Things to See and Do in Tulsa

If you are visiting northeast Oklahoma and want to take a day or two to visit Tulsa, there will be plenty of things to see and do no matter what kind of activities you enjoy. It is a city that definitely has four distinct seasons and summers are usually quite warm and humid.

One thing to be sure to do is to try to catch a performance at the huge (half a block in size!) Performing Arts Center of Tulsa. This center isn’t even 30 years old yet and it has enjoyed great success in the world of performing arts. There are five theaters, an art collection, and many types of performances throughout the year. Whether your preference is symphony orchestra, opera, film, ballet, or something else, chances are Tulsa’s Performing Arts Center will be able to provide.

Tulsa offers well over a hundred parks, two dozen swimming pools, state parks, hiking trails, sports fields, and many other areas set aside for sports, fitness, and outdoor activities. Since it is the second highest populated city in the state, there will always be an abundance of activities including some excellent clubs and nightlife.

If you are more of an indoor type, try spending some time at one of Tulsa’s many incredible museums. You may want to choose from the Philbrook, the Gilcrease, or the Museum of Jewish Art. The Gilcrease features artifacts and works of art from the southwest and from the Native American culture. There are themed gardens and lovely galleries. The Gilcrease could easily take an entire morning or afternoon if you can manage.

The Tulsa Zoo is one of the more well known and recognized zoos in the United States. The reason for that is because it is among the top five largest zoos in the country, coming in at number three in size. The Tulsa Zoo is almost 80 acres in size and has been delighting visitors for almost 80 years. Be sure to see:

– The Robert J. LaFortune North American Living Museum
– Elephant Encounter (including a museum)
– Wetlands (including boardwalk and gazebo)
– Chimpanzee Connection
– Dave Zucconi Conservation Center (including reptile nursery if baby reptiles interest you)
– African Savanna
– Great Cats
– Bear and Lemur Grottos
– Aldabra Tortoise area
– California Sea Lions area
– Central and South American Rainforest area
– Discovery Center
– Children’s Zoo
– Cheetah Exhibit
– Penguin Habitat area
– Siamang Island

If the zoo didn’t provide enough good old fashioned “feel like a kid again” fun for you, try to stop by Bells Amusement Park. If it is a hot day in Tulsa, be sure to try the water ride called Chili Pepper Plunge. If you like wooden roller coasters, there’s a great one here called the Zingo. It’s huge! Play the arcade and check out what live entertainment is being offered. This park is only open seasonally while the zoo is in operation all throughout the year.

If you are into antiques shopping, the locals will tell you that you should spend some time seeing what you can find on the historic Cherry Street. You will be able to catch a great meal here, too. The shops offer much more than antiques, of course.

For the quiet traveler who enjoys nature: Stop by the Tulsa Garden Center and spend some time in the rose garden. That is just one of the many exhibits of horticultural excellence that you will be able to see.

For the sea and ocean lover: The Oklahoma Aquarium is a short distance from Tulsa in a town called Jenks. There are hundreds of exhibits here covering many kinds of aquatic life. Spend a few hours here and there is a restaurant if you are visiting over lunch time.

For the summer’s heat visitors: Four words. Big Splash Water Park! There are pools including a wave pool and a water roller coaster. This is also found in the town of Jenks, where the Oklahoma Aquarium is situated.

For the sci-fi enthusiast: Plan to spend a couple of hours at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. There is a wind tunnel here and a robotic arm to “play with.” You will be able to feel what it is like for the astronauts when they have to deal with robotic arms while doing some of the work they are required to do in space. There is also a replica of a space shuttle at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.

Ghost Tour: Meet the “Former Residents” of St. Augustine

Surely it is no surprise that the nation’s “Ancient City” is a breeding ground for countless ghost stories and supernatural incidents. A city that was founded almost five hundred years ago (in 1565) has had a lot of centuries in which to gather the spirits of its former residents. Oddly, many of the stories concern with people who were associated with St. Augustine no earlier than the 1700s.

The city itself provides a wonderful backdrop for the supernatural; narrow cobblestone streets, old gates and stone walls hiding private property from view, colonial homes, and the very ambiance of age and history. If you choose to wander around the city at night (which, granted, only a few brave souls can accomplish) you might want to know what to look out for.

