Sunday, January 10, 2016

Plane friendly food to save money on vacation with kiddos!

The kiddo and I just returned from a wonderful trip! I had a conference to attend that was conveniently located just a block from Disneyland. This happened to be a VERY kid friendly conference so he got to join me. We then added a day to our trip and spent two days enjoying the magic of Disney.

Anyone who is traveling on a budget knows that food can be a huge expense. Eating out can eat into your budget and may leave you with limited choices . And when traveling with a growing 4 year old, you need to have lots of snacks on hand. A hungry kid is usually a grumpy kid. We take much of our own food when we are on road trips (I need to do a post about traveling with my crockpot) but air travel can be a bit more challenging. 

When traveling by air, you have limited refrigeration options and are limited in the sizes of liquids and gels that you can carry. I generally do not check bags when flying but if flying with my kiddo I've found it to be a necessity. It is less to deal with in the security line and it allows me to pack some liquids/gels in the checked bags. 

I'm very pleased to have spent a whopping $15 on food in the parks over the two days (on foods I was really wanting to try) thanks to bringing food with us. We only spent another $11 in hotel food. That $26 in food over 4 days was due to some serious planning and hauling food with us. I should also note that the event we attended had lots of appetizer type foods which helped too.

Here is a quick list of what we traveled with to give you some ideas. 

Carry on that needs some refrigeration:

  • Cheese - frozen so it keeps longer
  • Gogurts - frozen 
  • Uncrustables sandwiches (or homemade) - I pack just enough for day 1 and 2. They get dried out if they are defrosted much longer than a day. 
  • Lunchables packages (or homemade) - I like to take home made ones with salami for something the adults can enjoy. Just know that with lunchmeat you need to be sure it is kept cool.
Carry on needing no refrigeration:

  • Crackers - I like the small tubes
  • Crackers with cheese or peanut butter filling
  • Peanut butter (the little to go packages) - we add these to crackers and oatmeal
  • Tuna salad kits - just don't open this on the plane, please.
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Almonds for Mom
  • Cheerios or other cereal boxes - I have a tough time finding the boxes in non-sugary options so we just take a container of Cheerios. 
  • Oatmeal packages - I always keep these in my carry on. You can use the hot water from the coffee maker to make this in your room. 
  • Mac and cheese packages - I prefer the kind in a bowl so you don't have to worry about dishes
  • Hot chocolate mix - end of day treat you can make with a coffee makes to reward food kiddos
  • Snack sized treats - I found Disney themed rice krispies so those were a daily treat
  • Chips 
  • Fruit snacks - also found Disney themed ones. These should really be called sugar snacks, so don't think these are a substitute for fruit. 
  • Fresh fruit - pack this carefully. We have had luck with bananas and apples. Berries don't handle the transport well. You also may be limited with fresh fruit if you are traveling out of the state.
  • Protein bars for Mom
  • Microwaveable popcorn - a great late night snack to enjoy while watching fireworks from your room
  • Utensils! You do not want to forget these! We didn't need plates or bowls on this trip which saved some space. 
Checked:

  • Apple sauce squeeze packets
  • Mixed fruit squeeze packets
  • Mandarin orange cups
  • Green beans - now can be found in individuals cups! Corn is an option too.
  • Microwaveable pasta/ravioli - the kind that are microwaved in their own package
  • Juice boxes - for a traveling kiddo these can be a great treat to keep them hydrated
So what kind of meals did we make with this?
  • We had oatmeal each morning with peanut butter added. We make it in the disposable hotel cups so the kiddo can eat it to go if needed. 
  • I'm not sure that we ever had a sit down lunch in the 4 days we were gone. We did uncrustables for day 1 and 2 and then just snacks the other days. Especially while in the park, I gave him snacks while we waited in lines and while waiting for shows/parades. We did enjoy an amazing corn dog in Disneyland and a meat stick too. We did not buy any food at all while in CA Adventure (mostly because it was raining). Not having a sit down lunch also frees up time in the park to go other things. 
  • For dinner we had macaroni and green beans one night, ravioli and green beans another and got a personal pizza at the hotel for the third night. 
Macaroni and raviolis do require a microwave. So they may not work for you if your hotel won't have one. Even if the hotel does not advertise a microwave, you can often request one.  

