Free (or extremely cheap) Family Fun in Ft. Worth

Looking to spend a day in Ft. Worth without spending a lot of cash?  Here are a three places that have no entry fees and only minimal (if any) cost for parking:

1. FtWorthStockyardFt. Worth Stockyards: This National Historic District boasts quaint brick streets and classic Western-style storefronts that make for a fun stroll, though the highlight of this stop is the small, staged cattle drive that happens twice a day.  Watch the cowboys herd their charges down the road and follow them back to the corral, where you can walk a long catwalk to admire them from above.  There’s also a Visitor’s Center to poke around and a pretty neat little local history museum where, for a modest fee, you can view everything from cowboy accoutrements to a cursed wedding dress to a lightbulb that’s been working for 100 years, all in two jam-packed rooms.  (The kids enjoyed doing the scavenger hunt that they offered!)    If you don’t mind spending a bit more money, there are restaurants and shops for you to peruse.  While parking in the huge, on-site lot costs a few dollars, there’s some street parking on the hill overlooking the paid parking where you can snag a free spot.

2. FtWorthWaterGardenFt. Worth Water Gardens: You’ll have to shell out a few quarters for street parking if you want to visit the Water Gardens, but it’s worth a stop.  This park is separated into different regions, and the kids had a blast exploring them all.  There’s a quiet, sunken pool area with water trickling down the walls and trees all around, a mountain-like area made of big concrete blocks, a sunken waterfall area where you can climb down on giant stepping stones, and a secluded area with a quiet pool full of small fountains.  The one drawback here is that there’s little shade and the entire park is paved; it was warm on the spring day when we went, but I’d imagine that it’s miserable in the heat of summer.

3. Bureau of Engraving and Printing: If you’ve ever wondered how our nation’s paper money gets made, this is one of two places (the other being DC) where you can see it happening.  Both the parking and the tour here are free.  The tour begins with a video, after which you are given headsets and prompted to follow the numbered pathway while listening to a guide explain what you’re seeing.  My 7-year-old found it unbearably boring, since there’s not much action (just machines making repetitive motions and people sitting around supervising).  The attached museum had some interesting exhibits, however–especially upstairs, where they had stories about crazy money-recovery scenarios they’ve faced.  Overall, though, this tour is best for older kids and adults.  (No photos are allowed here, so you’ll just have to trust that we saw it.)

DIY Vision Therapy: Another 6 Exercises To Do at Home

Since so many people have stopped by to check out my post on 12 Vision Therapy Exercises You Can Do at Home, I thought it might be helpful for me to post a handful more for those who need them.  As I mentioned in the previous blog post, we learned that our youngest child was in need of vision therapy, but the cost was not affordable.  Immediately after learning this, I ran into a friend who happened to have a binder full of vision therapy exercises given to her for her OT work in a poor South African school.  None of the pages of exercises have any publication information or copyright information, so I think I’m safe in rephrasing and sharing their content.


Mr. Pookie reads a story from The House at Pooh Corner.

We chose 2-3 exercises to do daily for a week, and then we switched to new exercises.  After about 10 weeks, Pookie spontaneously started reading.  We continued the vision therapy exercises for around six months before we petered out.  That was about a year ago.  His reading skills continued to improve steadily since then.  At this point, Pookie can fluently read material like Winnie the Pooh, and he started telling me about the content of War of the Worlds this morning.  He still prefers picture books, but that might simply be his age.  If we see a need, we can always do more vision exercises in the future.

We were also told that our son had not integrated a bunch of primitive reflexes.  Since I was trying to cover any possible deficit, I also added one primitive reflex integration exercise to our routine for each week.  (A YouTube search will give you examples.)  I have no idea if these had any impact, but I thought I’d mention that we did some of these exercises, as well.

Please let me know if you have any questions–or success stories!  I’d love to help other parents stuck in a similarly stressful situation. Continue reading

DIY Vision Therapy: 12 Exercises You Can Do At Home

If you read my last blog post, you know that we found out that our youngest needed vision therapy, but the price tag was beyond what we could afford.  Immediately after that revelation, I took my kids to gymnastics, where a former-OT friend informed me that she had been given a whole binder full of vision therapy exercises during her time working in a low-income school in South Africa.

