Happy 4th of July!

Several years ago, I visited the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I read the poem at the base of it and I cried. I came home, put these words on my fridge, and memorized them.

Happy birthday to the country that I love with all of my heart.

Statue of Liberty

Children are Great Imitators

My new motherhood mantra!

Children are great imitators

Saving Money on Hygiene Kits by Ordering in Bulk

As I have shared a bit with you on Facebook, I recently reached out to members of my (new-to-me) community on a local FB page. I asked if anyone wanted to join me in packing hygiene kits for the homeless. To my amazement, people said yes – and our little group now numbers over 300! We pack hygiene kits monthly, and once to twice a month, I go downtown and join forces with a wonderful catering company. They feed the homeless, and they allow me to set up a table with toiletry kits (and whatever other donations we can gather). What a blessing this has been to me!

Hygiene kits and other donations for the homeless

As we have gathered donations, we have found that there are some items that we can often get for free (shampoo, conditioner, soap, and lotion). There are other items that we can get sporadically (vanity kits, bags, toothbrushes, toothpaste). And then there are items that we like to purchase to make our hygiene kits more … well, awesome. Many of the people who we serve live and sleep on the streets. Many more live in shelters and transitional housing. And almost without fail, they are grateful for whatever we can give them. And so every month, we try our best to give whatever we can. Before we meet, I do inventory of what we have already, I share what we need with my group members, I include links to order online, and we buy whatever we can. I spend a lot of time researching the very best deals I can find so we can maximize our budgets.

I quickly learned that shopping for items in bulk online was almost always MUCH cheaper than buying them at the grocery store or drug store, even with a coupon. So that’s what we’ve been doing for the last several months – gathering the items that we have been able to get donated, then filling in the gaps with bulk orders.

A few months ago, I started noticing articles about MDSupplies.com. They were all written by people who pack hundreds (or thousands!) of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and who have found that they can save a lot of money by ordering in bulk through this company. I didn’t bother even looking at first – I will be packing 33 shoeboxes this year, and I don’t need to buy toiletry items in the hundreds for them.

Then it hit me: HYGIENE KITS!

I looked at their website and realized that their prices were almost all cheaper than what I had been paying elsewhere. But I was hesitant to ask my group to purchase something in bulk when I had never seen any of their products. So I found them on Facebook, sent them a message, and they generously arranged for me to receive samples of many of the items that I was interested in. So on behalf of my group, and any of you who might also be interested in packing large amounts of shoeboxes or blessing bags, I wanted to share these products with you. (Note: I am listing the prices that are current as of the date of publication. They can, of course, change at any time, so double-check before ordering. I also wanted to mention that I am not being paid for this review and I will receive no commission if you make a purchase – I am just really excited to have found a source that will allow us to do so much more with our money.)

 
MDSupplies samples

  • Dukal emergency blankets. This is the most expensive item I received to review, and the one that has the greatest potential to be life-saving. If you are in an area with a lot of snow, as I am, these are a huge gift to those who are sleeping outside. They’re heavy duty and water resistant. 50 of them cost $101.49; $2.029 each.
  • Dukal zip bags. I will use the 3×5 bags to hold Q-tips and floss samples – I have been buying snack-sized bags, but these are significantly cheaper at $6.99 per thousand, or $.0069 cents each. And the 9×6 bags are large enough to hold a complete hygiene kit; they cost $33.67 for 1000, or $.033 each. (These are wider than a sandwich bag, so they can hold full-sized toothbrushes. The cheaper, bulk toothbrushes that we buy are a bit shorter, so for most of our kits, we could use the smaller and less expensive 5×8 bags, which are $.016 each.) Price-wise, I can’t find anything cheaper than the 3×5 bags or the 9×6 bags elsewhere. The 5×8 bags are roughly the same cost as generic sandwich bags, but they’re a bit bigger.
  • Dukal combs. These are small but are the perfect size for our hygiene kits, and are as sturdy as the other combs that we have bought in bulk. This is one of my favorite deals: $34.23 for a case of 2160, or $.015 cents per comb.
  • Dukal toothbrush cap. These toothbrush caps were the reason that I decided to look seriously into MDSupplies.com. I know that many times, the simple bag that we give out the hygiene kits in is the same bag that will store all of these toiletries once they’ve been used… meaning the used soap and razor will be hanging out with a toothbrush. I’m not a big germaphobe, but that creeps me out a little bit. These caps fit perfectly with the bulk toothbrushes we buy, and the price is amazing: $72.73 for 1400, or just $.05 per cap.
  • Dukal fingernail clippers. Nail clippers are one of my favorite items to add to hygiene kits. I used to buy them at the dollar store; then I realized that I could purchase them cheaper on bulk online. But these nail clippers are even cheaper than the best price I’d found previously: a case of 288 is $69.88, making these $.242 each. (Goodbye, dollar store nail clippers!)
  • Dynarex twin blade razors. These razors are simple, but they will get the job done. Many men ask for these on our distributions, and we rarely have them, so I’m excited to stock up. They are $23.76 for 300, or $.079 each.
  • Dawn Mist brushless shave cream by Dukal. This is a great way to add shaving cream to our kits – previously the best deal I had found was $1 for a travel-sized tube. And while that is certainly a great gift because it can be used several times, since we are making hundreds of kits at a time, it wasn’t something that has been in my budget. These small packets are $59.56 for 1000, or $.059 each. This means that, by buying in bulk, we can provide a razor and a single-use shave cream for less than 14 cents in each kit. Amazing!
  • Dukal clear soap box, unhinged. As I mentioned above with the toothbrush caps, I love the idea of something that will allow used soap to stay contained, rather than sliming around inside the bag. These soap boxes are large enough to fit a standard bar of soap, or a few smaller hotel-sized bars. It’s very easy to open, but has enough grip that when I hold the box by the top, the bottom piece will not slide loose. These are $18.74 for 144, or $.13 each.
  • Dynarex roll-on deodorant. This is the only sample that I decided to remove from my shopping list. It is a liquid deodorant, and the second ingredient is alcohol. Every agency I have worked with has strongly advised me to avoid products with a strong alcohol content, even sanitizer or mouthwash, so this won’t work for my group. At some point, I might look into the other deodorant options that MDSupplies offers – their Dukal stick deodorant, for instance, comes to under 50 cents each. This is an item that I am asked for frequently but never have enough of, so I’d love to find an inexpensive source for this.