You don’t need to spend hard-earned money on a guided ghost tour (although they can be extremely entertaining). Sometimes it is more mysterious and enjoyable to walk around alone and take note of all the places where ghostly activity is said to occur. For one suggestion, you may want to park at the Visitor Center. Walking around to the front of the building and across a busy avenue, you’ll see a huge gray castle up on a hill. Actually, it’s not a castle; it’s known as the Castillo de San Marcos, and it’s a Spanish masonry fort from the 1600s. It’s had its share of ghostly associations, and after hearing the story, no one should wonder why.

There were rumors circulated over a century ago that said bones had been found in one of the Castillo’s small, dark chambers. Of course, imagination being what it is, it was automatically “proven” to be human remains, and tales fabricated of love, deceit, and treachery. The Victorian mind was rife with chivalrous images, and the story of a young man falling in love with an equally adoring (though married) young woman, then imprisoned for his love, was quickly accepted.

Other stories connected to the Castillo include strange images of soldiers patrolling the ramparts, and Native American spirits. What were Native Americans doing in the Castillo? During the Seminole War and beyond, captured Indians were doomed to spend their days in a lonely, dank room with little hope of escape.

Walking back over San Marco Avenue will bring you to a narrow sidewalk and a walled burial ground. The huge gate out front says “Huguenot Cemetery.” French Protestants who made a colony in Florida a few years before St. Augustine’s founding fathers arrived were known as Huguenots, a name of uncertain derivation. Though there aren’t actually Huguenots *in* this cemetery, it was the place in the city allotted for Protestant burials and thus received this name. There are more than a few stories associated with the cemetery. A judge named Stickney, reportedly wronged when his body was desecrated, is reported to patrol the grounds. Ghost stories or not, this is an eerie place with its shade trees, old worn stones, and infrequent foot traffic.

Keep going. Straight ahead you’ll see the two pillars known as the City Gates. On the other side is a beautiful shopping district and colonial street known as St. George Street. In olden times it was known as “the street that goes to the land gate.” Apparently colonial Spaniards didn’t waste time with things like naming ceremonies.

Many of the homes on this street, both reconstructed and original, have histories spanning hundreds of years. There are some homes such as the Benet House (now a gift shop) that have strange occurrences. One of the family members who occupied this home must have been unwilling to leave for a better place, because one of them seems to have remained. Footsteps are heard even when there is no one walking on the second floor.

Trace your steps back to the Visitor Center to reorient yourself. If you can’t decide in which direction to go, consider going over the bridge to Anastasia Island, where you can see first hand the site of a bloody conquest. Yes, it is a long drive to Matanzas Inlet, but well worth it for the ghost seeker.

The story of the Protestant Frenchmen who lost their lives to the Spanish sword is well documented; though the exact number is not known, probably at least a hundred were put to death. These were the survivors of a shipwreck on which Jean Ribault, the Huguenot sailor and explorer was in command. There aren’t many ghost stories associated with this site, but with such a frightening history, it is quite understandable that there is an “aura” here that can send chills up the spine of the most sensible person.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Planning the Perfect Honeymoon Trip

By Christina VanGinkel

If ever a trip should be as perfect as it can be, your honeymoon is it. Choosing where you are planning to go can even have an effect on the date you and your loved one choose to be married. With this in mind, making the arrangements for your honeymoon should be something you and your intended spouse do together. You can choose to plan it all solo, or with the help of a travel agent, but no matter how you approach it, be sure to give it the consideration and time that it deserves.

Begin by sitting down with your future spouse to be, and decide when the wedding itself will take place. You will also need to determine how much time and money you can afford to devote to the honeymoon. Depending on your employers, you should also check with them on the availability of the dates and time frames you have in mind. Only after these issues are decided, will you both be able to consider the honeymoon of your dreams. Look at it as practice for the many major decisions you will be making together in the years to come, as planning a honeymoon can be quite the trial when it comes to meeting in the middle, whether it is on the big or small issues that come with planning such a trip.

If you are both not immediately decided upon at least a general location, both of you should make a short list of what you would consider the honeymoon of your dreams. This list might not even be place specific, but more action specific. If one of you is dreaming about sipping cocktails on a beach, with room service, and a private hot tub, and the other one is thinking more along the lines of battling the rapids down a rigorous section of the Amazon, followed up with a jungle trip deep into the wild, you both might be learning the concept of meeting in the middle quicker than you ever though you would have to. By creating a short list of what each of you wants, you will both at least be spared the possible surprise of just how different an outlook you each have.

