Sunday, June 21, 2015

Super Summer #1: Tips and Apps for Your Road Trip

Tips and Apps for Your Road Trips

Do you get totally frazzled even thinking of taking a road trip? Does your brain buzz and boil with all of the details you need to plan? That word PLAN is the key since it makes trips much smoother and hassle-free. Here are some things to work on before a road trip or other vacation.


App Alert: 
  • The TripRider app is well worth $4.99. Set your itinerary, track expenses, create packing lists, store maps, and more.  
  • The free TripAdvisor app will clue you in on where to visit, eat, stay, and more at your destination or along the way, along with ratings and other pertinent information.  
Where do you want to go? Whom do you want to visit? Take into account the desires and age levels of each member of your traveling party. One person might want to relax, while another wants to pack adventure into every possible moment. Brainstorm separately and/or together, with the understanding that you might not get to do everything. 

There may even be a time to split up your group if an activity is not suitable for everyone. For example, one parent could plan a relaxing afternoon at the hotel pool or at Grandma's house with the younger children while the other parent goes river rafting with the older ones. This can keep your teens from feeling held back to the activity level of your toddlers who need more rest.

Try to leave some rest time for everyone scheduled in each day, and if there is a big activity one day, plan for a "down day" or at least a light activity day the next. You can alternate activities to provide a good variety.

The Internet is a huge help in planning an agenda. If you know what main city you plan to stay in, you can look up what attractions are in that area. Or if you already know what attraction you want to visit, you can study the web site to find out hours, costs, reviews, etc. Save the information in a document created for your vacation plans.

Let your children research ahead of time about the places you plan to visit. This will help them understand more while you are there.

After you have agreed on what places you want to visit, take out your calendar and figure out when you will go to each place and where you will stay each night. You can create an itinerary table with these columns: Day#, Date, Activity Description, Activity Costs, Lodging, Mileage, and Driving Hours. 

Using your tentative itinerary, you can contact the people you plan to visit to make sure it is a good time for them, too. You can also make hotel reservations. If things just don't look like they are working out, make adjustments as needed.


App Alert: 
  • Most mobile devices come with a maps app on them. Check to see if it has the features you need, such as turn by turn GPS, multiple route options, and the ability to read the text version of the directions before you start. 
  • iExit tells you what amenities you can find at each upcoming highway exit.
  • CoPilot GPS allows you to navigate even if you don't have access to the Internet.

Using a mapping web site or app can be a big help. You can type in the addresses of each destination, and have it tell you exactly how to get from one place to another, how many miles, and how much driving time. 

Budget extra driving time for stops, especially if you have a large family or young children.

Even if you are using a GPS or mapping app, bring along paper maps, too, just in case. You can buy an atlas or print out detailed maps of the areas where you will be traveling.

Study your route and the surrounding area carefully before you get on the road. You need to be extra familiar with it in case you get turned around (lost!) or something changes.

Store all of your paperwork - maps, itineraries, budgets, attraction information, etc. - in a trip notebook, not just on your mobile device.


App Alert: 
  • The free Gas Buddy app will tell you where to find the least expensive gas around. 
  • Keep your budget in place with the TripRider app that I mentioned earlier.  

Prepare a spreadsheet or at least a penciled list of expenses you expect, including gas, car supplies, tolls, travel fares, lodging, groceries, restaurants, admission tickets, souvenirs, items you need to bring with you, pay for someone who is performing services while you are gone, other miscellaneous expenses. You can find information on many expenses on-line. Check to see if your hotel offers a free breakfast. You can also pack meals or stop for groceries to save on meal expenses. If you are staying with a friend or relative, you might want to pitch in for groceries, too.


App Alert: 
  • Check out the TripList packing list app or use the packing list feature in the TripRider app.

Keep a master packing list on the computer or mobile device with the items that you usually take on any trip. Then save it under a different name for each trip to adjust it for the specific needs. This will help you make a shopping list of things you need to buy before you go.

Zip lock bags are your friend! Store groups of small items in quart or gallon size bags to keep them together in your suitcase, or to keep toiletries from leaking all over everything. Keep an "emergency bag" with a change of clothes for each of the younger children in case they mess up what they are wearing with a spill or a potty accident.

Older kids can pack their own suitcases, using the lists you give them. However, check the suitcases to make sure that the clothes are clean, in good repair, in matching outfits, and suitable for the situation. Bring along plastic bags or pillow cases for your dirty laundry.

Younger children may be able to share suitcases. If you are staying in a hotel or a relative's house for just one night along the way, try to pack one suitcase with toiletries, pajamas, and one daytime outfit each for at least a few people, so not everyone has to lug all of their stuff in. You can pack a complete outfit for a child in a gallon-sized zip lock plastic bag, making it easy to "grab and go" in the morning when you're trying to get back on the road.

