Grinch Cookies

It’s that time of year again – Christmas cookie baking season!  One of my all-time favorite flavor combos is mint and chocolate… I mean, what’s not to love?  Cool, refreshing mint with sweet, rich chocolate.  Yum!

I discovered this super easy recipe for mint chocolate chip cookies last year, and I don’t even know how many batches I’ve made.  They’re incredible!  I haven’t made many changes to the recipe, but I did kick the mint up a little!  So do yourself a favor, and make these cookies!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pouch Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp mint extract
  • 12 drops green food color
  • 1 egg
  • 1 package mint and chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.  In a large bowl, mix butter, egg, mint extract, food color, and cookie mix until a soft dough forms.  Stir in the mint and chocolate chips.  Use two tablespoons to drop dough 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 17-20 minutes or until they start to brown.  Serve warm or cool completely; store in a tightly covered container at room temperature.

I made two batches of these the other night to send to Radar’s crew with their skull caps (tutorial to come).  I know they’ll love them, and it will start to get them into the Christmas spirit even though they’re halfway around the world.

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It was really hard to not eat the cookies myself!

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Care Package Tips

I’m working on my 3rd care package to send to Radar, and wanted to share some of the tips I’ve collected through our two deployments so far.  Some of them are common sense or very popular (especially if you’re on Pinterest), but I like to think that a couple of them are more original.  So read on to get some ideas to treat your loved one who is deployed!

One of the things Radar loves the most is keeping up-to-date with the magazines he subscribes to.  He enjoys reading his AOPA Pilot magazine, and the Family Handyman helps him as a creative outlet when he can’t have his tools – he plans all the things he’s going to build when he comes home!

Now that Monster is in school again, I also include all of his artwork from school in care packages.  Monster gets so excited to put them in Daddy’s box when he gets home from school, and I know Radar likes being connected to what’s happening at home in this way.

I’m going to pause here to say that we don’t have a typical deployment.  Radar is not in the desert, he’s not on a ship, and he’s not in a really awful place to be alone.  He’s on an Air Force base in Japan, with access to a BX and Commissary that are arguably better than what we have at home.  So it’s really a challenge sometimes to spoil him, as he has all the comforts he enjoys at home, and he doesn’t even have to deal with the screaming kids!  But having recently spent some time away from the kids (on my trip to Arizona over Peach’s birthday), I truly don’t know how he does it.  I couldn’t leave the kids for that length of time, even if I were going to a 5-star resort!  So the most important thing I include in every package I send him looks like this:

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An SD card

Radar loves looking at pictures of the kids, and seeing them grow makes the separation just a little bit easier.  But sending pictures, even without frames, clutters his room and makes moves even harder (they have to vacate their rooms if they go on a detachment for more than 72 hours).  So we got a digital picture frame, and I add a new set of pictures on an SD card with every care package I send.  It’s easy to move, and he gets to feel like he’s missing just a little bit less while he’s gone.  The SD cards are cheap, and he usually gets about 100 pictures at a time!  I don’t even need to send a whole package to give him a card; I can just tuck it into a greeting card and mail it with a regular stamp to his FPO address.  It’s an easy, cheap way to keep your loved one feeling at home while they are away.

I’m not a big shopper, but when I go to Walmart or Target, I always find fun little gifts to send to Radar.  He likes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the old goofy ones, not the new mean ones), and I stumbled upon an insulated coffee cup and a plastic tumbler decorated with them, so I included them with my last package.  That package also included the Michaelangelo turtle screen cleaner, so I ended up with a theme for the package.  I’ve seen all these adorable ideas on Pinterest for decorating the inside of the box.  And you know I’m crafty, but I don’t feel like taking the box apart to wrap the whole thing, or pulling out paint to attempt to make something pretty with my lack of art skills.  So I came up with a simpler (lazy-man’s) version of the cute care package.  I find images that I want to include, then print them as 5×7’s on my color printer and glue them to the flaps of the box.  The TMNT box had photos of the turtles, pizza, and the rat (I can never remember his name).  My first care package had funny flight-related memes that I found.  It’s just a little something fun that brings a little sunshine to his day, because let’s be honest – he’s a guy, and it’s what’s inside the box that he cares about!

I try to include things that he may be able to get, but would never buy for himself.  I’ll send Brookside chocolate covered fruit because I know he loves it, and it’s a nice treat.  Or I’ll get him treats at Trader Joe’s, because who doesn’t love their stuff??  I also love to include things I make, such as the fox mug I sent in his first package.  Nothing too expensive (I mean, we have a budget to stick to!) but just some little things I know he’ll enjoy.

And that’s the key to the care package.  It’s not about spending a lot of money on them, or even stuffing the box full.  It’s a reminder of home, a way to let them know that you’re thinking about them all the time, and bring a little light into those hard days away.  I can’t imagine doing what Radar does, and if I can make it a little easier for him, I’m going to!

