Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Weasley's Wizard Wheezes

Happy Birthday to Fred and George Weasley! Yes, these two tricksters were born on April 1, according to J.K Rowling.

In honor of the Weasley twins, and April Fools Day, I thought what better Fun Dollars story to share than my time at their joke shop in Diagon Alley?

The storefront to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was the most austentacious shop on the street. Painted orange with a giant wizard appearing to "wear" the shop window, it looked exactly like the storefront from the movie.

Once we were inside, I felt like I was in an M.C. Escher painting. There were stairs running this way and that. The shop felt very cramped walking around. I imagine that is how it felt with all those witches and wizards in the shop when it first opened. Hardly any elbow room at all. 

The stairs were for effect only. They were blocked to admittance.

There were baskets of pygmy puffs, bottles of love potion, decoy detinators, extendable ears, and skiving snack boxes. (Of course, we are all skiving these days...) (For you non-Brits, that's their word for playing hookie.)

They also had T-shirts sporting the name of the shop. There was one in particular that caught my eye. I decided to call upon my "Fun Dollars Discipline" and not buy the shirt. I wanted to make sure that was the purchase I really wanted to make. I knew that we had two more days at the park for me to shop and hunt around. So, at the end of our stay, if I still wanted the shirt, I could make the purchase. 

It was a unique shirt. I had not seen anyone at the park wearing it yet. It was entirely purple with orange, gold and purple printing. It did not indicate anything about Hogwarts or the Houses, which I liked. 

As a Ravenclaw, I was deeply offended that in the one place on earth I would expect to see an Eagle on Ravenclaw swag, all I was given was a RAVEN! I refused to buy anything Ravenclaw at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter because they all bore Ravens instead of Eagles. So, that was another reason this shirt stood out to me. It related to the Harry Potter experience without being offensive to the proud house of Ravenclaw. 

Also, the shirt was unique to the experience of travelling to this destination. No where else would I be able to say, "I bought this at the store where it came from." You can buy Hogwarts gear at Target these days, but nothing from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes can be found. (Although I won't say the same about Etsy. Apparently that is where all the Ravenclaw with Eagle swag can be purchased.)

Our Hufflepuff student did have an interesting learning experience with Fun Dollars while we were in the shop. He watched other students make their first pygmy puff purchase. When they do that, they ring the bell on the counter and announce, "Attention, attention, witches, wizards and muggles! We have our friend, (Instert student's name) here adopting their first pygmy puff. They have decided to name it (insert pygmy puff's name)." Then everybody claps. Hufflepuff wanted to make a pygmypuff purchase, and I think it might have had something to do with the excitement of the announcement. 

As he was waiting in line, I asked him about his purchase. He explained that he wanted to buy the pygmy puff for his younger half brother at home. He showed me his choice of pygmy puff and I glanced at the price tag. "How much money do you have left?" I asked. I knew that of all the kids we were travelling with, he had the smallest amount to spend. He had purchased his wand and that was pretty much all his money. I did give him the opportunity to earn more Fun Dollars on the trip, but this purchase would completely exhaust his funds. 

"You know that if you buy this you won't have much left," I gently cautioned him. "We still have two more days at the park. So if you see something else that you like better, you won't be able to buy it." He considered my words for a minute. Then he walked over to the basket of mini puffs and pulled one out, leaving his previous choice on the shelf. Making the change saved him some cash, and allowed him to make one more smaller purchase while we were there. 

I really enjoyed watching him think about what he was doing with his money. He didn't have to swap it out. But after thinking about what the purchase was for, he knew that his brother wouldn't care that it was a regular sized pygmy puff or a mini-puff, he would get a present and be happy with it. Fun Dollars principles getting taught and put into practice: Deeply consider your purchase. It's easy to buy something, but also look at what that will do to your Fun Dollars. Will it deplete them? Is that ok? I would like to think that this moment of financial awareness will plant a seed in this kiddo, that when he does have the ability to spend, he will weigh the cost and the benefit and not just give in to impulse. 

After sitting on my impulse for two days, I was finally ready to make that T-shirt purchase. Yes, I was careful with my Fun Dollars on vacation too. I did not expect to go into this vacation to "save money" or to spend limitlessly. I did a combination of both to strike a balance. Not really buying anything for myself  as a souvenenier, but making sure that the kids had plenty of cash was a part of that plan. So I allowed myself to get the shirt on our last day in the park. 

