The Sunshine of My Day

Yesterday we participated in one of my favorite activities.  Our church family gets together every other Monday night throughout the school year for Monday Night for the Master (MNFM), a night of encouragement and service.  We have been doing MNFM for 7 years and for about the last 5 years one of our activities has included sending a group out to sing hymns with someone who isn’t able to make it to worship services.

IMAG0079Yesterday morning I started calling some of our shut-ins, like I typically do on the morning of MNFM.  One of my calls was to a longtime member who has been hindered by a host of age related ailments as of late.  As we began our conversation I asked, “How are you feeling today?” and she sweetly replied, “Oh, I’m feeling tired.  This cold, cloudy day has me moving slow.”

Her response had me prepared for polite rejection.  Many times the older members that we try to visit are just not up to the company.  We continued the conversation and I eventually asked, “Would you be up for having our group of singers over?”  With happiness she responded, “That would brighten my day.  You all could be the sunshine of my day.”

Our time of singing hymns last night was one of the best we have ever had.  We had a group that filled her living room.  This sweet woman had a list of hymns ready that she wanted to sing, so we all knew she had been looking forward to this time.  Our group was made up of all ages from the 89 year-old we were visiting all the way down to a pair of two year-old children.  I believe everyone who was in attendance had their day brightened just as much as the woman we went to visit.

At home and in Bible class we often talk about how some of the unhappiest folks you will meet in this world are only focused on themselves.  That’s an interesting observation in this era of the ‘selfie.’  We are encouraged and built up when we spend time serving others, being with others, and looking beyond the difficulties and discouragements of our lives.  My day was brightened when I knew I had helped bring some sunshine into another person’s life.

Here are a few things we try to do as a family to shine some light.  I’d love to hear some of your ideas in the comments section below…

  • Start the day with purpose.  Earlier this school year we followed the example of some family friends and began the tradition of starting our day with a song and a word of encouragement.  We sing a simple song based on Psalm 118:24 – “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  We then take turns saying something good that we are going to do that day.  It has helped our family to pause and look forward to the opportunity we will have to do good in the day ahead.
  • Keep rested.  Our MNFM event only runs during the school year, taking breaks in the summer and the winter.  As encouraging as the activities are, we might wear out if we don’t take a break and do something different for a bit.  The same is true in our families and in our personal lives.  There are times when we really need to focus on our own lives and give ourselves a chance to rest and renew so we can continue to be of service to our family, friends, and neighbors.
  • Never too young.  My parents brought me up going to visit people in nursing homes, working at the church building, and doing all sorts of good things.  Children are never too young to start doing good.  Last night our two year-old gave the woman we visited the biggest hug.  I know it brought joy to her heart and it might have brought a little tear to my eye because it was just so stinkin’ sweet.  One of the best things you can do is encourage your kids to give the widow ladies at church a hug.  A hug from a child is a blessing.

I hope today is a good day for you and that you will spend some time thanking God for the blessings that he has shared with you.  I would really like to hear a few of your ideas on how to share joy in the comments section.  And of course I encourage you to continue our Dinnertime Devotionals series as we look at the life of Joseph in great detail >>> Dinnertime Devotionals 15

And if you need a bit of joy today…how about a short video of a toddler hugging chickens :)

Conscious Coupling: 10 Decisions for 10 Years

wedding for emaiilA very special post today…my wife and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.  We must be having fun because it has sure flown by!

Our 10 years together have been filled with amazing highs and crushing hardships but we have clung to each other in good times and bad. In an era of ‘conscious uncoupling’ I think that the love, work, sacrifice, and dedication of an enduring marriage deserves its due too.

If you missed the headlines, an L.A. life therapist believes we have evolved past the point of needing lifelong relationships and has coined the idea of ‘conscious uncoupling’ to bring an amicable end to marriage.  This effort is complete with divorce vacations and uncoupling ceremonies.

I guess ‘conscious coupling’ would be pretty much the opposite.  Two people making purposed efforts to build and grow a marriage relationship with the honest observation that a relationship requires ongoing and sustaining effort.

