December 15 and beyond

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC09017

I missed posting December 15 – 25.  Life got full, busy, and chaotic as it usually does.  Blogging got put on hold.  But paper ginger bread men were decorated.

 

DSC09019

 

Reindeer were made with hand prints.

 

DSC09040

And snowmen made with footprints.

DSC09044

And beautiful Christmas designs made with marbles dipped in paint and swished around in a pie plate.

 

DSC09038

The Christmas story was shared by the cutest preschoolers and kindergarten kids.

 

DSC09039

 

And the 1st – 8th grade members did an amazing job sharing about the real meaning of Christmas.

 

DSC09050

We purchased a “new to us” van two days before Christmas.  We’ve gone 9 years and 6 months as a one car family and grateful for all the money saved. A second vehicle is now going to make driving kids places just a bit easier.

 

DSC09056

 

Chocolate fondue was shared on Christmas Eve.

 

 

 

IMG_0013

Christmas Day included stocking and presents.

IMG_0029

And later on a relaxing trip to the coast–one of our favorite places.

IMG_0057

And a day trip to the Tillamook Cheese factory for some cheese sampling.

IMG_0072

A great last two weeks even if it wore some us out.  Looking forward to New Years Eve and a second week of Christmas Break.

Amazing Race Birthday Party

2013 is a birthday party year.  Growing up, my parents threw us a party with friends every other year.  The “off” year we did something special as a family or invited one friend along on an outing.

My husband and I live quite frugally.  We’ve never had a party where we have rented a room or had it a play gym.  Maybe someday we will go that route.  But right now we love opening our home to kids…and we’re both pretty good at planning games and activities.

Birthday parties are not just a time to celebrate my child, but also a time for friends to hang out together outside of school. It’s a controlled and safe setting for kids to play together.  This is why I pour most of energy and finances into the activities and food.  Not that cakes and decorations aren’t special and important.  I am just not as gifted in that area.  I don’t enjoy making cakes.  I don’t look forward to it.  To save money, I will make my own cake and try to enjoy the process as much as possible.  My kids don’t care if it’s lop sided or the writing is sloppy…at least not at this age.

So I am going to do three separate posts about the parties I threw this year.  One of the parties has happened yet.  It is next week.  One was last week.  My oldest’s was back in September.  So I will start with hers.  Now I should mention we always try to pick a theme of something they are really interested in.  We’ve done bugs, a backyard camping party, and a bulldozer/construction party.  Since we’ve been letting my oldest stay up later on Sunday nights to watch the Amazing Race, we thought it would be fun to do an Amazing Race birthday party.

I have planned many Amazing Race events for youth groups so the planning was not terribly difficult.

For invitations I simply used the amazing race logo.  I also got my clue sheets from the same website. The Amazing Race colors are black and yellow.  I decorated our eating area with black and yellow balloons and streamers.  I bought cheapie yellow table cloths, cups, silverware, and plates from the dollar store.  I decorated the whole fireplace with signs from the Amazing Race show like “roadblock” and “detour.”  But I also included signs you might see people holding in a race. All my signs were made with a large sheet of yellow butcher paper and a couple of black markers.

For the cake I simply made the Amazing Race logo on a rectangular cake.  It was pretty easy–not that hard to mess up.  Again I am not a cake decorator.  You will never see my cakes on Pinterest.  But my daughter did not care and enjoyed. it.

Image

For the actual race, our original plan was to have it start at our house and end up in a park.  But Oregon decided to have a very rainy September so we had to move the whole race indoors.  We live next door to our church so we utilized our house, the garage, and our church.  I got quite a few ideas on roadblocks or detours from this blog post from Million of Miles.

We put the girls first in partners.  They first had to head over to the awning in front of our church and do a successful water balloon toss (back and forth three times).  Next they had to run to an office door and pick up a clue.  After they received this clue one of the team members had to memorize a poem and say it perfectly to a judge.

ImageAfter they said the poem perfectly, they had to run to our garage.  I had construction paper on the table with everyone’s name on a piece.  The girls had to write 1-2 sentences about what they appreciated about that person.

