Archive | June, 2012

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

23 Jun

Family vacations for my crew are all about serious adventure, exhausting the kids, and having some new experiences along the way.  I strive every day of vacation to play hard and exhaust my kids physically and mentally.  I aim to stimulate their minds to total exhaustion.  At the end of the day, I hope that they are so tired and overstimulated that they forget to bicker and are forced into a sleep trance by 9 p.m. (which leaves me about 2 hours of quiet adult time to relax).  Flashing back to last summer, we took an adventure to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Hands down, this is the most beautiful place I’ve been so far, absolutely breathtaking.  Really this place had it all…plenty to explore, beautiful beaches, amazing people, and tons of adventure.

Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular National Parks in Costa Rica and thought by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It sits on the Pacific Ocean, and it is where the jungle meets the sea.  The monkeys and lizards roam freely on the beach, giving an amazing show and entertaining travelers several times a day.  The beaches are great for surfing,  horseback riding was amazing, and the dining was fantastic.  While the kids would vote the playtime on the beach was the highlight, I think I vote the zip lining as my highlight.  I have to admit that seeing my middle schooler (that knows everything) a little frightened was a bit entertaining.  If you’re reading this Son, stop now.  You might not like the next picture.  Overall for family adventures, Manuel Antonio has it all.

The lodging options are endless in the Manuel Antonio area.  There are rustic hostels to elaborate villas.  Since I was traveling family style and watching a budget is always a concern, I found our dream vacation spot right in the middle. After many hours of research and planning, I decided on a private home in the Tulemar Gardens gated community.  Best decision ever.  The waves on their private beach were perfect and the kids loved the boogie boards and sand toys.  There were cocktails served on the sand and the monkeys were always around to entertain you during the day.  The kids were happy (and exhausted at the end of the day) and I was relaxed.

After a full day of fun in the sun, we settled in to our comfortable home to enjoy a dinner on the patio while watching the sun set.  Casa Panorama was truly a perfect spot for a family or group of friends. Whether we were preparing a great meal in the gourmet kitchen or sitting in the hot tub, this was the perfect home away from home.

So, families looking for a big adventure to exhaust your own little monkeys, Manuel Antonio has it all.  There was always somewhere to explore, waves to ride, and monkeys to watch.

WARNING:  I am not a professional videographer.  Actually, I’m a pretty crappy amateur videographer.   So, if you are prone to motion sickness, watch this at your own risk.  At least it will give you a visual of my monkeys being entertained by some real monkeys and amazing scenery of the jungle meeting the sea.

Father’s Day Bliss…not really

18 Jun

So to be totally honest, I couldn’t be happier that Father’s Day is over.  For some reason, yesterday at my house seemed to be extra crazy.  Considering that my house compared to most homes, is pretty crazy on a good day, Father’s Day this year was insanity.  Kids were wild, Dad was trying to relax, and even the dog seemed to be barking at nothing more than ever.  I’m not really sure why, but I know that holidays can bring out the worst in kids (even when 2 parents are on high alert).  Well, yesterday brought out th worst in all of us.  So I hoped yesterday to give my husband a little break…I would handle the meals, kids, and clean-up.  In reality, I couldn’t get a handle on it.

All my husband wanted was a relaxing afternoon with his family, to enjoy and celebrate his special day.  An afternoon of hanging out with his 4 amazing kids and minimal bickering would have been fabulous, but yesterday didn’t have the word relaxing in it at all.  The kids want to shower him with attention.  All 4 of them, all at the same time,  and things got competitive.  For some reason with the excitement of wanting to make Dad feel really special, the fighting seems to escalate.

We started the day with brunch on the patio and some incredibly strong wind that come from nowhere.  The winds were strong enough to rush us through our meal and chase napkins all over the yard.  Not really my idea of a relaxing brunch for staying up until 2 a.m. the night before preparing. Then the kickball game…after breakfast my husband said all he wanted to do was do play kick ball.  WTH?  Kickball I thought.  Instantly the kids thought the same thing.  3 people on each team, 95 degree weather, what?  So, kickball it was.  My guys got overly competitive, I got smacked with the ball on my arm, my daughter cried about her feet hurting (btw…sparkly Tom’s aren’t great shoes for running in dirt), and my youngest never got excited and flat out refused to play.

The day went on with a water fight in the house, one hand slammed in a door, my 8 year old ran away (he came back though), about 5,000 fights, 20 loads of dishes, and one frazzled Mom…get the point?  I knew I hit a low when I told the kids they could bathe the dog for pure entertainment purposes.

All in all, we survived.  As this great photo shows, Dad read a book and took a little nap.  He also got a little alone time (ok, so he had to go out for a 2 mile run in 95 degree weather).  On a positive note, I will say that we ate a few really yummy meals,  indulged in plenty of bacon, and ended the night off with a few mojitos.  But the truth is, I’m feeling a little guilty.  I don’t’ think this year made the list for best Father’s Day ever, at least not today.  I know we will look back on this crazy day and have fond memories at some point and some people even say that we will miss these times (although I’m not totally convinced).

Since we will be spending some time this summer in the tropical paradise of Belize, I’ve decide that I’m going to do Father’s Day over.  I’m going to do it right though.  I am planning to take advantage of 1/2 priced cards this week and stock up.  Make breakfast in bed for my husband and set out for an all day sailing trip.  Perfect day…kids will be happy and someone else will do the cooking.  Who cares that we will be celebrating our great Dad on a different day than everyone else!  Also, next year, I am going to plan Father’s Day right.  I think I will schedule our summer adventure around Father’s Day, since travel is truly my family’s happy place.

 

 

Belize Getaway

15 Jun

In honor of my upcoming family vacation to Belize this summer, I’m feeling inspired to share my amazing experiences in Belize for Flashback Friday.  Just about 3 years ago, somehow I convinced the grandparents to watch my kids for a week (I’m sure this commitment was made after a fairly large consumption of wine) so my husband and I could get away for an extended break.  We took full advantage with a 9 day break from the kids and daily routines of life.  We headed to Belize with no kids, explored 2 very different regions, and had an absolute trip of a lifetime.  I’m not really quite sure how I ended up taking our 1st and only week away ever  to this tiny Central American country, but it was a decision that made travel my passion. Many people would ask why Belize?  I can only imagine that I came across it by chance and our airline flight miles made the final decision.  Perfect fate.

Let me first start off by explaining my family.  I grew up traveling a bit and enjoyed the family adventures from my childhood.  Still to this day, my parents are a couple of crazy jet setting retired folks.  Travel and adventure is in my blood.  My husband on the other hand, not so much.  He grew up in a small town alongside the corn fields and hog farms of the Midwest.  His idea of a travel was taking a 2 hour road trip and an international destination to him was Tijuana.  So when I booked our 1 and only getaway, since becoming parents, to Belize I was a going out on a limb.  (I say one and only, because I was pretty confident that the grandparents would NEVER do it again after spending a week with our “angels”).

As we were landing into this simple and relatively poor country, my husband was busy looking and watching out the window.  He looked at me in shock and said something along the lines of  “where the hell are you taking me?  Why didn’t we just go to Hawaii?”  At that moment, I promised him it would be great, but I really crossed my fingers and hoped more than you can imagine that my research was correct.  I was pretty confident in my planning of our Belize trip, but I knew that my role in my family’s future for vacation planning was riding on this decision.

Well, it all worked out and overly exceeded our expectations.  This tiny little country in Central America is a true gem.  Situated on the Caribbean, you get a Latin American feel, with a flair of the Caribbean culture, and add a dash of Mennonites (yes, as in the German religious folks that don’t use electricity).  Unique, diverse, and amazing.

We started our trip off with a 90 minute drive to the Ka’ana Resort in San Ignacio (a region near the Guatemalan border).  We were stunned by the beauty and detail that was put into this resort.  Over the next 4 days, we explored and learned.  We visited Mayan ruins, caves, and dined on some of the most amazing foods we had ever experienced.  You truly felt that you were the only people at this fabulous boutique resort and I loved every second of living the life of a celebrity.

After our Jungle adventure, we hopped on a quick 20 minute puddle jumper off to the island of Ambergris Caye.  This busy little town still has dirt roads, filled with golf carts, restaurants, and gift shops.  The Caribbean Sea was as blue as pictures showed and our hotel, Victoria House, was perfectly situated just far away enough from town for relaxation, yet close enough to enjoy the hustle and bustle.

The last half of our trip was spent lounging on the beach, exploring the town of San Pedro, enjoying oceanfront massages, and of course taking advantage of Belize’s incredible water activities.  Being that I am not a scuba diver,  snorkeling and fishing  filled our desire for new adventures.  Under the sea was better than I could of imagined…sting rays, sharks, and bright colored beautiful fish.

So, I’m off again to the beautiful country of Belize, but this time with 4 wild, crazy, and adventure seeking kids.  I know it won’t be nearly as relaxing (actually it won’t be relaxing at all), but there will be plenty of adventures and stories to tell.  Reflecting back…I think I picked the perfect place for our summer adventure.  More posts to come, but with a wild & crazy family twist!  As they say in Belize…you’d better Belize it!

