So many people have said to us that they would love to take a trip like this one at some point in the future. I thought I’d share some tips with you, including things we’ve done or learned along the way.
1) Get everyone involved: If you’re bringing kids along and they are school aged, get them involved in the route planning by asking them what they’d love to see. We kept a large map and blank poster board on our wall and asked our kids to tell us what they hoped we could see. We let them know that just because it went on the list didn’t mean we could absolutely do it, but we’d do our best to make it happen. We tried to hit at least one place each person had requested, but many of the requests overlapped, like the Grand Canyon. We all wanted to see that. Our family and friend visits were worked in as well.
2) Be flexible: We had our calendar, we knew the date when we had to be in California, so we had a deadline, but my husband cautioned me against planning where we’d stay at every single stop because we might get delayed along the way or arrive earlier than planned along the way. I took his word for it, the planner that I am, and we only made our reservations for Virginia, for Fourth of July weekend, and for Los Angeles. As it turned out, we did modify our schedule a bit, and picked up an extra day along the way, which we were able to spend in Arizona with our friends, and another extra day which then allowed us to arrive a day earlier in Los Angeles than we’d initially planned. We struggled with finding a spot to stay overnight for three nights in Yellowstone National Park, so many campgrounds were now full, but had we booked it a month ago or more, our dates would not have been correct, so having a reservation would not have helped us. We opted to just stay two nights instead because that’s what we could find. So ultimately, he was right.
3) Be spontaneous, and be aware of your family’s habits: We knew several things we definitely wanted to do, like visiting the Alamo and the Grand Canyon, and we had specific plans for days when we were with our family, but we couldn’t possibly plan out every single minute of every single day ahead of time for the entire five weeks. It was nice to be able to wake up and do nothing some days or to wake up and say, “What should we do today,” making that decision as a family. We tend to be later risers and night owls, so we never planned to be up and out at the crack of dawn, because that wasn’t realistic for us. There’s a lot of us also, and one bathroom, so it takes us some time to get organized and out the door. We are much better at later arrivals for things whenever possible, and with the pressure to rush out the door off, it kept everyone happy, at least for the most part.
4) Divide and conquer: With an undertaking such as a trip like this one, there was no way we could make any one person responsible for the entire thing. We did sit many nights and plan out some of it together, but we also split up the responsibilities. I took on the bulk of the organizing of the camper inside as well as the family’s needs, while he took on the bulk of organizing the route (since he’d done this trip before) and finding the campsites, as well as taking on figuring out the hardware and equipment needs for the truck and camper. Working as a team is much easier than one person doing everything or both of you trying to do every single task together. Our kids were old enough to be involved in the organizing and setting up of the camper as well, so our team was more than just the two of us.
5) Remember that it’s camping: Yes, you have all the comforts of home in an RV, but you also have the potential for ants, a mouse, beetles, and the like. It’s not the Four Seasons, and we didn’t want it to be, but don’t be shocked if you see a bug, or if there’s dirt on the floor or if you shower in your flip flops at the campground’s showers. If you don’t like those types of things, this type of camping across the country trip isn’t for you. Our group consists of an Eagle Scout and four Girl Scouts. We’ve all tent camped and hiked before, and we like meeting and greeting new and different wildlife. We knew we’d be okay on a trip like this.
6) Be patient: Close quarters, long hours driving, tight spaces, many weeks away from home. There will be short tempers and meltdowns and frustrating situations. It’s important to be as patient as possible as often as possible. They say patience is a virtue, and this trip is a great way to practice it. Nothing will go 100% perfectly and you deal with things as they come, just as you would at home.
7) This is a driving trip: You’re going to spend a lot of time in the car, you’re going to spend a lot of money on gas. To think of the trip without knowing those things going into it would be silly. We saved lots of money in other ways, but we were up front with knowing gas would cost money and even a great deal of money in some places, and we’d be using a lot of gas because we would be spending five weeks on the road. We also knew going into the trip that we’d be pulling a camper and driving a large vehicle, so we knew our gas mileage wouldn’t be fantastic, but again, these were all known facts way ahead of time, so no surprises there and we took it all into consideration.
