Contest Time

It is contest time!  With Fall upon us my family enjoys road trips even more.  We love the cooler temps and beautiful scenery changes.  Why not gather the family for a fun adventure in Atlanta?  Fun for all ages is to be had at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament in Atlanta.  Go like them on facebook and comment under this blog that you did so.  By doing so you will be eligible to win tickets to the show.

(https://www.facebook.com/MTatlanta)  

I took the kids to this show right before school started and they are still talking about it now.  Asking when can we go back?  The dining experience is one of a kind, a big hit for the kids because it is Medieval Style.  The show is exciting and interactive..I even found myself cheering for the knights!

What is stopping you?  Go like their page, comment under here that you did so.  If you liked them eearlier today from my FB post comment as well because you are eligible.  Good Luck! Winners will be announced at the end of the month.  

Another good reason to go like them:
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and Medieval Times, Atlanta is excited to join in the Second Annual FIGHT FOR THE CAUSE! During the month of October, for every new LIKE to the Medieval Times, Atlanta Facebook page<https://www.facebook.com/MTatlanta> (https://www.facebook.com/MTatlanta), the castle will donate $1 (per LIKE) to Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.

Good Luck and Happy Travels,
Melika



Fitting Family Travel into Your Budget

Fitting Family Travel into Your Budget

Fitting Family Travel into Your Budget

 

What would you say if I told you I booked three people from Huntsville, Alabama to Frankfurt, Germany for under $400 total? That I am flying seven of us to Chicago for $35 total? That we are staying in a hotel next week in San Francisco that runs over $450 a night for FREE? Like most of my friends, I’m sure you want to know HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS? Let me share my favorite travel strategies with you!

Travel is the only non-necessity I spend my money on, otherwise, we live pretty modestly. Along with providing my children an academic education, I hope to provide them with knowledge of the world and the people in it. In my opinion the best way to do this is to expose them to the world in which we live.

Since we’ve made it a priority, travel research is part of my daily internet regime. I follow multiple websites and am associated with most frequent flier and frequent guest plans.

travel 1

1. Getting There

If your car is a gas guzzler you might think that a road trip isn’t in your budget. Have you ever considered a rental car? Members at Costco often overlook the travel benefits. I can rent a smaller car, get better gas mileage and save wear and tear on my own car at Costco Travel. LOCAL TIP: I’ve found that Enterprise has the best price and the customer service at the one on Bob Wallace in Huntsville is AMAZING! We rent a car almost on a monthly basis and my kids love riding in all the different cars. Often the insurance and add on costs are covered by the credit card you are using or by your own car insurance. Look at those details before paying extra. I can get a car for a weekend for around $35 or for the entire week for about $120.

Airline travel might seem out of your league, but if you have time and are willing to work at it, flying is totally within reach. One of my favorite sites isThePointsGuy.Com. The credit card game, as I call it, is the best way to fly for FREE. (Please note if you have debt or trouble paying off cards at the end of the month this is NOT a good idea for you!) Using advice from the Points Guy and several hours of research (about 5) I was able to secure three round trip tickets to Europe for less than $400 total for Spring Break, these would normally cost in excess of $1100 EACH. Flexibility is also a key factor. When looking at sites such as, Matrix Airfare Search, make sure you look at 3 days before/after your date and check surrounding airports. This often reflects a huge savings.

travel2

2. Where To Sleep?

Once again this is where loyalty programs and credit cards are great. If you or your spouse travel regularly for business you should be a member of every loyalty program out there and your family should be traveling for free. For instance, if you are staying at a Hilton Property put that charge on your Hilton Branded Credit Card and using their Honors Program. Sign up for E-Miles for both hotel stays and airfare.

Ask about all discount options. The AAA Membership Program is the least expensive most useful travel tool ever created. If you have the AAA membership I bet you have never studied all of its perks! If you don’t have one , what are you waiting for?

Remember active and retired military are offered huge travel discounts. At places such as Great Wolf Lodge there is even a discount for service personnel which includes EMT and firefighters. Call and ask for the HEROES discount. Are the grandparents joining you on your vacation? Book under the senior discount! The opportunities are endless. Whatever you do, never take the first rate you are quoted. Ask questions and build a rapport with your booking agent!

My all-time favorite hotel for family travel is The Embassy Suites (a Hilton establishment). Each room sleeps six, and includes breakfast and evening cocktails. When traveling with kids this is a big savings. Large families often have to get two standard hotel rooms, at Embassy Suites you fit into one. Breakfast included saves at least $10 per person. And who can turn down a free glass of wine at happy hour?

