April 21, 2014

11 Tips for Traveling with Small Children

We've done a ton of traveling this year. When your husband has a fall break, two weeks of spring break, and five weeks of Christmas break (plus, classes only twice a week), you try not to waste the opportunity.

After Williamsburg, a cruise, Washington DC, and now Chicago, I'm feeling a lot braver about traveling with small children than I was a year ago.

These are eleven things I've learned about making it less stressful and more fun for all parties involved.

  1. Pack snacks. I rarely take snacks along for my girls when we go on outings. Ella will eat nothing every snack we have and then no dinner, plus it makes me crazy when the snack becomes the focus of the outing instead of the ACTUAL OUTING, so I basically just skip the snacks entirely. But on vacation? I pack snacks. After I bought these Fruit Shoot juices for a sponsored campaign, Ella specifically requested them for our Chicago trip (I had to break the news that we couldn't take juice on the airplane). Besides drinks, I also like Clif Bars, string cheese, apple slices, dried fruit, and nuts. This also means that if we eat somewhere the girls (aka ELLA) doesn't like, I have some backup options instead of ruining my long-awaited vacation meal. 
  2. Take the stroller. Preferably a double stroller. We have a double stroller, but I worry about it getting damaged on the airplane (thanks to our single stroller getting damaged on an airplane), so we took our old $20 second-hand Graco travel system stroller which made getting through the airport easy since I could snap Ani's carseat right in, but then when we were in Chicago and could leave the carseat in the car, both girls could sit in it (even though it's a single stroller and this is probably strongly not recommended by the manufacturers, but it worked like a charm for us). 
  3. Don't skip naps. I know that it's super tempting to just skip naps since you're paying a ton of money to be wherever you are, but squeezing in a nap will make everyone's life a lot better. Ani's transitioning between two naps right now, so we just did one nap every day. We'd go out in the morning for breakfast or to do one thing, then come back, have her take a nap, eat lunch, and then head back out again. Plus, it gave us some nice downtime to read, relax and rest our tired feet. Ella doesn't nap, but having her do quiet time helped her decompress a little between outings. 
  4. Prep your kids for what you'll be seeing. Ella was really excited about seeing the Lincoln Park Zoo, going on an airplane, and visiting the Museum of Science and Industry. Knowing a little bit about what we'd be doing helped her be excited about the trip and have some feel for what we'd be doing. 
  5. Just expect to not get a ton of sleep. When we went to Seattle in September 2012, it was our first real city traveling experience as a family. I decided that I would just expect to get up super early every morning, and then when that happened, I was okay with it. 
  6. Be serious about bedtime the first night. We went to Houston for one night when Ella was about 18 months old. She didn't love being in the crib in the hotel room corner, and we got her out to comfort her, then tried to put her back in, but she'd figured out we were softies and it was a huge pain to try to get her to bed. We learned our lesson and when we went on our cruise, we put Ani to bed the first night, turned out the lights, and went into the hall. Not a peep. She went down without complaint the rest of the trip except for one night when it took us a minute to get out of the room after she was in bed and I felt bad she was standing up in bed whining to be picked up, so I got her out of bed and. . . what do you know? She didn't want to go back in and fussed a lot when we put her back. Hold strong the first night and they are less likely to fight you about it the rest of the trip. 
  7. Your kids will do better than you expect. When we booked our cruise tickets in March, I was deeply worried that no one would get any sleep. Here in North Carolina, both my girls have their own rooms, and they'd never shared a room before. But, you know what? It was fine! 
  8. Don't overpack toys and entertainment. I hate a heavy bag, so I always pack really lightly for the girls. For the plane, I download library books onto the Overdrive app on my iPad so I can read to them without packing a bunch of heavy hardback picture books, I stick in a pack of Uno cards, some crayons and a notebook, and some play dough. When we're out and about, I'm kind of a stickler for not having them glued to the phone or tablet playing games while we're experiencing a new city, and they are surprisingly happy just taking everything in as we walk. Ella loved walking on every retaining wall, Ani wanted to point at every bird and dog, and we pointed out cool window displays, letters on signs, and anything else that might interest them. 
  9. Over-plan and expect to do half of it. I had a good list of things to see and places to eat while we were there, but of course we didn't get to a lot of it. Every night, we'd figure out what from the list we wanted to shoot for the next day, and then we'd work it around naps and see how it went. I'd rather have a great time at one thing with the girls then push to do two things and have us all miserable throughout it all. 
  10. Pick kid-friendly things. This might seem totally obvious, but this is not the time to try and spend 3 hours in the art museum (unless your children are way different than mine). We try to visit the public library, do a lot of walking, scope out parks and zoos, check out the children's museum, and run around at outdoor gardens and memorials or monument. I also am not interested in eating at lousy places when we're on vacation, but I recognize a fancy sit-down meal might not be a great fit with two tired children. This is a great time to visit hole-in-the-wall restaurants and food trucks. 
  11. Don't rush. I have to really fight my urge to GO GO GO GO during vacation with children (or making the whole family miserable by my inability to let go of my "schedule" that's being thwarted by a too-long nap). I try to remind myself that the point of vacation is to have fun together as a family first and to get to know a new city second. Ella wanted to walk a lot of the time, and so we let her, even though it was much much slower. We spent a good 15 minutes at the Art Institute watching the girls walk up and down the marble staircase inside the lobby. And a 5 minute walk to get some cookies during one of Ani's long naps took 40 minutes because Ella wanted to pet every dog, look in every window, and balance on every retaining wall. But the weather was beautiful, she loved every second of it, and, when I stopped trying to rush it, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon together.
Of course, all my pretend knowledge will really be put to the test when we go to Europe this fall. If you have tricks for traveling with children, share the wealth! 

April 18, 2014

Makeup Anxiety

You know what this post will not be?

A makeup tutorial.

Because, as I've mentioned before, I am a complete makeup novice.

In fact, between the time bareMinerals asked me to partner with them on their new bareSkin liquid foundation launch and the time the makeup arrived on my doorstep, I had multiple makeup-related dreams. Apparently, I have makeup anxiety.

In one dream, I was so overwhelmed with the idea of trying out new makeup, I just went to a makeup counter and had a professional do it for me (obviously, a great long-term strategy, there). In another, I watched hours and hours of YouTube video tutorials before attempting it myself. You'd think I was building a rocket ship over here, not trying out a new liquid foundation.

Happily, when I finally got to try it out on my own, it was clear that my makeup anxiety was not warranted. I was amazed at how evenly and easily it went on. You don't even need a tutorial (let alone a dozen hours of YouTube videos).

I've been wearing powder foundation, but it only took one day of wearing this to be completely converted. (bareMinerals has been working on a liquid foundation for twenty years. I was eight when they started developing it).

It really does feel like I'm not wearing any makeup, plus in the week or so I've been wearing it, I've noticed how much better my skin looks. Since I started wearing a little more makeup in January, I'd begun noticing that my skin has not been super thrilled about that development, and I was breaking out more than I have years, which in turn making me both not super thrilled about wearing more makeup and also making me more dependent on wearing makeup. Very bad.

The bareSkin foundation both looks better than any foundation I've worn before and it's not ruining my skin in the process. I can definitely live with that.

Also, if you'd really like to be impressed by how much better you look with makeup on, I'd suggest you wake up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight out of Chicago, along with your small children who are NOT very impressed at having to wake up when it's still the middle of the night.

Don't shower, sleep on the (thankfully empty) plane, take a nap when you get home, and then, around 4 p.m., finally take a shower and get ready for the day. You'll be kind of blown away at the improvement when you put on some makeup. Thank your lucky stars there are no before and after photos.

We went on a picnic at the Duke Gardens with some friends the other evening and when I took Ella to the bathrooms and looked in the mirror, I was surprised all over again at how GOOD this makeup looks, even after a full day (and when you look good in one of those outdoor public restroom mirrors, you know it's a good day).

By the way, there's something just a little bit heartbreaking about picking out the three fairest shades and thinking, "Well, it's not like I'll need the LIGHTEST one" and then putting on the middle one and realizing you are, in fact, not fooling anyone and yes, you do need the lightest one.  It's nice, though, that they call that shade "porcelain" instead of "ghostly-white."

This post is part of a sponsored collaboration with bareMinerals, but all the goofy photos of myself putting on makeup are my own (and. . . not shown in this post because I have some pride to retain. I won't tell you how many photos it took to get one where I didn't look like an idiot (albeit an idiot with lovely skin)).

April 17, 2014

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist

 During our Chicago trip last week, I felt extremely burned out.

Over the last year, I've been working more than I ever have (except maybe my last year as an undergrad when I was working three jobs and taking a full class load, or . . . maybe my second year of grad school when I was working three jobs and taking a full class load. I am basically incapable of saying no to a job offer, obviously), and I was just at the end of my rope.

So instead of working through every nap time and after the girls went to bed (which is what I do at home), I pulled out Bread and Wine and read on the couch. (Except for the night we watched the latest episode of Once Upon a Time).

It was the best kind of vacation.

I think I would have enjoyed just about any book I'd read last week, but this was the absolutely the perfect book.

First off, I love any book about food. If you've read my blog for a while, that's no surprise to you. I bookmarked at least half of the recipes to make as soon as I got home. Goat cheese biscuits? Dark chocolate sea salted toffee? Blueberry and peach breakfast crisp? You don't have to ask twice.

Secondly, lots of the book takes place in Chicago, so it was fun to be reading it interspersed with outings to the very restaurants and neighborhoods she was referencing in her book.

Also Shauna (yes, I feel like we are on a first-name basis, and besides when we were flying out of Chicago, the flight attendant noticed me reading this book and told me that she and Shauna went to the same high school and now attend the same church. So, we'd totally be friends), is hilariously funny.

In a chapter on her struggle with secondary infertility, she talked about fighting the feeling that, if only she were pregnant, everything in her life would be better:
At one point, I told Aaron, "Pregnant is the new skinny." What I meant is, if you know me at all, you know that one of my most cracked-up, terribly errant beliefs is that skinny people are always happy. Because I think I would be happy all day long if I was skinny. If something upset me, I would just look down at my long, skinny legs -- happiness! If my heart was broken, I'd just put on a bikini -- and that sadness would vanish. 
I know this isn't true. I know this is crazy talk. I know miserable skinny people. But I confess that sometimes I want to shake them: I know, I know, this or that has got you down, but find a three-way mirror and look at your butt. Don't you feel better now? I know I would.
I mean, how can you not love a person who writes that kind of thing?

I really appreciated how similar her philosophy on having people over is to my own. People don't care if your house is perfect. They just want to feel welcomed, included, and loved. And she makes a new recipe practically every time she has people over, which is just the kind of person I am (yes, that's my idea of living on the wild side).

I loved reading about her family, the eventual birth of her second child (hooray!), and her really sweet and insightful thoughts about friendship and family.  And there was a whole chapter about unplugging and just living your life, which was basically exactly what I needed to read last week.

Mainly, reading this book just made me feel deeply happy. I like books that are fun or suspenseful or romantic or funny. But a book that makes me happy? I just can't ask for much more.

I've been to the library twice since I finished the book and I can't bring myself to return it yet. I'm probably going to have to buy my own copy. And copies of her previous books too.

(P.S. If this is the kind of book you like, I highly recommend A Homemade Life,  Dinner: A Love Story, or Garlic and Sapphires). 

Copy checked out from my local library


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