adventures with kids

The Adventures of Oakley and Madeline on Oahu

On our vacation on Oahu, two cousins, Oakley and Madeline had the greatest adventures. You never knew what they would do next!

They had “kids’ meetings” (Madeline and Oak called them “keetings”) to discuss their plans, usually related to the cake they wanted to bake.

One day while they were swimming, Madeline was struggling for air and had gotten water up her nose. She came up and Oakley thought she needed to be saved. He grabbed her, and was reassuring that he was trying to help her. He really cares for his cousin!

Later on, Oakley decided to style Madeline’s hair, only something didn’t go quite as planned. He went to get his mom Emily, and told her he needed her help – he couldn’t get the brush out of her hair. Emily asked if Madeline was panicking and Oakley told her “no.” When his mom saw Madeline’s hair, she saw that the hair was so wound around the brush that the brush wasn’t even visible. She slowly untangled the hair. Oakley said, “Madeline I wish you could have seen your hair. It was so beautiful.” Madeline replied, “I do wish I could have seen it, Oakley.”

It was often a challenge to find the two in the large house we were staying in with many different rooms. One time, we found them in the guest house and Oakley was under the bed!

Thanks to Oakley’s mom, Madeline and Oak were able to make their cake! Oakley especially loves to cook. At first they planned for it to be a tropical cake with pineapple, but they decided the pineapple could make the cake soggy. They ended up making a vanilla cake with three layers! They took turns stirring and with other parts of the cake making process. They had thought about crumbling something to look like sand on top, but ended up crumbling oreos to look like lava rock and using ocean blue gummy candies to look like water.

adventures with kids · quarantine · Tennessee · travel with kids

Visiting Machine Falls with Kids

If you’ve been wanting to chase waterfalls, but wanting to social distance and choose one that’s not so crowded, Machine Falls is a great choice!

We took our daughters, ages 6 and 11, and ran into maybe 10 other families the entire time we were there, including our hike to the falls and back.

Machine Falls was about an hour hike down for us, but I will admit we intentionally took our time so that our youngest would feel safe and comfortable, especially on the slippery rocks toward the end.

Things to know before you go: (I was so glad I did research before visiting!)

  • Wear sneakers or shoes with good traction, and consider bringing water shoes or sandals for the tail end of the hike. You will be hiking down the creek to get to the falls. And the water is COLD.
  • Parking lot is by the big white water tower. Put this address in your GPS: 1861 Short Springs Rd. Tullahoma, TN. Machine Falls is located in Short Springs Natural Area.
  • The trailhead is across the street from the lot.
  • When you begin the trail, you will notice the sign for Machine Falls points in BOTH directions! The path on the right is much easier! We took the path on the left going to the falls and the right path coming back so we know from experience! If you take the more strenuous path on the left, watch out for tree roots and rocks sticking up out of the pathway at the start of your hike. Regardless of which path you choose, as you get closer to the falls, the climb becomes steeper, and some of the steps are loose.
  • When you come upon the little bridge, this is good time to change your footwear.

adventures with kids · kids · Tennessee · Uncategorized

Sweet Charlotte: Adorable Popcorn, Candy, and Soda Shop in Middle Tennessee

Approximately 30 miles south of Clarksville, and 54 miles west of Nashville, this charming sweet shop will surprise and delight you!

Our family stumbled on it coming back from a trip to the beach at Montgomery Bell State Park. That day, it wasn’t in the cards for us. It was a Monday and Sweet Charlotte is closed on Monday. But we could tell from the exterior alone (so cute!!!) that it just had to go on our bucket list and made a point to come back at a later date.

Sweet Charlotte delivers smiles in several ways! You can grab lunch, sweets, and cute photo ops all in one stop.

Their hot dogs, known there as “sloppy dogs” are a must. They are huge and delicious. Be sure to try one of their unique topping combinations. We ordered these for lunch and the  loved their hot dog/shaved ice combo that also came with a bag of chips. My husband and I got our dogs with our choice of one of what must have been 100 different old-fashioned sodas to choose from.

