Top 20 Board Books

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With the impending move into the RV later this month we had to downsize drastically. Everything from kitchen stuff to toys had to be downsized. I had to go through all of our books and decided which ones we were keeping and what we were donating. As homeschoolers books are super important in our house. We go to the library on an almost weekly basis. We read for several hours most days. It was pretty easy to downsizes the older kid books and chose what to keep.

However, it was much harder to downsizes the board book collection. I am not a big fan of checking out board books from the library; mostly because of a germ factor. Knowing that babies and toddlers like to slobber and chew on the books I just prefer to have our own books that I know only my kids mouths have been on! Given that I read these books to our baby on a daily basis I wanted to have good reading worthy books; not silly dull “this is green” “this is red” type books. Sure, having a few books like that are nice to teach colors, etc but I would much rather a good story! So, without further ado here is the 20 books that made the cut.

  1. So Many Bunnies Board Book: A Bedtime ABC and Counting Book by Rick Walton
  2. Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton
  3. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
  4. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin Jr
  5. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr
  6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  7. From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
  8. The Mitten by Jan Brett
  9. Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
  10. Over There by Dorinda Silver Williams  (we have the daddy version)
  11. My Very First Bible Stories Our Father by Lois Rock
  12. How Much Is That Doggie in the Window by Iza Trapani
  13. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
  14. Usborne’s That’s not My Snowman (Touchy-feely book)
  15. Little Big Flaps Dinosaurs by Charles Reasoner
  16. The Saving Name of God the Son by Jean Ann Sharpe
  17. Santa’s Prayer by Mary Lou Andes
  18. The Saints Are Watching Over Me by Tiny Saints (This is actually a Christmas present!)
  19. Baby Einstein’s First Words by Disney book group
  20. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury

When picking out books I wanted to meet several different criteria. For example I wanted several interactive type books. So, we kept one touch-in-feel book and one lift the flaps book. I kept Over There by Dorinda Silver Williams because it was an invaluable book when my husband was deployed. We read it multiple times a day. It isn’t in print anymore and I didn’t want to worry about having to replace it if my husband deploys again while William is a little guy.  I kept Baby Einstein’s First Words not because it’s a great literature but it’s been invaluable in helping Antonio work on his speech.



Ancient Rome Book List

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Our first history unit this year is Ancient Rome. My sons really enjoyed Ancient Egypt; so they wanted to learn about other ancient civilizations. As usually our books are borrowed from the library. Here is our book list.

- You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Roman Gladiator by John Malam
-Gladiators and the Story of the Colosseum by Dr. Nicholas Saunders
-Sightseers Essential Travel Guides to the Past Ancient Rome by Jonathan Stroud
You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Roman Soldier by David Stewart
- Fierce Fighters Gladiators and Roman Soldiers by Charlotte Guillain (This is an early reader)
100 Things You Should Know About Ancient Rome by Fiona Macdonald
Metropolis Roman Town by Hazel Martell and Mark Bergin
How Would You Survive as an Ancient Roman by Anita Ganeri
Terrible Tales of Ancient Rome by Clare Hibbert

Leaving Baby Season

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For eight years we’ve been in baby season. For eight years I’ve either been pregnant or had a baby in my arms. Like clock work every time the baby in my arms became a toddler we would decide to try for another. God blessed us with being able to easily conceive. However, I didn’t do well pregnant. Pregnancy wasn’t kind to my body. I wasn’t one of those women; who loved being pregnant. Frankly; I hated pregnancy but I loved the end result. The end result was worth all the pain and misery pregnancy brought. I loved the ending so much we had 4.

The fourth coming after a spinal fusion and he is our last. My poor back can’t do another pregnancy. Another pregnancy has a high potential to put me in a wheelchair and put my pain to a point were pain management can no longer help me. The thought that he is our last makes me sad but it isn’t the devastating sadness I felt when the surgeon told me I couldn’t have William. It’s more of a fond sadness. A wistful sadness that I won’t ever hold my brand new baby and fall head over heels in love with another being. A love so strong that it’s all consuming. That I won’t ever get to see my husband hold his new child for the first time radiating love. That I won’t ever see my sons light up with joy when they meet their new sibling.

