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Friday, August 18, 2017

My favorite campstove

Car campers and backpackers typically have a completely different set of camping gear, but when you travel with three kids, a husband, a dog, and a canoe then packing light like backpackers do applies to car camping as well. 

Eighteen years ago I bought a Coleman duel fuel stove and had to replace it this summer before our trip out west. We searched REI, Amazon, Gander Mountain, Fleet Farm....and read review after review. 

We had a pretty specific set of requirements and I'm happy to say we found a stove that met them in every way.

WHAT WE WERE LOOKING FOR:

  • Under $75
  • Didn't require expensive fuel
  • Refillable fuel tank
  • Compact
  • Long lasting
  • Sturdy

I found this Coleman duel fuel 533 campstove on Amazon for $65. There are a LOT of stoves to chose from but we knew we didn't want to have to buy fuel canisters 'just in case' (That kinda defeats the purpose of compact if you are bringing fuel canisters that are as big as the stove!). We have a special fuel bottle that holds 17 ounces of extra fuel and is smaller than a pop bottle. I took the kids camping last week for three nights with only half a tank of fuel and never ran out after eight uses of about 8-10 minutes each.

I make coffee ahead of time and store it in the cooler in a 1/2 gallon glass jar. In the mornings I can heat it up in a few minutes after I've heated a pot of water for the hot chocolate drinkers in the family. (GSI makes the BEST coffee pot shown above that we heat water in) For some reason my family doesn't like their hot chocolate to taste like coffee.  

We cut the box of matches up and store matches in a peanut butter jar just like my parents did when they took me camping as a kid. 

We pack light, but we also like to be comfortable when we are camping so I started packing this compact folding table so I can keep food out of reach of the dog and cook wherever it is most convenient. This is a new camping hack for me, but what a game changer! No more hauling all our stuff to wherever the heavy picnic table is placed in a site and taking up all the surface space! Definitely worth the small space it takes up behind the front seats in our minivan!

Speaking of taking up space.....this windblock by Highrock is a life saver when there is a breeze at our campsite. It ensures the flame doesn't go out on the stove and folds up so compact it barely takes up any space in our camp kitchen.

With the proper gear we spend less than 10 minutes making any of our hot meals which means we can get back to those mountains behind PapaBear!

Do you have a favorite piece of camping gear that makes life easier when you are roughing it? Do share! 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to organize Nerf guns

If you are the mom of boys you know that they will inevitably turn something into a gun. I was dead set against toy guns in our home until I learned that tidbit about having a son. Enter the Nerf gun. Now that Sam is almost 13 he has amassed a small arsenal of weapons and I was at my wits end trying to keep them assessable yet out of the way. 

That is until a relative posted a picture of the Nerf Gun Wall she made for her boys.

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No more guns in the floor? No more searching for bullets when friends come over to play? Sign me up!

This is a very easy DIY project that is very affordable! I picked up a variety of pegboard hardware at Home Depot and played around with what hooks worked best for each gun. You'd be surprised how a couple little hooks can hold a big gun! In fact, the biggest gun is hung with only one small piece!

Be sure to find the studs when hanging the heavy tag board. (I bought two pieces for $7 each at Home Depot.) Studs are 16 inches apart so once I found one (by tapping the wall until a tap sounded different than the rest) it was easy to put the rest of the screws in. REMEMBER TO LEAVE SPACE BEHIND THE BOARD FOR THE HARDWARE TO ANCOR. I bought a variety pack of hardware and it came with spacers to keep the board away from the wall 1/2 inch, but if you use long enough screws you can easily unscrew them a little to make a space.


Sam's room is a mishmash of sports and outdoors themes, but I like to call it an ADVENTURE THEMED bedroom instead. He is an active kid - hiking, camping, canoeing, a three sport athlete....all this is tied together with his functional gallery wall. 


Do you have a toy storage solution that worked well for your family? Be sure to share it in the comments! I have another pegboard storage solution post coming up....stay tuned....

Monday, April 3, 2017

A CLEANING SCHEDULE FOR BUSY MOMS

It's the first Monday in April and I couldn't think of a better time to get back on track with my cleaning schedule after a dreary couple of Minnesota months. I don't know about you but after Christmas it is easy for me to fall into survival mode. I do the bare minimum in housework and ignore the dust in favor of another Netflix show and a new crochet project. It leads to a downward spiral of feeling yucky about how my house looks and going through the motions is not how I want to live!

