Tag Archives: summer vacation

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.

10 cheap things you can do with your kids this summer

The Taz and me at his 6th grade promotion
The Taz and me at his 6th grade promotion

In the last few weeks of the school year, our whole family catches summer fever, eager for the day when the last school bell rings and we can enjoy the lazy days of June, July and August. That last day of school is cause for celebration, and we revel in it the whole weekend long.

And then Monday morning hits, and so does reality — because now there’s nothing to do.

Sure, there are camps and vacations to take in between the last day of one grade and the first day of the next. But camps and vacations cost money, and sometimes it’s not possible to load the kids up with paid-for activities to ward off the “I’m bored” blues. So to keep you from going crazy or broke this summer, I’ve put together a list of cheap activities your family can enjoy until school gets back in session.

Go on a backyard camping trip. Spend the day putting together all the things you’d need to go on a camping trip, then set up the tent in the backyard. Bring out the lanterns and sleeping bags, and don’t forget the s’mores! Then spend the evening telling stories underneath a starry sky before turning in for the night.

Pack a picnic. Fill a basket with numerous small bites, from crackers and cheese to grapes and apple cider. Let the kids help choose which kinds of foods would be best to pack up. Then take them on a hike in the hills, to a grassy knoll at the park, or to the beach to enjoy a delicious afternoon of play.

Our new garden of succulents!

Plant a garden. Get the kids interested in spending time outdoors by giving them a small piece of the yard that’s just for them. Help them to plant seeds or seedlings, decorate it with colorful stones and small markers, and encourage them to tend to it daily by watering and keeping it free from weeds.

Stage your own play. Keep the brains of your vacationing kids working by having them think up and then perform a play for family and friends. Dive into the costume box or the back of your closet for imaginative disguises to help them get into character. Encourage them to create programs with the names of the actors and titles of each scene. Then serve popcorn and juice boxes for the neighborhood as they enjoy the performance.

Hunt for buried treasure. Go to the Dollar Store to find small trinkets to serve as pirate’s booty. Have the kids stay in the house and hide their eyes while you bury the booty in the backyard. Then let them loose to discover where X marks the spot on the map you’ve carefully drawn. Not keen on the kids digging up your backyard? No problem. Take them to the beach and let them hunt for their treasure in the sand.

Go thrifting. Speaking of buried treasure … This is a fun way to search out eclectic items you just won’t find in a regular retail store. If your kids are the kind who love combing stores for various trinkets (my son is NOT), then they’ll love digging through other people’s tossed aside items to find their diamond in the rough.

Make a puzzle. If you’re anything like me, you have boxes of photos you despair of ever getting organized. Don’t let them go to waste! Get some Mod Podge and help the kids glue the photos to a piece of cardboard. Then carefully cut the mounted photos into puzzle-piece shapes for them so the kids can put them back together. These would also make cute gifts the kids can make for Grandma and Grandpa.

Throw a spontaneous dance party. Put on your favorite dance jams, turn the music way up, and then spend the afternoon bouncing around the living room with the kids. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a terrible dancer. In our house, we actually have contests to see who can dance the worst. I think I win every time.

My stepson’s first several cranes

Learn origami. My teenage stepson has challenged himself to fold 1,000 paper cranes by the end of 2013. The result is a room filled with cranes of various colors and sizes. Teach your child the art of paper folding, and watch as they spend the afternoon creating all sorts of tiny masterpieces.

Teach them to bake. Forget the diet for one afternoon and spend it making cupcakes! Or dig into the recipe books and bake bread from scratch. There’s an art to baking that should be passed down to our kids, and what better time to teach them than the dog days of summer? Of course, it’s best to bake in the morning before the day heats up too much.

What do you like to do in the summertime with your kids?

Goodbye Bennett Valley

The latest rage in books, 50 Shades of Gray (or is it ‘Grey’?), was typed out using a Blackberry. While this post will be slightly less blush-worthy, I am not in front of my computer. So this post will be completely typed out using my iPhone. 

Today was the Taz’ last day of school. The milestone of finishing 5th grade was huge, since this has been a pretty tough year. I’ve come to cringe when I open my email, half expecting a ‘love note’ from his teacher once again detailing another way my kid has screwed up. He was getting in trouble for everything, from bouncing a ball in line to doing a 360 before throwing a ball. The latest incident was when the kids were all given splash balls to fill with water and throw at each other on a hot day. According to the teacher, the activity was meant to be ‘fun and engaging’. So the teacher couldn’t understand when Taz and his friends got out of hand in their pummeling activity. 

Let’s see. Splash balls + rowdy boys. And the equation is supposed to equal ‘fun and engaging’? It was almost like they were setting the boys up for failure. 

This was the bow on a particularly hard year. And yet, last night I actually burst into tears as I realized today would be our very last day in attending a school district we’d all grown up into. 

All week long I’ve been on edge. I thought I was just stressed out and possibly heading into my hormonal time. Could be all three, which meant Mr. W was basically screwed. I nitpicked him for days, and he graciously let it slide off. But it eventually got to be too much, and he asked what was up. I rattled off the looming baseball schedule, the many deadlines at work, my lack of time for personal projects, the stress from planning a wedding, my social life going down the tubes, and the litany of money requirements right now – just to name a few. It was so rich, you could almost hear the violins. And then school came up, and I mentioned this was the last day ever for the Bennett Valley district.

And then the tears. 

There are so many factors that go along with why this is so bittersweet. First there’s the friends we’ve made over the years. Sure, we only live 20 minutes away. But when it’s hard enough to get together while we’re conveniently in the same district, I can only imagine how it will be when we’re immersed in Petaluma schools. I’m afraid for Taz and how he’ll make friends at his new school. Will he be miserable? Will this shatter his already fragile self image? How about his new baseball league, how will that go? 

But most of all, it’s the end of an era. Our whole life was in Santa Rosa. It’s where we were all born, where we grew up, where we went to school. When DQ switched over, I wasn’t as affected since Taz was still there. I had my little commute buddy every morning and afternoon. This was time I had to visit with him, and when we’d get uninterrupted talk time. Now we won’t have that specific time. And this is the very last part of leaving behind our family-of-three life in Santa Rosa. 

It’s just a little sad, as silly as it seems. 

Of course, it’s not like it’s all bad or anything. Taz’ new school is a bike ride away. Now he’ll have a chance to make friends in our neighborhood. We’re leaving behind a school of ridiculous rules. And I no longer need to leave early to get him to and from school. The wedding is getting closer and closer, and I can’t wait to be married to Mr. W! And I really do love living in Petaluma so much, even more than Santa Rosa.

As I dropped Taz off at school this morning, I passed by the friendly crossing guard who waves at everyone each morning. 

“Have a great vacation!” he called to me in his thick accent. I rolled my window down and grinned as I wished him a wonderful summer. “I swear I could kiss you,” he laughed. And the statement was so ridiculous and out of the blue, but the perfect goodbye from the whole Bennett Valley experience, that I put my hand to my lips and blew him a kiss goodbye.  

Goodbye Bennett Valley. It’s been real. 

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 roadtripplanning.com 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?