8) Camping is cheap: Although gas is expensive at times, lodging is very inexpensive. Campsites varied in price from as little as $15 a night to as much as $75 a night, depending on where we stayed, with an average price of $25-$30 a night, usually. We ate out on occasion as we do at home, but we ate in much more often, just as we would at home. Had we stayed in hotels, we would not have had such inexpensive lodging and not have had the ability to cook such great meals as we do now. At $3900 to own outright, our camper was our hotel and our ability to cook meals for five people a dog and a frog, for five weeks all wrapped in one, without having to spend money on airline tickets which would not allow us to experience the entire country from East to West and South to North as we have. And when we get home, we have the ability to go anywhere else we want to go with our camper from here on in, because we own it. Who knows what adventures lie ahead for us?
So many people have said to us that they would love to take a trip like this one at some point in the future. I thought I’d share some tips with you, including things we’ve done or learned along the way.
Originally posted April 4, 2012
This recipe is one that takes a while from start to finish- nine hours to be exact- but if you’re game, it’s SO worth it! It is, of course, from my mom. She received it from a woman she worked with. It’s dated April 1992.
My mom makes it every year and I have made it once or twice myself. Don’t let the number of steps scare you off. If you go step-by-step it’s not hard.
Colleen DeMoranville’s Sweet Bread
1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 and 1/4 cups hot milk
1 pkg. dry yeast (Fleishman’s Active Dry or Rapid Rise or Red Star)
1 egg- well beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract (can also use almond if desired)
7 cups flour (start with between five and six and add more if needed)
one 15 ounce can sliced peaches, drained and sliced thinner
1) Mix butter, sugar, salt an d hot milk in a large bowl.
2) Let cool to lukewarm.
3) Stir yeast into 1/4 cup warm water and let stand 5 minutes. (If using a thermometer it’s 110-115 degrees. Add 1/4 tsp sugar or whatever the package of yeast says to add.
4) Add dissolved yeast, egg, the extract and three cups of flour to the butter, sugar, salt and milk. Mix vigorously with flat wooden spoon.
5) Add three more cups of flour and then mix well.
6) If too sticky, add more flour. It almost always needs more, but not more than 7 cups. Too much flour will make the bread tough.
7) Turn out onto floured surface and knead it for one or two minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes. Add remaining flour only if sticky.
8) Knead more until elastic.
10) Punch down and knead for another minute or two. Cut in half for two long loaves or in thirds for smaller loaves and divide each of those portions into three pieces (for a total of six or nine pieces.)
11) Stretch and roll each piece until long and uniform, about 12-18 inches if divided into two portions. Shorter if divided into three.
12) Use the three pieces to make a braid with each portion.
13) Pinch ends together.
14) Insert peach slices between braids.
15) Place each loaf on a buttered cookie sheet and cover with a towel. Let rise until doubled in bulk. (Takes about 2 hours.)
17) Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (check at about 20 minutes) if making 2 large loaves or less if making three smaller loaves (usually between 17 and 18 minutes)
18) Remove loaves to cooling racks.
19) Cool and then glaze with mixture of:
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla
5-6 tablespoons milk
Sprinkle with colored sprinkles or non-pareils.
NOTE: The whole process takes about nine hours. Start in the morning, end in the evening. Mixing and kneading takes about one hour. First rising takes about two hours. Braiding takes about a half hour. Second rising takes about two hours. Baking takes about a half for each loaf, then cool and glaze.
My mom stores hers in gift boxes (like from a department store) on waxed paper.
It’s interesting having multiple children.
That’s probably the understatement of the year.
But more specifically, it’s interesting to us because as parents, although we try to be equal and equitable, things change, trends change, our kids get older and therefore, more involved, and so we must change along with them.
Take birthday parties, for example. We have house rules about when they can start to have “friend parties” and how many people can be invited, and where they can have them.
When our first two daughters turned ten, they both opted to have an “almost sleepover” birthday party where the kids come and stay late, but don’t actually sleep over. They both loved those parties, and we had a great time.
I was gearing up for the Almost Sleepover III this spring, as the next and final tenth birthday rolled around for child number three, when things suddenly changed. Our middle daughter had seen something about movie effects and presented an idea to her sister for her next birthday: A movie premiere party complete with blood and guts.
Movie premiere party, yes. Blood and guts, no. We parents still have veto rights.
She liked the idea. Bye-bye Almost Sleepover party, Hello Hollywood Premiere party.
