Monday, June 30, 2008

Camping Trial Runs

In the month of August we have the opportunity to camp 3 weekends in a row. First on some private property right on the South Fork of the American River with a nice natural beach where the kids can play, raft, and watch all the rafts and kayaks float by the the afternoon. Secondly will be our annual wine tasting "slash" camping trip to Santa Rosa - Sonoma's Kenwood region. And third to Camp Richardson at Lake Tahoe.

But our last camping trip of last season our son was only 8months old and therefore less mobile. So as we did with our daughter we are thinking might be good to do again...a trial run. Huh?

We are lucky enough to have property as well as do some of our we tend to early in the summer throw up the tent for a single night and see how the kids do. Taking special notes on sleeping needs. A quiet tent leads to a peaceful evening around the campfire for the adults. So we take all the bedding options...sleeping bags, Thermarest, Aerobed, etc.. and we do one night out. This one night out generally occurs within a half an hour of our home (or in our yard). This way if it is a complete disaster we can bail on the experiment. However, I am happy to say we have not had to to date.

Another piece of equipment good to trial run is the sleeping bag. Have you had your toddler or preschooler crawl into bed with you. They sure like the freedom to turn every which way...generally with our kids it is horizontally across the bed with their feet in our ribs. So the confinement of a sleeping bag may take some getting used to. So when our daughter got her first sleeping bag we even did trials in our home to get her used to it. And to get her excited we let her help pick it out...
REI's Kindercone.

Besides getting the kids all squared away such that they will be ready for 2-3 nights that are 2-3 hours away from home it also allows us to check out our camping gear to see what we need, what didn't survive storage from last season, etc.. This is good as generally at the end of camping season we simply toss everything in plastic storage crates and tuck them away to be untouched until the next season.

So wish us luck...our trial night will be mid-July.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

When Your Child Can Not Go

I think others in Northern California will agree we have five seasons instead of four. Winter...when the rain starts in October or November and doesn't end for 4-5 months, but we don't mind too much as everything turns green and the Sierras get snow. Spring just like everyone else with daffodils and iris' blooming and we hit the slopes for some corn. Summer when we get our first triple digits...and it comes well before official date on the calendar. But our 5th season is fire season. It comes a few weeks after the triple digits start and things go from green to crunchy beneath your feet.

Fire season started early this year. We have photos of CDF bombers dropping retardant in late April. And with an unprecedented lightning storm last Saturday that brought 8000 strikes and 800 fires (per AP news reports...and my eyes and nose agree) season is in full swing.

Unfortunately we are used to this every summer and it means our children can not go. Air Quality has now for several days been unhealthy. Recess has been held indoors all week at my daughter's preschool. And home is starting to feel smaller and smaller. But spending our 12th year in NorCal with this season and our 4th with children we have prepared for this for our children just as much as we have done our fire abatement activities outside clearing 100ft from our house, etc..

Here's some suggestions:
  • Keep a tub of art supplies at the ready for projects
    • A friend of mine had her 6yr olds doing scrap books of a recent trip
    • Collages of places they would like to go or things they would like to see
  • Turn your living room into a jungle or farm using your art supplies, sheets, stuffed animals, etc..
  • Movie Night...Move the furniture and bring out the sleeping bags for a family flick
  • Let bath time run kids are really missing their pool right now
  • Play a game...Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Bingo, etc..
  • Camp-out Inside...set-up the tent and do dinner ala camp-style and tell stories around flashlights.
  • Keep a large box from a recent shipment and make a house or a boat allowing your child to design and decorate it
These are just a few things we have dreamed up. Every location seems to have their special season that requires kids to stay inside so hopefully one or two of these work for your season stuck inside when the walls start closing in.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Check the seat pocket in front of you...AAUGH!

We're home! Other than overcompensating for traffic and naps on our way to the airport therefore leaving us with two hours to occupy the children the trip went much better than our flight there. Leg#1 had us keeping the kids up to get them back on west coast time. Leg#2 and they were both asleep within 5minutes after take-off. Yipppeee!

I proceeded to pull out my Apple iPod nano which is an essential in most of our travel these days. We love it as we can load movies for our daughter on as well as for ourselves. In this case I was reaching for it to listen to some tunes and drown out the plane noise and the DirectTV our seat mate had blaring so loud I could hear the entire broadcast word for word despite her headphones.

Unfortunately it didn't help a lot...I think I snoozed about 20min of our 2+ hour flight. Our seat mate was rather large. Having once tipped the scales myself I did feel for her. She had to use the seatbelt extender and had to constantly shift in her seat every 90seconds due to discomfort. So by the time we landed in NorCal it was 11:30PM, which is 2:30AM east coast and I was exhausted. I slipped my nano into the seat pocket in front of me as we prepared for our descent and I tried desperately to get my daughter who was crashed across my lap somewhat officially into her seatbelt for landing . Normally I am religious about not putting anything there. I have left too many items.

We finally stir the kids enough to get them off the plane and into the stroller on the jet way. We take a stroller and gate check it when we have a trip with connections. It helps us move faster from one gate to another if we have a tight connection. And it allows us to tour them around, make a fort, or sleep if we have a longer layover. And who-hoo...our bags are some of the first off at baggage claim. 12:15AM (West)/3:15AM (East) and we are in the car on our way home.....

That is literally how I sounded when about 1/2hr into our drive home when I realize I tuned out that flight attendant when she said "Please check the seat pocket in front of you for any belongings you brought with you." I left my nano on the plane in Frontier Airlines Flight #221 Seat 14B Seat Pocket...right there in front of me.

We will get another is too valuable to us in our travels.
But I learned my lesson AGAIN!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day to my husband and my partner who assists in taking our children on the go!
As usual we spent the day on the go...annually we blueberry pick in Norther Cali at Bolster's, but still on our trip in the Midwest we opted for strawberries in Southern Indiana at Joe Huber's Family Farm, Restaurant, Orchard, and Winery.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Canoing in the Midwest

We love boating and given our children's boating lineage we are getting them out young. the children's paternal grandfather is an avid bass fisherman, even running a tournament circuit. Their maternal grandfather prefers to canoe and also enjoys fishing. Both live very near to within miles and the other within a couple blocks. And we have been on a wait list for several years for a slip in Northern California and as soon as we get called we will be purchasing a sailboat.

This trip my daughter got to enjoy the slower pace of canoing with her maternal grandfather and father. She had a ball and came back spouting off names of herons, bald eagles, etc..

So a few tips we can pass along from this one:
  • Know the state PFD (Personal Flotation Device) laws. In Ohio where she was on the water children are required to be wearing their PFD. Some require they have them on...some merely they are in the boat and easily accessible.
  • Own a PFD. Knowing our daughter will be boating quite a bit we bought her a Type 3 PFD.
    • The vest should fit snug. To test the fit, tighten all straps and close zippers and then lift the child by holding the PFD's shoulders. The child's ears and neck should not slip though the head opening. It is also advisable that a child wear, at minimum, a Type II PFD.
  • Wear secured, good tread shoes. No open toes, no flip-flops, etc.. These little folks are still trying to find their balance on land. Now have them step into a canoe and they need all the traction they can get.
  • Dress for the elements. Her day on the water was warm and sunny, so a hat and sunglasses to protect from the sun, both from above and reflection from water's surface. Pants/Pedal Pushers to protect from the sun as well as the heat being absorbed in the boat's surface.
  • Sun/Bug Protection...what can we say...the following covers all our needs Avon's SKIN SO SOFT BUG GUARD PLUS IR3535® Gentle Breeze SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion
She had a great time...and was ready to go again the next day.

Stay tuned...we still have to close on getting our money from Frontier for our days of lost luggage getting here. The original receipts will go in the mail on Monday.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bankruptcy Turn Into Issues for My Children on the Go

Oh my....what a turbulant travel this has been thus far. Well, we have not even been able to put my last blog's packing hypothesis to the test because our checked bags have been MIA since we checked them in California on Thursday night.

While traveling on Frontier airlines who has filed bankruptcy we got underway from northern California with no issue. Landed in Denver and was happy connection was only about 6 gates away. So enough time for potty breaks all around. As I come out with my daughter my husband is desperately picking up a stroller and carry-on bags with a stressed out face. I yell..."Gate Change!" He yells..."Canceled Flight!" Mind you this is a red eye we were doing. Our kids have always slept well on those and it is our preferred method of going east. The issue was not so much Frontier, but a contracted regional airline operating our flight for them. So we are now in Denver in the back of the Customer Service line due to my potty break with 2 very tired kids at 12:30AM. So being tech savy we whip out our phones and start Google'ing hotels, calling Frontier, and placing a rental car on hold. We also check our email to find we have been rebooked on a 7AM.

One thing I have always done prior to a trip is have the airlines number in my phone. Because this way if something does happen a lot of times the phone agents can help before you get through that line. It wasn't going anywhere fast. And the idea of sleeping in the airport with 2 little kids and carry-ons full of cameras, dvd players, IPODs, etc...really meant one of us would sleep and the other stand guard. So our game plan was to get pushed to a later flight and crash with local family/friends. So we got other flight options from the agents over the phone, but "only the agents at the airport" could rebook us. So we made sure they were aware we had two cute and adorable, but very tired children. Actually they were amazing and after an hour and a half we were rebooked on a later flight to a city closer to our final destination and our bags were to be rerouted. $600 in vouchers and another $30 for food and we were headed to Hertz to grab a car and we though taking advantage of my husband's gold membership and walking straght to our car.

Lucky us...Hertz does computer back-up every night between 2-3AM so no speedy check-in. Luckily our daughter is asleep, but son is going strong...all be it a little slap happy. Manual paperwork and we are in route to an aunt and uncle's for the night. Another tip...keep number on hand of anyone living in towns you are transferring through who would be willing to host you for the night. Even giving them a heads-up email the week before which we had done.

A good night's sleep, nice breakfast, showers, and in route to the airport we head to Target to grab diapers as we were running out. Packing tip coming into play from last blog...Target-type stores, groceries, etc exist everywhere. As we leave Target...our daughter gets sick...everywhere. Target tip comes into play again as I return to buy her a new outfit as well as huge ziplock bags to put everything soiled in and bottled water to rehydrate her.

Checked in and on flight to Midwest. All is good...except kids are pretty strung out, but movies, snacks, etc and we touch down 2 hours later.....and to find our bags are lost. No record. Nothing. But I must admit Frontier thus far has been amazing. They immediately file a claim and started us down the path of what was next. We had a wedding to attend the next day and nothing but very casual, comfy travel clothes in our possession. Frontier started updating us that night as no progress was made. And we even had the name of a real live person to help us. The next morning we got approved for extra expenditures above the standard to cover the wedding outfits. If you lose your luggage read the fine print before leaving the counter...notes about weddings, special events, sports equipment are generally called out. We had her note the wedding on our claim as well as children's life jackets we had for boating activities planned. We were also outfitted with a loaner car seat. Oh, but to ice the cake...our daughter got sick again in route to our first destination.

After a mad dash through the mall, attending the wedding, and detours to get to our second destination 4.5 hours away due to flooding we are still without bags 48+ hours later. They had been found and were now being transferred to another airline and another destination and would be driven to our second stop. Midnight and we arrive and no bags. We finally get a call as hour 72 approaches. They are on their way....

Lesson here....even the best laid plans sometimes don't work out. With each person we met we tried to kill them with kindness. Seems to work for us....really given the situations it really didn't feel too bad...thanks to April and Mitzi with Frontier in Louisville, Richard and Co with Frontier in Denver, Laura at Highlands Ranch, CO Target, Baggage Express guy, and our Aunt and Uncle, and Parents.

Now...on with the vacation..............

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Packing to avoid fees....

<-- Helping Mom Pack for Jamaica

OK, we are hours before our trip I have mentioned in the last couple of blogs. Our family of four is 99% packed which means I packed myself and the kids and my husband has packed himself. Now packing even before kids stressed me out. My husband and I have two totally different packing styles. This is where we joke...he is the girl and I am the guy. He takes everything, so he can have his entire closet to pick from while he is there. While I try to put together outfits and take just what I need for the destination and our activities. But with the increase in airlines charging for second and as of mid-June even first checked bags we decided to start taking steps to avoid paying the extra fees.

As far as checked baggage we decided to apply the following rules:
  • # of Outfits equals ~1/2 days of our trip
    • Exception: Additional outfit allowed for special occasion/activity (i.e. wedding, diving, etc..)
    • Example: Our trip is 11 days. Each person was allotted 6 outfits plus one additional dress outfit for the wedding we are attending
  • 90% of outfits match weather forecast
    • 10% outfits will cover when the weatherman just doesn't get it right
    • Example: Our entire trip is fore casted highs 90's, lows 70's and scattered summer thunderstorms. So 90% of our clothing is warm weather gear with one additional outfit being pants and a jacket.
  • WalMarts/Targets/Drug Stores exist about everywhere
    • Example when I started traveling with children I would pack a sleeve of diapers, my jumbo wipes, etc.. Now I pack enough in carry-ons to cover the trip and an incidental layovers, but otherwise I hit a store or order it at my destination ahead of time
  • Pack additional duffel bag collapsed in a checked bag.
    • This is great for going to Grandma's house or a destination. Either place you will accumulate things to bring home and this will allow you to do so. Plus I don't know about you, but I can't seem to get everything to fit in as wonderfully as I did outbound.
My son is too young to count, but my daughter at 3&1/2 got put to work in packing. She was told how many hot weather bottoms (shorts, capris, etc) to pick, short sleeve shirts, etc.. She laid them all out for me to review to "Punky Brewster" look she had put together. All in all she did a great job and we discussed weather and did some counting in the process.

So my family of four is currently packed into 2 large rolling duffel bags (which are awesome by the way). A third check...which btw...does NOT count towards your bag count will be a car seat. Which a huge tip is if you are running out of space in your other bags...hold out some large bulky items like coats, etc and stuff them into your car seat bag. Remember I mentioned these great buys in my earlier blog on airplane travel re: lap child, car seats, or seat belt. Also in these bags are a wedding present, anniversary present, and 2 life children's life jackets (for boating trips we have planned).

So I will blog later and let you know how we did with our rules. What worked well and what didn't. But for now if you have any great tips for packing checked bags for a family please leave some comments and share.