Wednesday, June 28, 2017

One Year Later

Today it's been exactly one year since my first blog post. It was about making the outside of our rental house feel more like home, while spending as little as possible. You can view that full post hereTo mark this occasion, I want to share a few things that I have learned over the past year.

1. Roses of Sharon enjoy morning sunlight. They also seem to prefer being together over being scattered around the yard.

Here's what they looked like last spring, immediately following relocation, and what they look like now after a year together on the east end of our house.





2. Sometimes it's better to let things go.

I had originally attempted to give purpose to a funny little 10'x10' raised bed in the middle of the back yard--that's where the dollar store seed packets were utilized last spring--but when a huge rain washed its somewhat rotten wooden beams out of place, we just razed the entire bed and now Pip has a wide open space in which to play. Because of its placement, that bed always looked weird to me. Although I was hesitant to tear it down at first, I now much prefer that area open.

3. Forsythia are hearty.

Here's a comparison of new growth last year, right after they had been pruned and pulled from another yard, and this year, where they've enjoyed afternoon sun on the west end of our house.They didn't bloom this year, but I'm hopeful for next spring.
























4. I did not inherit my grandfather's green thumb.

With the exception of one knock out rose, nothing else has thrived--or even survived--in our yard. Although there have been times that was a little discouraging--like when I had to dig up three dead holly bushes and a withered lilac--it also has given me permission to further simplify the lawn. I have realized that I'd rather have nothing (besides grass) than have things that look sad or strangely placed.

5. This lawn is a work in progress.

My desire to make the front of the house more welcoming--to up its curb appeal--is not to impress others. It's so that when I come home, it brings me joy. It still doesn't feel as cheerful as I would like; the front of the house is sparse. But there's no rule that it has to be done in a day, or even a year. With a budget of practically zero, I am content to let things unfold as they may.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Homeschool Planning: Second Grade

Ever since our co-op hosted its annual book sale in May, I've had next year's plans on my mind. I know there are plenty of wonderful boxed home learning sets out there that cover multiple subjects, but I am not drawn to that idea, for now, anyway. So, one day last week, while Pip was feeling under the weather and enjoying a Netflix movie marathon, I sat with her and pulled up the list of Kentucky requirements, added some subjects that are important to us, and made and a list of some of my top curriculum ideas for each.

Here's a look at my list (yes, it's written on unused pages of my very favorite planner):


During the 4-movie saga devoted to the adventures of Lilo and Stitch, I explored Amazon.com, Thriftbooks.com, Christianbook.com, eBay, and other online sellers. I googled the DVD series that Chris suggested for history, and found multiple online resources to tie into that. I emailed Pip's music teacher to find out if she would be willing to incorporate one or more pieces from the American Revolution era into her fall music lessons. I texted local homeschooling friends to find out if any of these were items I could borrow instead of buy. I got my thoughts sorted out, bookmarked websites, and ordered books (some new, some used).

At this time, here's what we're looking at for second grade:
- Learning Language Arts Through Literature, The Red Book by Debbie Strayer
- Singapore Math, Level 2
- Science in the Ancient World by Dr. Jay L. Wile (I've replaced the Apologia book listed because I was able to borrow this one from a friend and take a look and it appears to be right up our alley)
- Liberty's Kids DVDs, supplemented with The American Revolution for Kids: A History with 21 Activities and the Cross and Quill Media website; I also found Professor Noggin's American Revolution card game
- Kentucky Puzzles: Bluegrass Brainteasers for Ages 6 to 106 by Evelyn B. Christensen
- Ordinary People Change the World book series by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
- The Usborne Famous Artists Sticker Book, 13 Artists Children Should Know 
- The Usborne Classical Music Sticker Book, Improve Your Aural! listening skills workbook, Improve Your Theory workbook, First Steps in Music Theory book, and home assignments from Pip's harp instructor
- American Sign Language (ASL) we'll continue learning from videos or online (we took a short class together at our local library this spring and we loved it!), and although my Spanish is rusty, I'll be able to incorporate vocabulary and conversation as desired

Regularly scheduled away-from-home activities will include music lessons, homeschool co-op, children's choir, and gymnastics. We'll also make semi-regular visits to art museums, zoos, and school day and evening performances at two of our favorite regional performing arts centers.

Now that it's all recorded, it looks like a lot! Not everything will be every day. And as always, we'll tweak things to make sure she's getting the most out of the time invested in each subject.

Although we'll continue learning over the summer--why stop?--I'm excited about what our second grade year will hold!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Salvage Grocery Stores

If you're following this blog, I'm assuming that you are on the lookout for ways to stretch a dollar. There are plenty of options for managing your grocery budget, but one way I present to you today is to shop at a salvage grocery store. (Yes, that's a thing. Google it!)

Like a thrift store, you never know what is going to be in stock; depending how far away it is, it may not be worth your drive. But if you have a salvage grocery near you, I recommend checking it out, at least two or three times over the course of weeks or months, as it will change regularly.

We have a place in our region called Crofton Country Cupboard. It is where I purchase many of our gluten free snacks and other prepared foods without breaking the bank. The people who operate the store are super nice; they have an amazing deli in the other side of the location and their fresh bread--although we can't eat it--makes the entire place smell wonderful.

Here are the spoils of a recent visit.


This is a lot of food, and the majority of it is gluten free. I don't know how much I would have paid for it at a regular store, but I can tell you that it would have been a lot more than the $37.41 I paid that day!

My rules for shopping at such a store are as follows:
1. Find out before going if they accept cash only, and take your own bags or boxes.
2. Don't take a list, because you never know what's going to be there.
3. Do walk every aisle, both sides, to see everything in stock.
4. Don't buy cans that are bulging or bags that are open (although slightly dented cans and torn boxes are fine),
5. Do check expiration dates before purchasing.
6. Don't buy things just because they're cheap--only buy if your family will actually eat them.
7. Don't get discouraged if you don't find a cart full of good things. There's always next time.

If you have a good salvage grocery near you, I would like to hear about it!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mid-Year Goal Check

As we ushered in the new year, I shared with you how my primary goal for 2017 was to make my screen time more meaningful and more productive. My intention was to examine my new habits a month or two later, to ensure I was doing what needed to be done to achieve this. Month after month, I've guiltily recognized that I haven't gotten where I wanted to be. But now, six months later, I'm reluctantly taking a hard look at my screen time management.


I'll begin by saying that I took some big strides in January, starting with unsubscribing from emails that no longer interested me. My inbox is very manageable now. Knowing that anything I receive is likely pertinent, either for work or volunteerism or personal life, I can check it a few times throughout the day, deal with the issue at hand, and be done with it. Anything I receive that is not pertinent, I delete. If it's a newsletter or update from a company I don't need, I unsubscribe before deleting.

I got my Facebook feed cleaned up, too. Nearly everything I see now is fun and uplifting and informative of events in my community and region. As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I know that's not what everyone wants out of their social media accounts, but that's exactly what I want from them. And I am a happier person for having crafted it to that purpose.

Now, the hard part. Not only am I still at my computer more minutes per day than I'd like to admit, but that time is also not as productive as it could be and I know it. Part of this can certainly be attributed to personal and professional changes occurring during this season, like ending commitments to some organizations and taking on new responsibilities for others, but I cannot allow change--which is inevitable--to stop me from managing my time better. If anything, recent changes require me to be a better steward of my time.