I changed into my shirt in the loo on the last day in the park after my purchase.
And, yes, that is a glitter fanny pack you spy. I rocked it all week long 

My judicious Ravenclaw didn't find anything in the shop that really made him want to part with his Fun Dollars. He was literally a kid in a joke shop with plenty of cash, but his money discipline is stronger than his urge to spend. He left there with the same cash he went in with, even though this was the shop he looked forward to the most .(Well, this shop and Honeydukes). His favorite characters in the books were Fred and George. He delights in their playful mischief and (somewhat) aspires to follow in their footsteps. He just wants to make people laugh like they did. It mostly comes out as jokes he has made up and the occasional (decent) prank.

I secretly also like Fred and George. They chose to venture out on their own and make a go of their natural talent to bring a smile to people's faces. Remembering that we all need to laugh is as important now as it ever was. Laughter keeps us positive. Laughter can take our minds off our worries momentarily. Laughter just makes us feel better. 

Happy Birthday, Fred and George Weasley!

This is a snippet of the acapella group (with frogs) doing the Weasley's Twins' theme from The Order of the Phoenix. The guy off to the right is doing the fireworks sounds. This was while we were passing by on our way back from the Hogwarts ride. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Dessert First

As I am sitting here eating ice cream out of the vessel we scored on vacation...

I want to skip right to the best part, dessert. 

I want to fast forward all the way to our last day in the park. This was the day we found out that
they were going to close the park to enforce social distancing. Thank
goodness it was our last day because the day after they announced it, we
were on the road and the lines to get in were swollen with eager tourists. 
Everybody wanted to get in knowing that the park had only one day left to 
remain open. You want to talk about perfect timing? This was it. 
We had no interruption to our original travel plans. (Also keep the timeline
of events in context. When we left for our trip the directive was, "wash your hands."
While we were gone, the situation changed and escalated on a daily basis. We
did not take this trip to bite our thumb at the government or its directives. 
Until we had been on vacation for a few days the only instruction was to 
observe safe sanitation practices. So please do  not read this using the lens
of the current climate and the shelter-in order.)

Having no interruption to our travel made eating ice cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice 
Cream Parlor that much


All week we wandered through the streets of Diagon Alley, enjoying the sights sounds
and spells (haha). Every day the kids looked longingly at the window of the ice cream shop,
wishing for a taste of the treats inside.

I told them all I would buy them ice cream for dessert on the last night after hearing, "can we
have ice cream?" for the hundredth time.

View from the inside of the ice cream shop's window

Fast forward to the last night. After eating dinner at the Leaky Coldron, it was
decided that the Mummy was the last ride we all wanted to ride. Thankfully
The Mummy was across the park. Walking gave us a chance to let our tummies
settle before hopping on a roller coaster. (Just one of those things you try not to 
think about while at an amusement park; eating then riding. Just go for it.)

It was also our opportunity to try the "single rider line" method to getting on a ride faster.
We had heard about going in the single rider line from one of the folks in the hot
tub at the resort. "If you don't mind sitting by yourself in a row, you can get in the single rider line.
So you put one adult in the front of the line to ride first, and wait for each kid as they get off.
Then Grown up number two goes last and stays with all the kids till they have all got on the ride."
So while other parties wanted to all ride the ride "together at the same time", we all elected to
hop in the single rider line. So instead of waiting 45 minutes, we only had to wait 20. As it turned
Out I was on the same ride as all 4 kids. They were just in different rows than me. My Slytherin
Adult travel companion was in the cart behind us. So we all just waited at the exit until he got off
the ride.

"Now can we get ice cream?" the kids begged.
"Yes, now we can go get ice cream," I replied.

We started walking our way back across the park. We passed the Fast and the Furious car "showroom"
And Slytherin Adult travel companion said he wanted to pop in while we went to get ice cream. It was down to our last hour in the park, and I knew he really wanted to see the cars. So I agreed and continued to walk with the kids to Diagon Alley.

We were in a hurry,  knowing that the park was going to close shortly.  After we entered the the ice cream shop they allowed one more party in behind us and then they closed the door for the night. Only the people that were already standing in line were served.
We arrived Just in Time!

