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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Visiting Colorado’s Rocky Mountains with Traveling Homeschoolers

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Local mom Maria Bassett shares her experience taking her children on a trip with Traveling Homeschoolers. This special group offers travel packages specifically tailored to homeschool families that combine adventure with education!

Nearly every year Traveling Homeschoolers, a group based in Rock Hill, SC, offers a homeschool retreat in addition to the many domestic and international trips they offer each year.  My family has joined them for several different trips and retreats, and we always enjoy these retreats.  It’s lovely not to have to plan out all the details, and instead leave them in the capable hands of Traveling Homeschoolers.  My family just returned from this year’s retreat in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Our Accommodations

We stayed at the YMCA of the Rockies, in Estes Park, CO.  This resort style facility boasts many lodges with hotel-style rooms, dining cafeteria style, and just about every activity you can imagine.  Picture traditional summer camp, but for families, set in a valley surrounded by magnificent mountains.  Then, add in guided hikes, animal, plant and survival skills classes and you’ll begin to get the idea.  Our family enjoyed archery, basketball, chess outdoors with giant chess pieces, playground time, swimming, roller-skating, many rounds of miniature golf and hiking all on the YMCA property.  How wonderful it is to wake up with your family, not have to worry for even a fraction of a second about meals or responsibilities, and just play all day!

But we didn’t just play, we learned a lot, too!  We enjoyed participating in a bear talk, a beaver hike, knot-tying class, family astronomy class, ecology walk and a bird banding hike!  We got to watch a professional bird bander catch birds, record data on the bird, and either band it or note where it was initially banded.  Some of us even got to hold the birds!  The staff running the activities were completely wonderful, friendly and happy.  With the exception of archery, which has a $10 fee, all these activities were included in the price we paid to stay at YMCA of the Rockies.

Our favorite adventure at YMCA of the Rockies was horseback riding on a trail through the mountains.  None of my family had ever ridden a horse before, and we had such an amazing time.  We saw several mule deer, lots of elk and many birds from horseback, as our horses clomped down and up the rocky trail, over creeks, and through trails lined with Ponderosa Pines and Aspen trees.  The livery is on YMCA property but is operated by a separate company.  Let me tell you, our wranglers (guides) were simply amazing.  I was nervous particularly that my 6 year-old would be too afraid to get on the horse, but the wrangler told him he had the best horse in the barn and showed him how to turn and stop the horse.  My little guy hopped right into the saddle.  The horses were very well trained to follow each other, and other than a few who wanted to stop and have a snack, they needed very little actual input from us.  It was a highlight for all of us.  This was not an included activity, and had its own fees. Our ride cost $45 for an hour trail ride.  It was not inexpensive, but, for us, totally worth it for the experience.

Rocky Mountain National Park

YMCA of the Rockies sits right next to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Cross Glacier Creek, and you’re in the national park.  If you prefer to drive through the park, the entrance is just about a 10 minute drive.  From there you can access many, many hiking trails or drive through the stunning scenery.  Our family hiked both the Bear Lake Trail and the Albertta Falls Trail.  We had been warned there was still snow on the trails, and advised to borrow hiking boots from the YMCA.  They have Lowa boots in all sizes to borrow for hikes, free of charge to YMCA guests.  We were super glad we had borrowed boots!  The trail was perfectly clear in some sections, but utterly covered in 6 to 7 foot iced over drifts in others.  Even with our boots, we relied on the help of fellow hikers, as well as walking sticks and poles to get down some of the drifts.  What an adventure!  And what a view.  Bear Lake was simply stunning.

Traveling Homeschoolers

When you want to travel with Traveling Homeschoolers, you select the trip you are interested in online.  You’ll see general information about the trip, costs, and activities, and then you can register right there on the website.  Shortly thereafter you’ll be contacted via e-mail by Dianna, who organizes all the trips, and she’ll tell you the payment schedule for that trip and anything else you need to know along the way.  She does all the research, finds the least crowded times, with the best deals, handles all the dealing with the venues and anything included in your trip.  You just get to show up!

Some of Traveling Homeschoolers’ trips are more organized with a schedule of group events, and some, like the retreat, are more relaxed with fewer organized events.  Our family really liked being able to pick and choose what we did, but still found ourselves meeting up with other families in our group at meals, camp fires, and for board games in the evening.  It was a perfectly lovely mix.  If you’re looking for shorter trips, closer to home, check out Carolina Homeschooler. It’s run by the same person and is also an Option 3 association.

This Rocky Mountain adventure was the anchor for our road trip across the country.  Its not something my family will soon, or probably ever, forget.  We can’t wait for our next adventure (well, I can, at least until the mountain of resulting laundry gets done.)

Note: Nothing was provided to us to review this Traveling Homeschooler trip.  These are my family’s unbiased opinions.

Where would your family love to venture for a Homeschool field trip?

Meet Maria Bassett
Maria Bassett is a former school orchestra teacher, turned home-school mom. She and her husband homeschool their 3 sons and 1 daughter, currently pre-school through 2nd grade age. Believing children learn best when they are engaged and having fun, this family loves to take their homeschool on the road, around Greenville and beyond.

The Grand Canyon Makes a Perfect Family Destination

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Local mom Maria Bassett reviews her family’s recent trip to the Grand Canyon. For more reviews of destinations both near to Greenville and worth the trip from Greenville, see our Travel from Greenville page.