So here's the encouraging news. In recent weeks, I have followed Chris's lead of waking up early (I'm not talking about before sunrise, here, but significantly earlier than I was waking up), getting coffee, and jumping straight into the "thinking stuff" while Pip is still asleep. The amount of time I have varies, but here's how it goes, now, when I start up my computer in the morning:

- Turn on a podcast.
- Open email. File messages that need no action and immediately handle messages that require action. This includes paying bills that need to be paid for which I've received an electronic notice. Pause the podcast when I need to focus on what I'm writing. Close email.
- Open Facebook. Check notifications for items I want to share or to which I want to respond. Pause the podcast when I need to focus on what I'm writing. Take a couple of minutes--maybe five minutes--and scroll through my news feed to view photos and plans for upcoming events in the area. Close Facebook.
- Open our online store page. Create shipping labels as needed. Close the store page.
- Open eBay or any other buying or selling sites with which I have current business and handle business as needed. Close eBay.
- Open Blogger. Achieve whatever items I have on my agenda for that day (writing, editing, reading comments, etc). Close Blogger.

Now I'm offline, except for listening to the podcast or Pandora while completing any outstanding paperwork I have in my "to-do" file. Then I open Photoshop and start retouching photos or flatting comics pages, whichever I'm working on, and chip away at my current project. By this time I've usually had two cups of coffee and started on a glass of water. I've moved away from my desk a couple of times to put laundry in the washer or dryer, make the bed, or tidy up whatever may have been left out the night before.

Most importantly, when Pip wakes up, I am easily able to stop what I'm doing and focus on her. If I didn't get through all the items that I was planning, it's no problem, because with my set order of operations, I know exactly where to pick up later when I have some free moments.

It's still a work in progress, but I am much happier with this new morning routine than I was with the old. Later in the day continues to be a struggle, as I still find myself scrolling and reading and liking and commenting more than I need to be. But I'm getting there. And I have set a new goal going forward to maintain that focus of the morning each time I sit down at my desk.

How often do you set new goals for yourself in your personal or professional life? How often do you evaluate your progress?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

2017 VBS Schedule - Madisonville, Ky

Many area churches are offering Vacation Bible School during the months of June and July. Here are the programs of which I'm currently aware, in calendar order. Updated 6/4/2017


Please call the church directly if you have questions about a specific program. And if you know about another VBS in town, please comment with the information and I'll confirm it and add it to the list!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hopkins County Summer Meals Follow Up

A few days ago, I shared the details of the Hopkins County School System's 2017 Summer Meals Program. It sounds like it's going to be a wonderful thing for the students in our county. You can read more about that here: 2017 Hopkins County Summer Food Service Program.

It got me thinking, though, about all the other meals that are not covered by this program, and how families who rely on school breakfasts and lunches, even with this opportunity, might struggle during the summer months. Not everyone will have transportation--or flexibility from work--to take their children to every location. Not to mention the non-student family members who are not eligible for said meals.



Today, let me present a round-up of additional programs in our county providing assistance for our neighbors. Not all of these are for everyone--some are specifically for children, for example--so I urge you to learn the details of the programs before assuming they're open to everyone. (Clicking any of these links will open a new window and take you to the website or Facebook page for that organization.)

The YMCA provides free lunches for kids throughout the summer in Hopkins County. No proof of need requested. Locations vary day to day; contact the Y for details. 270-821-9622

Breaking Bread serves a hot meal one Saturday per month at their location at 275 West Center Street in Madisonville. This event is open to all ages, and attendees are sent home with additional grocery items. No proof of need requested. Breaking Bread: (270) 635-0444 or (270) 836-5822 or (270) 635-0627.

Christian Food Bank of Hopkins County (Facebook link here)
The website states "If you don’t have anything to eat and lack resources to obtain food, you qualify for assistance." Please, please visit the food bank instead of going hungry. For more information, including the hours they're open, you can call them at (270) 825-8296.

Local churches' Vacation Bible School programs
Throughout the city of Madisonville and the county, churches will be hosting Vacation Bible Schools in June and July. Many of these programs offer snack or meal times along with their games, crafts, and lessons. Watch the blog for a round up of VBS dates and locations later this week!

Do you know of another organization that is providing meals or groceries to our neighbors in Hopkins County? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017 Hopkins County Summer Food Service Program

My heart is a little broken writing this. But I know it's out there; I know it's all around the country and right down the street. When school is out for holidays or summer vacation, there are children in Hopkins County who do not know where their next meal is coming from.

