Wednesday, November 30, 2011

5 Gift Ideas for Traveling Teens


Let’s face it, purchasing Christmas gifts for teenagers can be a daunting task. It can be more or less so depending on the teens that you have to shop for. I’m fortunate; my kids are easy to please. They may be drooling over a Kindle, an iPad or the best SLR camera (who isn’t?), but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t thankful for, and won’t also enjoy less expensive items.

Today I’ve put together a list of 5 great gifts for teenagers. And since my family is often on the road, I’ve written it specifically with traveling in mind.

1. iTunes Gift Cards

iPods are pretty popular. Whether it’s an iPod shuffle that the teen can load their favorite songs on, or the more versatile iPod Touch that holds songs, lectures, movies and really awesome apps- iPods are becoming a staple for the happy traveler. But not all those songs, apps, or movies are free, which is why the teen in your life will appreciate iTunes gift cards which are available in values from $10 and up.    

2. A Travel Journal

My kids have been required to keep journals from our travels since they could draw pictures. Today my son has journals full of adventures. Last year, my husband and I purchased a beautiful leather bound journal with replaceable notebooks that will hold up for years. Of all his gifts, the journal was his favorite.

If you’re buying a journal, why not consider a special writing pen, water color pencils or colored Sharpies? 

3. Travel Games

My kids love to play board games. Over the years we’ve collected Connect Four, Scrabble, and Battleship in convenient smaller, compact travel sizes and cases that have allowed us to pack them up and take them everywhere! If only I could find a travel size Risk game, the fun would never end (insert a tiny bit of sarcasm here)

4. Old Fashioned Books

The Kindle and Nook are wonderful inventions, but like me, my kids still love to hold a book in their hands. Books, word searches and cross word puzzles are a great way to pass the time while waiting for the bus, a taxi or plane.

Of course, if the teen in your life prefers e-readers, you can always purchase their favorite books as a download as well. 

5. Gift Bags with a Variety of Inexpensive Surprises

My kids love little surprises. Gift bags filled with candy, gift certificates, rolls of pennies for pressed penny machines or vending machines, glow sticks, one time use rain coats, trial size toiletries, and packs of gum are perfect for the teen on the go.   

What Christmas gift ideas would you suggest for a traveling teen?

Today I’m also sharing a super cute craft at The Homeschool Classroom as part of the 5 Days of Christmas, Gifts Kids can Make series. I hope you’ll pop over and take a look!   

Other posts in this series:

5 Christmas Light Displays Worth the Drive

5 Tips to Keep you Sane While Driving this Christmas Season

Don’t forget to visit these other amazing bloggers that are participating in the 5 Days of Christmas series.

A Slob Comes Clean - Getting Your Home Company Ready

Feels Like Home - Christmas Traditions

Somewhat Crunchy - Christmas with Dairy Allergies

Spell Outloud - Children's Books

Mama's Learning Corner - Children's Crafts

Many Little Blessings - Edible Gifts

Sunflower Schoolhouse – Decorations

An Oregon Cottage - Christmas Cookies

Catholic Icing - Wishing Jesus Happy Birthday

The Homeschool Classroom - Gifts Kids Can Make

Mama's Laundry Talk - Laundry Gifts

Successful Homeschooling - Serving

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

5 Tips to Help Keep You Sane While Traveling this Christmas


If I had to give you one piece of advice when it comes to traveling at Christmas, I’d say “expect the unexpected.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that I have a pessimistic mindset, it simply means that I’ve traveled enough to realize that things don’t always go the way you’ve planned.

It’s much easier to deal with the hitches and setbacks if you’ve planned for them, or at least thought through a few “what ifs?”  Today I’ll share 5 tips to help keep you sane if you plan to be traveling this Christmas.

1. If you’re driving, have your vehicle inspected before making a long trip. At the very least, consider purchasing AAA or a similar roadside assistance program.

If you’ve ever had car problems and have been stranded alongside the road you know how frustrating or terrifying that can be. For peace of mind, I suggest having your vehicle inspected, the tires checked, and fluids topped off prior to traveling.

I also recommend that you carry a good spare with you. And make sure you can access it easily. If your spare is tucked up under the vehicle, and you haven’t needed it for awhile, take a minute to lower it and make sure that you can get to it. The mechanisms are known to have problems on some vehicles and it won’t do you any good to have a spare you can’t use. Just ask me how I know. 

My family also now has AAA. We didn’t think we needed it until I was stuck in Nashville last year after I locked my keys in the car. Do you know how expensive a locksmith can be?

2.  Keep a bit of money back for emergencies.

We are a cash only family. We don’t have one credit card, so planning ahead is extremely important! For the past two years while traveling to Ohio from Alabama for Christmas, we experienced at least one unexpected expense per trip. 

One year we ran into a terrible ice storm and had to rent a hotel room for the night.  That was a $100 expense that we hadn’t bargained for.  Another year, our transmission went out on our vehicle and we had to rent a car to get home. Let me tell ya, one way rentals are not cheap!

3. Keep a stash of “emergency” gear in your car.  

My grandmother had a list of items that she always carried in the car when traveling, growing up, I thought she was crazy, but now I see the benefit of each item.

After my child suddenly vomited in the car while traveling to Virginia, I’ve learned to keep paper bags, a wet washcloth in a bag (or wet wipes), paper towels, a jug of water to drink or clean up messes, a cup, crackers, small first aid kit,  toilet paper (you just never know), and a small trash bag. In cooler weather, I also make sure we have a couple blankets. 

4. Allow extra travel time.

Nothing stresses me out more than running behind. I like to be punctual. If you’re traveling at Christmas, make sure you plenty of allow extra time for heavy traffic, bad weather or traffic snafu’s.

5. Keep the kids occupied.

Even though my kids are teenagers, it doesn’t take much to start WWIII in the back seats. Before we leave the house, I make sure they double check that they have their iPods, favorite DVD (Redbox is great for swapping movies along the road), books on CD, or hand held games. After all, I’m happy when they’re happy. 

Above all, remember to be patient with your fellow travelers. You aren’t the only one that wants to reach their destination before Christmas Day! 

What tips have you learned that allow you to stay sane while traveling at Christmas?

Are you just joining me for the 5 Days of Christmas series? You can check out 5 Christmas Light Displays Worth the Drive- and tell me your favorite light display and be sure to stop back tomorrow for more Christmas travel tips!

Please take a minute to visit these great bloggers that are also joining the 5 Days of Christmas series.

A Slob Comes Clean - Getting Your Home Company Ready

 Feels Like Home - Christmas Traditions

Somewhat Crunchy - Christmas with Dairy Allergies

Spell Outloud - Children's Books

Mama's Learning Corner - Children's Crafts

Many Little Blessings - Edible Gifts

Sunflower Schoolhouse – Decorations

An Oregon Cottage - Christmas Cookies

Catholic Icing - Wishing Jesus Happy Birthday

The Homeschool Classroom - Gifts Kids Can Make

Mama's Laundry Talk - Laundry Gifts

Successful Homeschooling - Serving

Monday, November 28, 2011

5 Christmas Light Displays Worth the Drive

This week I’m teaming up with 12 other bloggers for an exciting 5 Days of Christmas series. I hope you’ll stop back each day as I share Christmas travel ideas. 

I also hope you’ll take a minute to stop by and visit the other wonderful bloggers that are participating in this series. You’ll find links to their blogs and the topics that they will be sharing about at the bottom of this post.

Today I’ll be sharing 5 Christmas Light Displays Worth the Drive and hope that you’ll share your favorite light display after you read mine.


Thinking back to the memories of Christmas’s past, one of my fondest memories was climbing into the cab of my grandma’s king cab truck, with as many family members as we could squeeze inside, and heading out to see Christmas lights. As a little girl, seeing the bright colors illuminate the night sky, transforming ordinary objects into the extraordinary, was magical.

As an adult, I can’t see the festive Christmas lights without also reliving those special memories. As a mother, I want my children to experience that magic too. When they were tiny we’d load them up in the car and drive around our neighborhood oohing and aahing over the simplest of light displays. Now that they’re teenagers, some of their enthusiasm has worn off. It takes a bit more to capture their attention. Sometimes that means traveling a bit farther from home to see something memorable. With that in mind, here are five light displays that are worth a bit of a drive.


