Friday, May 30, 2008

REI's Website Redesign = Get Out There...Family Style

I just received my latest Gear Mail from REI, so I decided to go on-line and look for some after season deals on ski gear for my ever-growing kids. But what I found was so much more. There is an entire section dedicated to "Get Out There" on the header tool bar. And embedded in there you will find "REI Kids' Passport to Adventure." What an awesome program to promote active lifestyles for families. Aimed at ages 5-12 you stop in a local REI store or download straight from the site a journal for your kids. And after the child has completed at least one outdoor activity there is a postcard they send in and will receive a certificate and "a special prize—a multifunction whistle that includes a thermometer, magnifier and compass." And really cool...on this same page you scroll down and there are pdf files with local hikes and rides aimed at the family for over 1/2 the states. Each file starts with some suggestions for your day pack and then describes each activity with a rating, distance, why this, description, driving directions, and extra tips (like check out the observation tower, picnic spots, etc..). Very cool...and even found a couple I will be adding to my to do list this summer with my family!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Have Carrier...Child will Go

About 7 years ago I spent a good hour+ in REI getting fitted for a pair of hiking boots. I was preparing to start some prep hikes leading up to hiking Mt Whitney in a day (which I managed to do despite rain, snow, and altitude sickness). I tried on numerous pairs, scaled their little mini faux rock trail and paid extra for the footbeds and the perfect blend of polyester, cotton, etc socks.

4 years later I found myself again in REI spending over an hour, but this time with snacks, a bottle, and lots of baby toys in tow. This is because we spent that hour placing my daughter into, strapping up, and trekking around the store in numerous packs. Now if you are just going to go for a stroll in the park with your child on your back, then fine...perhaps pick up something off Craigslist, eBay, or the neighbor down the street whose child has outgrown their's. But if you have intentions of putting on those hiking boots and perfect blend socks, then by all means treat this purchase like you would a pair of hiking boots. We were looking for comfort/support, durability, bells and whistles, and usability by me ALONE (no assist from the husband).

We have two packs in our household. We'll just say they serve both ends of the spectrum of hiking. Long hikes where I would actually put on those boots and perfect blend socks we have the Kelty Backcountry. And for a hike say through an airport we have a Deuter Kangakid.

Kelty doesn't make the Backcountry per say anymore...the closest version is now the FC3.0
But it is not the pack I want you to be interested in, but the process by which we chose it and things we considered in making our choice:
  • Comfort/Support: Adjustable to both my husband or myself. Good padding in shoulders straps, waste straps, and back panel. Adjustable for my child as they grow keeping them comfortable as well as protected from elements (i.e. sun/rain hood). My three and a half year old daughter who is super tall rode recently during a snow-shoe'ing trip in Tahoe. 5 point harness for child.
  • Durability: Good sturdy frame, but lightweight (I am a member of the 10lb'er son was 10.6 at birth and has kept on growing...I don't need a heavy frame plus his weight). Fabric that can stand up to the elements...rain, snow, wind, sun, being tossed in our Yakima truck topper.
  • Bells and Whistles: Storage for diapers, wipes, etc.. Parts that are removable & washable. Handles to carry easily without a child on board. Reflective tape.
  • Usability by ME: This means I can load and unload my son or daughter and get it on ad off my back by myself. No assist from the husband. So this would mean lift straps and automatic kickstand are a necessity.
What happened to make us get the other end of the spectrum well we and our daughter loved the pack concept so much we wanted something frameless and super light to take on planes and fit under the seat in front of us. At the time of our purchase Deuter was the only one we could find manufacturing a completely frameless/soft carrier. We got stopped at every turn with questions about it. Now other manufacturers like Kelty have caught on. Pretty much things we thought about with this purchase were:
  • Completely Soft
  • Can carry a fairly large child comfortably & safely
  • Can carry a laptop and all the munchkin goods, diapers, etc..
  • Washable
Take a peek they are basically day packs with a hidden seat. We love the hands free experience so much we often forgo our stroller in everyday situations and opt for one of our carriers. Our kids have been on our backs for your standard hikes, snow-shoe'ing....and dare I admit my daughter took her first ski ride on my husbands back.

Just one thing to note...don't forget they are back there and can reach out and grab things, especially in one of those "you break it you buy it" stores.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lap Child, Car Seat, Seatbelt....OH MY

In preparation for that upcoming trip I mentioned in my last blog entry I started turning the house upside down looking for my daughter's seatbelt for our flight. Seatbelt? - you ask. A little back story needed here.

My husband is 6'3". I am 5'9". My husband has family members as tall as 6'8". So my children are at the top of the height curves. How I would love to have had them as FREE lap children until age 3 cut-off....especially as of today when American Airlines announced they will charge for your FIRST checked bag in the wake of the high fuel costs. But my daughter had her first paid seat at 16months and my son at 14months. Lap children that are nearly 3ft before age not only severely uncomfortable, but also a trial in patience I did not want to engage.

Then when it came time to move to car seats...well, our car seats are the Britax Marathon. That means among the highest rated for safety, but I would also dare to say the highest in weight. So when it came to the first trip in their own seats I went out and referred to American Academy of Pediatric Car Seat Guide as well as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to purchase another car seat. I was on the hunt...for an affordable (dare I say cheap), light, yet, highly rated and FAA-approved car seat. Yes, I was a little shaken about not taking my Britax, however I was going with the odds. I've always heard most accidents happen within a few miles of home. And I did a great, highly rated, super light car seat for ~$50. We even put a baby shower gift to the test which was a car seat travel bag. Honestly, they are great and have come a long way since our first one which just had a shoulder strap. Our latest one has wheels as well as shoulder strap and backpack straps. These can also be used to check car seats once your child is old enough to sit in the airline seat versus having the airline put them in their plastic bag.

Which speaking of...I learned last year that in August 2005 the FAA stopped requiring children be in CRS's (Child Restraint System...or fancy acronym for FAA approved car seats, etc). However, they highly recommend a CRS is used and I agree for safety and well my sanity as it keeps my child from wriggling everywhere. So once my daughter's legs were falling asleep due to length or annoying the person in front of her because they were a little busy we moved on to a CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System). It's a great system that is used with the existing airline seat belt creating a harness similar to their 5 point car seat which she was already accustomed. It has a usability range of 1yr and 22lbs upwards to 4 years and 44lbs and 40 inches. It's 1lb and fits into a little stuff sack which can go in your...or into your child's carry-on. We love it...and most of my friends who do a decent amount of air travel have asked us about it and have gone on to purchase one.

For more information about traveling with children on planes check out the FAA's website.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I hated the back of a plane...BEFORE KIDS.

We are making our annual pilgrimage back to our birthplace here in a couple of weeks, so I went on-line today to make sure that the airlines had not changed plane types or something else that would have resulted in our seats being reassigned. See before children I hated the back of the plane and now I covet seats about 3-4 rows from the back. Why?

Well, for starters traveling with one child in diapers and one child 95% potty-trained having a bathroom within an arm's reach is a major plus. A lot of the larger planes lavatories are even equipped with changing stations. Definitely board early and go check it out. If there is not a changing station then, if you can, wait until the crew has finished their service and kindly ask if you can change on the galley floor. I have not been turned down yet. Just be courteous and ask for a trash bag, place your diaper in it, and then into the trash in the lavatory. Do not hand your soiled diaper to a flight attendant.

Another reason...that flight crew I just mentioned for a couple of reasons. They have all the beverages, an easy reach for more apple juice, hot water to heat a bottle, or an extra pack of pretzels. And the flight crew are people too and many with their own families they are apart from, so we have found a lot love to talk to, play with, and even hold the children.

It generally takes us a little extra time to ensure we have everything...checking the seat pockets in front of you so we are in no rush. And those few extra minutes allows the ground crew to bring your stroller up, if you checked one, and a lot of times they will even set it up for you on the jet way.

And lastly we find it a bit more relaxing (if you don't have a tight connection) you do not have a crowd pushing behind you to get off the plane which generally leads to the added bonus of the excited toddler/preschooler getting some face time with the pilot or even a trip to the cockpit.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Camping - Where it all began & how to begin

OK, here it goes....after nearly nine months of tinkering I am getting serious. I think what pushed me forward was reserving two campsites at Spring Lake Regional Park for our annual camping/wine tasting trip. It was on this trip last year kids tucked into sleeping bags and parents with open bottles of the day's purchases around a fire at the Casini Family Ranch in Russian River that I was cheered on to put all my planning prowess (I believe the actual term that evening was "anal-ness") out there for others to perhaps find a nugget they could use. So I thought it would be appropriate for my first blog to be about camping and things we consider when looking for campsite.

We learned early (both our kids started camping under age 1) gone are the days of walk-in or first-come least for a while. The last thing you want to do after a car ride somewhere, hopefully during their naps, is to pull up to the ranger station to find they are full. So just pick a weekend, go on-line, and reserve in advance. Generally cancellations are generous enough
that if a bug hits yoru family you can cancel and get your money back. Reserve America has on-line reservations for campgrounds in all 50 states and Canada and a lot of the national parks can be booked at, but unfortunately sometimes you just have to do a good ole Google Search to find what you are looking for. Some thoughts we always put into a location are:
  • Drive time:
    • Getting there: Until all the kids are older we like the distance from our home to = nap time + snack time. As they get older this can expand to add an additional time for cd/dvd/book on tape/I spy game
    • Venturing out: If you are going to visit attractions nearby...make it close. Our rule of thumb is no more than 30min. After the ride to get there the last thing the kids want is to be back in the car.
  • Campground Facilities (our must have's for under the age of 5):
    • Hot Showers: Kids get's all part of being a kid and handy wipes only go so far. Don't forget your quarters in case they are pay showers.
    • Flushable Toilets: It's hard to get a potty-training child to sit on an open pit, ala outhouse-style toilets.
    • Fun Stuff: Trust me the campsite and exploring will be fun...for a while, but let's admit it attention spans are short especially with the younger ages. So if a campground has a play set, ranger-led activities, river/lake nearby, or other "distracting" features it's an added bonus
Choosing a campsite here's a few things our family considers:
  • Not too close to the camp host/entrance...this cuts down on foot and vehicle traffic therefore leading to a more peaceful and safer site
  • Close to, but not next to bathrooms...being close to a bathroom, especially when traveling with a potty training toddler, is key. However, you do not want to be next to them or just be ready for foot traffic at all hours who will be bearing flashlights after dusk
  • Avoid insides of loops...many campgrounds are set-up in a loop lay-out. We tend to reserve campsites on the outside perimeter vs inside a loop. This allows for more privacy (or privacy for others when munchkins do not want to go to sleep or wake up early) and also a little more peace of mind as you have less roads around you and therefore less vehicle traffic.
Comments, including your favorite family-friendly campground welcome. Otherwise...get out there and camp this summer. It's a wonderful way to share nature with your family and start an appreciation for it and our Earth at an early age.