DIY Kid’s Picnic Table

picnic table

I love summer.  I can’t get over how much I enjoy taking my kids to the park.  For them, it’s like an hour vacation.  They get to run and climb somewhere new and it is great for all of us.  I am now living in Minnesota and after spending all winter inside, my kids and I are taking every opportunity to spend time out of our house.

Fortunately for us, the house we are renting has a GORGEOUS backyard.  It’s one of the reason we choose to rent it.  It was built in 1999, so the trees are big and mature.  They provide a lot of shade and privacy.  The deck at our place has two levels.  There is also a swing set and a shed.  We got lucky!

As there are two levels to the deck it was kind-of awkward to leave the bottom one almost empty.  I had 2 chairs and small plastic swimming pool on the bottom level, but it definitely needed something more.  This table is perfect for our kids.

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I found the plans to make this picnic table on the fabulous Pinterest.  (Seriously, I could get lost in the site for hours if I had more free time).   Anyways, I’m not going to write the details of how to build this picnic table, as the lovely Ana White does it very well.  I used her free plans and a friend and I put it together over a couple of days.  I don’t know exactly how many hours went into it, but it was easy enough for us two ladies to do without any male help.  I’m seriously proud!

Yesterday I spent the morning (while my daughter was at summer school pre-school) finally sanding and then staining the table.  The table was built MONTHS ago!  Haha, life of a busy mom.

I will admit, I’m a moderate-level DIY-er.  I by no means know everything, especially when it comes to wood-working.  The product shown below I purchased at Home Depot.  This is an outdoor specific stain.  They tint it for you at the store.  I didn’t realize that they could do that at the paint counter, but they had a flier with all the color options you can choose from.  I went with a grey color and am in love.  The product claims it only needs one coat and no top coat, so we shall see how it holds up this year….

The color name is “Dark Slate” and I bought it at Home Depot.

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I’m in love how it turned out!  The unexpected couple of details from the imperfect wood are awesome and add a little character to the table.

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Helpful little tip: If you get stain on yourself, or you don’t wear gloves and end up with it all over your hands like I did, an easy way to get the stain off is to wash your hands with hand soap and baby oil.  The combo takes the stain off easily (although the nail bed area by my finger nails remained a little stained).  It’s an easy and cheap way to clean up.  You’re welcome!

Summer, we are ready!  Bring it on!

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Plans for this table can be found on Ana White’s page HERE.

White Cupcakes

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It was my son’s half birthday on Monday.  Does anyone care?  Not likely.  He seemed to think this meant that he got a half birthday party this year.  (He was in kindergarten this last year and they celebrated half birthdays for the kids in his class that have summer birthdays, so they could have their special day too).

Poor kid though, his birthday is only about 2 weeks before Christmas.  He doesn’t really get a separate time of year that he randomly gets a lot of new toys.  Needless to say, telling a six (and a half) year old that half birthdays aren’t really a thing doesn’t compute after having celebrated them during the school year.

Long story short, I made a deal with him.  He got to have cupcakes and he was able to play Pokemon Go with his dad when he got home from work.  (Usually Pokemon Go is only “allowed” and played on the weekend).

So instead of running to the store to get a box of cake mix, I whipped up this one from scratch with him.  (Sidenote, I “hate” running to the store for just one or two things.  It drives me crazy, especially when I have two kids with.  Needless to say, I avoid extra trips to the store like the plague.  It’s just not something I do. End rant.)  Have no fear tho, I had all the ingredients to make cupcakes from scratch and they were tasty!

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White Cupcakes
Ingredients:

1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Directions:
1. Soften the butter, add sugar and mix together.  Add eggs and vanilla, stir until mixed.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Slow add dry ingredients, mixing until well blended.   Add milk and mix until combined.
3. Scoop into a muffin tin lined with muffin liners or greased.  Bake at 350 degrees for 22-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
4. Remove from oven and allow to cool before frosting.

Notes: Makes 12 cupcakes.  You could also bake this as a cake, but I can’t tell you at the minute how long it would need to be in the oven for.

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ENJOY!

DIY Light Box

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Another sensory-room post coming your way!  As mentioned several times on the blog already, my daughter has some sensory issues and isn’t your typical 3.5 year old.  She does things on her own schedule and doesn’t do too much pretend play.  She thrives with sensory play and this is one she absolutely loves.

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This DIY light box is super easy and cheap.  Either clean out a plastic tote you have that is see-through (hers is light blue, not clear), or buy one that is clear.  Obviously, you just need the light to be able to go through it easily.