Those are my tips for ideas to put in a care package, but I have one more secret to share.  Anyone who sends care packages internationally is oh-too-familiar with the customs form.  I don’t know about you, but I hate filling them out.  And I usually have to fill out 2 (and occasionally 3) because of the varied items I put in each box!  It’s a pain in the butt to fill out the same information every time (and often multiple times) for every package.  So now, I print labels!  As long as the information requested is on each carbon copy, the post office doesn’t care how it’s done.  The labels I found work the best are 1-1/3″x4″ (Avery makes some) – but that’s the biggest that will really fit in the little boxes.  I print a bunch at the beginning of deployment and save the Word file, so if I need more it’s super easy (each form requires 5 labels with sender and receiver).  Saves me the time and frustration of writing the same information over and over in those tiny little boxes.  You could probably even make one label with a space in the middle that includes sender and recipient information.

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Obviously I printed all our info, I just didn’t feel like broadcasting our addresses over the internet!

For now, those are all my little secrets and tips for care packages.  If you have anything to share, please comment and let me know!  I’m always looking for more inspiration!

 

Deployment Wall

It’s that time for us that all military families dread: deployment is upon us.  Radar will be leaving before we know it to spend 7 months in Japan.  This is our 2nd deployment with the squadron to the same place.  Last time he went, Monster was only 2 months old… this time it’s a whole new game with a 2 year old and a 10 month old!  To help Monster and Peach remember their Daddy, and to help us all track the time as it passes, I’ve put together a “deployment wall.”

Most of the parts were pretty easy to put together, and I think it turned out pretty nice, if I do say so myself!

  • At the center is a photo collage (only $15 at Walmart) to help the little ones remember the good memories they have with Daddy.  I plan to update these pictures while he is gone with photos of him having adventures.
  • I included a clock for each country; at this time of year, they’re 12 hours apart so it seems a little silly, but after daylight savings it will be 13 hours, and when Radar goes on detachments to other countries (in other time zones) it will be nice to have that constant reminder that it’s 5am where he is, and not a good time to call!
  • Then I made a calendar that Monster and Peach will get to put a sticker on before bed every night to mark the passage of each day.  I’ll also be adding big trips and whatnot that we plan to go on, so instead of one long stretch of time, it will highlight all the fun adventures we’ll be having here!
  • And lastly, I want to keep a box going all the time for things to send to Radar, from the kids’ artwork to whatever he has requested, so nothing gets forgotten when it’s time to mail it.

So after a long explanation, here’s the finished product:

IMG_2535To make the pennant banner, I bought some burlap on a roll from Walmart.  I cut it into about 6-inch-long segments, then split each in half along the diagonal.  This didn’t quite make the isosceles triangles I wanted (yes, I’m a math and science teacher), so I cut the top so the two other sides were equal in length.  I made 12 total with this same method.  Then I got some foam stickers on sale at Joann’s during Memorial Day and used them to create patterns on the burlap.  It doesn’t matter what color they are, just that they stick temporarily.  Then I took them outside and used red and blue spray paint to color the pennants, and finally removed the stickers!  To put it all together, I used some navy blue paracord we had on hand – but any cord or string will do.  I tied a knot in each end and hot glued the pennants to the cord, then used pushpins to stick them up on the wall.  Not too hard, but gives a neat effect!

Pennant CollageI over-engineered the clocks a little… but I couldn’t help myself, I’m a perfectionist!  The clocks are just the cheapies from Walmart.  I used my Silhouette to cut out the flags with a little hole in the center (for the part that holds the arms) and a slit (to get it onto the clock).  I used the registration marks feature on the Silhouette software to make each flag perfect (I’ll post a tutorial on doing this at a later time – in the meantime, there are tons of resources out there to help you try it out!).  Each clock had some screws on the back that allowed me to pull of the glass to add my flags.  You can find the Silhouette file here.

Clock CollageFor the poster, I downloaded a simple pdf calendar for the date range I needed here.  I printed it at 50% and glued it onto a posterboard.  I used the BodieMF Flag font for the poster heading.  For the mail sign, I used the KG Uncle Sam font.

Poster CollageAnd that’s it!  Just FYI, USPS offers these large flat rate boxes that are especially for APO/FPO addresses… a regular one will work, but it’s nice to have one that’s easy to fill out!  And don’t forget your customs form!

IMG_2541I found a ton of other deployment wall ideas online; check out my Military Life board on Pinterest for more inspiration, from care packages to general information.

One more thing I want to add before I sign off, is you need to consider your kids.   One of the other wives in our squadron recently pointed out that for older kids, being constantly reminded that Daddy (or Mommy) is gone can be detrimental, despite your good intentions.  Because my kids are so young, I am going to be working hard to help them remember Daddy; also, time passes without quantity for them, so they don’t remember whether it’s been 1 month or 6 since he left.  While a deployment wall may be great for you, it may make things harder for your children – so just do what works for your family!

If you are part of a military family, I hope your deployments pass quickly and safely!!