The Hocking Hills Caboose- Unique Ohio Lodging

All aboard!  Take a seat!  I can’t wait to tell you all about our stay at The Hocking Hills Caboose- a unique Ohio lodging opportunity.  Our young family had a fantastic time at this Hocking Hills cabin-like property, and I’ve been bursting to share!

I couldn’t believe the interest from friends and family- even grandma- on what it was like to sleep in a caboose.  I’ll be honest, I’m no happy camper and was worried about whether the Caboose would be too primitive for my travel snobbery.  Spoiler alert: I was pleasantly surprised by the furnishings AND the size of the bathroom.

First, a little history lesson.  The Hocking Hills Caboose is an authentic 1950s train caboose!  It was originally a part of the Seaboard Air Line train systems and was probably used in service until the 1980s.  Did you know that in the 1980s cabooses were no longer needed because new technology could monitor the train and apply the brakes?  I did not!  So this caboose ended up in a railyard in Columbus until it was purchased by the Hocking Valley Railway and then renovated for overnight stays!  However, the Caboose has new owners and was completely overhauled last year- there’s new flooring, decor, and all new plumbing and heating and cooling.  This makes for hot showers and cool air-conditioning!

I can’t think for a better place for the Caboose to be situated.  Hocking Hills is the go-to Ohio destination for hiking and outdoor adventure.  And The Hocking Hills Caboose is located only 2 miles from Ash Cave, one of the area’s most visited attractions.

Arriving at the Caboose, it seemed bigger than what I could tell from the photographs.  The Hocking Hills Caboose has a maximum occupancy of five, but I immediately noticed that our family wouldn’t feel cramped.  Once inside, the ceilings are high (I’m 5’10”) and there’s plenty of room to spread out.

The entrance opens into a kitchen.  The kitchen is what I would call an “efficiency kitchen” as it contains a small fridge, sink, microwave, and plenty of cooking utensils.  There is also a toaster and coffee pot (the latter is of crucial importance).  The fridge is like one of those you had in your college dorm room, so if you’re bringing lots of food or meat to grill, make sure you bring it in streamlined packaging- i.e. freezer bags.  We stayed for 2 nights and we were able to make it work.

One thing to note about the kitchen is that the only way to cook if there is bad weather would be via the microwave.  I discussed with the owners about the need for a hot plate or griddle, but they shared that those are a big fire risk, and I completely understand!  Just make sure you plan ahead or budget a little extra money in case you find yourself needing to eat out.  There’s numerous restaurants in the  Hocking Hills area that you’ll want to try anyway!

See that table to the right?  There’s a built-in bench against the wall so it’s easy to pull the table out and use it!  It’s like HGTV tiny home living!

The next area is devoted to bunks.  There are two upper bunks and one lower.  This worked out perfectly for our two boys!  The top bunks are fairly high (the boys reminded me they were 6 steps!), but they had three windows at top and plenty of head room.  If you’re traveling as a group of adults, these would be plenty big enough for big people – i.e. you better believe I climbed up there and sampled the space!

 

Keep walking and there are two lower bunks, which Mr. YT and I laid our claim. And then there’s a full bathroom.  The bathroom was one of my concerns before traveling to the Caboose.  I’ve been in the bathroom of a RV/camp trailer and they are hardly big enough to swivel in, let alone bathe three children.  The Hocking Hills Caboose has a corner sink, full-sized toilet, and square shower.  It was spacious enough for me to fit in the bathroom with one of our children while helping them shower.  The bathroom was actually bigger than the recent hotels we have stayed in, but there is no tub.

I appreciated all of the unique railroad decor throughout the Caboose,  including the lantern style-lighting. These railroad nail hooks were just a few of the small pieces that make this feel like an authentic train!  I can see The Hocking Hills Caboose being a destination not only for families with children that love trains, but even adult train-enthusiasts or the local collector.  If you look closely in the kitchen picture, all of the curtains were also train-themed fabrics.

While the interior of the Caboose was fun and family-friendly, the outdoors was where we spent most of our time.  On the attached deck there is a grill and outdoor table with seating for 5.  We spent both afternoons out here grilling and enjoying family time.  

The fire pit is adjacent to the deck and also has seating for 5!   We spent our evenings here roasting marshmallows and watching the moon rise.