Upon going over your short list, if your ideals for the perfect honeymoon do not meet somewhere in the middle, take the time to explore various scenarios. It is often possible to combine two very different tastes into one magical vacation that will be a memorable start to a marriage. Possibly, you could compromise on a location, by considering a place that would meet both of your wants when it comes to activities, at least part way. Instead of heading off to the Amazon when your spouse to be would rather be lazing on a beach soaking up the sun, why not search out a beach front that would allow one partner to be active while the other is soaking up the sun, but also have enough activities that would be tempting to both. To find such compromises, it might mean spending more time than you thought you would have to researching locations to spend your honeymoon, but in the end, it will be well worth it.

Once you have decided on a type of honeymoon, and the location, you should then take care of the details. If either of you will require visas or immunizations for the journey, get them taken care of right away. If you wait, details such as these can slip away with all of the other planning that goes in sync with planning a wedding. If a flight, whether short or long is part of the honeymoon, be sure you take the time to go over the many new rules that airlines have instituted in the last few years, especially if flying is not something you routinely do.

Honeymoon packages are often available at great savings when compared to similar packages, or with additional benefits not normally included. Some hotels, cruises, and other getaways do this in hopes that they will be tempting these couples to make return visits in the coming years. If a honeymoon is in your future, take the time to plan all of the details and you will end up having the perfect honeymoon of your dreams!

Choosing a Summer Camp

By Christina VanGinkel

Summer camp was something or somewhere that almost every kid I knew growing up went. Some kids were gone all summer long, disappearing the day after school let out, and not showing up until the day before school was to start again the following fall. Some kids went to summer camps that specialized in certain activities, or were formed from being part of some other group, such as band camp (I went one summer); camps that would help them lose weight, or church camps. Most kids at least went to 4-H camp for two weeks, broken into groups depending on our age. We would get to meet kids from the surrounding towns, who also belonged to 4-H, and even some kids who did not. 4-H camp was a place to have fun, to do fun summer things, such as canoe, swim, do simple crafts, and hang out, and you did not have to be a 4-H member to go, though the parents paid more for the opportunity if their kids were not members. I knew this only because neighbors of ours sent their two kids each summer, even though they were not in any 4-H group.

In today’s busy world with lifestyles that may mean summer for the kids, but extra work hours for the parents, sending the kids off to summer camp has continued to be a routine that many families continue to participate. What has changed though, are the choices that parents are required to make when it comes to choosing a camp. Camps can range from those that the kids attend only during the day, to the more traditional sleep-away camps, those that last a few days to a week, to those that last all summer long.

As to the interest of the camp, that is where some parents might really become confused. There are camps dedicated to various sports, from cheerleading to rock climbing, baseball to horseback riding, wind surfing to snowboarding, along with many others. There are also camps dedicated to academic study, the arts, special needs camps, and just about any subject you can think that might somehow relate to kids on some level.

Choosing a camp for your child to attend can be an event all by itself, and just figuring out what camp to send your kids to can be quite the experience. The activities at each camp should be closely considered, as having fun should be a priority, it is summer camp after all. Safety is by far the most important issue, and each camp that is under consideration should have the ACA, or American Camp Association accreditation. While there may be other seals of approval, both at the local and state levels, the ACA accreditation means that over 300 standards have been met by the operation. If a camp you are considering is not ACA approved, I would definitely want to know why, and if they were denied ACA, for what reasons. Do keep in mind that ACA accreditation is voluntary by each property, but they cover such a wide range of issues that the best camps have no problem applying for this seal.

Accidents can and do happen though, so be sure before you send your child off to any camp, that they are old enough to go, in both age and maturity. Visit the camp yourself, as nothing beats a visual inspection. Talk to the counselors and medical staff, and ask for references of past families that have used the facilities and follow through with checking the references. If your child has any special needs, make sure that the camp staff is prepared to deal with any and all issues. If even one thing does not seem right, do not send your child. You want the experience to be fun, not something that will bring about nightmares or cause distress. Be sure to keep in contact with your child while they are at camp. Talk to them before they leave about being honest with you if things are not going as planned. I am a firm believer that after the first few days of transition, that if a child wants to come home, they should be allowed. It is camp after all, and not jail.

