See The Best Things To Do In Town Courtesy of Vimbly

Simply Shawn N Jenn Disclosure

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This is a sponsored post in conjunction with Vimbly and a campaign with Sverve. Regardless, all opinions are still 100% my own.

I have a camera. The hubby bought it for me a few years ago. It’s all fancy and can take a whole bunch of fancy kinds of pictures. I know how to turn on the flash and press the button to take a picture.

The husband has a lot of painting stuff. An easel and brushes and acrylic paints and canvases and tape. He makes all straight line paintings that he has taped off. It looks like stained glass

I would love to be able to prepare a 4 course meal in 20 minutes like Bobby Flay. What I can actually manage is hot dogs and mac and cheese.

I’d love to learn how to play Dungeons and Dragons. Epic adventures. Sweeping battles. Vanquishing evil foes.

Just kidding on that last part. That’s totally the hubby that wants to learn that. I think he played once like 20 years ago but he still goes on about his Dwarf character and his enchanted axe that spoke Elf. Blah blah blah. Ahh. My dork husband.

Well, if you want to do any of these things and you happen to live in one of the cities that Vimbly.com is in, you are in luck. In addition to awesome ideas for tourists, Vimbly.com is also filled with tons of local classes you can take. Photography, painting, cooking, riding a bike, even playing Dungeons and Dragons. These are all things you can sign up for on Vimbly.com. Find it. Sign up. Show up. Soon you too could be a painting, picture taking, cooking, battle-hardened dwarf warrior.

Now I just need Vimbly.com where I live.

ABOUT VIMBLY

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Vimbly currently operates in 18 major US cities and expects to establish a national presence in 2015.

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This is a sponsored post in conjunction with Vimbly and a campaign with Sverve. Regardless, all opinions are still 100% my own.

Phases of the Moon — Packing Tips if You Are Coming with Children

Simply Shawn N Jenn Disclosure

Let’s face it going to any festival with your children is a little bit more work than the days when you got to go alone. No longer can you fit everything for a weekend into one backpack and one cooler. It becomes a long process to get there but the family memories that you make and create are going to be completely worth the effort that it takes.

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This year I am traveling to the Phases of the Moon Festival with my husband and three of our children (my oldest will be with his dad that weekend) who are between the ages of 2 ½ and 6. Will it be hard at times? Yes. However I can assure you that our children love seeing live music and will have the time of their lives at the festival.

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The biggest tip that I would have for families who are traveling to Phases of the Moon is to be prepared and make your lists now. I know it is more than a week away but you will not be sorry when you have lists ready and know exactly what you will be packing for the trip.
I am going to share my lists and tips here so that they might be beneficial to someone else.
Camping Gear
Camping gear is a necessity when you are camping. We are huge fans of the Kelty brand at my house and here are the Kelty products that we have which make up our camping gear.

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1. A big Family Sized Tent (We love our Parthenon 8 from Kelty. This tent is amazing, has plenty of room for a family, and is moderately easy to set up—we don’t end up yelling at each other during the set up time although I might walk away one or two times!)

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2. A Shade Tent (We love the Bug Blocker from Kelty. Another one that is simple to set up, provides shade, and protection from bugs while you are enjoying the day or evening at your campsite.)

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3. A Small “Play” Tent (This is one of my biggest tips for families. Get yourself a small shade type of tent that has a lot of open space. We love the Kelty Cabana because you can leave the entire front open. This is where we keep all of the kiddos toys and stuff for them to play with so that it is not in the way in our main tent.)

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4. Sleeping Bags (We use the following Kelty sleeping bags – Little Flower 20, Little Dipper 30, Woobie 30, SB20, Women’s Cosmic Down 20. Each one is perfect for keeping us warm all night long!)

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5. Basecamp Kitchen (A basecamp kitchen is a great place to organize all of your kitchen essentials and other goodies. I keep my paper plates, silverwear, papertowels, spare TP, and more in ours so that we can always find everything that we need with ease.)
6. A Table (We love the Kelty Delux Rolltop Table which is the most high quality camping table that I have ever seen. I love that it is sturdy enough for all of us to eat at or that we can play cards when we are relaxing and letting the kids play.)
7. Lanterns (Again with the Kelty gear…I tell you what the gear may cost a bit more but it is the perfect gear for families. The reason that I love it so much is that it can withstand all of the abuse that my children put it through when we are camping and playing around. We have the Flashback, Flashback Mini, and Luma Spot Rhythm as part of our camping gear.
8. Extra Blankets – (We always take a few comforters, sheets, and a blanket for each kiddo in the tent. When attending festivals we take an extra blanket for each kiddo to have at late night shows or when they want something to snuggle up on.
9. Picnic Blankets (We love waterproof picnic blankets. My favorite ones come from Initials Inc. We have two of these and take them to every show that we see. We have enough room for all of us and even a few friends who may decide to travel and camp with us.)
10. Chairs (Chairs are another necessity when you are traveling with kiddos to a festival. My favorite choices are the Kelty Deluxe Lounge Chair—seriously the most comfortable folding chair you could ever find, Kelty Essential Chair, and Kids Chairs. We also take the Camp Chairs with us as we can easily carry these to the festival’s stage areas to sit on there.)
11. Battery Operated Fans (This is another essential with children. We have a few large sized ones and the kids each have their own hand held ones when we travel. They also love the spray bottles with the fans on them.)
I know that this might seem like a lot to travel with but when you have the right luggage it is not that bad. I use the One Trip Wonder (again from Initials Inc) to put all of the sheets, kids’ extra blankets, lanterns, and small gear in. I also use the large sized utility tote from Thirty-One to put all of our kitchen gear in.

