Category: Fun Places

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!

 

GIVEAWAY: Win a Family Four-Pack of Tickets to Blue Man Group!

If you read my Blogger Bash recap, you saw that I got to attend a special performance of Blue Man Group. The show was wildly entertaining and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

Blue Man Group combines music, comedy, and state-of-the-art technology to create a truly unique form of wacky entertainment. It is continually refreshed with new music, stories, and instruments.

Blue Man Group has been performed in 15 countries and seen by more than 35 million people worldwide since 1991. It has permanent productions in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Chicago, and Berlin. There’s also a tour in North America and Latin America.

Here’s what I found especially cool about the show:
  • The music. The band was super talented and had everyone rocking for the entire show!
  • The neon paint drumming. Audience members in the first few rows even had to wear head-to-toe ponchos to protect them from splattering paint.
Blue Man Group National Tour Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik paul@paulkolnik.com nyc  212-362-7778
Blue Man Group National Tour
Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik
paul@paulkolnik.com
nyc 212-362-7778
  • The fact that it was really interactive. The Blue Men came into the seating area several times to interact with audience members. They even recruited two members to go onstage and backstage to help them with bits. Here’s a photo of vlogger HeyThatsMike helping the Blue Men make body art during our special performance:

Blogger HeyThatsMike onstage helping create art at the Blue Man Group Blogger Bash performance
Now, the big question: Should you bring your kids? Blue Man Group touts itself as a family-friendly show, appropriate for ages 3 and up. And on the show’s website, you’ll see photos and testimonials of happy children who loved it.

I do urge you to use caution, though, when deciding whether to take your own kids. If you have children who get easily frightened by darkness or loud music, you may want to hold off on taking them. Also keep in mind the following:

  • The show is 90 minutes long with no intermission.
  • The lights are often turned off or really low to illuminate the neon paint, costumes, and more used in the show.
  • The band wears glowing neon skeleton outfits and face paint:

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Older kids and teens would definitely find Blue Man Group to be really cool. If you do decide to take your children, you can find some fun activities and resources on the show’s website to prepare them before the show.

