For The Love Of A Giraffe

If you’re like me (and MILLIONS of you are!), you spent entirely too much time this past weekend watching a giraffe. I mean, wow what a crazy, exciting non-event! It was painfully boring, but I couldn’t stop watching the live feed camera. Oh the anticipation! Each time I pulled up the feed I felt certain the birth would happen within minutes. And guess what? It never did!

However, watching April inspired our family to talk about our next visit to a real giraffe. They’ve always been one of our favorite zoo animals!

Petting a giraffe at Lazy 5 Ranch.

A few of our favorite places to hang out with giraffes:

Riverbanks Zoo: Columbia, SC

Louisville Zoo: Louisville, KY

Zoo Atlanta: Atlanta, GA

Denver Zoo: Denver, CO

Lazy 5 Ranch: Charlotte, NC

Brookfield Zoo: Chicago, IL

We love visiting these beautiful animals at the zoo!

In addition to these fun places we’ve already visited, I told the kids we could look for some new places to visit giraffes soon. Here are a few that I’m looking forward to:

Animal Adventure Park: Harpursville, NY (where April the famous giraffe lives!)

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Colorado Springs, CO

Safari West: Santa Rosa, CA

Southwick’s Zoo: Mendon, MA 

Of course, one of the top things on my travel bucket list is an African Safari. No, not the one at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I’m talking about a REAL Safari. I can’t wait until our children get a little bit older and we can do this once in a lifetime experience! Until then, we’ll just love all the giraffes in zoos in our area!

Miler loved this giraffe until he licked his face (right after this picture was taken!) Such a funny memory!

What is your favorite zoo to visit giraffes?

And now that I’ve finished writing this post…I can go back to watching April!

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Friday Favorite- Video Camera

Today is going to be a ‘Friday Favorite’ in reverse…

Recently I wrote a post admitting that my vacation videography skills are lacking. In fact, I’d go so far as to admit that they’re nonexistent. But, I plan on changing that. With the help of the tips I shared in my post (read here), I plan on shooting some amazing videos of our 2017 travel!

I started my new hobby last week on the ski slopes. Not to toot my own horn, but my initial results were pretty good. I kept the clips short and focused on the action. I was just getting into the groove of it when my iPhone ran out of storage. Undeterred, I started filming on my husband’s phone….and then it died.

Later in the day we reviewed some of the videos. I couldn’t believe how much wind noise the videos picked up. In fact, you could barely hear anything except the wind. I started out ambitiously attempting to shoot memorable footage of our vacation.  And I ended the day very discouraged- between the full storage, the dead battery and the horrible background noise!

Slightly disappointed, I made a comment to my husband. His response was simple: if I want good videos, I need good equipment. Why wasn’t that advice in the tips article I shared?

So for a week now I’ve been researching the best video equipment for traveling families. The last thing I need is another bulky, expensive item to be responsible for on a trip. The qualities I’m looking for in a video device are: affordability, compact size, plenty of storage space, and something that’s relatively user-friendly.

Here are a few that I’m currently looking at that rate very well in all the aforementioned categories:

Panasonic HC-V770 HD Camcorder

Canon Vixia HF R72

GoPro Hero5

Sony AZ1 Action Camera Mini POV HD Video Camera

Do you have a favorite video camera that you use to shoot vacation footage? 

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5 Reasons To Send Your Kids To Ski School

If you’ve been following the blog this week, you’ll know that we recently visited Beech Mountain Resort. This was the children’s first time on skis. Additionally, my husband and I hadn’t been on a ski slope in 20 years. To say that our own skills were rusty would be an understatement. For us, putting the kids in ski school wasn’t a debatable topic.

However, I know many who discuss the necessity of ski school. While there are certainly decisions to make when planning a ski trip, ski school really shouldn’t be one of them. Here are 5 reasons:

  1. Reliable Instruction: Have you ever tried to break a bad habit? It’s really, really hard. Learning to do something correctly the first time makes life so much easier. Qualified, professional instructors not only know how to ski, but they also have experience teaching others to ski. They have cute tricks up their sleeve to help kids enjoy learning too. For example, my 5-year old’s instructor yelled out “french fries” when he needed to put his skis parallel. She used the term “pizza” to describe the skis in a controlled wedge. He LOVED the code words!

    Miller did really well with the 1 on 1 instruction needed for his age.
  2. Group Accountability: One of the best ways to learn is to watch others. By participating in a group ski school lesson, kids are able to observe peers trying new skills. My 9-year old participated in a group lesson. Being a part of a group learning a new skill is a humbling experience. She was not the best beginner, but encouraging words from others helped increase her courage. Her group of beginners progressed through skills quickly.

    Mary Grace knew her peers were watching her test out a new skill.
  3. No Balking: Going along with group accountability, the experience of being with someone other than a parent kept our children from quitting or complaining when they didn’t pick up on the skill right away. My son struggled to get his foot in the ski. He almost toppled over on the first couple attempts. His facial expressions transitioned from determination to fear. Had I been working with him, undoubtedly he would have quit; however, his instructor patiently asked him to keep trying and amazingly, he did it! The look of pride on his face was priceless and he knew at that moment that he would conquer the mountain!

    Working hard to master his new skills!
  4. Rules: In addition to teaching the children the skills necessary to make it down the mountain in one piece, the instructors also taught ski etiquette. Although there was no official test at the end of ski school, I couldn’t believe how many rules the kids learned in such a short amount of time. My daughter even corrected me later in the day because of something she learned in ski school.

    Big smile, she loves it!
  5. Freedom: Essentially you’ve payed for top-notch babysitting. My husband and I used most of the time to practice on our own ski abilities. My kids expectations of my skills would have been high, and my confidence was low. Spending some time getting reacquainted with the feel of skiing helped us to all enjoy the rest of the day more thoroughly.

    In addition to practicing on the bunny slope, we also practiced using the magic carpet!

I cannot say enough great things about our experience with ski school! Investing in skilled instruction will be a decision you don’t regret.

Amazingly fun day, all thanks to starting out in ski school!

*Beech Mountain graciously hosted our visit.*

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Beech Mountain Resort- North Carolina

One of my most ambitious and exciting goals for 2017 was getting my children on a ski slope. Not only had we never skied as a family, but my husband and I also had very little experience. Not being confident in my own abilities, I wasn’t certain I could make it an enjoyable experience for the children.

Prior to even scheduling our trip, I spent a lot of time researching the best locations. It was important to make the first time perfect (not that we would know any differently!) I strongly desired my children to LOVE the sport, or at least love the concept of a ski vacation. And because of this, I wanted the best.

After several different friends recommended Beech Mountain Resort, I did some research of my own. As it turns out, it’s the highest ski resort in the Eastern United States. When it comes to adventure, I love the motto “go big or go home” so I knew this was the place for us! Why not start our children’s skiing careers on the highest slope on our side of the country?

We can’t wait to hit the slopes!

Upon arriving at Beech Mountain Resort it didn’t take 5 minutes to realized we’d picked an absolutely amazing location. The mountains are stunning. The layout of the Resort is inviting and picturesque. And, most importantly, the staff could not have been more helpful and kind.

As you can see from the map, the layout of Beech Mountain Resort is ideal for families because of the close proximity of all the amenities.

After getting our lift tickets (and figuring out how and where to attach them!) we made our way to the equipment rental shop. A bit intimidated by the unfamiliar equipment, we appreciated the exceptional guidance by the staff.

Miller loved the fact that the skis were just his size.

We got a lesson in ski boots, and how to snap them into the skis. The staff even took the time to demonstrate everything with the kids and make sure they knew how to carry the skis properly. After fitting them both for helmets, we made our way to Ski School.

Two kids who can’t wait to learn how to ski.

There is no way I can convey the importance of Ski School in just a few sentences for this post. Therefore, I’ve decided to write another post solely about ski school and it’s value. For now I will say, it was the best and most significant hour my kids experienced so far this year!

In his private lesson, Miller learned how to make “french fries” and “pizza” with his skis.

The Beech Mountain Resort instructors are top-noch professionals. My daughter (age 9) participated in a group lesson and my son (age 5) did a private lesson. To see the list of ski school options and prices at Beech Mountain Resort visit this link.