Before we head off to celebrate 10 years together, allow me the opportunity to share 10 conscious decisions we have made that have gotten us this far and will carry us on for as long as life allows…

1. God First.  My wife and I try our best to put God first in our marriage and our family.  We’re always falling well short of where we’d like to be but we make the effort to filter our decisions about life and family through a God first mentality.  Living lives that are pleasing to God has kept everything else in place.

2. Have Fun.  In our 10 years we have had many adventures.  Pre-children we traveled extensively, enjoying trips all across our great country and a great trip to Japan.  Children have been our greatest (and most exhausting) adventure so far.  I married my childhood friend because we have fun together in just about everything we do.

3. Cling To Each Other.  In the good times and the bad, we cling to each other.  There is no one on this earth I enjoy spending time with more than my wife.  When life gets hard I hold on to my wife, look to God, and don’t run to others.  When I married my wife I pledged to confide in her and be there when times got hard.  Looking for a shoulder to cry on has gotten many a spouse in trouble.

4. Listen.  I am constantly having to work on this, but the value of listening cannot be underestimated.  Time can make us hard of hearing but a spouse who can truly and actively listen is a spouse who is working to build a strong relationship.

5. Think It Through.  There are a lot of decisions that we make that can have unintentional consequences for our family.  Every choice that we make will have a reaction and we need to try our best to think things through before we speak or act.

6. Little Surprises.  When I go to Sam’s Club I almost always pick my wife up a bouquet of flowers.  Through all these years and all the bouquets of flowers my wife is still surprised.  There’s not a lot of money involved, or even much effort, but a simple surprise clearly communicates my affection and appreciation for my wife.   Little surprises all along the way add up!

7. Anger Ends Before Bed.  I can think of two times where my wife and I have had a real disagreement.  She could probably think of a few more :)  Together we have committed to the importance of making peace before we rest.  Things often seem much clearer the next day when minds are at peace during the night.  No one has to be right.  No one has to win.  We simply affirm our love for each other and lay the difficulty aside.

8. Respect For Each Other.  You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard me say something bad about my wife.  The same would be true if you tried to find someone who has heard my wife say something bad about me.  You definitely won’t find our dirty laundry on Facebook.  Life is hard and we don’t need passengers on our voyage who are poking holes in the boat from the inside.

9. Kisses and Hugs.  Here’s an easy one.  Who wouldn’t want to give the one they love a smooch or a hug.  Foot and back rubs are often quite appreciated too.  The emotional and health benefits of touch are clear and easy to understand.  Kids deserve to see parents who kiss and hug.

10. Be Home.  We keep a busy schedule as a family but we make sure to be at home and together as much as  possible.  We have adjusted work schedules, spending priorities, and other commitments to make sure we have plenty of time together as a family.

Bonus: Pre-marital Counseling. “Huh?” you say.  That’s right, we sat down with a counselor before we got married and worked through some of the bumps and bobbles that can trip people up in the first few years of marriage.  I strongly encourage everyone to find a good counselor who can help ease the transition into married life.

Honestly the list could go on well past 10 things…but I have other things to do today.  People were made to be together for a lot longer than just a handful of decades.  Some conscious thinking and decision-making before and during marriage can lead to a lifetime of joy and love.

Thanks for reading along today…and I’d be curious to see what you’d add to the list in the comments section below…

A Few Years Later…

Some of the college students being tortured...err...playing games during the university retreat.

Some of the college students being tortured…err…playing games during the university retreat.

This weekend my wife and I were up in Oklahoma with a group of college students at a retreat.  This is an annual event and each year I am struck by how mature and spiritually minded these young adults are.  The college retreat is one of the most enjoyable events I attend each year because I don’t have to “supervise” I simply encourage, uplift and am edified.  It is amazing the difference that a few years can make as high school students transition into the college years.