 

Their soda offering is unreal. We found quite a few blasts from the pasts and rare finds including Ale 8, Peach Nehi, Big Red, Double Cola and so may more. These are all in glass bottles.

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My oldest daughter has braces, so we did not go in this direction, but they make so many different flavored popcorns, in-house. It is one of the things Sweet Charlotte is best known for. They do tastings of popcorn so you can try before you buy. Our girl has already asked us to bring her back her when gets her braces off!

Sweet Charlotte also offers so many old-fashioned candies as well as some of the most fun modern candies: sour balls, taffy, chick-o-stick, peanut butter bars, bit o honey, butterscotch and more. My children loved that they had the original Pop Rocks, Fruit Stripe gum, and cinnamon toothpicks caught my eye – remember those?

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We came on a very mild day, temps in the 70s. We enjoyed eating at their outdoor picnic tables. It is a covered area so you could enjoy it rain or shine.

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There are two murals which are fun for taking photos, but they also offer old-fashioned photographs where you dress up in old fashioned clothes and are taken in black and white. The entire store and grounds is a feast for the eyes.

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Oh, and I almost forgot, they have a working water well. Both of our girls enjoyed trying out the well and had never seen one, much less try one for themselves. Just one more reason to visit this adorable place.

 

If you are planning a trip here, consider visiting the beach at Montgomery Bell State Park (20 minutes away), take a hike to the tunnel at Narrows of the Harpeth (30 minutes a day), or visit the Country View Amish store (4 minutes away) on the same day, to really enjoy your visit to this area to the fullest.

adventures with kids · parenting · quarantine · Uncategorized

Making the Most of this Quarantine Life

My dad used to say “attitude is everything,” and as a teenager it would annoy me. Now, as an adult, it resonates. We are doing our best to make the most of this stay home time and have the best attitudes we can. I wanted to share some of the things we’ve been doing to make this time special and memorable.

We love going for walks in the neighborhood and really love going on hikes. Many activities have been cancelled, but hiking and being outdoors is not cancelled!

Hiking is our favorite. We are so lucky to live near so many different trails and parks.

Flying kites. Most people think of March as the windy kite flying month. But the entire spring season rocks for this. Check out my blog post on my three best kept kite flying secrets. (I just gave you one.)

Flying kites isn’t just something on our spring checklist, it’s a pastime.

Crafts! We love arts and crafts. It’s super fun to get curious and try new things with art. One of my favorites was making our own scented crayons. Check out my post on how to make them.

We made our own scented crayons.

Scavenger hunts. My kindergartener, Madeline, has received quite a few scavenger hunts from her teacher and really liked them. I am a teacher too, so it inspired me to try and find some my middle schoolers would enjoy. Our favorite was without a doubt was the photo scavenger hunt. You can find it as well as photos from ours here.

The photo scavenger hunt was the best!

Sidewalk chalk fun. We have always loved sidewalk chalk, but we were really inspired when our friends started posting their chalk mosaics on social media. So of course we wanted to try it ourselves. You can check out my post on them here.

Sidewalk chalk mosaic!

Acts of kindness. We have had fun trying to think of ways to show kindness during this time. One way was to paint and hide kindness rocks at one of our favorite hiking trails. Another was to go through our books and take some we didn’t want anymore to our Little Free Library so other children can enjoy them.

Madeline found a kindness rock on our curb which inspired us to pay it forward and make our own.
We donated some of our books to this Little Free Library.

Drives. We live near country roads and drives out in the country are the best. Winding roads lined with trees, beautiful fields and farmland, favorite music cranked and sun roof open. This was not canceled. I would like to add the we are so grateful for drive through coffee and curbside pickup. This lets us help support local businesses too.