Allow each child to pack a car bag or bin with books, small toys, and basic art supplies. The dollar store is a great place to find fresh items to amuse them. When they aren't using them, they can stash their stuff under the seat. This is when it helps if they use a back pack with zippers or a plastic bin with a lid instead of an open tote bag. They can also bring a small pillow and/or light blanket for resting in the car.

Pack a plastic bin or tote bag with things you want handy up in the front of the vehicle, such as a small first aid kit, prescription medicines, flashlight, your own travel notebook, camera & extra batteries, baby wipes, a hair brush, sun screen or bug repellent, sun glasses, cell phone charger, permanent marker, blunt scissors, pencils and pens, trash bags for the van, etc.

Sleeping bags, blankets, and other bulky items can go in a large plastic storage bin with a lid. If you run short on suitcases, you can pack clothes in plastic bins, too.

Clean out and vacuum your car a few days ahead of time. To collect your trip trash, use a plastic cereal container lined with a grocery bag. If you have a large vehicle, use two! Store extra bags in the bottom for quick trash bag changes at gas stations.

Take advantage of all of your vehicle's storage space, such as under the floor boards or in seat back pockets.

Load your vehicle the night before you leave so you can climb in and go. 

Fun and Learning

App Alert:
  • The free Field Trip app alerts you to interesting and educational facts and places to visit along the way. 
  • Are you into adventure? Check out a GeoCaching app.
If you will be in en route for a long time, bring along as many portable electronic devices as you can, along with charging equipment that can be used in a vehicle. You can buy an adapter to plug in an AC plug into the car charger. A child can watch a movie, play a game, read a book, or listen to music or audio stories on a lap top, tablet, iPhone, or other mobile device. Consider downloading some new apps beforehand for fresh fun. Come up with an approved music play lists for your mobile devices with songs that won't annoy or offend anyone in the vehicle.

When you get to an area where there are scenic views or other learning opportunities, have everyone turn off the devices and look out the windows.

Especially if you are planning educational field trips and/or counting some of your vacation days as home school days, bring a notebook for each child so they can write and draw pictures about the day's adventures. They can store informational brochures about historical sites you visit. They may like to keep lists of the states they spot on license plates, too. You could photocopy simple maps of your vacation route so they can follow along as you go.

Talk to your kids about the power of observation. Help them to notice the little things along the way. Show them how to use a camera's features to capture the beauty.


Keep an ice chest and/or large insulated cooler bag in the back or trunk for a picnic lunch. Make sure you can get it out easily, and remember paper plates, disposable cups, and plenty of napkins. (You could put a Frisbee in it too, if you are stopping at a rest area.)

Stash a small food box or tote bag in the vehicle so someone can pass out tidy snacks, juice boxes or water bottles, and napkins. You can pack homemade or bulk packaged goodies into individual zip bags for each child if you don't want to buy prepackaged snacks. Kids can pack their own custom designed trail mix ahead of time. Set out big bowls of ingredients such as various nuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, lightly sweetened cereal, M&Ms, and let them scoop them into their own bags. This is a fun way to get them involved in trip preparation. Don't forget snacks for adults! I find that I drive best fueled with protein bars and caffeinated drink packets.

If you will be eating out or buying from a local grocery store, learn about local food specialties that you might enjoy. It's part of the travel experience!

Safety & Sanity Considerations

App Alert:

Be aware of applicable state laws such as texting and using a cell phone while driving, safety seat protocol, speed limits, traffic laws, etc.

Be sure your vehicle is in good working order. Consider taking it in for a tune up a week before you go. Check the tires, belts, safety belts, infant seats, and other systems before you hit the road. Keep your maintenance supplies and tools accessible so you can easily service your car or take care of a breakdown. Make sure your roadside service plan is current. This is a great time to teach teens and tweens basic car maintenance.

If you are one of the drivers, get plenty of rest before and while you travel. This is a huge safety issue. Try to have an extra driver in the vehicle in case you get too tired to safely continue. Don't push it. If it's not safe for you to drive, find a rest stop or a motel and get your rest!

Talk to your kids about proper behavior in the car, such as staying reasonably quiet, not pestering others, keeping their stuff organized, etc. It is especially important not to distract a driver in heavy traffic, at night, or when they are already stressed out. That's when accidents are most likely to happen!

