How to Prepare for (Almost) Anything on Your Road Trip

My husband and I spent three glorious weeks driving up the coast from Virginia to Maine last summer.  Before we left, I spent a lot of time thinking about potential problems that might arise and how we could avoid or solve those problems.  Having been on some shorter road trips in the past, I knew how inconvenient it can be when you need something on the road and must track down a place to buy it.  Since we would be changing hotels almost every night, I also didn’t want to be dragging a lot of luggage into our hotel every night.  For that reason, I decided to bring as many useful items as would fit in a small space and could stay in our Ford Escape.  I bought a set of plastic school pencil boxes for $1/each at a dollar store and the 3 plastic drawer cart made by Sterilite for about $10 at Wal-Mart.  The dimensions of this cart are 14.50 x 12.63 x 24.00 inches, so all of the items listed below fit into a little over two square feet. We used it without the wheels, it fit perfectly in the back of our SUV (without blocking our view), and there it stayed for the duration of our trip.  Once we returned home, I put it in our storage room and it is ready to go on our next adventure.

I found that I could fit up to five pencil boxes in each drawer and each pencil box held a lot!

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As you can see, I used one pencil box just for sunscreen (body and face) and bug repellent.  Also, in this drawer were items categorized as Problem Solvers, Laundry, First Aid, and Office.

Problem Solvers.  My goal was to include items that could be useful in a variety of circumstances that might arise.  Fortunately, we only needed about half of these items, but I was glad to have them all along, just in case.  We could have fit even more into this pencil case, had we wanted to.

Problem Solvers

Laundry.  Not wanting to pack three weeks worth of clothing, I knew that we would need to do laundry at least twice, but I didn’t want to cart around a bunch of liquid detergent, fabric softener, and static guard.  Luckily, I already had these 3-in-1  Purex laundry sheets that I had purchased on Amazon a few years earlier when we were needing to do laundry between a conference in Seattle and a cruise to Alaska.  We only use these for travel since they are a little pricey, a little over a dollar a load, but I think it is more than worth it to not mess with liquid detergent and the rest while traveling.  I really like the Purex, but if you cannot find those, you might try WashEZE.  I also saved quarters in an empty mini-M&M package.  It was the perfect size!  We used everything on this list at some point during our trip.

Laundry with list

Don’t accidents always happen while on vacation?  That is why I put more thought into our first-aid kit than anything else.  The one thing I almost left behind was this compression bandage because it took some doing to get everything on this list to fit into that little pencil box and I wasn’t sure that big compression bandage deserved so much real estate.  Turns out, that was the one item I needed most.  On our VERY FIRST night on the road, I tripped and broke my elbow in downtown Nashville. What are the odds?  We didn’t know it was a break until we returned home.  I initially thought it was just a sprain and so did the doctor at the Urgent Care that we went to the day after I was hurt.  He was impressed that I had immediately done RICE:  Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate.  This was possible because the kit was in our car and not in our hotel room, so we were able to easily access the compression bandage, advil, and a Ziploc baggie, which the nice bartender filled with ice for me. I was able to fulfill my dream of listening to live music at the Station Inn for a little while before we headed back to the hotel where I took advantage of another item in my first-aid kit…a prescription-strength pain killer from my recent surgery.

I used old medicine bottles for some supplies, one for cotton and Q-tips and one for rubber gloves.  I also made a splinter kit out of a little matchbox.  It had a needle and some matches to disinfect the needle.  Come to think of it, that might not be best way to handle splinters, but that’s how we all did it when I was growing  up.

I also put small portions of several medications in tiny Ziploc-style bags and stored them in an old Altoids tin.  I had purchased the bags previously in the jewelry-making department at Hobby Lobby, one of my many abandoned hobbies.  Medications were included that would treat pain, stiff muscles, allergies, diarrhea, gas, nausea, and motion sickness.

I also had a list of our current medications and another paper that had first-aid instructions.  It was from these instructions that I was reminded to do RICE.

