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My family and I just returned from a two-day camping trip at Little Pond, a campground just outside my husband’s hometown of Livingston Manor. It was two days of sleeping in the cold and rain. There were bugs and dirt, but you know what? We all had a great time! So, this makes me wonder why we spend so much time and money trying to entertain our kids, when a tent, flashlight and campfire will suffice. Being a frugal person, I think about what life lessons our kids can take away from the simplicity of camping. Here are the four life lessons I hope my kids learn from our family camping trips.

1. Fun is possible without any electronic devices.
Sometimes I worry about my kids growing up in a world that constantly has them tuned into some electronic device. Camping was a great way to show my kids that you don’t need much more than some friends and family to have a good time. My kids had a blast swimming in the lake and making castles and moats on the beach. We read stories by flashlight and roasted marshmallows. This reminded me that we don’t need to spend a fortune entertaining our kids. My favorite part about camping was not being a slave to a clock, computer, phone or any other device. Time was strictly to be enjoyed, not worried about or accounted for and I think that is an awesome life lesson for my little campers to learn. Even this frugal lady knows that time is a thousand times more valuable than money. When you use up money you can make more, but once time is spent, it’s gone forever.

2. Friends can be forever as long as you keep growing together.
Our camping trip was made more fun because we went with several of my husband’s childhood friends. These awesome people are known by my children as uncles and aunts. These honorary titles teach my children that while there is the family you are born into, there is also the family that you create for yourself. Though I admit to listening to stories of “Manor” as an outsider who didn’t grow up there, there are also plenty of stories told around the fire that encompass the life my husband and I have created over the past 14 years. I have been tucked inside this tight-knit cocoon of friendship formed in childhood and I get a front row seat for stories about my husband (the boy he was long before the man he is now), which is awesome and pretty funny too. I can only hope my children will create their own “family” like this one day.

3. You don’t have to have it all to have it all.
This sounds crazy I know, but camping is a great financial equalizer. Ok, so if you’re “glamping” (glamorous camping) in a fabulous RV with all the amenities of a 5-star resort you might miss this life lesson, but if you camp like we do in a tent on the hard rocky ground you learn quickly that financial status is totally a moot point in the wilderness. Nobody is trying to impress anyone with flashy things because you don’t bring fancy things when you camp unless you want them covered in dirt. We all have the same opportunity to take our small patch of earth and carve out a “home,” if only for a few days. Like I always say, the people make the home, not the house and certainly not the stuff inside it.

4. Stuff is only great if it has a purpose.
Let’s face it, packing and unpacking a car for a camping trip is a huge pain in the neck. You have to carefully weigh the value of each item before you load it up, otherwise you could easily find yourself without room for the family. I hope my kids remember this life lesson when they grow up and set up their homes. My childhood home had no shortage of stuff. At times it felt like the stuff was multiplying and pushing the people out. I want my kids to evaluate the usefulness of their stuff. I don’t want them to hold tight to objects. I want them to remember that you can’t always take it with you.

Most of my favorite childhood memories revolve around my grandmother’s house and I remember the cardboard box she had filled with random toys. I suspect most grandparents have this same hodgepodge collection of toys in a box in their homes for when the grandkids come over to play. The toys never changed in all the years of my childhood visits to her house; I was the one who changed. I used my imagination and creativity to reinvent these toys to keep myself a happy camper at her house. Just as a single bowl or pan while camping becomes so vitally important that you use it in a variety of ways, I want my kids to view their stuff the same way. Not much good comes from boarding the “more” train. You can’t be a happy camper thinking about what you don’t have or forgot to pack in this world. You just get busy making do with something else. When you do that, you find a kind of satisfaction with yourself and your life that is truly priceless.

If you’re gluten-free and go out in the world, you’re barraged pretty frequently with things you can’t eat.  Though much of that food isn’t good for you anyway, that’s beside the point. You can’t eat it, which is very different from not wanting to eat it.  With planning, this is easy enough to get around–as many other families of young children do, we leave the house armed with cut-up fruit or veggies, cheese sticks, trail mix, etc.  That said, there are times when we’re someplace and I notice my kids gazing longingly at something others are eating.

Most recently, my children and I were in a wholesale club with another family and they stopped at the front counter for those warm, salty, heavenly-scented soft pretzels.  Filled with white-flour and no nutrition? Yes.  Something my kids couldn’t have even if they wanted? Well, also yes.  As my kids know by now, I’ve promised to make a gluten-free, healthier version of whatever they covet out of the house.  So, when my little one asked, “Can we make those?” I was happy to say, “YES!”

