Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What I won't do this summer

Well, today is the two week mark for summer vacation. We have kept busy so far. The season is new. There's so much I want to do. Every year there is so much I want to do with the boys. Just not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the week. Not enough weeks in summer vacation. But, not only am I concentrating on what to do this summer, but on what I plan NOT to do.

1) Worry about sand. Every time we visit a beach, in the back of my head I am agonizing over what a pain it is going to be to keep the sand out of my vehicle. Then it all gets brought back in the house in their shoes and pockets. This year I want to go to the beach and sink my feet in the sand and not care about where it's going when it's time to go home.

2) Hide in the air conditioning. Even on the days I have absolutely nowhere to go, I will be sure to get outside. Even if it's just to retrieve the mail or walk out to the garage.

3) Let the kids stay up late and sleep late. Ok, I will -- a little, but the more they get used to it now, the harder it is to return to the regular schedule when school begins. A couple of the boys are taking summer enrichment classes, so that's helped a little with keeping them on track.

4) Ignore the garden. Normally, I just let my husband and boys do the planting and maintaining. I'm going to pitch in a little with weeding and watering and eventually, picking.

5) Skip the ice cream. Ice cream is a frequent treat in the summer. I often order for the kids, but not for me. I take their leftovers if there are any. But hey, I like ice cream, too. I'm going to indulge once in a while.

6) Not get my money's worth out of the season pool passes. For many years, we've gotten season passes for a local pool, but we don't go that often. This summer -- more trips to the pool. We need to make at least 8 visits to get our money's worth out of the passes. So far we have gone twice.

7) Let coupons and free passes expire. I have two Six Flags Great America passes the boys earned by reading books. Another earned a free water park pass. They also earned several free personal pan pizzas at Pizza Hut. A couple got certificates for free Subway sandwiches from the library's reading program. I've collected a few others for various places over the past few months. I'm not going to let them go to waste this year. I'll keep them where they are easily visible and won't get lost and forgotten.

Hope you enjoy your summer!!!! Get to it...the clock is ticking!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Save some money this summer

Summer can be expensive. Very expensive. The more kids you have, the more you're forking out on vacations and such things as water parks, ice cream, sporting events, summer school, lunches on the run and festivals.

I'm always looking for activities that can be done that are free or very inexpensive during the summer months. Here's a few ways to be frugal and make the money go a little farther.

- Join a summer reading club at your local library. Reading is a summer activity that exercises the mind and prizes are offered as more books are read.

- Family bike rides allow you to enjoy the outdoors and get in a little exercise.

- Stretch your treat dollars further by hitting the $1 menu at McDonald's when you have a taste for ice cream. Check with the other places in your area to see if they run specials. One place nearby has a value menu that in the past has been $1. Prices went up a little (I think it's now 2 for $3 or 3 for $5), but it's still a bargain at $1.50 for a 40-ounce or so root beer float.

- Our local theatre does free movies each Wednesday morning. They are older movies that are now available on video, but there are several we haven't seen yet and it's always more fun to see it on the big screen. Another theatre chain in the area (Marcus) is doing $2 movies on Tues, Wed. Thurs. and on Tuesdays popcorn and pop are also $2. At the AMC Theatres I often go to, it's $5 per person during the week and Monday through Thursday there are free refills on all sizes.

- Visit an area nature center for a hike together and a little education on wildlife. Sandridge Nature Center in South Holland has a great education building where kids can see small creatures and play.

- Look at the calendar for your local library or historical society. Lots of free programs are offered for families.

- Check out area bowling alleys to see if they have free or discounted bowling. I recently picked up some coupons while at Funflatables for a free bowling session at Stardust Bowl, so we'll use those for a fun afternoon. (You do have to pay to rent the shoes.) Also, Lynwood Bowl usually runs specials once a week for $1 games (I think it's on Tuesdays) and sometimes they'll add in additional specials during the slow summer months. Great activity for a rainy day!!

- Research the free days at the downtown museums. Almost all of them have some days where admission is free. Some do it on a certain day each week. Some do it a certain day each month. Some have scattered days throughout the season, so you'll have to check the websites or call to find out.

- Minor League sporting events. I'm a huge baseball fan. A great alternative to a major league game is a Windy City Thunderbolts or Gary Railcats game. Tickets and concessions are inexpensive. Check the website for dates with special promotions.

