Monday, October 29, 2012

Tips for Visiting Dow Gardens with Kids

"Another vacation, another botanical garden."

So groaned my husband on our way to Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan when we spent a week in the area this summer. I sort of have a thing for public gardens like this and they always find a way onto our itinerary everywhere we go. He's not quite as enthusiastic as I am about it.

I tried to convince him that this was a way to relive his youth. His grandparents lived in Midland when he was growing up and they took him to this 110 acre garden on the estate of the Dow Family (think Dow Chemical) a few times.

"They dragged me there," he said. Hmm. No points for nostalgia, apparently.

Luckily, Dow Gardens has upped the fun factor in recent years for visitors who might not have a deeply rooted desire to visits spots like this. The addition of a Children's Garden meant Big Arrow had as much fun as I did.

One of the reasons I like visiting gardens like this one is that they're so easy. Just show up, walk around and enjoy your beautiful surroundings. But here are a few simple tips to ensure your family enjoys your time at Dow Gardens as much as we did.

1) Grab a map. It's a large space and if you have a limited amount of time, you'll want to make sure you hit the highlights and not get too far off track. Plus, Big Arrow loved looking at it and directing us.

2) Choose when to visit the Children's Garden. This is a really fun spot for kids and will be their favorite part of a visit to Dow Gardens. We find that Big Arrow does better when we let him do fun things right off the bat, and then he'll (typically) happily ride in the stroller while we do more adult-oriented things later. But for some kids, you might save the Children's Garden for the end as a special treat. I'd plan to spend at least an hour in this part if you've got kids 8 and under.

More info on our time in the Children's Garden can be found here.

3) Note the "plants in bloom" sign at the entrance. For older kids, it would be fun to find some of them within the gardens.

4) You don't have to stay on the sidewalks and paths. At least that's what we were told by a friendly gardener working on the day we visited. So if you spot a beautiful flower or waterfall that you've just got to get closer to, go for it.

If You Visit:
Dow Gardens
1809 Eastman Avenue, Midland, Michigan
Adults: $5; Kids 6-17 or college students w/ ID: $1; 5 and under are free
Hours vary seasonally, check the website.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walking on Travels.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Nienaber's Farm Market

Last year I wrote about how excited I was to add a new "pumpkin" to our family when we made our annual trek to Nienaber's Farm Market. So even though I went to a different pumpkin patch with Big Arrow on his field trip earlier this month (to Hackman's Farm Market), there was no way I was going to let fall slip by without taking both my pumpkins to our traditional "patch."

Our first challenge when we got to Nienaber's was what to do with Little Arrow since he's not quite walking (and thankfully, no longer in the womb like he was last year!) Naturally, we plopped him in the wagon meant for hauling pumpkins. Dirt and all.

And then we let Big Arrow do the hard work of pulling him. Lazy parenting at its finest.

Big Arrow was our official pumpkin selector.

And Little Arrow had to keep all the pumpkins in the wagon. He was happily up to the task.

So where did our pumpkins end up? Mom and Dad finally took on some work of their own.


I'd show you the final product but let's just say we carved our pumpkins a week or two early and they are currently in a state of serious rot on our front porch. Ick.

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hackman's Farm Market

I recently got to accompany Big Arrow on his first school field trip. We had a great time experiencing one of fall's classic activities: the pumpkin patch.

I wrote all about our time at Hackman's Farm Market for the Columbus Visitor's Center blog. I also wrote about Hackman's for Visit Indiana. (One field trip, 3 blog posts. Sometimes I am a model of blogging efficiency.)

But I saved a few of my favorite photos to share today as we head into one of our last October weekends. I hope it gives a good sense of why fall in Indiana is so special to me.

Checking out a pony.

Crawling through the straw maze.

A view of the corn maze. Luckily some last minute rain saved their crop from the terrible summer drought.

Learning about gourds.

I loved these old tractors.

And my favorite memory of the day came toward the end. While Big Arrow was most excited to spend an entire morning with me, but WITHOUT Little Arrow tagging along, the minute he picked his pumpkin has asked to go home so he could give it to his little brother.

Perhaps, after all the hair pulling, pinching, crying, and tattling, they just might end up loving each other afterall.

It was a special "mom" moment, for sure.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Go on a Leaf Hunt

While I spend an absurd amount of time pinning fun projects, recipes, travel ideas, etc., on Pinterest, I spend an extremely small amount of time executing fun crafts with Big Arrow. Yet I know he loves and craves special projects, what he calls "missions."

