Friday, January 27, 2012

Free Books and So Much More at the Local Library

Learn About Science at the Public Library © Katrena
Where can you play a didgeridoo, make an origami heart, and watch a puppet show? Where can you find resources for learning how to train a dog, finding which state was the first to allow women to vote, communicating more effectively, and learning ways to protect the environment? Perhaps you are looking for award winning recipes, cool music, movies, or a way to use a computer for free? You can find all of the above and more at the public library, of course!

Free Magic Show at the Library © Katrena
Some of my earliest memories are going to the local county library with my mom. I recall anxiously awaiting the arrival of the bookmobile near my home on special occasions, but I also loved to travel into town, park near the gingko tree, and head inside the public library to see what treasures were waiting for me. Actually, any day was special to me if it meant that I could look through shelf after shelf of books!

Learn About Cultures at the Local Library © Katrena
I was so proud to get a library card all my own...actually, I found that old card a few weeks back as I was going through some old paperwork. What memories! Library cards were paper with a metal piece in them. Back in those days, they had a card catalog with each book's information carefully written on a piece of paper about the size of an index card. These cards were housed in large wooden cabinets with long, narrow drawers. The Dewey Decimal system was one way that I learned about numbers as a kid.

Get Creative With Crafts at the Library © Katrena
After selecting the perfect books, Mom and I would walk up to the desk. I remember I had to stand on my toes to see over the desk. The ladies who worked at the library would quickly pull the paper card out of the back of each book and stamp the due date. Later, they would place the library card in a slot and would quickly slide each book's card into another slot until it made a loud noise. If one side was full, they would turn the card around, or they might need a brand new card, especially on books that were checked out over and over. Most of the librarians had worked there for years and were really fast. Some of those ladies still work at the library, how libraries have changed.

Play Music on Instruments at the Library © Katrena
Books and other items are indexed on computerized systems now, and library cards in our area are plastic at this point. Some libraries will take your picture when you get a card so that they can ensure that the card is your own. For some reason, I had always thought you had to live within a particular county in order to get a library card in that area, but I was delighted to discover that many libraries in our area will allow people to get a free library card even if you live outside the county.

See Skits Based on Books at Public Library © Katrena
The girls and I love to visit several libraries. They often offer story times for the younger children on a regular basis. Holidays are often celebrated at the library with skits, crafts, speakers, refreshments, and other group activities. Many libraries have book sales in which you may find some great deals on books and other resources for purchase. Most libraries offer computers that patrons can use for research, using the internet, and more.

Free Family Activities at Public Library © Katrena
Summer reading programs offer kids an incentive for reading and attending programs. I have been particularly impressed with the wide variety of programs the libraries have offered, such as:
  • Magic shows, often with an educational theme
  • Musical programs, with everything from folk singing to drum circles
  • Performances based on books, such as a ballet demonstration by some dancers from The Nutcracker
  • Science programs, such as Mad Science
  • Presentations by authors
  • Living history programs
  • Cultural educational programs
Learn About Recycling and Saving the Environment at the Library © Katrena
The public library offers a wealth of information for free. It is great to have a bag of books and videos handy for days when the kids are out of school for weather or illness. I found that I can check out a wide variety of resources, such as:
  • Books (many libraries have interlibrary loans if that location does not carry the book)
  • Magazines (I only recently discovered that I can check out magazines for adults or kids)
  • Books on CD and tape (yes, I still have a tape player in my car and I particularly enjoy hearing storytelling on tape as I drive from place to place)
  • Musical CDs and tapes (they will probably phase out the tapes at some point, but I love to check out new music for us to enjoy)
  • Movies (I have found a variety of movies for kids and adults, exercise videos, series from sitcoms, history movies, and lots more)
  • Computer games
Fairy Tales From Foreign Lands Puppet Show at Library © Katrena
Those who enjoy researching family history may find great resources at the public library. They may have information that cannot easily be found elsewhere. Many of the people who frequent the geneology section may help others to find great resources that may save time in searching.

Holiday Celebrations Through Books and Storytelling © Katrena
We have also enjoyed a great variety of  displays at public libraries. We have seen beautiful artwork, a collection of nativity scenes from various countries, vintage baby dolls, original craft items, and much more.

Have Fun Together at Local Library © Katrena
Some libraries may offer classes to help people to learn a variety of skills, such as basic computer skills, simple web design, how to use a word processor, and more. I have found library staff members to be very helpful and friendly. They often know the answers to my weird questions such as "I'm thinking of a kids' book with a tree and letters on the tree but can't think of the name of it..."

