Making Memories On Any Budget

If you’ve known us or followed us for any length of time, you know that we love Disney.  We have a little history with Disney, though. Duane and I met working at The Disney Store back in 1996 and we were married just two short years later in Disneyland.  We have raised our kids in a “Disney home,” following many of Walt’s own traditions.  And we visit the Happiest Place on Earth whenever we can get away for a few short days.  Many people wonder how we can afford it, but we’ve visited so often that we know how to spend and save money. Also, working for Disney allows us several benefits that not all guests can afford.  And even though Disneyland will always be our go-to vacation, we also love going on other adventures outside of Disneyland.  So, how does one go on adventures on a budget?  I’m going to share with you my top 5 money-saving adventures.  And yes, Disneyland is one of them.

  1. DAY DRIVES.  I think one of our favorite things to do as a family is to find a place just a couple hours away and take a day drive.  It’s always fun exploring new things.  Last week’s blog was about how to make memories anywhere and this is one of the easiest, and cheapest ways to do it.  Usually all it takes is a full tank of gas and some research.  Pack a lunch, grab your smart phone for directions, and you’re off!  Here in the Seattle area some of our favorites are Leavenworth, Mt. Rainier, any place a ferry can go, or even the city itself.  You just need to get creative.
  2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SEASONS.  Every town, city, state offers seasonal adventures.  In the fall, visit your local pumpkin patch.  Summer time is great for fruit or veggie picking.  Regardless of the season, find something new and fun and go for it.  Again, with just a little research, you can find adventure just about anywhere and at any time.
  3. VENTURE OUT TO A NEARBY BIG CITY.  One of our favorite getaways as a family is Portland, OR. If we have a couple of days off in a row, we try to head out of town. Portland offers great shopping and dining.  And it doesn’t matter how often we go, the kids love staying in hotels.  It’s a different experience for them. And who doesn’t love going for a swim or soak in the hot tub after a long hard day of eating and playing?
  4. GO FIND YOUR PARK!  Did you know that you can purchase an annual park pass for the entire family for just $80?  And it pays for itself in 2 park visits.  Every state offers several national parks, historic sites, or historic reserves.  Again, just pack a lunch, several snacks, water bottles, jackets and/or hats, and fill up the car.  The National Park Service also offers a Junior Ranger program with fun activities and adventures for your kids and an opportunity for them to earn a Jr. Ranger badge.  All of my kids, including my 17-year old, love earning their Jr. Ranger badges! Just visit The National Park Service to find out more information and programs near you!
  5. DISNEYLAND!  OK, you knew I had to! Like I said, we visit Disneyland as frequently as we can.  Each visit is different and depending on the kids, they all experience something new.  So, how can we afford it?  Before I was worked for Disney, we had annual passes.  If you visit the park more than 5 days, you will have paid for your annual pass.  Plus the annual pass gets you discounts on food and store purchases.  There are several hotel offerings around Disneyland Resort, so just choose the one that best suits your family’s budget and needs.  For our family, I’m all about saving as much money as we can.  I bring a backpack with me filled with snacks and waters to save on food purchases.  Our kids have learned to split meals so we only end up purchasing 3 meals at a time instead of one for each of us.  If they’re still hungry, they can have a snack, but most times, they’re just fine.  And I’m not big on souvenirs, but we give each of our kids a $25 gift card to spend on souvenirs, dole whip, churros, etc.  And the biggest money saver for us is transportation.  We load up all 4 kids in the minivan for a 18-hour-straight-thru drive.  We have done this so often that we know where to find the cheapest gas, cheapest food, and best times to travel to save time. I guess you could say we’re experts on Disneyland on budget!

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to find adventure!  Just a little imagination and research.  Now go find adventure!  It’s out there just waiting for you!

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5 Restaurants to Try On Your Travels

On all of our adventures across the United States, we’ve enjoyed some great food.  There’s nothing better than experiencing local culture, and there’s no better way to do that than eating at restaurants you may not find elsewhere.  There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but part of the adventure of life is trying something new–and when we’ve tried something new, we’ve typically been blown away by the people, the food–the whole experience.  Here are five of my favorites–stop by when you’re in these towns for a fantastic food experience!

