Monday, February 15, 2016

Planning a Family Vacation -- Part Two: Lodging

We've recently started planning a family vacation to take place in just a few months.  As a single income family, it is very important to me to make this vacation as great as I can -- on a budget.  

One of the quickest ways to send a vacation into a financial tailspin is on expensive lodging.  We plan on staying in Orlando for a week.  There are many websites dedicated to vacation rentals.  In fact, we've used several different sites for our planning needs over the last few years.  For this trip, I knew exactly what website I would very likely utilize.  It is one we have used in the past, with great success and optimal money savings.  

Armed Forces Vacation Club

As a military family, we have the advantage of booking a vacation rental through AFVC.  Armed Forces Vacation Club is open to all active duty, reserve, guard, and retired members of the Armed Forces.  Membership is free and there are a few different vacation options available.  

The option that best suits our family is Space - A, also known as Space Available.  These are units with a fixed rate for weekly rental, offer more space, and included extra amenities not often found with renting a single hotel room.  Because we are traveling during an off-peak season, we have quite a few Space-A options from which to choose.  Since my in-laws are also vacationing with us, we are able to find resorts that have more than one bedroom so we can all fit comfortably -- at the same low price.

If you are a military family looking to travel, have you ever looked into Armed Forces Vacation Club?   What are your favorite travel booking sites, military exclusive and not?

(This post was not sponsored.   I just really love AFVC and want others to know that affordable lodging options exist for servicemembers and their families!) 

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Planning a Family Vacation -- Part One

I love family vacations.  They are some of our fondest memories and something we look forward to doing together as much as we can.  Since we are a homeschooling family, we are blessed to not have to work around a school schedule.  Since we are a military family, though, we have to work around a very demanding work schedule. It can be incredibly difficult to find time to get away for a week-long vacation. 

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about how much fun we have when we are able to take off and unplug.  I don't necessarily mean we're tech-free, because we aren't, but when we're away from home and the obligations that surround us, we are able to focus on spending time with one another.  I love the memories that are made when we are away.  Vacation memories are ones that seem to stick a little more than most.  I want to have some time with my four favorite guys to disconnect from responsibilities and reconnect with each other.  

Impulsively, I decided that I wanted to plan a vacation -- to take place in just three months.  On a whim, and without much hope, I asked my in-laws if they would be interested in joining us.  I was shocked when the answer was maybe and even more surprised when the next day the answer turned into a yes.

So now we're planning a trip to Orlando.  We've been before and the boys are already making plans for their favorite places.  We don't do Disney because we aren't really amusement park ride people.  Honestly, we've chosen Orlando again because the boys think that Legoland is the best place on the planet.  No joke.  What I need now, though, is some awesome suggestions of cool things to do in Orlando and the surrounding area.  

We'll be there for a week and we've got the hotel accommodations covered (more on that in a coming blog post).  Plus, we're fortunate to be able to purchase a lot of tickets to various places at a discount through the travel office on post.  But, what are your suggestions of cool things to do in Orlando with a couple of grandparents and a posse of cool kids?  The mister and I will be celebrating our 13th anniversary while we're there so any suggestions of romantic places I can take the love of my life would be appreciated as well.

Leave your comments, suggestions, ideas.  I'll share more of our vacation planning with you in the coming weeks!

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Monday, February 1, 2016

When Friendships Fade

I'm a woman that has always valued friends in a quality over quantity sort of way.  As a teenager and a young adult, I've found comfort in a few close friends as opposed to a large group of besties.  Sure, I enjoy getting together with the girls and having a good time with lovely acquaintances, but it's the few that I keep close that I enjoy the most.

North Carolina has been a difficult place for me as I try to create a military family here.  I've written before about having a "military family" and to me it means a group of people that I piece together at each duty station to be my new squad.  Maryland blessed me with amazing girlfriends and friendships in just a short time, whereas I've struggled since arriving in the south.

There have been close friendships that turned toxic and required separation and distance.  There have been friendships that bloomed and faded instantly, leaving me confused and uncertain.  There have been friendships that started off slowly and then became deep and heartfelt.  I've been in places where I'm reaching out and the effort isn't reciprocated and places where my friendship is no longer as important as it once was.  

And it's led me to realize that, for me, adult friendships are difficult.  Incredibly difficult.  They aren't effortless and easy like they seemed to be during childhood.  

"Do you like My Little Pony, too?  Awesome!  Let's be friends!"  

Now with a family, a home, home education, our extra-curricular activities, and so forth, friendships don't always take priority over everything else.  My family comes first and that means my friends just get what's left.  And it's taken its toll.  

Perhaps this year, I can try to refocus my time and energy into those friendships that seem to be fizzling, but in reality, my responsibilities at home and to my family aren't lessening any time soon.  In recognizing that maybe some friendships are finding their natural end, I've realized how important it is to me to have a few gals on which I can depend.  

