Author: The Mom

Having Adventures While Sitting at Home

Having Adventures While Sitting at Home

The TraveLangs spent most of October on one adventure or another. It felt at times – to me and to others – that were never home. Sometimes that is good. Sometimes you just want to hang around the house for a bit.

The change in time and the change of month left the TraveLangs stranded at the house. Add to that an injured dog (that should NOT be left alone) and I am longing for those days of multiple adventures.

The truth of the matter – for most of us out there, the constant adventures are not a possibility. We have jobs. We have school. We have obligations that land-lock us. The TraveLangs are in that spot.

Stay-at-home adventures with the TraveLangs

We are finding ways to have fun adventure without stepping a foot outside our door – okay, maybe a foot or two, but that is all.

The TraveLang Guide to Home Adventure

  1. Game Night – and I mean a FULL night of games. Go ahead and line them up and then knock them down. Include team games – maybe Spades. Include active games – have you ever heard of Farkle? Include mystery games – can you say CLUE? Set up a bar of snacks and finger foods – but be sure that the food and drinks are kept apart from the games so that there is no chance of spillage.
  2. Do a craft project – something that you can complete and clear out in a day. This is the perfect adventure for the holidays because you can do family holiday cards, from scratch. You could also do a day of cooking. We have a house full of boys so cooking is always appreciated (even if they have to give part of it away).
  3. Set up a scavenger hunt – the more creative the better. Let the kids set up a scavenger hunt for you – or you could each set up a hunt and then draw names to see who goes where. Make it a full day of hunts.
  4. Bring on the guests – invite others over to the house for some outdoor games. Our boys have made up a role playing type game where they go on quests together. My friends and I use to play our version of Narnia. Get into the act with them to take the fun to the next level, but let them have the lead.
  5. Build a better adventure day – fill a can or bowl with home adventure ideas. Let the kids add their own ideas as well (but you may want to set up restrictions for those). When the need for adventure strikes, then have someone draw from the bowl. You can do the one item on the paper or you can spend the whole day drawing adventures from the bowl.

Getting away from it all has its advantages. Finding adventure on your own in your own back yard does as well.

Mystery Rock – Family Tourism Adventure Novel

Mystery Rock – Family Tourism Adventure Novel

Mystery, adventure, letterboxing, my love for the beauty of Alabama and the Gulf Coast all ran into each other. I won the 2012 SELTI Short Story Contest and wanted to turn that story into a tourism literature work.

Although I did find a way to expand it into the third book of the Big Springs series, it lost its tourism feel for me. I tried forcing the tourism aspect, but the characters were not cooperating.

That year, I determined to win #NaNoWriMo – which means, I determined to finish the National Novel Writing Month challenge of crafting 50,000 words in the month of November. I had read recently about a boat that was uncovered on the Gulf Coast after a hurricane. It lead me to wonder what else might be uncovered and that is where Mystery Rock was born.

As the story grew and I focused on the locations along the Gulf Coast, I begin to think of ways to could shine the spotlight on the locations. Adding the links to the sites seemed natural. Adding letterboxes to the locations seemed BRILLIANT.

Mystery Rock from the Scouting Out Adventure series

I worked with SELTI and Alabama Tourism to begin making contacts at the different locations. My family began making plans for a trip to the beach – the fact that we needed to go was of little importance. It took time. It took patience. Eventually, the plans came together.

We visited the Gulf Coast and toured some of the sites. The trip had two purposes in my mind – to scout out locations and to determine the validity of the story ideas. We returned home and began the process of finalizing the project.

My family was greatly disappointed when I informed them that we had to make a second trip to the coast. We plotted out our tour. We designed our letterboxes. We even worked with a stamp carver to get special stamps – when they are all four put together they form a single image from the book.

The trip to the Gulf Coast helped to stir the fuel of excitement about “Mystery Rock” for my family and for the locations where we hid the letterboxes. We took pictures of the locations, but sharing them was vetoed by the oldest son. “It’ll make finding them too easy.” We wrote the clues and tried to create the same excitement and challenges that the boys faced in “Mystery Rock.”