This isn't the most healthy food ever, but is probably close to as healthy (or better) as most fast food options you would find. I push the fruits and veggies first and the other snacks later. 

Have you ever had luck hauling food with you on a plane? I would love to hear what you took or your suggestions on what else I can take! 

Monday, December 28, 2015

ThredUp $20 coupon link and review of selling

I have used ThredUp several times the last year or so as an easy way to find high quality used clothes online. I've been pleased with the selection (which changes daily) and the quality when it arrives. I'm a big fan of thrifting but as a mom in a rural area, I lack the time to search and the volume of thrift stores found in more urban areas. 

ThredUp is essentially a high quality online consignment shop. You can search by brands, sizes and clothing article. They have a pretty good selection but it does change fast. They also have shoes, accessories and purses. I have only tried women's clothing so far but they do have kids items too. Shipping is $5.95 or free if your order is over $70. You can ship returns back free.



I have a referral link included in this post which allows you to get a $20 credit when you sign up. This was previously only a $15 credit so snag it soon in case it drops back to only $15. 

I should note that I was really pleased with the easy return process. I did return an item that didn't fit. Shipping was free back and it was very easy to print the label online. My account was credited within about a week of me sending it back. You have 14 days to decide on returns. Great process.

Since trying ThredUp I have been wanting to see what selling a bag would be like. I delayed sending in for a long time because I generally don't buy great brands and most of my staple items aren't in great shape when I'm done with them. But, turns out that I have a few things that worked. 

They are very clear online about brands that they don't buy. The cheaper the item was to begin with, the less likely they are to want to buy it. So those Target dresses from last summer, probably not going to want to send those. They have a great selling tool online that will give you an idea of what items that will and won't buy as well as what they may pay. The range they offered was pretty accurate. 

They estimate that they only buy about 40% of what is shipped to them. They screen them heavily - which I appreciate as a buyer. You can have the clothes shipped back to you that they don't buy, but they will charge you shipping. I elected to just have the items donated. PS - Apologies to my sister if she would have wanted the items they didn't buy. 

So it works pretty simple:
Step 1 - order a clean out bag. http://www.thredup.com/r/H9RDXG
Step 2 - clean out your closets
Step 3 - sort clothes by what can be sold and what should be donated
Step 4 - verify that ThredUp will buy your items by checking out their online tools
Step 5 - seal up the bag and take it to FedEx or the Post Office - I like that either works. 
Step 6 - wait for your email to show you the money!

So here is what I sent them:
1 dress from Nordstrom's Rack - I forget the brand
1 black skirt from Dress Barn
1 Daniel Rainn (I think) dress from Nordstrom's Rack
1 pair of Lucky Jeans
1 Gap skirt

Don't mind the awful photo...

Terrible photos of the 5 items I shipped to ThredUp
It was really nice to have the bag postage prepaid (and shipping was free) and be able to go to the Post Office or FedEx. Us rural gals don't have many FedEx options but we do have USPS. Kudos to ThredUp for that.

My filled clean out bag, ready for the mailman.

I should mention that due to high volume it did take them almost 30 days to process the bag. But I got email updates which was reassuring. 

So what were the results? 

1 dress from Nordstrom's Rack - I forget the brand - NO
1 black skirt from Dress Barn - NO
1 Daniel Rainn (I think) dress from Nordstrom's Rack - YES
1 pair of Lucky Jeans - YES
1 Gap skirt - YES

For a total of $12.50. 

Not exactly sending me on a shopping spree but, better than nothing. Really these were just items sitting in my closet that I hadn't worn in a long time (and that my sister didn't want). So now they can go to someone who will wear them. Plus ThredUp is big on sharing how used clothes save the planet. Which is great too. According to ThredUp:  
"Guess what else! By UPcycling your clothing, you've saved 2100 gallons of water, 48 pounds of CO2, and you've helped 3 different families find great clothing at affordable prices. "
Overall I'm very pleased with the experience. I probably won't be sending bags too often but I probably will make a point to sort my Goodwill piles to check for anything that I could sell. The process was very easy and now with items that were collecting dust, I can get something I may like better. 