Maybe the reason I loved the Caboose the most?  It was disconnected from cable and internet!  I know that may turn some people off, but for my husband and I, who are both able to work remotely, not being able to answer the phone or pull up Facebook FORCED us to disconnect and make eye contact with our favorite little people.  Cell phone service was spotty throughout the Hocking Hills as well, so this truly was a getaway.  We hope to visit the Caboose again next summer and make even more memories.

Have you been to Hocking Hills?  Did you know you could stay in a Caboose?

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* I would like to thank the owners of the Hocking Hills Caboose for hosting our stay.  As always, all opinions are my own.*

48 hours of family-friendly fun in Fort Wayne

The definitive guide to Fort Wayne, Indiana with kids

New York, Chicago, Nashville- these cities come to mind when thinking of a long weekend with which to take the kids along.  Fort Wayne?  Well, it wasn’t on my radar and most likely hasn’t made its way to yours.  However, for the Midwest traveler, it’s definitely worth the trip!  Not only is Fort Wayne close-to-home, but it’s very clean and manageable for young ones.  Here’s how to spend 48 hours in family-friendly Fort Wayne:

Evening #1

Arrive and check in to your centrally located hotel, The Hilton at the Grand Wayne Convention Center.  The rooms aren’t the most spacious, but you won’t be in the room much (trust me).

If the Minor League baseball team, The TinCaps, are in town, walk just a block to their beautiful stadium.  If not, head to dinner at the Hoppy Gnome.  The Hoppy Gnome is popular for their outdoor patio, unique taco combinations, and craft beer selection.  My husband and I both chose the taco platters- his favorite was the Steak & Rajitas, mine was the Three Little Pigs.

48 hours in Fort Wayne - The Hoppy Gnome

Day Two- 

It’s going to be a jam-packed day in Fort Wayne, so you’ll want to start early.

The must-do breakfast stop is Cindy’s Diner.  “Serving the world, 15 at a time,” nab a spot at bar if you can!  My husband enjoyed the “garbage” breakfast which is an egg hash filled with everything!  The kids were delighted with plate-sized pancakes at a price of $1.60 a pancake- mom and dad were happy, too!

48 Hours in Fort Wayne - Cindy's Diner

With bellies full, head to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  In 2015, this Fort Wayne gem was voted 7th best zoo in the US and the 20th best zoo in the WORLD by TripAdvisor.  It’s easy to see why the zoo is so popular with families.  It is clean, organized, and offers FREE parking.  From petting a stingray to feeding a giraffe, there are many optional experiences to make this zoo an interactive animal encounter.

Note- the Fort Wayne’s Children Zoo is seasonal.  Check the website for opening, but it’s generally late April-mid October.

48 hours in Fort Wayne- Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

In case of rain or visiting when the zoo is closed?  Check out Science Central .  My kids didn’t even realize how much they were learning- they were having too much fun!  For young ones, my littles loved the Kids’ Central, an area for children under 7.  There is also a 2-story slide that our 7 year old was JUST tall enough to go down!  Another hit was this massive water table where kids (and moms) can learn, and test how dams work.

48 Hours in Fort Wayne- Science Central

If I were you, I’d snack through lunch (you’ll be very full from Cindy’s Diner!) and then head to Yummi Bunni for a glorious treat- it may be worth the trip to Fort Wayne just to have a glazed bun, filled with ice cream, and topped with a topping of your choice.  Stomachs and pocketbooks rejoice- it’s only $5!  Pictured here is C with hers (and we cut it into thirds).  This mom says it is perfectly acceptable to eat Yummi Bunni before dinner.

48 hours in Fort Wayne- Yummi Bunni

Feel free to go back to the hotel for a rest (you may be in a sugar coma) or walk off your ice cream by enjoying the public art located throughout Fort Wayne.

After a rest, family-friendly 816 Pint & Slice offers pizza by the slice, calzones, & salads.  There isn’t a ton of seating, but the quick service makes up for it!  The kids were happy they offered cheese-only and we were happy with the prices.  Again, Fort Wayne is a Midwestern city with Midwestern prices, no big-city price gauging!

Head to bed early tonight for tomorrow’s outdoor adventure.

Day three

Wake up and gear up- today’s plan is all about enjoying Fort Wayne’s family-friendly parks and waterways.

Did you know that Fort Wayne sits at the confluence of three rivers: the St. Marys, the St. Joseph and the Maumee?  This makes it the perfect place to pick up a paddle and enjoy a kayak, canoe, or stand up paddleboard!  Our family enjoyed a 2 hour float on the St Marys River.  Fort Wayne Outfitters makes it easy to reserve what will work best for your family, we chose to use a canoe and single kayak.

Fort Wayne Outfitters also has bicycle rentals.  If you have an aversion to the water, consider utilizing the Rivergreenway trail that follows the rivers for 25 miles from Fort Wayne to New Haven, Indiana.

48 hours in Fort Wayne- paddling- Fort Wayne Outfitters

After your paddle or bike ride, visit Headwaters Park and enjoy some of the sculptures and the view of downtown.  This is also where you’ll access the Historic Old Fort.  The current fort is just a reconstruction of the 1815 fort, but it does serve to show you the strategic location of Fort Wayne, one that was fought over by the Native Americans, French and then American forces.  Happening mostly on weekends, check the Old Fort’s calendar for upcoming reenactments.

48 Hours in Fort Wayne- Historic Old Fort

After all this exercise, you deserve a delicious meal.  The Deck is an easy walk from the Old Fort and you won’t even have to move your car.  In the backyard of the famous “Gas House” restaurant, The Deck is a riverfront dining patio and bar.  We found their meals to be well-priced with generous portions.  Kids meals are only $5 and include 2 sides AND a drink- our 3 and 5 year old could have split a meal.  My husband and I both had a burger and we agreed it was one of the best we’ve had!

You’ll leave Fort Wayne with special family memories of good food and great fun!  But even more, you’ll be ready to plan another trip back.

Have you been to Fort Wayne?  How would you spend 48 hours there?  

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Fort Wayne Indiana with kids- 48 hours in Fort Wayne

*I was provided access or tickets to some of the attractions by Visit Fort Wayne.  All opinions are my own.  Post contains affiliate links.*

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What I’m Reading This Summer

Whether it’s poolside, at the beach, or on the deck, Americans get pretty giddy over summer reading!  To be honest, I tend to read more when I’m cooped up in winter, but nonetheless, having a summer reading list helps me to stay focused on another goal in my life- to read good books.

Without further ado, here is what I’m reading this summer:

The House Girl – From the publisher, “Alternating between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, The House Girl is a searing tale of art, history, love and secrets that intertwines the stores of two remarkable women.”

Own Your Life – The subtitle for this book is “Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love.”  I’ve enjoyed all of Sally Clarkson’s books and I can’t wait to dive into this one.

How Children Succeed – From the publisher, “He (author Paul Tough) uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood.”  That statement alone had me purchasing the Kindle version.

The Greatest Generation – I’m halfway through this book and while it was published in 2000, it’s helping me to better understand our grandparents.   I’d recommend this for anyone that wants to learn more about American culture or the tenacity demonstrated by the people of that time.

Ginny Moon – Ginny is an autistic 13-year old that has finally found the adoptive family she’s been wanting.  However, she’s willing to throw it all away in order to get back to her “baby doll.”  I’ve heard so many gleaming reviews of this one, I’m eager to get my hands on it.

Hillbilly Elegy – If you haven’t heard of Hillbilly Elegy, you may be living under a rock, –  A memoir about growing up in Ohio’s rustbelt.

The Danish Way of Parenting – I’m intrigued by different parenting methods, and from my time on exchange I saw how academically excelled European students were compared to  myself (truth hurts).   Hoping I learn some Danish secrets.

What are you reading this summer?  Are any of these books on your list, too?

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Touring Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District of New Orleans

Plus tips for traveling with children

When planning our trip to New Orleans, I was most excited to read about Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District.  The architecture of antebellum homes coupled with one of the city’s oldest cemeteries made my traveling heart giddy!

Lafayette Cemetery New Orleans

Lafayette Cemetery New Orleans

(Some background: When I was a young girl my dad started selling monuments (i.e. tombstones).  On our travels, we went through just about EVERY CEMETERY known to man.  While this was an annoying chore as a kid, it’s turned into a love for cemeteries and the history that can be found by visiting them.)

Lafayette Cemetery is no exception! I learned so many new things from our tour guide, Val, from Save Our Cemeteries. For instance- At one time, Lafayette Cemetery was the only non-denominational cemetery in New Orleans.  It was actually illegal to be anything BUT Catholic in New Orleans until the US purchased Louisiana through the Louisiana Purchase!


One thing that is striking about this cemetery is the large family tombs.  Unlike most mausoleums in our area that hold 2 adults, over 75% of the tombs in Lafayette Cemetery are family or societal tombs.  Val explained that when a new person needs to be added to the tomb, the remains inside the last coffin are removed and bagged and then the recently deceased’s coffin is placed in a tomb.  Hearing this was a little morbid, but because the cemetery is so old, this only needs to be done once or twice a year.

