Double duty Diaper

Airplane travel with four kids can be tricky to pack and prepare for.  Especially since we travel standby, I try to fit everything into carry-ons.  We frequently can’t check bags, since we may not make it on the flight!  These are all excuses for myself.  Really, I am just not a detail-oriented person and frequently find that I am under-prepared for travel.  Honestly, I am impressed that I usually have most of what we need.  I haven’t forgotten as many items as I think I would, so I’m just going to praise my successes.  However, there are a few awkward instances of needing something we just don’t have.

We followed dad on a work trip to sunny Arizona.  The sun is BLAZING there.  No cloud cover.  Our plan was to spend most of our day at the resort pool.  I bought baby-friendly sunscreen (divided out into travel friendly portions so we can get through security).  I packed all the kids floaties, suits, cover-ups, goggles, etc.

I drag ll the gear up to the pool.  Yep, I had to carry a stroller of stuff, plus a baby, up several stairs since this was not a stroller friendly resort.  (I guess the fact that it was built into a Butte should’ve been an indicator, but… you know, sometimes I miss things.)   I sunscreen everyone and we are finally ready to jump in the pool and I notice my babies thinly veiled head.  I realize I forgot to pack her swim hat… or any hat for that matter.  I try to rub some sunscreen on her hair, but it is all matted and sticky.  I know the sun cannot be healthy for her!   I’m searching through my diaper bag for a solution.  After trying on some clothing that she pulled off immediately, I finally found the best solution ever.

IMG_2091The diaper!  Always present, always clean, light weight, can be strapped right to the head so as the baby grows, they never grow out of the hat.  It covers the entire head with a slight cover for the eyes.   We swam for several hours and then baby fell asleep.  She never pulled it off and was fully protected!  I got to use this trick while hiking the next week, since I still didn’t have my hat from home.

IMG_8952

She looked adorable and everyone got a kick out of seeing her, both at the pool and the hike.  Still, I like her swim hat better! Adorable, right?

IMG_2724What have you had to use in a pinch with kids?

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One Day Itinerary in St. Louis

Despite the close location from Dallas, this was our first experience going to St. Louis and I definitely left feeling like I want to experience more!  We arrived Friday night and settled in with Pizza at our hotel.  We got the kids to bed early (Thank you, Melatonin) and prepared for an early departure from the hotel to get the most out of our day.

8 am-12 St. Louis Zoo

12-1 Lunch break

1 pm-5 St Louis Science Museum

5-6 Dinner

6pm-8 St. Louis Arch

ZOO: We started in the cooler weather at the St Louis Zoo.  The entry fee is FREE!  I know, I couldn’t believe it either!   Parking here was $15 a car and it was quite a long line to get in.

 

We went to lunch at Steak ‘n Shake. Kids eat free on the weekends (for every $9 spent, get one kids meal free).  This restaurant makes dining in easy with kids.  They provide coloring mats and crayons along with build-your-own cars with stickers. The menu is kid-friendly with pictures.  The food came quickly about right when the kids were finishing up their activities.

We headed to the St Louis Science Museum.  This was in the same area as the zoo (Forrest park).  It was probably a mile of driving, so not close enough to walk, but very close to the zoo. This was also a FREE entrance fee!  The parking here was $12/car.

My thoughts were, “You get what you pay for” and figured an hour or 2 would be all the enjoyment we would get.  However, this was a legit science museum; full of various exhibits and interactive learning.  We spent 4 hours and didn’t get enough. As a mom I love reading and learning different aspects of science and the kids have so much to touch, do, discover and learn.  Science museums really have something for every level.  We were busy playing and interacting so we didn’t get many pictures.  You’ll just have to experience it yourself!

Only 5 miles away was the St. Louis Gateway Arch.  The kids loved finding it on the skyline as we drove that way.

We weren’t sure where to park or how to get to it.  So we passed the first base and parked just passed the northern base.  I don’t think it really matters though, just find a space or a parking garage.  There was a Cardinals baseball game starting the night we were there so we wanted to get away from the stadium a bit. Where ever you park you will have to walk into the park, but it is made into a gorgeous park looking out over the Mississippi.

The visitors center is closest to the North Base.  We just paid for tickets right outside to get into the visitors center ($3 for adults/ Kids free).  The wait for going up the arch was 2 hours, but just going in there was no wait.  Once you got inside the Center there is a theater, a Ranger Station (with Jr Ranger booklets)  a gift shop and  LONG lines to get up the arch elevator.  Our kids were tired and I was glad we didn’t spend $60 to go up, but then again, we missed part of the experience.   We watched the 20 minute movie about how the arch was made. I thought it was fascinating (even though it was made in the 70s and was so dated! It just added to the appeal).  When we went in 2017, much of the arch was under construction, but it should be amazing when they finish the park in front of the arch, the museum entrance and the Museum exhibits inside.

IMG_9266Hopefully, when you finish this full day you get to crash at a hotel and maybe hit the pool, but we  drove 3 hours  to get to our next destination.  An audio book put the kids right to sleep!

When the crap hits the fan

I’m going to try to write an embarrassing or funny story on Funny Fridays.  My top embarrassment is written here.

