In my bag

In My Bag - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

In My Bag- Under the Monkey Bars blog

Classic tote :: Cuyana 
Wallet :: LODIS (mine’s 4 years old and still looks new)
Pouches :: One Truffle

Now that I’m tidying up my life, I need to decide which bags spark joy. This classic gray Cuyana tote I got for Christmas definitely does! It’s light as a feather, super soft, and sustainable. The company’s mission aligns with mine: fewer, better things. As I pare down what I own, I’m choosing quality over quantity. This timeless bag without flashy hardware goes with everything. It’s perfect for every day, and a great size for this busy Mom.

I’m totally in love with these pouches from One Truffle. I’ve had my eye on them for months. Everything in my bag goes into the clear pouches except my wallet, keys, phone, and sanitizer, making it super easy to grab what I need in a flash. My bag stays neat and organized with this system. 

Like most Moms, I manage to pack a lot in my bag so I'm always prepared!

Like most Moms, I manage to pack a lot in my bag so I’m always prepared!

In my Small Clarity Clutch
– The best cure for chapped lips: WAXALENE.
– Two kinds of LIP GLOSS so I always have just the right one.
– My favorite intensely thick HAND CREME.
SUNGLASSES won’t scratch in the pouch; no case necessary!
– Reusable COFFEE CUP SLEEVE because I’m super green and proud of it.

In my Large Clarity Clutch
– My bag hasn’t been without EPI-PENs since 2005.
– A REUSABLE BAG is an absolute must!
– My Great Aunt Flo’s pink leather CHECKBOOK stays close to my heart.
– Organic MINTS for the monkeys in case of emergency (you know the ones!).

What essentials do you carry in your bag?

Lunch Box Love

Lunch Box Love - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Bean + Sweet Pea’s lunch boxes from the other day: Grilled chicken, risotto made with homemade bone broth, honeydew melon, yellow peppers, and carrots.

We’re finally getting into a lunch making groove. After 3 weeks of morning chaos, we’ve got this. So I thought it was a good time to give you some lunch box love.

Whether you’re packing a lunch for yourself or someone else, it’s always an extra thing to do when you’re strapped for time in the morning. Some things can be prepped the night before, others not so much. Personally, I don’t like to make lunches at night. After dinner clean up, I’m kind of done. Plus, the monkeys eat their lunches better when the food is fresh.

Our lunch boxes are full of real, whole foods with nothing processed or out of a package. It’s not easy — but it’s worth it! If you missed it, read my post about cutting out processed foods here. It’s all about getting back to basics and nourishing your body with foods that don’t contain ingredients you can’t pronounce. Real food helps your body feel better and your brain think clearer.

I pack my monkeys lunch boxes with organic fruit, veggies, meat, legumes, seeds, nut butters, and whole grains. We try to keep it simple. The night before school, the monkeys look in the refrigerator to see what we have. They use a clipboard and pencil to write down their lunch and snack orders (seriously – it’s all about the clipboard!). In the morning, they help me with little things like peeling clementines, washing grapes, or writing each other notes (we use napkins!).

It has taken me years to figure out how to really pack a lunch box. It shouldn’t be this hard, right? I’ve finally figured out the secret: it’s all about the products! Here’s a list of things we love and use every day in our lunch boxes:

  • LunchBots stainless steel food containers are the best. We like their divided container (the new lids are awesome!), dip condiment containers, and round containers. The divided containers do leak, but work great for solid foods. Dip and round containers don’t leak. These containers last for years and are virtually unbreakable.
  • Try these silicone baking cups to line the LunchBots and add some fun colors.
  • Use a Thermos hot food jar for soups, mashed potatoes, and chili. While you’re warming the food, fill the container with boiling water. This helps to keep it hot longer. Also, be sure you don’t add an ice pack to the lunch box! Plan sides and snacks that don’t need to stay cold, like a whole apple or dried fruit.
  • Kids Konserve sweat-free ice packs are an excellent investment. We’ve used ours 5 days a week for the past two years and they are in perfect shape.
  • Kids Konserve food kozy is a perfect wrap for sandwiches. Gluten Free bread isn’t the healthiest so my girls only take sandwiches once or twice a week. These wraps last more than a year and serve as a placemat when opened. Think of all the plastic baggies you’ll save from a landfill.
  • Cleanwell pocket size hand sanitizer — because my girls eat lunch after recess.
  • Land’s End class mate soft sided lunch boxes are our favorite. There are so many lunch boxes to choose from and lots of them are fantastic. Land’s End has worked the best for us — especially for fitting in all of these containers!
  • Reusable silverware makes it into the monkeys lunch box almost every day. The girls love these sets from Pottery Barn Kids, and I love that they are dishwasher safe.
  • Lifefactory glass bottles are leakproof. We’ve had the same bottles for at least 4 years without breaking the glass and they look new. I fill the bottles with water because the only juice we drink in our house comes straight out of the juicer. Bottled juice purchased at the store has no nutrition and is full of sugar. Not the best choice for a lunch box! 