In 9 days I will be having a hysterectomy out of medical necessity. The surgery is final. It says with a decisiveness that we are leaving baby season. That our time here in this season of new life is up. That we must move on. Move on we will.  It opens up new adventures for us to take. So, while there might be some sadness that this season is coming to a close there is also a sense of excitement for our new adventure.

As we prepare to move on I am left with a handful of wishful thinking items that I am unsure of what to do with. Things I held onto with the intention that one day I would give them to my daughter or daughters. However, there will be no daughter. Despite my prayers (and Paul’s prayers) God did not bless Mark and I with a daughter. I wouldn’t trade any of my boys for a daughter but I do wish there had been a fifth baby that was a girl. Yet, for reasons I do not understand God wanted me to be a mom to only boys. I think the lack of a mother-daughter relationship is what makes having a hysterectomy most difficult for me. Knowing that now there really is no chance that we will ever have a daughter. There are things and experiences within a mother-daughter relationship that just doesn’t exist in a mother-son relationship.

There is a part of me that mourns the loss of that potential daughter so strongly that I want to throw caution to the wind. I want to cancel the hysterectomy and roll the dice and get pregnant again. I want to roll the dice and say who cares if I end up in a wheelchair. So, what if my pain gets to a point that pain management can’t help me anymore. The pain; the loss of being able to walk would all be worth it if it meant that I could have a daughter. If it meant I could give Paul the baby sister he so desperately wants and still asks for on occasion. But, I can’t do that. It’d be the height of folly and would make me a terrible mother and wife. I can’t be that selfish. Mark deserves a wife that isn’t in a wheelchair in agonizing pain. My boys deserve a mother; who can be a mom. That potential daughter deserves a mother; who can be a mom. To try and have a daughter means I give up the ability to be a good mom and wife and I can’t be that selfish.

So, instead I prepare for a hysterectomy. I prepare by snuggling with William and breathing in his sweet baby scent; knowing that I won’t be able to call him baby much longer. He is one and before I know it he will be a totally independent toddler. I prepare by getting rid of the baby items as he out grows them. Donating them; so that they may bless other families. Lastly, I prepare by carefully boxing up the dreams that were for Alexis. It’s time to say goodbye not only to baby season but also to Alexis; for she will never be.

Ancient Egypt Booklist and Activities

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We finished off our first grade year with a unit on Ancient Egypt. We spent about 3 months really diving into Ancient Egypt. Paul was absolutely fascinated by the subject. So, I thought I would share our favorite resources. Most of them we checked out from the library.

Non-Fiction Books

You Wouldn’t Want to Be an Eqyptain Mummy! : Distuging Things You’d Rather Not KNow by David Stewart

You Wouldn’t Want to Be Tutankhamen!: A Mummy Who Really Got Meddled With by David Stewart

You Wouldn’t Want to Be Cursed by King Tut!: A Mysterious Death You’d Rather Avoid by Jacqueline Morley

You Wouldn’t Want to Be Cleopatra!: An Eqyptian Ruler You’d Rather Not Be by Jim Pipe

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pyramid Builder!: A Hazardous Job You’d Rather Not Have by Jacqueline Morley

How Would You Survive as an Ancient Egyptian by Jacqueline Morley

DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient Egypt by George Hart (the only book we bought)

Fiction Picture Books

Miu and the Pharaoh by Sally Wallace-Jones

The Little Hippo: A Children’s Book Inspired by Egyptian Art by Geraldine Elschner

Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile by Tomie dePaola (Antonio’s favorite. He liked it so much I bought him his own copy)

Bill and Pete to the Rescue by Tomie dePaola (I also bought Antonio a copy of this one)

The Scarab’s Secret by Nick Would

Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs by James Rumford.


Egyptian Treasures Mummies and Myths by Jim Weiss

Building Pharaoh’s Chariot (Documentary we found on Netflix)

Virtual Field Trip of Pyramids

Activities: Sadly, while we did a number of hands of activities I did a very poor job taking photos of them.