Young, Old, and Furry Friends Welcome at Library © Katrena
Libraries may offer traveling services to certain populations, and I have found library web sites to be helpful because I can renew my items online and they may offer free access to some web sites that would typically charge a fee. As ebooks are becoming more common and popular, many libraries are offering some of these for free check-out as well.

Books, Movies, Music, and More at the Library © Katrena
Yes, libraries have changed quite a bit over the years, but I still enjoy huddling up with the kids and reading a good book. My kids have grown up surrounded with lots of books and other educational resources provided for free by our public libraries.

To all of those instrumental in providing these wonderful services, I want to say a huge THANKS!

Monday, January 23, 2012

How to Find Cheap Movies

Consignment Shops Often Offer Great Deals on Movies – Photo of Growing Pains in Salisbury, NC

Enjoying a good movie does not have to cost a lot. As many are finding tighter and tighter budgets, finding inexpensive entertainment can be a welcome relief. Find a few simple and practical tips for saving money when looking for movies.

How to Find Inexpensive Movies for Home Viewing

Those interested in purchasing pre-owned movies for home use may find bargains in a variety of places, such as:
  • yard sales
  • flea markets
  • consignment shops
  • charity thrift stores, such as Goodwill and Salvation Army
  • discount sections of department stores such as Walmart
  • online web sites, like eBay and Craig's list
  • public library (may offer free check-outs, low-priced rentals for new releases, or sell older movies if they need the space)
  • stores that sell used videos
  • movie clubs (for those who wish to watch several movies each month)
Most used movies for sale have been out for a while, but some of those older movies have more appeal than newer releases. Keep in mind that older movies may be new movies to the kids. Those who still have a VCR player might pick up some especially good deals on VHS tapes. The downside to looking for used videos is that it may be somewhat of a game of chance and the buyer should beware. It may take some time to search through a huge selection of inexpensive videos that are in random order, but sometimes that search can really pay off with a great find.

Be a smart movie shopper!
  1. Ensure that you use a secure web site if purchasing online.
  2. Watch for shipping prices if ordering online.
  3. Check for high vendor ratings if applicable.
  4. Set a limit for bidding or choose one that has a set price if choosing an online auction site.
  5. Purchase in bulk or search for a "lot" of movies for some of the best deals.
  6. Check on return policies before buying, ensure that you have an original dated receipt, and make sure to watch the movie soon after purchase if the seller offers returns. 
  7. Look for movies in original packaging to avoid purchasing a bootleg copy.

How to Save Money at the Movie Theater
How to Find the Best Deals at the Movie Theater

Many movie theaters offer a lower price for a matinee, or early afternoon, showtime. Movie patrons might also find special offers for certain days of the week or may find coupons online or through special offers when buying other products. Group discounts, loyal customer deals, or discounts for purchasing tickets in bulk or during certain times of the year may be available.

Movie theaters may utilize social media to increase a loyal base of customers and may offer special discounts to those who subscribe to their page or might offer discounts to loyal customers or to those who purchase tickets online. Do a search for the name of the movie theater and check to see if they have their own site or blog.

Discount Movie Theaters Offer Deals for Those on a Budget

Some movie theaters cater to a cost-conscious market. They may offer movies that have run at the higher priced theaters for a few weeks for greatly discounted prices and typically offer a single price for all ages, such as a $2.00 theater. Many of these are older movie theaters offer lots of rich history and they may not be as crowded as the newer theaters. One of these older theaters posted one simple message on their sign during hot summer months: "We have air conditioning." Those who have lived in the South probably understand the great value of that advertising approach! Sometimes it doesn't really matter what movie is running when it is 100 degrees in the shade.

Some of these discount movie theaters also offer deals on snacks or may offer ice water for free. Some of you may be thinking that going to the movies should always include popcorn and a drink, but those extra expenses can really add up, especially if one has a large family. My kids would much rather go to more movies and have fewer snacks, so that's what we do. You might consider packing a special snack to enjoy after the show at a nearby park and turn the outing into more quality time together with the family.

Theaters may also offer a summer movie special in which you purchase a ticket for seeing matinee movies on a certain day(s) of the week throughout certain summer months at a discounted rate. These are often geared toward those who enjoy G-rated movies. Some of these specials may not be advertised, so it may be worth your while to contact the movie theater and inquire about any specials near the beginning of summer vacation from school.

Movie Rental Deals

Those who have limited space, travel a lot, or do not wish to acquire their own movies may wish to rent, rather than purchase, movies. Many programs are available with monthly rates or fees per movie, such as Redbox, Netflix, and Blockbuster online. Some programs offer delivery while others offer kiosks where movies are picked up and returned by the customer

Those who choose an online rental program might wish to check for:
  • a free trial
  • selection of movies and how they are organized
  • types of movies offered (DVD, blu-ray, etc.)
  • services offered, kiosk locations (if applicable) and price options
  • responsibilities of the customer and company – read the fine print
People might also consider purchasing video streaming. This enables people to watch a movie via the computer live or on demand.