Hygiene kit for the homeless

If you are interested in ordering any of the above items for your own hygiene kits or shoeboxes, I have some good news. First of all, everything above ships for FREE, no minimum purchase required. And second, the awesome people at MDSupplies brainstormed with me to come up with a list that I could share with my packing group to make ordering for the homeless simple, and they linked us to a second list that has been put together for ordering shoebox supplies. So if you’d like to check out anything that they offer, you can go right here. Again, I am not affiliated with MDSupplies and I do not get paid for any orders placed through this link; I am just truly excited to share this to help others maximize their money so that more people can be blessed.

Thanks so much for reading – and if you have any questions, you can comment here, or go directly to the MDSupplies & Service Facebook page. They have been incredibly helpful and have answered all of my questions quickly and kindly.

Happy shopping!

It’s Egging Time!

Easter is less than three weeks away … which means it’s time for one of my favorite kindness challenges! This one is so easy for kids to help with, and it’s a simple, inexpensive way to spread smiles around your neighborhood.

Check out this post … it’s time to go egging! (And be sure to read the comments that people left last time – there are some great ideas!

 

You've Been Egged!

 

Seek the beauty in the storm

So … winter.
 
I’m not a big fan.
 
I’ve lived in warm areas and I’ve lived in cold areas. And given the choice between 100 degree weather and 20 degree weather, I’d choose the 100 degree weather almost every time.
 
Something about snow makes me nervous. Driving on snowy roads and walking on icy sidewalks, plus the fear of being snowed in, has me stalking the weather forecast, desperate to see when I can expect above-freezing temperatures to melt it all away.
 
So, naturally, we moved to Colorado this year. Because life.
 
This week, I knew a storm was coming. I braced myself for the cold and the snow. I made my grocery list and planned activities that could be done in the house if the roads were unsafe for a day or two. And yesterday, I headed out to buy some fresh produce as the snow was rolling in.
 
I made my purchases, loaded my groceries into the trunk, jumped (shivering) into the car, and saw this.
 
And it took my breath away.
 
Somehow, in the midst of my fear of the storm … I forgot to look for the beauty.
 
What a shame.
 
I am so grateful for the lesson that I was taught yesterday.
 
Friends, even if you are in a stormy season of life … even if you find yourself desperately wondering when the sun will come out to melt your troubles away into nothingness …
 
Seek the beauty.
 
Even if the sun is not shining, there is always beauty to be found in the storm.
seek-the-beauty-in-the-storm

Word of the Year – 2017

Somehow, 2016 is already gone. And last night, I began reflecting on my habit of choosing one word to focus on each year, rather than choosing resolutions. Because I have never, ever stuck to a New Year’s resolution. But one word to focus on all year long – that’s what works for me.

2017

As I thought about this last year, though, I was feeling discouraged. Frankly, I struggled with the word I chose in 2016. It truly wasn’t until December when I felt like I had begun to succeed at my goal for the year. I was feeling discouraged and frustrated.

But this morning, I realized something.

It’s not bad to set a goal that you struggle with all year. In fact … that seems to have been a perfect goal for me. I worked, I struggled … and at the end, finally, I made progress.

