Thursday, June 30, 2011

How To Count to Eleven

Leonardo is now eleven. I'm a bit late in commemorating his birthday here, but late or not, it must be done. For his birthday party, he requested to take friends to a movie and then back to our house for dinner, cake and a sleepover. We've done it before, so why not again? He celebrated his birthday with five of his closest friends. Counting his brother and him, that makes seven. Here's how the party tallied up.

Seven boys.
Two vehicles for chauffeuring.
Nine movie tickets (did you think hubby and I would send them alone?)
Seven different movie snacks.
Ninety minutes with Jack Black and Kung Fu Panda 2.
Two trips to the ATM.
Seven pairs of shoes by the front door.
Three large pizzas.
One gallon of Tang. (yes, you can still buy it and we do.)
One chocolate-on-chocolate frozen custard cake.
Two "1" candles.
Three hours of Wii and various handheld video gaming.
Seven assorted Nerf guns and requisite ammo.
Seven shrieking boys.
One hundred and ten decibels. (enough for hearing damage)
Seven sleeping bags.
One basement.
Two warnings for all-quiet.
Two post-warning trips down basement stairs
One snare drum roll after second all-quiet warning.
One more trip down basement stairs.
No more Mrs. Nice Guy.
One final trip up basement stairs.
Five hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Two boxes of donuts.
Four cups of coffee (per adult)
Five goodie bags to include Twizzlers, two-foot long Slim Jim, and super squirt water blaster.
Five Thank Yous and Good-byes.
One quiet Sunday.

Happy 11th, Big Man!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sharks and Crafts

Remember our recent excursion to Purse State Park in Southern Maryland? I told you all about it. This was the trip when we found all these prehistoric shark teeth in the shallows of the Potomac River.

We also found all these prehistoric stingray teeth. 

I didn't know rays had teeth until that day on the banks of the Potomac. I didn't believe the boys when they claimed to have found ray teeth. So I Googled it right there and found out they were right. If you still don't believe that rays have teeth, I know an eleven- and eight-year old who would be willing to convince you.

Anyway, I got crafty with the teeth and made two shadowbox displays for them.

I used 60-weight sandpaper as a background and, with much finger-cramping and eye-squinting, glued the individual teeth to the background.

There is one display for each boy but of course the ongoing argument has started about who gets which display, "cuz this one has the biggest shark tooth...." Maybe by the time they have walls of their own to hang them on, they will not care about the size of the teeth. I can hope.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What color is your tube?

I talk a lot about Tennessee. While I don't live in Tennessee and haven't for decades (!), we visit frequently. In fact, we were just there visiting this past weekend and I have a new story to tell.

This story takes place on the Peaceful Side of the Smokies. The little town of Townsend, Tennessee is where many of our Tennessee stories take place these days. Townsend is just a short drive from where I grew up. I have countless memories of driving the winding road to and from Townsend. Many of my teenage formative days were spent in the mountains and on the river in Townsend. Not much has changed in Townsend since my teenage years. There may be a few more tourists and a better grocery store, but much of it feels just the same.

There is one thing that has changed quite a bit though and that is tubin'. Back in the day, if you tubed on the Little River, you tubed on a black inner tube. You know the type from a big truck tire. The tubes had a big metal air-intake valve that would stab you frequently if you weren't situated just so on your tube. And as I said, the tube was black so the top side of the tube (the part not in the water) would absorb the hot summer East Tennessee sun rays making it prime for burning your armpits and tender underbellies as you repositioned yourself to avoid the air valve.

Where would a tuber get such a tube? From a guy in a van parked along Highway 321. For maybe $3. For all day. You just had to figure out how to get you and your tube from his van up the river to start. And then you had to figure how to get you and your tube back up the river to his van when you were done. That alone could take all day. And we thought it was such fun.

Tubin' now is very different. Tubin' is an industry. There are no fewer than three legitimate tubin' businesses in Townsend. Not that the guy in the van wasn't legitimate, he just didn't have a building on which to hang his shingle. I'm sure everything else he did was legit.

