Sunday, December 21, 2014

Kids and the Holidays

My last few Fun Dollars were spent enjoying the Christmas Season with my kids. I took them both to see the model rail road setup at the Basha's Plaza. Every year, the Sedona Model Railroaders set up their layouts for the community to enjoy for a few weeks leading up to Christmas. I have taken Carrick every year since he was two. This year, Lily is old enough to enjoy the trains too. I gave each of the kids a dollar to put in the donation jar.

I spent some time with Carrick the week before school let out for break, and we each spent a Fun Dollar. I picked him up after school and too him to the Chapel of the Holy Cross for a special time, just him and me. Last year, we both lost our grandmothers. I took him to the Chapel to light a candle for his grandmother and to say a prayer to her. I did the same. It was a reverent time for us to reflect on the wonderful women that we knew and lost. We we each put a dollar in the donation urn for the candles we lit.

And this Friday, we left on a road trip to visit family over the holidays. My last two Fun Dollars was spent at a gas station to buy some sweet treats for the car ride.

Happy Holidays, and don't forget to enter the Fun Dollars New Year's Giveaway!

Donation to the Sedona Model Railroaders- $2.00
Donation to the Chapel of the Holy Cross- $2.00
Treats on the road- $2.00
Balance this pay cycle- $0.00
Happy Spending!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Don't Forget to Enter!

The Fun Dollars New Year's Giveaway is only a few weeks away. There is still time to submit your entry. Check out the previous post of "Fun Dollars New Year's Giveaway" for all the details.

That said, I have been doing a lot of pondering about what I would write for this particular submission if I were entering to win the $100.00

Over the past year of recording and writing about what I spend my money on, I have found several areas of growth with relation to money. The first, and most obvious to me is accountability. Just by writing in this blog week after week, I am holding myself accountable to how much I spend and what I spend it on. Never before have I ever attempted this. Money has always been a taboo. People don't talk about money, they don't divulge how much they make, they don't announce where they spend every penny, they don't reveal sources of income sometimes...Money is a very touchy subject. But by opening up about my spending, I have found a great respect for money that I never had before.

The respect that I hold for our family budget has increased because of this accountability and awareness. Now that we have two kids, and not just a preschooler and an infant, every penny counts. Lily is in school, she eats real food, she gets her clothes dirty, all of that adds up. If I just go out spending as if our budget is just a magic fluff ball, then I am screwing up the income framework of three other human beings. It really matters that I adhere to our family budget. I am so grateful for the growth I have experienced as a result of paying attention to what and where I spend.

The other area of change where growth has happened is  with my attitude about others. I have spent more of my personal money on others this year than I have in previous years. We're not talking about tithing for church, that is a separate part of the family budget. No, what I am talking about is feeling the generosity of spirit to share my "extra" with others. Before this year, I would hold on to every penny and every dollar, and find a way to spend it on myself. But this year, I have given money to others, spent money on others, and "provided" for others more so than in the past. I use the word "provided" to cover several examples. I hosted a clothing swap and spent $80.00 on refreshments and drinks for others. I used my Fun Dollars on multiple occasions to buy gifts for others. I even took my family out to eat more often using Fun Dollars; which brings me to my last area of growth...


Before this year I had a dark and dangerous love affair with fast food. I would do anything to rub four quarters together and get a a dollar chicken sandwich. Since I have started paying attention to my spending, I have drastically reduced my fast food spending. Instead of it being a weekly thing, it is now a once every-other-month kind of thing (if that). I don't feel like I am sneaking around in the shadows, trying to get my next fix of french fries. Instead, I am spending more on better quality food. Taking my family to India Palace or Golden Dragon once a week feels so much better than the frequent trips I would make to Wendy's or Burger King. (Now, Domino's is still on my love list...some things don't least not yet....maybe in another year.....)

I am so grateful to all of you who have shared this journey in spending with me. I look forward to the next year to see what Fun Dollars will bring my way. I am so excited to give $100.00 to a lucky reader in the New Year.

Given the Holiday schedule of our family, I will be posting what I spend from now until the New Year, but it will be bare bones. I get to take care of two little munchkins for two weeks, and I want to focus on them over the Holiday Break. Thank you for following me through the year on Fun Dollars. Lots of Love to you in 2015, and Happy Spending!

Christmas Giveaway Money- $10.00 (money in the pot- $70.00)
Cookies at Safeway- $2.00
Lunch at Golden Dragon- $11.00
Money paid to Carrick for helping out- $2.00
Earrings and leggings at Cato- $20.00
Sleep mask at Beall's Outlet- $6.00
Chips at Circle K- $1.00
Balance this pay cycle- $6.00

Happy Spending!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Firehouse and Flatiron

What do the words firehouse and flatiron have in common? They are both local eating establishments that I patronized for the first time this past Monday.

About a month ago, when I hosted a clothing swap at my house, my best friend and I made plans to take a Girls' Day Out and head up the hill to Jerome. Jerome is a historic town precariously perched on the side of Mingus Mountain. It's Arizona's Mile High City. Ravaged by fire twice in its history, this old copper mining community still holds an air of Old West about it. It's not a place that is especially child-friendly, so we don't take family trips there. But, since my friend and I both have one child in kindergarten, and one child that will ride in a stroller, we decided to make the trek up the hill with our youngest kids while the elders were in school.

My friend sent me a text message on the morning of the long-expected trip to see if I wanted to make a stop at Firehouse Doughnuts as part of our day out. Firehouse Doughnuts is a recently-opened bakery next to Schoolhouse Restaurant in Cottonwood, and owned by the same person. It was on the way to Jerome. We had heard rave reviews about this place and since we were out enjoying the day, we figured, why not? The parking lot was tiny, but the inside space was generous. There was even a space just for kids to play. They had painted some walls with chalkboard paint, and there was evidence of tiny artists all over. Lily enjoyed playing with another little girl there.