Standing in line at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor in Diagon Alley

I told the kids to get anything they wanted. They were shocked that they could literally get any
flavor swirled with any other flavor! "You mean it's not just vanilla and chocolate?" Gryffindor asked.
"Any two flavors," replied the witch behind the counter.

Each child put in their order and I made my way down the line to the cash register. It took them several minutes to create the desserts. As I was waiting, a woman came shuffling down the line towards me.
"Excuse me, have you paid for your ice cream yet?" she asked.
"No, not yet," I replied, a little bewildered.
"I have snacks left on this food card. Can I buy your ice cream for you?"
Seriously? A total stranger comes up to me asking to pay for $31.00 worth of ice cream?
"Yes. Thank you!" was of course my reply.

Magic? Who knows. The kids all got their dream desserts finally and they didn't cost me a single Fun Dollar!

Finally some ice cream!

Now that is what I call the cherry on top. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Of Wands, Witches and Wizards

One Happy Ravenclaw

To say that this vacation was perfectly timed would be an understatement. I cannot express how grateful I am
that our trip was not only able to happen, but was not cut short or postponed in any way. So, to give myself
something to think about other than what's in the news, I wanted to recap my dream vacation. What else am
I going to do while in "quarantine"?

Having the memory of this vacation has lit me up since we returned. If I had to cast a Patronus right now, this
memory would  be the one I think of right before shouting, "Expecto Patronum!"  There was nothing that I
would change or do differently about this trip. Every moment added up to what I can only remember as my
favorite vacation to date. (Yes, I loved my childhood vacations, but this was something new...this was a self-
funded vacation with my own kids. Passing the torch in a way. So, it encompassed all those childhood
memories as well as built our own new memories with a new generation.) 

This was Fun Dollars at it's best. I was able to enjoy the feeling of "I did it!" the entire trip. I wanted this trip to
feel like a magical journey for these four kiddos. I made Fun Dollars a part of the trip, which added to the
magic. For starters, the Owls delivered packages to the kids. They all received toothbrushes, goggles and 
sunglasses, which they put to good use all week long. I also gave them all color pencils, a four color pen and 
an activity book, just to have a non-electronic thing to do in the car. There was one point when Hufflepuff 
chimed in from the middle seat, "Look, Rachael, none of us are on our electronics!" I looked behind me, 
and sure enough they were each working hard on their puzzle books.

In general, the kids handled the road travel quite well. They all were happy to entertain themselves, or talk
together. There were a few moments of typical kiddo shenanigans, but that just added to the fun of the trip.
I have to say, I did not expect to return from a trip with four kids and feel that relaxed, but I did.

When we left, each child also had their own stash of Fun Dollars. My Slytherin adult travel partner had been
paying his kids for weeks to do chores. Sweeping floors, pet care and taking out the trash were all done by
the Hufflepuff and Slytherin kids. (Although I should note that the little Slytherin realized that he might 
actually be a Ravenclaw. He called himself a Slyther-claw during our trip.)  The Gryffindor and Ravenclaw 
kids (my kids) saved up all of their Christmas money AND all their birthday money this year. Since they both 
had January birthdays, they kept their birthday card cash for the trip. They did some chores as well, like 
putting away their own laundry and dishes. I did not pay them outright for those chores, however. It was 
understood that mom would cover any souvenir expense only after they spent all their own money first. 

And guess what? ALL FOUR children came home with money! Hufflepuff was the first to run out of cash, but I
did give him the opportunity to earn more Fun Dollars on the trip. He earned an extra $30.00 on the trip and
came home with a buck to spare.

I am not sure how much money the "Slyther-claw" kiddo came home with, but I know his mason jar had
money in it when we returned. (That's what he uses as a piggy bank, a pint sized mason jar!)

Both of my children had more than $20.00 left after vacation. But the winner, the child who has been trained
in Fun Dollars since before he was in kindergarten came back from vacation with a whopping $70.00! Now, 
granted he started with about $300.00, but for a child to have free-reign on his spending on his dream 
vacation? I have to say right now that I am one proud Fun Dollars Mama. My little Ravenclaw, who inspired 
this trip, was the most judicious shopper! Even down to his last purchase, he checked with me first to see 
if it was a good buy.

It was for a very nice Jurassic Park baseball cap, and I could not have been happier saying, "Yes." The
confidence he derived from putting that hat on was tangible as he asked me if he could make the purchase. 
He was buying something he actually wanted. Even though he has baseball caps at home, this particular 
one spoke to him. I wanted him to have that hat. I wanted him to have the crown to remember that trip 
every time he puts it on.

