Five simple tricks to keep you and your sandbox happy

How to keep bugs out of your sandbox and other sandbox tips!

I have mixed emotions about sandboxes.

They keep my son occupied for long periods of time. He is so happy slinging sand around.

They are also very messy. Sand sticks to everything and magically spreads throughout the yard.

Not to mention that sandboxes attract bugs.

I am not sure if I love or hate our sandbox but it sure makes my son happy.

Here are few tips that will help you and your child enjoy the sandbox more this summer:

Tip #1:

How to keep bugs out of your sandbox and other sandbox tips!

Fight bugs by mixing cinnamon into the sand. I was happy to hear that bugs hate cinnamon, which will keep the insects at bay. I bought an industrial-size bottle for a few bucks and poured it in. Not only does it help keep bugs out, it may keep them away from the perimeter, too. Afterwards, my son used the cinnamon container as a sand toy. Win-Win.

Tip #2:

Choose your sand wisely. Play sand is specifically cleaned for children. We almost bought the run-of-the-mill sand at Home Depot until we were warned against it. Play sand is softer and nicer, and it doesn’t have carcinogenics that may be present in other sand. Read the package, do your homework and make sure you are getting the sand you want.

Tip #3:

Keep baby powder on hand. Is sand stuck to your kid? Feet? Hands? Arms? This magic powder will get it right off.

Tip #4:

Don’t forget to keep it clean. Take out any stray plants or other flotsam that has migrated into the sand box. Keep it covered when not in use.

Tip #5:

Change out the sand every year or two. We won’t need this reminder because we lose sand daily. There is something about flying sand that delights a kid! However, it’s good to keep track of how old your sand is.

My favorite tip is adding cinnamon to our sandbox to keep the bugs away. It smells great too.

Any more to add to this list?

Note: There may be affiliate links in this post to help with the costs associated with this blog. All opinions are my own.

Three words: Cook. Pasta. Faster.

You can shave 4-5 minutes off your pasta prep time with this shortcut.

Last week we had one of those nights. I got back from work late. Our toddler’s tummy was rumbling and we didn’t want to give him a snack or he wouldn’t eat dinner at all. Oh, he was a cranky toddler.

We were going to grill for dinner and all of a sudden, a very menacing thunderstorm approached. I didn’t see it on my weather app. Surely it couldn’t rain if it didn’t say so on my app, right?

We had to change directions, which was fine. I chose the Easy Ham and Cheese Pasta, which we love. We had ham and peas in the freezer, cheese in the fridge, pasta in the cupboard and spices on the rack. We were set.

It’s an easy recipe to begin with, but this time I decided to see if I could cook it even faster. My son’s whining tends to push me toward innovation. 

Recently, Huffpost ran an piece on how to cook pasta in less time. Here are the key points:

  • Use a frying pan, sauce pan, skillet or the equivalent, instead of your normal pot.
  • Put the pasta in first, then add the water. (The instructions said just enough water to cover the pasta. I added a bit more than that.)
  • Turn on the burner and boil until done.

First, by using a frying pan there is more surface to heat and it takes less time for the water to boil. I definitely noticed a difference in the time it took to heat the water.

Second, the noodles start to cook from the time you turn on the burner.

Pasta doesn’t take long to make but this saved me about 4-5 minutes from the total time.

I can see how it would be a sin to cook like this if you are serious about your pasta. Or, if you are making a very large batch. I agree that the tried-and-true way would work best.

This trick is absolutely perfect if you are cooking a quick meal for a hungry family. I’ve used this a few times since then and it’s the only way I’ll cook pasta now.

Here is a YouTube Video to see exactly how it’s done.
Life Hack: Cook pasta in half the time!
Life Hack: Cook pasta in half the time!

This post is part of the Mom Blog Party.

Thank you “Llama Llama” for helping us transition to preschool!

Llama Llama Misses Mama: Great for transitioning to preschool!Starting preschool can be hard stuff for some toddlers. I had no idea it would take this long to adjust!

ZJ started daycare/preschool in March and it’s still difficult for him. He had to leave a babysitter who loved him dearly and gave him tons of personal attention and is now in a room full of two-year olds with a few very sweet teachers who don’t have the time to hug him all day long.

I don’t blame him. Heck, what toddler wouldn’t want to be hugged all day long?