So what do you think? I would love to hear from others who have tried it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gwynnie Bee update - with link for FREE month membership

I'm over a year into my Gwynnie Bee membership and can't part with it. I posted a couple months ago about this service and since the post have been better about taking pictures of my Gwynnie Bee dresses. So here is an updated post with my referral link - note that when you follow my referral link I get a $25 credit and you get a month free. I get a nice perk, but I figure you won't mind since you get a super good perk.

How it works

Gwynnie Bee is a clothing rental by mail service for sizes 10 and up. You create an online closet of styles and they ship you whatever happens to be in stock from your list. You can create priority items, but for the most part the items selected are pretty random from your closet.

You wear the item once, or a dozen times and mail is back in the postage paid bags they send with the items. You don't even have to wash it - unless you want to wear it 12 times. :) As soon as they get the item, they send you another one.

The subscriptions are monthly and sold in increments of items out at a time - 1, 2, 3, etc. You can change your plan at any time. I hardly needed professional clothes this summer so I was just 1 at a time, but this time of year I'm attending lots of professional events to I up it to 2 or 3 at a time.

Pricing starts at around $35 per month for one item at a time. I can easily have 4 items in a month (if I return right away) so the per item cost is pretty good. You can also purchase the items. I have done that once but been tempted several times. The prices to purchase are a nice discount too since the items are used.

How it works image
How to get started

For the most part the items are in great condition. I did have an issue in October when the hem of a dress arrived already unraveling and looking bad. Their customer service could have been a bit better that time, but generally I've been very pleased with the service.

Here are a few recent items I have rented. Don't mind the odd mirror selfies. :)

I wore this fun one at a conference I just attended. It also looked great with black boots. 
Gwynnie Bee dress

I wore this to an October wedding.
Gwynnie Bee dress for a wedding

I wore this for a morning teaching. 

I wore this to teach too. 

This got me hooked on tunics. How had I never loved a tunic? So comfy!


Ready to try it out? Follow my referral link - http://goo.gl/7X3F6f -  to get one month FREE! I think you can even try a 2 or 3 item membership, which lets you try many items. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Work travel essentials

I've traveled pretty heavily over the past 10 years. I have gotten better at it over the years and am proud to brag that I packed for a 10 day trip (including 8 days overseas) in a carry on. I'm not always awesome in my packing, but these travel essentials help keep me organized and ready to go.

1. Packing cubes

I'm pretty much addicted to packing cubes. I don't use them for short trips but if I am staying more than two nights I'm probably using them. I got a set for my mom, then one for myself and then a second for myself (and the boys too). I think they are fabulous! They make my bag so much more organized. I find that I forget fewer things if I use cubes because it forces me to organize. I usually make one bag for workout clothes, one for casual and one for business. With the kiddo his cubes are divided tops, bottoms, pj/undies and sometimes a bag of "nice" clothes. AKA ones to hide from Grandma in case we need to be in public at some point. :)

The bags pictured are ebags cubes but there are several other brands. You can buy them directly from ebags or on amazon.  They come in a variety of sizes but I mostly seem to use medium bags. I roll the clothes to fit the bag and then cram the bags into my suitcase. For the kiddo I use medium and the long sized bags. 

*A added my refer a friend link here because it should get you 15% off and I think free shipping. 

2. Reusable grocery bag (that squishes into a small space).

Notice the little red blog in the top right corner of the suitcase? That is a reusable shopping bag. I ALWAYS travel with one. Sometime I use it as a purse cover of sorts. Stick my purse in that bag and then under the seat in front of me. I also use it to have extra room on the trip home or to combine a shopping bag and my purse into one "small" personal item when flying home.

Also, more and more places charge you for grocery bags, so this helps with that issue too when you are away from home.

3. Dry shampoo

This is really targeted to the ladies. I became a dry shampoo believer about 5 years ago. It is a travel staple for me. I can easily get away with second day hair which is a great time saver during travel. Plus if you are only gone one night and don't need to wash your hair you can lighten your load of hair products to travel with you. 

