February 23, 2013

Themed Care Packages: St. Patrick's Day

Another celebration is right around the corner, and we all know I LOVE a good themed care package. For our last holiday (check out the Valentine's Day post), I spent a lot of time on romantic gifts... but St. Patrick's Day is all about the fun!

The Hubs is of Irish descent, so I especially wanted this package to make him smile. So let's get this party started!

St. Patrick's Day Care Package Ideas:

1. Decorate the Box - As with other themed packages, decorating the box is always fun, both for you and your soldier. There are so many ways to make your box unique.

For me, I always run to the dollar store first. Stickers, wrapping paper, scrapbook doodads, foam cut-outs... these are my bread and butter. All of them are a simple, and better yet, inexpensive way to personalize your package.

Another popular way to decorate is: cover the box with reasons why you're lucky to have your spouse. Really go for it, and pick reasons that are special to you and your spouse. Be sentimental or be funny, or be something in between.

I also love to use Irish blessings and prayers, which leads me to my next idea:

2. Words of Encouragement - The Irish have so many beautiful blessings and prayers. It's easy to find a few verses that could inspire your spouse. Is your spouse into music? Send a traditional Irish CD, or an iTunes gift. 

One of my favorite prayers is this one: 

May God give you...
For every storm, a rainbow
For every tear, a smile
For every care, a promise 
And a blessing in each trial.

For every problem life sends, 
A faithful friend to share
For every sigh, a sweet song
And an answer for each prayer

Search the internet to find blessings or sayings that you like, then have at it! These can be printed and framed, sent in a card, or doodled onto your boxes. Be creative, I'm sure your hubs will appreciate the effort. 

3. Everything Green - This is probably the most obvious and best used method in a St. Patty's box (and for good reason!). When your spouse opens this particular box, let him/her be blinded by the green. It's not as hard as you might think to find green things: 

Thanks to my Grandma for modeling the giant green lollipop :)

So many food items are green! Try candy, granola bars, cookies, Rice Krispies treats, even pickles. Look through the seasonal sections of Walmart and Target, or try speciality shops like World Market. Many companies sell their items in seasonal wrappings, so it's easy to send your spouse's favorite items. 

Even hygienic items can be green: 

Just because it's Saint Patrick's Day, that doesn't mean you can't send basic items that your soldier needs. Need new sheets? Buy green ones. Socks? Army green ones! Underwear? Same deal. My Hubs particularly wanted new shower shoes, so guess what he received?

GREEN ones! 

If you're looking for green, you'll be surprised by how many items you'll find. In fact, I had to stop myself from buying too much, there were so many options.  

4. Party Supplies - Though your spouse isn't home to celebrate with you, it's nice for the soldiers to  enjoy the festivities. Try sending hats, decorations, and noise makers. You can even send along themed paper plates, napkins, and cups. 

Thanks to my Dad and my puppy for being great models! 

I found these silly hats at the Dollar Store. Fun and inexpensive, that's my motto! Decorations are also easy to come by at the same store. For holidays like this, discount stores are great place to start your shopping. 

5. Fun and Games - Every box should have a little fun in it. Try puzzle books (with green covers, of course!), green pens, or video games wrapped in green tissue paper. If your hubs is a cinema fanatic like mine, send movies that take place in Ireland. Or movies with Irish actors/directors. 

Silly toys are great too. Or gag gifts. I love the cheap t-shirts you can find at Walmart with goofy pictures and sayings on them. Try to stick with your green theme, and just about anything will fit in.

6. Photos - I suggest these for every care package you send. I bet most soldiers loves to receive pictures.  Try printing some from the last Saint Patrick's Day you shared together, and sending them in a green frame. 

Websites like Shutterfly and Snapfish are also excellent resources. They offer themed options, so you can print regular photographs with a Saint Patrick's Day border. Running low on time? Many Walmarts and drugstores have same-day printing, and they usually offer themed borders as well. 

