Sunday, January 29, 2012

Super Bowl Village with Kids

As I mentioned last week, the Super Bowl has come to Indianapolis. Yesterday we spent several hours strolling through the Super Bowl Village and experiencing what one of the largest and most elaborate sporting events in the world really entails. It was incredible and I'm so glad we braved the crowds and the cold temperatures, because it was totally worth it.

I've already been asked by dozens of friends and family for advice on visiting, so here's a breakdown of how we spent our day in the Super Bowl Village.

Insider Tip: Park on the east end of downtown. And dress warm!

We parked in a lot on the east end of the action (near the City County Buiding) and we began the day by bundling up the boys and hitting the pavement. We've actually had some relatively warm, sunny days this weekend, with hopefully more to come this week. But it is very windy between the tall buildings downtown, so be sure to bring along hats, gloves and scarves.

Insider Tip: Enjoy lots of free entertainment all along Georgia Street.

Over the last few years, the City of Indianapolis completely redid an entire downtown street (Georgia Street) which runs from Bankers Life Fieldhouse (where the Indiana Pacers play) all the way to Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center (where the Super Bowl will be played and where the NFL Experience is headquartered). This street is now Super Bowl Village, basically a free festival with concerts, street performers, concessions and bars all along the way. Along with several other downtown streets, it is closed to traffic and entirely pedestrian this week.

Big Arrow loved this juggler on stilts.

Insider Tip: Warm up inside The Huddle

During our stroll along Georgia Street, we made a couple of pitstops. Once, we warmed up inside "The Huddle," which is a heated lounge area in a former department store (the old Nordstroms, for you locals). This is a great spot to grab a beverage, rest your legs and use the bathroom.

Insider Tip: Don't miss Monument Circle for the big XLVI letters.

Then we ventured north on Meridian Street to Monument Circle to see all the Indy Cars, one for each NFL team. It was quite a sight to behold.

Can't resist a plug for the home team.

Insider Tip: End your visit in Touchdown Alley and the zipline.

From there, we continued west on Georgia Street and headed to Touchdown Alley. It's basically a smaller version of a football field, complete with astro turf. It was full of kids running around (and parents acting just as young at heart as the kids... I love that!) Big Arrow could have stayed here for hours.

The most exciting part of the day was watching the zipliners fly overhead as we played on the field below. I can't quite put into words what it's like to watch people zooming through the air in the middle of a large city with a party raging below. But here's a little video I took to give you a sense of it.

We had too much fun for just one post. So I'll be sharing more pictures later this week. Be sure to check back.

Other Insider Tips:
  • If your kids are a little older, or you're a big football fan, consider purchasing a ticket for the NFL Experience. It looks great, but our boys are still a bit young for that.
  • If you're visiting with a baby or need any type of special medical care or attention, there's a Super Care Clinic inside Union Station. Moms are welcome to nurse or pump inside the clinic. (I didn't actually use this myself and nursed Little Arrow during lunch instead, but it was a big relief to know there was a quiet, warm place to do that if I had needed to.)
  • When you find yourself in need of a restroom, look down the alleys. On just about every alley downtown, you'll see a white trailer. This is a heated restroom with running water. We saw very few lines at these trailers when we were there.
This biggest complaint I hear from people about the Super Bowl experience is how expensive it is. But I'm happy to report we spent less than $50 for an entire day of fun ($7 to park and about $40 for a nice lunch). There's so much to see and do that's all for free, so don't let money get in your way of a good time this week.

Like what you see? Then "like" Arrows Sent Forth on Facebook and keep up with all our adventures.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chicago Bound

My husband is heading to Chicago next week for work (and the Arrows and I are tired of being left behind!), so we're tagging along to to visit a few friends, hopefully hit a museum or two, and enjoy a little getaway. It's been over a year since I roamed Chicago with Big Arrow. I'm looking forward to doing it again with both Arrows. Expect to hear more about that soon, but for now I'll post a couple of photos of The Bean, just one of many iconic Chicago landmarks.

Hard to believe Big Arrow was barely walking in this picture! Now he'd probably try to see how many times he could run around it.

You can read more about our visit to Millennium Park here.

What's your favorite thing to do in the Windy City?

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis

Big Arrow decorates a card for one of the thousands of visitors coming to Indy for Super Bowl XLVI.
Visitors staying in downtown hotels will receive one of these personalized welcome cards from Hoosier kids.

It's an exciting time to be a Hoosier, as we prepare to welcome the world to Indianapolis for the Big Game (as in Super Bowl XLVI). The preparations have been under way for years and I'm looking forward to seeing the city shine on such a large stage.

