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How to Survive A Polar Vortex: Go Swimming!

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Last weekend it was a crisp 8 degrees outside before the windchill at my cousin’s house in Vermont. The kids — my two who are 5 and 7 and my cousin’s two who are 4-year-old twins — could handle playing outside in the snowfor a full 15 minutes without whining about cold toes and the white stuff seeping into their gloves. In all fairness, it was cold. And the snow, like it has been in much of the country this winter, was incredibly deep. We couldn’t even go sledding without carving our own path out of 3 foot deep powder, and by the time we created it, the kids were over it. Frankly, I’m over this @^$%! snow too. The solution? We went swimming.

Kids playing at The Pump house. (PR image)

Waterparks — namely the indoor ones — have been gaining in popularity across the country. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better time to visit them than during a polar vortex. We headed up to Jay Peak ski resort in upper Vermont to their indoor mecca of water fun called The Pump House. (Jay is mostly known for it’s awesome skiing, btw.)  It was a holiday weekend so it was busy — the folks at the resort said, one of the busiest times of year — but it was still manageable, i.e., the lines were never longer than five minutes and there was no whining during the wait. My kids spent most of their time on the two blue and green towering and twisting tube slides which allow kids as short as 42 inches (thank goodness) to slide down on innertubes on their own or with a grownup in the back. I zoomed down a few times — the dips and turns made my stomach drop but in a good way. The husbands went down La Chute — a free-fall water slide that sounded too scary for me (you go 45 mph!), and was off-limits to the kids (you have to be 88 lbs and 48 inches tall).

My kids are decent swimmers — defined by me as if they were to fall into a body of water, they could swim to the side without freaking out — but it was still comforting that there were lifeguards at every entrance and exit of every slide and ride who were actually paying attention. And if you are still nervous, especially for the littlest ones, the Pump House offers free lifejackets. The 4-year olds in our group wore them the whole time in the splash zone, bobbing along in the Big River (a lazy river that circles the joint) and in the family-friendly hot tub, which strangely they loved more than anything. There’s also a hot tub outside of the the glass-walled waterpark. We didn’t venture out to it, but it was fun to eat pizza and drink a beer at the bar (yes, there’s a bar for grownups!) and watch crazy people run in dripping wet bathing suits from the outdoor tub to the warm sanctuary of the waterpark. Even my daredevil 5-year-old wasn’t that bonkers! Besides, the whole point was to get out of the frigid temperatures. So if this polar vortex continues (and according to the Punxsutawney Phil, it very well might), we will be coming back again soon.

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What Kids Love Best About Yellowstone National Park

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

My little family has always loved the outdoors but our trip to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park was by far the most spectacular and exciting. My nearly  7-year-old daughter and nearly 5-year-old son found these five things the best of the best in YNP-GTNP:

1. Animal Spotting. All kids love animals and most love seeing them in zoos, but nothing compares to seeing them in the wild. Within minutes of leaving Jackson Hole airport and taking to the highway, we spotted antelope grazing alongside the road. A little herd was just galloping along. Not long after crossing into YNP did we get stuck in our first of many animal traffic jams: a herd of bison had decided to meander in the middle of the road. People were hanging out of their cars (We even popped out the sun roof of the loaner Buick Enclave we were driving!) and snapping shots. I was glad I had forked over the big bucks for iPods for my kids because their biggest thrill was taking their own pics and videos of the animals through the car windows. We also got to see a grizzly bear, moose, an otter, and even a sly little gray fox. Bald eagles flew over head and very crafty ravens followed us for any dropped snacks. Almost as exciting as seeing animals in person was spotting their footprints and scat along the trails. We read some kid-friendly animal track and scat books before we left and the Junior Ranger pamphlet also has a handy cheat sheet.  My daughter spotted what we’re convinced were elk, coyote, bear, and wolf tracks. If you can also get your hands on some binoculars, do, preferably one for each kid so there’s no fighting. We also relied on the kindness of strangers who let the kids peer through their super powerful ‘scopes to see wildlife from afar, notably a grizzly feeding on a bison.

2. It Stinks! Literally Yellowstone stinks — as my son says: “The earth is farting!” The smell of sulfur wafts through most of the YNP, especially in geyser country near Mammoth, Norris, and Old Faithful. At first the kids were put off by it, but the smell became something they loved to hate. (See them holding their noses in the pic.) The gurgling, spitting, and yes, farting, earth was so incredible and unlike anything they’d ever seen before that the smell just made it all the more intense and exciting.

3. The Awesome Echo. The landscape of YNS and GTNP is filled with steep mountains, canyons and wide plains which offers amazing sound effects. Wind can whistle through the trees so loud that it sounds like a waterfall is around the corner even when it isn’t (even though there are tons of amazing waterfalls) and the potential for echo is unlike any I’ve heard. The kids loved shouting out “Echo! Echo!” to hear their voices ring back at them after bouncing  off the canyon — our hike along the Yellowstone River had a spectacular echo. (And the kids’ shouting had the added benefit of scaring away the bears.)

4. The Freebies. We were in YNP and GTNP after the summer rush in September (a beautiful and less crowded time to go) so we there weren’t a lot of other kids around. But the Junior Ranger Program and the Yellowstone Xanterra kids program were still active. Both organizations give kids booklets to fill out and color during their trip. They ask which animals they’ve spotted, what sites they’ve seen, teach and test them on nature trivia and even provide little incentives. (The books come in handy when mom and dad need a break.)  Xanterra’s yellow booklets (handed out at the hotel dining rooms) send kids on a scavenger hunt where they get stickers at the biggest attractions. Once their sticker page is full they get a free gift. (The Junior Ranger program is similar but we didn’t manage to meet all its requirements.) My kids were delighted with their gift– adorable fuzzy stuffed black and grizzly bears that they carried around with them the rest of the trip like pets.

5. The Majestic Landscape. We hike a lot in the northeast where we live, but at 4 and 6 years old my kids start whining after 3 miles on any trail. We started our week on the above mentioned 5 mile (completely flat) hike along the Yellowstone Canyon and the kids never asked when we’d reach the end. And when we announced the next day we were going on another hike, and another, there were cheers rather than groans. That’s because around every corner of every trail there was something new to see — the dramatic canyon view (and smell) of Calcite Springs below in the case of Yellowstone Canyon. And waterfall after waterfall — Mystic Falls Trail and Fairy Falls Trail in YNP were especially popular and dramatic.  The spurting, farting, gurgling geysers and colorful funky hot springs amazed them over and over (Fairy Falls also offers an awesome view of the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring). Perhaps most popular were the gurgling mudpots, maybe because they were so dangerous it was too exciting to be bored – just off the path is boiling earth !!! (Artist Paint Pots trail is a fascinating one for kids and it’s short too). And on our very last day, in GTNP, we walked along the Hermitage Trail (starts at Colter Bay Marina) with the Tetons towering above us. It was a sunny day and after four and a half hours of hiking my son finally said, “Are we almost done yet?” And by then we were. We were all sad to go.

Read my other post about what parents need to know before going to Yellowstone and share your own travel tips.

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5 Things To Know When Traveling to Yellowstone With Kids

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I just got back from an amazing trip with my family (husband and two kids, ages 4 and 6) to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is like no other place in America, or even on earth. It’s a wonderland for parents and kids alike. But it does require a lot of planning.


1. There’s no TV, radio, or (gulp) wifi
in Yellowstone inns, hotels, and lodges. Likely you are going to Yellowstone to get away from your crazy  busy life and will welcome being off the grid. (I did manage to get Verizon and AT&T cell connection at Old Faithful Inn, but it was spotty at best.)  Even if you are welcoming connecting with nature,  it can be a challenge to travel with kids without a little help from Netflix or their favorite wifi based apps, especially during long car trips to and from attractions (Yellowstone is a big place!).  Consider bringing portable DVD players, game systems, or downloading movies and apps in advance on your devices so you’re prepared. And you can never have too many crayons or colored pencils– the Park hands out Junior Ranger booklets and other pamphlets to kids frequently and having them on hand makes for a great distraction while waiting for dinner. (We found that the hotel dining rooms were short on crayons outside of brown and black which makes it a challenge to color in the Prismatic Spring!)

2. Weather changes can be drastic. We woke up our first day to 40 degree weather (see pic at right); by noon we had stripped off our hats, gloves and jackets and were wearing our tee shirts on the Mammoth Terraces. The next day it snowed — a few inches fell in a couple hours,  leaving the Park covered in blanket of white and even closing roads. We were still nursing our sunburns from the day before! We traveled in mid-September when it can be cooler, but everyone I spoke with says that the weather can change from super hot to freezing, even in the summer. Dress in layers and carry a backpack with hats and gloves and plenty of water when hiking. Even in a few hours the weather can change 20 degrees.

3. You’ll spend a lot of time in the car. Yellowstone is more than 3,000 square miles and there’s only one major figure eight highway connecting it all with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour. We found the drive from attraction to attraction breathtaking — every mile has something to see whether it’s a herd of bison on the side of the road, a giant cavern dipping before you, or a bald eagle flying overhead –even my kids put down their headphones to look out the windows and shriek at the amazing nature on the other side of the glass several times a day. But still, you are in the car a lot. It can take 2-3 hours to get from Old Faithful to the Yellowstone Canyon or to Mammoth Terraces to Yellowstone Lake … or wherever you want to go depending on road closures, animal jams, and just plain distance. So if you have the option, bring or rent the bigger car with ample leg room and/or amenities. We spent the week in a new Buick Enclave and it was perfect — we had a DVD player for the kids when they were tired of the view (or just tired period) and plenty of space for all our hiking gear and snacks. (The sunroof also came in handy for snaps of grazing animals — see us at right!)

4. Food can be hard to find. The Park is vast and if you are between junctions (the intersections where many attractions are located) or stuck in a bear jam (seriously!)  you could find yourself hungry and, worse, with hungry whining children. The Park restaurants, grills, and cafeterias (located at most junctions) are first come, first served for breakfast and lunch and there are often long lines, especially in the summer months (we traveled in September and it was hard even then.) Dinner at the few sit-down restaurants are reservation only and they fill up fast — book ém when you book your room.  Plus, the food can be pricey — we couldn’t get away with less than $40 for our little family of four for breakfast or lunch at any of the restaurants. (The to-go sandwiches are $10 each!) If you can, bring a cooler and pack lunches and snacks; there are tons of great, well-marked picnic spots and you can always replace your ice and fill up with water at the major junctions.

5. Animals can be dangerous. There are signs everywhere telling you to be careful of the bears, elk, bison, antelope, moose, and other animals that make their home in Yellowstone, but it’s important to note again here and especially for children. Do not let them get close to any animals — we took pictures of bison and elk through our car windows (see my son’s pic, at right!), and out of the top of our sunroof — they can charge and trample children (even adults). People are hurt every year in the Park by getting too close. Also, if you plan to go hiking — and I highly recommend that you do — it’s the best way to see the Park and get away from the crowds — note that the threat of grizzly and black bears are real. Do not let children run ahead of you on trails (bears think something running is food worth catching) and make noise. Luckily making noise is easy for most kids; but on longer hikes it can be harder to keep the conversation rolling. For our hikes on the Fairy Falls, Mystic Falls, and the Yellowstone River Picnic/Speciman Ridge Trails we sang several songs, including “Going on A Bear Hunt” over and over! We never saw a bear on a trail, but we did see a grizzly on a road side pullover through binoculars (how I prefer to see a large mammal that can eat my young). Also consider buying and learning how to use bear spray.

Check out my other post about our trip: What Kids Love Most About Yellowstone. And be sure to share your tips for traveling to Yellowstone and other national parks with kids!

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Batman Birthday Party

Friday, November 9th, 2012

I’m not a crafter. But I am cheap. And after splurging on a generator for my house when Hurricane Sandy hit last week, I decided to do a little DIY for my son Grant’s 4th birthday.

The party theme was a Batman birthday — I used last year’s Halloween decorations (cut-out bats hanging by fishing wire) as the main decoration, hanging them from the ceiling and even sticking them to the walls. And I bought a big piece of poster board and had my husband create a Pin the Tail on Batman game. There’s no tail but it still worked OK.

But the most important part of the party (at least as far as I was concerned) was creating a Batman cake.  I’m a decent cook so I figured I could do this. But when I googled “batman cake” and looked for ones on Pinterest, they were all made out of fondant or in fancy shapes. I just didn’t have the patience. I decided to hit my local Michael’s and see what else I could do instead. I stumbled upon this Wilton product: Sugar Sheets. All you do is cut out the image that you want and plop it on the cake. And you can eat it too! I thought it turned out pretty well! Grant and his friends did too. It was demolished in 10 minutes. Which is also why I’m grateful I saved the money and did it myself!

Hooray for cheap moms!

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Hit the Slopes!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

As a kid I learned to ski at Paoli Peeks in southern Indiana. Those of you who live in the west or northeast would laugh (think big hill with lots of fake snow; I didn’t learn the terms “piste” or “powder” in reference to skiing till I was in my 20s). But it didn’t matter. I loved it. Skiing was fun!! And I was determined once my kids were old enough I’d take them too. That day came just recently when we all hit the slopes at Smuggler’s Notch Resort near Stowe, Vermont. It turned out to be the perfect place to introduce little ones to skiing. Incredibly, they have ski instruction for kids as young as 2! My son is 3 and he was so proud that he got to ride the “magic carpet” on the mini bunny slope behind the Treasures daycare center (which, btw, was the most impressive daycare center I’ve ever seen — and I toured a lot in Manhattan while looking for a place for my daughter. See pic of the outside area below.) My daughter, 5, was equally as excited in her ski school class, Discovery Dynamos, even though the previous weekend  she couldn’t stand the 30 degree weather and snow longer than precisely 3 minutes as we attempted to go sledding. It’s amazing what kids will do when you’re not around for them to whine to! My husband and I sneaked up on our her and the rest of her class learning how to glide (“french fries!”) and stop (“pizza!”) by wedging and unwedging their ski tips. She glided along on the snow and even gave her instructor a high five. We slipped off smiling without her being the wiser. But the moment was priceless. And both kids want to go back! Success!

For more on getting your kids ready to ski and how to do it on a budget, check out this story in the current issue of Parents.

And this upcoming week at Smuggler’s Notch is Winter Week and Thursday, Feb. 23, is their annual Winter Carnival which is co-sponsored by Parents‘ sister publication, Family Fun. It’s a great opportunity to get out with the fam and teach your kids to ski. Click here for deals and details. And let us know how your kids took to the slopes!

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Elmo’s Birthday Party

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

I just took my son Grant, 3, to Elmo’s Birthday Party at the Sesame Street Workshop today here in New York City. Elmo claims that he is 3 1/2 today (he even had a cake with 3 big candles and one short one), but I think he’s around 10. (Anyone out there keeping count?) In any case, the party was really to celebrate Elmo’s newest DVD: Elmo’s World: Elmo’s Favorite Things which is in stores on Tuesday. At the party, we got a sneak peek. It’s Elmo as you love him, hanging out with Dorothy, Mr. Noodle (actually, Mr. Noodle’s brother, Mr. Noodle) and his kid friends and the subject is, what else: birthdays. Grant laughed out loud like he’d never seen an Elmo episode before — curiously, at home he says he’s too old for Elmo. As far as I’m concerned, you are never too old for Elmo. Love that little red monster. Speaking of monsters, at the party there were two balloon genius whipping up Sesame Street characters for the kiddos. Grant asked for Cookie Monster — check it out. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Elmo made an appearance at the end — the actual muppet himself with I assume Kevin Clash, his puppeteer behind the podium Elmo was sitting on — and Grant was shocked. “Elmo is real, Mommy? I didn’t believe Elmo real!” I said, “Now do you believe?”

“Yes, yes! I believe!”

 

 

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Our Elf, Max, on TV tonight!

Friday, December 9th, 2011

We caught on to the Elf on the Shelf trend a little late in my house. The incredibly clever product came on the market more than five years ago now (and was created by two moms, of course!). But if you haven’t heard of it, let me brief you. You buy an Elf in the store (Santa puts them there) and you read the book that comes with him, An Elf’s Story. In the story you learn all about him and his purpose. He is here to watch the children of the household and report back to Santa every night if they have been naughty or nice. You have to give him a name — my daughter named ours “Max” last year — and every morning he magically appears in a new spot in the house. (That’s the trickiest part, moms: Remembering.) But it’s worth it for this powerful line: “Max is watching you!!” Here’s where he popped up this morning:

 

And tonight he is going to be on TV. Well, all the Elves on the Shelf will be there. The show originally aired around Thanksgiving. But if you missed it, you can watch tonight on CBS at 9:30 ET/PT (or DVR it). My kids got to review it this morning and were mesmerized: “Hey! That’s Max!”

 

For more Elf on the Shelf delight, or just to pee your pants laughing (this one had to be made for the parents), check out the Elf Training Video.

 

Now that’s holiday cheer folks!

 

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A Chill Holiday Vacation

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

It’s my turn to host the entire family for Christmas this year. Don’t tell anyone, but I have secret fantasies of packing up and flying off to an exotic place where all the cooking, hosting and entertaining is done by someone else! A great place that is offering just that this holiday season is a resort my husband and I visited last year:  The Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa in New Mexico near Albuquerque, New Mexico. And even better, the kind folks at Tamaya have offered YOU, Parents readers and blog visitors a special family plan rate which includes a second room half off! Because is it really a vacation to stuff everyone in one room?! It’s not for me anyway! The promotion will be valid December through the end of February and the offer code will be PARENT.  Click here to book.

Here are just some of the fun stuff that will be offered this holiday at the Pueblo Style Resort

 

Tree Lighting Ceremony. On, November 26 children from the Pueblo of Santa Ana will sing around the holiday tree in the resort’s living room, festive decorations and a traditional display of luminarias as well as holiday-themed pastries and beverages.

Pueblo-style Gingerbread Making Classes:  Every Sunday, guests will take part in an instructional course with a member of the Tamaya’s pastry team to learn how to construct their very own Pueblo-style gingerbread home.

Santa-drawn Carriage Rides:  Each weekend, Santa and his reindeer will take guest on a carriage ride through the indigenous Bosque forest and along the Rio Grande River.  Guests will receive complimentary hot chocolate and holiday cookies.

Santa Paws: Travelers are encouraged to bring their four-legged friends to celebrate the holiday season.  The pet-friendly resort will host the “Santa Paws” event on December 3 which will provide guests with a complimentary photo of their pet with Santa Claus upon a donation of one pet food item to a local animal nonprofit organization.Artisan Market:  On December 10, the resort will showcase the culture of the Pueblo of Santa Ana with arts, crafts, and jewelry available from several Native American tribes throughout New Mexico.  In addition, the event will feature performances from Native American dancers and musicians.

Christmas Eve Book Reading: Resort guests will gather around the large holiday tree in the resort’s Living Room for a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  Santa Claus will make an appearance after the book reading as he makes his way through New Mexico. The resort will serve a traditional New Mexico-style Christmas Eve dinner including pasole, tamales, and biscochitos in its Santa Ana Café and Corn Maiden restaurant.


For more info go to Tamaya’s website

 

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