All of these waste free lunch products are non-toxic, BPA free, reusable, healthy for your kids and the environment. It’s expensive to buy everything at once. Pick up new products here and there, and always fill the lunch box with love!

How do you pack a lunch box? What works at your house?

Organic Gardening

The Herb FARMacy in Salisbury, MA - Under the Monkey Bars

I like the idea of gardening, just not the digging your hands in dirt with worms part. Frankly, gardening stresses me out. Am I overwatering? Why is the plant turning brown? Did I plant it deep enough? Too close? Is this a good bug? Bad bug?

But I love food! And I love a gorgeous garden. Maybe what stresses me out the most is not knowing enough about gardening, yet not having time to figure it out.

A few weeks ago, my Mom’s Club held a green gardening workshop led by Rita Wollmering from the Herb FARMacy. After listening to Rita’s talk, even I was inspired to start gardening and create some culinary pots. Rita recommends planting after Memorial Day. Perfect timing: let’s get started!

Here are some ways to be more environmentally-friendly or green with your gardening, as well as tips to help your garden grow organically.

Start with good soil. Coast of Maine soil products are the best and they’re organic. Don’t reuse old potting soil because the nutrients are gone. There could even be diseases in there (ewww)! Sterilize your pots with nine parts water to one part apple cider vinegar; then rinse and dry in the sun. For planting in the ground, test your garden soil every three years. Rita recommends the University of Massachusetts soil testing lab. It’s just like getting your blood work at your yearly check up! Your garden will flourish.

Let the sun shine. You need lots of sun for a successful garden. Afternoon sun is best. Think Mediterranean: sun, air, wind. Don’t put plants near a downspout or crowd them against your house. Guilty and guilty. I need to re-think the design of my postage stamp yard.

Get some pots. If you use ceramic pots, be sure to soak your pots first before planting or the pot will dry out your soil. Use natural materials like shells and rocks at the bottom of your pot to allow for drainage. Don’t use packing peanuts or corks like I have in the past.

Water once. Water thoroughly until water comes out the bottom of the pot. If your pots don’t have drainage holes, drill a hole at the bottom. The best time to water is in the morning. At night, bacteria and fungus will grow. Try not to wet the leaves — especially on tomato plants.

Check out my herbs! Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Thyme, Terragon, Cilantro, and Parsley.

Check out my herbs! Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Thyme, Terragon, Cilantro, and Parsley.

Planting herbs. Culinary herb gardening is an easy way to get started. Plant perennial herbs in one pot and annual herbs in another. Rosemary, bay leaves, and lemongrass are perennial herbs but they won’t make it through a New England winter. Bring these herbs indoors and you’ll have them for your culinary garden next year. Parsley has a biannual lifecycle — but consider it an annual because it doesn’t have leaves the second year. Plant basil in its own wide pot because basil tends to grow out.

Harvesting herbs. From June through August, harvest your herbs. In September, cut only what you need. Clipping basil will cause it to flush out and grow better. Cut the main stem at the third leaf set with garden or kitchen shears. Don’t pick the tops! With thyme, Rita recommends cutting two thirds and leaving one third of the plant. This prevents browning at the base of the plant. You can cut chives almost all the way down.

Freezing herbs. Blending spices with butter, olive oil, or stock is the best method to freeze and use your herbs throughout the winter. Place chopped herbs in a BPA free ice cube tray, then top up the wells with a bit of olive oil. If you have lots of herbs, place the whole leaves in a food processor, add your butter, olive oil, or stock and process until finely chopped. Transfer this mixture to containers or an ice cube tray and freeze.

