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Archive for May, 2009

For the past year or so, we’ve had cable television. It came as part of an insanely cheap package deal which included phone and internet. But the good deal is coming to an end and our bill will increase by at least $70 a month. So we’ve decided to cancel the television and phone. I’m fine with that, unless I think about summer.

I freely admit that I was intending to use the television as a babysitter this summer, having the kids watch t.v. for an hour each day while I napped. I can be a real bear without good rest (as college roommates have good reason to remember) and it only worsens when I am pregnant and am suffering through the stifling summer heat.

So now I’m not sure what to do. We don’t have a DVD player. Our television is an old analog model and DVD players aren’t even compatible. Do you have any ideas of how to keep four kids under the age of 9 quiet, happy and out of trouble while I nap? The boys don’t like to color. I don’t want them playing computer games because they fight. Trent is still a fledgling reader and needs my help with many words. Josef is just on the cusp of reading. So reading kind of seems out of the picture.

If you have an suggestions or ideas, they would be greatly appreciated.

(And for the record, the kids watch t.v. for 30 minutes a day, play computer for 20 minutes and play wii for 20 minutes a day. I don’t want you to think they are always dependent on electronic devices for their entertainment. They can’t play or watch until all homework is completed and have played outside for at least 45 minutes. Just so you don’t think I’m a REALLY bad mom. )

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I’ve mentioned that our budget is pretty tight, but we are still planning this fun trip this summer. How are we doing it? You are so lucky I’m willing to divulge my secrets.

How to travel frugally

1. Plan–the key to traveling frugally is to plan. Prioritize the most important attractions you want to see or experience.

2. Take advantage of free attractions. When we visit Philadelphia, our only expenses will be parking and meals. That’s it. We are visiting some great historical sites that are all free. Everything is within walking distance of one another. Likewise, Washington D.C. offers a plethora of free museums, historical sites, and activities. When we save so much money on attractions, then we typically choose one or two things to do that cost money.

3. Food–Stay in hotels that have a continental breakfast. Free, unlimited breakfast, enough said. We fill their bellies full–saves us money! Eat out at restaurants for lunch. Prices are typically lower and you can fill up. We plan to eat sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, etc. for dinners at the hotel.

4. Use the internet to book hotels and tickets. Travelzoo.com is a great site that searches ten other top travel sites, searching for the best bargains on hotels. I booked our hotel online by using this site. Using the search, I really was able to find the best deal for our needs.

5. Parking in big cities. When traveling to a big city, one has to consider the cost of parking. After doing some research, I realized that parking in Washington D.C. would be expensive and difficult. We found a hotel close to a metro station. So we’ll take the metro into the city and then walk or use public transportation. This is where good planning comes into play. I’ll plan activities that are close to one another.

6. Look for specials and deals online. Many cities in Europe (and possibly the U.S.) offer special weekend or day passes that allow you free entry to most museums and attractions in the city. If you take full advantage of the passes, you can really see a lot for very little money. For example, while in Paris, we bought passes and were able to: tour a perfume factory and receive samples, ride a double decker tour bus with an audio tour, visit the Louvre, walk up to the top of Notre Dame, ride the subway, tour Versailles, and take a river cruise down the Seine. We could have done even more if we had more time. We saved quite a bit of money and time purchasing the pass online and were able to tour many sites.

7. Don’t be afraid to take walking tours. My friend,Laurel, found detailed walking tours of Amsterdam on the internet. We learned so much about the city following the guide she printed up. I really got a feel for the culture and flavor of the city by walking around it. Each time we’ve explored various cities or sites by walking, we’ve come away with a richer appreciation for the place. One of my best memories of Copenhagen is the day that we took a spontaneous walking tour of the city. We found some wonderful gems.

8. Take advantage of recriprocal memberships at zoos and museums. Last year, we had an inexpensive membership to a local children’s museum. It came with a reciprocal pass to hundreds of museums throughout the country. When we visited Boston, our pass got us into the Science museum for free. Just that alone, was worth the cost of the membership.

9. Look for interesting attractions close to home. Philadelphia and Washington D.C. aren’t that far from us, so the trip won’t cost much money. Take advantage of attractions in your area. If you are stumped for ideas, check out guidebooks about your area. You may be surprised what is available for very little money. Traveling locally saves gas, money on food, and lodging. And you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for your own hometown.

I am going to link you to my friend, Christina’s blog. She has 7 children and has taken some really great adventures with her family. She wrote a great piece about traveling with kids which is well-worth the read.

http://handsfullmom.blogspot.com/2008/02/successful-traveling-with-kids-because.html

I would love to hear your best tips about traveling on a budget. I’m sure I missed things that do make a difference.

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Trip Planning

My amazing mother-in-law is coming for a visit in July in conjunction with Trent’s 8th birthday and baptism. In honor of her visit, we are taking a trip to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and then later, to upstate New York. I’ve started planning our itinerary. This time I will be much smarter about planning restaurants to visit.

All the inspiration for planning the trip this way comes from Laurel. Two years ago, Laurel planned a trip for the two of us to Amsterdam. We spent 3 days in Amsterdam and our days and nights were completely packed with sightseeing. It was such fun. She is an amazing planner. In our previous trips, we’ve been more spontaneous, which is always fun. But I want to try this way. Also, I want to prepare my kids for the things they’ll see by doing some research.

So I planned the first day of the trip to Philadelphia. The guidebooks I checked out at the library were invaluable. I even found a restaurant complete with the menu. I plan on reserving a table and ordering ahead so we have the optimal eating experience without wasting our precious minutes in Philly.

In preparation for the trip, I’ve decided to start walking on a daily basis. I’ve become so sedentary in New York, its ridiculous. I will need all my stamina to enjoy the trip. Plus, the exercise only benefits me.

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I hate shopping. I hate grocery shopping. I avoid it with great skill. I hate it so much that I have gone weeks without stepping foot in a grocery store. My husband, dear soul that he is, willingly suffers me by shopping at the local BJ’s-the equivalent of Costco on his way home from work. (Yet another reason the man qualifies for sainthood.) And its pathetic that not even hunger really pushes me to grocery shop.  But I avoid mall and clothes shopping with even more skill than I do grocery shopping.

My mom recently sent me some money for maternity clothes. It was a very nice, unexpected gift. I have been needing some good summer shoes that will support my increasing girth and not hurt my little feet. I also needed one pair of pants that will not fall down. I realize that you may all shoot me for this, but its not my fault, really. (Blame it on my mom and her good genes which have kept me skinny). It’s just that even the smallest size of maternity jeans are too big on me and keep falling down or are too long. I’m tired of hiking up pants. I know the bump will get bigger, but I can’t wear my regular jeans and I needed something to get me by.

So after six months of avoiding the place, I stepped foot in the mall. I was hoping to find a maternity store and maybe pick up some shoes. My first mistake was forgetting Brooke’s stroller. She was happy to walk, but going to the mall with a toddler means that one doesn’t make a quick, business-like trip. You have to meander through the mall. Brooke is like a puppy in that aspect, things catch her eye and she runs joyfully toward the alluring object. Never mind the mother plodding behind her, cursing the cute boots she is wearing–cute but not good for serious mall walking.  What was I thinking? Ah yes, since I rarely go to the mall, I tried to look nice, which included wearing my cute boots. And today was not a good foot day. Stupid me.

Anyhow, back to the mall. So we are walking, or rather, Brooke is scampering and I’m following, trying to keep her on track. She runs to the coin-operated kid rides. I hate those darn rides. I never have cash on hand. I just make fun sounds while my kids pretend to ride the ride. This works well, until some mother (betrayer to all mothers) pops change in one of the rides and lets her child ride. And all of sudden, my pretend noises aren’t that appealing. And my girl starts yelling. I pull her off the ride and we proceed through the mall.

Turns out the mall does NOT have a maternity store. I try Sears, hoping for a little luck. The selection is miniscule and they only carry crop pants. I find a pair of yoga crop pants that look like they might work. I can’t find a fitting room and I don’t really relish the thought of trying to keep Brooke in place while I change.

Since I’m already there, I check out the shoe selection. I do score a pair of good sandals for Walter. But the shoe selection for me is not that great. In desperation I try on a  pair of Dr. Scholl’s shoes. They are a little too big for me. I contemplate the shoes, unwilling to admit that I am getting older and do suffer from inflammatory arthritis, so Dr. Scholl’s might just be a good idea. I put the shoes back, still toying with the fantasy that I still can buy cute, cheap shoes.

In the meantime, Brooke has appropriated a pair of princess sandals which she adores. She chatters about the shoes, telling me how much she likes them. I know she expects that I will buy them, but the girl has over 20 pairs of shoes, which seems excessive for a 2-year old. I put them back, she doesn’t throw a fit.

After paying for my purchases, we pop over to the toy store. Dangerous territory, I know, but Josef has a birthday party to go to on Saturday. When I asked Josef what his friend liked, he told me Bakugan and post-it notes. So I bought a Bakugan and post-it notes. In retrospect, I wonder if the boy really likes post-it notes, or if Josef was trying to tell me that He like post-it notes. Either way, I’ve done my parental duty. The gift is bought.

Feeling drained but with a tiny sense of accomplishment, I push Brooke through the mall, aiming to exit the building as quickly as possible, until I get sucked in by the Dead Sea minerals kiosk. What a sucker I am. But the kids running the booth were from Israel and we had a lovely chat about the place. And the products they highlighted are amazing. I’m a huge fan of Ahava. I have never tried the “Obey Your Body” brand. Great stuff. And she did give me a good deal–confirmed from several internet searches. And now I’m set for a year and it didn’t cost me a fortune. The exchange of the pampering salts and chat with two strangers about beautiful Israel really was fun.

So I guess retail therapy was good? Not really. I don’t enjoy the work of shopping. It wasn’t exhilerating, just a necessary chore to be done.

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Guilt

I’ve been wrapped in my own little cares lately. The owner of the home we rent is selling the house. It makes everyday feel uncertain. Brent’s job contract ends in February–looming in my mind as the days race toward it. He’s job searching–like many Americans. I lived with this kind of uncertainty our last year in Sweden. It’s hard way to live. I think I stressed too much about it–which was neither productive nor healthy.

I’ve been so engrossed in my own little troubles that I’ve missed what’s happening with others around me. Today while eating lunch with friends, I overheard a little snippet about somebody being out of work. When I asked my friend about it, she told me that her husband was being let go next week. She was brave and upbeat–something I need to learn from.

I felt really ashamed about my attitude. Here I am in, living in a nice home, with a husband with a secure job till February. There are lots of people who don’t even have that security. I have a good part-time job that I could increase the hours if I wanted. We aren’t settled here and have the ability to pick up and move anywhere that was needed.

I need to stop worrying about the future and concentrate on enjoying today. And I need to more sympathetic of others who are struggling.

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Love Offerings

Happy Mothers Day!

It was a blissful day at my house today.  My children tromped into my room, hands full of love offerings from their hearts. Walter presented me with a painted flower pot and a card with four original poems. Each poem made me cry. It gave me a glimpse into what I mean to him. Trent’s offering was a darling keychain, complete with a tiny cutout figure of him and one of me,  with a little circle around my stomach, symbolizing our coming baby. Josef’s gift included a coconut Dum-Dum lollipop and a carefully made bracelet. Brooke has been showering me with gifts all weeks, tender kisses, sweet “I love yous” and plenty of hugs. Brent spent a good part of his evening last night making my favorite homemade ravioli. The results were delicious. I feel wrapped in love and appreciation.

But really, all of this, wouldn’t have happened without all of them. When Brent and I started dating, I had no intention of having children. I knew how hard it was to be a mother from seeing the work my own mother did. I didn’t want the burden of children–the sorrow I knew would come. But our love filled me with more love and nearly a year after we married, I knew that I was ready to become a mother. I don’t know how or why my heart changed, but it did.

When Walter came to my life, it was amazing. I really had a delightful time being his mother. As he has gotten older, we’ve faced hard challenges together. I love Walter because he is breaking me into be a better mother. I’m sorry he has deal with all my mistakes, but he keeps forgiving me and I keep trying.

Trent is such a paradox to me. He can be so charming and lively but so infuriating as well. He pushes me to be more patient and control my flaming temper. He’s taught me that formulas don’t always work. And he constantly reminds me that he is an individual. I can’t parent my children as if they were a collective group. Each one has different needs.

Josef is my calming refuge. From the time he was born, his calm, sweet loving personality have helped me in stormy times. He has taught me how to calm myself. And for a person with a nervous personality, learning that technique is a life-saver.

Brooke is my miracle baby. In some ways, I tremble to be her mother, because I am modeling motherhood for her. I hope that she will see motherhood as worthy of striving to achieve. She is tremendously strong. I am so grateful to see that strength in her, for I know she will need it. When I see Brooke, I am reminded to try harder to be the woman I want to be.

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My opinion

So I’ve noticed quite a few people have read my post about the birds and bees, but only two have commented so far.  I’m hoping you haven’t commented yet because you didn’t have time to fully respond and you’ll come back to it, right?

So here is where I am coming from. My sex education consisted of hearing and telling dirty jokes on the playground. I retold the jokes because I didn’t know what they meant or how bad they were.  As I grew older, my mom gave me a book about puberty. The book mainly discussed the menstrual cycle and not much else. My religious perspective came from poorly taught chastity lessons in church, where we were basically told not to have sex or it would ruin us forever. (Check out this link for some spectactularly bad object lessons about chastity: http://segullah.org/small-epiphanies/hot-cinnamon-lips/hen ) When I was a senior in high school, I had a very good sex education course. It was done very well, discussed the body functions, mechanics of sex, plus the consequences of sex. I respected the teacher and she really handled the topics well, with dignity and honesty. I made a decision that I was going to wait to have sex until after I was married. It was a very conscious decision and one that was very important to me. It wasn’t until I was older, and did a lot of  studying in the scriptures and in the current teachings of our church leaders, that I gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of the law of chastity and what it really was all about.

I don’t think the education I received, with the exception of the school course, was adequate to prepare me for the challenges I faced. If I hadn’t decided so clearly not to have sex, it would have been very easy to slip into a sexual relationship.

I’ve been determined to not repeat this pattern with my children. I believe that children need to understand their bodies and to have good knowledge to counteract the jokes, sly comments, and insinuations about sex. Aso, if I don’t teach my children about sex, someone else will–whether it be a kid at school, movies, books, etc.

Yes, I’ve taught my kids step by step about sex. At this point, we’ve talked about not making jokes or listening to jokes about sex. We’ve talked about private parts. I’ve also worked hard to help my children understand this plan of Happiness that we talk so much about at church. We’ve talked about respecting others’ bodies and our own bodies.As my pregnancy progresses,

The other day, Walter and I were watching an episode of 7th Heaven that dealt with teen pregnancy. I asked him if he understood what was happening.  He said “they had sex when they were too young and before they were married.” When I asked him if he understood what sex is, he responded “it’s how two people make a baby, but I don’t want to know how they do it, because I’m only 9.” Clear enough. I respected his wish not to have that knowledge, but it is clear that kids are talking about sex at his school and on the bus.

I always thought I would just wait until my kids asked questions, but they haven’t asked me so far. I never asked my parents. So I’ve broached the topic with my kids. I’ve also made it clear that can ask me anything about it and I will answer honestly.

We’ll continue this pattern at home. Above all, I want to teach my children that sex is an important part of marriage that is worth waiting for. I want to teach them to control their passions and appetites and be in control of themselves.

I suppose, if you couldn’t tell already, that I do support sex education in schools. I agree that it is a sacred topic, but I really don’t think that most families are talking with their kids about sex. They have a conversation here or there, but it isn’t a consistent teaching. I think teenagers need good, accurate information. I do however, wish that some additions or changes would be made to the standard sex ed curriculum. I agree with all of you that it is the job of the parents to teach about the ethics and morality of sex. But a lot of times, this doesn’t happen at home. So I would recommend that a key part of any sex-ed curriculum should include a joint parent-student project where kids and parents discuss the morality and ethics of sex. This would give teenagers a chance to see where the parents stand. I would also like a sex ed curriculum to discuss not only the physical consequences of sex, but also the emotional consequences of sex.

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