New Experience #43: MagiQuest

MagiQuest at Great Wolf LodgeWe spent a night at Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.  It is a resort designed for kids– indoor water park, arcade, kid-friendly restaurants.  They even have a spa for kids (but don’t tell Leah about that, please!).  The entire place has a lodge motif, but there is nothing outdoorsy or natural about the place.  They don’t encourage any kind of activity outside the building.

I don’t usually love such artificial places, but I have to admit this place was fun.  As soon as we walked into the indoor water park, the kids were in heaven.  There were kiddie slides, a wave pool, a huge structure with sprinklers and buckets coming out of it, and lots of full size water slides.

We had a great time in the water park, but we were anxious to try the scavenger hunt called MagiQuest.  Kids seemed to be running all over the lobby with magic wands and looking for treasures.  We needed to join the fun!

When we walked into the gift shop, I was in for sticker shock.  Each wand was $17 and up.  Once you added in the price of the game, it came to $34.  The kids wanted their own wands and games, but I told them they needed to share.  If they want to go to college one day, I can’t spend every dime I have on games and fun!

My decision was purely financial, but it turned out to be a good one for the sake of the game.  The way the game works is the player reads a clue and has to find the treasure box, painting, or map that will lead them to the next clue.  If we had two wands and I paid for two games, we would just have to listen to the same clue twice.  The second person’s turn would be irrelevant.

MagiQuest2In the beginning, we were all having a great time.  My kids both love scavenger hunts, and I do, too.  But, my patience was the first to wear down.  We had been playing for about 45 minutes when I was no longer interested in continuing.  The game itself was fun, but it was too crowded.  We often had to wait for a turn at the treasure boxes.  The resort is huge, but the game is condensed into a few short hallways.  I suppose they did that to contain the crowds, but it often felt like we were walking in circles.  Even Luke, who was really enjoying the game, said, “Mom, we just walked up and down that same staircase about 100 times!”

We played for about another 45 minutes when Leah’s patience also began to wear down.  She started to complain that she was tired of walking up and down the same hallways over and over again.  I agreed with her, but Luke wanted to keep going.  I tried to be fair to both of them, so we took a break for hot cocoa.  After we drank our cocoa, Leah was uninterested in starting up again.  Luke couldn’t wait to get back into the game.  I felt the same as Leah, but I didn’t want to disappoint Luke and I had just paid an arm and a leg for a game.  I felt like we should get our money’s worth!

So, we continued to play.  After a half hour, Leah was whining again, and my patience was worn thin.  We ended the game.  Luke cried because we did not finish the entire quest.  I felt guilty because Luke was having so much fun, but I had to be fair to Leah, too.  She had just played for over 2 hours and really didn’t enjoy the second half of it.

Overall, it was a fun new experience, but a little too long for two of us.  I wish I would have realized that the game takes over 3 hours to play.  Had I known that, we would have split it up over two days.  Oh well… I am sure we’ll do that the next time we visit Great Wolf Lodge!

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New Experience #42: Dissected An Owl Pellet

dissecting an owl pelletI share an Amazon Prime account with my sister, so she finds out about my purchases very soon after I make them.  When she saw that I ordered a set of owl pellets, she said we might have to separate our accounts.  In the past year, I’ve ordered a meditation bowl, ladybug larvae, caterpillars, a ladder ball game and now owl pellets.  My sister typically orders birthday presents, diapers, and air filters.  When you put our purchases together, we upset Amazon’s algorithm for recommendations.  We are getting all kinds of weird featured recommendations in odd combinations.  The last time I logged on, Amazon recommended a Frog Dissection Kit, a Diaper Genie refill, and a Scrabble Dictionary… not a typical combination!

But back to New Experience #42:

I thought it would be a great experience to dissect an owl pellet- a combination of nature and biology.  An owl pellet is the undigested parts of an owl’s food.   When an owl hunts, it swoops down and swallows a small mammal in one gulp.  Since it has no teeth, it doesn’t chew the food.  It digests the animal in its stomach.  Whatever it cannot digest, it coughs up in a pellet.  So, an owl pellet is usually made up of the fur and bones of a small mammal.