“Hey look, there’s a hole in the ground.”  That would be the statement my 6 year-old said as we approached the east entrance to Grand Canyon National Park.   We had driven many hours, and finally there we were, ready to cross off a lifetime bucket list item, and my son calls the Grand Canyon a hole.  It may be a national icon, but it certainly is no beach, playground, amusement park, or anything that little kids regularly associate with fun.  But the Grand Canyon is unlike anything else.  There’s beauty and wonder and awe that rivals anything I have ever seen.  And there are many child friendly amenities and accommodations to help your family experience this amazing canyon.  Here’s your guide for enjoying it with your children.

The Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park consists of both the north rim and the south rim of Grand Canyon.  The south rim is where most people go to see the canyon.  It is where the visitor center and all the hotels, restaurants and shops are located.  For the purposes of this article, we’ll stay on the south rim.

Beginning at the visitor center on the south rim, the park spreads out to the west and east with the rim trail connecting observations points, and of course trail heads for the trails down into the canyon.  It is not recommended for anyone but experienced hikers to hike down into the canyon.  Warnings in park literature remind folks that even for experienced hikers it is dangerous to attempt to hike down and up the canyon in one day.  Most people backpack and stay the night in the canyon.  However, families remaining up on the rim will still see plenty.  The rim trail is not strenuous and very scenic.

Grand Canyon Village, full of hotels, restaurants and shops lays to the west of the visitor center and beyond that are many scenic overlooks along the rim trail.  Similarly, many scenic overlooks including the famous watchtower, as well as the ruins of a Tusayan native village, spread out along the rim trail heading east from the visitor center.

Shuttles at the Grand Canyon

The single biggest parent help at Grand Canyon are the free shuttles offered by the park.  From the shuttles you can get to every major overlook point in the park, to the hotels and restaurants within the park, and to the hotels and offerings of nearby Tusayan, AZ.  The shuttles on the rim of the canyon come every 15 minutes, giving guests many options.  It’s hot and dry, and let’s face it, little legs are not up for big time hiking.  But you still want to walk some of the rim trail?  No problem.  Ride the shuttle to an overlook point, the markers on the trail tell you exactly how far it is until the next overlook.  Sometimes it is many miles, and sometimes it is only a fraction of a mile.  You can decide if you’d like to walk the trail to the next point, or ride the shuttle.  The mileage between points is also available on the park maps handed out at the entrances, so you can plan ahead.  Additionally the shuttle bus drivers will be able to give you information and advice on where to walk and where to ride.  Tip:  The shuttles do not stop at every overlook on the return trip back to the visitor center, so double check to make sure the route fits with your plans.  The drivers will be able to help you here, as well.

My family really enjoyed walking a mile long section of the rim trail west of the village in the morning before it got too hot.  We hopped on a shuttle, rode to the next overlook and then walked another slightly less than a mile section.  It allowed us to really enjoy the view as we walked and get a closer look at some of the amazing desert vegetation, without getting too hot and tired.

Where to Stay

Grand Canyon Village offers hotels with amazing views.  These also come with a price tag to match.  It is definitely the easiest to stay in the village when it comes to getting back to your hotel, or enjoying sunset, but if the price scares you off, you have other options.  The nearby town of Tusayan, AZ has several hotels and restaurants.  You are still dealing with tourist pricing here, but in some cases nearly half the cost of the hotels in the park.  Remember those shuttles?  They come right into Tusayan.  So you can park your car at your hotel, and ride right into the park.  You won’t have to wait in traffic at the entrance gate (shuttles have their own special entrance) or worry about running into deer or elk at dusk.  This shuttle drops you off at the Visitor Center and from there you can hop on a shuttle to the west overlooks, the east overlooks, or the village.  The shuttles are color coded and easy to navigate.  The restaurants along the rim are available to everyone, not just the guests staying in the hotels.  So if you’re looking for a more affordable option, consider getting a hotel in Tusayan, but come into Grand Canyon village for dinner so you can catch the amazing sunset over the canyon.  There are restaurants in the park at every price point, from cafeteria style to super fancy.

Our family stayed in Tusayan, rather than the park.  We had no difficulty navigating the shuttles to get into the park and around it.  On our second day, we drove into the park instead.  We did have to wait at the entrance through some traffic, but otherwise it worked well to park at the Visitor Center and ride the shuttle from point to point.  Your other option is to avoid the shuttles completely and drive your car from point to point.  There is some parking at the points to the east of the visitor center, so it is possible to drive your personal car to those points.  However, there’s not always parking available.  And this method doesn’t allow the driver to enjoy the view.  We found the shuttle the best mode of transportation within the park.

What to Expect

Yes, to my son’s first glance Grand Canyon was a hole in the ground.  A really, really big hole.  A beautiful, vast, amazing, feel like you’re standing in the middle of a gorgeous three dimensional painting kind of hole.  But, definitely not a hole you want to fall in.  Many places along the rim have fences, and railings, and rock barriers.  Many do not.  The places that don’t have these barriers tend not to have straight down cliff style edges, but they still would be a disaster to fall from.  I joked that my goal when visiting the canyon was not to lose a child over the edge.  But it wasn’t really a joke.  It is definitely not a place to let your children run on ahead of you on the trail.

