Money Savin’ Mama’s guide to hot fun in F-M for free

Since she could stand, our daughter Eve has loved those large inflatable games, known as “bouncy things” in our house. All summer long we keep our eyes out for places she can bounce, and with a little planning have found plenty of free opportunities.

So many that once at an arts and crafts fest, where the fee was $1 per minute of bounce time, we passed despite our daughter’s pleas. We knew she’d get another chance soon enough.

My family’s frugal ways have led us to a lot of free summertime entertainment all around Fargo-Moorhead. Sure, you can enjoyably wile away summer days not spending a cent at neighborhood playgrounds and on long walks. But by knowing what free events happen when and where, it’s possible to do more this summer for a lot less.

You can count on the local public libraries and park districts to provide plenty of entertainment options throughout the summer.

Check out Fargo’s Community Block Parties, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through June 19 and July 10-31 at different city parks. Each event features karaoke, craft projects, face painting, free food and – yes – inflatable games.

The Fargo Park District also offers free community play dates at Rheault Farm on June 7, July 12 and Aug. 16. Its weekly art-centered Park It! events are free, too.

Moorhead has RiverArts at Memorial Park including a free outdoor concert, horse-drawn carriage rides, and games and activities for kids. RiverArts events are scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 12 and 26, July 10 and 31, and Aug. 14. Each one also features an activity like pony rides (July 31), a fishing clinic (July 10), tae kwon do demonstrations (June 26), and – yes – inflatable games (June 12).

Admission to West Fargo’s Veterans Memorial Pool, which typically opens mid-June, is free for all. Moorhead’s municipal pool has free admission 2 to 4 p.m. June 21 for Summer Splash. Fargo’s five outdoor pools each take a turn offering free admission, hot dogs and pop for a day in mid-July during Pepsi Appreciation Days.

The libraries have free movies, crafts, story times and special visitors all season long, not to mention summer reading programs.

Even a day at the fair can be done frugally, if you time it right. The Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo, slated for July 10-15, offers free admission at the main gates from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays. Once in, you can check out the Zerebko Petting Zoo, Welde Big Bear Show, Swampmaster Gator Show, baby chicks hatching at the Ag Education Center, 4-H and other animal exhibits, a roving magician, strolling fairy-themed enchanted wagon, and other entertainment – all for free. To keep it cheap, you may need to skip the tempting fair foods and put a limit on midway rides. Look for food and vendor coupons on the fair’s website ( All-day ride passes are discounted to $25 at local Stop-and-Go stores.

Any free event may hold temptations to spend in the form of vendors or gift shops. To avoid these costs, try to eat at home before going, or set a spending limit and bring only that much cash with you. Empower older kids to earn the money they want to spend this summer.

Here are more of my family’s favorite free events:

  • College SAVE Zoo Day, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, Red River Zoo, Fargo. Free zoo admission, animal encounters and drawings for prizes, including $529 for college savings. There’s also free admission 3 to 7 p.m. June 7 for Safety Safari.
  • Share a Story, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 9, Rheault Farm, south Fargo. There’s face painting, music, snacks, storytelling, and appearances by every toddler’s idol, Elmo.
  • Midwest KidFest, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 15, Island Park, downtown Fargo. Endless activity booths, a petting zoo, main stage entertainment by Penny and Pals at noon and 5 p.m., plus the Teddy Bear Parade at 10:30 a.m.
  • Streets Alive!, noon to 5 p.m. July 15 and Aug. 26, downtown Fargo and Moorhead streets. Three miles of streets are closed to motorized traffic to make way for human movement. Along the route you’ll find activities like hula hooping, yoga and Zumba, interactive exhibits and demonstrations. West Fargo holds its own mini version Aug. 21.

As you can see, we’re looking forward to a summer filled with free fun, and plenty of bouncing.


Check out these websites for listings of family-friendly activities, many free:

Wetting my whistle with dry drinks

My boss asked me the other day if I’ve been having any pregnancy cravings. Booze, I said, unashamedly. I’m sure that makes me sound like a raving drunkard, but what I wouldn’t give for a frosty, fruity umbrella drink right about now.

I don’t remember missing cocktails during my first pregnancy, which makes me wonder if being a parent has driven me to drink … No, I think I’ll go with a theory less likely to get child protective services called: the difference in seasons. There’s just something about summertime that calls for a refreshing adult beverage.

Last time, the bulk of my pregnancy was during winter months. Yeah, I missed out on rum-spiked eggnog, champagne toasts at New Year’s and green St. Patty’s Day beer (as I did this year). But what I’ve really yearned for is the occasional frosty mug or a glass of chilled wine on a summer evening, preferably outdoors while soaking up the setting sun.

As I’ve been pregnant for the last 35 weeks, I’ve gone this entire summer without a handmade wine cooler at Newman Outdoor Field, a minty mojito, a tall Long Island iced tea or an icy margarita. On a recent stifling hot day, a co-worker brought tropical-flavored popsicles to the office to share. I carefully dug through the box until I found a white one – the best piña colada I’ll have all summer, I told him.

My forbidden nectar

Most regrettably, I’ve also spent an entire summer without a sip of my favorite summer drink: Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.

Oh, the poetry I could write about Leinie’s and its wheat-y, lemony drink of the gods. I consider it a travesty that I’ll miss out on it this year, as it’s a seasonal brew.

Thankfully, a pregnant friend understands. When she and her husband came over for a cook-out a few weeks back, she brought along a jug of lemonade and a six-pack of O’Doul’s. We experimented with ratios of non-alcoholic ale and ade until we got the mixture just right.

I’ve since taken to making myself a homemade N/A shandy every now and then, to sip on the patio and soak in some rays. It’s not quite as good as a Leinie’s, but a completely acceptable alternative.

Returning to the ballpark and summer fun

A couple years ago, I wrote a column about attending a baseball game with our then 14-month-old daughter. I feared we’d never be able to enjoy America’s favorite pastime again.

It’s a fear that hasn’t come to pass, thankfully, as we attended several baseball games last summer in Fargo and Minneapolis and even one this spring in Baltimore, Md. But I’ve realized the reason we enjoy the games has changed tremendously (which is good, considering the Twins haven’t given us much to cheer about this year).

Last night, my family of three returned to Newman Outdoor Field for the Redhawks home opener, with our now 3-year-old. The Redhawks put on a fine performance, but for us, last night wasn’t about the play on the field. It was about spending time together as a family. That’s why we got to the ballpark an hour before first pitch, to enjoy the free kid-friendly activities. Including the playground and sandbox and …

Face painting ...

and …

Caricatures ...

and, of course,


 (There was also an inflatable game, but this particular “bouncy thing” was a bit too big for Eve.)

As we soaked in the evening sun, I thought about not just the baseball games we’ll attend this summer (now remembering to always buy AISLE seats for potty trips and concession runs), but the other family fun the summer months bring. I’ve already added these FREE local events to our family calendar:

Share a Story, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 4, Rheault Farm
Safety Safari, 3 to 7 p.m. June 9, Red River Zoo (Also, there’s free admission to the zoo June 3!)
Midwest Kid Fest, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 17, Island Park (Teddy Bear Parade at 10:30)
Community Block Parties, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays May 18 through June 29, various Fargo city parks/locations
Red River Valley Fair, July 8-16, West Fargo (Free gate admission 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays. Great free exhibits for the little kids, like the petting zoo)

Welcome, summer. We’ve been waiting for you.

What events are your family looking forward to this year?