December 25, 2014

How to Save Money on Fall and Winter Clothes for the Whole Family

I know I’ve talked about how you can save money on the kids when it comes time to clean out their closets and update the outgrown clothes, but I haven’t talked about how you can save money when shopping for the entire family as fall and winter approach. And, as you know, clothing expenses aren’t just limited to the kids. After all, adults like to freshen up their wardrobes from time to time too!

So, how can you bring some new styles to your closet, as well as the kids’, this fall/winter without breaking the bank? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Sell the clothes you don’t wear anymore. While we all know the time and effort behind hosting a garage sale, the truth is that garage sales are still excellent for helping people get rid of the stuff they don’t need anymore…AND make money. If garage sales aren’t your thing, then consider selling the clothes that are in good condition on eBay. You will be surprised at how easy it is to sell unwanted items (including clothes) on that site. Regardless of which method you choose, you will get rid of the unwanted clothes and make money that can go towards new clothes this fall/winter for the entire family.
  2. Be savvy and shop online for everyone. If you’ve read this blog for long then you know that I’m a huge supporter of shopping for kids’ clothing online, but I’ve just recently started to shop for my own clothing online. It isn’t because I can’t find good deals online for myself or my husband, but instead it’s because we are the ones to sacrifice as we’re always replacing our kids’ clothes due to their growth spurts. However, there are times when we need (and deserve) to add a few new items to our closets too and I’ve found that I can actually save a lot of money by shopping online. I like to watch the discount sites like zulily.com and shoebuy.com as they run a lot of sales for adult clothing. (Tip: don’t order anything that isn’t on sale…)
  3. Take advantage of card discounts. Finally, make sure you take the time read the store flyers about upcoming sales and specials for their customer card holders. While I’m not one who likes to charge up my credit cards, when it comes to saving additional money on things we need and are going to buy anyways, I do it. I just make sure that I take the money out of my checking account and set aside for the credit card immediately when I get home so I don’t get surprised with a big balance later on.
Hopefully, you’ve found these tips helpful. We all need new clothes from time to time…especially mom and dad in the fall and winter, but that doesn’t mean we have to go into debt in order to do it. What are some of the ways you save money on clothing?

December 4, 2014

Holiday Formalwear Guide for Kids

If you weren’t ready for the holidays a few weeks ago, now is the time to get it together as the holidays are practically here! At my house, this is the craziest part of the year! We have school programs, holiday parties, holiday baking, caroling, decorating, gift buying and much more to do all within a few weeks. Finding time to rest and relax is hard to do at this time of year. In fact, I feel pretty good when I’m able to get about 4-6 hours of sleep during the holiday rush!

While all of the holiday festivities are fun and enjoyable, they can be stressful. This is especially true when you go to get the kids ready and discover that they’ve outgrown their formal wear! This is exactly the reason why you need to make sure your kids have properly fitting formal wear in their closets right now. If they don’t, then you need to go out and get them some holiday clothing pronto.

Below you will find a holiday formalwear guide to help ensure you don’t forget anything and your kids are ready for all the upcoming holiday festivities!

Boys

1. Vest Set/Suit: One of the best things about having boys is that they’re pretty easy to shop for when it comes to formalwear! All you need to have in their closet is a properly fitting vest set or dress suit. Vest sets and suits generally come with the dress shirt, vest/jacket, dress pants and a matching tie. Nothing like getting it all in one stop, right?!

2. Dress Shoes and Socks: Next, you just need to make sure you’ve got a good pair of dress socks to match the dress pants he will be wearing. Then, complete the outfit with a nice pair of dress shoes. Dress shoes come in a variety of styles and finishes, making it easy to find the perfect pair regardless of whether you need a casual or formal pair of dress shoes.



Girls

1. Formal Dress: Your little princess will need at least one formal dress in her closet for the holiday season. More than likely she will be attending a school program, formal holiday party or a special Christmas church service before the season is over. Thus, requiring her to wear a formal dress. Depending on how many formal events you and your family will be attending you may need a couple formal dresses, but one is definitely a must-have.



2. Casual Dress: It’s also a good idea to have a casual holiday dress on for her to wear to semi-casual holiday events. Things like holiday family gatherings, holiday pictures, sleigh rides, caroling, etc. are all events where a festive casual dress can be worn.



3. Leggings: Your daughters may not see the importance of them now, but in the cold winter air they will certainly come to appreciate leggings and the warmth they provide. The great thing about leggings is that they come in so many different colors, patterns and styles, making it easy to find a pair to go with every outfit!



4. Closed-Toe Dress Shoes: A pair of closed-toe dress shoes is a must for little girls at the holidays. They will ensure her little feet stay warm while completing her winter ensemble.



5. Bolero Jacket: Finally a good bolero jacket is another must-have for little girls at the holidays. Boys don’t really care too much if they have to wear their heavy winter coat over their suit/vest set to stay warm, but girls don’t want to hide their beautiful holiday dresses behind big and bulky coats. The solution is to get them a bolero jacket. These are dressy, warm and stylish – making them perfect to pair with holiday formalwear!



Hopefully, you are already stocked and ready to go for the holidays, but if you find that your children have outgrown their formalwear, the list above should help you get them ready for the holidays…even if it is at the last minute!

All of the above items can be found at KidsFormal.com.

September 20, 2014

Keeping Love Alive in Marriage

Just a few days ago, I was browsing through my Facebook page and came across this little ditty about marriage:
 
You and I both know there is no such thing as an actual “marriage box,” but I do think the point that the author is trying to make with this is that if a couple gets married and become complacent in their love for one another then they start to take one another for granted and the love they once had will suddenly be gone.
 
In other words, keeping the love alive in a marriage is hard work. This is probably why more than 50% of marriages end in divorce. The marriages that make it through the course of time most likely involve couples who have figured out how to keep the love alive. Below are a few things that you can do to help keep the marital fires burning:

Make a big deal about anniversaries. I know a lot of couples who have been married for several years and, as a result, they have started to treat their anniversaries like any other day. Sure, they get their spouse a card and tell them “Happy Anniversary,” but that’s about it…unless it’s a “milestone” anniversary. Don’t do this. Each and every anniversary you reach with your spouse is a big deal. It takes a lot to stay married these days and every year brings new difficulties for married couples. Therefore, when your anniversary rolls around, celebrate the fact that you two have made it through another year of trials together!
 
Don’t stop doing the little things for one another. It doesn’t matter who we are talking about, there isn’t a person alive who doesn’t like feeling loved. Like the marriage box blip from above stated, “there is no love in marriage,” love is something that individuals bring to their marriages. One of the easiest ways to keep the love alive in marriage is to never stop doing the little things for your spouse that you know he/she likes.
 
For example, most women love to receive flowers or chocolates at work from their spouse. We also enjoy things like, shoulder rubs/back scratches, impromptu cards/notes/letters, surprise date nights and other similar things. Men enjoy things like golfing with the guys, home cooked meals, watching sporting event on television instead of HGTV, sex, etc. While the lists above are examples of common likes for men and women, the fact is that each individual person is different and it’s up to their spouse to take note of what little things make them the happiest. And, just because you may not think that the things your spouse likes are important, they are important to him/her. Continue to surprise your spouse with the little things and you’ll be amazed at the results you get from it!
 
Take weekend trips without the kids. Now that I’m a parent and my oldest son is starting to get involved in school activities, I understand just how hard it is to find time with just my spouse. While kids are great, they (and their activities) can be draining as well. And, if couples aren’t careful (my husband and I included), they can easily get so wrapped up in the kids and everything they’ve got going on that they leave little time (and energy) for their spouse. This is why I believe it is so important for couples to carve out time for each other and take at least one weekend trip each year, without the kids. The time you and your spouse are able to spend alone together are precious because they give you the ability to reconnect with one another. It’s important that you stay connected to your spouse because one day your children will move out and it will just be you and your spouse…you don’t want to find that you’re living with a stranger.

Say encouraging things to your spouse on a regular basis. The world is a harsh place to live in right now. It just seems like people today are so negative towards others. While there is nothing we can do about this outside of our homes, when it comes to our family, we can control the amount of negativity coming out of it. This is especially true in regards to our marriages. Very seldom are two unhappy people living in a happy marriage…it’s really impossible when you think about it.
Therefore, keep things positive by looking for ways to build up your spouse instead of being negative and critical towards him/her. Give compliments and encouragement daily. If you know your wife is down because she has gained a few pounds, tell her how great she looks and how attracted you are to her in the mornings. Ladies, if you know your husband has been stressed about work, tell him how proud you are of him and how thankful you are that he continues to go to work to support his family. These words of encouragement/love keep the bond between spouses strong.

Talk through your differences. My husband and I have been married for 10 years this June, and this is something we still work on. While we have gotten much better about it over the years, there are days when we argue and we want to be mad for a while. Talking through our different views is not something that we necessarily want to do…and sometimes we put it off for a day or two. But, for the most part, when we have an argument we make a point to work through it right then and there. We may get angry with one another and our tempers may be strong, but that’s okay, because at least we are communicating with one another about our feelings over that particular issue. This allows us to move past the “I’m right, you’re wrong” stage and work together to find a solution…which is often a compromise for both of us.
Working through your problems as a couple is vitally important to keeping your love alive because when you don’t take the time to express your feelings and come to a resolution, resentment builds. And, resentment can be a marriage killer if you aren’t careful.  
What are your thoughts regarding this? Do you have any additional tips for how to keep the love going within a marriage? Please share!

August 13, 2014

Fun Ways to Instill Good Work-Ethic in Kids

As parents, we have so many responsibilities on our shoulders. Not only do we strive to make sure our kids know that we love them, but we are also focused on making sure their needs are met and that they grow into responsible young adults who will be a value to the communities they live in. For me, that last one is one of the biggest.
 
Yes, it is very important that my children know how much I love them and of course I do everything in my power to ensure their basic needs are met and that they are protected. However, I believe that it isn’t my job to give them everything they want. There is a difference between wants and needs. And in order to make sure my children grow to be respectable, hard-working, responsible young adults, I have to make sure that I don’t just hand them everything to their heart’s desire. That is a sure-fire way to raise a spoiled, arrogant child who will grow into an arrogant young adult who expects the finer things in life without having to work for them.
I know that the majority of adults feel like the younger generation is the “entitled” generation. Meaning it’s full of kids who feel like they deserve the finer things just because. The issue is that parents today seem to think kids just naturally grow into responsible young adults with good work-ethic and they don’t. Having a strong work-ethic and the drive to achieve goals are both learned behaviors. It’s not something kids are naturally born with.
I believe that parents need to start working to instill these traits when their children are little. However, when working with young children, parents have to look for ways to make it fun. Below are a few fun ways to instill good work-ethic and responsibility into children.
 
      W4-H when children turn eight, they can get involved in their local 4-H program. This program is designed to focus on Science, Health and Citizenship and teaches children what it means to set goals, work hard to achieve them and how to become a value to their community. Hard work, responsibility and respect are just a few of the values children learn through the 4-H program. To learn more about this amazing (and fun) program, click here
 
      One Lemonade Stands, Chores, Etc. - one of the easiest things to do is to give in to the constant, “Mommy/Daddy, can I have this?” when you go to the store. It’s not like we don’t have the money and we know it’s something that they would enjoy. However, when kids don’t have to work for anything, they don’t have a respect for the things we do give them. In other words, our children will value the items they work and save for more than those that are given to them.
 
Therefore, find ways to help your children earn money for the things they want. For example, when your child says, “Can I have this?” Say, “No, but you can earn it.” Then help them earn the money. Working for money doesn’t have to be boring either… it can be fun. Young children often enjoy working lemonade stands and baking goods to sell. They also like to go through their toys and select the items they don’t want to sell in a garage sale. Additionally, chores like taking out the trash, cleaning out the flower beds and vacuuming the floor can be fun when they know they will be receiving money for them when they’re done.
 
