Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feeling Boxed In

The lease to my apartment is up next weekend, so you know what that means: packing & moving. A while back I mentioned that we were looking around and I listed some of our "must haves" and "wants" for a new place (you can find that here). And now the day is practically here!

Packing has been a two-weekend adventure. My mom came down to help pack a couple weekends ago. And the fiance & I finished packing up the rest of the place this weekend. The only things left are what I'll need to get by for the rest of the week.

I thought I would share some pictures of the mess what the place currently looks like. Plus, I don't think my mom would believe that we finished the packing if there weren't pictures to document it. :)

The first thing the fiance got busy doing was replacing all of the light bulbs around the place. When I first moved in, we had upgraded to energy efficient bulbs. We didn't want to have to spend the money to buy all new ones for the new place, so we figured we'd swap out the energy efficient ones for standard bulbs. In the process, the fiance did this:

Yep, he broke it. It's all his fault! So, we drove around town trying to find a globe that matched the right size & shape. Our first stop was Lowe's since (1) we figured they would sell open stock replacement globes and (2) they were going to close soon and we thought it best to get there before the doors closed. And Lowe's was a bust. They did have open stock replacement globes, but in sizes too big and too small, nothing just right. We debated buying a whole light kit and just using the globe from it & selling the rest of it on craigslist or something, but we thought it best to shop around first. Next stop was Wal-Mart, who didn't have any open stock globes, but their light kits were cheaper than Lowe's. But we decided we were going to wait until the next day to try one more store: Home Depot. And what do you know? They had the perfect size! So here is the new globe installed in the master closet.

Originally we were storing all of the boxes in the office. But, we decided to move everything into the living room to make it easier on moving day.

We pushed the couch forward and stuffed everything behind it. And we moved all of the office furniture into the dining room.

We even stuffed boxes into the spare closet between the master bedroom & kitchen (these got done the weekend my mom was in town). By the way, the cooler is currently empty. The plan is to take it down & fill it with ice the morning of the move to transport what food is left in the fridge.

We still have some things left to pack, but we weren't sure what we would need. I left the linen closet alone because we weren't sure who was staying with us the night before the move.

And we can't pack up the rest of the laundry room until the very end when we've finished cleaning everything up.

The bookshelf houses my school bag & purse. (And of course Cruz had to get in on the photo action.) The oil lamp is sitting up there because it can't really go in a box. It'll need to be transported in the carefully in a car to make sure the oil doesn't leak everywhere.

We packed up all of the dishes in the kitchen and most of the pantry. There is only 1 cabinet left that hasn't been emptied, and it houses all the plastic ware that I'm using this week as well as the one pot, pan, & cookie sheet I left to use. The boxes on the counter are for random stuff & the under-the-sink cleaning products. Also, the boxes underneath the bar are our leftovers. We'll probably use them up on moving day.

Oh, and a tip: did you notice those little white things on the cabinets? No, they weren't cabinet pulls. Actually, none of the cabinets have pulls. Its actually little strips of masking tape. After I cleaned out a cabinet or a drawers, I placed a little strip of masking tape on the front to remind me and anyone else that they are empty. I find this much simpler than opening up everything over and over again to double check that it's all clear.

And my closet is completely empty. Well, except for the wedding dress (and no, the fiance can't see the dress through the bag, nor does he want to). I laid out all of my clothes for the next week, and packed everything else in boxes, suitcases, duffel bags, and trash bags. I seriously have way too many clothes. And the fiance likes to remind me that I won't have a closet all to myself anymore. So, the plan is to go through everything and pull out things I don't wear anymore and place them into a yard sale pile. We're planning on having one after the wedding.

So that's our progress thus far. The rest will have to wait until next weekend. As for how the cats are adjusting, they definitely know something is up. Periwinkle has been through this once before. She's becoming a lot more lovey-dovey. Cruz - I don't think he knows what's up. He seems to be whining a lot more than usual (which let me tell you is a lot!) and he has been following me from room to room. I think they'll be okay once we get to the new place, but it's the whole process up until we get into the new place that I'm worried about - especially the car ride... Cruz tends to get car sick...