Sending your kids to camp can be more of a trial for you, the parent then it is for your child. Like any other decision you must make where they are concerned, it is vital that you make the right decision. With this in mind, take the time to research any possibility before sending them off. When things are rushed, mistakes can happen, and summer fun should not be compromised because of a rushed decision.

Hotel Ratings

By Christina VanGinkel

I cannot count how many times someone has remarked that they were disappointed with a hotel stay, because they checked the rating before booking their room, and it was supposedly a four or even five star rating, only to arrive and find the accommodations severely lacking in one area or another. If you ask them who provided the rating, or what they compared the rating too, they will just give you this look like you do not know what you are talking about. They assume that if they see a single rating, that the individual rating is adequate. They feel that they should be able to rely on any rating they encounter, especially those they find online, because it is going to be up to date and accurate. They do not feel that they should have to take the time to compare, to shop one rating against another to get a realistic picture. I actually agree, but ratings are what they are. They are not always accurate, and they are often very inaccurate.

So, how realistic are travel ratings that are commonly included in hotel descriptions online? Well, they are not always a precise way to compare one hotel to another. The problem with these star ratings is that there is no one governing guide that all of them fall under. Some are simply created by the visitors that take the time to rate each listing at that individual site. What is wrong with this scenario? A hotel could have a five star rating, but that rating could have been built by a very small number of visitors, even just one or two, while in real time, there are many more dissatisfied customers, they just have not visited the site or taken the time to record their low rating. On the flip side, a hotel that has as low a rating as it could get, could be suffering from the same sort of discrepancy in accurate rating. They might have had a single disgruntled customer leave a bad rating, while hundreds of satisfied customers arrived home from their stay just too busy to pop online and leave some positive ratings at the various websites that list it.

You can compensate somewhat for this error rate, by checking the rating of any place you plan to stay, at several different sites. Read any personal reasons that people might have taken the time to note, on why they recommend a hotel or do not recommend it, taking the information they provide for what it is, somebody’s personal experience with said property. Expedia.com offers Traveler’s Opinions, which are written by people who have stayed at the hotels in question, and are put together to provide an overall satisfaction rating, which even though they are not starred ratings, might actually be even better. The score is broken apart into four categories including Hotel Service, Hotel Condition, Room Cleanliness, and Room Comfort. By also showing the individual ratings for each of these all-important features, besides the total cumulative figure, you can better form your own opinion according to which features are most important to you.

Sites that provide such descriptive information, along with reasoning behind their scores, are the best way for you to form an opinion without first hand knowledge of your own.

For sites that do not allow personal descriptions, check to see if they do offer any information on how their ratings are arrived at. Often ratings may equal something as simple as the listed amenities that each hotel offers, while other ratings may equal information that is much more descriptive. Information such as the ratings that inspectors have given the property, or a combination of several different factors, including the rating of visitors, amenities provided, and inspections by outside agencies including the cleanliness of the property. Unless you know what the ratings are built on, the ratings mean very little.

If you have found a rating system, whether a star or some other type of scoring system, such as the one at Expedia.com helpful, be sure to take the time to share your own experience, whether good or bad, with any future customers by taking the time to record your own score once your stay is finished.

Visit Wisconsin’s Native American Museums

By Christina VanGinkel

When you are planning a summer getaway, consider adding stops along that way that will introduce you and your other family members to some multicultural diversity. So often, we become set in our own little worlds, the neighborhoods we live in, and the limited immediate surrounding areas, that we often overlook the bigger world full of various peoples and cultures that are all around us.

When someone thinks of another culture, some might assume that they would have to travel to a different country to experience any sort of real difference, but they would be so far from the truth that until they step outside their own safe cocoon, they may never know just how close a world of diversity truly is.

Museums are a great way to experience some of the cultures that coexist, at times seamlessly. They let us glimpse where the culture began, where it progressed to, and where it is at today. There are museums that focus on no particular culture, and cover a wide range of history for a region or area. Other museums though, have taken on the task of providing as accurate a glimpse into the past at some cultures that walking through the doors of their establishments in akin to stepping through time.