Mother’s Bistro • Portland, Oregon

The city may want to keep itself weird, but there’s nothing weird about the food at this amazing restaurant.  You may feel like you’re sitting in your mom’s kitchen, surrounded by crisp white cabinetry, white linens, and feeling of home.  That’s because Chef Lisa Schroeder’s goal was to create a fantastic food experience around “Mother Food,” the kind of food she would cook for her family if she had the time.  Each month, a different real-life mom’s meals are featured along with familiar favorites like pot roast, chicken and dumplings–comfort food created with a distinct flair and excellence.  We discovered this place on accident while in Portland for a concert–and now go back every time we’re in the city.  Stop by Mother’s, because you will not be disappointed.

Carver Brewing Company • Durango, Colorado

The town of Durango has a long history of cowboys, mines, and railroads, and when we were there last summer, we wanted to eat somewhere that would give us a chance to enjoy some of that history.  Walking up Main Street, we found Carver’s, featuring some sidewalk dining.  The chalkboard sign was filled with promising ideas for meals, so we walked in.  As the hostess walked us through the labyrinthine maze, we were disappointed to find we wouldn’t be on the street, where the action was.  Instead, we were back in a back patio area.  Bummer, right?  Right–until the little kids discovered the swings available for them to play on, and once the food started coming out.  Our waiter was from Seattle, too, which was fun–but it was the food that really knocked it out of the park.  We eventually found out that this is a local institution with a long history, and the second-oldest brewpub in Colorado.  Enjoy some great food and drink while the kids play on the swings.

McGlinn’s Public House • Wenatchee, Washington

We decided to get away for a few days a couple summers ago and headed over the mountains into Washington’s apple country.  Driving through the town of Wenatchee, we couldn’t find anywhere that appealed to us (well, the parents–the kids would have loved to eat at Sonic) until we saw the sign for this place, located in a historic building with a storied history.  We couldn’t have made a better choice.  The wait staff was fantastic, the decor was full of history and great personality, and the food was stellar.  McGlinn’s was such a great experience because it was fun for adults to eat there, but also so good and that the kids liked it, too.  A short walk from the riverfront, McGlinn’s is a winning combination of history and contemporary excellence.

Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, and Musical Revue • Flagstaff, Arizona

When we arrived at our hotel in Flagstaff last summer,  I asked the clerk about good local food.  He said, “How do you feel about singing waiters?”  That’s when I knew our family had to check out Black Bart’s.  Of course, for someone out of town it can be a bit disconcerting, especially when it’s dark outside and you have to drive past a bunch of RV’s to find the restaurant.  It’s a Flagstaff institution for more than 35 years, but it still looked totally sketchy.  The inside looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1970’s (except for theatrical musical posters which featured more recent hits like Wicked and Hamilton).  The menu was pretty impressive, though, and the portions were plentiful.  Everything was cooked to perfection and we agreed it was a good choice.  My theatre-loving daughter and I were enjoying the posters–and suddenly a waiter began singing “Be Our Guest.”  This was  where the experience went from good to great.  The entire wait staff joined the song and eventually all of them had a chance to shine–along with a stellar accompanist.  If you want a great experience beyond just good food, definitely check out Black Bart’s next time you’re on your way to the Grand Canyon.

El Gaucho • Bellevue, Washington

I have to put this local favorite in this list, because it’s our favorite place to go for an incredible steak dinner (served to perfection by the fantastic waitstaff) or even a quick bite on a Sunday evening.  El Gaucho is a throwback to 1960’s steakhouses, with tableside preparation of flaming deserts or steaks, salads, jazz music, and a style that is both classic yet contemporary.  There are four El Gaucho locations (the original in Seattle, a lesser one in Portland, one in Tacoma), all with their own flavor, but we really prefer the Bellevue restaurant for the quality of the servers, the high ceilings, and ease of parking.  We have celebrated anniversaries, promotions, birthdays, and more here, and we have never been disappointed.  While its multiplicity of locations may make it more of a “chain,” the specificity of its Northwest theme, commitment to local food and wines, and its long history wth the city of Seattle make it feel more like an original.  Whether you want to eat steak served on a flaming sword or try bananas foster prepared en flambé as you watch, El Gaucho‘s Bellevue restaurant is a wonderful dining experience.