In general, as a family we tend to be very project-obsessed, very creative and very budget-conscious. It’s a good combination because being obsessive can be costly. Being budget-conscious keeps our spending at bay. It’s our goal to spend less on an at home party than we do on the out of the house parties.
And so the planning began.
I created invitations with the help of my oldest daughter, who taught me how to download images onto my phone and use an app to write in all of the information. I created all eight invitations on.my.phone. How amazing is that? We were keeping the party small, a few kids from class and a few kids from out of school, based on our space limitations here at home. I also created VIP passes and golden Hollywood tickets to go along with each invitation. We sent the tickets to them in their invitations and kept the passes here, eventually printing out a schedule of events on the back side as well.
With the Oscars taking place in February, I was able to start putting things aside easily. I found a “Director’s Cut” line of party supplies offered at Party City near me. I picked up some wall decorations, some decorative tapes with cool sayings like “VIP Entrance” “Celebrity Zone” and “No Paparazzi” for the house. Party City also had a backdrop that could be hung, along with a “red carpet” that could be used, so I picked those up as well. I found trophies there that weren’t Oscar himself, but rather little stars. I got two packs.
We tend to have lots of “stuff” and sometimes stuff can be bad, like if you’re bordering on being a hoarder, but sometimes stuff can be good, like if you’re planning to do a photo booth for your at home party. In our case, the stuff we were able to use included pieces of old Halloween costumes, old dance recital costumes, past party favors we’d received, and things like that. A wicker laundry basket was filled with lots of fun accessories and placed in the bedroom on the day of the party, which was now the Dressing Room of the Stars.
I picked up a couple of fun items at our local Dollar Tree for the photo booth too, including some post it note pads that spelled out OMG, LOL and BFF, as well as some colored hair extensions in blue, green, purple and red. My favorite find of all, however, was a $4 picture housed in a gold frame from Savers, from which I only needed the gold frame. I threw out the cardboard, the picture and the glass and pulled out all the hooks. It could easily fit two or three little faces in it.
I’d found a pack of bulletin board decorations the week before the party at Lakeshore Learning Store, thoroughly by accident. We’d gone in to use the bathroom and the set was on display right near the ladies’ room. It seemed meant to be that the set was perfect, and I got 15% off with my teacher discount card also. I had them laminated later that week so that we could use them over again if we ever needed to.
Between the Party City items I’d found, the Dollar Store items and the new Lakeshore Learning Store pack, we were in good shape. We’d determined ahead of time that the Kids’ Choice Awards were playing the night of the party and that would be the “premiere” we’d be showing. That gave us a great opportunity for voting for our favorites first, and I came up with Bingo cards that went along with the show so that as the kids heard the names of nominees called out on the show, they could mark them off on their Bingo cards. A $1 box of sidewalk chalk and two $1 packs of stickers at the Dollar Store provided me with prizes.
On the day of the party, everyone was involved in cleaning up and decorating. Having all three kids helping and giving input made it much easier for me than having to do it all myself. I loved that my older two wanted to help and that my youngest could have some ownership with this party. She completely took over the wall of “Hollywood Stars,” deciding where she wanted them hung, what she wanted to write on them and doing the hanging.
One daughter was going to be the photographer and one was going to be my event manager that night, so I used more of my old “stuff” from past events I’d attended, and created event passes for them, just for fun, to thank them for all their help and hard work that they’d be doing that night.
Although our house isn’t large, it has lots of wall space and we utilize our walls often, hanging things up all the time. This event utilized lots of our wall space and we had a perfect space for everything.
We loved using the “Now showing” and the “Starring” words on the walls too, and even put up a voting area for the kids to make some award show predictions for later on that night. In many cases they were right on!
All in all, it was a really fun party and I’d definitely do it again, especially since I now have all the items needed. The photo booth would be great for any event, and I intend to keep it in mind for the future. I loved seeing the kids all come in dressed “fancy” as their invites stated, and then seeing them kicked back in comfortable clothes they’d brought with them for when the show started. We played Bingo and Gestures, but the photo booth was probably the biggest hit of the night. In all we took over 200 photos that night and the majority of them were photo booth photos.
Below are some extra photos from the evening. I did not want to use any photo booth photos of anyone else’s children, but you can get the general idea of some of our props based on the photos I’ve already included here.
