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The Twins

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History Buff (L) and Sea Cadet (R)

History Buff (L) and Sea Cadet (R)

On my last post, several people asked about the twins and their plans.  Since we have been discussing that ad nauseum around here, it’s an easy post to write. The twins just completed their junior year of high school.  (For those that haven’t followed our story, just a little background.  The twins were placed with me when they were 12 years old as foster kids.  When it was determined that they couldn’t go home, I adopted them at the age of 15th.  They will be 18 this fall.  Sea Cadet is older by 20 minutes and he chose to be homeschooled beginning his freshman year of high school.  History Buff was pulled from public schools at the end of the first semester of his freshman year after not making the grades (he and I had an agreement based on grade expectations.)  History Buff’s first day at our homeschool co op – “my best school day ever!”)

History Buff is on track to graduate next year, and is college bound but he is very unsure of what he wants to do or study or even where he wants to go.  So for his senior year of high school, he will be dual enrolled at a local community college.  This will allow him to finish his high school credits and get some college credits simultaneously.  He has applied and must complete the English and Math Virginia Placement Test before he can enroll in classes.  Other than that, all school decisions are up in the air.  He would really like to move to Austin, TX where most of my family lives for college, but I have put my foot down on out of state tuition costs, so we are considering a gap year for him to move there, get acclimated, a job, etc. and then enroll at a local college.  But truly, all up in the air.  We will visit some VA schools this summer, and possibly do a second year at the community college.

This summer he is working two jobs.  He continues to work at the local movie theater, mostly because he loves the benefits

Sea Cadet, History Buff and Princess

Sea Cadet, History Buff and Princess

it gives his social life with free movies and discounted snacks.  He also works at a sub shop which was a job he was given by a family friend and he loves it.  He’s enjoying some free time from school, dating and hanging with his friends while he swims an hour a day for swim team and is working out three times a week with a personal trainer.

We’ve just modified his money plan.  Since the twins began working, they have been required to save 50% of each paycheck for college, 25% is used for bills (car insurance, gas, cell phone and clothes/hygiene) and 25% spending money.  He has done great, and learned some hard lessons.  I am so proud of him.  In the last month, we changed his plan to this: 25% college savings, 25% personal savings, 50% bills and spending.  We did this to give him a bit more control over his “free” money and let him save some money for car repairs or a newer car whichever comes first as we have had a few scares with his car.

Sea Cadet will graduate in two years.  We knew going into high school that he had some challenges with education and at the end of the first semester decided to slow down a bit to give him a chance for a much more successful high school career.  In homeschool, it’s called a super senior year.  (Before this becomes a discussion, he has what is called an ISP through the public schools which is evaluated every year, even though we homeschool.  And when he was in public school he had services in the classroom.  Slowing down was just what he has needed and he has been very successful.  When the twins were placed with me in 7th grade, Sea Cadet tested at a 3rd/4th grade level, again a public school administered test.)  He will receive a general diploma when he graduates and will have met all VA state requirements to do so.

Back to Sea Cadet’s plans, he has two more years of high school to complete.  He will also be dual enrolling this fall, but since he has a very strong interest in the medical field, he will be going into a two year EMS program at the local

Sea Cadet at lakehouse

Sea Cadet at lakehouse

community college.  He has already passed the English portion of the VPT, and will take the math portion this week.  We are doing this for two reasons: 1) it will give him a chance to try out college with home support and 2) if he completes the program and can pass the certifications he will have a career option available immediately just in case he decides college is not for him.  His dream is to be a flight nurse in the military, so we think this is a good way to see if that is a good career path for him.

He is also working two jobs this summer.  He continues to work at the movie theater with his twin brother, but he will also be away for 5 weeks this summer, working as a junior camp counselor at the Christian summer camp they have attended the last 4 summers.   He has completed his drivers ed course, but does not seem to be in a rush to get his drivers license especially when he considers the cost of insurance.  Sea Cadet continues to save 50% of every check for college and has done great with that as well.

