Online Free Events & Activities to Enjoy at Home

Fun and free online activities and eventsIn the age of social distancing, we’ve seen the amazing power of technology to connect us virtually. Life has certainly changed but hasn’t been cancelled. Fitness classes can be streamed in the comfort of our living rooms, parties can happen over video conferencing platforms and school lessons are delivered online. If there is a silver lining to sheltering in place, it’s the boon of offerings that are brought to our homes—much of the time for free—via the internet. 

To stay busy, I have been streaming barre workouts via Instagram live (check out @barre3edina and @barre3henderson), visiting with people over Zoom, and participating in various free online classes and resources. I’ve compiled some interesting options here – I hope you find something that interests you and helps keep you entertained.

Online resources for kids and adults during shelter in place

Be a sidewalk botanist!

From the Sidewalk Plant Lab website: “If you’re looking for an outdoor activity for yourself, your family, or your students – maybe craving a break from staring at a screen – we’d love you to join the Plant Lab as a Sidewalk Botanist!” Get all the details and info you need in the guides on the site, including lesson plans for K-8 teachers and specialized info for families and adults.

Tune in to a Monterey Bay Aquarium Web Cam

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has ten live cams streaming online. Choose from sharks, sea jellies, sea otters, penguins and more. montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams

Winchester Mystery House Video Tour

Winchester Mystery House is offering a free online video tour of the mansion while the real thing is closed. A history-rich video takes you on a virtual tour of the famous San Jose Historical Landmark. It contains a few references to the supernatural that might spook young viewers, but most of the hour-long content is an engaging history lesson. It’s no substitute for seeing the mansion in person, but even those who have been inside the house before will learn some new facts about it. winchestermysteryhouse.com/video-tour

Virtual Choir and Mother’s Song Circle

A St. Paul mom is hosting a zoom sing-a-long on Thursdays in April. It’s for mothers of all ages and phases of life. Your kids are welcome to sing along! From the Facebook page: “Join us in song! Let’s sing a new song every Thursday in the month of April. Our songs will be short and fun, with simple harmonies. While we won’t be able to hear each other singing (so it’s literally a sing like no one can hear you situation), we can still come together in community, learn a new song, and have some fun!” https://www.facebook.com/mothersandsong/

Virtual Museum Tours 

Through Google Arts and Culture, you can virtually view collections from world renowned museums. From the de Young Museum to Palace of Versailles to Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City, fine art is literally at your fingertips. artsandculture.google.com/partner

Explore the Hidden Worlds of the National Parks

Also through Google Arts and Culture, you can virtually visit National Parks from the comfort of your couch. Follow park rangers on a journey to places most people never go. Climb into a glacier crevasse and kayak through icebergs at Kenai Fjords. Go inside Nahuku Lava Tube at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Travel 750 feet underground at Carlsbad Caverns. See the brilliant night sky at Bryce Canyon. And finally, complete your virtual National Park bucket list by diving into the pristine waters of Dry Tortugas in Florida. https://artsandculture.withgoogle.com/en-us/national-parks-service

Download Free Coloring Pages

Coloring is soothing and stress relieving. San Francisco based media company Brit + Co is aiming to brighten your day with ten free downloadable coloring pages. The cheerful designs will have people of all ages picking up their coloring pencils. Feel free to color outside the lines! Find them here: brit.co/pattern-play-coloring-pages

East Coast-based retailer Lilly Pulitzer is getting in on the coloring page game too. Their four detailed pages feature the instructions “Print me. Color me. Hang me up in your window to #bethesunshine to your neighbors.” Bonus: there are free zoom backgrounds and mother’s day cards to download too. lillypulitzer.com/resort365

Online Tutorials from Palo Alto Art Center

My favorite art center is offering free virtual classes that allow patrons to engage in a myriad of artmaking activities. Drawing, collage, sculpting, Chinese brush painting and crazy hair tutorials are available online. Find links at cityofpaloalto.org/gov/depts/csd/artcenter

Bedtime Stories with Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton announced on her Facebook page that she will begin reading stories for children every Thursday night at 7pm. The “Goodnight With Dolly” web series features Dolly Parton reading Imagination Library books all carefully chosen for their appropriate content at this moment in time. The story time event is scheduled through June 4th and takes place via Facebook Live. You can view the schedule on Facebook as well. facebook.com/dollysimaginationlibrary

Drawing Lessons with Ed Vere

London artist Ed Vere is a New York Times bestselling writer and illustrator of picture books. Every Wednesday and Friday he will share a new “how to draw” lesson via video on his website. So far he’s taught viewers how to draw a lion, a monster and more. The videos remain available on his website after they’re shared so you can go back and catch up on previous lessons. View past lessons online at edvere.com

Take Flight from Home

Access the cockpits and interiors of the Museum of Flight’s aircraft at your leisure. These 3D self-guided virtual tours and 360° Panoramas bring Seattle’s aerospace museum experience to you virtually. museumofflight.org

Have something to add to the list? Comment below or message me on Instagram.

