Feb 252015
 

Visiting the Crayola Experience was the perfect way to encourage my kids creative efforts and explore the delights of crayons, markers and other art-supplies! I loved the DIY fun and this was the perfect diversion for my active kids--read on to find out the can't-miss highlights!Every once in a while, I decide to be That Mom. You know, the mom who does something really cool with her kids.

It all started with an episode of our beloved Daniel Tiger. When the crew took a trek to “the crayon factory”, my children began a vivid love affair with the notion of making a visit to The Crayola Experience and have never looked back. That was two years ago.

We first visited over a year ago, and my kids were so enamored they’ve been begging to go back since. It wasn’t a hard sell, as I have very fond memories of going myself as a child with my grandparents. And while the design of the crayon box may have changed, the fact that it is an awesome thing to do with kids has not.

Throw in the fact that I might totally lose my crap if I hear the tinny tune of an electronic toy one more time while hibernating down in these arctic temps, and a chance to get out and let my kids loose on some creative play sounded beyond sweet. My husband was in for taking off so we could make a day of it, and The Crayola Experience was on!

There are crayons and markers to make, Model Magic to shape, molds to melt crayons in, colorful wax to draw with, and an entire floor dedicated to craft-making. With the live factory demonstration (we saw it twice and my kids would have happily sat through the interactive show a zillion times more) and the two-story high gynasium for kids to run wild in (a separate smaller structure for toddlers is available too), we had found the perfect cure for winter blehs.

Visiting the Crayola Experience was the perfect way to encourage my kids creative efforts and explore the delights of crayons, markers and other art-supplies! I loved the DIY fun and this was the perfect diversion for my active kids--read on to find out the can't-miss highlights!

They had so much fun. The Art Alive! section left their mouths gaping; kids create digital works to be displayed on an interactive big screen–their work was being broadcast! And Doodle in the Dark lead to endless giggles. As they interacted with animated crayons and played with an interactive floor screen, I did the unthinkable: I sat down on a bench in contented relaxation and said to my husband “They will sleep so well tonight.” Bliss.

And since I’m sucker and we only do adventurous things as a family once in forever, the kids were each allowed to pick one special treat from the gift shop. Truth told, I love the gift shop: it is chock full of nifty gift ideas for creative play with lots of products you can’t find in stores. Also true? I am thrilled with my kids’ picks. The umbrella my daughter chose was perfect (I’ve wanted one for her for forever for rainy preschool drop-offs and pick-ups), and I can’t tell you how many fascinated minutes my son’s marker-maker has filled. And we’ve only made half of the markers in the kit, so lots more fun to come!

Visiting the Crayola Experience was the perfect way to encourage my kids creative efforts and explore the delights of crayons, markers and other art-supplies! I loved the DIY fun and this was the perfect diversion for my active kids--read on to find out the can't-miss highlights!

Our visit to The Crayola Experience was fantastic. We made, we created, we got tons of artwork to bring home, and a boatload of fun memories were made. And then we got in the car, and my son’s first words were, “Mommy, can we go back to the crayon factory?” I think they had a good time?

Good news for you, friends? The Crayola Experience is offering an exclusive discount to my readers. To get this sweet discount, go HERE and enter code “Mom of the Year”.

Trust me, a trip to Easton is worth it. The kids will have a blast, creative genius will be sparked, and really, they will sleep like angels all night after you get home. Perfect fun for kids and parents ;)

Go get your Crayola on!

****Thank you to The Crayola Experience for providing my family with tickets to their attraction; our delight in our visit is 100% genuine!****

Feb 162015
 

Taking young kids out for dinner always felt so very daunting to me. But...I did! Here was the trick I used and why it ended up being not only survivable, but FUN! You can do it too!Last Wednesday night should have been an average weekday night in February.  You know, the kind of night where you feel like a rockstar for schooling Kindergarten homework and braving the 19 degree windchill for a venture out to the mailbox.

Nothing notable was planned or expected. My husband was working late. My only hope was to land the kids and me in bed by 8:30pm without totally losing my crap. Except the night ended up being a bit different. It ended up being a night I grew up a little.

You see, I had never taken my children out for dinner by myself. After a traumatic early experience taking our colicky baby boy to a restaurant, my husband and I were scarred. I could probably count the number of times we’ve eaten out with them together, and I’ve certainly never chanced it solo.

But I had heard rumors, reports of fun restaurant experiences from my far-more-normal-than-me friends. And for some reason, I just wasn’t into the vision of slugging out another night of chicken nuggets around our kitchen table. So when the spark of inspiration to pop in on a local diner hit, I didn’t quash it. Perhaps delusion from the endless house-arrest of winter chill and illnesses had finally set in??