“Mystery Rock” shares the adventure of a family in a way that will allow your family to share the adventure. Read the story. Visit the sites. Discover the letterboxes. And in doing all of these, discover a part of Alabama that you may not even know was there.

Get your copy of “Mystery Rock” today!

Review of the Mobile Drury Inn

Review of the Mobile Drury Inn

The Drury Inn, Mobile, Alabama offered some great perks for our one night stay. The price compared to the other locations in the area. It also allowed for all five of us to stay in the same room.

We arrived later than I had planned. The Drury Inn offers an evening meal to guests, as well as drinks. Our arrival happened about thirty minutes after they had finished serving, but my crew was too tired to eat anyway.

The check-in went smooth and the attendant was very pleasant. We found a parking place next to our entrance and unloaded.

The moment we walked in, my son made it clear that we had chosen well. Spencer awed at the chandelier hanging in the lobby ceiling. We found our room and settled in for the night.

It was a tight fit for our crew, but everyone slept just fine.


Most hotel rooms offer little privacy for study or work. Occasionally, a suite will have a nook where I can get away. The Drury Inn had several niches around the first floor that worked perfectly for my morning quiet time. It was only two doors down from our room so that I could keep an eye out for early wakers. Breakfast started serving at 6 am, so I got a cup a coffee and enjoyed my quiet time.

The rest of the crew began to stir a couple of hours later. Spencer was first to wake and request breakfast, so he and I made our way to the breakfast spread. They offered sausage, gravy, biscuits, toast, bagels, eggs, potatoes, oatmeal (not instant) and “make your own waffles.” My son went straight for the cereal – because he never gets that at home. The rest of the crew made their way to the lounge area and filled up for the morning adventures.



LOCATION:

The Drury Inn, Mobile is easy to locate – IF you have some understanding of the Mobile service roads. It can be a little more of a challenge otherwise. The Drury Inn sits just off I-65 and Airport.



STAFF:

There are not enough positive adjectives to describe the staff. I even had the chance to meet one of the customer service operators (who happened to be staying there) and she was a delight. They were all friendly, greeted me with a smile, and were helpful – at 10:30 pm and at 6:00 am.



ACCOMMODATIONS:

The room and facilities were clean. The bed was comfortable. The room was quiet. The Drury Inn is extremely pet-friendly and kid-friendly.



BIGGEST BONUS FOR US:

The evening meal can be a great way to save a little money and some hassle while traveling with the family. Most hotels now offer some type of breakfast, but the Drury Inn is the only one that we have encountered that offers the evening option as well.

BONUS FOR OTHERS:

This chain is pet-friendly. We have stayed at hotels that allowed people to bring their pets, but this is the first one where we have seen people traveling even with their large dogs. Your elevator experience is taken to a new level when you have the chance to share it with a Labrador.

BIGGEST COMPLAINT:

There are only three Drury Inns in Alabama at this time. Adding one to Tuscaloosa is a much-needed addition for this chain. P.S. Locate it close to downtown for my convenience.

Back in Time with the Alabama Renaissance Faire 2014

Back in Time with the Alabama Renaissance Faire 2014

The Alabama Renaissance Faire became a family tradition moment we discovered it several years back. Any excuse for costumes sends the family scurrying to find the perfect outfit. Where have had conflicts with the annual event comes around that has kept us away. Some years the weather did not cooperate. This year, nothing was going to hold us back.

The older boys started planning their costumes before October arrived. They researched the renaissance era and more than a few arguments ensued as to what would constitute a “proper” outfit for the time.

There had been talk about utilizing the pirate costumes from “National Talk like a Pirate Day,” but that idea went out the window as the boys discovered images they wanted to copy instead. We had some of the pieces in the costume closet (everyone needs a well-stocked costume closet), but had to get a little creative with some the pieces. One or two were purchased at the local thrift store.

We packed a lunch, some snacks, and drinks for the journey. The goal originally had been to do the Florence letterboxes while in town. We were halfway to the Faire when I realized that I had left the letterboxing items back at the house – probably sitting under my pirate hat.

We stopped just outside Florence for a break and some lunch. One lady in the store asked me if we were going to the Renaissance Faire and I almost asked her, “What’s that?” Instead, I just smiled and told her yes.

