Category Archives: Live and Learn

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

Today’s Tip: Disneyland With Toddlers

Full disclosure: my first trip to Disneyland with a toddler was mostly a bust. My son was three years old when I decided we were ready for our first trip to Disneyland. He walked through the turnstiles, saw the hordes of people, heard the Disney band marching towards us-trombones blaring-and he cried. He covered his ears, asked to be picked up, and declared his trip to Disneyland was over.

So it was, that our first trip to Disneyland together involved a lot more tears and bribery through Mickey-shaped ice cream sandwiches, than the magical memories I’d hoped for. Here are the lessons I learned. Don’t laugh, I was a rookie mom.

1. Just because all the other toddlers are doing it, doesn’t mean mine will. I saw plenty of  bouncing, laughing toddlers float by me on the Pirate of Caribbean boats. They were apparently not the least bit bothered by the realistic pirates, skulls, and the cannon battles. So off we went  into the pirate’s lair. My son hated me the whole day after. In fact, he refused to go on almost all other rides-even the harmless Heimlich’s Chew Chew train (a green caterpillar cruising at 2 mph through giant fruit and yelling in a bad German accent) was too suspect for him to even attempt. I knew my child was super sensitive to most of the Disney movies at that age, why did I think going on the rides would be any different? I let peer pressure get the better of me. Just say no.

2. You will travel 7 hours, spend hundreds of dollars, and your child will want to ride the Monorail 5 times (and the Jungle Cruise 6 times). I quickly found that my very active three-year-old boy was not captivated by most of the Fantasyland rides, he would rather run around Tom Sawyer Island, ride the train, and pretend he was an explorer in the Jungle. I altered our ride plans after our first horrid day, and went with his natural interest in trains, dirt, and running like crazy through jets of water. Our day was a lot less filled with princesses and pirates, but a whole lot easier. You may not like where your toddler will take you, but just go with it.

3. There are crowds and then there are holiday crowds. I didn’t realize that the crowds during Easter week would make our visit three times harder. The seas of people, umbrella strollers, and noise were too much for sensitive little guy to handle. I wasn’t too fond of it either. If you don’t get to visit Disneyland often and have invested a lot of money into your trip, you don’t want to spend your precious time standing in line for the parking tram.

4. Plan or perish. I made a lot of mistakes on that first trip, but my lack of planning is what really did me in. The extent of my planning involved printing out a Disneyland map and checking out some of the ride descriptions on their website. I didn’t give too much thought to making a plan for our day. Because of our ill-fated first trip, I have learned a whole lot more about the best ways to enjoy Disneyland (at any age). Do your research, there are a lot of resources online to help you.

5. Nobody took my Mother of the Year award away from me. Sure, I made mistakes on my first trip, but there were things I couldn’t have foreseen. My son’s reaction was all his own, and maybe no amount of planning and preparation would have prevented it. Toddlers are lovable but unpredictable little anarchists. Do what you can to make your toddler’s first trip to Disneyland enjoyable, and if else fails buy him a Mickey-shaped popsicle. Then find yourself a shady bench.

Letter From the Editor: Still Here

I’ve been the head writer, CEO, dictator, queen and editor of this family travel site for two years now. It’s been nice. Mostly.

The best thing about having my own site is that it’s all mine. I know I tell my son he has to share, but there are advantages to being selfish. I get to publish what I want-no matter how silly-without worrying about what anyone else thinks. I make mistakes sometimes, but I also get to do all the learning from those mistakes.

And I have learned a lot about the great, wide world of the internet in these two short years. There are some things I love about the online community, and there are some things I could do without. I’m not one to rant publicly all that much, so if you want to hear my opinions on blogging and social media, I’ll share those over coffee with you some time.

So as I looked ahead to a third year, I had to ask myself whether or not to keep going. I found myself asking the Google gods: ‘why blog?’. They really didn’t give me any interesting answers. Yes, there are limitations to what the internet can give you. (Although I did read a most entertaining article on pest control the other day.) That’s why it is so difficult to stay motivated when it comes to blogging.

I don’t make any money from my blog. And I decided to keep it that way last year. I got offers for advertisements, but turned those down. I wasn’t ready to turn this blog into a source of income, mostly because I didn’t want to deal with making any changes on my income tax returns. I wish I could say there were loftier reasons, but really I’m just lazy (and a little busy).