There are many things that our local public schools provide to their students. Not the least of these is the availability of consistent breakfasts and lunches. Some schools also send "backpack blessings"--backpacks loaded with easy to prepare snacks and meals--home with students on Friday afternoons. But what do these children do when school is out for weeks or months?



Now my heart is swelling. Because the Hopkins County School system is, this year, offering meals to students throughout summer break!

This statement is directly from the Hopkins County Schools website:


"Hopkins County Schools is participating in the Summer Food Service Program. Meals will be provided to all children without charge and are the same for all children regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability, and there will be no discrimination in the course of the meal service. Meals will be provided, at a first come, first serve basis..."


A full schedule of the times and places that meals and snacks will be provided can be found here on the SurfKyNews site. Not every location will have meals every day, but this is a great step!!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer Fun: AMC Theatres

Looking for some summer fun out of the sun? AMC Theatres offers a summer kids' movie series! Shows are Monday and Wednesday mornings at 10am, from June 5 to August 2. For $4, you get admission to a movie and a kids' snack pack. These are not first-run films, but they're still fun!


Besides being a great diversion for rainy or exceptionally hot summer days, taking a few friends to see a movie your child loves could be an affordable way to celebrate a birthday or other milestone.

This program is available at select locations in 37 states. Visit AMCtheatres.com to see if one of them is near you!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Favorite Sale: thriftbooks


I don't know how my house of bibliophiles made it to 2017 without knowing about Thriftbooks.com. Well, Chris may have known about it, but I sure didn't! A homeschooling friend of mine told me about it a couple of weeks ago, and this morning I checked it out.

Although many of the children's books are listed for more than I would pay at McKay Books, my favorite used book store, I found an activity book for our upcoming homeschool year for $4 that was about $13 on Amazon. I also found a research book Chris had been looking for priced at 1/5 of the Amazon list price. (Let me stop right here to say that I still like and use Amazon all the time!)

Here's a link for you to check it out. It includes a 15% discount for you, if you've never ordered from them before, that is good through June 5.
Shop Now!

If you find something great, I would love to hear about it!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Slow Cooker BBQ Pork

It seems like many people think to use their slow cookers during the cooler months. They do make great cold-weather foods like soups, stews, roasts, you name it. But I like to utilize my slow cooker during the warmer months, too, because it doesn't heat up the kitchen!

One of our current favorites--and it's SO EASY--is pork barbecue. Here's what I'm going to do today.


























Place approximately 2 lbs of pork loin boneless country style ribs into the slow cooker with 1/2 cup water.

Cook on low for 5 hours.

Pour off the water and fat, then cover the meat with Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet 'n Spicy sauce. (You can substitute your favorite sauce, of course. This is one that my whole family agrees on; it's not too hot, and it's gluten free.)

Cook on low for one more hour.

Shred the meat with a fork and serve however you prefer to eat BBQ! We go bun-less, and I like to serve it with pineapple and chips. It makes for a quick, light meal. It makes great leftovers for lunches, too.

Enjoy!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Donating Blood

I understand why so few of us donate blood. It takes time. We might be turned away due to health or history. It's not at the top of anyone's list of fun things to do.

Few of us expect to need a transfusion, but when you or your loved one needs blood due to an accident or medical emergency, the gratitude felt for the people who donated, never knowing whose life it might save, is immeasurable. 

I know, because I had this experience in the fall of 2015. Chris suddenly started feeling very bad, and we thought he had food poisoning. By the time we realized it was much more severe, he had to be transported to our local hospital by ambulance, and from there, transferred to a larger hospital that could perform an emergency surgery immediately. By that point, he had already lost a substantial amount of blood due to a Dieulafoy's lesion (as it was described to me, an ulcer that formed on an artery in his stomach wall). Thankfully, the surgeon was able to stop the bleeding quickly.

Chris recovered beautifully, and we are grateful for the emergency staff, the surgical team, and the nurses and doctors that made up his post-surgical care team. He now has a local GI specialist and we know to keep an eye on these things. I drive him a little bonkers, probably, but any time he has any discomfort with his stomach, I am immediately questioning him about what it feels like, what he has eaten, if he's had too much coffee recently, and on and on.