Image

Next they ran into the house and my friend had a box with small paper cups filled with snacks.  At the bottom of five of the cups was a Disney Princess sticker.  The girls had to find one of the stickers.  They can only find a sticker by eating the contents in the cups.  Some found one right away.  Others were not so lucky and had to eat several cups of crackers and cereal.  I tried to use all healthy snacks.

Image

Then the girls had to run back over to church and could choose between two activities Baby Words or Baby Food.  In Baby Words they had to complete a short word search with baby items (like crib, pacifier).  I make my own word searches on Puzzle Maker.  In Baby Food, each team member had to eat a whole jar of baby food.  I was surprised the girls (most of who are 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders) were very reluctant to eat the baby food.  When I have done the same task with adults or middle schoolers, they guzzle it down.

After this task they had to find one more clue taped to a drinking fountain.  Then they had to run to the finish line which was in our backyard.  I had a box of dollar store prizes like a craft set, stickers, a princess puzzle etc.  I let every girl pick out a prize, but I let the winners and second place finishers pick first.  I did not do any special party favors.  Each girl walked away with a nice prize.

The race took up the majority of the party.  Afterwards we had pizza followed by cake and ending with presents.  All the girls had a fabulous time.

Image

I have learned with planning an Amazing Race event whether it’s a party or youth group outing requires a lot of adults to run the clue stations.  I asked two of my middle school girls from the youth group I lead to help along with a family friend.  They were happy to be involved.  Between them and my husband we had tons of help.  We don’t live near family so we have to rely on our friends.

It was a very busy but fun evening.

Surreal

For many years…probably soon after we were married in 2001…we wanted to take a trip to St. Maarten.  For those who don’t know where this is, it’s a Caribbean island.  Half the island is French and the other side is Dutch.  This was a dream even before we had kids.  We knew we would not be able to take the trip until our future kids were past the baby/toddler phase.

At one time we considered Hawaii instead since it’s closer to the Pacific Northwest versus the Midwest (where we used to live).  The husband was actually watching travel videos on Hawaii when I was in labor with the third child.  I kindly asked him to turn it off when it was time to push.

Then we realized why should we hold back on our dream?  Even if it took a couple more years.

St Maarten it is!

While we briefly considered the idea of a cruise, we realized we wanted a full week on the island.  We found on an all inclusive resort.

And we leave TOMORROW!

We’re a pretty frugal family.  We saved our money.  For years and years.  It adds a whole meaning to a vacation when you literally spent this much time saving for it,  The whole thing is a little surreal to me right now.

 

Day One: First Conversation

One conversation.  More listening than talking.  Engaging.  Asking questions.

Day one.

I spent the vast majority of the day at a rummage sale…which I love.  I see the MOPS rummage sale as a smaller version of Christmas.

I talked to someone and started with simple questions.  It turned into a very interesting thought provoking conversation about social justice and racial differences.  I would not have enjoyed learning from her and hearing her stories had I not made the effort.  Soon others were drawn into our conversation.

I was thinking about that scene from My Best Friend’s Wedding when Julianne intentionally takes Michael (her best friend who she also has feelings for) and his fiance Kimmy (who she is jealous) to a Karaoke bar after hearing about how much she hates them.  Michael and Julianne talk about Florence, Italy and all their memories there while Kimmy tries to find her way in the conversation…but is not welcomed.

We do that a lot.  We gravitate to who we know and the people lurking to the side…we don’t know how to bring them in.  Sometimes all it takes is a very simple question.  All I asked is:  “So do you like working at rummage sales?”

 

My first early morning hours Black Friday experience…

Back in the early 1990’s the day after Thanksgiving was simply called what it was:  the day after Thanksgiving.  It was a big shopping day.  I remember my mom braving the late fall snow showers and hitting the mall at 7 AM and returning in the late afternoon.  She put dinner on the table, loaded the dishwasher, cleaned the kitchen and went back out shopping again.  She accomplished nearly all her Christmas shopping in one single day.  I thought she was crazy.

