Disney · Travel

Florida 2017: Part One

Hello, friends!  I took a short break from the blog while on a 10-day vacation to Florida.  If you have read my previous posts, you know that our family goes to Florida every other summer to enjoy Disney World and one of the many beautiful beaches offered there.  My in-laws are members of Disney Vacation Club and it has blessed us many times over the past twenty years!

Two of my kids and I returned home from church camp on a Friday and left the very next morning for our vacation.  It was a fast and furious time of laundry and packing, but we were able to fit in a dinner visit with my family before we headed out the next morning.

Day One: On the Road

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We like to split the drive up on the way so we can enjoy the sights and eat at new-to-us places.  Our journey started around 8 AM and we headed to Waco for our first stop.  The kids amused themselves with coloring, drawing, card-playing, and time on their devices.  We stopped at a local favorite, George’s, and shared a few different things.  The atmosphere was fun and the food was delicious.  If you are ever in Waco, you need to try this restaurant!

 

After lunch, we continued our drive and made it to Houston for dinner.  Pappasito’s Cantina was on our mind (I had never been) as we were craving good Mexican food.  Again, we shared a couple of dishes and some queso (of course!).  We left pretty stuffed, but saved room for dessert.  One of our friends offered up his apartment for us that evening (he was out of town) and he left us a fresh-baked cobbler and ice cream–not kidding.  Everybody was pretty tired, so we hit the sack after dessert, with plans to head out the next morning by 6.

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Day Two: Road Warriors

The next morning, we were up by 5 and out of the apartment before 6.  We stopped at a Buc-ee’s for some breakfast items and had our sights set on lunch in New Orleans.  We made it right on time and, based on a recommendation from some friends, went to Deanie’s Seafood.  We tried many of the favorites, including some gumbo and crawfish etouffee’.  One of my bucket list items was eating beignets in NOLA so we had to make that happen!  We went to Cafe Beignet and had our warm, sugary treats at an outside table.

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Our time in New Orleans was short, but we enjoyed walking around and people-watching.  I can’t imagine how crazy it is during Mardi Gras!  Then…back in the car.

This was our “long” day of travel (about 9 hours on the road) and our final destination was Crestview, Florida.  We used Priceline to book a hotel on the way.  The place we stayed was just average, but had an outdoor pool so the kids were pleased.  I did pool duty while my husband went to get us some Zaxby’s salads and chicken.  The kids swam for a bit and then we ate and went to bed early.

Day Three: Finally in Orlando!

Our third and final day of driving was pretty easy.  After visiting the hotel breakfast bar, we hit the road a bit after 6 and made it to Orlando around 1.  Our first stop?  Wal-Mart.  Haha!  The Wal-Mart that is closest to Disney has an amazing selection of souvenirs and our kids had money burning holes in their pockets.  Each of the kids picked up a Mickey tee and I bought a few items to bring home for family.  We actually didn’t get any groceries because the rest of our party already food-shopped for us earlier that day (they arrived by plane three days before we got there).

Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived at Old Key West resort, so my husband took the kids to the pool and I hung out with my sister-in-law in their room while we waited.  We were able to move in to our room after 5:00.  Some family members had planned a burger cookout at the pool so we joined them.  The kids burned off three days worth of energy by swimming and playing at the playground next to the pool and then we went to bed to prepare for Magic Kingdom!

Day Four: A “Magic”al Day

This day actually did not start out magically.  My husband woke me up around 5 to tell me he felt awful.  He took some Aleve and tried to shake it.  We made it to the Disney bus stop around 8 and headed to Magic Kingdom.  Ropes dropped at 9 and we practically ran to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  There was a wait, but we stuck it out and the kids loved it.  We spent the morning hitting most of our favorites (Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates), had lunch at Columbia Harbour House, got an ice cream bar or two, and went back for some pool time.

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My husband still did not feel well, so he laid down while the kids and I spent a couple of hours swimming and snacking.  We had FastPass reservations that evening so we were back on the bus by 6.  After doing several rides and watching fireworks, we shut down the park at 11 and reflected on what a successful Disney day we had.  Oh..and don’t worry…I got the Dole Whip Float I’ve been dreaming about for the past two years.  Ha!

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Day Five: Not in our plans

We were SUPPOSED to hit Universal Studios, but decided to go the following day to give my husband more rest time.  My mother-in-law offered to keep the kids at the pool and my hubs and I went to an urgent care center, hoping for something to help him feel better.  He got some medicine, we spent the rest of the day at the pool, and ended up at House of Blues at the Disney Springs area for dinner.