Filling Those Coolers
I have easy tips to make filling your coolers simple. Plan a menu! Know what you are going to eat and when. Prepare your coolers this way so that the foods that you will eat later will be the foods that are on the bottom. Use one cooler for food, one for family drinks and a small one for the fun stuff (booze! Remember Phases campers that glass bottles are not permitted.) Personally we take our food for breakfast and lunch. We take all of the snacks that our kiddos are going to need. Then we take plenty of water (a few cases for all of us!!) and make sure that we have Camelbaks packed too!! We also take refillable water bottles (one per person!).
Although I have not finalized our Phases menu I am guessing that it is going to look something like this. This is all easily prepared and stuff that does not have to be heated up.
Thursday–
Breakfast—mini donuts, fruit
Lunch – sandwiches (lunch meat, pb & preserves, cheese, veggies…whatever looks/sounds good at the store), veggies n dip, chips
Friday
Breakfast—pop tarts, fruit
Lunch – pasta salad, sandwich
Saturday
Breakfast – small cereal boxes, fruit
Lunch—broccoli slaw salad, lunchables (not something that I normally let the kids eat so they will be excited!)
Sunday
Breakfast – leftovers from the former 3 days
Lunch – leftovers from the former 3 days

For the Kiddos
1. Backpack of Toys (We give our kids their Kelty Backpacks…we use the Minnow and the Grommet. They get to fill these backpacks with small toys, coloring books, colors/markers/pens, paper and books to use while they are at the festival.)
2. Waterproof Backpacks (We give our kids each their Trunki PaddlePaks so that they can put what they want for each show into this bag. Then they are taking something lightweight with them when we are walking to and from the festival stage.)
3. Ride On Toys (We like to take foldable scooters with us so that the kids have something to ride on and play with when we are at the campgrounds. These are also great to ride to festival stages and can easily be stored in a wagon or in the bottom of the stroller when we are sitting and enjoying a show.)
4. Stroller (I would highly recommend a stroller that is easy to push off roads. I have not owned one yet but the BOB strollers seem to be the best for this purpose.)
5. Wagon (We have two. If we have room we take our Radio Flyer with off road wheels but if we are struggling to find room we end up with the foldable one. Sadly it does not work as well.)
6. Blanket Bag – (We put one stuffed animal and their extra blanket in a small bag for them. I know that this sounds like a lot of bags but keeping things organized and allowing each child to have a place for their things will keep you sane when you are moving your gear from your car to the campsite. I like to use Thirty-One bags or Get a Grips from Initials Inc.)
7. One Ring Pool (Yes we sometimes take a pool with us to festivals. We bring just a simple one ring blow up pool that is easy to use. It is perfect for the kids to get wet in and cool off. I like to have a bucket with us that we can hall water to the pool in about 2 or 3 trips.)

What We Will Wear
So for clothes I am pretty simple when it comes to festivals. First off clothes need to be old and not too nice. I know, I know that might not sound so fun but my children get so dirty at festivals that it is necessary. I take one pair of Pjs and 3 outfits for each day (2 that are for warm weather and one that is for cool weather). I also take hoodies or sweaters. I take the same type of thing for me but not quite as much. I try to pack each child their own clothes bag so that we an keep them all together. I also take a big laundry bag to put all of our dirty clothes in. I take wet bags (leftover from cloth diapering days) to put wet laundry in. If at all possible I try to lay out wet laundry so that it can dry.