The Holiday Lights at the Beach located along the Virginia Beach boardwalk is hands down the most unique display that my family has ever seen. The nautical themed display stretches over 30 blocks and is the only time you are permitted to drive your vehicle along the boardwalk, which is pretty exciting in itself to teenagers. From jumping dolphins, to Santa in a boat, you’ll view each display while listening to a free CD that you are given at the gate. Sand, Sea and Santa- who says the beach can’t be a great place to visit in December? 

snowflake tunnel

The Galaxy of Lights in Huntsville, Alabama is one drive through display that goes on forever! From nursery rhymes, to rockets, to driving through a beautiful icicle forest, we really enjoyed this display. Voted as one of the South’s best light displays, you certainly won’t be disappointed. New this year is an entrance through the US Space and Rocket Center, which nearly doubles the display and a fun diversion, Santa’s Rocket Sleigh Pit Stop,  featuring fun treats and live reindeer!

Christmas Town Garden of Lights

Visit the Christmas Town and the Garden of Lights at The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. Not only will you walk through the museum gardens filled with lights, you’ll see a live nativity, visit a marketplace and view live dramas proclaiming the birth of Jesus. And best of all? This event is FREE.


The Fantasy of Lights at Callaway Gardens is one of those magical places that I wish I could escape to over and over again. You can drive through seven miles of lights or take the trolley where you’ll see fantastic displays. And since 99% of the lighted pieces where designed specifically for the Fantasy of Lights, you’re sure to see a unique display. Be sure to book a room at the Mountaintop Inn or in one of the cozy cottages to really make your visit unforgettable!  


lights at clifton mill

The Legendary Lights at Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio is truly a remarkable sight. Started in 1988, with 100,000 lights, this display has grown to include over 3.6 million lights, an amazing miniature display- complete with a mini mill, a Santa Claus museum with the largest collection of Santa’s in the country, a toy shop full of antique toys and Santa’s Workshop where a live, working Santa pops out the chimney every 20 minutes to the delight of the crowd. If you want to really be awed by this display, arrive early, before the lights are turned on. The transformation is truly astounding!  And the covered bridge light show that is synchronized to music is mind-blowing! It definitely got the attention of my teens’!

Have you visited any of these displays? What did you think? What Christmas light displays would you like to add to the list?

Don’t forget to visit these great bloggers that are also participating in the 5 Days of Christmas series!

A Slob Comes Clean - Getting Your Home Company Ready

Feels Like Home - Christmas Traditions

Somewhat Crunchy - Christmas with Dairy Allergies

Spell Outloud - Children's Books

Mama's Learning Corner - Children's Crafts

Many Little Blessings - Edible Gifts

Sunflower Schoolhouse – Decorations

An Oregon Cottage - Christmas Cookies

Catholic Icing - Wishing Jesus Happy Birthday

The Homeschool Classroom - Gifts Kids Can Make

Mama's Laundry Talk - Laundry Gifts

Successful Homeschooling - Serving

Monday, November 21, 2011

How to Miss Your Flight in Three Easy Steps

Remember that trip we took to Seattle in August? Well, it turns out that it wasn’t all fun and games. Nope. There were a few stressful moments.

Like when our tire blew out on the way to the hotel.

Or, when the taxi we’d arranged to pick us up arrived a half an hour early and we weren’t ready to leave for our flight.

Or when we scrambled to get to the airport at 5:00 in the morning only to find out our flight was canceled and we didn’t fly out until 10:30 instead of 6:30.

Or when our taxi didn’t show up at all to take us to the cruise port and we were stranded in Downtown Seattle with all of our luggage.

Or when we could not find a cab when we were stranded.

Or when I called a cab company and they sent a cab for one person and we have five. 

Or when we were so fed up with cabs after the cruise that we decided to walk from the airport to our hotel with our stuffed luggage and it was a wee bit further than we had anticipated. 

Ughh. I think you get the picture, don’t you?

All of those little events were a bit taxing- some more than others- but none of them were as tense as when we arrived at the airport kiosk, punched in our information and read that our flight had already departed. We had actually MISSED our flight home, back to Ohio. 

And you know what was more stressful than that realization? When I realized that MY HUSBAND realized that we had missed our flight AND that it was MY FAULT.

At this point, you may be wondering how one goes about actually missing a flight. Turns out, it doesn’t take much effort.  I’ll even tell you step-by-step what you need to know incase you ever decide that your family vacation just wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, and you need a bit more excitement thrown in.  Are you with me?

#1 Book your flight through your favorite carrier and whatever you do, DO NOT print a copy of your itinerary. 

#2  Glance through your departure times once and convince yourself that your brain is like the safe at Fort Knox and allows nothing to escape. Even if you’re the type of person that forgets where they placed their car keys five minutes after stepping inside the door.

#3  When you suddenly wake up from a sound sleep, the night before your flight, and you have a nagging feeling that you should double check your travel plans, ignore it and go back to sleep.  After all, what’s the worst that can happen? 

All kidding aside, I certainly never intended to purposely miss our flight. I was horrified when I realized that we were actually supposed to be landing at 9:30 a.m. in San Diego and NOT departing from Seattle at that same time! I nearly vomited.

Thankfully, United Airlines, was most understanding and accommodating. They even waived the fees that could have been up to $150 per person to make changes to our flight plans. I’m truly grateful to them. However, we were assured that if this ever happens again- we will be charged.

So, heed my warning and make sure you check and double check those flight times on your next vacation!

What is the most stressful moment you’ve ever experienced on a vacation?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Six Reasons You Should Save Time in Your Schedule for Field Trips at The Homeschool Classroom


homeschool classroom banner 

I’m nearing the end of my homeschool journey. One child will graduate next year and the other two will soon follow. As I look back over our fondest homeschool memories I think of amazing read alouds that stole a piece or our hearts, co-ops with friends, and even a few science experiments gone bad. I also remember some of the many field trips that we’ve taken since we embarked on our homeschooling adventure and why, if I had to start at the very beginning, I’d incorporate even MORE field trips.

Pop on over to The Homeschool Classroom to read the rest of the post, Six Reasons You Should Save Time in Your Schedule for Field Trips.

I also wanted to take the time to say Thank You to those of you that nominated The Traveling Praters for Best Homeschool Variety Blog. I am deeply honored and encouraged. Thank You!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Join me at The Homeschool Village

I’d love for you to join me today at The Homeschool Village where I’m sharing  Frugal Field Trips: Serving Others.   

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Five Free Things to do in Skagway, Alaska


It would be really hard to choose only one thing that I loved about our Alaskan cruise, but I would have to say that the quaint, historic town of Skagway is certainly a top contender!

Skagway, Alaska is a tiny little town with a population of less than one thousand. Surprisingly, it is also a very busy port during the cruising season and can host up to seven cruise ships in one day, surviving almost entirely on the tourism industry.

Skagway was our first stop and the first time my family has ever set foot on Alaskan soil, though I hope it is not the last. In fact, Skagway is one of the reasons that I’d LOVE to return to Alaska.

There were many excursions that we could have selected that would have allowed us to see more of the area, but we opted to explore the community on our own…and for FREE.     

I did a bit of research prior to our trip so I had a couple ideas in mind of where we wanted to visit but there is one thing that I always try to keep in mind: Locals know best. So, our first stop, which is actually #1 on my list of places to visit in Skagway was  the Visitors Center.

Most photgraphed building in Skagway

1. The Visitors Center a.k.a. Arctic Brotherhood Hall is a rather curious building that you simply can’t pass by without giving a second glance. Adorned with 8,833 pieces of driftwood, this building is said to be one of Alaska’s most photographed buildings. Clearly you can see why. 

Not only were we able to get a really close look at the building, but the wonderful ladies in the Visitor’s Center gave us some great ideas to aid in our exploration of Skagway.

2. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.

I loved the turn of the century facades of the buildings downtown and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park is no exception. Housed in the historic Railroad Building,  thousands of visitors stop at this National Park Site each year to learn about the Alaskan Gold Rush, and where better to learn than in Skagway, the gateway to the Klondike?  

Inside the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park

This exhibit shows the supplies that each prospector were required to pack for the journey into the Yukon- weighing nearly 1,000 pounds!

Inside, you may choose to view a short 30 minute movie that offers an overview of the area and gold rush,  or view some of the exhibits. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park also encompasses an area of seven historic blocks in downtown Skagway. You can continue to learn about the gold rush days on one of several free, 50-minute walking tours that the National Park Service offers several times each day.


3. The Gold Camp Cemetery is in easy walking distance of downtown (4 mile round trip hike from town) and boasts the “Largest Nugget in the World”.

Not all prospectors were honest men and with the lure of money came the gamblers, thieves, cutthroats and murderers, some of which are buried in the Gold Camp Cemetery.  

If you continue through the cemetery for 1/4 of a mile you can also see Reid Falls. Unfortunately, my family couldn’t be persuaded to walk any further. 

4. Yakutania Point and Smugglers Cove are both a short easy hike from downtown and offer views you won’t want to miss. I could have sat and enjoyed the amazing scenery for hours and we probably would have had it not begun to rain.  We also wanted to make sure that we did not miss #5 on my list.


5. The Broadway Dock is the place to be during high tide during the  salmon spawning season and probably my families FAVORITE memory from Skagway. As the tide comes in, so do the hungry harbor seals seeking a dinner of …you guessed it…. salmon. Of course, if you prefer not to watch the salmon being eaten, you may opt to visit Pullen Park where you can view the salmon swim upstream without fear of being eaten. By seals anyway…

Sometimes we go on vacation and look back and wish that we could change things and though I wish I could change plenty about our cruise and trip to Alaska, our day in Skagway was perfect.

Have you been to Skagway? What would you add to the list?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Save Money on Groceries to Make Room for Travel

Several weeks ago,  I purchased, Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family by Steve and Annette Economides. I had watched the Economides family on TV a few months back and though the book sounded intriguing, I doubted that it would really deliver what it promised. Besides, I may never be featured on Extreme Couponing, but I do consider myself a pretty savvy shopper most of the time.

I didn’t think much more about the book until my new Vision Forum catalog arrived and the book was included as one of the Frugal Family resources. I decided to give it another look. Even with my reservations, I was eager for it to arrive so I could begin digging into its pages.

We are planning a trip to Florida this winter and one of the ways I plan to fund that trip is by reducing our grocery bill.

I began by taking a short quiz to determine what kind of shopper I am. Turns out that my suspicions were correct, I do know a thing or two about saving money on groceries. Still, the Economides words encouraged me to continue reading the book and guaranteed that they could still teach me a thing or two.

After reading partway through the book I decided to put their advice to the test. 

The first thing I decided to do was to find some really inexpensive recipes. I could have scoured the internet for free, but since I was a bit crunched for time,  I purchased an e-book, Molly Makes $5 Dinners and $3 Desserts Cheap and Delicious offered through The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Store.

After pulling together a list of 19 recipes, with a few desserts thrown in for a special treat, I created a shopping list by type; dairy, bread, canned goods, meat, fruits & vegetables, etc. 

If you’re curious as to what meals I selected, you can see them here, My Meal Plan.

Next, I quickly went through the sale ads to locate which store offered the best savings for the week.  I decided that I would shop at Aldi and Kroger.

My first stop was Aldi. Since I planned to really stock up, I asked my son to accompany me, as I planned on filling two carts. I spent $210.77 for 206 items.

Next stop, Kroger. I spent $149.64. Of course, this is where I bought all of our meat and stocked up on Pepsi for my husband- a huge budget buster. I also splurged 11.04 on a turkey, but I got a ton of fuel points- which saved me 20 cents at the pump, plus we’ll be able to at least two meals out of that one bird. I saved an additional $78.03 with my Kroger card.

To get the most savings, I purchased large packages of meat and cheese and divided them into smaller meal proportions as soon as I got home. 

I have noticed that I spend significantly more on groceries since our move back to Ohio. I’m now spending about $200 a week to feed my family.  That figure does include all of our toiletries, etc. but does not include eating out, which can easily add $50 –100 more to our grocery bill if we aren’t careful. 

My grand total for this experimental shopping trip was $360.41. That may not sound like a huge savings over what I typically spend, but keep in mind that I will be feeding my family of five the 19 MAIN meals that I shopped for, plus breakfast and lunch.

I also managed to purchase extra toilet paper which was on sale and stock up on a few other items that we use regularly, like my husbands’ Pepsi.   

My husband has been eating breakfast at home and we’ve not eaten out as a family once in the past two weeks which is when I last bought groceries. Not so bad after all.

I’m excited to think that maybe, after I finish reading Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half and put all that I learn into practice, I will actually be able to do just that. And maybe I’ll be able to pay for that Florida vacation solely on what I save on the cost of groceries.


Are you concerned with your grocery bill? What are some of the ways that you are trying to cut back?

**Just so you know, I am an affiliate of Amazon so if you choose to follow the link I’ve included for Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half, it will give me a few cents. However, I am not an affiliate for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine store.

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