Category Archives: Vacations

Kids don’t require vacations

Years ago, my kids and I were caught in a freak thunderstorm in Santa Rosa. It was just after school had ended, and we were on our way home after I had picked them up. But in between school and home, I needed to stop at Montgomery Village for some reason. I don’t remember what that reason was. All I know is that this was when the rains decided to drop buckets, and the thunder and lightning were going wild.

The kids and I all huddled under the eaves of one of the stores, laughing as the sky poured down all around us. It was too magnificent of a rain to just get back in the car and leave. Besides, driving in this kind of weather wasn’t fun. So the kids talked me into taking them to one of the bakeries in the shopping center. And I was more than happy to oblige.

I didn’t have a lot of money at this time. I was a single mom, living on one tiny paycheck that I made stretch by not allowing for many extras. But on this day, nothing sounded better than indulging in something sweet until the rains let up. I don’t remember details of my day-to-day life very often. But on this day, I remember that we all got white hot cocoas, and then split a very delicious almond croissant. I can still taste the sweet marzipan of the filling layered within the flaky bread, and how we were all careful to take small bits of it to make it last that much longer.

I mention this now because it’s one of the childhood memories that my kids still talk about to this day. It’s probably been about 5 years, maybe more, since that happened. And it all cost me the price of three cocoas and a pastry.

Vacation season has just begun, and many families are headed off to fun places like Disneyland, Hawaii, camping, or some other place miles away from home. But a lot of families are also staying home because their finances don’t have room for anything extravagant.

Thing is, kids don’t require traveling in their vacation. Sure, it’s nice when it’s possible. But they are not suffering when it’s not. What they do require from you, however, is TIME.

That day in Montgomery Village, it wasn’t the sweet treats that made the day special. It was our time together, sharing something to laugh and be cozy over. It was enjoying the fact that we three were our own group, with private jokes and shared history, a trio that were in each other’s corner while the rest of the world rained down around us.

That’s what being a part of a family is. It’s not what you’re doing, it’s who you’re doing things with. More than a trip to Disneyland or tropical island, your kids are going to remember the moments they spent with you – even if it’s as simple as waiting for the rain to stop over a cup of hot cocoa.

Family Vacation

So, it’s been awhile since I’ve written here. And I admit it, I still have vacation brain. But the week we spent in San Diego was absolutely perfect, and a much needed way to unwind. Plus, I got to see my little sister get married!

I want to share my whole week with you. So without further ado – here’s WC Mom’s family vacation WITH PHOTOS!

We woke up early Saturday morning and hit the road about 6am. Mr. W and I were occupied with our pitchers of coffee. The boys were occupied with their gadgets. Let me mention right here the benefits of having two boys addicted to technology. For every other reason, it is absolutely bad for them to play video games, tinker on their computer, and watch movies 12 hours a day. But for long car rides? Our boys were fully conditioned to sitting for extremely long periods of time without uttering the words “Are we there yet?” or “I’m bored”.

Thank you video games.

We planned ahead, thanks to many of your suggestions, and because we were bent on making the best time possible. Of course, once we hit LA, the traffic practically came to a stop. We decided to try the 405. Tip: DO NOT GO ON THE 405. I’m not sure what 5 looked like, but anything had to be better than the 15 miles an hour we went all through Long Beach. Everything was crowded. Even a rest stop on the way felt like waiting in line at an amusement park.

We finally reached San Diego, and made our way to the beach house we were renting with the rest of my family for the week in Mission Bay. We were literally steps from the water! On one side was the bay; on the other was the ocean. Down the road was an amusement park and a ton of places to eat. And in our garage were two beach cruisers so we could attempt to leave the cars parked as much as possible.

The first several days were dedicated to beach living. Ahhhh, San Diego beaches. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bodega Bay. But there is nothing like going to the beach and not having to wear jeans and a parka. We went on boogie boards, swam in the waves, soaked up some rays, caught up on some reading, took a nap…. We went jet skiing in the bay, and at night we watched the fireworks from the perfect view we had at home of Sea World. And the beach cruisers were definitely used throughout the week.

Most of the time was spent in Mission Bay, and a couple were spent at La Jolla. DQ ended up skipping out, wondering what the big deal was about La Jolla and why we would drive all that way when the beach was right there in Mission Bay. Trust me, there’s a difference. Both beaches are fantastic. But La Jolla is more shallow: meaning you can go further out in the waves than other beaches, and the water’s a little warmer too. And, if you’re lucky you’ll find a little ocean wildlife in the waters as well. This time all we saw were some little fish and a couple sea cucumbers the seagulls were fighting over. But in years past we’ve come across Guitar Fish and larger fish. Of course, there are also stingrays and jellyfish. I’ve yet to see them, but a couple years ago some scuba divers let us know there was a whole forest of them just mere feet from where everyone was playing in the waves.

