Friday, November 6, 2015

Gone in 60 Hours

Last week, we received a new installment of Fun Dollars. This pay cycle I only pulled out $80 for myself. The reason for the reduction in my own Fun Dollars amount is simple: I started using the Beach Body program, and their "Shakeology" is $120 for a month's supply. Corey graciously told me to order the program; including Shakeology, the 21 Day Fix as well as streaming Beach Body on Demand (their online workout video collection.) He told me that taking $20 out of my Fun Dollars each pay cycle would be what I would normally spend on things like ice cream and Burger King. Since I was determined not to spend my Fun Dollars on junk food with this new program, I happily agreed. (Plus it is a drop in the bucket towards defraying the cost of the Skakeology each month.)

With this 21 Day Fix set to arrive in the mail any day, I was more determined than ever to be successful with it; and that meant removing ALL temptation. I knew exactly where to start...Skateland!

Skateland is one of the more entertaining family outings we have discovered. Carrick's school hosted a fund-raiser there the week before he left. I had never been to Skateland, but had driven by it on multiple occasions. I was thrilled at the chance to finally have a reason to go. (I spent many a day at Scottie's Skateland in Quincy, IL as a youth.) Mostly I was intimidated by the thought of taking two children to a skating rink. Carrick is/was still new on his skates. I knew I would have to be available for him "just in case". I also wondered whether or not Lily could even participate. But with this school fund raiser, I figured there would be lots of other parents and children there. So, if Lily couldn't skate, maybe she could find someone to play with.

As it turned out, Lily was actually able to rent toddler skates that fit over her shoes. They also had "skate mates", a PVC pipe walker on wheels, basically. She practically ran around the rink armed with her stable skates and her crutch. Carrick on the other hand, refused to use a skate mate, or his mother's helping hand. His friends from school were there, and he insisted on avoiding me. "No, mom, I can do it on my own!" This was essentially my first foray into the world of "geez mom, don't embarrass me in front of my friends." He did crash out, landing on his backside dozens of times, but he always recovered.

The kids had such a blast at the fundraiser that we went back two days later for Customer Appreciation Day, which included free admission! While we were there, I played the game "Red Light/Green Light". I wasn't the only parent playing, either. I had fun chatting with the other parents lined up against the back wall before we started. I ended up winning free admission for me and the kids for the next week on Wednesday.

Wednesday (of last week) was two days in to the new pay cycle, and I had $80.00 in my wallet. It was also Carrick's "visit day" at his new Montessori School. I told him we would go back to Skateland to celebrate him going to a new school (and use our free admission.) As soon as we walked through the door at the skating rink, some kid in a school uniform of khaki shorts and a navy polo said, "Hey, buddy!" to Carrick. I asked him, "do you know that kid?"

"Yeah! He goes to Montessori!" Carrick replied.

Moments later, we saw a little girl. Carrick's face lit up, "Hey, Lily!" He turned to me, "Mom! Her name is Lily, just like my sister! AND she's in my class at the Montessori school!!!!" I recognized the girl from when we were there a week ago, on Thursday. After putting on the kids' skates, and my own, I saw one of the same parents who played Red Light/Green Light last week also. He came up to me and said, "I heard your son is going to the Montessori School." I smiled and said yes. "My wife teaches there, Miss Nicole. She's the aide in your son's classroom. All 4 of my kids go there."

I thought, wow...small world. In 50 days of going to the "other" school, we never ONCE saw someone he knew from school out in public. Here we are, after just one visit day at the new school, and I ran in to 5 kids (Lily was someone else's kid) from Carrick's new school. I took this as a sign that I made the right decision about where he attends class.

As I zoomed around the skating rink, with the wind hitting my face, I knew things were going to get better. All the stress from Carrick's old school would soon diminish. He was making friends, and I was hearing great things about his new school. Lily and Carrick amused themselves with snacks from the concession stand as I skated by myself, letting go of everything, just being one with the movement. It felt so good.

Afterwards, we went out for pizza. The next day I treated them to one last fling of Burger King (for breakfast AND after school, I don't normally do that.) I spent as much of my Fun Dollars as I could. I didn't want anything left over to tempt me in my new endeavor.

On Friday, I went on a Goodwill shopping spree. I bought Carrick "new" polos, pants, belts, shoes, a hoodie, and a hat to wear to his new school. I put them in a gift bag when I got home and wrote him a card, telling him how proud we are of him. I also bought Lily a few new dolls, hats and shoes while Goodwill shopping too. We made it to FOUR different Goodwills last Friday! I used my Fun Dollars for every purchase.

I started this week with $2.00 in my wallet. They stayed there until yesterday when I ate half a slice of cheese pizza at Costco with Lily for lunch. Don't worry, they account for cheese pizza in the eating program that goes along with the Beach Body challenge I am working on. I wasn't cheating. But the good news is, my Fun Dollars are gone for the ice cream splurges here. Then I get a new installment next Monday, just in time for my Sister Visit Trip to Chicago! (So, yes, there may be *some* splurging, but only in moderation...I still want that beach body!)

Admission to Skateland, skate rental, snacks, pizza afterward, Burger King for breakfast and lunch, Goodwill shopping spree, and Costco pizza- $80.00

Balance this pay cycle- $0.00

Happy Spending!

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Trip to the City

Ever since we picked up "Nana" and "Dedah" from the airport over a week ago, Carrick has done nothing but chime the wonders of the Lite Rail. In the past year, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport built an elevated tram system (similar to the monorail at Disney World) to transport passengers from the Metro Lite Rail system to the airport. We watched in awe as they constructed a bridge that towered over the rest of the airport, wondering what it would be. Bit by bit, the construction was completed, and the bridge's use was revealed.

I decided that instead of endure endless questions about the Lite Rail from Carrick, I could just indulge his curiosity and actually take him on a ride. I knew that he would dearly love to use the Sky Train, but the problem was the transportation from our car to the Sky Train station. There is no parking, just a massive carport for drop-offs, either by car or by city bus. I would have to park at the next nearest "Park and Ride" station, buy a ticket, ride the rail to the Sky Train station, and get off.

I did my research online about rates and schedules. I also called an attendant to make sure I understood everything. After all, if I was going to take my kids on a field trip through the city using public transportation, I needed to know I was getting on the right train, and not taking us somewhere unknown.

Lily is clutching her "ticket".
After school, I picked up Carrick and surprised him with our outing. We first stopped at Burger King were I put some mailer coupons to good use. The kids were also surprised that Burger King had a play place. This was their first experience with one that wasn't at a McDonald's (which they have only experienced twice ever.)

With full tummies, we headed out to Central Phoenix. I got slightly lost, but thanks to GPS, I made my way to the 38th Street Park and Ride. We parked, purchased tickets (to ride all of 6 blocks) and waited for the Mesa Eastbound to arrive. After alighting at 44th street, we climbed up the stairs to enter the massive, air-conditioned world of the Sky Train station.

It is still a fairly new facility, but it is streamlined and efficient. A passenger can either be dropped off at the station by a friend, or can ride a city bus or a Lite Rail train to the Sky Train Station. (There is no parking lot.) Once inside the station, you can print your boarding pass at a kiosk, buy a bottle of water, and use the restroom. It seemed like a vast building compared to the amount of usage it might see at one time, but I guess that adds to its impressiveness.

On the uppermost level of the Sky Train station, there are rows of automatic doors on each side. A "train" (a two-capsule tram) arrives every 4 minutes. The children and I watched the automated flashing announcement scroll across the arrival board above the doors "Next train arriving in 3 minutes". The train arrived and the doors slid open. We quickly scrambled inside. We were the only passengers in the second capsule. I felt like I was in a space ship, or a citizen in a Star Wars movie. The kids hurried from one seat to the other until the voice chimed, "Please hold on", and the tram took off at surprising speed.

I could not believe how quickly the tram increased velocity! I had to actually hang on! It zipped down the incline towards the airport. We rounded a bend, and then, for the fun part, we elevated high up over everything crossing the "sky bridge". This was part of the construction of the Sky Train that had me burning with curiosity. As they built it, I saw this concrete structure towering over the airport and wondered, "what the heck are they building? Is it a monorail? Are cars going to use it?" It captivated my imagination. Now I was ON it!!!! It seriously was like being on a roller coaster! Being that high up and going the speed we were going pumped a bit of adrenaline through my body.