So, do you want to go? Cue the giveaway! One lucky Double Duty Twins reader will win a family 4-pack of tickets to any Blue Man Group show of their choosing in New York, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, or any of the North American Tour dates! The winner will receive a certificate in the mail that can be redeemed for any show from September 8, 2015 through June 8, 2016.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me who you’d like to bring with you to Blue Man Group. Then click on “Leave a blog post comment” in the form below, followed by, “I commented!” Once you do that, you’ll unlock opportunities to earn three more bonus entries. You have until August 28, 2015 to enter, and I’ll pick a winner at random on August 29. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CONTEST RULES
PRIZE RESTRICTIONS
THE FULFILLMENT PERIOD BEGINS SEPTEMBER 8, 2015, FOR SELECT PERFORMANCES ONLY, AND TICKETS MUST BE REDEEMED BY JUNE 8, 2016. ALL REQUESTS ARE SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY AND MUST BE SUBMITTED A MINIMUM OF TWO (2) WEEKS IN ADVANCE. IT IS NOT UNCOMMON FOR BLUE MAN GROUP PERFORMANCES TO SELL OUT, SO ADVANCE PLANNING IS REQUIRED. THE BEST SEATS AVAILABLE ARE LIKELY TO BE SUNDAY THROUGH THURSDAY SHOWS. HOLIDAY BLACKOUT PERIODS VARY BY CITY, AND THE CERTIFICATE IS NOT VALID DURING THOSE BLACKOUT PERIODS. THE CERTIFICATE DOES NOT GUARANTEE THAT TICKETS WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR CHOICE. CERTIFICATE HAS NO CASH VALUE AND IS NON-TRANSFERABLE. VALID FOR THE BLUE MAN GROUP SHOW ONLY WITH SEATING LOCATION AT THE DISCRETION OF THE BOX OFFICE. NOT VALID FOR VIP UPGRADES, THEME PARK, CLUB, OR SPECIAL EVENT ADMISSION. PARKING IS NOT INCLUDED. THERE ARE NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES ONCE TICKETS HAVE BEEN ISSUED. ALL REDEMPTIONS ARE FINAL. NO SUBSTITUTIONS, CASH EQUIVALENTS OR TRANSFERS ARE PERMITTED. NOT FOR RESALE. CERTIFICATE IS NOT VALID AFTER EXPIRATION DATE OF JUNE 8, 2016. BLUE MAN GROUP IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR REPLACING LOST OR STOLEN TICKETS AND/OR VOUCHERS.
ELIGIBILITY
EMPLOYEES OF BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, SPONSORS, AND ANY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE AFFILIATES’ EMPLOYEES AND EACH OF THEIR HOUSEHOLDS ARE NOT ELIGIBLE TO ENTER. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY.
GENERAL CONDITIONS
ALL ENTRANTS RELEASE SPONSORS, BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, AND THEIR RESPECTIVE FOUNDERS, PARENT COMPANIES, AFFILIATES, SUBSIDIARIES AND THE DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, AND AGENTS OF THE FOREGOING ENTITIES, AND ALL OTHERS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DEVELOPMENT AND EXECUTION OF THIS CONTEST (ALL AFOREMENTIONED PARTIES, THE “RELEASED PARTIES”) FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY FROM INJURY, LOSS OR DAMAGE OF ANY KIND. SPONSORS AND BLUE MAN GROUP RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CANCEL, MODIFY, OR TERMINATE THIS CONTEST OR ANY OF THE PRIZES AT ANY TIME, INCLUDING AFTER WINNERS ARE CHOSEN. ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION SUPPLIED BY ENTRANTS TO SPONSOR OR ITS AFFILIATES WILL BE SUBJECT TO SPONSOR’S PRIVACY POLICY , EXCEPT WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW AND BLUE MAN GROUP’S PRIVACY POLICY LOCATED AT HTTP://WWW.BLUEMAN.COM/PRIVACY-POLICY, ENTRY AND/OR WINNER’S ACCEPTANCE OF A PRIZE OF ANY KIND CONSTITUTES PERMISSION FOR THE SPONSOR AND BLUE MAN GROUP TO USE WINNER’S NAME, ADDRESS (CITY AND STATE), PHOTO, LIKENESS, BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION, STATEMENT AND VOICE FOR ADVERTISING/PUBLICITY PURPOSES WORLDWIDE AND IN ALL FORMS OF MEDIA IN PERPETUITY, WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE TO OR COMPENSATION IN CONNECTION WITH SAID CONTEST OR THE PRIZE AWARDED. ALL ENTRANTS EXPRESSLY RELEASE THE SPONSOR, BLUE MAN GROUP, AND THEIR AFFILIATES, PARENT, AND THEIR RESPECTIVE AGENTS, EMPLOYEES, LICENSEES, DESIGNEES, AND ASSIGNS FROM AND AGAINST ANY AND ALL CLAIMS WHICH THEY HAVE OR MAY HAVE FOR INVASION OF PRIVACY, DEFAMATION, OR ANY OTHER CAUSE OF ACTION ARISING OUT OF ANY SUCH USE.

MISCELLANEOUS
BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, IS NOT THE SPONSOR OF THE CONTEST AND IS SOLELY PROVIDING THE PRIZE. THIS BLOG IS THE OFFICIAL SPONSOR. ENTRANTS AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE PRIZE RESTRICTIONS, ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS, AND SPONSOR RULES. BLUE MAN GROUP AND ALL RELATED INDICIA ©2015 BLUE MAN GROUP. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

I’m In a New York State of Mind

I can’t wipe the smile off my face. I just got home from the most exhilarating girls’ weekend in New York City. Our wonderful former nanny and dear friend, Lisa, is here visiting from California. She had never been to New York, so I took the opportunity to show her around my hometown sans kids (thanks to my amazing and extremely capable husband, who gamely agreed to stay at home with all three kiddos). Lisa and I hopped on an Amtrak train Friday morning and were in New York by noon. We then experienced 48 hours of nonstop grownup fun and freedom—just what this weary mom needed.

Not that I got much sleep. When you’ve got two days in the Big Apple, the last thing you want to do is sleep. We had places to go, delicious food to eat, and cocktails—lots and lots and lots of cocktails—to drink.

We stayed with my aunt and uncle on the Upper West Side, who were fabulous hosts. My cousin, Kim, came along on many of our outings. We showed Lisa all of what I feel are the must-sees in New York, including the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, SoHo (if only we’d had more time to shop), the Statue of Liberty (by way of the Staten Island Ferry, which is totally free and offers an amazing view of Lady Liberty), the High Line, Times Square, and more.

Two women on the High Line in New York City
Walking the High Line

 

We had dinner at two of my favorite NYC restaurants, Buddakan (of “Sex and the City” fame) and Carmine’s. Buddakan is a must-visit if you’re in the city for a special occasion. The ambience is spectacular and the modern Asian cuisine is so good. (Be sure to order the scallion pancakes!) And Carmine’s offers heaping family-style plates of delicious Italian food.

Buddakan restaurant in New York City
The fabulous Buddakan

We also saw the Tony award-winning musical “An American in Paris” on Broadway. It was fabulous. Featuring the music of George Gershwin, “An American in Paris” tells the love story of a young American soldier and a beautiful French girl, complete with amazing singing and dancing. I feel so lucky to have gotten to see it.

"An American in Paris" Broadway theater marquee

And finally, what trip to New York City is complete without drinks at a rooftop bar? Rare View offered a breathtaking view of the Empire State Building on a perfect summer night.

Threee women at Rare View rooftop bar in New York City, with the Empire State Building in the background
Rare View rooftop bar

 

I am still physically exhausted from the weekend and I missed Keith and the kids a ton, but my batteries are totally recharged. I believe every mom needs a girls’ weekend away once in a while, and I highly recommend you do it if you can!

And since I can’t stay away from New York for too long, I’m going back—in two days! I’ll be attending the second annual Blogger Bash, a two-day event at which I’ll connect with some of the biggest toy, travel, fashion, and food brands. We’re talking brands like LeapFrog, Vtech, Fisher-Price, Crayola, LEGO, and tons more. I’ll also get to attend a special performance of Blue Man Group (and meet the blue men!), meet legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes, get hands-on with the hottest new toys on the market at The Toy Insider‘s Sweet Suite (and share them all with you), and lots more.

I’ll be posting many photos and updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram throughout the event, and I’ll do a series of blog posts starting next week to tell you all about the awesome brands I’ll be discovering. It’s going to be amazing, and I hope you’ll follow along! Blogger Bash, here I come!

 

GIVEAWAY: One Double Duty Twins Reader Will Win A Free Night’s Stay at an AmericInn Hotel!

AMERICINN HOTELS IS SEEKING WILD AND WACKY VACATION PICS!

Wild, Wacky and Wonderful. That’s what AmericInn Hotels is looking for this summer—in your travel photos. And they are giving away prizes!

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AmericInn—the largest midscale hotel brand in the upper Midwest—is inviting adventurous travelers to enter a selfie or other photo of their wildest, wackiest, most wonderful travel moments.

If they pick your pic, you’ll win a free night at any AmericInn location ($200 value). Even better: up to two people in your photo will also win a great prize. AmericInn is awarding a prize each day all summer long, and will be awarding an additional free night’s stay exclusively for readers of Double Duty Twins!

From the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, S.D.), to the world’s largest concrete gnome (Ames, Ia.), to statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (various locations), there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path locations, unique events, and small-town festivals to see and enjoy, and AmericInn wants to be part of the fun. Original photos from anywhere in the world—or anywhere else you can get to—can be submitted online.

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HOW TO ENTER:

To be eligible for the free night’s stay reserved for our readers, follow these three quick steps:

  1. Use this link to submit your photo to the AmericInn contest: https://adventure.americinn.com?blog=DoubleDuty.
  2. If you haven’t already, like Double Duty Twins on Facebook.
  3. Leave a comment on the Double Duty Twins Facebook page or below this post and tell me what you submitted a photo of—or share the photo!

And that’s it! You’re entered!

Entries must be submitted by Tuesday, July 14. On July 15, AmericInn will choose one Double Duty Twins reader to receive the free night’s stay! You can choose from roughly 200 locations throughout the Midwest and in Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

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Photo entry winners will be selected based on the uniqueness, creativity, and fun reflected in the photos. Entrants may also create a digital postcard with their photo on the contest website.

In honor of the contest, here is a photo of Keith, my brother, and me with the twins back in December 2011, when they were 6 months old. It’s at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO. We weren’t being wacky, but I think it’s hilarious that the boys were so bundled up, you can’t even see their little faces in the photo! It was about 25 degrees that day!

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So get wild, get wacky, get wonderful, and get going. We can’t wait to see where you’ve been! Good luck!

UPDATE: The winner of the free night’s stay at any AmericInn hotel is Jennifer Hayden! Thank you to all who entered, and congratulations to Jennifer. Please check back for more exciting giveaways to come!

Holiday Happenings

Holidays sure are different when you have little ones, and the same holds true when you’re a military family. This past Halloween was Matt and Nate’s third, and they’ve spent all three in different places!

For their first Halloween, when they were only 4 months old, we were at my parents’ house in Brooklyn, New York. Keith had gotten wounded in Afghanistan three weeks earlier and was recuperating at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so my dad, my aunt, and I took the boys trick-or-treating to a few neighbors’ houses in my old neighborhood. The twins had no idea what was going on, of course, but they sure looked cute!

For their second Halloween, we were in Colorado Springs. We trick-or-treated with some close friends and their kids, but the boys were only 16 months old and still not very into it.

This year, though, the boys knew exactly what was going on, and they were way into it! They chose to be firemen, and I went a little overboard buying them their gear—full costumes complete with jackets and pants with suspenders, helmets, boots, and even little oxygen-tank backpacks with axes. They looked adorable! Keith also took it a step further and built a fire engine out of cardboard boxes to fit around their double stroller. He spray-painted it and drew on details to make it look like the Station 51 fire truck from the TV show “Emergency!” It turned out great!

Keith and I even wore costumes to coordinate with the boys’ outfits. I made a dalmatian costume by cutting spots out of black felt and gluing them onto a white shirt. Then I bought some dalmatian ears and a tail, a red choker, and some black face paint for my nose, and I was good to go. Keith dressed as fire. He cut out flames from orange and red poster board and pinned them onto a red baseball cap, and wore it with an orange shirt. Easy peasy!

I have to say that Halloween in Southern California rocks. A few weeks ago we went to a real farm in Irvine, called Tanaka Farms, to pick our pumpkins. We got to pick the pumpkins right off the vine, and the views were killer.

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Keith and the boys picking their pumpkins!

 

Then, on October 21, we went to Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland. The boys got to practice trick-or-treating at Mickey’s house, Minnie’s house, and various stations around the park. There was a fun Halloween parade and an amazing fireworks show at Sleeping Beauty’s castle. What a great event!

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Keith kept “forgetting” to put on his orange sweatshirt. 😉

 

So by the time actual Halloween rolled around, Matt and Nate were ready! We met some great friends here, another RAND Army fellow and his wife and four kids. We went to their house for dinner and then trick-or-treated from there. Going door to door on Halloween with warm weather and palm trees was pretty surreal. I also felt like we were in a movie because we chose a popular street, so there were droves of people out, all dressed up, and many of the houses were really done up with lights and figures and sound effects. It was just what I always imagined Halloween should be like.

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Us at the end of a successful trick-or-treat run
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A side view of the fire truck

 

And here is my tale of two firefighters!

