This Spring, Mr Bows and Bentos and I were discussing landscaping ideas for our yard. We knew we wanted more planter boxes, some trees, gravel & paving stones down one side of our house – and he also pitched the idea of a fire pit. He grew up in the country surrounded by space and animals and a relax by the campfire at night was something he was accustomed to. Me? I’m a city girl and admittedly, I wasn’t interested at all.
I hate the smell of campfire smoke (which permeates every hair and piece of clothing on your body and means constant laundry on my to-do list)
Fire pits can be expensive and take up so much space in your yard (we live in an urban area and our yard isn’t huge by any means)
I didn’t want to commit to one spot for a fire pit (a firepit is usually permanent and it is so windy here, how can we know we picked the right spot)?
Obtaining and storing firewood is one salty pain in the arse (I don’t even know where to buy firewood, embarrassingly enough).
I suggested potentially looking into a natural gas firepit (you know, once of those Costco ones you can put on your deck?) – my husband told me those are ridiculous and not even real fires so he’d rather not even have one, than have one of those. The logic of a country boy….you know. We agreed to shelve the idea for a bit and think about it while we assessed the budget and considered if we wanted to make this work.
If you have found yourself in a pinch while mindfully choosing your Easter Basket gifts this year and don’t want to add one more chocolate Easter bunny to your household, you’ve come to the right place. Here, I’m going to share the absolute best Easter gifts for kids (and adults!) — gifts they’ll actually love and use all year – and the focus will be predominately on small Canadian shops. My roundup includes everything from cute craft ideas, to outdoor fun, to bigger-ticket, splurge-worthy items. Kids and toddlers alike will love each of our picks! Lastly, I’ll share some great ideas for adults if you have one to gift to this year (you count too!)
I want to start this blog post off with the most important info of all – a disclaimer – that I am not a doctor, a medical professional, or anyone who holds any higher education in counseling folks on what is best for their health. I always strongly advocate that you fact check anything you read on the internet, and talk to your doctor before taking anything that may impact your health. Do not stop taking prescribed pharmaceutical medication unless under the direct supervision of a medical professional, and do not begin taking any new supplements unless you have ensured with your medical professional that it is safe. This blog post is to offer my anecdotal experience with trialing CBD for sleep and mood support and should not be taken as medical advice. Long story short – be smart. This is *my* research – and I am not a doctor.
I heard an analogy recently that essentially equated a mother’s (or primary caregiver’s) work/life balance as juggling 55 balls at any given time. Between house stuff and kid stuff and life stuff and woman stuff and work stuff – sometimes it feels like you have WAY too much stuff on your plate (and you probably do).
The analogy suggested that some of those 55 balls are glass and you shouldn’t drop those balls – they will smash into a million pieces and cut you and cause a huge mess for you to clean up.
But, some of those 55 balls are plastic and can be dropped without repercussions. They simply bounce and roll across the room, not harming anything and ready to be picked up when you’re ready.
The trick is finding out for yourself which balls are plastic, and which ones are glass.
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I was searching for handprint ornaments (for myself as keepsakes, as well as for family gifts) but I didn’t want to use flour/salt dough. Flour dough is typically grainy, beige (I wanted bright white), and raw flour isn’t something that I wanted to mess around with due to the risks of e-coli contamination. Enter – clay dough. Here’s how I made them:
I wanted to surprise my husband with a smoker for an early birthday present. Yeah, you can make good food on a charcoal or gas grill, but the best smoked meat is going to come from a smoker. My husband is a meat lover and a hunter – this would be totally up his alley. There are SO many on the market though and what I learned is that I needed to figure out what kind of fuel we wanted first, as that would guide my decision-making.
Charcoal: Charcoal smokers use a combination of wood and charcoal that is easy to understand, affordable and customizable with combinations of wood chips for your own smoky flavor. The masters tend to use charcoal, but it also presents its own difficulties. Charcoal smokers rarely have precise temperatures, require a lot of experience in positioning and lighting and make the cleaning process really rough. If you don’t mind spending a lot of time on your smoking project, think about this option.