So if I’m not in it for the money (I’ve heard how lucrative it can be), then what are my reasons for being here? I enjoy traveling with my son and I like to write about it. That’s it. For now, those are reasons enough to keep on blogging.

But while I still have the motivation to keep at it, I do need some goals to keep me going. Otherwise, I may just turn on my laptop tomorrow and get sidetracked by the latest pest control or celebrity pregnancy article. To keep the blog going for a third year, I’ve got to aim high, baby.

I have been working on cleaning up the site, changing the template, making it prettier and a lot more functional for the readers. When someone is searching for ‘geeky things to do along Highway 101′ or ‘furry socal guys’, then I want them to find what they’re looking for goshdarnit.

So you’ll see some changes with the appearance of the blog this year. I’m awful with the technology, coding, and SEO stuff, so it may take me the whole year. Look around, you may see new categories, new links, and hopefully something about furry socal dudes. That last will be the hardest to come up with, I just know it.

Like last year, you’ll probably see fewer posts than my first year. I have decided that I’d rather have quality over quantity. Again, not because of any lofty ideals, it’s just that I’m less likely to burn out when I have fewer posts to write.

I like the focus of my content so far, and I aim to keep it that way. Though I have found that there are limitations to just writing about one geographical area and how to explore it with kids. So if I’m really inspired, I may branch out to start another blog. Keep your fingers crossed.

I do need a place where I can post more current updates, events, and feverish mutterings. I haven’t figured out the best way to go about that, so for now you can check my social media accounts (look up on the right-hand side of your screen). I especially like the Posterous account as the companion blog, so I’ll probably use that more this year.

Thank you for reading along this year. I’m grateful that anyone takes the time to come back and read my ramblings. I’ll work on making the third year the best one yet.

The Queen of Christmas Merriment

I don’t know if you noticed, but I like to go places with my kid. Come rain, or come shine, or come the holiday season, we go places. In fact, I’m so good at going places, that I have cleverly made that our family tradition. This smart mami gets out of shopping, baking, and making wreaths by getting out of the house. I know, I know, they should make me queen.

Now the holiday season is well underway, and we are going places. Oh, we have plans to see twinkly lights, and dancing Nutcrackers in tights this December. We will head down to the city (San Francisco, to be exact) and stand in awe of the giant gingerbread palace in the fancy lobby of the Westin St. Francis Hotel, the doggies up for adoption in the Macy’s window display and the congregation of weird Santas in Union Square.

Every family does the whole holiday tradition differently, but this is our thing. Years from now, I hope my kid remembers that sometimes I made lame attempts at baking gingerbread men, and that sometimes I made more successful attempts at finding the darn best light display in town. Hopefully, he’ll forget the Santa with the dog collar and fishnet stockings.

I’m not the only one dreaming of Christmas this week, head on over to Mother of All Trips, the original Monday dreamer always has something good to share.

Rant and Rave: Hotel Edition

I have been wanting to do this Rant and Rave post for a while now. Lucky for you, I finally got around to it. Here’s the basic premise: I choose something to rant about and something to rave about. I have a lot of opinions to share, so I hope to make this a regular installment at Kids Go West.

Hotels give you lots to love, and lots to hate. This week I share one of in each category.

Rave: Hotel condos that have in-room washer and dryers.

I hate to do laundry. And when I’m trying to find places to line-dry all the underwear and bathing suits I just hand-washed in the bathtub of a small hotel room, I hate it even more. That’s why I loved the in-room washer and dryers in the condominium hotel resorts we stayed at while in Hawaii. Nothing makes my heart beat faster, than dancing over to a laundry machine with a pile of wet, sandy bathing suits while still in the comfort of my own hotel room. Except maybe, if it’s Orlando Bloom that’s doing that pile of dirty laundry for me. I still haven’t found a hotel that offers that package. I’ll be sure to let you know when I do.

Rant: Those little toiletry bottles that look exactly the same.

Give me a show of hands: who has lathered up their arms with hair conditioner before? I know it’s not just me, right? It probably is. But I hate it when the lotion bottles and hair conditioner bottles look exactly the same. I’m a busy mom, who doesn’t have time to read the small print on those labels. Hotels, please think of this flustered mom and make those bottles more distinct. I doubt the hotel industry is listening, or that this is a problem for anyone else but me. So I’ll probably end up lathering my hair with body lotion on my next trip, but at least I tried.

My Room With a View

When I look out my bedroom window every morning, this is not what I see. But that’s what vacations are for: to visit beautiful places and, hopefully, to get such memorable views.