Museums that focus on America’s Native American beginnings are some of the most prominent museums that come to mind when discussing a glimpse such as this into a past culture’s presence both from their beginnings into their modern day counterparts.

Wisconsin has several museums that celebrate its Native American roots. If you happen to live in Wisconsin or are planning any travel that will take you into the state, be sure to take the time to stop by one of the many fascinating museums that celebrate Wisconsin’s rich cultural diversity:

Chippewa Valley Museum

The Chippewa Valley Museum, located in Eau Claire’s scenic Carson Park, encompasses several exhibits, including a look at the Ojibwe through artifacts and photographs. The museum also takes a look at early farm life in Wisconsin, and the Yankee, Canadian, and European settlers that migrated into the Chippewa valley in the early 1800’s, predominantly to harvest the lush forests into useable timber.

Oneida Nation Museum

The Oneida nation Museum is located 7 miles west of the Green Bay city limits, at County Roads E and EE. Their exhibits cover a wide range of Native American history in relation to the Oneida tribe. You can view beadwork that is so stunning, that the first time I saw some of the pieces I was left speechless. Along with a look at the tradition of Iroquois basketry, Oneida lace making, the Oneida warriors, and more, there is enough to keep anyone entertained and interested for a long time to come. Unlike some museums where when the tour is done, you go on about your day as usual, when leaving this museum; most visitors are compelled to learn as much as they can in additional ways about this rich and diverse people. There is a gift shop on the grounds, and a visit to it is as important as the museum itself. You will find all sorts of interesting items lining the shelves and walls, and are sure to find at least a few mementos to bring home to mark your trip.

George W. Brown Jr. Ojibwe Museum and Cultural Center

The George W. Brown Jr. Ojibwe Museum and Cultural Center is located in Lac du Flambeau Wisconsin, and is a mecca of cultural exhibits. The museum features several hands on demonstrations, along with workshops by tribal members for those wanting to learn about the heritage of the tribe. On site programs include “Everything we use Comes from Nature”, “Walking in the Footsteps of our Ancestors”, “People of the Forest”, and “Indian Bowl Dance Troupe Performances”. There is a gift shop on the grounds too, and they state that they have a wealth of books available for those who want to discover as much as they can about the people.

If you want a vacation to remember, be sure to add one of these fascinating stops to your calendar. If you do not live in Wisconsin, or are not planning to travel there this summer, then choose a museum that has similar exhibits that is located near you or your travels.

When You Travel with Kids

By Christina VanGinkel

When my daughter told her young son that they were moving into a new house, the first thing he asked her was if he could bring along one or two of his toys. She realized instantly that he thought they were going on another trip, as he had been traveling with her and her husband extensively throughout his two and a half years of life. The first thing they always did when packing up for the next trip on their never ending list of travels was to allow him to pick out one or two toys in addition to the basket my daughter always packed of assorted items to keep him occupied for the long car trips.

She always said that the most important item packed for each trip was whatever item it was that happily kept him occupied during the long hours that were spent in actual travel time. Once they arrived at their newest destination, she always spent the first day finding out where the local park was, and if the community had a swimming pool, if the hotel they were in lacked one. A young child craves activity and things that keep them occupied. Staring out a window as the endless miles roll by is not a fun way to occupy their time.

Because she traveled with him as a baby, and then as a toddler, much more than most parents will ever with an infant or toddler, she learned the value of keeping a young child entertained safely while strapped in a safety seat. Her and her husband also made sure to add plenty of rest stops and lengthy breaks to their travel time that they might otherwise not have done. She said that the stops were so refreshing for all of them, that even when they traveled without their young son, they still followed the same course of action, as it meant they did not become tired or stressed behind the wheel as they often did before they had him.

As to what they brought along to keep him occupied, she always said that it was the variety of things, which worked, better than any one choice. They brought with quiet items such as books and soft puppet style toys, and they brought along noisy toys, such as a small electronic musical toy that strapped right onto the bar of his seat. When he was small, they also made sure that when possible, the toys they did bring were ones that could be conveniently snapped onto his seat so that they were not continually picking up the toys, because as with any child of a certain age, he went through a phase of throwing anything they gave him to play with. Her and her husband also took turns sitting with him in the backseat so that he did not feel as if he were all alone. Even if you travel with more than one child, occasionally mixing things up by allowing an older child to sit up front while one of the adults sits in back is a great way to break up the monotony of a long vehicle trip.