Electric: Electric smokers use a lot of energy, but have high-tech sensors and controls that allow for careful programming and temperature balance which ensures even flavouring. However, they tend to produce less smokey flavors out of all the fuel options.
Gas: Propane smokers are faster and easier to control than charcoal and produce decent flavours, but temperature is wildly difficult to maintain – still a very popular choice for beginners.
Pellet: We’re also seeing a lot more pellet smokers these days, which use electricity or gas to burn wood pellets—essentially adding modern tech to the charcoal approach. These have become more popular by the Traeger line of products, which are basically grill hybrids that can be used for a variety of purposes, including smoking. The all-in-one approach has a lot to offer buyers. Because of their small size and composition, food-grade wood pellets burn cleanly, producing a light smoky flavor. Wood pellet varieties include oak, maple, apple, alder, mesquite, cherry, maple, hickory, and pecan.
Lots of things to consider – what was my budget? What fuel did I think was best? Would it be for home use, or would we want portability? How big did it need to be? Would we want a horizontal, egg, or vertical smoker? Wi-fi or no wi-fi? What temperature range would we need? What brands brought the best reviews most consistently?
It didn’t take me long to settle on an electric wood pellet smoker. An electric smoker brought the stability of high end temperature balance, but wood pellets would bring the rich smokey flavour we would expect to achieve in a smoker. Because my husband hunts, I knew smoked sausages and racks of ribs would be at the top of his “must smoke” list – and vertical smokers offer so many options for these particular meats. Because you can “hang” meat in a vertical smoker (but also use the horizontal racks for standard smoking), I knew he would most likely prefer this to style. I had narrowed it down to an electric wood pellet vertical smoker.
During my research, I learned that Traeger (long considered the biggest name in smokers) had an exclusive patent on electric pellet grills for 20 years making them the best in the business, but it expired in 2006 – and since then, other manufacturers have been able to replicate and expand upon the Traeger technology. It’s name still commands a lot of authority, but I read a lot about them being overpriced. Traeger also does not make vertical smokers.
I had read a TON of amazing things about Green Mountain Grills – but the price tag was a hindrance. They are packed to the gills with amazing electronic features including high end wi-fi, an app, electronic alerts and timers and cooking profiles – very fancy, but not sure what I thought my husband would want. Where was the fun in setting it and forgetting it? While I knew he wouldn’t want to be outside tinkering with a smoker for hours and hours on end, I knew he would want more control over it that the fancy wi-fi smokers offered.
I finally settled on Pit Boss (this isn’t sponsored, by the way – I wish). They had a LONG history of quality workmanship and a reputation for a good reliable line of smokers, millions of amazing reviews – and they had an entire line of vertical smokers (and accessories including winter covers – a necessity – grill tools, their own line of wood pellets, and much more).
So, thePit Boss Series 5 Vertical Electric Smokerwas ours. From the Pit Boss website: “Innovation meets the outdoors with Pit Boss’ all new 5 Series Vertical Pellet Smoker. Never before has smoking been this versatile. The double walled insulation lets you smoke from 150°F to temperatures reaching 450°F, unlike any other smoker on the market today. The large front window eliminates the need for peek-a-boo cooking and its elevated frame makes transferring your meal from the smoker to the table a breeze. With the PB 5 Series Pellet Smoker there is no need to fret about cooking lengths – its 40 pound plus hopper allows you to cook for up to 24 hours! Its sleek design is not only unique, it is also functional. The PB 5 Series Pellet Smoker features 1,659 square inches of porcelain coated cooking racks, locking caster wheels, an easy to read digital controller and a notable hammer tone copper finish. The multiple position racking system ensures you’ll have enough room to smoke anything your heart (or stomach) desires“.