Toiletries
I personally like to bring all of the basic toiletries with me and then a few extras. My list includes the following –
1. Toilet Paper
2. Shampoo
3. Conditioner
4. Body Wash
5. Detangling Spray
6. Sunscreen (lots and lots of sunscreen!! You don’t want to run out!)
7. Dry Shampoo
8. Brushes
9. Combs
10. Hair Ties
11. Headbands
12. Bandanas (These are great for hair but are even better to cover your face with if there is a ton of dust at a dry festival!)
13. Medicine Bag (put all of our prescriptions and medications that we might need in one place)
14. First Aid Kit (you’ll probably need bandaids!)
15. Wet Wipes (bring a BIG bag of these with you, you won’t be sorry!)
16. Facial Cleansing Wipes
17. Basics for skin care and make up! (nothing fancy for this mama but I still want to look presentable so I use the basics…foundation, mascara, and funky eyeliner—it’s just fun to use!)
18. Hand Sanitizer
19. Child’s Potty Seat (something small but seriously once you see those port-a-pots you will be happy that you have somewhere clean for your children to go potty)
20. Lysol Spray (yes I use this when we are forced to use the port-a-pots!)
21. Towels (I just take a few small old towels…one per person and maybe one extra!)

A Whitewater Rafting Adventure That Brought Me Closer to My Pre-Teen Son

Simply Shawn N Jenn Disclosure

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On our recent trip to the Smoky Mountains I wanted to do something special with Andrew. To be honest, since he is almost 11 I wanted to do something that would be more fun for him and something that was not appropriate for the younger ones. He is not the type of kid who likes a lot of things that are athletic. He plays soccer and will go hiking with me but that is about it. So I really wanted to try and find something active and something where we connect as mother and son and learn to work together.

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When I was researching fun things to do in the area I saw a lot of zip lines but since he is afraid of heights I could not imagine that experience going well. Since I love to kayak I thought that I would check to see what type of water sports were available and I instantly spotted many different white water rafting opportunities. I was ecstatic at the thought of being able to go whitewater rafting since it is something that I had done before and wanted to do again.

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I did my research and learned that the NOC (Nantahla Outdoor Center) trips were some of the highest rated in the area and around the world. Their guides have a rigorous training camp and many additional qualifications which made me comfortable as a mom taking Andrew on his first whitewater rafting trip with him.
I had expected us to have a great time together but there were many things that happened when we were on our trip that I had not expected and I would like to share with you.

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We Grew as a Team
Andrew is not my husband’s son so we have faced some challenges and issues with him because he is constantly bounced back and forth between our home and dad’s. Since dad is completely different than we are, it is confusing and hard for him to adjust between visits. Thankfully he does spend the majority of his time with us but that does not make the challenges any less real. When we were on our rafting trip we got to learn a lot of things about team work and had to really pull together to get it done right. I was amazed by how well he listened and how well he did with everything that he was asked to do.

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We Laughed, A Lot
I am kind of a serious minded person. I try to be funny sometimes but I tend to have a dry sense of humor. One of the things that I had not expected was for my son and I to connect and laugh on so many levels. He loved the rafting experience and was screaming and yelling as we went through the rapids. It was a great time to be able to laugh and let loose with him.

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We Fell in Love with Our Guide
Lara (pronounced like Sara with a “L”) was a great guide. In fact I can not imagine any guide being better for our family or our situation. We had a lot of similar interests, listen to the same type of music, and enjoy the same type of leisure fun. Being able to have Lara as a guide made the rafting experience more comfortable for us and something that we all really enjoyed together.

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All in all our NOC whitewater rafting trip was a great time. It was athletic, we burned some major calories, and it allowed me to connect with my son. I have the hardest time connecting with Andrew because of issues that are not his fault. He is around his dad (who I have to work hard not to hold resentment and anger towards) and he then acts like him making it hard for me to not be upset when he does certain things. I am thankful for any opportunity that allows me to be better connected with him while being able to really enjoy our time together.

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NOC does offer some whitewater rafting trips that are not as intense as the one that we went on. These are something that the whole family can enjoy. They also do kayak trips for those who have experience kayaking. So if you are going to be in any area that NOC offers whitewater rafting I would highly recommend the experience. If you are going to be in the Pigeon Forge, TN area I would say that this is one of the must have experiences for any family and I would encourage you to ask for Lara if she is available. I promise that you would not be disappointed with her at all.

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Finding the Perfect Hotel for Families with Wilderness at the Smokies, Pigeon Forge TN

Simply Shawn N Jenn Disclosure

Hotels when you have four children can be very miserable experiences. Let’s face it, it is never easy being cooped up in one or two rooms with six people. One of the requirements that I have for having a positive hotel experience with my family is finding a hotel that offers more than just a comfortable place to sleep at night.
So when I was planning our trip to the Smoky Mountains sand was talking with Wilderness at the Smokies I was ecstatic to learn that we would be staying in one of their suites.  I was even lucky enough to meet with the lovely Ellen Liston to learn a bit more about the property and what they have to offer.  This included learning about special activities that are held sometimes for events or holidays.

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The Rooms

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These hotel rooms are essentially two hotel rooms that are joined in the middle.