The doughnuts were divided into "regular" and gourmet. The regular doughnuts had choices like caramel long john, glazed, apple fritter and pink glaze with sprinkles. The gourmet side and choices like chocolate/chocolate/chocolate (chocolate cake with chocolate chips and chocolate icing), s'more and Oreo crumble. In between the two types of doughnuts were the gluten free chocolates and confections.

I opted to get the most for my Fun Dollars and bought 4 regular doughnuts. I knew Lily would want the pink with sprinkles, so put one of those in my box. I also chose an apple fritter, a chocolate creme and a chocolate glazed. I am almost ashamed to admit this, but, I sat there in the cafe, revelling in my day out, and I ate two of the four doughnuts. (I opened Pandora's box with this one. Ever since the NYBD doughnuts last month, I have had more doughnuts in 4 weeks than I have in 4 years!)

After sugaring myself up, and adding to my morning caffeine intake with a decaf (yes, there is still caffeine in it), we drove up the hill to Jerome. We made our first stop at Nellie Bly, the kaleidoscope shop. This shop is the largest brick and mortar store of kaleidoscopes in the world. I purchased some tear-drop prisms to make window light-catchers for some lovely ladies for their Christmas presents. (I also stopped by the Bead Garden in Sedona the next day to pick up some crystals to add to the window light-catchers.) 

After stopping into several shops with our strollers, and burning off the doughnut calories, we headed to the Flatiron. The new owner, Amy, bought the Flatiron almost two years ago, and is a friend of ours. We keep in touch mostly on facebook because she's a busy gal. When I first moved to Arizona, we all used to work at the same restaurant in Sedona. Since then she has bought a business, and my friend and I have had two kids each. Life changes us all, but it was so nice to reconnect with such a loving soul. She made the best pastrami sandwich ever. I was more than happy to give her a $20.00 for the sandwich, iced tea, and tip. She was so kind to Lily, as she banged on the table, rolled around on the floor, and asked for more raspberries. Tiny though it may be, the Flatiron has now earned a coveted place on "Rachael's List of Family-friendly Dining".

After another store or two after lunch, we packed up the strollers and merchandise, and purses, and babies, and diaper bags, and everything we stuffed into our strollers, and headed back down the hill. With the curvy road, our babies were soon lulled asleep in the back seat. What a wonderful day out with someone I enjoy spending time with, but don't get to see that often. Life with two children adds some element of craziness to both of our busy schedules, so making time just for us girls to hang out gave us both something we needed: sanity! 

Cheers to a Girl's Day Out!

Doughnuts at Firehouse Doughnuts- $5.00
Light-catchers at Nellie Bly- $12.00
Lunch at Flatiron- $20.00
Beads at Bead Garden to go with the light-catchers- $5.00
Balance this pay cycle- $58.00

Happy Spending!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

After Church Memories

When I was a kid, we went to church every Sunday. Unless we were puking, or had pink eye, we were at church. That's the way it was at our house because my dad also happened to be the pastor of the church we went to.

Every Sunday, my sister and I would go to Sunday School, then sit through church, then wait with mom and dad until the church was empty. By that time we were starving. (It never occurred to me or my parents to pack snacks for us for after church. Maybe that's why I'm anal-retentive about having snacks for the kids.) It would feel like forever sometimes, but when we finally did pull out of the parking lot of the Camp Point United Methodist Church, we knew that lunch wasn't very far away.

Every Sunday, we would go out to eat after church. My dad served two churches at the time, and Sundays were a work day for him. The last thing he and mom wanted to do was make lunch after an action-packed morning. Rarely did we ever just go home and make lunch. Our after church fare came most frequently from one of three places; Larry's, The Paloma Restaurant, or Stockyard Inn. (And when I say "Stockyard Inn", I mean it was literally at a place where farmers bought and sold livestock.)

Larry's was always a good choice because out of the three I mentioned, it was the closest to the church. It was two blocks away; so close we could walk there, and sometimes we did. Larry's was where the Sunday School class "The Builders" would meet once a month (or maybe it was every other month. I don't remember, it was a very long time ago.) But they would invite the pastor and his family out to their meeting, and we would enjoy a lunch buffet. After eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes, melon balls, corn, green beans, white bread rolls, and noodles, thick, homemade noodles with chicken, my sister and I would go out in the hallway where the coats were hung and play while the meeting portion of the lunch was held.

Other Sundays, we would go to the Paloma Restaurant. It was two towns down the road on highway 24, which meant it was about a ten minute drive. Paloma had absolutely the best chicken and noodles than any of the other places to eat. It had a home-town menu, just like Larry's, but the crowd there was a little different. It consisted mostly of the folks who lived in Paloma and Coatsburg, the two towns in our school system lying to the west of Camp Point.

That's the Paloma Restaurant hiding behind the bank.

But my favorite place out of the three regular restaurants we chose for our after church fare, was the Stockyard Inn. Lying halfway between Camp Point and Coatsburg, the Stockyard Inn sat all by itself right next to the stalls and paddocks where live stock was bought and sold. Farming was (and still is) a huge industry in this area of Illinois, and this local eatery attracted an after church crowd on Sundays, and an agricultural crowd during the week. The woman who managed it (maybe she owned it too, I don't know), wore her hair in a short beehive. I loved her because after we were all finished eating, she would always bring a treat to the table for my sister and me. Sometimes it was a full-sized Kit-Kat bar, sometimes it was a Tootsie Pop. Whatever sweetness she chose to share with us, we were always grateful. I loved eating there so much that I asked my parents to take me there (and our extended family, since they were all in town ) the night before my confirmation, for dinner .