      Animals - One of the best ways children can learn responsibility is by helping take care of the family pet. For instance, our oldest son knows his job is to get up and let our dog outside to go potty. He also helps with the food and water for her.
As a country girl, I grew up around animals and when I was old enough to participate in our local 4-H program, my parents bought me a pair of show pigs. While my parents helped me work and train them, I was responsible for feeding and watering them every morning. As I got older, I started clipping them for the shows. I can’t tell you how much responsibility I learned during these years. The experience was honestly priceless. While my first two show pigs were provided by my parents, all of my show animals after were paid for by the proceeds I made from the proceeds made off the previous year’s show animals. In addition to the hands-on responsibility learned from taking care of the animals themselves, I also learned how to keep a track of a check register, how to write checks, what it meant to monitor the food for the animals (if I ran out of food for the animals it was my fault) and so much more. Therefore, if your children show any interest in animals, strongly consider getting them involved in 4-H and the animal science projects they have.
 
      Not Hobbies - Not every child is interested in sports and there are some that have zero interest in animals and that’s okay because everyone has an interest in something. Maybe your child has an interest in hunting, fishing or guns? Get them involved in boy scouts or maybe help them find a group of kids with the same interests. Shooting competitions are getting pretty popular and there are a lot of youth gun clubs where the kids can work to improve their shooting skills through healthy competition.
 
Of course, there are other hobbies out there than those listed above. Horseback riding, building model airplanes/cars/trains, etc., art and design, sewing and the list goes on. Every one of these hobbies provide opportunities for parents to teach their children about hard work and responsibility in a fun way. Therefore, look for those opportunities and take advantage of them!
What is your take on teaching children about responsibility and work-ethic? Do you have any additional suggestions for how to instill these values in children, while still having fun? 

August 12, 2014

Easy & Healthy Meal Ideas for the Entire Family

While I absolutely love my life and enjoy being a wife and mother, I will openly admit that the job can be stressful and that I get a little overwhelmed from time to time. This generally happens right around summertime when our schedules begin to fill up more quickly. It just doesn’t seem like there is enough time in the day to get it all done.
 
Like many people, I’m often tempted to swing through a drive-thru somewhere and get dinner for everyone to save time. While there is nothing wrong with doing this occasionally, if we aren’t careful “occasionally” turns into two or three times a week. Not only is that expensive but it’s definitely not healthy for your family to eat that much take-out on a weekly basis.
However, I get that preparing healthy meals for the family takes up even more time in your already tight schedule. In addition, dishes are dirtied in the process and I imagine you are like me and hate having to leave dirty dishes in the sink because I didn’t have enough time to clean them up before running out the door again. While this may seem discouraging, it doesn’t have to be. Below are a few quick and easy healthy meal ideas to ensure your family eats a meal that’s good for them and that you still have plenty of time to prepare and clean up before heading out the door again.
      Baked Tilapia – We all know that the recommended intake of fish is three times a week due to the Omega-3’s and other important nutrients found in fish. I try to hit the three time a week rule, but fish can get pretty boring if you don’t learn how to cook it a few different ways. My favorite, as well as, all three of the guys living with me now (ages, 31, 6 and 1), is baked tilapia. All you have to do is melt some butter, brush both sides of the fish with the butter, season (both sides) to your taste and bake for 10-15 minutes at 375° Fahrenheit. For the veggies, simple steam a bag of frozen vegetables (they make those microwaveable now…super easy!) and you are ready to go!
 
Spaghetti – This is another great healthy dinner choice that’s easy to make. To make it healthier use 100% whole wheat spaghetti and the more expensive spaghetti sauces. Choose a sauce with only three or four ingredients – the more natural, the better! To make it a quick dinner with little clean up, prepare everything the night before except the pasta.  Aside from the noodles, everything can be reheated an still taste wonderful. It’s a fast, healthy recipe that everyone in my family loves!
 
Rotisserie Chicken Wraps – This is another favorite at my house that is pretty much a staple in the fridge in case we need a healthy meal on the run! All you have to do is buy a rotisserie chicken when you’re at the grocery store, take it home and shred it (do not save the skin) and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it (within a few days, hopefully). Make sure you have 100% wheat tortillas, honey mustard and some pepperjack cheese on hand (and whatever else the family will like) and ready to get out. I simply spread a little honey mustard on the tortilla, topping that with 2.5-3.0 ounces of shredded chicken and then ¼ cup of Pepper Jack cheese on top. Microwave for about 30 seconds and you’ve got a fast, easy and healthy meal ready to be eaten.

As a mom, we are under a lot of pressure from our spouses, kids and other outside influences to keep up with everything. The last thing we should have to worry about is whether or not we have enough time to feed our families a nutritious dinner. Hopefully the meal suggestions above have given you some ideas for how you can achieve it all!

Do you have any favorite meals that are both easy to prepare and nutritious that you would like to share with us? Please do! 

August 10, 2014

Wedding Travel on a Budget

The summer is almost here and for a lot of us that means that a wedding is about to take place. While we all love attending weddings, the out-of-town weddings can be a bit burdensome, especially for those who are trying to save money. Even if you aren’t actually in the wedding, traveling to attend one isn’t necessarily cheap. However, there are some things that you can do to help minimize the cost and ensure that the wedding is an enjoyable experience.
      Book Lodging Online. We all know that one of the most expensive parts of traveling is paying for lodging. I can remember when $60 would get a nice hotel room. Now, it seems like a decent room costs at least $150 per night, unless you know where to shop for your hotel room. My favorite place to book hotel rooms is on Priceline, but there are other sites like Travelocity and Expedia that are pretty similar. Basically, these sites help hotels fill rooms. They do this by offering “customers” rooms for a fraction of the price they would get by booking at the hotel…or their website. The cool think about Priceline is that you can enter in the amount of money you’re willing to pay for a room and possibly get one for that price. On several occasions I have booked a room at a 5 start hotel for $65! It’s worth it if you’re looking to save a little money while attending an out-of-town wedding.
 
      Leave the Kids at Home. If it is at all possible, leave the kids at home when you head out of town for a wedding. First of all, most children couldn’t care less about the couple in love and tying the knot and will therefore only be bored during the trip. In addition to that, kids are expensive. Some hotels charge extra for more than 2 guests in a room and there is the fact that the kids also have to eat, just like you. So, instead of spending $20 for meals, when you have the kids, you could easily spend $40+ per meal. So, if you are fortunate to have family living nearby who wouldn’t mind watching the kiddos, take advantage of them!
 
Car Pool. I know, this one sounds a little lame, but if you are able to find someone to take the kids for a day or two while you’re at this wedding, then consider car pooling with another (kidless) couple on the way to the same wedding. By agreeing to split the gasoline acquired during the duration of the trip, you could actually end up saving yourself anywhere from $60-$200, depending on how far of a drive the wedding is.
 
So, there are a few ways that you can save money when you head out of town for a wedding or any other big event. Do you have any additional suggestions? Please share!

August 8, 2014

Organizational Tools Every Family Needs

When my husband and I first got married ten years ago life was much simpler. We didn’t have to worry about keeping things organized because it was just us. There just wasn’t as much on our plate and our life together was really, pretty simple. Fast forward about five years after our first son started walking…things got pretty hectic and unorganized in a hurry.
I’m going to be honest with you guys, I am not a naturally organized person. It’s not that I lose things or forget to pay the bills or anything like that. No, my struggles are things like keeping the house nice and orderly, getting dinner on the table on time, washing/folding/putting away the laundry, etc. And, now that I’ve got two kiddos (ages 6 and 1 ½), it’s very important that I get this organization thing mastered before life gets any crazier.
 
Since I know that I am not the only mother out there who feels like she’s struggling to stay on top of things, I’m going to share with you some of the organizational tools that have helped me, and my family, keep it together.
Mail Bin: Every day when the mail arrives, I immediately tear up the junk mail and take the important stuff to our mail bin (it’s actually a little plastic desk organizer). The bills get separated and put with the “books” (our account ledger) so that they get paid on time and the stays in the bin. Once my husband gets home, he goes through the mail in the bin and sorts through it. This mail bin has really helped us out a lot. We used to have a terrible time keeping our mail organized. Some days it would get tossed on the desk in the office, other days it would be left on the bar in the kitchen and sometimes it even got carried into our bedroom. The mail bin has simplified this problem and works quite wonderfully for us!
 
Filing Cabinet: If you do not have a filing cabinet, it’s time you break down and buy one. You can find affordable ones in any office supply store (think Staples). My parents actually gave us a small metal one when they upgraded theirs to a wooden filing cabinet. This cabinet has had a HUGE impact on our stress level. We have a file for practically everything (credit cards, car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, the dog’s registration papers/vet papers, medical statements, utility bills, and the list goes on. For those important documents like your marriage license, social security cards, hospital birth certificates, etc…get a fireproof safe – they make those for files too.

Large Dry-Erase Calendar: In my office I have a large dry-erase calendar that I wipe clean at the end of every month and begin filling in for the new month. I fill in all the “to-dos” for that month with their corresponding dates. Dental appointments, t-ball games, lunch dates with friends, etc. I have started color coding my appointments, giving each member of the family a different color so I can look at the calendar and instantly know who has something going on for that particular day. My board also has a “notes” section, so it makes it easy for my husband or whoever to leave a note for me to see.
 
So, those are my top three organization tools that have had major impacts on my family’s organization lately. What are some of your  favorite organizational tips and/or tricks for unorganized families?

August 7, 2014

Attending Summer Activities with Toddlers

I’m not sure about how things are going for you and your household, but the activities at our house are definitely starting to pick up now that the weather is getting warmer and summer isn’t too far away. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, my oldest son started t-ball practice! Where is the time going?
 
We did t-ball last year, but this year it is going to be just a little different for our family. The big difference is that our youngest is now a toddler whereas last year he wasn’t fully mobile. He was perfectly happy sitting on a blanket or on our lap for the duration of the practices and games. This is definitely not going to be the case this year.

After a couple of weeks of practices, I’ve finally figured out a few tricks for how to survive these events with a toddler in tow. I’m sure as we work our way throughout the summer, I will acquire a few more tips for my “tool bag,” but these are what I have so far. If you have toddler that you will be toting around for your older kids’ activities this summer, feel free to give a few of these a try!

Bring a variety of snacks. Toddlers burn a lot of energy, especially once they really start getting around good. While it can be a little tiring digging for the snacks, when you are at summer activities, these snacks serve two purposes: 1) they re-energize the kiddos and, 2) they take up time. Getting toddlers to slow down is definitely a game and providing them with a variety of snacks is a good way to do it. This is especially true when you pull them out at different times throughout the event.
Go for a walk. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to get a toddler to sit still, nothing works. This is when I take the little one for a walk. If we are at t-ball practice, we walk around the edges of the field where I can still see what’s going on and how big brother is doing, yet little brother has enough space to explore. When the little guy gets irritable and he’s fed up with sitting still, a change of scenery usually does the trick.
Bring “special” toys. Recently, I went to the Family Dollar store in search of some small, inexpensive toys that would hold my toddler’s interest when attending his brother’s summer activities. These toys are our “special” toys, meaning that they stay in a box in the back of my SUV and only get to be played with at his bubba’s activities. This keeps the toys interesting and easily helps me keep him distracted for about 15-20 minutes.

Do you have, or have you had, a toddler that you’ve had to take to an older sibling’s activities? Do you have any additional tips for surviving these events with a toddler? If so, please share!

August 6, 2014

Help NICU Babies with Your Wedding Dress

In just a couple of months, my husband and I will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been ten years as I can still recall our wedding day perfectly. Aside from the pictures and our personal memories from that day, the only thing we have left from our wedding is my wedding dress. 

While I love my wedding dress, I have been ready to part with it for a while. Originally, I was saving it in case we had a daughter and she wanted to use it for her wedding. However, after having our two boys, my husband and I have decided that our family is complete so there is really no need for me to continue saving the dress.

