Sunday, April 22, 2012

Maine Maple Weekend

Maine has a wonderful tradition called, "Maine Maple Sunday", where all of the maple syrup producers in the area open their doors to visitors, often including maple samples and tours of their facilities.  It is commonly on a Sunday, so we missed it last year.  This year, though, some friends invited us to go with them on Saturday, so I packed the children in the car and we headed up North!

(Unfortunately the Mr. was working, so we took lots of pictures to show him later...)

First stop - Hilltop Boilers

We met our friends at the Hilltop Boiler maple farm.  We started out our visit with a Scavenger Hunt - each child was supposed to fill it in with pictures or descriptions to answer various questions about things they saw around the farm.

Of course, we had to climb all over the various tractors around the farm!

We also got to have a tour of the facility, where they showed us the boilers and explained all about how they make maple syrup.  It smelled sooooooo good!

The highlight of the visit, of course, (well, for me, at least) was the samples!  They had pancakes with maple syrup, maple cream with pretzels, ice cream with maple syrup (yum!!) and, my personal favorite, maple fudge.  Heaven!!!

We visited the animals (cows, calves and pigs) and learned that Wiggles is TERRIFIED of barns (at least that one!)

We listened to some great Christian country music (I think you would call it....) - Red Flannel Hash.  I even caught Wiggles dancing on video! :)

Sap Lugging Contest - The farmer gave each child a bucket of 'sap' (water), and they were supposed to run all the way to the bale of hay, around it, and back.  If they returned in under 14 seconds (without spilling any sap), they won the prize.  All of our children did very well - Grins ran it in 14 seconds, and Angel surprised us all by coming in at 13 seconds and winning her very own (huge!) Maple Whoopie Pie!  Apparently, our kids were born to run (like their daddy!).

Angel wins the prize!
We were having so much fun, the children and I decided to head over to another nearby Maple Farm - Sugar Hill Boilers.  (Since we had an hour drive back home, none of us were anxious to climb back in the car quite yet!)  There, we got to sample some maple cotton candy (yum!), enjoyed more maple samples, and even got our faces painted!!

Grins chose a 'monster truck':

Angel wanted to be a puppy (of course!):

And Wiggles selected a 'kitty' face:

Imagine our surprise when we returned home and received a phone call that Angel had won the Scavenger hunt contest!  So we headed back the following weekend for her to select her prize (maple syrup and some maple fudge), and had even more fun, getting a more detailed tour of the farm, etc.  It was cute watching her select her prize....they said she could choose $10 worth of maple products from the store.  At first she selected a very tall lighthouse shaped bottle for $10.  Then she changed her mind and chose one with a lobster on it.  Then she wanted a snowman bottle to give to Grandma.  At last, she finally settled on a smaller bottle that was easier to pour, and some fudge.  When I asked if she was certain (since she kept changing her mind), she looked up and whispered "I definitely have the best deal now!"  She was quite proud of her winnings, especially when she learned that they even printed her name in the newspaper! Two wins in one day - she's one lucky girl!

Oh, and I may have finally figured out how to upload videos on here!  Check out Wiggles dancing to the beat:

New York City on a Budget

This past week, a friend of ours in a similar financial position (family of 5 also living on a Resident's meager salary) asked how we were possibly able to afford our recent trip to New York City.  Though we didn't do anything 'special', she couldn't believe we had spent so little, so I promised to account for every dime we spent and show her.  So this post is mainly for her. :)

On our budget, we are only able to save $50 per month toward travel.  As of February, we had $300 in our 'travel' fund.  We (especially the Mr.!!!) really wanted to visit New York City for February vacation, so we decided that, if we could do it for $300 or under, we would go!  After doing some research, we decided we could spend 3 days and 2 nights there and come in right at budget.

Here's our cost breakdown:

~Transportation - $176
         ~Gas (we drove 5 1/2 hours each way): $120
         ~Tolls: $27
         $10 on the Maine Turnpike ($5 each way)
         $5 in random tolls ($3 for a bridge, .75 another spot)
         Lincoln Tunnel $12 (we first went to the Holland tunnel and, upon learning it was $12 to cross, changed our route and headed (far out of the way) to the Lincoln tunnel, only to learn that it, too, was $12!  Some costs are inevitable!)
         ~Public Transportation: $29
         Staten Island Ferry - FREE
         PATH train $2 per adult each way when purchasing card in advance ($8 per day for our family)
         Bus $5 ($2.50 per adult - we took the bus one day when we were going from the PATHs station to the 911 Memorial - a couple of miles that we didn't want to walk)

~Lodging: $140 (We stayed (2 nights) in a hotel in Jersey City, just a short (8 min) train ride away from Manhattan.  It was only $70 per night (including taxes and fees!), and included free parking and a continental breakfast.  It was certainly not the Four Seasons, but it was safe, clean, and only for 2 nights!)

~Food: $38
         Breakfast - continental breakfast was included in our hotel (it was meager, but it was only for 2 days!)
         Lunch - $10 (We were driving there during lunch time the first day, so we ate a picnic lunch that we had packed that day.  Our second and 3rd days, we purchased 5 hot dogs / pretzels from stands on the street at $1 each and ate fruits and veggies we had brought with us.)
         Dinner - $10 (We ate a picnic dinner that we brought with us the first 2 nights - chicken sandwiches, salad, and fresh fruit.  The third night, we splurged on Pizza and salad at COSTCO - 3 slices at $2 ea plus a $4 salad - we wanted to get their delicious chocolate almond ice cream bar for dessert but they were sold out!)
         Other - $18 - a small bag of M & Ms at the M & M Store (HUGE splurge - we didn't realize it would be this much when we were getting them, but we didn't feel honest about not purchasing M & Ms we had poured into the bag!)

~Entertainment: $18
         $18 - 4 tickets ($4.50 each) for the ToysRUs Ferris Wheel
         Central Park Playground with huge slide FREE
         Central Park Hike FREE
         Central Park rock climbing FREE
         Seeing Statue of Liberty from Jersey Shore Park - FREE
         Brooklyn Children's Museum FREE with our Children's Museum Pass  (There were at least 8 museums in NYC we could have visited for free with our Children's museum pass, but ran out of time!)
         ToysRUS with lots to see / toys to play with / play house to visit FREE
         FAOSchwarz with a giant piano to run and play on / toys to play with / lots to see FREE
         M & M store with games to play and free samples FREE

Grand Total: $372 for a 3 day trip to NYC

So, as you can see, we came out $72 over budget, but we took $38 out of our monthly food budget for the food, and $34 out of our monthly gas budget, because we eat and drive even when we are home, so we would have spent money on gas and food regardless of whether or not we were travelling.



Last week at Family Home Evening, the children requested a 'giant cookie' for dessert.  Being the very fun-loving and 'cool' mom that I am, I, of course, consented. :)  (I mean, really, you can't say 'no' to those faces!!)

The Mr. even made it home just in time to enjoy the treat together.  

**Note: I realize this is a silly post.  I just wanted to document it for future proof that I do, in fact, honor some of my childrens' silly requests! :)

Brooklyn Children's Museum

While we were in NYC, we decided to head across the Brooklyn Bridge to check out the Brooklyn Children's Museum - and are we glad we did!  We spent several hours and stayed until closing and enjoyed every minute of it!

Upon entering the museum, one is greeted by a large, brightly lit tunnel, housing a water feature.

I love seeing the various culture exhibits in the different Children's Museums we visit....

Angel and Wiggles enjoyed the Asian basket boat (and chinese hats!)

Grins enjoyed practicing his penmanship on Chinese characters.

And who doesn't want to dress up as a Dragon?!

One room featured dance shows from many different cultures, as well as corresponding dance outfits to try on.  Wiggles decided to mix all of the cultures at once and dance her own jig:

And sweet Angel, ever the dancer, tried to dress up and dance each different culture's show with precision.

What Children's Museum would be complete without some sort of supermarket?  Angel wrote herself a little shopping list and straightaway got to work....

Grins helped, of course.

Upstairs we found a 'circle' room, offering various different exhibits involving circles.  One of the exhibits displayed how things spin, and featured the most adorable 3 year old! :)

Wiggles also enjoyed pulling on the pulleys

Wiggles built this bridge completely on her own!  One minute I saw her lifting a block, the next, I looked back and found her placing the keystone!  My baby is growing up!

Building blocks can always keep my children occupied for hours!

While most Children's Museums include some of the 'standard' exhibits, such as bubble making or water features, supermarkets, and cultural exhibits, I am always anxious to see what sort of unique exhibits each Children's museum has!  Brooklyn offers a "Pizza and Spumoni Shop", where the children serve as waiters/waitresses and seat parents at tables, offer menus and collect orders, then return to the kitchen to create pizzas (from felt ingredients) and spumoni.  What fun!!

We also really enjoyed the moped/ motor scooter!  Wiggles surprised me and made me laugh when she said, "(Angel), you be the boy, and I'll be the girl.  You sit here (in front) and I'll sit behind you and hug you."  I have no idea where she came up with that, but it was hilarious!  And Angel, the good sport, went along with it.

The circle exhibit also included a giant tire - we found all of the children hiding in it at one point! :)

Angel the artist LOVED the little easel desks the museum offered....I would love to build her one of these!

This is the reason I don't have many pictures of's so difficult to keep all 3 children interested in the same exhibits for the same amounts of time (with their different age levels, attention spans, and interests), so early on, we ended up 'splitting up' - the Mr. with Grins, and me with the girls.  Grins very much enjoyed the very rare one-on-one Daddy time!  And I very much enjoyed having an extra set of hands/eyes to help with my 3 busy little explorers!!

Grins and Gears.

All in all, a wonderful day!!