Finding a parking place can always be a challenge at the Faire. Parking a Suburban makes the job that much more of a challenge. We found a place and only two blocks from Wilson Park where the Alabama Renaissance Faire is held every year.

The festivities were underway by the time we arrived. The sound of bagpipes filled the air. Costumes ranged from whimsical – we saw a fawn lady – too scary. The King and Queen of the Faire were walking around and visiting with their subjects.

We made our way around the Faire and visited the many vendor booths. The older boys were on the hunt for swords. The youngest wanted a sword and shield combo. I just wanted to see the amazing handy work of the people – and did I mention the costumes?

The youngest and his dad took time to float a boat around the fountain while the rest of us shopped. We visited with the torturer at the stocks. He was funny – and I enjoyed his taunts. I watched the swordplay while the rest of them went back to the car for refreshments (I had my water bottle in my pack).

The sword purchases were made and we had watched most of the performances. We loaded back up and made the return trip to Guntersville.

Gas: $42.00
Costumes: $15.00
Souvenirs/collectibles: $60.00 (the boys all paid for their treasures with their own money)

Total cost for a day of family fun and entertainment stirred together with imagination and creativity: $57.00

Learn more about the Alabama Renaissance Faire by visiting their website, follow the Alabama Renaissance Faire Facebook page, and be sure to make your plans to visit the Faire next year!

Review of the Gulf State Park Primitive Camping

Review of the Gulf State Park Primitive Camping

zipline-at-alabama-gulf-state-park
The Gulf State Park offered fun and adventure for the family. It also had some potential for hidden surprises that did not seem so appealing to me. Anyone that has met me has probably heard at least one story that proves I have few fears of things in this world. I have been known to get up close and personal with snakes to determine their identity. Spiders and I have no issues.

My concerns are more of the exotic type – or at least the salt water type. I have no love for sharks or their land walking cousins the alligators. Alligators actually creep me out even more than sharks, but that is probably because I have never had a shark grin at me. The information about the local alligators almost had me shying away from the benefits that the Gulf State Park had to offer.

I endured for my family because I am just that kind.

I spent weeks talking myself into the trip – or maybe it took me that long to block out the natives. My Facebook alligator nemesis took those very weeks to take a hiatus.

lake-cabins-at-gulf-state-park

We packed for our trip and drove down to the Gulf on a crystal blue afternoon. My husband got us checked into the campground and we drove to our assigned primitive camping spot. The men unpacked and I drove off to the grocery store while they set up camp.

I returned to find our tent set up just five yards from a small canal. All of the efforts to eliminate the land walking shark cousin from my mind went right out the window. I was sleeping next to their hunting ground. I tried to keep my eyes off the canal while never turning my back to it. It was an interesting time.

The next day my oldest son pointed out that the canal was only a few inches deep. I may have slept easier had he pointed that out before we went to sleep (or tried to sleep). I still believe he did it on purpose.

Despite my unease, the wildlife kept their distance. We never saw an alligator – or a shark – the whole time we were there. We did see lots of birds, several types of crabs (on the beach), and even a coyote – across the park.

The campsite was perfect. The Gulf State Park recently added the primitive sites. They are set back in the trees and shrubs so you have plenty of privacy in the sites. The fire pit was nice, but it was too deep to be practical for cooking with the items we brought with us. I will know for next time to take our grilling set and maybe even a grate to put over the pit.

primitive-camp-site-gulf-state-park

The primitive sites come without electricity or water, but we were only a short distance from the bathrooms so it was never an issue. After the meals, the guys would walk up to the bathrooms and wash out the pots or pans. It took them about as long to wash as it did for me to pack up from cooking.

Basic Review of the Alabama Gulf State Park

CLEANLINESS:

I give the Gulf State Park 10 out of 10. The area around the park was clear of debris and the bathrooms were very well kept.

ACCOMMODATIONS:

The camp site was very nice and I appreciated the seclusion that the primitive sites provided. The park had set out mulch on the sites, and that made for some rough sleeping. The site we were in could have used about three or four more feet on either side. I give the camp site 8 out of 10.

BENEFITS:

The camping area was very family friendly. I would say the majority of people camping the weekend we were there had children. People stayed pretty active until later in the night, but we turned on a small fan and the white noise helped block out their enthusiasm.

BONUS:

The scenery around the Gulf State Park is amazing, and it is always a bonus for my crew to be within a few miles of the beach.

Hiking Lake Guntersville Sate Park

Hiking Lake Guntersville Sate Park

The day offered blue skies and cool breezes. We packed a lunch and drove up to the Lake Guntersville State Park. Growing up, I spent many hours at the lodge. In my teen years, I spent many hours hiking the trails. Now it was time to begin sharing the wonders with my children.

Trail hiking can be tough, but it does not have to be out of the grasp of someone (like me) who hasn’t taken the time to stay in the shape that she desires. We chose a path that had been marked easy and that offered a long hike, but not impossible for the beginner.

Finding parking proved to be one of the greatest challenges. We have learned to adapt over the years because parking a suburban under any conditions often proves challenging. My husband made it work and we unloaded. I left behind my water because it was a short hike and we would be back in no time (spoiler alert: they tell the boys to “always be prepared” for a reason).

Lake Guntersville State Park with the TraveLangs

The leaves were turning and provided a colorful backdrop for the pictures. The cool weather offered comfort that our colorful but slithering friends would be safely tucked into hibernation. We walked along, enjoying the sites and each other.

The trailed curved around and the view opened up to the lake. It offered another great opportunity for pictures, but showed no signs of turning back onto itself to get us back to the truck.

We kept walking and I envied the soda peeking out of my husband’s pocket.

The path finally stopped at a small creek and waterfall. It took all we could manage to keep the youngest from jumping in. “I’m hot. I’m tired. I’m thirsty.” You should have heard his complaints – those were just what I was thinking.

A quick look at my watch (better known as the phone) and I knew that we would never get back to the car on schedule. It was taking twice as long for us to meander along the path. I also realized that there was no continuing path and to get back we would just have to follow the same path again. I eyed the hill we had walked around and wondered if we could just walk over it, but my family had already started back down the path.

The youngest threatened to boycott and just sit on the side of the trail. I considered joining him, but wondered how the others would get the suburban down that tiny path to come and get us. It took some encouraging (of myself) to begin encouraging my youngest, but we managed to get going once again.

The path back to the car was not as colorful and the views were not as amazing – although they were the same. I thought of little more than something to drink. My saving grace was the counting. I counted each step we took back out to try and determine where we had gone wrong.

We survived and back at the car I started to rehydrate while studying the map. Although the posted trip was 2.5 miles on the website, the printed map had a notation that showed the trail was not a loop. What started out as a short hike became twice as long because of the return trip.

What I learned from Hiking in Lake Guntersville State Park

  1. ALWAYS carry the daypack. I fill mine with the hiking first aid kit, water, and snacks most days.
  2. Measure twice so you don’t have to hike twice. It turns out that everything you read on the internet is not always true – or not always the whole truth. A little more research and we could have been better prepared for what we were going to be doing.
  3. Avoid trying to do too much. This seems to be the “rule of thumb” for all family outings. We were trying to get in a hike before we had to be at another event. The need to rush back to the car caused stress, exhaustion, and irritability (and that is never something the family wants in the mom).
  4. It is worth the effort. Despite the issues we encountered, the memories and the pictures were worth every step!

Take advantage of the cool, fall or spring days and enjoy a hike. Be sure to pack a day-pack to carry along with you, and include a map in your pack. Take the family and have some fun exploring the beauty in your own backyard.

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What have you learned from you adventures or misadventures with the family? Share your tips here in the comment section or link to your own post about the activities you have enjoyed with the family. You can also connect with the #TraveLangs on Facebook.

Review of the Ozark Trail Single Burner Camp Stove

Review of the Ozark Trail Single Burner Camp Stove

My first meeting with the single burner camp stove came after the April 27th, 2011 tornado outbreaks in North Alabama. Our little area was hit with four funnel clouds, the last of which ripped up four telephone poles along the main line. I knew we were in for the long haul, and the single burner (Coleman) was just the thing I needed to make things work.

