Monday, March 12, 2018

Dutch Turns Six

My eldest turned 6 last month, so the festivities began with a personalized message on the video board outside his elementary school. He felt so special and it was really cute!

The following weekend we hosted a party for him and his friends at Adventure Landing. Dutch loves that place, and it's not unusual for us to go there a couple times a month. We typically stick to only the arcade games, though, so it was still a treat for him. It turned out to be perfect weather on the day of his party, so the kids were able to enjoy mini golf and go-karts outside, in addition to laser tag and arcade games inside. 

When I host birthday parties for my kids at our own house, I usually display their funny quotes from the past year. Since the party was at Adventure Landing this time, I skipped the quote board and figured I'd just share them here for your amusement!

- "Mom, I think Dad needs your help. Jude is out of control."
- "The world needs to be a better place."
- "Jude, let's get crazy."
- "Gotta stay hydrated."
- "When you're crying, that's humidity."
- "Don't you know I'm a math genius?"
- When we asked him who the president was, he guessed, "Tronald Dump?"
- "We had a full on meltdown."
- "Tell me if you need more favors, mom. I can help you with all of them. I don't care if I miss my show."
- "Dad! Unacceptable!"
- "Can I just take my shower tomorrow? I've had a long day today."
- "Jude, just leave me alone for one goodness sake minute."
- "I just touched my eyeball. That was legit not good."
- "Mom, Plano isn't even a planet anymore."

Family Staycation Weekend

Meezy's sisters live in Amarillo, so we unfortunately don't get to see them, or their spouses and kids, very much. His brother and wife live in Fort Worth, and even though that's much closer to us, it's still hard to get together often. With it being a holiday weekend last month, we were excited to hear everyone would be in town. Normally we can house at least one family with us, but with our house currently undergoing renovations, it wasn't an option! As an alternative, we decided to rent a large vacation house for the weekend, so all the siblings and kids could stay in the same place. It was awesome! The house was on Eagle Mountain Lake, northwest of Fort Worth. It was really helpful to have a home base so that coordinating activities would be easier, not to mention it gave everyone the opportunity to spend even more time together each night after we were done with whatever we had planned for earlier in the day.

The house in itself provided a lot of entertainment for everyone. They had ping pong, arcade games, board games, and we brought an Xbox for the kids to play. One day we went to Main Event to bowl, eat, and play games, and the next day a few of us went to the Perot Museum while the rest of the group went to a car show. At night, we made smores and played games. It was such a great weekend! I'm thankful for awesome in-laws and fun cousins for my boys to play with.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Jude Turns Three

It's been almost 3 months since Jude turned three, but I haven't had a chance to post about it until now. To say there's been a lot going on lately is an understatement. I look forward to posting about the transformation underway at my house soon, but in the meantime, let's look back at Jude's party!

Since his birthday is so close to Thanksgiving, it's hard to want to plan a big to-do, knowing most of his friends would either be out of town or their parents would be about to host/go to big family get-togethers. So far we've kept his parties small, with just family involved. Next year he'll probably want to invite friends, so we'll have to get creative.

Picking the theme was easy because he's in love with Paw Patrol. The kids played games and got candy from a pinata, and I kept it simple with cupcakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes. I have friends at the local fire station, so they came by with their engine. Jude was terrified of the lights and noise, but at least the other kids in attendance liked it! Lol.

My favorite part of celebrating my kids' birthdays is reminiscing about the funny things they've said over the past year. I track their quotes as they happen and then compile the best ones onto a display for the guests to enjoy. Here are some highlights:

- "No, I want to rock and roll!" (25 months)
- "Mommy, I want Lane Boy (the song)." (25 months)
- "I told you homeboy." (29 months)
- "Daddy, you're gonna go outside and get sweaty." (35 months)

Jude had his school pictures taken around the same time and they were so adorable! You wouldn't know by his sweet face that he is such a mischievous boy.    

Happy birthday, Judie! You are so different from your big brother and often test our patience, but in the next minute you say the sweetest thing and flash that smile. We love you to pieces.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Referrals Round-Up

I've learned about some pretty cool websites by having friends send me referral links, so I figured I'd do the same for others. Obviously each of these referrals comes with some sort of benefit for me, but I wouldn't be sharing each link unless I've personally used the product/service and can confirm it's legit. Here are sites I use and like, along with my assessment:

1) Stitch Fix - I've ordered from them at least 5 or 6 times and I've purchased at least 1 item from each shipment. It definitely gets better the more fixes you do, because you can fine tune your style preferences and request specific things. I like their service because often I look at something they've shipped and initially go "I would never try this on at the store." Then I put it on and fall in love. It makes you step outside of your comfort zone and expand your style portfolio. These aren't discount items, though, so don't expect to get a great bargain. You can spend $30-$45 on tops, $60-$100 on bottoms, and then it varies on dresses, shoes, accessories, jewelry, etc. You rate each item whether you buy it or not, with price being one of the variables, so you can let them know if items are too expensive. The first time you try a fix, through my referral link, you'll get your styling fee waived. Going forward, you get charged $20 when you schedule the fix and that gets applied to anything you decide to buy. If you like all 5 things they send, you get a 25% discount off the total. It's worth a shot!

