Tuesday, April 29, 2014

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

There's a picture in our family archives of my father on Christmas morning, 1985. He's sitting on the floor by the Christmas tree with a brown bath robe over his pajamas. With hair is untidy from sleep, and his two young daughters just outside the camera view, he is smiling, holding up a box with a brown train engine inside. It's the City of New Orleans, the Green Diamond, otherwise known as the Illinois Central. He received the entire set of model train HO scale cars along with it; a baggage car, a vista dome, and a mail car to name . This was his first model train.

Several years later, after we moved to another town, and his box of train cars was rediscovered in the moving mix, he set them up and ran them around. My sister and I were young, and to us, these looked like fabulous toys. Eventually, dad came around to the idea that his girls needed their own trains, and he passed on the tradition of model railroading. 

I remember going to multiple train shows as a child. Dad would spend hours walking around, admiring the layouts, looking at vintage trains worth hundreds of dollars, and shopping, lots of shopping. Over the years, I acquired a silver diesel engine (I picked it out based on looks) as well as a circus steamer. It was bright yellow with red detail, and I could pour a special liquid into the funnel to make it puff smoke as it trekked around the layout. I haven't seen or played with my engines in over a decade, but the memories of how special it was to share something with my dad stuck with me.

When I first took Carrick to the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, I was overwhelmed by these memories. This park is where several area model rail road clubs have their layouts. Since we have been going there, they have built an enormous air-conditioned building that houses three different rail road gauge layouts, O, HO, and N scales. The G scale layout is actually outside. G scale is "Garden" scale and is used as a feature for outdoor model railroading.

The first time I ever took Carrick to this park, I thought, "Dad needs to see this." Yesterday, after over three years of telling him about it, we finally took him there. He was able to share this experience with both of his grandchildren. My son, who is 5, was able to appreciate it on another level that he and dad could share. Sure, riding the train around the park was fun, and the carousel was a blast, but the best part for me was seeing my dad and my son walk around the layouts in the model railroad building. I felt like a kid again, except this time, I was watching dad share the generational wisdom of model railroading with someone else I cared about.

Love you dad, that was $17.00 Fun Dollars that I will never forget.

Breakfast on the road- $7.00
Book of 12 tickets for the train and carousel- $10.00

Happy Spending!

Saturday, April 26, 2014


For the first time since I don't know when, I have Fun Dollars left over at the end of two weeks. I guess since dad has been treating us to breakfast, lunch and dinner, I have not been spending as much as I would otherwise. I even have left over ice cream from last Saturday's Fun Dollar purchase that we will be eating as desert tonight.

I think I will dub these left over Fun Dollars as "Bonus Dollars". I will be taking my Bonus Dollars as well as my new installment of Fun Dollars next week on a day trip with the kids. Dad's last day of his visit is on Monday, which is also the day we get our new Fun Dollars. One of the places I have always wanted to take Dad is to McCormick-Stillman Park in Scottsdale. It has a huge (air conditioned) building where the model railroaders have multiple layouts. As a kid, I did model railroading with dad (HO scale for those of you who were wondering.)

The park also has two concession stands, a carousel, and a train that circles the park that you can actually ride. Every time we go down to the valley for Corey's work, I take the kids there. The park is actually across the street from the Azadi store at the corner of Indian Bend and Scottsdale Road. And of course, in addition to the rides and model railroads, there is a fantastic play ground. I can't wait for Monday!

Balance this pay cycle- $15.00

Happy Spending!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Opposite Ends of the Food Spectrum

As I am tying up the loose ends of preparing our house for sale, I have been running back and forth across town quite a bit. I go to the old house to let in the handy man, the cleaning ladies, the plumber, and the floor cleaners, then back to the new house to unpack. Yesterday, after picking up some non-food groceries, I was in desperate need of some sustainence. With both kiddos and my dad in the car with me, I decided to spring for some Burger King. It was on the way to the old house, so that's where we stopped. A snack for everyone cost me a grand total of $6.00.

After stopping by the house to check on the floor cleaners and to drop off toilet paper, towels and soap for the bathrooms, I had to meet Corey at Azadi and drop off ribbon for him so he could ship some gifts. In the car as we were running our errands, I asked dad if there was any place in town where he wanted to especially go while he was visiting. "Well, there's always Elote, but I know that's probably not kid friendly." I told him that we have actually had success there with both children, mostly because we know how to work it. We go with the plan of waiting.

