Camp Mommy: 30 Budget-Friendly Activities You Can Do With Your Kids This Summer

IMG_5921Summer is officially upon us, which means every parent is asking the same question: What on earth will I do with my kids for three. Whole. Months?

I asked myself that question a few weeks ago. Then my answer came to me: Camp! Send the kids to camp! It will be so much fun!

And then I researched camp and I discovered that camp would cost our family approximately $1000 per week. Ummm…NO. Not gonna happen.

Enter Plan B: Camp Mommy! Camp Mommy is just like regular camp, except that Mommy is the counselor, and the other campers are your siblings and the stray neighbor children, and the field trips are all taken in the family minivan. And it costs not-$1000/week. That part is important.

Camp Mommy is just as fun as regular camp, in fact, it may be even funner (it’s so fun we even get to make up words to describe it!)–and it takes advantage of resources you already have available in your community.

Here are a few exciting activities you can choose from if you decide to create your own Camp Mommy:

  1. Summer kids’ movies–many movie theaters offer free or greatly discounted kids’ movies in the summer months (for instance, Cinemark theaters nation-wide host “Summer Movie Clubhouse”)
  2. Free museums–Many museums offer free admission days at least once a month (just Google “free museum days” for your city and you should find a good list of local options). Also, if you have an account with Bank of America, thousands of museums offer free visits with your Bank of America card on select Saturdays. My kids love visiting museums even if they aren’t specifically geared toward children–I just plan on going for as long as the kids are interested, and it’s a good excuse to explore a new subject or see a new part of town.
  3. Hiking–Get out there and explore a new trail or nature walk! Bring plenty of snacks and water to bribe the kids with when they become “too tired to walk”.
  4. Kids Bowl Free–exactly what it sounds like! Sign your kids up for this program (available at bowling alleys nationwide) and your kids can bowl 2 free games every day, all summer long, for FREE!
  5. Go shopping at the Dollar Store or the thrift store–These stores are my favorite places to find affordable new (or, at least, new to us!) toys, coloring books, puzzles, and art supplies. Give each child $5 and see what treasures they find!
  6. Look at the stars–Go outside on a starry night and gaze at the stars (there are lots of cool free apps to help you find constellations!). Or, if you’re feeling super-adventurous, drive out to a local observatory. Many observatories are open and free to the public, and the summer is a great time to see stars and planets.
  7. Outdoor movies–Most cities and towns have public outdoor movie nights (locally, check out the movies on the beach in Santa Cruz or San Jose’s “In The Park After Dark”)
  8. VACATION Bible School–I haven’t tried this one yet, but I think I need to. I have a friend who recently posted photos of her family vacation out of town–and while they were on vacation, she signed her kids up for a Vacation Bible School at a local church. What a fun way to have your kids spend a few hours in the morning…and what a nice break for Mommy and Daddy while you’re on vacation!
  9. Michael’s Art Camp–my sister told me about this, and it’s got to be one of the best deals out there. For just $5, you can drop off your kids at a local Michael’s craft store where they get to create themed projects to take home. More info is available on their Camp Creativity website.
  10. Get on a boat–many waterways offer affordable boat rentals in the summer. In the South Bay, check out Lake Vasona where you can rent pedal boats, Stand Up Paddle Boards, or canoes by the hour. In Seattle, my top picks are UW or Agua Verde (stop by for a margarita after your strenuous paddle).
  11. Buy a zoo membership–In my experience, this is always worth the money. Most zoo memberships pay for themselves in 2 or 3 visits (I’ve even bought memberships to zoos when we are on vacation in the same city for a week or more so we can stop by for little visits every day!). Plus, most zoo memberships include a reciprocation program where you can visit other partner zoos, aquariums and museums for free or discounted rates.
  12. Drive-in movies–if you are lucky enough to live next to an operating drive-in movie theater, GO. They are a dying breed, and we need to expose our children to their grandeur before they become extinct. Local Mommy Campers should check out West Wind Drive In in San Jose–arrive early so your kids can burn off some energy in the bounce house and buy movie treats in the café before your double-feature begins.
  13. Library events–We visit libraries every week. We go to story time, participate in the free summer reading programs (my kids have already earned free tickets to the children’s museum and free books), watch magic and puppet shows, play at Lego club, and read with service dogs. We bring home books and movies and games by the bagful and the truckload. I ❤ libraries!
  14. Beaches–lakes, rivers, oceans…wherever you have water, go there! Your kids will entertain themselves for hours, no screens required.
  15. Discount days at local attractions–many local attractions offer discounts on their off-peak days or hours during the summer. My favorite local deal is Retro Nights every Monday and Tuesday night at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where we get to play carnival games and go on rides, all for $1 each.
  16. Check out a new park–chances are there are a few (hundred) parks within driving distance that you’ve never been to. Pick one, pack a picnic, and spend a day exploring!
  17. Visit a craft store–pick out a project to work on at home. On our last visit to the craft store I was torn between a DIY tie-dye kit, paint-your-own race cars, and puff-paint hats.
  18. Join a pool–you may be able to join a local pool or cabana club for just the summer months (or at least get a free trial for a day or 2 so you can check it out before you commit).
  19. Cooking–Give your kids a cookbook and let them pick out a recipe they’d like to try. Go shopping together for the ingredients and spend the day in the kitchen! No picky eaters will show up for this meal, guaranteed.
  20. Paint your own pottery–check out a local ceramic painting studio and let your creativity flow! Small pieces usually start at about $5.
  21. Shop the deal sites–go on Groupon or Living Social to see what local deals are available. I’ve found trampoline parks, museums, and outdoor adventures for us to try out, all at savings of 50-70%.
  22. Have a picnic–pack up some goodies and head out to a favorite spot for some fun time al fresco.
  23. Learn a new skill–summer is the perfect time to introduce new skills and allow time for practice, practice, practice. First on our agenda: tying shoes and doing laundry.
  24. Go geocaching–create your free account and download the free app from geocaching.com and head out on a real life treasure hunt!
  25. See a performance–many children’s theaters and local performance groups offer incredible shows in the summer time, many for free.
  26. Collect critters: get an empty bucket (or pick up a butterfly net at the dollar store) and head outside to see what little critters you can find. This week we’ve found ladybugs, lizards, frogs, butterflies…and LOTS of spiders!
  27. Write a letter–Send some cheer to a loved one. Go through the entire letter writing process with your child: choose a recipient, write a letter (date, greeting, body, closing, signature), include a fun extra (one of those art projects they painted earlier in the week will be perfect), address the envelope, and let your child place the stamp in the corner. Bonus field trip opportunity: a visit to the post office!
  28. Splash!–Visit a local splash park…or set up a sprinkler in your own yard.
  29. Visit a pet store–my kids love going to the pet store just so we can look at all of the animals. If you time your visit right you can even be there during feeding time to see what all of those turtles and birds like to eat for breakfast. Some stores will even do free behind-the-scenes tours to see what it takes to care for all of those animals.
  30. Read–When in doubt, read. And then read some more. And then read again. And for all of the summer, and all of forever, read, read, read!

Now it’s your turn! What are some of your favorite summer adventures?

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10 Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom

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This week I read a hilarious post over at Scary Mommy called 20 Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom (disclaimer: the linked post contains language a shade more colorful than my own). Before I even read the article I was giving mental high-fives to the author because…amen, sister. I felt like I could write my own “Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom”. So I did.

With the joys of summer (full-time kids is intense) and a husband who is working on an increasingly more demanding project at work and an infant and a dog who has both a broken tooth and a Urniary Tract Infection (Lord help us all), I’m finding that I, too, am tired. Not like *yawn* “I’m sleepy, let’s go take a nap” tired. More like “just wake me up when they’re teenagers and ready to do their own laundry and cook their own dinner” tired.

And here’s the proof:

  1. Story time under false pretenses
    Let’s read a book, kids! Oh, wait…what’s that? There’s a movie version of that exact book (or at least a movie in a similar genre/theme/category as said book)? And it’s available on Netflix? Hold up, this is real world learning. Text-to-film connection or something. Let’s start the streaming (and excuse me for the next 74 minutes while I lock myself in my bedroom…)
  2. I encourage “independence”
    Yes, you can make your own breakfast (a spoonful of peanut butter topped with chocolate chips). Yes, please dress yourselves (no underwear, backward pants, inside out shirt). Yes, you may play quietly in your own room (dump out every toy box and empty every game box into a mountain of toy shrapnel in the center of the room). You’re on your own, kids.
  3. I can’t find my sunglasses
    They aren’t in the car. They aren’t in my bag. They aren’t in any place where a reasonable human being would put them. I blame the kids and/or dog for hiding them and while I contemplate appropriate punishment I happen to walk by a mirror. And then I find them. On top of my own head.
  4. Time warp
    Dinner is served at 4:30 and we’re wrapping up the bedtime routine by 6. What’s that you say, dear children? Why is it still light outside? Because of the tilt of the Earth… and the end of Mommy’s rope has officially been reached. Goodnight.
  5. Cooking takes on new meanings
    If I have warmed something up–whether by oven, stove, or microwave–that counts as cooking. Actually taking raw ingredients and transforming them into edible fare is a totally different ballgame, and we just don’t go there now. Frozen chicken nuggets? Not anymore–I cooked them (at 425 for 9-11 minutes). Marie Callender’s chicken pot pie? Tastes just like homemade (vent the packaging and microwave for 5-7 minutes).
  6. Nightly routines
    …now consist of tucking in the kids and promptly passing out on the couch with a bowl of popcorn on my lap.
  7. I go to the gym
    …but not to work out. They had me at “90 minutes of free childcare”.