I’m not really a sentimental person and don’t see a need to continue to store it, especially since we have an assortment of wedding pictures to look back at. At one point I tried to sell it. There wasn’t any interest then, so I’ve just been holding on to it..

Perhaps, you or someone you know is in the same situation. While they love their wedding dress, they don’t want to continue storing it any longer when it could be used elsewhere? While I have been at a loss for ideas of what to do with my dress for a couple years now, the other night I was on Facebook and saw an article about the NICU Helping Hands organization.

This organization was started to create a support system for families who are going through pain of having a newborn hospitalized in the NICU. Here families can find the support and educational tools they need to help them through this difficult time.

While the technology today is amazing and many babies in the NICU do grow strong enough to go home and live a long life, there are still those who don’t ever get to go home with their loving families. It’s these babies and their families that you can I can help with our wedding gowns.

In the past, the babies that passed away in the NICU were wrapped in a thin hospital blanket before being given to their families for burial. What the volunteers behind NICU Helping Hands are doing now is taking donated wedding dresses and turning them into beautiful “angel gowns” for these precious babies to wear for their final photos and burial services. By the way, the angel gowns are given to the families free of charge.

I cannot imagine the pain (and hope that I never have to) that comes with losing a child, and while I know nothing can take away this pain, I feel like this is a way for me to help. NICU Helping Hands has stated that they can make up to a dozen angel gowns out of one dress and they will send keepsake pieces back to the owner of the donated wedding dress, if desired. Additionally, they will also send a receipt for the donation back to the owner so you can deduct the donation on your taxes as well.

If you are like me and think that this sounds like a great thing to do with your wedding dress, you can find all the information you need regarding the donation process here.



June 17, 2014

The Importance of a Father

In honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to write a piece explaining just how important a father is in the life of a child. The only way that I know how to do this is to share with you the role that my father has played in my life. So, here you go:

 While we all know there aren’t any special skills required to make a baby, those of us with great fathers know that it takes a special man to earn the title of “dad.” And, in a lot of cases, those who are called “dad” are not the biological fathers of the children who look up to them. I know because this is the exact same relationship that my father and I have.

While I was growing up I didn’t appreciate all the things this man sacrificed for me. I had no idea just how much of a handful I was or how much time, money, frustration, worry, etc. was spent on me throughout all of those years. However, now that I am a mother, I finally understand just how much of himself he gave to me and that it was all given out of love; love that he did not have to give.

After all, I was not his biological daughter. I was two when he and my mom married. (Shortly after that time, my biological father stopped paying child support, as well as, visiting me.) So, you see – he walked in to a “ready-made” family. And while he was not my “real” dad, he was the only father-figure I had in my life.

Because he chose to love me like his own and raise me in the way that he would raise his own child, I grew up one pretty lucky girl. I never grew up feeling as if there was something (or someone) missing from my life or wondering what I did wrong to cause my biological dad to cut off communication with me.  Instead, I grew up knowing that I was loved and that I was exactly who I was supposed to be. The fact that I had another “dad” somewhere never caused me any concern. As far as I was concerned, this man…the man my mother married when I was two, was (and still is) my father. My only dad.

In addition to being an amazing father to me, my dad has also shown me over the years what it means to be a man of true character. Through his example, I have learned the value of working hard, being honest and living up to your word. I have also seen what it takes to create a marriage that’s filled with love, respect, patience and appreciation for your spouse; the kind of marriage that will last a lifetime.

All of these things I have learned from a man who did not have to be my father. It is because of this man that I have grown into the woman that I am and have married a man who loves and respects me and who is, in turn, an awesome father to our two boys. It is safe to say that my life would not be the same today if I had not been raised by the man that I call “dad.”

Like I said previously, there are no special skills required to make a baby. However, it takes a lot to fulfill the role of a father.

For those of you who have grown up with amazing fathers, as I have, take the time to let them know just how much you love and appreciate them and all the sacrifices they’ve made for you over the years. And, for all of the fathers out there, remind yourself daily that the example you set will have a major impact on your children’s lives. Whether it is good or bad depends on you.

Do you have a story regarding the influence that your father has had in your life that you would like to share? If you do, please feel free to share! 

June 4, 2014

Outdoor Features for Kids

With spring and summer right around the corner, many people are beginning to think about what outdoor yard projects they need to put on the “to-do” list. My husband and I are included in this group of people as we have a pretty bare yard that needs a lot of TLC in order to fulfill our family’s needs and dreams.

As many of you know, we built our house just a couple of years ago and having the yard sodded was not an option as our front yard is roughly 10,000 sq. feet with the back yard about three-fourths the size of the front. Therefore, the past two springs and summer we have focused on killing the weeds while improving the grass. We also completed a landscaping project last fall as we put in our own stone-lined flower beds in the front.

While we are still looking for ways to improve the overall appearance of our yard, we are more focused on finding some fun outdoor features for the kids this year. Having a few outdoor activities for the kids will encourage them to find things to do outside during the warm weather instead of sitting inside watching the television. Below are a few outdoor features we are considering for our kiddos. Maybe they will give you some fresh ideas for what you can add to your backyard for the kids to enjoy this year!
Jungle Gym/Monkey Bars: As a child I can remember spending hours outside playing on the monkey bars that my parents had for us in our backyard. While I thought I was having a blast swinging from bar to bar, I was also getting some much needed exercise in. A jungle gym/monkey bar set is a great thing to add to your backyard as kids can swing, climb, flip on it all spring/summer long!

ATV: I understand this is not something everyone wants to have for the kiddos to play with, but we are strongly considering one for our oldest son (6) as we have 2.5 acres of land and most of the neighbor kids have one. Of course, we will be purchasing one that has a speed control and the automatic off option if the child falls off and he will be wearing a helmet. My husband grew up with four wheelers so this is something he feels like our boys will thoroughly enjoy. If you have the space available, it may be something your kids will enjoy too. 

