3 Experiences to Share With Your Kids in Syracuse 

By guest blogger Eathen Smith, as part of the sponsored Hotel Planner campaign.

Syracuse is a well-known family-friendly destination located in Upstate New York. There is so much to discover here. The accessibility of the city is perfect for families with young kids seeking conveniently located hotels near attractions and places to visit. Syracuse has a diverse cultural mix, and families describe the mix of people and general atmosphere as warm and welcoming.

Green spaces and historic architecture complement the people. Children can experience wonder, creativity, learning, and just plain fun in a hassle-free and convenient environment. Experience a taste of what Syracuse has to offer by choosing some family-friendly ways to see the city.

Something Unique for Everyone at Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Children have many opportunities to be connected to the wildlife and educational experiences offered by the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. Elephants, penguins, tigers, and all kinds of marine life will delight kids of all ages. The zoo offers birthday parties with catering, crafts, games, and admission all included.

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo also features many upcoming events such as Under the Sea Day. Ocean themed games and fun activities like a bouncing castle are all part of the fun. Conservation themed events are also held regularly during the year. Members are also offered a number of free or discounted events.

Family Friendly Festival and Events.

There are also many different festivals and events to put on the kid’s to-do list during the calendar year. Syracuse is named the City of Festivals for good reason. Family-friendly events such and the Great New York State Fair include rides, music, livestock competitions, and animals for all ages. The festival runs from the second last week of August through to early September. There are also Greek, Italian, Irish, and Scottish Festivals held yearly. A range of different kid-friendly activities and delicious foods for the whole family can be found at all the festivals mentioned.

Walking With Kid Convenience

Sensational Syracuse is responsible for the maintenance of over 1000 acres of open space including parks, swimming pools, and, ice rinks. For visitors on a tight schedule or budget, it is highly recommended to check out some of the convenient walking tours offered throughout the city.

The Onondaga Historical Association offers a map of the Syracuse Historic Walking Tour. Over 70 historical attractions are shown on the map and tours can be started or finished at any point. This is perfect for just choosing a few sights that are of interest to the children. There are plenty of hotels in Syracuse located in close proximity to the tour. Public transport or a taxi can do the rest.

Why choose Syracuse? It is easy, fun and perfect for all ages. Hotels are plentiful and can be found for every budget making it a convenient destination. It has the perfect mix of free and paid events sure to pique the interest of children of all ages. Festivals, attractions, history, green space, architecture, education, and lots of fun are all a possibility in Syracuse. 

Image via Flickr by vastateparkstaff

3 Awesome Kid-Friendly Vegan Restaurants in New York 

By guest blogger Eathen Smith, as part of the sponsored Hotel Planner campaign.

The environmental, health, and social benefits of vegan food have never been more obvious to a new generation of health-conscious parents and restaurateurs. Both are on different sides of the restaurant counter but are equally determined in their efforts to promote healthy food choices for children.

Vegan menus for kids are still difficult to find, but there are numerous kid-friendly vegan restaurants in New York City. The number of hotels and transportation near some of the restaurants makes the city perfect for time restricted parents. Here are a few vegan-friendly restaurants found throughout the city;

Experience Convenience and Vegan Delights in Queens

Vegan-friendly, homemade, fresh, delicious, convenient, and attentive staff are all words that have been used to describe Bruno’s Restaurant. It is located near Howard’s Beach in Queens and is close to JFK Airport.

Large portions of food are the norm at Bruno’s Restaurant. The vegan-friendly menu includes fresh salads, pizza, pasta, and Italian desserts. Friendly staff also go above and beyond to provide a wonderfully warm and inviting atmosphere. There are plenty of transport options nearby, and taxis are recommended for late evenings.

Looking to stay nearby? Hotels are conveniently located all over Queens and can be reached within minutes.

Convenient Mexican Vegan on the Lower East Side  

JaJaJa Plantas Mexicana is a walk-in restaurant located on the Lower East Side of New York. The vegan menu rates highly among locals and visitors. There is a park across the road for distracting the kids while the family waits to be seated. The wait is worth it when the menu arrives. It is made up of unique Mexican food such as vegan chorizo, black bean burgers, and cauliflower rice. JaJaJa is located above a train station and car parking is plentiful making it perfect for a quick exit. The modern decor of JaJaJa is complemented by fun music, convenience, and an excellent location.

Upper East Side Vegan Experience  

Le Botaniste is for families with slightly higher budgets but provides delicious vegan food on the Upper East Side of New York. The restaurant offers a fast and convenient restaurant experience. There are lots of vegan food options at this restaurant, and a family with children can be in and out of Le Botaniste in minutes. The Tibetan Rice Bowl is a favorite choice for vegans. It contains coconut curry, brown rice, and veggies. Bowls of green vegetables, quinoa cookies, and assorted bowls of food are just a few of the other menu items.