Strain it. Bottle it. Save it. You can use the herbs you harvest to make a delicious flavored vinegar. Densely pack herbs in a mason jar. Add cider vinegar and let it sit for 4-6 weeks. Strain with a cheesecloth into a clean jar or bottle. You don’t have to refrigerate the vinegar because it has a high acidity that acts as a preservative. A flavored vinegar would make a thoughtful hostess gift in bottles like these (you know I’m already thinking about holiday gifts).

Growing tomatoes. I was surprised to hear that tomato plants need three feet between each plant. Rita recommends planting tomatoes in five gallon pots. Use the space below to plant lettuce, arugula, or cilantro. Then cover exposed soil with salt marsh hay or mulch to prevent bacteria from growing. Think about planting different types of tomato plants so that they grow throughout the summer. Try cherry, a mid-season tomato, and beefsteak. Keep in mind that pink tomatoes are sweeter than red, while yellow and orange tomatoes are less acidic.

Working with weeds. Avoid spraying pesticides on your grass or patio because the chemicals can seep into your garden. Did you know that you can spray weeds with vinegar? Make sure the vinegar is at least 5% acidity and be careful not to spray your plants or grass.

Keeping the bugs away. Repel mosquitos with lemongrass, lemon thyme, citronella scented geranium, and santolinas. Plant combinations for a stronger repellant. Also consider plants like phlox and zinnias to attract dragonflies, which eat mosquito larvae.

Gardening with your monkeys. Channel your kids’ natural curiosity by teaching them to garden. Kids love being outside and they love doing things their parents do. Even if you’re not an avid gardener, you can learn together. Give your monkeys small tasks and responsibilities in the garden. Teach them garden etiquette, such as where to walk and how to water. It’s a fun project that will keep them busy this summer!

Books and supplies. Head over to your local bookstore or library for books on organic gardening. If you have a black thumb, EarthBox garden kits are a new foolproof system for container gardening. It’s a maintenance free high-tech growing method with a built-in reservoir to ensure that each plant gets the water it needs.

Ask me in September if I’m a gardener. Hopefully my freezer will be packed with herbs and my family will be sick of caprese salad. Either way, my nails won’t be dirty because I’m going to pick up some gardening gloves for me and my monkeys asap. Let’s get gardening!

Note: Did you know I’m the Parent’s Corner Columnist for Happy in Newburyport’s online magazine? This post originally appeared as my June column. Hope you picked up a few tips for your garden 🙂

thredUP Finds

If you missed my Shopping to Save post from last week, head over for my top 10 tips for shopping thredUP, an online consignment store with a twist. And now, for some of my thredUP finds. Full disclosure: I’m 5’3” and never dreamed of being a model so this is completely out of my comfort zone! It’s all in the name of fashion, people. So here goes…

Silk blouse :: Odille $10

Summer tops that cover my shoulders have been on my shopping list since last summer. I realized I have mostly tanks and worry about getting too much sun on my shoulders when I’m walking around Newburyport. This classic navy silk blouse fits the bill with a flutter cap sleeve. I love the print detail too. If you haven’t heard of Odille, it’s an Anthropologie brand. thredUP is one of my favorite places to shop Anthropologie, of course besides Anthropologie itself!

 HingeTankStriped tank :: Hinge $7
Relaxed jeans :: Citizens of Humanity $20

Navy and white stripes scream summer here in Newburyport. The best part about this tank is that the straps cover bra straps perfectly (one of my things…I can’t have straps hanging out!). Hinge is a Nordstrom brand that I love so I knew it would be good quality. These jeans are vintage Citizens based on the label, and they are now one of my favorite casual pairs. The jeans came hemmed to the perfect length for flip flops: score!

 FPblazerSeersucker blazer :: Free People $10

I pulled a few things from my closet and created a fresh look for ten bucks — seriously! This seersucker blazer is perfect for spring with a pair of white jeans (purchased at a consignment shop last summer), a green beaded necklace I picked up in Burlington, Vermont a few years ago, and my most favorite wedge sandals from Spain. Brunch anyone?