What does this have to do with donating blood? Well, following surgery, Chris needed to replenish his blood supply, and not just a little bit. When all was said and done, he required nine units of blood. NINE. I don't know how much he started with, but I can tell you that this was a LOT. Nine people, at some point in the days or weeks or months prior to his hospitalization, donated blood so that my husband and Pip's dad could survive this unforeseen and horrific medical emergency.

After we left the hospital, I decided I wanted to donate blood in order to give back. I had never done so before, and the idea made me slightly nauseated. But I was so thankful that the supply was there for him when he needed it that I was determined.

The first time I donated, I didn't do great. I got dizzy and a bit weak. The sweet women running the drive knew what to do for me, and I was fine, of course. It turns out that although I was mentally prepared, I hadn't done everything I could to be ready, physically. They recommended that, next time, I be sure to eat a good meal and drink plenty of water in the hours prior to donating.

The second time, I followed their suggestions, and it didn't go much smoother. I was only able to give what they referred to as a "baby bag." I asked if it would even be useful. Yes, I was assured, it could literally be used for a baby who needed blood. Thinking about an infant needing blood--and the thought of being the parent of said infant--reinforced my resolve.

I haven't given up. I'm sure the third time will be better.

I am clearly not the best at donating blood, but I am trying. I sincerely ask anyone who is reading this to at least consider finding out how to donate where you live and if you are eligible. You never know whose life it might save: it could be a stranger you never meet, or it could be someone you love dearly. Like I said before, few of us expect to need a transfusion. I hope you never do. But if or when the need arises, having the resources available could make all the difference in the outcome.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Favorite Sale: Kohl's

Let me start by saying that I am not a big Kohl's shopper. I like the store just fine, and I have heard from people who have found amazing bargains there. I just don't make my way over to any of their locations very often.

However, they recently mailed me a coupon for $10 off any purchase of $10 or more. Game on.

I went into the Clarksville, Tennessee, store yesterday. I had my coupon and a short list of things I would like to find, if the price was right. I wasn't particularly pleased with the selection or prices of any of the items from my list, so I scoured the outer edges of the store, looking for the clearance sections of each department. I was determined to find some way to sensibly spend this $10 rather than lose it.

Then I found the clearance bedding and remembered that we could, in fact, use a new set of sheets. Never would I pay the original price of $109.99, but this set for $32.99 with an additional $10 off? Yes I will, thank you very much!





















That's right, down from $109.99 to $32.99. And I was able to apply that $10 coupon. These very nice, 100% cotton sheets were only $22.99 plus tax! That's less than a pair of pillowcases from the same collection normally run.


I felt like a champion when I left the store with my "Total Saved: $87.00" receipt!


What's the best buy you've gotten at Kohl's?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Recycling Clothes at H&M

I've been going through our clothes this week, trading sweaters and coats for tanks and shorts. Along the way I have encountered more than a few items that are in too poor of condition to share along (please don't donate worn out/torn/stained clothes to charities), but I was pained to think of just throwing them in the garbage and sending them to a landfill.
Enter H&M's garment collecting initiative! Not only will they dispose of these garments responsibly, but at the H&M store in Nashville's Opry Mills Mall, at least, they give you a discount on your purchase if you bring in clothes to recycle. Garments can be any brand, and in any condition. There's more info and a store locator on their website!

Their fashionable clothing is pretty affordable, generally, and their clearance prices are often big bargains! And they're well-made, too. I found a "size 2-4Y" dress from there--at a thrift store, so I assume it had already been previously worn--for Pip when she was two years old. It was her favorite because it was so soft, and she wore it as a dress that summer, and the following summer. The next summer and the next, it was a tunic. Then it became a shirt. I am not even kidding; at age 7 1/2, that kid is still wearing that shirt!!

So, bag up your worn out garments and head to your nearest H&M!