There are several observations that I have made as we have attended this event through the years…

  • More mature than I was.  Having spent a lot of time with college students through the years I can say that these “kids” are more mature than I was at their age.  The depth of understanding that they have about life and spirituality is pretty astounding.  Of course they still have room to grow, but they are well ahead of where I was at their age.  Some of this has to do with the fact that kids grow up quicker than they used to, but it also says a lot about their spiritual rooting in the word.
  • Maturing faith isn’t an accident.  It is no secret that young adults are leaving the church at a higher rate than ever before.  Numerous blog posts, research papers, and books have been written on the subject.  The clear factor in failure is that faith was not made real at home.  Parents didn’t lead spiritually and allowed kids to flounder in a Sunday-only faith culture.  When Satan is knocking at the door 24/7 we can’t expect our kids to have a maturing faith if we don’t feed their souls every day.
  • Mutual encouragement.  Most of the folks at the college retreat are part of a campus ministry.  The majority are at state colleges where local churches have made a purposed effort to reach out to students.  Everyone at the retreat recognizes the importance of spending time with peers who are working through the same issues and emotions.  We could all use a little more time with people who are striving to get to heaven.
  • Importance of rest.  I have always appreciated the laid back schedule of this retreat.  The schedule is dotted with times for lessons and singing but includes large pockets of time for relaxing, hanging out, and having fun.  Getting away from the grind of daily issues is very necessary no matter what age you are.

I have quite a few more observations but I’ll leave you today with this question.  A few years later where will you be?  I am constantly amazed by the transition that some of these young adults make in just a year or two.  Amazing change isn’t limited to young adults and kids though.  We can all make massive changes in our lives and our homes with purposed decisions and efforts.  I appreciate spending time with these wonderful young adults and the reminders they give me of the importance of what we are doing with our children right now.

One of the greatest things we can do with our kids is study the Bible with them.  It doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor or anything fancy.  Just a few minutes in God’s word is the whole point of the Dinnertime Devotional series.  I hope you’ll join with us as we continue with our study of the life of Joseph… Dinnertime Devotionals 14

Opening Day 2014

This is a guest post from my brother Stewart.  He sent this along yesterday and I wanted to share it with you guys…

My brother Stew on opening day with voice of the Rangers, Chuck Morgan, and CBS11 reporter Elizabeth Dinh.

My brother Stew on opening day with voice of the Rangers, Chuck Morgan, and CBS11 reporter Elizabeth Dinh.

I’m writing this as I sit in the CBS11/TXA 21 broadcast booth in left field at the ballpark where the Texas Rangers play ball.  This is my ninth consecutive Rangers home opener that I’ve attended since moving back to North Texas.  And this is one of the most challenging Opening Days that I can remember.

Four players who were projected to be starting pitchers for the Texas Rangers are starting the year on the disabled list or rehabbing from injuries in the minor leagues.  The team’s leadership has pieced together a pitching staff that very few could have hardly imagined at the start of Spring Training.

But, the game goes on.  The teams must play.  And Texas is finding a way to compete despite what has happened.  
Isn’t that the way life happens?  There are days where we may not want to compete.  There are days where it would be much easier to give up or give in.

Christians, that’s not what God expects from his children! (Galatians 6:9)

We just finished a challenging Sunday seminar at Bridgewood that focused on raising Godly families.   Steve Minor did an excellent job of engaging the congregation and visitors to look at how we’re raising our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

We can look around at work and in our neighborhoods and see families that have given up raising their children.  The young ones are allowed to do whatever they want to do.  Or the parents do what they want and put themselves ahead of raising kids, or worse leave God in the dust in this fast-paced hectic life.

Fathers and mothers, it’s time to focus and work together to raise the kids.  Men, challenge each other to be husbands, fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles that strive for righteousness. (Ephesians 6:4)

Women, lean on each other to find ways to balance helping raise the children while maintaining the home.  (Psalm 127:3-5)

baseball opening dayBible Class teachers, engage the parents about what’s going on in your child’s class and make sure to continue the discussion in the car or at home about God!  Better yet, if you haven’t been attending Bible Class on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening, resolve to make that happen sooner rather than later!  (Deuteronomy 6:7)

It takes effort to raise children.  But are we going to let the world dictate how we raise the boys and girls?  Or are we going to look to the word of God for guidance? (Proverbs 22:6)

The odds may not look good as we look at the world’s track record for raising children.  But are we going to let the world raise our kids or are we going to stand up and do what’s right and give our boys and girls a fighting chance to know God, love God and respect and worship our Creator?  (Romans 12:1-2)

Let’s go team of moms and dads, brothers and sisters in Christ, Bible class teachers and get in the game!  Our children are depending on us!

