Sunday, July 28, 2013

Traveling with a toddler

I'm pretty hesitant to post about mom stuff. I mean, come on, this is my fist time at the rodeo. What do I know? It's all trial and error for me.

With that said, I'm not sure that having four, six or eight kids would make me feel any closer to being an expert. (That's totally not something I want to test out, either.)

Recently, a few people have commented on my "bravery" in traveling with Little Man when Beau is unavailable to join us. I didn't ever really consider it brave. (Or stupid, or crazy, or inspiring or any other adjectives assigned to our adventures by outsiders.)

Just this morning we returned home from our weekend in Chicago for my first BlogHer conference. This time I didn't travel solo. My wonderful, sweet, kind mom came with us. Her pseudonym from here on out will be Granny Nanny. (Don't worry, she likes it.) I realized during this most recent trip that traveling with kids can be hard. It doesn't have to be. (And by kids, I mean my one kid. Moms of many, I don't pretend to speak for you.)

Here are some pieces of advice I have for moms of toddlers who want to travel. I've tested these on planes, trains and automobiles. They work. At least for my kid. I've even tried them out traveling solo with him. I'm still here to write about it. Go figure.

1. Accept help
This one is the hardest for me. Just ask my mom. She saw it first hand this weekend. I am fiercely independent. I have an "I can do it" attitude about most things. I fully realized the benefit of accepting help last night when Little Man was asleep on me and I was trying to figure out how to get my backpack down from the overhead and put it on without waking the sweet baby. Mom was further back on the plane, so I was going to have to do this on my own. (Yes, I realize I could have waited for her to get up to us. I didn't think about it at the time.) The sweet grandfather who shared our row of seating offered to get my backpack for me. Instantly I felt less stressed. He was also sweet enough to offer to carry my bags off, but that seemed like overkill given my proneness to fierce independence. I'm a work in progress, what can I say.

Likewise, I've had strangers offer to help carry the stroller down stairs where a ramp wasn't available. Doors are often held for us. These gestures are so, so helpful.

Say thank you. Profusely and sincerely.

And if you refuse help, do so politely as well. Don't be the one to make the person offering not want to help another solo mom some other time.

2. Don't expect help
People will help. Probably. Except for when they don't. Don't count on it, and don't expect it. Formulate a plan that you can manage on your own. That means you should have the means to carry all of your luggage and manage your child at the same time. When we flew to San Diego, Beau's company booked his flight and because of logistical difficulties, Beau had to book us on a different flight. Little Man and I flew across country on our own. The most difficult part of that was that I carried his car seat with me because we rented a car and I didn't want to rent a sub par seat (tried that once, wasn't impressed) and I didn't want to check his seat (the abuse that luggage takes can damage a seat and compromise your baby's safety). This meant that I had to traverse the airport in Detroit with a baby, a car seat, and a diaper bag. I erroneously didn't want to deal with a stroller in the airport, so I didn't bring one. There was no nice grandfather on his way to visit his grand kids to help me in this case. There were a lot of people in a hurry to get where they needed to be. I was just another ant (albeit a baby wearing ant) in a maze of other ants.

Instead of expecting help, I prepared to make the plane change on my own. I wore Little Man on my chest in his Baby Bjorn and made sure that I could balance his jumbo car seat on my hip and still walk a good distance at a solid clip. It would have been nice to have had help, but I didn't need it. We made our connection with enough time to grab a sandwich and have a college age couple comment on my car seat/baby carrying guns.

3. Prepare, but don't over pack
When I travel alone I bring extras. I have "just in case" stuff. A just in case magazine or two. My laptop- just in case I want to write. A water bottle just in case I want to fill it up after getting through security. Et cetera. You get it. When traveling with a person who doesn't contribute anything to the experience (aka your offspring), you get to play Sherpa. It ain't as fun as it sounds. Know how many diapers your little one will use, and then plan on bringing just a few more. (I know, mom, I over-packed diapers this trip...) Know which small toys and books will amuse your little one and just pack those. If your little person is as nosy curious as mine, you won't need many toys. The airport should be stimulation enough. And on the plane, Little Man could have played with the shade and little lap-table-thing for days. Know your child well enough to know what amuses him or her. A new toy? Get one. Can't survive without his or her lovie? Pack it.

