Monday, November 29, 2010

What's in your camper?

Do you ever think about "what if"? What if a big storm came and we had to evacuate quickly? What if there was an emergency with a family member and we had to rush to their side (but they live out of town)? What if we were told by emergency people we had to evacuate our neighborhood because of gas leaks?

How quickly could we leave? Piggybacking on my post here about how quickly we can pack, I want to talk about what we have in our camper.

Several years ago there was a lot of talk where we live about emergency preparedness. The nation had been attacked by terrorists, devistating hurricanes, and other emergencies where families were displaced or sheltered in their homes for days, weeks without electricity and basic necessities. The nation seemed to be on a wave to get prepared. There were advertisements, trainings, and information disseminated everywhere about what you need and should have on hand and for how long.

While we don't live daily in fear of any of this happening it still is good to be prepared, right? It got my husband and I talking and while we already had a pretty good food stores at our house we decided to make a few tentative plans ourselves. We live two hours from our nation's capital and two hours from the east coast naval headquarters. This puts us in the line of fire for any international attack if {knocking on wood} war broke out. Oh, did I also tell you we are 45 minutes from a nuclear power plant? Yeah, that would be us. So we made a few quick plans and if we had to evacuate we would hook our camper up to our truck and head out of Dodge, so to speak. But the question then was how quickly could we do this and have what we need for several days?

This is where we started to consciously prepare. We decided that we would always have three days' worth of food on deck. We would also have basic hygene supplies (ie. toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, etc). We would keep a pretty decent first aid kit. This was a no-brainer since we also use that first aid kit while traveling. We would keep water stored too.

That was a few years ago. Today I am proud to say that for the most part adding a few perishables and a few clothing items we are still pretty much set. When our camper was parked a couple hours away we had it stocked similar to our house. Of course we had electricity and running water hooked to it so that kept items in the freezer and refrigerator from perishing while we weren't there.

Do you stock your camper? For emergencies?

This is what we have on board all the time.

Food: basic food items in cans and boxes. We try to keep about three days worth of food, just in case.

Water: we try to keep a few gallons in bottles.

First aid kit: this is a must for traveling anyway.

Hygene items and OTC medicines: Pain/fever relievers, bandaids, ace bandages, antibiotic ointments, lotions, etc. Also, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soaps, toilet paper, feminine products.

Paper products: paper plates and cups, napkins, paper towels.

Other items: A set of sheets for each bed, several blankets, towels, hand towels, plastic bags, trash bags, basic tools, rake and shovel, lanterns, flashlights, batteries, etc. Small toys and books for the kids. Extra set of clothes for everyone, rain jackets/ponchos.

When we had our camper parked at the campground we were more stocked then we are now. In fact right now there isn't much in the camper. I emptied it out when we brought it back to our house. Since it is in the backyard, I am not that worried if there is an emergency and we need to go quickly. We can pack it pretty quickly from our supplies in our house. Also since it is getting colder outside, I don't want water to freeze and rupture in the camper. Also we don't want any food to freeze and spoil.

In summers and while we are using the camper, I like to rotate the food in there so it doesn't spoil and I try to keep foods that we eat a lot on the road in there anyway so food rotation is easy.

Do you even think about this? Do you consciously keep extra food on hand in your house? Your camper? What would you do in an emergency?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Getting that itch again!

We are all getting that itch. It has been only three weeks and this third weekend that we are on I can feel that the kids are ready to GO somewhere, anywhere and frankly, I am too.

I sit with a heap of laundry surrounding me, a family room that is in crisis right now and all I want to do is pack up and go. Two weekends ago we brought back our camper from our seasonal campsite about an hour and a half away. It sat in our driveway for a week and we moved it to the backyard. We unpacked all the food and perishables and parked it for the winter. The camper is sad, I can tell. I am too.

I don't know why traveling is so in my blood. I remember when I was little we were always going places, camping for a weekend, traveling for the day. Perhaps that is where I get it from. When we first moved to Virginia from Maryland, my dad announced that we need to get to know our new state. For the first two years we traveled all over the place, exploring, discovering what it was to be in Virginia. It was a good thing we did that because my first year here we had a big project to complete about Virginia. We had to make a book and divide it by the regions of Virginia and then explain the different regions, the land, the industry, cities, etc. Most people took brochures and cut them up and used them as their photos of the regions. NOT ME! I had real pictures, real stuff. Why? Because my dad took us there, showed us around, and we took pictures. So for the coastal region you have me at the beach. For the piedmont region you have me with the Richmond skyline, me in Fredericksburg at the battlefields. For the mountain region you have a photo of me in the mountains, me apple picking, me with the fall leaves, me me me me me. I got an A+ on that project but the teacher didn't like me any better and I was lucky to have moved on to the fifth grade and not have to do fourth grade over again. (But that is another story).

So back to the point here. We are itching to go somewhere but we are pretty much stuck here for the time being. The holidays are fast approaching, there are decorations to hang, more laundry than you can imagine, and a family room that needs some semblance and order.

My question today is: How fast can you pack the family and be off on an adventure? Let's say, for a weekend? A week?

My answer: we can pack for a weekend without having to take linens (like if we are going to a hotel or our camper in the summer) in an hour. That does not include shopping for food. But it does include packing food and drinks.

To pack for a week: 2 hours tops. And that is everyone in the car and ready to pull out of the driveway. We have gotten really good at packing. Every person knows what they need to pack. They know how to pack their own entertainment for the car ride. I pack all the toiletries, food, drinks, and linens. We have this all down to a science.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Traditions with Kids

Because we travel so much, we try to make certain family traditions unchangeable in our house. The holidays are a perfect time for traditions. This makes whatever 'craziness' in our lives feel much more normal.

We make sure at least for now that we are HOME for Christmas. We can travel prior to Christmas and we can travel after Christmas but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are sacred for us and they are spent (for now) at HOME! When I was a little girl we lived in a city where I didn't have grandparents close by. So at the holidays we tended to travel just after Christmas or even for Christmas. Those holidays when we weren't home in our house seemed a bit odd, different, not right. We decided that at least until the kids are much older that this holiday would be spent at home and so far we have succeeded in making sure that happens.

For our kids, this may not even make any difference to them. They are pretty flexible kids. Last year for example we traveled to Disney World prior to Christmas. Our intent was to get back on December 24th. But while we were there a big cold front hit the East Coast and Richmond was covered in 19 inches of snow. This began to concern us that we wouldn't be able to get back home in time. We might have traveling issues, although we drove our 4WD to Florida we might have icing issues, road closures due to other accidents, etc. We began to prepare for an alternative plan. As flexible as our kids are they do much better with a plan, and one that we stick with. So we began to talk about maybe not making it home in time for Santa. We talked that Santa would come anyway to our house and not to where we were. We talked about possibly getting hom on Christmas Day. Once the kids knew that we had a plan then all was fine. We decided not to go into the park on Dec 23rd, as planned for the morning, but to begin to head on early again not knowing what we would encounter. As it turned out we ended up driving all day long and we actually arrived home that evening around 9:30. We didn't hit any bad weather, poor roads, or traffic until we were just outside of our city and the roads were just wet at that point.

The holidays are so filled with tradition for us. The visit to Santa, the REAL Santa! Decorating the Christmas Tree, hanging the stockings, and sending Daddy down to see if Santa came on Christmas Morning as we all wait (not so) patiently at the top of the steps. Watching the Thanksgiving Day parade as Mom makes waffles and bacon. Going to a grandparent's house for dinner and then, for me, shopping the next day at the great sales.

But the holidays are not the only times when we have traditions. Going to the beach in the middle of the winter, bringing Lucy the witch down from the attic for Halloween, and even those lazy hammock times in the summer are traditions for our family. Picking the dinner on your birthday.

What traditions do you all have in your family? Anything special you do with the kids?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Traveling with kids

In the recent few days I have been thinking a lot about our travels this year and in years past. I was asked the other day in an email if we travel every weekend. Well, no not every weekend but many and most weekends we are going somewhere or doing something.

So this got me thinking about how we travel with kids. As I said before we have been traveling for years with our kids and I think that since they know no different they have learned to cope with long hours in the car. They are easy to travel with for the most part. My kids are currently 11, 10 and 8. They get along with each other well. But that doesn't always mean that they get along well in a car for hours on end. I help the process of traveling out a bit too. Here are some of my tricks to help kids cope with long hours cooped up in a car.

1. Packing:
Clothing goes in one bag or a suitcase but the kids have small backpacks that they can stuff with other items to help them stay busy and entertained in the car. These smaller backpacks now are packed by them alone, and as toddlers and younger kids I packed their backpacks for them.

When they were little like 4-7 years old I packed a favorite stuffed animal, a new pack of crayons, a new coloring book or activity book (love these and get them from the dollar stores), a hand held battery operated game, a couple reading books and sometimes other small toys they could play with in the car.

Now as they are older they usually pack their MP3 players, Nintendo DS games, a coloring book or two, reading books, pencils and crayons, a stuffed animal and other little toys or entertaining stuff. One rule I have is that it all has to fit in that bag and the bag must close. We only have so much room, you know.

2. DVD player:
Oh my heavens! I was in paradise when we finally got a DVD player that was attached to the ceiling of our suburban. We had it installed last year before our big trip to Florida. This was wonderful because we opted to get the headphones for the kids as well. Now we can drive for HOURS in silence as they watch a movie. As toddlers we had a portable DVD player and before that a larger VHS player. This has been a godsend to our traveling. When we didn't have those we had those VideoNow hand held devices and as little kids they loved watching Dora the Explorer and Clifford the Big Red Dog episodes on it. They eventually broke and we upgraded.

If you are going to travel far this is a must have in a car.

3. Stop Often:
My kids need to get out and run every couple hours. They still do. And personally I need it too. When we are on long trips we like to stop every couple hours and have a bathroom break and perhaps get a snack or a drink. I will talk about food later. We try to find a place where there is a bit of space or a fast food restaurant where the kids can play in their playground area for a few minutes before getting back in the car. Now this will add time to your trip but the end result of having happy kids in a car will more than make up for this inconvenience.

Oh, also it is our rule in our family that everyone MUST TRY to go to the bathroom when we are stopped. There is no "I don't have to go" and then 30 minutes down the road they are complaining that they have to go "right now and can't wait".

4. Food and Drink:
One way to keep kids happy on the road is by making sure they have full bellies. We always always pack a bag of snacks for the road. We often will pack a cooler of drinks too. Even if we are driving an hour out of town a bag of snacks and a drink is a necessity. I pack several options, salty, sweet, healthy, junky. This way you hit all the possibilities. Oh, and pack more than you think you will need. It is amazing how much kids will eat!

5. Bag of tricks:
Yes you heard that right. I always pack a "bag of tricks" that I sneak in the car. I am not talking magic tricks I am talking stuff that the kids have either never seen before or haven't seen in a while. For shorter trips I usually try to save my stuff for the ride home. It can be the worst part of the trip and the kids can be very cranky on the ride home. This breaks up the monotony of the car ride and gives them something new to do or play with that they haven't done already this trip. For long trips like our trips to Florida I like to try to wait as long as possible in the ride there before I pull out anything new for them. Last year on our drive to Florida (a 14 hour drive each way) I didn't have to pull anything out of my "bag of tricks" until the ride back home. The kids were so excited to get there that they were great the whole ride down so I saved my stuff until our drive back. Sometimes I don't even need to pull anything out and I will then just save my stuff until the next trip. This is great too because then they don't know to expect new stuff because it doesn't happen on every trip.

What's in my "bag of tricks" you ask? Well for my kids a brand new coloring book or activity book for each of them is in there along with two or three packs of brand new crayons. I pack, for longer trips, a new DVD or two. We usually purchase them as we will want to own them but you can rent movies also. I love the new RedBox movie rental kiosks and love that you can rent a movie one place and return it somewhere else. We have rented a movie here before we leave and return it at our destination, then rent again for the ride home. At a buck a day, this is a deal for us. My kids love to write and draw so I often will pick up those little notebooks you can get at craft stores or in dollar stores for a $1. I also will put in a book that we haven't read as a family yet. When I pull this book out I will read it out loud from the front seat (not driving of course) while the kids listen. I show them the pictures as we get to them. I will save the longer books for this and it is great with toddlers if they enjoy listening to you read. We can read for a couple hours this way.

I don't spend a lot of money on my bag of tricks and often will include small toys that they have ignored for a while too. Now, I don't pull everything out at once. I save stuff and pull out one thing at a time. I let them play with that for a while and when they start to get bored again, pull out something else.

6. Pillows and blankets:
This is a must. My husband likes to keep the car cool even in the winter so a blanket will save a lot of fuss about who is too cold. They each have a blanket the size of a sofa throw in the car and so do I. Each child also has a pillow in the car that is accessible to them. If they want to take a nap, then they have everything they need. Often the will lean their head against the pillow to watch the movies too.

7. Traveling clothes:
Many years ago my grandparents traveled a lot. They are now deceased. When they traveled they had their "traveling suits" on. These consisted of a pair of pants that were comfortable, a shirt, and a matching blazer or jacket. A suit of clothing. But these suits were not like a suit you would wear to the office they were decent enough to go into a restaurant and have a meal and nice enough for you to not be embarrassed when others saw you. But comfortable enough for you to sit for long periods of time and not feel like your pants are cutting you in half. This was a different generation then but their idea is still the same.

For us the rule is that the clothes have to be comfortable but appropriate enough to be in public in. For our family that means that we do NOT travel in lounge wear, pajamas unless our next stop is a hotel or a place where we will be going straight to bed. Otherwise we wear clothing that is comfortable, sweat pants, or shorts, long pants that are not tight or binding. We wear layers on top. We start with a shirt and then add a sweatshirt or sweater. If we are traveling in the winter then we will bring our winter coats but not wear them in the car.

While traveling if we plan to be late getting in we will put the kids in pajamas around their bedtime and let them fall asleep in the car and carry them into the hotel or our destination for bed that night. But they do not start out in the car that afternoon in their pajamas. If you have really small children then pajamas may be more appropriate for traveling. But for us we wear our clothes.

8. Know your kids/Allow extra time:
When planning a long trip in the car, the best rule of thumb is to know your kids. You know their tolerance level and you know their escalation signs. You know how long your kids can tolerate being in their seats. Knowing these key things will help to diffuse any problems in the car. Don't wait until it is too late. When you begin to see signs of travel fatigue that is the time to change the situation. Don't wait until it is too late. Sometimes simply saying "We are going to start to look for an exit to eat dinner. Who can spot a sign for McDonalds on it?" That will give you a few more minutes of calm. Or pull out something new, start DVD, or begin to read to them. The idea is to change the situation. Sometimes at this point I will pull out the food bag and begin to hand out snacks even if they didn't ask for one.

Allow extra time for stops. We average with our family of 5 30 minutes for a bathroom and drive thru break. If we stop to eat in a restaurant we can add an additional hour to our travel time if not a bit longer. We have tried to shorten this time and the kids get too stressed out. So we know we can't rush this. We love Google Maps and GPS. Google maps is great because you can change your course of the trip with a click. It gives the travel time also. As an example, it takes 11 hours almost to the minute to get from our house to Disney World. But for us we know it takes us 14 hours. Our trip down is broken into two days. We start in the afternoon and drive as long as we can into the night. We stop twice, once for dinner and once for a bathroom and clothing change break. We switch the kids into their pajamas around their bedtime. We find a hotel (not always the best idea with traveling with kids to just leave it up to chance) and we carry them into the room in their pajamas and tuck them straight into bed. The next morning we pack up and continue on our way. We will stop two more times on the way. Once for a midmorning bathroom break and once for lunch. No matter how fast we try to go it still takes us 14 hours. On the way home, we travel in one very full day if we can. We stop for a mid-morning break, lunch where we get out and eat, a mid afternoon break and then dinner where we sit down and get served. Then usually we are pretty close to being home, well, within a few hours. In short, plan for breaks and lots of them.

Traveling with kids can be fun if you are prepared. I have heard horror stories of families on the road, kids fighting in the back seat or kids screaming and crying the whole way there. That is not a fun way to travel. It is better to be even extra prepared with your bag of tricks than to be caught short and short tempered.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Long Weekend in the Outer Banks, NC

We love being at the beach in the fall. This year with the school calendar the way it was and the fact that Election Day was just two days past Halloween we headed down for a long four day weekend. Boy did we have a good time. We really relaxed.

One thing that we were originally concerned with was Halloween and Trick or Treating. Our kids are still of the age where they enjoy trick or treating and we didn't want them to miss out on that fun. But since we would be at the beach in the off season and we weren't sure how many neighbors would be trick or treating also, nor did we know about other neighborhoods where we could go, we opted for Trunk or Treating.

I searched the internet and found that a local church down there would be offering trunk or treating, a carnival like atmosphere with games, activities, and bouncy things as well as free hot dogs and popcorn. So it sounded like a plan. On Halloween we hopped in the car in early afternoon and headed down the road a few miles to the church to check things out. We wanted to have enough time to come up with a plan B if we needed it. We drove by and they were setting up the bouncy things and they had a large area roped off for the event. So things were looking good. That evening after carving our own pumpkins:

Halloween 2010

Trunk or Treat 2010

We headed down to Trunk or Treat. We expected some people but were totally taken back by the number of people there.

Trunk or Treat 2010

We had to park down the street and walk a little bit back to the church. It was great though and well worth it. The cars were so well decorated and the people were so nice as we went through. The kids enjoyed the evening so well they asked if we could come back next year. Now that is a good sign!

Trunk or Treat 2010

They said the kids belonged at this car:

Trunk or Treat 2010

A pirate truck:

Trunk or Treat 2010

and a robot:

Trunk or Treat 2010

Very fun.

The next day we headed out on the beach for some honest to goodness salt air. It was chilly but we had a great family time.

Collecting seashells:

The find of the day.


And trying desperately to fly a kite:

Kite flying

Kite flying

Sea oats:

Sea oats

I love this guy!


And walking with my girls!


We were reluctant to come back home on Tuesday but the adult in us made us come home. We could live there forever if we could......ahhhhh to dream.....