February 4, 2016
by jenny
0 comments

3-D Drawing Pens

My daughter wanted a 3-D drawing pen for her birthday last summer. We finally gave my kids a 3-D drawing pen (one pen for all three of my kids to share) for Christmas this past year.

With most 3-D drawing pens sell for around $80+ and look the exact same, I looked around on Amazon for a while comparing models and reading reviews of 3-D pens before purchasing. My research showed mixed results, and now having bought a pen that stopped working after a week, receiving a refund on it, and buying a another pen, which also isn’t reliable, I can see why the reviews are mixed.

These pens are hot glue guns. There is a learning curve to using them. These two tidbits are common in most of the Amazon reviews of 3-D drawing pens, and for good reason, that’s probably going to be your first impression if you use one.

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The plastic is extruded through the pen tip and comes out a lot like frosting – nothing while you wait in anticipation, then a quick blob that surprises you even when you are ready for it and messes up whatever plan you initially had, and then a slow flow that is semi-controllable. The melted plastic “drawing” hardens very quickly, but sometimes you get glue gun-esque strings following you, or the plastic doesn’t stick to the surfaces as you’d hoped and curves. There are speeds on the drawing pens, but on the two models that I ordered we can’t use the slower speeds. When we try to use the slow speed, the pens beep indicating that they are not hot enough and we have to increase the speed.

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It’s pretty frustrating for a kid at first – especially when these pens are as unreliable as they are. There has only been one 3-D pen related burn in the house – trying to grab a piece near the tip and accidentally bumping into it, we have small pliers nearby now for grabbing hot plastic, but it’s not all that hot or easy to burn yourself because the plastic does harden quickly (which is different than a hot glue gun).

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It does smell a little, so I’m sure it’s not great for someone to inhale a whole lot of melting plastic fumes. In addition to the user frustration, my son generally stays away because of the smell, though it’s not all super duper strong.

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Our first pen slowly stopped work. After a week of using it daily, the temperature started rising and lowering unpredictably and finally it just stopped turning on. The second pen is a little flakey as well – when you are done using it, a little bit of plastic continues to seep out the end. I initially thought that might be by design because a common complaint of 3-D pens on the Amazon reviews seems to be clogged tips. Now the temperature control is also quirky and temperamental with this pen.

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Since we haven’t had a truly reliable pen, we haven’t become experts, but we have had fun with these toys. My daughters really enjoy writing names in cursive and attempting to create perfect cubes. I’ve tried to make some functional items. We’ve all tried our hand at making jewelry. Making a simple little C shape, we created clip on earrings, nose rings, eye rings and lip rings, which was a lot of laughs for a few days. More traditional rings and bracelets are easy too – we found making not complete loops you can slide them on better. You can print templates online for shapes or make your own to trace as well, which is also a fun challenge.

I like trying to make Lego accessories – like hair.

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Overall, it is a pretty fun toy. I’m not sure I’d recommend it unless you are prepared that it might not work. The technology (or production?) seems to totally stink for now (literally according to my son), but if it advances going forward, these could get even more fun and functional. It seems like computer driven 3-D printer technology will just keep advancing and getting cheap enough to be a hobby instead though. We’ll see!

 

 

 

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January 26, 2016
by sarah
0 comments

More things to do with fused beads

We have gotten into the fusing beads trend around here. If you haven’t head of fused beads, they are small plastic beads that you arrange on small peg boards in different ways then melt them in place with an iron. They are fun to create designs and are a great fine motor activity.

I want to be able to do something from the final product. We have them balancing on bed side tables and windowsills. What else? Here are a couple of our idea. I am looking for more. Please let me know if you have made anything creative with your fused beads.

  1. Backpack decor fused beads 1
  2. Boot decor – these are particularly important because her brother has the same pair one size bigger. fused beads 4
  3. Zipper Pullfused beads 2
  4. Hair tie decor – I used a small piece of pipe cleaner to attach the small fused bead flower to a pony tail elastic. fused beads 3
  5. Plant stand – The concrete pots are great, but they are porous. To prevent the table or windowsill from getting damp we made a fused bead star to raise the pot up.  fused beads 5
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January 22, 2016
by jenny
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A Few Snow Day Indoor Activities

Despite what my sinuses and a red squirrel in the yard that has been acting pretty frantic all morning are indicating, forecasts say that the epic winter storm will miss the Boston area this weekend. The mid Atlantic states may getting a beating.

Here are a few random indoor activity starters with kids of a variety of ages.

  1. Dough projects.
    1. Make cookies. Ice box cookies are great and easy for days inside, since it’s done in steps, you don’t get stuck doing all of the work when the kids get bored, plus it’s pretty tidy. You make the dough, roll it up, put it in the fridge for a few hours, then later kids can slice it and bake. You can add decorations or dipping in chocolate like these chocolate dipped shortbread if interested, or just eat. You can also bake a few at a time. Similarly, you can prep batches of frozen cookie dough – formed into balls or whatever to have to bake).
    2. Make or play with playdough. Sarah has recipes for homemade play-dough and kinetic sand.
    3. Polymer clay (like Fimo or Sculpey) is great fun for elementary through grown ups. It’s so easy to work with and you can bake it to save. Like the ice box cookies, the projects can extend through the day. Make beads and then later make jewelry. Create creatures or accessories for dollhouse or action figures to play with. Mount clay creations onto magnets.  DSC_0092 DSC_0082
  2. Make your own Scavenger Hunts and Board Games and Obstacle Courses. My kids love to make scavenger hunts now. When they were toddlers and preschoolers, I would make obstacle courses to tire them out, and they liked to create their own as well – jump over the pillows, under the table, stack  a pile of blocks, the options are endless. Older kids can make other physical challenges – make a basketball like game out of a box and paper towels. I’d imagine Nerf gun target making and practice could kill a bunch of time. Elementary age is probably the best age for board game creation. The games might not make much sense or be very fun, but they can spend hours drawing them out! Posterboard or card stock is ideal, cardboard from the recycling bin for cardboard and  copy paper work to get started. Not into drawing, kids can use Legos for a board and pieces, Polymer Clay to make their own tokens or playing pieces. Take the dice or timers out of other games and use dice.
  3. Chores! Hand a toddler or preschooler a dust buster or swiffer. Clean out a closet with older kids. In my experience, you’ll either find something in there that you’ll want to do, or the kid will be so turned off spending time with you that they’ll entertain themselves for a couple hours afterwards! My girls used to love to mop floors on their hands and knees with rags with me.
  4. Carving soap. My kids each got Swiss Army Knives for Christmas, so this is a gentle way to practice some knife skills, but even little kids can whittle with plastic knives and you probably have what you need on hand (and unless they totally chop it up you can use the creation when they are done).
  5. Play cards. My grandparents were bridge players. Between that and summer camp, I grew up playing a lot of cards. I don’t think I was all that original, everyone seemed to know how to play many of card games. There are so many wonderful new card games out there (like SET!, Uno, and SpotIt – Sleeping Queens gets great reviews, but due to the stealing factor every one of my kids sobs and threatens to quit at least once when we play that game, we also have a crying problem with Pick Up Sticks). There are also so many really fun new board games, especially strategy sorts that might take the place of a lot of card games (my husband recently compared Ticket To Ride to Gin Rummy), but nothing beats the flexibility and efficiency of being able to pull out a deck of cards and play hundreds of games. (As a side note, if you are on Shutterfly emails, I did the free gift personalized deck of cards last summer with a picture of our dog. I gave them to my daughter and they are holding up better than I expected, they would make a nice gift!)
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January 21, 2016
by jenny
0 comments

Some Things I Tried Last Week

Last week I tried a few new things and am reporting that you may not want to try them OR maybe you can give me advice for enjoying these things more.

  1. Roasted Green Beans – FAIL! I’ve seen roasted green beans in a bunch of places. I love roasted vegetables. I am also cleaning out our deep freeze and had some beans blanched and frozen from the garden to use up. I wasn’t sure the frozen beans would work, but saw frozen beans were fine in a few places. I used something similar to the Baked Parmesan Green Bean Fries recipe from Dashing Dish recipe.We did eat them. The kids each ate a couple, my husband and I ate some more. They didn’t taste bad initially, BUT they had an aftertaste like you get from canned green beans. That was my disappointment. They didn’t taste at all like fries, but sort of metallic. The beans did get crispy, which was promising. Maybe fresh (not blanched and frozen) beans would be better.
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  3. Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms – Love! I received two of these for Christmas from my Amazon Wish List to share with each of my daughters. I’ve tried having notebooks with each of my kids before. I write in questions and they answer, sometimes asking questions (what’s your favorite subject in school/book/song/pair of shoes sorts of questions), but we fizzle out usually. My kids all have their own secret journals, my oldest has a locked diary she writes in very regularly. These journals are nice. There are sort of open ended questions, as well as Free Space. I didn’t think I’d come up with anything interesting for the Free Space and would maybe write a memory about the daughter, but one had some friend issues when I came to that a set of Free Space pages, so it was a good space for that as well.
  4. Kombi Mittens – LOVE!  I bought these mittens at the end of the season clearance last season and re-discovered them while purging a few weeks ago. I’m pretty much always cold, and mittens work for me much better than gloves. Outdoor Research Women’s Flurry Mitts
    are and have been my go to in hand warmth for years, they even have some silicone lines to make them sticky enough for driving. They are great, and trim enough to have on and still put my hands in my pockets, but they aren’t waterproof or incredibly wind proof. The Kombi Mittens are awesome for something heartier. I just bought some bulk rice to make a new set of Pocket Warmers.
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  5. Cloth/Reusable Panty Liners –  FAIL! With two tween girls in my house, I’ve been working on being open about period talk, no shaming or secrets, so I’m sharing this as more practice. Cloth pads are something I’ve seen around. I used cloth diapers for one of my daughters and it not only was easy, but once doing it, it seemed to make so much sense in so many ways. If you sew or have ever used cloth diapers, cloth pads seem to randomly pop up again and again. I’ve never been one (at all) for self exploration or experimentation, but have tiptoed around the world of alternative menstrual products. Last year my son cut his face and mouth falling in the driveway. There was tons of blood, and we used washcloths to clean him up. While we were mopping him up with our linens, I thought “oh, maybe I could do reusable pads, this isn’t so bad” and I’ve thought about it since.  I’ve tried two different cups (and when good were very good, like nothing at all was going on, but when not so good were quite bad in many ways, uncomfortable/painful/crampy, leaky, messy). So I thought I’d give these a try at the end of a cycle. It felt like having snow pants all all of the time, it was hot and felt layered and compressing. Mentally, I feel like it smelled, but I don’t think it did. I thought I’d be okay with washing, but I couldn’t get past tossing it in the hamper. I was grossed out, which is exactly the opposite feeling I’m trying to show to my daughters about periods. Maybe it was this version, which was advertised to be charcoal bamboo and microfiber, but when it arrived, I’m almost 100% positive that it was just fleece.
  6. Essential Oils On Wool Dryer Balls – FAIL! When asked, my favorite smell used to be the smell of clean laundry. However, I started using cloth diapers for my daughter because her skin was so sensitive (my son also was born with very sensitive skin), and we have now been using Charlie’s Soap and no fabric softener for all of our laundry needs for the past 9 years and now most artificial perfume smells (including fabric softener) are too much for me.At some point I tried wool dryer balls thinking I was missing out on fabric softener, but they are very annoying getting caught in sleeves, legs, pockets and even socks, flying across the room when you pull things out, and just in general a lot of work. We didn’t at all notice a difference in static, softness or drying time. They have been sitting (one missing, a crazy mystery where it could have disappeared to) for a few years next to the dryer.This fall my daughter and I experimented with essential oils. We have diffusers running by beds and on a desk, but have tapered off making rollers. We had some blankets that I thought it would be nice to freshen up. I remembered reading that you could put essential oils on wool dryer balls for a full fabric softener experience. I choose lemon essential oil, and put 8 drops on 5 wool dryer balls. It didn’t make a difference at all. I thought maybe the basement smelled a little lemon-y, but it didn’t last, the blankets weren’t even remotely lemon scented. I’m going to try again with another oil, but still, very disappointing.
  7. Stain-X Pro Grout CleanerLOVE!  Pictures speak for themselves, this stuff was magic on my kitchen floor grout. I got it from Amazon(affiliate link).
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January 10, 2016
by sarah
2 Comments

On to Valentine’s

crayon hearts3

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

We were so busy being moms, wives, makers, and community organizers in December we missed posting about fun holiday stuff.  Sorry! On to Valentine’s Day.

I am a supper nerd about starting making stuff early. Valentine’s making started this year by me testing the water to see what my kids were up for. Was my sporty nine year old going to want to make hand made cards this year? Then we all got excited about an idea, I had time to get the supplies, and we had an open Saturday morning (unheard of) = we started making Valentine’s over a month early. I also hate rushing my kids through making stuff and writing. In the past is has been a battle for them to write out the names. It is more manageable if they do a couple cards at a time.

The idea we all got excited about was crayon hearts. When the crayons are melted and mixed they get all tie dye like – of course this tie dye family was hooked.  We collected all our crayons from the obvious places and the not so obvious (most were found in the back side pockets of the mini van). We first used the broken ones and then the dull ones. We unwrapped them, cut them up, placed the parts in a silicone heart treat mold, and baked them for 15 min. at 240 degrees.  Let them cool and popped them out.

 

crayon hearts2 crayon hearts1Some tips:

  • Each heart had a little light colors (white, yellow), a little medium colors (orange, green), a little dark (blue, purple). The contrast made the tie dye effect more vibrant.
  • We used 90% Crayola crayons. We found the melting was more consistent. Toward the end we figured if we put in 1 or 2 of the other brand crayons on the top of the Crayola ones, they would just melt around them. When the heart cooled you couldn’t tell.
  • After melting the crayons in the oven we let the silicone heart tray cool for a couple minutes on top of the stove. Once they started to become solid again we put it in the freezer to speed up the cooling process.

 

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January 6, 2016
by jenny
0 comments

Glass Straws

Over the past couple of years I started relying on straws more and more to encourage me to drink more water. We go through bouts of making morning smoothies in this house and our kids always preferred straw cups to sippy cups, so we generally have straws on hand. I like to use straw cups, or put a disposable straw in my Nalgene bottles and use it for a few days before washing and restarting with a new straw. This past year my husband started in on a straw kick. He was going through a few straws per day. We bought him his own straw cup for water, he likes it, and it has made a difference in cutting down how many disposable straws we dispose of.

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I’m fairly eco-conscious and shift our lifestyles more and more that way, but I mostly just do what does and doesn’t make sense for our family as it comes along and I’m not necessarily looking for alternatives everywhere. But even with using the straw cups, going through 10 additional disposable straws in a house in a day just seemed totally ridiculously wasteful (not a household average, but I can’t say it didn’t happen) and in the end not entirely cost efficient (even though straws really aren’t that expensive). I can’t say for all of the other waste we produce I was as unsettled about the amount of non-recylced plastic waste, but there is that too. We’d use disposable straws because we preferred them for drinking water, but then we’d be all out when we “needed” them for things that deserve straws, like smoothies or milkshakes.

It turns out there is a small anti-straw movement. You are supposed to refuse them at restaurants if you care about the world – making sure to mention it when you walk in, like a food allergy, just in case they accidentally give you one and have to throw it out anyway.

We’ve broke, bent or melted some of our straws from the straw cups through running them through the dishwasher. So I googled “re-usable straws.” And was introduced the world of glass straws. The idea sort of made me cringe a little, especially thinking about the feel of my mouth on glass like that and also the fear of breakage. The other alternative was stainless steel, but I’m not sure I could ever get used metal on my mouth, or not being able to see inside to make sure it was clean or nothing was growing in there. After a couple months of thinking about it, I put some glass straws on my Amazon wish list.

I got my first set of glass straws for a Christmas present. It didn’t at all take as much getting use to as I anticipated. My husband uses them too, but says he’s not totally used to it yet. I bought a second set with a gift card I had to compare.

They feel pretty hearty, not entirely fragile. I really like the inner diameter, it’s makes for sucking up a good amount of fluid at a good rate for me.

I have a “germ thing,” so I really like being able to run them through the dishwasher to wash them. I wouldn’t have wanted them if they weren’t dishwasher safe, they’d never seem clean to me. Every set I’ve seen on Amazon comes with cleaning brushes to scrub out things like smoothies that may make for a sticky inside.

I don’t like that I can’t fold them to close the lid on my Nalgene bottle and take them places like I could with a disposable straw. My husband doesn’t like that he tends to want to bite them, which grosses him out and scares him that the straw will break or he will chip his teeth, but not enough that he doesn’t use them full time now.

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I’ve put an unprotected glass straw in my purse twice when I carried my water bottle with glass straw sticking out to the car and then realized I had it and wanted to close the lid on my water bottle.  I forgot the straws were in my purse and went about my day handling my purse as though there wasn’t glass inside of it. Neither straw broke.

I did end up breaking two straws. I was holding one in my mouth while refilling my water bottle and when I started talking to my son about laundry the straw slipped out of my mouth and smashed onto the floor. We had wondered if the straws would crack or shatter and it did shatter, but not too many tiny pieces. With the other break I was gathering all of the straws up to look at them all together and a Cool Gear straw was in the pile and when I tried to segregate the plastic interloper one of the glass straws jumped out of my hand and did shatter into many little pieces. I didn’t like that, but think you just have account for breakage when dealing with glass straws and fumble-y hands. I threw out the remains of both (didn’t recycle), so not sure how that works out waste/carbon footprint wise compared to using and throwing out disposable plastic straws!

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I’m not entirely sure I would be someone who brings a glass straw to a restaurant or Starbucks or on vacation (some people have cases for them that looks like eyeglass cases). On the other hand, years ago I read how dirty/germy straws can be when handed to you at restaurants after touching a few sets of server/preparer/bartender hands, and I am getting pretty used to drinking from these straws, so I just may get there.

Of the two sets/brands of glass straw I tried, I prefer colored set. The clear set seems a tad wider and the top section after bend doesn’t seem the correct proportions to me visually. On the other hand, as I type this I have my 1L Nalgene bottle with one of the clear straws sitting on my desk and the straw very comfortably reaches my mouth encouraging lots of hydration with no hands needed or much head bending, so in this situation it’s perfect. Neither fit straw brand into the hole on our Cool Gear plastic cups to replace the plastic straws there, but both do fit into a Tervis cup lid hole.

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You would really need shorter straws for cups or water bottles that aren’t huge/tall, and I’d imagine you should only use them in heavy cups so they don’t tip over the cup when you set it down (otherwise you’d have to take out the straw and lay it on your table and who wants to pick up those kind of germs!) Since we use them almost exclusively for big containers of water, these are great for us.

Here are the two sets that I got if you are interested (Amazon affiliate links):
   

 

Happy sucking!

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December 21, 2015
by jenny
1 Comment

Chocolate Dipped Shortbread

Chocolate dipped brown sugar shortbread cookies have been a favorite of mine to make for years. One of my favorite parts of these cookies is that they freeze so well. They also don’t really spread on the cookie sheet, so you can bake a ton at once, freeze some for later, and then bring them to your Aunt when you visit because they are her favorite!

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I always did mine in logs, which actually weren’t that fun to shape. A couple weeks ago I saw this picture/recipe for Dark Chocolate Dipped Funfetti Shortbread Cookies and used that recipe for a change and they were super easy, lovely and very tasty.

The cookie isn’t as buttery as my original recipe, but I could still eat 100 of them. I used to dip half the batch in sprinkles (instead of sprinkling) and half in chopped nuts. You could use finely ground nuts (especially walnuts or almonds) to replace the sprinkles in this recipe if you are into that sort of thing!

Happy baking!

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Dipped Funfetti Shortbread Cookies from The Little Kitchen

 

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December 15, 2015
by sarah
2 Comments

Concrete Pots

concrete planter 2Like most of the projects ideas I get, I found this one online somewhere. It probably popped up in Facebook or I went looking for something else and came across concrete pots. Like many project I see – I say, “I can do that”.

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I just used containers I had around the house. Mostly disposable food containers that lost their lids. All of them worked great except the one with a screw top. I couldn’t remove it from the container after the concrete dried.

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I am hoping to give them to teachers, family, and friends for the holidays.

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Note about Jade plant: I have inherited two huge jade plants that are very top heavy. I have figured out you can simply cut a branch and stick it in dirt and it will root, grow, and thrive. Jenny do want any??

 

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December 11, 2015
by jenny
0 comments

Freezer Egg Sandwiches

My kids and I are morning people, but my sensory middle girl has trouble if she isn’t in control of her own pace in the mornings, or has something different happening later in the day (tests, substitute teachers, after school activities, etc).

What really helps mornings go smoothly for her is a handful of things. One thing we do is make sure she gently wakes up “on her own” (she has an alarm now, but sometimes we have make just enough noise outside her room if it’s not set) with enough time to do whatever she needs to do in the morning (listen to audiobooks, draw a picture, cut stuff up, pet the dog, read, tell us stories, jump on the couch, whatever). Another preparation we make is that all of her stuff is piled near her bag in the morning, she likes to see it in the morning, so we don’t make her pack it before bed, but homework, shoes, gloves, etc should be accounted for. I make sure her laundry is done and back in her room to have the most wardrobe options available (with the help of my husband who is great about  late night switch overs). We keep her brother away if she is feeling prickly and try not to let her get too involved in any project, book or play scenario that she can’t rip herself away easily. And we try to keep lots of her favorite breakfast foods readily available.

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Easily available we try to keep cottage cheese, yogurt, cereal, eggs, and cinnamon swirl bread as staples in the house.  I try to keep the freezer stocked with at least one choice of waffles, pancakes, or french toast.  We often have chocolate chip muffins or egg muffins in the fridge. (I’ve been putting protein powder in the waffles, pancakes and muffins, and even slipped in Vega One Meal replacement into the last batch of chocolate chip muffins, which made them a little drier than usual and green, but my kids didn’t turn their noses up at them.) But her favorite breakfast is is an egg sandwich.

We practiced with Jimmy Dean Breakfast sandwiches a year ago, and have since started making our own egg sandwiches for the freezer. These also make a good protein rich after school snack when she comes home ravenous.

Our favorite way to make the egg is the Pioneer Woman method of making something like a crepe. Just whip up some eggs with a little bit of milk or water in a bowl, and pour out a thin layer into the hot pan to cook. Flip once and you are done. A whole batch of eggs can cook quickly in the time that you bake a batch of bacon. We use about an egg per sandwich and a tablespoon or so of milk or water for every few eggs.

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While American cheese is fine for a fresh egg sandwich, it’s not great on the freezer version. We prefer  slices of cheddar, swiss or colby jack.

Choose whatever you like for bread – we’ve tried ciabatta rolls, finger rolls, homemade bicuits, and bagels. Croissants, whole wheat bread or wraps might be other great choices. You may want to toast some of these options before freezing to help it from getting to chewy.

We’ve tried bacon and sliced breakfast sausage for meats. My kids prefer just a little bit of bacon or no meat. Obviously these are fully customizable if you want to add veggies into your eggs, use egg whites, use ham slices, whatever your pleasure.

Heating up the sandwich takes a little practice and will depend on your bread and microwave. For the Jimmy Dean sandwiches, there was a process that went something like 1 minute and 30 seconds on 50% power, flip, 40 seconds on high power, let rest for 30 seconds. Pioneer Woman suggests just 1 minutes on high power. We find something in between works best, but again depends on what the bread it.

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I definitely recommend these for families needing easy quick prep breakfasts (great for early hockey mornings now!), or quick snacks for growing kids. In less than an hour you can prep a few dozen sandwiches for the freezer.

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December 9, 2015
by jenny
0 comments

Tree Sap Removal

I read this tip many many years ago, and use it a handful of times per year, but am reminded what a great thing it is to know if you didn’t every year when my husband puts the Christmas tree in the tree stand and is flustered.

As you may know, you can wash and wash your hands with soap and water to get tree sap off with little luck, but it turns out tree sap is oil soluble. We spray a little Pam onto our hands, rub, the wash the Pam off with soap and water and tree sap is gone quickly and easily.

Now go climb a tree!

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