Kingsley Plantation at Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve {with kids}

It's time for another one of our National Park adventures. We've been trying to hit some of the parks close to our home so our latest adventure took us to Kingsley Plantation. The plantation is part of the larger Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve.

Destination: Kingsley Plantation
Date of Visit: May 2017
Kids: Cole (age 10) & Kiley (age 7)
Length of Stay: 1 Half Day
I've been wanting to take the kids up to Kingsley Plantation for a while so one weekend when we had nice weather we decided to take a drive up to the north side of Jacksonville for a visit.

We began our visit with a stop by the visitor center. It was small, but had some hands-on activities for the kids and a little gift shop. While we were there we picked up Junior Ranger Booklets for the kids and checked out an Adventure Backpack.

If you visit Kingsley Plantation, I highly recommend you ask to borrow the Adventure Backpack. It came filled with all sorts of fun items that the kids used on our visit including a compass, binoculars, small net and magnifying glass. 
Once we had dug through the backpack it was time to start exploring the grounds of the plantation which include the slave quarters, barn, waterfront, plantation house, kitchen house, and interpretive garden. 
One thing the kids really enjoyed was walking around the property and seeing the slave quarters. It was interesting to see how they lived on the property, but away from the main house. The plantation house is closed during the week for structural work. Weekend tours are available but you must call ahead for a reservation.
We did some more walking around. The plantation is 99% outdoors so I recommend you visit when it's cool outside. As you can see, my daughter loved using the binoculars from our Adventure Backpack.
We were surprised by how many animals we saw while wandering around the grounds of Kingsley Plantation. The kids loved the peacocks and used the little net that came in our backpack to catch crabs down by the river.
Our final stop was back at the visitor center where the kids received their Junior Ranger badges.

Highlights: The Adventure Backpack that we checked out from the visitor center really made our visit so much fun. Kingsley Plantation is a smaller so it's great for a short half day visit. 

What We Would Change: I highly recommend visiting Kingsley Plantation in the fall or winter when the weather is cool. We went in May and it was hot. The majority of your visit will be outside so good weather will make or break your trip.


Melted Snowman Girl Scout SWAPS

It's our first year in Girl Scouts and we're preparing for our first camporee. The theme is Snow so we wanted to make SWAPS that reflected that. For those who don't know,SWAPS stands for Small Whatchamacallits Affectionately Pinned Somewhere.

Cut a piece of wax paper and squirt some glue on it. Then drop 2 eyes, 1 orange triangle, 3 pom poms, and a piece of yarn onto the hot glue. Place a safety pin on the edge of the glue. Use a toothpick to flip over your eyes if they end up upside down. The glue will be HOT! If you're working with younger kids, be sure to not let them touch it. 

Once your glue us dry, peel it back from the wax paper. The wax paper is going to stick, but it will peel away from the edges and you won't be able to see that it's there.

The last step is to add a little saying and your troop number. Ours said "Your friendship is worth melting for!" 

Here are the other Snow themed SWAPS that our troop made for the camporee. I'll be sharing instructions for all of them over the next few weeks.

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Snowman Girl Scout SWAPS

It's our first year in Girl Scouts and we're prepping for our first camporee. The theme is Snow so we wanted to make SWAPS that reflected that. For those who don't know, SWAPS stands for Small Whatchamacallits Affectionately Pinned Somewhere.

Start by trimming the pipe cleaners to about 2 inches and twist the bottom so that there is a small loop. This will keep the beads on the pipe cleaner. In our Daisy Troop the girls are all 6 or 7 years old so I did this step ahead of time. If you were working with an older Girl Scout Troop, you could let them do this step.

Thread the beads onto the pipe cleaner. 2 white ones, a snowman head, the black sequin and the black pony bead. Once it's all threaded put the pipe cleaner through the hole in the safety pin and bend it to secure.

Look how cute this little guy turned out. Now the only thing left to do is to add a saying and your troop number. Ours said "I'm SNOW glad to be your friend!"

