Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Frugal Family Holiday Travel

By: L.A. Kohl
Nov. 7, 2004(published in the Wednesday, Nov. 17 2004 edition of the “Bull’s Eye”, Vol. 1, No. 4)

In our mobile society, traveling during the holidays is almost unavoidable. Over the years, we’ve traveled as far away as Des Moines, IA, Houston, TX, and Orlando, FL either for Thanksgiving or Christmas family get-togethers. At a time of year when you already feel over-loaded with expenses (gift buying, end of year property taxes, etc) adding travel expenses on top of it all can be a budget breaking experience.

We’ve tried a few things that have helped us cut corners. Some of it is just common sense, but perhaps some of you will appreciate the ideas. One of our biggest cost cutters is in the area of food.

With a large family, eating out while traveling can add up to a lot of money in short order! We try to limit ourselves to one meal out per day when we’re away from home. It’s really not difficult. Almost all motels have a continental breakfast, and if you spend a little time, and perhaps just a little more money, you can find many that serve full-blown breakfasts. For us, spending an extra $10.00 a night at a motel that serves a full breakfast is definitely worth it.

Packing food along for the trip is also a money saver. The makings for sandwiches, various bags of chips, and some fruit packed in amongst the suitcases, and you’ve now avoided having to eat out for lunch, too! Bottled water (or a water bottle for everyone) sodas, juice boxes/pouches, and the like all travel well, and they’re much cheaper to buy in the case at the grocery store ahead of time, rather than individually at a restaurant or convenience store.

Hmm, did I say juice boxes travel well? Shut up! Any mom out there knows the hazards of handing a full one of those to a little child...squeeze and SQUIRT...half the contents of the box are all over their shirt before you know it. We usually resort to handing the juice box to a big sister, who holds it for the little sister, until she’s drank it down about halfway.

Back to the topic...snacks are great to pack along, too – to avoid the temptation of buying that tiny $4.00 bag of chips when you stop to fill up with gas at the convenience store. We try not to go totally junk food, though. We also pack some trail mix, “carb bars” (recipe follows) whole grain cereal bars, mini carrots, dried fruit, grapes and other fresh fruit.

When we do stop and eat out for a meal, everyone knows that they’ll be ordering a glass of water with their meal. At an average of $1.50 per soft drink, our family saves several dollars per meal. Besides, we’ve got $0.20 sodas in the vehicle if they really want a “jolt” of sugar/caffeine!

Another thing that can help cut traveling expenses is traveling together. We’ve taken parents along with us to family get togethers, and it helps in many ways. Two of the main ways are, they help split the cost of gasoline, and they’re great at helping entertain the kids.

If you’re traveling to meet family, one thing that can help trim expenses is to agree ahead of time not to purchase gifts for each other, since you have the expense of traveling. After all, just being all together as a family is a great gift in itself, right? Christmas time has become the only time of year that our extended Kohl family is all together at the same time, so we treasure it.

Or, maybe just giving an affordable family gift (like a board game or a video) rather than individual gifts for everyone could be an acceptable compromise. Rather than begrudgingly buying gifts for relatives – be honest and open with all the family and discuss some other options.

In closing, try to remember that the holidays are an exciting time for your children, and you’re making lots of memories. Get them involved in as much of the travel planning and preparation as possible. You can get off to a fun start by mixing up a batch of these travel-friendly “Carb Bars." (Note: these are called “Carb” bars because they’re full of ‘em – they are NOT low carb!)

1/4 cup margarine
1 (10 oz) pkg. of miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
5 cups crisp rice type cereal
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
1/3 cup wheat germ (optional)
Your family’s choice of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any or all of the following:
chopped nuts
chocolate chips
raisins or other dried fruits
candy-coated chocolate pieces

Mix cereal and other dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a large (3 quart) pan, melt butter, marshmallows and peanut butter over low heat, stirring often until all is melted and blended together. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour immediately over ingredients in bowl and stir together quickly. Turn into a well-greased 9” x 13” pan. Cool and cut into bars. Store in airtight container, and keep cool if they contain chocolate. ENJOY!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Why We Homeschool

