Vacationpocalyspe Part III

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Remember Vacationpocalypse? The one where the roads flooded and I-5 closed for 36 hours? How about Vacationpocalypse II, where a 3 hour flight turned into 9 hours sitting on the airplane in an unplanned detour to a Wichita Falls, TX Air Force Base?

You’d think we would either stop going places that have weather, or stop traveling altogether, but when the opportunity for travel arises, we have a hard time turning it down =)

We recently returned from Vacationpocalypse III. Yes, another weather related adventure!

My husband had a work trip in Nevada, so we tagged along as usual. After his work was done, we planned to spend four nights in a little town in Utah, called Duck Creek Village. Duck Creek Village is very quaint (read: super tiny–the closest grocery store is 45 minutes away), and halfway between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, and close to several other National Monuments. We rented a beautiful cabin, and planned out our busy (or what we thought were going to be busy) days.

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The drive up the mountain (we were staying at an 8000′ altitude) was snowy, but plowed. We arrived at the cabin, excited to see “real” snow!

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The first night it snowed…a lot. We decided to stay at the cabin to sled, build snowmen, and just play in the snow. The kids loved it and we all enjoyed sipping hot cocoa by the fire.

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That night it snowed again…a lot…again We decided to try the trek to Bryce Canyon National Park, but it took us 2 hours to dig the truck out of the snow. We only spent a couple hours at the park, but it was glorious, and the kids got their coveted Junior Ranger badges, so all was well.

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That night it snowed…a lot…again. We stayed in the next day. More snow play. We played in the igloo on the property. Yes, igloo.

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Oh look! More snow!

So, Monday morning we were scheduled to leave. We packed up, cleaned out the fridge, tossed most of the food that wouldn’t survive the long drive, locked the door to the cabin and got into the truck. No sooner were we in the truck about to make the 10+ hour drive home when my mom called.

“Are you leaving?” she asked. I told her we were just about to drive out. “Check the roads,” she said, “According to the maps, they’re closed.” So, I checked the map. Main road down the mountain was indeed closed. I checked the back road. That one was also closed. We got out of the truck to figure out what to do next and immediately started getting pelted with snow. A freak blizzard. For reals. We couldn’t see in front of us more than a few feet, and the wind was blasting. Laughing (because sometimes that’s all you can do), I called the home’s owner and after a few phone calls with weather and traffic she called us back to say “Well, you’re officially snowbound. Enjoy another night in the cabin on us!”

We were happy to have one more day in gorgeous Duck Creek Village, and relieved to be off the road, but I had just thrown away a lot of food and there was no way to get to a grocery store. That day we nibbled on the food I had kept–chips and salsa, granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky, and water. We were definitely roughing it. Then, the power (AKA the heater) decided to go out. So there we were, it’s 7 degrees outside with a wind chill well below zero, huddled next to the small gas fireplace, eating beef jerky, waiting for the heater to start working again.

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We couldn’t do much snow play that day–once the blizzard settled down, it left us with local neighbors whose 4 wheel drive heavy duty trucks couldn’t even make it out! Once the power came back on, we had movie day, and enjoyed the beauty of the snow falling outside. (And the warmth of the heater!)

The next morning was Tuesday and we were determined to leave. The main road was still closed (and would be, we later found out, for the next 72 hours), but there was a back road that opened up that morning and would take us through Zion National Park. We decided to give it a shot.

The snow was deep, but since we had 4 wheel drive we made it through. It took a little extra time to get home, but the road through Zion was AMAZINGLY  gorgeous. We later found out that the snow storm we experienced was the largest one in the area in nearly a decade, and over the 5 days we were there, Duck Creek Village got 50 inches of snow!

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So, we made it home, and don’t have another trip planned until close to summer. Hopefully it won’t be snowing then :)

DIY Magnetic Travel Puzzle

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As you’ve probably already noticed, I love making travel games and toys for the kids. Between my felt funny faces, lap tray, and travel Lego tray (which always gets compliments while on airplanes), I really enjoy coming up with new ways to keep the kids occupied during long trips.

For our most recent trip, I wanted to figure out a way to make a travel puzzle. I knew they needed to be magnetic, but couldn’t figure out an easy way to make it happen. I happened to be wandering around Lakeshore, and saw magnetic dots–I knew those would be perfect. I found a puzzle on clearance at Target for $4.99 (it was a 48 piece and just barely fit on the magnetic cookie sheet I purchased at the dollar store so I would make sure to measure before you choose your puzzle), and got to work.

I put one magnetic dot on the back of each puzzle piece, and that was it. Like seriously folks, this could not have been any easier. I kept all the pieces in a zipper bag, and the kids were able to use the magnetic cookie sheet to keep the pieces secure and put together. This travel game was definitely a hit, and cheap and simple to boot!

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“Shhhh. They Don’t Know They’re Learning” DVD List…for home or travel!

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I know a lot of parents try to tough out traveling without using technology, but sometimes you just need to switch on the DVD player for sanity’s sake. Having logged over 130 hours on road trips or plane rides with one or both of my kids since 2014, I know a little bit about traveling with kids. (plus we have another 30 hours+ worth of traveling planned for later this year), and sometimes turning on a DVD is just the best option for everyone. It tends to reset the atmosphere, gives some peace and quiet, and helps the time pass more quickly. Even though Tater gets carsick while reading or coloring in the car, she does fine watching shows, so I make sure to stock up on quality shows.

But, not all DVDs are created equal. I try to make sure that the DVDs we have in the car for traveling are educational, but also fun and enjoyable. The kids don’t even realize they’re learning! Here are my top picks for Educational DVDs to pick up for your next trip (or even just to have around the house!)

(My kids do have plenty of non-screen time during our travels as well…check out some of my DIY travel games for road trips, and my simple DIY Travel Lego Tray!)

Toddler and Preschoolers

  • Leapfrog Letter Factory
    • This is such a great show for kids who are learning their ABCs. Both of my kids were able to learn and practice their letter sounds. Junior still asks to watch it on occasion, because it’s entertaining, even though he already knows the letters.
  • Leapfrog Math Circus
    • This is another wonderful Leapfrog DVD, that teaching counting by 10s.
  • Leapfrog Math Adventure to the Moon
    • In this DVD (can you tell I love Leapfrog shows for little kids??), children are introduced to skip counting, which is a major foundation for multiplication.
  • Meet the _____ series
    • Meet the Letters, Colors, Numbers, and Shapes are four of my top DVDs for little kids. Much like the Leapfrog series, they introduce kids to learning in a fun, engaging, and sing-songy way.

Young Grade School (K-4th)

  • Wild Kratts
    • This popular PBS show teaches kids about all about animals. The fast-paced cartoon action is enough to keep all the kids entertained.
  • Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?
    • I grew up playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego on the computer, and enjoyed watching the cartoon version. Both kids love these DVDs, and will watch each episode over and over. Tater spouts off trivia about geography, history, natural wonders, and science. It’s adventure mixed with information that keeps my kids enthralled.
  • Liberty’s Kids
    • This is a cartoon take on Colonial America during the Revolutionary War. It’s fast paced, exciting, and includes all the episodes that teach about the American Revolution and incudes the lives of such historical figures as Benjamin Franklin (the main character voiced by the legendary Walter Cronkite), Paul Revere, and George Washington.
  • Popular Mechanics for Kids
    • This is a fun series for hands-on science learning. Tater didn’t like some of the “gross” episodes about reptiles and bugs, but she loved the rest of them.
  • Schoolhouse Rock!
    • Do you know how adorable it is to hear your 3 year old singing Conjunction Junction?! Too adorable. This DVD includes all 46 of the Schoolhouse Rock! songs on one disc. My kids love rocking out to this DVD. In fact, it’s in our car’s DVD player as we speak.
  • The Magic School Bus
    • With the exception of a few “millions and millions of years” dinosaur episodes, this entire series is really great. I used to watch it when I was young, and learned so much about science. My kids have the entire series on DVD and really enjoy it.

Do you have a favorite educational show? Let me know in the comments!

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My Overnight Getaway (and Admitting How Much of a Nerd I Really Am!)

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Not long ago, I had the opportunity to head up to Seattle for a day  or two by myself. (I’ll tell you the super fun, albeit nerdy, reason in a minute.) Since I have never been away from both of my kids for longer than a 5 hour span, I was equally excited and terrified.

My husband volunteered to take the kids to work with him for two days (I just LOVE that man), so I could have the opportunity to go up. So I left my house at 8am on a Tuesday morning (my kids couldn’t understand that mommy was going to be gone for an entiiirrreeeee night), got settled on the airplane for my 10am flight, and took off. Wait for this…I READ. A BOOK. ALONE. It was like a 3 hour flight or something…I don’t actually know how long it was, because I was so blissfully engaged in my book and the music coming from my headphones without anyone yelling that they need a snack or they need to pee or their ears hurt or they forgot their favorite doll’s left shoe.

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I got into Seattle, and my first stop was Costco, naturally (much like Canada last year) but I wasn’t that thrilled with it. I got a jar of Salmon Rub seasoning, but everything else was similar to my local Costco.

I drove a few miles into the City, and checked into my hotel. I stayed at the Inn at the Market, a charming little boutique hotel right in Pike Place Market. Since I despise driving in downtowns (one way streets and pedestrians stress me out), I wanted to stay within walking distance to the famous indoor/outdoor market and all the shops and restaurants. I loved the view from my room! I splurged for a water view and am glad I did. Although, coming from San Diego, I wasn’t used to the cloudy, dreary skies.

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Since I arrived in Seattle right about lunchtime, I had the entire afternoon to myself. (Without children, mind you. I didn’t know what to do with myself!)

I wandered around Pike Place Market. There were a lot of interesting novelty shops, little restaurants, and there’s a daily craft fair with artisans selling everything from homemade jams, to hand sewn aprons, to animals carved out of the ash of Mt. St. Helens.

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For dinner, I had some of the best clam chowder ever at Pike Place Chowder.

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After dinner, I went back to my room to read and study (more about that in a minute!)

The next morning I woke up and wandered around the market again. I got some Crumpets from the Crumpet Shop, and even brought a pack home to freeze for later, they were so amazing.

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I also bought a huge filet of Wild King Salmon that had just been caught the day before from the Pike Place Fish Market, and had them wrap it in dry ice and newspaper to bring home (Tater loves salmon!)

I had to leave the Market by 10:30am to reach my next destination at a hotel downtown. I checked out of the hotel and headed out, giving myself an hour to go three miles. (I told you that one-way streets and pedestrians stress me out. It took a half hour to get there, thanks to some unfortunate wrong turns.)

At 11:30am, I walked into a hotel conference room, took a deep breath, and sat down along with about a dozen other well dressed folks. I was the youngest in the group, but still confident.

I had been invited to a live interview for a Jeopardy! contestant search!

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I had passed the online Jeopardy! exam last year, and after some back and forth regarding my schedule (I had been out of town for the original interview last Fall), was invited up to Seattle for a live interview and another exam.

I think I did well–I even got to play a mock live game using a real Jeopardy! buzzer. I won’t know whether I’m going to appear as a contestant, but I’m in their active file for the next 18 months, so hopefully I will get chosen and notified soon. Appearing on Jeopardy! has been a dream of mine since I was 11 years old. My dad and I watched Jeopardy! together every single night from the time I was in 6th grade until I got married and moved out.

After the interview, I rushed out to the airport to try and catch an earlier flight home (I finally got a night away from my kids and I missed them to death and just wanted to get home!) It was interesting…but I made it. Let’s just say that I may have lost a shoe somewhere running through the middle of SeaTac, and had to jump through the train doors as they were closing on me to make it to my gate just as they were closing the doors to depart.

It was a fun evening away, (thought I sure missed my family), and hopefully I will have news about Jeopardy! soon. I’ll keep you posted!

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Your Must-Have Travel Binder

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So, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I love lists. I love writing lists, crossing things off lists, and adding silly things to my lists just so I can cross more things off.

One of my favorite things about traveling is all the anticipation and prep work. I love planning and organizing trips. We do our fair share of traveling as a family, usually 3 to 4 trips a year, so I have this down to a science. Meet the Travel Binder!

I get a three hole pronged folder (it has to be flexible enough to carry wherever you go), and add these things to it:

1. Basic Itinerary
We don’t like to be locked into anything on any specific day, but we do like to have a basic idea of how each day is going to unfold. There’s nothing more aggravating than wasting half a day trying to figure out what you’re going to be doing that day. Remember, this doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can add or subtract or switch days. It’s less of a schedule and more a way to organize your “must-dos” and “must sees” along with any important information (such as dinner reservations, special events, etc.) For example, if I know the kids want to go swimming at the hotel pool every morning after breakfast, I’ll put “Breakfast at hotel, swim at hotel pool, afternoon TBD.” It gives an outline without giving a schedule.

2. Want-to-Try Restaurants
Thanks to restaurant review sites, you no longer have to pick a place to eat and hope for the best. Before we go anywhere, I check Yelp and TripAdvisor for the best restaurants in the area, and make a list, dividing it up by cuisine and part of town. That way, when we’re driving around, we can simply pick something off our list. We’ve found some great hole-in-the-wall places we never would have thought to try anyway, just by checking the reviews.

3. Activities List
I have a special needs kid. The first few days of any vacation are just plain stressful as he’s trying to get into a routine, and truth be told, he doesn’t sleep well away from home so there are some days where we don’t do much besides sit in the hotel room and rest. But, I always have a list of activities I would like to get to. Every morning when we wake up, we check the weather, see how the kids are doing, and choose something off the list. This also helps with the major time waster of:
“What do you want to do today?”
“I don’t know. What about you?”
“I don’t care, you choose.”
Three hours later, you’re still sitting there!

4. Phone Numbers
Phone numbers at the ready for hotels, airlines, attractions, and restaurants (to make reservations) are a huge time saver. Sure, you can pull it up on your phone, but having everything in one place is a lot more convenient and you don’t have to worry about having internet connection or not.

5. Directions
I always print directions and maps to and from some of the more important destinations. Things like Airport to Hotel and Hotel to Main Attractions. Cell phone reception can be spotty depending on where you’re going, and I’ve found that my cell phone often gives me the “cannot find destination” excuse. Having a hard copy of important directions or a map of the area can really come in handy.

What Is Your Best Tip for Staying Organized on Vacation?

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