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!!

How to Bust Through a Weight Loss Plateau

March 5, 2013 by · 9 Comments 

Six 10-Minute-or-Less Exercise Moves/Videos for busy Moms

 

I have been trying to lose the same 8 to 10 pounds for 2 years. I’ve had plateaus before, but nothing like this — and I was truly getting frustrated. I tried blaming it on my thyroid (it’s fine), my potassium (it’s fine), lack of Vitamin D (it’s okay, too), and getting old (that’s true, I’m older than I used to be!).

But these last few weeks I’ve gotten through this tough spot, and actually feel better and more motivated about working out and eating properly than I have in a good 6 years.

I am certainly not an expert, and am only going to share what has begun to work (FINALLY!) for me. I got motivated after reading through Sandy’s Fitness Friday posts last month, and decided that once and for all March was going to be the month to finally lose the 8 pound blanket so I can be more comfortable and confident this summer.

There are many different reasons to lose weight, and I know that my 8 to 10 pounds is nothing for those who need to lose more. I find weight loss and working out to be somewhat personal, but really had an AHA! moment when I read what Sandy wrote about needing to be held accountable for my diet and exercise. I have pretty good habits already, but found that I was mindlessly eating throughout the day when I wasn’t even hungry. I’d finish the end of a kid sandwich, or pop a few too many tatertots in my mouth while I was preparing lunch.

Since I write cookbooks, I’d justify my large portions and crazy taste-testing — it’s for work! I’ve got to keep making sure it’s perfect! ;-)

But I do believe the largest culprit these last two years has been alcohol. I began having a glass of wine or beer every night. I’d again justify that “I worked hard! I deserve this!” and mindlessly fill my glass or say yes to another drink. And that’s not good for me. It might be okay for you, but for me it means that I am no longer in total control of my snacking and am more likely to down a bag of tortilla chips or talk Adam into a late-night icecream run. And each beer is about 250 calories, each glass of wine is about 125 calories, and each shot of whatever is about 100 calories (and when it’s  mixed with margarita mix? a LOT more!)

gah.

The stuff that was okay for me at age 22 isn’t okay at 36. I remember fondly eating and eating and eating. And then washing it down. And washing it down again. But if I’m going to have MORE “good ol’ days” in the years to come, I needed to stop and take charge of my health.

And I need to be a proper role model to these three girls I’m raising.

 

Anyway. I’m getting sidetracked. I do that a lot.

So! My non-stop reading of personal development books has led me to read a lot of diet and fitness books. I usually take bits and pieces of what makes sense to me and leave the rest. These are the favorites that I keep returning to:

8 Minutes a Day by Jorge Cruise

Body For Life by Bill Phillips

The Dukan Diet by Pierre Dukan

 

I do the best when I eat whole foods that are low in sugar and high in protein. I feel the best when my carbs come from vegetables and fruit. I bet you probably do, too.

 

I wish there was more of a revolutionary secret. There really isn’t. I am intrigued by Dr. Dukan’s protein-only days — they seem to really do a good job of getting you back on track when you have a free-for-all day. I think the Body for Life workout is a very good one, and I feel the strongest and most healthy when I workout that way. I like the food and flax recommendation from 8 Minutes a Day and like the basic exercises and photo descriptions.

I have been tracking (loosely) my eating and working out since January– it’s taken 3 months of me writing it out to realize that if I just stopped eating crap the plateau would finally break. It’s annoying to me that even though I KNOW what to do, I just don’t sometimes.

I’ve been eating a lot of 1 minute muffins, have been drinking tons of water, choosing to fill my plate with lean protein and leafy greens, and have limited my eating between 7 am and 7 pm. That’s about it.

The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that the successful people do the things the unsuccessful do not. — Brian Tracy

I’ve found a few quick workout videos on You Tube. I’ve been trying to pick 2 or 3 a day to do, and really like the following:

3 Minute Mini Walk

5 Minute Ab and Obliques

10 Minute Muffin Top and Quick Cardio

10 Minute Tank Top Arms and Shoulders

10 Minute Bikini Abs (planks, no crunches)

10 Minute Tank Top Arms (different than other video; I like to switch them up)

 

What about you? Have you found that you have needed to increase your protein, or your workouts after a certain age, or after having children? Have you needed to change your mindset about food and exercise?

