Guest post from Brigitte of Did you know there are over 400 National Park Sites in the United States?! This includes national historic sites, national recreational areas, national sea shores, national monuments, and just over 60 national parks that you ...

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10 Ways to Save on National Park Visits with Kids

Guest post from Brigitte of

Did you know there are over 400 National Park Sites in the United States?!

This includes national historic sites, national recreational areas, national sea shores, national monuments, and just over 60 national parks that you can explore with your family. Check out the National Park Service’s website to find one near you (or for your next vacation).

Here are 10 ways to save on your next national park adventure!

1. Purchase or Sign Up for an Annual Pass

Families who frequent national parks that charge a fee may benefit from an annual pass, which is good for 12 months from the purchase month.

Seniors (ages 62+) can take advantage of an annual pass (or even a lifetime pass) aimed specifically at them for an even steeper discount. The senior pass will cover the cost of everyone in a non-commercial vehicle if the site has a per vehicle charge. Great way to enjoy some time with grandkids!

Families with a fourth grader can enjoy free entry at hundreds of locations from September through August by getting a free annual pass through the Every Kid in a Park program. Even homeschooling families with a fourth grader can take advantage of this opportunity!

Active duty military members can receive free annual passes for many sites for them and their dependents by asking for a U.S. military annual pass.

Even if your family has an annual pass, it is still advisable to contact parks ahead of time to ensure the pass is accepted at that location.

2. Go on Free Days

If you don’t plan to visit the national parks multiple times in a 12 month span, an annual pass may not make sense for your family.

Instead, check to see if they offer any free days. It’s suggested to arrive early and be prepared for large crowds of people on these days!

(NOTE: Some national sites are free all year round.)

3. Check the Event’s Calendar

Junior Ranger days, astronomy programs, family days, historic days, nature walks, sled dog demonstrations, movies, archaeology days, and photography walks are just a few of the low cost or even free events offered throughout the year at national sites.

Schedule your visits accordingly by checking the events calendar.

4. Check out the Junior Ranger Program

Kids may enjoy participating in the free Junior Ranger Program where they can complete fun yet educational activities and earn badges at each national park.

Even kids who don’t have an opportunity to visit many national parks can earn badges at home by completing booklets about bats, archaeology, caves, the Underground Railroad, and more.

5. Create a Webrangers Account

Kids (and even interested adults) can earn virtual badges and rewards as they complete activities while learning about people, history, animals, nature, science, puzzles, and parks through the Webrangers program.

Registration is free and simple- just create a user ID and password. Once an account has been created, all of the completed activities are saved so progress can easily be tracked.

Kids may even have fun personalizing their own virtual ranger station by choosing a theme and customizing the walls, shelves, chair, desk, floor, picture, and window view. What a great way to get kids excited about visiting National Parks and learning more!

6. Carpool

By carpooling with others, you can split the cost of the entrance fee if the site charges a per vehicle fee.

7. Visit the Visitor’s Center

Visitor’s centers often provide free maps, guides, suggested tips, exhibits, and even videos to ensure you get the most out of your visit.

8. Talk to Park Rangers

Park rangers are often quite knowledgeable about the area and can offer additional suggestions and information about the site.

You may even be able to get a personal tour if you ask (particularly on a non-busy day)!

9. Plan Ahead

Check out the site’s “plan your visit” section to learn more about fees, hours, things to do, suggestions, and more to make the most out of your visit. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you want to see ahead of time since some parks are so big!

Also, check the weather to ensure you are wearing weather-appropriate clothing for the day.

10. Bring Supplies

Besides wearing weather-appropriate clothing, comfortable footwear, and a hat, it may be beneficial to bring water, a camera, sunglasses, bug spray, and sunscreen.

Finally, don’t take a bag for collecting specimens since it is illegal to remove items from national sites.

Instead, bring a bag for any trash you may have and take pictures of all of the neat rocks, shells, and leaves if you want a record of them!

What other tips do you have for your next national park adventure?

Brigitte Brulz is a homeschooling mom, creator of the Adventure Writing Prompt Journal, author of the book Pickles, Pickles, I Like Pickles, and freelance writer. She offers free coloring pages, activity ideas, and more on her website at


FREE Get Organized HQ Online Event (Over 20 Workshops and Speakers!!)

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

The FREE Get Organized HQ Event is back again this year!

Get Organized HQ Desktop

Are you looking to simplify your life, get organized, and achieve more?

If so, you don’t want to miss this FREE Get Organized HQ Online Event! When you sign up, you’ll get FREE access to 20+ practical workshops taught by a variety of experts and bloggers! (I’m even teaching a class on goal setting!)

The event will take place September 9th-13th, 2019. Several workshops will roll out each day, and you’ll have 24 hours to watch each video for FREE.

(If you’d like lifetime access so that you can take your time watching them, you can purchase an all-access pass for just $29! But be sure to grab it before August 29th, when the price on the all access pass starts going up!)

Get Organized Photo Collage

Who is Get Organized HQ for? This FREE online event is for you if:

  • You have big dreams and goals you want to achieve
  • You want to get organized once and for all
  • You want your home running smoothly
  • You are looking for new organizing ideas and inspiration
  • You are having trouble getting motivated to organize

This FREE online event is for women of all ages and stages of life, and there’s really something for everyone — goal setting, easy meal planning, quick cleaning solutions, streamlining your wardrobe, tracking finances, managing self-care, putting routines in place, and SO much more!

{And don’t forget! If you want lifetime access, you can purchase the all-access pass for just $29!)

Go here to sign up for the FREE Get Organized HQ online event!


My Current Morning Routine

I’m such a firm believer in the power of a morning routine! In this week’s episode, Jesse and I talk about our morning routines and why a morning routine can make such an impact on your life. 

Missed previous episodes of The Crystal Paine show? You can listen to them here.

(When you listen to the episode, this photo will have more meaning!)

The Power of a Morning Routine

We’re in the middle of getting back to the swing of things around here now that school has started back. One of the things that has made such a difference for us in jumping back in to getting everyone out the door early in the mornings is the fact that we had a great morning routine throughout the summer.

In this episode, we talk in-depth about our morning routines, what they look like, and why they work so well for us. Whether you love or loathe the idea of morning routines, I think this episode will inspire and encourage you! By the way, need some encouragement and accountability, to create a routine of your own? Check out my 5-Days to a Better Morning Challenge!

We also share details of something exciting Jesse got to do recently, our trip to Table Rock Lake, Jesse’s surprising discovery (I can’t WAIT for you to hear this one!), books we’ve recently finished, and the mascara I accidentally fell in love with.

In This Episode: 

[02:02] Jesse got to see Jocko Willink at a conference!

[06:27] Hear what’s saving our lives and why Jesse is eating crow… (hint: it involves audio)

[09:34] Want to know what we’re reading/listening to? 

[13:16] Learn why having a morning routine leads to success… not a lack of sleep!

[15:07] I share my current morning routine (yes, you can laugh because it’s fairly unconventional!)

[19:02] It’s Jesse’s turn! Hear about his morning routine.

[20:55] A morning routine impacts my life for the better because it:

  1. Helps me to consistently stick to important habits.
  2. Provides a solid foundation for my day.
  3. Sets me up for success.

[24:16] What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, but I hope this episode inspires you to be intentional with your mornings.

Links and Resources:

How to Listen to The Crystal Paine Show

The podcast is available on iTunesAndroidStitcher, and Spotify. You can listen online through the direct player we’ll include in the show notes of each episode. OR, a much easier way to listen is by subscribing to the podcast through a free podcast app on your phone. (Find instructions for how to subscribe to a podcast here.)

Ready to dive in and listen? Hit the player above or search for “The Crystal Paine Show” on your favorite podcast app.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission — at no additional cost to you. Thank you so much for your support!


7 Books I Finished in July

Want to know what books I finished in July? In 2019, I’m sharing the books I read each month and what my honest thoughts were on those books. If you love books, you don’t want to miss this post! (You can see all of my book reviews for this year here.)

I set a goal to finish 80 books in 2019 and a second goal that 40 of those books will be books I already own. (You can see which books I picked to read from those I already own here).

By the way, I’m truly loving using GoodReads to track my reading. You all were right! It is really motivational to see my progress! And I’ve been ahead on my goal for the last month!

I finished 7 books in June —- yay! Here’s what I read + my honest thoughts on each of the books:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

I am so conflicted on what to say about this book. On the one hand, it was a very well-written story that was pretty captivating, but on the other hand, I struggled to like it.

It’s the unconventional love story of C.S. Lewis and his wife. It was both beautiful and tragic and not at all what I expected.

I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t.

Some of that was because I think there was too much fiction woven in and I didn’t know what was fact and what was fiction — and that bothered me. Some of it was because I was concerned with Lewis’ relationship with Joy when she was still married. If it were true, from my vantage point, it felt like it crossed some lines of emotional attachment that shouldn’t happen between two people when one of them is married.

If I could tie up this review with a bow, I would. But I can’t. Because I just don’t know what to say or think about this book.

Have you read it? If so, please let me know what you thought of it. And please let me know if you disagree with me and why! I really wish I could be persuaded to like it.

Verdict: 3 stars

Begin Again

This book moved me at a deep level. While I felt like sometimes I wasn’t poetic enough to understand the depths of what was being communicated.

It felt so raw and honest and vulnerable and yet so beautiful and rich and inspiring. I didn’t want it to end.

Two of the quotes that were the most meaningful to me:

“We don’t get to the truth while we’re deeply invested in what’s false.”

“God’s story is a narrative of emancipation.”

Of all the books I read in July, this was my favorite… thus, the 4-star verdict.

Verdict: 4 stars

Preach to Yourself

I wanted to love this book and I did love many parts of it. But I felt like it was hard to slog through at times. Some of the chapters felt really long and drawn out.

And yet, some of the sections were so powerful and so important. For instance, this passage is GOLD:

“Many of us — maybe all of us — don’t live what we say we believe… We say we depend on God, but we act like we’ve got to make it happen on our own. We say we believe God can heal, but we’re walking around with decades-old wounds. We say we believe God is at work, but we’re asleep at the wheel of the one life He’s given us.”

So, despite some of the chapters feeling longer than necessary, this book has some very valuable stuff and is worth the read.

Verdicts: 3 stars

Last Christmas in Paris

This book had been recommended to me as one to read since I loved The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It’s the love story of a soldier at war and his friend’s sister at home.

They began writing letters just to keep each other company. But slowly, ever so slowly, it morphed into more. It’s a fairly slow-developing story, but there is a lot of history woven throughout and I learned quite a bit about World War I. (I realized I have read a lot about World War II, but very few books about World War I.)

The book is epistolary, which means the story is told through letters and telegrams. I found it fascinating in the afterward to discover that the authors wrote the bones of this book as actual letters back and forth.

Verdicts: 3 stars

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way

Lysa always has a way with words to penetrate your heart and challenge you, while also drawing you in with her funny and authentic story-telling.

For some reason, though, unlike her others books I’ve read, I felt like this book was missing something. I’m not sure if it’s because she wrote it while still very much in the midst of the story that is a big story arc for the book or if it was something else. I couldn’t put a finger on it.

I do feel like the book would be a real encouragement to someone who is going through a difficult time when life feelings overwhelming, hard, and just doesn’t make sense.

Verdict: 3 stars

Kind is the New Classy

This is a quick read (or listen) and definitely had some valuable content. However, I have to admit that I was sort of turned off by how the author seemed to drop in unnecessary details that just felt kind of prideful.

I know that we all come at things differently and only God knows someone’s heart, however, I hadn’t said anything to Jesse about this and was listening to the book when he was in the room and he picked up on this same thing, too.

I think there is a lot of helpful inspiration in this book, I just struggled to love it because I kept getting hung up on the presentation.

Verdict: 3 stars

Beauty Maker

Monica asked me if I would write an endorsement for her brand-new book. Since I love her work, I said yes!
Here was the endorsement I wrote after reading it:
In Beauty Maker, Monica invites us on a journey to cultivating more beauty — in our surroundings and in our souls. Her words inspired me to prioritize taking time to create more beauty in our home and to prioritize taking time to be a noticer of the beauty that is all around me.
My favorite part of the book? The rich and yet simple photos that showcase how Monica lives out her message in her everyday life.

