Blue & Gold…

josh b&g

Josh officially graduated from Bear to Webelo recently in our Cub Scout annual Blue and Gold ceremony. For those who are not familiar with Cub Scouts, Webelos is the top two levels of Cub Scouts before the boys go on to Boy Scouts. It is made up of 4th and 5th graders and it is an acronym for We Be Loyal Scouts (WE-BE-LO-S). Our Blue & Gold ceremony is what the boys work toward all year. They have to meet all the requirements for getting their patches including getting their whittling chip (learning how to safely use a pocket knife), riding their bikes for extended distances and learning how to maintain them and using tools to build a tool box. It takes lots of planning and time to ensure the boys get to this point in their journey before the ceremony in late February. It is also a lot of fun!

Included in the Blue & Gold ceremony is a cake contest among the boys. Some of the boys really go all out for their cake design. In the past, Josh’s cakes have been a campfire and a boat but this years is the best yet. It is a pocketknife and a bar of soap – the way they learn to whittle is using a bar of soap. It really “takes the cake”…

B&G cake

josh ribbon
Josh won “Judges Choice” for his cake! Yeah!

There is also a centerpiece competition that is as much about the leaders competing as it is the boys. Each den has to make centerpieces to decorate their tables with. We have made rockets before but this year went over the top. Our centerpieces were Blue and Gold (fish) centerpieces. Yes, that is a live goldfish in each centerpiece bowl. Luckily, we found families willing to adopt all the fish after the ceremony.

b&g centerpiece

b&g

 

On a funny side note, Josh won the raffle for a free haircut. As you can see from his picture, he is adverse to hair cuts so I don’t think he will want to be using that anytime soon.

We are so proud of Josh and the other boys in Den 7 for completing all their tasks this year and moving up to the next level. Cub Scouts has made some great memories for Josh and for us as a family. And Blue & Gold is a great way to celebrate!

Valentine’s Day…

britt cake

For us, Valentine’s Day has always seemed like a made up holiday that was invented to help retail with the lull between Christmas and Easter. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love love. I love celebrating those I love. I just don’t need Hallmark telling me when to do it and the pressure to get everything just perfect. So, we celebrate a little differently around here.

We do not go out to dinner. Dinner on Valentine’s Day is over priced and crazy busy. So I make a nice dinner at home that the entire family can enjoy. This year I made Sesame Chicken, rice, broccoli and fortune cookies. No, I didn’t make the fortune cookies. I found a box at the dollar store and they were tasty and fun. Brittany also made us a cake using a boxed cake mix and some icing I had in the pantry. I think she did a great job!

We give practical gifts. I asked John for birdseed for the birdfeeder in the backyard. He did a great job and got me a huge bag of songbird seed and some Ghirardelli chocolates. I gave him a variety of items each with a little saying on it. He got long fireplace matches with “We are a match made in heaven” on it. He also got some Krazy Glue that had “You and me, baby, we’re stuck like glue” on it. I got him several other practical gifts with corny sayings on them. I also stopped at the local gourmet donut shop and bought 2 high priced donuts for us to share – one was even wrapped in bacon.

For the kids, we got them gifts that I had found on clearance after Christmas. Josh got a Tech Deck ramp and Brittany got a Crayola fashion creator. I added in some candy I have picked up marked down after Christmas and everyone was satisfied.

The kids each made their own valentines for school along with Valentine boxes. Brittany made mustaches on popsicle sticks that said “I mustache you a question – will you be my Valentine?”. Her box was a man with a giant mustache. Josh’s Valentine box was a big toilet and he made valentines that were toilet lids that said “You are my number 2”.

VD boxes

For us, the largest part of Valentine’s Day is just being togehter. I helped to host the Valentine’s Day party in Brittany’s class complete with a chocolate fountain. And John and I had a wonderful breakfast together – just the two of us. We finished out the day with everyone cuddling on the couch and watching a free movie from Redbox.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be fun. You just have to be creative and enjoy your loved ones!

 

A Birthday Party Mystery…

My oldest will be 11 tomorrow and we threw her birthday party yesterday. She and her friends had a great time and she said that it was the best birthday party that she has ever had. What we did was ultra fun and cost very little money. We had a Murder Mystery Dinner party! She loves to dress up, act out a part and most of all direct other in their acting so this seemed like a perfect fit for her. We started the planning 6 weeks ago and bought almost everything either on clearance or at a yard sale.

