Sunday, October 28, 2012

Free Ebooks Round-Up

Free Ebook listings! Three ebooks available for free through a variety of formats.
The first is a mini compilation of one-night trips to take with kids around Ohio and the surrounding states. From amusement parks to museums and historical sites, there should be something for everyone.

 One Night Trips with Kids: Ohio and Surrounding States by Erin Thomas
On Smashwords:
On Barnes and Noble:
Sony E-Reader Store:

The next ebook, "Making Thanksgiving Meaningful: Kid-Centered Activities for the Holidays" explores 20 wonderful family Thanksgiving activities.
 Cover for 'Making Thanksgiving Meaningful: Kid-Centered Activities for the Holidays'

On Smashwords:

 The third ebook is a collection of recipes for Thanksgiving: "Turkey Time: Recipes for a Home Cooked Thanksgiving".
 Turkey Time: Recipes for a Home Cooked Thanksgiving Meal by Erin Thomas
On Smashwords:
On Barnes and Noble:
On Sony E-Reader Store:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Magnificent Museums: COSI

COSI (Center of Science and Industry), located in Columbus, Ohio was voted as the #1 science center in the country by Parents magazine. We really like visiting COSI and the kids can always find new things to discover and learn.There is so much to do for all ages that it will take you a good part of the day to get through most of the museum. Some of the main areas of interest include: life/body, space, oceans, gadgets, big science park and historical progress. Several revolving temporary exhibits are also constantly rotating in and out of the museum. A dedicated space (Little Kidspace) for the under 6 crowd will keep the little ones equally as busy. Plus, there are numerous shows throughout the day, a large gift shop (every parent’s curse) and a cafeteria with many food choices.
If you have an ASTC reciprocal museum membership ( , your family can receive free or reduced ticket prices. If you live in the Ohio area, it is definitely a must-see attraction and if you happen to be coming to Ohio or driving through, consider stopping at COSI for some science fun!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Travel Deals via JB Dollar Stretcher

A website that I like to visit frequently to check out travel and entertainment deals is the JB Dollar Stretcher. When you go to their page, you can pick a city from 6 states and view the deals for that area. Sometimes there will be vacation packages as well. Listed now in my area, I found discounts for two local animal sanctuaries, several hayride/fall entertainment attractions, a nearby indoor waterpark, a well-known sculpture garden, indoor kids' jump playgrounds, and a vacation getaway package to Frankenmuth just to name a few of the deals.
Check it out and start saving money on attractions!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nature Centers: Enjoying The Great Outdoors

Visiting a nature center is often an overlooked addition to a trip that can be a fun, educational and give everyone a little exercise and fresh air. We have a terrific nature center about 10 minutes from our house and with our membership comes free admission to dozens of nature and wildlife centers around the country. We have visited many of them that are in driving distance and have stopped at a few en route to a farther away destination. It is a unique way to get the kids out and running off some energy in a calming atmosphere for an hour before another long haul in the car. I would much rather find a nice park or nature center to walk around while we make a stop rather than shuffling around a grocery store or playing in a fast food playland somewhere.
Our nature center pass is very economical, only $35 for the whole year and many of them are similar in price. We take advantage of walking the trails, visiting the animals in the wildlife center, and being involved in the many special nature education programs for kids.
Here is the link for some of ANCA (Association of Nature Center Administrators) reciprocal centers:
Just look under services and click on the reciprocal admission program and a PDF will open.

The following article examines the link between outdoor play/nature education and positive results in a child's learning and behavior.

I would encourage everyone to check out their local wildlife parks/nature centers. In my estimation, it can be an invaluable educational resource as well as providing some new travel destinations.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Managing Car Trips with Kids

Anyone that has traveled with children knows that one of the main hurdles to keeping things running smoothly is conquering the time in the car during a long road trip.
In an earlier post, I linked to a great blog featuring excellent car trip activities.

A technique that I employ for managing road trip behavior is a little old-fashioned reward system. My mom always did this for me on long car rides and I use it for my children now. I have to say it works very effectively for ages anywhere from about 3 to 12 and is a great incentive for keeping the peace. Before the trip, I purchase several trinkets, maybe figure one per 200-300 miles. I always try to keep it at something the kids can do in the car: a cheap movie for the DVD player, a lap game, books, etc. I wrap the presents before the trip (wrapped is always more enticing then not wrapped!) and stick them in a tote bag. The kids are very excited to know that there are some possible goodies in the back seat for them, although they also know that there are some rules they have to abide by to receive one.

