Archive | March, 2012

Travel Tips for the Brood

30 Mar

Traveling with multiple kids, on airline flights, and possibly to different countries has the potential of being a very difficult task.  With a little work and planning it can be somewhat painless!  Through our travels, I have made some great decisions and some mistakes too.  So here is what  I’ve learned, what works for us, and what doesn’t work.

1.)  Research, research, research!!  Don’t head out of town without a plan.  I always structure a few days with activities.  I also leave other days open to relax or fill them in with activities we find when we arrive in our destination.

2.)  I always pack a thin small blanket for each child in their backpack.  Many airlines don’t provide blankets anymore and they really make a huge difference in their comfort.  It may make the difference if your little one will sleep or not…huge!

3.)  I always dress my kids in bright colored clothing when traveling through airports.  I have kids that are natural explorers, even during the wrong times and at the wrong places.  If they are dressed in hard to miss colors, they are easiers to spot if they decide to wander.

4.)  Check your luggage.  I have seen so many families running to catch connections, carrying everything but their kitchen sink, and screaming at their kids.  Kids are unpredictable and enough stress.  Leave the luggage hauling to the airlines.

5.)  Keep the numbers easy.  One carry-on for each person, that’s easy to manage.   I also always write on my hand how many pieces of luggage I need to pick up at baggage claim.  Count, check, double check, and count again.  I know it sounds crazy, but once we left a carseat at O’Hare airport on the baggage carousel.  The worst part was we didn’t notice it missing until we were loading into the rental car with 4 tired, crabby, and grumpy kids under 8.  Big bummer!

6.)  Don’t pack fruit or meat products when leaving the country.  Other countries don’t allow you to bring it in and trust me, it will end up being a hassle.  I thought the dog who sat down next to my daughter, wagging his tail, was just adorable.  Ya, it was cute until we had to spend the next 10 minutes digging through every piece of carry-on luggage to find half of a smashed banana.  Not fun after traveling for 12 hours.

7.)  Always carry on enough clothing to make it through a full day if luggage goes M.I.A.  Dad always carries a large backpack with PJ’s, a change of clothes, and swimsuit for each person.  At least if the luggage is lost we can still have fun at the pool.

8.)  If you are heading to a beach or lake, bring your own life vests for your kids.  Many places (especially south of the border) will not have the right sizes or any life vests at all.  It is a huge piece of mind knowing that your little loves are safe while enjoying the water.

9.)  When heading off to those tropical vacations, get a prescription for some antibiotic ear drops before you leave.  There is something about swimming, different water bacteria, and humid climates.  Every water centered trip we’ve gone on, I have had at least one kid with at goopy and gunky infected ear.  Kids always have a way of informing you of this at 2 a.m.

10.)  Bring a stroller as long as possible.  It might seem unnecessary to drag along a stroller for your preschooler, but it comes in very handy.  Even if it is just for restraining purposes while navigating through the airport.  I wish I could still convince my grade school kids to ride in a stroller.

11.)  If traveling to another country and language will be an issue, be prepared.  If you have medical or dietary concerns plan ahead. Our family has issues with food allergies, so I preprinted a card in Spanish explaining our situation when traveling to Central America and Mexico.  See my post on Traveling with Food Allergies for more information.

12.)  Don’t leave electronics at home.  I am all about quality family time and limiting the time glued to a screen, but really parents are only human.  The DS, itouch, and iPads  are a great distraction (or free babysitter) when I am trying to enjoy a moment of peace with my husband.  It is my vacation too!

13.)  Learn while you travel. There is nothing better than, while creating memories & having fun, to teach your kids about another culture or way of life.  Leave the resorts and tourist spots.  Shop at a grocery store,  eat where the locals eat, and talk to people that are different than you.   Be a traveler, not just a tourist.