I could not be more proud of the twins.  They are great young men, responsible, polite and really working hard to make good life choices.  I am so proud to call each of them my son.

Twins and friends at homeschool graduation event

Twins and friends at homeschool graduation event

 

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Cruising With Kids: Must Haves (and Do Withouts)

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This post is long overdue, as we returned from our Cruise 2016 in early May! But life happened, as it always does, and this got away from me for a bit.

Luckily, I’d jotted down some notes while we were still on the cruise so I wouldn’t forget. And I now present to you a list of “Must Haves” and “Do Withouts” for cruising with young children. Note, this is only from our own experience so I can’t necessarily comment on cruising with older children/adolescents. For reference, our kids (twins) were almost four years old at the time of our cruise.

Cruising With Kids:  Must Haves

  • Nightlight:  The cabins get pretty dark when the lights are out, so unless you want to sleep with lights on (or the kids in your bed, if they’re afraid of the dark), a nightlight is a great idea. Honestly, this is one I would recommend even just for adults because if you ever wake in the night and need to use the restroom, a nightlight will prevent you from tripping over unfamiliar terrain!
  • Multi-Outlet Power Strip:  This was absolutely invaluable for us, as outlets are at an absolute premium in the staterooms! We only had a single outlet and TONS of electronics to juggle (laptop charger, cell phone charger, tablet charger for the kids, hair straightener, hair dryer, curling iron, etc. etc. etc.) I do not know what we would have done without the power strip!
  • Beach Toys and Puddle Jumpers:  If you have young kids, it’s highly likely that most of your excursions will be beach-based (since many of the high adventure options have minimum age requirements). The problem is that the beach gets boring quickly for kiddos without entertainment, and anything sold by the port or on the beach is crazy-overpriced! We picked up a $5 bucket from Walmart that included lots of sand toys (shapers, scrapers, shovels, etc.) and it worked like a charm. The puddle jumpers were also clutch because it allowed the kids to safely wade into the water with a bit of a “safety net” (for those unfamiliar, puddle jumpers are similar to life vests, but designed for young children. Safety note: you absolutely still need to supervise, of course!!!).
  • Bottled Water and (Non-Alcoholic) Drinks: So, we cruised on Royal Caribbean. Every cruise line has its own rules so ask your cruise line to be sure. Royal Caribbean’s website states that they do NOT allow beverages to be brought on board. That being said, I read lots of blogs/websites/chat rooms where people said they brought on non-alcoholic beverages with no problem. We decided to chance it and see what would happen. We brought a full case of water and a 6-pack of soda. We had absolutely no problem going through security – no need to hide it or anything, we just set it right on the scanner and had no issues. This was fantastic because the waters on the ship are crazy pricey (like $4/bottle), and we didn’t buy a soda package so it was nice to have a couple sodas on the trip. You can also bring one bottle of wine per stateroom (again, see your cruise line’s policies). To me, the water was the biggest thing because it wasn’t always easy to get to water otherwise, especially on our excursions and exploring the different ports. We went through the entire case of water in the week we were on our cruise.
  • Snacks:  This would be nice even for adults, but with young children it was practically a requirement! Our kids wake up hungry IMMEDIATELY! It was nice to throw them a granola bar as we got dressed and made our way to the dining hall. Same is true around dinner time and even later in the evening before bedtime. We brought a variety of snacks (granola bars, cheddar bunnies, fruit leather, etc. etc.) and went through everything while on the cruise, having to re-stock on some snacks while in Mexico! Another tip is to grab some snacks from the dining hall. For instance, I’d always take an extra mini box of cereal in the morning and give it to the girls during the day as a snack (they eat it dry, without milk). Soo thankful for those Cheerios (and the girls loved their first experience with fruit loops!)
  • Cash: We had saved up all this money for our trip, but ended up bringing a pretty small amount of actual cash on the ship and we wished we’d brought more because we ended up having to use an ATM for additional cash. Not only is cash nice for tips (and I’d suggest bringing lots of $1’s for tipping porters, shuttle drivers, and really anyone handling your bags), but you also have to have cash if you want to gamble. We’re not huge on gambling, but we like a little Black Jack and the one night we hit up the casino we succumbed to the pricey ATM fees so we could pull out the cash to play. You’ll also want cash to tip the waitstaff and room attendant at the end of the trip. Note that a standard 18% gratuity is automatically added to your bill (which goes on whatever card you have on file), but having worked for many years in the service industry, I wanted to tip a couple specific people over and above the 18% minimum. For that, you need cash.
  • Backpack:  To carry all your money, IDs, snacks, waters, etc. I much prefer a backpack over a big beach bag or diaper bag because I like that it requires no hands and doesn’t have to be juggled with a lot of other things. Just slip it on and you’re ready to go!

 

Perhaps equally as important as the “Must Have” list is the list of items that you should not bother bringing!!! Save the space in your suitcase for something more important!

Cruising With Kids: Do Withouts

  • Binoculars:  We actually bought a new pair of binoculars just for our trip after reading several sites that suggested them. Total waste of money and space, we didn’t use them a single time! This might be different for adults traveling without kids who are able to attend all the evening events. We only went to a single night-time show and really didn’t feel the need for the binoculars. Plus, it’s enough just trying to keep the kids quiet and in their seats. No time or space to deal with binoculars.
  • Empty Re-usable Water Bottle: I brought this thinking it would be valuable for our excursions. Turns out, since we were able to bring our case of waters, I never once used the reusable bottle. Plus, all the water stations on the ship had big signs prohibiting the filling of re-usable water bottles for health reasons. You’d be limited to filling it in your bathroom sink, which I never wanted to do because I swear the water tasted funny.
  • Sunhat: Another thing I bought specifically for this trip that was a total waste. With all the wind on the upper decks, I couldn’t keep a big sunhat on my head! And it was large and bulky and challenging to get around (especially considering all the kid toys, snacks, towels, etc. that I was also toting around). I ended up taking it to the beach at our first port and the wind just basically destroyed the thing. Stick to using sunscreen as your form of sun protection and leave the big floppy hat at home.
  • Walkie Talkies: Again, I bought this after seeing other reviews that recommended them. The problem is that the cruise limits the strength of the walkie talkies you can use and, in our experience, we were not able to hear each other unless we were already in very close proximity. Plus, we kept picking up other peoples’ conversations no matter what channel we tried to use. They also woke the kids up from a nap one day when they started crackling with someone else’s conversation. Cell phones don’t work either, so you just have to resort to the good old days pre-cell-phone when you would plan out in advance meeting times and places, etc. Note that room-to-room calling is free, so that helps!
  • Lots of Shoes: I really limited the number of shoes I took, but I still had 5 pair (tennis shoes, 2 pairs of fancy shoes, and 2 pairs of sandals/flip-flips). Even though I thought I’d been space conscious with shoes, I ended up basically living in a single pair of sandals the entire trip. I never once put on my tennis shoes, and only wore 1 of my fancy pairs of shoes. The other 99% of the time I stayed in my comfy sandals.
  • Ice Chest:  I brought a small ice chest for our drinks, again, based on recommendations of fellow travelers. However, in our experience it was totally unnecessary. We had a mini-fridge in our stateroom so we just put our drinks in it to keep cold. The ice chest ended up being used by our kids as a stepping stool to reach the toilet (so I guess it wasn’t entirely pointless….just not used for its intended purpose).

 

Those were our experiences, but I’d love to hear from others too!

What item was a “must have” on your cruise and what item do you think you could have done without?


Last Day of School – Teacher Gifts

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Last Wednesday was the last day of school for our kiddos. Remember when I wrote about summer childcare options? We ended up going the babysitter route for MWF during the summer so I’ll still have some extra time with the girls to go to the zoo, library, parks, pool, etc. etc. etc, but I’ll also have some dedicated work days. I’m hoping the mix will work out well.

