Thursday, August 30, 2012

Career Exploration Via Family Travel

Last Labor Day, I put together a little photo compilation of some fun and important people who work hard to make vacations and outings more fun. This year, I thought I'd show off some occupations Big Arrow has been able to try out because of our adventures.

Like a firefighter (via the Chicago Children's Museum).

Or a paleontologist (via the Children's Museum of Indianapolis).

Gas station attendant (via the Boston Children's Museum).

We even trusted him to be our boat captain during our week on Saginaw Bay in Pinconning, Michigan this summer.

As for Little Arrow, the world got a lot bigger for him this week... he started crawling. If you're wondering why I'm not blogging much, it involves vacuuming and keeping small particles out of his mouth.

Happy Labor Day! Enjoy this last blast of summer. Speaking of our trip to Pinconning, next week I'm going to write a bit about some tasty food from that area of Michigan. Check back if you love cheese!

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tips for Visiting SkyDeck Chicago with Kids

A few weeks ago, I wrote a guest post about a visit to SkyDeck Chicago over at the Go Big or Go Home blog. What better place for a post about the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, right?

Located at the top of the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, SkyDeck Chicago has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Windy City. The addition of a glass sky ledge that extends a few feet off the side of the building separates this from your ordinary observation deck.

But it's not the easiest place to visit, especially with young kids, so here are a few tips.

1.) Go early. Always a good bet, but at SkyDeck Chicago, it could literally make or break your trip. We went around 2 p.m. on a Saturday, and it took us well over 2 hours to visit, which mostly involved standing in long lines. (We only spent about 15 minutes at the top.) This place gets busy fast, and with limited room on elevators to shepherd you up and down, crowds form quickly. If you're visiting with young kids, I suggest you either get there right when it opens or skip it altogether. It's just too much waiting in line for little ones. If you're unsure, the staff at the building entrance can give you approximate wait times.

Insider tip: From now until September 1, on Saturday mornings it opens at 8 a.m. If your kids are like mine, they're up anyway and you're stuck in your hotel room trying to keep them quiet. Why not travel 103 stories up instead?

2.) Wait for a clear day. If you have the luxury of several flexible days in Chicago, go when it's clear so that you get the best view possible. It was overcast for our visit and it hampered our view a bit (still pretty stunning, though, don't you think?).

3.) Purchase a Chicago CityPASS.* Not only will you save big on admission (assuming you're planning to see a few other popular attractions in the city, like the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicago), but you can also bypass the ticket line at SkyDeck Chicago. I really can't say enough about the benefits of a CityPASS when touring Chicago.*

4.) Bring an extra camera for your kids. Once you get to the top, there's not much to do beyond admiring the view and taking pictures. For adults and older kids, that thrill is enough. But little kids might not appreciate this as much, so an activity like allowing them to take pictures even if it's just with a cheap disposable camera, would amp up the fun factor.

5.) Be brave. Stepping out on the glass sky ledge is not for the faint of heart.

But it sure is fun to see everything looking so small down below.

I'll be honest, SkyDeck Chicago isn't the sort of attraction my family is normally drawn to, but since we were traveling without Big Arrow and had a little more freedom because Little Arrow still has no opinion on such things, I figured it was a good time to check it out.

While the crowds were certainly not my cup of tea, it's a lot more educational than I imagined, with informative interactive displays throughout your journey to the top, including a 10-minute video that will teach you so much about Chicago's unique history.

Much like the elevator ride up, admission is steep, especially without the discount from a Chicago CityPASS.* Chicago has so much to offer that is much more my speed, like amazing museums and cool urban parks, so I likely won't plan a return trip to the SkyDeck anytime soon. But all in all, it was worth a one-time ride to the top.

Have you been to the SkyDeck? I'd love to know what you think!

If You Visit:
SkyDeck Chicago
233 S. Wacker Dr. (But enter Willis Tower via Jackson Blvd., which is the south side of building.)
Tickets: Adults are $17.50, kids 3-11 are $11. Under 3 are free.
Hours vary throughout the year. A printable visit guide is available here.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels, as well as Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

*Affiliate link.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Making of a Corn Dog at the Indiana State Fair

Sometimes I'm a bit sheepish to get my camera out when we're off on one of our adventures. It's a bit awkward to take pictures of your plate of food at a restaurant. Or stopping in the middle of a crowded sidewalk just to get a good shot. And especially when trying to grab a picture of someone other than those you're traveling with.

But other times, I thank my camera for being a bit of a conversation crutch. Last weekend at the Indiana State Fair, my husband ordered a corn dog. When I heard the cook yell out from his cart, "It'll be a few minutes, we make 'em fresh!" I had to grab my camera and see if I could take a peak at the process of making a corn dog.

When he saw me trying to get a shot or two, he invited me to the back of the cart where he opened a window so I could get a great look at him making it. He was clearly so proud of their corn dogs and their process, and the time he spent telling me about how to make this classic fair food was a highlight of our trip to the fair this year.

He started off by mixing up the corn cake batter. It smelled heavenly, a sweet, right-off-the-cob aroma.

Then he dunked the hot dog right into the batter. One plunge in, and it was coated at least a 1/2 inch thick. I couldn't believe how thick and sticky it was.

