Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday Score: Christmas Magic On A Budget

If you've been reading here for any length of time, you'll know that I'm a single mom, and that my daughters make up the entirety of my world. Nothing I do is done without them in mind - and all I want in the world is to know at the end of my life that I was as good a mother as I knew how to be, that I gave them my all, and that I left them with memories they would want to pass on.

A large portion of my day-to-day existence revolves around trying to rock the task of being both parents to the best of my ability - not only being the mother my kids need and deserve, but also struggling to stand in for the father figure they no longer have.

The thing is, being alone poses a laundry list of challenges, both as a woman and as a parent - but since I'll be tackling how I feel about single life during my BLOGuary marathon (I'll be blogging every day except Sundays in January!) next month, let's focus on the biggest, most stressful challenge of single mom life at the moment.

Christmas on a budget. Making Christmas happen on a budget. Like, a really tight budget. Like, really really close to a zero budget.

How the hell do you make Christmas magical on a zero (or frighteningly close to zero) budget?

Well, here's how I'm doing it.


The first and most major way to create Christmas magic on a low-to-no budget is to change your focus. Don't think as much about packages and presents, and instead, think about memory making. Your loved ones most likely won't remember what you bought them this year nearly as well as they'll remember that this was the year of memories and experiences.

This year my kids saw their dad less and less, and while they had lots of moments where they were angry or sad or insert-strong-emotion-here - especially as they faced their first Thanksgiving without their dad and will now be looking toward their first Christmas without him - they also had a lot of moments where they were able to put aside their troubles and enjoy themselves. And not to toot my own horn here or anything, but a good portion of them being able to cope as well as they are has been because I spent more time focusing on getting them out of the house and finding things we could do together. More importantly from a financial aspect, I've been more actively looking for things we can go do without spending a fortune.

This has actually had a two-sided benefit, too; not only are my kids having fun and looking forward to all the fun things we go out and do together, they're also learning that life doesn't have to be expensive and fun isn't always about throwing money around. We've had lots of discussions about how life cycles through times of want and times of plenty - and we've talked a lot about how important it is to live your life regardless of which extreme you might be living in. So even though these last few months have been very challenging financially and I'm juggling a ton of stuff I'm not sure I can keep juggling much longer, the kids and I have been having fun attending lots of local Christmas festivals and free events I've found for us (mostly on Facebook), making new memories to ease the pain of old ones now turned bittersweet.

Another way I've been carefully working more magic into a smaller budget goes back to something I first introduced last year - our four-gift limit. Of course, Santa brings what Santa brings, but thanks to my carefully working in new strategies for Christmas magic on a budget before the final split between the kids's dad and I, the four gift limit allows my kids to think more carefully about what they really want, allows me to spend my limited money more wisely on gifts I know will be appreciated, and helps keep my kids thankful for what they do have. The bonus of having implemented this last year is that even though I could see where things were headed, the girls hadn't yet noticed all the changes in our family dynamic. Thus, the four-gift limit is not attached to the parental split - and because they didn't connect the timing, my kids don't see the four-gift limit as a symbol of lack in our world, only as a symbol of care and appreciation for simplicity:

  • Something You Want - usually a toy set of some kind for the youngest, and hair accessories, jewelry, or makeup for the oldest.
  • Something You Need - this is almost always socks, underwear, camis/bras, or some combination of these.
  • Something You Wear - since clothes are usually covered at this point (unless there are other clothing items needed like jeans or whatever), I try to get fun with this. Last year, Joey's "something to wear" was an activity tracker - she ended up with a Misfit Flash - while I loved how affordable the Flash is, my daughter loved how easy and intuitive it was to use. We both want to upgrade at some point to the Misfit Shinebecause there are so many more color options! Eden's "something to wear" was a red pair of volume-limiting headphones from OnAndOff and she loved them so hard they eventually gave up on her. She'll be getting new ones this Christmas, which will thrill her because she has missed hers!
  • Something You Read - for this one, I actually like to do Amazon Gift Cardsfor the kids because then I can alter how much I'm giving to cooperate with how much I have, and the girls really love getting online with me and choosing their own books. It's a double gift; they get the giftcard, but they also get an established time that's just me and them (one at a time, so it's extra personal), where we get on Amazon and browse books right up until we're out of cash.
This worked perfectly for us last year, and I can't wait to see what my kids think of their gifts this year!

