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Monday, August 3, 2015

25 Fun Things To Do At the Salt Flats

What do you do on a summer Saturday morning when everyone is bored and needs to get out of the house?  In Utah the possibilities are endless and there isn't much need to venture far from home. Sometimes, however, the moment calls for a solution spontaneous and grand.  It might just be time to pack the water bottles, put gas in the car, and head west to the Salt Flats of Bonneville!

This photo of Bonneville Salt Flats is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Traveling with a Mother's Helper-4 Tips to Get You on Your Way

Someone to entertain the children in the car? An extra set of hands to feed everyone in the morning and get them ready for bed at night? A trustworthy person who understands that vacation stress can be worse than home stress and lets you walk away from it all for 5 minutes, or an hour, or an afternoon without feeling guilty?  We tried it out on our recent trip to Idaho, and may have ruined solo family travel forever!

family travel, mother's helper

Think it might be nice to take a mother's helper along on your next vacation?  Here are some tips to consider...

Who Should I Take?
I have been patiently waiting many years for my niece and nephew to be old enough to travel with me.  In part, it excites me to be able to introduce new places and experiences to them, but also, they are people my kids know and are comfortable with.  Taking Grandma and my oldest niece proved to be quite useful on our Idaho vacation. 

Tip #1: 
Look around you for people you and your kids already know: cousins, nieces, nephews, Grandma. 
 They are already familiar with how you parent and how your kids behave.  

No one close to you?  Ask friends, spread the word at church or in your playgroup that you're looking to take a mother's helper on your next excursion.  Explore options for advertising and interviewing local college students. Or, consider hiring someone through reputable services online like Care.com and Urban Sitters

What Accommodations Will I Need?
At the bare minimum, planning to take a mother's helper will mean including one extra body at each place you stay.  On our recent trip, with both my niece and my mother along to help, this meant making sure they each had their own bed to sleep. The two of them could have shared a bed, but it was nice for them to have their own space to stretch and relax in at the end of the day.  We were able to make that work by booking hotel suites with pull-out sofas.

Tip #2:
Take into consideration how well you know the person traveling with you, 
and how much privacy each of you may need.

Vacation rentals come in all shapes and sizes.  A hotel room with a pull-out sofa may be enough for you.  For a little more privacy, with minimal additional cost, book a multi-room suite.  Booking two separate hotel rooms opens up many possibilities; let your mother's helper have the second room and nights off completely, or send the kid's with your helper to the second room and enjoy your own rest and relaxation.  Staying in a cabin, or condo, or RV (with a tent outside) will allow similar considerations.

What Are My Expectations?
This may be the most important thing to consider.  On our trip I knew I needed someone to help entertain the kids for 15 hours in the car.  We were going on amusement park rides and water slides, so I needed someone to help watch smaller kids while I went to play with bigger kids.  The added bonus was having extra hands to get pj's on and take shifts at the breakfast bar, or run for food and extra diapers.

Tip #3:
Be upfront about the responsibilities you are handing over to your mother's helper.

There will be nothing more awkward than fighting frustration for days, finally confronting your helper, and finding out they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing.  Does she need to be 100% focused on the baby?  Is her role to make sure the kids are safe while Mom and Dad are swimming in the pool?  Explain whether or not you just need an extra set of eyes and ears, or that you expect her to be in charge of the children.  Will your mother's helper have time to spend on her own, or will she be expected to stay with the family during the entire vacation?  Starting the trip with clear expectations will guarantee much less confusion when the whole family is on the road.

How Will I Be Giving Compensation?
Taking a mother's helper on vacation does not have to mean writing out a paycheck when you get back home.  I presented our Idaho vacation to my niece and my mom as an (almost) free vacation for them.  Their hotels were free, their amusement park and water park tickets were free.  We shared the expense of meals, sometimes buying together and sometimes paying separately. It was a trade-off that worked out perfectly.

Tip #4:
Present the opportunity as a package full of benefits. Then, pay if necessary.

I am not suggesting that mother's helpers do not need to be paid.  But before dismissing the option of taking one, consider how the opportunity might be appealing, even without monetary compensation. It is a chance to go somewhere new and exciting.  Explain if you will be covering admission for the activities.  If some, or all. meals will be taken care of, make sure they know that, too. If it does come down to setting a pay rate, discuss whether or not it will be by the hour or by the day, and what expenses they will be paying on the way.

 Can you see a mother's helper being useful on your next vacation?

Read more about trip to 
Triple Play and Silverwood in Idaho

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

16 Family Firsts at Silverwood Amusement Park

This was a sponsored activity. 
I was asked to share my honest experiences.
Couer d'Alene amusement park

Visiting Silverwood Theme Park was a brand new experience for our family. We are not a tourism-destination family. We adventure on dirt paths and spend our nights out under the stars. Nonetheless, when a northern road-trip opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance to pack our bags and start driving to Couer d'Alene. With my mom and cute niece along with us, 2 full days of amusement park fun brought a full range of family first experiences...

Our Firsts at Silverwood
1. Our first adventure was riding the train. An authentic steam engine chugged us out into the Idaho evergreen forest where Bigfoot lurked and a posse of bandits staged a robbery. B & P BELIEVE it was a dangerous & harrowing ride.

Hunting for Bigfoot
On the hunt for Bigfoot

2. The Tilt-a-whirl: All 7 of us jumped on the first ride we saw. Only after Grandma was spinning in one car, and the babies were sliding around with me in another car did we think about maybe talking about what our stomachs and nerves could handle.

3. The Corkscrew was the first roller coaster in the world to take passengers upside down through double loops. It was the first roller coaster B and I had ridden together. It was the first time I've been a single rider (B and his cousin decided to ride together). It was the first time I'd felt totally lame.

4. The kids got to drive their very first cars. I had to step on P's foot to get his to go, but, surprisingly, he was having so much fun he forgot to scream at me.

Antique Cars
Driving Antique Cars

5. We forgot to first count heads, then move onto the next attraction. Which led to me frantically calling my niece out of line to watch the babies while Grandma and I ran around praying to be the first one to find a wandered off P.

6. My niece and I had our first experience with zero gravity as the Round-Up spun us in circles both vertically and horizontally. I LOVED it! She walked off dizzy and feeling queasy.

7. B was being so brave that it caught me off-guard when he refused to get on a his first wooden roller coaster. My niece rode the Tremors her first time alone. When I rode with her later, the first tunnel convinced me I was going to die. It was the first time I told B he was smart to not ride that ride.

Silverwood roller coasters
wooden roller coaster

 8. Wanting to get wet, we all loaded on to the Log Flume. It was exciting to take the babies on their first roller coaster ride.

9. Our first treats were ice cream cones larger than our heads.

Loving his cotton candy ice cream!

10. We were not the first to leave-is anything more cool to kids than shutting down the theme park?

Our Firsts at Boulder Beach
11. Having a mother's helper here was the first time we used a divide and conquer tactic. Grandma and the babies played in Polliwog Park while the rest of us went on water slides.

12. At first it was fun to see P loving to float around Elkhorn Creek. Getting bored first, I was eternally grateful for a cousin who didn't mind going around with him again...and again...

13. We rode the family-size water slides first, while the lines were small. We rode them many many more times, even when the lines were long. Absolute favorites!

14. B & I both rode our first open air water slides. Having 4 slides starting on the same platform, it was fun to get on at the same time, and race each other to the bottom.

water slides
Racing to the bottom

15. My niece was the first and only one of us to hurtle herself 55mph downhill on Velocity Peak.

Boulder Beach water slides

16. For the first time ever, there wasn't any whining accompanying the "One last time..." warning.

After two full days of non-stop amusement park fun, we were happy! We easily could have spent another day or even two, but no one left feeling like they'd missed anything. We'd spent quality family time together in a new way, and it was rewarding. The drive back home was long, but we made it smiling and now a month later the boys are still telling me Silverwood and Boulder Beach were their favorite days of summer!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Travel with a Mother's Helper (Our Trip to Triple Play)

Our trip to Idaho was media sponsored.
I was asked to share honestly about our experience.
Do you travel with a mother's helper? 

Early last month we drove out to Nebraska (yes, crossing Wyoming once again) for my family reunion weekend. The kids and I needed to leave straight from there for a week-long stay in northern Idaho, but my husband needed to head back to work. We decided to try something new, and invited my mom and niece to come along for the ride. Our first destination made it easy to be traveling with the kids; having the extra pairs of eyes and hands turned out even better than I'd expected!

mothers helper
The Trip: Western Nebraska-Couer d'Alene road trip 
The Destination: Triple Play Resort & Suites
The Helpers: Grandma and a Super-Fun 12-yr-old cousin
Choosing a Room

Booking a room for 7 people is not always easy. From my years working in the hotel industry, I know that regular room occupancy is usually a maximum of 6...and it's tight. Our family is only just moving into the stage where the babies count as "real" people and have to be considered when we're thinking of what type of room to book. It's not a pleasant thought, as our hotel budget is usually quite low. But at Triple Play, there were several options to accommodate our large group.  

hotel bunk beds

The Kids' Suite was B & P's first choice. With bunk beds, television, and video game system in an alcove, can we say little boy heaven? Making it even better, the resort's water slides were right outside the window. Their grandma and cousin could have shared one of the other queen beds while I shared with the babies, but it sounded kind of tight.

Instead, we decided to stay in a 2-room Suite. Divided by a half-wall, there were 2 queen beds, plus a pull out sofa. The room also had a small eating area. When B & P were very young, we started building them forts under the desk and tables in our hotel rooms, and so it worked out perfectly for Grandma, cousin, and myself to have our own beds with the boys in their cool blanket forts. We weren't tripping over each other, and everyone got to have a little bit of privacy.  

Splishing and Splashing

Triple Play is a 3-in-1 vacation destination-the hotel, water park, and fun center all in one facility. Entering through the breakfast nook, you can go straight from eating to playing in less than a minute. There is something HUGE to be said for not having to pile into the car, sit in traffic, and be frustrated when you get to the fun play place! Grabbing our swim bag from the room, we headed first to Raptor Reef...

triple play resort water park

The benefit of having my "mother's helpers" became obvious instantly! B wanted to go straight to the water slides, but I wasn't comfortable yet sending him off alone. P wanted to play in the spray area, and the babies simply did NOT want to play at all. In comes Grandma!  She sat with the babies, watched Peyton, and slowly convinced them all to get wet and play together.  

raptor reef

It freed me up to ride the slides with B-that is something we had never done together before! He was nervous to slide at first, and I was there to assure him he would love it. We took turns riding down together and with my niece and racing each other down different slides. And when my legs couldn't climb the stairs one more time, B and his cousin kept on going on. With her there, I was able to take time to rest and play with the little kids without having to worry.  

The Center of Fun

My kids have never been to a place where a wristband gets them into everything for free. We went mid-week and they almost never had to wait in line. Triple Play was their paradise. We bowled, drove go-karts, and played laser tag. Grandma watched the babies sometimes, I watched the babies sometimes, we all did activities together sometimes. Having more than one person over the height requirement was especially useful on the bumper boats. With a combination of adults and kids in boats, the little ones had a blast spraying (read: soaking) the grown-ups.  

bumper boats

The ropes course was something different all together. Beck and cousin went up first, but he got scared. By the time I went up he'd gained some confidence, but she was on her way to the top. Doing something I would never have done with my little boys, I followed her all the way up and meandered around 3 stories above the ground. Forever now she and I will have "that time we did that kind of scary thing together" to talk and laugh about.  

The sweet part of the whole trip came when the group divided. When we met back up, we found the babies in the arcade with Grandma, punching ducks and having a spectacular!

This trip to Triple Play Resort had three great take-aways:

  1. A 2-3 day vacation completely contained in one location is absolutely worth it! If the babies needed a change, we could run to the room and back without having to pack and take a diaper bag. We could take a break for naptime without fearing we'd decide not to come all the way back later. We could take our time eating, knowing every meal was only moments away from getting back to the fun.  
  2. A mother's helper is useful, but also a subtle relationship building tool. With the extra help, I never had to tell the kids no. There was no reason not to trade cars and ride around the go-kart track three times. There was no fighting about taking turns or waiting for the next time. Just like when I camp with the kids alone, they got to see that Mom does know how to have fun. Mom can help me be not afraid. Mom can relax and let kids be kids.    
  3. Travel strengthens families. It is difficult living far away from family. Our long road-trip and week of fun in Couer d'Alene gave Grandma and the babies a chance to get to know each other. It allowed me to interact with my niece as a growing-up girl, and gave her the chance to appreciate her younger cousins. It brought each one of us closer together.
Have you ever traveled with a mother's helper?

Friday, July 17, 2015

6 Wanderlust Inspiring Books

There are times in life full of travel.  There are times in life full of reading.  And there are times in life focused on other things.  As I find myself in the latter of these lives, I thought I'd take a look back at a few of the books that have played a role in inspiring my wanderlust...

Location: Croatia 
Running Away to Home  related to my own struggles balancing travel and wanderlust with family and responsibility. The first few pages do an EXCELLENT job of explaining the quicksand of the American dream.

Family Travel books
Global Family Travel
One Year Off  is an anthology of the emails a family sent home while on their year-long round-the-world travels. I loved the way their expectations and reality often clashed and they were able to roll with it, especially when it came to what they thought their kids would like/not like and the fear of what a toddler will do/not do. 

Book about Panama Canal
Location: The Amazon
River of Doubt tells about an excursion Roosevelt took in the Amazon.  It was an era when there were still unknown places and men who wanted to explore them. I could feel the fear and frustration, understand their luck and fortune, and yet could not imagine the physical and emotional feat they endured.  Stories like these, about the people who shaped our society and places that were unknown, need to be told.

quirky travel book
Quirky and True Travel Story
Round Ireland with a Fridge will make you want to grab something-ANYTHING-and go!  It is an inspiring tale of the author doing exactly what the title infers.  

travel book
How People Live
Material World is a beautiful photo collection of how much stuff people do/or do not have in their homes.

travel book
What People Eat
Hungry Planet is also a picture book, this time showing the amount of food families eat in one week.

What books make you want to pack your bags and travel?

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