VACATION PLANNING? I have binders full of vacations.

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Nothing to see here: just a girl and her midliners making a vacation binder full of budget estimates, itineraries and park maps. Raise your hand if you are a binder kind of girl? Page dividers? Multicolored midliners for further clarification? Spreadsheets??? Oh baby, right?

On a related note: Who here has been to Universal Studios in Florida with the fam? Share your best tips and experiences in the comments section!

Visiting Metropolis: Home of Superman

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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!

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Road Trip Diary: Lost River Cave, Bowling Green KY

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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.

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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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D.C. in 4 Hours: Walking the National Mall

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We only had about four hours to spend exploring Washington D.C. and we were traveling by foot the entire time. According to my pedometer, we put in over 10,000 steps in D.C. mostly just walking the National Mall. We fully intend to come back to D.C. and stay for a weekend at least so that we can do it right because there is so much we didn’t get to see. That said, we had a great time.

Map it: If you are planning a trip to D.C. I recommend looking over a map of the area, especially the National Mall, and figure out what you and your family want to see most. We walked the mall and saw the Washington Monument, The World War II Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and everything in between.

We also briefly visited the Smithsonian Castle and even more briefly walked through The Natural History Museum (sadly just as a way to cut across the street and be in air conditioning for a few minutes). If we’d had more time, I would have spent the whole day exploring all the different Smithsonian Museums which are all FREE!

Pro tip: If you don’t have all day, I recommend hitting the Smithsonian Castle which has lots of mini exhibits from all the other museums, giving you a taste of all the museums in a fraction of the time.

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1 – sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial 2 – Standing in front of the Washington Monument 3 – Reading names on the Vietnam War Memorial 4 – Admiring the Washington Monument from afar 5 – The infamous Lincoln Memorial statue!

The kids were such troopers that day, keeping up with us as we eagerly walked the mall to see all the different memorials. Dan and MM were really impressed with the Washington Monument – Dan was marveling at how the bricks on the monument are actually a slightly different color almost halfway up as they ran out of money building it and had to regroup. My favorite thing was definitely the Lincoln Memorial which I’d looked forward to finally seeing after the first day of our trip. I think BB most liked the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, not that she understood the importance of it. She honestly just liked the pretty reflections.

The in between moments:

Aside from all the big exciting things we saw, here were some of our smaller moments and memories of Washington DC.

1. We parked outside of the city and took a train into D.C. The hardest part of this process was trying to find the ideal train station to park at. Most of the cities around D.C. are quite urban and the first one we went to was both difficult to navigate and kindaaa sketchy. Another reason to just get a hotel in D.C. proper next time?

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2. By the time we walked the length of the National Mall and got to the Lincoln Memorial, BB was absolutely exhausted and not happy about the crowds either. She needed a time out before we continued walking and I was worried that we’d pressed our luck walking the whole way. Luckily she perked up and we all made it back to the train station in one piece! Bring water bottles and stay hydrated or consider getting tickets for one of those tour buses.

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3. There was a random piece of fencing in the reflecting pool and ducks were hanging out around it. While I marveled at how absolutely normal the city was with all the same amounts of construction, disarray and litter that you’d find in any major city, BB simply thought it was a bridge that she should walk on so she could go say hi to the ducks. She was very disappointed when I refused!

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4. After leaving the Vietnam Memorial, we kept walking to see the White House. We were coming from behind but had been hopeful for a good view. This was about as good as the view got. If we’d had any semblance of energy at all, we might have tried to walk around and see the front but we were low on energy and time and had to settle for this view and keep walking for the train station.

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5. Most of our pictures on this trip obviously were of the kids but MM did offer to take this picture of Dan and I so that we could be in a picture, too. I think it came out really good!

It was a long day with a lot of walking and a few moments of disappointment – mostly when we realized how little we’d actually have time to see, but we enjoyed our afternoon in D.C. and can’t wait to go back and see everything else!

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tbt: 3 Things you have to do in Amish Country, Pennsylvania

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While we were in Pennsylvania indulging in all things chocolate and roller coasters, we had to stop by Kitchen Kettle Village in Lancaster AKA Amish Country. Dan’s parents have been doing this Hershey Trip for years and Amish Country is always a required stop.

While you are there, there are three very important things you have to do:

1. Have lunch (or dinner) at the Plain and Fancy or the Bird-in-Hand. Assuming you can handle a communal meal filled with more delicious foods than you can possibly eat.

2. Go to Kitchen Kettle Village and stock up on jams and preserves and whoopie pies and any other foodstuffs or knick knacks that make your heart sing. There are plenty. You should have enough jelly to last you a year when you leave or you aren’t doing it right.

3. Take nostalgic pictures of your kids at Kitchen Kettle Village so that after several years you can make collages that make your ovaries swoon.

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Road Trip Diaries: Hershey, PA

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After driving through Ohio and New York and spending a week in Massachusetts, most people would consider that an awesome family vacation. We would call that JUST THE BEGINNING. Having seen most of our friends and family and eaten at all of the places that make it feel like home, we packed up and left for Hershey, Pennsylvania at the bright and absurdly early time of 4AM.

Things we learned:

  • Caravaning for long distances is hard work. Families travel at different speeds and require different bathroom breaks, etc. Texting between passenger seats is a useful way to keep in touch when you lose each other and a fun addition to a long drive.
  • My daughter is not a morning person (the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree). Between waking up too early and possibly not hydrating enough, I was a bit nauseous and she was downright miserable. This was literally (and luckily) our only bout of carsickness on the trip. So, early morning travel is probably not going to be a big thing in our family.
  • Hootie and the Blowfish / Counting Crows – I can’t tell them apart and my husband tells me that I’m insane and that they sound vastly different. Anyone else agree with me that the difference is actually quite subtle?

Eventually we got to Pennsylvania and found ourselves at the Hershey Hotel’s Woodside Cottages AKA the swankiest, most luxurious hotel I’ve ever stayed in. My amazing in laws booked a cottage for all of us so that we could have our own hotel rooms but all be together and have the added bonus of privacy and pampering. These cottages are amazing and probably every trip to Hershey from here on out is going to be slightly disappointing in comparison.

So how was Hershey?

Both amazing and less than amazing depending on the minute. On the one hand, the kids got to go on a lot of rides, my husband had a nostalgic-filled week sharing the fun of Hershey with his parents, siblings and the three of us. We got to see everything, including spending a day in a rented cabana where we could enjoy the water park and / or relax depending on our preferences. We played ski-ball which always makes me happy. I took a bunch of pictures of the kids posed with things or riding rides. I walked a LOT which meant lots of extra exercise to counteract all the calories consumed in the Land of Chocolate.

Less than stellar things which occasionally made me grumpy:

  • It rained like constantly. Actually, if I had to describe our vacation in one word, RAIN would probably be the best descriptor. Apparently July is Thunderstorm season basically everywhere and one storm or another seemed to chase us the entire month.
  • Trying to match the pace of all those long legged in laws was exhausting. I probably should have slowed down and gone at my own pace but I was so eager to not miss anything and probably also trying too hard to be easy going and likable that I often sacrificed my own happiness or energy level in the name of fitting in. Basically I acted like a ridiculous teenager a few times and I’m not proud of it.
  • Did I mention the rain? Like when our cabanas were evacuated TWICE because of freakishly large thunderstorms or the time we were driving to Panera Bread and the rain was falling so hard that the visibility was like -5 feet.
  • Super skeevy laundromats.
  • Our GPS being super weird and taking us on the strangest routes to get places.

Stellar things that more than made up for the grumpiness:

  • In between being overly anxious about being fun and care free, I actually had some fun and carefree moments. Like going out for drinks with in laws, laughing uproariously with my mother-in-law about how weirdly similar Dan and his brother and father are, especially when they somehow manage to perfectly match each other’s pace while they’re walking and start to resemble tin soldiers marching in a line.
  • Turn down service at the hotel – soft fluffy robes and chocolates on our pillows every night.
  • All the rides at Hershey with the kids – seeing my brave littles take on rides that were intimidating and watching the grandparents and aunts and uncles spending precious time with them. Feeling like a kid again.
  • Being able to take the shuttle into the park which meant not dealing with parking basically at all.

Things Learned:

  1. Despite my best efforts, I’m not a go with the flow girl. I try my best, but I’m not good at it.
  2. I care too much what other people think of me and doubt myself too often.
  3. BB is much braver than MM when it comes to potentially scary rides. She is a risk taker at heart and he’s a cautious kid, much like his mother.
  4. Reeses Martinis are delicious.
  5. There should always be soft, fluffy robes.
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1 – MM was in the Hershey Bar height range for rides | 2. Checking their height at Hershey Park’s Zoo | 3. Riding the carousel with papa | 4. MM on the Frog Hopper | 5. Posing with Hershey KISS!! | 6. BB LOVED the Frog Hopper | 7. Riding on the little kid version of that crazy swing ride | 8. BB and MM truck driving – MM was such a sweet and patient big brother that day | 9. BB was at the Hershey Kiss Height Level which tickled her absolutely pink.

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