Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Uncategorized

International Travel with Kids

When my husband and I moved back to the United States from living in England, we vowed that we would be back one day. That “one day” turned out to take a lot longer than we had anticipated. (Funny how having 3 babies within 46 months will do that!) But, we finally made it back just over a year ago, with all three kids in-tow. Never thought about taking kids overseas? If your children are in elementary school or older, it’s easier than you might think, and the educational value of the trip (not to mention all the eye-popping wonder and excitement) makes it so worth it. I’ll break down how we made it all work.

1. Flight miles. The very first step is to get a good flight miles card — one that earns at least 1.5x miles, but preferably 2x miles. The best flight-miles cards will come with annual fees, but your first free flight more than pays for that instantly. Don’t forget to pay in-full every month, so you don’t incur interest charges! We took our time collecting our miles, so we were able to fly our family of 5 out for not much out-of-pocket.

2. Backpack it. Yes, you read that correctly: backpack it. Why? Portability. We travelled all throughout England, from the southern coast up to the north using trains. There is a lot of walking involved, too, and there is nothing worse than lugging huge suitcases on and off trains and down old streets with uneven brick or pavement. Each person was responsible for his or her own backpack, and it was simple. We had each child bring their school backpacks, and we packed them with 3 changes of clothes only. Don’t fret, we had a way to wash our clothes (more on that below). The front pocket of each backpack held some mechanical pencils and their journal. Bringing journals was a great way to have them chronicle their experience while we were on a train or back at the flat, plus they liked to use them to draw in or play games. The grown-up backpacks carried our own clothes, of course, but they also carried our documents (only when we needed them) and a portable phone charger. The portable charger was essential, since I was using Google Maps and other GPS apps on my phone, along with my camera, all of which ate my battery. I kept my phone plugged into my charger in my backpack, which has a USB port, so I was never low on battery; I recharged the portable charger at night. Save buying your toiletries for when you get to your destination, and carry them in your shopping bag back to where you are staying. Just like at home!

3. Airbnb. If you want to keep costs down, I highly recommend using Airbnb, or another similar site. (We actually used HomeAway for most of our stay, which was a mistake, so I can’t recommend them for international travel.) I totally understand if you are skittish, and want to stay at hotels: they are predictable, offer loads of services, and you can always talk to a live person. But, if you want to keep costs down, I have to recommend arranging your lodging in a flat online. You usually can get the entire flat or apartment to yourself, so there is more privacy, you can feel like a local, you can cook your meals (saves a lot of money!), it can give you and your kids a feeling of having a home-away-from-home, and you can do your laundry at night. That last one was key for us! We specifically booked places that had en-suite laundry facilities, so we just did our laundry when we were in for the night. That helped to keep our packing light and portable.

4. Do your research at home, and try to buy as many of your experiences and train tickets online as possible before you leave. For example, we knew that while we were in London, we wanted to visit certain sites and take a ride on the London Eye. It is a giant time-saver to just sort out your trip itinerary and then book your experiences online before you leave. This helps you avoid long lines and frustration once you are there, and saves your kids from getting too cranky and frustrated themselves. Another thing to remember is that many museums are free or free-with-donation, so definitely seek those out, and be sure to plan for museums designed specifically for kids, which are great fun and educational! Also, if you are moving from city to city or country to country using trains, many offer ticket sales online. I would highly recommend you take advantage of this and order your tickets before you leave. Once you have your itinerary set, complete with your transportation and experiences details, save those on all of the devices you are taking with you (as a backup), and save all of your sales confirmation emails, and back those up as well. Finally, don’t forget to purchase a SIM card for your phone, if needed, so you can make local calls.

5. Locate playgrounds and take time for breaks. This was another biggie for us! I dubbed our trip to the UK a “Tour of Her Majesty’s Playgrounds.” Kids are kids no matter the circumstances, and they want to play. They need unstructured play to help them unwind and be themselves. So, you will do everyone a giant favor by using a maps app or Siri or Google to help you locate playgrounds near where you are. Even just 10-15 minutes of play will go a long way towards keeping your kids happy during your trip and less fussy. Another helpful tip is to make sure you take some breaks, too. We usually stopped for afternoon tea in a café and let them have juice and a snack. This gave everyone a chance to slow down, take in the experience, and recharge. Honestly, trying out all of the different cafés became one of the highlights of the trip for our kids!

Taking kids with you on international trips can be an amazing adventure and a sure way to create special moments they will never forget. By taking your time with saving flight miles, doing careful research, and doing a lot of planning ahead of time, you can have a great trip that is packed with fun, and have some restful moments, too! We already have another international trip in the works, and I can’t wait! What kind of exciting travel adventures would you love to give to your children?

**This is an update!** While we were at the airport, it really helped us to find play places where the kids could play a bit while waiting on our boarding. Not all airports have these, but I think more and more are starting to add places where kids can play a bit. I know the award-winning Indianapolis International Airport has a kids spot! Walking around as much as it is possible is helpful, since it helps to keep them busy and active, and when you do have to be near your gate, games and word searches are fantastic ways to help them keep busy. Finally, try not to board immediately if you can help it. Your kiddos already have to sit for a long time on the plane as it is, so adding an additional 20 or 30 minutes when they have to be in their seat is tough for them (although do make sure you take some laps in the aisle from time-to-time when it is safe to do so). Happy travelling!

Posted in Health and Fitness

My Low(er) Carb, Plant-Based Lifestyle

Hey, everyone! Welcome to 2020. A new year; a new you, right? Maybe. For some of us, we may have fairly lofty new-year resolutions, and that’s great! For others of us, me included, we just want to keep improving on our current lifestyle, and that’s also fine, especially if we are happy where we are.

So, I have been vegetarian for 16 1/2 years now, and I love it! Yes, I do miss my mother and my grandmother’s traditional cooking, to be sure. But once I started seeing the effects of going plant-based and noticed how much happier my body seemed, I never looked back. Another happy side-effect of going veg is that my cooking is on a whole new colorful and creative level. It really became a source of inspiration for me, and I relished the change!

Another big change that I did make a few years is lowering my carbohydrates. I never really felt like I needed to go full keto with it, but I did want to reduce my dependence on grains for my energy, and instead focus on proteins for that need. The first two weeks of that change was really difficult, but after my body adjusted to it, I started feeling even better. I felt like my blood sugar was more stable during the day, and my muscle tone improved more quickly with my workouts. I am so much happier with how I feel. But I want to emphasize the low(ER) part of my lower-carb lifestyle. As vegetarians, some of our main sources of protein are also sources of complex carbohydrates — beans, quinoa, lentils — and I don’t want to exclude these from my diet. What this lifestyle has taught me to do is to be creative with incorporating more nuts and tofu into my diet, as well as eggs. More creative fun in the kitchen, right? So, if you are looking for a way to be more plant-based and to reduce your carb intake, I can tell you that (if you stick with it) you will love the results!

Below is a typical day of meals for me:

Morning: Eggs. Always.
Snack (if I worked out that morning, skip otherwise): Protein smoothie
Lunch: Kale smoothie if home, kale or romaine salad topped with protein, if not
Snack: Avocado half, hard-boiled egg, cheese, apple, nut butter, or nut mix (or any two of these)
Dinner: Protein, 2 veggie sides

So, it’s really that easy and accessible! The key is getting enough protein so you feel satisfied, and definitely replace your drinks (other than your tea or coffee) with water or seltzer water. I have really enjoyed this lifestyle, and I hope you do, too!

Posted in Uncategorized

Going Green with Christmas Trees

We’re nearly halfway through December, so I know I’m a little late with this blog, but I’m still excited about sharing this! I love all of the wonderful green possibilities that present themselves with having a real Christmas tree, not to mention the fun memories you create along the way. One of my favorite Christmas memories growing up is decorating our live tree and enjoying the amazing scent wafting from its branches. I know that pine trees do trigger allergies for many people, but if you are someone who can tolerate having live trees in your house, check out why it’s worth the extra time and extra bit of money to cut your own tree.

1. Tree farms, well, grow trees! We all know how vital trees are to our ecosystem. They absorb carbon dioxide and provide us with oxygen. Trees also help reduce air pollution. We depend on trees to survive, and by supporting tree farms, we contribute to the continuation of growing more trees than maybe we otherwise would. It’s also another way to support your local small farms, which we all know is important. A quick google search for your area will show you where the closest Christmas tree farms are located. These tree farmers do work all year long to maintain the quality of the trees, plant new trees, and maintain that signature shape of the tree. You help support their year-long effort when you buy your tree from them.

2. Turn your tree into mulch. Check with your city and see if this is an option where you live, but in many places, the city will collect your tree after Christmas and use it turn it into useable mulch. You can then pick it up and use for your garden, or the city may use for its own landscaping. You are really going full circle here, and nothing gets wasted or ends up in a landfill.

3. Create fun family memories! We love driving out to our local Christmas tree farm and choosing that perfect tree. It’s fun watching the children run around, playing a quick game of hide-and-seek, or marching around the other trees while my husband and I work on cutting down the tree. We sing Christmas carols on the way home, and it’s just a really great time all around! It’s so much fun sharing our favorite memories from the day.

There are so many great reasons to get your own tree! It does take a little bit more effort all around, but we have always felt that it is well worth it. I love watching Christmas movies and taking in the tree’s scent. It’s such a great feeling, and knowing that I’m helping small local business and our environment at the same time is even better!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Working Parent

Why I’m Switching to Nighttime Meditation

I really love sleep. That blissful drifting to dreamland and waking up renewed… I do love it when I can get it. Yes, I blogged several months ago about how I defeated the insomnia demon. And I really thought I had! I blissfully slept reliably for 7-8 hours each night for weeks on end, after struggling and struggling with too little sleep. However, I have let the busyness of my life and my children’s school and athletic life take over. Does this sound familiar? And, of course, what is the result? For me, it’s increased stress, disorganization, and dropped routines — not my children’s routines, mind you, but my own. Sadly, the first thing I dropped was mindfulness practice. Big mistake!

The benefits of mindfulness are vast. A quick google search will bring up a whole host of articles to read, of course, and I’ve blogged about my experience here. What were the natural results of dropping the practice for weeks on end? Loss of concentration, loss of mindful control, and, most significantly, loss of sleep. It took me a while to realize what was happening. It wasn’t until my son accidentally dropped and broke my phone, and I was retrieving all of my apps for my “new” (to me) phone that I realized I hadn’t opened my Calm app in quite a while. Then it hit me: I hadn’t been practicing mindfulness.

So, a few nights ago, I had decided to switch from meditating in the afternoon, when I am just too busy either teaching, practicing, or being a mom, to meditating just before I go to bed. That small change has made such a difference in my sleep, and I love it! It has helped my mind to wind down significantly. Since I have nowhere else to go but my bed and my children are silently asleep in their beds, my thoughts don’t start to drift to where I have to be next or what I have to do later, so I have a much easier time clearing my racing head as I lay down. Just after 10-12 minutes of peaceful, quiet meditation, I am more relaxed, my breathing is slower, and I am better prepared to fall asleep. In fact, I would say it is so much more effective, for me, just before bed than in the middle of the day. Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly benefits to pausing in the middle of the day to unload and rest yourself, but those benefits simply won’t present themselves for you if you forget or your phone decides not to remind you that day. So, if you are someone who does practice mindfulness during the day or even someone who is new to meditation, give it a try at night and see what you think. Clear those racing thoughts and sleep better!

Posted in Uncategorized

Teaching Gratitude

We’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving. In my family, it’s not only a time when we celebrate being together and gathering around a giant meal that we have all helped to create, but it’s also a time when we celebrate being thankful for the blessings we have been given. As we begin eating, we go around the table one-by-one discussing the things, events, or people for which we are thankful. It’s a beautiful reminder that few things are guaranteed in life and how dependent we are on each other, even if it’s not always obvious in the busyness of life.

While Thanksgiving doesn’t happen every day, sadly, I still strive to continue this practice at home when I can. It’s one of many ways in which I work to teach gratitude to my children. When the kids are having a particularly bad day — maybe they are sad because their friends or classmates treated them unfairly, or they are jealous that a friend got a new gaming system — I find that having them list 3 or 4 things for which they are grateful (only when they are calm and not flooded with emotion) really does help to bring a smile back onto their sweet faces. This exercise also has the side benefit of teaching them how to help themselves see the bright side to things. I especially enjoy talking about things they are grateful for when they are in a particularly good mood. I tend to get a longer list that gets sillier as they go along, and it usually ends with a lot of laughter!

Another way I try to teach my children gratitude is by having them help around the house, so they can see the value what others do for them and to not take that for granted. Because of their school activities and sports schedules I have a hard time establishing a set schedule, but during the school week I do have them help put away their clean laundry and help bring up dishes from the table. I always have them clean up food or drink messes they make. On weekends I have them help in bigger ways, since we have a bit more time. Obviously, I’m not asking a lot from them, but I do want to teach them about being helpful and contributing to the work that must be done around the house. They see the value in this and, in turn, are far more grateful for when someone else comes along and helps them.

Raising grateful kids can be a journey with some bumps along the way, but it’s always worth that extra effort. Grateful people are happier people, and of course we want that for our children. If you aren’t in the habit of thinking about what you are grateful for, start today. List 3-5 things you are grateful for on your own every day, and have your kids join in when they are calm, like maybe during dinner. You can watch their little faces light up as they think about their favorite things and know that you are teaching them so much more than any textbook ever could.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Stay Ahead When Time is Short (in 3 easy ways)

Let’s face it: there is simply not enough time in a day. How many times have you said that since having children? I have probably said it or thought it 1-2 times per week every week for years. There is so much going on in our lives and in our children’s lives. And while some aspects of life do get easier once your sweet babies are in school during the day, the whirlwind rush of activities once that final bell rings more than makes up for the child-free time beforehand. I find it quite easy to let ongoing projects (mine and theirs) slip in the flurry of activity once they get home, and it doesn’t take long, then, to feel like your drowning in unfinished work. Sound familiar? Below is how I break down our duties and maximize what little time we have.

  1. Make Lists. I love lists! They are simple, you can look quickly at them and know what is next, and best of all, you can cross lines out when you finish with the item. It’s a great feeling! I have always been a list-maker. Recently, I’ve started applying that skill to help keep my middle-school daughter on track with her three projects she has due at the end of this month. We broke down each project into manageable “bites” or tasks that she can accomplish each week leading up to the due date. By doing this, each of the tasks feel less overwhelming and allows her to stay organized and on top of the workload. We keep the list on the fridge, so it’s kept safe, and we can refer to it quickly and easily when we need to. You can easily apply this technique to your own work or responsibilities. Perhaps your own tasks change from day to day like mine often do. I keep a small dry-erase board in my kitchen so I can list my daily or even weekly responsibilities and stay on track.
  2. Use Calendars. Seems obvious, right? Of course most people keep a calendar at home and work. Perhaps you keep another one on your mobile device. Use these to help you stay organized, not just to jot down your doctor visits or upcoming appointments. Yes, I use the calendar on my phone for the aforementioned visits and appointments, etc., but I also use it to remind me of my daily tasks when I’m not at home. I actually find my Google calendar so much more effective at reminders than the reminder app itself! For my children, I put together a separate calendar (simply printed a blank one off the web), and I use that to list when homework and projects are due and when they have quizzes and tests. I stuck it on the fridge, so they can easily see in advance when these items are coming up. I love that I can quickly refer to it and remind them what books to bring home to study that afternoon and what they can expect at school each day. It has completely taken away that feeling of stumbling around in the dark and surprises when it comes to their upcoming events.
  3. Start Early. Finally, look ahead at what may need to be done in the coming month or two months, create a reasonable timetable for accomplishing it week-by-week, and begin working on it as soon as it is possible. For example, since I am a performing musician, I can look at my upcoming performance schedule and begin to work on the most demanding or technical music very early on. So, by the time the concert approaches, I’m a lot less stressed about learning the music. Of course, you can adapt this example to your own working lifestyle or career. Deadlines come sooner than you think, we all know that. By being prepared and ready early, you can avoid the hectic and frantic feeling that often accompanies those deadlines.

Yes, time is really short, and there never seems to be enough of it. We live busy lives and need every second we can get. By using basic organizational tools and a little forethought, we can stay on top of our tasks and help our children stay on top of their responsibilities, too. Not only do these 3 simple ways above save time in the end, they can teach our children about the benefits of organization, as well. It’s a win-win for the whole family and allows us a bit more time at the end of the day for snuggles!

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Every Parent is a Working Parent

Here is a typical day for me, and probably for most of us parents: I get up after not nearly enough sleep. I stumble into the kitchen to pour myself that treasured first cup of coffee and begin the process of getting breakfast started for my children. I go wake them, and after several attempts, they begrudgingly trod into the kitchen and sit down at the table, where I finish laying breakfast. After they have taken way too long to eat, because they started playing, having animated conversations, or they took a long time waking up, then it’s a mad dash to try to finish getting ready for school. I quickly grab their things, making sure they’ve hurried out the door with their backpacks, computer bags, and lunches. Then my own work begins. I quickly workout or run, I practice my music, get ready for teaching (or travel to do the teaching), do the shopping, cleaning, and when I have a minute blogging(!), and then it’s off to the races again once school lets out. We have after school activities to drive them to nearly every day, homework to do, dinner to make, play time, reading, and bed. Unless I’m meditating or blogging, I don’t even take time to sit during the day, including breakfast, because there’s hardly a point. It’s enough to wear anyone out just thinking about it!

None of us parents are alone in this hectic day. It’s typical of daily parenting life, regardless if you work inside or outside the home. So, when I’m having a conversation with someone, and they state something like, “oh, you stay home, so what do you do all day?” or “oh, so you’re not really doing anything all day.” it kind of makes my head spin. Parents work. We work hard. We work around the clock. Whether you are blessed with easy going kids or kids who require more special attention and have special needs, you are working. Whether you are working inside of your own home or outside your home, you are working. Constantly. You’re not just the captain of your ship, you’re the cook, the navigator, the boatswain, the quartermaster, the nurse, the carpenter, everything. We wouldn’t expect only one or two people to run an entire ship, but we expect it of parents.

I think it’s crucial that we change the perception that stay-at-home parents aren’t really working parents. This attitude diminishes the value of the work we do at home and for our children. In many cases, we have sacrificed promising careers for which we have spent significant time in college, not to mention tuition money, in order to raise healthy children in our homes. All parents are working parents, and I will not let others tell me or hint at otherwise.