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. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Keeping Chaos at Bay

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The end of summer is my New Year’s Eve. And the first day of school is my fresh start New Year’s Day.

It makes perfect sense to me. That’s when everything is starting up. School, activities, all that new stuff that that will continue all the way through the “traditional” new year. We’ve got new schedules to adhere to, new curriculum and materials for school, and September can be a recipe for chaos if you aren’t ready for it.

At the beginning of the school year I like to set up systems. I figure that my kids have aged a year, they have new things they need to be responsible for, and everyone is ready after a long lazy summer for a fresh start.

So we’ve dealt with school, and we’ve dealt with chores, and I’ve even found a way that we can do allowances without going crazy. But today I’m talking about corralling the actual THINGS and the new systems we’ve set up.

We've got one in the bathroom that stores all the hair things. Last year, the thing was all about bows, so we’d worked out a system for bow storage, and we were doing a “donut bun”, so we had all those supplies at the ready. This year, it’s all about scrunches, head bands, and ballet style buns that lie flat and require hair nets, so we rearranged everything to keep supplies both accessible and neat. I got a few new storage containers, the girls know where things are supposed to be, and they’ve taken on responsibility for keeping things organized.

We have one for school work. During the past year we streamlined much of our curriculum, as well as changing where we do the majority of our work. That meant that I purged some old stuff, and reorganized the rest. I want the girls to have some ownership of their own stuff, but I also want to make sure it’s as contained as it can be, since our school room doubles as our dining room!

We have one in the pantry. I spent a good full day cleaning that thing out to make it both neat AND accessible. I’d like the girls to be able to reach their own snacks, without having to dig around and create a mess. So I bought a set of plastic drawers specifically to hold fruit snacks, raisins, granola bars, and pretzels. They know how many snacks are appropriate (in theory) and how to get them.

I even have one for the car! I have systems I set up in the trunk of the car, because there is nothing more annoying than trying to figure out how to balance the shopping with the soccer bags, especially when all the seats are up so I can haul multiple kids along with the gear. If my trunk is organized, that means I don’t have to worry about it.

I know that everything won’t stay organized. Inevitably, things will fall apart within weeks (hopefully months?) and I’ll have to adjust. But right now? The chaos is far away!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Bringing it Back to Basics

You know how sometimes you can get all ambitious?

I’ve got all these ideas about things that I want to do. And I see people do stuff like this ALL the time. They hang shelves and cabinets. They lay tile. They change their own oil and detail their own cars. And they do all these things over the weekend.

Then I get frustrated, because I can’t handle it, and I know that about myself.

So sometimes it's all about bringing it back to what I CAN manage easily. Can I hang pictures and agonize for weeks over which curtains to buy? Yes. Can I do these easy things in the car? Yes.

I’d rather do things I CAN do well, then try to bite off more than I can chew and end up having to call a plumber who says things like “wow, you should NOT have tried that”.

When I want a cool worksheet for the girls, I head over to Teachers Pay Teachers. But when it comes to organizing our year? I do that on my own.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

My Magic Bag

I can't stand being caught out without what I need. I like being the ULTIMATE in prepared moms. I like being the one with a snack, a straw, an ice pack or a bandaid, with a spare pair of soccer socks, or enough Bobby pins to get everyone’s hair in a bun. It’s kind of becoming my trademark. Yup, I have a pen. Or a notebook. A spare water bottle.

The trick is being the ultra prepared mom without looking like a bag lady. So it’s all about organization and spreading things out, so I have what I need where I need it, in a place where I can get to it. If I’m rummaging through a monstrous tote, or have a car trunk I can’t put groceries into, it’s not worth it.

My purse is the first spot to be stocked. The trick to my purse organization is the two purse trick. A couple of years ago I went to an event that I knew would hand me a big tote bag on my way in. I knew from experience that carrying around the giant tote and a purse was really awkward, but I also didn’t feel comfortable not bringing it. So when I was planning this particular trip, I found a small clutch that was basicallly a wallet with a wrist strap. It was bigger than a wallet, much smaller than a purse, and it ended up becoming my favorite thing, since it’s basically a wallet, but with room for a phone, keys, lip balm. It keeps my absolute essentials easy to find and easy to hold. When I’m running around town, it’s all I need.

BUT - to carry all the other stuff, I have my “big purse”. Generally it lives in the passenger seat of my car. I stumbled into it at TJMaxx, and it’s the perfect combo of big and roomy, while still looking cute. This is where I keep all the “ultra prepared mom” supplies. Reusable shopping bags. Meds and first aid have a pouch. Small office supplies have a pouch. Straws and spoons have a pouch. Hair things (including a “bun kit” - yes, I’m a dance mom) have a pouch. If I keep everything sectioned into pouches, it makes it very easy if I want to transfer purses, and if I don’t feel like hauling the big bag, I just pull out the clutch.

The car is another place where I want to be totally prepared for every eventuality, but I don’t want clutter. Once again, it’s pouches to the rescue. In the car, I prefer the clear pouches over anything else, because it makes it easy to see what I’m looking for quickly. I’m very careful to keep everything in a specific place. My last car got so cluttered, so quickly. THIS car has an “under trunk” storage compartment, and that’s where I keep all the pouches. Extra clothes, first aid, activity bags for the kids, car care. In the center console I have pouches for straws and plastic ware, napkins, wipes, bandaids, and all that little stuff. If you were to look at my car (most days) you would have no idea how stocked it actually is!

I’ve had friends joke that I’m the Mary Poppins of preparedness! It doesn’t look like I have everything with me - but it’s all a matter of tucking it away!

Friday, August 2, 2019

When It Isn't Easy

Things should be easy and then all of a sudden they aren't.

It’s one of those extremely annoying things that derails my to do list REGULARLY. Today I’m going to do x, y, and z. I am prepared. Except the computer needed to update, so that slowed task x way down. Then, I had to make a phone call for y, and it turned out that the paperwork, which had me calling one office, actually meant that I needed to call another office FIRST, and THAT office was on their lunch hour. And now z is giving me problems too, and now I’m out of time and I’VE ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING HOW DID THAT HAPPEN??

Excuse me. Lost my mind for a minute. Because I like to think I’m a pretty organized and prepared person, and I love list making, and when my list doesn’t cooperate, I get pretty irritated.

The other night, I was at the library, working in their computer. Why do I work there? Because it’s forced quiet, and since it’s a public computer, it doesn’t have things that are there solely to distract me, like email pop ups, or games, or texts. I don’t get distracted by buying coffee. And I go when I have a finite amount of time, like when the girls are in dance. It’s worked out well.

Except this time, after writing FIVE full articles, the library system rebooted. And here’s the kicker. I don’t like dealing with a flash drive because I work on an iPad a lot of the time. And I don’t like Google Docs because I’m stubborn. So I wrote in word and saved to the desktop, and then I email everything to myself. So can you picture what happened when the system rebooted? Public computers wipe the desktop. So all my files, which I DID save, were gone. And then, and THEN, I had to get a lecture from everyone I know about saving your work.  Two hours, totally wasted.

Simple things on your to-do list, like getting a car seat check when you’re pregnant (simple, right?) or picking up a prescription, can get totally derailed. And suddenly, your to-do list is a flop and you feel like a failure. And plenty of people will give you all sorts of advice that doesn’t help when it’s already “done” (looking at you, librarian).

Sometimes it just isn’t easy. And when those days come, it’s best just to take a breath, rewrite your list with what you know now, and try again.

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!
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