When the girls’ last day of preschool rolled around, I was kind of at a loss. I would have loved to do some Pinterest-worthy craft, but that was in the middle of all the Rocky stuff and I simply lacked the time/energy/focus to do anything super fancy or nice.

Quick craft to the rescue! (Am I getting good at these last-minute crafts, or what!?)

We made two crafts; one for each of our two teachers. One said “Thank You” and the other said “We’ll Miss You” (because one is actually moving away and the other we’ll see again next school year).

I wrote out the message in dotted lines, then the girls traced over it, and then I wrote a really nice and heart-felt message on the back. I also bought $20 gift cards for each teacher (the most I’ve ever bought before!) because our preschool costs were lower this month (since we were gone for a solid 1.5 weeks last month for the cruise), and because they really deserved it. We had a couple issues this year that I haven’t talked about on the blog just out of respect for our kids’ privacy. Nothing crazy, but some general adjustment stuff as I started working full-time for the first time since their birth. Our teachers were just amazing and really acted as extensions of our family. I’m truly so thankful for them!

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Regarding these quick little crafts, I’ll tell you the best buy I’ve made was a box of these colored oversized envelopes (they sell plain white, but since I use them mainly for mailing crafts back to family in Texas I wanted some fun colored envelopes). I bought the box last year so I can’t remember how much I spent (probably $3?), but I use them for EVERYTHING! When you’re sending pictures/crafts through mail, you don’t want to use a regular envelope where the picture will have to be bent to fit. Having these larger-sized envelopes has been clutch!  I love them!

So I simply use some scrapbook paper cut into rectangular shapes (to fit the envelope) and a piece of solid-colored paper to glue on top. Color a picture on the front (or trace words, or whatever other craft idea you have), and write a message on the back. BAM! Done!

What do you do for an end-of-year teacher gift?

As it’s Memorial Day today in the U.S., I’d also be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank those who have served or are currently serving our country – particularly to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. I also want to extend a special thanks to our Service men and women’s family members! I cannot imagine how tough it must be with all the frequent relocations, deployments, etc. THANK YOU!!!


A little laugh for today

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I’m staying uber busy with work so aside from previously scheduled activites we are not doing much which is great because it means we are eating at home and not spending money.  Yeah!  So my plan is to get another numbers post done this weekend once some big projects are complete.  But here are few highlights from the couple of weeks.

As I mentioned last week, it was homeschool prom time.  And princess just barely made the age range, by like two days.  Here she is ready to go, she was escorted and chaperoned by the twins and a great time was had by all!

 

Princess all ready for prom.

Princess all ready for prom.

Can you believe she is just 12? I can’t.

All about the money: She wore her Easter dress and I had a coupon for $15 off a pair of shoes, so total spent on her ensemble $12. Twins just wore dress clothes they already owned. I call this a win!

The chicks finally got moved out of the kitchen and to their own outside scoop. It’s a DIY coop and we’ve shored it up with bricks around the edges to keep predators out. They are loving it and we are loving having our kitchen chick free, especially since they had started regularly escaping.

Chicks have moved outside to their own coop.

Chicks have moved outside to their own coop.

All about the money: $0 spent. Our hosts continue to foot the bill for all supplies, we just supply the labor. And most of the things we used on the coop were found on property from scraps of other projects. Another win!

We took over lawn care of our section of the property this past weekend. Would have done it sooner but it’s been raining non-stop here for almost a month. Both the twins were super excited to learn to drive the Zero Turn Lawn Mower, and while there was a learning curve they conquered it like champs and conquered the grass. They compared it to the driving in Star Wars. So of course, that makes it a ton of fun.

History Buff learning a new skill and cutting our grass!

History Buff learning a new skill and cutting our grass!

Princess birthday was this past week and she really wanted a bike with a basket. Do you know how much bikes cost??? Well, our host knows a man who rehabs used bikes, making them like new mechanically. So I got this perfect bike for her and our host got her a basket.

Princess and her birthday bike!

Princess and her birthday bike!

