Christmas is Coming! Is Your Home Ready?

Christmas is coming!
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It’s that time of year, and I wish I could tell you that I love it, I really do. I used to! But, I work in retail, so my love for holidays of any kind has been greatly reduced.

It doesn’t help that we haven’t had any snow yet, it’s been extremely mild here in Southern Ontario… which I love, but that might be why I’m looking forward to it even less… the weather isn’t even welcoming the holiday! I know as the weeks go by, I will be more “jolly” and maybe I’ll even sing along with the Christmas music instead of glaring at the speakers or anyone humming along… lol!

However, I do have some handy tips for my fellow moms out there:

Tip #1

Seeing that there will be a certain influx of stuff into the kids’ rooms with Christmas, it’s time for “out with the old”.

About this time of year, we do a major overhaul of the boys’ rooms, and nothing is left untouched. Sets are put back together, Lego is collected and stored in it’s home, books are picked through an reorganized, and the cheap McDonald’s, dollar store and restaurant toys are all pitched!

Tyler is pretty organized with his room, but he remembers the pain of this process all too well. He has sympathy for his younger brother!

Shelves get dusted and wiped, the furniture is moved around and everything is vacuumed.

I honestly don’t know what the problem is, they love their rooms SOOO much more when I am done! Because for a short time, they can find everything!

Tip #2

I honestly don’t remember where I saw this tip… I’m sure it was before Pinterest, but I’ve used it ever since I saw it.

The artwork and projects that your kids bring home from school… what do you do with all of it? You could store it in a Rubbermaid tote, or under their bed (is there room, with all of the other stuff?) Keeping it all is impossible. We all know this.

I take pictures of it. With a camera. Then I recycle it. The boys know that this is my way of keeping it forever, without actually, you know, keeping it forever. I’d much rather have a digital copy of it than stacks of construction paper and posterboard!

This year, I took it one step further. Both boys have iPads now, so I created a new photo album in iCloud photos, and invited my youngest son to join it. I uploaded, cropped and brightened all of the pictures I took of his artwork. He can access it whenever he likes, and if he doesn’t want them anymore later on down the road, it’s his choice if he wants to delete them (I still have the originals on my hard drive, to be transferred to an external backup drive later).

And that’s how we begin our home preparations for Christmas… what helps your family get organized for the holidays?

No crockpot? No camp??? NO WAY!

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It’s the crock addict again…

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’d give ideas for non-crockpot meals you can take on your camping trip, because I realize, A. not every campground or site offers electricity, and B. not everyone has or uses a crockpot. There are all kinds of meals you can bring with you that don’t require a crockpot or electricity.

We’ll start with the obvious: canned goods. We bring stew, soups and ravioli, and we just heat them up over the propane stove. It can be a bit messy but quick and easy trumps the cleanup. We also bring boxed macaroni and cheese (hence why I’ve mentioned a small strainer in a previous post). Very simple to do this over your propane stove.

Next up is your classic hot dogs over the fire. Just poke ’em with a roasting stick and hold ’em over the fire. Going one step beyond that is hamburgers over the fire. Now, I LOVE a good grilled burger… BBQed burgers are my favourite, but mark my words, there is nothing that tastes as good as a burger grilled right over a campfire.

I’m a planner, and hot dogs and hamburgers are no different. I save myself the work at the campsite, and I precut toppings to put on our hot dogs and hamburgers. Lettuce and tomatoes, unfortunately, just don’t survive the trip well. But, using small, zipper-topped bags to bag some diced onions, sliced pickles, hot pepper rings… it makes a big difference in meal enjoyment.

Roasted potatoes are another favourite of ours, along with corn on the cob. Corn can be roasted on the grate above the campfire, just be sure to turn them often so that they cook evenly, and don’t burn. Potatoes, for my family, get washed, pierced with a fork to keep them from bursting, and wrapped in foil, and I do this ahead of time at home. These can go right into the fire, just leave them on the outer edges of the fire, and turn these often as well. Check one for doneness before removing them all from the fire. Some pre-cut chopped green onion and a small container of sour cream dress these up nicely. And if you have any bacon leftover from breakfast… Wow is all I can say!

This year, I made an attempt at something similar to McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. I used one package of 6 English muffins, about 5-6 eggs, whisked with milk and S&P, processed cheese slices (no judgement please!) and some deli cooked ham. I cooked the eggs until done, and without toasting the English muffins, I laid one out on a sheet of foil, spooned some scrambled egg onto one side, topped it with ham and cheese before putting the other half of the English muffin on top. I wrapped it up in the foil, and went on with the rest until they were all done. These were frozen until it was time to leave for our trip. When we got up the next morning, we started a small campfire, and heated these up over the campfire grate, just flipping them back and forth until heated through. We had to test one first, but when it was fully heated, the cheese was gooey and delicious. Just add ketchup and a cup of coffee!

Premade & frozen, scrambled egg, cheese and ham on an English muffin

Premade & frozen, scrambled egg, cheese and ham on an English muffin

Muffins, cookies and breads, like banana bread, are all great ideas for snacks to be made and frozen ahead of time, pre-made sandwiches containing deli meats and cheeses all freeze surprisingly well.

What easy food items have you brought that has made your trip so much easier?

Setting up Your Camp Kitchen

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This is probably my favourite part of setting up… I love getting everything organized for our meals together. The more organized your kitchen area is, the easier and quicker your meals with come together!As a big Pinterest fan, I’m always on the lookout for ways to streamline this important part of camp set-up, and for new and cheap ideas to make it home-y, keeping in mind, we’re trying to get away from it all 😉

I came across this blog page on Pinterest, and wow. The inspiration is incredible!

http://echoesoflaughter.ca/2013/08/organizing-camping-kitchen.html

Ideas I took away from this are the table solar light, a pretty basket for napkins and small things like S&P. I bought some pretty, coordinating oven mitts and dish towels, the S-hooks (a.k.a. “lifesavers”). The only problem I had with the solar light is making sure it was charged during the day. We camp in a campground that is fairly shaded and even sitting the solar light in the sunniest of areas, we had to keep moving it because five minutes later, the sunny spot was shaded too! But so handy to have this on at night!

100_6184

You don’t need to buy a camp kitchen (Coleman sells them) to incorporate these ideas into your own camp set-up. However, if you want to MAKE your own, out of PVC pipe, and a shelving unit, if you are creative and have some time on your hands. Even just looking at this, I’m excited and want to jump right into this project!

http://thewhoot.com.au/whoot-news/diy/diy-camping-kitchen

Of course, there is the hanging shoe organizer I mentioned in a previous post. It was so helpful to have this nearby, it truly felt like an extra set of helping hands, because it made everything so accessible.

kitchentent

Here are some important kitchen items to have while camping, that you may not even think about:

Can opener

Scissors
S&P
Foil, cling-wrap, zipper-topped bags, food storage containers
BBQ tongs and/or spatula if you intend to grill food
Table cloth
Disinfectant wipes
Dishsoap or camper’s soap
Paper towels

Mosquito coils (when those little critters find a way in, if you have one of these burning on the ground, it keeps them at bay)

We used to have a traditional kitchen tent, with the green and white stripes and the long, awkward poles… wow. That thing was such a pain in the butt to set up. You truly needed a TEAM of people to set it up properly. Since then, we have purchased A First-Up gazebo. You know, the ones that you can set up in about ten minutes, with maybe one other person? It reminds me of an accordion, the way the metal structure is, two people pull on opposite ends to expand the structure. Then you attach the top, secure it with the velcro loops, and raise it up to the height you want (there are three selections on ours). Lastly, you put up the screen walls, to “keep the bugs out”, but somehow they always find a way in… We also purchased a privacy screen for our gazebo. We put both up on the gazebo, and leave one or two sides open for ventilation, depending on how warm it is.

A kitchen “tent” is not necessary. I have seen many people simply put a tarp up, tying the corners to trees nearby, tilted on a slant so that if it rains, the slope will keep the water from collecting and pulling the tarp down. We prefer an actual tent because we like a little bit of privacy with our (my) bedhead while sipping coffee or cooking bacon. Plus it’s nice to hang stuff up and out of the way, and keep it there during the duration of your stay!

What helps you keep your camp kitchen area organized?

8 Things to Not Camp Without!

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As I’ve stated before, each year I try something new… Pinterest is definitely my weakness and I’m always scoping out new ideas, or trying to adapt an idea from there, to the amazing world of camping in the great outdoors.

I have come up with a list of things you should absolutely not leave home for a camping trip without.

1. Wipes

Just like any well-prepared mom, you know that when your kids are little, not to leave home without the baby wipes. They are indispensible when you are out camping! They don’t have to be “baby wipes”, per se. You can get any kind of disposable wipes. While we do have a water jug, soap and a towel handy at our campsite, sometimes you just need something quicker. When preparing food outdoors, you can’t always go touching everything on your way to wash your hands… and this is where wipes come in handy. And of course, some things never change, your kids will almost always make some sort of mess, right?

wipes

2. Antibacterial Wipes

I’m listing this seperately because there’s clean, and then there’s antibacterial clean. When you’re handling meat, like bacon, or your pre-made, frozen crockpot meatloaf, you don’t want to risk contaminating anything else you might be preparing. These wipes will save the day! Another thing I like to do is wipe down the tablecloth on the picnic table before we eat. Those chipmunks and squirrels really DO get everywhere.

disinwipes

3. Hanging Shoe Organizer

This is huge for me, I was sooo happy with this when I set up our kitchen tent this year. Usually, we just toss all of our camping items in the totes and store them in the kitchen tent, usually under the ends of the picnic table. Then, when you’re fumbling around, in the dark, looking for those roasting sticks for hotdogs and/or marshmallows, you are digging through absolutely everything you’ve already used that day, plus making a complete racket. This invention is the solution to that problem.

kitchentent

I actually borrowed it from my oldest son, who was using it for some odds and ends in his bedroom (at the time of this post, he hasn’t replaced it, even though I’ve returned it to him… maybe it will go “missing”?) I packed the hooks it comes with, just in case they would work with our gazebo/kitchen tent, turns out, they did. I hung it up, and I had all kinds of pockets to sort all of our cutlery, wipes, cooking spray, paper towels, foil & zipper-topped bags… Anytime someone asked for something, BOOM! It was in front of them because it was soooo much easier to access.

4. S-Hooks

You can buy these at any hardware store, in various sizes. You can see in the above photo, I have bags hanging off to the side, some pretty, dollar store oven mitts, etc. They’re all hanging with S-hooks. LIFESAVERS!

5. Plastic Tablecloth with Seat Covers

I don’t have a photo for these, because every selection in every store is different. I bought a set, white-and-red gingham-patterned, for $4.97 @ Walmart, in the sporting goods department, namely, the camping area. You really do get what you pay for… this set was pretty cheap and thin, however, for $5, even using it for the 5 days we camped, it was worth it to me. And, it’s recyclable, so you don’t even have to clean it and pack it to come home. (For the record, I did, because I think I can get at least one more season out of it before getting rid of it!)

6. The Crockpot

Also known as “glamping”, as I’ve stated before, if you are lucky enough to get an electrical campsite, this baby is going to save you a lot of time in the wilderness. Prep and freeze all your meals in advance, store in large zipper-topped bags. Pop into the crockpot (minus the bag 😉 obviously), and set to high or low, depending on what your activities are for the day.

This is NOT to say that quick, easy and delicious meals cannot be made without a crockpot. Of course they can… but since we went electric, I seem to have forgotten most of them!

7. Your Tassimo/Keurig

Go ahead. Laugh it up. I’ll wait.

Finished? No? Okay… I’ll wait a little longer…

Okay, REALLY, that’s enough 😛

If you’re bringing the crockpot, you may as well bring your gourmet coffeemaker. People have laughed at us ever since we first started bringing it with us. We met family members for breakfast one morning, and offered coffee… while the kids sipped on their hot chocolates. There was some disbelieving giggles. The laughter ended quickly once they were sipping their drinks!

Think about it. These babies make everything. Tea. Coffee. Hot Chocolate. Lattes. Cappucinos. Heck, they even make iced tea and iced coffee. Why NOT bring it? Instead of packing coffee, tea and hot chocolate all seperately, you buy your favourite cups, bring one machine, and voila! I find it much easier to put all my Tassimo discs in one zipper-topped bag, and go.

As far as “glamping” goes, we’re well aware that this is the limit. =) However, there is something to be said for the people who bring RVs, fully loaded with air conditioning, WiFi, showers, the works. I’ll stick to my Tassimo, thankyouverymuch.

8. Disposable Dishcloths on a Roll

Got a greasy mess after cooking bacon and eggs on the griddle? The crockpot meatloaf left the dishcloth orange? Toss it into the fire, and grab a new one! Done!

washcloths

These items are definitely the most important ones to us… what can you NOT live without when you go camping?

What Not to Wear

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Packing clothes is the hardest part for me when we go camping. For men/boys, it’s relatively easy because they think nothing of wearing the same pair of jeans for 5 days, they just switch it up by alternating between two different t-shirts, KWIM? But I like some variety and I try to plan for whatever Mother Nature throws at us.

We use two large gym bags for our clothes, my husband and I share one, and the boys share one. I find it is just easier that way, since they share a tent. This way, one bag goes into each tent. I prefer to use totes to pack clothes in, a good, sealed tote will keep moisture and dampness out if you’re camping during a rainy period, but it depends on the room you have available in your vehicle.

I usually have my kids pack a pair of jeans, a pair of sweatpants, two sweatshirts, a pair of pjs, 3 pairs of shorts, with a couple of tank top style shirts and a couple of t-shirts. Then they pack a pair of underwear and a pair of socks for each day, and add two pairs. You never know!

My husband packs his own, and usually follows the same plan as the boys do… but me? A girl needs some variety, am I right? I can’t just limit myself to two different t-shirts… I mean, what if we get there (4 1/2 hours away from home, an hour to the closest retailer!), and I decide, I don’t want to wear the fushia shirt I thought I would want to wear, I really want the powder blue one instead but it’s at home? Ugh, the decisions!

Luckily, they make women’s t-shirts very thin (hence why I layer them with a tank or another t-shirt,), so I can pack as many as will fit. Most of the time, I wait until my husband is done packing his things, then I utilize whatever space he missed (sshhh, don’t tell him!). I can usually squeeze a substantial amount of clothing into my “half” of the bag  =)

The BEST and BIGGEST secret to packing clothing for any kind of trip… friends, pay attention because this is important stuff…it’s rolling your clothing up.

You may have seen this tip before and not thought much of it, but I guarantee you, if you try to fold your clothing up and pack it, and then try rolling it, you will have more space leftover after rolling it. Not to mention, rolling up your clothing reduces wrinkles! I kid you not, your clothes will be virtually wrinkle-free when you pull them out to get dressed!

But there are three add-on tricks I’m going to share with you, and fellow moms, you will love me for this! First, roll your child’s outfits into one roll. Lay out one pair of jeans, layer a sweatshirt on top, and then a t-shirt. Roll. When it’s time to get dressed, their entire outfit is in one convenient package, there is no guessing what goes with what. (You can also add in underwear and socks if you prefer)

Second, if you have little kids, pick two or three colours for your child’s outfits and stick with them. In the event you need to mix and match, everything will be coordinated, no matter what they wear. With my boys, it was always navy blue and grey. It was SO handy!

And lastly, you want your clothes smelling fresh, right? How do you keep that freshness when you’ve been camping for three days? I have your answer!

When you are rolling your outfits together, sneak a dryer sheet into the mix. They take no space, they keep your clothes smelling great (perfect if your tent is downwind from the fire… I love the campfire smell, for sure, but not everything I own needs to smell like a campfire), AND, if your campground has laundry facilities, you have dryer sheets handy to use. Added bonus, you could also use them as fire starters if you’re desperate! (After one run in the dryer)

Unfortunately, I do not have the phone number for a laundry fairy upon returning from said camping trip… but I will definitely share my tips on unpacking in a future post!

Thanks for reading… and as always, please share your great ideas and tips!

A Girl in Nature

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Hello, and welcome to my new little nook on the web.

If you know me, you also know that I used to run a cake business/blog over on Blogger, and that I shut it down to spend more time with my family. Family is definitely the priority in my life, and I enjoy our time together!

If you don’t know me,  I am sarcastic, funny and just a tad OCD, so if you’re at all like me, I’d be thrilled to have you follow me!

Anyway, we have just returned from our annual family camping trip to gorgeous Algonquin Provincial Park. With our 20+ years of camping experience, a lot of friends ask me what I bring, what kinds of foods I pack… how do I make it as simple as possible? So I thought I would share my tips and tricks, and I need to be quite honest, I am forever on Pinterest to scope out new ideas! There is ALWAYS a new idea on there, so every year, I try something new.

Up until this year, we have always had to borrow a family member’s van to go camping. Recently, we bid farewell to our humble servant, our 1998 Dodge Neon, she was with us for over 14 years. She saw one trip to Algonquin, two kids, several evenings at the drive-in, trips to Ottawa, Kingston, Dunnville and Ohio. Deciding to stick with the same brand, since it did so well for us the first time, we’ve recently purchased a slightly used 2013 Dodge Journey. We absolutely love her, and love that we don’t need to inconvenience anyone when we go back to our favourite place on earth!

journey1

She has already seen many of the places I’ve mentioned above, and our boys love it too because they can plug all their gadgets in and pair their iPads with the stereo.

Anyway… back to the real topic! Camping.

After you have gone camping once or twice, you usually have a good idea of what to bring, what not to bring, what you have a good chance of forgetting and what might make the next trip just a little better! Years ago, a friend asked me for a list of things to bring, so I sat down and typed it all out for her. I still use that list today! Of course, through the years, it’s been edited and changed slightly, to coincide with technology and the lack of or gained space, and of course, our changing interests. Always start with a list! In fact, each year that we come back home, I make a small list of things to replace in our camping gear so that we can buy it ASAP and already have it in there when we need it the following year.

totes

Aside from the master camping list, your stuff needs to be stored. I have been using Rubbermaid totes for several years now, and I find that they are handy because they are both durable and stackable, have lids that actually stay closed, and fit well under our basement stairs. A good way to start out with this is to buy one or two and try them out in your vehicle. We had four of the largest totes, and they fit well in the van, but they didn’t quite cut it in the Journey, so we had to swap two out for half-sized totes, in order to fully utilize the space we have in the back. This led us to downsizing some of the stuff we brought with us this year, but it didn’t affect our activities or the amount of fun we had!

I hope this inspires you to pack smarter for your next trip to the great outdoors. If you’ve planned ahead well, your trip will truly be easier and happier! Next post: the crockpot!

I welcome your comments and any tips you’d like to share 🙂