Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Our Family Vacation - Gino's Pizza in Easton, Pa

    The last time we visited Easton, Pennsylvania was 8 years ago.  We had gone specifically to visit the Crayola Factory.  After a day of fun we were hungry.  We walked across the street to Gino's Pizza.  Christopher ordered a Philly Cheese Steak and I ordered the fetticcini alfredo to share with the kids.  It was the most delicious fetticcini alfredo I have ever before or since tasted.  Every time I eat fetticcini alfredo I think wistfully of Gino's.  I should say "THANK YOU VERY MUCH GINO'S - you've ruined fetticcini alfredo forever!  Nothing tastes nearly as good as yours!!!!

    When we decided to visit The Crayola Experience on our way to our Virginia Beach holiday, we knew we HAD to stop for dinner at Gino's.  Our memories of their delicious food had not deceived us.
We walked in through the doors, heavenly smells greeted us.   The lady at the front greeted us with a big friendly smile... I like that.  Apart from the amazing food, what I like about Gino's is it is honest.  It is not pretentious, it is not fake, it is a real pizza place.  It is spotless, loved.  The food is real.  There are no frozen crusts in the freezer, they "make" their food.

    We ordered a large cheese pizza for the kids and fetticcini (of course) for me.  Christopher was tempted by the calzonish looking pies on the counter, that is what he ordered.  We sat at the table, rehashing our fun day at the The Crayola Experience.  While we were sitting there we watched the man spin our pizza.  I have seen this in movies, never in real life!  It was amazing to watch.  The kids and I walked closer to watch him.  The poor guy, I think we made him uncomfortable watching him like he was in the circus.  He was so gifted!  It is like a precise art.

Christopher's dinner

    The staff at Gino's are phenomenal!  The lady at the counter was amazingly friendly, nice, helpful.  She saw that we had a hundred children and asked if we would like cups for our bottles of pop.  Most places look at you disgusted because you are sharing, but not Gino's.

    I happened to peek into the kitchen when I was up purchasing drinks.  There I saw an amazing sight.  The man I had made uncomfortable by watching him like a circus act, he was making my alfredo sauce.  Most big box chain restaurants have pre-made sauces that they pour.  At Gino's they "make" your food.  I watched in amazement as he melted the butter in a great big pan.  I turned away before he caught me, afraid to make him feel more uncomfortable.  In a time when everything is about convenience and time efficiency I appreciate it when someone takes the time to do it the right way.  I make a habit to make the majority of my family's food from scratch.  It tastes better and it's better for them!  When I go to a restaurant and pay someone to make my food, I appreciate when they do things the way I do them! That means a lot to me.

As you gaze upon this beautiful sight,
imagine a sweet chorus of angels singing.
    Our meal came out piping hot, and exceeding our high expectations!  My fetticcini came out in what appeared to be a serving bowl.  There was enough that I could have fed the entire family and had leftovers.  Tender, flavourful bits of chicken were on top of the rich creamy sauce (my mouth is watering a little just remembering it).  The kids raved about their pizza, declaring it the very best pizza that they had ever tasted!  As a matter of fact we ordered pizza last night and Grace said that while it was good, it was not half as good as Gino's.  

    A visit to Gino's pizza is worth the drive in and of itself to Easton, Pennsylvania.  For us it was the icing on the cake so to speak.  We had just finished an amazing day at The Crayola Experience and ended it with the most delicious meal.  We left Easton with smiles on our faces, ready for the long, long drive to Virgina Beach.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Our Family Vacation - The Crayola Experience

    You may be wondering why I have been MIA for a while. I was on vacation.  I haven't been on vacation this whole time, but I discovered a funny thing about vacations that I already knew.  You go on vacation to take a break from your everyday reality.  Sometimes we take a break because life is just too much to bear and it's take a vacation or a trip to the mental institution.  I don't know about you, but it takes a lot of effort to plan a vacation for us.  I research where we are going, what there is to do there, are there any discounts that I can take advantage of?  Then I begin to organize things for the vacation, little things for the kids to do in the car, window clings to decorate the car, car snacks.... the list goes on forever.  The week before the vacation I do a massive wash and "try" to clean the house.  You will notice that I put "try".  For me cleaning the house is always something I stink at, and then add to it all of the extra things.  There is nothing worse than coming home from an amazing vacation to a disgusting house and playing find that smell... trust me I've done it.  There is the packing that needs to be done, although inevitably I forget someone's something and they whine and we make purchases on our trip.  
    Planning a vacation is a lot of work, at least it is for me.  It takes time.  By taking that extra time in the planning I find that I enjoy the vacation all the more.  I love our family vacations.  They are a mixture of exploration, adventure and soul recharging.  This year's big family vacation was to Virginia Beach, Virginia.  It was an amazing vacation!  Over the next few blogs I will share our vacation adventure.  It was an amazing vacation ... but!  Here's the but... While on vacation the world stands still.  My life outside of the vacation ceases to exist.  The truth is that the outside world continues while I am not there, and everything that I should be doing while I am taking a reality break is still waiting for me at home, building up.  That is what happened on this vacation.  I came back so thoroughly recharged, heart, body and soul.  I came home to a massive pile of things that had piled up while I was away.  That is why there has been such a delay in my blogs, but no more delays... I give you "Our Family Vacation".

    Virginia Beach is about a 14 hour drive.  We debated driving through the night with the kids.  That is my favourite way to travel.  The roads are quiet, the kids are asleep in the back, and Christopher and I can enjoy some much overdue adult conversation, without interruption.  The downside is that we get no sleep and are a bit groggy for the first day of vacation.  Save money and drive through, and be sleepy or spend extra money and start the next day with energy?  This vacation we chose the latter.

    We stopped near Easton, Pennsylvania.  Why Easton you may ask?  Why the Crayola Experience?  It is quite amazing really.  We went back when Gracie was 4 and the twins were just a year.  We vowed to go back.  It is the perfect place to go for creative kids / adults who think they are kids (that would be me).   I staggered a little at the cost, it cost our family of 6 $108.00 to get in.  I quietly thought "This had better be worth it!"  It was.

Adult General Admission
 (Ages 16 - 64)
Adult General Admission: Regular Price-$17.99 Online Price-$15.99 Save-$2 Online
Not Valid for special events, including December 31.

Child General Admission
 (Ages 2 - 15)
Child General Admission: Regular Price-$17.99 Online Price-$15.99 Save-$2 Online
Not Valid for special events, including December 31.

    Part of the price of admission is an empty bag that includes three or four tokens.  The empty plastic bag will quickly become full of amazing art.   The tokens I will talk about later, but they were lots of fun.

    The first thing that hits you when you enter the doors is the smell of crayons.  I forget that crayons have a smell.  It is the smell of creativity, of childhood.  That smell that tells you you are near crayons.
The Crayola Experience is 4 floors of fun.  There are 21 different creative activities.  The first floor is the Crayola Store and the is free coat racks, which make the day so much more enjoyable not having to carry around a coat.  We began our Crayola Experience on the second floor.  We went in to the "Crayola Theatre" and watched how crayons are made.   It was pretty neat.  On our way out of the theatre we were handed a red crayon.

    After we learned how crayon are made, we went to this really neat area.  There were banks of tiny computers, and a white wall.  The kids created art on the computer, and then it magically appeared on the white wall.  The kids (and let's be honest Christopher and I) loved it.  We had to drag the kids away.

    There was a colouring area.  There was this neat area that took a picture of you and turned it into a colouring page.  Really neat.

    We went up to the fourth floor next.  It was pretty neat, because in the centre of the room the play structure from the third floor came up into the fourth floor.  The fourth floor was full of really creative ways to recycle crayons.

    I really loved the spin art.  You insert a crayon in the top, it melts it and then you pull a handle that spins the paper fast or slow.  Really neat!  I seem to be saying "neat" a lot.  Apparently just talking about our day makes me slide back into my child self, all that's missing from my many "neats" is 
"Neat - O".

    Next we went over the molding station.  There was a bank of machines, each with a picture over the top that showed what the crayons would mold into.  They put in broken crayons, the machine melted the broken crayons and it formed into a new crayon.  There were dinosaurs, cars, rings, so many different shapes.

    The last thing that we did on the forth floor was to draw pictures using melted crayons.  Really fun. You may want to go back to one of my earlier blogs to see how we recycled broken crayons

    There were huge containers that contained little pots of melted crayon also.  Again you may want to travel back in time and see how we did it.

    Instead of going over every single thing that we did, let me just say that it was worth every single cent of the $108.00 admission.   The last thing we did was to trade in our tokens that we received with our admission tickets.  There were crayon machines, marker vending machines, so many Crayola vending machines it was hard to decide.  My kids loved it!  Christopher and I loved it!  It's one of those rare places aimed at children that allows parents to take part in the fun too.  I noticed a very interesting thing when we were there.  I have noticed, much to my disgust that more often than not when children are out at events with their parents,  the children are watching themselves.  The parents are deeply involved with their smart phones.  Who could possibly be more important that you have to chat with when you are having this special quality time with your child?  I want to smack the phone out of their hands and give them a shake, tell them to wake up and be a part of their children's childhood!  I did not see a single smart phone at the Crayola Experience.  Every parent / grandparent/ adult was completely engrossed in their child(ren).  Every adult was engaged with their child(ren).  It was so beautiful.

    For your viewing enjoyment, I present to you our vacation photos to music... enjoy.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Introducing Gilligan's Island to my Technology Kids

    We had traveled over the border when I realized that the DVDs that I had purchased for the kids to watch on our 12 + hour drive were sitting on my bed.  It was going to be a very long drive to Virginia Beach!  It was time for an emergency Target stop.
    I gathered the cheap movies that I thought the kids would watch in my arms, fearful that they would not be "good enough".  I was searching titles when I came across the first season of Gilligan's Island for $10.00.  As a child I LOVED Gilligan's Island.  I even had a crush on the professor.  I would rush through the door after school to watch Gilligan's latest silliness.  It was already an old show when I began watching it, but it was not "old", it was still funny.  The DVD made it into my pile.
    It was not too far down the road that I slipped in the first disc.  It was met with some resistance, especially from Grace.  "You know this is black and white right Mom?  Oh this looks stupid!"  Oh no I thought, it's going to be a long ride filled with fighting over which DVD to watch first.  It was soon after I began to hear the first giggles.  "Oh no the Captain's squishing him" was howled.  Still Grace resisted, the glow of her ipod hovering in the back seat, she was too cool for such stupidity.  By the third episode there were four different and distinct howls of laughter floating up from the back seat.  Forgotten was the fact that this "old" show was in black and white, the slap stick comedy far out weighted it.  I smiled.
    For all the new flashy shows, the reality tv so cheaply made, the high definition screens, this old grainy black and white television show from the 1960's, before I was even a glimmer in my father's eye was holding my children's attention.  It was not only "holding their attention", it was demanding it.  I thought that they may have been bored by Gilligan by the third disc, but it was Grace who was begging for more.  For that most briefest moment my children those children held hostage by the new electronic gadgets were sharing my childhood.  We were sharing in that moment of childhood, and it was nostalgic and beautiful.
    I had that moment, you know that moment when the world seems crystal clear.  It was in that moment that I realized that perhaps as adults we are all too quick to shout out our disgust at children's reliance upon technology.  Maybe it's just laziness on our parts.  It's too easy to allow them them to become obsessed and distracted by their gadgets.  It's too easy to blame their lack of willingness to participate in real life on "this new technological society", instead of accepting the blame.  It's too easy to allow them to entertain themselves with bright flashy gadgets.  It's too easy and I admit to being just as guilty of the laziness.  It's too easy to allow them to take the easy route than to try something new that is really something old.  It's easier to listen to their shouts of "no", than to push the issue.  I have discovered that when I persevere and demand that they at least give things a chance, they usually like it.  If they don't like it, then I at least know that they have given it an honest try.  I am their parent, it's my job to expand their world, to open their minds to all of the possibilities.  This sounds like a silly thing to say of Gilligan's Island, but Gilligan's Island is only a small piece of that puzzle.  I introduced them to something new, something that they didn't think that they would like, and ended up loving.  I persevered, and feel all the better for it.  Being a good parent isn't about taking the easy way (although admittedly sometimes we all deserve a break and can opt for easy), it's about being a parent, a role model for your kids.  It's about helping them become the best person/ adult that they can be.  It's listening to who they are and what they like, but encouraging them to take risks, even if that risk is something so seemingly small as watching an old black and white silly television show.  In the end it's not about the television show, it's about encouraging them to step out of their box, to think with a bigger mind.
    I fought the battle of the Gilligan's Island, and came out victorious!  Now to introduce them to the Six Million Dollar Man, or maybe the Beverly Hillbillies....

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Coffee Filter Flowers

    My house looks a little like a cheap flower shop.  There are coffee filter flowers everywhere, all in beautiful rainbow colours. They are my latest obsession.  Between the kids and I there is hardly a bare spot in the house between our fairies and our coffee filter flowers.

    This craft is fun the whole way through, right from creating the beautiful rainbow colours to creating all of the different flowers.  It's hard to believe that the lowly coffee filter can create such pretty colours.  To begin with I was on the fence about using my coffee filters.  I mean those are important to my daily survival!  They cost money.  Then the rational part of my brain kicked in (thank goodness).  I don't use coffee filters any more since I received my glorious Keurig coffee maker.  When I make my coffee in the morning I feel like I should be hearing angel's sing.  The other thing that I reminded myself about (that dirty cheapskate in me) was that even if I did still use my coffee maker (which I don't since I began my love affair with my Keurig), I paid 99 cents for that package of coffee filters.  That's less than it would cost for a package of construction paper, so stop being such a cheap son of a gun.

    The process of dying the coffee filters is really fun (o.k. I admit it I am very childish).  I mixed my gel food colouring with water and put it into my little bowls.  I then placed the coffee filters into the little bowls.

    I marveled watching the filter wick up the dye.  Each batch was completely unique.  The colours all varied depending on how long I left them.

    When I took them out of the dye I placed them on a plate with paper towel on it.  I then put as many as I could fit on it to dry.  Where the filters touched, the dyes mixed creating a tie dye like finish.  They were beautiful, which is a really a funny thing to say about coffee filters.

    It was fun experimenting creating different flowers.  The easiest flowers were the poppy and the mum.  Here is how I created my mum...

    I folded my dried coffee filter in half and cut small strips along the pleated edge of the filter.  I then used the glue stick and covered the inside area with glue, and folded it in half.

Yes, that is a Barbie place-mat.  I didn't want to get glue on the table.

    I glued and folded it in half again.  

    The next step in my flower making project was to create a stem.  Lucky for me I had lots of thin wooden coffee stir sticks.  I cut a small strip of green tissue paper to fit the stick.  I then carefully used my glue stick and covered the surface of the tissue paper in glue.

    The stem is pretty easy.  I just rolled the coffee stick in the tissue paper, and voila a stem.

    Next I centered the coffee filter that I had folded in half and then half again.  I applied a layer of glue to the now quartered coffee filter, and wrapped it around the "stem" (coffee stir stick wrapped in tissue).

    I repeated this step, several times until I was happy with the fullness of my mum. 

     Do I think these coffee filters look like real flowers?  No, no they don't, but they were lots of fun to make.  I sat around the table with my girls, smiling, laughing and creating.  We all had fun.  I'm not really sure what we will do with all of these paper flowers, but that doesn't matter really.  What matters is that they were fun to make, and we spent time together.