All about the money: Princess dad sent me $100 this week for her birthday. I got the bike for $45 and got her a few other things.

Now last but not least, Gymnast finally acquesced to a hair cut. His hair had become quite a little afro and was getting harder for him to care for. He wanted to go where his dad used to take him when he lived here. Here are the results:

K/p>

Do you think he likes it?

All about the money: $25 spent at the barber shop but barber says from now on it will be less to maintain. I say it’s money well spent.

I’ll be back next week with some numbers! Have a great week!


Summer Childcare Blues

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Finding reliable, reputable childcare has consistently been one of the most stressful parts of being a working parent.  So today I want to pose a question to the other working parents out there:  What do you do for summertime childcare?!?

The place we’re currently at operates on an academic year schedule (not surprising, because its preschool through 8th grade so it’s a real school campus, albeit a private religious one). Their last day is May 24th and they don’t reopen again until the second week of August. But here I am, working full-time at my day job plus part-time at my online job and I have NO childcare!? Yikes!

After doing quite a bit of research, here’s what I’ve found. I’ll go ahead and tell you from the get-go:  no good options exist. Especially in the under 5-year-old age range. (Disclaimer: a TON of options open up for school aged kids age 5+, so this problem may be specific to parents with younger kids).

  • Option 1: There are lots of different one-week long summer camps at different places around town. This would be perfect if I was home all summer with the kids and just wanted to send them somewhere educational a couple weeks out of the summer. But I need childcare every week. I know my kids and I know they do not thrive in that kind of instability (a different camp at a different place with different people every single week). This won’t work for us.
  • Option 2:  Half-day camps. There are two places we know and trust that offer half-day camps. Half-day is far from ideal (one is from 8:30-12:30, but the other is only from 9-12. A total of 3-4 hours per day!) They’re pretty pricey for being such a limited amount of care. The three hour camp is $100/week/child and the four hour camp is $175/week/child. For comparison purposes, this amounts to roughly $1500/month for 20 hours per week.
  • Option 3: JCC. We loved the JCC while we were there and only left because they were too far from our home. The commute wasn’t realistic after I started working full-time. But I thought that maybe we could go just for the summer. It’s someplace we love and the girls are familiar with. Wins all around, right? Nope. Turns out as non-members the prices are exorbitant. And there’s not an option for a short-term membership just for the summer. Getting childcare 3 days per week for 7 hours per day would run us OVER $2100 for our two kids!!!! Holy cow, that’s expensive! This would be my favorite option in terms of amount of childcare coverage and the enrichment activities/opportunities for the girls. But at that price, it just seems cost-prohibitive to me! For comparison purposes, this amounts to roughly $2100/month for 21 hours per week.
  • Option 4:  Part-time Babysitter. We’ve got a high school babysitter we really love (and the girls love her, too)! We’re friends with the family and have talked to her parents a bit about whether she’d be a good choice for some summer childcare. What we discussed was  3 days per week (a couple weeks with only 2 days of care), 8 hours per day at a rate of $250/week for 3 day weeks or $175/week for 2 day weeks. This is the most cost-effective option and also the best in terms of actual childcare coverage (looking at number of hours per week), but I don’t love the idea of the girls being home all the time and not interacting with other kids. Also, I worry about babysitter fatigue/burnout and having no reliable back-up if the sitter is sick. For comparison purposes, this amounts to roughly $1100/month for 24 hours per week.

(side note: for comparison purposes, we currently pay roughly $1100/month for full-time childcare, approximately 40 hours per week. So really ALL of the options discussed are nearly double our current rate of pay per hour of childcare coverage).

My Thoughts:

I’m thinking we might hodge-podge care a bit. I like the babysitter option, as it’s the cheapest and largest amount of care. To try to add in some enrichment and other child-interaction for the girls, I think I might also enroll them in a couple of one-week summer camp programs. That way they still have the stability I’m looking for (they’re not going to a new camp every single week; they’ll mostly be in familiar surroundings with a familiar babysitter), but they’ll still get to go out of the house a bit and experience some enrichment with other kids.