I’m guessing there are plenty of gluten-free pretzel recipes out there, but this pretzel recipe came through my inbox last week and caught my eye.  I enjoy the No Gluten No Problem blog, as they too are a local Hudson Valley family with kids, living the gluten-free lifestyle.  Their recipes tend to be family-friendly, creative, and come out well.  I have this on my to-try-soon list, and if you’re gluten-free and jonesing for a soft pretzel, you can try it, too.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy baking!

Nothing gets my blood boiling more than credit card companies. My husband and I, no matter how hard we work to get out from under their thumb, seem to find ourselves battling them. When we lost both our cars in one week, despite having a budding emergency fund to cover most of the replacement expense, we had to finance about $2,400. Now that we’ve been sharing a car for a few days, I’ve realized that, especially in the summer, I absolutely need a car of my own so that my kids and I aren’t trapped at home all day.

One good thing that came out of this financial detour is that during the application process for a loan at our credit union we found out my husband’s credit score had dropped 40 points since last year. I asked myself, “What the hell happened from last year to this year?” We had paid off his credit cards in April. Being the Discount Diva I am, I simply couldn’t let this slide. I told him that he had to get on the phone and find out what was going on.

The Dangling Finance Charge

So, my husband called Experian. He found out that although he had paid off his Capital One card, there was a $2 finance charge that was applied after his final payment was processed. So, he was going about his business thinking, “Great, I have a $0 balance on that account. That’s one less thing to worry about.” Boy was he wrong. He didn’t think to check the account after it was paid off and never knew he had this dangling $2 finance charge. Then they hit him with late payments on this $2 charge and subsequently sent a report to the credit bureau when he was 90 days past due, which is a major blow to your credit score.

The Call to Fix It

So, having already gone through something similar, I said to my husband, “You have to get on the phone and fix this. Otherwise it’s going to mess up your credit score.” He called them up and explained that because he paid off the account he believed there was a $0 balance. He told them he had no knowledge of the finance charge because he’d gotten no notice from them. He pointed out that he was a good customer and had never made a late payment to them in all the years he’d had the card, but he was going to cancel the account if they didn’t remove the late payment fee and send a report to the credit bureau to expunge the delinquency report. I stood in the room pacing, going “Atta boy.” I’ve been there and done that. He felt like he was being harsh, but I reassured him that he had to fight for his good credit score.

He was nice, yet assertive, when talking to the customer service rep and in a matter of minutes both the finance charge and the late payment were removed and a report was filed with the credit bureau to expunge the original delinquency report. It’s going to take a few months to be entirely removed, but it was definitely something that had to be done.

The Lesson Learned

So here’s what I take away from this whole situation. YOU alone are the only one who is responsible for your credit. The credit card companies love to make money off of you, but they sure as hell aren’t going to look out for your best interests.

I used to be the girl that was afraid to ask for anything. I wanted to be seen as nice, but I’ve learned that you NEVER get what you want when you don’t ask. So I say, if you run into a dangling finance charge, the dreaded annual fee or any other discrepancy, call your credit card company IMMEDIATELY and insist they fix it. I ditched my Capital One card when they wouldn’t remove my annual fee. Why should I have to pay anything on a card that has a $0 balance? I refuse to pay a fee for the “privilege” of carrying their card. You need to let these credit card companies know that they are a dime a dozen.

I always call my creditors, whether it’s a credit card company or the cable company, and ask for a better rate, a new due date, or whatever else it’s going to take to keep my financial ship afloat and moving forward. Never be afraid to remind them that you always have other options (even if you don’t – bluff). The worse they can say is “No.” If they say no, then you have to decide whether or not to stick with a company that isn’t willing to work with their customers or give another company your business. The choice is always yours. I like to think of it as reverse telemarketing. Companies work very hard to get your business so we should make them work just as hard to keep it. My advice is to keep your existing companies on their toes, keep new businesses in mind, and check your credit report once a year to make sure there are no discrepancies.

And One More Thing…

Something else that helps me stay focused on my mission to get out of debt is to get really stinking MAD! Get MAD at the unfair practices, crazy interest rates, fees and penalties, and yourself for getting into debt in the first place. I’ve learned that when you get complacent you get nowhere, so get FIRED UP to make a change. This is YOUR FINANCIAL PEACE at stake so defend it come hell or high water!

Share your battle stories with credit card companies and maybe we can collect enough rage among us to get out of debt for good.

ImageI have to say… I love being an aunt!

Well, I’m not actually an aunt, but since my cousin, Meghan, and I grew up more like sisters, I have claimed her baby, Weston, as my nephew!

