Thursday, November 20, 2014

Let's Visit Aspen Ice (now Flemington Ice Arena) in Flemington, NJ!

Aspen Ice in Flemington, New Jersey has been completely renovated and is now known as Flemington Ice Arena.  For updated photos and news, please check out their website.

When The Jersey Momma's Boy was a tiger cub scout, one of the goals of his scout group was to attend 'Go See It' meetings in order to visit a particular venue to learn something new.  These trips were a lot of fun and very memorable for the boys. Their 'Go See It' sporting event was a challenge to book - what kind of sporting event could you take six and seven year old boys to that plays on a weeknight and doesn't cost anything?  That's where Aspen Ice saved the day!

Where is Aspen Ice?

Aspen Ice has been renovated and is now known as Flemington Ice Arena.  You can find it in Flemington, right on Case Boulevard.  This is directly off of Rt. 202 South.

This is a crummy picture, I know, but it was too dark outside to take an exterior shot!

What is Aspen Ice?

Aspen Ice (now known as Flemington Ice Arena) is an indoor ice skating rink that is open year round.  They offer a variety of services and activities, such as Open Skate sessions, 'Friday Night Skates' with a DJ, summer camps, birthday parties, ice hockey lessons, ice hockey games, skating lessons and more.  They also have a skating pro-shop on premises, as well as a concession stand and small arcade.  Check out their website for all of their offerings and their monthly schedule of events.

The rink at Aspen Ice.

What Will I See at Aspen Ice?

When you first enter Aspen Ice, you'll find a small concession stand, a front desk, picnic table/benches to eat at, a small arcade, a pro-shop, and a party room in back. *Please note, this was prior to renovation. Updated pictures will be posted soon!

The lobby at Aspen Ice, Flemington, pre-renovation.
Coach Mike and the boys at Aspen Ice.
The Pro-Shop and Arcade at Aspen Ice.
You'll find the ice rink off to your right, and there are bleachers where you can sit and watch events.  It's chilly in there, so bring a jacket and dress warmly (it's ice, after all).  There is an area where you can rent skates, and plenty of safety glass up to keep you protected.  The Jersey Momma's boy was very excited to see a real zamboni.

The Jersey Momma makes a rare appearance without a ponytail!
The boys of NJ Freeze practicing at Aspen Ice

What Can I Do There?

Aspen Ice offers a lot to the public.  We have never been to an open skate session, but friends tell me it's a lot of fun, especially if you go in the summer (neat thought, right?).  Coach Mike talked to our cub scouts and told them all about the hockey programs they offer for kids (girls and boys) and adults.  He was very knowledgeable and the boys enjoyed listening to him and seeing all of the cool hockey gear.  You can visit their Facebook page to see their daily activities.

What You Need to Know

*Aspen Ice is a fun, local venue.  It's essentially like a giant warehouse, so the lighting is a little dim and you get the feel of being in a gym or sporting venue as opposed to a show arena.  There were lots of kids here who all seemed to be having a great time.

*We were able to watch some boys practicing hockey (NJ Freeze) and we were extremely impressed with their abilities.  Our young scouts were amazed watching them play, and as a parent, I was blown away by the players' dedication.  The boys we watched were probably between the ages of 10-11, but they offer lessons and teams for players of all ages.

*We only watched the teams practice for about a half an hour and I was so cold by the end of the evening!  So really, dress warm, people!

*Coach Mike also told us about some special days throughout the year that are offered at ice rinks across the country (including Aspen Ice).  Kids can try hockey for free!  Check out this link to read all about it.

*Everyone we encountered working at Aspen Ice was extremely friendly and eager to help.  Their enthusiasm for hockey and skating in general was very evident in everyone we met, including the kids playing there.

Important Jersey Momma Note

Aspen Ice was slated to close in late March of 2015, but according to sources, new owners reached an agreement to save the rink, and it has finally reopened as Flemington Ice Arena!  Flemington Ice Arena is the only ice skating rink in Hunterdon county.  When we visited it as Aspen Ice, we were amazed by the dedication and skill of the young players practicing on the ice.  Families, friends and siblings were all showing support and watching the boys and girls who played. The employees of Aspen Ice took time out of their busy schedules to show us around and teach us about the joys of ice hockey and team sports.  The community knew it would be a crime to let such a special venue disappear, so local residents and friends rallied to help save this establishment.  We wish Flemington Ice Arena much continued success and we hope the community will continue to support it!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Review of Northlandz Train Museum in Flemington: All Aboard?

This is an updated post from last year.  I added some thoughts from my most recent visit to Northlandz (if you have a chance, please check them out at the bottom of this entry, under Added Thoughts.  Great title, right?)

I used to drive past Northlandz in Flemington every day when I was a teacher.  And I would always think, "I wonder what it's like in there?"  Hard to tell from the outside- all you see is a big gray building and a small sign announcing it as home of the "Worlds Largest Model RR, Great American Railway and Doll Museum."  I thought there was a real train track outside of it, but I wasn't sure.  So you know I had to find out!

What is Northlandz?

Northlandz is a miniature train museum located right on Rt. 202 in Flemington. It is similar to the well-known Roadside America in Pennsylvania.   Even if you don't have a little train enthusiast in your house like I do, it is still a point of interest.  Read on!

What Will I See There?

Northlandz is basically a walk-through model train display- over 8 miles to be exact (think giant train display, not so much a 'museum').  You peruse through at your own pace and peer into or over each display.  It's basically a spiraling effect as you walk up and up into the building.  You are viewing all of the incredible train tracks and landscapes at different angles.  The added little stories about Grandma and why certain scenes look the way they do is a cute added touch. There are also dollhouses, dolls and doll displays to view, too (you can view a video clip on their website).  The Jersey Momma's boy just skipped past those with a definitive, "Yuck!"

The Train Ride

When we first visited, there was also an outdoor working train ride (a real one), that drove us through a small area behind the museum and back.  I could not find much about this on their website, so I can't guarantee the ride is still available.  I also recall there being a small fee to ride the train (at the time it was $2.75 with ticket purchase).  If it is still running, I do recommend the train ride.  Although the area around the track was in a bit of disarray and there were not many sights to see, my son still enjoyed the ride and was excited to be on a real, colorful working train.

What Do I Need To Know?

Northlandz is old.  I'm not going to lie.  When you walk in, it is kind of dark and smells like your grandfather's basement.  Many of the displays are dusty or in need of minor repairs.  Some of the doll displays had spider webs on them.  But you know what?  It was still pretty darned amazing.  My son did not seem to notice any of the things I just mentioned.  So sometimes you have to ask yourself, "Will my child like this?"  and not, "Will I like this?"  (that basically sums up parenthood, right?).

Jersey Momma Tips

*If you have time, please read my 'Added Thoughts' after my tip section, below.

*There is a cafe inside but it did not seem very enticing to us so we skipped it.  If you drive further South on Rt 202 into Flemington, you will find plenty of shops and places to eat if you are interested in traveling outside of Northlandz.  You can visit my favorite Chick-fil-A Flemington, just ahead on 202 South, near the circle!

*Admission is pricey, so be on the lookout for discount coupons (kids under 2 are free).  There is one coupon in the KidStuff coupon booklet, sold through fundraisers in most schools.

*There is no restroom to use once you start your journey into Northlandz, so be sure to use the lobby restroom before you venture into the museum.  And unless they have done a complete makeover, this is not the nicest bathroom you'll ever visit, so be forewarned!

*We once visited Northlandz in the winter time and it was a bit chilly in the museum.  For some unknown reason I had decided to leave my own coat in the car, which was not a wise decision!  Hey, at least The Jersey Momma's boy had his coat.

*If you will be visiting with very young ones, consider bringing a stroller, as there is a lot of walking and winding through the museum.

*Visit their website for more details, hours and admission info.

*They suggest bringing binoculars, which we did not do.  But a camera is a must, for sure!

*Like always, I suggest you give it a chance.  It is not Disney World.  It DOES need some updating and repairs, but it has an amazing history behind it, and I truly feel it is worth seeing at least once in your life, especially if you have a train enthusiast in your house.

Added Thoughts

We have been to Northlandz at least four times with my son, starting at the age of two (he's now almost six).  He still loves it.  It's a special trip to take for a boy, especially with daddy, or maybe grammy and poppy.  But like I said, it's not cheap ($33.00 for two adults and one child and that includes a coupon).  And I have to be honest here again.  There are some glowing reviews of Northlandz out there.  Just do a search on "Northlandz reviews" or "What is Northlandz?" and see what you find.  But I think giving them a glowing review is also doing them a disservice.  Because they need to know that their amazing display is going downhill.  Northlandz, I love you.  You know I love you.  I can see the incredible amount of heart and work that you have put into this train display in your lifetime.  But you need to know this:  your place needs help.  The carpets are dirty.  The walls need painting.  The displays are dusty and some are falling apart.  The last time we were there, on a 91 degree day, the air conditioning was "broken."  "On the top floor only," you told us, but that was not true, and we spent 30+ minutes along with other babies, small children and elderly people, walking through a stuffy, sweltering display at full cost.  We ran into another patron who told us she visited last year and the same thing happened.  So is your air conditioner really being repaired?  Or is it just constantly broken?  It's okay if it is, but you need to own up to the problem and not keep lying to your customers.

As we walked through, I thought, "Why not ask some local boy scout troops to help?  I'm sure they would paint some of these walls free of charge, as long as they could leave a little plaque there with their names on it?"  or, "Why not get some local businesses to see if they can donate some new carpeting in exchange for free advertising?" or "I wonder if any local train enthusiast groups would be willing to donate some time to help dust and clean the displays?"  "I know the good people of Flemington might even be willing to donate money to help restore the outer grounds, if you would only ask.  Somerset County 4H has a train group- could they help you just to clean and repair some of your incredible work?"  Every train display needs maintenance.  My dad is a train enthusiast, so I know this.

The Jersey Momma's Momma (The Jersey Grandmomma?) is a little more outspoken than I am, so when we finished our last visit at Northlandz and the owner asked us how the Jersey Momma's boy liked the displays (he ALWAYS loves the displays, he could care less if anything is dirty or old or broken!), the Jersey Grandmomma smiled and suggested some of the things that I just mentioned, about the boy scouts and the air conditioning.  The owner seemed thoroughly offended by everything, and was very snippy.  "What needs to be worked on?!" he snapped, "I work in there every day!  And the air conditioner is broken, I told you they are fixing it."  His tone made me cringe.  I quickly maneuvered my son away and got that icky feeling in my stomach that comes from confrontation.  I was sad because it suddenly made me feel like not going back there anymore.  I just wish that every business owner would realize that you have to be courteous to your customers, even if you feel insulted, even if your feelings get hurt.  Find a nice way to accept what they are saying and call it a day.

As we walked out of the museum that day, with my son all smiles, I heard the owner turn to someone he was sitting with and say, "There's always one," and my heart just broke.  What an absolute shame, and what a terrible thing to say, loud enough for a grandma and her little grandson and his mommy to hear.

I am not saying never to go to Northlandz, because the kids love it.  I've already said that.  and I've already shown you how amazing it is.  But I thought this side of the story needed to be told, too, instead of just adding another glowing review to the internet.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Sweet Escape: NJ Dessert Tasting Expo - A Review of Sweetness!

So what is the Sweet Escape NJ Dessert Tasting Expo and why won't the Jersey Momma shut up about it??  Is that what you're wondering?  Or something close to that, maybe?  If you've been following any of my posts on Facebook or Twitter, then you know I've been looking forward to this event for months.  And you're about to see why.  Ah, where to begin????

So What is The Sweet Escape: The NJ Dessert Tasting Expo?

You might have read my blog entry about it from last year, detailing the whole event about two months too late (see, this time I was prepared!!).  But anyway, it's just what it sounds like.  Over 35 dessert makers, treat makers, bakers, bakeries, confectioners and more, displaying all of their most fabulous creations for you to taste and sample.  There are freebies and raffles, classes, guest speakers and lots of really, really nice people.  One of the best things about the whole event is that a portion of the advanced ticket sales go to charity- Elijah's Promise and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.  I was honored to meet Chrissy Banks, who told me all about the Better World Market in Somerset, which I plan to visit and tell you all about in a future blog post!

2013's event was held at the NJ Convention & Expo Center in Edison.  The 2014 event was held at Kean University in Union.

NJ Dessert Tasting Expo

How Does the NJ Dessert Tasting Expo Work?

You purchase your tickets online in advance.  There was also a Groupon available and a discount code from the fab Mr. Cory's Cookies, so if you go next year, be sure to shop around for your best online deal before purchasing tickets.  There are a variety of tickets you can buy:

  • VIP (which is more expensive but gets you in earlier and gets you a swag bag full of goodies)
  • general (no swag bag and your entrance is an hour later than VIP)
  • general or VIP with classes added (check their website for which classes were available)

Upon arrival you will be presented with a little box to hold all of the extra goodies you take (so put it together before you enter- you're going to need it).

Check-in at the NJ Dessert Tasting Expo

Trust me, you'll have extra.  And trust me, that box ain't big enough!  If you purchased VIP passes, you'll be given a swag bag full of goodies and a cute little VIP badge to wear around your neck.  The badge also contained two tickets for beverages.

This VIP badge made me feel important!

Here's what was in this year's swag bag:

So many goodies!  

I especially loved these paper straws from InkScissorsPaper.  I might not ever use them because they are so pretty! pretty.

Aren't these paper straws adorable??

I was fortunate enough to have VIP passes this year, thanks to the amazing Atasha Scott, who organized this event.  So when we entered, we were also given a yummy looking cake pop:

Almost too pretty to eat!  Almost.

I'm not sure if general admission also got these, but I am guessing not.

You also get a plastic gold coin to vote for "Best in Show."  Last year I gave my coin to Ann's Sweet Potato Pies.  This year I gave my coin to Love Puddin (who has no website yet- c'mon Love Puddin!).

What Vendors Are at The NJ Dessert Tasting Expo?

This is the second year the event was held, and there were some return vendors from the previous year and some new vendors.  There were also sponsors from larger restaurants and businesses, such as Goya, Shore Cake Supply and ShipRite Bags just to name a few.  You can check the Sweet Escape participant page each year to see which vendors are signing up.  This year, some of my favorites were:

  • Ann's Sweet Potato Pies
  • Love Puddin'
  • Cake & Co.
  • Wild Lizzy's
  • Willow and Olivia 
  • Babycake's Sweets
  • Lakeside Maple
  • Sweet Dreams Mini Donuts

I can go on and on, because I don't think there was ONE vendor that I didn't like.  Although, I am pretty easy to please when it comes to desserts and sweets.  :)

Delicious sparkly cupcakes from Cake Music NY

What Do You Get for Your Money at The NJ Dessert Tasting Expo?

Okay, so this pile of business cards represents just SOME of the vendors I sampled from:

Are you getting tired of seeing my wrinkly thumb in these pictures?

And the vendors were soooo nice.  They want you to try their goodies.  "Take more!" they said, "Try another!"  Now, I know this might not have been the case as the day wore on, the crowds got larger and the samples wore down.  But in the beginning, there was no limit, really, to what they let me try.  Some vendors sold larger take-home portions of their items, too.  I purchased a slice of sweet potato pie from Ann's Sweet Potato Pies, a container of Buffalo Wing flavored popcorn from Jadore Candy, a strawberry shortcake pudding from Love Puddin (yes, I had a cooler in my car for this very reason!), and a Roasted Garlic & Sweet Onion Jam from Jams by Kim.

Babycake's Sweets

Now That Was a Great Party! Display

And a word here about just how friendly these vendors were, especially if you were friendly to them and expressed what you thought about their goodies.  The super sweet gals from Willow and Olivia gave me a free red velvet cake ball just because (those were really for sale only) and it was DELICIOUS.

Willow and Olivia rocks!

The family love was flowin' over at Babycake's Sweets, as they told us all about the amazing cupcake stand that their dad created for them, and told us about the unique coquito flavored cupcakes they were offering.  See them?

Babycake's Sweets Cupcake Stand

You can really go crazy with the samples.  I saw people who brought their own tupperware boxes and were FILLING them to the brim with goodies.  The rest of us were a little more reserved, maybe stashing the goodies away in our bags or boxes for future sampling, or just plain eating as we went.  I like to know what I'm sampling (that's the whole point, really, it's a tasting expo).  I like to talk to the bakers and creators, try their goodies, take their cards, tuck their names away for future reference or party needs.  That's what I think it's all about.  I respect the desserts (and the makers), I assure you.  I don't want to just go home with a pile of cupcakes and cookies, eat them, and not know who made them, where they came from, or how to get them again!  But maybe you do.  So it's all about what you prefer.

This year there were also classes and lectures you could attend, including:

  • kids' cupcake decorating class (extra fee)
  • Cakes by Timbo cake decorating (extra fee)
  • cake designing demonstrations
  • cake/baking tool demonstrations
  • a visit from Mr. Cory of Mr. Cory's Cookies

Look!  It's Mr. Cory of Mr. Cory's Cookies!

Pros and Cons of the NJ Dessert Tasting Expo

Like any major event (especially an "expo," as they tend to be large events), there are pros and cons.

PROS:  The pros to me are obvious- there are so many freebies!!  And if you're thinking, it's just cupcakes and desserts, so what?  Well, where else would you have the opportunity to sample so many different kinds of confections in one place?  Unique, homemade goodies- cakes, cupcakes, pies, flavored popcorns, mini donuts, granola, dried nuts, cookies, chocolates, cake pops, rice krispie treats, puddings, coffee...and that's just naming a few!   If you're in this industry it's a tremendous amount of networking.  If you like desserts, it's heaven.

CONS:  It gets crowded.  What can I say, these are desserts!  By the time we left the event around 3:30 (after arriving a little before 1:00), it was getting packed.  I heard people grumbling about the crowds, but like any of these events, I think you have to arrive early to avoid that.  I also wish people would have kind of jumped from table to table.  It seemed like people wanted to stay in a long line that flowed in a circle around the room to all the tables, but I think it was better to roam from table to table and just check off what you visited in your program guide as you went.

Blurry pic but it shows the light crowds upon arrival.

Heavier crowds by the time we were leaving.  

I had a little trouble finding the venue this year, as there weren't many signs.  But maybe after driving through Kean for ten minutes, we came upon the main entrance (we had somehow entered through the back) and saw the flashing billboard sign directing us to the right hall.  After that a parking attendant pointed us in the right direction.  This is only the 2nd time this event was held (first time in this location) so you have to figure there might be room for improvement each year.

I don't know if this is a con, but you are going to EAT.  And eat a LOT of sweets.  And after  a while you do need something salty or some water or just real food in your belly.  So remember to pace yourself if you're there, or to space out what you sampled.  I loved the granola and dried nut vendors- I tried to visit them in between my 'sweet' taste to get some 'salty,' too.  Smart, right? ;)

Jersey Momma Tips for the NJ Dessert Tasting Expo

  • this is a dessert tasting event, so for the love of God, do not go in there worrying about your diet or complaining about your weight or whatever.  Just eat and enjoy yourself!!
  • remember to take business cards and tell the vendors what you thought about their products.  I loved talking to all of the people there.  I think that was one of the best parts.
  • arrive early- this is an event that is bound to get crowded
  • if you're not buying a VIP pass, you might want to bring a small bag to carry any extra goodies you might purchase.  You might also want to bring a small bottle of water, if this is permitted at the venue.
  • you can even go extreme like me and bring a cooler for the car ride home, just in case you purchase any awesome pies or puddings or whatever, that need to be refrigerated (and did you read that right?  I said for the car ride home!  I don't want to see people dragging coolers around inside the event, for pete's sake)
  • use your "Best in Show" coins!!!  It's only fair to go back and vote for who you thought was the best.  Not quite fair to sample all the goodies and then skip out on showing your love.
  • leave the stroller at home.  I would even go so far as to say, leave the kids at home, too!  They are welcome at this event but that's a lot of sweets for a kiddo to eat, and I think adults would enjoy it more without the kids in tow.  But that's just my opinion.
My regrets (I have a few) were that I did not take more pictures (I swear, it's IMPOSSIBLE when you're trying to eat and focus on the FOOD!).  I regret not trying the coquito flavored cupcake from Babycake's Sweets.  I regret not taking more when all of these fabulous vendors told me to (why hold back?).  I regret not buying a bean pie from the Butter and Cream Bakery (because they were sooo good- and where else am I going to find a bean pie??).  I regret not taking a free photo in the ShutterBooth, because I thought I was "not photogenic."  I regret not buying a bag of Wild Lizzy's (and they won best in show!!).  Sigh.  I will be ready for EVERYTHING next year!!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 Minute Chocolate Chip Cookie in a Mug: Jersey Momma Quick Recipe

