Living in Minnesota for ten years I’ve learned that a winter getaway is sorta mandatory. We have loooooong winters that even Frosty the Snowman would find brutal and unbearable at times. While we revel in the warmth of the gorgeous Minnesota summer it might be hard to even consider that snow will again fall, but now is the perfect time to plan that winter getaway.
With people thinking about warm destinations for future family trips I’ve been getting a lot of questions about our 2017 winter escape. We braved taking a 6 month and nearly 5-year-old to Disney World. This was my third trip there and our daughter’s second trip. Right away I would say if you anticipate Disney World being a once in their childhood experience wait until they are older – at least 10 – so they can fully enjoy all the park attractions. If however, you are taking them at a young age and headed back once they are older there are a few tips I’d like to share to make your trip that much more enjoyable.
We have stayed off site (pre-children) and on-site and after staying at a Disney property we won’t go back to off premises. Save yourself the hassle and stress of getting everyone organized in the morning, driving to Disney, finding parking, shuttling to the entrance, and finally making it into the park after waiting in line. Instead, stay on site and get access to the parks early and late as scheduled, take a quick boat ride or shuttle to the park of your choice, and get your day started.
Fort Wilderness might be the least known of the Disney World resorts, but it should be top of the list for families. This fun property is a throw back to the Disney of old and a world away from the chaos of the parks. The cabin option is perfect for families – kitchen to eat breakfast and have a slightly slower morning, separate room to watch TV in while the kids sleep in bunk beds in the back room, a deck to enjoy a little calm outdoor time. There are also swimming pools and other activities for the afternoon when the kids (and parents) need a break from the crowds. The other great part is the evening entertainment. Enjoy a campfire with sing along and s’mores with Chip and Dale.
Plan ahead for little one’s meal times
If you have a really little one who is just switching to solids, like our little man was, make sure you pack a few appropriate spoons. Throughout the parks and at the resort shops we were able to find baby food, plastic bowls, even baby tylenol and diaper cream, but no soft plastic spoons.
If you are breastfeeding the parks do have great mother’s rooms/nursing stations. They have comfier chairs usually, more privacy, a TV to keep older kids appeased, and changing tables.
As for older kids, have an idea of where you want to be at lunch time (or a few options) so Mickey pretzels don’t become the entree of choice. We did the dining plan and used our quick service options for lunch most days so we could get back to the rides ASAP. We used our sit down meals mostly in the evenings when we were all ready to crash anyways. You can easily make reservations and look at menus on the park site and even on the app, which I highly recommend downloading.
Do: Download the Disney app, scope out menus before leaving home, make reservations when possible.
Characters, characters, characters
One of the best of parts of a trip to Disney is getting to see your kids’ faces when they meet Mickey, Minnie, or any of the dozens of characters that are found throughout the park. Not gonna lie, I still get a little gidy when meeting them. The app now lets you pinpoint times and locations of characters so you can plan ahead and be sure not to miss a favorite.
We found the best way to see characters was through the character dining options. Book in advance! These were great because rather than standing in a long line waiting to see one character you can keep the kids busy eating or with an activity at the table while they wait for the characters to make the rounds. We also found you tend to get a little more time with characters during the dining experiences versus at the parks.
Do: Book character dining in advance, bring activities to keep the kids busy while they wait for characters.
One final tip
We have been lucky enough to travel with other family members who can watch the kids for a few hours. If possible, travel with other adults so can sneak away to enjoy a some of the fun just the two of you. You are never too old to enjoy Disney World!
Maybe it is being in my thirties or having two kids instead of one or the postpartum anxiety, but I’ve reached this feeling of having stalled out. That feeling where you’ve accomplished all of the really cool things in your life. That new experiences are a thing of the past. That you are to old to try something different, challenge yourself, and face down insecurities.
It is way to early in life for that!
So I am embarking on a journey to fully embrace what I started this blog for, hopefully gain a little of my swagger back (who am I kidding I never had swagger, I’d twist my ankle), and find not only peace but growth in this new season of life.
