Tuesday, March 13, 2018

5 Tips For Saving Money On Family Vacations

We like our vacations in this house (okay, so I do and my kids are always thrilled to go along with me). Being a family of five can make traveling difficult and expensive, but I promised myself when we had kids that traveling and road trips would be a part of their lives. So, no matter how difficult it can be to go places with kids, we do it! The cost of activities, hotel stays, meals and snacks, etc. can add up REAL quick. Luckily, I'm savvy (or cheap, however you'd like to see it) with our vacations, which allow us to take some pretty amazing adventures. Here are five ways I've found to bring the cost down for family vacations no matter where you're headed:

1.) Bring your own snacks and easy meals. A small cooler filled with berries, carrots, snap peas, hummus, guacamole, pesto, yogurt, string cheese, and deli meats and bags filled with sandwich bread, crackers, applesauce, green bean cups (I find these in the canned veggie section at Walmart), granola bars, and protein bars goes a long way. We ate very little fast food on our Florida vacation because of smart food planning and prep. We ate on the go nearly every day, made use of our hotel's accommodations of refrigerators and microwaves in each room (fyi-even some Super 8's now have a mini fridge in each room) for oatmeal for breakfast each morning, and had mostly healthy snacks to keep us filled. 
After last summer's road trip adventure through South Dakota (the Badlands and Black Hills), Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and Big Sky, MT and living on a lot of fast food, we came home filling crummy and with tummy issues (big surprise there (sarcasm)). Our attempt to not do that again has worked by saving us money and gut trouble all trip long.

2.) Pre-pay for as many things as possible. By the time we leave for our vacations, we have hotels/Airbnb's paid for upfront, tickets to attractions/museums/entertainment paid for, rental car(s)/flights paid for, etc. That way the only thing we're paying for on the trip is our meals, souvenirs, and any other unforeseen purchases. This trip, I also pre-paid for gift cards to places (Starbucks, McDonald's, and Walmart/Target) so I had those ready to use. I used very little of our vacation funds on our last several vacations because I planned well in advance and pre-paid for most things months ago. By my logic, this just equates to more vacations, right???

3.) Price compare flying vs. driving. For a family of five, typically driving is cheaper, but there are times where flights are cheaper depending on your destination. We rent vehicles when we drive thanks to our awesome minivan breakdown during our Arkansas adventure (read about it here), but booking through our insurance company saves us quite a bit of money each time. Also, booking well in advance has saved us as well. If flying, price compare airlines too. I've booked a few flights through one airline carrier because I thought they were cheaper, only to be hit with quite a few fees at check out.

4.) Airbnb all the way. I'm a HUGE fan of Airbnb's after trying it out for the first time last summer in Big Sky (I know, I was late to the party). It's amazing how much money we can save by booking an entire house for just a few days. We have access to a kitchen, which can save a ton in the way food, plus we only stay at places that have a washer and dryer. I can pack lighter than I usually would because I'm able to wash all of our clothes. 
Other things I find helpful when booking: pay attention to location (is it near the activities you'd like to do? Or is it completely out of the way and secluded (and maybe that's what you want)?), free parking, free internet, cable/Netflix, etc.

5.) Find free activities, festivals, etc. to attend. Now, I'm all for museums (that are decently priced at least) and I'll be the first to admit, on our latest road trip through Florida, we didn't really set a spending limit, but I just happened to chose several free activities for us to do. Before we travel anywhere, I check that city's/state's travel site for recommendations on family friendly activities. Then I Google the local mom blogs in that area to get the real scoop. I usually compare the reviews, pictures, and any local insights I can get before going. That helps me/us to decide what we really should see to get a feel for the local way of living.
Some of our favorite things while traveling have been suggested by locals and nearly all have been something free and simple.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Our weekends have been pretty full with celebrations, family, work, and lately packing. It takes a lot of work to pack five people for a 12 day road trip in varying weather. We had to find a lot of our adventure vacation items (truth: our GoPro has been missing since we used it last summer in Badlands National Park) and make sure everyone had summer clothes that fit. Other than packing, this is what we've been up to:

Elizabeth's ear drum burst (apparently she had an ear infection, but failed to tell us her ear was hurting her) so she spent a Saturday morning at the pediatrician's office while the boys and I had a coffee date and held out the fort at the Des Moines Children's Museum. After, we met family for a late lunch (aka-margaritas for mom) and I spent the rest of the weekend

They got very creative with the forts and built a "kid only" fort that they ran around in all morning long.