The kids and I had giant smiles on our faces as the female voice announced, "Terminal 4", and the tram slowed to a stop. We rode to the end of the line at Terminal 3, and then exited the Sky Train. We could have stayed on because the capsule we were in just started running backwards to return to the Sky Train station. The capsules are driverless; they all run on computer and sensors. We waited for three more minutes until the next tram arrived. We rode it to the end of the line and exited.

As we walked across the enclosed glass bridge over Washington Street, I was brimming with pride. My two little tykes were perfectly behaved for this incredible adventure into the city. It was no small thing for me to take them (alone, Corey was at work) on a Lite Rail I had never used before, transfer them safely, and get back to the car. I was so impressed with how well they listened and stayed with me. No running off, no meltdowns, no whining, just rapt attention to what was going on around them, taking it all in.

I gave each of the kids a high five as we headed back to the car. "Well done," I said, "You guys are officially city kids."

Morning donuts- $3.00
Lunch at Costco with Lily- $4.00
Tickets to ride the Lite Rail- $6.00
After school snack at Burger King- $7.00
Bottled water at the Sky Train station- $2.00

Balance this pay cycle- $6.00

Happy Spending!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Purse Full of Fun Dollars

Now that I have outfits that I love, courtesy of my Goodwill shopping spree, I could now cruise the mall in confidence. In truth, I was avoiding checking out the Chandler Fashion Center just because I didn't really like what was in my closet.  If I am going shopping, I want to look as if I actually go shopping. (A fresh coat of mascara can only take the outfit so far...)

With rain in the forecast for Wednesday afternoon, we (my parents and I) made plans to explore the mall next to their hotel. Never before have I ever lived in the same town as a mall, so having a shopping mecca like the Chandler Fashion Center just a few exits from my house seems surreal. "You mean Pottery Barn and Nordstrom are just right here???" I still am having trouble wrapping my small-town girl mind around that one.

I wasn't on a mission to drop a bunch of cash at the mall, I just wanted to explore. I wanted to wander through some stores and just get a feel for the place. I did have a small, very short list of some supplemental items that Goodwill just couldn't supply; (cute) hair ties, something for my lips, and a key chain that has a clip (so that I can keep my car keys in the car running while I pop out to get the mail at our complex.) I had an idea for each of these items of where I wanted to shop. After spending several shopping sessions with my sister in Schaumberg at Woodfield Mall, I felt more acquainted with stores I was otherwise unfamiliar with.

I knew I could find cheap lip gloss at Forever 21. I don't go there for clothes (mostly because I don't really like their fashions,) but, as my sister so wisely states, "It's good for the basics." I can buy a handful of plain cami tank tops for a few dollars each. (I think they ring in at $1.90 or some ridiculous price like that.) Or a thin cardigan to keep me warm in all the icy air that is pumped through every edifice in town. I know that I can find inexpensive accessories there also. The hair ties were cute and sophisticated at the same time, so I snagged a card off the shelf with gold and silver pairings for $2.90. I also promised Lily that I would buy her her own lip gloss if she would stay in the stroller while I shopped. She did, and so a pink lip gloss became hers for $1.90. I also took one home for me in the same color.

After indulging Lily in a trip through "the pink store" (a.k.a. Victoria's Secret), we headed upstairs in the glass elevator to level 2. There I found an Icing store. I love this grown-up version of Claire's. I can find earrings, sunglasses, hats, scarves, and, yes, classy-looking key chains relatively inexpensively. I remembered seeing a collection of glittery key chains at the Icing in the Woodfield Mall the last time I shopped with my sister. Thankfully, nationally accessible stores carry the same wares in every store. They did indeed have the key chain I was looking for. After debating between a turquoise fish and an anchor, I chose the anchor. I am very happy with this decision. I no longer loose my dark key set in my purse. The glitter from the anchor alerts me, "here are your keys, dear!" And the key chain came with a clip, so I can easily unhook my P.O. box keys while leaving the air conditioning on in the car.

As I sat in the parent pit, I mean, play place, watching Carrick and Lily frolic with other kids, I snapped this picture. The purse; bought with Fun Dollars. The wallet; purchased with Fun Dollars. Hair ties, lip gloss and key chain, all the products of Fun Dollars at work. I love looking at my purse and seeing it filled with my decisions. Each of these items came from me choosing to part with my Fun Dollars. There are no regrets, no feelings of guilt about spending, just pride in knowing, "These are mine. I chose them, I bought them, I use them." Happy Spending indeed. 

Key chain at Icing- $10
2 Lip glosses and hair ties at Forever 21- $7.00
Wetzel's Pretzel for the kids to split- $3

Balance this pay cycle- $28.00

Happy Spending

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Less is More

Of course, after I preach the virtues of restraint, what do I do? I go on a shopping spree (ish). You'd think that with any and every store imaginable in a ten-minute radius that I would be able to find somewhere more interesting to shop than Goodwill. Wasn't there a Goodwill in Sedona? Isn't that where I spent quite a few Fun Dollars in my past life???

Yes, and yes. Which is why I felt comfortable taking my Fun Dollars there yesterday. With mom and dad in town visiting, I was handed a golden opportunity to go shopping. Mom makes a great shopping buddy and dad is a fabulous baby sitter! My mother shops almost exclusively at thrift stores. She marvels at her ability to find just about anything at rock-bottom prices at places like Goodwill. She and I were on the same mission: create a new wardrobe.

Mom packed lightly for this trip, mostly because she had already purged many of her clothes from her closet. She had amassed a collection of things that no longer felt right on her, clothes that felt worn out, out-dated and "not her" anymore. I too purged much of my closet before moving. After holding two garage sales, I was in the "get rid of it" state of mind. Anything and everything that did not make me feel my best when I put it on was taken straight to the donation center.

One of the first things mom asked me after claiming her bags at the airport was, "Do you have any Goodwills near where you live now?" I wanted to laugh...

We have about 7 Goodwills within a 7 mile radius! No joke! Goodwill down here is as ubiquitous as Starbucks! There's one on every corner is seems like! The store I chose for our girl's-day-out-shopping-spree was the newly opened Goodwill at Priest Rd and Elliot. It is the size of a Marshall's store, with the selection of a Marshall's store to boot.

With a bigger population, there is greater diversity of goods. There are not just retired folks donating here (like in Sedona). There are college students from ASU getting rid of things after the semester is over. There are young women who are shopaholics bringing in their designer duds. Suffice it to say, when I went tearing through the aisles, there was not shortage of things for me to try on.

Just one of the six shirts I scored at Goodwill.
I decided to stick with just buying shirts for this outing. I have four pairs of solid-colored linen shorts from Banana Republic and I rotate through them (and two pairs of leggings) for what I wear on the bottom. I had been cycling through the same few shirts just because they were the only things left that I could wear with solid colored shorts.  I thought starting from the base of shorts, it would be easy to find shirts that coordinated with them. After an hour of trying on several dozen tops, I found 6 that really worked for me and my existing wardrobe. I also scored two purses and a sun hat.

When I came home yesterday after my shopping spree, I matched up shorts and tops. My closet looks so happy now with six new outfits! It's a small start, but it will get me through the week looking and feeling my best. Paying $3.99 for an almost new Express shirt feels good. Getting a whole bag full of name-brand tops for $3.99 each feels even better. Paying less and getting more, now that's what I'm talkin' about!

6 shirts, 2 purses and a sun hat at Goodwill- $35.00

bottled water from Circle K- $4.00

Lunch at Jimmy John's- $6.00

Balance this pay cycle- $48.00

Happy Spending!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

We are moved. We are (mostly) unpacked. We have a new couch. Our new bed frame is set for delivery today. Life is good.

I have spent my entire life living in small towns. The largest of them being Cottonwood, AZ. Corey and I spent our first six months in Arizona living in Cottonwood. The approximate population of that particular area, I believe is in the 60,000 range (give or take a few hundred snowbirds.) Sedona, AZ and Macomb, IL were the next biggest cities I have called home, with around 20,000 people each. Now, compare the size of those three towns to where we live now, boasting 6 million people; that's a lot of people.

