New York Times best-selling author, slow cooking expert, mom of three
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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!!

I Love Lysol and I Can Not Lie

July 21, 2014 by · 2 Comments 

// ]]>Lysol-products

I like things clean. I feel calm and collected when the house is tidy and everything is in its place. I used to think this was a personality flaw, but now I realize I am who I am, and I like who I am.

I, Stephanie O’Dea, happen to be a sort-­of-­Type-­A Clean Freak.

I also love the Smell of Clean. I’m not a “vinegar and baking soda” kind of person ­­­ I am fine if other people clean with these products ­­­­ but they just aren’t the cleaning powerhouse I need them to be.

1, I don’t want the house to smell like Easter Eggs all the time and 2, I just can’t wrap my brain around the fact that the germs are dead.

Because that’s what really matters to me. DEAD GERMS.

One of the side effects of my Love Affair with Lysol® is that we don’t get sick very often [KNOCK WOOD].

Sure, we get the sniffles now and then, but colds and flus don’t wipe through our house. I mostly credit this to Proper Hand Washing [side note: evidently I wash my hands so much that my fingerprints are hard to read now? I learned this after the school district fingerprinted me for volunteer work], but I do also use a lot of Lysol® Disinfectant Spray and Disinfecting Wipes.

I still let my kids get dirty ­­ we spend a lot of time outside, and I am not worried about outdoor germs or bugs, or licking a bit of worm slime. That kind of stuff is absolutely fine with me.

vintage lysol
One of my earliest memories is going to family church camp and watching my grandmother go over the entire room with a can of Lysol® Disinfectant Spray. She sprayed down the light switches, TV (it didn’t have a remote, so she sprayed down the controls on the front of it which I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to do with electronics), the doorknob, and the entire bathroom.

She also laid down newspapers so we never stepped directly onto the carpet… huh. I’m beginning to see where I get my tendencies…

ANYWAY.

This Is What I Do To Help Keep Us Healthy

To keep us as healthy as we can be, I do ask my kids and all kids that come into my home to wash hands. It’s become such a habit for my kids (and for me) that I don’t even really need to say anything anymore. Everyone plops their shoes/backpacks/etc. by the front door and immediately washes their hands.

We do entertain a lot of other kids after school or on playdates, and I ask them to do the same. Every once in a while I get a kid who doesn’t want to wash hands “but I just washed them after lunch” or “my mom says I don’t have to” ­­­ but I stick to my guns. This is a big deal for me, and I will take kids into the bathroom if need­be and help them wash their hands properly.

I also try my hardest to keep little kids in one area of the home, and provide easy-to-­wash toys. I like Duplo Legos, Little People ­­­ —hard plastic toys­­­— these toys can easily be run through the dishwasher if necessary, or I take the bin outside later and spray the toys down with Lysol® or rub them clean with a Disinfectant Wipe.

This is what I did when I ran preschool centers, too. It keeps the toys shiny and dust­free, but most importantly it keeps boogers and saliva germs away. I also at least once a month (and more often during cold and flu season) spray down the doorknobs, light switches, and TV remotes with Lysol® or use the Disinfectant Wipes. I’ve written about this in the Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life book.

This truly is one of the best ways to make sure to Kill Germs Dead before they spread throughout the family and cause illness.

Lysol® and BlogHer

Lysol Healthy Habits bus

I’m doing some work with Lysol® and BlogHer and am happy to share with you a new project that Lysol is working on– ­ the Healthy Habits Program, to bring a healthy awareness about germs to kids.

Lysol has put together its Healthy Habits Bus which is a “Science Museum on Wheels” that is able to go to schools across the country to show kids how germs work (good germs vs. bad germs) and how to practice proper hand washing procedure/sneeze etiquette.

The interactive games onboard the bus include a cool Hand Scanner where kids can put their hands under the scanner and see their hands projected on a screen in front of them – with animated “germs” wriggling all over them.

Lysol Healthy Habits Bus Hand Wash Station

Kids can then watch a video about germs and watch an  “Anatomy of a Sneeze” film before being able to practice proper hand washing right there on the bus. I love interactive school projects like this. I remember getting all excited when I was little when the Brush Mobile would come to school (do they even have those anymore?) or when the Library Lady would come and help us renew all of our library cards so we could check out books at the Book Mobile.

Lysol® is going to have a booth at BlogHer this year and I look forward to checking out the videos they have and learning more about their Healthy Habits Tour Bus.

Host the Lysol® Healthy Habits Bus at Your Child’s School

I’m excited to share this part with you!

Lysol’s Healthy Habits Program wants to offer your child’s school an opportunity to win a $15,000 educational grant, a one year supply of Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol No­Touch Hand Soap, and to have the Lysol® Healthy Habits Bus come to YOUR school.

To enter your school, please visit Lysol’s webpage and enter the pertinent information.

This contest ends July 31, 2014. I think this is a great way to help raise awareness about healthy habits and hand washing.

My fingers are crossed for you and your school!

Final Thoughts (Does Not Reflect Lysol’s Opinion)

Before I go, I want to bring up Super Germs and the idea that use of disinfectant, hand sanitizer, and over­zealous handwashing with antibacterial soap are making us (the human race) resistant to germs and are actually making germs stronger and badder.

I am not a scientist. All I know is that as a mom, my job is to do everything I possibly can to keep my kids happy, safe, healthy, and strong.

My gut, my pediatrician, and my grandma’s teaching tell me that hand washing and germ­killing is good.

If I’m wrong, and the germs are in fact getting stronger and badder because of what I’m doing to help keep my kids happy, safe, healthy, and strong, then I’m okay with it. I trust that science will continue to adapt and develop to Kill Germs Dead.

If germs can adapt, so can the scientists. I am not comfortable using my kids as guinea pigs to test out whether or not theories such as Super Germs exist.

All in all, at the end of the day, we are all doing our absolute best to raise our kids the best we can.

And mine?

You’ll find them over there, in a cloud of Lysol. ;­)

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!!

Backyard Container Composting

March 5, 2014 by · 10 Comments 

Make a backyard composter out of 3 stacked wooden crates -- can be found at Michael's or garden supply store. No tools needed!

You’ve heard of container gardening, but how about container composting?

I’m on a writing deadline, which naturally means that I am procrastinating by spending way too much time looking up gardening stuff on Pinterest. (that makes sense, right?)

wait. Don’t answer that.

We have a bit of a blank slate with the backyard in this new house, and I’ve been pinning up a storm on my small garden ideas board, and came across a pin for a container composter made from 3 stacked plastic milk cartons– the thick plastic cubes that the dairy provides to ship the milk to the store.

I was instantly intrigued. I’ve wanted to compost (I can use that as a verb, right?) for a few years but only wanted to do it without involving my husband. I liked the idea of the compost bins made from pallets but knew that even if I could find a pallet (and pinterest makes it seem like there are pallets lying around all over town, but even if they were, wouldn’t they belong to somebody?) I’d need Adam to use the saw and make it for me, which defeats my purpose of wanting to do EVERYTHING all by MYSELF.

(I’m sort of like a preschooler that way….)

Anyway — back to the milk cartons. I liked how they were stacked three high, and I liked how no sawing or nails or anything mathematical was involved. But I couldn’t get past the whole stealing them from the back alley behind the grocery store thing—-  so I went to Office Depot to buy some crates.

The only types they had were made out of terribly flimsy plastic and the bottom was solid, which wouldn’t work for what I wanted. I wanted the bottom to be open so worms could get in and for airflow between the stacked bins. Bummer.

plastic milk crate

In a pinch, I figured those could work, but I’d need holes drilled into the bottom, and my worry was that the plastic would begin to wear out pretty quickly in the sun.

I went across the parking lot to Orchard Supply Hardware and looked at their plastic crates. They had some pretty durable ones, plus they had some really cool cubes made of plastic-coated wire that would have worked. The cubes were $14 each, which are a bit pricy, but they would have worked.

And then I saw the bulb display by the door leading to the outdoor garden. In these beautiful wooden crates there were daffodil, garlic, and tulip bulbs for purchase. I didn’t want the bulbs, though, I wanted the display crates. I found three empty ones under the table and brought them to the front of the store. The lady at the counter wasn’t sure what to tell me, and didn’t know if she could sell them as “miscellaneous merchandise.” I was asked to wait about 20 minutes until Sam came back from lunch.

So I did.

The kids and I used the potty and daydreamed about patio furniture. We also picked out a few new paint chips (I limit the kids to 3 chips each — I think it’s wrong to take every color for an art project, but I see that kind of stuff online all the time…  but that’s just me. I got hit pretty hard with the ethics stick.)

When Sam tracked us down, he said that I wasn’t the only person to inquire about the crates and that I could just have them. He said his manager told him yesterday that they had no use for the crates in the store.

wooden crates from Orchard

SCORE!

The funny thing is, that I totally would have paid for them. I had already decided while I was waiting that if they wouldn’t let me buy them I’d go get wooden crates from Michael’s.

I got the crates home and the kids and I got to work rather quickly getting the crates ready to go outside. I wanted the bottom slats to be uncovered, but used garden fabric that we had leftover from our old house to line the 4 sides. This keeps dirt from falling out of the cracks, protects the wood a bit, and keeps the compost ingredients insulated and warm to get them to “cook” faster.

IMG_0776_1

IMG_0779_1

I cleared a space in the backyard against the fence and stacked the three bins. Since the dirt wasn’t perfectly level, I ended up propping up the front of the bottom bin up with two bricks. Not only did this make my stack pretty darn level, it also provides a bit more air flow to the bottom bin. Compost breaks down faster when it gets more air.

I’ve been reading an awful lot about composting and this stack method seems to work well when you don’t have a bunch of square footage available in your yard. To use, simply place your yard trimmings and kitchen scraps in the top bin, and once it’s full, move it to the bottom. Continue rotating the bins until all three have been filled, and hopefully by the time you are ready to use the first one again, the yardwaste and scraps have broken down enough to get incorporated into your garden. Your compost is fully “cooked” when it’s super dark and looks like a moist crumbled chocolate cake.

make a compost pile out of three wooden crates

make a backyard compost stack out of three wooden crates

I ended up putting a small piece of plywood that I had lying around in the shed for a top, and put a heavy terracotta pot on top. This is to discourage the cats or raccoons from digging through the compost and to keep rain out of the bins. You can help break down your kitchen scraps and yard clippings by adding worms to the pile. If the worms don’t find you on their own, you can purchase worms from a fishing supply or garden store, or simply go on a puddle walk with the kids after a rain!

I’m excited about this project — it was something that I really wanted to do for quite a while, but kept getting bogged down with the details. This method is simple, and if I run out of room, I can easily make another one on the other side of the yard.

I go through so many produce scraps when I’m cooking and since we no longer have guinea pigs (they lived a good long life, and were terribly well-loved!) I am happy to be able to put the scraps to good use.

DIY 3-part container composter in the backyard. No tools needed; crates can be found at Michael's or a garden supply store

 

 

 

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

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