Archive for Outdoor fun

Our trip to Enchanted Forest Water Safari in Old Forge, NY


Summer is rapidly coming to an end, and we asked the kids — where was the #1 place they wanted to go for a Saturday day trip? They all chose Enchanted Forest Water Safari in Old Forge, NY. We’ve been there a couple of times before, and it’s always been fun.

Enchanted Forest of the Adirondacks opened in 1956, with the first amusement ride added in 1984, and the first water slides constructed in 1988. By 1991, the name changed to Enchanted Forest Water Safari.

Map of Enchanted Forest Water Safari

Map of Enchanted Forest Water Safari

It’s a huge water park that has rides for all ages – teens and little ones – along with a wave pool, and carnival-type rides for people who don’t want to get wet. There are lots of places in the park to buy good eats and drinks, and ice cream and cotton candy. And, best of all, they allow you to bring your own cooler, so you can pack a picnic, and eat at the many different picnic areas.

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Nature Walks: Get outside with your kids


Spring is here, with summer just around the corner. It’s a great time to get outside! Taking a nature walk with your kid is a great idea – you get to spend time together, while enjoying the beauty of nature. You get exercise, and a chance to talk and connect with each other.

Getting to explore and exercise outdoors is good for kids, who don’t get much of an opportunity these days to get in touch with nature.

According to a recent Nature Conservancy survey, the amount of time kids spend outside varies widely, and goes down as kids get older: preschoolers spend about 12 hours a week outside, but 16 year old teens spend less than 7 hours a week.

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Review: Nerf, Part 3, Lazertag!

Ever play Lazertag?  It’s basically a game where you run around and target each other, with guns that are smart and can keep track of how many hits you‘ve taken (health) and shots you’ve fired (ammo).  After so many hits, you’re “dead” and the other person wins.  It’s good active fun, with lots of running, hiding, and sniping.

Hasbro sells a Nerf branded, basic Lazertag System 2 Pack set that comes with 2 Phoenix LTX taggers (1 blue, 1 gold) and retails for around $50.  This 2 player system is a relatively inexpensive introduction for your kids into the world of lazertag.

Each Phoenix LTX tagger (made by Tiger Electronics) has interactive lights, sounds and vibrations, including:

  • Built in fire recoil – activated with every shot fired.
  • Rumble pack – hit vibration lets you know when you’ve been hit.
  • Manual reload – when you run out of your virtual ammo, you have to “reload”, which activates an integrated ammo clip, and you need to smack it back up into the handle of the tagger.
  • Force field style shield – blocks hits for 10 seconds.

The tagger comes with switches for:

  • Indoor/outdoor
  • Strength:  10 or 25 (This sets how many times you can be hit before you are “dead” – make sure everyone has these set to the same level before you start)
  • Off/solo/team 1/team 2

and also has indicator lights for:  ammo and strength (that’s your health/hits meter).

The Lazertag System 2 Pack is designed for home use, but we take ours with us and play at playgrounds, and parks.  You can also buy additional taggers for team battles; we only have 2 taggers, and will probably get 2 – 4 more, so more of our family can play in team battle mode (parents vs. kids?).

Recommended for ages 8 – 15 years.  I’m not sure a 6 year old would be able to understand the different lights and settings, or if they would just run around screaming.   Very small kids would probably be more comfortable holding their taggers with 2 hands (which will help them be dropped less), while older kids and adults can easily use 1 hand.  Also, these guns are electronic, so I would avoid dropping them as much as possible; I imagine they it’s not good for them to be smacked into things, or dropped.  Be warned – be sure to pick up a big pack of AA batteries, as you’ll need 6 for each tagger. 

Some people take their lazertag very seriously, with tournaments and massive team battles, along with expensive equipment.  Me?  I just want a quick, fun, inexpensive game for the kids (who beat me every time – clearly I need more practice). 

Note:  The Lazertag 2 pack system you can buy for $50 is just the basic 2 LTX taggers.  For $300+ (on eBay and Amazon) you can get the Lazertag multiplayer system which, in addition to the 2 LTX taggers, includes 2 SHOT BLAST attachments, 2 Pinpoint Sight (green dot sight) targeting units, and 1 video game module.

In conclusion:
All in all, I’ve found that Nerf toys are a good investment – they last a long time, and get played with a lot.  Unlike some toys that break quickly, or that get played with once and that’s it.

The thing I like best about Nerf, though, is that they’re family toys.  Mom and Dad can get in on the action during epic, house wide Nerf gun fights with secret bases, sniping, and lots of overly-dramatic jumping and rolling around.  And, I’ve taken on the boys more than once, in elimination-style swordfighting tournaments.  Lastly, there’s that lazertag practice I need, too – I will defeat them someday…

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Review: Nerf, Part 1, Swords!

Our family loves Nerf.  Loves, loves, loves Nerf!  When I buy a Nerf toy, I know I’m getting a durable, quality built, fun toy that will keep my kids active.  We should buy Nerf stock.  Seriously, with the amount of Nerf toys we have purchased over the years. 

Nerf sells a wide variety of dart guns, foam swords, and even a lazertag set.  If you’re looking for good, safe, active fun that’s great for indoor play especially on rainy or subzero days, get a Nerf.  And having a bin full of Nerf toys is always good for something to do when your child has friends over.

Part 1:  Swords

Nerf makes 2 different foam swords – a smaller one, and a bigger one.  They’re both durable and colorful, but are very different.

Nerf’s smaller sword (32” long) is the N-Force Fury Sword, which comes in 2 colors:  Shadow Fury Blue and Thunder Fury Yellow.  These are lightweight, 1 handed swords, good for younger kids.  They have a shorter reach than the larger sword, and don’t hurt when hit, unless you’re seriously smacking someone.  You can move quickly, and slash fast with these swords – there’s no flopping around like the bigger sword.  Recommended for ages 6 – 9; I think they’re perfect for any age that can hold a sword, more like ages 3 – 93.  Retail is around $12 – $15.

Nerf’s larger sword (41” long) is the N-Force Marauder Long Sword, which comes in red and black.  These are weighty, 2 handed swords, good for older kids.  They have a long reach, and will hurt when you get hit.  Slightly floppy due to the weight and length, you do need to be a little bit careful when swinging.  Recommended for ages 6 – 12.  It would be difficult for a child under 6 to wield this sword, but for preteens or teenagers, or even grownups (like me!) this sword is a dream.  It’s so much fun to hold the Marauder long sword in your hands – your really feel like Link, with the Master Sword (for Zelda fans out there).  Retail is around $20 – $30.

We tell the kids that swordfighting is more about form, style and movement, and using your imagination than it is about hurting your opponent.  It’s important when battling to have a fair fight, and that your weapons have similar reach.  No hits to the head or face are allowed, of course.  We typically play with touch damage rules, meaning for example, if your opponent touches or strikes your arm with his sword, you can no longer use that arm.  It gets pretty hysterical when you only have 1 functioning arm and leg, and you’re hopping around blocking hits.  Next on our list to buy?  The Warlock Axe – at least 2 of them.

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How to set up an Intex above ground Easy Set pool

I don’t know about you, but where we live, summer gets HOT.  And humid.  And with our good-sized crew of kids (plus friends) and a home-based small business, having our own pool rocks!

This is our third year setting up Intex Easy Set pools, and our first year getting one perfectly level.  I’ve used the instructions that come with the pool, that just say “set up on level ground”, and have discovered there are NO perfectly level spots in our backyard.  They LOOK level, but are not.  I’ve researched a wide variety of online instructions on how to level an above ground pool, and made our own adjustments.  Finally, we have success.  And it’s SO much better, and so worth the extra trouble.