Each of today's tubin' companies have there own trademark item that sets them apart from the others. Usually this trademark comes in the form of the color of the tube. On any given sunny day, the river will be peppered with yellow, neon green and orange tubes. And instead of sharp pointy metal intake valves, these tubes have handles for carrying and for the younger ones to hold onto while floating down river.

The tubin' operations provide there own "put in" point on the river and a pick up point as well. They all have their territories so to speak on the river. Don't even try to put you green tube in at the yellow put in spot. At the pick up point, they actually pick up you and your tube and drive you back to your car which is parked at their put in location. So no more long walks back up river with your burning hot black inner tube and no more risky hitching for rides back to the guy in the van. That alone is worth the three- to four-fold price increase for a day of tubin'.

Yes, tubin' now costs anywhere from $9 - $13. Why would you pay $13 when you could pay $9 for the same river? That's actually one of the tubin' company's tag line. I pay $13 and I'll tell you why: Quantity. Less Quantity. I don't get more river for my money. I get less people for my money. That four extra dollars thwarts hundreds of people and sends them over to the two other tubin' businesses. So that makes my tubin' experience that much better.

I don't like crowds and I especially don't like sweaty, bathing suit clad crowds. When you have to stand in line to sign a waiver and get a tube, the last thing you want is to be skin to skin with strangers and all their cousins. We tried one of the cheaper tubin' operations once and it was way too cozy for our comfort. So we gladly pay our $4 premium for the same river. There are long lines at the River Rat  at times but they are a little more tolerable for some reason. Call me a tubin' snob if you will. I guess I am. The difference in experience is sort of like being in a corporate skybox suite versus the infield at a NASCAR race.

Now that you have all the background, this brings us to our most recent tubin' experience. We tubed on Saturday on our yellow tubes ("Nothing says high class like a yellow tube!" Maybe River Rat will pick that up as their slogan). The "we" would be my two sons, their Cousin A (yes, we brought a cousin of our own) and I (or is that me?). It was a bit cloudy and rain was forecast for later in the day. We should have had plenty of time to make the 60 to 90 minute trip down the river. But right when we put in the river, there was an omen (only later recognized) that should have told us to turn back. A dead bat lay on the first large rock we passed. We had never seen that before. Actually, then my youngest son did say something about not wanting to tube as he looked at the darkening sky. But I had just paid $13+ tax (which is 9% in Tennessee!!!!) for each of four tubes so we were going down the river come dead bat or high water. And we got both.

The float was relaxing and uneventful after the bat until about one hour into the trip. The river is mostly tree-lined and shaded. So you're not real sure what's going on in the sky as far as cloud and storm activity. We rounded a bend where there were fewer trees and finally could see that the sky had darkened quite a bit to that scary, angry grey color. And the wind was picking up. Oh and we did hear some thunder. Five rounds of it according to my youngest son. I looked at Cousin A, who is 16 and who my youngest son was tethered to (literally, with a black strap provided by River Rat) and said, "let's get out here." Here was not the pick up point but rather someone's backyard. We got out of the river just in time for the clouds to burst, the wind to howl and the lightning to strike. Thankfully, the family who's backyard we were trespassing in on Riverview Drive saw us coming and gave us shelter from the storm.

No East Tennessee dramedy such as this would be complete without a colorful mix of sundry family members. So, meanwhile, Cousin A's parents and my parents were in their separate cars driving up and down Riverview Drive and Old Hwy 73 looking for us because that's what worried parents will do when their young are on a waterway during an electrical storm. I called my parents from our rescuer's house and gave them the address. I ran out in the rain (dressed only in river shoes and my bathing suit) to stand on the road (in the raging storm) to wait for them while the kids wait safely under cover by the house. In the distance I saw a car coming, thinking it was my parents, I began wildly waving my arms to flag then down.

Meanwhile again, Cousin A's parents (my brother and sister-in-law) are driving down Riverview Drive and they see some poor desperate woman, dressed only in river shoes and a bathing suit, wildly waving her arms by the roadside. "Let's help this poor woman first, then we'll find the kids," says my brother. They stop their car to help me, the poor desperate woman. At times like these, it's good to have a big family who doesn't mind driving around in dangerous weather.