The road to where the Stockyard Inn used to sit.

Ages and ages have passed since I ate at these beloved establishments. As far as I know, the Paloma Restaurant is still thriving, Larry's changed its name to Marcella's, and the Stockyard Inn closed its doors probably close to a decade ago if not longer.

I thought back to those places last week, as I was sitting at India Palace with my own family after church. Corey and I don't always go out to eat on Sundays, but its more likely to happen on the days we go to church. We mostly end up going to India Palace or Golden Dragon, a far cry from the fried chicken and white dinner rolls of my youth. We are making our own family traditions, and giving the kids their own after church memories.  The one thing that my childhood dining and my childrens' experience have in common is family. Sunday is family day, and we spend it together. Whether we are eating out, or going to a birthday party, or hiking, whatever we do, we share it together. I am glad to chip in a few Fun Dollars every now and then to give some time to my family and some memories to my kids.

Lunch at India Palace- $11.00
Cookie Dough and Glittery Purple Binder at Safeway- $6.00
Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel split with Corey- $5.00
Balance this pay cycle- $0.00
Happy Spending!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fun Dollars New Year's Giveaway!!!!

It's here! The time has come for you Fun Dollars readers to put on your thinking caps. I have been setting aside Fun Dollars each pay cycle since September for this event: The Fun Dollars New Year's Giveaway.

I started this blog almost a year ago, on the last week of the year in 2013. I  had attempted being a blogger before, but not on a very committed level. I started three other blogs before this one, only one of which ever had more than 100 hits (My Ten Mommy Minutes). I won't even tell what the names are of the other blogs because I'm almost ashamed of them. They're quite ridiculous.

During that week between Christmas and New Year's, I some reflection on the past year. The thing that I enjoyed most was spending Fun Dollars, but I knew that I had cheated a lot on my Fun Dollars. I would sneak purchases onto the debit card and hope Corey didn't see them on the bank statement. I wouldn't spend thousands of dollars, but $5.00 here and there for Zainey's or Burger King, $20.00 for a shirt a Beall's Outlet, or even a $3.00 for a chocolate bar at Natural Grocers adds up.  I decided the time had come to retrain myself on my relationship with the free money I received regularly.

I took very seriously the gift that Corey had given me in the Fun Dollars system.  I wanted to be a better steward of that gift. Even though I could spend my $100.00 however I wanted to, it didn't excuse me in any way from doing wasteful things with my money, or from cheating on the system. Even though no one else was looking over my shoulder in 2013, the way that I spent my Fun Dollars was still in my own conscience. I knew I had cheated. I knew I had made stupid purchases. I also knew I had made some smart purchases. But I wanted to set the record straight and be totally accountable for what I spent (and not cheat, too).

So, to celebrate the end of the first year of the Fun Dollars Blog, I want to jump-start someone else with their own Fun Dollars. Since $100.00 is the amount that Corey and I get each pay cycle, that is the amount I want to give to a lucky reader.

How do you win the Fun Dollars?

Please submit to me before January 1, 2015 a short explanation about what you have learned about money this year. (Length isn't really a factor here, long or short. I'm looking more at what you have to say than the number of words that you say it in.) What were your weak points? Where are you strong? Has your relationship with money changed at all in the past year? Do you have a new job? Do you have debt? Do you have your own version of a Fun Dollars system?

I am looking for honesty and growth with your relationship with money. Tell me your story, and you might have $100.00 to start the New Year. Submit your entry with your name and email address to:
Subject: Giveaway

Happy Spending, and Good Luck!

Christmas Presents at Safeway and Wal-Mart- $17.00
Balance this pay cycle- $21.00

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Black Friday

Yes, we did all go out shopping on Black Friday. No, we didn't camp out. No, we didn't score an ipad for Carrick. But did we have fun together as a family? You betchya!

We lounged around in our jammies until 8:30 or so. By 10:00 we were rollin' up the hill on our way to Flagstaff.  Our first destination was actually the food court at the Market Place Mall. It's right next to the shopping plaza with Best Buy and Old Navy, the two places where I wanted to kick off our Black Friday shopping spree. Corey bought an order of Chinese food at the mall, and told me I didn't have to contribute to half of it. What a nice way to start off the day. Instead of getting noodles or rice, they told him he could get mixed veggies. The "box" of food he ordered fed our entire family! They really packed it in there. That was actually Corey's "Black Friday Score". He spent the rest of the day raving about how good the food was and how inexpensively we all ate. He cracks me up.

We went to Best Buy after filling our bellies. While Carrick played on the demo ipad mini (some crab game of some sort), I left Corey talking with the sales clerk about various tablets. I took the opportunity for them both to be occupied to see if there was any sort of Christmas gift lurking in the mass of deals at Best Buy. I found two DVDs that Corey mentioned in passing a couple weeks ago. Since they were in the "super cheap deals" display, I put them in my shopping bag to keep them hidden. I also picked up a copy of Epic for Carrick for $5.00, and a copy of The Wizard of Oz for Lily for $4.00. As I was wrapping them this morning, it was so hard to write Lily's name on her DVD. I wanted to put my name on it instead. So, for $14.00 (with tax) I bought my family a round of DVDs for Christmas and capitalized on Black Friday.

Next, we headed next door to Old Navy. Wow....50% off the entire store!!! Wow, just, wow. I didn't know quite what I expected, but this made all the chaos worth it. I didn't spend any Fun Dollars there, but we did pick up a few things for the kids for Christmas. (I also managed to sneek in some surprises for Corey's Christmas presents.)

After our Old Navy and Best Buy run, we drove across town to Target. We needed a few household items, and I wanted to cross off the rest of my Christmas items from my list. Carrick needed a dress-up outfit for Church (our family is lighting the Advent Candle and doing the reading next Sunday). Lily needed a cardigan to go with her dress. There were a few other things we needed like tissue paper and tape too. The only thing I paid for with my Fun Dollars was a pure impulse buy. It was a bag of Reese's Pieces; like almost a pound of them....ooooh yeah! $3.00 for a secret mommy treat. I also use them for Lily's potty treats. She's still a super star with her potty training, and I notice that she's more into it when there's bribery involved.

Carrick was really excited to participate in Black Friday with us as well. I wanted him to make a smart purchase with his Fun Dollars, too. I talked about Black Friday with him on the days leading up to it. I explained what it is, why people shop, and how things cost less Fun Dollars. At Old Navy I successfully talked him out of buying some pink, sparkly stuffed animals. I didn't do this because they were pink, but because he literally has three Christmas tress stuffed with his animals, and some to spare! He is also getting some stuffed animals (from the friend who donated to us) for Christmas. So I really didn't want to see him spend his money on something of which he has an abundance. I gently reminded him that I was going to take him to Bookman's for a map, and he put the animals back in the bin. (I had suggested this early on in the week because he's been asking about maps.)

We went to Bookman's as our last stop. We found the maps in a basket along the back wall. Lily was asleep at this point and Corey stayed in the car with her. Carrick and I pulled out all the maps and spread them out on the floor so he could look at them. He found one of Las Vegas that was laminated. I told him he could use his dry erase markers to write on it. He loves taking old maps (like from National Geographic) and writing treasure directions on them. He tells a whole elaborate story about where he's going and what's happening as he draws on the map. But since we don't have a stream of National Geographics anymore, our stash of writable maps is almost gone. (I think there's like one left that's not scribbled on and torn.) So this laminated Las Vegas map would hold up and could be written on and wiped off over and over again. For $4.00, I was so glad to see him make such a smart choice with his Fun Dollars.

I didn't spend as much on Black Friday as I imagined I would. I am glad to have actually gone out shopping this year. Sure the stores were more crowded than usual, but they were not chaotic. Maybe it's because we waited until later in the day to get out. Any way you slice it, It was a great experience; mostly because I love wrapping presents so much, and now I have a pile of things to wrap for the people I love.

DVDs at Best Buy- $14.00
Reese's Pieces at Target- $3.00
Balance this pay cycle- $38.00
Happy Spending!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

'Tis the Season

I once was the proud owner of the original Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CD. Hearing the excitement of Deck the Halls, or the medieval arrangements of  We Three Kings, or I Saw Three Ships always put a smile on my face during the Christmas season. Even though the album is only half an hour long, I would listen to it over and over again. To me, the holiday season's soundtrack is Mannheim Steamroller. But sadly, last year, when I unpacked our Christmas memorabilia, thejewel case was in the box with our Christmas decorations, but the CD was missing. I sufficed with my other two Mannheim Steamroller CDs, but Christmas felt like it was missing something without Deck the Halls playing over and over again in my car.

Similarly, the movie that I watch over and over again during the holidays is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The 1964 Rankin Bass classic starts its run in July at our house. Carrick is an avid Rudolph fan, so this show gets lots of air time, especially during the Christmas season. This year, our copy of Rudolph is just too scratched to be viewed all the way through. Santa might have to put a replacement dvd in Carrick's "Night Before Christmas" box.

So, this year, with two staples of my (our) holiday missing, I decided to do something unprecedented...I took my Fun Dollars to Wal-Mart. I have boycotted Wal-Mart for almost 4 years now, shopping almost exclusively at Target. I think I have been in Wal-Mart only 5 times in the past 4 years, and only for emergencies (like if we are visiting family, and Wal-Mart is what's available kind of thing.) But something inside me spoke up early on this Thanksgiving Break. "Wal-Mart will have what you want...and it will be inexpensive."

I didn't want to have to spend a bunch of money on something that I already owned. Even though the items were missing and broken, I still couldn't bring myself to pay full price on amazon (or at Target) to replace them. So, late on Sunday night, I made a decision; a decision to go to Wal-Mart on a mission to replace my holiday treasures. I also did something else unprecedented...I left Lily at home with Corey and took Carrick with me shopping.

Once we arrived at Wal-Mart, I knew that I had to stay focused. I remembered why I don't shop here anymore. Right inside the door, was a trap; a $3.00 trap called "scented candles." Yeah, I spent the first 10 minutes in the store sharing smells of candles with Carrick trying to find one I liked, just so I could spend the three dollars on it. And then I snapped back to reality and told myself, "You don't have to buy it just because it's $3.00. That's the whole lure of Wal-Mart; pile things into your cart that you want, and don't particularly need, and end up spending $100.00." I put the candles back and consulted my list, diligently holding on to my Fun Dollars.

When I arrived at the electronics section, I let loose. There was a pile of CDs in a bin, all helter-skelter, and unsorted. As systematically as I could, I dug through the massive mess and came across two gems. I did not find the exact Mannheim Steamroller that I was searching for, but I did find a compilation CD that had some medieval tunes on it as well as the beloved Deck the Halls. I also found the soundtrack to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer! Carrick would be satisfied listening to the songs in the car all season long. That way, I can buy him the dvd later, and save it for Christmas Eve. The two CD's were $5.00 each.

I also bought Carrick and me a snack on the way back from our shopping trip. I zipped through Taco Bell and bought us each a bean burrito with a side of nacho cheese.

