Top 10 COVID-Era Family Travel Tips (+ Bonus Disneyland Tips!)

Back in PC (Pre-COVID) days, our family did quite a bit of traveling. By the time our middle son was 6 months old he had already traveled to 5 different states and 3 international countries. We were always on the move, and I loved it.

But then 2020 hit and, like everything else in our lives, our travels paused. We were actually scheduled to take a grand European tour in April 2020 which, for obvious reasons, has now been relegated to the category of “Some day in the future…”. For the last two years I’ve traveled through the exciting mediums of books and movies and living vicariously through the adventures my friends and family have posted on social media. I never stopped dreaming of the day we could travel again in real life and, I’m happy to report, it finally happened!

This week we returned from a 2-week road trip through California, starting in Anaheim and ending in San Francisco. It was…amazing. To be in the (Sunny. Warm. Beautiful.) places and see the people that are dear to our hearts was a soul-enhancing super-elixir. But it almost didn’t happen.

Right before we were scheduled to leave for our grand California adventure, Omicron disrupted life (again) and we nearly cancelled the whole thing. I was anxious about getting sick during travel. What would we do if one of us had to quarantine…in a hotel room? What would we do if we tested positive and couldn’t fly home? Would I need to check an extra bag full of N95’s and rapid tests? There were so many unknowns and questions and worries.

To address all of these questions and concerns I came up with a few plans ahead of time–and picked up some tips along the way–that helped make our travel smooth, healthy, and happy. Here are my top 10 tips for family travel success in the COVID-Era:

*Note* Everything COVID-related seems to change constantly, so by the time this post is published it may already be out of date–I’ll do the best I can to keep it relevant!

1. Make Reservations
Most of the attractions we visited required advance reservations. This included everything from Disneyland to the zoo to a monument run by the National Park Service. Do your research ahead of time to see what the reservation rules are for the places you plan on visiting. If advance reservations are required, make the reservations as early as possible–you can always cancel your reservation for free if your plans change, but if you wait too long you may not get a spot at all (This is especially true with attractions that have capacity limits or that are very popular during different seasons.).

Some airports will even allow you to reserve a time to go through the TSA security line–think of it as a FastPass to the least exciting/most stressful ride of your life! If you’ll be traveling through SeaTac airport in Seattle, you can reserve your spot with the Spot Saver app or website from 5AM-1PM (and you can actually enter the line up to 1 hour before or after your designated arrival window).

2. Confirm Reservations
I didn’t really think this one was necessary, but I sure am glad that I did it! The week before we left for our trip (Travel with kids = trip. Travel without kids = vacation.) I called/emailed/app-confirmed each of our reservations. Which was a LOT of calling/emailing/and app-confirming. When I got to our very last hotel reservation, I called the hotel and was greeted with a voice recording that said something along the lines of, “Thank you for calling the Hyatt San Francisco Downtown. Due to COVID difficulties we are closed until next spring, or maybe next year, or just whenever COVID stops being such a nincompoop that ruins everything. We couldn’t be bothered to call or email you to let you know we’re closed, even though you made your reservation here several months ago. Have a nice day. *click*”

So we rescheduled the hotel with an AirBnB (That was actually a much better choice for our family in the scheme of things) and life went on. But can you imagine driving for 5 hours, showing up at a downtown hotel with tired, hungry kids and then realizing the hotel was closed? No thank you, ma’am.

3. Use Apps
2022 is the apps’ year to shine! Apps have been waiting for this moment–the moment where everyone uses and relies on them–and I can safely say that The Apps have arrived. There is literally an app for everything travel-related these days, and many attractions utilize apps as the primary means for containing and displaying tickets, maps, audio tours, even games to pass the time while you wait in line. If you plan on visiting an attraction, download their app before you travel and you’ll already be one step ahead.

In addition to apps, I also saved screenshots of all of our online tickets into a dedicated album on my phone’s camera roll. This made it really easy to pull up tickets without needing to search for them in my inbox or rely on an internet connection to find them.

4. Pack A COVID Safety Kit
Our family is what you might call extremely “COVID-Cautious”. We’re the ones who still make our kids eat their school lunches outdoors. In February. In Washington. We’re the ones wearing N95’s inside grocery stores. I know it’s not everyone’s take at this point in the COVID game, but COVID safety was a top priority for our family while traveling.

I packed a full COVID safety kit for our family because I didn’t want to risk not having access to the safety tools we’ve already tested and like using. Our COVID safety kit included: 3 N95/KF94 masks for each family member to wear in airports and airplanes (1 for the trip down, 1 for the trip home + 1 extra if it should be needed…like if your kid gets a major bloody nose right after take-off…*True story. This happened.*); Enough comfortable KF94 masks for each family member to have 1 mask per day, plus a few extras; a few 3-ply masks per person; travel size hand sanitizers; travel size Lysol wipe packs; travel size hand wipes; a refillable water bottle for each person; and a partridge in a pear tree.

It may have been overkill, but none of us got sick. We felt assured knowing that we were doing all that we could to participate safely in our outings.

5. Look For Off-Peak Travel Opportunities
We chose to take time off school and work so we could travel during the off-peak when crowds would be less and travel would be more affordable. I loved the added flexibility we had because of our off-peak travel (For example, our plans changed one day and we decided last minute to visit a zoo. I didn’t even think to make a reservation ahead of time, but after driving an hour and a half we arrived at the zoo and were greeted at the ticket counter with “RESERVATIONS REQUIRED”. Since we were there on an epically un-busy Monday, they allowed us to purchase our tickets at the zoo…with a gentle reminder to please remember to make our reservations next time.)

6. Bring Vaccination/Testing Paperwork
There are several places we visited that required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to enter. Before we left for our trip I saved all of our vaccination records in 3 places: the state health records app on my phone, screenshots in a dedicated “Vacation Necessities” photo album on my phone, and screenshots on Jon’s phone. I also made a photocopy of all of our vaccine cards that I kept folded up in my wallet.

7. Look For Destinations With COVID-Safe Activities
We chose California for our grand adventure because of three factors:
1. We missed our friends and family there and reeeeeeeally wanted to see them!
2. We were very familiar with the area and knew it would be easy to pivot or change plans should the need arise.
3. We knew we could be outside and in uncrowded areas for the majority of the trip.

When choosing a travel destination, consider your COVID-safety comfort level and how you might feel in certain environments. For our family, large crowds made us feel anxious, and we were only comfortable with indoor activities that we knew were following strict safety guidelines. We made one exception to our COVID-safety comfort level by spending a day at Disneyland–our kids all said it was the best day of their lives and I’m glad we made one “go big or go home” exception, but it certainly wasn’t the same relaxed, carefree experience I would have had pre-COVID (Are “relaxed” or “carefree” even words you can use in the same sentence as “Disneyland”…regardless of worldwide pandemics?).

8. Remain Flexible
Even with all of the planning and fretting I did leading up to our trip, I knew that our plans would need to remain flexible. The First Law of COVID is “Things are constantly changing”, so I held our plans in an open hand rather than a closed fist. For the most part we were able to do and see everything we set out to do, but there were a couple of last-minute pivots we had to make (Like when our dear friends got COVID and we had to reschedule the days we would have spent with them. *Insert heavy sobs of self pity*).

9. Prepare Kids Ahead of Time
We spent a lot of time in the weeks leading up to our trip talking through our travel plans, safety expectations, and reiterating the need to remain flexible. This trip was very different from the travel we used to do pre-COVID, and we wanted to make sure our kids knew going into it what to expect. A lot of our conversations began with “Our plan is…but if we need to change, then…”. Overall, our kids did a great job following our expectations and rolling with the punches when they happened!