The second half of our vacation was dedicated to my sister Melissa’s wedding. We spent hours folding tiny origami pinwheels for the centerpieces, just us girls gabbing while the guys occupied themselves doing anything BUT folding origami. All us women (including DQ) had a girls day, going to get our nails done and then going out for a casual bachelorette dinner to honor Melissa’s wedding. The night before the wedding, we rehearsed the ceremony and then gathered at the home of Melissa’s new family for dinner.

And then, it was wedding day.

Of course it was gorgeous. So many details went into making this the perfect day. It was held at a friend of the groom’s family, a lovely piece of property inland that was tiered with gorgeous landscaping and decks on a huge estate. Large lanterns and lights hung from the trees. Tables held the pinwheels that now spun on branches in clear square vases. Everyone was dressed so elegantly. And my sister was stunning in a dress that was made for her petite figure. Everyone spent the evening dancing, eating, sipping champagne, and then dancing some more. The cake was a choice of chocolate or vanilla cheesecake pops (!). The Taz busted some serious hip-hop moves on the dance floor (we’re seriously considering lessons for this talented kid). And all of us women surprised my sister with a parade of Fascinators – hats reminiscent of those seen at the Royal Wedding, except better. For example, DQ wore a huge black blossom with a bird on top, and lime green ribbon hanging down with skulls and crossbones. My aunt wore an upside down birds nest with the price tag still attached, and a bird on top of that. And we mamboed to the dance floor while my sister burst out laughing.

And after a late night of partying, we packed up the next day, said goodbye to my newly married sister and her husband, and were on our way home where we spent even more time in traffic. But it was just in time. We were all beginning to miss our own beds. And it’s good to be home.

But seriously, if any of you haven’t been to San Diego, just go. And then tell me all about it.

Tips for Road Trips with Kids

We’re heading out of town this next week for my sister’s wedding in San Diego. Because flights have become so expensive, we are bravely tackling the journey there by hitting the road super early and driving for 10 hours.

That’s 10 hours, one car, 4 passengers (DQ is riding with my parents to save room).

Luckily, I love road trips. They’re way more adventurous than flying in a plane. With the right soundtrack (yes, I burn several CDs and put a musical spin on my drive) and a couple planned rest stops to see the sights, a road trip can be soooo much fun. My kids have grown accustomed to the drive (we have made it every year on our own), so they tend to agree. But Mr. W and his son ~ who prefer an hour long plane ride to 10 hours on the road any day ~ are a tad bit apprehensive over the idea that come Saturday, we will all be cooped up in one car for so long.

Don’t worry, guys. Everything is going to be just fine as long as there’s a Starbucks every 50 miles and I get to listen to MY music.

Here are a couple things I’ve learned in my years of road trip adventures:

If possible, travel at night
This is hard to do as a driver, I admit. It’s especially hard if you’re the only driver. But it is much easier, especially when the kids are younger, to drive long distance at a time when they’re sleeping.  At the very least, start the trip early enough for them to fall back asleep before breakfast. There is less “Are we there yet?” and “I’m hungry!” and “I have to go to the bathroom!” And there’s the luxury of having the road almost entirely to yourself. Of course, if you’re going to drive all night, be sure to get plenty of rest the day before and pack a caffeinated beverage to sip on the way. Plan on stopping every 2 hours or less to stretch your legs. And if you find your eyes dropping unsafely, don’t push it. Pull over in a safe place and take a nap, or check into a motel.

Don’t overpack
This is especially true of TOYS. Your kid does not need every single toy they own when leaving home. They take up too much room in the car. And inevitably, the one they want will be buried under all the toys they decide they’re not interested in. Instead, have them choose a total of three or less toys to bring – and that’s all. Better? Buy them a special toy and don’t give it to them until you’re on the road. They’re guaranteed to play with it longer than their old toys before they huck it at your head.

Bring things to do
If you are under the impression that your child is going to play “I Spy” for 8 hours straight, be prepared to hear a ton of whining. There is NOTHING worse than a bored kid. Bring books, trivia games, mini board games, or visit sites like for some other brilliant ideas on how to keep the kids occupied for a long time on the road. My favorite tip was to make up stories about the family in the car next to yours. Knowing my family, the stories that come about might not be suitable for young ears.