4. I lose track of things. Like counting in order.

9. Bath time
My kids love bath time, and they’re happy to stay in the tub for a good 20 minutes.                That’s the time equivalent of 16 games of Chutes and Ladders. Added bonus: bath                  time = contained children, contained children = contained mess. Added, added                        bonus: they come out smelling better than they did going in. Win, win, win.

10. Early riser
This is counter-intuitive, but waking up early actually helps me counter-balance the            perpetual tiredness. You see, I know that once the wee ones awaken, there’s no                      stopping this train wreck. So I’ve started setting an alarm and waking up before                      everyone else in the house (and, as it happens, before the sun itself makes                                an appearance) just so I can have 2 minutes of peace before the crazy begins. If that’s            not absolutely insane, I don’t know what is.

I could keep going on and on and on…but I’m just too tired to keep writing. Good luck, moms, and good night.

Thoughts on 33

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When I was a little girl, about 5 years old, I was riding home in the car and my mom was driving. I don’t remember where we had been or the circumstances surrounding this day, I just remember my feelings at that particular moment. As I rode in the back seat of that car I looked at my mom with all of her freedom–getting to drive her own car anywhere she wanted and make all of her own decisions–and I felt jealous. I asked her how old she was because I wanted to know how old I’d have to be before I got to enjoy that same freedom. 33, she said. She was 33.

Today, my friends, I have finally arrived. Today is my birthday, and I am 33.

And, while it’s silly looking back at 5-year old me who was jealous of adulthood (what I wouldn’t give to be a kid and able to do cartwheels without throwing out my back or wear skinny jeans because I was actually too skinny to wear anything else…) I think I was on to something. Childhood is wonderful and magical and all that jazz, but adulthood is pretty awesome, too.

In honor of the fact that I’ve finally achieved the perfection that is 33, here are 33 reasons why being 33 really is better than being 5:

  1. I don’t have a bedtime–as I write this post I am, in fact, up past my “bedtime”. And who cares? (Tomorrow me will care, that’s who. But tomorrow me already appreciates the sacrifice.)
  2. I can ride on roller coasters all by myself.
  3. I can lick the cake batter out of my own bowl and not have to share with anybody (I may have told my children that it’s poisonous and could make them die, so they’d better not ever touch my cake batter or else.)
  4. I can drive my own car anywhere I want it to go–If I feel like taking a mid-morning jaunt to “the candy store” (Starbucks), I just get in the car and go. No permission needed.
  5. I don’t have to play house–I have my own real husband and three mini-me’s running around our real house every day. How cool is that?
  6. I get to actually be a teacher, and not just play school.
  7. I have money to buy things I actually want–When you’re a kid, it sure takes a lot of $1 weekly allowances to buy that trinket at the toy store.
  8. I’ve traveled and experienced many parts of the world
  9. I can wear high heels and lipstick (not that I ever really do, but I can, and that’s what really matters)
  10. I don’t have to get shots every time I go to the doctor.
  11. I can watch any movie I want, even if it’s not made by Disney.
  12. I’m in charge–I get to make rules for other (little) people and they have to follow them, not the other way around.
  13. I can eat really spicy food and actually enjoy the experience.
  14. I can reach the top shelf without having to stand on a step stool.
  15. I know how to tame my own hair (and I don’t even scream every time I brush it).
  16. I get my own phone so I can play Angry Birds and PBS Kids any time I want (That’s what phones are for, right?).
  17. I DON’T HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL.
  18. I don’t eat cold hot dogs or soggy pizza for lunch (My diet as a 5-year old was questionable, at best. We can get into that more later.)
  19. I know how to ride a bike. And it’s fun.
  20. If I want to eat ice cream for dinner I just do it.
  21. I get to have my mom, my dad, and my sisters as some of my closest friends.
  22. I get to stare into my baby’s eyes and know that I helped make that. One of the true miracles of life.
  23. I can read bedtime stories to myself.
  24. Pedicures.
  25. I can cut up my own steak.
  26. I get the big bedroom, and my bed is the comfiest one in the house.
  27. I don’t have to wait for recess to play with my friends.
  28. Wine.
  29. I know how to count past 100…which is helpful when paying $1500 veterinarian bills (one of the downsides of being a grown-up, but let’s focus on the positives).
  30. Nobody monitors my screen time.
  31. I can appreciate sleep for what it is: a daily miracle.
  32. Nobody cares how “cool” my clothes are. I can even wear yoga pants every day, and those aren’t even real pants. Bliss.
  33. I control my own destiny–If I want to do something, I make it happen.

Now that I’m 33 years old, I can honestly say that this age is everything that little 5-year-old-me had hoped it would be. I’m excited for this next year and all that it will bring…maybe I’ll even fit into those skinny jeans again.