Fun and free online activities and events

 

$100 Dinnerware Upgrade from the Thrift Store

This guest post is by my friend Julie, who shares her creative idea for replacing her dinnerware on a budget below. Welcome Julie Hoffman to the blog!

When my husband and I got married, we combined all of our kitchen goods. We kept what we liked and donated the rest. We both had an affinity for Corelle dinnerware and serving ware, from previous positive experience with the durability of Corelle. Our home is an open style loft condo in a historic building, with wood floors over 1880s brick. Whenever we would drop a plate or bowl, the dish would shatter into a million pieces, shooting out in a ten foot radius and making it dangerous for anyone or the kitty to walk nearby. We couldn’t be sure if it was our floors, the Corelle was from an outlet or some other reason we kept having trouble.

After the final butter, corn and bowl explosion, I was fed up and ready for a change.  We set a budget of $100 for a new set and I started looking. After two weeks of checking Craigslist, thrifting and web searching, I realized that our budget was too low to acquire what we wanted.  We wanted a quality, complete set for 8 that was microwave and oven safe. Quality new sets were close to $300 and quality used matching sets were always incomplete. In the third week of being frustrated, I came up with an idea that my husband agreed to.  

The new parameters of the search:

  1. Mismatched plates and bowls, but fitting a theme
  2. Same measurements as our previous plates
  3. Microwave and oven safe
  4. Gently used or new
  5. Not glass or stoneware.

I kicked off a new search to great success! I made sure to carry a measuring tape and a list of preferred plate and bowl measurements in my wallet, as well as a checklist of how many I already had at home. I wanted 8 dessert plates, 8 salad plates, 8 dinner plates and 8 bowls. Here are my findings:  

These first plates remain one of my favorites. Clearly labeled microwave safe. Johnson Brothers designed dinnerware continue to fall within my tastes. They have an extraordinary history of successful china production, even merging with the Wedgwood Group, but later closing in 2003. What a shame! My husband called these “happy-inducing!”

This bowl seems to be serving ware with another purpose, but is fantastic for soup and putting crackers on the edge.

Here are other plates I picked up that fit within the theme:

I found these at an antique shop, but at $6 a plate, these ate up my budget quickly.This one doesn’t seem to “go” with all the rest, so it may be replaced.

After a month of regular thrifting, Goodwill employees would ask me if I had any coupons every time I checked out, which I didn’t understand. Staffers told me that whenever someone donates to Goodwill, the receipt for your donation included a coupon for 50% off one item! I had been bagging up all of my plates as they were replaced in preparation for donating them.  I starting bringing at least a bag or two of donations whenever I would go to Goodwill to acquire a coupon. (The coupon requires you to at least donate a full grocery bags’s worth of items in order to receive a coupon.) This coupon really helped us stick to our budget, because I did make a few “happy mistakes” along the way.  

I picked these up, packaged four for $8 and paid $4 with the coupon.  All plates with gold, silver or platinum on them are not microwave safe.  When I brought these home, I was dismayed to learn that the gold glaze (which I thought was just a pretty paint) made them not microwave safe.  These Spode plates are so pretty they are still at home and being used, just not in the microwave.

These are also vintage Johnson Brothers, but it is not clear due to age and labeling whether they are microwave safe.  I brought these home when I coming down with a cold and didn’t know it yet, so maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly!!
After 2.5 months of thrifting when I have the time, the dinnerware upgrade is mostly complete! We had a few serving pieces made from Corelle that I also replaced. All of these are vintage and not microwave-safe, since we don’t use our serving-ware for reheating/storage.  They are divine!

I found these mugs to go with everything else and they are perfect for tea or hot chocolate!  The tall one is “Pioneer Woman” branded.Even the kitty got a dining upgrade! This one has 22kt gold on it and makes me happy to look at it twice a day when I feed him!  (I don’t think he cares one way or another, but my experience is better!)

