New York Times best-selling author, slow cooking expert, mom of three
  • Follow me
  • Subscribe to newsletter
  • Follow me on Pinterest
  • Follow me on Twitter
  • Become a fan on Facebook
  • Follow me on Google Plus

Totally Together

Planning a Road Trip with Little Kids

August 6, 2014 by · 14 Comments 

How to plan and execute a family road trip with little kids. 2 weeks, 8 states. You can do it!

 

Plan Ahead

We took a 2-week family road trip this summer as our main vacation. We ended up hitting 8 states, and we left from the San Francisco Bay Area. The states that we “tiptoed in” aren’t included in the above map — we ended up only spending an hour in Nebraska and about 15 minutes in Colorado. But I still think it totally counts!

We have a small pop-up tent trailer that we pull with our Toyota Sienna mini van. If you are in the market for a pop-up, we chose the Jayco Sport 10 model, and it fit all 5 of us beautifully (2 adults, kids: 12, 9, 4). We opted to get a model that doesn’t have a shower or toilet because we stayed at (almost all) KOA campgrounds.

We opted for the KOA grounds because they had swimming pools, good bathroom facilities, and a playground for the kids. I also appreciate that the Lights Out time at the campsites is 9pm; I like knowing that i’m not going to hear booming music while I’m trying to get the kids to sleep. The KOAs that we went to were all family-friendly and I felt safe, which was important to me when so far away.

Months (about 6 months) before we left, we outlined our route and made camp reservations. We knew we wanted to see Dinosaur National Park, Yellowstone, and Mt Rushmore. The kids also really wanted to see “the world’s largest baked potato” in Idaho. Those were the destinations we kept in mind while planning our itinerary. Adam also wanted to limit the driving to about 400 miles a day or less.

When planning a family road trip, get an accordion file and fill each slot with detailed maps and emergency room instructions. Safety first!

I bought an inexpensive accordion file folder and divvied it up per day. I included in each slot our camping reservation, a map of the area, and directions to the nearest hospital. I did this for every city we spent the night in. I figured if we had the local emergency room mapped out we’d never need to use it! And I was right! PHEW!!

Do not count on your vehicle’s GPS system or your phone’s turn by turn guidance. Be sure to have roadmaps of all the areas you are going to go to, and before you leave print out turn by turn instructions from one spot to another. Cell and GPS reception is quite spotty in the National Parks, Forests, and in the mountains. We’d have entire days of no cell service.

You can get Tourist Information and roadmaps for every state at this website. And here is my Pinterest Board I used to keep track of my bookmarks.

EXPECT THE KIDS TO SAY THEY ARE BORED

We drove a lot. Although we tried to limit the driving to 3 to 4 hours a day, there were days that we hit traffic or road construction crews or bad weather which slowed us down. I have fantastic kids, but I’m super glad that there wasn’t a dashboard-mounted camera to catch all the times that I yelled at them to stop complaining.

Kids are kids. Kids complain. Kids get tired and cranky. Know this and accept this before you go.

We had a rule that at the campsites there was “nothing digital.” But in the car? Whatever. Keep the kids happy — give them snacks, little toys from the dollar store, play games, and watch DVDs.

I actually bought boxed sets of new-to-my-kids DVDs to watch on the road like Punky Brewster, The Brady Bunch, Webster, Silver Spoons, and The Cosby Show. These are all family friendly and Adam and I enjoyed hearing them through the car sound system. I also liked how each episode has a bit of a moral dilemma and message.

I’m a total sap.

I had a few rolls of quarters with us that I used to pay the kids every so often for their good behavior. My idea was to dole them out for every 15 minutes or so of quiet but I wasn’t quite all that organized. Instead, I just handed them a handful here and there depending on my mood. They used these quarters to buy candy, stuff from gumball machines, and pressed pennies.

We also needed the quarters to do laundry at the campsites and to pay for parking meters. I was glad to have them!

MEAL PLAN

I’m the crockpot lady, so I planned most of our meals around slow cooker food. I wrote about how I always camp with my slow cooker, here.  This trip was no different, except that we were really on the road more than at a campsite, so I found the stovetop setting and the oven setting of the Ninja to be a much more efficient way to cook.

Bring along a Ninja Slow Cooker on your camping road trip and a long extension cord.

 

I brought along a 25-foot extension cord so we preferred to keep the Ninja out on the picnic table in the evenings while I cooked instead of stinking up the pop-up. It worked very well for us, and (in case you were wondering) you can make AWESOME bacon in it on the oven setting at 400 degrees — then you can use the drippings to make the world’s best hashbrowns!

A pancake griddle is a wonderful tool to bring on a camping roadtrip vacation.

