Friday, May 30, 2008

Won't You Let Me Take You on a Sea Cruise? - What's Included

Part 5 of the Cruisin' Series:

So what does the cost of your cruise include?

Of course it varies from cruiseline to cruiseline, but there are some standard inclusions that should be noted:

*Cabin (room & board)--you can choose from a number of different options here when booking that range from small two-person cabins inside the ship to large suites with balconies. Your location on the ship also affects the price, as some decks are more "desirable" than others due to the height off the water and accessibility to amenities.
*Meals (almost all)--Typically your breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as snacks are included. Water is also usually included. There are a number of choices for all of these including snack bars, restaurants, diners, and those legendary 24-hour buffets (yes, you really can gain 10 lbs in a week).
*Entertainment--Including shows, music, trivia games, scavenger hunts, karaoke, ice skating (yep, on some cruises--seriously), access to game rooms, dance clubs, comedy shows, deck games, board game rooms, and others
*Transportation between ports of call--Obviously...this is why the boat moves.
*Use of pool and/or gym and all amenities (sauna, pool towels, pool chairs, hot tubs, etc)--Usually there are numerous pools and gyms. You can take spinning, yoga, Pilate's, or aerobics classes. There are walking trails, hot tubs, saunas, and all of the pool luxuries you can fathom.
*Crew-organized games and activities (parties, lectures, classes)--Typically there are launching parties at the onset of the cruise. There are also crafting classes, educational classes, pool parties, and various other activities.
*Movies--Both in room and in a cinema setting.
*TV Access--Sounds basic I know, but I was amazed at how "normal" TV was when we were sailing around the Caribbean!
*Services (turn down, housekeeping, etc)--It is amazing how pampered you will feel aboard these liners. You have a room steward whose job is to make you (and some other temporary residents) happy for the length of their stay. While the gratuity you will leave for their services at the end of the week is not included, they will readily turn down your covers, clean the room, fold your tossed-on-the-floor clothes, make towel animals (on several cruise lines although I think Carnival made it most popular--and seriously, some of these are incredibly good!), and generally pamper you and try to earn a serious tip.
*Children's programs/activities--Most large liners have a huge itinerary especially for kids of all ages (starting around 3 on average). These are games, activities, crafts, dances, and all-out fun. True baby-sitting will cost you extra, but it doesn't cost you anything to send them on an "activity" while mom and dad have some alone time.

Photo credit: Savannah Grandfather, Michael Cowan

Friday, May 23, 2008

Who Can It Be Now? - Cruisin' Part 3

Welcome readers from the The 14th Money Hacks Carnival - Weird Golf Facts Edition over at Prime Time Money. Please make yourself at home and if you like what you see, sign up for my feed (in the right margin). Otherwise, just kick back and enjoy your stay. All comments welcome.

As my series on Cruisin' continues, we need to consider who is actually going on the cruise. We're all different and not only will our personalities decide what type of cruise we'll enjoy, but so will the combination of people in your party and your age. If you are a high-school graduate wanting to party the night away, you don't want to find yourself on a Disney family cruise or a cruise sponsored by AARP. In turn, if you are a retired couple, you don't want to spend your days at sea with drunken college students during a 7-day toga party. Make sure you know what you're getting into. After a bit of research, I am offering my recommendations:

Party Life: If you are in to all night dancing, wild times and super social activities, you need to make sure you're aboard a boat where you can meet people like yourself. Here's what you look for: make sure you go during the spring or summer when it is less likely that families will be aboard (kids are in school), shorter cruises (like 3-4 days) are more likely to be filled with a party-going crowd, and it seems to be the consensus across the internet that Carnival is the best bet.

Honeymooners: All cruise lines want to cater to the lovestruck stars-in-their-eyes couples. We used Princess for ours and were treated to a special time as they continue to deem themselves the Love Boat. Carnival offers a whole website dedicated to these guests and so many sites offer their "Top Ten" lists. When researching, I found this site helpful, as it lists all of the honeymoon "extras" aboard each of the major cruise lines (at the bottom)

Families with Young Children: What immediately comes to mind for most people is Disney Cruises. They have spent years developing their expertise on how to enchant small children and all of us have a bit more magic inside us thanks to them. With amenities catered to children, Disney is a safe bet with features like a total lack of casinos. However, don't be discouraged if mom and dad don't want to be surrounded by mouse-ears for an entire week (been there, done that, right?) have other options. Also notable cruises for this category are Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Celebrity Cruises.

Families with Children of Various Ages: For a cruise that will entertain children of all ages, you can count on Princess Cruises (Emerald Princess, Crown Princess and Caribbean Princess), Crystal Cruises (Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity seem to be good bets), Royal Caribbean International, Carnival seems to rate highly, and Norwegian seems to offer some variety as well.