- Ask at your library about getting free and discounted admission tickets to attractions with your library card. Several suburban libraries participate in a program where you can obtain tickets from your library for free zoo admission or other attraction admissions.

- One year, I got a map from the local park district and set out that summer to visit every park. I got in lots of playtime with my son -- free playtime.

- Subscribe to groupon and other sites that offer discounts. Sometimes you find some real bargains. I just got a deal with 2 box seats and $5 in cat coin for a Gary Railcats game. It's a $25 value.

- Hit some garage sales for some cheap toys and reading material. Or give the kids a stipend of a $1 or $2 and stop at the Dollar Store for some bubbles or other entertainment.

- Check out videos at the library. Some area libraries let you check out DVDs for free. Mine charges $1, but still cheaper than purchasing the movie or going to Blockbuster. Make a list for the summer of new movies you'd like to see and when it's too chilly for the pool, pull one out.

- Work on a puzzle. Pull one out of the closet or look for them at garage sales. Our library has a monthly book sales where you can find them for a quarter. The library also has a puzzle exchange where you can bring in one you've done and trade it for a new one. Another good activity to occupy kids on a rainy day.

- Hit the beach. While water parks and pool admissions can be pricey, a visit to the beach is free or you pay a minimal parking fee and can enjoy a full day of fun.

- Fly a kite. The dollar stores have them on the shelves around this time or you can pick one up at for just a couple bucks - or if you're really crafty, you can make your own.

- Play catch. Get out and throw a ball with your kids or encourage them to get the neighborhood kids for a game like kids of past generations used to do.

- Do searches on Google, Facebook and other online places for "free stuff," "free kids attractions," "free kids activities," "free things to do in Chicago" and such phrases and you'll find LOTS more.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer classes are underway

This year, two of my five boys are enrolled in summer enrichment classes. I was pleased to see what fun courses were being offered for second through fifth graders this summer. My soon-going-into-third-grader was so excited when he brought home the flyer from school weeks ago telling me he wanted to enroll in "Summer Musical." He is often gung-ho when he first hears about something and his enthusiasm quickly fades -- as has happened with swim lessons, soccer, baseball and other activities. I was hesitant to sign up since the last couple weeks were a bit of a struggle as he expressed his displeasure with going to school because it was 1) boring, 2) stupid, 3) not air conditioned, 4) not fun or all of the above. He didn't want to go to school anymore and it wasn't easy getting him out the door in the morning. I figured it would be more of the same if he was going to summer school. But - I signed him up anyway.

My middle son will enter fourth grade this fall. He wasn't too keen on the idea of a summer class at first, but I told him there was a Harry Potter class being offered and that changed things. He was recently turned on to Harry Potter by my sister, who is - in a nutshell - a Harry Potter nut. She's seen the movies more times than can be counted. She's read the books over and over. She has posters, props and other Potter-related items. She follows Potter blogs. She plans her travel around Potter-themed events. She recently traveled to New York to see Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Harry Potter) on Broadway. She hangs around with a group that gets together for Potter Parties. She's become friends with people who produce Potter podcasts. She and I went to see Glee Live recently. I went because I'm a fan of the show, love the young talent and like to hear the variety of music thrown into different episodes. My sister went for one reason only - Darren Criss - who plays Blaine. He also wrote, produced and starred in a musical based on Harry Potter. She's a bit of a fanatic. So, anyway...my son is now a Potter fan after she brought the DVD set to introduce the boys to the stories. I was bummed that the class didn't go because of low enrollment. He ended up in Latin Fiesta, which he has enjoyed so far. He's excited to be learning words in Spanish and making a pinata.

So, four days into it, so far so good. Today was the first day I really got any grumbling about going, but it didn't last long and at the end of the day, they were both excited. Hope it continues. Three more weeks to go.

Summer is exahusting already (and it hasn't officially started!)

June 17 post -- being added today

Summer doesn't officially begin until next week, but it's already wearing me out. I vowed to jump right in and enjoy as much as we could of the summer vacation right away. I was especially ready to get moving since next week two of my boys will begin summer enrichment classes. I wanted to fit in a little fun before we had a schedule to keep.

