Aug 17, 2009

What's Been Going On

Haven't had much going on lately that's blogworthy. But, here's a rundown of last week in case you're interested.

~ First week back wasn't so bad. Made it through only crying one and a half times: once when I got in bed the night before my first day and a half time on Tuesday morning when Camryn was upset after she realized we couldn't eat breakfast together, because I had to go to work.

~ Reminded this past week that I am thankful to have a job and one that allows me to have such an amazing schedule.

~ Reminded how TIRED getting up early and working all day makes me!

~ Got back into a couponing groove and may actually stay within our biweekly $120 grocery budget.

~ Had lunch at Charley's with ladies from the handbell choir.

~ Took Camryn to school on Friday even though I wanted her home with me, because the last water day was more important. And because she reminded me at least 5 times per day Monday - Thursday that she was supposed to wear her bathing suit to school on Friday.

~ Got to spend all day Saturday hanging out with Lindsay, Keller, Dad, and Debbie.

~ Made chicken and dumplings for supper Saturday. Mmmmm! Can't wait for lunch today - leftovers!

~ Went to a concert at church Saturday night: Daniel Kirkley, Jaime Jamgochian, & Lanae Hale. They're pretty awesome.

~ Told my dad goodbye on Sunday afternoon, which Camryn hated to do, and then walked her upstairs for a nap. As we went up the stairs she said, "Mommy, when we get to the top, will you hold me? Because I'm sad, and that's what mommies do when you're sad. They hold you." Could this kid melt my heart any more???

Up for this week:

~ Teachers are back so things will definitely pick up!

~ Meetings, meetings, meetings!

~ Wednesday night suppers are back! I'll take Julie's cooking any day!

~ Camryn's first time in AWANA!

~ My first time working with the youth girls' small group!

~ Reunion in Columbia with my amazing Winthrop girls who I worked with in Kate Wofford Hall! Can't wait for some girl time and to meet 3 or 4 sweet kiddos I'm long overdue in seeing!

Aug 9, 2009

A Weekend Post

This is my 300th post! I really wanted to do something fun or do some sort of giveaway, but my creative juices are tapped out at the moment, so I'm just going to recognize this is my 300th and call it day!

The weekend I've been dreading finally got here and is almost over - my last weekend before I have to start back to work. It is always so hard to go back after having extra time at home with Camryn and Jason, but this year is especially hard because Camryn and I have been almost inseparable! I always try to keep her on at least a half-schedule for daycare in the summer so she doesn't get out of the habit of being there. But, this year she's gone maybe 8 days out of the entire 2 months I've been out of school, so we've had lots of great mommy-daughter time and family time together. She's been my little shopping buddy and my playmate, we've taken lots of trips, learned a lot, had lots of little adventures, and have laughed a lot. I'm going to miss having her close to me all day long.

Since this was my last weekend before starting back, we tried to squeeze in some extra family fun. Friday we had a family date and went to Rock Hill for the afternoon to do some shopping, browsing, and have supper at Chili's (yay for the 2 for $20 deal). Saturday morning Cam and I went to Belk to check out their sales and got started on her wardrobe for next summer. Groceries aren't the only ways I score good deals! With 50% off their summer clothes, tax free weekend, and a coupon I had, we got everything below (plus a birthday present not pictured!) for $41 ... the best part is between our coupon and sales, we saved $92!

Saturday afternoon, we decided to take Camryn somewhere she's been begging to go all summer. Our Dairy Queen has a huge blow-up ice cream cone that sits on top of it that looks like this:

Every time we pass by, Camryn says, "I'd like to get ice cream there sometime!" She was very excited when we pulled into the parking lot and told her "sometime" was finally here!

After ice cream, we came back home and piled onto the guest room bed to watch Peter Pan. Our Peter Pan movie is VHS, and the only place we have a VHS player is attached to the TV in the guest room! After our adventures in Neverland, we had a frozen pizza, and called it a night.

This morning, we finally made it back to Sunday school and church after what seems like forever! Between vacation, guests, and sickness we haven't had a normal Sunday schedule in quite a while. It felt good to be back into the swing of things. Then tonight, after Jason goes to a meeting at church, we're off to the Mexican restaurant for one last hurrah before my sad tomorrow begins!

And, finally, Jason won the Husband of the Weekend Award in my book when he bought me this on Friday:

Since I started couponing, we've run into a little bit of a storage problem! We haven't even been in our house for one year and our closets were already busting at the seams because I was using every inch of available space to store all of my purchases! Jason bought me a storage closet for the garage and we suddenly have space in the house again!

Aug 6, 2009

A Deal You Just Can't Beat!