Last week the kids and I took made a 1,000 mile journey to a number of MN State Parks we hadn't hiked at yet. It was great to get some fresh air after a long winter and spend quality time together.

We hiked almost 9 miles - including over the headwaters of the Mississippi!


We returned from that trip with fresh eyes and fresh resolve to get our home back into shape so when the weather gets nice we can dash out the door to ride bikes, take the pup for a walk, or get dirty in the garden without feeling like we are escaping the mess, but released from it!

It really is my own doing that I've got this mess to clean up in the first place because I know what I have to do to stay on top of everything. Back when we moved into this house in 2014 I developed a cleaning schedule that met all the criteria I was looking for.

If the following applies to you as well then you've come to the right place:

  • Doesn't take more than 10-20 minutes per day
  • Eliminates 'spring cleaning' type chores because they are built into the schedule
  • Keeps clutter at bay - even your kids rooms get a deep clean once a month!
  • House is cleaned top to bottom every month - no grime build up on appliances or baseboards
  • Includes storage spaces like the garage and basement
  • House is company ready by the weekend 
That last one is one of the reasons I made my own schedule and didn't pick one of the many others on Pinterest. I tried and tried to make others work, but I felt like when we got to the weekend when we usually have company I would have to vacuum and clean the bathrooms again. Of course there is always daily tidying and wiping down of surfaces involved in any home people actually LIVE in, but I'm talking about the more involved cleaning tasks - I didn't like having to repeat them on Saturday morning so we could welcome company into a clean home.

One thing you'll notice is that I don't list laundry more than once a week. How is that possible in a house with five people? It is because we have an awesome washing machine (LG without an agitator) and it is located right by the bathroom with the shower in it. Our new washer holds three times what our old one did so I only wash 1-2 loads of clothes per week and only when it gets full. I incorporate towels and bedding in an every other week cycle as you'll see in the headings for each week. I also have a 12 and a 10 year old that put their own clean clothes away which helps a lot! The 5 year old can do everything but reach the hangers so she's responsible for the items that go in her dresser.





Below is what works for our household*.

* We have 900 square feet of living space upstairs and about 300 square feet in our basement.




Four bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (one with a toilet and tub and one with a toilet and shower)




We have an attached two car garage, a unheated portion of the basement, a very narrow laundry room that also has our furnace and water heater in it. The laundry room leads to the summer kitchen for storing all the things we preserve from our garden. It has a refrigerator and a stove in there as well.









TOWEL WEEK




 Monday 




 o GARAGE




o ORGANIZE ONE DRAWER




o LINEN CLOSET




o APPLIANCES (wipe oven)




o PAPERWORK




 Tuesday: 




 o LAUNDRY ROOM




o SWEEP




o MOP




 Wednesday




 o BATHROOMS




o PUT OUT TRASH




 Thursday 




o TRASH DAY




o _______ ROOM




o HANDLES




o LIGHT SWITCHES




 Friday




 o DUST




o VACUUM




Saturday




 o LAUNDRY

 BEDDING WEEK

Monday

o FRIDGE/FREEZER





o ORGANIZE PROJECT





o LIGHT FIXTURES





o PAPERWORK


Tuesday

o SUMMER KITCHEN





o SWEEP





o MOP


Wednesday

o BATHROOMS





o PUT OUT TRASH

Thursday

o TRASH DAY





o ________'s BEDROOM





o HANDLES





o LIGHT SWITCHES


Friday

o DUST





o VACUUM (COUCHES)


Saturday


o LAUNDRY





oTOWEL WEEK


Monday

o PANTRY





o ORGANIZE





o WINDOWS





o PAPERWORK

Tuesday


o LAUNDRY ROOM





o SWEEP





o MOP


Wednesday

o BATHROOMS





o PUT OUT TRASH


Thursday


o TRASH DAY





o _________'s BEDROOM





o HANDLES





o LIGHT SWITCHES


Friday

o DUST (BASEBOARDS)