Exceptional and tasty vegan food in New York City will continue to convert carnivores. The choices for kid-friendly vegan food is phenomenal, and there is something for every budget. The convenient restaurant locations near hotels and public transport make for an easy meal and decreased waiting times. Creative vegan delights from some of New York’s best have the potential to change a new generation of eaters and bring joy to conscious parents.

Image via Flickr by WoodleyWonderworks

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

So last weekend I broke my Grandma out of the nursing home without anyone knowing it, then I pushed her in her wheelchair a mile down the road while she wore a “seatbelt” we made from a rolled up blanket…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

Wait, actually, that’s probably not the best way to start this story. Let me try again.

The last time my Grandma had seen her younger brother Bob was back in the summer of 1987, back when I was six years old, when we took a family vacation road trip to Buffalo, New York where my Grandma and my mom are from.

That was 27 years ago…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

But then randomly this year, my great-Uncle Bob decided that he wanted to visit my Grandma (his sister) by train with his girlfriend (he’s never been in a plane and he’s only left the state of New York once).

So I decided it would definitely be worth the 2 and a half hour drive from Nashville where we live, to my hometown in Alabama; taking my own family (my wife Jill and my son Jack) to witness this great reunion- 27 years in the making!

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

And to make things even more fun, we were able to review the 2014 Lexus GX 460 in the process. Which, for the record, was my personal favorite out of all the many Lexus vehicles I have reviewed within the past year.

The way it drove reminded me of the Toyota Tacoma, my favorite Toyota vehicle, which I reviewed on my 33rd birthday back in April.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

My wife Jill appreciated was how spacious the 2014 Lexus GX 460 is. We had to transport some of our son’s toys to my parents’ house; as we are in the process of building a new house (as I recently wrote about when I reviewed the 2014 Lexus GS 450h) and needed a place to store some things.

Meanwhile, my son Jack loved the stadium seating in the back because he could see everything that I could from the driver’s seat. Also, it has a 3rdrow seat from can fold up from the very back.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

He convinced us to let him sit in the very back for the entire round trip! Not to mention, to and from school a few days as well.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

I was surprised at how easy it was to hear Jack and Jill all the way back there. (I’m sure many educated people at Lexus have labored countless hours over making sure the sound carries that well!)

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

The visibility from the driver’s seat also greatly impressed me as well. I can’t remember the last time I drove a vehicle with better visibility than the 2014 Lexus GX 460.

So we arrived at my Grandma’s nursing home and along with my dad’s help, were able to lift my Grandma from her wheelchair to the car.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

In the process, I also “re-met” my great-Uncle Bob while there, who of course didn’t recognize me as a grown adult. As we talked, I learned from him that it was nearly 100 years ago, in 1923, that his own parents moved to New York from Michoacán, in southern Mexico; though he nor my Grandma ever really spoke Spanish.

The whole family met as a whole back at my sister’s house, just a mile away from the nursing home.

First, we celebrated by brother-in-law (who apparently happens to look a lot like me) turning 30 years old.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

Then we headed outside to the “jumpy castle” as Jack and his cousin Calla burned off extra energy they mysteriously gained from not having to take a nap that day.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

And of course, we checked out the storm shelter, which has sort of become the routine when we visit.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

Next we had a plant-based (vegan) lunch, prepared by my sister…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

Followed by an instantly made-up game of “bean bag bumper cars”…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

That’s about the time we got a call from the nursing home. Turns out, none of us even thought to actually sign my grandma out. And coincidentally, no one working there noticed us wheeling her out the front door!

The workers were so glad to hear that we had Grandma with us instead of, I guess, her somehow escaping (?) on her own.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

However, by that time she was ready to get back to her home. The thing was, she was afraid to be lifted back up into a vehicle for the 0.925 miles back.

We did what every all-American family would have done in the same situation:

My sister and her husband rolled up a large blanket, then I MacGyvered it into a home-made seatbelt. And now this particular photo collage begins to make more sense…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

After all, despite it only being about a mile away, the journey was all hills.

Fortunately, my daily routine of mountain biking during my lunch break had conditioned my body to be able to get my Grandma to her destination in less than 15 minutes. She even got to catch a glimpse of the County Fair a few blocks away.

Before we left the next morning, we made sure to snap a few pictures of our family.

Since my brother-in-law/look-alike turned 30 recently, and until Jack turns 4 next month, it means that we are living in a time when my wife and I are both 33,  my sister and her husband are both 30, and their daughter Calla and our son Jack are both 3.

So we figured we should take an official picture of this cool “3-30-33” moment.

same ages: 3 30 33

And that just goes to show that anytime my family gets together, it’s never “normal.”

But it is fun.

If you were entertained by this story, then be on the look-out what happened after we drove back to Nashville to see a Dierks Bentley concert that my wife won tickets for!