There is a super hot deal going on right now at Bi-Lo! There is a rebate running 8/2/09 - 9/30/09 called Kellogg's Fuel for School. Buy 10 participating Kellogg's or Keebler products in the same transaction, and get a $10 rebate check plus a $70 coupon from Dell. In addition, Bi-Lo is running their own Fuel for School promotion in which you buy 8 participating Kellogg's or Keebler products and also get a $10 back to school rewards card (like a debit card)! So, buy your 10 products at Bi-Lo, and you will qualify for both rewards! Plus, if you bought a paper this past Sunday, there was an entire section of Kellogg's Fuel for School coupons (Kellogg's cereals, Eggo products, Pop Tarts, Nutri-Grain bars, Kellogg's fruit snacks, Keebler cookies, Rice Krispie treats, etc.). There are also some internet printable coupons out there right now for some of these products if you do a little looking around.

To make it even sweeter, Bi-Lo has BOGO sales this week on two of the participating products -
Eggos and Pop-Tarts! Today, I got this great deal:

10 boxes of Eggo waffles - BOGO at $2.42
Used 4 $1 off 2 boxes of Eggo waffles coupons
Paid $8.22 (and saved $16.10 with my Bonus card and coupons!)

With my receipt, I got a Bi-Lo Fuel for School voucher, which I will mail in this afternoon for the Bi-Lo rebate. Plus, I will fill out the Kellogg's form, send in my UPC symbols, and original receipt and will be on my way to a 2nd rebate!

Once all my rebates come in, I will get back the $8.22 I paid for the waffles today, plus make an additional $11.78 profit!

Can you believe this gets even better? Bi-Lo does promotions in which you buy a national product and get to try their Southern Home brand for free (w/ your bonus card). Guess what two of their brand challenges are right now . . . that's right! Eggo waffles and PopTarts! So, if you go here and log in with your bonus card you can print off coupons for a free box of Southern Home waffles and a free box of Southern Home Toastee Tarts with your purchase of Eggo Waffles and PopTarts!

Now, anyone want to join us for breakfast? Guess what I'll be serving! :)

Aug 4, 2009

Disney Vacation Tips - Part 2

Today I'm finishing up my post of Disney tips! Again, feel free to jump in and leave your own tips in the comments section!

5. Bring a backpack! At first, I was a little skeptical of Jason wanting to lug around a backpack all day in the hot weather. But looking around at everyone else in the parks, we definitely would have been in the minority if we DIDN'T have a backpack! The best things we put in there were water bottles. Easy access at any time of the day to water we didn't have to pay for! We also carried around these awesome little creations which Jason found for everyone at Wal-Mart before we left:

They're little fans attached to a water bottle so you can spray yourself down and cool off at any time! He also found a fun, handheld version for Camryn which she loved having to fan herself. We also carried snacks in case anyone needed something before a meal or snack break, sunscreen, wipes, ponchos, chapstick, hand sanitizer, a travel first aid kit, and a small medicine holder with some basic meds (Advil, Immodium, and Tums). Your bag will always be opened and checked as you enter each park, so just don't bring anything questionable!

6. Bring a poncho. Just go ahead and invest in one and have it with you. You can always expect a little shower at some point in the Florida summer weather.

7. Since I covered the Disney Dining Plan in the last post, I'll throw out some money saving tips as well. There are lots of way to save on food at Disney. You can always bring a picnic lunch and snacks into the park. Just remember your bag will be checked as you enter the park, and you'll have to carry the food around all day. I've been told about a couple who buys a double cheeseburger at quick service places in the park, pays an extra 20 cents for another bun and makes another hamburger out of the extra patty. This couple also invests in the refillable mugs which you can refill throughout your stay with soft drinks, coffee, or tea at most of the resorts to your heart's content. There are only a select few places in the parks that allow free refills with your mug. We packed breakfast foods for each morning and refilled our cooler with ice each night to have breakfast in our room - breakfast bars, cereal, muffins, OJ, etc. We found this easier than trying to be ready in time to go downstairs and deal with big crowds during breakfast, plus make it to the park by the time we wanted to each morning. All of this to say - you don't have to do the dining plan. There are ways to cut corners on food; it just takes a little extra work! If you search online, there are tons of tips out there for how to save money on food.