So now a new year is here, and it’s time for me to choose a new word. As with previous years, I gave it a lot of thought, but there was really only one word that kept coming back to mind. A word that emulates not just how I want to feel, but the light and hope that I want to project.

Joy

This year … I choose joy. I choose not to wait for happiness to come to me, but to find it. I choose to more fully seek the sunshine and keep my back to the shadows. I choose to live in a way that shows others that life is good, that happiness is possible, that hope exists.

In 2017, I choose joy.

What about YOU? What are you choosing this year?

Happiness can be found …

One of my favorite pictures from our recent trip to Harry Potter World, and one of my favorite J. K. Rowling quotes.

Thank you for helping me light up the world, one act of kindness at a time.

Happy Halloween!

turn-on-the-light

The Teal Pumpkin Project

So … Halloween candy. I love it.

One of my favorite childhood memories is coming home from Trick-or-Treating, eagerly spreading my candy out on the floor, and beginning The Great Candy Exchange with my siblings. And now, as a mom, I love to watch as my kids do the same. (And I might or might not – but definitely do – issue a Mommy Tax, to be paid in the form of chocolate.)

But for kids with food allergies (and according to FoodAllergy.org, that’s one in every 13 kids in America), it’s a little tougher. To look through your Halloween candy and realize that you can’t eat most of it … well, that’s a bummer. And while there’s not much I can do long-term to make life easier for kids with food allergies, I was thrilled to find a way to make Halloween a bit more magical for these kids.

teal-pumpkin-project

The Teal Pumpkin Project began three years ago. The idea is simple: put a teal pumpkin on your porch, or tape a sign onto your front door. This tells parents that you have non-food prizes to hand out. And kids with food allergies (or diabetes, or other dietary restrictions) get a small prize instead. Fun. Easy. Cheap. What’s not to love?

If you’d like to participate this year, there are several ways you can do so!

– Spread information in your community. Share this post with your neighbors. Print off a sign explaining what the Teal Pumpkin Project is and place it somewhere prominent. Start chatting with people and spread the news! Since this is project is new, most people (including parents of kids with allergies) haven’t heart of it.

Print off, or paint, a teal pumpkin. I went to Michaels to buy some spray paint and was able to find my cute already-teal pumpkin for under $5.

– Hand out prizes! This can be easy and cheap. Glow sticks, small party favors (mini Slinkies, whistles, etc.), bubbles, stickers, or (if you’d like to spend a bit more) small cars or dollar store dolls. There are tons more ideas on the Teal Pumpkin Project’s website.

That’s it! Such an easy way to make Halloween safer and more fun for the kids in your neighborhood who have food allergies. Are you in?

How I packed 100 School Supply Kits for $100

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know how much I love Operation Christmas Child. This year, for my 32nd birthday, I will be packing 32 shoeboxes to donate. And since I am lucky enough to live near a processing center, I will be able to volunteer as a shoebox inspector. Which sounds boring, but it is honestly one of the highlights of the holiday season for me. A room full of people, who love the same thing I love, all united to serve children we have never even met … it’s magical.

Last year, I learned something new. Many of the shoeboxes that are donated have items that need to be removed because they are not on the approved list. (Mostly things that might leak or delay the boxes as they go through cutoms, like liquids and food items.) And since it would be really sad for a kid to open their shoebox gift and find it half empty, the processing centers accept donations of “filler items” – things that the volunteers can quickly grab to add to the boxes to make sure that they’re all full. So this year, I had a crazy idea. Why not make some extra school supply kits? Specifically, in addition to the 32 I was making for my own boxes, I wanted to make 68 more, for a grand total of 100. It was a huge goal, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. But I was … and I did it for $100!

Now, this isn’t going to be a post that you can read and say, “I can go to that right this minute!” This project was many months in the making. But I’m hoping that I will give you some ideas that can benefit you for next year … and maybe even an idea or two that you can use to donate a little bit extra this holiday season!

100-school-supply-kits-for-100

So here are my frugal shopping tips:

  • Clearance. Seriously, this is my #1 tip. Learn where the clearance racks are at every store that you shop at, and use them! I have learned, among the 4 Walgreens stores near my home, which one has a manager that often marks things down 90%. I have bought cute pencils for 2 cents, hilighters for a nickel, 9-packs of fun erasers for 20 cents, and much more. When my local Target stores hit their best school supply clearance of the year – 90% off, including many Dollar Spot items that were selling for a dime – I went to three different stores and I stocked up. (I do this after every holiday when they’re marking down their seasonal items.) And randomly in the spring, I was at Office Max when I noticed that they had boxes of 60 pens marked down to 52 cents! That’s less than a penny per pen!