Even if you aren't flying and the amount of luggage is a non issue, remember, you'll have to carry it, load/unload it, and pack/unpack/repack/unpack it. Bring what you need plus a little extra and call it a day. Do keep in mind that if you don't bring an extra outfit or two there will be a poop explosion or something equally messy and stinky. Preparedness is not synonymous with over packing. Know the difference. 

4. Give yourself more time that you think you could possibly need
This last trip, mom and I could have booked a connection that would have gotten us back to Richmond earlier. The layover would have been less than an hour, though. I wasn't keen on the idea of changing planes with a toddler in Atlanta with less than an hour between flights. We probably could have made it, but it would have been tight and I would have been stressed. Be aware of layover times, the size of the airport you'll be changing planes in, and any customs requirements when booking your flight. Plan according to your needs.

Similarly, plan to get to the airport earlier than necessary to get through security. On both legs of this trip I got pulled aside to have my bag searched. While it is perfectly within FAA regulations to bring as much food or liquid as is reasonable, my bags got flagged and the food packets got pulled out and the bag rescreened. Likewise, it takes a few minutes to take care of strollers and seats, get the little one situated back in the seat or sling, put shoes back on, etc. It is much easier if there is no real rush.

Little Man and I have made two road trips to West Virginia when Beau's work schedule didn't allow us to join him. The drive itself is a pretty straightforward five hour drive. I never plan it taking five hours. I know that we will stop at least once for a nice stretch, meal and diaper change. We'll play for a little bit and I'll let him expend some energy. I never know how long this will take and I have learned not to begrudge it. Giving him time to recover from being strapped in a seat for a lengthy period makes the rest of the trip go by smoothly. Be aware and considerate of your little person's energy level.(Because if you aren't you--and possibly the other 100+ people on a plane--will suffer through the ramifications of a baby who has too much energy and nowhere to go.)

5. Always pack food
Even if I'm driving an hour to see family, I pack food. It may just be a small baggie of crackers and a sippy cup, but it is food nonetheless. Sometimes that hour turns into two plus hours because of traffic. Sometimes a 45 minute flight sits on a tarmac for two hours. Sometimes the food/beverage cart on the train is out of food your baby can/will eat.  Those packed snacks can often keep a meltdown from happening.

And that is very good.

6. Be flexible
Travel is stressful. Babies and toddlers are stressful. The two of them together could very easily be a stress cocktail. Don't let it be. If traffic has you stopped long before you planned your leg-stretch stop, let the traffic dictate your stop instead of your agenda. If your flight is cancelled or your bag is lost, calmly ask the airline personnel how they are going to remedy your situation (and then thank me for reminding you to pack that extra outfit and a few extra diapers). If your baby ALWAYS eats a nutritious and balanced meal at noon but the plane is still ascending, distract him or her with a cracker or whatever you have handy and let your schedule slide for a day. Having goldfish for lunch one day will not have long-term affects on his or her health and wellness.

Travel is exciting and novel for your baby. It is also overwhelming. Schedules will be thrown off. Routines are out the window. Be ready to adapt to that three hour time change or missed nap. Plan for what you can (i.e. Little Man's inability to go to sleep at a decent hour the day we make the five hour road trip to WV) and be cognizant of the fact that you can't plan for everything (maybe a lost lovie or pacifier). You can only adapt. Be ready to adapt to any number of events.

I truly believe that babies react to our stress. If you are flexible and calm, your baby will use those cues to formulate his or her reaction to the trip. 

Here's wishing you safe and happy travels.

What other general travel advice do you have to share?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Spiced Peach Muffins

In theory I love peaches. They are so delicious and fresh and sweet. In practice, though, I don't like to eat them because they are a sticky mess. You'd think I could get over it and just give in to the mess and enjoy every sweet, sticky bite. For some reason I can't do that. 

