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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The $613 Vacation #1- 3D Movie


Three-dimensional movie viewing is not a cheap proposition.

When we see a first-run movie, we try to aim for the first matinee of the day, often only $3.25 to $4 per seat, all ages, depending on which theater. If we go in the morning, it also saves money on snacks. We perhaps spend $30 total for tickets and snacks.

Not so yesterday's first matinee of "Up" in 3D. 2 adults, 2 kids, $32. Yes, I kept the 3D glasses. We paid for them. They work with Crayola 3D chalk. Why should we recycle them, so the theater can rebag them and resell them? Oh no!

The movie itself was visually appealing in any event, and had a wonderful moral. The 3D experience thrilled the kids. This particular auditorium was nicely uncrowded.

Some theaters turn a blind eye to bringing outside snacks, some put up signs prohibiting it. The theater we attended has no qualms, so we stopped at Walgreen's for some low carb goodies as well as "movie size" boxes of candy for about 1/4 the price at the theater. Good to know: Vines do not taste like Twizzlers, and our kids do not like Vines. We also bought at the theater one giant and refillable tub of popcorn and 2 large diet sodas. $15.

The child who did not win the coin toss for the event got to pick our lunch destination. Big surprise, Mikky D's. We know of one nearby that has authentic golden arches built into the structure, but we have never dined there. Upon our arrival, we were treated to a bench with a gen-u-ine plastic Ronald. Made for a couple nice photos. The service at this Clown Shop was less than stellar. It took the crew 15 minutes to figure out that the crew member in charge of cleaning the drink area had removed the iced tea canisters and was deelybopping someplace else, too busy to get that tea out there in the prescribed time. The kids' fries were stale and old, yet were supposedly within specs. Somehow, the big screen TV running Cartoon Network did not make up for so-so food and not even average service.

WE SPENT: $77, including 3D movie tickets ($32), low carb snacks & high carb candy in a store ($12), popcorn & soda pop at the theater ($15), and lunch at The Golden Arches ($18).

THE KIDS LOST: $4 for staging an extreme fight over the remote control at 1930 last night (also sent to bed early).


Friday, June 19, 2009

The $613 Vacation- It Can Be Done Cheaper

We did NOT figure these activities into that $613 orginally planned for our local theme park, Three Circles Over Hades:
  • The Fourth of July weekend. It's a separate issue in our family budget.
  • A possible trip to visit extended family, again a separate budget issue.
  • Fees for Camp Brainiac, sponsored by one of our local universities.
Having viewed the content of some of the places I will be mentioning in this summer's blog, I can see where some people might think we are loaded. We are not. We are in our fifties, and because of our assumption of the role of parents for our grandchildren, decided to work until the kids were well along the path to adulthood or we drop dead, whichever comes first. Please take the following into consideration as you consider what you read:
  • My husband is eligible on occasion for a senior discount. He makes no bones about using such a discount. Regretfully, I must pry a senior discount out of businesses. Despite the grays on my head, I look too young.
  • We use coupons when it makes sense. This is not always the case. Liverland is a not popular tourist destination for children. Buying food that is not on your diet simply because you have a coupon can cause you more money in the long run.
  • We are not afraid to ask for discounts when planning a vacation day. We call ahead. You would be surprised at how many there are, and that do not involve senior status. One of those is the fact that we are both certified teachers in Illinois. The fact that we are certified substitutes makes no difference. Another good discount is the one we receive for being residents of our town. All the business can do is say no. Ask.

There are a variety of free and cheap things to do in any area of the United States and Canada. Consider looking on your community's web site, the web site of very nearby communities, and those communities within a short driving distance from yours:
  • Off-peak movies that cost between $1 and $2 admission per person, all seats. Yes, it is either on a day when most people don't go to the movies, and/ or at a time that most people don't go to the movies. Yes, you probably have seen some of the movies already, as have the kids. Don't discount the discount! This is especially true if your residence is less than spacious and/ or not air-conditioned. A trip to the movies, to sit in a darkened theater, is always an adventure for a child. Odds are good the popcorn and goodies will be discounted, as well.
  • Concerts in the park. Many communities still have a local band or orchestra. The price is usually free. Bring a blanket and a snack, along with something to keep away the bugs.
  • The old-fashioned picnic. This is not the summer affair planned by your union, church, employer, or squadron. It does not require a grill, pony rides, a raffle or door prizes. Pack a lunch, a ball, and a blanket. Drive, take the bus, or walk to a spot that has some quiet, green grass, and a place to spread out that blanket. Eat lunch. Play ball. Walk around the place. Go home. You would be surprised the number of kids who have not been on this type of picnic. That's sad.
  • Local festivals. Communities plan these as a way to bring goodwill and tourist dollars. There are often free activities or those that cost very little. Kid crafts. Guess the number of objects in the jar. Food samples. Fireworks. Giveaways from businesses.
  • Park district. It's a little late to sign the kiddos up for day camp, as those places usually go the minute they are open, thanks to parents who need to earn a living. However, some park districts offer swimming, play parks, playgrounds, and other amusements for the local populace.

