Monday, April 24, 2017

Homeschooling: Kentucky Unit

Our family had the pleasure of attending the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green this past weekend, where Chris was a guest. There were many highlights--hearing childhood favorite R.L. Stine speak, for one!--and we picked up some great books along the way. One of them, I'd like to share now, as I plan to use it soon in our homeschooling adventure.

It is titled Kentucky Puzzles: Bluegrass Brainteasers for Ages 6 to 106 by Evelyn B. Christensen. It's a 30-activity workbook about the state that teaches facts like our state bird and flower, sites of historical significance, famous people from the state, geographical wonders, and, of course, basketball, among other topics. I expect that while it will be fun for Pip and me to work through together, both learning along the way, it will also inspire some day trips and maybe an overnight or two to see first-hand some of the locations mentioned.

I remember studying Kentucky when I was in elementary school, and I still remember some of the facts (for example, there are 120 counties). And I figure there's no time like the present to learn about the state in which we live. More information about this book and the author can be found on her website. Note that there are a few printing errors acknowledged in the front of the copy I purchased, but it was complete with a link to download updated puzzles.

Have you included a unit study of your state in your homeschool?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Buying Spices in Bulk

If you cook at home, you know how expensive it can be to keep your spice cabinet stocked. I recently discovered a small grocery in our area that sells spices and dried herbs in bulk. Score!

If you're near Crofton, Kentucky, check out the Crofton Country Cupboard on S Madisonville Road, across from the elementary school. Know before you go that you'll be greeted with the aroma of freshly baked goods and a beautiful selection of deli meats and cheeses.

While they're a good reason to go, there's a lot more to this quirky little store than the spices! More on that another day.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Know Before You Go: Dining at Disney

With spring break and summer planning all around, I am hearing more and more people talk about going to Disney. Although I've only been a few times--I'm certainly not seasoned like many people who write about it--I have figured out some money-saving tips along my way.

Today, I've got dining options on my mind. Walt Disney World parks allow guests to bring snacks in, which can save you money if you're willing to carry them around. We have done this in the past, but just easy-to-carry basics like granola bars and peanut butter crackers for sudden hunger pangs. Whether you plan to bring in snacks or not, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Portions are large.

When selecting a "table service" meal, you will be paying by the person, not by how much you eat. By choosing to visit "quick service" locations, however, you can buy only what your group needs. During a stay in 2014, our family of three often bought one meal or one meal and an extra side to share between us. We ate more frequently than others might have, but it gave us great, built-in rests throughout the day. It also meant that most of the time, we avoided mealtime rushes in these restaurants.

We don't typically eat big meals at home, either, so grazing worked great for us. We had the opportunity to try different foods in many dining spots throughout the parks. And we were never too full to want to start walking and riding again right away. Recent favorites in Magic Kingdom included Be Our Guest Restaurant and Pecos Bill Tale Tall Inn and Cafe.

2. Many on-site restaurants are able to accommodate allergies.

More information is available on their website and by calling guest services, but there are lots of choices for those working with dietary restrictions. During a stay shortly after Pip was diagnosed with celiac disease, we spoke with our host at a buffet breakfast at Hollywood and Vine, and the chef came to our table and asked if he could make gluten free Mickey waffles for her. She was thrilled, and I was impressed. And grateful.

3. Character breakfasts are amazing.

We've done character breakfasts and character lunches, and I definitely recommend the breakfasts. You're promised an amazing experience at either, and I have no doubt that you'll get it, but there's something wonderful about having that personal experience first thing in the morning, while you're still fresh and happy and you haven't gotten hot or tired making your way around the park. Having our scheduled item completed early in the day also meant we could take our time getting everywhere else we wanted to go with no worry about missing our reservation.

These are "table service" meals, which means they're in the highest cost bracket. Breakfast is the least expensive meal to enjoy with table service, though, while still meeting and greeting the characters while you dine. I can't pick a favorite here, but I can suggest that you don't overlook character meals at resorts like The Grand Floridian and Ohana.

I've never purchased a Disney Dining plan when visiting the parks, we've only paid as we've eaten, but I'd love to hear from you! How do you handle meals and snacks when you visit Walt Disney World?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

5-minute Guide to Consignment Sales

'Tis the season of consignment sales! Within a short drive of where I am in western Kentucky, multiple organizations are advertising great deals on gently used kids' clothes, shoes, sports equipment, toys, gear, you name it. The focus is spring and summer wardrobes, so if your family has outgrown last year's warm-weather duds, now is a great time to seek items for this year.