I fell in love with the ease of use, the flexibility, and especially the amount of heat the small burner produced. It could handle the heaviness of a cast iron skillet, or manage the perfect temperature for percolating coffee.

Our first family camp out down at the beach expanded my love – and our cooking family. As we set up that first night, I realized that the single burner had not made the trip.

Ozark Trails single burner camping stove

I understand that meals can be cooked in a variety of ways. When you mix together ingenuity, creativity, and a dash of patience, anything can be possible . . . or almost anything. Try as I might, I could not figure out a way to make coffee with the limited resources that had made it to the gulf with us.

I tried to survive, but I realized by that next morning that a single burner was necessary (even if only for the coffee). I sent my family off to Walmart to purchase a single burner and they returned with the Ozark Trail Single Burner Camp Stove.

He told me when he returned that he had considered investing in a double burner. “It required a different fuel canister.” We have learned that consistency in the fuel can be vital when it comes to camping activities. The single burner was similar to the one we already had at home, and it took the same fuel as that single burner as well as the camping stoves that we own.

Coffee was ready within moments of their return.

My favorite feature of the single burner is the versatility. It worked well with my large soup pot and just as easily with my small tea pot. It also helps that the single burner is easy to set up, takes up very little space, and breaks down just as easily as it sets up.

We were smart this time around and kept the box for repacking. In the future, we may find a container that will hold both single burners and also have space for the fuel canisters. For now, we are happy to have the Ozark Trail Single Burner Camp Stove join our family.

Travel Fun to Make the Going Easier

Travel Fun to Make the Going Easier

Make travel fun for everyone with a little planning before you go. Too much of anything can be bad thing – even what should be a good thing.

My son, the youngest at the time, crawled up in my lap and sighed. “Can we go home now? I’m tired of opening presents.” It should have been a magical time for him. My mom had loaded him down with so many presents that it lost its fun.

That moment locked in my mind and flashes anytime I am planning something for kids and for adults. The motto “keep it simple” rings true because it is true. Piling too much into your trip will take some of the magic away from the experience and leave you all too exhausted to enjoy the things to come.

Tips for Making Travel Fun

1. Do stuff. The longer the trip, the more you will need to discover. Find little nooks along the way so that you not only get to stop and stretch but you get a chance to enjoy the stop. One trip to Quincy, Indiana took us near Metropolis. We detoured long enough to get our pictures taken with Superman. The internet makes it easier than ever to find the unexpected and to plan a trip around a visit.

2. Don’t do too much. Our last trip to the gulf allowed for a stop at Battleship Park in Mobile, Alabama. The website said that the tour would take about 2 ½ hours but that you could stay as long as you wanted. It turned out that the estimate was on the fast side. We had another event to attend, so we had to cut the visit short and missed out on several of the other attractions because of our lack of time. Next time we make it to the port city we will plan for a longer visit to the amazing park.

3. Plan to splurge. We are stretching our budget so that we can visit more places by camping it along the way, but sometimes a hotel room or special meal hits the spot. Activities can also run up the cost of the trip (Battleship Park ran our family around $50). Calculate the cost of these specials when adding up your travel budget.

4. Don’t overdo it. The specials can add up fast. Setting a budget in the beginning and setting out a plan for the trip (with different options for activities) can keep you from getting caught up in the moment and throwing away your traveling budget.

5. Make a new tradition that costs little to nothing. Every place we visit, we make one of those engraved pennies. The resulting souvenir takes up very little space and costs less than a dollar. We are also starting the tradition of planting letterboxes in some of the places that we visit (be sure that you have permission from the location). It gives us something to visit in the future. It gives others something to enjoy. The total cost for planting a letterbox is around $12 (depending on the items you put in the box). We are also trying to find letterboxes where we visit, which cost us nothing. These little traditions give us something to take with us from our trip beyond the ordinary and expected.

6. Take turns picking the activity, attraction, or even the location. Get the whole family involved in the research and the planning. You will all learn more about the destination and have more fun if you all plan together.

Taking time to see the sights and enjoy each other’s company make traveling worth the trials and errors that will come along. Making a few choices ahead of time and following these simple tips can make family travel the fun experience you desire.

