Thursday, May 27, 2010

At Home Dads Guide To Garage Sales

Garage sale season is upon us so here are some helpful hints and guidelines for your bargain hunting. Everyone needs a bargain in today’s economy and since most of us are on one income we need to be thrifty with our dwindling after tax dollars.

First off you need to be organized and have a plan so you aren’t driving all over the place. Once we get more domestic oil production we can afford to drive our SUVs all over town. Until that happens use the newspaper and craigslist to plan your day. That being said there is no better rush than pulling a “UHY” when you see that handwritten sign stuck in the ground. Look for sales that are advertised as “multi-family” since they usually have a larger selection. My favorites are the neighborhood sales. These are when entire subdivisions have sales at the same time. These allow you to park centrally and have a much larger selection of sales within walking distance.

Most sales are on Saturday. However, there are a larger number of people that are opening their garage doors on Friday or even Thursday. I recommend you try and hit as many Thursday and Friday sales as possible. This allows you to get the best selection while all the other poor saps are stuck in their cube auditioning for Dilbert. This also allows you to have Saturday all to yourself since it is the wife’s day to watch the kids for a change.

Take your kids with you. This serves two purposes. First people like to give kids free stuff and whenever kids get a present they think it is the best thing on earth and they won’t whine and throw a fit for a toy (at least on that day). But when they don’t get free stuff, it is a good lesson for your kids to learn the word “No”. It is good for them to learn that they won’t get a toy on every garage sale trip.

Have your friends with you, make it a playgroup activity. It helps to have another dad with you to keep the kids from running into the street after the ball they picked up, dropped and is now rolling down the driveway. It also helps to have your buddy distract the owners by negotiating on the price of the picnic basket while you take your potty training three year old around the corner to pee on the house.

You need to have an idea of what you are looking for when you peruse the classifieds. Personally I won’t go to a sale that doesn’t list the items they plan on having unless I will be in the neighborhood already. A plan is important but don’t let it limit you. Do not be afraid to “buy ahead”: If your child is wearing 3T, you will always need the 5T sweatpants that are in excellent condition. Also, as much as I believe in having a plan I am a firm believer in the old adage “I didn’t know I needed it until I saw it” or my wife’s favorite “you didn’t need it, it was just cheap”.

Now down to the important part, Price Guidelines.

Since most of us are looking for clothes because the kids are growing like weeds and destroy their clothes even faster than they outgrow them, garage sales are the perfect place to shop for kids clothes. Let’s be honest, the kids don’t care what they wear until 5th grade and t-shirts with Cinderella and Thomas are expensive off the rack even if they are produced with exploited labor from Indonesia. The best part about buying your kids garage sale clothes is that as At Home Dads we aren’t expected to know how to dress our kids anyway so now we have the perfect excuse when you go to the grocery store in plaid skirts and polka dot shirts.

My pricing guidelines are based upon 3 years of undocumented non-scientific research in my geographical area. Storage unit sales in lower Manhattan may have different price points so just use this as a guide.

My price limit for kid’s clothes is $1. There are exceptions to this and I will probably leave some out so feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Boy’s blue jeans – If I find these in good shape which means no holes I will go up to $2. Boys are hard on their blue jeans and they are hard to find.

Girl’s dresses – I specifically mean Easter and Christmas type dresses. Off the rack these start at $20 at the big box retailer. $5 for something probably only previously worn once is reasonable.

Snow boots and dress shoes – Same rational as girl’s dresses

Winter coats and jackets: You have to do your inspections with care here. A lot of fleece type jackets pill easily. If a winter coat has a snap on hood make sure it is with the jacket. You can get a great winter coat and snow pant set for around $7. Don’t forget to always search the pockets for hidden twenty dollar bills.

Toys are a common item that we like to pick up at garage sales. I am a firm believer in boosting my kids’ immunity systems by exposing them to other people’s germs. Again I don’t like to pay much more than $1 for toys. The main reason for this is that most everyone is looking to get rid of them; therefore it is a buyer’s market. Be patient and don’t always buy the first thing you see. I can’t tell you the number of times I bought a GI Joe only to find a GI Joe with a kung fu grip the next week. Again with toys there are some exceptions.

