Monday, July 18, 2016

Camp Old Indian


We have all really enjoyed Riley being involved in Boys Scouts. Our local troop is led by an amazing veteran who not only loves Scouts, but he loves God and the boys. You can tell that he is genuinely concerned for the long-term success of each individual scout. He is a fun man to spend time around and the boys really admire him.

Last week, Riley spent the week at Camp Old Indian. The camp runs from Sunday through Saturday. As tradition goes, families can come up on Wednesday evenings to visit their scout, have dinner and enjoy a time around the campfire for some entertainment.

Most of our boys opt to leave the camp for dinner in exchange for some restaurant air conditioning. It's been hanging around 100 degrees each day and even in the mountans, the humidity makes things miserable. A trip to the local Pizza Inn fit the bill and the buffet filled up all of the hollow legs amongst the herd of boys we brought along. Mostly, we enjoyed hearing some camp stories and hugging our boy.

Riley is currently at the rank of Star. It is his goal to reach Eagle Scout by his 18th birthday. We are cheering him on!

God is so sweet to us.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Maple Grace

The morning before our tall boy walked across his graduation stage, our sweet dog Daisy didn't wake up from her sleep. She was twelve years old. We miss her so much.

There was definitely a void in our hearts. No one to greet us when we came home. No one to play with in the yard. 

Little Sister has been missing someone too- her big sister. The miles apart influence the time we can spend together. We wish we could visit every day, but we can't. 

Little Sister put on a sweet little face and asked her Daddy for a kitty a few weeks ago. We knew it was just the thing she needed. 

I did plenty of research, contacted the Humane Society and one Thursday afternoon we went and scooped our kitty up and brought her home.


Meet Maple Grace.
(named by Kendra)


Maple has been good for all of us. She is the most loving cat I have ever met. 

You must love her at all times.

Maple has filled in a little of that sorrow we were seeing in our girl. 

K is busy with her kitty all the live-long day.

Maple is playing along with all of Little Sister's antics.

She's such a fun kitty. We're glad to have her.

God is so sweet to us.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sixteen


Sixteen years old. Six foot tall.

I can hardly believe it.

Riley's been busy this Summer working odd jobs to earn money for a kayak. 

He's been busy working on his merit badges for Boy Scouts. He camps every chance he gets.

He's still a fun kid to hang out with, as funny as ever.

We love him so.

God is so sweet to us.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Saving for Pixie Dust



I mentioned a few months ago that we skipped town with our little family of five for a magical adventure to celebrate our tall boy's high school graduation. The happiest place on earth is one of my most favorite places in the world. In case you didn't know, it's also one of the most expensive places in the world as well. Unlike other places though, Disney has made these trips more reachable than most people think, but you have to be willing to put a lot of time, effort and attention into it. Many people enter the gates of the parks and resorts for free everyday. Now, don't start thinking that I went for free. Our family trip in March was fully funded by our day jobs. We scored very good deals on lodging, tickets and airfare simply because of the week we chose.

If you're like me though, once you get there you immeditely start thinking "when can I come back?" I plan my next trip in my mind while I am slap in the middle of Disney. Maybe it's the over-stimulation or the flood of childhood memories. It could even be the joy of making memories, but you stick me at a table with some pineapple guava juice and send Stitch over to bid me good morning and I immediately start thinking of how I'm going to get back to that spot as soon as possible.

My sweet man and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this year. We've talked for years about making our 20th anniversary special. Extra special. Like, leave the kids and do something fun without them kind of special. When we were at Disney in March we made comments throughout our stay of things that would be fun to do on another trip, but all of those things would be hard to pull off with kids tagging along. After we retruned home our wheels started turning, Disney hosted another sale and things started falling into place for us to go back to celebrate our 20 years of marriage. Since our anniversary was in May and we also had a kid graduating from high school in May, we opted to book June dates. This meant no missed work for my husband since he is on summer break from his teaching job. I am paid hourly and I wanted to use my vacation days sparingly, so we opted for me to work a half day on Thursday and visit Disney for the weekend. Well, that's what we had planned. It went down much differently than that. Read about that here.

When we started planning we had saved no money toward our trip. This is how it came in:

+  I still had some left over funds in our envelope from our March trip so I took $20.00 from that and deposited it into my Disney Savings Account.