Red Fish Lake, Idaho

26 Mar

Better late than never, the saying goes.  I had planned on writing this post for Flashback Friday, but things got busy on the home front.  I was preparing for a quick grown-up trip over the weekend (story to come) and the preparations took over my Friday.  So, I’ll just call this one a Magnificent Monday Memory…

Red Fish Lodge, in the Sawtooth National Forest of Idaho is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  I can say that I had spent a fair amount of time in Idaho before this trip.  I always thought of Idaho as just a crossing point from the amazing mountains of Utah to the beauty of Montana.  I wasn’t totally convinced on making the long trek for just a weekend visit to hang out in Idaho.  Was I ever wrong!  I was in absolute in awe.  Between the natural beauty of this lake front property and the picturesque design of the resort, it was almost surreal.  Everything was built from logs, spread out, and as cute as can be.  They have a lodge and rustic individual cabins spread throughout the property.

When we arrived after a LONG day of driving, there was live music playing on the front lawn.  The grown ups were enjoying an afternoon beer, while the kids ran around eating ice cream and just being kids.  Red Fish Lodge looked like one of those camps you saw in a disney movie from a generation ago.  The kind of place that you really thought didn’t exist, except on a movie set.  I knew at that point, it was going to be an amazing weekend.  There was something for everyone.  Boating, fishing, “insane” mountain biking trails (according to my husband who had a quick lesson in how unskilled of a rider he really was), hiking, and relaxing.  There was an outdoor grill and an ice cream stand.  Perfection!  My oldest son, fished his heart out, while the youngest of the bunch spent his days carrying the tackle box and pushing the girls from the dock.  He renamed himself “Pusher-woosher” in fact.  The kids rode their bikes, played on the shallow lake and explored to their hearts content.  The kids were dirty, messy, and exhausted every night!

Red Fish Lodge is a hidden gem, high in the mountains of Idaho.  What a great find!  The only regret we had was not staying longer.

Road Trippin’

22 Mar

Last weekend, I packed up the car, loaded up the kids, and set out for a little mini-adventure.  There is something so invigorating to me about taking a good old fashioned road trip.  I really can’t figure out why I enjoy them, but I do.  They can be a pretty painful experience during the process.  Somehow they always seem to leave behind at least a few fond memories and they are a nice little break from the daily routine.  Long drives with my family are much easier than they were a few years back.  I can’t even really say that it’s because the kids are older though. I think it has more to do with multiple devices with 3G access to keep them entertained.  Hey whatever works, right?

So several weeks back, when we received an invitation to attend a family event 5 hours away, I was all over it!  What a great excuse to pack up the kids, explore our part of the world, and visit with extended family.  Also, no complaints here about staying in a hotel for the weekend.  No bed making or laundry and eating out makes for a great weekend!

The key ingredient to making a quick road trip with a lot of mileage a success is making the drive part of the adventure.  I focused on doing exactly that.  The first part of our trip, I was solo with the kids and without my hubby.  He conveniently had to meet us at our destination via airplane because of work (poor guy).  Five hours in a car and 4 kids.  Could be the recipe for disaster.  Actually, I was pleasantly surprised . The kids were great (maybe they were just scared of my driving) and  I loved being in control of our stops and detours since I was the only driver.  We made a few little unique & interesting stops along the way and I let the kids eat crap I would never let them eat on a normal day.  The fact is that some of the places we stopped, the only foods that didn’t worry me about a potential e.coli infection were the chips, twinkles and candy bars.  The kids were thrilled when I insisted on only choosing snacks from those categories of foods, for safety reasons of course.  We saw alpacas at a gas station, wild sheep, and a pretty cool waterfall.  Who knew all these things were so close.

I need to remember the great parts of this little adventure.  The kids had a blast, I got a weekend off of chores, and we created some fun memories.  Next time I’m feeling the itch to get out of town (which is often for me), I think I will hit the road again.  It surely helped tame my travel itch, at least for a week or two.

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

17 Mar

Costa Rica boasts a reputation of being an ultimate destination for adventure seeking travelers.  Being the Mom to 4 active, adventurous, and energy filled kids, I felt that this could make the perfect vacation.  Wow, was I ever right!  The only problem with Costa Rica is that there is so many great family friendly places to visit, it’s hard to decide.  I spent hours researching locations and took into account so many different factors.  I was seeking out an area that would keep our kids entertained and hoped to find a hotel that did not just cater to newlyweds or retired couples.  Also, the price needed to be reasonable, we are not really interested in tapping into our kids’ college funds to pay for a 3 night hotel stay.

