Friday, January 29, 2010

Flashback

Can you believe that this:

turned into this:

in just a few short years?

How about this guy?

He used to look something like this:

Just yesterday, I swear.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Ultimate Price

I left out some very pertinent information when talking about Chance's phone.


And, I can't believe I forgot.


Because it was the straw that broke the negotiation camel's back.


When Matt and I were both feeling the first pangs of inevitability, Matt took action, and threw some pork into the equation. I'm tellin' ya, the man should be a politician. Because, said pork had NOTHING to do with the situation at hand, but got us something we'd been wanting for awhile.


A well-kept kid.


The actual wording of said addendum to Messer House Bill #446?



As long as your hair is cut respectably (side note: as determined by DAD), you can use the phone that we let you purchase with your own money.



BRILLIANT! Did you see how he fit in every qualification for pork?


Had nothing to do with the original bill.


Benefited us and not him.


Actual measurement of said addendum sketchy at best, subject to mood swings and fuzzy math of the author at worst.


Brilliant.


PS - I think you look really handsome, Chance.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Project 365

So, I've embarked on a scrapbooking project for 2010.
It's called Project 365.
365 days. At least one photo each day that represents our everyday life.
Here are some highlights:



Chance "limbo-ing" at halftime of the basketball game




Sunrise on the way to work


Sickie


Storage room - Christmas finally put away!



Breakfast date




Current Bible study - I love a good Beth Moore study. I never come out the same!




Dinner crepes. Thanks, honey!



Twin Day for Spirit Week.




Award Assembly.


Coupons - I never leave home without 'em.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

I think I was tricked

Lesson #1 - Be very, very careful with every word that you say to your kids.


Lesson #2 - Take a lesson in backpedaling or take backs. Or debate. Something. ANYTHING.


So, my 10-year-old now has cell phone.


I'll go ahead and let that sink in for you.


My 10-year-old, 5th grade boy, has a cell phone.


Because I got tricked. I'm almost sure of it.


For a little over a year now, he's brought up the issue of the cell phone off and on. Many kids in his school have them. Several kids in his class have them. When could he have one?


Our answer seemed VERY logical, and served us well for approximately 18 months.


You can have a cell phone when you have enough income to purchase it yourself and pay for the monthly plan.


What do you think? This tactic should have gotten me through at least Jr. High, shouldn't it? Aren't there child labor laws that prevent a kid from working enough hours to pay for a $100 phone and a $40/month plan? Someone, please, get on board with me!


Anyway, insert 2 weeks ago.


"Mom, when can I get a cell phone?"

When you have enough income to pay for the phone and the monthly plan.


"Okay, good."


Good? Good? Are you sure? I get the feeling I just missed something. Or that I'm about to miss something. Ohhhhhh - the feeling of inevitability.


"Travis* got a new phone for Christmas, so I'm buying his old Go-Phone for $5. Then, I just have to go to Wal-Mart and buy a card with minutes and I'm good to go. Is that okay, mom?"


No.


"Why not? I did everything you said I had to do."


Believe me, we've tried every angle. Quizzing him on who he would call, and when. Who he would text, and when. Calling Travis' mom to make sure this sale was legit. Researching pay-as-you-go plans for cost/minute, expire dates, texting messages, etc., etc., etc. I gotta admit, the kid did his homework. Even made out a chore budget that earns enough to pay for his minutes and still put $10 / month in his saving envelope because he wants to buy a DSi.


So, in the end, we rewarded his thriftiness. His thoroughness. And his respectful request and argument.


He got a phone.


It even has a Flashlight! And Texting! And Radio! And Games!


He immediately put in our numbers, a couple friends, Papa, and Grandmother. So, if you get a text from him, be amazed. It means he loves you enough to part with 10 cents. Each and every time he hits the SEND button.


Good luck, son.
.
*Names changed to protect the innocent. Or perhaps to protect the fact that my child only has 12 kids in his class and I can't for the life of me remember this little cell-phone peddlers name!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Then & Now

I'm pining away for summer. For camping. For the cabin. For gathering. For fun.