+ After that I rolled all of our spare change and saved the change in my checking account for two weeks. This totalled $60.99 which I deposited into the DVA as well.

+ By this time I had enough earnings on my iBotta app to cash in for Paypal cash. $30.00. I purchased a Disney gift card for $30 at my local grocery store with that and deposited it into my DVA.

+ Next, I cashed in on Swagbucks for a $25 Walmart card. I went to Walmart and purchased a $30 Disney card (I added $5.00 cash from my pocket). $30.00 Deposited into the DVA.

+ A few weeks later I had earned another $25 from Swagbucks. I ordered the Target gift card. Then, I shopped on Target's website for some household items that we needed and earned an additional $25 in gift cards back. I used all of these gift cards combined to purchase a $50 Disney gift card and deposited it into my DVA.

+ I saved $50.00 out of my monthly grocery budget by clipping coupons and shopping sales. I deposited $50.00 into my DVA.

+ We received an unexpected refund for a service we had paid for totalling $140.51. That went straight into the DVA.

+ I earned another $25 Target gift card from Swagbucks. I combined it with another $5.00 Target gift card I had earned from shopping and then added $20.00 from the change I had saved in my checking account. This added another $50.00 to account and officially paid off our room-only reservation at Port Orleans Riverside from Friday- Sunday.

+  We planned to drive down half way on Thursday since I would be working a half day. My husband had driven the bus for the track team to several events which put some extra happy padding in his check. We booked a room through Priceline for that. As a bonus, we booked the room in a town where we have family so that we could squeeze in some hugs on our way. But then our plans changed and we cancelled this room and booked a room for one night at Disney's All-Star Movie Resort.

+ We were blessed with a set of gift cards to Applebee's in a thank you note we received. After checking we discovered there was an Applebee's in the same town our hotel was in and we would be arriving around dinner time. $50 gift cards placed into our trip envelope. (We never used this.)

+ We were blessed with a monetary gift for our anniversary. We set this aside for fuel and babysitting (Lilo's Playhouse) for the trip.

+ I earned another $25.00 Wal-mart card via Swagbucks. I placed this in our trip envelope to go towards our dinner reservations at Paradiso 37 in Disney Springs.

+ I accumulated $25.00 in my Wal-mart Savings Catcher app, which I cashed in for a $25.00 Disney card and placed in our envelope to go towards our dinner reservations at Paradiso 37 in Disney Springs.

+ I earned another $25.00 Wal-mart card via Swagbucks. I placed this in our trip envelope to go towards our dinner reservations at Paradiso 37 in Disney Springs.

+ I had a balance of $16.00 on my Starbucks card which I placed in our trip envelope for a breakfast or treat from the Starbucks in Disney Springs. (We never used this.)

+ I signed up for the Sprinkles club which awarded me a free cupcake that I could cash in for at the Disney Springs location. I added that to my trip binder. (We never used this.)

+ I sold a few things from around the house for a profit of $15.00. I added that cash to our trip envelope.

+ I was paid back for something I purchased for someone. Since it came from last month's budget I added $20.00 to my trip envelope.

+ I rolled another $10.00 from my change jar and added that to our trip envelope.

+ My husband added $50.00 to the envelope from part of his pay from working a side job.

Once we arrived, we didn't use all we had in our envelope. We came home with several unused gift cards.

We ate breakfast each morning in the food court. The kids plates have the same amount of food as the adult plates at breakfast. For $5 (I rounded up) you can get a kids meal breakfast with a drink. The adult plate was almost double and did not come with a drink. Each morning we chose the plate that came with a Mickey waffle, eggs, a slice of bacon and roasted potatoes.

For lunch one day we headed to Disney Springs where we split a chicken meatball pizza at Wolfgang Puck Express. I ordered a cup of water for each of the three of us. Our total came to $15.00 here, the pizza was AMAZING and we were all full when we left. The other days we ate lunch at our resort in the food court. Kendra and I often shared a meal and we refilled our water bottles from breakfast for free at lunch each day.

I brought along snacks from home for our room and included some granola bars, breakfast bars, Cheese-Its, and fruit snacks. This was helpful and saved us cash. It also help us make it between meals without falling apart. We did a good bit of swimming so we were hungry all the time.

We took along some spending money out of our regular budget and a little extra cash in case we needed it, but we never used it.

It was amazing to watch all of this come together so quickly. We had a fun trip! I've already started saving for our next trip and cashed in another $25 from Swagbucks over the weekend. We're aiming for a trip back to Disney around 18 months from now to celebrate Riley graduating from high school. (Can you even?) So, I am back to square one with more fun in sight.

God is so sweet to us!


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Twenty Years


Back when we were kids, we said I do and took a modest trip to the beach and called it a honeymoon. It was good and we loved it. As the years passed we set our eyes on grander plans for that year called "20"' in the anniversary books. Of course, you can talk plans until you're blue in the face, but plans take money and can sometimes be a logistical challenge when you find yourselves the parents of a tiny person all over again. 

A few months ago we had no plans and number 20 fast approaching. We decided to make some plans and make them happen no matter what. During our trip to Disney in the March we kept finding ourselves saying "if we ever came to Disney without kids..." quite often. It finally clicked one day that we could go to Disney without kids. We're slow learners. I did some price checking. We circled some dates on the calendar. We arranged a baby-sitter. We arranged a back up baby-sitter. We saved our pennies. Disney without kids!

And then just a little less than a week before our trip, Barry's grandmother passed away. We waited patiently to see the timing of the arrangements. We wanted to be there with the family to honor her. After the services were set we realized that we could still make our trip, in fact, we would even be three hours closer to our destination, there was just one little detail that wasn't working out... babysitting for our girl. We needed to leave two days earlier for the funeral. Leaving her for an extra two days on top of our trip was going to be too much. Going down for the funeral and then backtracking to take her home was going to add an extra day of driving for us. 

I e-mailed our travel agent "just to see" how much it would be to add her onto our trip. We had booked a room-only reservation in a resort- no park tickets. We hadn't planned to visit parks on this trip because Disney has so much more to offer than just parks, and we wanted to check some of those things out. We hadn't purchased a meal plan because I knew we could split many meals and come out much cheaper by eating on our own. We were driving, so we didn't need a plane ticket for her either. When the e-mail came back from out travel agent I could not believe my eyes when I read "there's no charge to add her to your room!" That pretty much sealed the deal! Since our girl hadn't planned to go with us anyway, we decided not to tell her and let it be a surprise. 

In the meantime, I did some checking and learned that Disney has a fun option for kids called "Lilo's Playhouse." It's a childcare facility located at the Polynesian Resort. The kids "check-in" at 4:30 p.m. and can stay until mid-night. It gives parents a chance to go to dinner and enjoy Disney kid-free for a few hours. There's a flat rate for the night that includes their time there, crafts and their dinner which you help your child select from a menu at check-in. We went ahead a booked Kendra a spot for two nights before we left home so that we could still have some time alone on our trip. This was a great option. She LOVED being at Lilo's Playhouse. They had a cooking class, played games, made crafts, had a science show with a mad scientist, and Captain Hook came to visit on her second night there. We picked her up around 10:30 each night and both nights she wanted to stay longer, but we were tired! We will definitely use this option again. 

Another thing that worked itself out was our lodging. Our reservations were for Port Orleans Riverside which already had 2 queen beds, so no need to change that. Just a few days before we left for the funeral I realized that I should check on our Priceline reservation. I had booked a room for one night on our trip down to break up the driving. The original plan had me working a half day and then getting little sister off to the sitter before we actually departed ourselves. I found a room in Georgia for a reasonable price and had booked it a few months prior. I called the hotel to make sure that our room would have two beds and it did not. Since I had booked on Priceline I had to cancel the reservation with Priceline and then rebook it with a room with two beds. I went ahead and cancelled but just before I rebooked I realized that we probably didn't need this room after all. The original purpose was to break up our trip, but since we were heading to the funeral first we would be three hours closer and we could likely leave earlier than we had originally planned. I decided to talk that out with Barry before I rebooked. He agreed that we didn't need that room, but we definitely needed a place to stay that night.