ORIGINALLY POSTED JANUARY 15, 2014: Recently my friend Melissa shared a recipe that came through Facebook. Although Facebook is a great place to find and share recipes, you can’t always be sure where the recipe truly originated, so it’s hard to credit someone. It seems as this recipe for Creamy Mushroom Orzo may have originated on the page of Sharon Fox, who lists herself as author, food editor, radio personality and personal chef. However, even she says that the recipes found on her page are not from her own cookbooks, but are recipes she’s tried and loved. But, we do the best we can. I always like to give credit where credit is due, if I can.
No matter what, I’m so glad that someone, somewhere, originally made and share this recipe! I really loved it. I used it as a side dish for a kind of “boring” meal that we were having and to me, it made my meal so much more exciting.
The kids did not love it quite as much and I think it’s because it calls for white wine and it really holds the flavor.
I think that’s why I loved it so much!!
The recipe was fast, easy to make, and delicious; all my top qualifiers for a recipe.
I’m sharing it here, give it a try if you’re looking for something to jazz up one of your own meals!
CREAMY MUSHROOM ORZO
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic
2/3 cups orzo
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon fresh sage
1 tablespoons butter
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or water)
3/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1.In medium sized skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and garlic.
2.Stir, cooking until onions are golden and soft.
3.Add orzo, mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, sage, and butter. Cook, stirring about 5-6 minutes until mushrooms are tender.
4.Pour both chicken broth and wine into orzo mixture. Bring broth to a boil. Stirring often cook 10-15 minutes or until orzo is soft and liquid is absorbed.
5.Stir in Parmesan cheese before serving.
Many years ago, when I changed careers in order to focus the bulk of my time on my kids, and after that when I changed careers again to be able to continue that focus, my income was cut down significantly. I’d say it was cut in half, but that would be generous. As a freelance writer and photographer, my benefits are phenomenal and unable to be matched by any full-time career I could’ve had, but being well-off financially from my income isn’t necessarily one of them. Thankfully, my husband carries our medical benefits, and he and I both agree the most important benefits we could reap would be the ones that we’ve chosen to focus on; that alone was worth the sacrifices we have both chosen to make all along the way.
However, having made these choices along the way doesn’t mean we don’t need ANY money at all, and every little bit more helps us. Therefore, I work pretty hard to be frugal and to save however and wherever I can. I try to also pass along those types of life lessons to my kids as we go along. A few years ago I added couponing to my arsenal of money-saving ways and I’ve seen huge benefits from the time that I’ve put into it, which varies depending on how busy I am at work.
Recently though, I’ve added two new apps to that arsenal as well: Walmart’s Savings Catcher app and the Shopkick app. I’d heard of them both a while back, but sometimes I just can’t add another thing to my head to have to think about, and leading up to the holidays, which is my busiest time at work, is one of those times. After the holidays though, I have more time to think, and when I saw those apps mentioned again, I had the time to ask my nine year-old to help me figure out how they worked, and she did, so now thanks to her, I can save us even more money than before. All of that money saved goes towards providing the kids with the opportunities we are lucky to be able to provide them with because of my freelance schedule, so I feel even better about my work, my focus and my money-saving ways.
As an added benefit, I also feel great that I’m providing my kids with hands-on learning when it comes to teaching them financial literacy. As kids who have to pay their own way for a lot of the “extras” that they want (we fully cover their needs and extra-curricular activities), it’s great to see them thinking frugally as well, finding ways to cut costs and stretch their dollars to the fullest, thanks to what we’re teaching them. My oldest daughter decided a little over a year ago that she “needed” a good camera, as in a really good, expensive camera, the kind I dream of myself. We determined that this was a want, not a need and that if she wanted it, she would have to save for it. Nothing made us more proud of her than the day after Christmas this year when she used her almost two years of savings of hundreds of dollars to purchase a camera worth almost $1000, at a savings of more than half the original price, utilizing a sale, a price-matching policy, and a store rewards card in order to make it happen. The employee in the camera department was stunned when she reached her final price. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said.
She’s only 15. That’s good financial literacy and a great life lesson taught, in my book.
