Tag Archives: family

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

23 Jun

Family vacations for my crew are all about serious adventure, exhausting the kids, and having some new experiences along the way.  I strive every day of vacation to play hard and exhaust my kids physically and mentally.  I aim to stimulate their minds to total exhaustion.  At the end of the day, I hope that they are so tired and overstimulated that they forget to bicker and are forced into a sleep trance by 9 p.m. (which leaves me about 2 hours of quiet adult time to relax).  Flashing back to last summer, we took an adventure to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Hands down, this is the most beautiful place I’ve been so far, absolutely breathtaking.  Really this place had it all…plenty to explore, beautiful beaches, amazing people, and tons of adventure.

Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular National Parks in Costa Rica and thought by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It sits on the Pacific Ocean, and it is where the jungle meets the sea.  The monkeys and lizards roam freely on the beach, giving an amazing show and entertaining travelers several times a day.  The beaches are great for surfing,  horseback riding was amazing, and the dining was fantastic.  While the kids would vote the playtime on the beach was the highlight, I think I vote the zip lining as my highlight.  I have to admit that seeing my middle schooler (that knows everything) a little frightened was a bit entertaining.  If you’re reading this Son, stop now.  You might not like the next picture.  Overall for family adventures, Manuel Antonio has it all.

The lodging options are endless in the Manuel Antonio area.  There are rustic hostels to elaborate villas.  Since I was traveling family style and watching a budget is always a concern, I found our dream vacation spot right in the middle. After many hours of research and planning, I decided on a private home in the Tulemar Gardens gated community.  Best decision ever.  The waves on their private beach were perfect and the kids loved the boogie boards and sand toys.  There were cocktails served on the sand and the monkeys were always around to entertain you during the day.  The kids were happy (and exhausted at the end of the day) and I was relaxed.

After a full day of fun in the sun, we settled in to our comfortable home to enjoy a dinner on the patio while watching the sun set.  Casa Panorama was truly a perfect spot for a family or group of friends. Whether we were preparing a great meal in the gourmet kitchen or sitting in the hot tub, this was the perfect home away from home.

So, families looking for a big adventure to exhaust your own little monkeys, Manuel Antonio has it all.  There was always somewhere to explore, waves to ride, and monkeys to watch.

WARNING:  I am not a professional videographer.  Actually, I’m a pretty crappy amateur videographer.   So, if you are prone to motion sickness, watch this at your own risk.  At least it will give you a visual of my monkeys being entertained by some real monkeys and amazing scenery of the jungle meeting the sea.

Father’s Day Bliss…not really

18 Jun

So to be totally honest, I couldn’t be happier that Father’s Day is over.  For some reason, yesterday at my house seemed to be extra crazy.  Considering that my house compared to most homes, is pretty crazy on a good day, Father’s Day this year was insanity.  Kids were wild, Dad was trying to relax, and even the dog seemed to be barking at nothing more than ever.  I’m not really sure why, but I know that holidays can bring out the worst in kids (even when 2 parents are on high alert).  Well, yesterday brought out th worst in all of us.  So I hoped yesterday to give my husband a little break…I would handle the meals, kids, and clean-up.  In reality, I couldn’t get a handle on it.

All my husband wanted was a relaxing afternoon with his family, to enjoy and celebrate his special day.  An afternoon of hanging out with his 4 amazing kids and minimal bickering would have been fabulous, but yesterday didn’t have the word relaxing in it at all.  The kids want to shower him with attention.  All 4 of them, all at the same time,  and things got competitive.  For some reason with the excitement of wanting to make Dad feel really special, the fighting seems to escalate.

We started the day with brunch on the patio and some incredibly strong wind that come from nowhere.  The winds were strong enough to rush us through our meal and chase napkins all over the yard.  Not really my idea of a relaxing brunch for staying up until 2 a.m. the night before preparing. Then the kickball game…after breakfast my husband said all he wanted to do was do play kick ball.  WTH?  Kickball I thought.  Instantly the kids thought the same thing.  3 people on each team, 95 degree weather, what?  So, kickball it was.  My guys got overly competitive, I got smacked with the ball on my arm, my daughter cried about her feet hurting (btw…sparkly Tom’s aren’t great shoes for running in dirt), and my youngest never got excited and flat out refused to play.