Why is it that we *know* what the answer is, but continuously talk ourselves out of it?

One Minute Muffin Recipe

April 14, 2012 by · 34 Comments 

low carb muffin (one-minute, naturally gluten-free, high-protein)

     I haven’t been taking the best care of myself the past few weeks. I’m on a deadline for a new cookbook and the dirty little secret of cookbook writers is that while you’re recipe testing you eat really, really well, but when you’re actually writing? You eat lots of fast food and consume litters of chocolate bunnies.

I guess I should clarify that by saying that You means Me. I’m sure there are some better disciplined people who would never eat a chocolate bunny.

I seem to not be that person.

Anyway, I’ve begun to emerge from my sugar coma and have fallen in love with the One Minute Muffin. It’s not a crockpot recipe. :-)

Instead, it’s healthy, inexpensive (after you buy the flax meal), packed with fiber, and low-carb. My kids will tolerate them, but aren’t falling over themselves to eat one. They still prefer chocolate to One Minute Muffins. They also still have ridiculously high metabolisms…

The Ingredients:

1/4 cup flax meal

1 egg

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon (not pictured, sometimes I use pumpkin pie seasoning)

1 1/2 teaspoons sweetener, I use honey

1 tablespoon fresh or frozen blueberries (or smashed banana, shredded apple, etc)

hearty coffee mug sprayed with cooking oil

microwave

The Directions:

 Put the first 6 ingredients in a large glass measuring cup or bowl, and whisk to combine. No need to melt the butter or get it to dissolve–if it’s still in a clump, it’s okay. Mostly try to get the baking powder evenly dispersed. Now stir in the blueberries or whatever fruit you’re using. Pour into a greased coffee mug and microwave on high for 1 minute.  Let it sit for a bit, then pour onto a plate; or you can just eat it out of the mug with a spoon. The butter will have melted and made a tiny bit of a “sauce” with the melted blueberries. YUM.

The Verdict:

This is a pretty customizable recipe; feel free to swap out the honey with splenda, agave, brown sugar, etc. There isn’t a drop of flour, making this a naturally gluten free muffin, and if you use non dairy butter it could certainly be dairy-free and I’m imagining an egg-replacer would work okay. If you change up the ingredients and it works, let me know!

It tastes good. Not oh-my-gosh-this-is-the-best-muffin-ever, but actually pretty good considering it’s made completely out of flax meal and has just a tiny bit of sweetener. You can certainly junk it up by adding lots of sugar and more oil, but it’s really actually pretty good just like this. I like that the flax has so much fiber and the egg has a nice shot of protein so if I eat this along with my morning coffee I’m pretty sustained until lunch time.

have a great day, and enjoy your muffin!

 

the weekend!

November 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

317 & 318

If you’re having a house full of people for Thanksgiving, start prepping now. Do any major cleaning that you feel you *must* accomplish in order to feel confident. Do you need to wipe down the kitchen cabinets? Move out the stove and clean underneath? the fridge? Clorox wipe the blinds? You know yourself, and you know what is important—and it’s different for every person. I like to Cinderella-clean the kitchen floor. Twice. I like to go over it once with a Magic Eraser, then again with a scrubby sponge and cleanser. And then I sponge mop. It’s nuts, it’s overkill, no one notices OR cares, except for me.

It makes me feel good.

What’s the one thing that will make you feel really good, really accomplished? Get it over and done with now, so next weekend you can begin prepping food and setting out platters.

This weekend:

deep clean the one thing that bugs you the most

daily 7

make a timeline for Thanksgiving. Do you have to do a butcher run? a bakery run? delegate side dishes? borrow crockpots? Write it all down, so then you can outsource the tasks.

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