You’ll need:

Sod scraper (optional)
A level (the longer, the better)
(2) 2 x 4 x 8’s
(2) small rectangles of plywood
6+ screws
Pool (with ladder)
Tarp (comes with pool) or roll of 6 mil plastic sheeting
Easy access to hose and water spigot
Access to GFI outdoor outlet
Air compressor/hand pump inflater
A penny (coin)
Pool test kit
Pool chemicals

Step 1:  Find out your zoning requirements before you buy the pool.  Call your local building code enforcement office.  Some areas (like ours) have many different requirements, depending on the size of the pool – barriers (fencing), ladders, self closing latches, pool and door alarms; they also typically charge a fee for a pool permit.  If you don’t get approved, they WILL make you take it down.  (Time = 10 minutes)

Step 2:  Determine what size pool you need.  Intex makes 8 ft to 18 ft Easy Set pools.  How many people will you have at a time in the pool?  Don’t forget friends, and you will want some room to move around.  We’ve had all three sizes, and would recommend the 8 ft for 2-4 kids, the 12 ft for 2-6, and the 15 foot for 2-8 kids.  Keep in mind the pools are measured by their base, so for example, the 15’ pool measures 15 ft diameter for its base, with a 12 ft diameter for its top opening.  Also, the pictures on the box are edited and make it appear as if you can put more people in than in reality.  (Time = 5 minutes)

Step 3:  Figure out where you are going to put your pool.  Do you have enough room for the size pool you’re getting?  You’ll need easy access to a water hose, and to a GFI outdoor outlet (extension cords are NOT allowed).  You’ll also need space on all sides (at least 4 feet), a location not to close to trees (or be prepared for a lot of debris), and preferably lots of sun (to heat the water).  It is critical that you install your Easy Set pool on level, hard packed ground.  Nearly level is not good enough, and sand or loose soil will settle unevenly.  The pool will bulge to the low side, you will only be able to partially fill it, the filter will not be able to run correctly, and it will most likely suddenly collapse.  Don’t set your pool up on your deck; once filled, the water weight will be immense, and will likely cause your deck to bow.  (Time = 20 minutes)

Step 4:  Purchase your pool (if you haven’t already).  Watch the included DVD, and completely read through all pool and filter instructions.  (Time = 40 minutes)

Step 5:  Level the ground for the pool.  You will need to level the ground to within an inch, for the diameter of the pool plus 2 feet.  So, for a 15 ft pool, you’re looking to level at least a 17 ft circle.  Although I’ve heard a sod scraper works well, we didn’t have one handy and didn’t want to rent one.  Use a shovel to remove the sod.  You will need to check the levelness of the ground across the diameter.  Take a couple of 2 x 4’s, and join them together using a couple of small rectangles of plywood and some screws, so that you have a 2 x 4 x 16.  Lay it across your circle, and place a level on top of it.  Rotate your joined 2 x 4’s like a compass to check levelness of the entire circle area.  Keep scraping with your shovel, and checking with your level.  You will have to scrape down the higher areas to meet the lowest area.  I would NOT recommend filling in lower areas with sand, or dirt, as the weight of the pool will cause the ground to settle over time, and those areas will end up being lower after a while.  Be sure to remove any rocks or sharp objects, too.  This is the hardest part of setting up your pool.  If you actually have level ground, good for you!  This step ended up taking us 2 days.   (Time = 1 hours to 2 days)

Step 6:  Now, you have a level circle.  And a bunch of eager kids.  Carefully open up the box, and remove the pool.  Don’t cut it by accident.  It’s heavy.  Set it in the sun, to warm up the plastic, so it will be easier to maneuver.  (Time = 30 minutes)

Step 7:  Take out the blue tarp and position it over your circle.  (Time = 5 minutes)

Step 8:  Place the pool on the tarp.  Be sure to get the 2 filter openings (hose connections) angled toward your GFI outlet.  Try to center the pool – spread it out, and smooth out the floor as best you can.  Arrange the blue ring so it’s on top, facing up, and in as much of a circle as possible.  (Time = 10 minutes)

Step 9:  Inflate the blue ring.  Use an air compressor, or it will take forever.  Do NOT over inflate!  Don’t under inflate, either.  The tube will be firmer when the sun shines on it or it’s warmer out, and be softer at night or when it’s cooler.  If you over inflate the ring, and it’s hot and sunny, the ring may pop.  If you under inflate the ring, and it’s chilly, the pool may collapse.  The ring is what holds the water in.  And be sure you don’t puncture the ring; no ring = no pool.  Make it fairly firm, but not too firm or hard.  Best thing to do is always under inflate, and then add more at a later time.  (Time = around 30 minutes)