This is the view from one of the rooms in the historic wing of the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki. This was the first hotel to be built on Waikiki’s beach in 1901, and I think it’s still the most beautiful. I don’t know if I had the best room in the house, but it felt like that to me. That’s all that matters, really.

Truth be told, I had been wanting to stay the night at this white palace by the sea since I first laid eyes on it. But, I did have to wait over ten years to be able to afford a stay at this luxury hotel. They do say good things come to those who wait. We spent one night at the Moana Surfrider last summer on a layover in Waikiki, and I think we all fell in love.

Because we knew how lucky we were, we squeezed all that we could out of our one day. We sipped Lava Flows and smoothies on the beach, we floated with all the other tourists and their neon inner tubes, we took a ride on an outrigger canoe, and then we brought our take-out dinner back to the balcony of the hotel to enjoy a sunset dinner. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that.

I can still hear the sounds of the slack key guitar playing those mellow tunes under the big banyan tree. I remember laying out on the balcony that night, thinking that there is something intoxicating about all that beauty. I looked out past the hotel courtyard, and saw this lady dancing around in the waves. She wasn’t hard to miss, with her Mumu dress pulled up to her knees as the waves rolled in past her dancing feet. I knew exactly how she felt.

Now there are few hotels that I will write a love letter like this for, but I do enjoy many a stay at hotels while on my travels. They say half the fun is getting there. I say the other half the fun is in the hotel you stay at when you get there. That’s why I’m spending a bit of time writing about hotels this month.

I kicked it off by posting a new page on the site with a list of the hotels I’ve loved and reviewed. I’m also planning to share a bit of the process behind how I choose a hotel for our trips and some of my hotel rants and raves. Come back and check it out, I’d like to hear your thoughts on hotel stays with your family.

I’m linking up my hotel dreams to Mother of all Trips’ Monday Dreaming. There’s always something good going on with Mara, go read all about it.

Honolulu Family Vacation

Dreaming of a Quiet Place

Things have been kind of noisy around here lately. In some sort of weird serendipity, I hear the police helicopter flying through our neighborhood as I type this. I kept the window open today so that I could hear the crickets and feel a bit of that nighttime tranquility. So I hear the crickets, but sometimes the copters drown them out.

And that’s how it goes around here lately.

The past few days, I’ve been muttering: “I need to get away from people for a while.” Then I wonder if I’m going a bit bonkers. Maybe I’ll start wearing flannel, grow a beard, and take up whittling. But that’s not it, so you can just erase that frightful image from your head. I just need to get away from the problems of every day life, from my neighbor’s roaring car and barking dogs, to a quiet place in some lake or mountain somewhere.

One of the reasons I travel is to get away from the noise and find some quiet places. I know that I’m not the only one who needs some tranquility. My son needs it as well. When I was looking through our photo library, I noticed all of the pictures I have of my son overlooking some quiet place. Often he is laying down in that quiet place. It’s so easy to forget that even kids need some time to rest.

When we were in Hawaii last summer, he loved floating out on his Boogie board. My little Huck Finn would still be floating out in the waters off Kauai if I hadn’t dragged his raft in to shore. It must have been nice and quiet out there.

Some of my favorite moments have been spent with my son, in a quiet corner of our world, overlooking a lake, or a meadow, or the waves. So I’m dreaming of those peaceful places, even though I’m not likely to find one today.

Go check out Mara’s Monday Dream at Mother of All Trips.

Pictured above (from top to bottom): Lake Tahoe, CA; Santa Cruz, CA; a nice quiet beach (I won’t tell you where) in Kauai

My Green Travel Resolutions (Revisited)

A year ago, I wrote about how I was hoping to change some of my wasteful, Earth-harming ways. So I made some resolutions and promised to revisit them a year later. Here I am, a year wiser, but am I a year greener?

I put my teacher skills to use and gave myself some grades. Here’s my Traveling Green Report Card:

Resolution #1: I will tame my love affair with plastic bags. Grade: B+

I admit that I use too many Ziplock bags when I’m packing for a trip. It’s just that they are so good for organizing all the kid stuff I need to bring along. I bag my kid’s snack, and his toys, and his clothes, and…just about everything. There has to be a better way.

Well it turns out there is a better way. I bought packing cubes, bags, and pouches in many shapes, colors, and sizes. It was a bit more expensive than a box of Ziplock bags initially, but it is a good investment. Besides, these nifty packing cubes make it super easy to keep all of our clothes organized and I can cram more into our suitcases. More cramming, means less laundry. Love.