If you missed Steve’s four challenging and engaging lessons, watch them online at bridgewoodchurch.org (available by the end of the week) and share them with your friends, families and co-workers!

Thanks Stew for that great post – Opening Day 2014!  Don’t miss the 13th week of our ongoing Dinnertime Devotionals series.  We continue studying the life of Joseph  >>> Dinnertime Devotionals 13

The Only Thing We Can Take To Heaven

Jesus made it abundantly clear that all our ‘stuff’ won’t be going to heaven with us.  Matthew 6:19-21 says…

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The possessions that we spend so much time chasing, collecting, and caring for will all break, rust, be stolen, or eventually burn up.  Absolutely none of our physical possessions will be making the journey into eternity with us, even if we are buried with them.

family-heavenThis weekend we had a special family seminar with guest speaker Steve Minor of the Kingfisher Church of Christ in Oklahoma.  Steve laid it out plain for all in attendance.  In a lesson filled with great thoughts, the statement “Your family is the only thing you can take to heaven” hit me hard.  Nothing we do can insure that another person will go to heaven but we can build and root our family so deeply in Christ that they have an inescapable knowledge of the hope and expectation that is in them.

Raising a family that is going to heaven isn’t a casual thing that happens on Sundays.  It is a battle that happens every day, 24 hours a day.  It happens in the middle of the night when you get up to check on them and you pray over them for guidance and protection.  It happens at the end of the day when all you want is rest but you give them everything you have to show them love and give them a message from the word.  It happens every day when you stand alone and make decisions that defy the norm but guide your family to their eternal home.

If we pursue anything with greater energy and effort than raising our family, we have to honestly ask ourselves if we are truly giving our all.  Jobs, hobbies, friendships, and other activities are all great, but they must meet the constraints of what we are trying to accomplish.  Raising a family that is going to heaven is the kind of stuff that wakes you up in the middle of the night and drops you to your knees in prayer.

It is also good to know that the term ‘family’ has a broader sense.  Those special relationships we enjoy on earth with Christian brothers and sisters will be cherished in heaven as well.  Many of us know the pain of studying the gospel with someone only to see them turn their back on God later in life.  Our Lord spoke of this in the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:1-23). Many of us also enjoy unique and special relationships that will transcend this life because of the blood of Christ.

Family truly is the only thing we can take to heaven.  It is time that we start living our lives like we understand that.

(Note: For those following the DInnertime Deovtionals series.  That will be published later this morning with a second post for the day from my brother….stay tuned.)

Give Life A Squeeze

Today has just been one of those days where everything is a bit off and unexpected.  A phone call early this morning reminded me of a big lunch meeting today that I had forgotten to put on my schedule that would consume a large part of the day.  The next phone call was from the school nurse who needed us to come pick up our daughter because she had pink eye.  A few other hiccups along the way and the day was well off track.  But you know what, it has been a great day!

squeeze lemonsSomewhere along the way in my years of ministry I have learned that the minor troubles we face day to day should be embraced.  As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons make lemonade.  Even in some really tough times you can squeeze some good out of life.

Today I got to squeeze (hug) our oldest daughter a few extra times…I just made sure to wash my hands afterward.  Our lunch meeting today was a great time of encouragement and inspiration with a great group of fellow ministers.  It’s mid-afternoon and I am just sitting down to do some of my work for the day, but its OK if I don’t finish since it will still be there tomorrow.

Too many people get bent out of shape too easily.  Back when I watched the news, it seemed that almost weekly there was someone senselessly killed over a misunderstanding or a petty argument.  With all this construction around it is not unusual to see someone at the end of their fuse, cursing and waving fists because they gut cutoff.  At the store people are cussing at the workers or their kids because things just aren’t going their way.

There are a lot of people I know who are dealing with serious issues – battling cancer, marital issues, issues with children, recovering from surgery, etc.  So many of them keep pushing through the pain and the turmoil to live giving and loving lives focused on others.  We can be inspired by their choices and actions and be encouraged to give life a squeeze when things aren’t going as we had planned.