My prayer is that I can cope with the changes inevitably heading my way and embrace the newness of that which I hope to find in place of those changes.  And above all, know that at the end of the day, there are still a few ladies who I'll count as lifelong friends, regardless of the distance that separates us.  For that, I'm incredibly grateful, even in my melancholia.  

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Faith: In Your Own Handwriting

As a military family, we've lived in a few different places over the last 12 years.  We've got a little stability here at Fort Bragg, so we've done a lot to make this place our home.  We are active community volunteers, we bought a house, and we found a home church.  And I LOVE our home church.

We attend Spout Springs Church.  Steve Davis is the Pastor at SSC and quite possibly one of the best pastors I've ever heard...and I've heard a lot.  In fact, if you are interested in hearing what he has to say, you should check out a sermon as they are posted online weekly.  And because Pastor Steve is pretty awesome, he wrote a book (he's actually written several).  His newest book is about understanding what your faith means to YOU.  It's really deciphering your faith and your relationship with God, not what you think it is or should be or what your parents or pastors relationships are with God.  The book is called Faith: In Your Own Handwriting.

In this new year, SSC is hoping to have as many people as possible attend a Handwriting Connection Group.  And I'm hosting one!  What does that mean?  Well, let me tell you!

Each week, we'll get together, read a chapter of the book, watch a video, and have a discussion.  That's it.  Super easy.  And if you are local to me (and you'll know if you are), I'm inviting you to this connection group.  It's a women's group (sorry, fellas!) and will last about 9 weeks.  In fact, let me give you a simple rundown below.

What: Faith: In Your Own Handwriting Connection Group
Where: My house!
When: Monday nights from 7:00 - 8:00 pm, starting on January 11, 2016.
Who: YOU!  You are invited!  Neighbors, friends, Scout moms, friends of friends, just ladies that can get to my house.
Why: If you are even the tiniest bit interested in growing in and having a deeper understanding of your relationship with God, then this is for you.

Ok, Nicole, I'm intrigued.  What do I have to do?  
Just show up!  You can message me and let me know or just show up.  You are welcome here!

But, I don't attend Spout Springs Church.  
You don't have to!!  You are welcome whether you've been to church or never been to church...whether that be SSC or any other church.

Please come.  If you are even remotely interested, please come over and embark on this journey.  Honestly, I haven't read the book yet (ok, so I've read a few pages), because I want to read along with the rest of the group, but I listen to Steve nearly every week and he always takes me a bit deeper in my relationship with God.  

Ok, if you have questions, please let me know!  You can comment here or for the sake of privacy, you can email me at  Or comment on my facebook post and say, "Nicole, I'm in!!" 

Can't wait to see you!

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why I'm Decorating for Christmas Before Thanksgiving

"Mom, Halloween is just a few weeks away, we better start decorating."
"Mom, Halloween is getting closer!  We need to decorate the house."
MOM!  Halloween is in less than a week!  We still haven't decorated."
"Mom.  Why didn't we decorate for Halloween?"

Here's the thing.  My sons LOVE Halloween.  They start planning for Halloween on November 1st.  It's one of their most favorite days of the year.  Why?  They LOVE to dress up and pretend.  I mean LOVE.  We have a very large toy box in our house that is strictly dedicated to dress up clothes.  At any point in the day, I could be surrounded by Darth Vader, a pirate, and a Kung Fu master.  Maybe instead it will be a nurse, a ninja, or a spy.  Perhaps even a king, a soldier, or a president.

When the Halloween came, and went, with very little decoration and little fanfare, I felt bad.  I was too busy.  I'm a very active volunteer in our community, in addition to homeschooling the boys, and keeping up the house.  I decided that I didn't have the time or energy to decorate for Halloween.  No pumpkins all over the house, no lovely leaves adorning every flat surface, no bats flying around the dining room (one of their favorite decorations).  

I was too busy.  

As a result, I'm thinking that I need to decorate for an upcoming holiday a little sooner than I typically do.  Generally speaking, our Christmas tree goes up sometime in the beginning of December.  However, I start to get busy and I'm not sure I ever get all of my decorations out for that holiday, either.  Plus, we spend time around Christmas visiting family so I start thinking "Uhhh, why bother?  We aren't going to be here to see the decorations?"  

In a move that I think my incredibly precious, nearly 9 year old cutie pie is going to love, I think we will be decorating our Christmas tree this weekend.  By waiting until the weekend, I can be sure to get everything cleaned up, put away, and move some furniture around to make room for decorations.  I'm starting to get pretty excited.  There are always so many cute Christmas crafts I'd love to make and display, but December comes in like a lion and goes out like a whole pride of lions.  

When you're a kid, Christmas is the most magical time of year (hopefully).  The excitement, the anticipation, the fun of everything.  The joy of seeing Christmas decorations, the smells of Christmas cookies, the fun of wrapping gifts for others...if putting our tree up earlier than we ever have in the past makes that magical time of year last a bit longer for my sons, then I'll gladly haul the tree in from the shed.  