But for now, Cruz is investigating every little nook and cranny & Periwinkle is soaking up some love (even if she is a little camera shy).

So, that's what we've been up to lately. Exciting, right? I hope to have some pictures posted of the new place soon and I'll compare our "must have" and "want" lists to what we actually ended up with. Anyone out there with tips on how to make the transition easier on pets? Or even the transition easier on humans?? I for one will be glad when all of this is over!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Weekend Adventures: Bag of Goodies

Who would choose to wake up early on their day off to go stand outside in a line for 2 hours? This girl. This girl and her fiance (who by the way is amazing for keeping me company!). So what could make the two of us wake up when all we really wanted to do was stay under the covers? Free school supplies!

Local country radio station K92FM hosted their annual Teacher Supply Drive this morning at the Lakeshore Learning Store in Fern Park, FL. This was our second year going to the event. I'm not going to lie and say that it was fun. We got there around 8 a.m. and didn't get back in the car until two hours later. Granted, it was better than the first year - I think we were in line for around 4 hours. And let me tell you, it was HOT! The saving grace was the donations by local companies who sponsored the event. One such donation was the amazing misting truck:

And this little guy worked so hard. He pushed that thing up and down the line offering up ice cold water to all of the teachers standing in line.

Another sponsor was a furniture store who placed some couches and love seats along the line for teachers to rest.

This is how they had the whole shebang set up. Basically a lot of pop-up tents lined up with all the supplies separated and piled up underneath.

And this is the bag I came home with:

And these are all the goodies that were inside:

And here's the breakdown of everything inside:

  • 2 spiral notebooks
  • 2 packs of wide-ruled paper
  • 1 composition book
  • 1 hard plastic coffee cup from Dunkin Donuts (that had a coupon in it)
  • 3 pairs of scissors
  • 1 box of tissues
  • 3 packs of crayons
  • 2 blue highlighters
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 1 roll of paper towels
  • 1 mesh book bag
  • 1 3-prong folder
  • 1 ruler
  • post-it notes
  • Clorox cleaning wipes
  • anti-bacterial hand sanitizer
  • 4 pencils
  • 1 pen
  • a handful of pencil topper erasers
  • 1 protractor
I estimate that the total cost of everything in the bag is about $20-$25 or so. I think I made out a little better last year in terms of what I was able to bring home. This year they really limited the number of items you could put in your bag. But you know what? I can't really complain. That's $20-$25 that I don't have to spend out of my dwindling pay check. And I totally understand that each year the number of available supplies will vary based on what people donate and how our economy is doing. So that's what we did this morning.

Oh, and before I forget, since it happens to be related to school, I wanted to share my belated birthday present from my parents:

Yep. They got me a mini fridge to put in my classroom! It's something I've been talking about getting since I started teaching last year, but I could never convince myself that it was worth the money. I'm so excited to take this in on Monday and plug it in!

So that was our weekend kickoff! I guess technically it kicked off last night when we went out for appetizers & desserts with some friends late last night, but you know what I mean. We're planning on going to the fiance's brother's house tonight. We're going to hang out, eat some pizza, stay the night, and then come home tomorrow with a new pullout sleeper loveseat. Well... it'll be new to us! :)

What is everyone up to this weekend? Any fun plans? Or maybe you're running around doing some last minute school shopping? I wish you luck with those crowds!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Birthday Road Trip

Really wish I could take credit for this image...but alas, it comes from here.

As I mentioned in the last post, the fiance gave me an amazing surprise for my birthday a couple weeks ago: tickets to watch my favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, in action. Considering we live in Central Florida, we can't exactly just go to a Braves' game. So, we made a weekend trip out of it!