Car Review Stats:

2014 Lexus 9700A GX 460 5-DR SUV

4.6 liter V8, 301 horsepower

17 mpg average, 15 city, 20 highway

as shown: $55,505.00

See all 4 posts on the 2014 Lexus 9700A GX 460 5-DR SUV:

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Downtown Nashville

Folding Down/Up The 3rd Seats Of The 2014 Lexus GX 460

Syncing Up Your Phone/Using Driver Assist In The 2014 Lexus GX 460

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The Technicalities of Buffalo, New York and Louisville, Kentucky (and Middle Born Children)

If it were possible for a human being to have a sister city, mine would be Buffalo, New York, recently featured on The Office as the location of Jim and Pam’s wedding. To remove that city from the story of my life would totally change my existence. That’s my mom’s hometown. Her family moved to Alabama in 1973 when she was 15.

That’s the thing with Italians living in the South. They haven’t been here very long. Ask an Italian living in the South and as the story unfolds it is revealed that they moved only a generation ago from somewhere in the Northeast, or Chicago, or Ohio at worst. (Southerners are English, German, Irish, Scottish, African-American, and most recently, Mexican. Any nationality outside of those is exotic.)

As I researched Wikipedia to learn how the Midwest got its name (because I was annoyed that the Midwest is not really the Midwest but instead makes up the mid-central-northern area of our country), I learned that there a few cities that though they are literally not in the Midwest, they have the culture of a Midwestern city because of their proximity to that region. These cities are Louisville, KY; Eerie and Pittsburgh, PA; and fittingly for this writing, Buffalo, NY.

I wasn’t surprised by Louisville; I’ve been there enough to know that Southern accents are not common in that city. And Eerie and Pittsburgh are close enough to Ohio for me not to question. But Buffalo caught me off guard. What makes it Midwestern as opposed to Northern?

Buffalo is sandwiched in between two of the Great Lakes- Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Closeness to the Great Lakes is a Midwestern trait, whereas being near the Atlantic Ocean is a Northeastern trait. And because the city is removed from the too-close-for-comfort culture of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, it has a friendly reputation, more comparable to those Nebraska corn growers.

So it is confirmed, Buffalo is a technically a Midwestern city.

Last week while writing Manspeak, Volume 12, I refreshed my memory of the fascinating world of Birth Order and how it affects our personalities. Even if a person doesn’t know much about it, he or she can easily pick up on it and relate. So after explaining the basics of how it works, I always like to ask the person what they think my birth order is. Over 80 percent of the time, people guess that I’m a middle child.


Which is a great guess. The middle child often is artistic, laid-back, and had the worst trouble deciding on their college major (which I definitely did). But I’m not a middle child. I’m the first born child. I should be more uptight, more controlling, more motivated, and more aggressive. But I’m not. I live the life of a middle child.

So why, like Buffalo acting like a Midwestern city, do I act like a middle child?

I was raised by middle born parents, who also were raised by middle born parents. And my behavior is only encouraged, being that I married a middle born (who ironically was raised by two first-borns). When I am in a situation where I need to take charge, I can and I do. But what I prefer is to just go with the flow. Not surprisingly, it’s a middle born trait to analyze their identity and purpose.

Technically, Buffalo is a Midwestern city and I am a middle born child. And somehow that makes me wonder, if a sister city could have other siblings, would Buffalo would be a middle child too?


Quad Cities Proximity Initiative: Pretending You Know Where a City Is

Most Americans don’t know the capitol of Vermont or which states border Colorado, without cheating and looking at a map. Because like taking French or Spanish in high school, if what is learned is not applied on a semi-regular basis, then that knowledge disappears. Especially when it was just rogue memorization for a test we took a long time ago.

Since we don’t really know much about American geography, we use a system that gets us by. It gives the illusion that we are experts, when really we are just BS-ing our way through the conversation. I call it the “Quad Cities Proximity Initiative”. Most states consist of a minimum of four cities that we’ve at least heard of that pretty much cover the 4 corners of the state, even if we’ve never been to that state before; here are a few examples:

Ohio (Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland).
New York (New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany).
Florida (Jacksonville, Orlando, Tallahassee, Miami).
Georgia (Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, Savannah).

Here is an example of how this system works. The other day at work a guy from Indiana was trying to tell me where his hometown is. He said, “It’s about 50 miles south of Indianapolis…” Immediately I started shaking my head with an enthusiastic “oh yeah, yeah” which unabridged, it literally conveyed this message, “I am very familiar with the city you are talking about. I’ve been through there several times. Of course I know that place…” All because I have obviously heard of the state’s capitol, Indianapolis.

There are exceptions to the Quad Cities Proximity Initiative. Texas is huge and has more than 4 familiar cities; it has about 7. And there are those bite-size states like Delaware, where it doesn’t matter what city the person says, because the state only has 3 counties anyway.

When a person names a city I’ve heard of (even if I have no clue where in the state that city is) I give them confidence in me that I am following their lead in the conversation. It’s that simple. No need to stall a conversation because I can’t visualize where the city is. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Unless I’m driving there.