August 27, 2015

7 Awesome Back-to-School Must Haves

Did you wait until the last minute to buy school supplies? Me too. Here's a list of handy things to grab for your little ones as they get ready for the first day of school.

1. Animal Pals Pencil Case
My daughter has dozens of pencils, markers, and crayons and loves to bring a few along in the car. Whether your children need one for school, or if they're on the go and want to color in the car or plane, have them bring their drawing and coloring tools along in one of these super cute pencil cases. I love the yellow zebra one, available on Amazon at Cool Pencil Case - Animal Pals Pencil Case- Zebra. It's currently only $4.49 with free shipping.

2. Elmer's Washable No-Run School Glue
Chances are gel glue is on the school supply list. Our school requested gel glue, but it's actually hard to find in my town. So, I order Elmer's Washable No-Run School Glue, 5 oz Bottle, Clear (E305) from Amazon.

The clear glue doesn't leave those white globs when dry and can be used for some interesting art projects. With my kindergarten class, I had the kids use the glue to draw the outline of a picture on dark paper and then they colored inside with oil pastels and cut out their pictures around the glue line. Get a few extra for home!

3. Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers
When it's time to order back-to-school supplies, I always look for Crayola brand markers because in my experience as an art student, part-time teacher, and mom, the color is brighter, Crayola markers handle abuse better, and they last longer than other brands. Make your child's teacher happy with a pack of Crayola Ultraclean Broadline Classic Washable Markers (10 Count) from Amazon.

4. Yumbox Bento Lunch Box
You can't go wrong with the Yumbox Panino (Lavande Purple) Leakproof Bento Lunch Box Container for Kids and Adults. The dividers indicate which type of food can go in each section, which takes the guesswork out of portion size. I always struggle to know how much protein or grains to include with Penny's lunch, so this will keep me informed so she can enjoy a healthy lunch all year. It's also BPA-free and dishwasher safe.

Penny's excited for the little condiment section in the middle. I usually include a little sauce box but it's a pain to clean and sometimes doesn't come home in her lunch box. Now I can have one box for her entire lunch.

Modern Labels for the sophisticated kid

5. Mabel's Labels Ultimate Back-to-School Combo
You've bought new clothes, stocked up on supplies, and ordered a super cool lunch box. Your kids are sure to lose a few things this year. Label everything so you have a good chance of getting those lost items back. With the Mabel's Labels Ultimate Back-To-School Combo, you get 108 customized, waterproof labels and tags, perfect for coats, shoes, gloves, lunch boxes, backpacks, and school supplies, for just $42! And the best part, you get free shipping at Mabel's Labels.

I've used other labels for Penny's school gear, but what I love about Mabel's Labels is all the customization options. Penny picks the theme and font. I pick the label package based on how much we need.

6. Fiskars Blunt Tip Scissors
Kids learn to be more independent with scissors in kindergarten. Start your younger ones off right with blunt tip scissors until they are ready for longer, pointed ones. Though they are offered in several colors, I love the bright, cheerful pink ones: Fiskars Blunt Tip Kids Scissors, 5-Inch, Pink.

7. Kids Konserve Waste-Free Lunch Kit
We're asked to be as conservative with waste as possible when packing school lunch. Avoiding plastic and paper bags is easy with the  Kids Konserve Caterpillar Go Wild Waste-Free Lunch Kit. It comes with the cotton bag and cloth napkin, plus a drink bottle, and stainless steel food containers. There's even a sandwich wrap.

Some Amazon reviews commented that the sandwich wrap isn't sealed, so if you are concerned about the bag getting jostled around before lunch, it would be super easy to add a velcro strip to keep the end closed.

August 24, 2015

Road Trip 2015: Days 7 & 8

Days 7 & 8: Des Moines, IA to Minnesota

After a long week, Des Moines was low key. On a very hot day, we spent the afternoon at a municipal pool and visited the Saylorville Dam.

Saylorville Dam
Penny helped set the picnic table for dinner
Our second night camping at Saylorville was considerably louder. A neighboring family was quite apologetic about their baby's first time camping, though I never heard her cry. Others were much louder, including a party somewhere else in the campground that was loud enough to hear late in the evening. My husband was strongly considering packing up and driving home at 10pm, but P wanted to stay the night and so we did.