Even if you're not into football, there's some fun things happening in conjunction with the game. I wrote about the Super Bowl Village for Visit Indiana here. We're hoping to bring the Arrows to experience some of that fun this weekend when it opens (likely before the tens of thousands of visitors descend on the city). From free concerts to a giant zipline, it looks like a once-in-a-lifetime atmosphere.

And this summer, I really want to take the boys on a "mural hunt" around downtown. The City and the Arts Council of Indianapolis created a "46" for XLVI public art project that I wrote about for Visit Indiana here. There are now 46 murals all over Indianapolis showcasing the city's cultural vibrancy. I love that the Super Bowl will leave such a lasting legacy around town.

The Village and the murals are just a few of the dozens of events and attractions revolving around the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. More information on Indianapolis hosting the Super Bowl is available here.

And if you're planning a trip to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl and want some recommendations on things to do around the city and state, please visit my Indiana Adventures page for a few ideas. I also wrote a post about off-the-beaten-path attractions and dining recommendations for families visiting Indianapolis at the R We There Yet Mom blog a while back.

If you're looking for more objective reviews of the city as a destination, here are a couple of articles from the mainstream press previewing Indianapolis as a host for the Super Bowl.
Enjoy the game!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hike at Tangeman Woods

Like much of the country, we've had an unusually warm winter thus far. So we've tried to make the most of this rarity and get outside with the two Arrows as much as possible. When we felt we had our fill of the backyard and nearby playground, we planned a late afternoon hike at Tangeman Woods here in Columbus, Indiana.

Part of the Sycamore Land Trust network of nature preserves throughout southern Indiana, it was a fun, 3/4 mile trek through ravines and hillsides.

Because we weren't familiar with the trail, we decided to "wear" about Big Arrow and Little Arrow. I was glad we did... the sun may have set on us before Big Arrow would have finished the hike on his own two feet because portions of the trail were steep.

While we missed the leaves on the trees, there was still plenty of nature to be found, even in winter. Like this skull my husband found. (Not really my cup of tea, but Big Arrow thought it was awesome.)

On our next warm day, I'd like to try out nearby Touch the Earth Natural Area. We drove by it and thought it looked a little more toddler-friendly and quieter. (Tangeman Woods borders busy State Road 46, so you could see and hear traffic throughout the hike. It didn't ruin the experience, but I like hikes that are a bit more serene.)

If You Visit:
Tangeman Woods Nature Preserve
9441 Old Nashville Road, Columbus, IN
Park at the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Department. The trail begins and ends here.
The property is free, but there is no staff and no amenities (like restrooms). There are many restaurants just a few miles east in Columbus.
A detailed map is available here.
Insider Tip: If you're hiking with kids, challenge them to find each of the 59 numbered sign posts. We let Big Arrow walk the last 1/4 mile of the trail and he loved running from post to post. Plus, it helps ensure you to stay on the trail.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Gray Brothers Cafeteria

Cafeterias have long held a place in Hoosier diners' hearts. But most of the cafeterias that used to dot just about every town on the map in Indiana have sadly long since been replaced by chain restaurants. There's one exception to that: Gray Brothers Cafeteria in Mooresville, Indiana. Known as much for the line that stretches out the door as its traditional and homey food, it is only about 15 minutes from where I grew up.

I remember eating there for the first time when we moved to Indiana, and how foreign it seemed to my very New England family. But we quickly learned our way around the cafeteria line. Before long, the enormous dining rooms, roaring fire places, and crisp, juicy fried chicken seemed like home to us.

To read more about the cafeteria dining experience at Grays, read my post about Gray Brothers Cafeteria for Visit Indiana here. Or watch a clip about Gray Brothers when it was featured on Man v. Food on the Travel Channel here.

A couple of months ago, at the height of my pregnancy cravings, I visited my parents for dinner. Cue my dad walking in the door with the unmistakeable Grays takeout bags. I hadn't been to Grays in years, but it still tasted exactly the same.

It really is as good as it looks.

If You Visit:
Gray Brothers Cafeteria
555 S. Indiana Street, Mooresville, IN
Insider Tips: The line moves fast, but if you don't have time, head to the carry-out entrance on the northside of the building and get your meal to go.

You can also order whole pies. Trust me, once you try them, you'll agree that one slice just isn't enough.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Look down.

About a year ago, I did a Photo Friday post with pictures I took while looking up. This time around, I thought I'd share a few snapshots from times I've looked down. (Well... sort of. No one wants to see a bunch of pictures of my feet, right?) Enjoy!

Looking down at the red bricks that mark the path of the Freedom Trail during our trip to Boston last summer.

Big Arrow spinning down a slide at a playground in Redington Beach, Florida, during our trip to St. Pete last February.

