Sunday, July 28, 2019

Our First Camp Drop-Off (as parents)

Today we did it, we dropped off Annabeth at summer camp, alone, by herself, no mother daughter, just Annabeth.


First tears of the day? Owen. 7:15 AM "I will miss you Gaga!"
Second tears of the day? AB 8:05 "I am going to miss you all too much to go"
The rest of the tears of the day. All of us. All day.

I am scared - she's never been alone over night more than one night and only ever to Mark's parents house or at house for the couple of nights that we went to the hospital to have Owen.
The last two summers she and I had SO much fun at Mother/Daughter Weekend that I was sure she'd want to do one more year of it. Nope. "I am ready to go alone Mama"

Depsite our fears, our nerves, we dropped her off with hugs, smiles, and encouragement because:

Camp is where...

- We grew up.
- Our home away from home.
- Where we fell in love with Jesus.
- Where I was sure heaven is real.
- Where I fell back in love with myself after a long year of not even liking myself.
- Where we belonged when we didn't feel like we belonged anywhere else.
- Where we served as JCs
- Where we served on staff
- Where we met our best friends
- Where we met each other.
- Where the story of us began
- Where we got engaged
- Where we worked after college
- Where I worked even after we were married.
- Where I couldn't wait to go with the kids after Kindergarten
- Where we couldn't wait to let our kids grow up

Camp is where...

- They will grow up
- Hopefully they will call home
- They will learn so much about Jesus and we pray fall in love with Him
- They will learn their own things about faith, life, themselves
- Camp is where they will push their limits (Annabeth did the zipline alone at just 5 years old!)
- They will meet their own friends

What the Lord did at camp, for both Mark and myself, added SO much in each of our lives and in our story together. We cannot wait to see what He has planned for her time there this week and for all the time our children will spend there in the future.

We signed her in, talked to old friends who are on staff, and got her to her cabin. Within 10 minutes she was ready for us to leave and to run to the tire playground with a new friend. I cannot wait to hear about her adventures when we pick her up!

Proud to be a Shawnee Sister
Already sporting her brand-new camp shirt!
Happy Adventures Nanners!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Frugal Friday 302

Happy Frugal Friday!
Did you miss us last week? We missed you all! So this is a 2 Week, MEGA Frugal Friday!

Here is how we saved money/spent money wisely/made extra money the past two weeks:

- I continued running my Usborne Books & More business. I am excited to have completed my certification to be an Educational Services Representative and I look forward to servicing schools and libraries. I also kicked off our Style Dance Summer 2019 Cards for a Cause Fundraiser.

- We met our friends the Eblings in Columbus. We finished out our Kids Commons Museum punchcard by treating their family to the museum. We also played at the Commons playground across the street after a packed lunch. Lots of fun for $0!

- We enjoyed a week in Chicago (well technically Barrington) for Fuzion Dance Camp. Annabeth earned a partial scholarship to Fuzion and had a wonderful week dancing! My sister came along, she drove and paid for gas, and we enjoyed a special week with Owen.

- I was able to book our hotel with a group rate from the dance camp and combined that with a 20% off summer sale. We spent just over $600 for the week - the hotel had breakfast included, a pool, and we had a bedroom/living room suite.

- We had breakfast each morning at the hotel, packed Annabeth's lunches, and Owen, Lu, and myself either had leftovers or packed lunches each day.

Here is an overview of our Frugal Fun on the trip:
Monday - We hit a Goodwill in a very nice suburb. Owen LOVES clothes shopping and found lots of items for himself including a jean jacket that he LOVES! My sister even found him a cute Chicago sweatshirt - its tag was the half off color so just $1 for that souvenir! They were doing a special sale so I also saved an extra 25% off my already low prices. We took a little walk at a park and also swam in the hotel pool.
Tuesday- Owen, Lu, and I enjoyed the morning at Citizen's Park in Cook County. They had some nice trails, a treehouse where we had a packed lunch, and nice playgrounds. We also enjoyed a few hours of play at the amazing Barrington Area Library. Our last stop before picking up Annabeth was the Crabtree Nature Center. It was really fantastic! That night we had dinner at Rainforest Cafe in Schaumberg. We had a free appetizer coupon and each of the kids got a little toy souvenir thanks to "fun money" from my parents.
Wednesday: I used a buy one, get one free coupon to get admission into Legoland. It was the first time that we have taken Owen to a place like that and he loved it! He rode his first rides, saw his first 4D movie, and loved playing on the Lego themed playground. He just got into Legos around his birthday so this was the perfect time for this treat. We had dinner at the hotel and swam in the pool.
Thursday: My sister went out for the day on her own to explore some bookshops. Owen and I did some reading and painting in the hotel until a rainstorm passed. We then walked a bit and found some offices that had a beautiful pond/walkway around them. He enjoyed waving to all of the business people. The kids and I had never been to Wisconsin so we took an hour drive north and went to Kenosha, WI. We enjoyed a beautiful rock beach, had dinner at the marina, saw a lighthouse, and played in the water until the fog rolled in and the sun set. The beach has always been my happy place and it seems that the kids feel the same way!