Brainstorm ways to prevent petty conflicts in the car. For example, arrange the seating so kids aren't fighting about who sits where, and so that siblings who don't get along well are not sitting near each other. Plan frequent stops so everyone can get out, stretch, and use the restrooms. Bring along rolls of quarters, and give one quarter to each child for an hour of good behavior (determined individually), which they can use for souvenirs and extra snacks as you travel. 

Remind your kids to keep their hands away from car doors (so they won't get squished when someone slams them) and to keep their hands inside the car instead of waving them out the windows. At every stop, take the time to tidy up the car so people don't trip over things when they get back in.

Teach your child a routine for what to do if they get lost. For example, they should ask for help from either an employee in a uniform, or a mom with children. Then role play the situation until you are sure they understand. Buy matching bright-colored t-shirts for your kids so you can spot them easily in a crowd. This also makes for cute photographs. Make sure your kids know your cell phone number so they can call you if you get separated. Attach a younger child's name and your cell number onto the inside of their clothing in case someone needs to locate you. Talk about "stranger danger" in a way that equips your children instead of unnecessarily frightening them. We can be friendly and prudent at the same time.

Remind your younger kids to hold your hand when you are in a crowd or crossing traffic. If necessary, use a harness/strap system for a toddler. Assign "buddies" if you have older and younger children. This doesn't mean you can ignore what is going on but it does give an extra layer of care to the little ones if someone extra is looking out for them.

Check to be sure that each activity is age-appropriate and safe for your family members. You may need to buy or rent appropriate safety equipment, such as a life vest. Check on the accommodations for strollersConsider bringing a baby or toddler backpack to carry your child.

Be especially careful around water! Do your kids know how to swim yet? You might want to schedule some lessons before you go if you know you will be at the beach, pool, or lake. Speaking of water, be careful what you drink! If you are concerned about the water quality in a place you are visiting, bring along some bottled water or water purifying tablets.

Bring sunblock and bug repellent. Make sure you have enough drinking water. Check to ticks after you've been in the woods.

Keep a small first aid kit (bandages and antibacterial wipe packets) in your purse and a more complete kit in the car. You can buy the little kits in any dollar store.

Think back to previous trips and try to recall what you wished you'd brought and what you wished you hadn't. Ask your family members for their ideas, too.

Caring for Stuff Back at Home

Let a trusted neighbor know where you are going, how long you will be gone, and how to get a hold of you. Make sure they have a house key in case of an emergency. Arrange for your mail to be held or a neighbor to pick it up for you. Hide or lock up any valuables. Put lights or a radio on a timer to make it appear someone is home.

Plan for someone to care for your pets, houseplants, and/or landscaping. Many families we know ask a college age friend to come "house sit" for them while they are gone. Ask around to determine what reasonable pay rates are for these services.

If you live in an area prone to seasonal storms, make sure you "batten down the hatches" in case one hits while you are gone. This might include bringing in miscellaneous items from outside, trimming tree branches, and making sure storm windows are installed.


Did I forget anything from these lists? If so, let me know, so I won't miss out on planning them for MY next trip!


Bon voyage!

P.S. I just finished up my weekly Simply Spring series and this is the first post of my Super Summer series!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Simply Spring Series Recap and Links

Hello friends!

It's almost the official start of summer, and I just finished out my weekly Simply Spring blog series! Now for your clicking pleasure, I've got a recap, photo, and links for all 14 posts.

#1: Pretty and Practical at Home

This post introduced the Simply Spring series, as well as the Pretty and Practical theme within the series. It's everything like home decorating, chalk art, encouraging my kids to be responsible, keeping the van clean, keeping my garden alive, and more.

Like the previous post, this one is another smorgasbord of little things decorating and organizing, with lots of links to other related posts, and even a music video.

Round three of the little household stuff! Dishes, carpet care, my word stones, decorating, gardening, and lots more!

I got the living room decorated just in time for Easter, but that doesn't mean we had a picture perfect holiday. I tried to keep things simple, but there can always still be a lot of stress, right? It's a good things Easter isn't about perfection, but the hope of redemption!

More chalkboard art, a little inspiration, and how I'm using Google Calendar and doing finances on Mint.

Photos and inspiration from a ladies' retreat in scenic Mt. Dora, a peek at compassionate entrepreneurship, and another music video!

#7: Even More Pretty and Practical

Reaching out to our homeless friends, getting inspired by biographies, exercising my injured back, culling my book collection, storing my stuff, solving problems, and most of all, not comparing my house to someone else's!

#8: The Merry, Merry Month of May

Family news, kids' chores, and more!

#9: Mother's Day and Meltdowns

More real life confessions, a family picture of all 18 of us, as well as a lot of encouraging motherhood links for when times get rough and my favorite 1950's motherhood essay. Enjoy!

#10: Pretty and Practical Continues

I'm still dreaming of living in a simple little cottage someday! But in the meantime, it's real life daily stuff like birthday parties, preparing to sell used books, switching out curtains, and trying to keep my current home pretty and practical!

#11: Americana and Bird Decor

I decorated my hallway in Americana and my living room with a bird theme. It's all about being creative, looking for deals, making do with what I already have - and enjoying my liberty!

#12: Trades of Hope

What is a Compassionate Entrepreneur? How can we truly help families living in Third World poverty? Click over and find out!

#13: My Butterfly Kitchen

Back to decorating! I've got the butterfly thing going on in my kitchen now! And I've got some purely practical kitchen organizing and cleaning stuff to share, too.

#14: My Bedroom and Bathroom

My final Simply Spring post! I close out the series with a bit about decorating and organizing my bedroom and bathroom. It started with the curtains, but it certainly didn't end there! Take a peek!

There you go!
Have fun!

Grace and peace,


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Simply Spring #14: My Bedroom and Bathroom

Dear friends,

I've been decorating and organizing room by room in my house, as you can see here Americana and Bird Decor and My Butterfly Kitchen

I try to be thrifty and use what I have on hand, but I did invest in new curtains for the living room, computer room, and dining room. Now what to do about my bedroom curtains? My blinds were pretty beat up and not very decorative, but I didn't want to spend a ton of money on more curtains. 

I knew I wanted white or off-white curtains with minimal patterns because I wanted an airy look and I didn't want to clash with the dark plaid bedspread. I found some affordable eyelet curtains on-line at IKEA and actually drove down to the store with my daughter. While there, I decided to buy a few sets of sheer net Lill curtains instead. They were only $3.99 per set! I knew that at 98" they were way too long for my window, but as the sign said, with net you can just cut off the bottom. I experimented on my bedroom window but they were too sheer. I remembered that I had some vintage muslin sheets tucked away in the closet. I didn't want to cut or sew them, so I folded them in half and draped them over the rod. Then I cut off enough of the bottom part of two sets of the net curtains to tuck over the very top of the rod and layer over the muslin. I love the soft effect! 

You'll see what I did with the top section of the curtains in a few minutes.

Now the bedside table! I took out an end table that one of my daughters wants for her next apartment and then moved over a longer table from the other side of the room. It gives more room for my CPAP machine, my lamp, and a repurposed breadbox used to hold a few necessities.

Two of my daughters just came back from a few weeks in Europe and brought back the Campbell tartan wool scarf. It's too hot to wear that now, so I'm using it as a table runner. And it does go with the plaid bedspread!

They also brought back a rose window ornament from Westminster Abbey, so I hung it from my lamp base. It goes perfectly!

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see is under the bedside table, so I decide to make use of the visual space and put a lapboard with three inspirational note cards on it.

The first two were designed by Suzy Head, and I got them at a craft fair.

This one is on my bed's headboard. I love all the words. They feed my soul. I have stuff like this all around the room.

I found the INSPIRE sign at Walmart for about $10 and hung it over my desk. The bird box ("Be grateful for this day") holds my big three hole punch.

I had a bunch of tools rattling around in my bottom desk drawer and decided to put them in another decorative box. I love having my own set handy - hammer, screwdrivers, a box cutter, double sided duck tape, mounting tape, nails and screws, super glue, tape measure, etc.

Here's my butterfly tool box tucked in the drawer, along with a box of manicure supplies and two sets of bright colored chalk pastels.

In my closet, I pulled out all of the clothes I wasn't using, and reorganized what was left: bottoms on the left and tops on the right. More on closet organizing here: Turning Angst into a Clean Closet

Let's move along to the master bath.

And here are the net curtain tops! It was easy to slip them onto the curtain rod since they still had the rod pockets on them. I had a garden flag hanging there before, but was ready for a change. It reminds me of a ballerina tutu.

See the white thing at the bottom left under the curtain? I found this hamper with a hinged top in the clearance aisle at IKEA. I use it to hold clean bath towels. It's right next to the shower, so it's easy to grab one. This cuts down on the frantic, "Can someone bring me a towel?" yelling. Before that, they were stacked outside the bathroom. 

The shower caddy we'd had hanging from the nozzle wasn't working out, and neither was a bin of bottles on the floor. I finally went to Walmart and bought this pole organizer for about $15. I got frustrated trying to install it. I was supposed to wedge these little rubbery thingies under each shelf to hold them up on the pole. That wasn't working well, so I improvised with rubber bands. It got the job done. I love taking a shower in there now.

