Halloween on a Budget – #DisneyBound Vanellope Von Schweetz

DIY Vanellope von Schweetz costume - Wreck it Ralph - #Disneybound

Since last Halloween, my stepdaughter Alonna has known she wanted to be Vanellope Von Schweetz from the Disney movie Wreck it Ralph. Being the creative and frugal gal I am, I knew that we could create something for Alonna with pieces that she’ll be able to wear again. It’s called Disney Bound, using store-bought clothing and accessories in a creative way to resemble your favorite Disney character!

Here’s how we acheived the Vanellope look (on a budget, no less!) – 

 

Vanellope profile

The cool thing about Disney-bounding is that the look doesn’t have to be “exact”. You are aiming for similar but it doesn’t have to be a perfect match. There was no finding Vanellope’s exact tights. See how the stripes go at an angle on one leg and have a red stripe on the other? We got close enough with these tights in “scout green” from We Love Colors ($8.50). Alonna will be able to rewear these at Christmas.

Vanellope wears a brown peanut butter cup wrapper as a skirt. I did a quick search on ThredUp (affiliate link) for a brown skirt. I found this $79.00 brand new Jacadi skirt (tag was still attached) for only $11.99 and she’ll be able to rewear it all year.

The mint hoodie is the perfect shade!! I scored it at Hanes ($8.99). I handsewed on the red ribbons and after Halloween, I’ll remove them and she can wear the sweatshirt all winter.

I wanted Alonna to wear a tee underneath the sweatshirt in case the weather was too warm. I scored this glittery tee ($6.49) from Old Navy that is PERFECT! Fans of Wreck it Ralph will know that Sugar Rush is the name of the video game that Vanellope comes from!

The “sweet” stuff in her hair was fun! Alonna had made some clay candy pieces which I glued along with fuzzy pom-poms and buttons onto silver snap clips ($2.50). I spread a little glitter glue over the silver clips for added sparkle and carefully snapped them into her hair along with some tiny colorful claw clips. I found some sparkly bobby pins at Target to add into the mix too ($3.50). Instead of a red licorice whip for a hair tie like Vanellope, we went with a red bow that Alonna already owned.

DIY Vanellope von Schweetz costume - Wreck it Ralph - #Disneybound

The overall effect is fun and whimsical. Best of all, Alonna loved her costume and was very comfortable. I’m glad that these are all things she’ll be able to wear again, too!

DIY Vanellope von Schweetz costume - Wreck it Ralph - #Disneybound

 Have you ever DisneyBound before? Tell me in the comment below!

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Disneyland with a Toddler – Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day at the Happiest Place on Earth!

For many little ones, Disneyland is an enchanting place! They delight in the rides, the brights lights and color and the unique sounds throughout the Parks. For other kids, Disneyland can be an exhausting overload to the senses with large (sometimes frightening) characters, swift moving rides and too many things they are unaccustomed to. To be honest, I could be describing the same toddler – depending upon if they’ve napped or had a recent snack! Thinking about visiting Disneyland with a toddler? Here are my top 14 tips!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Clicking through and purchasing helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

Disneyland with a Toddler

5 Things You Need to Do Before Your First Disney Vacation

1. Make a Solid Plan Before Your Trip

To minimize crowds and wait times, avoid traveling during “peak season” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, Summer). Aim for a trip mid-week, as a Wednesday is considerably less crowded than a Saturday.

Keep in mind that children under three do not require an admission ticket. Two-year olds and under receive free entry, hurrah!

I highly recommend NOT surprising your toddler with a Disney vacation. Little ones need time to adjust. Check out the Disneyland vacation planning videos. Watch YouTube videos of the rides. Create a countdown calendar. The more prepare your toddler is about the vacation, the more they’ll know what to expect.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day


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 2. Size Them Up!

Measure your child’s height so you can know ahead of time which rides have height restrictions. You don’t want to promise a ride on Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land and then find out that he’s too short!

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

A few inches too short for Soarin’ Over California.