Find more ideas for saving money by reading How to Find Free Movies.

How to Find Free Movies

A good movie can provide fun entertainment for the family, but with tighter budgets, some may assume that watching movies is a luxury one cannot afford. Actually, there are quite a few free movie deals out there, especially for those who wish to watch movies that have been out few a few weeks or longer.

Local Library May Offer Free Movies
Find Free Movies at Libraries

One of the first places I look for free movies is the public library. Many county libraries offer free movie rentals. I have checked out lots of family-friendly movies, and it only cost the gas money to drive there. Public libraries may offer free movie rentals for two weeks or longer, and many libraries offer a free card to people who live outside the county in addition to people living within the county.

Libraries typically have a limit for the number of movies per library card, but patrons may check out more when the first ones are returned. If you find that the movie you wish to see seems to always be checked out, you can request a hold and the library staff will check out the movie to those on the waiting list first.

Some libraries may only offer DVDs or perhaps Blu-rays, but a few may still have VHS tapes for check-out or may sell the older movies during book sales or special offers, so it might be helpful to get on a mailing list, email list, or check to see if they post notices on social media sites. We have found everything from classics to Disney blockbuster hits. You might even pick up some great videos about local history, ideas for travel, or even old episodes of sitcoms for free at the library. Those who financially support the library may have early bird opportunities or might be able to enjoy exclusive sales.

Summer reading programs at the libraries may also include special movie times in which families are invited to watch a movie on a big screen. They may even offer free refreshments or allow moviegoers to bring in their own snacks for the show. Even if the kids have seen the movie before, it may be fun and exciting again in a different location.

Find Free Movies When Friends Clean Closets © Katrena
More Tips for Finding Free Movies

My kids were delighted to discover that our local community college also has a movie section in their library. We found several recent releases at the community college for free check-out. College campuses may also offer free movie times for students and perhaps others on a regular schedule.

Family or friends may be cleaning out closets or be planning a move and might give away movies, offer trades, or sell the videos for a very low price. Many people have a collection of movies at their home that the kids have watched over and over, so this can be a great free way to switch out for some different titles. Some online sites like Freecycle offer people the opportunity to trade and donate items no longer wanted.

Those who write lots of movie reviews, especially for big web sites, may be able to secure some free new release movies for the purpose of reviewing them. The company will probably want to see evidence that you have experience as a reviewer, especially of movies, so it helps to have a great collection of original and trusted reviews. The free offer would need to be disclosed in the movie review, but this does not need to bias a person's viewpoint. If you write negative reviews on a free product, you might not be offered many more free deals by that company, but it might work best to move toward those that you do enjoy.

Online Deals for Free Movies

Some movies might be offered online for free. These might be short clips or full length movies. A library may offer free access to web sites that require a fee, so one might be able to find movies via streaming through this venue as well.

Some movie rental companies offer free deals when purchasing certain advertised products. These deals may work out very nicely for a customer who already plans to purchase those products, but be careful about purchasing products that you do not need or want in order to get a discount if you are on a tight budget.

Companies that rent or sell movies may offer a free trial of their service for first-time customers or may offer a free rental after renting a certain number of movies or during certain times of the year. Watch for movie freebies on their home web sites. You might also find free movie tickets with the purchase of another online. Ensure that you are using a secure web site if purchasing any product online.

Some online movies and shows may be offered for free for those who sign up as members of the site. Most of these companies, such as, are able to offer online movies through the use of advertising. Some libraries may offer access to web sites that would normally charge for access. Check with a local library to see if perhaps they have free access to web sites that offer video streaming.

Some internet survey sites, such as MyPoints, may offer deals for free gift cards that might be used to purchase or rent movies. Some of these sites may offer points or credit for looking at advertisements or completing surveys that do not cost the person anything other than time. People who are members of these sites may also get added points if they refer friends to sign up for the program.

Ad lib for Free Movies © Katrena
A Free Movie That Can be Priceless

One of my favorite ways to watch a free movie is for my kids to put on a show for me at home. They may know the lines of a favorite movie by heart. They may be able to sing every song. Why not let them don some crazy costumes and invite me to our own home movie theater? It is guaranteed to be a show like no other!

Find more ideas for saving money on movies by reading How to Find Cheap Movies.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Board Games and Card Games for Winter Fun and Family Bonding

Connect With Kids With Board Games © Photo by Katrena
Many kids today are well versed in television and the Internet for entertainment, but some of my fondest memories from my younger years are playing board games and card games with family members and friends. During the cold winter months, it can be hard to find fun ways to pass the time, but board games can provide great educational experiences as well as fun times to enjoy together.

