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Archive for the ‘Local Resources (San Mateo Co., CA)’ Category

Looking for an inexpensive zoo membership for your family? Check out this deal, and hop on it since it expires Thursday!

First Sign up for a free membership at Savvy Source, and then click this link for a family membership – two adults and up to four children – for just $40! That’s more than 50% off of the regular membership price, and pays for itself in just one visit if you’re taking a family like ours – two adults, two children, parking one car would cost $43.

What you get:

  • Free admission, 363 days of the year, at the Oakland Zoo for the two named, cardholding adults (ages 18 and up) and any four children (ages 2-17)
  • Free parking at The Oakland Zoo for one vehicle
  • Free guest pass (for one-time use) for 2 adults and 2 children at The Oakland Zoo
  • Eight free coupons for rides
  • Free admission to our Members’ Nite event and subscription to Roar! the Zoo’s newsletter
  • Discounts at the gift shop, for Zoo Camp, birthday parties, for Walk in the Wild, ZooLights, and other special events as well as to 125 zoos and aquariums nationwide
  • Activate your membership by September 30, 2010.

Enjoy your visits with the monkeys!

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Yogurt is not our only live active culture! We strongly believe that kids need to experience a wide variety of activities and see things outside of their everyday scope to become well rounded members of society. Having a small budget doesn’t mean our kids don’t get to experience some of the highlights of living in our  culturally rich area! Here are a few activities we’ve enjoyed with our kids, and other free and cheap activities worth checking out.


Free days at museums

Many local museums offer free days. I found quite a few here at Kid Matter, including the California Academy of Sciences, where the above photo of Sweet Pea admiring “dishies” was taken recently. The indoor rain forest, living roof, planetarium, and aquarium were all just amazing!

We’ll be taking advantage of the free admission for 17 Bay Area Museums this Mother’s Day – listed on the link above!

So far this year, we’ve enjoyed free days at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose and Coyote Point in San Mateo (get there early enough to see the river otters being fed daily at 12:30).

Palo Alto’s Junior Museum and Zoo, which has changing, hands-on exhibits for young kids, Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto, Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford campus, Cable Car Museum and The Randall Museum in San Francisco are routinely free and great for kids, although donations are welcome. Go to The Randall Museum on Saturday if you have a train-loving kid, so you can see the Golden Gate Model Railroad Club’s train layout. The Museum of American Heritage has a Lego train display every December; it’s a $2 entrance fee, but it’s worth it to see the whole model railroad set up in Legos. And Peanut talked about the Cable Car months after a trip with Daddy!

Check out Bay Area On The Cheap for discounted tickets to local events and upcoming free activities.

Outdoor Activities

Of course, parks are the go-to outdoor activity for many families. I found a nice review page for local parks here, and we’ve visited several of the wonderful parks spotlighted.  Of course, there are the biggies like Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Vasona Park in Los Gatos, but there are some special neighborhood parks worth a visit as well. Bol Park and Mitchell Park in Palo Alto are fantastic, and Mitchell has a tot-lot, as does Holbrook Palmer in Atherton, where you can watch the trains come by. (Have you noticed a train theme yet? Trains are a huge hit for our little guy!)

Burgess Park in Menlo Park has a shady, gated tot-lot, and a duck pond, library, community pool, and community center just a short walk away; it is our most commonly visited park! Central Park in San Mateo is fun, with a little ride on train and a Japanese garden.

For walks, we love the Stevens Creek Trail in Mountain View right behind Shoreline Ampitheater along the bay. Seal Point Park in San Mateo is great, too, for walks along the bay and for the playground, which has a water feature the kids can play in. On hot days, that is a great feature! (It is closed until May 2010 for renovation.) They also have a dog park, but we don’t have a dog so that isn’t something we seek out.

Mid-Peninsula Open Space District offers kid friendly hikes and outdoor activities. Check out their calendar for upcoming events.

Hidden Villa is a working farm, and it is free to walk around from Tuesday through Sunday, 9 am to dusk. Guided tours are available for a small fee, and parking is $5 a day.

In the summer, we’ve had a great time visiting local u-pick farms and picking our own fruit.

We enjoy taking a packed lunch to the duck pond in Palo Alto, right next to the little airport, and sitting on a picnic bench to watch small planes take off and land while we eat. Each time we visit we have to explain to the kids why we don’t feed the ducks, as we see other families doing; we show them the signs posted about how feeding the ducks is unhealthy and can hurt them. It’s a fond memory from my own childhood, but we want our kids to respect the animals’ health first and obey the rules in public places, so no sneaking treats for us.

Local towns, and Stanford, often have festivals in the summer. Watch the local paper for events.

The farmer’s market is great for a Saturday morning activity and learning adventure, picking out fresh food, talking to the people who grew it, and often hearing live music. It doesn’t get much better.

And of course, there is the beach! Half Moon Bay is our favorite, with plenty of sand to make castles, water to splash in, and fresh seafood right off the boat. MMmmm, local crab…

Community Events

Menlo Park is having an Egg Hunt on April 3 at 10 am and Kite Day on April 25 from noon to 4 pm at Bedwell-Bayfront Park. We’ve attended both, and hid our own eggs last year after a run in with a particularly aggressive bunny and big kids the year before, but we may attempt it this year. Palo Alto Art Center is hosting a hands-on family art day called Project LOOK! on April 4 from 2-4 pm for children ages 5 and up.

Both Palo Alto and Redwood City have parades in May – the May Fete Parade is on the 1st in downtown Palo Alto, and the annual Pet Parade is at the end of the month in Redwood City.

Menlo Park and Redwood City both offer outdoor concerts in the summer. Menlo Park has concerts in the park on Wednesdays, and Redwood City has a number of offerings, including music on the courthouse square, salsa dancing, and other musical activities. The series’ calendar will be posted later in the year.

Redwood City’s community events calendar offers a variety of fantastic  free outdoor events throughout the year. Over the summer, we enjoy concerts and movies in the courthouse square in Redwood City.  The annual Independence Day celebration starts off with pancakes at the firehouse for a small fee, parade, festival and fireworks, a very fun, very full, free day. Last year, there was also a series of “Target Days” – kids activities sponsored by Target, including bands, clowns, and street artists, crafts, a bounce house, and a bug discovery area where kids could touch enormous insects, a BIG hit for my little guy! Hopefully they offer this again in 2010.

In October, a trip to Half Moon Bay’s Art and Pumpkin Festival is a must! We pick a pumpkin, enjoy live music, and appreciate the art, for the price of the pumpkin. The city of Menlo Park has a Halloween parade and trick or treating as well, for more fun, free holiday celebrations.

Hometown Holidays are our favorite! A full day of free  fun, including snow (which in our area is non-existent), meeting Santa, bands, a parade, and fireworks! Santa and his singers coming through on CalTrain to sing carols, and the finale is an outdoor movie in the courthouse square. Last year, it was the original cartoon “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” We bring a bag of popcorn and hot cocoa in a thermos for the movie, and a very full day of entertainment costs nothing.

We’ve also enjoyed going to California Missions in the area (Fremont, San Jose, San Francisco so far), which often ask a small donation, and the lighthouse at Ano Nuevo is a fun day trip.

Our community offers a lot of free activities, and I’m always on the look-out for free things to do!

Indoor Activities

Westgate Mall offers a Mommy & Me kids program on the first Wednesday of every month from 10 am – 12 pm games, puppet shows, face painting, balloon artists and educational programs. (I will not be getting the free gift for having spent $300 in the mall during the previous month!!)

Home Depot’s Kid’s Workshop
Free how-to workshops for kids 5-12, from 9 am – 12 pm the first Saturday of each month. Contact your local store to see if they offer the Kid’s Workshop.

Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinics
Free wooden projects every Saturday at 10 am for kids in 1st through 5th grade.

Lakeshore Learning Stores
Free craft activities every Saturday from 11 am – 3 pm.

Over the summer, check out Kids Bowl Free to see if your local bowling alley participates. Kids get two free games every day for the whole summer!

We’ve also had fun at IKEA, wandering around, trying out furniture, playing in the kid section, eating lunch overlooking the street, buildings, bay, and hills across the bay. It’s free if you don’t buy anything! They also have Smaland, where you can leave your  (fully potty trained) kids for up to 45 minutes to play in the ball pit or giant shoe. If you need a quiet cup of coffee on a rainy day, it’s an option!

Story Time

Kepler’s in Menlo Park offers stories every Sunday morning at 11:30. They often have author events for kids and adults; they hosted Barbara Kingsolver back in November, and it was so awesome to see one of my favorite authors read from her new book and answer questions, for free, in the small venue of the high school’s performance art center. (She signed my copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I nearly swooned from the excitement, haha!)

Of course, local libraries are a great resource for inexpensive activities for kids! Story time for toddlers and preschoolers at our local library is always a hit, and local libraries often have the scoop on upcoming free activities sponsored by the community; make friends with your childrens’ librarian!

Other Resources

I frequently check the calendar at the Bay Area Parent Magazine, free in the Auto Trader and apartment magazine section of the grocery store. They list upcoming community events, including free activities, and have a Family Navigator edition out now that includes a Freebies section. Our community activities calendar, with the community center schedule, is another handy resource.

A friend recently e-mailed me to recommend the Stanford newsletter for families in the area as a source for family activities. Here is what she says:

Subscribe free to Stanford’s excellent monthly e-newsletter called “Stanford for You: Inviting Neighbors to Campus.” It is designed beautifully, so you can skim it quickly for what might interest you. It only comes monthly, so it doesn’t clutter up your inbox. It includes many free or low-priced on-campus events suitable for all family members, including: tours, dance, continuing ed for adults, summer camps for kids, art, music, health and wellness, sports, parenting (infants, toddlers, kids and teens), readings, film, lectures, faith and religion, public service, global issues, and links to other Stanford resources. You will soon be amazed by the abundance of affordable activities available right in our own back yard. It could also give you ideas to keep houseguests happily entertained when you’re busy. Here’s where to subscribe: http://4you.stanford.edu

As you can see, culture and fun can be found for free in the Bay Area, and I’m sure I just scratched the surface. Do you know of other free or cheap activities for families in the Bay Area? I’d love to hear them! What kind of activities are available in your neck of the woods?

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(Photo credits all belong to their respective linked sites.)

This post is linked to Thrifty Thursday and Frugal Friday.

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Known for its million dollar houses near Stanford University and The Silicon Valley’s high-paying high-tech jobs, Menlo Park is a community with a median household income of $100,000, and median house price of almost $900,000.

On the east side of town, just across the freeway, the Belle Haven neighborhood has homes whose prices have dropped from the bubble-high of $600,000 to just $200,000, and which are going into foreclosure. As part of their Neighborhood Revitalization Project, Habitat for Humanity is coming in to clean up one of these houses and make it available to a low income family with no down-payment, no interest loan, and no profit. For one family, this is the chance to own a home in an up-and-coming neighborhood, in a city not known for its affordable housing solutions.

If you or someone you know is in the area and could benefit from this program, check out the requirements here and consider applying! Family selection meetings will take place at the Menlo Park Senior Citizens Center, located on 110 Terminal Avenue, Menlo Park, on Saturday, Feb 6, from 9:45am-12:00pm or Monday, February 8, from 5:45pm-8:00pm.

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As mentioned in my Brave Skills post last week,  we are canceling our health insurance policy, the thought of which scares the heck out of me! I’ve been with the same provider since I was a child; my mom is an employee, and I went from her coverage to a plan with my previous employer to a small business plan with Mr. Penny’s company. I’ve seen the same doctor since I got pregnant with Peanut about 5 years ago now. I love my kids’ pediatrician. Though it pains me, leaving is no longer optional; our plan increased its premiums by 20% and deductible from $4,500 in 2009 – already a stretch on our income – to $11,000 in 2010 – utterly absurd.

I’ve been shopping around for health insurance for the first time ever, and it is not an easy process! I started out looking at other private insurance providers, but quickly determined that they are as unaffordable as our previous plan, so I searched for low-income health insurance in our county and found quite a few resources. If you’re in San Mateo County with a low income, these resources are worth checking out. If you need coverage somewhere else, your county’s  Health and Human Services website is a good place to start.

The first thing I stumbled upon was this list of low-cost or free health resources in San Mateo County.

Healthy Families is a state-wide program which offers low cost insurance with health, dental and vision coverage to children who do not have insurance.

San Mateo County Children’s Health Initiative offers health coverage for children ineligible for Medi-Cal or the Healthy Families program.

AIM is another state-wide program, this one available for pregnant moms who are without insurance but make too much for Medi-Cal.

For the whole family, San Mateo ACE Program is a coverage program provided by the County of San Mateo for residents who are not eligible for coverage through Medicare,  Medi-Cal, private insurance, or other third-party payers. It costs $240 a year and co-pays are $10 per visit, $7 per generic prescriptions. Very affordable, no?

Health Plan of San Mateo is a managed care program that provides health care to residents who receive benefits through Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid system), CareAdvantage (for seniors), Healthy Families, Healthy Kids, HealthWorx (for some county employees), and San Mateo ACE.