Empty Nesters/Senior Couples: So this is a hard demographic to pin down. Some people become couples-only again in their early 40s while others don't hit that mark until 60 or so. So I apologize to all for grouping these together, but I'll try to differentiate more below:

*American Canadian Caribbean Line Inc --smaller ships; typically 50+
*Celebrity Cruises--larger ships; typically 35+
*Crystal Cruises--refined and a bit more expensive than many; 35+
*Holland America Line--most ships cater to 50+ crowd
*Radisson Seven Seas Cruises--upscale, middle-age
*Regal Cruises--relaxing; typically 50+
*Royal Caribbean--35-50 on the larger ships and 50+ on smaller
*St. Lawrence Cruise Lines-- casual cruise; 50+

Maybe you'd rather cruise by personality rather than age. For you, there are also special interest cruises:

*Food & Wine Cruise (there are multiple hits here--Google it)
*Health, Fitness & Yoga Cruise Golf Cruise
*50's Sock Hop Cruise (Holland America)
*Country Western Cruise (Holland America)
*Spiritual/Gospel Cruise (Costa)

There's really something for everyone! I mean EVERYONE!

So really look around out might be surprised what you can spend your vacation doing!

Photo credit: marganz , jwask99, assiewin, LuisSolis

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Oh the Places You Will Go… - Cruisin' Part 2

So to continue the Cruisin’ series, we’re going to take a look at all of the various location which you can choose from for your trip.

*Eastern Caribbean: Includes the Bahamas, the Turks, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Antilles, the Virgin Islands, and Dominica. This trip is all fun-in-the-sun. If you are not into beaches and the ocean, don’t bother with this one. From beautiful oceanic sunrises and sunsets to clear waters, fishing excursions, water sports, exotic marine life, and much more…you can truly feel like you are in paradise as you drift through this area of the world.

*Western Caribbean: Typically includes Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, and the Caymans. However, if you leave from the Miami/St. Petersburg area, you might get a bit of the Eastern Caribbean locations on your cruise on your way to the west! Bonus! Very similar to the Eastern Caribbean, this display of awe-inspiring tropical sites can have you swept away in a moment’s notice. More beautiful sunrises and sunsets, great water for all types of activities like snorkeling, parasailing (no, not off of the big ship), SCUBA diving, and beach-bumming and great food highlight this passage. Visit the various cultures and peoples that make this a truly unique part of the world.

*Western Mediterranean: Spain, Gibraltar, France, Corsica, Italy, Malta and Tunisia are just some places you could seeing while floating through the western Mediterranean. Visit this picturesque “old country” to relax and get away from the high-paced lifestyle most of us are accustomed to. Soak in the history and the sites. It will be truly unforgettable.

*Eastern Mediterranean: Cruise could include Italy, Tunisia, Croatia, Libya, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and even up into Romania, Ukraine and Russia. Where Europe, Asia, and Africa all meet, you can get exposure to many different cultures and histories. In this area, which is part of the oldest civilized area in existence, you can see sites that seem almost other-worldly because frankly, they are!

*Alaska: Seriously this is a HUGE expanse of countryside. The best way to see it, in many people’s opinions, is through a cruise through its waterways. See the snow-topped mountains, glaciers, do some whale-watching, see the famous Aurora Borealis, experience the best salmon fishing on earth, flightsee this almost uncharted land, and see wildlife that you’ll never experience in the lower 48.

*Hawaii: So you want to go to Hawaii but you’re confused about which island to stay on and where to visit. Well, the cruise industry has solved your problem—go to all of them and enjoy the best of this Pacific paradise. Enjoy volcanoes, some of the most spectacular beaches in the world, the fantastic atmosphere of Hawaiian surfing, and lush rainforests all in this tiny stretch of islands. Why “limit” yourself to just one of the islands?

*Australia/New Zealand: Visit the rugged land known as Down Under to see the Great Barrier Reef, wildlife parks housing creatures like no other on earth, glorious cities, and even follow Captain James Cook’s path to see a land and a people like no other.

Did you also know that you can go:

*Canada/US: Yep…you can cruise around North American experiencing some of the highlights such as New York, Boston, Quebec, Charlottetown, and even down to Fort Lauderdale. You can see some fantastic landscape in a country that you thought you were familiar with all while visiting some of the most frequently visited cities. You don’t just have to choose one big city for your trip…you can see several and never have to fill your car up with gas!

*South America: Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands can all be experienced aboard a ship (okay, so after you get off). Enjoy the party that can be found in some of the major cities, the fantastic mountainous and lush green landscape, and some of the oldest civilizations known to mankind.

*Norwegian Fjords: See Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Scotland, Germany, and the Netherlands. Throughout these areas you can find glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls, geysers, fairytale castles, mountains, forests, clear waters, and all types of breathtaking views. A relatively secluded part of the planet, this area would see almost untouched in comparison as some locations close to your home.

*Baltic: Visit any number of famous places on your Batlic cruise, once again gaining in popularity. You can visit England, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia or Sweden. The possibilities of experiences here are endless. Basically, pick your dream and you could find it here.

*Atlantic: Visit the Azores, Canary Islands, Morocco, Cape Verde, Senegal, or a number of other places as you see this mysterious part of the world. So secluded from most of the world, this area is exotic, spotted with fishing villages and fantastical scenery. See great cities or fantastic reefs along this area of the world.

*Middle East: Visit Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, and Yemen. See a culture unlike your own and the beauty that surrounds them. See the mysteries of ancient kingdoms and civilizations and experience the part of the world where life began. You can even choose a cruise down the Nile River to see the sites that pharaohs once admired and ruled.

*Indian Ocean: Visit Kenya, the Comoro Islands, Madagascar, Mauritius, RĂ©union, or Seychelles. See clear beaches, African wildlife, astounding surfing, craters, waterfalls, fauna found only on these islands, and even wild and glamorous cities.

