What to Pack: Essentials for a Missions Trip

Summer 2012 was the first time in my life I had ever been out of the country. Since I (apparently) like to do things big, I decided Africa would be a great stepping stone for my first overseas missions trip.

I had never been out of the United States before, much less to a third world country. I was clueless as to what all I should pack. Thankfully, the organization I traveled with kept our team well informed and sent us as much information as possible. But I was still that paranoid packer who was just SURE I was going to need everything but the kitchen sink to survive (for ten days).

Skip ahead to Summer 2013 when I left the country again, this time bound for the Dominican Republic. It was a different climate and different culture, but many of the same packing rules applied.

After two trips into two different countries and climates, I discovered what things I absolutely couldn't do without and what could be left at home.

One of my teammates from Tanzania, who became a forever friend, is taking the next step on her missions journey at the end of this month. She will be traveling back to Africa for two months and I couldn't be more proud of her. Her sweet mom told me some of the things she was worrying about the most were the little essentials that can easily be overlooked. So, I put together a small care package for her to alleviate a tiny bit of her stress.

If you look in the travel section of Walmart or Target, you will find lots of travel sized goodies that will make your life ten times easier while living out of a suitcase in the middle of nowhere. These are the things I've found that help when traveling overseas, and a few things I knew she loved.

Let's start on the top left.

Baby Wipes: An absolute essential. These were more needed in Africa for me, when we were camping in a remote village with only a bucket of cold water for a shower. They work wonderfully for dry, dusty feet after a long day of walking.

Band-Aids: Good to have on hand for nicks and scrapes.

Eye Drops: This was a special item I packed for my friend, because I know she wears contacts, and Africa can be a dusty, windy place. Not an absolute essential, but very nice to have when you need it.

Neosporin: I used this quite often on both trips. This kind is the NEO To Go spray-on Neosporin. I LOVE it. It's tiny and can fit in a pocket, pouch or purse. If you scrape your leg, just squirt the cut a few times and stick a bandaid on. It's perfect.

Hand Sanitizer: Need I say more?

Tide To Go: This is something I packed when I went to Tanzania, but didn't end up using. Because my friend will be in Africa for two months, I knew she would need some.

Let's check out the inside of the box.

Toothbrushes: One of the hardest things to get used to in Africa was brushing your teeth with a bottle of water. Clean water is something we definitely take for granted in the states. I picked up a few cheap packages of toothbrushes, because it's easier to switch every few days than to worry if your one toothbrush is contaminated or not. Not an essential item, but definitely something nice to have!

Bug spray: An absolute essential. I used a rub-on stick on both my trips, but any bug spray will do.

Baby Powder: This is an absolute essential for us girls. Walking all day long, in a skirt, in warm weather...your thighs will thank you for the baby powder. Nuff said! :)

Clorox Wipes: This is a new item I added for my friend. You never know what kind of conditions you will encounter in a third world country. There are often times when clean facilities are nowhere to be found. I know these will come in handy for her.

Finally on to the right side.

Kleenex: Travel size packs are the best!

Lysol To Go: The same as the clorox wipes. I just happened to see this tiny can for 99¢ so I picked it up.

Lip Balm: Whether it's Carmex, Chapstick or EOS, you'll be glad to have some with you. EOS just happens to be my friends' favorite.

Tums: Our bodies aren't used to other cultures and their foods. This is something I wish I would've packed on my first trip, and absolutely needed on my second trip.

Tylenol: Always good to keep with you.

I packed everything in this container. For less than $4 at Walmart, it was perfect. Everything is in one location, and the box is the perfect size to slip into your suitcase.

So, there you have it. For under $40 you can put together an easy-to-pack essentials kit for your next missions trip. This would also be a great gift idea for high school kids heading off to college, or even as a semi-emergency kit to keep in the car.

Have you been overseas lately? What essentials do you find necessary when traveling?

If you would like to keep up with my friend and her missions journey, you can visit her blog Brandi's Mission.

-Jenn (With 2 N's)

Apostolic Youth Corps
Associates In Missions
AYC Tanzania 2012
AYC DR 2013


Exciting News!

Exciting news today! I finally re-opened my Etsy shop! I've lowered the prices and added quite a few new listings. I'll be adding more frequently in the coming months as well.

Take a peek and feel free to ask for a custom piece. If you need invitations, announcements, greeting cards, you-name-it...I'd love to design something for you!

I'm toying with the idea of a giveaway, so check back often and I'll keep you posted!

-Jenn (With 2 N's)


Recipe: Mexican Corn & Rice Casserole

It brings me a lot of joy when I throw a bunch of meticulously thought out random ingredients together and it makes one extremely delicious dish. Such is the story of last night's dinner. I was going to make boring spaghetti, but I'm SO glad I went for the gusto and threw this together.