First step, we purchased a box containing all the murder mystery moving parts. It came with a list of characters, dialog for each of them, a tape of narration (we had to burn it to CD) and invitations for 8 people. I found it new at a yard sale and paid $1. It got us started on our adventure.

Next, Brittany chose who she wanted to come to the party and what characters she wanted them to play. She chose her guests according to personality style and tried to match them with the personality or interests of the character they were playing. For example, Brittany chose one girl to play the part of a soccer player since she already plays soccer and we knew she would have a uniform she can wear. Our intent was to go as easy as possible on the guests and their parents for finding costumes for the party. We sent out invitations a month before the party so that everyone had time to find the costumes that they would need. It helped that Brittany’s birthday is less than a week after Halloween so there were plenty of items being marked down on clearance. A lot of our guests also found their costumes at the Goodwill or yard sales. I found the fur that Brittany is wearing for $1 at a local yard sale.

For decorations, we used what we had or could find. The mystery box had ideas for decorating but Brittany decided to use a theme of green, white and red – the colors of the Italian flag. She made a paper chain using those colors and draped it from the ceiling (with her dad’s help). We them gathered up both a white and green tablecloth and put them on the dining room table. I added a red felt scarf down the middle to give us a pop of color. Brittany set the table with our best plates, napkins and silverware. I had found 8 light up plastic wine glasses at the yard sale for $1. The girls loved drinking from those and they each got to take their light up glass home with them as part of the party favor.

For goody bags, I hit the clearance sections of Target. I normally can find Halloween clearance to use for Brittany’s goodies bags but this year the selections seemed slim. Luckily, I found some party favors on clearance in a an end cap a few weeks ago and made most of the goody bags with that. I was able to make 8 goody bags for about $10 total (including the wine glasses mentioned above).

Food is often an expensive part of the party but this year it was easy peasy. There were several menu options available in the booklet that came with the mystery box. Being that the party was set in an Italian restaurant, we just made Brittany’s favorite Italian meal – spaghetti, meatballs and garlic bread. Here is the food breakdown, all bought on sale over the last few weeks:

Box of spaghetti noodles: $.60
Jar of spaghetti sauce: $1.25
Bag of salad: $1.50
2 loaves garlic bread: $2.50
Olives: $2
Frozen Meatballs (1 1/2 bags): $5

Total meal to feed 8 girls (and 4 family members): $12.85

As for the cake, Brittany and I made it ourselves. I had found a picture of a spaghetti and meatballs cake here on Food Network and she loved it. We used donut holes for the meatballs, red glitter icing for the spaghetti sauce, regular icing (tinted yellow) for the noodles and boxed white cake mix (bought on sale, of course!). The entire cake was under $5 to make. What a bargain!

It is more work and stress to throw a birthday party yourself but the results are well worth it. You are able to plan the party to your exact specifications and do it on a budget. The key is the start the planning early and be on the lookout for the parts you need to make it work. And most of all, be flexible, and remember that is really all about celebrating a milestone.

Happy Halloween!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! 

Creepy picture of Brittany...weird.

What are you going to be for Halloween this year? My son has decided to be the Grim Reaper, which I bought for him almost new at a yard sale for only $3. My daughter is either going to be a witch (like her friends) or a peacock (which we got on clearance after Halloween last year). I would normally dress up but it is frigid here this year so I think I am just going to be a very cold mom walking around.

Here is a picture of the kids at Halloween last year…

Brittany decided to be a gypsy and Josh was a bank robber. We had all of the costumes except for the mask Josh is wearing and it was $1.00. As you can see, we don’t spend a lot on Halloween costumes.

Have a safe and fun Halloween and I hope you get all your favorite candy while Trick-or-Treating!

Ghoul Scout Camping..


Brittany and I loaded up the minivan on Saturday morning with tents, sleeping bags, pillows and 3 more girls and another adult and headed to Ghoul Scout Camping. It was one day and night of creepy fun including making feathered masks and spider hair barrets, pumpkin carving, relay races, archery, canoeing and a creepy scare trail through the woods (which yours truly did not go on, I stayed behind with one of the girls).

This weekend was wonderful even though I hit two small speed bumps. We had only been at camp for about an hour when lunch time hit. I was eating when I felt something different and realized that I had broken my tooth. This the the second time I have broken a tooth and both times happened when I was eating a sandwich. Yes, a normal soft bread sandwich. Not jawbreakers or milk duds or taffy but just a turkey sandwich. Fortunately, it did not hurt and except for feeling a hole where part of my tooth used to be, it did not slow us down.