Wherever you find yourself today, take a moment to give thanks for all the blessings, whether big or small.  Squeeze your eyes shut and take a moment to thank God for His blessings.  This week in our Dinnertime Devotionals we are starting with a series about Joseph >>> Dinnertime Devotionals 12

Saving Money, Living Longer With Routine Maintenance

Over the past few months it has become painfully clear (read ex$pen$ive) that routine maintenance tasks save money and help you live longer.  I’m going to give a couple of examples and then I’d love to hear a few more from you guys in the comments section…

Tire Rotation and Balancing

In the last few weeks I’ve helped deal with three different sets of tire issues.  Two for us and one for a family member.  In all three cases, regular tire rotation and balance would have saved money and provided greater safety.

routine maintenanceCase in point, a few years back we purchased a Toyota Sienna minivan.  We have really enjoyed having a minivan and find it to be a very useful vehicle.  I can get almost as much cargo in the back of that van as I can in our F150.  I can only remember two times that I rotated the tires in the 50,000 miles we have driven that vehicle.  The result was unevenly worn tires that were especially thin on the front wheels.

Front-drive vehicles like our Toyota are especially hard on the front tires.  Those tires receive extra wear from acceleration, braking, extra weight, and turning.  If the vehicle is out of alignment the poor tire wear is magnified. You can hear and feel uneven tire wear.  If your tires are running loud there is something wrong.  If your car shimmies at various speeds there is something wrong.  Sometimes we can be oblivious to these matters in our own cars since we hear them every day.

Anyone who has bought tires recently knows they are expensive.  The Michelin tires we just purchased were $500 after promotional discounts.  It sounds like a lot but works out to $0.01 per mile for the expected lifespan of the entire set.  I have started buying my tires at Sam’s Club because their prices are competitive and they offer free rotation and balancing with the installation of tires.  It seems I am in Sam’s at least once a week so I have found it easy to drop the car off for service while I do the shopping.  When we did rotations at a tire shop it required purposed planning, now it is just part of my routine.

Most manufacturers recommend rotating the tires every 7,500 to 10,000 miles.  The warranty on our Sam’s Club tires requires rotation every 6,000 to 9,000 miles.  Regular rotation and balancing improves tread wear which provides for a smoother ride with better stopping power.  Rotating and balancing tires is just one routine maintenance task on a car that can save money and help you and your car to live longer.

Regular Dental Checkups

From tires to teeth, we are making quite a transition.  I was at the dentist this past week when I came up with the idea for this post.  I completed another 6-month checkup and cleaning without a single problem.  A few years ago this was not the case…

Even though we had dental insurance, we had a horrible dentist.  I had visited his office once in four years.  When I finally went back they informed me I had gone from zero lifetime cavities to six.  Something didn’t feel right so I got a recommendation from friends for a good dentist and got a second opinion.  Sure enough I had a few places to watch but no cavities in need of repair.

Eventually three of those spots required drilling and filling but I have been visiting our new dentist every six months without fail.  Regular dental cleanings save money by getting rid of plaque and other harmful buildups that can lead to bigger issues.  And of course filling a small cavity is a lot cheaper than a root canal or getting a crown.

Did you know that proper dental care can help you live longer too?  You can ask anyone who has worked at a hospital and they will probably have a tale for you about a tooth infection gone bad.  I have heard stories from multiple friends in the medical industry of an abscess spreading into the brain and leading to death.  Of course these are unique and rare cases, but some routine dental maintenance would have prevented it.

Mower Maintenance

Back outside to the dirty world of lawn mowers.  If you have a mower or two it is time to perform basic maintenance.  Most hardware stores sell basic tune-up kits that are bundled and ready for the most popular engine types.  A socket set, screw driver, and oil pan will help you save a bunch of money!

Mowers are probably the most abused mechanical device in the average home.  Changing the oil, air filter, and spark plug every year can help the average mower last a long time.  When doing maintenance on a mower it is always a good idea to pop the wire off the spark plug and disconnect the lead from the battery if your mower has one.  I know too many guys who are missing part of a finger due to encounters with mower blades.