We’ve had our ups and downs. I can tell he genuinely enjoys the school but the evenings have been hard. Sometimes he acts out because he is so tired. Or doesn’t eat.

One thing we found that helps a lot is talking to him. I explain where we are going. When I will pick him up. That I will miss him, but he will have so much fun.

My husband and I are good at managing expectations for each other, and we want to do the same for him.

For this reason, our family loves the children’s book Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney.

The book is about a toddler llama starting preschool, not wanting to get involved because he misses his mama. The book goes through his day — from hanging up his coat in his cubby to lunchtime and playtime. Then, mama picks him up after the day is done.

Of course, the little llama finds that he can love both school and mama.

My son loves that this book mirrors his day. I often find that he is better at school if we read this to him often. We always read this to him on Sunday nights before bed.

I highly recommend Llama Llama Misses Mama, especially before transitioning your kid. to preschool or daycare. We didn’t read it until after he started school but it still helps!

If you want to see how the story ends, this YouTube video says it all.

How to make a simple meal divine with the right ingredients #WFMfoodie

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

 

A recipe doesn’t need to be complicated to be good. That’s been my mantra since I became a mother. A simple meal is always better in my book.

I’d like to go a bit further: A high-quality sauce, oil or ingredient can make a simple meal divine.

As a working parent, I’ve mentioned that I don’t have time to cook every night. I never have time to make sauces, and I look for shortcuts whenever I can.

Last week I attended a tasting at the Whole Foods Market in Arlington, Va., which introduced their new program: WFM Foodie. Whole Foods Markets across the country are highlighting special products they think their customers may like.

WFM Foodie products are high-quality, no preservatives, all natural. And hand-picked by foodies. We tasted a variety of the olive oils, sauces and black-bean noodles. All fantastic. And from what I saw: all very simple to incorporate into a meal. The product is simple, not the taste.

Here is what it boils down to: A well-thought out, high-quality ingredient can make almost any meal better.

I am saying this out loud because sometimes I just rush through the meal-planning process and forget that I can change things up with a good product. I used to embrace this concept a lot more, pre-baby.

Also, buying the right ingredients (not more ingredients) is often a great way to cut down time in the kitchen. 

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

At the tasting, Jackie from Whole Foods introduced a few products (and recipes), which I think are worth mentioning:

Christian Potier Sauces: I am very excited about this find. Christian Potier was voted the best sauce chef in France by Gault & Millau, and he was able to package his magic in microwave pouches. We tried the Bernaise (over grilled aspargus) and it tasted great.

Great ingredients make simple meals better! On a busy night, just grill up asparagus, heat up the sauce and there is your side dish. It would work great on Eggs Benedict as well. Christian Potier has other varieties too.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Black Bean Noodle Salad

Black Bean noodles: Yes, you read that right. Noodles made of black beans. Created by Explore Asian Authentic Cuisine, these noodles are full of protein, which I love. Very healthy. Very little sugar. Organic.

We tasted the Black Bean Noodle salad (above), which cooks up very quickly. Click here for the recipe.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Tandoori Salmon

The Sassy Indian Olive Oil: Oh my, so tasty. We ate grilled salmon, finished with this Tandoori olive oil that truly added that extra something. This main course only has four ingredients and takes no time to make. So delicious! Click here for the recipe.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Smoked Arbequina Olive Oil

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

I also enjoyed the smoky flavors of the Castillo de Canena Smoked Arbequino (used as a dressing above). A little pricey but worth the splurge.

Great ingredients make simple meals better! Here are some examples.WFM Foodie items are usually located in a display at the front of participating Whole Foods Stores. It’s a good place to start if you are looking for some new flavors this summer.

Toddler travel: Nine things that help us survive roadtrips

We travel a lot because many of our friends and family members don’t live nearby. Some live closer than others. And some months I feel like we are always on the move.

Traveling with toddlers is a different beast. Many are not yet self-sufficient and often lack the ability to reason. That is to say: toddlers are unpredictable and need a lot of attention.

Recently we took a day trip to Philadephia.  ZJ is now 27 months old and we needed to fill the three-hour ride (each way).

It was time to rethink our travel toys for our son. He has grown so much since the last time we took a road trip!

So I revised our packing list to accommodate a messy, and sometimes fickle boy. The toys that work best for us are ones that include stickers, magnets, cars or stories (movies, books, etc).

Toddler travel: Nine things that help us survive roadtrips

Here are nine key things we now include on our travel list:

  • Re-usable stickers. Melissa and Doug’s reusable sticker kit is perfect. Featuring cars, animals and dinosaurs, what more could a toddler want? They can be recycled for the next trip.
  • Magnetic Fun – Cars Planes and Trains.  This has quickly become one of my son’s favorite toys. It’s a small magnetic case with endless number of magnets to play with. It’s more compact than the re-usable sticker book (if space is a problem). If your kid is still prone to stick tiny things in his mouth, some of the magnets are tiny. Just be careful. Here’s an alternative: bring a cookie sheet with your own magnets.
  • Melissa and Doug’s Water Wow.  This coloring book is awesome. Just fill up the pen with water and when you draw, the pages come to life. It’s a no-mess alternative to coloring. Now if only the pen came attached to the pad…
  • A few favorite cars. Our son loves just holding on to his favorites while in the car. We like this because when we stop for gas, or we get to our destination, he is ready to play with them.
  • The Leapfrog Junior Reader.  A Leapfrog reader is a great way to get book time in while in the car. Regular books work just as well too!
  • Portable DVD player. We recently invested in car dvd players that easily attach to the back of the front seats.
  • Apps. My favorite are PBS Kids apps.
  • Snacks. Bring a mixture of healthy and fun snacks. We pack yogurt packets and string cheese in our cooler, but also have some animal crackers and jelly beans to mix it up.
  • Doggie. This is a given, but bring your kid’s favorite stuffed animal, blanket, pillow, toy, etc. Doggie (as we call him) comes with us everywhere and provides comfort in new situations. We are slowly weaning him off doggie but he is a life saver right now!

For our trip to Philly, I used a clear stadium bag to pack his toys so we could both see what was available to play with.

We have longer trips coming up this summer — an eight-hour car ride to North Carolina and a cross-country trip to Seattle. This shorter trip gave me a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Traveling with a toddler can be both exciting and exhausting at the same time. We try to make sure we have a variety of fun things to do, just in case!

Toddler travel: Nine things that help us survive roadtrips

 

Can’t stop scratching that mosquito bite? Here is a simple trick that actually works

Can't stop scratching that mosquito bite? Here is a simple tip that actually works.

 

Our yard is a haven for mosquitoes, and unfortunately the first of these wily insects hit us this week. The other night I found two mosquito bites on my leg. Arghh!

During the offseason, I read about this hack to stop mosquito itching. It was so crazy that I had to try it.

Just apply deodorant to the bite.

I felt a tad silly putting deodorant on my leg, but it actually worked! The bites stopped itching immediately. It was an hallelujah moment.

I used powdered deodorant, and I would be a little hesitant to use a gel variety. But who knows? That may be effective, too.

I love this very clean and simple way to address summer bites. Safe for my son to use as well.

This is definitely my favorite hack so far for the summer!

A simple way to add foam milk to your morning coffee

Make foam milk at home! www.theshortcutmom.com

I love coffee. I used to get lattes from the local coffee shop every single day for years, until I realized it wasn’t so good for my pocketbook or my waist. (I always came back with one of the yummy pastries, too.)

Now I can take my home-brewed coffee up a notch. Turns out that it’s very simple to make your own foam milk at home. All you needs is a mason jar, a microwave and, of course, some milk.

  1. Put milk in a mason jar.
  2. Put the lid on and shake for at least 30 seconds. (The longer, the better.)
  3. Take the lid off and microwave the jar for 30 seconds. (The key is to take off the lid before it goes into the microwave. Very important point.)
  4. Spoon foam into coffee.

I love this hack because I can’t always go to the coffee shop and I don’t want to own another appliance to froth my milk.

Watch this video from America’s Test Kitchen.on how to make foam milk for your coffee:

What I am reading: Brilliant tips for money-saving moms, handling stress and appliance hacks

10 Brilliant (and Doable) Ways to Save $1000s on Baby Costs

I know I am a total geek, but I thought this was an absolutely brilliant video on how to save money on baby or kids stuff. It covers diapers, gear, food, formula and clothes, and it shows you how to maximize your savings by playing Amazon and Target off each other. These tips initially focus on new parents but I found helpful ideas for shopping for my toddler. I highly recommend this resource from the Krazy Coupon Lady. Watch the video above or click through for more.


