What Summer Means to Me

My kids don’t actually get out of school until Friday, and this week’s calendar is absolutely packed with end-of-the-year activities, volunteer duties, practices for two sports, graduation parties for friends, and the regular getting-through-the-week stuff (like laundry, ugh). But for today I’m ignoring all that and visualizing what summer means to me:

What Summer Means to Me

Swim Team

All three kids are on the neighborhood swim team, and I’m one of the team reps. It’s an intense six weeks, but we love it, and I love all that the pool represents in our neighborhood. We’re a strong community, and over the summer I’m reconnected to friends with older kids that I only see during these months.

What Summer Means to Me

Lots of Kids

I’m babysitting two for the summer, and we’ll have lots of playdates with friends over. I love having a houseful of kids, and I love my kids’ friends. It can get loud at times, and it makes working from home almost impossible, but we’ll make it work with a loose structure and a lot of fun.
What Summer Means to Me

Garden Veggies

Summer veggies means yummy cookouts, garden-fresh salads, and the kids cooking (they’re old enough now!).

What Summer Means to Me

Day Trips

While we aren’t taking a big family vacation this year (that money is going towards orthodontia), we’ll squeeze in some day trips and outings. My kids are excited about doing some local hikes and exploring new places. They’re more involved in planning these trips now, which I appreciate.

We went to the library. We're excited. #summerreading #booklove

A photo posted by Gina Lincicum (@moneywisemoms) on

Books!

Without an official vacation, i’m going to have to get creative about doing all the summer reading I like to do. I set a goal to read 75 books in 2015, and usually I catch up during the summer. Looking for recommendations? I keep track of my books on my Books I’ve Read 2015 Pinterest board,

What Summer Means to Me

Spending Time with my Kids

I work hard during the school year to preserve our family time. We eat together every night, we make big brunches on the weekends and savor downtime on the weekends for the five of us to connect (usually over board games). But the unstructured summer days are special, and I know they’ll change over the years, so I appreciate all the time I get to spend with my kiddos–playing, reading, talking, and more.

The Franklin Institute {Philadelphia, PA}

This is NOT a sponsored post, but it does contain some affiliate links. Thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no additional cost to you!

When we take a road trip, it’s most often to Philadelphia. Both of my sisters live there, so it’s our go-to family vacation spot, and there’s so much to do that we’re always finding something new to explore. This time, we visited The Franklin Institute downtown. This was the museum we were trying to visit when we ended up across the river at the Adventure Aquarium. Again, we picked the busiest day of the year to visit (Friday of spring break). We still loved it.

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia #familytravel

First off, The Franklin Institute has a free planetarium! I appreciated that because most museums charge extra to attend a planetarium show. There were four shows to choose from; we saw Dark Universe, which was pretty tough to understand, even for us adults. My kids loved it, though. I think The Sky Tonight would be best for young kids, and we’ll give that one a try on our next visit.

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia #familytravel

Your Brain was our favorite exhibit. It had everything we love about the TV show Brain Games: optical illusions, memory tests, and plenty of experiments to do on ourselves. The kids even got to climb up inside a neural network climbing structure with dynamic lighting and sound effects that simulates how brain waves are transmitted. We spent a lot of time doing all the tests.

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia #familytravel

One thing The Franklin Institute has done better than any other museum we’ve visited is the use of computers and technology. It wasn’t there arbitrarily or to be “cool” to the kids. Tech was incorporated into some exhibits in ways I’d never seen before! With the magnet exhibit (above) in Electricity, the kids could see the effects of switching poles on bar magnets. In Amazing Machine, there was a domino-building exhibit that recorded what you made and attached it to the last 20 people’s dominoes, for a cooperative domino rally.

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia #familytravel

Sir Isaac’s Loft reminded us of the physics room at The Science Museum of Virginia. It was all hands-on ways to try out simple machine like levers and pulleys. We spent a lot of time with the pendulums, and the text on the walls illustrated how these experiences demonstrated Newton’s Laws of Motion. This was the first museum I noticed my kids actually reading the walls; even though they were drawn to the materials, they wanted to understand why and how. I loved that!

The Art of the Brick at The Franklin Institute #familytravel

And then there’s The Art of the Brick, a temporary exhibit that will be there through September 6, 2015. I only took a zillion photos, and none of them capture how cool the sculptures were in three dimensions. My son and I have followed artist Nathan Sawaya for years, and we were thrilled to get to see these pieces in person. They were just amazing! I will truly never forget seeing this exhibit.

