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I had one of the best weekends in recent memory with my family. The best part? It was all FREE!

I’m not quite sure how we managed to pack all of the fun things we did over the weekend into roughly 36 hours, including sleep. But, we did it and my family is that much happier. We started out Friday curious to see if Hurricane Matthew would put a damper on our weekend plans. Fortunately, Hurricane Matthew jogged a little to the east and Florida didn’t receive the full force of its wrath. Friday for us in Sarasota was nothing more than a breezy, overcast day. Unfortunately for some of those along the east coast, Cuba, Haiti, and the Bahamas, they weren’t as fortunate. My heart goes out to them. But Matthew did bring some good: It brought lower temperatures and humidity for the weekend and created a picturesque sunset Friday night, even in central Sarasota.

 

Breathtakingly beautiful purple sunset as I was picking up some groceries.

Breathtakingly beautiful purple sunset as I was picking up some groceries.

Saturday morning, Kiersten let me sleep until 8! It was incredible! But that wasn’t even the best part of the day. After I made our weekend breakfast ritual of Kodiak cakes (If you have a picky eater, these are great. 21 grams of protein and they eat every bite.), we decided to go to the Fire Prevention Week Open House at Station 5 in Sarasota. The Suncoast Fire School is headquartered there, so the grounds were perfect to hold the event.

Maddox excited to look at the emergency vehicles.

Maddox excited to look at the emergency vehicles.

It was a fantastic experience. The event was completely free and it included just about every emergency vehicle you could think of: Fire truck, fire engines, ambulances, police cars, brush fire trucks, air crash emergency vehicles, boats, police horses & dogs, and pretty much anything and everything you can think of, except for a helicopter.

Kiersten explaining a fire boat to Maddox and Kaelynn.

Kiersten explaining a fire boat to Maddox and Kaelynn.

Kids could climb in, out, around, and through all of the vehicles and they had an incredible amount of free things. Local law enforcement and emergency response teams were giving out all sorts of great information as well as stress balls, stickers, footballs, beach balls, and about any other giveaway you could think about. Lowe’s had a great table set up where they were giving away kits for wooden cars, complete with an apron and safety goggles. You could build a monster truck, race car, or a fire truck.

 

Maddox enjoying his first snow cone.

Maddox enjoying his first snow cone.

Maddox and I picking out our apple at Detwiler's stand.

Maddox and I picking out our apple at Detwiler’s stand.

Even the food was free! Volunteers were grilling up and serving hot dogs and chips, popcorn, snow cones, and drinks. Detwiler’s Farm Market had a kiosk and was giving away apples. The only time you had the opportunity to spend money was at a booth where the fire department was selling shirts to raise money. That’s it. You could have your kids fed and entertained absolutely free. The fire department did some pretty neat demonstrations as well. They showed how firefighters basically zip line down buildings to escape an engulfed building, as well as controlled fires showing how sprinkler systems could reduce fire damage to a minimum.

Maddox and I checking out the firefighters zip lining down a building.

Maddox and I checking out the firefighters zip lining down a building.

The open house also featured games for kids to play to encourage fire safety.

Maddox, a firefighter, and I discussing the obstacle course.

Maddox, a firefighter, and I discussing the obstacle course.

Although these were definitely geared towards children older than Maddox and Kaelynn,we still took advantage of the activities. Maddox is really interested in fire trucks and firefighters, so we were able to let him run an obstacle course dressed like a firefighter. The uniform may not have fit very well, but he did a good job running through smoke, navigating through fire hydrants, and eventually saving the puppy from the burning house. And he looked pretty cute doing it too. Other activities included running through a police training course, complete with shooting a paintball gun, and holding and aiming a working fire hose to put out a “fire”. It was a great experience and, even though he may not have gotten the most out of it because of his age, Maddox had a lot of fun.

After the fire safety open house, we had to put Maddox down for his nap. It was a busy morning for him and he was absolutely exhausted. Plus, we had to get him rested up for his night adventure! Grammy and Pop Pop (my mother and father) came over to the house and we decided to go to Lowry Park Zoo for Creatures of the Night,their version of Halloween fun after hours. We knew the goal of this event was to be a safe, family friendly event at the zoo. And boy, it did not disappoint. The park staff, dressed in assorted Halloween garb such as wolves and zombies, were incredibly friendly and not scary at all. It was the perfect event for children Maddox and Kaelynn’s age. Because we’re Lowry Park Zoo members, we were able to get the six of us in for free. If it weren’t for the refreshments, we would have had an incredible day/evening for just the amount of gas we used.

A Lowry Park Zoo wolf gives Maddox a high five and a smile.

A Lowry Park Zoo wolf gives Maddox a high five and a smile.

But we weren’t just there for the Halloween theme. Maddox is absolutely enthralled by animals, specifically giraffes (or as he likes to say “Raffs!”, elephants (ELphan!), and rhinoceros (Oceros!), that we had to see the animals. Lowry Park usually closes at 5pm, so it was an extra special treat to see the animal’s nightly routine. We were lucky enough to get to the Africa portion of the park before dark, although Lowry Park said they would have the animal displays lit up. Of course, Maddox was mesmerized by the giraffes that were no more than 15 feet away from us, but that wasn’t the best part. Every night apparently right before sundown, the elephant calves take a bath and play in the water. It was absolutely amazing to watch the 2 and 3 year old sister and brother play while their parents looked on. It kind of felt like foreshadowing for my future.

 

Zombies on stilts dancing at Lowry Park Zoo.

Zombies on stilts dancing at Lowry Park Zoo.

Maddox playing with his jack-o-lantern necklace on the ride home from Lowry Park Zoo.

Maddox playing with his jack-o-lantern necklace on the ride home from Lowry Park Zoo.

The Creatures of the Night event was great, but not totally age appropriate for our kids. While we received high fives and smiles from the dressed up staff, that’s about the extent we participated in the Halloween portion of the park. The extended park hours and Creatures of the Night will take place every Friday and Saturday in October and the best part is zoo admission allows you to stay for the nighttime activities. We left shortly after sundown, but not before Grammy and Pop Pop had to get Maddox something that lights up, in this case a jack-o-lantern necklace. Thanks again Grammy and Pop Pop!

You know the expression “Sleep like a baby”? Well, that was our entire family Saturday night. Maddox probably should have passed out on the ride home, but somehow made it the whole trip. Kaelynn’s a pretty sleepy individual as it is, so she slept pretty well through the night. But Kiersten and I were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. It had been an exciting and tiresome day. But it was so worthwhile!

The scene at Fruitville Grove.

The scene at Fruitville Grove.

After we all got to sleep in a little bit, we ate breakfast and decided to continue our assault on fall and go to Fruitville Grove for their Pumpkin Festival! Although once again this event was geared a little more towards kids older than Maddox, we still managed to have a great time.

Maddox petting the donkey.

Maddox petting the donkey.

The Pumpkin Festival featured bounce houses, an inflatable obstacle course, haunted house, train rides, pony rides, a petting zoo, kiosks with crafts and homemade items such as glass bottle wind chimes and hot sauce, food trucks, carnival games and, of course, pumpkins! Given Maddox’s obsession with animals, the petting zoo was a big hit. As we took our time petting all of the animals and perusing the booths throughout the grove, we managed to work up an appetite (go figure). Kiersten and I had great falafel, chicken kebab, and kefta from Yummy Kebab, as well as the essential fair food, a funnel cake from Ammy’s Catering and Concessions. Other trucks that were at Fruitville Grove include Freddy’s Steakburgers, Alday’s BBQ, Kona Ice, and Leah’s Lemonade. Once again, the event was absolutely FREE! The rides and games did cost a few dollars apiece, but with our children, we managed to escape scot free with only the optional cost of food and a homemade hot sauce purchase. It was so much fun, we’re planning on going back while the Pumpkin Festival is still going on. The Fruitville Grove Pumpkin Festival takes place every Saturday and Sunday in October from 10am to 5pm.

Maddox petting a goat.

Maddox petting a goat.

I really don’t have any idea how we could have jammed more into our weekend or how we could have had any more fun. The Fire Safety Open House, Lowry Park Zoo’s Creatures of the Night, and Fruitville Grove’s Pumpkin Festival were exactly what we were looking for on a beautiful October weekend.

What did you do this weekend? What activities have you done or are you looking forward to doing in the future? #DishingDaddyhood on social media!