Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our Best Parenting Tool: Prepping our Kids

Having 4 boys and going anywhere is tough. Being appropriate when we get there is even tougher. We try to spend most of our time in places that are made for boys...parks, bounce houses, swimming pools, gymnasiums, trampoline arenas, beaches, get the idea.

But, sometimes we have to, or choose to, go places that are not meant for 4, restaurants, homes with nice furnishings, libraries, museums, places of employment, malls, doctors, weddings, grocery stores, you catch my drift?

photo taken at the DIA, right after my son said, very loudly, "I can't believe this is in a museum! I can paint way better than this!" We are working on our art appreciation :).
I cannot tell you the hullabaloo that would often arise when we would try to eat at a restaurant together. Fights about who to sit by, arguments about getting soda, one person who didn't like what we were ordering, not enough crayons, issues about sharing food, staying in our seats, staying in our seats, staying in our seats, spilling water, spilling food, throwing food, bothering the booth behind us, bathroom breaks, and lying on the floor. Someone always ended the excursion by lying on the floor. So, so gross. But, I let them, because they were quiet, hidden, and I could finally eat something. You know what they say about desperate times...

So, we stopped going out to dinner, mostly. But sometimes we still had to go, and we couldn't just say "no" to every excursion that was not outdoors, so we needed a plan.

That is when we started doing something that changed our lives. We started prepping our kids. I think it was Mike's idea, and it was brilliant. We realized that we were freaking out about their behavior without really letting them know what we expected and what the consequences would be for misbehavior. We were just crossing our fingers they would be good, then reacting to emergency after emergency.

A total dining success at a fancy restaurant at the Aerie Restaurant at the Grand Traverse Hotel
Prepping our kids is, by far, our best parenting tool and we use it all the time. It works for every age.

For example, if we are going to dinner at a restaurant with grandma and grandpa, in the car on the way over we prep. The conversation goes something like this:

Us: It's really nice of grandma and grandpa to invite us to dinner tonight. How are we going to act?
Them: Nice.
Us: What does nice mean?
Them: We aren't going to run around or be crazy. Can we play grandma's phone?
Us: No. They want us to come to dinner to spend time with them. You can chat with them and tell them about your day, school or your sports. Make sure you ask them about their life too. What can you think of to chat about?
Them: Maybe science fair or my new book.
Us: Great. Everyone think of 2 things you would like to talk about or ask them about. Now, when we are eating how do we act?
Them: Good.
Us: What does good mean?
Them: We stay in our chairs and use manners. We use our fork and we ask for things to be passed. We don't yell or play with our food or fight.
Us: What if the server refills your water or brings you more fries?
Them: We say thank you.
Us: If someone asks you a question, do you ignore them?
Them: No, look at them and answer it.
Us: Do we ever get on the floor?
Them: No. It's disgusting.
Us: When you are finished what is the plan? The adults are usually still eating.
Them: We can color on our menus or maybe someone who is done can take us outside. Maybe we could play someone's phone?
Us: Sounds good. If you can't show us that you are old enough to come to dinner with us, converse, and make it a nice experience, then next time you will be home with a babysitter.

For my little guy, on the way to the park we try this (note: much harder with 2 year-olds):

Me: We are going to the park today to play with friends! Do we hit our friends or push our friends?
Pierce: No. We be nice.
Me: Are we going to share our snacks?
Pierce: Yes.
Me: Will we share our ball?
Pierce: Yes.
Me: Okay, if we can't share our things, what happens?
Pierce: We put them away.
Me: If we can't be kind, or we push or hit we will go home, okay?
Pierce: Okay.

Now, real life is never quite as pleasant as the prepping conversation, but the experience is about 100% better than it is without the prep. Honestly, it is painfully obvious when we forget to do it. We use it all the time...when people come to visit, when we have friends over, when we are getting home late and need everyone in bed quickly, when we go see someone we haven't spent much time with, when someone in the family has a  new baby, before a play date. You name it, we prep for it.

We still have some serious fails on a fairly regular basis, but our expectations are realistic. We don't expect perfection, just effort, and that is good enough for us.