Expect to see wildlife.  We saw many elk (including babies!), mule deer and ground squirrels.  It is so fun to view these animals in their natural habitat.  However, do remember to keep wildlife wild.  Don’t feed the squirrels, don’t try to pet the elk.  Ground squirrels injure more people in the park each year than any other animal.  They don’t have the weight of elk, or the venom of rattle snakes, but they do have the inability to tell the difference between a finger and a french-fry.  They are bold little things near where people are eating, so be sure to shoo them away and not indulge their begging, cute though they may be.

Bring water.  Lots of water.  Not only is it hot, but Grand Canyon is at pretty high elevation.  It’s dry.  You need more water than you think you will. There are water bottle filling stations throughout the park, but not at many overlooks.  Use the map to plan where you will fill up, and make sure to bring enough for all members of your party.  This is another great thing about the shuttles, if you stay on the rim trail the most you’ll be waiting for the next shuttle is 15 minutes.  Then you can hop a shuttle and ride to the next water station.  However, shuttles only stop at overlooks.

Bring snacks.  There are many restaurants in the village, and a snack bar at the east end and the west end of the park, but there isn’t much in between.  Hint:  There’s an ice cream shop along the rim in the village section, at the back of the Bright Angel Restaurant.  We enjoyed stopping there after walking and riding the shuttle along the rim to the west.

Visiting Grand Canyon has been a bucket list item of mine ever since I was a child, and I was so happy to share the experience with my family.  We only stayed 2 days, but it was unforgettable.  I hope someday soon, you’ll get to experience it as well.  When you do, I hope that this gives you some ideas for navigating Grand Canyon comfortably with children.

Have your kids seen the Grand Canyon?

Homeschooling Around the USA – A Day in St. Louis

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Maria Bassett shares her family’s experience visiting St. Louis, Missouri. They even rode a tram to the top of the Gateway Arch. This trip is a fun and educational destination for the whole family.

St. Louis, Missouri is rich in American history. From the Louisiana Purchase, to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, to fur trappers, and wagon trains setting out in search of land or gold, St. Louis played a critical role. Today we can learn how our country was shaped throughout the westward expansion of the 1800s, by visiting the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, home of the famous Gateway Arch.

The history of St. Louis

The Jefferson Expansion Memorial and surrounding area is undergoing extensive renovation. During the construction, the Museum of Westward Expansion has relocated many of its exhibits to rooms in the Old Courthouse, approximately a 10 minute walk from the Gateway Arch. Admission to the exhibits in the Old Courthouse is completely free. This is a great place to begin your day in St. Louis!

In these exhibits you can learn about the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) which stopped for its final supplies and winter camped near St. Louis before setting out over uncharted land. You will also learn about St. Louis’s role in fur trapping and trade, and how those trappers became guides for others heading west. St. Louis also played a pivotal role for people headed west in search of land for homesteads, or wealth in the gold rush, by serving wagon trains as a final supply stop and last taste of civilization before heading out west. The Old Courthouse contains other historical exhibits as well, including information about the Dred Scott case, which was heard at this courthouse and decided in 1857. Many say this provided fuel to ignite the civil war.

During the construction, the Old Courthouse also serves as the ticket center to purchase tickets to enter the arch and to ride the tram up into the arch.  So you’ll want to get your tickets before heading down the walk to the arch. Even though we got caught in the rain, we didn’t mind the walk. Its downhill and very easy.

Visiting the Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch is a 630 foot arch sitting on the Mississippi River in St. Louis, serving as a monument to the massive westward expansion this country experienced in the 1800s. But its more than just a metal arch, you can actually ride to the top inside the concrete and steel structure via a tram.  Guests enter small pod-like cars that seat 5 at the bottom of the arch for the ride to the top. As you ride to the top, you can see bits of the mechanics working to bring you to the top through the windows on your car’s doors. Once at the top, you exit the cars and can walk in the top of the arch for spectacular views of St. Louis and across the Mississippi River. When you have had enough of the views, you head back down the arch in the same way you came up. The tram ride to the top was by far the highlight of my children’s day in St. Louis!

Note: This is NOT a ride for claustrophobic people, and it is not a wheel chair accessible OR stroller accessible ride. Folks who have mobility problems may find it difficult to climb in through the car’s narrow and short doors. You definitely have to duck to get in. However, small children are allowed to sit on parents’ laps. In this way, our family of 6 was able to stay together in one car.

If you’re looking for something else to do, consider one of several river cruises. You can also purchase tickets for these at the Old Courthouse.  However, my family found that the Old Courthouse, the Gateway Arch, and the walk through the park around the arch, was really plenty to do for one day. If you are staying in the area for several days, you might also want to check out the St. Louis Zoo, which has free admission!

Tips and Pointers for visiting the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Plan for crowds, especially in the summer. Give yourself plenty of time to visit exhibits and get through ticket lines. (You can purchase tickets in advance here. This is highly recommended in the busy summer season, as the trams will fill up and sell out.)

Make sure to arrive at the arch about 30 minutes before your tram ride time, as guests have to go through security similar to an airport, removing jackets, passing through a metal detector and putting all bags through an x-ray.

Strollers will not fit on the tram, so plan to either leave your stroller inside the arch basement or utilize a wearable baby carrier instead.

St. Louis is a big city, with all the usual big city traffic. Consider staying at a hotel within walking distance to the memorial to avoid traffic and parking delays. We stayed at the Drury Inn near the Convention Center, which has an indoor parking garage, and found it to be an easy walk to the Old Courthouse and the Gateway Arch.

Would your family love the history found in St. Louis?

Meet Maria Bassett
Maria Bassett is a former school orchestra teacher, turned home-school mom. She and her husband homeschool their 3 sons and 1 daughter, currently pre-school through 2nd grade age. Believing children learn best when they are engaged and having fun, this family loves to take their homeschool on the road, around Greenville and beyond.

Don’t Miss Fort Moultrie on Your Next Trip to Charleston

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Local mom Jackie Vest shares her experience touring Fort Moultrie on her trip to Charleston. See our Charleston page for even more suggestions of things to do and places to eat in Charleston, SC. We even have a 2-3 day itinerary for Charleston, SC!

A visit to Sullivan’s Island is not complete without a tour of Fort Moultrie, and with just a few dollars needed to get through the gate, you’ve got to put it on your Charleston Bucket List. This one location tells the tales of defending our soil from our nation’s earliest history through World War II. The visitor center holds many artifacts, educational bits, souvenirs, books, and useful information before you head across the street to the fort.

To an adult, this fort serves as a gateway back in time, beginning with the most recent historical use of the fort and progressing further and further back in history as you progress through the walls and tunnels. To a child, this is an ocean-view maze peppered with massive cannons, enticing them to run the whole place over in a matter of about an hour. Both parties will leave feeling like the afternoon was well-spent.

A bit of history…

The fort’s earliest battles were in defending young America from British warships in 1776. The original fort was built of palmetto logs and inspired the nickname and flag of our Palmetto State. It remained in use from that year until 1947! The fortifying walls speak of seacoast defense for the entire life of our nation. It has seen everything from pirates, to the British, from Civil War battles, to support in the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, and everything in between. It was decommissioned in 1947 when new technologies outdated seacoast defense.

Plan your own trip to Fort Moultrie

Visit the website here.

1214 Middle Street
Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482
(843) 883-3123

Open Daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Have you ever visited Fort Moutrie?

Meet Jackie

Jackie Vest is a writer and at-home-mom of two energetic little boys. She enjoys adventuring around the beautiful Upstate, the hilarity of kiddo-raising, outdoor fitness with friends, and her Favorite 5 C’s: cooking, crafting, camping, coffee, and chocolate. You can connect with her via her blog at: JackieVest.com.

Lost Valley Ranch is the True Ranch Experience

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Local mom Lacey Keigley shares her family’s trip to Lost Valley Ranch in Colorado. Find out why she says it’s worth the trip from Greenville! Find even more travel ideas on our Travel from Greenville page.

It’s during those long winter months and darker days when people like me start to think about spring and summer and vacations and trips and sunshine.

It’s true, I like the planning nearly as much as I like the traveling.  Well.  I don’t know if that is entirely true.  The point is, I love planning trips.  I like looking at maps and measuring distances and thinking of ways to make the road trip fun.  I like looking up funky road side attractions and making lists of where we could stop for the best BBQ in Nashville or the most delicious dessert in Kansas City.

Our trip to Lost Valley Ranch

And thinking about summer makes me think about the ranch that my family fell in love with last summer.  (This picture looks all postcard and unreal – but – you guys, it is SO for real.  Just my little iPhone’s camera and it was THIS beautiful.)

I’m not actually sure I ever did its beauty and charm full justice through my blog posts, but I wanted to try again to share our ranch experience.  And to tell you, if you’re thinking about visiting this summer, you should be making your reservation already.

From the minute we arrived at Lost Valley Ranch, we felt welcomed and celebrated, like royalty or something.  (And that is how they treat everyone who crosses the cattle guard.)

It’s all the little things at Lost Valley Ranch

Your name and a personal message on your door’s chalkboard.

The Keurig stoked with hot cocoa, tea and coffee in our cabin.

The logs stacked carefully to build a cozy fire with a fire starter and matches and a log with the LVL emblem burned into it.

Nightlights scattered around the cabin.

Turn down service every single night.  Seriously!  While we enjoyed a delicious dinner, fairy elves were in our cabin, setting the extra pillows to the side, turning down the covers and leaving a little chocolate treat on the pillows.

Beds made every single morning.  Yes!   While we enjoyed a fantastic breakfast with many options, those same fairy elves were in our cabin, making our beds, tidying our space and doing all the hard work for us.

Flashlights in the cabin – just in case.

Quality soaps and a sewing kit and lotion you actually want to use.

Homemade fresh cookies available every minute of every day in the lobby area with the giant leather seats and the comfy couches.

Their hospitality is a gigantic part of the beautiful service of the week at the ranch.

The first night the ranch owner is welcoming us all and the kids and I are grinning non-stop, happy to have arrived at the end of this dusty road and happy to be free from distractions and chores and responsibilities. Tony says in his welcome, like I wrote before, “Beyond these cattle guards, we know you’ve got issues and problems and struggles – but this week, let us handle them all. Let us feed you and let your cell phones not work and let us take care of you.” Words like that can make a mama like me cry genuine tears of relief and hope.