I go over the rules for "car time" and if any of the rules are broken, there will be no present at the next determined stop. Now, this may lead to some unpleasantness (perhaps an understatement); however, the momentary meltdown will be followed by much better behavior in order to earn a prize for the next go-around. Since I have done this for awhile, my kids are pretty accustomed to how it works and what is expected so they will usually be able to earn their prizes. There are not too many meltdowns at the prospect of not earning a prize as they know there will be another opportunity and an over-the-top fit might actually hurt their chances for the next gift stop.

A good idea that I have seen to go along with the reward system is to have little red, green and yellow light cards that can be clipped to the visor for each child. As long as the behavior in the car is good, they will stay on green, but if the behavior lurks into murky territory, the color will become yellow as the final warning. A red light card means you are out of luck and will not have the privilege of picking a present. I am actually going to start using this on our next long road trip.

                                                     Yay! We made it! Long 5 hour car trip!!

It may take a little extra time to gather some items for the trip and wrap them, but the sanity and relative quiet from the back seat will more than make up for it. Actually, I pick up items to add to my "car present tote" all year long so it really is not much work right before a trip. Looking back on the years that my mom did this with me, I have fond memories of the stops and excitement of getting a prize and it probably made for a happier trip for everyone!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wild Waterparks, An Indoor Adventure

Today's post includes some options for indoor water parks, particularly in the Ohio area. Now that the weather is turning cold, why not spend a night or two and enjoy some summertime temps.

My favorite indoor waterpark is actually Great Wolf Lodge, with locations scattered throughout the country. I like the multitude of things for the kids to do and it has always been very clean. Of course, it is going to be more crowded and expensive during the school breaks and weekends, but if you can swing going during an off-week or on a weekday night, it becomes much more affordable. We always try to do a Sunday night-Monday day combination right after the spring break rush and it is fairly deserted. The kids ask to go there all the time and there really is something for all ages. If you sign up for their mailing list you will get savings offers in the regular mail or thru email.

Another popular destination in our neck of the woods is CoCoKey Resort, which can be found in many places around the country as well.  While smaller than Great Wolf, it is not quite as expensive and day passes are also offered. The only caveat to the day pass being that it could also be more crowded since people would not have to stay overnight at the hotel. They have plenty to do for younger kids and older kids so it is perfect if you have a large age-range in your family.

Of course, the granddaddy of all indoor waterparks in Ohio would be Kalahari in Sandusky. There is also one located in the Wisconsin Dells. I know it used to be and might still be the largest indoor waterpark in the country. Beautiful place to stay and lots to keep the kids busy, perhaps even a little more for the more adventurous kids.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Off the Beaten Path Travel:Fair Oaks Dairy Farm

If you are ever visiting Indianapolis or Chicago, make a special trip to see the Fair Oaks Farms Dairy, which is located between the two cities right off the interstate. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that is both educational and fun.

Fair Oaks is the country's largest dairy farm, but has also been transformed into a unique tourist attraction. They have 40-minute tours of one of ten dairy farms, which includes a trip to see the baby cows and cow milking carousel. I have never seen a milking carousel in person and it was really interesting. Back at your starting base, The Dairy Adventure Barn, they have a 4-D movie about the milking process and educational exhibit halls to explore. There is also an interactive area for kids. In the warmer months, a special kids' outdoor play area is open. Not to be missed is the birthing barn. At Fair Oaks, we were told that there are 80-100 births a day so the chances are good that you will be able to see a calf being born. We entered the birthing barn right after a calf had been born and were able to see her take her first steps, which was such a neat experience for the kids. The birthing barn also has a nursery where the baby calves are placed a few hours after being born. They were very cute!!

Fair Oaks also has a cheese factory on the premises, which you can watch from an observation area as well as a gift shop area and ice cream parlor. The ice cream was really fantastic.

This attraction is truly worth the stop and is very convenient if you are in the area or passing through.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Should I Try Hotwire or Priceline? Check out Better Bidding for Answers


Have you ever looked at Hotwire or Priceline and wondered if you should just "go for it" and put in a bid for a hotel room and accept a hotel without knowing which one you would be staying at? I was very hesitant to try it, but, eventually, decided to see what I could come up with. For a long time, Hotwire would only let you blindly accept a pre-determined price for a hotel property without knowing which hotel you were actually getting. Of course, the number of stars, approximate location and some amenities were listed, but not the hotel name. Now, you have the option of paying a higher price for the actual name of the hotel, although the prices are still a bit lower than what you would normally find. I have used Hotwire four times by blindly accepting the hotel without a name. Three out of four of those transactions ended up being very positive and great deals. The fourth was not so great and I ended up having to get another hotel after already paying for the Hotwire one. Epic vacation fail on that one! So, I thought my lesson was learned as I'm not a risk taker.

But, I decided to give Priceline a try with the name your own price. I liked this option because I could put in the number of stars I wanted and really low-ball the price. If they accepted it, good for me. If not, I would go back to the drawing board. I ended up with a terrific deal: $49 for a three and a half star downtown city hotel. So, all went well and I would definitely try it again. I do have a few caveats for the best way to navigate through the pitfalls of getting a good deal that I will detail in a later post. In this post, however, I really wanted to highlight a site that I have used extensively to help me narrow down the possibilities of what hotel I would actually be getting before hitting that submit button.

The website is called Better Bidding at It boasts that you will learn some secrets of successfully using Hotwire and Priceline including Priceline hotel lists and winning bids, Hotwire amenities, and hotel reviews. There is a forum where users can list which hotel property they are thinking of bidding on and see if anyone else knows which property this would be. It makes it much easier to narrow down what the possibilities are based on the amenities and stars listed. If there are two four-star hotels listed for a certain area you might be able to differentiate which one is which based on the the hotel description. The forum will give you a lot of valuable insight into the experience that others have had bidding on the same properties. Check it out and you might be a bit more inclined to try one of these budget-conscious travel bidding sites.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Why Travel with Kids?

Why travel with kids? It can be inconvenient- dragging toys, extra clothes, portable electronics, and a huge supply of Capri-Suns halfway across the country. Not to mention if you have a baby or toddler and you might as well rent a trailer to haul everything you're going to need. Plus, the kids are out of their normal routine, might be missing sleep and are eating on the run. Nerves can get frayed and tantrums blow up, particularly if it's hot and standing in line is involved.

So, now that I've made traveling with children seem so glamorous and, well, fun, I will tell you why I think travel with kids can be so great.

First and foremost, it is so important to see the sights and experience the places that our country and world have to offer. If you live in a city on the coast, travel to the middle of the country and enjoy rural and small town life. By the same token, if you live in a small town, visiting some cities is a terrific way to broaden horizons. I do not ever want my children to think that life ends when you cross the line into another town or county.

As a parent, I feel that it is my responsibility to introduce living history to my children. What better way to accomplish this goal, then to travel with them. Take them to the places where things occurred, have a conversation about the events and people that framed the historical site and grow an appreciation in them for the awesomeness of our country. Reading or hearing about history can never substitute for actually visiting Gettysburg, seeing the Declaration of Independence and taking a ride on a steamboat down the Mississippi River. The culmination of actually experiencing history firsthand coupled with the fact that many historical sites are low cost makes it a great way to travel with kids.

Nothing is better and more satisfying as a parent than to see things through the eyes of a child. It may take a lot more work to get from point A to point B when you are traveling as a family with kids, but to see their faces the first time they see the ocean or mountain or meet Mickey Mouse is totally worth the extra trips up the hotel elevator with all of the kid "junk" or the one million questions of "are we there yet?" or even the dozen extra bathroom breaks.

I love to travel with my kids! And, here are some reasons why: the giggles playing in the sand and ocean waves, the utter joy when they meet their first Disney princess, the uncontrollable laughter on a roller coaster, watching their faces as they try a new food, the wonder of looking up into a sea of skyscrapers, the beauty of little feet skipping down a mountain trail, the amazement when you visit our nation's monuments, the magnificence of bright lights or sunsets over rolling hills, zoos, museums, canyons, rivers, lakes and watching them learn all kinds of new things.

I guess the question becomes: why would you not want to travel with your kids? Some of the best and more cherished family memories come from trips together. Make sure your kids have those memories and learn about the world around them at the same time. It truly is worth the extra work!