So far, this week has included a couple park visits, pool visits, a movie at a local theatre, several trips to the library, some shopping, a birthday party, a couple trips for ice cream and several play dates. Today, there was a field trip I wanted to make with some local moms, but after lots of running this week, I decided it was a day to sleep in and chill. I needed a little time to rest.

P.S. I'm also enjoying taking pictures of all the pretty flowers.

Bring on summer!

June 13 post -- being added today

Today was the final day of school for the year. A bit late this year, but you can blame that on the historic blizzard this past winter that closed the schools for several days. It's such a relief to have the days behind me of making lunches, monitoring homework, carpooling, running out for posterboard for a project due the next day...that kind of stuff. Looking forward to many days ahead of relaxing with the boys. How about you?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

There's such pleasure in simplicity

Yesterday our family drove up to Michigan to enjoy a great small-town, main-street parade that we attend each year. We usually make a day of it, hanging out at the local parks, having lunch, walking downtown. This year, my in-laws came along with us and after the parade, we went over to one of the parks for the kids to run around. My 7-year-old had three dollars burning a hole in his pocket. He asked if we could walk over to the pharmacy for a kite.

At first I balked at the idea. That would be $3 down the drain, I figured, since my boys always seem to break such things in less than five minutes. It also mean that his brothers would be whining for one of their own. It meant I'd have to sneak away from the rest of the gang to walk over there. It mean they might not even have kites and the walk over there would be for nothing. Or worse yet, they'd have kites, but they would cost twice as much and I'd end up pitching in the difference. After a minute, I figured I'd take him over and perhaps the kite would last long enough to provide a little entertainment while we waiting for a nearby eatery to clear out from the parade crowd.

We went over to the pharmacy and there was a display of kites. $2.99 each! Perfect. We get back to the park, put it together. It's not going up. After a couple minutes it's up in the air. The kids are all excited. I say to my m-i-l "I give it 10 minutes before it's in pieces." As I finished the sentence, the kite crashed to the ground, with a piece breaking loose. Dad tried to put it together as best he could. We went and had lunch. The boys wanted to stop at another park. We'd driven separate vehicles, so my oldest son, my f-i-l, my 12-year-old and my 6-year-old decided to head back. That left my husband, m-i-l, 7-year-old and 9-year-old. We stopped at another park. My husband rearranged the string on the kite. Within a couple minutes, they had it flying high. And it was staying there. A steady breeze kept it up in the air for about 45 minutes while we chatted and the kids enjoyed the kite and the playground. A day out in the fresh air and a $3 kite....life's simple pleasures.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A bittersweet day in a mom's life

*June 8 posting

Today is a big day. My oldest son. My firstborn. My baby. Is now a licensed driver. It brings about lots of emotions. I'm partly terrified that somewhere along the way something will get hit that shouldn't be. Like a parking block. Or a tree. Or a fire hydrant. Or a curb. Or a shopping cart. Or worse yet, another car. I'm also partly sulking in the thought that he now has an independence he's never known. Don't laugh at me -- I know I've been a very overprotective mom. I can probably count on two hands the number of times he's walked somewhere on his own. He's always been driven to and from school or dropped of at his destination. I've always pretty much known exactly where he has been all the time. I know - it's time to cut the cord. It's just hard. Then terror sets back in thinking of all the things he could being doing with that independence. He's a good kid. Not really a trouble-maker. Normally follows the rules. You never know, though. A bit of independence can sure go to the head. I'm sure in the days ahead, it will be a relief. Now I don't have to drive him to school or guitar lessons or work or his friend's house. When we're running low on milk, I can send him out for some. Or when I want to order a pizza, I'll be able to send him out to pick it up. I'm sure once I get over the initial shock, it will be a huge help.

Twenty years flies by

*June 9 posting

Wow! Twenty years. TWENTY YEARS!!!! I have been married for 20 years as of yesterday. That sounds crazy. Tonight my husband and I went out for a nice dinner at a steakhouse nearby. It's nice that we still laugh together and enjoy eachother's company after all these years.

Years ago, we had it planned out -- that we'd take a big trip or have a big party to celebrate our big anniversaries. My husband worked with a man named Andy around the time when we got married. We attended Andy and Fran's wedding anniversary party. I think it was their 50th. Might have even been their 60th.

They went all out. She was decked out in a beautiful dress, holding a large bouquet. He was in a snazzy suit. Their children and grandchildren were dressed up as the wedding party -- in pale blue gowns and matching cumberbuns on the men. They renewed vows in a church ceremony and had a big reception that evening with lots of food and lots of polka music. It was a blast. They did it every 10 years to celebrate their anniversary. My husband used to say he wanted to do the same. But, life happens and getting glasses for the kids and paying the utility bills and car repairs takes precedence over a party. Maybe when we hit 25 years. We'll see.

There's nothing like the smell of a money cage at 96 degrees

* June 7 post -- just getting it up a little late.

Today was a field trip to the zoo with the kindergartners. Since I was accompanying my youngest of five, it's a trip I've done many, many times. We always go at the very end of May or early June. It's almost always warm. The sun is almost always shining. Today is was hot. I mean H-O-T. Like I heard reports of 98 degrees in our area. My car thermostat read 101 degrees. The weatherman said it would feel like 105 with the heat index. A zoo smells icky enough on a cool day in February, but at temps around 100 it's enough to make you hurl.

Aside from that I had a nice time with my son. Let me rephrase that, aside from the smell and having a touch of laryngitis from repeating "Don't touch that," "Put that down," "This way," "Get down", "Don't climb on that," "Stay over here" dozens of times to the little boy in the group I chaperoned that seemed to have some selective hearing - I did have a good time.

Take me out to the ball game (but without the game)

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge Cubs fan. Although I have five boys and most of them like the Cubs simply because I do - and their aunts and uncles and grandpa do. My oldest has been a big fan for about 10 years. He's become a bigger fan than I am. He's not just a fan of the Cubs, but a fan of the game. Ask him about a player who was called up for three games at the end of the 2006 season and he can probably rattle off all his stats. I love that. Baseball is our bond. What is going on in the rest of his world may seem foreign to me and vice versa, but when it comes to baseball, we just connect. We're buddies. We talk. We laugh. We watch. We cheer. We gripe. It's a love that we both share.

Recently, we had a chance to go for a season ticket holder day when the Cubs were out of town. The place was open to explore -- from the field to the dugout to the locker room to the press box. We had a blast even though there wasn't a player in sight.

We giggled at the urinal in the hallway just outside the dugout. We reminisced when looking at pictures and jerseys of former players. We stood wide-eyed with mouths open as we peeked into the locker room with all the players' jerseys hanging. And we just grinned as we rolled around in the outfield grass and stood in front of the ivy on the brick outfield wall. We were amazed by classics played by the organ player and the historic photos hanging near the press booth (my favorite is one of Harry Caray and Ronald Reagan in the booth during a broadcast.)

He got to swing a bat in the batting tunnel where all his baseball idols warm up. We munched on complimentary hot dogs and popcorn. We went through the whole place and then just sat in the stands and soaked it up. It was one of those priceless days that will stay with you forever!

I'm much too old to feel this damn young!

*Written June 5 -- sorry, a bit behind on posting!

Ok, so this post is exact opposite of the last. Sometimes, no matter how old you're body feels, it's good to throw in the towel and behave like a teenager. I did so last night with my younger sister as my accomplice. We filed into a stadium along with scores of people half our age for the performance of Glee Live!

My sis isn't as much of a fan as I am. She's just in love with one character - Blaine, who plays the gay love interest of Kurt, who attends an all-male private school. She actually likes him because she's a bit obsessed with Harry Potter and Darren Criss, who plays Blaine, was also part of a musical spin-off of the Harry Potter series. So, she probably isn't an official "gleek," while I definitely am.

I usually watch each week. If not at the time it's on, then I watch online later in the week (I'm still living in the dark ages without a DVR.) I know all the characters. I know all the songs they've sang, the duets they've done, which ones are couples this week. I admit that I do like the escape of the teenage drama, but I watch the show mostly for the music. I just love to listen to music -- whether it's Bach or Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys or Ray Charles, Toby Keith or Roy Orbison, Elvis or the Oak Ridge Boys, Dave Matthew Band or Jason Mraz. I could go on. What would life be without a sountrack to go with it?

Anyway, back to Glee. The show wasn't as exciting as I had anticipated and way shorter than I'd anticipated at about an hour and 15 minutes. However, it was a fun night going with my sis and going back a few years. :)

Friday, June 3, 2011

I'm much to young to feel this damn old

I'm much to young to feel this damn old. I hear that line from the Garth Brooks song play through my head quite often. Aches, pains, yawns. "I'm too young for this," I think to myself. Lately, I have been sooo tired. Don't feel like doing anything. I blame it on the allergies. And the busy time of year when I'm on the go more and sleeping a little less. Gee, ten years ago it didn't bother me to go like this. Even five years ago I could keep up. Once I hit 35, it all went downhill. I just started feeling old.

This year it's been even more noticeable. I'm 38. I cannot imagine just starting my family at this age. I know a lot of people do it. Just the thought of getting up every two hours for feeding makes me drowsy. Then again, I've been at this parenting thing a long time. Maybe it's all those years of sleep deprivation catching up. I should be sleeping now, but I was waiting up to make sure my teenager made it home safe and sound. Even when they get big, they still keep you awake.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A car is a mom's sanctuary

Today I did something I have never done before. Got my car washed. I don't mean that I have been driving an unwashed car all these years. I've been extremely spoiled and my husband has always hand-washed it for me. But today I went through a car wash. One of those automatic ones where your car rolls along and giant sponges close in on you darkening the windows. It was a tad scary. Not scared of the dark scary, just that "Yikes, I'm not in control!" scary.

I can see why someone with a pristine, high-end automobile or a classic collector car wouldn't go through an automatic car wash. However, I drive a 7-year-old SUV, not a Ferrari. Auto wash will do just fine for me.

Since a nearby car wash charges only $3, It didn't make sense for me to wait until the weekend and make my husband scrape off the large splattering left by a bird who mistook my vehicle for a target. Once I rolled out of the stall all sparkly, I went over to take advantage of the free vacuums. I like to vacuum my vehicles. It's one chore I don't mind doing, so I don't know why I don't do it more often.

Cleaning it out and vvacuuming it out meant removing magazines with Christmas trees on the cover, DVDs, candy wrappers, happy meal toys, lawn chairs, blankets, papers. I am responsible for some of the contents, but most of it is there because I have five kids that I cart around from place to place.

In between the seat and the wall I found a few homework papers. My son's teacher had let me know he'd been missing some assignments. Here I was checking what was in his folder each night and making sure it was getting done. Now I know the stinker was tucking it away in his hiding spot so I wouldn't know he had homework to do.

It felt so nice to get it decluttered. I love when I can clear things out to the point that a stranger looking inside may not be able to tell that I'm a mom. When they were babies and toddlers, there was no way to disguise it. Toys and contraptions and strollers and sippy cups and books and diaper bags and all that stuff. Now, except for a booster seat, there's no other lingering evidence that kids reside in it every day (except for a couple stubborn stains.)

You can't really do that in your house. Every room has some evidence that kids are nearby - shoes in the hallway, strawberry scented shampoo in the bathroom, fruit snacks in the kitchen, plastic super hero plates n the dining room, toys scattered here and there. I do admire the museum houses with rooms that are free of a spec of dust and full of breakables that children are forbidden from touching. No room in this house and I prefer coziness - even if a little clutter goes along with it.

Back when I had babies and toddlers and was basking in the role of chasing and changing and wiping and feeding, the baby/toddler clutter didn't bother me at all. Now that they are getting older, it's nice to be able to have a pretty clear car and be in it all by myself. I savor 20-minute rides where I can listen to whatever I want without complaint.

I have to add here that a few years ago when all the kids were in the car and bickering and misbehaving, I told them that whenever they started in, I would turn on country music and turn it up so loud I couldn't hear them. Without fail, a few minutes later the bickering began. George Strait went up full blast. They haven't forgotten that day. They still think country music is punishment. One day I was riding along with one of the boys, who was being well-behaved and as quiet as could be. I'm listening to some Toby Keith on US99 - the Chicago country music station. He says to me in a sweet, innocent voice "Mom, I haven't done anything wrong. I'm not being bad. Why are you listening to country music?" LOL!

Once I'm in the car alone, though...after I leave the drop-off lane at school in the morning, when I'm on my way to work, when I'm running errands, It's so peaceful. Most days...who am I kidding?....every day, whisking off on a private jet or taking a jaunt on a private beach or slipping off for a morning of massage and nail painting are not in the cards, so a few quiet moments in my SUV is all I have. And I do enjoy them.