I really enjoyed the pre-holiday outing with my son. He was such a good helper. He has really matured a lot since the last time I tried shopping at Wal-Mart with him. It makes me optimistic about our pending Black Friday family shopping trip. We have listened to the Rudolph soundtrack in the car (almost exclusively) since we bought it 5 days ago. Carrick and Lily both sit in the back seat, bobbing their heads to "Jingle Jingle Jingle" and "We are Santa's Elves" every time we get in the car. $5.00 has brought so much joy to our family already. I can't believe I'm saying this, but, thank you, Wal-Mart.

2 holiday CD's at Wal-Mart- $11.00 (with tax, rounded up)
snack at Taco Bell- $4.00
Money added to the Fun Dollars New Year's Giveaway- $10.00 ($60.00 in the pot so far)
Balance this pay cycle- $55.00
Happy Spending!

Monday, November 24, 2014

West Fork

Once upon a time, in a far away land, elves and faeries skipped and flitted across a field. They kissed the ground, and made flowers bloom. They carved out rocks, and spread green moss over them like butter. They made paths through the forest, cutting out deep gashes in towering cliffs. And when they were finished, they called it "West Fork".

It may sound fantastic (because it is), but when I hike the West Fork/Call of the Canyon trail in Oak Creek Canyon, I can't help but let my imagination run wild. The grand enormity of the rocks and boulders with moss and lichen growing on them is astounding. The sheer rock face of the cliffs that make up the canyon is dizzying. The scale and magnitude of some of the pine trees growing there is second only to the Redwoods. This area feels old and wild. While the trail starts out with a tame sidewalk through tall grass and an old apple orchard, the further in you travel, the gnarlier the woods becomes.

The trail wanders out for a solid 2 hours (or more, depending on your hiking speed). We hiked for 90 minutes as a family, and when we asked some folks on the return how much further to the end of the trail. They said, "It's another 50 minutes, at least." Needless to say with two children in tow, we did not finish the trail, but we did end up  travelling farther down the trail than we ever had previously.

When Carrick was 5 months old, we went down the West Fork Trail. Corey's sister was visiting, and we wanted to try something new. Boy were we surprised when we started our hike into this magical place. Halfway down the trail (probably after a mile of hiking) there is a natural swimming area with a "water slide". We didn't know about it, so we didn't plan for swimming on this particular excursion. We did spend some time resting there watching other enjoy their summer splash time.


However, when my parents visited a month later, we took them back and made an afternoon of cooling off in the creek at the swimming hole. I sat on a rock and nursed Carrick, mom and dad put their feet in, and Corey got adventurous and swam around in the pool. I took a few goes down the natural slide while mom and dad held Carrick. That was in 2009.

So here we are, with Carrick old enough to hike on his own, and Lily old enough to observe and enjoy what's going on. We hiked right past the swimming hole this time, as it was November, and about 49 degrees outside. It was interesting to see what the rock looked like that we were playing on all those years ago. The water level was so low (we haven't had rain in several months), that we could see all the way to the bottom of the swimming hole and hop across the slide if we wanted to.

One of the more curious scenes on this trip was a ginormous, angled boulder with all sorts of graffiti on it. The graffiti was written in charcoal, well, charred tree branches to be exact. The West Fork Trail was hit by the Slide Rock Fire earlier this year. When I heard that the fire had spread to West Fork, my heart broke in two. I couldn't imagine such a wonderful place being destroyed by fire. I was especially angry at myself for not going back since Carrick was little to enjoy it's natural beauty.

But, God is amazing, and created nature to be resilient. On the entire hike, there were only pockets of evidence that there was ever a fire in this area. Sure, a few trees had been burnt to a crisp, and their blackened hulls lay on the ground. For the most part, there were only trees with charred bases, showing where the fire attempted to make its mark, and even then, they were only visible very sporadically. The pine trees are especially hearty when it comes to fire. In fact, they need fire to germinate their seeds.

So we came to this boulder with all these names and dates on it. Carrick wanted to slide down it, I wanted to add our names to it. Corey just wanted to reach the end of the trail. So we left our hopes with the boulder and pressed onward. On the return trip, however, we got our wish. I used a chip of charred tree to add the names of our family to the list of hikers who had passed by this spot. Carrick was allowed to climb to the top of the rock and slide down. (He did not smear anyone's name in the process.)

On the way back, we passed by the ruins of the old lodge that once stood on the trail head. I took a picture of Carrick sitting in the old fireplace. Apparently the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable used to stay at the lodge. This fact underscores the relationship of West Fork as a microcosm of Sedona. Celebrities still come on vacation here. The apple orchards, the red rock cliffs, the creek, the woods, the boulders, the trail itself. This is what makes Sedona. Natural beauty, solitude, an oasis in the desert.

I feel so blessed to have been able to share this experience with my family, all three times I have hiked this majestic path. For a fee of $10.00 to park and use the restrooms, (Corey and I split it), it was the best 3 hours and 15 minutes I remember us all spending together in a long time. No computers, no cell phones (well, at least no calls, I took pictures with mine) and no TV. Just us, the crisp autumn air, and the glory of creation laid out before us.

Entry fee to park (and use restrooms)- $5.00 (split with Corey)
Soup and sandwiches all around at Indian Gardens afterward- $15.00

Balance this pay cycle- $80.00

Happy Spending!

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Remember at the end of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", the Who's are perfectly happy with no presents, but the Grinch brings the gifts back anyway? The lesson the narrator tells us is that Christmas doesn't come from a store. That's true, but there were gifts none the less. No one went without. So even though we are supposed to learn a lesson about materialism, the materialism was still there. The catch is, the Who's were happy getting the things back that were already theirs. Thus, Regifting.

At our house, we have made a family tradition of Regifting. Taking a page right out of the Grinch story, we give things to each other that are already ours. We fix toys that were broken and re-give them. We put batteries in toys with worn-out batteries and they work like new. We give gifts again with a new meaning. Or we find something that has been long-lost and give it anew. In each case, the gift is something that we already had, but was given new life by the giver.