Make it magical
My brilliant cousin recently went on a road trip to Disneyland with her family. But she didn’t tell them where they were going. Her trusting children didn’t even question her as they packed up the kids and set out on an overnight trip. As they got closer, my cousin gifted them with a goodie bag holding little trinkets as clues to where they were going. It only dawned on them when they pulled out Mickey Mouse hats that they were actually going to the Happiest Place on Earth. How magical is that?

We try to avoid stopping too much for food when on the road. I hate spending excessive amounts of money on something I consume, and I also don’t like to open myself up to digestive problems while on the road. Plus, there is inevitably one kid who goes from full to hungry in a matter of minutes. Easiest way to tackle this is to pack a cooler of food. But car food has to be easy to eat without making a mess. Best bets are always grapes (cut them up for young kids to ensure there’s no choking while you’re driving!), pre-made sandwiches, dry cheerios, peeled oranges, carrot sticks, trail mix, pretzels, string cheese, beef jerky, crackers…

I asked around for some more tips on how to survive a road trip.  You can see all of the answers by CLICKING HERE.  Here are some of my favorites:

Traveling with Kids:

Jessica:  Make sure to have games that they can play together & apart, have good music everyone can agree on, have lots of healthy snacks & drinks to keep from buying junk, get lots of hand wipes or gel for the bathroom breaks on the road, find a way for them to nap in the car without hurting their neck & find some great stops along the way that they can stretch their legs & will have fun looking at & taking pics 🙂

Angie: Audio books! The kids (and us) get wrapped up in a story and the time FLIES! Lots of stops and breaks…and snacks!

Amanda: Apps!

Sarah:  One time I actually pulled it together to give my kids a strip of tickets. Every half hour they could turn in a ticket for a trinket. They were excited about the prizes and could visually see how much time was left by how many tickets they still had.

Gina:  Before we drove down to Disneyland last year, I went to the dollar store and found Disney themed things to have in the car. And downloaded some Disney albums from iTunes. I kept all the stuff up front with me, and dished it out as we went, so there was something new every hour or so. The most popular with my kids were the Mickey chalkboards, and the Treasure Hunt game I made. You fill a 2 liter bottle with rice and little trinkets (I used 23 items: eraser, paperclip, a plastic bug, an M&M, etc). They have to roll the bottle around to find all the things you have placed in the bottle. I kept the master list, so they would know when they found everything. They still have them in their rooms. 🙂

Must Haves:

Nancy: Non-smelly passengers

Jessica: Carrots and sliced bell peppers!! Oh and radio Disney

Shelly: water, snacks, good tunes and…dvd’s for the kids!!

Catherine: Twizzlers

Oh, Twizzlers…..  Is anything a more perfect junk food than those?  I am highly addicted…

Do you travel long distance with the kids in tow? What are some of your tried and true tips for taking a road trip with kids?

Being my kid’s embarrassment

As a parent, you will only be cool to your kids for so long. And when the tides change (and they will) you will become the most embarrassing creature on the face of the planet.

The kids and I went to camp together this past week. And in this week I got to see a different side of them, especially my daughter. It’s one thing to carry on a relationship with my daughter in our home. She is polite and helpful, the one I can rely on. She is rarely disrespectful, and is extremely trustworthy. While I hold fast that a parent should be just that to their kids – more a parent than a friend – I like to think that my daughter and I do share a special bond that does allow us to be friends as well. But in the week surrounded by more than a hundred kids her own age, she changed. She stopped wearing the cuter clothes she had (in my opinion) and started hiding under a straight-billed hat and baggy boys clothing. She was hanging out with mostly boys, losing anything girlish about her as she took on a tough posterior. She was the center of attention in her group. And I was suddenly placed in a role that I hadn’t been accustomed to.

I was an embarrassment to her.

We’ve been doing this for years, the family camp experience. So my presence at camp as a chaperone was nothing new. But as a preteen, my daughter wordlessly let me know that just the mere suggestion of my existence was mortifying. Anytime I looked at her, snapped a photo in her direction, or even hinted in a conversation that we might be related, I was met with a roll of the eyes, a glare, or worst of all, an actual reaming from my daughter to leave her alone.

Being young when I had my daughter, I really thought I was immune to this kind of treatment. I thought that I’d be the cool mom, the one that all her friends would wish was their mom. I thought we’d be bosom buddies – the mom and daughter team that would try on each other’s clothes, gab about boys, make kissy face photos together, share heart-to-heart talks every night, and have each other’s backs. I thought for sure that I would be way cooler than my own mother, who was a whole 2 years older when she had me than I was when I had my daughter, and embarrassed the holy heck out of me.