I also packed the pancake griddle for use at the sites. The griddle came in handy during the rain storms that we kept hitting which made cooking outside impossible. We used it for pancakes, french toast, quesadillas, and grilled cheese sandwiches. On nice days I’d use it outside, too, for lunch time cooking.

Although the pop-up has a propane grill and every campsite has a charcoal or campfire ring, we really did find that we used the Ninja or the griddle for almost all of the meals. I found that I could control the heat better and when the kids were starving it was just easier to cook on something I was used to rather than worry about the wind blowing out the propane flame.

How to plan your meals for a long family roadtrip vacation.

Because we are gluten free, I worried that we wouldn’t really be able to find some of our favorite packaged food on the road. I bought a case of Gluten Free Rice Krispies before we left, and we stuck to that and yogurt and fresh fruit for breakfasts. Lunch was usually crackers with peanut butter or salami and cheese. We often ate in the car for lunch or found a local park that we could pull into to let the kids run around and get their wiggles out.

That was actually kind of fun — we would just find a suburb in a small town and drive around to find the local park. We saw some really cool playgrounds!

We ended up eating out for either lunch or dinner almost every day. In a perfect world I suppose you’d always eat at the campsite or prepare your own food, but I found it just not to be realistic. Eating at a restaurant for 1 meal a day was much less expensive than it would be to eat out for all meals, and it honestly was just kind of nice to have somebody bring me my food!

CAMPING, WITH KIDS, IN GENERAL

Camping with your kids provides lifetime memories and helps kids learn self-sufficiency.

 

Using the pop-up has spoiled me, and I’d rather not tent camp anymore if I can help it.  I like that the setup and tear down only takes about 20 minutes, and I like how clean this type of camping is. Since we stayed at KOAs, we all showered daily and the bathrooms were very nicely maintained. I never felt like we were roughing it — the mattresses were comfortable and I liked not having to roll up the bedding each and every day.

The kids all had their “jobs” — and they were very good at set up and tear down after 15 days on the road.

To make our home away from home a bit more comfortable, I did get a Nighttime Bathroom for me and the girls — a Luggable Loo, which came in very handy. To keep it from being gross, I simply lined it each night with a kitchen-garbage-bag and placed an open Size 5 diaper in the bottom. In the morning, I just tied up the garbage bag and took it to the onsite dumpster. It worked VERY well and I’d absolutely recommend the Loo to anyone traveling with small kids or anyone who doesn’t want to be wandering around a campground at night!

I also got a Queen Sized sleeping bag for me and Adam to use. I sometimes feel squished up in a regular sleeping bag, and it was nice to have one less thing to roll up.

SOUVENIRS

We’re frugal people, and although we did each get a TShirt from Mt. Rushmore and a few more things throughout the trip, we tried to limit our spending. Also, I’m not a fan of clutter.

:-)
Collecting magnets on vacation is an inexpensive way to have a souvenir at each stop.

That said, I did collect a magnet from all of our stops, and I love looking at them now that we are home. Magnets are cheap — I think the most expensive one was $4.99, and all of the tourist-type spots have them.

collect one rock per vacation spot and write the name and date with a Sharpie

I also really like the idea of taking 1 rock per place to keep as a momento. This is illegal in a lot of places, though, so if you get in trouble I release all liability!

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?

Yes. In a heartbeat. This was such a fantastic trip, and filled with so many memories. I loved every bit of it, and would highly recommend setting up a longish trip with your own family. One of my favorite things was that we were gone long enough for the daily set up, tear down, driving, etc. to feel like The New Normal. We all got into a groove, as a family, and truly enjoyed living in the moment. In this day and age of being Plugged In at All Times it’s hard to really just live in the moment sometimes.

Since I don’t have a personal facebook page and since Adam and I are pretty private about our family lives and don’t want our kids online, I didn’t feel the need to constantly update social media — I didn’t want anyone to know we were gone, anyway!

it was freeing.

And you should DO IT!

:-)

in case you were wondering about the actual itinerary: San Francisco, Reno NV, Wendover NV, Salt Lake City UT, Vernal UT, Rawlins WY, Casper WY, Mt. Rushmore SD, Buffalo WY, Cody WY, Jackson Hole WY, Jerome ID, Winnemucca NV, Lake Tahoe CA

and here was my big WE DID IT! splurge:

frame a large US map and use pushpins to remember all of your stops along the way

Travel Map with Push Pins. The goal is to see if we can get to every state with the kids before they leave for college.

 

Happy Travels!!

Golden Rules for the Family — printable

May 12, 2014 by · 8 Comments 

The Family Golden Rules

click the link for a printable PDF version of the golden rules for your use –steph

The Family’s Golden Rules

Summer is coming, and I plan on having the kids home with me. I don’t like having the kids at camps and try not to have a lot of structured activities planned during the summer months. It’s a little old-school, I know, but I just really like having them home with me and I like the uninterrupted free time and play that occurs when we don’t have something we HAVE to do.

And I’m kind of lazy.

And I’m terribly cheap.

That said, I do have things that I need to accomplish this summer, and in order for me to get my work done, the kids need to find a way to fend for themselves and not run completely feral.

We have chore charts, and we do follow The Daily 7 as much as we can to keep the house in somewhat decent order. I try to let them work out their own squabbles (my kids are currently 12, 9, and 4) and choose to not intervene unless truly necessary.

(see above. I’m kind of lazy…)

AND? I am not going to always be here. I need these kids to grow up to be responsible members of society, and in order for that to happen, I can’t swoop in and fix every last thing. They’ve got to figure it out on their own.

I’ve gotten a few emails about chores, and responsibility charts, and decided to use those emails as a springboard to make up a list of Golden Rules for the house. These are certainly not the *only* rules in our house, but these are the ones that I expect to be drummed into their heads before embarking out into the Wild Wild World.

Feel free to print these out and hang them up in the play room or family room.

I hope you’re having a wonderful day!!

related:

age-appropriate listing of household chores, Wipe On/Wipe Off chore charts, “closet” homeschooling for the summer 

How to Combine Gratitude with Goal Setting

January 1, 2014 by · 4 Comments 

How to you maintain an attitude of gratitude but still continue to strive towards achieving new goals?

 

It’s a brand new year! Congratulations, you made it!

 

I have a rather radical suggestion for you this new year. I know I’ve shared my love for lists and charts and goal setting in the past, but I wanted to share a new idea.

Gratitude Goal Setting.

I’m sure you’ve heard of keeping a Gratitude Journal ~~~~ Oprah talked about them a lot on her show and she (I believe) talks about them in her magazine (I don’t subscribe to magazines, but read them on planes. and while getting my hair cut! And that’s only because I don’t like spending money and I don’t like clutter and big magazines feel wrong to throw out so then I hoard them on a shelf and then I worry I might turn into one of those hoarder people on TLC.)

(but you should totally subscribe to Simply Gluten Free Magazine because I’m a contributing writer and Carol, the founder, is absolutely wonderful).

Anyway.

So how to you combine an Attitude of Gratitude with Goal Setting? How can you be simultaneously happy, thankful, and thrilled with your current life situation but still sort of want something different/better/more prosperous?

Don’t the two cancel each other out?

No. I promise.

It feels wrong at first to want more when you have a non-leaking roof over your head, your children are healthy, your marriage is (above) average, and you aren’t scrounging to put food on the table. I struggle with this, and do make a conscious effort to give more than receive.

And if you are reading this article, then you ARE VERY BLESSED. You have internet, and you probably have accumulated an awful lot of “wants” to go along with your “needs.”

Take the time to be thankful. Take inventory of all that is right in your world. If writing it down helps, do so. Life is so very very very good, and we are the only species that is able to pontificate our lives, and to self-reflect.

We are also the only species that can decide what is working and what needs tweaking. As Dr. Phil says (I met a camera guy who worked on his show, and heard some interesting stories.  Ahem.),    “how’s that working for you?”

If you have a New Year’s Resolution to work out more and eat healthier, try writing down this year’s goals in the positive — and in a thankful way.

For instance, instead of:

I need to lose my muffin top and start running.    Try:  Thank you for my strong, healthy body that allows me to plank for 90 seconds and run a 10-minute mile.

I need to drink 8 glasses of water a day and cut out alcohol.  Try:  Thank you for fresh, clean water that tastes even better than margaritas.

I need to not yell at the kids.   Try:  Thank you for the patience I have with my children.

I need to put away the phone/tablet and hang out with my spouse.  Try:  Thank you for my awesome spouse who I like spending quality time with.

(I ended that sentence with a preposition. Thank you for not being  OCD.  :-) )

If you are looking for a BIG change, try being thankful for it before it even occurs. Before there is even a glimmer of hope that it can occur.

Here’s a few examples:

Thank you for this home that we all love that we can easily afford.

Thank you for this new job where I am respected and properly compensated.

Thank you for the opportunity to take this dream vacation that has been fully paid for upfront.

It is hokey. It feels childish, and it doesn’t seem like a simple change such as this could possibly work, yet there are TONS of anecdotal and scientific studies that show that your sub-conscious doesn’t know if something has actually occurred or not when you focus on it. This is why dreams feel/seem so real. Yes, you can rationalize them to death and assure yourself that a monster isn’t under your bed, but your harddrive doesn’t know the difference.   (need research? google “do positive affirmations work?”)