Also, I still worry that 3 days per week (even at 8 hours per day), might not be enough time. My jobs over the summer are definitely more flexible than during the academic year. For example, my main job dictates that I teach 3 classes per semester during the academic year. In summer I’ll still be working full-time, but only teaching 1 class (and it’s fully online). The rest of my time is being paid to prep other classes and oversee our grad student teaching. There’s really nothing that requires me to be on campus aside from a sporadic meeting here or there. So it’s possible the 3 day per week childcare scenario could work. But what if I get into it and discover that’s not enough time? We really have no other back-up or alternative arrangements, which is scary to me.

 

What do other working parents do? What suggestions do you have? As of now, we haven’t signed any contracts or put deposits down on any camps. We’re still trying to figure out the best course of action. What do you think?


How could I forget and All the Dogs Gone

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Better late than never!

I was so proud of getting my budget together for our Glamping Adventure that begins next month.  But I forgot a category and in our preparation I’ve had a rude awakening…laundromat!  I had this great plan that while the kids were at swim team every morning, I would be able to run across the street, do some laundry and it would be done by the time we leave the pool.  $10-15 dollars a week.

Um, no.  We decided to try it this week.  So on the way with granted a couple of weeks of laundry plus dog bedding, I run by the bank to grab a few rolls of quarters.  Did you know laundromats no longer take quarters?  I had to use my bank card to by a laundry card…and $60 later, we had our laundry done.  $60!!!  It was $5 per wash load, and $0.39 per 7 minutes in a dryer.  Yikes!!!!

So definitely going to have to re-think this plan and add some to the budget!

On the other side, we have re-homed our final dog as of today and have two home possibilities for the cat next week.  By the end of the month, one month before we have to move we have found great homes for all our beloved pets.

Princess and Gymnast saying goodbye to Izzy today.

Princess and Gymnast saying goodbye to Izzy today.


New Shoes and Sports

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I could certainly relate when Ashley wrote about her daughters’ First Children’s Activity; while that was many years ago for me, I remember it vividly…Mommy & Me Gymnastics classes…me with two children.  Little Gymnast and Princess must have been 2 and 3 respectively at the time.  If I could do it again…well, I probably wouldn’t.  It was a lot of work keeping track of two during the class, but I do remember it being fun too.

So this week I splurged just a little bit.  I know, not the best idea when you are struggling to pay the most basic bills, but in my defense, I have been hired to do 4 websites this month in addition to my on-going part time job and new part time job starting next month, so I’m not just twiddling my thumbs.

First splurge, knowing that we are now going to be staying here when our lease is over in April and that school would also be over for us, I decided to sign the kids up for a new activity session (spring session, Princess has been playing basketball during the winter session.)  So Sea Cadet, Gymnast and Princess will all be playing volleyball for the spring session and Princess will also be playing softball.  This will give us something to do and get us out of the RV for a few hours each day.  The total cost for all four activities was $185 and the season will run from March thru the end of May.  This will take us right into swim season so I’m happy with it.

Second splurge, new athletic shoes for the four kids.  All the kids were overdue for new athletic shoes and in light of the new sports, I decided to bite the bullet and buy them.  I knew I wanted name brand shoes that had lots of support, all my kids are really rough on their shoes.  So Rack Room shoes, buy one get one half off combined with an earned $15 discount from their loyalty program that I had been saving, plus a gift card from returning shoes Princess received for Christmas…and all of them got shoes they wanted, fit them well and are exactly the support I wanted.  Average cost of shoes $45 per pair.  I’m please with that.  (All my kids are now in adult sizes with two of them with exceptionally large feet, so felt like this was a great bargain.)

I did not make these financial decisions lightly, especially looking at bills that are past due, but I am pleased with them and feel that the intrinsic reward my family will get from these two purchases will far outweigh the financial cost.  And I am continuing to seek more work and make much healthier financial decisions overall.

 


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