Friday, June 26, 2009

How to Save 50% on Dryer Sheets

Here's a weird thing I do to save money on Dryer Sheets. After I buy a new package, I open them up and have my son cut them all in half. I put them back in the box and use them as I need them. It has not adversely affected my laundry at all--It does not know the difference. That's it. That's how I save 50%.

Here's what other people are saying about dryer sheets and other alternatives: out what else people do to control static in the dyer. -- And how about making reusable dryer sheets if that's your thing?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Driving Through Wyoming?

I might get some flack for saying this, but Wyoming isn't necessarily at top tourist destination. But, if you do find yourself driving though Wyoming en route to some other place, here are a couple of places worthy of note. (I'm sure these aren't the only places!)

The two places I am speaking of are just 40 mins north of Rawlins on I-80 or about the same distance southwest of Casper on I-25. Both destinations are practically free, educational, and even fun! The places I am speaking of are Independence Rock and Martin's Cove via the Mormon Handcart Vistors' Center (Devil's Gate is right nearby), both major historical landmarks on the Oregon Trail.

Independence Rock is next to a rest stop with public bathrooms and picnic tables. There is no entrance fee whatsoever. You can go climb up on the rock and check out the names carved into the rock by pioneers years and years ago. It's pretty neat to fathom. Of course, no visitors now should carve their names on the rock.

Martin's Cove is a historic site administered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Martin's Cove is an important part of Latter-day Saint history which is why the Church acquired land there near the site to run a visitors center and other facilities. Martin's Cove itself is BLM land so there is no proselyting there for those who might be concerned about that. (By the way, I am a Latter-day Saint.) Entrance to the Mormon Handcart Visitors' Center is free. The tours are very flexible and given by missionaries for the LDS Church. The missionaries there were nice enough to take us to the Cove (3 miles from Visitors' Center) on a Mule (not the animal) although we cold have done the hike with a handcart if we had wanted too. There are lots of different buildings to check out at the Visitors Center as well as clean public restrooms and a nice picnic area. If you are tight on time, like we were, just let the missionaries know what you would be interested in doing, and they'll do their best to make it happen.

Devils Gate can be seen from the Mormon Handcart Visitors' Center. You can check that out too. The Missionaries are very knowledgeable, so feel free to ask questions about the site.

With all of these sites, I think they would be most rewarding to visit after you first do some researching on your own personal history. Perhaps you have pioneer ancestors.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Arches National Park

During our family road trip, we took the time to stop at Arches National Park. Since it wasn't our actual destination, we didn't have a lot of time to see Arches, but even for the half day we spent there, it was worth the $10 entrance fee (which is actually valid for seven days). I'm glad we went. I was a bit concerned that our small children would not enjoy Arches. I was wrong. they loved climbing on rocks and looking for lizards.

A trip to Arches National Park is budget friendly. Anyone living within a day's drive of Arches ought to take the time to see it. Driving, as opposed to flying, is one thing that will keep the trip inexpensive. The entrance fee at Arches is pocket change and nearly irrelevant.

One can take in Arches in a variety of ways... biking, hiking or driving. If biking with a group, I'd recommend taking a vehicle into the park since the fee per biker is $5 and can add up as opposed to the $10 vehicle entrance fee.

At the visitors center, we picked up a map and visitor's guide and loaded up on water. They have a bunch of taps outside the visitors center for this very purpose. The visitor's guide organized the hikes by level of difficulty so you can easily decide what you are willing and able to do while you are there. The easiest hikes are less than .5 miles one way and have minimal incline. If you didn't even want to get out of your car, you can drive through the park in about 30 mins to 1 hour. We did the hike to Skyline Arch and to the Delicate Arch viewpoint with our kids. They loved it. We had our babies strapped on us in carriers. I would not recommend a stroller... I think one could make these hikes with a good, sporty stroller, but the trails aren't made for them, so packing your little one on you would be the easiest and most comfortable option.

For lodging, we stayed at a KOA in a Kamping Kabin after carefully researching the various camping/lodging options in Moab, UT. Our main concerns were price and comfort. The Kabins were perfect for our family and at just under $60 for the night, it beats almost any hotel stay. The Moab KOA has clean bathrooms within walking distance of the kabins. The kabins were clean also. It is camping, so it's not like there isn't going to be dust. In our kabin, we had a queen bed and a set of bunk beds. The mattresses have a vinyl cover; you bring your own linens to make your bed. Kabins are equiped with a space heater and a swamp cooler. We didn't have reason to use either since the weather was perfect while we were there. The mini golf course is a bit run down, but we we're there to play mini golf. They have a swimming pool and playground for the kids. This was my first time staying at a organized campsite. I was quite impressed with the caliber of the guests there. Everyone was quite clean and friendly. The Campground hosts a nightly ice cream social and daily pancake breakfast for a small fee, but we didn't have time to participate. I think if we would have stayed longer, it would have been fun.