The average user can easily find a YouTube video of a basic tune-up and oil change for their specific model.  For the typical push mower it is as simple as unscrewing the drain plug and tipping the mower to get all the oil out into your drain pan.  Changing the filter usually consists of unscrewing one screw that holds the filter housing in place.  The spark plug is easily removed with the spark plug wrench that can be found in most ratchet sets or that comes with most tune-up kits.  A fresh tune-up for a mower can increase performance, decrease pollution, and lead to another season of hassle-free one pull starts.

Your Ideas…

What routine things do you do that save money and help you live longer?  I know there are a bunch more and I’d love to hear some of your ideas in the comments section…

Infection

The other day I was sharing with my daughter a lesson about life I learned the hard way.  It is a lesson that applies to our physical and spiritual well being…

washing handsWhen I was a teenager I was working on my classic Mustang and cut my right index finger under the finger nail.  Being a ‘manly man’ I shook off the blood and continued working.  A few hours later the cut was filled with grease and other muck associated with working on an old car.  I finally went in to wash my hands and treat the cut, but the damage had already been done.

Over the next few days I noticed that the cut wasn’t healing correctly.  It was painful, swollen, and the skin was odd looking.  I kept my painful wound covered for about two months before I finally told my parents I needed to go get it looked at.

The doctor quickly recognized that the cut on my finger was infected.  He attempted to freeze the infection on several visits which was a painful way to try and kill off the virus.  Eventually the doctor decided that the end of my finger would have to be removed in a minor surgical procedure.

The minor surgery was not pleasant, as you could imagine.  The doctor numbed my hand with a series of shots and then set to work cutting off the end of my index finger and part of the finger nail.  The smell of the flesh being cauterized was repugnant.

Fortunately the procedure was a success and my finger regrew for the most part, which is pretty amazing!  I am left with only a slightly misshapen finger as a reminder to wash my hands and clean my cuts.  The infection that started in my finger lingered in my blood stream for a year or so requiring constant monitoring as cuts on my hands and arms healed.

I told this story to our daughter to emphasize the importance of washing her hands often and particularly the importance of cleaning out a cut immediately and keeping it clean.  I know my parents didn’t enjoy watching me suffer through the treatment of my poor choice and subsequent infection.  I for sure don’t want either of my children to have to endure that either.

The infection I got in my finger is a lot like sin.  Many times we think that doing things we know are wrong is no big deal and we just shake off the warnings being issued by the conscience that God created us with.  We let the dirtiness of sin get into our mind where it spreads like a disease and takes root.  I knew that leaving that cut uncleaned was a bad idea and it even hurt as I continued working as the dirt and other material infected my body.

Dealing with sin when it has attached itself to our lives can be a painful process.  Jesus, speaking in hyperbole in the Sermon on the Mount, told the people to gouge out their eyes and cut off their hands if they were a cause of sin (Matthew 5:27-30).  The process of cutting out sin can be a painful one.  We wouldn’t gouge out our eye, but if our iPhone is a source of opportunity for sin we should get rid of it.  If we can’t control what we look at on the internet, we can live without it.  Cutting things out might be painful but it is a position we put ourselves in.

I still go to the same doctor who treated my infection when I was a teenager.  He remembers the infection we worked to get rid of and gives my hands a thorough exam at every physical to make sure the infection has not returned.  The result of my ‘macho’ mistake is something he helps me watch for constantly.  When we allow our hearts to become infected with sin we must also let the Great Physician give us an honest examination.  He gives us the Word that details the things we should be doing and those we should be avoiding.

As much as I want for my children to avoid the pain of an infection from a cut, I strive even harder to help them avoid the pain of a spiritual wound.  I hope that you are doing the same for your children and actively teaching them through example and word.