He set out with the end in mind. He WANTED to come home with money. Why? "Because I've been saving,
mom! I want to go out and spend my money on things I've had my eye on at home."
This whole time that he has been saving up his Christmas and birthday money, he has been price 
comparing and window shopping at stores here in town. He didn't want to only spend his money on 
vacation. He wanted to be able to come home and spend too.

He even tried to get me to promise to buy him souvenirs if his money dropped below a certain point. To
which I answered, "Then you have to choose if you really want to buy the item or not. I will buy you 
souvenirs only after you run out of money." So he knew that if he spent it all, he would get vacation 
money from mom, but his home spending money would have to be built back up. He didn’t want that. 
So he kept track of his Fun Dollars and only spent down to the amount he was comfortable with.

When we returned to this epidemic, we took a trip to Wal-Mart for a few items. He brought his money
along and wanted to make a trip to aisle 11…Pokemon Cards. Even though that is the last thing I want 
in my house right now, I respected his decision and said nothing about it. He was proud to have the 
money in his pocket to make the purchase. He even ended up taking one of his items off the order 
because he didn’t like how expensive it all was. He still wanted to keep some money in his pocket so 
he returned an item! He did this all by himself with the cashier and did it with confidence. He is cool 
with putting something back and saving his money! (I am seriously getting choked up over here. I 
could not be more proud!)

So, back to vacation. Each child did bring enough to buy their own wands. This was the one big item
each child wanted. It didn't matter that they cost $60.00 each, they were so thrilled to make their own 
wand purchases.

We waited in line at Olivander's in Hogsmeade.

I had no idea what to expect. When it was our turn to enter the wand shop, we all shuffled in and they
closed the door. The assistant arranged the kids in the room in the front row and the adults behind them. 
With a little over a dozen of us in the wand shop, they closed the door and the room darkened. A single 
lamp was lit on the desk of the wandkeeper, who greeted us all with a British accent. Our little Gryffindor
started to pipe up, and our parent alarm went off, "Shh…" came out in unison. The wandkeeper didn't 
miss a beat, "Oh, no, don't sush our young Gryffindor. The student has a question." She asked her question, 
and he kindly answered her. He then asked two other the students from the crowd to come forward. They 
were dressed in their Hogwarts uniforms, and the "show" began. 

The wand keeper walked around the shop and after some thought and consideration, pulled two wand
boxes off the shelf. He brought them back to his desk and removed the lids from the wand boxes. He told 
the students about the first wand and handed it to one of them. "Give it a wave," he instructed. She did 
so, and the flowers in the pot  wilted. "No, that can't be your wand." So then he handed the other wand 
to the other student. "Go ahead and wave it, dear," he said. When she did, the wand boxes went askew 
on the shelf. So then he thought about it and traded wands with the two students. When they held them 
a fan behind the desk blew air at them and the music queued up, just like in the first movie. "Oh, those 
are your wands…" Everyone clapped. Then the crowd was instructed to shuffle their way into the actual 
wand shop to be chosen by the wands therein. 

Oh, wait, back up a bit…My little Ravenclaw thought he would be cheeky and ask questions in a British
accent through the entire ceremony. Go ahead and punctuate that whole scenario with an 11 year old 
asking questions... Since I was told by the wand keeper that I should not shush my kids, I let him handle 
the Ravenclaw comments. And he did. So when the rest of the crew was getting shuffled into the wand 
shop to make their purchases, we were told to hand back. (They only do the ceremony once per group. 
You either get to have your wand choose you, or you get to watch someone be chosen by a wand.) It 
was clear to the wand keeper that this crew of students were curious and eager, he chose to give us a 
"mini ceremony" just for us. 

So, per the wandkeeper's instructions, all 6 of us hung back while everyone else went to choose their
wands in the shoppe. The wandkeeper disappeared into a back room and returned to his desk clutching 
four wand boxes. He called the children forward. They peered eagerly at the boxes. The wand keeper 
took out the first wand and addressed our little Hufflepuff. He told him about the core and the wood 
and a few characteristics of the wand. He did this to each student in turn. After they all heard about 
their wands, they were allowed to pick them up out of the boxes. When they did, the wind blew, and 
just like that, all four wands magically chose each student. It was a mini version of what we just 
wittnessed, but the kids got their own private wand ceremony! What a treasured memory we will 
all share.