Lost Valley Ranch is sort of like a family summer camp. Kind of. It’s all inclusive, which aids the relaxation and no pressure attitude of the ranch. Once you’ve paid your price you are good to go. (I mean, obviously if you want to buy souvenirs at the Trading Post, you’ll need to spend more money, but you know what I mean. You’re not paying extra for horse rides or meals or whatnot.) Each evening a cute newspaper is waiting in your cabin with the next day’s activities and weather forecast and anything else you might need to know.

After breakfast with your family, where you can sit with other ranch guests, you can plan your day.  Kids are divided by age and head out to the corral to go on a ride.  You – the grown up – can go on a ride in the morning.  Or, you cannot.  You can learn to fly fish or skeet shot or you can hike a mountain, soak in one of the several hot tubs or hang out in your cabin all quiet and cozy like.  Also, if your kids don’t want to ride horses that day, no problem.  They don’t have to.  At lunch you meet back up with the kids and have lunch with all the other guests.

There was a touch of the element of a get-to-know-you mixer at first, but since everyone is pretty much on their A Game – kids happy, no cooking required, no distractions – it was fun to meet and chat with the other guests.  Lots and lots of them were long time fans of the ranch and many had been visiting with their families for years and years, summer after summer.  (I did struggle the first few days remembering who was who – especially when people look so very different when they switch from baseball caps to cowboy hats.)

At every meal, when the waitrii (that’s the name they call themselves) ask you about the next meal’s options (it’s always food, food, food there – SO many delicious meals), you should always choose half and half. That is – half of each option. “Would you like to try the salmon or the fiesta salad or half of each?” It never mattered what they offered, I always answered, “Half of each, please.”

In the afternoon the schedule looked much the same.  Kids can ride with their wranglers and kids their age.  Adults can do the same.  Or not. As for our gang, we all rode every day.  Otto awoke each morning, “Mom, I get to ride today – right?”

The flexibility was phenomenal.  All the good choices all day long.  Ride or not ride.  Hike or hot tub.  Southwestern salad or pulled pork.  Fly fishing or target shooting.

The evenings have a lovely rhythm and routine too. One night there’s a square dance. One night a melodrama that was equal parts quirky and goofy and the kids found it hilarious and it was loads of fun. One night there’s a cookout down at the “jail” and we all ride hay covered wagons and watch the most amusing night of sing alongs and talent show style entertainment. One evening the teens get their own campfire and late night experience. There’s a guest rodeo the last day and a wrangler rodeo the first day. Sand volleyball is available and swimming and lounging poolside and chatting with your horse – the one you get assigned the first day and make buddies with through the week.

All good things must come to an end

It’s such a great week that the crash when you leave Sunday morning is actually physically painful.  I mean, if you are my family, anyway.

It sounds like a cliche, but we actually made friends at the ranch that we’ve stayed in contact with throughout the year, friends that we’ve actually visited with since that summer trip.  Like a magical summer camp for grown ups and kids too, it’s a ranch paradise in all the best ways.

Oh you guys, just writing about Lost Valley Ranch makes me itch to break out my cowboy boots and hop in the car and start that long journey all over again.

About Lost Valley Ranch

Lost Valley Ranch
29555 Goose Creek Rd
Sedalia, Colorado, CO 80135

303-647-2311

Rates

Website: www.lostvalleyranch.com

Would your family love a dude ranch vacation?

Find even more travel ideas on our Travel from Greenville page.

Meet Lacey
Lacey KeigleyLacey Keigley is the mother of six children – five of whom she homeschools. She thinks old wooden crates make the best bookshelves. She hangs worn out barn tin on her walls and calls it art. She believes raising her six children is the scariest and the wildest journey she has ever taken. She likes the magic of sunlight through the old bottles on her kitchen shelf. She blogs about education and parenting and grace and unexpected adventures on her blog SoEveryDay. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest.

Mom Review: The Old Exchange in Charleston

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Local mom Jackie Vest shares her experience taking her children to The Old Exchange in Charleston, SC. 

The Old Exchange is touted as a “must-see” when visiting downtown Charleston. Located right on the water, it is a historical gem of both the Colonial and Revolutionary eras – being at times a Revolutionary-era prison, a place where George Washington visited, a post where slaves were sold, a building for 18th Century assemblies, a platform for trade and business, a dungeon for pirates, and the place from which South Carolina’s delegates ratified the Constitution.

There is more history here than can be absorbed. Visitors are welcome to wander around before and after tours, take a guided tour, and even sign the Constitution!

Our Time at The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (aka The Custom House)

Below the building is a huge brick dungeon complete with full-size pirate figures, gun powder kegs, and more. The only thing my boys loved more than that awesome dungeon was standing in the great hall where our delegates once stood and signing their names on the Declaration of Independence! The tours are very informative, yet can be a bit lengthy for toddlers – bring diversions. The whole building itself is a mystery as so many things took place upon that foundation, it is incredibly fascinating! Of course, we couldn’t leave without visiting the gift shop, my boys are now the proud owners of gunpowder holders made from cow horns and leather.

Plan Your Trip to The Old Exchange

Open every day of the week 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

122 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401

(843) 727-2165
(888) 763-0448

Visit the website here.
Plan to spend 1-3 hours here depending on your kids.

Would your kids love a visit to The Old Exchange?