I'm so glad we stayed because not long after leaving on Saturday morning, we realized we were super close to Reiman Gardens at Iowa State in Ames. We'd been last summer when visiting SCAD friends in town from Savannah and decided it was worth another visit. But, first we munched on a delicious buffet breakfast at the IowaStater restaurant.

During our visit, we explored several student-led installation exhibits. P loved a giant beehive she could climb inside.

We saw beautiful flying insects in the impressive butterfly space, learned more about pollinator gardens and registering our Monarch waystation. Overall, a wonderful way to spend a few hours at the end of a long trip.

Although I was ready to go home, I also wanted to see more. I'm already thinking about the next road trip. Where will our Suburu take us next?

August 9, 2015

Road Trip 2015: Days 5 & 6

Great Platte River Road Archway

Day 5: Cheyenne, WY to Kearney, NE

The trip to Fort Kearney was uneventful. It's a long drive and scenery changes little. There are more trees and the Platte River runs along I-80 for more than half the distance between these cities. As it was early summer and quite stormy lately, the river was already above flood level and a flood warning loomed over our heads.

We arrived at Fort Kearny State Historical Park (no "e" for the fort) close to dinnertime, found our site surrounded by trees among a large acreage of camping spots. Few people were camping, mostly in RVs.

There's not much to say about Day 5. We explored downtown Kearney and found little to do. Shops were long out-of-business and we couldn't find a place to eat. There wasn't a soul in sight at dinnertime midweek, so we drove away from downtown and found an Old Chicago.

Exploring Kearney, NE
Fort Kearny was ridiculously overrun with mosquitos. It was so bad, I had no intention of spending any time outside the tent. Miss P and I sprayed ourselves with Deep Woods Off and had bug candles and sprayed around the tent, but even just a moment outside ensured several new bites. I trekked to the bathroom for evening washing up bundled up with only my eyes showing. It was that bad.

Though buggy and uncomfortable outside, we slept well until just before the sun came up.

Day 6: Kearney, NE, Omaha, NE, & Des Moines, IA

Just before the sun rose, my husband woke me, urgently guiding me to pack the heck up and move out. A major storm was approaching with the potential to hit at any moment. We silently, yet swiftly, loaded the car without disturbing P until the last moment. She snuggled up in the car and dozed off. Not a minute after we left park grounds, the storm slammed Fort Kearney. We'd have been in bad shape trying to stick through it in a tent that close to the river, so I'm grateful to have made it out in time.

The sun had long since risen, you just can't see it.
The storm was rough for driving. It was huge, but also fast moving, following us along the highway. It was like we were bringing the rain, wind, and hail along for the ride. I tried to keep it to myself, but I was pretty nervous until we finally broke free just before Omaha.

Since we left so early, there was time for an extended stop in Omaha. I messaged a friend who grew up in Nebraska and asked where we should go if we could only be there for a couple hours. He suggested the Joslyn Art Museum, which we loved.

First though, was breakfast. Lisa's Radial Cafe is in this Pittsburgh-like neighborhood, kind of trendy and collegey. The place was packed, but worth a wait. We stuffed ourselves with delicious food and caffeine (for the grownups).

Next, art museum time. I'd intended to stay an hour, but we spent much longer enjoying the Joslyn. It was rather impressive, with famous works of art from around the world, a wonderful section featuring Native American art, beautiful gift shop items including works by Omaha-based artists, and an inspiring gigantic window piece by Dale Chihuly. Mayo Clinic has a Chihuly in the Gonda building, so when I saw all the colorful blown glass, I knew it had to be the same artist.

Miss P is a huge fan of umbrellas printed with famous paintings. Her favorite is Starry Night.

The children's area of the Joslyn is one of the more impressive play-learn spaces I've encountered. Tasteful and modern, the museum combined physical doing with virtual doing, so children can bounce between technology and tech-free experiences. P enjoyed the virtual canvas.

It was hard to leave Omaha after only a few hours, but we needed to get moving to Des Moines in time to set up camp and have dinner. The drive to Des Moines is short and pleasant. It's a pretty part of Iowa (Omaha is next to Council Bluffs, IA) that had me thinking a lot about moving.

Pretty tree at Saylorville
While very modern and not remotely secluded, Saylorville was a good spot to camp our first night in Des Moines. Loaded with pretty trees and not far from a man-made lake, we pitched our tent, explored the Saylorville area, went for gourmet pizza, and relaxed by the fire until late.

Falling asleep after washing up for bed