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As my kids get older, I'm less and less eager to get them "stuff." You know what I mean: those random trendy gifts that get played with twice before being forgotten forever. Those cheap toys that break immediately upon opening.

I'm also intrigued that as my girls get older, they are less and less inclined toward stuff. Thanks to the era of Netflix and Apple TV, they are rarely in front of commercials. Which means they aren't aware or interested in the millions of lackluster toys that the media bombards them with. I appreciate that they don't have the "gimmies" or looking for the next big thing just because.

Often, when asked about gifts, my girls resort to 3 simple categories: books, crafts and games. I absolutely love this! As you may recall, Hubby is an English teacher, so there is no limit on the amount of books that are allowed to be brought into our home. Crafts are a fun and creative way to spend time. Sometimes we even just get them each a ream of computer paper and a fresh pack of colored pencils and they are good to go!

In recent years, we've really embraced having Family Game Night. The girls love the classics, but are always eager to try something new. Which is why I've really fallen in love with ThinkFun games. They are always putting out new and intriguing products, all of which are steeped in education. 

We had a blast last year with a few of their new games, and this year is no exception. Make sure to add these games to your Wish List!


Roller Coaster Challenge
In this thrilling engineering challenge, players get to build their very own roller coasters. Start by choosing a challenge card and setting up the pieces to match. Then, players use the remaining pieces to build a working roller coaster that meets the build conditions on their challenge card. Roller Coaster Challenge incorporates elements of a logic puzzle, while also allowing for the creativity that stems from free-form building. Once you have solved each challenge, you get to watch a real coaster car glide down the track, complete with dips, curves, and loops! Roller Coaster Challenge earned American Specialty Toy Retailer Association’s (ASTRA) Best Toys for Kids Award and National Parenting Products Award! (Ages 6+)  
                                                      Available on Amazon - $29.99


//CODE: Rover Control
Prepared for a programming space mission? In this 40-challenge game two Rovers have been sent to explore Mars. The trouble is, the Rovers are programmed to travel on color and most of the pathways were left colorless in a dust storm. You’ll need to call on your critical thinking skills to correctly color the pathways so the Rovers stay on course. Challenges introduce “decision points,” “loops,” and “increment instructions” as you progress--all advanced computational skills that are delicately embedded into a fun play experience and will have you thinking like a true programmer. (Ages 8+) 
Available on Amazon - $14.99



Color Cube Sudoku
Flip and rearrange all 9 Color Cubes on the 3 x 3 tray until each color appears once in every row and column. It will take more than a couple flips of a cube to master this brilliant Sudoku puzzle. Once you’ve conquered the traditional Sudoku pattern, give your brain a real workout with our fun Bonus Challenges! Color Cube Sudoku is a Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner and earned finalist status in American Specialty Toy Retailer Association’s (ASTRA) Best Toys for Kids! (Ages 8+)
Available on Amazon - $19.99 





Other gift ideas













Hope you and yours have a happy holiday!
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So, summer is here. And while I was so done with making lunches, waking irritated sleepy children and running to get to the bus stop on time just a few weeks ago, I've reached that point in the summer where I begin eyeing up when the next school year begins.

Don't get me wrong: I love the chance for my girls to relax and take a break from the stress of school over the summer. What I don't like? The squabbling and bickering and the incessant proclamations of boredom that I encounter each day. (How are you bored?! We have an entire yard, neighbor kids, camps and a room dedicated solely to your toys at your disposal?! GO OUTSIDE ALREADY).

I may be slightly hyperbolic here. But one true concern I have is the lack of learning that often happens during the summer. Do I want my kids to relax? Absolutely? But do I want them to continue to learn, engage, explore and discover? 100%.

So I am absolutely STOKED by the Franklin Institute's new exhibit, Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature



The Franklin Institute shares:

Explore the mathematical patterns of the natural world at Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature! From the nested spirals of a sunflower’s seeds to the ridges of a majestic mountain range, this stunning interactive exhibit provides an introduction to patterns and how math surrounds us every day. Lose yourself in an elaborate mirror maze—the stunning centerpiece of the exhibit—and challenge yourself to discover how geometry, tessellations, and repetitions can unlock the secrets of the world around you.

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT MY KIDS NEED: learning but the sneaky kind where it's a ton of fun and they don't even realize they are learning stuff. #ParentingWin.

We're heading there this month to check out this exhibit (stay tuned: I'll report back here on the blog and share our experience on social media!), but figured you might want to get some sneaky learning in too.

SO.

The kind people of Franklin Institute have offered to give one of my dear readers a family 4 pack of tickets to the Mirror Maze Exhibit (a $100 value!). Enter the giveaway below to win!

If you are anxious to get your learn on immediately, here's a code to get $3.00 off your daytime tickets. Just use promo code MMYBLOG* to receive $3.00 off up to 4 adult, daytime tickets to A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature. To redeem the code, contact us 215-448-1200 or visit fi.edu.