Then Sunday morning my iPhone got wet and refused to power on. I had it in my backback near a bottle of water and did not realize that the cap the water had not been properly screwed on to the bottle. So, I went to retrieve my phone and found it dripping wet. I am not exactly sure how long it had been that way but not more than 2 hours since that was the last time I had used it. I immediately took it out of it’s case and dried it off as best I could. When I got home and googled wet iPhones, I found advice on how to dry it out. It is currently sitting in a tupperware bowl of rice. The advice I have been given is to let it dry out there for 24-48 hours and then see what happens. The funny part is that I won’t be able to call the dentist about having my tooth looked at. Ironic.

Speaking of irony, there is a funny story about the picture shown above. The girls did pumpkin carving with a dad who had come camping with his daughter. As they are cutting open their pumpkins, he is telling them about slicing off his finger with a knife. Not once but twice. The same finger. The good part of the story is that the first time, the hospital sewed the finger on crooked but the second time he cut it off, they sewed it on straight. He also helped build the campfire and told our girls a story of his father-in-law setting him on fire twice. No joke. I am not sure this is the guy I want to teach our girl scouts about knife and fire safety.

There were dozens of really great things that happened to offset the few bad ones. I really loved spending time with Brittany and her Girl Scout friends. It is so important that these girls have time with women at this critical age where they are on the verge of womanhood themselves. They need to see that they are capable of handling things themselves – like paddling a canoe across a cove of the lake without an adult in the boat. They also need to see how to work together as a team – like putting up a tent or setting up camp. And how to be creative – our girls came up with a dance routine and a song to perform at the “Macabaret” Saturday night with very little notice or prompting.

It was also so sweet to hear the girls up giggling and laughing well past lights out time. I smiled as I thought back to my own years at slumber parties with my friends. These will be memories that she treasures as she grows up. And I am glad that I can be a part of making those happen for her. Even though I broke a tooth, maybe lost an iPhone, got very little sleep and froze my petunia off, I wouldn’t trade these memories with Brittany for anything.

 

Dairy Free…

I have had stomach problems for most of my life. Even as a child I remember not being able to drink milk or eat ice cream without getting a stomach ache. I never went to the doctor and got a formal lactose intolerance diagnosis, I just avoided those two things. But my stomach has not felt “right” in a long time. I was going through a particularly bad episode recently and I broke down in tears. I HAD to find out what was wrong with me.

In the past, I have seen several gastroenterologists and had lots of tests – Upper and lower G.I. and the required colonoscopy. But those had always come back as normal. The last gastro I went to thought the problems were stressed induced and prescribed Xanax for me to be on to reduce stress. Admitedly, I am high strung but there was no way I was going to be doped up all day and in a haze just so I could have a good tummy. Plus, I had a good feeling that the problem was really food related more than anything.

I began to do some research and John suggested I keep a food diary for a few weeks. At the same time I decided to go completely dairy free and see if that made a difference. I am not sure why I haven’t tried this before. I think because it is so scary to think of what I will have to give up – no butter or cheese being the two most difficult for me. But I have done it and I have never felt better. I have had to change what I eat sometimes in very dramatic ways (no pizza) and sometimes just small ways (no butter on popcorn). But the plus side is that I am feeling like a new person.

Here are some other changes I have made:

  • limiting sugar
  • limiting carbs
  • only drinking water until dinner time
  • no alcohol
  • no peanut butter (also one of the hardest ones)
  • no coffee
  • eating smaller meals more frequently (it feels like being on an infant feeding schedule sometimes)

 

I am not sure if any of these have also made a difference in how my stomach feels or if it was just the dairy. One perk is that I can tell you that I have finally broken through the weight plateau that I had hit and lost 3 lbs. But a downside is that this also means that I am often making myself a separate meal from everyone else or adjusting what everyone eats because mommy can’t eat it.

As for becoming dairy free, I expect this to be a lifestyle change. The real test will be with the holidays coming up – I just might have to bring my own food which will also be difficult. I am not sure if I will ever go in a get a “real” diagnosis that lactose intolerance is my problem but as long as I am feeling fine, I am okay with that.