First Aid Kit canva

I knew we would want to send some postcards to family and friends during our trip and also that we would be dealing with all the maps, brochures and other paperwork that piles up when you are sightseeing.  I put some of these smaller items in a plastic soap container that we had never used before.  The mini tape measure came in handy when we stopped to look at antiques a couple of times.  The highlighter helped us mark places where we wanted to visit and the permanent marker was used several times to label items.The office

Everything listed so far fit in only ONE drawer in the Sterlite 3-drawer cart.  Can you believe it?  Luckily, I don’t have much to say about the remaining two drawers, so try to hang in there with me for a few more minutes.

One of the other drawers was my mini-kitchen on the road.  We wanted to spend our money on experiences on the road and that meant having some picnics and avoiding spending a lot on beverages.  We brought some reusable Copco coffee mugs and Copco tumblers.  Having a little bottle of dish soap meant that I could wash these out each night at the hotel.  Every morning, we would fill our tumblers and a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with ice at the hotel.  We also saved by filling our mugs with coffee each morning at the free breakfast.  We kept our tumblers full at water fountains and from our stash of beverages that we brought along and replenished along the way.  It was fun to pick up regional beverages at local grocery stores for a reasonable price.

One of my favorite finds was this nifty little Japanese knife with wood sheath which only cost about $7.  This was handy in preparing a wide range of items, but especially cutting up fruits, vegetables, and cheese.  The Swiss Army Knife also came in handy, especially when we decided that we needed wine!  I brought our reusable string grocery bags for more than groceries because they hold a lot and take up very little space.

Kitchen with list

The final drawer held cleaning supplies for a variety of situations, but especially for the many bathrooms used along the way!  Speaking of public bathrooms, have you heard of the Charmin Sit-or-Squat app?  It was a lifesaver and we found  a lot of humor in labeling bathrooms a Sit or a Squat based on their cleanliness.

Cleaning 2

In addition to the pencil box, the cleaning drawer included a thin bath towel, paper towels, and wet wipes.

Cleaning

Having this cart in the back of our SUV was a huge help because we didn’t need to unload it every night and we could easily access needed items on a daily basis.  I hope you find this information useful.  Happy traveling on your adventure!

Please click below for a free printable list of all items mentioned above, plus everything else that we fit into our Ford Escape:

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Pack and Prepare for almost anything on your extended road trip.Prepare for Road Trip Kitchen Cleaning Household first aid problem solvers laundry office (1)

 
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Magical Lights in the Fairy Garden

Make a little magic using solar LED twinkle lights in your fairy garden. Instructions and recommended plants are included.

 

I enjoy growing flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit, but my favorite yearly project is always my fairy garden.  One year, I was installing solar twinkle lights over an arbor and I thought it might be pretty if I could do the same to the arbor in my fairy garden.arbor at night

PREPARATION

Here is a list of the materials you need

Large container with drainage holes (e.g., half whisky barrel, wheelbarrow, tub)

Potting soil with fertilizer

Drip irrigation kit (optional)

Structures (e.g., arbor, gazebo, house)

Decorative elements (e.g., furniture, decorative stakes, fencing)

Plants

Garden staples

Solar LED wire lights

I initially started with solar lights that looked a lot like the lights you might use at Christmas.  This year, I found these Amir solar LED wire lights on Amazon and they worked SO much better.  I recommend this brand because another brand that I bought stopped working after a couple of weeks, but the Amir have been going strong for several weeks now.  The ones that I bought had 100 lights on the string.  That may seem like a lot, but I thought it was just right.   Here is what they look like when they first arrive:

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Once you have all of your materials, fill the container with potting soil until it is just a few inches below the top. You will fill it to the top later when you are almost done.  Lay out all of the larger structures and plants until you have a general idea of where you want everything to be. You will then need to move some items in and out while you install the irrigation and lighting.

IRRIGATION

It is not required, but if you live somewhere hot and dry like me, you might need to water as much as twice a day unless you are using a drip system.  I use drip irrigation on a timer for all of my containers, and I first started with this Drip Irrigation Kit for Containers  which is quite easy to use.  This kit would water several containers, not just your fairy garden.  For more information about drip irrigation, please see The Beginner’s Guide to Using Drip Irrigation in your Container Garden.

