MyTechHigh Reimbursement Tracker

MyTechHigh Reimbursement Tracker

For the past 3 years I’ve been homeschooling my kids.  One of these days I’m going to blog the what, why and how of our homeschooling, but today I just want to share a resource that I put together to help other homeschoolers who use the same charter we do – MyTechHigh.  MyTechHigh has been the most amazing resource for our family.  They function as a provider through a charter school that helps facilitate home education.  The best part is they are very hands off – I’m required to provide course descriptions for my sons’ academic curriculum for the year, turn in weekly learning logs (2 sentences per subject of what they did that week), and either have my boys take the state tests or opt them out.  In exchange I can be reimbursed for their educational materials and classes between $600-1900 each year so long as I get my expenses approved and turn in my receipts on schedule.  What a deal!  They also provide additional academic resources, meet ups, events and field trips that we can take advantage of during the year.  It has been an amazing resource for our family.

The trickiest part in all of this is managing the receipts for reimbursement for my sons’ classes.  I’m given a certain budget for each class based on meeting certain criteria – $150 for custom built classes, $300 for 3rd party classes, math/english/science can be combined if they’re all custom built, but other expenses have to stay in their category, some expenses can only be reimbursed through the tech allowance, certain classes take money away from the allowance etc.  It gets to be kind of confusing to keep track of how much I’ve spent on each boy and each class.  So I came up with a Google Spreadsheet solution that makes the whole process nice and neat that I wanted to share with my fellow MyTechHigh parents in hopes that it will help make other people’s lives easier too 🙂

I’ll include below a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the spreadsheet, but if you want to go rogue and figure it out on your own you can open it up here.  Of course it’s probably also a good idea to open it up for yourself so you can follow along with my tutorial too 🙂  So to start off you’re going to want to make a copy of my spreadsheet for yourself – you can’t edit mine, that would kinda ruin it for everyone else 😉  To do this you go to File->Make a copy…

After you do that a box will pop up asking for a name for this document.  At first I was going to try to make this easy to use the same spreadsheet for multiple children, but it was complicated enough as it was.  You will need to make a separate copy for each MyTechHigh student you want to use this for – so name your spreadsheet accordingly!

Once you click OK your copy will pop up and you’re ready to begin filling it out.  I’ve tried to lock as many of the ranges that you shouldn’t be changing as possible so you don’t accidentally mess up something that you won’t be able to fix.  You will want to start by filling out the Student’s name and then checking whether they are a returning student and if they’re a kindergartner.  Don’t worry about the Reimbursement Sheet inputs for now, we’ll talk about those later.

You’ll notice as you enter in the fields that the numbers at the bottom will start to populate with your technology allowance.  This will also help generate some of the fields that will make sure you choose the right course types.  You’re now ready to start filling in your schedule.  For each period select which type of course your student has (Custom, 3rd Party, MTH Direct) and you can enter in your course description.  To the right of the course description I have a character counter too, just to help you when you’re writing your descriptions to make sure they’re the right length.  The course description isn’t necessary, but I like having it there so that as I’m looking at my expenses I can remember what I have in my course description to make sure that I’m submitting things that are going to fit within those parameters.  You can also just put vague notes as far as your curriculum there for your own reference.  It’s completely up to you, you can even leave it blank, it has just helped me in the past to remember what I’m actually planning to do.

When you select the course type you’ll notice that more numbers start to appear.  In the column labeled “MTH Funds” you will see your maximum allowance for that period based on the course type you selected.  The total tells you the maximum allowance based on the courses you have. Make sure you select whether you’re doing Science or History so that the information gets filled in properly as well.  Here’s what my son’s would look like with his schedule for this year –

The next part is the spending totals.  You don’t need to worry about changing anything there.  This section will update as you enter in your expenses and will tell you how much you have left to spend in each category.  The next section is where you will enter your actual expenses.  As you purchase items during the year enter a description of the item or items on your receipt, the total and then select the period description.  Don’t put an X mark next to the items until after you’ve submitted the receipt to MyTechHigh for reimbursement, you’ll see why in a minute.  Here’s what my son’s looked like for this year when I put in all of his expenses –

You might have noticed that even though I was over for his custom core and way over for his Tech class (we split that with his brother and submitted the same thing for both and asked for half the reimbursement for each boy) the total at the bottom of spending total is 0 – that’s because if you submit for too much they will only reimburse you for what you have allowance for.  Also, if you were over in some categories but had extra in others it would only calculate the extra in the others since you can’t borrow from different periods to make up for deficits in others.  You’ll also notice that I split his Let’s Play Music class tuition into two line items so that I could be reimbursed for $300 as his custom built elective and $180 from his technology allowance.  I would recommend as you input expenses on these sheets that you take pictures or save copies of your receipts in a single folder on your computer, phone or Google Drive so that you can easily find them when you’re ready to submit.

In and of itself I feel like this is a super handy way to keep track of what you’ve spent for each period and know what you have left to spend, but I decided to take it a step further.  This spreadsheet will also generate for you a cover sheet for submitting your expenses.  This makes it really easy for the folks at MyTechHigh to quickly review and approve your submission, as well as making it easy for you to know that you have all of the right receipts to submit!  If you go back to the top of the page and click on the box next to “Reimbursement Sheet to Generate” you’ll be given a dropdown box of all of the submission categories that you have.  Pick whichever one you would like to create a cover sheet for.  You can then enter any special notes that you might have about this period that they will need to know at MyTechHigh (for example, when I submitted my sons’ tech class this year I made a note on their cover sheet – “Please reimburse half of the total cost to each student.” – however usually I don’t put any additional notes.  Then you will want to open up the sheet called “Reimbursement Cover Sheet” by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

This will open a completed reimbursement cover sheet for you which will include the student’s name, which course the submission is for, a list of all of the items and their costs, and the total amount you are requesting to be reimbursed.  You don’t need to do anything with this sheet except save it as a PDF, or copy the data into Word – whatever you want to do in order to submit it.  If you make multiple submissions you can have items previously submitted removed by placing an “x” next to the items that have been reimbursed on the expenses list on the first sheet.  When I go to submit I will save my cover sheet as a PDF and then use Adobe Acrobat Pro to combine that cover sheet with the uploaded receipts that match it so that I have a single pdf file to submit for each period.  You can do essentially the same thing by selecting all the text in the cover sheet spreadsheet and copying it into a Word document (or Google Docs or whatever your word processing software of choice is) and inputting your receipts on subsequent pages before saving as a PDF.  Here’s a sample of what that cover sheet would look like –

And that’s it!  Hopefully this helps you to better keep track of your MyTechHigh expenses and budget in the coming years!  I started thinking I’d just make a few quick modifications to what I had previously so that it would be useful for other people.  Instead it ended up taking me about 2 full days to get all of the pieces working, but I’m really happy with the result.  If you notice anything that I’ve missed please comment below so that I can get it fixed!  I think there might be some other things that I would need to take into consideration for high schoolers, but I don’t know what those are because my oldest is in 3rd grade.  If you want to use this for a high schooler and want to walk me through the variations I’d be happy to work in those variables.  If it is really useful to you consider making a donation to my site, or making a purchase through one of my affiliate links to help me keep this site going.  Happy Homeschooling 🙂

Here’s a link to the spreadsheet again, just so you don’t have to hunt through the article to find it – MyTechHigh Reimbursement Tracker.

Side note: Everything above is my 1st grader’s actual schedule and reimbursements for this past year.  Feel free to use the descriptions and purchase list for inspiration for your own child’s schedule.  I’m planning on posting reviews of some of the things that we’ve loved in the future but I’ll put in a plug for the one thing that we’ve REALLY loved this year which is our Kiwi Crate – it’s been SO much fun for all of my kids and they’ve learned a ton from them.  I thought I was going to like the Kiwi Crate but it’s been so much better than I’d expected.  If you use my referral link you get $10 off of your subscription 🙂

Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup (and Other Adventures)

Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup (and Other Adventures)

Recently I’ve seen lots of friends requesting favorite Instant Pot recipes.  I’m going to guess that many of my friends (like me) got an Instant Pot for Christmas and are still learning how to use it.  I always want to respond to my friends but my response (surprise, surprise) is longer than I really want to type out in a Facebook comment.  So tonight when I pulled out my Instant Pot to make my favorite chicken tortilla soup I decided that I would share that recipe (because it’s yummy) as well as some of my other adventures in Instant Pot-ing in hopes that it might help someone else find good uses for theirs! (skip to the bottom if you just want the chicken tortilla soup recipe)

So I sorta knew that I was getting an Instant Pot for Christmas because… it was the only thing I asked Eric for, and I even sent him an Amazon link to it when it was on sale.  It wasn’t a demand… but I hadn’t given him a lot of other ideas so it seemed like a likely guess 😉  I have a hard time coming up with things to give Eric for Christmas though because most of the things he wants are technology – and he knows what he wants better than I do.  So I make him put together an Amazon wish list, but since I don’t work outside the home it feels a little arbitrary to buy (or not buy) things from his list, with money he earned.  Just my own weird hang up.  Anyways, because of that I try to find things that I can give him for Christmas that really are more from me – gifts of the heart if you will.  This year I decided that something I could do for Eric that he couldn’t do for himself was find a recipe for his favorite soup that he would eat all the time on his mission in Taiwan, and the ingredients for it… that could be made in the Instant Pot 😉  So, here’s the recipe I came up with – https://www.tablefortwoblog.com/instant-pot-taiwanese-beef-noodle-soup/ .  It’s kinda like pho … But yummier   I was really glad that I came up with this as a Christmas present for Eric because it forced me to pull out the Instant Pot immediately and not let it languish in its box until I got the nerve up to pull it out 😉

Eric also got me this cookbook as a supplement to go with my Instant Pot!  So far I’ve made the chili and cornbread.  The chili was really good – and done super fast which was amazing.  The cornbread was fine, but nothing to rave about, and it was tricky finding a pan that fit inside the instant pot to make it in.  I’d probably skip using the Instant Pot for that.  I’d recommend the book, but I won’t share those recipes here since that’s someone else’s copyright.