This week’s Dinnertime Devotional is a bit different in that we are spending all five lessons examining my favorite verse in the Bible.  Part of the devo this week is encouraging every family member to commit the verse to heart >>> Dinnertime Devotionals 11

 

Amazon “Subscribe & Save” Savings PLUS Is Prime Worth It Anymore?

amazon-subscribe-and-saveA friend, and regular reader of DadisLearning.com, asked me to look into the savings that are possible with the Amazon “Subscribe & Save” feature that is available to Amazon Prime members.  If you haven’t heard, Amazon Prime is bumping up in price from $79 a year to $99 a year.  Many members are trying to figure out if Prime is still a good deal for them.  In this post we will take a quick look at the basics of the “Subscribe & Save” program and conclude with a calculator that estimates the value you are getting from your Amazon Prime membership…

Subscribe & Save

Amazon has a variety of innovative features that might not be known too well among consumers.  One such features is the “Subscribe & Save” program.  Items can be setup on a schedule for delivery every 1 to 6 months.  When a consumer subscribes they save 5% on the purchase price of the item.  Once you reach five subscription you save 15% on all items.  (There are some items in the Amazon Mom program with savings up to 20%.)

The trick with the “Subscribe & Save” program is finding the right item at the right price.  Let me give you a few examples…

We keep Fiber One Oat and Chocolate bars on hand for a quick snack or breakfast on the run.  I pick them up at Sam’s Club for $8.48 for 24 bars ($0.35 per bar before tax).  The same bars are available in a variety of options on Amazon but the best deal is 45 bars for $21.12 (pre-tax and before subscribe and save discount).  That is $0.47 per bar.  With the 15% discount (assuming you have 5 subscriptions) that price drops to $0.40 per bar pre-tax.  If we consume 300 bars per year that is additional $15 annually if we use subscribe and save.

I prefer Old Spice Sweat Defense deodorant…walking and working at a treadmill desk can be stinky business.  They are $3.99 regular price at Target.  A 4-pack of my deodorant is $15.88 or $3.97 per stick before discount.  With subscribe and save that price reduces to $3.38 per stick.  If I use 15 per year that is a savings of $9.15 with the subscribe and save program.  (Note:  My incredible couponing wife picked up 3 of these deodorants and a body spray for $3.50 TOTAL at Target last week.  But couponing takes a lot of time and some money.) 

I could keep running through items but the basic theory is that it takes a bit of research to find out if “Subscribe & Save” is something that would simplify your life and save money.  I ran a few other items and found that the pricing with “Subscribe & Save” and the regular store price were quite similar.  If you’re stretched for time or always running out of the same item and forgetting to pick up more, “Subscribe & Save” could be a good fit for you.

Is Amazon Prime Worth It?

Citing increases in fuel prices and subsequently shipping expenses, Amazon announced last week that the Prime annual membership fee would bump up from $79 to $99.  Slate.com put together a simple widget that can calculate if you’re saving enough with Prime on shipping alone to justify the price bump.  In 2013 we made over 100 purchases on Amazon for our family and the church.  The Prime membership dropped shipping expense from $3.99 per item to $0.79 per item with the new rate.

Of course Prime has other benefits like access to an ever expanding library of instantly streaming movies and TV shows and a vast library of books available for free through the Kindle app or device.  Those features are more challenging to quantify for the average user.

Still a big fan…just not as much

I still think Amazon is pretty amazing.  I buy items for our family through Amazon all the time, do product research using their vast library of user reviews, and enjoy their streaming services.  Lately there are a few things that Amazon has done that I don’t like.  The price bump of the Prime service was inevitable so that doesn’t bother me.

I don’t like that Amazon signed an agreement with the State of Texas to start charging sales tax on a large number of transactions that I make.  It seems like a bit of a sellout since they received huge incentives from the state to build new distribution centers in Texas then signed a deal to start collecting sales tax.  Of course this puts Amazon on a bit more even playing field with the brick and mortar stores.

I’m also not a fan of the Sunday delivery service.  I know that Jeff Bezos prides his company on getting product to consumers immediately, but I think one day off would be OK.  Many items are already available for delivery on Saturday.  Yesterday afternoon some books I had ordered arrived at our door on a Sunday afternoon.  Everyone needs a break.

What are your thoughts about Amazon, the Prime price increase, and the “Subscribe & Save” program?

 

 

Dinosaur Valley State Park – Glen Rose, TX

t-rex dinosaur valley

Our oldest doing her best T-Rex impression at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, TX.

To kick off Spring Break I played hooky from work for a day to take a quick day trip to Dinosaur Valley State Park with the family.  I haven’t been to Dinosaur Valley since I was a kid so it was fun to return with my own children.  The park is located in Glen Rose which is just outside the DFW area.  I’ll hit a few highlights starting with a new program the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has started at select state parks…  (Don’t miss the photo gallery at the end of the post.)