So when we went to Azadi to see Corey and to show dad their new store space, I asked Corey if he wanted to go to Elote for dinner. I told him I could contribute $30.00 Fun Dollars towards dinner. He said that would be fine and that we should go at 5:00 and out our names in. That would put us eating somewhere close to when Corey gets off work.

It was 5:56 when they called our name to be seated. Corey showed up right as we were waiting at the hostess stand for the hostess seating the guests to come back to get us. Perfect Timing. We had a wonderful meal and the children were manageable. Carrick played games on my phone and worked mazes in his dinosaur maze book that he bought with his own Fun Dollars. Lily dug through an old glittery purse that I made up for her. I decided to give her something new to play with to keep her occupied. I stuffed it with bracelets, neckalces, hairties, and bows and she had fun playing dress up.

All three of us adults ordered things from the menu that we had never had before. Corey tried the Scallops, I ordered the shrimp and spinach dish, and dad ate Carnitas for the first time. Carrick chowed down on Dad's bowl of rice and beans (they come as a "side dish" to all the entres at Elote.) Lily devoured mine and Corey polished off his. Corey and I each enjoyed a margarita, and in Corey's case, a martini as well. It was a delicious feast. The icing on the cake was when Chef Jeff Smedstead came over to our table to say Hello. Corey and I both worked there in the early days, before Elote was known nationwide as one of the best Mexican food restaurants. It is always a pleasure to catch up with Jeff and to rave about how wonderful the meal was.

From Burger King to gourmet Mexican at Elote, Fun Dollars turns into food more often than not. I insisted on leaving the tip because dad wanted to treat us to our Elote dinner. Thanks, Dad!


Snacks for everyone at Burger King- $6.00
Tip at Elote- $26.00

Balance this pay cycle- $15.00

Happy Spending!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cafe Jose, Ole!

My dad flew in to Flagstaff Tuesday night and the whole family drove up the hill to pick him up. My son loves it when grandparents come to visit. He talks about it for weeks ahead of time.  One of his favorite things to do when my dad is in town is eat breakfast out. We don't go out to breakfast all that often, but when dad visits, we go several times.

For my son, this borderline obsession with eating out breakfast with my dad started a long time ago. My parents started a yearly tradition of coming out to visit separately in the spring, then making a second visit together in the late summer. On my dad's second solo spring visit, Carrick was a new walker, starting to make animal sounds, and really enjoyed eating sausage links.

I took a video of him sitting on my dad's lap eating sausage at Coffee Pot Restaurant. I would make playlists of Carrick's videos for him to watch instead of TV when he was younger. This video in particular became his favorite. He loved watching himself with his Dedah (that's his grandpa name for my dad.) He would talk about going to Coffee Pot when he was old enough to put words together. And every time his Dedah came out to visit after that, it was one of the first things he would ask Dedah to to with him.

So the first morning after my dad flew in for his annual spring solo visit, we decided that we would all eat breakfast out. Corey didn't have an early morning meeting, so he could go with us. Carrick didn't have school because I swapped his days around. I wanted him to be able to spend Dad's first day in Sedona playing with his Dedah. Of course, Carrick immediately chimed in with "Coffee Pot". But because it's tourist season, and Corey did have to go to work, we decided that it would be faster if we ate at Cafe Jose for breakfast.

Cafe Jose is one of our go-to places for eating out in Sedona. Their prices are unbeatable for sit-down dining. Their service is excellent, and they get their food out fast than McDonald's, no joke. As a bonus, they started offering gluten free pancakes and waffles, which I tried yesterday morning. Carrick and I split a strawberries and cream gluten free waffle. I got his strawberries and he got my whipped cream.

Dad picked up the tab and I volunteered to leave the tip. So $6.00 of Fun Dollars went towards breakfast out with Dad and the whole family.

Tip for Breakfast at Cafe Jose- $6.00

Balance this pay cycle-$41.00

Happy Spending!

Carrick and Dedah at Coffee Pot

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Living in the Big City

Wow, life in West Sedona is vastly different from the sleepy, secluded Broken Arrow neighborhood. I'll admit the street we live on is quieter than where we came from, despite being just around the corner from the main thoroughfare in town. Every hour there were 3-6 Pink Jeeps going to or from the trail head at our old house. But here, we only get the occasional car driving by.

The biggest difference lies in the location. Our property at our old place was on a half acre, surrounded by pine and pinon trees with red rocks towering over the treetops. Here we have nice views of the neighbor's houses and yards. Our old neighborhood had large, luxurious fenced in yards with gates and everyone had privacy, but with that came a sense of being cut off from everyone. It felt more like a vacation home, not a place to make a home with children.

We literally lived in a bubble at our old house, hiding away from the world. If we wanted to go anywhere in town, like to the grocery store or to take Carrick to school, it was a ten minute drive. The other night, our family took a walk around the new neighborhood and we ended up at the local fro-yo place. We all made our own specialty cups with mix and match toppings and then walked home. I was mortified that I was walking down 89A in my pink plaid pajama pants and bra less a Gap hoodie. (Pop goes the bubble.) I set out on our evening walk thinking we were just going to explore the neighborhood in semi darkness. I had no idea that the neighborhood would end up on the main street through town. Apparently we are just right around the corner from every thing.

I have to be even more careful with Fun Dollars now. I can just walk anywhere and spend them. I can walk around the corner to Picasso's and have lunch, or to Natural Grocers for a bag of avocado oil and lime potato chips, or to Bell's Outlet for shopping. Feel like a cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough County, New Zealand? No problem. Basha's is now a 2 minute drive. Don't want to make dinner? Why not order Domino's and walk there? The pizza will be ready just as we arrive from our walk. I have never lived this close to things. This will be an interesting challenge, living "urban" in Sedona and doing it with 20 less Fun Dollars than what I am used to. 

Corey picked up a bottle of (one of) my favorite wine(s) on Saturday after he got off work, a cold, crisp Nobilo. We did order pizza from Dominos, however, that was not a Fun Dollar Purchase, it was our leftover grocery money from the week before. The lesson here is restraint, on my part. Knowing how much easier it is to spend money now. It kind of turns spending into a whole new adventure. If my legs can get me there, I can spend the money. I don't know how people in bigger cities do it. How do you keep from going out to eat every night? Or buying a new outfit every day? What keeps you from just spending at will? Restraint, I guess. I get to exercise that muscle now. Amazon is one thing, but walking through a store feeling like "I deserve this because I walked here" is a whole other story.

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc- $5.00 (we split it)
Frozen Yogurt at Zainey's-$5.00
Taco Bell lunch -$3.00

Balance this pay cycle- $47.00

Happy Spending!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Moving Matters

During this moving process convenience has taken priority. We're talking mac n' cheese, frozen pizza, and fast food. We have been making smoothies with the NutriBullet, so we are not totally without some form of healthy food. However, the task of settling in to a new place while fixing up and packing up the old place is physically and emotionally draining.

I started the "going back to pack" process on Tuesday after a moving company transported all our furniture on Monday. We hired them for the big stuff and decided to save money by moving the small stuff ourselves. (And by "ourselves" I mean "myself". Corey has been at work while I did all the packing.) If you have ever moved, you know what I am talking about when I use the word "tidbits". All the tidbits are left when the furniture is gone.  All the legos, crumbs, puzzle pieces, missing forks, mis matched sox from under the couch....all the stuff too small and too random to make it into a categorical box, but stuff you don't want to just throw away.

My Fun Dollar purchases this week have been pretty random so far, but they all trace back to the moving process. On Tuesday afternoon, I dropped the kids off with a friend so I could pound out a good hour of tidbit packing. On my way to the house, I made a pit stop at Walgreen's. I realized I had been running around so much that I hadn't drank water all day!!!! So I picked up two ice cold bottles of (my favorite for the taste) Fiji water. They were 2 for $2.00. I also desperately needed chapstick. I didn't want to have to go through boxes to find it, I just needed it.

The next day, I found my spare pair of sunglasses while cleaning up the tidbits. My regular pair had become lost in the mix, and I was in need of some shade. I was excited to find them for like two seconds before I realized they had been stepped on and cracked. So I took myself to Bell's outlet and dropped $5.00 on a new pair of sunglasses.

I bought breakfast at Burger King for $3.00 and a soda for Carrick and me at Circle K for $2.00 on Thursday. And after all  this, mama needed some ice cream. So I went to Basha's and bought mint chocolate chip and chocolate fudge brownie for $6.00. Carrick was especially happy about this purchase.

At the beginning of the week I set aside $60.00 for when dad comes. I didn't even put it in my purse so that I wouldn't be tempted to spend more than the $20.00 with all this running around and packing. I have honored that and intend to stick to it. Although, I may have to dip into it to buy some more Easter candy. Guess who polished off the Easter candy I bought a few weeks ago at the Dollar Tree? Yeah, moving can be stressful....

$4.00 at Walgreens for water and chapstick
$5.00 at Bell's Outlet for sunglasses
$3.00 at Burger King for breakfast
$2.00 at Circle K for soda
$6.00 at Basha's for ice cream

balance this pay cycle- $60.00

Happy Spending!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Family, Fun Dollars, and Finances, Oh my!

Since February, Corey and I have been in conversation about our future. Now that we have the two children we "planned" on having, our family is complete. Where do we want to be in 5 years? What do we want out of life? What's next?

For about two months, we had a series of discussions focusing on these kinds of questions. We would go out at night on walks through the neighborhood, kids in tow in the wagon. In the end, result of these talks was the decision to change our financial landscape. Basically, after Lily's premature birth we have been in a slow but steady financial decline. The insurance company paid their part of her medical costs that were incurred, and we are still left with a considerable amount. 

We decided that instead of living in a "fancy" house with granite on the counter tops and native stone on the fireplace, a hot tub out back and half an acre of yard, we could live with less. The fact is the market is up and we can sell the house for more than what we bought it for. The number our realtor gave us would put us in a position to walk away with enough money to pay off these hefty medical bills.

 A mere three days after meeting with our realtor, we found a three bed/two bath house with a fenced-in backyard for rent. From our mortgage to our rent each month, we will be saving $1,100.00!

So, in the spirit of living with less and saving for our future, we decided to cut back on Fun Dollars as well. This week, we are seeing how $80.00 instead of $100.00 works for us.

I encourage everyone who reads this to take some time to actually sit down (either by yourself or with the person you share finances with) and take a snapshot of your own financial landscape. What does it look like? What would you like it to look like? How will you get there? It's not always easy, and talking about money can be stressful even to those who seem like they have an abundance of it. What matters is transparency. Be honest and real about your money, only then can real change and growth happen. I say this not to be preachy, but because I never learned it. My father, bless his heart, always handled everything financial with our family. I never learned about money until I was an adult and I was already in debt. Especially if you have kids, open communication with your financial partner is the best way to learn and to teach about finances. If your kids always see you arguing about money, what message does that send them? If you take time to discuss and even explain the simpler aspects of finances, they will learn young and build a healthy relationship with money before they go too far into adulthood debt.

We told Carrick that part of the reason we were moving was so that we could have more Fun Dollars to do more family things together, like go to the zoo (he's been begging for a Zoo trip.) He understands the concept of Fun Dollars, he gets his own, and he understands that things cost money. So to tell him that we will have more money freed up because "We're not going to be paying as many Fun Dollars to live in this new house," keeps him in the loop and educates him as well.

So, we will see how this pay cycle goes working with $20.00 less than usual. My dad is coming out to visit, and Easter is around the corner, so I will have to be extra careful with my Fun Dollars. (And no co-mingling of money while Dad is here. I will have to keep my spending separate. But I think dad will be cool with that, especially if I explain why.)

Until next time, Happy Spending!

Moving can be exhausting!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Some of the Best Laid Plans

On Sunday, one week ago, while Corey and I were enjoying our stellar strawberry margaritas with our newly purchased tequila, my mom was at our house visiting, and so was someone else. One of our friends in Sedona (whom we shall call Carol, she is a private person, and I want to respect that) came over for a Sunday dinner. Carol has become like an older sister to Corey and me. Even though she is the youngest of nine, she chooses us as her "siblings". We have become an adoptive family for her, and her for us, so it made sense that she should meet my mother, who is a part of our family as well.

As we all shared margaritas, she asked me if I would be interested in performing a belly dance for a friend of hers. He turned 70 yesterday. She was planning a dinner with some friends at India Palace, and wanted to hire some entertainment without having to pay too much. I thought it would be fun to dance and help out a friend. I would only be dancing to two songs, not a whole show, and she would buy me dinner afterwards.

I dug through my closet and found my belly dance costume from when I performed in the student showcase, Caravan Dreams in 2012. I was 28 weeks pregnant with Lily at the time, and my bosom was bigger than it had ever been. (When making a DIY belly dance costume, the easiest thing to do is pair a long crinkley skirt with a black bra, which is what I was going for.) The only black bra I own is from when I performed in 2012, and it is two sizes too big. The rest of the costume fit well enough, so all I would need to invest in would be a black bra.

As a part of my shopping at Target with mom in Prescott, I picked up the cheapest black bra they had for $12.00. As soon as I got home I tried the whole thing on and was super-pumped about shimmying and shaking it again. But alas, some of the best laid plans...

I received a text from Carol the next day. Her friend decided that he just wanted to stay home and have a few friends over for a quiet dinner at his house for his birthday. No belly dance, no Indian Food. I was a little sad, but also relieved. I had not had time to actually practice. I had listened to the songs I wanted to dance to, as well as choreographed a little in my mind, but not danced. It's one thing to know the moves you want to do, but an entirely other thing to actually dance them.

Now it's time to put my cards on the table...Up until now, I have been diligent and meticulous about recording how I spend my Fun Dollars. But, with mom in town, the line between my Fun Dollars and hers became blurred. I bought a lunch here, she bought a snack there, borrowing and repayment became a little askew. I honestly can't say where where and what I spent the remainder of my Fun Dollars on. I made sure to hold back $10.00 as my contribution to our Bearizona trip, but the rest is a little murky.

Even with my best laid plans of accounting for Fun Dollars by writing about them fell by the wayside. Tomorrow we get our new installment of Fun Dollars, mom is back at home, and my recording and reporting of Fun Dollar activity will be back to normal.

Black Bra at Target- $12.00
misc. activity-$18.00

Balance this pay cycle- $0.00

Happy Spending!

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Williams, AZ is a historic town, full of charm and "western" culture. Once a stop on Rte 66, it is the gatekeeper to the Grand Canyon, which lies about an hour north. It is in Williams, AZ that you board the train that treks through the desert highlands to the Grand Canyon, or turn off I-40 to take the road north. Williams also lies about an hour and 15 minutes from our house, so it makes a nice day trip.

One of the things I had my Fun Dollars earmarked for this pay cycle was a trip to Bearizona. Bearizona is a new attraction added to the outskirts of Williams in 2010. Before mom came out to visit, she said that she wanted to do "fun stuff", and this is something fun to do with both kids that she has yet to experience. The last time I went there with the kids was exactly one year ago when my father came out to visit.

The first experience for the visitor to Bearizona is the three mile drive-through. You cross a cattle guard between electrified fencing and drive your car right into the habitat of each species of animal. From Dale Sheep to White Bison, Black Bears and Grey Wolves, each enclosure is unique to the species it houses. The natural landscape is greatly preserved, but the park has added several amenities to each enclosure to make it just right for the animal within. For example, they uses old buses and cars piled up and cemented over to build a life-like cliff side for the Big Horned sheep to climb. They paint over it to make it look as if it had just risen out of the earth. It's a very green operation they run.

After driving through the habitats and seeing the animals up-close, you park your car and walk through the Fort area. This is also a very green experience. They used the logs from the pine trees felled during construction to erect a fort-like fence around the walk-though area. In this space, they have smaller species like bob cats, baby bears, otters, and beavers. They recently finished construction on their raptor arena. They do shows three times a day where they talk about the different birds of prey and allow them to fly over the heads in the audience.

Carrick's favorite part of the park (besides seeing the bears) is the petting zoo area. They keep small goats, ducks and exotic chickens in this space and let the kids play in with them. This go-round, Lily was big enough to play with the animals too. She especially liked the goats, since they didn't mind her petting them while they ate. The ducks and the chickens were not as easy to pet, and Carrick enjoyed the challenge of trying to catch one to pet.

So, if you ever find yourself in need of a family-friendly get-away, whether you live in the area, or are visiting the Grand Canyon, check out Bearizona. http://www.bearizona.com/

Part of my entrance fee to Bearizona- $10.00

Balance this pay cycle- $30.00

Happy Spending!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tea Time


One of the things I love about Sedona is the plethora of local businesses that dot the city. Very few places as populated as this have only a handful of national chains. Some would find it annoying that they can't go out to eat at Olive Garden, or have to drive 15 miles to the nearest Wal-Mart, but for me, I lovingly embrace the uniqueness of the businesses in the town I call home.

Almost a year ago, a new shop opened up on hwy 179. It's perched up on the second floor of a shopping plaza just around the corner from Tlaquepaque. Green letter proclaim what's inside, "Trailhead Teas". It sounds appropriate. In Sedona, there are over 80 trails to hike, many of which originate right in the town itself.

Every day that I take Carrick to preschool, I drive right by Trailhead Teas, and think, "Today is the day I go in there and check it out." And everyday, I end up not going in there. So with mom in town, I knew I would most definitely make it into Trailhead Tea...finally!

My mom is a tea connoisseur. She collects loose leaf teas. From herbal blends, to bold and black teas, she has them all. She saves the slim glass jars that green olives come in, and rinses them out. She makes her own labels, and uses them to store her mammoth collection of loose leaf teas. She has entire cabinet in her kitchen devoted just to teas. When she makes a pot of tea, she replaces that flavor in the back of her cabinet and moves the next one up. That way she is always sampling "new teas". I knew with mom in town, there was no way I was going to miss my chance to go tea shopping with her.

We walked in from the blustering wind last Wednesday into the quietness of Trailhead Teas. The entire back wall was lined with glass jars filled with a few inches of blended tea. From one side of the store to the other, jars, jars, jars. They had pearls of jasmine tea, $20 an oz, they had fruit blends, $5 an oz., something in every price range and every flavor profile you could imagine. They blend every tea right there in the store. They order the ingredients and they do the rest. On the packages of each kind of tea (located below the sample jars,) were pictures of places in Sedona, taken by the two owners and their employee.) This is homemade, local business from top to bottom.

After smelling almost all the teas, there had to be at least 100, I had to go back and re-smell the ones I liked. After that, there were a few more comparative sniffs before deciding on one. I wanted to buy something, whether or not I really needed a pouch of tea, I just wanted to vote for this business with my Fun Dollars. I finally rested my decision with "Blue Moon Blueberry". It's an herbal fruit blend that I can share with the kids. On that cold day, as the wind howled outside on the second day in April, I felt like the weather shifted from warm to cold, just so I could enjoy my hot afternoon tea that much more. Mom sipped her "Family Blend", which was one of my final contenders, and we relaxed until it was time to pick up Carrick from school.

Blue Moon Blueberry Tea at Trailhead Teas- $8.00

Balance this pay cycle- $40.00

Happy Spending!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Date Night...ish

So on Sunday afternoon, we went grocery shopping. We literally went to all 4 grocery stores in town as well as the farmer's market. We spent more than we normally budget for groceries because mom is visiting, which means an extra mouth to feed. One of the stops we made was at Basha's with the express purpose of buying a bottle of our favorite tequila, Hornitos Reposado. We had just come from Safeway where we learned that they were redoing their liquor department's stock and did not include this particular item in the new line of what's available. We were super disappointed, but that just means that Safeway loses out on us spending our Fun Dollars on tequila there.

When we arrived home, Corey used our NurtiBullet to make the most amazing frozen margaritas. Blended strawberries, lime, salt, tequila and fresh squeezed oranges. It's no wonder I had two.

Two days later, in spite of spending all that money on groceries, we still had "nothing" to make for dinner. After Corey arrived home, we both did a shot of our lovely agave alcohol before deciding it would be fun to eat out. One shot is enough for both of us, since we are not heavy drinkers. I declared to my mom, "If you drive, I'll buy." So we piled into the Prius, and I wedged myself in the back between two car seats, and headed out. (It was nice to have a chauffeur/DD so that Corey and I both could imbibe and still keep it legal. Mom rarely drinks, so it's not like she felt like she was missing out, for those of you who don't know mom.)

Normally when we go out to eat, we have an unofficial list of designated places that we have deemed "worthy of Fun Dollars." These places include good service, good food, and above all, a kid-friendly atmosphere. There are not too many places like that in a tourist/retirement community, but there are some. Corey and I decided that since we always go to the same places, we should shake it up a little. We had extra help from Nana (my mom) if we needed help with the kids. So we were off on an adventure to see if a new place might make the cut.

Apizza Heaven (like "a piece of heaven"...) was the restaurant of choice for this particular adventure. We have not patronized this business in almost 5 years. It was before Carrick was born that we went there with friends. We decided to give it another shot.

The place was smaller than I remembered, and jam-packed. There was one table that was vacant. They were so short staffed for a Tuesday night that it took them about 10 minutes to get the table cleared off and ready for us. After we were sat, our server came by. We were shocked to realize that it was the ex-husband of an old friend of ours. (We spent our first New Years in Sedona with him and his ex-wife and ended up crashing on their couch.)  I was surprised even more by his pleasant attitude. For being so busy and short staffed, he held it together remarkably well. Not every server can handle that kind of chaos. He was also very cool with our kiddos, which I appreciate tremendously.

After an hour, our pizza was finally ready. They had totally forgotten our appetizer, so we gobbled up the warm bread and herbed butter they brought out for us. Our server apologized many times for the chaos, the forgetting and time it took for our order to arrive. He comped us our sodas (yes, we "splurged". We don't usually get sodas when we go out to eat.) The pizza ended up tasting amazing, better than I remembered it being 5 years ago. Their portions were huge too. I did not expect a large pizza to be 16".

So while it wasn't a full-on date, it was still a chance for Corey and me to get out and do something together. We had both kids and my mom with us, but the evening was memorable and fun. Lily whiled away the minutes of waiting by walking around the tiny dining room meeting and greeting everyone. They all thought she was adorable, which makes up for the occasional screams she let loose. Carrick was happy as a clam coloring and playing Angry Birds. He actually stayed at the table the entire hour we were waiting too. He did slip under for a while. He likes the feeling of being "hidden" sometimes. As long as he's not trying to run laps in the restaurant, I'm okay with him under the table.

I think we found a new place to add to our list of "Fun-Dollar-and-Family-Approved" dining places in Sedona.

Hornitos Reposado (split with Corey)-$10.00
Dinner out at Apizza Heaven- $30.00

Balance this pay cycle- $48.00

Happy Spending!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mom and Me

My mother is visiting us this week. She flew across the country from Illinois to spend time with her grand kids. Extra people in the house is fun, but that also means that we are out doing things; shopping, eating out, seeing tourist sites, and hiking to name a few. These things also mean that I must give extra care to my Fun Dollars. It is way too easy to just go out and spend when family is in town. It's like being on vacation, but without leaving the comfort of home.

Yesterday, after I dropped Carrick off at school, Mom, Lily and I headed "over the hill" to Prescott. This road winds up and over Mingus Mountain, up to 7500 ft above sea level and has over 100 switchbacks. It's quite an experience. Mom has never been to Prescott, or on this stretch of road.  The view from 89A as you drop down the south side of Mingus Mountain is startling and wondrous. It feels like the setting for an old western movie; vast expanses of dry, wind-swept grass, horse ranches, and another set of mountains off in the distance.

Basically, we went there for the scenic drive. Once we arrived there, it was nothing more than a Target run. There was a decent list of things we needed for the house, as well as a few things for the kids. As soon as we walk in, I head for my favorite part of the store, the $1.00 bin section. Sometimes I find really cute or useful things hidden in this area, but yesterday, I saw their newest collection of plastic dinosaurs, and could not resist.

It's not like Carrick needs another dinosaur, he has a whole herd. But there's something joyful for me as a mom to present Carrick with a new dinosaur. Maybe it's connection that I'm looking for now that he is so independent. Whatever it is, I was compelled to pick up a T-rex (the family needs a new one since the old T-rex that I scored at the last clothing swap broke in half. It was free, so I can't complain.) I also picked up a velociraptor, since he doesn't have one yet.

For Lily, I came across a sippy cup for her with a straw and handles. We have been making smoothies quite a bit at the Sheridan house since we bought a NurtiBullet, and Lily doesn't have a spill-proof cup to drink from. So now she can enjoy a smoothie without someone else holding the straw and cup for her.