*Far East: See South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and India. Wow…what a fascinating part of the world. If you want to step outside of what you know as a regular lifestyle, this is a part of the world for you. In an area that developed independently from any European influence, life here is so different that what you would be accustomed to that you simply could not come back unchanged. Fabulous cities, fantastic beaches, exotic perfumes, tranquility, forests, national parks too many to count, ancient temples, and breathtaking sites of all types.

*Antarctica: “It is not an easy place to get to, but increasing numbers of people visit Antarctica every year. Almost all go as a part of an organized expeditionary cruise, frequently guided by experts who are a mixture of seasoned seafarers, and ice or wildlife experts.” These are small and sometimes dangerous cruises that delight the adventurer inside. It would be an experience truly unlike any other.

So, now I have succeeded in further complicating the matter for you, but I wanted to let you know that there are more choices than you could have possibly imagined. Almost anywhere your heart desires can be reached aboard a luxurious ocean liner. What tickles your fancy? If you can dream it, you can cruise it.

Photo credit: coopgreg, lettieb, ericstorm

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Books for New/Expecting Parents

In honor of the ongoing Mommyfest 2008, my Works for Me Wednesday (hosted by Rocks in My Dryer) is sharing the three books that I highly recommend for new/expecting parents.

The first is a staple for many, but it was so very informative that it bears mentioning. What to Expect the First Year (from the author of What to Expect When You're Expecting Arlene Eisenberg) is a month-by-month guide to your baby's development. There are a lot of very informative articles and Q&A sections to cover a LOT of topics. Also, the development of the child is tracked by what your child SHOULD be doing, what they LIKELY are doing, and what they MIGHT be able to do. Certainly no book is a replacement for a good relationship with your pediatrician, but this one answers a lot of questions. It also covers a lot of special circumstances such as special needs, illnesses, and multiples.

The second was the bible of sleep/feed schedule for us. It's On Becoming Baby Wise by Dr. Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam We had three different families recommend this one, as they had used it, followed it, and been very successful. The only people who were not fans had not followed the schedules and therefore could not endorse the method for training your child's eating and sleeping cycle. That's them. You don't HAVE to follow their schedule. Sound crazy? I thought so too, but Little Nespy was sleeping 5+ hours through the night at 9 weeks and there was no looking back from there. Sleep is still a good experience for him and he rarely argues about having to go to bed. Although I cannot GUARANTEE it will work for you, I can tell you that everyone I know that has ever tried it (with a fair chance) has been very please with the results.

And lastly is a fun, yet informative look at parenting called The Baby Owner's Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance by Louis Borgenicht, Joe Borgenicht, Paul Kepple, and Jude Buffum (whew! That's a mouthful!). Nespy LOVED this one as it had some humorous schematics included with the instructions. Although all of the information is very important and often brilliant, it is presented in such a fun matter as it makes the read easy. A great book for dads who don't want all of the emotional details, but just want to cut to the chase of the how-tos. Love it!

Those are the books that really worked for us!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Since I Became a Mom...

In honor of Mommyfest 2008, here are five things I have learned since I became a Mom:

1.) Some of the vile, disgusting times of my life have occurred while changing my son's diapers...and they didn't even make me gag!

2.) My husband is the greatest Dad on earth. I knew he had the ability, but he has really fulfilled that potential.

3.) I can function on little to no sleep much more easily when I love what I'm doing (mommying).

4.) Projectile vomit can be more awe-inspiring than disgusting when it is your own child. You can sometimes even feel as if you need to brag about the distance gained.

5.) Rocks can be the topic of a discussion that lasts for 30 minutes or more.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Nespys' Guide to Frugal Weddings!

If you are visiting from Welcome to the #126 Festival of Frugality!-If I Had a Car Edition over at The Financial Blogger, I want to extend a warm welcome to you! Make yourself at home...pull up a chair and have a cool glass of sweet tea. Stick around if you'd like. And if you find yourself wanting to stay, sign up for my feed (over in the right margin). Otherwise, enjoy your stay while you are here.
Okay, so I guess I've always been a cheapskate money-conscious, as when Nespy and I got married, I've got to admit that we got away with a really nice wedding for a relatively small amount. Now, I can't tell you truly how much we paid, as he paid for some, I paid for some, and our moms paid for some...and I guess it really would not matter, as it was 6-1/2 years ago and prices would no longer be any good.

However, I will share how we kept costs down: (by the way...this was entered in a contest about frugal wedding at Moolanomy. Check it out!)

Ceremony Location: We got married at a church at member cost = $0. We did not have to rent the facility, but only reserve it. This saved a LOT of money, as we looked around at having a location wedding in several different locations.
Ties with a Minister: Okay, so not everyone could pull this off, but my uncle was the minister we used, and he offered his services as our wedding gift. payment to the pastor!

Invitations and Programs: Easy. Print it yourself on cardstock. We did this with a really nice font. We were able to get 2 invitations per sheet and 2 programs (cut lengthwise). To the programs we punched two holes on top and tied a ribbon through them. They were very nice and super simple to do.
Photography: This was purely by referral via some family friends who had recently had a wedding and used a relatively obscure photographer with whom they were really pleased. There were some points of the pictures that could have been slightly better, but overall, the photos were great.

