Family Meals Made Easier

I love good food. I love thinking about food, cooking, baking and of course, eating delicious meals. I can even remember a time — in the pre-kiddo era — when I used to love shopping for food. I’d plan elaborate dinners, lovingly select the freshest farmer’s market veggies, and craft tasty and interesting meals. Sigh.

Chopping veggies for an elaborate dinner. (c) dulezidar, iStock, 2014.
Chopping veggies for an elaborate dinner. (c) dulezidar, iStock, 2014.

These days, however, crazy schedules combined with constant family meal planning and preparation (not to mention picky eaters) have zapped some of my enthusiasm and energy for good home cooking. I find myself plodding along, cobbling together meals, hoping that they are relatively edible and healthy. I am sure that I am not alone. Thankfully, MOD Moms is full of talented chefs and foodies ready to offer advice and even a few recipes to help me break out of my various ruts. Now, if they could just get my kid to eat something besides carbs …

Today, I’m shining the MOD Moms Spotlight on a couple of these great food folks. Cathryn Marsh and Cammie Kenne joined me for an email chat about making meals easier for busy families. Cathryn writes an inspirational food blog, Put Your Best Food Forward, which offers gluten-free, egg-free, low carb recipes.

MOD Mom Cathryn Marsh
MOD Mom Cathryn Marsh

Cammie runs a successful chef and catering business, Round the Table Wellness, and serves as a team leader and representative for Wildtree spices and healthy freezer meal workshops.

MOD Mom Cammie Kenne.
MOD Mom Cammie Kenne. (c) HJ Howard

What do you love about cooking/food?

Cathryn: Baking is science. Cooking is art. I like cooking because you don’t have to follow the rules. I like the ability to be creative and put together ingredients in new and interesting ways.

Cammie:  The absolutely endless options! Food allows for so much creativity.  Recipes are great as a guide but when you’re able to navigate through them and add in your own twist on things, the magic can truly happen!  But don’t over think it.  Sometimes the best recipes are the ones that have the fewest ingredients.

What are a few of your favorite family meals?

Cathryn: Flank steak. We’ve developed a few recipes for the blog and we keep coming up with new ones. This is one of the few recipes that my husband enjoys cooking. Lettuce wraps of any kind. My current favorite is a Mexican one with chipotle chicken and tequila. I serve it with chimichurri sauce and lick the plate. I’ve got a little obsession going right now.

Cammie: Family recipes? Anything I can make in 20 minutes or less! I have two young kids at home, so honestly they love their carbs. Rice and pasta top the list but we also love couscous and quinoa. We eat a pretty varied diet so we don’t have family favorites per say but my grandmother’s Chicken Broccoli Casserole, my mother’s Pasta Fagioli and anything smothered with cheese top the list.

Three food items you (personally) must always have in your kitchen:

Cathryn: Half and half. I have a friend who once said she was a journalist and therefore didn’t have time to put cream in her coffee. I simply replied that life wasn’t worth living without the cream in the coffee. Chocolate. ‘Nuff said.  Apparently craving chocolate is a sign of a magnesium deficiency. I take magnesium so I don’t crave chocolate, but I eat it anyway. Dark chocolate is healthy. In fact, it’s practically salad. Something crunchy. It can be jicama, potato chips, veggie straws.

Cammie: Wow. I keep a pretty stocked pantry so I can whip up meals quickly.  I always have pasta, canned tomatoes and beans on hand. My veggie drawer stays full with bell peppers, zucchini, carrots and mushrooms. I typically have a few root vegetables on hand and of course onions and garlic. With these items, you can make just about anything.

Any kid-friendly hits?

Cathryn: I make preassembled homemade freezer meals for my son so that there is always something to grab, no matter how busy we are. Family favorites include tortellini and marinara, cheeseburger sliders, penne with meatballs and spaghetti sauce, and beef and cheese burritos.

Cammie: I love this term ‘kid-friendly.’ I’m a firm believer in continuing to introduce new foods to kids. If I make something that I know is spicy, then they will have an alternative choice but mostly we eat what mom makes. Maple-glazed salmon, soy-honey-dijon chicken strips and the odd one: red wine meatballs with bleu cheese are a big hit in this house.

Any tricks to help the meal planning/preparation process easier?

Cathryn: I use the app for grocery shopping and meal planning. It lets you track several local grocery stores and it loads the sale items for you. For example, you can instantly compare prices on “apples” between Safeway and Sprouts. The shopping list allows you to check things off as you are shopping. You can also go into your shopping list and edit the order in which you shop. It then reorders everything so that the list is sorted in the order that you want as you walk through the store.

For recipes, you have a few options with the app. You can search for recipes based on what you have on hand. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of their recipes, but the best feature of the app is that you can load your own recipes and/or load recipes from other websites. I’ve imported tons of things from (which includes recipes from Cooking Light and some other magazines). It builds a personalized shopping list if you add a recipe to your meal plan.

When I don’t have time to shop and we are tempted to go out, I’m a huge fan of the Instacart app. For $3.99 and a tip, someone does the shopping for me at Whole Foods, King Soopers, Costco, or Natural Grocers (the last one is brand new). There’s nothing like getting your grocery shopping taken care of while you’re on a conference call. They normally deliver within a few hours, so this is the perfect solution when I’m wondering what’s for dinner at 2pm and have just realized that I have nothing in the house that I want to eat/cook. And the best part? I probably save the $3.99 by not throwing some tempting something-or-other into my cart while shopping.

Cammie: Hire me! Kidding! There are so many great resources available for all of us busy families. I’ve found a fantastic company that I chose to partner with about 2 years ago. It’s called Wildtree and focuses on organic, non-GMO, high quality spice blends, sauces and infused oils. Wildtree has made my life and prepping meals so much easier! The reason I chose Wildtree was the company’s commitment to keeping up with the demand of current food needs and trends. For example, we are now certified gluten free and we will be getting our kosher certification as well. To top it off, we have a ton of great workshops where we make 10 freezer meals in 2 hours that are then ready when you are! It’s such a life-saver. I don’t have to think about it what’s for dinner when I have those meals on hand. You don’t even need to attend a party to participate. If you are interested in checking it out, simply contact me and I can send you all the instructions. It’s more fun with other people around but it’s not a requirement.

What kind of food challenges do you regularly work with? Any tips? 

Cathryn: I have a wheat/gluten intolerance and I’m allergic to eggs.  Turns out that this combination makes eating out of certain cuisines a total nightmare. For example, most gluten free items contain eggs… Rather than see this is a challenge, however, I decided to take on the challenge of focusing on what I can eat.

Cammie: I’ve been personal cheffing for almost 5 years now and feel like I have really seen it all. But, just when I think nothing will surprise me, things always change. I really like working with challenging allergies, taste buds, etcetera as I know that these are client swho really need help. Whether it’s been a life-long struggle or a new diagnosis, with healthy, homemade meals that are customized for them, they can finally feel great about enjoying their food again.

Allergy-friendly recipe favorites?

Cathryn: There are so many things that you can do with spices. I’m a huge fan of both Penzeys Spices and Wildtree products. You can add so much flavor when you are using good spices or spice mixes.

I have only 20 minutes to get dinner ready and I don’t know what to make — do you have any ideas?

Cathryn: It really depends what you’re in the mood for. Here are some different ideas. Paleo-ish Beef Tacos (uses lettuce wraps), Viola’s Garlic Chicken with frozen rice (buy three per package at Trader Joe’s and keep them in the freezer) and some simple steamed veggies, Honey Balsamic Chicken with some simple steamed veggies. All of these are on my blog and require very little time.

Cammie: Open your pantry and your fridge. What jumps out at you? Is it the veggie drawer?  The meat you put in there to thaw? The pasta sitting on the shelf? I let that be my guide when I’m short on time. With the help of Wildtree, anything I make in 20 minutes has so much added flavor — with a splash of Rancher Steak Rub, Garlic Galore, or Adobo Seasoning, I can really kick it up a notch. Utilize your oven for roasty toasty vegetables and your stovetop other items in order to get the meal done fast!

Favorite local places to grab a bite out?

Cathryn: I really enjoy Via Toscana, Busaba, and Madera Grill. I’m still in search of fantastic Mexican, in case you have any suggestions.

Cammie: We don’t really go out to eat that much so my experiences are limited but I absolutely ADORE Leaf in Boulder.

*                         *                         *

Thanks so much for the advice and tips. And just for fun, here are a few of Chef Cammie Kenne’s favorite family recipes:


Salsa Rice Enchiladas
1 jar 24 oz. thick and chunky salsa
1 tsp chili powder
1 package ready-to-go brown rice
1 can 15 oz black beans – rinsed and drained (or use the kind of beans that are flavored with a sauce and then don’t drain)
Tortillas, cheese, black olive, sour cream

Oven at 375 for 15-20 minutes. Steam the rice, per the instructions on the bag. Meanwhile heat 1 1/2 c. salsa and chili powder to boiling. Stir in the steamed rice and remove from heat. Cover and stand for 5 mins. Stir in beans. Spread some salsa on the bottom of a sprayed rectangular baking dish. Roll up filling in tortillas and place them seam-side down. Top with salsa and cheese. Bake till bubbly.

*If extra time is available – I will add in sautéed veggies (peppers, mushrooms, zucchini). For extra protein, leftover shredded chicken, browned beer or turkey would be great additions to this dish.

Freezing instructions – Save out cheese and salsa toppings in a separate baggies. Place atop tortillas and wrap up tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze. To cook – Thaw. Cover with salsa and cheese and cook as directed.

Quick & Tasty Chicken Tenders 
2 lbs chicken tenders – ideally the white tendon is removed
1⁄4 c. soy sauce
2-3 T dijon
2 T honey (could also do maple syrup)
A few pinches of garlic powder
A few pinches of onion powder 1-2 T coconut oil – raw, unrefined

For easy cleanup, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Rub a bit of coconut oil on the foil. As you prep your tenders, toss onto baking sheet. Measure ingredients directly over chicken. With hands, mix together until the chicken is coated. Bake at 350 for 10-15 mins or until chicken reaches 165. This dish is easily doubled and frozen. Place tenders and all other ingredients into bag and freeze. To cook: Thaw. Place on baking sheet and cook as directed.

Shawarma Burgers with Cucumber Dill Sauce 
1 lb beef
1 T Shawarma seasoning
1⁄2 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
Pinch of ginger
1⁄2 diced onion – or use minced and dried – about 2 T
1 egg
1⁄4 c. almond meal

1⁄2 c. Diced English Cucumber
1⁄4 c. Nonfat Greek Yogurt – Plain 2 T Mayo
1 tsp dill
1 tsp garlic powder
1⁄2 tsp onion powder
pinch of Salt & Pepper

Prep the sauce first and place into refrigerator. Then prep burger patties. I let these sit for about 10 mins before cooking. Sear over medium high heat till desired doneness has been reached. While grilling chop up some lettuce and tomatoes. I serve this in a pita pocket but you could easily serve wrapped in lettuce and topped with avocado and tomato or on a regular bun. Top with the sauce and serve.

These recipes provided by Chef Cammie Kenne, Round the Table – Personal Chef. 307.690.9984,


Spotlight on: Charlotte Hayward, Meaningful Mathematics

“If you take a bite of your dinner, you can do another math problem,” I prod my numbers loving 4 year-old.

With a heaving sigh, he sinks his teeth into his chicken and broccoli then grabs his purple marker with his tiny fingers.

“What is 42 plus 22, Mama? Let’s work this out.”

So different from me, this kid.

Math. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, and I do use it every day. But, I can’t imagine math being a huge motivator to finish a task.

Fortunately, this community is blessed with many talented folks who, like my little guy, just love math. I mean, really really love math.

And fortunately, some of these great folks are here to help you, and your kiddos, improve math skills and maybe even fall in love with the subject.

I present to you, Exhibit A: MOD Mom Charlotte Hayward, math teacher extraordinaire and blogger at Meaningful Mathematics.

Mathematics instructor and blogger, Charlotte Hayward. (c) C. Hayward
Mathematics instructor and blogger, Charlotte Hayward. (c) C. Hayward

Kate: In just a few sentences, can you give me a quick overview of who you are and your math qualifications?

Charlotte: Back in the day, before children, I was a primary school (Elementary) teacher (in England). Over the years I had taught all ages from Reception (Pre-K) to Year 6 (5th Grade). As part of my education degree I specialized in Maths and so, when the opportunity came up for me to lead maths at school, I grabbed it. When I left teaching I was teaching maths 80% of the time, across the school. Along with this I was organizing fun maths events to raise the profile of the subject and make it fun!! After my daughter was born I went back to the school as a Teaching Assistant where I was teaching all the maths support classes for both ends of the spectrum: the children that needed a boost and those that needed extending – such fun and so rewarding.

Kate: You are deeply passionate about mathematics for early learners. Why do the little ones need math in their lives?

Charlotte: Maths is everywhere and is often one of the keys to success. As young learners, children can learn to enjoy maths and at the same time absorb a lot. If we can get them feeling confident about and enjoying such a key subject then we are giving them the best possible chance to be whatever they want to be.

Math can be so much fun. (c) iStockphoto

Kate: Tell us a bit about “Meaningful Mathematics” — what is it, what are your plans and hopes for it?

Charlotte: Meaningful mathematics is myself and a friend. We are both maths teachers and incredibly passionate about helping others to learn to love and understand maths in a way that makes it fun and meaningful!

So, for us, the blog is just the beginning. At the moment it is just me sharing my mad ideas and hoping there are a few parents out there that can make sense if it and use it to help their children. I hope, over time, that others will be able to access it and that it can make a difference to how parents view their children’s maths learning and that it will help the whole family to get more pleasure and understanding from the subject. Eventually we hope to extend the blog into a full website where parents, teachers and children can have access to activities, resources, lesson plans and anything else that we can think of that can help people with their maths learning.

Kate: So, do you plan to extend that out to video tutorials? Meet-up groups? Tutoring sessions? Parent groups? Inquiring minds want to know .

Charlotte: Yes!! I love tutoring and would love to branch into doing a little of this out here (as long as I can make it work around the munchkins).

I also hope to start running a Preschool maths class within the next year. I have a vision of something where parents and children can come and have fun together learning and exploring the subject through games and activities.

So many equations, so little time. (c) iStockphoto
So many equations, so little time. (c) iStockphoto

So how about you, MOD Moms? Are you math math whizzes? Do you kids love numbers or cringe at equations? Do you have special tips for math homework or for making math meaningful? Any horror stories? Tell us about it in the comment section!


Road Tripping Across the Heartland with the Kiddo

Maybe your summer was filled with exotic locales and trendy hot spots.

For me and my little guy, this summer’s big travel itinerary didn’t feature beaches, resorts, or wild rides. Nope, our big summer fun was braving a cross-regional road trip: 11 days, 10 nights, 6 hotels throughout the scenic farmlands of Kansas, Missouri, and northern Arkansas. One driver (me) and one 4.5-year old co-pilot, and many, many bathroom stops along the way. It was Mama and W’s Big Adventure, and it was surprisingly manageable and … even fun.

Perhaps you’re a seasoned expert at kid-friendly road trips, maybe you’ve got a streamlined system ready for a patent. Me, I’m just a left-foot-right-footing it mama who had a couple of big family events and a deep love for other people’s stories. Pre-kid, my husband and I regularly blazed a handful of routes across the midwest to see our spread-out family. We’d blast some great music, or listen to an entire (grown up) audio book, making necessary stops with incredible precision and speed.

I’d like to see that someday,” I’d remark wistfully as we’d whisk past the World’s Largest Prairie Dog and the Historic Carousel attractions. But we always had a schedule to keep — and really, those places are just tourist traps, right?

This time, with just me as the driver and sole kid-wrangler, I decided my main rule would be to attempt to enjoy the journey. And, strange as it might sound, part of enjoying that journey was a hefty amount of pre-trip planning. I decided that I didn’t want to spend more than 4-6 hours per day actually driving — and I wanted to add a buffer for fun and interesting stops. Like an expert travel agent, I researched towns, historic landmarks, parks, museums, and interesting diversions.

To engage my co-pilot (who prefers plans to spontaneity) I crafted a spiral bound book with a map for each day, a picture of our hotel/lodging and the planned stops along the way. I added a mini-review section for each page, “Good, Just Okay, and Not Good” with a space for comments and notes, but reminded him (and myself) that we’d stay open to other possibilities along the route.


Little W’s Road Trip Book
Wolf's Trip-Tix and Review Book.
W’s Trip-Tix and Review Book.

I’ve never been great at packing light. Like a good Girl Scout, I just like to be prepared. Ask anyone who knows me — I’ll likely be the one in the group who can pull just about any random thing you might need out of my bag. Extra t-shirt? Snack? Water bottle? Bandaid? Wet-wipes? Toys? I can’t help it. So, even though the weather report predicted triple digit temperatures for most of our trip across the Heartland, I stuffed our rain jackets, sweatshirts, extra pants, and even my favorite puffy vest into our family’s largest and heaviest suitcase. I mean, what if a freak July snowstorm really did occur? My eye-rolling husband would feel silly then!

As it were, was on the money. Temperatures ranged from 92 – 106 degrees (even at night!) for most of the trip and my favorite green vest sat mocking me in that enormous suitcase the entire time.

I might have overdone it on the clothes. But I got it right on the toys. I cleaned out my gym bag and filled it with gallon-sized ziplocs of: legos, little tiny dinosaurs and animals, matchbox cars, markers, crayons, and art supplies and tons of other toys I can’t remember. Perhaps the most important item of all: rolls of colored painter’s tape, perfect for making roads and cities on hotel room carpets.