I also thought it a good idea to spring for a box of Cliff bars (Chocolate Mint) since they were on sale for $5.00. I always need something in my tote bag to munch on, and I'm getting tired of bananas.

After our Target run, mom treated me to lunch at Red Lobster. We kept it simple and relatively inexpensive. I left the tip, $5.00 on $20.

It was a fun day out with my mom. We had lots to talk about and catch up on. A relaxing scenic drive and some shopping did us both good.

Dinosaurs for Carrick- $2.00
Sippy Cup for Lily- $4.00
Cliff bars- $5.00
Tip at Red Lobster- $5.00

Balance this pay cycle- $$88.00

Happy Spending!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Gift of Fun Dollars Revisited

Several months ago, when I first started tracking and writing about Fun Dollars, I went over the basic "rules" for our Fun Dollar System.

#1- Each person gets the same amount. This keeps things fair and even. No one is more important or worth more, since each are equal players on the team. (Except for children, they receive their own amount.)

#2-You have to receive the same amount each week, so choose a number that works for you and your budget, but it has to be the same every time you get a paycheck. (In the early stages, like the first 6 months, it's okay to change the amount until you find one that works.)

#3-No one can tell you how to spend your Fun Dollars, they are solely yours to spend. There are no expectations, strings, or guidelines for how each individual must spend what they receive.

#4-Once the Fun Dollars are gone, they are gone, until the next paycheck. No cheating, no exceptions. You are not allowed to "borrow" Fun Dollars from the week ahead either.

#5- (This one is what our family came up with.) All Fun Dollar purchases are rounded up to the next highest dollar. The change is then deposited into a jar. When the jar fills up, we put all the cash into the bank. We give back to the fund that funds our Fun.

Since February, our coin jar has been full, and we have started work on a second jar. No where in town has a coin counter, and the first time we cashed in our coins, we were in a different city, one with a coin counter. I noticed that since our jar had filled up, our coin saving had declined somewhat. We used to be religious about what we put in, happily clinking our coins one upon the other. But with two jars, there seemed to be a disconnect.

The disconnect seemed to deepen as time passed. I noticed coins getting tossed here and there, and not making it into the jar. I let it go, and eventually ended up ignoring the phenomenon all together. Then I reached my breaking point last week. I decided it was time for some "change".

I marched into the bank and asked for some rolling papers. I went home and dropped 10 lbs of coins into the little paper rolls. When it was all said and done, there was just over $75 of coins in the jar, but not all of them made it into the rolls. I had $4 of the $10 needed to finish a quarter roll, as well as random smaller coins that didn't quite make up a roll. After cashing out, I had $66 in cash in my pocket.

I fantasized about what I could do with the money. My mom was coming to visit in a week, I could use the extra Fun Dollars to do fun stuff with my mom and the kids. I could surprise everyone and take them out to eat, or I could just do the boring thing and follow the rules and deposit the money into our main account. But that didn't sound Fun. I really wanted to do something special with all my hard-earned coin rolls-turned-cash. It's not easy rolling money.

The answer came one evening last week as Corey and I were hanging out after supper. He made some comment, that triggered my thought process, then BAM! I knew what I should do with the money. I walked over to my purse and told Corey to close his eyes. "Hold out your hand," I said. Then I laid $60 in cash into his hand and closed his fingers around it. (I had used $5.00 to treat the kids to a Burger King snack. Call it "Fee for Services rendered.")

"What is this?" he asked.
"The coins from the jar. It's yours. Happy Fun Dollars," I replied.

Even though the coins in the jar are technically half mine by virtue of contribution, I could not resist the opportunity to give my husband a cash gift. That has never happened before. He was actually quite thrilled with my present. I just gave him $60 "free" dollars. It just felt so good to be able to do that. It was something he appreciated and something that made me smile to be able to do. I asked him if he wanted to be a guest blogger on here to tell about his experience with free Fun Dollars, but he respectfully declined the invitation.

The only thing that I know about where his money went was the Domino's pizza he had delivered to our house using his new-found fortune. Other than that, it's his money, and I can't say anything about how he spends it. Rules are rules.

Happy Spending.

Let's Dance, baby!