We stayed close to budget, making the full set complete for $110.  Our previous cabinet plate shelves were old and weakened hand-me-downs, so we did splurge for strong chrome dinner plate shelves from the Container Store.  This added a cost to the project of $40. I did look at thrift stores for those, but did not find anything strong enough. I’ve struggled to find bowls that match the theme, so have purchased just plain white ones for now and the two floral ones you see here.

The BEST PART of this project is the happiness upgrade in the kitchen!!  When I originally started this, I thought it would be a time-consuming and difficult project that would just yield a functional kitchen.  I had NO IDEA how awesome it could be! It is so wonderful to pick out a place setting for your meal based on your mood and what plates you feel like eating off of.  My husband LOVES our new dinnerware and feels the same way that I do! Before embarking on this project I researched the idea of mismatched plates and remember a blogger saying they feel “fancy, but not formal” and that “you deserve nice things!” She was right!  

Update: Everyone in our extended family has had a tough year and the usual people did not feel like cooking a Thanksgiving meal this year. We volunteered to cook a meal for everyone. You know what that meant? A wonderful excuse to offer a great meal to our loved ones. For the past year, I’ve walked past a gold-rimmed set (not microwave safe!!) in a thrift store that I thought was divine but had no use for. I brought my husband to the thrift store to look at them to see if he would like to treat our family to a formal event with these or a fancy event with our every day ones. He loved these and thought it would be a special treat for our family. The thrift store had priced it at $175 for the full complete set of 12. This set never sold was now priced by the piece. We got the complete set for $50! We added two gravy boats to the set, a vintage gold-rimmed boat ($0.99!) for just this meal (one for each end of the table) and a tall white Wedgwood boat and plate (microwave safe and $4!) for our regular use. We will be using his grandmother’s vintage silverware and vintage napkins at the meal.  His grandmother had pink rose décor in her apartment, so here’s hoping we properly honor her memory this year! Wishing abundance and prosperity to you and yours this holiday season!


 

 

Have an Eco-Friendly Halloween

Like many holidays, Halloween can generate unnecessary waste as well as merriment. From pumpkin carving to party throwing, there are opportunities to make the amount of waste less frightful. With these eco-friendly Halloween ideas, October 31 doesn’t have to be scary for the Earth.

Hand out zero waste, ethical chocolate 

Individually wrapped candy creates a lot of waste, but some options are better than others. A personal favorite is the Alter-Eco brand of chocolate truffles that come in a compostable wrapper. Pro tip: you’ll want to buy extra for yourself! The brand gets an “A” grade on Green America’s chocolate scorecard.

A growing concern for consumers this Halloween season is chocolate that’s farmed with child labor. Slave Free Chocolate has a list of child labor free brands.

In response to the concern over slave labor, many people are handing out toys and trinkets instead. These are often plastic items that will end up as trash. If you go this route, consider usable items such as pencils or erasers or other plastic-free offerings.

Make toasted pumpkin seeds

The slop that’s left over from pumpkin carving is edible when the seeds are separated and toasted to crunchy perfection. Methods for this vary, but the main idea is to rinse off the scooped-out pumpkin “guts” in a sieve and then place them in a single layer on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Season with salt, soy sauce, or your choice of spices and bake until crispy. It’s a packaging-free snack that’s right at home with the fall season.

Repurpose an old costume

The temptation to buy a brand new costume each year is real, but there are alternatives that are more eco-friendly—and unique. Consider shopping at thrift shops and vintage stores for one-of-a-kind costume pieces. If you prefer to buy new, support a small business by buying a custom piece from Etsy.

(Check out easy DIY costumes here.)

Be party savvy

When hosting a party, consider reusable plates and silverware in lieu of plastic. If single use is more your thing, bamboo ware is eco-friendly as well as aesthetically pleasing. And remember that bamboo ware, paper plates and napkins can all be composted for easy cleanup.

Compost your pumpkin

When the Jack-o’-lantern has seen better days, remember to chuck it in the green bin or compost pile instead of the trash. Another cleanup tip: if you don’t plan to store your decorations from year to year, thrift shops will be happy to divert your decorations from the landfill right into their store.

 

 

 

 

 

When to Splurge vs. Save Money at Disneyland

Disney Splurge vs. Save

Fact: Disney vacations are pricey. There’s no way around it–Disney is a magical, a money-sucking pit with a castle on top. As a budget-conscious traveler, I put my skills to the test at the happiest (and possibly most expensive) place on Earth. Here’s what I found worth splurging on and when it’s better to save money at Disneyland. (Note: many of these are applicable to other Disney theme parks too.)