Step Pryamids built out of legos

Cat Mummy Statues

Egyptian Collars




We Have A Walker

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William is a full fledged walker now and has been for about two weeks. Walking has always been my favorite milestone. I don’t dread the extra mobility and mess that comes from having a walker. Watching the little one teeter and totter as they explore their world at a completely different view brings me incredible joy. It’s also nice not to have to carry them baby everywhere! However, there is something very bitter sweet this time around as I watch William enjoy his new found freedom being a walker has brought him. I am reminded that he is now approaching one and soon I won’t be able to call him a baby. He will be a toddler. I am acutely aware that this is the last time I will watch my baby learn to walk. Never again will I watch and cheer on my baby to take those first few steps. Never again will I encourage my baby to have the confidence to trust himself and let go of the furniture to walk unassisted. William is our last.

I have known that William was our last; since I was put on bed rest 2 weeks before he was born because of debilitating pain. I knew when the midwives and OBGYNs couldn’t come to an agreement on inducing me. There were those that were in favor and than there were those that didn’t want to deal with the extra complications my back added to the picture. My surgeon said it was probably unwise to have another baby. My pain management doctor said it would be disastrous for my health. My body tells me daily that it couldn’t handle another pregnancy. Knowing all this has made me want to savor every moment of his babyhood. I am acutely aware of what a miracle he is and how blessed we are to have him.

I have carefully saved our baby stuff since Paul was born. As each boy outgrew things I would carefully pack them away for later. When the next baby needed them I would retrieve them from storage. This has been the cycle for the last seven years. However, this time there is no need to pack things away for the next baby. So, as William has outgrown stuff I’ve sold or donated most of it; keeping just a select few clothes to turn into a quilt. It has been incredibly hard to give away the baby stuff; not because I am a huge sentimental person and want to keep every little item but because it makes the knowledge that William is our last a reality. It confirms that my body has betrayed me and can not carry another child.

You hear of those women; who say they feel done. That they can’t imagine having another child. I find myself envious of that because I don’t have that. It’d make things easier if I did. I can’t imagine not ever having another baby. I hate pregnancy….I loath pregnancy but I love babies. I love being a mom. It’s something I dreamed about for as long as I can remember. I tried to adopt a baby at 10 years old. Not as in I wanted my parents to adopt the baby. It was a full fledged case of I wanted to adopted the baby myself and be her mom. I was certain I would make a better mom than her biological mom.

I can’t say that if we were able to still have children we would. I just want that option. I want the option to have another child be there. But, it isn’t an option; so instead I find myself making sure that I am enjoying every ounce of babyhood that William has. I am basking in it. As I watch him toddle across the living room I am reminded of all the reasons why this is my favorite milestone. I celebrate it. Soaking up the joy but in the private recesses of my heart I might just cry a little.

1-8th Grade History for under $200 ($25 per year!)

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I had grand plans of teaching history using a  laid out curriculum; that utilized a classical approach. I had researched a ton of curriculum options and settled on one that came with a high cost of several hundred dollars a year. It was suppose to be perfect. I ordered the first unit and quickly realized when I tried to implement it that it wasn’t going to work for us. It was to much and frankly boring. It didn’t keep Paul’s interest. He wasn’t interested in learning about things chronologically. He didn’t want the boring stuff. He wanted to pick a subject that interested him and dive in.  So, we promptly threw in the towel on our fancy expensive curriculum and decided to go with child led unit studies.

In teaching this way our biggest asset is our local library. I let Paul pick a topic and than we go on to the library catalog and start reserving books. Once, they have all arrived (our library is very small; so we rely pretty heavily on inter-library loans.) we go and pick them up. I use pinterest to assembly a list of hands on activities Paul can pick from. We normally do around 5 activities per topic. I try to find at least one field trip in our area that ties in. We will also do virtual field trips via the internet. I can normally find a couple good documentaries or movies on netflix as well.

However, I do have a couple materials that in my opinion are worth investing in. They are materials that can be used over and over; regardless what historical topic you are studying. They can all be purchased for under $200 and will serve you all the way through eight grade. When used in conjunction with the library and internet they help you provide your child with a quality eduction in history. (They could even be used through high school either with a curriculum or continue to be used with unit studies). They are the following:

I bought two poster frames from Walmart ($15 each) to put the maps in to make them easier to use and keep them looking nice.

The other thing is a timeline. I think a timeline is so important for children because it helps them see how history builds on itself. It helps them see the relation between people and events. As we study each topic we add relative events and people to our timeline using figures from the timeline figure collection I listed above. Now, there are timelines you can buy to hang on your wall (like this) but I was to cheap for that. So, what I did was get some painters tape and make my own. I added dates to the tape and that is our timeline. Here is a photo; so you can see what I mean. It’s worked out really well for us and cost me under $5.  So, what is your favorite product for teaching history?


Learning through TV shows and Movies

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We are big fans of fun educational videos in our house. Videos aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but if you have a very visual learner like a couple of my boys are than maybe the following list will help you. Here are some of our very favorites. Some of them we’ve bought and others we enjoy via Netflix or checking out from the library.

LeapFrog Learning Videos: These videos have long been favorites with our crew when they are toddlers and preschoolers. These videos are a great way to help with ABC’s, numbers, shapes, phonics and other basic early learning skills. We watch them on Netflix but if you wanted to buy them they can be found at Amazon.

Magic School Bus: I bought the complete series off of Amazon and we love pairing them with the books. My boys (and even I) have learned a ton about a wide variety of science topics from watching them.

Wild Kratts: Available on Netflix you can also purchase collections of episodes very inexpensively on Amazon. (Makes a great gift!). We bought the Wild Kratts: Wildest Animal Adventures from Amazon. Paul has learned so much about animals from this show that the last time we were at the zoo he gave the zookeeper sitting next to the cheetah exhibit a lecture on cheetahs. The zookeeper was blown away by all the information Paul knew.

Bill Nye the Science Guy: I personally kind of hate him. He brings back unpleasant memories of being forced to watch him when I was in school as a kid. (I would have rather been reading) but we check out his videos from the library and the kids enjoy them.

Liberty Kids: I can’t recommend this series enough for early elementary age kids studying the American Revolution. It’s an incredibly accurate cartoon series. We bought ours off of Amazon for $5. I have heard that you can find them on youtube as well.

Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego: This is a fun way to learn about different geographical places.  The complete series can be order here on Amazon.

Animated Hero Classic Series: We check this out from the library. A series of 20 biographical that are typically 30-40 minutes long. They have videos about people like George Washington, Harriet Tubman, The Wright Brothers, etc. The movies can be ordered on Amazon. However, if you want to order them the best value I have found is directly from the company Nest Learning that produces the movies. We have not watched any of the bible movies.

I recently came across this blog post that has a great list of movies and documentaries on Netflix that can be used with Story of the World. Even if you don’t use Story of the World (we don’t) it is a great list!

PBS shows like Sid the Science Kid, Word Girl and Super Why are great educational shows for kids. They aren’t my personal favorites but kids can still learn a lot from them. They are readily available on netflix or on PBS.

I also came across the website Teach With Movies. I haven’t used it yet because it is mostly geared movies for kids older than mine but it has some good content on it and I’ve bookmarked it for the future.

What are you favorite educational movies or tv shows for kids?

Family Fun on the Cheap

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I love going out as a family to experience new things. I love taking our kids to museums and other activities. However, with 4 kids it can get expensive. We quickly figured out that even with just 2 kids it could get expensive. So, my goal is for my children to be able to get great experiences but do it in such a way that we don’t break the bank! Here are some of our favorite ways to have family fun.

Explore Local/State/National Parks: Many parks are free or very cheap to get into for the day. If you will be going to a lot of national parks getting an annual pass is well worth the cost. It’s $80 for a family pass. However, there have several different kinds and specials. If you are a military family you can get a free one. With 58 national parks there is something for everyone. Go here to search and see what parks are near you or near your vacation spot. State parks are also a great place to visit. It’s easy to find these with a quick google. Same for local parks.

