The Strong National Museum of Play {Rochester, NY}

Strong Museum of Play #familytravel
This past August, we took a week-long trip to upstate New York, mostly to see Niagara Falls, but also to visit The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester. I’d read about it in Family Fun magazine years ago, and ever since then, I’d wanted to visit. It was an amazing place! I’m dubbing it the “Happiest Place on Earth” for geek families like ours. It had everything we love, all in one place: toys, books, computers, games, tons of hands-on fun, and great food. It was a huge highlight of our vacation.

Strong National Museum of Play | American Comic Book Heroes #familytravel
The exhibit American Comic Book Heroes is set up for kids to “train” to be a superhero, with all kind of fun activities as well as some historic comic book storytelling. My kids got to test their strength and balance, climb a skyscraper and ride the Super Flight aerial course. Super fun!

I didn’t get any good pictures of the One History Place area, but it’s a full-scale home showing what life was like a century ago. My daughters dressed up and role-played in the kitchen and other rooms. Reading Adventureland had sections for all ages of readers, but my kids most loved the Wizard’s Workshop (of course!), with a wink to their favorite series.

Arcade at Strong National Museum of Play #familytravel
My husband’s favorite section–by far–was eGameRevolution, which is not only the first permanent video game exhibit in the U.S., but also had a full-size 1980’s arcade. He showed the kids all the games he played as a teen, and really enjoyed playing four-player games together. We spent a good long time in this area, where the kids got to try everything from historic Pong to current PC games. We spent a little money on tokens to use the arcade, but there was plenty to do for free.

Sesame Street at the Strong National Museum of Play #familytravel
A whole section of the museum is devoted to the history of Sesame Street. I got such a kick out of sitting on the famous stoop, and while most of the activities were too young for my big kids, there were lots of hands-on learning experiences.

The Wegmans Super Kids Market was the best iteration of this children’s museum staple that I have ever seen. Not only was it HUGE and had all the extra sections–deli, butcher, seafood, bakery, etc.–but the registers actually let you scan your items (every single item has a UPC code) and rings up a real paper receipt. My girls spent quite a bit of time in here role-playing, shopping and playing cashier. Another typical children’s museum section was Kid to Kid, with a focus on communication. The kids climbed on a whaling ship to learn semaphore and played post office.

Mid-day, we needed a break and were totally prepared for the typical yucky (and expensive) museum food, so we were pleasantly surprised to find a full-service Bill Gray’s in the Skyliner Diner in the front lobby. We had a great meal (and then came back for half-price milkshakes later in the afternoon) and sat and ate while watching the vintage Carousel. There’s also a food court if that’s more your speed.

Giant Toys at Strong National Museum of Play #familytravel
TimeLab showcased toys and trends for each decade. My husband and I laughed seeing the toys we’d had as kids, and it was fun showing the many lunchboxes and other trends to our kids. The National Toy Hall of Fame area focused on classic toys like Slinky, Etch a Sketch, and Mr. Potato Head, with giant versions to play with. We also loved the Game Time! exhibit, which had huge versions of classic games (like Battleship, above), and a great display on the history of board games.

Admission is $13.50 for ages 2 and older; under 2 is free. The Strong is part of the ACM reciprocal program, so you may be able to get a 50% discount on your tickets if you’re a member of a Children’s Museum in your local area.

Garden at Strong National Museum of Play #familytravel
As if this wasn’t enough, there’s also a 1700-gallon Rainbow Reef Aquarium in the museum, plus a Butterfly Garden (for an extra fee). Right outside, we strolled through the Discovery Garden, where we found these adorable fairy houses and art installed. Plus, across the street was a city park with huge tube slides. We spent some time there and walking around the fountains after the museum kicked us out closed.

The Strong was truly the BEST museum we have ever visited–and we’ve been to a lot of them! Subscription (Lego Rental Service) Giveaway Giveaway at MoneywiseMoms

It’s been three months now, and we’re still thoroughly enjoying our experience with If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a Lego rental service, sort of like Netflix + Lego. Sets come to your house, you build them (as many times as you like), then send it back and get the next one on your queue.