If you haven’t been to the new Disney Springs, you need to make plans to visit.  The area is beautiful, with tons of restaurant and shopping options.  After we ate, we walked around for awhile and found a few more souvenirs.

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Day Six: It was “WAND”erful

My husband still wasn’t feeling better, but one of our main goals for this trip was Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so the kids and I drove over to Universal for the day.  I don’t want to say a whole lot about the park because I think it deserves its own post, but we really enjoyed it.

After reading all of the Harry Potter books this year, my daughter was pumped to check out Diagon Alley and get a wand at Ollivander’s.  Luckily, she was chosen for the wand ceremony, which made the day extra special for her.

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We met the rest of the family for lunch at Margaritaville and then went back for more park fun.  I knew we were in for a night of packing when we returned, so we finished at Universal in the early evening and went back to our Disney resort.  Pizza at the pool was the plan (unintentional alliteration).  We enjoyed that and packed up our room in preparation for our drive to the beach!

To be continued…

Uncategorized

6 Tips to Help Make Camp a Success for your Kids

Every summer, thousands of parents pack up their kids and send them off to a week (or more) of a camp of some sort.  I did not attend camp as a kid and was always intrigued by the idea of it.  I loved to read books about summer camps and Heavyweights is still one of my favorite movies.

When I was in college, I spent part of two summers as a counselor at a large summer sports camp in Texas.  I absolutely loved the adventure of spending time with youth, teaching them a sport (I taught cheer, dance, gymnastics, and snorkeling), and engaging in various types of competition.  After having kids, I longed to give them a camp experience and my husband and I decided that church camp was the right way for us to offer that to them.  For the past four summers, I have spent a week counseling at a camp here in Oklahoma.  Looking back on our first year at camp, there are so many things I wish I knew.  So…I thought I’d share a few tips to help if you are sending your kid(s) off to camp this summer.

1. Find the right camp experience for your children.

There are so many camp options that it can be overwhelming trying to decide which place is right for your kids.  There are locations that focus on the arts, athletics, academics, or religion.   Many camps offer a blended experience and you will want to do your research to find the best fit for your family.  There are directories online that are extremely helpful (a nice one can be found here), but you can also get information from local churches, sports teams, and, obviously, your friends.

2. If at all possible, take them to the location yourself.

Many campers arrive in large groups with a youth minister or parent of one of their friends.  This may be convenient, but if you have a first-time camper, you may want to try to take them to camp yourself.  Meet the people they will be with all week, walk the grounds with them, help them make their beds, and communicate any pertinent information to the adults in charge.  You will feel more comfortable and so will your child, which will be a positive start to the session or week.

3. Give appropriate medical information and send medical items.

This sounds like common sense, but it isn’t.  Camp staff needs to know from a parent if a child has any allergies/conditions or if medication is taken on a daily basis.  Most camps require some sort of medical form to be signed, but you would be surprised at the amount of people who sign the forms, but don’t actually communicate the appropriate information.

4. Pack the right stuff.

There are many camp packing lists online (check Pinterest), but oftentimes, each location will have it’s own list for you to look over when packing.  Here are a few things I think are necessary to have at camp:

  • items for theme nights (many camps do this and the kids love to dress up/accessorize)
  • Bible/sports equipment/etc–whatever is specific to your chosen camp
  • a watch–it’s hard to be on time to different classes/activities if you don’t know what time it is
  • a water bottle
  • a pillow–this was the item most forgotten in my cabin this year!
  • a flat sheet–even if your child is using a sleeping bag, they need a flat sheet for their mattress.  Do you know how many kids have slept on those?!
  • a few items for cabin quiet time (NOT electronics)–playing cards, books, journals and pens, etc

5. Send mail.

If your camper is going to be somewhere for a week or more, send them some mail.  I know a week really isn’t very long, but the kids are always touched when they receive a letter or card from parents, grandparents, or siblings.  They get really excited if their mail includes some candy or snacks for the cabin to share.  Some camps even offer care packages for you to order.  Make sure to check information for your specific location to see what is/isn’t acceptable to send.  Even though I go to camp with my kids, they love getting mail.  My mother-in-law always sends some gum with her notes, which makes the kids pretty happy.