It started first thing Friday morning. The fiance had taken the day off of work, and had driven down to my place the night before. He woke up early (may I remind you - it was his day off) and drove me to work. Then he came back to the apartment, got the car ready for the trip, and then took a nap in preparation for the long drive. I, on the other hand, had a full day of teaching. Unfortunately, I got one of my lovely migraines around lunch time, and it decided it wanted to hang around for a couple hours. Thankfully, the fiance (have I mentioned that I love this guy?? cause I do!) brought me an ice pack when he came and picked me up. Needless to say, for the first 2 hours of driving, I was out of commission trying to nurse away my migraine. We saved money on this trip by staying with the fiance's brother who lives in Kennesaw, a little north of Atlanta.

Saturday morning we woke up and were treated to a tour of my future brother-in-law's work site. Let me just say that this was the most unique "office tour" I've ever gotten. He works at the Marietta plant of Lockheed Martin.

Before we could even go inside, we had to get security clearance to enter the property! I don't know why I was surprised by that... I mean the plant is connected to an US Air Force base. Then we drove around the property a little bit and got to see the air strips. Then we went into the HUGE warehouse. Sadly, due to confidentiality issues, we were not allowed to take pictures of anything once we were inside. However, we got to see 2 different military planes going through the production line. The first was the F-22 Raptor.

Let's just say the fiance had a really hard time keeping the drool inside his mouth. Funny story: we couldn't figure out which door we needed to enter into to get to the warehouse. So we saw these doors that said "IN" and "OUT" on the outside that didn't require a proxy-card entrance (like every other set of doors). Turns out those doors led to the F-22 production area which is highly off-limits. Oops!

The next aircraft we were able to see a little more up close was this behemoth:

The C-130 Hercules is a cargo plane utilized by the military to transport goods and troops. And let me tell you, this thing was insanely large! The wing span alone measures nearly 133 ft! That's insanity! Then we got to go upstairs and see the brother-in-law's cubicle (by the way, he's an engineer who works on the electrical components of the C-130).

After the tour, we went to lunch at the Marietta Diner. And let's just say that you can't take the men in my fiance's family anywhere...

In the words of the brother-in-law: "It's not the type of place you go to for the service; you go there simply for the food." Every time we have visited the diner, it seems as we get a waiter/waitress with something stuck up their you-know-what. But, as always, the food is amazing! And the portion sizes are gigantic!

See what I mean? They literally serve the food on serving platters. I forget exactly what the meal is called, but I got one of the appetizer samplers that included french fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, and buffalo wings. You might notice that there are some onion rings and some fried clam strips tucked underneath them, and the chicken strips are on a separate plate that's been cut off in the picture (upper right corner). Yeah, well... remember what I said about the service? They put in the wrong order and brought out the other appetizer sampler plate offered on their menu. But, they did apologize and corrected it pretty quickly. As we were checking out, I couldn't keep my eyes off of this:

They all looked sooo good! So we all made plans to go back later on after the baseball game and enjoy some dessert! After lunch we went back to the brother-in-laws and relaxed. There might have been a nap thrown in there as well. There might have also been a bit of cat-lovin' thrown into the mix as well.

Then it was off to Atlanta to watch some baseball action! The only thing standing in our way was the awful traffic.

But once we finally got into the park, we had a blast! The Braves were playing the Chicago Cubs in the second game out of their 3-day series. Needless to say, the park was a little crowded.Unfortunately the Braves lost 8-3, but I didn't care. It was still an awesome birthday gift! Here's our pics from the night:

Amazing view from our seats!

My all-time favorite player, #10 Chipper Jones :)

You can't go to a ball game without getting a hot dog!

As I mentioned before, the plan after the game was to go back to the diner and grab some dessert. And let me tell you, it was delicious!!

The future hubby got one of their new desserts: the Mouse Cake. Let's just say it had a TON of chocolate!

I've only recently fell in love with cheesecake. And let me just say that this one did not disappoint. I ordered the Butterfinger Cheesecake. There are seriously no words to describe how amazingly yummy this thing was!