Resolution #2: I will bring along my own refillable water bottles. Grade: C

I also hate to admit I take along, or buy, cases of plastic water bottles when I’m on a trip. It’s hard to get away from the plastic bottles at most hotel rooms, but easy to refill my reusable bottles at restaurants when we’re out sightseeing.

I’m great with refillable bottles at home and work, but still not great while traveling. We have gotten better at using refillable bottles on road trips, but not while were out sightseeing. It’s just one more thing to schlep along, and I hate to shlep any more than I have to. I’ll keep working on ways to use less plastic for my hydrating needs.

Resolution #3: I will spend my travel dollars at places that have good environmental practices. Grade: C

In all my days of travel, I have only stayed at one “green” hotel. It was The Ambrose Hotel, in Santa Monica. I loved that I could recycle in my room, that they had a water-saving shower, and that they served all local, organic food. I stayed there, because of their sustainable practices. That, and the reviewers keep raving about their chocolate croissants at breakfast.

So I’ve only stayed in a couple of “green” hotels this year. Mostly, because there aren’t always many to choose from. When you’re traveling with kids you have to consider many things when choosing accommodations, and sometimes choosing a hotel with a kitchen, trumps choosing one that is LEED-certified. Traveling with a kid, doesn’t mean I need a bunch of goodie bags with junk that will eventually just end up in a landfill. I would like to recycle in my room, have local organic meals to choose from, and still enjoy the luxury of a suite room. Hey there hotel industry, are you listening?

I would have liked a better report card this year. But some progress is better than none. I will keep working on some of these resolutions, while making some new ones for this year. However I manage to improve my green travel practices, I’ll come back to share my progress.

Vacation Planning for the Indecisive

Surprise, surprise. This is what my dining room table looks like lately. I know it’s only February, but I’m busy plotting out our spring and summer trips. I study maps, calculate driving distances, check airfare prices, and I love every minute of it. Almost.

While it’s true that I’m a bit of travel nerd, I’m also a bit indecisive. I think it’s hereditary (but I’m not pointing my finger in any specific direction). Some trips I decide on quickly and never waiver. Then there is the rest of them. For example, my spring break is five weeks away and I still haven’t set my travel plans in stone. I was actually starting to feel successful today, because I narrowed it down to three trips. And they’re all in the same general region of the United States. I’m making progress, for sure.

So how do I finally narrow down my choices and eventually pick the final destination? While it may be less complicated-but not nearly as much fun-to just throw a dart at the map, there are some other ways I make these important family vacation decisions.

I check my bank accounts.

That automatically eliminates about half of my options. See that was easy. All kidding aside, I do have a travel budget. I plan one big trip a year, and then all the other trips have to stay within a very small budget. Since my travel wishes are generally bigger than my salary, I find that I often need this budgetary reality check. But just in case, I go check my mailbox to make sure that I didn’t get any new checks in the mail from the travel fairy.

I include my child in the process.

I try to include my son in the planning discussion. I sit him down next to me and begin pulling up sites on the internet to show him pictures of the places in the final running. But I’m a little wary of having him help with the decision making. I mean, if I let him make all the choices around here, we would be up ’til midnight watching Spongebob every night. So why would an eight-year-old be helpful in making the choice between the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe? Saguaro National Park and Petrified National Forest? But I show him pictures anyway. He humors his increasingly flustered mami and takes a look at some photos of the Grand Canyon. Then he says, “cool” and “there is nothing else to do there but look at it”. Ahem. Some trip planning sessions with my son are more fruitful than others.

I consult the guidebook gods.

I like to make an informed decision. The problem with this approach is that it can be very time consuming. I spend hours poring over guidebooks and clicking away on my laptop. Then I get mad at myself because, after hours of doing this, I am often not any closer to making a decision. What does often happen, is that I just come away from all of my research with even more trip ideas. Oy.

I throw a dart at the map.

No, not really. I told you earlier that would be very uncomplicated, so therefore very unlike me. What does happen, somewhere between hour seven and eight of a trip planning session, is that I have my moment of clarity. I realize that the answer has been there all along. And also that it’s about the journey not the destination. But mostly, I realize that this will not be the last trip I take (not if I can help it) so I need to just throw that dart on the map and go.

