Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trip Report: Warren Dunes State Park

I remember visiting the Indiana Dunes when I was little, soon after my family had moved to Indiana.  We were shocked to learn that there was a beach (like, a REAL beach) in the heart of the Midwest.  So I was really looking forward to our camping trip to Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, Michigan, right along Lake Michigan.  And our destination did not disappoint.

We started our trip on Thursday morning.  We drove to Fair Oaks Farms, off Exit 220 on I-65 to give the arrow a little break from the ride.  At Fair Oaks, we toured one of the nation's largest dairy farms.  The arrow especially enjoyed the playground and the grilled cheese.  Then we were back on the road for our final destination--Warren Dunes.

We spent the afternoon setting up our campsite.  Then we drove into New Buffalo, another lakeside town, to get groceries and eat a quick dinner.  We headed back to Warren Dunes and spent a beautiful evening at the beach.  It was gorgeous and the arrow could have played in the small waves all night long. 

The next morning we woke up early and headed to Michigan City to catch the Southshore Train to Chicago.  My husband had to visit the Brazilian consulate for an upcoming business trip.  So while he was taking care of that, the arrow and I romped around Millenium Park.  I loved the Cloud Gate sculpture, and the arrow loved the Crown Fountain.  I must have worn him out, because he dozed off for 20 minutes in the stroller and my husband and I got to eat a leisurely breakfast in the park.  After such a whirlwind trip to the city, we spent the rest of the day relaxing around the campsite.

Saturday morning we woke up and ate a delicious breakfast at Blue Plate Cafe.  While our trip started with 90 degree temps, by this point, it was in the 40s.  We drove to the Indiana Dunes State Park, and took a quick hike, but the blistery winds got the best of us, so we headed to Chesterton and enjoyed their European Farmer's Market.  We ate lunch back at the campsite, and let the arrow take a nice long nap. That night we ate dinner out at a local sports bar so that my husband could catch some of the Notre Dame football game.

Sunday morning we packed up and hit the road for home.  The arrow slept for most of the drive, giving us time to reflect on what a great time we had.  Camping presents its own set of challenges, like dealing with less than ideal weather, but we learned a lot about how to make the best of it (click here for some of my tips on camping with a toddler), and we also learned the arrow is tougher than we thought.

I'll be blogging about more of these adventures in greater detail in the weeks to come, so please check back!

This post is a part of Spotlight Thursday at Trekaroo.


My favorite part of our recent trip?  That these two got to spend more time together.

This post is a part of You Capture at I Should Be Folding Laundry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things I Learned While Camping with a Toddler

We just returned from an amazing 4-day trip to Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan. While everything was still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share a few tips I learned last week about camping with a toddler.

1.) Baby wipes are your friend.  There wasn't really a place to bathe our toddler at the campground, and it was far too cold for most of our trip to do so in the great outdoors.  So he took a lot of mini-baby-wipe baths.  I had wipes everywhere--in the camper, in the car, in my purse, near the fire, etc. And we needed lots of 'em.

The arrow snacking.
2.) Pack diaper rash cream.  What goes along with a lack of baths?  Diaper rash.  Fortunately I had packed it, but I don't always do that when we're away for a few days.  I'm so glad I did, because we battled a rash throughout the trip.

3.) Plan for a variety of temperatures.  I knew ahead of time from that our trip was going to start out warm and end cool.  I didn't plan on a 50-degree swing in temperatures, though, and all of us could have really used some warmer clothes (especially pajamas). In the pic to the right, our 16-month-old is wearing a size 6x kids sweatshirt, which was the smallest we could find at a nearby store!

4.) There will be a lot of snacking going on.  From 3 p.m. on, our son wanted to eat pretty much every hour until bedtime.  This was fine with us, because when he was snacking, he was contained in his high chair and not wandering to different campsites or teetering around the fire. (We love this portable high chair.*)

The arrow skipping his nap.

5.) Forget the schedule.  I'm a schedule person, and our son is usually on one.  But while we were camping, I found it best to just let sleep happen whenever.  One day he didn't take a nap.  One day he took two.  One night he went to bed right on time.  One night he stayed up really late.  Doesn't matter.  He was happy.

6.) Consider day trips.  We have always done this when camping, even before our son was born because we like to use our campsite as a home base for exploring other areas.  But I think it is even more essential with a toddler.  I think he enjoyed relaxing in the car on the way to various destinations, staying warm inside some places, etc.  Everyone needs a break from the campsite, and few little mini-trips will help.

7.) Figure out where the closest retail store is in advance.  Without a doubt, you'll forget something or need something.  We almost traveled 30 minutes south looking for a big box store when there was one five minutes north.  I should have looked that up ahead of time.

8.) Get a site somewhat near the playground.  Most campgrounds have a playground.  It's a nice option when you need to kill 20 minutes.  For us, it came in really handy when my husband was trying to pack everything up--I took our son to the playground so he was out of the way.

9.) Cancel the noise.  The campground was full most of the weekend, and therefore pretty loud at times.  I was so glad we had electricity and our son could listen to his lullaby music at night and during naps.
The arrow snuggling by the fire.

10.) Find a travel guide/magazine/brochure for the surrounding area.  I did some research in advance and had written down some numbers and addresses.  But it was really helpful to pick up the local tourism magazine once we were there for a more robust info source.  Remember, camping = no internet.  Which is one of the beautiful things about it, in my opinion, but it also means the answer to every question might not be at your finger tips. 

If you're looking for more helpful tips on camping with young children, you might enjoy some of my other posts:

Are you an outdoorsy family that loves to spend time in nature with your kids? These posts might also catch your interest:

*Affiliate link.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We all scream for ice cream!

One area of domestic life where my husband and I differ is rather unusual.  Ice cream.  He loves it (like, so much so that it's a running family joke).  And my tummy can't digest it.  Which is why I got a little nervous the first time I stepped inside Zaharako's--a beautifully restored ice cream parlor and soda fountain in the heart of downtown Columbus, Indiana.  It's received a lot of press lately, including the #1 slot in Indianapolis Monthly's recent list of Things Every Hoosier Must Do.  And it really does live up to its reputation.  So I knew that my husband would want to visit pretty much every night of the week.

Luckily for me, even if you can't handle sweet dairy treats on a regular basis, there's still plenty to love about Zaharako's.  It's beautiful interior will take you back in time, full of stained glass, oak wood decor, and a marble countertop.  Every few minutes, a fully operational Welte pipe organ plays. And there's even a small museum and candy shop.  It really does delight all the senses. 

Zaharako's interior

We usually go for dessert, but Zaharako's has a full lunch and dinner menu.  I consider a stop at Zaharako's worth taking a Lactaid, as the ice cream is just so delicious.  I typically go for a scoop of chocolate ice cream with peanut butter sauce, but when I want to avoid ice cream altogether, the sodas are a great subsitute treat.  My husband swears by the brownie sundae.  The arrow prefers to sample a little bit of whatever we're having.

A nearly devoured brownie sundae
We're lucky that we don't have to travel very far to get to Zaharako's.  But we definitely would, and plenty of people do. 

This post is a part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust & Lipstick.  Go see what everyone else is eating!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A post about nature...

... is a good excuse to moon all our readers!
Spending time outdoors.  Clothing optional.

I recently became a Nature Rocks Ambassador, which means I'll be using my little slice of the interweb to share information about the importance of spending time together as a family outdoors.  I've mentioned their site before, but I'd love to give another shout-out to Nature Rocks, a very important campaign to get kids in the great outdoors.  They have lots of helpful advice, ideas and suggestions about making your adventures more fun and educational.  Getting outside doesn't have to be difficult, nor does it require a long car ride to some exotic destination.  You can simply step outside your back door or walk around the neighborhood. 

Saturday, September 25 is Nature Rocks Day.  There are activities and events planned all over the country.  We'll be camping that day (and getting our fill of Mother Nature's bounty, I'm sure!), so I wanted to post this now while I had internet access.  Plus, it gives you some time to think about how you might get outside that day.  Please leave me a comment and let me know your favorite outdoor kid-friendly activities.  The arrow's favorite?  Skinny dipping!

Happy Nature Rocks Day!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The start of something new

Later this week, we're heading out on our first camping adventure with the arrow.  My husband and I have camped together quite a bit, and we both grew up camping.  However, the idea of camping with the arrow has intimidated me.  But it's fall, the weather has cooled down, he's not a delicate little newborn anymore, and we've just reached that parenting moment when it's time to tackle your fears and fall in love all over again with someting you've always enjoyed.

We're heading to Warren Dunes State Park in southern Michigan.  We had actually planned to camp at the Indiana Dunes State Park, but surprisingly it was booked solid.  A sign of the times, perhaps, that state parks are full even after school starts.  It took us a while to decide where to go.  I realized last weekend that a major change of scenery would do us all some good.  And if there's one scene we don't get much of here in Columbus, it's the beach.  Lake Michigan, here we come!

So today, I'm daydreaming of campfires, sunlight, fresh air, hikes, waking up to the sound of birds, and all the other pleasantries of camping.  And can I also add that I'm having nightmares about a toddler who may or may not sleep in the great outdoors, who will be so filthy it will take a week of baths to see his skin again, and who will likely not indulge his parents a chance to relax much.  But as with all things parenting, I know it will be worth it.

This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More on Muscatatuck

Earlier this week, I bragged about the beautiful wildflowers we encountered at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.  I also mentioned my blog post about Muscatatuck at the Indiana Insider.  But we had too much fun there to limit myself to just two blog posts, so I wanted to share a few more personal pictures and anecdotes about our trip.

If you're interested in a way to introduce your kids to wildlife in a natural setting, I really suggest visiting Muscatatuck or a wildlife refuge near you.  The Visitor Center was fantastic.  We had the whole place to ourselves, so our arrow could crawl around, touch the fur and the antlers, pet the otter, etc.  While his attention span was a bit too short for the 15-minute nature video, he loved everything else.

We also really enjoyed visiting Myers Cabin and Barn, located on the refuge property.  The Myers family had lived here since the 1800s.  Its a good insight into life during a simpler time, and also shows the importance of the purpose of the refuge--restoring this land to a haven for wildlife, before man's destructive development.

Before we headed home, we hiked one last trail, near Richhart Lake.  There were lots of fairly short, flat, family-friendly trails to choose from. 

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A slice of life in small town Indiana

Since we moved to Columbus, Indiana this winter from Indianapolis, we've really enjoyed exploring some small town Indiana gems.  I'm mostly a city girl, but its been fun to experience life moving a little slower.

Last week we drove over to Hope, Indiana.  I blogged about visiting Hope over at the Indiana Insider blog this week.  There are several fun events there later in September.  But last week, the arrow and I just enjoyed walking around at a leisurely pace.  Like small town Indiana is meant to be explored.

Most of the kids that evening were drawn to the town's playground.  But the arrow really liked the old fashion wooden bandstand in the center of Hope's town square.  I did too.  As summer comes to a close around here, this is an image that I'll keep in my heart through the long winter. 

This post is a part of You Capture, over at I Should Be Folding Laundry.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

These feet were made for walking

The arrow's feet at 3 months

The arrow started walking last week.  I have a feeling our adventures are about to get a lot more interesting!

This post is a part of Wordless Wednesday at

Monday, September 13, 2010

A splash of color

Have I mentioned it has been dry in Indiana?  I don't think we've had a drop of rain since July at my house, and the landscape around these parts is looking awfully brown and dead.  That's probably why it was so refreshing to see these colorful beauties on a recent hike at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.  I'm blogging about our adventures there over at the Indiana Insider blog this week, where I'll be spending time for the next few months as a new guest blogger.  Click here to see my post about Muscatatuck.

So on this Monday, we're dreaming of the colorful fall that Mother Nature will be bringing us in the next couple of months around here. (Well, at least we hope so.  We're tired of brown grass and dried up leaves).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Riding along in my automobile

Our arrow has been in that awkward crawling-but-not-yet-really-walking stage all summer, which has made spending time outdoors challenging.  Afterall, his poor little knees can only take so much rubbing on cement patios, prickly grass, and mulch.  But we haven't let that stop us from enjoying an Indiana summer.  There's one toy out there that has managed to capture the heart of our little guy, and he just can't get enough of his "CAR! CAR! CAR!" (His words, not mine.)  It's the Radio Flyer Sport Coupe.

He can spend hours sitting in it, playing with all the buttons, pushing it around, and loves when some kind soul volunteers to push him around in it.  We've been able to enjoy many BBQs and other outdoor events this summer because of it.  We're planning to tailgate at a college football game this weekend, and you can bet we'll be bringing this along. 

His car is serious business.

This post is a part of Things I Love Thursday at Diaper Diaries

Our arrow's car was a Christmas gift from his grandparents.  If you're interested in purchasing a Radio Flyer Sport Coupe for the arrow in your life, and you do so through the link below, a small portion of the sale will come back to support this blog.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Top 10 Tuesday: How We Save to Explore

In honor of September being College Savings Month, I thought I'd share a few tips on how we save in order to travel and do more with our arrow.  (Because if the ultimate goal is that he goes to college, he'll need some interesting adventures to write about in his college admissions essays!)

1.) Consider traveling closer to home.  Our past few trips have only been a few hours away from home.  So we saved by avoiding flying.  It also meant we could get to our destination, and have more time there, without staying overnight along the way.

2.) Traveling usually means eating out.  Skip the kid's meal.  If your kids won't eat the entire kid's meal, I say skip it and supplement.  Our arrow has a great appetite, but even he can't muster an entire grilled cheese, fries, and soda (nor would I want him eating some of those things in large quantities.)  So we usually order him a side dish, and bring a few things he likes to eat with us.  A side dish is usually a dollar or two, instead of a $5 kids meal. 

3.) Check out guidebooks from the library.  I rarely buy a guidebook these days, and yet I'm old-fashioned and still like to use them to plan a trip.  I usually get them from the library, or print out info sheets from attractions or restaurants I know we want to visit from home ahead of time (in case internet is spotty at our destination).

4.) Rent a cottage, cabin, or apartment instead of a hotel room.  With a little research ahead of time, we have found this to be a much cheaper option.  Not only have we found a better nightly rate than a decent hotel, but we save on meals because we have a kitchen.  And we save even more on happiness, with more space to play and relax.  (Better yet?  Camp.  We'll be doing that in a couple of weeks!)

5.) Research your destination in advance.  I don't plan our trips down to the minute, but I usually have a rough idea of what we want to see.  Then I can try to find coupons, free admission times or other bargains.

6.) Spending time outdoors is cheap.  I've commented before on how strongly I feel about getting outside with your kids.  It happens to be nearly free entertainment, too.  Even the larger state parks and national parks are very reasonably priced, considering you can stay all day and have lots of fun.  If you need some outdoor age-appropriate ideas, check out Go Explore Nature and Nature Rocks.

7.) Ask for gift certificates for holidays and birthdays.  Many grandparents and relatives are eager to please, and may ask for gift ideas.  Consider a hotel gift certificate, or annual membership to a zoo or museum.  This will give you hours of fun as a family, and yet not dip into your bank account.  Isn't that better than the latest toy?

8.) Pack a cooler for the car ride.  When I grew up, the highlight of the road trip was pulling over at a rest stop, and my mom unveiling a great picnic lunch.  We sat on a picnic table and watched the cars rush by on the highway, while munching on tuna sandwiches.  Plus, you'll always have cold drinks on hand and don't need to stop for that and spend more money.

9.) Shop for treats ahead of time. Entertaining kids while on the road or in a plane sometimes requires some new fun things.  I'm constantly on the look out for sales on dvds, little toys, new books, stickers, etc., and then I don't unveil those goodies until its travel time.  If you go out the night before on a frantic rush for stuff, you're likely to spend more.

10.) Combine trips.  Traveling because of a wedding or other special event?  Tack on a few days and explore the area.  You have to pay to make that trip anyway.  Why not make a vacation out of it, instead of taking two separate trips somewhere?

Now it's your turn!  What are some of your favorite money-saving tips for getting out and about with your kids?  Please leave a comment so we can all learn from each other.

This post is a part of Top 10 Tuesday at Oh Amanda.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Favorite Posts of the Week: Travel Tips

It's Labor Day weekend, so I'm sure many people have some fun trips planned.  We're heading out of town next weekend, so we're staying close to home this holiday.  Regardless, I ran across a few great travel tip posts this week that I wanted to share.

Flying with Kids: Two Under Two from The Flying Pinto
We're flying with the arrow soon, and so I'm always interested to read tips.  This blog is written by a flight attendant and a mom... so she's a professional, folks!

12 Tips for Family Road Trips from Cascadia Kids
I totally concur on the plastic bag and wet wipes suggestion.  In fact, road trip or not, I always have those items in our car since becoming a mom.  I've needed them more times than I can count.

What To Do When Kids Get Sick on Vacation from
We traveled when the arrow was sick once (just a nasty cold).  I followed a lot of these suggestions, and also wrote down the address and phone number of the closest 24-hour med-check, and off we went.  By the time we got home, he was healthy and we had a great time.  It's best to be prepared.

This post is a part of Saturday Stumbles at It's Come 2 This.  See what everyone else has stumbled upon this week.

The Indianapolis Zoo: We're now a card-carrying member family

Admiring the giraffes with grandma

Checking out a large cow in the farm animal area
Taking your child to the zoo is one of those rights of passage.  The arrow had been to the Louisville Zoo this spring (a little bit about that here and here), but I had not yet been to the zoo in Indy with him.  I knew he'd love it--he's one of those "animal" kids.  (Plus his grandmother was coming, too... need I say more?)  What I didn't realize was how much I would love it.

I hadn't been to the Indianapolis Zoo in years.  I was shocked by how beautiful it was.  The grounds were immaculate and lush (and trust me, anything green in Indiana right now is no small feat--my backyard looks like the Sahara.)  It was interesting that many of the exhibits had animals co-habitating together.  So it was fun to see three or four descriptions on the signs, and then try to spot those animals.  And dare I say the animals look happy?  They all seem to have plenty of room to run around and be as free as possible. 

A few tips, if you go:
  • If you like it as much as we did, buy a membership on your way out.  Keep your receipt (both parking and entrance fee), and much of that will apply toward your membership.  I was able to get a year pass for about $50 once they applied that day's costs.  So while it's an expensive outing individually, the membership is a great deal.
  • Get there early.  We went on a Monday once school was back in session.  We got there at 9 a.m., and we basically had the place to ourselves.  Plus, the animals were really lively and the weather was cooler.
  • If you go to the dolphin show (loved it!), you can't bring a stroller in.  They have a good spot to park them, but just a heads up in case you have more than one kid to juggle.  I also don't think you can bring a stroller into the underwater dolphin dome.  We passed on that because I had just buckled the arrow back in, and was too lazy to get him back out.  We'll hit it next time, for sure.
  • On hot days, there's a splash pad.  There is also a playground, in case your kids need to get the wiggles out.
  • The price of admission also gets you into the White River Gardens.  Hoping to see that during a future visit.
I've been enjoying some recent book recommendations that a few other bloggers have been adding to their posts, and the arrow has a few animal/zoo related books that he loves.  I'm actually planning to bring these books with us on our next trip so that he can start associating those pictures with the real thing.  Here are our favorites:*

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby

*I was not provided with these books, nor was I paid to recommend them.  If you choose to buy these books from the links above, a small portion of the sale will come back to support this blog.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Backyard Adventures: Columbus Farmer's Market

Ever since the arrow was about 2 months old, he's been going to farmer's markets. His first summer of life, we spent many Saturday mornings strolling around the Broad Ripple Farmer's Market in Indianapolis (with requisite stop at Starbucks or the coffee/tea vendor of course... did I mention he was 2 months old? We still considered it a victory that our eyes were open and we were all breathing.)  Occassionally I'd walk him over to the Farmer's Market at City Market on Wednesdays, too.  This past winter, you could usually find the arrow in our Baby Bjorn, strapped to Dad, enjoying the sights and sounds of the Winter Farmer's Market.  I was able to buy a lot of winter veggies there to make baby food.
Now we live in Columbus, IN, and so we have spent many Saturday mornings this summer at the Columbus Farmer's Market.  When we moved to town, everyone suggested this as a fun outing once the weather warmed up.  On the first Saturday in June, we were thrilled to discover a thriving market, with lots of food vendors, live music, artists, etc.  The arrow liked it too, especially the parade of fancy dogs people brought out each week.

And the best part is it provides us with a least one really nutritious, locally-grown meal each week. Below is a typical sampling of goodies from one trip to the market.  Locally raised pulled pork, green beans, peaches, and Amish tea bread.  Tasted even better than it looks!  Alas, we only have a few Saturdays left of the market in town.  We'll be savoring every bite of Hoosier-grown goodness

Lest you think we live an entirely granola lifestyle, you're just as likely to see me drinking Diet Coke from McDonald's and eating frozen pizza.  Thought I better be up front about that given the crunchiness of this blog post. 

This post is a part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick.  Go see what everyone else is eating this week!