Friday, April 29, 2011

Crawling around Hope, Indiana

The arrow's 2nd birthday was this week. Birthdays are always a great time to reflect, and so I enjoyed flipping through old photos on a few occasions this week. It's hard to believe there was a time when the arrow crawled his way through all our adventures (or before that, had to be carried, pushed or wheeled everywhere!) Because now we are definitely at a full run most of the time!

These pictures were taken on a fun evening we spent in quaint Hope, Indiana last fall. My favorite photo from that adventure you can find here, but these are pretty cute, too. (Come to think of it, it was a lot easier to take his picture when he didn't move so fast!)

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Send my family to Boston!

Last night as I was settling in for an evening of Top Chef Masters, I saw a tweet pop up that notified me I was a finalist in HomeAway's contest to win a trip to Boston over the 4th of July. I entered a few weeks ago, excited to share the story of my family's first trip to Boston (where I learned I was pregnant with the arrow).

I didn't think much would come of entering, but I'm thrilled to be one of three finalists. (And I'm honored to be joined by Lisa from The World is Calling, one of my favorite blogs, and Stephanie from Twenty-Something Travel.) You can read our entries here.

If you have a moment today, I would greatly appreciate your vote on the HomeAway Facebook page. Voting is only open for 24 hours, and you can only vote once on Facebook. If you have a Twitter account, you can vote as often as you'd like, using my Twitter name (@arrowssentforth) and the hashtag #HomeAwayContest. If you're a lazy tweeter like me, you can just copy/paste this:

I'm voting for @arrowssentforth in the #HomeAwayContest.

We promise to bring you all back a bowl of clam chowder if we win (and cute pictures of the arrow romping around Boston)!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Nature on Vacation

Happy Earth Day! Earlier this week, I shared some ways we have fun enjoying nature in our own backyard. One of our favorite aspects of traveling is exploring the great outdoors in other's backyards. Not only is it one of my ways to save money on entertainment while on vacation, but it's also a chance to expose your kids to environments that they might not otherwise experience. Here are a few favorite photos from outdoor adventures while traveling.

Introducing the arrow to Lake Michigan during our trip to South Haven (he's tucked away in the Bjorn).

Hiking in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky.

Checking out the cacti at the Desert Botanical Garden during our trip to Phoenix.

Seashell hunting at Fort De Soto Park while on vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nature in our Backyard

I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about how much I appreciate my very own yard. We absolutely love adventures and traveling, and I really enjoy sharing those moments with you. But there's nothing easier than spending time in the backyard, and maybe that's as far as some people are willing to "travel" with their kids.

Outdoor dining with a friend. How sophisticated.
This being the week of Earth Day, I wanted to share my family's strategies for giving the arrow an appreciation for the great outdoors. We think it starts at home. So I kept my camera handy for the past week to capture some of the fun. It starts with one very basic principle. We have no outdoor toys. No playhouse, no swing, no trampoline, nothing. I know this will change as he gets older. In fact, don't tell him, but he's getting a tricycle for his birthday next week. And occasionally I bust out some sidewalk chalk or we blow bubbles. But for the most part, he's free to wander wherever he'd like around the yard without any man-made entertainment devices. I usually bring out a soccer ball for him to play with, but he almost always abandons it within the first few minutes we're outside.

Lonely soccer ball
This leads directly to my second strategy. Lighten up. He plays in dirt. He gets crud all over his hands and clothes. He whacks our trees with sticks. He sometimes rips grass right out of the yard, and has mangled a few flowers. But he's exploring, and I think that's totally worth a yard that won't be winning awards from Better Homes and Gardens anytime soon.

Third strategy? Back off. I typically sit on a patio chair with a magazine in hand. Early in the spring, we established the principles of "stay where mommy can see you" and "don't go beyond the sidewalk." As long as he continues to obey those rules, I leave him be. Not only does this foster independent play, but did you catch that I spend an hour reading a magazine? God bless you, Great Outdoors.

That's not to say that kids won't enjoy some organized activities outside in the yard where you can engage with them, like starting a garden, hunting for bugs, or birdwatching. I'd love to start composting again, and I think the arrow could be my helper. There are a lot of great resources out there if you need ideas to get started. Nature Rocks and Go Explore Nature are two of my favorite sites when I need some inspiration.

Stay consistent. Unless it's raining or the temperatures are below freezing, we spend at least 20-30 minutes outside almost every single day. It's just part of our routine.