2) Rue La La -  this site features boutiques for a few days at a time and sometimes you can get really good deals. I love whenever they feature Hudson Jeans because you can snag some amazing pairs for half off. They also feature luxury brands occasionally, so if you've been eyeing a designer handbag or pair of shoes, it could be a way to land it for less than retail. The majority of their offerings are everyday brands, though, so you don't have to break the bank. It's not just clothes, too. They also offer home furnishings, jewelry, kids' toys, pet accessories, etc. I've found good deals on Melissa & Doug items in the past. 

3) Ebates - I love ebates! I've been a member for 5 years and have earned $500 cash back during that time. It's a simple concept. If you're going to shop online, go to the ebates site first and see if they partner with that retailer. If they do, click through to the retailer from ebates and you'll get credit for your purchases. They pay you 1-3% cash back at most places, but some even go up to 15%. You get money back on things you were going to purchase anyway. Easy peasy. Another pretty great feature is that they check for all available coupons for a site, so you might save even more. I've been very pleased with ebates and haven't seen a downside to using it. (The only negative is that if you forget to go to ebates before making a purchase, there is no way to get credit for it after the fact. So, you just have to be diligent about always navigating to ebates first! There are plug-ins you can add to your browser to help you remember, though).

4) Ibotta - this is a fairly new program I've joined, but I've earned $25 in less than a month, so I'm pretty happy with it! After you make an in-store purchase, you take a picture of your receipt and upload to Ibotta and you get cash back on certain items or on the whole receipt. They partner with grocery & warehouse stores, home furnishings stores, home improvement stores, electronics stores, convenience stores, etc, so chances are you are already shopping at a place where you can earn cash back. The nice thing about this app is that you don't have to tell it ahead of time that you're going somewhere, or what items you're going to buy, so there's no preparation necessary. However, you can click on a store before you go to see what kind of offers they have. That might lead you to buy a certain brand that has a good deal attached to it, or remind you of something you need. After you are done at the store and have a receipt, you upload a picture of it and select which things you purchased that are eligible for cash back. They verify it and put the money in your account quickly. If you sign up through my referral link, you'll get a bonus in your account.

5) Tesla - I know this one won't get used as much, BUT, if you are in the market for a new Tesla Model S or Model X, you should definitely go through a referral link first. If you do, you'll get free supercharging for life. Use mine!

6) Personal Capital - if you've used Mint or another website like that, you'll be familiar with the general idea of Personal Capital. It's great for seeing all your transactions in one place and staying on top of your finances. Where Personal Capital differs, though, is that it's better at long-term or goal-based financial planning. It lets you see a consolidated view of everything, plus includes investments and forecasting. You can see how likely you are to meet retirement goals, analyze your investments for risk and fees, and get recommendations for what to change in any area. And, it tracks all of it over time so you can see how you are progressing. If you want to give it a shot, use my referral link and we'll both get a $20 Amazon gift card.

7) Energy Ogre - If you've lived at your residence for at least a year and think your electricity bills might be too high, you should consider Energy Ogre. (You have to live in an area where you can choose your electric provider). Whenever our electricity provider contract came up for renewal in the past, I would wade through the gazillion options and try to figure out which plan would be best for our household. It wasn't easy - there are so many different types of plans, fixed versus variable rates, tiered prices, specials related to nights and weekends, etc. I never knew if I was paying too much. When our annual electricity costs hit $3,800 for the second year in a row, I knew something needed to change. I discovered Energy Ogre and signed up. It costs $10/month, but they do the work for you. They review your usage for the prior year and find a plan that is tailored to your household. After we made the switch to the plan they recommended for us, our costs went down to $2,200 for the year. Can you believe that? We use a lot of electricity each month because of the size of our house, the fact that we work from home, and because of our pool equipment. They found a plan where the price per kilowatt hour went down to a ridiculously low amount once you went above a certain threshold, and based on our prior usage, Energy Ogre knew we would always hit that level each month. I was SO happy with their efforts and Meezy and I both had a hard time believing it was true! When that plan expired after a year and we weren't eligible to renew it, they found a new plan with not quite as good of a discount, but still a marked improvement over the $3,800/year bills. We spent $2,650 this past year, and even after factoring in the $120/year cost of Energy Ogre, we still came out $1,000 better off than before we signed up with them. I wholeheartedly recommend this site if you feel like you use a lot of electricity or are paying too much for what you do use.

8) Frontpoint Security - I've talked about my bad-ass home security system in the past and I'm happy to talk about it again! We love how connected we feel with Frontpoint. I have indoor and outdoor cameras, door and window sensors, smoke detectors, keyless locks, and a garage door opener. I can manage everything from my phone! I can see a video feed at any time, lock or unlock my front door, open or close my garage door, and see what window or door has been opened/closed at any time. I get reminders to set my alarm if I forget to, and I can do it from any location as long as I have access to my phone or a web browser. I get a reminder if my garage door stays open for more than a few minutes, and I can close it remotely, if necessary. I get a notice if the battery is running low on any of my sensors. I can set motion rules on my cameras so that it records clips if anything passes into the frame during certain times. It automatically records and saves clips in the event of an alarm. I can easily set up user codes for family members or guests or contractors and then deactivate them at any time. If a friend needs to pick up something from inside my house when I'm not home, I can turn off the alarm and unlock the door for them remotely, and then lock and set everything back when they leave. Seriously, I'm a big fan of their offerings. Their customer service is also fantastic. If you want to sign up for service, check out their website, but don't fill anything out yet. Send me your email address and I'll refer you. We'll both get a free month of monitoring.