Then down into the bubbly oil of the fryer it went. (I think the little stick holders are pretty genius.)

And after a few minutes of chatting with him, our corn dog was ready. I probably could have tried for a better picture, but I was too busy eating (and pushing a stroller... and digging out a pacifier from my purse... and answering Big Arrow's 900th question...).

Many thanks to the kind man at Charlie's corn dog stand on the northside of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. He claims they're one of the few vendors at the Fair who freshly prepare their corn dogs. I can't vouch for whether that's true, but it definitely was the best I've had in a while. Regardless, he's certainly the most personable corn dog vendor I've met.

More posts about the Indiana State Fair:

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

Monday, August 6, 2012

Visiting Madison, Indiana with Kids

Forgive me. I sat down to edit pictures of our visit to Madison, Indiana to share with you. Then I realized that every photo I took was essentially just a portrait of one of the Arrows.

Good mom, bad travel blogger.

Well, while you stare at my kids (they are pretty adorable), I'll offer up some ways to enjoy one of Indiana's most picturesque towns.

Nestled right into the rolling hills along the Ohio River, it's such a lovely spot that we couldn't resist the temptation to venture into town more than once during our weekend camping trip to nearby Clifty Falls State Park. Earlier in the day when energy was high after a lunch at the Lighthouse, we let Big Arrow stretch his legs along the brick pathway that runs along the river itself.

Sky looks ominous, huh? Ten minutes later, we were safely in our car while it stormed!

There's plenty of space for kids to romp, and plenty of benches for parents to rest. Or giggle at your big brother, in Little Arrow's case.

For kids, a real highlight of the riverfront area is all the cool boats and barges you see making their way down the Ohio. You can get an even better view with the binoculars for a quarter.

Just north of the riverfront area is charming downtown Madison. Later in the day, we headed there for dinner at legendary Hinkle's Sandwich Shop. Hinkle's is famous for their hamburgers (which I wrote about for Visit Indiana), but Big Arrow really enjoyed showing off his strawberry milkshake mustache.

Unlike some historic districts, Madison was very stroller friendly. Little Arrow helped me out by demonstrating.

But truly, even if you don't have kids, Madison is a really special place for a weekend getaway. Lots of beautiful old homes, fun little shops, unique restaurants. Beyond Madison itself, you've got Clifty Falls (one of my favorite state parks) and Hanover College, a really pretty college campus.  But you'll just have to take my word for it on that.

At least I proved that it's a great place to take pictures of your kids.

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

PS: This was my first trip where I took my camera off its automatic setting. I was pretty pleased with the results. If you're looking for ways to improve the photos you take of your own kids, I highly recommend this book (affiliate link):

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Clifty Falls State Park

Our overnight camping trip to Clifty Falls State Park a few weeks ago didn't start out well. That morning, I was frantically combing through our camping supplies, trying to decide what we needed and what we could leave behind. I was nervous the boys wouldn't sleep well in the tent and that we'd give up and go home at midnight. I wondered if all the preparation would be worth it for just a 36-hour adventure.

True to form, two days later my husband and I agreed that it was one of our best camping trips yet. I returned feeling so relaxed and rejuvenated, like I'd been far away from home for several days.

Maybe it was just getting deep in the woods with my family. Listening to the falls drip on the limestone rocks. And snuggling into the tent as the last remains of our campfire crackled and hissed. Whatever it was, it was worth the effort and the nervous anticipation.

Clifty Falls offers some of the best hiking Indiana has to offer. On this trip, we tackled Trail 7. I like this trail because there are several "destinations" you see along the way, like the falls themselves. Granted, given the extreme drought we've had in Indiana this summer, they were more like a trickle instead of a raging cascade of water like I've seen on past trips. But pretty nonetheless.

Another highlight of Trail 7 is a rock formation called "Cake Rock." Naturally, Big Arrow loved that it looked like a giant piece of birthday cake.

Little highlights like these give kids something to look forward to and ahead to, particularly if they aren't enthusiastic hikers. At 3, Big Arrow is a mix of both. Sometimes he loves skipping ahead and seeing what's around the corner, chatting all the way.

And then he gets tired and whiney, like all 3 year olds do, and fortunately my husband can still throw him on his back.

Regardless, hiking is a chance to spend some quality time with our boys in the great outdoors, and makes me feel like I've really escaped the rush of everyday life, even if it's just for an hour or two.

Clifty Falls has a lot of other amenities, even if you're not a big nature buff. I outline some of them in this video for Visit Indiana (which I also shared earlier this week, along with my tips for getting two young kids to sleep in a tent).

Another tip for camping with kids? Pick a park or campground near an interesting town or city to visit... that way, if everyone needs a little break or pick-me-up, you can enjoy what's nearby. So another reason I love Clifty Falls is that it's in Madison, Indiana, a really quaint river town along the Ohio River. More on Madison next week!

If You Visit:
Clifty Falls State Park
2221 Clifty Drive, Madison, IN
Note: As of August 2012, Clifty Falls is one of the Indiana state parks currently (and understandably) under a strict burn ban. So don't plan on a campfire or grilling out.
Insider Tip: It's not really a tip, but in the tent area of the campground you'll find the nicest campground bathroom I've ever experienced! I'm nearly certain the countertops were cleaner than my own bathroom.

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