Friday, October 24, 2014

No Crowd Day Trips: Visiting Merrill Creek Reservoir

I was talking to a mom friend recently and we were discussing the horrific tragedy that occurred at Alstede Farm in Chester during their busy Harvest Festival.  If you hadn't heard, a 2 year old girl lost her life in a shuttle bus accident in their parking lot.  You can read about the accident here, but I really urge you to read more about the child (her name was Elizabeth) and say some prayers for her family instead of drawing more attention to Alstede's.  I enjoy visiting Alstede Farm off-season, but during the Fall season I stay far away, because the crowds are outrageous.

Anyway, this sad tragedy spawned a discussion about our families, and how much we value just spending time with them.  And truly, it doesn't matter where you go to do this.  You don't have to be at an expensive museum or a crowded orchard festival (check out my blog on alternative things to do in the Fall).  A lot of times we forget that there are simple family things we can do together, too.  This is not to say that I don't still enjoy a good day trip (I'm the Jersey Momma, after all, it's what I do, man!), but I also know that my son doesn't need to be entertained all the time.  We take day trips and visit cool places because we like to.  Not because we're supposed to.  According to an article about the accident in Chester, Elizabeth's family realized how over-crowded the farm was, and they were trying to leave.  So let's all 'leave' in honor of Elizabeth.  Let's take a no-crowd day trip.

Follow The Jersey Momma's Boy and The Jersey Grandma- they'll show you the way!

No Crowd Day Trips

Want to skip the museums, the festivals, the theme parks and crowds?  I will be featuring blog entries every few days (okay, maybe every few weeks, depending on when I find a chance to write them!) of places you can visit with your family that are free, relaxing, or that simply promote your chance to be as a family.  And if you have any suggestions of places like this that you want to share, feel free to post them in the comments section below.  So onward we go!  Our first stop...Merrill Creek Reservoir in Harmony Township!

What is Merrill Creek Reservoir?

Here's a direct quote from their website:  "Merrill Creek Reservoir is a 650-acre reservoir surrounded by a 290-acre Environmental Preserve and 2000 additional acres of woods and fields. Its basic purpose is to provide stored water that can be released to the Delaware River to make up for the evaporative water usage at certain electric generating units in times of low flow in the river. In addition to that basic purpose, Merrill Creek Reservoir provides a tranquil setting of water and land that allows people to interact with the natural environment."  And from a Momma's perspective:  Merrill Creek Reservoir is a beautiful place to visit with lots of walking/hiking paths, an awesome visitor's center with interactive nature exhibits for children, a gorgeous reservoir (like a giant lake) where you can bring your own boats and kayaks or fish.  But if you plan on boating or fishing, please read their regulations page so you know what to do.

Where is Merrill Creek Reservoir?

Merrill Creek is located in Washington, NJ, off of Rt. 57, not far from Harmony.  It's not far from Rt. 78.  It is open year round from dawn till dusk.

How Much Will it Cost Me?

Nothing.  Zero.  Zilch.  FREE.  Free, free!

What Can I Do at Merrill Creek Reservoir?

Now, this is where you have to be a little creative.  Put down your phone (unless you're taking pictures!), enjoy everything that's around you.  Hike, take walks, collect leaves, bird watch, skip stones on the water, walk your dog, find acorns- you name it!  The Jersey Momma's Boy always seems to find ways to entertain himself around dirt and rocks (and water!).

We walked the main path to the dam.  We saw chipmunks, turkeys, hawks, and even found a snake skin and animal tracks.

The Jersey Grandma and The Jersey Momma's boy didn't see the turkeys that just crossed in front of them!

Merrill Creek is also home to an awesome visitor's center.  You can walk through and see their displays, as well as visit some hands-on rooms for kids.  You can hike to the visitor's center from the other areas of the reservoir but if you have small children you might want to stop in the visitor's center first, then drive to the lower lot to walk/hike the paths and see the water (or vice versa).

You could push buttons to hear different bird calls.
Touch table
I don't think you fit in there, Jersey Grandpa!

Jersey Momma Tips

This is obviously a natural place, so wear good walking shoes and dress for the weather.  The paths are stroller friendly if you have one of those fancy, off-road type stroller jogger things, but for other strollers, not so much.

