Welcome to Trips 'n Toys!

Welcome to Trips 'n Toys!

Fulin's Asian Cuisine - Oak Ridge, TN

As a parent of young children, have you ever driven by a snazzy-looking restaurant you'd like to try, but then you glance in your rear view mirror, and take note of the kids, dirty and sweaty from a day of hiking and playing in the creek, and you just aren't sure you are what the restaurant staff was hoping would walk through the door?

That's what we were dealing with tonight. We were cruising through Oak Ridge trying to find "something other than pizza" and we came across Fulin's Asian Cuisine. Even though it's just in a strip center location in with the newly-built Kroger grocery store, it definitely looks like an upscale sort of place.

Bibby is a sushi junkie, though, so we decided to give it a shot. Upon entering, it was definitely a nice establishment, but it was also a bit more laid back than it appeared on the outside. We didn't feel nearly as out of place as I thought we might. 

Our waitress was very friendly, and she guided us through a few of the menu choices and the day's specials. For our sushi choices, we went with two Philly rolls, a Spicy Crunchy Crab roll, and an American Dream. For our entrees, we ordered Orange Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken, and Coconut Shrimp, with Ogie opting for a Tempura Chicken Kid's Meal, with a side order of "Chicken-on-a-stick" his personal favorite.

We are the type of diners that like to try different versions of the things we know we like. We're not totally adventurous. We're on a little too much of a budget to risk expensive versions of the unknown. But our idea of a perfect meal is a unique take on our preferred tastes. We order as many different things as the pocketbook allows, and then we each let the others have a bite, or two, or even three, so we can all enjoy a taste of everything, and possibly fall in love with something new.

I'd like to give Fulin's a giant 5 STARS on meeting us at our definition of a perfect meal. Each thing we ordered was a familiar favorite, but was beautifully presented, and served to us in a fancy, exiting manner. My orange chicken was embellished with geometrically placed orange slices, and Bear's coconut shrimp was served as a mountain of giant prawns, surrounded by broccoli, drizzled with coconut sauce, and topped with rice noodles.

The sushi rolls were awesome. SOOO delicious, and plated so beautifully. The pink flower on the corner of the dish made Bibby the happiest little girl on the planet.

There were plenty of ooh's and aah's, followed by many, many yummmms....

Fulin's wasn't an inexpensive meal, but it wasn't terrible. Sushi rolls range from $6-$18, and our entrees were about $15 each.  In my opinion, though, the effort put forth for an interesting take on the preparation and plating of each meal, was well worth the price.  You can get cheaper Asian-inspired meals, but they won't be as delicious, and they certainly won't be as pretty!

Fulin's appears to be a Tennessee-based operation with a dozen or so locations throughout the state. Next time you are looking for a Chinese of Japanese meal where you can see and feel the quality difference, without the crazy price tag or the haughtiness of a gourmet establishment, check and see if there is a Fulin's near you! 

Frozen Head State Park - Wartburg, TN

Frozen Head is a great park in the Tennessee State Park System in which to spend an afternoon. Any level of outdoor enthusiast can find a good time here. If you're just looking for some simple fun, they have multiple playgrounds and an awesome creek in which to splash and climb rocks. If you're up for a little more adventure, check out any of almost 20 hikes available, ranging from 0.1 mile easy trails, all the way up to 7 mile difficult treks.

This is yet another Tennessee State Park that is not bike-friendly. I'm not sure what the state of Tennessee has against bikes, but I'm getting to the point that I'd like to question why Rangers feel the need to prevent bike use in the parks. They do have one trail on which bikes are allowed, a 9 mile long fire road, but in the mean time, in the off-season, the kids can usually get away with riding around in an empty parking lot as long as a ranger doesn't see you. (Lame)

With that exception, Frozen Head boasts beautiful forests and a wide, rambling creek. I love taking photos here, especially in the fall. And again, it's one of our favorite places just to hang out in the creek or let loose on the playgrounds.

And lastly, if you are into birds, Frozen Head is recognized as an IBA, or Important Bird Area, by the Audubon Society. Over 130 different species can be observed here throughout the year.

(more pics will be added soon)

Obed Wild and Scenic River - Wartburg, TN

Today we earned our Junior Ranger Badges at the Obed Wild and Scenic River in Wartburg, TN.

The Rangers were very nice, and hopefully we'll be back soon for some rock climbing!

In addition to our badgework, we did Fish Identifcation, looked at the museum exhibits, and went over some rock climbing information. We still need to finish our map study and do a few more hikes, but hopefully we can keep that on a front-burning bucket list and get back up there again.

(More pictures to be added shortly)

Junior Rangers!