Find a string of Christmas lights you aren’t using (or buy some).  Put the lights into the plastic tote and let the end you plug in hang out.  Close the tote and plug the lights in.  Flip the tote upside down if the lid isn’t see-through.  The photo below shows how light box hangs out most of the time.  There is a sensory bin underneath filled with dried pinto beans.  (I will be posting about that one soon).

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She uses these letter-making pieces found here: Learning Resources Letter Construction Activity Set to play with the light box.  They invoke creative and learning play.  Best part is they glow when placed on top of the light box.

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*Obviously, the light box is the most super-fun to play with when the room is dark.

You can use the light box with pretty much any toy you can think of.  Cars, dinosaurs, Duplos, shapes and sorting, play dough (careful on carpet), tea parties, ABCs, it could even be a lit Barbie runway for a fashion show.

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The options and ways you can use this is endless!

Clearly I am a big fan of the letter shape building toy.  A quick FYI: the cards shown came with the letter construction set to show how to build each letter.  I laminated mine and put the hole punch in the top corner.  I had them on a binder ring for awhile. My daughter has since decided she didn’t like the binder ring keeping them organized.  (Go figure!). As the cards are printed on card stock weight paper, they are durable.  However, not durable enough for my hurricane of a child. Laminating them is not necessary, but for my daughter it was. 

 Click here for the Learning Resources Letter Construction Activity Set

Note, this is my first post to contain affiliate links.  I will update my notice with the appropriate disclaimer jargon about the affiliate link once I fully figure out what I need to say.  Thanks for your patience, I am learning.

Hidden Chalk Board

Are you intrigued yet?  I had this idea last summer and it turned out to be brilliant (like all my ideas, am-I-right?).  I can’t believe I haven’t spotted this on Pinterest before.  So I’m going to claim this idea as being completely mine.  I can’t say that about much.  A lot of things I do are because I am inspired to do or make something after seeing something similar (usually on Pinterest).

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Onto where I found a spot to have a hidden chalk board… I painted the back of my daughter’s dresser with chalkboard paint.  Brilliant right?  If you want control over the chalk and slight mess that it comes with, painting the back of a dresser is perfect.  Just scootch the dresser away from the wall and chalk away.  Tired of it?  Move the dresser back and it’s out of site.  This is great for people renting or who don’t want to paint a wall with black chalk paint.

Bonus points, you will be the coolest mom if you bring out the chalk when your kid’s friends are over.  Tic-tac-toe anyone?

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This is also great to have for rainy days, snow days, and days it’s just to hot to go outside.  Seriously, paint away and thank your self later for this fun screen-free activity.  If your into doing educational stuff with your munchkins, use it to practice writing letters, numbers, shapes, etc.. For the older kids, write some math problems on the chalk board, play hang man, give them a spelling test… The options are only limited by your imagination!

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Here you can see the ABC Wall Decoration and some of my other DIY projects that I have done for my daughter’s sensory room like my Recycled Hanging Planters and her DIY Magnetic Board (be on the look out for instructions to appear on the blog soon).

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My daughter is a bit obsessed with letters and spelling.  Here you can see her writing as many as possible on the chalk board.  This is currently one of her favorite activities.

Hidden Chalk Board
Directions:

Wipe down the back of a dresser.  I used a rag with a little bit of soapy water.  (Let’s get real, there might be a cobweb or two hanging out back there as I doubt you clean back there).  Allow to dry.

I used chalk paint and did 3 layers allowing it to dry completely between coats.  You could have this done in 1 day if you want.  The paint dries relatively quickly.  Just make sure it is completely dry between coats.  If you have any areas that you do not want the paint on, use painters tape to section them off.

Notes: some chalk can linger on carpet and clothing.  Please cover any flooring you don’t want chalk on when using the board.  A quick way to help with the little mess is to throw beach towel down on the floor under the chalk board. **Also, I have found that only using the yellow, green, orange , and white chalks are easiest to clean up after.  The blue and pink chalks are a little more stubborn and harder to get out of the carpet.   As we are currently renting our house, we have used this area rug we already had to help protect the carpet underneath.  Be advised, chalk dust does get into the carpet, so if you are not ok with this, plan accordingly.  (Added bonus, our rug adds another texture for the room for my sensory-seeking little lady!)

Not shown, but her dresser does push back to the wall under the DIY Recycled Hanging Planters, however it hasn’t been pushed back in a couple months.  My munchkin loves to chalk!