Packing the car

My main strategy for car packing — ease of access. Food, snacks, wet wipes and special needs items occupied my passenger seat. The ever-useful portable potty (Pottette Plus) and compostable liners/ bags were stuffed into a drawstring backpack and tucked just behind the driver’s seat, ready for emergency deployment. The gym bag turned toy-palooza sat just under W’s feet where he could hook it with his left toe and procure any of the items he needed. For quick access to books and coloring supplies, I filled an old Duplo Lego bucket and wedged that atop the rear armrest next to his carseat. It was perfect! I was so proud… at least until I took that first hard left turn and sent everything flying across the car.


Ready for a road trip
Ready for a road trip

And of course, the most important/useful item in the car: my trusty prize bag. Whenever we travel, I always prep a small bag of surprises. Little trinkets picked up from the dollar bin at Target, treats W doesn’t usually get to eat, and even a few extra special things like a harmonica (#whatwasithinking?). My grandmother used to do that for my brother and me when we were kids. She put a lot of thought into hers: each small treasure would be stapled inside of a brown paper lunch bag — labeled with the mile marker or landmark where we would finally be able to open the goodies.

Following in Grandma’s footsteps, the first set of W’s prizes on this trip looked lovely, so nicely wrapped in tissue paper. Christmas in July! Genuine glee in the backseat, I tell you! As the trip progressed though, the surprise bag dwindled. So, the little guy and I picked out inexpensive prizes together from museums, a Dollar Store, and a couple of Walmarts. At prize picking time, W would close his eyes and fumble around the bag. “I’m gonna pretend I forgetted what we buyed, okay Mama?” he’d say earnestly.

On the Road

Knowing my little co-pilot would need to stretch his legs (and empty his bladder) frequently, I tried to plan for a multi-purpose, relatively fun stop every couple of hours. Our first official destination (not counting the quick bathroom tour in Arriba) was Parmer Park in Burlington, Colorado. Prior to this trip, Burlington, to me, was simply a blur on Highway 70. People, let me tell you, if you have small folks in your car, Burlington is worth a few minutes of your time.

Parmer Park, Burlington, CO. Lots of fun!

With a rocket ship-themed playground and a rather impressive splash pad, Parmer Park earned a “Super Good” in little W’s review book. If we would have planned ahead, we could have enjoyed the adjacent swimming pool for just a few bucks, and that would have been a nice way to relieve the 96 degree heat.

Parmer Park, Burlington, CO.
Parmer Park, Burlington, CO.

Energized after our brief play break, we turned the car east and headed toward the Kansas line. The next pit-stop on our list? One of my favorite gas spots — the beloved Colby Travel Oasis. Boasting a small playground, clean bathrooms, kitschy souvenirs, a Starbucks, a Quiznos and a Qdoba, Exit 53 is always a welcomed sight. After gassing up, little W bounded out of the car toward the scorching playground and I relished a few minutes to check my email under the shade of the tiny picnic pavilion.

Colby Travel Oasis, Colby, KS (Exit 53!).
Colby Travel Oasis, Colby, KS (Exit 53!).

Sweaty and worn out, we grabbed some sandwiches for the rest of the day’s drive to Hayes, Kansas where our hotel, and more importantly, the swimming pool, was waiting for us.

That first evening, I knew I made a mistake with the suitcase. It was unbelievably heavy and awkward. Erick never would have packed it that way. I hate it when he’s right. I had to lug the giant suitcase filled with every season of gear (really, what was I thinking!), plus the toy bag — because, toys! — and my computer backpack, and the food bag — because, food! — and the giant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle accompanying us on this journey. It wasn’t pretty, and it looked like we were moving in, but I did it. And though I was tired to the bone, I kept my swimming promise and even had fun in the pool.

Late night pool time!

Post pool-time, I shuddered when I realized that I couldn’t actually stay up late to write or work or relax — because we’d be hitting the road early in the morning and I had to pack up all of this stuff that had somehow exploded around the room.

The next 11 days are kind of blur, but in a good sort of way. It was never easy, and I was certainly tired. But, I was surprisingly not miserable. Having a checklist of fun stops each day, helped my little guy (and me, too) stay focused on the journey rather than the tedious miles. And sometimes, it was the littlest things that made W smile. On Day 2, in the breakfast area of Holiday Inn Express, we spent 10 minutes watching pancakes emerge from a futuristic-looking contraption.

Pancakes from a machine? Are you for reals?” little W asked me skeptically.

Apparently, it’s true. Holiday Inn Express has entered a new era of efficiency. No more spilled waffle batter. At this hotel, we simply pressed a button and watched in surprise as a tidy little pancake pushed through heated rollers out onto our plates. The 4 year-old budding engineer was definitely a fan. “Can we buy one of these?

After stuffing all of our luggage back into the car, we charted course for the day’s first adventure: the Sternberg Museum of Natural History. We got in free with our Denver Museum of Nature and Science card (yay for ASTC reciprocity!) and had a great time touring the impressive dinosaur habitat, the kids’ area, and the decidedly cool Titanaboa exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian. This massive predator was 48 feet long and weighed roughly 2,500 pounds.

Titans of the Ice Age, Sternberg Museum, Hays, KS.
Titanoboa replica (eating a caiman alligator).
Learning about frog anatomy.
Learning about frog anatomy.

That museum stop tided us over to Wichita, Kansas. The promise of a Chuck E Cheese date with some family friends was a decent incentive for the little guy to curb his “Are we there yets” long enough for me to stay sane. Along the way, a gas station with a sub-par restroom received W’s only “sad face” rating of the entire trip. For me, double sad face, maybe triple. Chuck E Cheese, though, was surprisingly delightful. Maybe it was the long drive, maybe it was all the extra tickets the hostess handed the kids in our group, maybe it was catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Regardless, the pizza wasn’t bad, the games were fun, and the company was great.

After cashing in over a hundred tickets on funny sunglasses and tiny toys destined for the odd corners of my car, we loaded up for the day’s final destination, Hampton Inn in Hutchinson, Kansas. There, for the second time, I cursed my need to be prepared for any kind of weather. Why couldn’t I have just packed that stuff in an extra duffle bag and taken the smaller, lighter red suitcase? Seriously. And for the second night, I kept my promise to swim in the pool (even though I was exhausted) and miserably failed on my promise to work on my writing.