I think you'll find, like I have, that your kids will soon develop their own outdoor interests. Lately, the arrow is obsessed with finding pet rocks. He brings them to me, one by one, and shows them off. He hugs them and kisses them, and then he lines them up as if they were on display. I think it's totally adorable.

Our pet rocks
I know that the number of outdoor toys we have will multiply (and that's totally fine), but I hope we've cemented a love for outdoor exploration in the arrow. May his love for those rocks be just the beginning of a love affair with Mother Nature.

Plus, I just love that smile.

Don't have much of a yard? That's ok! Find a nearby park or open, grassy area and claim it as your own!

I'm linking this post up with I Should Be Folding Laundry's You Capture and Adventuroo's Capture the Everyday. Nature is the theme of both memes this week!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Commons opening

Other than writing about some adventures we take around town, I haven't written much about the uniqueness of where we live: Columbus, Indiana. While in some ways, it's an average town in the middle of southern Indiana, in other ways, it's very "unexpected" (a word I'm stealing from its tourism tagline!). It is ranked 6th in the nation for outstanding architecture (behind Chicago, New York, Washington DC, Boston and San Francisco... pretty good company). There are architectural tours offered daily around town, and it's not unusal to see tourists milling about taking pictures as we make our way into the library or ride our bikes downtown.

But we try not to just let outsiders enjoy all these beautiful buildings and public art. While I'm no student of architecture, I love the variety you see around town, the innovativeness, the fact that even our jail looks like a fancy hotel. Next month, The Commons will open. Two months ago, while it was still very much under construction, I got to get a sneak peak during a tour of this amazing new community center. I wrote about The Commons opening for the Indiana Insider a few weeks ago. In this post, I mention that I'm particularly excited for the indoor playground, the performance hall and the unveiling of Chaos.

Here are a few photos of what will be the playground area when it opens next week. I have no doubt than an enormous indoor playground will dramatically affect our quality of life in those cold winter months.

Floor-to-ceiling climbing tower
The concert space will be a wonderful resource for our community. I can definitely envision some date nights here to listen to live music. Just like the playground, my favorite feature is the floor to ceiling windows. So much natural light.

Chaos is a whimsical, yet industrial sculpture that will delight visitors to The Commons. It wasn't yet "moving" when I visited, but eventually all these gadget and gears will come to life in a noisy but fun piece of public art.

This will be a place where we can make lots of new family memories in the years to come.

If You Visit:
The Commons
300 Washington Street, Columbus, IN
(Scheduled to open to the public sometime in May.) Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m on Sunday.
Admission is free of charge. Events in the performance hall may be require tickets, prices will vary.
Insider Tips: Make a day of it. Zaharako's Ice Cream Palor and Soda Shop is directly across the street and makes a really unique place for lunch, dinner or an ice cream treat. Kidscommons, our local children's museum, is also across the street. For more ideas on how to spend your time in Columbus, see my Backyard Adventures page.

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

Thanks to the Columbus Visitors Center for inviting me on a tour of The Commons before it opened.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In My Kitchen: Edam Cheese Soup

My parents recently got back from a riverboat cruise through Holland and Belgium. I got to spend an afternoon looking through their pictures and hearing a lot of their memories. My husband and I were lucky enough to pass through Holland on a bus tour around Europe when we were both in college, so I compared notes with my parents on some of our favorite aspects of this area of the world. The top on both of our lists: the gorgeous, picturesque landscapes that surround you.

In honor of the tulips being in full bloom over there right now, I wanted to make a dish inspired by Holland. When my husband and I visited, one of our stops was in Edam. Of course, we bought some Edam cheese and gobbled it up immediately. But we also got to rent bikes and tour this town. The canals, the quaint streets, the windmills. It almost seemed too perfect, but yet it was real.

The weather here in Indiana is slowly warming up, but this week we had a cool, rainy day. I thought this recipe for Edam Cheese Soup from was a great way to conjure up memories from our day in Edam and warm up a chilly evening. While the title says cheese soup, it's really more of a broccoli soup. I mostly stuck to the recipe, except that I probably doubled the amount of cheese. (My husband taught me long ago that you should use all the cheese you have whenever you make something that calls for cheese, not the suggested amount. This lesson has never failed us.)

A mountain of creamy Edam cheese
The next time I make it, I'll use less chicken stock and maybe increase the amount of potatoes. I prefer my soups a little thicker than the way this turned out. It tasted delicious though. If you have an immersion blender, it's much easier to blend the soup. (Plus, I feel like a soup ninja whenever I use mine.)