Teach Colors and Numbers with Board Games © Photo by Katrena
When we visited a children's museum recently, they had an entire room devoted to simple games like floor puzzles, Twister, dress-up, and the like and the kids seemed to enjoy those games as much or more than the elaborate modern displays.

Playing Board Games is Great Winter Activity © Photo by Katrena
My step-father recently began showing my oldest daughter some of the basics of how to play poker and black jack. It was great fun to watch him hand down skills while giving a little bit of advice on life in general. A friend in one of my exercise classes mentioned that she had all the grands over for New Year's Eve. She said they turned off the TV and computer games and simply played board games with the kids all evening. What fun for everyone!

Learn to Graph With Games © Photo by Katrena
I have such fond memories of playing Don't Spill the Beans, a game that was great for even smaller children as each player would add a bean until the pot would finally spill. Players could work on hand-eye coordination and a bit of strategy in placing the beans, and the game didn't last too long, so it would work well for kids with a short attention span. I remember using real beans back then and was surprised to see that the newer version has plastic beans instead!

Board Games Can be Unique and Fun for Winter Play © Photo by Katrena
Some games had something that was unusual and made it different from anything else out there. I always loved the plastic bubble on the Trouble game that would keep the dice from being lost. It was always great fun to pop the bubble to see which number would appear.

Candyland was another favorite of my early years as players would draw cards with colors and move the playing piece accordingly toward the top of the board. Even if all hope seemed lost in that game, a player might pull a card that would put his or her playing piece near the top with the possibility of winning while someone near the end might pull a card that would land them back near the beginning. Candyland was a great way to learn colors, counting, how to take turns, and how to win with dignity and lose with grace.

Teach Life Skills With Board Games © Photo by Katrena
Another favorite game of mine as a child was one that had a Guiness theme. Each time a player moved his piece, he or she would do some sort of task, like flipping round plastic pieces into a cup or placing pink plastic pieces end to end and lifting more and more of them until they dropped. Some were based on simple luck, like calling odds or evens at the roll of a die. As the youngest in the family, I often struggled with the challenges that involved skill and coordination but would love to try...and sometimes I actually did well in that game.

As I got older, Monopoly became another fun favorite board game. The playing pieces, such as a dog or shoe or iron or thimble, are still some of my favorites of any board game. That game encouraged math and investment skills as players would try to purchase pieces of property on which rent is charged in order to have the most money at the end.

Board Games Based on Famous Movies © Photo by Katrena
A game that I found a few years ago quickly hit the favorite list for my kids. It is based on the Wizard of Oz and is called The Yellow Brick Road Game. The game has four playing pieces: Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man. My kids all want to be Dorothy, but I love to play the Cowardly Lion and talk and act like I'm scared throughout the game. It can add a lot of intrigue to a game by getting into character!

Connect 4 Fun Game for Kids © Photo by Katrena
There are lots of others that come to mind, like Connect 4, Bingo, and Yahtzee. Many of these games have found new life with modern themes. I found a kids Yahtzee game with a Disney theme that my kids have loved to play, and I'm glad to see that they still have the cup. You can play Bingo in Dora the Explorer style or spin to see which Disney Princess will be called next.

Chess Set at Old Salem NC © Photo by Katrena
Checkers and chess were also some favorites of mine, and the variations on those today are quite colorful and interesting. I remember going to a nutrition site for seniors when I was a kid and watching as many of the folks there teamed up at tables to play dominoes. When I went to Greece to visit my sister, I also saw people playing dominoes in a similar fashion.

Card Games for Winter Fun With Children © Photo by Katrena
Card games can be quite simple to pretty complex. I remember playing rook with the neighbors across the street when I was growing up. My kids have enjoyed matching cards, and Old Maid has been a staple around our house. Crazy 8s and solitare has also made their way into our list of fun ways to pass the time as well. It has been quite fun to watch the little one go from wanting to have the Old Maid card every time to avoiding it with a passion!

Indoor Activities with the Kids © Photo by Katrena
Many games of years gone by are still available today. Go to any consignment shop, Salvation Army, or GoodWill, and you might find an original game from the past. Our local Smart Start has a toy library in which parents of preschoolers can check out themed boxes, many of which have fun board games.

Tic Tac Toe With a Princess Theme © Photo by Katrena
Some games are being sold today with very few changes after many years while others have changed a bit with the times. What I remember most about board games of my youth is the time spent together with others. It was a great way to connect and enjoy one another's company...a time of bonding and making fun memories and a way for the older generations to pass on life skills to the younger ones in a fun way.

Who knows...maybe my oldest will teach me some of those poker tips that she learned the other day.