quality (expensive) chocolate is the only way to go.  I am not saying that because I am a snob, but because brands like Hershey's dark chocolate really have milk in it. They use a lower percentage of dark chocolate and combine it with milk chocolate and well. . . it's not a true dark chocolate.  Plus, in our case Weston can't have soy either, which makes it a double whammy!  Guittard is a great, high quality chocolate chip that can be found at Whole Foods for about $5 a bag (don't buy it there!), or Target, our my local discount grocery store (Food Max) for less than $3.  I stock up and freeze it because we make LOTS of chocolate chip cookies around here!

Theo bars are our favorite chocolate snack.  The dark chocolate bars are dairy free and soy free.  They run between 3 and 4 dollars, but they are so good!  We keep them in the freezer and only have one little square when we need a treat!  Weston has quite the pallet for chocolate.  He won't eat raspberries, but he will eat them in chocolate!  

Also, when baking I often will just use the real cream, sour cream, and milk because when baked at a high enough temperature, the milk changes it's chemical form (I am SOOO not a chemist!) so it doesn't cause stomach issues.  This doesn't work with cheese, but it does work with sour cream and milk.    

I hope this post helps you!  If you have any other questions about going non dairy, feel free to ask and I will write some more on the topic. 


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