I also used it to make tri-tip, and the kids have requested it frequently since (I mean, it’s tri tip, who can blame them).  I just put the frozen tri tip in with salt and pepper and ran the meat cycle twice and served with bbq sauce – SO good! I made fajitas once using this recipe – it was easy and yummy but there was a LOT more liquid than I expected that I didn’t want to drain because it had all the flavor.  I’ll probably try it again but try draining the tomatoes first or something to see if I can get up to pressure without so much liquid.  Finally I used my Instant Pot to make pulled BBQ chicken vaguely following these instructions – although really I just put as much chicken as I could reasonably fit in the instant pot with a bottle of BBQ sauce and used their cooking times, but it worked out great.

As far as basic things, I’ve used my instant pot to make rice and felt like it wasn’t any faster than my rice cooker, and the rice didn’t turn out as good (but I was cooking more rice than I probably should have been).  I think if I was cooking brown rice it might have been faster, but for regular white rice, I’ll stick to my rice cooker.  However I’ve used it to make hard boiled eggs and it was AWESOME!  I used these instructions and it was super easy and fast, and most importantly the eggs peeled SO cleanly and easily.  I’m a fan for sure.

So, there’s my full report so far of things I’ve made in my Instant Pot!  I’m sure there are many fun adventures ahead.  The thing I’ve found I like the Instant Pot for most is making slow cooker meals at the end of the day.  I’m really good at planning slow cooker meals, but I’m not always as good at actually putting everything in the crock pot at the beginning of the day… and when I realize at 2pm that I meant to do that in the morning… it’s a little late.  I like having the option to resurrect my plans just before dinner time 😉 

That’s basically how this chicken tortilla soup recipe came to be.  This is my favorite crock pot soup, but with the times adjusted for an Instant Pot.   I love this recipe because not only is it so yummy but the prep is really simple – dump several ingredients into the pot and let it go.  The only real “prep” is chopping up an onion and rinsing the black beans.  

Pretend there’s a can of enchilada sauce in there too… I forgot about it until after the picture was taken and didn’t have an extra can just for the picture, hopefully you have a good imagination 😉

I was going to post that my kids really like it too, but let’s face it, it’s not pizza so it’s not their favorite 😛  But they will generally eat it and enjoy it – especially if they can eat the tortilla chips.  Sam though was disappointed last night that it wasn’t fajitas and told me, “well it’s not my favorite, so you can’t expect me to eat it un-pickily”.  Danny was not excited about the soup either until he started to actually eat it, then he said, “Oh!  This isn’t that spicy soup (chili)?  I like this soup!”  They all ate a decent amount of soup and were pretty happy with it.  I asked the kids to pretend that they liked the soup and smile for me to take a picture… this was as close as we got in a few attempts 😛

Regardless of my kids’ reactions, I really like this soup and I’ve served it several times to other people with positive reviews.  If you’re looking for a good excuse to bust your Instant Pot out of its box give this a try!

Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
Recipe type: Instant Pot
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1-3 frozen chicken breasts
  • 1 (15 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce (red or green, both are yummy 🙂 )
  • 1 can black beans - drained & rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Optional garnishes: sour cream, avocado, cilantro, tortilla chips, shredded cheese
Instructions
  1. Put all ingredients except lime juice and garnishes in the Instant Pot
  2. Put on the Instant Pot lid set to "Sealing". Push Pressure Cook and the plus button until it gets to 20 minutes (00:20). You can alternatively do this in a crock pot on low for 6-8 hour.
  3. When the timer goes off do a "quick release" (use a spoon to move the lid stopper from "Sealing" to "Venting".
  4. When the steam stops remove chicken breasts and shred the meat. Return to the Instant Pot.
  5. Add lime juice, stir and serve with your chosen garnishes
  6. Enjoy 🙂

(This recipe adapted from AllRecipes.com)

Travelling Media with Kids

Travelling Media with Kids

I’ve been asked several times how our family sets up tech in our van when we’re on long trips.  We’ve come up with a pretty awesome solution that keeps the kids very happy for the long trips, without fighting, and without spending a fortune.  

So what we’ve done is purchased Kindle Fire Tablets (http://amzn.to/2taMVqj) for each of our kids.  The Kindle Fires are relatively inexpensive (around $50 a piece) particularly when compared with say Apple iPads ($250 – on the low end).  It’s SO nice because each child has their own device and doesn’t have to cooperate with anyone else or watch what anyone else is watching.  Oh, and did I mention that the device they have is not *my* device, so I can still navigate/listen to my book/play Pokemon Go?  Everyone wins 🙂  We really like the kids cases that have the handles – they’re cheaper than the ones that Amazon manufactures, they’re more functional, and I think they protect the kindles better.  We haven’t had any problems with damage to our kindles inside these cases – except when our kids have poured sticky things in the ports (you can only do so much right?).  Here’s a link to one of the cases we’ve liked, but there are similar ones available through a lot of different sellers –  http://amzn.to/2v9Ugrm

The Fire tablets don’t hold a ton of media on them (although you can upgrade with micro SD cards very easily), but what we’ve done is purchase a portable hard drive that also acts as a wi-fi hotspot within the car – like this one by Seagate Media that will hold up to 2 Terabytes of movies – http://amzn.to/2taIOdQ!  We’ve put all of our movies on there and all the kids can access whatever movies/TV shows they want – and we don’t have to worry about whether they have *the* show they want already on their device.  It is also great if the boys want to play Minecraft together – they can use the wi-fi to play local games together (they don’t have internet access obviously, but we don’t let them play online anyways).

