Kitchen Hack: Use a melon baller for bell pepper prep

Use a melon baller to make bell pepper prep easier

I’ve been on vacation for the past few weeks, and now I am back with an oldie but goodie: Use a melon baller to clear out those hard-to-clean bell pepper insides.

You know those three or four cliffs of veggie pulp that really make it difficult to cut the pepper properly? I’ve struggled for years to give my peppers a clean look.

I bought a melon baller a couple years ago when I was going to make an elaborate fruit bowl. No one mentioned to me how difficult it was to make fruit balls look good. Melon fail.

This year I resurrected our melon baller to help with bell pepper prep. Just scoop the pulp and seeds out (gently). The insides are now clean, smooth and ready.

Then cut your slices. So much easier.

Last weekend I roasted them in the oven with a basic dressing: balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Marinate and throw in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Yum!

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.

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!

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!


My new favorite kitchen tool: a microwave popcorn bowl

Momhack: Use a bowl specifically made for microwave popcorn
Popcorn is one of the greatest things on Earth. Not only does it taste good but it’s fun. My son particularly loves it, especially the sweet kind.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with DIY air-popped popcorn. A few months ago, I found a way to simply pop your own popcorn in a paper bag. All you need is a paper lunch bag, a quarter cup of kernels, and a microwave. Genius, right?

Momhack: Use a bowl specifically made for microwave popcorn

This spring I graduated to the next level of popcorn making. Here is a slight twist on DIY air popping: There is a bowl specifically made for air popping popcorn. This Nordic Ware version is less than $10 from Amazon, and I am sure there are other brands out there that work just as well.

Put some oil or butter on the bottom of the bowl before adding the kernels to give it a nice flavor if you choose. I use coconut oil most of the time.

Place the lid on the bowl and about 3 minutes later is perfection. Sometimes if I am feeling it, I’ll add more butter.

What I love about air popping my own popcorn is that I can control what’s in my snack. I can add pure butter or salt or sugary toppings to my preference. Or nothing at all. It’s cleaner and I know what’s going in my body.

It’s also cheaper because a bag of popcorn kernels costs less than buying anything prepackaged!

Travel tip: Check out a few books online from your library before your trip

Travel tip: borrow books online (for free) from your local library

Many of you who enjoy reading may already know this, but I figured it was worth writing about because I love this trick so much:

You can check out e-books online from your local library.


From your home (or anywhere). 

Okay, I can’t vouch for every library in the country but it seems to be a trend to offer e-books for library card holders that you can download to your e-reader.

I recently went to Seattle for a girls weekend, and it was going to be a long flight. ZJ wasn’t with me so I knew I’d have time to read. Before I left, I went through dozens of books on my library’s website that I could easily borrow and read if they struck my fancy.

I checked out books on history, home organization and other topics, just in case. I like to have reading options while traveling. I love to skim non-fiction books, many of which I don’t want to own.

If the book is popular at your library, it could take a while to get access to it. The library has the same system with e-books as it does with real books — they only have a limited number they can loan out a time. Sometimes I on a waiting list for a month or two before I can check out a book. I can never tell when these books will be available either. That’s the downside.

To ensure I got the fiction book I wanted for the plane, I bought an e-book from Amazon:  Voyager (the third Outlander book).

I have also checked out audio books online.

This electronic option is fantastic for when we’re traveling. Of course, I still believe nothing takes the place of a physical library or a paper book. However, this is the next best thing.