Lots of people means lots of commerce. The options for places to spend Fun Dollars is limitless. If I saved up all of my Fun Dollars for a month, I could buy a plane ticket to visit my sister. Why not, when the airport is 15 minutes away? Or I could go to IKEA and redo a room of our new home. After all, it's just across town, just down the street. Or we could go out to eat, but the question is where? Do we want Cuban, Caribbean, or Korean for dinner? OR I could just take the kids to a water park, or an amusement park on the weekend, and spend half my Fun Dollars on carnival rides. Really, the only limit to me spending my Fun Dollars is my own budget. Whatever I can dream up to do, we can go do. It's all here.

With the endless list of possible places to park my cash comes a huge responsibility. I cannot just pass off cooking supper each night and instead go out to eat. I cannot just drive to the Chandler Fashion Center and buy a whole new wardrobe for myself. I cannot just take the kids to Castles and Coasters every weekend. There must be some restraint.

Thank Goodness I have been tracking my Fun Dollars for a year and a half and have now developed the skill and art of spending discernment. I truly believe that this move was properly timed. Had we moved a year ago, yeah I could have handled it, but I still had much to learn about my spending habits. Even if we had moved six months ago, I think I still would have felt the need to make bigger, more exciting purchases, even if it was just for the sake of writing about it here on the Fun Dollars blog. I would have blown through my money way too quickly if we had moved much earlier than what we did.

The past three weeks since we moved, I have been exploring neighborhoods, discovering parks, and investigating places to shop. Instead of just making a purchase automatically, I have instead held back and shopped around for the best deals (for household purchases, not Fun Dollar purchases. We only just "turned on" the Fun Dollars budget again this week.) Shopping around was a luxury not really afforded before. In Cottonwood, there was Wal-Mart, JC Penny, Home Depot, and several local eateries worth frequenting. In Sedona, there was Beall's Outlet, Goodwill, and a Gap Outlet, with several other local places worth checking out for shopping/eating. If we wanted any more options outside of what I just listed, we had to drive 45 minutes to Flagstaff. That's where Marshall's, Target, Old Navy, the Mall, Kohl's, etc. were all located. Since it took a day's worth of commitment to go shopping at these places, I had to have an actual need to drive that far to justify the cost of travel. I would have to feed myself while I was out all day. I would have to have a list long enough to make the trip worth my while, thereby making spending almost a necessity just to get variety.

Here in Phoenix, the variety is all just minutes away. I can drive down the street to Bed, Bath and Beyond to check the price of sheets for our new bed, then walk next door to compare the prices at Marshall's. If I don't like what I see, it's not a big deal, because I haven't wasted an entire day just driving to these places to check on prices. I can turn right around and drive to Target or Ross today, tomorrow, or the next day because they are only seven minutes away. (Which is exactly what I did yesterday.) I am no longer limited by time and distance. They have become my allies.

Before, when we needed to do more extended shopping outside of the Sedona area, we would have to pack snacks, or plan a cheap meal out (usually at Taco Bell.) Now, we have a home right in the middle of everything. We can go shopping in one area, head home for a snack, then go right back out to another part of town. It's no longer a gamble for the kids getting hungry, or me needing a little pick-me-up. I can accomplish much of what I need to do during the hours that Carrick is at school. I can run some laundry, go out shopping, come back home to do dishes, and still have time to relax while Lily naps before picking up Carrick. I don't have to spend a majority of my day in the car driving to accomplish what I need to get done, thereby maximizing the time I spend with one kiddo at home.

I am really looking forward to the next few months of spending my Fun Dollars. It is going to be a whole new adventure! (By the way, did any of you see the new tagline for Fun Dollars? It's now "Adventures in Spending".) I am super-excited to track and observe my spending habits in this new environment. New challenges, new "wants", new stores and eateries all beckon for me to come and be a part of this spending adventure!

Plate of Orange and Teriyaki Chicken at Panda Express- $7.00

Balance this pay cycle- $93.00

Happy Spending!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Settling In...

We moved...*snap* just like that.

Remember earlier this summer when I posted about our "impromptu" trip to Mexico? Well, it was sort of like that. Corey called me on his way back from Phoenix last Friday and said we should rent a U-Haul and move this weekend. He had just signed the lease on our new place and had keys and a garage door opener.

Really? Now? Are you crazy? We just paid rent for August (in Sedona), and you want to move now?

Well, I guess it's a good thing I had been preparing for this moment all summer long. Packing, decluttering, donating, hosting two garage sales, and more packing...It was the moment of truth. Had my diligence with my summer task of "packing as if we were moving" paid off? Yes, a resounding YES!!!!

We did rent a U-Haul the very next day, around 5pm, actually. Niccole took Carrick to her house for one last sleepover, and another friend of ours came over to help us start loading up the truck. I staged what was ready to load, she and Corey did the loading. We worked until about 9 that night.

The next day, our friend came back over around 9 in the morning with her two children. The kids ran around with Lily for a while, then another friend of ours showed up to help (also with her two children.) Shortly after her arrival, Niccole brought Carrick home, and we added two more 6-year-olds to the mix (and two more adult helping hands, Niccole, and her husband.) Together, with four ladies and two dudes, we all loaded up the truck, packed and cleaned our house.

We didn't totally finish all of it, but the help was more appreciated than our friends will ever know. Without them, it would have taken Corey and me so much longer (especially with the kids.) Having all the other kids around was like a party for them. They all played well and kept each other occupied so the adults could forge ahead with the moving-out process.

The group dispersed around 3. We were all exhausted and the kids needed a nap. After an hour of siesta time, Corey and I finished loading up the van. We left Sedona around 6. By 11:30 that night, we were in our new home and the van was empty (thanks to the help of one of Corey's Phoenix friends.)

As I laid there in my bed, tired, run-down, and aching, I couldn't help but smile. This felt like home. The room, the house, the neighborhood, all of it. There was something comforting and familiar about the place we had chose to live in.

So, why so sudden? Why not make trips back and forth and slowly move in all month? Why didn't I tell Corey to stuff it when he said, "Hey! Let's just pack up and move this weekend"?

One word: Family.

I have been living the life of a single mom all summer long. My husband has been in Phoenix living in hotels all summer long. We have not seen each other enough. The kids miss him. He is lonely. We just all needed to be together as a family as quickly as possible. Yeah, I could have drove some loads of stuff down to Phoenix and then packed up a U-Haul with just furniture at the end. But, I gotta say, after one trip back to do some cleaning the day after we moved, it was torture!!! I could have done it just find by myself, but I had both kids with me. The two-hour trip there and back, the mess in the house, no TV or toys to play with while mom takes care of business all make for two very cranky kiddos. (And cranky kiddos tend to make cranky mommies. It's a lose/lose situation.)

Also, because we put in our 30-day notice with our rental company, they want to start showing our property to potential renters. The thought of having to pack, watch two kids and keep the house tidy enough to show gives me hives. The faster we vacate, the better. It's one less stressor in my life during this time of major transition.

So, we are getting our boxes unpacked. The house is slowly becoming a home. The kids have been able to play on the playground just across the driveway as well as dip in the community pool. Corey has been able to enjoy a quick commute to work, then come home to his wife and kids. We are all under one roof now, and that's what really matters.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Welcome Back...

After a two-week visit to see family in Illinois, I had much catching up to do. Not just with the laundry and unpacking, but also playing hostess for garage sale #2 this summer! I had enough "stuff" left over after my first garage sale, that a few friends of mine approached me about doing a joint sale. They also had lots to get rid of, and wanted to put together a multi-family event the weekend after we returned home.

We set up shop the day after we arrived back home, and hosted the yard sale all weekend long. I made over $100 letting people haul away my junk. We packed up two loads of leftovers in the car and hauled it all away to Goodwill when it was all over. Thanks to all efforts involved, my garage is now empty...except for the boxes....

Yes, boxes, as in packing boxes, as in we are moving...

All summer long, my one aim has been to prep our house for the potential of moving. Corey and I have talked about leaving Sedona for almost two years now. We have felt our time here slowly drawing to a close. The only questions were, "Where would we go?" and "What would Corey do for a job to support his family?" Since I don't really have a career I am committed to, and he is the sole bread winner in our house, it really just boils down to Corey and his job. Without a source of income, we have no possibility of leaving. Since I am still pretty committed to raising the kids, the idea of me trying to land a job somewhere that would make enough to take care of the family was laughable. The entire fate of our family rested upon Corey and his job.