I've been to a few of these sales since becoming a mom. The first one was completely overwhelming and I went over my budget, piling everything I could carry, and then drag, into my basket. Even as I drove home I knew I had overdone it. There was just SO MUCH GOOD STUFF at SUCH GREAT PRICES!

I have since figured out the best way for me to get the most out of my time and money at such a sale. And while I'm no pro, I want to share a few tips for those who haven't shopped one before.

1. Research the sale you're attending.
If there's an early bird sale and you want first pick, don't miss it. If there's a half-price portion of the sale, and you're really only going for the best of bargains, wait until that hour. If there's a cost for admission, don't be surprised at the door. Find out if they accept credit or debit cards or checks, or if it's a cash only sale. Know what you're getting into.

2. Arrive on time. Or late.
Unless the sale you're attending has advertised a very specific large item that you REALLY want to get to first, there's no reason to get there early and wait in line. Once shoppers are inside, they disperse and you're not having to stay behind all those people to see what you want to see.

3. Go alone. Or with a friend.
I like to shop these things solo; that's my best chance to focus and only select items that we can truly use. If you bring the kids, they will see toys/books/games/clothes/shoes/etc that they want. If you're good with that, take them. But know that there are typically a LOT of people at these things and many blind spots where you would not see your kids if they ducked around a corner. If you want adult company while shopping, select your browsing buddy carefully. For example, I may not take a friend whose child wears the same size as mine unless we have really different styles, because I would not want to both be reaching for the same items constantly. Just throwing that out there. 

4. Bring your own laundry basket or a large bag.
Some sales provide shopping baskets or bags, but if they do not, it's a real hassle to juggle the things you pick up along your path. If you're planning to do heavier shopping, baskets can scoot along the floor with you; I've seen some shoppers loop a belt or tie a rope to theirs so it can be dragged easily. With only one child, I am not usually shopping for that much, so I tend to take a large reusable shopping bag and it does the trick.

5. Shop for general categories of things.
Please do not go to a consignment sale expecting to find a size 5, slim cut, skinny jean with pink and purple sequins around the pockets. If you go in looking for very specific items, you may find yourself disappointed. Instead, approach it from the standpoint of "we could use size 5 jeans" and see where that leads. You may run across those sequined skinnies and that'll be so much fun! But if you're focused on only those, you may miss some great garments that could also be very useful. Same rule applies for all types of items: "dress shoes" instead of "gold sparkly one-inch wedges" and "play dresses" instead of "Lands' End 100% cotton dresses with long sleeves and no waistline" and so on.

6. Look thrice before you buy.
If you see something you really like, pick it up. If you go back for it in 30 minutes, or 10 minutes, or even 2 minutes, it may be gone. When you're finished shopping, go through all your items before getting into the checkout line. Anything that you're having second thoughts about, return to where you found it. When you get down to the items you plan to purchase, look again, once more, to make sure there are no stains, rips, or missing parts that you may have missed before. If any of the items are not up to the standard that you require, put them back where you got them; someone else might be glad to pay the listed price regardless of condition.

7. Enjoy!
Feel proud of how a little extra time and effort is saving your family a lot of money! And how your kids are going to look adorable!

I really do recommend these seasonal consignment sales; they're great for dressing children for a fraction of the cost of retail, including store sales. Sometimes their prices even beat thrift stores, and they're often better organized and more heavily staffed.

Although I have enjoyed many small victories, one of my favorite recent consignment sale purchases was a brand new pair of Sperry leather moccasins for my nephew for $2.50. What is the best bargain you have ever found at a consignment sale?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day Trip: McKay Books Nashville

(This is the third and final part of a short series about how to spend a stellar day in Nashville. Start with parts one and two to plan your full day's visit!)

Now, I'm assuming that you're reading on because you expect to enjoy the Nashville Public Library and the Frist Center for the Arts and this is shaping up to be your family's kind of day. You may be exhausted by now, and if so, that's understandable. Stop while you're ahead! If you think your family digs the literary and the arts, and can handle one more stop, I suggest McKay. You may want to snag dinner or a snack before you go, though, because we always stay there longer than I intend.

