Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cheap food

I mentioned earlier about having to go to Kroger. Normally, I shop at HEB, but when Kroger runs their mega event, I sit down and stage a plan of attack. TennZen wrote out a post detailing what happens earlier this week. The short story, Kroger's mega events ($5 off when you buy 10 items) are fabulous ways to get name brand foods for cheap or free. Are they always the healthiest? Of course not, but we're a typical "gotta have convenience foods sometimes" family. So here's what you do....
  • Sit down with the sales paper and your coupon book
  • For each thing included in the mega event that your family will use, look for a coupon (even if it seems expensive)
  • Add up how much it will cost you.....usually the sales paper lists the "price if you buy 10", so you can just use the number shown. Remember that Kroger doubles and triples coupons, so those 30 and 35 cent coupons will give you steep discounts. Also remember that Kroger will let you "stack" coupons--the rules get a little tricky there, but the manufacturer coupons you get in the paper can be used along with some internet coupons.
  • Some things end up being free or 10 cents, so check prices on anything you might use
  • Remember that you can mix and match your items, you don't have to buy 10 of the same item
  • Make your list (I do this buy just putting my coupons in one spot, I don't buy anything I don't have a coupon for) and be sure it's a multiple of 10. If you have 19 items, you may be able to find something for 50 cents that's included in the sale(this week it was Quakes rice snacks, which the girls love)
  • Marvel at the shelf price versus what you paid. Kroger tends to be more expensive, but this saves me money over the usual HEB prices too.
Yesterday, I bought $60 worth of groceries (Kroger price) and paid $19. Not the best I've done, but a great way to start re-stocking after a long vacation.

We also planted our fall garden today. We are a little late on some things. Around here, tomatoes and such should be planted first of August, but technically they say you're okay through August. Lately, it has stayed warm through Christmas, with just a few light frost nights, so we decided to try anyway and I will start putting together row covers this week so we can easily cover the plants when needed. After the horrible drought we dealt with this year, we also moved toward a less self-sufficient watering method...we installed drip irrigation lines several weeks ago. So, today we planted:
36 tomato plants (roma)
24 broccoli plants
6 cabbage plants
3'x15' bed of beets
about 3'x12' bed of beans (kentucky wonder)
about 3'x12' bed of corn

The seed is all older stuff, so we sowed it densely and are hoping some of it comes up well. We've never ever done well with corn, but we had this on hand that we received as a gift, so we just sort of threw it out there. In a week or two, we will be planting carrot and onion seed.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Home again, home again...

We are back home!

22 days
3,187 miles
6 states
2 happy kiddos that did well enough to make road trips a future possibility

We dropped by grandma's house yesterday to pick up our dog and stay a night, then we headed on home this morning. Since we arrived at noon, we've eaten lunch, visited school to make sure Sierra is squared away to start Monday, gone grocery shopping (twice...had to hit the sales, more on that later), went by the library to turn in the girl's summer reading logs (again, more on that later) and eaten dinner. Hoping to get all the "return home" chores done by tomorrow so we have one day to really rest before everyone goes back to school.

A basic run down of some lessons learned on this trip:

People are more important than money. We were financially able to take this trip because I did a big training in Louisiana that completely funded our travels. We were very fortunate to have that work out. That said, I found myself thinking many many times that so many people spend the majority of their time working. But the point of working is to gather money, and what's the point of having the money if you don't have time to enjoy it?

Our country is made up of vastly different populations. This may be a heretical idea, but I really started to wonder what in the heck we're doing with all these different people under one government. I truly mean it when I say VASTLY different. Not only can you not please everyone, I'm thinking you can't please anyone. As far as regional differences go, there is just a completely different culture in different places (and we were just in the Southeast...you start moving out West or to Hawaii or Alaska and the differences are even more pronounced).

Young kids CAN roadtrip. Josh and I were geared up for every day on the road to be misery and it wasn't, at all. We respected that kids are kids and we had age appropriate expectations. That means we kept driving days short (under 6 hours except for one day), we found some activity to do in each city rather than containing them to car and hotel, we hit more McDonald's than I care to admit (good food? no. cultural lesson? no. Happy kids? yes!), we packed A LOT of movies and let them watch them for the whole drive, we packed surprises so they got new things along the way. It went well enough that I wouldn't be hesitant to do it all over again.