There is a bathroom in the visitor's center and portable potties near the parking lot

Be sure to check Merrill Creek's website if you plan on boating or fishing.  They have guidelines and regulations to follow about those kinds of things.

Keep in mind this is a nature preserve and not a "park," so you can't spread out a picnic blanket or start tossing around a football.  They do have an extensive list of prohibited items and activities!

If you bring food, there are benches around to sit and snack, but all garbage is carry in/carry out

Bikes are not allowed off the paved areas, and there are other regulations to be aware of, so check their guidelines for more info.

Bring your dog but be sure to pick up after him/her and keep them leashed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Review of Roadside America - What's Inside?

Somewhere in your travels between New Jersey and Pennsylvania (especially on your way to or from Hershey from Central or Western New Jersey) you might have noticed a little place by the side of the road, aptly named Roadside America.  Have you driven past there, wondering, what exactly is Roadside America?  Well, now you can find out!  Come with us as we visit Roadside America in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania!

Where is Roadside America?

Roadside America is located on Roadside Drive (right off the highway) in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania.  We would often pass it on our way back from Hershey.

It is open year round and all indoors.  We happened to go on one of the ickiest days ever during the month of December.  So icky that I didn't even want to get out of the car to take this picture.

How Much Will it Cost Me?

You have to appreciate the rates at Roadside America.  Seriously.  As of the publication date of this entry, children 5 and under are free.  Children 6-11 are $3.75 each, and for anyone 12 and older, it is $6.75 each.  

What Will I See There?

Roadside America is billed as 'The World's Greatest Miniature Indoor Village.'  If you have been to Northlandz in Flemington, you will find some similarities.  The biggest being that the people at Roadside America were very friendly!  We had some issues with the staff at Northlandz, and you can read about that here.

When you enter Roadside America you are greeted by a large souvenir-type shop that sells all kinds of train and miniature goodies.  After you pay your admission you enter what is basically a large room that you can walk through to view the displays.  There are ramps that go up and down so you can see the display at different levels (handicapped accessible, too).

There are buttons you can push and murals painted on the wall, and it surprisingly takes longer than you think to walk through and see everything (we were there a little over an hour, but the Jersey Momma's boy tends to go through things pretty quickly).  The attention to detail is amazing.  The light up buildings were beautiful.

There are waterfalls and lots of moving trains, amongst other things.

And as you walk towards the back you'll notice some bleachers, and you'll think, 'What are these for?'

Well, lo and behold, day turns to night at Roadside America!  You'll be treated to a little 'sundown show' where the lights will dim and it will become night time right before your eyes!  There is also a nice little tribute to America during the show, too.

This was our favorite part of the visit, and something Northlandz in Flemington definitely didn't have.

Is It Worth the Trip?

There are not many miniature displays like this around, so if you have a little train enthusiast in your house (or even if you don't- most kids still love it), it's worth stopping to see.  You can't beat the entrance price and it seems like a little piece of 'Americana' right there in the side of the road.

Things to Note

Just like Northlandz, Roadside America is old.  It has been around since the 1950's, and the collection of miniatures started even way before that.  So when you visit, don't expect a shiny new facility filled with modern technology.  But I don't feel that it was rundown or unkept.  Just old.  But I like old, and my kid never even noticed that anyway.

There are restrooms but they were old, too.  But no surprise there, eh?

I thought the gift shop had some cool things- there was a lot to see and the prices of things varied  We bought an ornament and a train whistle and some other goodies.  I love souvenir shopping, much to my family's dismay!

There is no place to eat here, nor would you want to, so don't think it's a place to stop and get a meal and see a show.  You'll have to fill your belly at one of the many restaurants along the highway.

There is also a Dutch gift shop in the same lot as Roadside America, but we skipped that.  We did snap this shot of these lovely Amish folk, though, on our way out.

Had it not been so rainy out we would have gotten out for a better funky photo op.

As always, be sure to check their website for hours, current admission prices and other information.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Review of the Lehigh Valley Zoo - Let's Go!

If you love visiting New Jersey zoos, like Turtle Back Zoo, Popcorn Park and Bergen County Zoo, you might enjoy taking a short trip across the border to the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, just outside of Allentown.

Where is Lehigh Valley Zoo?

Located off of Rt. 78 from New Jersey (and Rt 100 in Pennsylvania), this zoo might be a bit of a hike depending upon what area of Jersey you are from (Hunterdon county folks might not mind the trek, whereas those in Northern NJ might find the distance trying with kids!).  Check out their map and directions to determine its distance from where you are.

How Much Will it Cost Me?

The zoo is open year round and their admission prices change depending upon when you visit.  Children under 2 are always free, and regular ticket prices vary between $8 - $13 based on season (as of the publication date of this entry).  They also offer senior discounts and group discount rates, too.  Parking is free.  Woot!

Prairie dogs!!

What Will I See There?

According to their website, The Lehigh Valley Zoo has "approximately 300 animals representing 104 different species."  They list them all on their website, and some of them are quite different than what you'd find at New Jersey's Turtle Back Zoo.  What does Lehigh have that Turtle Back doesn't?  Let's see, just to name a few, there were zebras...


"That camel was THIS big, momma!"
A Kookaburra!!!  (I am a huge 'bird nerd' and was so excited to see this Australian native here!!).  The Kookaburra makes such an amazing sound.  I stood there for a half an hour, waiting for him to 'laugh,' but he never did.

"Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree..."

What's Special About the Lehigh Valley Zoo?

One of the best things about the Lehigh Valley Zoo (in my humble opinion) is the natural setting and the ability to get fairly close to the animals for viewing.  I especially liked the little walk-through area to see the wallabies up close.

And this emu looks so inquisitive, but we kept our hands clear just in case (remind me to tell you about the time we saw a boy get nipped by an emu on a preschool farm field trip...)

The penguins looked like little boys in tuxedos...

Okay, so I zoomed in with my camera. Maybe you can't get quite as close to these animals as these photos let on, but it's still pretty close.

What Else Can I Do at The Lehigh Valley Zoo?

So glad you asked!  There are some cute stops in between the animal viewing.  There's a fun little playground...

A bird feeding and walk-through area (swans, ducks and waterfowl feeding area as well as an exotic bird area walk-through)...

There is a petting zoo/barnyard feeding area, but the Jersey Momma's Boy thought these goats were a little too friendly.  Ha!

There are paddleboat rides (but call ahead for availability, because we went during the week and the paddleboat rides were closed)

And there was even a horse-pulled wagon ride, too (although I can't find anything about this on their website so I'm not sure if it's still available).

There is a cute garden area with 'insect friendly' areas and a 'pizza garden' with different herbs to view.

You can crawl inside an empty 'wolf den' (of course the Jersey Grandmomma had to climb in there, too!)

Watch your head, Jersey Grandmomma!

Where Can I Eat at The Lehigh Valley Zoo?

They actually had a good selection of food here, or you were welcome to bring your own food and picnic at any of their benches or picnic tables.  They had plenty of snack bars, ice cream and drinks to buy along the way.  Prices were reasonable.  My one complaint about their website is that it tells you nothing about their food and what they offer, or if the food stands are open year round.

Other Jersey Momma Tips

*Like most zoos, there is a lot of walking.  So bring the strollers if you need them (or you can rent them at the entrance) and a good pair of walking shoes.  Paths are well paved and open.  There are some up and down hilly areas to traverse, but nothing overly steep or tiring.  There are shady spots and sunny spots, so if you're going in warmer weather, you can find some areas of relief (and plenty of places to sit down).

*There are two souvenir shops- they are small but they offer a cute variety of things.

*The zoo has plenty of family friendly events during the year, so be sure to check their website or Facebook page to help plan your visit.

*There are restrooms located throughout the zoo and they have baby changing areas, too.  Not the most sparkling, newest bathrooms you will ever see, but they were clean enough!

*Bring your camera!  Do I even need to tell you that?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Awesome Painted Pumpkin Ideas from Around the Web

Get those paintbrushes ready!  It's pumpkin decorating season!  I searched the web for some of the coolest painted pumpkins I could find, and here's what I came up with.  I tried to give credit where it's due and link back when possible, so please know that these creations are not my own.  They certainly inspired me, so maybe they'll inspire you, too.  Happy painting!

Minion Pumpkins!!

The minions themselves would be proud of these perfect replicas created by CraftBerryBush.  If you visit her site, you'll see that she even included a fabulous tutorial on how you can make these yourself.

Minion Pumpkins from CraftBerryBush

Cookie Monster Pumpkin

This guy was found on the TruedeKids web page.  Apparently, he was made by their Aunt Jill, but there was no other info about him.  He sure seems easy enough!

Cookie Monster pumpkin from TreudeKids

Mummy Pumpkin

Okay, so maybe this guy's not painted, but what a clever idea!  The folks at BetterHomesandGardens created this fella.  It might even keep the squirrels from eating the pumpkin, don't you think?  Or am I the only one who has that problem?  Dang squirrels!

Mummy pumpkin from

The Jack o' Totem

Layla Palmer from TheLetteredCottage created this adorable "totem pole" for HGTVBlog.  There is a great tutorial for making your own on the HGTV page.

Jack o' Totem from HGTV blog

Candy Corn Pumpkins

Those folks at BetterHomeandGardens sure know their stuff.  Here's another cool painting idea, which seems pretty simple, especially if you use spray paint.  Candy corn pumpkins!

Candy corn pumpkins from

Angry Birds

There are a lot of examples of Angry Birds painted pumpkins on the web, but these beauties by MycksArtStudio were my favorite.  Not only Angry Birds, but Star Wars Angry Birds (The Jersey Momma Boy's favorite!)

Angry Birds Star Wars pumpkins from MycksArtStudio

Grumpy Cat Pumpkin

This one is my favorite.  I just love his face!  How can you not love Grumpy Cat?  Made by the artists over at SwellDesigner, there is a tutorial to help you make your own (aren't the people on the internet nice??)

Grumpy Cat pumpkin from SwellDesigner

R2D2 Pumpkin

I wish I knew who the actual artist of this fabulous Star Wars R2D2 pumpkin was.  He's from the TropicalTexana site, and he was part of a pumpkin painting display at a school.  All of the pumpkins on this page are amazingly adorable, and were made by children and families.  They are part of a "Storybook Pumpkin Patch" and are made to look like the characters from favorite books.  I think these are the most talented, creative families ever!  

R2D2 pumpkin, TropicalTexana

Hello Kitty Pumpkin

Anyone who knows me knows I love, love, love Hello Kitty.  So to find this painted version of Kitty herself was a real treat.  Ain't she pretty?  And once again, there is a basic tutorial on the DIYInspired site to help you create your own.

Hello Kitty pumpkin from DIYInspired

Now get out there and paint your own!  

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Review of Space Farms Zoo & Museum in Sussex, NJ

Space Farms Zoo and Museum in Sussex holds many memories for me.  I recall going there on a field trip as a child, and seeing the great bear Goliath with my own little eyes (I even bought a stuffed animal of him in the souvenir shop).  Back then you could feed the animals, and you were permitted to slide crackers to them down a little metal chute (you can still feed animals today but only in designated areas with special food!).

Goliath was alive when I first saw him as a child.  Here he is now!

Fast forward 30 years or so and I can tell you about visiting Space Farms with the Jersey Momma's Boy and my nephew, Joey.  Joey was two at the time, and our son was 3, I think.  It was the last happy trip we would take with Joey.  The last place we would see the boys, two sweet cousins, playing together.  Because a few months later, cancer would come and take Joey away from us.  Yes, cancer.  Brain cancer.  He passed away shortly before his fourth birthday.  He was my nephew.  My adorable, mischievous, silly, funny nephew and I loved him with all of my heart.  So I dedicate this blog entry to him, and I hope it helps everyone realize how important these little day trips are, and how much they can really mean in the grand scheme of things.

Joey at Space Farms

What is Space Farms Zoo and Museum?