Each Child took their wand box through the door and into and actual wand shop to make their purchase.  "
$58.95," said the cashier wizard. Each child took out thier Fun Dollars and paid the wizard.  They had worked
and saved for those Fun Dollars, and they were each making the choice to spend their money on the wand
that chose them. I was so proud of all
of them!

As it turned out, these wands make magic happen all over the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The students
can take the map that comes in the wand box to places marked with medallions on the street. There, they 
can practice their wand movements and recite the incantation. Some of the magic happens inside a shop 
window, some happens with a statue or a fountain, it just depends on where you are what the magic will be. 
But it's all mapped out on the parchment that is included with the wand. 

We discovered also, that sometimes the wands need to go in for "repair". While our Gryfindor was trying to
make it rain in Diagon Alley, a wizard dressed in a black velvet hat strolled up and asked her to show him her
spellwork. "Meteolojinx!" she announced, and she did the wand movement. So the wizard tried to do the
same spell, and his spell worked. So, he asked Little Gryffindor if he could examine her wand. She handed
it to him. He rolled the wand in his fingers. He looked at it, smelled it, then declared, "Your wand needs
repair, young Witch." He explained to me that I could take the wand to any Olivander's location and they
will repair it. It will take two minutes and it's free.

This was where the students could cast the Meteolojinx spell and make it "rain". Ravenclaw enjoyed standing under the umbrella and having it "rain" around him. This was where Gryffindor was told that her wand would need repair. 

The next day we took her wand in to Olivanders in Hogsmeade. There, the witch took her wand to the back
room and brought it out, fully functioning two minutes later. We were told that no matter where the wand 
was purchased, nor when, they will always repair them. It really made me appreciate the purchase that the 
children  made even more. So, even if these students return to Diagon Alley (say in four years when 
Gryffindor turns 11, the wands will still be fun and usable!)

After an exhausting first day at the park, we returned to the hotel to hit up the pool and hot tub. The Next Owl
Post shall be delivered with the magical details of our stay in the edition of Fun Dollars. Stay tuned and stay

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Owl Post

We are travelling. We are en route. All is good....I have been saying prayers for safe travels for weeks now.

The Road trip down started at 1:45 in the morning on Friday.

The idea was that the kids would sleep for a few hours in the car, then wake up in Chattanooga. But in reality, we pulled out of town at 1:45 and ate breakfast in Paducah, KY at the Cracker Barrell.

My motto for the entire trip is, "We are on vacation. We have No schedule." So leaving 45 minute later than "planned" was nothing. We have an entire week with no work, no school, no schedule. We get to leave when we are ready. We get to travel at a pace that works. Whenever we get there is when we get there.

We had originally planned to reach Chattaooga, TN sometime during the day so that we could spend time site seeing. The Inclined Railway up mountain was our first choice, but it still was not open for the season. We pulled into the parking lot, and even though Google said they were opened, the crew was painting and doing repairs.

We still journeyed up Lookout Mountain and explored Ft. Oglethorpe. (This is where we would have landed had we taken the inclined railway up Look Out Mountain.)

I have taken enough family vacations to feel OK with whatever happens. I have traveled with kids enough to know that plans  can be changed at the drop of a hat and kids can always be a wild card.

In addition to the site seeing (both in the car and out) I bought a stash of "Road Trip Presents" to keep the kids smiling. They have been delivered by Owl Post throughout the trip. When we stopped at the first gas station, they delivered sunglasses to the kids. When we arrived at the hotel, they delivered toothbrushes.

Today, we are heading further south and will reach our destination. The Owls will deliver colored pencils, pencil pouches, activity books and four-color pens in the car. Goggles will be delivered at the hotel once we reach our destination. All we have to do is check in, open the packages, then hit the 85 degree water waiting for us at Cabana Bay Resort.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Snitch is Caught

It's weird, surreal, and a bit scary to think that in a matter of a fortnight, we will depart on our Hogwarts Journey. Cat

Last night, the kids and I completed the Jim Dale reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Something about that accomplishment makes me want to cry. It's the end, for the first time. The secrets have been revealed. The mystery is solved. The Horcruxes have been vanquished.

