Sunday, September 20, 2015

IDMommy Projects: Our Camper "Remodel!"

We got a camper!!
I'd be willing to argue that 2015 was our best summer ever.  A big part of that is due to us getting a camper part way through the summer.  We've been tent camping together since we got married almost 16 years ago, but lately I had been looking forward to (not) sleeping on the ground and hiking to the restroom less and less. I guess I'm getting old. I have been looking at pop-up trailers for years, but my husband discovered and sold me on a hybrid camper.  With a hybrid we get the benefits of both a hard-sided and a pop-out camper.  It's small enough to haul with our Jeep, but plenty of space inside and we can use it with or without the beds popped out.  There is a full bathroom with a shower, and we are now spoiled with heat and air conditioning when we really need it.  And a mattress.  OFF the ground.  We found this camper via Craigslist and it fits our family perfectly.  It's a Starcraft hybrid camper, with a queen and double bed that pop out. There are a bunk beds inside as well.  One of our boys really wanted the top bunk bed, and the other wanted the pop-out, which was perfect. No fighting! The lower bunk we use to hold our bags and stuff, while we sleep in the larger queen bed. I am now just as excited as the boys for the next camping trip!

Of course, being a designer, I just couldn't resist replacing all the boring mauve, baby blue, and fake wood veneer with some retro fun!! Here are some photos of the transformation that our camper saw throughout the summer!

Kitchen area...I painted all the fake wood, and left the real wood trim.
There are a lot of blog posts and pinterest pics out there about "glamping," with all sorts of glamorous photos of campers that look like they are right out of an interior design magazine spread.  Keep in mind that while I did try to take photos of our camper while it looked it's best, even "glamping" isn't glamorous all the time! Most of these photos were taken in our driveway while I was working on things.  Once this bad boy gets out into the wilderness, it is more often seen littered with pretty leaves, great walking sticks, cool rocks, and little containers of bugs, butterflies and caterpillars...just the way a camper should be!!  While I always am working to keep our little space in order, it's not all perfectly neat while in use.  After all, I'd much rather be focused on making camping memories than keeping the camper pristine!
I re-upholstered all of the cushions in silver, black, and sparkle red vinyl!! The camper had just been reupholstered with the flower canvas, which really was pretty cute.  But, this really fit better with the overall theme and brightened up the area.  I also had cleanability in mind here, and wanted dinette cushions that my boys could spill on and I could simply wipe up!

Curtains and other upholstery! I found this adorable camper fabric on and replaced all the pink curtains!  The tie-back's I crocheted with black and sparkly red yarn, and then bought sparkly mint green buttons from the fabric store.  All I did was yank the old ones out of the wall, and staple in the new ones with a staple gun!  I used more of the curtain fabric to reupholster the padded boards on the bunk beds and above the doorway as well.  Really easy to do with a staple gun!

The frig is covered with some fun plaid adhesive-backed vinyl! The cabinet door to the right of the frig has some clear plastic frames where I can hang photos of camping memories.

Cabinet knobs! I shopped around for a while but knobs are expensive. So, I decided to spray paint the boring bronze ones, then painted little trailers on them with acrylic paint and gave them a couple coats of clear coat!

Paint does wonders!

I got these fun paisley bird and branch vinyl graphics on Amazon and scattered them around the dinette area.

This peel & stick tile from "Tic-Tac-Tile" is awesome! You can cut it with scissors and just stick it on! It made a really cool backsplash without adding tons of weight to the camper.

 I knew we'd have fun with a camper. I have fond memories of camping in our little pop-up as a kid, and knew I wanted my boys to create memories like that as well.  But, even I didn't realize just how much fun we ALL would have, and how much MORE I would look forward to camping now!  I love that I don't have to spend 2 weeks hauling stuff out of the shed, washing everything, and taking inventory every time we camp.  It's so nice to have most of our gear all situated in the camper, and be able to just pack our clothes and go!  We also save SO much money now on dog kennels, as we can take our dog Lucy along with us.  She does GREAT in the camper and loves it! She is a 115 pound great dane mix and her and her bed fit perfectly under the dinette table overnight.  It couldn't be a better fit for all of us, and we're looking forward to years of memories to come!

The start of our family's camping memories!

We've just scheduled what will likely be our last camping trip of the season, and then plan to make some repairs and improvements before the snow starts flying.  I'm already looking forward to next spring!

Monday, September 7, 2015

11 Reasons for Little Boys to Love Chicago

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Chicago.  I got engaged at the top of the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) back in 1998.  Chicago was the half way point of the many drives my hubby and I took on our trips back home to MN when we were living in Ohio.  I've been there several times for business trips while working for Best Buy, and really fun design conferences while I was president of the MN chapter of IDSA.  My last trip was a gift for my Mom on her 60th birthday...just her and I exploring the city for a weekend.  So, when the opportunity arose to take our boys to their first trip to Chicago earlier this spring, I was as excited as them!

There are so many things for all ages and genders to love in Chicago, but being that we were seeing it through the eyes of our 2 boys this time made me realize what a great trip it is for boys especially! Here are a few reasons why, in no particular order...

1. The Cloud Gate
Also known as "the Bean," the Cloud Gate sculpture is really fun for everyone.  Adults walk underneath like kids, looking up in awe and not paying attention to where they are going, lie down along the edge to get a picture, and kids just blend right in.  It's a place where everyone acts a little silly, enthralled with their own reflections, and imaginations run wild!

2. Maggie Daley Park
I thought the boys would enjoy a walk over the BP "Bridge to Nowhere," only we were pleasantly surprised to discover that it no longer leads to nowhere! At the other end now lies an incredible new park with one of the coolest playgrounds we've ever seen. Being a Saturday morning it was pretty chaotic there, but wow did our boys have FUN!! 

3. Gino's East 
Where else will your kids be allowed to draw on the walls and even the furniture?! Even with seriously over tired boys, we managed to wait the usual 45 minutes it takes to bake a genuine Chicago deep dish pizza without any meltdowns.  The boys got crayons almost immediately upon entry, colored their placemats, had some cheesy bread, explored the upper level, rode the elevator, left their marks on the walls, and waited for their pizza without asking for my phone to play games!

4. Transportation Galore
Planes, Trains and Automobiles never fail to catch the boys' attention. We took a Taxi for our first ride but quickly switched to Uber as they are a fraction of the cost and so much nicer. The boys get excited over all forms of transportation, so even a cab ride was fun!  They perked up and forgot about their tired feet whenever the El train passed by, and likened the tiny cars from our skyscraper views to their Hot Wheels tracks back home...

5. Fire Trucks
The first morning we awoke to find our boys hiding between the curtains and the window quietly whispering "WOAH!" and "Oooooh, did you SEE that?!"  After we rolled out of bed they told us they were watching a truck on fire, being put out by fire fighters! Later we found out that they were actually filming a scene for Chicago Fire right outside our hotel.  Pretty cool for little fire truck fans!!

6. Navy Pier
The first thing the boys wanted to do when we woke up the first day was ride the Ferris wheel! Yeah, I know it's a total tourist trap, but still worth a stroll through.  We must have gotten some sort of early bird special by accident because our $7/person entry to the Ferris Wheel ended up being a pass worth 2 rides each. So, the boys got to go on a couple other rides as well! What little boy doesn't love being hurled through the air on swings?! It's definitely a fun and unique way to enjoy an amazing open air view of the city from up high.

 7. Lego Towers
The boys loved going up in the Hancock Observatory (now 360 Chicago) and the Willis Tower Skydeck! They were really impressed with the giant Lego models of each building that were there, too....

8. Heights and Spying from Above
Besides just enjoying the amazing views from above, we had fun being spies and zooming in on stuff the boys wanted to investigate with my camera. On the left is a photo of the beach, viewed from the Hancock Tower, where we noticed that someone had written a marriage proposal in the sand! The image in the center is of some prisoners playing basketball on the rooftop exercise yard of the Metropolitan Correctional Center. The far right the boys got their thrills stepping out on the sky deck!

9. Construction and Danger
Wherever you walk there is bound to be some ordinary Chicago occurrence that will fascinate little boys.  Here we had fun watching a window washer at work, as well as a jackhammer tearing up the street.  Our boys never grow tired of heavy equipment, noise, dirt and danger! If you can catch the lift bridges opening up, it's sure to be a hit.

10. Museums Galore
There are a lot of great museums in Chicago...

- The Museum of Science and Industry
- The Art Institute of Chicago
- Museum of Contemporary Art
- The Field Museum of Natural History
- Adler Planetarium
- Chicago Childrens Museum
- Shedd Aquarium
- Peggy Notebaere Nature Museum
...and many more...

The only one we had time to hit in our short trip this time was the Art Institute of Chicago. Sam was really excited to see so many familiar paintings and favorite artists! He happens to have an AMAZING art teacher and told me all sorts of fun facts about particular paintings and artists that even I never learned in my years of college art history classes.  Their armor exhibit was a hit with the boys too!

11. Lincoln Park Zoo
I grabbed a ride via Uber with the boys to the Lincoln Park Zoo while Daddy was working, and it was great! Unfortunately we got there shortly before closing, so we didn't have a ton of time.  The great thing about this zoo though is that it is FREE, so you don't have to feel like you need to cram every square foot in on one visit to get your money's worth.

The zoo was really beautiful and manageable for us on foot.  After the hour or so that we had there, they were tired and ready for dinner so we tried one last, great Chicago pizza place: Giordano's!

Giordano's was my favorite pizza...but Gino's was my favorite crust. Both amazing!

All in all it was a GREAT trip and the boys can't wait to go back! To top it off, we even managed to weave in some requirements for Sam to earn a travel related Cub Scout "belt loop!"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

DIY Organization Project: Seasonal Closet Drawer Labels!

Drawer Labels that Change with the Seasons!!

It's that time of of my favorites! The temperatures are finally rising and I'm thinking about putting the screens back on the windows so we can open them up and clear out all of the old remnants of flu season from the air! It's that magical time of year when I am just SO happy to be able to spend time outside without fifteen layers on that I don't mind having to spend that time cleaning up the months of built-up dog poop in the yard as it is revealed by the melting snow!

And there's that other job...the one that is much less gross but even more time consuming than dog-poop-cleanup: CLOSET ROTATION!

This year I had an idea and decided to implement it in hopes of making the process go more smoothly year after year.  I found some drawers at Goodwill and since they fit perfectly side-by-side in our coat closet, I earmarked them for seasonal "stuff" organization.
Right now I have a bin that goes up high in the closet where I stuff all the winter accessories during the summer, and all of the summer accessories during winter.  There's a label on each end of the bin: "Winter Stuff" and "Summer Stuff." Whatever's in the bin at the moment dictates which label I leave facing out.  This method has worked great so far for tucking away out-of-season stuff. 

But what do you do with in-season stuff once you un-pack it and need to use it all?

I've tried using stacking bins and storage benches, but they just keep turning into a mixed-up mess.  So, this year I thought I'd try the drawers.

I made these labels that I can use all year, and just flip them up or down to reveal the summer or winter versions of what's inside.  Now I realize it's not quite shorts weather yet, but I am eager to rotate the closets here soon and see how this goes.  I'll dump all the winter stuff into my big bin, and put all the summer stuff in their respective drawers.

Here's how I made them...

How I made my labels
 1 - Do a Google image search for images and lay them out on pages with a summer pic on top and winter on bottom, or vice versa.  Just make sure each sheet in the end is twice as tall as it is wide. If you don't want to do an image search, you can draw pictures too! (Or use words...I'm using pictures so there are NO excuses from the little guys when it comes to putting their own stuff away!)

2 - Fold the paper in half and crease it (blank sides together).

3 - Fold the paper in half AGAIN and crease it.

4 - Unfold it and note the folds in the should have a fold between each photo, and then right across the middle of each photo.

5 - Laminate them, so you don't have to do this all over again in the fall! If you don't have a laminator or don't want to pay to have them laminated, clear contact paper or heavy duty, clear mailing tape works great too!

6 - Re-fold and crease over all your previous folds so that you are now creasing the laminate.

7 - Pinch the inside center fold together and tape the edges so it stays together. Leave the top and bottom flaps loose.

8 - Add some velcro dots to both image so you can flip and stick it to show one or the other.

9 - Attach the labels to your drawers or storage bins! I'm still trying to figure out the best way to do this. I don't know if I want it permanent so I've used mailing tape for now, but it's not sticking great, so I may explore some other options and will update you if I find something that works well.

Now, simply flip your labels to match the season!

Above you can see mostly winter stuff still, but I just flipped the lower left one to show one of the summer labels which has goggles and beach toys. I also have one for swimming trunks, sunglasses/hats, sunscreen/bug spray, etc.  I got a great little shoe cubby at Goodwill the same day so that's where all of the shoes will go.  As with everything I organize, I'm sure this is the best it will ever look, but hey, 'ya can't blame a girl for trying!!

Got any other closet rotation tips? I'd love to hear them...feel free to comment and share!

Happy Spring!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My School Lunch "System!"

I was so overwhelmed when Sam started first grade this past fall...all day school, having to figure out a lunch, working in time for homework, starting up Cub Scouts, church devotions and memory verses...with so many to-do's and suddenly less time to do them, I was pretty stressed for the first week or two of school! I set alarms on my phone for everything...including pack his snack, remember gym shoes, put his homework in his bag, return library books, and pack lunch!  Going from afternoon kindergarten to getting up early to catch the bus in the morning made me wonder how I was going to make lunch every morning, too.  Well, I ended up putting together a pretty good system and I thought I'd share it in case there are any other moms looking for a way to streamline lunch!!

My goal is to get in all of these categories of food each day: Sandwich, Dairy, fruit, snack, beverage, dessert. 

I make a couple weeks of sandwiches at a time, bag them and freeze them.  This is what my mom did, and it works well...of course there's no lettuce in the sandwiches but meat & cheese freeze and thaw fine, and so does pb&j!  I do put mayo on the meat sandwiches too, but I make sure to spread it between slices of meat and/or cheese, so it doesn't soak into the bread.

In the freezer I have a container of sandwiches, and on top of that a container of dairy items.  This includes Gogurt and string cheese.  I mix it up so he doesn't have the same thing EVERY day.  Did you know that you can freeze string cheese too?! You can!! I stock up when they go way on sale!

On the pantry shelf I have three bins, all labeled: Fruit, Snacks and Dessert.  I put "Sam's Lunch" on them so people don't just snack out of them!

The fruit bin has a rotating variety of applesauce cups, fruit pouches and diced fruit cups.  If we have some good fresh fruit I'll bag some up in the frig, but this way I always have SOME kind of shelf stable fruit ready to go.  

The dessert bin has another rotating variety depending on what awesome coupon deals I am getting at the moment.  Sometimes it's a cookie, sometimes a pudding cup, etc...a homemade dessert we have around the house at the time, or a pre-packaged's always changing too so that makes it fun for Sam.  I just have to remember to add a spoon if I'm giving him pudding or fruit in cups!

I love the little snack size Ziploc bags. I know this is not at ALL "green," and I'm probably wasting a lot of money, but I may someday get some re-useable bags.  For now, they work great.

Lunch snack + a little chocolate treat = snack time treat
For the snack I usually put some kind of crunchy thing...a few crackers, pretzels, cereal, etc. 

In addition to lunch, he has to bring another snack every day.  For a while I did granola bars, then found out we couldn't send any snacks with peanuts to school, and all of ours had peanuts.  So, now I'll send another one of any of his other lunch items (an extra snack baggie, extra fruit item, etc).  Lately I've been sprinkling in just a few of these mini M&M's that I have left from my Christmas baking to add something special to the non-lunch snack.  They are so tiny that they last forever if you just add a few, and it's fun to find a few little chocolate treats in his snack, even if it's only a few teensy bits!  My boys get SO excited when they find one mini chocolate chip among their snack!

For the beverage, I got a little 2-pack of short Cool Gear water bottles at Target that have an ice stick that attaches to the sippy top.  I just pour in a little milk, and he has his milk to drink that stays extra cold.  Yes, he can get in line and buy a carton at school, but I don't see the point when we have milk and we have a way to send it with him. It actually gives him more time to eat rather than stand in line.  With only a 15 minute lunch period, he often doesn't have time to finish everything, so any extra time is great!

SO, now my morning lunch packing process goes like this...

I open the freezer and grab the ice packs, a sandwich and dairy item. I stick them in his lunch bag, put the ice pack in the bottle that I've filled with milk and add that. Then I just grab one item from each of my 3 bins, toss them in with a napkin and I'm done.  I don't have to get out sandwich items or even think about whether he has a balanced lunch. I don't have much time or brain power for thinking early in the morning!

I hope this is helpful to someone and not totally boring...ha!  Happy lunch making, Mommas!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Minion Birthday Party!

Today was my littlest buddy's 5th birthday party! We had a minion's what we did!!

We of COURSE had to have BA-NA-NAS!!!

I love these beverage tubs I got years ago...I have one in yellow, orange and green. They have been "dressed up" to go along with many party themes!

Beverages, plates, etc! 

The cake! I meant to add some arms but didn't get to it...I don't think the birthday boy noticed! ;-)

Of course anyone who has a Pinterest account can't have a minion party without making Twinkie minion cupcakes, right?!

Lemonade + Google images = Minion lemonade!!

Did you know they make minion shaped graham cracker snacks?! YEAH!

I cut out lots of little minion faces from the packaging that my little guy's minion gifts came in, and had fun hiding them around the house! (He opened his gifts from us before the party...minion sheets, blanket, hat, etc)

Another fun Pinterest idea! I pulled the goggle images from Google and got plastic ware and napkins from the dollar store.

I always like to have some sort of project on the table for the kids to do. We had some minion face parts, glue, paper, scissors and bamboo skewers to make little masks!

the Birthday boy!
I am a professional balloon twister so of course I had to do some balloons...these minions were cute floating around the house while holding on to a couple helium balloons! You can check out my balloon twisting here.
Gru hanging from the ceiling, keeping watch over his minions!

Purple grapes + Trifle dish + Google images + purple construction paper = evil minion fruit!!!

Usually I make pinatas but I got one on Amazon this year!

It was SO much fun! Toby said it was the best birthday party ever!  We also gave him Despicable Me 2 so we had that running on the tv.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Puppy Themed Birthday Party!

My big boy turned 7 last month! He's been obsessed with puppies since he was born.  We do have two actual, live dogs.  But, he can't get enough puppy toys!  His bed is so crowded with stuffed puppies, we had to get a stuffed animal hammock to hold all of them. He was a puppy for Halloween this year, and of course wanted a puppy themed birthday party.  Here's what we did!

I took several trips to the thrift store and found lots of like-new puppy Beanie Babies! Every kid got to adopt a puppy to take home, and they were all different.

Our "build-a-bird" station was a hit at his Angry Bird party, so this year we did "build-a-dog!" There was a container full of cardboard tubes that isn't in the photo.

Toby and Sam with the dogs they built

The cake! I found this cute metal dog and did a simple sheet cake.  The food dish I carved out of more cake, but then my Dad had a really awesome idea...I could have just used one of those little shortcake things that's totally shaped like a dish already!  Anyway, I filled the dish with Whoppers and the birthday boy got the dish! :-) 

Cake close up

I got this cute pinata on Amazon.  It was so cheap, it was worth it vs making one this time.  But, it was NOT a pull string pinata as shown in the photos on Amazon...wish I had read the comments! I tried to cut my own door with strings but it didn't work too great...the first string somehow pulled ALL the strings off, leaving only the one that opens the door! But, none of the kids of course care if the pinata works, once the candy starts pouring out!

The birthday boy in puppy heaven!! I found the huge St Bernard dog he's lying on for $4.99 at Goodwill...just beautiful like new!!  The "Fur Real" dog sitting up behind him was from a garage will bark, follow commands, sit up, lie down, etc!

Some of the snacks we had with dinner! You can get graham cracker "Scooby Snacks" at the grocery store (see below for link)...I put out a bowl of Whoppers since I bought them for the cake.  I also made "puppy chow," a favorite of our family...I just didn't get it into the bowl here before the photo!

The table! I got the inflatable fire hydrant from Amazon! (scroll down for a link) The dog balloons are Air Walkers...those I got from the manufacturer since I sell balloons in my online store.  They were fun for the kids to walk around!
I really don't try to plan in too many games and activities because the kids always have so much fun just playing together!  Generally we'll eat, then do cake & ice cream, then pinata, then gift opening.  Whatever project I set out on the table the kids can do if they like, or all works out well I think!

All in all it was a great party!!  Now I'm gearing up for my little guy's Minion themed 5th birthday party, coming up in just over a week.  Stay tuned for more birthday party fun! :-)

Below are some Amazon links to make your shopping quicker & easier than mine, haha!


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