For eating, we dined at Paradox Pizza. We prefer going local when we're on the road as opposed to national food chains. It's more of an experience. Paradox Pizza is real pizza. All my picky kids enjoyed it. We could have cooked at our campsite since the have grills and picnic tables, but in the interest of time, we didn't do that.

If you haven't been to Arches, I recommend it, even if you only have time to drive through. Everyone talks about the economy. Well, Some good things are coming of these tough times. I'm seeing more people out on their two feet or their bikes instead of the car. When we bought our pass at Arches, the lady there said they have seen an influx of people this year, probably because it is an afforadable family trip... and she added, "it's healthy too." I concurr. Get out and move.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Road Trip Follow Up

My two week hiatus is over. We survived our road trip. We actually had a pretty good time, all 6 of us in the van for hours and hours. Here's how we survived:

  • Storynory mp3s
  • Coloring books and crayons
  • One toy to play with
  • Dvd player
  • Rest stops every two- three hours to eat and empty
I could have had the dvd player on the whole time and my kids probably would not have protested, but I don't really go for that. Besides, I can imagine my kids fighting over what dvd to watch, so the DVD player is not the cure all.

For us, what really helped were the frequent breaks. We scheduled our stops in towns where we could find a park and have a picnic or where we knew some friends to visit with. We also looked for points of interest along the way to check out. For instance, on our way back, we stopped at Independence Rock in WY.

Our kids are still pretty young, so games in the car don't go over very well. But, they all really enjoyed listening to some mp3s from Storynory that my hubby burned on a cd.

In the next few posts, I'll highlight a couple of cool places we went to on our trip (aside from visiting family. Family is cool too!) for some great budge vacation ideas.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How to Make a Portable DVD Player Holder for Your Van on the Cheap

Just in case there was ever any confusion, I'm all about saving money. I hate spending money. So, in preparation for this most recent road trip, I bought a portable DVD player (to replace our broken one) from Walmart on the Black Friday sale in November for $40. Good deal. The thing is made entirely of the cheapest plastic ever, but it works! And since portable DVD players evidently have a short life span, why spend lots on it?

So, here's the quandary I faced: How am I going to securely attach the DVD player to the back of the middle seat of our van so the kids can watch it? I did not want to make it permanent... and I didn't want to pay $20+ to buy one of those bulky DVD player holders that may or may not work well enough. So, I figured I could make something with things I had around the house. Here's what I ended up with:

My husband took one look at this and his expression said, "okay, crazy." But hey, it worked!

Items Used:
  • cardboard
  • elastic
  • Velcro
  • sewing machine (completely optional)

First I started with some cardboard and cut it the right size to support my cheapo DVD player. I cut holes in the ends to stick my Velcro adjusting supports.

One doesn't need to use a sewing machine here, but I did. I took some 1/4 inch elastic and attached velco (opposites so that they would adhere) to each end. Instead, you could forgo the elastic and just use Velcro to make the adjustable supports.

Thread adjustable supports through each side.

Tie a band of elastic around the DVD player and cardboard to hold it in place. I suppose you could do this with any bit of cloth and have decent results.

Get two more pieces of elastic and tie them to each side of the cardboard, threading them through the cut holes. These stretch around the headrests to hold the contraption in place.

Obviously, this is a quick, no-nonsense, non-permanent, pretty pathetic fix ... just what I wanted.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Yogurt Smoothies and Popsicles

I make my own yogurt a lot during the summer. We love to have smoothies, and yogurt is great in them. Add a bit more sugar and make Popsicles with them.

Here's a bare bones smoothie recipe:

1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 tea vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups frozen fruit (blueberries, strawberries, banana, etc. If fruit is fresh, add 4-6 ice cubes)
1 1/2 cups milk

I don't really use recipes to make these, I just stick stuff in the blender. So feel free to make your own changes. Recipes are just a springboard, after all.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cleaning up Milk and Juice Spills

Some mornings just start off really icky. There was one morning not too long ago when I cleaned up two messes... and I made both of them. One, milk on the table and floor, the other, my vitamins all over--half of the bottle. I think I didn't get enough sleep. Anyhow, most of the time, I'm cleaning up spills after my kids, so this sufficiently put me in my place.