This happened on our most recent flight.  The flight was smooth-sailing.  I always try to go to the bathroom before the descent just in case I can’t go for a while.  As I felt the descent begin, I realized I hadn’t gone yet.  So I passed the baby off to my husband and headed in to take care of business.  In the middle of this process, the planes hits some major turbulence.  I am rocking from side to side and up and down.  I’m getting sea-sick. And I realize I need to get out of there!  I wipe as well as I can while rocking around.  I jump up trying to wash my hands, flush and get my pants up at the same time.  I’m worried somehow the stuff will exit the toilet and get on me and I start panicking.  We then hit the worst turbulence I’ve felt in 6 years of traveling!  My feet leave the ground and my head hits the ceiling with my pants down.  For some reason, not having pants on when you hit the ceiling is so much more vulnerable!IMG_2756

I’m pretty sure my pants were up as I exited the bathroom, but they definitely weren’t done up!  I couldn’t get to my seat fast enough!  I grabbed the baby and tried to walk as carefully as I could.  Holding every seat as I passed and gripping baby tightly.  I finally sat down and locked baby in as fast as I could.

We didn’t hit another bump until wheels down.

Top Ten reasons to travel with a baby

Frequently, I hear of families putting off trips because they have a small baby. It seems like too much work, so they want to wait until the baby is weaned and they can leave him/her home.  First of all, I understand this thinking.  They are a lot of work.  There are messes and sleepless nights.  There are unknowns and fears of strange places.  There are things you won’t be able to do with baby in tow.  Plus, the baby won’t remember any of it! All that being said, I love traveling with a baby!  Let me tell you why.

  1. Most people love babies.  I met and struck up conversations with the most interesting people because of having a baby with me.  Locals, docents and tour guides who normally leave tourists alone,  couldn’t resist the smiles and coos of a baby.  This really helped me experience the location through the eyes of people who lived there.  It also helped me connect with other travelers who have great ideas or tips of things to do (or not to do!). Babies are easy conversation starter with people in lines or airplanes.
  2.  Babies help pass the ‘downtime’ of travel with joy. I loved the smiles and tickles and complete attention I could give my baby while I waited in lines, sat at the airport (delayed, of course!) and in my hotels. As my 3rd and 4th babies, sometimes they don’t get the attention they deserve and on trips I could fill their cup to overflowing.  I loved having pressure-free time to snuggle baby on the plane.
  3. When you are together traveling you make sure to feed and change the baby frequently, before it is too late and causes a probably. Meeting the baby’s every need means that she will be happy, healthy and sweet the whole trip.
  4. Little babies can sleep anywhere! My babies aren’t great at sleeping long on the go, but made up for it by napping frequently. Being in a stroller, car or plane helps lull them to sleep. We even changed time zones 9 hours and my baby learned to sleep when it was dark within one night!
  5. Even though babies wont remember the trip, there are still pictures and stories they will be told as they grow.  A love of the world and traveling can be started this young.  They will be exposed to other peoples and cultures (and probably some foods!) that will help them become more understanding of others.  My baby can say she’s been to Paris and show photos.  She will grow up with a connection in her mind to Paris.
  6. Babies are mobile and flexible. As you child gets older, babies will need consistent naps in a bed (not on the go).  They will want more movement and independence, have louder lung capacity and be more needy.  As a baby, they are perfectly happy where ever they are when their needs are met.
  7.  Nursing is the best if you are traveling!  No need for bottles or cleaning.  In this photo, I nursed my baby in the wrap, during the swamp tour and she proceeded to fall asleep for the rest of the ride.
  8. Strollers actually can be a benefit for traveling.  We got to skip the amazingly long line at the Empire State building and go straight into the wheelchair/ stroller line!  Disneyland has the stroller pass which we maximized to ride as many rides as possible!  Having a stroller means people give a little more space for you, which can be nice in crowded places.  ( my snap and go is my favorite for baby travel because the carrier can snap in and out of it.  It is so light weight)
  9. A baby wrap makes it possible to hike, walk steps, and do any activity mom desires.  Plus, baby loves to be close to mom for snuggles and sleep.  Its a win-win!
  10. Bonding with baby can happen for mom or dad as you do something together.  It was difficult for my husband to bond with a newborn since I am doing most of the caring and serving and ALL of the feeding (my babies wouldn’t take bottles).  When we took a trip with just #3, he finally connected and felt a relationship with her  because of time spent and memories created with her.  Even if the baby doesn’t remember, you will remember your time with them forever. And that contributes to your family closeness and bond.

So you can have a baby and travel, too!  Make it happen!  What do you love about traveling with a baby?

 

 

St. Louis Zoo

We started in the cooler weather at the St Louis Zoo (8 am opening!) The entry fee is FREE!  I know, I couldn’t believe it either!  Zoos are typically so expensive, to just walk right in was so unknown,  that we waited in a line, just to have the confused attendant, point to the gate and tell us to walk in like we were complete idiots.

Parking: Parking at the zoo was $15 a car. When we were leaving the zoo we saw people walking accross the street presumably to cheaper or free residential parking, but we didn’t know that trick, so we paid to park in the lot.

TIP: My husband dropped the kids and I off at the front entrance.  He then drove passed the LONG line, flipped a U-turn and entered the parking lot from the other direction where the line was only 4-5 cars long.

We went on a Saturday to a free zoo so, understandably, it was crowded.  But if we were patient, we were able to see all the animals we desired. The crowds moved freely and everyone at their own pace and agenda, so it all works out.

 

Favorite Exhibits: I loved the smooth perfection of the Cheetah’s fur, the butterfly encounter fluttering all around us and the polar bear swimming right up against the glass.  Seeing my 8-month-old laugh at the elephants and get splashed by a penguin was the best!  My daughter loved the sea lions swimming right over our heads in a walk through aquarium.  My son loved the butt of a wild hog and monkey, of course (He’s 9 thats what boys like).  Giant tortoises, red pandas, prairie dogs and the small insect rooms were among the other favorites.  We missed the whole section with lions, giraffe, etc.  So we will have to come again.

Costs: The zoo had plenty of options to see things the were free. That being said there were several things we wanted to see that you had to pay to get into. The kids were very excited about the children’s zoo with animals to pet and otters.  It was $4 a person and I would’ve paid it normally, but we had a few  more venues we wanted to hit, so we passed… this time.  There was also a sea lion show, wild west outpost (discovery room) and sting ray encounter for $4 to see.   The carousel, railroad, safari adventure, and theater we other pay-for attractions. We opted to see everything we desired for free and then move on, vowing to try it out again another day.  We still missed 2 HUGE sections of the zoo after 3 hours of animal viewing.

Food: Outside food and drinks (including coolers) are permitted inside the zoo.  If we would’ve been more prepared we could’ve eaten and stayed longer, but we needed a food break and recharge, so we headed out.

TIP: A Souvenir cup of soda costs $10.99.  Outrageous! but after you buy it you can get a soda refill for $1 and water at any of the concession stands for free.   Refilling with slushie was $2.50  We kept our kids hydrated in the hot temperature, so it was worth it to get refills constantly.

This will definitely be getting another visit from us!  Thanks City of St. Louis for offering such an amazing FREE zoo!

St Louis Zoo Homepage

Succeed sightseeing with your youngsters

Bolzano - Main PlazaLast year we had the opportunity to take my 7-year-old son to Italy.  I was excited to show my son a piece of the world outside of the US, but nervous.  He can be a ball-of-energy and hard to reign in.  Travel with him is sometimes difficult because he wanders and is impatient  with waiting, delays or the unknown.  He is a picky eater and a complainer when he is tired (jet lag!!)  I was uncertain about so many things.  My husband and I don’t speak Italian and had never been to Italy so we weren’t sure what to expect ourselves, let alone with our son.

However, the trip went SO much better than anticipated and my son LOVED it. Our memories of this one-on-one trip with him are amazing.  I recommend taking a child with you whenever possible!   We still had plenty of couple time and relaxation without our littles around.  And my son passed on his love of Italy to his sisters and they are begging to go.

Here is how we prepared and what worked wonders with him.

Sleeping and Jet Lag

To help alleviate jet lag, and make sure your body will sleep when it is suppose to take Melatonin (Doctor approved for us!) Get up really early (5 am) the day you flying out, even it you don’t leave until the evening. On the plane take melatonin 30 mins before you want to sleep and try to lay down. Jackson Sleeping on way to VeniceMy son laid on the floor where there was white noise and darkness. Within an hour, he was asleep for the duration of the flight. When we touched down in Europe about 3 am our time, we woke him up and started going on our day. Stay up on the first day until it is night time where you are. Take melatonin every night (30 mins before you want to sleep) to help get to sleep quickly in unknown places and time zones.
They make Melatonin in gummys that taste delicious! My kids loved them, but BEWARE! My kids became monsters 30 mins after they took it because they got SO tired.

 

Camera

Venice - On the Water BusWe found our old point-and-shoot digital camera and gave it to him before the trip.  I wasn’t too worried about him losing it or breaking it since we hadn’t used it in several years.  The camera was essential in keeping my son engaged and looking.  I didn’t care how many pictures he took and what they were of.  It was very entertaining that he got pictures of several door knobs, garbage cans, flowers and every pet and seagull we saw.  While we were  looking up at the Roman Forum, he was taking a picture of the trap door we were standing on.  His perspective was blocked by tall adults so he noticed different things than we did and this

Pisa - Jackson & Jamie at the Leaning Tower
Funny pictures make site-seeing more enjoyable for kids

actually enhanced our site-seeing experience.  Every night as we talked about our day we would have Jackson show us his pictures and talk about his favorites.  His pictures were HIS and what he saw and focused on.  This helped us to relate to him better and for him to communicate to us what he liked better.

 

Side note:  We thought we would get better pictures of us as a couple since Jackson had a camera, but we mostly just got shots of us and sky in the background.  Or with Dads head cut off. so have a stranger take your picture if you want a good one!

