Friday, August 24, 2012

Our Letterboxing Adventure

We have had a yearly membership to the Grand Rapids Children's Museum for probably five years. It's a great place to go and, my favorite part, they participate in a Cultural Exchange program where you can visit other places around town for free during certain months. During the month of August, it is usually the John Ball Zoo. So, I wanted to make sure we took advantage of this opportunity to go to the zoo for free and this month is just FLYING by so I made sure to put it on the books for today.

Side note here-  I have chosen to have a membership to the Children's Museum because I can use it all year long. If we go to the zoo once or twice during the free month, we've gotten our fill of the zoo for a year. The first year I decided to get a membership somewhere, I did the zoo and we BARELY went enough to make it worth our money. We've always gone to the Children's Museum PLENTY throughout the year. I do think, however, that we will get our membership this coming year at Frederik Meijer Gardens. The boys are getting a little old for the Children's Museum, my husband and I really enjoy Frederik Meijer Gardens, and it's a great place for year-round activities. Maybe a little more so in the summer but not so much a strictly summer activity like the zoo is.

Ok, on with the story... so this morning, Aidan points out that we haven't been letterboxing in a while and he really wants to go. I think this is a great idea, it's always so much fun (except when we look and look to no avail- more on that later) BUT remember, the zoo is FREE and I want to take advantage of this! I decide to find a letterbox in a location near the zoo then we can do both. I'm a genius sometimes.

So what exactly IS letterboxing? From the Letterboxing North America website: Letterboxing is an intriguing “treasure hunt” style outdoor activity. Letterboxers hide small, weatherproof boxes in publicly-accessible places (like parks) and post clues to finding the box online on one of several Web sites. To begin your letterboxing adventure, visit a letterboxing website- I like to use the LBNA site, linked above- and search for a location and figure out which box you want to find. Then you gather a few supplies and head out on your adventure. The supplies you need are a notebook, pen, rubber stamp, ink pad, and something to clean the stamp with. Here is what we have in our bag:

You'll notice Connor's trail book has the name Heads-N-Tails on it and Aidan's has Hunter. These are their trail names (you'll want your own trail name, too). And Connor's stamp is the monkey and Aidan's is the black lab. You've got your clues and your bag of goodies and now you're ready to head off. What you will do is follow the clues until you find the box that is hidden. When you open the box, you will find a trail book and a rubber stamp. You take your stamp and put it in the box's trail book along with your trail name and the date. I like to flip through the book and see the other stamps and read the trail names and see how often the box is found. The box we found today was just placed in November of last year and the trail book was almost filled up already! After you stamp in the box's book, put the box's stamp in your trail book. And, eventually, you'll end up with a collection of stamps from different letterboxes that you've found. It's like a little treasure hunt. Gets us out into nature and the boys love the adventure!

Today, our hunt was fairly easy and we found the box, which is always a bonus. It doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes they've been moved or taken or we just plain can't find it. The clues were based on Nessi, who is a concrete statue of the Loch Ness Monster that resides in the pond in front of the zoo. When we found the box, the boys were so excited and to make it even more exciting, there was a hand carved stamp inside that was the coolest EVER, according to Aidan.

We were running a little short on time today so we didn't get a chance to journal about our experience, but the boys will each journal in their book about the adventure. This was a great find and a lot of fun. I'm glad I decided to try and do letterboxing and the zoo today!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Catching Up & A Yummy Recipe!

My goodness this summer has flown by! And quitting my job didn't slow it down a bit :( I am not ready for the boys to start school in the fall (BOTH will be in school full time for the first time ever. What will I do?!)

Since quitting my job almost four weeks ago, I have been using the days when I don't have the boys to get settled into the house, to organize a garage sale, to catch up on some things that I haven't been able to get to in a while. I think that this week Thursday, I'll finish checking things off this list then next week, I will be able to start "working" from home. Not 100% sure what this will entail but it will most definitely be a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

Aidan has started football, they are gearing up for what I think will be a great season. It's been kind of crazy because he's got practice from 6-8 which is smack dab in the middle of dinner time so I started just feeding the boys early then Dan & I ate later (or not at all). But that meant the boys were hungry again before bed and often left Dan without dinner. So, I had this brilliant idea to make dinner in the crock pot, the boys and I would eat, Dan could eat when he was ready and then put it away. I started it yesterday and it went well. The meal itself was delicious (recipe to follow) and the logistics of it all worked out pretty good. The boys were still hungry before bedtime but I think that's going to be the case no matter what. They are, after all, growing boys.

Here is an adaptation of the recipe I made (the original recipe called for a lot of Tastefully Simple products). Bonus- It's a freezer meal so these are the freezer meal instructions but if you want to just make it, just skip the bagging it up and freezing it steps (that's what I did).

Slow Cooker Lasagna
Brown 1 lb. cooked beef, combine with 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, 6 oz can tomato paste, basil, oregano, and parsley to taste (1 tsp each?) and 1 cup water in gallon Ziploc bag

Combine 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 1/2 cups cottage cheese and 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, and one clove minced garlic in quart Ziploc bag

Place 8 oz uncooked lasagna noodles in gallon Ziploc bag

Put all three bags in Ziploc bag and seal

Freeze then thaw overnight before cooking

To Cook:
Spoon 1/4 beef mixture in bottom of slow cooker

Layer 1/3 of noodles over beef mixture, breaking as needed

Layer 1/3 of cheese mixture over noodle layer

Repeat noodle & cheese layers twice

Top with remaining ground beef mixture

Cook on low for 3-4 hours, uncover and cook an additional 30 minutes

Clearly, by looking at the picture, you can tell I didn't follow directions very well. I did the small meat layer, noodles, meat, cheese, noodles, meat, cheese. I like my pasta dishes to have a nice cheesy layer on top! I'm sure either way works and the way I did it was absolutely wonderful. It was creamy, rich, and the noodles were well cooked (oh, I actually used extra wide egg noodles), the cheese was just a bit crispy around the edges. Yum!

And the best part- Italian food is one of those that's best the 2nd time around so guess what today is- leftover day! YUM!