When I started the blog I was transitioning into motherhood and out of what I thought was going to be a long term career in travel. I started this blog as a way to stay accountable to my goal of keeping my eyes open to the world and embracing exploration. We spend so much time online and shuffling from place to place we miss the adventure that lives in each day. I started this blog to eat, travel, and meet amazing people and build my own adventure.
I want to continue to grow, learn, and challenge myself. I want to finish life saying I really lived it and provide lots of amazing memories for my children. I want to try new things – things that scare me, that make me anxious, that force me to face down insecurities and unrealistic fears of failure.
I want to meet new people – yes me, a hardcore introvert with anxiety (legit I take meds for that) want to meet people. I want to connect with people following their passions and writing their own story of life. I want to be inspired by their creativity, joy, and ability to face down their own fears.
And of course I want to eat and travel to experience new flavors, see new places, and meet new people.
So, I’m reclaiming that challenge and I’m sharing the journey as a way to stay accountable, provide a journal for my kids to look back on, and, hopefully, inspire some of you to do take on a new challenge, explore a new place, or meet some new people.
Here we go!
As we drove the winding roads of backwoods Wisconsin I was slightly concerned about the dining option for the evening. Really, what sort of restaurant would survive out in the middle of nowhere? Pulling into the packed driveway all my worries disappeared. In fact, I felt right at home (or at least like I was at my grandparent’s house) as we parked on the grass and approached the farmhouse.
As we soon learned, the gorgeous farm was originally owned by Dr. Arthur Gillette whom the Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul is named after. He had used the location as a retreat for himself, his family, and his colleagues. In 1921, Dr. Gillette passed away and left the farm to his great nephew. Throughout the years, several generations of the Gillette family worked the land and called the farm home. The land stayed in the family until it was sold in 2012 to Michele Law and Jason Martell.
When we decided to take two road trips in the month of June, I must admit I questioned our sanity. We had been potty training our three year old for several months and she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it. I’ll admit I had nightmares of constant clothes changes and a urine smell permeating the air.
We survived our expedition odor free and with the majority of the clothes we departed with. Here are 5 sanity saving tips for your own potty training road trips . . . if you are that travel crazy too!
- This is not the military. Some “men” will be left behind.
Over the years we have left onesies in San Diego and pants in Mexico. When potty training expect that not every piece of clothing you left with will make it back. Unless of course you plan on making several pit stops at laundry mats or enjoy carrying soiled clothes with you.
- Potty training is like poker.
Toddlers are deceptively intelligent – they seem like they don’t understand what you want them to do, but as soon as they figure something out they will play you to get what they want. They are tired of being in their seat and they instantly have to potty. The thing is, like any novice gambler they have their tell. You have to be patient and figure it out, but once you do let the real games begin.
- Double time and keep your trainer on board.
A trip is supposed to take 2 hours, double it. Until you learn their tell you will be stopping what seems like every 15 minutes. You just have to prepare yourself for this and realize that the request will come at the most inopportune time. This would be why we kept our training potty a constant fixture in our vehicle.
The middle of nowhere South Dakota . . . no problem, we can go potty.
- This too shall pass
As a traveler you have most likely experienced the bodily changes that occur with a change in routine. It is no different for a toddler, especially one that is already in the midst of a change in routine from diapers to underwear. Expect constipation or increased need to urinate (wow, it sounds like the disclaimers for a new medication) and just go with the flow knowing that it will normalize.
- Keep calm and road trip on.
When it is all said and done you won’t remember the seemingly endless bathroom stops. You will remember the first time they saw their buffalo and going to the zoo with great grandma. And the ones that you do remember – such as “I peed on Mickey” – will make for great graduation and wedding stories.
The sun is out, the windows are down, there are places to explore – it is road trip season!
One of the things I enjoy the most about travel is the history. The stories of the people who came before me, what the place was like decades ago, and the events that shaped the destination.
Maybe it comes from being surrounded by a family of history buffs or growing up in the Land of Lincoln where nearly every corner includes a plaque or statue or some other marker of historic relevance. Wherever it came from, it started early and has continued throughout my life. It has followed me, or possibly led me, around the globe.