Today's Math Lesson: BINGO Money

Today's Math Lesson:

You can never go wrong with Bingo as a fun learning tool! We've had this particular game since Bear was a wee one. Granted, I started teaching Bear her basic skills pretty early compared to the others, but that's okay. I'm a firm believer that you let kids move at their own pace for learning. If you've got a one year old ready to play Bingo, then play with them. If your kid isn't ready for counting until much later, then let them take their time.

That's the great thing about games like Bingo. They teach kids fluency in concepts without even having to try. The best form of learning is just to sit down with a skill, even in the form of a game, and just relax and enjoy it.

These Frank Schaffer games are just simple cardboard pieces and cutouts, but if you take care of them and keep them stored properly, they will last. This game here is 15 years old, going on its 4th kid, and most of it still looks brand new. 

And it must work well, because, trust me, my kids know how to spend money! 

Today's Bingo Champ!

(excuse the paint splatters on the table)

Ribby Cakes Getting All Decked Out for Valentine's Day!

Bibby has been decorating Ribby's Bakery!

It's hard not to get excited about a holiday about LOVE!

A Turtle's Tale 2: Sammy's Escape From Paradise

What looks like a really cute movie with beautiful animation, starts off with GLARING scientific inaccuracies that make the rest of the movie hard to watch without a suspicious chip on your shoulder.

While we wish it were true, sea turtles don't lounge on beaches. Sea turtles also don't lay their eggs and then hang out, waiting for them to be born so they can help them find their way to the sea.

In fact, sea turtles are a textbook example of sheer animal instinct, as they are left alone in their nests to hatch and then find their own way into the water where they spend their entire lives, with the exception of nesting once they fully mature.

Then you start to notice how real sea turtles also don't stay constantly submerged under the water. On average, turtles only spend a matter of minutes at a time underwater. Hawsksbills can stay under for up to 45 minutes. Green Sea Turtles can stay under for a few hours, but only if they are inactive, as their heart rates slow drastically to make this possible.  Sea Turtles do indeed breathe oxygen, but the characters in this movie pretty much stay on the ocean floor the entire time.

Back to the animation, it's definitely gorgeous. It's not the most technologically advanced animation available in entertainment today, but it's a million light years ahead of the cartoons of yesteryear.

As for the story line? It's not deep enough (he he, get it? Deep enough?) for my likes. I really tend to tune out of movies that don't make a great deal of sense, but I'm sure I'll be seeing it a few times, and maybe I'll update if anything grows on me.  

In summary, it's a bright, cute, movie-length showing of adorable ocean life swimming around, doing their ocean thing. It works great for keeping little minds occupied, but if your kids are old enough to know anything about marine biology, it's scientific inaccuracy is slightly disturbing, and that makes it a little awkward to watch.

A Slam Dunk for Mattel!

Earlier this week, I posted a piece about Diversity in the American Girl Doll line of toys.  Which, you may or may not know, is a company owned by Mattel.

I've long thought that American Girl should be recognized for it's wholehearted attempts to represent a wide range of cultures, nationalities, and religions within a single line of dolls.

Well, guess which other Mattel line just joined the 21st Century with a MASSIVE announcement today?


Over the years, Barbie has added black dolls, and they have brunettes; but for the most part, Barbie is, well, Barbie. Tall and skinny with long silky hair. I've never been too bothered by this, because Barbie is an institution, and some things just are what they are; and for me that's okay.

But, these new dolls are stunning!

They cover a wide range of sizes! Hair colors and textures! Skin tones!

This is truly amazing!

The Barbie Website is hailing this as The Evolution of Barbie!

So what exactly is different?

They've added 3 additional body sizes, which makes 4 possibilities now, including the Classic Barbie body style. They've added Curvy, Tall, and Petite.

As for hair colors and textures, they've got short and curly, medium and wavy, and different lengths of straight. How about long and blue? Check out the doll with the shaved style! Wow! Talk about some 21st Century Representation!

Now, in addition to the Fashionista line, you can also get the Spy Squad! Or, maybe Gamer Barbie is your speed? Bibby definitely wants that one! If you're looking for that perfect gift for your future Oval Officer, check out the President and Vice-President dolls!

Barbie says this is just the beginning! If Mattel is willing to put as much thought and effort into the design of Barbie as they have the variety of their Monster High Dolls, this is going to be SO MUCH FUN!

Check out The Barbie Website for more information on all these awesome dolls coming soon!

This is just the beginning, for sure!


Images Copyright Mattel 2016

Shots Fired!

I am very blessed that I have 4 happy children 364 days of the year.

The one day they are not happy?

The day we go to the doctor. And get shots.

Now for some people this might not seem like that big of a deal, but my older kids have a morbid fear of needles. And I mean MORBID.

It's NOT pretty..

But, on the bright side, when we're done, there are some pretty awesome consolation prizes:

The NERF N Strike Elite Firestrike Blaster comes with Light Beam targeting that works up to 15 feet away! The tactical rail is compatible with all N-Strike / Modulus accessories. The blaster comes with 3 Elite Darts. It requires 2 AAA batteries, not included, for the Light Beam Target.