I was watching a free organizing video series by Alejandra Costello. She talks about cleaning up your bathroom every night before you go to bed. It's sure a lot easier if you don't have much stuff out. I got it down to hand soap and mouthwash on the sink. They are easy to move when I wipe it down with disinfectant wipes. My toothbrush and toothpaste and other small stuff are on a wicker shelf rack next to the sink, which keeps them cleaner and out of the way. I also store extra toilet paper rolls there. My big challenge is dealing with the extra stuff my kids bring into the bathroom. I am continually throwing it into a basket on my dressing counter just outside the door.

I didn't want to end this post with a picture of my sink, so here's a camellia stained glass piece that my mother made for me. Pretty, yes?

You can see the magnolia stained glass and a lot of other bathroom tips in my older post, Decorating and Organizing Bathroom Areas on a Budget.

You may also like:

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. This is the last of the Simply Spring posts since next Sunday starts the new season! I still like the weekly format, so I'm just switching it up to a Super Summer series!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Simply Spring #13: My Butterfly Kitchen

Welcome to my butterfly kitchen!

I've been decorating and organizing room by room this spring, and so far each one has a theme. The front hallway is Americana and the living room is birds.

I already had a few butterfly decorations in the kitchen, so I decided to expand on that. I'd like to give you a tour showing what I've been doing to make the kitchen prettier, cleaner, and more functional.

We'd had a big plain white calendar on the A/C access door, so I moved this one in from the bedroom.

I pulled all of the food out of the pantry cupboards, wiped them out, and reorganized.

I didn't realize how much pasta we had! I put it all on a cookie sheet that can be slid out to see what's in back.

This is part of my magnet collection on the refrigerator doors.

I didn't have time to thoroughly clean out the refrigerator, but I did at least take out the spoiled food and reorganize. It was better than nothing!

I bought a new brown Hefty trash can, and brought in another small trash basket for kitchen scraps to be taken out to the compost pile.

The green trash can at the right is for recyclables. The smaller one we were using before was always overflowing. I bought the white plastic basket to corral brooms and the long-handled dustpan. The tan trash can at the left is to hold wet kitchen linens waiting to be laundered.

This print hangs above the recycling bin. I got it for $5 at Deals. Pretty!

The kitchen window only had blinds on it for years. I bought a new tension rod for about $2 at Walmart, washed the old curtain that had been there before, and popped it back into place. Then I took a butterfly garland (made from feathers, a gift from my daughters), cut off four of the butterflies, and dangled them in front of the window.

I moved this little piece in from the living room.

I still have a lot of work to do. Some of the laminate came off the cabinet underneath the sink. I bought some stain to camouflage it, but haven't gotten around to it yet. I also plan to touch up the walls with paint.

Our garbage disposer often stinks, so I bought these cleaning pellets.

Other sink purchases: fresh sponges and a caddy.

This corner between the sink and the microwave is one of my kitchen trouble spots. I tend to throw a lot of miscellaneous stuff back there when I unload the dishwasher, especially plastics that are still wet. What a mess!

I took EVERYTHING out of the corner.

Then I put back only what really belonged there. I bought a new dish drainer and aim to not let it pile up. The plastic canister has anti-bacterial wipes used to quickly clean the counter and sink. I love these! I peeled the label off of it since it looks better that way.

The microwave needed cleaning. It was a lot easier to see and reach the ceiling of it by tipping it backwards.

I keep several things on top of the microwave: baskets for hot pads and measuring cups, a small cup for twisty ties, and a little porcelain butterfly container for other tiny things.

My cooking utensils are to the left of the microwave. A large blue vase holds the tall ones, and two butterfly flower pots (from Dollar General) hold the smaller ones and my paring knives.

Some of my paring knives were misplaced (I found them while cleaning the big pile) and some needed to be replaced because the handles were disintegrating. I bought these two at IKEA, one on clearance. I had never been there before, and decided to drive down with my daughter and look for bedroom curtains. We stayed two hours and could have spent a few more if we'd had time!

I also bought the Popsicle molds at IKEA so we can make our own healthy frozen treats from juice.

A new butterfly hot pad over the stove, as well as a small heart chalkboard. I hope my children get the message: "Have a heart, do your part!" One thing I remembered to do is to clean the top part of the stove hood since it gets so grimy.

New cookie sheets from Walmart!

This is a low counter between the kitchen and dining room. The wire bin holds small appliances. The wicker basket has trivets. The green tin frilled-edge container is my junk basket. I always keep paper plates handy, and I couldn't resist the butterfly tissue box.

We've had this grocery bag dispenser up for years - and it already had butterflies on it!

Well, that's my butterfly kitchen! I hope you enjoyed the tour!

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Grace and peace,

Virginia Knowles