Museum Passes: For our family it is almost always a better value to buy a yearly family pass to local museums, aquariums and zoos. Most of the times they pay for themselves in 2-3 visits. Also, many of them have great reciprocal programs that can be used if you travel often to visit out of state family. The three best values that I have found (that get you access to the most museums/zoos/sciences centers are the following two. Boonshaft Museum of Discovery and CuriOdyssey. I always suggest that if you are buying a membership (especially if it isn’t local) and planning to use the reciprocal program on a regular basis that you call the places you are interested in using it at and make sure they are still part of the program.

Groupon: This is a great place to get discounts for local places. You can also find off the wall places that you might not normally have found. Two years ago when we visited Oklahoma for our Godson’s baptism I was able to get a groupon to The Museum of Osteology in OKC. This is a totally unique off the wall museum and my kids loved it. They wish it was close to us so we could go back on a regular basis. I always encourage people to check out lesser known museums. There are some real gems out there. This summer on our way home from a family reunion we are planning to make a slight detour and take our kids to see The Unofficial Lego Museum.

Blue Star Museums: This is specific to military families. From Memorial Day to Labor Day many museums across the USA take part of the blue star program and give free admission to military members and their families. You can find a list here. The list for the upcoming summer will be available in May.

Tents for Troops: Another program specific to military families. This program is a collaboration of camping sites across the USA that allow military members and their families to camp for free. Info on this program can be found here.

Free Bowling for Kids: This is a great program that families can take advantage of during the summer. Info can be found here.

Free Skating for Kids: Another great program for families to take advantage of. This one is all year. Info can be found here.

Community Programs: A great place to find things to do is to check your local town or nearby towns websites. Often you can find things like concerts in the parks, theater performances, farmer markets, parades, festivals and other free/low cost activities. Not only do you get to spend some good quality time with your family but you also help teach your kids the importance of community.

Local Library: A great place to find things like story time and other fun activities. Our current local library shows new kids movies on a big projection screen every couple of months. It’s free to go. My kids get the experience of going to the movie theater without the price tag.

$1 Movies and Movie Nights at Home: Some communities have dollar theaters which is a great way to take your kids to movies without it costing an arm and a leg. Regal Cinemas offers a program called Summer Movie Express where they play family friendly movies for $1 a piece. Info can be found here. We like to do movie nights at home on a regular basis. We will either borrow a new movie from the library (libraries are a great free way to enjoy new movies) or rent one from Redbox. We’ll have popcorn and sometimes I’ll buy a couple $1 boxes of candy for the kids. Everyone will get into their pjs and we’ll all hang out in the living room and watch the movie together. Here are some other ideas from interest to make movie nights at home more special: Drive in Movie at home, backyard movie night, Dinner Themes to go with Disney Movies and Concession boxes.

So, what is your favorite way to have family fun on the cheap?

Old Friends Together Again

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For the past 6 years on March 4th I have done one thing; no matter what was going on in my life  I’ve called my father. Regardless, of how strain things were between us we connected on the anniversary of Steven’s death. This year it’s bittersweet.  Not only does it mark ten years since Steve passed; it’s the first anniversary that my father isn’t here for. There was no phone call to make. There’s no one to reminisce with who understands who Steve was and what he meant to me. Steve was the one thing my dad and I had in common after I married. Our love for Steve was the only thing that could transcend our estrangement.

Despite, the fact that I felt my father’s loss immensely on the 4th there were two bright spots this year. The first being the fact that there is a lazy dog laying on my couch. We brought Pepper home with us after our visit in November. He was my childhood dog and a gift from Steve. I was 13 when I decided I wanted a dog. My dad didn’t want a dog in the house but said if I paid for the dog I could get one. I had $65 dollars to my name. Pepper was advertized in the paper for $125. So, I went to Steve and sweetly asked him to make up the difference. Steve knew my dad didn’t want a dog and he adored me. So, as my dad use to say Steve and I staged a coup. Steve took the day off of work and drove the three hours and bought Pepper. He told me to enjoy my gift and keep my money. My dad was so mad that Steve saddled him with a dog in the house. Steve just laughed and said, “Well, I couldn’t tell her no.”