As their sign states, Nashville's McKay location is a giant warehouse full of used books, CDs, DVDs, and more. It's a book lover's dream. They seem to have a little--or a lot--of everything, including homeschooling curriculum. It's well organized, it's well staffed, and, in my experience, the prices are right.

Not only can you buy books here--and we never leave without a bag full--but you can also sell books here. So if you're planning ahead, toss a bag or two (or more) of books that your family has finished or outgrown into the car and stop by the selling/trading counter before you go any farther into the store. After they assess the books you brought, you'll have the option of cash or a trade credit. The trade credit will be worth more, and you don't have to use it that day for it to remain valid. If you're interested in selling or trading, their policies are listed on their website.

We've purchased everything at McKay from children's literature to auto mechanic manuals to math workbooks to comics to devotionals to board games. I find it hard to imagine anyone walking out of there empty-handed!

Enjoy your time there as you wrap up your day trip to Nashville!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Day Trip: Frist Center for the Arts

(Part two in a short three-part series. Part one is here.)

So, you've driven to Nashville, and your family has enjoyed an entire morning--and perhaps beyond--at the Nashville Public Library. Now what, you ask?

The next place I suggest stopping is the Frist Center for the Arts at 919 Broadway. It's half a mile away, and not a difficult walk. However, I always drive it, because there's another affordable parking lot easily accessible, and because by the time we're done there, we don't want to walk back to the library. But I suppose that's your call.

There are many things about the Frist that make it a great place to visit. First, the old post office building that houses it is beautiful. Second, there is no permanent collection, but instead they bring in incredible exhibitions from around the world, which means that every time you visit you will likely see something new. Third, the Martin ArtQuest Gallery--a huge hands-on creative space--offers loads opportunities for guests of all ages to experiment with various mediums and technologies. Fourth, and perhaps I should have led with this, visitors 18 and under have free admission, all the time; adults are $12 but there are discounts for college students, seniors, and active military personnel.

Pip and I have spent many hours at the Frist, and we're always excited to go back.

If you'd like to stay in town a little while longer but you're not sure where to go next, watch for the third and final installment of this Nashville Day Trip series!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Day Trip: Nashville Public Library

Although we don't live there anymore, we love spending time in Nashville, Tennessee! It's a family friendly place with lots of free and inexpensive things to see and do, many of which we easily incorporate into our homeschooling week when we have the pleasure of visiting.

If you've been thinking about taking your kiddos to spend a day in Music City, perhaps you'll find this helpful.

If you have elementary aged children and younger, start at the Nashville Public Library's Main Branch, on Church Street. Know in advance that there's an affordable parking deck attached to the library, and they will validate your pass at the circulation desk to reduce your parking fee further.

Go on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and here's why: most weeks on those days, there's an amazing story hour at 9:30, 10:30, and 11:30, with a craft time immediately following. There is no admission charge for either. Check their website or call the library before you go to make sure story hour is happening on the day you plan to visit.

Their story hour is a major production. It involves recurring characters--so don't be surprised that the "regulars" around you know The Professor, Mary Mary, Library Pete, and all of the puppet friends--songs, games, and stories. I have been many times, but I get a little emotional every time they invite all the children to join them onstage at the end to sing "What a Wonderful World" together, so be prepared for that precious sight.

After craft time, enjoy the amazing renovations recently completed in the children's department. Besides the plethora of books to explore and read together while you're there--because I'm assuming you do not have a Nashville Public Library card with which to take things home--there's so much more! You'll find all kinds of learning centers, like Tinker Toys and building blocks, as well as an indoor play structure, a puppet theater, and a small climbing wall. There's an area dedicated to teens where they can play ping pong or video games, and sometimes even experiment with a 3D printer.

If you packed a lunch and the weather is good, you can enjoy it right in the courtyard of the library, directly linked to the children's department. There are nice restrooms inside the children's area, with ample room for baby changing, and you'll also find water fountains that make refilling your water bottles a breeze.

If you'd rather pick something up, there are fast food places like Subway, Burger King, Sonic, and so on within a few minutes' drive from the library; heading south on 8th Street gives easy access to some of these options.

Wondering what to do after lunch? Watch for the second part of this short series!