We’ve now been doing vision exercises about 3-4 times a week for 9 weeks, and little Pookie has gone from only sounding out single, large words written in magnets or on the white board to eagerly reading Biscuit books for bedtime.  (In case you missed the last post, he’s been able to sound out single words in this manner for more than a year, but he just wasn’t making any progress.)  While correlation does not necessarily equal causation, I figured it can’t hurt to share some of what we’ve done with other parents who might find themselves in a similar situation.
*Update: We continued doing exercises for about 6 months.  Pookie continued to make steady reading progress during and after, and can now (two years post-vision-therapy) read fluently well above grade level.*
Continue reading

the myth of the responsibility chart

A while back, I had the brilliant idea of crafting responsibility charts for my kids.  I was getting frustrated with doing little tasks that my children could easily do for themselves—putting their dirty clothes down the laundry chute at the end of the day, for example, or cleaning up the cascade of books in front of the bookcase.  A responsibility chart sounded like a brilliant solution to my woes.

After doing some pricing and finding nothing to meet my specific needs or price point (uber cheap!), I hunted around online for ideas.  I settled on this one from—in part because it used materials that I already happened to have around the house, and in part because it didn’t have any markers or magnets that could mysteriously disappear, rendering the chart useless. ResponsibilityChart

My kids are young, so I made their responsibilities minimal.  Every day they need to put their jammies under their pillows when they get dressed, clear their dishes after every meal, clean up their toys and books at the end of the day, and put their dirty laundry down the chute.  Mommy’s problems were solved…or so I thought.

The first three days were great.  The kids were so pumped about their charts that they remembered all their responsibilities, gleefully sliding that straw from “To Do” to “Done!”  On days four and five, they would remind each other about their responsibilities…and Mommy would occasionally need to point to the charts when neither big kid seemed to remember.

On day six, the realization struck.  Those responsibility charts?  They’re really for Mommy.  After all, I SHOULD have been reminding them to clean up after themselves all along.  Isn’t that my job as a Mom?  To teach them the skills they’ll need as they grow and to help them develop into responsible human beings?  At barely-five and almost-four, my kids aren’t always going to behave responsibly.  They’re going to jump on the couch, forget to say “thank you”, paint their little brother’s hair, try to hog all the train tracks…  But that’s where I come in.  At the beginning, my guidance has to be perpetual; gradually, I can step back and let them take the lead, nudging them when they forget or fail.

Here’s the thing about being a Mom: it’s endless.  I think that’s both the most rewarding and the most daunting part of it.  If I start slacking off in my vigilance, neglecting to remind them to be polite or clean up after themselves, then they start to slip.  If the good habits aren’t perpetually reinforced, they seem less important.  So those responsibility charts?  The kids never touch them anymore.  But that’s okay; they’ve served their purpose for Mommy.

a thrifty thought for thursday: it pays to spend (some) on a water heater

Our basement is home to a sixteen-year-old relic of a water heater.  The beast was inefficient when it was purchased (I think the “your model” indicator on the Energy Star label is in the “so inefficient you may as well go out back and boil your water over your fire pit” realm); it now treats us to the auditory equivalent of a Fourth of July fireworks display every time we deign to use a bit of hot water.  Before we find ourselves shivering in the shower because our friendly beast has quit working, we thought we’d look into finding a replacement.

I called our plumber.  “All the newer models are energy efficient,” he proclaimed.  “It doesn’t matter what one you choose.”

I called our local plumbing supply store.  “You really pay a premium for that extra efficiency,” the man on the phone declared.  “Most people just stick with the standard model.”

I did some research.

First off, it took me a while to find what I wanted: a cost vs. efficiency breakdown.  I finally ran across it here.  Unfortunately, their chart didn’t go quite as high as I’d hoped—but my elementary math skills stood me in good stead.  I noticed a pattern: for each .04 increase in efficiency rating, you save $11 per year.  That savings gets multiplied by 13, the average life span of a water heater.  So here’s what I figured out (hopefully accurately):

.53 = their “standard” water heater

.65 = our local plumbing supply store’s standard model.

  • The difference between the local standard and the internet standard is .12.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 3.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 3x$11 or $33 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $429 over the internet’s .53 model.

.90 = our local plumbing supply store’s high-efficiency model.

EnergyGuide sticker on water heater

See that? Our old water heater’s rating was as far to the right on the efficiency line as this one is to the left. Hooray for energy savings!

  • The difference between the local high-efficiency and the internet standard is .37.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 9.25.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 9.25x$11 or $101.75 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1322.75 over the internet’s .53 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $893.75 over the store’s .65 model.

.95 = our local plumbing supply store’s ultra-high-efficiency model.

  • The difference between the local ultra-high-efficiency and the internet standard is .42.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 10.5.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 10.5x$11 or $115.5 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1501.50 over the internet’s .53 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1076.50 over the store’s .65 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $178.75 over the store’s .90 model.

The plumber will install the standard .65 water heater for $825.  He’ll install the efficient .90 water heater for $1200.  That’s a $375 cost increase for a savings of $893.75.  The ultra-high-efficiency water heater is $1700 installed, which is a cost increase of $500 for only $178.75 additional savings.  Can you guess which water heater I ordered?

Bonus Update:  I waited until we got the new .90-rated beauty so I could include a picture.  At today’s visit, the plumber said our water heater was such an easy install that he’s knocking $100 off the price, and oh-by-the-way the utility company has a $150 rebate for efficient water heaters like ours.  So make that a $125 cost increase for nearly $900 savings.  Wa-hoo!

a thrifty thought for thursday: painting with kids

Once upon a time, someone gave us some paint.  It was a set of those little plastic pots, the ones that come all linked together with flip-down lids so you can re-use the paint.  My kids, unfortunately, felt honor-bound to use all the paint in one crafty session.  Even if they hadn’t been so determined, their paint-use skills would have dictated that future projects would involve only slightly-varying shades of gray, since they dip and re-dip their paint brushes with no thought to color preservation.

While this paint did not last us long, it sure was a big hit.  I took a trip to Michael’s to see if I could find something more preschool-friendly.  No luck.  No luck at JoAnne, either.  Rather than simply repeating our past folly and going through paint like it’s going out of style, I decided to get creative with wooden paint-mixing sticks, milk caps, and some hot glue.  Here’s the result:

Paint Tray

My 2.5 year old’s painting station post-craft time

I then purchased a bulk pack of tempera paint (much cheaper!), which I dole in small measure into my makeshift paint trays.  After the kids are done making a mess, I rinse ‘em off and store them for next time.  My sister-in-law, hearing about my project, decided that her disposable contact lens containers would be even better paint wells, so she used those—brilliant!  (If only I still bothered to wear contacts!)  At any rate, our milk lids are colorful and they do the job, allowing us to paint multiple times and still maintain color integrity.

On a side note, using Daddy’s old t-shirts for smocks has worked pretty well for us as long as we pull up our sleeves and make sure the extra section of neck-hole hangs to the back.  (Now if only I could get my daughter to stop painting her face…)

What creative ways have you saved money on kid supplies or adapted to your kids’ needs?

the secret to raising financially responsible children?

Last night, after having listened to a friend’s tales of financial woe, ‘Love and I got to talking about folks and finances—specifically, our observations about the households people are raised in and the adults that emerge.  Here’s what we observed:

  • We know a few people who were raised in homes where money was tight and parents were stressed.  In each case, the resulting adult has become somewhat obsessed with having a high-paying career and lots of STUFF.
  • We know numerous people who were raised in homes somewhere in the middle—money was neither stressfully tight nor blissfully abundant; parents provided what was necessary (usually purchased on sale) and children occasionally enjoyed the perk of a special toy or activity.  These children typically seem to turn out to be financially responsible adults, not over-stressed about money but not too cavalier in their spending, either.  (In at least two cases I know of, the children later discovered that their parents had been millionaires; in other cases, children later found that they had been living close to the poverty line.)
  • We know numerous people raised in affluent homes, where parents spent money generously to provide for their children.  Almost every adult we know who emerged from that type of household struggles to manage their money responsibly and live within their means.

The happy medium seems not to come from income level, but from treatment of money.  As long as you project confidence in your ability to provide, emphasize responsible spending, and find occasional ways to treat your children—not often enough that they come to expect it, or it loses its potency, and never at the expense of financial stability—children will, hopefully, learn to handle money well.

What do you think?  Do your experiences reflect what we’ve noticed about the people we know, or do you have a different theory?