The day went on with a water fight in the house, one hand slammed in a door, my 8 year old ran away (he came back though), about 5,000 fights, 20 loads of dishes, and one frazzled Mom…get the point?  I knew I hit a low when I told the kids they could bathe the dog for pure entertainment purposes.

All in all, we survived.  As this great photo shows, Dad read a book and took a little nap.  He also got a little alone time (ok, so he had to go out for a 2 mile run in 95 degree weather).  On a positive note, I will say that we ate a few really yummy meals,  indulged in plenty of bacon, and ended the night off with a few mojitos.  But the truth is, I’m feeling a little guilty.  I don’t’ think this year made the list for best Father’s Day ever, at least not today.  I know we will look back on this crazy day and have fond memories at some point and some people even say that we will miss these times (although I’m not totally convinced).

Since we will be spending some time this summer in the tropical paradise of Belize, I’ve decide that I’m going to do Father’s Day over.  I’m going to do it right though.  I am planning to take advantage of 1/2 priced cards this week and stock up.  Make breakfast in bed for my husband and set out for an all day sailing trip.  Perfect day…kids will be happy and someone else will do the cooking.  Who cares that we will be celebrating our great Dad on a different day than everyone else!  Also, next year, I am going to plan Father’s Day right.  I think I will schedule our summer adventure around Father’s Day, since travel is truly my family’s happy place.



Belize Getaway

15 Jun

In honor of my upcoming family vacation to Belize this summer, I’m feeling inspired to share my amazing experiences in Belize for Flashback Friday.  Just about 3 years ago, somehow I convinced the grandparents to watch my kids for a week (I’m sure this commitment was made after a fairly large consumption of wine) so my husband and I could get away for an extended break.  We took full advantage with a 9 day break from the kids and daily routines of life.  We headed to Belize with no kids, explored 2 very different regions, and had an absolute trip of a lifetime.  I’m not really quite sure how I ended up taking our 1st and only week away ever  to this tiny Central American country, but it was a decision that made travel my passion. Many people would ask why Belize?  I can only imagine that I came across it by chance and our airline flight miles made the final decision.  Perfect fate.

Let me first start off by explaining my family.  I grew up traveling a bit and enjoyed the family adventures from my childhood.  Still to this day, my parents are a couple of crazy jet setting retired folks.  Travel and adventure is in my blood.  My husband on the other hand, not so much.  He grew up in a small town alongside the corn fields and hog farms of the Midwest.  His idea of a travel was taking a 2 hour road trip and an international destination to him was Tijuana.  So when I booked our 1 and only getaway, since becoming parents, to Belize I was a going out on a limb.  (I say one and only, because I was pretty confident that the grandparents would NEVER do it again after spending a week with our “angels”).

As we were landing into this simple and relatively poor country, my husband was busy looking and watching out the window.  He looked at me in shock and said something along the lines of  “where the hell are you taking me?  Why didn’t we just go to Hawaii?”  At that moment, I promised him it would be great, but I really crossed my fingers and hoped more than you can imagine that my research was correct.  I was pretty confident in my planning of our Belize trip, but I knew that my role in my family’s future for vacation planning was riding on this decision.

Well, it all worked out and overly exceeded our expectations.  This tiny little country in Central America is a true gem.  Situated on the Caribbean, you get a Latin American feel, with a flair of the Caribbean culture, and add a dash of Mennonites (yes, as in the German religious folks that don’t use electricity).  Unique, diverse, and amazing.

We started our trip off with a 90 minute drive to the Ka’ana Resort in San Ignacio (a region near the Guatemalan border).  We were stunned by the beauty and detail that was put into this resort.  Over the next 4 days, we explored and learned.  We visited Mayan ruins, caves, and dined on some of the most amazing foods we had ever experienced.  You truly felt that you were the only people at this fabulous boutique resort and I loved every second of living the life of a celebrity.

After our Jungle adventure, we hopped on a quick 20 minute puddle jumper off to the island of Ambergris Caye.  This busy little town still has dirt roads, filled with golf carts, restaurants, and gift shops.  The Caribbean Sea was as blue as pictures showed and our hotel, Victoria House, was perfectly situated just far away enough from town for relaxation, yet close enough to enjoy the hustle and bustle.