As we were listening to the last disc, I would get excited and shush the kids...hold out my arms for the stillness to fall, and then the words would pour over them. With each secret that was revealed with each explanation that came, their eyes widened. Then we would discuss, summarize and continue. There was so much to absorb, so much to feel, so much to connect.

Image result for harry potter and the deathly hallows

As I watched the kids experience the ending of the Harry Potter series for the first time, I could not have been more grateful that we had the the 7th book on CD so that we could experience it together. I would have been satisfied with just Carrick reading it, but going through it as a family added a power to the story that I had yet to experience. In all the times I have read the books or listened to the book on CD (multiple times on both accounts) I had not shared it with anyone else simultaneously. (Well, sort of. I would listen to it in the car when I would take Carrick on "nap rides" when he was little. It's not quite the same as sharing it with an 11-year-old.) I loved being right there with my kids as they were taken through the forest, into Harry's mind and back into Hogwarts, knowing that the end was drawing ever closer.

This was a journey I began eleven years ago. It has been a long time in the making. When I read the Sorcerer's Stone to Carrick while he was in the NICU, it was like wrapping up in a warm blanket. Reading the familiar story to my first baby as he recovered from his two-month premature birth laid the foundation for this trip. A year later, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was opened. It was then that I made the promise to myself that his 11th birthday would include a trip there.

After saving up for the trip all year long,  (and saving up paid time off) I am finally able to make this decade-long dream a reality. I never knew it would come so quickly! That is part of why the completion of this book holds so much power over me. I have anticipated this for a very long time.

Now, our road trip and vacation are just around the corner. It seems unbelievable.

Part of my preparations are already started. The hotel room for the trip down is booked. The car rental is booked. Some car snacks are purchased, although I will be adding to that this weekend. I want to take the kids shopping for some treats to add to what I already have. My aim is to not buy anything from a gas station and save some cash that way. (ALDI is much cheaper than Circle K for snacks and bottled water.)

I am also taking the kids shopping for "car presents". I will be buying useful and/or fun things for the kids to have on the trip and wrapping them up as presents. Such items will include fanny packs, mini bubbles, sunglasses, puzzle books, goggles, and glow sticks. I figured they would enjoy opening presents on the trip. I used to do this for my kids when they were much younger and we took road trips. This is our first long road trip in three years, so I wanted to go back to that old tradition. (Also that way I know they have certain items for the trip that they might not otherwise have or remember.)

As a side note, the bubbles will be handed out if we are stuck in traffic. Once upon a time when on one of our Family Florida Road Trips with my own parents, we were stuck in Traffic in Atlanta. All four lanes of traffic were at a stand still. So I got out of the car and started blowing bubbles into the car windows of the people around us. It put a smile on everyone's face in a stressful and annoying situation and is one of my favorite memories of the trip south. Don't worry, I won't let the kids out of the car, but if we are stuck in traffic, you better believe our car will be the one with bubbles flying out the windows.

That memory calls to mind the part of this trip that seems surreal to me; I am now on the "adult" side of a Family Road Trip to Florida. Since I was two years old, my parents would drive down to Florida every other year for our big family vacation. Traveling south through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and into Florida is in my blood. It's what I know as a family vacation. I am now the one providing that to my children. Taking them on a memorable journey that will stay with them for a lifetime.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

It's Official!

This week I paid the balance on our Florida trip! Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Here We Come!

We have a six-person suite, park-hopper passes for 4 days of fun as well as early park admission all bought and paid for.

I have never paid for a vacation all on my own before. (There are a lot of things I haven't paid on my own before.) But now that I am living out on my own, I get to learn how to balance bills with Fun Dollars. This trip is ALL FUN DOLLARS. It was funded partially by my tax return as well as the leftovers in my checking account before a paycheck hit. Each week since opening my vacation savings account, I would transfer anything left that was over my "minimum" for the checking account into my vacation savings.

These were separate balance transfers from the ones I made into my "Living Expenses" savings account. That account was funded by the other half of my tax return last year. I would always pay into that account first. So as soon as I received a paycheck, I would bounce some money into my Living Expenses account.

My discipline with savings paid off this winter when my electricity bill reached $432.67. Apparently my new space was wired so that the AC would kick on every time the heater turned on. After receiving that bill (and freaking out...) I paid it...out of my Living Expenses account. NO SWEAT. As it turned out, I had to flip the AC breaker to turn off the AC. (MY AC and heater were competing for temp for a straight month. The air came out cold and both would run 24/7. Thank goodness I got that sorted out.) The good news was that after saving up, I was able to cover my bill an not deplete my savings. I made a dent, but I still have enough to cover bills for two months if necessary.

I won't lie, I was pretty proud of myself for being able to handle that situation. The electricity bill this month was back down to "normal" plus I received assistance from a local agency. I qualified, so I figured, why not use the help if it's there? It basically covers my electricity bill through April.

So now that this vacation is officially paid for, we get to work on finishing the series. We did complete book 6 entirely on audio CD. Carrick began the 7th book on audio CD, but left the CDs at his dad's house when he last visited. So, for two weeks, he gets to go back to reading on his own. I will help a little bit too by reading in the evenings. I decided that since he is so close to the end, we will still go on the trip, even though he won't complete the series before his birthday next Tuesday. I mean, he made it this far, and I would be insane to cancel the trip over a few pages.

I decided to extend a little grace with book 7. Even though I had the idea of him finishing the books by his 11th birthday, I fully understand that this is something he needs to enjoy. The past two books were somewhat "force fed" to get him this far in this amount of time. Part of the issue was him not taking it seriously and him doing other things besides reading (like electronics.)

I especially wanted him to enjoy book 7 because it's the end of the series. Sure he can always do a re-read, but going through the Deathly Hallows for the first time is an experience to savor. I remember reading it for the first time in 2007, immediately after the book release. I couldn't put it down. He is going to remember the completion of the series as long as he lives. For a Harry Potter fan, that is something you will keep with you, the first time you completed the series.

Also, there are so many aspects of the story to process, so rushing through the first read is not recommended.  ***spoiler alert*** I realized this when I saw how he reacted to Hedwig getting hit with a killing curse right off the bat. I thought, "he is going to need to read and talk about this as we go along, even more so than with the other books." I empathized with this feeling of loss. I paused the CD and said, "Ok, from here on out, it gets real...are you ready for this?  Characters die in this book. Characters, plural." He assured me that he was up for the experience.

So we are still working on book 7 and his birthday is on Tuesday. "It's not every day your young man turns eleven," (House points if you know who said that.)

Also, Lily has elected to hear the book along with us. She is now more excited to start over with the Sorcerer's Stone now that we have began listening to the Deathly Hallows. She and I had started reading the first book together before we moved out on our own. The little Slytherin (who is coming on the trip with us) had started reading his brother's copy of The Sorcerer's Stone and wanted me to read aloud to him one night. So he and Lily sat on either side of me while I read. Lily kept asking me to read to her after we moved out, but I had to stay focused on Carrick and his reading. After reading so much out loud in the evening I didn't really feel like doing more reading for her bedtime. (don't judge...) She did get her Book It points by listening to me read from the Order of the Phoenix, though. And, as a side note, little Slytherin is now reading Chamber of Secrets. He continued reading the series after we moved out because he enjoyed it so much! (Which makes my Harry Potter Heart happy!)

So for Christmas, my sister gave me the illustrated Sorcerer's Stone. Lily said with elation, "Now we can start the story over and this time we have pictures!" So even though she will already know how the series ends, it has not put a damper on her pursuing her own Harry Potter experience.

Right now the name of the game is to finish book 7, start making fine-tuned plans for the trip and keep saving those Fun Dollars!

Until Next time, Happy Spending.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Book of Umbridge

Book 5, The Order of the Phoenix, is the  Dolores Umbridge of Harry Potter Books. What a punishment! With all due respect, Ms. Rowling, this book is as unforgiving as the Senior Undersecretary herself!  My son started this project with gusto! He began his Harry Potter reading this year with the third chapter of the second book back in January. (He had read up to that point previously in school a year prior to the start of this whole journey.) By summer break, he was reading The Goblet of Fire and completely enthralled! But with the introduction of Harry's attitude and the mercilessness of Professor Umbridge in book 5, his interest in finishing the task abruptly diminished.

"She's the worst" I would hear from my ten- year- old as he struggled to stay interested. I would quite have to agree, she is the worst. 