3. Get Help

Some of you are saying, “Good for you Melika, but I work full time, have three kids with full sports and academic schedules, and I am lucky to sleep four hours a night. I want to travel but there is no way I have time to research all of this!” There are options for you. For instance, a local family recently saved over $1000 on their Disney Vacation when a local Disney Specialist made them aware of free dining opportunities that were available if they changed their travel dates by one day and switched resorts. One call to a travel specialist is all you need to get your travel planning started, and they do the work of watching for lower rates for you. PRO TIP: I book all of my cruises with Lesley because she calls me when the rates go down and knows my family’s needs.

I hope these tips have given you new hope that travel within your budget is achievable. Perhaps with some of these tools you can afford a vacation this year! Below are a few more of my favorite travel related websites:

www.flyertalk.com
www.kayak.com/flights
www.webflyer.com

Stay tuned for helpful hints on how to save money once you get there! Happy Travels!

 

 

The Doodle Bug Painting & Pottery

The Doodle Bug Painting & Pottery
AUG 17, 2013

The Doodle Bug Painting & Pottery

My children are truly at a disadvantage when it comes to art. Neither I nor their father passed on the gene for artistic creativeness. Until the boys met Ms. Sarah at The Doodle Bug a few years ago their inner Picasso remained hidden.

I was a skeptic when I first took them to a class – I was sure that I had just wasted $25 and there was no way that the finished product would still exist after the first opportunity for a trash pick-up by the city of Huntsville. I was pleasantly surprised! Not only did the boys love being in the classroom but the finished product is still proudly displayed in their rooms. That first sock monkey canvas gave the boys the confidence to create art and to believe in themselves that they too could make a piece of art worth keeping. Since that first class they have asked to attend classes at The Doodle Bug not only for fun but to go and make gifts for family members on different occasions.

Artists hard at work!

Artists hard at work!

Sarah Sharp started this Huntsville small business in October of 2010 after she realized there was no place in Huntsville for young children to explore painting and art on either canvas or pottery. She also found that this would be a great idea for children’s birthday parties. Sarah has always had a love for children and after taking my boys several times it is obvious that children love her too! Sarah also has a philanthropic heart and is always giving back to the community. If you have a specific cause and would like to involve the kids in fundraising  opportunities  Sarah is often able to help. We recently had a Swim for Melissa painting party where some of the proceeds were donated to our Swim for Melissa team, The Invincible Sharks.

The maximum class capacity at The Doodle Bug is 25 artists. Parents are welcome to stay, but if you would like to use that time to run errands the kids are safe and entertained. Sarah welcomes children of all ages and has experience in working with children with special needs. She teaches the art class stroke-by-stroke and will assist where needed. Everyone leaves the class feeling that their art is a masterpiece! The smiles are priceless.

The Doodle Bug specializes in art classes for kids of all ages , but have recently added some fun adult classes. Children create canvas art and pottery with the guidance of Ms. Sarah.  Sarah has a great classroom rapport with the kids. She is able to keep their attention and focus, maintaining a calm environment while still allowing them to have a ton of fun.

Program Offerings

  • Scheduled classes
  • Walk in times
  • Birthday Parties
  • Fundraisers (call Ms. Sarah to discuss opportunities)
  • Adult Classes
  • Off-Site Sessions- Doodlebug will even come to you! (last year she visited our second grade class at school.)

Details

Address:2117 Whitesburg Drive, Huntsville, AL 35801 (Next to GiGi’s Cupcakes)
Cost: $10 to $30 per child depending on the size and type of art they choose to create
Phone: 256-270-9797
Doodlebug Facebook Page (sometimes has discount updates!)
View Website

A Campout Adventure, Unplugged!

A Campout Adventure, Unplugged
MAR 20, 2013

A Campout Adventure, Unplugged

In an effort to show my sons and their friends that fun CAN be had without being “connected” I hosted a campout adventure!

A friend provided me with a tent – since this was my first time camping with the kids I didn’t really want to invest in a tent of my own. Plus, I didn’t want to go to a remote location. Most boys had never slept all night in a tent and I wasn’t sure if this would even work, so our camping adventure took place in my backyard.  All invitees were asked to bring their own sleeping bag and flashlight.

Would I be calling moms at this point because I had scared their little first graders to death? Would the boys get wound up with fear and anxiety? This was, after all, a new overnight play date for all of them.

Now the hard part, coming up with ways to entertain eight 7-year-old boys without using anything that had to be plugged in!  First I went to Lowe’s to buy a fire pit… how else would we roast marshmallows for Smores? That is an essential activity to any campout. For dinner, I kept it simple. I grilled hot dogs and served them with chips and juice boxes. 

The little campers began to arrive about 5:30 in the evening. Before dinner they spent time getting acquainted with the tent by making room assignments (it had two bedrooms) and laying out their sleeping bags. They were entertained on the trampoline and running around in the yard with very inexpensive, yet totally fun Punch Balloons.