o VACUUM


Saturday


o LAUNDRY





o DEEP CLEAN VAN


BEDDING WEEK


Monday

o CLOSETS





o CABINETS





o CLEAN BLINDS





o PAPERWORK





Tuesday

o BASEMENT





o SWEEP





o MOP


Wednesday

o BATHROOMS





o PUT OUT TRASH


Thursday

o TRASH DAY





o HANDLES





o ORGANIZE PROJECT





o LIGHT SWITCHES


Friday

o DUST





o VACUUM/VACUUM FILTER


Saturday

o LAUNDRY


Sunday

o PUT OVEN CLEANER IN OVEN

After I dropped the kids off at school I didn't allow myself to get distracted with anything else but went right to the Clorox wipe container so I could get our appliances sparkling clean. From there I spent a couple minutes tidying up the garage (Full disclosure: It's 40 and raining outside which means our garage is FREEZING so you wouldn't know I did a single thing in the garage if you stopped by today BUT I know I did something. The shoes are back on the shelf, garbage is picked up, and some winter boots have been tossed out of the way of foot traffic.) That's the thing folks....every little bit helps and it makes the tasks shorter and shorter each time.

Case in point: Paperwork. It's a Monday task and every time I put it off the pile on my desk gets bigger and bigger, but when I am diligent about going through the big white envelope where I tuck everything that arrives during the week it only takes a few minutes to file things away, write out a check or two, and add a few events to my calendar. A few minutes a week is WAY less of a hassle than the hour it will take me to find the surface of my grandpa's big 'ol desk! As a bonus when that desk is clear nobody else is tempted to drop their stuff on it either. Everyone wins!  Speaking of which...if you struggle with constantly picking up after your kids and wondering if they will EVER learn to pick up after themselves check out this post on how I eliminated the nagging and hassle of an organized chore chart system.

I would be happy to email you a copy of the cleaning schedule if you don't want to copy and paste the list from this post. Just send me a message at campgroundcubs@gmail.com with 'cleaning schedule' in the heading!

Happy cleaning!!!






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Friday, August 19, 2016

January 25th Snow


A much needed blanket of fresh snow is falling outside as I sit curled up in the chair with our 5 month old puppy. I consider it my birthday gift. I'm turning over a new snowflake so to speak - entering a new decade. Forty. It reminds me of when I first starting blogging ten years ago on the eve of my 30th birthday. I was content. I wasn't upset about getting older. I had two beautiful children, a loving husband, and the love of friends and family near and far. Like then, today feels like a milestone - something to celebrate and not dread. Today I have THREE beautiful children, a husband who loves me, and the love of more friends and family near and far. I also have more wrinkles, more free time, more hobbies, and more life experience.

The Bible verse I've claimed for this year is "Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:14) and if I've learned anything in my 40 years I hope that it's that - love is all you need. The love of my Savior and my family.  I can find the good in any situation if I have that. So today while I savor a quiet day snug as a bug in my cozy little home I will drink my tea, snuggle with the puppy, crochet, read a book, and eat wild rice soup. I might even get to watch some birds visit our feeder.

The kids will come home this afternoon on their best behavior and we'll go sledding, drink hot chocolate, and play the balloon volleyball game in the living room. I'll make my favorite enchiladas for dinner and the kids will go to Awana.

 Simple joys with the loves of my life.

What a perfect way to turn 40.
 
 

Tips for Travel Photo Books


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In honor of World Photo Day  I'm sharing some photos from the pages of our Pacific Northwest photo book I made after our road trip down the Oregon Coast. You can view the entire project by clicking here.  

I designed the book using Blurb's free bookmaking software called Booksmart. It took me two days to reduce the 4,000 photos I took on our trip down to 708.  It is so important to make photobooks within the first two week of returning from a trip. (Did you catch that? Dirty laundry can wait - photo book takes priority!) I've followed this mantra ever since I returned from studying abroad in college. Back then I had to print out photos and buy albums/pages. It was SO expensive! I paid $500 for two albums from a three month trip to South America in 1997.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I now design photo books for a living. I have always used Blurb.com for their quality printing, affordability, and flexible page layouts.  Full disclosure: I am not being paid to say nice things about Blurb, but I do use affiliate links in my posts about them. I think 100 books using the same publisher speaks for itself, don't you?

My Pacific Coast book was less than $100 and has just over 700 photos in it. It is our favorite souvenir. PapaBear looks through it almost weekly and the kids love to show it to people who ask about our trip.

I love knowing that our adventures will remain fresh in our minds because I was able to turn around a photobook so quickly and easily with Blurb.