Our Lafayette Cemetery tour took just over an hour, and while you are free to roam the cemetery without a guide, I’m so glad we were being led by someone who knew all the history.  Also, Save Our Cemeteries is a non-profit organization and Val was able to point out some of the restorations that happen because of visitors (like us) paying for volunteer-led tours.Lafayette Cemetery New Orleans

Before & after touring Lafayette Cemetery, you’ll want to spend some time exploring the Garden District.  The Garden District was once part of a Livaudais Plantation.  Originally the lots were more spacious and surrounded by gardens, however as the city grew, homeowners sold off extra parcels.   This area has been used in many Hollywood movies, and is now home to movie stars such as Nicholas Cage and Sandra Bullock  (I was looking, but never spotted them. Ha!)

We took the the Saint Charles streetcar to get from the French Quarter to the Garden District.  All day streetcar passes are only $3/per person so for $15 our family was set!  New Orleans gets props for having affordable, kid-friendly public transportation.

You can get a self-guided walking map HERE.

After our cemetery tour and the subsequent picking out of our retirement home, we headed towards Magazine Street.  Val had tipped us off to the kid-friendly Joey K’s, a restaurant once featured on the Food Network.  We chose sidewalk seating and I appreciated that the children’s menu had things like spaghetti and peanut butter & jelly! I prefer my kids eating these over the ever-present hot dog.

I chose the fried green tomatoes with shrimp and it was the perfect bit of southern cuisine.  I left feeling full and happy.

Joey K's, The Garden District, New Orleans

If you’re kids aren’t having a post-lunch meltdown,  take some time to peruse the unique stores on Magazine Street.  I saw many that I would have liked to visit if we’d had more time.  Instead, we chose to weave through the shaded streets of the Garden District homes and find our way back to the streetcar.

The Garden District New Orleans

The Garden District New Orleans

Tips for families:

  1. If you need a take-out option for dinner, we had Magazine Pizza, not once, but TWICE, on our visit. Magazine Pizza’s crust was more like a pretzel bun.  Yummo!  Dinner time with kids is hard and they deliver to hotels!
  2. We took our double umbrella stroller with us and it served it’s purpose, but it was a bit awkward to push through the lafayette cemetery and over some of the older sidewalks in the Garden District. If you have only one child, a jogging-type stroller would be better.
  3. A previous hurricane took out most of the trees in Lafayette Cemetery.  This means there is little to no shade.  Pack lots of sunscreen (I forgot)- or you’ll end up paying $4 for a 1 oz. tube at a convenience store.  i.e. Learn from my mistakes
  4. Pack water. Heat + lots of walking means you’re going to be thirsty.  We refilled the same water bottles each night and kept them in our hotel fridge.  Saves $$ and the environment.
  5. Save Our Cemeteries has tours at 10:30 am and 1 pm.  I’d recommend the 10:30 (this is the one we did).  When we left the cemetery it was as if the Garden District had all the tour buses arrive and it was much busier in the area than it had been on our way in.  Plus, you won’t have the afternoon sun.

Have you been to New Orleans or the Garden District? 

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The Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery- New Orleans
The Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery- New Orleans


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Five Reasons You Must Visit Marietta, Ohio

Marietta is a small city that lies right along the Ohio River in southeast Ohio.  While little in size and numbers, it’s bursting with local attractions.

I’ve passed through Marietta many times on I-77, but stopping in the city for 3 days gave me an appreciation for its diverse attractions, gorgeous river views, and historic homes.   I came up with five reasons you must visit Marietta, Ohio, but in reality there are many more.

#1  Marietta has enough to keep the whole family entertained.  

Like history?  Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.  Founded in 1788, Marietta was named in honor of France’s Marie Antoinette,  showing thankfulness to France for their contribution to a US victory in the Revolutionary War.  Located at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers, this was Native American territory first.  A large mound still stands at the center of town in Mound Cemetery.

Mound Cemetery- Marietta, OhioOhio Street, Marietta, Ohio

To learn more about the history of Marietta, consider taking a tour through Hidden Marietta.  On our tour I learned that the above brick-laden Ohio Street was one of the first streets in town.  It has a wild past as the home to brothels and bars, luring ship workers into town for a rowdy night.  Now it’s just home to many riotous tales, and this popular restaurant, The Levee.