Sunset Beach Stroll
Kenosha, WI

Friday: We did a bit of window shopping in Barrington and a bit of real shopping at Allegro Dance Boutique. We had a little lunch out and then played at the Barrington Area Library again on a 100 degree afternoon. Annabeth had a dance showcase that night and then we headed home.

- Last Saturday, we went to our County Fair for free! We park at our friend Ann's house (thank you Ann!) saving us $5 parking fee. Due to the heat the animals were gone and the rides were closed so there were maybe 100 people there. We enjoyed looking at Annabeth's projects and getting ideas for next year when she is in regular 4H. The kids favorite snow-cone place wasn't there so we didn't buy any concessions.

- Saturday evening we went to a friend's farm for a cook-out. The kids loved riding in a big truck, feeding the ducks, and playing in the sprinkler with their friends. I love that the dads kept eyes on the kids and us mamas were able to catch up inside.

- Monday evening our family enjoyed our library's Croc Talk. This is the third summer our libraries have brought animals from the Newport Aquarium and this year the kids really enjoyed seeing an alligator. We also picked up 25 books for the week and a circuit set. We had been looking into a circuit building set for Annabeth but hadn't pulled the trigger due to the price. Now we have one to borrow for free! Our libraries are AMAZING we find so many classes and resources there! If you aren't visiting your local libraries - start now!

- Tuesday evening Annabeth and I attended her dance studio's end of the year banquet. We always enjoy this fun, dress up night to celebrate a good season.

- Wednesday night Annabeth had her dance auditions for next season. Owen and I ran some errands and enjoyed free ice cream at Freddy's thanks to a giftcard.

We had a good but busy week. Mark worked nights this week, something he hasn't really done for a while, and the kids and I got back into the school groove a bit.

We are looking forward to some fun this weekend with a special event tomorrow for the kids and Sunday we send Annabeth to summer camp alone for the first time! She will be gone half the week and we covet your prayers for her time there.

Happy Savings to All!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

MY Top 5 Items to Donate to Food Pantries

Yesterday the kids and I took a big stack of egg cartons to a local food pantry. A friend, thanks Brittany, had shared a post from this pantry saying that they had received a huge donation of eggs but they didn't have a way for the people to get the eggs home. Mark had been saving egg cartons on top of our fridge for months - why? who knows - but I took our huge stack to a very thankful food pantry staff.

In every city I have lived in, I've always served at food pantries. My parents, our churches took us when we were young and I've always felt such a pull to feeding people. How can children play and learn with empty bellies? How can adults work and be healthy without proper food? The simple answer: they can't.

In volunteering I've really honed in on what our family likes to donate.
Here are our Top 5 Suggestions for Donations:

Special Diet Foods
I search clearance bins high and low for special diet items - gluten free, sugar free, nut free, dairy free, etc and donate them anytime I can. I be sure to label that donation bag(s) with something like "These are ALL DAIRY FREE please hand-out to families who have that special dietary need" As a family that has many kids in our family who need special diets, I know just how expensive it can be to purchase specials snacks, flour, etc. I feel like buying these foods and donating them allows families in need to have food items that are safe for all members of their home.

Hygiene Items
I always hit the Dollar Tree for name brand toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, soaps, etc. I also watch clearance sections for higher dollar items like femine hygiene products, acne facewash, and specialty creams for skin conditions like eczema. Most of the items I have listed are considered luxuries for people striving to just buy food. I cannot imagine having to choose between toothpaste and food for my family and yet others make that hard choice each day.

Birthday Items
I LOVE to donate birthday cake mixes, frosting, decorations, and even birthday candles. I know for many families I've met at pantries birthday desserts are often passed over as the family tries to get together a small gift for the child. I remember one mom crying when we were able to give her strawberry cake and frosting for her daughter's birthday. Her daughter was in elementary school and it was going to be her first birthday cake! The mom had always chosen to spend that little bit of money on a small toy for her daughter. That moment in college sealed the deal for me to always try to keep special occasion items available in the pantries I've served with.

Check the Pantry's Wishlist
Call ahead or check online before you donate! Some pantries I have served at love getting boxed mac and cheese or tuna helper because they also give out milk and eggs and their clients have access to a stove top to make those items. Other pantries have served mostly clients who are living in hotels, motels, or shelters and they need the just add water cups that can be microwaved. Knowing what the pantry is asking for will help you better understand and serve their clients.

Use What You Have
I know many people don't have wiggle room in their own family's shopping budget but making little changes can make a huge difference to others! For example, our family is always swimming in candy following Halloween, Christmas, and Easter. We make little snack baggies with pieces of small candy and donate them to the Meal Bags at the Church of God in Franklin. Another time a family member was given a ton of Panera Bread leftovers following a meeting. We bagged them up, labeled them, and were able to bless a ton of families at our church's food pantry that week.