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia #familytravel
And now for the bad news, this is not a frugal trip. Admission prices are $19.95 for ages 12+ and $15.95 for kids 3-11. Adding The Art of the Brick special exhibit is another $10/adults and $9/kids. There are several ways to save: look for discount tickets at CertifikidLiving Social and Groupon, and consider purchasing a family membership. I went ahead and got the membership, which was only $39 over what it cost the five of us for one day. By using that membership to visit any of the ASTC reciprocal museums in the next year, we’ll have paid for it. Of course, I plan to do that and more!

Connect with The Franklin Institute on Facebook and Twitter, where they advertise events and specials. And, please check out my Mid-Atlantic Family Trips board on Pinterest for more Philadelphia and DC-area family travel spots.

Strategies to Save at Theme Parks

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through my referral link, I’ll receive a tiny percentage. Thank you for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no cost to you!

We are a thrill-ride, theme park, roller coaster family. My husband and I traveled and visited theme parks regularly in the ten years before we had our kids. Then we took a bit of hiatus, but now that they’re older (9, 9 and 11), we’re back to it. I don’t handle coasters as well as I used to, I definitely feel “over 40″ on the same rides that my kids love. But it’s so much fun making memories with them, watching them overcome their fears, scream and laugh in glee, and try new things. If your family loves amusement parks, too, then try these Strategies to Save at Theme Parks:

Smart ways to save money on #familytravel | Strategies to Save at Theme Parks

 

Look for coupons and discount tickets

I’m always on the lookout for deals to theme parks, so I’m subscribed to Certifikid, Living Social, and Groupon for that reason. Discounts are typically offered early in the season (March & April) as parks are opening, since they don’t have trouble filling the park during the summer. You may also find discounted theme park tickets through your membership at AAA or Costco. If you or your spouse is active Military, you can receive Free Tickets for Military Families.

Get a group rate

I tried this first in 2008 when we visited Sesame Place and have had even more success with it since then. If you’re part of a MOMS Club, Moms of Multiples group, or church group, offer to coordinate the purchase of group rate tickets. We did this every spring for five years to make our yearly trip to Dutch Wonderland more affordable. As long as the park lets you use the tickets any time during the season (rather than having all go on the same day), it’s easy to collect the funds and hand out the tickets for 20+. Think about it–that’s just 3-5 families total!

Consider a season pass

It typically takes only two trips to make the cost of a season pass worth it, per person, particularly if the pass includes the parking fees. If you’re practicing the other strategies to save at theme parks, each visit won’t break the bank and make it a worthwhile trip for the family.

 

On the blog today: What my son made me do at @buschgardensva #familymemories #ad

A photo posted by Gina Lincicum (@moneywisemoms) on

Reduce your driving costs

The theme parks around us are anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours away. Three ways we’ve reduced our costs are carpooling with friends (saves both gas and parking fees), taking advantage of free gas cards and checking GasBuddy to save on the road trip part of the visit. Every little bit helps!

 

Bring what you can

With the kids out of toddler-hood, I got out of the habit of packing a bag with snacks and drinks. It’s truly easy to just leave the house with nothing and get on our way. But between road trips and the high cost of food inside the parks, anything we’re allowed to bring inside saves us quite a bit of money. We usually bring at least a lunch or heavy snack and water bottles and leave them in a locker or carry them until they’re used. While it may not sound frugal, spending $10 on a locker to save money on food (or even clothing) is less than impulse buying at park prices. For iffy weather, we bring in our sweatshirts, raincoats, etc. and stuff them in a locker.

 

Set a frugal mindset with the family

Because we’ve regularly visited theme parks, we’ve had a lot of “teachable moments” with the kids to talk about how prices are marked up, whether souvenirs are a good value, etc. Before each trip, we set a budget as a family and discuss where we’ll spend our money. Rather than say “no souvenirs,” which we did when they were younger, we allow the kids to bring their own allowance if they want to spend money on a souvenir or extra treat. Last summer, my kids spent their own money on ball caps from Busch Gardens and have worn the heck out of them, so those were smart souvenir purchases. Our kids are old enough to understand how family trips impact our regular monthly budget and our larger financial goals.

What are your strategies to save at theme parks?

