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Raise Your VOICE for the New Season!

Who is excited about the upcoming Season Premier of The Voice on NBC? I am super excited! I am a big sucker for several reality television shows, and though I haven't watched America Idol for years, I've started watching The Voice pretty regularly now though!

This is one of my favorite throwback songs from a younger time, but I just love this "Most Inspiring Moment's" video -- great song, great talent!

Part of what I love about this show is that it's not something I need to flip the channel when my toddler son enters or is in the room. He can even watch it with us -- though he'd usually rather play trucks or build block towers while listening to the music rather than watching. But, all in all, it's pretty wholesome fun -- that's something we can really get excited about since it's a dwindling thing on television these days!

So, we'll be snuggling up and sitting together as a family to enjoy some new voices that will be contenders for the top spot! I'm hoping someone comes out playin' some 90s tunes!

Are you tuning in? Do you have a favorite judge? 

*This post was a partnership effort made possible by my belonging to the Flyby Promotions blogger program. I may have received a combination of compensation and samples for the purposes of this post. I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions are my own.*

Haley Vines Waterproof Insulated Gear ~ Hunting Clothes Made for Women

I cannot help but gush about some great winter gear, now that the snow has been upon (most) of us for a while and I've been able to get out and stalk around, blending in ever so well. True, all of the seasons that I partake in game-wise are over, and you’ll probably be curious about my deer season story, from last autumn.
Well, even in the upland bird realm, I didn’t see a single pheasant in my outings this year (usually I get a crack at one or two) and I only saw one grouse. I was out hiking with my family and we always bring along our little .410 if there’s an open season—well, my husband saw a bird and it was mama’s turn to try for it. He’d already brought home six grouse for the season, so I was the one with the big goose egg anyway! Well, the short version is I had a clean miss. My first shot at a bird in the air and I just couldn’t bring home the bacon. Or the bird. But, I taught my son a valuable lesson—you don’t always have game to show for your time outdoors, but it is still a successful hunt if you have fun! (Funny, that’s the message from deer season too!)

I’m beginning to think I need to amass my seasonal bounty photos and do one big dump here, just to show that this year is a fluke. I put in a lot of time, so I suppose I was due for a year that wasn’t as laden with crazy huntress stories! I’m okay with that. It means I’ll have even more drive next year.
Quite honestly, this has been an incredibly strange year for me and the outdoor world. You see, when the snow flies and the ice forms it becomes ice fishing season for our family—just another way we harvest food and have fun enjoying Mother Nature here in the Midwest. This year though, it’s already nearly March and between the BITTER cold and living in a new area for four months, we’ve only been out ONCE! That is unheard of. We usually go once a week, most times more!

I know what you’re thinking—why are you telling us about your recent ineptitude when it comes to fishing and hunting? You’re probably thinking I thought this was going to be about bagging a big buck or landing a lunker. Sorry, folks. This one is better. It’s about my insulated jacket and pants. I know that doesn’t sound quite as exciting as the blow by blow narration of a scene from a tree stand – BUT it’s just as remarkable.

You see, what I have done a lot of this winter is snowshoe and play with my son outside. Sledding, snowmen, snowball fights… There has been snow a plenty—we just got another six inches last night. I’ve been playing like an elementary child again! It’s been amazing—very invigorating. I have had wonderful quality time with my boy. The whole time I stayed cozy and dry. Staying warm is usually the limiting factor in my enjoying the winter activities that my son likes.

So my point here? The gear is VERSATILE! It’s not often you can hunt and play in the same gear. The only activity I’ve found that I wouldn’t do in my HVOC insulated pants and coat is cross country skiing—but that’s one of those sports that really makes you sweat. So anything heavy is just not practical. Otherwise it has been especially helpful in me being able to hang out like a kid!

This is me, facing away from the camera in a pine stand in the snow. Pretty amazing how the King's Snow Shadow camo keeps me blending in! I was really impressed when my husband showed me this photo! I knew it was good, but I think I'd be able to bring home the venison in this outfit. Next year will be my year! This year we didn’t even have much for snow, so I’m excited to get a second chance!
I absolutely adore the fact that this set (insulated jacket and pant separates, bibs also available) truly fits my womanly, post-baby figure. It's warm. It is functioning camo.