3. Which Rides Are “Must-Do”

Know ahead of time that you won’t be able to see or do everything. If you know that your toddler is going to love “it’s a small world” then make sure that happens. Just realize that it might happen more than once if it’s a ride they fall in love with and request you ride again and again!

Read up on the rides on the Disneyland website to know what is most appropriate for your toddler. This interactive list from the Disneyland site shows which rides and attractions are well-loved by most toddlers.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Yee-haw! Swinging around at Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

4. Bring What You Can From Home

You can purchase quite a bit inside the Parks but it’s going to come at a premium price. So make sure you pack enough diapers, wipes and snacks for your trip. Bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for each member of the family. Check out this post on what to bring to Disneyland (and what to leave at home). Here is a kid’s Disney packing list as well!

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

5. Wary of Characters?

Some toddlers are frightened when they finally see their favorite characters in the Parks. After all they are used to seeing these guys tiny on the television screen or on the pages of a book! Now Mickey is larger than life and that could be very unnerving from some kids. First try looking at the characters from afar. Talk aloud with your toddler, noting how the other people are interacting and how friendly the character is. Only if your child is willing should you try to approach the character.

There is no point in pressuring your toddler to try and get their picture with Mickey if they are terrified and crying – this will only make them more tense for the rest of the day. Only book a character dining experience if your toddler is happy meeting different characters. Check out these posts about the Sure-Fire Ways to Meet Mickey (and other characters) and How to Encourage Shy Kids to Be Brave at Disney.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Breakfast with Pluto at Mickey’s Surf’s Up! at the Paradise Pier Hotel

6. Let Toddlers Stretch Their Legs

Make sure to let little ones burn off excess energy by hitting one of the play areas in the Parks. At the Disneyland Resort, kids can climb up and down the stairs in Tarzan’s Treehouse. In Toontown, Goofy’s Playhouse has an indoor/outdoor play yard. On a hot day, toddlers can splash at Princess Dot Puddle Park in Disney California Adventure Park.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Sliding at Goofy’s Playhouse

7. Big and Little

It can be challenging to please everyone when you have a toddler and older children in your group. With two or more adults, you might consider splitting up during the day to make sure everyone gets their fair share of entertainment.

On our last trip while the two big kids rode with my husband on Radiator Springs Racers, Dillon and I visited with Mater and Lightning McQueen. Consider taking advantage of the “Rider Switch” service that allow parents (and older siblings) to take turns riding certain rides that aren’t intended for small children, without standing in line over again.

See a Cast Member at the entrance for instructions on how the process workds. Be sure to read this TravelingMom post Tweens & Toddlers at Disney – What You Need to Make Everyone Happy.

Carsland at Disney's California Adventure

8. Take in the Entertainment…But Know Your Audience

My toddler son adored Mickey’s Soundsational Parade on our last visit. He happily sat in his stroller and clapped and waved to the characters on the floats. It was adorable to see him enjoy himself so much. He also loves seeing his favorite characters in the Disney Junior Stage Show.

Though I love Frozen: Live at the Hyperion, I know that at only 2-years old, my toddler is probably not ready to sit through a 60-minute stage show. The show also has some dark elements that might frighten young children. Know your child and review the Disney Parks website entertainment sections before planning what shows to watch with your toddler.


9. Nervous on Rides?

When I took my now ten-year old to Disneyland for the first time he was only 15-months old and the unfamiliar motion of the rides made him tense. Again, there is no reason that children should be pressured to ride if they are scared. Read my article Helpful Tips for Calming Scared & Nervous Kids at Disney for more tips about making your children comfortable with trying new experiences in the Park.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

10. No Nap!

If you have a little one with you, plan the day around your toddler’s schedule. I’d recommend hitting their favorites first thing in the morning. We like to get to Fantasyland first and circle this intimate area with our 2-year old just after the Park opens. From there we will stick to one Land at a time so there isn’t a lot of walking and criss-crossing the Park.

Once nap time arrives, the adults or older children in our group take turns on a few of the thrill-rides while someone waits with the toddler. We choose to let our little guy nap in his stroller but I’ve found that stroller naps are never quite as long or as “effective” as a real nap. You may want to consider taking your toddler back to the hotel for a proper nap time.

Check out my post on Disney Baby for more tips on getting little ones to nap at Disneyland.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

11. Hunger = Crankiness

Bring with you plenty of healthy snacks from home for your toddler to nibble on throughout the day. You can bring in a sippy cup and request ice water from any counter service restaurant for free.

What to do at Disneyland when the temps soar!

Snack, stroller, sunglasses & sunhat…I’m ready for a Disneyland day!

12. Use a Stroller (Even If You Think You Won’t Need One) 

Disney days can be long and toddler legs can only take so much walking! It’s also nice to have the storage basket underneath the stroller to hold diapers, snacks and souvenirs. I bring a lightweight blanket to drape over the stroller and use as a sunshield at nap time.

At the end of the night your toddler may fall asleep and after a long day, the last thing you’ll want to do is carry your heavy kid back to the car or hotel! We live close by the Parks and always bring our own stroller. If you are traveling and don’t want to pack a stroller you can rent one at the Parks.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

Napping on a pillow of cotton candy…only at Disneyland!

13. Map Out the Bathrooms

Especially important if your toddler is toilet-training, you won’t want to be in a Land without knowing where the closest potty is! Both men’s and women’s restrooms have diaper-changing areas (bring a cushioned, wipeable changing pad).

We love to make a stop inside the Baby Care Center. They have teeny-tiny toilets and clean changing tables. You can also purchase extra diapers and wipes here if needed.

Disneyland with a Toddler -Top 14 Tips for a Happy Day

14. Go With the Flow!

One of the most important things when bringing your toddler to Disneyland is to remember to “Go with the flow!” Make happy memories, take lots of pictures and simply have a great time. If you find yourself or your toddler getting stressed out, take a break. Go back to the hotel, go swimming, have a snack or simply take the Grand Circle Tour on the Disneyland Railroad around the Park.

Considering Disneyland with a toddler? Read these 14 practical tips that will make your Disney vacation so much happier!


Disneyland Frozen Pre-parade

About 15 minutes before Mickey’s Soundsational Parade hits the route, a small but significant float cruises by! It’s the Frozen Pre-parade Float and quite possibly your only chance of seeing Anna and Elsa in the Park without an extensive wait time.

Frozen Pre-parade float at Disneyland

Frozen Pre-parade float at Disneyland

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We saw these lovely ladies earlier this month at Disneyland. Both waved enthusiastically from their icy perch, a whimsically frosted mini-float.

Even Olaf is there, twirling around happily….he must have been thrilled with the warm weather!

Frozen Pre-parade float at Disneyland

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SoCal Guide – SeaWorld San Diego Dine with Shamu

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

Have you ever dined with an orca whale? We have! It’s an experience not to forget. Shamu dines and entertains luncheon guests at Sea World San Diego in the Dine with Shamu event.

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

Our reservation was at 12:30 and we arrived 15-minutes early to wait in line. My family was able to see the orca whales swimming in the underwater viewing area while we waited. We had our photo taken as a group in front of a large picture of Shamu. We were never given anything or shown our picture so I’m not sure what the picture op was for!

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

The host seated us at a long table against the glass with a great view of the pool. The dining space was in a curve around a viewing pool with the buffet room and restrooms in the center. A trainer was speaking over a microphone for the guests to hear but unfortunately most of the people were in line for the buffet and probably didn’t catch the educational talk.

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

I stayed behind with our toddler while the rest of my group got their plates of food so I was able to listen to the trainer talk and watch her toss fish by the handfuls to the orcas. Fortunately by the time most everyone was back at the tables with their food, the two orca whales were doing some performing and getting close to the glass.

Dining with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

They jumped, twirled, stuck their tongues out and pulled themselves up on the deck right next to our table! It was incredible to be so close to these beautiful creatures!

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

A waitress took drink orders and kept on top of bringing refills for everyone in our party. Standard soft drinks, coffee and tea were included in the price and alcohol and specialty drinks were extra. The kid’s drinks were served in souvenir plastic cups that we took home with us.

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

As for the food, it was really quite delicious and not the typical buffet-fare. There were a variety of unique and tasty salads. My family enjoyed the sustainable fish dishes including the salmon and shrimp. There was a pot of steaming hot clam chowder, soft rolls with butter and a server was carving fresh pork. The smashed red potatoes were perfect alongside a saucy chicken breast and steamed veggies. The “kid’s section” included Swedish meatballs, creamy mac and cheese, mixed vegetables and breaded chicken.

Fortunately by the time most everyone was back at the tables with their food, the two orca whales were doing some performing and getting close to the glass.

The dessert bar was heavenly! It included carrot cupcakes (my toddler took mine right off my plate!), fresh fruit salad, and chocolate-covered Shamu shaped cookies. There was cheesecake with a variety of toppings; I had the pumpkin cheesecake with fresh whipped cream and caramel sauce…amazing! The cherry on top of the meal were the delicious vanilla mint canolis. We had several of them, they were so yummy!

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

This is from SeaWorld’s website in regards to the food that they serve:

Our commitment to care for the natural world extends to the food that we serve. From sustainable seafood to organic coffee, even our menu items promote environmental responsibility.

Why is it important to choose sustainable seafood? As the world’s appetite for seafood skyrockets and commercial fishing becomes increasingly efficient, many of our ocean’s fisheries are overfished, overexploited or collapsing. Choosing sustainable seafood that was responsibly fished or farmed replenishes our oceans, preserves species and ensures a healthy world for future generations.

Our signature Dine With Shamu dining experience also features menu items that are sustainable, organic and locally sourced. From fresh California salad greens to locally-grown vegetables, in-season produce is selected straight from regional farmers. This ensures not only that our guests are getting the freshest produce available, but also that this produce has a minimal carbon footprint.

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego

We had a wonderful experience at the Dine with Shamu lunch! It was so nice to have such an up-close and personal view of the whales. I appreciated that the food wasn’t an afterthought to the show and instead was a delicious and filling meal.

Other dining options for SeaWorld San Diego include Breakfast with Shamu or the All-Day Dining Deal which is good for other dining locations (not the Dine with Shamu area).

Dine with Shamu at SeaWorld San Diego


We received four complimentary buffet meals in exchange for this post. All comments and opinions are my own.

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Eat at Home and Save – Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread with Walt Disney’s Chili

Cast iron skillet cornbread with Walt Disney's Chili

There is nothing quite like a buttered wedge of cornbread with a bowl of soup or chili on a chilly night to warm you from the inside out. It’s still actually quite toasty in my neck-of-the-woods but come evening, the air has a cool breeze and we have autumn on our minds.

Cast iron skillet cornbread with Walt Disney's Chili

This is a sturdy, moist slice of bread that you’ll be able to pick up to eat. It’s not overly sweet like some recipes which makes it perfect as a side for dinner. The additions of kernel corn and green chilis make for a savory dish. Pair it with a batch of Walt Disney’s Chili and you’ll have yourself a hearty meal!

Cast iron skillet cornbread with Walt Disney's Chili

Enjoy this recipe for cornbread, oven-baked in either a cast-iron skillet or 8″ metal baking pan.

Cast iron skillet cornbread with Walt Disney's Chili


Cast-Iron Skillet Cornbread

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, level
    1 cup ground ornmeal
    3 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon coarse salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk, room temperature (I used 1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar with milk to reach 1 1/2 cups and let sit at room temperature)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, sharp cheddar or Colby-Jack)
  • 1/2 cup corn (can use either frozen sweet corn or about half can of corn)
  • 1 small can of green chilis
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, salt and pepper. Make a well in the center of the dry mix. Add buttermilk and eggs to the center and whisk . Gently fold in the cheese, chilis and corn. Set aside.

Place butter in a cast-iron skillet. Allow butter to melt and remove immediately from oven. Tilt the pan to evenly distribute and coat the bottom and sides of the pan.

Pour batter into buttered skillet and bake until the top is golden brown. Bake 20-25 or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let the cornbread cool in the skillet at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Eat within one day. Keep cooled leftovers in air-tight container or plastic wrap.

Cast iron skillet cornbread with Walt Disney's Chili

Halloween on a Budget – Quick and Easy Mickey Mouse Costume

Quick & Easy DIY Mickey Mouse costume

Mickey Mouse Costume

Isn’t my little mouse adorable?! He has been talking about how he’s going to be Mickey Mouse for Halloween for the last six months!

The best part, this costume was so easy and so inexpensive. Even if you only have a few days this is a super quick and easy costume that you can put together on the cheap. This is how I put it together.

I made a hood with padded mouse ears though if you have souvenir mouse ears hat from the park, that would be perfect. I had some leftover velvety stretch knit to make the hood. I did not use “Velcro” but instead just sewed the chin closed since I used such stretchy knit. I didn’t even hem or finish the fabric around the face or at the neck because the fabric I used does not fray or unravel…yes!

basic hood

For the ears, I cut four circles about 5″ in diameter with a notch on the bottom, like a balloon shape.

I sewed two circles together, leaving the notch open. I stuffed the ears with polyfill and pinned shut.

After sizing the hood on him and marking where the ears should go, I cut a small slit in the hood to insert the notch. I pinched the slit shut, pinned and sewed a seam across to close the opening. Voila: Mouse ears!

Quick & Easy DIY Mickey Mouse costume

Yes, Mickey traditionally wears yellow shoes and I probably would have bought him a pair of sweet yellow Converse if they made them in his size! Since Dillon lost his Croc at Disneyland last month and his other shoes are all getting tight, I went practical and found these new white tennies on ThredUp for less than $8! (affiliate link).

Paired with a simple long sleeved black tee are the red shorts. I could have bought red shorts but I already owned the red cotton and they were easy enough to make. A pair of oversized white buttons (cost: 79 cents each) sewn at the waist make him Mickey!

We opted out of gloves because I didn’t expect that he’d keep them on. Also he’ll be wearing black leggings on Halloween night (it was a bit warm for them at Sea World). As you can see, he loves his Mickey costume and wasn’t bothered at all by the hood. He loves to shake his head and let the padded ears flop back and forth.

Quick & Easy DIY Mickey Mouse costume

Let me know if you give the Mickey costume DIY a try! I’d love to see your photos. 

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SoCal Guide – SeaWorld Halloween Spooktacular

Sea World San Diego - Halloween Spooktacular

My family and I had the pleasure of experiencing SeaWorld San Diego’s fun Halloween Spooktacular event this past weekend. We brought our three kids dressed in their costumes for the event: Ninja, Vanellope Von Schweetz and Mickey Mouse, along with their cousin Elsa from Frozen!

Sea World San Diego - Halloween Spooktacular

The main Spooktacular area is called Otto and Penelope’s Pumpkinfish Patch. DJ Rock Candy was spinning fun tunes and two costumed dancers (Red the Licorice Kid and cowgirl Sally Taffy) were engaging the crowd. My three kids hovered on the fringe and prefered to just watch the action instead of dancing along. But if they’d wanted to dance, I’d have been right alongside them!

A costumed mermaid was taking photos with the kids. For an additional charge kids could decorate cookies or paint pumpkins at one of the many shaded picnic tables. There were great underwater/Halloween-themed photo areas, including these pumpkinfish!

Sea World San Diego - Halloween Spooktacular

There are ten trick-or-treat areas spread out around the park for this event. These stations are designated on the map we were given when we entered the park. Costume or not, young guests are welcome to grab a free bag and receive a treat. Our kids received great treats including Jelly Belly candy corn & jelly bean packs, M&Ms, SunRype Fruit Strips and Junior Mints.

Sea World San Diego - Halloween Spooktacular

We missed Clyde & Seamore’s Spooky Adventure Halloween-themed show but I’m sure it was comical; the sea lion show is always a hoot. We did catch the Sesame Street gang dressed up in their costumes and posing for pictures over at Sesame Street Bay of Play. Elmo was dressed as a skeleton!

Sea World San Diego - Halloween Spooktacular

The SeaWorld Halloween Spooktacular is included with the regular park admission. Open weekends until Oct 26th, 2014. For the rest of October kids are free (ages 3-9 years old) with a full-price paid adult admission.

SoCal Guide – San Diego Zoo

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

You can also find a more detailed review of the San Diego Zoo at Traveling Mom.

At a vast 100 acres, the San Diego Zoo is a sprawling paradise in the middle of the city. Plenty has evolved at the zoo over the years including a move away from isolated cages towards lush, natural exhibits that mimic that animal’s habitat.

The zoo is a pleasurable outdoor experience that takes all day to properly explore. It is home to more than 3700 rare and endangered animals and a botanical collection with 700,000+ plants. The zoo sits within Balboa Park, a 1200 acre cultural park (the nation’s largest).

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

There are many ways to explore the San Diego Zoo (see MAP here). Guests can take a 35-minute Guided Bus Tour on double-decker buses that give a good overview of the zoo. There is also the option of the “Kangaroo” Express Bus that stops at several locations for guests to access different areas. The Guided Bus Tour & Express Bus is included in the 1-Day Pass admission price (Zoo pass members pay extra).

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

There are many pathways that guests can walk, which reach aviaries and enclosures that the zoo does not cover on the bus. I highly recommend that guests take one of the bus tours first and from there plan their own walking tour to more deeply explore other areas. Please note that many of the trails are quite steep so be sure to take advantage of the Skyfari Aeriel Tram. This will transport you quickly across the zoo to the higher regions and you can work your way back downhill. I love this amazing view of the city and Balboa Park museums over the lush treetops of the zoo!

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

The zoo offers a few shows and animal presentations. The shows are a nice place to get off your feet for a bit though you will be in the sun. Check out the animal encounter section to see what Keeper Talks are planned during your visit. We usually catch them on Front Street coming in and out of the park.

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

Even if you don’t have kids with you, please make it a point to stop in at the Children’s Zoo area. There are animals here that you won’t find in other areas including the amusing Naked Mole-Rats. My little one’s favorite area is the Petting Paddock where he can pet the goats and sheep. Just inside the entrance to this area there is also a playground so we usually spend about 30 minutes letting our stroller-bound toddler run around. There are several other play areas around the park where kids can explore.

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

Accessed only by the walking paths, making your way through the cool confines of one of the aviaries is one of the most fascinating parts of a San Diego Zoo visit. If you walk too fast you’ll miss a lot so make sure to find a bench to bird-watch. Many of these birds are camouflaged in the lush trees and bushes and you won’t see them until you pause to look. Keepers set up trays of fruit and the birds stop over to nibble.

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

Panda Canyon has three giant pandas on exhibit and they are so fun and playful to watch as they climb trees and strip bamboo. The hippos have a cool upper and lower exhibit so you can watch them swim (so graceful under water!) Elephant Odyssey is awesome; Last time we were there the elephants were loping around to grab branches from each other and it was so cool to watch! Take a stroll through Monkey Trails – Orangutans are one of my favorites, they can be so silly! Many of the animals have live cameras on their enclosure so you can also watch them from home.

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

Dining at the Zoo is mostly walk-up with outdoor patio dining. Offerings are wide and include sandwiches, grilled burgers & chicken, salads, wraps and Chinese. The full-service dining restaurant, Albert’s offers a more elegant selection. You can also bring in any of your own food from home (which we frequently do) and have a picnic lunch in the Treetops Cafe seating area. Please note that straws are not permitted as they are a choking hazard to the animals.

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo offers special experiences at an additional fee, including an early-morning tour to visit the pandas, overnight sleepovers in the park or Breakfast with Koalas, a buffet that overlooks the koala exhibit. Educational classes and camps can also be booked.

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo

Parking in the lot is free. You can purchase zoo tickets in advance online or at the booths. And as the old advertising jingle went, “You Belong in the Zoo…The San Diego Zoo!”

SoCal Guide - San Diego Zoo


 

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Every Picture Tells a Story – My Mr. Incredible

My Mr. Incredible

At five years old my son had quite a Disney pajama collection, including this fun Incredibles set, which doubled as a costume. He thought that Grandma’s medically-issued glasses after her cataract surgery were the perfect accessory for a superhero!

8 Budget-Friendly Ways to Make it Through the Holidays

8 Budget Friendly Ways to make it through the Holidays -Helpful Tips!

With autumn here and winter fast approaching, we move into the festive “holiday season”! For some though, this time of year is also wallet-draining, stress-inducing and all-around nerve-wracking!

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some tips to make it though the holidays with your budget (and nerves) still intact.


Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

HAVE A PLAN

Before the holidays even begin, sit down and outline your thoughts and expectations for each upcoming event. Let your thoughts run free and jot them down; having a calender with you may help. It’s not set in stone but it’s at least a rough outline of what the next few months may hold.

Questions you might ask yourself:

  • What parties will you be attending?
  • What parties will you be hosting?
  • Are you making or buying costumes and/or gifts for the family this year?
  • Are you going to be traveling?
  • What school events are coming up that will require money?
  • Are there special outfits that you’ll need to buy for upcoming events/pictures?
  • What are your New Year’s Eve plans?

Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

DEVELOP A HOLIDAY BUDGET

Break down the holidays and roughly plan out how much you’ll be spending on each event. After all, the extra holiday expenses have to come from somewhere…and you should not be running up your credit cards or spending money you don’t have!

  • How much will you be spending on Halloween costumes and candy?
  • Is your biggest Thanksgiving expense in preparing the big meal or in travel costs?
  • In regards to Christmas or Hanukkah gifts, come up with an amount that you plan to spend on each person. Keep track and stick with it!

Spend where it most makes sense to you and your family and shift around your budget as needed. It’s easy to get carried away with the holiday spirit and overspend. This is one time of the year where you may need to put a hold on your credit card use to resist overspending and use cash only instead.


Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

MAKE YOUR LISTS

About six months before Christmas, I start taking notes for gift ideas. I keep a spreadsheet of past gifts and take note of what was a “success” and what was a “flop”. I use that history to make my gift list for the year. I write down what I have for ideas (private Pinterest boards are good for this too) and then mark what I’ve actually purchased. This is also where I note the price so I’m keeping within my budget.

  • If you are hosting a party or a big dinner, make a list of the foods you’ll be preparing including all the ingredients. Work those costs into your holiday budget.
  • Make a gift list for each family and friend you plan on purchasing for. Keep that list updated as you buy so you avoid overspending.

Keep track of what you are buying. It’s very easy to overbuy if you are shopping early and stashing the gifts away. My mom was notorious for finding a gift she’d misplaced and giving it to us in March!


Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

TRIM YOUR LISTS

Now’s the time to review your list and pare it down. Even if you feel like you’re already being frugal, see where you can cut back.  Do you feel that you overbuy when it comes to your kids or are the things you buy even getting used or played with? Gifts should be thoughtful and not just “filler” under the tree.

  • Can’t afford to hand out candy this year? Do like we do and take the kids out trick-or-treating throughout the neighborhoods so you aren’t home to answer your door.
  • For the big Thanksgiving meal don’t take it upon yourself to provide the entire spread. Contact your guests at least a few weeks in advance to request they bring a dish large enough to share.
  • Think before you purchase Christmas gifts. Is that stocking stuffer going to end up at the bottom of the toy box by December 26th? Are the things on your list meaningful and purposeful for the recipient? If not, take them off the list.
  • Instead of buying a gift for every single person in the office bring in a special treat on December 1st to kick off the Christmas season instead.

Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

STOCK UP & USE COUPONS

In November you’ll start to see the fronts of the grocery stores stocked with “holiday essentials” like pumpkin pie filling, canned cranberries, stuffing mix, etc. And the mailers will come pouring in with coupons for those exact same items as well. Now’s your chance to stock up and save! If you know you’ll be using these items before the end of the year then by all means, buy them at the best price you can.

This is also the perfect time to pick up a few extra items to donate to your local food pantry or soup kitchen.


PICK AND CHOOSE

The invitations are rolling in and it’s not uncommon to have every single weekend from Thanksgiving to Christmas booked with holiday events.  Choose your favorite events and respectfully decline the others. You certainly don’t have to feel obligated to attend them all, especially if there is an expense tied to each event.

Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

TAKE THE FOCUS OFF “STUFF”

If your holidays are more stress-inducing than joyous and you can’t for the life of you even remember what you bought your kids for Christmas last year, it might be time to get back to the basics of the holidays and take the focus off the stuff.

Meditate on what each holiday means to you and your family and make that “thing” your seasonal motto. Creating traditions and memories are the heart of a holiday!

  • I know a family that doesn’t celebrate Halloween but instead uses that day to take their family on a local hike through their mountains. It’s their family tradition and something they all look forward to each October 31st.
  • If it’s most important to you that your family be together on Thanksgiving Day then it really won’t matter if your table settings coordinate.
  • Capture the meaning of the season and ask your family what their favorite part of the Christmas season is. I asked my kids what their favorite part of the holidays is and the answers were surprising. My daughter said, “Going to church” and my son said “All the good food”. Neither of them said “presents”. For me, I love lighting a fire and curling up in a blanket to talk with my family. Only the Christmas tree is lit and there is a magical feeling in the air. To me, that is the epitome of the holidays. Find your holiday “sweet spot” and make sure to hit it each year!

Budget friendly ideas to make it through the holidays

DIY (OR BUY HANDCRAFTED)

Is there something on the list that you could make yourself? Or at the very least that you could purchase from someone else who made it by hand? Consider supporting small businesses (like those on Etsy), rather than padding pockets of big box stores.

Ideas for handcrafted items –

  • Make or buy handcrafted Halloween costumes or accessories.
  • Consider sewing up your own table runner and coordinating cloth napkins for a special Thanksgiving table setting.
  • Make or buy handmade coordinating pajama pants for the kids to wear on Christmas morning. Hair bows are perfect to stuff in a stocking. Unique handcrafted jewelry is plentiful on Etsy. Appliqued tees are so cute for the kids to wear for holiday parties. Bake your favorite brownies or give a jar of your favorite salad dressing…I promise you, everyone loves a handmade gift!

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GET CREATIVE

Budget extremely tight? Reverting to going the creative route instead of store-bought can be more meaningful all around.

  • No money for Halloween costumes? Simply put an outfit together with items you already own. One of my favorite Halloween costumes was as a gypsy with a long patchwork skirt and layers of my grandmother’s costume jewelry.
  • Bring the outside in for Thanksgiving by decorating with leaves and pine cones instead of store-bought decor.
  • Consider a thoughtful Christmas card with a “coupon” for your services. Perhaps you have a friend who loves your homemade tamales; You could offer an afternoon of cooking classes where you teach her how to make them! Kids in particular love the coupon book idea so this would be a great stocking stuffer for them! Give coupons for a family movie night in the living room, one night of their choosing to stay up 30 minutes later than bedtime, a “spa” day complete with at-home pedicures or even just an extra storybook on a night of their choosing.
  • Skip the grand ballroom on New Year’s Eve and get comfy in your pajamas at home. We love to have an appetizer-only dinner and snack on all the homemade treats that our friends gave us at Christmas. We stay up late and play Scrabble. For little ones you could ring in the New Year of a different time zone and send them off to bed.

With a little preparation, all wallet-hardship and stress-inducing thoughts should be minimized. Here’s to having Happy Holidays!

What ideas do you have for preparing for the holidays? Share them in the comments.

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