We’ve also gotten these headphones for our kids and been happy with them – http://amzn.to/2t0YgxH .  They’re comfortable and don’t have pieces on them that are easy to break.  Plus the kids look super adorable with animal headbands 😉  I’m not convinced that the volume goes up as high as they really need to overpower the road noises, but my younger two haven’t complained yet so for now we’ll keep doing what we’re doing 😉

So, that’s how we keep our kids occupied on long car rides.  We’ve set the rule in our household that the kids don’t get electronics for car rides that are under 30 minutes (you’d be surprised at just how many 29 minute car rides we’ve gone on 😉 ) and this whole set up was MUCH cheaper than installing a DVD player in our car – and we get a lot of use out of everything outside the car too!  I hope someone finds this useful!

Doing Hawaii Affordably

Doing Hawaii Affordably

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My husband and I just returned from a 5 day 4 night trip to Hawaii and let me tell you – it was awesome.  It was the first real vacation we’d taken since our honeymoon 8 1/2 years ago.  We’d done overnight local getaways maybe 3 times and gone to family reunions/weddings/holidays and back to my parents’ house but not really a vacation where we’ve picked a place to go and activities and all that.  I’m pretty cheap so I always seem to look and think “well, but that’s a lot of money and instead we could… pay off more of our mortgage, or put it towards finishing our basement, or put it away for savings.”  Now that we’ve finally done it I can definitely say – it was well worth the money!  We did our entire trip (airfare, lodging, rental car, dining, activities, souvenirs – everything) for under $2500!  I think we scored some pretty awesome deals, so I thought I ought to pass along how I did it so that hopefully someone else can take advantage of the deals too!  We also analyzed our trip and found some things we thought we could have done differently (without compromising the experience) to save even more.  I think we could have kept our budget right around $2000 if we’d really needed to and still had a wonderful time!  Anyways, let me break down for you our expenses and how we did it 🙂

Airfare – $773

We flew with Allegiant Airlines and the airfare started at $135/person each way.  We were already at my parents house in California so we flew LAX-HNL.  Allegiant is a bare bones kind of airline, but for the price we were ok with that.  For the fare you get to take your own self and a personal item on the plane – no carry-on bags, no checked baggage.  Obviously for a 5 day trip we’d be hard-pressed to stick to just our backpacks!  If you were really desperate I’m sure you could layer your outfits and find a laundromat or something, but I don’t think that’s really worth it – at least not to me!  Instead we shelled out another $35 each way to have one checked bag that we shared which worked out splendidly for us.  We didn’t fork out any extra money to ensure that our seats were together (we checked in together so our seats were assigned together for both flights) or upgrade for extra leg room or add on any other bells and whistles 🙂  Our goal was for the flight to get our bodies and our very limited baggage to Hawaii.  It ended up costing us $193/person each way once we averaged in the cost of our checked bag and all of the taxes and fees, which was still pretty awesome!  I should note though – the legroom is pretty atrocious in the non-upgraded seats.  I’m 5’2″ – so not exactly a giant.  The picture below is of the space from my legs to the seat in front of me from the flight out –

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No, I’m not kidding, and yes I really am only 5’2″.  You can adjust the way you’re sitting so that you’re angled differently to make it work with longer legs – but if you have reasonably long legs I’d probably recommend shelling out for the extra leg room.  The seats do not recline at all.  Just don’t expect this to be an extraordinarily comfortable part of your trip.  But, they did get me and my husband and our bags from LAX to HNL without us having to mortgage our home so I’m not complaining 🙂

To pass the time on board we brought our travel pillows and bluetooth headphones.  I love my headphones, Eric gave them to me for Christmas and they’re amazing!  They’re super lightweight and comfortable and the battery lasts for a long time.  Plus they have really good noise cancelling, they were the perfect thing for the trip!  We didn’t have a way to split the audio (I haven’t yet been able to find a bluetooth audio splitter) so Eric watched movies on his tablet and I listened to my book.  Before our trip I decided to get the book Honolulu by Alan Brennert to get me in the mood for going to Hawaii.  It turned out to be a fantastic choice!  The book is about a Korean picture bride (mail-order bride) who comes to Hawaii and her life there.  It gave me such an interesting perspective on the history of Oahu and how it became like it is today.  It was fascinating.  I wouldn’t recommend it for young readers as there are sexual references (nothing explicit, but things I wouldn’t be very comfortable with my teenager reading) , but I would definitely recommend it to any adult readers who want a great story while learning more about Hawaii.  I also downloaded Moloka’i by Alan Brennert but I didn’t get to reading it during our trip, but I’ve read that it’s supposed to be even better than Honolulu.  My dad recommended Hawaii by James Michner but I was looking specifically for an audiobook and Hawaii wasn’t available on Audible.  If you want a really cheap trip to Hawaii I’d recommend downloading one of these books and letting yourself escape winter for less than $10 😉