The last half of our trip was spent lounging on the beach, exploring the town of San Pedro, enjoying oceanfront massages, and of course taking advantage of Belize’s incredible water activities.  Being that I am not a scuba diver,  snorkeling and fishing  filled our desire for new adventures.  Under the sea was better than I could of imagined…sting rays, sharks, and bright colored beautiful fish.

So, I’m off again to the beautiful country of Belize, but this time with 4 wild, crazy, and adventure seeking kids.  I know it won’t be nearly as relaxing (actually it won’t be relaxing at all), but there will be plenty of adventures and stories to tell.  Reflecting back…I think I picked the perfect place for our summer adventure.  More posts to come, but with a wild & crazy family twist!  As they say in Belize…you’d better Belize it!

Rude Parisians? (I must have missed that part)

5 Jun

Finally…I made the trip to Paris.  Last week, I flew across the Atlantic and took my daughter to visit her friend who moved with her family to the French Riviera.  Being so close to Paris, I felt that I would be crazy to skip an opportunity to visit “The City of Lights”.  I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I did learn in my planning that many people have very strong opinions about the French, especially Parisians.  I’ll admit I was pretty intimidated.  I heard the horror stories and hesitantly listened to all of the warnings.  “The French are rude”.  “French people HATE Americans”.  “You better speak at least a little French, OR ELSE…”.  I was traveling with my daughter and speak just about zero French (actually, now I can say 2  words in French).  Luckily, I did master saying hello and thank you in French before I arrived in Paris.  But, the reality was that I was that I was heading to Paris with “American Tourist” stamped on my forehead.  I hoped for the best, yet was prepared for the worst.  I wouldn’t have ever told my daughter, but I was scared shitless.  The last thing I wanted to do was feed my daughter to the wolves and make her afraid to ever travel again.  So, we left the comfort of our amazing friends and hosts in Southern France, boarded a train, and set out to the jungle of Paris.  I tried to stay open minded and armed and ready to use my smile (and 2 French words) as my only defense.

The attendant on the train was courteous, our cab driver was very informative, and my hotel check-in went very smoothly.  I was starting to think that I just might survive Paris and was feeling pretty positive about not permanently damaging my daughter’s love for travel.  The next couple of days continued to work in my favor and I was convinced that I was either very lucky or wrongly informed about Parisians.  At that point, I realized that I really wasted quite a bit of energy worry about people possibly refusing to acknowledge me, giving me wrong directions, or spitting in my food.  I actually spent quite a bit of time, while sitting in amazing cafes, thinking about my thoughts and ridiculous fears.  I observed and watched.  I began to better understand.  Let’s face it, the French aren’t an overly warm culture.  Heck, it pretty obvious that you’re not in a small village somewhere in Latin America mingling with the locals.  But rude?  No, not really.  Different, yes.  Waiters don’t rush you out to turn your table.  The chance of you waiter having a quick smoke and chatting with a colleague, before bringing your bill is pretty likely.  Plan on waiting while dining.  On the other hand, I observed more people in 2 days give up seats on the bus to an elderly passenger or child than I have seen in the States in the last 10 years.  The French are just more relaxed and not so hurried.  This is a great thing and I quickly embraced the trait.  It forced me to look around, visit a little more with my favorite little lady, and have that second glass of wine.  I couldn’t have been happier that I was forced a bit to slow down and “smell the roses”.  Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I am sure glad that I took the time to look around and embrace the culture.  Enjoy the view, the wine, the culture and smile a lot. Cheers!

Mother’s Day…the Day After

14 May

I made it through and survived another Mother’s Day.  It always seems that the one day that is supposed to be about Mom, happens to be one of the most crazy days of the year.  It is the day that I really give up all control (well at least most of the control) and let Dad take charge.  He takes care of the meals, the shopping, the kids, and the clean-up.  So, I spent most of yesterday relaxing and resting.  I played around on my iPad and watched T.V. while my family lived life right around me.  I let the chaos escalate right before my eyes, since I knew that they wouldn’t dare ask me to clean it up.  At least not then, on Mother’s Day.  I can aways tell how much work, excitement, and energy went into the festivities of Mother’s Day, based on my damage control of my house the day after.  By the looks of my house this morning, it was a success. Today, kids are back at school and I have the house almost to myself (since one kid is home sick).  Now it is my time to conquer the mess and reflect back on Mother’s Day.


