March 16 2017

Travel Tips for Parents and Everyone Else

Travel Tips

We have done a fair bit of traveling as a family and I have learned these travel tips along the way.

For Everyone:

Pack basic snacks, preferably healthy ones, for the road trip. I suggest baby carrots, celery sticks, bottled water, cheese sticks, and pretzels. This will help cut down on costs and the number of stops. Eating healthy can also help offset the extra calories we all tend to eat on vacations, just because it IS vacation and we know we deserve to treat ourselves.

When you are planning a trip, unless you already get some sort of member discount for booking hotels, you might want to consider getting a membership to your local AAA Auto Club. This can often save you at least 10% off the cost of hotel rooms or attraction tickets. The savings from one trip could well pay for the cost of the annual membership and you would still have the benefit of the roadside assistance and towing to use the whole year which can again save you to cost of the membership if you ever need to have your car towed.

Book your overnight stays before you hit the road. While I am all for being spontaneous, there is something to be said for having a guaranteed place to sleep each night. I have been on trips where we spent hours driving from one hotel to another only to find out they were filled. Nothing sucks the fun out of a trip faster than taking care of this sort of thing while actually on the road. Save yourself the stress and headaches and book ahead of time. Trust me on this. If you want to be spontaneous while on your trip, you can always change your plans but again call and make reservations for the night before you go off on the new plan. Most hotels will let you cancel a reservation without penalty as long as you do so before 6pm. If they don’t then you should know this upfront so you can make an informed decision about whether or not you want to stay there at all.

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Remember the games you played on car trips when you were a kid? Get the whole carload of passengers involved as you take turns trying to find the letters of the alphabet in order. There are many travel versions of family favorite games like travel bingo, checkers, chess, backgammon, Chinese checkers and more. One of the games we love playing on the road is called RubberNeckers. We picked it up at a Cracker Barrel store years ago and it stays in the pocket in the car door so it is at the ready.

For Parents with Young Children:

Get extra road maps and highlight the trip so your child can follow along. Talk about the places you are driving through as you are on the road. Get the kids interested ion maps and such early.

Consider wrapping small treats to give out every hundred miles or so. This helps keep them entertained because there is something new to hold their interest every so often. It helps the kids to track time. Discuss how many treats it will be before you arrive at your destination. This encourages counting and discourages the “Are we there yet?” whining that every child seems to feel is a necessary part of traveling.

Consider traveling at night so young kids will sleep through the better part of the driving. This can be hard for the parents because it could mean they are sleep deprived and cranky when the kids are wide awake, so use your own judgment here. You know your kids and how well they travel.

Again, consider healthy snacks and for heaven sake, avoid sugar unless you want the kids bouncing around the car for the entire trip. Think water instead of soda and fruit or raisins instead of fruit roll-ups or candy.

Keep baby wipes with you in the car at all times. These are great for so many things, but especially wiping sticky hands and faces.

For Parents with Teens:

Encourage your teen to pack their own entertainment. Headphones are your friend unless you enjoy the music your teen listens to.

Encourage them to bring along crossword puzzle books, electronic hand-held games or game systems (they may have these games on their cell phones). These can help pass the time. Our family used to bring GameBoys and Pokémon games. Don’t forget to bring books and magazines along to read. E-Readers can be great to keep them reading well after dark, but have them set the background to black or dark gray and the text to white so the glare won’t bother the driver so much.

Books on tape/CD/digital media are awesome. Have the family pick a couple of longer ones and consider listening as a group. They will be asking when you are getting back on the road again instead of are we there yet. Some of our favorites were the Harry Potter series (love listening to the accents!) and the Redwall series. Try to either make it something everyone is interested in and hasn’t read yet or a familiar favorite that you may have read but never heard read aloud.

Let the teens take turns navigating and choosing where you will stop for meals. Teens love to be independent and prove they have something to contribute.

One of our favorite apps to use while traveling is Interstate Exits Guide. This tells what restaurants and gas stations are at each exit on the major highways. It can be very handy. It also lists rest areas. Make sure your phone has a flashlight app when you travel, but it is also handy to have all the time. There is an app called HERE WeGo that allows you to download maps for entire states ahead of time and use the app offline so as not to use up your data while on the road. It goes without saying that you may need multiple chargers for the family’s electronic devices. We have used the sliding pencil cases to store cords and chargers in. These are cheap and easy to throw into a backpack or duffel bag while still keeping cords contained and tangle free.

Where ever you travel remember to be safe.

March 2 2017

We Messed Up Our Kids

We are good parents for the most part. Our kids might even agree. However, in the process of raising them to be the wonderful productive members of society that they are today, we may have seriously messed them up.

First we had a rule that they could only cry when they got “hurt” if there was blood involved. Next if they kept whining about some painful thing, we would tell them, “Don’t worry honey. If it still hurts tomorrow, we will just cut it off.” You know what? NOTHING ever hurt tomorrow! Now that seriously cut down on the whining around our house. We also wouldn’t let them use a band-aid unless they were actively bleeding. Don’t judge! Those cute cartoon band-aids were not cheap! I like to think we were teaching them to deal with the things life throws at them in a mature way.

I might need to preface this next one with the fact that I was going to school to get an elementary education degree when the kids were preschoolers, so I may or may not have used them as Guinna pigs to test out educational theories. So whenever we were having M&Ms or Skittles as treats, the kids would have to pour them all out of them bag and count them to see who had more and who had less. Ok, that may be why they grew up to be competitive. Then, once they figured out who was the winner, I mean who had more candies, I would take the extra from the kid who got more, just to even them out of course. Then we would sort the candies by color and line them up like giant bar graphs. There was always lots of conversation revolving around which color had more or less. Or, if we eat 4 green ones how many will be left? How many do you have when you add the red ones and the blue ones together? How many more yellow than brown ones do you have? I can tell, you are judging again. Stop that! They liked it, thought it was fun even. Apparently the brainwashing worked so well that they tell me they still play with their candies like this before eating them.

Another thing we may have done to them was kept a peeled whole carrot in a tall glass of cold water in the refrigerator to give them when they were teething. Our oldest did this a lot. The cold carrot soothed the gums and if his little teeth managed to scrape some off it wouldn’t hurt him a bit. He would be strapped in his high chair just having a good time gumming that carrot. When he was done we would rinse it and put it back in the glass of water to keep it at the ready. Now I’m not saying he wouldn’t love carrots today if we hadn’t done this to him, but you never know.

They also grew up watching those geeky science shows on TV like CSI, Numb3rs and Criminal Minds.

Now lest you judge us as terrible parents, let me tell you about my two college graduates, I mean kids. My oldest, well he grew up loving carrots, got a degree in physics education and became a high school physics teacher. My baby girl grew up loving all sorts of fruits and veggies, got a degree with dual majors in Biology and Forensic Science and dual minors in Chemistry and Criminal Justice. She currently works in a lab by day and serves in a bar on weekends.

So, how did your parents mess you up? How have you messed up your own kids? Please, do tell.

February 10 2017

The Importance of Family Dinners

The Importance of Family Dinners

If you have children, you most likely already know how important it is to eat dinner as a family. We did this almost every night when the kids were growing up. The kids were allowed to help get dinner on the table by helping whoever was cooking or by setting the table. We would let them help plan menus for the week and voice what they were “hungry” for. Each child of course had favorite meals. We would talk about how it wasn’t good to eat the same thing more than one day a week. How we should try to plan a variety of different meats or even some meatless meals throughout the week. Eating together as a family affords opportunities to bond and many teachable moments.

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December 15 2016

Where is my Christmas Spirit?

I am normally very into Christmas. I used to enjoy the whole picking the perfect gift for each person on my list thing. But lately, my Christmas gift list just seems too long. I feel obligated to buy for everyone on the list and that turns it into a chore. The truth is, I rarely spend much time with any of the people on our gift list, so I don’t really know what the perfect gift for each of them would be any more. I’m not sure when this happened. Perhaps it was when the nieces and nephews began growing into adults and bringing dates to family gatherings. Then they get married or move in with their significant others. Sometime they married into ready-made families and the gift list grew exponentially. At any rate, it is somewhat overwhelming.
I love the way my sisters and I handle the holidays. We get together sometime near the holiday, well within a month of it usually. We each bring a wrapped gift valued at about ten dollars. The gift can be anything, but preferably some of them will be suitable for the men or teens and not just to one particular person. Sometimes we get a lot of gift cards, though they are wrapped creatively so it isn’t always obvious that is what is inside the wrapping. 
Once everyone is gathered in the designated location and the wrapped gifts are on the table, someone figures out how many of us there are and makes little slips of paper with that many numbers and folds each number up so they all look the same and puts them into a bowl. Someone volunteers to go around and have everyone select a folded slip of paper. The person who draws number one goes first. Number one gets to pick from all the wrapped gifts and open the gift they choose. They hold it up and show everyone. Number two then has the option to choose a wrapped gift from the table or take the gift from number one. This goes on until everyone has had a turn. When the numbers have all had their turn, anyone who had a gift taken from them gets to pick another one from the table and open it. If this happened a lot, they re-pick in the same order they picked in the first time around. When everyone has an unwrapped gift and the table is empty, number one gets the chance to take the gift from anyone else, and that person essentially ends up trading gifts with number one. After that is all over usually folks start asking others if they want to trade gifts. 
Sometimes the gifts are great, other times the gift is destined to become a white elephant gift offering or go into the donation bag. It doesn’t take hours like it does when a big family gets gifts for each and every other member and the group must sit around taking turns opening gifts so everyone can see every gift each person received. The point is spending time together and having fun, our little “Dirty Santa” game is how we have turned the holiday and a bunch of family members on very tight budgets into a fun and memorable experience. Sometimes, we learn a lot about each other by seeing what sort of gift each person contributes to the game. Some choose to bring a gift they would love to go home with themselves, sometimes it is more of a gag gift. Sometimes it is something edible like candy and the person opens it and passes it around to share with the group. We used to have separate groups for the kids and adults. Then the kids started growing to adulthood and wanted to be in the grown up group. We have a lot of fun and everyone seems to be relieved that they only need to come up with one gift per person in their own family unit. Sometimes, the person gets a great deal on a gift worth ten dollars and other times the person spends ten dollars on a gift worth much more. It doesn’t really matter. The gifts are just a fun way to get every one together in the same room to spend time together. 
I sometimes wish we could do this for the other side of the family too. There are just so many people and many of them are on tight budgets too. There are a few options, we can give a family gift, but that is difficult too as the kids are getting older. My family used to draw names about a month before the holiday, this used to be easy if we were all together for the Thanksgiving holiday as we could draw names then. We gave this up eventually because it didn’t really allow us to invite others to join us. I rarely managed to draw the name of the person I had found the perfect gift for, so that was a bit of a downer. 
All of this is to say that this year for whatever reason, I am having trouble getting into the Christmas mood. It has helped some to listen to Christmas music. It also helps when hubby is willing to help with the shopping and not just leave it all up to me to figure out. Of course it is too soon to talk about what sorts of gifts we chose for the various family members. You never know who might actually be reading this blog post. I keep thinking that eventually the mood will hit me and hopefully when it does it won’t be after the holiday season has ended and the new year has descended upon us.
So, what family holiday traditions do you have? Are you in the Christmas mood this year? Do you have any advice to share on what a body can do to enjoy the holiday season more and dread the gift shopping less? Any hints you can gift would be greatly appreciated.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
May 2 2016

The Rewards of Parenting

Who knew having kids and raising them to adulthood would feel so rewarding? It seemed like it was hard during each stage we went through, but once it was over then we moved on to a new and different stage.

Before you know it the kids are growing up too fast and instead of celebrating all those “firsts”, you find yourself celebrating the “lasts”. You know, last day of kindergarten, last elementary school awards program, high school graduation, last time you will have to help one of your kids move into a dorm room, that sort of thing.

In five days, we will celebrate another last. Our youngest is graduating from college and moving home. Last time we will have to help pack and move a kid out of a dorm room, last graduation open house, last week of empty nesting for a while. Yes, I will miss the empty nesting. You feel a sense of pride as they reach monumental birthdays. You dread when you no longer have babies, toddlers, preschoolers, but instead you have teens, oh boy! I remember feeling like we had really done something worth while when both kids were officially adults, able to vote, drive cars, get tattoos! Yikes, not all of the rights of passage that come with being an adult seemed like good things. Then the oldest graduated from college and I was so proud. I realized he had done something nobody in either mine or his dad’s family had done since maybe his grandfather, and that was graduate with a four year degree in just four years. We had our share of college graduates in our family, but none had managed to get through in just four short years. Way to go! Then he got his first big-boy job as he called it and he wasn’t moving home. Not even to the city we lived in. But that was alright, he was only an hour up the road and he was doing well. Then when the baby turned twenty, I wanted to celebrate the fact that we had survived the teen years relatively intact. Once the baby turned twenty one, I suddenly had two grown children who not only could legally drink, but chose to do so. Wow! So not sure I am ready for this! The baby turned twenty two, was in her last year of college and it looked like she too would get the four year degree in the four year time frame. Excellent!

So I am bursting with pride yet again. Soon we will have not only two grown adult children, but two college graduates! Who knew when my husband and I struggled through getting our degrees while dating, getting married, having kids and working that we would set such good examples for our kids. They grew up knowing that they were expected to go to college, that we didn’t expect to be able to pay for it so they would need to get top notch grades so they could get scholarships. We were right, we are part of that middle class poor who earn too much for our kids to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to really be able to help them much. We did the College Choice 529 plan thing, but didn’t get started saving until the oldest was starting high school. We faithfully put away $170 a month for just over 10 years to be able to help each kids with ten thousand dollars toward their senior year of college. Do I wish it could have been more? Of course I do. I told the kids that we couldn’t help them until their senior year because first of all we needed more time to save up the money to be able to help them and second because we wanted to make sure they were serious about college and getting a degree. We all know kids who go away to college on their parents’ dime and party all the time until they flunk out. We didn’t want that to happen. They needed to keep their grades up and show up for classes. Their student loans are in their names, because they give out loans for kids to get an education, but not for parents to retire on. It scares me that even going to reasonable priced in-state schools, they are still graduating with over fifty thousand dollars of student loan debt hanging over their heads. That is more than we paid for our first house and almost as much as we sold it for fourteen years later. My husband never had student loans, and I had only five thousand dollars or so amassed during a couple of my last semesters in college. Of course we both took well over ten years to earn our four year degrees going the part-time, slow way and paying for it as we went. Those were the lean years of our marriage. Never much extra time or money, but maybe that wasn’t all bad. We raised our kids to respect money and to be thrifty. They grew up wearing second hand clothing of their choosing from the local Goodwill and thrift stores. They were fine with it and I didn’t stress out if they ruined a pair of jeans or a shirt now and then. They didn’t cost that much and we knew where we could find replacements fairly cheap. Perhaps because they had held jobs and grown up thrifty, they knew the value of the education and student loans they were getting. They didn’t squander them. Yet another reason to be proud of both of them.

One of the things that really pleased and surprised me as a parent was how smart our kids are and how good looking. Still not quite sure how that happened! I mean, you hope, pray and dream it will be that way, but you just figure you could never get that lucky. Well, we won the parenting lottery jackpot. We have two great kids who never caused us many sleepless nights, stayed out of trouble, got good grades, were pleasant to be around, are well liked by their peers and adults in general and who actually seem to like being around us. Well, most of the time anyway. Who could ask for more? I thank God and the fact that both my husband and I were raised by good parents who cared about us. Here’s to hoping you had as good a luck and experience raising your kids as we did raising ours. (1,094 words)