Great Lakes Adventure part 4: Lake Ontario

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

After our wonderful time on Manitoulin Island, we headed out for our longest day of driving on the trip: 6 hours. We were trying to keep the driving days shorter, because we have lots of kids, several of whom get carsick (along with yours truly). Our 6 hour drive ended up being almost TEN, because of horrendous Toronto traffic. I have been in pretty bad traffic in a lot of cities, including Paris, Rome, Frankfurt, London, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco — but Toronto was the WORST EVER. Which was crazy, because I went there last year and had NO problems at all!

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

Three of our four with Toronto’s famous CN tower! I’ll give you two guesses as to which kids didn’t want to be in the picture. {The one crying and the one missing…}

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

The old fashioned train station across the street from the CN tower is SUPER cool!

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

Playing at a downtown playground.

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

A bed! A real bed! I was pretty excited to sleep on a MATTRESS for the first time in a week.

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

Lake Ontario!

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

It was pretty nice, until the algae rolled in. Then the lifeguard said the beach was no longer safe to swim. But we got to for a little while at least!

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

Then we headed to a nearby splash park instead.

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

…which the kids thought was super fun anyway!

Our Cozy Den's Great Lakes Adventure! ~ All 5 Great Lakes in 10 Days!!

Gotta love free water parks!

If you missed my posts about Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, or Lake Huron, check them out on my North America Travel page here. Stay tuned for Niagara Falls, Lake Erie, and our Grande Finale!


When We Let Kids Do Things {with FREE printable!!}

When we let our kids do things ~ Our Cozy Den

Do your kids ever say, “That’s not fair! ______ gets to ______!” Then you respond with the typical parent response, “You’ll get to when you’re his age!”

But is that really true? Honestly?

I don’t know about you, but I have about ten million thoughts in my head at any given time. The last thing I can remember is how old little Johnny was when he lost his first tooth, or got to stay up until 8 p.m., or get his first cell phone.

So what did I do to keep track of it all? I bet you can guess. I made a chart.

When we let our kids do things ~ Our Cozy Den

Now, I recognize that life isn’t fair. One kid doesn’t necessarily get to do things at the exact age as another kid. It depends on the environment, your location, the maturity of the child, and many other factors! But it does certainly help me, as a mom, from having to keep all of that information inside my head! And for some things, it helps my kids to know that there is an official age when some milestones occur. Then they don’t whine about it!

Here’s a blank copy of the chart, if you want to edit and use for your own family! It’s a Microsoft Word doc, so you should be able to save it and make changes on your own.

May you be filled with peace {and not too much bickering}!

Free Autumn Desktop Organizer Download!

Free Autumn Desktop Organizer Download from Our Cozy Den

Labor Day has passed, so it feels like Autumn has officially begun {even though it is still pretty hot here in Ohio}.

I don’t know about you, but I love having a computer desktop that is all neat and tidy! A few times a year,  I make myself a new desktop organizer that is pretty and perfect for the current season. Today, I’m going to share my organizer with you!

Here’s how to use it!

  1. Download the desktop organizer here. (This link will take you to a full-size image, click and save to your computer.)
  2. Go into your computer settings and make the image your new desktop background.
  3. Start shuffling around your folders and icons, putting them in the organized sections.

I love it because it makes everything look so neat and orderly, and it is also SO much easier to find things!

The 5 sections on my free organizer are “Projects”, “Admin”, “School”, “Her Files”, and “His Files”. I can also make you a customized desktop organizer, with any 5 sections you want, for only $2! Send me an email at to order yours.

How To Use The Envelope System (& WIN an Envelope System Wallet!!!)

How to Use the Envelope System (& WIN an envelope system wallet!) ~ Our Cozy Den

I’m a HUGE fan of the Envelope System. You may have heard of it – Dave Ramsey has been touting its benefits for years, and frugal housewives have been using it for decades. It can seem overwhelming at first, but here’s a quick tutorial on how to get started using it to save your family BIG money.

First, let’s talk about WHY.

To put things simply, people spend more when they swipe a card over using cash. It’s all about the way your brain registers the money as a tangible resource leaving your possession. When you swipe a card, it’s an abstract thing – you never see the money, or feel it in your hand. It doesn’t feel like you lost anything, only like you gained (your purchase). However, when you pay cash for an item, it is a real exchange of goods, one item for another, money for product. You feel it.

All this means that people spend more when using plastic over cash. They tend to go for upgrades, upsells, and add-ons. They grab extras in the checkout line. They spring for the warranty they might-but-probably-won’t need. McDonald’s figured this out when they started accepting credit cards: the average bill for people paying with a credit card is $7, versus $4.50 for those paying cash. (source)

Studies show that people spend an average of 12-20% more when using plastic. When you have cash in hand, what you have is what you have, and you CAN’T go over that amount. There’s no overdraft for cash. If you have too much on the belt, you put something back. You pay attention to prices as you shop, keeping a mental tally so you don’t go over. (By the way, this is great math practice for your kids — Connor keeps track of mine for me!)

In recent years, they have been trying to even further remove the customer from the payment process, by making it even faster and less tangible. With each upgrade, people spend even more. They have come out with keychains, bracelets, even phone apps that allow you to pay by only hovering your item near a payment device. It’s SO easy to be parted from your money.


  1.  First, you need to make a budget. I’m planning on an upcoming post about how to write a budget (WITH your spouse if you have one). You can also read about our budget here and here. Write out all of your bills and spending categories, and give each category a set amount each month. Give every dollar of your paycheck a place to go.
  2. Decide which categories are going to be cash-only. I recommend doing this for as many as you can. My cash categories are: groceries, miscellaneous (household items, office supplies, clothes, etc), fun money (eating out and activities), date night, and spending money, and gas. Gas used to be one where I would swipe the card (there are no impulse purchases at the gas pump), but recently we had a gas station open near us where it is 5¢/gallon cheaper if you pay cash, so we pay cash for that too now.
  3. Once you have it set up, get an envelope system wallet. It can be simple at first – a small accordion file or just some actual envelopes. Or you can buy a nicer one. See below to find out what I use, and enter the giveaway for a FREE Envelope System wallet!!
  4. When you go to the store, check how much money is in the envelope for that category, and don’t go over that amount. Also, never borrow from other envelopes.


  • When you are first beginning, take the credit and debit cards OUT of your wallet. You don’t want it to be accessible as a back-up plan. We need to cut the cord, here, and change is tough at first. But believe me, it’s worth it.
  • Reevaluate your envelopes each month. If you had too much or not enough money in a certain category, sit down with your spouse and make a plan to adjust the budget.
  • To use the envelope system with 2 spouses, you have several options:
    • you can have 1 set of envelopes, and whoever is going to make a purchase takes that to the store with them.
    • you can have 2 sets of envelopes, and split the money between the two, sharing when needed (within the same category, grocery money for grocery money).
    • you can have 1 person in charge of the spending, and the other spouse only carries their personal pocket money in their wallet (this is what we do).


I’ve been teaching Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University for a while now, and one of the common complaints with moving to an all-cash system is “What about shopping online!?”

There are two ways to deal with this, personally, I tend to use a combination of the two.

  1. Buy gift cards for your favorite online stores at the grocery store. At Walmart and Kroger, you can get gift cards for dozens of online places. My favorite online store is, and I can pick up a gift card when I do my grocery shopping, and pay cash for it. Sometimes, when Kroger has their 4x-fuel-points-on-gift-cards deal, you can pick up online gift cards, swipe your Kroger plus card, and save money on your gas too!
  2. Keep a paper envelope in your desk drawer. Every time you want to shop online, take cash OUT of your wallet and put it into the envelope in your desk drawer. Then use your debit card at the online store. This works because: a) it gets the cash into your hands, and you SEE it leaving your wallet; and b) you still can’t overspend. To spend it, it MUST be in your wallet. At the end of the month, take the cash in your desk drawer, and use it toward next month’s cash. *This option only works if you have a little cushion of extra money in your bank account. If money is tight and you don’t have a cushion, use option #1. 