By: Lori Kohl
Oct. 7, 2004
(published in “Bullseye”, Wednesday Nov. 4, 2004 edition, Vol. 1 No. 2)

Why does anyone home school? After home schooling for almost a dozen years, that’s a question that is not always spoken directly, but is often implied by others' comments. People who have never tried it, or have never known anyone personally who has, can’t help but wonder about it. They question why you would want to “tie yourself down” and make life so complicated by keeping your children home and trying to educate them yourselves. Especially in our case…we have seven children, thus, many people look at us like we must be crazy. For heaven’s sake, why would anyone do that? Public school is free, and they’re all set up to do it in a big way, with all the “extras," so why would someone not want to take advantage of that? There are many answers, but the big one for us personally is this: we not only want to control our children’s education, but we also want to control our lives.

That’s not the answer many people expect. Most assume that home schooling ties you down and severely hampers your lifestyle. However, does the average American realize how much the public school system controls their family’s life, once Jr. turns five and heads off to kindergarten? Family vacation time is the “big” one that comes to mind. Does it logically make sense to head south to Disney World and the beaches in the middle of summer, when temperatures are hottest in Florida? But what other choice does the public schooler have, when attendance is mandatory and little time off is allowed nine months out of the year? Maybe they can fit it in over Christmas or spring break – but lots of other families with school children are trying to fit it in then, also, so be prepared for crowds. With our flexibility, we’ve been blessed to discover that going to the Gulf beaches in October is not only pleasant and temperate, but also very uncrowded. We would have never found that out if our children attended public school.

What about the day to day schedule? How often do you have to arrange the whole family’s day based on whether or not Jr. has basketball practice, a baseball game, a fund-raiser function, parent teacher conferences, etc.? With home schooling, we choose whether or not we want to have a relaxing day/evening at home. We choose to take a day off, when we see it’s beautiful spring weather and a trip to the zoo is in order. Or perhaps it’s a bright, crisp, fall day and we want to gather acorns, colorful leaves, dried weeds, flowers and grasses. Maybe it’s nearing Christmas, and we want to spend the day making candy and cookies, or homemade gifts for our friends and relatives. Perhaps it’s the dead of winter and the flu bug has just struck the family. We can chose to take a few days off, and just let the kids lie around and read some good books while everyone recuperates, without worrying about how much they’re falling behind everyone else, or whether or not we should try and get his work from the teacher so he can stay caught up. With home schooling, it’s usually just a matter of fitting in a little extra work for a few days in order to get back on schedule.

Beyond the “day to day," what about those “moment by moment” things that are often once in a lifetime experiences? Last week I drove in our driveway, and immediately noticed a bald eagle sitting in a barren tree at the edge of our field. I quickly drove up to the house and told my family to get their shoes on, we were going for a walk! We quietly snuck down the driveway…well, as quietly as we could with three toddlers/preschoolers and a six month puppy tagging along. We were only able to catch a glimpse of the eagle before he spotted us and soared into the air, but he let us “ooh and ahh” over him several moments until he glided out of sight. That’s just one of many such spur of the moment things we’ve been able to share with our children over the years, because they were at home during the day.

We love to let children be children! They have the rest of their lives to experience hectic schedules and varied responsibilities…why make them also live that way during the precious few years of childhood? By home schooling, we are able to allow them plenty of time to read those wonderful childhood stories (like “The Chronicles of Narnia”) and then go act them out to their hearts’ content. They have time to go romp in the woods, build forts, get muddy in the creek, and countless other childish activities that most adults no longer have the time or desire to do, and unfortunately, many children no longer have time for, either. Yes – they still do their schoolwork, but it often takes a fraction of the time that it would take them to complete the same amount of work in the public school. Thus, they have time to be kids!

Home schooling is not for everyone, of course, but it has worked well for us. Public school also works well for many people, and that’s great. But if I had to give one short, straight to the point answer about what I most appreciate about home schooling, this would have to be it – my children have had the freedom to enjoy childhood. No matter how your children are getting their education, I challenge you to allow them that same freedom, for the opportunity will be gone all too soon.