Supporting one of our favorite local coffee shops.
adventures with kids · clarksville · kids · quarantine · Uncategorized

Our Second Week of Quarantine: “Spring Break”

I know we are like so many who have mourned (or are mourning) the loss of our spring break plans. We had so many fun adventures planned! But instead of being sad, we got creative and found ways to make the most of our time.

I felt like the girls deserved a week off – no school work. If it was going to be their spring break, quarantine or not, I was determined to make it the most fun I possibly could for them.

Neighborhood walks are the best medicine.

We went for a walk almost every day. It is amazing what being outdoors and taking in the vitamin D does for the body. Loving some sunshine after rain almost every day last week! Madeline asked for a horse, and I remembered a couple of stick horses I had bought way back, stuck in the closet and had forgotten about. I pulled those out and she has loved riding her hobby horse all over the house and outside.

Meet Diamond. 🐴

All of the rain delivered lots of growth in the beds so I weeded and prepped them while the girls played outside. Lots of bike and scooter riding, basketball, and badminton. Sidewalk chalk, bubbles and jumprope were favorites too. They enjoyed these simple pleasures so much.

Sidewalk chalk and bubbles

The girls asked to do some school work, which I hadn’t planned on, as I said, with this being Spring Break. But if they are wanting to learn, I am never saying no to that. Madeline working on ixl and AC worked on science fossils diagram.
AC found a recipe for Nutella fudge, and had been talking to us about it, writing it all out and begging for the ingredients to make it for several days. Larry got everything for her and helped her make it over break and she was over the moon. And her fudge was amazing. She seems to have a natural knack for cooking just like her dad. If we can just train her not to lick her fingers!

Watch out! This girl is going places. Everything she cooks up is amazing.

I had read on social media that many folks do Takeaway Tuesday. So many restaurants that we had been wanting to try have made the shift from dine-in to curbside and take-away, so we took a drive and picked up Nicholetta’s southern chicken salad and a calzone from Caprizios. We also did a curbside pick up of art supplies from Michael’s. It is so great that they offer this option! I ordered a giant pack of markers, some water color paper and a Frozen II jewelry making set for Madeline.

Nicholetta’s for the win!

It was a rainy day so we did washable marker designs on the watercolor paper and let them sit outside in the rain for a tie dye effect. AC was missing her friends so we let her call one of her best friends which she needed and loved. Madeline made one of her friends a necklace, colored her a picture and wrote her a letter. Both girls have enjoyed writing letters and receiving them. They discovered hangman and have become obsessed with the game.

Rainy day art!

Hangman!

When we were out getting Nicholetta’s we had noticed something we never noticed before – our favorite ice cream shop, Golly G’s has a drive through! So the next day, we hit the Golly G’s drive through for ice cream then took it with us to the park to enjoy outside. We hiked Spur Line Trailhead, which is a lesser known path. I like that you run into very few if any people. It is pretty with lots of flowering trees and the girls love crossing the bridge.

Spur Line Trailhead – downtown Clarksville

This was our “big trip” for break, but I do think we social distanced well and followed guidelines. AC had been begging to go to Five Daughter’s Bakery in Nashville and it was near the top of her bucket list for spring break. Well, when I was looking over our would-have-been-plans, Five Daughter’s delightfully stood out to me as something we could still do. They did online ordering and curbside pick-up so minimal human interaction. We got our 100-layer-donuts and took them with us to devour at Radnor Lake, another bucket list item. I told the girls awhile back that it was Taylor Swifts favorite park and they have begged to go there since. I thought it was doable since we would be close by and wanted to do a nature walk anyway. It was breathtaking. None of us were expecting it to be as beautiful and charming as it was. We will most definitely be back! When we got home I cut back monkey grass in our front bed while the girls blew bubbles and did sidewalk chalk.

Radnor Lake – our new favorite place.

To wrap up break, we had a rainy day, and treated ourselves to a spa day: charcoal soap, facial scrub, mask and foot bath. This could be habit forming!
Finally, I took Madeline to our small country store down the road (she calls it “the honey store.”) While we were there she discovered the little free library and found a book on butterflies. It was windy and I quickly remembered our kites I had picked up a week ago. It ended up being the perfect day for flying them.