Here are the other Snow themed SWAPS that our troop made for the camporee. I'll be sharing instructions for all of them over the next few weeks.

This post contains affiliate links.


Fort Caroline National Memorial at Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve {with kids}

It's time for another one of our National Park adventures. As I mentioned last week, we've been trying to hit some of the parks close to our home. Over spring break, the kids and I visited Fort Caroline National Memorial. Fort Caroline is part of the larger Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve.

Date of Visit: March 2017
Kids: Cole (age 10) & Kiley (age 7)
Length of Stay: 1 Half Day

Since last week was spring break and the weather has been cool in Jacksonville, the kids and I decided to head over to the fort one afternoon.
Entry to Fort Caroline is completely free for everyone. We started off by grabbing some Junior Ranger books and exploring the visitor center. They offer an under 8 and an 8+ booklet. Even though Kiley is only 7, she's a great reader so we asked the ranger to just give her the 8+ one. One of the things I love about the National Parks is that they are great about making accommodations when needed. Having them both work on the same book makes it much easier for me to help if needed.
After we finished up at the visitor center we headed down the sandy trail to Fort Caroline. The trail is short and easy to walk. It would be easy even for little kids to run along. On your way to the fort you pass a dock that's a nice walk out over the river.
Fort Caroline is much smaller than Castillo de San Marcos that we visited a few weeks ago but it's wide open spaces are great for kids to run around.
There's lots of great signage inside the fort. Some of the answers to their Junior Ranger books were found here.
We spent a lot of time just running around the fort. The kids loved looking at the cannons and peeking over the fence at the river. Even though it was spring break, it wasn't very crowded.
Our last stop was back at the visitor center where the kids picked up their 12th Junior Ranger pin.

Highlights: Fort Caroline is great because it's small and easily manageable with kids. We used to live near here and I would take both kids when they were little by myself for a visit and to wander around. They also have plenty of picnic tables and lots of benches around the park. It's a great park to pack a lunch and picnic outside. 

What We Would Change: Honestly, I wouldn't change anything. It was a great day and a great visit.


Icee Girl Scout SWAPS

This year my daughter became a Girl Scout and it's been full of fun and adventure. We're preparing for our first campout and one of the things the girls take with them are SWAPS. SWAPS stands for Special Whatchamacallits Affectionately Pinned Somewhere. They are typically small trinkets that the girls trade. Our theme for our campout is Snow, so I wanted to make something that reflected that.

Materials Needed: small communion cups, pom poms (you can use several small ones or 1 big one in each cup), small safety pins, a hot glue gun, stir sticks or small straws

Start by cutting down the size of the stir sticks and put a small safety pin through them. Our Daisy Troop is all 6 and 7 year old so I did this step ahead of time.

Put a squirt of glue from the glue gun in the bottom of your cup. Add the straw with safety pin and 1 small pom pom. When we did this with our troop, I had the girls place the straws and the pom pom. 

Add another squirt of hot glue and place your second pom pom on top. I opted for hot glue on this project instead of something else because I wanted them to dry quickly. If you were working with older Girl Scouts or if you had a place to let the cups sit over night, you could use plain Elmer's glue.

As you can see on the right, you can also just use 1 big pom pom. This is a nice option for little kids. Your last step would be to add a little saying and your troop number. Ours said "ICEE we're going to be great friends!"

Here are the other Snow themed SWAPS our troop made for the camporee. I'll be sharing instructions for all of them over the next few weeks.

This post contains affiliate links.


Castillo de San Marcos National Monument {with kids}

It's been a while since I posted one of our National Park adventures. We traveled out west a few years back and visited 9, but recently we've been trying to hit the parks closer to home. A few weeks ago we headed down to St. Augustine to visit Castillo de San Marcos. After living in Jacksonville for 15 years I figured it was time to visit this local landmark.

Destination: Castillo de San Marcos
Date of Visit: March 2017
Kids: Cole (age 10) & Kiley (age 7)
Length of Stay: 1 Half Day

We headed down to Castillo de San Marcos early one weekend to explore the fort. I have lived in Jacksonville for the last 15 years and I've never been there. We arrived around 10am and all the parking spaces right by the monument were taken. If we had been just a few minutes earlier I think we could have snagged one, but oh well. My husband dropped us and circled back to the large parking garage that sits just a few blocks away.
Entrance will cost you $10 per adult, children under 15 are free. Since Cole is in 4th grade this year, he has an Every Kid in a Park pass and we were able to get in for free. That's right, all 4th graders in the US can get a park pass for their family for FREE.
Once inside, our first stop was to pick up some Junior Ranger books. The kids hadn't earned any Junior Ranger pins since our trip out west, so they were anxious to add to their collection. Castillo de San Marcos offers a Junior Ranger program, and also Master Junior Ranger patch. My little overachievers wanted to complete both. 
One of the highlights of our visit was the live historical demonstration of the cannon. A few times a day there is a reenactment of a cannon loading and firing. The kids loved this part. The cannon blast is loud, but the ranger will warn you when to cover your ears.
After the reenactment we spent some more time exploring the fort. There really was a lot to see and learn about. 
Before heading out the kids turned in their books and were sworn in as official Junior Rangers. One of the things I love at Castillo de San Marcos is that there is a large grassy area where you can eat lunch or you're close enough to downtown St. Augustine that you can simply walk around and find a good restaurant. 
Highlights: The cannon reenactment and firing were by far the highlight of the day. Make sure to ask a ranger when the next one will be as soon as you arrive.

What We Would Change: I wish would have planned to spend just a little more time at the fort. We should have packed a lunch and eaten quickly so we could have explored a little more. I would say it's easy to spend a full 1/2 day there if your kids are interested in seeing all the exhibits.


Why I love Rocksbox!

 If you haven’t heard of Rocksbox yet, you just don’t know what you’re missing. Think of it as Netflix for jewelry, a never ending jewelry box. You begin by signing up for a subscription and Rocksbox will send you 3 pieces of jewelry at a time. Wear them as much as you like and when you’re done send everything back in a handy prepaid mailer and wait for your next delivery to arrive. Here are just a few reasons why I'm loving this new service.

My first Rocksbox!
You can exchange as many sets as you want in a month. There have been several occasions where my Rocksbox came in the mail, I wore it the next day and it was back in the box getting shipped out to its Rocksbox home the very next day. You decide how long you want to keep a set, whether it’s a day, a week or a month.

Turnaround time is quick. This was actually my biggest concern when I signed up for the service. Since you ship your set with a prepaid label that they provide, as soon as the tracking is picked up by USPS you get an email telling you “thanks for returning your Rocksbox, your new box will be sent out soon.” Typically, I get an email the very next day saying that a new Rocksbox is already on its way to me.
Rocksbox #2 - I loved both these pieces.
If you love it, you can buy it. If you receive a piece of jewelry that you love, you can just keep it and Rocksbox with bill your credit card. You can keep just 1 piece, or all of them, or none of them. Your not required to purchase anything additional outside your subscription.

Your stylist really listens to your feedback. The best way to get pieces you love is to create a wish list and then to provide feedback when you receive your box. A few times there were items that I had put on my wish list, but when they arrived they weren’t exactly what I had in mind. I was sure to note exactly what I didn’t like in my feedback so that my stylist would know the type of jewelry I preferred. You can also let your stylist know if you have a special event coming up and there’s something particular you want.

My third Rocksbox.
It’s fun! One of the reasons my husband thought Rocksbox would be a great gift for me is because I’m completely non-committal when it comes to jewelry. I’ll see something I like, but I’ll never pull the trigger to buy it for myself. Rocksbox gives me the freedom to try different pieces and send them back when I’m ready for something new. If I really do love them, I can always go ahead and purchase a piece, or the whole set!

So what does it cost? Rocksbox costs just $21 a month and that includes free shipping on all your items and as many sets as you’d like to exchange. If you’d like to give Rocksbox a try you can use my code: SHANNONBBFF367 and you’ll get a free month of jewelry! When you get a free month of Rocksbox, I get a $25 credit.


10 Tips for Using Airbnb with Kids

If you click on any of the Airbnb links in this post you'll receive a $40 credit for your first trip with Airbnb, this is a referral link and I also receive a credit.

Last summer our family traveled to London, Paris & Scotland all while staying in the comfort of a home away from home through Airbnb. This was our first time using the rental service, but it won't be the last. Our experiences in all 3 rentals was excellent, but I found that traveling with kids does require a little extra planning. Here are my top tips for using Airbnb when traveling with kids.
Look for reviews by people who are in a similar situation as you.
Read the reviews - When searching for an Airbnb with kids I always read all the reviews. Yes, all of them. I specifically look for reviews from people with children, comments about the neighborhood and how responsive the host is. See how the host responds to any negative comments or criticism. This is a key indicator on how they’ll respond to you if you have a problem during your stay.  

Only book with a Superhost - There are people who are going to disagree with me on this one, but when traveling with kids I don’t like any surprises from our accommodations. When we’re traveling with the kids, we stick to hosts who have proven that they’re responsible and responsive. The last thing you want to deal with when you’re traveling with a tired, jet-lagged, hungry toddler is a host who keeps you waiting.

Look closely at the pictures - Review the photos on the site very carefully. Look for anything that your child might destroy or potential get hurt from. Bunk beds might be the perfect set up for older kids, but a nightmare for someone with a toddler.

Make sure you select all the amenities that are important to you.
Use the filters - When imputing your search criteria be sure to mark off anything that you want to be included in your rental. Will you need to do laundry during your stay? Do you prefer a rental that is not pet friendly due to allergies? Take a second to sort through exactly what you want so you aren’t disappointed with the amenities.

Be up front about bringing kids with you - We always search using the 2 adults, 2 children settings AND we use the “family friendly” filter. In addition, we contact the host to let them know we’ll be traveling with a 5 & 9 year old and make sure their rental is appropriate for kids. This may seem like overkill, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Child friendly is NOT the same as child proof - Just because your listing is family friendly and your host knows you’ll be arriving with children DOES NOT mean that your rental will be child proof. Even though my kids are past the “sticking a fork in the wall outlet” phase, I still do a quick sweep of our rental when we first arrive. I move anything that could get accidently broken.

Look for reviews that mention the location of the rental.
 Location, location, location - Did I mention location? When we traveled to London last summer, one of our top priorities from our rental was easy access to transportation. Since we were staying so long, we also wanted to be close to a park where the kids could get out and run around. If you can’t tell the exact location from the listing, don’t be afraid to message your host and ask questions the area.

Pay attention to the “bedrooms” and “beds” listed - This mostly applies to international travel, although I’ve been surprised by some domestic rentals in this area. In some cases, large cities for example, a 2 bedroom may just be a 1 bedroom with a fold out bed. Scroll through the pictures and make sure you actually see the number of bedrooms listed. Read the reviews and make sure 1 of the beds listed isn’t just an extra futon. When in doubt, message the host for clarification.

Mind your fees - When you’re searching for a rental you’ll see a per night fee displayed. This will not be your final charge. There will be a service fee and renters can tack on a cleaning charge. Sometimes the cleaning charge can be very cost prohibitive if you’re staying somewhere for just a few nights.

After your visit be sure to follow up with an honest review - Remember how helpful all those reviews were that you read before booking? Don’t forget to write and honest review after your stay is complete. Be sure to include if you were traveling with children, and what you did and didn’t like about the rental.

Ready to give Airbnb a try? Use this link to receive $40 off your first trip!