Because of this I buy peaches thinking I'm just going to bite into them and eat them, but they sit on the counter in the fruit bowl until they are way ripe and then I put them in the refrigerator until figure out what to do with them. I'm like a less confusing, less annoying, less self-conscious version of J. Alfred Prufrock. "Do I dare eat a peach?" No, I daren't.

Are you shaking your head at me? I'm shaking my own head at me. Such a disappointment.

I do realize that peaches can be cut up and eaten that way. Sometimes I do that. When I don't do that, I take those ripe peaches and make these muffins. They almost make my strange peach juice aversion a stroke of genius instead of  weirdness.


Spiced Peach Muffins
adapted from here

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 cups coconut oil warmed to liquid
1 1/4 cups milk
4 peaches peeled and diced (about 3 cups)
rock sugar

Combine the dry ingredients (except the rock sugar) in a large bowl. Stir in the eggs, coconut oil, milk. Add the peaches and gently stir. Fill cupcake wrappers or greased muffin tins with batter. Fill to the top, these a pretty dense and won't rise a whole lot. Sprinkle with small pieces of rock sugar. If you don't have that on hand, granulated sugar is fine.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Makes 16 muffins. Give some away or you will eat more than you should.

They are especially dangerous hot, sliced open with a small pat of butter melting on the steamy warm insides.

I think these would be wonderful with nearly any fruit you need to use up.

I also don't eat ribs or corn on the cob in public. (But will tear them up in private...) Please tell me there are other people like me out there. Anybody? Hello?

Friday, July 19, 2013

California love: San Diego edition

Finally! I harassed Beau enough to convince him that we NEEDED to make a pilgrimage back to my homeland, Southern California.

Somehow, my BFF in the whole wide world had never meet my son or my husband. (And by "somehow" I of course mean that we have billions of miles separating us. OK, not billions. I do have a basic grasp of geography. But it sure does feel like billions most days.) It was definitely time to get out there to visit. Fortunately, Beau had a class in San Diego, so Little Man and I simply tagged along.

We spent a few days there in sunny, perfect San Diego and then ventured into Orange County and even made it up into Hollywood long enough for a meal and a drink with one of Beau's childhood friends. And some classic L.A. traffic on the way back. Perhaps I don't miss everything about California.

Because I could (and probably will) wax poetic about California for far, far too long, I will probably break our vacation into a few posts. Because everyone needs to see all of my photos.

Oh, crikey, this is the modern-day equivalent to the family photo slide show. Geesh. I'm sorry. (But really I'm not.)

Beau had been to San Diego before, but he hadn't been to my San Diego. I wanted desperately for him to see it through my very rose colored glasses. Obviously, there are about a gazillion things to do there, but when I'm the tour guide, there are a few places that are a little off the normal list of tourist spots. If we had more time we might have gone to the zoo or Hotel Del Coronado, but time was short and I had to revisit some very special places.

See, I lived in San Diego for the four years I was in college. It was an amazing time and because I enjoyed my college years so much, San Diego will forever be a favorite place in the world to me. One of our very first stops was to my Alma Mater, the University of San Diego. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the most stunning college campuses in existence.

Nearby is the equally stunning Balboa Park.

We wandered around there, had a nice iced mocha at the pond and then stumbled upon this exhibit.

Beau was very intrigued. Until he realized it didn't involve samples. So, we skipped it, went along to  the rose garden and then grabbed a bite.

I'm supposed to be completely honest with you guys. I should fully disclose that I might have had In-n-Out for two meals that first day, but I am too embarassed. I don't think I'm capable of adding numbers as high as that calorie count would be!

We stayed at the Sheraton San Diego Harbor and Marina and while Beau was attending his second day of classes, Little Man and I took walks, played in the pool and made plans for our adventures that night. Exercise never looked so good, huh?

