Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kid Friendly Day Trips In Central Kentucky. (Part 1)

This is so sad to admit, but we have never been on a family vacation. EVER.

We took Tater camping for ONE night when he was two.

That was almost three years ago!

We never have any extra money, and we work separate shifts in order to keep the boys out of daycare, so we are hardly ever home at the same time as it is.

But I feel so guilty that we have never even stayed the night in a hotel.

So, I have been trying to think of things nearby that we could do as a family, kind of like a "staycation", or a day trip at the very least.

So, I have been researching, and I found a few kid friendly things in the Central Kentucky area that we might try to do soon:

Day Trips:

Explorium of Lexington- This is an awesome children's museum in Lexington. We have been a few times when Tater was younger, but I think we need to go back!There are tons of interactive exhibits for kids, and it is a really fun place!

Salato Wildlife Education Center in Frankfort- This is one of my favorite places ever. I remember it from when I was a child. It is sponsored by the Dept of Fish and Wildlife, and is kind of like a "zoo", all with animals that are native to Kentucky. There are bears, buffalo, snakes, deer, etc. Tons and tons of great educational stuff about fish and wildlife in Kentucky, including a giant fishing area! This place also includes tons of great hiking!  And the best part of all, it's FREE!

Kentucky Horse Park- We go here every year at Christmas for Southern Lights, but we have never been any other time. I really want to take the boys here, there is so much great stuff! They have so much educational stuff about horses, and even a campground. This would be an awesome staycation just a few minutes from our house!

Wolf Run Wildlife Refuge
in Nicholasville- I am ashamed to say that we have never been here, and it is literally less than five minutes away from our house. It's a fabulous no-kill animal sanctuary that houses tons of animals that have been neglected, abused, abandoned, etc. These people have some of the biggest hearts in the world. And, my boys can get to see some awesome animals like this one: 

Old Fort Harrod State Park
- One of the fondest memories of my childhood. My parents brought me here when I was a kid, and we went on TONS of field trips there when I was in school. I really think Tater would enjoy this, since it is kind of "cowboyish".
Fort Boonesborough State Park- Kentucky's second settlement, settled by Daniel Boone in 1775.  I really liked this one when I was a kid because it has a sand beach. I thought I was at the ocean LOL! This is probably one of my favorite things about living in Kentucky, is the fact that we have all of these wonderful state parks and things to do that are free or cheap!

These things will at least be a start, and we won't even have to stay in a hotel for them! We can just leave in the morning, and visit them, and then come back home.

I have a few more places that I would like to go, but they will all require at least a one night hotel stay, so I am going to save those for another post!

Anybody in the Lexington, Kentucky area, can you think of any place I forgot?

Anybody have tips for a great staycation? Leave them for us in the comments! 

(If you are bored, check out some Stupid Criminals!)

#TBT ThrowBack Post: The Best Day Ever: Dollywood- Pigeon Forge, TN!

*With this never ending winter we've been having, our thoughts have been drifting to vacation, and our most favorite place on earth- The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee! I thought this would be a perfect time to revisit one of our favorite old posts- our review of Dollywood! Enjoy!*

One of our favorite things that we have gotten to do on this trip, has been our visit to Dollywood, hands down! We are a theme park family by nature, and would spend just about every summer weekend at a different theme or water park if we had the choice, but we don't get to theme park it up nearly as often as we would like! So, when our chance came to visit Dollywood, we were thrilled! It turned out to be, hands down, our favorite theme park we've ever visited, and that says a lot! 

We arrived at Dollywood as soon as they opened for the day, and when it was time for them to close up, we still weren't done for the day! We could definitely have spent two days there! The entire place has a "country fair" type theme, and I love that the whole place sort of just "goes together"! It is very homey, and has a very welcoming atmosphere! What more could you ask for than a HUGE theme park that feels like a down home country fair? It's perfect! 

Okay, one thing you're going to have to know... When you're at Dollywood, you're not just there for the rides! You're there for the shopping and you're there for the food too! It's like a package deal! Aunt Granny's All You Care To Eat Buffet is a MUST STOP, but be warned, you'll be stuffed to the brim when you leave! We also ate a bite at the Red's Drive In, which is an adorable 50's style diner, and the boys loved it there! Make sure to stop by Miss Lillian's Chicken House, even if you don't eat there, for a chance to meet Miss Lillian, one of Dollywood's most famous faces! 

The rides are great, we had so much fun! My oldest son and my hubby are the "thrill seekers" in the group, and they like to ride the big coasters and the scary thrill rides. My little Bean and me, however, we are a little more laid back, and we like small, easy going rides, walking around, and snacking! Well, this was no problem, because Dollywood had something for everyone, and plenty of things that we could all ride together and have a great time! We really made some amazing family memories here, and I can't wait to come back every year from now on to build on those wonderful memories that we made! 

My boys didn't get a chance to ride Wild Eagle, and they were very disappointed, but there was some sort of issue with bees (!?!?), so I don't think they would have wanted to ride it like that anyway! They did however, get the first seat on the wooden roller coaster, Thunderhead, and my big guy was absolutely petrified! After he got out of there though, he said it was the most awesome thing ever! He was also thrilled that he got to ride the Mystery Mine.. He had been watching YouTube videos of that coaster for MONTHS before our trip, and it was his one "MUST DO" on our visit! 

I have to say that I think the Dollywood Express was the highlight of our trip! My boys had never been on a real train before, so a steam locomotive was a real treat! They were completely in awe, and I was too! We really had a great time on our trip, everything was so homey there and we felt so comfortable, never rushed, and never bothered. Every staff member that we came into contact with were so professional and so genuinely kind, it was so nice to see! We will, without a doubt, be heading back to Dollywood next year, so that we can check out the things that we missed and make some more family memories! 

Things To Know Before You Go: 
  • If you have any food allergies, just let the staff know, and they will accommodate you, no problems at all! Don't forget to pack plenty of hiking snacks
  • Near the Market Square area on Showstreet, there is a Centralized Measuring Area where your kiddos can get measured and receive a wristband, so they will know what they are tall enough to ride without standing in line- this is great and saves LOTS of tears! 
  • Parent Swap is awesome! If you have a big kid, and smaller kids (or kid!), one parent can ride, and the other can wait with the little ones. Then the other parent can ride with the bigger kid again, without waiting in line! A GREAT option to make sure that both parents get quality time with their kids on the rides! This saved us SO much time, and everyone was SO helpful! 
  • If you think you'll be heading to Dollywood in the afternoon, here's a GREAT deal for you!! If you enter Dollywood after 3pm, you get in the next day for FREE!!! That's right, FREE!!! Nothing better than that, and a great way to get extra fun hours without paying big money!! 
  • If you buy something at the shops, you don't have to lug it around all day! The Package Pickup service allows you to buy whatever you want throughout the park, and then have all of your packages delivered to the Dollywood Emporium for pickup at the end of the day. A great way to keep from carrying a bunch of stuff around all day! 
Bottom line, if you are heading to the Smokies, you need to take an extra day and hang out at Dollywood! Don't miss it for anything, or you will be very sorry! If you want to find out more info about Dollywood and plan your trip, check out their website HERE

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What No One Tells You About Having A Baby. For Real.

In Honor of my BFF, a list of things you should know. 

In no particular order. 

And not for the faint of heart. 

So, faint of heart, please click off of this page now. 

But, Some weird shit happens. 

Nobody shared it with me.

But I am breaking the cycle. 

If you are pregnant, don't be scared. 

But read on. LOL.

1. There Will Be Blood. Nobody talks about this part. I mean really. You know it's coming, but I feel like there should be a more in depth explanation of this scary shit. So here's the deal: there are clots. Big ones. Umm. Fruit Size. No Joke. Lemon, Lime, Kiwi, perhaps? Yes. And it looks like your guts are completely falling out of your body. But, alas, they are not. So when this happens, do not freak. You have been warned. 

2. Uncontrollable Body Shit. As in, puking. Teeth Chattering. Freezing. Burning Up. All normal. All happen. You can't control it. I was a little freaked out when the very second that Bean was born, I was so overwhelmingly nauseous that I barely got out "I'm going to puke!" before I was, well, puking. Into a bedpan. How nice. Welcome to the world little baby, you make me puke. Oh yes, one more thing. Weird ass contraction type things. After the baby is born. Also normal. These actually hurt me worse than the contractions I had before Bean was born. Don't ask me. I just work here. 

3.The Hospital Stay Pretty Much Sucks Ass.  There is no resting. Don't believe that BS. From the moment you pop that baby out, you will be poked, prodded, visited, photographed, bothered, woke up, etc for the next probably 48 hours. As soon as you shut your eyes to rest, a nurse will come in to do some painful thing to your body. Or a lovely visitor will come and want to bother you. It doesn't end there. Fill out this paper. Sign this. What do you want to eat? Sigh.I was really lucky that my hospital had a "quiet time" from 2-4 where no one was allowed to bother new mommies. This was great and I was guaranteed two hours of rest each day. Other than that, I couldn't sleep. It's just too much. Even after they were born and I was exhausted, it was just too much of a shock for me to sleep. I just sat there and stared at them for hours. So no, you probably won't rest. 

4. Nurses Will Be Weird. They are going to push on your belly. Hard. It's going to hurt bad. They will check your stitches if you have them, and change your pad. You will chat about passing gas. They will ask you a million times if you have pooped yet. (Pooping is a very big deal! Everyone gets very excited after the first poop!) All of this is normal, and both times my nurses were wonderful and made my hospital stay so much nicer! Also, don't be afraid to ask the nurses if you need/want something. My nurses heard me talking about being so hungry, and brought me a giant folder full of take out menus from restaurants that would deliver to the hospital. I thought that was super sweet! 

5.Sometimes It Gets Scary. I had to be hooked up to an oxygen mask at one point, and have 3 different monitors placed on Bean when he was still in my tummy. No one really explained this to me and I was afraid we were dying or something. Turns out, all normal. So, for the record, things that would normally be scary are all fair game in the labor and delivery ward. 

6.But It's Pretty Fucking Awesome. So try to enjoy it. It really is an amazing experience. I was so scared with Tater that I just sat there and did whatever they told me. But I was much more present with Bean. I was actually the one that cut the cord! I don't know why but I felt so good after I had him, I was up, showering, getting dressed, even putting on makeup. It was totally weird. It is such an odd feeling to experience your body doing something totally beyond your control, something that it was "made" to do. My best advice is to try to soak it all in and enjoy it if you possibly can, because yeah it hurts and sucks and all that, but April 24, 2006, and May 30, 2010 are BY FAR the two best days of my life, and always will be! 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Raising My Kids Without Grandparents

How can I raise my kids without any grandparents? Is it possible for them to become well-adjusted, happy, successful young men without these relationships in their lives?
These are the questions that I ask myself over and over. I still have yet to find the answers.

My mom died in 2000, when I was just 14 years old. My dad passed in 2004, a month after my high school graduation. My husbands father died in 2005, and afterward, his mother moved to Texas, some 16 odd hours away. My oldest son is now 4 years old, and he has never got to meet her. So, pretty much, my babies don't know their grandparents, and quite possibly never will. They do have my husband's grandparents (their great-grandparents), which I am eternally grateful for, but they certainly don't get to see them as much as they should.

This certainly is not what I had envisioned when I was young and I thought about having babies. My babies would take their place behind their cousins at my parent's house, staying the weekend, eating popsicles and playing in the yard. They would bring home tons of unneeded toys and clothes, and stuff their bellies with cookies and chips and pop. I would buy tacky little "world's best grandma" mugs and tee shirts for holidays, and my parent's Christmas tree would be filled with popsicle stick reindeer and cotton ball snowmen. However, this is not how things turned out.

Instead, my boys have their aunts & uncles, who they love to no end, especially their aunt "Nanny", who I am pretty sure they would move in with if they could! "Nanny" has become kind of their surrogate grandparent, and Tater clings to her like no one else. I still can't help but feel that I'm giving my kids a raw deal. My brothers and sisters have lives, and kids, of their own, and we are all just too busy to see each other as much as I wish we could. I also hate to burden my brothers and sisters with my children, even though I know they don't mind. It's not their job to be my kid's grandparents.

I feel so guilty that my kids will have no memory of my parents. My nieces and nephews, they all were born before the deaths of my parents. Even the youngest one, was an infant when my mom died. She will have pictures of them together, and memories of her grandpa when she was a toddler. My kids will have none of that, not even a picture for me to show them and say "this is your grandma holding you when you were born." Sure, I can show them pictures, tell them stories, but really, will that be enough? Will their be a hole in their little hearts where their grandparents should be?

I feel in some way, that everything I do is overcompensating for the lack of family in my children's lives. Yes, I had my first baby when I was 20. I wanted to have my babies young, so they would have a better chance of growing up without anything happening to me. I don't want to leave them without their parents. We're all they have.I try to take them as many places, give them as many experiences as I can, things that my parents would have done. Birthday parties? they are a huge deal to me. Christmas? the presents are ridiculous. I'm subconsciously making up for them not having grandparents to buy them things and do things with them. I don't want them to feel like they are missing out on anything, but I know they really are.

Is there a way for me to make peace with this? I'm not really sure. I would love any suggestions or ideas that anyone may have to help me. I know that things could be much much worse for my boys, and that two parents, and aunts and uncles and cousins that love them are more than many kids have, and that's what I have to remember.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Smoky Mountain Vacations: Where To Stay (The Great Cabin Versus Hotel Debate!)

When you are planning a trip to the Smokies, one of the hardest things to decide is where to stay. If you are unfortunately like me, it is one of the biggest and most important things to plan as well. I have to first figure out the WHEN of a vacation, followed by where we will stay. I don't feel like I can really start planning properly until I have those two things figured out. That means, none of the fun stuff can be done until I figure out the WHEN and WHERE. It can be a little bit overwhelming, especially if you have never been to the area before. Let's talk about what you need to know to help you decide! 

