Back to School, Plus a Chance to Win a $1,000 College Scholarship from Groza Learning Center!

Many children across the U.S. are getting ready to head back to school. But here in Northern Virginia, public school doesn’t start again for another four weeks.

Still, the summer has seemed to fly by for us. For one thing, it’s a week shorter this year: Our district shifted the school calendar so that school will end a week a week earlier in June and start a week earlier (the week before Labor Day). But because the 2016-17 school year still followed last year’s calendar, our kids still got out at the same time. That means this summer break is only 9 1/2 weeks for us, instead of 10 1/2.

Then, Matt had a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy only three days after school ended. Due to a complication, the recovery took two weeks. Add to that a 10-day trip to New York and lots of pool time, movies, ice cream, and other fun in between, and more than half of summer break sailed by.

In some ways, the thought of the kids starting school again makes me sad. I’ve been loving our more relaxed schedule: staying up too late to roast s’mores and play catch, sleeping in, lounging around in our pajamas all morning instead of rushing out to catch the school bus.

Ice cream cones
Nothing says “summer” like ice cream before dinner!

But at the same time, I know that in four weeks we’ll all be ready to get back to our regular routine. Our bodies will crave a more consistent sleep schedule and healthier meals instead of frozen yogurt for lunch. Our brains will need to be challenged again (I’ve cut back on work for the summer). The kids will be excited to see all of their school friends again.

Sleeping toddler
Summer has us sleepy like…

Still, the first few weeks of school will be an adjustment. Lily will start preschool a week after the boys go back and will only go to school 12 hours a week, so I know she’ll be asking for her brothers at first. And when all three are at school, I’m pretty sure it will be a bit unnerving! Yesterday, Lily told Keith, “Daddy, soon my brothers will go on the school bus and Mommy will drive me to school and then she will be ALL ALONE!” Keith replied, “Yeah, and then Mommy will have a party!” If you call writing stories, working out, and showering without interruptions a party, then he’s right!

But as big of an adjustment as I and all of my fellow parents will have once school starts, it can’t compare to the big changes parents with kids heading off to college will go through! I’m sure they’ll be feeling a mixture of excitement, sadness, nostalgia, and pride as they drop their kids off at their new schools. And with the average cost of tuition and fees being $33,480 at private colleges (according to the College Board), many of them will also be feeling some sticker shock.

Groza Learning Center in Pacific Palisades, CA—which specializes in tutoring, test prep, reading, and homeschooling—understands the high costs of college tuition. So, the center wants to help students reach their goal of attending college or university by offering a $1,000 scholarship to 2017 high school graduates or currently enrolled college or university students. The deadline for submissions is November 30, 2017. Click here for more information about the scholarship and to apply. Good luck!

I wish all of the students heading back to school—and all of their parents—a healthy and happy school year! In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying the rest of our summer at the beach, the pool, a theme park, and baseball games!

Disclosure: This a sponsored post on behalf of Groza Learning Center. 

10 Truths About Twins … and Matt and Nate Turn 6!

Next week, Matt and Nate turn 6. SIX!!! That means they’ll no longer be part of the early-childhood set. They’ll officially be considered big kids. And I just can’t believe it. I feel like I’ve been through the biggest challenge of my life and have made it through the other side mostly unscathed, aside from a few more wrinkles and gray hairs.

2 month old twin boys
Whaaaaaaat? We’re turning 6 years old???

I started this blog when I was pregnant with the boys and admittedly terrified at the prospect of having twins. Once they were born, it was comforting to write about the challenges of having two babies—the huge expense of buying two of everything, the struggle to get anywhere on time, the lack of sleep.

But at some point—and I can’t say exactly when it was because it just snuck up on me—having twins stopped being so difficult. At some point, once both boys were potty trained and could dress themselves and we stopped having to lug the giant double stroller everywhere—having twins actually got easier than having a singleton in many ways. I’ll explain more here, along with nine other truths I’ve learned over the years about having twins:

  1. Twins become easier than singletons in certain ways. The main reason for this is that they always have a playmate! Two winters ago, we got slammed with a blizzard that closed school for a week. I’d get texts from mom friends saying, “Losing my mind!!! Running out of entertainment ideas! Must get out of house!!!” But Matt and Nate spent hours playing with action figures, having light-saber battles, and building LEGO creations in the basement. When they started kindergarten and got on the bus for the first time, I was significantly less nervous than my fellow kindergarten moms because I knew they had each other to sit with. And when Nate went through a phase where he was afraid of the dark, we got him to (mostly) stay in his bed at night by reassuring him that Matt was right next to him.