 

Next year, we’ll be at yet another new place on Halloween—our new home in the Washington, D.C. area! So Matt and Nate can one day look back at their first four Halloweens and know they spent each of them in a different place. Pretty cool, huh?

Another cool thing about being in a military family is that we get to celebrate an extra holiday in November/December—Veteran’s Day. This year Keith will have the opportunity to hit baseballs at Dodger Stadium at a special event honoring veterans, so he’s pretty excited for that.

Then we head to New York for Thanksgiving for the first time in several years. Christmas will be here in California. It is the first Christmas EVER that I won’t be spending in New York, and while that makes me a bit sad, I’m excited to see what Christmas was like for Keith growing up in LA. Also, we have a lot of family coming to visit. And Matt and Nate will get to wake up in their own home on Christmas morning, which is not always a given for military kids. Bring on the holidays!

Hello Again!

Well, I’ve taken unintended hiatuses from this blog before, but this one takes the cake. It’s been nearly four months since my last post, and for that, I apologize. But when you add together two-year-old twins, a two-week trip to New York, a move halfway across the country, a month straight of visitors, two working parents—and, well, life—things can get pretty overwhelming. Not that I’m making excuses or anything…

As I sit here in my new “office” at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, I will give you all a brief update of our lives over the past four months.

  1. The boys turned two on June 19, 2013! They celebrated with two construction-themed birthday parties. One was with all of their friends at Gymboree Play & Music in Colorado Springs, and the second was a small family party at my parents’ house in New York. While living so far from family does stink, getting two birthday parties is certainly a benefit. 😉 Here is a shot of them enjoying pizza and birthday cake with their pals at the Gymboree party:

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  1. We officially moved from Colorado Springs on July 2. We parked our car at Denver International Airport and flew to New York for two weeks. Then we flew back, spent the night at a hotel near the airport, and hit the road for our 1,600-mile drive to Southern California. Along the way, we made stops in Eagle, Colorado; St. George, Utah; and Las Vegas. The boys were absolute champs, and we didn’t even need to pull out the iPads all that often! We did, however, have to listen “When I Build My House” and “The Cowboy Song” by Parachute Express about 8,000 times in a row. If you’re not familiar with those songs or that group, Google them … or not.
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Me with the boys at gorgeous Sylvan Lake in Gypsum, Colorado. We had just made them get back in the stroller after they’d hiked on their own for an hour, so they were a bit grumpy!

 

  1. We moved into our new home in a gated community in Torrance, California on July 20. It has a large outdoor patio/yard, and the community has a gorgeous pool, a small playground, and a fitness center. The best part is, it’s only a mile from the beach and the Redondo Pier! We walk to to the beach often. It is absolutely perfect for us! I am just now getting over the fact that I don’t have the word “Beach” in my address, even though the house is only a few feet away from the Redondo Beach city limit. 😉
I snapped this cell-phone shot of our new home the day we moved in, right as the movers arrived. The garage is now our gym/storage unit!

 

  1. We had about 10 days to unpack and settle in before our month of visitors began. Each set of visitors arrived the day after, or the same day as, the last. Our lineup, in order, was Keith’s brother Ken, my parents, my cousin Kim, my best friend Christine and her three-year-old son JJ, and my brother and five-year-old niece Ava. That means the boys and I were on vacation for a month as well! We spent the entire time exploring our new city guilt-free. We had tons of beach days, visited Disneyland twice and California Adventure once (we have annual passes), splashed around at the Seaside Lagoon, attended free concerts at the Redondo Pier, pretended to be tourists in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, took lots of walks along the strand, and ate way too much In-N-Out Burger, Johnnie’s Pastrami, and Tito’s Tacos.  It didn’t take me long to see why Keith loves LA so much … and for me and the boys to grow to love it as well. This place is seriously full of amazingness. (Yes, I made up a new word.) It was really hard for me to choose just one photo to share from our month of adventures, but it had to be the one of the boys meeting Mickey Mouse with Grandma and Grandpa!