I e-mailed our travel agent again and asked how much it would be to add one more night to our stay. We had booked under a really, really good sale but when the price came back to add an extra night it was more than I wanted to spend. My goal was to be even with the price of the room we had cancelled. Eventually it hit me that we could stay one night in a value resort and still be very close in price. In the end, we paid $5.00 more for the room and we had a full evening and a full morning the next day to enjoy the All-Star Movies Resort before we went to Port Orleans Riverside. It was worth every penny! We had previously stayed at this same resort after Kendra's adoption. She was only two years old then and has very little memory of it, but she loves looking at the pictures. She has mentioned wanting to go back there before. One night there was the perfect amount of time.

So, our trip didn't go exactly as we had planned but it was so much fun! We spent so much time enjoying our resort, eating, eating, eating and just having a good time together. We didn't miss being at the parks at all (it was literally 100 degrees each day) and we still got to watch the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. We stayed within our budget, even with little sister along. We managed to keep the trip a secret from her all the way up to the Disney gate. She had no idea. She had been listening to my i-pod and looking at books on the drive down. She never even realized we were not headed home. I had to ask her to look up to see the gate! She kept kept giggling and saying "you tricked me again!" 


Looking forward to twenty more years with this fella. God is so sweet to us.


P.S.- I'll be back soon to share how God made this trip possible with a pretty short notice and a small budget. Are you still making your vacation envelopes? I'm working on a new set this morning for a little road trip little sister and I are planning a few months down the road. We're so excited to be spending a few days with her big sister! See ya soon!


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

An Update on Ry


On Thanksgiving Day, Riley casually mentioned that he thought he had developed a twitch. It was kind of said in passing and I didn't put much thought into it. A few days later I sat behind him in an informal service and noticed him fidgeting like crazy in his seat. I was good and ready to get up and go tell him to be still when I felt like the Lord put his hand on my knee and said "watch him" So I did. My heart sank. I remembered Riley's comment from Thanksgiving Day and I knew. I quietly pulled out my cell phone and made a short video of him from behind without his knowledge. I sent it over to our family doctor who is also a friend of our family. He responded quickly and said to come to see him the next morning. And so we did. 

Tourette's syndrome. 

So we went to the retina specialist and it was decided that he should be referred to a pediatric neurologist. Of course, that guy is also in Atlanta. We made our way there yesterday and had the shortest wait in this history of appointments. The doctor was kind and thorough. Riley twitched a good bit during the visit, which was helpful, because that confirmed the movements without needing to order an MRI. For now, the diagnosis of Tourette's Syndrome has been put on the shelf, maybe for later. Riley has been twitching for six months and if he still is in another six months it will be "official." His twitching could possibly be caused by the rapid amount of growth his body is doing. You will never believe this, but my once scrawny tiny Riley measured 6 foot tall at yesterday's appointment! 

The appointment was important for several reasons and definitely not a waste of our time. (That may have crossed my mind.) Riley's movements have now been medically documented in the same health care system in which he receives treatment for his eyes. If he does begin to have sudden problems with his eyes, they will now also consider a neurological perspective as the cause, and not just blame everything on the disease. They also now have a basis on which to reference for the future in regards to the frequency and intensity of his ticks. 

Riley's ticks at this point have been upper body. He can feel them in his shoulders, neck, arms, face, head. He has some vocal ticking (think about making a clicking sound with your mouth) that he does not make often. He makes some odd mouth movements that he is unaware of when he does them.
None of these things have caused Riley much distress. We have noticed that when he is more physically stressed (like during wrestling season and track season) he ticks almost constantly. He isn't being bullied. Nor is he mentally stressed about it. He does have some mild O.C.D. tendencies that is associated with Tourette's Syndrome. 

Our trip there and back was good. I thanked the good Lord once again for not allowing me to live amongst the Atlanta traffic. My nerves were shot by the time we made it back into "regular" traffic. Riley will celebrate his 16th birthday in just a few weeks. He has his heart set on a kayak and has been working odd jobs to earn money to help pay for one. He should have earned about half of the cost of a kayak by his birthday and we will cover the remainder as his birthday gift. Riley's time spent with the Boy Scouts has really pulled him out of his little hole he was in for so long and taken him on some really fun adventures. He feels like this kayak is just going to take that to the next level. :)

Thank you to those of you who still stop and check on Riley from time to time. He is doing so much better now than we thought he would be at this point. I credit that fully to the prayers that have been said for him over these past seven years. He is a good boy.

God is so sweet to us.