Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: Jurassic Quest in Mason, MI

Our daughter is now 20 months old and she has been dino-obsessed for 6 months now. She knows the names of over 10 dinosaurs and she talks about dino eggs, dino bones, and dinosaurs endlessly. You can imagine our excitement when we found out an event called Jurassic Quest would be coming to Michigan. It was a dream come true! We immediately bought tickets to the exhibit on the weekend of February 10th, 2017, in Mason, MI.

We had originally intended to attend the event on February 11th, a Saturday, but after reading the Facebook posts from the Jurassic Quest page, we decided to go on Friday, February 10th, instead. The reason was that the expected lines and wait times was purported to be significantly larger on Saturdays than on Fridays. I contacted the Jurassic Quest page in order to see if my daughter would be tall enough to ride the rides and if it would be warm enough for her to attend. The first response I received was "We'll give you a refund," and the second was that she was plenty tall enough for the rides.

We drove 2.5 hours, and then we stopped and had lunch at the Mason McDonald's. It was very sweet. The locals were friendly and excited about the dinosaurs arriving at their fairgrounds. This was the Ingham County Fairgrounds. It was a very nice facility, but they were nowhere near large enough for the event, it turns out.

We arrived at 3:07pm and immediately noticed that the line was already several hundred people long and growing by the second. We had purchased the tickets in advance, so we skipped the queue and went straight in through and empty doorway intended for advanced ticket holders. I noticed a lot of parents with toddlers and babies in the line and felt very anxious about them waiting in the cold. It really made me upset. The average temperature that day was 26F, and the high was 36F and low 15F. Since the event didn't open until the afternoon, the temperature was cold and continued to drop the longer we were there.

Once we passed through the advanced ticket holders door, we were issued stamps and found that though we were there within 7 minutes of the event opening, the place was jam-packed with people. The first thing we saw was a small tent of dinosaurs. There were two large dinosaurs on one side and several smaller ones on the other. There were so many people and strollers that we could hardly get our daughter through to see them. It was also noticeably cold. It was not hot enough for her to remove her coat at any time in this tent.

We noticed was that the "heated tents" were not very warm. They were the size of party tents, very big, and the dinosaurs fit inside them, well, some of them did.

The bigger dinosaurs we were desperate to see were all outside in the cold, and it was simply too cold to keep our daughter out there for very long. We stopped long enough for a selfie, but had to move inside.

We fully intended to purchase tickets for the rides, and the ticket stand was a further two areas away. As we approached it, my husband decided that she might want to do more than 4 rides, which were $5 each, and bought her a wrist band for unlimited riding. The person manning the ticket tent argued with him about why she didn't already have one. Two and under did not need them to get in. He finally did get her a $20 wristband. Unfortunately, by the time he got the band, the lines were growing, and my daughter was only able to ride once. The patience of a 20 month old child can wear thin after they've just spent 2.5 hours in a vehicle.

The one ride she did ride was the walking dinosaurs. We waited 25 minutes in line, and when we got to the front, the line had more than doubled in length from when we waited. There were three attendants inside making the dinosaurs walk, and 3 more dinosaur rides plugged in and charging. One dinosaur was missing its leg from the shin down. It was just a metal post with a wheel attached. It was also dirty. I began to have second thoughts about my child riding the rides, but there was no way out of the line with our stroller, so there we were.

Once our daughter got onto the ride, it lasted approximately 3-5 minutes, walked across the area, and then it was over. The attendant was lovely, and my daughter enjoyed this ride.

We then went to the gift shop, where DVDs, toys, and merchandise were set up. We declined to buy anything from this area as the prices were a bit higher than we would have liked. I'm a couponer, so it's tough for me to spend the extra bucks when I know we can get the same stuff at home cheaper.

Next, we decided to check out the bounce house. It was one just for Tots called Tri-cera-tots. The age limit was 2. No one over that age was allowed in, and the funny thing is, for a bounce house for ages 2 and under, no parents were allowed in either. My child sat, scared, while a little boy tried to mule kick her in the face. There was no attendant inside. We pulled her out.

We went to the fossil area to look at the fossils, and that line took up another 15 minutes of waiting. The man in line behind us had just come from the Tricera-Tots area as well and expressed his disappointment in the event. His son was 2, and he had another child stepping on his neck in the bounce house. The bounce house had only one entrance, and you could not see all of the areas from outside as it had tall walls. He had no way to get inside and get his son, so he ran around and had the attendant help him. He was very concerned about the safety of kids at the event.

When it was our turn to dig, we got approximately 3-5 minutes to do that. Just enough for my daughter to become very interested in the large sandboxes, and the have a howling fit as we were forced to pull her away. The attendant watched her phone, looking at the timer. She blew a whistle to let everyone digging know that it was not our turn any longer.

We went to see the baby dinosaurs, and had hopes of seeing the walking dinos. This was back in the second tent and it was freezing cold. We had to keep gloves, hat, and coat on in this area. The baby dinosaur stopped for approximately 15 seconds, long enough for my child to touch its head. Then, the person holding it was gone. We never did see the walking dinosaurs. It was simply too cold to stay any longer, so we headed back to the car to make the 2.5 hour journey home.

All in all, I'd give Jurassic Quest 3 out of 10 stars. It was a good concept, but it was executed very poorly. It was comparable to the quality of a traveling carnival, not a big children's event. It was very dirty, the lines were long as they had obviously oversold themselves, and the thing was crammed into tents outdoors in freezing weather. Often there was no rhyme, reason, or signage in event areas. You just had to guess where you were headed. The folks working the door were nice, and the lady that held our daughter on the ride was wonderful, but the rest of the people working seemed like they were tired and unenthusiastic. I can imagine I would be too, if I had to do that job day in and day out. It seemed like a lot of work.

I would not recommend this event for any friends or family that I know, and I will definitely not be returning to the event. When I expressed my concerns, to the Facebook page, I was given an apology and they told me it was their first time in Michigan, and that they would work on bettering the event. I guess they must get a lot of complaints because in days since I have seen them mounting on Facebook during each subsequent event, with the same problems we experienced. The actual event looked nothing like the photographs they use to tout it. I'd avoid it if you've got a toddler or younger child. There are better dino events out there. We'll find them.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Learning To Talk: Building A Vocabulary

This may sound extreme, but I am giving you advice based on what worked for us.

From the start, we did not allow background TV in our home. We didn't allow any active TV either. Until our daughter was 1 year old, we did not turn on the TV. Why? Because we read studies that language development is dependent upon a few factors - and that background voices confuse the developing brain. My guess is that this helped us tremendously. Our daughter's first words were at 5 months old. She said, "corn bread."

From the beginning, we bought a lot of books. The best ones, we have found, are the Bright and Early Beginner books by Dr. Seuss. I'm linking an Amazon wishlist - no, you don't need to buy us any books - I made this list for everyone else to see the books that worked best for us. We read to her night and day. When she was big enough to reach the books on her own, she'd bring us entire piles of books to read. The library of books listed do a lot to help your child with phonemes. They're learning words that you don't speak to them every day, but are important to building their vocabulary. The rhyme scheme helps as well.

Update: January 24, 2017 - Our daughter is now 19 months old. She knows and says her entire alphabet, can sing about 40 songs, can count to 12, says and knows her shapes and her colors. She is VERY verbal, speaking in full sentences. She uses a multitude of words. At 12 months old, her vocabulary was up to 800 words. It's far surpassed that now.

She has her own iPad now and I highly recommend the Smart Baby Big Box of apps. It's wonderful. There's an app-bundle that I would recommend starting at about 18 months. She's so fast at this stuff. It's wonderful and it's taught her all of her shapes and confirmed her learning of colors.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Super Nom Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli

Yes, I know that macaroni and cheese is not that great for your child. I also know that it's a staple of childhood. Now that Kraft has no artificial colors or flavors, I feel OK giving it to my child every fortnight or so.

She is one year old, and she loves cheese. What kid doesn't? The problem is, I want to make sure that she gets her vegetables and fruits as well. She eats fruit like a pro but only likes broccoli and peas for veggies.

So, here's how we make boxed pasta taste great! (You may also use this same technique with your own pasta and homemade cheese sauce. We tend to do that more often).

1. Boil the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions. We are using Dory shaped pasta and that's 11-12 minutes. While cooking the pasta, steam 1/4-1/2 cup broccoli.

2. Drain pasta into a collander. Take the pot and rinse it thoroughly. Rinse the broccoli under cold water. 

3. Set the pot back on the stovetop over medium heat, and add the milk, butter, and cheese sauce. Stir well. Add a pinch of shredded cheddar cheese (we shred this ourselves using a cheese grater). Continue to stir. Allow the cheddar cheese to melt completely. The sauce may look sticky. Remove from heat.

4. Mince the broccoli using a chopper. We use one from Pampered Chef. It works great and is easy to clean. 

5. Add the noodles and broccoli to the cheese sauce and stir thoroughly. Allow to cool. Serve.  

Aha! Doesn't THAT taste delicious? Try substituting cauliflower as well. Nom!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Review: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Wipes

We tried Seventh Generation brand wipes, called Free & Clear wipes, recently. We got them for free as a part of their Generation Good community and we were very impressed with them. They're soft, thick, sturdy and held up through big blowouts! We were most impressed with the fact they they are alcohol, dye, paraben, phthalate, and fragrance free. This is important to me as E's skin is very sensitive and she often breaks out in a rash if she is exposed to alcohol products. We use a lot of 7th Generation products in our home already and began using them when we got pregnant. They work so well and we know they aren't harmful to the environment or to our child.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Toys, Toys, and More Toys

As you can see by my living room, we have a lot of toys downstairs right now. Toys go on rotation, because we have a big Toy Box full of them, too. We try to keep them different every week so that E stays entertained when she's learning and exploring. She loves to empty the little toy bin.

We also have a big playroom full of toys upstairs and a lot of toys in storage. Early on, we read that within the first year, the more new and different objects a baby encounters, the more their brain will develop. Who knows if this is true, but we wanted to give E the best chance.

So, which are her favourites? The vtech toys, hands down. She loves them! They talk and sing, and have lots of buttons to press. She has the Spin Around Learning Town, Sit To Stand Learning Walker and Sig To Stand Learn & Discover Table. She plays with these the most.

 Second is the Little Tikes piano. We all know the one, and she plays with it ALL of the time. If it's not in her toy rotation, she looks for it.

She also loves her classic Fisher Price stacking rings. She likes to examine each ring until she finds a favourite for the day.

Almost all of the toys E has were purchased for $1 or $2 at thrift stores. Some, her daddy had to take apart and fix. He's a whiz when it comes to electronics and motors. Most of the toys just needed a good scrub and fresh batteries. I would really suggest thrifting for toys before your little one arrives. Look up each toy and find out the recomemended age for use. Store them by age and open up a new box when your child advances. It's such fun!

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Art Of Buying Bibs

If you're anything like me, you bought everything you needed for your baby years before it was born. My husband and I had been married for almost six years before E came along, and my condition for having children was that I would get to decorate a nursery and a playroom before we got pregnant. Of course, this was a blast! We spent our weekends at thrift stores and I picked up some of the best items out there. This kid has 5 ride-on toys, 20 different kinds of blocks and about umpteen-bajillion baby toys. No, seriously, we had two of everything, including change tables, swings, bouncers, jumpers and bassinets. We just wanted everything to be perfect before our little one got here.

One thing we didn't count on was that we'd end up buying the wrong kind of bibs. I mean, a bib's a bib, right? Some of them have snaps and some have ties, and some are fluffier than others, but they all serve the same purpose - they catch spit up.

We got lucky from the very first day we brought E home. She has never spit up. Not once! She does have another fault, however. She doesn't latch. Not to a nipple, not to a bottle, and not to a sippy cup. She just drinks and the fluids come right down the side of her mouth. Our pediatrician laughed when we thought this was an issue. Our solution has been to use receiving blankets to catch the mess, and as E gets older, the mess becomes less. I wish we would have known how handy they are. We never use the little fabric bibs anymore, and only use receiving blankets for feeding. We would not have bought any newborn bibs at all had we known she'd never spit up!

She's 7 months old now and has been feeding herself since she turned 5 months old. She wants table food now and no baby purees, though she'll still eat a few Beech Nut products. Try to give her anything else, without disguising it in oatmeal, and she won't eat. That means that she's eating diced vegetables, fruit, bread, pasta, eggs and meat now. We're constantly making something new. 

Our nursery was finished in a Dr. Seuss theme and we had a Dr. Seuss baby shower with over 100 guests. We got everything we needed, and in that set we had two Dr. Seuss Bumkins bibs. I had no idea what they were except that they felt kind of like plastic and I wasn't sure how to wash them. 

Wash them we did, and now we KNOW what they're for! They're amazing at catching E's meals! She gets a little over eager about her favourite items, like broccoli, and she tends to spill a lot. We can easily refill her bowl 4-5 times per feeding by using the little pocket on her Bumkins bib. I wish I would have known about these when we first started buying. I'd have bought less of those little fabric bibs and a lot more of these! 

What are your thoughts on bibs? Is your kid a messy bottle taker? Do you have a lot of problems with spills and solid foods? What do you wish you had bought more?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Finished Kitchen

What a kitchen nightmare! With the baby here and getting ready to crawl, we decided to remove the old ceramic tile floors that had been badly damaged. Well, now we know why! They were laid overtop of uneven subflooring, on top of 6 other layers of floor! 

The guys pryed them up and found a ghastly mess near the island - water had been leaking for many years. Behind the paneling, the cupboard backs were rotten, the floor was rotten, and the 5 layers below were rotten, too. 

What started as a few hundred dollar, save yourself some money, DIY project had now turned into a cash disaster. We had to replace the entire island, all of the subflooring, the countertops (because we couldn't save the island counter and who wants a mismatched mess?), and the cupboards in the center.

The guys got to work cutting and patching the floors (which will never be level by the eay, because the room is comprised of an addition and another room where the old barn used to be).

We put in vinyl floors with the click and lay kind of panels. They look like wood but are waterproof and flexible to fit an uneven floor like ours.

Note to the wise: do not use staples on your subfloor. They pop thru the vinyl and make a mess. 

The sink also had to be replaced, so we opted for Delta products as they carry replacement parts here in town and are very sturdy. 

After the sink came the tiling of the island, and finally the other countertops. We went with tile with redgard under it, because quartz would have put us back a pretty penny. 

All told, this entire project (including the new sink and range) ran us about $3,500.