 

Newsies Ticket Giveaway (Washington DC)

As part of its North America tour, Disney’s Newsies will be playing at The National Theatre in Washington DC from June 9-21. This high-energy musical was the winner of the 2012 Tony Awards® for Best Score and Best Choreography and is filled with song and dance. The score is by one of my favorite Disney composers, Alan Menken (who did Beauty and the Beast, among others), along with Jack Feldman. It’s the story of a band of underdogs who become unlikely heroes when they stand up to the most powerful men in New York. There’s so much to talk about with your kids before and after this show–like how to speak up for what’s right and stay true to who you are. The cast includes many young actors (some as young as 9!), and my kids always enjoy seeing these amazing talents on stage.

Newsies is traveling throughout the East Coast and Canada now through November, so find your local city. We’re excited that it’s here in Washington DC at The National Theatre.

Newsies Ticket Giveaway DC | Enter by June 8 | MoneywiseMoms

We’ve seen shows in The National Theatre before, and there are a lot of family-friendly productions in store for the 2015-16 season as well. My son is taking theater in middle school next year and pays more attention to the sets and lighting than the actors sometimes. He’s excited to see this show! If you’ve never attended a theater show with your child(ren), see my tips on Taking Kids to the Theater.

Giveaway Time!

Whether you’re a DC-area local or would like to travel in for the show, one lucky MoneywiseMoms reader will win 2 tickets to see Newsies at The National Theatre on Wednesday, June 10th. If you’re reading this in an email or RSS feed, you’ll need to click over to the blog to enter on the Rafflecopter widget.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway is open to the US and ends at 12:00 midnight ET on June 8th. I’ll email the winner, who will have 24 hours to respond and accept their prize. The winner will pick up the show tickets at the Will Call window.

Disclosure: The tickets for the Newsies ticket giveaway are provided by Allied Live, and I am receiving tickets to see the show.

Free Summer Computer Camps 2015

Free Summer Computer Camps for Kids 2015 | MoneywiseMoms

Have any computer kids in the house? I have three! Mine actually prefer writing stories on the computer, playing computer games, and doing programming rather than watching TV, so that’s their “screen time.” As much as I’d like them to try a summer camp for computer coding, the cost is just too much for us. These FREE Summer Computer Camps for Kids let us scratch that itch and try something new.

 

Free Computer Camps for Kids #summer 2015 | MoneywiseMoms

Last summer, we tried the free camp at our local Microsoft Store. The kids met every morning for five days in a row, learned how to use Kodu to create their own games, and brought home a thumb drive with their game on it. They were served snacks and drinks and also got a free Tshirt. My kids liked it and spent a lot of time on Kodu during the rest of the summer.

Microsoft Store FREE summer #camp class | MoneywiseMoms
YouthSpark Summer Camps

At Microsoft Stores nationwide, kids can attend a FREE YouthSpark Camp to learn digital moviemaking, graphic design, digital photography, and more. Each store offers their own schedule, so find your closest location. Then look at the calendar to register. You will need a Microsoft account to register (I just used my hotmail address) and can then register multiple kids with that account. Registration has already opened, so move quickly to get your FREE spot!

Apple Store FREE summer #camp class | MoneywiseMoms

Apple Camp

At Apple Stores nationwide, kids ages 8-12 can attend FREE Apple Camps to learn how to use iMovie and iPads to create music, shoot their own movies, and more. Find your local store to register. The workshop spans three days and ends with a Film Festival where kids can debut their work. The site doesn’t have registration up yet, so get on their email list so you can do it as soon as it opens.

 

11 Easy Pasta Dinners {Quick Recipes}

Easy Pasta Dinner - quick and healthy meals for busy summer nights | MoneywiseMoms

Who loves an easy pasta dinner? With summer upon us, we’ve moved away from casseroles and are looking for quick meals that come together easily on the stovetop or can be prepped ahead in the slow cooker. All of these 11 Easy Pasta Dinners include vegetables and can be made with your favorite pasta (I like wheat or protein pasta for extra nutrition). Add some of these recipes to your menu plan for a little variety this summer.
Creamy Sausage and Spinach Tortellini from Everyday Reading | Easy Pasta Dinners
Creamy Sausage and Spinach Tortellini from Everyday Reading

Just seven ingredients (and two are garlic & olive oil!) make this colorful and flavorful dish that cooks up quickly in one pot with a creamy tomato sauce.

One Pot Pasta Primavera from Oh My Veggies | Easy Pasta Dinners

One Pot Pasta Primavera from Oh My Veggies

Combine broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms and peas with your favorite pasta and an easy cream sauce with this fresh primavera.