Now, I can't leave without a note about consequences. They MUST be realistic and easy to follow through on. When things start to go downhill, we give quick reminders about our conversation and it usually does the trick, but if it doesn't we have to act. So, be realistic! If you know you won't leave the park, think of something you will do, like sit in the car together or take a time out on the park bench until they can be nice. If you know everyone will come to dinner the next time, perhaps the consequence could be they have to make or clean up dinner the next night to give you back a peaceful night for the one they took away. Be clever, but make them realistic! Kids know empty threats all too well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bookworm Wednesday: My Brother Sam is Dead


This Bookworm Wednesday is written by Sariah Sharp, a great friend and an avid reader. You can find her writing on her blog, Chocolate Phoenix. 

My Brother Same Is Dead is a fantastically written piece of historical fiction, geared toward young adult readers but equally as satisfying for adults. It won a well-deserved Newberry Award and is required reading in many classrooms. 

The story is set during the American Revolution from a realistic, refreshing point of view. The characters are Loyalists, but the oldest son, Sam, joins the Continental Army. You get to see the horrific deeds of both the British and the Continental armies with a strong tie to factual events and people. This book is full of real history weaved together with characters you can relate to and grow to love. There is some offensive language and violence (a bit surprising for the age this book is geared for), but both the language and violence keep it authentic. 

This is a great book for parents to read alongside their children and discuss the reality of war, loyalty and love. summary:
All his life, Tim Meeker has looked up to his brother Sam. Sam's smart and brave -- and is now a part of the American Revolution. Not everyone in town wants to be a part of the rebellion. Most are supporters of the British -- including Tim and Sam's father.
With the war soon raging, Tim know he'll have to make a choice -- between the Revolutionaries and the Redcoats . . . and between his brother and his father.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Indoor Fun: Matthaei Botanical Gardens Conservatory, Ann Arbor

Today we have a guest post by writer Janice Richardson!

With Michigan's unpredictable weather, sometimes we need a little artificial warmth and green, so a morning at the indoor greenhouse at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens is the perfect remedy for the winter (and spring) blahs.   

Until Easter, the visit is especially delightful because fairies are vacationing in the Conservatory!  We completed the fairy scavenger hunt, looked for fairy houses, fairy doors, troll houses, and even the fairies themselves. 

The Botanical garden also has a great BINGO game for kids to complete as they look for different plants in the Conservatory.  My kids were thrilled when they got a sticker for completing their activities.

You can also borrow an Explorer Backpack (parents just need to leave an ID at the front desk to remind you to return the packs.)  Each of my children wanted to check one out, which wasn't a problem because there are plenty!  The packs are filled with things like binoculars, magnifying glasses, trail maps, animal track guides, leaf identification guides, and a small book about pond wildlife.  The only challenge with the Explorer Packs was for my two year old who chose a large backpack that was a big as she is!

Insider info.

The Conservatory isn't huge, so you can see it all in about 60-90 minutes.  Our family favorites include a Venus fly trap and two fish ponds (always a highlight with my toddler!).  I love the wide variety of plants from around the world and enjoy the careful labeling and information accompanying the vegetation.

The living kaleidoscope has a stool for kids to reach the eye piece.  Look though the viewer and spin the rotating planter.  You'll see an amazing changing view of green plants.  It's a neat contraption!

There is a large Bonsai exhibit outside, and several trees are also on display inside the Conservatory.  If you are interested in Bonsai, the Bonsai Society meets regularly and offers classes for all levels.  An annual Bonsai Show is usually held in the summer.

At the back of the Conservatory is the Arid Houseor desert section, which is were you will find lots of cacti! The paths here are surrounded by walls, which keep little fingers away from sharp cacti spines.

The Conservatory at the Matthaeai Botanical Gardens is a great adventure.  You can feel like you are visiting a new land without even leaving Ann Arbor!  We are hoping for warmer weather soon so that we can visit the outdoor children's garden, which is also wonderful!

A few tips.

The fairies are only vacationing in the Conservatory until Easter, so visit soon!

Leave your coats in the coatroom.  The Conservatory is warm and tropical inside, so leave your coats in the coatroom located off of the front entrance so you don't have to lug them around with you.

Soak in the warmth and the beautiful colors of flowers in bloom year round!

If you go. 

Hours: 10am-4:30am until mid-May, trails are open 7am-dusk.  Summer hours differ.

Address: 1800 N Dixboro Rd, Ann Arbor

Admission: Free! Donations welcome.

Parking: $1.40/hour, or $5 max per day.  There is lots of parking and you pay at one of two onsite kiosks which accept coins, bills, or credit cards.

Food: Food is not permitted in the conservatory, but there are a few indoor tables in the lobby and a small snack bar to purchase from or bring your own snacks.  There are picnic tables outside as well. 

Classes and Birthdays: the Botanical Gardens offer a variety of classes for all age groups and their prices are very reasonable.  You can also host your child's birthday party at the Gardens.  See website for more details.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ann Arbor Hands On Museum, Bricks 4 Kidz, Kidz Art, and Club Scientific

image via AAHOM
One of the best places for kids in Ann Arbor is the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum, and if you have not attended on a weekend, you must...always something great going on. Check out the schedule here. If you have toddlers, give the AAHOM toddler story-time a try on Tuesdays from 9-10 and Saturdays from 10:30-11:30. The little ones get to enjoy a book and a science related activity...such a great way to connect literature and science at a young age! If you want to know more, you can check out our review here.

image via Bricks 4 Kidz

If you have not signed up for a Bricks 4 Kidz summer camp yet, now is the time! It is more than just playing with Legos. Camp themes include: Remote Control Mania • Super Heroes • Space Adventures • Movie Making • Comic Creator  Jr. Robotics • Angry Birdies/Bad Piglet • Mining & Crafting• CHI & Ninjago • Pirate Quest  Friends Camp for Girls• Bricks Arts & Craft

image via KidzArt!
Canton's best kept secret for your little and big artitst is KidzArt! KidzArt is a fantastic program where kids ages 2-18 get to experience the joys of creating. The curriculum is age appropriate and allows children to explore art in a personal and uninhibited way. They offer daytime classes, after school classes, summer camps, and birthday parties! 

image via Club Scientific
If you have a child who loves to figure out how things work, he/she will love Club Scientific! Located in Canton, they offer so many options for your little Albert Einstein including preschool, summer camps, after school programs, birthday parties and special events. Keep your little one's brain working this summer as they explore the wonders of science!

Thanks to these fantastic businesses for sponsoring and supporting Mom Explores Michigan, please check them out and show your support! If you are interested in sponsoring Mom Explores Michigan, click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our Favorite Hikes, Restaurants and Sights in St. George

My parents bought a home in St. George, Utah a few years ago. I must admit, I wondered why. I had always seen St. George as a sleepy retirement community or a place for silly high schoolers to cruise the Boulevard, but one spring break week with my husband, 4 boys and my extended family (and many weeks since) and I am completely sold. It just may be one of our favorite vacation spots ever. So, I wanted to share with you what we like best.

My parents' home is near Snow Canyon, which is a bit out of town, so we usually arrive, go shopping at Costco and spend our mornings hiking, our afternoons swimming, and eat in. There really is nothing better. I am positive that hiking is the best free family activity out there. Everyone can do it (even our 2 year old!), everyone enjoys it, it keeps us active, and allows us to explore and appreciate the beauty of nature. Here are a few you must try:

SNOW CANYON HIKES (Park entrance fee $6)

Butterfly Trial: This one is our very favorite, so if you only have time to do one, choose this. It is daring enough to keep the boys interested and moving (the beginning is a little slick and steep) but it is not scary. The last half is fairly flat and allows time to enjoy the views of the red and white rocks on all sides. When the butterfly trail ends, you can turn to your left and hike up a HUGE rock formation. The hike is a little difficult but doable if you are willing to push. The view from the top is unbeatable and a few guys were throwing a frisbee from the top to the bottom which made for some good entertainment. We loved the climb! If you go to your right, you can hike the Lava Tubes.

Lava Tubes: These are also a must. My boys were in love with exploring the deep caves. The average family can climb down for a minute and poke around, but if you are really daring and have head lamps, you can wind through the lava tubes. This is not for the leisurely hiker or for little ones. If you plan on hiking the lava tubes, wear sturdy shoes and pants and preferably a long sleeve shirt since it's easy to get scraped up. You will also have the chance to climb through small spaces, so if you are claustrophobic, don't push it.

Marble Mountain: This hike starts in Snow Canyon at the "Upper Galut" trail head. It looks like a nice picnic area, but if you keep walking up the mountain, you can find tons of naturally formed marbles out of the red rock. It is pretty amazing! My kids loved collecting them and seeing how they were formed. As a family we enjoyed hiking up the large rocks to the very top. At times it was steep and for a moment we needed to be on all fours but it wasn't hard. It also wasn't crowded at all...a nice bonus!

White Rocks Trail: A little longer hike that allows hikers to also explore the white rock amphitheater. This hike gives views of the white rocks and lava flows with plenty to keep everyone moving and interested.

Sand Dunes: If you have time to stick around and play or if you have little ones that don't plan on hiking, you can spend hours and hours playing in the warm, soft, red sand. Bring some toys for digging, sunscreen, and some snacks and it is an awesome way to spend the afternoon. One warning, just recently there was a death from someone stepping into a sink hole here. It almost never happens, but be sure to stay together.


Gunlock Reservoir: We would love to do this hike when the water is flowing during the spring and there are waterfalls. We have heard amazing things about it at that time of year, but we have never seen it ( from our research, it rarely happens, but if it does you will need your swimsuit). We still enjoyed our hike though...the boys loved blazing their own trail and really exploring. Best for older kids who don't need a trail and who like a little adventure, but our little ones were fine too.

Chuckwalla Trail: This is one of the easiest hikes (walks) in St. George but it is beautiful and my boys love it. It's about 1 mile, but you can turn back whenever you are tired. The path is easy to follow and we even found a tortoise the last time we were there! A perfect beginners hike!

The Glass Mine: This is located just south of St. George and is an abandoned Gypsum mine. Our friends went and said it was so cool! They came out with plenty of pieces of their own gypsum. We can't wait to give it a try next time. It is hard to find, but the directions here can get you there!

Photo via HERE

Photo via HERE
Dixie Rock: There are tons of tunnels and trails at Dixie Rock that can make for a great morning of exploring.

image via HERE
Padre Canyon Trail: This trail starts in Tuachan and ends in Snow Canyon if you go all the way through. A little adventurous but doable.
Trail Passing in Between Large Rocks
image via HERE

Santa Clara Petroglyphs: I cannot even imagine how excited my boys would be to actually discover real petroglyphs! We will definitely be taking this hike on our next trip.

Santa Clara Pictographs
image via HERE
Red Reef Trail: This hike is fun and scenic and takes you to a natural pool. Park at the Red Cliff's Campground and take it from there.
image via


As I said above, we spent most of our time grilling our own food, but we have lots of friends who take the opportunity to eat out in St. George and love it. Here are some of their suggestions for a hungry tummy. We are looking forward to eating our way through St. George on future trips.

Breakfast at Tifiny's $
Kneader's $
Cafe Rio $
Five Guys $
Mad Pita (owners are from Michigan woot! woot!) $
25 and Main $
Anasazi $$$
Capaletti $$
Benja's Thai and Sushi $$
Don Pedro's $
The Egg and I $$
Black Bear Diner $$
Habit Burger $
Piccolo Mondo $$
Irmita's $
Wagon Wheel $
Pizza Factory $
Veyo Pies $ (food too!)
Croshaw Pies $ (food too!)
Nielsen Frozen Custard $
The Sugar Cookie $
Swig $
Fractured Prune Doughnuts $


Church History: There is lots of Mormon Church History to visit here! It is always fascinating to learn about the early settlers in an area. We stopped at the Brigham Young summer home, the Jacob Hamblin House, the St. George Temple, and the St. George Tabernacle. They have tours going on, but if you have a large group, you can schedule your own.

trying fresh grapes at the Brigham Young Summer Home

Tuachan: If you are around May-October, Tuachan is AMAZING...something you will not want to miss. This season they will be putting on The Little Mermaid, The Wizard of Oz, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat. The quality is really impressive and it keeps young and old completely entranced.

image via HERE
Parks: St. George has a million parks and splash pads to choose from. A few highlights are Cottonwood Cove Park and the Hidden Valley Splash Pad.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Video Worth Watching with your Kids

In our home we talk about kindness A LOT. We try to model it in our interactions with people. We try to catch our boys when they are being mean and make them take notice, apologize and change. We try to catch them when they are being kind and notice and compliment. But, sometimes, they are still unkind...

It takes constant reminders and examples and some of our boys need the reminders more than others. I never realized how rigorous this whole parenting thing would turn out to be! Am I right? Recently we watched this video together that seemed to really hit home. I saw a little light go on in my 11 year old's brain as he started to connect how words and actions affect others. I honestly believe that often kids (especially young ones) don't set out to be mean or really hurt someone, they just don't take the time to process what they are doing and the effect it will have. After this video there was a deeper understanding. Hopefully, when a situation like this arises, my boys will remember this video and be the change . Take a minute to watch it with your kids tonight and chat about it...the more kindness in the world, the better! 

To see the video, click HERE

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Indoor Fun: Grand Rapids! Dinosaurs Unearthed, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Children's Ballet, The Cottage Bar

If you have a little free time this spring and are willing to take a drive, you will want to experience the Dinosaurs Unearthed Exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Ann Luke from The Roosevelt Street Blog is here to tell us all about it!

A few weekends ago we made our way to Grand Rapids to go to a children’s ballet production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream  and the Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum– an odd, but fun, combination of activities!  While the Grand Rapids area is where I grew up and I have family we can visit and stay with, it’s honestly not a bad day trip from Southeastern Michigan.  It’s an easy two hour drive to get there, and I think it is a super family-friendly town with lots to see and do. 

photo via Grand Rapids Museum
I don’t know about you, but I continue to find dinosaurs fascinating, and I love opportunities to share them with my kids to help all of us learn more about them. The Cranbrook Institute of Science which, in addition to their regular collection, currently has a special exhibit called Dinosaurs – The Lost World  on display until the end of June.  While the skeletons are interesting for my kids, exhibits like Dinosaurs Unearthed that use animatronics really bring dinosaurs to life in a way that skeletons can’t.  Watching the dinosaurs move and make noise is especially captivating. 

This exhibition on display in Grand Rapids is focused on feathered dinosaurs and their connection to modern day birds.  It showcases fossil evidence that has led scientists to now believe that dinosaurs are the ancestors of modern birds instead of reptiles.

They also do a great job of interactive stations for kids.  My younger daughter enjoyed playing with the dinosaur figures and digging for dinosaur bones, while my older daughter spent a lot of time with the various skeleton puzzles.

After you’re done learning all about these feathered dinosaurs, the rest of the exhibits in the museum are worth exploring too.  We especially love to step back in time and walk on the brick streets through a re-creation of Grand Rapids in the 1890s with their Streets of Old Grand Rapids exhibit

image via HERE
 Their planetarium is also excellent!
image via HERE

And kids young and young-at-heart won’t want to miss a ride on their carousel.

If you go, I highly recommend a stop at The Cottage Bar for lunch or dinner.  Located not too far from the museum, they are the oldest operating bar and restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids – in business since 1927!  It’s a casual, family-friendly joint with good burgers and chili.  Apparently they were even voted best burger in Michigan in 2010 by USA Today.  Just make note that they are not open on Sundays. 

We were also truly impressed with the quality of the Creative Arts Repertoire Ensemble (CARE Conservatory of Ballet). The performances last an hour, which is perfect for young audience members, and are designed to introduce families to dance by presenting condensed versions of classic ballets as well as original ballets based on children’s literature.  We have heard their original production of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is delightful, and we have already marked the calendar to take part in this holiday tradition next year!

image via HERE
The Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit is only open until April 27, so hurry! I look forward to sharing more of my favorite west side hometown spots with you in the future!