Save: Hotel

You’ll barely ever be there, so any cushy accommodations are basically a waste. At the end of the day Disney will have tired you out so much that you’ll be able to sleep easily, no matter how thin the walls and bedding are. We chose the cheapest hotel that was still within walking distance and never regretted it once, even though it was a glorified motel with absolutely no frills. Sure, we didn’t get the extra magic hour to enter the park early and we had to walk 10 minutes to get to the parks but it was definitely worth saving hundreds of dollars a night over onsite properties.

Spend: MaxPass

This one is a no-brainer. There’s no reason not to spring for the MaxPass. It’s $10 extra per person, per day and it allows you to get FastPasses right on your phone. You’ll also get all the PhotoPass photos taken of you on rides and at photo opps in the parks. Definitely a great deal for everything you get. Make sure to use your app for mobile food ordering too–more on that in a minute.

Save: Snacks

With the exception of a box of popcorn and a Dole Whip float, we didn’t snack in the parks at all. Actual meals aren’t much more than what you’d pay outside the parks, but snacks are typically pricey. You can bring small amounts of food in with you, so toss some easy-to-carry snacks in your bag.

Save: Drinks

Carry a small water bottle and look for fountains and spigots to fill up at throughout the day. In theory you can get cups of water for free at Disney, but it can be a hassle to find a restaurant that will give you one when you need it. It’s better to have water on hand and prevent those paper cups from heading to the landfill. Two places I saw water spigots are Red Rose Tavern in Fantasyland and Galactic Cafe in Tomorrowland.

Spend: Lunch

This one is kind of a save and a splurge at the same time. Lunch prices are cheaper, so if you make lunch your big meal you’ll save money. But I do recommend budgeting for a nice meal at a restaurant because Disneyland food is actually really good. I expected unhealthy amusement park food, but it was far from it. The chefs are amazing with food allergies and healthy, good quality food is the rule, not the exception. If you eat at off-peak times, avoiding crowds is easy. Try a small breakfast at the hotel, a meal at 10:30 am, then another meal around 2:30, and a small dinner (try ordering ahead on the mobile app at Bengal BBQ for fast, delicious food that can be a small meal).

Save: Apparel

(The following sections may contain affiliate links)

Shopping for Disney t-shirts, ears, hats and more ahead of time can save you big time. Everything for sale in the parks is expensive compared to what you can find online before you go on Etsy, which has the best selection of tees and ears from small makers. Mouse ears are a relatively easy DIY. I made ears for me and a hat for Chad as well as Beauty and the Beast stained glass pocket tees for both of us. Chad wore a Millennium Falcon tee he bought at Maker Faire and I bought a “Paint with all the colors of the wind” tank ahead of time for $9+shipping.  I also bought a secondhand tank top from Poshmark.

Spend: Pins

The parks have the entire selection of Disney pins so if you’re a collector you should definitely shop at the parks. You likely won’t find pins cheaper online after you go home. I did find pins for less at a local Comic-Con, but the selection wasn’t as broad as the parks.

Save: Souvenirs

As we left the park and headed to the hotel, I stopped by a convenience store for a gallon of water for the hotel. Inside, I found a ton of cheap Disney souvenirs for wayyyyy less than inside the parks. Basic Mickey and Minnie ears for $5.99, postcards for .89, etc. You could stock up on these things and save a bundle over park prices. I do admit splurging on Starbucks You are Here mug ornaments because they can only be found in the parks, but I held back from buying any other trinkets.

Spend: ParkHopper Pass

I went back and forth on this one, because it does drive up the cost of the already expensive ticket into the parks. In the end, I was so glad we did though. The first day, we did California Adventure Park (DCA) in the morning and then switched to Disneyland Park for the afternoon. We went back to see the Paint the Night parade at DCA and then made it to Fantasmic at Disneyland. It was super easy to get between the two parks and the flexibility of the ParkHopper let us experience all the rides we wanted to at one park and then go the other one for dinner.

Spend: Locker rental

It’s only $7/day, and it’s so much nicer to have a change of shoes on hand and a place to store things you’ve bought, snacks, a sweater for when it gets chilly at night…

I hope you have success with your mission to save money at Disneyland. Fellow Disnerds, am I on track with these splurge vs. save tips? What are your secrets for navigating the Disney parks?

Where to Donate Almost Anything (and Save it from the Landfill)

Clean Your House But Keep Clutter Out of the Landfill

Okay, I did the KonMari house declutter. Now where does all this stuff go?