And this one danced for the mall walkers.

The minis had a busy Saturday followed by a late night. I determined rest time/naps for all would be a good idea. While he was "resting" the middle one pulled a tooth out.

The main reason we wanted rest times was for good behavior for our video shoot. The minis shot their first audition tape in our living room. Things went surprisingly smooth for everyone!

Going over the script (that I wrote).

"Look mom, I made a wine glass for you. It's just your size too....or it could be a margarita glass if you wanted too." Points for creativity, but too bad I don't have a margarita glass this size!

Family Fun Night at school. The oldest mini was the big winner: he won a can of Fanta during the Pop Walk (a big deal to him because he got to drink it too!), special candies and treats for winning games, and he won a DQ treat at the silent auction. The silent auction was a favorite of the minis because we let them go around and bid on items they wanted (we oversaw the amounts they wrote in).

Family Fun Night is never complete until one of us cries over nothing.

Max started (loudly) playing with puppets at the Des Moines Children's Museum, which caught the attention of other kids. Soon he had a group of kids watching him and enjoying the show. This also caught the attention of his little sister, who walked behind him and made faces at him and gave him bunny ears. The group of gazers thought this was hilarious and Max was none the wiser.

 Play dough face.

 The middle mini was excited to spend time with dad. Mostly because he got to ride in the truck.

We got so much done on Sunday: packing (4 whole days early!!), hair cuts for the boys (finally), and an early birthday celebration for my dad (since we'll be gone for his actual birthday).

Poor kitty thinks he's going too.

And now the next weekend we have will be the weekend we've been waiting months for: our weekend at Disney World!

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Big Celebration Week

Last week was a BIG week. It was Read Across America week, so we did a lot of book related activities. On top of all of the books activities, we did a lot of celebrating. We had my 34th birthday, daycare's birthday (Daycare turned 7!!), 1st anniversary in our "new" house, and personally, my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Like I said, a big week! We celebrated with a of sugar, movie watching, a party, and a walk to explore the neighborhood. It really is the little things that make everything special!

Our reading corner turned Book Store (mid-week) for the week. The kids read the books, acted our the books with some of the stuffed animal characters, "shopped" for the books when it was a book store, and overall enjoyed lounging with the blankets and pillows.

My rule is that if they get it out, they clean it up and they do such a great job! I had to laugh when I saw the book shelf after clean up time. The before and after pictures look a tad different.

Building towers.

Hubs and I got "fancy" take out one night after the minis were in bed. Read more about what 10 years of marriage looks like here.

We had Dr. Seuss flash cards, stickers, and puzzles to do all week long.

There's a lot going on on this sheet of paper. Let me explain. Each day after school, the minis come home, eat a snack, and practice spelling words (sometimes the words are lists from school, other times it's my own list I comprise for them). Harrison finished his list and decided to do Max's list with him. Max is a perfectionist and was taking a long time with his words. Harrison got bored and drew a "vibrating butt" on his paper. Despite the vibrating butt, I love doing spelling words with the kids because each of the daycare kids spell the words along with the boys. It cracks me up every day.

We did some fun Dr. Seuss activities throughout the week. Here were our top three.

I wanted a picture of my flowers and mini cake (that Hubs surprised me with). This was the result.

Daycare has been open for 7 years now! The kids and I threw Daycare a birthday party with noise makers and cupcakes. The kids were slightly confused about WHO we were celebrating, but they went along with it because, well, cupcakes.

These boys would NOT sleep last week. It made for some very late nights and very early mornings and very entertaining. One evening I thought they had gone to sleep until I heard a foot hit the wall. I went in and saw they had made a fort on the bottom bunk, flashlights out, snuggling each other, and telling ghost stories.