The last few sets haven’t even made it to the kids, I have to admit. One was the Technic Racer, a 24-inch long race car that my husband took days to build. He let them help a little, but it was his project. Our current set is the Palace Cinema, which we’re only 2/3 of the way through building. It’s been so much fun as a family to work a little, go on with our day, then come back to it. Everyone is getting a kick out of all the little details, like the old-fashioned film camera, the theater seats and the popcorn machine.

Lego Theater | Giveaway at MoneywiseMoms 

I really want you to try Pley! It’s such a great way to try out Lego sets without buying them. You can try out several sets a month for less than the price of one.


One lucky MoneywiseMoms reader will win a 6-month Super Fan Membership, one will win a 3-month Super Fan Membership, and everyone who enters will get a promo code for one FREE Month so you can try it for yourself. I’m using a Rafflecopter widget for this giveaway, so be sure and check out all four ways you can enter the giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway ends at midnight ET on Friday, September 26th. If you’re reading this in an email, you’ll need to click over to the blog to see the Rafflecopter entry form.


Disclosure: Pley is providing the prizes for this giveaway.

Kids Chore Chart with Finish Dishwasher Detergent

CBias Disclosure Sept 2014Kids Chore Chart with Finish Dishwasher Detergent #SparklySavings #shop

No one enjoys cleaning their house, but as my kids have gotten older, at least it’s gotten easier–because I have their help. I really don’t miss the days of having three kids under age three! We’ve kept our kids’ chores pretty simple, to make it easier for them (and mom and dad) to remember who does what. We have three kids so we brainstormed three types of chores: kitchen, laundry and bathrooms. Those are the tasks that need to be done every day, and my kids (ages 8, 8 and 11) are in charge of them. We have a simple chore chart to keep track, and at the beginning of each new week, we rotate the jobs. Each child keeps that chore for the week.

Chore Chart How-To | #SparklySavings #shop
It’s easy to make a chore chart to keep your kids on track:

1) Pick up a small wooden chalkboard and chalk pen ( found mine at Walmart for just $2.97 each).
2) Label your chalkboard with chores.
3) Decorate your chart (if desired). I used washi tape, but you could also have the kids paint or draw on the wood.
4) Use a stapler to attach a piece of ribbon to the back of your chart for hanging.

Kids Chore Chart with Finish Dishwasher Detergent #SparklySavings
With three kids, we came up with three jobs. If you have fewer or more kids, think about ways to “even out” the chores to make it fair. The other household chores (vacuuming, sweeping, etc.) are either done by Mom or Dad, or we tackle them as a family over the weekend. But these are the “big three” that get done daily:

#SparklySavings with Finish Tabs dishwasher detergent | MoneywiseMoms

  • sorts laundry into hot-medium-cold loads
  • carries baskets up and down the stairs
  • helps fold laundry
  • puts laundry away

One of my biggest pet peeves is how it seems everyone’s shirts, pants and socks are always inside out. With a laundry helper, it’s their job to right-side-out everything before we fold it and put it away.

#SparklySavings with Finish Tabs dishwasher detergent | MoneywiseMoms

  • change the hand towels daily
  • make sure there’s an extra roll of TP in every bathroom*
  • vacuum the floors of each bathroom twice per week
  • use wipes to clean the sinktop in each bathroom
  • restock tissue boxes around the house

*I’m so so glad I added this to the chore list. Seemed like it was always me who would get surprised by an empty roll! It hasn’t happened since.

#SparklySavings with Finish Tabs dishwasher detergent | MoneywiseMoms

  • empty the dishwasher each morning
  • help set and clear the table for dinner
  • help load the dishwasher in the evening and add dishwasher detergent
  • take out the kitchen trash on trash days

Our kitchen is a busy place! I truly appreciate all the help the kids give cleaning and doing chores for our family. Be sure and supervise kids when they’re handling dishwasher detergent; I like that Finish has single-use tabs so they get the amount just right.

#SparklySavings with Finish Tabs dishwasher detergent | MoneywiseMoms

We have tons of dishes each day, with a family of five and all the cooking I do. Ever since we got a new dishwasher a few years ago, I’ve been a loyal customer of Finish Dishwasher Detergent. It does the job at a price I like, and now I’m excited to try their newest product: Finish Quantum, which is great for family dishes because it uses hydrogen peroxide instead of harsh chemicals.

Finish Tabs at Walmart #SparklySavings #CollectiveBias

When you head to your local Walmart, you’ll easily find Finish products–like Quantum, All-in-One Powerball Tabs, All-in-One Gelpacs, Gel and Powder–in the Paper & Cleaning aisle. You’ll also find Rollback prices until October for clean dishes at a great discount. Remember that you can combine Rollback prices with a coupon, too!

Thanks to #CollectiveBias for this fun #SparklySavings campaign!

Stick Figure Costume for Halloween

Last year, my son announced that he did not want to dress up for Halloween, that he was “too old.” He was 10, and I suppose he was a little influenced by friends with older siblings who said they were over it.

So of course two days before Halloween he changed his mind and wanted a costume. Ahem.

I told him the same thing I would have said October 1st, it has to be easy and not cost much. That’s how we do Halloween costumes around here. We ended up with this Stick Figure Costume:

Stick Figure Costume for Halloween | MoneywiseMoms
To make a stick figure costume, you’ll need:

  • white long-sleeved tshirt (we already had one, but check thrift stores if you need to buy one)
  • white long pants (we used an old pair of Tae Kwon Do pants)
  • black washi or painter’s tape
  • white posterboard
  • black permanent marker
  • sunglasses (optional)

For the head, cut a large circle out of the posterboard, then draw the face and cut out eye holes (be safe if your child will be walking around at night!). We taped the face to an old pair of sunglasses with the lenses popped out. This way, he could easily take the face on & off, and we didn’t have to do an elastic around his head. Add the tape to the shirt and pants.

It couldn’t be easier! And it certainly fit our budget. He got a huge response by both kids and adults as we trick-or-treated in our neighborhood. He was glad he decided to join in the fun.


Looking for more fun, frugal Halloween costumes? Take a look at my Happy Halloween Pinterest board or these frugal DIY Costumes from Halloweens past:

$5 DIY Owl Costume

5 No-Sew Tutu Halloween Costumes

Pirate Costume + Tips for a Moneywise Halloween


Stick Figure Costume is linked up to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well Spending Less, Thrifty Thursday at The Thrifty Couple, Inspire Me Wednesday at seventhirtythree, Show & Tell at Gingerly Made, Share It Link Party at The Winthrop Chronicles, Whatever Goes Wednesday at Someday Crafts, Whimsy Wednesday at Smart School House, Show & Tell at Snap!, Fluster’s Creative Muster Party at Fluster Buster, Inspiration Monday at i should be mopping the floor, Type A Parent Linkup, The SITS Girls, Too Cute Tuesday at Funky Polkadot Giraffe, and the Creative Collection Link Party at Craftomaniac. 

Family History Project {Free Printable}

Grandparents Day is this Sunday, September 7th. One of the best ways to get kids and grandparents to connect is just by spending time together talking. Luckily, distance isn’t a factor anymore–plan a Facetime chat or Google Hangout this weekend (or every weekend!) to keep the generations in touch. My mom loves to hear my kids talk about their friends, what games they’re playing, which books they’re reading, and whatever is happening at school. They’re looking forward to her next visit (in November), since she comes about twice a year.

I’m excited to share this free downloadable Family History Project from Kiddie Academy. It includes both a family tree, so kids can understand the connections to their grandparents, plus a list of questions for children to ask their grandparents that will help compare their life stories.

Family History Project for Grandparents Day | MoneywiseMoms
Wait till your kids hear about growing up in an earlier era, what the favorite toys and games were, and all the things they have in common with their grandparents. It’s such a treat to get these stories while you can. You can record the conversation with audio or video and save it for the future, or for later grandchildren to enjoy. Be sure to have your kids fill out their own interview now, so you can save it to show to their kids someday.

Thank you so much to Kiddie Academy for providing this free printable!

How are you celebrating Grandparents Day?

Linked up to Thrifty Thursday at The Thrifty Couple and Inspire Me Wednesday at seven thirty three.

Great Country Farms {Bluemont, VA}

Great Country Farms - Bluemont Virginia #familytravel - MoneywiseMoms

My kids and I were invited out to Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Virginia. It was an hour drive northwest out of DC (lots of country roads, not much highway), with great views of horses, cows and mountains. We hadn’t been to a farm in a while; we did it all the time when they were preschoolers, but it was the first time with big kids of 8, 8 and 10. We went straight to the Animal Barn to meet the goats, pony, boar, peacocks, turkeys and chickens. Some of the baby goats were walking around, comfortable with visitors and looking to be fed and petted. My kids thought the pony was a big grumpy (he kept grabbing the feed cups right out of their hands!), but the giant boar was a sweetheart. We ended up spending the bulk of our time with the animals, which really surprised me. That’s what they wanted to do on the way out, and we spent another half hour petting and observing them.

Petting Farm at Great Country Farms - Bluemont Virginia #familytravel - MoneywiseMoms

There was plenty to do besides pet the farm animals. We wandered through the paths and found a giant jumping pillow. Too bad it was for kids only! I had to sit on a bench and watch them bounce and laugh away. They tried the giant tricycles in the Pedal Cart course, and found several tall tube slides hidden around corners. The shady playground area had lots of great structures–typical equipment along with a pirate ship, giant spider web, and more for climbing. There were plenty of picnic tables for parents to set up and relax while the kids played. A note about food–we went on a weekday and The Roosteraunt (their restaurant) was closed, since it’s only open on the weekends. I had hoped for some homemade pie. We had to make do with snacks and drinks from the Farm Market, more expensive than if you pack your own.

Jumping Pillow at Great Country Farms #familytravel - MoneywiseMoms

We did skip the corn bin–basically a huge sandbox of corn kernels with lots of dump trucks for playing. Lots of little kids were in there, and mine would have enjoyed that in their younger days.

The rope maze was so much fun. There was a board in the front giving titles depending on how long it took to complete. All the kids guessed they could do it in two minutes, but it took almost 9! The kids had hoped for a corn maze, but that doesn’t open until September after it’s all harvested. We got a good look at it while out on a tractor ride, so they want to go back and give that a try in the fall.

Rope Maze at Great Country Farms #familytravel - MoneywiseMoms

Last, we headed out to the U-Pick orchards, a fun tractor ride out to the peach trees, blackberry bushes, or green bean crops. What’s available changes often, so check the Now Picking page for the latest update (apples are next!). My kids had never picked their own fruits & veggies before, so this was a real treat. They really enjoyed picking their own beans and steaming them for dinner that night. This was a great opportunity to talk about where food comes from and how it gets to us.

UPick Fruits and Vegetables at Great Country Farms - Bluemont Virginia #familytravel - MoneywiseMoms

Great Country Farms wants you to enjoy a day out with your family. One lucky MoneywiseMoms reader will win a 4-pack of tickets to Great Country Farms. Head out there on a weekend in September for the Apple Gala & Cider Festival or spend an October day at the Fall Pumpkin Harvest Festival. Anytime you go, it’s a great experience for kids of all ages!

To enter: Leave a comment saying who you’ll take to Great Country Farms and what you think they’ll like best.

If you’re reading this in an email subscription, click over to the blog to enter. One entry per person, please. This giveaway ends Friday, August 29th, at midnight EST. Good luck! Congrats to Lauren M. She’s the winner!

Looking for more Northern Virginia family outings? See my Mid-Atlantic Family Trips board on Pinterest and these posts:

Disclosure: I received a 4-pack of tickets to Great Country Farms, and they have provided the prize for this giveaway.

King of Tokyo {Favorite Family Game}

King of Tokyo - great family board game #frugalfun | MoneywiseMoms
Are you a board game family like us? We love spending time together this way, and I love sharing our Favorite Family Games with you, especially when they’re games you’ve never heard of. King of Tokyo has been a favorite since the holidays. It’s a great combination of strategy, pounding on each other (in fun), and dice rolling.

King of Tokyo - great family board game #frugalfun | MoneywiseMoms
Each player chooses a character (mutant, monster, alien, etc.) and begins the game with 10 hearts (life) and 0 stars (victory points). To win, a player needs to earn 20 victory points or be the last one standing.

On each turn, a player has three chances to roll the six dice, collecting victory points, health and energy (which is used to buy the cards with special abilities and effects). The dice also help you attack, which you can do from inside or outside Tokyo. The real power position is inside Tokyo, but it can be a tricky balance between attacking and being vulnerable (a player cannot heal while inside Tokyo).

We’ve found King of Tokyo easy to teach to new players, no matter their age, and have especially had fun with my son’s friends (ages 10-12). The box says 8 and up, but depending on your child(ren), you can start younger. The game plays up to 6 players; we find that only two players isn’t very fun. It’s much better with a group!

King of Tokyo - great family board game #frugalfun | MoneywiseMoms

We’ve enjoyed (and played) the game so much that we went ahead and bought the expansion set, Power Up!. This lets each character evolve or mutate with extra powers and has been a great way to revitalize the game after seven months of constant play.

You can buy King of Tokyo at a local game/comic book store (here in NoVA, we love Comics & Gaming Fairfax). Support your local small business! As always, it’s also at Amazon.

Looking for more Favorite Family Games for big kids and adults? We also love the DC Deck Building Game and Sketch It.


Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. Thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no cost to you.

National Zoo (Washington DC)

National Zoo in Washington DC - fabulous FREE destination for #familytravel - MoneywiseMoms
Living near Washington DC, one of the best frugal fun activities is visiting the National Zoo. Like all Smithsonian Institution sites, admission is completely FREE. The grounds are open 6:00am-8:00pm daily (great for arriving early!) while the buildings open at 10:00am. We like to go super early on a weekend (like 7:30am), then spend the cool part of the morning there and head home before noon, when it gets very crowded and hot (that’s the same plan we use for visiting the DC Memorials and Monuments). One of the benefits of going early is that the Great Cats are out and playing.

Parking is $22, and if you plan to park you need to arrive early, well before 10:00am. With a FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo) membership, you get FREE Parking for one year, plus other discounts and invitations to special events. There are Metro stops just north and south of the zoo, but we’ve never tried that: 1) because I didn’t want to try it with a double stroller and loose kid and 2) because now that they’re older, it costs less for all of us to park than to ride the Metro.

Great Pandas at the National Zoo in Washington DC - FREE #familytravel destination - MoneywiseMoms
On our last visit, we got lucky and saw both the Papa panda Tian Tain, sitting around eating bamboo, and the baby Bao Bao (up in the tree). Besides waiting in line to view from the front of the panda enclosure, be sure and go up to the Panda Café on the ridge above. Sometimes you can get a great view from there. You can also check the Panda Cams from home or on your phone to see when they’re out and about. Even if you don’t get to see the pandas, there’s a lot to enjoy on the Asia Trail, including otters, sloths, clouded leopards, and a giant salamander.

If you’re bringing small children or a stroller, I recommend that you park in the lot at the bottom of the hill. You’ll enter the zoo in the Kids Farm area, which includes the Pizza Playground, then head up the hill while everyone’s energy is high. Then, when it’s time to go, it’s a downhill walk to the car. We generally hit half the zoo in any one trip, no matter how old the kids (or adults) are that we’re with. If you’re planning to do the upper hill areas (elephants, Asia Trail/pandas, and cheetahs), park in one of the upper lots if you can find room. The paths around the zoo are quite steep.

Every part of the zoo is a hit with my family, especially Amazonia, an enclosed rainforest. We also love the Small Mammal House (there’s some weird creatures in there!). Last, we usually spend over an hour in the Great Ape House, with the gorillas and orangutans. My kids love to sit and watch them interact, especially when there’s a baby running around making trouble for the older ones.

Small Mammal House at the National Zoo in Washington DC - FREE #familytravel destination - MoneywiseMoms
If you’re going to be in the DC area, you may also like:

And be sure and follow my Mid-Atlantic Family Trips board on Pinterest. Review {Lego Rental Service}

Disclosure: I received a Super Fan membership to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received. Review (Lego Rental Service) | MoneywiseMoms

I shared with you last month that we signed up for, a Lego rental service. For a monthly fee, you can rent sets one at a time, keep them as long as you’d like, then send them back for another on your list (called a Pleylist). Think of it as Lego + Netflix. It’s a great idea! There are three tiers of service: Fan, Super Fan or Mega Fan. I received a three-month trial of the mid-level tier, “Super Fan,” to test it out and share my findings with you in this review. Review (Lego Rental Service) | MoneywiseMoms
When you join Pley with their Super Fan Free Trial (14 days), the first thing you do is add sets to your Pleylist. I like that you can search for sets only in your level, and I appreciated receiving emails during the month when new sets were added to inventory. Once your Pleylist is full, your first set is sent out.

The set doesn’t come in its original Lego packaging. It comes in a fine mesh bag, with instruction manuals included, in a bright blue box. There’s a return address label in the bottom of the box, which I adhere right away to the top so I don’t misplace it.

The box seemed tiny, but once you take away all the baggies that separate the pieces in a new set, it’s so compact. Our first set was Treehouse Creator, which came with all three manuals (and was a great pick for a family with three kids, so they each got to build their own house). Review - Lego Rental Service | MoneywiseMoms
The sets ship out Priority Mail, so they get to you quickly, but the return label is Parcel Post, so that takes longer. It seems that as soon as the USPS scans in your label, the company knows, because then I’d receive an email saying my next set was being shipped out. I’ve been really happy with the turn-around time, and I had been concerned because we’re in Virginia and they’re in California. For all five of the sets we’ve received so far, we’ve gotten them in 3 days of being notified that they were shipped out. Review - Lego Rental Service | MoneywiseMoms

Each time you receive a set, you’re asked to report the set status–if there are any missing pieces or problems. We’ve only had one of the five sets that was missing any pieces, and it bothers my son when there are pieces still stuck together from the last user. We’ve been careful to take everything apart before returning it to the bag, and while it’s hard for the kids, we only put our sets together at the dining room table so there’s no chance to mix them with our own (many) Lego pieces.

When we’re done with a set (after all three kids have built it, sometimes more than once), we take every single piece apart and put them back in the red mesh bag. Since there’s a pre-printed label, I just hand the box to my mail carrier. Easy peasy!

Review of Lego Rental Service | MoneywiseMoms
I asked my 10-year-old son for his point of view, and he said: “It’s frustrating when we don’t get all the pieces, because sometimes it’s important (to putting together the set.” He’s also irritated that there has never been a freebie or giveaway in the box (he’s referring to the FAQ on Pley’s website, where it mentions that every box has something for you to keep).

From the Mom side, I’ve been really happy with the service, though we’re not paying too much attention to which set on the Pleylist we’re receiving (sometimes it’s #5, sometimes it’s #19). It’s been great timing with school out, because when that blue box appears on the doorstep, it’s very exciting! My kids have been taking turns with who gets to do the set first.

Give a try with their Free Trial. You’ll get to see how it works and what sets are in the program. Then you can choose to upgrade to Fan (small sets, $15/month), Super Fan (medium sets, $25/month) or Mega Fan (large sets, $39/month) subscription. I’ve just paid for the Mega Fan membership (the BIG sets, like Star Wars, etc.) for my son’s birthday in August, and I’m eager to see what we get. The list is all huge sets that we would never normally buy ($200+), so it should be a great value to us.