With that said, drip irrigation is a must if you want to successfully grow plants in miniature containers like these in a hot climate.  I insert an emitter directly into the bottom of the planters and urns.  This takes some fiddling around to get it right.  I also arrange one emitter such that it will drip into the little pond and therefore stay full of water all summer.  Garden staples are helpful in getting the drip irrigation installed if you want to do some of these extras.  For more information on this, see 6 Creative Uses for Drip Irrigation .

LIGHTING

Install the solar string lights starting  at the end nearest the solar panel.  Unfortunately, the lights are kind of far apart, so it is sometimes necessary to twist or loop the wire around so that the lights are closer together.  I like using the lights in a way that you cannot see a continuous string of lights.  Instead, some are hidden under plants or gravel such that the lighting appears to start and stop in different places. This year, I added solar light strings over a “patio”, which is really an old mosaic stepping stone.

When I’m done, any leftover lights are placed in the house so it looks like the fairies are at home.

PLANTING

Place your plants a little above the soil line, remember that you will add the rest of the soil later.

I especially like alyssum (pink) and lobelia (bright blue) because I can buy them quite reasonably at a flat sale every year.  These light blue ageratum are also nice, but only when they are planted towards the very back because they get tall.

Garden 2013 (9)

Some kind of miniature tree is also a nice addition. My favorite is this mini variegated olive.P1030816

I use Wire Vine over the arbor (left) and Isotoma Laurentia (right) which has tiny little blue flowers.  These two plants are great because they often come back after a mild winter.

If you want a vegetable garden, simply break the tips off the branches of succulents and place them in the soil to mimic tiny cabbages.  They will eventually take root, needing only a little water.

cabbage crop

Lastly, I use some premium annuals such as Baby’s Tears (left) or Leptinella (center) which looks like tiny fern plants.  I also like Irish moss (right) because it looks so much like grass.  

To learn more about fairy garden plants, visit fairygardening.com

DECORATE

Once the plants are planted, add a couple inches of soil to the top covering the drip irrigation and solar lighting.  Add some rocks for decorations or paths.  Here is a path made of expanded shale.

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Add fun little extras (e.g., furniture, fencing, decorative stakes, etc). I have a lot of trouble restraining myself on this step.  I really tend to junk it up!  For me, that is part of the fun.

MAINTAIN

Keep the garden watered and cut plants back by half when they get tall or scraggly, which is what happened here..

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I hope that you enjoy creating your own magical fairy garden!

Make a little magic using solar wire LED twinkle lights in your fairy garden. Instructions and recommended plants are also included.

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Simple Stir-Fry Suppers

 

Simple stir-fry suppers 2

I fell in love with Asian food the first time that I ate it. And by first time, I am not referring to the canned chow mein that moms like mine served in the 1970s. No, I fell in love with real Asian cooking at the homey Asian restaurants I could not afford to visit very often during my years as a poverty-stricken university student. So, I decided that I would make my own. How hard could it be? I added chicken, a ton of different vegetables at once, and doused the pan with stroke-inducing amounts of soy sauce before eating the whole mushy mess over Minute Rice. Let’s just say, it was a bit disappointing.

Once I finally learned how to properly make a stir-fry, I realized that it is not so hard once you understand some very basic steps.  Once you master those basic steps, the options for a successful dinner are endless. We have a stir-fry at least once a week and every one is at least a little different than the last. Additionally, stir-fry is a fairly healthy cooking method of cooking. It can be accomplished with minimal fat and you can include a large portion of vegetables in your final dish.  This post is not a recipe for stir-fry, but rather a general description of the method, so that you can pull together a stir-fry from ingredients that you have on hand.  Here are some ingredients to keep on hand:

Stir Fry Ingredient List
Some ingredients that are useful when concocting a stir-fry.

A stir-fry also does not require any special equipment. I recall a college classmate who was from Asia laughing at the idea of using a wok. She said that she just used a large skillet. You will also need a knife, cutting board, measuring cups and spoons, and a wooden spoon.