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One of the rooms is a family style room with two queen sized beds and a twin sized bunk over one. These rooms have a small sink area, a mini fridge, desk, two televisions, a pull out love seat, a wall partition dividing the parents’ side of the room from the kids’ and a bathroom. Now the other room that these are adjoined to is an amazing room within itself. The room has a bathroom, full kitchen with dining table, living room area with pull out couch, and a murphy bed. We were shocked at first to be staying in a hotel room with all four kids where two beds were going to go unused as this is not something that we had experienced before.

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The Property
Not only did the Wilderness at the Smokies have amazing rooms that would accommodate any family, large or small, but they also had a ton to do on site. There were water parks, restaurants, an arcade, shops, a candy store, and even a place where you could fire your own pottery. Of course since we had many activities that we wanted to experience in the area we were not able to experience all of the amazing things that they had to do at the resort. However we did take advantage of some of these.
The Water Parks

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The water parks that were available at the hotel were small but very family friendly. In fact there were rides that were perfect for children and adults of all ages, relaxing areas with hot tubs, and more. There were two outdoor water parks on site but it was cool and rainy the day that we had to be at the water parks so we were only able to go to one outdoors and because of the temperatures even the kids did not want to stay for long.

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The indoor water park is where we spent most of our time while we were at the hotel. There was a fun wave pool where young children were required to wear life vests to keep them safe. While some moms might find this annoying I loved that I could relax because my children had not choice but to wear life jackets. There was also a great kids area with many small slides and a lot of fun water play. The little ones loved this area.

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Another really unique attraction that we saw was an area with boogie boards. This was a small wave station like the ones where people learn to surf and you could ride a boogie board on the waves. Andrew went on this but did not have much luck “riding” the waves and instead ended up “riding” off.

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There were also four large water slides that snaked along the outside of the building. Andrew and Althea both really enjoyed these slides although Althea only enjoyed the ones with tubes where Shane or I could ride with her.

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The Arcade
Going to the arcade was a delightful experience for our family. As you can imagine going to an arcade can be quite expensive with four children. What I liked best about this one is that it was not impossible to win games and each of the kids ended up with a decent “prize” that they had won. So it was a good time with no one leaving sad or disappointed.
Wilderness at the Smokies is an amazing place to visit if you have a family. There are some great packages where you can plan for birthdays or other special events. I sincerely hope that we are able to visit the property again in the future as I can imagine what kind of exciting adventures we could have there as the children become a little older.

Home State Summer Fun–Week 1–Brown’s Oakridge Zoo

Simply Shawn N Jenn Disclosure

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So one of my challenges for this summer is to visit some place in IL that is fun for the kids and I each week. I am going to be writing about our IL adventures. I will admit that I would love for our IL adventures to be in Chicago for the entire summer but since I am not rich I am going to have to find ways to be creative and really am excited about trying some new places in the state.

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This week we checked out Brown’s Oakridge Zoo in Smithfield, IL. I will admit that I was not the most excited when I thought about. In general I have a lot of anxiety at zoos because I feel bad for animals not being able to run and play in the wild. The thing is that I learned so much by talking with the curator of Brown’s Oakridge Zoo that I really learned about how most of the animals that they have are rescues. In fact if it were not for them, many of these animals would have died. Plus I could really see the love that they share for the animals in that they honestly feel like all of these “wild” animals are members of their family.

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We got to see all of the wildlife and check out the animals that they had there first going on a guided tour of the zoo. It was really awesome to hear the stories about each animal, where they came from, and how Brown’s Oakridge Zoo had honestly helped them to have a better life. They also discussed their plans for new pens for some of the animals so that they have more room for them.
It was very refreshing to see a zoo where the animals are spoiled and well cared for.

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(This is my friend’s daughter, Olivia.  Actually it is Althea’s best friend and she was pretty disappointed that she did not get to go with us but she was off having fun with grandma when we went.)

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However the best thing about the entire tour was getting to see the tiger cub at the end and being able to feed the cub. The kids were able to hold her if they wanted to but my kids (of course) were a little timid and nervous around her. However I did get some beautiful pictures of all us with her.

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Plus since my older two were not with us for this adventure I decided that I would definitely have to go back and recreate the experience with them. Both of them would really love it and would be happy to actually feed the tiger cub so it is something that I am excited to do with them.

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I will give Brown’s Oakridge Zoo a 5 star rating on my 5 star scale. If you know me and my love for things to be free then you will understand how truly amazing it is that I would give any zoo a 5 star rating. However I have to say, way to go Brown’s Oakridge Zoo for some amazing memories and for offering me a great place to take my family close to home where I feel comfortable with them seeing animals caged and learning about them.  Plus it was a very affordable attraction and adventure for us.  The cost was just $3 for a child 3-13, free for children 2 & under, $6 for an adult, and $20 for unlimited use of your camera for pictures with the cubs.  We had a couple other families with us so we were able to even split this cost and all use the same camera.