Never did I think twenty years later I would be braving the cold (and thankfully November in Oregon is usually 15-20 degrees warmer than in Michigan) standing in a long winding line at 11:55 PM at the end of a Thanksgiving day in a parking garage counting the minutes until Kohls opened their front doors.  No, I am not a crazy person.  But I do love a good deal.

We have a Thanksgiving tradition of scoping out the ads, circling gift possibilities, making a schedule of store runs, and strategizing where to go first.  Four years ago it meant sleeping in, having a relaxing morning, and trying hit the stores before noon.  Now it’s a little bit more intense. Again I love a good deal.

And Kohls was our hot spot this year.  My kids had toys on their list that we would not be able to afford at full price.  It was beyond our budget.

Honestly we don’t go all out with Christmas gifts and we never have.  Our kids get three gifts from us plus a few stocking stuffers.  They are using their own spending money now to buy gifts for one another.  They also buy and make gifts for teachers, coaches, cousins etc.  We try to emphasize giving as much as possible–not lusting after “stuff.”

Black Friday gets a bad rap and I see why it does–pushy crowds, materialism, people cutting in line, cutting Thanksgiving Day too short.  The truth is I saved  approximately $110.00 buying the doorbuster items at Kohl’s at midnight on Black Friday and using a coupon.  I can’t think of any other day of the year where that would be possible.  Plus I had a great conversation with another lady in line–she  gave me the 15% coupon.  I got to go shopping by myself which hardly ever happens.  Even though we kept commenting about the strange people that early morning Black Friday brings in (and I guess now I am one of them), everyone was generally upbeat including the employees.

Call me crazy, but I would do it again next year.

By the way I was running off adrenaline after I left Kohl’s and went to Wal-Mart where I scored a few deals (but most of the better deal occurred a few hours earlier).  I went to bed at 2 AM.  Then my family went shopping from 10 AM – noon.  And the best part of it was fun, a bonding experience, and we’re almost done with our Christmas shopping.

 

I learned to swim!

A little less than one year ago I shared about three things I wanted to try.   My three things were sewing, speaking (as in public speaking), and swimming.  I tackled two out of three.  Sewing is currently on hold.

Swimming is the one I am the most proud.  I struggled with swimming lessons as a kid. I do not know if it was poor teachers, lack of interest, not enough motivation, or fear of the water.  Maybe a mix of all those things. I learned the survival float, could tread water, and float on my back.  I never learned any of the strokes or how to breathe properly.

I had established myself as a runner and was planning on running my second marathon.  I discovered Team Winter started by a young girl named Winter Vinecki that supports the Prostate Cancer Foundation. I chose to run for this charity in memory of my grandpa.  At that point in time, many of Team Winter atheletes were triathletes.  I remember talking to Winter’s mom about swimming.  “I can run and I can bike, but I just can’t swim,” I said, “so a triathlon is out for me.”

Running for Team Winter in 2010

I began to think about that.  Why not swimming?  Why can’t I swim?  And why should I not be able to swim?  It is not too late.  I read the average first time triathlete is in their early 40’s.  I am not quite there yet.  Why not try something new?  I may love it.  Even if I don’t, the journey of learning it will be worth it.

When I put my oldest in swimming two years ago, I had the goal to eventually put myself in swim lessons too.  It just took me two more years until I had the extra time and money.

My oldest has loved swim lessons from Day 1.

For the past seven Saturdays, I have been taking adult swim lessons at another gym.  My teacher is probably in his in teens or at least early 20’s, but he has taught me so much in a short amount of time.  I can now swim freestyle.  I can actually do laps!  Now I’m learning breaststroke.  I love it!

My oldest took this picture of me swimming freestyle.

My teacher thinks I will be able to do a sprint triathlon in the spring if I continue to swim a couple times of week throughout the winter.  I never thought I’d even consider a triathlon. It has truly been a joy to share this with my kids and practice swimming WITH them.  Not just sitting alongside the pool and watching them.

I was the kid who quit things and gave in when discouragement came.  I am thankful to be the adult who is striving forward.  I am ready to “tri!”

If you are at all interested in following my training, you can read my exercise blog, 19 miles and counting.  This blog will help answer the question:  “How in the world do you have time for this?” I just schedule it in among everything else!

Happy Anniversary, Dad & Mom!

Isn’t it funny (and maybe a little scary) when your kids verbalize something that sounds like you talking?  Sometimes I hear myself and I think, “That’s my mom!” or “I sound like my dad.”

My parents are celebrating their 44th anniversary this week!  44 years!!  I’m only 1/4 of the way there.  Of course there have been challenges and bumps along the road, but my parents have been a living example for me…and so many others.

I was thinking about some of the funny quotes I remember from each parent…

My cool looking dad in his 70’s garb holding me with Grandma sitting next to him.

From my dad:

“If you’re having fun you don’t have to do it.” i.e. if your older sister is telling you that you HAVE to play game SHE wants to play and if you would rather keep playing your game, that is OK!

“Clean it up, bub.” i.e. stop talking about things that are inappropriate.

Let’s go sports fans!”My dad would say this anytime we were leaving to go somewhere.  We really weren’t “a sports” family aside from watching the Chicago Cubs faithfully throughout the 1980’s.

“If you thought of it, someone has probably done it.” My dad would say this if we came up with a really strange story and asked him if he thought it could really happen.

“Time tweet.”  How my dad would call us for supper.

My dad always told me I am “female” him.  It’s very true.  We have similar personalities and see the world through similar lenses.  My dad has a tremendous heart for people–all people.  My friends often comment how warm and fun loving my dad is.

He was a runner and later a swimmer and still a biker…and now a walker.  Never was a marathon runner or triathlete, but  he took us swimming, biking, and occassionally running.  He took me on bike trips and taught me how to shift gears, follow traffic laws, and push myself when I was feeling tired.  This is something I am already passing down to my kids.  My oldest already loves swimming and biking with me.

My grandma (same grandma that was in the other picture) and my mom enjoying pizza with me (age thirteen) and my younger brother.

From my mom:

Well it didn’t grow legs and walk away.” She would say this anytime we could not find something.  I always pictured an object growing little legs and jumping out the window.

“Eat this and if you’re still hungry you can have more.”I say this to my kids in the exact same way my mom does!  This was my mom’s way of doing “portion control” at meals.

“I’m going to go sit in the brown chair for 15 minutes.”  This was my mom’s refuge to take a much needed break.  We are officially owners of the “brown chair.”  I have plently of brown chair moments although my fifteen minutes somehow gets closer to a half hour…or sometimes longer.

“The food’s not getting any warmer!”  This is what my mom would say if she called us to dinner and we didn’t come right away.  My mom should have just taken our chairs away and banned us from the dinner table.  Disrespectful children not coming when they’re called!

My mom was a master “couponer” before there was Internet and extreme couponing classes.  She could write a whole blog on frugal living and saving money.  My mom is an amazing seamstress.  She made all my girls’ bridesmaid dresses when I got married and has made countless Halloween costumes including ones for my own kids.  I am sorry to say I never followed either path as I am not a coupon clipper and I cannot sew anything.

My mom had the gift of hospitality.  Many people were welcomed in our house and my mom always went the extra mile.  That was a beautiful example to me as I find myself enjoying the art of hospitality and the joys of serving in the church.

Happy anniversary to my mom and dad!

My parents with me and my three kids taken last Christmas.

Saving Money On Kid’s Sports and Activities

Now that I graduated from a mom of babies and toddlers to a mom with preschoolers and school age children, I feel the push to put my kids in activities.  Soccer to gymnastics to karate to cheerleading–the possibilities are endless.

I was talking to a friend who was signing up her four-year old for tee ball.  The team has fourteen four-year old boys signed up and no brave parent interested in coaching.  I cannot say I blame them.  She said, “The more I thought about it, I questioned why we are doing this.  Does it not make more sense to bat a ball around and play catch for an hour each day in the backyard with my son?  Is that not better than organized tee ball for a four-year old?”

The childhood obesity epidemic is all over the news. There is a push to put our kids in activities all year-long at a young age.  One of my friends pointed out that the year round sports clog up their schedule especially during the dinner hour.  They resort to fast food meals.  Or they eat the candy, nachos, or hot dogs that are sold at the games.  Is this really battling obesity?

I realize some kids are passionate and driven by sports while others are not.  I come from a “non-sports family.” I have been the most athlete driven the past ten years as an adult than as a child.  I do realize the importance of activities.  They give our kids an outlet for meeting other kids, get us more involved in our communities, teach teamwork, build self-confidence etc.

How do we keep our kids active without draining our budget?  Here’s five “frugal sports/activity tips” I came up with.

1)  Do not start them in a sport until they show signs of being ready.  I was talking to a mom who put her three-year old daughter in swim lessons.  She said she wished she would have waited a few years.  Her daughter cried all the way to the pool and struggled through a half hour lesson.  Not worth the hassle.

2)  Utilize parks and pools.  Climbing, swinging on the bars, throwing a ball back and forth are all great activities for preschoolers.  They do not need constant structure.  Some gyms and community pools offer summer only memberships or discounted prices.

3)  Buy used sports equipment.  If you don’t know if they are going to like dance or karate or soccer, use Craig’s List, eBay, or Facebook to find gently used attire and equipment.  You always buy nicer items if they fall inlove with the sport.

4)  Shop around.  There are about five different places my daughter could take swimming.  We intentionally picked a pool right in our neighborhood.  It is about the same price as other places, but we don’t spend as much gas money driving there (we can even walk and ride bikes).  Nor do I spend mindless time in the car.

5) Take a season off.  If you are having a tough month financially or a parent has been recently laid off, take a season off.  Kids are young enough that it will not set them back.  As parents we need to be intentional about giving our kids breaks and rest time as well.

I’m linking this up with Frugal Friday

Frugal Living & Giving

Those of us who have chosen to live frugally learn to live within our means.  Living simply opens your heart to those who are forced to live frugally due to crisis situations or unforseen circumstances.  Your compassion grows for the poor.

With that being said, giving is complicated.  Have you ever given food to a homeless person on the street and he turned it away because he wanted something else?  Or given money to the single mom of four who has been attending your church and complained about barely making rent.  Then you discover she purchased a new ipad and is planning a Florida vacation.  I cannot tell you the number of times I hear people make comments when they see poverty-stricken homes with satellite dishes in the backyards.

How do we respond to all this?

First of all anytime you give to anyone, it is a gift.  Period.  When you give money to someone in need, you cannot assume they are going to use the money the way you want them to.   I am not saying that you should never give a friend money or pass out food to a homeless man.  Do not give to them with strings attached.

You might want to consider giving to a rescue mission instead.  Keep in mind many of these agencies and missions have established strong relationships with those in need and understand the ins and outs of poverty.  If you are skeptical–visit a rescue mission, volunteer at one, have lunch with the director, or subscribe to their newsletter.

Second of all realize that some people struggle with money management.  Living on a budget is not something they were taught.  Debt or frivolous spending is normal.   Many rescue missions and churches are teaching people “life skills” such a balancing a checkbook, grocery shopping on a budget, cooking instead of eating out, starting small businesses, writing a resume, applying for a job etc.

Our hearts might be in the right place when it comes to giving.  We also need wisdom and integrity that we are using our resources in a positive way.

I’m linking this with Frugal Friday

Feels like winning a cash prize everytime

I shared many frugal household tips in  50 ways to stretch a dollar last fall.  Tip #14 was emptying out your change daily and putting in a jar.  Not just emptying out your purse or wallet.  I often find change in the couch cushions or the bottom of the washer. 

We went awhile without turning in the change.  The coins in jar were piling up and spilling over onto the fireplace mantle.  My husband brought in all the change while I was away in Michigan.  And he walked out of the bank with $125.00.

I know it is not the same winning a cash prize.  But it sure feels that way!  An extra $125.00 to put towards something.  If it’s a tight month that can make a difference.

I love our little change jar!

I am linking this with Life As A Mom Frugal Friday