The next day was Sunday, which meant it was time to hit the road again and head on home. On the way, we stopped by my cousin Jaime's house in Middle Georgia. He and his fiance (who are getting married just 8 days before we are!) just welcomed their second child into the world in early July. It was my first opportunity to get to see him. I just wish we could have spent more than an hour with them before having to continue on our way. I can't wait until Jacob's wedding (Jaime's little brother, and obviously another cousin of mine) in October so I can see that little munchkin again. Maybe then I'll have some pictures of the little cutie to share with you guys.

So, that was the wonderful birthday weekend. It was a nice getaway from the hussle and bussle of everyday life. I'm looking forward to our next road trip - I feel like the fiance and I get in a lot of quality time while being on the road.

Dan - Thank you again for the trip! It truly was the best birthday gift I've recieved in a really long time. You are so thoughtful and considerate to plan a trip revolving around the things I love. I only hope that I can one day plan an equally amazing surprise for you one of these days. I love you!

Any one else taking a road trip to soak up those last moments of summer? Anyone out there share my love for baseball? Maybe you could share the most thoughtful gift you've recieved?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Back to School Thoughts

Photo Source - This is how I imagine my kids tomorrow...

Today was my last day in my classroom before my new batch of students arrive tomorrow bright and early. This is my second year teaching - and I think I'm actually more excited about this upcoming year then I was last year. In May, I reflected on my first year of teaching. So, I thought I'd write a list of random thoughts (in no particular order) I've had over the past week.

  • I'm excited about this upcoming year. It should be easier considering I've already done this once. All I need to do now is tweak the things that didn't work last year and make things better.
  • I think they make new teachers go to way too many meetings. Don't get me wrong, all of them are totally helpful and needed. However, I remember last year being very overwhelmed by all the meetings as well as having to get everything ready in my classroom. This year was so much easier - tons of time in my classroom to get things done.
  • I'm stronger then you might think I am. Yes, I'm a girl, but I can carry 11 textbooks at one time. I am very capable of moving furniture around without having to ask for help.
  • I keep my classroom a lot more organized then I do my own home.
  • Yes, I'm young. Yes, I look like a student. No, you're not the first person who has told me this. But, I am very capable and very good at what I do - don't let my being young fool you.
  • Spiders. I can handle little spiders. Even daddy-long-legs. But, oh my gosh! That one was huge!! Thank you Ms. D for killing it and coming to our rescue! :)
  • It's amazing how much of my own personal money I spend on supplies for my classroom. Luckily, I saved up a bunch of supplies throughout my years in college, and I've been "living" off of that. But I see my pile slowly dwindling...
  • Anyone want to donate to my classroom fund?
  • It's more amazing that I know I'm going to have students come to school without paper and pencil. This concept I have yet to wrap my head around... I'm not that much older, so I don't think it's a "generational issue," but when I was growing up, pen/pencil and paper were your basic requirements.
  • Document everything. Keep a portfolio. My job & salary depend on it.
  • Without getting too far into it: Sometimes I think state legislaters should spend a week as a teacher. And I think the reverse can apply as well - teachers should try to be state legislaters.
  • Just realized I haven't figured out what I'm wearing tomorrow. Need to make sure I look "adult" and "older" so as not to confuse the kiddos.
  • I hope I can live up to everyone's expectations and not disappoint them.
  • I'm really dreading the whole "name change" thing in November... my first semester kids (we're on a modified 4x4 block schedule) will always know me by my maiden name. But my poor second semester kids will walk in thinking they have "Ms. Maiden Name" and get "Mrs. Married Name." This will be fun, right?
Just a little glimpse into some of the things that cross my mind over time. When do the kiddos in your area go back to school? Are you one of those not-before-labor-day areas? Are you sad that summer is basically over? Any other teachers out there share my thoughts? Would love to hear from you!

p.s. So I mentioned in my birthday post that the fiance had something planned for this weekend as a birthday surprise. Well, first of all, he drove all the way down to the apartment to spend the evening with me so I didn't have to spend my birthday all alone. Secondly, he surprised me with baseball see the in Atlanta! I promise to give all the details to the weekend (hopefully) sometime next week. :)

Theme Parks on the Cheap

As I mentioned in my last post, having lived in Central Florida the majority of my life has given me many opportunities to visit the plethora of theme parks in our area. Growing up I never really understood why out-of-town family members got such a thrill out of going to Disney or Universal Studios. To me, they were just a part of everyday life.