King of the Bunny Hill

One thing I’ve learned in my eight years as reigning mami, is that teaching your kids new things, and exposing them to new experiences is hard work. It takes planning, preparation, and a lot of cooperation. So with that in mind, I offer you the back story to how my son conquered the bunny hill on a fine, winter day. I could just share the happy ending, but where’s the fun in that?

I planned: Once I had the green light from my son on the whole skiing thing, I began the research phase of the operation. I went online to learn more about ski lessons at Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area-a small ski area a few minutes from our cabin in Truckee, California. I decided on the type of lessons that would work best for his age and personality. Most ski resorts offer a whole host of options for ski lessons. I knew I was willing to pay a bit more for a private instructor the first time, with the hopes that he would feel more comfortable his first day on skis and would get much more attention.

I prepared: Weeks before we were to hit the slopes, I went shopping for new ski pants and goggles (which were the only things missing from our snow gear inventory). The week before our ski trip, I took the kiddo to a ski rental place near our home to try out his boots and skis and place the reservation for his equipment. Before a busy holiday weekend, this turned out to be a very wise move. Of course, that particular store was out of helmets in his size. We had to rent him a helmet at a different ski rental store in Truckee, the day before his ski lesson. That week, I also called Tahoe Donner to reserve a ski lesson for him. Again, this was also a smart move.

I got a lot of cooperation: Nothing would have been possible, without my son’s cooperation. He was finally, after many years of prodding, ready to ski. He was excited to try on his gear-even though we went through a bit of ski boot frustration. Although he showed moments of nervousness and trepidation, he was willing to get over it because he really, really wanted to learn how to zoom down those snowy hills. That was key. Without the enthusiasm, he wouldn’t have been willing to put up with all of the hassle involved in learning how to ski. This is not to say, that kids much younger than him can show this type of enthusiasm. Or that it isn’t possible to take out a less enthusiastic child out on the slopes. But for us, it was worth waiting until he was ready.

The happy ending: My son is finally a skier. He got on skis for the first time today, and he loved it so much we had to drag him away from the ski lift. I’m breathing a big sigh of relief that he had a great first experience on the slopes, because it could have just as easily been a negative one. It’s a fine line between bliss and tantrum. So I’m grateful, feeling lucky, and patting myself on the back for being such a savvy mom. I’m now ready to take on many more days on the bunny hill, ski rental shops, and ski lesson charges. And as for my son, he’s ready to take on the half-pipe.

Lake Tahoe Family Travel Tips

The Good Traveler

There are moments when I wonder if I’m good enough of a traveler. I never worried about this before. But now that I’ve ventured out into the world of travel blogging, it has become a real concern for me. I am now, more than ever, immersed in a world of traveling experts. I’m always reading about all the great trips other writers take and I wonder if I’ve got what it takes.

Do I have enough traveling experience under my belt to speak with any authority on the subject? Maybe, I shouldn’t claim to be an authority. Have I visited enough countries, cities or states?  Maybe, I’m not worldly enough. Will I be laughed off the stage for admitting that I’ve never actually been to New York? Well, I’ve been to the airport, but that doesn’t really count.

I’ve been hit with some serious travel blogging insecurities this year. I could seek some good Dr. Phil advice to help me get past it. Or maybe, I can stop travel blogging altogether. Avoidance works wonders, you know. Then I wouldn’t have to care about whether my traveler status was worthy enough. I could just take up a new hobby, say gardening, and blog my little heart out about that. (I’m not making fun of gardening, I really do want to pick it up as a hobby someday.)

I could blog about anything really, so why even bother with blogging about something I may not even be doing all that well. I will not be hiking in Nepal, jet-setting my way through Europe, or dropping my job to travel the world this year. There are both monetary and legal reasons I won’t even be leaving the country with my son anytime soon. My prospects for being a good travel writer seem dim.

But only when I’m talking all that nonsense. Because that’s all that is. And I don’t even need Dr. Phil to tell me that. There are many things that stand in the way of me being a good travel writer, but the quantity of my travel experiences is not one of them. I just have to remember this when I start to feel insecure: I am worthy of travel blogging.

Now on the first Monday of the year, I’m dreaming of loving travel blogging again. I want to stop worrying about whether my trips will be exotic or exciting enough. I don’t want spend hours trying to make a trip happen, when I know very well, that it just can’t happen for me this year.

I want to be in love with travel again. Now that’s a dream that I can turn into reality.

I’m linking up to Mother of All Trips’ Monday Dreaming post. She won’t judge me for whining so much this week, she’s just that cool.