Right after school let out for the summer, something shifted at Corey's job, opening up the possibility for us to make our plans to move a reality...

Corey managed operations in Sedona for White Tie Transportation while another fellow managed operations for the parent company, Divine Charter, down in Phoenix. In the late part of May this year, the guy down in Phoenix took another job in California, leaving his position wide open. Corey stepped up and filled in as the "interim" Operations Manager. He has been doing this all summer long. This means that during the week, he has been living in a hotel room provided by the company down in Phoenix. I take the kids down mid-week to spend some time together as a family, and then Corey comes back on the weekends. It's been tough, but somehow, we have managed to enjoy our summer vacation, in spite of being mostly separated as a family.

After successfully performing the duties of Operations Manager all summer long, as well as going above and beyond the job requirements, Corey's boss(es) offered him the position! It came with a raise that was too nice to turn down. This means that the Sheridan family is headed to Phoenix by the end of August. We were given an opportunity to leave Sedona, and have a way to be supported (with Corey's job). It's a nice package deal.

Also, this move means that we do not have to totally leave our friends in Sedona forever. We can still make delightful weekend trips to Red Rock Country. Moving to Phoenix also puts us closer (by two hours) to the airport. This means that all of our family living in Illinois can visit more easily. Living in Sedona means that they have to buy a shuttle trip, or pay extra to fly to Flagstaff (or that one of us has to drive a 4-hour round trip to pick them up from the airport in Phoenix.) Living 25 minutes from both airports means that whomever flies in for a visit doesn't have to shell out extra cash, or spend extra time travelling to Northern Arizona just to see us.

We are also familiar with Phoenix. It sure beats trying to start all over in a new city. We have friends in Phoenix, we know the parks, restaurants, and neighborhoods too. It's a smaller "big step" than moving across the country or to another state, like we had been discussing before this promotion came about.

So what does this mean for Fun Dollars? I have no idea. Corey and I have not had a chance to talk about that part yet. We just got word a week ago that he was actually offered the position. We have spent the last week looking for a place to live and filling out paperwork. Yesterday we received word that our application was accepted and we can proceed with our move south. We have pretty much suspended our Fun Dollars for the month of July. Since we have been travelling and making extra trips to Phoenix, we are just living in "Spend-what-you-need" mode. No budget, just being conscious about what we are spending. So, after we get all settled in our new place, we will put our Fun Dollars system back in place. (I hope we get a raise in our Fun Dollars too. That would be a nice reward for all the single-momming I have done this summer with him gone.) Whatever happens, I'll keep you all informed about our changes as Fun Dollars evolves and adapts to life in the big city.

Until September (yes, I will be moving, and my parents are visiting this month too), Happy Spending!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Stay-at-Home Money Maker

Last year, I wrote an entry titled, "The Gift of Fun Dollars." In that entry I discussed how I hand-rolled $65.00 worth of coins from our Fun Dollars change jar. I took the rolls to the bank for cash and presented the money to Corey. I was so proud to be able to give my husband, who earns 99% of our income, a monetary gift that he did not have to work for. That was over a year ago. This year, I did things a little differently with our change jar.

Just as a reminder, when Corey or I spend our Fun Dollars, we always round up to the next dollar. The change always goes into a change jar. We empty it out periodically and use the cash inside.
We have not emptied the jar since I cashed in the coins last year. We now have an entire year's worth of coins saved up once more. This time around, I did not roll all of them, just $53.00 worth. I took $43.00 to the bank to cash in this past Wednesday. I asked for $1.00 and $5.00 bills. I kept a $10.00 roll of quarters for change. I needed the cash for a yard sale.

I have been sorting and decluttering for a month now, ever since school let out on the 22nd of May. I started organizing in the garage. I moved into the toy room after the garage was entirely sorted, boxed and labeled. I have dug through closets and cabinets, and literally pulled everything out, room by room in our house. My general method of decluttering involved a large Sterilite tub, a trash can and a diaper box (150 count).

As I began in a new area of mess and junk, I would just dump everything out onto the floor. Sitting on the edge of the junk pile on a pillow, I would move through the junk pile, sorting my way through the mound. Items were tossed into one of the three recepticles. Items were either for saving (in the Sterilite), for getting rid of (in the diaper box, which would then go to the garage for cleaning and pricing), or in the trash. Some items I would pile on the floor next to the Sterilite. Those were things that I knew where they should live. These piles consisted of dishes, laundry, shoes, or certain toys.

Week after week I spent time with this project, and finally, after a month of attention, I was finally ready to host a yard sale. I started with $53.00. After taking out the starter money, and paying my friend who added some of her stuff to the mix, I was left with $96! I was shooting for $100, so not too bad! I gave Carrick $5.00 for his "help" (keeping Lily entertained during the garage sale hours.) I also gave Lily $1.00 for whatever she did to "help" (mostly she saw Carrick get money, so she needed some too.) I split the rest between Corey and Me. $45 each. Then I handed Corey the wad of starter money that I originally extracted. "Happy Birthday a few days early," I said as I handed him the money.

I took coins that were otherwise useless in such a massive quantity, used them to bankroll a garage sale, and ended up almost tripling my money! Talk about being savvy with Fun Dollars! I now have a little extra to take with me on my trip, Corey has a birthday present, and the kids learned about turning a small bit of money into a little more money.

Castles and Coasters visit- $35.00
Eating out with the kids all week while Corey was in Phoenix- $60.00
Add in cash from Garage Sale- +$45.00
Balance this pay cycle- $50.00

Happy Spending!

****I will be on hiatus in the month of July. We will be visiting family and travelling. See you all in August!!!***

Saturday, June 20, 2015

This One's for You, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Thanks, dad, for believing in me.

In 1992, I had just finished 4th grade, and the world was my oyster. 4th grade was life-changing. I had found a stronger voice in my ten-year-old self.  I emerged from the 4th grade with a very strong "feminist" attitude, and I had a new passion for reading. Earlier that year I inherited a collection of vintage Nancy Drew books from my father.
They were his when he was my age. They came in a box mixed up with mostly Hardy Boys Mysteries, but I didn't keep those. I was only interested in about the strong female character catching bad guys.

I remember sitting in my front yard beneath the honey locust tree that summer, lost in the pages of my new mystery collection. It felt like magic. The world was quiet save for a warm breeze and the occasional cardinal. The garden walls seemed to enclose me. The dappled sunlight from the leaves of the honey locust would bounce across the pages. I blazed through all of my father's books that summer as there were just over a dozen. I had to check out other Nancy Drew books I did not yet own at the library. My need to read about the young, female detective was insatiable. I literally wanted to be her!

My collection of Nancy Drew books more than doubled during our family vacation that year. We drove south to Florida to visit my mother's parents at their retirement community. We also made a stop at Disney World. While we stayed with my grandparents, grandpa saw me reading a Nancy Drew book. So, he dug out my mother's old Nancy Drew collection, which was quite extensive, upwards of 20 books. I barely remember Disneyworld from that family vacation, but I vividly remember receiving these books.

The drive back from Florida to Illinois took the better part of two days to navigate. My dad drove most of the way home listening to the Andrews Sisters or the Beach Boys. My sister and I would amuse ourselves in the way back seat of the station wagon singing and making up dance moves to the songs.  At some point on this ride home, while I was reading one of my new books, dad asked me from the front seat, "You've read so many of those Nancy Drew Books that you must know the characters and plot lines pretty well. Have you ever considered writing your own Nancy Drew Book?" (Keep in mind, this was in the days before the concept of "fan fiction".)

I took his words to heart, and started writing as soon as we were home.

I worked on it the rest of the summer and on into the new school year. My teacher caught wind of what I was doing, and asked me if I wanted to type out a manuscript. She would send me to the computer lab during free times and study halls to work on my story. I think that's where I fell in love with writing. Just me alone at a computer. It took me quite a while to type it all out. (Remember, I was a fifth-grader. I would not take Keyboarding Class for another three years.)

After many months of typing, editing, and assembling the manuscript, I had it laminated and bound. I was going to attend the Illinois Young Authors Workshop at Illinois State University with my creation.

My passion for writing bubbled over all that year in fifth grade. With my father's encouragement and my bounding imagination, I developed myself as a budding author. With my writings, I attended two different young writer's conferences, as well as won the local Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest.

My father's words, taken seed, blossomed.

...and now I write Fun Dollars.

I love you dad. Happy Father's Day. Writing is just one of the many areas in life where I have received your words of love and encouragement. Thank you for being my dad, and for always believing in me.

Beets, red-leaf lettuce and pecans at the farmer's market- $9.00
Balance this pay cycle- $1.00
Happy Spending!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Our Days and Nights in Phoenix

I saved receipts all week after our new installment of Fun Dollars on Monday, but I still feel like I just blew through my Fun Dollars. We took a family trip to Phoenix this week while Corey was needed at the main office. His company paid for him to stay at a Motel 6 Extended Stay, so I took the kids down to the valley to stay there with him. We were able to have breakfast and dinner together as a family, and I was able to do different things with the kids during the day than what I normally would do in Sedona.

We started our trip south by stopping at The Outlets in Anthem. I was in need of some new shorts, and they have a play area for the kids there, so everybody wins. It always makes a nice pit-stop too. It breaks up the two-hour trip if we are going any further into the city than Scottsdale.

I took a risk, and decided I needed the shorts badly enough to go shopping without a stroller, and hope the kids stay with me. After a quick breeze through Gap and Banana Republic, I had found what I was looking for. Banana Republic had linen shorts on sale, just like the ones I bought there last year. They are comfy and colorful. (I have decided I do not like wearing denim shorts in the summer. It's linen all the way, baby!) Since the kids were so well-behaved while I shopped, I decided to reward them with something they beg me for every time we are at The Outlets...Auntie Annie's. I spent $7.00 on cinnamon-sugar pretzel bites and a lemon slushie. With treats in hand, we headed out to the play yard for the kids to blow off some energy before heading back on the road.

That night, we all went to Taco and Tequila Tuesday at Dos Gringos in Tempe. We had been to the one in Old Town Scottsdale the last time we all stayed in the Valley for Corey's work. We tried this other location because it was close to where we were staying. Corey and I each had a margarita and a "happy shot" with dinner. We all ate for $20.00, including the drinks!!! We were there for a while, letting the kids run around in the pit with the bean bag game (cornhole is it called???) while Corey and I talked. Even though the music was loud, it was still enjoyable to have the kids occupied while we lingered over dinner.

The next day, I ran the kids around the city with gusto. We played at McCormick-Stillman Railroad park. I took them to IKEA so that I could research dining room chairs. (Carrick loved the play place and Lily rode in the shopping cart.) I found what I was looking for to replace our old IKEA dining chairs that have seen better days. As I prepare for our upcoming garage sale, I want the old chairs to be included in the inventory. The new chairs I found are meant to be temporary, so I didn't want to spend a lot of money on them. At $25.00 a pop, I decided they would be the best replacement chair; inexpensive, match our table, comfortable to sit in, and stackable. I treated the kids (again) with a box of IKEA cinnamon rolls.

That night, we headed to Castles and Coasters after we picked up Corey from work. This time, we tried their mini-golf. Carrick has never actually been mini-golfing since becoming a "big kid" (I think we took him once when he was two to a different facility.) He really enjoyed it. So did I, since I finally found something at which I could beat Corey! Lily just ran around with her golf club, jumping off little path edgers, and talking to anyone who would listen to her.

Thursday was our bittersweet day. Our car was having troubles and I didn't want to drive the kids too far away from the hotel, just in case we got stranded in the city. I took the kids to Goodwill and to Denny's since they were both within safe driving distance. We shared a plate of cheese fries, an appetizer sampler plate and their first ever banana split. Sitting between two children gobbling up melting ice cream definitely made me laugh and forget the fact that I was "stuck" with them at the hotel all day. That night our family went back to Dos Gringos for another round of tequila and tacos.

After a breakfast at Waffle House, I packed up the hotel room and drove with the kids to an auto mechanic's garage to have the car checked out. The garage was the same place we took our Prius two months ago for a issue it was having. They gave me their company van to drive around all day while they fixed the problem. It was close to 5 hours of work they did in all. Thank goodness for the van. It would have been quite a challenge to keep the kids happy in their waiting room for that long. While we were waiting, I made a trip back to IKEA to claim the chairs I had researched two days earlier. By 4:00 we were leaving the garage, and an hour later, we were out of Phoenix heading back home.

Despite the slow traffic on I-17 heading northward, I was still in good spirits. Lily had fallen asleep, as Carrick and I delighted in the clouds over the mountains. It made me remember my dearly departed mother-in-law, as if she were smiling at us on our ride home.

Our trip down to Phoenix was not as refreshing as our recent trip to Mexico, but it was till a welcome break from Sedona. With Corey working down there this month to cover new-hire training, it broke up our time away from him while he's getting through this phase at work. Part of what we talked about in Mexico was how we could carve out more time together as a family, and this trip was a direct result of that. Seeing him for lunch and dinner, and having some family fun time refills my tank long enough to get me through the other days when we are apart. Just taking it one day at a time.

Auntie Annies's at The Outlets- $7.00
Tickets at the train park- $10.00
Cinnamon Rolls at IKEA- $4.00
Snacks at Denny's- $22.00 (with tip)
Snacks at Target while they fixed the car- $5.00
Lunch at IKEA- $10.00
Doritos for the car ride home at Circle K- $5.00

Balance this pay cycle- $10.00 (I don't know if this all adds up, but that is all that's left in my wallet after this trip. I night not have saved a receipt or recorded a purchase with all the running around we did.)

Happy Spending!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Blue Monday

We are in our third week of Summer vacation at this point, and it's pretty hard to believe. This break is flying by much faster than in years past. I'm not sure if it's because we have zero concrete plans or if it's because I now have two mobile and communicative children to keep me busy. Whatever the reason, we are now in a beautiful flow of having no schedule to adhere to. Creating our days as we go along, and rolling with all the surprises thrown at us with grace has become the norm at Casa Sheridan.

Yesterday I took the kids to the pool for the first time. (We all swam at the pool in Mexico, but this is our first trip to a pool in town this summer.) I had planned a library trip with our "to do" bulletin board, but when a friend called for a playdate, we all agreed the pool would be the best place to meet up.

Two hours of play at the Sedona Public Pool kept Carrick engaged and smiling. There were five other children from his class at the pool when we arrived! He was beyond thrilled to see everyone. (One of them was a child who transferred to the other Sedona School mid-year, and Carrick has not played with this boy in about three months. He was especially happy to see his old friend.) I splashed with Lily for about thirty minutes until she was too cold to stay in. Even though I only swam for half an hour, it was worth the $3.00 admission (and $2.00 for Carrick) to be at a pool where there are lifeguards to watch him, and other moms to talk to.

I sat with Lily on my lap and chatted away with two other mom friends of mine, catching up on how their summer was going, and what their plans are for the next few weeks. Knowing that Carrick had passed his swim test for playing in the deep end, I just relaxed and enjoyed my social time with my friends.

After the pool closed at 4:30, I took the kids home and made Carrick a snack bag for his jui-jitsu class. He attends the kids' class right before Corey's adult class, and they have "guy time". Meanwhile, I stay with Lily and enjoy our "girl time".

Lily and I went to share some pizza slices at Famous Pizza, then took a stroller walk around the neighborhood. We finished the night by sitting on the couch watching Friends on Netflix, (my favorite activity while Corey is out of the house.)

I feel like I am expertly navigating the summer break, as well as making my Fun Dollars count for something with my purchases. Whether I am funding an inexpensive activity with the kids, or enjoying a night on the couch, I can safely say there is nothing to be blue about other than the color of the pool.

Pool admission- $5.00
Pizza slices at Famous Pizza -$6.00 with tip.

Balance this pay cycle- $89.00
Happy Spending!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Very Smart Decision

I have saved my Fun Dollars for two pay cycles (one month) for a very special purchase. For ten years, I have been a loyal Mary Kay customer. I have also had multiple Mary Kay consultants from whom I have purchased. Many of them have approached me about becoming a consultant myself. I have never felt a draw to be a consultant. I just like someone else giving me excellent customer service...until now.