 BostonProperTLace ruffle tee :: Boston Proper $13
Straight leg jeans :: Citizens of Humanity $20

I have been living in these jeans since they arrived on my doorstep this winter. Soft, dark wash with some nice fading and great detail on the pockets. I haven’t worn the tee yet (since it’s been freezing until a few days ago). It’s a great neutral that can be dressy or casual for spring and summer. Add a pair of gold flats and some jewelry, and it’s a new outfit for $33!

 RobinTopWhite sleeveless top :: Robin $6

More stripes! More ruffles! I took a chance with this silver and black striped top because it was marked final sale, and it paid off big time. It’s a little dressier and perfect for any season if you add a cropped leather jacket or a blazer. I paired this top with black Paige pants from my closet and some Nine West flats. I picked up the earrings the other day at Beautique in Newburyport when I got my hair blown out (obviously hadn’t washed it yet when we took these pictures, but fear not…I’m clean now). When’s date night? I’ve got my outfit picked out already. 

 JeansDenim from left to right…
Paige Premium Denim capris :: $12
Citizens of Humanity relaxed every day jeans :: $20
Citizens of Humanity boot cut, new with tags :: $35

I always keep my eye out for jeans when I’m ordering on thredUP. Had to show you the pockets because I’m definitely not ready to model my back side! I can’t link to the items online as each item is unique, but use this link to receive $10 off your first purchase on thredUP!  Happy shopping friends, and thanks for monkeying around today.


Note: This post was not sponsored by thredUP. I’ve been shopping with them for years with great style, success, and savings. I will receive a referral credit if you sign up through the links on this page.

Shopping to Save


I can’t resist retail therapy. It’s practically programmed into my DNA.  My Mom taught me to bargain shop when I was a little girl. I’ve always had my eyes peeled for a good deal. You can find me poking around in shops like T.J. Maxx or Marshalls, as well as consignment shops — especially when I’m not looking for anything in particular. That’s when you find the best stuff!

thredUP is one of my favorite sites to shop online. It’s like a consignment store with a twist. We have some great consignment shops here in Newburyport, but when I shop thredUP I can click around from the comfort of my couch. I love quality brands like Lululemon, Free People, Paige Denim, J.Crew, and Ella Moss at 90% off retail and in great condition. I’ve never seen my favorite thredUP purchases at the mall because the clothes come from all over the country.

The selection of kids’ clothes on thredUP is awesome. It’s a perfect opportunity to teach kids about sustainability and re-using things (yes, there are teachable moments in shopping!). Bean and Sweet Pea scroll through their size in the thredUP iPad app and choose what catches their eye. One time Bean found a favorite sweatshirt that she had outgrown in the next size; total score! I love saving money on clothes because you know stains and tears happen easily, no matter how much you pay for them.

Here are some tips to help you be successful on your first thredUP shopping adventure:

  1. Download the app to receive pop up discount codes for 10-20% off.
  2. Select “exclude tiny flaw” in your searches. Since you can’t inspect items yourself, I only recommend buying items thredUP deems “practically new.”
  3. Know what styles fit you best and start there.
  4. Search the site multiple ways. I look under my size in women, X collection, new with tags, stylish mama, etc. You can also save personal shops with your preferences.
  5. Jeans are already broken in…and sometimes shortened, which is great for me but definitely not for everyone so check the length!
  6. Accessories always fit. I’ve found the best scarves on thredUP!
  7. Shop brands you love first; then start to seek out new brands. You can always return.
  8. When you select an item that you like, click to see other items from that family. If you like one thing they sent in, maybe you’ll like other items.
  9. Clothes stay in your cart for 24 hours. Fill up your cart; then go back later for a second look before deciding what to purchase. 
  10. I don’t have a #10. Just wanted to even it out here…

Be green and reduce your family’s carbon footprint by sending clothes you no longer need to thredUP. It’s a super easy way to clean out your closet and make some extra money. Fill their fun polka dot bag and ship it back for free. I’ve sent in a few bags of our stuff and got paid between $50-85. You can cash out via PayPal, use the money as credit for future shopping, or fundraise for a cause (think PTA or disaster relief – very cool). Actually, it’s about time for me to order a polka dot bag. Watch out closets!

Check back soon to see some of my recent thredUP purchases. In the meantime, use this link to receive $10 off your first purchase!

Note: This post was not sponsored by thredUP. I’ve been shopping with them for years with great style, success, and savings. I will receive a referral credit if you sign up through the links on this page.