We still buy everyone in our family gifts that are new. Regifting is not our entire Christmas, but it does bring our awareness to what we already have and it gives us a new appreciation for old things. It is so easy during the holiday season to get caught up in what you want, what you wish you had, or what other people are giving and doing. Regifting makes a fun game out of turning old things into new gifts.

For example: The first year we did Regifting was in 2010. Carrick was close to his second birthday and was old enough to participate in Christmas by actually opening presents. I came up with the idea of Regifting because Carrick had so many toys and he wouldn't know the difference between new toys wrapped up and old ones. To him, it was just something to open and be excited about.

For one of my Christmas presents, Corey went to Page Springs Cellars and procured a bottle of wine that had been retired to "Library" status. He wasn't really supposed to be able to buy this wine, but the tasting room manager sold it to him anyway. It was my absolute favorite wine at the time. I was sad that they had retired it and that I couldn't drink it anymore. When I opened up the bottle on Christmas day, I was ecstatic!!! How had he managed to get this wine????

Two years later, as home owners, we celebrated our first Christmas in our new house. Carrick was almost 4, and I was pregnant with Lily. We were different people than who we were in 2010. We were a different family. We were in a new house, that belonged to us. Our perspective on life in general was different than two years previous. Corey (who had been hesitant to jump on board the Regifting train) happily participated in the Regifting tradition that year. Can you imagine how excited I was to open up a bottle of my favorite wine...again????

It was the exact same bottle he had given me two years prior, but it had sat in a dark corner of our cabinets, completely forgotten about...on purpose. We didn't want to just open it up and drink it for any old occasion. This was a wine that wasn't made anymore. Whenever we drank it, it had to be special and memorable, so we intentionally forgot about it. So to open up my favorite bottle of wine, even though it was the exact same bottle I already owned, it felt like I was opening up a second bottle of my favorite wine. I was so happy that he thought of me to give it to me. It might sound silly, but I was truly overjoyed at receiving this gift.

I do this with the kids too. I will go through their toys every so often and find toys that are missing parts or toys I know they would miss if they were gone and I put them in storage. Then I pull them out in November/December and see what I need to do to make the toys new again. Carrick has a shield he likes to use, but no sword to go with it. Lily destroyed it. So I am going to get a new toy sword and give it with the shield. It's like a new toy, but better, because I fixed what was wrong with it, and he misses it dearly. He will ask me where it is and I just say, "I think it might be in Santa's shop getting fixed." It just adds to the excitement and mystery of the disappearance of the beloved toy.

In Lily's case, I have received boodles and gobs of little girl things from my mama friends this year. Thanks to a recent "shopping" at a friend's house, I have plenty for Lily's Christmas and birthday two weeks later. Her daughter had a collection of things she wanted to get rid of, and Lily was someone she thought might like some of her old things. Regifting from other people's old things is also useful. Using something that someone else doesn't want anymore, and giving it new life with a new owner can also fall under the Regifting category. It didn't come from a store. It came from the generosity of someone else, which is a gift beyond measure.

I challenge you this holiday season to really examine what you spend on the holidays. Are you breaking the bank? Are you a super-stingy Scrooge? Where do you fall on the spending spectrum? How do you feel about what you spend? Are you spending out of guilt? Out of boredom? Out of love and generosity? The holidays can bring out different sides of us all that might stay hidden during the rest of the year. With pressures to see family, to create the perfect Christmas or (or Hanukkah) for the kids, or to host a get-together, we all fall prey to the spending bug towards the end of the calendar year. Examine your spending this year. Notice it. See where you spend, why you spend, and how it makes you feel. I did that, and it changed how we celebrate our Christmas.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Spending.

Money set aside for the Fun Dollars New Years Giveaway- $10.00 (money in the pot-$50.00)
Step Stool at Beall's Outlet for Carrick- $8.00
Soda at Circle K- $1.00
Sacks at Natural Grocers- $7.00
Balance this pay cycle- $0.00

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Celebrate Good Times

I was sitting in my pajamas at 7:15 on Monday night when my phone went, "ding dong", meaning I had a text message. It was Robin, a very good friend of mine who runs in the same mama circles as I do. It was her birthday, which I knew because of facebook, and she was inviting me out for a last minute get-together.

Corey had a late-night meeting, so I wasn't quite sure what time he would be home. I told her to let me know where she was going and when, and I would see if it was doable based on Corey's presence. Fortunately, he came home earlier than expected. Lily had fallen asleep, and thanks to Carrick's new bedtime routine, I was guaranteed the option of "going out".

As Carrick was putting on his jammies, and brushing his teeth, my phone went, "ding dong" again. This time it was another friend of mine who was also invited to the birthday celebration. She was informing me and the birthday girl that she would be DD, and that she would be at my house in 15 minutes.

Glee over my night out quickly turned into panic...15 minutes??? I am still in my jammies with no make up on or my hair done! But thankfully, I was able to pull an outfit, and slap on some makeup and (thanks to a recent haircut,) was able to curl my hair in a matter of minutes.

There were 5 of us moms out for our friend's birthday. It was so nice to get out without the kids (or hubby) and enjoy some girl time. I only had one drink (it was a school night, and a work night). I put $10.00 into the pool for the group tab, enough for my drink and a tip.


Tonight was Carrick's first school performance. The kids celebrated world cultures and sang songs from different courntries. Carrick was part of the group "Ambassadors from France." They sang "Frere Jaques" and "Alouette". He's been singing these songs at home for over a month now, so I will be glad that after tonight, they won't be practicing them at school anymore. I look forward to new songs being added to his repertoire. The admission fee for adults was $5.00, and $1.00 for students. Lily got in for free.