The second bright spot is that hopefully Steve and my dad are sitting somewhere together. Once more kicking back; maybe with a beer (or whatever the equivalent is in the after life) telling tales. Losing Steve broke my dad. He wasn’t ever the same afterwards. Steve was my dad’s best friend but he was more than that. He was a brother. My father was closer to Steve than he was to his three biological brothers. Despite, the fact that logically my father knew he couldn’t have saved Steve the fact that he didn’t ate him alive. Steve told my father once that knowing him gave him 10 extra years. I watched in the  first couple of years right after Steve died the guilt eat my father alive. Nothing helped absolve him of his guilt. I watched Steve’s and Sherry’s tragic ends eat away at my parent’s relationship. My father blamed my mother for his inability to save Steve and that blame became a constant source of friction in their marriage. I watched my father turn to more drugs and more booze to deal with it. Steve’s death haunted my father till the end.

When I went home to see my father before he passed him and I spoke about Steve in great detail. We discussed things that we hadn’t ever spoke about before. I expressed to him that Steve would be waiting for him. My father told me his biggest fear about dying was that Steve wasn’t going to be there. He worried that Steve was still running from his demons. I told him maybe that was why he had to go. It was time he went to save Steve in the afterlife. Maybe, he wasn’t meant to save Steve here but rather save Steve from purgatory.

After, Steve killed himself my father went over to his house and cleaned up the mess that was left behind. He was left with the task of cleaning up what remained his his best friend’s skull. It is a task no one should have to undertake. It is a task that left my father with nightmares in the years to come. He wasn’t sure what to do with the truck bed of dirt, blood, skull pieces and brain matter; so he drove out to a friend’s acreage and buried it all out in the back forty. I asked if he would like some of his aches scattered there; so that part of him could be with Steve. He surprised me by saying, “Oh, that isn’t necessary. When I buried the remains I kept a small piece of Steve; so that he’d always be with me.” There wasn’t much left to say after that.

So, while I missed my father something awful on the 4th it gives me comfort to think that the two of them are joined once more. I hope they are sitting up their shooting the breeze and talking about the good old times; like when Steve called my dad to tell him to come over quick and bring his rifle. He had trapped the stupid squirrel that had been living in the attic in the laundry room.

Birthdays Galore Without Going Broke

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It’s birthday season in our house. We have three birthdays between January and April. Needless to say by the time we get to the end of April this momma is birthday out. However, birthdays are important in our house. For example with one son born so close to Christmas I always want to make sure his birthday doesn’t get lost in the celebrating of Christmas. With their birthdays so close it can be tempting to celebrate them at once but I want them each to have their own special day.

Growing up birthdays were a big deal in my family. My father use to wake me up at 5:24am every birthday to wish me happy birthday. He said he wanted to say it at the exact moment his greatest joy was born.(Funny part of it was that my birth certificate says I was born at 5:24pm. He swore it was a misprint.) Even, after I moved out he would still call me at exactly 5:24am my time. That meant for the 5 years we lived in a different time zone he was actually waking up at 4:24 his time to call me. His birthday call is probably one of the things I will miss the most now that he is gone.

For most parents birthdays are an extravagant expensive occasion. It is an occasion were hundreds of dollars is spent. I am part of several mom’s groups and I think for most a birthday party cost somewhere between $500-$1000 by the time they pay for the party and gifts. I just can’t wrap my mind around spending that much on a child’s birthday. You times that by four and Mark might very well have a heart attack. Time and time again I hear parents say kids have to have these fancy parties. It’s what ever one else is doing. They expect it. You build your child’s expectations.

Our children always enjoy their birthdays and  we are not spending $1000s of dollars on them. The birthday boy gets to pick where they would like eat for dinner that night. (It’s almost always chic-fil-a) We do cake, ice-cream and gifts together. They pick a family activity to do. In past years we’ve had movie night at home, visited museums and picnics at the park. As they get older we start having small low-key parties at our house. Nothing fancy. We invite a few friends over: play and share cake with them. The kids have a great time. The stress is low for me and it doesn’t break the bank.

So, here’s to making birthdays special and remembering that to make them special it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.