In early April, I received a facebook message from a long-time friend. She was the first person I ever babysat (as well as her two younger siblings.) I knew her from the church my father served from the time I was 6 to 14 years old. Before I left Illinois to life in Arizona, I bought some Mary Kay from her, because she was just starting out with her business. I have since made several other purchases  from her, even though I had a Mary Kay lady here in Arizona. I liked supporting someone I had known for so long, even if it wasn't exclusive.  She is now a newlywed, and seeing this young person grown into an adult with her own business has been so inspiring. (After all, it was because of her and her family that I made my first Fun Dollars for babysitting.)  In this facebook message from my old friend, she asked me if I would be interested in listening to a phone survey about Mary Kay and giving her some feedback. In return, she would send me a free hand crème.

Being a sucker for free product, I had no objections. I listened to the survey and contacted her. She asked me what I thought about what I heard on the phone call. She also asked me what my interest level was on becoming a consultant myself. On a scale of 1-10, I told her I was a 4.

"What makes you a 4?" she asked.
"Well, the idea of signing up just so I can get product at cost is really appealing. I have spent so much money on makeup over the past decade that it really makes sense.  However, I don't know if I can focus on a business right now."

She explained that I didn't have to order a certain amount each month, I only had to place one order for $200+ within a year to stay "active". That was what I needed to hear. If I saved up my Fun Dollars over the course of two pay cycles, I would have enough to buy a starter kit. Then I could order product for myself at half the cost, as well as have the tools to start my own business when I was ready for it!

I told her that I could commit to buying a starter kit at the end of May. I couldn't wait. Now all I had to do was be diligent with my Fun Dollars and make sure I held back enough to cover the cost of the kit. Out of all the women who have sold me Mary Kay in the past decade, this was the one woman I wanted to support by joining her team. I know her from so long ago and have such faith in her as a team leader that it seemed like a no-brainer.

Saving Fun Dollars in the long run because I am buying from myself, as well as creating a business funded by my own Fun Dollars is the smartest decision I have made with my Fun Dollars to date. I can't wait to get started. (I just received my starter kit this week, so there is still some training to do.)


I am now a proud member of the Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultant Team!

Remainder of my balance this week plus $40.00 from last pay cycle to cover the cost of the Mary Kay Starter Kit- $108.00 (the rest of the shipping and handling was covered by our family's "Future Freedom" budget.)

Balance this pay cycle- $0.00
Happy Spending!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Sun-Soaked Saturday

We arrived at the border of Mexico at 9:30 that night. In our haste to leave for vacation, we did not pull cash out of the ATM at our bank (for free) so we ended up paying at least $20.00 in fees for our withdrawals. We also did not have the foresight until we were miles from the border to call our bank and let them know we were travelling. Nor did we think to call Verizon to ask about international data plans and cell coverage. (We both just assumed that Verizon would work automatically in Mexico.)

We had to stop to activate our phones through Verizon, but we needed a third-party phone to do it since we could not call internationally! A very nice C-store attendant let Corey use minutes on his flip phone to complete the transaction. After our short delay, and asking directions to make sure we were on the right road, (since our GPS wasn't working yet) we headed out of town.

The kids fell asleep very quickly after leaving the border town of Sonoyta behind. After getting slightly turned around when we reached Rocky Point (Punto Penasco), We arrived at 11 p.m. at the Playa Bonita Resort. Corey stepped out just long enough to get the keys from the front desk. He hopped back in and announced he had directions to the taco stands back in town. (We were on the beach slightly removed from the rest of the city.)

Carrick woke up unexpectedly as we left the parking lot. When we found the "taco district", he joined Corey on his food quest. There was loud techno/house music playing from a club down the street. People were walking, biking and driving as if it were the middle of the day. There was a man with an accordion playing on the corner, adding his notes to the thumpy music. We took our tacos back to our room, which was also thumping with the vibrations of music. There was a restaurant next door, a part of the hotel, which was hosting an outdoor reception on their patio. At this point, Lily was awake too.

We finished our tacos, and Corey decided he had not driven this far to stay inside when there was a beach 50 yards from his door. He took us all down the stairs from our patio and we strolled the beach by moonlight. It was a magical experience. I have been on beaches at night before, but never with my children. Their delight washed away my fatigue with the waves. The fact that loud music was playing at midnight, just added to the mystique of the gently rolling tide.

When we returned to the room, my attitude flipped completely. I was tired from being on the road, and irritated at the vibrations of the music. Finally, I put in my earbuds and listened to my night music. This did the trick, and I woke up the next morning to a sunny beach vacation.

We ate breakfast at the next-door restaurant, and to my surprise, they were still paying techno/house remixes! The difference from the night before was that the music played over the speakers in the establishment, and was not from the speakers of an excessively loud DJ.

The people there just liked to listen to energetic music....all the time! As I went through my day, it became more and more apparent just how important playing music was in this particular culture. The music is like the heartbeat of the people. They are a very happy and energetic; they love to dance, eat, be with family, and enjoy life. No one was yelling at their kids to behave. No one was in a foul mood of any kind. Whether is was a vacationer, or a local, everyone seemed to be joyful to be alive. It was incredibly refreshing.

I played with the kids on the beach. I sat in the "spa" and enjoyed a pedicure. I even watched Carrick swim while I sat on our patio while Lily napped on the other side of the glass door. I could watch both kids and relax at the same time! (I know what you're thinking, "You let your kid get in the pool without being in there with him?" My answer to you is this: There were about a dozen kids between the two pools, side by side, and at one point, there were NO adults in there! They were all seated around the sides under umbrellas, all of them keeping an eye on their kids by proxy. It was something that would never happen in the US, I don't think. Everyone was so chill, that it just wasn't a problem. The kids all played so nicely together that no one needed adult intervention. And if something did happen, 24 adults would be right there to help in a snap.)

That evening, we took a taxi to the other side of town for dinner. We had reservations on El Rey Del Mar (The King of the Sea) Pirate Dinner Cruise. Right after boarding the ship, Lily found the need to remove her shoes. Try as I might, I could not get her to keep them on. Finally, I just decided to "let it go" and allow the bare feet. If anyone said anything, I would of course put her shoes on, but no one did.

There was a group of cute young Mexican guys,
and one of them danced with Lily.
We set sail around the bay, and the music started up again. After several upbeat songs, the MC for the night called for some volunteers, and the entertainment began! She had two activities that required volunteers before calling all the children from the ship to come down. She had them play a game of musical chairs. The little boy (whose father was the pirate captain) led the kids around the ship, running in and out of tables and people while the music played. Then, when the music stopped, the kids had to dash to the middle of the boat and try to get a seat. Watching Lily run hap-hazardly wherever she wanted to with her baby cheeks bouncing made me laugh so hard I couldn't drink my margarita! Bare foot and all, she was the favorite of the onlookers. When she finally was eliminated, Corey ran up to get her, and said, "How about a hand for the little one?" and the entire boat cheered! So much for worrying about bare feet!

We headed back up to the second level where our seats were, and we enjoy another (very weak) margarita. Then Corey left me with the kids to go down to el bano. As soon as he left, the crew DJ started playing a Spanish version of Achy Breaky Heart. The little girl (daughter of the Pirate Captain) who was leading all the dances was down there, looking awkward shuffling around to the electric slide. I looked around for Corey, desperate to go down there and show everyone what a real electric slide should look like. When I realized he was nowhere close, I shouted out over the music, "Oh, Come on!!!! I'm from Illinois, this is what we DO!!!! I gotta represent!" This awesome lady we made friends with told me to get on down there to dance and she'd watch the kids. (After all, we were in the middle of the bay, so she couldn't just run off with the kids.)

I hopped down the stairs with my margarita and rocked out doing the electric slide! Go, 8th grade P.E. class!!!!!

The night ended with one of the crew dressing up like a ghost, and choosing "victims" from around the ship. I was chosen to sit with the other victims in the middle of the boat. We each had to dance with the ghost to a different song, each in turn. While I was getting ready to go up, the MC asked where Corey was, and I told her he was chasing Lily (out of sight of the dance floor). She made some comment in Spanish, and everyone made a sound like, "Woo!" I did my thang on the dance floor, and then returned to sit among the victims. It was time to vote.

The MC held her hand over the head of each victim and waited for the crowd to cheer. I was the last victim to be voted on, and surprisingly, I had one of the loudest cheers! She pulled me up to my feet as well as the only male victim, and she held her hand over each of us to see who had the loudest cheers. I don't know what I did that earned me the prize, but I was clearly the winner.

The pirate ship experience was better than going out to a club, and better than a fancy restaurant. It was a crazy-fun party that our entire family could enjoy together.

As the kids slept on the bed back at the hotel, Corey and I talked while a mariachi band had taken over from last night's DJ. It was a quincenera this time, and ended at midnight. As the thumping drums and blasting brass declared their joy to the ocean, we were able to share some adult discussion time. We talked about what we enjoyed about our vacation, what we want to do with the rest of our summer, and how we can carve out more time for family with Corey's job challenges.

The entire trip was filled with priceless moments that I will treasure forever.

(If you missed the link above, here are more pics from the trip.)

Cab fare to the Pirate Dinner cruise- $10.00
Balance this pay cycle-  $68.00
Happy  Spending!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Just Me and the Kids

Corey's work has slowed down a little from the spring rush. April and early May had back-to-back weddings, proms, and corporate events that required much of Corey's time and attention. We had made plans for a Memorial Day weekend getaway to Colorado after everything simmered down, but the folks we were planning to stay with had to cancel. We ended up taking a day trip to Out of Africa Wildlife Park instead. However, a day out with the kids is not the same as a vacation.

Then we made plans to head down to Phoenix for a few days while Corey worked at the head office. I would take the kids around Phoenix and have dinner with Corey in the evenings. It didn't sound the like the best vacation, but it would do for getting out of the house and doing new things. But even these plans came to naught when he told me he was just going to head down for an overnight. He wasn't needed for three days at the office like what was expected.

Earlier last week, Corey was talking to a coworker about his need for a real vacation, and she suggested Rocky Point, Mexico. She said that she takes her grandkids down there frequently. It's safe, and close enough to drive.

So the idea of a Mexico escape became our talking point. We knew we wouldn't all be going to Phoenix together, and the idea of driving to be beach became more and more enticing. Since Corey's work schedule is so erratic, though, he was not quite sure when he could just leave the country and not answer his phone for 48 hours. I was officially on 'standby'.

Corey left last Thursday for his overnight in Phoenix. I took the kids to Flagstaff for the day. I used my bulletin board and pinned up the "hiking" card. Carrick, Lily and I hiked the Griffith's Springs trail. It's broad and gently sloping, no steep cliffs to scale. I could take both of the kids on the trail with no problem. We did not hike the entire mile loop, but we did enjoy a leisurely nature walk.

We then headed to Target where I picked up some non-food grocery items and a few things for our trip (whenever that happened to be.) I bought some new beach towels, some sunscreen and some aloe vera gel. (I have been on too many family beach vacations as a kid to know that accidental sunburn is  the hallmark of going to the seaside.) We then headed to to the dollar store so that Carrick could spend the remainder of his Fun Dollars. I also bought Lily two little things with my Fun Dollars; a book of princess stickers to use for her potty chart and a small yellow ball she would not part with at the checkout.

Heading back home with our lunch bags that I diligently packed, we spent no money on food whilst in Flagstaff. Lily conked out before we even got out of town, so instead of heading straight home, I took a side street and headed for a park. I let Carrick play while I sat on a bench next to the car and could watch both kids from that vantage point. I called my grandmother and wished her a happy birthday while the kids were occupied. I told her we were planning on heading down to Mexico soon, but we didn't have a specific date in mind yet.

After Karate and dinner with friends, I was exhausted. It was a day well spent with the kiddos, but I was still pooped from all the running around. When we woke up on Friday, I decided we should have breakfast at Denny's. Corey was set to come home later that afternoon, and I really didn't feel like making breakfast. We ordered two "Slams" from the $4.00 section of the their menu, totaling $8.75 for our bill. I wanted to leave a generous tip for our server, a mother of three and a very patient person with my kiddos while dining. I left her a $5.00 bill on the table.

We headed home and I began searching for our passports and the birth certificates for the kids. Then I gathered together all our swimming gear and packed that bag "just in case". I took the kids on their promised playdate to the splash pad at 11. By 1 we were home and eating lunch, and by 2, Lily was napping and I was ready to do the same, except...


"Hi, babe, what's up?"
"Pack your bags and the kids, we're going to Mexico tonight..."

Toys at Dollar Tree- $2.00
Breakfast at Denny's- $13.00 (with tip)

Balance this pay cycle- $78.00

Happy Spending!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Keeping the Magic of Me Mondays

Now that school is out, and daycare is no longer, my children are at home with me for the summer. This was a choice. I could have looked for a summer job to pay for two kids in daycare, but that seemed like more of a headache than it was worth. Why would I submit myself to being gone all day, working, the come home and play house catch up and take care of the kids? No, I would rather spend my summer days playing the balancing act of fun times with kids and fulfilling my duties as house spouse.

That said, I need to be aware that my Magical Me Mondays are gone, no more, bye-bye, zilch, nada. This means that I need to be especially aware of my "limit" with the kids. I have a tendency to get over stimulated with the amount of noise and mess the kids create, and then all of a sudden I have a breaking point. The whole concept of my Magical Me Mondays is to rest and recuperate from a week with children; a built-in Sabbath from being mom. It helps me be a better parent through the rest of the week. Without the kids going to school and daycare, I will have to remember to ask Corey to watch the kids while I get out of the house this summer.

I did not ask for time alone last summer, mostly because Lily was small and still nursing. Time away from her was limited at best. She is now an independent and capable toddler with excellent communication skills. Leaving her with Corey and Carrick for two hours while I recover some sanity is totally doable. I just have to make sure I schedule it.

For this installment of Fun Dollars, I am coming to you rested and relaxed from Java Love Café in West Sedona. Everyone here is engaged with their laptop or tablet and chilled out oldies are playing over the speakers. I am here with my thoughts, collecting my wits, sipping Jasmine Tea and taking and uninterrupted break for my Magical Me Monday time.

I already went to Goodwill with my Fun Dollars and came out $4.00 lighter. I found a hard back Frog and Toad book for Carrick. We have Frog and Toad Together at our house, the book from Goodwill is Frog and Toad are Friends. When Carrick saw the copy we already own, he was so excited. His teacher read him all the Frog and Toad books at school this year, so connecting to something he is familiar with really charged him up. When he reaches a recognition point with his star chart, he will get the book in a gift bag. (I have a whole closet full of presents wrapped and ready to go for the summer. Car trips, positive reinforcement and special occasions are covered proactively for both kids. I used a combination of inexpensive and free items I have collected leading up to summer break.)

For Lily, I found a V-Tech Tree House. It is just like the one she played with at her daycare. Many days when I dropped her off, she would head straight to the Tree House and begin her playtime before I even took her jacket off. I can just hear her saying when I give her the play set, "Just like my one at school!" She really has very few of her "own" toys at home. Many of them are Carrick's old toys. We are now reaching a point in her development that she has her own taste, and doesn't always want to play with what is left over from Carrick. Also, I spent the morning listening to them fight over toys, so it's clear that she needs things that are hers that won't interest Carrick.

Taking into account my new awareness for the need of having Me Time, adding to that everything I have already planned for the summer, I expect to have more moments of peace than I did last summer vacation. Time together should be enjoyable, not stressful. Cheers to Summer Vacation!

Toys at Goodwill- $4.00
Jasmine tea at Java Love- $3.00
Leftover from last pay cycle- $40.00
Balance this pay cycle- $93.00

Happy Spending!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Summer Fun Planning

Summer break is right around the corner. With Lily's last day of daycare yesterday, and Carrick's last day of kindergarten was on Thursday, our family will officially kick off the school hiatus today! We are planning a family trip to Out of Africa Wildlife Park between Cottonwood and Camp Verde. We have been there many times over years past, but now, Lily is old enough to enjoy the animals along with her big brother. She knows what the animals are and what sounds they make, and I can't wait to see her feed a giraffe!

Going to Out of Africa as a family is just one of the many things on my summer "To Do" list. Officially, the list is quite short: Keep Carrick in karate (Corey's choice, not mine), visit family in Illinois, celebrate Corey's birthday, and celebrate our anniversary are the only things that have somewhat of a plan or schedule. That was my choice. After attending the Summer Bash last week, and looking over all the activities, camps and workshops for children, I decided not to participate in any of them. Partly because I didn't want to pay for them, but also because we still don't know what our family travel plans will be. I did not want to commit to something and then not be around for it.

