National Geographic Kids INSIDER LOGO Hi-Res

I Have Good News and I Have Bad News…

Okay, so I have good news and I have bad news. Do you want the bad news first?

Okay, the bad news is that moms in minivans making 3-point maneuvers in the driveway do not mix with toddler pedal cars.

Pedal car

It was left out close to the driveway where it wasn’t supposed to be and I didn’t see it. Believe me when I say that it hurt me more than it hurt my toddler who was in the car with me, because I love this van.

My van!

My van!

My 3 year old said “Mommy! You hit my car! The wheel fell off. I’m telling Daddy.”

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Okay, yes I hit his car. But he has only played with it 3 times since 2010 and in his eyes, there were no tears. (And I’m pretty sure Daddy can fix it.)

Are you ready for the good news? While I may not be able to be trusted with pedal cars, I can be trusted with other fun kid stuff.

I’m so happy to share that I’ve been selected as a blogger with the National Geographic Kids Insider program!

National Geographic Kids INSIDER LOGO Hi-Res

This means National Geographic Kids (based in Washington, D.C.) will send me products and activities to try every month and I will share about them here on my blog.

It’s a huge opportunity, as they only select approximately 50 bloggers nationwide. I will be partnering with them for 1 year and I plan to share about our new adventures once a month in much the same way as the Best Road Trip Ever.

Here is the press release they just sent out today with a complete list of the bloggers chosen.

I’m thrilled to be a part of it! There’s nothing better than combining your love of writing with fun kids stuff, especially when your kids would do anything to learn more about dinosaurs and nature.

I think my husband is almost as excited as I am, he’s a big fan of National Geographic and I just earned big respect points in regards to big-name clout with the man of the house. Not that I didn’t already have it, but you know… A little extra oomph never hurt anybody.

So be on the lookout for more exciting posts from me on educational fun stuff with National Geographic Kids in the near future, and I promise I will be on the lookout for the kids’ toys in the driveway. Win-win. Cheers!

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Cool Dinosaur Museum in Tennessee

So I Googled “dinosaur museum” and Nashville, TN and one of the first results that popped up was a little place in Murfreesboro, TN which is about a 20 minute drive from where we live.

Ever since we made a visit to the Sternberg Museum on our road trip to Kansas this summer, my house has been covered in makeshift dinosaur habitats. My boys really love dinosaurs.

I read that admission was $5 and kids 12 and under are FREE*. So on a low-key Saturday, we hopped in the car and headed to Earth Experience: Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History.

Earth Experience

It was amazing. It is a smaller venue, but they have a ton of awesome stuff to see. The kids were big fans of this Allosaurus waiting for us in the first display room. They also liked the Spinosaurus teeth and they got to touch a Brachiosaurus vertebrae.

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They have a working paleontology lab where you can watch as they clean and repair real dinosaur bones, and they also make their own casts (molds) of actual pieces that have been found to sell in their on-site gift shop.

The staff there have also found some of the pieces that are on display, as pictured below.

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The staff was very helpful and showed us around, and the boys even got to hold a piece of dinosaur poop! Though that’s not its technical name.

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There is another work space where you can watch as they make jewelry from the gems and stones that are brought in. They are also for sale in the gift shop.

They had a small play area for kids, as well as several minerals and artifacts on display.

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The big attraction was the full-size T-Rex! It is a cast of the original T-Rex that was discovered in Fort Peck by Louis E. Tremblay in 1997. We spent a lot of time in here!

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There is also a T-Rex skull and Triceratops skull.

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One of the volunteers invited us over to where she was working and explained to us how they make the casts of some of the different pieces they have.

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You can tell how much the staff cares by the way they talk about what they do here. They took the time to talk with the kids about the things they were interested in as we walked through.

We are definitely going to make a trip back, she was also in the process of making casts of Velociraptor claws with ribbons tied to the top to be sold as Christmas ornaments!