Disgusting. But also fascinating… a great New Experience in my opinion!

owl pellet dissectionArmed with latex gloves and the little wooden sticks that came with the kit, we started to dissect the pellets.  Leah was not excited about this task.  She kept complaining that this was “horrible”.  I told her that once she saw the little bones, she might be more interested.

Luke was also disgusted, but he was interested in finding the bones. I think it was a bit of a treasure hunt for him.  He became very animated whenever he found a new bone.

The pellets did not disappoint.  We found at least 40 bones between the two pellets, including 2 skulls that were completely intact.  Using the little guidebook that came with the dissection kit, we were able to identify a few of the bones as skulls and femurs of voles.  Most of the other bones were too small or too broken to identify at all.

owl pellet dissection 3Luke really enjoyed this activity and is looking forward to dissecting the extra pellet we have.  Leah never really came around to enjoying this activity.  I was hoping she would think it was interesting once the pellets were pulled apart and she could see the bones, but she was still pretty disgusted.  Not every New Experience we try is a big hit with both kids, but this one was definitely educational!

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New Experience #41: Central Park Zoo

NYC Central ParkThere is no better way to spend a day in New York City than walking around Central Park.  I like to walk and people watch, and my children love to spend time in one of the many playgrounds.  We’ve been to Central Park at least half a dozen times and had never been to the zoo.  Actually, we had never even seen the zoo.  Central Park is just so big!

So, on a glorious fall afternoon, we set out for the Central Park Zoo.

As soon as we walked in, we saw the sea lions swimming in a pool.  Colorful foliage and skyscrapers painted a dramatic backdrop.  We watched the sea lions swim in circles and jump out of the water.  The kids were amused, but I was upset.  The tank seemed outrageously small for such large mammals.

We walked over to the penguin house.  It was dark and crowded, a combination of situations that can send a mother into panic mode.  I am fortunate to have children who are as cautious as I am in crowded places, so we stuck together.

The penguins were really playful and curious.  They swam right up to the glass and looked into our faces.  Once again, the kids were delighted, but it seemed like too small a space for so many penguins.

at the zooWe took a break from the outdoor portion of the zoo to watch a 4-D movie called Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.  It was hilarious to me, but this time it was Leah who was horrified.  When one of the characters “sneezed”, we were sprayed with water.  Leah was revolted, and I don’t think she believed me when I told her it was just water!

After the movie, we spent about a half an hour looking at the red pandas, rain forest exhibit, and the snow leopards.  We made our way to the small children’s zoo.  They had a petting area, but readers of this blog know my kids are not ones to enjoy petting animals. Instead, they had fun leaping from lily pads, climbing in spider webs, and posing in animal statues.  It was like a giant playground to them.  We could have spent an hour in there, but it was closing time.

Overall, it was a great afternoon in the zoo. I prefer larger zoos that keep animals in more natural and larger environments, so I don’t think we’ll return.  However, we did have a great day in the city.  Next time, we’ll stick to people watching and climbing in Central Park’s playgrounds.

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New Experience #40: Tried Filipino Cuisine

**It is purely coincidence that I am writing this post after a typhoon just devastated the Philippines.  Please join me in wishing the best for the survivors of this terrible disaster. Doctors Without Borders is already on the ground there and will be offering medical care, vaccines, and hygiene kits.  Please consider making a donation to Doctors Without Borders or the relief agency of your choice to help the people of the Philippines.  

filipino cuisineOne of the amazing benefits of the New Experiences project is that every time we try a new experience, I open up another piece of the world to my children.  I chose to take them to a Filipino restaurant two weeks ago because none of us had ever tried Filipino food.  I had no idea that just weeks later, we would hear of a natural disaster striking the Philippines.  Now, my children are sensitive and sweet and would never like to hear about a storm that ravaged an island nation.  However, they had just enjoyed the cuisine, spoken to some very nice Filipino people, and learned a little bit about the country.  They took the news of the storm very seriously.  We made a donation to an organization that will help the people of the Philippines, and we said a prayer for all those who are affected by this tragedy.  So even though I hadn’t attempted to teach my children empathy for victims of the storm, they felt it solely because of one New Experience.

calamansi juiceWhen we arrived at Pinoy Restaurant in Somerville, New Jersey, the kids were thirsty.  As soon as the waiter arrived to greet us, I asked if we could put our drink order in.  He suggested some juices that are popular in the Philippines.  He told us that calamansi juice is similar to limeade and thought the kids would like it.  He also recommended the young coconut juice.  We ordered one of each.  The coconut juice was good, but the calamansi juice was out of this world!  We had to order another one because the first one was gone in minutes.

When trying a new cuisine, I like to try a bit of many different dishes and take home whatever we don’t finish.  We tried vegetable rolls as our appetizer.  There were none to take home because Luke devoured them.  Next, we tried Pansit Bihon, a noodle and tofu entree. It was a bit bland for my taste, but Luke enjoyed this dish as well.  My picky eater would not seem so picky if he lived in the Philippines! Leah ordered cilantro rice, which had a nice lime and cilantro flavor to it. Finally, the kids had chicken rolls and enjoyed those as well.  We had planned on ordering dessert, but none of us were hungry by that time!

Our waiter was so friendly.  I told him that none of us had ever tried Filipino food, so we came to try it and learn a little more about the culture.  He told us all about his last trip to the Philippines and his adventure to Taal Volcano, a volcano located inside a lake. As he spoke, I googled it on my phone and he showed the kids the pictures and explained the details of getting there.  He also told us about life in Manila, where it is hot and roosters crow all morning long.

Eating in an ethnic restaurant is always a great way to learn about a new culture, and because of the friendliness of our waiter, we learned even more than we expected.  Since both children enjoyed their entrees, I am sure we will have Filipino cuisine again!

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New Experience #39: Fire Prevention Day

fire safety dayAll of our New Experiences are planned.  Of course I know that a New Experience can happen at any moment, but one of my goals with this project was to set aside time to spend as a family.  The New Experience project was designed to be purposeful.  But, occasionally, I need to be flexible in my thinking and planning.  Planning for the unexpected is something that I have learned from this whole project!

We went to visit my sister in Virginia a couple of weeks ago and had planned to do something fun in Washington, D.C.  Unfortunately, the government shutdown foiled our plans. All of the museums and monuments were closed.  We had a few outdoor ideas, but a rainy day was the second obstacle we had to overcome.

My sister found out about a Fire Prevention Day in Falls Church, VA and thought that would be a fun way to spend the day.  I agreed, but I wasn’t expecting a New Experience since my children had been to a similar program at our local fire station last year.

Boy, was I wrong!  Falls Church puts on a Fire Prevention Day like none other.  Free food and balloons, fire safety mascots, and lots and lots of trucks to climb on were just some of the highlights.

As for our New Experience, we actually did three small things that were new to us during the day.  First, we watched the firefighters enact a real fire.  They drove up in a fire engine with its sirens on, assessed the situation, pulled out the huge ladder, and saved the doll that was trapped inside the “burning” building.  It was impressive to watch how quickly they donned their safety equipment and climbed up the extended ladder.  The drill made both of the kids a little nervous as it was loud, and there was quite a bit of activity.  However, it was such an important thing for them to see.

children fingerprintedAnother New Experience was watching a K-9 find drugs hidden inside a parked car.  I think I was more amazed at the dog’s abilities than the kids were.  They were more interested in learning that he lives with his handler and likes to eat treats than they were in watching him sniff out the drugs in less than a minute of walking around the parked car.

Finally, the kids were fingerprinted as part of a child safety program.  As the officer explained that I should keep my children’s fingerprints in a safe deposit box, I was overcome with a feeling of dread. Needing fingerprints is a grim thought for any parent. However, the kids thought it was a fun activity.  Leah liked looking at the swirls in her prints, and Luke said he wished he could go inside the police station to learn more about them.  Their enthusiasm made my uneasiness disappear, and we all marveled at their prints, so intricate and unique.

Fire Safety Day was not our first choice of a New Experience in the Washington, D.C. area, but it turned out to be an informative and enjoyable one.

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New Experience #38: Played Bocce

played bocceI knew I had to teach my children how to play bocce when I took them to a local park and they thought the bocce courts were over-sized sand boxes.

I couldn’t let such a misunderstanding persist and call myself a proud Italian-American.  I felt a strong need to pass on the knowledge of a game that is part of our heritage. As a child, I grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood.  My family bought fresh raviolis and Italian bread on Sundays, we pronounced mozzarella like “muts-ah-DELL”, and we knew all the curse words in Italian.

As I get older, I feel myself losing touch with that heritage.  I am ashamed to admit I buy tomato sauce in a jar and rarely use Italian words (especially curses) in front of my children.

bocceTeaching Luke and Leah how to play bocce was just a small gesture toward remembering our Italian heritage.

It was a beautiful afternoon when we played, and the kids were excited to go to the park. They played on the playground for a while before they were ready to play the game.

The rules are pretty easy.  One person throws the pallino (small ball) down the court.  Then two teams attempt to throw their bocce balls as close to the pallino as possible.  The team who has a ball closest to the pallino is the winner. Both kids noticed it is a lot like bowling with a fun twist.  Players can knock the other team’s ball out of the way.  There may be other rules involved, but I taught the kids the way I learned to play.

We played three rounds and had a lot of fun.  I know we’ll definitely play again the next time we visit the park with the bocce courts.

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New Experience #37: Raised Butterflies

raised butterfliesLeah had been asking all summer if we could find caterpillars to raise.  I had grandiose plans of looking for Monarch caterpillars on milkweed, digging up the milkweed, and raising the caterpillars indoors.

That plan never materialized.  First of all, it is really hard to find milkweed in New Jersey that is free of pesticide.  Second, we were very busy all summer and monarch caterpillars are fussy.  They only eat fresh milkweed.  If that milkweed wilts, they are goners.  We never had two weeks in a row where we could really take good care of living creatures.

So, I took the easy way out and order Painted Lady Butterflies from Insect Lore.  They come prepackaged in a container with all the food they need. A Painted Lady caterpillar is not as colorful as Monarchs, its chrysalis is not as jewel-like, but Painted Lady butterflies are colorful and pretty.  And, really, that is all that Leah cared about.

When the butterflies arrived, both of the kids were excited to “play” with them.  They took them out of the container and watched them crawl around the table.  We noticed that they had already shed one skin, so they would not be caterpillars for very long.

After 5 days of non-stop eating, they crawled to the top of the container, hung in a J shape and created their chrysalis.  It is an amazing process.  I used to teach a unit on Butterflies when I taught second grade, so I am somewhat of an expert on the subject.  Okay, maybe I’m not a true expert, but I sound pretty darn knowledgeable to an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old.

butterfly releaseIt amazed me that I already had to help them unlearn a few things about butterflies.  I don’t know who told my children that butterflies go into a cocoon.  I’ve always called it a chrysalis.  Only moths create cocoons.  I can’t stand misconceptions, so I even change the words in Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar to say “chrysalis”.  So, it annoyed me that my children still picked up on this common misuse of the word cocoon.

Second, they thought the caterpillar just grew wings inside the chrysalis.  It actually reorganizes its entire DNA and becomes a whole new creature.

I tried not to overwhelm the kids with too much information.  I wanted them to discover the magic of metamorphosis on their own.

We were all disappointed that we did not see a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis.  We did see a few still clinging onto the shell of chrysalis, resting and pumping blood into their wings before attempting their first flight.  It amazed all of us.

We kept them indoors a few days so we could observe them.  The kids enjoyed them so much they didn’t want to let them go.  But, butterflies don’t live long, and we knew it was the right thing to do.

We released them on a sunny afternoon and watched them flutter away.  The kids were sad to see them go, but we all had to admit that watching their first real flight was a treat.

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