Videography: Also, not something that everyone could pull off, but we did pretty good on this. All of the "good ones" were booked. I was in a panic. Then I remembered--the church had a video crew (the service was on a local channel weekly). I contact them and they sent a skeleton crew (3 people) and they were paid $50 a piece for approximately 1 hour of their time. Easy money for them, cheap video production for us. And it looked good, as they were trained!

Dress: I did have to pay for my dress, although many people buy second-hand, use their mom;s or have one made inexpensively. However, I did buy it during a popular wedding dress carrier's annual (or is it semi-annual) sale, so I got $99 off the total cost and ended up paying right around $500 for it.

Alterations: Okay, I was lucky here too. The only alterations needed were to add the loop and button to bustle the train for the reception. Otherwise it fit.

Bride's Accessories: I pondered veils, gloves, shoes, etc...the works. I never found a veil that I thought would work with my hair and the dress, so I opted for small bobby pins that had satin roses on them scattered throughout my hair. I did not go for gloves, as I could not decide what I would want to do to accommodate the ring ceremony. Shoes were a simple ballet flat, as I wanted to be comfortable and shorter than Nespy in pictures (we're the same height flat footed).

Wedding Party Attire: The bridesmaids dresses were discounted through the same popular carrier (10% off total) since I purchased my dress and accessories there. They worn regular navy shoes, as they were covered by their dresses. Nespy got a bulk discount for tux rentals. The flower girls' and ring bearer's dresses (female ring bearer) were handmade and smocked by my aunt. She also made the ring bearer's pillow. The bridesmaids were simple pearl necklaces and earrings (which all of them owned or borrowed).
Bridesmaids Hair & Makeup: Blessed is my maid-of-honor. She worked at a salon for years. She did the hair of the whole wedding party and my make-up. That was her gift, as she was a struggling college student who had no money to buy a gift. That was better than a gift!
Decorations: Use someone (in the family if possible) that knows what they are doing. One of my friends got married and they rented Greek-looking columns and then purchased simple round glass to top them and placed various sizes of pillar candles on top surrounded by ivy. It was GORGEOUS! For aunt was great at working with tulle and candles with greenery in the windows. Same aunt that made the dresses. Also, same aunt that was the...
Director/Coordinator: She loves doing it and considered it her gift to us. Woohoo! No payment there either!

Flowers: Okay, so this is where we actually spent money. I wanted what I wanted and had a very talented florist in my pocket who could make it happen. This is where we spent the most money. However, we kept costs down by using only greenery in the decor. You can also keep costs down by using seasonal flowers...especially found locally. If you want flowers that are only grown in Asia at a time of the year that is 6-months away from your wedding, expect to pay serious money to have your dreams fulfilled.

Reception: Time and location are everything here. We had our reception at the reception hall of the once again, there was no cost to rent...just reserve. We had an afternoon wedding (2:00), so we only served finger foods. No sit-down dinner needed. Also, we had a Southern Baptist wedding, so no alcohol allowed (and therefore none to buy). The food was delicious, the cakes were beautiful. Which brings me to my next item...
Catering: I was the organist at this church, so I knew many people in the music program. One of those ladies happened to cater. She was wonderful! She made exactly what we requested in our cakes and did a fabulous job with all of the finger foods. Because this was not her main source of income, she was less expensive than a professional cater...and just as good! When she brought the bill, I thought it was either for the cakes OR the food; I was was for both!
See the cute flowers in my hair? I think they cost like $4.00. =)
Music: We did pay the standard fee for musicians for the time and location for the ceremony. However, like I was a Baptist wedding, so no dancing, therefore no DJ or band or musician costs for the ceremony.

Reception Decor: One item that we used was photographs. Some of Nespy as he grew up. Some of me as I grew up. Some of us dating. Some of our engagement photos. We had them scattered throughout and since we were surrounded by our loved ones, they enjoyed reminiscing as well through the photos. Yes, some were slightly embarrassing (we all have that awkward stage, right?), but there is nothing to hide, as they all knew us well. I know some people make centerpieces (think same people who do some decorating themselves) and then send them home with people. That's awesome...they have a beautiful centerpiece and you don't have 25 beautiful centerpieces to dispose of! Also, there has been the trend of using disposable cameras on the tables so your guests can capture the event for you. Nothing like having free photography. And out of several hundred photos, you're bound to get SOME good ones, right (although I guess this could be costly to develop).

Honeymoon: We also had a frugal first-night-as-married suite. Nespy was in the hospitality industry at that time as well, so we were able to stay in a very popular named suite for a fraction of typical cost. After the first night, we left on our cruise. Yes, cruises can be expensive and I will not lie and tell you we were terribly cheap during our cruise, but they can be a VERY cost-effective way to take a week long vacation to exotic locations. =) Go in the off-season. We went in late October/early November to the Caribbean, so it was less expensive than going during the summer (although you might have to deal with hurricanes!).

Memories: We never had my flowers (yellow roses) officially preserved. However, they are currently stored in our china cabinet. Perfectly dried. Leave them along out of the elements for a while, and they will likely take care of themselves. The dress...never preserved. It sits in its original bag in our closet. It is not yellow, does not smell, it not faded. It is perfect still. Maybe it won't stay that way. Maybe I should not even keep it. However, for now, it pleases me.

So, that's how we did it. Please consider any and all of these if you are going to be planning an upcoming event soon. You may can use some or all of them--I just hope that our experience can help someone else out!