Tetherball and Basketball: For some reason kids of all ages enjoy playing tetherball and basketball, making these two very easy outdoor activities to add for your kids, especially if there are other kids in the area. They are both outdoor features that your kids will enjoy for years to come! 
So, what are some of the outdoor activities that your children enjoy? Are you going to be adding any outdoor features this spring/summer? If so, what will you be adding?

June 3, 2014

Preparing for Summer Break

I’m still in shock that we just finished up spring break. I mean, it seems like we just started the school year and here we are a little over a month away before school lets out for the summer! Time just seems to fly by faster with each passing year for me.

While I am very blessed to have a job that allows me to spend most of my time at home with the kids, summer breaks can get long for the kids and I both if I’m not adequately prepared for the 12-week break. For instance, last year, I wasn’t quite prepared for the break and about four days into summer break my son asked when he was going to get to go back to school.

Since I don’t want a repeat of last year, I have created this to-do list for preparing for summer break to help ensure that the kids and I both enjoy the entire summer break!

1.Shop the dollar stores. My kids are both young enough that they are still easily entertained with the cheap/silly toys found at the dollar stores. The dollar stores have lots of great toys for parents to whip out when the kids come and say, “mom, I’m bored.” Hula hoops, puzzles, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, etc. are just some of the treasures you can find here – and the best part is that they are all affordable!

2.Book summer activities. One of the best things that I managed to do last year for my school-aged son was enroll him in a couple of week-long summer (day) camps. He participated in two art camps and a science camp. One of the camps was a half-day (from 8am until 11:30am) and the other two were all day camps (8am-4:30pm). Not only did he really enjoy himself, make new friends and learn new things, but I was able to get quite a bit done around the house that I am not able to do when I’ve got the boys with me all day. While summer camps are great activities to send your kids to a couple times throughout the summer, they are not the only summer activities that are activities that require a little planning. Things like swimming lessons, t-ball, a trip to the zoo, etc. are all fun summer activities that are best planned (“booked”) in advance because they give everyone something to look forward too.

3.Make plans for play dates. Get in contact with friends who have children the around the same age as your kids and make plans to schedule play dates throughout the summer. They don’t necessarily have to be every week, but every other week is good for both the kids and you as you will get a little “adult” social time in too. You may even be able to switch off hosting play dates with a friend or two so that the kids can play while the non-hosting parent gets a few hours to run errands in solitude (aka: peace).

4.Create a chore chart. This is one that I am for sure doing this summer. My son is old enough to know that things cost money and he has no problem asking me to buy him stuff when we are at the store. Well, guess what? He’s also old enough to help out around the house and learn what it means to earn his spending money. This year, I am creating a chore chart that will be ready to go on the first day of summer break. My son will have a list of chores that he is responsible for every day. When he completes a chore, he will be able to put a sticker in the box next to the chore that he completed. At the end of the week we will count how many chores he did that week and he will get paid for those chores. Now, these chores will be the “special” chores that are not part of the routine responsibilities he has (making his bed, picking up his toys, brushing teeth, etc.). I’m thinking about chores like emptying the trashes and setting the trash by the road on trash day, unloading the dishwasher, folding a load of towels, etc. Not only do chores help teach kids about responsibility and earning money, but they also help keep them busy too.

5.Prepare “school” work. No, I’m not a drill sergeant mom, but I am one who plans on giving my son a little bit of school work to do throughout the summer. He will be going to 1st grade next year and one of the most important things I can help him work/improve on is his reading. We will continue to read one book a day Monday thru Friday, as well as, work on sight words, writing and math. You can purchase age-appropriate workbooks for math, reading and writing at most bookstores or online. One or two worksheets a day isn’t anything to extraordinary to expect from the kids throughout the summer.

Hopefully the “to-do” list above has given you some ideas for how you can prepare for the 12-week summer break that’s quickly approaching. Do you have any additional ideas to help us get ready?

June 2, 2014

Gearing Up for Summer: Fun Activities for the Kids

As we’ve rounded the corner of winter and are headed straight for spring, it’s time for us to start thinking about summer activities for the kids again. Summertime is a fun time for kids as they enjoy being out of school during the days and getting to spend their time doing whatever they feel like doing (and that mom and dad approve of). However, for parents, summer break can be a little bit stressful and many parents work and aren’t able to be home with their kids during those long summer days.

And, then there are also the parents who are fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with their kids. They too feel the strain of summer break as the days seem to drag on and on as summer rolls on by. The days can go by extremely slow when the kids aren’t involved in any summer activities. Therefore, pre-planning a few summer activities for your kids can be very beneficial for both you and your children! Below are a few fun summer activities that your kids may enjoy.

1.  Horseback Riding Lessons: Learning how to ride a horse is not something everyone gets to do, making it a privilege for those who have the opportunity. If there is a nearby horse facility that offers horseback riding lessons during the summer, then this may be the perfect summer activity for your child. And, who knows, maybe it will be something they will want to pursue further! Regardless of whether it’s just a one-summer thing or turns into a passion for your child, horseback riding is an experience they won’t forget.

2.  Swim Camp: We have all heard about traditional summer camps, but what about a summer camp that’s for kids who love to swim? If you have a child who knows how to swim and enjoys the sport of swimming, then consider enrolling him/her in a summer swim camp. This will be a great way for them to get some much needed exercise while perfecting a skill that they love. It’s also perfect for those who are considering competitive swimming!

3.  Summer Art Camp: If you have a child who enjoys art, regardless of whether its oil painting, filmmaking, dance, acting, etc., then a summer art camp should definitely be considered. Even if your child doesn’t have a particular area of interest, but enjoys art and the freedom to explore his/her imagination, then art camp is most likely something that he/she will enjoy.

There are so many summer activities for kids to participate in that it’s unreal. The three listed above don’t even begin to scratch the surface. These types of activities are beneficial for kids to do over the summer because it keeps them busy and out of trouble, keeps them thinking and their creative juices flowing, helps them make new friends and can also aid in exercise (depending on what type of activity they participate in).

