Thursday, August 29, 2019

Have a COLORFUL Day!

We always spend our last week of summer doing some day trips. This year, we kicked it off with a trip to the Crayola Experience in Easton, PA.

I was provided with tickets by Crayola for the purposes of this review. Our experience is, as always, unique to us! This post also contains affiliate links.

The Crayola Experience has been on our list for a while now. Crayola is one of the few products where I'm a true brand snob. I love you Target, but Target crayons and markers don't cut it for me. When I was teaching, our school purchased everything in bulk, so I shopped u the back to school sales to make sure that we only had the good stuff in my classroom (and I wasn't alone in this). I'd heard from some Pennsylvania friends that this was a great day trip for all Crayola lovers, but for some reason, we just never made it happen until this summer.

We got to Easton right when the experience opened at 10:00. I will say, it's not hard to spot once you get close!

When we got our tickets, we were each given a bag to hold all of our artwork, with two tokens to redeem and a voucher for a Scribble Scrubbie (the newest attraction). The employee who helped us gave us a map and gave us some advice for where to start based on the crowds.

We opted to start at the top - this is the floor that we heard would develop long lines because it was the smallest.

This floor was all about melting down crayons and using them again. We recently used our own Crayon Melter for the first time, so the girls were primed and ready for this. Their favorite activity on this floor was making their own shaped crayon. Both chose to make a ring, and they liked getting to put their choice of crayon in and watch the process. The other two activities were making spin art with two melted crayons and drawing with melted crayons.

The only complaint the girls had about this floor was that the colors were too limited. Both are very particular about their favorite colors, and neither was totally satisfied with the options. Later in the day we discovered another flaw - these creations don't keep well. The melted crayon flakes off very easily, and although it leaves a shadow of what you created, the girls were both disappointed that their artwork didn't last (and I didn't love finding chips of wax on the floor of my car later). Next time, we'll know that and can temper our expectations - this floor is about the act of creating, not trying to preserve the final product.

The third floor is where Reagan probably could have lived. She loved the massive climbing structure and spent almost all her time there. Madison isn't as adventurous when it comes to things like this, and thankfully, the entire structure is surrounded by creating space. When we were there, the theme was all about "secret agents", and Madison painstakingly created a secret decoder and spy bag, using crayons, markers and watercolors.

There are some additional activities that we didn't participate in, for an additional fee. You can make a wax hand (or hands), and pan for gems. However, we did do the photo booth that put your picture into a page to color! This area is where the toddler climbing structure and light panel were located, as well as a water exhibit where you steered a boat down a canal (very appropriate for this part of PA!)

This floor was also home to some interactive games, but the girls were less interested in this. Both love their screen time at home, but they really spent almost no time playing these games at the factory. It's worth noting that these were the least crowded areas the entire time we were there.

The second floor is where you go to spend your tokens and redeem your voucher for the Scribble Scrubbie. The two places to spend your tokens are making your own crayon label, and choosing a package of Model Magic. There were eight colors of crayons to choose from for labeling, and each had a short line.

The Model Magic packages were in vending machines. The tables intended for coloring the Scribble Scrubbies and working with Model Magic got extremely crowded, and we ended up taking refuge in the Color Alive room until some space opened up for us to sit (this one was a good balance of technology and creation, and my girls really enjoyed taking the dragons and fairies they colored into the world!)

The Scribble Scrubbie area is the newest - and my girls absolutely loved it. Little animals that you can color, wash clean, and re-color were a big hit. Right now you get to choose between a rhino and a puppy, and my husband and I each let the girls have ours so they could get one of each. 


AND this floor also housed the show about how crayons are made! You got to watch the wax being stirred and poured and then how the completed crayons go through the machines to be labeled and boxed.

Overall, we were astounded at just HOW MUCH there was to do and make and create. This is a full day trip that was just packed with quality.

Key Tips:

  •  Go early to beat the crowd. We arrived right at opening, and were advised to start at the top floor because the lines could get long up there. Within an hour, the crowd was enormous and we were glad to have some of those long line activities finished. Obviously summertime and weekends are the most crowded. 
  • Food is available on site in the Crayola Cafe, but there are plenty of options within walking distance in downtown Easton, some of which will even offer a small discount with your ticket stub or re-entry stamp.
  • Parking is available on the street (metered - two hour time limit) or in a garage. The garage we used was $3/hour. There is a $2/hr garage as well, but we chose convenience over price in this case. The one we used was directly next to the building.
  • Plan to stay at least a few hours. We arrived at 10:00 and didn't leave until close to 4:00. 
  • It gets LOUD. If you have highly sensitive kids, be aware. My husband had a few optimistic hopes of being able to sit on a few calls while the girls explored, but there was really no way to do that. It's just a big open space and that space filled with sound quickly! 
  • It is easy to miss exhibits - and you don't want to do that! There were a few rooms we didn't find until our second pass through. Take the map you're given and check off what you've seen and that way you'll know if you're missing anything. And if you can't find something you're looking for, ask an employee!
  • Unless your kids are far more amazing than mine at limits, plan to purchase a few extra tokens (they're 50 cents each). My girls each "needed" another few colors of Model Magic to make their creations, and they both wanted a few colors of crayons to label. I didn't mind these little extras, and ended up giving them another $3 worth of tokens each. You can purchase tokens on the second floor.
  • The gift shop is open to the public and has a good balance of souvenir style products (stuffed animals, t-shirts, etc) and art supplies, but the prices are consistent with most gift shops we've seen, and that adds up VERY quickly. If you have kids who love to shop, it's a good idea to set a budget before you turn them loose to explore. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

When Someone Just Gets You

There is nothing like getting a gift that really, truly, has meaning.

Madison just turned nine, and because of travel, we didn't do a "real" birthday thing with her. This was the FIRST time we haven't had her birthday in our house, and a friend party, and a family get together, and all those bells and whistles. We did a mini celebration the day before we left for Florida, spent the actual day on vacation, doing the beach and a fancy dinner, and are peppering in family celebrations as we can. Still haven't done anything with friends. I'm honestly not even sure if that'll happen. It was weird for me, and it was weird for her.

But not BAD. She kept saying, as she opened gifts early, as she woke up in a hotel room to a hastily purchased balloon and muffin from a local grocery store, that it was AWESOME to turn nine on vacation with her best friends, surrounded by beaches and palm trees, about to head into a week of her favorite activity, and that it was really cool.

It just didn't feel like her birthday.

As she gets older, this is going to happen. The world won't stop because of your birthday. We might be on vacation, or you might be in a week of dance intensives, or it might be a rainy summer day.

But she is blessed to have so many people that GET her.

Every time she opened a card or gift, she would squeal and say, "you know me so WELL!", because she has amazing people in her life. Even those who gave her money or gift cards enclosed a note saying WHY they chose what they did, and she actually had tears in her eyes from how many people in her life know her passions and love her.

A good gift can do that.

Take anything really. A gift card to a fancy store can feel like phoning it in, even though the value is high and the store is fancy. But a gift card to a car wash for a detailing can make a busy mom feel like she's seen. A box of fancy chocolate might get a smile and a thank you, but choosing the nostalgia candy that your spouse always gravitates toward on road trips makes them feel like you get them. A pen and journal for a writer means more than an expensive scarf. Standing in line at the brewery for an allotment of craft beer means more than a nice briefcase.

It's all about knowing who someone is. And Madison was blessed to have a very spread out birthday where everyone, from her family to her friends, gets her. They know she loves dance, and got her those practical things that dancers need. They know she has a secret passion for watching old episodes of Dance Moms (don't judge) so they got her Chloe's book. They know she becomes obsessed with certain crafts, so they get her gift cards to Michael's. And they know she gets hooked on book series, so they look to Barnes and Noble. Even her cash gifts were accompanied by notes like, "I know you love your new Instax camera, so I want you to be able to buy film". Perfect.