7. "Irish" Goodies - An often requested item for care packages is coffee. Why not send Irish coffee for St. Patty's Day? If you can't find the coffee, look for flavored syrups or non-dairy creamers. Perhaps your soldier even prefers tea. 

Other fun goodies are oatmeal, oatcakes, or jams

If you have trouble finding these Irish goodies, try Amazon or your local World Market.

You can also personalize some basic treats to help them fit your theme. Try these ideas:

           a. Gold Coins - label with "I TREASURE you"
           b. Lucky Charms cereal - label with "I'm LUCKY to have you"
           c. Skittles candy - label with "Taste the rainbow" or "You're better than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" 
           d. Hershey's Kisses - label with "KISS ME, I'm Irish"
           e. Rollos candy (loose, in a clear bag) - "You're the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow"
If you know any other fun sayings, please feel free to share in the comments and I'll add them here (and credit you for the idea!).

* The Peas and Carrots were found at the Dollar Store... never seen these before, they're cute and fun!

8. Artwork from the Kids - This is good for any care package, and will always be on any list I make. You can work with the St. Patty's day theme, of course. Most craft stores sell seasonal craft kits for less than a few dollars apiece. Not only are these great to send your spouse, but it's a cool project for your kids and a great excuse to spend some time together.

9. Cards and Letter - Perhaps the most important part of any care package! I know not all of us are comfortable writing, and we don't always know what to say, but that's ok. A simple 'I love you' and 'I miss you' can make a world of difference. Look for cards that express your feelings, or find a funny one that would give your spouse a laugh.

So, that's all I've got for now, folks! I'd love to hear from you with other ideas to inspire fellow spouses. Feel free to share your thoughts, even your photos.

Happy packing!


Submitted by a friend who is probably blushing right about now (and who wishes to remain anonymous)!

Undies are festive AND practical, plus they make great packing material! 

A great idea for decorating inside the box... I LOVE the leprechaun hat band! From a fellow army wife and her son:

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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February 8, 2013

Pinterest Tested: Sharpie Plates

Or cups, or bowls, or whatever porcelain kitchenware you want to decorate by hand.

Do sharpies really work? Well, I can tell you, because me and The Kid put our heads together and tested it out. What you need to get started is simple:

Sharpies and a dollar store plate (or mug, bowl, etc).

Then doodle to your heart's content! Both black and colored sharpies work, also both thick and thin. I've seen lots of monogrammed images, kids drawings, and even funny comics. Go with what works for you. The Kid and I went in two totally different directions (and hers is way better, dang it!).

I'll start with mine, since you'll forget all about it after you see hers, I promise.

I wanted to create something army wife related. Makes sense, yes? So I chose the Army Wife's Prayer.  Simple, basic...

Too simple, maybe.

So then I added a heart and a yellow ribbon. Still too simple. I consulted The Kid, then I added a red and blue star border.

Then I gave up, realizing mine would never be as cool as hers.

Because The Kid created this:

Her creative genius astounds me daily.

My plate took about 15 minutes. The Kid spent nearly an hour on her design, but it was sooooo worth it. I'd like an 8-piece set, please. (If you want to place an order, I think she's charging $100 a plate, hahaha. At least, that's what I was told!).

Before moving on to the next step, this is what we learned during the doodling process:

1. Take any stickers off the back of the plate before you start drawing
2. The sharpies will smear, but only for about 30 seconds after you've drawn on the plate. After that, you're golden.
3. If you make a mistake (and it's been more than 30 seconds), water and a Q-tip works wonders (I did this often)

The next step? Baking!

I've heard/read many conflicting ideas on how to bake the plates. Some sites say 350 degrees, others say 365. Still more say 400 degrees. Don't even get me started on the length of time! All different.

So what's a girl to do?

Well, The Kid and I decided to bake the plates at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. The, we simply turned the oven off and left the plates inside the oven to cool down overnight.

