Using Dinner Leftovers in Bentos

Nerd alert: I still love packing school lunches.  By no means are my bentos the cutest, definitely not anything too noteworthy, but I seriously love packing these lunch boxes.  

One thing I've noticed is that I don't really "shop" for school lunch items.  The food I buy is basically all for the purpose of feeding the family--none is ever specifically purchased for the sake of school lunches.  Since I never have a plan when it comes to packing Elliott's lunches, she often ends up with dinner leftovers and odds and ends in her lunch.  As far as I know, she enjoys it--you know, the box comes home mostly empty, so I'm calling it a success.  Here are a few of the lunches she's had lately that have contained leftovers.

1.  Leftover grilled teriyaki chicken and pineapple, meunster/olives/goldfish, strawberries.
3. Leftover BBQ pork, cole slaw, Triscuits and nectarines, honeydew
4. Leftover copycat Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets and honey mustard, cole slaw, veggies and ranch, grapes

One concern is always food safety--I covered that in this post.  We're also still loving the thermos for sending leftovers in the lunch bag.  I hate food waste and utilizing leftovers in the lunch box is proving to be a time and money saver.  Yay!


The unexpected milestones.

I've been reflecting a lot on the milestones of my children that I hadn't anticipated.  In a few short months, Elliott will turn 6 and Bennett will turn 3.  I've been hit with the realization that though I still feel like such a novice, I don't even have babies anymore!  It's both exhilarating and terrifying--moving into this new territory.

Along the way, there were certain milestones I looked forward to--like weaning, the completion of  potty-training, and sleeping through the night.  Honestly, we're still working on the whole sleeping through the night thing with Bennett, a milestone I'd assumed would happen a few months into her life, but (oops!) I was wrong.  Luckily, the other milestones have come pretty easily.

But then there are the unexpected milestones--the ones I never really thought about--the ones that once they actually happen, you realize how awesome they are.  Some are significant, others are not, but they're milestones nonetheless.

Buckling their own car seat. Who knew such a small and mundane task, when completed by my child, was cause for celebration?  Since my kids are on the small (err, like seriously small for their ages) side, I know that we are going to have a longtime love affair with carseats.  Not having to buckle both of those 5 point harnesses every time we load up?  Priceless.

Sitting on a park bench.  (Me, not the kids.)  At almost three, Bennett is now venturing away from me on the playground.  My friend Tabby and I often take our gals to the park and marvel at the fact that we now occasionally get to sit back and chat, guilt-free, while the kids occupy themselves.  It's a far cry from that chaos that park trips consisted of a few years ago, right Tabby?

Skipping a nap without major repercussions. I'm not going to say that I a fan of skipping naps--they're still a high priority on my daily list.  However, there's so much freedom in knowing that if we happen to have to shift or skip naptime, it won't be World War III.

Managing sickness. Without going into details, kids are gross.  Elliott, at almost 6, can handle the majority of her bodily functions on her own, and this includes maintaining good aim when sick (which thankfully is RARE).  Not having to change clothing and sheets when a bug hits is a bonus for everyone.  I can't yet say the same for little sis, so for now, Stanley Steemer and I are pretty tight and I know easier days are in store.

No diaper bag. No diapers, no diaper bag.  Niiiiiiicee.

Drinking from a straw. I think my girls each picked up the skill of drinking through a straw around the age of one.  This was a game-changer for me because it meant that I no longer had to be in constant possession of a sippy cup.  Don't even get me started on how much I hate the phrase "sippy cup", and even worse than that was washing the things and all those teeny holes and plastic valves.  I'm grateful that we're in the regular ol' cup stage around the house, but I do remember when the babes learning to drink from a straw was a game-changer.

A few of these milestones recently joined up to equal our family's first camping trip.  Like, a for real sleeping-in-the-tent-all-night-long camping trip.  And shocker--it was SO enjoyable!

I've been told that other unanticipated milestones are coming.  A very wise and seasoned Mom recently told me a neat milestone to look forward to is when the kids can bathe themselves.  I hadn't even considered this rite of passage, and I realize I'm still years away, but man oh man, the ability to say "go take a shower" without having to be involved?  That's going to be a good day.

I'd love to know some of your favorite unexpected milestones.

Bentos and some Thermos Love

In the midst of my many long and unintended blogging breaks, a lot of life happens--and often this life is still documented with the intent of posting, but obviously you can see how far those intentions take me.  The ideas for content are endless, the inspiration is infinite, but the actual doing?  Well, you know how that goes.  

