Secrets of Stress-Free Vacations with Kids

Family vacations can be either delightful or disastrous—it depends greatly on your attitude and the care you devote to research and planning.

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Adjust your attitude. Here is the first rule of family vacations: Parents on vacation really aren’t. If you can unload personal expectations that you will be relaxed and refreshed when it’s over, you won’t be disappointed when you’re not. And if you do get a little R&R along the way, consider it an unexpected bonus.

Be realistic about cost. Decide ahead of time how much cash you have for this vacation. If you have say a family of five and $500 to spend, don’t even think about a couple of days at Disney World. Always consider the money you have first and then design a vacation that will realistically fit within that financial boundary.

Be realistic about time. Don’t try to stretch your available cash to cover the maximum time you have to be away from home. Divide what you can spend by a reasonable daily budget to determine how many days you can be gone. Carefully consider all the costs, not only the admission fees and overnight accommodations. Instead of full weeks, consider day trips or a weekend vacation. When it comes to family vacations, quality is considerably more important than quantity. 

Fitness on a Budget

Recently I got a frantic letter from Barbara, who lives in Florida. It seems that her teenage son has taken up bodybuilding and her husband is adhering rigidly to the Atkins Diet, both of which are protein heavy. Barb got through the first week with a major case of mixed emotions: Her husband lost 7 pounds, her son gained 4—and her food bill doubled!

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Can Barb keep her food costs down while still supporting her family’s eating choices? I know she can. Special diets don’t have to be budget-busters. In the same way her son and husband are adjusting their way of eating, Barb must adjust the way she shops.

Don’t pay full-price for protein. Tuna, chicken breasts and lean beef cuts are always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means dirt-cheap in an effort to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks. Grab up the items that are marked down for quick sale and then freeze.

Buy carbs in bulk. Find a warehouse club, ethnic market, health food store or food coop that offers rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts and legumes in by the pound. Store dry items in the freezer to retain freshness.

Shop with a list. Buying on impulse can blow a budget and a diet. So can arriving at the store hungry. Eat before you get there, stick to your list so you leave nothing to chance.

Venturing Out Into the World of Greens

I must admit to being a wimp when it comes to shopping for salad produce. I glance momentarily at the cast of greens available and then settle back into my iceberg lettuce rut. Other greens look quite tempting, but I’m never quite sure what’s what, so I stick with my old standby. But that’s going to change. I’m determined to branch out.

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There are hundreds of lettuces and salad greens beside the standard lettuces like iceberg, romaine and spinach. Many of these greens are sold in grocery stores, farmer’s markets and gourmet stores. Most are also easily cultivated, so if you have the space, you might try growing your own specialty mixes of different plants and varieties.

Butterhead Lettuces. The most common in this group are Bibb and Boston. The leaves form a head but are very loosely packed around a small center core. Butterhead lettuces have soft delicate leaves that are nearly melt in your mouth and work very well with vinaigrettes and light dressings.

Leaf Lettuces. These lettuces often have crinkled leaves that do not form a head. Some common types are green leaf, red leaf and Lollo Rosa. Because leaf lettuces are so beautifully colored, they add interest and unique texture to a green salad. Best served with light dressings and vinaigrettes.

Chicories. This group of greens that includes endive, escarole and radicchio have a strong, slightly bitter taste. I’m not sure these will show up in my shopping cart anytime soon, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. Chicories work best when mixed with other strongly flavored ingredients like bleu cheese, citrus fruits, nuts and heavy dressings. They also brighten the flavor when mixed butterhead and leaf lettuces that tone down the flavor.

Home Improvement Money-Saving Secrets

If you’ve been putting off updating or sprucing up your home because of the high cost of home improvements, today’s readers are sure to inspire you to do those projects yourself, for less!

HARDWOOD FLOORING. My husband and I wanted a hardwood floor but the estimate of more than $3,000 (which worked out to more than $7 per square foot) was out of our budget. We decided to try 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of veneer plywood at less than $45 a sheet, or about $1.40 per square foot.  We installed the plywood and sealed it with two gallons of polyurethane. The floor is beautiful and cost about $675 total. Jenn

Photo Credit: Curbly

Photo Credit: Curbly

SHOWER CURTAIN RESCUE. In a house full of boys who don’t know their own strength I frequently find the shower curtain torn away from the hooks. To fix this I use clear packaging tape to cover the hole, punch a new hole, replace the shower ring and its good as new.  Double the tape and it lasts twice as long. Maureena

VERTICAL BLIND RENEW. Do not throw away your old, faded, cloth verticals blinds. I didn’t want to pay for new ones, so I painted them with the same off-white paint I was using in another part of the house. Any color latex paint will work. Just allow a couple of days for them to dry. I discovered that with the extra weight of the paint, they hang more beautifully than ever. Dottie

Caught Between Aging Parents and Adult Children

Every day I drive by a beautiful new assisted living complex under construction close to where I live. As beautiful as this place is, it’s become a daily reminder to me for how difficult it can be to talk to aging parents about their health and future needs.

If you’re 40 or older, you’re part of the “Sandwich Generation,” and likely to fall into one of these categories:

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TRADITIONAL SANDWICH. Those being squeezed between the needs of aging parents, relatives or friends while also supporting and meeting the demands of their own children, spouses and careers.

CLUB SANDWICH. Those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s with young children, aging parents and grandparents.

OPEN FACE SANDWICH. Anyone else involved in elder care.

DOUBLE STUFF SANDWICH. Those whose adult, post-college kids return home to live with their parents for lack of unemployment, direction and or money. Also known as the “boomerangs.”

Unclog a Drain Yourself Without Chemicals

A plugged up sink, shower or tub drain sends most people running for either a bottle of caustic drain cleaner, or a plumber’s phone number. But wait. This could well be a job you can do yourself without chemicals or a big bill.

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Assess the situation. Turn on taps to allow water down other drains in the house. If everything else is flowing freely, you can be fairly certain you have a localized clog—and probably near that clogged drain’s opening. If this is involving other drains, you could have a bigger problem that may well require a professional. Assuming it’s only the one drain, let’s move on.

Boiling water. Get a large pot and boil up as much water as it will hold. Now carefully pour boiling water down the drain slowly, in two to three stages so that the hot water can work for a few minutes in between each pour. This is the easiest and quickest way to unclog a drain if it works, which usually it does with a satisfying swoosh.

Reach in. Remove the strainer that is part of the drain plug, then reach into the drain with your fingers (latex gloves would be a good idea here) and pull out any solids. As gross as this might be, it is often all that’s needed to clear a slow-moving or clogged drain.

The Joy of Laundry

Start with one of the principles of living beneath your means: Take care of what you have. Next, add one of the most effective ways to reduce stress: Find an activity that gives you a sense of personal satisfaction. And what do you have? Laundry! No seriously.

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I’m one of those people who loves to do laundry. From the challenge of getting a stain out to the smell of clean when the clothes come out of the washer, to pulling warm sheets and towels from the dryer—all of it appeals to my enjoyment of instant gratification. I love the entire process. Even like the folding part.

Help! I’m Too Tired to Cook

Yesterday I got a letter that took my mind back to the years when our boys were small and I was too busy, too tired and too stressed to cook.

Dear Mary: I know where the money is leaking out of our household: Fast food. We are expecting our fourth child and I am so bushed at the end of the day, we get take-out 2-3 times a week. What can I do? It gets to be dinnertime and out comes the phone book. It’s all I can do to just get through the day. Carly

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Dear Carly: The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead. So I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys only 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your husband to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation.