Thursday, March 31, 2011

Animal encounters at the Indianapolis Zoo

On Monday, I shared my dream about making some return trips to the Indianapolis Zoo and checking out the Cincinnati Zoo. We had so much fun last summer taking the arrow on his first trips to the zoo. I thought it would be all about capturing childhood memories, but as it turns out, I got to enjoy admiring these amazing creatures up close right along with him. Here are a few of my favorite zoo friends:

Cheetahs at the Indianapolis Zoo
I especially like the two cheetahs off in the distance keeping an eye on things.

Rhinos at the Indianapolis Zoo
And speaking of keeping an eye on us... this guy had quite the stare. I was happy he was behind the fence.

A seal sunbathing at the Indianapolis Zoo
But this friendly soul was my kind of animal. Soaking up the rays!

While visiting a zoo is a great introduction to exotic animals, I have always wanted to go on an African safari to experience the beauty of animals in their natural habitat. (Who doesn't have this on their bucket list?) Fortunately, some blogs I love have been sharing a few photos from their safari experiences lately so at least I get a sneak peak into the beauty of seeing these animals in the wild.

If you're planning a trip to the Indianapolis Zoo, I posted some tips here.

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Window Clings: A Great Toy for Traveling Toddlers

We've got a new favorite toy around here: window clings that I bought at Target in the clearance section for a buck. I got these window clings to entertain the arrow on our flight to Florida, but they were buried deep in our bag and I forgot all about them. I stumbled upon them this week and thought I'd see how he liked them.

He kept saying, "Mom, I paint! I paint!" (My little Picasso!) He moved them around and around and around for about an hour. He loved the bright, vibrant shades of purple, red, green and yellow and we practiced saying each color.

Window clings would make a great "stuck inside on a rainy day" toy, or an easy craft to bring along on a trip since they take up no space (and make no mess). You could stick them to a table or side of an oven. (Or car windows on a road trip!) I'm still going to keep them on my airplane goodie bag list, they'd be perfect for sticking to the window or tray table and keeping little hands busy.

This post is a part of You Capture at I Should Be Folding Laundry. The theme this week is Vibrant. I'm also linking up to Things I Love Thursday at the Diaper Diaries and Fun for Kids Fridays at Local Fun for Kids.

Caddy's on the Beach with kids

After arriving in Tampa/St. Petersburg a few weeks ago for our long-awaited Florida vacation, we were ready for a good, casual meal. The arrow was tired from a lack of a decent nap that day, and his parents wanted fresh seafood in a bad, bad way. So off we went to Caddy's on the Beach in nearby Sunset Beach, Florida.

Caddy's on the Beach

Caddy's is an ideal set-up for a fun beach party, but while we were there (5-6ish in the evening), it was very family friendly. There was live music playing, but it was directed toward the bar area and wasn't overpowering. (In fact, it really helped us relax after a long travel day.) The food was also delicious. My husband and I broke our longstanding rule of ordering different meals by both ordering grouper sandwiches. It was well worth making an exception for--they melted in our fresh fish-deprived Hoosier mouths.

Grouper Sandwich at Caddy's on the Beach
While the food itself was delicious, the location was even better. It's literally right on the beach. And by that I mean my toes were buried in the sand while we ate. Even the arrow, who had been a little grumpy on our way there, was all smiles. (And if he hadn't cheered up, the sound of the surf would have drowned out his fussiness.) It's a great place to take kids earlier in the evening, because they can literally play on the beach while waiting on food or after the meal is over. Plus, you might catch one of those glorious Floridian sunsets!

Beachside dining at Caddy's on the Beach

If You Visit:
Caddy's on the Beach
9000 W. Gulf Blvd., Sunset Beach, FL
Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 7 days a week.
Parking is available in the lot adjacent to the restaurant for $5. Just show your ticket to the server, and they will take the $5 off your bill.
Insider Tip: Try to get one of the picnic tables on the beach.

This post is a part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Let's go to the zoo!

The arrow's second birthday is almost upon us and now that he's a bit older, I'm looking forward to seeing how he's changed by doing some repeat adventures. I have such fond memories of taking him to the Louisville Zoo and the Indianapolis Zoo for the first time last year. While the zoo itself might not be that different, I bet the arrow's enjoyment and interaction will be.

Case in point: the Indianapolis Zoo has a spectacular dolphin show that we saw last summer. My mom and I were completely mesmerized by it, but the arrow was totally disinterested and squirmy the entire time. I think he had trouble understanding what he was supposed to be looking at and overwhelmed by the other people there. This year, I have a feeling he'll connect much better with the dolphins as they flip, leap, splash and squeal.

Mom, why does everyone think this dolphin show is so great?
Another big change since our list visits to a zoo? It's kind of a big one: he can WALK. He was just starting to toddle around on our most recent trip to the Indianapolis Zoo in the fall. He ventured out of the stroller a few times, but for the most part, he was just a passenger. I bet I'll do a lot more chasing this spring!

Old enough to wave to the rhinos, but not quite walking!
Another reason to make a return trip to the Indianapolis Zoo? Three new exhibits just opened up, which I wrote about for Visit Indiana. I'd also like to get to the Cincinnati Zoo this year. I've heard lots of great things about it from friends, and it's less than two hours away. In fact, we want to plan an entire Cincinnati getaway weekend. It's a city I've only experienced in bits and pieces, despite being so close.

I'm not the only blogger with zoos on the brain lately:
Want to see less pictures of the arrow and more pictures of actual zoo animals? Check back on Friday, when I'll be posting a few of my favorite up-close-and-personal encounters from our visits to the Indianapolis Zoo last summer!

What's your favorite zoo?

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

Friday, March 25, 2011

Memories from the 2010 Final 4 in Indianapolis

It's March, and so as a proud alum of Butler University, our family is all about basketball madness right now. I have fond memories of my little school's run to the championship game last year, so I wanted to share a few snapshots of last year's amazing Final Four experience in my hometown city, Indianapolis.

This was when it hit me... the Bulldog logo on Lucas Oil Stadium! We've truly arrived!

Side note: Make plans to attend the Final Four next time it's in Indianapolis. No city hosts big events better than my town. The stadium is right in the heart of downtown, not in some far away suburb like you'll find in many places. It's family-friendly, walkable, affordable, easily accessible. And FUN. I can't wait for Indy to strut its stuff when we host the Super Bowl next year.

My husband may be a Notre Dame alum, but I've converted him on the idea that nothing beats Butler basketball in March.

Love this one of my mom and sister. The Road Really Does End Here.

Start of the championship game (I much preferred the start over the eventual heartbreaking outcome.)

While we attended the games without the arrow, we included him in the free practice session earlier in the weekend. The fun he had made him a fan for life, as you can see!

The best part of it all? We're still dancing!!!!

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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Riding bikes on the Columbus People Trail

This week, I'm participating in a relatively new link-up at Adventuroo, called Capture the Everyday. The theme this week is 'something you love about your home.' Our home is a work in progress. We bought the house because of the floor plan and the neighborhood (and the hardwood floors... love those). We've changed almost every light fixture and painted every room in the past year. Next up is a kitchen remodel. As someone who doesn't really enjoy home improvement, my feelings about our current house are a mixed bag.

But one thing I do love? We're three houses away from the Columbus People Trail. This is the bike/walking path that runs all over town. We can hop on our bikes and visit all sorts of fun places in minutes, while feeling the wind blow on our faces and getting some exercise in the process. I'm thankful the weather has warmed up in recent days and family bike rides have once again become a nightly tradition.

Curious about our bike seat? It's an iBert Safe-T Front Mounted Child Bicycle Seat,* which I wrote about here.

If You Visit:
Columbus People Trail
The Trail is not completely connected as of yet (although you can bike to them all via sidewalks or streets). To connect to the trail, I recommend parking at:
Blackwell Park
Westenedge and Parkside Dr., Columbus, IN
Mill Race Park
Fifth and Lindsey Street, Columbus, IN
An overall synopsis of the Columbus People Trail is available here. (This post refers to Westenedge Park... which is now called Blackwell Park.)
Insider Tip:
If you want to plan a bike ride around mealtime, you could stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner at Hangar Five from the trail near Blackwell Park and watch the planes take off and land while you eat.

This post is a part of:

Capture the Everyday from Adventuroo

*Amazon affiliate link.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A morning at Ellis Park

Now that the arrow thinks he's quite the accomplished walker, discovering new playgrounds wherever we go has been a lot of fun for our family. This weekend, we visited my sister's family and got to explore a new-to-us park that is her family's favorite. I wrote about the Playscape playground at Danville, Indiana's Ellis Park at the Indiana Insider for Visit Indiana this week.

While the playground is wonderful, my greatest joy was watching my arrow and his cousin arrows play together. We hadn't visited them in more than a month, and it was really heartwarming to see them make memories together.

Mastering the bouncy bridge.
Playing peekaboo with my nephew

Wanna go for a ride, Mom?

My niece was a little too young to keep up with the boys on the playground.
But I couldn't pass up an opportunity to show off this sweet face!
If You Visit:
Ellis Park
600 E. Main Street, Danville, Indiana
Free admission.
Insider Tip: Pack a swimsuit if you visit in the summer. The park has a nice pool, complete with a few waterslides. In December, the park has a great Christmas lights display.

This post is a part of You Capture at I Should Be Folding Laundry. The theme this week is Youth.

In My Kitchen: Maple Granola Bars

Each summer until I was 10, my family spent a week camping in Vermont. Those trips are my most vivid vacation memories as a kid. I distinctly remember buying a huge bottle of Vermont maple syrup that we hoped would last us most of the year, because it was just that good. We hoarded that maple syrup as if it was liquid gold around our house. I assumed that Vermont was the only state in the nation that made maple syrup (besides whatever factory Aunt Jemima worked in, of course.)

But a few weeks ago, I wrote a post for Visit Indiana all about maple syrup events going on around the state. Apparently we Hoosiers make some of the gooey sweet stuff too. And I follow Pure Michigan on Twitter, and I've been seeing lots of maple syrup-related stuff from our neighbor to the north also. Apparently maple syrup production isn't exclusively New England afterall. All you need are some hearty maple trees, something we have in abundant supply around here.

To get my In My Kitchen series rolling again, I decided to make a maple syrup-inspired dish. And for the past year, I've been reading about making granola or granola bars on a few blogs I read, so I thought I'd give that a try, too. I based my recipe on this one from Whole Foods, which I first found at the new Foodily site. (Foodily has become my new go-to recipe search engine. Check it out if you haven't already!) But since I was too lazy to visit our local health food store to pick up some of the specialty ingredients, here's my take on this recipe:

Maple Granola Bars
4 cups quick-cook oatmeal
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup maple syrup
Splash of vanilla extract
1 package chocolate and peanut butter chips
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts and almonds)

Spread the oats on a baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes at 350. Stir halfway through cooking.

Mix all the other ingredient in a large bowl. Mix in the warm oatmeal and then spread in a greased 13 x 9 baking dish. Cook for 20-25 minutes at 350. Let cool, then cut.

I cooked my bars for 25 minutes, and then were overdone. They're a little harder than I would like, so next time I make them, I'll definitely decrease the cook time. I also think I'll use more oil and syrup... I used more chips and nuts than the original recipe called for, so I think that might be contributing to the hard/dry factor. But the taste is great so I know I'll make them again.

The sweet taste of a childhood spent savoring Vermont maple syrup, enjoyed from the comforts of my Indiana kitchen!

This post is a part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why We Love Rental Properties While Traveling as a Family

One common theme that you'll find in most of our trips is that we tend to rent a home or condo instead of staying in a hotel. I think it's the single most important reason we've had such enjoyable family vacations.

10 Reasons Rental Properties are Great for Traveling Families
1.) Space. We have an almost two-year-old. I can't imagine containing him in a hotel room for more than a couple of days/nights. I'm certain I'd feel even more strongly about this if we had more kids.

2.) Cost. We often find this to be cheaper than staying at a decent hotel. In fact, we've never spent more than $150 per night on any of the two-bedroom places we've rented.

3.) Furniture. Does that sound weird? We loved having a couch for the arrow to cuddle up on and watch some Elmo before bed. And a table to gather around for meals. In most hotels, you get a bed, perhaps a chair, and if you're really lucky, a small loveseat.

Who needs pants when you have a comfy couch, Sesame Street and milk?
4.) Parking. It's always been free at the places we've stayed. This is often not the case at hotels.

5.) Meals. It's nice to not have to eat out for every meal (especially breakfast!) A little kitchen with a refrigerator to store leftovers and the basics is really convenient.

6.) Outdoor space. We could do a short hike right from our very own yard when we stayed in Red River Gorge, Kentucky. In St. Pete Beach we had a great outdoor patio, pool, and grill (all shared). The arrow couldn't walk then or get much use out of it, but in South Haven, Michigan we had a huge lawn, volleyball area, etc. for him to explore had he been old enough at the time.

Mammoth Arch in Red River Gorge, Kentucky was just a short hike from our cabin.

7.) Separate bedrooms. The arrow goes to bed far earlier than we do and he still naps for a couple of hours each day. It's so nice for him to have his own space to snooze.

8.) Easy to research. There are great websites like HomeAway that allow you to find rental properties all over the world. If you can't find a property on a national site like that for the area where you're traveling, try googling your location and "rental property." You'll probably find a local rental management company with multiple properties listed. And some tourism bureaus provide that type of listing information on their websites.

9.) Keep your money local. The rental properties we've stayed in have all been locally-owned. I like the idea that my money stays where I'm vacationing and supports that economy, not sent away to some giant chain.

10.) The "extras." You know, the things that make someplace feel a little more like home. Tucked away in the closet at our condo in St. Pete Beach were beach toys. Our cottage in South Haven had nice warm blankets we could use to cuddle up with on the porch. It's so nice to know you don't have to pack every little thing you might need, especially since traveling with kids means you're already packing too much!

Enjoying the beach toys found in our condo on St. Pete Beach.

What could feel even more like home while traveling? Staying at someone else's house, perhaps? I'm getting ready to post our home on Luxe Home Swap,* a company that specializes in home exchange and sponsored Passports with Purpose, a great cause I supported this winter. I don't know if anyone will take an interest in spending a few days in Columbus, Indiana, but I'm excited by the open-ended possibility that someone might, and that we could in turn experience their corner of the world. I'll keep you posted if we end up swapping!

*Luxe Home Swap provided me with a free subscription on their site. I was under no obligation to write about this offer.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Falls of the Ohio State Park

Mother Nature has quite the imagination, does she not? Take Falls of the Ohio State Park in southern Indiana, for example. With the buildings of the Louisville skyline casting a shadow across the Ohio River, and gigantic barges floating by transporting many of life's modern conveniences, here you'll find acres and acres of fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old. Such a contrast.

I wrote about my family's experience there at Visit Indiana's Indiana Insider blog, as well as Travel Mamas. A while back, I also shared this picture of the Lewis and Clark monument found at the park. We had a wonderful fall day there examining the beauty of ancient history (the kind that Mother Nature herself creates).

Beautiful Terrain:

Amazing Fossils:

The Mighty Ohio River:

If You Visit:
Falls of the Ohio State Park
201 W. Riverside Drive, Clarksville, Indiana (Just off Exit 0 on I-65.)
Admission to the Interpretive Center is $5 for adults and $2 for kids.
Open Monday-Saturday, 9-5 and Sundays 1-5.
Insider's Tip: There's a play area in the Interpretive Center, but it's easy to miss. Consider taking turns watching the kids with another adult so that you can spend more time learning from the exhibits. 

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guest post at Travel Mamas

Things might be a little quiet around here this week, as the arrow is battling another stomach virus. Yuck.

To tide you over until we're feeling well again, check out my guest post at Travel Mamas about a day we spent in Southern Indiana, just across the river from Louisville, Kentucky.

And last week I had a guest post at Go Big or Go Home about the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

Thanks to Colleen and Traci for the chance to invade their sites for a little while!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fort De Soto Park

A real highlight of our recent trip to Florida was the morning we spent at Fort De Soto Park. Located in Tierra Verde, Florida, it's just minutes away from St. Petersburg and Tampa. It has been named America's top beach by Trip Advisor and others, and it really is spectacular. My favorite aspect is the miles of uninterupted shoreline. No buildings, no traffic, just gentle waves lapping at the edges of the sand. It's beach life the way Mother Nature always intended it to be.

I had lofty intentions of being pretty active during our morning there. I wanted to rent bikes and tour the fort itself, in addition to playing on the beach. Fate intervened though--the small bike rental place didn't offer a kid's seat or trailer for the arrow, and the Fort is currently closed for renovations. There are worse places for your plans to go bust, I can assure you of that. Instead, we spent two hours playing in the sand, splashing in the water, and hunting for seashells. Here are a few of my favorite photos:

I know it looks like we had the place to ourselves. There were plenty of people visiting the park, but it's large so everyone tends to spread out. We visited between 9-11 a.m. on a Sunday, so I'm sure arriving early helps, too.

If You Visit:
Fort De Soto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, FL
Admission to the park is free. Depending on how you get there, you'll likely have to pay a 35-cent toll to cross the bridge to get to the park. (That's not a typo. Really. 35 cents.) According to the website, the Fort will re-open sometime this month.
Insider Tip: The park is relatively serene and undeveloped, but there is a snack bar and gift shop that sells beach supplies and lunch fixings. If you're not traveling with small children and want to rent bikes, you'll find that near the snack bar. There is a great paved trail that runs throughout the park. And most of the parking areas scattered around the park have a restroom and picnic shelter.

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Bricks of Ybor in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

When planning a trip, I tend to spend a good chunk of time researching dining options (which has more to do with my love for eating that it does my love for trip planning). I find that if I don't have some good restaurant recommendations, I'll just flounder around and retreat to the closest place because I'm so hungry. Now that we have the arrow along with us, it's even more important to do a little investigating so we don't end up at some chain restaurant or where kids might be frowned upon.

A couple of months before our trip to Florida, I started following the Tampa Bay area's tourism bureau on Twitter. Their staff often answers questions from travelers via Twitter, so one evening I filled out the form and asked for a few restaurant recommendations. I think my only parameters were kid-friendly and independent. They sent back a few ideas, one of which was Bricks of Ybor, a great spot in lively Ybor City. Our lunch there turned out to be one of our favorite meals of the trip.

Walking toward Bricks of Ybor
Bricks is an interesting spot: part bar, part coffee shop, and yet it had a very complete menu. For lunch, Bricks is a good choice for sandwiches and lighter fare. My husband ordered the Derby sandwich (our waitress said it's one of their most popular dishes), and I had the Portabelly (I have a love affair for portabello sandwiches, so I'm sure this won't be the last you hear about that on this blog). These sandwiches were delicious--healthy, yet filling, with some unique flavor combinations. Bricks has a kids menu, although there were plenty of things off the regular menu that the arrow would have loved. Bricks even has a peanut butter bar!

Derby sandwich at Bricks

Portabelly sandwich at Bricks
A big reason (besides the delicious food) that we liked Bricks was because it was "adult." Hip staff, trendy neighborhood, bar offerings, etc. In fact, I think it's owned by a skateboarding business. It was the type of place we would have gone to often pre-arrow (if we lived in Tampa, of course). But inside, it's light and airy and very casual, so we never felt uncomfortable dining with a toddler. When I got up to use the restroom in the back of the restaurant, I saw that they had a play area, complete with a few toys and games. This area appears to become a stage in the evening hours. I'm all about kids learning to behave in restaurants, but I also think that getting to play for a few minutes while your parents pay the bill never hurt anybody. So that's exactly what the arrow got to do (on a super cool rocking horse!)

Now if we could just get the arrow to start pronouncing the "r" in fork (which he proudly yells out everywhere we eat), we might be ready for 5-star dining.

If You Visit:
Bricks of Ybor
1327 E. 7th Avenue, Ybor City, FL
Opens at 11 a.m. daily
Insider Tip: I don't see it listed on their menu, but order the potato salad as your side. It was jam packed with feta cheese and I wanted to lick the bowl. Too bad my husband ordered it and didn't let me.

This post is a part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kidscommons in Columbus, Indiana

I've been on a roll lately with posts about children's museums. (I've chronicled our day at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis here, here and here.) Without a doubt, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis ranks pretty high on our list of favorite outings. Children's museums in general are a great option in the winter months.

We're really lucky to have a children's museum right here in Columbus, called Kidscommons. While it's not nearly the size of Indy's museum, it is still full of all sorts of fun and could easily hold the attention of kids of all ages for several hours. I wrote about Kidscommons last week at Visit Indiana. It is an ideal spring break destination for Hoosier families on a staycation (or anyone passing through town--it's minutes from Exit 68 on I-65.)

Even though this museum is just down the street, I had been waiting to take the arrow because I thought he might be a little too young. I shouldn't have worried: the entire first floor is a toddler paradise. He could pretend to plant wooden flowers and roamed the floor with a watering can... I can already imagine he'll be my little helper in the yard this spring and summer!

The first floor also features this adorable Japanese house. Here the arrow could prepare a sushi dinner and serve it in an authentic Japanese dining room. He loved that he got to take his shoes off!

The second floor features the museum's two most popular exhibits: Bubbleology, a really fun "bubble" room, and ExploraHouse, which teaches kids about the inner workings of a home. ExploraHouse is well known for the gigantic toilet slide. (If you want to read more about the toilet, head over to the Go Big or Go Home blog, where there was recently a post about this very toilet.) The arrow was a little too young for the toilet, but maybe someday we'll celebrate potty training success with a visit!

The top floor had lots of athletic games and exhibits designed to get kids moving. I thought I might have to drag my husband out of there (notice the arrow begging for a turn!)

Kidscommons a great option for playdates, because its open floor plan means moms can station themselves strategically to keep an eye on the kids but also get some adult conversation. I'm hoping to go back in a few weeks when my sister, niece and nephew are on spring break. It's already clear to me that for as long as we live in Columbus, Kidscommons will be a haven for family fun and a place we can make many memories.

If You Visit:
309 Washington Street, Columbus, IN
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10-5 and Sunday, 1-5
Admission: $6 per person (kids under 18 months are free)
Insider Tip: Flip through Columbus Parent and print out the $2 off coupon!
Kidscommons does not have a cafeteria. I recommend visiting Zaharako's (right next door) for lunch or dinner after a trip to the museum.

This post is a part of Mondays Are For Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips, where Mara is also dreaming of spring break adventures close to home.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wandering around downtown St. Petersburg

One thing I love about visiting the Tampa Bay area of Florida is that while you have gorgeous beaches and beautiful weather, you also have a few cities to explore. For me, a city lover and a nature enthusiast, that's a really great combination.

So we spent a leisurely Saturday morning wandering around downtown St. Petersburg. Here are a few highlights:

One of my favorite features of St. Petersburg is the long stretch of parkland that separates the big buildings from the water. Parks make exploring cities with a toddler so much easier and more fun, because you can get them out of the stroller to run free for a while. My husband and I fell for this giant old tree. I can only imagine how much needed shade it has provided families on hot Florida afternoons. I already want to return and plan a picnic lunch.

The Dali Museum
If the weather hadn't been so gorgeous (and we hadn't been so sun-starved after a long winter), I would have loved to visit the new Dali museum. But this was as close as we got. The building itself looks pretty spectacular, though (it's the glass dome in the background).

St. Pete Pier
As you walk toward The Pier, you can get fairly close to many of the boats lining the marina. The arrow is deep in that phase of boyhood where planes, trains and automobiles fascinate him. We can officially add boats to the list now, too.

But alas, a boat ride will have to wait, as downtown St. Petersburg was just too much excitement for our little guy.

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