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Our family spent part of our summer vacation exploring our home state of Arizona. We headed up north a couple of hours and visited Bearizona for the first time.

Bearizona is a wildlife park featuring a wide variety of North American animals. You can experience a scenic 3 mile drive through the Ponderosa Pine Forest in your own vehicle or choose to take the Wild Ride Bus Tour like we did.

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We enjoyed the open air guided Bus Tour because not only did we get to learn about the animals and park in general, but we could see the animals so much better than we would’ve stuffed in our Suburban.

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You could take the bus tour and then drive through yourself after if you wanted! The cost of admission to Bearizona is $25 for adults and $15 for children 4-12. They also offer annual passes.

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Bearizona takes great care in providing animals with large, naturalistic enclosures and plenty of room to roam. Many of their animals have been rescued and rehabilitated here. The wildlife park is privately owned and receives no tax dollars.

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More animals are exhibited in Fort Bearizona, a beautiful 20 acre walk-thru area, along winding paths which is more of a “zoo” type setting. After our bus tour, our youngest was so excited to go to the Barnyard and pet some of the animals.

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We also enjoyed the Birds of Prey Free Flight Show and Nix enjoyed getting to ask questions about the birds afterward. There is also a beautifully themed restaurant here and several outdoor stands with treats and drinks. We stopped and took a gelato break! There was even live music on a stage right by us. We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing few hours here at Bearizona!

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Bearizona was only 2 miles from where we stayed at the Circle Pines KOA Holiday campground! As you can see leaving the park, there are 2 KOA’s very close by. Both of them are owned by the wonderful Bell family, who we got to meet in St. Louis along our 2014 RV journey around the USA.

Thank you to Bearizona for giving our family admission to the park in exchange for this honest review.

Renew-Your-Family-Passports

As I scrolled Facebook, a post from a writer friend in California stopped me in my tracks. Arlene Pellicane announced that her family had to cancel their epic Italian vacation because the kids’ passports weren’t in compliance for international travel.

Next, I received an email newsletter from my professional organizer friend, Danielle Wurth, talking about how her family trip to Mexico was derailed because of a similar scenario.

Hearing their stories got me thinking about how you and I could avoid the stress and disappointments that they experienced. 

CHECK YOUR PASSPORT NOW

Seeing my friends’ international travel plans thwarted due to passport issues caused me to head directly to our safe to check our passport expiration dates. Low and behold, my husband’s passport was due to expire in 6 weeks.

We don’t have current plans to travel internationally, but thanks to my friends’ mishaps my husband was able to send in for his renewal and already has his passport back (valid for another 10 years) in hand for when he may need it. If my friends’ didn’t tell of their passport fails, we would’ve surely been in the same position when it came time to travel out of the country the next time.

3 Things My Friends’ Passport Fails Taught Me

1. Really smart people make mistakes

That means you and I are going to make mistakes, so we can relax knowing that failure is a part of life. My friends, Danielle and Arlene, are amazingly bright, talented business owners who have their acts together. It just goes to show you, that everyone makes mistakes.

Danielle’s husband was working on their boarding passes the night before they were to leave on their family trip to Cancun when Phil announced: Honey, my passport is expired!”

Now what?

2.  It’s an opportunity for the kids to see how you handle disappointment

When negative experiences happen that affect our families, it’s important that we use the time to teach our children lessons on how to handle disappointments, frustration, and failure. It is good for kids to see that their put-together parents even make big mistakes sometimes.

“The best part as a parent was, as it was all happening and we were realizing our trip was off, my kids (ages 9, 12, 14) didn’t get upset or blame me,” said Arlene.  “They said things like, “Mom, how could you have known about the passport? I mean, it was still valid (it expired in June, our trip was in March)” and “Mom, I’m so sorry for you, you’ve spent so much time planning.”

Arlene said, “It was a wonderful lesson on disappointment and that sometimes what you are excited about doesn’t come to pass…and that life moves on.  That was a really good lesson for all of us.”

What an inspiration to see how the Pellicane family regrouped and made the most of their family time together!

At the airport, the Wurths found out the only option was for Danielle and her sons to fly to Mexico as planned and for Phil to drive on Monday morning to the main passport office in Tucson (2 hours away). Danielle says, she hated to leave him behind and start their vacation without him, but they had no other choice.

“It was a gut-wrenching experience traveling internationally without Phil, who worked hard to plan the trip, and then was the one left behind,” said Danielle. “Having family dinner on vacation with one empty chair was bizarre and felt so out of place.” Luckily, he was able to fly out and join the family on Tuesday.