Monday, May 1, 2017

May is Celiac Awareness Month


May is Celiac Awareness Month, and this is a subject close to my heart.

Pip was diagnosed with Celiac Disease--an autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten protein--just after she turned five. This was after more than two years of stomach aches that were ignored and glossed over, because she was still playing and growing and learning. There were no other glaring outward symptoms. I knew something was not right, but the list of short-term dietary changes I made didn't seem to make a difference for her. Two pediatricians looked at her and her charts and said, "let's wait and see." A third doc in a third city heard what I was saying, ordered some tests, and found the markers in the blood work. A pediatric GI confirmed the diagnosis.

The first month--which happened to be right at the winter holiday season--was really hard. Pip was frustrated when she didn't get to eat the same dessert or snack as everyone else. I didn't know how to make anything gluten free that tasted good, and I certainly didn't yet know which packaged GF products were the most palatable. I read every label. I asked every host what was in every dish. We practically stopped going out to eat due to fear of cross-contamination.

Over time, things got easier. I found a variety of foods and meals that were gluten free that Pip--and our whole family--enjoyed. I started packing her a lunchbox every time we left the house. I quickly realized how fortunate we were that this disorder is managed entirely by diet, no medication required. As long as we're vigilant and she's not ingesting gluten, she's healthy. At seven and a half years old, she's her own advocate, making sure that any new foods--and all foods served outside our home--are safe for her. She's a champ about it, too. She'll even ask me, when she's about to eat something new to her, "Mom, are you sure this is gluten free?"

Now, she's growing like a weed. She's a ball of constant energy. Where a little virus used to take her out for more than a week due to an already-taxed immune system, she's generally quite healthy.

As I said, May is Celiac Awareness Month. I've learned a lot about Celiac out of necessity in the past two and a half years, and the damage it does to your insides is not worth going undiagnosed. There are many potential outward symptoms, and people are affected in different ways. If you suspect that you or someone you love has Celiac Disease, please request the blood test to rule it out (or to indicate that further testing is needed). Although I'm glad we caught it when we did, I wish we had done it sooner.


A great resource for more information--before and after diagnosis--is Celiac.org.

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 (in case I ever need to know off the top of my head that 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 special gluten free Mickey waffles just 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!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Pip's Pizza Bites

Sometimes we need a quick snack or meal. It needs to be gluten free and it needs to be tasty. Bonus points if it's warm (is it just me, or does warm food seem more filling?). Extra bonus points if you can integrate a lesson on fractions into your creation.

With those goals in mind, Pip and I experimented with pizza bites this week. They take two minutes and they are yummy! Here are the first four steps:

























1. Crackers (we used Glutino brand)
2. Pizza sauce (we used Mezzetta; it's certified GF)
3. Shredded mozzarella (we used store brand)
4. Pepperoni (we used store brand--just make sure it's certified GF)

When they're assembled, pop them in the microwave for approximately 5 seconds per cracker.

You can spice them up with Italian herbs, you can make them without the meat, you can add a little mushroom slice or banana pepper; just like pizza, the possibilities are endless! And you can individualize for each member of your family, all in the same batch.

I guess we've really missed pizza, since we've now enjoyed these three times this week already. What's your favorite go-to snack?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5-Minute Project: Empty Your Bag

Before having a child, my purse was lightweight; I carried only the essentials. After Pip was born, I traded in the handbag for a diaper bag. Everywhere I went, I carried with me everything I could possibly imagine that I could need, and, often, in duplicate.

When she graduated from diapers and I retired the bulky bag, my shoulder bag felt so light again. I loved it. I'm not someone who changes handbags frequently--typically once per season, if that--but I kept a regular routine of rummaging through it once every week to make sure that I was keeping things streamlined. I never had trouble finding what I needed because there was nothing in the way.

I don't know when I stopped doing that. But I can tell you when I realized it: this weekend.