We were in and out in about an hour, and we learned a lot! It was well worth the short drive. They have a lot of treasures here to see, the kids are still talking about the T-Rex and the dinosaur poop!

*Please note that admission pricing will change as of September 1, 2016 to the following:

  • $7 ages 12 and up
  • $3 ages 4-11
  • Under 4: free

(But in my opinion, it’s still very affordable and worth every cent.) There are also a few places inside to make optional donations to help expand the museum and fund archaeological digs.

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Just Another Day in the Life

“Which one did you get?”

“I get Kywo-wen, what did you get?”

“I got the Millenium Falcon!”

I like to give the boys Star Wars gummy vitamins in the morning to help balance out the lack of any kind of  “good cereal” in the house. I always buy the boring  and generic versions of Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes and Cheerios. I like to keep it simple. In life and in cereal choices.

As much as I love to indulge in fun kid stuff and venture off to see the sights, just as much can be said for the more mundane, run-of-the-mill kind of days.

I love lazy weekends where we eat Corn Flakes and can’t tell whose legs and feet are whose while intertwined on the couch watching too much tv. I love giving them the gift of boredom in between all of the stuff we do so all have a chance to breathe and just be.

I want to be a good, functional productive human being but I also keep a close watch on the family schedule so we don’t get overwhelmed. We are in a place right now where we aren’t doing very many outside activities and some days it’s hard enough to feel like I have everything balanced.

I decided to stay home this weekend instead of indulging in yet another kids event where we knew we’d spend more money than we planned. (We are going to the county fair in a few days, so we opted to save our energy and spendage for that instead, we have a good fair and we love the rides.)

When we scale back a little bit on outside entertainment, the house usually ends up paying for it but I get to see cool stuff too.

Dinosaur Habitat

There are dinosaur habitats and exhibits all over my house, inspired by our summer trip to the Sternberg Museum and the discovery of The Land Before Time on Netflix.

Dinosaurs

Everything, everywhere is dinosaurs, dinosaurs, dinosaurs again.

Dinosaurs

It was a little unnerving at first, but hey, I figure I want to let them play out the stuff they’re interested in, in the hopes that they’ll stay interested in healthy, educational things.

Now that school has started, my schedule will open up a bit to take on more work and I’ll keep you posted on that stuff. I’m consistently putting irons in the fire behind the scenes and I look forward to bringing on new projects here shortly.

This week I get to combine my love of writing, shooting and editing, and fun kids stuff, so stay tuned! I will share about it when it’s ready.

As I shared about on the Facebook page, I talked about how I seize the little snippets of the day to stay close with the kids.

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With my third grader, it’s simple conversation on the porch in the 10 minutes before the bus comes, and with my 3 yr old, we like to sit on the porch in the afternoons and watch the school buses drive by as the middle school lets out near our house.

Life is about to get busier and busier with a new school year, so use those moments in the car or any small snippet of time you can to stay in tune with kids. It’s a crazy world we’re sending them into and even the short spurts of time you have can really count if you want them to.

Hang in there, parents! Back-To-school is here, and as the greatest rock band that ever lived (Guns N’ Roses) would say, Welcome to the Jungle.

© Guns n Roses Official

What the Guns N’ Roses Tour Taught Me About Life

When I first heard that Guns N’ Roses was planning  a reunion tour, I was cautiously optimistic.

I was excited to the depths of my soul at the thought I could get a chance to see the beloved and rebellious soundtrack of my youth played out on stage, but I was cautious at getting my hopes up given the tumultuous past of the band members.

It was named the “Not In This Lifetime” tour because in years past when lead vocalist Axl Rose was asked if he would ever consider a reunion tour with prior bandmates, his answer was “not in this lifetime.”

But I think the key word here is “past.”

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© Guns N’ Roses

I’m sure a ton of negotiation and market research took place before actual tickets went on sale and the tour was a go. But no matter how you slice it, it has to be uncomfortable to put yourself literally on stage for the whole world to either watch you fail miserably or succeed.

Can you imagine being backstage just before the first show?

What if it’s too late? What if you can’t match what you did before? What if you ruin your high note?

You hear it all the time. Axl gained weight, it won’t be the same. They’re all sober now, it won’t be the same. They don’t wear the same clothes now, it won’t be the same. Well, you’re right. It won’t be the same.

Axl is 54 years old now. Do you look the same way you did 20+ years ago? I sure don’t.

And in the face of scathing social media, it can’t be easy to get back up there and do it again knowing it won’t be exactly the same as it was over two decades ago.

We went ahead and paid good money to get tickets. I never got to see them in my youth, so this was my big chance.

I prayed they would stay together long enough for them to get to Nashville. Appetite for Destruction was the album of our lives in the 90’s and we were going regardless.

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(And speaking of not being the same, I definitely do not regret my choice in sensible shoes.)

You also can’t beat the people-watching at a Guns N’ Roses concert. The top of this guy’s vest says “Nashville. More Conway. Less Kanye”:

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©AudraRogers

Chris Stapleton was a classic-country and well-received opener. Soon came nightfall and it was on. They walked on stage to rousing applause.

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©DannyRogers

And so much of it was the same. They played the classics fans came to see. Sweet Child O Mine. Welcome to the Jungle. You Could Be Mine. Civil War. November Rain. Paradise City. And many others.

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©AudraRogers

And make no mistake, Axl can still hit those high notes.  I was not disappointed and I sure didn’t see anyone else complaining. My hands were shaking so I couldn’t get him in focus… Yes, it meant that much. The music of that time meant so much to so many people there.

As I watched the close-ups on the big screen, there was something in Axl’s eyes that suggested he was thinking, man, I don’t know what the critics are going to say but dammit I’m here. And we’re doing this thing.

Vulnerability isn’t easy for anyone, least of all rock stars when they make a comeback.

So what did Guns N’ Roses teach me about life? Slash never ages.

©DannyRogers

©DannyRogers

But the rest of us do. And it’s no excuse. All creatives are rock stars on some scale. Whether you paint, draw, write or make cupcakes.

We get the luxury of a smaller, lesser known stage in most cases. So what’s stopping us?

Get your butt out there and do what you love. You just might sell out huge stadiums and have the time of your life. You will no doubt answer to a few critics, but you could also drink in enormous applause and a standing ovation.

If they had any doubts about how this might go in the beginning, they can definitely rest easy now. They’re killing it and adding more and more tour dates as they go. A brand new high note.

© Guns N Roses Official

Nashville © Guns n Roses Official

Steven Adler isn’t an official part of the tour, but he came on stage in Nashville for a few songs and the crowd went nuts. All of the original members were there but one, and I had the time of my life as I stood in a stadium full of die-hard fans singing every word.

They really went out with a bang after Paradise City.

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Paradise City ©DannyRogers

So in a nutshell:

  1.  It isn’t easy to put yourself on a platter, but it’s better to go out trying than going out scared.
  2. Maybe our high notes aren’t exactly what we picture.
  3.  Parents are well within their rights to get out on the town for a nice long night of rock and roll.
  4.  That fun girl deep down inside is still there, you just have to drag her out sometimes.

We got to see the 90’s soundtrack of our lives, and all was right with the world.

I also learned to never say never.

Or not in this lifetime… 🙂

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How To Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping Every Year

I’ve been around the back-to-school shopping block a few times and I’ve found ways to help stretch supplies, clothing and the family budget from year-to-year.

I still enjoy the tradition of going shopping before school starts, and we still buy new things to start the school year fresh, but I’ve learned several practical ways to help greatly reduce the expense of what is truly needed when school starts.

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Here are my techniques for saving money each year:

1. Buy Used

Recognize that every single thing doesn’t have to be brand new on the first day of school, and kids can still wear a good number of their summer clothes for the first few months of school.

I love to shop for clothes at Goodwill or Buy/Sell/Trade sites on Facebook, and I gladly accept hand-me-downs in good condition. If hand-me-downs need to be stored until they’re the appropriate size, I keep them in storage bags at the top of the closet marked with season and size. It’s a great surprise to look up later and find a lot of my shopping already done for me at close reach.

Plus, during my son’s first week of kindergarten several years ago, he took his brand new little pair of Fiskar scissor and cut holes in 4 of his nice polo shirts. They were nice shirts, but the fact that I only paid $2 for each of them took a lot of sting out of the situation, if you know what I mean.

I’ve never had a problem sending my boys to school looking presentable in new-to-us clothing. It’s easy to find good quality clothing out there and you can’t beat the price.

2. Buy a Size Up

I may only need to buy two or three new pairs of jeans or jean shorts throughout the year (they dress comfortably in nice shorts and athletic pants mostly). When I do shop for jeans, I look for brands with these great tabs inside the waistline.

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I buy a size up and cinch the waists to the appropriate fit, and let them out as they grow. I shop primarily for clothes at Walmart and Target, so I know you can find these there.

I also buy t-shirts a size up for reasons to be explained in the next point.

3. Stretch Their Wardrobe

We live in Tennessee, and the kids here can still wear appropriate summer clothing throughout August and September, so if you don’t want to buy used, you can hold off on buying fall and winter clothing for a few months in most cases if you need to.

I also stretch their ability to wear t-shirts throughout the winter months, because kids love their character t-shirts and want to wear them year-round. I buy the t-shirts a size up (I’ve found a ton of character shirts at used stores, fyi.)

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I look for simple, long sleeved cotton shirts in plain colors to mix-and-match underneath character t-shirts. I buy basic colors and that works well. My son’s favorite color is green.

layered shirts

This also works if you have old long-sleeved shirts where the lettering or design on the front is really worn, stained or faded. Just throw a t-shirt on top of it. Done.

4. Reuse and Reinforce backpacks

My guys got cool Star Wars backpacks for Christmas that are still in great condition, so we are going to use them for the new school year.

They are the full size 16 inch packs and still very sturdy. They still like them a lot and Star Wars never goes out of style. To switch it up, they are going to trade packs so they can use something different, but we get to skip buying new ones for now.

Backpacks

(These particular designs aren’t still currently available, but there are similar styles here and here on Amazon for just under $20 each.)

It’s also a great idea to reinforce the inside bottoms of backpacks. I use my husband’s black gaff tape that he keeps on hand to tape down cables for video production.

It holds really well like duct tape, but gaff tape has more give to be flexible with the soft bottom lining of a backpack. And it’s really strong to protect against spiral notebooks and the edges of hardcover books, or anything else that stabs at the bottom lining.

This is a great way to stretch the use of an old backpack, or help a new one last longer.

5. Reuse Supplies in Good Condition

I used to throw unused school supplies from previous years into our art box at home, but it’s getting really full and to be honest, we already have 4 pairs of Fiskar scissors. The pair we had last year is still in great condition and the appropriate size, so we’re reusing them.

Supplies

I also found numerous brand new eraser tops, glue sticks and highlighters that we can use this year. A pencil box wasn’t on his list this time, but we have 4 to choose from if that changes. Most of the supplies we need are new, but I like to reuse what I can at this point.

If you need sporting equipment or certain electronics for older kids, there’s a good possibility you can buy those gently used items from someone that no longer needs them, it’s worth checking out.

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We always need to buy new shoes because they wear those down pretty quickly, and we get new undergarments. But our costs for two kids were pretty minimal this year and that makes me really happy. I love to eliminate certain costs altogether, or spread them out so it’s a softer blow to the budget over time.

Have you learned any new tricks over time to save money on back-to-school shopping? What would you add?

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