If your family is like ours, it's important to make and stick to a budget before you ever leave for vacation. The good news is that when it comes to the cost, cabins and hotels are pretty comparable. Of course, you will find hotels that run at the very, very low end of the spectrum, and you can find some pretty pricey hotels and cabins as well. It all just depends on what you are looking for. I would say that on average, a cabin will run between $100-150 a night, and a hotel room is pretty close to the same. Of course, you can splurge and spend way more than this, or you can really scrimp and stay somewhere for cheap, but for the most part, the prices are close to the same. 

Where you want to stay is going to be a big part of where you stay. Generally speaking, cabins are located, well, in the mountains. Hotels are located in town, usually on the "strip" or very near it, and within walking distance of attractions, restaurants and shopping. If you stay in a cabin, you are most likely going to have to drive everywhere. (There are exceptions to this rule, as you can find a few cabins that are located near downtown Gatlinburg, within walking distance of the strip). Is it important to you to be near all of the excitement, or are you looking for peace and quiet? This will help you decide which is right for you. I personally hate to drive in a busy place, and I especially hate to drive at night, so for our family, a hotel usually just works better. 

PRIVACY: What kind of vacation are you looking for? Is this a fun family adventure, or a romantic getaway? Is this a relax and recharge kind of thing, or a be in the middle of the action fun fest? Those answers will help you decide where to stay. If you are looking for peace, quiet, relaxation, and privacy, a cabin is definitely the choice for you. You can get a cabin where you are completely secluded, with no one anywhere around. If you choose a hotel, it's likely that you are going to have some "neighbors" through the duration of your stay, and there is no way to tell if they are going to be the quiet type or not. If you don't care about quiet or privacy, a hotel might be more your style. 

This might sound silly, but make sure you consider the weather before you decide where to stay. The snow on the mountains might sound beautiful, but sometimes, mountain roads can become impassable and cabins might not be accessible. Same for after a heavy rain, sometimes cabin roads can become flooded. Usually, your cabin rental company will be able to tell you if there are any issues with the roads to your cabin that you should be aware of. Also, if you are planning to stay in a hotel and use the trolley or plan on walking to your attractions, don't forget to have a back up plan in case of rain. It's no fun standing in the pouring rain waiting 20 minutes on a trolley! (ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS!!) 

What, if any, amenities are important to you in your accomodations? Did you know that you can rent a cabin with it's own private indoor pool? Seriously! Hot tubs, pool tables, game rooms, exercise equipment, these are all options that you can get in your own private cabin. However, there are also some amazing amenities at the hotels in the Smokies! There are several hotels that offer complete spas, indoor or outdoor water parks, on site restaurants, and more. Decide what amenities you want/need beforehand, and your search will be much easier! 

How many people are tagging along on your vacation? If you have more than will fit in a standard hotel room, your costs can quickly add up if you need to upgrade to a suite or add on additional rooms. The great thing about renting a cabin is that you can find one that sleeps anywhere from 2 people up to 22 people,and everything in between! If you are having a big group event like a family reunion or wedding, it might be more sensible for you to go with a cabin. You can also cook all of your meals at a cabin, since you will have access to a full kitchen, and that can save some serious cash! 

For me, one of my favorite things about vacation is the "ease" of everything. I like to leave our hotel room, and walk straight to the restaurant or show that I want to attend. I like to hop right on a trolley from my hotel parking lot. I don't want to drive, I don't want to navigate, I don't want to cook. In other words, when I am on vacation, I want to do as LITTLE "Thinking" as possible. For me, a hotel is best for this, since I am in a central location that is convenient to everything. Ideally, I don't get back in my car until it's time to drive home! If driving doesn't bother you,however, a cabin might be the best choice. Keep in mind that unless you get a cabin close to downtown, you will have to drive to the grocery store, shopping, shows, restaurants and anything else that you want to do. 

Hopefully, this post will help you to decide whether a cabin or a hotel is right for you. We like to switch it up and stay at different places when we visit, so we always get a different experience! We wholeheartedly recommend the Econo Lodge Riverside in Pigeon Forge -we had a great experience there when we stayed for a week last Fall, it felt like home! The Music Road Inn has also been a favorite of ours in the past, they have a great atmosphere and a very family friendly atmosphere. If you are in the mood for some REAL family adventure, you can't beat Wilderness At The Smokies. Their THREE water parks and family adventure center will keep you busy and make sure that you sleep good at night! As for cabins, I would recommend Arrowhead Cabin Rentals! Do you have any favorite hotels or Smoky Mountain Cabins? Let us know in the comments below!! 
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