Monday, February 28, 2011

Girlfriend Trips

It's Monday afternoon and I'm still in recovery mode from my annual weekend away with my girlfriends from college. There are seven of us that have remained in close touch since graduating from Butler, and this group has now survived a dozen years of friendship with hardly an unkind word ever said among us. When people talk about female catiness and drama, they haven't met this group of ladies.

For the past few years, we have gathered at a rental home in New Buffalo, Michigan (very near where we spent a few days camping in September) for a weekend of long talks, lots of laughter, and way too many calories consumed. It's the perfect reminder that traveling with kids is really important, but so is time away from them, too. For me personally, I love this annual weekend tradition because it involves hardly any planning or outings. While I consider myself the queen of those two activities, once in a while I want travel to be simply about getting away, wearing sweatpants, and nothing else.

Last week, I read two great blog posts about traveling without the kids that I thought I'd share:

Leaving the Mom Guilt at Home When You Get Away from Two Kids and a Map

Planning for a Vacation without Kids from Travels With Children

Finally, if you missed my post on the Blue Plate Cafe in Union Pier a while back, check it out. We had a lovely ladies lunch there this weekend and it was just as delightful as my first experience.

This Monday, I'm dreaming of many more weekends to come with my girlfriends. We've talked about getting crazy and doing Vegas one year, or perhaps a return to Colorado where we spent a really fun spring break in college. For now, our next gathering will be in Madison, Wisconsin for my best friend's wedding in November. (And between now and then, we'll welcome two new arrows to the current crew of three little arrows.) For the next few years, I know we'll stick to cold, snowy Michigan, where we can gather around the kitchen table and just be.

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

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Look up.

I'm not much of a photographer and I don't have a fancy camera. But since starting this blog, I've tried to get a little more creative with my pictures. Lately I've been fascinated by looking up and seeing what I can capture. Here are some of my favorites, mostly because they remind me of fun times and great trips.

Children's Museum of Indianapolis
Looking up at the base of Fireworks of Glass, the Chihuly sculpture at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

Opryland Hotel in Nashville
Admiring stained glass in the lobby of the Opryland Hotel while in Nashville for the Blissdom conference.

Sunbathing by the pool at the Canyon Villas in Phoenix.

Indiana Statehouse
After a meeting with the Lt. Governor and other Indiana bloggers, I stopped to check out the rotunda of the Indiana Statehouse.

St. Pete Beach
And finally, trying to get the arrow to look up at the kite flying above while spending time at St. Pete Beach.

Maybe now I'll work on looking down and seeing what I find near my feet as we wander around!
This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

Trip Report: St. Pete Beach/St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay

We got back on Tuesday evening from our 5-day trip to the Tampa Bay area of Florida. This is actually our longest trip with the arrow to date and it couldn't have been better. The weather was beautiful--mid 70s and sunny each and every day. The condo we rented was perfect for us and in a great location. More importantly, I felt like we did a lot while also doing a whole lot of nothing. Does that make any sense?

Below I've outlined our basic itinerary and how we experienced the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Day 1: Arrival in St. Pete Beach

Dining beachside at Caddy's on the Beach in Treasure Island
We started our journey flying from Indianapolis direct to Tampa. The arrow did great on the flight, even better than our flight to/from Phoenix this fall. That whole "sitting still" for a few hours really does get easier with age. We landed early afternoon, and drove about 40 minutes to St. Pete Beach where we had rented a condo. We stopped along the way so that I could make a quick dash into the grocery store for a few essential items (while the arrow napped in the car). We then quickly unpacked and headed straight for the beach, which was just a block away. I'll never forget the look on the arrow's face when he realized all that sand was his to play with! That night we headed to Caddy's on the Beach for some grouper sandwiches served up beachside. Then we collapsed into bed after a long travel day.

Day 2: Exploring downtown St. Petersburg
The Pier in St. Petersburg
One of my favorite memories from my previous trip to St. Petersburg was the Saturday Morning Market. This farmer's market is held each Saturday morning in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, and it was high on our list of things we wanted to do again. We started our morning there, sampling some of the delicious food being prepared. From the market, we walked over to The Pier. The Pier has lots of family-friendly attractions, like an aquarium, bike rental spot, and more. But we just wanted to wander, admire the water views and the boats in the marina. We continued to walk around downtown St. Petersburg (mostly because the arrow fell asleep in his stroller), and then stopped for brunch at a sidewalk cafe.