If you have a trip coming up or aren't sure what to do with all the photos from a recent trip read on for some easy ways to let the photographs tell the story. I've interspersed some photos of our book as inspiration. Blurb allows you to add/delete text boxes and images boxes so you can completely customize your layouts to fit your needs. It makes the design process much less stressful! 

1. Keep text simple and use an easy to read font. Save the script fonts for the front and back cover.


2. If you have more than one kid be sure to get a few pictures of them individually.

 
3. Take panoramic photos of locations when you first arrive to help you orientate yourself with the setting when you get  home. Even if you never add the photo to your book it will help you remember what's what. This is especially helpful for road trips and beach trips.


 

4. Just because I like to minimize the text in a book doesn't mean I don't like to tell the story. I prefer to do both at the same time.





I love common threads throughout books. Like the 'Day #' series and the detail shots of each motel room number. (We stayed in nine different motels so it would have been very easy to let them all run together in our minds.)


5. Speaking of motels...If you are fast enough you can snap a few photos of the room before the littles spread stuff from one end to the other and help bring back the memories of that particular stop. I lived the chaos of traveling with three kids for 10 days down the Oregon Coast  and into California. I don't need any reminders of that part, but the comfy couch we sat on and watched the tide come in from, or the panoramic views in one of the motels will help set the scene....if you are fast enough to beat everyone into the room that is.

 
6. I've mentioned this before when I wrote about vacation/travel books, but I thought this was a good example of a detail shot. When I see those black rocks I can hear the sound they made when the waves rushed over them.

Despite the sheer size of the Redwoods we still took notice of the little things along the way. The contrast between the giants and the forest floor connects you to the photograph and draws you into the scene. That folks is what you want - to be drawn in, transported back to the moment. That is the stuff good travel books are made of.


7. Hand the camera to one of your kids so you can have a picture of mom and dad. People usually include the whole family if possible or one parent takes a photo of all the kids with the other parent. Mix it up! Take a photo with one child and one parent. You won't regret it!

8. Let your kids use your camera for some shots from their perspective.  My 11 year old took the foggy photograph below and it is one of my favorite from our whole trip.



9. Take photos of signs - even if they never make it into your book it will help you identify where you were and how far you hiked when you are designing the book.




Sometimes the signs are so different from what you see at home that you want to include them! I can almost feel the moisture from the hike we took in the scene below. There is probably still mud in the tread of the shoes we wore that day!


More signs...


10. If you traveled to more than one location create a collage for the cover instead of limiting yourself to one photograph.


So there you have it! Ten tips for making your next travel photo book the best it can be! I hope to share some more about the specific places we went on our trip with some travel tips in upcoming posts. We researched for a long time before taking this trip, but it was incredible and totally worth it!

Now it's your turn...what is your best photo book tip? Travel or otherwise....





P.S. We are starting to build our own little travel library! After six years of being tied to the park this is a huge deal for us. If you want to travel to two of our favorite places with us check out Up North and Up River in my Blurb Bookstore for a book preview. 

If you have a trip you want me to get into a book for you don't hesitate to contact me! I teach classes on how to get caught up on your memory keeping or I can do the whole project for you. Thanks to technology I have been privileged to work with people in foreign countries and from coast to coast right from the comfort of my sleepy mid-western town.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Easy Crockpot Lasagna

It's that time of year where things are just starting to get ripe in the garden, but not enough at once to do much more than enjoy a BLT or two. In a few short weeks I'll be up to my elbows in tomatoes, but until then I grab what is ripe and dice them to add to whatever dinners I can. This past Saturday that dinner was a crock pot lasagna recipe I came up with to serve our guests on a HOT and steamy evening when I didn't want to have the oven on or spend too much time in the kitchen cooking. We had some leftover chopped green peppers, onion, and jaune flamme tomatoes from the homemade relish I made for hotdogs/brats the night before so I added those to the sauce. I have been cooking long enough to eyeball ingredient amounts, but when I first started cooking or if I'm looking up a new recipe I definitely want a solid starting point so never fear - the following recipe has exact amounts if that's how you roll.

There are a lot of crock pot lasagna recipes out there so how do you know which one to choose? If you are like me, you scroll through the ingredients for things you already have in the kitchen or aren't too expensive to grab at the store. You also want to know if it has a lot of flavor and IF YOUR KIDS WOULD EAT IT,  right?  I have a picky eater who hates veggies, but they cook down so much in the crockpot that he didn't notice them.