Did you have any favorite summer activities that you enjoyed as a child?

May 24, 2014

Sick Kiddos: Always be Prepared

I have to admit that I have been pretty lucky over the last six years as my family has always managed to stay pretty healthy, even when the cold and flu season was in full-swing. Sure, there have been a few times over the past several years when one of us has been “down” due to a 24-hour bug, but we haven’t had anything major (knocking on wood now).
However, last night at around 11:30 p.m., my 6 year old got up, went to the bathroom and then came out to tell me he was sick. The thermometer confirmed his conclusion as he had a 99.8° temperature. The poor little guy was up and down several times between 11:30p.m. and 3:00 a.m. when his fever finally broke and the stomach cramps subsided. Although he woke up this morning without a temperature and his happy-go-lucky attitude had returned, I could not send him off to school without knowing for sure if he was really back to normal.
Having sick kiddos at home is definitely no fun and for whatever reason, it always seems to start when we are least expecting it. I mean, my son had been in bed asleep for 4 ½ hours before he got up and suddenly got sick. Thankfully, I was prepared and didn’t have to rush out in the middle of the night (or first thing this morning) to get anything. While it can be miserable to have sick kiddos, it’s definitely worse when we aren’t prepared. Below are a few things that you should always have on hand so you’re prepared when the sickness strikes.

Working Thermometer: There have been many times when I’ve thought that my son has had a fever when in fact he didn’t. And, there have been other times when I’ve thought that he just wasn’t feeling that great but discovered that he was running a 101+ temperature! In order to accurately gauge our children’s temperature we all need to have a working thermometer in our medicine cabinet so we can get to the bottom of the temperature mystery as soon as possible.

Pedialyte: Those of us with young children, need to keep at least one bottle of pedialyte in our fridge ready to go when the diarrhea and vomiting start. Since children are so much smaller than we and many eat/drink less than we do, it’s important that we stay on top of their vomiting and diarrhea to ensure that they don’t get dehydrated and begin to lose the nutrients they need to fight the sickness. Pedialyte is the way to do this as the “medicine” tastes like flavored juice but is packed full of nutrients that our bodies need to function and fight off illnesses. 

Soup and Sprite: Most doctors recommend that those with stomach bug or flu-like symptoms stick to clear liquids such as sprite, as well as, wholesome soups such as chicken noodle soup until their bodies are able to handle regular foods again. But, the last thing you are going to want to do is head to the store when you’re kids come down with something. I always keep a 6-pack of sprite in the pantry as well as a few cans of chicken noodle soup.  

New Toothbrushes: It is recommended that you change out the toothbrush of the person who has been sick each time he/she recovers from an illness such as the flu or a stomach bug. The reason is because our toothbrushes collect a lot of germs when we brush our teeth and if some of the flu, stomach bug, etc. germs remain on the toothbrush, then it is possible to catch it again a couple weeks later. Therefore, keep a couple extra toothbrushes on hand so you are ready to switch them out when needed!

May 23, 2014

Summer Break Activities for the Whole Family

Summer is just around the corner which means most of us are going to be looking for some activities that are enjoyable for the entire family. As a mother of two young children (ages 6 and 1), I know how difficult it is to find things that our family can do and everyone enjoy themselves. Obviously, when we are looking for family activities, our focus is on finding activities that our children will enjoy but that doesn’t mean that we (the adults) don’t want to have fun either, right? Below are some ideas for summer break activities that your entire family can enjoy.

The Beach – If you live within a few hours of a beach, then plan a day to take the family. There is just something about a family beach day that puts everyone in a good mood. Maybe I am a little biased as my family didn’t live close to a beach, which has made me come to realize just how awesome beaches and the ocean are. My family loves spending a day together lounging around on the beach. We suntan (well I try when the dad and the boys are busy playing), wade along the shoreline, build sandcastles, play Frisbee and a number of other things. It’s a fun, relaxing and inexpensive way to spend the day together as a family.

Aquarium – In many states, the summer heat can really play a toll on people, making it almost impossible to get outside in the middle of the day when temperatures have skyrocketed. Days like these are perfect for family trips to the aquarium. My children love visiting the aquarium as they enjoy watching and learning about marine life. My oldest son is at the age where he is fascinated with sharks so a trip to the aquarium always gets him excited.  

State Parks – Visiting state parks together can make for fun family outings during the slow, summer days. We haven’t taken our youngest son yet, but when we have gone in the past with our oldest son, we would go in the morning before the temperatures get too unbearable. Usually we would bring a picnic basket along with us stocked full of sandwiches, fruit and water so we could enjoy our lunch outdoors before heading home. Our oldest has always enjoyed these excursions because he likes to get out and explore. Again, visiting a state park is another inexpensive activity that families can enjoy together. (Just a FYI: If you live in Texas or will be visiting and have young kids, try to visit the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, TX!)

Fishing – If you haven’t ever taken the family fishing before, it is definitely a unique experience that everyone will remember. This is an activity that will require a little planning ahead as you probably need to get a fishing license from the state for you and your family members, but once that is done, you’re all set. (Assuming you have the rods and tackle.) Plan to leave in the morning when it is cool so you can be packing up and heading back home before the heat gets bad. Usually, we only spend a few hours fishing when we go and that’s plenty. It’s an activity that we all enjoy doing together. Now that our youngest is walking he will get to join in on the fun. He’ll probably play in the riverbank and with the rocks, mud, etc. but it will still be fun for him!

Hopefully the ideas listed above have given you some new summer family activity ideas that you and your kids will enjoy doing together! What are some of your favorite summer activities to do as a family?

May 22, 2014

Romantic Vow Renewal Ideas

As you know, the wedding industry is one of the biggest industries around. In fact, it’s quite a ludicrous industry to be in because there will never be a shortage of couples who desire to take their relationships to the next level. And while we hear a lot about what it means to plan a wedding – venue, wedding dress, bridesmaids’ and flower girl dresses, the honeymoon, etc., we don’t hear a lot about vow renewals.