*$3 off Daytime Adult Admission tickets to A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature. Limit 4 tickets per person. Includes General Admission to The Franklin Institute. Cannot be combined with any other offer or discount. Upgrades available on-site for IMAX and 3D Theater. Redeemable online or over the phone. Processing fees

The Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature exhibit runs through September 4, 2017.

Visit the Franklin Institute on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Franklin Institute is located at 222 North 20th Street in Philadelphia.

Disclosure: The Franklin Institute provided tickets to Mirror Maze in exchange for this post. All opinions are 100% my own.

GIVEAWAY
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Have you ever been so swept up in a play that it was hard to come back to reality? Maybe the characters were so endearing or the music was so catchy or the set was so mesmerizing, but living in the world of that play for 2 acts was a delight you weren't ready to give up. Sometimes you have the fortune of being in the audience of a production that truly reaches your heart in a way you weren't quite prepared for.

The setting for our recent visit to our fave local theatre, Arden Theatre Company, was perfection: blue skies, fluffy clouds and a warm breeze that brought Philadelphia to life the way beautiful spring days have a habit of doing. My girls woke up chipper (which, believe me, is a smaller miracle in and of itself), and we hit little traffic on our drive in. Could I be dreaming?

We arrived at Arden and found that we'd be experiencing the show on the Arcadia Stage, which was upstairs and new to us. My family is quite fond of the main F. Otto Haas Stage, but it is always a treat to see how a production plays out (pun intended) in a different setting. 

Once everyone arrived, it was time for the show to begin. And from the moment Tony Lawton came on stage as George MacDonald to weave the ages-old tale, I was completely taken in by the world of The Light Princess.



To say that we enjoyed ourselves would be an understatement. I have enjoyed every show that I've had the privilege of seeing at Arden, but this may be one of my favorites. I'll get into my reasons why in just a moment. But The Light Princess is just the perfect storm of actors, set design, music and writing. I loved every second of it, as did my girls. There was so much giggling at the silliness and banter on stage, as well as seriousness during the heartfelt moments (quite a feat in a theatre filled with elementary-aged kiddos!). 

Friends? Hear me now: this is a show you do not want to miss. If you're still unconvinced, here are 5 compelling reasons to get your tickets now (pssst: you also have until Monday to enter to win a family 4-pack, too!): 



The Arcadia StageThis stage is somewhat smaller if you are used to the main stage downstairs. But I loved the intimacy and how the cast used the room (aisles and all!) to make us all a part of the story. The feel of the stage is more casual, which is actually something I welcome with kids. The best part is that there's really no bad seat in the house. In such a small room, everyone has a great view, and the front row is truly front and center.


Old Story, New DigsI have a special place in my heart for George MacDonald's The Light Princess, as it is a story Hubby used to read the girls when they were small. He is such a fun writer, so it is fitting that someone as talented as Tony Lawton took on writing the Arden adaptation. Tony did an amazing job making the story relatable and "digestable"for the young audience, as well as peppering in a lot of silliness and humor to a story that has some dark and worrisome plot points. 


The CastThe cast. OH, the cast! I couldn't have imagined better actors for each part, some of which had double duty on dual roles. With a stage so close to the audience, we quickly got used to experiencing just how dynamic each actor was. (Real talk: I liked them all equally, so don't ask me to pick a favorite.)

I found Brett Ashley Robinson so completely effervescent as the The Princess, and Alex Bechtel's Witch hilarious and creepy. The kids enjoyed seeing Tony Lawton take on several quick assorted roles as narrator, throwing on a simple item of clothing to distinguish himself from MacDonald. Emily Gardner Xu Hall and Rob Tucker as the King and Queen were both funny and lovable as they worked to find a way to help their daughter.


The MusicHere's one of my favorite things about The Light Princess: it was written by a cast member and the music was composed by a cast member. So after the show, I was able to actually meet Tony and Alex in person and share my praise for the show! Alex's musical scores were fantastic - catchy and capturing the feeling of each moment of the play. Each character seemed to have their own "sound," which all came together for a harmonious production soundtrack.

Also, speaking of the cast, they are not only gifted actors, but gifted musicians as well! Each character played one if not several instruments during the production!


The SetThe set design for The Light Princess used the Arcadia Stage space so well. The play begins with simple staging, and as the characters come on stage, they each help to build up a portion of the set: moving the piano, hanging a picture, mounting clouds on lights. I loved their use of layering to make the stage feel bigger and deeper. The backdrop for scenes at the Lake, several large swaths of blue fabric are stretched across the stage at various heights, giving the effect of rippling water. It was magic!


If you go and see The Light Princess, I'd love to hear about YOUR experience! The production will be running until June 4, 2017.

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We are a family who advocates for the arts, so we've been intentional to expose our girls to many forms of creativity. Art. Music. Film. And, of course, theatre. As early as we felt they could handle it, Hubby and I have taken them to see various productions, mainly children's theatre. Not only does this exposure help build an appreciation for the arts, but also what is expected of them as an audience member.