Gathering then . . .

Gathering now . . .

Then . . .


Now . . .


Then . . .


Now . . .



Now . . .


How about you? What are you missing most about summer?


Friday, January 15, 2010

Helping in Haiti


If you want to help in Haiti, but are unsure or nervous about where to start, HERE would be a good place to begin.


I've been pretty clear about my trust in Compassion International, and their work in poverty stricken areas. They are a proven organization, rated by Charity Navigator, and someone that I KNOW will get dollars to people in need.


Give up your Starbucks today, and help out - even $2 will add up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I told you I was an artist

One of our favorite California Adventure activities was the Animation Academy. A Disney animator would give a class every 1/2 hour, and show you how to draw a different Disney character.



It was a ton of fun to try and be a cartoonist. It was also a great relief for some VERY tired feet to sit in a padded seat for 1/2 hour.



I was going to put up a poll, and let you vote for your favorite, but then realized you'd all vote for Colton's anyway, so I'm just declaring him the automatic winner.


Here are our super attempts at "art" -




Heather's Daisy

Colton's Daisy


Matt's Daisy



Chance's Daisy



Disney's Daisy!
***********************************


Heather's Piglet


Colton's Piglet



Matt's Piglet



Chance's Piglet


Disney's Piglet
We were in the front row, and Colton got the artist's drawing.

So, if you could have a professional artist give you a 1/2 hour class, who would it be? Or, what type of art would you learn? Watercolor? Cartooning? Paint-by-Number?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to you . . . Cha Cha Cha!


Happy Birthday, my friend. Sorry I can't be there to take you to a fabulous lunch! But, you know your present isn't done yet, so I had to skip out of town for "meetings" and buy myself some time :)


Have a wonderful day!

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Cheapskate Guide to Disneyland

Before we get going, here are my disclaimers:
  1. I'm not a professional traveller. I can count the major vacations we been to on one hand.

  2. There are several things I would already do differently, so I'm not claiming to be an expert.

  3. I can put up with a lot of inconveniences to save a buck - I know this approach is not for everyone.

  4. I had lots of help. Jessica and Jennifer were invaluable resources. So was Tab. My whole family (especially Matt) were total troopers. They had to put up with all those same inconveniences I mentioned above.

And so, without further ado, below are my top money-saving strategies for visiting Southern California:

  • If you can, you should drive. For several reasons, not limited to: it's cheaper, you can bring a cooler, you have transportation once you're there, and you are free to be on your own schedule.


  • When we first began looking at this trip, airfare was about $400. About 5 days before our trip, it dropped to $180. My cost comparisons are at $400, because if I had been purchasing tickets, it would have been at that price. I just ran the numbers for the $180 airfare, and though not as dramatic, we still would have come out way ahead.


  • Airfare - $400 x 4; Airport transfers - $40 x 4 / or Car Rental - $200; TOTAL - $1800


  • Gas - 239 (we got 33 mpg); Extra hotel nite - $115; Parking (vs. shuttle) - $36; Extra Oil Change - $40; TOTAL - $430; SAVINGS - $1370.


  • Lifesavers on our drive included - portable DVD players (we have one and I borrowed one [thanks Darla!] so each boy could watch their own movie), find it games (either make them, or buy them), doodle books, and a solid 4-level threat system for fighting in the car. We only had one fight the whole trip.


  • Buy your Disney tickets online. I was too chicken to buy them on eBay - seemed a bit far fetched to meet a stranger at the front gate for your tickets. Buying on Disneyland.com saved us $30 per ticket, as well time waiting in line at the gate. SAVINGS - $120.


  • Check on eBay for other deals. I found a BOGO offer for Legoland on eBay and bought two of them. I was careful to check the feedback of the seller - looking especially for the same item I was purchasing. All who had purchased had no trouble using them. Cost - $14. Saved - $124. Net SAVINGS - $110.


  • Once we were there, we decided to spend a day at Knott's Berry Farm. Upon researching online, we found the e-tickets were much cheaper than at the gate. I used our hotel's business center computer to purchase and print e-tickets. SAVINGS - $80.


  • Ask for a discount. **Insert - this makes me sooooo uncomfortable. We got rained out at Legoland, which was unfortunate, but we were ecstatic that we would be able to fit in a dinner at Medieval Times. Matt and I had been there 15 years earlier and knew the boys would love it. But, it's not cheap. I remembered seeing a coupon on the brochure rack in our hotel, but we were making reservations by phone on our way back from Legoland. I kindly asked the sales gal if I needed to wait until I got back to my hotel to use the coupon, or if she had one handy. She searched the computer for available coupons and gave us one that was MORE than what the hotel one would have been. SAVINGS - $40.


  • Hotel. We used a few saving techniques with the hotel. Make sure you get a hotel with kitchen facilities. It is an integral part of the Food section below.


  • Don't be afraid to stay 1 or 2 miles away. Everyone says they're "a block away from Disneyland"! Yeah, right. Blocks are long. And sometimes diagonal. And sometimes not blocks at all. There are only a few hotels, outside of the Disney Resorts, that you can WALK to Disneyland from. The rest, you'll be taking the shuttle anyway. Staying further away saved us both points (see below) and dollars.


  • Stick with one hotel chain throughout the year, if possible, and use the points to your advantage. Between Matt and I, we spent a lot of nights at Marriott hotels throughout the year. We were sure to use a rewards number for every stay, whether his, mine, or ours. This gave us enough points for 2 free nights. In addition, we signed up for the Marriott Visa, which gave us enough points for 2 more free nights. We used this Visa only for this trip, will pay off the statement using our vacation budget, and it will sit in the safe the rest of the year. We paid for only 2 of our 6 total nights. SAVINGS - $644.


  • Food. Food in the SoCal area is not cheap. Especially adjacent to Disney. Our hotel kitchen proved invaluable. We ate 3 dinners, 5 breakfasts, 4 brown bag lunches, and 1 brown bag dinner out of that kitchen. We also had the backpack full of snacks each day.



  • Family Breakfast at McDonalds or Starbucks - 5 x $15; Family Dinners out (avg. McD's and mid-scale) - 4 x $40; 4 Theme Park Lunches (using the cheapest example I could find) - 4 x $50; TOTAL - $435.


  • Two trips to the grocery store - $129. SAVINGS - $306


  • Not to mention, getting more food for less money, not waiting in line, and having something halfway healthy at least some of the time. This made the times we did stop for snacks inside the park not stress the pocketbook so much.


  • Also, the Mission Tortilla Factory tour and the SanFrancisco Sourdough tour (both at California Adventure) don't care how many times you go through, and you get a free tortilla or free bread at the end. Matt also discovered the cheapest snack in the park - one $5 Sourdough round and one $3 Sprite will keep a family of 4 going all morning!!!



  • Take a picture of your picture. You know, the fantastic picture they take of your group at the climax of the ride? They are always priceless. Except, not quite. Most ran about $15. To capture the memory, take a picture of the picture with your camera or phone - these are unlikely to be the backbone of your vacation scrapbook anyway, so quality probably isn't that important. I know I wouldn't have purchased all of them, but would have been sorely tempted by at least 3 or 4. I'm going to say we SAVED $45.


  • Purchase or borrow (thanks, Jennifer!) a Birnbaum's guide. The coupons in the back will pay for the cost, and the advice inside is invaluable. We borrowed our guide, poured through the info as we planned our trip, and used the coupons leftover from the previous owner to get 2 for 1 tokens at ESPN Zone. SAVINGS - $20.


  • While not all of these are huge savings, they each made for a less stressful vacation. When we had to buy the boys new clothes at Huntington Beach, no one was stressing over the $34, and I still got to go to dinner on the pier with two DRY boys.



  • We made sure each boy brought his own money - they got some from us for vacation, and brought chore money earned from the weeks prior. This made them carefully consider each purchase instead of whining for something in every shop we went to. For the record, they both came back with money still in their wallets. Must be a bit harder to make a purchase when the cash is coming out of your own pocket!


  • Buy your Disney souvenirs before or after online. We did buy some souvenirs in the park, but I purchased t-shirts for each boy online after we got home. Total spent - $20. Value of the same t-shirts in the Disney shop - $50. SAVINGS - $30.

Of course, there are already things I would do differently next time. Like:

  • Use a bag inside the park large enough for at least a water bottle. My bag was small, because I didn't want to have to shed it for each ride. However, your locker always seems VERY far away, and drinks in the park start at $3. Needless to say, we shared a lot!


  • Plan better for headaches. We all got at least one. Chance and I, more than that. We pushed the kids HARD every day - resulting in some aches and pains. Two days, because of not planning well, I ended up purchasing pain reliever at the gift shop. It wasn't as expensive as I would have expected, but it was the same stuff I had at the hotel. Next time, I will have a couple of the correct doses for each family member in my purse.


  • Don't forget your camera. Although I admit, this is both blessing and curse. It cost me $65 for the Disney cd of my Photopass photos. YIKES! On the flip side, there was no stress about getting every shot, no worry about where to put the camera on the rides, and we are ALL in each picture. This means I am in about 100% more pictures than I would have been if I'd brought my camera. I'm not very good at getting out from behind it.

Hope this helped someone! If you are not headed to Disneyland in the near future, maybe there were some tips that will be helpful for whatever your next destination is.


Do you have any cheapskate ideas for our next trip? I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Are you a Cheapskate?


'Cause I am. My boys are fairly used to hearing "wait until it's on sale and I have a coupon" when they want something from the store. From groceries to clothing to eBay to (apparently) vacation, getting a good deal is my favorite past time.


I will take this moment to admit that I've failed a time or two in my quest for a bargain. We had many a "lesson" in hotel rating systems before I finally learned.


When we first began considering our Disney vacation, I started with some advice from friends and priced the packages on the Costco web site. And, truthfully, if I had about $4500 to spare, I would have been all over this user-friendly one-stop-shop. It would have made vacation sooooo easy.


We didn't have $4500 to spare.


Matt quickly reminded me of our recent carpet purchase. And our recent car purchase. And that it was Christmas.


I had to sharpen the pencil if I really wanted to go on this vacation. And I really wanted to go on this vacation.


So I sharpened.


And sharpened.


And sharpened.


It must have worked. Off to Disneyland we went, the day after Christmas.


Monday, I'll tell you all about how this "cheap steak" (as Colton says it) made it to Disneyland on about 1/2 of Costco's budget.


But, for today, I want to know - are you a cheap skate? Or a cheap steak? How? Tell me your favorite money saving strategy - whether it's coupons or homemade laundry detergent, I want your secrets!!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Rest of the Story

5 Days of Theme Parks
50+ hours logged at said parks
6 Roller Coaster rides at Knott's Berry Farm
1 Insane Water Ride
1 Soaked and cranky mama
1 Visit to Huntington Beach
2 Soaked boys!
2 New sets of clothes so we could have . . .
1 Dinner on the pier
30 minute detour to see the Hollywood sign on the way home
21 hours in the car to get home
100+ Oregon Duck license plates heading north with us (that's just the ones we saw!)
5 1/2 tanks of gas for the whole trip
2533 total miles
32.8 average MPG
2 trips to the grocery store
2 new great American fast food icons visited - In N Out, Popeye's
5 brown bag lunches
9 hotel meals (either breakfast or dinner)
3 great restaurant dinners
5 pounds of fresh oranges from a roadside fruit stand
7 nights in hotels
4 lockers rented
65 dollars spent on the "very affordable" Disney Photopass photos
0 regrets