In Hutch, we endured the 100+ degree heat (and seemingly 50 percent humidity) to visit wonderful family and some great local attractions. A cute play spot in a mall cooled us off, the free local zoo full of several rescued animals, and many endemic species was informative and educational. It also had a fun little dinosaur-themed play area which was mercifully covered with a sun shade.



Hutchinson Zoo
Hutchinson Zoo


Dinosaur fun!
Dinosaur fun!
Demonstration barn
Demonstration barn

We had hoped to also visit the Kansas Cosmosphere or the Dillon Nature Center but we ran out of time. Plus, I was hungry and I really wanted a coffee not made in a hotel lobby. So, we headed to historic Main Street and stumbled upon Brewed Awakenings which served up a good cup of cappuccino and some tasty sandwiches. Next door, we found Smiths Market, an adorable, old-fashioned grocery full of gorgeous fruits, vegetables, specialty food items and interesting toys.

The next day was the best. We donned our hard hats, joined up with family, and explored the Strataca Underground Salt Museum 650 feet below ground. The ride down was admittedly unnerving; a dark, crowded elevator with no way out? Claustrophobia anyone? Fortunately it was quick and the guide had a headlamp. When we piled out of the elevator, we saw what seemed like miles of tunnels and caverns. Exhibits tucked into corners here and there elaborated on the history of mining and methodologies. Little W “oohed and ahhed” over dynamite blasters, and cutters, and other strange machines whose functions I still don’t understand. To his delight, we rode the underground train, touring some of the original areas of the mine. Looking back now, I realize that we really should have opted for the additional special “dark ride” for just a couple of extra bucks. On that one, visitors get to see other tunnels and ‘mine’ their own salt rocks.

Streetcar Underground Salt Mines, Hutchinson, KS.
Touring the Salt Mines with Uncle Rick.
Old equipment used in the salt mines.

Next on our itinerary? Pratt, Kansas. A quaint farming town with historic homesteads and some really nice people. I got to meet a cousin I’ve only really known on Facebook, enjoyed being regaled with tales of my dad’s high school antics, and was treated to a special family tour of The Pratt Education Center, part of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. W loved the fish hatchery, the aquariums, the snakes and salamanders, and the many displays and mounts.

Keeping a tight schedule, we high-tailed it to Joplin, Missouri. Or, at least we tried. On the map, US Hwy 400 seemed like a pretty straight forward choice. Direct, dotted with small towns. I imagined it to be picturesque and perhaps slightly less-traveled.

In actuality, it was desolate. And none of those map dots seemed to be anywhere near the highway. I think we saw one town, one gas station. My first clue should have been the pre-trip Internet searches for a hotel. I couldn’t find anything enroute (with a decent swimming pool) closer than Joplin. Well, that’s not true. I did find one hotel that seemed like it would work out okay. But when I checked the photos online, there were mirrors above the beds — which kind of creeped me out.

Maybe it was the long drive, maybe it was the stale car snacks or the Raffi on repeat, but when I dragged our giant suitcase into the lobby of the Homewood Suites of Joplin, I think I heard angels sing. For a regular hotel, this property was amazing. And though we pulled in past 9pm, the blazing fire pit, the outdoor putting green and the saltwater pool (all open til 11pm) made my little guy’s eyes sparkle like he was on a real vacation. Each room was a mini-apartment, with a separate sitting area and kitchenette so it really did feel a bit like home (especially after the toys came out).

I bought a bottle of Perrier from the front desk and stuck it in the freezer so it would be nice and cold. Then fed the child, went for a whirlwind swim, quick round of putt-the-golf ball, and warmed up by the fire. With little W finally tuckered out and tucked in, I remembered my sparkly water waiting in the freezer. Except it wasn’t. It had exploded everywhere. What was I thinking? For the next half hour, I questioned my brain power while picking out every shard of green glass from the freezer.

My own major gaffe aside, this place was a lot of fun. They had a great breakfast and really lovely staff. Be aware, though, this is a pet-friendly facility. I didn’t know that when I booked it, though I am sure it said so in the fine print. My little guy is often scared of dogs, but he found riding in the elevator with them to be refreshingly fun. So, hooray for that.

The next day of our big adventure we headed toward our second major destination: a surprise anniversary party for Nana and PopPop in northern Arkansas. Along the way, we finally made it to one of W’s most anticipated stops. The Discovery Center of Springfield, Missouri — or as the little guy called it, The Mouth Museum (the website has a photo of a giant, walk-through mouth as part of one of the ‘human body’ exhibits). We used our ATSCA / Denver Museum of Nature and Science card for free admission (yay!) and enjoyed the place so much we added it to our itinerary for the way home. There was a dinosaur dig pit, a giant Operation game, a small magnetic crane, an airplane flying game, an interactive human body exhibit and so much more.

Discovery Center, Springfield, MO. So much fun!
Discovery Center, Springfield, MO. So much fun!
Discovery Center, Springfield, MO. So much fun!
Discovery Center, Springfield, MO. So much fun!
Discovery Center, Springfield, MO. So much fun!

From the museum, we had a rather manageable drive to the beautiful old farm where dear friends put together a lovely celebration for Nana and PopPop. The drive was worth it just to see the smiles on their faces as we snuck across the field. Our Arkansas days were full of family, tractor rides, chigger bites, garden visits, and hammering projects in PopPop’s workshop.

Special anniversary party for Nana and PopPop. Arkansas.
Gardening with PopPop.
Gardening with PopPop.

Too soon though, little W and I were hitting the road again, homeward bound. Nana escorted us through the hills and hollers past their house on Bull Shoals Lake up to Branson so we could all play tourists. We visited the Butterfly Palace, which actually does kind of look like a palace. W loved the reptiles and amphibians area, but even more, he enjoyed bolting through the kids’ stuff — a mirror maze (which was surprisingly effective) and a jungle maze made out of bungee cords meant to emulate banyan tree roots. Personally, I enjoyed the tranquil butterfly aviary, which was filled with colorful butterflies, moths, a few birds and the soothing music of a hammered dulcimer.

Butterfly Palace, Branson, MO.