We, the Mister and I, have been given a gift of some really solid blocks of summer time, days when we have nothing to do but be together as a family. We consider these blocks of time blessings, and look to utilize them to the fullest. Give your schedule a once-over, and see if you can clear some time for yourself and the kids in your life.

The $613 Vacation- Getting To Yes

Perhaps clarification is in order. When I say we are not headed to the nearest theme park, I mean just that, no theme park, Dante-themed or otherwise.

We fully intend to spend the money we budgeted for the theme park. We just don't intend to spend it at the theme park.

It took a family meeting that bordered on sales pitch for some of the snazzier clients I have had, and a better Dog 'n Pony Show, to eliminate Three Circles Over Hades.

The kids love the Internet. It is something we only let them use once or twice a week, or to work on school projects, with a fully running net nanny. I loaded a doc which featured linked logos and photographs in text boxes (easily moved about the page). The links included URLs for local tourist places, movies, sports events not involving baseball, and museums.

I then got out a dry marker and the white board. "Kids, how much does it cost to go to Three Circles Over Hades?" I inquired.

The eldest thought of an answer. "Nothing. We get our tickets free at school." Aha! Just the answer I wanted. They were amazed that yes indeed, the old folks needed money to enter Hades, and then there was all that money for other things. I tallied it all up right there. It was an astounding $507.

The eldest was now spokesperson. "But what about our money for chores, and our behavior bucks?"

We don't give this set of kids an allowance, in the sense that they receive a set amount of family cash simply for existence. They have a chore chart. Some things, such as bed making and washing oneself out of the bathtub, are gratis. Other chores, from folding laundry to taking out garbage, come with a price tag. No workie, no money, and it better be done with a civil attitude or no money anyway, but the Mister and I still get the work done. 10 percent of this income is given to charity, 50 percent is saved in a savings account, and the rest the child can use to his or her choice.

The second source of child income in our household is behavior bucks. Call it Negative Motivation. Call it Incentive Behavior. The Mister and I are over 50. We don't want to mess with physical restrictions, corporal punishments, and all the parenting angles younger people seem to have energy to perform, unless it is absolutely necessary; very often, it is not.

The premise is simple. Every month, we do something together as a family. An amount of money is set aside in the family budget every month. How the children behave determines what happens when it is time for the monthly family activity on which said money is spent. Some months, the family activity can be as rich as the movies with popcorn and restaurant lunch. There are also months where the family activity is Pay Per View rated G, or even just board games.

The kids used to have mason jars, which into each was deposited toy money bearing the value of the set amount per child. Tell a lie to get out of work? One behavior buck lost, and a talk on lies. Most childish misbehaviors lose a buck. Fighting of any form within the friendly confines of the house earns the loss of a whopping 2 behavior bucks, and going to one's room for the rest of the day. Needless to say, the rooms are no entertainment centers, and lack TVs, computers, Wii and even books barring the Bible and prayer books.

However, the behavior bucks were not portable, and sometimes the old gal forgot. The "bucks" are now values on a punch ticket. It is extremely pleasurable to grunt in public, "I'm gonna punch your ticket" and have younger parents look aghast, only for me to whip out the hole puncher and the tickets.

Taking into account behavior bucks earned for April through August meant we raised the stakes to $613 (we really did plan to go to Hades, and it was the children's idea to save the behavior bucks).

While I sold all the wonderful places we could go, I could see the girl child's eyes light. I know she is the one who hates Three Circles Over Hades the most. She is very bright, and was calculating in her head just how much $613 could buy of a summer.

It was the eldest who was yet unsold. "But I worked hard to earn that pass!" Did you really, Pet? A quick tally of the old dry marker showed that indeed, the eldest was also involved with earning a good grade in Reading, a coupon for an individual pan pizza, and a ticket to the minor league ball park, all at the same time, by reading 30 minutes an evening. Hardly the effort imagined.

It was at that point I urged them to the computers. They clicked the links of their choices, and were transported to some 12, count 'em, twelve places and activities within the greater Chicago metropolitan area. They were all in.

I have yet to figure out what we will do with the Hades passes. They are allegedly nontransferable, and the kids' names are on the back. Perhaps I'll stick them in their baby books (advantage of being Grandma AND Mom- You latch onto the baby books early). As long as we adults do not have to swelter in Hades, I will be satisfied.

The $613 Vacation - Why

$613. It doesn't sound like much. It really isn't much. But it's how much we have for a local vacation activities this year.

During the school year, our kids earn a day pass from the local theme park, Three Circles Over Hades. They do this by reading for 6 hours. It is not a strenuous proposition, considering the eldest is supposed to read 30 minutes a day as part of homework. They also earn a coupon for an individual pan pizza from a leading pizza chain, based on their individual teacher's requirements. They also earn a pass to the local minor league baseball team's "INSERT NAME OF SCHOOL HERE" Night. For making As and Bs or the equivalent, there is the major baseball league's INSERT NAME OF SCHOOL HERE" day, with the child's name flashed upon the Jumbotron.

The problem is not children earning something by studious actions. The problem is the sad fact that while the child earns a pass, the parent does not.