And, by the way...this gives me an excuse to post my wedding pics from (what seems like) long ago!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Living in the Dark

Welcome guests from Festival of Frugality #125 at Quest for Four Pillars! Please feel free to peruse my site and leave comments where you feel inspired. If you feel particularly inspired, sign up for my feed (right hand margin). Either way, make yourself at home.
And I'm quite proud to note that this post was listed as one of Kyle's (from Rather Be Shopping) favorites! Thanks!

Tuesday late afternoon there was a big boo-boo in our neighborhood. A landscaping company was digging holes to plant full-size palm trees and hit a power line. Yep. All of our lines are underground, so I’m not sure if they didn’t call before digging or what, but the result was this.

Our entire neighborhood including everything from us to about 1-1/2 miles toward the interstate were out of power. That included a Food Lion, CVS, Zaxby’s and another neighborhood. Wow.

Anyway...our need to find something to do until time for bed inspired the follow ideas of things to do when your power goes off:

Picnic lunch/dinner: Pull out the sandwich supplies, throw a blanket on the ground and have a family picnic! You won't be able to cook, so this is the perfect opportunity to use up that lunch meat and snack-type items. Plus, if you have anything like potato salad in the fridge, you might want to use it up in case the power is out a long time and you could end of losing it anyway.

Grill out: Same idea--if you have meat that could possibly go bad, grill that stuff out on the grill. I LOVE grilled food and this is the perfect excuse to fire yours up!

Play with sidewalk chalk: Seriously fun for all ages. The toddlers can simply scribble (or demand you draw for them like Little Nespy does) and the older ones can create entire sidewalk murals. It is a chance to explore your artistic side.

Outdoor games: You know--hopscotch, jump rope, Mother-May-I, Redlight-Greenlight, and other childhood wonders. Hula-hoop or play hide-and-seek. Whatever tickles the fancy. Fun for the whole family. Let mom and dad see if they can still do somersaults or cartwheels. Just have fun!

Ride bicycles: Once again this could be good for the whole family to spend time together (great exercise too!)

Take a walk: If you need to pile little ones up in the stroller, do it. Just take a walk. It doesn't need to be "exercise" (like a power walk) but just time to explore nature and enjoy some fresh air.

Gardening: If you have a garden or flowers you tend to, this takes away all excuses of inside chores that need to be done (laundry, cooking, vacuuming, etc) and gives you reason to get some outside work done.

Play in the water hose or kiddie pool: Once again, fun for everyone...and enough to really cool you off if you live in the deep south and are pining for your lost AC!

Jigsaw Puzzles: Although there are some similar items to be listed under the "darkness" category, these are not easy in the dark, so I will list them as "daylight" activities.

Photo Credit: phostezel
Picnic/campfire: If you live outside the city limits and outside of a neighborhood, you can get away with a campfire. Roast hot dogs, marshmallows, make smores, tell ghost stories. Do whatever makes the evening fun.

Read by flashlight: Okay you could easily do this in the daylight, but it's easier and better to take advantage of outside time while it is daylight, so I'm sticking this in the darkness category. You can read as a family or send each member to their own area to just have some quiet time alone with a good book.

Puzzles/Crosswords: We love crosswords, logic puzzles, acrostics, etc in our home, so this gives us time to step away from all of the electronic gadgets and just take some time to think and stretch our brains.

Make music: Easily done by candlelight, your family can make music together. Sing, dance, play instruments, bang on kitchen items, whatever suits you. Just have a great time!

Board/Card games: Another favorite around our house. Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Life, whatever you like. Card games could be heart/spades/rook, old maid, go fish, canasta, rummy, phase 10. You could even play dominoes. The possibilities here are almost endless!

Non-board/card games: You know...charades, twenty questions...delve back into the back of your brain to recall those games from childhood to share with your kids. Or let them suggest some that they have learned at school or church.

Talk: Although this will most likely happen while all of these other things are going on, just spend time together getting to know each other better. That's right...we can often lose touch with people that live in the same house as us just because we're all so busy. Talk about your day, your dreams, your friends, anything that comes to mind.

So there is a list of things that you can do around your own house if you are out of power for a while. You could, of course, always go somewhere a park, the library, or whatever you like...but I wanted to keep it contained to your own home.

Come to think of it...this stuff sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe we should do this voluntarily more often!

What other recommendations do you have?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Teaching Children About Money - Part 2 - Giving

Welcome visitors via Carnival of Personal Finance #152 over at Money Under 30. Please take a look around and if you like what you see, feel free to subscribe to my feed (right margin). Whether you like it or not, feel free to leave your mark (comments) on my blog. Thanks for stopping by!

This is part of a series regarding teaching children about money. To read Part 1 - Credit, click here.

There is another part of money management that I feel should be a big part of everyone's budget. It is called charitable giving. We personally call it tithing, but regardless of what it is called, it should be giving back just a portion (10% or more) of the blessings that you have received.

I will not go into the whys of tithing, but just offer that I believe that if you give, it will come back to bless you. Even when you don't think you have it to give, if you make the effort to make it a priority in your budget, God will remember that.

So, the basic tithe is 10% as taught Biblically. The best way to instill this in a child is to make it automatic from a very early age. Teach them from the beginning that small portion is always for giving and should not be used personally. The more of a habit it is from a young age, the more easily it will be when they are truly introduced to our (mostly) selfish and materialistic society.

How do you teach this?

First, designate a piggy bank that will be solely for this purpose. Make it a craft project one day, explaining all along what its purpose will be. Here are some suggestions: DLTK, Associated Content, Enchanted Learning, My Craftbook, HGTV, Squigly's, or Kaboose. Or just google it and find one you like...the possibilities are almost endless. Or if you want to teach an envelope system early, you can use one of these as well, although you will most probably be dealing with small change at first.

Next give them money divided into tenths. For instance, if they earn a dollar (via allowance, chores, gifts, etc), give it to them in dimes and teach them that when they have 10 of something, one is always put aside for giving.

Teach them that if they want to give any more above that tenth that it too will be honored, but that is based solely on what God wants them to do. If you are not a Christian, you can choose to put a secular twist on this, but since I am writing it from my point of view (which happens to be a Christian one), that is the way I would word it.

The next opportunity you have to give this money (church service or time to donate to charity, as it applies), make sure they are an active part of contributing their portion. Don't take it out and do it for them, but make sure they know where their money is going.

Soon, they will not even think twice and such donations!

Continue here to Part 3 - Saving

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Big No-Nos with Fabric Softeners

Today is "What DOESN'T Work for Me" over at Rocks in My Dryer and I wanted to share a bit of information with you that I was privy to at a young age, but you may not have been.

I learned a laundry tip while I was in college because of my major (although it is called Polymer and Fiber Engineering now, it was called Textile Engineering when I was there). Here's the tip:

Never EVER use fabric softener (liquid or sheet) on towels of any kind or on infants' sleepwear.

Here is why:

* The same chemical reactions that occur to make your clothes soft and cozy also leave a coating of the softener on the towels and reduce their absorbency. Your towels, dish-drying cloths, bath cloths, etc lose that wonderful ability to absorb water and you really would just do better rolling around on the carpet in your bedroom to dry off. So anything that you own that you want to be absorbent, do not use fabric softeners on it.

*Most infant sleepwear is made to be flame-retardant. The chemicals in softeners kill this ability, making your child's sleepwear as flame-happy as all of the other consumables in your house. The same goes for infant bedding (sheets, comforters, etc), which also is made to resist (NOT PREVENT) burning. This is a good reason not to buy infant sleepwear second-hand if this is a concern to you. Also...older children's pjs are not required to be flame-retardant, so you're safe there.

So, although I do not do this, I know that it DOESN'T work for me. Since I know that it doesn't work for you either, I thought I would tell you. ;)
Update: By the way...obviously great minds think alike, because Heather had this post for her What Doesn't Work for Me post as well!

Monday, May 5, 2008

What’s the Deal with CFLs?

WELCOME visitors from Money Hacks Carnival #11 - Ebb and Flow Edition over at Save and Conquer. Please look around and stay awhile. If you like what you see, feel free to subscribe via RSS over in my right margin!

So we are all working to go more green, right (or at least we’ve all been told that)? Well, we have CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) in our house everywhere that is feasible to use in the place of an incandescent bulb. That saves energy, right? Then I started seeing all of this information about mercury content in these bulbs. So I decided to investigate. Here is the lowdown (most of these are direct quotes from the below cited sources, but I have added my own “color” commentary in italics):

1.) The sales pitch. If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL, it would save enough energy to light more than three million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of more than 800,000 cars annually. Wow. That sounds convincing. Great job pitching it to us!

2.) Breakdown of the Benefits. CFLs, when compared with standard incandescent bulbs, offer many benefits. First, they help save energy and money. They use 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs, and last up to 10 times longer. Replacing a 60-watt incandescent with a 13-watt CFL can save you at least $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb. Second, CFLs offer convenience, because they last longer, and come in different sizes and shapes to fit almost any fixture. In addition, CFLs produce about 70% less heat than standard incandescent bulbs, so they're safer to operate and can help cut energy costs associated with home cooling. When shopping, always look for ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs. There you go…back it up with numbers. We like those. We don’t bother to check them, as they look convincing enough.

3.) Leave them on? Compact fluorescent light bulbs work best if they are left on for over 15 minutes each time they are turned on. These types of lamps can take up to 3 minutes to warm-up. Warm-up will probably not be noticeable from a user stand point, but the lamp needs to warm-up in order to reach the point of most efficient operation. Frequently switching them on and off will shorten the life of the product. If the life of the lamp is shortened significantly, you will not reap the financial benefits (includes energy & life of lamp), that are common to CFLs. Isn’t this contradictory to what my mom told me about turning off the lights?

4.) Mercury? You mean the highly toxic stuff? CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing - an average of 5 milligrams (roughly equivalent to the tip of a ball-point pen). Mercury is an essential, irreplaceable element in CFLs and is what allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. By comparison, older home thermometers contain 500 milligrams of mercury and many manual thermostats contain up to 3000 milligrams. It would take between 100 and 600 CFLs to equal those amounts. Well, you’re trying to back it up with numbers again. Nice attempt, but let me think about this a minute…

5.) Safe as long as they don’t break. CFLs are safe to use in your home. No mercury is released when the bulbs are in use and they pose no danger to you or your family when used properly. However, CFLs are made of glass tubing and can break if dropped or roughly handled. Be careful when removing the lamp from its packaging, installing it, or replacing it. Always screw and unscrew the lamp by its base, and never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket by its tubes. Used CFLs should be disposed of properly, learn how to properly dispose. How many broken bulbs have you encountered in your life? Do you think that number will be reduced just having by a different type of bulb?

6.) Okay… Because there is such a small amount of mercury in CFLs, your greatest risk if a bulb breaks is getting cut from glass shards. Research indicates that there is no immediate health risk to you or your family should a bulb break and it's cleaned up properly. Ahh...if it is cleaned up properly. There’s the loophole for them.

7.) So what if they have mercury? Mercury is probably best-known for its effects on the nervous system. It can also damage the kidneys and liver, and in sufficient quantities can cause death. When sufficient mercury accumulates in a landfill, it can be emitted into the air and water in the form of vaporous methyl-mercury. From there, it can easily get into the food chain.Yeah…we’ve already been warned about the possibility of mercury exposure in tuna. I’ve heard differing stories about how the levels in CFLs compare. However, don’t you think that if people do not dispose of these properly, that the exposure will only become greater? I mean, won’t the tuna then get more in their system because there is more being disposed of (improperly)?

8.) Ummm…should I be worried now? Most consumers, even those already using the CFLs, do not realize the long-term dangers the bulbs pose to the environment and the health of human beings. (Gulp…)

9.) How do we get rid of them? EPA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for compact fluorescent light bulbs. EPA is working with CFL manufacturers and major U.S. retailers to expand recycling and disposal options. Consumers can contact their local municipal solid waste agency directly, or go to or to identify local recycling options. If your state permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the bulb in two plastic bags and put it into the outside trash, or other protected outside location, for the next normal trash collection. CFLs should not be disposed of in an incinerator. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs have a warranty. If the bulb has failed within the warranty period, look at the CFL base to find the manufacturer’s name. Visit the manufacturer’s web site to find the customer service contact information to inquire about a refund or replacement. Okay…I can do that.

10.) Say what? Many waste centers that are set up to accept CFL recycling currently have only one collection day per year. So are the same people pushing us to buy them also pushing them to recycle more frequently?

11.) IKEA Cares! Bring your used mercury containing light bulbs to the IKEA store for free disposal. Since...CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, they should not be simply tossed out. IKEA offers the perfect solution: a ‘Free Take Back’ program offering recycle bins in all IKEA stores. Or for lamp disposal information for your state, please go to obtain more information. I hope you have one locally, because I don’t!

Things The Salesperson Doesn’t Tell You:
--Compact fluorescent light bulbs may generally be used in enclosed fixtures as long as the enclosed fixture is not recessed. Totally enclosed recessed fixtures (for example, a ceiling can light with a cover over the bulb) create temperatures that are too high to allow the use of a compact fluorescent bulb.

--Generally it is not recommended to use CFLs in vibrating environments. Vibration can cause the electronics in the CFL to fail. There is one CFL bulb (FLE11) that is available for use in a ceiling fan. Check the package for this application.

--Dimmable CFLs are available for lights using a dimmer switch, but check the package; not all CFLs can be used on dimmer switches. Using a regular CFL with a dimmer can shorten the bulb life span. Anything else you’d like to share?

--Most CFLs can be used with a timer, however some timers have parts which are incompatible with CFLs; to check your timer, consult the timer package or manufacturer. Using an incompatible timer can shorten the life of a CFL bulb. So is there anywhere other than a lamp that I CAN use them?

--CFLs can be used outdoors, but should be covered or shaded from the elements. Low temperatures may reduce light levels - check the package label to see if the bulb is suited for outdoor use. But…there’s always a “but” isn’t there?

So there’s the scoop. I really am not trying to persuade or dissuade you from using them. We have some, and they have saved a lot of money for us, and they work in many places as well. However, I just think it is fair if we are all well-educated before we jump on the bandwagons.

Hooray for informed decision-making!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mother's Day Gifts Series - Part 5 of 5

This is the final posting in this series. To follow from the beginning, stop reading now, and click here.

Rounding out my list...

What Mother's Day would be complete without a card.

Standard: Go out and buy a card that fits who she really is and what she really means to you and the kids. Let the kids pick out their own if they are old enough to really "get it." If you want to splurge on the musical ones or the ones that look handmade or the funny ones--just make sure it is appropriate for her and your relationship.

Yes, I realize that there is no "inexpensive" listing...I'm not sure what the middle ground between standard and frugal is here...any suggestions?

Frugal: Make it. Yes...make it personalized and from the heart. If it is from the husband, write a poem, make her lay down and use that length of paper to write down everything you appreciate about her, write a goofy song for her, just write down on regular notebook paper how much you love her. Just write a love letter.

From the kids, check these out:
Lots of choices here
And more Cards
Handprint Heart

Also--have your kids do some of these activities (scroll down to the crafts) to present as presents! Wonderful, heart-felt, and super-inexpensive!

10.) Club of the Month:
This is something I discovered was quite popular (according to the internet) for Mother's Day (I have considered them for Christmas, but never for Mom's Day).

Standard: You can find something to suit anyone's fancy and have the gift keep giving year-round. It is a reminder throughout the year that she is special, but these are often quite pricey.

More Cost Efficient: Create your own by remembering (there's the catch) each month to grace your wife/mom with a gift that is personalized for her likes, fancies, or passions. It doesn't have to be expensive, but the thought will mean everything to her.