"Can you believe that the same person who created the character of Harry also created such an aweful lady?" I asked him one day. "Same imagination, two very different characters." I had to let go of the fact that I knew he was suffering from reading about Dolores Umbridge and encourage him to keep chugging away at his reading.

Over the course of the first half of the fifth book we would delve into a conversations about the faults of Umbridge. But as the first semester of his fifth grade year pressed on, I started to realized that he might not get this book finished in time. For him, reading about Harry's struggle with Umbridge, not Voldemort, mind you, was torturing this kid like Occlumency lessons with Snape!

I had to take it upon myself to help see him through this one… I knew how hard the struggle was. I read about the teen angst of Harry and the shenanigans of the ministry at age 21 when the book was released and I myself was bothered. So it was no surprise that my son felt the same way. Finally, after weeks of encouraging, which turned into nagging, I decided he really could use some help.

I knew that he wouldn't make it to the end of the series by his birthday if I didn't shoulder this task along with him.  So I did what any good mom would do…I read to my kid(s).

My daughter was now along for the adventure too, whether she liked it or not. Since Carrick wasn't going to get the books finished without my tandem reading, she was subjected to the story too as I read aloud each evening. For three weeks we did this. (Basically from after Thanksgiving to the beginning of Christmas Break.) Sometimes my daughter would fall asleep on the couch while I read. My son would contentedly play with Legos or Pokemon cards on the floor and listen while I nested on the couch and brought the characters to life. 

Reading aloud gave us something to share together. It's one thing to read a book that someone else has read also and take up discussion. It's a whole other thing to hear the words of the book together, and pause for comments and questions. I felt like I was adding value to his Harry Potter experience by being there along with him in his journey. It was something I was secretly feeling guilty about this entire time. I felt like reading out loud to him should be something I do more often. At best I was reading to him maybe once a week prior to book 5. I mostly left the reading up to him. 

I realized quickly that taking time to pause within the story was helping him become passionate about finishing the series again.  I would stop and explain vocabulary words. I would pause to highlight the bigger picture. His eyes would widen as he began to comprehend the magnitude of certain plot points. He would also dive into his own speculations about what might happen. I truly appreciated that we were able to connect over Harry Potter books again, outside of me just asking, "how many pages did you read today?"

So, we are now on the other side of this book. He completed the final chapter on the eve of Christmas Break. He took the audio CD of book 6 with him to his dad's house to get a jump start on it over break. Hopefully, he will come home with a good portion of the book "read" when Break ends. 

I also have Book 7 on Audio CD. So, after the completion of book 6, Jim Dale will continue to read to us every night. Hopefully this will mean that my son is able to complete the Harry Potter Series before his birthday at the end of the month. I am thinking it's totally doable. 

Now, let it be known that my daughter has already cited "the flaw in the plan". (Little book 7 reference there…) "But I'm going to know how it ends!" she said to me last week as I explained mom's master plan for completion.

"I know, honey, but hearing the man read it on the CD is exactly the same as mom reading it from the book, only better because he does voices," I explained to her.

"But I won't have read all the books!" she said, sounding forlorn. I told her I would think about how to handle this while she was away for Christmas Break.

I understand that she wants her experience to match that of her brother's. She wants to diligently read all the books and complete the project as well when the time comes. She and I already started reading the Sorcerer's Stone together, but put it on pause so I could help to finish The Order of the Phoenix.

It would be one thing if she had not seen the movies yet. (I know it's not the same as reading a book, but she has the general idea of the plot.) She knows what happens in all the movies (except for number 7. Neither one of my children have been allowed to watch it yet. They MUST read the book first. No spoilers!) So it's not like she is reading the books with no idea of what comes next.

So I have some thinking to do with regards to how I am going to help my son finish book 7. Do I just let Jim Dale tell us all the tale? Or should I try to keep book 7 a secret from my daughter until she too has completed her own journey of reading the series?

I don't want to exclude her from reading time in the evening and I really want to go through book 7 with my son. I would love to discuss the plot and all the ends that get tied up as they happen. I want him to get the fullest out of this initial experience. And, I secretly would love to shelter my daughter for as long as I can from hearing how it ends until its her time to read the book.

Or should I just let my daughter hear how it ends? Then when she reads the books on her own, she will notice the finer twists and plot points as they relate to the ending of the series?

I have a few weeks to think about this…I know I will come up with a solution. After all, I am a Ravenclaw. We are known for thinking outside the box!