Take the pizza chain. The kid gets an individual pizza. The kid does not get a drink, not even a small one. Water is no longer free. The coupon states the child must order in the restaurant, no take-outs, no drive-thrus. This means at least one parent must accompany the child. Any other child who earns a pizza certificate also gets an individual pan pizza- no drink. Who is going to sit there and watch the children who earned this consume it, while dining himself? What started out as "It's absolutely free" becomes "That'll be $32.78 plus tip".

The minor ballgame produces the same problem of the parental ticket, plus interest in the game. A child under the age of 10 has a rough way to go to sit for an entire nine-inning game. Baseball in itself is no longer the key interest. Between every single man at bat, it seems, there is a number called from the scorecard. T-shirts are shot out of canons into the audience. People, adults and kids, are called down to run the bases. What could have been an enjoyable Saturday afternoon winds into a four hour pile of ads, gimmicks, and giveaways. Combined with parking, the extra ticket and food purchases, it is a waste of a good afternoon. The only difference between the minor league and major league park is things are more expensive at the major league park, and the major league team's park is in an area where people should not go without an armed escort.

But the absolute worst of the inducements earned by young students is Three Circles Over Hades (like that Dante theme). A child's day pass currently runs $35 or so. Not so an adult day pass, which runs $35 before July 11, and for the rest of the season cost $55. Two adults, as in two parents, cost $110, unless a couple can meet the stringent requirements to qualify for something cheaper. The parental jobs usually take precedence over Three Circles.

There is no point in not buying the keys to successfully maneuvering Three Circles Over Hades, the front parking pass and the line jumper pass. Unless one wishes to re-enact Moses' trip through the Sinai with some very crabby substitute Hebrews, get the parking pass. The lot is hotter than any desert, and twice as humid from the engines of the cars as well as the spots of blacktop (Watch your head for the seagulls, who think they are skimming water). Just to park the family bus cost $15, so go ahead and ante up the additional $10 to park as closely to the gate as possible. The line jumper pass will mean you still have to wait behind the other line jumpers, but not nearly as long as those who decided the option to wait was a waste of money or simply wouldn't do anything. $156, please, paid by the number in one's party.

One can dine on one's own cuisine in the Three Circles' spacious and blistering parking lot. Some people bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the hot asphalt and burning gravel. It's against the rules to bring food and beverage from the outside world into Three Circles. Ticket holders are wanded and frisked, so even chewing gum is suspect. Expect to pay 3-4 times the cost of the restaurants just outside the Three Circles' gates. Do not expect children to be content to simply have a drink out of the water fountain, not that most parents would allow them to use the water fountain. The buffet of boxed mashed potatoes, smoked butt passing as ham, dry chicken, lettuce, and postage stamp cake pieces starts at $18 per person, drinks extra. There is a drink canister that can be refilled for $1.50. The canister cost $15.

We will not discuss the souvenirs, except to mention they took everything the kids earned in allowance as well as budgeted "fun" money.

But the real reason for not going to Three Circles Over Hades is the sad fact that these children we have do not like amusement park rides. They shudder at the mere mention of the names of certain roller coasters. They refuse to even consider the "tea cup" style rides. Last year, the eldest barely met the height requirements to enter the area really designed for kids under six. We spent over $350 to sit in what amounted to preschooler paradise for three hours, then eat lousy food and buy expensive gedunk and junk. We also rode one real ride each, and drove the faux antique track cars. It was hot, sticky, and filled with adults also on their last nerve.

This year, two children will be too tall to stay in the safety of the shaded airplanes and elephants. They are not short in any event, and seem to have acquired a tall gene from someplace. We are feeling way too old and way too impatient to attempt it this year. Hades will have to do without us.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Other Ideas, the trash, and shopping for a place.

Greetings, and it's been awhile!

1.) We are seriously considering home education for next year. The "lovely parish" we considered last year is not necessarily so lovely. I volunteered for a parish event early, to see what people were like and also to give the kids an opportunity to meet other people. I was honestly asked by a person in an official capacity if I was familiar with the Rosary. No, I am not kidding. Yes, somebody listed in the bulletin in the little "staff" box said this. I don't think my reply of, "Well, as a cradle Catholic of 50+ years, I hope so, especially since I have prayed at least a decade almost every day of my life" was too dismissive. There is no room in the other Catholic school up there, and if this is the religious education in this parish, we have serious concerns. I hope the matter is cleared up, but in the meantime, I now have the task of checking out home school groups up North.

2.) Live someplace longer than two years, and clutter will be there. We have been in this house 9 years, and had people moving in and out. Yesterday, I dumped some six Rubbermaid buckets of trash. I'm renting a professional dolly tomorrow to get some of the big boxes out of here and into storage, so I can actually think (I need space to think). "Clean House" move over! It's time for Clean Grandma.

3.) We need to be out of here by August, or start paying rent. The Mister is dragging his heels. Nothing suits him except this house, which has already been sold. I asked him if it was OK to simply pick a place, and have him go to work one fine morning, then drive home to the new place. After some hemming and hawing, he's not adverse to it. This might be the way to go.