Meet Jackie

Jackie Vest is a writer and at-home-mom of two energetic little boys. She enjoys adventuring around the beautiful Upstate, the hilarity of kiddo-raising, outdoor fitness with friends, and her Favorite 5 C’s: cooking, crafting, camping, coffee, and chocolate. You can connect with her via her blog at: JackieVest.com.

Mom Review: Mirror Maze in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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Gatlinburg in the winter is a different sort of town than Gatlinburg in the summer.

When we took our recent adventure to the mountain town, we found it sleepy and quiet and that’s exactly the way we liked it.  Traffic was minimal (except for the weekend) and the streets were not overcrowded and the restaurants had no wait time.  Again – that’s exactly what we love – especially when we are always a party of six (at least) and generally tables for six are not as readily available at peak times.

The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was hands down our favorite activity of the week, but we had some great laughs and funny moments at several other stopping points along the Gatlinburg streets.

In exchange for writing honest reviews, the kind folks who run all of the Ripley’s attractions offered us tickets to a few of their other museums and amusements.  I’ll be sharing all three reviews in a three part series over the next week or so. ~Lacey Keigley

Find a place to stay in Gatlinburg, TN. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze

The first choice for us, after visiting the aquarium, was to walk down the street to Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze.  The Mirror Maze is right on Gatlinburg’s main street and it’s very easy to walk from anywhere you park in town.  (Lucky for us, we just left our car in the aquarium parking lot, which was convenient.)

The lobby of the mirror maze features two gigantic walls of candy so – you know – parents beware.  Your kids will definitely ask for candy.  You can say no, naturally.  I didn’t want to purchase pounds of sugar and food dye and banana flavored everything, but I also remember what it was like as a kid to be looking at a WALL of dreamy candy so I offered a quick compromise to my band of kids.  “Everyone can pick two pieces of candy,” I told them.  Oddly enough, they were thrilled and quite satisfied.  So they each chose literally two single pieces of candy – and we were all content.  A little sugar versus begging and copious amounts of sugar.  Or, again – you can just say no.  Isn’t it funny, parents?  You really do get the choice.

We were kind of extra excited about the concept of a mirror maze because most of us have been reading the book series of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the kids in the novel series are always facing challenges and puzzles and this mirror maze felt like our own challenge and puzzle.

The employees told us to put on plastic gloves that they provided – gigantic, ill-fitting plastic gloves – so that we would be more hygienic as we touched the mirrors that every other guest has most assuredly been touching as well.  I tried to avert my thoughts from the finger touched mirrors and just tried to think of the fun of conquering a maze with my children.

We decided to all hold hands to add to our experience and because we genuinely thought we might face the possibility of getting lost from one another inside the maze.

That probably wouldn’t have happened.

The mirrors were everywhere – as they should be in a maze – and they certainly played tricks on your mind as to which direction to turn and which door to take and where to go next.

There was an “infinity” room that made me laugh a lot – mostly because of the song blaring – was it Journey? – and the lights flashing and the disco ball. All those quirky details, you know.

Our technique of making it through the maze was rather effective as we found the ending in record time.  But, because we liked the mirrors and we wanted more of a challenge, we decided to pretend we didn’t find the exit and kept trucking through the corners and the twists and the turns all over again just for fun.

Also, we discovered a fundamental truth concerning mirror mazes.  Fundamental, I tell you.  It is this: You should choose your outfit wisely and fix your hair carefully before entering said mirror maze.  Because you are going to be seeing yourself from every angle.  Every. Angle.  And you’re going to want to leave this mirror maze with some self-respect intact.  Every. Angle.

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There you go.  I’ve covered the walls of candy and the dress yourself correctly bits.  They were important.

As far as the maze itself goes, it really was lots of fun.  It was speedy, though.  And that’s a little hard to swallow to spend money to be in and out of an attraction in ten minutes or less.  When you buy the Mirror Maze as part of the an add-on ticket, it hurts a little less.

In Review

I’d say the key to all Gatlinburg attractions is the same, keep your expectations in line.  Recognize that this is not Disney.  This is Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  These are mirror mazes and world record museums and 5D moving theaters on a street in a mountain town.  A town that sells footlong corn dogs at place called Fannie Farkle’s for the same price that you can buy two kids’ meals at Chick-fil-A.

Be reasonable, guys.

If you are visiting Gatlinburg for the second (or thirtieth) time, you already know this.

And you’re okay with it.

You’re making these return trips to Pigeon Forge and to Gatlinburg, to the cabins and to the go cart rides, to the outlets and to the pancake houses, because it’s nostalgic, because you first came to Gatlinburg as a kid with your Memaw and your Pepaw, because you brought your toddlers here and you remember how big their eyes grew when they first ordered their silver dollar pancakes at the Pancake Pantry and rode their first roller coaster at Dollywood and you like the idea of returning to the same quirky streets that seem like they never change, old time photo shops on every corner and a gem store and wooden guns and beanie babies.  That’s why you come to Gatlinburg.

So you stroll through the mirror maze and you let the kids buy a couple of pieces of candy and you stop in for the free fudge samples (always take the free fudge, people) and you admire the hand crafted wooden knives and you buy the funnel cake and you stack up those memories and that nostalgia for all its worth.

Expectations, friends.  Most adventures fare better when you can manage your expectations.

Book your tickets here (purchasing via this link allows a small amount of the proceeds to go to Kidding Around Greenville).

