Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thank You!

Today is my 100th post!  I am so thankful for the community that surrounds me on twitter/facebook/my little blog, and I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to share a comment.  I started this blog when JD was a couple months old as a way to share our humble opinions about all of the baby crap surrounding us and to learn a little about the blogging world. I never expected to make friends.  (I'm resisting the urge to make this long and sappy- I'll save that for a bigger occasion- like 1000.) I hope you have found something useful here, but I know it can never equal all that I have learned from you  :)

Today is also the last day of Travel Month at TryItMom.  I have to thank Amy, Jacqueline, Christy, and Corinne for their much appreciated guest posts and Patemm, DiaperBuds, Family Travel Kits, and JetSetBabies for some great giveaways.  I have loved sharing our travels with you, but I am so happy to be back to regular blogging tomorrow (even though I am so into planning our next trip)!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: I Swear It's a Water Fountain

Our Travel-with-the-Boys Bucket List

What's the first thing you do when you are settled back in after a vacation? Start thinking about the next one, of course!  Here is our list of places we would love to take the boys.

  • Spain (I'm a classic lit. nerd and can't wait to do a The Sun Also Rises-inspired trip.)
  • Belgium (We spent a day here a couple years ago and can't wait to go back!)
  • Denver (I went for a conference when I first started teaching, and I fell in love with the city.)
  • Chicago (Hubby is there now & said I would love it.  I've been there a dozen times but never left the airport.)
  • Drive across the country (I really hope we have the time to do this with the boys!)
  • An Amtrack trip somewhere (It just sounds romantic.)
  • Washington, DC (Hubby has never been, and I think it would be great to take the boys when they are a bit older.)
  • Australia/New Zealand (We have friends who have made this trip with their babies multiple times, and they make us feel like 40 hours of traveling is totally possible.)
  • Poland/Norway/Finland/Sweden (A whole part of Europe we've never seen.)

Any other suggestions out there?

JD's first trip was a road trip of the North East to watch some college basketball with daddy when he was 5 months old.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My 3 Favorite Disney Tips (and a cute video)

You can find tips for Disney all over the place online, so I'm just going to give you my favorites.

1. Download the phone apps, but check them out before you go.  I had a lot of fun learning behind the scenes info (yes, there is a secret basketball court at the top of the mountain) and tips leading up to the trip.  (I spent A LOT of time reading secrets on MouseWait.) Once we were in the park, it wasn't that crowded, so I wasn't worried about pulling out my phone to check wait times.

2. If your adult-to-child ratio is 2:1 or better, don't bring the stroller!  When we went to Disney last year with JD, we took turns holding him in the bjorn.  That way we could keep going on rides/seeing shows when he was napping in it, and we never had to worry about where we parked the stroller.  (You can't being the stroller into most shows or in line for rides.)  

Since we were 2-on-2 this time, the double stroller was a must!  I held O in the Moby a lot because he napped more than JD (and he doesn't walk- duh), but it was nice to have the stroller for JD's nap (which is when hubby and I grabbed a relaxing lunch) and for moving from one part of the park to another.  

3. As soon as you can get in, go right to Mickey's Toon Town.  It doesn't open at the same time as the rest of the park, but people line up to get in first.  We learned in Disney World last year that the first people to Mickey's house get a private tour with Mickey himself. In Disneyland, you can get into Toon Town early with a coupon book from Costco.  There is a special opening ceremony for coupon holders with a character performance, and you get an "Honorary Citizen of Toon Town" button for attending.  We got in early but not exactly when it opened, so we waited on line for a few minutes to see Mickey.  We were extremely lucky to be the last family before Mickey's break, so we got the tour on his way out!  It made my day (maybe my whole trip) to see my little guy walking hand-in-hand with Mickey. 

And here is the video of our stay at Disneyland  :)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My 11th Week in Droid Pics


He's a morning person!

My mom made me her awesome Angel Food Cake in early celebration of my birthday.

We hung out at home today, and JD was excited to find his old walker in the laundry room.

