Monday, October 31, 2011

Reusable Review, insulated groceries!

I've been using the Earth Tote insulated shopping bag for the past couple of months, and can definitely say that it's become my favorite insulated bag. I've tried quite a few, and while they worked the way they were supposed to, the Earth Tote is the first one to exceed my expectations.

The description for the Earth Tote states that it can keep food cold for up to 3 hours, and that is true. However, with the addition of a small ice pack, I've had food stay refrigerator cold for at least 5 hours. When I used a slightly larger ice pack, everything was still perfectly cold 9 hours later. I am quite impressed with the insulating ability of this bag, none of the others were able to maintain that level of insulation for anywhere close to that length of time. 

*Stock photo from
It can fit a bit more than an average paper grocery bag, especially since it zips shut so you don't have to worry about things falling out of the top. My favorite way to use this isn't as a grocery bag though. The main thing I've been doing with it is using it to pack snacks, drinks, and lunch to bring with us when we are going out for the day. The kids and I have food allergies, so it can be difficult to find food on the go, and we tend to bring everything with us. Our Earth Tote can fit 2 Laptop Lunch boxes, a ToGoWare 2-tier tiffin, 2 12oz Kleen Kanteens, a 27oz Kleen Kanteen, and a set of 3 reuseit snack bags, plus 2 small freezer bricks. I'll put everything but the snack bags into the tote, put a kitchen towel on top, then the snack bags go in. This keeps the cold in the lower portion of the bag, and the snacks in the snack bags don't get humidity from any condensation that might occur (so, our pretzels and veggie bootie don't get soggy and gross).
The only thing that I'd add to improve this bag more would be a long shoulder strap in addition to the short handles. Being able to have our food bag on my shoulder would free up a hand for parking lot hand holding. For now, one of the kids just holds a belt loop or my pocket instead, but it would be nice to have an extra hand available.

Disclosure: As a ambassador, I was given a free product from to test and review. I was not paid or given any other compensation. All opinions presented are my own and not influenced by or anyone else.
For my full disclosure policy, please click here

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Post Office tour

We visited Skip at the main post office this week, and were able to tour the whole mail sorting area. It's huge! We weren't there early enough to see the carriers, but did get to see where they work, and the process of sorting the mail before it even gets to them.

Carrier sorting area
The place is pretty automated, and it was surprising how few people it takes to move a whole city's mail around. The carriers don't have to do too much sorting before they go out on their route, but this particular office does more than most because of the volume of mail that goes through.

These bins are for larger packages
Skip shows us how to scan mail

Click on through to see and

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Station 1 Tour

The littles have been really interested in going to visit places that they haven't been before, and exploring things that they've read or seen on shows. Lately, they've asked to see a real firestation, so I called the local fire department and set up a tour to see Station 1. The firefighters were all very welcoming, and answered all of the questions that the kids had. We first went upstairs to see the dispatch area, the kitchen, and the tables where the firefighters eat. An interesting thing that we learned is that they all work shifts that are 24 hours on/48 hours off, which would mean that they are working either 48 or 72 hours a week. We also learned that the firefighters all eat their on-shift meals together. They each pay into the food fund at the beginning of the week, and take turns cooking for the whole crew.

Checking out the fire truck
Getting behind the wheel
Click on through to see and

Monday, October 17, 2011

Harvest Jamboree at Smith Farm

Last week, we went to the Harvest Jamboree at Smith Farms area of the Three Creeks MetroPark. Admission was free, and so were many (but not all) of the activities, parking was $5 per car. We were a bit disappointed, but overall had a good day with a lot of new experiences for the kids.
The disappointing part was that there was an enormous line for the hayride that the kids were so looking forward to. I feel like there must have been some poor planning for that aspect of the event, since the turnout was huge and there was just one tractor with a single trailer that could only hold about 20 people at a time. We got there within 15 minutes of the starting time, and the line was already long enough for about an hour to an hour and a half wait. That missed hayride caused some tears, but they'll get to go on one soon at another farm.
We've been wanting to find a place for the kids to try out a climbing wall, but haven't found anywhere yet that has harnesses small enough. Luckily, the Recreation and Parks Department had a tiny harness that fit, so the kids were able to try out the wall they had set up. They didn't get up too high, but did great for their first climb. Fun fact: the Rec & Parks Dept portable climbing wall has an auto belay system, and 32lbs isn't quite heavy enough to allow it to release. So, if they'd gotten much higher, someone would have had to have gone up after them.

Straw maze
After the hayride drama, we found the pumpkin corral. I'm glad we got there when we did, or the kids would have been in for disappointment #2. But, they got to choose a pumpkin from the few that were left, and then decorate it. The boy went for the roundest, smallest pumpkin he could find, and the girl found the largest she could. There was then a flurry of glue, paint pens, stickers, feathers, and pipe cleaners, and the pumpkin creations emerged.

Decorating his tiny pumpkin
Fancy pumpkin
There were also a few creatures there from the Columbus Zoo. We got to see frogs, toads, hissing cockroaches, and crayfish. Then a bit later, we were surprised to turn a corner and find a barn owl.

