Things Learned in the Woods

Yes we can!
#likeagirl: Super proud of setting up the tent behind us all by ourselves!

Sometimes I have a tendency to sell myself short. I will let other people do things for me simply  because I believe they can do it better, faster, stronger (more than ever our work is never ooo-ooover). But how do you grow that way? Last weekend in the woods, I learned that I know how to set up a tent. After 6 years or so of camping with DH, I actually committed this skill to memory. And did it. #likeagirl

#imaginationvacation
They don’t need toys and gadgets

No matter how many toys you buy them, how many gadgets they own – a kid with some sticks and rocks and a few leaves has everything they need to have fun. Minutes after arriving at the campsite, they were busy digging trenches and building fairy houses. You don’t have to tell kids how to play in the dirt – this knowledge resides at the core of their very being.

rainy day cuddles
You can’t tell the weather what time it is.

Sometimes you have to roll with the punches. The weather doesn’t care that it’s Father’s Day weekend and you have a limited amount of time for Fun in the Sun memories. Go with the flow, indulge in rainy day tent cuddles, catch up on your reading pile. Breathe.

enjoy the view
Stop and look around.

Don’t forget to reevaluate your day often, especially on a “bad day” – because a day doesn’t have to continue being bad. You can always find beauty in it if you slow down and look. You can always pause, breathe in the dewy air and start fresh. Ignore the rainy moments, the itchy bug bites and the muddy trails and find your zen again.

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She fears nothing.
Don’t be afraid to do your own thing.

Sometimes you have to admit what you need and pursue it, even if your needs differ from the crowd. There are times for rolling with the punches and there are times for saying, “See you in 30 minutes. We’re going to go enjoy the beach now.”

this is the good life
Let go of perfection and you’ll find it.

Sometimes “perfect poses” are over rated. Sometimes the giggles can’t be contained and make a beautiful moment even better. Sometimes the beautiful moments are just as much in the people as they are in the place.

fried fish is made to be eaten
Plans are made to be broken.

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men; Gang aft agley” (translation: …often go awry | source: Robert Burns). I think I instinctively knew that if we planned for one of our meals to be the fish caught by my husband and friends, that somehow we would not be eating fish. It’s not that I don’t think they can catch fish, it’s just that I knew it was foolish to rely on it. Apparently it was foolish to rely on my backup plan, too, of bratwurst and hot dogs. Between the lack of fish and the ever persistent rain, we opted to seek out the next best thing: Fried fish, followed by frozen custard: safely indoors.

to infinity and beyond
Fear is a powerful thing.

I’ve been afraid before. I’ve avoided things simply because my fear said “no, don’t do that.” Sometimes they are silly, sometimes not. But I’ve rarely pushed too far against that instinct. I didn’t know the physical manifestations that accompany fear when you push on. The way your feet try to betray you and your breath feels constricted. The way time slows down for you but seems in fast forward for everyone else who joyfully prances ahead to see the cool thing. It’s surreal to watch others around you not affected by these invisible forces.

Logic told me that the infinity room was something worth pushing ahead for and that it was unlikely to fail me. I wanted to reach the end, to see the big sights. I wanted it even more when I realized how hard it would be for me to walk that short walk to get there. I forged ahead slowly and I’m proud of myself, but I felt much better a few steps back as the air returned to normal thickness and my heart stopped hammering in my chest.

there be dragons
Where there is a photo op, we’ll be there.

This where I wrap up my post with a sweet, heart warming paragraph about how great my family is and my words sort of contradict the things I’ve already written but also tie them together beautifully. But sometimes you don’t need to tie it all together. Life isn’t a perfectly tied bow. It’s a series of semi-unrelated incidents that only make sense if you step back far enough to let them blur together. If you stop looking at them altogether and look at the faces around you instead. Because at the end of the day, the faces are all that matters. 

Spring Break: Geeking out at the Wisconsin Dells

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We went on vacation this week. Our kids have spring break a few weeks before the rest of the town. A fringe benefit to private education is having Spring Break all to ourselves I guess. That and the stellar education and lack of common core. Whatev.

We stayed at the Mount Olympus Hotel Rome. I’m not sure I can recommend it in good conscience. We’ve been to better places. But that’s coming from the snooty grown ups who were like “These beds are uncomfortable” / “this indoor waterpark reeks of chlorine and the bottom of the pools feel like knives in my feet” / “stuff seems kinda run down” / “stop trying to upsell me” – that kinda stuff. My kids didn’t really notice any of that.

They noticed:

tea cups and slushees - a match made in heaven?
TEACUPS!!! (and bumper cars and go karts and laser tag and MORE)
slushee love
thank you God, for this delicious slushee
ready for the waterpark
Being able to go to the water park in March!!

So yeah the kids thought Mount Olympus was awesome. And at the end of the day, that’s what really matters. Dan and I decided to check out of some the tourist attractions we’ve ignored in the past because “there is so much to do right here at the hotel!!!” Without that excuse holding us back, we  finally checked out:

TOP SECRET

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This place is ridiculous in kind of a great way. They were running a discount that day so we all got in for $16. A lot of the hotels in the area have discounts for stuff like this, too. The premise is that in 2002 the White House somehow crash landed upside down in the Wisconsin Dells. Now it’s a tourist attraction. Like furniture is bolted hanging from the ceilings and there are weird creepy passages and famous historical guys lurking about. It’s campy entertainment and we kind of loved it. We also went to the…

Tommy Bartlett Exploratory

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More campy fun. This place is kinda like a kid’s science museum and kind of like a Star Wars rip off theme park. You barely know what you are walking into when you go inside and three hours later when you stumble back outside you will have no idea how so much time as gone by. But in addition to the silly Star Wars-esque robots there are tons of hands on science-y exhibits that the whole family geeked out over. Some highlights included:

pattern talk
attempting to create the same patterns by describing the pattern to each other

and:

muscle man
Lifting a 5,000 ton SUV using a giant lever system.

And of course the best part about going on vacation is how comfortable your bed feels when you finally get home!

Where is your favorite place to go on vacation with the family?

Road Trip Tips: 8 tips to reduce vacation stress and have a blast!

roadtriptips

This summer our family took a three week road trip up and down the East Coast and camped at half the stops along the way. This vacation was hugely daunting to me and I’ll admit, I was terrified that it was going to be a disaster – but we had a great time and survived the experience with our sanity in tack.

Here are the things I did that I think helped make the vacation a success.

the road trip binder1. Do your research and stay organized! While planning the vacation, I bought a three ring binder and a bunch of plastic sleeves and sticky tabs to keep organized. Inside the binder I had our itinerary (which I reprinted at least a dozen times over the months leading up to the trip as things changed), all our reservations, directions for each day of driving (rather than trying to do the whole trip in one set of directions) and ideas for things to do in each state. I also had a list of camping recipes and activity ideas and plenty of room to add new papers on the go. Each day had a plan of attack, a place to drive to and an estimate for how many hours we’d be driving. As important as ALL of this was (crucial really), equally important is…

2. Don’t be too rigid. Let yourself change plans: We probably changed 40% of the trip as we went. Some days were just NOT panning out to be camping days and we got a hotel instead. Some days we decided to just keep driving. Some days the drive time estimate was way off or the restaurants I’d looked up were not what we wanted or the place we wanted to go was closed. Don’t hug that binder too tightly. The whole point is that it gives you both a starting point and a place to fall back to. It’s not The Only Thing That Will Work. Let yourself roll with the punches and embrace the journey or you will be a hot mess. This leads in nicely to…

3. Go with the flow but acknowledge your own needs. Especially if you are traveling with other people – friends, in laws, etc. all naturally move and live at a different speed than your family. That’s just how it is. We’re programmed differently with different needs. Try to be flexible so you can all get along and find road trip harmony but acknowledge your own breaking points and give yourself time to reboot and do things on your own speed when you need it – and if you are like me, you will need it. Don’t feel guilty about needing your own rhythm.

Okay so apart from the State of Mind Suggestions, here are some fun and practical tips that we utilized on our vacation.

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The I’m Bored Box: In an effort to be Super Mom, and avoid back seat boredom, I spent months leading up to the trip collecting books and activities that would tie in nicely with the various legs of our journey or just be a fun distraction. I wrapped them up by date and wrote where we were going and what we’d see. Most days that we were on the road both kids had a package to open – sometimes it would be a combined package.

Cautionary tale: This was way too many packages for a 3 week road trip. Imagine your backseat slowly becoming cluttered with 40+ books and activities and toys along with the other things you accumulate on the trip. If it’s a short trip (like less than a week) then I think my method would have worked well. For longer trips, use this idea more sparingly so that you don’t have to spend 20 minutes waiting for your kids to find their seat belt at each stop.

A hack for mounting your tablet as a portable DVD player: Before we left, I’d spent a lot of time looking for a portable DVD player or some kind of carrier to put our tablet in so the kids could watch movies during the drive. We never found one we were 100% sold on.316-7xx_2Then right before we left my husband came up with the idea to take a bungee cord and wrap it under the fold in the case that my tablet came with (the kind with a cover for the front) and then attach the tablet to the center console of our truck so that the tablet was facing into the backseat – right in the middle so both kids could easily see. We were able to charge the tablet up front so the battery lasted the length of the movie and the whole thing cost us nothing because we were reusing things we already owned.

There’s An App For That: Take advantage of technology where you can. In addition to your phone probably having a great GPS and camera to use on your trip, you can also find a lot of great apps to use along the way. Two that we took major advantage of were:

  • The KOA app for Android which lets you search for KOA kampgrounds near you, gives detailed descriptions of said campgrounds and what is nearby, stores your Value Kard Rewards if you are a member, make reservations, mark favorites and get emergency alerts along the way.
  • RoadNinja is awesome  for planning what exit to take when you need gas, food or a hotel. You can search by highway and see what is at each exit and how far away it is. There are several apps with this premise but RoadNinja was the best executed free app available, in my opinion.

Avoid car sickness: Aside from keeping road sickness medicine on hand and having plenty of barf bag options, a new thing I learned the hard way is Keep the kiddos hydrated! If they aren’t getting enough to drink, apparently it can exacerbate motion sickness and keep them from feeling any relief. Bring some gatorade in case anyone accidentally goes too long without a drink. For us this seemed especially true when trying to wake up uber early for the day’s drive.

Family Photo Ops: You want everyone in the picture but you don’t want to use a tripod or your arms just aren’t that long. Look for another family ALSO trying to get a family picture and offer to swap photographer duties with them. It can be super sketchy trying to find someone to take your picture and not be paranoid that they will run off with your camera. Another mom or dad with kids is way less likely to commit theft like that in front of their own children. And you’ll be paying it forward.

These are just a few things I learned along the way that I think made our vacation a success. In short, be prepared but don’t be married to your plans. Be creative and have fun!

 Read more about our vacation here.

Road Trip Diary: The St Louis Galleria in Missouri

epicroadtrip

When we last left off on my recap of our Epic Family Road Trip, we were visiting Metropolis Illinois, home of Super Man. That morning we had visited the Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Some would consider that a pretty full day of travel but we had one more stop to make that night before we gave in and stopped for the night.

The thing is – it was actually BB’s 5th birthday that day and despite having seen a lot of cool touristy stuff that day, I didn’t want to let the day go by without doing something extra special for her. I had it in my head that we should go to Build-a-Bear to let her pick out a birthday present. But the closest one to us was ever so slightly out of the way in St Louis Missouri.

Hubby agreed that the detour was worth it and we headed to the St Louis Galleria which is coincidentally the home of the original Build-a-Bear Workshop. BB was absolutely in her glory. We’d never purchased anything there before and both kids were SUPER excited. Incidentally, neither child purchased a bear.

StLouis

BB fell in love with Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony and when MM saw Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles there was no going back for him either. They loved the whole process of stuffing their new loved ones and picking out names, etc. Both kids got a little bag to carry their stuffed friends in and then we took the kids out for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.

The drive into St Louis was a little crazy as we hit the town at rush hour and it was crazy packed, but we got a peek at the St Louis Arch and I snapped a picture as we drove by. The ride back into Illinois was much quieter when we left that night and eventually pulled over and found a hotel to stay the night. The next morning we had a fairly short and uneventful ride home.

And that’s the final recap of our road trip! We had such an amazing trip with a lot of memories that I know we’ll treasure forever.

Previous: Metropolis IL

Visiting Metropolis: Home of Superman

MetropolisIllinois

I owe a major thank you to the friend who said, “Oh if you are driving through Southern Illinois, make sure you stop in Metropolis.

You mean like Superman, Metropolis? Like that’s a real place?

She assured me it was quite real and gave me the skinny that I’m going to give you now. Metropolis Illinois is a small town in southern Illinois that loves its Superman Legacy. They even have a 15-foot bronze statue of him in the middle of Superman Square. Seriously. They also have a Supermuseum and gift shop.

According to roadsideamerica.com,

“The Chamber of commerce used to givefree packets of Kryptonite to children — until lawyers from DC Comics read about it on this website and made the town stop (Metropolis failed to submit the “Kryptonite” for approval by DC, and the chunks presented a choking hazard for children anyway).”

Metropolis

5 Things To Know

  1. Metropolis is not the big, bustling city that you might expect given its name and Superman’s story. It’s a pretty small town and for the first fifteen minutes driving through town I was unconvinced we were in the right place. Keep going until you see the massive man in tights. I promise he’s there.
  2. Once you get to the center of Metropolis, all the Super Sights are in walking distance. Find a parking spot and you are ready to enjoy the sights.
  3. The Super Museum is also the Super Gift Shop. When you go inside, there is a ton of memorabilia, comics, old toys and Super Stuff. The museum is further inside and costs $5 for everyone over the age of 5.
  4. When you step inside Superman’s phone booth, sadly you don’t magically turn into a superhero, but you do look adorable so take pictures.
  5. The 37th Annual Superman Celebration will take place June 11th – 14th, 2015. Super fans travel from all over the globe to visit the Official Home of Superman. Complete with an Artist’s Alley, Man of Steel exhibitions and contests, amusement park, live music and $1000 Superhero Costume Contest, the Superman Celebration provides fun for the entire family.

We were only in Metropolis for a couple of hours but it was a really fun stop on a long day of driving and the kids were absolutely in their glory! It was, in a word, Super!

Previous: Bowling Green KY

Next: St Louis MO

Road Trip Diary: Lost River Cave, Bowling Green KY

lostrivercave-ky

Did you think I was done recapping our summer road trip? Believe it or not, there are still more stories to tell! We got busy last month with the start of a new school year and that whole me getting a job thing, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you guys about one of the coolest places we went this summer: The Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Initially we’d planned to see Mammoth Cave while we were in Bowling Green but it turns out that the tickets to the Mammoth Cave tours sell out FAST! I did a little research and came across this gem of an alternative. The Lost River cave was conveniently located, reasonably priced and even better: not sold out yet!

I was fascinated with the history of the Lost River Cave which boasts the tale of the blue hole, disappearing Civil War soldiers, Jesse James’ hiding place and the cave’s night club past life. I got a lot of story ideas out of this trip, not to mention a ton of exercise!

After a 20 minute leisurely hike along the property, we came to the entrance of the cave where we took a boat tour through the cave – parts of the cave ceiling are so low that you have to really duck as you go by which sounds intimidating but the guide does a good job of preparing you for it and the boat is moving pretty slow to give you time.

The tour guide was funny and informative and had a lot of great stories to tell. The cave was beautiful (and nice and cool – awesome on a hot July day). Afterwards we hiked some more to the butterfly habitat which was beautiful and probably one of BB’s favorite parts of the morning – and just one of many family friendly activities they have to offer in addition to the cave tour. We couldn’t resist pressing some pennies up near their gift shop where they also had treasure mining activities and an Outdoor Classroom to learn more about nature.

lostrivercave

So whether you are a hiking enthusiast, science geek, butterfly lover, spelunker, tree hugger, eager tourist or just looking for something fun to do with the family on your next visit to Bowling Green, I highly recommend the Lost River Cave.

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Next: Metropolis IL