3. Our mistakes help other people

I’m so happy that my friends chose to vulnerably put their stories online in order to help others learn from their mistakes.

“Mistakes happen and lessons will be learned, but it’s important to be flexible, create a new game plan and a year from now it will be a great story in our family,” says Danielle.

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Use social media as a way to help people learn and grow from your experiences and mishaps. My friends’ stories helped our family and just maybe their misfortune will help you too!

3 Ways to Avoid a Passport Fail

1. Always keep your passport current

In today’s Amazon culture, we are used to being able to get anything we need immediately. Unfortunately, Passports are not one of them. You have to plan ahead.

Even if you don’t have any upcoming international travel planned, a family member might be traveling overseas and you want to be able to fly to them if necessary.

My friend, Kim McAvoy, learned this the hard way. Her mother was traveling in Budapest, Hungary when she fell stepping off a tour bus, hit her head and ended up in the hospital where she later died. Kim was unable to travel with her Dad and brothers because her passport had expired.

TIP: Make it a habit to check the expiration dates of your family passports at the beginning of every year.

2. Ensure 6 months of validity beyond your scheduled travel dates

Go ahead and renew your passport 6-9 months before you are to travel. Many countries won’t allow you to board the plane if your passport will expire in less than 6 months from your departure date.

Passports for applicants 16 and older are good for 10 years. Passports for children under the age of 16 are only valid for 5 years. Go ahead and renew early so you don’t have any emergencies.

Travel Smart: 6 Epic Travel Fails to Avoid 

Depending on where you live there are Emergency Passport locations which will expedite the process for a hefty fee. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but why not be proactive and avoid wasting your hard earned money.

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3. Make sure your passport is in proper condition

An expired passport is a common mistake, but it’s not the only one. You also need to make certain that your passport is not damaged in any way and also has enough blank pages available for travel.

Many countries require travelers to have at least two consecutive blank pages in their passports, while some even require four. Be sure to have more pages than you need for entry requirements. Passport and visa requirements can vary widely from one country to the next, and even seemingly insignificant violations can derail your travel plans.

For extensive online travel information, go to: https://travel.state.gov/

To avoid getting left behind at the airport, stranded at a border crossing or having to cancel your trip all together, make it a priority to keep your passport up to date and in good condition. 

Have you ever had a passport fail that derailed your travel plans? 

If the house goes up in flames, I want my people, my scrapbooks and my sand bottles. Forget the jewelry, just grab the sand.

My sand bottle collection represents memories I’ve gathered over the past decade of my life. The 46 unique bottles grace our master bedroom fireplace mantel and represent travels I’ve made near and far with my family, husband, girlfriends or by myself. Each and every bottle is full of earthly treasure attached to stories of travel and exploration.

Our homes are a haven where our family story is told through what graces our walls, shelves and mantels. Everything we choose to display in our house is a reminder of what we deem important.  Our homes are a tangible way to tell the story of who we are and where we’ve been. Look around. This is us.

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Girlfriends escape to Sedona now if you’re in need of relaxation and rejuvenation.

My dear friend, Toni, makes it a tradition to visit me from Minnesota during her birthday month of April every year. I wanted to do something special with her this year, and Sedona was an easy, but special place to take her.

How to spend 24 amazing hours in Sedona, Arizona

From Phoenix, Sedona is an easy 2-hour drive north. Take the I-17 north to
the AZ-179 N exit, EXIT 298, toward Sedona.

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GET YOUR HIKE ON

Buy your Red Rock Hiking Passes at the Visitor Center/Ranger Station

This will be your first stop to pick up maps of the area and to get info on any trails to hike in Sedona. You want to buy your Red Rock daily hiking passes here which cost $5 a day. You need a pass for a lot of the trails and definitely at the ones I tell you about here. Make sure you stop at this location coming into Sedona. *Beware of all the places that pose as visitor centers in town, but are really timeshare sales hubs.

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We couldn’t resist posing with no other than Smokey the Bear!

Park at the Bell Rock Pathway Trail Head

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San-Diego-Metro-KOA

Home Sweet KOA. It’s been awhile since I’ve been at the campground, but it still feels like home to me.

Even though this was my first time at the San Diego Metro KOA, the KOA campground brand brings me joy. Our family spent 6 months of 2014 living in and out of their campground locations all across the USA. I can see why this location was named KOA’s 2013 Campground of the Year!

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Now that the Carneys’ are no longer traveling by RV, the deluxe cabin is our camping accommodation of choice. We met the owners, the Bell Family, at their St. Louis location while on the road and they graciously invited me to stay for their Wellness Weekend. I can’t wait to bring the entire family back here one day. The San Diego Metro KOA is a slice of campground heaven.