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What are your top tips for making travel fun for the whole family? Be sure to share here or to visit us on our Facebook page. We look forward to finding more ways to make our upcoming trips all that they can be.

The Things We Do for Doughnuts

The Things We Do for Doughnuts

Q: “What is a pirate’s favorite letter?”
A: “RRRRRR”

Q: “Where does a pirate go when he gets injured?”
A: “The E.RRRRRRRRRR.”

krispy-kreme

These were just a couple of the delightful jokes I encountered leading up – and on through – National Talk like a Pirate Day. It does not even begin to shed light on the constant pirate conversations that overwhelmed our home (or the fact that I secretly considered abandoning ship).

You have to understand that “normal” has never been a word I used to describe our family. We had a costume closet before we had kids. Kids just added to the excuse. Accents are as common as song lyric references or movie lines when it comes to the conversations that go on during an average day in our house. We are overflowing with the over dramatic, the melodramatic, and the occasional Drama King – or in this case the Pirate King.

I know that the moment my family discovered it was National Talk like a Pirate Day, they would have spent the day in character. We have pie shaped food on National Pie Day (March 14 for those who are wondering . . . bonus points for those who know why). We like to get into the celebration of it all. Once they discovered that a treasure awaited them, my entire crew became obsessed with creating the look that would be deemed “most piratey.”

I think the only saving grace was that my middle son had signed up to attend an event near Florence – which forced the journey north. Otherwise, I suspect the Pirate King would have headed south where they could have sailed into the multitude of Birmingham Krispy Kreme establishments.

The first stop took them to the Huntsville Krispy Kreme where they were each (count that as four) showered with a dozen glazed donuts for their Pirate efforts. It was then on to Florence Krispy Kreme where the next part of their treasure was awarded.

They filled their treasure chests with glazed donuts, spent the day together acting like pirates, and left me alone for the bulk of the day to write. It turns out we were all given treasures.

I guess the bad pirate jokes, the puns, and even the constant pirate references were a reasonable price to pay for such a high seas adventure.

Letterboxing in the Gulf State Park

Letterboxing in the Gulf State Park

The Gulf Coast holds many secrets that a family ready for adventure can discover. We set out on a mission to uncover one such secret. The thrill of breaking down clues and finding treasure never gets old for The TraveLangs.

We were first introduced to letter boxing almost a decade back, although our interest has peaked and faded over the years. My newest middle school book, Mystery Rock, ignited our interests once again (partly because we get to plant our own letterboxes in association with the book).

When you picture letterboxing, think about treasure maps. Some of the maps might have complex clues – almost riddles – that you have to decode. Some of the maps may have simple steps you have to take (like go to the “Y” and take ten steps to the left). Some of the maps may have rhymes for the hints. The best part of letterboxing for us is that you have to decipher the map to find the treasure.

What is the treasure? Most letter boxes include a custom stamp that you get to stamp into your notebook. Some letterboxes include pre-stamped post cards that you can fill out and mail in when you find the letterbox. Some letterboxes will include a log book that you can stamp with your own letterboxing stamp.

We carved our own stamps back when we first started letterboxing. The boys were all much younger, and it shows in the results. Pulling out those older stamps made us all realize that it is probably time to tackle the personalized stamps again.

The Gulf State Park only revealed one letterbox, which came as a surprise. I get that there are storms in the area that might make it difficult to maintain boxes for some folks. There are so many amazing sites in the area that I feel the need to go down and plant dozens to give letterboxes around the globe a great destination.

The one box that we did find proved to be a challenge for us all. I lived down in Gulf Shores MANY years ago, so that helped us figure out the starting point for the map. Even with my insider information, it still took us several tries before we found the treasure. My middle son braved the stash, knocked away a black widow, and we were free to enjoy the delightful stamp left behind.

We hid the box back in the space and went in search of a second treasure that was listed as hidden nearby. We tried several different starting points, but none of them panned out. Since the last recorded connection to the box was 2011, I believe that it has long since been lost to the sea.

Even with just the one letterbox find, it was a fun addition to our Gulf State Park tour. We look forward to adding our Mystery Rock letterbox to the area, and potential adding many more letterboxes in the months ahead.