The only regret I have is that I don’t get to see him, Meghan or their pup, Chewy, as much as I’d like to. Although they live in my home state of North Carolina, I do my best to keep in touch.

Technology is a great thing.Image

Skype, Google Phone and Face Time are probably the best inventions EVER! Meghan and I will Face Time each chance we get. She even sent me a cute MMS video message of Weston saying his first word. Her latest video message was of Weston jumping around in his swing with his “big brother” Chewy by his side.

Although I’d like to be around more,
I’d rather see them over Face Time than not at all!

For now, I guess I’ll have to settle on being a “long distance aunt.”

A number of years ago I wrote a blog called “I found the best kept secret”.  Did you know that we have a foundry right here in Orange County where world-recognized sculptors come to create their art? The foundry has been here since 1996, so they are not the new kids on the block.

The Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry is located at 453 Rt 17K in Rock Tavern, NY. (If you are from outside eastern Orange County area take the Route 84 Exit 5A for Stewart Airport. Park at intersection of Drury Lane and Rte 17.)

You can’t go into the foundry but you can enjoy the wonderful works of Frank Stella, a New York City painter and sculptor, whose works are installed in museums in from Canada to Brazil, from Washington, DC to Houston Tx.

I call the scuptures Stella’s Monsters on Parade. You can view them in the fields across from the foundry and on the “porch” of the building.

The wonderful thing about seeing these monsterous scuptures is that you don’t need an appointment, you don’t have to stand in line and there is no fee.

Last night I said to my husband,”Let’s drive over to Polich and see what’s new.” While you can enjoy the photos I shot, make you own trip to see the wonders of Stella’s Monsters on Parade.
Frank Stella sculpture 1

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terrie 7-24-13 027Frank Stella sculpture 2

As I like to start most off my posts I will say, I love my kids.

Now that that’s out of the way lets get to the dirt!

I want my kids out of my bed!

At 7 and 3 years old they are still little enough and cute enough to get away with sneaking into my bed. They always try to jump in at bed time, but I can usually stay strong and get them to sleep in their own beds. The little one, being the brilliant devil that she is, has quickly figured out that at 2am my resolve isn’t quite as strong.

She will some how wake herself up (with her internal evil alarm) and crawl into bed with me at 2 o’clock in the morning! Then I wake up around 6am with my neck all jacked up because I slept in an unnatural position trying to avoid a foot to the gut, an arm in my butt or some other seriously uncomfortable position from my sweet little angel.

Meanwhile she is sprawled out comfortably hogging the whole bed. The same goes for the 7 year old (perhaps he taught the 3 year old about the 2am trick)… I’ll wake up huddled at the edge of my own bed freezing with no blankets while he lies comfortably taking up the whole thing!

I know one day I will beg them to snuggle with me only to be rebuffed with the “Come on mom, I’m too old for that!” But some mornings when my neck is all in a knot and I can’t walk because my sciatic is going haywire, I wish for those days to come a little sooner 😉

I don’t know if it’s just me, but in this heat wave, I can’t seem to muster up the energy to do much of anything. Well, other than swim, of course, but on the hottest days we stayed indoors.  However, the family needs to eat, and there’s no way around that.  Little ones get bored easily, so why not drum up a little cooking project that feeds hungry mouths and keeps little hands occupied?

Before we were gluten-free, my family and I made these treats fairly often.  They’re a crunchy, slightly-sweet peanut butter bar, perfect for breakfast or a snack.  As I’d blogged about years ago, they’re easy to make, freezing extras is a blessing, and offer a nice dose of protein.  However, we retired the recipe when we became gluten-free, as one of the primary ingredients is whole grain flakes.  I thought about substituting another kind of gluten-free cereal, but many are not readily available, and some, like Chex, wouldn’t offer the right texture.

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Recently, one morning my kids were begging for these again, and I spied gluten-free Rice Krispies on the pantry shelf.  Hmmm.  Perfect!  To make a single batch, combine 1/2 cup of all-natural (sugar and oil-free) peanut butter, 3 Tbsp. of honey or agave, 2/3 cup of cereal flakes (gluten-free Rice Krispies work well if you’re gluten-free), and 1/3 cup of instant powdered milk.  Place cereal in closed Ziploc bag and crush with rolling pin.  Mix ingredients in a bowl until well-blended.  Form six sticks, or one-inch balls, and wrap individually in wax paper.  Store in an airtight container, or freeze.  Kids can make these almost by themselves — let little ones roll the rolling pin over the bag, measure out ingredients, and get their hands dirty mixing and forming bars or balls.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Keep cool, and happy cooking!

ImageThere’s no doubt it, breastfeeding in public is a hot topic.

Some people think breastfeeding is a natural thing and that their babies shouldn’t be shoved into a dirty bathroom when it’s dinner time. On the other hand, another group of people think breastfeeding should be confined to the home or a private space so others aren’t put in an uncomfortable position.

I can see the argument for both sides.

I recently came across an article on Yahoo about a stay-at-home mom named Jackie Johnson-Smith. Her husband took Jackie and their three kids (ages 3,4, and 1) out to dinner to celebrate her birthday.

Soon enough Jackie and her husband found themselves surrounded by three jumping beans, screaming at the top of their lungs. Jackie took out her breastfeeding cover-up and started to breastfeed her fussy one year old.

The couple noticed their waitress kept walking by without saying a word and just looking at them. Jackie worried she was making the waitress uncomfortable, so she went outside and finished feeding her child in the car.

ImageMinutes later her husband came out to the car and showed her the bill… The waitress had a handwritten message for Jackie. On the check the waitress wrote, “I bought one of your pizzas. Please thank your wife for breastfeeding!”

How cool is that!

Apparently the waitress, Bodi Kinney is also a mother and she’s experience a lot of discrimination and evil glares for breastfeeding in public. The waitress told Yahoo News, “I noticed Johnson-Smith nursing and was so thrilled she did it. I tried not to stare because I didn’t want to seem creepy or make her feel uncomfortable, but I felt like doing jumping jacks.”

 

So, this past week was a bad financial week in my household. We had a car accident that totaled our mini-van last Tuesday and then as we were driving up to Lake George for our camping trip our remaining car over-heated and the engine blew. So, now we are stuck having to replace both cars at the same time. At first I was panic-stricken, as is my worry-wart nature. Then I said to myself, “You know what, this is life.”  Time to let go and let God (as they say). I sometimes hold on so tight to the purse strings that they start to cut off my circulation. My husband often tells me that whenever he asks me any question, my first response is “what’s it going to cost?”

Although I can’t pretend my budgeting OCD will ever go away, I’m trying to see financial setbacks as just detours on the road to financial freedom. There was a time, when I can honestly say that I had no idea where my money went and I had no financial goals. Now, I know that I want to be debt-free and I have made a plan to get to that destination. I have to learn that financial setbacks and mistakes are going to happen, but that I can learn from them.

What I can do now is try to prepare as much as I can and listen for my internal GPS to recalculate my route. One day I’ll hear those beloved words, You have arrived at your destination.”  Lamenting my mistakes for too long would be like standing by my smoking car on the side of the highway crying instead of getting on the phone to call for a tow-truck. Does it stink having to pay for a tow and two cars right now? Yes. Does lamenting my situation move me forward on my journey? That would be a big NO.

I’ve decided to share my top 3 financial detours with you and what I’ve learned from them so that maybe you can learn from my mistakes too.

Financial Detour #1: Where the heck are we? Before we got married, my husband and I split bills down the middle without actually co-mingling our money. After we got married we kept this arrangement because it seemed fair. Bills would be divvied up based on our separate incomes and any money we had left in our individual bank accounts was ours to do with as we pleased. Unfortunately, my husband and I didn’t get on the same financial page till we found ourselves moving to a single income when my daycare business failed. By then, we each had a fair amount of credit card debt the other didn’t know about and neither of us really could say where our money was going every month.

Lesson Learned: Get on the same page with your significant other and do it now, before an extreme change of circumstances forces you to do it. You can’t move forward toward financial independence if you and your partner are driving different cars. Once we combined accounts and got real about our debt, we were able to make a budget and design our road-map out of debt. Happily, we are continuing to move out of debt, albeit slowly, but all that matters is that we keep moving forward together.

Financial Detour #2: Not having AAA. Only once you’ve broken down do you regret not having AAA. I know I did as I sat on the side of the highway with my family waiting for a tow-truck last Friday. The financial equivalent of AAA is an emergency fund. Sure, you may not need a financial cushion this minute, but boy will you regret not having one when your bank account hits the red and is hemorrhaging money. Before we went down to one income, I didn’t give an emergency fund much thought. I lived in the moment, crossing my fingers that nothing bad would happen. Then every car repair or unexpected expense felt like the end of the world because I didn’t have money to cover it.

Lesson Learned: Now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I know one of the most important things to have is an emergency fund. Financial experts like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey recommend having at least a starter fund of $1,000 and then build up to roughly 6 to 8 months of your monthly income. Luckily, we had an emergency fund in place when we lost both our cars this past week. Although we were just starting to grow our fund, we did have enough to cover most of the purchase of two used cars. We’ll still have to take a small loan to cover the difference, but it won’t be nearly as devastating to our budget as it would have been if we had nothing.

