Summer In The Park!

The weather is finally starting to warm and give hints of summer (although the snow on the rooftops this morning in my neighborhood wouldn’t make you think that) and it’s time to start thinking picnics!

There are so many options for picnics…
* Dining on your own patio/deck/backyard
* Daytime lunch picnics at the park
* Evening concerts in the park
* Lazy afternoons at the beach or the lake

In my younger days living in Chicago I loved the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. My friends and I would pack up bottles of wine, fruit, and sandwiches with our blankets and bug spray and enjoy awesome concerts under the stars. Girls’ Night Out at Ravinia have been replaced by family friendly movies and concerts in our local park but the enjoyment of being outside has not changed.

The only thing that brings down the otherwise festive atmosphere is the hectic hour before we leave gathering all the necessary gear and food while corralling children into the car or wagons.

If you like to picnic and plan to do so this summer, take time this month to prepare for all those festivals and outings (like Independence Day Fireworks) coming soon.

First, pick your favorite container… maybe it’s a organizational tote from Thirty-One or one of the classic Land’s End totes.

{image source: Land’s End}

Next, gather all that you need to have a great picnic.  Here are my suggestions for staples:

    1. Blanket(s).  Some places my have picnic tables but even so, a blanket can come in handy when it gets a bit chilly. My favorite blankets are washable and thick (to keep out the moisture from damp grass).
    2. Plastic Sheet or Tarp.  If you live in an area known for lots of summer rain (not you, Coloradoans!) you’ll probably want something to go under your blankets.CrateandBarrelCandleInCanSm
{image source: Crate & Barrel}
  1. Citronella Candle. Bugs can ruin an outing quickly. Keep them at bay. This adorable candle-in-can from Crate & Barrel is a great way to go. They are inexpensive enough you can buy a few and keep them on hand. Don’t forget the matches!
  2. Bug Spray. An extra layer of protection.
  3. Sun Screen.
  4. Umbrella. You may just need to make a mad dash to the car in the rain. Make it a little less crazy with an umbrella.
  5. Trash Bags. All those food wrappers need to go somewhere!  Instead of making 10 trips to the trash can, fill your bag and then dump it all at once.
  6. Sweater or Sweatshirt. Even in summer, it can get quite cool once the sun goes down. If you came in shorts and a tank top you might need a little something to help you make it through to the end of the show.
  7. Collapsible Chairs. Some type of camping chair works great. I’ve found the older I get, the less I like sitting on hard ground for several hours.
  8. Flashlight. If you do evening picnics (like for concerts) this can help as you pick up all your gear at the end of the night and make your way back to the car.
  9. Cork Screw. If you are a wine drinker, this essential will be sorely missed.
  10. Paper/Plastic Goods.  Be extra prepared by having the napkins, forks, knifes, spoons, and plates already packed in your bag. Don’t forget a few cups or glasses for wine or other drinks.
  11. Sharp Knife. The plastic knives will work fine for eating but you may want to share your apple or cut open a package of treats. Don’t bring your $200 Wusthof knife. Grab an inexpensive one at the store just for keeping in your picnic kit. Bonus points if you put it in a little plastic box to keep little hands from getting cut while reaching into your tote.
  12. Wet Wipes. Baby wipes are great for this. Kids tend to find the messiest item in any picnic area (and adults could probably use a wipe too.)
  13. Hand Sanitizer. Your kid just gave a big hug to the Border Collie the next picnic blanket over and they are about to eat their sandwich…
  14. Ziploc Bags. I always find empty bags to come in handy. They are great for holding left over food and the miscellaneous “treasures” that kids seem to acquire.
  15. Something Fun. A frisbee, deck of cards or other small item can help pass the time as you wait during intermissions.
  16. Kids Essentials. If you have kids, especially babies or toddlers, you’ll probably need a few spare diapers and a change of pants & underpants.  You probably don’t need a complete diaper bag but the essentials are good for your picnic bag.

Having your gear bag packed, all you’ll need to get ready for a picnic is the food and the friends and family.

And remember… when you get home you need to restock the bag with anything you used up.

Plan to Plan

For some of you, this may be organizing overkill.  And if that’s the case, feel free to skip on down to Friday’s post.  But for the rest of you, this could be a great way to get started thinking about what you want to accomplish for the year.

This may sound crazy but I want you to plan the things you need to plan for the year. 

Wait, plan to plan?  Yep.  That’s what I said!

Hear me out on this.  It shouldn’t take you more than 5-10 minutes.  It’s a really simple exercise but will get your brain moving.  This year you need to accomplish a few things and you want to accomplish a few things.  Well, I want you to accomplish both the needs and the wants.  And I want you to do it without stress.  For me, having a good checklist & plan for the things I am going to accomplish helps alleviate the stress.

So take the next few minutes and jot down a list of everything you need or want to accomplish this year that needs some additional planning.  It doesn’t need to be a fancy list but put it somewhere that you can refer to it easily.  Here’s my list:

  • Daughter’s birthday party
  • Middle son’s birthday party
  • Baby’s 1st birthday party
  • Gifts to buy (& budget!) for babies on the way (several of my friends are expecting this year)
  • Mini-baby shower for friend
  • Trip to niece’s graduation (along with gift)
  • Needed home improvements (items, possible vendors, prices, budgets)
  • Blog plan
  • Christmas gift ideas

That’s it.  Those are the major events I need to have some kind of game plan for in 2011.  To come up with my list I looked at my calendar and noticed which things I had marked down that would require more than just an hour or two in which to prepare.

Now I can take those 9 things and start a notebook for them in Springpad (my current favorite application for organizing my ideas).  Then when I get a brainstorm I have a place to put it so the information is together.  And when I have a chunk of time to sit an plan, the information I’ve already thought of is there waiting for me.

DO Holidays – Plan The Grub

Are making any big meals or hosting any parties this holiday season?  It’s time to start thinking about your menu.  Yes, I know Christmas is still 2 weeks away.  But, hello… Christmas is only 2 weeks away!  Let’s get cracking.

How to create the holiday meal/event menu you need:

1. Write down the date, time & name of the event
2. Figure out the number of people you need to feed.  Make a list!
3. Decide if this is a full meal or an appetizers & desserts type affair.
4. Write down what your ideal menu looks like.  Don’t forget:

  • appetizers
  • specialty drinks or cocktails (eggnog, spiced cider, signature cocktail, etc)
  • beverages (adults & kids)
  • garnishes for drinks (lime & lemon wedges, maraschino cherries, peppermint sticks)
  • main dish
  • sides
  • condiments (gravy, cranberry sauce, etc)
  • bread
  • dessert
  • after dinner drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic, coffee)
  • ice

5. Determine if you know how to make everything on your menu.  If not, it’s time to find recipes or decide on a substitute.  My personal favorite websites for recipes are All Recipes and Epicurious but there are hundreds of places to search.  Don’t forget to peak in that old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook you got for your wedding too.  My favorite cookbook for making, well, anything is How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  Never roasted a turkey?  Mark will help you produce a tasty bird the first time.

6. Decide what to delegate to others who are coming

7. Now that you have a menu and recipes it’s time to determine quantities.  You know what you want to make but how much?  There’s an easy calculator at Best Party Ever than can help with quantity suggestions.

8.  You’re finally ready to make your shopping list.  Go through each recipe.  Write down every ingredient it calls for (even if you know you already have it on hand.)  Now check to confirm what you have on hand and put a check by it.  The rest is your shopping list.  At this point you might want to rewrite the list to sort by store (liquor store, warehouse club, grocery store, etc) and within each store by category.  The more you can group like items together (produce with produce) the less likely you are to overlook something on your list and the less amount of back-tracking you’ll have to do in the store.

Steps 9 & 10 are purely optional for those of you who want to maximize your savings.
9.  Do you clip coupons?  Now is the time to go through your coupons and pull anything you can use for your shopping trip.

10. Check the grocery store website(s) where you normally shop and see what they have on sale this week.  Add anything that’s already on sale to this week’s grocery list.  Save the rest for next week.

11.  Hit the stores!