Life

5 Quick and Easy Back-to-School Crafts and Snacks

It’s hard to believe that it’s time to start talking about Back to School already. I mean, it feels like summer just started! But a quick glance at the calendar tells me that the big day is practically here.

I won’t lie – there’s a small part of me that will be doing a little happy dance that first day when the bus pulls away. There’s been a lot of bickering and arguing among my five kids as of late…

But I’ll also miss the one-on-one time that summers afford me, as well as being able to schedule spontaneous family outings any day of the week. So we’ll be making the most of our time before school starts by cooking and crafting and creating fun memories.

I’m still planning exactly what projects we’re going to tackle, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites that we’ve done as a family in the past.

Washi Tape Personalized School Supplies

School supplies just don’t get any cuter than these basics that have been doctored up with Washi tape! Young children will need some help using the X-acto knife for trimming the tape (or scissors will work as well), but they’ll have a blast choosing colors and patterns and wrapping the Washi tape to personalize all of their school supplies.


Create A Homework Box

This is a little project that we complete every year as we’re shopping for school supplies. We pick up an extra or two of all of the items on our list that we may need to use for homework assignments, and pick up a plastic storage box that will house them all. It makes homework time so much simpler because the supplies are specifically designated for homework only, meaning those house-wide hunts for a glue stick or scissors are a thing of the past!


DIY Friendship Pins Kit

Do you remember friendship pins? I put this adorable kit together for my girls when my youngest was starting first grade. She was a little nervous about being in school all day for the first time, and showing her how to make friendship pins was a great way to get her excited about going to school. She couldn’t wait to pass out her creations to her classmates – the pins were the perfect way to help her connect with old and new friends!


DIY No-Crust Frozen Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches

Prep for school lunches by making a huge batch of these homemade No-Crust PB & J sandwiches. Dare I say my kids might prefer their custom creations to the store-bought variety? Making a huge batch in the days before school starts will make packing those lunches a snap!


No Bake Peanut Butter Bars for Back To School

I’d recommend waiting to whip up a batch of the no bake PB bars until the night before school starts; any sooner and they just won’t last! Three main ingredients, plus your choice of mix-ins, means that this recipe can be made to please. They double as an on-the-go breakfast and a delicious after school snack!


My favorite aspect of all of these projects is that they take very little time and effort, leaving plenty of time for laughing and chatting about the upcoming school year. We all start to go a little stir crazy when the hottest days of summer are upon us, but activities like these always bring us together and end up being tons of fun.

Tara Kuczykowski is the mom behind the blog Unsophisticook.com and is a member of the Walmart Moms Program

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Business

#PattiPie, New Cobblers and the Evolution of Our Bakeries

When Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pie hit Walmart stores last fall, the demand for #PattiPie became so high we could barely keep enough of them on the shelves.

As a merchant for our fresh bakery, this was exciting news. It proved that the work by Kinna Thomas, our senior buyer of cakes and pies, and our entire team to provide premium goods baked with high-quality ingredients was not going unnoticed.

It also proved that taking the extra time and effort to think outside of the box whenever we’re developing bakery goods makes a real difference to our customers. Taking it to the next level for this holiday season, Kinna was reviewing Ms. LaBelle’s cookbooks and stumbled across one of her famous cobbler recipes. We knew how important it was to hit the mark perfectly.

After testing and trying out the product, I’m excited to announce that together, we’ve cooked up three premium cobblers in peach, apple and mixed berry flavors for #PattiPie fans to enjoy, starting Sept. 2. Not only are they packed full with quality fruit, they’re baked with two crusts – one on top and one on bottom – to ensure that sugary crisp bite.

Knowing that most cobblers on the market today are frozen, we worked to find the right supplier to create a unique fresh version. Turns out we had the right company with us all along: Twin Star Bakery out of Houston, who currently makes a number of decadent items for Walmart, including oversized sandwich cookies and specialty dessert cakes. As a matter of fact, the cobbler expansion will bring over a hundred new jobs to their factory.

In addition to the cobblers, we’re also bringing Ms. LaBelle’s apple pecan cake and sweet potato pound cake to select stores. The sweet potato pound cake was a joint venture to with a small Philadelphia business, Brown Betty Dessert Boutique. We will offer this delicious Southern-style treat in select stores in the Northeast.

The success of Patti’s sweet potato pie – and the resulting expansion of her personal recipe-based product line – is just one example of how we are working to transform our fresh bakery offerings through innovation. We are so proud to offer amazing new items across our entire bakery. Just last year, we added about 60 new items and we continue to innovate. Today, more than half of our items are prepared in our stores, and we’ve enriched our teams across the country with bakery technicians who’ve been training and helping our store associates to ensure everything comes out exactly right. On top of that, we’re simplifying our processes so that we can bake many different items at one temperature, allowing us to produce more fresh-baked goods for our customers every day.

It’s a sweet time to work in Walmart’s fresh bakery, and we’re excited to see our customers’ reactions as we work to deliver every ingredient just right.

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Life

From Lanterns to Lions, Ringing in Chinese New Year

Feb. 8 marks the start of Chinese New Year, China’s most important celebration for families. Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is a weeklong public holiday during which families celebrate a year of hard work and wish for good luck in the coming year.

Those shopping in our stores in China see lots of Chinese New Year decorations and traditional foods stocked for this busy time. For readers who aren’t in China, here’s some background on the celebrations.