After hours of research, I decided that my family would explore the Arenal Volcano region, while staying at the Los Lagos Resort.  La Fortuna is a small town about 3 hours from SJO and sits right at the base of the Arenal Volcano.  While the volcano was not currently active at the time, it was still a great sight to see.  The general area is filled with amazing and entertaining activities that kept the whole family busy.  We hiked through the hanging bridges, where saw amazing bugs, birds and reptiles (a dream come true for little boys).  We walked down several hundred steps to view the spectacular La Paz waterfall and even took a quick swim in the river .  Also in the area is the El Silencio trail where we were able see hear howler monkeys howling in the distance at dusk.  I have to admit it was a little eerie, but hey  it worked as a great discipline method for the rest of the trip.  We could just bring up staying the night in the jungle with the monkeys and the kids immediately did as we asked.  Yes, I do use bribery and false threats at times as my discipline method.  Fine parenting moment.

Los Lagos Resort ended up being the perfect base camp for our family.  It is by far, not the most luxurious hotel in the area, but it is not anywhere near a budget hotel either.  I’m always in search of hotels that have a good mix of people also.  I would go nuts at a hotel that was so full of kids where it felt like a daycare center, yet being surrounded by a bunch of honeymooners would be equally tough.  My goal of traveling with my family isn’t to scare every young couple out of ever procreating (and trust me, my family could have the potential of doing just that).  This hotel was the perfect mix of all types of people, exactly what I love.  The rooms were clean and the bugs were minimal in our room.  Remember, you are in the rainforest of Costa Rica.  There was an outdoor patio, so we could enjoy the morning with our coffee while the kids slept a little later each morning.  The room rates were reasonable and included an amazing breakfast buffet in the price.  We slept great each night and started off each day  with a full stomach!

While the rooms were great, the grounds of  Los Lagos were even better.  There were several hot springs at a variety of temperatures to explore, three watersides, all sorts of structures to jump from, and a swim up bar.  What more could I ask for?  They had a crocodile, frog, ant and  butterfly farm, as well as a hike from the property up near the volcano.  Part 1 of Costa Rica was absolutely amazing and we can’t wait to visit again.  As they say in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida”!

Traveling Abroad with Food Allergies

13 Mar

With summer approaching, millions of families will be packing up and heading out for summer vacations.  For parents of kids with food allergies this opens up a whole new worry, especially if visiting another country.  Different cuisines and language barriers can make traveling much more challenging for allergy sufferers.  Like millions of other parents, I have a child with food allergies.  I spent many years following my little boy around the playground wiping down his hands and keeping him safe.  I was constantly making sure that he didn’t accidentally ingest some dreaded peanut butter or a milkshake that another child left behind.  I worried more than any mother should, while trying to keep his life as normal as possible.  As he grew older, his allergies improved.  Things seemed so much easier and I worried less and less.  As my son got a little older, we decided to vacation out of the country.  I wondered how would it could work and how could I keep my son safe?  I spent hours on the internet and gathered as much information as possible.  So far, we have had 2 successful trips overseas and I can’t count how many safe domestic airline flights we’ve flown.  I have actually been very impressed by the amount of concern and care that others have taken in addressing his health and safety.

Here are some tips and ideas that have helped keep our travels safe:

1.)  Research the cuisine of a country before you book your trip.  Every region has different foods and specialities.  Know their foods and know where allergens may be hidden.  It may be a deciding factor if that is a safe place to visit.  Personally, I know I would avoid parts of Asia with a peanut allergic child.

2.)  Let the airlines know about the allergy before you arrive at the airport.  They can not serve peanuts in the rows around the allergic passenger.  Many airlines will even make the entire flight peanut free.  Also, I give my son an over the counter antihistamine and wipe down everything near his seat.

3.)  Be sure to know the word of the allergen(s) in the native language of the county you are visiting.  Research is crucial, sometimes there can be different variations of the same word.