8. Park Hoppers - I could go either way on this. Park Hoppers allow you to enter and reenter all four parks on the Disney property as often as you wish during your stay. You would buy a Park Hopper in place of individual park tickets for specific days of the week. Buying individual tickets is not so bad, though, in my opinion - even thought we had a PH, we planned to do one park each day and found more than enough to keep up busy for the entire day. Our PH did come in handy, though, on the last day, which we designated as our free day. We knew we wanted one day to go back to any park or parks we wanted to revisit, and the PH allowed us the freedom to do that. I personally would not recommend park hopping all over the place each day. You waste too much of your time waiting for buses and traveling. However, if you want to spend one full day at one park and then head over to another one for dinner or a fireworks show, it's completely worth it.

9. Get a good stroller if you're taking kids. Although you can rent one of Disney's strollers, we found it easier to have our own rather than paying a daily rental fee plus having to put up with the hassle of getting one each morning and returning it each evening. Get a good lightweight stroller with decent storage for water bottles, souvenirs, etc. However, be forewarned - you don't want to load your stroller down with tons of souvenirs for two reasons: 1) you have to leave your stroller parked outside of most rides (there is always a huge sea of strollers outside of each attraction!) Although we didn't have any problems with people messing with our stuff, you don't want to buy that big, expensive item only to have it stolen or accidentally taken by someone who mistakes your stroller for their own. 2) When you're boarding buses, trains, and monorails, you need to be able to quickly fold your stroller and hold it at your feet or in your lap. If you are bogged down with the stuff you've stored in your stroller, you are also going to have to find a place for all of those things in your lap plus your kids! Disney transportation can get crowded and your kids often end up on your lap along with everything else you own!

10. Speaking of souvenirs, take advantage of this neat Disney perk: Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests can have packages or souvenirs purchased throughout the resort and parks delivered to their hotel! No lugging around your souvenirs all day long! Simply have them sent back to your hotel for you.

11. Pick the right time of the year. I know most families have no other choice but to go in the summertime. Just be prepared that it will be HOT, it will be crowded, and you will have to wait in lines. If your schedule is flexible enough that you can go during an off season, do it! The weather will be nicer, the rates will be cheaper, and you will find the crowds are much more manageable. We have friends who went last January, and she told me they walked right on and off rides. Sounds a whole lot better than a hour and 45 minute wait for a Nemo show, huh? :)

12. If you plan to participate in the Disney Dining Plan, it is an absolute MUST that you make Advanced Dining Reservations. If you have a Dining Plan, Disney allows you to make dining reservations up to 90 days before the first day of your trip. Yes, this does mean you have to research and plan in advance, but if you don't, you simply will not get to eat at the most popular places if you are going during peak season. You just won't. Reservations for character dining experiences and special seating for fireworks shows go like greased lightening, so decide where you want to eat and make your reservations as soon as possible. Our trip began July 19, so by April 17 I had emailed our travel agent our preferred restaurants and dining times so she would be ready to make our reservations on April 20 (the 90th day out). Perfect example: Our reservations for the 50's Prime Time Cafe were around 6:05 pm. When we waiting to enter the restaurant at 5:45 pm, there were two ladies in front of us trying to get in without reservations. The hostess told them the next open time she had on the schedule was for 9:00 pm! They were shocked, because they had tried to get in the day before and were told the same thing. You MUST have dining reservations if you want to be able to eat at your first choice restaurants! Quick service places do not take/require advanced reservations.

13. Consider a travel agent. This is not a must, but it sure made our lives easier. We used Small World Vacations, and they were great. Again, I was a little skeptical when Jason wanted to go through a travel agent, because I was convinced we would end up paying more that way. So, once we got booked and had our final quote from the travel agent, because I'm hardheaded, I actually called the Disney reservation line myself and asked for a quote for the exact vacation our travel agent planned for us. Turns out, there was only about a $40 difference in what the travel agent booked for us and what Disney quoted us directly (and although I don't recall 100%, I think the travel agent's quote was actually less)! Plus, our travel agent handled all our dining reservations for us once I emailed her what we wanted without one of us having to spend long amounts of time on the phone with Disney trying to make them ourselves. Additionally, when Disney extended their stay 4 nights, get 3 nights free deal to include the dates we were going, our travel agent was right on top of it, worked the deal into our package, and sent us an email letting us know she was saving each family around $200!

14. Have a daily plan. And, if you are going during peak season, then for goodness sakes, have a daily plan! Every night, the adults (minus me sometimes, since I was often on Camryn duty!) would sit down with the park map, the show schedule, and even the Birnbaum's book and decide what the plan would be for the next day. We determined what we wanted to ride, what we wanted to see, and what order we planned to do everything in. That allowed us to do things like get Fastpasses for the more popular rides, see shows at certain times, know when/where we would break for lunch, and fit everything into our day! Don't be that family who is standing around in the middle of the park looking at the map and trying to get everyone to agree on where you should go next. You'll end up standing in longer lines, will likely end up backtracking, and will have a harder time fitting everything in that you want to accomplish.