I ordered size 4 top and bottom. The HVOC insignia is tasteful—it’s not blasted up an arm and across your bum—it’s actually a very cute accent on the ensemble! All of the clothing speaks of great QUALITY. You know when you push a stroller or sit on a chair, hear a fine instrument or know the feel of really good sheets, when all just exude quality? That’s what this is like.

Really. I’m not blowing smoke here; I can tell that a lot of thought and time went into not only the design of the garments but also the making of them. Honestly, my Over and Under Shirt has been my go-to shirt(s) all winter. All occasions—if I happened to take out a Norwegian sweater, I usually ended up putting it back since it “didn’t match my camo!”

Features I love

Full Zip Leg, hooking waist closure (no popping buttons)
Snaps in addition to zip closure, to prevent zipper split/spread
Kings Shadow Camo is amazing in snow and brush. Truly camouflage!
Comfortable enough to sit in the woods or drive in your car—not bulky!
Zippered pockets! No more losing keys in the snow! Cute and stylish enough to wear the jacket as a separate for errands in town or a movie night
Easy to walk in, snowshoe, run with a toddler, pull a sled...
Super soft inner minky fleece that feels like a spa bathrobe—very warm!

Things I'd change

Facilitate a way to keep the fleece inner from poking out of the sleeves when you initially put it on (I’d change this in every kiddo jacket on the market too!) *I love that there is a fastening strap on the outer cuff of the jacket, so that you can cinch them down tight to keep out the wind once you’ve adjusted the inner fleece back in*

Maybe just the tiniest bit longer jacket – I think shorter jackets are more flattering, but for me scooting around under branches, over logs and just sitting in the frigid wind, I’d like a “skirted” style bottom to block out the weather. *I could just try the bibs though I guess!*

So really my complaints are few, and they are not really complaints as much as suggestions, since they aren’t deal breakers at all! I’d love to see the option of adding a coyote ruff on the hood to really keep out Old Man Winter—but something like that would serve only a small population, since it would be quite an upcharge! Maybe the “skirted” style bottom could be an option though.
No matter what you adventure is or where it leads, you’ll be warm wearing the great, quality gear that Miss Haley has to offer in her Haley Vines Outdoor Collection!

(Yes, I still buy CDs. No, I don't bring my discman hunting! Haha!)

That's it. It rocks. It exudes quality and it is super soft and cozy to wear.

You can own this great gear too. Check out all of the Haley Vines Outdoor Collection and find your own outdoor style. If you keep in touch on Facebook, we’d love to hear your stories, even if they do not end in successful game harvest! We just like to know you’re out there in the outdoors!

*This was a post partnership with Haley Vines Outdoor Collection. All opinions are my own and are 100% truthful. I received no further compensation for this post.*

The Burger That Blew My Mind ~ #NSNation

So there was this feather light box within my Nutrisystem shipment that I avoided for almost a full month. I was down to my last week of entrees and I decided it needed to go down the hatch. I was acting no better than my toddler when it came to eating this dreaded burger.

This is the offensive burger.

The one that BLEW my mind.

Having nothing else that sounded appealing, bucking it up and giving it a try, I took this dehydrated burger and placed it in boiling water. Within a minute, the smell was alluring.

It was looking better. I was feeling a little guilty about giving it the cold shoulder.

So, I dressed it up with some light 7-grain bread and a little low fat cheese with some ketsup.


I proceeded to eat the best "diet" burger I've ever consumed. Ever.

Nutrisystem continues to impress me. I am bummed that I already put in my second month's order and because of my two-year-old tastebuds before trying this burger out, I neglected to order any! Boo!

So, I will eat my other scrumptious choices and rest-assured, I'll be ordering at least FIVE of these next month! I'm lovin' the variety in my meals! It's honestly way more diverse than my normal meal planning menu selections! My poor husband and son are still eating boring! 

Have you ever been surprised by a "diet" food that tastes great? 

*I received a complimentary meal plan in return for my participation in this campaign. I was compensated in no other way. All opinions are 100% my own.*

Top Ten Things to do with Kids Inside

When the weather outside is frightful, do something INSIDE that is delightful! Here are a few ideas to beat the wintry blues when it's just too cold or in the spring when it's rainy...or if you're just plain stuck inside. It's been an excruciatingly windy winter, so though we love cold weather fun, it's been hard to handle the bitter breezes with little ones. 

10. Cleaning party! I know, I know. You're thinking: "Cleaning isn't fun! My kids will NEVER go for that!" Well, it might be a long shot, but if you do cleaning blasts, like 5 minutes of non-stop cleaning and be a little wild about it, they might get into it for a while! And hey, if you get dishes and vacuuming done, it's a WIN, right?

9. Bath time + paint. I'm a mean mom. The only time my child gets to paint without me hovering, is when he's in the tub. We don't have particularly nice things, fancy furniture or expensive carpets. I just hate cleaning up huge messes. So, we get a bath going and I either make paint or I get out the bath paints and other water art fun.

8. Workout together! This one requires more convincing on MY part than my sons. He LOVES to do my workouts--I do not always want to oblige. But, this is a good way to get those sillies out that benefits everyone. Just be sure to make a safe area to go crazy -- I clocked him during the warm up of our first attempt. Lesson learned.

7. Watch a good movie...or two! We try to manage our screen time, but sometimes you need to relax and turn on the boob tube. We have recently discovered a few kid-pleasers that parents can tolerate (or enjoy!) We like family collections and movie packs, Henry's Amazing Animals (VHS and a bit dated, but so good, too!) and we of course are currently loving our second language practice! National Geographic makes some real gems too!

6. Read. I know it's likely to only keep the tykes busy for thirty minutes, but it's thirty minutes of literacy and together time (and time that they'll be quiet(er) for mama to gather her wits again!

5. Dance Party! This is an alternate work out! Seriously have you ever tried working out (read going about your day as normal) like a toddler? It's hard work--which makes it a great workout if they mutinied at the thought of working out for fun, as suggested above!

4. Play Doh! Whether you make it yourself or buy it with all the fun accessories, Play Doh is bound to keep those little ones busy for quite a while!

3. Bake! This one doesn't work for US, but does work for many of my friends and their kids. We end up with dishes, mess, and a mama with a belly full of unnecessary calories! If you love baking though and are naturally a high metabolism person, this might work! We like to play pretend with baking instead -- at the play kitchen, I have my son whip me up his specialties!

2. Get Artsy! We have a gigantic tote of foam, googly eyes, feathers, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks, stickers, glue, glitter and more. If you have items that look messy like glue and glitter, they will love it! I enjoy crafting just as much as my son, so this will keep us busy for at least an hour!

1. Make a fort. Everyone knows this is the ULTIMATE in indoor family fun! Couch cushions, chairs, blankets, pillows, bean bags...all items are fair game for this one! Channel your inner child and make the best darn fort around!

How I Plan to Kick start my second month of Nutrisystem: #NSNation

Well, it all started with a love of Disney. Frozen in particular. Have you made the connection? Don’t worry, it’s a bit convoluted, but I’ll get there.

So, I went, fell in love with the movie and ever since then have been singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” to my toddler. Of course, being winter, he says “Uh-huh!” But that isn’t going to shed much weight—sure, pushing snow around like a human bulldozer doesn’t hurt, but that’s not what I’m doing. This is just a bit of a tangent. And because I do not know the rest of the song, it’s always just “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”

So, I pre-ordered the movie “for my son’s birthday.” Then I got the soundtrack—for us to have some new tunes for all of our road trip miles. Uh-huh. I type this unabashedly. No mama guilt here, he LOVES the stuff. The soundtrack really gets me moving. No really—it does!

I lost my first four or five pounds with Zumba and a nasty stomach flu. Then came Nutrisystem, and I still ADORE Zumba Incredible Results, BUT…I think it’s time to do some cross-training! So, initially I just ran around the house with my son (when I wasn’t doing Zumba with him) listening to “Let it Go.” Then, we ventured over to a mostly abandoned building on the compound (we’re staying in barracks right now for hubby’s work) and we unveiled a fantastic treadmill. I’ve had treadmills before – three actually – they are either loud, broken, or somehow morph into diaper drying racks. I don’t know how either. Chocking it up to a miracle or physics.

But this machine, this one is the ultimate in my running needs. I cannot afford one at home, but this baby is mine for another two weeks until our next assignment! ***Squuueeeeal!!*** So, I pop my Frozen CD into the crazy 1990s relic of a boom box – yep, I just said boom box. (But, in my defense, the barracks had an iPod docking station and my husband didn’t know how to work it or what it was…sad, I know.)
This is how Frozen got me to my plan to get out of my oh-too-soon plateau. I’m impatient. Did I mention that? I’m right on track, if not a little ahead having lost 10 pounds in one month, but I don’t want to settle for the average 1-2 pounds a week. Nope. I’m going for broke. I’m still a little bit lazy, in my winter torpor. I’ve managed to lose the 10 with little effort in the fitness department, which I’m not proud of. (Well, I’m proud of sticking to the plan, but not that I’ve been a toad.) Remember how I mentioned I knew what needed to happen next? Well, this my friends is it. Lift off. I ran my first mile in I don’t know how long and it felt good. No shin splints even!

I plop down my kiddo and I run…well, jog. I’m only at about a 12 minute mile, but I know I’ll be back to racing and smiling as I cross finish lines when the snow clears. I cannot wait to run my first 5k of 2014 and my new goal is not only to have #2 coming along later this year, but to be able to run through my second and likely last pregnancy.

I knew Nutrisystem was what I needed to get everything going. And it did. I’m ten pounds down. Only another twenty to go before I’m at my pre-baby #1 weight! (He is rapidly becoming too tall to be called my baby…so it’s just WEIGHT now!) By following the easy-to-stick-to program laid out for me and literally delivered to my doorstep, I’ve been able to lose enough weight to get moving.
I’ve also lost enough weight to move OUT of the pre-diabetes label that I was dangerously flirting with last autumn. The outlook was bleak, going into winter with what could be a long, drawn out death sentence if I didn’t literally shape up. I knew I was predisposed, having had gestational diabetes AND Type II in my family…

So, yes. The next step for me is to bring back my active lifestyle that is buried under some remnant evidence of junk food and sloth-like living. Nutrisystem has taught me how much food I need to thrive and to feel good. Now I need to step up and start making changes to have a healthy lifestyle again. I’m thinking of getting back in the saddle again too… The cycling saddle that is! Stay tuned. You never know what kind of wheels will be spinning…or yarns…but mostly wheels…

Have you ever felt you just needed to lose a few pounds to be ABLE to get started again? I hear ya, sister! You’re in good company! Spill…

*I received complimentary product in return for my participation in this campaign. I was compensated in no other way. All opinions are 100% my own.*

Prom: Dress Shopping Then and Now

*sponsored post*

I remember prom. Promenade. Yes, it’s been ten years or more since I have gone, but I remember my prom gowns and experiences with mixed emotions. Unlike wedding dress shopping, I felt that shopping for prom was more of a chore. Maybe it was the teenager emotions. It seems times have changed though, since girls now have endless options--I had about FOUR stores within 90 miles in any direction to choose from. The internet was for research. It was boring. Department stores really didn't have much of a prom line, maybe 5-6 styles to choose from if any at all. They were usually more of the funeral frock variety as I recall.

Now...selections are almost overwhelming. So, enter the next conundrum faced by an eager prom-going girl--cost. My favorite memory of the ubiquitous, traditional dance was being a “punch server” in my seventh grade year. My dress was simple—it would be social suicide to “show up” a real prom attendee, you know the seniors—so I tried to find something understated. I had a great time with my fellows that night and the dress was the cheapest and most simple I ever wore. Purple, sequined top, lightweight floor-length satin bottom with a sheer overlay that was iridescent turquoise.

After that, as an upperclassman, I never worried about being asked, because I had a high school sweetheart. I just had to worry about the dress. My junior year I spent too much. I felt like Cinderella and I had perhaps one of the nicest dresses that night—even after the Grand March for our city those remarks were floating about. But the feelings I have today are still rather guilt-ridden, since of course, I’ve never worn it again!

My senior and last year at the prom, I wore a dress that I found as a bargain and it really was adorable. It was strapless and I didn’t love that aspect, but everything stayed in place! The downside and the part I remember from this prom: getting kicked out. Yes, my sweetie and I made some poor choices that night. Almost everyone at the prom had, but we were the ones that got caught. So, my gorgeous dress was worn for just shy of three hours. At least I have pictures, right?

As I look around in thrift stores these days they are FILLED with prom gowns. My most expensive dress seems to pale in comparison to some of the extravagant numbers that I see now. As I walk by and see price tags that read $12.00 and $20.00, I feel sad knowing they still will not likely ever sell. There is a stigma, at least one I notice in my area, about a used prom dress. I’d love to see that stigma die. But, I am happy that there are store out there that still sell the designer look for much less. There are options for these young girls growing up in such a material world.

For less than $100, you can look like a princess with a little punk attitude in this fun number offered by JenJenHouse. I'd personally try to rock the lime green version! There are several dresses that I would LOVE to wear! Quite honestly, even though prom is long since over for me, I hope I get an excuse to wear a prom-like dress again sometime! I am drawn to looking at them in department stores and at thrift stores—thankfully, common sense takes over and I realize I have no reason for a pretty dress right now. Maybe someday! Or maybe I’ll get lucky and one day I’ll have a little girl to take prom dress shopping. I hope when that day comes, I’ll find a quality, beautiful dress for a bargain price.

*this post was a sponsored partnership* 

Zumba Fitness Fresh & Simple Nutrition

So, not only am on using Nutrisystem, I am gearing up for healthier living all around and part of that is to prepare myself for life without Nutrisystem in a few months! Zumba Fitness has me covered! They included a guide to healthy weight loss eating with Incredible Results! It’s called the Fresh and Simple Nutrition Book.

The great thing about this guide is that it’s a no-brainer. It lays out a menu plan for seven days and even includes recipes! Sunrise Smoothies and Powerhouse Portabella Mushroom Tacos are some of the faves from the book in our house. That’s another great thing—my whole family can eat the meals I make! (Not that my toddler always will, but it’s something healthful and nutritious I can feel good about feeding him!)

You can easily mix and match from the two plans—Rapid Weight Loss and Everyday Weight Loss. Personally, I am more aligned with the Everyday plan. Salmon and bean burgers, white bean soup, chili and lots of smoothies—yeah, I can get on board with that!

This is a BIG change. Just like Nutrisystem was a BIG change. My life before (at least the eating side in the last few months prior to either program) involved a LOT of sugar cereals, macaroni and cheese, hotdogs, a ton of red meat, chips and chocolate in just about every form! It was really unhealthy. I would have days where I actually could not remember eating ANYTHING that most nutritionists would consider healthy!

Since part of my unhealthy lifestyle was a TON of snacking, I was delighted to see the Zumba Incredible Results Nutrition Guide also had some ideas for healthy snacks for maintaining your weight.
I didn’t drink water. I barely exercised. So, taking baby steps in the right direction, I’m reforming MY life to reset the future for my son and my family to have a brighter, healthier future. I don’t want to contribute any longer to diseases like Obesity and Type II Diabetes that are well within my control of preventing!

As a somewhat related aside, the Zumba Step DVD featuring the Rizer is STILL my favorite workout routine from Incredible Results! I really do hope that they come out with a line of DVDs that ALL involve the Rizer! It rocks!

*I received complimentary product in return for my participation in this campaign. I was compensated in no other way. All opinions are 100% my own.*

How I eat what I want on Nutrisystem: #NSNation

This isn’t just a catchy title or something Marie Osmond is directed to say—you REALLY can have all sorts of things that you normally wouldn’t consider ‘weight loss food.’ I have found that if I enjoy what I eat I do not need to cheat. Like that little mantra? It suits me well.

So I eat Chicken Alfredo and Pizza a LOT. I have chocolate shakes and I look forward to my Chocolate Fudge Brownie Sundae or a nice Whoopie Pie! (Which I’d like to thank Nutrisystem for that one! I’d never even heard of it before and now it’s a new favorite!)

How do I get to eat what I like you might be wondering? Well, my plan allows me to customize my meals! Yes! Just what I want! If I didn’t like the Tortellini the first month, I simply do not order it the next! I would recommend that you try as many different entrees and desserts as possible your first month, this way you’ll have a good feel for what Nutrisystem has to offer and what you like. Make sure that when you sign up you select the appropriate plan for customizing—I do not believe the basic and some of the other options accommodate us picky eaters! BUT—I will say, even if you cannot customize your order, I ate over 80% of what I was shipped the first go around. I kind of liked the ‘grab bag’ style surprise!

The reason you are able to eat so many yummy foods is this—Nutrisystem pre-portions things for you. You cannot over eat. There are enough nutritious components in the food that you really do feel satisfied for quite some time. Hint: Don’t give up in that first tough week, it takes about a week and a half or so for your tummy (or at least mine) to get used to the new size of portions! But, admittedly, I was eating enough calories to be back at my old job as a wildland firefighter—nearly 3,000 a day! The catch? I wasn’t working off any of it. I had a serious surplus of calories and what you really want to achieve is a deficit.

I already told you that I am a cheater. No, not on taxes or my hubby, but I do sometimes knowingly sit down with an Oreo or two. I drink just a little more milk than you should. I’m okay with that.
The second reason that you can really eat a lot of food on Nutrisystem is that you’re packing your plate with Smart Carbs and Power Fuels! I eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and occasionally cheese and nuts or nut butter. My favorites recently have been asparagus, sweet potatoes and carrots. It’s a little difficult to find yummy produce in the northern climes in the dead of winter, but thanks to canning during the fall and a little creativity, I’m doing okay!

It is with excitement that I end this post—I just got my shipment confirmation from Nutrisystem—to start month number two! Crazy how fast this is going by and I can really say—pretty painless! I’ve lost ten pounds – I keep wavering right around there, I lose .4 and then I gain .5 and then I stay the same for a day or two… I think everyone knows what that means…

Have you been experimenting with a new weight loss program? Do you have tips and tricks that keep the ball rolling for you? Dish!

*I received a complimentary meal plan in return for my participation in this campaign. I was compensated in no other way. All opinions are 100% my own.*

Bayfield Apple Festival ~ Great for Kids and Kids at Heart

Since we're a festival loving family and harvesters at heart, we decided a pilgrimage to Bayfield's iconic Apple Festival was in order in October. It was a VERY rainy weekend. This didn't dampen the spirits of festival-goers, though I heard skuttlebutt around town that it was the smallest crowd they'd seen in years... There were still plenty of eager apple pickers and cider drinkers to go around!

This is a great destination for an autumn trip -- here are some ideas about what you can do with your kiddos and where to eat, stay and play while you visit Bayfield and the surrounding area.


So, apples are a pretty obvious suggestion here. BUT, there are SO many different varieties of apples you could really fill yourself up sampling all of the orchard offerings! We were told that the Delta Diner (about 45 minutes from Bayfield) is a solid choice, but be prepared for a wait--it was so busy we settled on a malt to-go and kept on schlepping through the rain to Bayfield and ate at Gruenke's Inn which was really just okay. With little ones, all of the neat memorabilia on the walls and shelves is a little overwhelming. Cart foods are all along the city streets and I'd say any of that is super! For a long weekend like this, we prefer to do our own cooking and rent a kitchenette for lodging.


We really enjoyed our stay OUT of Bayfield – it was just much quieter and relaxing, though we had a drive in whenever we wanted to take in events or if we wanted to go out to eat. The Delta Lodge was a great choice for family-friendly accommodations that were lakeside with all of the amenities like a full kitchen and several bathrooms as well as an enclosed screen porch. We had canoes, a paddle boat, a little beach area and the sounds of the forest around us and it was delightful!

Another option that books fast but looks very intriguing is the Old Rittenhouse Inn. (Almost all of the Bayfield accommodations fill up about a year in advance, so plan early!) The large mansion-style inn has many themed rooms that may not be as great for kiddos, but would sure be neat for a more romantic getaway with a fantastic view of Lake Superior.

Sites & Attractions

Again, APPLES. If you're already sensing a theme, this is good. It's going to come up a bit here and there since it's APPLEFEST! We went to three different orchards and loved each one for different reasons. Some have different varieties on hand for picking, others have cute stores or great cider. Some have live music or even family photographers! There are dozens of orchards and you could fill a whole weekend visiting each one. Most are conveniently located around a harvest loop and maps are available from the area CVB and online. You can even park at one and bus into town, since parking in Bayfield is a nightmare.

We recommend Erickson’s Orchard for some apple picking fun. Erickson’s has wonderful live music, tours, an orchard maze for kids, and the best cider around. There is also a cute country store for all of your Apple Festival souvenirs. The owners are friendly and can tell you all you ever wanted to know about the history of the area—it’s a wholesome, generations-old orchard that got its’ start in a not-so-family-friendly way. The current owner told us how it was the site of an old-time cat house and men who could not pay their bill would plant trees to get out from under their debt!

Another great family-friendly option that isn’t terribly busy is Sunset Valley Orchard. This orchard had a family photographer on hand and even grape vines! The antique tractor on the property was a hit with our son and the old barn with the apple presses made a very interesting tour. There is again a very cute little country store on site where you can buy all sorts of themed goods.

Apple Fest is really a weekend-long event—get online and look into the events calendar for the festival, plan your days according to what you want to take in. You can do everything from dances to a traditional 5k carrying an apple (to make a yummy dessert when you finish!) There is a pageant and a coronation and lots of live entertainment as well as a carnival with rides.

Cornucopia is a nearby town that sits nestled on the shore of Lake Superior and is the site of the Wind and Water Festival – a kayak and kite gear swap and celebration. The little ‘hippie’ town is adorable and exuded good vibes. There is a lovely playground by the expansive sand beach and many slips with boats docked for the little ones to gaze upon in awe. Not far from there, you’ll find a rugged but relatively short trail to some ‘sea caves.’ It’s not real family friendly at all, but makes for an adventurous day hike.

Madeline Island was an attraction recommended to us by nearly everyone we spoke to. Our honest opinion? The Madeline Island Ferry is the best part of the whole experience. Most everything was closed by October, when the Apple Festival is going on and the weather was too stormy to do any of the Apostle Islands cruising. All of the shops were closed and we weren’t even able to find a place for lunch (since the few shops that were open were only serving supper hours.) Big Bay State Park would be nice for a picnic and Big Bay Town Park was exquisite and would be a wonderful wedding site or if you have kids willing and able, there are canoe and kayak rentals available there, though, once again, we were the only souls around. The lagoon at the Town Park is remarkable and would make for excellent paddling on a warm, sunny day. Judging by the numbers in the fleets pulled ashore, it must get very busy in the summer months.


If you want to see Madeline Island, make sure to either call ahead to ensure your attractions and restaurants will be open OR make two trips out of this and do the island in the summer and come back to the area for Apple Festival. Bring a stroller or wagon to the festival—the crowds are thick and you’ll be carrying the younger kids. It’s also a great tool for carrying your bushels of bagged apples and trinkets. Stay out of town—unless you like the commotion of the crowds and want to take it all in, we recommend staying in one of the smaller towns outside of the city.

Bottom Line

Apple Fest is one of those things you need to see and do at least once in your lifetime. It’s a very family-friendly festival and it can even be an educational trip. The kids will love it and the adults will be excited about the fact that much of the fun is inexpensive (or free) and outdoors! Enjoy the very last of the fall colors and harvest season before the cold winter sets in! Make the Apple Festival in Bayfield part of your itinerary for family fun this year!

Family fun at Mall of America ~ Indoor play is okay too!

Family Adventures at MOA

Any Midwestern family can say they loved their time at Mall of America. We are not real ‘shoppers’ and we do not love being in the city all the time. We don’t love crowds or spending all of our time indoors. 

BUT… Mall of America really impressed us and showed us that we can have a day or two of fun…inside…in a shopping mall…as a family!

Stores – There are so many stores that are totally kid friendly. Stores about Dinosaurs, Disney, all things boys will love, a store or two nearly all pink, American Girl, Lego, J.B. Cremps, Build-a-Bear Workshop… Really, your kids will be in heaven!

Build-a-Bear has a great in-house experience. The workers are wonderful with kiddos and they talk them through the entire process of making a little forever furry friend. We made a dinosaur and it melted my heart to see my son’s eyes light up as the experience was made ‘real’ for him. This is a very wholesome experience and relatively inexpensive.

The Lego Store left us feeling like we missed something—which we might have! I thought I remembered an area where kiddos could build and play, but we went in on the first floor and it was just a very empty store with some pre-built models on display, tons of Lego kits for purchase, and bins of colored Legos in the walls. Very sterile and no place we could see to play. We were pressed for time, so we did not ask about it, but I found it super disappointing! Hopefully we missed the fun somewhere—and other families can find it!

Attractions – The two really big ones that we really enjoyed were the SeaLife Minnesota Aquarium and Nickelodeon Universe.

SeaLife is very interesting. A wonderful collection of fishes and other sea creatures like jellyfish, turtles, and crazy, bright critters that I do not know names for. We did the “behind the scenes” tour – which is quite popular, so it didn’t seem very VIP – there were about a dozen of us on the tour. 