6. Try to make them stay for the entire camp session.

This is a tough one.  I can’t imagine getting a phone call from my child begging to come home from camp.  It is normal for kids to have some homesickness, especially at night, but the benefits of camp usually outweigh the sadness a camper may feel when they are away from home.  At camp, my kids have strengthened their faith, learned lots of new games, and made close friends with people from all over the state.  They love camp and are always really sad to leave.  Camps offer so many unique experiences for kids and allow them a feeling of pride when they finish the week, something they have probably been looking forward to all year.  However, if at any time you feel your child is more than just homesick, you need to do what makes you feel comfortable.  If that means leaving early, then so be it.  Your child’s health and well-being are much more important than the money you spent or others’ opinions.

Attending a summer camp can be a fun and rewarding experience for your precious kids.  Hopefully, these tips will help you if you are planning on sending your littles in the future!

 

 

Favorites

9 Things I’m Loving this Month

I know that it is early June, but there are several things that I’ve found/seen/purchased this month that I just love.  I linked the things I could find online (note: only the Amazon one is an affiliate link).  Here are my favorites so far…

This top from WalMart.  It is on sale for $11.50 online right now.  I have wanted an off-the-shoulder top for a long time and have never found one I’ve loved.  This one is perfect.  The chambray goes with so many things and the length of this is great (just past the bottom).

This hat.  Also, from WalMart.  I’m not much of a hat person, but this was $3.44 and I’m going to get it personalized.  I love a good bargain!  Check your local stores to see if you can find it.  I’m planning on gifting some personalized ones to family members on vacation.

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This crossbody wallet, found at Charming Charlie’s.  It was only $18 and will be perfect for vacation and quick trips to run errands this summer.  It is just big enough to hold my phone (with case on) and a few other small items.

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This water bottle, available at WalMart.  I don’t hardly ever shop at WM, but apparently I found lots there this month.  Haha!  I love this bottle because it keeps drinks hot or cold for hours and has a lid.  I’ll be taking this to church camp and on vacation.  It comes in a variety of colors and runs for $9.74.

36OZ. POWDER COATED STAINLESS STEEL WATER BOTTLE-TURQUOISE

This online workout.   It’s the best way to get in a good, legitimate workout in your own home.  I find it very cost-effective ($39 for 3 months) and love the variety of the videos.  Yoga is my current favorite.  It also includes the Beachbody meal plans and fitness trackers.

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This easy lunch.  Make-your-own salad is a favorite of the kids and mine. Stick some toppings in different bowls and let them have at it.  I usually serve with homemade Whole30 Dump Ranch. Healthy and delicious.

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This box subscription.  Birchbox is the best and I always look forward to getting the mail when I know a new box is coming.  It is only $10 a month and allows me to try lots of pricey brands of makeup, haircare, and skincare.  This month, I got a great mascara from Benefit and a matte lipcolor that is great for summer, among other things.

This swimsuit from Amazon.  Bathing suit shopping is the worst.  I think I tried on pretty much every modest swimsuit in town and came up short.  I decided to just order a couple from Amazon, knowing I could return them if they didn’t fit.  This suit is a winner!  I bought it in blue/black for around $22.  It covers everything and is extremely cute in person.  Make sure to pay attention to the size charts if you purchase.

This ice cream.  My local grocery store just started carrying this and the Sea Salt Caramel flavor is dreamy.  It’s pricey (around $5 a pint), but I’m the only one who eats it so it’s not such a big deal to purchase once or twice a month.

What have you been loving this month?  Anything I need to try?

Disney · Travel

5 things to consider when planning a Disney trip.

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Every other summer, our family makes the 20+ hour drive to Orlando to visit Disney World (for road trip ideas, click here).  My husband’s parents have been members of Disney Vacation Club since 1995 and we have been blessed to visit many times over the years.

I am in no way affiliated with Disney nor am I a travel agent, but, after having the opportunity to go so often, I feel like I have a good grasp on realistic ways to have a great time at Disney without spending my retirement money.  Whether you are a Disney rookie or someone who has been in the past, there are tips below which can help when planning your vacation.  We head out in a few weeks and I’ll do a follow-up when we return with anything new we’ve learned.

Also, I apologize in advance for the length of this post.  There is so much to say about planning a Disney trip and I wanted to include everything I thought would be useful to someone.

1.Staying on Disney property

Being DVC members, we always stay on-property.  We have the opportunity to try new places, but we always stay at Old Key West, which is our “home” property.  There are many room options (studio, 1, 2, and 3-bedroom villas) and they are all very spacious. All except the studio include a washer/dryer and kitchen.  The rooms are very clean and are all pretty close to a pool (there are multiple pools at Old Key West).