Something else I've never really understood was how people could go to these places and spend so much money! I've stopped and talked with tourists before who are visiting the Orlando area. Most of the ones I've talked were while I was visiting Disney. The majority of them were staying 6 nights/7 days in a hotel on the park property, eating all of their meals on property, and visiting all 4 Disney parks. Talk about some major dough being spent!

So, I thought I would give some of my tips and suggestions for having a great time at theme parks without emptying your savings account.

The first major hurdle is getting into the parks:

#1: It's all in who you know
I would say 75% of the trips I've made to theme parks, I've done so by getting through the ticket gates absolutely free. This all comes from knowing someone who works at the parks. If you have family or friends in the Central Florida area, more than likely they'll know at least one person who works at a local theme park. See if they would be willing to give you free passes - they usually are allotted a certain amount of passes each month/year. If they can't give you a pass, see if they'd be willing to meet you at the gate - at Disney, cast members are allowed to check in so many people per day into the parks without needing a pass. Sometimes they can give you a discount card which can lower your ticket price up to almost 50%.

#2: Check online for discounts
A lot of theme parks offer discounts to people who work in specific professions, like teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and active military personnel. Florida teachers can get into Sea World free for the remainder of the year just by showing them 3 little sheets of paper (check out this link for more discounts offered to Florida teachers).

#3 Try bundling
On our last trip to Sea World, the fiance was going to get in using an employee discount from an old friend of the family. The cost of a normal adult ticket to Sea World is around $80. With the discount, he would only have had to pay roughly $40. However, the park is currently holding a promotion with their Summer Nights deal that gets adults in at children's prices ($71) and they get a second night free (the stipulation is that you had to return sometime during that same week to claim the 2nd night). So, each day would have cost approximately $35.50 - cheaper than the discounted ticket.

#4 Even if you think you have a deal, don't be afraid to ask for more
We thought we had the best deal walking into the park earlier this week - $71 for two days at the theme park? Worked for us. But, when we got to the ticket counter, we asked if there were any other deals they were offering that might be better in the long run. That's when we found out about the annual pass. Basically, you pay the adult ticket price for that day ($80) plus another $10 or so to upgrade to the annual pass. So for roughly $90, you can get into the park an unlimited number of days for the remainder of the year. If we only went two more days (which breaks down to $30 a day), the annual pass was already a better deal than the Summer Nights. Then, for an extra $20 or so, you could get free parking for the rest of the year, plus 10% off of food purchases at particular restaurants in the park. Considering parking is $14 per day, that would pay for itself after 2 trips as well. So, for around $117 (after taxes) plus my free teacher study pass, we can now park & get into the park without having to shell out another dime until July of next year.

Sometimes, none of the above options will work. And when you are bringing an entire family with you, tickets alone could drain your wallet. So, here are some tips on how to save money once you've entered the parks:

#5 Bring your own food
The prices of food at theme parks is down right outrageous! That's probably where the fiance and I spend most of our money inside the park. A buffet lunch cost the two of us $25, and trust me, theme park food usually isn't anything to write home about. Plus, later in the day, the heat was getting to us and we wanted ice cream - another $10 spent. Most people pack little snacks in their bags to munch on throughout the day, but many don't think about packing their entire lunch (me included!). A colleague of mine made this suggestion the other day, and I think I'm going to start doing this for now on. Pack a small hand cooler with things you'd eat for lunch: string cheese, PB&J or turkey sandwiches, juice boxes, etc. Make sure you have enough ice in there to withstand the Florida heat if you're going in the summer! Then, when you first enter the park, find the nearest lockers, and stash your cooler away. The daily cost of a locker is about $5 depending on the theme park. Five dollars versus twenty-five dollars is a deal to me! Think of the savings if you're travelling with children!