 

Lodging – $410

So we cheated a little bit on our hotel.  A few years back Eric was travelling a decent amount and racked up some Marriott Rewards points.  We cashed those in for half of our stay at the Marriott Courtyard in Waikiki and we paid for the other half.  The rooms were tiny.  There was enough room for a bed with some nightstands, a TV on top of the dresser/desk and a super tiny bathroom with a small shower and zero counter space.  Which was fine, it gave us what we needed.  There are hotel deals that would get you a room in Hawaii for a similar price to what we paid even without the rewards points.  If you wanted to try a different experience there were some interesting listings on AirBNB that were really cheap too 🙂

Transportation – $387

This is where I think a lot of our budget could have been significantly reduced.  We got a rental car with our flight tickets.  Combining what we paid online with what we paid when we picked up the car (all the fun taxes and fees) it cost us $241 for our 5 day rental – or a little over $48/day.  That part wasn’t too bad.  Neither was the $25 we paid in gas for the week.  What was killer was the parking fees!  It cost us $35/night to park at our hotel in Waikiki!  That would have cost us $140 in parking alone!!!  We ended up using the parking at our hotel for two nights and then finding another parking lot that was about a half mile away that let us park for $20/night that we used for the other two nights.  But even at $20/night that still would have been $80 extra just for parking!  Even the $110 that we ended up paying in parking was well beyond what we really wanted to be paying.  There’s two different ways that we could have really reduced our costs on this front –

  1. If you’re staying in Waikiki it’s easy to get free or very cheap shuttles to pretty much anywhere that you want to go (especially with the Go Oahu card that I’ll talk about later).   We definitely could have skipped getting a rental car and just used the shuttles to get everywhere.  That would have reduced this whole budget to less than $50, or even $0 depending on how much you were willing to walk and what shuttles you chose.  However, we did like having a car just to be able to have the freedom to go where we wanted to go and the cost was worth it to us.  What we would have probably done is…
  2. Book our hotel away from Waikiki.  When we were booking our room we thought it was important to be down in Waikiki so that we’d have access to all of the things – it seemed closer to all of the attractions and just generally where we thought we wanted to be.  Looking at the North Shore seemed like it would be SO far away.  What we didn’t take into account is that the island is *really* small.  Even in traffic to go as far as you’d want to go from end to end of the island would take maybe an hour and a half.  If you’re not going to Waikiki for the night life and shopping and super commercial side of things (which we definitely were not) I’d highly recommend staying somewhere else on the island.  We stayed that the Marriott Courtyard in Waikiki – if instead we’d stayed at the Courtyard in Laie our parking would have been $10/night or in other words it would have saved us $100!  It’s more peaceful on the North Shore too, and it was closer to our favorite attraction (more on that later).  This was by far the most important change that we would have made in our trip.12419380_10102361868533499_5838310320358589731_o

All things considered though, we were happy with how we did our transportation.  Especially since when we arrived at the rental car pick up they upgraded us from an economy car to a full size car for free!  So instead of having a little Kia Rio type car, we were driving around in a Dodge Charger. While I’m still happy with the Toyota Corolla we drive at home, it was definitely fun to have a powerful car with some bells and whistles for the week 🙂

Activities – $475

This is my biggest awesome find (other than the airfare).  From Costco I got a 4 Day Go Oahu card for my husband and myself.  You can book other lengths for the card directly from the Smart Destinations website (the provider of the Go Oahu card), or save a little money and get a 3 Day Go Oahu card from Groupon.  At the time the Costco deal was the cheapest, but as of this writing I think the Groupon deal is probably best.  Ok, so here’s the deal with the Go Oahu card – for the duration of your card you can get into all 34 of their attractions for free!  Plus, when you get a card that is at least 3 days in length you can go on one day to one of their premium attractions.

So here’s what that means in layman terms, at least as far as our trip.  So as we were planning our trip we knew there were two places we really wanted to visit – the Polynesian Cultural Center & Pearl Harbor.  Without our Go Oahu card it was going to cost us $177/person for those attractions.  Our Go Oahu card only cost us $167 through Costco.  Basically it saved us $10 and then allowed us to go to 32 other places for FREE!

If we had planned out our trip better we really would have taken advantage of that card much more and gone to do the Dole plantation tour, and the tour of Iolani palace, and used it to get free snorkeling gear, and gone out on a catamaran ride, and rented paddle boards or kayaks, and done the guided Diamondhead tour… but we didn’t, so we really just saved the $10.  But hey!  We saved $10!