Traditional Family Meals

Before the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar, people all over China travel to their hometowns to unite with their families and decorate their homes in red — a color that symbolizes good luck and joy — and prepare for Chinese New Year celebrations. The night before the Chinese New Year, we prepare a feast made up of symbolic foods:

  • In Chinese culture, a fish course represents wealth in the future, while peanuts signify longevity and good health.
  • Some food symbolism in Chinese New Year dishes is more visual, such as hot pot, which involves simmering meat and vegetables in a round pot at the center of the table. The shape of the pot represents perfection and satisfaction.
  • Dumplings are an example of a food with a more historical tie because they resemble the gold currency — Yuanbao — used in ancient China. Today, dumplings are still thought to signify wealth in the coming year and are a delicious treat stuffed with different fillings.

Celebrations

Like with New Year’s Eve in the U.S. and other western countries, Chinese New Year involves staying up late. We light firecrackers at midnight, a tradition that dates back to ancient folklore. Though the New Year is a cause for celebration now, legend has it that Chinese villagers used to stoke their fires with bamboo to keep away a terrifying, sharp-toothed monster that arose from the sea at the end of the lunar year to prey on people and livestock. Now, we use firecrackers to celebrate the new year and also scare off any bad luck that might be on the horizon.

Celebrations culminate in the Lantern Festival, where people gather to admire the illuminated lanterns (some floating, some carried by children, some fixed as decorations) and guess riddles written on them. On New Year’s Day, people also watch lion dances, in which participants don elaborate, mythical lion costumes that seem larger than life — and eat rice dumplings.

One of our family traditions is for children and grandchildren to wish elders in the family good wishes for the new year and, in turn, the elders will give children a red envelope of money for good luck and to buy toys and books.  Children often sleep with the red envelope under the pillow to bring good luck throughout the year.

The Year of the Monkey

This year is the year of the monkey, the ninth of 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. People born in the year of the monkey are believed to be energetic, witty and mischievous. I look forward to greeting the year of the monkey surrounded by my family and enjoying the snacks and festivities that come with the celebrations. No matter your Chinese zodiac, may the New Year bring good fortune to you and your family!

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Opportunity

One Walmart Associate’s Path to the Pentagon

Since 1997, Luke McCollum has lived somewhat of a double life, holding careers at both Walmart and the Navy Reserve.

While a retail role and a government job may seem like an unlikely pairing, he says the blending of both worlds is what has prepared him well for an exciting next step: Navy Vice Admiral, where he’ll serve as the Commander of America’s Navy Reserve Force. This is no small promotion – President Barack Obama had to appoint him to the role.

While this means Luke will be leaving Walmart’s home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, to work solely at the Pentagon, he says Walmart is a big reason why he’s able to take this new step. Why?

“Working here has made me a better Navy Reserve officer, and vice versa,” he said.

As vice president of Walmart’s logistics services, one of Luke’s duties is to oversee new distribution centers coming to life across the U.S. – from picking the location, to seeing it all in action with excited associates. He most recently experienced this with a new fulfillment center in Chino, California, and a new distribution center in Mankato, Minnesota. To Luke, it was exhilarating to see everything unfold, knowing that this would help serve customers better and provide new opportunities for our associates.

While his work and processes at Walmart are different than those at the Navy, he’s found common ground at both organizations in dealing with the large, complex and unpredictable. “In the Navy, we can never get comfortable because it’s always changing,” he said. “It forces us to think differently and strategically. We have to do a lot of that at Walmart, too.”

What Luke enjoys about both of his teams is their desire to learn new things. “I would be sitting in senior meetings in the Navy, and they would ask me how Walmart would solve a problem. The same happened in my Walmart meetings,” he said. “They have the appetite to change and grow. Both have had to evolve over the years. At Walmart, we try to understand how our customers have changed and how we can operate better to serve them. The Navy is no different. They serve a customer, too – the American people and the men and women on active duty.”

Having a really strong support system at home and at work is what has helped Luke hold down two careers. He gives a lot of credit to his family. When most people are heading home for the weekend, Luke has to get on a plane to the Middle East or the Pacific for another full work week. With a 24-hour flight back home and jumping right back into Monday, he doesn’t have much downtime. “You have to know what’s important because you can’t do everything,” he said.

Why do two jobs? For Luke, it’s all about the people. He thrives on seeing people do things they didn’t know they could do. “One of the definitions of leadership is to define reality, provide encouragement on the way and say thank you in between,” he said. “I’ve gotten to do that in both organizations.”

Luke is honored, humbled yet excited to take on this new job.

“I’ll miss my Walmart team, but my experiences here have prepared me well to take this next step,” he said.

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Community

When Disaster Strikes, Associates Provide Real-Time Relief

When forecasting warned that record rainfall could be coming to Louisiana, a team at Walmart’s home office did what they always do when severe weather is imminent: Pull together the right people to prepare for help.

Because there are about 30 Walmart stores and Sam’s Club locations in the Baton Rouge area where the flooding eventually hit, the company’s Emergency Operations Center had a responsibility to local associates and communities. Logistics, operations, and merchandising teams assembled quickly, first mapping alternate routes for trucks delivering to stores in and around Louisiana and ramping up shipments of diapers, bottled water and other essentials.

While some stores and clubs closest to Baton Rouge did have to close their doors because of flood damage, most have reopened now. Ensuring that corporate functions and teams on the ground can work together to make that happen is at the heart of the EOC’s role.

Formed in the early 2000s following 9/11, Walmart’s EOC was established to support associates and local communities in times of need. Whether it’s securing generators to restore power to facilities or acting as a call center so that associates and community members can locate and assist one another, the EOC is the hub that helps Walmart locations provide a sense of normalcy when disaster strikes.

With the recent Louisiana flooding displacing thousands of people from their homes, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have committed $1.5 million to organizations making a difference on the ground. Learn more about those efforts here.

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