The mini's school had a fun theme each day for Read Across America week. Friday was book character day. We had Sherlock Holmes/Nate The Great (because he couldn't decide), Pinkalicious, and Auggie from Wonder.

While the minis were at school for book character day, we celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday with a gorgeous mile long walk outdoors! We only meant to walk a couple of blocks, but they asked to keep going. By the time we got back I looked down at my tracker and realized we walked a mile. Their little legs did so well!

My favorite part of the walk was when we came to a side street that didn't have sidewalks, I told the kids to walk close to the curb. Two of the kids took me literally and walked on the curb. 

I'll be taking a break from daycare for the next week and a half while we're on our spring break vacation, but when we get back it'll be time for SPRING ACTIVITIES!!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Take Out To The Rescue: 10 Of Our Go-To Take Out Restaurants In Des Moines

I try to make as many healthy, homemade meals as possible. Sometimes life makes it impossible. After a 10 hour work day and busy nights, take out food is our best bet for dinner. After our 10 day road trip to Montana and Wyoming, we had our fill of fast food (I can't drive by a McDonald's without feeling nauseous). Luckily, we have plenty of local favorites that are quick, not too hard on the bank account, and can easily be paired with veggies and fruit to make dinners healthy (well, kinda) and easy for everyone. So, what are our go-to take out places in Des Moines? Take a look:

1.) Smashburger (1821 22nd St, West Des Moines, IA 50266) I'm partial to the black bean burger and Smash fries.

2.) Gateway Market (2002 Woodland Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312 ) Great options for us all (their vegan noodles are my favorite), plus whoever picks it up can get grocery shopping in too.

3.) Cool Basil (1250 86th St, Clive, IA 50325) I love the pad thai and spring rolls. They deliver to anywhere west of 56th Street (in Des Moines).

4.) Shang Yen (5717 Hickman Rd, Des Moines, IA 50310) This is my favorite Chinese food in Des Moines. I've never had anything bad here and it's quick. 

5.) Tamales Industry (Merle Hay Mall food court) If we know early in the day that we're getting take out for dinner, we'll call ahead and order a dozen (you know, for leftover purposes). Plus, they have strawberry and pineapple tamales that are ah-maz-ing.

6.) HyVee take n' bake pizzas (any HyVee grocery store) Great for an easy, quick dinner for a great price.

7.) Mi Patria (1410 22nd St, West Des Moines, IA 50266) My kids are partial to the arroz con pollo, while I can't get enough of their fried plantains and llapingachos (with the peanut sauce on the side). Their portion sizes are very generous, so plan on splitting meals or having plenty for leftovers the next day.

8.) Tasty Tacos (Locations in Urbandale, West Des Moines, Des Moines, and Ankeny) Quickly grab delicious, soft, and filling tacos. Their guacamole is the only guac my kids will eat (along with flour chips, of course).

9.) Gazali's (1205 25th St, Des Moines, IA 50311) Our favorite Greek food in Des Moines! Gyros, Greek salad, and pita bread is always in our to-go orders. We like to head to this restaurant during summer break or during breaks during the school year since it can get a tad crazy on Drake's campus and parking can be....not so fun.

10.) Ted's Coney Island (Locations on Ingersoll and in Urbandale) Speaking of Greek, I swear by their Greek salad and pita bread. I like that their kids meals come with applesauce (as well as french fries) and a decent drink choice (milk, juice, water).

Thursday, March 1, 2018

This Is What 10 Years of Marriage Is Like

We made it ten years. I have been married for ten years today...no yesterday? My wonderful husband chose February 29 to get married so we don't actually have a wedding anniversary this year. But if we did, it's TEN YEARS. We're not celebrating with a fancy meal or taking the honeymoon we have yet to take. No, instead we're going the typical Thursday night route: take out from a small local restaurant and a movie that will take us at least thirty minutes to agree on. Then I'll continue typing wildly while he pays attention to the movie and asks me every few seconds, "did you see that?" or "did you hear what he just said? That'll probably be important later on."

I've been asked numerous times in the weeks leading up to this monumental anniversary, "so, what are you guys doing for your anniversary?" When I reply with my usual, "nothing much," there's a look of let down in whomever I'm speaking to. But the truth is, I like that nothing much. I like the simplicity in our every day. I like that neither one of us are morning people, so we rarely speak more than a few words to each other each morning. I like that our night's are (usually) predictable: dinner, showers for the kids, talking with the kids about our days, bedtimes, playing rock paper scissors to see who gets to clean the floors, Netflix (or Hulu), sharing our vastly different working days, me typing on my keyboard as he turns up the volume on the TV to drown the noise out.

These are the things that make 10 years possible. These simple, little, mundane tasks and things we do. These silly things that we still enjoy together. 10 years of marriage isn't glamorous. 10 years of marriage is messy, chaotic, and for us, entertaining. It means knowing the other person and giving them what they need. Sometimes that's space (we both like our space), sometimes that's spending all of our time together, sometimes it's pushing the other, sometimes it's letting them be.

We've decided to forgo a chance at a honeymoon and are instead taking the minis on our planned trip to Florida. And after ten years, I'm more than okay with this. I can't say that I love my husband more than the day I married him because after ten years of marriage, three kids, two felines, multiple moves, a house purchase, vehicles purchased, high highs and low lows that love is different. I love him differently than I did that day. The love is deeper and more understanding that it was that beautiful February day. It's connected and grown in ways we couldn't imagine then.  It's learning how to manage growing as individuals and growing together.

Maybe when and if we get to 20 years, life will look differently. I'd honestly be surprised if it didn't. But for now, I'm good with 10 years looking like this:

We celebrated earlier in the week with "fancy" take out from Malo, while we sat in sweatshirts and drank a beer with our meal. Typical Monday night quite honestly.

 Champagne cake from my parents.

Anniversary dinner: Jimmy John's. Backstory: this was the meal we ate right before our wedding. My husband picked February 29 as our wedding date, which just happened to be a Friday. We were busy all day doing the day of stuff and failed to eat. On the way to our wedding site we stopped by JJ's for sandwiches. Every year around our anniversary we do a JJ's run.

3 Fun Things To Do For Dr. Seuss Day

We've been celebrating Read Across America week, ending tomorrow with Dr. Seuss's birthday (March 2) and celebrating with a Dr. Seuss Day. This is a fun filled week in elementary schools across the country, but sometimes it's tough to find new and fun things for those younger than school age. We, of course, read Dr. Seuss books all of the time so I was looking for something to go along with the books. We did an activity, a craft, and a fun snack.

First up is the activity inspired by Put Me In The Zoo. I don't really have a name for this game, but Throw My Spots or Color Matching Spots are the names that come to mind.

I cut out circles for the spots and taped them to the door. Then I took the Magformers and matched them to the spots. When each child came up for their turn (I took the Magformers off of the door and held them in my hand), I handed the Magformers one at a time to the child, had them say the color of the Magformer and then they tried to get the Magformer on the correct spot (the purple Magformer was thrown at the purple spot, etc.).

This was a pretty easy challenge for the preschoolers while the toddlers loved the challenge of learning their colors. Both ages LOVED this game! I may even use this game in the future for teaching colors.

Our craft was making the Cat In The Hat hat. I drew the shape (on poster board), cut them out, and cut out the strips of red paper. I showed the kids how the cat looked (although most of them knew), helped a bit with the glue, and placement of the red stripes. Once the glue was dry we did the blue footprints on the back. In between the glue drying and the messy blue paint, we read The Cat In The Hat and The Foot Book.

Despite a couple of messes with the glue and one water spill on a few of the hats, these turned out really cute!

For snack we had The Cat In The Hat Hats. These were super easy to make: 1 Oreo (halved), strawberries, and banana slices. Ta-da! "Cat Hat Hats," as the kids called them.

Read about daycare's previous Dr. Seuss Day here.