 

Turkey Parmesan Pasta | Easy Pasta Dinners

Turkey Parmesan Pasta from MoneywiseMoms

This stovetop version of baked ziti lets you skip the oven and long cooking time and enjoy a cheesy, meaty meal in a half hour. Everything cooks in one pot, so clean up is easy, too!

 

Chicken Enchilada Pasta from Spoonful of Flavor | Easy Pasta Dinners

One Pot Chicken Enchilada Pasta from Spoonful of Flavor

Make your Taco Tuesday a twist by cooking pasta in enchilada sauce and adding cooked chicken, black beans and corn. Add whatever toppings you like once it’s ready to go.

 

One Pot Pasta from Damn Delicious | Easy Pasta Dinners

One Pot Pasta from Damn Delicious

It sounds odd to put sausage, onions, basil and tomatoes into a pot with water to boil and then just ignore it, but it really works. The water gets absorbed into the pasta, and this one-pot meal is ready to serve.

 

Chicken Broccoli Lo Mein from Mom Advice | Easy Pasta Dinners

Chicken Broccoli Lo Mein from Mom Advice

This quick-and-easy version of lo mein makes feeding the family so easy. My kids love this recipe.

 

Rainbow Peanut Noodles from Gimme Some Oven | Easy Pasta Dinners

Rainbow Peanut Noodles from Gimme Some Oven

Whenever I can have Pad Thai, I grab the chance. My son has a peanut allergy, so this recipe won’t happen in my house, but this lightened-up version includes more vegetables and protein than the tradition. Give it a try!

Slow Cooker Pork Ragu and Fettuccine | Easy Pasta Dinners

Slow Cooker Pork Ragu and Fettuccine from MoneywiseMoms

We enjoy this meal year-round. It’s a dump-in-the-slow-cooker-and-go recipe. I just boil the water for noodles, and while they’re cooking, I shred up the pork right in the pot. It’s easy and so delicious, my family requests it at least once a month!

 

Chicken Fajita Pasta from Kevin and Amanda | Easy Pasta Dinners

Chicken Fajita Pasta from Kevin and Amanda

This flavorful dish is made all in one pot (love that!) and uses homemade taco seasoning along with lots of fresh bell peppers.

 

Spinach Artichoke Mac and Cheese from House of Yumm | Easy Pasta Dinners

One Pot Spinach & Artichoke Mac and Cheese from House of Yumm

We eat a lot of mac & cheese, so I love finding novel recipes like this one that includes another of our favorite flavor combos (spinach and artichoke dip fans!). It’s another easy one-pot meal.

 

Chicken Lo Mein from The Wholesome Dish | Easy Pasta Dinners

One Pot Chicken Lo Mein from The Wholesome Dish

Yes, I know I’ve shared this recipe before, but it’s because it’s THAT GOOD. It’s in our regular meal plan rotation, and everyone loves it. It only takes a few minutes to chop everything up, it all goes in one skillet, then I cover and walk away. I love easy recipes like this!

 

Looking for more easy weeknight meals? Check out 5 Beginner Crockpot Meals and 10 Summer Slow Cooker Meals.

 

Linked up to DIY Craft and Recipe Linkup at The SITS Girls, Inspire Me Wednesdays at Adventures of Mel, Tasty Tuesdays at Creative K Kids. Fluster’s Creative Muster Party at Fluster Buster and Do Tell Tuesday at Mabey She Made It.

Moneywise Menu Plan 5-31 thru to 6-13

Oh my, it’s hot here in the DC area. We’ve completely skipped spring and gone straight to ridiculousy-humid, 90-degree sunny, thunderstorm-sticky days. It makes it even harder to cook and get dinner on the table every night.

I’ve been using a two-week menu plan so that I can spend less time planning. Once a week, I take a look at the menu, check my pantry and freezer to see what’s already on hand, and make my shopping list from there. It saves so much time!

Moneywise Menu Plan 5-31 | frugal family meals

Moneywise Menu Plan – 5/31 to 6/13

Sunday: Chicken with Mushrooms & Zucchini, cauliflower
Monday: Spinach Feta Pasta Salad
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! Slow Cooker Shredded Pork Tacos with toppings, black beans and brown rice
Wednesday: Turkey Parmesan Pasta
Thursday: Chicken Caesar Salad and breadsticks
Friday: Chicken Sausage Pesto Pizzas with salad
Saturday: Tuna, Green Bean & Potato Salad

Sunday: Spinach Turkey Burgers, broccoli slaw, corn
Monday: Summer Orzo Salad from Oh My Veggies
Tuesday: Chicken Fajitas in the Deep Covered Baker
Wednesday: Crockpot Broccoli & Beef with brown rice noodles
Thursday: Almond Tilapia and Broccoli Slaw
Friday: Mediterranean Chicken in the slow cooker, served over quinoa
Saturday: Going out to dinner (I need a break!)

 

Menu Plan Resources

Free Summer Movies 2015 (and $1 Movies)

Stay cool this summer by chilling with your kids in an air-conditioned theater with these FREE Summer Movies and other low-cost ($1) Programs:

Free Summer Movies 2015 and other low-cost programs | MoneywiseMoms

B&B Theatres offers a Kids Summer Series with $2 movies Tuesday-Thursday at 10:00am and 12:30pm. Click on your local theater’s link to download the schedule.

BowTie Cinemas offers FREE movies every Tuesday and Wednesday morning at 10:00am starting June 23rd.

Cinemark Theatres offers Summer Movie Clubhouse for $1.00/show or a $5.00 pass for the whole summer, purchased in advance. The start date varies depending on what part of the country you’re in (what date school gets out).

Classic Cinemas offers their Wednesday Morning Movie Series for $1.00/show at 9:00am every Wednesday, starting June 10th. You can go early and see costumed characters.

Cobb Theatres offers FREE Summer Kids Shows Tuesday-Thursday at 10:00am. To see the schedule, you need to click through to your local theater and look in the left sidebar (here’s Leesburg, VA). Most start June 16th.

Harkins Theatres has Summer Movie Fun every weekday at 9:45, and you can purchase Season Tickets for all 10 shows for just $5-7 (depends on the theater), or pay as you go for $2/person.

Malco Theatres offers $2.00 movies every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:00am, starting June 2nd, with a portion of the proceeds going to local Children’s Hospitals.

Marquee Cinemas offers two FREE movies at 9:30am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays beginning June 23. Click on your local theater for schedule.

Paragon Theaters offers FREE movies at 10:00am every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, beginning June 23.

Phoenix Big Cinemas has FREE movies Tuesday-Thursday at 10:00am, with start dates varying per state.

Regal Theatres offers Summer Movie Express all summer on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:00am for $1.00/person. Choose from a G or PG movie each morning, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Will Rogers Institute.

Showcase Cinemas will offer their Bookworm Wednesdays program, starting July 8th. Kids receive FREE admission when they present a completed book report, which you can download from their site. Children under 6 do not need to complete the book report.

Ultrastar Cinemas offers their Kids Summer Series every day starting May 25th. Some theaters offer the movies FREE, others charge $5 for the 10-week pass.

 

Click through to your local theater chain to find the closest location. Hope you have some FREE Summer Movies and other low-cost options in your area!

Original image from allisonmseward12 on Flickr

Cake Mix Cookies {Perfect for Potlucks}

We attended our first summer potluck this weekend, and there are many more to come! With busy schedules, school still in session (four more weeks–ugh!), and too much to do, you need an easy-peasy recipe like these Cake Mix Cookies to bring and enjoy. There’s just three ingredients–unless you want to add some sprinkles to the top, then it’s four.

Cake Mix Cookies | MoneywiseMoms

 

Cake Mix Cookies

  • 1 package cake mix, any flavor (we love devil’s food)
  • ½ cup oil or butter, melted
  • 2 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all three ingredients in a large bowl and stir until dough forms. Either scoop onto cookie sheet or shape into 1-inch balls (it’s easier if you chill it first). Bake 8-10 minutes or until center is set. Let cool on the pan for 1-2 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 30 cookies.

This is one of those “base” recipes that you can take in any direction. Try a different flavor of cake mix, or add some mini chocolate chips, crushed Oreos, or chopped almonds to the tops.

Do you have any favorite baking supplies? I do! I love my Wilton 3-Tier Cooling Rack Set (that’s my Amazon link–thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no cost to you!). For less than $10, you get three racks that stack and give you plenty of room to work.

 

Cake Mix Cookies is linked up to Inspire Me Wednesday at Adventures of Mel, Tasty Tuesday at Creative K Kids, Fluster’s Creative Muster Party at Fluster Buster, Totally Terrific Tuesday at Live Randomly Simple, Do Tell Tuesday at Mabey She Made It, and Too Cute Tuesday at Funky Polkadot Giraffe.