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  1. It’s been only three weeks since the final visitor left, and already I feel like we are settling into a nice routine. The boys have a new part-time nanny, Ashley, whom they love. She stays with them a couple of afternoons a week while I get work done and run errands. I’m still writing three posts a week on a variety of parenting-related topics for Baby Gizmo. I’m also doing a ton of writing for Scholastic News Online and for several Scholastic classroom magazines. The boys and I go to Gymboree once a week and to art class once a week. I have a few pilates, barre, and strength-training classes I attend during the week that are whipping me back into shape. Keith absolutely loves his RAND Corporation fellowship and has determined that this is the type of work he wants to do after he retires from the Army (which is less than four years away now). And, his flexible schedule has allowed us to continue having fun!  Last weekend, our sister-in-law Beth stayed with us for a couple of days and we went to the beach and watched dolphins and a sea lion play in the water. The next day, we went to an Angels game—the boys’ first MLB game! This weekend, we’re heading to a Dodgers game. It’s the last home game of the season and also my first Dodgers game, so we’re pretty excited. Here’s a family photo of us from the Angels game. Let it be known that I will ONLY wear an Angels shirt for these little guys!!!
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Matt and Nate’s first Angels game, September 22, 2013.

 

And the boys? Well, let’s just say they are keeping us on our toes! In the last couple of months their vocabulary has really soared, and they are little chatterboxes. Gosh, they are so grown-up. They still love all vehicles and baseball, but Matt’s love for the sport has grown into a full-blown obsession. One of his favorite pastimes is swinging his bat around the yard, saying, “I’m Mike Trout, Mama!” And Nate’s latest obsessions are Ultraman (a Japanase superhero) and Johnny and Roy from the 1970s TV series “Emergency!” They both remain fun, silly, and very sweet little boys who are—most of the time—a joy to be around.

Overall, Keith and I are both so proud of how well-adjusted Matt and Nate are. I was so worried that the move would be really hard on them, but we are so shocked and thrilled by how quickly they adjusted to their new lives here in California. They didn’t even a skip a beat! On their very first night here, they slept all night in their new room, and have continued to do so. They already know every nook and cranny of our new home, they ask to go to specific places, and they even start shouting out where we are going as soon as I turn my car in the direction of a familiar place. They’ve also become total beach bums. They’d spend the entire day on the beach if we let them—and we often do! They do miss their friends from Colorado, though, and ask for them often.

We’re having a great time, and—although Army life could really suck sometimes—none of this would be happening if it weren’t for the military! No, it’s not easy to move around so often. You have to start over in new places and make new friends, only to do it all over again a short time later. But it’s also an adventure. You get to live in and visit places you never would have otherwise, and you learn things about yourself you wouldn’t have known.

Well, I could go on forever, but I’d better sign off for now. I’m so happy to be writing on this blog again, and I plan to do so once or twice a week from here on out. Be sure to follow me on blog.babygizmo.com and scholastic.com/news as well!

Our Stay at the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center

Keith, the boys, and I spent the weekend of April 26 in Estes Park, Colorado. We were thrilled to have gorgeous weather!

Friends had told us great things about the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center, a rustic, family-friendly resort right outside Rocky Mountain National Park. So when the YMCA offered to have us stay there for free so that I could write about it, we jumped at the chance!

Estes Park Center has a great military special for active-duty military and their families. It includes a two-night stay in a lodge room, with all meals and most activities included, for $149. (The special is also available at the YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado.) We were given the military package for free.

We arrived at the resort early Friday evening and checked in to our room in the Emerald Mountain Lodge, which would typically cost $99 per night during springtime without meals included. It was a pretty bare-bones room with two queen beds and a small bathroom. There was no TV, but I guess you’re supposed to be too busy having fun to watch TV! The resort also provided us with two rollaway cribs for the boys. There was no mini fridge, so Keith called the front desk and was told that fridges are typically reserved for people with medical needs. He told them we only needed it for the twins’ milk, but they were kind enough to send us one anyway. Our room also had a pretty sweet view:

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Now, here are the pros and cons of the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center:

PROS:

Location:

It took us under 10 minutes to drive to Rocky Mountain National Park, which is breathtaking. We were able to get an annual national parks pass for free because Keith is active-duty military. Score! At the park, we went on two very different, but equally gorgeous, hikes.

On Saturday, we hiked around Bear Lake. Even though it was about 60 degrees outside, the lake was still frozen. The snow around it was so deep, we could have snowshoed it! But it was worth braving the snow to take in the beauty of Bear Lake and the mountains surrounding it.

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On Sunday, we hiked to the Alluvial Fan. Because it is at a lower altitude, there was hardly any snow there. This waterfall was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen, though the photos don’t come close to doing it justice:

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Activities:

There are a ton of activities to do at Estes Park Center, which is why it’s such a popular place for family reunions and retreats. There’s an indoor pool, a library, a game room, a rock-climbing wall, a zip line, and a miniature golf course. There are all sorts of sports, including basketball, volleyball, and even archery. There’s horseback riding, fishing, roller skating, and ice skating. And there is lots more, including weekly programs for adults and kids that offer Bingo, scavenger hunts, classes, and more.

Unfortunately, most of those activities are geared toward older kids, not toddlers. I think if Matt and Nate were a few years older, we would have taken advantage of more of them. We did, however, visit the Craft and Design Center, which is really cool! You can make jewelry, paint ceramics and wood objects, tie-dye shirts, and more. You do have to pay to do the projects, and the costs vary.

Matt picked out a wooden fire engine to paint, and Nate picked out a wooden airplane. They cost $5 each. It was the first time the twins painted something other than paper, and though it took them a while to get the hang of it, they had a blast! They were so proud of their creations. I almost don’t want to let them play with them so I can keep them forever!

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The boys also had fun playing at a quirky little playground outside the Craft and Design Center, where they met this guy:

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Views:

When you stay at Estes Park Center, you’re surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. Really, it doesn’t get much prettier than that!

CONS:

Food:

On our first evening, we headed to the Aspen Dining Room with our meal card for our free dinner. I have to say—the food is definitely not one of the highlights of staying at the YMCA. It was served cafeteria-style: You grab a tray, get in line, help yourself, and find an available table. The food also tasted like cafeteria food. We managed to scrape together a meal, but decided to skip our free dinner the next night and go to a restaurant in downtown Estes Park. (There are some great restaurants there!) If we had paid the regular price for the meals—$14 for adults—we would not have been happy.

Breakfast the next morning was actually good, though! It was nothing fancy, but exactly what you’d expect—scrambled eggs, sausage links, bagels, muffins, an assortment of fruit, etc. We wouldn’t have even minded paying the usual price of $8 per adult. I can’t comment on the lunch offerings because we ate lunch in our room.

Note: Estes Park Center does have a fine-dining restaurant called the Pine Room, as well as a cafe that serves to-go meals. So, there are other on-site food options.

The Lodge Rooms:

Our room was small and very basic, the beds weren’t very comfortable, and the thermostat didn’t seem to be working: It was sweltering in there and we couldn’t  cool it down. That being said, you don’t go to Estes Park Center to spend much time in your room. Also, at such low prices, we weren’t expecting a luxurious room. Instead, we sort of felt like we were away at sleepaway camp—and it was a fun feeling!

All in all, we had a wonderful family weekend in Estes Park, and the twins had just as much fun as Keith and I did. The best part? Other than the $10 we spent on the boys’ art projects and our inexpensive dinner out on Saturday evening, we did not spend a dime the whole weekend. Even if we hadn’t been given the military package for free, we still would have spent only about $200 for the trip.

So if you’re looking for a low-cost family resort with lots of activities, the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center is a great option. And if you’re part of an active-duty military family, it’s also an incredible deal! You may just want to make a pit stop at the local Safeway for some non-perishable food. 😉