Packing 100 school supply kits for $100

  • Supplement your budget by earning gift cards. If you have a little bit of free time, try mystery shoppingShopkick, or Swagbucks. These are all programs that I use regularly, a few minutes at a time, that allow me to earn gift cards to stretch my budget. I often cash in for Target gift cards since that’s where I do a lot of my clearance shopping.
  • Shop the sales. This seems pretty obvious, but it’s worth a reminder. I often hear people say that they get the best deals by just going to Walmart and the Dollar Tree. And if you’re in a hurry, go for it! But it is definitely not the cheapest way to shop. During back to school time, I carefully watch the store ads, and I am able to beat Walmart and Dollar Tree prices on almost everything. I had awesome luck with the penny deals at Office Max this year, and there were lots of great sales at Staples and Walgreens as well. And there were times when I could earn rewards for buying things I needed to purchase for my family anyway (like ink and copy paper). I would purchase those items, then use some of the rewards I got back for my school supply stash (such as good kid scissors for a quarter, and the penny items like packs of pencils and glue sticks).
  • Ask for help. To be honest, I am new in this area and don’t know a ton of people yet. But I reached out to a few families and invited them to come join me to assemble these school supply kits. They were happy to help, and we all had a fantastic time. I had all of the supplies purchased anyway, but if you are just starting out, feel free to ask people to bring a few items! People typically want to help, and this is a great way to make more than you’d be able to on your own.
  • Get creative. I really like having some kind of container or pencil case for each shoebox. I was able to get some pencil boxes for a penny at Office Max, and I found some “slider boxes” on clearance at Target, but I didn’t have anywhere close to 100. So I got a bunch of Hefty slider bags (free, with a rebate), scoured clearance racks for Duct tape, and my helpers and I made all of the bags we needed!Packing 100 school supply kits for $100

So that’s it – and look at this beautiful pile of school supply kits. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to give a small gift to 100 kids that will hopefully be both helpful and fun, and to have been able to stick to my budget. This has been so much fun to do! Now time to move on the the next stage – shoebox wrapping. Wish me luck!
100 school supply kits for $100

Thank a Bus Driver – Ideas, and a Free Printable!

For the majority of my life, I have worked with children. I was babysitting by the time I was in middle school. By high school, I was tutoring. I majored in Special Education and have taught children at school, at Church, and in my own home. I have been around kids a lot. It can be fun. It can be rewarding.

And it can be absolutely exhausting.

So I try very hard to support teachers whenever I have the opportunity. But recently, it hit me. I thank teachers, aides, specialists, principals, and secretaries.

But what about the bus drivers??

a-simple-act-of-kindness-getting-to-know-the-bus-driver

My kids are new school bus riders. And oh, am I grateful for that privilege! My town has had a lot of construction recently, and the bus saves me more than an hour each day of sitting in my car. For someone who doesn’t enjoy sitting in a car, this is a BIG deal. But I hadn’t given any thought to the drivers when I thought of holiday gifts, appreciation gifts, or really anything extra. These are wonderful people that get up every morning and patiently sit through traffic with a bus full of children. (I am cringing just thinking about it.) Time to thank them!

So I did what I do when I need ideas – I took to the internet. I found this fun “getting to know the teacher” printable that I sent with my kids at the beginning of the school year, but I didn’t find anything that really worked for bus drivers. So I designed my own! Please note that if you have any kind of design skills at all, you might laugh at my simple little printable. I have no skills in this area, y’all. But since I made it for my own kids, I thought I’d share it with you.

free-printable-getting-to-know-your-bus-driver

Kinda cute, huh? If you’d like to download it, just click here! (It is saved as a Word document – if you have any trouble opening it, please leave a comment and let me know and I’ll see what I can do.)

(And if you want to make it even cuter, I found these cute, free printables that say “Thank you for going the extra mile”, but I already had a bunch of tags, so I went with what I had.)

If you or your child ride a bus regularly, have you taken a moment to thank your bus driver for doing an important, but often thankless, job? I personally like giving small gifts, but I want them to be personal and meaningful, which is why I’m sending this printable with my kids. But if you just want a quick ideas – or if you have rotating bus drivers – here are some more thoughts for you!

  • Bring a treat or pack of gum to hand to your bus driver. Last week, we got a dozen donuts. I had one packaged individually and sent it with my kids to give their bus driver. The report back: a very excited and grateful driver!
  • Buy a small gift card for a local fast-food restaurant so the driver can pick up breakfast after hjis or her shift is finished.
  • Check out Pinterest for ideas – I have a few saved on this board to get you started.
  • If you have an awesome driver, find a way to report the great work to his or her manager! Call the bus depot and leave a report. Most calls are NOT compliments, and managers are typically thrilled to receive positive feedback.
  • Just say thank you, and teach your kids to do the same. As I watch children enter and exit the bus, most don’t even look at the bus driver. We all need to be noticed and appreciated, and this is a great and simple way to start.

Those are my ideas for you. If you have any for ME, I’d love to hear them! Thanks for reading!