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Our absolute favorite thing from the trip was, hands down, the Polynesian Cultural Center.  We were so glad that we used the Go Oahu card to get the Ali’i Luau package, which got us into a really great luau and the show in the evening.  When we were planning we’d looked at the package and saw that we could get in at 12:30pm and that we wouldn’t get done with the show until 9:30pm and thought that would be WAY too long to be there.  So we decided that we’d make our way over to the PCC slowly and ended up starting our day there around 2:30pm.  This was the biggest mistake of our trip!  We so wished that we’d had those extra couple hours to look around and have time to go to all of the different stations.  We didn’t want a lot more time than that, but those extra couple hours would have really let us see all that the PCC had to offer.  All of the people there were so friendly and helpful to show us around and give us suggestions of where to go.  The presentations were informative and entertaining.  The luau had delicious food and great entertainment.  The evening show was absolutely spectacular and touching and just phenomenal.  I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed it.  We did this on the first full day of our trip and it really got us into the island culture and feel right off the bat.  It was so wonderful and we’re so glad that we went.

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Pearl Harbor was wonderful too, but in a totally different way.  Whereas we wished we’d had more time at the PCC we sort of wish we’d split our time at Pearl Harbor up.  We got there around 11:30 and by the time we left at 5pm we were over the whole thing.  We started with the audio tour of the Arizona Memorial and the site itself.  This was awesome.  I felt like I learned so much and really got into what we were doing.  The audio tour really helped us to go through the site in a meaningful way and feel like we got a real flavor for the events of that day.  After that we went over to the USS Bowfin – a retired WWII submarine and took that audio tour.  Following that we went into the submarine museum with yet another audio tour… at this point we were getting a little bit audio toured out and we just skipped around the museum and looked at a few things that were most interesting to us.  Finally we went over to the aviation museum where we skipped the audio tour entirely and just walked around and looked at the airplanes.  We think that if we’d instead done a little bit of Pearl Harbor over a few different days we could have enjoyed all of the audio tours and really gotten a great educational experience, but at the end of the day we were mostly just dazed and ready to do anything else except listen to another audio tour!

Aside from our Go Oahu card we also bought a LivingSocial deal for Parasailing for $66 for a tandem parasail.  This was really fun, and gave us a different perspective of the island and was a fun experience overall!  We shelled out another $30 for the boat operators to take pictures for us, plus left them with a tip, so in all it ended up costing us $106.  It was fun, but I think if we’d found the Go Oahu card first we would have skipped this in favor of going to some of the other attractions on our Go Oahu card instead.  We definitely would have just brought our cell phones and asked someone on the boat to snap a few pictures instead of paying for the “professional” pictures since most of them ended up being out of focus anyways 🙁  But it was still a really cool experience and a pretty reasonable price.  We enjoyed our time out on the boat as well as in the air.

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We also hiked to the top of Diamondhead one of the mornings while we were there.  That was a fun experience and gave us some good exercise!  Definitely make sure that you are well hydrated beforehand!  When we arrived there were rescue crews bringing a man off the trail who had passed out on the hike.  The hike isn’t very technical and not terribly long, but it’s pretty steep in some places and it definitely left me pretty winded!  But it was totally worth the view from the top.

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Food – $250

I’m sure we could have eaten for cheaper, but we ate *really* well while we were in Hawaii so we were ok with the cost.  Feel free to skip the rest of this section if you don’t want the play-by-play of our meals in Hawaii, but if you’re looking for recommendations of great places to eat – read on 🙂

The first thing we did on our trip though was a rookie mistake – we forgot to pack ourselves a lunch for the plane at home.  When we got to the airport we got a couple of sandwiches, 2 lemonades and a bag of chips… for $36!!  When we got on the plane we found out that we could have gotten a reasonable snack pack for $5 each.  Lesson learned: Even if you forget to pack a lunch, it’s cheaper to eat on the plane than to pay airport “convenience” premiums!

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When we got to the island we repented of our mistakes.  To save a little bit we started our trip by going to the ABC Store (kind of a high end 7-11) and picked up some blueberry bread, cut pineapple and mango juice for our first breakfast.  It might not have ended up saving us that much over just going to a restaurant, but since we were able to take that breakfast to the beach and watch the sunrise the first morning – totally worth it.  We then went to Walmart and picked up some breakfast foods for the rest of our stay (sweet rolls, bananas) and some snacks (granola bars, chex mix, beef jerky, gum) and a flat of 30 water bottles with some crystal light.  Those were great purchases that really helped us keep some of our costs down on our trip.  Especially the water bottles – they cost us $5 and meant that we had water to take into all of our attractions, we used them in restaurants and just generally to keep ourselves hydrated – for $0.17 per bottle!  We had quite a few left in the end that we left in our rental car – hopefully they got redistributed and not just thrown away!

Aside from our provisions we ate at some really awesome places.  Our first night we went to a place called Aloha Table.  I got a really delicious fried fish dish and Eric had a steak.  We also got an appetizer of edamame that we could have skipped, but we were so hungry by the time we got there that we didn’t think we wanted to wait for our main dishes – they came out only a couple minutes after we got our appetizer 😛  It cost us nearly $60, but it was an awesome first meal on the island.  SO delicious!  The presentation was good too 🙂

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The next day we went out in search of the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s a food truck – it stays in the same place all the time.  It was $12/plate – cash only!  It was really good, although I personally enjoyed the rice more than the shrimp.  Eric and I both got the shrimp scampi.  The weird thing is that they cook the shrimp with the shell still on.  Removing the shell was a messy process, but the sad part was once you did… you’d removed the garlic and olive oil that they’d cooked the shrimp in too.  It was good shrimp, but it seemed kind of silly to go to the effort of making a scampi just to remove the flavored parts before eating it.