In any case, I allowed the teensy “I can do this” thought to take root and grow strength. I even told a friend about my plans for accountability’s sake. And when dinner time rolled around, I did it–I threw the kids in the van and we went to a diner.

And it was so, so fun. Really. Now, don’t get me wrong–there were many panicked screams to not squeeze ketchup all over the table, a flurry of reminders to use our “pleases and thank-yous”, and an intense family trip to the bathroom I’d love to forget, but…it went well. The waitress was super-cute, the kids had so much fun ordering their own food, and they thought the ice cream treats at the end for meals well-eaten were the coolest thing since sliced bread.

I was floored. We had not only survived a trip to a public eating establishment, it ended up being kind of, very, cool. My daughter said, “This was the best night ever, Mommy!”, and my son is already asking to go back for his birthday–in June.

Fed by the confidence of an outing-gone-well, another crazy idea took shape. Maybe, just maybe, I could tackle the mess of my daughter’s hair too? Three and a half years old without ever having her hair cut, a trip to a hairdresser had been past-due for ages. But my mother’s heart ached at the though of chopping off her sweet curls, however horridly uneven they were. So I put it off…and off, and then off some more.

But not this Wednesday night. No, this Wednesday night I was powerful. I was a mom who did bold things–like feeding her children outside the home. I was mom who was on it. I was a mom who could do this.

I was so, so nervous for my daughter's first haircut! It was an emotional growing-up rite of passage for me, but here is the trick to how I managed--and so can you! And my daughter? She was fine!

So I did. Asking my new waitress friend for a recommendation, I slickly drove us over to a salon and asked if they accepted walk-ins. They did.

We ended up waiting forever. There were no toys. I was terrified. I thought surely my kids would get whiny and fussy and we would all burst out into outrageous tears in some point? In an effort to distract and amuse them, I desperately began making up games and tried to turn leafing through the hair style books into a fun adventure. They got cagey and ragey anyway.

But you know what? We survived. And then they called my daughter’s name. And the hairdresser was amazing. She was kind and patient and did not act like I was the worst mother of all time for allowing my daughter’s hair to become such a nightmare.

The real kicker? My daughter sat still and behaved herself. I know, I’m still not sure this night was totally real.

Yet real or not, I was on a roll. I got us home and patiently delighted with the kids as we looked through their class Valentines. I calmly did night-night snacks, bathed them, read to them and didn’t lose my crap even once.

It was miraculous. It was empowering. For one night, I truly was Mom of the Year.

In one single night, I had grown up as a parent in spades. I had done things that scared me, and I not only managed them, I enjoyed them. It was okay. We had been okay. I could do them again.

The secret trick for me? The same that has proven true for me time and again with so many scary things in this life–simply do it. My fear wasn’t going anywhere; I just had to pack it up and take it along as I forced myself to take the leap. I had to refuse to let it be the biggest thing in the room–especially if I wanted to make space for ice cream sundaes and cute new hairdos.

This growing up business is pretty crazy stuff. I’m not counting on a repeat any time soon, but last week I made some big strides.

Also, perhaps most importantly, I kept my original 8:30 bed goal, sliding under the covers at 8:29. God knows what would have happened if Mommy was forced to stay up past her bedtime…

Feb 092015
 

Feel like you're flailing and failing? YOU ARE NOT ALONE; trust me. Grab some support and find a little hope here--maybe even a few laughs with some of these ideas!I spent most of last week convinced of my own total ineptitude. You know how it looks when everything someone touches turns to gold? Think the exact opposite of that and you’re hanging with me in my week.

On Monday, I got lost on my way to the public library, panicked, was terribly late to pick up my daughter, which let to her maintaining a sobby, “I’m unloved” face for the better part of the afternoon.

Upon my son’s return home from school on Tuesday, I eagerly asked him how his cape for Day 100 worked out (don’t ask), and he reported that the 100 handprints we had carefully stamped on and counted over the weekend had all peeled off. In pieces. Throughout the hallways all over the school. My heart winced as I tossed our hard-work (thoughtful contained in ziplock bag by the teacher) in the trash can.

On Wednesday, I forgot my daughter’s backpack AND it was show-n-share day. Anyone with 3 yr. old daughter understands the horrific magnitude of this negligence.

Thursday I continued my late streak, dropped my son off at school right as the bell was ringing, and hollered, “Run!” at him as he flew out the door vs. a more nuturing, “I love you.”

And Friday I got a polite e-mail from my daughter’s preschool suggesting I turn in her physical form. It was due in July. Of 2014.

The above is just a few highlights of the week’s failures. Throw in temper tantrums, sickness, bad behavior at the sitter’s, ill-pursued diet plans, dog messes, poor sleep, work stresses and a boatload of fights over signing the class Valentines, the only redeeming factor is that I appeared to have failed both my children in equal measures. A fair spread of the incompetence.

It was the kind of week that it was a wonder I managed to get my pants on before leaving the house every day. At least, I’m pretty sure this happened.

I wanted to quit. All the things. How this would work, I wasn’t exactly sure. I hadn’t worked out the specifics of renouncing my role as mother and wife and pursuing a different life course. But I knew it needed to happen.

I spend a lot of time trying to talk myself into focusing on the things I do right and not beat myself up for the ways I fail, and there is immense value in this. But it would have taken a miracle worker and a whole lot of vodka to put a spin on this beast of a week.

Feel like you're flailing and failing? YOU ARE NOT ALONE; trust me. Grab some support and find a little hope here--maybe even a few laughs with some of these ideas!

How was I supposed to handle this productively then? There are of course the solid-standby solutions:

Pray. First and desperately. That you can know that perfection is not required, or even desirable.

Call a friend or someone who thinks you are wonderful and listen to them tell you why you are not a loser.

Do something fun. With or without your kids. Something that reminds you that there are many, many reasons to relax, smile and feel good about yourself.

You can always go with less-productive coping strategies, such as sobbing to your husband about how your entire life is a complete wash. He will be thrilled with your stunning display of reason and I have heard vigorous sobbing burns calories?

Or you could decide to actually quit. Again, I’m not sure how this would actually play out. I anticipate some emphatic marching in a locked bathroom carrying a picket sign while refusing to fill juice cups–at least until your children’s desperate pleas crashed your mission.

One thing that will always help? Take comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone. Check in here. Or anywhere that makes you feel less crazy, more normal, and loved for being human–simply human. Nothing less and nothing more.

Because yes, there will be days, weeks, and even entire ages and stages that you will fail.  BUT WE ALL FAIL. YOU REALLY AREN’T ALONE. We’ll screw it up together. And then we can cheer each other on when we get it right–because someday, really, we are bound to get this right.

Welcome, friends.

 

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:36008119, copyright:Frank-Peters

Second image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:43804817, copyright:aletia 

 

Dec 292014
 

Who knew a pair of boots could define a relationship so well? I'm cherishing this pair--and my husband a whole lot more. Read this and find out why you need to get a pair of boots that don't fit!This holiday week, I’m sharing a couple of my favorite posts from the past year.  On Friday, I shared a fun one about when I met my match in a cute deathly raccoon, and today I’m hanging out with a favorite pair of boots–that defined my marital relationship a bit and reminded me of why I think my husband is such a cool guy.

So please join me, readers. Pour yourself a hot chocolate, snuggle up by the tree. ignoring the frenzy of rapidly dropping pine needles and treat yourself to a smile with one of my favorite stories of this past year

******************************************************

Did you know that in Oklahoma it is illegal to wear your boots to bed? True story. While hitherto, I may have howled over the ridiculous of such a law, I’m now giving these mid-western legislators the benefit of the doubt.  You see, I have now witnessed firsthand the effects of boots on a marriage.  Not sure exactly what was going on in those Oklahoma bedrooms, but hey, maybe some legal intervention may have been necessary if things got stressful enough.  Boots are no joke in a relationship.

It all began when, in my blind loyalty to anything Target-branded, I snagged a pair of “leather” boots on the cheap in the fall.  They were adorable, trendy, and surely, they were meant to be.  Six months later, I’m cursing the ripped-up toes and air-leaky soles of my bargain find.  Huh.  Who knew? Quality, apparently, sometimes must be bought.

Thus started a dedicated hunt for the perfect pair of hip, comfy, top-notch kickers. Honestly, it was a smart-shoppers dream.  There were endless tabs pulled up on my laptop, promo codes were flying around, and I was riding an an adrenaline rush of excited glee as I worked out the most economical choice to the penny.  I know, it was the most fun I have in ages (not joking, sadly).

But I kept coming back to the new line of shoes from The Sak.  If you remember, I fell hard for my The Sak tote in October, and haven’t put the darn bag down since.  If it ever gives out, I will cry, and cry hard.  My favorite feature of my tote is the Teak Multi leather accent–the subtle sheen is gorgeous and distinctive. So when I saw that The Sak made boots that incoorporated the same leather

Yeah, the mixed reviews citing the beauty of the shoes, but the near impossibility to actually pull them on your foot? Be darned.  I had a friendship with this particular Teak Multi material, you see.  I alone would certainly be able to overcome the fit problem of the boots.  The other purchasers were clearly pansies.  This Mom of the Year was on it.

Rocking my coupons and discounts, I walked around for days preening my feathers for scoring my new footwear for $33.  Boo-ya! My husband was less enthused, these being the second pair of brown boots I bought in the same season and all…but…

Then the boots came. I sweated through my shirt so badly to get them on I had to put on a new outfit. And then I sobbed a little from the sheer effort.

The reviews were perhaps not written by weak lunatics.

After a week of refusing to say anything in a fierce protection of my dignity, the hopelessness of a solo dressing effort could no longer be denied. The Day of Reckoning had come. Head hung low, I went to my husband, “So you know those boots you didn’t want me to buy?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you put them on for me?”

 

I would like to pretend it was a very Cinderella-esque scene, with the calm, gentle man putting the shoe on the delicate princess’ outstretched foot.  It was not.  There was more grunting and under-the-breath comments.  Very few princesses. Some heavy “questioning” of spousal wisdom and the like–you get it.

It was a really neat scene for my neighbor to witness when she came to pick me up for breakfast the other week.  A true testament to the marital bliss that goes down around these parts.

We now find ourselves two months into ownership of the sweet boots. Things are better. I have accepted I can usually only wear the shoes on Saturdays, when my husband is here to help me dress.  They have started to stretch a teeny bit, so now there is only about five minutes of vigorous group dressing effort.  Really, it’s going well.

Sunday my husband leaves very early for worship team practice. As a general rule of habit, I never dress immediately upon getting up.  This past week, I was determined to sport my boots at church, so I threw my clothes on quickly and ran downstairs, boots in hand, hoping to catch him before he peeled out the door.  He looked at me, baffled by my attire and the switch in routine, “Did you sleep in your clothes?”

And then he saw the boots. And started to laugh. “Okay,” he said, holding out his hand, “Okay.”

As it turns out, these boots really were an awesome deal–they just have to be donned with a heavy, heavy dose of lovin’ patience.

Dec 082014
 

Socializing and partying this time of year are BIG EVENTS!  And knowing how to do it with grace and class can be daunting. Check in here for some tips--and a few laughs to help take the bite out of the nerves!It’s a big night around these parts, friends. To restate, I am leaving the house. Before you fall over in shock, let me tell you the whole story–it’s to ATTEND A GALA. Okay, now I’ll pause a minute while this sinks in…

Not sinking in? I know, I get it.  This is truly an unbelievable occurrence. Mostly for me, who has never, ever attended a gala. Has never even imagined attending a gala. Will never attend a gala again.

But you see, my husband got an invite to a fancy-pants one at The Philly Art Museum tonight. For a machine. That’s right, a machine. In his science world, apparently new machines warrant celebrations of epic proportions. While I remain marginally concerned about hanging with a crowd who likes to dress-up on a Monday night to celebrate machines, the simple fact remains: I am being offered a night out. AT A GALA.

So while I madly fret over what to wear and prepare to meet Condoleezza Rice (In my understanding, there is never a gala that Condoleezza Rice does not attend, correct? This notion is partially fueled by my obsession with People magazine and limited awareness of galas, but I’m pretty sure I’m right), I remain very aware that I might be screwed.

I do not know how to behave at galas.

Should I start stroking the machine in awe immediately upon seeing it? On the other hand, will I be arrested if I touch the machine?

What if I accidentally knock over the waiter’s tray when grabbing a champagne? Please God, tell me there will be champagne.

Forget Condoleezza, will I have to shake hands with Angelina Jolie? I am strictly Team Jennifer and will always be; for this I will not apologize.

The eventualities are daunting.

Knowing how to act and what to/do say at a work holiday party can be tricky. Here are tips for not only surviving, but having a fantastic time out amidst all the glitz and glitter!

In any case, I have decided I need to commit to a few ground-rules to help see myself through the night. I always function better when boundaries are firmly in place.

1) I WILL NOT robot-dance if there if fast music. I am really quite good at The Robot, but I am not sure this will be fully appreciated at this event. Best saved for a more appropriate occasion.

2) I WILL order a fancy drink–because I can. And I will feel fantastically elaborate when I do–because I owe it to the yoga pants I wear ever other single day of the year.

3) I WILL NOT fantasize about going home and watching Hallmark movies. I WILL appreciate that I’m in the company of other adults and this can be pleasant even if there are no Santa Clauses in snow globes winking in the background.

4) I WILL NOT sneak into the ladies’ room to check in on my Amazon lightening deals. Horribly tempting, but potentially better done at another time.

5) I WILL allow myself to soak up the sweetness of a night out, flirt with my husband and enjoy the gift of a fancy night out during the holiday season. It’s a total win–how could I go wrong?

