Everyone has their weak spots regarding products they can never have enough of....mine is lip balm. I try out all sorts of lip balm flavors and formulas. When I recently was invited to participate in the Carmex Blog Squad, I jumped at the chance to be able to try out new products. Recently they sent me a fun package containing two new flavors of lip balms, Vanilla and Lime Twist. They are similar to the traditional Carmex lip balm, but with added moisturizers. To read my full review, check out my post on my review blog, Knitting Zeal's Two Cents!
All summer I've wanted to take my son to check out the cool playground that is in Fairmount Park, called Smith Kid's Play Place, or Smith Playground. I've been hearing about it for a while, but was a bit unsure about driving there alone, as it's in a section of Philadelphia that I'm not at all familiar. Then, all summer it was HOT! Today was just beautiful out, and it was our last week to get together with our buddy whose mommy works for a school, so we had our last official play date of the summer today at Smith Playground. It was fantastic! The boys had a blast playing all day and we had a great picnic for lunch in the middle of Fairmount Park that was just lovely. We had such a great time that we never even felt the earthquake that occurred this afternoon!
The main house on the property was built specifically to be an indoor play house for kids, over 100 years ago (they just celebrated their 112th birthday!!) Inside were three floors of play areas, including a library. Outside, one of the fun features of Smith Playground is the wooden slide that is almost 40 feet high. There is an intricate tree trail that leads to the top where kids (and adults!) can use a burlap sack to slide down the slick wooden slide. They had waxed the slide yesterday, so it was super slippery today! My monkey went down once with me, sitting on my lap. Then he went two more times on his own with his buddy. He had a hard time figuring out how to center his tush on the burlap and push himself off, so he ended up sliding on his tummy both times, but he had fun!
Behind the mansion, there are 6 and a half acres of an outdoor playground! There were so many activities to choose from and we maybe did half of them. There were lots of traditional swings, some tire swings, and this cool saucer swing that the boys had a blast riding on, as if they were surfing.
There was a tot lot for kiddos ages 5 and under. The boys had a blast looking for bad guys off the side of the pirate ship and driving the train and firetruck! There were these cool spinner chairs that whipped them around one at a time until they were dizzy. My little guy actually fell over after getting off! He was laughing so hard!
The back of the mansion was just as beautiful as the front, and the perfect weather made the day great!
My little guy had a blast playing on the indoor train, along with the little inside playhouse. In the basement was a cool little road way area with little bikes and cars. The playground is a non-profit, and does not charge a fee to use, but does accept donations. It was beautifully maintained and well staffed. It was so clean too! A great resource for the kids of Philadelphia!
We ended the day around 3:00pm and headed to the car. By chance, I heard my cell phone ring. It was my husband who asked if I got his text...no...because his high-rise office building in Philly was being evacuated due to the earthquake! We had not felt the earthquake at all! (the playground surface is covered in very cushy material that is shock-absorbing. Apparently it works very well!!) He did feel it, as he works on the 36th floor and felt the building sway much more than usual. He usually takes the train home, but there were lots of delays due to potential structural damage, so instead of going home, we detoured into center city Philly to pick him up. It was quite amazing to see so many office workers milling around outside in the middle of the afternoon. The drive home was long, but it was better than him waiting for the train. Thankfully we were relatively close to his office!
Yes, it's Tuesday (night.) I started a menu plan for this week but got distracted. Or ran out of ideas, because after tonight, I don't have anything planned! I bought a huge quantity of baby greens over the weekend, so we will have to use them up this week. I see some salads in our future...
Sunday we had grilled chicken, grilled in between rain storms, and tortellini pesto salad, a recipe from a favorite deli in PA. I found this blog post with the recipe...I eliminated the olives and used sun-dried tomatoes instead of fresh. We grilled enough chicken to last for the playdate lunch on Monday and Monday's dinner!
Monday: grilled chicken with greens, pesto pasta salad (plain noodles mixed with leftover tortellini and more pesto sauce!) Watermelon!
Wednesday: some kind of salad! Maybe chicken caesar salad!
Thursday: Salad again...thinking maybe a grilled shrimp salad if I can get to the market for shirmp during the day.
Friday: Pizza night! This has been fun. Most week's we make pizza and try different toppings, although the favorite in the house seems to be pepperoni. I've been lucky to find the pepperoni I like at DiBruno Bros in Philly.
Sunday: grilled chicken, salad, fruit. (Love getting good watermelons all summer! Will miss them in the winter!)