She's nine, and she's blessed. And that makes me so happy!

Monday, July 22, 2019

No Excuses

First off, I should say that I kind of hate part of the implication of the "no excuses" thing. Yes, extenuating circumstances exist everywhere in life. Not only that, but you don't owe anyone else any justification for anything you choose. If you say something like, "it's not a priority for me", own that, because it's a legitimate reason you aren't doing something.

But it's not an excuse.

Here's why I'm focused on this right now. Recently, I've been in yet ANOTHER slump around the house. The kind where laundry and paperwork and dust bunnies pile up, and I'm just looking at a ridiculous to do list, and then playing Candy Crush while watching TV instead of doing any of it. Then, when I have to answer to anyone (including myself) as to why we're getting take out for dinner again, I say that I've been busy. Or I'm tired. Or that life is crazy. Or that the girls are messy, or Adam's been traveling, or any number of things.

And THOSE are excuses.

I used to have excuses for everything. My car wasn't clean because of the kids, the homeschooling, the commuting, the dog (spoiler: there may not have been a dog). My house looked messy because I hate my floors and there's no point. Paperwork is piling up because I never get time to myself. And I'm not exercising because I don't have time...even though I seem to be able to play Candy Crush just fine.

So I've decided to change my thinking. I am a (mostly) healthy and fit adult with kids who are well into the school age/independent stage. Yes, they're young and learning, and yes, I have to spend a lot of time getting them where they need to be. But I'm not nursing babies or trying to keep toddlers alive.

If I CHOOSE not to do something, I need to acknowledge that I am making a choice. I am saying that mindless game play is a higher priority for me than laundry. That TV takes precedence over housework. That I am choosing to run into the grocery store daily instead of coupon clipping and meal planning. From time to time, that's OK. But I am HOPING, that if I do it enough, I won't like who I sound like, and I'll decide to make different choices, instead of going back to excuses.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Focus Your Energy

Bake the bread, buy the butter.

I'm not sure where I read that, but it's one of those things that really spoke to me. It's kind of become a thing where it's all about making your own everything. Don't buy chemicals when you can make your own...ummm...chemical reactions.

Anyway, there are situations where DIY makes sense. The bread, as it were. Cleaning solutions typically fall here for me. Granted, I'm usually using some sort of traditional base - dish soap, vinegar, etc. But I can make things I like the smell of, that actually work, and that I can make on an as needed basis. Certain cleaners can be pricey, especially car detailing stuff, so finding something I actually like, that works, and ends up cheaper is always a good thing.

But there are other situations where the hassle just isn't worth it - for plenty of reasons. The butter. CAN you make butter? Of course. And plenty of people do. But it's time and effort and the return isn't much. I think about this when I'm working on homeschooling stuff. I can plan and design and print a great curriculum, which will take hours and hours of my time, and cost plenty to print. Or I can look online and buy one.

You can't do it all. I know there are people who claim they can - build their own homeschool curriculum while growing and making all their own food and cleaners. But it's not always worth it to your mental health.

So bake the bread, buy the butter. Whatever that means to you. DIY your cleaners, but buy your curriculum. Buy Eggo waffles, but make applesauce.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Wherever We Go

We just did a LOT of traveling. A LOT. It wasn't even just one long trip, but a few back to back things that had us living out of luggage and on the go pretty consistently over the course of a few weeks.

I know it's summer now, but the flexibility of homeschooling means that we can do this whenever we want, and now the girls are really able to handle it.

But there are a few things we need to make sure we can always do on the road.

We are backseat masters when it comes to packing, keeping the girls occupied, and even dealing with trash. The girls have become responsible for their own things, and even charging their devices, which helps a HUGE amount. They can (almost) pack themselves - I help make the list and then check their work.

First, car schooling. We don't get behind, even when we're on the go. We're actually pretty good at this now. I can have the girls do their independent work AND do some actual instruction with very minimal planning. For us, the keys to this are good audiobooks or CDs, a well stocked backpack, a tablet that I may hotspot if necessary, and a lap tray. I don't get too ambitious (most of the time), but there are days when we can do our entire day's to do list before we've reached our next destination.

And just when I thought I'd mastered everything we need, dance ramped up. I shouldn't be surprised, since dance has always been a huge part of Madison's life. But now she can't get away with taking a few days off from stretching or practicing without losing ground. She needs to keep up.

So we pack a little more. She has a stretch band, a couple of yoga blocks and a mat, and a turning dot that come with us. Obviously, she can't do any of this when we're actually on the road, but she can make great use of them wherever we stop. She has a pretty good routine, but she can also watch YouTube videos if she wants a little more guidance for practicing basics.

And when we're on the road, she makes use of technology. When she was younger, her teachers would often have the parents come in and record the end of her lessons so they would practice accurately. As they've gotten older, they do that less. The girls do miss it, because on a night when you're learning parts of several dances, it can get confusing when you go to practice the next day. So her team started gathering in the changing area right after class and recording themselves doing the new sections. So although she can't dance in the car, she can watch and talk through the routines, and most of the time, this makes a huge difference. She retains it well even without physically dancing it as often as she'd like.

I might have a lot of miles on the car, but we aren't getting bogged down in anything else!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Using a Different Kind of Box

My best hacks as a mom are those that I have totally stumbled upon.

Isn't that always the way? You look at Pinterest, you read articles, and that stuff fails more often than it succeeds. Then you throw something together as a last resort, and somehow, it's exactly what you needed.

Let's start with the dance organization. Competition dance can make a type A mom CRAZY and anyone further down the alphabet ready to sob into her hairspray. You need to have so many precise things for EVERY dance - the right costume, earrings, hairstyle, hair accessory, tights shoes, costume accessories, prop, maybe even more. When the girls only did a few dances, this was no big deal. But now that I have ten dances for every competition, it's about eighty things to have in the FOREFRONT of my mind. Not to mention the makeup routine and all the makeup required, tools for hairstyles (and don't forget extension cords!), spare tights (in multiple sizes and colors), clothes for awards, and an emergency kit that can solve everything from a blister to a loose tap to a lipstick stain, and it's completely overwhelming. Plus, you know, remembering which dance is when (9:19? 11:43?) and how long you have in between them.

So I've figured out EXACTLY how to pack and organize the bag and I am RIDICULOUS about keeping my system in place. The lists I found online are exhaustive but overwhelming and would not help me at all, and all the packing solutions I found had you basically putting everything in one huge container, which was a recipe for losing things, so I've found my way to small, themed packing in containers that I found at Michael's, totally by accident. I was killing time while the girls took a class, found myself in a craft organization area, and discovered it was the organizational dream.  For example - we currently have eight different colors of earrings, so I have them in a beading box. Hair accessories? Each girl has a different color photo organizer. I printed out color coded label listing every specific part to each costume, mounted them on scrapbooking paper, and attached one to each garment bag. So a green costume has a green label and lists all the essentials. I have a small container that I keep in my purse with hairspray, pins, lipstick and a few baby wipes, that I attached a luggage tag to, and I slip a business card sized schedule in every competition. I don't know anyone who makes Michael's their "go to" dance store...but I swear by it.

I could absolutely do an entire series about dance organization. Maybe someday I will. But shockingly, we do leave the studio from time to time, and I've found other areas in my life have unconventional storage solutions too.

When I got crazy over the trash the girls can produce in the backseat, and determined that no car trash can in the WORLD was fitting our needs, and the suggestions of a plastic cereal container or sand bucket was creating more mess, I accidentally figured out that lidded Rubbermaid container would solve ALL our issues. It didn't tip over, the lid was easy to get on and off, both girls can reach it, and a plastic bag fits well.

Pool toys? Hanging make up organizer.

Schoolwork? Giant scrapbooking page protectors.

When it comes to Pinterest, I'm glad to see that so many people have found solutions that work for them, and even when they don't work for ME, they do get me thinking out of the box. Because out of the box is where the solutions live - EVERY time.

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