The morning yesterday started with “Fancy B” (a nickname in our house for a carb overloaded and sugar filled breakfast prepared by the whole gang).   The nearly 2 hour preparation, actually turned into a lunchtime meal that was enjoyed by all.  The kitchen this morning was still wearing a thin layer from the preparation process and was just the beginning of a day filled with excitement for my 4 young chefs.   We also enjoyed some sort of dinner concoction, where the inspiration  for the entree stemmed from a Man vs. Food episode.  BBQ pulled pork topped hot dogs anyone?  Sound interesting?  It was interesting for sure.  At least it beats the bacon wrapped sausage roll from last year, right?

My husband and kids cleared the table yesterday after each “dining experience” and kept the dishwasher running.  The overflow from the 2 meals and middle school Spanish cooking homework were just too much for our one dishwasher.  This morning the counters were sticky, the stove was a disaster, there was about as much grass & bark in the house as out in the yard.  I know they tried, but sometimes these things just get overlooked.  I bit my tongue and kept my cool all day yesterday (really tough for me).  Honestly, I was just really enjoying every minute of knowing that my husband and kids really couldn’t ask for my help.  I’d deal with the mess tomorrow, I thought.

Well, this morning I’ve scoured the kitchen, straightened out the office from tiny paper clippings covering the floor from homemade cards.  The disaster of the gift wrapping projects done by my kindergartener has been resolved and put away.  I spent some time putting way the 10 added “special” gifts (ranging from rocks to old books) presented to me from my same little gift wrapping guru.  The blood stains from the nose bleed, after the unsupervised tackle football game, has also been cleaned from patio.

I’m a pretty lucky girl to have a hubby and kids who take Mother’s Day so seriously.  I do have to say that the day after Mother’s Day is pretty great too.  I just love to spend a few minutes sitting in my clean & quiet house remembering the best memories of the day.  I can take it all in and reflect on the day of chaos and realize that I wouldn’t change a thing.  It sure feels good to know that I am loved, while I enjoy my clean house with hand picked flowers from my kids and a beautiful card from my husband.  I am starting to think that the day after Mother’s Day just might be the best day of the year.

Staying Sane in the Friendly Skies

10 May

Traveling with babies and children can be a very challenging situation.  I have had my fair share of great flights and some horribly embarrassing situations also.  Here are a dozen of my favorite practical in- flight tips for parents…

1.)  Remember that traveling with kids is NOT fun.  Airline flights can be successful, but they are not easy for parents.  Do not expect to relax and watch a movie, read a novel, or look at every page in your People Magazine.  If you ignore your kids, your children will misbehave, you will be stressed out, and the other passengers sitting around you will give you dirty looks.  Just plan on being a non-stop babysitter the entire flight and it will be easier for everyone.

2.)  Have your child sit in their car seat if possible.  You can’t expect a 3 year old to sit in a lap belt for an entire flight.  It is way too much fun to jump on the seat and make faces at the people sitting in the row behind them.  Entertaining for the kid, annoying for others.

3.)  Pack plenty of HEALTHY snacks.  Feeding your kid 10 packs of fruit snacks and candy is not a good idea.  One word…Puke.

4.)  Always carry on a simple change of clothes for each child and parents.  There is nothing like your potty trained preschooler falling asleep in your lap and having an accident.  It’s pretty rough walking off the plane with a half naked and screaming child wrapped in an airplane blanket.  Even better when it happens in 1st class…classy!

5.)  Bring a portable DVD player, over the ear headphones, and several DVDs.  Your little one might actually sit and watch the movie.  If not, the act of changing the movie 5 times can even keep your child quiet and busy for a few minutes.

6.)  Loosen up on your regular media rules and let them watch something you wouldn’t usually allow.  Popping in an action filled PG-13 movie for your tween son will keep his attention much better than the regular stuff he watches.  Being in a crowded box, 30,000 feet in the air, with a bunch of strangers is all about survival.  Save the rules for when you are on solid ground.

7.)  Plan for ear pressure during take off and landing.  Be ready to feed or give a pacifier to babies and encourage older kids to swallow or chew on something.  Sippy cup, box juice, gum, or whatever works.

8.)  Bring a small blanket and pillow for each child.  It can make all the difference if they sleep or not.