Super Inexpensive: Create a coupon book from hubby and one from the kids. They can include chores like vacuuming, cleaning baseboards, raking leaves, cooking dinner, grocery shopping, putting the baby to bed, getting up with baby in the night, super room cleaning, washing dishes, the possibilities are endless. The catch here is that the coupon(s) can be redeemed by mom at any time and there is no complaining one a coupon is visible.

Get some ideas for a book from here, here, or here.

And lastly--

What can top that? My secret confession. The non-frugal side of me wants something ridiculously useless and unfrugal and clutter-inducing. It is a figurine that I have had my eye on and I've decided that it is not a passing fad, as I look for this particular figurine anywhere Willow Creek is sold. It's precious to me and speaks volumes of how I feel about being a mommy. It represents a period in my son's life that I want to rush through and hold onto at the same time--but in the end, I know the wanting-to-hold-onto will win out. So if Nespy asks you what he or Little Nespy can get me, point him in this direction (but yes, I want him to think of anything else--although nothing else is really needed--so as not to steal his thunder!) ps--sold in many gift stores around the world, including Savannah =).

So Happy Shopping/Creating/Doing!

Photo credit: smiles4angels, stylecourt1

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mother's Day Gifts Series - Part 4 of 5

Click here for the beginning of the series...

Moving on to the next item...

7.) Dinner
Standard: A nice expensive dinner and a date night is always a nice getaway, but such outings can be expensive and if your wife is a tightwad money-conscious, she may not be able to enjoy the evening due to the extravagance. Here's some ideas to ease her stress

Money Saving: Look for coupons for Buy One, Get One meals or even have dinner at home and go our for dessert. Rent a movie that the family can enjoy or just one for the mom and dad while a neighbor keeps the kids. Sometimes just getting take-out (pizza or Chinese?) will help take the dinner burden off of mom for the night.

Totally Frugal: How about breakfast (made by the kids?) in bed. Or a movie night at home complete with homemade pizza (your kids know how to do that by now, right?) and a redbox $1 rental. Better yet--have dad and kids plan, shop for, and prepare all of the meals for one solid week. That takes all of the planning out of her hands and gives her a long break.

8.) Feed Her Hobby:
If her hobby is collecting knick-knacks, do NOT (I NOT) feed this hobby. She needs to be stopped at all costs. However, you can help her out with some interests she may have whether or not she is already pursuing them or not.

Standard: Pay for her to take an adult education class, a cooking class (although be careful that this is not an insult in disguise), a cake-decorating class, guitar lessons, or whatever wonderful new hobby she would like to dive into. This can be a very personal and thoughtful gift.

Less Expensive: Buy items for her to help feed an existing hobby such as scrapbook supplies, gardening tools, fabric samples for her creations, new paints, an organizer (be sure this isn't an insult in disguise too!), cooking gadgets, or whatever will feed her fancy.

Frugal Choice: Homemade items as usual are always a hit with mom--
Kitchen Sink Pot
Easy Pin Cushion
Recipe Card Holder (3x5 or 4x6)
Recipe Cards
Business Card Holder
Bookmarks here or here
Jam/Jelly Jar Tags
Art Caddy
Alligator Sewing Kit

Garden Gloves
Plant Stakes

Or even look at having business cards printed for her for free for her craft passion that she's been wanting to create a business from (but might have been hesitant about). This shows you were thinking of her and encouraging her at the same time! Winner!

Come back tomorrow for the final installment...

Photo credit: melissss

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mother's Day Gifts Series - Part 3 of 5

Continuing (click here for the beginning of the series):

5.) Jewelry:
Standard: Have you noticed all of the jewelry ads on TV, in the paper, and on billboards lately? Jewelers know that this is typically a big jewelry day and are enticing you to buy something that tries to prove how you feel about the Mom in your life with sparklies and shinies. It works often. However, let me give you some alternatives.

Wallet-Friendly: Try finding something in an etsy shop that she would love (and support other moms in the process). In you want your gift to "give back" try one of these items from the Breast Cancer Site, which will donate proceeds from your purchase toward mammograms for less fortunate women (they are having an awesome pearl sale!)Or try one of these sites for some deals on beautiful pieces:
--Silver Jewelry Club
--Silver Jewelry

Even Friendlier to Your Wallet: Try your hand at some of these items:
--M-O-M bracelets
--Button Bracelet
--Ring and Bracelet craft
--Ribbon Bracelet
--Foam Mom Bracelet
--Crystal Clear Necklace

6.) Spa Treatment:

Standard: Seriously, who wouldn't enjoy this pampering experience. However, there are alternatives for those of us on a budget that will let her know that she is appreciated.

No Less Thoughtful: Buy her some bath sets or candles from somewhere like Bath and Body Works or Crabtree & Evelyn. Make sure that these are thought through and not the first item you see in the store. As long as she knows that you were thinking of her when you purchased it, you will be a hit.

From the Heart, Not the Wallet: Try out these homemade treats:
--Bath Bags
--Luxury in Lace
--Jeweled Votive Candle Holder
--More Soaps
--More Candles
--Bath Salts
--Slipper Cookies (now there's a great end to a theme!)

Tune in tomorrow...same Nespy time, same Nespy channel. =)

Photo credit: semeasy