15. GO LEFT! That was our running joke the whole week, but a tip that worked for us. When you are entering the parks, start by doing the attractions/rides on the left side of the park. Most people gravitate to the right, so you find longer lines and crowds at those rides. If there are two lines, choose the left one. When you are going through the turnstiles to enter the park, find the leftmost one that is open and head for that one. GO LEFT and you'll move faster!

Well, that's it! That's all of the Disney wisdom I have to impart! Again, anyone is welcomed to add other tips and words of wisdom you may have! Although incredibly LONG, I hope this has been helpful!

Aug 3, 2009

Disney Vacation Tips

Between our family and the Edwards family, we've gotten lots of questions from people about our Disney trip since we got back: what kind of trip we planned, cost, whether or not we think someone's kids are old enough to go, what we think someone's kids would enjoy ... So, I decided to put together a Disney tips post to help anyone thinking about or actively planning a trip to Disney World! I know there are lots of you who read this blog who are seasoned Disney go-ers and some of you who have been pretty recently, so feel free to add your words of wisdom in the comments as well!

1. My first and biggest piece of advice is to PLAN and SAVE! Our Disney vacation was July 19 - 25, 2009, but we first planned the trip in August 2008. That means we took the entire year to save for the trip, research, plan how we wanted to make it happen, and work with our travel agent. By the time we pulled out of the driveway on July 19, our entire trip was paid for, we had every penny of spending money we planned to use in our pocket, and we had money in the bank account for gas and meals while we traveled. I don't think I would have enjoyed our trip as much if I knew we had to come back with a huge credit card bill hanging over our heads from the trip. So, research how much money it will cost you to have the vacation you want (because it will vary greatly depending on where you stay, what you do, and how you eat), then be realistic about the spending money you need (because it's Disney, folks - your kids will want it all, you'll want them to have it all, and it ain't cheap!) and any other money you will need for rental cars, gas, food, etc. Then save, save, save to make it happen!

2. Know what you and your kids can handle. I don't think there's any magic age when your kids are ready to go. You just have to know what each of you can handle. I, for instance, would never take a child who wasn't potty trained. Others of you may not find that to be a big deal, but that would personally make me miserable. Are your kids go-all-day kind of kids or will they need a break? You may have to plan time in the middle of the day to take your kids back to the hotel for a nap. Again, that would have driven me crazy, because I would have felt like I was missing out on a lot of my day that way. There were a couple of times Camryn fell asleep in her stroller - once at Epcot when we were walking through the World Showcase, so we just kept barreling through while she slept and then another day that she slept while we were doing a lot of monorail and bus riding. Those were perfect times for her to sleep. There was another day, however, when she fell asleep right as we were about to get in line for a ride at Hollywood Studios. I didn't have the heart to wake her right back up, so I sent the other three adults to ride while I took a break on one of the benches, people watched, and let her sleep for a while. If you have to go during the summer, which most families do, are your kids going to melt down because of the heat, will they be impatient and whiny in long lines? You know your child, so you know whether or not they are old enough, mature enough, etc. to handle such a big trip.

3. Get some help from the experts! Each year Birnbaum's put out a new Disney World guide. We bought ours in 2008, and it was basically our Disney bible for the year! It's filled with tips, information on each park, hotel information, prices, etc. There's even a specific Birnbaum's book for planning a Disney World trip with kids. Additionally, is a great resource. It's like Birnbaum's in internet form, in that it offers tons of information on everything Disney! We used it mainly when we were planning the restaurants where we wanted to eat. It has pretty up-to-date information on menu items and pricing. Awesome way to help you make some decisions beforehand so you aren't standing around each day once you get there wasting time trying to figure out where to eat.

4. Which brings me to my next tip - the Disney Dining Plan. Here's how this works. As part of your vacation package, Disney gives you the option of paying one flat rate for a dining plan. When you check in, you are given a card that functions as your room key, park admission, and dining ticket. Depending on the number of nights you are staying, you have a certain number of meals loaded onto that card. For example, we had a 6 night stay, so based on the dining plan we chose, we had 6 quick service meals, 6 snacks, and 6 table service meals per person in our party. You can use these anyway you want to - if you want to use every single one of them in one day, feel free to. If you'd like to skip a snack one day and have two at a later date, you can. So, each day we would go to lunch at a quick service place (think hamburger, hot dogs, chicken fingers) and each get one drink, one meal combo, and one dessert. We handed the cashier our room/admission/dining card and voila - no matter what the price, as long we stayed within the confines of what Disney considers one quick service meal, our card was swiped and we paid nothing there on the spot because it was already covered in the dining plan we paid for as part of our package. Snacks include anything from a bottle of water, to a frozen lemonade, to a piece of fruit, to a Mickey ice cream. To me, dinners are the best part of the dining plan, because it allows you to experience some of the neater restaurants that you may not typically have gone to if you had to pay out of pocket. At dinner, our table service included one drink, one meal, and one dessert (same as lunch, just nicer food since it was actually a sit down restaurant). Our bill at the 50's Prime Time Cafe was close to $60 for the 3 of us. Le Cellier was $80 or more, and for 4 adults and one child to attend the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, it was close to $250. However, not a bit of that was paid out of pocket, because we handed them our card, one meal was subtracted from our total, and all was covered through our dining plan.