Now, I have my kids hooked on my two new apps, and I’m completely obsessed with the apps myself. The Walmart Savings Catcher app is one in which you do your shopping at Walmart as you normally would. Now I know there are two schools of thought on Walmart: those who shop there and those who refuse to. We shop there, but if you don’t, then you can skip this portion of the post and move on to the Shopkick portion.
To use the Savings Catcher app is very simple. You do your shopping, use whatever coupons you normally would, and then when you are handed your receipt you use your phone to scan the little square at the bottom by using the Savings Catcher app. You have about a week’s time to scan but I try to do mine right away or I’ll forget. Once I get to my car, oftentimes what’s been in my head in the store is now gone and I’m on to the next thing. Once you’ve scanned your receipt, your work is done. You’ll get an email that it’s been received on their end and in a few days’ time you’ll receive another email which will tell you whether or not they’ve found any of the items you purchased at Walmart anywhere else near you for less. If so, you’ll receive that money back in the form of an e-Gift card. In a few days’ time I had accrued almost $10 in money back. So I could shop, use my coupons, not have to run from store to store to get one thing here and one thing there just to get a cheaper price. To use the e-Gift card that has been emailed to you once you say you’re ready to redeem your points, you just have the cashier scan it at the register and it’s applied to your purchases. Or, you can redeem the e-Gift card as an online purchase as well. Easy peasy.
Shopkick is a different sort of app than Walmart, in that you need not purchase anything at all to earn money. You just need to walk into a store. Sometimes you need only drive by the entrance of the store. And if you’d like to take it one step further you can use your phone to scan some UPC codes on some items they’re asking you to scan. If you’d really like to bulk up your points, you can make your usual purchases and if that store gives points for purchases, you’ve earned them.
Let me explain further: Last week was our school vacation week. We had no significant plans. Everyone had a sleepover somewhere. Everyone had a dentist appointment. We did a day of community service. It snowed. Again. That was it. Nothing huge going on here. So I downloaded the Shopkick app. It said that if I went to my local mall there were four or five stores there that gave “walk in” points. And points for scanning. Some gave points for purchases but I wasn’t buying anything. But, we had no big plans so we took our phones, walked around the mall, in and out of stores and earned points. We scanned a few things here and there for extra points. In two days’ time I had over 1000 points. I bought my kids a donut one day and we ate out at the food court another day. Big deals for us, since I usually say “no” to both those things, but it was vacation week and if that was the extent of our day, I could handle it.
What do you do with your points? It’s up to you. You can redeem them for hundreds of items. I found a great blog post that lists all the things you can redeem your points for and how many points you need. I’m up to 2400 points and I haven’t had the app a week yet. I had my daughter download the app on her phone and told her she could spend her points however she wanted. She’s set a goal to earn a gift card at American Eagle since she’s always wanted to shop there and we never have. I had my husband drive me through the parking lot of the mall on our way out this weekend, just so he and I could earn the points at one of the stores where the app reaches out into the parking lot (and into the food court, we discovered as well) so I actually didn’t even have to walk in to get the walk in points. We went to Best Buy to pick something up we’d ordered and earned 80 points each just for walking in. The stores we utilize regularly are on the app. As we did our payday shopping this week at places like BJ’s, Walmart and Target, we got points just for walking through the door. If we chose to scan (which we did), we earned more.
Combining all kinds of rewards you can earn money and points literally coming and going. I earn money back at Walmart with their app when I leave, and I used my coupons at the register to save $9.00 right away, and I used Shopkick going in. Same thing at Best Buy. I receive their store’s loyalty points for my purchases and I earned points for going in on Shopkick also. If my purchases meet the Shopkick app requirements (I think it had to be $50 or more which it wasn’t) I’d earn more points on that app too.
I’m going to wait and see just how long I can stand to let my points add up before I turn them in on Shopkick, and I’m starting fresh again with my Savings Catcher app points now that I used my gift card last week, but I’m pleased with the savings I’ve seen already and I’m pleased with the lessons I’m instilling in my kids early on. If there’s free money to be had out there, it’s important to teach them to find it and to use their resources wisely. It’s a good habit to start them on at a young age. I know my daughters are always proud when they’ve bought something they had to save for, but I know they’re even more proud when they know they saved a good amount of money using a coupon or a sale. Using a money-saving app when they’re old enough to have a phone of their own will feel good also.