10. Think Through Contingency Plans
Going into this trip–in the middle of the largest COVID case surge to date–I knew that there was the very real possibility we’d need to change course completely. Before we left on our trip I took some time to think through some of the likely scenarios and how we might handle them.

For instance, if one of us got COVID early in the trip, we could have stayed in southern California to recuperate where we had family close by to possibly help. If Disneyland was overly crowded and mask usage wasn’t being enforced on rides, there were certain rides and areas of the park we had already mapped out to avoid (and we told the kids as much before we went). If we got COVID near the end of the trip and couldn’t fly home, we had the option of extending our rental car dates so we could drive home and return it in Seattle. If one of us needed to isolate, we had rental houses with multiple bedrooms that could be closed off. All of our reservations for attractions and lodging were fully refundable should we need to cancel.

Not exactly the kinds of things you want to think about going into a vacation, but I felt a lot better knowing we could handle whatever happened.

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In the end, everything went incredibly well and I am so very grateful we had this opportunity to travel as a family again. Once we were in California everything felt so…normal!…and we made precious memories that will last a lifetime. If you’re on the fence about traveling, I’d encourage you to (plan ahead) and jump off that fence–the world is waiting!

And now, a few bonus Disneyland tips!

-Download the free Disneyland app. You can use the app for everything from storing your tickets to ordering food to playing games while waiting in line. I even uploaded a Disney gift card onto the app and used it throughout the day to buy souvenirs and treats, right from my phone.

-Like COVID restrictions, Disneyland is constantly changing how things work. Fast Passes are now a thing of the past, and instead there are new services like Genie + and Lightening Passes to help you navigate the park and get through the park more quickly…for a price. We didn’t take advantage of these new services (Starting at $20 per person per ride!), but I actually kind of wish that we had. Since we only spent one day at the park, every minute counted. There were a couple of rides that our kids wanted to ride over and over again, but with lines ranging from 20-90 minutes each, there’s only so much we could do. If I had it to do over, I would have just bit the bullet and bought lightening passes for a couple of those “repeat rides” so we could have done them multiple times in a day. After all, $20 per person is still less than adding on another whole day at Disneyland!

-Plan your visit for a “less crowded” time (Every day at Disneyland is crowded. Just some days are unbearably crowded, and other days are simply uncomfortably crowded.). There are several Disneyland crowd calendars you can view online, but I like the one from IsItPacked.com the best.

Make reservations and buy your tickets in advance (You must do BOTH, or they won’t let you in.)

-Disneyland opens their gates about 30 minutes before “rope drop” when the park officially opens. Arrive early and you can take your time wandering up Main Street before your first mad dash to the lines when the rides open.

-Rides break. A lot. When we were there several rides were out of commission for all or part of the day (It took us 5 tries to get to the end of the new Star Wars Rise of the Resistance ride without it breaking. On one of those attempts, it actually broke with us on it.). If you are dead-set on riding a specific ride, try to get to it early in the day…and keep checking in (in person or on the app) if you want to catch it while it’s open. Persistence and perseverance, folks!

-The Disneyland app has estimated line wait times, but they’re not very accurate. I watched several times how they calculated the line times, and I figure the information in the app is about an hour off of what is actually happening in that moment. So, if the app says Pirates of the Caribbean has a 10 minute wait but you see the line going up the hill to the Haunted Mansion, chances are you’re going to be there (a lot) longer than the 10 minutes displayed on the app.

-When we went to Disneyland in late January 2022, masks were required indoors (including rides and lines that were inside), and they were recommended outdoors. I’d say about 90% of the guests I saw complied with the “masks required indoors” rule, and there were Disney employees at most indoor locations reminding guests to keep their masks on. That being said, even “outdoor” lines can have you standing within the CDC guidelines for close exposure (While we were in line for the Jungle Cruise ride, I think we were closer than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes…to about 432 people). Use your own judgment based on your comfort level…and maybe pack a few spare masks if you think you’ll need them.

-You are allowed to bring in your own snacks and bottled water. Do yourself a favor (And save yourself a few hundred $$) and bring in a few things to help get you through the day. There are also plenty of water bottle filling stations and drinking fountains available throughout the park.

-If you bring a stroller, do something to make your stroller stand out (Like tying a balloon onto the handle). Disneyland “helpers” will conveniently move strollers while you’re away in line, so having a distinguishing marker that you can easily see from a distance will help you locate everything post-ride.

-For more Disneyland-specific tips, check out my post from a few years ago about navigating the park with young children.

-And last but not least, enjoy the magic! In the end, this is what your kids will remember.


How To Homeschool On The Fly In The Age Of The Coronavirus

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Late last night our school district outside of Seattle became the first school district in the nation to close due to concerns about the Coronavirus. Effective immediately, and for an indefinite period of time, all schools are closed and shifting to a remote learning model “on the cloud”. Translation: ready or or not, we’re all about to homeschool!

While I 100% support our district’s decision to move to this model, I know from experience how daunting the task ahead will be for families. I used to be a classroom teacher, and I’ve homeschooled before. Teaching is my jam, but helping my own children learn at home was a totally different league.  Let’s just say there’s a very good reason why I’m not still homeschooling.

My kids were only 3- and 5-year olds the last time I attempted homeschooling, so I’m definitely a bit out of practice (And I’ve never done this with a 1st grader, a 3rd grader, and a preschooler, as I’m about to attempt.). While I am by no means a homeschooling (or “cloud schooling”) expert, I did pick up a few tips and tricks during our oh-so-fun year of “Mommy School” that I want to pass along. Just remember: we’re all in this (separately) together!

Set Expectations
Make sure the kids know that this isn’t just a never-ending weekend. These days at home will be a learning time that they will be expected to participate in the same as if they were away at school. Attendance will be taken, they will need to check in for certain online classes, and they will have assignments to complete within specific time frames. Bonus: They can do it all in their pajamas with their dog curled up underfoot.

Gather Supplies
For our particular scenario, students will need a computer, internet access, and a few  physical supplies in order to attend Coronavirus School.

Our school district has come up with a plan to move all learning “outside the four walls of the school and onto the cloud”, which basically means kids will be completing and/or submitting their school work online. Each physical class in the real world now has a virtual Google Classroom where students and teachers can interact with each other virtually. It’s actually really cool! And, since we had a bit of warning that this was coming, teachers spent the school day yesterday as a bridge day. They trained students how to use these new-to-them online tools and had time to practice using them under teacher guidance. In addition, our school district has made available computing devices and WiFi hotspots for any students that need them in order to complete their “cloud learning” at home. Really, I can’t believe how well-planned this whole thing is on such short notice and in such an unprecedented circumstance!

Each of my kids also came home yesterday with a backpack full of physical tools (textbooks, workbooks writing journals, books) to use at home. In addition to these supplies, it will probably be a good idea to have basic school supplies on hand. This is what I’m going to have available in our homeschool space (More on that in the next section!):
-Pencils
-Pencil Sharpener (At the beginning of the school year I bought this fancy sharpener and it’s been a great tool to have at home!)
-Crayons/markers/colored pencils
-White printer paper
-Lined notebook paper
-Headphones (so my kids can work on their computers simultaneously with minimal disruptions to each other).
-Computer microphone (we had to get one for my third grader because his PC doesn’t have a built-in microphone)
-Small dry erase boards with markers and erasers
-Ibuprofen (for Teacher-Mom)

Since we are yet to put any of this into practice, I’m sure this list will evolve over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you want to stock up you can find most of these items in the Dollar store (Or, if you don’t want to even set foot in the world of viral outbreak, just have them delivered from Amazon).