I've also had fun bringing in new little traditions for us to build on as a family - we've made ugly Christmas sweater cookies together, built marshmallow snowmen, watched Christmas movie marathons, hunted local Christmas light displays, and spent time just jamming to good Christmas music. The kids will be starting their Christmas break from school soon too, and I think we'll probably be spending the time cozied up together, cooking up fun crafts and DIY gifts for our neighbors and friends. There will likely be puzzles, coloring, and lots of board game time involved as well. And who knows, maybe we'll even have the time and/or money to implement one or two of these great ideas, too.

So tell me, how do you create Christmas magic on a budget?


If you liked this post, take a second to drop a comment below and tell me about your favorite Christmas magic strategies! I'm always looking for new ideas I can implement to keep things exciting for the girls and I, and it's always fun to see what other families are doing differently. I'd love for you to share this post so we can get a lot of great ideas in the comments too, especially if you know a particularly genius Christmas magician. But before you go, take a second to subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar - it's a great way to make sure you never miss a post!

If you like this site and want to take an active role in keeping it running, there are several different ways to get involved. The easiest is just to make a donation here; you can choose any dollar amount and do it whenever or however often you like. Or, if you're a book lover like me and/or you'd like to help take charge of my writing on a more committed basis, skip the donation link and come on over to Patreon where the real fun happens.

Not only is Patreon a great way to help me manage the costs of running this blog (and life in general because hey, a girl's gotta keep the coffee pot percolating!), but this is also where my readers find a whole new way to read my novels - while I write them. My patrons directly sponsor my various writing endeavors by choosing their favorite reward tier (starting at as little as $1 a month), and that sponsorship gives them access to all sorts of content: the $1 tier gets access to one new romance chapter a month, two brand new poems from my upcoming poetry collection, the weekly L.A.F.F.S., and occasional content polls!

The best part of Patreon is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, I'll start dedicating each of my blog posts to one special patron - which means YOU could be getting public shoutouts right here on the blog, just for being one of my Patreon subscribers!! Even better ... when we get to 50 patrons, I'll double my monthly fiction chapters, which means twice the writing from me in exchange for the same monthly contribution from you. (PhLogs are public too, so make sure you go check 'em out!)

But however we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that my brand is built on the concept of what I write and who I'm writing it for. "Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman" isn't just a slogan or a tagline - it's a purpose and a goal. Click here to find out more about what it means to be an undaunted woman - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thankful Thursday: Planet Beach Spa Review

There's a huge outdoor mall on the other side of Knoxville called Turkey Creek. There's no creek there (that I know of), but there are probably forty different boutiques, department stores, restaurants, theaters, and more. It's a great place to spend a day alone or as a family - window shopping, actual shopping, or even just wandering around taking in the sights. You could even drive to the end and park your car, then walk up and down from store to store if the weather is nice.

The thing is, in my daily life, I don't often have the opportunity to do more than a lot of boring grocery shopping, squeezed in between therapy for me and countless various doctor's appointments for the kids - but my favorite thing about this particular area is the huge Christmas tree they put up and light every holiday season. It's completely giant and utterly beautiful and you can see it from the nearby interstate as you drive by. So of course, a few weeks ago, the girls and I headed to Turkey Creek for the lighting of the Christmas Tree in the Pinnacle Plaza of Turkey Creek, and as part of the presented activities, Josephine and I both entered to win a drawing for three free services for one person AND a friend at Planet Beach Spa.

And Joey won!


But as exciting as that was, that was actually where the problems began (for me). I'm a single mom with not one, but TWO girls. I'm also super protective of my kids, and I am not the kind of mom who regularly drops her kids off places to go and do things on their own - especially places where they might be expected to take off their clothes. It was guaranteed from the get-go that my 13 year old daughter's plus-one would be me. But what to do with Eden, who would likely have hurt feelings and experience a little envy?

I did some thinking and quickly came up with the idea of scheduling spa day with Joey on a school day, when I could send Eden to school as usual and then surprise Jo with a sneaky school-skip with me. I explained the plan and my reasoning behind it - and that's where Planet Beach turned up the awesomeness to extend Joey's plus-one to a plus-two.

Cue the happy Mom heart. A spa day for Team Kennedy as a whole? Free? And I can blog it? Yes, please.

So instead of going on a school day, we got up early and headed to the spa on a beautiful Saturday morning; I was eagerly anticipating surprising the girls, and they were (as always) excitedly trying to figure out the surprise.

Eden's young, so she wasn't allowed to do any treatments by herself (w e learned later that the corporate-approved age for spa treatments is 14+ - oops) - so she and I chose to go into the "Saunatox" machine together for our first treatment while Josephine went alone (and uncomfortably naked) to the Hydro-Derma Fusion chamber (which totally looks like a space pod). In the sauna, Eden wrapped up in a little robe and I got cozy in a towel wrap (you're supposed to wear a sauna suit but that would have been terribly immodest since their throw-away shot is totally see-through, plus Eden could never hope to be big enough for one), and we took seats together on the little bench in our heat chamber.

