A New Year!

Hey, friends! We’ve got some exciting posts in the works for 2017, including vegan fashion options for my leather-free friends and more posts about finding fair trade at stores near you. If you have any topics or products you’re hoping I’ll cover, let me know!

While we’re planning and organizing for the weeks ahead, check out these posts from other writers:

Unfancy Sweater 101

Learn Sweater 101 from Un-Fancy — Taking care of the clothes we have and using them wisely is an important part of sustainable fashion. I love Caroline’s tips for making sweaters last!

 

stylewise-oldnavy

4 Ethical Fashion Brands That Are Better Than Old Navy — Leah from StyleWise explores ethical alternatives to that casual Old Navy style many of us love.

 

peppermintlatte

I keep the peppermint flavor going all winter long, so I love this recipe for a Peppermint Latte with Numi Tea from Life+Style+Justice.

 

rugbytennessee

For the travelers among you, check out Suburban Turmoil’s guide to the town of Rugby, Tennessee’s Best-Kept Secret.

I hope your year is off to a lovely, gentle start. See you soon, friends!

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History Without Whining: A Day at The Hermitage

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I sent my son to grade school, and he came back a history buff, excited to find that three U.S. Presidents hailed from his home state. When I mentioned that President Andrew Jackson once lived just a few miles away, he was intrigued.

When presented with the opportunity to tour The Hermitage over spring break, I wondered if my little history prof would enjoy it. While my kids love to learn, they also tend to melt into whiny puddles if asked to walk too far, so I was curious how long we would be able to tour the spacious grounds.

We started our day in the Kitchen Cabinet Cafe — a simple, slightly overpriced establishment that was happy to provide peanut butter and locally made jelly on artisan bread. I was happy to discover that The Hermitage also allows outside food and drink for picnic lunches.

After lunch we picked up our audio devices for the self-guided grounds tour. I LOVED these devices, and so did my kids. The devices were durable and easy for my 5-year-old and 7-year-old to operate on their own. As we walked down the path towards The Hermitage mansion, we listened to the numbered commentaries along the way, occasionally stopping to discuss what we had heard.

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I began by listening to the adult tours, but eventually I started listening to the kid tour so I would know why my children were laughing hysterically. They loved the commentary from “Poll the Parrot” as well as the imagination encouraged by the tour. The audio devices had the added benefit of entertaining the kids while we waited in line to tour the mansion. They listened to their favorite tracks over and over, while I listened to additional commentary from other sections of the grounds.

I was expecting boredom and sighing throughout the mansion tour, but I forgot the wonder of children discovering something new. They had never toured an antebellum home. The ornate wallpaper and furnishings fascinated them, but the highlight was the study containing a gun once owned by Andrew Jackson, Jr (“Mommy, is that a REAL GUN? The real one they used a long time ago?”).

We walked out to the First Hermitage structure and explored the spring house, gardens, and slave cabins. Another highlight was finding a cotton boll in the hands-on cotton field. We ended our day with a walk through the museum portion of The Hermitage, where the kids were enthralled by the swords and artifacts as well as a strategic simulation of the Battle of New Orleans. We spent over two hours at The Hermitage that day, and my oldest son wanted to stay even longer (but the little one was worn out).

One of the most important parts of our Hermitage tour was the sobering opportunity it provided to discuss the brutality of slavery with my children. We talked about the choices we have in how we treat people, and how sometimes someone makes the wrong choice — even if they are a President of the United States. The Hermitage shares profiles of specific enslaved workers from Andrew Jackson’s time, and even more information is available on the website as they continue research into this neglected part of the past.

Han at the Hermitage

After a lovely first visit to The Hermitage, we made an extra trip to try the new multimedia tour option. I’m not sure I would recommend an upgrade to the multimedia device for most families, although it does provide interesting visuals and additional commentary. However, I’d say the multimedia tour is perfect for a reluctant preteen who is SO OVER a family trip. Get your teen or preteen the upgrade, and put them in charge of delivering supplementary info to the rest of the family. Everybody wins!

I’m so glad we added The Hermitage to our Nashville repertoire. Now that we’ve been once, I think we’ll go back occasionally for special events such as Spring Plowing and Planting and Fall Fest. If you are considering a trip to the Hermitage, I suggest making a day of it. Tour the house and gardens, then enjoy a nice picnic lunch before heading to the First Hermitage and Field Quarters. Families might want to consider the Family Pass option available for discounted admission. Nashville residents will find the yearly membership a great way to enjoy additional Hermitage attractions such as the Vintage Base Ball League and the War of 1812 Anniversary events.

For more information on visiting The Hermitage, plus educational resources, maps, and podcasts, visit TheHermitage.com.