I was so proud to watch my little kindergartner up on the stage. He sang with such gusto that I could hear him over many of the other children. He sat quietly on the floor with the other ambassadors while other groups took their turns singing. Then, for the finale, all the ambassadors got up on the stage and sang together.

Their last song was "Happy".  The music teacher is also a DJ, so she had the music to the song without the lyrics being sung on a recording, kind of like karaoke. Carrick was front and center for this part, clearly visible to everyone. He started dancing and moving around a little during the song, and then, he busted out in karate moves! It was all I could do not to just loose it and crack up during their performance. It was totally worth the $6.00 to see my superstar debut his killer dance moves (and to support the school).

A drink and tip at Barking Frog with the Girls- $10.00
Admission to International Night- $6.00
Balance this pay cycle- $26.00
Happy Spending!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Spending, Saving, and Sharing

As I mentioned earlier, Corey and I finally sat down together to look at our financial landscape. It was much less involved and daunting than I imagined it to be. I feel more informed about how we are actually doing and what changes we want to make to improve our financial landscape.

We brainstormed on several ways we could reduce our monthly costs as a family. One of them was our coffee discussion. We still don't have a conclusion on that topic. However, Corey has reduced his morning coffee intake and has switched over to tea most mornings. That reduces our cost by quite a bit. (He did this voluntarily. With the sudden chill in the weather lately, he has felt more inclined to drinking tea.)

Another area where we could reduce monthly cost is in gas. I don't know when it happened exactly, but at some point during the summer, Corey and I switched cars. He had driven our Hyundai Santa Fe since we bought it in 2010, and I drove our Prius. But I think the need for all the swimming gear, stroller and diaper bag, and occasionally picking up someone else's child, the extra room in the Santa Fe was more suited for me and my kid-carting. Now that school is in session, I mostly just drive my two children around; there is very little need for extra room in the back. Since I do most of the running around, picking up the kids, driving to work, (Corey works from home), and running errands, the Santa Fe was guzzling gas compared to the Prius. So, after a simple re-switching of cars, we are now saving at least $20.00 in gas each month. It's a small savings, but it adds up over time.

The last place we talked about saving money was in the food arena. We agreed that any and ALL eating out would be strictly Fun Dollars funded. (For the time being) no more budgeting for eating out, not even every other week, like we had been doing. That decision alone has saved us $70.00 (projected) this month.

We also modified our grocery shopping. We started making weekly meal plans again, which gives us a map of what to buy. We stick to it, and get very few things that are "extra". We might get a box of graham crackers for the kids, or popcorn, but for the most part, we make our own snacks, like a fruit or veggie tray. (The kids love it because it's a bunch of colorful finger foods they can pick and choose.) We also started our shopping trip each week at Basha's instead of only just going to Safeway. By purchasing our fresh produce at Basha's and supplementing meats and dry goods at Safeway we have saved and average of $30.00 each week for three weeks so far! That's $120.00 each month!

So, by being better informed and having a (calm) discussion about where we can pinch our pennies, we are now saving close to $200.00 each month.

In celebration, we took the family out to eat at Golden Dragon after church a week ago. My half was $12.00. At the end of the week, when our grocery stock was low (and nobody wanted to cook before going grocery shopping), Corey offered to buy the whole family lunch at Golden Dragon again this Sunday :) Hooray for sharing, generosity, and sticking to the family budget!

Lunch at the Golden Dragon- $12.00
Balance this pay cycle- $42.00
Happy Spending!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Coffee and Doughnuts

I don't know what's come over me lately. I am just going to observe this new behavior and not judge it. This is the second doughnut in a month that I have bought with Fun Dollars. I'm kind of scratching my head about this one.

It all started out with choosing to relax after dinner on Thursday night. We had my best friend and her kids over for dinner after karate class. Carrick and her son are best friends also. Since they no longer attend the same daycare and are now in different schools, the boys really only get to see each other at karate class. Or, if us mamas decide to get together for a play date, then they also have a chance to hang out (but that happens less often now that school is in session). So the boys were happy to spend the evening playing in Carrick's room and running around the house pretending to be spies.

Corey had made a delicious split pea soup for dinner. My tummy was full of warm soup that night, and I was not getting up to do dishes or to pack cold lunches for Friday. That decision came around to bite me on Friday morning as I spent the 7:00 hour packing the kids' lunches. I was also making breakfast (and herding them around to get ready). Consequently, my lunch ended up getting the shaft. I hurriedly asked Corey to bring me some leftover soup to our family therapy session so I could take it back to work afterwards for my lunch break as I was heading out the door.

After dropping off the kids at school, I knew I would need something to eat before the 11:00 therapy session. Normally, I have an apple or a salad in my lunch bag that I eat as a mid-morning snack. Then I eat a late lunch around 1. After that, I eat whatever is left in my lunch (either the salad or the apple, etc.) in the car on the way to pick up the kids from school.

New York Bagel and Deli are right there at the stoplight where I turn from the school road to get on the the main road on my way to work. I debated about whether I should go to Circle K or NYBD to get a pre-therapy snack. I chose to support the local business, even though they cost more. I know that my Fun Dollars are doing more for the community with this purchase. A chocolate doughnut became my mid-morning snack. (Yes, I had enough willpower to keep it in the car and not eat it until I was on my way to the appointment.)

After school, I had planned to take Carrick on a shopping date. He and I get limited one-on-one time together. Lily is such a clingy girl, and she gets jealous if Carrick even if he sits on my lap. She will always crawl onto mommy's lap too. So, this was a time that Carrick and I could do something without Lily. We have done this before; I pick up Carrick from school just after 3, and we are back at the school before 4 to pick up Lily from daycare. We usually hit up Goodwill and Beall's Outlet on our shopping trips, just because they are right around the corner from school.