Little Free Library

Kite flying success

adventures with kids · kids · parenting · quarantine

Three Kite Flying Secrets

I have been posting pics of my kids flying kites for several springs now and have had other parents ask me for tips. “What am I doing wrong?” they will say. “Our kite just won’t fly.”

Secret #1: Cheap kites are the best. They are the lightest which makes them great flyers. My father-in-law is a whiz with kites so we’ve had nicer ones and they really are hard for little kids to get started. When we started getting the cheap Barbie or Elsa or Buzz Lightyear kites, we had way fewer tears and the kids could do it themselves.

Cheap Barbie kite for the win!

Secret #2: Get the kites while you can. You don’t see kites year round. They tend to be available late February and all of March. When you see them it may still be cold outside and flying one may be furthest from your mind, but if you wait til late spring and for a windy day, you may not find these. We get ours at Walmart.

Secret #3: Kite flying can be done anytime of year! We tend to think of March- the windy month. But here in Tennessee, the day before any good rain shower tends to be windy. So watch your wind forecast and if you see rain, the day before tends to be windy!

Based on what I have read, kites will fly well between 8-24 mph, and even as a light of a breeze as 5-12 mph. If you can feel the breeze on your face, you can probably fly a kite. Personally we like our kites to really fly and put on a show, so I look for anywhere between 11-18 mph as our ideal. Less than that isn’t quite enough to get it up and keep it going, and more than that can be too much. I’ve circled the wind speed on the graphic below.

According to this graph the best bet for kite flying would be Sunday at 4pm.
adventures with kids · foodie · travel with kids · Uncategorized

My Old Kentucky Dinner Train: North Pole Express

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to ride a train? Not a model train like they have at the zoo or at birthday parties, but a REAL TRAIN? Have you wondered what it would be like to experience the Polar Express in real life?

A friend posted about a Polar Express experience a couple of years ago, and since then it has been on my bucket list for my family to have that experience. I researched prices, different train locations and routes, Polar Express experiences offered within a 200 mile radius, and did a ton of reading. I narrowed my options down to two: French Lick and My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. I settled on My Old Kentucky Dinner Train for several reasons:

  • We are a foodie family! We love food. We appreciate fine dining and love any experiences that offer a chance to try new or high quality food. By the way, the food on this train was superb.
  • The thought of eating a delicious meal AND riding a real train AND having a Polar Express experience with Santa, Mrs. Claus, caroling, hot chocolate, and a chocolate Choo-choo train was irresistible. French Lick offered hot chocolate but not a meal. French Lick does offer a dining experience but it was either or. I liked that Kentucky Dinner train allowed us to do Polar Express AND dining combined.
  • Cost. We could drive to the Kentucky train, enjoy or ride and drive back same day. We live near Nashville so this was a better location option for us. French Lick would require us to stay the night which would be an added expense and time investment.
  • French Lick was sold out. I did my I guess you have to be on the ball to book with them! I was somewhat disappointed because French Lick looked more like a true Polar Express experience. I was also somewhat relieved because in my heart of hearts I wanted the dining and Polar Express! Wish granted!

If you are would like your family to have an unforgettable train ride of a lifetime, keep reading and I am more than happy to share our experience with you, as well as tips for planning your own experience.

When you book, you can choose North Pole Express (that is what we chose and what they call their Polar Express experience), regular dinner train, murder mystery, or bourbon excursion. I recommend booking a month or two in advance. I was thankful we thought ahead!

When choosing your date, you might be tempted to choose a date closest to Christmas, but we opted for November. This was a great choice for us because there was still a little fall foliage and the fields we passed along our ride were golden and quite pretty. It also was not as cold as December which is a personal draw for this cold-natured human. What I loved best about going in November is that it got us in the Christmas spirit. I am ready to decorate anything that stands still and Hallmark movies are life!

When considering the departure time for your trip, the North Pole Express departs at 11:00, while the regular dinner train leaves at 4:30. The 11:00 was good for us because we were able to have our train experience and get back home before dark. We did have to get up pretty early and leave our home in Tennessee around 7:00 am, taking into account the time change. We lost an hour traveling there since they are in Eastern time zone and we are in Central.

They ask that you arrive at least a half hour early. This was perfect for us because we were able to get our tickets, use the restroom (there are restrooms on each train car, by the way) browse in their gift shop, visit with Santa and lounge in their charming wait area that was nicely decorated for Christmas.

There is a dress code posted online which was funny to us. We laughed out loud at “sweater set.” While we did follow the dress code, we traveled with quite a few passengers who did not and no one seemed to be giving them a hard time.

We were delightfully surprised when we boarded the train to see a conductor taking our tickets and that the wait staff were dressed as elves. The train cars were decorated for the holidays and the tables were already set with our salad plates and the charcuterie platter and pretzel sticks and beer cheese that we added on.

Before the train even departed, we had time to eat our salads, appetizers and enjoy a couple cups of coffee. Our charcuterie platter was perfect: olives, pepper jack and gouda cheeses, several gourmet crackers, pepperoni, pralines with honey, grapes, and strawberries. They served lemonade or tea, your choice and you get refills the entire trip. You could also order adult beverages if you wanted.

When you purchase your tickets, you are required to submit your food order. The menu is pretty limited, but the food was so surprisingly good. My mother-in-law, older daughter and I ordered the pot roast with mashed potatoes. It was so yummy and the portions were VERY generous  – they let you have to-go boxes. My husband ordered the hot brown, and we got chicken tenders for the younger daughter. Kids get a big cookie for dessert and all of the adults ordered the chocolate raspberry mousse which was divine. We added on chocolate choo-choos for the girls. They were a sight to behold, filled with chocolate mousse and whipped cream.

Santa and Mrs. Claus led the children singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” They walked through cars off and on for the duration of the ride and made appearances, greeting each of the children with plenty of photo ops.

You will pass some pretty farmland, neighborhoods and Jim Beam distillery. Half the ride you will face forward, then the engine is pulled around and attached to the other end of the train. The other half of the ride you face backward. For half of our ride, our car was the caboose so it was fun to walk to the end of our car, stand in the open air and see the train tracks disappearing behind us.

I would say we were on the train a couple of hours. It was the perfect amount of time, with plenty of time to savor your food, but not too long either, by the time our natives (children) became restless, it was over.

When we arrived back at the train station, the children got their tickets punched and they both received a “Believe” bell keepsake ornament. Santa and Mrs. Claus were also available for photos.

We loved our North Pole Express and dinner train experience! It was a unique opportunity that we all hope to have again. Visit My Old Kentucky Dinner Train’s website for more info.

 

adventures with kids · travel with kids

Isle of Palms: Chasing the Sunrise

One of our favorite things to do at the beach is catching the sunrise.

I know that may seem contrary to what many people think when they go to the beach. Many want to sleep in, go to the beach later in the day and catch the sunset.

I have to tell you that if you are among these, you are missing out! Especially if you visit a beach on the east coast. So many post and share about sunsets on the beach, but the beach is often crowded at this time and not nearly as bold and brilliant since the sun rises in the east.

Be sure you venture out a half hour before the scheduled sunrise. We visit in the fall and sunrise is around 7:30. Your weather app or a simple Google search will let you know the predicted time of the sunrise, but be aware that there is a beautiful color show 30-45 minutes prior!

Our best experiences finding seashells have been in the early morning. It’s so fun to be the among the first down to seek out what was washed onto the shore during the night.

We found a sand dollar this morning! And a runner gave us beautiful whelks.

This does mean getting up early, but early bird gets the sunrise!

adventures with kids · travel with kids

Packing for Vacation: High Maintenance or Well-Prepared?

When you travel, are there certain creature comforts or extra items you bring along that you wouldn’t find on the typical packing list? I know our family tends to be a little extra!

But one thing I know for sure, the better we prepare, the better trip we have and the happier we are!

As I pondered our extra items, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, we are pretty smart packers! We’ve thought of everything!”

Here are our extras! (Keep in mind we cook on our vacays so many of these are to stock our kitchen – we save money buying items at our local Walmart instead of paying marked up prices near our condo. 🤓)

  • Sound machine (can’t sleep without it)
  • Trash bags
  • Empty Walmart bags
  • Ziploc bags
  • Foil
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Spices
  • Kosher salt – most condos stock iodized 😣
  • Foaming hand soap (we use a natural kind)
  • Thieves cleaner
  • Dish soap
  • Dishwasher detergent
  • Laundry detergent
  • Coffee
  • Diffuser and essential oils
  • Beach toys
  • Bug spray (diy – natural)
  • Steak seasoning (my husband makes his own)
  • Kids snacks and drink pouches

For the kids:

  • DVDs – new ones they haven’t seen before
  • Art supplies
  • Crafts
  • Games (checkers, uno, etc)
  • Books to read to our 6-year-old at bedtime
  • Kneeling pad for bathing kiddos
  • Pitcher for bathing kiddos to keep water out of their eyes

Books for bedtime! Can’t forget those!

Please share in the comments if any of these are your extras too or if any of these helped you!

adventures with kids · kids · travel with kids · Uncategorized

St. Louis Zoo: Tips for Having a Great Experience

The St. Louis Zoo really needs to be at the top of your list if you’re visiting St. Louis. We live Tennessee and have a membership at Nashville Zoo which we love. I was skeptical that the St. Louis Zoo could be better or different than our beloved zoo, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The zoo is huge. We didn’t come anywhere near seeing it all the day we went. I don’t even know that we saw half! You almost need to look at a map before you go and plan what you want to see the most that day, then plan on coming again in the future to see everything else.

My niece was our amazing tour guide for the day. She grew up in St. Louis and lives right outside of St. Louis so they have been fairly regularly. We were able to see some of the animal feedings and interactions with the trainers which was really neat.

Hedgehog experience

There is a train that routes around the entire zoo, which is a real lifesaver and can save you many footsteps. You do need to know it is popular! We had to wait between 5 and 20 minutes each time we rode the train.

Go early. Arriving when the zoo opens will allow you to avoid crowds. It was definitely more crowded toward the end of our time than when we got there. I would also say to go on a weekday. We have not been on the weekend, but I can imagine it would be more crowded on those days.

The zoo wasn’t so crowded that we couldn’t let the girls walk ahead. Go early!

The zoo is free! What the what? They could easily charge for admission or membership but they don’t.

They DO make money. Food, train rides, carousel, souvenirs and all the extras will cost you. Particularly the animal encounters. To save money you may want to consider packing your own lunches and snacks. We totally tailgated in the parking lot!

Animal encounters. I want to go back to the St. Louis Zoo for this reason alone. While we were there, we noticed several zoo patrons getting to have special experiences that the rest of us weren’t. When we saw the sea lion show, there was a young lady in the audience who was able to go behind the scenes and work with the sea lions. They trained her to do some tricks with them. I was honestly jealous! But then we read anyone could do them if you pay!

At the children’s zoo I saw a little girl who got to go back where the food is prepared for the animals and she was able to handle an baby owl. I want to handle a baby owl!

Baby owl! 🦉

We did the stingray experience which ended up being the coolest part of our visit. You get to feed them and pet them! I was a little nervous about it but if you follow their instructions and do it correctly, you will not get stung. And the baby rays were so adorable!

Stingray experience

There are SO many experiences offered and animals you can see up close and personal: big cats, giraffes, sloths, penguins and more.  The good news is that anyone can do these. You have to schedule them in advance and there is a cost. We will definitely book one of these experiences next time we go!