Thanksgiving.  I know.  What about Thanksgiving?  We'll be counting our blessings every day.  I'm starting a really neat gratitude study.  We'll still be having a super delicious meal...all with the tree twinkling in the background.  

Can't wait!

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Do You Believe? by (Schoolhouse Review Crew)

It's been awhile since I've reviewed a product for the Schoolhouse Review Crew and this will be my last review for the Crew.  It seems fitting that this review of the movie Do You Believe? sent to me from would round out my time on the Crew. Review no 2

I received a DVD of the movie Do You Believe? for this review.  I watched it with the boys, though the younger ones wandered in and out of the room quite a bit while it was on. I was ready for it to be a tearjerker as I'm a big crier when it comes to movies.  Spoiler alert, this one did not disappoint in that aspect. 

This movie is a story of a dozen people on various walks of life, each with their own belief in God.   Each character is briefly introduced right away, their struggles made apparent, their faith, or lack thereof, immediately evident.  Some people are steadfast believers, others beaten down by life and weary by the struggle.  Believing doesn't come easy for people are broken and tired.  Of course, believing doesn't come easy at all sometimes. Review no 2

A homeless mother and daughter, a couple grieving the loss of their only daughter, a veteran, a firefighter torn between his faith and his job, a doctor who doesn't feel appreciated for saving lives, a pastor and his wife, a criminal -- those are just some of the people featured in the movie.  Lives that are difficult, messy, empty, desperate, and in need.  

Throughout the movie you see how paths cross, how the unbelieving find a believer to guide them, how those who are hurting find a way to turn to God in their pain and grief.  Honestly, this movie preaches about how amazing the love of God is and how Jesus is always there for you when you believe.  Despite the chaotic ending, everything is wrapped up all tidy and neat, which is a stark contrast to real life.  But that's ok.  Because who wants to watch a movie where things are left unfinished and undone? 

Truth be told, my head and my heart have been in a rather conflicted state over the past several weeks.  Well, honestly, for quite some time.  I struggle quite a bit with understanding my purpose and my offering to this life. What will others say about me when my time on this earth has come to an end?  What will I have to show to God for the time he gave me on this planet?  

I'm a believer.  I've been a believer for nearly all of my life.  It's easy for me to believe.  The Bible verse (James 2: 17) at the beginning of Do You Believe? was this "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."  What actions am I taking to show I believe?  What am I doing for others?  

Maybe this movie isn't a Hollywood blockbuster and it didn't go on to win big time awards, but maybe it's reminded people of what they need to hear.  Sometimes, even believers need to be asked if they believe and to be reminded of why the answer is yes.  

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Horizons Kindergarten Health Set by Alpha Omega Publications (Schoolhouse Review Crew)

Alpha Omega Review

Kindergarten is an exciting time here and we are about to get started on round #3 in our homeschool.  Looking for new ways to add some fun to our Kindergarten routine, I was excited to have the opportunity to review Horizons Kindergarten Health Set from Alpha Omega Publications.

My youngest son has 2 big brothers that he's always trying to mimic.  He asks repeatedly for more "school stuff" and to have work that looks like his brothers'.  When the workbook set arrived, he was very excited to have his own set of brand new books.  We received really nice, high quality workbooks; a student edition and a teacher edition.

Alpha Omega Review
We've used some Alpha Omega products before so I was already expecting great quality and naturally, I wasn't disappointed.  The teacher's edition is scripted with dialogue that is useful for teaching and explaining each lesson.  The student edition has perforated pages with dark, bold lines and text that make it easy for the student to follow along.
Jaxon was thrilled to get started on the workbook.  We chose a time where he and I could work quietly together so he could have my undivided attention.  He opened his textbook to the page on which we were currently working as I had my teacher book open to the corresponding lesson.  We would get started by reviewing what we had previously discussed and done and then get started on the new lesson.   

The worksheets included coloring in pictures, tracing letters, and Jaxon's ultimate favorite school activity -- cutting.  We discussed topics like the five senses, dental care, germs, medications, food sources, choosing good foods, safety, manners, and feelings.  One of his favorite activities was constructing a train of healthy foods on the train cars.  Cutting, gluing, AND trains?  It was a total win for my littlest fella.

I enjoyed using this set because often times health units aren't a big priority in our homeschool.  Sure, it's very important to be healthy and discuss all of the topics included in this set, but often times, those subjects get less attention than others, like math and reading.  It was really great to be purposeful in taking the time to go over a health unit.  It helped Jax and I have time to discuss topics together, it gave me the opportunity to teach the importance of taking care of oneself to my youngest, and most importantly, it gave Jaxon a good understanding of why his health is essential...and what he can do to take care of himself, even as young as five years old. 

If you are looking for a good health unit to round out your homeschool lesson plans this year, I would definitely recommend the Kindergarten Health Set from Alpha Omega.  In fact, in perusing the included scope and sequence of Health for other grades, it looks like something we will be purchasing for our older children as well.

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