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Summer Book Count

Summer Book Count 10
My son just finished kindergarten on Thursday! (We start late and end late compared to the rest of the US).  He is already a great reader.  I intend to keep it that way over the summer, even hopefully improving his reading skills.   That’s the whole idea behind this book count, to keep him motivated to read.  I want him to read daily and this insures that it will happen.

Lately, he has also been more and more interested in doing chores and earning money to buy Pokemon stuff (his latest fascination).  As I am not overly excited about just going out and buying him whatever he asks for, this is another way he can earn money to buy what he wants.  (Poor kid’s birthday is in December, so he really doesn’t get a separate time of year he can look forward to gifts).

Long story short, this is my current plan for him.  He is able to read those early reader books pretty easily.  You know the ones, with the numbers at the top?  Each one of those he reads, he gets 2 points.  If he reads a chapter book like one from the Magic Tree House series, he gets 10 points.  I usually read every other page with him for those books, but by the end of the summer I am expecting him to read those without any assistance.  (Point of reference on his reading skills, he finished the year at a “G” reader level, the year-end standard for kindergarteners is a “D” level.  He was at “D” level at Christmas break.)  If my hubby or I read him a book, it’s only 1 point.

Once he colors in 100 points, he earns $10 to spend at Target to find a toy or movie of his choosing to purchase.  He can choose to save the $10 to add with the next time he gets to 100 points and gets another $10.  (Money management!)  I am going to guess it will take him about 7-12 days to get 100 points.  He was pretty excited about this last night and got 18 points from reading 9 of the early reader books.  Obviously some days he will read more then others.  My goal is just to keep him motivated to keep reading.  If he wants to earn money to purchase new Pokemon toys/cards, he will initiate reading instead of me forcing him to sit down at some point to read during the day.

The other rule of mine is that he has to read the book out-loud and do it so that my hubby or I can hear him.  Even if I’m cooking dinner and not looking at the book, if he says a word that doesn’t fit in the context, I will be able to help him out.  (and not that we have a problem with him and honesty, but this will keep the book count somewhat verifiable).

Click here for the printable Summer Book Count 10.  It’s a free pdf that you can use with your kids.

That’s the plan.  He has already started.  Do you have any plans or ways to motivate your kids to keep reading this summer?  I’d love to hear about them!  (or if you have an idea to modify the file for an older child, let me know!  I’d be happy to adjust it accordingly!)

Happy Summer!  Good luck finding things to keep your kids occupied this summer!

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cookies

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It’s Friday!  It’s Friday!  I LOVE me some Fridays!  (And it’s Cinco de Mayo Friday!  Check out my Crockpot Pork Taco recipe from yesterday or my Guacamole recipe to help celebrate the day.  They are yummy!)

I don’t know why exactly Fridays make me happy.  It’s probably just the ingrained nostalgia of the day.   In all honesty, I think I work harder on the weekends then I do during the week.  My kids are both at school during the week so I have more time to myself to get things done off my to-do list without little helpers around.  On the weekend, there are two munchkins running amuck that are 100% mine (and my hubby’s) responsibility (and they aren’t always so helpful while they are running amuck).

Fridays I typically post an adult beverage.  I might get around to posting one later today.  I have been wanting to make more Palomas (a grapefruit juice and tequila drink).  We shall see,  It is definitely an appropriate day for tequila.
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On to the cookies…  I made these on Wednesday for my friend’s birthday dinner.  They were fabulous.  I modified a recipe I found over HERE at Lil’ Luna.  I added 3/4 cup peanut butter and skipped smashing the Reese’s Pieces.  They were OVER STUFFED with milk chocolate chips and Reese’s Pieces, almost to the point of it being hard to get them to stay into a cookie shape to bake.  Needless to say, everyone at my house had at least 5, they were perfect.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cookies
Ingredients:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 cup Reese’s Pieces to put on top
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Directions:
Mix the sugar, brown sugar, oil, and butter.  Add the eggs.  Mix for 1-2 minutes until it looks fluffy.  Add the baking soda, baking powder, salt, vanilla, and flour.  Mix well.  Add the Reese’s Pieces and chocolate chips.

Scoop onto a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a cookie cooling rack.  Enjoy!

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Notes:  This recipe made 48 cookies for me.  I baked 12 cookies on a cookie sheet and did this 4 times.  Shown below is the difference between leaving the cookies in the ball-shape when it came out of my cookie scooper thing and smashing them.  I baked 1 pan with the smashed cookies for 10 minutes and decided the un-smashed cookies looked nicer.  So, 36 of my 48 cookies were un-smashed.