Equally as problematic for me these days is his lack of desire to sit in the stroller and go for a walk. But Little Arrow needs that quiet time spent outdoor relaxing and enjoying what remains of the reasonable, sunny weather. And so do I.

Inspired by tons of leaf-related fall projects, I challenged Big Arrow to go on a leaf hunt with me one beautiful afternoon. He was excited to have a special mission.

I was excited to enjoy this beautiful view.

And it was quite simple. Here's what you need to go on a successful Leaf Hunt:

  • a pail or basket or box or container of some kind

That's it.

He happily rode in the stroller for 30 minutes while we sought out special leaves to add to our bucket. Then came the dreaded question. "Mom, what are we going to do with these leaves?"

I had nothing planned. No cool, Pinterest-worthy crafts. So I said, "Well, what do you want to do with them?"

He responded, "Let's go back home and set them free in our yard."

Pinterest, schminterest. Nothing beats the imagination of a 3-year-old.

Want to do something a little more fun with the leaves you collect? Last year we made these turkeys.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups / Walking on Travels. While we went on a leaf hunt around the neighborhood, you could easily go on a leaf hunt while traveling. In fact, it would be a great way to entice a stroller-averse toddler or preschooler to sit still for a bit!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Children's Museum of Indianapolis' Wicked Workshop

I'll preface this post by saying that I'm not really a Halloween person. I'll happily dole out candy to the trick or treaters who come to our door, but I gladly gave up dressing in a costume many years ago. And while I enjoy debating with Big Arrow what he wants to be this year (we've narrowed it down to astronaut or cowboy), I don't spend hours handcrafting him an outfit.

But the Children's Museum of Indianapolis totally convinced me that this is a pretty cool holiday afterall. I got a sneak peak of their annual haunted house yesterday (it opens to the public Friday, October 13).

First, I loved the theme. Called "Wicked Workshop", it's the Halloween version of what I envision Santa's workshop at the North Pole to look like. Each room is a different take on how Halloween is created. We checked out the witch's brooms being made:

And the masks hanging to dry:

Second, the creativity in the decor is amazing. The volunteers who put on this annual fundraiser for the museum do not miss a thing. So what might look like an ordinary wall of skulls (is there such a thing as an ordinary wall of skulls?):

holds lots of tongue-in-cheek details, like this Colts fan:

I remember feeling this way when I worked in a cubicle:

But maybe it was the signs hanging in the employee break room that did him in:

And some of the features are larger than life. Have you ever walked right through a pumpkin (complete with dripping pumpkin guts and pumpkin seeds bigger than your head)?

New to the experience this year is a spooky black cat that must stand at least 10 feet tall (don't be frightened by his glowing green eyes!)

Like everything the Children's Museum does, it retains an element of education. With a Halloween-themed question in each room that will engage your child (and at the very least, force them to pause before running to see what the next room has inside!)

It can be a pretty frightening experience, though. Over at the Indiana Insider, I offer 9 tips for visiting, including some guidance on age-appropriateness. I was thankful we visited during lights-on hours. I was amazed Big Arrow was willing to touch the tunnel of snakes.

Perhaps he was inspired by my nephew, who was the only one brave enough to run through the rotating tunnel of flames.

Even if we were a little scared, it was a fun Halloween memory that none of us will soon forget. And I may just get inspired to put up a scary decoration or two this year.

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

Disclosure: The Children's Museum of Indianapolis hosted us for this sneak peak experience.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What a Trip to Las Vegas Taught Me

Several years ago, before the Arrows were even a glimmer in my eye, my husband and brother-in-law convinced my sister and I that going to Las Vegas for a few days to whoop it up was exactly how we should spend a fall getaway. I love big cities, but the neon lights and roulette wheels had never really called my name.

But there I was, on a flight bound for the Sin City. Pretty skeptical that I was going to have fun beyond a few sunny afternoons lounging by the pool. But I boarded a return flight a few days later with a huge smile on my face and tons of great memories (and the weather never got about 70, so it actually didn't include fruity drinks poolside).

I was mesmerized by the huge hotels. I laughed 'til I cried in the wee hours of the morning at the penny slots with my sister. I became buddies with our cab driver on the way to the Old Town area. FYI, I highly recommend getting around Vegas by cab, it's cheaper than a car rental. I ate three desserts at a buffet one afternoon. My jaw dropped watching the water show at the Bellaggio. Much of this is stereotypical Vegas behavior that I had rolled my eyes at before our trip. And there I was, whooping it up, just as the guys had suggested.

This fun-filled trip didn't just make me want to return to Vegas (oh, but I do!). It taught me that all locations have worth. Everything is interesting to visit with the right attitude. Keep an open mind, and you might be surprised by how much fun you can have just about anywhere.

Girls' trip to Richmond, Indiana? Sign me up. Beaching in Michigan instead of the Tropics? Fine by me. Noshing on treats in small town candy shops instead of five star restaurants? I'll take a salted caramel, please. Hiking the rolling hills of southern Indiana instead of a huge national park? At least I won't have to deal with jet lag.

The Midwest might not be the most popular vacation destination. But I've had more fun exploring its nooks and crannies in the last few years than I've had, quite frankly, anywhere else in the world. It's convenient, family-friendly, really inexpensive (meaning we can travel MORE), and often surprisingly breathtakingly beautiful.

I still have grand plans for seeing so much more of the world. I dream big. But I'll also never pass up the chance to explore some lesser known destinations. Who would have thought I'd learn that by going to Vegas?

What do you love most about traveling around your own backyard?

This post was written in collaboration with Image purchased from Picha Global.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Trip Report: 3 Days in Minneapolis/St. Paul

Lately I've gotten lazy about writing trip reports (what I call a rundown of our itinerary or "how we spent our time" in a particular location). Yet I think deciding what to do, where to go, how long to spend at a particular attraction, etc., is one of the more challenging aspects of trip planning for some families. So I always love to share our experiences in a new location.

On that note, here's the day-by-day of how we spent our long weekend in the Twin Cities.

Day 1: Como Park Zoo and Juicy Lucys

After a late arrival the evening before, we were up and at 'em, ready to start exploring this great city. We headed out to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul and got there right as it opened. What a beautiful spot and a great zoo (and FREE).

After a couple of hours there, we were all ready for some grub, so we took a scenic drive through St. Paul and then headed to the 5-8 Club for a signature Minneapolis dish: the Juicy Lucy. More on that to come, but trust me, they're drool worthy.

We headed back for naps in the afternoon and then played at a nearby playground in the late afternoon. We made dinner at home and tucked the Arrows into bed early that night.

Day 2: Downtown Minneapolis

Another day of adventure awaited us. We took the lightrail into downtown Minneapolis, and then explored the Mill Ruins Park. We took a long walk along the Mississippi River, and then headed into the heart of the downtown district.

We stopped and let the Arrows play at the Minneapolis Central Library.

This was followed by lunch on the sunny patio of The Local, a great downtown Irish pub.

Then it was time to board the train back for naps.

That afternoon, we played at another nearby park (the city is swarming with spacious urban parks... I loved it!) and ate dinnner at home, followed by a movie and popcorn.

Day 3: Pumpkin Patch and Minnesota Twins Game

That morning, we visited the Richfield Farmer's Market and neighboring pumpkin patch at Adventure Gardens. Big Arrow loved the bounce houses, slides and games, while Little Arrow was content to play with the pumpkins.

A quick lunch at Pepito's for some Mexican grub, followed by brief naps. Then we were off to the Twins game at the new Target Field. We had an absolute blast at the game, it was a great way to wrap up our time in Minneapolis.

We headed home the next morning, already plotting a return visit! I'll be sharing more details on these attractions and restaurants in the weeks to come, so check back or visit my U.S. Travels page.

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Loving on Minneapolis

Just home from a long weekend away in Minneapolis. I'm so full of love as I look at this photo.

Love for the beautiful weather we had while there. Love for the fun outings we took, including the Como Park Zoo where I snapped this picture. Love for a gorgeous city I got to return to and further explore. And love for two boys who are blossoming into awesome little travelers. (Not to say there weren't a few tantrums and meltdowns mixed in with all this sunshine and flowers...)

And most importantly, love for my brother-in-law (you'll spot him in the background with Big Arrow on his shoulders) and sister-in-law. They love the Arrows so much it makes my heart melt. And they were amazing hosts. We can't wait to come back. They, however, are probably still recovering from having two little ones crawl, snot, cough, run, and bounce all over their house.

I'll be sharing a little more on how we spent our long weekend in the Twin Cities on Friday, so check back if you've got travel plans that way anytime soon.

This post is part of You Capture at I Should Be Folding Laundry. The theme this week is something you love.