So try it.

There’s really nothing to lose.

Give yourself 10 days of writing 10 positive affirmation/goal setting phrases down in a notebook. Don’t refer back to the previous day — your ideas, needs, and goals change sometimes on a whim. What was important three days ago might not be important today. But if you track your thoughts and wishes for 10 days you’ll find a pattern.

This pattern is what is the most important to you. And you only. Your goals are not your neighbor’s, not your mom’s, and not the current Pinterest trend. Your goals are your own and are private.

We are all a work in progress, and it’s okay to acknowledge where you could use some tweaking.

lots of love and a very VERY happy 2014.

related:

How to Have Balance when Looking for Balance

How to Create a (non-cheesy) Vision Board of Your Very Own

Making and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

This is Real Life, Not a Magazine

The Art of Saying No

August 26, 2013 by · 16 Comments 

art of saying NO

 

It’s back to school season, and this is usually the time of the year where I re-prioritize my goals and daily activities. I’ve got a seventh grader, a fourth grader, and a preschooler this year.

The preschooler is only in school 6 hours a week, because I’m just not ready to let her go for more hours, yet. This means that I really need to manage my time wisely to make sure I meet all of my assigned (and self-assigned) tasks.

I’ve not always been the best about saying NO. I used to try really hard to get people/aquaintances/complete strangers to “like me” and ended up over-extending myself. I wanted to be the go-to responsible person for the PTA, or for girl scouts, or to help volunteer at the library. I wanted to be the trusted afterschool  babysitter, and I wanted to be the carpool mom. I thought that was who I was, what my identity was.

And then I snapped.

I shared through email with my friend Crystal, of Money Saving Mom, what my tipping point was and after typing it out, thought perhaps it’d be best to share it “out loud” —- because I do believe we are all on our own personal journey. We are all just trying to do the very best we can on a day-to-day basis. Crystal helped me to remember that I have not always been the way I am now. I used to hold my breath to get through my day — as she words it: I wasn’t living; I was surviving.

Anyhow. Back in 2008, when I was in the final quarter of my Year of Slow Cooking, I kind of had a breakdown. It was September, and it was back-to-school night. Things were going well with the site, and I had just signed a book deal for Make it Fast, Cook it Slow. I had appeared on The Rachael Ray Show, and because of that, the site traffic had quintupled. I was working on the site, working for BlogHer ads, and was working for Bay Area Parent. I only had two children at the time, but I was fully responsible for all things in regards to them — afterall, I was home.

I came home from Back to School night and crumpled to the floor. I had on a cute outfit, I remember changing my clothes a few times before leaving the house to man the PTA table. My hair was straightened, and I had spent more time then I care to admit on my makeup. My goal was to look breezy and put-together, and  trendy-but-not-too-trendy. I shook hands and made small talk.

I probably looked the way I wanted to look. I probably fooled a bunch of people.

but the second it was all over, I remember hugging my knees to my chest in the corner of my bedroom and sobbing. For hours.

the very next day I quit almost everything. I’m sure I disappointed quite a few, but I took back my time. I took back my priorities.

and to this day, it was one of the best decisions of my life.

This “take back” of my time is why I don’t have a personal Facebook account. This is also why I don’t own a smart phone.

 

 

excerpt from Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life

 

It is a wonderful feeling when a trusted friend, co-worker, or supervisor asks for your help. It is difficult to not let ego take over when you are told that you are “perfect” for something or that the school’s Popsicle eating contest “can’t be done” without you.

Don’t get talked into doing something that your heart isn’t in. Someone else will step forward, and if not, the world will not stop spinning if the Popsicle eating contest doesn’t happen as scheduled. If somebody complains, let that somebody be in charge. It is not worth stretching yourself thin to please other people—you and your family come first.

Say no to the committees, say no to the bake sales, and say no to anything that you don’t really and truly want to do. If later on in the year, you find that your time is a bit more free, there are numerous ways to ease back in to service. It’s always better to say “no” right away than to say “yes” and then fall short of the required responsibilities.

Learn also to say “no” when choosing sports, musical instruments, enrichment classes, or out-of-school camps with your children that might stretch your calendar thin. It is so easy to sign up for more than you or your child can handle, and the outside obligation can quickly take over family life.

Pick and choose carefully, and ensure that you and your children completely understand the commitment and responsibility required. Some families have found that limiting choices to one indoor and one outdoor activity at a time works well.

 

My days now feel more balanced. I’m not perfect, and I still lose my patience and temper more than I probably should, but I feel much more at peace than I used to.

and that’s a great feeling.