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Sunday, December 27, 2015

The KidsPlace at the Whitaker Center - Harrisburg, PA

The KidsPlace is a special section for children 5 years and younger in the Harsco Science Center.  The Science Center is part of the even larger Whitaker Center, which also boasts an IMAX theatre.  The Whitaker Center is in downtown Harrisburg, with limited on street parking or you may park in the nearby Walnut Street garage.  Parking on street is free on Sundays; during other parking times there is a fee, as well as a fee to park in the garage.  When arriving at the Center, proceed up-stairs to the ticket desk for admission into the Science Center.  There is also a small gift shop on this level.

Cityscape with Slide
Immediately upon entering the Science Center there are a few kid-friendly exhibits, as well as the gated entrance for the KidsPlace.  The KidsPlace contains several exhibits, perfect for the 5 and under crowd.  The first exhibit is a cityscape with slide and pulley system to bring play bricks to the second level of the play structure.  Across the room is a padded play area for toddlers and a play market with plenty of play food and a place for a cashier to "check-out" the groceries.

Next is a water works area with two baby seats for the
smallest visitors to sit in the water play area to splash around.  There are water proof bibs available to help clothes stay dry.  Even if the kids get a bit too wet from the water, there are hand dryers to help dry their clothes.  The favorite exhibit on the day we visited seemed to be the ambulance, complete with lights and siren sounds.

After spending at least an hour in the KidsPlace, we ventured downstairs to other kid-friendly exhibits.  There was a place to design your own race car with the several different sizes and shapes of cars, and then the cars can be raced down a ramp.  It even tells you the speed of your car.  You can also make paper airplanes and fly them using a special launchpad to see which design goes the furthest.

The Market in KidsPlace
The bottom floor contains the hurricane chamber, simulating wind speeds of over 100 miles per hour!  This floor also houses any special exhibits that there may be at different times.  When we visited, there was a Christmas tree display and several hand crank train cars for kids to ride around a track.  We ended our day at the Whitaker Center by riding these trains and looking at the special Christmas light display.

Things to Remember:

1.  In case your child splashes around a bit too much in the water works area, it may be a good idea to bring a change of clothes.
2.  Check the Whitaker Center website for any special exhibits that may be there during your visit.
3.  Go on a Sunday to take advantage of the free on street parking.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Go 'N Bananas - Lancaster, PA

Go 'N Bananas is a new family fun center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  It is located close to Route 30, right off Dillerville Road.  If coming from Route 30 on Manheim Pike, it is best to pass Dillerville Road and turn right onto Garfield Ave after Sheetz.  We visited only a few days after their grand opening, on a Tuesday during the late morning.

Ballocity tube slide
When arriving, you check in at the desk and purchase the activity package that fits your needs - or your child's wants!  We chose the Monkey Toddler pass which includes play time in Ballocity, the Toddler Zone, and a $5 game card. The three level Ballocity structure is the first thing you see as you enter.  It has two twisting tube slides that start on the third level, as well as three regular side-by-side slides for racing.  There are plenty of balls to be thrown, shot out of cannons, or dumped from the large overhead bucket.  To get to the higher levels, children must climb up using the angled netting.  If needed, you can assist younger children, but the structure is meant for those 12 years and younger.  There are cubies for shoes - make sure you bring socks!

Next, we went to the arcade area to spend our $5 game card.  It looked as though most of the games were 50 cents and up.  Some were as much as $2 to play.  The games are all modern and very interactive.  My 4-year-old played basketball, a soccer-style kicking game, skee ball, a candy pick up machine, among others.  The $5 was spent pretty quickly though.  The game card is also used to accumulate tickets, and we turned in our tickets for a slinky-style bracelet.

Arcade and ropes course
While we didn't take advantage of the other attractions, there are many other things to do at Go 'N
Bananas.  There is laser tag, a toddler zone with soft climbing toys, two bowling lanes, spinning bumper cars, and an overhead ropes course.  The overhead ropes course looks challenging and fun for those that do not have a fear of heights.  In addition to these places to play, there is a cafe with Hershey's ice cream, sodas, and many other offerings.  I also noticed about four birthday party rooms.

Spinning bumper cars
Things to Remember:
1.  There is only one entrance / exit to Ballocity, so it is easiest to find a seat near there to keep track of your child/ren.
2.  You can keep your game card and any remaining tickets on it by registering your card at the kiosk in the game area.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Kids Castle - Doylestown, PA

Entrance to Kids Castle
Kids Castle is located within Central Park in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  Doylestown is directly north of Philadephia and about two hours from the York / Harrisburg area.  Central Park is a large park with all the usual park elements: soccer fields, playgrounds, a walking trail, and pavilions.  When pulling into the parking lot, it's easy to spot the most popular feature of the park.  A short walk down a paved trail takes you to Kids Castle, a huge wooden play structure with eight stories of labyrinth-like passages.

Portions of the Kids Castle play area are undergoing renovation, but it doesn't affect the main play structure of the Castle.  We arrived around 11 AM on a cool Sunday morning.  It had rained the night before, so a lot of the steps to the Castle were wet and slippery.  We quickly realized that the passages inside were perfect for kids, but there were places that adults would have difficultly fitting.  There is a path around the perimeter of the inside that is tallest and best for adults.  Further in, there are chutes that even a 3-year-old would need to crouch down to enter.  Throughout, there is themed artwork to look at on the interior and exterior of the Castle.

One corner has a popular "elevator" which takes kids, one at a time, down to the lower level.  The other favorite feature is the three story twisted tube slides.  I even saw some adults who managed to fit themselves down the very twisted slide.  While it is easy to lose your child in the complex passages of the Castle, there is a fence around the play area, making it easier to know that your child hasn't left the immediate area of the playground.  We solved this issue by having our 3-year-old yell out a window down to us from time to time.
Two twist tube slides

Even though we arrived fairly early on a Sunday morning, the playground quickly became busier as it got closer to mid-day.  There is plenty of seating around the Castle, but on this particular day most of the seats were still wet from the rain.  There is not much shade, so plan accordingly if it's a hot day.  There is a water fountain nearby, but it's a few minute walk over to a pavilion that also houses the restrooms.

Overall, Kids Castle is unlike any other play structure I've seen.  While it isn't that old - built in 1997 - a project is already underway to improve it and "save" it.  More play structures, such as a pirate ship, were recently added to the grounds.

Things to Remember:
1.  If you enter the address of the park, 425 Wells Road, into your GPS, it will most likely take you into a neighborhood.  Using "Central Park" or "Doylestown Township Municipal Building" for GPS directions that will most likely lead you to the park entrance.
2.  The restrooms are a bit of a walk on the other side of the parking lot, in a pavilion near the soccer fields.  We asked our 3-year-old if she had to go often, to avoid an emergency.
3.  Since it's easy to get lost within the structure, prepare your child beforehand with where to meet you if you get separated.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Curiosity Connection - Harrisburg, PA

Curiosity Connection is a special section of the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.  If you're traveling from Interstate 83, it's the 2nd Street exit that will take you into the city of Harrisburg.  A few more turns, and you'll see parking along the street all around the circular museum.  We were there on a Sunday morning and circled the block once before we found a parking space.  There are also parking garages in the city.  One nice reason to go on a Sunday is that metered parking in downtown Harrisburg is free on Sundays.

When we arrived at the museum, we found Curiosity Connection to be located right beside the front desk.  There is an admission charge to the museum, but the three of us entered for under $20.  We headed directly to Curiosity Connection, because the 3-year-old was very excited as soon as she saw it through the glass wall and doors.

There are different sections of the play area, much like Storyville in Baltimore.  There is a building materials section, bedroom / house, forest, farm, school bus, and automobile section.  The 3-year-old started with the house and immediately went through a small door that adults could not easily fit through.  I didn't realize that it was a tunnel that led to a couple of different places, so I waited for her to return to the bedroom play area, and she didn't.  The play area isn't very big, so it didn't take long to find her when she came out in the forest.

The play area was decorated for winter, with a special winter section for building a snowman with large stuffed white balls and an area where the kids could pretend to ice skate.  The trees in the forest were snow covered at their roots, and there were a few woodland creature costumes as well as a snowflake costume, which the 3-year-old loved and refused to take off.  We played in Curiosity Connection for about a half hour, and then decided to walk around in the rest of the museum, since that was included in our admission.

The escalators to the three other floors of the museum were a hit with the 3-year-old.  She also enjoyed the top floor which had the prehistoric animals, fish, large mammals, and small critters.  Older children may also enjoy the collection of wagons, stagecoaches, and the airplane.  There was also an interesting exhibit of an archaeology dig site.

Things to Remember:
1.  Conveniently, there's a family bathroom inside Curiosity Connection.
2.  The museum is really close to the Capitol Building, so if the weather is nice, it'd be a great walk.
3.  Curiosity Connection is only for children five and under, so make arrangements for older children.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Central Market - York, PA

Central Market in downtown York is located along Philadelphia and North Beaver Streets.  It's simple to get to from Route 30 in York, by taking George Street into the city and turning right onto Philadelphia Street.  There is a large parking garage across the street from the Market, and it's free to park on Saturdays.  We visited the Market on a very cold Saturday morning.

We entered the historic Market using the doors along Philadelphia Street, and the 3-year-old immediately saw the candy shop.  Our rule for trips to the Market is that she must walk up and down all the aisles before she decides what she'd like to purchase.  We kept her walking and enjoyed looking at all of the fresh vegetables, delicious desserts, and crafts for sale from the wide variety of vendors.

Eventually, we made our way to YorKitchen, which is a commercial kitchen incubator that has activities for kids on Saturdays.  Since this weekend was Superbowl Sunday, the kids had to throw a football through a goal to win a prize, which was a small football.  There were also a few other cute games for them to play.  Usually the activity includes decorating food in some way, for example on Valentine's Day weekend they decorate rice krispie treats with chocolate and sprinkles.

After seeing all of the goodies that the Market had to offer, the 3-year-old decided that candy was her choice for a treat, and we headed back to the candy stand.  There are various bags of candy, most $1, but ranging up from there.  Normally, she picks a cookie from a bakery stand, and now and then we get a pretzel wrapped hot dog.  There is plenty of kid-friendly foods at the Market, as well as many exotic treats to keep adults happy.  There are tables throughout, though the best seating location is a small loft overlooking the entire Market.

The Market is a great place to wonder around with the kids on a Saturday morning or early afternoon (they close at 2 PM), but there are also special events for kids throughout the year.  These events include a special New Year's Eve kids countdown; the Market is also a great place to get a treat before or after the York Saint Patrick's Day parade on Saturday, March 14th.

Things to Remember:
1.  If it's warm outside, bring a cooler to keep the goodies you buy cold until you get home.
2.  Check the YorKitchen website to confirm hours for the kid's activities.
3.  There are other small shops to check out around the Market, so consider walking the streets a bit.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Storyville - Woodlawn, MD

Storyville is located in the Woodlawn and Rosedale branches of the Baltimore County Public Library.  It is a kid-sized village where children age five and under can interact with specially designed elements that foster early learning and literacy skills.  We visited Storyville in Woodlawn on a rainy Saturday around noon.

The Woodlawn branch is close to I-695 at the Security Blvd exit.  The entrance to the Storyville parking lot is actually before the library when coming from I-695, so watch for a sign that says "Storyville".  If you miss it and turn into the library parking lot, you can walk through the library to the entrance of Storyville, which is in the back corner of the main library area.  At the entrance to the village, there are two family bathrooms, a water fountain, and an area to hang coats.

Grocery Store
At the front desk, you're asked for the first names of the people in your group, and then you are assigned one badge per group for one person to wear throughout the visit.  This is to keep track of how many people are inside the village, as they do have a maximum capacity.  When we entered, the 3-year-old went directly to the grocery store, which had a lot of fruits, vegetables, types of dairy, and meats to add to a basket and then check out with cash registers.  We were in this area for quite some time before she went exploring the other rooms.

Separate Play Area for Babies
Other rooms include a dress up area with stage, post office, construction zone with Lego table, library, house with upstairs loft and kitchen, trolley, puppet show theater, and forest.  There's also a separate play area for babies.  The kitchen was a big hit with the 3-year-old.  She loved the pretend kitchen sink, refrigerator, and all of the play bowls, cups, and food.  This was the most crowded room, since all the kids seemed to enjoy it.