I was always fascinated by the name of this place.  It sounds kind of like an interstellar animal haven or something, but really it's named after its owners, the Space Family.  It has a rich history that you can read about here.  They house over 500 animals and 100 different species.  There is a museum on site where you can see antique cars, farm equipment, artifacts and more.  So much to see!  There are free roaming ducks and chickens and even a playground.  They are open April through October.  It's been around for 85 years, and according to their website, they are the oldest New Jersey attraction still owned and operated by the original family.  Now that's impressive!!  You go, Space family!

Where is Space Farms Located?

Space Farms is located on Rt 519 in Sussex, NJ.  It's "out there" in true Jersey farmland!  But it's a nice ride, very scenic and you will spend enough time there to make the drive worthwhile.

How Much Will it Cost Me?

Always check their website for accurate pricing info, but as of the publication date of this blog entry, tickets for adults are $15.00, children 3-12 are $10.50.  Seniors 65 and up are $14.00.  Parking is free.  Yay for that, Space Farms!!

What Will I See There?

There is honestly so much to see, I don't know where to start.  Space Farms is composed of dirt paths and large stretches of land where you can walk and see a variety of different animals fairly close up.  There are bears, tigers, deer, prairie dogs, birds, snakes, pigs, deer, jaguar, just to name a few.  Check out some of these photos to see what I mean:

The boys and the bear!
Well hello there!

He was smelly, but oh so cool to look at!

There is also a fun playground, which is a nice break from the walking and animal viewing.

Relaxing at the playground.

Okay, here's where you'll laugh, but I don't have a single photo of the museum and antique cars.  Why, you ask?  Because my nephew and the Jersey Momma's Boy had so much fun in this section that they were literally disappearing around every corner to see all the cool things.  I had to move fast to keep up with them, I tell you!  Anyway, there are buildings filled with old cars, farm equipment, rocks and minerals, Native American artifacts and so much more.  The cars were really cool and most of them have little stories about where they came from.

Where Can We Eat at Space Farms?

Space Farms opened a brand new pizzeria on site last year called Extreme Pizza.  They are open even when the zoo is closed.  However,  it wasn't there when we visited, so I can't attest to the quality.  If you've been to Extreme Pizza and want to add a comment about it below, feel free!  I can, however, whole heartedly recommend The Chatterbox Drive-In, which is not far down the road in Augusta.  It's an AWESOME 1950's style eatery that is so much fun to visit.  They have great food and a fun atmosphere, with real cars inside.  

Inside the Chatterbox!

Things To Note

Space Farms is over 85 years old.  It is family owned and operated.  It is old (I just said that, right?).  There is history here.  So you can't go in there expecting a brand new, shiny facility.  If you were there 30 years ago like me, you'll find it largely unchanged.  Take, for example, their 'stroller' rental:

Are they serious about these?  Or are they here for history's sake?  Hmmm.
And when I was there, we found one bear still in an old-school cage.  

I felt sorry for this big guy.  I don't believe in caging wild animals or making them perform for guests.  If they are in a zoo for educational or rehabilitation purposes, then they should be in a natural setting behind secure fences.  

You'll find mixed reviews online about Space Farms, and most people who complain are complaining about how the animals are kept (like the bear above).  Some complained about the taxidermy in the main entrance hall (but I can understand the taxidermy, as some of the Space animals had been in this zoo for decades and they were part of the zoo's history.  I can understand the Space family wanting to preserve their memories).

Space Farms has some of the longest living wild animals in captivity, so they must be doing something right.  I would hope the state would not let an institution like this abuse its animals for 85 years.  I am not an animal expert or a zoologist,  but I would think that if the state knew something was wrong, they would have shut this place down years ago.  At least I hope they would have.

So if you plan on visiting, know that you are going to an 'old-school' zoo.  That means you will find animals in cages or areas with cement flooring.  If this is something that offends you, you might want to reconsider your trip.

Mr. Jersey Momma with our nephew and our boy.

Jersey Momma Tips:

*There's a lot of walking involved, so wear comfy shoes.

*Bring your own stroller or even a wagon (we had one of those Little Tikes wagons for the boys at the time.  It was very helpful!)

*You used to be able to picnic here but I couldn't find anything to attest to that on their website, so call ahead to be sure if you want to bring your own food.

*Bring hand-sanitizer, just in case you wind up feeding some of the animals!