Sunday, August 30, 2015

Traveling With Kids - How I pack just enough

In real life, I've been called a pack rat.  I tend to hold on to items I don't currently need but feel I may need in the future. Like those beat up heeled dress boots that are too shabby for the office but were perfectly awesome for traversing through salty slush back in the winter when I needed nice boots for Rich's work dinner.  It was night, the restaurant was dark and no one could view the heels that had seen brighter, better days.  Even if they could have seen the heels, they would have been covered in that salty residue that lives on the winter shoes of all Northerners. 

This tendency to accumulate (unnecessary) items can easily bleed into packing but it's offset with my practicality and low maintenance attitude when it comes to travel.  Before I had kids, I was a slight over-packer, most definitely when it came to road trips.  Think about how easy it is to keep tossing items into the car, knowing that you won't have to deal with checked baggage.  When my friend, C, and I went to Maui in 1999, we had so much luggage we were barely able to move it ourselves.  And that was for a week's vacation.  (Life is completely different when you're single and childless.)  For this most recent road trip to Michigan, I wanted to pack on the lighter side.  I hate having the back of the van jam packed, crap falling out every time we open the door to retrieve something.

Example of items waiting to fall out.

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(Picture from 2012 Disney road trip)

I also dreamed of bringing the girls' bikes with us.  As in, cram the bikes in the back space.  There's a small park with a paved pathway near my grandparents' house and I thought daily bike rides would be a good way to burn off some energy.  Rich disagreed and to be practical, I finally relented.  We weren't going to be there long enough to warrant the transport of three bikes.

For the Michigan trip, which was a week long, I was able to fit all of my clothes and shoes in a carry-on size suitcase.  All of the girls' clothes and shoes were packed into a slighter (by only a few inches) larger suitcase.  I also have a small case ( 8x8x11) that I use to carry all of our toiletries and hair supplies.

Here's what I packed for each of the girls:
  • One outfit for each day - a pair of shorts and a summer top
  • Two summer dress - sometimes they like to change if we are going out to dinner
  • A pair of pants - in case we encountered a chilly night
  • One bathing suit 
  • Two pairs of pajamas
  • A hoodie for chilly restaurants - we left these in the van

We also followed the three shoe rule.  I read this in a travel/packing article and it makes sense.  Basically, there's no need to pack more than three pairs of shoes.  Here's what the girls and I packed:
  • A pair of sneakers
  • A pair of flip flops
  • A pair of sandals  

Road Trip Hotel Bag - I came up with this idea before one of our road trips to Disney.  When you're on the road and you know you'll be stopping overnight to sleep in a hotel, pack pajamas and your clothes for the next day in a smaller bag (the girls and I share) so that you don't have to lug multiple heavy suitcases in and out of the hotel.  It makes unloading and loading soooo much easier.  We used the hotel bag for this road trip too and it made life a little bit easier.  

Laundry - Okay, so here are my thoughts on laundry while on vacation.  Working full time, laundry is a huge headache for me.  It's really hard to run loads during the week so I end up cramming in all laundry over the weekends.  So I'm not a fan of laundry and because I'm not a fan of laundry, I have absolutely no desire to do any while I'm on vacation.  Sure, we could have packed half as much and then used the washer and dryer at my grandparents' house but really, why would I want to do that??    

Kids' Stuff - The girls are responsible for packing their entertainment/buddy bags.  They pack any stuffed animals they want to bring, book(s) to read and their iPods in one bag that they can carry.

They use these bags that Grammy gave them.
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(Picture also from 2012 Disney road trip.)  (Side note - I can't believe that was three years ago and how much my babies have grown!!) 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

This and That

In less than a week, we'll officially have three third graders on our hands.  How did that happen?  We've perused the class lists and I think it's safe to say that the girls know at least half of the kids in their rooms.  Allie and Emily were bummed that their BFFs ended up in different classrooms but there's always next year and we can have play dates for now.  

Unlike last year, I was not able to avoid back to school shopping.  The girls still had and were wearing pants from the first grade.  Because they're so skinny, it's hard to find pants that fit properly.  They prefer the comfort of leggings and jeggings and so that's how we roll.  Plus, those seem to fit better.  We're up to size 6 pants now.  They are sort of between sizes at Gymboree and Children's Place.  Size 5/6 is a perfect fit but size 7/8 is huge.  The sizing of dresses at Gymboree is a bit better and we've been able to go with a 7.

When we were in Michigan, I had a conversation with my family regarding the Failure To Thrive Generation, which is what my kids are in.  Rich and I come from the You Eat Whatever Is Being Served Or You Don't Eat generation.  There were no choices or negotiations or snacks if you didn't eat enough with your meal.  Anna has been hovering at just over 40 pounds for a year now and was previously diagnosed as failure to thrive.  Allie and Emily are only a few pounds more so we do have to offer choices.  The girls are fairly adventuresome when it comes to trying food now.  That doesn't mean that they'll like it but they will try anything.  Sometimes they take the vegetarian route, which is interesting because I often do the same.  And sometimes they have atypical kid meal requests like a caesar salad with chicken.

I've picked up running yet again.  I always tell myself that the first mile is the hardest and that it will get easier after that.  Well, the second mile usually seems harder.  This is the worse shape I've ever been in and I hate not being comfortable in my own skin.  It's difficult juggling full time work and everything that goes along with three kids.  Sometimes I'm just so exhausted and have absolutely no energy for running.  Plus, I'm old and everything's all creaky.  I'm less than two weeks into this and I've already hurt myself twice.

Huge news - Anna can do a pullover on the gymnastics bar.  Allie was actually a really good coach too, walking Anna through how to hold herself and describing what her body should be doing.  

I never thought Lensbaby fit my type of photography style but I have to say that I'm totally intrigued by the new Lensbaby Velvet 56.  Not so much that I'm willing to drop $500 on one but still, would love to try it out.

Because items belonging to me sometimes disappear into thin air (like the zipper foot to my sewing machine), I am currently unable to move photos from my camera to my laptop and it's making me itchy.  Very itchy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Niagara Falls

We originally thought of spending two nights here which would have given us a full day for exploration.  A week before we left for Michigan, we cut it down to one night after Rich thought it would be nice to have a full weekend at home prior to returning to work.  I had some major sleep issues on vacation, mostly really light sleeping with some insomnia episodes so I was pretty happy to have a full two days to recover before dragging myself into the office.  Let's just say that that Monday morning was a tough one.

We didn't plan anything but to see the falls from the walkway and potentially go up in the Skylon Tower.  We didn't end up going to the Skylon because we had the view from our room.  Emily was the most bummed about that but I told the girls we would definitely do it the next time.  And there will be a next time.  The boat rides looked like they could either be an interesting experience or a harrowing experience so that's a a future maybe.

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The girls and I laughed forever over the potato chip bag photo bomb.

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Night fall

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And then it was the blue hour.

The next morning . . .

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

A room with a view

The first leg of our journey home was the easier one - Michigan to Niagara Falls - approximately 230 miles.

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(When I think of this trip, I'll always remember Carebear (aka Catie, real name Catherine.)  She's only 8 months old but she can talk.  Oh, can she talk.  The letter S is a tough one for her though.  She begins every conversation with "Accue me" which is baby bear speak for 'excuse me.'  Carebear and Biggie were having some sort of disagreement somewhere in Canada and Grammy commented that she doesn't know why the girls are mean when they are role playing.  Anna's response - "Well, Allie's bear is being kind of annoying.")

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We left about ten minutes before 9:00 that morning, stopped once for lunch and bathrooms and arrived at Niagara Falls (yes, the Canadian side) at 1:45.  I don't think I've ever had as much trouble deciding upon a hotel as I did for that overnight stay.  There were just too many options.  My usual vacation planning routine is to check out ratings on tripadvisor and after weeding out the too expensive options, it's pretty easy to find a hotel or two that fits what we are looking for.  We knew we wanted a view of the falls and I ultimately decided to go with the Radisson.  I was texting the info to Rich when I came across room view pictures taken by guests on tripadvisor.  Very handy feature to have as we all know the hotel photos are going to be shown from the most favorable perspective.  The guest pictures showed the Horseshoe Falls but the view immediately after was blocked by another building.  I pulled up a map and found out that the building I was seeing in the photos was the Marriott Fallsview.  Rooms at the Marriott facing the falls on the lower level floors are less expensive but by the time we made our reservation, all of those rooms were booked so we went with the superior view.

We were all pretty happy with this Marriott - views, location, service, etc.  Our only complaint comes from the thin walls and noise, which I almost expect in hotels now.  The guests next to us showered as we were going to bed and it sounded like they were showering in our room.  Plus, guests were coming and going so there was the noise from the hallway. I really don't care that you're going to have to order the $10 appetizer from room service.  Oh, another thing to keep in mind is that most hotels in that area, as with all hotels in tourist spots, charge extra for parking and wi-fi.

On the positive side, we arrived at the hotel well before the check-in time and were pleasantly surprised to find that our rooms were ready and even though Rich had forgotten to request connecting rooms (we had two rooms for the six of us), they had connected the rooms anyway.

I want to start with the best room view picture but note that this wasn't taken until later in the day.

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17th floor!

When we first arrived in our rooms, it was overcast and a bit grey.  Because we were only going to be there for one night, I kept hoping it wouldn't rain.  Thankfully, it cleared!

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Almost looks like a b&w.

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Starting to clear up.

After getting settled in our rooms, we obviously headed out to view the falls.  What else would one do?  The visitor center was right down below our room and we could see a walkway coming out of the back of our hotel, going over the street below.  This lead to the Falls Incline Railway, which I thought was a bit pricey.  Can someone please put in some stairs?  We were told that this was the only way down to the falls but that wasn't exactly true.  We could have walked down a road that eventually meets up with the road running parallel to the river.  Kind of a moot point as all of that walking would have been tough for Anna.  Falls Incline Railway it was.

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~More to come~

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stony Creek

We wanted to plan a nature outing during our visit to Michigan and because my family isn't too far from Lake St. Clair, my research started there.  Unfortunately, at the time of my research a few weeks prior to our vacation, a swimming ban was in place due to the high E.coli count.  Ewwwww.  My uncle (and a coworker from MI) recommended Stony Creek.  How did I not know about this place?  It was only ten minutes from my grandparents' house and our hotel and was awesome.  I wish I had someplace like this near my house.  Forget the lake - I was drooling over the miles of paved biking/running paths.  My dream!

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The sunglasses.

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We spent a few hours enjoying the playground and lake.  This was the coolest day of our vacation so the kids were a bit blue after swimming.  We then returned to my grandparents' house for dinner and our last visit for this trip as we were heading out early the next morning.

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One night earlier in the week, there was a family photo shoot.  I still need to go through all the photos (the four generation ones with me need a bit of help) but this is the stand out photo from the shoot.

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My Mamaw (84 years old) and Papaw (90 years old.)  Papaw has Alzheimer's and still lives at home with Mamaw caring for him.  She's on call 24 hours a day.  I'm amazed by all she does.  He no longer remembers her name or that she is his wife but he knows that she is his caregiver and he always wants to be by her side.  Except when he's trying to sneak out of the house.  We learned a lot that week but there were more questions than answers.