Saturday, May 23, 2015

Minecraft Comics for Kids - Plus, Minecraft Books and Crafts, too!

Minecraft can be all-consuming for kids.  I'm a gamer myself so I know that too much gaming is just no good.  You've got to find a healthy balance!  So I discovered some great Minecraft books for The Jersey Momma's Boy to read outside of his gaming, and then we even created some cool Minecraft Shrinky Dinks, too.  Reading was such a big hit that we even reviewed some more Minecraft books and hosted a giveaway on my Facebook page.  So what haven't we covered yet?  How about Minecraft Comic Books?

The authors of Diary of a Minecraft Zombie, Herobrine Books, contacted me a while back and asked if we would read their awesome book in exchange for an honest review (which we gladly did and you can read about that here).

We loved the book so much that we purchased the remaining books in the series all on our own (you can find all of these books through my Amazon affiliate links below).

These are the first three books in the series, but there are more!

Minecraft Comic Books for Kids

The fine fellows at Herobrine Books (you can find them on Facebook) sent us the first two books in their graphic novel series, too.  These are comic books at their finest!  The first is called The Ultimate Minecraft Comic Book (you can purchase it through my Amazon affiliate link at the end of this blog post).  The second is Steve and the Swamp Witch of Endor.  There is also a third (not pictured) called The Wither Attacks. There is not a fourth, as far as I know, and we are kind of bummed about that (hint, hint, guys!).

The books are large in size, soft cover and full color.  They are written in comic book style, so there are speech bubbles and panels to follow along with the story.  The Jersey Momma's Boy hadn't been exposed to many comic books and really enjoyed the style (although I did have to show him how to read it).  He liked reading each little panel while he viewed the pictures.

The other thing you'll notice right away (and this bothered a select few of the young reviewers on Amazon) is that the characters are not 'blocky.'  I really liked the fact that Steve was not a blockhead and that the Minecraft characters were depicted as real drawings.  The Jersey Momma's Boy love, love, loved that Steve's best friend was Piggy (and that Piggy even had his own diamond armor).  Because The Jersey Momma's Boy's best plushie friend just so happens to be Piggy, too.  See, here he is, making his internet debut:

Piggy!  You can see that he is well loved.

Are The Minecraft Comics Scary or Violent?

The comic books contain the same characters that the game does (zombies, witches, withers- you know, your standard mobs!).  So if your child is not frightened by them in the game, then they should be acceptable here, too.  I appreciated that the authors did not show graphic detail in each mob- they weren't overly frightening and were not bloody or gory in any of the scenes (see how in the photo below you can only view the zombie's feet?).  In fact, very young readers might find the storyline scarier than the actual characters, since Steve's dad tends to go missing a lot.

The back cover of the first comic book gives you a good idea of the story and illustrations inside.
The back cover of Volume 2
Important to Note

Keep in mind that these comics, as well as the other Minecraft books I've reviewed and mentioned, are primarily self-published and are not affiliated with the official Minecraft name.  I don't think this makes them any less wonderful, but it needs to be noted in case you think these were all created by the folks who brought you the game.  Most of the people who write Minecraft books are fans just like you and me.

More Minecraft Fun

Don't forget to check out my post about Minecraft Shrinky Dinks if you want to try your hand at crafting something for real.  Get it, Mine-craft?  Ha ha!

And, if you want to purchase any of the Minecraft books, comics or toys that I mentioned in this post, please feel free to use my Amazon affiliate links below.  That would make me so happy!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Teacher Gift Ideas: "Orange You Glad it's Summer?"

As a former teacher, I know how nice it is to receive a special gift from a student.  And as a mommy, I want to show my child's teachers how much I appreciate them and what a great job they did with him this year. Then there's the artsy side of me who wants to give them something kind of creative, too.  So off to Pinterest I went, in search of something cool.  And this is what I came up with- an 'Orange You Glad it's Summer?' theme (lots of cute orange goodies, or sunshine themed goodies).  Now, how to package them?  How about in a soda bottle?

You Will Need:

-a clean, empty liter bottle from any soda
-an exacto knife or something sharp to cut the bottle with
-clear packing tape (to reseal the bottle)
-curling ribbon
-cardstock paper for the label
-an assortment of 'orange themed' goodies
-orange tissue paper or confetti to pack in the bottom of the bottle

How to Make It

Wash and dry an empty soda bottle.  Use an exacto knife to cut the bottle in half (I did not separate the bottle completely, just enough to lift it open to fit things inside).  I used colored crinkle confetti at the bottom, then filled the bottle with my orange gifts.  My orange gifts were:

-Crystal Light Margarita drink mix
-a kitchen towel
-Orbit gum
-Sunny Delight juice pops (I bought a box and opened them up)
-Dunkin Donuts gift card

I resealed the bottle with clear packing tape (it helps if you can have someone hold the bottle in place while you tape it).

I then added some easy decorations- curly ribbon and some citrus stickers that I got at Target last year.  My son helped me make the orange tag, and I added another one that said "Bottled especially for..." I could put a label on there that says Orange You Glad It's Summer, but I don't want to cover up the visual of the goodies, so I'm not sure where to add it.

Jersey Momma Tips

The perfectionist in me sees room for improvement.  The next time I make one of these I will maybe cut the bottle up a little higher so I can fit the goodies in easier.  I'd also like to put the confetti ribbon at the top AND the bottom of the bottle to get rid of some of that empty space that you see at the top of the bottle now.  Too bad I didn't figure that out before I sealed it!

My son enjoyed putting the gifts together with me, which was kind of neat, too, because I think he'll be excited to present them to his teachers.

*Check out the FunFamilyCrafts page, where I originally found the idea for an orange tag, and the quote, Orange you glad it's summer?

If you have trouble finding orange gifts or need them in a jiffy, try using my handy affiliate links from Amazon below!  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How to Make Red, White and Blue Patriotic Cupcakes DIY

If you're in charge of bringing the dessert to a Memorial Day picnic or a 4th of July bash, then check out these patriotic cupcakes, which are actually super easy to make!

And if you happen to be near Hershey, PA, be sure to pick up some of these specialized Hershey's Kisses to round out your theme.  So cute, right?  I found these at Hershey's Chocolate World!

The little white papers inside the Kisses actually say "thank you" in honor of our service men and women.  So sweet.

Okay, so in celebration of the holidays, here's a quick and fun dessert you can make to bring to the barbecue.  Patriotic cupcakes!

Red, white and blue cupcakes are so easy to make, you won't believe it.  Here's what you need:


-a box of white cake mix (yellow won't work- you'll wind up with red, yellow and blue instead)
-cupcake liners
-food coloring

That's it!  Follow the box instructions to mix up the batter for your cupcakes.

Then divide the batter into three equal bowls.  Keep one bowl white, but dye one bowl red (use 18 drops to make the perfect shade, trust me on this one).  Dye the other batter bowl blue (use exactly 12 drops, I assure you!!).  Now you'll have three different colors of batter.

Put your cupcake liners in a cupcake pan.  Start by putting blue batter at the bottom of each cupcake liner (I used a cookie scoop to make it go faster), then add white on top of each blue.  VERY IMPORTANT:  try to spread each area of white out with a spoon so it covers the blue entirely (or as best you can).  If you leave too much blue showing, it will eventually leak up the sides of the cupcake when baking.  It will still look cool, but the end effect looks much better if it's just layered red, white and blue.  Then add your red on top of the white (make sure the red covers the white the same way you did with the blue).  Now bake according to the box instructions.  Frost with whatever vanilla frosting you have.  Ta da!

Have a great holiday, everyone!  Eat, swim and be merry, and remember that our country is an awesome place to live, and we should be thankful every day for those who fought (and are still fighting) to keep us free.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Review of Liberty Science Center

Every kid should have a chance to visit a Science Museum.  Seriously, it's one of the coolest ways to learn without even realizing you're learning!  You might have seen my review of the DaVinci Science Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  We visited there on a field trip.  But New Jersey is actually home to one of the best science centers around, Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.  If you're wondering what it's like there, if it's worth the trip, or even what a science center is, then read on, my friends!  I've got ya covered.  And keep in mind that I was NOT compensated by Liberty Science Center for this trip.  It's just me, sharing my opinions with you because I'm cool like that.

What is the Liberty Science Center?

On their Twitter page, LSC (I'm just going to abbreviate from now on- you get it, right?) refers to themselves as a 'wonder factory,' and I swear that's the best way to describe them!  They are open year round.

The Jersey Momma's Boy was excited to begin his journey through the LSC!

It's almost like a giant hands-on learning experience.  There are four floors with exhibits that range from animals to communication, infections to energy - you name it, there's learning going on.  There are tunnels, rock walls, animals, movies, and just about anything you can think of.  You MUST visit their website for a complete list of current exhibits, because they're always changing.  We were fortunate enough to be there for their Rubix Cube exhibit, but in the past we've seen Curious George exhibits, Avatar exhibits, New York City exhibits and more.

A view of the different floors of the Liberty Science Center

What Will I See at The Liberty Science Center?

There's literally too much to name.  But each floor holds different experiences.  The Jersey Momma's Boy (and most of the kids there) was fascinated by the giant sneezing nose in the Infection Connection.

This nose 'sneezes' every few minutes!
Try your hand at solar power racing!
I, myself, adore the Eat or Be Eaten exhibit, where you can see a variety of different animals and insects (baby tamarin monkeys had just been born when we visited).

Hello, little tamarin!
I also love the 'Our Hudson Home,' where you can see some of the beauty that the Hudson River offers. The fish of the Hudson were particularly fascinating!  Who knew they could get so big??  There's even a touch tank here for the kids, too.

They seem unreal, don't they?
I also liked the observation deck, where you could walk outside and see the New York City skyline.

Ahoy, Jersey Momma Boys!
Another exhibit that The Jersey Momma's Boy loves is the Wonder Why area.  Here he was able to climb a mini rock wall, make giant bubbles, test his arm strength, and more.

'I can do it!' says The Jersey Momma's Boy.
The Jersey Momma's Boy loves the life size d blocks!
Skyscraper was a beautiful and touching exhibit, with artifacts from 9/11 on display.  Although The Jersey Momma's Boy was too young yet, older children can 'walk the steel' beams high above the displays.  They can experience a 'hurricane in a box' (which is actually pretty funny to watch from the outside!), build with colorful blocks and more.

Building a masterpiece...
Inside the Skyscraper exhibit.
There is also an outdoor wildlife challenge that we have yet to experience.  The first time we visited was after Hurrican Sandy and the exhibit was closed.  The second time we visited, it was raining (the exhibit is open weather permitting).

You can see the wildlife challenge after Hurricane Sandy below, and the Freedom Tower being built in the NY Skyline above.

The Touch Tunnel

LSC is home to another cool exhibit called The Touch Tunnel.  Designed to show you what it's like to rely on all of your senses (not just your sight!) for navigation, the touch tunnel is a dark (and I mean dark) crawlspace type of tunnel.  Adults must accompany children under 7 (and this is a low tunnel, so adults must crouch/crawl if they follow their little ones in).  If you have a bad back, bad knees or are particularly tall, this is not the exhibit for you.  If your child is afraid of the dark, of confined spaces or narrow tunnels, this is not the exhibit for you!  I journeyed through with the Jersey Momma's Boy on more than one occasion.  The tunnel is pitch black, and you pretty much use your hands to navigate through, touching the carpeted walls for guidance (it only takes a few minutes to navigate through, but seems much longer.  Their site says ten minutes, but I would say it took us five.  I suppose it depends on how crowded it gets)).  One year we cheated a bit because The Jersey Momma's Boy had light up shoes, so they helped guide our way.  I also saw someone using the light from their cell phone to help (but that does kind of defeat the purpose!).  There are employees monitoring what's going on inside the tunnel at all times, and they can help anyone who might be in distress or get upset during the exploration (I think they have an emergency 'light on' switch if needed).  If you make it to the other side you can see a photo of yourself in the tunnel on their computer screens, and even have it emailed to yourself!  I'm quite proud of these pictures, believe it or not.

Is My Child the Right Age for Liberty Science Center?

I feel like LSC is right for any age.  Honestly, there's really something for everyone.  The I Explore area is designed specifically for ages 2-5 and contains mini animal exhibits, hands-on learning and fun climbing opportunities for little learners.

Older children can learn a lot from every exhibit.  The Energy Quest exhibit specifically has a lot of opportunities for higher level thinking.  Some of the exhibits were over my little one's head.  By that I mean that he was too little to understand them yet (he was 4 during our first visit and 6 during our second visit). But he still enjoyed experimenting and playing, so I think it kid of balances out.  When he gets older and we return again, he'll be better able to read more of the displays and understand the concepts.