If you have a vacation or other travel situation coming up that is going to require long periods of time in a vehicle with a young child, or even a couple of kids, be sure to pack with their comfort in mind above and beyond all else. Be sure to pack snacks and drinks that can be easily consumed in the car or at rest stops along the way. Be sure to pack a few surprises for them to play with, and allow them to pick out one or two favorites on top of what you have packed. If possible, travel when you know it is normally their naptime, and if the travel time is so extensive that it will encompass the better part of a day or two, be sure to make plenty of time for extra stops and plan to stay in a hotel that is accustomed to kids. Often, it is the small things such as these that will make what could be an unbearable trip all around into one that is not only bearable, but even fun!

Preparing a Child for a First Long Trip

Have your little ones been screaming for a trip to Disney World and you’ve finally decided to indulge them? Are you going halfway across the country to visit Aunt Martha? Whatever your reasons, you’re getting ready to take a long trip away from home, which, when traveling with children, can be a scary thing. One thing to remember is that the idea of leaving home and getting on a strange bus, train, plane, etc., is probably a lot scarier for them than the thought of traveling with unruly kids is for you.

Children, no matter what their sense of imagination, are very attached to their everyday experiences. If they’ve gone to see Grandma every day for seven years, the day they can’t go is bound to be a trauma. The same principle applies to vacations. If they’ve never gone so far from home, the idea is bound to be frightening. Although you may have a problem if a child becomes literally ill just riding in the car, these fears are usually easily calmed if you follow a few steps.

(1) Don’t become frustrated. Patience is always the best policy when dealing with overexcited or scared children. Especially if you’re traveling with a baby, consider letting him or her get used to a few rather long car rides. When he or she seems comfortable with longer distances, it’s time to consider making vacation plans.

(2) Take along a few invaluable “comfort toys.” Many children have a toy or object they are unexplainably attached to, and going on a week-long vacation without said toy can be grating on both parents’ and children’s nerves. Make sure to ask the child what toy or item is most important and make sure to either pack it in an easily accessible place or have the toy’s owner carry it. Whenever children become anxious or feel alone or uncertain, it’s always good to have something to clutch onto besides their parent. As long as the toy is not a huge fifty-foot stuffed gorilla, you should have no problem making room.

(3) Engage the child in fun activities. Children have less time to be scared or bored if parents keep up the tempo and make them see that a trip can be a fun thing. Bring along plenty of paper, both for family activities like license plate bingo, hangman, and tic-tac-toe, and, in the case of a child old enough to write or draw, a place to jot down whatever may come to mind. A calm, relaxed child will endure his or her first long trip with ease if attention is called to the fun aspect (and not so much the daunting task of driving or flying).

(4) If mishaps *do* happen (think airsick bag, aches and pains, flu, etc.) always be prepared. Children are fond of stopping at the restrooms often, or so it seems, so if you have a map that shows these places, mark them off. If you’re traveling a well-known route such as Route 66 or I-95, consider looking up an interstate guide and filling a notebook with restroom, lodging, and dining stops. When the “Mommy/Daddy, I have to go” question comes up, you’ll know exactly where to stop. Don’t be frustrated if kids have to stop often; it’s a fact of life, and sometimes slowing down on a road trip helps you to notice more around you.

(5) Let the child make some decisions. A child who isn’t allowed to plan *any* of the family vacation may resent being dragged along for it. This doesn’t mean you should allow your little one to choose every single thing you do (pizza for dinner every night isn’t an option!) but giving the child the opportunity to make a decision allows him or her to feel important and helpful. For instance, if the rest of the family would equally like Chinese or fried chicken for dinner, ask the child what his preference is. If you know he’s been longing to try out a certain restaurant once you’ve arrived at your destination, let him have his wish.

(6) One of the biggest problems kids may encounter is sleeping away from home. If they’ve slept in the same bed for as long as they can remember, the transition will be difficult to say the least. Here is where that special “comfort toy” will be particularly handy. Don’t forget to sit with the child, explaining that it’s okay if he or she can’t sleep. If children feel forced to fall asleep it will probably keep them awake longer.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer