October 31, 2015

Thrifting Dos and Don'ts

Who doesn't love thrifting? Unique, sometimes even vintage items on the cheap? Yes, please. But it's best to exercise caution when thrifting. Believe it or not, there are some things best bought new.

Let's start with the Thrifting Don'ts.

Kitchen Items
Things that need to be sharp, like a vegetable peeler, knife, grater, etc. are best bought new. Because you know what you get when you purchase a .75c vegetable peeler? A weird, crappy letter opener, because it's certainly not going to be peeling any vegetables. Go to Dollar Tree and get a new one for an extra quarter and save yourself the nicked thumbs from trying to peel a thick-skinned sweet potato because you got a good deal on this stupid thing and you're going to use it dammit.

Battery-Operated Items
Sometimes you'll be fine.
Sometimes you'll spend $5 on a rad Fisher Price piano that turns out to be nothing more than an overpriced, dirty step stool.
Unless you have batteries with you that you can test in it, maybe don't risk it. 

Five years ago me disagrees. I love a bargain, and I love shoes. But if you're going to be putting any miles at all on them, forego already broken-in shoes. You want them to break into your foot, not someone else's. This is especially true for kids, though they're not putting much weight on the cushioning, they put about twice as many miles on their sweet little squishy feet as you do on your hooves.

Anything that Needs to be Dependable
Need it to comfortably support and keep your child safe? Probably new is best. This applies to anything that would be detrimental to you if it failed.

If you still want to live the thrifty life, visit your local Dollar Tree, where everything is $1. (NOT Dollar General--the devil in disguise.) Pro Tip: Shop here for the bigger items--30 oz hand soap, cookie sheets, can openers. Some comparison shopping might be necessary to ensure you're getting a good deal here rather than at Wally World, but be patient and you'll get some great bargains.

As for the Thrifting Dos:

Pretty Much Everything Else

Clothes? Abso-freakin-lutely. Jewelry? Sterilize your earrings first, then go crazy. Artwork, Books, Furniture, etc. are all great thrifted items. Especially if you have kids and/or dogs and can never have nice things again anyway.

If you don't completely destroy the item, re-donate it once it's run its course and share the love. Recycling makes the world go round!

October 20, 2015

How to Find Things to Do With a Toddler (No Matter Where You Are)

When you're traveling, finding community can be difficult. Especially if you're an introvert (like me), and especially if you travel somewhere where not many others are fellow travelers (like Arkansas).

So how do you find things to do and people to hang out with? Whether you're passing through for a couple days or a couple months, here are some tips for getting to know your new area (and the people there) in order to make the most of your time, especially if you're toting around a wee one.

Meetup Groups
Get an account at Meetup.com and Find Your People. Join groups that share your interests, whether it be salsa dancing, reading, or paganism and witchcraft. Most groups have a free trial period of one or two months before you have to pay a paltry yearly fee to stay and hang. This is useful for people in general, whether you have a kid or are a traveler or not. It provides the additional security of knowing that the people you'll be meeting want to meet you too.

Kids Directory
Find an almost comprehensive list of things to do with kids at kidsdirectory.com. Not all states have one, and not all areas of states are covered, but if you live near a city there's a good chance you'll find some cool stuff to do.

Go. To. The. Library. Once I graduated college, it's like I forgot libraries existed. But our library does fun stuff like Toddler Storytime, movie nights and even knitting and yoga classes. I bet yours does, too.

Oh, plus they have books. Borrowing books is a great way to keep a toddler interested and not have to amass a library yourself. (I suggest using a sanitizing wipe on board book pages and book covers.)

Be those parents. Drag your kid to the museum, but only if they have a fun exhibit, preferably interactive. A 3-year-old isn't going to enjoy Renoir or whoever. There should be dinosaurs. Animatronic dinosaurs. Or at least some stuff they can get their hands on. Google 'museum' or 'kids museum' and your city name and go explore.

Whether expansive state parks with lots of trees and open space or a tiny patch of grass with a swing set, parks are a great place for a kid to expend some energy. A grassy patch is all mine needs to be entertained at this stage. They're also the perfect place for toddlers to interact with other kids, allowing you an in to meet their parents.

Babies are natural ice breakers. "How old is your little one?" is my go-to conversation starter. Compliment that kid, and their parents will instantly be more open to you. Mention you're new to the area and most people feel compelled to help you get involved by telling you what they love most about the area and things they think you should do and see.

Many cities host fun events in their parks every so often. Go on your city's website to find a calendar of events. Even if they're not hosted in the park, it's another good resource for finding fun things to do.

Honorable Mention: Free Flyers
Grab one of the flyers from those boxes at the grocery store entrance, or on the thrift store counter. Community events will often be publicized this way rather than online. Your town may have a newsletter or a specific event may simply be advertised with a piece of paper. Pay attention!

One of my favorite things about traveling is tasting the flavor of a place. That means exploring the mom-and-pop shops, talking to people and getting the locals' take on what's what. This seems to be easier in the South, where folks are friendly to a fault. And especially if you have a cute baby--you'll be beating the locals off with a stick.

The more you travel, the better you'll get at finding the unique things a place has to offer. Get out of your comfort zone a little, go to events you wouldn't usually. Find new hobbies. Explore. That's what traveling is all about!

October 5, 2015

Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas

The only diamond mine in the United States where you can play the prospector is in Arkansas. A bandana and ratty brimmed hat are encouraged but not required.

the beginning of the excursion, so full of hope

Entry costs $8/person (under 10 is free). We bought a couple trowels and rented a sifter screen, but you can bring your own if you have them lying around.

I was surprised at how serious some people were about mining for diamonds, but then less surprised the more I thought about it. Some folks brought easy ups for shade (since there is literally no natural shade available as you're mining), bag chairs, buckets and other tools. There are campsites available to rent a short distance from the mining site too, if you really want to make a weekend of it.

We were there for 2 hours, and it was enough.

What to Bring to Crater of Diamonds State Park

We had no idea what to expect so I brought hiking boots, sneakers, pants, snacks, a backpack full of sunscreen and diapers and an extra shirt, just for the hell of it. I brought practically everything I own.

On a nice dry day, I should have just worn my sneakers and brought a light blanket to sit on.

Also, more water. They have water fountains, but it's best if you just have your own water on you at all times. Stay hydrated people, it's rule #1.

Toting a child along does require some extra attention, so a backpack with diapers, wipes, snacks, hand sanitizer (or just use wipes), and sunscreen is a must.

no diamond yet. keep digging, Babs.
The largest diamond found at the park was over 40 carats (1924). This year someone found an 8.5 carat diamond. They plow the search area every so often to turn up the dirt and more diamonds. Apparently after it rains is the best time to go because it churns stuff up, but I'd rather minimize mud.

Do yourself a favor and do not go to this park in the height of summer, please. It was a nice cool day over the weekend and I was still sweating, even in shorts. As previously mentioned, there is not much shade, unless you take a break from mining and sit in one of the pavilions.

walked away a little richer than we came, and we didn't even need to find a diamond
Babs had a great time, though. She's been having fun playing in our dirt pile backyard picking up rocks so we figured Crater of Diamonds was the natural next step. I told her to find mama a diamond, but she didn't follow through. Kids.

Now that the weather is finally easing up on us, we'll be checking out more of Arkansas' 52 state parks! Yay for fall!