It’s neat and if you have kids that listen attentively or are little learners, then do this. It’s worth it. If you have a wiggly toddler that doesn’t want to sit for ten minutes at a time to listen to scientific talk, you might skip this until later in life. I LOVED it, but I’m a total nerd and scientist by trade, so it was right up my alley! They also do not allow strollers on all stretches of the tour, so keep that in mind, you’ll be leaving it behind.
My wiggly son did love the tunnels with the sharks and seeing the big turtles up close. He’s an oceanographer or something at heart I think, so we always love aquariums. This one is particularly family-friendly and it’s quite large! Definitely a must-see and do on your MOA list!

Formerly Camp Snoopy, Nickelodeon Universe is the indoor amusement park is place where families can spend a lot of time letting the kids get a little crazy! A highlight for our family was that the wristbands for kids didn’t get tapped by adult chaperoned rides. Since our son is under 48” and barely 36,” we had to have one or the other of us ride along and they didn’t “charge” us for it! The attendants of the rides were far friendlier than those in your average county fair or other amusement situation.

Lines were very short during the weekday we went (Thursday I think) and if you go during lunch/nap, it’s even better. Right at about one p.m. the crowds started filtering in. We were happy that we stretched the pre-nap exhaustion and didn’t opt to ride after, since it would have taken a lot longer.

All around the Mall you see American Girl bags. It was adorable to see a toddler draped over her father’s shoulder, sound asleep with a look-alike doll clamped under her arm. We have a little boy, so there was not too much of a draw to the store, but I did find myself hoping for a little girl someday, or maybe it was the little girl inside of me that had to admit the American Girl line is a neat thing for little ladies. (Or boys if they are interested in dolls. Mine seems to love trucks…)

Food This place has something for everyone. There are a lot of walk-up style vendors in the food court area but there are also several nice restaurants for kids and grown-ups alike to sit down, take a load off and indulge in some great food!

We personally LOVE the Rainforest CafĂ©. It’s kitschy and it’s always full of kids, so it may not be for everyone, but surprisingly the food is fantastic! It’s not like a kiddie restaurant – well, the atmosphere keeps kids elated but the menu keeps parents satisfied. This is a great location for birthday parties or special celebrations.

We had steak, ribs, a sampler of appetizers and even the famed Lava Cake dessert—it must honestly be an entire pan of brownies and about a quart of ice cream topped with hot fudge and a sparkler, but it is well worth the calories to indulge in the decadent fun!

The gift shop is enormous, so be ready to reign in the kids and detour if you don’t want to spend an hour and a fortune inside it. The many aquariums and rainforest noises along with kid sounds and thunderstorms and fresh food smells keep the all the senses busy! They also have great kids souvenir cups and menus, crayons, boosters—all the ‘supplies’ you need to get through a meal with wee ones.

*One complaint that is minimal, but needs to be voiced– very wet, messy, small bathrooms. Maybe we hit an off night, or maybe it’s just the plethora of children that frequent the facilities unsupervised, but we found in both men’s and women’s bathrooms lots of water on the floor, along with paper towels and just general messiness. Hopefully it was just an off day and it certainly wouldn’t make us not go back – but, you might want to accompany your kiddos in there to help them and the staff out!

All of your taste buds can be tempted in MOA – and I do think that every member of the family should find a place to keep their bellies full and happy. We did!

Tips: Bring a stroller. The entire complex is very stroller friendly. Rent a locker. If you have coats and things, pay the small fee to rent a locker and then you won’t need to tote it all around all day. Remember where you parked! (There are several lots and nothing ruins a great day like wandering around looking for the minivan!) If you are a leash parent (if you’re not that’s great too, I’m not here to comment either way, it’s just a suggestion), you might think about bringing it – we used a stroller with great success, but I could see having a passel of small kiddos being a little stressful with so many people and crowds and noises. Better safe than sorry!

Final Thoughts – MOA has a lot of fun special events going on year around. From their signature Toddler Tuesdays to events for upcoming entertainment like hosting some of the actors and actresses from the Hunger Games for a meet and greet, the Mall has it ‘goin’ on!’ On Saturdays, they show free family movies in the MOA Theater. There is mini-golf and you can even become a “mall walker.”

Plan on spending an entire LONG day or a few days enjoying MOA. We were surprised by how stress-free and enjoyable a day at a shopping mall could be! Especially the largest one around!