Friends, I’m SO acing out the gala–I can totally feel a shining moment coming on ;)

 

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:6584928, copyright:nikascorpionka

Second image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID: 10709258, copyright:pressmaster

Nov 282014
 

I love my deals and steals, and because of this story I will always love Black Friday! Crowded malls and crazy people don't matter so much when you think about the money savings!Trust me, I completely understand the frustration with how Black Friday edges into Thanksgiving.  At some stores, it’s even completely taken over the holiday with doors opening early Thursday morning or deals running all week long.

My husband loathes pre-Black Friday Christmas. It’s one of the things he can rant about for hours, similar to his disdain for mini cupcakes. I know, I don’t get it either, but don’t ask him about it unless you have a spare afternoon to burn. In any case, in our home any and all Christmas decorations, lights, music and other festivities are banned until after the turkey has been served and the leftovers are stuffed in the fridge.

No, our Black Friday truly means Black FRIDAY. We give our thanks on Thursday, and then get busy with a very important task the day after. What task? Saving money.

I’ve written about tricks and tips I use to save my family cash and shared about my love for shopping and product finds, so it makes sense that Black Friday is kind of a big deal around here. It actually has very little to do with buying Christmas gifts and a whole lot to do with saving money on things we’ll use throughout the year.

Sure the crazy shoppers and impossible-to-find parking spaces can be a beast. But not really that much of a beast because I find the energy of the hustle-and-bustle to be sort of exhilarating.

Forgoing sleep is not my favorite, though being able to cross off your whole list and be home by 7am is a high in its own right.

So really, for us, the sticky wickets of the day are just that–sticky, but don’t really matter that much because, again, we are saving money.

I have a story about Black Friday. It’s a bit sentimental, and it is the one reason I will always love the day.

It was the first year we were married. We were the kind of poor that can’t eat out–at McDonalds. The kind that sobs a bit when you get sick because the $10 doctor’s office copay was simply not to be found. But my husband was doing this crazy thing and trying to be professional. He had a suit, but not a dress shirt to go with it. So we plotted and planned. We organized our sale papers and ads and got in line outside a department store at 4:30am (this was back when 5am openings were still a thing on Black Friday). We bee-lined to the men’s section and proudly found a nice shirt and tie set in his size.

We nervously handed it to the clerk along with our clipped coupons. $5. FIVE DOLLARS. And with that my husband and I fell in love with Black Friday and we’ll never look back.

The savings may never again be as sweet or as meaningful as they were this first year, but they are still there. And they still make our budget smile and allow us to victory dance a bit in pride when we catch them.

So if fighting through the crowds or stalking Amazon’s lightning deals happens to be your thing too, know that my husband and I right there with you–memory of a snazzy dress shirt fueling us on. Go get your savings, friends!

This video explaining our Black Friday passion was shared in this post last year. And yeah, nothing’s changed ;)

Image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:1375537, copyright:shirotie

Nov 122014
 

Having kids makes it a bit tricky to get an evening out. Here's how my family figured out a way to have a fun night with friends while staying in--and keeping the kidsMy husband and I have never been very big on leaving the house. At first, it was money, or lack thereof. And then it was kids piled on top of money. Let’s be honest; even if we could manage to find a sitter, she probably doesn’t want to get paid in leftover Goldfish crackers?

So we’ve gotten good, very good, at the at-home date. Stash the kiddos in bed, crack open a bottle and cue up the latest episode of Parenthood. Or, if it’s a really adventurous night, it might just be worth a swing by that nifty Redbox. We cozy in and love it up. It works.

Most of the time.

But see, once in a while…I want a teensy bit more of a soiree. Rarely, as people generally scare me.

So when one of my very best friends mentioned she had to burn an hour every week during her daughter’s lesson across the street from our house, my wheels got to turning.

What if…? No, that would be insane.  But we could…

And as soon as the thought formulated, I knew it was meant to be. With a swift call to my friend and a bottle of wine snagged, it was official. Thursday night Happy Hour in our house was ON.

How does it work? My friend brings her kids. If it’s nice, they run wild on the yard while we chill on the deck. Now that it’s bit chillier, who really cares about a tidy house? I can put all the legos away tomorrow…or never. The point is that the kids are playing together and having a blast.

The adults, my husband, friend and I cozy up to the table, pour a glass and munch away on whatever culinary fail I’ve dreamed up for the week. I am not a chef.

(But truth told, it is kind of fun to put together some yummy bites I’d never normally serve. This week I’m doing homemade soft pretzels with cheese fondue. I know, my waistline is drooling with you. But what better excuse to make something so comfort food-worthy?)

After a few weeks of our weekly dates, I got smart and started beefing up the spread a bit so it could count as dinner and I didn’t have to cook again. Score!

While the food is yummy-ish and the company superb (my friend is amazingly cool and easy to hang with), the real win of the night is that we RELAX.

Come again?

I know, I said relax. Because we do. Yes, with the kids present. After our very first Thursday Happy Hour, my entire family was in bed and snoozling by 8:30pm. It was a miracle. Talking to my husband about it the next day he said, “But we actually stopped. Hanging out like that let us all relax.”

 

Kids tying you to the house? Have fun anyway! Invite friends (and their whole families!) over to hang out! No stress, easy family time for everyone.

Come Thursday night, I feel beaten up by the week. Something that can help my family chill and smile? A Godsend. We pour ourselves into our hours, our days, and forget to take minutes to come up for air. Thursday nights are a sweet reminder to lift our heads up and breathe deeply.

I love them. We all do. We all look forward to our weekly Happy Hour and all the sweet breathing room that it offers.

My excuses of no money or no childcare? Shove them under the kitchen table. Uber-cheap wine and allowance for kids’ temper tantrums between sips works perfectly well when the friends are real–and the value of time together supersedes all else.

Cheers, friends–however you find your Happy Hour or make it happen!

 

First image credit: depositphotos.com, ID:3756992, copyright:Valdemar

Second image credit: depositphotos.com, ID:10836012,copyright:Wavebreakmedia

Nov 102014
 

Holiday shopping and budgeting is such a beast! Follow these tips to get your spending in line and under control! I like nice things. A lot. Probably too much, if you ask my husband...but here is the dirty secret of how I float tossing sweet stuff into our lives without breaking the budget: I shop online.

Almost entirely, exclusively online.

I took my son to the mall the other day for a soft pretzel/play area Mommy-and-Me date on a day he had off school. I planned to let him pick out a Christmas gift for his sister during our time. We managed to agree on an item which left me feeling robustly proud of my mothering skills. What an excellent use of time! Only November and I was schooling this holiday jazz!

I then picked up the selected boxed Frozen doll and upon checking the price, gasped in horror, quickly replacing it on the shelf. $15 over the Target price?! No way!

My mind was reeling with all the other online saving tricks I could score if I shopped for it online: cash back, loyalty rewards, PROMOS…The siren song of snatching an item easily off the shelves is alluring if you are out and about…but it’s not something you want to answer.

When my son was born, my interest in online shopping was piqued. We all know how tricky carting a kid around to stores can be…Two years later, when he landed himself in a full body cast and I had a 3 mo. old baby to boot, it became a necessity. I schooled myself in all the tips and tricks to getting anything sent to my door sans a shipping cost and with a discount.

How do I save all this money without ever setting foot in the brick-and-mortars?

1) Always, always go through Ebates. What is this? It’s the first-step landing page for all of your online shopping. Start here and then select the store you where you want to shop. By taking the 5 seconds to start your shopping through Ebates you get a certain percentage of your purchase credited to your account, which you get back in a quarterly check mailed to your door. Tempted to scoff at that 1.5% back from Walmart.com? Don’t! It adds up and many of the percentage-back rates are much higher.  When that Ebates check arrives every 3 months, it’s a happy day.

Also use this to shop for things you would never think to buy online. When we finally decided on a new refridgerator at Lowes, we went home and ordered it–online and through Ebates. It was delivered for free and the 2% back on a large purchase like that was a big bonus!

Save a boatload of money for yourself and your family with these online shopping tricks and techniques! Let the savings begin!2) Keep yourself in the loopShop It to Me, Busy Saving and a local e-mail subscribtion, Mama Cheaps, are easy ways I keep myself abreast of the latest deals and steals. It takes no more than a few seconds to scan through the e-mails and see if anything is for you; if it’s not, ditch it and move on. Information is power; how will you snag the amazing hot BOGO on Legos if you don’t know about it?

3) Know your promos! Retailmenot.com is my favorite resource for snagging online promos, but I have learned that there are other resources, sometimes better ones.  For example, if I have a cart at Kohls I want to process, I take the time to pop over to a general Google search for “Kohls promo codes” and see what pops up. It is a bit work to enter the suggested codes at check out to see if they work, and many times the codes are bunk, but I figure it’s worth a try.  When that 25% off code works and is stackable on top of the $15 off coupon? Sweet!

4) To get around shipping costs, I always order enough to get my purchase mailed for free. If there is a physical store close by, I might order multiples of the same item and then return what I don’t need. Or, if I’m unsure of sizing, I order a pair of pants in 3 sizes, try them on in the comfort of my own home, and then return the rest. In truth, I ask my husband to return items on his lunch break; this saves me from going to into the store and being lured by yet another purchase.

Be careful with buying from stores that are online-only.  Some, like Modcloth, offer free returns on any item, but if this isn’t an option, unless I am sure I want the item, I don’t order it.

If I don’t have enough things in my cart to get free shipping from such a store, I wait to order until I do. Or, I whip out my Christmas gift list (that I start keeping in the summer so I can grab items for cheap when I see them on sale), and check to see if there is a gift for someone I could throw in my cart to bump my total into free shipping territory. Free shipping for me and a gift crossed off my list is a win-win!

4) Leave it sit in your cart. Whaa?? I know, so hard to find a deal and not jump on it! But if time isn’t of the imperative, put it in your cart and walk away.  This does two things: 1) lets you make sure it truly is a smart purchase for you and 2) alerts the store that you are interested and allows them time to start sending you coupons. When you should avoid this trick? It’s a hot item that might sell out quickly. If you definitely want it, don’t wait.

5) Loyalty rewards are no joke. Listen, my life is insane. I don’t have time to sort my undies much less organize my shopping excursions. But if Target wants to float 5% my way with every visit, SURE! Similarly with The Children’s Place and any other shop that offers a recurring-visit discount. It adds up.

If you want to save a boatload shopping for your family with the ease of online ordering, take these small steps. Together, they all add up–in a big way!

 

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:15846951, copyright:viperagp

Second image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:36193699, copyright:Syda_Productions 

Nov 052014
 

I am always, always scared of taking big leaps, but I've learned this is the smartest thing we can do in this world. Be open to new things and go for it!It was typical Tuesday night. I was desperately trying to crank out some overdue blog work while hollering at my husband to just give up on the chicken nuggets and “get the kids in the bath already!”. Then my phone rang, and it was Stephanie Giese of Binkies and Briefcases, “Hey, do you want to go down to Texas and be on Glenn Beck with me?”

For those of you who don’t know Stephanie, here’s the short story: SHE IS ROCKING THE WORLD. Her recent post about the astounding inappropriateness of girls’ clothing on the mass market went beyond viral. While she’s busy managing the response to this, she’s also running full speed ahead with the Blog U 2015 conference (the second annual installment of the insanely successful conference she founded last summer), and oh, raising three young children.

So basically, when the scary-fantastic Stephanie asks, you say yes.

Glenn Beck wanted us to come on his show and discuss appropriate Halloween costumes from a mom’s POV. I could do this??

Forget the chicken nuggets; I called out to my husband, “Hey babe, how do you feel about me popping down to Texas?”

We live in Pennsylvania.

Fast forward three weeks and a lot of finagling, and I found myself on a plane. And then in a green room. Like, a legit green room–you’ll excuse me while I pee myself a bit here.

And while I was hanging out in the very green room, forcing myself not to on-air nervous puke, post-show pal-ing it up with Glenn Beck and his very sweet daughter (who thanked me for doing the show because it “meant a lot to her dad”) and then madly snatching souvenirs for my kiddos in the airport while we dashed to our plane, I had some important realizations.

I have people. Not as in a “my people will call your people” situation, but as in, I’m not alone in this world. When Steph first asked, I thought, “yeah, right–I could never actually pull this off”. And then my husband offered to take a day off work, my mother-in-law drove out to help with the kids for a night, and my friend jumped at my plea to pick my kids up from school. When I asked my dad for airport transport, he simply told me give him the times–of course he would do it. Another friend was willing to cover a few-hour gap in childcare if need be and yet another friend quickly started helping me research Glenn Beck and reviewing talking points.  Hundreds of people on Facebook took the time to weigh in and help me sort out attire dilemnas–the most import element of the entire trip, obviously. The support and encouragement of others as I prepped for and then went on this wild-to-me adventure blew me away. And that people actually took the time to tune into the show and then encourage me afterwards? My eyes welled with tears as I checked my phone that night.

I know this life can all too often feel lonely, but sometimes it’s when you most need people that you realize you aren’t alone. Through this trip, I felt caught. I felt blessed. I felt grateful.

This life can be so mundane...fantasizing about how the other half lives can be so fun...really fun! Hop over for a minute with me!

Jumping is ALWAYS boss. I was the kid in college who had to take Ativan before any presentation so I didn’t faint away in panic of public speaking. Needless to say, this appearance on Glenn Beck was NOT “right up my alley”. It was very far removed from my alley, several lanes over, in fact. That and despite the nerves that left me literally shaking a few days prior and post-show, I will never, ever regret that I did it. Truth told? The green room, private hotel room and car service were pretty sweet perks that just make me feel boss. I’m okay with that.

I know how hard it is to manage this life. But listen, carving out a few minutes for friendship is one thing you will never, ever regret.  Do it now! Trust me ;)Real friendships are good. Steph and I have done a lot of huge life experiences together–cranked out a blog conference, thrown book signings, hosted a ladies’ night out, family-timed it up on the Fourth of July, and endlessly supported each other online. She wows me, of which I’ve made no secret.