The Disney pools are all pretty amazing, with most offering some sort of a feature (slide, spray area, etc) and daily activities.  At Old Key West, there are also “neighborhood” pools that are much quieter and allow my kids lots of space to swim without there being much of a crowd.  We always spend our first day (after the 3:00 check-in) at the pool.  This gives us a chance to release some energy from the car ride and to gear-up for parks the next day.

Rumor has it that DVC members can also pool-hop at many of the resort pools.  We have only done this one time as we pretty much love our home pool, but that is a fun extra for vacation club members.

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Also, if you stay on property, you get free transportation to and from the parks and other resorts/attractions.  If you are not staying at a Disney resort, parking is $20+ each day at the parks.

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Waiting for the bus
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Headed to Magic Kingdom

If staying on-property, you also get complimentary Magic Bands.

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I’ll be perfectly honest.  This whole band thing overwhelmed me before we left for our last trip.  It seemed confusing and more planning than I was willing to do.  I was wrong.  The bands are great.  You can link your tickets, FastPass, and photos to the bands.  They also serve as your room key and you can charge things at the Disney restaurants and shops using them.  It is such an easy way to keep everything together.  You control the band through the website and through the My Disney Experience app (more info below).

Disney resorts can be pricey, but the benefits are pretty great.  Other amenities include free wifi, Extra Magic Hours, early access to FastPass planning,  and the opportunity to purchase the Disney Dining Plan.

2. Navigating the Parks

Because we are able to visit Disney so often, we focus on one or two parks a year.  On our last trip, we spent one whole day at Magic Kingdom and hopped between Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom on our second park day.  We enjoy all of the parks (including both water parks), but our favorite is Magic Kingdom and we always plan to spend at least one day in this massive park.

We love to relax on vacation and sleeping in is great, but don’t do it on a park day.  You need to be there when the park opens or you will miss so many opportunities to ride things with not much wait time.  Last time, some family friends came on the trip with us and they didn’t make it to the park until after 10 AM.  I later asked what they rode and they were only able to hit like 5 things before evening.  What?!  We rode 5 things in the first hour we were there.  Get there early and be flexible with your plans.

Many people go with a ride/show itinerary (there are tons available online) and they are afraid to veer from it.  I do think it is smart to go in with some idea of where you want to be at specific times, but if your goal is to get the biggest bang for your buck, you need to be willing to chill a little.  We always start at Fantasyland because we have kids and they love it there.  This year, we plan on doing the Seven Dwarves Mine Train first because that tends to get crowded and have really long wait times and then, honestly, we’ll go to whatever is close and has a short wait–which is where the app comes in handy.

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The My Disney Experience app is, in my opinion, the best thing to use to have a successful trip.  You can manage your Fast Pass (add, delete, change) and dining reservations, see show times, find which characters are out and where they are located, and see wait times for everything in the park.  After each ride, I get my phone out and look at the rides in that specific area and we just head to whichever ride/show is close to us with the shortest wait.  In June 2015, we went to Magic Kingdom on one of the busiest days of the month and our longest wait was maybe 30 minutes.  If we want to stay in a certain “land,” but have a FastPass somewhere else, I check to see if we can change times for that ride.  That doesn’t always work out for us, but it usually does.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this trip!

Even though we don’t love waiting in lines, I do make sure each of our kids gets to ride their #1 pick for each park before we leave.  It takes lots of money and planning time to do a Disney trip, so I want my kids to get to visit their favorite thing at least once.  One time we rode Splash Mountain…five times in a row…and I was pregnant.  It was interesting to say the least, but my daughter was happy as that was her favorite. Haha!

3. Eating at the Parks

I’m definitely not a Disney dining expert, but we do eat at the parks.  We have never done the dining plan, but I know many people do and enjoy it.  Normally, we eat a quick breakfast in our room (cereal, breakfast bar, fruit) before heading to the bus stop.  I also usually pack a few small snacks in our cinch sac or small backpack that we take to the parks (granola bars, pbj sandwiches cut up) for the time in between breakfast and lunch. For lunch, we hit up a counter-service restaurant for some good Disney food.  They all offer different things and can be pricey (maybe $10 or $12) so we share two or three meals and call it good.

In the afternoon, we usually take a park break and head back to hang out at our resort pool or nap. We snack a bit there and go back to the parks for dinner, more rides, parades, and fireworks. If you don’t already have dinner reservations, you can use the app or just hit another quick-service restaurant, which is what we normally do.

