Free For All

There are so many things out there for kids that are free, whether it’s a free story-time, or a monthly or weekly learning opportunity, it’s worth it to look into.

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We had an amazing, and [mostly] free, Saturday.

Last year, I had the bright idea of signing Tucker up for Geoffrey’s Birthday Club at Toys R Us. We had already gotten a “membership” card and signed up for emails on upcoming deals for toys. The cool thing about the birthday club, however, was that Geoffrey himself would call Tucker on his birthday. So that happened last year. It was pretty cool. I played it through our car’s speaker phone, and Tucker LOVED it.

This year, we received an invitation to attend Geoffrey’s Birthday Club birthday party. Heck yeah we were going! We were given two dates to choose from, one before T’s birthday and one after. We opted for the party before his actual birthday.

Before I get too ahead of myself, I will share an even better free opportunity we had on Saturday. When I say “better,” I just mean that it’s a recurring opportunity. It happens once each month (more in the case of November).

Home Depot, in an act of marketing genius, hosts a Kids Workshop each month. Between 9 and noon on these workshop days, kids and their parents are provided with a kit. Each month is different. A bug house, a delivery truck, a pencil case, and a piggy bank are the projects we’ve been able to complete in the past 4 months.

The kit comes complete with wooden parts, each pre-cut, and a pack of whatever nails and/or screws are necessary for completing the building of the project. In some cases, children are meant to paint their projects before affixing stickers at the final stage. Other times, no paint is needed and stickers are placed strategically to finish out the craft.

First of all, how smart is Home Depot? They are helping to create lifelong patrons of their business. They are building such a positive experience for these kids to associate with their brand. T recognizes not only every HD we pass, but when a Penske truck passes, he calls that out as “a home depot truck!” We made a Penske delivery truck in August.

Second, Tucker gets to do cool building stuff with his dad (and me!) every month. He gets to don his apron, use tools that help him develop his fine motor skills, and spend quality time with us. And then he gets to take home the project, a final product of his hard work and attention. He gets a cool pin for each project completed.

This isn’t something just for little kids. I see kids who are probably 10 or even 12 years old working with these tools, following the multi-step directions, and they have an apron PACKED with pins. It’s clear this has been an activity kids love for the long haul.

These kid workshops are offered nationwide, and are usually held earlier in the month. There are two next month. They are doing a regular craft at the beginning of the month, and then at the end of the month, they are doing an ornament.

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Now, back to the birthday party.

The event wasn’t super fancy, just a few tables set up at the back of the store where they sell baby clothes. There were about 12 kids (maybe half of them were actually birthday kids, the rest were siblings of the birthday kids) ranging from a year to 9 or so.

It was a little crazy, to be honest. Kids shouting, being rambunctious, hopping all about and checking out the goods nearby. Parents were, for the most part, paying attention, helping kids with their coloring pages while we all waited for the big man, Geoffrey.

And then he came out.

A little background on Tucker’s experience with large puppets. Before this event, he’s met one other puppet in his 4.99 years of life. Orbit, the mascot for our city’s minor league baseball team. And he was, as was to be expected, quite freaked out to say the least. I was kind of expecting the same thing this time. The Orbit experience was two summers ago.

When he first saw Geoffrey (a giraffe, if you weren’t aware), his jaw dropped. But he was OK with getting a picture with him. He was a little shy at first, but relaxed pretty quickly.

The host, whose name I am sorry to say I cannot recall, was really friendly and brought out snacks and drinks for all the kids before hunkering down on the tile to read the genesis story of Geoffrey. During the story-time, Geoffrey had retired to the back of the store.

Once the story had been read, it was time for the parade! This was super cute. Each kid trailed behind Geoffrey, toting a parent and a birthday balloon.

When the parade ended, each kid who remembered their invitation, was gifted a special Geoffrey plush toy. Apparently, the birthday kids normally get a birthday Lego set, but they were out. The Geoffrey plush is SO much better. T hasn’t parted with his since.

And yes, it was free. All we had to do was bring that invite.

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And finally, free Legos.

Lego has put out a new movie, maybe you’ve heard of it: Ninjago.

Tucker has seen a handful of episodes from the series on Amazon and knows enough about the characters to recognize the different ones and how their personalities are different.

Randomly, I saw an advertisement on Facebook announcing that Barnes and Noble stores would all be hosting a special event to celebrate the movie’s release. It was scheduled for 4pm on Saturday. Kids would get to “make and take” a Lego construction. The dragon from the movie. And it was, you guessed it, free.

I don’t have any awesome pictures from the event, my phone was well dead after photographing the previous activities (including T’s biweekly science class which I’ll write about at a later time). Let me just say, that it was intense, packed, and just a tad crazy.

I should say that B&N is right next door to Toys R Us. This was oh so convenient. We got there RIGHT on time. Actually, about 2 minutes late because the woman hosting the event was already talking to the crowd about what was about to happen.

We weren’t too close, but we pulled up to a table and waited, for a while, for our pieces to get to us. I was impatient, however, and wanted to make sure Tucker got a set. I ended up following the woman around and we all ended up back at the center of the floor near the tables where the majority of the kids were eagerly building from their pre-made baggies of Legos.

By the time the woman did get to where more kids (and we) were waiting, she’d run out of pre-made baggies. We then had to, very precariously, pull the correct pieces for the set from the original bags that came from Lego. This wasn’t a horrible experience. The other mothers and I were kneeling on the floor, most of us wrapped over our kids who were helping as best they could to collect the pieces as we picked them out. And it wasn’t so crazy that people were mean. I was actually impressed by the helpfulness of us all. I know my husband was watching in awe as this all went down.

The other part that was hectic, was that there were only two sets of instructions. There were 50 sets of dragons, and two sets of directions, you read that correctly. T and Jason (AKA the hubs, AKA Tucker’s daddy) found a little table off to the side, and I floated back and forth between them and the directions. We built our dragon right quick. I was high on adrenaline to be sure!

All in all, we had a great time Saturday. Tucker got some really cool things, and we didn’t have to shell out a ton of money. The cool experience, coupled with the goodies, made for a fun family weekend.

I suppose the take home message for you, my reader, is that there are things out there for you to do with your kiddos that don’t cost any money. Could we have just played at the park? Sure. But T gets to play on the playground at his preschool. These events were more hands-on, more engaging, and more exciting for the three of us.

The birthday club is a once-a-year thing, and the B&N event isn’t one that happens often. Both places do have weekly story-times for kids. We’ve not done a story time at Toys R Us before this weekend. But we have done them at B&N before. We plan to continue going to HD while Tucker’s still interested in doing it.

Check your library, bookstores, bio-parks, and museums. There are so many things out there for kids that are free, whether it’s a free story-time, or a monthly or weekly learning opportunity, it’s worth it to look into.

If you have any freebies you’re enjoying doing with your kiddos, share them in the comments!

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Where Have I Been?

I have probably lost quite a few readers in the last few months. I’m sorry to see you go. However, those that have stuck around, thanks.

My last post was nearly 3 months ago. Things sure have changed around here since then. Probably the biggest change came from my going out in the world to find my new job. I’m sure somewhere in this blog, if you dig around, you’ll read about how I spent years and years (and years) going to school. I am back at it. Sorta.

When I was in Seoul, I totally used my college learnin’. I used my English BA every day as an editor. I used my Education MA every day as an editor of English language education texts. I even used my International Relations BA about 6 days a week as an expat (we kinda hid out at least one day during the weekend).

When we moved home, it was an adjustment: from leaving the house each day to walk or bus/subway to work, being in an office setting, interacting socially and professionally with coworkers… to just us… and the Internet.

Aside from my thighs (which definitely grew in width over the last two years of working from home + having a baby), my social interactions suffered greatly.

The at-home job ended for me officially at the end of July. I had been applying for editing, writing, and teaching jobs all summer, and had yet to land anything. Then I found myself on a really great interview at a middle school in a town just 20 minutes from us (think twin cities). I felt really confident going in because 1. It was a middle school, and 2. It was language arts. The panel seemed to like me, as did the assistant principal who led the interview.

Not less that three hours later, the AP called me with the news. They were going to go with someone else. BUT. She really liked me and wanted to help by putting in a good word for me with the other schools I’d applied to in that district.

That was a Thursday. The following Tuesday (I think), I got an email from a principal at another school asking if I’d found a position yet and if I’d consider something different. Here’s the catch: 1. It’s a high school. 2. It’s social studies. 3. It’s special education. 4. Saying yes means applying for a special education licensure, taking at least one college course on the subject, and the SE teacher comp test.

Needless to say… I’m now the newest world history SE teacher at the school. It’s tough, and rewarding. I’ve met some amazing educators who’ve really supported me over the last 6 weeks (I know, it’s already been SIX weeks!). And I’m busy.

And I’m sad. My little baby is growing and growing and I have such mixed feelings about being away from him. Each morning (if he wakes up before I leave for work at the crack of dawn) I swear he’s gained a pound and half an inch! The same thing when I get home in the evening.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to be home with him for 10 months, though, when most moms only get 3 or 4.

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boXing days

So, when we create phonics books and the letter X comes up, it’s very rare that we have a word that actually begins with it. In order to stay ‘legit,’ we use words like ox, fox, and box. I figured for this post, I’d do the same thing.

We’re trying trying trying to efficiently merge two (and a half) households while all of us are also trying to eek out a happily ever after; make lemonade with our lemons. To do this, we’ve got to share the space in this house. It also means that some things need to be packed up and put into storage.

The last few days, Jason has been working so hard to get the house in better order. Since having my parents move in, we’ve turned a third of Tucker’s room into a storage “unit” to save money and provide room for my folks and brother. Jason went through those boxes and pulled out a few that we’re going to be putting into storage. This included not only boxes of stuff we’re not using (like clothing and such) but Jason’s three trombones and my guitar.

Now, the baby’s room is feeling a little less cramped and more open.

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The Nouveau Nuclear Family

We moved home for family. We probably could have stuck it out in Korea another year but for the fact that my family needed me (and by ‘me,’ I mean ‘us’).

When we arrived back to the States, we moved right in with my parents. And brother. And two dogs. And four cats. Jason and I were set up in the back den, which used to be a back porch, but someone, at some point decided it should be inclosed and insulated. My parents ripped up the carpet and laid hardwood floors. My brother painted the walls a nice color. My dad turned the dark room into an office.

When we moved back, we sought out two things right away: A king sized bed and a Macbook Air (x2). My parents graciously put us up while we reestablished ourselves. Jason needed an address to claim his NM residency since his license had expired around 2008-ish.

We bought our house a few months later, in November 2011. Wedding in April 2012. And of course THe baby in October 2012.

Fast forward to about a month ago. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, our family (my folks, my brother, my husband, my son, and me) had to pull together once again. This time, the result was that everyone moved over here (more or less, since my brother is actually still at our parents house working on getting things out of it so we can then clean, paint, and ultimately sell).

So, while it is still a little tight around here, with the merging of two and a half households, it’s kinda nice. We have live-in babysitters who LOVE their grandson. They get to see him every day. We have help around the house. And we, both my parents and Jason and I have help financially. Everyone is benefiting from it. My parents are a great help when it comes to Tucker. And we’re trying to help them prep their house to sell. From there… We will see if this house will continue to fit our needs. If we need/want, we’re already considering purchasing a multi-family home or a property large enough to support two homes.

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Bro, Me (and Baby), Hubs, Mom, and Dad

The Road Less Traveled

The day was less than ideal for a long walk, yet perfect for one at the same time. It was the first really cool day in the last several days, with the threat of snow looming over us in the clouds above.

If it had JUST been a cold-ish day, it would have been great. But the wind made it more of an adventure.

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For our second trek out into the world with the purpose of increasing our time and distance, Jason and I took the route he usually does when speed walking on his own. We were able to more than double our distance while increasing our pace.

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We used the stroller without the car seat so Tucker could lay out and relax as we went, but next time, we’ll use it because of the high winds. Even with the visor, it didn’t protect T from the wind; with the car seat, at least he’d have twice the protection from the wind. Our other option is a cover like this one:

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Instead, we bundled T up in this get up… it worked well enough.

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**Question: How does your family stay fit together?**

Fit to be Tied

That’s right; it’s Friday and I’m officially cleared to begin REALLY exercising.

To start this thing off right, I weighed myself before breakfast. And I’ll be honest with you all; I put on a lot over the course of my pregnancy. A. LOT. Now, I wasn’t the ideal weight going into my pregnancy, but I had been working on it via Weight Watchers.

So. Full disclosure: from February 16 through October 11, I packed on a whopping 47 pounds. Full disclosure: I went from 242 to 289 in about nine months. And again, full disclosure: This morning (after 8 weeks) I stepped onto the scale and was “happily” surprised to see 2.5.0. So in eight weeks, one pound shy of 40 pounds lost.

To celebrate my first day truly back on the fitness band wagon, we all (my cute little family) went to the park nearby and walked around and through it. It was such a nice day, and with Jason at the “wheel,” we walked at a pretty decent pace.

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1.35 miles in 32:46

When we returned home, Tucker had lunch, then Jason and I had ours. I made myself a tuna sandwich with a slice of EXTRA sharp cheddar on an Asiago bagel. I had a few carrot sticks, 1/4 cup of almonds, and a packet of dried seaweed on the side, and a Cutie for dessert.

And tonight, according to our meal calendar (I’ll write more about this soon), we’re having meatloaf for dinner. Yum, Yum!

**Question: How do you get fit?**

Shaping Up

No, this isn’t a post about how I’m getting more into shape (although I have been working on stretching more because it’s the only way my body will feel remotely normal–more on that in another post).

This post is about how the last, this, and next weeks are shaping up to be quite lovely, riddled with friends and family, and not too bogged down with messy adult things like our doctor dropping our insurance and not telling us until months later and AFTER we had an appointment with her, then billing us a bunch of money.

Last weekend, as you may recall, my dad was in town and my youngest girl cousin had her bat mitzvah. Jason and I even had an aliyah–well, mostly I did, but Jason came up and supported my off-key rendition of the Barchu. The good times continued at the reception later that night, where we had a yummy dinner and great conversations with my family. The only bad part was the fact that I’d been on my feet or sitting in an uncomfortable chair all day so my feet and ankles were amazingly swollen. I hear this is going to be a regular occurrence throughout the summer months. Hooray.

Our friends, Will and Nola, had their beautiful baby girl the day of our Baby Care Basics class at the end of last month. They had invited us to visit and meet her last week, but since my dad was in town, we just couldn’t swing it. They asked about this weekend, but unfortunately we were ‘booked’ already.

Friday night, my best friend and the maid of honor in my wedding was in town. So we met up at this place to meet her and her new boyfriend for dinner, tapas, and beer (Jason and Matt had beer, I had a sad version of a virgin margarita–they don’t do frozen drinks at all!).

Saturday, Jason was able to meet the baby (he’s reported back that even at three weeks, she is SUPER tiny) when he and Will went on an expedition up to Santa Fe to run errands and get in some shooting at a range up there. Meanwhile, Deb swung by, picked me up, and we spent the afternoon at The Baby Bear Store looking at cloth diaper options and Babies ‘R Us adding to the baby registry. It was really great to go with an already-mom who could offer suggestions and recommendations for things I would never have thought about. Like diaper rash ointments other than A&D and Desitin that apparently work much better. Because I registered online to begin, I picked up a swag bag full of baby literature and samples like this spectacularly tiny newborn’s diaper (I have a BIC pen beside it for an idea of just how small the diaper actually is)  and something called Butt Paste.

Jason and I met back at the house and were gone again to have dinner with our friends Jamie, Charlie, and Sebastian. Sebastian (about 15 months old) kept us well entertained while Jamie put the finishing touches on dinner: vegetarian breakfast pizza with cantaloupe for desert. We had a great time, and Jason has a new little buddy in Sebastian. They had fun playing with the farm animal magnet toy and making it sing to them so they could bust some moves. Jason also taught Sebastian a Korean word: 아니오 (ah-nee-oh) meaning “no” because everyone should know how to say no in multiple languages. The whole exchange was very sweet and Jason is going to be a great dad.

Today–happy Father’s Day by the way–Jason, my step-dad, and Jason’s friend Jesse are driving into the mountains to chop wood and look for treasure. Well, Jason and Jesse are chopping wood, and my step-dad Bruce is joining them so he can get in some metal-detecting time. I expect them to be quite sunburned and bringing home loads of fire wood later this afternoon. As a treat, my mom is coming over here so we can keep each other company (her birthday was Friday), watch chick flicks, and gossip.

Up next week is dinner with my cousin Mike and his wife at this place, then finally on Saturday, I’ll get to meet Will and Nola’s new baby. Since Nola just had her baby, she’s also able to give me some pointers and words of encouragement about my own upcoming birthing experience (less than 17 weeks away now!). At her suggestion, I’m going to check out:

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**Question: What are you doing for Father’s Day?**