That afternoon, we introduced the arrow to the condo's heated pool and it was love at first splash. He would proceed to beg for the pool throughout the trip, and we had lots of fun indulging him! After his afternoon nap, we went to the Sloppy Pelican, a beachside restaurant just a few blocks from our condo. We capped off this sweet day with a stop for ice cream.

Day 3: Beautiful Fort De Soto

Chasing sea gulls at Fort De Soto
We spent the morning at what I consider to be the crown jewel of this area of Florida: Fort De Soto Park. It's a gorgeous stretch of beach and parkland. Miles of biking trails, no buildings to interupt the seaside landscape, and a great place to take in a wonderful breath of fresh air. We hunted for seashells, dipped our toes in the chilly water, and walked up and down the beach. We wanted to visit the fort itself, but it is closed until mid-March. Next trip!

We ate lunch back at the condo, and then hit the pool again. After the arrow's nap, we drove up the beach to North Redington. We stopped at a playground to let the arrow stretch his legs, and then went to the Conch Republic Grill for dinner. On our way home, we walked around Johns Pass. A fun boardwalk and lots of shops and restaurants, it was a great area for an evening stroll (and ice cream, of course.)

Day 4: Florida Aquarium and Ybor City

Entrance to the Florida Aquarium
We got up in the morning and drove to Tampa for a trip to the Florida Aquarium. It had lived up to my dreams about this place: lots of exotic fish, hands-on exhibits, and plenty to entertain the arrow. From the aquarium, we hopped on the trolley that runs around downtown Tampa, and took that to Ybor City. Ybor City is a lively area of Tampa, with lots of restaurants, bars, nightlife, all in old buildings on brick streets. We ate lunch at Bricks of Ybor, and it was one of our best meals of the trip. (You can read my review here.)Then we hopped back on the trolley and drove back to St. Pete Beach. After more pool time, we headed to Bella Habana for some great Cuban food as our last meal of the trip. Then we took a sunset stroll on the beach and stopped for (you guessed it) ice cream.

Day 5: Saying our goodbyes

Goodbye, St. Pete Beach!
After feeding the arrow a quick breakfast, we headed to the beach for one last romp in the sand and to say our goodbyes. Then we finished packing up the condo and stopped at a playground on our way to the airport. Before we knew it, vacation was over and we were on our flight back to Indianapolis.

I'll be blogging about many of these adventures in much greater detail in the weeks to come. Please check back to read more about our fun in Florida!

This post is a part of Spotlight Thursday at Trekaroo.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Indiana Statehouse for President's Day Weekend

I had the opportunity, along with about 25 or so other blogging moms from around Indiana, to meet with Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman this week. It was mostly a Q and A session (which turned into a lively discussion about healthy food in school cafeterias), and it was really interesting to see the diverse viewpoints, blog focuses, and geographical regions represented by the group.

It was also a chance to wander around one of my old stomping grounds, the Indiana Statehouse, our beautiful capital building in downtown Indianapolis. Before the days of chasing after the arrow, I worked for the previous mayor of Indianapolis and often found myself at the Statehouse. (Embarassingly enough I once tripped down a flight of stairs there and sprained my ankle.)

Since it's President's Day weekend, I thought we should say hello to two of our nation's finest, who you'll find gracing the grounds and halls of the Indiana Statehouse.

George Washington at the Indiana Statehouse

Abraham Lincoln at the Indiana Statehouse

The Indiana Statehouse
I'm sort of a dork when it comes to beautiful government buildings... I love the sense of "important things happen here" you get when you step inside. (Washington, DC sends me into a frenzy!) If you find yourself in Indianapolis, the Indiana Statehouse is definitely worth walking through. I've never taken the arrow, but I'm confident he'd love hearing the sound of his voice bouncing off the high ceilings and running wild on the marble floors.

If you'd like to hear more about the time we had with the Lt. Governor, I enjoyed the posts that Angie at Just Like the Number and Amy at The 4th Frog wrote.

If You Visit:
Indiana Statehouse
The main entrance is found at the corner of Capital and Market
Note: Security lines are much shorter if you enter through the back entrance on the west side of the building.
Tours are offered. Contact the Indiana Statehouse Tour Office to make arrangements.

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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It really is The Best Chocolate in Town

A couple of weeks ago, just in time for Valentine's Day, I wrote a post all about the great chocolate destinations you can visit around Indiana for Visit Indiana's blog. It was difficult to write, because we were 1.) out of chocolate and 2.) iced inside our house during that terrible storm that hit much of the country. Now that we're restocked with chocolate again, I wanted to share a little more about one of the shops I mentioned called The Best Chocolate in Town. A trip there was one of our favorite outings as a family when we lived in downtown Indianapolis.