We all love a good Disney treat so make time to get one (or many!) of those.  My kids love the ice cream bars and sandwiches and I go crazy for a Dole Whip.  I’m not too particular on when we get treats.  Sometimes we get them in the afternoon before we head back to the hotel, but we pretty much always have something around time for fireworks.

Disney drinks can take up a good portion of money we worked hard to save, so we are smart about not buying sodas and bottled waters all day long.  We go to Disney in June and it is hot, so I take some empty water bottles (you can find cute Disney ones at WalMart) and fill them up at water fountains.  You can also get free ice water pretty much anywhere they serve food.

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Breakfast at the Polynesian
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Lunch at Akershus, Epcot

 

Character meals really deserve their own post so I will just say this: they are expensive, but worth it if you want your kids to have some character time.  Also, the food is good.  You should plan to do at least one if your kids are little.

4. Dress Accordingly

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I always applaud people when I see their cute photos and they are wearing nice clothing at Disney.  I’m not sure how they do it.  Again, we go in June and it can be pretty steamy, especially after the afternoon rain showers.  I’m positive you will not catch me in anything with a button or zipper or made out of some non-breathable material.  If I’m at a Disney park during the day, I have on a t-shirt or tank top and athletic shorts.  If you ride Splash Mountain in the morning and have to spend the rest of your day in wet denim, you will not be happy.  Trust me on this.  Get a cute Disney tee and break out your black shorts.  You will be comfortable and still cute.  Promise.

Also, wear tennis shoes.  You will walk so much at Disney.  I tried to wear flip flops once and was mad at myself about halfway through the day.  The kids wear tennis shoes also, unless we are just back for fireworks and are leaving again.

If you MUST wear cute clothing, maybe put those on after a mid-day break.  That is kind of my plan for this year.  I’d like to get some nice pics where my hair isn’t in a messy bun.  We’ll see if that happens…

5. All of the extras

Fireworks and other nighttime shows

At the evening shows, Disney sells all sorts of fun glow-in-the-dark items.  I’m pretty sure I’ve bought a few of these overpriced things in the past.  One year, we saw a smart family pull out their bag of dollar store glow sticks and I watched their kids happily showing off the things that cost them $19 less than what we had.  Guess what.  We take the dollar store glow sticks now.  Haha.  I hit up Target a few weeks ago and got some glow necklaces and bracelets for my kids and nephews.  My kids have never felt like they had something less than the kids who have the expensive glow toys.  Plus, there are always kids around us who don’t have the items either and it gives my littles the opportunity to share because we always have extra.

Souvenirs

We try to be really practical when it comes to souvenirs.  I want my kids to have something to help them remember the experience, but I don’t like them asking for everything they see.  When my oldest was really little, we started them on a souvenir budget.  They take some of their own money, any money grandparents have given them, and a little from us (we save change all year, take it to the bank, and split it into thirds) and that is their souvenir money for the entire trip (including the beach part that comes after Disney).  This eliminates so many problems for us.  If they ask for something, I tell them they have to pay for it.  Enough said.  Sometimes they want a larger item (like the build-a-dinosaur at the T-Rex restaurant), but mostly they just want a cup or some little figurine.  Whatever is left at the end of the trip is theirs to keep.  If you are looking for cheap Disney items, there is a WalMart close to the Disney properties that has aisles and aisles of things at bargain prices.  We always hit it up before we head out of Orlando to get gift items for friends back in Oklahoma.

Photos

While at Disney, I’ll use my cellphone to take most of our pictures and turn them into a photobook when we return.  Disney does offer Photopass which means they’ll scan your MagicBand (or park ticket) and take photos throughout the day.  You can see these photos on your account on the Disney website and purchase the ones you want OR you can buy MemoryMaker ($169 for advance purchase, $199 for immediate use).  MemoryMaker allows you to purchase all of your digital images for one price.  The Disney photographers have great locations at which you can stop and take your pics, but you also get ride pictures and videos.  After you get off of the “big” rides (Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, etc), you will go to where they post the pictures.  When you see your family, scan your MagicBand and those photos will link to your account.  We bought this service on our last trip and were really pleased with our pictures.

They even add little extras (see Olaf above) and you get some stock photos of characters and rides.  You can also link MemoryMaker to the accounts of your other family members, meaning you can SHARE photos.  We split the cost among three families so it seemed well worth the $169 to have good, fun photos.  Because we are only doing one Disney park this year (we are venturing out to Universal), we aren’t going to purchase MemoryMaker.  However, I highly recommend it for people who are doing multiple days at parks and/or have friends or family who can split the cost.

