summer

How to Make the Most of Your Summer Without Breaking the Bank

Every time I think of summer, I think of the summer of 2013. For me, it was the best summer ever!

It truly was.

I felt as though we took each and every day of our summer and squeezed as much fun and adventure out of it as we possibly could.

But, I could not have pulled it off alone.

As someone who loves being (and staying) at home, I needed help finding ways to get out with the kids to enjoy this season of lazy days, rainy afternoons, and looser schedules.

I discovered that our community was filled with opportunities for us to make memories together and individually by keeping my ears (and eyes thru Facebook) open for announcements. Here are some of the things we found here in our county that have worked really well for us over the last few summers.

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Library classes- Our library system does a series of classes throughout the entire summer. They are educational, entertaining, and the kids really had fun. We have brought home meal worms, planted seeds, learned about our local wildlife and participated in fun science experiments through some of the activities the library provided.

Our library also has a Summer Reading Program that encourages children to spend at least 24 hours worth of time throughout the entire summer reading. At the end, our children can earn a ticket to see the Tampa Bay Rays play. Our sports loving family really enjoyed this in years past and will continue to participate for years to come.

Check your local library system’s event calendar to find out the activities they have lined up for the summer.

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Arts and Crafts- We discovered that Michael’s Crafts Store has a program called Passport to Imagination which runs all summer long, three days a week. The cost of the 2 hour class is $4 per  child per day. It’s a great way for kids to explore their artistic side… without giving Mom a mess to clean up. That’s a win/win in my book!

Movies- Check into your local movie theater’s schedule to see what they are offering for children during the summer. We have a couple of theaters in our area that offer $1-$1.50 movies once or twice a week. We have taken advantage of these. It is a great way to get out of the house but still be in the air conditioning.

Season Passes- Do you have season passes to a local theme park? Summer is a great time to use them and get the most out of that pass. On evenings when you find yourself wondering what you could do, pull out that pass and enjoy your theme park for a couple of hours.

July 11th- Don’t forget that on 7/11 each year, 7 Eleven offers free Slurpees!

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Fruit Picking- Here in Florida we kick off our summer break with blueberry picking. It is always a great way to get us outside, and we bring home pounds of blueberries for a fraction of the cost of buying them in the stores. What fruit comes into season in the summer in your area? Look into where there may be a U-pick farm near you and have some fun!

VBS- Vacation Bible School is a free week long program that churches offer to their communities. Many times, the churches in an area or community stagger their VBS weeks so parents can utilize as many of these programs as possible.

Beaches and/or pools- Are you located near a beach? Are you a part of a community that gives you access to a pool? Do you have friends who invite you over to use their pool? Does your area have a sprayground? These are all great ways to get out into the summer sunshine, keep cool, and get that summer glow. Just be sure to keep the sunblock generously applied, hats on small heads, and lots of liquids on hand.

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Sporting Events- Baseball season is under way and football season is gearing up. Summer ballgames are almost an all-American must! Some ball fields will allow you to bring in your own food which helps to keep costs down to a minimum.

Football season is also gearing up. Our local team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) has a Fan Appreciation Day and open the gates (free of charge) for the fans to watch a practice. Check your local team to see if there are any free fan events happening in the summer.

Cow Appreciation Day- One day our children look forward to each summer is Chick-Fil-A’s Cow Appreciation Day. The idea is to dress like a cow (as much or as little as you want). For minimal participation you get a free chicken sandwich. For maximum participation you get a free meal! Each year, we haven’t paid a dime for our dinner.

American Girl Movie Premier- I don’t know how it is in your house, but in our house the summer television premiere of the American Girl Doll of the Year movie is a big event. It is a free night, we don’t have to leave the house, Addie gets to pick out her own fashionable outfit, and I give her a special hair style using my hair supplies. It’s a tradition.

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Make the Most of the Holidays- Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Labor Day are all considered summer holidays. Why not make the most of these with crafts, special snacks, and activities? My 4th of July Pinterest board was a huge help to me last year in coming up with a week’s worth of stay-at-home activities and fun.

Kids Bowl Free- Although the Kids Bowl Free program has been around for a while, we plan on taking advantage of it for the first time this year. Through this program, children receive two free games per day throughout the summer (cost of shoes is not included). There are also discounted rates for parents to play throughout the summer, too. It’s a great way to get out as a family for some fun. (Check your local bowling alley for restrictions)

I hope I have given you some ideas on how to make this summer your best one yet. I think the most important lesson I learned during the summer of 2013 was to make a big deal of the little moments.

Those are the moments that our children will always remember.

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How to Host the Party that Works for You

1 Peter 4:9 says, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.”

I love watching HGTV- the searching for the perfect home, the best location, and the creating of a place to grow your family. Two of the most common phrases that I hear regardless of the show I’m watching is, “This would be great for entertaining,” or “I can picture us entertaining our friends and family here.”

I think we have a deep desire to have others come to our home, host a dinner or party, and just be hospitable towards them. But how many times do we get frustrated just before our guests arrive? How many times have we thrown our hands in the air, along with our party decorations, and asked why we’re even hosting a gathering?

Party hosting is something that has been front and center for my sister and I in the last couple of weeks. As the holiday season approaches, hosting, with all of its joys and pressures, makes its way to the forefront of our minds.

Before the stress kicks in, here are some tips that can help you streamline your party plans. Not only do you want to host a party that your guests will love, but you want it to be one that you can enjoy as well.

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What is your party personality?

Are you an easy-going, laid back person, or do you enjoy going all out with decor and themes? Do you want your guests to feel at home and free to sit where they want to? Do you want a more formal feel with assigned seating and place cards?

Knowing your personality will keep you from planning a gathering that is out of your comfort zone and will leave you overwhelmed. It will keep you in the realm of realistic, no matter how strong the pull is to let Pinterest be your guide.

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Have your “person” there

We all have that close one or two people who will have our backs, do what needs to be done, handle what you can’t or may not know about, and in some ways just be an extension of you during the party. Make sure that person is there. Give them the green light ahead of time  to handle whatever needs to be handled if you are unable to during your event.

I grew up in a large extended family. At gatherings, everyone pitched in and just did what needed to be done to relieve stress from the hostess. I learned at an early age that having someone there for you, the hostess, during the party is so important.

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What’s your budget?

Although we all want to host a party that puts our best foot forward, being conscientious of our budget is important. The budget will decide how big your party can be, how elaborate the settings, or how much entertainment you can comfortably provide.

In your budget, be sure to include, food and beverages, any place settings, party favors, entertainment, and any clothing items that may be needed. All of these items can add up without notice. Setting a budget at the beginning helps in keeping costs in check.

How big/small do you want to make it?

Do you want a large gathering of family and friends? Or do you want your gathering to be more intimate with those you are closest to? How many people do you actually have room for? Are you willing to rent an off site venue for your party? Deciding this will help you determine the direction of your party. Set your guest list if you want a small gathering and don’t budge.

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To cook or not to cook…

Be realistic. Will you have enough time to cook and prepare the meal the week of your party? Or will ordering several pizza pies be enough for your guests? Are you comfortable enough with your guests to ask each person to bring a side dish? This would alleviate extra tasks off of your plate so you are free to handle other planning items.

These are all great options. Each one will will give you an edge to hosting a great party. At my sister’s party, she set a theme (peanut butter) and had each guest bring a dish that used peanut butter in some way. The excitement of discovering new peanut butter based dishes fit her party perfectly.

For my son’s recent birthday, I knew I would have no time to actually prepare a meal to serve. And when kids are your main guests, finding something everyone will like can be a challenge. Picking up several pizza pies was the perfect solution for our party.

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Entertainment

Depending on your gathering, you will need to decide what type of entertainment will be needed.

At my baby shower, the women were entertained with games and the opening of gifts. Meanwhile, the men were in a theater room with a college football game.

For Ian’s birthday party, we rented a bounce house to keep the kids entertained. Once the gifts had been opened, the children went into his room to play with the new toys.

For my sister’s peanut butter party, a gathering of women at lunch time makes for its own entertainment. She provided a comfortable area for women to congregate and we entertained each other with conversation.

As we head into the holiday season, remember:

Do what you can. 

Don’t overwhelm yourself.

If you’re new to entertaining, start small.

Find your groove.

But more importantly, enjoy yourself and your guests and host a part that works for you.

celebrate-the-ordinary-days-fall

Celebrate the Ordinary Days- Fall Edition

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September is here and with it comes the anticipation of all things fall. Sweaters, boots, leaves changing colors, and pumpkin flavored everything…. yes, fall is coming.

Here in Florida, we can only imagine what the rest of the world experiences for fall. We live vicariously through Pinterest photos and Hallmark movies and imagine the crisp feel of the air on Thanksgiving.

However, there are so many delightful, ordinary days sprinkled into the months of September through December that it doesn’t matter if our leaves actually turn color and fall in January. We can still enjoy these days along with everyone else who live in the perfect fall climates further north.

Here are some of my upcoming favorite ordinary days (this list is by no means extensive) and how I plan to recognize them in splendid ways or just acknowledge them in passing. After all, that is the beauty of ordinary days.

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September 22- First Day of Fall (We celebrate this day by decorating for the season of fall, not a particular holiday.)

September 23- Native American Day (I have several books about Squanto and Sacajawea that we read at this time)

September 29- Coffee Day (no explanation needed…)

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October 4- Taco Day (Tacos for dinner!)

October 10- Columbus Day (This year we are going to make this Christopher Columbus themed craft.)

October 15- Sweetest Day (Enjoy a sweet treat.)

October 17- Boss’s Day (A good day to show our children how to respect the ones who sign our paychecks.)

October 24- United Nations Day (We will take some time to learn about this organization.)

October 28- National Chocolate Day (Watch the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)

October 31- Reformation Day (We will be “nailing” the 95 Thesis to our door using tape on the back of the papers and my son’s plastic hammer and learning the Five Solas.)

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November 3- Sandwich Day (This will be easy to celebrate…)

November 8- Election Day (Take your kids with you as you place your vote… and explain to your children that a secret ballot means they are not to announce your choice of candidate to everyone in your voting precinct.)

November 11- Veteran’s Day (Several state parks in our area offer free entrance on this day in exchange for supplies to be made care packages to be sent to our troops- a more than reasonable trade. Find out if any state parks in your area offer this service to you.)

November 15- America Recycles Day (Take note of what you and your children are currently doing to help preserve our environment, and decide what changes could be made to help even further.)

November 24- Thanksgiving

November 26- Small Business Saturday (Look into small businesses in your area that could use a boost during the holiday season.)

November 27- First Day of Advent (Begin celebrating the advent of Jesus and the Christmas season.)

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December 4- Cookie Day (Bake a batch or more of cookies. Package them to be given as gifts for your neighbors, friends, and teachers.

December 7- Pearl Harbor Day (Take some time to reflect on the impact this event had on our country 75 years ago.)

December 15- Bill of Rights Day (Review what the Bill of Rights are and show them Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the Four Freedoms.)

December 20- Last Day of Fall (Get ready! Christmas is around the corner!)

Let’s make fall’s ordinary days a memorable time for our families. 

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