I had used a little bit of birthday money from my dad to order myself a new handbag. Well, new to me. It was my first purchase from Poshmark, and I was psyched to start carrying it. I had a few minutes before heading out the door, so I figured it was a perfect time to move things from the purse I was retiring to the new arrival. I figured dumping everything out on the table was the easiest way to determine how to place items in the new bag.

To my horror, this is what came out of the old purse; this is what I was carrying everywhere I went.






















Besides my wallet, keys, and coupon file, the contents included 4 pairs of glasses, a set of Pip's mittens (even though it's been 60 degrees outside), receipts, pens and markers, multiple hair clips, an EpiPen, and a LOT of candy including an open, partially melted candy cane. Yikes.

After sorting through that mess, tossing what needed to be tossed, washing what needed to be washed, and putting away the things that didn't need to go everywhere with me all the time, I put the necessary items into my new bag. I don't know whether it's the bag or how little it weighs, compared to the old one and all its wonders, but I have a new pep in my step.

Today, I encourage you to lighten your load. This is not a metaphor. I am talking about the physical bag that you carry around: your purse, your backpack, your messenger bag, your gym bag, your Thirty One utility tote, whatever. Empty it out, and replace only the items you need to have in there. 

It's a relatively quick thing that can change how you feel walking out the door. At least I know it did for me!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Favorite Sale: Peebles

Our little shopping mall houses a Peebles. Since I signed up for their rewards club (NOT their store credit card, just the rewards club), I have enjoyed shopping there immensely. They send me coupons and sale reminders via text and email, and if I am careful to shop the sale and clearance racks, I find some amazing buys there!

This past weekend I ended up there kind of by mistake. Chris was working, Pip was with Mimi, and I was out alone--something of a rare occurrence. I stopped by the mall to return a beautiful birthday gift that hadn't been the right fit, and as I entered the building Mimi forwarded me her most recent text reminder from Peebles. "That's not why I'm here," I responded. "Worth looking," she replied. She was right.

First off, every department contained racks of clothes and shoes and household goods marked "clearance" which were up to 75% off. Second, all clearance items were buy one, get one free. And third, I had received an email for $5 off any purchase of $5 or more, just for fun.

I prowled around the store section by section. I wasn't looking for anything specific, just looking. I didn't want to spend much--or anything, really--unless it was something we needed or would definitely use. My last department was home goods. I headed straight for the clearance shelves. That's where I found this guy.



Pip thinks the Minions are great fun, and we use travel cups almost every day. This cup was originally $12.99; yeah, right. It was marked down to $6.49; I still wouldn't have bought it. Oh, wait, all clearance is buy one, get one free and there's a second, identical cup in the clearance section; now I'm getting them for $3.25 each. And I can use that $5 off any purchase? That's two nice kids' travel cups for a grand total of $1.49 before tax, and I "saved" $24.49. (The second cup is not in this photo because it was immediately washed and was in use at picture time.)

In case you're skeptical, here you go:


Of course I realize that not everyone could use a pair of Minions cups. But this same principle could be applied to clothing, jewelry, or other household goods. If I had felt like I needed a thing, I could have really cleaned up in the costume jewelry department.

And as if that savings wasn't fun enough, I was sent away with these parting gifts at checkout. They know how to keep me coming back!


If you don't have Peebles in your area, I suggest checking your local or regional department stores for the same types of member programs--and the bargains that come along with them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

First Grade, Second Semester

Actual conversation with a kind, older gentleman at the grocery store early one afternoon:

Man, with a twinkle in his eye: Shouldn't you be in school, young lady?
Pip, taken completely off guard: Should I, Mom? Is it a school day?
Man: Well, it's Thursday; isn't that a school day?
Pip: Not for me; I only go to school on Tuesday.

Man: (bewildered silence)
Me, stepping in: (To Pip) Well, you only go to co-op on Tuesday. (To the man) We homeschool; we've already finished with school for the day.
Pip, confused: We haven't done school today. We read books and sang songs and played that game where we add and subtract and wrote that letter to my cousin and... hey, you tricked me!