4. Multi plug

Some hotels have one accessible plug near the bed and others hidden behind furniture or in the bathroom. I'm not a fan of charging my electronics on a bathroom counter. So I bring along a multi plug to turn one outlet into three. I used to bring along a power strip but this serves the same purpose and takes up less space. I found my current one from the Dollar Store but you can get them most anywhere.

5. Earplugs

I keep a set of disposable ear plugs in my carry on bag. I don't use them very often but on a late flight these are really awesome. Equally helpful if you happen to have a loud hotel. They hardly take up any space.

6. Oatmeal packet

Another item that takes almost no space but provides a great meal option. Heat water in the coffee pot and pour it into the travel cup usually provided in your room. Cover with the lid and let it cook for a bit. If you don't have a spoon the wooden stir stick provided for the coffee will do the trick. :) Quick, cheap and easy.

7. Tea bags

I have lived most of my life on well water. Chlorinated water tastes awful to me. So having tea bags with me is a great help in disguising the flavor of a bad hotel water. You don't want to get dehydrated on a trip. I've heard others mention this as a way to bring some sense of home with you. That can't hurt either.

8. Landry hamper







This is a fantastic find from the dollar store. It folds flat and takes up almost no space. It isn't the most durable thing ever but mine has lasted a year already. Totally worth the buck! I love having a place to keep dirty clothes away from clean ones. On car trips I have started just keeping the dirty clothes in the hamper and dumping it right in the washer when we get home. This is more essential for travel with the family than work, but sometimes those activities have some crossover.

9. Granola bar
Side story - when I was young some very close family friends got stuck in a snow storm in their car for several days. The lived off ketchup packets and miraculously survived. Since them my Mom has been a little crazy about emergency preparedness (and we keep ketchup packets in the vehicles still). Carrying a granola bar is a bit of that emergency preparedness. But you also might have a hangry mini emergency or get a bit nauseous and need something to calm you stomach. Granola bars last a pretty long time and take up hardly any space. So don't leave home without one. You can also sub a protein bar in here if that is more your thing.

10. Mint or peppermint candy
Peppermint is very soothing to a tummy and helps relieve nausea. Seriously it works for me. Especially on turbulent flights, mints are a must. I specifically prefer Mentos on flights, I swear it helps with ear popping since you kinda chew them.

11. Ready to go toiletries
This set of plastic bottles have been traveling with me since I was a senior in high school. These exact bottles. I try to fill them up when I remember after trips so that they are always ready to go when I leave. I don't have to worry about having to use hotel brand products and I don't have to purchase bunches of disposables. 

So, what do you think? What items are essential for your travel?


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hunger Action Month - Cool Shirts too!

September is Hunger Action Month!

Feeding America is a great organization working to help hungry families across the US. You may have even seen them featured on the Biggest Loser TV show.

As you noticed in my previous post about the corn we grew, this issue has a special place in my heart and has really been on my mind this summer.

A few facts about hunger (all from Feeding America fact sheets on their website):

  • 15.8 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2013.
  • Twelve million children are estimated to be served by Feeding America, over 3.5 million of which are ages 5 and under.
  • Twenty percent or more of the child population in 38 states and D.C. lived in food-insecure households in 2013, according to the most recent data available. 
  • In 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children.

Feeding America does a great job of making the most of their donations. Every dollar buys 11 meals!

Check out this cool way to help that also gets you a great shirt! The money goes directly to Feeding America!
https://www.booster.com/cayfr

Screen shot of the shirt and fundraiser page


There are also a variety of social media awareness campaigns this month including the spoon selfie. Check them out at Feeding America's Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gwynnie Bee - with coupon link for free month!

It has been almost a year that I have been a Gwynnie Bee subscriber! I did not expect to keep it this long, but it is so handy that I can't seem to part with it.

This is my current "rack" of clothing items that I'm requesting to rent.

If you have seen me at any sort of a business function in the last year, you have seen my Gwynnie Bee attire. I especially love it for travel because I ship the clothes back to Gwynnie Bee from the hotel. So I have more space in my suitcase.

