New road trip essentials

We’re headed out in a few weeks for a road trip across three states and straight into the middle of Texas. It’s going to be very fun, but very hot, and we are staying at four different hotels. With that in mind I got a few new items to help consolidate supplies and make the trip easier. First up is a new toiletries tote:

Before I was using three different totes to hold makeup, skin care, and brushes and it was ridiculous. This holds everything together and has movable Velcro dividers. Here is a peek at the brushes and mirror…

See! Everything in one spot, so easier and quicker for me to find what I need. My second task was to consolidate our shower and bath supplies. Previously in several totes, now in one hanging bag that I can put on the robe hook in hotel bathrooms…


And despite all this stuff it does actually fold up completely!

The label on the front is a bit twisted, but other than that it’s a sturdy tote. Lastly, I’ve consolidated the boys’ on the road trip supplies…

They mainly watch movies and J plays his iPad, so I’m limiting the amount of “stuff” we are bringing. Shareable card games, sticker books, magnet boards, and a few coloring supplies for creativity boredom. A fidget spinner, small squishy Tsum Tsum, and squishy basketball for stuck in a booster seat boredom. Books to read at night in the hotel room and neck pillows for in the car. They each will have a back pack, but it’s for their books, 3 stuffed animals, neck pillow, and blanket. And finally here are a few extra road trip tips that I have learned for our family are…

1. Bring smart water. It has electrolytes so it helps prevent dehydration on the road, and can help settle stomachs. You can buy it cheaper at Wal-Mart.

2. Bring all the medicine you think you’ll possibly need. All of it. Going to a Walgreens at 2 a.m. in an unfamiliar city is a pain. Trying to get a prescription filled in an unfamiliar city is even worse. Believe me. We’ve done both.

3. Sturdy, not cheap, ziplock bags with a zipper that you can access quickly. You’ll thank me later.

4. Snacks, lots of them, but not goldfish with extra cheese. Or anything labeled “extra cheese”.

5. Lollipops for on the road and at events that you need to settle kids who have decided they are now starving despite eating all the snacks earlier. As evidenced below…

This was right before he insisted he was starving. After he’d had snacks. Many of them. Lollipops are your friend.

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Destin 2018

One of our favorite trips of the summer is our beach trip to Destin! We build sandcastles, boogie board, and eat all the fresh fish, and key lime pie we can handle. Here is a re-cap of some of the highlights from our trip!

Some of our favorite restaurants in Destin are Surf Hut, Stinky’s Fish Camp, Kilwin’s, and Hammerheads. The kids almost always get wiki sticks and crayons…

And I almost always get key lime pie…

We typically stay in the Miramar Beach area, near SanDestin and 30A. The boys pretty much want to spend the whole time playing in the sand and boogie boarding…


However, we cannot beach twenty-four seven, so we also go to the wharf at SanDestin. We look at the boats, do some rope climbing, and look for Ospreys on the Jolee Island trail…

And best of all we just veg out. We watch movies, play board games, and watch for dolphins from the balcony.

We love our Destin get away!

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Natural well trail

B and I recently headed out on our last hike before fall that’s just the two of us. During the summer we hike with the boys, but there are some trails they can’t do, or that we want to test out before taking them on it. The natural well trail, across from Burritt on Mountain in Huntsville, is at least 4.5 miles round trip. I say at least because we didn’t go all the way to the end. It got too hazardous and over grown at one point and we ended up heading back.

The trail begins fairly smooth…

But about 1/2 mile in, we began having to climb over and under fallen trees, and make our way around streams and various little wildlife.


The main attraction of the hike is a large natural well, as the name indicates:

It was very cool to see, and we’d also heard that there was a waterfall further down. So, after more climbing and encountering a snake and bees, we reached the waterfall:

Not as cool as the well. But there were two unusual rock stacks:

So there’s that. We were moving so quickly downhill, that when we started back up, we didn’t realize how strenuous it would be. It definitely is NOT a kid friendly hike (at least not age 10 and under), but I would recommend it if you’re a middle of the road hiker, and if you have better hiking shoes than I did. After slipping twice climbing over trees, B said he’s buying me real hiking shoes!

Happy hiking!

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Best of road trips

For being a family that doesn’t always road trip well (motion sickness sufferers unite!), we have taken over fourteen plus road trips with the boys. As we’re planning for at least four road trips this year, I thought I’d share some of our favorite road trip past recommendations!

Recommendations if you’re going to the beach and staying at a condo…

If you’re sightseeing in the city with toddlers…

If you’re packing a backpack for each kiddo…

If you’re staying at a hotel

Essentials for on the road

And my necessary car items

If you’re packing for yourself and kiddos (including kids under the age of two)…

Carry-on essentials for myself and the boys on flights…

The reason we always carry two backpacks and my ultimate packing list.

Happy road tripping!

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Wilderness Explorers

Hidden among the rides and animals:

Is a lesser advertised adventure full of animal information:

The Wilderness Explorers!

The boys picked up a Wilderness Explorers guide on the way in the park and they literally took us through the entire park. The only stops we made were for lunch and our fast passes, but other than that they were collecting “badges” (stickers) learning about all the different wildlife.

They found each of the guides and learned about animal habitats, conservation, and how animals help us every day:

In addition to all the information, I think they enjoyed that they were taking us through the park, instead of us leading the, from place to place. We really enjoyed it because we were able to sit! And chat with each other off to the side while the boys worked on their badges.