Regarding pesto: I make my own all summer long and freeze it in batches to use during the rest of the year. It is very easy to make, especially if you or someone you know grows basil. I eyeball the measurements for the ingredients, but the basics are:
2 cups basil leaves, washed and dried off slightly
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese
3 cloves of garlic, sometimes more if they are small
few tablespoons of toasted pine nuts (but walnuts or almonds can be used too)
pinch of salt, or to taste
good quality olive oil
I use a food processor, but a magic bullet or blender would work too. I put the chunk of parm cheese in the food processor with blade and pulse until grated/crumbled tiny. Then I pack the bowl with basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic and salt. Process it until it's a paste, then drizzle in through the spout the olive oil until it's wet enough...that depends on your preference! Taste and adjust salt and garlic if needed. Scoop it all up in a small container with lid and pour a layer of olive oil on the surface to cover, as this prevents some discoloration in the pesto.
I've always heard the "myth" bad things happen in threes, whether it be death, bad news, or whatever, the negative nellies out there believe in this adage. I like to think it's more of a coincidence that we had three very unexpected and very expensive events occur all within a week or so recently, because within the three negatives, a positive thing occurred too!
A few weeks ago, on Friday, July 30th, a terrible storm hit our neighborhood. It started around 6:45 pm, when we were just about to sit down for dinner (a really great meal I made from scratch, too!) It got very dark outside and started raining. Really hard. I had just put my plate down on the table after serving the two "boys" when I looked up above my son's head out the kitchen window to see a sheet of water covering it...sort of like someone was pointing a hose on the window. Then the gusts of wind started, with the trees next to our house bending in the wind. I was scared. Really frightened. I quickly grabbed my son, but calmly told him that we were going to go downstairs to the basement. At that point I was concerned that there was a tornado coming. My son was beyond excited. He isn't usually allowed in our basement, which is more like an old fashioned cellar with cement floors and exposed beams and wires. He was full of questions, but we just told him we were going to wait out the storm there. That's when I noticed the water pouring into my basement from under the seam of a window. It was horrible, flooding the basement quickly, but not deep enough to use the sump pump. We now know that we need to replace some of the old windows down there and get some waterproofing done. I have no idea how to go about getting that done, but will figure it out.
By 7:00pm the storm stopped and we went back upstairs. I decided to check out our back yard to see if there was any damage. The back yard looked great, with just a few small branches down and some leaves. Even our umbrella and table were ok, which was surprising because of the wind we heard. I then went to our door that leads to the driveway to check on the drive and cars. At first I didn't see it, but then I realized that the only tree that we have left out front, after removing some this past winter, had split and was covering our yard and neighbor's yard. Turns out it hit the front of their house too! Thankfully the damage was minimal to their house and landscaping.
The tree did pull a wire off my neighbor's house, but since we all had power we were not sure what it was. Turns out it was their cable line, which affected their internet access and phone! Yikes. I called our tree guy and left two messages. By the next morning we still hadn't heard back, so we called another tree guy we know. He was able to get out to check out the tree and determine it wasn't an emergency. By Monday afternoon his crew was out to clean it all up. (Thanks to Sauers tree service!)
Our area had been hit hard by that storm, which was a wind surge, or something, not a tornado. One street nearby lost 50 trees! We were lucky the storm damage wasn't worse, but the clean up was still expensive. Our tree looks great now, and seems ok.
The week following the tree drama brought two more issues...my husband's car needed an unexpected repair and our TV in our family room, the giagantic projection TV, stopped working. After figuring out the problem, I got it working for another week, but then it stopped again. My husband tried cleaning it out with compressed air, and got it working again for ten minutes, but it died again.
That TV, a monsterous 50 inch projection Sony Wega HDTV set, was our big "pre-baby" purchased. It was one of those things my husband wanted terribly for years and was purchased when he got an unexpected bonus check one year. It's got to be about seven years old now and it's been rebuilt, under warrarnty, and has had the lamp replaced almost yearly since the first one burned out after four or so years. The research I did on fixing it made me realize that since it's an older set, and a projection set that isn't popular anymore, it would be hard to get parts for it...and it probably needs new fans for the cooling system. I know a visit from the TV repair guy would be at least $150 just for a diagnosis. So we've gone for over a week without TV in the family room and it's actually been nice, most of the time! (A new TV will come soon. The Phillies "might" be in the World Series, you know:-)
Even though I limit the quantity of TV viewing my son does, along with being very selective with what he views, we had gotten in the habit of watching a show or movie in the afternoon for some quiet time, since he no longer naps. It also gave me a chance to safely start dinner, usually. This past week my son has played with every toy he owns, and my house is a wreck, but he has had so much fun!
So the good news in all this? The morning before the storm hit I got a phone call from 360 Cookware. I was picked as their Facebook Fan of the Month! About a week later I received my fan prize...the frying pan I had wanted! It was such a wonderful surprise and really made me feel better after all the expense we had been putting out for repairs. I love their line of cookware and will have to do a post on my new pan sometime soon. It works great! Thank you!!
After a rainy Sunday, I'm ready for a fresh start to the week! I hope it dries up a bit too so we can enjoy the last few weeks of summer. I plan to go to Maple Acres Farm on Tuesday to get some fresh corn for dinner, along with taking advantage of their cut your own zinnias deal that day. I also will be trying out a new recipe that night from the latest edition of Clean Eating magazine, which has been a great recipe resource for me this year. Here's my plan for the week:
Our final stop in Easton was at the Crayola Factory, where they make crayons, of course. (Ok, not exactly there, but really close by...this is the "museum" factory!) Last summer our darling child was not yet three, so this year being not yet four made a huge difference. Last year he was just learning/trying to cut with scissors. This year he uses scissor well and loves to cut out shapes from scrap paper.
It was a busy day at the Crayola Factory on Monday, with many camps visiting. Despite that, we managed to complete all of the projects we wanted to do and see all the exhibits there too. It's always fun seeing the live crayon making demonstration and maker assembly, although this year the demonstrator wasn't as generous as last year...no free crayon this time! We also visited the National Canal Museum, which is on the 3rd and 4th floors of the building, TWICE. I think my son loved the Canal Museum more this year, because he could play with water and see train displays. This is the only museum in the country that explains the history of towpath canals and their importance in American history. The National Canal Museum is included in the admission price of the Crayola Factory!
I love crayons, especially all the different varieties that Crayola offers now. At one craft station in the factory you can sit and color with every type of crayon they make. The craft theme this summer is the beach and ocean, so each craft station featured sea life. At one place we had the chance to make seahorse puppets with popsicle sticks, paper, glue and colored pencils. At another station we could work on under the sea collages using markers, crayons, glue, scissors and boxes of craft papers.
Admission to the Crayola Factory includes three tokens per ticket that can be used to "purchase" crayons, markers and model magic clay from vending machines. Since each ticket gets three tokens, my son ended up with quite a collection of little boxes of crayons, markers and clay. He loved molding the clay into different things at the model magic stations, which included all sorts of clay toys like rolling pins and cookie cutters.
There is a McDonald's Express inside the Crayola Factory (not sure what would make it "express??") but since we aren't fans of their food, we had to leave for lunch. There were several nice restaurants in the area, but we really wanted to just get a quick meal and get back to playing before we had to head home. We found a Subway shop nearby and were able to order relatively healthy meals off their menu. Surprisingly the little guy ate part of a turkey sandwich, since PB and J or grilled cheese was not available. He is slowly getting more adventurous with food, thankfully.
We finished the day by re-visiting some of the more favorite exhibits and then concluded with a trip to the nearby factory store to buy some brand new chalk and glitter crayons! And we had to check out the world's largest crayon! Blue of course!
If you go, be sure to get there early and buy tickets ahead of time if you can. Our hotel sold discounted tickets, so we didn't have to wait in line and just checked in to get our tokens and craft bags (to carry around any projects made during the visit.) The Crayola Factory is located at 30 Centre Square, Easton PA.
All in all it was a great mini-vacation, despite being non-stop! And what did the wee one do when we got home? Run to his room and cry. When I asked him why he was sad he replied because he wanted to stay in the hotel for five days, not one and that he did not get a chance to watch the hotel tv, so we needed to go back! Maybe next year!
After our visit to the Lehigh Valley Zoo, we had some time before we could check into our hotel in Easton, so we headed over to the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, a newer shopping complex that had a LL Bean store and a fun ice cream shop, Maggie Moos. It was a nice break to cool off in some stores and do a bit of back to school shopping. Old Navy had their great sale on kid's jeans, so I got the monkey boy some bigger sizes for this winter. I also found a cute Curious George tee there, which surprisingly we never owned a George shirt, so just had to get that too. It was fun exploring the LL Bean store, since usually we shop out of a catolog or online from them. My son picked out a new lunch bag for school, since this will be the first year he can stay for lunch bunch if we want. Their lunch bags are made so well that I'm sure this one will last all of preschool and into elementary school!
We then headed over to Easton and check into the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites. What a great hotel! So clean, updated and filled with extra amenities at a really low price. We all loved playing in their pool, which we had to ourselves in the evening. The room was very comfy and my monkey child insisted on sleeping BY HIMSELF in a big queen sized bed. This was the first time he ever did that and it was so nice to be able to sleep in a hotel bed without being kicked repeatedly by the child who does not stay still. He was so exhausted after our long day that when he fell out of the bed he didn't wake up. I was nervous having him sleep alone in a bed without guard rails and kept waking up to check on him. At some point in the night I realized he wasn't in the bed, but the room was so dark that I couldn't find him. I heard him breathing and realized he was at my feet! Thankfully I didn't step on him! I managed to scoop him up and slide him back into bed, then assessed him to make sure he didn't get hurt. He did not remember any of it the next morning! At least I thought ahead enough to lay extra pillows on the floor next to the bed, so that was what he hit when he slid onto the floor. The hotel included complimentary hot breakfast the next morning, which made it really easy to get ready to start our day's adventure. We then headed to the Crayola Factory!