Renting a car vs. public transportation

Bolzano - Overlook Drive (1)We debated this for quite a while because we were only doing a one way trip (expensive for a rental) and the train system in Italy is really good.  But I am so glad we opted for our own car.  Having a car gave Jackson the down time he needed and gave us the freedom to come and go at our leisure.  We probably paid more for the car/parking/tolls (and parking tickets!) and gas than a train pass would’ve been, but we also go to see and experience more of what we wanted when we wanted it.  I noticed that when we got in the car it was like a traveling home for us.  Jackson could be louder and get down time playing with his toys, books, souvenirs, etc.  It gave us time to re-group and plan our next step.  It was a perfect way to break up the site-seeing and being in public with some relaxation time without us feeling like we were wasting precious time in a foreign country.  My husband and I could continue to site-see from the car and my son could take a break.

“Treat” budget

Florence - Gelato ChoicesWe budgeted $50-$100 for gelato.  Typically, we try to save money on food and especially unhealthy foods, but in this case it was worth it!  We knew our son would look forward to ice cream!  We made a goal with him to try as many flavors as we could (and we wrote them all down in his travel book with a rating next to it).  This helped us to motivate him to hike faster, walk further, count a certain number of statues seen or steps cliRome - Gelato with the Covingtonsmbed, etc.  It kept him engaged and he didn’t even notice feeling weary when he was licking a gelato.  Whatever your vacation provides that your child will enjoy, plan on splurging a little to make a better experience for them.

Our friends who lived outside the main city of Rome, showed us that we were paying triple the price for gelatos than what they pay at their corner market.  But convenience is worth the cost, unless
we could bribe Jackson to wait until we got home.

51xUsnZz9WL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_Tourist guide book

I found a travel book for our trip just for kids.  It had bits of historical information, things to find at each site, some Italian phrases, and some games. Jackson loved looking at his travel book in the car before and after sites.  He especially loved trying out the Italian.

Diary

At the end of every day we would glue in our ticket stubs (yep I brought a glue stick for him), rate things we ate, and write a bit about our day.  We bought a journal to help guide our thinking about the events and give my son space to write, but I bet you could make a little journal yourself.  I liked helping my son go over each day and all the things we did and saw.  In one day of sight-seeing there is more to remember than a month of the mundane!

Scooter

The people we were staying with in Rome lent us a scooter for our days there.  This was such a blessing for us.  It folded up and had a strap so we could carry it if needed.  There were a couple times we couldn’t take it in places and so we found a locker for it or had to stash it in a bush and hope it was there when we returned (it was both times!) Jackson absolutely loved it.  He lasted for 10 hours through the city of Rome.  I think we walked 8 miles or more and he just kept on scooting!  He was so entertained and we were able to see all the things we wanted without hearing a minute of complaint.  We actually wore out before he did!

Rome - Riding a Bike in the Villa Bourghese
See a site in a different mode of transportation to rest weary muscles or feet

Listening entertainment

My son doesn’t love movies and after several on the plane, I didn’t want him to overdose on screen time.  I filled an old ipod with audio books, kid-friendly comedians (Jim Gaffigan, Brian Reagan, Bill Cosby) and music he would enjoy.  Sometimes he listened with headphones on his own and sometimes we plugged it in to the car speaker and all got a laugh.  We had to set some rules for when he could listen because he kept wanting to listen as we saw sites (which meant he wasn’t looking and would wander off).  Once the newness of having his own ipod wore off it worked wonderfully!

Hotel fun Bolzano - Swimming Pool in the 4 Peak HotelOur first hotel had a pool on the roof top!  Unfortunately, we didn’t figure this out until after we checked out (but we went back to swim and enjoy the view of the alps for a bit).  Make sure you check your hotel amenities first!  We had to wait a couple of hours for dad to work and wish we could’ve gone swimming to pass the time.

Our next hotel was built on the cliffs ofCinque Terra - Hotel on the Cliff (2) the Mediterranean Sea which was amazing for us, but it also had a pingpong table, game room, outdoor playset, etc.  We didn’t schedule enough time to play on it so we had to take a stop after we were done with our site-seeing so Jackson could get enough play time.   Finding hotels that offered something for him was not on purpose, but it added fun and excitement for his trip.

Our next hotel had a queen bed and a single bed.  I don’t think American hotels offer this, but a triple room was so perfect for us!

Finally, we stayed with a friend that had a yard for soccer and a boy his age with a few toys to play with.

Souvenirs

When we encountered our first souvenir stand, I realized that Jackson wanted to buy EVERYTHING!  My husband and I collect magnets so we usually don’t waste a ton of money on souvenirs.  We quickly set a standard for him.  He could get one postcard from each place we went.  He could buy something for under $10 for each sister and find something for himself he could buy at the end of our trip.  We helped him figure out the currency rate so he knew how much things cost(Mathematical application anyone?).  He also helped us pick which magnets.  This gave him something to look at without constantly begging for more things.  We also bought shirts for all the kids.

Humanitarian We gave Jackson a handful of coins to pass out to the homeless in the city.  This really helped Jackson to look around and see people and their situations.  He had the opportunity to interact as he gave a few coins to each person.

Venice - Dipping Feet in the Grand Canal
Dipping our toes in the Canals of Venice.  Say yes, if you can to kids requests.

Make it a game  We counted steps,skipped stones, threw pennies in fountains, named statues, found differences in churches and tried to turn everything into a game for Jackson.  My husband is great at coming up with ways to engage him in what we want to do. Rome - Exhausted Jackson

My son was exhausted after the Vatican museum.  In this photo we are waiting in line to hike up to the top of Peter’s Basilica.  I never thought he would make it, but dad made up a game and Jackson made it up to the top by counting each step to see if it was more than the last building we climbed (971 steps.)

 

Rome - Jackson Climbing the Basillica
Counting steps at the top of the Basilica
Rome - Jackson at the Colosseum (1)
We told stories of what might have happened at each of the ruins to help him to get a picture in his mind.  Here he is being a gladiator.

Photo Journal after the trip When we got home I compiled all of his photos (and mixed in some of ours) into a book.  You can make them on Shutterfly, Arts Cow, Snapfish.  He loved showing his book to anyone who would look and this made the trip last longer than a week.

Cinque Terra - 1st City - Winding down to the Train

Food Jackson is pretty picky eater, but I felt like Italy was a great introduction since we could find pasta and pizza anywhere.  Your vacation may be a bit more challenging.  I kept snacks (especially with protein) on hand.  Travel packets of peanut butter, granola bars, apples, raisins, beef jerky, trail mix, or crackers are perfect to fill a belly when a meal isn’t coming soon.

One of our first stops was a grocery store, which was fun to see the differences from America.  We let Jackson pick some snacks he’d like and picked up a flat of water so we’d never be thirsty the rest of the trip.

 

Club at PHL (2)
A LONG layover can be fun when you find a playplace and get ‘free’ food at the airport club.

Rome - Pringles Goooooaaaalllll

 

We had an amazing trip thanks to these tips and ideas.  What else do you do for your little ones on sight-seeing trips?

Venice - Jackson Eating Pasta
Finding food he likes!!

Junior Ranger Programs at National Parks

Leaving Phoenix - Carlsbad Caverns (10)
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

 

We LOVE national parks.  We have never been disappointed in our visits to these spectacular pieces of our country.  They are well-preserved natural habitats.  The cost to get into the park are a small fraction of the amount of things to do and see and experience.  It is well worth the money!

At EVERY major national park, there is a Junior Ranger program for the kids to complete Usually it is free, although we did have to pay a couple of bucks for one at the Smokey’s because there was not park entrance fee.  There are usually 2 different programs, one for readers (6 yrsold-12) and one for younger children.

Tennessee - Jackson takes a photo of black bearTaking a picture of a bear for his Junior Ranger Program.Our first stop at a National Park is always a visitors center.  We watch a movie, see some of the displays, grab a map, talk to the rangers about kid-friendly outings or any info we need to know and then ask for a Junior Ranger Program.  The kids work on these activities in the car and on our outings.  On our way out of the park, they like to return to any visitors center, show the activities they’ve completed and be ‘sworn in’ as a junior ranger to get their ranger badge.

Olympic Nation Park - Under the Tree
Olympic National park

 

 

IMG_1676
Getting Sworn in at the Everglades National Park, Hats and all!

They are all specific to the things they will be seeing in that park and have pictures, puzzles, games and kid-friendly information.  I feel like these are most secretive than they should be!   You always have to ask for them and the rangers are usually like, “Oh yeah!  Those!”  why don’t they just have them out to take?  Anyway, my mission is to get the word out to our junior members of society to make our trips to National parks more meaningful and memorable!

 

Maine - Hallie & Jackson in the Forest
Acadia National Park Junior Rangers
Hawaii - Family at the Lava Tube (2)
Hawaii Volcano National Park Junior Rangers

 

The Folly of Flying by the Seat of our Pants

Most of the time, I love last minute planning and ‘on-the-fly’ adventure travel.  Usually, we find awesome places to see and things to do.  When we finish a trip, I frequently say that deciding on-thespotmade the trip better than pre-planning it.  However, our most recent trip showed us the disadvantages of not planning, preparing and researching carefully for a trip.IMG_1685

As we drove toward the ocean, swimsuits on and ready to rock the waves,  I looked up family-friendly beaches in Miami. I had heard that some beaches that were nude, gay, party  beaches, etc.  So I thought I would make sure it was family friendly.  Those 2 words should do the trick, right?

South Beach came up as the most popular IMG_1686beach; NOT to be missed.  I also read about a little park, Lummox park, on 12th street and Ocean, that is a great place for kids to play around.  Seemed like a no-brainer.  My husband dropped the kids and I off at the park.  I sun-screened everyone while they played and he parked the car.  Together, we went right behind the park to the ocean.

All the ingredients for a successful day on the beach were present.  Hot sun…check; rolling waves… check; warm water….check; gorgeous, clean sand…. check;

We were absorbed in keeping our family together and finding a quick place to plant our stuff so we didn’t have to roll the stroller through sand any longer than absolutely necessary.

IMG_1683We plopped down, spread out our stuff and the kids and I ran to the ocean as fast as we could.  Dave was occupied getting Whitney to stop crying and go to sleep despite the heat and sun.  It was a moment of chaos for our family.  And thus, we were completely oblivious to those around us.

When things finally calmed down and we looked around, we piece-by-piece discovered that we had unknowingly stumbled on to the gay-est beach in town.   To our left, there were hundreds and hundreds of male couples sunbathing in speedos and short-shorts.  To our right, lesbian couples tanned.  The four lesbians right next to us (like 5 feet away) were sunbathing topless facing up. There wasn’t a child to be seen for miles.  Men in skimpy swimwear showing tanned skin and feminine walk, chatted gayly (and I mean that in the happiest way).   Women in thong bikini bottoms (*and by bottoms, I mean they didn’t actually have a bottom) caressed their partners.

We slowly realized that we had just planted our family in the middle of people who were not wanting to see a big Mormon-family with tons of kids running around.  We felt so out-of-place with our 4 kids, a baby, our white un-toned bodies, my one-piece workout swimsuit and missionary hair-cuts.   While those around us were lathering their bronzed bodies with bathing oils and donning the latest fashion sunglasses, we were sun-screening around hand-me-down stretched-out kid’s suits in the shade of our just given-to-us-umbrella.  The closest I came to fitting in was when I breastfed– without my cover on!  While we were not exactly shunned,  several couples obviously picked up their stuff and moved 20 feet down the beach, away from our noisy children.  We realized we were in the minority (or rather the ONLY) and felt very uncomfortable.   But, because we only had an hour before we had to head out to the airport, we just stayed put and tried to enjoy the beach despite our obvious differences.

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See the wide space we were given on a crowded beach?  How nice, right?

True to form, and much to our chagrin on every other part of our trip, our kids were oblivious to the people around them.  They didn’t seem to notice anyone or anything except the waves, water, sand and toys.  They didn’t miss having other kids to frolic in the waves with (but did miss the same-gender couples making out in the ocean because I started a seaweed war to distract them).   My 4-year-old did beg to take her swimsuit top off, but as far as I could tell, that’s all they noticed.

As we left the beach, we were still wondering if it was, in fact, a gay beach or a special event or WHY there were so many in that area.  We then noticed the rainbow flags flying loud and clear and soon learned via google that 12th street beach is the #1 Gay beach in Florida (and has been for 25 years).  So glad we didn’t miss it, LOL!

And someday we will tell our children the story of the day we took our family to the Gay Miami beach.

Air Travel Tips with an Infant

Today I was asked about advice for traveling with a baby.  Lucky for me, I’m leaving tomorrow with my 3-month-old (and my older kids) so I am prepared for this.

My first piece of advice is always, RELAX!!  Travel with babies is great because:

  1. They sleep SO much!
  2. White noise on planes and in cars is amazing for them
  3. They don’t need toys to entertain them (mine currently stares at her hands for hours a day)
  4. People love to see little babies and will be very forgiving of any cries because they are so young and innocent and their wails are adorable.

So breathe!  This will go better than you expect.  (**If you are nursing you NEED to relax because your anxieties will transfer to your baby through you milk and cause upset stomachs, etc, so RELAX for the sake of the baby!)

Packing:

Pack 2-3 outfits per day, 8-10 diapers and 3 bibs/burp clothes and lots of wipes. If you are going for a week or so, buy a pack of diapers and wipes once you get there so you don’t have to pack them all.

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Packing baby clothes
Always carry plastic or ziplock bags to put soiled clothing into.  You can pack babies new oufits into ziplocks and put the old ones in the sack.  Inevitably, the biggest blow out/spit-up you’ve ever seen WILL happen on this trip, so be prepared and when it comes, say “Yep!  This is it! I’m ready for this!”  It may be a good idea to use old bibs/onsies that you can just trash once their purpose is fulfilled.

You may want to skip the bows, shoes, and accessories, especially for the traveling part.  Anything extra  gets in the way and becomes another item to hold, drop and lose.  Try to simplify as much as possible.

My third baby LOVED her binky.  So I needed it handy ALWAYS.  It was so hard to have it dropping out of her mouth and rolling down the plane as we took off, so always have 3-4 extra in an EASY -to-access location.  I love this little binky holder, just so it stays clean and easy to find in a diaper bag or backpack. I also recently found a binky clip (why did it take me so long to discover this!!) which is a lifesaver for binky lovers!

 

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Binky holder for easy access
My favorite nursing cover slips over my head and covers everything.  This is so convenient for that moment when I’m sitting next to a 20-year-old-never-wants-kids male and I’m suppose to feed my baby.  It also doubles as a carseat cover for blocking out the light and wind later on the trip.

My babies this young didn’t take bottles, but if yours does bring travel size packs of formula and several empty bottles.  Fill with water after security or you are allowed to bring water through if you explain what it is for, you will have to be tested for explosives.  You can also ask the flight attendant for hot water (they have it for tea and coffee) and mix it with colder water to get the right temp.  You CAN take formula and milk through security, it just has to be tested for explosives, which means you have to open the bottle for a minute.  It can be messy.   Also, anything frozen can get through security without a problem so if the flight is long, freeze a bottle for later.

This formula container was perfect for ready measured portions easily dropped into bottles without a mess.

Airport travel tips:

Strollers and carseats DO NOT count as luggage on the major airlines.  You can check them for free.  So you can stroll right up to the gate and down the jet bridge before disassembling them to get on the plane.  UPDATE: Due to a few select parents, you are no longer allowed to push the stroller down the jetbridge, be prepared to haul baby and everything else you need on a plane all the way down the jet bridge. You will meet up with your stroller right as you get off the plane for easy transport.   They are a bit of work at security.

We travel stand-by so we never check bags in case we don’t make it.  So I have to push a stroller AND pull a carry-on at the same time and sometimes hold another kids hand.  Is your stroller friendly to one hand pushing?  I love a jogging stroller, but they do take a lot of space in a tiny rental car and may be ruined by the baggage handlers and the amount of movement, so you want to decide if you are ok with it possibly being beaten up.   I really love my snap-and-go for travel.  It is lightweight, easy to fold one-handed and perfect for transporting the baby in a car seat.  I also love stroller straps for easy access to the diaper bag.

At security you want to have a wrap/sling/backpack on.  Put the baby into the wrap and then you’ll be hands free to move luggage along, take shoes off, etc.  You are allowed to walk through security with a wrap on.  They will swab your hands for dangerous materials, but it is usually a quick process (do not apply lotions or sanitizer right before the check, they can flag the explosive category…don’t ask how I know, lol).  It is nice to have a wrap so there are options if baby isn’t liking the car seat.  I put my backpack in the stroller and push the luggage and carry the baby.

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The snap-n-go with a carseat cover on the beach.

On the plane:

  • If you are able to take your car seat on the plane (i.e. you bought a seat for the baby or were told that there is an empty seat next to you) I suggest you do it.  It is nice for the baby to sleep uninterrupted and for mom to get some hands-free time, if possible.  (not to mention it is safer than being held).  It is a bit awkward to get the carrier down the narrow aisle, so be prepared.
  • wear a wrap/sling.  You aren’t allowed to have the baby in the wrap on take off and landing, but it is great for hands free and keeping baby calm next to you.  Also, if you have to go to the bathroom a wrap is a must.
  • In my experience, little babies on planes don’t really need earplugs, but I always throw in a pack of silicone ear plugs in case the captain is that annoying loud-speaker-lovin guy that needs to remind you of the latitude and longitude of the flight every few minutes.
  • Make sure to put the diaper bag with all baby supplies as the bag under the seat in front of you.  You never know when you’ll need something or how long you’ll be stuck on the tarmac, unable to get up.
  • bring a plastic changing mat for when you need to change on your lap, or on the floor.  easy to clean. Use the vomit bags for soiled diaper disposal.
  • Have an extra outfit for yourself  in a carry-on in case of extra liquids coming from baby or spilled drinks.  Wear an easy-access nursing top, in tight quarters with a cover on it can get pretty tricky to get a good latch especially with a new baby.  IF the baby is crying you’ll want to be able to get set up quickly.
  • Extra ideas to pass the time:
    • lullabys,
    • bouncing,
    • shushing,
    • a swaddle,
    • nursing a lot,
    • kisses
    • tickles
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My first flight with baby #4 (3-week-old) my husband didn’t get a seat so I went alone at 10 pm.  You can do this!

I actually like time on the plane to ooh and ahh at my baby with no pressure or stress of getting anything else done.  Just enjoy snuggling!

P.S.  Many people wonder at the baby getting exposed to germs or sicknesses on a flight.  My 3rd and 4th babies took flights within 2 weeks of birth (both in the winter) and have never been sick in their first year of life.  Despite 70 flights for baby #3 in her first 9 months, she only had a mild cold once.   I’m not super germ-aware or concious of perfect cleanliness, but my kids survived with very little injury.  Every person is different and my family tends to have really great immune systems, so do whats best for your family and what your doctor recommends. However, we have never had any issues with traveling in enclosed spaces with large crowds and getting sicknesses.

Olympic National Park Highlights

Olympic National Park was absolutely incredible.  Perfect for the kids.  This park has a variety of things to see and experience.  We went from the sandy beach to the highest peak with an overlook of the mountain range.  Then two hours later we hiked in a rain forest to a waterfall.   I loved the mixture of water, overlooks and forest!  We came from a hot and humid summer in Texas it was hard to imagine anywhere being chilly, but we used our jackets everyday so bring some warm clothes!  There is only one main road around the outside of the park.  Most of the sights I describe here were 15 mins to 45 min  drive off the main road.  We started from the Seattle side of the park on the North and worked our way all the way around the park and back to Seattle.

Our family woke up in a hotel a few hours from the park, but since we were too tired for the pool last night we had to take a short morning dip and have the hotel breakfast (Free buffet breakfasts are always the highlight of my kid’s day).  We headed out for a day of driving and seeing.  We split up the trip so that we had a stop every couple of hours and it was a perfect itinerary!

Dungeness Spit

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This is not an actual part of the national park, but was so interesting and beautiful (once we found the correct location…don’t trust gps on this, navigate to Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge).  There is a $3 fee per party  to hike out to the Spit and we didn’t have cash (how do you go on vacation without cash you ask?  I don’t know, but somehow we survive every time).  We picked up an envelope and promised to send it later as we started hiking.  (To be honest, here was a moment one of the kids was throwing a tantrum and dad and the perp when back to the car while the rest of us meandered slowly waiting for them.  Travel with kids is tricky sometimes!)  We originally brought kites and we had to leave them behind.  This place is a refuge for animals so no playing allowed.  (There are great beaches to use kites later on so hold on to them! ) The hike was so beautiful.  The trail split into two trails: One is paved,wide and easy sloping, the other trail is a natural hiking trail, narrow and through more brushes.  The natural trail was longer in mileage, but still not very long.  We sent our slower 3-year-old with Daddy and Mommy hiked faster with the older kids and the little girl still beat us.  Once you get to the actual spit it extends 5 miles out into the ocean.  There is a great view from the end of the trail, along with binoculars to see the lighthouse near the end of the spit.  You have to hike down a fairly steep dirt hill to get to the spit.  Some people were walking further out, but we just got to the sand bar and started playing with the smooth stones, the driftwood and the sand.  It was really windy and cold, but there were places of refuge where we played with the kids and hid in driftwood ‘forts’.   It was quite a bit wider than I thought it would be, so its not like you could touch or see both sides of the ocean at the same time.  Our kids imagined and created with the rocks and driftwood for nearly and hour, while daddy skipped rocks into the ocean and I soaked in the relaxing sounds of the ocean and delightful giggles of my children.

Hurricane Ridge

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We stopped at a visitors center at the base of the ridge and got a Junior Ranger program as well as info about what we were going to see.  The drive up Hurricane Ridge was so foggy and it began raining.  I thought we were wasting our time driving, but my little one was napping (and even I grabbed a short nap) so I tried to be ok with driving through fog just for the sake of driving.  The older kids were listening to an audio book… car sanity saver!  However, as we continued to climb and climb we emerged on top of the fog and there was a spectacular view of many, many mountains and valleys and glaciers.  I was so happy that our 45 min drive was worth it.  The visitor center showed a short video about the area and had a topographical map showing us the different mountains we were looking at. The view from the lodge was spectacular.   Then behind the center we hiked to up a small hill (felt like a giant mountain with no oxygen).  My children wondered aloud if we would possibly see a deer just as we turned a corner to have a deer within feet of us crossing the path.

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This would not be the last deer (or elk) we saw and the kids were elated.  We reached the top of the ‘hill’ a bit out of breath, but in awe of the perspective and grandeur of it all.  Apparently, on clear days you can see out the the ocean, but our views were somewhat diminished by the lower fog.   We encountered a marmot (thank you visitor-center-movie for teaching us what a marmot is) on our path and saw several more deer, squirrels and birds.  As we drove down the ridge, I thought surely the fog had lifted since we had such great views, but it was still waiting for us as we dropped down in elevation.

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Lake Crescent

Olympic Nation Park - Cresent LakeThis was right along the road we were traveling so we just stopped and jumped out of the car, dipped our toes in and took in the views.  Traveling right along the shore gave us many amazing views.

Sol Duc Waterfalls

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It was getting late as we arrived, so we opted to hike to the falls and not to soak in the water at the little resort.  It was $14($10 for kids)  to swim (although we were late enough to get twilight $10 for 2 hours).   It looked less glamourous and more like a dirty swimming pool than the website would have you believe.  Still, I wish we could’ve experienced it.  Despite being late and tired, our kids did great on the hike.  They got into their own little world playing with each other and walked along with no complaints.  The falls were pretty.  It was beginning to get dark so we were rushing to get back to the car, but also didn’t want to ruin the magic of kids enjoying themselves in the wild outdoors.

City of Forks

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Made famous by the vampire series, Twilight, this little sleepy town was just as written about.   I loved exploring a little.   We found a 2 bedroom motel (6 beds!) and our kids immediately went into the second room, closed the door and got some alone time without mom and dad.  I ran to the store for dinner.  The kitchenette was great for any cooking we needed to do.  Sometimes eating out is such a hassle and it is nice to eat in a place where we can be comfortable (not to mention the cost effectiveness). Breakfast was also from the local grocery store and we got some of the best donuts I’ve ever had!  I we discovered that our kids love the hard boiled eggs you can buy at the deli.

Olympic Nation Park - Hotel in Forks

Hoh Rainforest 

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Our first stop the next day was the rainforest.  We had a taste of the moss hiking last nights, but this rainforest was even more covered than Sol Duc.  This is the only rainforest in the continental US.  Weve been to the other rain forests (Hawaii) but this was so different and interesting.  We hiked the Hall of Mosses.  It was a quiet and dense feel.  The sun was almost completely hidden.  The trees were huge with many logs to crawl into or on tops of.

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Ruby beach  

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We ate lunch on the shore as we flew kites, dug in the sand and played with smooth, round stones.  The views here were incredible.  (Have I mentioned that I was 5 months pregnant on this trip? My energy was low and I relaxed and  took in the view as often as possible.  My husband did more playing around with the kids). This beach had big boulders in the ocean that gave this such a unique beach feel.

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Lake Quinault 

Olympic Nation Park - Hiking in the Forest.JPGOur last stop was a little hike around Lake Quinault.  The map was a little hard to decipher and I’m still not exactly sure where we hiked, but it was beautiful and enjoyable.  Olympic Nation Park - Kids in the Hollow Log.JPGWe spent another few moments soaking in the crystal waters with the giant mountains surrounding it before calling it a great trip and heading to the airport back in Seattle.

 

The thing that stood out to me in this park was it VARIETY.  Every stop was something new and different and we never got ‘bored’ of too much of the same sights.  This National park is worth getting to!