Strollers

If you are traveling from far and don’t want to hassle with bringing a stroller, Disney does offer stroller rental for like $15 or $20 a day.  We rented a stroller once, but found that a cheap umbrella stroller worked just as well for us.  If you are doing five days of parks, that is almost $100 just for stroller rental.

 

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Stroller fan for the win

 

 

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique 

This boutique will transform your child into a beautiful princess or a heroic knight, with packages for the girls starting at around $65.  Yikes.  I couldn’t do it.  Unless this is an experience you just can’t pass up, pack your own princess dress, put your girl’s hair in a bun, and put some spray glitter on her.  She won’t even know what she is missing.

Want to know what the experts say?

Before heading to Disney each year, I consult some real experts for updates or reminders about certain parks.  My favorite website is WDW Prep School.  It’s the best, but can be overwhelming because there is so much information.  Take in a bit at a time and you will learn so much while planning your vacation.

I also consult books.  I use this one, but there are many on the market.  You can purchase from Amazon or find one at your local library in the travel section.

Anything I’m missing?  Post in comments and I’ll add to my Disney follow-up.

Travel

Oklahoma Travel: Turner Falls

Hello, friends!  This is the start to a new series about day trips in Oklahoma.  I come from a military family, but was born in Oklahoma and ended up back here when my dad received orders to return when I was a kid.  We didn’t do much traveling when I was young, but my husband and I have been all over Oklahoma and feel blessed to live in a place with such treasures!  It is beautiful here and the history of our state is so interesting to me.  For the first post in this series, we are going to take a look at a family-friendly place in southern Oklahoma.

Turner Falls–Davis, OK

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Turner Falls is home to the largest waterfall in Oklahoma.  The park includes many natural swimming pools, wading areas, two water slides, a diving board, and a few sandy beaches.  I have lived in Oklahoma almost my entire life and had never been to Turner Falls until last summer.  After visiting the area, my husband and I both agree that this is one of the best attractions in our amazing state.

If planning a trip to Turner Falls, there are a few things you should know before you go.

  1. It DOES cost.  The price for adult tickets (ages 13 and up) is $12 and the price for kids (ages 6-12) is $6.  For a family of five, this seemed costly until we realized how great the park is and how much time we could spend here.  We were at the falls for the majority of the day and every penny we spent was well worth it.
  2. Every child must have a life jacket.  The park requires all kids aged 12 and under to wear a coast guard approved flotation device at all times.  They do not provide the life jackets nor do they offer them for a rental fee–you must bring your own.  Luckily, we had flotation devices for our boys and we borrowed one for our daughter before we headed that direction.  They are really serious about this and will remind you if your kids aren’t in the appropriate safety device.
  3. Bring water shoes or something of the sort.  We didn’t even think about this and ended up just keeping our flip flops on while we were at the park.  Many of the natural swimming areas are shallow and you have to make your way across slick rocks or over gravel-type areas.  The flip flops were fine, but water shoes would be a better option.  Also, there is a huge staircase leading to a “castle” and some hiking areas to explore.  You will be most comfortable if you have some sort of shoes with you.

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    At the castle area
  4. There are food/drink places available.  We ate before we arrived at the park, but indulged in one of the tastiest snow cones I have ever had.  The restaurants seemed to offer typical quick-service foods (chicken strips, burgers, etc.) and they were a bit pricey.  If on a budget, you may want to pack a picnic and enjoy your lunch at an available picnic table.
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    This is the best we could do.  Haha!

    5. Be prepared to spend some time here.  My kids absolutely loved the falls area and the other natural swimming areas, but nothing prepared me for how much time they would want to spend in the location with the slides and the diving board.  We spent about two hours in this part of the park and there was a lot of complaining when we made the kids get out of the water so we could get to our next destination.  This park is fun–plan to spend a whole day.IMG_2228

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    My husband and the kids in the deepest area of the park, right next to the falls

    6. You can stay in the park overnight. They have cabins ($150/night) and open-air shelters ($40/night) to rent and R/V hook-ups ($25) and campsites are available ($12.50).  We did not stay in the park as we had other plans, but it may be something we do in the future.  If we do, it will be a cabin–not a campsite!  We aren’t much for camping.