What about you?  What great restaurants have you discovered on your family adventures?  Share them with us–we can’t wait to try them out!

 

How to Make Memories Without Even Trying

I love my family, almost to a point where if we were the only 6 left on earth, I would be totally OK with it.  I’m very protective of us and our time together, which as the kids get older and we get busier, seems to be a little bit fewer and far between. So when we are all together, either purposefully or accidentally, we are very intentional with our time.  I saw a sign today that read,

We didn’t know we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

This is my new mantra!  With that being said, let me help you create memories with your family without even trying.

1. Don’t over schedule yourself.  I can’t stress this enough.  Work, school, PTA, sports, dance, music, karate, homework, housework, yard work, … the list can go on and on.  Over scheduling yourself and your kids is easy to do.  But it’s also not necessary.  Pick one extra curricular activity for you and/or your kids. The days off are a bit more frequent when you don’t have too much going on. Believe me, I get it.  Both me and my husband work full time, both of my teenagers have jobs, my youngest daughter is involved in basketball and brand practice, so I know how easy it is to get caught up in busy.  But try to set aside one or two days per month where you and your family is 100% “off.”  Let the vacuuming wait.  The dishes are fine in the dishwasher.  And there will always be laundry to do.  Take your free day and go make a memory or two.

2. Sneak in fun things even when you have a lot going on.  As much as I would like to say the Christmas season is full of baking days and relaxation for us, it’s not.  It’s easily the busiest time of year for me.  I don’t get to drop everything and go play with my kids when they are outside making snowmen.  But I do sneak in moments with them when I can.  Whether it’s driving around looking at Christmas lights or dining out at their restaurant of choice, creating moments for them will also create memories.

3.  Document your moments so you can relive your memories. Most people have some kind of a camera on their phone.  It’s there for a reason, so use it.  You may not even realize you’re creating memories until you look back a week or two later and you are able to relive it. One of my favorite moments, which I didn’t even realize would turn into a favorite summer memory, happened two summers ago.  We took a few days to get out of town.  We stumbled upon a restaurant that we all decided looked decent enough for us to have dinner. It turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.  The kids all got along, our food was amazing, we explored the restaurant after dinner which just happened to be full of history.  But I didn’t even realize how much I loved those moments until we were able to look back at the photos (played as a screensaver on our family Mac) and remember what an amazing memory it was!

What can you do this week or even this month to create special moments with your family?  Next week, I’m going to be sharing some of our favorite things to do as a family for every budget. I’d love to hear your ideas, so send them my way!

Road Trip Packing List

I can’t believe we’re already in September!  I don’t know how the summer has flown by and now we’re in back to school mode.  I may be in the minority, but I love having my kids home!  I love the sleeping in and cuddles on the couch that last into the late morning.  I love moseying into the day with just the sun to guide us on our adventures.  And I love spending it all with my family!

13774899_1736279196596936_1336765421_nOne of our favorite things to do is road trips.  Whether it’s just spending a day to drive to nearby Portland, OR or a few weeks to tour the country, we love just getting in the car and driving.  Last month we left for a ten day southwest America trip!  We visited Arches, Mesa Verde, The Grand Canyon National Parks.  This is our fourth  major National Park trip as a family. So while I’m still learning how to pack a family of 6, I’ve done enough road tripping to know what I’m doing.  Today I’m going to share with you my how-tos on how to pack for 10 days on the open road. Let’s go!