5 Things You Should Do Every Single Day — Even When Life is Stressful

Crystal Paine, The Money Saving Mom, has five tips for helping your day go more smoothly — keep your kitchen clean, make your bed, and actually dress yourself nice. It’s so important to make time for yourself. Even 15 minutes. I know this won’t fix every problem you face (like a toddler meltdown), but I know it helps when I can take care of myself first.


59 Cool and Unusual Uses for Your Appliances

Looking to mix it up in the kitchen? This list of 59 unusual uses for appliances from Choice Home Warranty is a good place to start! Here are some of my favorites:

  • Whip cream in a French press
  • Slice soft foods with an egg slicer
  • Freeze huge ice cubes in a muffin tray
  • Shred meat in a mixer

There are 55 more of them!

 

What I learned from my failure as an artsy mom

What I learned from my failure to be an artsy mom

Last year I realized as a relatively new mom that I needed an arts and crafts box. I must have gotten that idea from Pinterest. Yes, it definitely was Pinterest. It was the pretty pictures of all the wonderful educational crafts I could make my son. All the pretty pictures. They were sirens calling me.

I ran to the store and bought a few cheap crafty essentials: felt, construction paper, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, glue. It was a meager beginning but it was a start.

I wanted to make an educational felt quiet book for my son to take with us for an upcoming road trip to North Carolina. Life got in the way and it never got made. The crafty essentials stayed in a bag.

Fast forward to last week: I was cleaning out the hall closet and realized I had a whole plastic bin to spare. I could finally finish my crafts box. I felt some regret that I never started the educational book for ZJ. We have a few more road trips coming up soon, but I wasn’t going to delude myself into thinking I would finish it now, either.

It was time to box up my supplies and find a resting place for it in the basement.

What I learned from my failure to be an artsy mom

In the process of filling my new crafts box, something happened. ZJ found the bits and pieces meant for the inside.

First, it was the googly eyes. I have to admit even I like googly eyes. ZJ spent hours playing with the larger ones. He was so excited about these cartoonish body parts that he brought them everywhere, repeating the word “eyes.” Eyes.

Shortly after, he found the rest of the box and immediately started to play with the rectangular pieces of felt, fresh from the pack. He would arrange them by colors in perfect order. Move them. Rearrange them. Throw them in the air. And smile.

We had trouble getting him into the bath that night because he was so happy playing with simple pieces of felt.

I never had to glue, cut, sew or manipulate pieces of fabric to make him happy.  All I had to do is provide him with a blank canvas. Or, simply give him access to my crafts box.

Sometimes I feel bad that I don’t have time to make these super wonderful educational tools, or monogrammed pillows, or adorable organizing cubbies, that I see on Pinterest or on blog posts.

I’d like to, and I would if I had the time.

The lesson I learned this week is that all I have to do is give my son the tools. That’s all I need to give. He’ll take care of the rest.

What I learned from my failure as an artsy mom. www.theshortcutmom.com

What I am reading: Make summer entertaining easier, help dessert-obsessed kids and more

Happy Friday! Here are some articles that I’ve been reading lately:

My Secrets to Making {Summer} Entertaining EASY!

I will admit that entertaining scares me sometimes, and often I am at loss as to what to serve. I probably over complicate the process. I love Organizing Made Fun‘s tips for easy outdoor entertaining. Keep it simple and know your strengths. Know what foods you are good at cooking and keep the ingredients on hand in the freezer.  As we prepare for our annual Memorial Day barbecue, I am going to take a few of these tips to heart.

Got Dessert-Obsessed Kids? This Solution Sounds Crazy–But It Works!

Serve dessert with dinner.  From Parents.com, the premise of this tactic is to take away our kids’ obsession with dessert by including it with the main course. Dessert can play a part in a balanced diet, and doesn’t need to have overwhelming power. I think this may be worth a try if your kid rushes through dinner just to get to the sweets at the end.

5 Ways to Stop Worrying About What Everyone Thinks of You

Number one point: “Remind yourself that most people are NOT thinking about you anyway.” My husband is a master of not caring what other people think of him, yet he is still caring and compassionate. I look to him as a very good example because I still worry (a little) about what people think. I like Marc and Angel’s five tips to stop worrying about what everyone thinks of you.