The world is in a very interesting place in our history. Many of you are probably feeling like this mom is – overwhelmed, overprepared, and underprepared. Together we are facing life trying to stay healthy and safe and at the same time spending much more time at home working and learning. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to stay connected to our family and friends through our internet provider, Comcast. They’ve shared some information with me that is helpful for all of us as we navigate through the reality of life responding to COVID-19.
We received an overnight stay and waterpark passes to Castaway Bay in exchange for sharing the post below with our readers. All opinions are 100% our own. Read all the way to the bottom to hear how you can enter to win your own #CastawayBayGetaway!
Pittsburgh, we’ve had enough of the snow and cold this year, haven’t we? I know spring is really right around the corner, but I am anxious for everything it brings with it. To help combat the season, we loaded the family up in the van and hit the road for a quick (three-hour) road trip to Sandusky, Ohio for an overnight stay at Castaway Bay.
I received the guest post below from BJ, ‘
head radon professional at Home Radon Pros. He asked if he could share some information regarding the dangers of radon gas and the harmful effects it has on families in the Pittsburgh area. Although this post is contains sponsored content, I was interested in sharing this important message with you. All opinions are that of the author.
It is always fun to find something new in a place that is familiar. Greg and I got to take in a date and do just that at the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center while we were vacationing in his hometown of Myrtle Beach. Since Myrtle is a popular travel destination for Burghers, we teamed up with the museum and US Family Guide to tell you more about the experience. (We were provided tickets to this venue in exchange for our honest thoughts. All opinions are 100% our own.)
When you walk into the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center, there is no doubt in your mind that you are about to have an amazing time. If the gigantic King Kong doesn’t scream that, I don’t know what fun is! You can get your photo taken inside King Kong’s arms, we didn’t end up buying our photo and now I have remorse!
First Up: Hollywood Wax Museum
There are three experiences to choose from (but your best deal is to enjoy all three). We started with the Wax Museum because it was right there on the entry level. (Note, all floors are handicapped accessible, but the downstairs experiences are not exactly accessible, more on that later.)
Between two floors you will find many popular stars from movies, music, and pop culture. I encourage you to take photos with the figures and enjoy the prop stations that make selfies and photo shoots super fun. Greg and I had a blast and had the luck to go in the middle of a weekday so had much of the experience to ourselves. (It took us so long to get through that one of the employees joked that they thought they’d lost us!) Take your time, read the stories about the icons, and most of all, have fun!
Once you have gone through all of the figures, take your add on tickets and have some fun downstairs!
Outbreak – Dread the Undead
I have no pictures of this experience (they ask you to turn off your phone) but some funny memories. You see, I am a jumpy person and walking through this zombie outbreak experience definitely was a good level of thrills that made me jump. I mostly laughed, nothing was scary but it was fairly realistic and fun. Would I have done this as an experience by itself, no, but it was definitely worth the laughs.
Parent Tip: Do this one on your own or with your teens. My kids would have been frightened!
Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors
Mirror mazes are super tough! Greg and I were on a mission to save a princess trapped in the mirror maze and if it had been our own kid I think we might have failed. Eek. This was a good level of fun and trickery – we got lost more than once. I wish it was timed so we could have seen how we stacked up against others (because I’m competitive).
Parent Tip: The teens might not enjoy this but your toddlers might be too little and bump into the mirrors. Do this with your elementary/middle school kiddos!
Experience the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center
Located at 21st Avenue North and Highway 17 Bypass, Myrtle Beach’s Hollywood Wax Museum is a can’t miss building – there’s a giant ape climbing on it. My Readers receive $2 OFF ALL ACCESS PASS at the Myrtle Beach Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center when purchased here.
Disclaimer: I was provided with information about Myrtle Beach’s Hollywood Wax Museum through US Family Guide in order to write this post. All opinions are 100% my own.
Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center – Myrtle Beach
If you love to travel with family, I’m willing to bet that Myrtle Beach is on your list. My husband grew up there, we met there, Arianna was born there…so while it holds a special place in our hearts, we truly love vacationing there too.
One of the things that have changed since we left (and last visited) is the introduction of the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center. US Family Guide sent me some information on this complex and I’m thinking a visit is in order while we’re there:
The Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center is the best value in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. When was the last time you walked the red carpet with an A-List star or stepped into the spotlight with Hollywood royalty? At the Hollywood Wax Museum, you’ll get the chance to pose with your favorites while learning about their pets, pet peeves and accomplishments. Bring your adoring fans (friends & family) for fun photo ops! Are You the Chosen One? Find your way through the hidden corridors and save Princess Hannah in Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors. You’ll need to make your way through 288 potential turns among hundreds of mirrored walls and archways while enjoying other surprises along the way. It’s a modern-day fairy tale, where you’ll get lost and come out smiling! And finally, in Outbreak, you must stop a worldwide viral attack. Chemacorp might mean well with Alpha Strain, but the gene-altering substance turns humans into zombies. Shriek your way through the ransacked lab and rotting basement where zombie infection is rampant and aerosol attacks are unpredictable. Contain your fear? No way!
Yinz. Last week was a complete whirlwind for this working mom. I was away at a work training and came back to realize all the things need to be done to get into the back-to-school hustle. Ava and Isla will be starting next week and the Bigs go back after Labor Day. Time has flown this summer!
Luckily, after reading these tips for working moms to survive the back-to-school hustle, I feel like I am ahead of my mom game. For instance, we already ordered all the clothes online, they just need to make it to the dressers (or the laundry pile in our guest room). And I’m learning to stop saying sorry (at work, too) and know that I won’t be able to be everything to everyone (which yes does sometimes include my kids).
One thing I’m working on in the last few days of summer break is preparing for some moments
My family and I were invited to visit Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest for a weekend in exchange for our honest opinions. All opinions are 100% our own.
Ah, sweet summertime in Pittsburgh! For me, summers used to include camping in a tent at local campgrounds. Camping holds a special place in my heart (bugs and all) and I am so happy that my family is enjoying continuing the tradition. Truth be told, our stay at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ at Kozy Rest was more “glamping”, but it still got the ‘ol camping bug moving in us.
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest: Our Stay
Tucked about an hour north of Pittsburgh (straight up Route 8 through Butler) is an adorable and peaceful campground, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest. This campground is award-winning and family-centered and from the moment we drove on the property (in the middle of a storm), we could see why. Check-in started with a greeter, then a speedy key pick-up and an escort down to our cabin. Our guide showed us everything we’d need to know about the amenities of the cabin (like air conditioning) then left us to discover what we might like to do next from the list of activities.
With all those activities, I’ll tell you what we didn’t do – we didn’t check out the WiFi until I was cleaning up the last bits on Sunday morning. The WiFi works, but you’re not going to need it with all of those things to keep you busy – I promise.
We didn’t arrive in time to check out the Friday night movie, so we decided to settle in and get a “early” bedtime so we could be up and ready to check out the Jump Zone and bikes. Initially, we thought that we’d put the kids in the bedroom (with a single bunk over a double bed and space on the floor for an air mattress), but when we realized how short the loft space was, opted for that to be Ari and Evan’s space.
That might have been our first mistake – they woke up in the 6 AM hour and had us all (and probably everyone else around) awake too. The sun was up, they were too! As you can see, a nap did happen on Saturday afternoon between activities, phew!
Throughout the weekend, we took full advantage of all the free activities listed on that brochure and we basically in “divide and conquer” mode – Greg with the Bigs at things like Gaga Ball (which was new to us, but not the Bigs), the Frog Pond, and bike riding. I took the Twins to dance with “the bears”, check out cartoons, ride the train and fire truck. It was quite the busy time, but we still fit in a swim and lots of time on the bikes.
This video is just the start of all the fun we had! Check out more photos here!