4.)  Have a fluent speaker translate a paragraph explaining the allergy and emphasize the severity.  Even a little exaggeration can’t hurt.  Better to be safe than sorry.  Copy it on bright paper and laminate.  I made several copies so I always had a copy with me at all times .

5.)  Avoid establishments where there could be cross contamination.  I am very strict with this while traveling overseas.  No bakeries or ice cream shops.  No way!

6.)  Always pack a few snacks to have on hand.  Many foreign countries label all their pre-packaged food from the grocery store.  Take advantage of packaged snack foods and produce.

7.)  Go with your gut feeling.  If you feel like someone preparing your food doesn’t take you seriously, go somewhere else!

My overall experiences traveling with my food allergic son have been positive.  I have actually felt that people in other countries have been more understanding and cooperative than here at home.  Be safe, do your research, and have fun.  Happy Travels!

Tales of Yellowstone with Kids

9 Mar

Yellowstone is an amazing part of the America West.  Being the first National Park in America, it is by far one of those destinations that we all dream about visiting.  How could you not?  The amazing rolling hills, wild animals roaming the range, and the infamous Old Faithful.  I too, had the same exact idea.  I really wanted to experience Yellowstone in every way possible.  I hoped to someday take in the sights, the smells, and the sounds of rivers and birds.  I desired to enjoy the cool evenings, while observing the amazing star lit sky.  A couple of years back, I did some research and off the family set to discover the American West icon of Yellowstone National Park.

Real camping, as in tents, is not really my thing.  I love the idea of camping and the great outdoors, but for some reason I just can’t bring myself to sleeping in a tent.  The thought of cramming 6 people in an area the size of a bathroom, surrounded by a thin shield of fabric, seems a little primitive to me.  RV rentals for our family are the way to go.  It is just like a small hotel on wheels.  You can experience the outdoors when the weather cooperates and sleep in a heated and bear proof shelter.  So there it is, I planned and we set out for another crazy adventure.  4 kids, 2 grown ups and a  dog, loaded up and ready to experience a piece of America’s finest .  Bikes, scooters, fire wood, toys, and enough food for a small army.  Oh, I can’t forget 2 wardrobes for each person because of the unstable weather predictions and all the stuff for a mobile birthday party as well.  We were loaded and ready for some fun.

The journey began with a quick stop at Bear World in Rexberg, Idaho.  This ended up being the highlight of the trip.  Bear World was amazing!  We drove through their reserve enjoying the animals wandering freely and coming right up to the windows.  There was a petting zoo, rides for the little ones, and our birthday princess even was lucky enough to help feed a baby bear.  The kids could have spent half a day there.  Looking back, we should have spent more time enjoying this little gem, but I was running on a schedule.

As we pulled into our campground, we set up camp and watched the dooming dark clouds slowly cover the sky.  From the corner of our eyes, we couldn’t help but notice the biggest motorhome we’ve ever seen pull into the camp site next to us.  Amazing!  This must have been a coach for a celebrity.  Was I ever wrong!  It housed an older couple and 6 standard poodle show dogs. This was a complete circus act in my opinion, but who am I to judge?  The owners of this pack of dogs fenced in a large area and  somehow took a liking to my 4 kids (I guess if you own this many dogs you must be patient).  The kids were entertained and happy all evening and they surely had their animal fix for the day!

We slept great all night in our heated RV and didn’t even awake to the bear destroying a cooler on the other side of the campground (another reason why I’m not fond of tents).  Early the next morning, we awoke to a wintery white dusting of snow, but beautiful blue skies.  Not much snow on this late summer morning, but enough to know that the air was COLD!  Off we set to explore, learn, and take in the beauty of Yellowstone National Park.  The next 40 miles were long and slow.  Slow and long.  We followed behind car after car after car.  In between asking “are we there yet?” 4000 times, we kept busy scoping the countryside looking for anything that moves.  Then around a bend it all came to a dead stop.  Cars and people were on the side of the road, so of course we followed.  We assumed it was something amazing.  Through the shivering, whining, tears, and about 30 more minutes we finally spotted a very cute and small, yet unimpressive bird.  The European and Asian tourists were snapping photos and all of the retired folks had out their binoculars and bird books.  My kids were less than excited.  I realized at that moment, we should have told them that Bear World was Yellowstone.  After a couple more of these stops and a quick walk through a few natural hot springs, we finally arrived at Old Faithful.  It was packed, so we found a seat and waited.  We waited and waited and faithfully it happened and in 2 minutes it was over.  No fireworks, no music, no F-16’s.  The grown-ups appreciated this amazing natural sensation, but our Disneyland generation of kids were far from thrilled.  We made a quick stop at the gift shop, stocked up on souvenirs and away we went. The dark clouds were on the horizon again.  We realized that we had 4 squirmy kids needing to burn some real energy.  We went back to camp to enjoy the indoor pool and playground at the West Yellowstone KOA.  We ended the night with some more poodle puppy love, s’mores, another dusting of snow and luckily no encounters with any bears.

The last day we decided to skip the National Park and enjoy the small and quaint town of West Yellowstone.   We enjoyed ice cream & comfort food, saw a few real cowboys, and had a blast taking pictures with some life sized stuffed animals.

Bear World was the highlight of this adventure and the huge indoor swimming pool was close behind.  I was able to experience the the beauty of Yellowstone and Old Faithful, while crossing it off my bucket list.  The kids remember their fond memories of this trip, which I’m sure were different than mine (6 poodles groomed to look like a cross between a lion and camel didn’t do it for me).  Traveling with kids is all about a little give and take, a ton of patience, but still an amazing trip for all!

Family Fondue

5 Mar

The ritual of family dinners have sadly almost disappeared in our home.  I am not proud of this and I really don’t have a great excuse for why this has happened.  I just know we should be eating meals together as a family, but we almost never use our kitchen table anymore.  I understand how important it is to talk as a family, but the reality is it’s happening less and less.  When the kids were young, we actually did great at making this an expectation.  It worked and all fell into place, family dinners were the norm.  It seems as the kids are getting older and the activities run later into the evenings, we are running in 4 different directions.  I am always feeding my family on the run these days.  Our dinners lately are eaten at different times for each person, served diner style sitting at the counter, and eating on paper plates.  I know that when the weekends roll around, I should make family meals the rule.  Not the case.  I don’t have the energy or desire to sit down for a more formal dinner with four loud and fighting kids.  I know we should, but my kids are not easy and I really could use some grown-up time.  The kids are not accustomed to family dinners and it always seems to be a big loud 3 ring circus type atmosphere.  There is always someone interrupting, another one teasing, at least one spill and another kid ending up in tears.  Fun family time?  No, not really!

This past weekend, somehow it happened and we all sat at the kitchen table together.  Not just for any dinner, but a dinner experience.  Fondue.  This slow style of cooking and eating requires both patience and conversation.  These are not things that I would consider my kids’  best traits.  Before the 1st shrimp was in the fondue pot, we already had one fight and a spill.  I was feeling that this was going to be a long “experience”.  Luckily, between the 2nd piece of meat hitting the fondue pot and the 3rd fight, one of the kids asked to play Apples to Apples.  My first reaction was not a chance, we should be talking, not playing a game during our special dinner.  My brain said no, but my mouth said yes.  Let the game begin.

We made it clear from the beginning that we were not playing to win and there was no keeping score.  This was just for fun.  So in between cooking and eating meat and veggies, we played the game of crazy comparisons.  We laughed and really genuinely enjoyed each others company.  Not exactly what I would have pictured for a fondue dinner, but we had a blast.  I guess it’s not a bad thing to have controlled conversations with a lot of laughs, even if we were playing a game during dinner.  As I’m trying to stay sane through these crucial years with my kids, I need to remember that it’s really about spending time together and not about what we are talking about.  Even if it means laughing about things that are smelly, messy, goofy or dainty.  The night ended with a sweet hug from my son asking when we can have a “fun”-due dinner again.  Feeling blessed today and looking forward to our next wild, crazy and loud family dinner!

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