Friday, June 26, 2015

Door County Lighthouses

On our trip to Door County we hit up many of the more accessible lighthouses. If you're looking for some great pictures from your trip to DC, be sure to check these out. The last one, which was actually our first stop, is my absolute favorite.

1. Cana Island Lighthouse - This one is located on an island within a park. There's a $7 fee to go into a park, and then an additional $5 if you want to climb up into the lighthouse. I probably wouldn't take my family here in terms of bang for my buck with small children, but if you're into maritime history, they have a lot of really cool info on site. One last note - there is no running water on the island, so plan accordingly.

2. Range Lighthouses - These took us forever to find, but once we did, we were able to walk right up. The lower and upper range lights are not technically lighthouses as I would define them, but are included on the tour, and still create very cool photos. Especially if you need your traditional gym mom handstand pose.


3. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse - Probably my second favorite lighthouse that we visited. This one is also inside a park, and there is a $5 day pass that you need to buy, but the view, the flowers, and the experience make it worth the pass, for sure. We stopped all along the way to take pictures before we even got to the lighthouse.

4. Sturgeon Bay Canal Pierhead Light (and Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Light) - So this one was my absolute favorite in terms of view and the actual lighthouse itself. It's a little awkward to get to, because most of the property is run by the Coast Guard, and there are all kinds of fun signs about trespassing and Homeland Security. However, don't be driven away, you ARE allowed to go see this lighthouse, and it is beautiful.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Watch It Wednesday: Nebraska Gymnastics Camp Dance

You can't see R in most of the dance, since she's standing behind the tallest girl on the floor, but the dance itself is super cute!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Eating My Way Through Door County

There is no shortage of places to eat in Door County, that's for sure. Not to mention we didn't get a chance to eat at Al Johnson's restaurant, which is apparently crazy famous for their Swedish food. We did stop to see the goats on the roof, but they were not out because of the rain, unfortunately. But I digress. I wanted to share some of the places we did stop to eat and give you a few tips!

1. The first night we had dinner at Mojo Rosa's. I won't say it was my favorite place that we ate, but if you're here, the guacamole is excellent, and I really enjoyed the steak quesadilla I had. It was also very clean and the staff was friendly. 

2. Every time I find myself on a North Iowa Blogger trip I find myself saying, "Oh my gosh, I can't eat anything else." And then somebody puts ice cream in front of me. Our next food stop of the trip was at Wilson's for ice cream, because more than one fellow blogger insisted it was a "must do" place to visit. Wilson's was a great little 50s themed diner where we got an assortment of ice cream flavors. I tried the berry sundae since it came with famous Door County cherries, and I was not disappointed. To be honest, I don't even really like cherries, but I thought when in Rome Door County... 

3. Day 2 (and 3) kicked off with an incredible breakfast at Gordon Lodge. I already talked about the breakfasts at Gordon Lodge a bit in my previous post, but I'll add that I would probably drive back there just to eat the seasoned potatoes again. 

4. Lunch on day two was another one of those experiences where I walked away saying that I couldn't eat anything else. The Cowboy Burger at Wild Tomato was phenomenal (especially with the added avocado), and the mac and cheese on the side was deliciously homemade. I've got another post on that one coming up, so stay tuned, but this will be a stop on my return visit for sure. 

5. And once again, I can't eat anymore until... ice cream. Although in this case it's gelato. Door County Creamery had some of the most amazing salted caramel gelato I've ever tasted. Sure, for many people you're probably thinking that how often do you find salted caramel gelato? But for me, the answer is quite frequently. I buy it any chance I get! It was seriously amazing. 

6. Lunch on day 3 was recommended by Ben from Gravity Trails. For only $5.95 we got a giant sandwich, chips, and a cookie. Places to feed your family for $6/person are few and for between. And places to feed your family something delicious and fairly nutritious (vs fast food) for $6/person are even more rare. This place is at the top of my list, for sure. Not only did we have this for lunch (you can see I ordered roast beef on whole wheat bread), but I'm not ashamed to tell you that Donna of and I went back to grab a second sandwich to take on the road for dinner. For the record, it got a bit soggy after sitting in the car for a few hours, but it was still excellent. 