Reviews indicate this is a powerful blaster, shooting between 50-75 feet, depending on your angle. Its accuracy appears to be top-notch as well.

We look forward to enjoying this newest addition to our arsenal.  Because, after all, shots fired from the NERF N Strike Elite Firestrike Blaster are WAY better than those nasty shots from the doctor's office!

American Girl Doll - The Diversity Debate

I've participated in many debates regarding diversity within the American Girl Doll line of toys. It seems as if it's almost become the cliche argument both for and against modern day toymakers. And essentially, there is no winning the debate. A toymaker is damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

While I have an admitted love/hate relationship with the American Girl Doll Company, one thing I'll grant them in their favor, is that they get diversity right. Most of the time. And more often than any other toy manufacturer out there.

With my personal American Girl Doll experience, I don't see how ANYONE can say there hasn't been enough racial, ethnic, or even religious diversity over the years.

Just in our collection of 18 dolls, yes, we have 4 blonde and 6 brunette Caucasian dolls; but we also have two African-American dolls, three Hispanic dolls, a Native American girl, a Mexican-American girl, and an Asian-American girl. One of the girls is Jewish. Contrary to popular misconception, neither of the black dolls is a slave girl. One is a Truly Me Doll, but everyone seems to have forgotten that Cecile was a rather well-to-do child being raised in New Orleans elite society.

And our collection doesn't even include many of the beautiful faces of American Girl Dolls past. What about Jessa? Marisol? Sonali? Ivy? From Hispanic, to Mexican, to Indian, to Asian? How about Lindsay? She was another Jewish doll.

Where else can you find such a brilliant rainbow of skin tones, eye colors, hair textures, and historical, religious, or cultural backgrounds in ONE line of dolls?

You can't!

There has been much negative feedback surrounding the release of the 2016 American Girl Doll Girl of the Year, because although she comes with a darker skin tone, and gorgeous green eyes, her hair still comes with those pesky bleached highlights that prevent her from being politically correct in this day and age.

So many people are forgetting that the other 2016 featured doll in the Historical Characters line is indeed a "Girl of Color" and on that note, I'd like to introduce Melody Ellison.

Melody Ellison, available Summer 2016
According to the American Girl Doll website, Melody is an optimistic, enthusiastic girl growing up in Detroit, Michigan during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. In her currently available book, No Ordinary Sound, Melody has been chosen to sing a solo for Youth Day at her church. She is inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as she picks the perfect song.

Kids today might be moved by Melody's story; one that doesn't gloss over the unfair things happening to black people during this period of history. And I'd like to hope that, maybe, our future generation will indeed find that love and acceptance is much more than a skin-deep condition.

Perhaps our daughters will also be the ones that teach us that there are indeed real problems in the world that need our attention, moreso than a bunch of people arguing over racial diversity in a line of overpriced plastic toys.

Maybe, even at some point, our own generation can put away the hate politics and give American Girl Doll credit where credit is due. If we want ALL companies to do a better job with diversity, we have to recognize the ones that already put forth a commendable effort.

We're missing a few, including Kaya, but here is most of our collection.

Flexible Flyer Snow Screamer

Flexible Flyer Snow Screamer

We're having tons of winter fun here with our new Flexible Flyer Snow Screamer!

I've read a few less-than-desirable reviews, so I will update later if we have any problems with it; but so far we've had 4 kids using it for 5 days now, and it's been an absolute blast so far!

My kids don't normally enjoy spending too much time in the snow. They might go out for a few minutes, build a snowman, and then come back in looking for some hot cocoa. But since we've bought this, they wake up every morning begging to go outside and sled. And then I have to drag them back in before they freeze off random body parts.

Essentially, this is a glorified boogie board at 47 inches long, by 22 inches wide, with two sets of handles and a slick bottom. I've always considered our yard pretty sloped, but nothing else we had was really giving  the kids any distance. With the Snow Screamer, they can literally make it from the top of the yard, all the way to the bottom. It's not super super fast, but it gives them a great deal of distance, figuring our degree of slope.

At 12 and 8, Bibby and Ogie ride together with no problems. Ribby can sandwich in the middle for a ride with her siblings. That works just fine, too. I'm not sure what the maximum recommended weight is, but together my 3 kiddos are clocking in at about 215 pounds.

I do agree with some of the reviews I read that the stock photo makes it look like there is a molded seat on the board. That isn't the case. It's just part of the screen printed design and NOT three dimensional in any way.

We don't live in an area that usually sees a great deal of deep snow, so I'm no expert on snow toys; but the Snow Screamer is a GREAT choice for our kids in the midst of this crazy weather!

If your kids are catching a case of cabin fever, head on over to Amazon and check out the Snow Screamer today!

Snow Screamer on Amazon