Life itself is a good education, just take advantage of teachable moments. Earlier in the summer, Sierra was doing a very very light homeschool schedule. For the trip, we didn't have her do anything. We did answer her questions though. I'm sure she didn't remember it all, but there was plenty of opportunity to discuss what types of animals live in what shells, why the tides are high or low, why there are waves, how to read a map, states and cities, alphabetizing (to look up maps in an atlas), writing skills (to send postcards), budgeting, different kinds of ships and boats, types of animals and what they eat and why.........and the list goes on and on. She missed out on a week and a half of school, but I have no doubt she gained at least an equivalent education through life experience.

Country Inn and Suites is a great family hotel. There were no Embassy Suites on our path, so we tried out a Country Inn and Suites and we were so impressed, we stuck with them throughout the rest of the trip. Very comfortable beds, great showers, they give you pantene shampoo and conditioner, pool, fridge and microwave in the rooms, free wi-fi, free hot breakfast, free lending library of books (that you can take with you and return to any country inn and suites). It was a great place to stay at a great price ($70-$85/night depending on where we were).

The entire central Louisiana service industry could use a little refresher course. There were PLENTY of super nice people in central Louisiana, but everywhere we went to eat and each grocery store we went to had terrible service. Just rude employees that acted like you were interrupting their day. It was very frustrating. As soon as we moved into Mississippi, everyone we ran into was exceedingly friendly and nice.

You can travel cheap. We were gone 22 days, clearly we spent quite a bit of money. Averaged out though, our per day cost wasn't that bad ($100 or so). Some ideas: We kept a "budget" where we put down how much money we were starting with and recorded everything we spent, so we didn't come home to surprise debt. If you roll into a hotel in the evening with no reservation, you can cut a deal on a room--renting a room at a reduced price is better than leaving it empty. If you try that on a busy travel day, you may find yourself driving from hotel to hotel, but if it's a less busy time (weekday during the school year!), it's no problem. Find a hotel with free hot breakfast...everyone can tank up and that's one less meal to buy. Pack a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, or some similar shelf stable item for lunches. We had also accumulated a small stash of jelly packets from eating out over the last few months. Look through pamphlets in the hotel lobby for restaurant and attraction coupons. For dinner, remember that you can't take your leftovers with you, so don't order more than you can eat. A lot of the time we ordered one kid's meal and one adult meal and everyone got full. Chili's is doing their 2 for $20 deal that gets you an appetizer, two entrees and a dessert and that fed all 4 of us and we still had leftovers. If you can find a hotel with a microwave, it's easy to pack along convenience items. Those easy mac and cheese bowls are quite expensive at $1 each, but that's still way cheaper than eating out every single meal. Some of our skimping on meals enabled us to come home with quite a few souvenirs for the girls.

Vacation should be a treat. When you DO go out to eat, order a dessert. Give the kids ice cream, even if they didn't finish dinner. Let the kids stay up late. Buy fudge, and eat it.

Never stay on the coast if you are facing a direct hit from a hurricane. 'Nuff said.

In a pinch, when you're really bored, you can pretend your foot is a telephone:


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The World War II Museum

This afternoon, we went to the National World War II Museum. Lots more stuff added since I was last there. There was definitely some stuff that we had to sort of hurry past because it was too graphic for Sierra, but overall, we had some good conversations about what World War II was and how it started and what our involvement was.

They said I could take pictures, but not use a flash, so I have a few pics of not so great quality:

A visual representation of the Japanese, American and German military forces in the late 30's. Those are little GIJoe type figures all lined up, obviously, we were starting with much smaller forces.
A replica of FDR's rough draft of his address to Congress after Pearl Harbor:


Didn't know these existed. It's a German "mobile landmine"


A "Rupert"--fake paratroopers that were dressed up and dropped at the same time as paratroopers to confuse enemy troops

a
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An Enigma machine (couldn't get a non blurry pic without the flash)

And yet more vacation...

Can you believe we aren't homesick yet?!? I usually start wishing I was home about 2 days into a trip, but that hasn't been the case at all. I guess because I'm older and have my hubby and my kiddos with me, this IS home. Doesn't really matter if we're at our house or not. Sierra hasn't said once that she wants to go home, but she has briefly mentioned that she misses the dog and Holly and Brooke (her friends).

All that driving to get to Pensacola gave us the time to play at the beach one last time. I will say it is a very very commercialized beach, but it was TOTALLY right up the girl's alley. The sand there is pure white and the water is completely clear. There are only teeny tiny waves, so they were able to actually play in the water, look down and see fish swimming by and look at hermit crabs. There's also a sandbar quite a ways out so we carried them out there and then they could be away from the shore, but standing up and "swimming" on their own. Sedona is definitely our beach bum girl. She LOVES the water and waves now and is completely fearless. She's also gotten VERY tan, much more so than the rest of us. We've slathered everyone in 50spf sunscreen everyday, but Sedona has some serious tanlines. Her already blond hair has sun bleached white streaks and looks really cute when it's all curly from the salt water. Plus, we found out yesterday that she loves shrimp. We got a plate of popcorn shrimp as an appetizer---Sierra cried (literally), Sedona ate at least half the plate. Maybe she'll teach us to surf one day ;-) Pictures from the beach:






Now we are in New Orleans. We got in last night and grabbed a bite to eat, then walked down to Cafe du Monde for some beignets to go. When we got them out for the girls, there was perfect silence while they chowed down. Sierra was not happy we didn't let them finish off all the extra powdered sugar. On our walk, we passed this Holocaust memorial. It was really neat, just a set of panels set up like big dominoes, but as you walked around, they lined up to give you different images:







This morning we went to the aquarium. Sedona loved it. Sierra mostly moped and complained. ah well! This is the dinosaur robot outside. It was really neat, the eyes moved and the head and jaws moved as it roared at you. The girls were terrified of it though. Josh zoomed in all the way on the picture of me with it---that's as close as the girls would get.


Inside the aquarium:


That very large snake body is an anaconda:
Sierra was scared:

Feeding time for the penguins:

Daddy petting the stingrays (Sierra wouldn't even walk upto the tank):

The tank you can stick your head up in:



Another alligator to boo:

We picked up lunch and then on the way back to hotel, I sent Josh into the casino for a little black jack (he was nervous, but he's good). The girls and I came back to nap, and he showed up about 30 minutes later $40 richer. Aside from knowing the basic tricks to blackjack, his biggest skill lies in his completely not addiction prone personality---he knows when to walk away and has no problem doing it!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Road Goes on Forever...

We spent 12 hours on the road today! When we finally made it to our exit, I was so excited, I took a picture:

We're now in Pensacola, Florida. We only stopped for lunch, dinner and gas, and I gotta say the girls did wonderfully. Sedona took a long nap and played with her baby doll, but I think I'm most impressed with Sierra. At Tallahassee, she asked if we could just stop and we explained that we could stop and have another long day of driving tomorrow or we could drive another 3 hours and have time to hit the beach in the morning. She thought about it and made the informed decision that she'd rather get the driving out of the way today. She stuck with it too, the last 20 minutes she asked how much further, but she didn't whine or complain at all.

But to back up a bit, I have more pictures from Edisto to share:

Sedona snuggling with Aunt Jen Jen:



And with our niece:
Learning to blow bubbles with Uncle Coo:

Grammy came to visit for a couple of nights, this is a pic of her and the girls the morning she left:

The same day we went to the serpentarium, we headed out to the state park beach. The highlight of that trip was the sand dollars. I had never seen a live sand dollar before, we came across (and watched) several:

We also learned first hand why you should never ever stay put if you are on the coast and a major hurricane looks like it may come to your area. Hurricane Bill was simply out in the Atlantic, no where near us and South Carolina didn't get the biggest waves. The waves did happen to correspond with the highest tides of the month and we found the waves washed over the beach and onto the first street nearest the beach. It wasn't a major thing and we were able to play on the beach at low tide (just the beach.......no way was I getting out in the water with those big waves), but the show of power was amazing and I surely won't be anywhere near a coast anytime a hurricane's around.

The street leading down to the beach:
Surf washing up over the beach:



After watching the waves crash in, we had lunch, took naps, and spent the afternoon at Botany Bay Plantation....an old plantation that you can drive around and see what's left of the buildings, plus visit a more secluded beach. The coolest thing there was the conch shells---lots of them, whole, just washing up on the shore. Adults were not allowed to take shells, but kids could take one quart of shells, so they each got a small conch (and I left the camera in the car...)

While we were driving the loop around the plantation (all dirt, one way road), we let the girls out of their seats and Josh took the opportunity to give Sierra her first driving lesson. She was absolutely THRILLED with herself and has decided she needs to practice driving "on the big road" (umm, no. I think not.):

Sedona and I (and her babydoll):

Packing up to leave this morning, Sedona got kicked out of the suitcase again, but apparently did not read the warning about not putting babies in the bottom of the stroller:


On the road, we passed into Georgia again:
And crossed into Florida, which brings our total to 6 states visited on this trip:

Though, to be honest, after 370 miles, I'm kinda sick of Florida already (and yes, I feel EXACTLY the same driving I-10 across Texas).

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