Mary Grace’s group lesson contained 4 other people. She got tons of 1 on 1 attention and benefited from watching the instruction of others.

If I hadn’t been there to witness this, I likely wouldn’t believe it. But I can confidently say after that hour of instruction, both kids could ski. They felt good about their abilities and understood the basics of what it takes to go, stop and turn. Of course, they still needed some practice. However, I was absolutely overwhelmed at the skills they acquired in such a short period of time. Not only that, they were both SO confident and excited.

This girl couldn’t get enough!

For the next few hours we perfected (okay, “perfected” may be a stretch…) our skills on the mountain. I couldn’t believe how well both kids navigated down the mountain. And, more than that, I couldn’t believe the smiles on their faces! To say that our first skiing experience was a success would be an understatement. Beech Mountain Resort has 17 trails. Although we weren’t able to do them all during this visit, both kids can’t wait until next time! They are pretty sure they’ll be ready for the Black Diamonds when we return.

Big smiles all day long!

When we were able to tear the children off the slope, Beech Mountain Resort had plenty of other amenities. We thoroughly enjoyed the food in The Lodge as well as the Beech Tree Bar & Grille. Beech Mountain Resort also has a Skybar located at the highest peak on the mountain at an elevation of 5,506 feet. Additionally there is a charming ice skating rink right in the center of the Village, and a state-of-the-art tubing park.

Tubing was an incredible end to a perfect day!

 With certainty I can say, my children would not have turned in their skis if not for the anticipation of tubing. Rather than being the highlight of our day (which I half expected if the children hadn’t taken to skiing), tubing turned out to be an awesome bonus at the end of an already wonderful day. We all loved racing down the runs, and riding the magic carpet back up to the top.

We hadn’t pulled out of the parking lot before these two were asking when we could return!

I cannot say enough great things about Beech Mountain Resort. My kids made memories that will last a lifetime. And, they not only tried something new, but they actually LEARNED something new. We’re already counting down until we can go back.

*Beech Mountain Resort hosted our visit.*

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How To Pack For A Ski Trip With Kids

Way back in the fall I started brainstorming about my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017. I mentally listed all of the possibilities and then began to prioritize the ideas. Although I came up with a lot of really awesome travel plans, my most thought-out plan involved something in my home state.

I initially listed “teach the kids to snow ski” as one of my resolutions. However, after thinking it through I thought the goal a little too ambitious. I refined the resolution to say “spend 1 day on a snowy mountain” for my official list. Once I locked in that goal I began to research how to make that happen.

Admittedly, our family knew very little about skiing. Although I went several times as a child, it’s been a good 20-years. Also, at that point in my life my mom took care of all facets of the experience. Fast forwarding to the present and being the mom in this scenario, I realize there are A LOT of details to think about!

Here are a few tips for the beginner on packing for a ski trip with kids:

  1. Know What You Need: I researched. I asked friends. I read blogs and I looked at pictures of other kids skiing. Then I made a list (which I will include below.) My point: I didn’t go into our first ski trip clueless. Yes, it took time and effort up front. However, putting in the time before our trip allowed us to have an absolutely perfect day.
  2. Rent/Borrow: I purchased very little for our first ski trip. For starters, investing in everything is expensive. Secondly, kids grow quickly and I doubt they would get more than one or two uses out of the gear before changing sizes. I made a list of the things we’d be renting from the ski resort, and then borrowed most of the other clothing items.
  3. Pack Backups: Since we were driving, I had the luxury of unlimited space (sort of!) I packed a bag of “extra” things that ended up coming in handy. Gloves got wet, we lost a hat and a pair of sunglasses broke. Having extra things in the car helped us switch out without having to make a purchase at the resort or remain uncomfortable.
  4. Apply A “You’re On Your Own” Policy: This is likely the most novel, but necessary piece of advice. I’m used to handling everything. Not that my kids don’t pull their weight, but I ultimately take responsibility for everything. However, when skiing it’s virtually impossible to keep up with everything for everyone. At the beginning of the day we told our children that they needed to be responsible for their 2 gloves, hat, and sunglasses. They also carried their own skis and helped with their boots and helmets. Taking an “all hands on deck” approach to the day really helped us all enjoy.
Laying everything out for each member of the family really helped!

Here is my list of WHAT TO PACK for your first ski trip with kids:

  1. Waterproof Gloves
  2. Beanie-style hat that can fit under helmet
  3. Tight fitting base-layer clothing (long underwear, leggings, long sleeve shirts)
  4. Ski bib: I highly recommend the overall style for kids- we had issues with pants falling down!
  5. Fleece jacket/pullover
  6. Waterproof outer Jacket
  7. Warm socks
  8. Snow boots: Although we rented the ski boots, we used our snow boots for tubing.
  9. Sunglasses: We did not have ski goggles so I assumed sunglasses would work. In hindsight, I wish we’d invested in goggles because there was a lot of blowing snow.
  10. Face Mask: This is also something I wish I’d invested in for the whole family. Our exposed skin on our faces was the only part of our body that got cold.
  11. Snacks/Water bottles: Although we ate a lot of food at the resort, it was nice to have a couple bars with us for a quick snack.
  12. Backpack to carry everything: We put this in locker, but it was nice to have handy.
  13. Change of clothes: Everyone in our family had a change of clothes for after we finished skiing. Our clothes were relatively dry because of our good outer layer, but the kids were actually sweaty and therefore a bit damp. It felt good to get into dry, clean clothes at the end of the day!

What other advice do you have for a first time family ski trip?

*Our ski trip was sponsored by Beech Mountain Resort. I look forward to sharing more about our experience in the next few days.*

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Friday Favorite- Amazon Kindle

 

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: Kindle

I have a very bad habit. Actually, if you ask my husband he’d likely say I have several really bad habits. However, the one I’m highlighting today is the word “never” and the frequency with which I say it. I tend to make absolute statements involving the word “never” a lot! For example, I never planned to live in the north. (We lived in Chicago for a year!) I never planned to homeschool. (We’re currently doing it and loving it!)

I also said I would never buy a Kindle. I would never use one.

I had all sorts of reasons to back up my claims. I love to read, but part of what I enjoy is turning the pages and holding it in my hand. Who wants to stare at a screen? With books there is no need for charging or updating. Books look good on my shelves at home. Additionally, books are free at the library. With absolute certainty I didn’t need a Kindle.

Although I consider myself a fast reader, nothing could prepare me for the rate at which my daughter flies through a book. For starters, she never puts books down. She can read in the car. She can read in the midst of chaos. She can read without distraction just about anywhere.

Additionally (and perhaps because of this) her words per minute must be off the charts. For example, she just started the Harry Potter series last Friday afternoon. By the time she went to bed Sunday night she was begging to start the fourth book in the series. While I can’t account for how many hours she actually slept, I can say that she didn’t spend the whole weekend sitting on the couch reading. We did life. She went to a playdate, church, a museum, and out for ice cream (twice!) How she managed to read 3 of those books is beyond my comprehension!

As you might imagine, during a weeklong trip she requires 50 pounds of books to stay entertained (and that’s just for the time we spend in the car or on a plane!) Considering her size, it’s difficult to support that much weight in a carry-on! In addition, her reading material has begun to take over the packing space in our car! I needed a better solution.

With hesitation we bought a Kindle. I had a long list of hesitations, but after doing some research it was the best option. And guess what? It might be the best purchase we’ve ever made.

In the bottom corner the Kindle will tell you what percentage of the book you’ve read. Mary Grace loves being able to watch her progress as she reads!

Here are 5 reasons we instantly fell in love with it:

  1. Our daughter loves it. She reads on it exactly the same as she would with an actual book in hand.
  2. We are able to control everything. First, we programed the app for her age to filter the material she’s able to view. Secondly, we set time limits for games. Although we have not set a reading time limit yet, we may have to go that route! Only the adult can change these settings and the Kindle literally shuts off when she reaches her limit.
  3. It has been an instant space saver. I can’t remember the last time the back of my car wasn’t covered with books. Packing for a vacation is as simple as making sure we have the Kindle and it’s charger.
  4. The charge lasts much longer than I imagined. Although the device is relatively new to us, the Kindle has fantastic reviews. I do not anticipate any problems with the battery running out too quickly.
  5. The Kindle saves us time and money. For $2.99 per month Mary Grace is able to read unlimited books. In addition, she no longer needs to wait when reading a book series. Once she’s finished one, she can easily move right on to the next.

For someone who once said “never,” I can humbly admit that we’re about to purchase a second Kindle for our family. My son has shown so much interest in Mary Grace’s that we feel like it is a wise investment. I can’t wait to check out the options for his age!

I can’t believe how clean the backseat of my car looks on a road trip! Typically where the blankets are sitting we’ve got a basket of 100 books!

Follow this link to purchase an Amazon Kindle.

Do you use a tablet for reading purposes? If not, would you consider it? Why or why not?

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The Best of Idaho

A few days ago Miller came into the kitchen while I was making dinner. “Hey Mommy” he said. “Can we please go to the egg state soon?”

“Suuure” I hesitantly replied as I racked my brain trying to figure out which state he could be talking about. Is there a state that resembles an egg? Or possibly is there a state famous for their egg production? And if so, how does my 5-year old know about that when I don’t?

Thoroughly studying the map.

I mentally ran through all 50-states as I plated dinner. When my daughter wandered in to set the table I asked her. “Hey, Mary Grace, do you know which state is the egg state?” It embarrasses me to admit this, but my question led to an actual conversation between the two of us. We concluded that possibly there’s a state known for chickens and therefore, eggs. Or we decided he could be talking about Iowa because if you really stretch your imagination it looks like a sideways egg.

In hindsight I wasted entirely too much time thinking. After sitting down at the table and blessing our food, I finally got the chance to ask Miller about the egg state. “Oh” he replied, “it’s right next to the whale state.” In his mind, this answer was obvious.

Wait what?

“The egg state that’s next to the whale state on my map” he said.

I couldn’t handle the suspense another minute. I instructed him to get said map and he proceeded to point to Idaho. It turns out, the egg was really a potato. Everything suddenly became much clearer to me, but Miller seemed unwilling to accept the information. “Uggg, I don’t like potatoes” he informed me. Sorry, Idaho, you’re much less appealing to my 5-year old now!

Looks like a potato to me…next to the whale state!

In the event that you have normal children who enjoy potatoes and would delight in visiting “the Potato State,” here are a few great resources:

Things To Do With Kids

30 Awesome Things To Do In Boise

Shoshone Falls

15 Places You Should Go

I think I’m ready to go now…even if he’s not interested anymore! What is your favorite thing to do in Idaho?

If you are interested in an awesome map like the one pictured above, follow this link to Sign up for the Little Passports program. My kids LOVE learning about each state! *This is an affiliate link and I will receive a small compensation if you purchase through my link.*

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Most Romantic Restaurants In Every State

Whenever I see the caption “best” or “most” followed by the words “in every state,” I drop everything and check out the article. I have an obsession with not missing anything throughout our travels. In fact, I keep lists of everything I want to do in each state. Admittedly, the more we travel, the longer the lists seem to get. Though it sounds counterintuitive, I believe the more you see the more you realize you want to see.

Food, however, is one aspect of travel I rarely obsess over. Though I LOVE food and I enjoy trying new places, I typically go with the flow. We use the app Yelp! regularly when we’re visiting new places. It can be a great resource for finding local food. Additionally we love to  take advice from our friends and followers. Some of our favorite meals have come as a result of great advice from other travelers.

As a result, restaurants on my bucket list for each state are few and far between. Nevertheless when I see a list based on the best in each of the 50 states, I take note.  The website Delish recently posted a list of “The Most Romantic Restaurants In Every State.”

Always nice to have a night out!

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day I wanted to share the post.  Although I haven’t dined at any of these places, I really enjoyed scrolling through the list and reading the description of the setting. In this particular season of life we travel most often as a family. I’m usually in the market for restaurants that offer child-friendly food, and coloring pages! But, this is still a great list! I will file it away for us for “someday.”

Read Delish’s full list here.

Has anyone tried one of these restaurants?

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