I used Dave Ramsey’s paper envelopes that came with his FPU class for a while, until I found this AWESOME envelope system wallet from the Etsy store Thrifty Zippers. I’ve been using it for 2 and a half years now, and I LOVE it! It has 6 zippered envelope pouches for all of your cash, change, and/or receipts. It has plenty of pockets in the front and back for ID cards, debit cards, gift cards, discount cards, voter registration cards, insurance cards, and whatever else you carry around. It’s made of durable oil-cloth, which won’t rip or stain or get worn out. Mine still looks as new as the day I bought it!

Win an Envelope System Wallet ~ Our Cozy Den

I contacted Thrifty Zippers to find out if she would be willing to give one of these away to you guys, and she agreed! Take a look at the entry box below to enter for your chance to win a free wallet of your choice from Thrifty Zippers! Click here to be taken to to enter. Leave a blog post comment about which wallet from Thrifty Zippers is your favorite before you go!

{Giveaway Ended ~ Congratulations to our winner, Aliyana!}

Thanks for visiting, and I hope that using the Envelope System greatly blesses your family and your finances!

Win a 2015 planner: My first GIVEAWAY!!!


I’m a list maker. I love to write things down, check off little boxes, and see my schedule on paper. I’ve bounced around using several different sorts of planners, calendars, and schedulers – both digital and print – and at long last I have found something that I ADORE. And since I love it so much, I’ve decided to give one away here on the blog!

This is my well-loved and used 2014 Action Day Planner.


I use a binder clip to make it easy to flip to the current week: IMG_2579

There is ample space on each day to write in all the family’s activities and obligations.

My favorite part is all the list-making space in the margins. I can write any lists, notes, brainstorms, or info that I need to keep at hand.
IMG_2581 IMG_2582 IMG_2583

I just ordered my 2015 planner so I can start penciling in events that I’m planning for next year! IMG_2584

Here is a little sneak peek at some of the features inside:
There are several pages at the beginning full of goal-making advice and helpful tips on how to be more successful. IMG_2585

There are monthly calendars at the beginning, as well as yearly calendars for the current and upcoming years. IMG_2586

There is a weekly calendar with list areas for every week of the year. IMG_2587There are also contact pages and note-taking pages at the end.

Now, for the giveaway!

How to enter:

1. Comment on this blog post about which feature you love most about the planner!

2. Subscribe to the blog via email (in the top left sidebar). Then comment “I subscribed!”

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3. Use the share buttons to share this blog post on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. Leave another comment for each time you share: “I shared on facebook!” “I pinned on pinterest!”

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Each comment is another entry! I’ll draw a winner in one week, so get your entries in by Tuesday, November 4th.


Winner must be located in the USA or military institutions with an APO address.

This prize was not provided by any company or institution, but is provided by the owner of this blog. I was not provided any free items in exchange for this blog post or giveaway.

plannerThis giveaway has ended! Congratulations to the winner, Rachel!

Lowe’s Build & Grow

We used to do the Lowe’s Build & Grow workshops with Connor when we lived in Tennessee, and I really missed it during our time overseas.

If you don’t know about it, it’s awesome! You just sign up online, head to the store at the right time, and your kids get to build something for FREE! They get an apron, some goggles, the project, and a certificate to take home. They also get a patch for each project completed! IMG_2164 IMG_2165 IMG_2167 IMG_2170 IMG_2174 IMG_2176 IMG_2177IMG_2286 IMG_2287 IMG_2288 IMG_2292In September, we built binoculars and fire trucks. And did I mention it’s FREE?!?

You can sign up at!