If you are planning on visiting any of the Florida theme parks in the middle of the summer, plan on also drinking a butt load of water. Dehydration is something that can very easily happen in this Florida heat. My suggestion is to bring your own water bottles with you (whether its a typical pre-filled water bottle or a reusable bottle) and refill them throughout the day at the many free water fountains around the park. Even if you forget to bring a water bottle with you, spend the initial $2-$3 to buy your first bottle from a vendor. Then save that bottle the rest of the day and keep filling it up.

#7 Skip the soda & beer
This one is a biggie! You would not believe how much they charge for bottles of soda and beer! I'll let the picture do all the talking:

And this doesn't even show the beer prices! It amazes me how much they can charge for soda, knowing that just down the street in the local gas station or grocery store, you can get the exact same thing for nearly half the price. Some parks offer a souvenir cup that you initially pay around $7 for, and then only pay $0.99 for each refill the rest of the day. The fiance and I figured out (yes, these are the conversations we now have since we've been trying better to budget) that you'd have to buy at least 3 or 4 sodas throughout the day to even equal the amount of money you'd spend to buy 3 or 4 individual bottles of soda. So, unless you really want that souvenir cup, and you really have to have a soda, then buy the individual bottles. Otherwise, stick to water - you're body will thank you later. :)

#8 Get a meal pass
This is only a money saver if you are planning on spending the entire day at the park. For instance, at Sea World, the meal pass is $30 per person, per day. So, for the fiance and I, it would cost us $60. Now, lunch only cost us $23 total. So, to make the meal pass worth it, we'd need to eat at least 3 meals at the park. I don't know about you, but we simply do not spend that much time there.

#9 Bring your own camera
The theme parks have tons of places for photo opportunities. Usually, they are free - like standing in front of a cool statue or plant, or a meet-and-greet with your favorite Disney character. However, pictures of you riding some of their more thrilling rides will cost you a pretty penny. A simply 5x7 image costs approximately $20 at Sea World, depending on what the picture is of. My suggestion, be sneaky! Wait until the photo attendant isn't looking, and snap a picture with your own camera of the screen they're displaying your picture on. Sure, it's going to be really crummy quality, but hey, I'm cheap! See...

The boys getting situated. This is Dan's new favorite roller coaster - Sea World's Manta. Can you tell he & our friend Jay are excited??

Ok, so I'm a total chicken. I do not like roller coasters. There are very few coasters that I will agree to ride on (much to the fiance's dismay). So, I usually wait in line with whoever is riding the coasters, and then stand on...well, I don't know what it is called exactly...loading dock (for lack of a better term) until they finish.

Photo at the kiosk. Sneaky sneaky! :)

#10 Avoid gift shops like the plague
This one is simple - if you don't have kids. I'm telling you what, they make these shops really hard on parents. I don't know how a parent can walk in there with their kid(s) and not buy them something. But seriously, if you can avoid the shops, you're going to save a ton of money. My advice is to figure out where the nearest Wal-Mart is to the theme park. As weird as that sounds, they typically sell the parks' merchandise at a slightly lower cost.

#11 Come prepared & plan ahead
You're probably thinking that this one is obvious. But let me tell you, I'm guilty of breaking this cardinal rule on this most recent trip. If you haven't noticed yet, I'm pretty pale (thanks to a dad who is fair skinned & strawberry blond), so I burn really easy. Needless to say, I forgot to take sunscreen with me. As much as I hated forking over the cash, I knew I'd rather take the hit in my wallet then be miserable with a sunburn (plus the future risk of skin cancer...). So, I spent TEN DOLLARS for the tiniest bottle of sunscreen! I know, ridiculous. But, again $10 versus sunburn & increased cancer risk... was an easy decision to make for me.

So that's it! Eleven tips on how to save you and your family a little bit of green while visiting some of the local Central Florida hot spots. Anyone have any tips to add to this list? I'm always interested in learning new ways to save money. Did anyone out there take a trip to Orlando and one of its theme parks? Or maybe you hit up a theme park in another state? Please share!


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