Is this because there aren’t many couples out there who desire to renew their vows? No, it’s really because full-fledge weddings are more profitable for those in the wedding industry than vow renewals as most couples looking to renew their vows don’t find it necessary to spend the amount of money on the ceremony as couples getting married for the first time do. However, that doesn’t mean that we should overlook the couples wishing to renew their vows!
Today, I want to talk to the couples out there who are thinking about renewing their vows.

Many couples struggle with the decision about whether or not they really need to renew their vows and, if so, how should they choose to renew them? Below are a few tips and suggestions that answer these questions.

1.  Do we need to renew our vows? The answer to this question is one that varies from couple to couple. Some couples feel like they were married once and they have no desire to renew their vows. If this is how you and your spouse feel, then by all means, don’t spend the time, money and effort planning a vow renewal. But, if you and your spouse have the slightest desire to renew your vows, then make the plans to do it – you will be glad you did!


2.  How should we renew our vows? Again, the answer to this question depends on you and your spouse. What do you guys want? The fun thing about vow renewals is that you and your spouse get to plan them without worrying about what others think (unlike most wedding planning). Therefore, you guys get to choose exactly what you want! Below are a few ideas:

  • Small, Intimate Ceremony – Many couples renewing their vows choose to have small, intimate ceremonies where they only invite their family and very close friends because these are the people who have been there for them throughout their marriage and know them the best. These types of ceremonies usually take place in backyards, small parks and other small venues.  
  • Large, Grand Ceremony – However, there are still those who can’t imagine renewing their vows without all of their family, friends and other acquaintances present, which is absolutely okay too! These vow renewals are a lot closer to wedding ceremonies in the fact that the guest list is quite large, therefore, the venue is too. Catering, entertainment and other “wedding-like” expenses are generally spent in these vow renewal ceremony.
  • Destination Ceremonies – Just like with destination weddings, couples can plan destination vow renewals. Most of the time, couples wishing to renew their vows elsewhere tend to keep these ceremonies intimate, meaning that a lot of destination vow renewals are just with the couple and possibly their children present. Of course, the benefit of destination renewals is getting and all-inclusive renewal/vacation at the same time. I can also see how these vow renewal ceremonies would be very relaxing for couples looking to recommit to one another without a big “hoopla.”
So, what are your thoughts about vow renewals? Is this something you want to do in the future? Or, have you already renewed your vows? Please share your thoughts with me!

May 1, 2014

Tips for Holiday Savings in 2014

I’m not sure what your take is on the current year, but mine is that it is going by entirely way too fast. The school year is already coming to an end and I swear it feels like the year just began! While I am like many of you who are beginning to focus on the upcoming summer months, I am also beginning to look even further and plan for the holidays.
 
Yeah, I know, it may seem a little crazy to start my holiday planning this far in advance, but I tell you what, when you start planning six to eight months in advance, the ability to save money is greater. An additional benefit is experiencing a lower stress level when the holidays do arrive. Below are a few tips I have for how you can save on the holidays this year.
1. Start buying gifts now. One of the easiest ways to ease the financial burden of the holidays is to spread the expenses out throughout the year. If you have a lot of extended family and friends that you buy Christmas gifts for, then start watching the sale flyers for your favorite stores. When you see something that you know one of people on your gift list would like, go ahead and buy it. Sure, you will have to store it but you’ve saved money and you have one less gift to buy. Therefore, it’s worth it!

2. Set money aside every pay period. Another great way to make sure you are financially ready for the holidays is by setting money aside each pay period. For example, I take out $50-$100 of every paycheck and put aside in a fund (within my budget book) labeled “Christmas.” Regardless of what the amount is that you can afford to set aside, the cool thing is that these bi-weekly deposits add up pretty quick. I’ve actually been doing this for several years now and it has worked really well for my family and I. In fact, because I know that I have the money set aside when it’s time to start buying holiday gifts, I am able to have fun shopping because I’m not worried about accumulating a lot of credit card debt or running my bank account dry buying gifts. This is probably the one tip that can save you the most stress during the holiday season, if you follow it.

3.  Buy stamps for holiday cards several months in advance. This one may sound a little silly, but have you ever added up just how many Christmas cards you actually mail out? I know a lot of people who have done away with mailing actual cards out for the holidays and opt for e-cards instead, but I personally feel like receiving a card in the mail is more personal. Anyways, to ensure I’m not caught off guard by the cost of stamps for my Christmas cards, I purchase forever stamps several months before Christmas and store them until the holidays roll around. I do still mail some of my bills so I make sure to keep the “Christmas” stamps in a separate place so I’m not tempted to use them. An additional benefit to this is that a Forever stamp is good forever so if the cost of stamps goes up after the time you bought the Forever stamps, you will be saving even more money when it’s time to mail those cards out!
 
4. Shop online. Believe it or not, there are a lot of great deals to be found online. While it does take time to browse the online deals at various stores, it can definitely pay off. An easy way to stay up-to-date on the online sales is to create a special email that you use only for receiving newsletters from your favorite stores and check this email once a day or once every other day. It makes it easy as you shouldn’t be receiving any mail in this account other than the stores’ flyers that you’ve signed up to receive. And again, don’t be afraid to order early. If there is a sale going on for an item you know will make the perfect Christmas gift for someone, then order it and cross the person off your list!

5.  Be frugal when buying holiday décor. The marketing teams at department stores are comprised of very intelligent people. They know how to decorate a store for the holidays with their products. When customers come in to shop they notice the décor and the various items that have been used for the décor and marketing teams know this translates into purchases. The issue is that most of these items are not going to be on sale and they’re overpriced anyways. Therefore, take the time to shop for your holiday décor items at discount stores such as Ross, TJ Maxx, Dollar General, etc., as well as, at garages sales. You never know what you will find at these places and when you get the items home and set up with the rest of your holiday décor no one will know that you didn’t pay full price for these items.

Believe it or not, the majority of stores make most of their profits for the year during the holiday months. The holidays are big business in America (and elsewhere), but that doesn’t mean you have to go into debt at this time of year!