I hate cleaning milk and juice spills anywhere. It's the worst because you think you clean it only to find a sticky spot later. If you are slow like me, I didn't learn to effectively handle this until just a couple years ago. This is for hard surfaces like tile or vinyl, not carpet (but don't do it on granite or marble-vinegar is too acidic for those surfaces, and if you have either on your floor, you should have a maid clean it up anyway!).

How to clean up spills so they won't leave a sticky residue:

1. Soak up the spill with a cloth first.
2. Rinse cloth out and wipe spill again.
3. Pour about 1 teaspoon of white vinegar on the affected area and wipe.
4. Rinse cloth and clean with water again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Traveling with Kids: Road Trip!

We are getting ready to take a 10 hour road trip (one way) with our kids. Insane, yes. It has to be done. Family must be visited once in a while! We've done this before, but that was when there were just 2 kids; now we've got double that. So, it's a whole new experience.

As is my routine when attempting something new, I turn to the internet. Here's a nice link on road trip ideas from real people.

Three ideas in particular stuck out to me. One is free directory assistance from Google. I didn't know that existed (apparently it's been around for almost 2 years!). And how cool is that when you are in a new place? Just dial 1-800-GOOG-411. I'm sure we'll find reason to use this while we're gone. Check out a video to illustrate how it works at:

The other idea I really liked is to use cookie sheets/roll pans (the kind with sides) as lap boards for your kids. They contain their play things because they have sides, plus they can use magnets on them, and would serve as a nice try to eat food too. I'm going to try this. I'm heading to the dollar store to pick up a couple of these. I don't want to use my cooking ones since it would take hours to get the baked-on grease of of them.

I downloaded free audio stories from Storynory and put them on CDs for the kids to listen to as well.

Of course we have a DVD player that will come in handy, but kids get cranky if they watch too much of anything, so for us, the DVD player is a last resort to get an extra hour or two of driving if we must.

I'll be sure to report back and with what worked.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy-An Experiment

Okay, I totally blew it with teaching my kids to eat healthy. I fed them a variety of foods when they were babies. (I made their baby food.) They had great appetites. I have always served healthy dinners, so I figured that they would just take to table foods with no problem. As they grew, I routinely let them help me prepare meals. They go grocery shopping with me and help pick the fruits and veggies we buy. We have a garden that they help weed and harvest. But somewhere in that transition from baby foods, to table foods, they became picky about everything... color, crust, texture, and so on. My toddler used to complain about the crust on waffles! I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong. But, as a parent, I have to assume some responsibility.

It was somewhere in the toddler years, I think. One season my daughter couldn't get enough blueberries, and the next she won't touch them. I figured this was a phase. So I tried to play it down and just keep offering. But things only got worse, to the point where, at dinner time, my two older kids only wanted milk and bread. I could only take so much of this. What's the point of cooking, when they don't even appreciate it?

I didn't want to force them to eat healthy foods. But, I didn't want them to get away with bread and milk whenever they didn't like the dinner spread. So, I chose the road somewhere in between. It's a choice, a choice between eating the meal, or not eating the meal.

Here's what I did. At dinner, before we started eating, I told them they were not making healthy eating choices and as their parent, I had the responsibility to help them make the right choices since their father and I are paying for their health care and because we LOVE THEM! I informed them of some new rules that would be implemented immediately and would remain in effect until they could make healthy choices on their own:
  • At each meal they are required to eat a fruit or vegetable (from what I have prepared for the meal) before they can have milk* or a grain product (if it's part of the meal). I usually specify the amount of the fruit of veggie they should eat before they get what they want. If it's something they really don't like (broccoli), they have to at least try it.
  • Water is a wild card. They can have all the water they want.
  • If they do not want to eat what is on the table, they can wait until the next meal.
I'm sounding like a harsh tyrant. I'll blame it on reading 1984. It's still in my system, I guess.

I've been doing this for 2 weeks now. The results are worth it. During the first three days, there was a lot of howling in our home around meal times. Then it hit the kiddos: Mom and Dad are serious! Now, they are trying foods they have never tried since they were 3. My oldest son had carrots! My daughter had a blueberry smoothie! She still won't touch whole blueberries, but it's a step in the right direction. There are still meals where my daughter will not eat anything but water, but it's no more than once a day, since hunger is a great motivator.

*The reason I'm so strict on milk is because my kids love it... and too much can plug you up... if you know what I mean. The basic idea is to use what they like to motivate them to try something new.