Step 10:  Make sure the pool drain plug is tightly closed.  Start to fill your pool with your garden hose.  Someone should get in the pool barefoot, and start to push the wrinkles outward.  The kids can help with this.  Check to be sure the pool is filling up evenly.  It should be as level as possible.  If you find you have 4+ inches of water on one side, and zero inches on the other, you will need to stop, and go back to Step 5 and level the pool area.  Really.  It’s best to do it right the first time, as your kids will be going crazy for pool water by now.  If you have 1 inch of water on one side, and zero on the other, that’s good enough.  (Time = 20 minutes)

Step 11:  Find the small bag with the flexible black plastic plugs (aka “strainer hole plugs”).  On the inside of the pool, plug the 2 filter holes with the black plugs.  (Time = 5 minutes)

Step 12:  Your pool is filling evenly.  Just leave the hose in, and wait.  As the pool fills, the walls will get higher and higher.  Kids can be in the pool at this point, but tell them to keep the hose in the pool, and not to make too big waves, or push on the sides.  You want it to fill as evenly and centered as possible.  Fill until the water level is up to the bottom of the blue ring.  (Time = 4 – 8 hours, depending on the size of your pool; the bigger the pool, the longer it takes to fill.)

Step 13:  While your pool is filling, put together the ladder and the pool skimmer.  The kids can help with this.  Follow the directions.  (Time = 30 minutes)

Step 14:  Pool is up, ladder is in.  Let the kids get wet for a while, if they haven’t already.

Step 15:  Unpack the filter.  Check the directions.  Get a penny, the 2 longer hoses, and 4 of the metal clamps.  You’ll need to connect the filter pump to the pool using both of the hoses.  One hose is intake (pool to filter), another is outflow (filter to pool).  + to +.  It’s marked on the pool, and on the filter pump.  Put 1 clamp on the end of each tube.  Connect the tubes correctly.  Check the markings again, to make sure you’ve got it right.  Tighten the clamps using the penny.  (UPDATE 9/2016: The Intex pool we bought this summer had plastic clamps with knobs you turn to tighten – much better!) Be sure to not over tighten – you just want them not to be leaking.  (Get rid of the floating pool skimmer unit – I’ve never been able to get it to work with the soft, ring pools, and you can burn your filter out if it gets tilted and stops sucking in water.  Also discard the shorter plastic hose – although it makes a great noise if you whip it in a tight circle; otherwise, not much use at all.)  (Time = 20 minutes)

Step 16:  Make sure the filter pump top is screwed on snugly.  Remove the 2 black plugs from inside the pool.  The tubes should fill with water.  Now you need to insert 2 pieces inside the pool, into the holes where you pulled the 2 black plugs out; insert the strainer piece in the intake, and the open hole piece in the outake. Unscrew the small knob set into the top of the filter lid.  Wait till water starts flowing out under the knob, then quickly tighten it back down.  (Time = 5 minutes)

(CHANGING THE FILTER: You will need to keep the 2 black plugs handy for when you need to change the Type “A” Filter Cartridge in the pool filter pump. Just unscrew the strainer and the open hole pieces inside the pool, put the plugs in, then unscrew the top of your filter pump. Take the old, yucky cartridge out, pop a fresh clean one in, screw the lid of the filter pump on tight, take the 2 black plugs out and put the strainer and open hole pieces back where they were originally. Be sure you unscrew the little knob on the top of the filter pump lid, to let out any air in the hoses/filter pump – unscrew it a little until no more air, and only water starts coming out, then screw it down tight, and you’re set to run the filter pump!) UPDATE 9/2016: The Intex pool we bought this summer had 1 outtake and 2 intakes, and dealing with the black plugs was a hassle, so, we finally figured out a super easy way to change the filter! Bring a table over to where your filter pump is. Carefully lift the filter pump up onto the table, leaving all the hoses attached. Unscrew the top of your of your filter pump. Pull out the old filter, put in the new one. Screw the lid of the filter pump on tight. Carefully lift the pump off the table and place back down on the ground. Unscrew the little knob of the filter pump lid, to let out any air; once water starts coming out, screw the little knob down tight. Done! Easy peasy! Oh, and move the table away from the pool, before the kids get any bright ideas. Also, buy enough Type A filters to be able to change them every 2 weeks while you have your pool up. UPDATE 7/2017: You can extend the life of your filter cartridge by hosing it off regularly – every couple of days.