Things I love about Gwynnie Bee:
1. New stuff all the time. Every white delivery box is something new that I haven't worn before.
2. The items are almost always high quality and frankly more expensive than what I wear on my own.
3. No laundry. Maybe the best part really. You don't launder the clothing when you send it back. Just wear it and return it. Yay!
4. Pushes my style limits. If I could, I would wear a black dress every day. I'm wearing one as a type this. This service pushes me to try clothes that I would not normally.
5. I ALWAYS get compliments on my Gwynnie Bee dresses. Seriously. If someone likes what I'm wearing, it came from Gwynnie Bee.

Right now they are offering a great referral option to try them out! You get a month free with my link. This is how I got hooked. I got to try it free for a month and have kept it ever since.

How to get started

A few things to know:
1. You can purchase the things you love. I have only purchased 1 item so far. It is a super cute dress and was discounted to like $13. They send coupons randomly to get you to keep the items you have rented. I finally bit.
2. The longer you rent the better the deals. After 6 months or so they started giving me loyalty bonuses of extra items. This makes the subscription go even further.
3. This is for sizes 10 and up. Someone should probably invent this for 10 and under but until then us curvy gals can enjoy it!

You can also get more info from my previous blog post here: http://houseagbuilt.blogspot.com/2014/12/gwynnie-bee.html

Follow the link here - http://goo.gl/7X3F6f - or by clicking the photos.

So try it out and tell me what you think! Have any cool services like this that I need to try out?

This post contains referral links. When you get a free month for following my link, I get a bonus. I figure that since we both win, you don't mind.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Growing Forward

Last year we were given a bag of sweet corn seed from Monsanto's Grow Forward program. Due to the drought and changes in our crop plans, we had to wait and use the seed this year.

The idea behind this program is to grow an acre of sweet corn to share. Share it and do some good in your community. Monsanto offered to provide the seed if the farmer would take care of the rest and do some good with it.

Beautiful baby corn plants!
The sweet corn seeds we planted and grew are GMO. They enable us to grow with limited herbicide and no pesticide sprayed. I'll try to do a post on why that works awesome. But today I want to tell you about how awesome this experience has been, in ways I didn't really expect.

The GMO sweet corn is on the left.
The sweet corn ripened pretty quickly and was delicious (seriously awesome)! We only have one food bank in our community and they are only open two days per week. So we had plenty of corn to share with them and more to share in our neighboring community. We made a total of four deliveries to our local food bank with my car full of corn. I also made a delivery to a soup kitchen in a neighboring community.

Fresh picked corn headed to the food bank
We have donated to food banks before and helped with food drives. But usually all non perishable goods and done when the food bank isn't open. In this case the food is fresh and needs to be delivered as they open (which is an interesting logistical challenge in providing fresh produce to those in need). I'm a mom and busy so usually I arrived a few minutes after they opened. This meant that for the first time I was seeing the people who are using this important service. Not only did I see the faces and the children, I saw the quantity of people who needed this food.

Check out this interactive map by Feeding America to see what food insecurity rates are in your back yard. http://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2013/overall/california.
1 in 7 Americans turns to the Feeding America Network for food assistance
Seeing the level of need in our community was striking. Almost every time I made a drop off there was a long line for people waiting to use the service. People of all ages and both genders and plenty of children. And as some of the volunteers noted, many people from working families.

It was so rewarding to get to drop off fresh food to people who need it!

Some friends stopped by to get corn and helped pick some extra boxes for the food bank.
This project was also a great way to visit with friends and neighbors. We invited people to come and pick and pick some extras for us to take to the food bank. We even had people bring boxes because we were quickly running out of containers! We also delivered sweet corn on the days the food bank wasn't open. Keeping up with an acre of fresh sweet corn is a challenge!

This was a really rewarding project. We are thinking about doing it again. We have friends in other parts of the country who are selling fresh corn and donating the proceeds. This allows the food banks to use the money for whatever their needs may be. With our food bank only open two days a week, this may be the better option. We have almost a year to decide but it sure has us thinking about hunger in our community and how we can help.

We really thank Monsanto for providing the corn seed!

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