Taking in a holiday performance by a local school group when we visited the Indiana State Museum in December.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

10 Tips for Planning a Florida Trip

You'll be hearing a lot about the Sunshine State around here over the next few months, as we're heading back to Florida in early March. Since I've now planned at least a half dozen trips to this part of the country over the last 10 years or so, I thought I'd share a few tips I've learned along the way. Just in time for you Spring Breakers!

1.) Pick a general area or city in Florida to explore. There are so many regions of this state worth a visit that it can be a bit overwhelming. There are many ways to go about making this decision. For the past few years, we've focused our search on areas where we can fly direct. Or you can look at driving times from your house if you plan on road tripping. (For example, from my house to Panama City Beach, the drive takes a little over 11 hours. If we drove to Miami from here, it would be 18 hours. A pretty big difference if all you care about is sticking your feet in the sand.) Or there may be a particular attraction (cough... Disney World... cough) that you know you want to see. Regardless, picking your homebase is a good first step.

2.) Decide on lodging. I like to do this before booking flights because depending on the time of year, you may struggle to find a place to rest that suits you and your family. If you're traveling at peak times, hotels might be full. Or if, like us, you like to visit in the winter, it can sometimes be hard to find a rental property that rents by the night since there are so many monthly rentals at that time of year. I like to be sure we can find a place to stay in a particular area before I book a flight there. I can always change course or switch weekends if we come up empty in our search.

3.) Plan ahead. Because of Florida's popularity as a vacation destination, I find that it's best to make reservations and not "wing it." This includes purchasing tickets for popular attractions, booking a place to stay, renting a car, etc. If there are things you can do in advance, it's usually a good idea especially if you're visiting at peak times.

4.) Connect with the local tourism bureau. I do this whenever I'm planning a trip, but I'm usually really impressed with those in Florida. Because their economy is so tied to tourism, you'll likely find these organizations to be really professional and accommodating. You can even find great suggestions on things as simple as a favorite lunch spot. (We would have never discovered one of our favorite restaurants in Tampa, Bricks of Ybor, without Visit Tampa Bay's recommendation.)

5.) Consider renting equipment or beach supplies. Since I travel with young kids who often need specialty, bulky equipment (like a pack n play for sleeping or high chair for eating), we prefer to rent these items instead of dragging things to the airport. A trip to Florida might include renting a jogging stroller for walks on the beach or a cabana for sun protection. (If you're visiting the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater area, we had a good experience renting from Beach Family Rentals.)

6.) Check the weather. Unless you visit in the summer, when it's 99% likely to be hot, you may find Florida weather unpredictable. It can be cool at times, especially in the evening. So even though you've looked forward to hot sun for weeks, be sure to throw in some long pants and a jacket or two in your suitcase.

7.) Have some rainy day plans. It often rains down there, for at least part of the day. So be sure to research some fun things to do that don't involve parking yourself on the beach. Nearby movie theatres, museums, aquariums, etc. are good things to keep in mind.

8.) Don't forget nature. The beach is great, and no one loves spending a day there more than me. But Florida is also a place of outstanding natural habitats, some of which may be completely different than where you live. Take advantage of an opportunity to get up close and personal with these unique landscapes. (In other words, there's more to Florida than The Mouse.)

9.) Think through your beach needs when packing. If you plan to spend the bulk of your vacation at the beach, keep in mind that you may want to pack a few items you don't normally bring on a trip. The Delicious Baby blog had a great post about packing for a trip to Hawaii, many of these apply for Florida also. And a couple of unique finds on Pinterest that I plan to throw in my bag for our upcoming trip include:
  • A shower cap to keep the sand on your shoes from getting all over your bag. (Although I admit that finding some sand at the bottom of my purse a few weeks after a trip to the beach always makes me smile.)
  • I never know what to do with essentials like keys, money, etc., when we go to the beach since I know I'll want to wander a bit from our beach blanket at times. I love this idea for repurposing an empty sunscreen container. Not foolproof of course, but a lot less tempting to a potential thief.
10.) Order seafood or fish at every meal. (Oh... maybe this is just something I do when in Florida.)

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

Monday, January 9, 2012

Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum

Our first big adventure as a family of four last month took us to Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum. My husband has fond memories of visiting this museum each year at Christmas when he was a kid (although it was in a different building at the time), meeting Santa and riding the train. So we did exactly that.

First, we warmed up by letting Big Arrow color and make a ring as part of an organized effort to bring holiday cheer to area hospitals, nursing homes, military overseas, etc.

Then it was time to meet the Big Guy. I feared getting the standard "kid screaming on Santa's lap picture." But my husband did an amazing job of convincing (typically timid) Big Arrow not to be scared. I think he even managed to whisper what he wanted for Christmas.

Then it was time to board the train. It's a simple series of carts that goes round and round a decorated holiday scene. Perfectly sized for little ones. (Meaning my 6' 4" husband had to stand on the sidelines with Little Arrow while I rode the train with Big Arrow. Sometimes it pays to be short!) I loved the kind staff and volunteers who so graciously entertain train riders.

Then we left the Celebration Crossing exhibit to check out the old fashioned department store holiday displays. Big Arrow was completely fascinated with the little Christmas scenes spread out behind the glass. He marveled at them for quite some time.

Our morning at the museum was full of festive fun, and it was particularly rewarding to hear my husband comment repeatedly on how much it reminded him of coming to the museum as a child.

If you're wondering where Little Arrow was for all this fun, you should know that I subscribe to the "don't mess with a sleeping baby" parenting philosophy. So this is how he took in all the museum's sights and sounds:

Celebration Crossing is closed for the holiday season, but as my husband can attest, you can count on it being back again next year.

If You Visit:
Indiana State Museum
650 W. Washington Street, Indianapolis
Open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays, 11 a.m. to  p.m.
Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for children 3-12.
Insider Tips:
  • Signs will tell you that you can't take photos in Santa's house. While this is true, you don't have to buy one of the museum's photo packages. I was able to take photos from the entrance of the house (and was encouraged to do so).
  • While the Indiana State Museum is not a children's museum, the Amazing Maize exhibit that's at the museum through January 2013 is quite kid-friendly. I'll be writing about that soon.
Disclosure: I was provided with tickets to the Indiana State Museum. I was under no obligation to write about my time at the museum, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A return to Robert's Tree Farm

There's something about New Year's that always causes me to pause and think about all that's changed. Change is good, no doubt, and change for our family has been especially good to us this year with the arrival of our new Little Arrow. Watching Big Arrow blossom into a really sweet big brother has been equally as heart warming.

But a few weeks ago, when we drove home from getting our Christmas tree at Robert's Tree Farm in beautiful southern Indiana again this year, I was reminded of how comforting it is when everything stays exactly the same.

We boarded the same tractor to take a hay ride.

That ride took us to the same beautiful field of trees.

We once again watched Big Arrow run around with pure joy.

The same kind man got our tree all ready to take home.

We warmed up in the same comfy cabin. Which we learned has stood on this farm since the mid 1800s. And this farm has been in the same family equally as long. The cabin was originally a small grocery store, and the farm hasn't always sold Christmas trees of course, but I was really touched by the pride that the farm owner had in his voice as he told us the history of this special place.

This was our view of Little Arrow throughout our outing (he was only a week old, afterall). And he's just about the only thing that was different this year.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same afterall.

If You Visit:
Robert's Tree Farm
9977 N. Co. Rd. 25 E., Seymour, Indiana
Opens the week of Thanksgiving through the weekend before Christmas
Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to dark; Sunday, noon to dark.
Insider Tip: If you already have a tree, you can still visit the farm. Live wreaths are available for purchse, along with horse-drawn carriage rides.

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bella Habana Restaurant in St. Pete Beach

My husband and I have spent the last week or so arranging a return trip to the St. Petersburg area of Florida. This trip is becoming a yearly tradition, as we'll now have traveled to this area 3 of the last 4 winters. Call it our cold weather pilgrimmage to the sun and sand (also known as "how I get through Indiana winters").

Naturally we were discussing what attractions and restaurants we might return to, and Bella Habana made the list. It's a Cuban restaurant in St. Pete Beach that we visited on the last night of our trip last year, and I think if I close my eyes, I can still feel the cool breeze as we sat on their patio watching the sun slowly set.

This area of Florida has a large Cuban population, so it's a must that you sample some of the cuisine while there. I went for the crab empanadas, while my husband couldn't resist the traditional Cuban sandwich.

We decided to order the sweet plantains on the side, and they were also delicious. We couldn't get Big Arrow to believe us when we said they were just like bananas and give them a try, but that just meant there was more for mom and dad to devour!

A few other memories stand out from our dinner at Bella Habana.

Like the sangria.

And Big Arrow's great behavior as we enjoyed the large patio.

Insider Tip: The restaurant is known for its live music, which I'm sure is great and fun, but if you visit on a night when there's no show, you may get the patio all to yourself like we did.

And our sunset stroll home along the beach.

Florida, from your tasty food to your breathtaking landscapes, it's no wonder I just can't quit you. Can't wait to do it all over again in March!

If You Visit:
Bella Habana Restaurant
5905 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach
Insider Tip: Skip the toasted Cuban bread as a side item... it's just your average garlic bread.

Want more information about our travels to this area? You can read my St. Petersburg trip report here. Or read my reviews of two other family-friendly dining options in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area:

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