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Seriously, if you like peanut butter and Reese’s these are a must-try for you!

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Happy Friday!

Crockpot Pork Tacos

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Yay for spring!  I know I tend to talk about the weather in my posts a bit, but I am excited.  Yesterday we had friends over for these tacos and the weather was nice enough for the kids to play outside after dinner.  That is huge for me!  First, less mess in my house when the kids are outside.  Secondly, everyone needs fresh air!  And lastly, although I don’t mind having 4 extra kids in my house, it is nice to let the kids run and play and wear themselves out, outside.

Just an FYI- Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow.  If you haven’t already planned something yet, I suggest you try making these tacos.  They are amazing.  I mean seriously.  I made them yesterday for an early Cinco de Mayo/ friend’s 30th birthday dinner.  When we first started to plan a night to get together, both my friends agreed immediately that I needed to make my pork tacos for the dinner.  They are really that good, and almost everyone I know has probably had my pork tacos at one point in time or another.  I tend to make them frequently for group meals.

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These really are easy to make for yourself or when you are having a group of people over.  You will be the talk of the party if you make these to share with friends/family.   Best thing about them?  You don’t even have to try.   Throw the pork roast into the crockpot with the spices and diced onion and let it cook.  Shred and serve with taco fixings. DONE!

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Crockpot Pork Tacos
Ingredients:
3 lb. pork roast
2 T. chili powder
1 T. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 small onion, finely diced

Directions:
Place pork roast in crockpot.  Cover with spices and onion.  Cover and cook on low 7-9 hours or high 3-4 hours.  Shred with a fork and gently stir the excess liquid back into the meat.  Serve with your favorite taco fixings.

Notes: I love to eat this on hard shells.   I also eat mine with tomato, onion, cilantro, lime juice, cheese, and when available guacamole.  View my awesome guacamole recipe.

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Make sure if you are serving this for a group to grab taco fixings like sour cream, black beans/ pinto beans/ or refried beans, taco rice, salsa, lettuce, spinach, tomato, onion, guacamole, cilantro, lime, etc…  (and some margaritas!)

Enjoy!  And Happy Cinco de Mayo tomorrow!

 

Kid’s Sensory Room- String Lights

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Yesterday, I ran to Target and found some cute string lights for my daughter’s room.  She needs some calm and quite time before bed.  Last fall we moved her into the master bedroom at the house we are renting.  The room has a ceiling fan light fixture that I’m not crazy about.

When it gets close to bedtime every night, I unscrew the light bulbs in the ceiling fan.  They make the room too bright and if I don’t unscrew them, my daughter likes to sneak over and flip on the lights.  Not really helpful for setting the “bedtime” mood once she flips them on.

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As she has no other lamps in the room, I wanted something to help light up her room in the evening hours and in the morning.  Lately, my daughter has been waking up in the 5-6 am range.  That’s all fine and dandy, but my son doesn’t need to get up until 6:15-ish to get ready for school.  (Yes I know that is crazy early, but his school starts at 7:45 am and he gets on the bus at 7:05 am!)  I try to keep her in her room until he is up as the upstairs living room is right above his room.  My daughter is never quite, so I try to avoid her banging around right on top of where he is trying to sleep.  She has a little table and chair and she has had her oatmeal in her room probably 5 days in a row now.

Today, same story…. she woke at 5:15 am, we needed some light in the room, but not the bright blaring lights from the overhead fixture.  My solution, the cute string lights from Target that I hung up yesterday.  They worked perfectly this morning.   I got one that has 25 bulbs and is (20 feet?).  It was $12.99 or so at Target in their outdoor department.  (Near the patio furniture and flower pots and whatnot).  I am in love.  Cute and functional.  Win.

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ABC Wall Decoration

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Today I’m going to be starting a few day series on my daughter’s room.  I’ve been working on it in bits and pieces since a little before Christmas.  She has sensory issues and needs a little different set up then most little girls her age.  We used to have a play kitchen in her room.  She used it to climb on non-stop and never used it to play kitchen with.  The play kitchen is now in the garage as it was more of a hazard then anything else.

So, over the last several months I have been working towards a room that is geared more towards her and her interests.  Before, her room was set up for an average 3 year old.  My daughter is far from average.  She is on her own schedule and does not follow the norm.  She is one of those kids that follows the mantra “I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.”  I heart her and her sassy, spunky, personality!

