Thursday, April 16, 2015

Let's Visit The Raptor Trust in Millington, NJ

We love, love LOVE  taking mini day trips around here, especially ones that don't cost us much (or anything at all).  One of our favorite places to visit (which is often overlooked, in my opinion) is The Raptor Trust in Millington, NJ.  It is no secret that I am a certified 'bird nerd.'  I can tell you what kind of bird is nearby just from hearing its song (who knew, right?).  I keep binoculars on my kitchen table in case a bird watching moment appears.  I have a hummingbird feeder and I actually cook the nectar myself (well, it's just sugar and water, but I cook it with love!).  I could go on and on, but I don't want you to start getting frightened about how weird I am.  Anyway...



What is The Raptor Trust?

The Raptor Trust has nothing to do with dinosaurs.  Nope, it's a wild bird rehabilitation center.  That means they actually rehabilitate injured birds (check out their website for more info on this).  The facility itself includes a bird hospital, exterior housing for several hundred birds and an education building. It's not a zoo, and I think it's all about educating our little ones when we visit.  They also offer programs, special events, and assistance if you find an injured bird of your own.

The Jersey Momma with trademark ponytail, at The Raptor Trust

How Much Does it Cost to Visit?

You can visit The Raptor Trust seven days a week and it is FREE.  Yes, you heard me, FREE.  However, there is a suggested donation of $2, and I highly suggest that you give them that  two bucks, if not more, if you plan on visiting their facility.  It's just a little box that you toss your donation in, and it helps to keep their wonderful place running.

The Jersey Grandma taking a break with The Jersey Momma's Boy

What Will I See at The Raptor Trust?

The Raptor Trust is a series of gravel paths with many different housing units for birds.  The last time we visited, we saw bald eagles, golden eagles, snowy owls, kestrels, vultures and a raven named Jake.  There were different kinds of owls and songbirds, as well (when we were there they had housed an albino Robin!). You can see each bird in its housing area and read a little plaque about the bird who resides there.

The beautiful Bald Eagles and 9/11 dedication at The Raptor Trust

We also enjoyed reading the dedication/donation plaques posted near some of the birds.  For instance, the bald eagle enclosure was dedicated to a man who lost his life in 9/11.  Another was dedicated to a beloved school teacher.

The plaque outside the bald eagles at The Raptor Trust
Richard "Rick" Rescorla was an amazing human being, by the way.  I didn't know him personally, but I googled his name after seeing this beautiful display dedicated to him.  If you're interested to read about who he was, check out this website in his honor.  The History Channel even put out a DVD about him, entitled The Man Who Predicted 9/11.

Whooo are you looking at?


JERSEY MOMMA TIPS:  

*The Raptor Trust is in a shady, wooded area, so piles of sunscreen are not needed.  However, you might want to bring along some bug spray depending on the season you are visiting.

One of the sunnier spots at The Raptor Trust

*You will be walking along a gravel path so be sure to wear comfy sneakers.  I had a friend come with us once and she brought along her stroller, but it was one of those all-terrain Jeep strollers.  If you are thinking of bringing a stroller, just know that it might not push so well through the gravelly stones.

The gravel paths were one of The Jersey Momma's Boy's favorite things to play with!

*There isn't a picnic area, so you can't really eat there.  Plan ahead about where you might need to stop for a meal.

*How much time you spend here is up to you.  You could probably go through the whole display in 30 minutes, or it might take you longer if you stop to linger by each bird.

*There is a small gift shop at the Raptor Trust but we have honestly never stopped in there (so unlike me, for sure!).  I don't think they sell "souvenirs," but rather, birding items and bird-lover items, if you know what I mean.