  1.  Try to keep your luggage to a minimum.  This means sometimes sharing luggage space.  My husband and I share one giant suitcase and we leave enough room for extra shoes or jackets for the kids.  While I would love for my kids to share luggage, I know that with a teenage son and daughter, it will not happen.  So, be realistic with who can share.  If you have littles and they don’t insist on pulling their own suitcase, pack them together.
  2. Pack plenty of snacks for the whole family.  With 6 people, we all have fairly diverse preferences.  While I prefer healthy non-spill snacks, my 7 year old would love to have a banana and peanut butter in the third row.  Not gonna happen!  Pack things that are easy to clean up and high in protein (to prevent car sick kiddos) like trail mix, beef jerky, and cheese sticks.  I always throw some extra goodies in the cooler for rest stop breaks, but try to keep the in car food to a minimum. We also keep drinks to a minimum with the exception of water, just to so we don’t have to find a rest stop every 20 miles.
  3. Small balls or frisbees.  We haven’t done this in a while, but I think we may need to revisit this idea.  When our older kids were smaller, we would make our rest stop breaks a little longer by getting out a ball or tossing around a frisbee.  It helps the littler kids with wiggly legs get a good stretch and helps mom and dad get a nice break from those long highway drives.
  4. Maps.  That’s right, a good ol’ fashioned, folded backward and forward map. While Apple Maps and Google Maps are great and convenient, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere without cell service, those apps will do you no good.  On our last trip, we ran into a bit of a jam with our directions and thankfully had a map in the car.  Without it, we would’ve been in trouble and probably would’ve extended our trip a few hours longer than it needed to be. If you’re a AAA member, you can get all of your maps for free.
  5. Use Gasbuddy.  Speaking of apps, Gasbuddy was a lifesaver on our last trip.  We like to save money wherever we can and thankfully our Gasbuddy app saved us close to around $50, just by driving a few short blocks away from the convenient gas stations.
  6. First aid kit.  While we don’t always need one, it’s a good idea to have one.  I pack in mine bandages, first aid cream, tylenol, wipes, and believe it or not, barf bags because we usually have at least one barfer in the car at any given time. If you’re doing any hiking I would recommend packing a full first aid kit.

One other thing I want to mention, is that when we travel, we stay at hotels across America.  It may not be the most economical way of traveling, but it is the easiest.  If you need help with finding great hotel prices, let me know and I will tell you my secrets!  It’s not hard, just takes a little more time.  And let me know how your next road trip goes!  I love to hear (and sometimes steal) other family’s ideas!

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Maybe This Country Just Needs to Go on a Big Road Trip

I love road trips.

I love the idea of getting in a car and driving across the country, seeing things you can’t see at home, experiencing places you only read about in history books or see in documentaries you stream on Netflix, eating food you can’t get close to home, and talking with people whose life experiences are different than yours.

I grew up taking road trips, thanks to my missionary parents.  Every summer from my 1st grade year until my freshman year in High School, my parents and my brother and sister and I loaded into whatever vehicle we had at the moment and traveled from Seattle to Indianapolis, and then from there to everywhere else.  By the time I graduated from high school, I’d been through the entire lower 48 states.

I’d seen Yellowstone.  Devil’s Tower.  Plymouth.  Washington, DC.  Trenton.  Lexington and Concord.  Niagara Falls.  You name it, we’d been there.  You can read about our country all you want–but when you start seeing it, living it, experiencing it, it does something to you.

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It helps you realize that everyone isn’t like you,  that there is greatness in people who talk different from you, who eat different foods.  We share the same nationality, but we are all as wonderfully diverse as our country’s landscape.  The coast of Maine is not like the prairies of Kansas or the tree-lined roads of Alabama or the huge redwoods of California or the small towns of Texas.  And the people who live in each of these places are wonderfully different from each other, too.  When you actually sit and talk to people, you realize that although we are different, we do share a common heritage as Americans.

So this is a value I grew up with, and something I am excited to pass along to my children.