9.)  If you are traveling on a longer or night flight, older kids may need some help getting some sleep.  I’m not a doctor and recommend talking with your family physician about what the best option is for your child.  If you are interested, I have had pretty good luck with melatonin.  Words of advice, think twice before using Benadryl, some kids have the opposite effect and it may dry out their sinuses.

10.)  Pack some new and fun activities.  Some of my favorites are WikiStix, colorful pipe cleaners, Play Foam, and coloring pages on a clipboard.  These are all small, easy, quiet, and inexpensive.

11.)  If your kid is going to kick the seat in front of them, take their shoes off.  It’s not nearly as fun to kick a seat barefoot.

12.)  Most importantly, keep calm.  You can do everything right and your kid can still decide to behave like a total monster.  Don’t let other people around you stress you out more.  Parents are in a hard position on an airplane.  It’s not like you can take them for a little walk out front to resolve the issue.  You are stuck.  Remember, you’ll never see these people again in your life.

Good luck and happy travels!

Disney Memories

20 Apr

Last week, for spring break, we did what I usually preach against.  I typically seem to be the person trying to convince friends and family to expand their comfort zone, be creative, and skip the vacations in Southern California or Florida.  There are so many other great places in this world that are less expensive, just as much fun for the kids, and everyone will even learn a little along the way.  I am all about going to new places and exploring different cultures.  I strive to teach my kids about diversity and history all while relaxing and enjoying amazing cuisine.  So, I’ll get it out of the way now.  I am a total hypocrite when it comes to Disney.  I love the allure and excitement of the overpriced and crowded Disney parks, the fun characters and the thrill of the rides.  That being said, I would go on a Disney vacation any day of the week.

The story began on Easter Sunday with church and our usual backyard egg hunt.  This Easter morning egg hunt had a little curve ball thrown and did I ever surprise my kids.  In between jelly beans and chocolate, the contents in some of the eggs had letters that spelled out the word DISNEYLAND.  Before I knew it, the word scramble was completed, the kids figured it out, and  they were shocked with the news of a surprise Disneyland vacation.  My little boys screamed, my daughter pulled an academy award performance (with tears and fanning herself included), and my soon-to- be teenager “knew it”.  He does know everything though.

I had packed during the days before (let me say I don’t recommend that stunt, it’s not an easy task) and we left on the spot.  Off we set for a long drive with 4 kids, a dog needing to be dropped off with the grandparents, and 2 parents already exhausted from trying to pull off the surprise of the decade.  After 2 days in the car and a quick overnight stop in Las Vegas, we arrived at the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  The kids were over the top ecstatic and we didn’quite know what we were in for, as this was our 1st multiple day Disney adventure.  Well, needless to say, we survived.  We spent way too much money, ate about 10,000 calories of overpriced food, and were exhausted.  But somehow through it all, I couldn’t get enough.  This trip was great and the quality of the time with my kids was priceless.  Great job Disney, you did it again!

I began thinking about this trip several months ago with my planning and research.  I researched hotels and how to make the trip as cost effective as possible (tough to go “budget” when Disney is involved).  I got a great rate on a family suite at the OC Hyatt and saved a few bucks on our park hoppers by purchasing them online (Getaway Today Vacations).  The Hyatt was amazing and having the extra bathroom & comfortable king sized bed for my husband and I was awesome.  We let the kids call the shots and spent a huge amount of our time at California Adventure.  The rides are bigger and faster, plus they serve wine (huge plus for me while standing in hour long lines).  We didn’t lose any kids, no one threw up from overconsumption of crap, and we were all still speaking after our last 15 hour day of adventure.  I’d call it a success.

I’m not sure what it is about Disneyland that lures me into the magic.  I spent 3 days navigating through over stimulating amusement parks, spent way too much money, ate horribly unhealthy food, and was totally exhausted.  Somehow through all of that, battling crowds, and 4 bickering kids, we all had a blast.  As I was watching the” World of Color” show at California Adventure, it all made sense.  The classic music of Disney, clips from movies, and the perfection of the lights, fire & water, brought back years of memories from my childhood.  It’s not a specific memory, but a feeling.  A feeling that brought tears to my eyes.  It was something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  There was something so amazing about revisiting my childhood and knowing that I was creating a memory for my children.  This was the kind of memory that my kids will re-live someday with their kids too.  So, I think I will add Disneyland as a “must do” trip with your kids, not once but at least a few times.  Life is all about creating memories that will last forever.  Right?