I saw this '5 Minute Chocolate Chip Cookie - in the Microwave' recipe on Facebook yesterday, posted from Dash Magazine (part of Parade).  I actually like their recipes a lot and I was curious about this one because...well... I LOVE DESSERTS.  But I just couldn't see how it would come out tasting good.  Here's what I discovered.

It doesn't look very pretty, but it tasted good!

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Throw an Art Party for Kids

We're taking a little break from traveling today because we're in party mode in this house!  The Jersey Momma's Boy has a summer birthday, and every year I take extra care in planning it.

The parties usually have a theme.  His first birthday was a Yo Gabba Gabba motif and the whole family was invited.  I'm lucky to have a super talented sister who constructed this 4 foot tall Plex Robot to greet guests. Here he is in her garage before the party:

Looks like Plex is just hangin' out and havin' a Coke!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Easy Salt Box Painting (no paint involved!)

I hear they are predicting more snow for New Jersey this week, so that means I'm starting my preparations, and I'm not talking about rushing out to buy bread and milk.

I'm talking about stocking up on ACTIVITIES.  Projects, crafts, movies!  I have an only child in this house, and sadly, this kid gets bored easily!  So when we have snow days--continuously--I get ready.

One fun activity I tried last year was Salt Box Painting. Never fear, there's no paint involved.  It's not even very messy.  This is a great activity for kids four and under.  Kids over four might enjoy it, too, but it might not hold their interest for very long.

To make Salt Box Painting, you will need:

-a shallow box or box top (a sturdy gift box top could work, too.  Just try to find one that doesn't have seams or holes, so that salt won't leak out of it).

-colored construction paper (I chose rainbow colors)

-scissors (you might not need them if your paper is small and fits in the box without needing to be trimmed)

-tape (clear packing tape works best, but any tape will do)

-salt (regular table salt)

-thick paintbrush

Step 1

Cut the construction paper to fit the bottom of your box.  You'll want to stagger it in layers.  For example, if you want a rainbow effect, start with red on the far left side of the box.  Then lay orange next to it, then yellow, and so on and so on till you reach purple.  So you'll be continuously cutting the pieces so they fit in the box top in layers (unfortunately I don't have a picture of this step, but I think you'll figure it out).  I taped the paper together and down to the sides of the box so it wouldn't slide around and so the salt wouldn't slide under the colored paper (the idea is to keep the salt on TOP of the paper).  Clear packing tape works best for this.

Step 2

Pour salt on top of your colored paper.  The more salt, the better.  If you don't use enough, you won't get the effect that you're really "painting."  If your kids start to play with it and it doesn't look like they're "painting" in the salt, try adding more.

Then they can use their paintbrushes (yes, dry paintbrushes!) to "paint" letters, shapes and designs in the salt.  The idea is that you see the colored paper underneath appear, so it looks like "paint" in the salt.

The Jersey Momma's boy is an outside the box thinker (no pun intended), so after about ten minutes of "painting," he wanted to drive his trucks in the salt and add Legos to the salt, and there were tire tracks and Legos and salt everywhere.  Which is okay, I guess, but it left things messier than I had expected!  

For a better tutorial and more photos of  Salt Box Painting, check out Learning4Kids.