After dinner darkness had set in and it was time for a surprise. My neighbor helped me create a scavenger hunt for them. We kept it age-appropriate, yet challenging, hiding seven clues around the neighborhood which eventually led them to a Treasure Chest Of Excitement for boys! They were in first grade at the time and it was fun watching them take turns reading the clues. Sounding out the hard words was a team effort.

The Clue Master's letter & camper sleuths.

The Clue Master’s letter & camper sleuths.

Once the loot was found, we made our way back home. They spent another hour playing with the army men, cars, silly putty and other miniature prizes that they just worked so hard for. About 9pm it was time for everyone to change into pajamas and the ghost story portion of the evening. This is the part I was not sure of. Would I be calling moms at this point because I had scared their little first graders to death?  Would the boys get wound up with fear and anxiety? This is, after all, a new overnight play date for all of them.

Boy was I surprised – the boys quickly changed and situated themselves in their self-assigned section of the tent. I requested that while I read, they settle down and listen. I began the book using my best suspense and scary voice, speaking quietly so they would have to concentrate to hear me. The tent was silent other than my voice. In amazement I looked up about 25 minutes into my reading to notice that everyone in the tent was sound asleep!  I’m not sure if I can credit the fresh air, the action packed evening, the fact that we “unplugged”, or a combination of all factors! At this point I considered my think outside the box idea a total success.

Out like a light.

Out like a light.

I have to admit I didn’t sleep in the tent with them – I really enjoy the comfort of my bed. I checked on all of my campers, made sure they were tucked in, turned on the porch light and left the back door open before I headed inside to retire to my bed.

Just as quickly as the boys fell asleep, with the first sounds of morning they were wide awake! At 6am to be exact I had trampoline full of energy!

I was afraid I might be getting a call from the neighborhood association regarding the noise ordinance, but I suppose since the night was quiet and uneventful my neighbors were able to overlook the early morning wakeup call. The night unplugged will go in my parenting guidebook as a success.

Have you hosted an unusual slumber party? Share your story in the comment section below – I would love a new idea for next time.

Where an adult feels like a kid again… and the kids are in heaven!

mustache
This weekend I had the luck of the Irish and found the coolest toy store in town. I know that The Toy Place has been a fun place to shop for Huntsville residents for a while now. However, until Saturday, I had not had a chance to go visit the store.
I won a facebook contest they had a few weeks ago and was way overdue to go pick up my prize. We were planning on being downtown for the parade so I decided to stop in with the kids to pick up our winnings. My first thought was that I was crazy for going into a toy store with four kids. I had no idea what to expect of The Toy Place, yet had stereotyped it as the expensive toy store downtown. I was somewhat dreading going in there…knowing the kids would WANT THIS AND THAT and I would have to say NO.
I was pleasantly surprised. The owner, Susan, greeted us warmly and the kids were quickly off oohing and aahing over all the cool things. My first question to Susan was “do you have anything under $10?”. Her response, “of course!” as she pointed to a rather large section of the store. She pointed out that she wanted her store to be the birthday gift stop, having price points that are reasonable and toys that are unique! I had four super happy kids when I told them that they could each pick something for $6 or less. I felt like a good mom for not having to say no and the kids were entertained “shopping”.
Susan has earned my business for sure! I love that I can take all the kids to the toy store and let them each pick something fun without having to mortgage the house. Libby picked pink mustaches which we proudly wore to the parade downtown! The other three picked airplanes that you launch with a rubber band. The best part is that the airplanes are still functional. How many time do you buy a $6 item and it actually holds up. Most of the time we can’t make it for one hour with a toy like that without having to throw it away!

For Easter this year I have hired Susan at The Toy Place to be my Easter Bunny. The fun finds at her shop are sure to put a smile on the faces of the kids this year. Go see for yourself! She is open daily from 10am until 6pm. Tell her Melika sent you and ask about the Wooden Nickels!

Increase the life of your car!

I am a firm believer in making a car last as long as possible. I love my Buick Enclave! With gas prices going up lately driving that big SUV around can be draining on my checking account! I have preached the cost effectiveness of renting a car over the years. I have even converted some friends! I have gotten some great deals at Enterprise Car Rental on the Costco Website! Today was another example of such! A standard rental from Enterprise directly for today through Friday morning would have set me back $79.63. For the distance that I was going I was considering this not to be cost effective. However, after some research I discovered I can get this same deal on the Costco website for $34.32! That is a savings of $45.31 or 57%! With the fuel economy being much better on a smaller car it makes total sense to do this! I also like preserving the mileage placed on my car. I have rented cars to take to the beach, to Disney, or just for the weekend. Sometimes I look on the website. If I am able to get a deal for 9.99 a day I get a car just for fun. My boys love riding in different cars every so often and I enjoy filling up less and getting 35 or more miles to the gallon! Just a thought people…check it out and see what you think!