    Twin boys wearing Buzz Lightyear and Woody Halloween costumes
    They’ve always got a friend in each other!
  2. If twins are the same gender, people won’t be able to tell them apart. It doesn’t matter if they look completely different or they’re different sizes or they’re wearing t-shirts with their names on them: People, especially kids, will consistently mix them up. Matt and Nate have different eye and hair colors, an 8-pound weight difference, and different face shapes, yet they’ll still get called each other’s names. Kids who’ve known them for months will ask them, “Are you Matt or Nate?” Usually they let it roll off their backs, but sometimes Nate will get tired of being called “Matt” and yell, “I’m NATE!”

    Twin boys in baseball gear
    When we really want to confuse people, we give them eye black and matching Angels shirts!
  3. They’ll develop at different rates. Matt walked at 11 months, Nate at 17 months. Nate potty trained right after turning 3, Matt took until almost 3 1/2. Nate has been zipping around on a two-wheeler for months, Matt is still mastering pedaling. Matt just lost his first tooth, Nate doesn’t even have a loose one. I could go on and on, but my point is that I learned early on to NOT COMPARE THE TWINS. Seriously, don’t do it. All new moms worry when their kids don’t meet milestones as early as friends’ kids, but the worrying can really get out of hand when you’ve got another child the exact same age in the house. Just take a deep breath and remember that even though your twins shared a womb, they are individuals who will develop at their own rates. Relish each milestone as it comes!

    Twin 1-year-old boys eating birthday cake
    At one year old, they discovered a mutual love of cake!
  4.  What’s best for one set of twins isn’t necessarily best for yours. One instance when this becomes true is when they start elementary school. Some schools require twins to be in different classes, while others leave it up to the parents. And that’s when you have to consider your own twins’ personalities and learning styles. The default at Matt and Nate’s school is to keep twins together for kindergarten and then separate them in first grade. But I spoke with the boys’ teacher, who said they are not competitive, that neither one relies too much on the other, and that they each do their own thing at school. For those reasons, we have decided to keep them together until we have reason not to. But other twin parents I know had to separate their twins because they were too attached, too competitive, or simply wanted to be in their own class. So do what’s best for your twins and your family!

    Twin boys' first day of kindergarten
    Headed off to kindergarten together!
  5. They’ll want their own stuff. One of the benefits of having a same-sex twin is that you’ve got double the toys and double the clothes. But at a certain age—for my boys, it was 4—twins start to want to claim things as their own. I’ll never forget the first time I pulled a shirt out of their drawer to put on Nate and he said, “No, that’s Matt’s shirt!” even though they had always just pooled their clothing. That was around the same time the boys started identifying which toys belonged to each of them. Even if they had two identical dinosaurs, they’d somehow be able to tell which one was Nate’s and which was Matt’s.

    They definitely need their own bikes now!
  6. Some kids will find them intimidating. My friend has a son Matt and Nate’s age and our boys get along well. But whenever we’d set up play dates, her son would retreat to the other side of the room or the park and get really quiet. After this happened a few times, she asked him why he did that. He confessed that he felt left out because there were two of them and only one of him! It seemed like such an obvious thing that neither she nor I picked up on. At 4 and 5, kids are still learning how to make friends and interact with others. It’s natural for them to feel insecure around two kids who already know each other so well. So talk to your twins about being sure to play with the other kids during parties and playdates!

    Twin boys wear pirate accessories
    Ahoy, mateys! Ye can play with us too!
  7. People will continue to be fascinated by them. I imagine this is especially true of identical twins. But even my boys, who look nothing alike, still draw admirers. People will look back and forth at them a few times, ask me if they’re twins, and get very excited when I say yes. Then they’ll tell me about their mother’s cousin’s best friend who has twins, ask a probing question like, “Were they natural?” or spout out a cliche like, “You have your hands full!” When I was an exhausted new mom I’d admittedly find it irritating at times, but now it just makes me realize how blessed I am to have twins.

    Boys wearing stormtrooper helmets
    Yes, they’re really twins. No, they’re not really stormtroopers.
  8. You’ll share a special connection with other twin parents. I’m lucky to have lots of mom friends I bond with over tantrums and school struggles and our perpetual exhaustion. But no one gets me quite as much as other twin moms do. I imagine this is similar to the connection shared between military members who’ve gone to war together. Yes, I’m exaggerating … but only a little.