A question I see people struggling with lately is “where do I donate my stuff?” With the success of the Marie Kondo Netflix show, we’re all getting inspired to clean house a bit. While there’s nothing wrong with toting it all out of the house in one go, some people prefer to find an ideal charitable recipient for their stuff. And what do you do with stuff that isn’t accepted by the usual charities? I’ve been compiling this list as I discover new places.

In the case of almost everything, there’s a better place for it than the landfill.

What do I do with…

Packing materials

Many UPS stores will recycle your bubble wrap and packing peanuts. Some small businesses that ship stuff will also take packing materials donations.

Vintage lace clothing and linens

The Lace Museum in Sunnyvale, California collects these and sometimes sells them for fundraisers. The nonprofit museum is hoping to raise enough money for a permanent museum location.

Donate broken jewelry

I asked this question on a local Facebook group and got connected with a teacher at an elementary school who runs a jewelry studio. She gladly took a bag of costume jewelry that was missing clasps, etc for the students to take apart and create something new.

Donate formal dresses

First, a cause close to my heart! Prom, bridesmaid, quinceanera dresses can go to local charities such as The Princess Project. I started volunteering with them this year, and it’s such a fun cause. The chapter that I work with collects dresses and jewelry under 8 years old. There’s very likely a prom dress donation organization near you.

Send wedding dresses to a good cause

While collecting dresses for The Princess Project, I got asked about donating wedding dresses. This is a tricky one since there are fewer nonprofits dedicated to wedding dresses. Here are the ones I found around the United States.

In Massachusetts, Brides Across America

In Maryland, choose from fairytalebrides.org, cherieamourbridal.com and brides4haiti.com.

Michigan brides can donate to thebridesproject.org to support cancer research.

Virginia, the nonprofit St. Anthony’s Bridal accepts wedding dresses. 

In New York, http://bridalgarden.org helps disadvantaged children.

In Oregon and Washington, adornedingrace.org and bridesforacause.com.

Charities that take cosmetics

First of all, send all those mascara wands to Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. Other used cosmetics should be tossed if they’re old, but if they’re new they can go to women’s shelters. Call and ask first!

Donate clothes and household items

My go-to is usually to donate to a locally-run thrift shop because I believe they do good in the community. There’s also the strategy of putting it all out on the curb and posting a “curb alert” on Craigslist. Neighbors will come help themselves to your free yard sale and you’ll have way less to haul off to the donation center. The downside is no tax write off, but the convenience factor seems to outweigh that for a lot of people.

Recycle old mattresses

Some Goodwill locations will recycle mattresses free or for a small fee. Goodwill of Silicon Valley says that 90% of mattress materials can get repurposed and tens of thousands of mattresses get diverted from the landfill every year through Goodwill’s disposal program.

Recycle broken electronics 

Cables and small electronics such as cameras and cell phones can be brought to Best Buy for free recycling. Local computer shops will often take old laptops for free recycling as well. 

Donate old towels and blankets

These are often accepted at dog rescue organizations. I found a neighbor through the Nextdoor app who works with a rescue and gave bags of old towels to her. I made sure to trim any ripped or frayed edges before I dropped them off.

Donate old books

My strategy to purge books is to canvas the neighborhood and patronize the Little Free Libraries, but that takes dedication. I can’t unload my entire box of antique books at one lone Little Free Library, you see–they need to be parceled out around town. I’ve read that prisons and women’s shelters take books but I haven’t tried this myself. Books that are musty or outdated can be composted or recycled. It feels weird at first to dispose of books, but sometimes it’s the only option.

Donate magazines

Working in the magazine industry, I amassed a collection of magazines that was ever-growing. Since Reuse comes before Recycle, I wanted to offer the magazines to someone who could collage with them first. The very first memory care center I called wanted them for their residents.

Old medical supplies

MedShare accepts medical supplies donations from organizations and individuals. They accept the following:

  • Consumable Medical Supplies (non-expired)
  • Durable Medical Equipment (new or gently used)
  • Biomedical Devices (fully functional)

where

These alternatives to donating to Goodwill are often where your donated items can do the most good. I know many people try to avoid donating to Goodwill in favor of smaller local charities, but it’s way better to bring stuff there than to throw it away. Goodwill also does fabric recycling, so it’s a great solution for clothing with holes that can’t be resold! I drop off bags there a few times a year.

Do you have a suggestion for the list? Please leave it in the comments! I’ll be updating this post as I find more places.

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