As far as flavor goes, this recipe calls for HOT pork sausage. I didn't even have to add a single spice to the crockpot because I picked a spaghetti sauce with a lot of flavor and spicy sausage.  To be safe, add a couple tablesppones of Italian seasoning and pick the best sauce you can afford.  I loved the Prego Roasted Garlic Parmesan kind.

Easy No Cook Noodle Crock Pot Lasagna Recipe

1 lb hot pork sausage (or hamburger with 2T of Italian seasoning added)
1 1/2 jars spaghetti sauce
1 chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
chopped veggies of your choice (can omit, but is a great way to add nutritional value!)
8 lasagna noodles (no need to pre cook)
2 cups mozzarella cheese (shredded)

Brown meat and drain. Stir in sauce and veggies.

Add a portion of the sauce to the bottom of your crock pot then top with two layers of noodles broken as needed to cover meat/sauce/veggies.

sprinkle a portion cheese on top.

Repeat until you run out of ingredients, but be sure to end with cheese on top.

It can be helpful to drizzle a little sauce from the 1/2 of jar remaining around the edges of the crockpot to help keep the noodles from drying out.

Cook on low for 3-4 hours. Keep an eye on it! This is NOT your cook all day while you are at work kind of crockpot meal.

Serves 6.

Enjoy!



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Monday, July 11, 2016

Farm Party - Elsa's 3rd birthday

The themes we choose for birthday parties rarely fall in the 'typical' category and I enjoy the challenge! When Elsa turned three we were still waiting to close on our new house so we had to put off her party for a few weeks. Finally the second weekend in August of 2014 we were able to throw her a Farm Party. We had moved into the house ten days prior. I still had red checkered tablecloths from PapaBear's surprise 40th Camping Party a few years ago and we already had a good collection of bandanas as well. Add in PapaBear's vintage tractors from his childhood and mason jars filled with flowers from our garden and we were good to go!
 


Once I get started on a theme though....look out. I had so many ideas! Pudding cups for mud puddles, egg candy to put in the eggs for an egg hunt, making homemade ice cream, and don't even get me started on the other food ideas. I'll get to those in a minute.

First I made signs for the different stations around our yard using 4x6 photos I made in photoshop that I mounted on cardstock and stapled them to stakes around the yard at each station. A ducky pond, a sheep crossing sign (raisinettes sprinkled on the sidewalk), hay wagon rides, a petting zoo (stuffed animals on a blanket in the shade for the babies), a photo booth, clothes pin drop, and an egg hunt kept the kids plenty busy but didn't require much prep work on my end.






 I have the best helpers, but for the most part nothing needed to be facilitated - that can be exhausting and doesn't really allow for visiting with other guests. It also can get dicey if you have games with winners and losers. The goal is for the kids to have FUN and not compete with each other.

I got cupcakes toppers off of Amazon and stuck them in cupcakes from Costco (green frosting as grass for the cows & sheep and brown frosting for mud for the pigs & chickens).
 


Elsa blew out candles in a pie sampler instead of a cake. Yum!




You can never have enough sweets at a birthday party so we made some ice cream too.


We counteracted the sugar with a bunch of picnic fare.






 
We were still absorbing the idea that we still get to live where we have a huge yard. After living in a 200 acre regional park we weren't expecting anything close to that when we left.



We actually have MORE apple trees here than we did in the park.







Every year for Elsa's birthday I print out the month photo shoot images to display at her party. It is a lot of work to make sure these pictures get taken but this series is so special to me! The mini bandana bunting is actually a 4x6 photo that I made in photoshop using photographs of bandanas.






This crew of cousins had so much fun!

Happy birthday my pig tailed THREE year old!!!!



Other birthday party themes that have made the blog:
Elsa's 1st birthday - Rainbow Theme
Julia's 5th birthday - Castle Theme
Sam's 7th birthday - Knight Theme
Julia's 4th & Sam's 6th birthday - Snake Theme
Sam's 8th birthday - Poolside Pirate Theme

Not on the blog yet:
Julia's Hello Kitty Party
Julia's Fairy Party
Elsa's Brown Bear Brown Bear Party
Elsa's Fairy Party
Elsa's Bird Party
Julia and Sam's Birthday Brinner Party

I've got some catching up to do it seems!


 

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My favorite campstove

Car campers and backpackers typically have a completely different set of camping gear, but when you travel with three kids, a husband, a dog...