Friday, January 30, 2015

Hilton Mom Voyage Opportunity

Just a quick heads up for my traveling mamas about a great program that is currently accepting applications, the Hilton Mom Voyage program. You'll receive 15 free Hilton stays in exchange for 20 blog posts a year. If you're a mom and a travel blogger, this is a chance for you to reach a wider audience. My blog is a baby, but I applied all the same. I encourage you to take 20 minutes to fill this out. (It's fun to write about yourself, anyway!) The application requires a few basic questions, some writing samples and a family photo.

The requirements, pulled from the website:

Qualifications include having at least one child, age 4–12 years old and visiting hotels with your child(ren) at least 5 nights per year. Selected participants will have strong writing skills and storytelling ability. Open to legal U.S. residents, age 21 or older. Not open to employees of Hilton, its affiliates or suppliers. Participants must be available to attend an all-day training (expenses paid) in the Washington, D.C. area on Monday, March 16, 2015.  

Did you guys catch that last part? All expense paid training in D.C.! First of all, who doesn't love our nation's capital? Secondly, for those of you who envision a future of pro blogging, being trained by and working with one of the biggest companies in the world, is bound to look pretty attractive on your resume!

Good luck, babes!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Winter is My Kryptonite

Winter sucks:
Shame on me! I'm just now getting around to posting photos from Sunday. It's a miracle I do anything in winter. I feel like I'm in a hazy dream, half the time. If I were a computer, I'd be flashing the "low battery" warning. Do you guys feel as crummy in January and February as I do? Every year, in December, I try to formulate a plan to beat the winter blues. This year, I created Pamperary and Fabuary, two months devoted to spoiling myself. That lasted about a week. I'm just no good without sunshine. I have to consider winter a slate cleaner for happiness. Just one big eraser wiping all the joie de vivre away. It brings you down to a humdrum state of mind so when the sun comes bobbing along over the horizon, you really appreciate it.

Nature is my Sunday service
But I still manage to glean some happiness out of the two shittiest months of the year. Sunday, for example, I spent almost the whole day outside. It was about 50 degrees. I can deal with that. Sunday has long been designated my outdoorsy day. Not a lot of events are scheduled on Sunday; many stores are closed. It evolved to be my communion with nature time just because the Sabbath shuts the world down.

I spent last Sunday taking my dog for a walk. Actually, I let her walk herself. Winter really sucks for a dog with no back yard. Her strolls are 8 miles in the warm months and 8 yards in the cold ones. That's got to be tough for a creature who can't entertain herself with books and blogs and Netflix.

Disney break

My child seems content to lose herself in the ever repeating loop of kids shows on the Disney Channel. The shows are fairly harmless, but distort a kid's sense of reality quickly. Take it from a girl who thought like was going to be like "Saved By the Bell." (And maybe it is. I'm just more of a Screech than a Kelly.)

In the summer, all the kids in the neighborhood turn the neighborhood park into a summer camp. We bring snacks and crafts. It's great fun. But right now, my child has been spending much time in self-imposed seclusion with "Austin and Ally." So we decided to get a little exercise at a local trail/park.

There was the riding of scooter, the exploring of a stream, the taking of breaks, and climbing of playground equipment with a new friend. My camera was nearly dead so I only got a few shots. But we played until late afternoon. We planned on seeing an opera singer perform. I looked in the rear view on the way to the performance, and my kid was out like Neil Patrick Harris. (Does that play on words work? Maybe "Out like Ricky Martin? Out like Andersen Cooper? I really wanted to use Liberace here, but most people don't know who that is. Oh, for those of you who don't, let me educate you....This is the great Liberace.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Trip Giveaway Alert

Brownell is giving away a 4 day, 3 night giveaway to one of their 8 all inclusive resorts in Mexico or Jamaica! Enter the giveaway before January 29th! Even if you don't feel lucky, enter! I have won 2 trips in the last few months just by entering a few giveaway and sweepstakes a day!

But wait, feeling more European? Jovial Foods is giving away a culinary trip to Lucca, Italy. Enter here for a shot a Mediterranean adventure! 

Discover the Dinosaurs Review

The kid and I are spoiled. I needed to get that admission out of the way first. When it comes to kids events, we have seen it and done it all over the last seven years. Carnivals, fairs, festivals, museums, circuses,games, shows--I was pretty much hauling my kid off to these before my c-section scar had time to heal. Many of these events were free things done by the city or county or were created by the Army MWR to entertain military families.

 The Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit touring the country is $20 for adults and $25 for children. To a cheapskate like me, that's pricey, especially if you are thinking in terms of a 4 person family! Luckily, I won tickets from a local tv station. 

What the kids get with the exhibit plus band:

* 8-10 dinosaur scenes with animatronic and static figures
* a piece of paper with scavenger hunt questions
* a plastic, gumball machine-style prize for turning in scavenger hunt paper
* access to a dig pit
* access to movie tent
* access to mini golf station
* baby/toddler padded play area
* access to bounce house
* access to dinosaur ride

On paper, that sounded like a fair price for an educational look at dinosaurs and all the activities.

My thoughts:

Upon entering, we were directed to stand against a wall a pretend a dinosaur was coming toward us so they could take a photo to try to sell to us. A creepy, battered mannequin that looked like it was bought from a department store foreclosure auction sat by the fold out table that held the stack of scavenger hunt papers.

The dinosaur scenes were dimly lit and very attractive. The dinosaurs were human-sized or larger. There were animatronic creatures that wiggled their hand or "chewed" at a potted plant lamely. I couldn't help but think the movement paled in comparison to Chuck E. Cheese and his band. There were placards giving facts about the dinosaurs, and then within a few minutes, the exhibit part was over. You have the option to buy "exhibit only" tickets at the door for about $13. I advise you not to. You can see things along these lines from your local natural history museum for free or very cheap.

The scavenger hunt redemption stand and the photo center were next. Photos were small, with the option to buy a regular for $15 an a 3D photo for $20. Obviously, I passed.

Then, we passed through folding tables piled with VERY over-priced toys, like dinosaur plushes and water guns. I was beginning to get the idea that this was not an educational event so much as a carnival. My daughter began the begging and pleading. "Can I have this? This one? What about this dinosaur tote?It's only $20!"

We made it past the toy trap to the activity floor. My daughter took one look at the dinosaur ride, which was like one of those machines in front of groceries stores that wiggle a little when you drop your coins in it, and decided she was far past the age group that would find that thrilling.

 The bounce houses were very nice. There were separate bounce houses for school aged children and toddlers.The line to the bounce houses was quite long on this particular day, about a 20 minute wait, but my my daughter enjoyed her 5 minutes of play before the whistle.

Tickets for mining, panning and face painting  were $2 each or $20 for 12. I am not immune to begging, and my child finally wore me down. My daughter panned a 3lb sack of gems to the equivalent of $8. The activity only lasted a minute, but she got some cool gems to take home and a card with which to identify them. I felt satisfied with that. 

Face painting is a fixture of almost every kids event, and I have always discouraged my daughter from getting one. The lines are long, the price is high, and it's such a temporary thing. I am a great face painter. I paint her face at home, but she says it's not the same so I finally relented. We waited over an hour in the face painting line. The $16 piece was done in a few seconds with a few quick swipes of a brush and a dash of glitter. (It did look pretty though.Probably better than I could do!)

I was too worn out for mini golf or another wait in the bounce house line. I found the affair cheap and over-priced like a roadside attraction. It was not a good value for the price, but my daughter felt differently. She referred to it as "the fair" and wanted to stay and spend money for hours longer. She didn't give a flip about the dinosaurs and had nearly forgotten we'd seen them at all. 

As a frugal person, I recommend visiting a nearby children's museum, which would be twice the entertainment for half the price, instead of Discover the Dinosaurs. But here's my seven year old's opinion: "it was so fun. I loved it.
. " (She typed that herself)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Friday Night: I Creep Out Kadir Nelson

Our local art council arranges some pretty amazing exhibits, but I was really looking forward to well-known children's book illustrator, Kadir Nelson's visit last night. We're an army family so I have been to many libraries now, and this man's books have been in all of them. Mr. Nelson's illustrations are life-like and hint at a great empathy for humanity. My seven year old is also a fan.She had a copy of one of his books, and was ready for him to scribble his name on it. This was her to be her first book signing, after all. I was so tired after going out of town and then, taking my daughter to a dance class, and I had only had one biscotti for sustenance all day, and it was cold and rainy, and a 20 minute drive away, and there was a bottle of wine at home, waiting for me, and.... well, there's always an excuse not do something. But the kid wouldn't let me out of it, so I threw my loud, clunky boots back on and marched to the car. 

For those of you who don't know me personally, I do a good deed a day before my birthday. Or many good deeds, if I can. I give donations, help, compliments. When my daughter was getting her book signed by the very dignified illustrator, I figured I should compliment him or his work. I could check another act of kindness off my list. Besides, I am a genuine admirer, but I didn't want to just say, "We love your books."

 Kadir was sitting at a desk on a little stand. He looked like a visited diplomat, very regal. "You look like a work of art sitting on that pedestal," I said as he signed my daughter's picture book. Good one! I told myself. But he gave an awkward little small, and I swear, he gave me just a tiny bit of a "crazy lady" look. I wanted to jump back in line and say, "I'm not hitting on you, you know." But I have learned from age and experience that doesn't generally help matters. In the end, I just shrugged it off. Meh. I've said worse. 

And the exhibit was stunning. There were paintings of boxers, civil rights leaders, presidents and a whole room dedicated to the soft, evening-set paintings from the successful children's book, Baby Bear.

When my daughter and I reached my car, I flipped down my mirror, and saw what the poor Mr. Nelson had to look at. My hair was wet and stringy from the storm outside. My much-too-dark-for-me lipstick was smudged. I looked like Hatchet Face from Cry Baby. I shrugged. Meh.. I've looked worse.

If you want to see Words and Pictures: Illustrated Works by Kadir Nelson exhibit,  in person, visit the Fayetteville/Cumberland County Arts Council before February 28th.

That was my Friday night. What are you doing this weekend?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Impromptu Trip Lands Me on a TV Set and Looking at Nick Cave's Suit of Buttons

"Congratulations you won passes to see Discover the Dinosaurs this weekend." That's what the email I got from the "My Carolina Today" show said, and I love free tickets the way only a broke mom can. The catch was, I'd have to drive an hour away to pick up the tickets from the studio. 

Argghhh... It's cold and rainy today. But... I have been practicing being more of a "yes" person and being open to possibilities. I figured I would visit The North Carolina Museum of Art and pick up the tickets while my daughter was in school.

Kim, from the tv station was so nice. She let me pop in and see the set and photograph it. This was my first time in a television studio. Some anchors were behind us prepping for the news. It was very glamorous and exciting. Kim told me about how John Leguizamo had been on the show a couple of days ago and how sweet he was.  

The museum was so much more than I expected. And it was ... again with my favorite word here--FREE! Famous naturalist, John Audabon has four large books of his work here. There's a Rodin sculpture, an Egyptian Sarcophagus, African  masks and costumes and amazing pieces of modern art. Two buildings worth or exhibits. 


My favorite piece was a suit by artist and rock star, Nick Cave. All the buttons were hand sewn with delicate little red "x"s by the "Stagger Lee" singer himself. If you're in the Raleigh area, this museum must not be missed. 

That was my Friday afternoon. What are you doing this weekend?

Contest Heads Up: Spartan Cruise

Obstacle News is giving away a Spartan Cruise. All you warriors have a chance to challenge yourself at sea!

Learn more about the Spartan Cruise. Kids up to 17 cruise free!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Life Concentrate. Add Two and a Half Days.

Jobs happen. The parental well of fortune runs dry, you find yourself with a wailing bambino who makes your couchsurfing host twitchy, your student loan company tracks you down in San Jose or maybe you miss having more tshirts than fit in your stained up, old Jansport bag. A nine-to-five doesn't mean the death of adventures. Punching the clock just means you have to squeeze your travels into two and half days. You have to weekend hard. You can spend the day in your pjs, watching Netflix or you can climb a mountain. You spend the day vacuuming the floor of your Volkswagen or you can swim with porpoises. You can organize your sock drawer or... tour a winery, see a band, take a painting class, take a hike. Hell, anything is better than organizing your sock drawer!

Someday, you'll realize you are winding up this ultimate journey. Do you think you'll have fonder memories of fishing trips with your kids or of eating a biggie-sized bag of Funyuns while playing Call of Duty in your underwear? Underwear days happen. During the winter, I consider taking a permanent hiatus to Granny Panty Land. But once in a while, we need to participate in life outside the front door. There are adventures out there. Ones worth putting on pants for.


So that's my spiel. That's what I'm selling. Fun weekends for everyone! At "We Do Weekends," I'll share my weekend outings with you, tips and tricks on how I go places on a budget and deals that will help you get where you want to go!

So.... What are you doing this weekend?