I was provided with complimentary admission to The Hermitage for my family in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. 

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The Legoland Experience

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The Legoland Hotel. Photo courtesy of Legoland Parks.

Last fall we planned an epic family trip to California. My boys were a great age for their first Disney trip, and we decided to try Legoland while we were in the area.

When I heard we would be staying at the Legoland hotel, I was intrigued. I’ve never stayed at an on-site resort hotel, and I couldn’t wait to try the Lego experience. I wasn’t disappointed.

Giant Lego bricks decked the outside of the hotel. Inside the lobby, a giant Lego pit featuring a community-built, perpetually evolving tower provided a great place for my kids to play while we checked in. The bottom floor of the hotel also featured a kid-sized Lego castle, perfect for games of exploration and hide-and-seek, complete with table nooks for quiet Lego building time.

Once we checked in, the kids received their Lego VIP bracelets (giving them early entry into the parks) as well as a hotel scavenger hunt promising to lead to treasure. It was late, so we headed to our rooms, watching for scavenger hunt clues along the way. We were a few floors up, so we had to take the elevator, which might have been my favorite part of the entire experience. Here’s why:

As soon as the doors closed, we were thrown into a disco party. It’s like this place is made for kids or something….

Actually, the hotel really is built for kids. I fell in love with the Legoland Hotel the minute I saw the kid-sized potty seat built into all the toilets (I have high standards). There was a step stool to aid in teeth-brushing and hand-washing, and the room came pre-equipped with a bucket of Legos for playtime. A recessed area with bunk beds just right for my boys was tucked away in an alcove by the door. We decided to leave the top bunk empty, let the five-year-old sleep on the bottom bunk, and pull out the trundle for the three-year-old — perfect!

Ian and David, of course, were focused on the scavenger hunt treasure. After eagerly counting picture frames and Lego spiders, they found that their scavenger hunt answers formed the combination to a treasure chest filled with chocolate and a small souvenir Lego kit.

The next morning we hit the breakfast buffet, the one downside to our stay. The buffet was yummy, but the majority of hotel guests arrived there when we did, about an hour before the park opened. The line stretched down the hallway of the hotel. I definitely recommend hitting the buffet as early as possible or waiting until the park opens; the line was non-existent when we left.

The park entrance is just a short walk from the back door of the hotel. We watched the park opening festivities, complete with life-size Lego characters, before sneaking into the side door accessed via our VIP bracelets.

Since we had spent the previous few days at Disneyland, it was interesting to contrast the two parks. I loved, loved, loved Disney, but smaller crowds and a smaller park made Legoland an easier experience for families with young kids.

Very few rides had long waits, and almost every attraction was appropriate for an elementary-aged child. My two guys had plenty of fun without feeling left out of the best parts. Highlights for them included the DUPLO area with water-spray fountains and games, the boat and car rides that allowed kids into the drivers’ seats, and the miniature splash park (the larger Chima water park was closed when we visited).

Lego Cars
My boys loved being able to drive their own cars.

The whole experience was pleasant and gentle instead of hectic or rushed — at the end of the day, we didn’t want to leave!

There are a couple of areas where Legoland could learn from Disney. Several attractions at the park, such as miniature golf and rock climbing, had extra fees; this gave Legoland a bit of a Six Flags feel instead of a premium park experience. I also missed the “cast member” experience of Disney — at Legoland I had to hunt around for an employee if I had a question, whereas at Disney their staff practically lined up to help visitors.

Food is the other area where Disney has an edge. Legoland did have some healthy-ish snacks available, but they were limited and hard to find — we saw milk and fruit available at one stand, but the pizza buffet we ultimately chose for lunch didn’t offer those options.

After the Legoland park closed, and after we spent a ridiculous amount of time browsing the Lego store, we headed back to the hotel to gather our luggage and check out. The kids loved being able to play in the Lego castle one more time and say goodbye to the hotel (I insisted we ride in the elevator again).

We had a great time, and we didn’t even experience half of the amenities the hotel offered, such as mini-figure character dining, free Lego building classes for the kiddos, and nightly family-friendly entertainment. Our park tickets included a free second day, but we needed to hurry back and catch our flight home.

I definitely hope to pay Legoland a return visit. The next time I plan to check in early in the morning, head to the park, and enjoy the hotel in the evening before heading back out to Legoland for another day of fun.

After our visit, Legoland is high on my list for recommended vacation ideas. I’m generally not a theme park fan, but Legoland is fun, simple, and (relatively) affordable. Currently the park in California boasts the only Legoland Hotel in the U.S., but Legoland Orlando is opening a hotel this summer.

Will your family be paying Legoland a visit soon?

Lego Shark

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