IMAX Movies

For an added fee you can view LSC's current IMAX movies.  If you've never seen an IMAX movie before, they're truly incredible, with an amazing, wrap around screen and tiered level seating.  We did not take The Jersey Momma's Boy to the IMAX movies yet because I think he's a little too young (at age 6) to sit through them.  There was enough for us to see in the center itself that we didn't feel he needed to add in the movie experience, too.  Keep in mind that infants under 2 are not permitted in the IMAX theater.  The IMAX theater is situated inside the dome that you see from the outside of the building.  It's one of the first things you notice about the LSC!

Where Can I Eat at Liberty Science Center?

I actually really like the food at LSC.  It's basically a cafeteria but I really like their wood fired pizza.  They also have sandwiches and other hot meals available, as well as desserts, drinks and snacks.  Plenty of choices for picky eaters!  There's a lot to choose from and the eating area can get kind of crowded, so arrive before or after the lunch rush for best seating.  Prices were reasonable for a type of place such as this.

How Much Does Liberty Science Center Cost?

As always, be sure to check the LSC website for the latest ticket prices and cost (as of the publication date of this entry, children 2-12 were $15.75 each and adults were $19.75 each).  We tend to visit places like this during the week in the morning, so crowds are at their lowest.  But if you come during a busier time or on the weekends, the line for ticket purchase can be super long.  You might want to order tickets online in advance for that reason.  IMAX movies are an added fee.  You might be able to find coupons online or in the KidStuff coupon books that are sold in some schools.  Groupon and Living Social also have deals at times, so always search around on the internet for your best price.

There is ample parking at LSC and an overflow lot if necessary.  It states on their website that they charge a $7.00 parking fee, but the last time we went (during the week) there was no parking cost.  I'm not sure why that was.  Their website also offers extensive directions from all areas.

Souvenir Shop

This is one of my favorite souvenir shops to visit.  But if you've read my entries before, then you know The Jersey Momma's Boy and Mr. Jersey Momma are not big fans of souvenir shops.  So I always leave them in the Skyscraper! exhibit when I want to shop here (the shop is across from it).  The Jersey Momma's Boy builds his super structures out of blocks with Mr. Jersey Momma and I run off to look at all of the cool shirts, rocks, science books, exotic candy and other cool things that this funky shop has to offer.  They don't know what they're missing!!

Jersey Momma Tips

*strollers are permitted and there is a lot of walking, since this is a large place, so be sure to take along what you need for your little ones!

*LSC also hosts birthday parties, camps and special events, so keep that in mind if you're looking for a fun place to party!

*LSC is a popular place for camps, schools and various groups to visit.  Arrive early and pre-purchase tickets online if you can.  I recommend weekdays over weekends (pretty much anywhere, actually).  If you arrive at the same time as large groups, consider starting on a different floor than them (go from the top to the bottom)

*the bathrooms we visited were clean and family friendly, also plenty of them located on each floor, as well as water fountains.  There is even a nursing room available if you inquire at the front desk.

*the entire building is handicapped accessible and has elevators and stairs throughout

*LSC offers Teacher Appreciation Days and Special Needs Days, amongst other things.  Check out their website for more info!

*also to note here, the fabulous Liberty Humane Society is located right beyond the parking lot of the LSC.  Why not bring them a donation (here's a link to their wishlist) or stop in to find a furry friend after visiting the science center?

For my own sanity, I have to add here that I typed this entire entry with The Jersey Momma's Boy interrupting me (literally) every three minutes to show me a comic book he was working on.  But it was a pretty cool creation.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Jurassic Jersey: A Review of Field Station Dinosaurs

"Jurassic Jersey" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?  I thought the idea of Field Station Dinosaurs sounded really cool, but my little one is only 4, and not really into dinosaurs, so I thought this was one trip that could wait.  But then a friend of ours gave us tickets as a birthday gift, so off we went!  **Note:  If you'd like to plan your visit here, you'd better hurry.  The 2015 season is slated to be their last, due to developmental changes.

Keep in mind that our trip to Field Station Dinosaurs was last spring, so there have been a few additions since then.  As always, check out their website, for all of the latest info about the experience.  You can also purchase tickets online and view operating hours there.

Where and What is Field Station Dinosaurs?

Field Station Dinosaurs is located in Secaucus, and I must say, they do an amazing job of taking you back in time.  While there, you certainly don't feel like you're in Secaucus!  They even give you a little "passport"type book that you can get stamped along the way, as if you're a real paleontologist on an expedition.

It very much feels like you are on an expedition of sorts.  There are tents set up all over, and they really make you feel like you are an explorer on part of the journey.  What will you see here?  I mean, what is it?  People ask me that all the time.  Is it a museum?  Is it a park?  Well, it's kind of like an open-air museum, and kind of like a park.  You walk down gravelly stone paths and there are life-size dinosaurs tucked between the trees.  There are sound effects piped-in, and some of the dinosaurs are animated.

There are interesting facts posted about the dinosaurs and a map you can follow to each section of the experience.  Are the dinosaurs scary?  Maybe, a little bit.  You have to know your child.  If your little one is easily frightened, then maybe this isn't the place for you.  But if you have a dinosaur lover on your hands, then head on over!

What Will I See There?

There are also shows and hands-on experiences for visitors at Field Station, too.  Along the paths you will come upon large tents where you can watch 3D movies, play family games, and participate in workshops.  I have to admit that we did not do any of these.  Each event has a posted time, and our child is only 4.  We didn't feel like he was patient enough to wait around for each event, nor did we think he would want to sit through any of them.  But if you have kids maybe 8 or over, I would recommend trying out the shows, especially if you want to get your money's worth.  A list of their workshops and experience can be found on their "about" page on their website.

One show we did attend was an open-air show about a T-Rex ("Dinosaur Whodunit").  The T-Rex is actually a person in an extremely life-like costume.  You can see their legs but for some reason, the puppet seems awfully real! I kid you not, some children were literally TERRIFIED of this show, screaming and gasping when this mouth full of teeth came near them.  We sat more towards the back so my son didn't seem too scared, but I think he was a little on edge!

There was also a fossil digging experience for kids, and although my son enjoyed this, I think we were all a little confused about what we were digging for.  Were there real fossils hidden in there?  Fake ones?  Our directions were a little unclear, although my son did like taking the shovel and digging in the sand with the other kids.  But we never did find anything under the sand!

What Can I Eat There?

There are food stands in the park, but we didn't eat here so I can't tell you how good they are.  But the choices weren't bad- hamburgers and hot dogs, gourmet popcorn, etc.  We arrived early and left by lunchtime, so I guess we saved some bucks that way.

A rare, blurry appearance on camera by The Jersey Momma!

How Much Does it Cost?

Ticket prices vary depending upon what experience you want to buy.  As of the publication date of this entry,  general admission for adults and children over 1 is $15.  Add on the 3D movie and you're up to $20. You can get various pricing packages so be sure to check their website for details.  Parking is going to cost you an additional $10 (although they call this an "environmental donation").  The prices are somewhat different for this 2015 season, a little bit lower than last year and you now have the option to buy an "anytime" ticket, so you don't have to visit on a specific date.

Is it Worth the Trip?

My son really enjoyed Field Station Dinosaurs.  But remember that our tickets were a gift.  If we had to buy them ourselves, I might have waited a few years until my son was a little older (he was only 4 at the time of our visit).  That's a lot of money to shell out for just a few hours of dinosaur walk-through!  If he were a little older, we would have seen more of the shows, maybe gotten more for our money.  We were only there for a few hours, but you really could spend the whole day here if you experienced everything they have to offer.

Also keep in mind that this park is not going to be open much longer.  Due to changes in land ownership, the 2015 season will be Field Station Dinosaur's last!  Where will the dinos go??  We don't know that yet.

As I said before, though, if you have dinosaur fans in your home, you need to bring them.  It's a must-see!  I can imagine how exciting this would be for kids who just absolutely love dinosaurs, since the animatronic puppets are so life-like.  The park is open rain or shine, so plan your trip accordingly!

Jersey Momma Tips:

*there's a lot of walking and the venue is all outdoors, so dress accordingly

*we did not have problems with bugs in the Spring but I have read about others being bothered by mosquitoes.  You might want to bring along bug spray just in case.

*you can save money by purchasing tickets online

*Disclaimer:  I was NOT compensated by Field Station Dinosaurs for this review.  I visited and shared my opinion with you 'cause that's what I do.