Verdict: 3 stars

Important & Super Honest Note:

I’m kind of not wanting to hit publish on this post. Why did I ever commit to writing honest reviews of all the books I read anyway?? I want to be truthful, but I also want to be kind and gracious… and I struggled with how to strike that balance well in my reviews today.

I want you to know that I’m not going to sugarcoat my feelings, but I also know that authors are real people who have put so much effort into their books that it’s hard for me to write reviews that feel like they lean toward being negative.

Ugh. This is the part of my job that is so hard sometimes.

If you felt I didn’t communicate graciously or you are the author of any of these books and you felt hurt by what I wrote, please let me know. This is an area where I’m still a big work in progress and I don’t want to offend or hurt anyone if I can help it!

What have you been reading recently? Any books you think I really need to read soon? I’d love to know!


Gretchen’s $74 Weekly Grocery Shopping Trip and Menu Plan for 5


5 pkg Kroger Cheese – $0.99 each after e-coupon (No longer available)

3 Simple Truth Greek Yogurt – Marked down to $0.49 each

2 Kellogg’s Fruit Snacks – $0.99 each, used $1/2 printable – $0.49 each after coupon

1 Hunts Ketchup – $2.99, used $1.50/1 e-coupon – $1.49 after coupon

3 Private Selection Pasta – $0.50 each (I forgot to include these in the picture.)

1 Moms Best Oatmeal – Marked down to $0.79

2 pkg Goldfish – $0.99 each

2 pkg Quaker Rice Cake Snacks – Marked down to $0.79 each

2 bags Kroger Frozen Veggies – $1 each, used $0.50/2 mailer coupon – $0.75 each after coupon

1.54 lbs Red Grapes – $1.51

2 GogoSqueeze Applesauce Pouches – $5.69 each

2 boxes Annie’s Crackers at $2.99 each – On Sale Buy One Get One Free, used $0.50/2 printable – $1 each after coupon

2.14 Bananas – $1.05

1 Kroger Peanut Butter – $1.79, used Free mailer coupon – Free after coupon

1 Oyster Crackers – $0.79

1 can Kroger Green Beans – Marked down to $0.29

1 can Refried Beans – Marked down to $0.39

1 bag Kroger Brown Rice – $0.89

1 bag Kroger Flour – $1.59, used $0.40/1 mailer coupon – $1.19 after coupon

2 Green Leaf Lettuce – $1.29 each

Total after coupons: $38.31


1 bag Frozen Chicken Breasts – $5.99

1 pkg Chicken Thighs – $4.35

1 Half & Half – $1.59

1 bag Navel Oranges – $1.89

1 bag Organic Rice – $2.59

1 lb Butter – $2.89

1 pkg Tortillas – $1.19

1 loaf Bread – $0.99

1 Sour Cream – $1.49

1 bag Red Grapes – $2.23

1 bag Chocolate Chips – $1.89

1 Taco Seasoning Mix – $0.39

2 bag Tortilla Chips – $1.69 each

1 can Pineapple Chunks – $0.95

1 bag Roma Tomatoes – $0.79

1 gallon Milk – $1.49

1 pkg Strawberries – $1.99

Total: $36.08

Total for both stores: $74.39

Menu Plan for This Week

We are still getting lots of veggies from our garden which I will be using this week!


Cereal, Eggs, Toast, Oatmeal, Donuts (at church)


Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches, Turkey Sandwiches, Cheese Quesadillas, Cheese/Crackers/Fruit/Veggies, Tossed Salads, Leftovers


Homemade Cheese Pizza, Breadsticks

Out to eat for my birthday

Chicken, Rice & Beans

Game Night at our house (We are doing a Nacho Bar and I’m providing Chips, Sour Cream, Tomatoes, Meat and Lettuce.)

Pancakes, Eggs, Fruit Salad

BBQ Meatballs, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Rolls

Tossed Salad Bar with Grilled Chicken