Every weekday I pack a bento.  Sometimes I even remember to take a photo.  Here's some evidence:
1. Chia Pudding, strawberries, Triscuits, Pastrami and Meunster pinwheels
2. Grapes, cottage cheese, Triscuits, apples
3. Pastrami, candied pecans, apples, Wheat Thins and cream cheese
4. Grapefruit, cottage cheese, 5-grain chips, pastrami & meunster pinwheels
5. Triscuits, apple/raisin/yogurt/honey salad, pastrami, strawberries
6. Strawberries, salted cucumber slices, leftover taco.

Throughout our short cold spells, Elliott really enjoyed taking a thermos of warm food for lunch. To prep the Thermos, I pour in boiling water and screw on the cap and leave it for 5-10 minutes, usually during that time, I heat whatever food I plan on adding to the Thermos.  Elliott has reported that her food is still warm enough to require blowing on when she eats it.  The crazy lady within me wants to take my laser thermometer to her school and check the food temperature at lunchtime--but I can assure you, I've resisted the urge.

So far.      ; )
1. Leftover lasagna (cut into bite-sized pieces), cucumbers, apple
2. Leftover pot roast over rice, grapes, strawberries
3. Leftover chili, crackers, strawberry yogurt, strawberries.
4. Fried rice, apple.


QVC Christmas Wreath Challenge

Merry Christmas!   I hope you have been enjoying the season.  I know I've been pretty quiet on the blog front, but that's only because life behind the scenes has been moving at the speed of light, and when it's not, I seize those opportunities to slooow down and savor the moment.  I hope that in the midst of the busy holiday season, you're able to do the same.

QVC's You're Home With Jill provided an awesome 24" pre-lit wreath for me to try out and decorate and it was pretty exciting.  At this point in the game, we're a pretty established family and have reached just about max capacity in terms of Christmas decor.  In other words, I have three bins of Christmas decor and I keep myself limited to these bins, so there's not a whole lot of new holiday decor going on at my house.  But when someone asks, would you like a pre-lit wreath to decorate, it's pretty hard to say no.

Here's what I came up with.  I love love love Nutcrackers.  This doesn't mean I have some grand collection--I only have two--but I just love them.  Being that this nutcracker fit so perfectly into the center of the wreath, I kinda feel like it was meant to be. 

The wreath itself is pretty plain, but boasts a really cool lighting system and endless possibilities for personalization.  The power comes from 3 D batteries and there are 6 light settings.  The lights can glow white, multi-color, or transition between both.  Each of the settings has the option to use a timer also--6 hours on, 18 hours off.  I LOVE the timer feature.  The only issue is that battery pack is visible--so the wreath must be decorated to conceal it.  Below, I'll share what I did, but for those of you who are uncrafty or feel crunched for time, a simple large bow (usually only a dollar or so at the Dollar Tree) would totally do the trick in hiding the unsightly but necessary electronic component.  

I chose to keep my decorations removable so I can try out a different configuration next year.  To spruce up this wreath (get the pun?) I simply added a nutcracker that I already had and some awesome chartreuse poinsettias.  And I totally realize that chartreuse poinsettias aren't for everyone, but I can assure you, they're TOTALLY for me.

 I used some pipe cleaners left over from crafting with Elliott to affix the nutcracker to the wreath.  Then I just poked the poinsettias into the wreath, letting the faux pine grab on and keep the poinsettias in place. So far, it's done the trick!

Red poinsettias tend to look a bit more washed out than these vibrant green ones do.  I really liked seeing the similarity in color between my wreath and the beloved succulents in my landscaping.  It all works well, and folks, Christmas is Florida never looks traditional anyhow.

Merry Christmas--from my family to yours!

Jill Bauer, QVC’s Home-Savvy Hostess, hosts the network’s popular show, “You’re Home with Jill®” and provides fans with simple solutions for their busy lives through innovative products, a library of stress-free DIY projects, and crowd-pleasing recipes. Fans can connect with Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram @jillbauerqvc.

Disclaimer: I received these products at no cost; Tristin & Company has no relationship with QVC that could materially affect the weight consumers place on my review. 

QVC DIY Thanksgiving Centerpiece Challenge

Is anyone else getting a bit antsy for Thanksgiving?  Personally, I find the years where Thanksgiving falls toward the end of the month to be pure torture.  I feel like it's Thanksgiving and then BAM! --it's December.  So, without wishing Thanksgiving away, I have to admit that I'm so so ready for Christmas.

When the folks from QVC asked if I'd be interested in a DIY centerpiece challenge, I naturally accepted.  They provided an awesome votive holder with some flameless candles.  I have to admit, I've never used a flameless candle but I may be hooked.   The candles that come with the Candle Impressions Fillable Glass Log have a built-in timer, so they come on for 5 hours at 24 hour intervals.  In other words, I set my candles at 5pm when I received them, and now, every night they magically come on every evening, from 5 pm to 10pm.  

I'm always paranoid that I'll leave real candles lit and leave the house (and this has TOTALLY happened before) so I'm pretty much sold on this whole flameless candle thing.  I'm not sure why I hadn't tried them sooner.

In terms of decorating the clear glass log as a centerpiece, I went with hydrangeas.  Hydrangeas have become my flower of choice--regardless of season.  They're readily available and priced well at my grocery store, they last a long time and they look fabulous in my vase of choice--which is a Mason jar.  All I did to create a simple Thanksgiving centerpiece is shove some hydrangea pieces into the clear glass tube.  Voila--instant class!  I'm not hosting Thanksgiving dinner, but if I was, there'd be mason jars of white hydrangeas, a kraft paper table runner, and plain white candles set about in a rustic fashion.  This centerpiece would be perfect.

The cool thing is that the glass log is customizable for any holiday or and style.  I personally like it plain, but I played around with a few other options, too.

QVC’s Jill Bauer hosts the network’s popular show, You’re Home with Jill® and provides fans with simple solutions for their busy lives through innovative products, a library of stress-free DIY projects, and crowd-pleasing recipes. Fans can connect with Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram @jillbauerqvc.

Disclaimer: I received these products at no cost; Tristin & Company has no relationship with QVC that could materially affect the weight consumers place on my review. 

I can do this.

I really do believe that there's so much about parenthood that's not understood until you're in the trenches.  A dog is a fabulous trainer for parenting.  I know for me, it was an experience to learn to put the need of a little precious and innocent canine above my own.  Bonding came from the tough things--like potty-training that seemed unending and nighttime walks at 3:30am for the first few months of puppyhood--because it was what he needed, and those needs of his became more important than my need for sleep.

And then enter kids.  Whoa Nellie.  What a way to rock a world and change you to the core.  I am truly a changed woman and glaring evidence presented itself today in the form of a call from Elliott's school.

I received a call informing me that Elliott had fallen backward off of a swing, bumping the back of her head.  Now at first, I thought, you know, it's nice to be informed  but I opted to just assume that things were fine and leave Elliott at school because, well, if she learns that her Mom will come whenever an injury occurs, I have a feeling a habit will very quickly follow. Something along the lines of a little boy who cried wolf.

But when I hung up the phone, the tears and self-doubt got the better of me.  I texted my husband, looking for a reassuring "you know she's fine", but he was in the midst of a meeting so the affirmation didn't come immediately.  So I sobbed a bit, feeling stuck in the thick of some grand parenting dilemma. First, she needs to learn that not every injury is a big deal and needs to be able to find comfort independently and learn to count on the others who are around her for support.  And she has a wonderful support group where she is--and learning to depend on them will serve her well in her confidence of being away from me.  On the other hand, what if something truly is wrong and she has a concussion and I just blew it off and I'm a terrible mother?

Needless to say, I was quite worked up.  I saw myself in the mirror, and said out loud, "You're not even the one who got hurt!"  And consequently, I thought, all of this ridiculousness needs to be shared.  And it needs a good illustration.  So I took a quick photo of my red-faced puffy-eyed exhausted self.  This, my friends, is why I don't even bother wearing make-up.

Now, I'm not a Mom who jumps up immediately when one of my kiddos gets hurt--it's not that I don't want to--I've just learned along the way that my reaction has a lot of bearing on their own reaction.  That's no grand secret to parents.  So, maybe I might even seem unsympathetic at times, which may be true.

But this time, I realized that the dilemma I faced had more to do with confidence as a parent.  Or, rather, lack of confidence.  I move fearlessly forward on the outside, but inside I'm quivering and letting self-doubt reign.  So many times when I make a choice, set a standard, make a demand or have to punish, the little voices eat at me telling me I'm "doing it wrong".  Sometimes the voices say I'm not tough enough--sometimes they tell me I'm too tough.  So much of modern wisdom tells us that we're psychologically damaging our children at every turn.  There are lists on Pinterest of things you should never say to your child, lists of the "proper" way to praise, and doggonit even though Freud is highly criticized, I still think about how every problem later in life can be traced back to the mother.