As a theatre goer, one of my favorite experiences is to see a book or play I've read come to life on stage or screen. While I'm a harsh critic of books-to-movie films, I love comparing and contrasting. I enjoy seeing if the characters are visually how I'd imagined them in my mind.

So I am excited for the newest production to take the Arden Theatre stage, The Light Princess. This is a story that we read to the girls when they were young, so they are familiar with the tale. This lighthearted story is perfect for kids of all ages - and with the amazing cast and crew at the Arden, I know it will be equally compelling on stage!



The Arden Theater will be presenting The Light Princess, adapted from the story by George MacDonald, with book and lyrics by Tony Lawton and original music by Alex Bechtel. Steve Pacek directs. The production will be running until June 4, 2017.
Rob Tucker as the King (left), Emily Gardner Xu Hall as the Queen (right) and Brett Robinson as the Princess in the world premiere of the musical THE LIGHT PRINCESS at Arden Theatre Company through June 4, 2017. www.ardentheatre.org. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Based on the Scottish legend by George MacDonald, The Light Princess tells the story of a teenager who has no gravity of any kind – in addition to having no feelings for others she floats in the air, unable to ever touch the ground. Filled with wonderful characters and a beguiling score, this enchanting, clever and wickedly funny new musical will delight kids and parents alike.
Stay tuned: we'll be seeing the show this week, and I will be back with pictures and review!
THE LIGHT PRINCESS includes weekday matinee performances for students and weekend performances for families. Single ticket prices are $18 - $36, with discounts available for groups of 20 or more, seniors, students, military, and educators. Call the Arden Box Office at 215.922.1122, visit www.ardentheatre.org or walk-up at the box office at 40 N. 2nd Street in Old City, Philadelphia.

**Giveaway**
Enter to win a voucher for a 4-pack of tickets to see The Light Princess with YOUR family this Spring!

How to enter: Leave a comment with who you would take with you to see the show. 

That's it!


Giveaway will run until next Wednesday, May 3. Winner will be announced on Thursday, May 4. One entry per person.

Photo Credit: Mark Garvin.
Disclosure: I was provided 4 tickets to see a preview of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates in return for this post. All opinions are my own.

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This post and giveaway are sponsored by GIANT Food Stores.

There is something that happens emotionally when the days start to stretch out, with the sun setting later and the breeze becoming warmer and the air offering the faintest scent of lilacs.

Friends? It's SPRING. 

And I'm FOR IT.

It's the time of year that the fam and I spend more time outside, we ready our garden for planting and sneeze a lot because allergies are no joke. 

And just as the earth goes through a rebirth during this season, so does my meal planning. I embrace the fresh flavors of fresh produce and the charred savoriness of grilled food.

So I am especially stoked to embrace this season's newest limited time original offering from Giant Food Stores:






THIS IS NOT EVEN A JOKE, PEOPLE.

Giant, in all of their amazingness, has introduced one of the most spring-iest and summer-iest flavors of all time: TOASTED COCONUT! We're talking toasted coconut everything: coconut cookies, coconut flavored water, coconut pancake and waffle mix, coconut gouda, coconut granola, coconut hummus, coconut popcorn shrimp (YES I DID), and (be still, my heart) toasted coconut ice cream.




Can we get a collective ::swoon:: happening right now?

Are you ready to dive in head first to this flavor season? In honor of the limited-time Toasted Coconut product line, Giant is giving one of my readers a $25 gift card! That way you can buy $25 worth of delicious coconut products while they last!

Or you can hide them and eat them all yourself. No judgement here.

Learn more about the Toasted Coconut offerings on the GIANT Food Stores website and be sure to follow Giant on Facebook and Twitter.




GIVEAWAY 





Enter below! Happy winning!

a Rafflecopter giveaway





Disclosure: I was provided products to try to facilitate this review and conduct the giveaway. All opinions are, as always, my own.
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This post and giveaway are sponsored by GIANT Food Stores.

It's a crazy time in America, and opinions are running wild, with people struggling to see eye to eye on a daily basis. But, can we agree on one thing?


Chocolate, in all shapes and forms, is wonderful, heavenly and divine?  


See? We can all come together on the common ground of deliciousness!



Giant, my go-to place to shop, knows chocolate - and is even taking it up a notch with their limited-time original Twisted Chocolate products!

So, why "twisted?" Each product, from hummus and floral bouquets to ice cream and soda, is infused with the wonderful flavors of chocolate...and a little something extra. The subtle hints of spice adds a new level of delight to each bite!



Intrigued and ready to dive in? In honor of the limited-time Twisted Chocolate product line, Giant is giving one of my readers a $25 gift card! That way you can buy $25 worth of delicious Twisted Chocolate products while they last!

Or you can hide them and eat them all yourself. No judgement here.

Learn more about the Twisted Chocolate offerings on the GIANT Food Stores website and be sure to follow Giant on Facebook and Twitter.




GIVEAWAY 



Enter below! Happy winning!

a Rafflecopter giveaway




Disclosure: I was provided products to try to facilitate this review and conduct the giveaway. All opinions are, as always, my own.
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