Edam Cheese Soup, blended and ready to serve
And then... the heavens opened up, choirs of angels came down and sang... because the arrow actually ate it. A first for the In My Kitchen series. (Ignore the fact that he's wearing a fishing hat, bib and no shirt. Focus on the toddler consuming vegetables.)

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

Monday, April 11, 2011

Summer Adventures

I love that warmer weather has arrived and wrapped her arms around me. I've been waiting for this hug aaaaaaaaaaaaaall winter long. Spring and summer bring such a great sense of possibility. There's more to see, do and experience, and I can't wait to get out there. I've decided I better put some of my goals down on paper (or megabyte, or whatever you call it when it's out in cyberspace). Let's hope this works better than my Christmas season goals (of which we accomplished nothing).

  • An Indianapolis Indians game. Back in the pre-arrow days, this was a favorite date night for my husband and me. Victory Field is one of the best minor league ballparks in the country, and it's so family friendly. I can't believe we haven't taken the arrow yet, but that will definitely change this summer. (So if the end of July rolls around and I have written about it, you'll remind me, right?)
  • Farms. I really want to go to a u-pick farm (strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all readily available in the summer throughout Indiana). There's also a lavender farm, herb farm and buffalo farm around Indiana that intrigue me. And I'd love a return trip to Traders Point Creamery, this time in the summer. Of course, this will be in addition to our nearly weekly trips to nearby farmers markets!
    Camping at Warren Dunes in Michigan last fall
  • More camping. We took the arrow camping at Warren Dunes State Park in southwest Michigan last fall and had a blast, despite a 40-degree drop in temperature while there. I've got a few spots in mind that I want to get to around southern Indiana: McCormicks Creek State Park (one of Indiana's best campgrounds, in my opinion), Clifty Falls State Park (from which we can explore quaint Madison, Indiana or venture over to Cincinnati), and Spring Mill State Park (a jewel in Indiana's state park system that I'm embarassed to admit I've never visited).
  • A long weekend away. Most of my husband's vacation time is already allocated to a few things we've got going on this year. But we've got a day or two to play with here and there this summer, so I'd love to do a little mini-trip. Maybe cash in some frequent flyer miles and head to Washington DC? Or a hiking trip somewhere closer? A visit to the Windy City? Perhaps we'll join my sister's family for a few days on their summer vacation.
There are a few "adventures" around home that require our attention this summer, too.
  • Transitioning the arrow to a big boy bed. Hold me.
  • Potty training. Hold me tighter.
Sigh. I'm trying to look on the bright side. While I might lose my sanity, it will hopefully mean the end of diapers and dragging that pack 'n play all over God's creation. If this blog goes radio silent for a few weeks, it just might be because no one is sleeping and we're drowning in soiled laundry. Send help.

The arrow and his dad grilling last summer.
So fire up the grill and let's get these summer adventures rolling. If you're looking for us, we'll be in the backyard letting the arrow run around naked.

This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips and What's Your Word: Adventure at Mommy Words.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Florida Aquarium in Photos

Earlier this week, I posted a lot of details and tips from our visit to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida. Here are a few more of my favorite photos from our time there. If you love aquatic life, you've got to put the Florida Aquarium on your must-see list the next time you're in Tampa, especially if you have kids.

Looks like a scene from one of my favorite movies as a kid, The Little Mermaid. It's just missing Ariel's seashell bikini and flowing red locks.


Ah, I just love this age. Everything is so new and exciting to him.

And because I ate more than my fair share on this trip, I present to you a 300 lb. grouper.

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Indiana Thunderstorm, Through the Arrow's Eyes

Yesterday the arrow experienced his first Indiana spring thunderstorm. Oh, sure, he's lived through (and slept through) plenty, but this was the first time he really noticed the thunder and the lightning and asked me what was happening outside. Big thunderstorms are a part of life here in the Midwest throughout the spring and summer. I've always loved watching them roll in from the comfort of a porch, hoping that they don't bring with them destructive tornadoes. Luckily, this one was relatively calm. We stood by our back window and watched the light flash, then waited patiently to hear the thunder. Someday, I'll explain to him the difference in the speed of light and sound and how you can tell how far away the storm is, just like my parents explained to me.

When the worst had passed, and the rain was still pelting the yard, I let him onto the front porch to try out his photography skills. I don't usually let the arrow anywhere near my camera (it is one notch down from the cell phone in terms of tempting yet forbidden items around here). But Go Explore Nature is hosting a linkup this week called Give a Kid a Camera, encouraing kids to take some pictures of nature. So while I didn't let him get very far with the camera, I did let him snap a couple of photos himself.