Are you traveling to Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge? See our other travel reviews:

Meet Lacey
Lacey KeigleyLacey Keigley is the mother of six children – five of whom she homeschools. She thinks old wooden crates make the best bookshelves. She hangs worn out barn tin on her walls and calls it art. She believes raising her six children is the scariest and the wildest journey she has ever taken. She likes the magic of sunlight through the old bottles on her kitchen shelf. She blogs about education and parenting and grace and unexpected adventures on her blog SoEveryDay. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest.

A 2-3 Day Downtown Charleston Itinerary for Grown Ups

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Over the past weekend, my husband and I traveled to nearby Charleston for a short weekend vacation (without the kids). Despite being a little bit nippy in January, we had a great time exploring the “Holy City”. With Charleston being one of the top vacation spots for weekend vacation or even day trip distance from Greenville, SC, I’ve put together a two-three day itinerary focusing on downtown historic sites.

Disclosures: I was provided with a complimentary pass into Charleston attractions by the Charleston CVB. This post may contain affiliate links at no cost to you. All opinions and comments are my own. (more…)

Saving Money on Vacation Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Have Fun

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Whether it’s the beach or the mountains, the city or the country, many families take their vacation time during the summer. School is out and it’s the perfect time to get away together for a week (or more!).  But someone’s gotta pay for it and planning for the costs ahead of the time can help to reduce the stress and increase the relaxation. But even if you didn’t think ahead, there is still time to enjoy a break. ~Kristina Hernandez

Saving Money on Vacation

Thank you to Parent Financial for sponsoring this content. To learn about planning for your own family’s financial future and getting your budget on track, be sure to check out our great sponsor Parent Financial and read our introduction to the company here.

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Tip #1: Plan Ahead for Summer Vacation

You plan ahead for flights and hotels and time off work so why not start planning in advance for all the costs associated with your dream trip? Court Creeden, who runs Parent Financial, advises that families should first figure out what the trip will cost and then incorporate those costs into their annual and monthly budgets, where a certain amount of money can be saved each month.

“From there you can start by determining how many months you have until the trip and then calculate how much you should be putting away each month to have the trip saved for when the vacation starts,” Creeden explained.

“As an example, if you are planning on spending $2,500 to take the family to the beach in July, you could start at the beginning of the year knowing you have seven months until the trip. To be ready for the total cost, you should have been saving $357/month leading up to the vacation and then you would have been fully prepared for the trip. The earlier you start the better and the less likely you will need to dip into savings or use a credit card to help handle the costs!”

Tip #2: Don’t Forget the Smaller Costs – They Add Up

This is so easy to overlook but those extra costs of a vacation, both before and during, can really add up. Maybe $100 for clothes, another $50 for shoes, $20 for sunscreen, a few dollars here and there for games for the car or plane ride all adds up. Then once the vacation starts, don’t forget about extra food and snacks, drinks, magazines, taxis or Uber, or the t-shirt and photos from the theme park.

“These small expenses can add up to hundreds of dollars if not planned for,” said Creeden. “As a result, many parents find that they look at the hotel and flights for a trip to figure out the ‘costs’. Once the vacation is over they realize that the trip was hundreds of dollars more because they didn’t take into consideration the park passes, new clothes, beach toys, etc that were purchased and increased the total cost. “

So plan wisely for all those extras ahead of time or put away a special fund for purchases.

Tip #3: Consider Less Expensive Alternatives

Some of you are reading this and saying, “But I want to take a summer vacation now and I haven’t budgeted seven months for it!” Hang in there.

“Consider hotel alternatives and look at Airbnb or VRBO to find less expensive lodging options,” suggests Creeden. “Don’t book hotels online or from a 1-800 number. Call the front desk and see if there are any special prices or availability to potentially get a better rate. If flying, consider two ‘one-way’ tickets rather than roundtrip to find some potential cost savings.”

There are also some great day trips to local spots that don’t cost much where you and your family could leave early in the morning and make a long day of it. And if you left early enough, you could drive to the beach, have fun all day, and drive back in the evening and save money on a hotel.

Tip #4: Do Your Homework

Besides planning ahead and thinking of incidentals and special gifts or purchases beforehand, there is a lot you can do to be smart about vacationing.

Creeden suggests to “do your homework and look for off-season passes, Groupon specials, and discounted rates. Don’t forget to consider using your rewards miles or points to offset costs for flights or hotels.”

Using those reward miles is how my family paid for our summer vacations. We got free flights and hotels and my parents taught us how it works but that you need to be smart and pay off the credit card bills while racking up the miles or points!

Tip #5: Remember that the Amount of Money Does Not Necessarily Equal the Amount of Fun

Remember that your children don’t know how much you spend, so a great weekend at the beach could be just as fun as one at an expensive amusement park.

Tip #6: Pack Your Lunch and Snacks

Pack lunches or buy snacks for the plane flight or car ride.

Tip #7: Pack a Souvenir

Buy the kids a fun souvenir ahead of time to give them when you arrive at Disney rather than paying a much higher price buying gifts the theme park.

Tip #8: Consider Listing Your Home for Rent While You Are Gone

Consider listing your home for rent on AirBnB while gone to make some extra money.

Try to think ahead and be financially smart so that taking well-earned your summer vacation won’t cause stress afterwards.