The difference in price between the 3 series and the 5 series was only $100 more, but the surface area inside DOUBLED. The additional upgrade in price to the 7 series didn’t bring enough features for us to feel it was worth it. The 5 series would allow us to do ribs, sausages, wings, brisket – almost any meat we wanted – as well as fit a full-size turkey for holiday smoking. We could smoke long and slow, or jack the temp right up if needed. Being vertical, it gave us a ton of space to smoke without a giant footprint on our back deck. It was an easy sell for me after that. Probably most importantly – they ship to Canada and their website was in Canadian dollars, so I didn’t have to worry about additional duties or taxes or charges when it arrived. It also showed up 12 days after I ordered it!
So far, we have done wings (probably 5 times now – and we’ll never go for another wing night again because we can do them better ourselves at home), brisket, and ribs – and we’re trying beef jerky, spatchcock chicken, and pork belly burnt ends this week. For Thanksgiving, we’re doing our very first smoked turkey!
I thought there would be a steep learning curve, but there is SO much info on the internet with a million recipes, and an electric pellet grill is a HUGELY popular option so tons of online support. If you have been on the fence about getting one – I can now attest to it and highly recommend it!
One of the questions I am asked most often is about how to send hot food with children to school. Most of you won’t like my answer – because there simply aren’t really any great hot food vessels on the market. Some of the big names Thermos’ on the market include:
Hydroflask Insulated Food Flask
Zojirushi Food Jar
And the much discussed, Omie Box Bento Box
The questions I am asked most often include – what are the easiest to open thermos’ for kids, what thermos’ keep food the hottest. and are there any flatter thermos’ for things like pizza?
Which ones are “easy” for small kids to open?None. Heat retention is due in part to super tight fitting seals and screw lids. If children could open them willy nilly, they’d spill hot food on themselves, and that would be a liability for the manufacturer. For this reason, most children cannot open them solo.
What thermos’ keep food the hottest? Honestly – not many. All thermos’ require you to “charge” them, aka preheat them with boiling water for at least 5 mins prior to putting your food in to warm the thermos. However, this is rarely enough to keep your food out of the “danger zone” of bacteria growth.According to every healthy authority, food hits the danger zone between 4 °C and 60 °C. Most thermos’ CANNOT sustain that high of a temperature in the length of time between packing lunch and eating lunch in a day. Lukewarm food is almost certainly spoiled and should NOT be eaten unless you can confirm it hasn’t dropped below 60 °C.
Are there any flat thermos’ for pizza or foods that kids don’t want to mix around? No. No there isn’t.
Lots of people ask me about the Omie Box Bento Box too – it is marketed with a thermos bowl inside a bento box so cold food and hot food can go together. My opinion? It is TERRIBLE. Even with preheating or “charging” the thermal bowl, the hot food is lukewarm at best by lunch time. The cold food also heats up, and it’s all within the food safety danger zone. A bacteria breeding ground – bad news. Food safety requires food to stay at a specific temperature. This can be achieved for chilled foods with ice packs – but not for hot foods without a microwave (most schools have removed microwaves due to covid-19). The Omie Box Bento Box is also a super heavy box (3 to 4 pounds when willed with food) and is priced high at approximately $65-$70 CDN.
The advice I have to give – teach your kids, as EARLY as possible, to eat chilled foods or open any vessel you need to send their heated food to school in. Teachers cannot (and SHOULD NOT) be touching and opening 30 different lunches. This means bento boxes, lunch kits, thermos’, water bottles, and packaged food like fruit cups, yogurt tubes, cheese strings ( all of which exist in a teacher’s personal version of HELL). Teach them to open it all themselves – if they can’t open it, don’t send it. If they won’t consider eating cold food, they have to learn to open a thermos properly. (*this applies to neurotypical children – I recognize and empathize with the vast array of feeding difficulties that arise in neurodivergent children and I ALWAYS advocate for a parent to do the best they can with what they can*)
See? I told you this wouldn’t be a super fun conversation. A thermos for kids comes with a ton of challenges – if it’s easy to open, a kid could burn themselves and no manufacturer wants that liability. But most other thermos’ don’t keep food hot enough to ensure bacteria isn’t growing. Do people risk it? Sure. I just won’t sit in front of everyone and advocate for their usage (unless you can confirm the hot food vessel you use never dips below 60 °C before consumption. If you’re going to just send macaroni & cheese, or pasta with butter and parm, it’s “probably find” and you can buy whatever since they all kinda suck the same. Skip Hop ones are cute and go on sale often. Thermos FOOGO can be bought at Superstore. Amazon has tons.