(Don't mind the tree limbs... we had a dead pine removed over the weekend.)
Before retreating inside, we both noticed his little wet footprints on our cement porch. It reminded me of those newborn footprints you often see in baby books. He was totally fascinated by it, and even more excited to see it captured on the camera's screen.

Go visit Go Explore Nature today to see what other nature-loving kids captured. Thanks to Debi for such a fun idea... I don't think I would have taken the arrow out in his first storm otherwise, and we definitely made some special memories.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Visiting the Florida Aquarium

Back in December when I was just starting to think about what adventures would be fun while on vacation in Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, the Florida Aquarium immediately captured my attention. (In fact, I wrote a post all about dreaming of this outing.)

One of the reasons that I like to do some planning before we head out of town is that I have so much fun watching dreams like this come true. Spontaneity is great, but so is a vision realized. I hope you'll indulge me in a little reflection on our time at the Florida Aquarium. I'm including a few insider tips to make it worth your while!

Hands-On Fun
One of the best aspects of the Florida Aquarium is that they offer hands-on interaction with the animals. And you don't have to wait long to get your hands on the animals. Right in the lobby is a Sting Ray Touch Tank. The arrow was a little too nervous to get his hands in there, but I did and he had fun watching me pet the rays.

Sting Ray Touch Tank at the Florida Aquarium
Further into the aquarium, there's a tank called the No Bone Zone where kids can touch sea stars, mollusks and such. Having been there for over an hour by then, the arrow was all warmed up and ready to get in on the action. He wasn't quite the right height to navigate this on his own, but he managed to touch a few things.

No Bone Zone at the Florida Aquarium
Insider Tip: Weather permitting, dress your child in short sleeves so that they don't spend the day with wet sleeves.

Accessible for Toddlers
I also appreciated the efforts that the Florida Aquarium made to ensure that even the littlest kids could see all the wonderful fish and animals on display. Rarely did we have to lift the arrow... he could walk right up to floor-to-ceiling tanks or peer over ledges that were short enough for him to see over.

Insider Tip: If your toddler walks pretty well, leave the stroller in the car. We pushed an empty one around for our entire visit. The Florida Aquarium isn't that large in terms of square footage and each exhibit space flows right into the next one. You could easily just carry your little one for short periods of time if they do get tired.

Not Just Fish
I was a little worried that the arrow might get tired of staring at tank after tank of fish. Fortunately the Florida Aquarium, much like Mother Nature herself, includes all kinds of wildlife. So we could practice our "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!" with the owl.

Owl at the Florida Aquarium
And pretend that we weren't scared of the alligator.

Alligator at the Florida Aquarium

And the arrow continued to avoid the camera while we tried to get a family photo with some cool birds.

Insider Tip: If your kids are a bit older, you'll appreciate that the exhibits are all very well labeled, so you can help them identify exactly what species of animals they're seeing. It might be fun to pack a notebook and keep a record of some of their favorites.

If You Visit:
Florida Aquarium
701 Channelside Drive, Tampa
Open 9:30 to 5 p.m. every day.
Admission is $19.95 for adults. (Or save 10% if you buy tickets online.) Children 3-12 are $14.95 at full price (the 10% discount also applies if you buy online).

More Insider Tips:

Get there early. There's an open area in front of the aquarium that kids can wander around and explore if you have 5-10 minutes to kill before it opens. It will help to get you to the front of the ticket line that forms.

Use the ticket kiosk. Don't want to wait in line for tickets but didn't buy tickets in advance? We used an automated kiosk near the entrance. So when the doors opened, we walked right in without a wait at the ticket window.

Ticket Kiosk at the Florida Aquarium
Take the trolley. If you have plans elsewhere in Tampa, consider taking the trolley system to get to the aquarium instead of driving. The Cumberland Avenue Station stop is right in front. You'll avoid the $6 parking charge at the aquarium and the arrow loved it!

Get outside. The arrow got a little worked up from all the excitement (animals! fish! people!) There were several chances to duck outside on the patio area for a breath of fresh air and let him settle down a little bit. It really helped to make our experience more enjoyable. (There's also a water park attached to the aquarium, but it was a little too chilly for that the day we visited.)

Patio garden where they grow fish food at the Florida Aquarium
Great Pre- or Post-Cruise Entertainment. If you're taking a cruise that starts or ends in Tampa, the Florida Aquarium is directly across the street from the cruise ship port.

View of cruise ship from patio of the Florida Aquarium
This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips. This week, my dream just happens to be a dream fulfilled.