To learn about planning for your own family’s financial future and getting your budget on track, be sure to check out our great sponsor Parent Financial and read our introduction to the company here.

Do you have a tip to add that helps you save for your summer vacation?

Court Creeden is a registered representative of and offers securities, investment advisory and financial planning through MML Investors Services, LLC. Member SIPC [www.SIPC.org] 6000 Fairview Road Suite 400, Charlotte, NC 28210 (704) 557-9600. Court Creeden is not authorized to give legal or tax advice. Consult your own personal attorney legal or tax counsel for advice on specific legal and tax matters. CRN 201807-203641

Meet Kristina, KAG Food Expert

Kristina_headshot 150 pixel Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer and New Jersey native who is thrilled to call the Upstate her new home. She loves cooking, trying new foods, and checking out all that Greenville has to offer.

 

Flying with kids does not have be scary

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Flying with kids. Does that fragment of a sentence send shivers down your spine?

Do you get all panicky at the prospect of boarding a giant metal flying machine and flitting across time and space with your squirmy children all cooped up and contained in one small gray square of a space for hours on end?

No?

Good.  Great.

Tips for Flying with Kids

Flying with kids does not have be scary

Flying with kids means one really cool thing – NOT driving with kids.

Flying means faster to the destination.  Flying means no traffic stops and bathroom breaks and fast food binges.

You should fly with your kids.

For real.

And – flying with kids can actually be cheaper than driving – especially if you are talking about a road trip that includes more than eight or nine hours in the car.  Airlines are all about ridiculously low fares for one way tickets.  Plus, you can fly the super cheap airlines – like Spirit – and the cost for tickets can be wildly lower than the cost of gas in a Suburban like ours.

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Here’s a few tips and tricks

1.  Believe that you CAN do it.  Because you can.  For real.

2.  Pack light.  As in – pack very truly really light.  This is much easier in the summer seasons than in the winter months.  Roll clothes.  Pack shorts that can be worn multiple times without needing to be washed – hiking shorts and athletic shorts.  Shorts that can even be washed in a hotel bathroom sink and dried overnight on the towel rack if need be.  Skip the bulky khakis – or have your child wear them on the travel day if he (or you) insist on bringing one pair of khakis or cargo shorts.  And you only need a few pairs of shorts.  Pack more shirts than shorts.  The shorts can handle repeat wears in between washings better than the shirts can.   You can always wash clothes on your trip if need be.  For your girls – pack dresses.  One piece, rolls tightly, minimal effort in getting dressed and in packing.

3.  Plan appropriate footwear.   For airport security it is good to have shoes that are easy to slide off and on, although kids under twelve are not obligated to follow the “take your shoes off please” rule at airports.  (A fact I learned after requiring all five of my traveling kids to take their shoes off while standing in line at security.)  But don’t pick flip flops.  That’s too easy for the sliding off and on.  Kids can’t walk quickly in flip flops and they aren’t versatile enough for all of your traveling needs.  Don’t waste packing space for shoes so choose wisely just the one pair your child will be wearing.  (We are still a Keens for Kids family so that’s generally our go-to shoe.  Handy also is the fact that Keens require no socks, eliminating yet another unnecessary packing item.)

4.  Let kids carry their own weight.  Literally.  Every kid can carry their own backpack and in their backpack can be all of their own items.  On certain cheap flights with special fares, checked bags will cost you a fortune.  And costing you a fortune defeats the entire purpose of flying cheap with kids anyway.  Besides, not checking a bag makes departure and pick up a breeze – and who doesn’t want travel to be more of a breeze and less of a stiff wind?  So roll those clothes tightly into that backpack and fit all your kid’s stuff on a tote you strap to their perfectly capable little backs.  When we spent a week in Texas it was no problem to fit enough clothes for every kid in their one backpack.  If there is any space leftover kids can carefully chose a toy or a special item to fit in their bags.  I worked hard to fit a book into each kid’s bag so they would have something to occupy their time during the many waiting periods that air travel supplies.

5.  Relax and let the trip be fun.  Expect delays.  Expect crowds when you think there should be no crowds and expect to occasionally eat at weird times and in weird places.  A Five Guys burger at the airport at 3:56 pm?  Sure – that sounds great.  Laugh when you can and breathe deeply when you need to and realize that, even with the delays, you are traveling a bazillion times faster in the air than you would be on the crowded interstate.  You can choose to engage with your children because you aren’t having to monitor traffic conditions and navigate unfamiliar city streets.  You can marvel at the wonder of hurtling through clouds and you can people watch until your eyes bulge out of your head.

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Now you can consider yourself equipped

The next time you receive one of those tempting e-mail announcements about the lowest fare to Timbuktu and you realize that you have always wanted to take your kids to Timbuktu to see that one thing, don’t hesitate.  Buy the tickets.  Make the plan.  Take the kids.  Adventure awaits.

Do you have a tip for flying with kids to add to our list?

Meet Lacey
Lacey KeigleyLacey Keigley is the mother of six children – five of whom she homeschools. She thinks old wooden crates make the best bookshelves. She hangs worn out barn tin on her walls and calls it art. She believes raising her six children is the scariest and the wildest journey she has ever taken. She likes the magic of sunlight through the old bottles on her kitchen shelf. She blogs about education and parenting and grace and unexpected adventures on her blog SoEveryDay. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest.