Traveling with Kids: You Can Do It!

With a little preparation (and a good attitude) anyone can enjoy a family vacation, even with lots of little kids!

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This year my awesome mother-in-law suggested we all fly to Montana to visit Luke’s oldest sister and have a nice, cold, festive Thanksgiving! We said yes, of course, and the kids were brimming with excitement for weeks!

I, on the other hand, began to feel the vague misgivings of a potential looming disaster.  To say I felt uneasy about the logistics of getting 7 kids through airport security and a flight without meltdowns would be putting it lightly.  Also, I was 7 months pregnant.  You understand my hesitation.

In the end, the flight TO Montana was a dream; everyone was so excited, they were angels!  The flight back was, ah, well…not as successful.  I mentioned to Luke afterwards that overall I’d describe that second flight as “less than painful than 2 root canals”, and he agreed.   Take that as you will.

I wanted to share some of my favorite tips for surviving travel with the whole family!  Or even just a handful of the family.  Or even just ONE tyrannic toddler.  Read on for some ideas that really can make or break the trip…

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  1. If staying in a hotel or rental property (vs. staying with relatives) pack toys, food and baby feeding supplies.My big kids love a pack of cards or some books; a couple of action figures, pocket-sized dolls or matchbox cars work well for the younger crowd.   We prefer to stay in rooms with a kitchenette if possible and always buy some snacks and cereal to tide kids over between meals.  Make feeding time for the baby or toddler easier by packing the special spoons, sippy cups and bibs that you usually use at home.  And check out this portable booster seat!  Genius.
  2. Make sure you’ll have everything necessary to keep the littles happy at bedtime: a portable crib, pacifier(s!), favorite blanket and white noise machine (we love this one but sometimes even use a white noise app on our phones!) are our favorite tools for a peaceful nighttime routine, even in a strange place.  Think about your own child’s evening habits and make sure you can replicate them as closely as possible while on vacation.Finding a dark, quiet place for a baby or toddler to sleep can be the trickiest step.  My ideal place to set up a portable crib is in a large walk-in closet!  I’ve also had success putting a crib between the decorative and blackout layers of curtains in a hotel room, shielding baby from both the morning sun and the TV or hotel room lights.  I even once put a infant to sleep on a thick blanket in an empty bathtub!  We turned on the bathroom exhaust fan and closed the door and she slept like a dream.  (This only works with very little babies who are non-mobile, obviously!)
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3.  Be sure to pack well for your children, without going overboard.  This can be hard to do but I generally pack something like this:
Kids ages 7+: 1 shirt, pair socks and pair underwear per day and 1 pair of pants for every other day
Kids ages 2-6: 1 full outfit (shirt, pants, socks, underwear) per day PLUS 1 extra outfit
Kids ages 2 and under: Same as above but bring TWO extra outfits

Obviously this can be adjusted depending on how long you stay, whether or not you have access to a washing machine and the likelihood of your children ruining outfits (muddy or snowy places, etc).  And don’t forget to pack each day’s clothes up together by taking everything your kid will need for 1 day and then rolling it all up tightly.   Then there’s no rummaging around suitcases looking for stuff!

4.  Lastly, if you’re going to be flying with your crew, don’t be tempted to overpack!  There are a few essentials you want to have with you, but the less crap you have to haul through security and 4 miles to your gate (which, when traveling with kids, will always be the furthest one possible, obviously) the better!

Here are my essentials: Drinks and snacks (especially if your airline doesn’t provide much, and nowadays most don’t!), a new toy, coloring book (with attached markers/crayons if possible!), movie or games on a device (don’t forget headphones and a splitter if needed), and a book for older children who can read.  My hands-down best trick for keeping kids happy this trip?  A giant bag of little suckers.  I’ve learned to let go of my control freakish tendencies when traveling and just give the kids whatever keeps them happy….within reason.
Also check out this post for my favorite household items to entertain squirmy toddlers on a plane!

Comment below with any other tried and true tips you have for making family vacay fun and easy!

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Highlights from France

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Hey all!  If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve been seeing some fun updates from our recent trip to France!  Now, before you wonder what sort of hateful person I’ve become, jet-setting off to Europe like a carefree DINK instead of wiping multiple poopy butts like I’m supposed to be doing, let me explain.

Luke’s dad’s company (where Luke works) is a travel agency for performance groups, so every other year, his dad puts together tours to some fun, historical and cultural locale (usually Europe) and invites friends and family to come along.  This may or may not have a little something to do with the timing of our children’s births (i.e. in the summer, on the off years).  Heh heh.

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We hit up Normandy and Omaha beach first…very moving being in the American cemetery there and a stop I highly recommend!

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A Day Around Town: East Valley Phoenix

Recently several friends have asked for eatery recommendations and things to do in my neck of the woods, so I’m sharing my favorite ways to kick it outside of my house (even though staying home with a passel of crazy little minions is my jam).

Phoenix is a great place to live!  We have lots of great sports teams (including Spring training for the Chicago Cubs), great weather (er, minus the heatwave in June-August), an amazing food scene and beautiful mountains and desert landscape.

The east valley (Mesa, Gilbert, Tempe and Chandler) is my favorite, though, because it’s where I live!  If you’re local or planning a visit, I hope this gives you some ideas.

FOOD

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Chelsea’s Kitchen – This is one of my favorite date night restaurants.  With a really simple but flavorful menu, I’m always thrilled with whatever I choose.  There’s usually a wait on weekends and other peak times, but the salted chocolate chip cookies they offer to those waiting for a table makes it well worth it!

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Sisters Trip to Sedona + tips for getting a baby to sleep in a hotel room!

 

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My amazing sister-in-law Xan and her family will soon be leaving Arizona and moving across the country.  She invited all her sisters and SIL’s to a quick trip to Sedona as a last hurrah before she moves away.  We just got back and had THE best time!

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Roughing It

 

 

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As a rule, Luke and I generally save our fun vacations and travels for the summers when we have a 1 year old rather than a new(ish) baby.  But this year, I let him convince me to make a couple exceptions.  It’s a rather arduous ordeal packing up 7 children to go anywhere other than the park together, hence my usual hesitation.  I’m happy to say that not only did we all survive, I actually enjoyed myself!

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How to entertain a toddler on a plane!

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A couple weeks ago I got to take a quick little trip to northern CA with Finn to visit my grandparents.  Not only had they never met Finn but my extended family was throwing a party for my Grandma’s 85th birthday so it was a perfect time to visit!

I was super jazzed to get my dose of fall colors, enjoy cooler weather and visit with family.  Oh, and only be in charge of one kid.

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This is one of my favorite special occasion cakes ever…soooo good!

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Classic grandparent shot 😉

I was less than thrilled, however, to handle an 18 month-old through airport security and keep him contained on my lap for the flight.  I brought a couple of toys for him but if you know toddlers, you know that they have the attention span of a gnat.

I had to get really creative and so I came up with a handful of games to play with him.  I also thought of some other great, common, household items that I’ll bring next time to help him stay focused on my lap (and not on running down the aisle during major turbulence).

Bonus: airplanes make lots of white noise so chances are good that no one will care how loud your baby gets while playing.  Anything other than ear-splitting screams is quite pleasant, actually.

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PACKING LIST:

Sharpie
small toy your child enjoys (i.e. doll or car)
popsicle stick 
masking or electrical tape (wound around the popsicle stick)
clothespin
string or twine
5-6 dry noodles with a hole through them (penne or macaroni work well)
pipe cleaner
1-2 plastic cups (or get them from the flight attendant)
balloon (in a light color, preferably)

Plastic baggy to hold everything

The list of games you can dream up with this great group of tools is nearly endless!  Desperation is the mother of invention so I’m sure any mother could come up with a dozen or so to keep baby occupied.  Here are some of my (and Finn’s!) favorites:

1.  Use the cup and small toy to play hide and seek.  Put the toy on your fold-down tray and then cover it up with an upside down cup.  Turn another empty cup upside down as well and move them around.  See if baby can remember which cup his toy is under!

2.  String the noodles onto the twine and make a necklace out of it.  See if baby can thread the noodles onto the pipe cleaner himself and then pull them off and let them drop into the cup.  Cover the opening of the cup with your hand and rattle the noodles around!

3.  Set up a little town (for a doll) or racetrack (for a car) on your tray.  Use tape and popsicle stick to make roads, stores, gas station and the cup as a garage or bed.  Get creative making accessories for the doll or ramps for the car!

4.  Shove a couple of noodles into the uninflated balloon and help baby do the same.  Then blow up the balloon a little bit (don’t tie it yet!) and rattle the noodles around.  Clip the balloon closed with the clothespin and show baby what happens when it’s released a little at a time.

5. Draw a face or other cartoons on the balloon and show baby how the pictures change when the balloon inflates.  When baby tires of this game, inflate the balloon all the way and tie it.  Let baby go crazy.

6. Wrap the tape around the cup and draw pictures or write messages to your baby.  Let him peel the tape off and stick it on his hands and face.

7.  Make a mummy out of the small toy with tape and let baby peel it all off.

8.  Tie the string onto the toy and hang it off your tray.  Make a game out of pretending to rescue the toy dangling from treacherous heights!

9.  Draw a face on the closed end of the clothespin and pretend to eat your baby with this “monster”.

10.  Pin the clothespin to your baby’s shirt and let him figure out how to get it off.  Teach him how to open and close it and clip it to the cup, noodle, pipe cleaner, etc.

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Hopefully this helps maintain some sanity during this season of holiday traveling.  Let me know what other game ideas you dream up!

Homeschool vs Hawaii

We had a fantastic summer of traveling this year.  I made the rash, irresponsible, more-than-partially-crazy, super exciting decision to take a road trip with my 6 kids by myself from Arizona through Vegas, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Washington…and then all the way back again.  3000 miles of screaming, road-side diaper changes, crumbs up to our shins and lots and lots of fun!  It was seriously my favorite road trip to date.  I obviously much prefer the job of driving with my headphones in to snack-passer-outer and baby-calmer.

Then Luke and I got to go to Ireland with a great group of family and friends.  After that, we took an “official” 10-year anniversary trip to Hawaii which was absolutely breathtaking.  Even better was the fact that most of the trip was free because Luke won a raffle through a business partner.  Yesssss.

So, I have these gorgeous pictures of Hawaii sitting around on my hard drive, just waiting to be shared and enjoyed.  But I’ve been slightly preoccupied with all the things and bodies that need me here at home.  I thought I’d put together a quick recap of home life, in relation to a tropical vacation getaway.

 

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I think you get the picture.

Reality is reeeeally cute, no doubt about that.  But messy.  And less… beachy.

In all seriousness, the summer of relaxation was just the thing to prep me for this year of homeschooling.  We’ve had a great start to the “school” year and just this week I found the most magnificent resource for any parent interested in their kids’ education.

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This homeschool summit put on by The Home Education Council of America is the coolest collection of webinars!  They’re airing 3 talks a day by prominent, amazing educators and leaders in the homeschool community.  You can watch them live or stream them for up to 48 hours after the live session.  It’s all month long, all online and it’s all FREE!

Seriously!  I’ve watched 3 of them already and they are chock full of incredible information for any parent wanting to be more involved in their kids’ educations.

Today, I listened to Andrew Pudewa talking about how the physiological differences between boys and girls are essential to address in the way we educate our kids.

Did you know that most boys can’t hear sounds as soft as most girls can?  Girls see colors and textures with more distinction and boys see direction and motion with more clarity.  Anyone noticed that their boys draw predominantly verbs (flying, shooting, running, fighting) and girls focus on nouns in their artwork (animals, people, houses)?  These were just a few of the amazing eye-opening ideas he talked about and there’s plenty more coming.

Good luck this year to all the parents out there who are trying to give their kids the best education they can, at home or at school.

I hope more moms and dads can take advantage of this great conference!

The Emerald Isle

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Luke smiles demurely at the site of some super cool ruins.   Hundreds of years ago, some Irish people used to protect themselves from invaders by building their own mini-islands.   One way to cross the lake to get there was by memorizing the location of underwater stepping stones and dancing your way across (ala El Macho and his lair in Despicable Me 2).

I’m officially adjusted to life back home now…although the transition was rough.  We’ve got another trip planned without kids in a couple days to celebrate our 10 years of marriage and this one’s gonna be a brute to come back from.  Hint: those pics are gonna have a lot more ocean in them…

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The flowers in Ireland were seriously to DIE for.  But then again, flowers in general are kind of a novelty once you’ve lived in the desert for 10 years.  What are these anyway, hydrangeas?  I only know that they made me infinitely dissatisfied with my palo verdes.

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We went on a little boat ride on Ireland’s only fjord (and you thought Frozen made those up) and it was spectacular!  Freezing, but spectacular.

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So, I’ve got this thing with old doors and gates.  They’re so fabulous, especially fancy European ones.  Luke made fun of me mercilessly on our first couple trips to Europe when I’d stop in front of every doorway I saw but he knows to keep quiet now.  Speaking of doorways, in Ireland, EVERY door is painted a crazy fun accent color.  They say it’s because when the queen died one year (while under British rule), the royals made everyone paint their door black in mourning.  Story goes, when the drunk Irish guys came home late at night to a string of townhouses all with black doors, none of them could tell which house was theirs.  So they began painting them all different vibrant hues.  Hehe.

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The main pedestrian shopping street in Galway.  It was our first place to spend the night and absolutely charming!

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Tell me I’m not the only person who acts like a child when there’s oodles of green grass around.  Am I right??  Anyone?  Buehler??

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At the top of Blarney Castle where we (disgustingly) kissed a stone (with our mouths) that millions of other people have kissed (with their mouths).  I thought it was supposed to bestow the gift of gab (which I already possess and therefore saw no need to participate) but when I learned it actually had the power to make one eloquent, (i.e. no foot in mouth syndrome) I happily queued up.

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This was where we had our farewell dinner (delicious) to traditional Irish music played by a local band (hilarious).  It was a load of knee-slapping fun.

In short, Ireland was considerably more awesome than I expected.  Gorgeous place to rent a car and just get lost.  In fact, doing that alone with my lovely husband is now on my bucket list.  Green and gorgeous is an apt description.  This was my first trip to a foreign country where the locals speak my language (Canada doesn’t count) and I loved it.  The accent is so freaking cute that I’m stymied as to how they’ve fought so many wars.  If some farmer tried to come at me with a pitchfork I’d just giggle and ask him to talk some more.

The food was amazing – surprisingly similar to American food and this was the first European country I’ve been to where the people’s body types are most like Americans (ahem, large).  Then again, considering how many Irish immigrated to America, it’s not really that surprising.  Thanks for the food legacy, Ireland!
(and the ghastly English spelling 🙂

Look Up

IMG_7839Westport House, Connemara, Ireland

I read this great little story in our church’s magazine the other day: A woman who had recently lost her daughter in an accident woke up early one day in an attempt to see a sunrise.  She and her husband were hoping that a glimpse of a beautiful sky would help lift their spirits and give them hope during their devastation.  They waited, facing east, yet as the sun rose, it failed to break through the clouds.  The woman felt disheartened and turned to go back inside when her husband said, “Look!”  She turned to see him facing west where they witnessed a gorgeous reflection of the sunrise in beautiful shades of pink (her daughter’s favorite color, btw).  She felt that God was sending her hope for the future and a reminder of His love.  She then went on to say this:

“I have thought often on that beautiful moment and the new perspective it gave me. Who looks for a sunrise in the west? And yet that is where my miracle was waiting. How many blessings and miracles do I miss because they come from unexpected places? How many times do I focus on what I think should be and miss the glory of what is?”

Whoa.  THAT was something I needed to hear.

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That saying was so good it needed a meme.  And I need a hobby, apparently.

While my anxiety over caring for 6 little ones is nothing compared to this woman’s tragedy, her words helped me recognize all the good that exists amidst the stresses of everyday life.

It seems every time I turn around, someone is telling me to “enjoy these years because you’ll miss them when those kids are gone!”  A saying which is most likely true, albeit not extremely helpful to hear as that frazzled mother in the checkout line with a kid screaming for a toy, another licking the shopping cart and a 3rd snorting stolen pixie sticks.

The fact is, however, that the very act of enjoying any stage of life usually means ignoring the messes and inconveniences that come with it all.  A bit of a catch-22, if you will, but pretty much applicable to anyone, anywhere.

Enjoying life = ignoring messes (literal and figurative)

IMG_7901The Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, Ireland – see all those teeny tiny people up there?  Adrenaline junkies.

One more story: yesterday, on the radio, the lead singer of a Christian band was talking about visiting Disneyland with his little nephew.  At one point, the kid threw a massive temper tantrum because his sister wouldn’t let him push the stroller.  The guy said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Here was my nephew, in the middle of the happiest place on earth, throwing a fit about something totally insignificant and I realized how often we do the same thing.  We focus so intently on the small problems that we forget to simply look up!  We’re surrounded by blessings and beauty and wonder, we just need to lift our eyes to see it.”

Right on, man.  Right on.

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Lest you forget my life is no longer all green grass and rainbows, here’s a shot of me “looking up” amidst the chaos and laundry.  Although I probably should eventually look down cause my kid’s not wearing a diaper here.

 

 

Top o’ the marning to yeh!

 

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Luke and I are spending the week in Ireland right now, enjoying time with some friends and family members who have traveled with us on previous trips to Europe.  What a treat to relax in the cool air while our poor children sweat to death at home in Phoenix!  Ha ha!  Poor fools.

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 Downtown abbey in the background (not really)

Green everywhere, gorgeous castles, beautiful music and surprisingly delicious food.  I haven’t experienced actual hunger in over 7 days now.

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Here are just a few of my favorite shots of this amazing Emerald Isle.

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Luke’s great-uncle Johnny celebrated his 88th birthday on this trip.  If I’m still hiking all over Europe when I turn 88 then I’m gonna be pretty danged pleased with myself.  He also uses his age as an excuse to get fresh with younger women.  Brilliant!

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Galway bay
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Luke being photobombed by SIL, Anna.  Ah, good times being had by all.
We’ve got 2 days left in Dublin before we board the plane back to reality.  Time to inhale all the chocolate croissants I can find.