Marietta is also home to many kid-friendly museums, such The Campus Maritus Museum or the Ohio River Museum.  Outside of the Ohio River Museum you have the chance to tour a steam-driven sternwheeler, the WP Snyder Jr.

W.P. Snyder, Marietta, Ohio

#2 Outdoor adventures are abundant

It’s no surprise to me that Marietta was named one of America’s Best Adventure Towns by National Geographic.  The Ohio & Muskingum Rivers afford plenty of opportunities for putting your boat, kayak, or canoe to good use.  There’s also a picturesque bike trail that follows those same rivers for over 3 miles.  The charming city also has 30+ miles of hiking and mountain bike trails.  Nearby Wayne National Forest offers abundant trails as well.

No need to stress if you don’t have a way to bring your gear.  Marietta Adventure Company offers kayak and bike rentals, as well as tours.  We enjoyed a history-themed bike tour with Hallie, and a kayak tour led by Ryan.  Both of these guides were friendly & helpful and extremely knowledgeable of all things Marietta.5 Reasons to visit Marietta Ohio



#3 Marietta is walkable

Once you’ve arrived and parked the car, the city is easy to navigate.  Unless you’ll be traveling out to Wayne National Forest, you shouldn’t need the car again!  Feel free to walk along the river using the aforementioned bike trail, but you’ll also find plentiful sidewalks and a manageable business district.  The downtown is lined with cozy shops and great restaurants- there’s even an historic bridge to take you over to Harmar Village. Don’t miss the flood markers throughout the downtown.  It’s a great reminder of just how mighty that Ohio River can be.

#4- Downtown accommodation

The Lafayette Hotel sits right on the Ohio River and is probably the most convenient property in Marietta.  My room was small, but functional.  In keeping with the history of the property,  the well-made reproduction furniture adds to the hotel’s appeal.  The Lafayette also offers a 3rd floor deck to enjoy watching the numerous barges (Marietta sees more than the Panama Canal) float by.

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The Lafayette Hotel - Marietta, Ohio The Lafayette Hotel - Marietta, Ohio

#5  Family-friendly Festivals

One of the most popular festivals in Marietta is the Ohio River Sternwheeler Festival which takes place the weekend after Labor Day.  Can’t make it but want to see a sternwheeler?  Various cruise ships dock throughout the summer.  You can see the full list on the  Visit Marietta Facebook Events page.

Enjoy a beer and some outdoor adventure?  Marietta is also host to the Rivers, Trails & Ales Festival held every year in August.  It’s a celebration of local community spirit, coupled with paddling and mountain biking, then finished off with Ohio-made craft beers.  This would make a great weekend getaway for couples and singles of all ages.

Sternwheeler Mural- Marietta Ohio 5 reasons you must visit

Have I convinced you that you MUST visit Marietta?  I adore this small town with big city charm.  Have you been to Marietta?  What’s your favorite attraction?

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5 Reasons to Visit Marietta Ohio

** I was hosted by the Marietta-Washington County CVB.  All opinions are my own.**

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My Summer (un)Bucket List

Last year I made a Summer Bucket List for our family and I think it’s a very good way to be intentional with the short time we have with our children.  After all, we’ve all seen that meme about how you only get 18 summers with your kiddos.  #cuethemomguilt

However, the reality is that we mothers already place a TON of expectations on ourselves, that can never be met.  Right after you hold your child for the first time someone should be handing out a pamphlet  – you know, one to let you know that your dreams and ideals may not be reality.

So in the spirit of letting some of the pressure off, I’ve come up with my Summer (un)Bucket List, to remind me that kids need to be kids and I’m not the summer cruise director.

Summer (un)Bucket List:

 I will not beat myself up over screen time.  I know that summer will have rainy days and we can’t always be out gallivanting in the glorious sunshine.  My brother and I watched the movies Cloak and Dagger and Clue at least 74 times each summer and we turned out okay, right?

To the other extreme, I will not consider summer as a staple of childhood that should be enjoyed by gargantuan amounts of kid-lazy.  I will remember that little ones will too soon have husbands and wives and I’m raising them for that, too.  They are old enough to pick up a wet swimsuit or make a sandwich.

I will not talk about my summer body or my swimsuit readiness.  First, because there is a little girl in my household that needs to grow up knowing she is made in the image of God, not made in the image of Cosmopolitan.  Secondly, kids want me in the pool, not hovering on the sidelines because of my own insecurities.

I will not be an activities coordinator.  My mom didn’t give me a list of stimulating activities, she sent me out into the yard.  I will employ little minds to entertain themselves, knowing that imagination is the best part of childhood.

I will not feel guilt over rest.  Mom is allowed a summer vacation, too.  Although there will be laundry and meals and the ever-present demands, I will not allow myself to be suffocated by the hands on the clock.  I won’t be acting as cruise director, but I AM steering the ship.  This means that ice cream or Cheerios are perfectly acceptable dinner menus.

Have you struggled with summer guilt?  What’s on your (un)Bucket List?

 

Planning a family-friendly getaway to Petoskey, Michigan

I’ve been eager to visit Northern Michigan for the past few years and it just hasn’t fit into our schedule.  However, I’ve started planning a getaway to the Petoskey area, in hopes that once I have it all planned out, getting it on the calendar won’t be so difficult.  Here are some of my ideas for a family-friendly weekend getaway to Petoskey, Michigan.

Petoskey, Michigan is located 35 miles south of Mackinaw City.  Petoskey lies on the shores of Little Traverse Bay, and is a 6 hour and 20 minute drive from my home in Ohio.  Our family enjoys outdoor pursuits, walking and hiking tours, and history that can be geared towards little minds.  All of the attractions I’ve found will suit our young family.

Things to do in the Petoskey area

Pond Hill Farm – The farm contains a petting zoo, hiking trails leading to a view of Lake Michigan, and a winery & brewery.  If that doesn’t make everyone in the family happy, I don’t know what will!

Harbor Springs – located directly on Little Traverse Bay, Harbor Springs includes many dining and shopping options as well as the popular drive, M-119 Tunnel of Trees.

Petoskey – This historic town has over 400 homes on the National Register.  I’d like to stroll around (literally, with the stroller) and enjoy the architecture.  If we get tired, Petoskey also offers a streetcar.

Boat Trip to Beaver Island – Beaver Island is known as America’s Emerald Isle. It’s a place to relax with the kids, enjoy the crystal clear water, and view 2 lighthouses.  The ferry ride is free for children under 4.

Hitting the Beach at Petoskey State Park–  This is the place to sunbathe and swim, but it’s also listed as a location to search out the famed Petoskey Stone.  The Petoskey Stone is a fossilized form of coral, and it’s Michigan’s State Stone.  I’d have my boys hooked on this “treasure hunt.”

A Petoskey Stone

Lavender Hill Farm – I’ve been to a Lavender Farm outside of Melbourne, Australia, but we just missed the bloom.  It appears that the bloom in Michigan happens in July.  On summer Fridays, they celebrate “Fridays on the Farm” with kids crafts, yoga, and more!

Rainy Day Ideas for the Petoskey area

Raven Hill Discovery Center – This is a place for families to explore science, history, and art.  The second Saturday of each month the Center is free.

Little Traverse Historical Museum – I love local museums because you really get a feel for the community and how it all began.  The Little Traverse Historical Museum is located in an restored train depot, right on the shores of the bay.  Did you know that Ernest Hemingway spent much of his life in this area?  The museum has an entire exhibit dedicated to him.

Family-friendly accommodation in the Petoskey area

Elvyn Lea Lodge is a  20-room lodge that can be used for retreats and business gatherings.  However, single rooms can also be booked for families visiting the Petoskey area. The resort has two lounges and over 44 acres brimming with hiking trails!  My kids would love the rooms with bunk beds.

I’ll also have my eye on the Boyne Highlands Resort.  A friend of mine stayed there and they have large suites that would comfortably fit our entire crew. The hotel is a ski resort in the winter, so summer rates are affordable.  Boyne Highlands Resort is located in Harbor Springs.

All in all, the Petoskey, Michigan area appears to be more than just a quick family-friendly getaway.  There’s enough to do for an entire week.  I’m hoping we can travel to Northern Michigan this summer!

Have you been to the Petoskey region?  What’s your favorite attraction?

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A visit to Avery Island- the home of Tabasco

What happens when an epic storm system ruins your plans of gallivanting around plantations like a Southern Belle, er, Midwesterner?  And your husband says, “Well, is there anything to the west of us?  Anything we could go see?” And then he hears the two words that men (and women) around the world find as sweet nothings… TABASCO SAUCE?

Even if our morning started with a tornado warning and a panic stricken wife, Mr. Yoder Toter ended his day in pure bliss of Tabasco taste-testing goodness.   Not one moment before that sad morning in a hotel in Gonzales, LA, did we even know that the home of Tabasco Sauce was in the low-lying lands of Avery Island, Louisiana.  But we went (through the flood waters) and we conquered.

Avery Island, the home of Tabasco, is approximately 140 miles west of New Orleans.  Surrounded by marsh, Avery Island actually sits on a salt dome- it’s not a true island, but arriving over a flooded waterway sure made it feel like one.  The original red Tabasco was created here in the late 1860s by Edmund McIlhenny and the company has not moved!

Once pulling into the Tabasco homestead, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time 100 years, as the buildings & trees add to the feeling of the old south.

Admission to the Tabasco Museum & Factory on Avery Island is very affordable!  I believe we paid $5.50 for four of us, our youngest was free.  It’s not many times you can experience something as a family of 5 for under $25.

The Tabasco Museum tells the story of Tabasco.  From the earliest settlement of Avery Island, to the modern day changes the McIlhenny family have made.  I enjoyed seeing how Tabasco products have done all over the world and appeared in advertisements.  My favorite was this Darth Vader piece:

After visiting the Museum, there is a self-guided tour through the grounds, easily followed by numbered signs.  The most interesting for my husband and myself was the barrel house.  The peppers are turned into mash and placed in white oak barrels and aged for THREE YEARS.  Seeing so many barrels of pepper mash just waiting to be turned into sauce, showed the great quantity of Tabasco that is produced in this small town.

Unfortunately, because we visited on a Sunday, we were unable to see the factory in motion. The bottling line is only open Monday-Thursday, so plan your visit to Avery Island accordingly.

Probably the best part of the tour, for me, was the Tabasco Country Store!  Tabasco ice cream!  Tabasco suckers!  Tabasco coffee mugs!  (Said just like Yogurt from Spaceballs, lol).  I was intrigued by just how many things can be flavored using a few hot peppers, and my husband liked taste-tasting all of the many different sauces.

We only wished we weren’t traveling home by air, as the products are priced reasonably.  Don’t worry though- we brought home a bottle of Mr YT’s favorite- wrapped within the kids (deflated) pool floaties!  No clothes were injured in this attempt.

 

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Tips for if you go:

We had our double stroller (side by side) with us, but we may not have needed it since our kids are a bit older.  If you do take a stroller, I’d try to take a single because the doorways and hallways are a little tight.

The closest town with numerous lodging possibilities would be Lafayetta, LA.  I usually recommend the Homewood Suites or the Fairfield Inn and Suites.   You can check Current Rates HERE.

Plan on spending 2 hours on JUST Avery Island and the TABASCO tour.  If you wish to tour the adjacent Jungle Gardens, I’d add even more time.  We could not visit Jungle Gardens due to flooding.

So tell me, do you love Tabasco products?  Ever had spicy ice cream?  

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My Favorite Products from Thirty-One Gifts

Thirty-One Gifts was introduced to me quite a few years ago by my neighbor.  I fell in love Thirty-One’s products because they offer so much for the busy mom!  We’ve used their travel totes & thermal on multiple trips by car AND air!  I even have a favorite office product.

Thirty-One Gifts is Ohio-based and focuses on giving women the chance to enjoy the freedom of their own business!  I love their emphasis on faith and family.

It’s hard to pick a favorite Thirty-One product.  I adore my new Getaway Tote.  The navy and white stripe with cork is on point for summer’s hot nautical theme.  I love that the bag is big enough to use for an overnight or daytrip to the beach, but also doesn’t feel too big to carry as a purse.

Currently I’m using the Getaway Tote to haul my laptop and notebooks to work at the coffee shop.

But I also plan to take it to the pool.

The Getaway Tote pairs perfectly with the All About The Benjamins Wallet.  My matching wallet is Tan Metallic Cork and I appreciate that the wallet has numerous spots for cards and cash!

Another favorite product that has been used time and again is the Large Utility Tote.  This is a catch-all.  We’ve used it to take towels and games on a beach vacation.  It’s hauled baby gear to an overnight at my parents.  We even stuffed it full of miscellaneous items when we moved in December.   The possibilities are endless.

Large Utility Tote in Starfish Splash

The Large Utility is so versatile. And until the end of May, when you spend $35 with Thirty-One, you can add a Large Utility Tote to your order for just $10.  What a deal!

Going on a field trip or a short drive?  Need a new school lunchbox for your child?  The Thermal Tote is another one that gets a LOT of use from our family.  This bag easily fits 2 water bottles & a few sandwiches or snacks.  I also used it when my kids were babies to carry their bottles.

Thermal Tote in Candy Corners. This print is gorgeous.

I’ve also got my eye on the Picnic Thermal Tote for our summer travel plans.  This larger thermal will hold two 2-liter bottles (or 2 bottles of wine, just sayin’).  The Picnic Thermal is only $35, so this is what I could buy to then get my Large Utility Tote at the discount.

Here’s my van all loaded up for a day out with the kids. (Some patterns may be discontinued)

Now that I’ve relayed some of my favorite Thirty-One products, what are yours?  Do you find yourself coming back to the same ones again and again?

I think you’re going to have a NEW favorite- The Getaway Tote & All About The Benjamins Wallet because YOU CAN WIN YOUR OWN!  Fill out the Rafflecopter below- you have a chance for 6 entries.  Be sure to share with your friends.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

** Thirty-One Gifts provided me with a free bag and wallet.  As always, opinions are my own.**

Travel Hacking New Orleans

Flights & 4 nights for 5 people- under $300

Hey!  We just returned from New Orleans and I wanted to share with you how we saved so much money on this trip by travel hacking our accommodation & flights.  We’ve been able to travel more since learning how to better utilize our credit card points.  For more info, start HERE:

Why this Dave Ramsey follower still uses a credit card

Travel Hacking the Canadian Rockies

We flew to New Orleans on Southwest airlines.  The total cost of 5 flights on Southwest would have been $1269.40!  Instead, our total was $56 and some change thanks to using 56,350 points.  You could get this many points by getting the sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred and then transferring the points to Southwest.  Check out 10xtravel for more info on all things credit cards!

Savings: $1213

For our hotel nights, we wanted to do a plantation tour, but also stay in the city.

Because we were arriving into New Orleans on a Saturday night during Jazz Fest, city hotel rates were really high.  We decided that we’d stay outside of the city for the first night, then drive in on Sunday.

The first night we stayed at the Home2 Suites by Hilton in Gonzales, LA.  This was a perfect family-friendly property.  Our room with two double beds and a sofa bed was HUGE, and the free breakfast was sufficient.

The total cost for that night was $112.78.

We had some points left on our Barclaycard Arrival+.  Which allowed us to completely “erase” the purchase.  Barclaycard is offering a 50,000 point sign-up bonus which is good for $500 of travel purchases.

Savings: $112

In New Orleans, we picked our hotel considering what would accommodate our family, but was also not too close to the French Quarter.  I’d read on some blogs that the French Quarter can get a little rowdy at night and little ones (or their big mama, lol) would have a hard time sleeping.

Brian had some Hilton points to burn, so we chose the Hampton Inn by Hilton by the Convention Center.  If we would have paid out of pocket for the Hampton, 3 nights would have cost us just over $694.  This is without 2 nights of valet parking (we were able to park the first night on the street), which would have added an additional $88). Hilton now allows you to redeem an uneven amount of points – i.e. the Hampton was 36k a night and we redeemed 77k to help us save a little more on the last night.

Our final bill at check-out was

3 nights at the Hampton with 2 nights parking FULL PRICE: $782

3 nights at the Hampton with 2 nights parking WITH POINTS: $235

Savings: $547

We also rented a car, but it’s not a necessity when visiting New Orleans so I won’t include it.  Our reason for renting was because we did want to drive out to the plantations, and we needed cost-effective airport transportation.  I’m so glad we did have the car because of all of the flight debacles we had on the return.

Also, when flying on Southwest Airlines, your car seats fly for free!  This is a big money-saver!  We bought car seat bags a couple of years ago from Amazon and this backpack one is our favorite.  Hands-free with kids is a must!

We also just purchased this inflatable booster seat for our oldest.  It worked really well – and we could fit 3 kids across the back of a Ford Escape.

 

(If you weren’t traveling with three small kids you could easily purchase a plantation tour with hotel pick-up plus airport transfers).

So that’s how we did flights for five & 4 nights of hotel for under $300!  Do you travel hack?  Have you been to New Orleans?

While in NOLA: Visit the Garden District & Tour Lafayette Cemetery

** Leah’s disclaimer:  It’s never a good idea to go into debt by using credit cards.  We use them for most of our business/personal expenses and then pay the statement each month.  Don’t play this game if you lack self-control. **

 


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