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That night we ate at the PCC Luau which was awesome as I’d already said.  All the more awesome because we wrapped that cost up in our Go Oahu card 😉  The next day after our Diamondhead hike we went to Pioneer Saloon at the recommendation of the Zomato app (this is where we got most of our food recommendations for the rest of the trip).  It was Eric’s very favorite meal of the whole trip!  When we went in the menu was massive and a little overwhelming!  We decided to go with the recommendations from the reviews on Zomato and we both got a ramen burger with everything (we were hungry after hiking Diamondhead!)  They cost us $9/each but they were well worth it!  The burgers were made with ramen noodles that had been cooked and then fried together to form a patty.  Then on top they had a fried egg, avocado, sprouts, sauteed onions and mushrooms, lettuce and tomato.  Oh, and the teriyaki patty too 🙂  It was SO delicious, and it really hit the spot after our hike.  There were certainly cheaper things on the menu but we were very happy with that experience.

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That night after our parasailing adventure we used Zomato again to find a Japanese noodle shop called Goma Tei Ramen.  I got the Chicken Tan Tan Noodles and Eric got the Curry Noodles and we got some gyoza (potstickers) to split.  We definitely did NOT need the potstickers to round out the meal – although they were very delicious.  The bowls that they brought were huge!  Eric definitely made the better choice in getting the curry noodles – his soup was really delicious.  Mine was a little lackluster.  I don’t think they flavored the chicken before putting it in the soup so it wasn’t great chicken.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great.  Eric mentioned afterwards that I probably should have added some soy sauce to it which hadn’t occurred to me at the time.  It was a fun culinary experience and it ran us another $40.

Before going to Pearl Harbor on Thursday we stopped at Liliha Bakery at the recommendation of a local friend.  We got an onion pastry (sort of a savory croissant-ish thing?), a pizza roll and a malasada.  The pastries were good, nothing to write home about but good.  The malasada was unique but really sweet – we each ate a little bit and saved the rest for later.  We were told that the better malasadas are at Leonard’s Bakery, but we didn’t get a chance to track those down. We probably should have brought a little more food because we were really hungry at the end of going to Pearl Harbor, but our timing was weird – we stopped at the bakery at about 10:45 after already eating breakfast.  We weren’t quite hungry for lunch but we wanted to be ready for Pearl Harbor.  I think we could have bought a decent lunch there and then kept it in our car to eat after doing the tour and we would have probably been more happy overall.

After Pearl Harbor we went back to our trusty Zomato app and headed over to Dirty Lickin’s Chicken for some chicken wings.  We each got some breaded chicken strips and rice – and once again the rice was my favorite part 🙂  We got their combo meal which boasted corn and a salad – the corn was literally just cold canned corn and the salad was lettuce and ranch dressing.  The chicken itself was good, but kind of dry.  Our meal cost another $24.50, and while it was filling… it wasn’t necessarily our favorite spot.

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One thing I’d been told we absolutely had to do was go and get Hawaiian shaved ice.  We’d been given a recommended location but by the time we got there on Thursday it was closed.  So on Friday morning we searched out the nearby Waiola Shave Ice and for $4.50 we got this yummy treat.  It was really good, although we were eating it at a weird time of day for ice cream.  Before hopping on our flight back home we stopped at L&L Hawaiian.  Eric got the chicken katsu and I got the fried shrimp plate.  We got the regular sized plates and holy cow!  It was a TON of food!  We thought we’d get a reasonable amount but it was WAY more than we’d anticipated.  We each ate about half of our meal, and then we went over to the Walgreens and bought some sandwich baggies that we packaged the rest of the meal into for our flight home.  It wasn’t what we were planning on eating on our flight home but it worked out surprisingly well.  We even bagged up our rice and we were able to eat it straight out of the bag on the plane pretty easily, and the chicken and shrimp were surprisingly good.  Since we had been struggling to find a place to pick up a sandwich or something similar for our flight home, this was a super happy mistake to have had that leftover food and that it packed up so much better than we’d hoped!

Ok, I promise, that’s the end of my food travelogue 🙂

Souvenirs – $143.48

This is obviously is another place where we could have saved a decent amount of money.  I’m being a little generous in the term “souvenirs”.  In this case “souvenirs” also means – hairspray, hair gel, hair clips and sunscreen that we could have brought from home but forgot.  It also includes that I brought just one pair of shorts for Eric which he got dirty in the first hour of our first morning and we couldn’t wash them out in the sink.  Rather than being stuck in jeans for the whole trip we bought him a new pair of shorts, as well as a belt since we left his at my parents’ house.  We found leis for our kids at the ABC store for $1 and shell leis there for $1.50 each – so we bought one of each for each of our 3 kids.  We bought a little hair clip for Maeli with a hawaiian flower and some shark tooth necklaces for the boys.  We also bought some pineapple crunch chocolate for my brother and his girlfriend since they helped us plan the trip (she’s native Hawaiian, so she gave us some good recommendations 😉 ).  Finally for my parents we got them some chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a puzzle – we got the Maui one even though that’s not where we went because it looked more fun than the Waikiki puzzle or the Polynesian Cultural Center puzzle.  We also sent postcards to our kids, which they got a real kick out of.  Our actual souvenirs really cost closer to $50, but I didn’t know where else to categorize our other sundry purchases and since they mostly came home with us, they get to be souvenirs.

