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Things I Love: Play Today DC

Things I Love logo Two things I love: tools that make my life easier and anything that makes me look like a fun mom! Play Today DC does BOTH!

There are many web sites that help parents find local events and family-friendly things to do and I love them all, but newcomer Play Today DC has a very clean sorting interface that allows you to choose the type of activity (i.e. sporting events, performances, educational opportunities and more), the time frame, and location you are looking for. Even better, you can register/purchase tickets right from the the Play Today DC site!  Once you set up an account, your activities are all saved into a calendar on the site and you can export them to several popular online calendars such as Google Calendar so you won’t double-book yourself.  You can share events with your friends via Twitter, +1, and Facebook so they may join you. This site is free, registration on the site just allows you to take advantage of the many features.  Currently they cover Vienna, Oakton, Falls Church, Great Falls, McLean, and Reston. Because the site is so new, I haven’t had enough time to find a way to break it <grin> but so far I like what I see. Being able to view my options, register for paid events, save them to my calendar, share them with friends and get directions all from one place is not only efficient, but helps people like me who are easily distracted by both kids and the computer!  Their FAQs hint at a future Reminders capability, which will make me love it any more.  (Now if only they’d add a laundry and dishwashing feature, we’d be all set, right?)

Want to get a better feel for the kinds of activities they will be letting you know about? Play Today DC is hosting a free Find the Fun Fair at Westwood Country Club in Vienna, VA, February 4, 10 am – 2pm for their official launch, with facepainting, moon bounces, soccer and golf, demos, giveaways and so much more from 50+ local businesses — find all the details here.

Additionally, they are having a sweepstakes on the Play Today DC Facebook page where you can enter to win an iPod Touch (value $199).  If you print the Play Today DC Facebook fan page, write your name, email, address and phone number on the page and bring it to the Find the Fun Fair you may enter to win an iPad (value $499)  at the fair.  See the Facebook page for complete sweepstakes rules, sweepstakes runs through February 3, 2012. (Really, I hesitated to tell you about the sweepstakes because I want that iPad all to myself, but fair is fair.)

Check out the website and let me know what you think — did I steer you in the right direction?

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Disclosure: I will be compensated for this post.  However, as you know, my policy is to “tell it like it is.”  If I don’t like a product, I will not recommend it. iPod and iPad are registered trademarks of Apple Corporation.

 

Things I Love: E-Mealz.com Menu Planner

Things I Love logoI am the opposite of a domestic goddess — does that make me a domestic demon? I have tried to put together weekly and monthly menu plans and I’m just terrible at it. There comes a time when you have to admit defeat and outsource! My neighbor “M” is a relatively new stay-at-home mom (SAHM) and yet seems to have her act far more together than I do as a veteran SAHM so I asked her about her menu planning and she pointed to her oh-so-organized bulletin board in her kitchen and a print out from E-mealz.com. “They plan everything out, it usually has five ingredients or less, and it has the shopping list all organized for you,” she told me as our children played chaotically in the background.

It took me a while to get around to it — I mean I have literally shelves and shelves of cookbooks and two recipe boxes, surely I could manage to do this on my own?! But finally I caved in and signed up. And now I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. JavaBoy has always been a challenge when it has come to non-dairy proteins, and yet, he has loved every recipe from E-Mealz. I have him review the week’s recipes beforehand to see if there is anything he won’t like and so far he’s approved every option, even the ones I was certain he wouldn’t like, and he’s eagerly gobbled them down. JavaGirl, who is going through an I’m-five-so-my-tastes-change-by-the-hour phase, has also enjoyed all the meals. Whenever possible, I involve them in the cooking because I always find that helps them get more excited about the meals.  The service has different selections of plans: standard, portion-controlled, budget-friendly, low-carb, gluten-free, natural/organic, and vegetarian.  Because I am diabetic, we are using the low-carb version.

We have been trying some recipes that I probably wouldn’t have picked out myself and yet my family really enjoyed, so this has been a good way to push ourselves. Although we aren’t doing the “budget” plan, I’ve found it to be economical and we are certainly wasting less food because I’m not buying stuff with the intention to cook it and never getting around to it. Because I tend to cook the larger size of the range of the recipe (i.e. if it says 1.5 – 2.25 pounds of meat, I choose 2.25 pounds) we have plenty of leftovers to use for lunch for myself and my husband (and sometimes the kids ask if they can take the leftovers for lunch for school!) or even to have a second night of dinner. Often there is a crockpot night or two, which I love, especially for the nights when my kids have choir practice. Though it kills me to smell that wonderful food when I’m home during the day.

I cannot tell you how much stress this has alleviated for us as a family. No trying to figure out what’s for dinner.  Grocery shopping is easier because we know what we’re going to eat and everything is listed for us. I go through the list and all the non-perishables that are needed for the week, I put into a clear storage box in the butler’s pantry so that it doesn’t accidentally get used for something else and is also easy to find for that night’s meal (not only for myself but in case my husband ends up cooking that night — he doesn’t have to hunt up various spices and canned goods.)

I loved it when I explained to the kids we were having Hamburger Soup (really a variation of a beef and barley with vegetables) and JavaGirl said “show me the box” and I said, “No, Mommy made this from SCRATCH! It’s been simmering on the stove for two hours!” It really didn’t take long to put together and yet it was yummy and gave me a great sense of satisfaction to provide homemade soup for the family. Granted, “scratch” might have been a stretch as it did involve some canned tomatoes and canned broth, but there were fresh vegetables, barley, fresh spices, and of course, ground beef.

There are several meal planning services out there, I checked quite a few out and asked friends for recommendations and ultimately decided on this one because I liked the format, the sample menus they showed, the low cost and because my neighbor was so happy with it. If you are interested in researching them, enter the phrase “meal planning” in your favorite search engine. 

Things I Love will be an occasional series on Caffeine and a Prayer where I highlight items or services that make life in the Java household a little easier or just make me happy and I hope will delight you as well. Other than being a paid subscriber, I have no relationship with E-Mealz.com and they have no idea I’m writing about them — I’m just a really happy customer.