Texas State Parks Junior Ranger Pack

Dinosaur Valley has backpacks filled with exploration tools and materials that are free for kids age 7-12 to checkout.  My observant wife noticed this new program while exploring the Dinosaur Valley website.  At Dinosaur Valley the backpack can be checked out at the main gatehouse where admission to the park is purchased.

The park ranger was kind enough to let our six year-old check out a pack.  All the materials in the bag were new and based on the journal had only been used a few times before.  Included in the bag were: binoculars, magnifying glass, compass with other tools, track identifier, field guides, crayons, and an activity book.

junior ranger pack dinosaur valley state park texasI thought the activity book was great!  The book challenged the kids to do more than simply run around and bounce from site to site. (Not that there is anything wrong with kids running free and having a good time being a kid.) There was a ‘sound map’ activity where the child sat in an area with their eyes closed and listened to the sounds in their environment and then drew them out on a map.  Another activity guided them through using four of their five senses on a nature hike…no tasting please.  Other activities included a matrix for identifying birds and a mapping activity.  At one point a park ranger saw our daughter with her Junior Ranger Park and made it a point to ask her if she had any questions.  There are several areas in the activity book where kids are encouraged to interact with park rangers.

The Junior Ranger Pack is a great idea and it is one that I hope the state parks system is able to continue.  For a full list of participating parks you can click here.

In the park…

I am guessing a good number of my regular readers have been to Dinosaur Valley State Park before.  It is worth noting that over the years they have discovered additional dinosaur tracks.  The same erosion that exposes new tracks also destroys previously exposed tracks.  The park is ever changing in that regard.

The girls were excited from the very beginning of the our visit when they saw the large dinosaur models that greet visitors just inside the entry area.  The 70-foot Apatosaurus and the 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex make an impression on visitors young and old.  The girls (including Mommy) enjoyed running around in front of the T-rex pretending they were dinosaurs.

Our young family visited two of the four track sites.  (You can view a map of the park here.)  We hit track site #2 and #3.  The main track site is a great place for exploring along the Paluxy River.  My wife and I were a bit nervous as our two year-old has no fear of water and often went racing towards the river at full force.  Some sections of tracks have been roped off to preserve the area as much as possible.  We arrived at the park shortly after the 10am opening time so there wasn’t too big of a crowd down at the main track site.  We enjoyed exploring along the river and the various trails.

The girls working on some drawings during lunch.

The girls working on some drawings during lunch.

Our kids are used to eating pretty early so we found a nice table in the picnic area.  Our oldest daughter pulled out the sketchbook from the Junior Ranger Pack and started working on a drawing of a scene along the river.  The picnic area was very clean and the tables were spaced out so families could enjoy some privacy.  There is a really nice pavilion on the river at this location that can be reserved for special events.  There is also a nice little playground where we let the girls play for a bit.  I appreciated the no alcohol policy of the park.

After lunch we ventured to site #3.  From the overlook parking lot we walked west on the trail a bit and found the path down to the river.  There was a nice sandy area on the river between site #2 and #3 where the girls enjoyed skipping rocks across the Paluxy River.  By this time the park was getting pretty crowded and our girls were wearing out so we decided to make our exit.

Dinosaur Valley State Park will definitely be on our list of places to return when our youngest child is a bit older.  In a few years the girls will really have a fun time exploring and hiking.  I would have loved to make the trek back to Wildcat Hollow waterfall but it was just too far for our young family.  There are also lots of great tent sites set back in the woods that would be fun in the future.  Park admission is free for guests 12 and under and $7 for everyone else.  Our day of adventure in the park cost a whopping $14 which is a steal!

Dinnertime Devotionals #10

Typically on Tuesdays I have a faith-based post but we had such fun at Dinosaur Valley that I wanted to write about it immediately in case other families were looking for a good Spring Break activity.  I did want to make sure that my weekly Dinnertime Devotional guide made it out on time for those who have been using them weekly.  This week the topic is love… Dinnertime Devotionals 10