*Check out the Raptor Trust's website for hours and other important info.  There are instructions on where to park, directions, and info about educational classes that they hold there, too.  Find them here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

More Minecraft Books for Kids - Diary of a Minecraft Zombie Review

A while back, I posted an entry about Minecraft books for kids and inspiring boys to read (I also posted a fun craft called Make Your Own Minecraft Shrinky Dinks).  Since then, many people have asked me for more recommendations and titles of other Minecraft books on the market.  I have a great one for you today!  It's time to check out the Diary of a Minecraft Zombie series by Herobrine Books. And they're all available through my affiliate links at the end of this post.


First thing to note is that Minecraft doesn't have too many of its own books (as of the publication date of this entry anyway).  Other than a few guide books from Scholastic, you won't find much to entertain young minds (they want you playing, not reading, after all).  Luckily, a handful of independent authors have come forth and created their own fan fiction, based on the popular game (they are in no way affiliated with Mojang or the Minecraft company).  The last entry I wrote focused on the Winter Morgan series and the Mark Cheverton series.  This latest post is dedicated to the Herobrine Books collection.



What is Diary of a Minecraft Zombie About?

If you've ever read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, you'll get the general idea of these books. They are written from Zombie's point of view (from his actual diary, in fact).  You'll get a peek into his everyday life, and meet some of his good friends, too, like Skelee, Slimey, and Creepy.  You'll find that this Zombie's life isn't at all what you thought it would be.  He's actually just a regular kid- well, aside from the pungent odor and green skin.  He's even friends with a human- Steve- who lives on a farm (hey, you know him, right?).



What Age Group is Diary of a Minecraft Zombie for?

This series is recommended for ages 7 and up.  The Jersey Momma's Boy is 6 (almost 7, he's quick to point out) and he did just fine reading them on his own (he is a strong reader).  If your little one is not confident enough to read chapter books on his/her own, these make great read alouds, too.  And you know what? You might think your child can't read these on their own, but you'd be surprised.  When our book came in the mail (I was checking the mail on the way to the store), I handed it to The Jersey Momma's Boy in the backseat of the car.  "Look! Our book is here!" I exclaimed.  I drove halfway down the road and realized he was reading the whole time.  By the time we got to the store he said, "I need a bookmark!"  He had already finished the first two chapters!



Is There Anything Scary or Gross in These Books?

If your child is already used to playing Minecraft, then they know about all of the monsters who exist there- zombies, slime cubes, creepers, skeletons, spiders and more.  But they are portrayed as funny and kind of cute in this series, so I highly doubt anyone could be frightened by them.  Just like any kids' book, every now and then they'll mention boogers or butts, but nothing inappropriate and nothing more than to generate a giggle.  And there is one little section in Book 3 where Zombie talks about puberty with his dad, and how his voice is growing deeper.  I kind of glossed over that with The Jersey Momma's Boy.  I didn't want to explain to him what puberty was yet, so I just changed the wording around while I was reading it out loud.


What Sets These Apart from Other Minecraft Series?

Okay, so there are a few positives that I have to highlight here.  One is that this book series is cute and funny.  We were reading these out loud and actually laughing.  A few times I stopped and even said to my son, "You know, these are really funny!"  Even the Jersey Grandpa picked up the book and read a few pages and started laughing.  I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.  I also liked that they were in diary form.  That means Zombie writes in short sentences and the chapters are quick reads.  Another plus for this series are the pictures!  We were so happy to see little pictures throughout the pages- nothing fancy, just black and white images- but enough for my son to take notice and to break up the monotony of words.



What's Not So Great About This Series?

Some reviewers on Amazon complained that they didn't like the short sentences.  But this is a diary, remember, so it's written like one (and honestly, some of the reviewers on Amazon are kids, so I'm reviewing this from a parent's perspective).  Zombie tells you about his day and all of the things he's going through.  I kind of liked that.  It made the whole thing seem more personal, and it made Zombie really likable as a character.  Another complaint that Amazon reviewers mentioned was the lack of editing.  Sorry to say, they're right about that one.  Because Herobrine Books is an independent author (that means they published the book themselves through Amazon), they are their own editor, too.  So you will find some typos and mistakes throughout the pages.  Nothing awful, but don't be surprised if you spot some mistakes.  I think this is forgivable, though, given the low price of the book and the fact that it's self-published.


How Many Books are in the Series?

Right now (as of the publication date of this entry), there are four books in the Diary of a Minecraft Zombie series, with more to come (we've only read 1-3 so far!).  Herobrine also wrote some cool comic books based on Minecraft, too (which I'll review in another blog post) and various handbooks.



Where Can I Find Them?

All of Herobrine Books are available on Amazon.  You can click on my affiliate links below if you want to order them.

Disclaimer:  Herobrine Books approached me and asked me if I wanted to review Diary of a Minecraft Zombie.  I was so excited by this prospect that I went ahead and purchased my own copy. Herobrine then sent me the whole series in exchange for an honest review.  And since I wound up with two copies of Book 1, I decided to raffle one off to a lucky reader.  So head on over to my Facebook page if you want to win!










Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Review of PLANET SNOOPY in Dorney Park Allentown, PA

We're venturing out of the Garden State again, this time to explore Planet Snoopy inside of Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Who doesn't love Snoopy?  I kid you not that the absolute cuteness of this park will make your heart melt.



Where is Planet Snoopy?

Planet Snoopy is part of Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.  It's easily accessible from Rt 78- so easy, in fact, that you can see it from the highway.  It's very exciting for the little ones when you catch sight of the roller coasters and Snoopy's head off in the distance.  It costs about $15 to park for the day (as of the publication date of this entry).  The only positive is that the parking lot is fairly close to the park entrance. You won't need to take a tram, shuttle bus or airplane to actually get to the park.  Another positive is that Planet Snoopy is located right on the edge of Dorney Park, so as soon as you get into the park, just head to the left and you'll find Snoopy's giant arch welcoming you.  

Hi there, Snoopy!


What's Inside of Planet Snoopy?

It's just oozing cuteness!!  There are 16 rides in Planet Snoopy, as well as a live show, a souvenir shop and food stands.  The rides range in speed and intensity, so check out their website and signs before each ride to see if they are right for your child.


The park is adorable with its bright colors and characters everywhere.  Snoopy and his friends visit the park throughout the day, and there is a little show they put on for the kids in an outdoor theater with dancing and music.  This picture was from two years ago, but you can see how cute and interactive the characters are!


There are slow rides and fast rides.  One of my favorites was Snoopy's Rocket Express, which takes you for a slow ride high above the park.  You can see everything and it's very peaceful!

Snoopy's Rocket Express

There's a Snoopy Moon Bounce and a spinning Flying Ace Balloon Race, both of which are mild and fun.



My son's favorite ride by far was the roller coaster known as Woodstock Express.  We rode this TEN times.  Yes, TEN.  Not in a row, but TEN times total.  And I must say that it's a pretty fast roller coaster for such a small ride.  Adults can ride it but it's made for kids, so if you go along with your little one, be  prepared for some jostling.  I have some welts and bruises on my hip and back from the ride.  It's a small car and it goes fast, so I found myself banging into the sides of a car that was too small for me as we whipped around the turns!  This would probably not be a big deal if I had not gone on the ride ten times, but hey, my son loved it and I wanted to get my money's worth.


There are some great photo ops in Planet Snoopy.  They are also open weekends in the Fall, so you can get some great "Halloweenish" pictures with your favorite characters (but steer clear of Dorney Park, as that is covered in monsters and zombies at that time of year, especially after dark!).  



Food and Souvenirs

The food within Planet Snoopy is adorable, too.  It changes each year, but this year the kids' meals were in little cardboard doghouses.  You could also buy a giant plastic Woodstock thermos for 13.99 (as of this entry's publication date), with free refills throughout the day.  Seems like a lot, but it makes a cute souvenir.

A plastic straw pops out of the top of the hat!

The gift shop has a variety of cute Peanuts items in it.  Snoopy fans can't miss this, as there are t-shirts, mugs, stuffed animals, key chains (and more) that you can't find anywhere else.  We also made one of our favorite flattened pennies here.  We make these whenever we see a penny machine, and we have a special book to keep all of them in.  They make great little souvenirs!

How Much Are Tickets for Planet Snoopy?

I avoided telling you about cost until the end, because I didn't want you to write off the idea of going based just on cost alone.  An adult ticket at the gate (as of the publication date of this entry), will set you back about $44.00.  All tickets provide entrance to Planet Snoopy, Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.   There are varieties of packages and deals you can purchase online, so check their site for specific details.  There is also a section of the park called Dinosaurs Alive, but when we were there it was an added $5.00 fee if you wanted to attend.  But if you have a dinosaur fan on your hands, you might want to check it out!


 Jersey Momma Money Saving Tips:

*Online ticket pricing is about $10 cheaper, so your best bet is to purchase there.  You'll also avoid purchase lines at the gate.  You do have to pay a processing fee for buying online, but your total cost will still be less than buying at the gate.  You can save a few bucks by purchasing their "pick a date" ticket, which must be purchased 48 hours in advance of your visit.  

*They sometimes offer early bird prices (before certain dates in June) and discounts to Seniors, so check all of their info before purchasing.

*Coupons are available at select Dunkin Donuts, but you can't use it online, so those prices are still better than the coupon turns out to be.

*Some towns sell theme park tickets at discounted rates.  Check into your local recreation department to see if they offer this option.  It might be cheaper than the online price if you're lucky!  

*I also found that Costco sells a discounted ticket.  If you happen to be near a Costco, you might want to try this option instead.



JERSEY MOMMA PARK TIPS:

*food is expensive in the park (isn't it always?).  They say you are not supposed to bring food in, but we saw people with very small collapsible coolers eating inside the park.  We were able to bring in our small cooler with a little Lunchable for my son, and no one said anything.  But do this at your own risk because I assume it's not really within their rules!  

*water bottles are allowed within the park but they will make you throw out other drinks or a bottle that has been opened and refilled.

*even though we pre-purchased tickets, we still had to wait on line for a security bag check.  But it went quickly and the guards were polite.

*I avoid Dorney Park at all costs.  I think I am allergic to teenagers.  I didn't even like myself when I was a teenager, so I avoid them as much as possible (sorry, teens).  Dorney Park is full of them!  Luckily they seem to stay out of Planet Snoopy.  Planet Snoopy usually remains pretty calm with short, quick lines (if any).  But you CAN wander into the park if you have older children with you or if you think you want to visit some other rides.  One year we wandered out to hit the train rides.  The Zephyr is very unique and my son loved it. 

The Zephyr train ride inside Dorney Park

*There really isn't any stroller parking outside of the rides in Planet Snoopy, so you kind of have to just leave your stroller parked by the curbs.  I wore a very unfashionable fanny pack to keep my money in, so there were no valuables left in the stroller.  

*I avoid crowds at all costs, too, so I tend to do a lot of my day trips during the week.  I don't know what crowds are like on weekends, but I always suggest getting anywhere as early as you can.  

*Check out the Planet Snoopy website for ticket prices, hours and descriptions of rides. 

All in all, when it comes to cost, you have to remind yourself of this:  your child is only this young once. There is a small window of time to visit a place like this, before it becomes "too babyish."  So in my mind, I save up my money for the right moment, I cut corners when I can by bringing some food (okay, I admit that I even skipped lunch in the park to save a few bucks- I just had a pretzel) and I basically just suck it up.  I think, in the end, it's worth it to see the smile on my child's face and to make some amazing memories.  But you'll need to decide that for yourself.

