The following is a staff writer post from Amanda L. Grossman at Frugal Confessions. She covers how to live a frugal decadent life where saving and living in the present are both held in high regard.
If you’re like me, then from time to time you have found yourself bored and looking for a distraction from your present tasks. Perhaps you have already checked out all the usual avenues: seen the new haircut of your friend on Facebook, retweeted a few interesting things on Twitter, and uploaded those photos you’ve been meaning to. Now what?
While I do not condone wasting hours of time on the internet instead of working (*ahem*), I am a big believer in mental breaks. And why not make your mental breaks fun? Below are lots of free online time-killers you might want to check out if you are in need of a break from your task at hand.
Conduct a Genealogy Search
Have you ever wondered about your ancestors? I just finished a Hungarian ancestry project for my family, and can confidently say that while it was very satisfying, it was also very time-consuming. Whether you know tidbits about them, or just a name, there are free websites where you can search for them within the US, as well as before they reached the United States. You may want to start with an Ellis Island search. Ellis Island Ship Passenger Lists can be searched during the years it was in operation (between 1892 and 1954). Other useful, free websites include USGenWeb.org, Cyndi’s List, and FamilySearch.org. Here is a pedigree chart that you can type onto in case you get really interested and want to start your own project. And if you just want to find out if you are related to someone famous, then check out how to do so in this article.
Watch Live Wilderness and Space Coverage
You can watch a live camera set up at a watering hole in the African wilderness at the Nkorho Bush Lodge (located next to the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve). You can also keep that turned on and listen to a wonderful cacophony of animal noises while working or contemplating. If you spot any wildlife you can “take photos” and share on social media, or you can set up an alert to alert you when there are animals present so that you can open up the website and check in.
You can check in on earth and space through the live streaming from the International Space Station (ISS). The images are from cameras mounted outside the laboratory complex, which orbits Earth at 17,500 miles an hour at an altitude of 220 miles. The video is transmitted to viewers usually from about 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. CST. In case the live streaming is off-air, you can also keep tabs on what the astronauts are doing onboard the ISS.
There are many games available for free on the computer. Over 300 free games are available at miniclip.com. 1Up keeps a list of free online games ranging from puzzles to adventure, and Kongregate offers a huge listing (over 36,000) of free online games.
You can also download free video game music at www.ocremix.org, which offers both originals and remixes by fans.
Create an Avatar and Cartoonize Yourself
You can play around with software that will create an avatar for you, or your virtual representation in cyberspace. Here is a website where you can “cartoonize” yourself using a choice of various effects. Did you ever wonder what your character would look like in South Park? Play around with this free service to create it.
This looks just like me, right?
Start a Digital Scrapbook
Digital scrapbooking is creating scrapbook pages on your computer. Once created, you can print them out at home, use them in an online photo company service (such as for the pages in a photo book), burn the pages onto a CD/DVD, or share them on social media. Check out these free digital scrapbooking kits to get you started.
Take a Google Earth Tour
I have lived in several different countries, and was elated when I figured out one afternoon that I could type in some of my old addresses and hangouts and see them on Google Earth! One day while fooling around with this on my laptop, I happened to click on a Saturn-looking button. Much to my surprise, I found out that you can also tour the moon and certain planets! How awesome is that? There are little flags of areas of interest, as well as digital placards to click on for information of the particular area you are looking at.
What free online time-killers have you found? Please share for the mental sake of the rest of us!
Buck at Buck Inspire suggested we all try to strike something off of our bucket list within these past two weeks. I was going to declare Comicpalooza 2013 my bucket list challenge event, but I was going to do that anyway. Felt like cheating. So I went to my first gun show instead.
New to Me
Even though you may have guessed from my “Gun? What Gun?” post that I’ve been to a ton of gun shows, you would have been wrong. The only places that I’ve ever handled any guns – hand guns, rifles, or shotguns - has been at friends’ or families’ homes, at a pawn shop once, and I’ve seen them at Walmart and Academy.
I never bothered to go to a gun show since I’m actually not in the market for anything right now. Jason at Live Real Now has promised to send me a taser, and we are set other than that. But when my friend, D, invited me along to a Sunday gun show a couple of weekends ago since she was looking, I decided to check this off of my life’s to-do list.
My Gun Show Experience
Overall, a gun show is not exciting at all. This one was held in one of the halls of the George R. Brown Convention Center, and the sheer amount of guns and knives spread along tables was interesting. But unless you want to buy one of them, only the homemade fudge and jerky counters in the back part of the hall would catch your attention. It was hard to pass those up, by the way…
We only stayed for about an hour and half, but that was enough time for my friend to find her basic $495 Sig. We got pointers from some of the sellers, but mainly our friend, N, helped her. He has way more experience with hand guns and showed D what to look for based on what she wanted. Specifically, she was looking for a home defense weapon that wouldn’t be too heavy for her since she lives alone in an apartment complex that has had a couple of home invasions these last couple of months.
Once she found her favorite two models, we asked for discounts and only had one seller budge $5 since these were the inexpensive guns to start with…oh well, $5 is $5. They were the same price online, so she decided to just buy it at the show. It took about 20 minutes for them to run the background check online and fill out all of the paperwork.
This is pretty much what D’s new gun looks like…they sort of all looked the same to me except for being black or silver and a little longer or shorter…
Overall, it felt more like an errand run with friends that made it fun rather than a fun Sunday afternoon activity. But it’s one thing checked off the bucket list.
Have you been checking anything off your bucket list lately?
Last June, I went to an open interview to become a Chick-Fil-A cow mascot. I didn’t think I did that well in the practice part of the interview, but they called me in anyway a few times last year and a few more times this year. Since I am 5’2″ tall, I am the perfect size to be the kid cow (which is apparently the hard one to find). And since I work from home, I am available when their normal high school student employees are in class.
My Cow Experiences Thus Far
So, from last December to last week, I have been the kid cow 6 times. I was at the mall for Cow Appreciation Day and again for Christmas with Santa. I also worked the main restaurant once, a high school once, and two events held in a huge church auditorium for school events.
The gist of the job:
- Show up 15 minutes early to wherever I will be working.
- Put on the sports band to keep my glasses on my head and put my hair into a ponytail.
- Squirrel away in a closet or unoccupied room to put on all of the mascot stuff with the help of a “wrangler” – yep we have cow help. Specifically, we put everything on in this order – suit, clothing item of choice, feet, hands (with help), and the head (with help).
- 30-45 minutes of being a cow. A wrangler stays nearby to make sure we aren’t tipped. Seriously.
- Then 10-15 minutes of break time with water.
- Repeat if necessary. My jobs have been 1.5-3 hours long.
- Get out of the suit with help, put it back into its bag, and head home.
- My check is mailed to me 2-3 weeks later (I could pick it up like a regular employee, but I am lazy and rarely near the mall).
Overall, it’s hot inside of the suit, but a lot of fun. I’m paid $10 an hour, $25 minimum. My favorite part is sneaking up on people and making moose ears on them when they don’t know I’m there but everybody else around notices…hehehe.
And to be honest, all of the hugs from toddlers, kids, teenagers, and even adults is really nice. I like hugs, expecially when there is a cow suit that I’m not in charge of washing between me and sticky fingers. Not too shabby for a once-in-a-while hobby job.
Pics or It Didn’t Happen
And I know the following pictures will give most of you a nice laugh, so without further ado…
I’m the cutest Elf Cow ever, lol. Side note, that Santa is actually a real, freakin’ professional that gets flown around the country for events. There is a market for everything!
And now coming down the runway…cows in red. I’m the short one…
This poor guy was asked for a bunch of pictures once he picked me up for fun the first time. He never expected a 170 pound woman inside of a 30 pound cow suit…he was literally shaking by the time the last pictures were snapped. I was laughing to myself harder than anyone who has to be silent has ever laughed before…
We even get to dress snazzy for the nice ceremonies, LOL. I was dancing my butt off at one point in this getup…and no, I’m not the one in the dress…
What is the most entertaining job that you’ve ever had? Any other mascots out there?
Another year, another Comicpalooza!!! Last year was my first foray into this ultimate world of geekdom, so I wasn’t a complete noob this year again. It was still amazing!
Comicpalooza 2013 – A View From the Second Floor Window
The first day of any convention seems to be about meeting people and getting the lay of the land. Isabelle and I carpooled and arrived around 11am and spent hours walking around, talking with dozens of other awesome people, and making a plan of attack for the weekend. With 3 main halls and 3 floors being used, there was a lot to scout.
Oh, I saw my favorite character again and finally got a picture with her. Her name is Mab – this woman made her own kick-ass costume and is all over the place! I’ve seen her at least 5 times at the Renaissance Festival and conventions. She makes these sounds like a dove and doesn’t talk but she is super nice to everyone even though her character seems dark. I asked one of her buddies for her name. She really always makes me smile and I hope to create a character as cool as hers for myself some day. Mine will probably be more rainbow-colored, but she’ll be my inspiration.
This is my favorite lady at all of my geek events. Mab is my inspiration to put together a character of my own at some point too…
We figured out really quickly that the George R Brown Convention Center double-booked the Main Stage on the 3rd floor, so everything for Comicpalooza was moved around and the program was just wrong on pretty much every location. This means that we missed a panel and a few speakers didn’t even show up to their own panels a couple of times. Once we figured out the new layout, the rest of the weekend went smoother.
Ivy and Anne joined us after they got off work Friday evening and we attended a few panels together and just soaked in the atmosphere. It was exciting, super fun, and the only day I started out NOT exhausted, lol. Overall, I was at Comicpalooza from 11am to about 9pm on Friday.
We got a very early start Saturday since it’s always the biggest day of Comicpalooza. I got all decked out with a corset I’ve had in the closet for months and even had my face and bust painted to accessorize the outfit. Seriously, if you are ever in the Houston area, you should totally look into Face Painting by Shandi or check out her items that can be shipped at Green-Eyed Unicorn! Isabelle French-braided my hair and the overall look was very geek chic.
Okay, I quite honestly think this is one of the best pictures of me ever, lol. Yay for corsets and face painting! Well, and thanks to my mom for passing on the boobs gene.
We got started at 10am and just went from one event to another for about 10 hours. I don’t think we drove away until about 9pm. We got through the day on peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a baked potato. I bought some original art prints. We all had a drawing commissioned to include all of us as Sentinels of the Multiverse characters. I don’t like the way the drawing turned out this year, but at least it makes us all laugh. Oh, and I was also able to talk a dealer into a $30 deal on a really awesome masquerade mask for our Halloween Masquerade Ball this coming October!
From left right – Isabelle as Wraith, Anne as Tachyon, Ivy as Expatriette, and me as girl Legacy. Look up the card game Sentinels of the Multiverse if you have no idea what I am talking about.
Here is my awesome masquerade mask and the print of a drawing of The Tooth Fairy from Rise of the Guardians that I picked up from The Fake Lemonade Stand in Artists Alley. I think I will be using her colors to come up with my own special character to be at comic conventions in the future…
I just really loved these colors that the artist from The Foolish Mortal used!
Ivy and Isabelle had their picture taken with Patrick Stewart but I decided he wasn’t worth $70 to me, lol. I did enjoy meeting Danny Trejo in passing – he’s pretty funny. I also got to meet the author, Jacqueline Carey, long enough to have a short but nice conversation.
Overall though, I would have to say that the voice actor, Spike Spencer, definitely stuck out the most to me. He’s a funny guy and since he was put up against a Patrick Stewart event for his Q&A, he had a low turnout. I got to ask a lot of questions about his experiences with self-employment and voice acting from the road. You may want to check out his sites, Spike Spencer and Don’t Kill Your Date – he’s a very funny guy that I would love to support. Here’s to him being on “Family Guy” someday!!!
We were way more laid back on Sunday. We arrived around 11am and headed out at about 5pm. It sort of dawned on me Sunday with Anne that I should try to be a panelist for Comicpalooza next year since there were quite a few blogs covering the event but no blogging panels yet. I am going to try. Isabelle, Anne, and Ivy also helped me flesh out a new eBook idea that I am going to try to publish within the next couple of months. It’ll cover the basics of budgeting, negotiating, and finding ways to increase or find income streams.
After lunch, we just wandered around the Artist Alley and I picked up a few gifts for my friends’ upcoming birthdays when they were busy elsewhere. We also got to see ArcAttack! again – nothing cooler than music and Tesla coils…
More Awesome Pics
Here are some more pictures we snapped around Comicpalooza this past weekend.
The Predator and Isabelle
Any Dr, Who fans out there?
I saw this great guy last year too and finally found a moment alone, lol.
A super cool mash-up!
I attended all 3 days again and bought my ticket a couple of weeks in advance using a $5 discount code from The Renaissance Festival. Here were the final numbers. We also brought snacks and drinks like water from home and ate out a couple of times at regular places we would have stopped by for any time together (like a little café and McDonalds a few times):
- 3 Day Event Pass – $38
- Downtown Event Parking (split with a friend each day) – $15
- Two Original Prints (post card sized) – $8
- One Fan Picture Drawing of the Tooth Fairy – $6
- Funny Group Souvenir Drawing (we split the cost) – $8
- Masquerade Mask – $30
- Face Painting (only $16 but I tipped a lot since I was so happy) - $30
- Grand Total = $135
Overall, I think it was completely worth the cost and will totally be attending yet again next year! Thank you so much to Ivy, Isabelle, and Anne for being the coolest friends ever!
What do you think? Sounds like a ton of fun or not your cup of tea?
I am sure all of you heard about the cruise from hell in February 2013 that stranded people on the Carnival Triumph for extra days, some without any power at all or the ability to flush a toilet. Another one of their ships had a major electrical problem a month or so later. And last year, the Costa Concordia beached off of the coast of Italy and killed more than 30 people. Costa is a division of Carnival.
Overall, Carnival just doesn’t have a good rep right now. So what have we done? We have booked a cruise on Carnival, of course.
Too Good To Pass Up
Our friend Isabelle brought up the fact that we only live an hour and a half from Galveston, one of Carnival’s main ports, so we just had to check out some of the deals. Thanks to all of the super bad publicity, Carnival’s prices are significantly reduced. For example, there are several 7 day cruises running for less than $480 per person in late August. But since Mr. BFS and I really rather not miss a whole week of work, and he really doesn’t want to miss reffing a Friday night, varsity football game with his sports officiating crew, we decided to look at the Saturday through Thursday 5 day cruises instead. We’ve taken a 5 day and 7 day Carnival cruise before, so we know we liked both!
Mr. BFS, Isabelle, my younger sister, and I found a deal that I don’t think we’ll ever see again. We chose a 5 day cruise from August 31 through September 5 for a little less than $280 per person…that INCLUDES taxes and trip insurance!!! On a 3 day holiday weekend!!! We’ll only have to take 2 1/2 vacation days!!!
Okay, so it’s on the Triumph, but I don’t think any ship would be better renovated than this one by August. It starts selling again in June. We also have reserved an interior room with no windows since that is exactly what we wanted. We all hate light while we sleep. It will be a little cramped with 4 of us, but we are all 30 and under and spend very little time in our room on vacations anyway. So a midship, interior room with as little rocking as possible and no elevator noise for $280 each is just amazing! I am so excited!!!
Would You Take a Cruise?
Given all of the negative media attention, I assume not everyone would be ready to set sail. Would I be right? I figure we should take advantage of the great deals while most people are skittish, but we’ll see if we end up drifting in the ocean without toilets in a couple of months.
Would you cruise on Carnival right now?
Remember my post about looking into bed and breakfasts? We finally picked one, Seventh Heaven, and made plans to stay last Friday and Saturday night. It ended up being a fun adventure that just didn’t work out as planned.
Here is a general picture of a B&B since I forgot my camera, lol.
It only took us about an hour in traffic to reach Seventh Heaven, so we successfully checked in around 6:30pm Friday evening. We then spent a quick hour looking around and moving our luggage into our room. We were immediately impressed by the size of the shower, lol. And then we started distracting ourselves by checking on the furniture and decorations since it was obvious that they were bought in auctions and had some fun looks. But then our stomachs reminded us to go eat and we found an Ihop a few miles away.
When we returned, we jumped into the Jacuzzi for an hour or so (I tried the pool but it was a bit cold). Then we each got to bask in the giant shower while the other of us caught up with their work emails, lol. We ended up heading to bed around 11pm.
We headed down to breakfast around 9am Saturday morning and very much enjoyed it. It was a simple but delicious and filling 2 course meal – yogurt and fresh fruit followed by whole wheat pancakes and breakfast sausage. Then we headed outside.
We spent about half an hour on the tree swing and visiting the chickens. Then we used the two little ponds to play around with the one-person kayak and 1-2 person paddle boat. That was actually really relaxing even though we worked up a sweat.
But by noon, we were hungry again and ventured out for food. If any of you are ever on Highway 290 at Cypress Rose Hill, eat at Alicia’s Mexican Restaurant. YUMMY. And the portions were gigantic, so we had leftovers for dinner too. Then we grabbed some champagne and OJ from a grocery store next door and made the 10 minute drive back.
By that time, the slight drizzle in the area had turned into a full out downpour. So we happily played a few games of pool on the table in the games room on the second floor. We kept the blinds open so we could watch the rain ping off the roof of the patio. Eventually, we moved from pool back to our room to watch a little tv while catching up on emails again. Yay for cable and Wi-Fi.
Around 4pm, I started craving my leftovers. So we moseyed back downstairs, grabbed some free coffee and hot chocolate, and had dinner on the patio while watching the rain and lightening off in the distance. Laura, the lady handling everything, noticed us hanging out and offered us some wine.
She joined us with a bottle of Merlot (we sipped but moved onto Mimosas since it wasn’t our fave) and we chatted a little bit before hearing a loud bang, like a small cannon. Yay, the transformer blew. Yay again, Centerpoint Energy’s automated system isn’t working any we can’t reach anyone. So all 8 of us guests and Laura ended up on the patio and enjoyed her wine and our Mimosas while we watched the light outside fade.
Cutting the Adventure Short
Around 9pm, my younger sister suggested that she and I could go to a movie and see if the power would be back on when we get back. We let Laura know that we’d be back in a couple of hours and drove off to use my Groupons for a 10pm showing of “Scary Movie 5″ (as stupid as expected). But when we returned around midnight, the power was still very much dead, we still couldn’t flush the toilet or take a hot shower, so we packed up to leave. I tried knocking on the door to the room I thought Laura was in, but no one answered. I tried calling the B&B’s phone number, but it came back with a busy signal. So we left a note explaining the situation along with our room keys and drove the 45 minutes home.
Overall, the time we had there was awesome with only a few small annoyances like a 5 year old with an Angry Bird picture craze that taped them all over the bottom floor. And the lack of a backup power generator that most hotels would have had. But we were close enough to our home not to need to “rough it” unnecessarily because of severe weather issues like fried transformers. So like I led with, it was a fun but short adventure.
For the room we chose, the 2 night weekend minimum would have come in at $388, but I heard back from Seventh Heaven about our payment stuff Monday morning. We’re being charged for a 1.5 day stay instead of the full 2 days. So our total is coming in at about $287. I was expecting to only be charged for 1 night since we couldn’t flush a toilet or use any amenities after 6pm on Saturday (so our whole stay was about 27 hours), but apparently check out is at 11am and I only said nice things out loud while I was there, so it was a battle I lost. I don’t think I would have complained out loud even though I know better now…it just seems to rude to whine about stuff that can’t be changed.
Oh well, $287 for a new experience. My sister and I will be looking into other options next time though. I don’t think we’d be welcomed back anyway since I listed all of the little issues in my email replies, and now they seem offended (and sort of think I am a liar now since it was new-to-them complaints…sheesh). My first note was really, really sweet since I thought they would have already come to the conclusion that not having a generator for a rural B&B was unacceptable. But nope. In the end, I should have just kept all complaints to myself and moved on with life since I doubt they will even see any of it as constructive criticism – just whiny stuff. Especially since all of the other guests apparently paid in full Sunday morning and checked out. I don’t understand that at all…we didn’t sign up for camping. Oh well, I guess that’s life.
Have you ever had a vacation that just didn’t go as planned? Anything like this?
Just so you know in advance, this post was not sponsored or asked for in any way. I was inspired by my husband’s latest addiction to share what this is with all of you, lol.
Have you heard of the site, Kickstarter? It is used to get creative projects funded. Since their launch in 2009, more than 3.9 million people have pledged over $579 million, funding more than 39,000 creative projects…projects like board games.
Here’s the down and dirty. Someone with a creative project in pretty much any niche can create a campaign for a true project that they are trying to fund – Art, Comics, Dance, Design, Fashion, Film, Food, Games, Music, Photography, Publishing, Technology, and Theater. Then anybody who would like to support the campaign can pledge at multiple levels. Each pledge level comes with a different item or award.
If the project is fully funded, then the money is released to the person running the campaign and eventually you receive whatever you pledged for. But if the project does not end up being fully funded, then the backers are never charged.
And lastly, if a project is fully funded but never actually gets developed, then the creator refunds your money or you lose your money and can sue. Legally, the creators must complete a fully funded project or refund your money. It’s legally something you paid for, but it is possible to be defrauded. If you do proper research, you’ll know which projects are safe and which ones seem hinky. Mr. BFS has never been burned.
Most Recent Project
As you may know, Mr. BFS and I board game pretty often. He even is in the board game play testing group in our area and helps to make games better so they can be published. So Kickstarter is right up his alley. He has supported 7 games, including my favorite game ever, Sentinels of the Multiverse (everyone should look into that one on their site by the way, lol).
Most of the time, a board game that Mr. BFS supports costs between $40-$60 and takes about 6 months to come out via Kickstarter. But he has gotten enthralled recently with “Myth” by Mercs Miniatures, a Kickstarter game campaign that ended yesterday morning and MADE ALMOST A MILLION DOLLARS!!!
It was the most expensive game by far that my husband has ever bought – $293 to be exact. But, and it pains me to say this, it could be a good use of fun money. Overall, it’s a very interactive board game with a ton of worlds, bad guy options, and hundreds of miniatures. Mr. BFS thinks he will even enjoy the new hobby of miniature painting. The game itself reminds me of Dungeons and Dragons combined with Sentinels of the Multiverse. And who doesn’t like killing bad guys with a group of friends.
And if you ever miss a Kickstarter campaign, you can usually pick up the game later (usually at a higher price, but hey, no risk!) at the publishers’ sites. So even if you aren’t the first-one-in type, you can at least find things you may be keeping an eye out for in the future.
Have you ever heard of Kickstarter? If so, have you ever pledged to a campaign?