San Mateo ACE looked perfect for us, but our income is too LOW for this program; I discovered while trying to apply that we qualify for Medi-Cal. So after all the research, we’re going on Medi-Cal as a temporary measure until our income increases, hopefully within the next year. We’ll be using the Health Plan of San Mateo, with Medi-Cal for now but possibly San Mateo ACE or another program as our income increases. I’m also thrilled to discover that our old provider offers pediatric services through HPSM so we may be able to keep our beloved pediatrician!

I was really pleased to find that so many resources are available in our county for people whose income is not high enough to pay for private health insurance. I wish I’d done this research a few years ago, when we decided that I would stay home full time, as we’ve been on a limited income all this time and would have qualified for much more affordable insurance for the past four years!

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I needed a few grocery basics to finish out the month of pantry eating – fresh fruits and veggies, milk, eggs, and bread – so I stopped by The Grocery Outlet, my favorite mark-down grocery store. They are located in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona and have incredibly cheap prices on name brand products close to their expiration date or with outdated packaging.

The outlet is hit or miss, and if you like something, get it quick because it may not be there next week! I’ve been happy to find many organic products, items that are sold at Whole Foods for more than double the cost, including local, organic cheese, whole grain breads from a local bakery, organic canned and frozen goods, and even organic and natural bath and beauty products. Although my budget doesn’t allow for as many organics as I’d like, shopping here lets me incorporate more into our diets, often for less than conventional at the supermarket.

Today’s great deal: grassfed ground beef, antibiotic and hormone-free, raised in California, for $2.29/lb. That’s cheaper than conventional in our area, and half of Costco’s price! We use about 2 lb. per month, and ground beef generally is good for about 6 months in the freezer, so I bought  12 lb. I normally would spend $4.33 per pound at Costco, so I saved $24.48 by buying it for the freezer. That $24.48 is going into the savings account!

Another great find was Naked juice for $.99 each. There is a rebate going where if you buy 10, you get $10 back, making them free.

What kind of discount grocery stores are in your area? Are you finding any great deals on natural and organic products?

This post is linked to Thrifty Thursdays at Tales from Boggeritaville, and Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom.

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As part of the IDA program, I was required to take 12 hours of financial literacy classes, which I attended over the past two Saturdays, and while the course work was very, very basic (how to open a bank account, how to write a check, etc.) I’m glad I went. The frugal tips and local resources from other participants made the time worthwhile, and I connected with one participant who wants to barter services. She’s a massage therapist using the program for her small business. That will make a great birthday present for Mr.Penny.

The best tip I learned was that there is a dental school in San Francisco that offers great dental care for a fraction of the price of our current dentist. Since we’re giving up our dental insurance with our health insurance, this was a fantastic resource for me.

I also learned about a program called Ways to Work, which helps low income parents get low interest car loans. I wish I’d known about this program in November, when we bought our new-to-us car!

Another program I was excited to find out about is the PG&E insulation rebate. They will rebate up to $150 for attic insulation and $500 for wall insulation. Our attic is in need of replaced insulation, so that rebate will come in handy for us! There are also tax credits for up to 30% of insulation. It’s definitely the time to do it, and as an added advantage, our gas bill will be lower.

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Oh! Fransson is a fantastic quilter, and I’ve been eying her Paintbox quilt as a template for the  kids’ room for several months. Bright, cheerful, and gender neutral, it is perfect for our shared boy and girl bedroom.

And now, she’s hosting a quilt-along for the Paintbox quilt!

Making a quilt isn’t the most frugal venture, but this style of quilt gives me a place to use some of the scraps I have building up in my stash (and I may raid the stash of my mom and a few sewing friends for scraps!) I already have a sewing machine, thread, and a weekly sewing class for time to sew. I’ll be making two quilts, one for each kiddo, and it will be part of their Christmas presents. I’m excited for the fun project, and for the finished product to brighten up their room!

I made a crib quilt for Sweet Pea, but I’m no expert quilter. Wish me luck on my crafty venture!

If you’re on the San Francisco Peninsula and looking for an inexpensive sewing class, check out the Onetta Harris Community Center in Menlo Park. Classes are just $25 for residents/$34 for non-residents for 9 weeks. I can’t recommend the teacher, Megan, highly enough, and you can’t beat 9 weeks of crafty evenings for the price!

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