Set up Your Space
It’s important for you (Teacher-Mom or Teacher-Dad) and for the kids to have a dedicated space for school at home. This can be the kitchen table (This is a great choice because it’s central and you can spread out a lot of junk learning tools on it at once) or a home office with tables  set up for the kids. Or, really, just sitting on the floor in a hallway. For the love, do NOT set up school near a TV/XBox/Switch/Pokemon card collection that will be more enticing than the schoolwork that lies ahead!

Schedule Your Day
You need a plan some structure for your day or you will all go crazy and quite possibly end up in a mental institute (Which is probably quite clean and Coronavirus-free, actually, so that might not be a terrible back-up plan).

As you make your “School Day on The Cloud” schedule, think about what will work best for your family, and don’t be afraid to adjust as you go. Set a time in your day when schoolwork will get done–maybe this is first thing in the morning when everyone is fresh, or maybe it’s in the evening after Mom and Dad get home from work. Agree on an amount of work and/or an amount of time that you will dedicate to schoolwork during the first chunk of work time, then take a break (this is when you kick your kids outside for 30 minutes to roll around in the mud puddles). If your kid usually eats snack at school, eat a snack at the same time. Try to have lunch at the same time every day…again, consistency is key. Plan a block of time for independent or shared reading somewhere in there, then schedule a second chunk of work time later in the day (if you can muster it) and call it a day.

A typical homeschool day usually lasts only 2-4 hours, compared to 6.5 in a regular school day. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO 6 HOURS OF SCHOOL “ON THE CLOUD” (Sorry to my childrens’ teachers who are probably reading this, but I’m just telling it how it is in the real world!). Just do what you need to do, and don’t burn yourselves out.

I’m using a checklist with my kids so they know what needs to be accomplished each day and can move at their own pace. Here is the checklist I’ve made for my kids to follow:
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What About Younger Siblings?
Great question! I have a preschooler who will be joining us on this grand learning adventure, so I will also be curious to see how this aspect all plays out in practice. Some tactics I’ve tried before to help minimize the distraction of a younger sibling with marginal success:
-Having simple activities prepped and available that the younger sibling can work on independently while I assist the older sibling(s). Think: coloring pages, simple puzzles, Play-Doh, building with blocks, Duplos, or an iPad with noise cancelling headphones (#kiddingnotkidding).
-Do “school time” during the younger sibling’s nap time
-Childcare swap with a neighbor or trusted friend so you can take turns playing with younger siblings and helping your school-aged kids complete their schoolwork.
-Hire a teenage babysitter (They’re all out of school right now, too!) to come entertain one or more children while you help your school-aged child.
-(Weather permitting) move school outside–younger siblings can play outside while you sit in the grass or at a picnic table to do schoolwork with your child
-Let your school-aged child work independently while you care for the younger sibling.
-Involve the younger sibling in the learning. Have your school-aged child read to them or teach them a concept they’re learning about (Teaching is the best tool for testing comprehension!).
-Turn on Frozen 2 in another room and walk away.

Use Bribery Liberally
Please don’t judge me, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, and bribes work wonders. Maybe the kids earn screen time for finishing assignments. Or a trip to the drive-thru for ice cream after they’ve chosen to read rather than squabble with their siblings for __ minutes. We’re only trying to make it through a few weeks here, so no long-term habits are going to have time to fully grab root–I say bribe away!

Plan Enrichment
School is all well and good, but we all need a break from the rigor every now and then. Consider both academic and non-academic enrichment you can offer your children while they’re at home to help keep everyone’s minds and bodies moving. And since we’re trying to maintain social distancing, here are some ideas you can implement from the comfort of your own home.

Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Learning games such as Uno, Cribbage, Chess, Scrabble, and Bananarams
-Do a puzzle
-Read! You can even ask Alexa to tell you a story and “she” will comply
-Play academic games on a website like Starfallor ABCMouse (subscription required)
-Write a letter to someone–they would probably love to hear how you’re doing in Ground Zero of the Coronavirus Apocalypse!
Do a science experiment 

Non-Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Get moving with an app like Go Noodle! or Cosmic Kids Yoga
-Bake (Math, Literacy, and Science all wrapped up in one!)
-Arts and crafts (You can literally just pull stuff out of your recycling bin and tell your kids to get creative with it!)
-Make homemade Play-Doh or Slime
-Create a song in Chrome Music Lab

Give Yourself Grace and Space
School-at-home can be stressful. There is a different dynamic when the environment and the people involved in school change, and this is a process that can take a very long time to feel comfortable. Give yourself (And your kids! And the teachers!) grace–this is a big learning curve!

Also, give yourself physical space to decompress. If things in the living room-schoolroom start to get rowdy or out of control or just feel off, take a break.  Maybe this means taking your kids outside for a walk around the neighborhood or banishing everyone to their bedrooms for “silent reading” so you can take a shower and eat the chocolate you have hidden in the laundry room. After everyone catches their breath, come back together and begin again–I promise, you’ll all feel better!

And if all else fails, just remember: This, too, shall pass.

Stay healthy out there, friends!

How To Not Suck At Disneyland With Young Children

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We just returned from one of our most epic family vacations ever: our first visit to Disneyland with children. And, although Jon and I have been to Disneyland several times before, this was our first time taking our kids (ages 3 and 5) with us.

I purposefully did not plan too much for this vacation because I knew that we were going at one of the worst times of the year (crowd-wise, anyway) and I just wanted to go with the flow since this would be the boys’ first visit. That being said, I picked up a few useful ideas during our time at The Happiest Place on Earth. Read on to see how to NOT suck at Disneyland when you’re bringing young children along for the ride.

Timing, timing, timing

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There are certain times of the year where the park is virtually empty (these dates usually align with when most students are in school). There are also certain times of the year where the park is so busy that they literally lock the gates once the park reaches full capacity (we chose to go during the latter).

Unless you enjoy waiting in obscenely long lines and losing sight of your children in a sea of people, choosing a not-so-busy time will probably be in your favor. Several websites keep track of crowd volume at Disneyland so you can plan your trip for a less-busy time of the year (I liked the crowd forecast predictor at isitpacked.com).

That being said, I did not take my own advice on this one. Jon had the whole week of Thanksgiving off work and we wanted to squeeze in a vacation before Christmas and baby arrive, so we decided to bite the bullet and go during one of the busiest weeks of the year. Knowing ahead of time that the park would be crowded, however, saved us a lot of headaches and gave us a proper perspective for what to expect!

Keep track of your stroller

strollersFirst of all, BRING A STROLLER. Even if your kids are bigger and don’t usually ride in a stroller any more, bring one if they can still possibly fit. Little legs still get tired of walking (and standing in lines), and sometimes it’s just nice to throw them in there and get to where you’re going without complaining/wailing/gnashing of teeth. Strollers are also a handy spot to spare jackets, snacks, sunscreen, extra water bottles…all those things you don’t necessarily want to lug around in a backpack.

There are literally thousands of strollers at Disneyland on any given day, which can make parking and locating YOUR stroller a bit of a puzzle. Especially when you go to the park at a particularly crowded time like we did and the Cast Members (Disney employees) will oh-so-“helpfully” “relocate” your stroller without your knowledge so they can make room for more strollers.

To help reduce the panic-inducing surprise of returning to retrieve a stroller that is no longer where you left it, make sure you always park in a designated stroller parking zone. You can also try using a “marker” to easily locate your stroller amongst the masses: tie a helium balloon to the stroller’s handlebars so you can spot it from a distance, and hang a family identification card on the back of the stroller so you’ll know which burnt orange Bob Duallie is yours (find some cute free printable Disney stroller tags here).
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Ask for helpCast_Member_2The Disney cast members want you to enjoy your magical experience. So, if you have a problem, seek one of them out. In my experience, they’ll do whatever they can to help you–whether it’s locating your “relocated” stroller or finding the nearest potty.

We had one experience where a cast member totally saved the day (or, at least, our sanity). We were about halfway through the line for Pirates of The Caribbean when both boys simultaneously announced that they had to go potty. NOW. I ducked out of line with the boys and ran to the nearest restroom while Jon kept our spot in line. Right before we returned, however, the line went inside a building and Jon had to step out of line to wait for us–and now the line had grown to over an hour-long wait. When I told a cast member at the entrance what had happened she ushered us to a separate entrance and allowed us to get right onto the ride. Hey, if you never ask, you may never get!

Get Fastpasses and Rider Switch Passes

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Most of the major rides at Disneyland have Fastpasses available. A Fastpass allows you to skip the regular line and go through a shorter Fastpass line, which can save you a lot of waiting. As soon as you arrive, get a Fastpass for the ride you want to go on most and, as soon as you are able to, get a second Fastpass for another ride you want to make sure you get on (the times for when you can use your Fastpass and when you can pick up another one will be printed on your Fastpass ticket).

Since only 2 out of the 4 of us could go on the Fastpass rides (Jacob was too short and I was too pregnant), I just got 4 Fastpasses to each ride so Jon and David could go twice in a row if they wanted to.

Related to the Fastpass is the Rider Switch Pass. If you have one or more children who are unable to ride on a Fastpass ride and one parent has to stay behind with the littles, you can request a Rider Switch Pass at the ride so that the other parent can return and go on the ride without waiting in line. We never actually did this since the other parent, me, couldn’t go on the Fastpass rides either–definitely worth remembering for next time, though!

Download the Disney app

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There is a free Disney app that we found really useful. The app showed real-time ride wait times, times and locations of character appearances, special events, and park maps.

There are also apps (and the Disney website) where you can purchase park tickets ahead of time to avoid additional lines at the ticket counter.

Bring snacks and water

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Let’s be honest: kids are just tiny snack monsters. They want to eat all day long–especially if there are tempting treats they can view in every snack kiosk and restaurant you pass. With a cup of grapes costing $6 inside the park, however, you may go broke before you fill those little tummies.

You are allowed to bring in any foods and beverages you want into the park, so pack up a cooler (or two) and save a buck (or 100). We brought granola bars, fresh fruit, Uncrustables sandwiches, crackers, fruit snacks, bottled water, juice boxes–even McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches and leftover Halloween candy. With their appetites (mostly) satiated, we were able to pass (most) food temptations without much of a fuss, allowing us to splurge for a few giant corn dogs and bags of sticky cotton candy.

Dress for the weather

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Southern California is not known for it’s terrible weather, but it is known for one thing: sunshine. Make sure to bring all of your sun gear (hats, sunglasses, sunscreen). No matter how hot it is during the day, however, nights can cool off dramatically. I was really glad that I brought warm jackets and long pants for us to change into in the evening so we could stick around for the nighttime parades and firework shows in comfort. Also, double-check the weather forecast before you leave home to see if you’ll need rain gear (precipitation  happen)–the last thing you want is to be walking around in a rain storm with your flip flops and sun visor!

Don’t go on the teacups

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Because they’ll make you puke. Oh, just me? Alrighty, then. Moving on.

Find lodging close to the park

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I’m usually the queen of finding obscure, affordable housing when we go on vacation. For this trip, however, I just wanted to be CLOSE. I knew that we would have long days at the park and we’d be toting around a lot of gear, so I wanted a hotel that was close enough for us to just walk to the park and not have to deal with traffic or parking.

We stayed right across the street from Disneyland at the Howard Johnson on Harbor Boulevard and it was perfect. Our room had a Queen-size bed for Mom and Dad, and bunk beds for the boys. As a bonus, there was a water playground at the hotel with a pirate ship feature that doubled as a Disneyland fireworks vantage point.

Kids will be kids

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Kids are KIDS…even at Disneyland. No matter how much you plan, no matter how much fun you’re having, no matter how magical the place is…kids are still kids. They will melt down. They will throw fits. They will get tired and cranky and hot and cold and hungry. Just go with it. This, too, shall pass. And, unless you’re like me and you get some sort of sadistic enjoyment from documenting these moments on film, nobody will probably even remember the meltdowns.

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I have a tendency to plan, plan, plan–especially when we’re going somewhere that will cost as much as a mortgage payment. Since this was our first time bringing the boys to Disneyland, however, I purposefully chose NOT to plan. I wanted to allow the kids to explore at their own pace and to do what they wanted to do without having to stick to some sort of prescribed schedule or optimal timeline.

As a result, some of my favorite moments on this trip came from allowing the kids their own space. They wanted to ride the Buzz Lightyear ride 3 times in a row, so we did. They wanted to leave early the first night and have some time to swim at the hotel, so we did. They wanted to skip the (truly mesmerizing) firework show and look at a Toy Story-inspired shop window for 20 straight minutes, so we did. This trip was about them, not us, so we let them take the lead.

Now go forth and embrace the magic–happy travels!

A Father’s Day Interview With The World’s BEST Father (No, Seriously, The BEST)

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Seeing as it will be Father’s Day on Sunday, I thought it would be fitting to write a post for all of the fathers out there. The thing is, though, I’m not a dad. Nor will I ever be. So, I decided to seek out an expert source to help with this one. Lucky for you, dear reader, I managed to secure The World’s BEST Father (that’s his official title) for an exclusive Father’s Day interview.

With over 32 years of fathering experience, he has enough wisdom to fill entire internet blogs (but for the sake of brevity, we’ll keep this to one post for now). He has survived raising not one, not two, but THREE daughters into adulthood (including a *charming* oldest child and twins, who all happened to be teenagers in overlapping years. Can you imagine the drama he’s witnessed?). He is, in short, a saint. He is also my father.

Here’s a snapshot of my dad’s take on this whole fatherhood experience:

We Love Teach Grow: Hi, Dad! Are you ready to spill the beans on what it’s like to be The World’s Best Dad?

Dad: Hi, honey. I’m only the world’s best dad because I have the world’s best daughter.*
(*Intro sequence imagined by the author)

WLTG: Seriously, Dad, what is the best part of being a father?

Dad: Honestly, just having your kids tell you that they love you!

WLTG: Awww…I love you, Dad! See, this is why you’re The World’s Best Dad! I’m obviously not a dad, but I have a husband who’s a dad and loads of friends who are dads. What is some advice you would give to other dads who are just starting out with this whole fatherhood gig?

Dad: There will be times…lots of times…where it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You brought this new person into the world, and now you have to provide for it…it’s a huge burden to carry. I realize now–and I wish I would have realized earlier–that it’s not my burden to carry alone. First, marry a wife who will be a great mother. And then, when you have children, lean on God. The Bible says that God will “never leave you nor forsake you”, and that goes for parents, too! When you feel the heaviness of parenting weighing you down, lean on God and He will help you. That, and just love your kids.

WLTG: I feel like I need that reminder all the time! What else would you advise fathers, maybe as their children get older?

Dad: You only have your children for a short while. Parenting is essentially a process of letting go, little by little. It starts when they are babies and they begin to crawl and walk and explore on their own, then you realize they are their own person, and you have to let go a little. Then your kids are in elementary school and they want to go to their friend’s house for their first sleepover, and you have to let go a little bit more. And then they’re teenagers and they want to DRIVE, and you have to let go a lot. And then they start college and get married, and you just have to keep letting go. In the end, you realize that they belong to God, not you, and you have been entrusted with them for a time. As you’re letting go, remember that they still belong to God, and He still has them.

WLTG: I can’t even talk about driving or college… Moving on. You raised three daughters and, I have to say, they all turned out GREAT. What tips do you have specifically for fathers of girls?

Dad: I’ll say this again: Just love them. Watch their ballet recitals. Learn how to make a ponytail or “princess hair”. Embrace the color pink in your life. Just love them.

Another thing I would suggest is to “date” your daughters. There is something so special about building that bond with your child and creating memories together.
(*Every year my dad takes each of his daughters out on a birthday date. We’ve been “dating” for nearly 30 years now, and none of us have never missed a birthday date in all that time–even when living in different states and countries! Now as an adult, our daddy-daughter dates are some of my favorite childhood memories–and something that I still look forward to every year.).

WLTG: Speaking of memories, what are some suggestions you have for building memories and traditions with your family?

Dad: Blow some dough! I made a decision before I even became a father that I would make sacrifices in order to make memories. For our family, that meant spending some money doing some outrageously fun things together. We spent our winters skiing together. We took road trips to National Parks. We traveled to Europe and ate gelato until our tummies hurt. It cost a lot in terms of time and money, but I’ve never regretted a penny or a moment we spent together.

WLTG: Any last words?

Dad: Be there…like, physically be there. If your kid has a recital or a sporting event or a teacher conference, make room in your schedule and be there. Years down the road your kid may not remember how well they danced at that recital or the score of that track meet, but they’ll remember who was in the stands watching them. Be there.

Also, model for your children what a good parent should look like. I am the father I am today because my parents showed me how to be a parent. They supported me, they respected me, they loved me. Parents need to be the kinds of parents that they hope their kids will grow up to be some day.

And, remember: just love your kids.

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Supporting a Mother Through Her Miscarriage: A Guide for Friends and Family

Hope-2-570x379 A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Mother’s Day and I was filled with emotion: love, contentment, delight, fulfillment. Being Mom to my two boys is one of my greatest joys in life, and I adore having a whole day each year when this blessing is called to mind.

Mixed in with those beautiful feelings, however, there was a twinge of heartache this year. This sorrow is because, unlike in years past, this year on Mother’s Day I was reminded of a recent loss. Nearly four months ago I had a miscarriage and we lost what would have been our third child. Although time has passed, the wound that experience left on my heart is still very fresh.

Difficult as this whole experience has been, it could have been worse. Thinking back on my own miscarriage, I realize that people around me said and did much to aid in my ability to heal and move forward. The topic of miscarriage is admittedly a very tricky subject to navigate–especially if you’ve never experienced one personally. The sad truth, however, is that most of you reading this right now will experience a miscarriage at some point-whether it is yourself or someone you know. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can help a mother through this difficult time.

Here are some practical tips that I have found particularly useful as I find hope and healing after my own miscarriage:

Let her grieve
I used the word mother in the title of this post, as opposed to woman, because when you have a miscarriage you are losing your real-as-anything child. With my miscarriage, it was not just some cells that gathered in my womb before disappearing, it was my baby. The loss a mother feels from a miscarriage is very real, and it deserves a good amount of mourning. Don’t diminish this. The grieving will be strong at first, then eventually it will subside. At some point you will think that the time of grieving has passed, but then–maybe even months or years down the road–something will remind her of her loss and she will grieve all over again. When this happens, just tell her that it’s alright to be upset, give her a shoulder to cry on, and tell her that you love her.

Share your story
For some reason that I don’t completely understand, the topic of miscarriages is still widely seen as taboo in our culture, and many people are simply unwilling to talk about it. This is much to the detriment of the nearly one million mothers who face a miscarriage each year.

For some mothers, talking about their miscarriage will be the most difficult part of the whole ordeal–but it is necessary. Encourage the mother to talk about her experience and share her story with others. Even if she only confides in her husband and a few close friends, she needs to talk about this. Holding the devastation of a miscarriage inside is like dragging around a thousand pounds of dead weight–it will eventually break you.

On the flip side, if you have already gone through a miscarriage, be bold and share about your experience with another mother who is going through her own miscarriage–this simple act of letting her know that she’s not alone will alleviate so much pain. There is great healing in sharing your story with others, allowing them to help you, and learn from them. When you share your story you will be surprised to learn how many other people have also been through this, and they will help lift you up.

Acknowledge that the baby she lost “counts”
The most heartbreaking thing somebody said to me when I was going through my miscarriage was, “I’m sorry you weren’t pregnant”–as if I’d made up the morning sickness, the surge of maternal joy that came when I saw the positive pregnancy test, and the doctors confirming this joy at my first ultrasound. The reality is that I was pregnant, but I will never get to meet that child.

Through sharing the story of my miscarriage, I met a woman who had experienced a miscarriage over 30 years ago. She told me that after years of struggling to cope with her miscarriage she decided to name her lost baby, and that was what finally allowed her to move on.

We decided to follow suit, and we have named our lost baby Lily. Since the boys were with me at every one of those early ultrasound appointments, I don’t want to diminish the loss of our baby or act like all of this never happened. We will continue to talk about Lily, and the boys know that they have a sister waiting for them up in Heaven. In some small way, by keeping the memory of our baby girl alive we will help our family move forward more completely.

Reassure her that the miscarriage was not her fault
The first thought I had when my doctor told me that my pregnancy would end in a miscarriage was “What did I do wrong?”. My doctor assured me that I had done nothing to cause the miscarriage, and that there was nothing I could have possibly done differently to have a more favorable outcome. The truth is, 15-20% of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, mostly due to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo and other non-preventable medical issues. Reassure her that the miscarriage was not her fault, and that she is not to blame.

Do something kind 
Going through a miscarriage can make you feel pretty crummy, so do something that will help lift her up. Go above and beyond, and do something thoughtful for her.  Send her flowers. Get her a gift certificate for a pedicure or a massage. Buy her something pretty to wear. Make sure the house is well-stocked with her favorite chocolates. All of these little acts of kindness will let her know that she matters to you and that you love her.

Offer practical help
One of the hardest things for me while I was going through my miscarriage was taking care of others–some days it was hard enough to just take care of myself. Going through a miscarriage is exhausting and physically painful, and she’ll relish the idea of some help. She may not ask for help, so step out and offer it anyway. Babysit her kids so she can take a bubble bath or a nap in peace. Order takeout or pizza (or better yet, cook her favorite meal for her) so she doesn’t have to worry about dinner. Clean her house or do her laundry. Offer to take her somewhere fun so she can get out of the house for a bit. Anything you can do to help her day go smoothly will be appreciated more than you’ll ever know.

Hold on to hope
Help her to realize that a miscarriage is the end of something, but it is not the end of everything. I have found great comfort during this time by counting my blessings and holding onto the hope of what is yet to come. My faith has been a huge factor in my perspective, as have the encouraging words of others. Just knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel makes getting through the dark days so much more bearable.

And, if all else fails, just be there for her. Because, really, with love all things are possible.

XxX

Parenting Advice I Wish People Had Actually Given Me

Birth and Coming Home 532Here’s the thing: everyone knows more about parenting than I do. Actually, I think everyone knows more about parenting than anyone else knows about parenting. Which is why there’s so much parenting advice available on the market. It runs the gamut from old wives tales to bogus “facts” (mostly gleaned from internet mommy forums) that will go out the window with the rest of them when the next parenting fad comes into vogue.

The truth is, though, there’s not a lot of advice out there that can hold it’s ground in the real world. I mean, the nitty-gritty tantrum-throwing mess-making real world that includes life with actual children. There were lots of parenting truths that I wish someone would have told me when I started this whole mommy thing a few years ago. Truths like:

1. If you have to do something real quick, like fix your hair or make a phone call, and you think to yourself, “Ah, I’ll just leave the kids out here while I take care of that. I’ll only be 5 minutes. How much trouble could they get into in 5 minutes?”…well, just banish those thoughts from your sweet little head. Because the answer to “How much trouble could they get into…” is FAR MORE TROUBLE THAN YOUR 5 MINUTES OF PEACE ARE WORTH. For instance, they may take an entire tube of blue toothpaste and smear it all over your new couch. Or they may empty all of the drawers out of your kitchen cabinet, stack them in front of the snack closet, and climb up to your candy stash. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

2. You can use a whiteboard marker to remove permanent marker from a whiteboard, and you can use rubbing alcohol to remove whiteboard marker from your walls without removing the paint. Just tuck this one away for the time when your little Picasso goes a bit overboard–it’s already saved my buns on more than one occasion.

3. No matter how kid-friendly your cooking is, no matter how cleverly you work at disguising vegetables, no matter how much love and care you put into the food you prepare–90% of it will end up on the walls or the dog. Even if it’s organic.

4. After you bear children, you will leak out of seemingly every orifice in your body. And, no, it won’t stop after your initial 6-week “postpartum period” expires. Plan accordingly

5. Kids get sick. All the dang time, kids get sick. No matter how often you wash their grimy little hands, whether you are pro-vaccines or anti-vax, if you see a pediatrician or a shaman–it doesn’t matter: your kid will get sick. Just save yourself some grief: stock up on Emergen-C and perfect your recipe for chicken soup. Also, buy one of those disgusting-yet-gratifying baby nasal aspirators.

6. The stage you are in now IS the easy stage. Things don’t magically become simpler when your child gets older and moves on to the next stage. When they can feed themselves, it gets harder (and messier). When they transition out of diapers, it gets harder (and messier). When they LEAVE YOU and spend half a day at preschool, it gets harder (and your mascara gets messier). I can’t even think about what comes next, because I know how much harder and messier it will be. The takeaway: enjoy this moment while you have it.

7. If your child has a lovey (you know, that blanket or stuffed animal or pacifier that they CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT) run out to the store (seriously: RUN. Do not wait too long or your loveys may be out of stock or, worse yet, DISCONTINUED) and buy duplicate loveys. Like, 10 or 20 duplicates might be enough. Stash them in your car, the grandparents’ houses, under your bed, in your earthquake emergency kit, your underwear drawer–whatever. Just get a ton of those things and make sure you never ever EVER lose the only lovey your child has. Just don’t.

8. Forget saving up for your kids’ college funds. Start saving up for preschool as soon as you feel your biological clock start ticking. I mean, seriously, $$fj$$kl;ajdks$$…

9. At some point, you WILL touch poop with your bare hand. When the inevitable happens: be brave, finish what has to be finished, then disinfect All The Stuff like it’s going out of business.

10. Don’t listen to other people. Listen up, now, this is important: You know your child better than anyone else in the whole world. You know them better than that doctor, better than the other moms at playgroup, better than the well-meaning granny at the grocery store, better than the mommy bloggers (but do keep reading, I’m almost done here). You are THE expert in your child. So if something feels right to you, or doesn’t feel right for you– or if something works for you, or doesn’t work for you–then do what your gut and intuition and keen knowledge tell you to do. YOU know your child better than anyone else, and that counts for a lot.

Power on, parents, power on.

XxX Allison

How To Shop Childrens’ Consignment Sales. Like A Boss.

JBF1Two weeks ago something rare happened: it rained in California. Seeing as we are in the middle of Autumn the presence of precipitation should come as no surprise, yet we were all caught off-guard. The toys we’d left strewn about the yard overnight got drenched. The laundry I had on the line got re-washed by nature. And when I went to get David ready for school in the morning, I came to an unfortunate realization: he didn’t have a single pair of shoes that fit him.

After spending all summer barefoot or in sandals, we hadn’t donned a pair of shoes in months. And in those months, my boy’s feet had grown gargantuan. Just like the rest of him. So, then I came to the even more disheartening realization: it was time to buy the boy a new (larger) wardrobe–which would undoubtedly come with a massive price tag to match.

Fact: kids cost money. Oodles and oodles of money, all the time. Any time I can save a bit of that money, I’m all for it. And that, my friends, is why God created children’s consignment sales.

If you’ve never been to a children’s consignment sale, just imagine a massive garage sale taking place inside of a Costco warehouse–full of all the stuff you keep having to buy for your very expensive offpring. Children’s consignment sales are a collection of consignors (aka “moms”) who are selling merchandise (aka the stuff their kids don’t use/have outgrown/just don’t want any more). They sell everything from toys and books to clothes and shoes to baby gear and maternity wear. In short, consignment sales are da bomb.

With two growing boys who DON’T EVEN HAVE SHOES THAT FIT THEM, I have become a bit of a consignment sale shopping expert. You might call me a professional shopper-saver, if you were so inclined. And now, dear friends, I will share my wisdom with you:

How To Shop Consignment Sales. Like A Boss.

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Research the sales
Consignment sales tend to happen seasonally, so research your local area for a schedule of sales that will be coming up soon (a quick looky-loo on Google should pull up several results). There are several large consignment sale organizations that franchise around the country, like Just Between Friends and Rhea Lana’s and locally, like Outrageous Outgrowns (California Bay Area) and Jack and Jill (my favorite in the Seattle area). Sign up for the email list on consignment sale websites so you’ll be notified of sale dates and special discounts.

Always visit the sale’s website before you go to the sale so you have accurate information on the sale dates and location. Sometimes you can also print off coupons from the sale’s website for free or discounted parking or admission.

Selling vs. shopping
If you have baby and/or kid stuff that you want to sell, sign up to be a consignor. As a consignor you’ll make money off every item you sell and get special privileges like shopping the sale before the public. If you don’t have anything to sell you can always attend the event as a shopper.

Timing your visit
Sales typically happen over a weekend and last 2-4 days. If you have specific items you want to buy, or if you are particular about the types and quality of the products you buy, you’ll want to go on the first day of the sale while the inventory is fresh. If you want to save even more money, visit on the last day of the sale when the remaining items are typically sold at half-off. Or, if you’re really serious about this whole consignment sale thing, you could always visit twice: once on the first day of the sale and again on the last day of the sale to pick up some bargains.

Try to arrive at the sale early in the day. Like when they open. Or, better yet, before they open. Think of it practice for Black Friday. These things get packed, and fast. The earlier you can get in and out, the better off you’ll be. Otherwise, aim for lunch or dinner time so you can take advantage of the lull when most shoppers go home to eat.

Set your expectations
This is not Nordstrom’s–heck, this is not even Nordstrom Rack. You are buying used kids stuff. And if you have kids, you know what kids do to their stuff. They beat up their toys, they spill juice on their shirts, they draw with Sharpie’s on their furniture. Consignment sales are full of bargains–if you’re willing to compromise. The nicer and newer the condition of the item, the more expensive it will be. If you’re willing to put up with a few bent pages in a book or a dress that has obviously been off the rack since last season, then you’ll be grand. If you’re expecting perfection, sales may not be for you (but please give me your contact info so we can get in touch when you’re ready to offload your kids’ gear…).

To kid or not to kid
Consignment sales are for kids, but they are not FOR kids. Yes, you buy kid stuff at the sale. No, you should not bring your kid to the sale. Why? Because it’s a Costco warehouse-sized kids garage sale. There are toys and books and bouncy things and all sorts of other temptations everywhere you look. Your children will whine about literally every item in the sale. All 20,000 items. And you will get so fed up that you will just throw up your hands and say WHATEVER and get in line so you can check out and get the heck out of there. And then you will realize, as you are trying to find the end of the line that snakes around the Costco-sized-kids-garage-sale that there is not back of the line. The back of the line is in Mexico. Or Canada. Or whatever country is furthest away from where you are right now. And then you will finally get to the front of the line and you will wonder was it all worth it. (I brought my kids with me to a sale last week)

Have a shopping game plan
If there is something special that you know you want to get, make a beeline for that section as soon as you arrive. Big-ticket items like cribs, strollers and rockers can go faster than a toddler’s temper. Seasonal items like Halloween costumes, outdoor gear, and fancy Easter clothes also get picked over quickly, so grab yours before they’re gone.

Plan for the future
Since sales typically only happen a few times a year, think ahead to what you might need in the months between now and the next sale. Will your child be moving up a size soon? Will the seasons change so you’ll need more seasonal clothing? Will your baby become a crawler/walker/toddler and require different types of toys or gear? Do you have birthdays or Christmas coming up that you want to buy gifts for? Take advantage of the bargains now so you won’t have to break the bank in a month or two.

Bring cash
Some sales create special (shorter) check-out lines for people who are paying with cash. With the average consignment sale check-out line lasting about an hour, bringing cash has saved me countless hours of line-waiting.

Bring the right gear
Bring these things with you to the sale. Just because I said so.
-wagon, empty stroller or shopping trolley (like the ones you see little old ladies bring on the bus) so you have somewhere to put all the cool stuff you find at the sale
-baby carrier–Sometimes you just have to bring the baby with you. With a baby in tow, it will usually be easier to put your baby in a carrier and have your hands and (now empty) stroller available for shopping.
-shopping bags–most sales do not offer you a way to cart your stuff home. Bring your own.
-snacks and water–this shopping is serious business (especially if you find yourself stuck at the end of a 2-hour check-out line)
-cash (see above)
-empty back seat and/or car trunk–you may go to the sale for one thing, but we all know how that’s going to end…

 Happy shopping, and happy saving!

7 Tips and Tricks for Parents Traveling With Littles

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We recently returned from an epic family vacation to London and Paris. We brought along our children: Little Guy (age 3) and Tiny Guy (age 1) and, not only did we survive, but we actually enjoyed our time together. Here are a few reasons why our trip went as smoothly as it did:

1. Bring help.

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I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner, but having a helper along for the ride can make all the difference when you’re traveling with young children. We brought our family friend, 14-year old Jillian, on this last vacation and it was amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. Really, really wonderful. Not only was she an extra set of hands and eyes while we were navigating busy cities, but she was also an at-the-ready babysitter. Having a helper allowed us to have extra hours (sans-children) every day to explore and to go out for grown-up excursions. Ask around, and you just may have a friend or grandma or auntie of your own who will happily accompany your family for free room and board!

2. Allow routines to be broken.

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When we are at home, I am a strict routine follower. When we are traveling, though, I make allowances. We try to keep to a rough schedule, but the nature of travel is that things are just…different. So, we encourage our kids to nap in the stroller instead of in their beds and we also allow a bit–ok, a LOT–more screen time than we would at home. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

3.  Choose family-friendly lodging.

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We love, love, love airbnb.com for family lodging. We were able to find 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens (saving us loads of time, money and stress at meal times) and laundry facilities (because little kids require laundry duty even on vacation) for less than most 2-star hotel rooms in the cities we visited. Our apartments didn’t have pools or spas or room service, but they sure were more comfortable for our family–and, in the end, that’s all that really mattered.

4.  Make time for the kids.

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I was tempted to pack a million excursions into our travel itinerary, but I managed to hold myself back (a bit) so we could make some time for the smaller half of our family. Time every day where we just hung out and did kid stuff. Travel can be rough on little ones, so I tried to make sure there were downtimes for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to just be kids.

Otherwise, you just might start to go a bit crazy…

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5. Pack the right gear.

There are a few baby items that we had with us on this trip that I could not have lived without. First, this little pop-up travel crib tent by Sun Essentials:

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Our little guy loved his tent and the only reason he looks sad in the photo is because I took him out of the tent to take his picture. There is a blow up mattress that zips into the bottom of the tent, so it’s actually very comfortable and cozy. And, the best part is, it folds down into a little bag that you can stuff into your suitcase.

Another essential travel item is a great baby transportation device. We had an Ergo baby carrier and a double Phil and Ted’s stroller–both of which we used every single day. When you are spending hours and hours wandering around every day, it’s helpful to have a good way to get your kids from point A to point B. It’s also very helpful to have a buff husband who can carry said stroller down to undergound subway tunnels and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower on his back.

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6. Keep a close watch on valuables.

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This is Mimi. She is my 3-year old son’s best friend and, I recently discovered, the woman he hopes to marry some day. He loves her dearly. And we nearly lost her forever. We had Mimi with us one night as we were walking around London. Somehow baby brother got a hold of the monkey and, without any of us knowing, he threw her right out of the stroller onto the dark street. An older woman literally chased us down through the streets of London just to return Mimi–I think she is my guardian angel because I seriously would never be able to live with myself if we lost Mimi in a foreign country. Lesson learned: keep a close watch on your valuables.

7. Splurge for some extras if it makes your life easier.

We had the option of traveling to and from the airports on public transportation. You see, we could have taken the above-ground train to the M8 subway to the M3 subway to the 216 bus and arrived at our apartment 3 hours later. Or, for twice the cost, we could have a guy meet us at the airport baggage claim and drive us (and our 5,000 bags) to the front door of our apartment in 30 minutes. We chose the guy at the airport. And do you know why? Because it is never worth it to drag two children under the age of 3 and 5,000 bags through 4 modes of public transportation just to save a buck. Never. If you can afford a family vacation, you can afford a taxi. Just do it. The kids may even enjoy the ride.

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So, there you have it. Travel with little kids is possible, maybe even enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade this trip or the memories we made together for anything.

Well, except for maybe a quiet week on a secluded beach in the Bahamas. Sorry, kids, looks like the next vacations is just for Mommy and Daddy 🙂

* For more practical tips for traveling with kids, read my posts on pre-travel arrangements, getting through the airport, and surviving your flight

10 Tips For Moving With Young Children

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This week has been…crazy. In just a few short days our family will be hopping on a plane to our new home in Ireland–which means we have spent the last few days running around like manic chickens with their heads chopped off. Just imagine moving with a dog and two children under the age of 3. Now imagine moving with those same young children half-way around the world. Now imagine preparing to move with two young children while your husband is in Ireland (and you are in Seattle)–oh, yeah, and you’re throwing a party for 75 of your closest friends and family this week to keep things REALLY interesting.

Crazy as this week has been, I’ve already learned a few things about moving with young children. Starting with:

1. Don’t move with young children.
Really, moving with young kids SUCKS. They don’t help, they get in the way when you’re trying to get stuff done, they require extra time and attention (of which you have neither), they have extra STUFF you have to move (which, of course, you don’t have room to move), and the stress of moving just throws them into a wild tailspin of anger and destruction. Have I convinced you to put your moving plans on hold yet? If not, you may continue reading.

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2. Get help with your kids (read: pawn your children off on a willing grandparent/friend/babysitter/responsible dog).
If you decide to move with young children, you’ve got to get rid of the kids on moving day. Otherwise, moving day simply will not happen. Enlist help for at least the time that you will be doing the bulk of your packing and loading. You may be tempted to try to get a few more things done with your children “helping” you. Don’t. It’s a terrible idea. Just get them out of the house, get things done, and reunite with your beautiful children at the end of the day.

3. Set up a staging area.photo (2)
Find a space in your house that you can use to store already-packed boxes. This could be your garage, a spare bedroom, a corner of the office, or the end of a hallway. As you pack a box, move it to the staging area so you’ll be able to keep everything contained (and make loading into the moving truck go that much quicker).

4. Pack non-essentials first.
Packing up a family is a daunting process. Start by filling one box (yes, just one box–one is a good number to start with, and you know you can actually do it) with non-essential items. This could be off-season clothing, your grandmother’s china (You weren’t planning on using that for Cheerios each morning, were you?), holiday items, or extra toys (now is a good time to start clearing the clutter!). After you pack your first box, the rest come more easily. Starting a couple of weeks before the big moving day, try to fill at least one box per day with non-essentials. Even if you only get a few boxes packed, it will be that much less that you have to do last-minute.

5. Talk up the move and your new house.
We’ve been talking about our “Ireland House” for months with our 2-year old. There are several things that we’ve done to help ease the transition for him. We look at photos on Google images of Ireland (since he’s never actually been there), we find Washington and Ireland on a globe and trace the path that we’ll travel, we point out airplanes in the sky and say, “we get to fly on an airplane to Ireland soon!”. Now that we (finally) have a house over in Ireland we also look at photos of our house and talk about the wonderful things we’ll see there (“Look, there’s our yard where we’ll throw the ball for Bota!”, “Oh, here’s a picture of your new room with your big boy bed!”, “Here’s the toilet you’ll use when you need to go potty.”). We try to make the new house sound as comfortable, inviting, and exciting as we can.

photo (1)6. Color-code your belongings.
We bought 3 colors of low-stick painter’s tape so we could color-code everything in our house. Since we are moving from a reasonably large house to a small, furnished house there are a lot of things we had to put into storage. We used one color for items going to Ireland, another color for items going into storage, and a third color for items we were going to loan out to friends. You could also use the color-coding system for items to move/sell/store, items that are essential/non-essential/seasonal (so you’ll know what to unpack first), or color-code each room of your house. The possibilities are endless!

7. Be all stealth-like and pack your kids’ things when they aren’t looking.
I made the mistake of trying to pack one of David’s balls while he was in the same room. BAD, BAD IDEA. He freaked out and it took about 3o minutes to console him. Lesson learned. Any time you are packing your kids’ belongings, just do it when they aren’t around. They don’t understand that they WILL see these things again soon, so it’s quite traumatic for the little ones.

8. Hire a moving company.
Jon and I have moved 6 times in the last 8 years, but this is the first time we’ve ever had a professional moving company help us out (thanks to Jon’s business sending them out!). It was incredible having 2 guys show up with boxes, spend 6 hours packing our stuff, and then drive our stuff off to where it was supposed to be. I don’t know if we could actually afford to hire those guys on our own, so we usually “hire” our friends with the promise of free beer and pizza on moving day. Either way, get some help with the heavy lifting and the whole move will go a lot more smoothly.

9. Expect your child(ren) to act out. Plan accordingly.
Moving is stressful for anyone, and especially so for young children. They will get frustrated, angry, sad, confused, anxious. They may cry or act out more than usual. That’s to be expected. Just go with it, scrounge up some extra patience, and drink a nice glass of wine after you tuck the kids in at night.

10. Say goodbye.photo (24)
We ended up bringing our kids with us on our final day of organizing and cleaning our “old” house (we also brought along Auntie and Uncle to help babysit them). I was a bit nervous about how David would react when he saw our empty house, but I think it was actually really good for him. He had fun running through the cleared out rooms, seeing our storage space (the garage) packed high with our belongings, and yelling down empty, echo-y hallways. Before we left that day, we walked through each room of the house and said goodbye: “Goodbye, old bedroom. Goodbye, blue curtains. Goodbye, tall stairs.” And that was it. We said goodbye and we left. He was happy waving at our house as we pulled out of the driveway and drove out of our neighborhood for the last time.

So far as I can tell, we’re actually less than halfway done with the move at this point. We still have to get to Ireland, adjust to life in a foreign culture, wait 6-8 weeks for our “stuff” to arrive on a cargo ship, unpack, and settle into our new “normal”. For this chapter of the move, though, we can finally close the book and call it done.

To be continued…

10 Tips For Eating Out At A Restaurant With A Toddler

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My husband and I love trying new restaurants. We enjoy spending hours upon hours conversing over plates of pasta and a bottle of wine. We used to go out all the time, back when it was–you know–just the two of us.

Now we have two little boys and, quite honestly, going out to eat has lost a lot of its charm. Instead of conversing over plates of pasta and a bottle of wine, it’s more like we’re covered in plates of pasta and listening to our kids whine. Difficult as it is to bring the wild banshees–er, children–out to a restaurant, it can still be a rewarding experience. Dining out allows children to experience new foods, develop their dining etiquette, and (let’s not forget) give mom a break from cooking dinner.

With a 2 1/2-year old and a 10-month old baby we’ve developed some tried-and-true strategies for getting through (and even enjoying!) our meals out. Here are my top 10 tips:

  1. Choose where you’re going ahead of time. Make a reservation and review the menu online before you arrive so you can order as soon as you’re seated. Minimal waiting time with a squirrely child = a very good thing.
  2. Choose a family-friendly restaurant. You’ll know you’re in the right place if there are ample high chairs, paper place mats with crayons, easy-to-wipe-up flooring, and kids climbing on the booths. Bonus points if there are balloons available.
  3. Don’t go out to eat with your toddler during peak dining times. Try to hit the early bird special so you’re able to order, get your food, and get out of there quickly.
  4. Feed your child a snack before you go to the restaurant, and bring along extras to eat while you’re waiting for your meals to arrive. Even if you don’t end up eating your snack stash, you’ll be glad you had it if it’s taking an extra-long time for the kitchen to get your order out.
  5. Consider splitting a meal with your toddler rather than ordering him his own. I find that my son is usually so excited by the whole restaurant experience that he doesn’t eat as much when we’re out. Then I get bummed that I wasted $6 on a meal that he barely even touched (Hey, that $6 would have been better spent on a margarita for me!).
  6. Bring along your own entertainment. Books, crayons, Play-doh, and a magna doodle usually work well for us.
  7. Opt for a booth if you’re given the option. I find that they are easier to contain children in than chairs. Another good option is to sit outside where the kids can move around a bit more freely (and where messes are a bit easier to clean up).
  8. Tip your server well. Chances are, you are not the easiest table she’s had tonight. Maybe if you treat the staff well they’ll even invite you back some day!
  9. Bring along some back-up. This may be a great opportunity to invite Grandma and Grandpa out for a nice dinner–especially if they enjoy walking around a restaurant with a squirmy 2-year old so you can finish your entree while it’s still warm.
  10. Bring your patience! Dining out with a toddler is no walk in the park, but hopefully you’ll all make it through the meal in one piece.

Eat on, my friends, eat on!