We took a trip to Target.  

JD was very good, especially considering O was kicking him the entire time.

Later, I found JD and Hubby playing outside in the dog pen.

We had a TON of cleaning to do, so we decided to let JD watch his first full length feature film (we're usually really strict with TV time) while we got things done.  He chose Dumbo :)

Hubby started my birthday a little early by bringing home a bouquet of pink & green roses. Those were our wedding colors :)
Thursday (My 30th Birthday!)

O is 5 months old!

My birthday breakfast at the local diner.
A quick lunch out at Panera.
Another Hubby surprise: He picked me up a piece of fudge on his way home from work.

We had an (early) dinner at our favorite wine bar.  We brought the boys (and our own booster seat).

mmmmmm fancy, expensive pizza and yummy wine

And after the boys were in bed, Hubby gave me a Cold Stone cake.  I then died and went to heaven.


Back to My Gym!  JD is fearless, strong, and an awesome little multi-tasker. 

Did you take phone pics this week? Head over to Amy's for the code and link up!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Favorite: Travel Edition

While preparing for our trip, it hit me that I would need a safe way to bathe the boys.  In the past, when we were on vacation with JD, we would just hold him in the shower or give him a little sponge bath, but now he has a mind of his own and doesn't like showers.  Hotel tubs gross me out a bit, and I don't know what kind of harsh cleaners they use in them.  I asked twitter, and heard about this ducky bath.

I was a little nervous about JD fitting in it comfortably, but some of the reviewers online said that they used it with older toddlers, so we decided to give it a try.

O was a little nervous at first.

But he warmed up to it :)

A squeaky clean JD
They loved it. JD especially loved that it quacked.  I liked that it could easily be deflated and packed for our next destination.  The only negative was that it was small (We had to refresh JD's water mid-bath to make sure he was really getting clean), but any bigger and it would have taken up more precious suitcase space.
Overall, I think that keeping our bedtime routine as normal as possible (most nights) helped the boys sleep well in the hotels which made the trip better for us all!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Traveling with Teens!

Yes, I know it will be a dozen years before I travel with my own teens, but before we had JD, Hubby and I traveled as chaperones on student tours of Europe.  On our last trip, we took 44 middle schoolers on a three-week bus tour through 6 countries.  

We were one, big, dysfunctional family by the end!
Here is what worked for us:

1. Do your homework and have them do theirs.  Spend time really researching the places you will be visiting.  We steered the kids towards research that they were interested in and then we all shared.  That way they learned about the destinations and about each other.  Teens hear research and think of German History or British Literature , but we let them have fun with it.  (Ex. French Fashion, Dutch Sports, Belgian Chocolate.)  Later, we were able to tap into that knowledge while trying a game of Korfball or touring a chocolate shop.  It can easily be done for international travel, or even for visiting a local city or state.
And while away, keep a journal.  The kids thought this was torture each night, but I'm sure they are happy they did it when they look back!  We also had them bring a glue stick so they could post their ticket stubs, post cards, etc. right in there.

Most of our students had just read The Diary of Ann Frank in school, so a stop at the Ann Frank Huis was a must.
Hubby organizing a game.
2. Let them have some control over the activities.  On our trips, most meals and events were locked down, but whenever we could, we let the kids make choices.  They were more agreeable to the things they had to do if they felt that we listened to what they wanted every once in a while.  

Wading in the water at Normandy. Great idea and an awesome memory!

3. Give them room to explore.  You know your kids and what they can handle, but you may be surprised.  We let the kids (ranging in age from 12-14) go off in groups for a couple hours in almost every city we visited.  (Amsterdam made me a little nervous.)  We laid out clear expectations and everyone knew what to do if they got lost. This allowed them to really interact with the local environment; they were not merely following the group and tuning out the tour guide.  A couple extra tips for this:

  • Everyone should have the business card of the hotel in their pocket.
  • Have someone in the group take a picture (on their phone or digital camera) of the meeting place.  That way it is a reminder, and they can show someone the picture if they forget how to get back.
  • Create a scavenger hunt or have a trivia game later that night based on what you saw.

4. Get out of the big cities!  We stayed in some small-town, family-run hotels and even with a local family for a few days, and it was in those places that we learned the most about different cultures.  Go to a local mall or grocery store.  Take walks.  Visit small parks.  Get out there and see things not in the text books!

This broom hanging outside of a farmhouse in Germany meant that we could throw a blanket down and be served dinner in their front yard.
Hubby is singing, "The hills are alive..."

5. Make it a budget lesson.  Decide on an amount for treats/souvenirs that they can spend how they chose.

6. Give back.  We spent a few hours one afternoon picking up garbage alongside a river.  It was gross, but it taught several lessons.  We had spent a lot of time with our students discussing others' opinions of Americans, and giving back was a way they could make an impact.

*We traveled through People to People Ambassador Program.  It is an excellent organization, and I highly recommend it to students and adults who want to see the world!  As soon as our kids are old enough, we hope to send them.  And as soon as they are out of the house, Hubby and I are going to chaperone again.  Free trips are the best trips!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Please Take Us on Another Vacation!

Diaper Buds Review & Giveaway

I was sent a pack of DiaperBuds to try during our travels, and they are so cool!  They are basically vacuum-packed diapers that are 70% smaller than a regular diaper.  They come individually wrapped, so they stay nice and clean in your bag. 

JD checking it out.

Before they are unwrapped, they can also be used as an impromptu ball :)

These would be perfect for any outing, but especially the beach.  Everything in my beach bag ends up wet and full of sand, and those are not good traits for a diaper!  I will also use these when I am running out quickly and don't think I need the big diaper bag.  Tossing one of these in my purse for an emergency will give me piece-of-mind, and I don't have to worry about it getting all gross from floating around free in my purse.  They would also be a great addition to a baby shower gift basket or a wishing well.

There is a 22 sec. video on their site that shows exactly how it works.

This giveaway has ended

Monday, March 21, 2011

If You Have a Few Minutes to Spare...

We took a ridiculous amount of video on the trip, and I am just starting to edit through.  Here is a recap of days 1 & 2 with some pretty cute footage of JD :)

Road Tripping!

I've seen a bunch of great posts lately on flying with babies/toddlers (like this one and this one), so I really don't have anything new to add. However, after we flew across the country with our two little guys, we drove almost 1000 miles up the CA coast.  I have a lot to share about having a positive road trip experience!

First, I know I am lucky to have two little guys who don't hate the car seat.  A friend's baby screams from the moment she is put into the car until she is taken out.  If that is you, don't read further.  I don't have any advice.  We do have a mirror above O's seat so he can check out himself (and we could check on him without getting out of our seats), but that's all I've got.

Here are my tips for hittin' the highway!

1. If your baby uses a pacifier, pack more than you ever think you will need.  It's a pain to pull over to hunt down and clean a paci!  Also, O has learned to take his paci out and throw it, and we had a couple that we never found again.

2. The same goes for sippy cups (except that none of ours completely disappeared- we just found some nasty milk-filled ones under the front seat on the last day).  Sometimes out of frustration, we would hand JD a regular water bottle (not full of course) as a bribe.  He LOVES this, and we just had to deal with a little wetness.  

3. For a toddler, pack plenty of snacks they can feed themselves.  Bring their favorites as well as some new, exciting ones.  We had boxes of raisins (which JD loved pre and post-trip but refused while we were away), fruit strips, squeeze pouches, peanut butter, granola bars, crackers, and magic oatmeal cookies (we saved these for when he was overtired & screechy. He was always quiet and happy when he got one, and he always fell asleep before he finished it). **If you are driving in your own car and worried about messiness/stickiness, you know what to avoid.  We rented a car, so I was a little more lax about what I let him eat back there.

4. Stickers!  I bought tons of them from the dollar store before we left, and they kept JD busy *forever*.  He liked sticking them all over himself and then moving them around.  I even heard him talking to them.  You can also pack crayons if your kid can handle them.  JD still tries to eat them, so they are a supervised activity only.  Cleaning crayon out of baby teeth is not fun.

5. Take breaks!  Our longest stretch was only 4 hours, but we still took breaks whenever we could.  Obviously we had to feed the kids and ourselves, but it was nice sometimes to just stop, stretch our legs, and give the boys some time out of their seats. Although it took us a little longer to get anywhere, it was more enjoyable for everybody!

6. Pack smart.  We stayed at 7 different hotels along the way, and there was no way I was going to haul all of our stuff in and out of each of them.  I packed one large piece of luggage that was the "overnight bag".  It held everything we would need for all four of us if we were just going away for one night (toiletries, diapers, bedtime things and clothes).  Half of the time, we just had to carry this bag in, and the other nights we brought in more and reorganized. We also had to pack for different weather extremes (shorts & snow gear), so the other pieces of luggage were organized in that way.  Having separate bags for each person would just lead to a lot of suitcases spread out in hotel rooms already crowded by 2 cribs.

7. Be prepared for yuckiness!  First, rental cars are gross.  Remember when I said that I wasn't too concerned with the mess/stickiness of the snacks JD was eating?  Well neither were the last 20 families who rented the minivan we had.  Of course the company cleans it the best they can, but there is always a level of yuck.  If you are using your own car, be prepared for it to reach new, unknown levels of yuck as the days go by.  My advice is to keep some clear floor/seat space for changing diapers in the car and have a trash bag that you empty each time you can (cup holders in the door work well for this, too). 
Second, you must become less self-conscious about facing the public with your yuck. At first I was mortified to bring JD into a restaurant with food ground into his pants and dried snot on his sleeve while I smelled like baby puke, but I got over it pretty quickly.

8. We had one small piece of luggage that was the "car bag".  It stayed in the car and contained anything we would need while in the car: snacks, bibs, cups, a small insulated bag (which came in handy when we bought a six pack, didn't finish it in one night, and wanted to bring it to our next hotel), small toys, hats & jackets, and those pads you use to house train your dog (incredibly useful when your son plays in the mud and you don't want him to get his seat yucky on the the way to the next stop).  We also kept the diaper bag in the car.

9.  Ask for more!  I'll be honest; doing this makes me a little uncomfortable.  I'm a wimp.  But at 6 out of 7 hotels we received a free upgrade on our room and/or restaurant vouchers for meals just for asking.  It also helps if you belong to a hotel rewards program.  We collect Marriott and Starwood points through their credit cards, and these programs give extra perks like entrance to the concierge lounge.
Also, ask for things that would make your kids more comfortable/easier to deal with.  Ex: "Can he have some saltines while we look at the menu?" 

10. Take a ton of pictures of the journey!  A lot of our vacation happened in the car, and we have some fun memories!
Always super happy!
The face JD makes when you ask him to smile.
Not everything was pull-over-and-take-a-picture worthy, but we did take a lot of pics out the windows!
My favorite out-of-the-window shot.
Miles of orange groves!  We did stop and buy the sweetest oranges I've ever owned.  And they were way cheaper than buying oranges on LI!
Arriving at our final city, San Francisco!
11. Be prepared to change the itinerary.  I was disappointed to see what a Compton-esque dump Hollywood was, so we cut our visit short and hit the road to an added destination.  If you don't have internet access, call your hotel rewards program, and they can recommend hotels along your route.

12. Don't just follow the GPS.  Bring a real, detailed, old-school map.  That way you can see all of the beaches/parks/lakes/landmarks along the way and choose your route.  If we had just followed the GPS, we would have been on major highways most of the time and missed these:

The GPS really didn't want us to drive along the coast.  I'm glad I knew better.

Leaving Yosemite, the GPS wanted us to backtrack to Fresno.  We would much rather drive through here!
Our friends and family thought we were crazy for taking on this trip, but we really loved it.  My next plan is a cross-country trip.  Then we would avoid the crazy flights all together!   

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