Financial Detour #3: Calculating my self-worth in dollars. I suspect that I am not the only stay-at-home mom that has struggled with doubting my worth because I don’t have a pay stub that places a dollar value on my time. Perhaps I might have felt differently if my husband and I made an advance decision that I would stay at home with our kids rather than having it thrust upon us by circumstance. As it was, going from work-for-pay to work-for-family (a.k.a. for free, mostly 24 hours a day, and mostly unrecognized), I had a hard time recognizing my value without a way to quantify it. Let’s face it, in our society you are defined by your work-for-pay job. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a stay-at-home mom and I sometimes feel a little self-conscious, wondering if that somehow makes me a less valuable person in their eyes. After all, there is nothing in that job description that would indicate to people that I have a BA degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Nor does it say that I’ve worked for nearly 10 years coordinating marketing and special events for various non-profits.

Lesson Learned: I had to change the way I viewed myself (sans paycheck). The world is going to think what they want about me. They will try to quantify my worth based on my paycheck (or lack thereof). So I have to know how important my job is – I am responsible for two little lives and the way they turn out will be a result of how good of a parenting job I do (along with my husband of course). I can’t afford to wait around for society to recognize how valuable a mother’s work really is, I have to know it for myself. I am CEO of our family finances. I am my children’s first teacher. I am my husband’s anchor. Without me, his life would not be the same and the same goes for me. I can’t feel guilty that I don’t contribute dollars and cents to our budget. Frankly there’s no time for guilt on this road; not if I ever hope to reach my destination.

Staying at home with my kids has been amazing. The things I can do for and with my family is invaluable and it’s given me the chance to pursue my dreams. I’m finally working on writing that book I’ve always wanted to. I used to say to myself, “I can’t do that because I’m too busy with work and the kids,” but really, I just used my job as an excuse. You can’t fail if you never try, right? Well, I’ve learned that you can’t afford not to pursue your passion even if you never get a dime for it. Money is important, but it does NOT define you.

Hopefully you can learn something from my financial detours. If you’re feeling brave, share your financial detours with me and the other HV Parent readers and we can all help each other on the road to financial independence.

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Lia talking to her mom on my cell phone.

My granddaughter, Lia, just turned 8 on July 3rd. I remember when she was born. The doctor told my daughter-in law Caroline that she probably give birth the last week of June. I was looking forward to that hoping she would share my June 25th birthday. June 25th and 26th and 27th past and no Lia.

Now I’m having a problem because my mom’s birthday is July 4th and she lives in southern New Jersey quite a distance from my kids. I had been staying close to the phone so I wouldn’t miss the call about Lia entering the world. After Caroline gave birth, Clay and I were going to take care of Robert, who was 3 at the time. Finally early on July 3rd I called my mom to say Clay and I were coming over to celebrate her birthday.

You can guess what happened next. We were all at an outdoor ice cream stand laughing as we sat under some trees enjoying some cool ice cream cones when my son, Paul, called. “Mom, where are you? Meet us at the hospital.” In the car. Bring mom home and drive the I-95 corridor toward Trumbull, CT.

Although I didn’t see her right after she was born, I am sure Lia came out singing and dancing. (Would have made a great YouTube video.)

And she has been singing and dancing ever since. For example, the family would meet at the Danbury Mall, and when Lia was 3-years-old she would dance to the tunes coming from the free-standing ad kiosks. Shoppers would stop, smile, applaud and Lia kept dancing.

This past year she joined a hip hop dance class which she loved. She would demonstrate her new moves every time we came over. “Look what I can do,” she would say with a big grin on her face.

Saturday, June 8th was Lia’s big day…her dance recital at the Klein Memorial Auditorium, a beautiful Bridgeport theater. And believe it or not, this was the first time she said she didn’t want to perform. This is a girl who would dance anytime she heard a tune. Caroline encouraged her to put on her costume and just go to rehearsal, knowing that once Lia heard the music there was no stopping her.

The recital was more than I expected with colorful costumes, great music and wonderful backdrops. All the kids seemed to enjoy being on stage. The auditorium was filled with parents, relatives and friends of the dancers who were all there to support the kids on stage.

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Lia enjoyed her celebration lunch after her first dance recital

Afterwards, Lia came running from the backstage door with the biggest smile. Would she do it again? “Yes, grandma,” she said. “I am ready for the fall classes.”

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