The thing that you may not know is that she’s terrified of flying.  And I’m not uber-touchy-feely. I love greeting with hugs and kisses, but beyond this, not so much…Steph and I held hands on every take-off (and with lay-overs, there were several). As soon as the cameras cut on the show, she walked across the stage and I squeezed her hand for dear life. I needed support–emotionally and so I didn’t fall over in my heels. We prayed together before we went on set, and I endlessly told her how proud I was of her for accomplishing all that she has. We shared a messy steak sub in the airport and ignored the crumbs on each other’s faces. When I froze on camera, I will never, ever forget her mouthing “Isaac’s costume” from across the set to cue my talking points and help encourage me.

And none of it felt weird.  At 35, I’m not sure I was supposed to meet a genuine real-for-life friend that I can totally be myself around. But I did. And I don’t have the words to express the realness of this blessing.

I am also realizing the value of full-on supporting someone else in this world. I am so proud of what Steph is doing, and the opportunity to be there for her and help her promote her message? A gift in its truest form.

Regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen going forth with this whole blogging business, I will forever be grateful for the time I hung out in the green room with Steph–and for all the too-important lessons I learned while we were there.

To Texas, Glenn Beck, and crazy life experiences you were never supposed to have.

You can catch a longer clip of the 10/28/14 show and read about it here, but please pay the $1 and subscribe to 30 days of The Blaze TV so you can watch the whole show–I say way more semi-intelligent things in the second half so I don’t look quite as vapid. xo ;)

Oct 232014
 

Looking for a fun family fall treat? Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster has it all, or check out a similar amusement in your area--this truly was the perfect fall outing for our young family!

Remember that sweet place in Lancaster County where we love to hang out, Dutch Wonderland?

We are kind of totally in love with it.

So when they invited my family back to check out their Halloween Happy Hauntings, there wasn’t a whole lot of arm-twisting that had to happen to get us there. In fact, there was none.

We excitedly packed our daypack and costumes (yes, the park encourages guests to delight in the season and dress-up!), and headed off. Factor in a few temper tantrums and about 10 trips back to the house for things we forgot, and you’ll get the accurate picture of what goes down when my so-together family decides on a day out.

I like visiting Dutch Wonderland in the fall because all of the rides and attractions, excepting those with water, are still open.  Granted, my kids love the water park, but there is still loads to do on the drier side of the fun. This also allows for a cheaper admission price and a slightly less packed agenda–more time to simply explore and play always works for us!

Dutch Wonderland’s Happy Hauntings is perfect fit for young ones. The rides are still smaller-kid friendly as they always are, and the park does an excellent job of embracing the season–without being too scary. Pumpkins, costumes, and cobwebs galore adorn the park, but there are no horrifying super-spooky ghosts or goblins. This works for us–my children battle fears of the dark without any extra reasons for nightmares.

The smaller-kid friendly rides and attractions at Dutch Wonderland are a young family's dream come true! Visit next time you're in Lancaster County, PA, or check out a kid-friendly amusement park in your area!

The highlight of our visit was the Trick or Treat trail.  Crossing over the bridge into the back of the park, we found Exploration Island transformed into a Halloween wonderland! At each dinosaur exhibit, the kids were treated to some yummy candy by the very creatively costumed-employees. I won’t spoil all the fun in case you are planning to visit (Happy Hauntings is open both this weekend, 10/25-26, and next, 11/2-3), but my favorite dinosaur exhibit themes were the Dr. Seuss and the Crayola crayon box–you haven’t really lived until you’ve seen a dinosaur dressed as a pink crayon…

The Trick or Treat Trail was the perfect way for some safe trick-or-treating fun with a lot at some of the coolest costumes themes around!

 

I can’t say how fun it was to let the kids run around in their costumes and have a blast in a family-friendly environment. I even felt sort of vindicated when the hood of my son’s knight costume started to tear a bit after some very active sliding board fun. “See!”, I plead to my husband, “They DO get enough wear out of their costumes!” I may have slight obsession with gearing my children up in adorable coordinated costume themes each year.

The coordinated costume at mention, our little knight and princess combo couldn’t have been more perfect for the royalty theme that Dutch Wonderland is known for year round.  Now if they just start letting us bring in our dog dressed as the dragon, we’ll be all set…

Dutch Wonderland Happy Hauntings @meredithspidel

Head out to Dutch Wonderland, friends.  In a season when there are so many options for fall fun, this is the one that truly brings it all together and creates a whole autumn-full of special memories!

****Thanks to Dutch Wonderland for hosting my family for the day. All opinions expressed remain 100% my own.****

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