Parenthood is riddled with crippling doubt and insecurity.  And that's something I never expected.  I also never expected the swelling love-you-so-much-it-hurts feelings.  And when you mix all that together, it's...exhausting.

In the end, everything I do is for the betterment of my children.  Every rule I set, choice I make, stand I take--it's to get them where they need to be as productive and independent human beings. So, today I share and write.  Jumping up and getting Elliott and bringing her home wasn't the answer today--all signs pointed to the fact that she'd be perfectly fine.  Letting her "be" and letting out a sigh of relief and sharing my joys and frustrations as a mother seemed to be the route to go.

I can do this.  Phillipians 4:13.

Keeping Lunch Safe

I'm starting this post with Cliffs Notes in case you can't stand paragraph after paragraph of my lunchbox ramblings and such:

-Igloo Mini Tote 8 Fits a Goodbyn Bento perfectly while keeping it horizontal
-There's plenty of room for water bottle and snack, too.
-It also keeps the food very cool and safe (see the last photo)

But if you're interested in lunch box ramblings, then hey, thanks for sticking it out with me.

I'll admit, I looked like a fool in Target when back-to-school time came.  In search of the perfect lunch solution, I headed over to the lunch box section and made myself comfy, trying to fit different bento styles into different lunch boxes.  It's a far cry from the days of my childhood where we all carried the same hard-sided Aladdin-brand lunch boxes with matching thermoses with our favorite TV characters on them--or brown paper bags.  You know what I'm talking about, right?  There are just so many choices and the reviews found on the internet only further throw me into obsessiveness in making "just the right choice".  It comes in part from just wanting to have the perfect solution and also, I really want to buy something that works and not have to buy anything again for a long time.

All that leads me to say that for the Goodbyn Bento, the Igloo mini tote 8 is a great choice of lunchbox.  Now, initially I chose the Igloo Leftover Tote 9, which is great, but as it would turn out it's rather large and cumbersome for an undersized five-year-old like mine.  I can't tell you how many times we heard "That lunch box is bigger than she is,"--and it was a totally correct statement.  When I ordered the Igloo Leftover Tote 9, I received the wrong item and what was sent was the Igloo Mini Tote 8.  The Amazon seller told me to keep the incorrect item and they'd send the correct one, so I ended up with two lunch boxes--but let me say--their mistake was a huge benefit to me because it helped me get the better lunch box, I just didn't know it yet.

The Goodbyn Bento nestles perfectly down into the Igloo Mini Tote 8.  I place two ice packs on the bottom before I add the Bento, and then I'm able to keep the Bento horizontal which was a requirement for me.  There are SO many lunchbox options if you're not concerned about your Bento going vertical, but I wanted to be able to place silicone muffin liners of multiple items into one of the compartments, so going vertical didn't seem like a great idea in our case.

The Bento fits snugly into the mini tote but can still be easily removed by small children with unrefined motor skills.  There is additional room in the top to hold a snack (including the Goodbyn snack containers) and a good-sized water bottle.  (We switch between a Nalgene kids bottle and a Camelback Kid's Eddy.)

Here's the best part of the lunch box solution.  Call us nerds, but we love our digital surface thermometer.  My husband bought it to measure results of some home improvement projects (insulation and the like) and it turns out, we use it a lot.  I even use it in place of a candy thermometer.  I digress (obviously, since this ENTIRE post is about something as lame as lunchboxes!) but this tool helped me to know that our solution is keeping Elliott's food safe.
The pic on the left shows a bowl of watermelon straight from the fridge at 7:30am.  To the right, this is the measurement of Elliott's leftover watermelon after school.  Mind you, the lunchbox has been removed for a period of time, midday, so that she can eat her lunch--and even still, the temp increase at the end of the day is only 8 degrees. Food safety experts tell us that the "Danger Zone" for food falls between 40-140, so all-in-all I feel like an 8 degree increase over the course of 8 hours is pretty impressive.  

I had to do this checking, you see, because I hate hate hate food waste and if Elliott hasn't finished her lunch, then her lunch leftovers are her afternoon snack when she gets home.  (Some things, even at a decent temp, I don't do this with, however--like leftover egg salad for instance--but in the case of this watermelon and many other leftovers, I feel perfectly fine encouraging her to just eat her leftovers as a snack when she gets home.)  Call me crazy, but do you know how much food Americans throw out every year?  I try to keep our grocery budget minimal and a large way that this is successful is by not wasting food.  Keeping our lunches within a safe temperature range helps a lot, in our case. 

In this case, I'd like to think my obsessiveness in finding the right solution has paid off in a number of ways.

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