If you plan to go this route, you have to pay attention to the in's and out's of the dining plan ... some restaurants in the park participate, some don't (don't worry, though, most do!). Some of the bigger restaurants like the character dinners or Hoop Dee Doo Revue require you to use 2 table services for that meal instead of one. For any meal, you can switch out your dessert for an extra drink (really nice to have in the hotter seasons!) If you are interested in the dining plan, a travel agent can give you all of the specific info, or even the Birnbaum's book.

WOW! I didn't realize this post was going to be so long! I still have about 10 other tips including info on Park Hoppers, picking the time of year, strollers, having a daily plan, taking a backpack, etc., which I think I'll save for another day! Otherwise, you'll be reading forever!

Aug 1, 2009

Long Overdue Random Post

I am taking a break from all of my picture posting, vacation reminiscing, and Disney tip giving (post coming soon!) to write a random thoughts post. It's been too long and my brain needs emptying.

1. My poor daughter has some kind of killer cough that all of my Vicks rubbing, Dimetapp dispensing, pillow propping, humidifier filling efforts can't seem to touch. Misery, I tell you. I was up and down the stairs to her room 50 times last night between 12:30 and 2:15. Then we slept for 2 hours and started all over again at 4:15 ...

2. I have been bored out of my mind this past week. Let's see - one incredible week at Disney compared to one mundane week of normalcy. Which would you choose?

3. I have one week of summer vacation left. ONE WEEK! That's all I will say about that, because if I think about it too much longer I may end up weeping in a pile on the floor.

4. I have been loving me some Lysa TerKeurst blog reading lately. Oh, yes, I have. Encouragement, laughs, Godly teaching ... it doesn't get much better than that.

5. I mentioned briefly in a previous post that I had some sort of something going on with my eyes. Ended up I had a pretty bad corneal irritation on both eyes. So, I'm in glasses for 2 weeks. Doesn't sound so bad except it was causing my vision to be foggy. This is really the first day I've been able to sit at a normal distance from the computer screen and actually see what I'm typing! All of the Disney posts were done with me typing, having no idea what actually came up on the screen, and asking Jason to clean up the misspelled mess.

6. Because Camryn has been sick, we've been confined to the house for the day. No church for us tomorrow either since she had a fever today, too. I'm going a little stir crazy.

7. My 30th birthday is quickly approaching. Again, that's all I'm going to say about that or we'll end up with the same weeping in a pile on the floor scenario.

8. There is a couponing workshop in Rock Hill that the ladies in my Sunday school class are going to attend (hopefully! They're discussing it tomorrow, but I'll be home with a sick kid. I vote yes, ladies!) The Southern Savers lady is teaching it, and I am super excited.

9. Speaking of, I took a couple of weeks off of couponing, and I stink at it now! Of course, it didn't help that I couldn't check out all of the couponing sites and really get back into the swing of things due to my limited vision, but still ... the deals I've been getting lately have been pitiful! Maybe it's because I was having trouble actually seeing what I was buying.

10. I have thrown down a challenge to myself to try and save $80 of our biweekly grocery budget. That means we will be living on a grocery budget of $60 per week! Why am I doing this you may ask? Well, partly because I like a good challenge, think I can do it, and am maybe saving for another Disney trip in the future? Who knows? :) Either way, we'll see how this goes. This plan may severely crash and burn within no time. This first time around, it has been HARD, and I'm only through the first week of the biweekly budget! But, I'm giving myself a few weeks to get used to living on less, and hopefully it will become easier.

11. If you are interested in getting into couponing, tomorrow is the day to start! The Sunday paper will include 4 - 5 coupon inserts! Definitely a great time to stock up!

12. I'm about to celebrate my 300th post! Wow - that's a lot of writing!

13. Could probably dump some more randomness out of my brain, but I've got to go. There's a bottle of Dimetapp and one coughing little princess calling my name.