On this particular trip, I was on the hunt for (yet another) new travel coffee mug. The brown and gold one I bought from Starbucks back in February finally bit the dust. It had been dropped one too many times, and the lid cracked in such a way that it was unrepairable. I was delighted to see a new stock of travel mugs at Beall's. Right in front of the shelf were two with....the Eiffel Tower!!!! Yes, I have said it before and I'll say it again, I am a sucker for the Eiffel Tower logo. There was a black mug and a white mug. I asked Carrick which one I should get, and he pointed to the white one.

Now, add the coffee mug and the doughnut to the agave nectar purchase earlier this week. After going over our financial landscape (finally) we decided that we could trim the fat a little. Our coffee (and coffee additives) were costing us quite a pretty penny each month. By changing our coffee habits, we could save up to $50.00 a month! No joke! We are still in discussion as to how we are going to modify our coffee habits, but the one thing we agreed on was that agave nectar could be eliminated. I put up a fight over this one because I just don't like sugar in my coffee. I like the way agave nectar sweetens the coffee. But in the end, I acquiesced. I decided that if it was that important to me I could buy my own agave nectar and save the family the expense.

I took Lily to Whole Foods on Monday to buy the smallest bottle of agave nectar I could find. It was $5.00. I could live with that.

Coffee and doughnuts....maybe I should stop watching cop shows.

Coffee Mug at Beall's Outlet- $5.00
Agave Nectar at Whole Foods-$5.00
Chocolate Doughnut at NYBD-$2.00
Balance this pay cycle- $54.00
Happy Spending!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Adult Time

This is a new event in the Sheridan household....Adult Time. One of the outcomes of our family therapy was to carve out child-free time for Corey and me. We were seriously low on our time spent together without our kids running around and interrupting.

I laughed at the therapist when she said, "Well can't you just sit down and talk about (whatever it was)?" I laughed out loud, in her face, it was such a ridiculous request.

"Are you kidding me??? I am literally taking time out of my work day to be here because we have absolutely no time alone together." I replied incredulously.

Somehow between us moving and selling our house, Corey switching jobs, me returning to work, Carrick and Lily starting school, and all the other things that have happened in life, Corey and I have just flat out forgotten to spend time together. Most families put their kids to bed and the adults get to have evening time together. That wasn't happening either. We were all tired and crashing out around the same time (give or take half an hour.) I would put Lily down to sleep and fall asleep in the process. Corey would be in Carrick's room and the same thing would happen to him.

But, in the past month, we have been making some changes. Corey and I started getting up early, like at 6:00 a.m., just to have to some time to talk without the kids. That lasted for about 2 1/2 weeks, until the kids started getting up at the same time too. Then, I decided that drastic action had to be taken.

Carrick had been asking about tablets because some friends at school have them. I told him he could have a tablet if he slept in his bed, alone, all night until his birthday. (I think I will modify it to Christmas, just because we have a 22 hour car ride coming up around the holidays.) He was super excited about this prospect. So for the past week, I have Carrick brush his teeth and wait for me in his room while I put Lily down in her co-sleeper. Once she is asleep, I join Carrick in his room and read to him whatever book he picked out. Then I give him snuggles, a kiss goodnight, and shut the door. This way Corey doesn't end up falling asleep waiting for Carrick to crash for the night.

As a result, Corey and I have enjoyed a week's worth of late-night grown-up time. We watch Brooklyn 99, South Park, and Law & Order. We hang out, and sit together with no kids trying to get between us. (We also get some talking time in too.)

Last night, we ordered a late-night pizza, just because we could. We sat on the couch (normally we insist that everyone eats at the table to avoid messes in the living area.) We drank Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale, and enjoyed our Adult Time.

( I also sold Carrick a slice of my leftover Cheese Pizza today for $2.00 of his Fun Dollars. Oh yes, I did.)

Cheese Pizza from Domino's- $9.00
12 pack Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale- $12.00
Balance this pay cycle- $66.00
Happy Spending!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Isn't She Lovely?

Determined not to loose track of my Fun Dollars this week, the very first purchase of the pay cycle was a wallet on amazon. I had been looking around town, but found nothing particularly "me". I also checked out Target recently, but couldn't find something that was "just right". I even allowed myself to look at the wallets at Dillard's on a Sunday afternoon family shopping trip. There was a gold Michael Kors wallet behind a glass case that just made me drool, but $95.00 was kind of out of my budget.

I was looking to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.00 I need a wallet, but I don't want to spend so much money that I won't have anything to put in it. Also, I wanted a wallet that completely opens up. The Michael Kors wallet unzips and only "peeks" open. (You know, because if it opened up completely I'd buy it, right?)

I decided that I needed a wallet "now", and I didn't want to search all over Sedona and Flagstaff trying to find a $10.00 wallet that opened all the way up. I came to the conclusion that was the place to go.  With free Prim shipping, and  hundreds of wallets to search from, I was sure to find the "perfect" wallet.

I as I searched for the perfect wallet, I narrowed my filters by color, size, prime eligible among several other factors. As I came across a wallet that looked like a good candidate, I added it to my wish list. After a few days of searching, I left it alone, then returned several days later with a fresh mind. I read some reviews and made my final choice.

And the winner is....

NEEWER® Leopard Faux Leather Card Long Wallet (Pink)

Isn't she lovely?
She will go nicely in my new purse.
No more loosing Fun Dollars. No more card showers from Lily.

Wallet from $13.00
Balance this pay cycle- $87.00
Happy Spending!