Wooden train track – This is like gold due to that cheeky little English train.

This stuff brings a hefty price new so people try and get their money back. You have to check it closely, though. A lot of people try and slip in some knockoff track and still charge Thomas prices. Don’t let them fool you. Just because they paid too much doesn’t mean that you have to.

Lincoln Logs – These are hard to find as well so I will pay a little more for good quality sets. Probably because I loved these so much as a kid.

Construction vehicles and fire trucks – I specifically mean the big heavy duty types. A couple of years ago I paid $5 for a big Tonka crane and then went out of town for the weekend. My wife still says this is one of the best $5 ever spent.

Kitchens, art easels, workbenches, princess vanities and thrones and all the bigger hands on toys – If you try to buy this stuff via craigslist you will pay through the nose. You can find good quality big toys for $10 and under.

Everything else is up to you. What are you willing to pay? Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate. The garage sale market is a buyer’s market. Remember you don’t have to buy anything but they have to either load it up and take it to Goodwill or lug it back to the basement. Most don’t want to do that so they are usually ready to deal. If not, walk away from the craps table and go to the slot machines on the next block. Everything in garage sale world is a gamble. Caveat Emptor. If you buy something electric, test it. Make sure puzzles have all their pieces, there is nothing worse than an alphabet puzzle missing the “S”. Last but not least check zippers. I bought a Lightning McQueen backpack for my boy last spring. Kept it hidden from him in the car and smuggled it into the house. I pulled it out for the first day of pre-school, ready to give him his big surprise to calm his fears and make his first day of school a success. Whammo, the zippers didn’t work. It is a good thing his favorite color is pink and I had been saving a Hello Kitty backpack for his sister.

Activity: World War I Museum

100 West 26th Street
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 784-1918

Tuesday-Sunday: 10am to 5pm
Adults $12
Seniors (65+) $10
Students (18+ with ID) $10
Youth (6–17) $6
**Parking is free**

Appropriate for all ages.
If you haven't been to the WWI museum yet, you should drop what you are doing. Go find a priest. Confess your sin and ask for absolution. There is no excuse for not seeing this. This is one of Kansas City's most spectacular museums (I've seen a lot, trust me) and lives up to whatever expectations you have. Besides, we are stay at home dads, how could we not love teaching our kids about giant guns?

Start your visit by going up top of the museum, where all the granite is. This is one of the best views of downtown and a great picture spot. Check out the huge giant griffons and the really great buildings on top. And if you are feeling particularly adventurous, take the kids to the top of the Liberty tower. It's a long way up man, but take a try and work that heart. This is also a great space for the kids to run around in and not break anything.

Then go to the museum itself. Before you enter, there are several interactive displays showing photos of soldiers from that time period. That sums up this museum, interactive. Once you have your tickets you crossover a glass walkway. Underneath is the poppy field and it's pretty amazing but also somewhat freaky. Some of your kids may be a little scared about doing this but that's ok because they also have black mats that you can walk over. You can choose which entrance you would like to do first: The American side or the European side. Both are very much worth it and you can do both in one visit without to much worry.

Inside the museum it's safe to let the kids off the leash a little bit. There is nothing that they can break. Thick glass displays protect most of the exhibits. The things that aren't protected are huge steel guns and I would pay money to see a kid actually destroy one of those monstrosities. Throughout both sides there are plenty of well done "movies" playing that inform you of the time period and of the war. In fact, there is so much of this that you won't be able to watch them all with kids present as you are constantly being pulled to the next exhibit. You will defiantly want to come back again to get the full experience.

Also on each side of the museum (American/European) they also have some really cool exhibits that give you an idea of what it was like. From a life size, walk through trench to a bomb crater, you will get a feel for what soldiers went through. You kids will really dig this. But what they will dig the most is the middle of the museum. Here is what I call the "situation" room. It's a very large table that has many stations on it. At each station is an interactive exhibit to keep everyone busy. It contains information on just about anything you could want to know about the war. From the weapons that were used to the movements in the actual war. You shine a miniflash light on what you want to know and the display starts. Totally worth it. To the side of the situation room is also something very unique. Sounds of the era. These are little rooms where you can hear original recordings of songs, speeches, diaries, you name it. Worth the stop.

Which brings to the one thing I have to warn you about concerning this museum. The Theater. We usually skip theaters because our kids don't sit still. However, this one is a little bit different and hard to describe. It's a movie describing the war but one of the best done complete immersion experiences I have ever had. You sit in a balcony. Below you is a recreation of a battlefield. A good recreation. Behind that is canvas that serves as the screen. It is realistic enough and scary enough that your kids may freak out during this. Movies start every 30 minutes and very worth it but just be warned that the kids might not do so well.

When you are done with the museum, the front is a great place to have a picnic on a nice day. There is really to much to describe here so just look at the pictures. Then decide to go, you'll be happy you did.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Kansas Cosmoshpere and Space Center

1100 North Plum Street
Hutchinson, KS 67501
(800) 397-0330

All-Day Mission Pass (The Best Value) - Allows entry to one IMAX film, one planetarium show, one Dr. Goddard's Lab and one admission to the Hall of Space Museum.

Under 3 - Free
Children 3-12 - $15
Adults - $17

Single Venue Ticket - Allow entry to one of the venues listed.

Under 3 - Free
Children 3-12 - $9
Adults - $9.50


Awesome, Awesome, Awesome! Load up the kids and take a trip into the heart of the Kansas landscape. Hutchinson is located about 50 miles northwest of Wichita and many are surprised to find such an excellent exhibit of any kind in this part of Kansas.

This is not the typical IMAX. This IMAX is a domed theater. We enjoyed the story of the Hubble in full realistic views. The film contains two parts. 1)Traveling with astronauts in space while working to repair the Hubble. The challenges they encountered and the immense amount of work and time that went into repairing the Hubble. 2)Enjoying the views from Hubble. The Hubble makes you really take in how immense our universe really is. There are wonderful 3-D views of Hubble itself, anchored to the shuttle Atlantis' payload bay, stunning views of Earth, and the many galaxies surrounding us. A must see!!

Dr. Goddard's Lab:
A bit over the head of the younger kids but very interesting for all adults. This show covers the beginnings of rocketeering in a very eventful fashion. I think the best way to describe this to refer it to an interactive science lab where things do get blown up. Very interesting to learn how, primarily, one man, with no government funding discovered, invented, and patented rocket building. All these pattens were eventually sold to the US government and many are still used in the building of our space shuttles today.

While the planetarium was very interesting, if you watch the IMAX Hubble (which I highly recommend), it would be a good one to skip and spend a little more time in the museum. Most of the information was also shown during the IMAX movie.

Space Museum:
Unfortunately we ran out of time and did not get to spend a lot of time in the museum. With all that they have to offer I think you could easily spend 3 hours in here without checking out any of the other venues. In light of that I have grabbed a very well written review on the museum.
There are several galleries open to ticket holders. The Cold War Gallery follows the U.S. and Soviet space programs as they began as well as history of the standoff between the two nations. There's the German gallery featuring V-1 and V-2 rockets fro World War II, developed in Hitler's Germany. The Early Spaceflight Gallery follows the development of space exploration by America and other nations. The gallery has a Titan rocket, Gemini X spacecraft and the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury Capsule.
The Apollo flights are some of the most famous. The Apollo Gallery charts each Apollo flights from the technology used to the human dramatic side of the flights. On display is the Apollo 13 command module - Odyssey, a moon rock, replica lunar rover, and a model of the Saturn V rocket.

Food Court:
Very reasonable price and good food. You can ever purchase some astronaut food. We chose the ice cream and the kids thought that it was really cool to eat like an astronaut. The ice cream was OK, some better than others.

Gift Shop:
The gift shop has a very wide selection of souvenirs and memorabilia. Anything from a couple dollars to a couple hundred.