A Budget Friendly Summer…

This has been a Groupon summer. I started the summer knowing that if we wanted to maximize our fun on a slim budget, I would have to be creative. My first stop was all the daily deal sites and I followed it up with coupons and creative ideas. Here is how it went down:

 

Sip & Stroke Art Camp
This deal was on Groupon. They offered a 3 hour camp class for kids at $15/child. You could use it on any day during the summer and it included things such as clay sculpting, painting and jewelry making. My kids love to get dirty and be creative so we held out for the clay class. They had a great time and even though this was a costlier excursion, it was still a good deal.

Let’s Roll Skate Center
The kids love to skate and with 100 degree temps, we needed to find some stuff to do inside. I saw deal for this place on Groupon too but I already had a coupon for BOGO so that is what I used. For less than $10, my kids got to skate in the AC all afternoon and I got to sit and read a book. Well worth the money.

SkyZone
I have written about this place before, it has all the trampolines. The first time we went I had a Groupon for half price but this time I negotiated a deal for cheaper as a group with our Cub Scout pack. The kids got to jump in the air conditioning for 90 minutes at $11/child. And I got to use their free wi-fi undisturbed. And an extra bonus is that they were exhausted afterward which meant a peaceful nights sleep for us all.

Studio Movie Grill
This is my favorite place to watch movies. You have a big cushy chair and a table in front of you. Someone comes to bring you drinks and popcorn and they are always running deals on Groupon. I bought this several times this summer at $6/person for a newly released movie and a drink. Their popcorn is also reasonable at $4.25 for the kids and I to share. There is no way we can go to AMC and watch the movies for less than $20 for the three of us.

Regal Cinemas  
Speaking of movies, Regal Cinemas has their Kids Summer Camp which offers older kid movies at $1/person. The movies are typically from last year so if there was something you didn’t get to see, it is a great way to see it for cheap. We are heading to see Smurfs this week, even though we have seen it, it is still a fun outing.

Adrenaline Climbing
Same deal as Skyzone, I got a group discount by booking a Cub Scout event but I have seen daily deals for this place too. My kids love to try their hand at rock climbing and are actually very good at it. When you belay the kids yourself, you save even more money. This was $9/kid and they were exhausted afterward. A great indoor activity that still keeps them moving.

Laser Voyage Cafe
The kids liked this place too! I bought a daily deal that allowed the kids to play three games of laser tag (each were 15 mins long), $10 in arcade tokens and 3 times through the laser maze (although they let the kids go 10 times each since they weren’t busy) for $9.50 each kid. It was a multi level play area shaped like a pirate ship and once the kids got the hang of it, it was very fun to play. I only purchased a deal for them to play so I spent my time in the parent’s lounge area surfing the free wi-fi – oh, the sacrifices I make for my children!

Zoo Atlanta
Not many people know this, but you can actually check out passes to the zoo from the library. I put my name on the waiting list over a year ago and my turn came up this summer. John went by the library and checked out our passes and we went to the zoo for no cost. It was actually the best zoo experience that we have ever had!

World of Coke
This is Josh’s most favorite place to go in the world. We try to take him once a summer and let him drink as much soda as he can hold. His little eyes light up like beacons, we are not sure if it is from the sugar or the caffeine. This year I realized that you can “buy” tickets to World of Coke with your coke reward points. I didn’t have enough for all four of us but I did have enough for two adult tickets – that saved us $32! I guess I now know what I will be saving my points toward for next summer.

Lake Lanier Islands Waterpark
This is not exactly frugal but it can be budget friendly if you work it. We paid $69/person for a season pass and we use it atleast once a week. I figured that the cost comes out to be less than $10/time we go and it gives us something to do that cools us off. We bring our own snacks, drinks and lunch so that we don’t have any food costs while we are there, which also helps offset the price. There was a daily deal on this too for a one day pass for half the admission price. Not a bad way to spend a very hot summer day.

We rounded the summer out with trips to see family, a camp or two (I volunteered at Girl Scout camp so both kids went for $20 total, what a deal!), and trips to the neighborhood pool. With enough planning and careful consideration, you can have a very fun summer for not a lot of money.

 

The couple that plays together, stays together…

John took Friday off to spend the last day of school with me. He does that a few times a year, takes a day off just so we can spend the day together. I think this is one of the reasons why our marriage stays strong. We make time to be together and we both know that the couple that plays together, stays together. Earlier in the week, we had brainstormed about how to spend the last day of school – my idea was a relaxing day at the Lake Lanier Islands, just having fun in the water and sun. John wanted to try out the new four wheeler that we bought at a yard sale last weekend. Well, John hurt his leg earlier this week (more on that later) so that ruled out anything to do with swimming or water. I had been wanting to try out the new four wheeler too, so we packed a picnic lunch and loaded up the four wheeler to have a fun day together.

