Sunday, May 23, 2010

A fun-filled day with the family costs very little and has big returns

Since leaving my job three years ago, I've spent a lot of time exploring the Cedar Valley with my boys. Living on one income means my husband and I have had to be creative in finding budget-friendly things to do for a family of five. The Cedar Valley hasn't disappointed.

Yesterday, we spent the entire day enjoying the town, for less than $20.

In the morning, my husband took the boys out and about so I could get caught up on housework. No fun for me, but the father-son time was much needed by the boys. They explored a farmer's market, took a short car ride to buy manly red meat for supper at the Gilbertville Meat Locker, and went to the local home improvement store. My husband wasn't there to look at tools with the boys - he was there to teach them how to use them. 

Lowe's offers a free Build & Grow program for kids that involves building simple wooden toys with the help of a parent or caregiver. Saturday's project was a mini catapult that launched ping-pong balls. The boys came home bouncing from the excitement of their morning and showing off their newly constructed toys. My husband only had one small complaint - his thumbs were a little sore from holding the nails for novice hammer-wielders. Next weekend, the project is a car. I'm hoping my husband's hands are sufficiently recovered for round two.

After lunch and naps, we decided to explore the University of Northern Iowa's prairie preserve. The preserve is part of the Tallgrass Prairie Center and is located on 65 acres surrounding the Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) on campus. The Center was established in 1999 to "develop research, techniques, education and Source Identified seed for restoration and preservation of prairie vegetation in rights-of-way and other lands" according to its Web site. A few years ago, the center decided to give the public free access to the preserve. Our oldest boy led the way as we explored the winding trails and followed the paths along the creek. We had to spend some time watching the water from the bridge before we found our way back to the van. 

Exploring the prairie preserve. 
The prairie grasses were only 
ankle-high at this point, but the 
trails were still visible.

Helping nature out 
by spreading dandelion 

Following the paths 
to the creek.


The boys enjoyed watching the water flow under the bridge.

Happy, but tired, explorers.


It was a hot walk, so we went to our favorite ice cream shop, Four Queens Dairy in Cedar Falls, to cool down with some shakes, which we ate while sitting next to the rushing waters of the Cedar River. Of course, the ice cream gave the boys their second wind, so next it was off to follow the path along the river and hike across the big bridge. On the other side, William found a mountainous pile of limestone rocks he thought looked like a good place to play. My husband and I caught our breath while the boys discovered the joys of rock climbing. After several trips from the bottom to the top and back again, it was time to go. Red-faced and weary, they were exhausted.

It was a fun day filled with new discoveries and learning opportunities.

For a map of UNI's campus:
More information about the Tallgrass Prairie Center:
Lowe's Build & Grow projects (check your local store for program schedule):

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