Today, I am writing about the ABC wall decoration I just finished yesterday and hung up.  She is obsessed with letters and spelling.  She loves the show Word World and all of the Leap Frog movies.  At the moment, she can spell more words then she can say.

I had made these fabric letters for her to play with awhile back.  They ended up crumpled up in a pile with all her other toys and magnetic letters.  I decided that I should take them one step further and sew them to some twine to hang on the wall.  I am in love with how they turned out.

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Luckily, the letters matched her colors in her room already.  Must be because I tend to gravitate towards the same colors for her.  Bright and bold to match her personality.

I started with a print out of the letters from the blog “Happy Together.” Click the link to be taken to the print out: Rag Quilt Letters.

I used some fat quarters to make mine.  You can use scraps of whatever you might have.  I used a white thicker-canvas fabric for the back of mine.

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ABC Wall Decoration
Supplies:

Printed out ABC pattern HERE
Pen
Fabric for front of letters
Fabric for the back of letters
Thread
Scissors
Iron
Fabric starch
Twine

Directions:
1. Print and cut out the ABC letter pattern (above).
2. When you trace printed letters onto the fabric, trace onto the wrong side (or back side of the fabric) and make sure you flip the paper pattern backwards.  Otherwise your fabric letter will be backwards. Cut out letters.
3.  Repeat step 2 with the backing of your choice, remembering to trace your letters backwards.  (This keeps any rouge pen marks on the inside ones you put the front and back together).  I used a white, canvas-type of fabric. Cut out the back pieces for your letters.
4.  Pin the front to the back and sew around the edges leaving about a 1/4 to the edge. Make sure you go around the cut outs on the letters A, B, D, O, P, Q, and R.  I used black thread on mine to stand out a bit.  Feel free to use white or thread that matches your fabric.
5. After sewing around all 26 letters, I made little cuts around all the edges to help “fray” the fabric a little.  Do this with a scissors and just make tiny little snips that don’t cut across the line you have sewn around the letter.
6.  Next, I got my letters a little damp and threw them into the dryer for a couple minutes.  This helped to fray them up a bit.
7. Next, I sprayed mine with fabric starch and allowed them to dry.
8.  Iron your letters.
9.  Start with the letter A  (leaving some extra twine before you start) and start sew back and forth on top of the twine where you want the letter hang from.  I used black thread again and sewed the connecting points of A-M on one piece of twine.  I continued, eyeballing the spacing of the letters with N-Z.

Notes: I hung mine up with fabric pins that matched the color of the fabric.  Then (very technically, not really!) used a couple tiny pieces of scotch tape to hold up the C, G, L, and S.  You could use tack or more pins to do this too.

*Sorry I don’t have step-by-step photos.  I made the letters months ago and it didn’t cross my mind.

Like I said above, I’m excited how it turned out.  Later today I am heading out to find some string lights to hang up.  My lucky little lady has the master bedroom at the house we are renting and has a ceiling fan in her room.  At bedtime I unscrew the light bulbs from the fan so she isn’t able to turn them on and make the room bright.  I am wanting to get a string of lights to hang on the wall opposite the ABC’s to create a nice bedtime atmosphere for her and to provide an alternate light source for bedtime.  I’ll be posting about the new lights tomorrow!

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Peach Tart Shot 

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I can’t believe how busy my life has become.  My daughter is a  never-ending revolving door for appointments right now.  At least it’s Friday!  However, this weekend won’t be a relaxing one at home.  We are driving to birthday party that is 3 hours away on Saturday morning.  We have to leave between 7-7:30 a.m.  Craziness!  That means tonight I’ve got to get prepped and ready to go.  That means I need to pack snacks, get gas, clean the extra stuff out of my car, make sure the iPads are charged, pack an extra set of clothes, and everything else.

Even though it’s a lot of work, it should be fun.  We don’t get to see these friends very often so it is worth the drive and I’m excited to go.

Cheers to Friday!  Here’s a new shot to try that doesn’t require many ingredients.   Is sweet with a touch of tartness from the lime juice.  Simple and good.  Great for spring and summer.  Light and easy.  Done.

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Peach Tart Shot
Ingredients:
2 ounces Peach Schnapps
1/2 ounce lime juice

Directions:
Put ingredients into a shaker with ice.  Shake until cold and pour into shot glasses.  Enjoy!

Notes: This will make 1 large shot or 2 small shots.

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