We rode for 2 hours at Wissenhut in Dahlonega, GA, which is about 40 minutes from our house. They have 12-15 miles of trails through the woods – some of them easier than others. John drove most of the time but I got a little time behind the wheel. It was awesome! The four wheeler is quick and it is easier to turn off road than it has been on the road (I had been riding it around the ‘hood, just a big).

It was a very memorable end to the school year, just John and I spending time together.

 

Kite Day…


In celebration of the last week of school, my kids have had fun themed days this week. Monday was Beach Day. Tuesday was Book Muncher Day (don’t ask). Today was Kite Day. We are not big Kite flyers in our family but this was a site to behold. Imagine 50 4th graders all flying kites high in the air. Some were shaped like aviary, butterflies, rainbows and airplanes while  others had a more cultural theme, Angry Birds or Barbie. Brittany’s kite was given to her by John’s mom a few years ago and this was maybe the second time that we had used it.

The weather was perfect, just slightly windy and sunny. We got the kite up and got some wind under it but some of these kids got theirs so high in the sky we had a hard time seeing it. I couldn’t help but sing “Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height, let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring…”

What a nice way to say goodbye to the school year.

Easter on a budget…

Ok, I know this is a little late but I wrote this post before Easter and then in getting Easter put together, I forgot to post it. So, maybe this will help you out next year. It is never too early to start, especially as all Easter should be clearanced out right now. Tip: Chocolate freezes really well. Oh, and as you can see we are very formal at Easter. Josh in his new tuxedo t-shirt and Brittany in her oriental dress she bought at a yard sale for $1. That is how we roll…

As the Easter Bunny comes hoping down the bunny trail, the budget often goes following after him. How do you give you kids a great Easter without breaking the budget? Get creative!

The first thing I do is decide on a theme for their Easter basket. In the past I have done a beach theme, movie theme, game theme and art theme. There are elements involved with each theme that basically stay the same each time. Each theme has a holder/basket, filler and candy.

Holder/Basket

With each theme, I try to first think of an inexpensive holder that will work in place of a traditional “basket”.  I don’t typically use a traditional Easter basket but something that the kids can use in conjunction with their gift. When I do a beach theme, I use a sand pail. When doing a movie theme, I might use a popcorn bowl. For the art theme, I used an empty paint bucket (found at home improvement stores) or an art caddy. To a special touch, I use a colored permanent marker (metallic or glittery works well) to write the kid’s name on the outside.

Filler

The filler is the most fun part of the Easter basket. This is where you need to be creative in order to not break the bank. I normally hit the dollar sections at large department stores (Walmart, Target and Michaels) or the dollar stores. I look for items that won’t just fill the area but be something the kids can really use. For a beach theme, you can use sunscreen, sunglasses, swim goggles, sand toys and a beach towel (I had a friend monogram a $1 beach towel one year for free and when she was done it looked just like a towel from Pottery Barn Kids). For a game theme, fill the basket with simple games like checkers or Uno. For a movie theme, buy a DVD as your “centerpiece” and fill in the remainder with fun drinking straws or popcorn flavoring. For the art theme, incorporate paint, paintbrushes, markers and pencils.

Candy

No Easter basket is complete with a chocolate bunny. Whether you go with big and hollow or small and solid, it doesn’t feel like Easter without a chocolate bunny. And even though no one really likes Peeps in our house, we always include them in the Easter basket as a tradition. We actually use them for experiments in our house – like putting them in the microwave until they swell to gigantic proportions.  This is also a great time to use coupons to reduce the cost of your Easter basket. I recently bought two bags of Easter candy on sale for $2.88/bag. I had a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon that totaled $3. That reduced the cost of my bags of candy to $1.38/bag for brand name candy. And it gave me enough to fill all their Easter eggs. I also incorporate other food into Easter baskets. For a movie theme, this is a great time to throw in some popcorn or movie size boxed candy. I will also throw in a bottle of flavored soda bought on sale because it is not something they get very often. The options are endless when you really start to think about it.

Use your imagination and see what you can put together. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and it helps to follow a theme. Happy Easter!