Bottom line, we loved it and would really like to get back again this summer. While the cabins are fun and affordable considering all you get, we’d probably tent camp for “the real deal” experience (plus, the shower rooms have A/C!). Greg and I were “good exhausted” by the end of the trip. If there would be any downsides, six people in a “tiny house” is not always the most fun thing (Mama might have lost her mind a few times) and Ava didn’t drink enough water on Saturday and ended up dehydrated. Good reminders to fill those tanks!
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest: The Details
Campers can camp from April to October and enjoy themed weekends (our’s was Kids’ Carnival – check out this video to see some of the fun the whole camp had!) or bump into Yogi Bear™ and Boo Boo™. Camp options include tents, RV’s, yurts, and full-service luxury cabins (like we enjoyed). Sites include electric service, fire rings, and picnic tables. Pets are welcomed on some sites, too!
Amenities at Kozy Rest include laundry, swimming pool, pavilions, church services, and free WiFi. Activities vary based on the themed weekends, but there is a gem mining sluice, bikes to rent (included), Gaga Ball, shuffleboard, a playground, a jump zone, and more. There really is something for everyone to enjoy!
While I loved the paper activities sheet, I also downloaded their app which would alert me 15-minutes before an event was to start. This was super convenient!
One thing we didn’t do was to have Yogi Bear and Boo Boo come for bedtime stories. Personally, I think that would have capped off the second night nicely, but 1) our kids go to bed a little earlier than this (extra) service is offered and 2) until this weekend, Isla had never really wanted anything to do with characters. Next time!
LOVE IT? If you’re ready to get a reservation on your calendar, head over to the Kozy Rest website (pittsburghjellystone.com) and see what option works best for your family.
Hopefully, you can see that camping is a great way to have family fun and make timeless memories. When you make a reservation at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest, all you have to do is make a quick road-trip knowing the rest is waiting for you.
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest: A GIVEAWAY!
Our family has some pretty strong thoughts on the importance of pre-school learning. Both of school-age kids attended pre-k programs, and we’re hoping the twins will start in April. Until then, we’re working on some learning activities at home and in the region. (This post contains affiliate links.)
There is some compelling research about pre-school learning. The years before school age are vital to preparing – as a former teacher, I can attest to this! In our house, we are letting the girls explore toys like the Square Panda and Leap Pad to help with letter and number recognition as a starter.
News & Experts shared the information below with me, supporting our thoughts.
5 Reasons Pre-School Years Are Prime Time For Learning
Much of the discussion about education focuses on the K-12 years, but some early childhood education experts suggest serious learning can start even earlier and pay dividends for the child in years to come.
“Young children have the capacity at a very young age to be academically challenged, and we need to educate them strongly during those years instead of waiting until they are older,” says Alise McGregor, founder of Little Newtons (www.littlenewtons.com), an early education center with locations in Minnesota and Illinois.
“Children’s minds are like sponges when they are very young. Under age 5 is the most important time for development and our best opportunity to set up children for success. If we strongly educate children at a very young age, while their brains are so pliable, by the time they reach kindergarten, their brain capacity is much higher.”
Recent research confirms that the first five years of life are particularly important for the development of the child’s brain. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child reports that in the first few years, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second, building the brain’s architecture.
This growth of the brain’s network establishes a fertile foundation for learning, thus an opportunity to be better prepared for grade school and beyond, experts say. One analysis of several studies, “Impacts of Early Childhood Education on Medium- and Long-term Education,” showed that children exposed to high-quality pre-kindergarten education performed better academically in later years. Early education also led to higher graduation rates, fewer special education placements and less grade retention.
McGregor suggests five reasons parents should consider ramping up their pre-K child’s education:
• Socialization. Socialization with people other than the child’s family in a safe environment is an essential foundational element. “It’s important to introduce our children to other children and support their transition into their own friendship groups, and the earlier we do this, it helps children overcome shyness and gain self-confidence,” McGregor says.
• Personal experiences. These assist the brain’s organizational development and functioning in many situations, helping children develop learning skills as well as social and emotional abilities. “A good early-education center creates an environment where imagination, love and innovation all come together for a daily adventure,” McGregor says.
• Enthusiasm for Learning.
Our Christmas Letter is going digital! And in true Willis style, it’s a few days late but better late than never, right?
2017 has almost come to a close, meaning it is time for our annual Christmas letter. Admittedly, as parents of four kids, the year flew by. All of the kids have grown so much since last Christmas and it’s amazing to watch.
Arianna is in third grade and turned nine in October. In the spring, she finally got to play on the Kittanning Little League’s 7/8 Softball team (and she can’t wait to get started again). She had her last year as a Girl Scout and then joined our church’s M-Pact Girls in the fall. Arianna loves being a big sister, drawing, playing softball, cooking (and watching Top Chef Junior), and reading. She got a guitar for Christmas and hopes to learn how to play it soon!
Evan is in first grade and turned seven in December. He continues to love playing soccer as part of the YMCA’s sports program and also went to a soccer camp over the summer. He is still part of the Royal Rangers at church and is helping raise money to open an Outpost in Kenya. (This boy has a soul on fire!) He loves being the only boy, watching YouTube kids, adventuring with Daddy, and drawing.
Ava turned two in April. She is our wild one, don’t let her sweet looks fool you! We have to keep our eyes on her at all times as she is mischevious and daring, thinking she can hang with the Bigs. Playpens don’t work with her anymore, she knows how to escape! She loves being read to and hates bathtime.
Isla also turned two in April. She has been known to stare at the pretty girl in the mirror and has a certain way she likes to wear her hair clips. Isla thrives as the baby of the family and often acts like she’s the only kiddo. She loves to laugh and draw, sometimes on the couch (oops!).
We still have our two dogs, they’re aging but still playful when they want to be.
Greg starting working for a pharmacy delivery service in July and continues to drive Uber. He stays home with the twins during the day then swaps parenting duties off for the evening. He ran in the Marathon Relay in May and started a new blog series about his adventures exploring nature with the kids, “Wildlife Wednesdays“.
Becky continues to work as a Salesforce Admin for Excel4apps and has the blog, Thirty-One, Monat, and doTerra to keep her extra busy. She continues to do CrossFit at the Y and has some more distance running under her belt (Half Marathon and 10-Miler).
As a family we love going to our church, taking walks on the Rails to Trails (behind our house), and traveling. This year took us back to Wisconsin and Myrtle Beach.
We hope this letter finds you all well and full of health and happiness. Keep up with us here on the blog to see more of what’s going on in our lives.
The Willis Family (aka ‘lil Burghers)
Our dear family friend Ash has been given the Love Language of gifting. This Advent season, she has prepared an adorable Advent gift scavenger hunt for her nephew. We couldn’t help but swoon over it and thought you would, too.
Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt
Over the next twenty-four days (starting December 1), use these clues around your house to give your kids small gifts with this Advent gift scavenger hunt. You might opt to do books for all the days or go for treats, movies, or socks. The value of the gift is completely up to you. The point is to get your child reading the clues, using their imagination, and to enjoy a small gift from you!
With clues like “To find today’s fun it’s time to think. Look for the place where you put clothes that stink!”, your kiddos are sure to laugh and remember this new holiday tradition.
Can you just imagine the joy on your child’s face when they find the daily gift? Because Ash was so awesome, we are definitely tempted to pull this off with one sharable gift for the four kids.
We HIGHLY RECOMMEND scooping up these adorable advent stickers or this stamp set from Amazon to decorate your labels! This double-sided tape is also a great option for sticking the labels to your beautifully wrapped packages.
To get your copy of this printable for FREE, simply click here (Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt Labels) to download the PDF. If you LOVE this idea but want to customize the clues, you can download the .docx version of this printable here for just $1.00. (We are donating 50% of the profits to charity this Christmas season.)