By this time in the trip, I was feeling pretty good. Like, “Mama, you got this!” We had a rhythm, W and I. We had the snacks flowing, the music playing, the prize box full of surprises … Then it started pouring in Springfield. Big, heaving chunks of sky assaulting the car. I have a thing about driving in storms in the midwest. It totally freaks me out. I got caught in the edge of a massive Kansas storm cell of a tornado back in 2008, and it has kind of left a mark. Eyes scanning the sky for signs of dropping clouds, I squealed into the nearest Starbucks for a coffee and a chance to catch my breath.

Much later, when we finally pulled into Topeka, the friendly desk clerk couldn’t find my reservation and the hotel was solidly booked (summer vacation travelers, maybe?). Turns out, I’d accidentally mixed up the dates for the last couple of nights on the trip. Really? Who does that? Fortunately, with A+ customer service, a few prayers and a fair bit of luck, little W and I were able to finagle ourselves into decent rooms for both nights at two different hotel chains. And even though it was almost 10pm, we went swimming. Hooray.

The next morning, I just couldn’t do another hotel breakfast. So we splurged and found a nearby Denny’s. W must have been hungry, he ate everything in sight, pancakes, bacon, cheesy eggs — gone. My finicky carb-loving kid found his culinary paradise. “Can we come to this awesome restaurant again sometime, Mama?

Growing a little weary of the car, we dragged out the morning a bit chatting over the last bits of sticky crumbs. First on the agenda of our penultimate morning: the Rolling Hills Zoo and Museum in Salina. Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations and planned to cut the visit a little short. The car temperature gauge was reading 106 degrees and I was starting to feel the pull of the greater Denver area.

But, I had promised; it was in our little trip-tix book and everything. So, we stopped. And I’m glad we did. The spacious facility was clean, with good habitats and very engaging staff and volunteers. We opted for the tram ride — and had the whole thing to ourselves. It turned out to be the best (and perhaps only) way to see the zoo on such a brutally hot day.

Tram ride, Rolling Hills Zoo. Salina, KS.
Tram ride, Rolling Hills Zoo. Salina, KS.

And while the zoo itself was nice, it was the museum that was truly impressive. Huge, semi-interactive dioramas featuring animatronics and real waterfalls, on par with what I’d expect to see in a major museum. Separated by regional habitats, we toured Southeast Asian rainforests, the African Savannah, the Arctic Tundra, South Asia and more. We would have toured the bat habitat, but W got too engrossed in the kids area which featured a giant Connect Four game, a reading loft, games and toys. It was a great stop.

Kids area at the Rolling Hills Zoo Museum. Salina, KS.

When we pulled into Hays at nearly 5pm, we went straight to our last destination of the day: the town’s aquatic park. With several pools, many waterslides (including a kiddie, frog-mouth slide), fountains, a lazy river, and floating animals to climb on, it was a refreshing respite (marred only by the very faint smell of cows). Definitely a solid smiley face from the little guy for this attraction.

Hays Aquatic Park! (finally)

The next morning, we made sure to pay tribute to Hays’ herd of Bison before setting our sights on Colorado.

Bison herd. Hays, KS.

Later, on our return pass through Burlington, we opted for a quick ride on the Kit Carson County Historic Carousel (25 cents!) and a bit of fun in the nearby (very shady) Outback Territory Park. This park was absolutely magical. A giant wooden structure filled with nooks, crannies, slides, bridges and obstacles. A stones’ throw from the Interstate, it was time well spent.

Kit Carson Historic Carousel. Burlington, CO.
Kit Carson Historic Carousel. Burlington, CO.
Outback Territory Park, Burlington, CO.
Outback Territory Park, Burlington, CO.
Outback Territory Park, Burlington, CO.


Just a few hours, and a couple of potty breaks later, we were home. We did it, we survived. We had fun. Hooray!

Lessons Learned

I count the trip as a success, but there are several things that I’d change if I could do it over again. Namely:

  • Check out new DVDs and music CDs from the library for the little man who decided on day one that he didn’t like ANY of his videos in the case anymore. I didn’t want to deal with online renewals and overdue fines. Just buy some on the road, you savvy travelers might suggest. Trust me, I scoured every gas station, truck stop and Walmart during the trip for copies of the kid-friendly documentaries he’s fond of. Not a single “Garbage Monsters” or “How Do They Build That?” to be found.
  • Pack a bit more wisely. I should have packed a small travel suitcase of the stuff I knew we’d need along with an extra duffle bag of all the “just in case” items I was afraid we couldn’t live without (we didn’t need any of them).
  • Buy more prizes ahead of time. I should have taken the time to hit up the Dollar Store for little trinkets for the whole drive. The prizes worked fabulously, but it was a pain to stop several times to add to our bag. Plus, W really liked being truly surprised.

Overall, though, I was impressed with how well we both did, and I’d do it again. I think the World’s Largest Beetle and the UFO Watchtower have our names written all over them.

Want some expert advice? Check out these great blogs and resources for tips for traveling with kiddos:

The Minitime Trip Planner (Minitime)

How to Survive Road Tripping with Kids (via Scary Mommy)

50 Road Trip Ideas for Kids (via Six Sisters’ Stuff)

Kids Road Trip Essentials (via Real Simple)



Local Biz Spotlight: The Mama’hood

Do you need a place to just chill, relax, remember the joy of motherhood? Would you love to do yoga with a few other mamas, or even with your little ones? Could you use some breastfeeding support?

Well, there’s a new space in town, and it’s tailor-made for mamas and mamas-to be. Featuring three yoga studios, a play space for kiddos, practitioner rooms for massage and lactation consultations, as well as a beautiful retail section, The Mama’hood in Boulder is ready to welcome us all into their serene “village”.

CEO and co-founder Linda Appel Lipsius sees the Mama’hood as a holistic resource center for expectant moms and families. As a mom-preneur, she recognizes the importance of community while juggling parenthood.

“The Mama’hood Vision: We are a sanctuary where every woman can find warmth, wisdom and inspiration.  The mama‘hood promotes: Physical and mental health during motherhood. Empowerment through education about Pregnancy, Birth, Postpartum and early family choices. Connection through classes, support groups and resources. A ’hood quite literally has you covered.”

True to the mission, The Mama’hood is comprised of a talented team of supportive women including several lactation specialists. Katie Wise, of Yo Mama Yoga, will serve as the new Director of Yoga, Trainings and Childbirth Education.

I visited the space with my little guy a couple of weeks ago. The carpenters were busy tightening the last screws, yet I felt an immediate sense of calm. The Mama’hood team has completely transformed the former Grandrabbits Play! spot into an oasis of tranquility. I got a first-hand look at the gorgeous maternity/post-natal/breast-feeding clothing, and fell in love with the cute stash of toddler eating supplies.

Personally, I can’t wait for the family-friendly music classes to start. And, I can offer my own kudos for Katie Wise’s prenatal yoga classes. If you get a chance, stop by this new spot and tell them MOD Moms sent you.

If you’re in the neighborhood, check out Mama’hood’s Grand Opening Party: July 17, 2015, 4pm-8pm. There will be family-friendly food, drink, & entertainment (including a petting zoo!). There will be prizes raffled with proceeds to benefit Mother House –

The Mama’hood (2525 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 80302)

Parks and Playgrounds

Love finding new spots to play? Check out the fun spots on our list — and add some of your own in the comments!


Fire Fighter’s Park 
Have a flame-fighting super hero in your care? Well, put this park on your list! Your little ones will love the fire engine-themed play structures.

Discovery Park
Wheat Ridge, (southern Arvada) Featuring fun playground equipment, a skate park and a splash pad, this park is sure to be a solid hit. (seasonal bathroom)

Ralston Central Park
5850 Garrison Street, Arvada, CO. A beautiful, newly-developed park filled with green space, great play structures, picnic tables, and a fun splash pad! (Bathrooms available)


Scott Carpenter Park
Kind of dated, but fun. My little guy can’t get enough of the rickety rocket ship. Dedicated to Boulder’s own astronaut, Scott Carpenter.

Wonderland Lake Park
Great for a nature walk, picnic, bit of play, or walk around the lake. (No bathrooms)

Foothills Community Park
Located in North Boulder (just north of Wonderland Lake) this park has a fun playground, picnic shelters, soccer fields, a basketball court and bathrooms.

Harlow Platts Park
Nestled behind Fairview High School, this park has a nice little lake with walking path (great for bike riding), cute play area with sandbox, no bathrooms (there is a port potty if you are feeling brave, though).


Broomfield Commons Park
Expansive park with fun play equipment, picnic shelters and bathrooms.

North Midway Park, ACCESSIBLE
A hidden gem. This park is a favorite for us. I love the accessibility for wheel chairs and walkers. My little guy loves all the fun equipment. Aside from the fun play area, you’ll find plenty of green space, a shelter, seasonal bathrooms. And, if you like tossing a disc, there’s even a disc course available.

Denver area

Bellevue Park
This park features a tiny train ($1.75/person), petting zoo ($1.75/person), and playground. A fun adventure.

Westlands Park
5701 S. Quebec St., 25.30 acre site. Located in SE Denver, this oasis is filled with fun climbing structures, great new equipment, pavilions, restrooms and lots of green space!

Surfside Spray Park
Lakewood, CO. For $1/person splash splash your way to some serious summer fun!


Erie Community Park
This beautiful new park is filled with vibrant play and climbing structures and beautiful ball fields. Bathrooms available. Coming soon? Water play area (Date TBD).


Lions Park
Next to Golden Community Center, this park features two nice play structures, sand volleyball, and great views. (No bathrooms)


Waneka Park
This park is one of my all-time favorite spots. With walking trail around the lake, shady in the summer, bathrooms, plus … cool paddle boats, the kids are going to be busy!


Louisville Community Park (splash pad!)
This park is one of our staples. Roughly a mile from downtown Louisville, Community Park features a fun splash pad, great play structures, a shady pavilion, and plenty of field space to kick around a ball. Oh — and bathrooms! It’s a great spot to play before grabbing some ice cream from Sweet Cow or playing a bit of pinball at Tilt!

Cottonwood Park
A cute shady park with a small basketball area and a lovely little soccer field and fun play structure. Near bike trails. South Boulder Road and Via Appia. Seasonal bathroom.

Pirates Park
Nice play structures, sand, close to downtown/ Main Street Louisville. Tennis courts and soccer fields. (No bathrooms)

Memory Square Park
Adjacent to Memory Square Pool, this lovely shady park has a fun sandpit, play structures and plenty of grass for picnics. (No bathrooms)


Collyer Park 
Any train aficionados in your house? Check out this cute little neighborhood park with a train play structure! How fun!

Dawson Park  and nearby Flanders Park
These nice little parks border scenic McIntosh Lake and make for a nice picnic spot on a beautiful day.

Unfortunately, this neat park was severely damaged by the 2013 floods, the park is slated to reopen soon. Here’s a recent article on the plans for Kanemoto Park.
A unique area park with a beautiful pagoda, donated in 1966 by the Kanemoto family, playground and splash pool.

Willow Farm Park
901 S. Fordham St., Longmont. Farm lovers take note. This park features a big red barn that serves as a shelter (with restrooms!) and a fun playground that incorporates farm themes as well!

Union Reservoir
Need a place to hunker down, drop in the kayak and play all day? Union Reservoir might be your spot. (Fees)

Stephen Day Park (Splash pad!)
A wonderful neighborhood park complete with fields, playground, skate park, mini bike paths and restrooms!

Sandstone Ranch Park
A really beautiful park filled with fun play equipment, ball fields, trails and seasonal restrooms and concession stands. Add to that, lots of green space and great views — and you have a really lovely day. But get hopelessly lost on your way there like I did. My GPS took me way out east to St Vrain State Park, then a series of empty farm fields. Tip: Sandstone Ranch isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It’s located off of 119/ Ken Pratt just past Zlaten Drive.

Quail Campus Park
Just outside the Longmont Museum is a lovely green space dotted with sculptures. No playground equipment, but it does make for a nice picnic spot.


Chipeta Park
Just down the street from the fun Carousel of Happiness and the Mountain Bear Ecology Center, you can run off a little more steam at Chipeta Park. There the kiddos will find some play equipment, picnic tables (no bathrooms), and, of course, the creek. There’s a little fishing pond, too, if you’re up for casting a line.


EB Rains Junior Memorial Park/ Northglenn Sensory Park
11700 Community Center Drive, Northglenn, CO. EB Rains Jr / Northglenn Sensory Park is an inclusive, expansive park that has something for everyone including a bit of paddle boating and fishing.


Founders Park
7725 W Coal Creek Dr, Superior, CO. Across from the Target shopping complex, Founders Park is the perfect spot to run off a bit of steam. Great play structures, some walking paths, a basketball court and a soccer field, this park is on the “to do list”. Seasonal bathrooms. The con? Very little shade.

Community Park
Nestled between part of the Rock Creek neighborhood, Coalton Road and the Safeway shopping complex, this park is filled with ball fields, play areas and bike paths. A seasonal bathroom is available.

Purple Park
Looking for a great grassy picnic spot? Purple Park might just fit the bill. A little play structure, a small pond and a big hill equal some serious fun. (Has a small, seasonal bathroom).


Carpenter Park
Get ready for some fun. This park is something special.


Peter Pan Park, aka Westminster Center Park
Features fun playscapes, a little splash “river” (a few inches deep), covered picnic tables, and restrooms.

Westminster City Park
(Just outside of the Rec Center). Great location, tons of green space, and fun equipment. (No bathrooms)

Sensory Park
(Tucked behind an office complex near the Target off of Church Ranch)  I love this little park. It’s hidden behind an office complex just past the Target. But don’t let the out-of-the-way location fool you, this is worth the hunt for a fun, inclusive spot to play. Wheel chair accessible ramps are fun for rollers and runners, and the sandbox is one of my kiddo’s favorite spots. (No bathrooms)

Rainy Day Fun

This year’s frequent bad weather got you down? Tired of stomping puddles? Here are a few fun indoor ideas for keeping the kids busy and yourself sane!

Puddle stomping
Puddle stomping

Around the House

  • Great Excavations (Excavating critters from ice blocks) — with a little advanced preparation, you can create a fun and educational learning experience that will keep your little ones busy for a while.

Our take: We filled a tupperware dish a little less than halfway with blue colored water and a handful of dinosaurs. After a couple of hours, we added some red colored water and another batch of dinosaurs. We flipped the “glacier” out on a big cookie sheet, and my little guy had a blast using a variety of “tools” to free his dinosaurs from the ice. We tried table salt, rock salt, water (cold and hot), spoons … so much fun!

Excavating dinosaurs from a “glacier”!
  • Have a ‘Frozen” fanatic in the house? Make and melt some Frozen Elsa” hands. Fill them with fake jewels, or Frozen-themed tiny toys, and let your little one work some magic.
  • Tents and Forts: Indoor Camping: Grab the tent or some blankets and help the kiddos construct a hideout. Bonus points if you can do it in a place that’s just out-of-the-way enough to keep the thing standing for a couple of days.

Our Take: We filled our tent with pillows, books and games … had breakfast and lunch and even an iTunes-fueled movie night.

Camping indoors (with some favorite toys and friends).
  • Have an obstacle course competition or a hot lava show down. My little guy loves to make “maps” to plan out his routes. To prevent our house from succumbing to total destruction I cordon off one room for the fun.

Make some stuff:

  • Whip up a batch of Oobleck — the gooey, category-defying substance that hooks kids on science. Just be sure to cover your table. Our rule is that it stays in the bowl, which stays on a cookie sheet.
Exploring the awesome disgusting-ness of oobleck.


  • Try your hand at Cloud Dough. Helpful tip: Cover your workspace with a towel first!
  • Get crafty. Pull out some old paper, recyclables, or household goods and make a toilet paper roll monster, a birdhouse, or even better, one of these cute birdies.
  • Make it musical. Build your own rainstick with some paper towel tubes and pebbles or dried beans.
  • Make a duct tape treasure box and stage an indoor treasure hunt.
  • Pull out some painter’s tape or masking tape and create a roadway, a line jump, a mini maze or a fun hopscotch! Works well in an unfinished basement or even the garage!
  • Stave off hunger with a fabulous fruit rainbow.
  • Is your kiddo a questioner like mine? Get sciencey — make your own rain gauge, then explore a bit more about the water cycle.

Out and About

Local museums are always fun when it’s rainy, and the Boulder/Denver area has quite a few: the nearby Butterfly Pavillion, the WOW Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Art Museum (kids under 18 are FREE everyday!), the Children’s Museum, the Aquarium, the Colorado History Museum, the Longmont Museum, the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Little museums like the Weather Station/ Visitor Center at NCAR, or the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum or the Natural History Museum on the CU-Boulder campus can be a fun, quick diversion if you’re near campus (both have a small area for kids on the bottom floors).

Tired of the museum route? Here are a few other ideas around town

Just need a place to jump around and get the crazies out?

  • Dizzy in Longmont is always a big hit with my little one. It has a fun climbing structure, bouncy house and inflatable slide for the 10 and under crowd. Laser tag and loads of games round out the fun.
Getting a little wild at Dizzy


  • ABC Climbing offers family climbing nights and open gym times:
  • Jump City (Arvada) offers MOD Moms a great Buy One Hour Get One Free deal if you show your MOD Moms card!
  • Great Play of Superior offers punch card style camps (starting at 5 punches) which can come in handy for bad weather days! (MOD Moms get 10% off camp punch cards, MUST show valid MOD Moms card.)
  • Playscapes at Flatirons Mall and Cherry Creek Mall are good for a quick bit of free fun
  • Don’t forget about the FREE play areas at many local rec centers such as Apex (we love the clubhouse!), Paul Derda, and Erie.
  • And of course, don’t forget about the awesome indoor water centers at these great rec centers as well!

Have any other great tips? Leave your ideas in the comments! Thanks for stopping by!

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