7. Finally, on our way back into the "mainland" of Wisconsin, we had to stop at Renard's to pick up cheese curds, spreads, and a few free samples. Now I love good cheese balls (yes, in Iowa we call deep fried cheese curds "cheese balls," and we dip them in ranch dressing), but I am not a huge fan of the *squeeky* cheese curd on its own. That being said, one of my fellow travelers picked up some white cheddar cheese curds, and they were pretty tasty. I picked up some cheese spreads that are hidden in my fridge so my husband doesn't eat them before I can enjoy them. I really appreciated their sample station to help me figure out what I liked.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Zipping Through Door County with Gravity Trails

I was given free admission to the Gravity Trails zip line course to facilitate my review. All opinions are honest and my own.  

When we arrived at Gravity Trails, which is actually located at Egg Harbor Fun Park (but operated separately), I wasn't sure what we were getting into. I've never been zip lining before, and from where I was sitting I couldn't see the whole course. When our "tour guides" arrived to greet us, we realized that the course wasn't just between the two poles that we could see from our seating area, but it wrapped around two sides of the fun park area. So we got dressed in our sweet helmets, harnesses, and gloves, and headed out to the first platform. 

Something that I learned from my travel companions that is unique about Gravity Trails is that we started with a rock wall climb. This was great, and gave it another level of adventure and challenge. I'd never done a real rock wall, either, but this one was perfect. They had an easy side, which we all used, as well as a hard side for the more experienced climber, and for the beginner who is not into rock wall climbing, there were actually spaces between the boards that the "rocks" were on, creating a ladder type effect. So we climbed up the rock wall, without much trouble. North Iowa Bloggers are champion rock wall climbers, apparently. 
We made it across the first line successfully, after being coached by our two awesome guides, Ben and Justin. They did the braking for us, which was helpful, since I don't even really know what that means - I'm guessing based on context that they kept me from slamming into the platform. On the second platform I made a small mistake. The platform is a little lower, so you have to left your knees. I have a giant welt/bruise on my shin (don't ask from what, I have no idea), so not wanting to hit my shin again, I decided to reach out with my feet and grab the platform. Fail. Luckily, I was able to hang on with my toes while Ben grabbed my feet and pulled me back in. At no point was it scary, I was very secure, and Ben was a pro, but I felt a little silly! 

On our trip from the third platform one of our other bloggers made a mistake similar to mine, but she ended up in the middle of the course. This was actually really good to see because a) she was okay, hanging securely in her harness, and b) I'm able to write about it now to let you know what happens. So Ben, like a champ, hooks up to the line, glides out to her, and then pulls them both back, hand over hand, to safety. I think he probably rivaled my gymnast in upper body strength. It was very cool, and very low key.  On the fourth line you go out over a pond, and they actually just did a bunch of planting, so eventually it will be out over some landscaping as well, and then run up a dirt pile so you end up back on the ground. 

This was overall one of the best experiences I've ever had, in no small part due to our amazing guides. Justin and Ben were super fun and knowledgeable, and we had a blast with them. The course is actually much more robust than it looked when we first arrived, so I pleasantly surprised with all that we got to do. I asked about being able to take my kids on it, of course, thinking they might love this. Justin said that there is no weight minimum, but Ben added that the harness has to fit - which obviously makes sense. The week before we came Justin said they had a younger child, maybe 7 or 8 years old who was able to go, but you'll probably want to check with them before hand. 

Gravity Trails also offers gem mining at the Egg Harbor Fun Park site, and kayak tours based out of Gordon Lodge. We weren't able to kayak because the weather wasn't cooperating, but I would definitely do it on my next visit!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Watch it Wednesday: Cyclone Football Highlight Reel

This week on "Watch It Wednesday" you can check out highlights from A's experience at the Iowa State Cyclones football camp!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Summer Camp Prep

This week we'll be in Lincoln, Nebraska for summer gymnastics camp with several team members. Going to camp is one of my favorite parts of the off season, because it gives the girls an opportunity to get out of their comfort zones, try some new things, and have fun with their teammates outside of the gym (sort of).

In order to get ready for camp, I like to do a few things ahead of time.

1. Check out the Visitor's Bureau of the city you'll be visiting - especially if you don't know anyone local. They'll have the inside scoop on what events are taking place, and special summer activities, and often have brochures and coupons for you to utilize during your visit. Here's the Lincoln tourism site, in case you have a visit planned soon.

2. Fundraise! Our gym lets all the families who are going to camp do a concession stand fundraiser at the annual spring show, which is a huge help. I also "make" R go around to our friends and family to collect their cans and bottles to take to the redemption center to get a little extra money. Our deal is that if she wants me to pay for camp, she has to do her part in earning some money. She also does chores for grandmas or for me. I think it's important that she understands that this is an extra, and somewhat expensive, opportunity, and not just something to be taken lightly.

3. Make your packing list, and then remind yourself that you won't need half of it. Don't overdo it on the packing. Nobody cares what I look like while I'm there, so workout clothes go a long way, and the girls spend *most* of the week in the gym - other than clean leos for every day they don't need a ton of extra stuff along.

4. Look for ways to save money. Gymnastics is an expensive sport, so anytime we can save money, I jump on it. Our team moms share rooms, pack lunches, and stock up on water and snacks before heading out. We car pool, eat things like Subway instead of going out every night, and spend a lot of time by the hotel pool for entertainment.

5. Enjoy the mommy/daughter bonding time! I don't actually end up getting a lot of true vacation time over the summer it seems, but this is one time when I can sit back and enjoy my time to myself and time with my kid. During the day I like to walk or jog, check out the local shopping scene, or lounge by the pool. In the evenings I get dinner with my daughter, find out all about her day, and maybe watch a movie. Take advantage of the down time, not having other kids around, not having work calls to take, and relax.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Mid Season Slump

I was talking to another gym mom the other day about summer schedules, and we started talking about the crazy hours our girls put in over the summer. I started thinking about the cycle that athletes go through in a competition and training season. In every athletic season there comes a time when it's just not fun. It's stressful. It's hard. It's long. You're missing out on other things. You're mentally drained, and it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It seems to me like this happens about twice a year. Once in the middle of the competition season, and once in the off season.

Since the off season is generally longer than a competition season, it can drag on and on. At the beginning, you're excited for a little break. It's time to rest, rejuvenate, and relax. It's time for a much needed break (mental and physical), no matter how much you love your sport. At the end of the off season, you're excited to get back into the season. The days and hours tick down, you don't have much time left to perfect your routine, to learn that new skill, to reach peak performance level. All that hard work is about to pay off as you count down to that first step out onto the mat (or field, or court, or track). The middle, however, is rough. You're done resting and ready to go, but the regular season is still too far away to get you excited. This is when champions are made. You can push through and step up, or you can take the day off, skip a practice here and there, or worse yet, walk away*.

The other slump often hits during the season. The hours are long. You're putting in work like nobody knows. Your weekends are full, your nights are long, emotions run high, and the adrenaline of starting a new season begins to wear off. This is when you separate the good from the great. The focus that it takes to push through and excel during a season is something that must be trained as much as the physical aspects. You have to dig deep and remember why you play the game. Why you love the sport. Why you put on that leo or pick up that ball in the first place. Mid-season (training or competition) is tough.

One thing I will say though, is that you should never make mid-season decisions. Most of us won't participate in our sports forever. Whether it was your first love or just a hobby, eventually you hang up the cleats - or the leo. But once you decide it's your time to be done, there aren't always second chances - especially in those activities that are more physically demanding. So give yourself time and space to make those decisions, and give your kids time and space.

How do you get through the tough times? How do you maintain focus? I'd love to hear from you!

*Obviously when I'm talking about kids I fully realize that there needs to be a healthy balance between discipline and dedication, and "just being a kid."

Friday, June 12, 2015

Egg Harbor Fun Park

I was given free admission to the go karts and paintball range to facilitate my review. All opinions are honest and my own. 

Ryan - Fun Park employee
What do you do when you're travel blogging and you have some free time? Ask a local business if they'll let you drive their go karts, of course. Mark from Egg Harbor Fun Park in Door County, WI (technically in Egg Harbor, WI) was pretty much the most relaxed businessman I've ever met. He was super friendly and more than willing to let us spend some time at his park. From bounce houses to a paintball range to go karts to miniature golf, Egg Harbor Fun Park had a wide variety of activities for every age level. I didn't even get a chance to check out the batting cages or the arcade. We didn't get a chance to mini golf either, but I can promise you I'll be bringing my family back here to play their course. You could definitely spend several hours here with the whole family. They even have pizza for when you need a break!

We did, however, make sure we checked out the go karts in the first ever North Iowa Blogger Go Kart Derby (I don't even know if that's an appropriate use of the word 'derby' but I'm gonna roll with it). Donna of passed all of us, but I like to think for a newbie I held my own! We had a blast racing around the "Dragon's Tail."

After our epic race track experience, we asked to check out their paintball range. I've maybe shot a gun twice in my life, under the direct supervision of my father and my grandfather, and I had never shot a paintball gun. Oh my gosh, I totally get why people do this! Also, I took pretty much my favorite selfie of the trip with the paintball gun.

One turn is approximately 30 paint balls, and three people can go at once. We had a blast hitting the different targets on the course. The only sad part was that the bell didn't ring when you hit it - although Ryan, our helpful Fun Park employee, said it used to, so maybe we just didn't hit it in the right spot.

I will definitely be back to the Egg Harbor Fun Park with my family, where we'll probably take advantage of their package deals for attractions and pizza. And for the record, I'll totally kick my husband's butt at mini golf.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Post-Game Pizza: Pickles Pub

Each week after husband plays football we go out for pizza. Usually we head to The Seneca Street Saloon, a major Midwest Rampage sponsor, but last weekend my in-laws really wanted to go to Pickles Pub in Kamrar, so I thought it was a great opportunity for an area restaurant review.

Now, if you're going to go to Pickles, especially on a weekend, you'll either want a reservation or to arrive early. Despite being located in a town of something like 200 people, it seems like you'll always find plenty of people at Pickles. Traveling from Mason City, Ames, or locally, people know that at Pickles you'll get great people. Though they have a great selection of sandwiches and a pretty extensive kids' menu, the pizza is what their known for. I don't think I've ever found a restaurant that puts more cheese on their pizza. It's pretty much uh-may-zing. I also think there's something to be said for pizza that is cut into squares instead of triangles. Too many people underestimate the deliciousness of pizza in a square. I'm pretty sure all the best kinds are served that way. For example, have you been to Zeno's Pizza in Marshalltown lately? Another excellent example of delicious square pizza.

I didn't order the pizza that night, however. I ordered something that I think is even better. What do you get when you combine cheese, steak fries, jalapenos, cheese, bacon, and more cheese (and in my case, a side of ranch)? You get heaven, that's what. Or "Pickles fries." A dear colleague introduced these to me several years ago before a school event, and I have been in love ever since. I can't eat a whole order by myself (even though I've tried), so I recommend sharing an order with a friend. Or getting a to go box. Either way, you can't leave without having these fries, or you didn't do it right.

To give you an idea on size and ordering, we had a party of 6 adults (3 men, 3 women) and 3 kids, which included drinks, fried pickles, Pickles fries, and two large pizzas. We had about half a pizza left to take home. The meal was a little pricier than some, but this is one of those instances where you get what you pay for - deliciousness. Complete, utter deliciousness worth every penny.

Finally, and this was new, each of my kids received a Pickles whistle for safety! It was suggested that they keep it with their bikes or on the playground. First of all, I thought this was great marketing - the kids love it and were so excited. Second of all, this is such a practical thing to give away. The kids can't wait to go to the playground and take their whistles. For the record, it didn't take long for E to figure out how to operate his whistle. In the car. Right behind my father-in-law. Oops!

What's your favorite thing to get at Pickles? Any tips from locals for people visiting?

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Family Friendly Stay at Gordon Lodge

I received two nights' stay at Gordon Lodge to facilitate my review. All opinions are honest and my own. 

If you've been following my social media accounts, you know that I just returned from an AMAZING #NorthIowaBloggers trip to Door County, Wisconsin. Part of what made our stay so amazing was our accommodations at Gordon Lodge. Right outside of Bailey's Harbor, Gordon Lodge is a great location for family fun. Our group stayed in their cabins, which were conveniently located right across from the breakfast hall, near the main building for check-in, and of course, situated right on Lake Michigan. Gordon Lodge offers plenty of activities for active families right on the grounds, including bicycles you can grab to ride the trails, kayaking, tennis courts, pool and hot tub,
and basketball hoops. I know my kids could have stayed busy without ever leaving the lodge!

Our cabins were extremely family friendly, as well. Donna of and I shared one cabin, which featured two bedrooms (a king and then two doubles), each with their own separate bathroom, a kitchen area, living room, fireplace, two patio areas, and an incredible view of the lake. The fireplace even came with a fully stocked wood supply and instructions for how to start your own fire. As an educator, I firmly believe in learning from your failures, and my first attempt was definitely a failure. However, on night number two I think I was able to get the fire going for a solid half an hour before it fizzled out. Maybe don't put me on Survivor, I'll freeze and we'll go hungry, but it was pretty while it lasted! 

The breakfast buffet was great each morning (we got vouchers for breakfast, non-guests could buy the buffet for $12), and included a great variety of the basics (cereal, fruit, yogurt, scrambled eggs) with more gourmet options (feta and spinach scrambled eggs, french toast with warmed orange marmalade). I'm pretty sure the whole family would be able to find something to start their morning off right. 

The impeccable landscaping, combined with the obvious scenic beauty of the lake made this one of my favorite places we visited.

A couple of things to note when you

1. Sometimes the Door County trolleys visit, and they sometimes block the driveway. One time we had to drive the wrong way down a one way path to get to our cabins because the entrance was blocked off.
2. The fire wood sits outside your door, so if it has been raining you may be less successful at starting a fire (of course it could never be my inexperience at actually building a fire that kept it from burning all night long!).
3. The kayaking is subject to weather/lake conditions - this is obviously for your safety, but still something to be aware of. We were unable to take advantage of this opportunity for that reason.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

What Defines Us is How Well We Rise After Falling

Last week R got her grips at the gym. She said it makes it a lot harder to do her skills - until she gets some practice in and get used to them, she's not going to get those skills as easily as she was before. One of the greatest qualities I've seen in my tiny gymnast (and our whole team) is the ability to overcome adversity. A fall on beam doesn't mean you don't come out and rock it on bars. A missed skill on floor doesn't mean you can't medal on vault. It's about being mentally tough - an inner strength of character.

Sometimes when you're an athlete, a lot of times, maybe, things don't go as planned. You get in your head, you have to adjust to new situations, you get out-performed. People doubt you; you doubt yourself. Sometimes you lose a game; it's just not your day. You fall on a skill you've done for months. These are the times when we find out what we're made of; when you either pick yourself up and push through, or you pack it up and call it the end.

But you never quit. You brush yourself off and get back up. What happened yesterday doesn't matter. Tomorrow matters. Tomorrow is another day. You get up, you get back on track, and you move closer to your dreams. Closer to your goals. Closer to greatness. You get it done. Because where there is no struggle, there is no strength. You get better, you get stronger, you keep going.