This to me is the true uniqueness of Disney, that you can be among all these rides and attractions, but also have a calmer more laid back experience. Which truly makes it more of a vacation, rather than a trip you need a vacation from after you get home!

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Behind the seeds

Over the boys’ fall break, we went to Disney and along with rides, parades, and shows, we also did a few extra things that ended up being the boys (and ours) favorites from the trip. First up, was the Behind the Seeds tour. This is located in The Land pavilion in Epcot. It’s about an hour long walking tour and I’d read that your tour guide makes a big difference. Our tour guide was awesome! She had loads of information, was super interactive with the boys, and answered all their questions patiently.

We got to see how they grow the plants from leaf & steam (they don’t start them from seeds which we learned on the tour!):

To rows of baby plants:

We viewed the different lighting strategies they use to grow the plants:

We got to try the fresh cucumbers grown in house:

And learned about their hydroponic system of growing plants (all water! No dirt!):

Our tour guide discussed how they work on plants growing upwards to prevent pests, ground rot, etc.:

We saw some extraordinary fruits and vegetables, like this huge zucchini:

And these lemons that just one makes an entire pitcher of lemonade:

There were bananas that taste like vanilla ice cream:

And these gourds that are all growing down (and some into Mickey ears!):

Oh and while I’m talking about Mickey, did I mention we saw the only unlisted hidden Mickey on propert?? Here it is:

And you can only see it on the tour! It’s not visible from the land ride.

We also learned about the sustainability and careful attention they pay to fish farming:

And saw a date palm that’s trying to actively make its way out of the building:

The amount of herbs, vegetables, and fruits that are grown to feed people at restaurants around the property and the animals at Animal Kingdom is overwhelming and the boys loved every second of learning about them:

This tour was right up our boys’ alley. It does require patience, listening, and there are items that cannot be touched, stepped on, etc. There were mainly adults on the tour, so it wouldn’t be one I’d recommend for toddlers. For our kids it was the perfect age and they came home full of ideas for our next garden!

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Why we “vacation”

When you have kids you always use the term “vacation” in quotations because it means something very different than the typical image of someone lying on the beach, relaxing endlessly with their toes in the sand. However, as we have learned over the past eight years, “vacations” are necessary. They cost too much, the travel is too long, somebody is going to get sick, and you may have to bribe a kid with endless cookies, so they don’t melt down and get you kicked off an airplane…or out of a Barnes and Noble. But we do it anyway. Because vacation time for us means a chance to disconnect from endless emails, work requests, and the full time nature of our jobs. Instead you have ice cream a lot, try out the Mario Maker levels your eight year old has been working on, and “bear-row” your five year old in the sand over and over at his request. And when your kids declare it the best week ever and ask when we are going on vacation again, you know that despite the fact you may return home just as tired as when you left it’s a different tired. A good tired. And you sigh, turn your computer back on, and start back to the everyday. And you start planning the next “vacation”.

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Cincinnati Children’s Museum

With a sweeping view of the Cincinnati landscape, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum is a menagerie of learning spots, activity hubs, and interactive experiences.

We started out by piecing together some puzzles:

And taking a few measurements:

Then we experimented with energy:

Then we climbed through tunnels:

And a human size ant farm:

We also tested the waters:

Before it was time to check out:

And we were off to the next adventure:

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Star Wars Costume Exhibit

The Cincinnati Museum at Union Terminal is under construction, but they still have exhibits and their children’s museum open to the public. When we found out that our days in Cincinnati coincided with a traveling Star Wars exhibit we knew we had to put that on our list.

They had everything from a light saber battle:

To Hans Solo and Chewbacca:

There was Boba and Jango Fett:

And many more costumes from both sides of the force:

For Star Wars enthusiasts like my boys it was very cool to see the actual costumes and all their detail, especially Darth Vader:

And per our usual, the boys watched every single video on costume production from beginning to end:

The exhibit itself is not very long, however, the boys extended it by watching the videos, and there was a really cool set of allusion mirrors at the end where you could dance like a storm trooper, C-3PO, and Darth Vader. It wasn’t an exhibit that I would have driven a long distance just to see, but it was definitely worth going to since we were in the area. My favorite part was seeing the interweaving and details of the designs, and the boys liked the interactive (light saber controlling, short film) parts of the exhibit.

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Cincinnati Zoo

By far one of the largest zoos we’ve visited, the Cincinnati Zoo is one that you really need two days to see everything. However, we only had one day to spend, so we skipped a few of the exhibits (insects, specifically), but the boys were troopers and most of it we did see.

It was hot, but the zoo does a good job of providing lots of shaded areas and walkways.

There were also several areas in the zoo where you can interact with the animals:

And get very close to them:

If you can’t tell from that picture, J is sitting under Flash (the sloth):

And there’s just a stretch of (heavy) glass separating you and a Komodo dragon:

Who meandered over towards J as he was examining him:

And even animals lounging in the shade can eventually be spotted:

There’s also a large savannah area with okapi, ostrich, pelicans, and vultures:

This is reminiscent of the set-up at The Animal Kingdom Lodge in Disney World. You can also walk almost 360 degrees around the savannah, which gives you great views of all the animals.

We’ve wised up over the years with our boys and we always do three things. 1. Eat lunch early (we ate right at 11), which avoids crowds and stops them from saying they’re hungry over and over. 2. Plan a snack treat two hours after eating (obviously our boys function better with food):

3. Let them read all the signs and don’t rush them through stuff.

We managed to get a few pictures of all of us:

And treated the boys to matching red pandas (their pick) at the end of the day!

It was definitely worth the trip!

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