I am definitely not the food police – but if you wouldn’t eat chicken nuggets out in a stainless steel container on a hot summer’s day and eat them after 4 hours – why would you send them in a thermos that won’t even stay as hot? Did you know most gastro symptoms in school aged kids are due to improperly stored/stored food? It’s food poisoning! Here are some helpful links:
Teach your kids to eat chilled food. Start now, even if your baby is only 9 months old. Start as soon as possible, and don’t get them accustomed to hot soups and pastas (or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) because you’re in for a world of hurt when grade school starts.
With preschools and public schools and daycares closed, parents have had to take on the role of educators. It is a weird space to be in and while I recognize the role we all have to play, I’ve gotta say – I’m not homeschooling, I’m love schooling. When the girls wake up, they crawl into my bed and put their heads on my chest – listening to my heart beat, we discuss blood flow. Arteries away, veins back again. Love puddle as we start our day lazy and in sync. We go downstairs to make breakfast. We talk about how blueberries have vitamin K, granola will give us energy, and greek yogurt has protein to keep our muscles strong. We talk and laugh and love. Time to get dressed. Choosing clothes and getting dressed offers independence, autonomy, creativity, and strengthens gross motor skills. Is it a stay in pyjamas because it’s still forking snowing day? Love. We love comfy & warm. Or is it a tshirt and shorts day because the sun is shining and we’re ready to run? Lots of discussion to be had. Jumping on the couch and making forts and playing playdoh and skipping rope mazes and diaper box cars at the drive in theatre and lego castles are the basis of Love Schooling. Bodies get moved, creativity abounds, fine motor skills get worked on. We swim in the bath & pretend we’re back in Hawaii playing with ancient sea turtles. Afternoons bring cartoons because Mama is Tired. Mama is Sad. Mama is anxious. Love School has quiet time and screen time because it helps mama recharge. Subtitles on because “look mama! Daniel Tiger said dad and the word below says d – a – d so that spells dad?!?” – words and letters come easier this way. Dinner offers more chances for me to make it right. Kraft dinner and hotdogs with cucumbers? It is what it is. We love that and this is Love School after all. Bellies get filled and the manner in which we do it changes day by day, but the constant is that mama is doing her best. More cuddle puddles at bed time while we read and laugh. We apologize for what went wrong in the day, and we discuss what new fun thing to tackle tomorrow. Kisses & hugs, funny voices with the bedtime stories. Little one wants to snuggle in the dark, big one takes 10 books and a flashlight to bed. I say yes to both. I never went to university to become a teacher. I wasn’t prepared for this. But the way someone made you feel will be remembered longer than the things you did. And I don’t want the girls to look back and remember self-isolation during covid-19 or how we had to talk about the germs so often – I want them to remember Love School. The times I said yes instead of no. The extra cartoons. The treats. The little bit too late bedtimes because we were having tickle fights. Perfectly imperfect.
School should reopen this fall but what that looks like remains to be seen. My oldest is slated to start kindergarten, and there are talks of medical masks for 5 year olds, with hand sanitizer breaks, and 6 foot distances between teachers and classmates. I feel like the ramifications of these measures, while entirely intended to keep kids physically safe, may inflict undue trauma instead. In my province, kindergarten isn’t mandatory. Depending on what our district’s school re-opening strategy is, we may opt to keep her home for her kindergarten year.
Because of the uncertainty that lies ahead, I am slowly planning for what a year of Love Schooling at home might look like and how to best support both my daughters with their gross motor, fine motor, educational, social, and emotional needs. I am slowly but surely building a well rounded “unschooling” space within our budget and on our own terms – stay tuned for that blog post coming soon as I showcase what I have put together for them to support them going forward should public school not offer what they need.
Like most others, the swiftness with which covid-19 spread through the world and morphed our realities into something out of a science fiction novel was really unsettling. Normal as we know it no longer exists, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. I have shared bits and pieces of my thoughts and feelings over onInstagram, but after countless requests to share more in-depth, I am detailing it in entirety here today. I want to make it very clear though – this blog post is NOT meant to incite fear or anxiety, it is just how I am processing my own feelings, my own anxiety, and how I am intending on preparing my family.
Much like every financial advisor ever suggests you have 3 months of savings to cover all household expenses in case of emergency, the same should be said for household supplies. Even outside of covid-19, any number of things can happen to impact our ability to finance the day to day supplies we rely on. Be it covid-19, job loss, layoffs, other sickness or infirmary, house fire, etc – I think it’s smart to be prepared for a rainy day.
From the beginning, elected officials and medical health authorities made it clear that the self isolation and social distancing and shelter in place orders they were enacting were NOT going to eradicate the virus – it was being done to flatten the curve and lessen the load on our already taxed medical system and hospitals. There was going to be no way to eliminate covid-19 from our society now that it was here and BEST case scenario was that we slow the spread and minimize the damage while scientists race towards an effective treatment or vaccine.
Now we’re 2 full months into the pandemic (here in Canada) and restrictions are slowly easing.
Most people are taking deep breaths and feeling like we’ve weathered the storm.
*I* believe we have only just experienced the first wave. Most skeptics point to the Spanish Flu, and how the second wave killed exponentially more than the first outbreak did, and while I am not at that level of doomsday in my own beliefs, I think it would be negligent to not physically and emotionally prepare to go back to self isolation day 1. My husband works outside of the home, and I am routinely solo parenting my daughters for up to 2 weeks at a time. My usual childcare help is all aged 60+. If we see a resurgence, I need to ensure I have the supplies we need at home for a full 2 week stay (and beyond). Here is how I am preparing for the Fall:
(*Note – your family’s needs and budget may differ from mine, simply adjust as you see fit – and let it be explicitly known that under no circumstances do I suggest panic buying or overt stockpiling which will negatively impact our supply chains – a few things purchased here and there as your budget allows will suffice. My intention in posting this now is to share my own planning strategy and offer ample time if you choose to prepare as well)
Pantry essentials – I am aiming to have an extra few week supplies of OUR family’s essentials. This will look different for you. I will store mine in my regular pantry and for items I deplete during regular day to day cooking, I will replace and rotate – ensuring my stores always stay fresh.
Baking supplies – being self-isolated in the fall/winter will have an impact on how I approach holiday baking, which is an extremely important tradition I hold onto. It is one safe holiday tradition I will be able to engage in if we need to self-isolate again. If I can’t get to a grocery store or stock is gone when I get there – I won’t be able to bake. To prevent this, I am aiming to have a good supply of flour, white/brown sugar, chocolate chips, butter/margarine (this freezes for up to a year, wonderfully), rolled oats, baking soda/powder, and shredded coconut on hand.
Bulk pasta, canned beans, canned soup, canned corn/beans, canned fruit
Apple juice and Gatorade (the latter works much better than Pedialyte if kids fall ill)
Nuts and seeds (shelf stable protein source)
Pet food and supplies, if applicable
Cleaning supplies – no need to go crazy, but making sure you have an extra jug or two of bleach on hand to disinfect surfaces is smart. Laundry soap, vinegar, paper towels, dish soap, garbage bags, toilet paper, etc. Dishwasher pods are a necessity in my life, so I will make sure I have an extra box of those.
Personal hygiene – hand soap, kleenex, feminine hygiene supplies, diapers and baby wipes, eczema cream, etc.
Medications – this is a huge area of anxiety for most people but please know pharmacies will NOT close, so if you take prescription medications, rest assured your access to them is unlikely to be disrupted. Insurance companies will not let you stockpile either. What you can prepare for is ensuring you have fever relieving medication (Acetaminophen) for both you and your children, a good thermometer, and any other over-the-counter medications you take regularly. What *I* am preparing for my family is making sure I have an extra month’s supply of probiotics, multivitamins, vitamin D, and omega 3’s.
I typically try to keep an extra of our usuals on hand anyways, but this list is a bit more comprehensive going into the Fall. Your list might look different! I know many people are big into bread making right now, you might want to look at having extra yeast in your pantry if this applies to you. If you’re a local maker or baker, perhaps you’ll look at supplies who may need on hand if mail slows to a halt as Christmas buying ramps up.
My anxiety manifests in a way that needs an actionable solution to move forward. These are the steps I am taking to help set myself up for what we may see if/when round 2 of covid-19 returns.
Okay, I have to admit. I’ve been a huge Yumbox fan forever. I loved that the trays came out (unlike Little Lunch Box Co), and were top rack dishwasher friendly. Well folks – there is a new girl in town. My friends over atStuck on You Officialsent me some of their bento boxes and cooler bags to try (#gifted) and I am obsessed for a few different reasons.
First – look at the tray design! I love that it has the food groups all laid out in appropriate portion sizes. It’s great for an adult to refer to when making bento box lunches for kids, but equally awesome for older kids as they learn to pack their own lunches and what needs to be included for them as well. Having kids see their meal laid out in front of them allows them to make smarter food choices by prioritizing their hunger needs and being more likely to eat healthier.
Next – and this is a HUGE upgrade over my former fave, Yumbox – the silicone lid insert is removeable! This means that you can properly deep clean and disinfect it as needed. Simply pop it out and toss it on the top rack of your dishwasher (all 3 pieces, including the tray, box shell, and silicone lid insert are all top rack dishwasher safe).
These bento boxes are also customizable! You can choose colour, art design, and fonts – this allows for several dozen customizing options for your bento boxes (many options available for children/adults of particular colour/design preference).
Sizing is also generous. The pink bento box above is the Stuck On You Official large bento. The yellow is a Yumbox Original – you can see it is both less wide and less deep meaning it simply doesn’t hold as much food.
Here you can see the Stuck On You Official large bento in pink, with the lila purple Yumbox Tapas on top. While the Yumbox is slightly wider, it isn’t as deep. By my approximation, they hold a similar amount of food (which is approximately 4.5-5 cups of food when packed food, an adult meal size.)
Lastly, you can see here the Stuck On You Official large bento in pink, and a Little Lunch Box Co Bento 5 in purple. There is a clear difference in sizing and the amount of food each one holds.
Lastly, thecooler bags we received with our bento boxesare perfectly sized and also customized with my daughter’s names on the outside (not shown). They fit the bento boxes perfectly, with a mesh pouch to insert an ice pack to keep the lunches cold, and an attached zippered pouch to include additional snacks/lunch options.
I have been a Yumbox fangirl forever. But I gotta say, I think these new bento boxes from Stuck On You Official have taken my heart. They are an Australia based company, but offer free Canadian shipping and frequent discounts to their friends up north. I appreciate the super smart design of the removeable silicone lid insert, the interchangeable trays (sandwich tray or snacky trays), the lunch bags that fit the bento boxes perfectly, and even the bento box menu planning note pads you can buy to plan lunch meals and grocery shopping accordingly.
If you’re in the market for some new bento boxes (getting your kids used to eating chilled lunches at home outta bento boxes is great practice for next school year!), please do check them out —> Stuck On You Official Bento Boxes & More