Most of the activities like swim lessons or Lego Camp are things that Carrick can do for much cheaper just being with me. I can take him to the pool to splash around, which is what he really wants. I don't want to pay money (and keep Lily occupied while he's at lessons) for him to learn the different strokes of swimming. He knows how to swim in the deep end, and that's good enough for me. He can be a safe swimmer, which was the whole point of swim lessons in the first place. And while Lego Camp sounds fun, he literally has about 20 lbs of legos in his possession that he tinkers with for hours. I don't need to pay $90 for him to learn how to create without instructions. 

I am quite aware, however that trying to be the kids' sole source for entertainment, food and rest will not be without its challenges. I remember going almost insane from being with the kids all day every day for two months during last summer's break. The good news is this year, Carrick can swim, read and ride a bike, which greatly increases the kinds of activities he can participate in while at home with me. As for Lily, she has grown up so much from last summer that the same holds true to her too. After a year in daycare, she now knows how to sit at a table and eat a meal, paint, sing songs, take directions and follow them. She is also an incredible communicator. Last year, she was in the very earliest stages of talking. Now she speaks clearly in seven word sentences, so figuring out what she needs or wants is no enigma.

Now that the kids are a little older and can do most of the same activities, I have come up with some ideas about this summer that will help us all have a smooth, happy and exciting summer.

Last year, we used a makeshift bulletin board to plan our days together. It worked for the most part. Carrick could not read, but he could recognize most of the words. He requested we use the bulletin board method again this summer. He can now read the various activities I have written out. I started with a brainstorm of everything I could possibly do (on my own) with the kids during the day. I came up with a pretty extensive list that includes (but is not limited to) hiking, playdates, library, pool, art, and movies. 

I made a note card for each of the elements in my brainstorm. On the backs of some of them, I wrote more specific details. For example, on the back of the hiking note card, I wrote the names of several trails I could take the kids on by myself. They are trails that are easy enough for Lily to walk without being carried. So, the idea with these note cards is that every day after breakfast, I choose four or five cards that could be possibilities for the day. Then, I let my six-year-old read the cards and choose up to three that he (and Lily) would like to do that day. I also included cards for "Help Mommy and Daddy" and "Quiet Time". These will be staples everyday.

I also bought a star chart for Carrick at the Dollar Tree so that he can star the days when he helps out around the house. He wants to earn some new (and expensive) Legos for the summer. I wanted "helping" and "quiet time" to be a part of the note card system so that they are built into the day without fuss. I don't want to have to battle with the kids to help out or have some down time. This way, they see it on the bulleting board, and they just accept that it's part of what we do today.  With this note card method, Carrick is involved with the process of choosing  his day, and it's not just me dictating what we do every single day. Nor do I have to come up with things to do every day all summer long. The note cards take the guesswork out of watching the kids.

The second element to my summer planning is FOOD. HOLYCOW I dropped way too many Fun Dollars on snack items last summer. Now that Lily is eating actual food and not nursing during the day, there will only be more cash spent on food if I don't have a plan. I cannot be stopping at Wendy's for chicken nuggets or at Natural Grocers for Luna bars every day.

Here is what I came up with for my food solution. It's pretty "duh", and I don't know why I didn't think of it for last year with Carrick.  Every day, after we choose what we are doing for the day and pin it up on the bulliten board, we pack lunch boxes! This will train Carrick to make his own lunch for school next year (and save me from having to make one more lunch every day for school). He will learn about portions, wrapping and packaging, and, yes, cutting safely. We will put the made-up lunches/snack packs in my tote bag, and that way, they are ready to grab whenever we leave the house. With the lunch boxes packed with snacks and the like, no matter where we go or how long we are away from home during our day, we are not spending precious Fun Dollars on food.

I made a Costco run yesterday to stock up on snackables for the kids. I put things like lentil snaps and goldfish in snack sized bags so that they are pre-portioned. Then I hid the remainder in a cabinet so the kids don't just plow through them (or spill a gallon of goldfish on the floor). I also bought things like fig bars, fruit snacks and applesauce pouches. These "dry goods" will serve as supplements to the fresh things we prepare for our lunch boxes. They are also "on hand" things if the kids are hungry and I just don't feel like preparing anything. I want to teach them to balance the packaged stuff with the fresh things. They already have a concept of this, but it will be a new experience having total access to "snacks" all day for two months. I am hoping that with my portioning everything out and hiding most of what's left we can ration out the snacks to sustain us through June and July. We'll see how that goes.....(just to fill you in, we do not do "snacks" at our house. We buy maybe one package of graham crackers or goldfish per week. We just don't keep them stocked on a regular basis. So all this choice and abundance of snacks presents a new challenge of restraint on my part, and on the kids' part.)

With a plan for activites and food in place, I feel confident as I move toward summer vacation. I know that there will be challenges and pitfalls, but I feel that with a plan to back me up, the moments of weakness will be few and far between. I just have to remember to ask Corey to watch the kids from time to time so that I can get out and have some time alone. Perhaps some extra Girls' Nights are in order. Happy hour anyone?

Lunch at India Palace for Corey and me- $22.00
Balance this pay cycle- $41.00 (saving it for a later purchase)

Happy Spending!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Me and My Pitches

The first time I saw Pitch Perfect was at my friend Niccole's house. (Niccole from "Recovering from Mother's Day, and other entries.) She had been watching it, and I came over with my kids for a play date. She was halfway through the movie when I arrived, so she caught me up to speed and we watched the remainder of it together. (I came in during the competition when the lobby glass gets broken, for those of you familiar with the film.) It was quite an amusing flick, but after that one time of seeing it, I never gave it a second thought.

But then I saw the movie poster for Pitch Perfect 2 in the theater several months ago. It was probably when I went to see the Hobbit or Into the Woods, since those are the only times I have been in the theater this year. I remember thinking how fun it would be to see that for a Girl's Night Out. Apparently, one of my friends thought the same thing because she created an event on facebook for just that; Pitch Perfect 2, Girl's Night Out. Since I missed the last Girl's Night, I was determined to go. There would be happy hour before hand, and if anyone wanted to "go out" afterwards, there would be an opportunity for that.

The week before the movie hit theaters, Niccole posted a comment in the event suggesting that we all get together to watch the first movie for those who haven't seen it. Of course we were all on board. Yet another reason to get together, let the kids run around and drink wine? Yes please!

Corey came with me and the kids to the home screening of Pitch Perfect on the night before Mother's Day.  He helped the father of the house corral the kids for the two and a half hours it took us to watch the movie. Between kids crying for mommy, or escaping the play room and running around our movie area, we had multiple pauses of the movie. There were five mothers and ten children between the ages of 6 mos. and 6 years (4 of the children were 6-year-olds.) We did manage to make it though the showing, and enjoy some time with friends with the aid of two wonderful dads and some Page Springs Cellars Vino del Barrio.

As the big night out approached, my excitement at yet another Girl's Night Out increased. However, due to excessive rain (which is a ligit reason to stay inside in Sedona) among other reasons, most of the girls couldn't make it. The event ended up getting cancelled. Rather than wait until another event was scheduled, I sent a message to Niccole and asked her if she wanted to see a matinee of the movie on Tuesday. As much fun as it sounds to go out at night with a bunch of girls, the truth is, I prefer a matinee with few other people hands-down. I don't like fighting the crowds, I don't like paying full price, and I want there to only be a couple people in the audience so I can laugh/cry/shout as loud as I want to. I am an interactive movie-goer.

It's a good thing I chose the matinee. I literally laughed, waaaay out loud through the entire movie; so many hilarious lines, and visual humor. It was quite clear that the woman who wrote this movie used to write for 30 Rock and is best friends with Tina Fey (I caught an interview with the writer on Marketplace on NPR the day before the movie came out.) If you're into barbershop/accapella singing or goofy humor movies, you will absolutely love Pitch Perfect 2. (That means you, mom and dad!)

Matinee admission- $7.00
Free large popcorn refill (because I did not get my free refill of large popcorn the last time I saw a movie, and I saved the bag. Oh, yes, I work it any way I can.)
Soda (in my movie cup) - $1.50 ($2.00 rounded up for Fun Dollars.)

Balance this pay cycle- $63.00

Happy Spending!