 

After our amazing day at Turner Falls, we headed to Thackerville, OK to stay at the Winstar casino.  We aren’t big gamblers, but my husband had some free rooms after speaking at a previous clinic at the hotel.  It seems weird to take kids on a trip to a casino and I felt really odd about it, until we got there.  The pool is awesome and there were many families with kids at the resort.

 

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Apparently, they like to flex.

We spent two nights at the Winstar, which boasts the largest casino in the state. Most of our time was spent at the main pool (there are two pools) or eating at one of the many restaurants offered.  This resort makes you feel like you are in Vegas, without the big price tag and the long day of travel.  IMG_2220

If you are from Oklahoma and are looking for a short trip or if you are from out of state and end up in this gorgeous place, you can plan your trip to Turner Falls here and your trip to the Winstar here.

 

Look for other Oklahoma day trip travel plans soon!

Faith

Daily Vitamins: My Current Favorite Devotionals

Strengthening my faith is very important to me and always something at which I work.  We attend church as a family and are fairly involved there, but I find that my faith and my relationship with God is strongest when I spend some one-on-one time with Him.

This Spring, we had a great speaker at our church for a Visionary Family weekend.  He put several things in perspective for us, but my favorite is when he likened our faith to food.  He pointed out what our three meals should be (attending church, reading the Bible, and having family worship time) and that everything else is a vitamin (youth group, FCA, etc).  One cannot survive on vitamins alone, but they make us healthier and we need them as well.  One of my daily “vitamins” is reading a devotional so I thought I’d share my three current favorites.  In all honesty, I do not read all three of these every day, but have read much of each of them throughout the year.

Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young

img_3772-e1496845208252.jpgI’m pretty late to the game on this one as it has been popular for the last few years, but I hadn’t read it until a beautiful friend gave me this for Christmas.  There is something about this devotional that just speaks to me.  I had a pretty rough year personally and much of this book encourages trust in God.  I needed this devotional this year and I read it daily, usually at night because I’m not a morning person.

 

I love that the passages are short and that they include verses that relate to the message for each day.  The passages are dated so if you are particular about starting things “on time,” you may want to wait until January to begin this one.  This devotional is really uplifting and would be a great way to start (or end!) your day.  This would also make a great gift and if you are an early Christmas shopper or have a friend who is in need of something like this, the original title can be purchased here.

First5 app

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The First5 app has also been a favorite of mine this year.  This is a free app (available in an Android and iOS version) developed by Proverbs 31 ministry in order to “greet you with a short teaching first thing in the morning, so you can exchange whispers with God before shouts with the world.”  Each day, there is a lesson with clickable links to Bible verses, a suggested reading, a prayer, and an opportunity to delve deeper in a “More Moments” section.

You can check off your progress at the end of each passage and participate in the First5 community by posting in the “My Moment” section.  I love reading through this part because the positive comments and support offered to the women on here is amazing. The devotionals are written by many women who are well-known Christian authors, including Lysa TerKeurst and Leah DiPascal.  If unable to get the app, you can also access the readings online here.

Just Ask: Devotions for the Coach’s Wife by Sarah Roberts

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I really don’t even know where to start with this one because I love it so much.  Although it is written with a coach’s wife in mind, this devotional would be appropriate for ANY wife as the lessons relate to what most women experience in marriage (the lesson on not keeping score in your marriage is a particular favorite of mine and one I desperately needed to read).

There are just over twenty teachings that are each split into three sections: Just Ask (a person or people from the Bible), Just Ask (a specific coach’s wife), and Just Ask Me (a section you can fill out about your own experiences).  For example, there is a lesson about God asking us to trust Him with our children and the sections are: Just Ask Mary and Joseph (with suggested readings), Just Ask Christine Donovan (wife of Billy Donovan of OKC Thunder basketball), and Just Ask Me.

This newly published book is not necessarily something to read daily, but something to read when you need some inspiration or support as a wife.  It is written so well that I feel like I can sit and read several sections at once.  I will definitely be referencing this book often next football season and gifting this to several friends this year.  You can find Just Ask here.

If you are looking for a new devotional, I hope this post helped you in some way.

Have any favorite devotionals to share with me?  Comment below and let me know!

 

Travel

How to survive a cross-country road trip…with kids

IMG_3896Every other summer for the past several years, we have made the trip from Oklahoma to Orlando, Florida by car.  When we tell people we are driving to Disney World, they think we are crazy!  But…we love it!  The road trip is all part of the fun for us, so I thought it may be useful for you all to see what others do to make long car rides bearable.

1.Try to break the trip up into a few days.