In the back of Storyville, there is a small, traditional library space lined with books and some comfy places to sit and read.  We took notice to some backpacks along the wall in this area that were filled with books.  Each backpack was for a certain topic, such as "animals" or "things that move", and they could be checked out of the library as a package to learn more about that topic.

Storyville is free of charge for children and adults, and a great place to spend an hour or two learning and playing at the same time.

Things to Remember:
1.  Storyville has a maximum capacity with a wait list, so you may want to call ahead to see how busy they are on a particular day.
2.  Only children 5 and under can play in Storyville, so make arrangements for older children.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rollingcrest-Chillum Splash Pool - Chillum, MD

The Rollingcrest-Chillum Splash Pool was second on my list of indoor pools to visit this winter.  The first was Germantown Indoor Swim Center, which you can read about in my post here.  I apologize for the lack of photos of the pool accompanying this post.  There are signs throughout the facility indicating that photos and videos are not allowed in the building.  This may explain why there are so few photos of this pool on the web.  In my opinion, the few photos that I did find through Google were not representative of how large it is and how many fun elements the pool had built into it.  So, if a photo is worth one thousand words, then I will try to be as descriptive as possible.

Main entrance to the splash pool
We headed to the splash park on a Saturday afternoon.  I called ahead to make sure they were still open, because we have about an hour and 45 minute drive to get there.  The pool wasn't difficult to find, but the parking lot entrance comes up fast.  Go slow after turning onto Sargent Road, so you don't miss it.  When we arrived, we paid at the front desk, and they pointed us toward the family locker rooms located right by the pool entrance.  There were two of these, and the rooms included a toilet, shower, two hand dryers, and a sink.  The family locker rooms were big enough for the three of us, but a larger family may feel cramped.

After changing, we couldn't find any lockers to put our clothes in.  I looked in the ladies locker room and still could not find any place to put our clothes.  We asked at the front desk and apparently they do not have lockers right now.  We took our bulky stuff out to the car, coats and such, and left the rest of the stuff sit on the pool deck.  There are a few benches and several hooks for towels on the deck.

I was pleasantly surprised when we entered the pool.  There were more slides than I thought, and the whole pool area was larger than I imagined.  There are two areas, a large, main swimming area, and one for children 48" and below (parents can accompany their children).  Children 48" and below could still go into the main pool, but taller children could not use the "kids" pool.  It wasn't very busy on Saturday around 1:30 PM, but it got a bit busier as the afternoon went on.

The main pool includes a drop slide, rope and lily pad walk, tube slide, flume slide, whirl pool, and a crocodile and snake to climb on.  The kids pool had a smaller flume slide and a play structure.  The play structure had two double slides of different heights and a curved tub slide.  We started in the kids pool, and it took a while to convince the 3-year-old to go down the slides.  The play structure is one of those with water dumping and squirting everywhere.  You can't head up the steps to it without getting wet from above.  My 3-year-old doesn't like that and always tries to avoid the water.  She eventually worked up the courage to do it, and then she wouldn't stop using the slides.  One thing to note about the kids pool is that it is colder than the main pool.  We thought this might be because of the large windows and doors that are on the end of the building by the kids pool.

The big difference between Germantown Indoor Swim Center and Rollingcrest-Chillum Splash Pool was the depth of the water at the bottom of the slides.  At Rollingcrest, the water depth at the slide exits was about 6 inches and there is padding at the bottom of each slide; the 3-year-old did not need to be caught at the end of these slides.  Germantown had much deeper water, maybe 3 feet or so.  A small child would probably prefer to be caught on these slides, since they would most likely go underwater when entering the pool at the end of the slide.

After playing in the kids pool, the lifeguards blew the whistle to signal everyone to get out of the pool.  There is a 15 minute break in every hour, which starts at a quarter till the hour and ends on the hour.  It was a great time to convince my 3-year-old to take a break and use the potty.

After the break, we headed to the main pool.  The adults wanted to try the drop slide, but it was closed that day.  Instead, we headed to the large tube slide, which was for children 48" and above.  They will check and measure the children.  The tube slide exits the building and comes back in right at the end of the slide.  So, it was impossible to see how long the slide actually was.  I was pleasantly surprised at how long it was, and it was fast when laying down...except at the end.  Right at the end, somehow I slowed down to a stop.  I saw a lot of other adults doing the same thing.  Don't worry, it was at the end and not abrupt, and I just pushed myself the last foot or so.  I didn't even go under the water when exiting, so it was nice not to get my hair wet.

We ended our day at the splash pool by playing on the crocodile and the snake and taking a few rides down the double hump flume slide.  On this slide, the water will really splash in your face at the end.  It's quite a surprise the first time.  Overall, we had a great time at this pool, and it is really low cost, even for those that don't live in the Maryland counties that receive a small discount.

Things to Remember:
1.  There's a fifteen minute break every hour.  Prepare your children for this, so they are not disappointed when they have to get out of the pool.
2.  Don't bring a lot of extra stuff into the building until they get the lockers replaced.  We took our bulky winter coats to the car; luckily it was warm that day.
3.  Be prepared that your taller children (over 48") will not be able to play in the kiddie pool.  Two adult chaperons would be useful if you have one child above 48" and one below.
4.  With all of the water dumping and flowing, it is pretty loud in the pool area.  If your child is sensitive to constant loud noise, you may want to prepare them for how noisy the pool will be.  It's one of those things you stop noticing after being in the pool for a few minutes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

York City Ice Arena - York, PA

York City Ice Arena is located near Bob Hoffman Memorial Park on Vander Avenue in York City.  It is also across the street from the roller skating rink, Roll 'R' Way and sits beside York Catholic High School.  The ice rink opened in 2001 and boasts twin NHL-sized sheets of ice, a hockey pro shop, and a second level that overlooks the ice.

One of the two sheets of ice at York City Ice Arena
I attended an afternoon public skate session to try out ice skating with my 3-year-old.  We arrived just after the 1:30 session started and quickly checked in and got our wrist bands.  My daughter got rental skates and it took a good 10 minutes to get her skates on, my skates on, and her helmet on.  I wanted her to try some skating without holding on to me, and I felt that a helmet would make it a much safer activity.  I also took my time lacing her skates, as the tightness of her skates is important to help her balance and control.

We headed out onto the ice and made our way slowly around the perimeter, holding onto the wall.  The session was well attended for a weekday afternoon, but I assume it was busier than usual since it was a school holiday.  After a few slow laps, the little one got up the confidence to let go of my hand and made some of her first few glides by herself.  We didn't stay much longer than that, as her pants started to get wet from falling so much.  She seemed to have a good time, though, and we even got information on learn to skate lessons.

Things to remember:
1.  Gloves are a great idea...especially for those who may fall often.
2.  Stay to watch the Zamboni.  Your child may enjoy watching this large machine resurface the ice.
3.  Weekday afternoon, less crowded, sessions may be better for a new skater.
4.  Lace those skates tight!  That will help your child have more control on the ice.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ski Roundtop - Lewisberry, PA

Ski Roundtop is a mountain resort that has fun activities throughout the year.  During the winter, their main activities include skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing.  We headed to Ski Roundtop on a late Saturday afternoon to try the "kiddie tubing hill" with our 3-year-old.  Snow tubing can be an expensive outing, but kiddie tubing for ages 4 and younger is very low cost compared to the big hill at Roundtop.

Kiddie Tubing Hill
The mountain is a few miles from Interstate 83, and there are signs leading there after exiting 83.  We turned into the parking lot that had a huge "Snow Tubing" sign, and climbed out of the car.  Be careful!  While the parking lot was alright for driving, there are patches of ice.  After getting our little one bundled up in snow pants and a heavy coat in the lodge, we headed outside to sign waivers and pay for tubing.

Large Tubing Hill
Even though we were planning to just supervise our child and not snow tube ourselves, we still had to fill out the waiver forms.  We paid at the window, and the 3-year-old got a tag for her coat.  The kiddie hill is on the other side of the large hill, so you must walk past the queuing area for the large hill.  It is a slightly narrow walkway, and we had to watch people who were sliding their large snow tubes into our path.  At the kiddie hill, there are smaller tubes with different designs.  Of course, it was difficult to decide which tube was the best.  I pointed out a blue one with snowflakes, and that became the winner.

There are three lanes for the kiddie hill, and many more lanes on the large hill.  We waited until the lane was clear and gave her a push.  The tube can spin a lot, so we were concerned at first that she would not like that.  At the bottom of the hill, an attendant will take the lead of the snow tube and return your child to you.  We had to walk fast to retrieve her at the base of the hill, but running down is not really needed since the kids just wait in their tubes to be handed to their parents.  Thankfully, she seemed to love the fast ride and the spinning.  I would ask after each ride if she wanted to take a break, but she wanted to do it over and over again.

The "Magic Carpet"
For the kiddie hill, it's a short walk back up and not extremely steep.  The large hill has a "Magic Carpet" covered area that you can stand on and be taken up the hill.  It was a little under 30 degrees that night, and my bundled 3-year-old tubed for 45 minutes, took a short break to warm up in the lodge, and then tubed for another 20 minutes.  It was worth the drive and the cost, since she is still talking about how fast she went down the hill the next day.

The lodge has a snack bar, complete with the usual foods.  I saw a lot of people eating pizza and french fries, and of course, drinking hot chocolate.  There is a fire pit outside the lodge, as well as a nice fireplace inside to get warmed up.  It was very tempting to try the large hill that night, but kids must be five years old to use it.  We also have a Double Take Deal to use at Avalanche Express in York, so we'll wait to try the big hills there.

Things to Remember:
1.  It's obvious, but bundle up.  I had on three pairs of socks and two pairs of gloves.
2.  Check out the live webcams on their website.  They can show you the conditions and the size of the crowd.
3.  Have your child hold the rope on their tube when they go down.  Sometimes it gets caught under the tube during the slide and slows them down.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sky Zone - Mechanicsburg, PA

Sky Zone is an indoor trampoline park franchise.  They have locations in many countries and states.  Recently, two Sky Zones opened in Central Pennsylvania.  One location is in Lancaster and another, that we visited this week, is in Mechanicsburg (Harrisburg area).  I've also been to the one in Lancaster, and it looked very similar to Mechanicsburg Sky Zone.  There were just slight variation in the layout of the trampolines.

Regular Trampoline Court
We visited on a Wednesday evening.  It is possible to make reservations online, but I called that morning and was told that they usually are not busy on Wednesday evenings.  Sky Zone recently offered a GroupOn deal, and I figured the middle of the week would be the best bet to avoid the increased GroupOn crowds.  When we arrived around 6:30, it was not busy.  Waivers can be filled out online in advance, or there are several touch screen kiosks to fill it out onsite.  Take note that you need your driver's license number for the waiver.  When we visited in Lancaster I left my wallet in the car and had to go back outside to get it.  After the waiver is filled out, it's pretty simple.  The bouncers get a sticker with the time frame they've paid for printed on it.  Sky socks are included in the price and must be worn.  They are fairly nice socks with rubber on the bottom.  They have sizes from toddler to adult.

At this point we were ready to bounce.  The majority of the bouncers were on the dodge ball court, which I knew we wouldn't be visited by our 3-year-old and 10-year-old bouncers.  We started on a regular bounce court.  The Sky Zone staff member directed the kids which side to bounce on.  I am guessing that adults and older kids were kept to one side, while the smaller kids were on the other.  The kids bounced happily for about 10 minutes, until the 10-year-old left the court because she needed to rest already.  It must be a real workout!

Sky Zone pit
Pit Trampolines
Next, we headed over to the pits.  At the Mechanicsburg Sky Zone there are three trampolines to bounce into a pit of foam.  The kids had a lot of fun doing this, though the 3-year-old barely made it very far into the pit.  Those younger than three may need some assistance to get out of the pit.  Adults should make sure their keys and/or wallet is not in their pockets!  I can't imagine fishing it out of the pit.

Slam Dunk Court
We spent the rest of the hour going between regular bouncing, the pit, and a slam dunk basketball court.  We got some reasonably priced ($1) Popsicles at their small snack bar while the kids took a break.  There was also pizza, Icees, and soda.  One hour of bouncing was more than enough for us, as it was a very tiring activity for the kids.

Things to Remember:
1.  Fill out the waiver prior to arriving to save time.
2.  Groupons have been available in the past.  Check for one for your Sky Zone.
3.  The socks are yours to keep.  Though, we managed to lose one of each of ours...oh well.