Barn owl
And then, a penguin. I'm not sure what makes a penguin relevant to a harvest festival in Ohio, but the kids thought she was cool. 

There were quite a few tables set up with autumn-related crafts for the kids, and they had lots of fun doing those for a while. It was very, very crowded though, and got overwhelming quickly. We decided at that point to call it done so that we could go get some lunch at...

Scott and I had been there once before, but this was the first time for the kids. Everything they serve is 100% vegan, and they have a generous selection of gluten free and raw items as well. It's so nice to be able to go out to eat and not have to worry that we won't be able to find something that won't make us sick.
The kids shared an incredible strawberry/cashew smoothie that I would love to reconstruct at home. I barely had time to taste it since they inhaled it so quickly. They and I also shared a raw salad with beets, sweet potato, apple, avocado, olives, and sprouts. It's called Love Letter From the Earth, and it was amazing! We then tried the raw french fries, which are avocado slices rolled in spices and nuts.
The Loving Hut is located in such an unlikely, ignored little strip of stores in Reynoldsburg. But, they prepare their food with such care and everything is always presented beautifully. We will definitely be back to try more of their menu.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Apples at Slate Run

 Today we went to Slate Run Living Historical Farm for the apple program. They had apple butter stirring and cider pressing, and we tasted about 10 different varieties of apples. After all the apple tasting, we headed over the bridge to visit the animals. We got to see a pile of piglets napping, some vocal turkeys, cows, horses, chickens, and geese. After a busy day at the farm, we went home to cook our squash and pickle some beets for dinner.
Whenever we go to Slate Run, I'm always impressed by the authenticity, and how much it feels like a step back into the 1880's. There are a few staff members working there, but the majority of the farm is maintained by volunteers. It's a working farm, and they keep it going all year.

 Mild winter, wooly bear?
Pumping water to wash hands
Click on through to see and

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Old Time Harvest Days at Fryer Park

This is a hugely picture heavy post,  but this was a really fun day and you wouldn't want to miss anything, right? Fryer Park on Orders Rd is always a great place for an adventure. There is a super exciting playground, a large pond, and a small collection of historical buildings that have been relocated here. They have events a few times a year, but this is the first one that we've been able to attend. It was extremely well organized, had an amazing amount of activities set up, and was totally free! It was perfect for kids, and the littles were very interested in everything there was to see. I also saw younger kids who were able to do many of the activities with help from parents, and quite a few older kids/teens as well. The only thing that was missing this year was the wool carding and spinning demonstration, due to the volunteer being sick, but my kids get to see that at home :).

Stamping Leather
Knot tying
Click on through to see and

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sick, but making the best of it

While it was never fun getting sick as a kid, I still remember how great it felt to be able to get into my parents bed and stay there all day, warm and cuddly, watching tv and eating toast. With two 4 year olds running in circles around me, it's usually not quite as relaxing now as it used to be. How sweet it is, that the mister stayed home yesterday, and I got to stay in bed. I've set up camp in the room that passes as our guest room, since it's the only room in our house with both a bed and a door. I've got a down comforter, a few books, and the laptop. Every once in a while, a little loud visitor comes up to see how I'm doing. It's like a little vacation, and I think I love it. Well, except for the searing pain in my throat, ringing in my ear, and the coughing that wakes me up every hour or so.
With this sudden free time, I've been clicking around on Pinterest, and found a few recipes that sounded like they'd go well with my current state. Thursday night, I made this carrot ginger soup. The only changes I made to the recipe was to add a couple of cloves of fresh garlic and a whole chopped pasilla pepper. I figured the spicyness would help blast some of the germs out of me, and the pasillas have a ton of vitamin C. It was quick to make, and was super tasty.

Then, last night, I needed something cold to help put out the fire in my throat. We'd baked a giant squash earlier in the week, so I thought I'd use it in place of the pumpkin in the pumpkin pie milkshakes.

I had to do some fiddling with the ingredients since we are dairy and gluten free, but it turned out pretty well. I used coconut milk and soy ice cream, and replaced the graham crackers with Envirokids animal cookies. I would have preferred to use the gluten-free craham cracker crumbs that I used to make the s'mores, but didn't have any. It tasted exactly like pumpkin pie, but colder and much more soothing.
An optional part of the pumpkin pie milkshake recipe is a caramel drizzle made by melting caramel candy. To keep ours dairy free, I called on another Pinterest recipe that I recently found.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make this one dairy-free, but I did! In place of the heavy cream I used Mimicreme, and it worked perfectly! I also used raw sugar in place of refined sugar, and cut the whole recipe in half in case it turned out badly. It didn't turn out saucy, I think because I cooked it too long. Since the raw sugar is already darker in color, it was difficult to know when it was finished cooking. So, the finished result was definately not able to be drizzled, but was so unbelievably yummy crumbled up and sprinkled on top of our milkshakes. I guess I'll just have to try making this one again to see if I can get it to come out the way it's supposed to. Darn.