Conclusion

So that’s it!  That’s how we had a wonderful vacation for 5 days in Hawaii for under $2500.  When we got back the fitness tracker on my Pebble gave me a notification that said, “Do you feel really good?  You’ve been sleeping really well this week.  Keep up the good work!”  I thought, “No kidding I’ve been sleeping well this week – I’ve spent a week without my kids!  Don’t get used to this!”  It was a wonderful week, but it was really good to get back home to our kids 🙂  I hope that someone is able to use this information to plan their own affordable trip to Hawaii – or at least give you some good ideas of places to go!  Let me know in the comments if you go and what places and deals you liked!  Aloha!

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Dinner Chore Chart

Dinner Chore Chart

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For those of you who know me personally this will not come as much of a shock, but here’s my confession for today – I am a terrible housekeeper.  I really do try to keep up with the house but it just doesn’t happen.  I am not someone who enjoys cleaning and trying to keep a house clean that still has three young children in it seems like a near impossible task.  However, I am trying.

My biggest pet peeve is keeping my kitchen clean.  It seems like the most critical room in the house to keep clean but three times a day everything’s being pulled out and despite my best efforts I am rarely on top of it.  The dishes are my greatest nemesis and it’s hard to keep everyone in the kitchen and helping me until the work is done.  So I’ve finally come up with a solution – meet the dinner time chore chart!

It’s really pretty basic, I’ve come up with 5 chores and each person in our  family will be assigned one chore for the week which we will change on Monday nights as part of our Family Home Evening and night time privileges will not be granted until that chore is done.  Anyways, I spent some time creating a cute chart and I wanted to share it with anyone who would like to use it.

All of the artwork came from Susan Fitch and you can find the original files for free on her site here and she graciously agreed to let me share these job charts with my readers using her artwork. You should check out her blog and Etsy shop, she has a lot of great things.  The background papers came from Shabby Princess’ free kit Celebrating.  The fonts are Pea Sweet Caroline and Pea Cookie’s Doodles from Kevin & Amanda’s Fonts for Peas.

Ok, so I have two different files that I’m providing here and you’ll have to decide which one you want.  The simple one is just a PDF which you can print out and write your family member names on the tags and be done.  However, I hate my handwriting, so I’m also providing the original Publisher files so you can customize the tags if you’d like.  To customize the tags you’ll just need to go to the tags pages and change the names to the names of your family members.  For mine I wanted pictures of the family members (since some of my kids are still pre-reading) so there are tags that have blank pictures on them but are formatted nicely.  To swap those out for pictures of your own family members all you have to do is right click on the picture, then find the picture you want to use from your computer.  The new picture will be dropped in to the same formatted space.  To re-center the picture I’ve found that I need to de-select the picture and then re-select it (I don’t know why, I just know that’s what happens) then under the Picture Tools->Format tab select Crop and you can now re-size and move the picture around within the frame.  But don’t worry, there are also simple picture-less tags that I’ve included so you can just fill them in.  You will need to make sure that you have the two fonts that I specified above installed on your computer to have the same result on your computer.  If anyone really really wants I could fill in the tags for you and send you a pdf of just the chart you want and your family’s names and pictures if you want to email me the names and pictures that you want.  You can email me through my contact page and I could provide that for a small fee – but I’d encourage you to be brave!  It’s not too hard!  You can do it!  (Assuming of course that you have a computer that can run Microsoft Publisher, and has it installed)

To create my final chore chart I printed the pages out on regular printer paper and then laminated it.  If you don’t own a laminator I’ve really liked the Purple Cows Hot & Cold Laminator that I have.  I got mine for pretty inexpensive from Costco and I think they have them there pretty regularly, but I’ve found that I can get the laminating pouches for a good deal from Amazon.  One trick I learned early on is that you have to be sure to cut out the little pieces you want to laminate (in this case the name tags) before laminating and then laminate them with enough space around the edges to not break the seal of the lamination.  I then used a bunch of these little sticky magnets on the back of the chore chart and on the back of each name tag.  The magnets aren’t super strong so I put two on each of the name tags and six on the back of the chore chart itself.  For now it’s hanging on my refrigerator but I’m planning on getting one of these magnetic boards from Ikea and hang it on my wall… as soon as I can get the kids in order to go (hahahahahah, yeah right).

Anyways, here are the two files.  Let me know if you like them and get any use out of them in your home!  It always makes me happy when someone finds the resources I post useful 🙂  And of course, don’t steal them and sell them or pass them off as your own.  That’s just not cool guys.  I hope this helps you get your kitchen routine more in order too!

Dinner chore charts – PDF version

Dinner chore charts – Publisher version