We all piled in the car and headed back to River Rat to wait out the storm and meet up with my parents. Now this story would not be complete without pictures. I didn't have my camera but luckily my brother had his iphone. These don't completely do the scene justice but believe me it was a scene.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

I've been waiting for a chance to use this and Wordless Wednesday is the time. I stumbled upon this. A stranger left this word for me and anyone else who happened by. It was atop a rock on the edge of the Little River at the Y in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Easter weekend this year.

I find it a most powerful word. I've forgiven and been forgiven. Both are a great relief and release. The hardest part may be to forgive yourself sometimes. But that's just as important.

This post is linked up with a variety of Wordless Wednesdays...
Better in Bulk  5 Minutes for Mom

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Happy Toesday

No that's not a typo. I do mean Toesday. But the message isn't coming from me. It's coming from these guys.

Here's a little end of the school year version of an old favorite:

This little piggie went to Field Day.
This little piggie went to the Family/Staff Picnic.
This little piggie went to the 5th Grade Bowling Party.
This little piggie ate pizza, ice cream, lots of candy and chips.
And this little went Wow, Wow, Wow! The school year's over!

Notice, nobody stayed home.

But this is what they all wanted to do when it was all done.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday Schooled - Thank You Savings Sensei!

I have never been a coupon user. My reasons have been all the common reasons that people don't use them: it takes too much time, the products I use don't offer coupons, it doesn't make that much of a difference, where you save in one place you spend in another, I cut them but forget to bring them to the store and on and on.  

But since the beginning of April, I have been conducting an experiment. For the past two months, I have been cutting coupons and using them every time I shop. I wanted to see if I could actually save money on my groceries.

It all started in March when I overheard two ladies discussing their recent saving successes. I have known these women for several years but didn't know they were into the world of deep discounts. I listened discreetly for a few minutes but once they started throwing around savings amounts and deals like I had never heard before, my discretion was gone. I interrupted their conversation and asked how they saved 50% on groceries each week. I asked how they spent less than $100/week to feed their families of 3-5.

It turns out that one of these ladies is a savings genius like the kind you see on the new couponers reality shows. She, The Savings Sensei, has been coupon saving for years, maybe even decades. The Savings Sensei was more than happy to share Her knowledge. In fact, Sensei was grooming the other lady and helping her organize her savings life. And She took me under Her wing too. I had stumble upon a mentor.

Sensei's initial instruction was a bit like Mr. Miyagi's advice, seemingly unrelated to the topic at hand. She told me the first thing to do was to get a lunch box. Huh? Is there a hidden meaning here? Is lunch box couponers' speak? No, She really meant a lunch box. That is what Sensei carries her coupons around in, organized and categorized by labeled tabs, with a latch so the coupons are tucked in safe from drops and spills. Her next advice was to "just start cutting," Grasshopper.

My grocery bill has always been significantly more than $100/week. Each week, I would make a menu plan, buy the items I needed for the menu, usually all at the same store.  My goal was to do all my grocery shopping in under an hour. In and out, no matter the cost. I would have to change that approach if I were to really make a go at this savings thing. Sensei told me which stores had the best deals on certain items, what stores had special double coupon days, even where to buy the newspaper at the lowest price so that even my coupons were discounted. Being that I don't bring in any money into our household, I felt it was my duty now that I had a mentor to be a good student and attempt to save. I'm not one to follow directions to the letter so I didn't a get a lunch box but I got this 10" x 5" accordion file. It fits in my purse so I can keep it with me at all times. I didn't think I would carry a lunch box that reliably. (Sorry Sensei).

And I organized it by category.

And then I started cutting.

The first day of April I set out to my local Bloom store with my coupon wallet organized and stuffed. Bloom graciously hosts a Super-Double Coupon day on the first day of the month where they double all coupons up to $1.99. Many stores double coupons but not over $1.00. So this Double Day is a sweet deal. For example, we use Rice Dream

which costs around $2.69. On Super Double Day, I used my $1.00 off coupon (which was doubled to $2.00) and I got Rice Dream for $.69!  So I bought as many as I had coupons which, thanks to my new-non-Rice-Dream-using-coupon-cutting-friends, was 8 (for about the price of 2 at regular cost).

Bloom also has great BOGO offers on that day too. Sensei told me to pair my $1.00+ coupons with the BOGO offers and things can come out nearly free or just really super inexpensive. Sensei also recommends buying in quantity on sale, with a coupon not just al a Big Box Store. This is something I never did before. I would always buy as I needed rather than stocking up. Sensei told me to take advantage of deals when they are available.

Most of this stuff may seem obvious and you might be asking why one wouldn't be shopping in this manner anyway. It would be irresponsible to shop any other way, right? I refer you to the first paragraph of this post for the list of reasons. Plainly stated, it's easier, and yes irresponsible maybe, to just go buy things without working the math and the logistics of getting a discount. Ignorance is bliss and usually costs a bit more.

But at the end of my first Super Double Day, I was thrilled to see my savings of 57% off of full retail price. Oh Yeah! And I was hooked. Maybe Sensei can, but I can't save like that every time I shop (only on Super Double Days). But my total April grocery bill was 35% less than the average monthly amount for the past several months. My May bill was also down 30% from prior average. The point is I am spending less.

We have eaten just as well as we did previously. I have continued to buy the brands my family likes. I buy organic. I now have a back stock of certain items. I still make a weekly menu but I try to use what I have on hand and supplement with items that I can either get on sale or with a coupon. I print coupons off the web. I buy two Sunday papers (at a discount) and get two of each coupon so I can stock up. I routinely shop at more than one store now.

All of this change is paying off. And to prove it, here is my last grocery receipt.

The amount circled in blue is what I spent. The amount circled in red is what I saved. 51% off.

I think Sensei would be proud.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You Might Be A Redneck Woman If...

To shamelessly borrow from a well-known comedian, you might be a redneck woman if you spent early Friday afternoon in the fishing department at Wal-Mart and followed that up with a stop at the liquor store to replenish your supply of Bud Light Lime. Or you might just be me getting ready for our weekend camping trip. I had to pick up bait for the boys. The BL was for the hubby and me.

We spent Memorial Day weekend camping in Southern Maryland at Cedarville State Park. We fished. We mountain biked. We ate well and a lot. We checked each other for ticks and found several. I even had the new experience of removing a leech from my son's arm. I was surprised to find that he knew what a leech was. When he said, "Mom, I've got a leech on my wrist," I didn't believe him. When was the last time you saw a leech? But he was right. And they don't come off that easily. And you bleed a bit when they do come off. Camping is not for the meek.

The highlight of the weekend, aside from the bloodletting, was a day trip to Purse State Park. It is really taking some license to call it a State Park because it is actually just a wide spot in the road surrounded by a nice forest. What you can't see from the wide spot is a majestic view of the Potomac river hidden 3/4 mile due east through the trees. The trail is not marked. You just have to trust that you will come to a good end by following the trail. And you do. This is what we saw upon exiting the forest.

The Potomac is about 3 miles wide at this location. At low tide there is a nice beach area where you can sit for a few hours and enjoy the view. Did you know rivers have tides? The Potomac does and the boys played in it for hours.

Even the big boy got in for a bit.

We were all hunting for some treasures unique to the area.

During low tide, you can sift or pan for shells

and shark teeth.

We found a few of each.
About 60 million years ago, this area was covered in shallow water populated by various sharks and rays.
Their teeth are still washing up on the beaches for little boys to collect. I find it hard to believe that those teeth are that old. But that's what the Maryland DNR website says.

After our day at Purse, the boys worked on their knot tying back at camp. This one is working on his Tenderfoot badge.

This one is working on being like his big brother.

They both have to know how to tie a taut line knot

and a two half-hitch, which to me just sounds like a whole hitch but I was a Girl Scout so what do I know?

I do know that when I was a Girl Scout I thought Boy Scouts did things that were much more fun than what the Girl Scouts did. I still think that.

Does that add to my potential redneck woman status?
I don't care if it does.
But it makes it easier to be a mom of two boys.