If you are going to make rice or noodles with your stir-fry, start preparing that first because you want it to be done before your stir fry. As long as you drain the noodles or keep the rice covered and off-heat, they will not be ruined while you finish your stir-fry.  Your stir-fry, however, will be ruined if you are waiting for your starch to cook before you eat it. One final note, I beg you to use a delicious rice like basmati or jasmine, or at least brown rice.  I deeply regret all the years that I wasted eating tasteless Minute rice.  I stock up on a large bag of basmati rice at the Asian market about an hour from where we live, but I have also seen these rices at our small Wal-mart.

Step 1. Prepare all of your ingredients BEFORE you start cooking. Once you start cooking, things move quickly and you will not have time to quickly chop some more vegetables without ruining what you already have in the pan. You can choose from a lot of different proteins, but our favorites are chicken breast, shrimp, steak, pork chops, and tofu. All of these will brown best if you dry them out with some paper towels before cooking. You will also want to chop up your vegetables into bite-sized pieces. This is probably the most tedious part of preparing a stir-fry, but there are lots of options to avoid this. For instance, you can buy pre-cut vegetables in the produce, salad bar, or frozen section of your supermarket. There are even some canned options to keep on hand like water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and baby corn.  One of my favorite strategies is to buy vegetables that are already bite-sized, like sugar snap peas. It is usually best to use only 2-3 types of vegetables.

Be sure to go ahead and mix your sauce at this time, as well.  Please see the end of this post if you need a sauce recipe.

Step 2. Heat 1 TB canola oil over medium high heat. Watch this very carefully and add your protein IMMEDIATELY when you see a tiny bit of smoke coming off the pan. You need to add right away when this happens because letting your oil smoke for too long could lead to a fire. It’s important to have a really hot pan, however, if you are going to get a nice sear on your protein.  Once you add the protein, wait at least a couple of minutes before stirring; it is ready to stir when it isn’t sticking to the pan too much. Then, stir every 1-2 minutes until the protein is just cooked. You will then need to remove the protein from the pan to keep it from being overcooked and to give the vegetables a chance to cook evenly. I skipped this step for years because I didn’t want to dirty another plate, but that was a big mistake. Now, I just use one of the plates that we will be using for dinner.

Step 3. Heat another 1 TB canola oil until you see it shimmer in the pan and then add your vegetables. This part can get a little tricky because you don’t want to add all of your types of vegetables at once. If you do, then some will be overcooked and some will be undercooked. There are also individual differences in how crisp people like their vegetables, but hopefully this chart will be a good starting point.

How long should I stir-fry vegetables before adding a sauce

Step 4. Use your wooden spoon to create a well in the middle of the vegetables. Add 1 tsp. canola oil or sesame oil and then immediately add your aromatics. Aromatics include garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and the white part of scallions. If you aren’t sure how much to use of each aromatic, I recommend about 1 TB minced garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger, 2-3 scallion whites, and/or a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Mash this mixture around in the well for about 30-seconds-1 minute until the ingredients become aromatic (see what I did there?). Then, mix all of the vegetables in with the aromatics.

Step 5. Give your sauce a quick stir, making sure the cornstarch is incorporated. Then, add the sauce and protein into the pan. Stir for about 1-2 minutes, just until the sauce slightly thickens.

If desired, you can add a garnish such as chopped scallion greens, bean sprouts, herbs, nuts, or seeds to your final dish.

Do you need a sauce recipe? There are so many interesting and complex sauces out there, that I almost hate to share this one because it is quite basic.  However, it is a good sauce to start with because it is versatile, and has just a few easy-to-find ingredients.

  • 1 cup chicken broth (Better than Bouillon soup starter is an acceptable substitute)
  • 1 heaping TB cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup soy
  • 2 TB brown sugar
  • 1 TB rice vinegar

Kicking it up a notch:

  • Use peanut oil, instead of canola since it tolerates a higher temperature.
  • Use sauce recipes with more interesting ingredients like rice cooking wine (e.g., sake, mirin), oyster sauce, fish sauce, curry powder or paste, coconut milk, hoisin, or chili sauce.
  • Learn how to “velvet” your protein with cornstarch and egg white.