We used to make the 20-plus hour trip in two days, but since we’ve had three children, we take three days to get there and, depending on our second destination (we usually hit a beach after Disney), 1-2 days to get home.  Our kids love to see the sights in a new town and eat at unique restaurants, so we try to stop in different places each time.  Two years ago, we went to West Monroe, Louisiana on Day 1 to do the Duck Dynasty thing.

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On Day 2, we made a dinner stop in Pensacola and walked around for awhile before heading a bit outside of town to stay the night. We use Priceline to book a hotel and don’t have many requirements–just a clean room and maybe a hotel pool for the kids to burn off some energy.

2. Eat at new-to-you places

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Haha!  He was so little here!

My husband and I are both in the education field (I am a high school librarian, he is a teacher/football coach) so we vacation on a budget.  However, we don’t want to totally sacrifice the vacation feel and eat all of our meals in the car.  I pack snacks (more on that below), but lunch and dinner are eaten in a restaurant.  Sometimes, we do stop for fast food at places we don’t have in our home town (Zaxby’s is a favorite), but most often, we try to find a local eatery using an app like Yelp or Roadtrippers.  This gives us time to unwind and lets the kids move about a bit before we get back in the car.  Plus, it gives us an excuse to eat foods for which each specific area is known.  Texas=barbecue, Louisiana=gumbo or jambalaya, Florida=seafood.

3. Pack snacks

While we don’t mind spending money at meal times, I refuse to buy soda, chips, and candy at every gas station or rest stop we visit.  Junky food makes for cranky kids!  I like to take a cooler with bottled water, baby carrots, cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, and other portable, healthy-ish items.  I also usually make some peanut butter energy bites (recipe here) for a sweet treat and pack some dry cereal or crackers.  Each of our kids has a Yeti cup, so we have them fill those with ice water before the trip begins and we just refill as needed.  I’m not a TOTAL grinch, though, so we do grab a couple of quick snacks at least once on the trip.  Usually we reserve that for driving day 2 or 3 when the kids are bored with whatever it is that I packed.

4. Make sure they are comfortable

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Every person in my family has a different temperature at which they are comfortable.  Therefore, we all pack blankets and pillows so there is no whining about being hot or cold.  My husband is almost always the driver so he sets the temp, which is freezing.  If you are headed to the beach and don’t want to bring blankets due to them taking up car room, use beach towels for this.

5. Have plenty for them to do

And this is where this post gets really long!  If you are going to be spending multiple hours in a car with kids, they WILL get bored and you WILL lose your patience, so…plan accordingly.  I only allow one bag of fun stuff in the car because we have loads of luggage.  After many years, I think I have it down to a science!  Here is what we take:

Coloring Books/Workbooks/Blank Notebooks/Crayons

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The kids will have coloring contests, work on school skills, draw, write stories, etc for HOURS.  I try to bring a variety of these and usually buy everyone a new box of crayons or markers before we start the trip.  You can find these things at many places–most of our things come from Sam’s Club, WalMart, or Target, but I just bought this from Amazon.

Make song playlists

My kids love music of all kinds, so we make some killer lists of tunes before we head out on the road.  We use iTunes and Amazon Prime music for this, but I know many people also use Spotify.  Normally, we listen to the music all together, but we also make the lists available on the kids’ Kindles and our old cellphones so they can listen on headphones if they want.  If they are getting restless, we’ll take turns picking songs and that seems to get everybody in a good mood.  They like to have a little control of what we listen to.

Play Games

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We play lots of car games, including I-Spy, Road Trip Bingo, Would You Rather, and, our very favorite, Rubberneckers.  If you don’t have this game and you are taking kids on the road, you need it.  It is so fun and we will play it several times over our 3-day drive.

Electronic Devices/Movies

Believe it or not, this is the activity my kids do the LEAST when on a road trip.  However, sometimes we need a little quiet and we turn them loose on either a device (my kids each have these or we let them watch a movie on our portable DVD player.  Our local public library has Overdrive, so we will download some books/audiobooks for the kids before we leave town and we make sure they each have a few games they can play without using data.

6.  Pack a family overnight bag

It takes some strategy to get our car packed for a 10-day trip for 5 people and the last thing we want to do on the road is unload everything each night.  We pack one big bag with toiletries and a couple days of outfits for each of us.  This is the one of the smartest things we do on our roadtrips and has helped us tremendously over the years.

 

I hope you find some useful tips here for traveling with kids.  We are headed out to Disney in a few weeks and I’d love some new ideas if you want to share in the comments!