A little note about my mother. She got great pleasure out of embarrassing my sisters and me. HUGE pleasure. The only explanation that I have for being forced to wear handmade dresses in 6th grade was that my mom was sadistic. She must have been wildly amused by the torment I received from all my classmates in their cute pegged jeans and white Keds. And me? All I could do was slink away in my patchwork dress with the wide bow in back, sporting my ugly brown hiking shoes so that I could run on the playground while looking pretty. My mother also memorized every single bar song that exists. She would break into song about “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” at random times of the day, ignoring our pleas to keep it on the downlow. Same goes for the Monty Python “Lumberjack” song, and a certain song from the Dick Van Dyke show:

“I’m in love, I’m in love with Attila the Hun! Attila the Hun! Attila the Hun! He’ll pillage the village and kill everyone. Attila’s the one, for me!”

And because of our Italian heritage, my mother had my preteen sister in tears when she told her this joke: “How do you tell who the bride is at an Italian wedding? She’s the one with French braided armpit hair.”

Yes. My mom was a hoot. Oh, and my sister’s getting married next year, and it’s supposed to be classy. Anyone know any fancier braids than the French braid?

At any rate, I thought for sure that I had conquered the mom-barrassment by being young, cool, and hip. Obviously, I was wrong. And apparently she’d have everyone believe that she sprouted out of the ground rather than coming from someone as repulsive as her mother. Things finally came to a head at camp when I was taking a picture of all those around her to gather photos for the whole camp, and then pointed the camera at her.

“Would you get that thing out of my face???” she demanded, hiding behind a scowl as I snapped photos. “God, you’re so embarrassing!” And then she turned away from me, ignoring me as she gabbed with her friends – doing her best to pretend that I didn’t even exist. I let it go in that moment, but my feelings were hurt. Gone was my daughter who still shared most of the contents of her heart with me at home. And here was this preteen girl who was suddenly dressing strangely to fit in with all her friends and wishing me away as furiously as she could. I decided it best to not call her out and embarrass her anymore, but that evening I pulled her aside, away from her friends, for a chat.

“You need to accept the fact that I’m your mom, and I’m here,” I told her.

“I am!” she protested.

“No, you’re not. You’re totally mortified by my existence. And I’ll have you know, you’re the only one. No one else here cares that your mom is here, only you.”

“But I’m not doing anything!” she insisted.

“But you are. You are acting like everything I say or do is totally stupid and mortifying when I have done my best to leave you alone this whole week. And it’s hurting my feelings.”

In that moment she seemed to actually be listening, and the hard look on her face softened some.

“If you want, I’ll just pretend that you’re not my daughter. I’ll continue the week as if I’m just a chaperone and we’re not even related. It wouldn’t be my favorite thing to do, but it sure beats what’s going on right now,” I told her.

“No, I don’t want you to do that,” she said.

“Well, how about this. You treat me a little bit nicer, and I’ll do my best to not do anything to embarrass you.”

She nodded.

“But know this,” I continued. “I’m taking pictures of all the campers here, you included. I won’t go crazy, but at least smile for a couple of them?”

She nodded again, and actually leaned in at the same time as I did for the kind of hug you give after a disagreement, letting herself be wrapped up in my arms just like she did when she was younger and I was her whole world.

Amazingly enough, the talk we had did change things. She made a point to smile at me as she stood in line waiting for her lunch the next day. And she came over to where I was sitting to share what family had written her in letters to camp. And she even made friends with some girls and spent just as much time dressing like a girl and being sweetness and spice, as she did wearing her hat and beating up her guy friends. And true to my word, I left her alone as much as possible, letting her have fun without her mom watching her every move. At least, I hope I did.

While this isn’t the first (or the last) time she’s been averse to my presence, this week taught me several new things. First, communication really can help break down the walls that exist between parents and their children. Second, I’m not as cool as I thought I was. And last, I need to brush up on my bar songs – because if she’s going to be embarrassed by me anyway, I might as well have fun with it.

Vacationing with teens

It’s vacation time and your kids are finally old enough to not have to be on a child leash or watched every second so that they don’t run off in the crowd. Nope, they’re teenagers now. So surely it will be easier.

Are you off your rocker?

Sure, traveling with teenagers is nothing like traveling with a toddler. But as far as difficulty goes, it’s pretty much even. They don’t want to see that museum you wish to check out. They are vocal about how “stupid” the scenery is or how boring the plans you laid out are. They are hardly impressed with the hotel you have chosen. They are totally embarrassed to be seen anywhere with you, and spend the whole vacation walking several yards behind you – as if they actually sprung up out of the ground instead of admitting they are related to you. And it is apparent, your vacation has totally interrupted their social life.

However, a family vacation with your difficult teen can still be successful – maybe even fun.

The most important tip I can suggest to you is to include your teen in the planning of the trip. If they are a part of the brainstorming suggestions for where to go and what hotel to stay in, they are more inclined to enjoy it. After all, it was “their idea”. And teens have some really great ideas for why someplace would be great to visit. This is also a great way to teach them lessons in budgeting as you go over prices of airfare, hotel, car rentals, food, and all other vacation related expenses.

Nix the museums or travel places dedicated to things such as architecture (unless your teen is really into those kinds of things), and steer more towards vacations that are more activity oriented. Places like the beach, camping trips, or big city adventures are very appealing to kids in this age group. Even better, allow the kids of the family to come up with one fun activity each for the whole family to do. The more fun you have planned for the family, the less time they can claim they are bored. And in the meantime, they will hopefully forget that you are embarrassing them.

If your budget allows, book a separate room for your teens. They want their own space too, and a little bit of room for them to spread out will help them not feel so suffocated by family time. Not only that, you won’t be forced to step over all of their mess in the hotel room. Extra bonus? You get a little alone time on vacation with your spouse to do….well, I’ll leave that up to you.

Let your teen still be the tech slave they are at home – to a degree. Sure, it would be nice if your teenager would stop texting their friends or checking Facebook the whole time they are away from home. But let’s be realistic. This is a very big part of who they are. If necessary, set guidelines for when they are allowed to be sucked in by technology. Set up times during the day when they can text their friends. If overseas, check into internet options at the hotel so they can communicate through a computer. Just think about how your vacation will be with a sulking deprived teen. Yup, it’s better to keep the technology around.

Finally, ease up on the rules. This is their vacation too. If they are sleeping in late, would rather hang at the hotel pool than the ocean, or are making the hotel room just as messy as their room at home – bite your tongue and choose your battles carefully. At this age, you can enjoy breakfast without them as they sleep in. You can trade off days at the pool or the ocean. And the mess? That’s what corners are for. Look the other way and spend as little time in the room as possible.

Are you vacationing with a teen this summer? Perhaps you already have. What are some tips that you have come across that can allow a family vacation to still be fun?

Hotel hunting? Check the reviews.

Our family finalized all the plans for our annual vacation to San Diego this summer. This year, instead of staying with my sister as usual, we decided to get a hotel room instead. We found that getting our room through was the best deal, as they shaved $30 or more dollars a night off the price than the actual hotel did. But another cool feature? They allow guests to post their own photos of the hotel on their site.

My daughter and I were perusing the other hotels after we chose the one we were going to stay in, mostly to drool over the ones that were way out of our price range. And in our search, we found some at obscenely low prices as well. We clicked on one, and that’s when we discovered the guest photos. And we also discovered WHY some of these hotels were so inexpensive:

Here is a lovely picture of a victim of BED BUG BITES.

We were dying, we were laughing so hard! I mean, it’s so not funny. It’s actually really gross. But looking through all the photos, there was an obvious discrepency between the photos the hotels supplied and the real photos that guests supplied. There weren’t just pictures of bed bugs (and yes, there were actual pictures of the critters themselves), but of how tiny the rooms and beds were, how some doors didn’t even clear the bed, how the heater was old fashioned and behind the bed, how the mold in the bathroom had obviously been growing for quite some time…

Most people will book their hotel online. Obviously, that means you are not seeing the hotel in person and are relying on the website to show you where you’ll be staying. And if it’s a place that you’ve never been before, there is reason to be a little on guard. My tip for the day? Before booking your reservation, be sure to check out the comments, and photos if they have them, from guests who have actually stayed at the hotel.

What's up for summer vacation?

It’s time to start planning out your summer vacation. What?!? It’s only May! Exactly. In less than one month those kids are going to be out of school and bored out of their mind unless you have some fun activities lined up for them. And rather than wait until June 1st, the time to start planning your summer itinerary is NOW!

So what to do?

I’m glad you asked. The best way to create a fun summer is to stick your kids on a loose schedule. Mark on your calendar certain activities for certain days, such as making Monday a pool day and Friday a library day. During the school year, kids are on a pretty tight schedule. In class, they know what days they get PE, and they know which days are library day. After school activities are the same way. This helps them to be prepared for the week, and to know what to expect. It also helps the weeks go by faster, and helps them to retain the information they are required to learn. Let’s face it, when there are unexpected surprises thrown at a child, it can cause them to lose focus and become cranky. Even as adults we tend to become more scattered when our routines are interrupted. Putting a schedule in place will help alleviate the “Mom, I’m bored!” blues, or the “What are we going to do today?” anthem. Of course, this is summer vacation. The main reason that a child looks forward to summer vacation all year long is because they have been overscheduled for 9 months out of the year. So always leave room for downtime so that your child can sleep in a little and also have time to play with their friends or rediscover the toys in their room.

One of the things that my daughter suggested for summer vacation is to create a Bucket List of all the things that the family would like to do over the summer. This can be a great conversation at dinnertime as the whole family participates in brainstorming ideas for activities. Together, my daughter and I created a list for moms of big and little kids, which I have included in the Santa Rosa Mom forums. Some of those ideas include bike riding, watching planes take off at the airport, having a picnic, collecting bugs and having a bug race, painting a picture, decorating the sidewalk with chalk art, holding a backyard campout, and grabbing a camera and playing tourist in your own town. Last year, a couple of local moms came up with their own bucket list for their young and older children. I urge you to check out their list as well when creating your own bucket list.

And then, of course, there are the actual vacations when you pack your family up and head off to someplace else for a couple of days. Taking your family on vacation can be a really fun experience, or it can be a nightmare. The best thing to remember when it comes to family vacation is that it is for the kids as well. Make sure there are plenty of fun things they can look forward to doing while away from home, and keep the adult activities (like perusing art galleries or shopping) to a minimum. If you can, vacation with another family so that the adults can switch off on kid duties while the other gets some time to enjoy things that might not be of interest to the little ones. For travel time, make sure that there are plenty of things for the kids to do. Create a travel bag that is filled with games that can be played easily in a car or an airplane, coloring books and crayons, and a new book or two. It is also helpful if you make a list of travel games they can play, such as Eye Spy (looking for certain items outside the vehicle with only one clue given) or the Alphabet Game (searching for all the letters in the alphabet in order from signs, license plates, etc). And keep in mind that while your whole family is together, some kids get homesick. If that is your child, keep the vacation long enough to have a good time and unwind, but short enough so that they can be back and sleeping in their own bed before they miss it.

Since we are now midway through May and June is staring us down, I have three goals for you to complete by the end of this week.

1. Set a budget for summertime fun and vacations and stick to it. It’s unnecessary for your family to go broke just to entertain the kids during the summer, and having a budget in place will alleviate any stress that you are trying to escape during the next carefree months.

2. Make reservations.  If you are going camping, flying away anywhere, sending the kids to camp or summertime daycare, or staying in a hotel, DO NOT WAIT ANY LONGER TO RESERVE YOUR SPACE!  You are not the only one who is planning out their summer vacation. If you procrastinate on making reservations, you may find that your plans will have to change because everything is booked up.

3. Mark up your calendar or make a bucket list with things to do for the next three months. Have at least one plan for each week so that the kids have something to look forward to. And let the kids help you in deciding some fun things to do.

What are some of your ideas and tips for creating a fun and memorable summer vacation?

Camping with Kids

We’re leaving tomorrow to go camping. This will be Mr. Wonderful’s and my first family vacation, ever. It should be fun, and it should be interesting. A 13 year old boy, an 11 year old girl, and an 8 year old boy, plus the two of us for two nights and three days. We’ve been planning for months, making lists for weeks, and packing for days. And tomorrow we will embark on our journey, and hope with positive thoughts that the integration of our families for several days will be chalked up as a successful vacation we’ll want to do again year after year.

This brings me back to years ago. I have always loved camping. My family and I would go with a group from the neighborhood. We would rent several sites and make a weekend party of it. On the spit would be a whole pig with an apple in its mouth, turning slowly over open flame to make the best dinner I had ever tasted. We would stay up late at the campfire, swapping stories and toasting marshmallows. At night, us kids would go to sleep with our flashlights, telling ghost stories till way too late. We thought we were being sneaky back then, not realizing that the glow from the light cast our shadows against the tent twice the size of us. But no matter, we were camping. As long as we were in our beds, the parents didn’t seem to mind.

Years later I brought my own daughter camping. She was a little over a year, and loved sticking her tiny feet in the lake water the best. Unfortunately some of the dinner she ate one of the nights gave her the worst colic ever. She screamed and cried, waking the neighboring sites until I brought her into my car to mask the noise. As a baby she had been a very colicky baby. Since, though, she had outgrown it. That is, until that night. But other than that, it was a great experience having her there. And I have taken the kids camping several times since then with only great experiences.

Some tips I have learned several good ideas for keeping the kids happy when it comes to camping:
– Try to choose a campground that has water. When there is a lake, river, or ocean within walking distance, you have just sealed the deal for hours of fun throughout the day.
– Showers are a good thing. Some people claim that it really isn’t camping if there are showers. But think about it. You have kids running around all day in the dirt. Then they are crawling into their sleeping bags. Their skin is getting irritated, not to mention that those sleeping bags might be destined for a one time use. Yes, showers are good.
– On that note, bring quarters. Some showers at campgrounds make you pay for 5 minute showers by the quarter.
– Consider camping with another family that has kids, or letting your child bring a friend. If there are too many adults and not enough kids, there is a for sure forecast of the “Mom I’m bored!” complaints.
– Bring board games, baseball gloves and balls, a Frisbee, anything that will pass the time when sitting around the campfire has lost its luster.
– Teach your older child how to build a campfire, pitch a tent, find the perfect roasting stick…. Let them be involved with the responsibilities.
– Have fun! It’s just camping!

Do you camp with kids? What kinds of activities do you plan for the trip? And do you have any suggestions for parents who might be embarking on this kind of vacation with their kids for the first time?


Are you ready for school?  Share on the forums how you make the transition from the lazy days of summer to the busy life of a schoolkid, and how you make the new schedule easier.

Camp, part 2

Some of the kids I first met as young campers are now in their final years on the teen staff. Watching them grow from young, unsure kids staying away from home for the first time to the more capable young adults they are becoming has been a heartwarming experience. I have kept in contact with several of them throughout the year, and seen the rest of them at the monthly camp meetings we have throughout the year. These staffers have been a great part of my life, and I am thrilled to be a part of theirs. (continued from Camp, part 1)

But then there are those campers that aren’t what we expect them to be. One difficult camper broke a bathroom door, threw rocks towards other campers, and told a staffer to “F- off”. And we all wanted to throttle him.

“What do you want to do?” one chaperone asked me when I came to him about the situation. “Call his parents? Send him home?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All the staffers are throwing their hands up in the air. We just don’t know what to do.”

“Do you want to talk to him?” he asked, and I said yes. We called him over and sat apart from the rest of the camp.

“I wish I knew who broke that door,” the mangy kid said.

“So you know why we’re here,” I said. I had no idea how to go about this. I knew I was at my wit’s end after having had the kid’s obstinence directed at me, and after hearing how he’d been abusing my staff. And he was obviously going to continue denying the broken door. Any accusations against him would only result in a back and forth, roundabout conversation. And we would get nowhere. I waited for the other chaperone to take the lead.

“So how do you like camp?” the chaperone asked.

“It’s great!” he exclaimed. “It’s my favorite camp that I go to.”

“You go to other camps?” the chaperone asked.

“Just one other. It’s called Alateen,” he answered.

“Alateen? What’s that?” the chaperone asked.

“Well, it’s just a two day camp. It’s ‘cause my mom’s an alcoholic.”

“So you just live with your dad?” I asked. And he nodded. The brick walls he had built around him were slowly being taken down. And little by little we were getting glimpses of his home life, and how this one week was a reprieve from reality. He never admitted fault to the bathroom door, and we didn’t broach the subject further. But he did admit that he had cussed out a staffer. We were all smiles as we chatted, and I got a chance to know the kid who I had only known as a major pain in my neck just moments before.

“Are you coming back next year?” I asked him as we winded the conversation down.

“Of course!” he said. “I love this camp!”

“And are you planning on being on staff?” I asked.

“I guess I do,” but he visibly lit up at this suggestions.

“You know you’d be working very close to the staff if you did,” I pointed out.

“Yeah….” he said slowly.

“Maybe you might want to apologize to the staffer you cursed at,” the other chaperone said. The camper agreed, though I still don’t know if he did or not. But whenever I saw him for the rest of camp, his face was a smile, a sharp contrast from the glare he threw at me the very first time I saw him.

There’s something about camp. It’s the place where time stands still, where the hardships of real life take a back burner for one week. Everyone is accepted. Geeks are suddenly the cool kids. The cool kids are suddenly not so critical and are jumping and singing with everyone else. Everyone is equal, and fully themselves. Everyone is comfortable in their skin. Friendships are made that seem closer than any other friendship ever felt. Everything is funny, happy, surreal…. It is not uncommon to hear someone singing songs about bazooka bubble gum or swimming holes, or even odes to their dirty black socks. The stars are brighter at camp, and sleeping on planks under them is magical. Crafts such as making pillows or wind chimes never sounded more appealing.

This year the campfire burned bigger and brighter than ever, thanks to the expertise of our staff and the tribes, but I think because the spirit was alive and jumping to the music with us.

I cannot put words to camp and do it justice. But before I left I sat in the very spot I had sat in for years at camp, and I took in all I was about to leave behind until next year. The benches were empty, but for a moment I saw laughing campers filling each seat. I saw our teen staff in front, the ones who worked all week long to make sure a bunch of kids were happy and taken care of. Camp songs echoed in my ears as if the camp spirit surrounded me and enveloped me like a ghost. I saw the beautiful trees, heard the gurgling creek, breathed in the forest air.

I believe that there are certain places that are our heavens on earth, and this is one of mine….

Camp, part 1

campfireYou truly don’t appreciate a nice soft mattress until you sleep on a wooden plank at camp on an air mattress with a slow leak. I’d go to sleep on a firm inflated bed at night, but would wake up flat on the boards the next morning, my sorry excuse of a mattress pillowing out on all sides. If I slept for 5 hours I was doing well. And it’s funny, even on a deflated mattress, how hard it was to get out of bed in the morning to relieve my full bladder. Even a failed air mattress is infinitely more comfortable than 40 degree crisp morning air. And it just seemed easier to get used to the wooden boards flattening my hip and my bladder close to bursting than to brave the cold July morning that felt more like November. But eventually I had to relent, find my shoes, and make the long trek to the bathrooms at the bottom of the hill. Besides, there is no coffee brought to you in bed at camp. If I wanted to wake up, I had to make the even longer journey to the dining hall. On 5 hours of sleep, coffee wins above all.

As I write this, I am sitting on the edge of a stump for a seat. My hair has not been washed yet today. But it is hidden underneath my sweatshirt hood: partly to keep warm, but mostly for protection against the swarming mosquitoes waiting for a snack. It’s the same spot I sat in as a child, and later as a teenager on staff. And here I am now, a chaperone at the same summer camp. As a kid, every year would be spent in anticipation for that one week in the summertime when I would get up early for the Polar Bear Swim, drink hot cocoa to keep warm in the morning, hiking trails in search of the sunrise, making lanyards at the craft shack, mealtime hikes up and down from the water tower, and singing songs around the camp fire every night. And now it’s come full circle as my own kids learn the songs from my youth, twisted only slightly to fit in with the times.

There’s something about camp. You get there, and the dust overwhelms you. You get eaten alive by mosquitoes that will only leave you alone after you smell like a saturated pine cone, and biting flies that will eat you no matter what. If you have allergies (and I do), your face will feel like it will fall off by the third day. You hike up a hill to get somewhere. You hike up a hill to get back. You have to wait in line for a shower, and you’re not guaranteed hot water. The dining hall smells not so faintly of sour milk. The salad is served lunch and dinner, and looks slightly brown by the 7th day. And I think I’ll be fine if I don’t eat red jello until next year. We go to bed late and wake up way too early, and are completely sleep deprived by the end of camp. The pool is ice cold and crowded, and my feet are torn up from the rough bottom, not to mention the blisters from all that hiking….

And still, I come back every year.

This is my sixth consecutive year coming back as an adult chaperone. Why is it that I annually take one week’s vacation from work to get interrupted sleep and to brave the elements? It’s simple. There are the memories I have from my youth that come back full force with each visit. That girl sitting on the rock taking in the scenery before bounding off with her friends, or the one doing dives off the diving board over and over, or the one performing the skit with her tribe at campfire….they all could have been me. Each section of camp holds different memories that are now being enveloped by new memories. There are the night swims, the clean camp competition, the scare hike, the end of camp dance, the bean carnival, and the staffer auction. There are the friendships I made at camp, some of which I still have, and many that I miss but remember fondly. Being with a group of people for one week has the magical ability to form the best of friendships. I have been witnessing bonds of friendship among the kids all week, and still get to experience this myself with the other chaperones. There are several of us that come year after year, and new friends we make as more chaperones start coming for the first time.

But the biggest reason why I come back every year? The kids.

Some of the kids I first met as young camper are now in their final years on the teen staff. Watching them grow from young, unsure kids staying away from home for the first time to the more capable young adults they are becoming has been a heartwarming experience. One teen came to camp as a kid knowing a few good chords on the guitar and played them at each campfire. Now the guitar has become an extension of him as he plays great music for every occasion, and has even inspired campers to bring their own guitars and musical talent to camp. Another teen came as a wisecracking teen…..and his still a wisecracking teen (as I was journaling at camp, he called it “blogging on paper”). But ask him to do any task, no matter what, and he was on it. One sunny girl has been an example of what camp spirit is all about year after year, singing moose songs and infecting other campers with her sunshine. I watched two staffers, past and present, graduate this year. I have held several pancake breakfasts with staffers around my table. I have kept contact with several of them throughout the year, and seen the rest of them at the monthly camp meetings we have throughout the year. These staffers have been a great part of my life, and I am thrilled to be a part of theirs.