It was peaceful and quiet and deliciously warm, and then Eden said, with the smallest hint of worry in her little voice, "Mom?"

"Yeah?" I said, barely above a whisper.

"I'm getting sweaty," she said.

"I know," I answered. "That's the idea."

"No. Like A LOT sweaty."

I laughed and reminded her that it was okay because she was supposed to sweat a lot. We talked a out skin as a filter for the body, talked about how a good sweat helps the skin do its job better. I even reminded her of our (distant) Native American ancestors, and how sweat lodges were - and still are in many places - a part of the health culture for "our people."

"Oh," she said. "So I'm just supposed to sit here and sweat a puddle? And that's relaxing?"

"I think it is," I laughed. Our session was set for an hour, and we still had about 40 minutes left. Hoping she would settle, I reminded her that we were alone in the room the Saunatox chamber was in, and that at any time if she wanted to get out of the heat, she could get out, get dried off, and get dressed while I finished the session. She promised that if she got out she'd be quiet and read her book - and when she left me with just under fifteen minutes to go, she kept her promise, allowing me to rest quietly in the sunny warmth of the infrared light.

 

Shown above, from left to right: the SaunaTox Eden and I did, the info sheet for the Hydro-Derma Fusion chamber Joey did, and then a peek inside the chamber from up at the head (looking down along the body-length of the pod).

Following the SaunaTox, Team Kennedy reunited in a cozy little area equipped with three automated massage stations: the Jade Fuzion bed, the Yu Me Massage chair, and the DreamWave Massage chair.


 Shown above, from left to right: the Jade Fuzion, the Yu Me Massage, and the DreamWave Massage. Clicking the photos should enlarge them - check out all the benefits of each treatment!

Eden took the Jade Fuzion (because her body was too small to fit either of the chairs right), which was just a heated jade bed. She rested there a while, reading, while I groaned like a helpless (but very happy) fool in the Yu Me chair - it's got a mean shiatsu massage mode, which was the epitome of those sorts of things we like to describe as "hurts real good," and then it had an amazing stretch mode that did a great job of soothing and relaxing my entire body while still managing to contort my muscles and stretch out my tensions. Beside me, Joey laid quietly, alternating between smug contentment and excited gushing about how much she had loved the Hydro-Derma Fusion.



Let me tell you guys - for a first spa experience (yes, that was a total first for me), Planet Beach was AMAZING. Over the next week, I went back twice (alone though, and while the girls were at school, because even though the kids couldn't come they still let me come back for two more days to try almost everything), and let me tell you, that place is like heaven for a stressed out mom like me. I savored every moment too, knowing that those three days of special treatment would soon end and I'd be back to life as usual. The only things I wanted to try that I ended up missing out on were the HotWorx Hot Yoga and Hot Zen programs - and honestly, if my financial situation looked just slightly different, I'd probably be writing this blog post from inside the sauna. I'm not even kidding.

The sad thing (for me) is that it's really not even that expensive - Planet Beach is a franchise, so prices vary from location to location, but at my local spot, it's only $60 a month for unlimited services (with one caveat: you can only do one "hot" treatment per day). The best thing about the Gold Membership though (the $60 one) is that you can bring a friend with you as often as you want too, for free. And as if that wasn't enough, you also get rewards and discounts for bringing in new clientele! I seriously can't even tell you guys how heartbroken I am that this isn't something that would fit into my budget, because I would have been signing those papers in blood if necessary.

I also like that there's a month-to-month price too, for people who want the unlimited treatments but don't want the commitment of a membership contract - for just $70 a month, you can go in as often as you want to and take advantage of being able to kick back and do something special just for yourself. And again, this isn't something that fit into my budget (yet), but when it does, this is likely the option I would go for. Commitment free relaxation and self-spoiling? Uh, yes please.

What's cool though, is that if you can't (or don't want to) sign up for memberships at all, you can actually set an appointment and pay service-by-service for $40 - which is admittedly more expensive, but I  still like that it comes with no commitment, which means that until I can squeeze that monthly $70 out of my budget, I can still go when I can afford to go, and totally skip it when I can't.

But the best part is that Planet Beach is a franchise business with locations all over the place (even international!) - which means that even if you aren't in the Knoxville area, you might still have one close enough to you to visit!

In the meantime, here's the breakdown of things I got to try - in order of what I liked best.