This worked out for us.

The plates didn't shatter, or melt, or any other crazy thing. Believe me, I was worried they would! Also, the house didn't fill with poisonous fumes or anything (another worry of mine).

In the morning, we took out our plates, and viola! They were done.

A few things we learned during the baking process:

1. Yellow color, when baked, turns brown.
2. Other colors bake fairly true, but there is a slight fading.
3. Your marker lines are clearly visible, unless you make an effort to conceal them
4. Water and a Q-tip will no longer wipe away your color!

These plates are good as serving or decorative pieces, but I wouldn't recommend them for everyday use as they cannot be cleaned in the dishwasher. Well, you could clean them in the dishwasher, but eventually all your "paint" would come off. They really need to be washed using a soft sponge by hand. You can, of course, use yours all the time if you don't mind handwashing.

If you're looking for a more permanent finish, I suggest using porcelain markers. Unfortunately (as you can see from the link), they are significantly more expensive than Sharpies. However, your final product would be dishwasher safe.

The End!

I hope you found some helpful tips here, especially if you've been thinking of making these yourself. The Kid and I had a great time together. I think this project is a great, inexpensive way to spend some time with your loved ones, and they would make great handmade Christmas gifts!

I'd love to hear all about the Pinterest ideas you've tested, and have you write a post for fellow readers. Please email me if you're interested in becoming a guest blogger for Army Life!

Happy creating, my friends!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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February 6, 2013

Fancy in Five Minutes

Ok, so this might take a little longer than five minutes.

More like twenty actually. But the title was catchy, and it really only feels like five minutes because this recipe is so simple to make!

Yeah, I know it's not the same thing. You'll just have to forgive me this one time.

And I know you will once you taste this blueberry compote...

I whipped this up because I needed something that looked fancy, but was actually easy to make. And as much as I'd like to take credit for the recipe, I really can't. You see, what happened was this:

My sisters and I were all at the parents' house at the exact same time, for a brief 24 hour period. This actually occurred TWICE in a several week span. You have no idea how unusual this is! Normally, we're lucky to see each other once every year or so.

On the first visit, we celebrated Fakemas. If the title has made you curious, click the link and check out our quirky traditions :)

On the second visit, we were enjoying a birthday celebration. As part of another tradition, it was our duty to make breakfast for the birthday boy in question (depending on who you ask, that would be Paj, Faja, DaDa, or Edward... Ha, it's probably better not to ask and just go with it).

We divided the breakfast duties appropriately. D and H were in charge of egg sandwiches and pancakes.

If you don't already know, I'll let you in on my secret: I'm a pancake failure! This is the one thing I absolutely cannot master at all.

And I mean AT ALL.

I've tried. Countless times. I finally gave up.

However, this doesn't mean I couldn't help. All great pancakes need great toppers, yes? Hence the blueberry compote! 

The Kid "supervises"

Cooking in someone else's kitchen is no mean feat. I don't know where stuff is, they don't use the same knives/cookware that I do, the spice rack is missing my favorites.... and the list goes on. I knew my pancake topper needed to be simple. 

As in, as basic as basic can get. 

So instead of experimenting and creating my own unique spin on a classic, I just stuck with the classic itself. I used this recipe from Food Network

The ingredients

The ingredients are easy: 2 cups frozen blueberries, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and three tablespoons of plain old water. 

The cooking method is even easier: place all the ingredients in a saucepan, sans 1 cup of the blueberries. Cook and stir over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Then add the rest of the blueberries to the pot and cook another 8 minutes, stirring often.

Viola! Blueberry compote with breakfast. 

This is a great, basic recipe that you can make anywhere, in anyone's kitchen. And people will be impressed with your crazy skills! I just love dishes that look fancy, but really aren't. Don't you?

Happy cooking, peeps! I'll be back again soon with a recipe from my kitchen to yours.

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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