Why I Hate Hiking (with kids)

12 Jun

I realize that hate is a strong word, but sometimes it is really the only appropriate way to describe something.  Hate is really a great word to describe how I feel about the art of hiking (with kids).  It’s exhausting, draining, and overall is a pretty miserable experience.  I realize that many would disagree, but that is just how it works for my family.  Maybe it is a combination of my overactive & wild boys mixed with my needing to be in control personality.  But seriously, hiking with my family is simply a nervous breakdown waiting to happen.

I haven’t always disliked hiking.  In fact, one of my first trips was with my husband was to Yosemite.  We spent an amazing weekend hiking, exploring, and dining.  It was about as close to perfect as I could have imagined.  Then came baby #1, and hiking worked.  Then, baby #2, and it was a little tougher.  By Baby #3, it was starting to change.  Quickly.  The 1st hike with 3 kids (four and under) was rough.  One mile, 2 potty breaks, 10 snacks, a few tantrums, about 50 sticks collected, 500 rocks thrown into the water, and I don’t want to leave out that the “hike” was done with an infant hanging off my boob the entire time.  Then came baby #4.  Insanity.  Somehow, I still felt pressured that hiking was the right thing for my family.  How can fresh air and beautiful scenery not be a great experience?  I didn’t like hiking, the kids didn’t like  hiking, and my husband and I were at each others throats the entire time.  Good clean family fun…right?

These pictures say a thousand words, but there are more words.  Whining, crying, fighting, tired, thirsty, hot, cold, freezing, cramping, hungry, dehydrated, hurting, bored, wet, sweaty, teasing, about to die, hurt, sore, scared…need I say more??

The actual moment of deciding that I hated hiking happened in Zion National Park in Utah.  First, this place is beautiful…absolutely amazing.  But when hiking with my fabulous 4, beauty doesn’t matter, it’s a pain in the ass.  So, “the hike” began with 3 of the kids carrying sticks turned “walking sticks”.  It was a typical hike.  Whining, complaining, jumping off of everything, throwing every rock, and “be careful” was said about a million times.  Then, right before my eyes, my oldest jumped off a rock, tripped, and that stick flew out of his hand.  It hit my daughter (drama queen) in the face.  She started screaming (the gasping for air kind).  My husband screamed at my son and grabbed the other stick away from my then 4 year old.  Both boys started to cry…hysterically.  I yelled at my husband for getting so mad.  Our youngest in the backpack started wailing.  There it was for all to see, 4 kids hysterical and 2 adults fighting.  Just then, I looked up and there was a group of European tourists watching us.  The look on their faces was horror, total shock.  That was the moment that I decided I HATED hiking with my kids and that we would not be traveling to Europe anytime soon with my brood (Europe is not ready for these kids).

That was a few years ago and things could potentially be getting a little better.  In my head, I still hate to hike with the kids, but I am starting to consider being more open minded.  Maybe next year.

Wikki Stix Deal

12 Jun

So, I am not a deal blog, but I am a Mom who loves to share a great deal.  One of my favorite travel toys for kids are Wikki Stix.  They are small, clean, and seriously can keep your kids quiet for hours (even my kids).  They are awesome for road trips and airplane rides.  I suggested them in my post about Staying Sane in the Friendly Skies.

I know I’m going to take advantage of this great deal and stock up before our summer trips!

http://www.plumdistrict.com/deals/wikki-stix-20-for-40-toward-award-winning-kids-toys-from-wikki-stix-LKvRQS

Happy Travels!

Paris with Kids

7 Jun

Last week, I spent a few fast and furious days exploring Paris with my tween daughter.  Three days, two gals, and about a thousand things to see.  We barely made a dent, but our days were packed full of amazing adventures.  Here are a few tips and favorite ideas for touring Paris with kids…

Eiffel Tower- With this world famous landmark being under construction the waiting times are insane.  We waited for 3 hours before even getting on the lift.  Waiting in line did indeed give us plenty of time to get really excited and prepared for the big lift ride, but it also sucked up a better part of the day.  The weather went from chilly to hot, our legs were exhausted, and we even had front row viewing of some sort of a labor protest (quite the experience for my little suburbia living daughter).  Over all, well worth the time. Hints:  You can buy your tickets in advance for a specific date and time online.  They sell out quickly, so this must be done weeks in advance.  It appeared to almost be like a Disneyland Fastpass…would have save us almost 3 hours!  Also, hydrate before you get up the tower.  Drinks on the 2nd level were 5 Euros each (over $7 USD)!

Luxemborg Gardens- This park is unlike anything I have ever seen.  It has a great playground, pony rides, cafe, and is an amazingly beautiful place to sit back and relax.  Pack a lunch or hit the cafe and let the kiddos make new friends at the playground or take a pony ride.

Fat Tire Bike Tours- What a great way to safely visit some top attractions in Paris.  The tour guide was English speaking, extremely knowledgeable, and had a great sense of humor.  They have different bike options to accommodate children of all ages.  There were several kids on our tour and I loved the fact that the entire group kept an eye out for the kids.  This surely was an amazing way to spend an afternoon.

Let them eat cake- Paris is know for their beautiful and amazing pastries.  There were so many great little pastry shops on every single street, I just couldn’t resist.  It was also a great distraction when tired little legs were ready to take a break.  Order a pastry to go, find some shade, and enjoy the great people watching of Paris.

Pantheon-  Much to my surprise, this was a huge hit with my daughter.  She was fascinated with the architecture and the crypt.  The idea of a bunch of people laid to rest, above ground and in the basement of a massive building was so intriguing.  I wish we would have done a little preparation research about some of the famous people who are interred in this famous building.

Art – Paris is known for housing some of the world’s most famous and well know pieces of art.  While kids are not  likely to want to leisurely stroll through a museum for hours on end, they will enjoy a visit though.  Many of the most famous pieces of art studied by children in school are in Paris.  It is truly an amazing experience for a child to see the “real thing”.

We chose the Musee d’Orsay.  This was a winning situation for both of us.  I got to enjoy this famous and amazing museum, while my little artist was thrilled to see some of her favorites.  Next visit we’ll tackle the Louvre!

Notre Dame- This Cathedral is absolutely beautiful and is a Paris must see.  As we walked through, I could see how this amazing building was catching the eye of my daughter.  Lighting a candle was a highlight and  a great moment of reflection for her (maybe it was more that she could play with fire, but she talked about the experience all afternoon).  She also loved the statues, stained glass, and of course the gargoyles.

Dining- The food in Paris was absolutely incredible.  Whether eating at a gourmet restaurant or grabbing a quick gelato, there is something to please everyone.  Also, most restaurants offer a meal for children on the menu for around 10 Euros.

Overall, Paris was an amazing vacation .  So many amazing sights and fun activities.  Now to figure out how to make it to Paris again!

For more great thoughts about a Paris adventure with your kids check out TravelingBunch.com!

Rude Parisians? (I must have missed that part)

5 Jun

Finally…I made the trip to Paris.  Last week, I flew across the Atlantic and took my daughter to visit her friend who moved with her family to the French Riviera.  Being so close to Paris, I felt that I would be crazy to skip an opportunity to visit “The City of Lights”.  I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I did learn in my planning that many people have very strong opinions about the French, especially Parisians.  I’ll admit I was pretty intimidated.  I heard the horror stories and hesitantly listened to all of the warnings.  “The French are rude”.  “French people HATE Americans”.  “You better speak at least a little French, OR ELSE…”.  I was traveling with my daughter and speak just about zero French (actually, now I can say 2  words in French).  Luckily, I did master saying hello and thank you in French before I arrived in Paris.  But, the reality was that I was that I was heading to Paris with “American Tourist” stamped on my forehead.  I hoped for the best, yet was prepared for the worst.  I wouldn’t have ever told my daughter, but I was scared shitless.  The last thing I wanted to do was feed my daughter to the wolves and make her afraid to ever travel again.  So, we left the comfort of our amazing friends and hosts in Southern France, boarded a train, and set out to the jungle of Paris.  I tried to stay open minded and armed and ready to use my smile (and 2 French words) as my only defense.

The attendant on the train was courteous, our cab driver was very informative, and my hotel check-in went very smoothly.  I was starting to think that I just might survive Paris and was feeling pretty positive about not permanently damaging my daughter’s love for travel.  The next couple of days continued to work in my favor and I was convinced that I was either very lucky or wrongly informed about Parisians.  At that point, I realized that I really wasted quite a bit of energy worry about people possibly refusing to acknowledge me, giving me wrong directions, or spitting in my food.  I actually spent quite a bit of time, while sitting in amazing cafes, thinking about my thoughts and ridiculous fears.  I observed and watched.  I began to better understand.  Let’s face it, the French aren’t an overly warm culture.  Heck, it pretty obvious that you’re not in a small village somewhere in Latin America mingling with the locals.  But rude?  No, not really.  Different, yes.  Waiters don’t rush you out to turn your table.  The chance of you waiter having a quick smoke and chatting with a colleague, before bringing your bill is pretty likely.  Plan on waiting while dining.  On the other hand, I observed more people in 2 days give up seats on the bus to an elderly passenger or child than I have seen in the States in the last 10 years.  The French are just more relaxed and not so hurried.  This is a great thing and I quickly embraced the trait.  It forced me to look around, visit a little more with my favorite little lady, and have that second glass of wine.  I couldn’t have been happier that I was forced a bit to slow down and “smell the roses”.  Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I am sure glad that I took the time to look around and embrace the culture.  Enjoy the view, the wine, the culture and smile a lot. Cheers!

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