So when I heard about an app called FieldTrip I had to try it out. It is super easy to use and is great for those times when you find yourself in a new place and don’t have any sites planned.
I started with our current neighborhood and was surprised at how many historic sites and interesting things have been hiding right under my nose. The gorgeous house I pass nearly daily and always wondered how old it was? Turns out it was built in 1887 by a somewhat eccentric German immigrant farmer. Or the building my daughter likes to call the castle? I knew it was called the Stockyards Exchange, but had no idea it was also built in 1887 and once housed the offices for the country’s largest stockyard . . . and for one year in 1998 it was the Castle Hotel (maybe Olivia was right after all!).
Even if history isn’t your thing, this app allows you to narrow recommendations by interest: history, cool & unique, architecture, food, drinks and fun, and art and museums. You can save places as favorites or to return to later.
If you have your smartphone and the FieldTrip app you should never run out of places to visit . Happy travels!
This time of year can be stressful and extremely busy as we rush between holiday events and wrapping up the end of another year. We all hit the road to see family and friends near and far. For twelve years now I have lived away from my parents and siblings; first in Kansas and now in Minnesota.
Year after year we pack up our car and make the holiday trip to Illinois along with hundreds of others. Usually I’m filled with dread at the thought of forgetting something, being on wintery roads, and the occasional arguments that are bound to break out when you have any group of people together. Last week for the Thanksgiving holiday we hit the road once again. However, this year I remembered something . . . I am lucky to have two homes.
As we head back to Illinois I always view it as heading home even though I haven’t lived there in over a decade. At the end of our stay we pack up again and head back to Minnesota and back to our home. Some people have no home and no family, but I am blessed with two homes and a large group of people to act as a beacon when my wanderlust leads me astray. I hope as we show Olivia the world we also remind her that she has a home and sometimes coming back to it is the greatest journey you can make.
Fall is one of those seasons in Minnesota that if you blink you might miss it. But if you do catch it, it is a beautiful time of year. A time of bright reds, oranges, and yellows. Friends around the fire. Sweaters and boots. Pumpkins, cider, and apple picking.
So before the snow invaded the fall bliss we headed out to a few orchards and pumpkin patches near the Twin Cities and ended up with a delicious meal from our local bounty.
The first stop was Country Sun Farms in Stillwater, MN. This fun location was a little dead on a weekday, but it offers so much – pumpkins, fall décor, corn maze, hayrides, silly string tag (think laser tag with silly string), and lots of animals to pet. Here we nabbed some goat saliva, pumpkins for Halloween, and a beautiful acorn squash. After riding the mini carousel and lots of hand sanitizer we headed to our next stop.
Aamodt’s Apple Farm is a beautiful orchard, shop, and tasting room. Unfortunately, we were there when the tasting room wasn’t open, but it will make a perfect date day next spring. Even without the tasting room the farm is a charming experience and full of great products to enjoy. We tried a new apple, Pazazz, which to me tasted like a mix between a Pink Lady and a McIntosh – loved them! And everyone in the house loved them too because my five apples only lasted two days.
While we were browsing the local products we also walked away with apple oatmeal cookies and some amazing Honeycrisp Apple Salsa. In fact, this salsa is what gave me the inspiration to rework one of my favorite recipes for a delicious fall meal.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
3 acorn squash ( ¾ – 1 pound each)
1 small red onion, chopped
½ medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed
1 cup Honeyscrisp Apple Salsa
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (I used Red Barn 3 year aged cheddar)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Cut the acorn squash in half horizontally. Scoop out the seeds and place the squash cut side down on the cookie sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
While the squash is cooking, toss the onion, bell pepper, garlic, beans, and salsa in a large bowl. Set aside until ready to use.
When the squash is tender remove from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. On your cookie sheet carefully flip the squash over so you have a edible bowl to fill. Fill eat squash half with some of the filling mixture. Top each with cheese as desired.
Return to the oven and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted – 8 to 10 minutes.
P.S. I will tell you all about the Red Barn cheese in a future blog post . . . some of the best cheese I have EVER had!