  1. SaunaTox - I loved the way the saunatox made me completely fall in love with warmth as a sensation. I don't usually like to be hot, I don't like to be sweaty, and I don't like the way sometimes it's hard to breathe in a normal sauna. But SaunaTox is no normal sauna. It was truly amazing.
  2. Hydro-Derma Fusion - I tried this on my second day, and this was like having my entire body encased in the most deliciously hot, steamy, vibrating shower. My skin felt amazing afterward, and I felt energized and rejuvenated. I also liked that you do this one nude, so there's no weird suit or anything required. It was also nice that there was a fan on my face; it kept the steam away and helped keep me from being too hot. My chief complaint with this was that it lasted about a half-hour, and I could easily have laid there for days, steaming gently and sleeping peacefully.
  3. Yu Me Massage - As mentioned above, this chair had a great shiatsu massage that worked really well for the tension in my upper back, shoulders, and neck, and I also liked the way it worked the tension out of my legs while leaving my hands free. I did this one on the first and third days of my sessions at Planet Beach, and I liked it so much that I chose it on that third day even knowing that it meant I wouldn't have time to try the Jade Fuzion.
  4. The Slim Capsule - I actually liked how hot this one was, and that the vibration of the table was a little stronger than with the Hydro-Derma Fusion; what I didn't like was the sauna-suit you're supposed to wear. It was terribly uncomfortable for me - it fit fine even with my being plus-sized, but was much too long in the legs and then it was so much too short in the body and arms that it didn't come all the way up to my shoulders. It really took away from what would otherwise probably have been #2 on this list.
  5. DreamWave Massage - I did this on my second day (after the Hydro-Derma Fusion), and while I liked it (it was a little less strong on my tender sciatic area), I didn't like it as much as the Yu Me. It wasn't as strong and didn't have the awesome stretching mode. But I did love that it did my arms, hands, and feet (the Yu Me didn't), which was wonderful.
  6. The Red Light Bed - I liked that this was warm even though I wasn't crazy about being terrified that the eye protection I purchased somehow wouldn't be protective enough (or would slip) and I would end up relaxed with great skin but totally blind.
  7. The Red Light Facial - This one I wasn't crazy about either; it was fine for the most part, but I actually thought it was a little boring. My face skin did feel pretty amazing though, and the sweetheart who attended me during my sessions assured me that the benefit of the red light facial is meant to be cumulative.
As mentioned above, I didn't get to try the HotWorx Hot Yoga or the Hot Zen - I suspect if I had had the chance to try those, my list would look a little different, especially since the HotWorx uses the same infrared heat as the SaunaTox. I think missing out on the HotWorx sauna is probably the biggest part of what makes me so sad that I can't currently sign up for a Planet Beach membership.

So if you do, make sure you come back and tell me all about it, 'kay? Because I need to live vicariously.


If you liked this post or if you've ever tried anything like Planet Beach Automated Spa, take a second to drop a comment below and let me know what spa services are your favorites! I'd love for you to share this post too, especially if you know someone who might benefit from a visit to the spa (pssst - you can actually get a first-time pass for free), or needs to take some time to do something for themselves. But before you go, take a second to subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar - it's a great way to make sure you never miss a post!

If you like this site and want to take an active role in keeping it running, there are several different ways to get involved. The easiest is just to make a donation here; you can choose any dollar amount and do it whenever or however often you like. Or, if you're a book lover like me and/or you'd like to help take charge of my writing on a more committed basis, skip the donation link and come on over to Patreon where the real fun happens.

Not only is Patreon a great way to help me manage the costs of running this blog (and life in general because hey, a girl's gotta keep the coffee pot percolating!), but this is also where my readers find a whole new way to read my novels - while I write them. My patrons directly sponsor my various writing endeavors by choosing their favorite reward tier (starting at as little as $1 a month), and that sponsorship gives them access to all sorts of content: the $1 tier gets access to one new romance chapter a month, two brand new poems from my upcoming poetry collection, the weekly L.A.F.F.S., and occasional content polls!

The best part of Patreon is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, I'll start dedicating each of my blog posts to one special patron - which means YOU could be getting public shoutouts right here on the blog, just for being one of my Patreon subscribers!! Even better ... when we get to 50 patrons, I'll double my monthly fiction chapters, which means twice the writing from me in exchange for the same monthly contribution from you. (PhLogs are public too, so make sure you go check 'em out!)

But however we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that my brand is built on the concept of what I write and who I'm writing it for. "Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman" isn't just a slogan or a tagline - it's a purpose and a goal. Click here to find out more about what it means to be an undaunted woman - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.