10 Essentials to Keep in your Minivan this Summer!

IMG_9829Summer is finally here and most schools are getting out this week if they haven’t already. And even though we’ve been done with school for a few weeks, now, I still feel underprepared when that first full week of real summer weather hits us. (Wait, I’m going to be in a swimsuit this week?! Am I ready for this?? Have I shaved?! Do I even have time to shave?!?!) Not to mention, I still don’t have swim diapers for the 18-month old. Time to stock up on our summer gear and load up the van so we’re always prepared. Last year, I had our tailgate stocked with a bunch of “just in case” items that proved to be super helpful in getting us out of the house quickly and whenever we were staying somewhere longer than expected.

So, what should you have in your minivan or car this summer so you’re always prepared? I load up a big Thirty-One utility tote and keep it in the back. Here’s my list:

  1. A ziplock bag with sunscreen and bug spray.ย I don’t think an explanation is necessary, here. Common sense summer items you never want to be caught without!
  2. A ziplock bag with baby powder. This is a miracle-worker at getting wet sand off sticky little bodies/feet! I keep it in a bag so I don’t get powder all over the van.
  3. A gallon of water. Helpful in cleaning off dirty hands and feet, and in case of other emergencies. ๐Ÿ™‚
  4. A bag of swim diapers & regular diapers–obviously only necessary if you have a child in diapers. Keeping an extra bag in the car is helpful to ensure you won’t run out. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  5. An extra container of wet wipes. It doesn’t matter if you have kids in diapers or not, I think we all know that wet wipes are great for a number of reasons! Cleaning sticky hands, faces, water bottles, or the inside of the car itself!
  6. A bag of sweatshirts–one for each family member. You know the drill–you go somewhere during the day and it’s hot so everyone is in shorts and a T-shirt. But then you stay into the late evening and it cools down and you’re outside and now you’re chilly. Run to the van and grab a sweatshirt for those cooler summer nights!
  7. Kids’ beach toys & beach towels.ย I just keep these in the car so that when we do go to the lake or beach, it’s one less thing I have to pack that morning. I keep my kids’ beach toys in a large mesh laundry bag. This way I can easily shake all the sand out of everything before it goes back in the van, and the toys dry quickly. And yes, wash the towels between beach visits! ๐Ÿ˜‰
  8. Umbrella stroller.ย Again, only if you have a child young enough for one. During spring and fall, I keep our jogging stroller in the van for those long walks and hikes, but during beach season it no longer fits so the umbrella stroller is perfect to always have on hand!
  9. Extra empty plastic bags. They act as extra trash bags for the “carry in/carry out” state parks, and laundry bags for those wet swimsuits that come off before the kids hop in their car seats. You can store a bunch in an old cylinder wet wipe container, too!
  10. Picnic blanket. I pretty much have this in my van all year ’round, but it’s worth mentioning.

Now you’re ready for whatever this summer has in store for you!

 

A Nod to the Ol’ Food Blog…

IMG_1433I haven’t posted about food in a while. Granted, I’ve been nauseous for the past 5 months, but I’ve also had a lot going on. And it takes a lot of effort to photograph food when you have three hungry kids plus a husband waiting to eat. I seriously don’t know how I used to write about food almost daily! And take pictures! I’m glad I don’t feel the weight of that blog journey anymore, but I do miss writing about and photographing food. There have been a few times the past couple of months when I’ve made something special and wanted to blog about it but just didn’t have the energy to try to capture a good picture and put the recipe into print. But I decided it was time. So I’m about to have a food-explosion blog post and hope you’re ready for it! ๐Ÿ™‚

We’ve got some hot weather around the corner, and the changing of seasons always gets me excited about what new dishes I’m going to create in the kitchen that will satisfy the seasonal cravings. (Think: fruit pies, tarts, grilled food, pasta and potato salads! Yeah, summer!) I realize that cooking in the summer does not appeal to most people, even if you have air conditioning, so I wanted to share some of my tips to beat the heat and still provide a filling dinner for your family.

During summer, I love making a good pasta or potato salad because I can cook the pasta or potatoes early in the morning and assemble the salad before it gets too hot, and stick it in the fridge. Then, when my husband comes home from work, he can throw some meat on the grill (which he loves to do) and we have a perfectly hearty side to go with it and don’t have to heat up the kitchen! One pasta salad I’ve made quite a few times just in the last month, is my spring asparagus salad. It’s so refreshing and has a light oil/vinegar dressing rather than a creamy one, so it doesn’t weigh you down.

To make a classic potato salad (which I just made a couple days ago and planned to take a picture, but someone in the house ate the all the leftovers before I was able to stage an appealing photo–then told me to make sure I wrote about how it’s so good that you can’t leave it in the refrigerator unattended or it will be gobbled up…) I start by quartering a whole bag of red potatoes. Then I boil them just until fork-tender (about 15-20 minutes) and then drain and steam them under a towel for an additional 20 minutes. For the dressing, I combine just under a cup of mayonnaise, about a 1/4 cup of buttermilk, plenty of salt and pepper, and 2-3 TBs of freshly chopped dill*. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle but still warm, I cut them up and add them to the dressing. I also add a quarter of a red onion, chopped, and about 2 stalks of celery, chopped. As you can see, I’m not one to do a lot of measuring these days, so I apologize if you prefer exact measurements. The onion and celery can be added “to taste” depending on how much crunch you want in your salad and how much you like the taste of onion or celery. If you want some real specific measurements, Ina Garten has a few potato salad recipes with exact measurements and they’re pretty fool-proof!

IMG_1442*What else can you do with fresh DILL?! You know that pesky ingredient that you only bought to go with that one recipe and now you have leftovers of it in your fridge and you don’t know what to do with it? Unless you’re really into pickling your own cucumbers, dill can be like that. I do make a lot of potato salad in the summer, so I generally grow dill in my garden, but we’ve had such cool weather until now, I haven’t started the garden yet! Ina Garten has a recipe for cheddar-dill scones which is a scrumptious way to use up that dill! The recipe calls for a full cup of chopped dill, but you certainly don’t need that much, you’ll still get some of the flavor with less of the herb.

IMG_1438So I also thought I’d share some of our dinner plans for the week. I try to meal plan in order to save money at the grocery store and stay organized throughout the week. The links to these recipes all take you to my old food blog, which is still active, though I never use it. There are TONS of recipes on there, so you might see more than one thing to try! And if you’re looking for food ideas in the sweltering heat, here are a few options…

I work on Mondays and usually pick up my groceries (LOVE Hannaford To-Go!) on my way home, so dinner needs to be relatively simply. Temps are in the 90s today so we’re sticking with a HEARTY pita-pocket salad and watermelon. NO OVEN! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Tomorrow night we’ll be grilling up some pork ribs, I’ll make a potato salad early in the morning to serve at night and we’ll try out some corn on the cob. I know it’s early in the season, but I couldn’t resist! Wednesday the temps should be a little cooler, so the stove is going back on but we’re still keeping it simple: cheese and pepperoni stromboli with a Greek salad. ย Thursday, we’ll have chicken caesar sandwiches, and Friday I’m serving up Western pizza! Simple dishes to get us through the work-week. This weekend is Father’s Day weekend so it’s all about what Randy wants to eat! (But let’s be honest, it almost always is anyway–he’s my true inspiration for cooking.) But specifically for this weekend, he’s requested a veggie garden pizza lunch, steak tips supper, and on Sunday, my famous carbonara with caesar salad (and my homemade dressing) and bruschetta for his after-church dinner. Oh, and I’m also supposed to make homemade brownies with a twist–I’ll fill you in after I decide how good his idea comes out. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Whew! A viewer once asked the Food Network’s Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond) if she had any tips for starting a food blog and she said to buy a treadmill! I can totally relate–haha! I did gain some weight while doing that year-long food blog of mine so now I have to be smarter about how I balance my meals and activity because so far, my love of cooking hasn’t died down. Hopefully you enjoy this weather and have some inspiration for future summer meals and check out my old blog–whenever I randomly stop by, I still get inspired to make something I haven’t made in a while!

 

Keeping some structure to your summer (and your sanity intact!)

Summer vacation is here!!! Well for this homeschool crew, anyway. To the rest of you who might have a couple weeks to go–hang in there! Or maybe I should say, savor the last couple weeks that your kids aren’t “BOOORRRREEEEDDDDD!!!” ๐Ÿ˜‰

No joke, I didn’t have the “summer system” I’m about to describe ready for our first week of summer vacation, and boy, oh boy, do I wish I had! While you’re in the midst of the craziness of a school schedule, starting each day in a relaxed mode and enjoying some morning cartoons on “Boomerang” (Hello, Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry–you bring back so many memories!) may sound like paradise, but let me tell you–after just 2 days of so-called “relaxation”, I was pulling my hair out. No schedule or structure=no sanity around here. And starting each day off with “screen time” is a recipe for disaster (or at least a pastime best kept for Saturday mornings only). The bickering, the whining, the boredom… I just couldn’t take it. It didn’t help that the weather hasn’t been great (today, Thursday, is the first sunny and warm day all week). Time to whip our summer into shape and help me remember that I do actually love my children. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I used to be a public school teacher and now as a homeschool mom, I was very surprised that on our last day of school, I was just as elated to be done as I used to be on the last day of public school. Homeschooling, when done well, is no joke. It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of heart work, because you’re teaching your own children. It’s exhausting. But the reward is great. And summer vacation often can’t come soon enough! But summer is more than just hanging out, going to the playground, park, or beach. While summer vacation is a great time to enjoy time with our families and children (especially if your kids go to public or private school) it is also a crucial time to continue training them. During the school year, we’re so focused on academics and distracted by our busy extra curricular schedules, that it’s hard to establish a good chore routine or spend the time it takes to work on our character building. These things are so important and take dedication, especially at the start, so summer is a great time to work on them.

We are using We Choose Virtues, a Christian character-training guide (not just for homeschool families!) for our character work. You can read more about how we’re implementing that in my last post. But it’s also important to get the kids into the habit of helping out around the house and doing chores. It can be so easy, especially when busy, to just do it yourself–let’s face it, the cleaning goes faster and comes out better that way–but it’s important to start teaching our kids the value of taking care of themselves and our home early. This takes a lot of work from the parent at first, which is why it can be hard to dive into it during the school year. And let’s not forget the importance of keeping up with our academic skills during the summer so we don’t lose our reading knowledge or math facts while on break. And if at all possible, I would like to avoid hearing “I’m BORED” on a regular basis this summer. (Okay, maybe it’s not possible, but I have hope.)

So I set out creating activity bins and charts. Oh, the internet can be such a useful resource for ideas! ๐Ÿ˜‰ We have an outdoor bin of “boredom buster” that’s filled with some traditional outdoor toys and some not-so-traditional outdoor toys. (Letting kids play with play dough outside gives them a thrill and helps gets rid of the indoor mess!) Our outdoor bin is filled with bug nets, Play-Doh, multiple kinds of chalk, bean bags, chalk paint, jump ropes, paddle balls, tether balls, and bubbles–all of which can be purchased at the dollar store and are easy and cheap to replenish as the summer goes on.

Then we have our indoor activity bins–one for Abby and one for Noah. These focus a little more on academics, but are still unstructured. Abby (going into first grade) has a folder with math worksheets and some journal-prompting sheets, dry-erase math games (from her centers this past year), flash cards for sight words, flash cards for math facts, ย learning sign language cards, leveled readers, dry-erase activity cards (from Usborne books–also great for long car rides!), a dry-erase board and marker, and silly putty. Noah’s activity bin also has silly putty, a dry-erase board and marker, dry-erase activity cards, his salt tray for forming letters, alphabet and number cards, and Ninja turtle memory game cards.

Based on some helpful ideas from the internet, I set up a summer schedule which has the kids doing their chores, playing outside, practicing their memory verse (from We Choose Virtues), choosing an activity from their bin, and many other things, daily. Check it out! You can download it and adjust it to fit your family’s needs, too! I’ll post the link to our chore chart, as well, so you can see what kinds of chores we’ve included. Our kids are 5 and 4, so we have nothing major, and these aren’t chores we will pay them an allowance to do. We also don’t count basic things like making the bed as “chores”–those are just part of taking care of ourselves and our things. Our chores are helping with the kitchen and dishes, etc, and we do them because we’re a part of the family.

2017 Summer Schedule

2017 Chore Chart

I hope these ideas help you bust through summer boredom or at least establish a working family routine this summer if you’re in need of one! Happy vacation!