People think we’re crazy.  Six people in a minivan, driving more than 4,000 miles across the American landscape.  But if you don’t drive that far, you’ll never see it.  You can’t fly to most of the most amazing and beautiful parts of our country.  And like the Pixar film Cars so aptly celebrated, if you don’t get off the highways and onto the old two-lane roads, you miss the small towns and amazing people that make America great.

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In less than thirty days, our family embarks on our next great road trip.  We will be traveling from Washington to Idaho to Utah, through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  We’re going to get off the interstate, on to some small highways, and stay in small towns and eat in local restaurants that aren’t part of a large corporation.  We will visit National Parks like Arches, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Joshua Tree, and more.  (Yes, we are squeezing in a day at Disneyland, but that’s just a bonus.)

As the National Park system celebrates 100 years, there’s nothing better than getting in the car and going.  Get out of your routines and the normal places you travel.  Sure, it make take some getting used to, driving hundreds of miles for hours to get to a location, but when you get to see the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains, experience the heat of the afternoon sun and the clearest skies in the United States at Rocky Mountain National Park, you realize it’s worth it.  Visit Wall Drug, drive on Route 66, and walk the towpath of the Erie Canal–and talk to the people in these places and discover just how great these crazy places, and the people who live near them, actually are.

If you need to stay closer to home, that’s fine, too.  But don’t be content to just stay at home, and don’t get on a plane.  Visit a local National Park (they are all over the place, and sometimes they are in your backyard–we just visited the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Preserve a short drive from our home and loved it), take a drive and get ice cream at a local place, stop  at small store and get a soda.  There’s a lot of fun to be had out there, you just need to get out and find your family’s adventure.  You’ll discover you have a lot more in common with folks than you realize, and you’ll have some fun along the way.

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It’s just a thought, but maybe if we all took a few more road trips and traveled through the towns and neighborhoods of our country, seeing just how incredibly beautiful it is, we’d see each other in a different light, too.  There’s a huge value in the road trip experience, because not only does it create memories and bring your family closer together, it can bring you closer to the incredible ties we share as Americans.

 

3 (More) Things Every Kid Needs

As I’ve mentioned before, there are 3 Things Every Kid Needs.

A Job to Do. Something to Celebrate.  To Say Thanks.

But there are three more things every kid needs, too.  These three other things can help make the difference in how your kids turn out.  Remember, parenting isn’t just about what happens today, in the now, but parenting about what you want your kids to become, in the future.  This is parenting with the end in mind.

Those three other things?  Here they are:

Kids Need Other Adults Who Can Speak Into Their Lives.  While you might be the biggest influence on your child’s life, you aren’t (and can’t be) the only one.  Smart parents will help choose who those people are, instead of leaving it just to chance, or to your kids (who will choose celebrities, movie stars, singers, and the like).

Find some great adults who can speak into your kids lives about the stuff you can’t or aren’t able to.  These people can be coaches or directors, church leaders or mentors.  They can be the mechanic who works on your car, or the neighbor who has that amazing yard.  Find quality, well-respected, mature, good people, and help your kids connect to them.  Church, school, neighborhood, sports field, neighborhood theatre.  They can be found everywhere.  They can encourage and cheer on your kids in ways that you never can.  Your kids will have other influences–why not be intentional about who those influences are?

Kids Need Experiences More Than Things.  We place a high value on things in our culture.  Having what is new, owning what is now–it’s very important.  Trouble is, things don’t last.  That great new TV you just bought has already been made obsolete.  Your phone is out of date, and you’re still in a contract for two more years.  And don’t even talk about that computer.  Sure, you will probably hold on to your house for a long time, but the furniture in it–it’s already dated, right?

It’s not new to hear that memories are the only things you can hold on to, but it’s true.  If you have a house full of all the newest and nicest things, but never spend your money creating memories, you’re teaching your kids the wrong thing.  Possessions come and go, but memories last forever.  The National Parks I visited with my family growing up?  The road trips I’ve taken my kids on?  Those are shared experiences that we will never forget.  I don’t even remember the color of the last two couches I had.  Things are great, but they don’t last.  Doing things with your kids and creating memories together?  That lasts forever.