While I have no intention of "tricking" my child into learning, that comment was an affirmation that my efforts to keep our school days engaging seem to be working. And it is an effort: it means preparing ahead of time, and it means being willing and able to change course when the day is derailed, because that's most certainly going to happen from time to time. The variety in activities and approaches is worthwhile, though; it seems to keep her interest and mine, and makes the days quite pleasant. She's an inquisitive seven year old. Learning should be fun.

Heading into the second semester of first grade, my lesson plans have evolved from what they were even a few months ago. The girl loves to have a book in her hand, so much of our learning time is spent reading and discussing what we read; this includes Pip reading to herself, Pip reading aloud to me, and me reading aloud to her.

I learned last year that our homeschool thrived when I set goals for the week rather than specific daily lesson plans, and that's still ideal for us. On Sunday evening or Monday morning, I lay out what I hope to accomplish that week. Each day of our lessons, we enjoy reading, music, writing, and life skills. In addition, I aim for hitting each of these targets several times per week: science, history, math, and art. And because we both so enjoyed the read-aloud that we used throughout Advent--along with the conversations it sparked--we've incorporated a Bible lesson, either from an online source or a book or a VeggieTales movie, into the majority of our days.

The outside activities component remains strong, as well. We're committed members of a co-op that meets once a week for classes, clubs, and field trips. Pip takes harp lessons, sings in a children's choir, and participates in a weekly gymnastics class. We've got a variety of performances and field trips planned for our second semester of this year, from seeing the Russian Ballet Company to strolling through at least one zoo to watching a children's theater production of Peter Pan to visiting our state capitol. Other opportunities will surely present themselves, and we will take advantage of the feasible ones.

I regularly reflect on how fortunate we are to be in a position to homeschool and how that means we can put an emphasis on the things that are important to Pip--and to us--as she grows. We spent hours one day last week creating codes, writing each other messages in code, and then decoding those messages. We spent the majority of yesterday afternoon working on a painting for a local student art show. Pip was fascinated with the election process in the fall, so we'll spend some more time in the coming weeks focusing on the job of our nation's president and learning about a few of the historical greats.

Here's a peek at just a few of this semester's non-textbook materials. 
- Build the Human Body set from Silver Dolphin books (this was a Christmas gift from her grandparents!)
- Erasable place mats featuring US presidents and US geography (I found these at a children's consignment sale for next to nothing)


It's going to be a great term; we're both looking forward to what's to come!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Simple Team Umizoomi Birthday Party

My now-3-year-old nephew is crazy about Team Umizoomi and all things numbers, patterns, and shapes. A couple of weeks before his birthday, Mimi and I--with the blessing of his parents--brainstormed and came up with this simple Team Umizoomi party plan.

The location made it easy; they were hosting it at an indoor play place, complete with private party room and brightly colored decor. (This was super fun and frugal because his homemade Geo costume had won a Halloween costume contest a few weeks before, and the prize was a complimentary party!)

Licensed Team Umizoomi items were not as abundant or easy to find as I had hoped, but we found a 12-pack of cupcake liners and toppers on Amazon for about $12. The liners were really designed for big cupcakes, and when we saw that they dwarfed the adorable ones that Mimi had made and frosted, we trimmed characters out of them and used them as additional toppers. The cake was from a gluten free boxed mix, the frosting was homemade, and the liners, sprinkles, and candles were from the Dollar Tree. All together, it made an adorable tray of individual treats.

Because the party room was already bright and colorful, the only things needing decor were the tables. They were blue, so we didn't need the blue tablecloths that we had picked up at the Dollar Tree. We simply unrolled a length of craft paper from one end to the other, as a runner, and then cut large, basic shapes from 12x12 pieces of rainbow colored cardstock to set atop it to give a nod to Geo's belt. I originally intended to tape them down, but when the birthday boy saw the scene, he wanted to take them off the table and create new patterns with them. It was easy entertainment while we waited for his guests to arrive.


We added bottled water, single-serving ice cream cups, and lots of friends and cousins to go wild in the play place together, and we had ourselves a party!