    Mom with toddler twins
    Twin moms, ya feel me???
  9. The twin bond is real. Seriously—my boys are very in tune with one another. When they were smaller and still learning how to pronounce words properly, I’d sometimes ask them to translate what the other was saying for me. If one is in a bad mood and won’t tell me what’s wrong, I’ll ask the other, and his guess will usually be spot on. They also really look out for one another and are generally concerned for each other when one of them is sick. It’s heartwarming to watch. Of course, they can get into bigger fights and arguments than anyone else I know, too. But they always make up in the end!

    Twin boys on bench
    They were fighting about 10 minutes before I took this picture!
  10. Life will never be boring … or quiet. This is true for any parent, but there is something about having two kids the same age in the house that brings a whole new energy. Add in a little sister, and you can be sure you’ll be on your toes pretty much non-stop. You just never know what kind of adventure each day will bring. I recently had a root canal, and when the endodontist walked in to start the procedure, she told me I was the calmest person she’d ever had in her office. I told her it was because it was the first few minutes of peace and quiet I’d had all day!

    Three kids at doctor
    Even a doctor visit turns into a fun time!

Needless to say, having twins has been an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Though the early-childhood years are behind us, I know the school-age years will bring many more adventures, challenges, and happy times. I couldn’t be prouder of the kind, hilarious, smart, silly, and handsome little men my boys have become. The fact that my preemie twins who couldn’t even eat on their own in their first days of life are now reading, playing baseball, and spouting out the names of all 45 presidents is so amazing, it brings tears to my eyes.

Happy 6th Birthday, Matt and Nate!

Keep Lice Away This Summer!

With the school year winding down for some kids and already over for others, this may seem like an odd time for me to be writing a post about head lice. But unlike schoolchildren, head lice don’t take the summer off. And without all the back-to-school warnings and media coverage that August and September bring, many parents are probably letting their guard down when it comes to lice.

But I’m not. While it’s true that head lice is more prevalent during the school year, the little buggers can still spread at day camps, indoor play gyms, rec centers, and other places at which kids congregate during summer break. And though lice isn’t the end of the world (despite its reputation), who wants to waste precious pool time combing nits out of their kid’s hair?

So I’m going to continue using my lice-prevention arsenal on the kids this summer: Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Hair Care products. Fairy Tales makes shampoo, conditioner, conditioning spray, hair spray, and styling gel that contain organic rosemary, citronella, tea tree, and geranium oils. These ingredients are clinically proven to repel lice. The products are free of sulfates, harsh chemicals and toxins, gluten, soy, dairy, and nuts, so they’re safe for daily use for all kids. They also contain jojoba and chamomile to moisturize, hydrate, and soothe the scalp.

Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel hair care products

I received these products complimentary last summer to try out. I’d already been planning to buy them before the twins started kindergarten and Lily started preschool, because several of my friends were using them on their kids and swore by them. One even mentioned that her daughter had never gotten lice until she ran out of her bottle of Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Shampoo. After a couple of weeks of not using the shampoo, her daughter got lice.

So, I’ve been using the products religiously on all three kids for the entire school year, and so far (knock on wood) none of them have gotten lice. I’m not saying that’s fully because of the products, but using them definitely hasn’t hurt! The shampoo and conditioner do a great job of cleaning and moisturizing the kids’ hair. The conditioning spray helps get the knots out of Lily’s hair. The styling gel does not hold as well as some heavy-duty gels on the market, but it provides light hold without leaving residue behind. And I’ve only used the hair spray a few times on the boys’ hair for special occasions like school pictures, but it seemed to do the job just fine.

I’ll admit that the smell of the products takes a little getting used to. They do smell a bit like the herbs they contain, and the scent of citronella doesn’t exactly evoke thoughts of the best parts of summer. But the smell dissipates pretty quickly, and you don’t even notice it after a bit. Plus, it’s a small price to pay to protect your kiddos from lice!

If you want to give Fairy Tales hair care products a try, visit fairytaleshaircare.com to order them or to find a store near you that carries them. I hope you have as much success with them as I’ve had. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and lice-free summer!

Disclosure: I received complimentary hair care products to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

Upcycling with Chick-fil-A

As a member of the 2016-2017 Chick-fil-A Mom Panel, I get to try menu items for free in exchange for my opinions about food, kids’ meal prizes, and more. Sometimes, I am also asked to participate in fun challenges.

Recently, Mom Panel members received coupons for free bowls of chicken tortilla soup or chicken noodle soup and were challenged to upcycle the empty containers. According to Merriam-Webster, upcycle means “to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value).”

It wasn’t long before the Panel’s Facebook page was flooded with posts showcasing all of the amazing things my craftier comrades were creating with their plastic containers—bird feeders, turtle crafts, toy boats, etc. But if you know me, you know I I am not the crafty type—at all. I’m the mom who buys her kids’ “homemade” classroom Valentines on Etsy.

So when thinking about how to make use of my soup containers, I thought about it from a more practical standpoint. As a busy mom with three kids ages 5 and under, I have a lot of STUFF all over my house. So the soup bowls, with their tight-fitting lids, offer endless possibilities for helping to control the clutter. Here are some items that can be stored in the containers:

TOYS/KIDS’ ITEMS:

  1. LEGO bricks — You can even glue mini base plates to the lid to make a travel building kit!
  2. Crayons — Throw a small notepad inside, too, and you’ve got an on-the-go coloring kit.
  3. Pokémon or other trading cards
  4. Barbie shoes and accessories
  5. Shopkins, Army men, and other small toys
  6. Beads, pom-poms, and other craft items
  7. Tiny hair clips, rubber bands, and other hair accessories
  8. Stickers
  9. Kids’ jewelry
  10. Rocks, marbles, and other collectible treasures

HOUSEHOLD ITEMS:

  1. Office supplies like paper clips and rubber bands
  2. Receipts
  3. Box Tops, if you collect them for your kids’ school (which I do)
  4. Business cards
  5. Band-Aids, gauze, and other First-Aid items — You can keep a mini First Aid kit in your car or diaper bag!
  6. Q-tips, cotton balls, and other small bathroom items
  7. Cosmetics
  8. Travel-size toiletries — You can just toss the whole container in your bag when it’s time to travel!
  9. Snacks such as pretzels, goldfish, and nuts
  10. Batteries

As for my soup container, here’s what I am using it for:

Chick-fil-A soup container holding perfume samples

Chick-fil-A soup container holding perfume samples

Yes, that would be my collection of mini and sample perfumes, which previously were scattered all over my bathroom vanity. I am thrilled that they are now all in one place. Why didn’t I think of corralling them sooner?

As for Keith’s soup container, I was going to let Lily decorate it and use it to store her beloved stickers. But, she went a little paint happy on it and ended up making a big mess out of it, which gave me another idea for the soup containers—you can use them as paint cups during art projects!

Chick-fil-A soup container used as a paint cup

I’m glad this challenge got me thinking about ways to reuse items that pass through my home every day rather than tossing them into the recycling bin or the trash. It’s a great way to help protect the Earth and save some money.

Also, this challenge inspired Keith and me to try Chick-fil-A soups for the first time—we had always been loyal to our salads and chicken sandwiches. We thought both the chicken tortilla soup and the chicken noodle soup were delicious, and perfect for days when you want a lighter lunch option. Thank you for the fun challenge, Chick-fil-A!

Mudpuppy Puzzles Are Perfect for Travel!

Military life comes with frequent moves. That often means being far away from family and friends—and driving or flying long distances to visit them. So, military kids often do a lot of traveling.

My children are the perfect example. My twin boys logged at least five cross-country airplane flights by the time they were 2. My daughter took a 3,000-mile road trip with us at 5 weeks old when we moved from California to Virginia. Over the past two years, we’ve driven to New York to visit family more often than I can count. Add to that our various vacations, and you’re looking at some very well-traveled kiddos.

But while my kids’ extensive travel experience has made them a bit more flexible than other kids in many ways—they can easily sleep anywhere, they can handle schedule changes pretty well, etc.—at the end of the day, they are still kids. And just like any kid, they need to be entertained on long flights and car rides. They need things to do in the hotel room or at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And because Keith and I don’t want their travel entertainment to consist solely of TV and iPad time, we’re often forced to devote way too much suitcase space to toys and books.

So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to have the chance to try out some of Mudpuppy’s portable puzzles. They are light and compact, making them easy to toss into my carry-on bag or diaper bag. And they are adorable and lots of fun! Here’s what we tried:

Pouch Puzzle: Mudpuppy’s 12-piece Pouch Puzzles (for ages 2 and up) come in zippered pouches, not boxes, making them flat and super easy to tote around. We received the Princess Castle puzzle, perfect for my little girly girl. We took the puzzle with us to Hawaii and on several trips to New York, and even when we’re not traveling Lily loves to put it together. The thick pieces are perfect for her little hands, and the puzzle is just hard enough that she feels challenged, but can still put it together on her own. Pouch Puzzles come in 16 themes and retail for $10.99.

Mudpuppy Princess Castle Pouch Puzzle
Our completed Pouch Puzzle

Puzzle To Go: The 36-piece Puzzles to Go, geared to ages 3 and up, are 12″ by 9″ when put together. That means they fit perfectly into an airplane or train tray table! We received the Outer Space puzzle and the Airplane puzzle, which was perfect because Nate loves space and Matt loves transportation. We first whipped these puzzles out on our long flight to Hawaii, and they entertained the boys for about an hour each! They were so excited to be able to do puzzles on the plane. And because they come in a drawstring pouch, the puzzles took up hardly any space in my carry-on bag. Mudpuppy makes 10 Puzzles To Go that retail for $9.99 each.

Mudpuppy Puzzle To Go
Look how small the pouch is!
Mudpuppy Airplane Puzzle To Go
Our completed Airplane Puzzle To Go

 

My First Touch & Feel Puzzle: Each of the six My First Touch & Feel Puzzle sets come with four three-piece puzzles for ages 1 and up. The pieces are chunky, and each puzzle has one textured piece for little hands to feel. We received the “In The Garden” set, and even at 2 1/2 Lily absolutely loves these puzzles. I’d say this set is the least portable of the puzzles we tried because it comes in a box, but a bonus is that the puzzles are small enough to fit on a tray table. My First Touch & Feel Puzzles retail for $12.99.

Mudpuppy My First Touch & Feel Puzzles
Our completed My First Touch & Feel Puzzles

 

In addition to these awesome puzzles, Mudpuppy makes lots of other fun travel toys and games for all ages, including Magnetic Build-It sets, felt Play Scenes, Ring Flash Cards, and more. So with spring break travel coming up and summer vacations just around the corner, now is the perfect time to visit galison.com/MUDPUPPY and get some for yourself!

 Disclosure: I received complimentary items to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

Great Wolf Lodge Lives Up to Its Hype!

Since becoming parents, we’d been hearing SO much about Great Wolf Lodge, a family resort and indoor water park with 16 locations across the U.S. and Canada. While so many of our fellow parents hyped it up as the ideal vacation spot for families, I’ll admit that it sounded awful to Keith and me. Hundreds of screaming kids running around? Overpriced food? GERMS? No, thank you!

But when we saw a great deal pop up on Groupon recently, we decided to give the Williamsburg, Virginia location a shot. Our package included two nights in a KidKamp suite and a $50 daily food credit at a greatly reduced price. We were also able to go Sunday through Tuesday (our school district had a student holiday that Monday), so we knew crowds would be significantly smaller. So, off we went!

And let me tell you—our two days at Great Wolf Lodge were some of the most fun days we spent as a family all winter. All three of our children—5-year-old twins Matt and Nate and 2-year-old Lily—had a fabulous time. But here’s what surprised us—Keith and I had a blast, too! Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

WHAT WE LOVED!

The water parkThis place is seriously amazing, and that’s great because it’s the only attraction in the resort that doesn’t cost extra money. With 79,000 square feet of space, the water park has something for everyone. There are giant, winding water slides for big kids and adults and tiny slides for the little kids. There’s a wave pool, a lazy river, hot tubs, and a regular pool with basketball hoops. There’s a giant climbing structure with bridges, tunnels, and water features for kids to get lost in. There’s a kiddie pool with spray areas that Lily absolutely loved. And there’s the Wolf Rider Wipeout, an awesome surf simulator that the boys did two times each. (They were the smallest kids doing it—such brave boys!) Overall we spent three to four hours each day at the water park, and we had a blast.

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Here are my water park tips:

  • Get there early! There are a limited number of tables and chairs in the park that often get snatched up in minutes. So get down to the park about 15 minutes before it opens and be ready to stake out your spot. (Note: The resort website lists the water park hours as 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, but that is subject to change based on the season. So, double check the hours when you arrive!)
  • Bring snacks. The signs posted say no outside food is allowed in the water park, but nearly everyone we saw had their own snacks with them. (They probably just don’t want you rolling in with bags of McDonald’s). So bring lots of food to munch on and plan to eat meals out or back at your room. There is a small food stand in the water park called Buckets Incredible Craveables, but it has a very limited selection of food and no kids’ meals.
  • Bring your own towels. The resort provides towels, but they are pretty tiny and flimsy. And even though the water is warm, it can feel really chilly in the water park when you get out. So we brought the kids their own hooded towels, and next time we’ll bring towels for ourselves as well.
  • Leave life jackets at home. The water park has free Coast Guard-approved life jackets and puddle jumpers, so there’s no need to bring your own!

MagiQuestWwere going to skip this game because we thought the boys were too young, but we are SO glad we didn’t. It’s expensive, but we played for hours, and Keith and I admittedly had as much fun as the boys did. It’s basically a live-action video game. First you go to a really cool wand shop and pick your own wand. Once your game is activated, you wave your wand at any of the “portals” located around the resort—mini touch screens—to start your quest. You then have to collect a certain number of runes before you can do fun things like battle a dragon, defeat a goblin king, etc. The screen tells you which objects you need to collect to get each rune and what area of the resort you can find them in. Then you walk around and wave your wand at treasure chests, boxes, wall hangings, and more to find the objects you need. When you’ve gotten them, you return to a portal, where a character from the game gives you your rune and instructions on how to get your next rune. Its lots of fun!

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The twins opened the treasure chest with a wave of their wands!
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They defeated the evil dragon Charlock!

Here are my MaqiQuest tips:

  • Be patient. The game is tough to figure out at first, but don’t give up. Once you get the hang of it, it’s very addicting! Try to play after the water park opens and before dinnertime—there seemed to be fewer people playing during those times, which meant we didn’t have to wait as long for our turn at the portals.
  • Save some money. As I mentioned, MagiQuest is not cheap: A wand costs $15.99 to $21.99 and the game costs $14.99, but you can play as much as you want throughout your stay! (Then you can bring your wand back on future stays to pick right up where you left off!) The wand itself is super cool, so there’s no need to purchase a wand topper for $17.99 to $19.99. Also, if you have a young child who wants in on the wand action but is too young to play the game, just buy the wand without the game. The wand will still work on all the cool objects around the resort. Lily had a blast waving her wand to open treasure chests, make animals move, light up stars, etc.
  • Be ready to exercise. You may think video games are for couch potatoes, but not MagiQuest. You’ll be going up and down stairs between the second and fourth floors of the resort nonstop to collect objects for the game (unless you feel like waiting forever for the elevators), so it’s a great way to keep your kids moving!

Bowling: The resort has a mini bowling alley that’s perfect for small children because it has shorter lanes, bumpers, and little five-pound balls. Plus, you don’t need to wear bowling shoes! We went bowling with friends who visited the resort the same weekend as us, and all of the kids had a blast. (We did have a problem with balls getting stuck on one of our lanes, but it was still a good time!) The cost was $5 per person per game.

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Even 2-year-old Lily got in on the bowling action!

 

Our suite: As I mentioned earlier, we stayed in a KidKamp suite, which is a large room with a queen-size bed, a full-size sofa sleeper, and a tent-themed sleeping area with bunk beds. The twins loved sleeping on the bunk beds in their own separate space. We liked that the room had a mini fridge and a microwave. There are many other room options at the resort at various price points, ranging from standard rooms to themed suites (like ours) to premium suites with lofts, fireplaces, and jacuzzi tubs. Our friends stayed in one of the premium suites and loved it.

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Playing peek-a-boo in the KidKamp Suite

 

Free lobby activities: The lobby always has some sort of free activity or show going on for the kids. We found The Great Clock Tower Show to be a bit creepy, and the kids were bored by the nighttime Story Time. But, all three loved the little activity table that offered coloring pages and guided activities like Bingo and friendship bracelet-making.

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Coloring in the lobby while Daddy waited in line for Dunkin’ Donuts

 

The wolf ears: To our surprise, we all got a free pair of wolf ears at check-in! Lots of grown-ups got into the spirit and wore them around the resort.

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Modeling our wolf ears! Daddy wore them too, but he was behind the camera!

 

The wristbands: As someone who’s been known to lose hotel room keys and forget my wallet, this was huge for me: When you check in, you get a waterproof wristband that you use as your room key, your water park entry, and your payment for activities and food (it all just gets charged to your room). How convenient is that? Plus, the kids felt super cool and important sporting their wristbands ( though they couldn’t buy things with theirs).

 

Now, here are a few things we didn’t love (but didn’t totally hate):

WHAT WE DIDN’T LOVE

Northern Lights ArcadeWith its wide variety of games, this place would be awesome for older kids and teenagers, but it was really overwhelming and chaotic for my three kids. Almost every game uses Paw Points, a reloadable gaming card that you swipe to play the game. That means that unless you have one adult to accompany each child around the arcade, your small kids are going to be swiping the card haphazardly without realizing whether it actually worked … and spend all of the Paw Points without playing a single game. Trust me, I know! So I’d say steer clear of the arcade if you have younger kids.

The food: The best food option at the Great Wolf Lodge was the Dunkin’ Donuts in the lobby. Keith went there every morning to get us breakfast and coffee and it was included in our $50 food credit—WIN! We got pizza and wings one evening from Hungry As A Wolf and ate it in the room. It was decent, quick, and convenient. But the buffet dinner we ate at the Loose Moose Bar & Grill was not very good. (Perhaps the breakfast would have been better, but who has time for that when you’ve got to get to the water park?) My advice? Eat dinners off site, or pick up food to bring back to your room. There are lots of casual or fast-food dining spots only a minute or two away, including Carrabba’s, Chick-fil-A, and Sonic.

 

Clearly, we loved a lot more things about Great Wolf Lodge than we didn’t love! And we only scratched the surface of the attractions that are available there. There are 4D movies, a miniature golf course,  a fitness center, a spa, and so much more. We definitely plan to visit again to try out some of these other activities.

If you decide to visit Great Wolf Lodge with your family, I have a few more tips:

  1. Go when there’s a deal. I frequently see Great Wolf Lodge deals on Groupon and similar sites, so keep your eyes peeled. If you’re an active or retired military family, emergency medical service personnel, or a police or correctional officer, you can take advantage of the Howling Heroes promotion, which gives you up to 30 percent off a suite for stays through October 31. And, keep in mind that weeknights are cheaper than weekends!
  2. Maximize your time. Though check-in isn’t until 4 p.m. and checkout is at 11 a.m., you can access the water park starting at 1 p.m. on your arrival date and until closing on your departure date. And you can often get early check-in if your room is available—we did! There are showers in the water park you can use before you leave.
  3. Two nights is perfect. It’s enough time to take advantage of many of the resort activities without feeling rushed, but not so long that your family will burn out and have meltdowns.

If you decide to visit Great Wolf Lodge, let me know what you think. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine did!

Has your family been to Great Wolf Lodge? Leave a comment below and let me know how you liked it! And if you have questions, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer them!

 

Share Your Hero With Mrs. Fields

Merriam-Webster defines the word “hero” as follows: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities. I can’t think of anyone who fits that description more completely than my husband, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Walters. Keith has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, during which he received three Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained in combat. He is well respected by so many soldiers and officers who have served with him. Those are the reasons he is considered a hero to many.

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This was at 6 am on July 4, 2011. Keith was holding one of our 2-week-old twins before leaving for Afghanistan … and he was still smiling. If that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is!

But to me, Keith is a hero because of the way he lives his life each day—because of the type of husband, father, family member, and friend he is. He is a hero every time he pushes through a run despite having been shot in the leg in Afghanistan. He was a hero when he happily looked after our three kids and my friend’s three kids—all age 6 and under—in our basement on a Friday evening so I could have the girls over for wine. He was a hero when he moved a morning work meeting to take care of the kids so I could sleep off a stomach bug. He was a hero when he practically carried my father, who’s over 6 feet tall, up the stairs during an illness earlier this year. He’s a hero every time he shovels a neighbor’s driveway in the bitter cold.

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But enough about my hero. I want to hear about your hero—and so does Mrs. Fields! The cookie company has launched the Share Your Hero campaign to help embrace local heroes who serve their communities all across the country. Through October 31, 2016, you can go to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com to nominate a hero. Mrs. Fields will choose one nominee to be America’s Hometown Hero, and will donate $5,000 to a charity of his or her choosing. And as if that weren’t sweet enough, everyone who nominates a hero on the site will receive a coupon for $1 off a box of Mrs. Fields cookies. (Trust me, they’re delicious!)

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So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com and #ShareYourHero. And while you’re at it, leave a comment below and let me know who you nominated. Can’t wait to hear all about your heroes!