Kids Need Grace.  Your children hear all the time about how they’ve messed up, how they don’t measure up, where they have gone wrong.  As parents, it is our job to correct and train our children to make wise choices as they grow up.  But when they don’t, what is the response?  Parents, disappointed in their own failures, often maximize or blow out of proportion a child’s failure.  I know–the response I’ve given to my youngest son over his lack of appetite when my wife has made an amazing dinner far outweighs the actual circumstance.

But what do I want most when I screw up?  I want grace.  And yet, I can’t show grace to a kid who thinks anything with green in it is poison?  You get it–if we want to have grace-filled children, who are quick to forgive, slow to anger, and generally awesome, we need to be grace-filled parents.  When your kids gets a less than perfect report card, it’s fine to have consequences–but measure them with grace.  When your child spills that glass of wine all over the carpet, remember the grace you received for a much greater slight.  When kids see grace lived out, they will live out grace as well.

 

3 Rules Every Family Should Live By

Since my eldest was born 17 years ago, my wife and I have realized there are many things people say children should learn, many things parents should focus on to ensure their kids turn out great, to have a happy family.  We’ve tried a few of them.  Some of them have worked, but many of them have been real stinkers.

We’ve done our best.  We’ve had some highs, and we’ve had some lows.  We don’t focus a lot on grades, we don’t sign up for a lot of extracurricular activities.  We may have yelled more than we meant to, and I’m pretty sure we’ve frustrated our kids’ teachers more than once with those middle of the school year vacations.

Yet, in spite of our mistakes, I’m told quite often, “You have great kids,” or “Your family always seems to have so much fun.”  I like that.  I love it when someone compliments my children and says nice things about them.  It means a lot to me when someone notices the smiles on our faces.  As a parent, we know all the ways our kids screw up, so when someone stops and says something nice, it makes me stop.  When they compliment our family, it makes me pause and wonder–maybe we’re doing something right?

Recently, I think I discovered what my wife and I are doing right. In our flawed but fun way of doing things, I think we’ve hit on the right formula for having a great family, and some pretty good kids.  Here are our family’s three rules.  I’m hopeful these will work for you, too.

Rule #1: Create memories.  Wherever you can.  Whenever you can.

Whether it’s a National Park, a trip to Disneyland, or just dressing up like pirates for free donuts–memories are a lasting gift we can give our kids that will outlast us.  Do we go to Disneyland a lot?  Yep.  Have we worn out vehicles by driving on long road trips to National Parks across the West?  You bet.  You can save a lot of money, have a great plan for retirement, and have nicer things.  But I’d really rather have the memories, because these will stick with me–and them–for the rest of our lives.  Because of these memory-making adventures, we’ve created an incredible familial bond.  The bonus?  We actually like being together.

Rule #2: Serve others.  Individually. Collectively.

As a pastor, my kids are stuck at church.  A lot.  This could either be a cause of resentment, or it could be a way to help my kids discover ways they can make a difference in the life of someone else.  When we serve others, we get the focus off ourselves and start thinking about others.  All three of my oldest kids serve in some capacity at our church.  My oldest kids have acted in various Vacation Bible Camps, lead worship, run media, and lead small groups of elementary age kids.  My youngest daughter serves every week leading 2 year olds.  There’s nothing better than seeing them leading kids younger than themselves, and finding ways to use their talents for the good of someone else.  And to be honest, my favorite moments in ministry have been those days when we all get to do it together.

Rule #3: Show honor.  At home.  At school.  Everywhere.

We are all inherently selfish people, and we all naturally think of ourselves first.  When we focus on honoring others first, in our words and actions, we remember that “It’s not all about me.”  We use an honor chart to keep track of whether we are acting honorably or not (even the parents), and it really helps us put others first.  If I can teach my kids to live and act and speak honorably to others, then I will have done something good for the world.

There you have it.  Our three family rules.  If you do #2 and #3 right, go out and celebrate, which leads you back to #1.  Repeat as often as possible.