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There are so many unique things about the San Diego KOA. Let’s start with the farm to table food at the Sand Castle Cafe. For dinner I ordered a turkey burger, that came with fresh fixings and delicious fries. This bowl of homemade granola was a treat for my breakfast. I just love the outdoor seating area too.

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I don’t think a lot of people get that camping isn’t like it used to be. You can be nearly as comfortable in the campground as you can at a hotel. This deluxe cabin features two bedrooms and a fun loft upstairs for the kids.

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The kitchen and living area are spacious, nicely decorated and clean. I loved waking up to the Keurig coffee maker!

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This was the first time I’d ever seen the Safari Tent accommodations. There are four of them on the San Diego property and I definitely want our family to try this out one day.  There are two of them together toward the back of the park that I already told a friend that our families need to book together.

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The jumping pillows are my kids’ favorite KOA amenity and this location has two of them. There’s also laser tag and a rock climbing wall on the property too. The activity schedule at the San Diego Metro KOA is packed with fun things to do.

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The pool area, arcade, laundry and store are all well kept and clean.

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The playground, basketball and bike rental area at the front of the park calls out fun from the moment you enter the campground! There is also a unique four person ping pong table under the gazebo that looks like a lot of fun too.

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If you haven’t made spring break or summer getaway plans yet, try camping here. Your kids will thank you! Book your spot now as all accommodations are filling up fast and you can see why!

We will never forget.

As Americans, we will never forget the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, and our family will never forget spending the 13th anniversary of this day in New York City.

I never truly understood the depth of the physical and emotional devastation here until finally witnessing it firsthand in 2014 during our RV trip around the USA.

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Branson-Missouri-KOA-Campground

What’s summer break without a little camping action? We have such a fondness for our KOA brand after their sponsorship of our RV Family Sabbatical last year! Last week KOA put us up for a couple of nights at their Branson, Missouri location after picking up our foursome from Kanakuk Summer Camp. It felt good to be back with the yellow shirts we know and love!

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Manager Angie Dickerson with new Branson KOA owners Greg and Karen Wright.

At the Branson KOA, you can expect super friendly staff who are there to help you from the moment you check in to the park. They will also be in the convention center serving up free pancakes every summer morning. This perk is a huge bonus for our large breakfast loving family!

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Not only did we love going for our complimentary morning pancakes, but our commute to breakfast was quite short. This was the view after walking out the door after stuffing ourselves- our home sweet home on wheels, Ally B. Our premium RV site was just perfect and we had a lot of room outside to sort through all of the kids trunks and bags after picking them up from camp.

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The Branson KOA is in a beautiful location just half a mile from all of the action on the main street. The pool was a well loved spot during our days there. Adjacent to the pool, was the beloved laundry room that I spent lots of time in getting all of the kids camp laundry done. I don’t know what I would’ve done if we were in a hotel with all of the stinky and wet clothes that they brought back with them! The KOA was the perfect place for us to regroup and unwind together before heading back home to Arizona.

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The Branson Main Street traffic is crazy! It is always bumper to bumper like this as most all of the live shows, attractions and restaurants lie along this road. Remember patience is a virtue and there are plenty of shortcuts from the KOA to keep you off this road! Branson is a unique family vacation destination known as the “Live Music Show Capital of the World.” I’m sorry to say that our family didn’t actually head to any of the shows this visit. KOA will recommend their favorites and can get you discounted tickets right there at the campground. Our family headed to Silver Dollar City Theme Park as well as did some go karting at the Track and mini golfing at the coolest Hollywood themed course we’ve ever been to! Check out my posts on the not to be missed Sunday brunch at College of the Ozarks and the tour of Top of the Rock as well.

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7-Fun-Tips-Family-RV

Camping season is upon us! How many of you are out there enjoying the great outdoors in your RV? We’re gearing up to spend July in dear Ally B, so I compiled a list of some handy ideas for making RV life perhaps a bit easier and less expensive!

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1. Most campgrounds unfortunately come with bugs. Bring along hotel shower caps to cover your dishes for your outdoor meals! Don’t forget your cute, water-stain resistant table cloth too!

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2. Use old comforter bags to store kids shoes while driving to keep dirt out of your motorhome!

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3. Buy (or make your own) shower lanyards for kids to take to the campground showers! We ordered ours off of Amazon!

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4. Keep your RV bathroom clean and toughen up the kids by sending them to the nice campground showers! Get plastic baskets for each child to take with them containing their own shower lanyard, pajamas and towel. Be sure to get a different colored towel for each kid too!

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5. Long day on the road? Put dinner in the crockpot to cook in the sink while you’re driving, so it’s all ready for when you arrive.

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6. Forget buying the expensive RV hangers! Cut a pool noodle in half and wedge on top of your hangers so that clothes don’t fall off in your closet while you’re driving.

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7. Make a clothesline out of rubber bands to dry clothes outdoors or inside your RV. This clothesline is amazing because it’s flexible and takes up no room to store!

Want to make one? Here’s how:

If using regular rubber bands, buy the thicker ones. Don’t get cheap dollar store type.
Use appx. 20-25 bands and make into a chain by looping end to end.

Make 3 chains of equal length. Holding one end of each chain together in your hand loop the end together in a large knot, leaving a grouping of 3 bands at the end for hanging.

Take the loops formed at the end of knot and hang over something such as a knob and begin to form a braid with the 3 strands, stretching braid gently as you go.

When you get down to about the last 6 inches hold the end loops together again and loop into another large knot.

Happy Summer! Happy Camping! What are some of your favorite tips when traveling by RV?

Top-of-the-Rock-Ozarks-Branson-Missouri

Our two favorite places we found when visiting Branson, Missouri were the College of the Ozarks and our adventure at Top of the Rock. Ok- neither of them are exactly in Branson, but just on the southern edge.

At Top of the Rock, we took a self-driven tour by golf cart along beautiful paved paths and through Lost Canyon Cave. Not only is there an amazing waterfall inside the four-story cave, but there is a bar where you can toast to your once in a lifetime journey. The last tour does leave an hour or so before sunset and the bar was closed when we got to the cave, so you may want to head out a little earlier if you want to experience that.

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We enjoyed seeing some deer and other little critters along the way. Be sure to bring a sweater or jacket if you head out in the evening as I was freezing, even in the humidity! It didn’t help that we got caught in some rain along our journey.

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You will experience the beauty of waterfalls, natural rock formations and covered bridges along the trail ride.

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The views of Table Rock Lake are incredible from the top! You will have to pay a $10 fee just to drive into Big Cedar Lodge (if you are not staying there) where Top of the Rock is located. You do receive a $10 credit toward anything you spend up top though. We put it toward our tickets for our cart excursion, which run $25 each. Kids under 12 are half price.

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After our tour, we took a shuttle up to Arnie’s Barn for dinner and to enjoy the scenery from up there. The Chapel of the Ozarks is stunning as well as the golf course that it sits on! So happy we found this place and highly recommend you checking it out if you find yourself in the area!

College-of-the-Ozarks

After dropping our kids off at summer camp in Branson, Missouri it was time to explore the Ozark region and check out what the area had to offer. At a time when there is much talk about what is wrong with the nation, College of the Ozarks, exemplifies what is right with America.

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Founded in 1906, the College of the Ozarks is home to 1,500 students who work, rather than pay, for a quality liberal arts-based education. All students who are admitted to C of O must demonstrate financial need, academic ability, sound character, and a willingness to work. 65% of these students come from the Ozarks region. One of the places for students to work is at The Keeter Center.

Located at the entrance to the campus, Dobyn’s Dining Room is in the Keeter Center’s Mabee Lodge. Not only can you enjoy lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch here, but you can stay in one of 15 suites in the Lodge as well. If you don’t have time for a full meal stop in and enjoy a treat from the bakery or ice cream parlor just outside Dobyn’s.

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We were fortunate enough to have made reservations in advance for the Sunday brunch! As soon as you walk into the dining room you are greeted with this scrumptious assortment of desserts. Behind this table was the student musician playing piano throughout the meal and then just beyond him is a homemade root beer float stand. The room is full of various food options!

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This is by far the best brunch we’ve had and for only $25 is a deal. Plus, you get to chat with your student server about the College and learn about his or her experience there. Our server, Graham, told us about how he is working the summer program to pay for his room and board for the school year. On top of his full accounting course load in the fall, he will have to work 15 hours a week on campus to pay for his tuition.

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After brunch, we decided to walk off the calories with a stroll around the patriotic campus. Be sure to walk all the way behind the Williams Memorial Chapel to the Point Lookout for a fabulous view of the Ozarks!

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I just love the college’s slogan of Hard Work U. All of the signage throughout campus is inspiring!

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Since we were here on a summer Sunday, the campus was very quiet as everything is closed and very few students are around. There is a College Dairy, Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen, Edwards Mill and various other attractions to tour if you come on a weekday. The students also run a farmers market every Friday!

Have you ever been to this special place? We can’t wait to bring the kids here after we pick them up from camp!