My California Adventure

Last week I had an incredible adventure: my first solo-trip with both boys. We flew down to California for a week to visit family and some dear friends. It was both challenging (Just try spending a week sharing a tiny bedroom with a teething 8-month old and a rambunctious 2 year old. I dare you.) and incredibly touching. I got to see two friends with whom I’ve shared some of the biggest milestones in my life (even though we now live in 3 separate states), and I got to spend a whole week with my lovely sister and her family. In the middle of our trip we got word that we will officially be moving half-way around the world to Ireland in the next month or two. It was a beautiful, crazy week. Here are some of the highlights:

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We got to fly on an airplane. Both boys have been on planes before, but this was their first time flying together (and my first time flying alone with both of them). God must have heard my prayers because I was able to get a whole row to myself on both of our flights–even though the plane was supposed to be completely full. It was great to have an extra seat for Jacob so I could bring on his carseat and allow him to snooze a bit. David had fun eating sugary snacks that he doesn’t usually get to have (including a giant ring pop that took him almost an hour to consume), watching videos on my iPhone, throwing stickers at other passengers, and smiling at the cute flight attendant who brought him apple juice. Overall, the flights went really well and I think I could totally do it again.

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We went directly from the airport in Burbank to Ventura so we could meet up with my friends, Tammy and Krista, and their families. We all met a few years ago at our church and coincidentally all had our first sons within a few weeks of each other. Then, two years later, we all had our second sons within a couple of months of each other. Tammy now lives in Fargo, Krista now lives in Central California, and I live in Seattle. This was the first time that we all got to see each other with our youngest babies–it really was a dream come true for me!

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We spent the afternoon in Ventura picnicking, playing on the beach, and catching up.

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Even the babies had fun playing in the sun!

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After our beach time in Ventrua we headed back to my sister Erin’s house to unpack and get settled. That night we got a really special treat: my nephew Noah was having an art show at his preschool and we were invited! Here’s Noah showing us snail art in his classroom–the teacher put drops of food coloring on paper, then put snails on top of the paper. As they slid around the paper, they dragged the food coloring around to make a beautiful picture. I can see practical applications for this technique in Washington using slugs from my garden.

The next day we met up with Tammy and Krista again, this time in Santa Barbara. We went to the Santa Barbara Mission and spent the morning exploring their beautiful gardens.

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David learned not to hug a cactus.

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He also learned that good friends can help you feel better.

After we exhausted the boys’ patience looking at beautiful gardens and fascinating old relics at the mission, we went into town for some lunch and exploring. We ate lunch at Taqueria Super Rica (be sure to check it out if you’re ever in Santa Barbara) and walked around State Street looking at the shops. We also visited the courthouse (the rooftop has a wonderful observation deck) and found a fun park for the kids to burn off some energy in.

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Jacob and Calvin got to play in the swings. They both loved it! David spent about an hour (really) putting wood chips into a life-size plastic shark’s mouth. Then we snapped one last photo of us with our “6-pack” of boys:

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It was a magical two days with dear friends, a time I will treasure forever!

The rest of our week was spent with my sister, Erin, her husband, Toph (OK, his name is really Christopher, but we all call him Toph because my other sister–Erin’s twin–married another Christopher and it just all gets too confusing), and her 3 1/2 year old son Noah.

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David and Noah are buddies, and they got along great all week (despite a few spats over balls that David was, unexpectedly, quite possessive over). Here they are walking to “Bucky Park”, a neighborhood park down the street from Noah’s house.

On Saturday we went to Leo Carillo Beach. It’s a quiet little beach near Malibu with private coves that you can set up your “camp” in, tide pools for exploring, and gentle surf for playing. It’s the same beach where Erin and Toph got married 4 years ago, so it was fun for me to go back there and re-live that beautiful day.

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Jacob had fun playing in the sand and watching the “big boys” run around like wild banshees.

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David and Noah (with a little help from Uncle Toph) built a “big hole”. This hole kept David occupied for two hours. He jumped in the hole, sat in the hole, put balls in the hole, buried his feet in the hole–he really would have stayed there for the rest of his life if I would have let him.

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Unfortunately, Erin had to work on Saturday so she didn’t get to come to the beach with us. But that afternoon she got some snuggle time with her youngest nephew, and I think that helped make up for it a bit.

On Sunday we went to Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I’d never been there before but, man, that place is HUGE! We started the morning at the Griffith Park Observatory. If you look very closely at the hill behind me you can see the white “Hollywood” sign in the distance.

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We thought it would be fun to take the boys to the planetarium show at the observatory.