I am thankful to be in a position to buy food for our family. When we first married our total grocery budget for the month (food, toiletries, household items) was $125. Our budget has grown some over the years and in turn so has our ability to bless others! I hope posts like this encourage you to give more!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Frugal Friday 301

Happy Frugal Friday!

A Special Dance-cation version of Frugal Friday! Here is how we saved money/spent money wisely/made extra money this week:
(and a few frugal fails as well)

We spent our week in Collinsville, IL and the surrounding area for Annabeth's dance nationals. This is Annabeth's third year competing but our first year traveling for nationals.

I planned our original housing based on the schedule from the past two years and I booked a very affordable house (through Airbnb). The original housing was going to be around $550 and would house our family plus the grandparents/aunt who were coming. When the final schedule came out, I learned I would need more nights than I had planned for. The house was rented for those additional nights so we had to switch to a hotel. The hotel was more the double my orignial housing budget and more than our total trip budget. We borrowed the difference from our savings and plan to pay it back ASAP!

We did pay for a few attractions - Mark had been to Meramac Caverns as a kid and really wanted the kids to go too. We paid for our family as well as our guests and a souvenier for each child. We paid for one large family dinner as a thank you to our guests who drove/paid for hotel rooms. We also splurged and had lunch out at the arch ($37 for three of us BUT the best meal of the trip!)/bought souveniers ($15) for each child at the arch.

Other than that we had FREE (minus gas) fun!
We saw the World Bird Conservatory which was awesome! We saw so many beautiful birds, had a nice walk in the woods, and enjoyed a class about birds which included a bird flying right over the kids' heads!
The kids and I enjoyed Horseshoe State Park, the Collinsville Library, and the World's Largest Catsup Bottle.
At the arch, my sister treated Annabeth on the ride to the top. Owen and I enjoyed just exploring the free museum and the grounds around the arch.

We did luck out and the last minute hotel reservation was a hotel that had breakfast and dinner included as well as an indoor pool. The kids had a lot of pool fun with friends and it was fun to see other dance families at each meal.

I saved all of our water and coke bottles to recycle when we got home. I also saved many of the plastic cups from the hotel lobby and all of the brochures that the kids took from everywhere. I know that we did create lots of waste by eating in the hotel 2x a day and they used styrofoam plates/bowls. I tried to help make a little difference by saving and recycyling what we could.

Overall, we had such a great week away! The kids had a great time and we enjoyed cheering on Annabeth and all of the Style dancers at Nationals!

The kids and me below the arch on a sunny summer day
Thankful for time to explore the world with them!

- When we got home, I began a new training with my Usborne Books & More business. I am looking forward to finishing the training soon and expanding my book business. This month there is a $30 Kit Special so if you have ever thought about joining Usborne Books & More NOW is the time!

Happy Savings to All!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Frugal Friday 300

Happy Frugal Friday!

Here is how we saved money/spent money wisely/made extra money this week:

- I hosted two parties with my Usborne Books & More business. I am very excited to announce the 30th Anniversary $30 Kit Special. Ask me how you can start your own Usborne Books & More business for just $30 this month!

- Friday morning, Mark was the storytime reader at Toodleydoo Toys. Each fourth Friday, a member of the Franklin Police Department reads a story, hands out stickers, and answers questions. We were very happy to see our favorite officer! The toy store also kindly gave him a $10 gift certificate to spend. He bought Owen a die-cast school bus - this has been a wishlist item for Owen since Christmas and he was very happy to have it!

- Saturday we had our first stay-home-comfy-clothes day in about a month. We watched two 90s era movies, Mark took care of breakfast, and we stayed in our jammies until 11 or so. It was wonderful!

- Saturday evening we enjoyed a pizza party celebration for one of Owen's friends. She graduated from Kindergarten and we were so happy to help her celebrate that achievement. We gifted her a fun, musical Usborne Book.

- Sunday we worshipped at Mt Olive because Annabeth was singing with the VBS group. We enjoyed a church picnic afterwards, Annabeth had her face painted, and the kids especially loved seeing some live animals brought in for the event. There was a water balloon station where the congregation could throw water balloons at Pastor Jeff (Owen was VERY excited for this) but by the time we got to that Pastor Jeff had taken his lunch break. I got in the wet chair and let the kids throw and break their water balloons on me. #mamaoftheyear

 Face paint cutie
Hot sweaty 90+ degree cutie

- Monday we drove down to Charlestown for a day of play with our friends the Eblings. We brought fruit and oreos and Rosie made the rest of lunch. We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon golf cart ride and swim at their neighborhood pool. The kids and I love it! Thank you Eblings!

- We started back to school on Tuesday. I had originally scheduled to go back July 15 but some changes to our summer plans meant I needed to sneak in a few days before then to keep us on the schedule that we like. (In Indiana, children ages 7+ are required to have 180 instructional days between July 1-June 30)

- We found a gas gift card in our room. Neither one of are sure where it came from but it has the full amount on it so we plan to use it for an upcoming trip.

- We ate all of our meals at home. Mark packed his lunch to work.

Thank you all so much for reading this series for the past 300 WEEKS!

Happy Savings to All!