Mexican Corn & Rice Casserole
2 cups Minute Brown Rice (or white rice)
1.5 lbs lean ground turkey (or hamburger)
1 15 oz can corn
1 14.5 oz can Chili Ready Tomatoes (diced)
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 diced onion (medium)
1 4 oz can chopped green chiles
1-2 cups shredded colby jack cheese
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Lawry's, cumin, chili powder and garlic powder to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start by preparing the rice per box instructions. I like to give brown rice plenty of time to soak up all the water or it can be chewy. While the rice is setting, brown the turkey/hamburger in a skillet. Let it cook about half way through before adding any seasonings. The longer meat cooks the less flavorful your seasonings will be.

I like my dishes FULL of flavor, so I sprinkle a good amount of Lawry's over the meat. A good rule of thumb is to lightly dust the entire surface area in the skillet without getting it too thick (or it will be too salty). Really go for it with the chili powder and cumin. I pour enough to cover the entire surface of the meat in the skillet before stirring everything together. Just a few dashes of salt, pepper and garlic powder and it's perfect!

You can add the green chiles and onion in with the meat to cook, but I like to get some good color on mine, so I cook them separately. After you drain your meat, wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Add in just a dash of olive oil and let it get hot again before adding the onion. Cook for about 3 minutes before adding the green chiles. Cook them for about 5 more minutes, until the onions soften up just enough. They will cook more while in the oven.

Now you just mix everything together! Combine the cooked rice, browned turkey, onion/chile mixture, corn, tomatoes and tomato sauce in a 9x13 casserole dish. Sprinkle the cheese over the top, and pop in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. I went with almost 2 cups of cheese, and it was extra cheesy. If you want to cut some calories go with 1 cup of cheese. It will still be delicious and not cost you as much at the gym the next day. :)

Serve it with a dollop of light sour cream and enjoy! If I had fresh cilantro in the fridge I definitely would have chopped some up and sprinkled it over the top. In any case, this is delicious, filling, and relatively easy for a weeknight meal!

-Jenn (With 2 N's)


Coconut Oil 4 President!

It's everywhere. Coconut oil seems to be super trendy right now, but it's been around 4-eva. You can use it to soften skin, you can use it in your food to help with digestion, and I haven't clarified, but I've heard rumor that you can use it as currency in some countries.

Okay JK on that last part, but it's pretty versatile stuff.

My aunt and cousin run an Herb & Health Foods store, so I'm lucky enough to have access to the really good stuff. If you're using it for any health purposes, you want to make sure you get Certified Organic, Virgin Coconut Oil. Another tip I learned from my Aunt is that you do NOT want to microwave it to soften it. The microwaves will break down the molecular structure of the oil and turns it into a bad fat. Instead, leave the jar in a bath of warm water until it softens the oil.

Last year around this time I ran across a recipe for a sugar scrub using coconut oil. I tried it, and fell in love. I keep it on hand in my bathroom and use it for a hand scrub when my hands are extra dry. I also use it as a substitute for shaving cream. *Ah-mazing* Your legs will be super silky!

Just soak your legs in the tub for a good 5-10 minutes after your shower. Then take a few minutes to rub-rub-rub your legs with the scrub. It will exfoliate your skin incredibly. Use your hands or a cup to barely wash away the sugar, leaving the oil on your skin, and use that to shave with. You will not be disappointed!

I keep seeing links on Pinterest about using Coconut Oil in your hair, so a few weeks ago I decided to give it a try. My hair is permed, so when I fix my hair curly it gets mousse, curl spray and hair spray. After a day of wearing my hair down and a few days of wearing it up, this is what it typically looks like.

Very dry and brittle, as you can see. (And as you can see, my curls turn into dreads if I leave it up too long!) So, going off a tutorial I found on Pinterest, I set out to see if Coconut Oil could do anything for this hot mess of hair!

Because I was going to be massaging the oil into my hair, I didn't need to pre-soften the oil. I just scooped some into my hand and it immediately started to soften by the warmth in my hands.

Because my hair is curly, and already had product in it, it was a task getting my fingers through my hair enough to coat it with the oil and not have clumps here and there. But I succeeded and twisted it up in a bun to dry. I ended up using about three big handfuls.
*Note* Trying to take pictures of yourself while you also have oil on your hands... not an easy task.

I left the oil in for about 30 minutes without heat, then spent five minutes slowly going over my head with a hairdryer on a low setting. Then it was time to rinse it out! I took some time to just rinse the oil out without any shampoo. After I felt like most of it was gone I used shampoo/conditioner like I normally would.

I let it dry naturally (which takes all day with my hair) and used a straightener when it was dry. If I want perfectly straight hair, it typically takes me about an hour and a half to straighten my super thick hair. Because it was so soft, I didn't spend much time straightening it. Maybe 20-30 minutes.

Look at the difference! Granted, my hair before had curl and this doesn't, but I can definitely say it helped. My hair was super soft and felt much less dry and brittle.

So, there ya have it. Coconut oil really does help with dry hair.

And because I'm a dork, here is an ode to coconut oil in the form of a few haiku.

Oh, coconut oil,
You never cease to amaze.
Will you run for prez?

Skin so soft and clean
Hair so lush and moisturized
What can you not do?

How I love you so.
What else can I use you for?
Oh, coconut oil.

Have you used coconut oil for anything special? I'd love to find more ways to use my endless supply! :)

-Jenn (With 2  N's)


Handmade Housewarming: Embellished Picture Frame

One of my dear friends is a soon-to-be bride, and new home owner! I'm beyond excited for this chapter of her life to start. She is well deserving of the happiness her sweet man has brought her.

This past weekend I visited their new home for a housewarming party. I wanted to take something special and something to match the colors she had sent me of her living room.

I just so happened to have a spare frame I got 1/2 off at Hobby Lobby months ago, and decided on a fun, embellished picture frame. I picked out some coordinating ribbon, tulle, flowers and anything else I thought I'd use and got to work!

I started by laying aside the piece of glass and detaching the frame from the cardboard backing. I then started tying short pieces of ribbon in a semi-random fashion to the side of the frame.

Through trial and error I found the best combination and mixture of colors and thicknesses. If you notice, I even threw some rickrack in with the ribbons. I really like the pale pink tule mixed in with the other heartier ribbons. Because I took the cardboard back off, it's easy to tie the ribbons right around the frame. When I was sure I had them where they looked best, I burned the ends of the grosgrain ribbon and rickrack so they wouldn't fray.

To make life easier for re-gluing the backing, make sure the ribbons lay completely flat against the back of the frame, without any bulges or twists. Just tie them once so you can slide them up and down in case you want to add more ribbons.

As much as I try to be a neat crafter, it never really works out.

I tried a combination of ribbons at the bottom to use as a border, but wasn't fond of this wide cream ribbon. I thought it hid too much of the black frame and seemed unbalanced with the top of the frame.

I ended up using a smaller cream ribbon on the bottom topped with some fun felt ribbon I had, and a fun flower at the side. I used some silk flowers I had on hand, separated them from their stems, and mixed the colors together. I didn't have any large blue petals, so the top layer of blue is actually two smaller flowers strategically glued together. And you can't even tell! The black center is one of my favorite buttons (I have tons of this kind) because they look so similar to the middle of a real flower!

When you're ready to glue the backing on, just make sure you have plenty of hot glue on the ribbons. Press firmly to make sure the cardboard adheres nicely.

I was extremely pleased with how the simple embellishments turned out. This is such a fun and easy way to make a personalized gift that reflects the recipients personality. If you use scraps you have around the house, it's an inexpensive gift with plenty of heart.

I can't wait to see it filled with a photo!

-Jenn (With 2 N's)


Cloud Watcher

Some days I wish I could lay in the grass and watch clouds all day long.

Studying their shapes. Finding hidden pictures.

To me, it's a magical thing.

Clouds are ever changing. Ever moving.

At one glance a giant grasshopper. The next, a noble knight.

Clouds are universal.

Whether seen on a familiar road,

Or studied in a foreign land,

Clouds will always keep me company.

Follow me on Instagram.

-Jenn (With 2 N's)


Hello Autumn!

Today, because it's Friday, and because this absolutely gorgeous Oklahoma weather has me in an Autumn mood, I'm giving away some Fall inspired desktop wallpapers!

Autumn is one of my most favorite times of the year. Here in Oklahoma, our weather can be rather unpredictable, but this year we've had an early reprieve from our scorching hot summer. The temperature has been a cool 65 in the mornings, and only as high as 75-80 in the afternoons. For us, that's beautiful, cool weather!

I love decorating my computer desktop. I change mine frequently, and I'm always on the lookout for new backgrounds. Since it's almost October (can you believe it?!) I thought I would make my own simple, vector backgrounds to celebrate the changing of the seasons.

Just click on the size that coincides with your screen's display resolution and save the picture. It's all yours!

1280 x 1024         1366x768          1920x1200

 1280 x 1024         1366x768          1920x1200

1280 x 1024         1366x768          1920x1200

I hope you enjoy these! I might have to switch mine after a few weeks so I can use them all. Happy Friday everyone!

-Jenn (With 2 N's)


A Whale of A Story

I don't sew. I would love to sew using a machine. I can't. And it frustrates me to no end. I am, by nature, a fairly creative person. I live a creative life, work in a creative field, and yet sewing machines mock me. I'm decent at hand stitching. And that's all.

I can vaguely remember constructing what was supposed to be a pillow in High School Home-Ec class.  I'm pretty sure it's hard to mess up when sewing a pillow. It's two rectangular pieces stuffed with batting. I'm sure I didn't cut my corners right before flipping it right sides out, though. I never can remember to cut the corners right.

My bestie had her first baby 2 years ago. He is a munchkin and a half, and I'm beyond proud to be his Aunt Jenn. After his first birthday last year I determined I would make him something with my hands for his second birthday. His mom adorably has his bathroom decorated with whales, so I started on an extensive whale cross-stitch project. There were a few problems that arose with that endeavor:

A. I created my own whale pattern (successfully) but drew it rather large on my cross-stitch fabric.
B. Whales are pretty plain. Solid colored body, and an eye.
C. I have no patience.

We shall never know the fate of Mister Whale, because a month before the second birthday party, this is what he looked like.

Sorry Mister Whale.

So, I got the hair-brained brilliant idea to sew the munchkin a whale plushie. I'm a glutton for punishment. I also love that kid, so I wanted to do something special for him.

I had successfully pulled off a completely hand-sewn animal earlier this year, and was really pleased with the result. I figured if I could make a rat plushie, I could totally do a whale. Remember, whale's are pretty plain!

I found a pattern I liked that seemed pretty easy, and headed out a month before the party for my supplies. I found some darling blue striped fabric that was extremely soft, and snatched it up. Add to that some dark navy embroidery thread for contrast, and this whale was in the works. I got everything home, got the pattern cut out and everything was pinned, ready to be hand stitched. However, I didn't even give a second thought to the too-soft fabric. When I hand sewed the precious plushie, I was using thick felt. It held the thick embroidery thread just fine. This soft stuff wasn't having it.

After frantically calling a friend for the use of her sewing machine (which she wasn't entirely sure how to use either) we managed to make this test run...

We're awesome like that! After some trial and error, and LOTS of help from my dear mother, Wilson the Whale finally came to life the day before the big party.

He's a little more squarish than I would've liked, but I think he's pretty darn cute considering I can't sew.

I've been told the birthday boy adores Wilson, and that's all that matters.

-Jenn (With 2 N's)


Coming Back to Life

It seems like I will never be a "3 times a week" blogger. It's a miracle if I'm a 3 times a month blogger! But no matter how crazy and hectic life gets, I always miss this little spot of mine on the interwebs.

Since my last post, lots of things have happened in life. My trip to the DR was both successful and tragic. We had times of great laughter and times of great sorrow. God was with us the entire way, and only HE knows the end of the journey for all of us. I know all of our team was there for a reason, and everything we encountered was to mold and shape our futures.

As much as I've missed blogging, I haven't even been able to formulate a complete post since we got back in July. Life didn't go exactly as our team had planned, and it's tough to gather your thoughts together while you're still processing things.

A few days into our trip tragedy struck our group and shook us all to our core. God was with us, and we know ALL things work together for the good. It's still tough to see God's plan in everything, but I know he's working in all of our lives. One of our team members had a terrible accident, and she has a long road of recovery ahead of her. Even though she was the one experiencing the physical pain of her tragedy, we are all still going through the pain with her. She is one of the absolute strongest individuals I've ever met in my life, and God taught me so many lessons through being with her during her time of crisis.  If you'd like to keep up with her journey, she is blogging about her experience here. Please know that what happened is devastating and, to be frank, gruesome. God is speaking through her situation and using her story for HIS glory, and part of that process is her telling a detailed account of what happened to her. Please be aware before clicking over and reading her blog.

I put together a video of just a FEW of the many things we did during our ten days. Thank you to EVERYONE who contributed in any way, big or small, to make this trip possible for me.

You can also visit my YouTube Channel to see tons of videos I posted from the services we had. God moved in such a powerful way during our time there. It's just hard to describe! While we were gone I kept up a team journal on our blog The DR Team. If you'd like to go read through detailed accounts of what happened, feel free.

I learned so many lessons I never imagined I would have to learn in those short ten days. God gave me patience and strength I never knew existed inside me. I'm SO thankful for these opportunities of travel God is allowing me to experience. It's a new passion He has birthed in me, and while it isn't easy, I wouldn't trade my burden for missions for anything in the world.

As always, I can't promise when I'll post again, but I hope you'll keep checking back to see what's going on in my little world.

-Jenn (With 2 N's)


T-2 Days to AYC DR

It's almost time, friends!! In two short days I'll be on a plane to the hot, tropical island that is home to the Dominican Republic!

I have been swamped at work and home the last few days and not able to update like I would like to. I have some blog posts ready to show you guys but I literally haven't had a spare minute to compose my thoughts into a proper post!

Since I will be leaving on Friday, I doubt you'll see anything from me until I've landed safely in the DR. If you'd like to keep up with what's going on with our team while we are there, I've created a separate blog for our team to update.


Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we spread God's word to the Dominican people!

-Jenn (With 2 N's)