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Don’t let this photo fool you. The planetarium show was NOT fun. The show was great. I would have loved it. But the experience was….well, just look at who we brought with us. Not the crowd who enjoys sitting through long scientific talks in the dark. It was stressful, aggravating and, at times, physically painful. We’ll just leave it at that. Lesson learned: don’t bring 3 kids under the age of 4 to a planetarium show.

After the planetarium experience we decided we needed to go somewhere a bit more low key. We ate a picnic lunch then drove around to the other side of Griffith Park to a place called Transportation Town. It’s set up like a big train yard, complete with train tracks and lots of old trains for the kids to climb around in.

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David and Noah got to “drive” a train (although, David’s favorite part was throwing pebbles into the coal chute: “Goal!”).

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And I just love this picture because it looks like our children are about to get run over by trains. (Don’t worry, Grandma Doreen, none of the trains can actually move).

The next day, Monday, was Erin’s day off work. We decided to take the boys to one of my favorite places, the Santa Barbara Zoo. This zoo is great for young kids: it’s easily walk-able, you get really close to the animals, and they have a great play area for the little ones. Plus, the giraffes have a view of the Pacific Ocean. I would love to be a giraffe at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

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Here we are by the elephants (you can barely see one to the left of David).

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And here are David and Noah “sledding” down an astro-turf hill on sheets of cardboard. It’s  actually a LOT of fun!

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We saw some interesting creatures at the zoo, including this tiny hatchling.

On Tuesday we went to one of my other favorite California attractions, Noah’s farm (really, it’s called Underwood Farms and it’s just about the most amazing place ever. I would perhaps move to California just so I could live next to this farm).

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We got to feed the animals. These are chickens and ROOSTERS!!! (David’s favorite), but they also had pigs, goats, Emu, cows, and horses that you could feed.

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We took a wagon ride out to the fields where we had…

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SNACK TIME! We helped ourselves to the farm’s bounty (I mean, we were U-picking produce to purchase when we exited the farm). There were so many wonderful fruits and veggies ready for the picking: strawberries, oranges, sugar snap peas, carrots, heads of lettuce bigger than David. After we all had our fill, we headed back to the animals for a little while.

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David and Noah got to ride ponies. You may be able to tell by his expression: David was in heaven.

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After a busy day at the farm we drove into town for some nourishment. And, when you’re in California, that means In-N-Out. When we lived in Palo Alto I used to go to In-N-Out about once a week (terrible, I know, but if you’ve ever had it then you know why). David actually ate a whole cheeseburger–I think all that rooster-feeding and pony-riding worked up quite the appetite.

And, just like that, our trip was over. We had an uneventful flight back home and then we all crashed for a 4-hour nap as soon as we got back to our house. Thank you to Erin and Toph for putting up with my crazy lot for a whole week, and thank you, California, for never disappointing.

Traveling With Bebe, Part 4: How To Get Through Your Flight (Plus 40 Activities To Entertain Your Baby or Toddler During The Flight!)

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Boarding and Take Off
They will usually invite families traveling with young children to board the plane first. Use your best judgment on this one. If you have a content little baby and think you’ll need some extra time to jockey you and your belongings into position, then go ahead and board early. But beware. If you have a crawler or a toddler who doesn’t like to sit still for more than two micro-seconds, stay in the comfort–and space–of the airport for as long as possible before boarding the plane.

If you are lucky enough to be bringing your car seat onto the plane with you, try to set it up in the window seat so you’re not blocked in. If you’re bringing baby on your lap, most airlines will allow you to keep him strapped into an infant carrier during the flight (with the exception of takeoff and landing times).

During takeoff, try to have your baby sucking or chewing on something. This will help their tiny ears adjust to the air pressure changes. You can nurse your baby, give baby a bottle or a pacifier, or have your toddler chomp on chewy snacks. An added benefit to nursing during takeoff: baby may actually fall asleep. Hello, peaceful flight!

If your little one still gets plugged ears during the flight, try the “cups method” for popping their ears:
-Get two plastic cups (one for each ear), some boiling water and a few paper towels. Just ask your flight attendant for these supplies–they’ll hook you up!
-Dampen the paper towels in the boiling water and place one inside each cup
-Hold the cups containing the dampened towels over the ears for a few minutes.
The steam from the boiling water will generate a small pressure vacuum that will unblock the ears and help relieve pain.

During The Flight
Your baby’s age and mobility-level will determine a lot of what will make your flight time go smoothly. If you have an infant (under 5 months old) who can’t really move yet, your flight should be pretty easy. He’ll probably fall asleep during takeoff or at some point early in your flight with all of that lovely white noise that goes on in an airplane.

If you have a baby who is able to roll over and/or sit (approximately 5-7 months), he’ll probably be content sitting on your lap for a good chunk of time. You can entertain him with songs, books, ripping pages out of those magazines that are in the seatback in front of you. You can nurse him (or give him a bottle) and he may even doze off. If he starts to get fussy, you can bounce with him in the aisles or walk back to the galley with him (usually the flight attendants will take pity on you and let you hang out in their space).

If you have a crawler–or, God forbid, a walker–good luck. That’s all I have to say, because it’s probably going to be a rough flight. Babies who are mobile but have not yet attained an attention span of more than 1 minute are very difficult travel companions. They want to move, and being strapped in to a car seat or a baby carrier for hours on end is not their idea of a happy day. Bring lots of yummy snacks, new books and toys that they haven’t seen before, and a lot of patience. Be prepared to spend a good portion of your flight walking up and down the aisles and/or sitting cross-legged in your seat so your baby can play in the 4 square inches of floor space at your feet. And, if all else fails, just remind yourself that it will all be over soon and you’ll be enjoying that special place that you’re traveling to!

Here are some of my favorite activities to entertain a baby or toddler while on the plane:

  1. Read books
  2. Sing songs and lap bounces
  3. Recite Nursery Rhymes (brush up on these ahead of time)
  4. Do finger plays with the accompanying hand motions
  5. Eat special snacks (I’ve heard that a ring pop can entertain a 2 year old for hours)
  6. Play with window decals on the window (find them on clearance after holidays)
  7. Color with crayons
  8. Magna Doodle
  9. Paint with “Magic Paper” that turns colors when you paint with water (Crayola Color Wonder and Color Magic)
  10. Play with wiki stix
  11. Play with clay or play dough
  12. Play with sticker activity books
  13. Do a lacing project
  14. Play with apps on your iPhone or iPad (I hear the “Duck Duck Moose” and “Peekaboo Wild/Farm/Forest” ones are great)
  15. Watch movies or TV shows on your iPhone or iPad
  16. Go to the bathroom and make silly faces in the mirror
  17. Make a shaker out of two plastic cups taped together at the “mouths” and filled with airplane peanuts (your flight attendant will probably have all of the necessary supplies)
  18. Play with magnet sets
  19. Sort snacks or toys into piles (based on color, size, shape, type, etc.)
  20. Let them braid my hair
  21. Before you leave for your trip, make an “I Spy Bottle” to play with
  22. Draw pictures for your little one and make up stories to go with them
  23. Crumple up and tear paper
  24. Draw letters, shapes, etc. and have your little one trace them
  25. Play with toy cars and airplanes
  26. Do a puzzle
  27. Read the airplane safety pamphlet together and locate all of the exits on your plane, practice buckling seat belts, etc.
  28. Play with Legos
  29. Play Peek-A-Boo
  30. Count things
  31. Visit with other passengers (only the ones who invite you…some people on planes really don’t appreciate happy visits)
  32. Play with ice cubes in an empty cup
  33. Make origami or paper fans with pages from a magazine
  34. Do seat exercises with your baby
  35. Use pipe cleaners to create models of shapes, animals, etc.
  36. Play with a flashlight (yes, there’s an app for that)
  37. Use your camera (or the camera on your phone) to take silly photos of yourselves
  38. (Before or after your flight) Visit the captain in the cockpit (you may even get one of those cool “wings” pins)
  39. Crinkle water bottles
  40. Play “guess which hand it’s in” (“It” can be a snack–if they guess correctly, they get to eat it)

One other little note here. Most people on the plane will be compassionate to your cause and they’ll be willing to help you out if needed. The flight attendants are usually very helpful and will bring your baby juice or water for her bottle, and some will even stop to play with her or hold her so you can go to the bathroom. So, when your baby starts fussing and you start to stress out, just relax. You’re not the only one who’s ever brought a crying baby on a plane and most of the other people remember the days when THEY were the ones holding the crying baby (or are thanking their stars that they are not yet the one who has to hold a crying baby).

Well, that’s it for my tips on flying. Tomorrow we leave for Ireland with baby J, so hopefully I can take my own advice and have a smooth flight! I’ll do another post after we get back from Ireland to let you know how all of this played out on an international flight. I may be MIA on the blog for the next week or so while we’re traveling, but I’ll be sure to update with lots of photos and fun stories when we return. Until then, Bon Voyage!

Traveling With Bebe, Part 3: Getting Through The Airport

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Yesterday I showed you how I pack for a trip. Today, we get to go on the trip–hooray! I love traveling, but I have to admit it–traveling with kids can be a bit challenging. I used to look forward to the plane ride when I’d get 3 hours all to myself to catch up on reading all of those celebrity magazines that I only read when I’m at an airport. Now, I get to spend travel time anxiously anticipating my child’s every potential need and/or desire before they realize it and throw a temper tantrum at 30,000 feet. Or, I get to spend 3 hours bouncing a baby up and down the aisles as I get nasty stares from that old man who wants to leave his foot dangling out in the walkway right where I can trip over it. Yes, traveling with kids is exhausting and it tests your will as a parent, but in the end it’s always worth the effort. And, there are things you can do to make things go more smoothly for everyone. Today we’ll focus on getting through the airport so you can actually make your flight!

Arriving At The Airport
Always allow a bit of extra time when you’re traveling with kids. It will take you longer to physically move through the airport with little ones and all of their accompanying “stuff”. Plus, you’ll want some extra time to feed, do diaper changes, and run off some energy before your flight. I always bring a small stroller with me, even for my toddler who can walk, because sometimes it’s just easier (or necessary) to strap a kid in and run to your gate. I also try to check in for my flight and print our boarding passes before I arrive at the airport. As long as we’re not checking any bags, this allows us to go straight to security when we arrive–this gives us one less line to wait in and a few more minutes to get where we need to be by the time we need to be there.

Getting Through Security
Getting through airport security with a baby is a bit like competing in a triathlon: it requires training, endurance, speed, and the ability to perform a number of ridiculous tasks. I’ve got this down to a bit of a science now. I always bring baby’s car seat and stroller with me to the gate because you can check them there for free. Plus, if there happens to be an empty seat on your flight, they’ll let you bring the car seat ON the plane so you can let baby have his own seat next to you for free (this will give you empty arms and your baby will have a chance to take a nap in his own space. Glorious.).

The trickiest part of going through the airport with little ones is security because you have to put EVERYTHING through the metal detector (including strollers and car seats, baby not included). Here’s what I do for the baby: I bring a snap-and-go stroller with my “personal item” (a diaper bag) stored underneath it and the car seat snapped on top. When I flew by myself, I decided not to check a bag so I brought a nice rolling suitcase that I could drag behind me. I put the baby in the Ergo carrier as soon as I got out of the car so I could walk through security and not have to jostle him out of the car seat there (I have never had a problem leaving him in the Ergo through the security section, but maybe some airports will make you take baby out for further inspection. Perhaps junior is carrying a samurai sword under his onesie–you just never know).

Once at the security checkpoint, look for a family line. Some airports take pity on parents lugging children through the airport and they give you a little star treatment with a special, shorter line. Kind of like a fast pass at Disney–but instead of flying on Dumbo at the end, you get to walk through the magical metal detector.

Now, get a whole stack of those bins that you’re supposed to empty your pockets into. Excuse yourself to the impatient lady standing behind you, and take over the floor. If you plan on carrying baby through the metal detector in your arms, lay down a blanket or your jacket and set her down in one of the bins so she doesn’t roll away as you’re getting everything ready. Put the diaper bag in one bin. Put your liquids and any other questionable materials in another bin (by the way, if you’re traveling with a baby you are allowed a certain amount of liquid formula or breast milk through security, and I think even some water for you to drink as a mom. Check with your airline or the TSA website for more details). Put your shoes (I hope you’re wearing slip-ons or flip-flops, because good luck untying your shoes with a baby already strapped to your chest!), jacket, loose change, watch, etc. in another bin. Fold up the stroller and put it upside down on the conveyor belt. Make sure the handle is all the way down on your car seat (it won’t fit through the “security tunnel” if it’s not just right) and put it on the conveyor belt. Put your suitcase and all of your bins on the conveyor belt. *Make sure you got your baby out of that bin if you haven’t already!* Run back and forth like a mad-man trying to push all 30 of your items through the conveyor belt so you don’t cause a back-up. Hold baby, and walk calmly through the metal detector–no need to alarm anyone at this point. Yay, you did it! Now, go retrieve your pile of items that have already started spilling onto the floor on the other side of the conveyor belt and start putting everything back together again. Whew!

At The Gate
After you get through security, the rest is pretty easy. Get to your gate a bit early and check to see if they have any empty seats so you can bring your car seat on with you. This will make a world of difference, so it’s always worth checking once you’re there.

If you have a crawler or a toddler, encourage him to run/jump/climb/dance down the hallways–whatever it takes to burn some energy before the long flight ahead. Get a snack or a meal. Change diapers and use the potty yourself–bathroom runs and diaper changes mid-flight are difficult at best. Basically, do anything now that you’re not going to be able to do once you’re on the plane.

We’re almost to the good part now: actually flying to your destination. Check back tomorrow for my tips on flying with your little one!