Step 17:  You’re now ready to run the filter pump.  Check the pool instructions for filter usage requirements.  We usually plug it in at night, and unplug it in the morning.  Do NOT run the filter while anyone is IN the pool.

Step 18:  Chemicals.  Educate yourself.  Read the instructions.  You’ll need to know how many gallons are in your pool.  You will need a pool test kit, and know how to use it.  Visit a pool store if you’d like to chat with someone and pick up a test kit, and a set of chemicals.  Or, do some online research and go to Walmart and get the test kit and chemicals yourself.  Generally, since Easy Set pools are so small, you just need to worry about chlorine, and not pH.  For our first pool, we got our test kit at a pool shop and spent some time talking to learn about pool care.  Now, we just buy chlorine granules at Walmart or Target.  Occasionally, you will need to “shock” your pool, which means to super-chlorinate your pool.  Read all chemical instructions carefully, store out of reach of kids, and put chems in the pool when there is no one around.  Do not breathe them, mix them, or get them wet.  Serious stuff, pool chems.  Use rubber gloves if it makes you feel more comfortable.  ALWAYS test the pool before the kids get in, to make sure the chlorine is below 3 ppm.  Always, always, always.

Step 19:  Talk with your kids.  Set the ground rules:  no going in the pool unless Mom or Dad says it’s ok, and knows you’re in the pool; no going in the pool until Mom or Dad has checked the chlorine level; play safe; don’t hold anyone under water; stop if someone’s crying; don’t sit on, straddle, or push down on the blue ring; don’t climb the side of the pool – use the ladder; no sharp objects in or near the pool; no sand in the pool; no pets in the pool; no peeing in the pool; no drinking the pool water; no diving; and no running and jumping into the pool (a boy slipped and was paralyzed doing this).

Step 20:  Always supervise anyone in the pool at all times.  And pick up enough A size filters to change the filter every 2 weeks.  Enjoy your pool!

UPDATE 7/8/11:  In the process of setting up our new pool for this year.  Got a 16′ x 42″ at Kmart $130 off, but was surprised to find this Intex pool did not include a tarp, pool skimmer and vacuum, or cover – it was pool, ladder, and pump only.  We ended up having to get a roll of plastic sheeting at the hardware store and used that under the pool. Luckily, we have our other items from last year. At least the ground is already leveled!

UPDATE 7/10/12:  Just finished setting up our new 15′ x 36″ Intex pool for this year. Ordered just the pool + filter from Target for $149, free delivery. Bought a roll of plastic sheeting and pool chems at Lowe’s. Had to spend a day re-leveling the pool site – removing the weeds that had grown, scraping down the dirt, picking rocks. We all worked together, and got it done quickly. Kids are really enjoying the pool with all the hot weather we’ve been having!

UPDATE 9/10/16: Bought a 15′ x 48″ Intex pool this year, which was great as we had a drought in our area, and local park swimming was very limited. Paid $270 for the pool, shipped free from WalMart, and included filter pump, drop clothe, and pool cover. See notes above: the metal clamps were replaced by easy-to-use plastic clamps. And we figured out a super easy way to change the filter. I had difficulty locating enough Type A filters, and had to order some from Amazon. Love our Intex Easy Set pool!

UPDATE: July 2017: This is the first year we’ve successfully been able to “recycle” our Intex pool. Last year, at the end of summer, we emptied, cleaned, and oh-so-carefully packed up our pool for the winter. We lightly folded it, and stored it in our garage. And when it started to get warm again, we laid it out on our pool spot, unrolled it, blew up the ring, and filled it with water, all while crossing our fingers. The pool ring is the kicker (see the comments). Last time we tried to reuse a pool, the ring would not hold air, and we were not able to patch it, which led to repeated pool collapses. This time, the ring holds air, but it does have a slow leak. Every week we have to pump the ring up again, but the kids are being careful of the ring, and so far so good. $300 saved! Yay! And, we learned you can rinse off your type A filters with the hose, to help keep them clean between changes.


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