Disclaimer:  I was NOT compensated in ANY way by Dorney Park or Planet Snoopy.  I'm just sharing my review with you because that's how I roll.  I do, however, have an affiliate connection with the Snoopy Store online, so feel free to shop there through the ad in the sidebar and buy something nice for yourself before you head to the park.  Ya can't go without a Snoopy shirt! 









Friday, April 10, 2015

Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie Recipe : Spring Peeps Bunny Cookie

Peeps are so cute that I tend to enjoy them even after Easter.  I bought an adorable Peeps bunny cookie pan from Candyland Crafts in Somerville (if  you live in Jersey, you must go visit them!) but then I got sick right around Easter time and I never had the chance to use it.  Never one to let a good, adorable cookie pan go to waste, I made a Spring bunny cookie for myself The Jersey Momma's Boy after the holiday.



You Will Need:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.  Spray your pan well with cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars.  Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

3.  Add egg and vanilla, mix well.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt.

4.  Stir in chocolate chips.

5.  Pat dough into your pan (you can grease your hands with cooking spray or oil if needed). Press almost to edges.

6.  Bake 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown.

7.  Cool on rack for five minutes, then gently flip cookie upside down to remove from pan.  You can place a cooling rack on top of the cookie before you flip the pan over so that the rack catches it easily.  Then transfer to a plate.

Let cool completely.  You can decorate the cookie with decorator frosting, or M&M's if the cookie is still warm.  Serve with ice cream, if desired!

We opted to put the eyes and nose on the flat side of the cookie, but you might choose to flip it over and decorate the "bumpy" side, too.

This cookie comes out tasting a lot like a blondie (meaning it's a little more cake-like with a soft texture, with the flavor of a blondie).  It has a nice flavor and is not overly sweet or chocolatey.  This recipe should work with most cookie pans.


Recipe adapted from Food.com and wilton.com

If you like-a my cookie pan, you can use my affiliate link below to find one on Amazon.  Or maybe pick another!  There are lots.





Thursday, April 9, 2015

Easy Pasta Primavera Recipe

My gallbladder is angry at me.  I don't know what I ever did to insult him, but he doesn't seem to want to stick around anymore.  He's built up his own rock collection and he wants to leave my body.  But I've got him under control for now, and he's not leaving unless I say he can go.  So until that day comes, I'm trying to take care of myself and eat foods that are lower in fat so as not to upset him.  This is no easy task for me, as I'm not really a fan of healthy foods.  Don't get me wrong, I know it's important to eat healthy.  I just know that the bad stuff always tastes so much better!  Anyway, here's a simple recipe I found for those who are slowly trying to transition into a healthier lifestyle or for anyone who needs a quick, healthy meal that tastes good, too.  It's also a great meal to make for company.


You Will Need:

12 oz. bow tie pasta (you can use whole wheat pasta or regular)
2 tsp. chopped garlic
1 (10oz.) bag frozen Italian style vegetables (can substitute with fresh veggies)
1 1/3 cups chicken broth (low sodium, low fat versions are fine, too)
3 Tbsp chopped, fresh basil
1/2 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese (can use low fat)
2 Tbsp olive oil for cooking

Step 1.  Cook pasta until al dente.  Drain.

Step 2.  In a large skillet pan, saute garlic in olive oil for roughly 30 seconds.  Add vegetables and broth.  Reduce heat and cook for 8 minutes or until vegetables are heated through and crisp/tender (if using fresh veggies, saute until tender).


Step 3.  Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.  Stir in pasta, 2 Tbsp basil (I used less basil because I don't like the basil taste to overpower the dish) and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Stir/toss carefully.  Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp basil, 1/4 cup parmesan and salt and pepper to taste (I actually didn't add salt or pepper since I used a vegetable based chicken broth) and serve. 

For a twist you can also add pieces of chopped up low fat, low sodium ham or grilled chicken.


Serves 4.  Roughly 470 calories per serving, 70g carbs, 20g protein, 12g fat, 10mg cholesterol, 700mg sodium, 5g fiber

Recipe adapted from parade.com