Long, long ago, I did my student teaching in La Jolla at Muirlands Middle School. While I didn't take Beau to the school to show him my ocean view classroom, I did think it important to show him the seals at La Jolla Cove. (On a semi-related note, who gives a student teacher a classroom with an ocean view? That just seems mean since my first two years of teaching were spent in classrooms that didn't even have windows that I could see out of. Lets just say after my short stint in La Jolla my expections were a little bit high.)

Little Man loved the ocean breeze and didn't really understand that the brown lumps down on the beach were really cool living animals. Whadda expect? He's one!

Since it was prime traffic time when we left La Jolla, we decided to drive down the coast. One of my favorite things to do when in crazy expensive neighborhoods like that is to have my Zillow ap open and check out the houses that are for sale. (Don't worry, I wasn't driving...) Holy moly are there some crazy expensive and beautiful houses on the California coast. While playing starnge voyeur/co-pilot, I planned a route that would take us past the Wahoo's Fish Tacos in Mission Bay. (I blogged about Wahoo's once before here.)

Beau and Little Man were pretty happy with the fish tacos and I was in memory-lane-heaven. So, so, so good.

The next day Beau had his class in Long Beach, another place I called home for a happy period of time. I met him up there and my OC portion of the trip began. (Beau had one more day of class in SD.)

Orange County adventures are coming soon, but what are your must-sees in the San Diego vicinity? Have you been? If not, seriously, get there.   

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Deck design

This week I designed the three decks that will be built on the back of the West Virginia house. If you know me at all, you know I am not a designer, artist, architect, builder or any such person who would be remotely capable of designing a deck.

But, we live in the age of the Internet and frankly, a person can do nearly anything from the 'net. Don't believe me? Want to start a fire with an orange? Make a Canadian flag cake? Speak Klingon? No? Me either.

However, there are some very useful tidbits on the 'net other that cute/funny cat videos.
A few weeks ago I shared our deck woes here. Our work had to stop because of certain requirements that the Architectural Review Committee has. One of those requirements is a professional drawing of the structure to be erected--like this:
Now, we are simply replacing- beam for beam, joist for joist, board for board- what was already there. It is the builders equivalent of a paint by numbers deck. At first we didn't think anything would be needed. Our thinking was that it had been approved once, so why do it again?
We thought wrong.
And despite a completely competent contractor who has built a gazillion decks, his sketch was not professional enough for the ARC.
When they rejected our contractor's drawing I thought we were in for a world of hurt. I thought for sure we were going to be held up for a seriously long time waiting on a really expensive architect to  draw what Stuart already knew he was building. It turns out that Lowes has an online Deck Designer that anyone can use (for free!) to get professionally laid out plans. It is incredibly easy to use. Any idiot blonde can do it. It is just a series of clicks on icons. Once I worked through the first level, it became ridiculously easy and fast. I think I whipped out the top (larger) deck in less than five minutes.
The program works the "designer" through the process in a clearly organized and explained series of building options. Some of the choices, like the shape of the deck, were easy because we are basically just rebuilding what was already there.
Other choices were really easy because, well, there was only one icon to click on.

Why does this section even exist?
And then there were options that I didn't have a clue about, even with Stuart's original drawing. Seriously, there are options when it comes to pickets in the railings? Who knew?
Fortunately in addition to Stuart's drawing, I also had access to him via Facebook chat. (That poor guy had no idea what he was in for when we became Facebook friends.) With his knowledge of what was actually going to go up and my ability to quickly click on icons, we managed to come up with some pretty professional looking deck plans.
I made that, but I can't tell you how or what it says.
Do you see the irony in that? The builder's design wasn't good enough, but he has technical and practical expertise. Mine -via Lowes- is (hopefully) perfect despite not having one single solitary clue about what I was doing.
Fortunately for all parties involved, my contribution to the deck building process is limited to this button clicking. I will wield no hammer or nail gun in this project.
I am thinking about starting up a deck designing service, though. Oh, wait, I just told you all how easy it is. Foiled again.
Anyone else out there playing designer for a day? Or, got any cool/cute/odd Internet finds?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

June update, sort of

Ok, so I'm a little late with the June update, but there has been a bit of progress in West Virginia. We have done some demolition which is always fun. We are almost to the point where we can start making the middle floor habitable. More on that in a second.

The big news, though, is that I am currently writing this post from West Virginia. Wait, what? Yeppers, folks. We have wifi and I am a happy camper. You know who else is a happy camper? Andy, our super cool renter who has been reliving the sad, sad days of life pre-Internet for much too long over the past few months. He's pretty thrilled. See, it is quiet here. Like eerily so. Had I not gone up to the village Monday to take care of some stuff and go to Starbucks, I could have easily gone over 24 hours without seeing anyone but my Little Man. He's not the best conversationalist, being one and all. (Reason #4,239,742 that I love Starbucks.)

Despite the normal solitude up here, this past weekend was not so quiet. This weekend Snowshoe hosted a Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Racing event. It was decidedly un-quiet. Andy, said super cool and helpful renter, warned me against coming up this weekend. In fact he said he did everything in his power to not have to work this weekend so he could, as I believe he put it, "get out of Dodge". But, since the modem was being delivered and I am a control freak, I wanted to make sure everything was hooked up as needed. Also, because Andy was going to be gone I didn't want the package with the modem sitting out front when ten gazillion people descended upon the mountain like locusts.

(Photo by Cinnamon Mitchem)

Come to think of it, from a distance dirt bikes might sound a little bit like locusts descending upon the mountain.

This is what one end of our road looked like while races were underway.

Yep, that's the top of the stroller. We were silly enough to walk up to the village to check things out. Walking back entailed being just a few feet from the racing dirt bikes. Needless to say, naptime was cut a little short. (And I had visions of bikes careening into us or rocks flying at us. #notarelaxingwalk)
We got a little closer to our house and realized the street was being crossed by the racers. Hmmm. How does one cross over when one is not on a dirt bike and is pushing a stroller?  

One waits for the perfect moment when there is an appropriately wide gap between riders and one runs like a crazy person. In the meantime, we watched. I thought Little Man would be scared of the noise, but he was absolutely fascinated.

 That's because he's all boy.

(Photo by Cinnamon Mitchem.)
As he watched the various races with rapt attention, got muddy, and rolled around, his mom had a vision of what this little person might be like in about sixteen years.
(Photo by Cinnamon Mitchem)
And while it might be creepy that I have a photo of two random strangers on my blog, I seriously think that the blond boy on the quad is giving me a brief glimpse into my future. It makes me want to cry. Not because he's dirty and someone has to wash those clothes. And not because what he's doing is dangerous and scary. Because I bet his mom looked at him when he was one and getting mud on the knees of his Osh Kosh B'Gosh overalls, blinked, and opened her eyes to this grown person.
Sigh. Look at me getting all mushy.
Anyway, if Little Man wants to forgo the dirt bike and quad riding and become, say, an artist, I've got material for him on the very same mountain. 


Even with the distant buzz of locust dirt bikes, there is serenity in this sunrise. (I know, I know, the transition between the boy on the bike and the sunrise probably needs work. I just wanted to show you guys how cool the low-lying morning fog looks and let you know that even though the mountain was crawling with locust-people, it is incredibly beautiful.)

Ok, enough of outside, I told you there was demolition done.

This actually took place in May. The only work I did this weekend was some spackling, sanding and color testing. And I didn't take photos. And I told you I was writing this from WV (where I could just snap a photo), but that was yesterday when I started writing and now it is today when I am finishing. Forgive me.

But lets go back to our May demo. Remember the rooms with the stinky carpet?

It is gone.

And for good measure, we pulled up the little bit of hardwood in the hallway.

Why, you ask? Well, now we have a blank slate upon which to put a lovely new floor! I'm super excited to get busy painting and putting in floors. Someday in the relatively near future we might actually be able to sleep in a bedroom instead of in the middle of the living room. (But don't get too excited, there is a ton of work to do to get us to flooring instillation. Boo hiss.)

Jealous of our current set up? You should be. Its bleakness made Betsy cry. Yep. It's that bad.