Off to The Best Chocolate in Town

When the arrow was a baby, my husband had an hour-long commute back and forth to Columbus. He would always do his best to get home by 6:30 so he could spend an hour with the arrow before bedtime. Once a week or so, he would try to get home earlier and we would eat a quick dinner, put the arrow in the stroller or Bjorn, and off we went to The Best Chocolate in Town, about a 15 minute walk away. (The walk justified the enormous calorie intake, right?) Walks like this are the perfect outing when you have a baby. The little one is likely to be happy in transit, and you can just duck into the shop for your treat and duck right back out if things aren't going so well. It's great "couple" time, too, since the baby is entertained and there's no television or trappings from home to distract you from a good conversation.

Depending on our mood, we might order gelato, a cookie or some other delicious baked good. But more often than not, we'd each pick out a truffle or two. [Who am I kidding? More like three or four.] The truffles at this shop blow me away everytime. The incredible variety offered in the flavors is what I liked most about the shop. Many you would expect: raspberry, mocha, vanilla and mint. And those are all fantastic. But I'm drawn more to some of their really unusual flavors, like the Gorg. It's got a hint of gorgonzola cheese which might sound strange, but is really delicious. Recently we tried the Cinnamon Basil. It's my new favorite. These interesting flavor combinations are distinct, yet not overpowering, so you never lose that heavenly chocolate taste. There are more than 30 flavors, which kept us coming back.

Truffles from The Best Chocolate in Town

Now that we live a more suburban lifestyle we still take a lot of walks in the evening, but we miss having a "destination," particularly one as sweet as The Best Chocolate in Town. Fortunately a new bakery here in Columbus has started carrying some of their truffles, and my mother-in-law was thoughtful enough to pick up a box for us for Valentine's Day. We've been allowing ourselves to split one each night so they last for a while. And don't worry, we're not wasting away down here in Columbus: we've managed to find a new destination for occasional sweet treats here in town, called Zaharako's.

What's your favorite hometown spot for goodies?

If You Visit:
The Best Chocolate in Town
880 Massachusetts Avenue, Indianapolis
Open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
For other fun ideas along Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis with kids, read my post here. Or you can find more kid-friendly Indianapolis destinations at my Backyard Adventures page.

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

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Petersburg, here we come!

We're heading to St. Petersburg, Florida later this week and I've been counting down the days until our trip for weeks now. If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that most of our adventures take place around the Midwest. While I love this area of the country dearly, sometimes in February the need to hop on a plane and head south for some sunshine is just too strong.

My husband and I spent a long weekend in this area of Florida two years ago. I was pregnant with the arrow, and we thought it was our last traveling hurrah for a while. At that time, I never thought we'd be brave enough to venture much beyond a quick day trip here and there with our son. So it is a little bit ironic to basically be boarding the same flight, two years later, with a happy little boy who loves adventures as much as we do. I am not nearly as scared and intimidated about flying with the arrow as I once was, following his first successful flight to Phoenix this fall. And I'm pretty sure he'll love the beach, based on his introduction to it at Lake Michigan.

Our itinerary will likely change from that trip two years ago. I remember a leisurely morning at a large outlet mall, shopping for a newborn outfit to bring the arrow home from the hospital in. The arrow isn't much of a shopper these days, so I bet we'll pass on that. (Come to think of it, he also hated that outfit.) After I grew tired of walking around Tampa, we spent an afternoon sitting on a sunny patio at a bar in Ybor City and watched a Butler basketball game. I sipped lemonade, of course, while I stared longingly at my husband's cold beer. Instead, this trip will probably include a trip to the Florida Aquarium and lots of sand castle making (but maybe, finally, a cocktail for mom!) It will also be nice to leave the maternity clothes at home. And the cankles. All reasons that I'm even more excited for this trip than I was to go on that "babymoon."

But beyond on all that, I'm looking forward to some time together as a family of three for hours on end, day after day. Don't you think that evenings and weekends are too short and pass by in a blur? That's why family vacations are so important to us. A chance to stop and breathe for a few days and enjoy each other even more that we already do. I know my heart will come home full of love. (And perhaps my skin will come home a little tan? A girl can wish.)

My Valentine's Day dream? Time together with my boys, splashing in the surf, running in the sand, all beneath the sun. This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Take Me There: Egypt in pictures

To wrap up the week I've spent focused on Egypt, based on our time at the Take Me There: Egypt exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, I wanted to share a few more pictures I loved. If you want more detailed information about our time at this exhibit, please see my post from Monday (which also includes my reasons for writing about Egypt this week). And on Wednesday I cooked up an Egyptian meal that you can read about here.

The concept of this exhibit is that you tour a typical Egyptian village, include a family home. As we explored the Egyptian living room, the arrow discovered that they have a version of Sesame Street. Meaning he could visit and all his favorite friends would come with us. *sigh*

Another favorite feature for the arrow was a light-up display box of fruits and vegetables common in an Egyptian market. Not so very different from our own. In fact, you can't drive a mile around our house without passing a corn field or two.

And one of my favorite features was the sniffable spice and herb display. For a kid whose palette doesn't venture much past yogurt, fruit and crackers, it was fun to see the arrow experience some of these scents.

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

Disclosure: My admission to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis was complimentary. I was under no obligation to write about our time there. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In My Kitchen: North African Meat Pie

One of the unique features about the Egyptian exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis (which I wrote about earlier this week here) was the inclusion of an Egyptian recipe and list of Egyptian restaurants and markets in Indianapolis. What a fun way to continue learning outside the museum walls. A few weeks later, as the protests in Egypt took center stage on the nightly news, I dug out the recipe so that we'd have some method to feel connected to this part of the world. (Afterall, isn't gathering around to share a meal the one truly global experience?)

When I gave the recipe a closer look, I decided I really didn't want to make that particular dish. But I figured Google wouldn't fail me in turning up an Egyptian-inspired recipe that was more appealing. The next thing I knew, I was stumbling around all sorts of recipes at's recipe site. (I know nothing about this company, but it has an extensive list of Egyptian recipes.) For some reason, North African sweet potato meat pie caught my attention. I then embarked on my most exotic cooking challenging to date.

I won't retype the recipe since you can see it for yourself here. I was a little intimidated and frightened when I realized the meat was the actual pie crust. But the whole point of this In My Kitchen series is to challenge myself. And I was up for an adventure.

The first step was forming the meat pie crust. Turns out it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought.

Then I mashed up the sweet potato filling.

Then I assembled the pie. The raw meat crust was still creaping me out a little bit, I have to admit.

About an hour before we were ready to eat, I put it in the oven. (I had assembled it earlier that afternoon while the arrow was napping.)

Nothing left to do at that point than to dish it up and take a bite. I think the best way to describe it was exotic comfort food. It had just enough spices to give it a unique taste, yet it was still well within our comfort zone of flavors. In fact, I had all the ingredients on hand to make it besides the ground beef and two cans of sweet potatoes. It was a heavier dish than I typically cook, so we just had a small salad with it.

I'm sure this wasn't the most authentically Egyptian thing I could have tried. So I'd really like to venture out to an Egyptian restaurant soon and sample some more.

Have you tried Egyptian food? Any dishes you'd recommend?

This post is a part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick and Hunk of Meat Monday at Beyer Beware.

Disclosure: My admission to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis was complimentary. I was under no obligation to write about our time there. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Experiencing Egypt at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

One of my blogging goals this year is to get better about planning posts in advance and following a calendar. Sounds like a good idea in theory, but then the world intervenes.

Let me explain: After leaving the Egypt exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis last month, I knew I wanted to devote an entire week of posts to Egypt. So I scheduled it for this week. And then? January 25.

I almost postponed my plans because I want to be sensitive to what's happening there right now. The protests we see on the news each night are dangerous and life changing for so many Egyptians, in sharp contrast with a fun-filled trip to a museum. But I also think it's important to talk about issues like this with kids and introduce them to new cultural experiences. Afterall, Egypt is a beautiful land with an amazing history. None of that has changed in recent weeks, even if now is not an appropriate time to visit while it wrestles with such serious matters.

The Egypt exhibit at the Children's Museum is really amazing. We almost passed it by, thinking it might not be interesting to the arrow. But selfishly I wanted to include it in our visit since I hadn't seen it during previous trips to the museum. I'm glad we did--they've done an amazing job making it interesting and educational for kids of all ages.

Take a quick walk with me through this Egyptian village, won't you?

First, you hop aboard Egyptian Air (the seats actually rumble!)

Once you touch down, you'll find yourself at the doorstep of a typical Egyptian home. You can walk through the various rooms of the house (kitchen, living room, etc.) and see what makes life both the same and different from daily life here in the U.S. The arrow particularly enjoyed baking bread in the kitchen and petting the donkey.

Then you can wander through an Egyptian market. The arrow was captivated by the toy vegetables (if only he would eat more of the real thing).

Then you can stop and get a coffee at the coffee shop (called a Qahwah). I think this is where you'd find me in a typical Egyptian village. Sucking down some caffeine and people watching? Sounds about right.

You can even catch a ride on a tuk-tuk (an Egyptian taxi).

I loved this exhibit for so many reasons--the way it delighted the arrow, introduced all of us to a life we otherwise knew little about, and left us wanting to know more.
This Monday, I'm dreaming of a trip to Egypt. I don't know what the outcome of the current state of chaos and turmoil there will be. I hope this ancient land and its many treasures will once again be a place where all of us can visit safely. More importantly, I hope its people can live in peace with all the freedoms we enjoy here in America.

Check back here throughout the week for more Egyptian-inspired posts. On Wednesday, I'll be cooking up some Egyptian food and on Friday I'll be sharing a few more of my favorite photos from our time in this Egyptian village.

If you're interested in learning more about Egypt and this exhibit, but can't visit the museum itself, check out this link. It's full of videos and educational resources about this country.

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

Disclosure: My admission to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis was complimentary. I was under no obligation to write about our time there. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fun Cabin Fever Cures: Favorite Posts of the Week

Over the last few weeks, I've whined about being stuck inside the house on this blog (which is all about getting out with your kids... the irony is not lost on me!) I promise, no more complaining. Mostly because we're heading to the Sunshine State in less than two weeks! YEAH!

I found some great ideas for indoor fun this week. Two for the kids, one for you parents. I hope it helps with your cabin fever.

Indoor Fun for Kids:

Ice Ornaments at Adventure Tykes: The arrow hasn't been real keen on snow this winter. This is a great activity for us to try because the bulk of it takes place indoors. I think he'll love watching his sparkly creation hanging from a tree!

Grow a Sweet Potato from Go Explore Nature: You all already know I love Debi. So it comes as no surprise that she shares yet another great idea. I've also heard you can do this with an avocado pit, so we might give them both a try. Maybe I'll even get the arrow to eat one of these tasty, nutritious foods!

The best part is that both of these ideas incorporate the wonders of Mother Nature. Something we've been sorely lacking these days.

Not loving the snow.

Indoor Fun for Grown-Ups:

All About Photobooks from Classy Chaos: I'm an avid photobook fan because it helps me keep our pictures updated and organized without taking much time. I use Snapfish, not Shutterfly like you'll see in this post, but they are similar from what I hear. If you're stuck inside, think about getting caught up on those family memories and make a book! I can do a year's worth of photos in about a week, spending an hour or two each night on it. (Plus, you can watch mind-numbing reality television while doing it. Am I oversharing?)

This post is a part of Saturday Stumbles at Simply Staci.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Waterfalls and fountains at the Opryland

Last week, I shared a few favorite photos from my morning photo walk at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. But I have so many more that I fell in love with--particularly those of the fountains and waterfalls. You would have thought I was standing in a tropical forest. And I can assure you it's not my photography skills: I use a point and shoot camera, and I don't know the first thing about editing my pictures. (Not something I'm proud of, but there are diapers to change and mouths to feed around here. Someday!)

Opryland Fountains

Opryland Waterfalls

Promise me you'll pay this place a visit the next time you're in the Nashville neighborhood?

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

Ode to the Little Snack Cup

We've been reading a lot of Dr. Seuss around here lately (being iced inside our house and all). Inspired by reading The Cat in the Hat over and over and over again, I decided to come up with an ode to the most wonderful of toddler contraptions--the snack cup. If there's one product out there that helps us have more successul and fun outings with a toddler, it's this (full of tasty treats, of course). It is especially true when he has to be in his car seat or stroller for long periods of time.

The arrow sharing a snack with his cousin at Christmas

You have a way about you, little snack cup

Making Cheerios more challenging to spill
Yet keeps them accessible still
To little toddler hands
Letting us explore various lands

Little snack cup, we give you a big thumbs up

Packed with raisins or many a cracker
You make life grand for our little snacker
Keeping him happier in the car
Or sitting in his stroller as we wander afar

The world, we want our son to gobble up

Instead of being strapped to a high chair
Eating on the go can be done with flair
We take you everywhere we go
Leaving a trail behind us of many a Cheerio

You make it all possible, little snack cup!

(Confession: Cheerios are a major food group in the arrow's diet these days. Please don't judge.)

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

If you've somehow missed out on the genius of the snack cup and need a recommendation, here's an Amazon affiliate link to our favorite brand: Munchkin Two Snack Catchers