Category Archives: Lifestyle Blogging

A Winter Break: Castaway Bay

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. keep reading

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Radon Gas: Your Home’s Silent Killer

I received the guest post below from BJ, ‘lil Burghers fan and
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. keep reading

Posted in Home and Garden Stuff, Parenting | Leave a comment

Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center

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.

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Myrtle Beach’s Hollywood Wax Museum

Source: US Family Guide

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! keep reading

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5 Tips for Working Moms to Survive the Back-to-School Hustle

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 now by writing my kids notes ahead of time. My hope is that I can just drop them in their backpacks when appropriate.

Check out a few more tips for more on how you can survive then comment which is your favorite OR share your tips!

5 Tips for Working Moms to Survive the Back-to-School Hustle

from Holly Caplan, author

From the moment my daughter got out of school in May to the end of July, was a complete blur. It was a blur of summer camp, work, travel, deadlines, proposals and pool parties.  The fact that she was going back to school in three weeks had not occurred to me. When it did, I panicked. Where did the time go? I frantically realized I had no idea what day school started and had to ask another mom. I got a brisk answer of  “August 20th,” which I like to call the “working mom fail” response. The guilt of not knowing when my child starts 2nd grade and feeling completely overwhelmed set in. Where do I begin? I’ve got to sign her up for fall activities, get a new backpack, lunchbox, some new clothes and also manage my job, meetings, travel and various work expectations. As working moms I think we feel there is no easy way to do all of this and keep a clear head and stay on task, but I have found five great tips for surviving back to school as a working mom:

1.    Order Online:
Spare yourself the hustle of shopping. No need to throw everyone in the car in 100-degree heat to head to your favorite retail super store, fend off the kiddos requests for toys and candy while back-to-school shopping. It is not worth it. Modern technology allows us the ability to order online for backpacks, clothing and supplies. Think of the time and energy you will save by sitting on your couch and checking some boxes and swiping “check out”. This also applies to grocery shopping too, which is becoming more and more common. Download the app for Shipt or Amazon Prime and let them do the grocery shopping for you. Do it a day or two before school starts. The kids can make their requests so they get to put some creativity into their lunchbox choices.  Other positives are that it isn’t expensive to shop online and it saves money because you avoid over-buying in a store.

2.    Let the Laundry Lie:
Where does your laundry lie? Mine sits on a bed in the guest room.
Clean, yet unfolded. But clean. The point here is, let your laundry lie. It is okay to let some things slip during back -to -school time. You will have so much on your plate as it is, don’t let the mundane domestic stuff get to you. Not having every thing completed or accomplished around the house is okay. You will not get a ticket or a fine for letting some things in the household fall behind. Give yourself permission to know that it is okay if you don’t get everything done. It is completely normal, and you will eventually catch up.

3.    Get Your Routine Back:
In the summer our routines are typically off. As I mentioned, it can feel like a complete blur when so much is going on.  Activities, camp and work will run you, instead of you running them. No shock there. Bringing structure and school back into your life can be a struggle, but welcome it because it brings the return of normalcy.  Give yourself a cushion returning to the routine by practicing earlier bedtimes and waking times week before school starts. This will get us parents and kids back on schedule. Also, create a family calendar with upcoming school activities and your work schedule to make sure that all planets are aligned, and if not, this gives you time to create a family management strategy.

4.    Be Guilt Free: keep reading

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Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest

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. 

Connect with Kozy Rest on Facebook and YouTube to see more of the fun that’s in store!

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest: A GIVEAWAY! keep reading

Posted in Camping, Giveaways, Pittsburgh Fun, Travel | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

5 Reasons Pre-School Years Are Prime Time For Learning

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.)

Pre-School Learning

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. keep reading

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2017 Christmas Letter

Our Christmas Letter is going digital! And in true Willis style, it’s a few days late but better late than never, right?

Merry Christmas!

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.

Merry Christmas!

Love,

The Willis Family (aka ‘lil Burghers)

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Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt

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.)

TIPS:

  • Print on a laser printer using cardstock
  • Use these clues along with your Elf on the Shelf tradition to help take the pressure off of the creativity around what your Elf has to be “doing” each night!
  • Make sure you’ve checked out our list of favorite books if you’re going the book route for the Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt!
  • keep reading

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    Wildlife Wednesday: Catching Blue Crabs in Myrtle Beach

    Sometimes you catch crabs on vacation. Sometimes the crabs catch you.

    Last month we went on vacation to Myrtle Beach and stayed at a resort right by the ocean. I grew up in a town not far from MB, but regrettably did not take advantage of my proximity to the beach as often as I should have. The resort is located near a marsh inlet which proved to be an excellent source of wildlife! I will write more about the diverse ecosystem in another post, but for now, I want to talk about Crabs!

    When we first got to the inlet, I noticed several large Blue Crabs in the shallow water so in I went. I was not really prepared for this endeavor so I was forced to use my hands. Finally with the aid of some well placed sand, I was able to grab the crab by the back of it’s shell and bring it out of the water.

    He was not too happy. My sister was filming and had stopped recording when I spotted another crab with only one pincer. I figured it would be an easy catch, and while holding the first crab, nabbed the second by it’s lone claw. Here was my mistake. I took my eyes off of the first crab, and he knew it. Another family had come over  to see what was going on and witnessed what happened next.

    My sister began recording again briefly as I tried to figure out how to get the crab to release me. It was not as simple as I had hoped and every time someone moved (like when the woman came closer to take a picture), he would clamp down harder. One thing I learned on vacation…crabs are ornery!!

    He held onto my finger for probably 10 or 15 minutes, periodically applying added pressure while I laid in the shallow water contemplating my life decisions. I eventually decided that I wasn’t going to go out like that, took a deep breath and jerked my hand out of the water. The crab gave one last parting pinch and then let go, falling back into the water and scuttled away, I’m sure cursing the silly human who dared challenge his domain.

    Once I was finally freed, we called it a day and headed back to our room so that I could lick my wounds (figuratively of course). The next day my mom and sisters brought a net so that we could safely continue exploring. As I said, we found many creatures, but for this post, we will focus on the crabs. Almost immediately upon returning to the inlet, we hauled in a nice sized crustacean and the twins were amazed!

    After catching several larger crabs, we began noticing many juvenile crabs scurrying about. There were crabs of all sizes, but even the smaller ones were mean and would grab anything that entered the pinch zone.

    Eventually we found some that were small enough to pose no threat so the kids got to be more involved. It was very interesting to see how unique each crab was. They all seemed to be great at posing for pictures.

    Once the kids got up the courage to hold the crabs, they were hooked!

    Literally every crab we saw they wanted to catch and hold. I had to warn them that some of the smaller ones could still pinch. I am so proud of my brave explorers!

    We soon discovered that we needed to be extra cautious when wading through the shallow waters of the inlet. As soon as Evan released one of the baby crabs, it buried itself under the sand and was nearly invisible. Next time I’m thinking water shoes are a must!

    These animals are beautiful and amazing, but as I explained to the kids, they are wild animals and are not meant to be kept as pets. As with most of our adventures, we observe and release the critters we catch; that way they will be around for other kids to enjoy for years to come.

    Be sure to check out our next post to see what other incredible creatures we discovered, and subscribe to the lilburghers Youtube channel for all of our latest adventures.

    Until next time, happy herping, ya’ll!

    Posted in Wildlife Wednesday | 1 Comment