Tuesday, December 31, 2013

4 Ideas for Family New Years Fun!

image courtesy of Vlado/

Before we started our family, my husband and I used to go away or go out to parties on New Year's Eve; but once our daughter was born, we found we didn't want to celebrate without her, so we started some fun family year-end traditions that have become really precious to us!  Now that she has moved into her school-age years, our traditions have become even more enjoyable and special, particularly to her, so here are four of our favorite ways to ring in the New Year as a family:

Looking Back and Ahead:  This is one of our favorites, and one that has only become more fun as our daughter has grown.  While my husband and I enjoy sharing our favorite memories from the year past and our hopes and plans for the year to come, the real fun is hearing about the past year from the point of view of our daughter and hearing what she is most looking forward to in the new year.  This past few years I wrote down our memories and hopes for the new year, but I'm looking forward to having her write her own entry this year!!!

Game Night: We play a lot of family games even without a holiday, but we try to jazz up the event with fun appetizers and drinks!  Everyone picks their own favorites and we each take turns picking what we will play next (our favorites are Settlers of Catan, Dixit, Coup, Life, and Yahtzee).

Special Meal: Every year we plan our New Year's dinner around our favorite foods; historically it has included a lot of macaroni and cheese, but we've also introduce some more exotic fare, such as enchiladas, chicken korma, home-made pork fried rice, lamb kabobs, and even chicken and shrimp etouffe!

Movie Night: Always fun and relaxing!  Again, we each pick our favorite movie and then take turns watching each one with popcorn and other indulgent movie snack goodies (M&Ms, pretzel bites, peanuts, etc.).  May be hard to do in larger families, and beware the favorite movie syndrome; after three consecutive years watching the same Harry Potter movie, we had to institute a no re-runs rule from year to year!

However you choose to ring in the new year, we at Travel-Tot wish you and your family a safe, happy, and healthy 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Snow Day Fun; 3 Great Activities!

image courtesy of
Tina Phillips/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remember the magic of the first big snowfall from childhood?  Heck, remember the excitement of any decent snow accumulation?!  What is it that makes a cold, snowy day so uniquely exciting?  Maybe it's all the fun things you can do in the cold, snowy weather that can't be done any other time during the year!  After all, the snow and biting cold definitely provide an opportunity to create fabulous sweet treats and a rare opportunity to seemingly "freeze time!"  So gear up and get ready to head out into the cold snowy weather and make some fun with these ideas that we love:
Embrace Your Inner Candyman!  If your kids are familiar with the Little House on the Prairie series (or even if they're not) making candy from snow and maple syrup is a must try!  The best recipe I've found for this particular activity can be found here.
Create Frozen Sweet Creaminess!  If you haven't tried Snow Ice Cream, you haven't lived!  Simple recipe below: 

You will need:

8-10 cups of fresh, clean, snow
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Scoop snow into a large bowl. 
2. Pour condensed milk and vanilla over snow and mix well.
3. Serve immediately!

Freeze Time!  Think bubbles are the domain of Spring and Summer?  Think again! Grab that bubble solution and a bubble wand and head out on those bitter cold days (try to avoid windy days!) and blow some bubbles that will blow your kids' minds!  Watch in awe as the bubbles harden and solidify before they hit the ground - seemingly defying the passage of time!
So next time the forecast calls for snow, bundle up and head on out for some magic that can only be made with the help of Mother Nature's snowy, cold goodness!
Safe and happy adventuring!
-Destination Mom

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Make Time for Joy!

image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

'Tis the season for racing around frantically tying up loose ends; grabbing forgotten gifts, wrapping until your fingers ache, baking like a maniac, cooking like mad, cleaning, mailing cards, making calls, running your kids all over town!  Its enough to make any parent turn a bah-humbug eye on the whole holiday season.

That's why it is so important to make it a priority to carve out a few moments each day as you prepare for your holiday to remember the joy of the celebration.  It doesn't need to be a formal meditative ritual; just try to find one thing to rejoice in each day; for example, today I rejoiced that my daughter knew all the words to her song in the Christmas Program at church and that she sang with enthusiasm and love.  Some days it's even more basic than that though; some days joy is simply found in making someone smile, or helping out a stranger in need, or just in spending time with friends and family.

So embrace the spirit of the season, and as you head out to finish up everything on your to-do list, remember to leave room for love, laughter, and joy!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Destination: North Pole!

As Destination Mom, I have had the opportunity to report on a number of fantastic family get-away destinations; but this one by far has my vote for most breathtaking and magical!  Now, not everyone can get into Santa's workshop at the North Pole; but luckily, the big man himself just happens to be a loyal Travel-Tot blog reader!  He contacted me via e-mail to ask if I would like to sneak a peek at the busy hustling and bustling going on at the North Pole this time of year in exchange for a blog shout-out!  It was an invitation I couldn't resist!

Santa's workshop
St. Nick was kind enough to pick me up in his amazing sleigh, and after a chilly journey (which seemed to last only a few brief moments!), we hopped out and he took me by the hand as I, in sheer awe, entered the great door of his magnificent workshop mansion, which was flanked by majestic ice sculptures (artist's interpretation see left).  As we entered the great hall, there were scores of elves busily working everywhere; making toys, stocking shelves, wrapping gifts, checking inventory, feeding the reindeer, tidying up, and just generally making merry! 

These cheerful little magic-folk were in almost constant motion, and I noticed right away that they were very safety conscious!  I was very impressed as Santa showed off his workshop's OSHA certification as a permanent SHARP member (an honor granted to small businesses with exemplary illness and injury prevention programs!) and was thrilled to see that Santa had extensive elf-proofing and safety measures in place all throughout the workshop (pinch protectors on that big heavy door, padded hearth around his fireplace, cord guards for the reindeer reins, and even booster seats in his sleigh for his helper elves who accompany him on Christmas Eve)!

the reindeer room (featuring Rudolph)
After I had a full tour of the workshop, Santa invited me into his living area for hot cocoa.  It was a modest space, housing only a large bed, a small table and chairs, and a fireplace.  At the far end of the room was a hallway that led to the more expansive elf and reindeer housing (artist's rendering see left).  We sat and talked a while about Christmas and magic and love, and he explained how important it is to keep the spirit of Christmas always in your heart; especially now, when e-mail, cell phones, texting and social media have replaced so much personal, human contact.

Then, Santa leaned back with a knowing smile and imparted in a hush, that he believed spreading joy, love, and understanding was more than just a job; it was an honor and a responsibility.  "You see," he told me, "I have watched for millennia as humanity slowly grew and matured from fearful, selfish creatures into beings increasingly capable of compassion, kindness, and love." "And," he went on "while not everyone is there yet, I know in my heart that it is possible; for what binds people together is stronger than what divides them." 

We visited for a while longer, but soon it was time to go, so we bundled back into the sleigh and set off.  Before long, we reached my doorstep and he stilled the reindeer.  As I carefully stepped down from the sleigh, I turned and thanked him for our magical visit.  Santa gave me a joyful smile and patted my hand with grandfatherly reassurance, and, with a twinkle in his eye, warmly wished me a Merry Christmas. 

May magic, joy, and peace fill your home this holiday season!  Safe and happy holidays!

-Destination Mom

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Books We Love: Discovering Barcelona - a travel guide for teens!

European vacations with kids in tow can be eye-opening, wonderful adventures, for you and your children!  But sometimes it can be difficult to determine what sites, eateries, museums, etc. are most appropriate and interesting for younger travelers.  That's why we were so excited when Enric Massó reached out to us with his fantastic new travel guide for families travelling with teens (and tweens!) to Barcelona.

As a born and bred Barcelonian who really loves his city, Enric knew a travel guide for younger travelers would help families and teens/tweens to genuinely experience all the amazing things Barcelona has to offer!  As a seasoned professional he has traveled extensively, mostly across Europe, and was frequently asked by acquaintances who would be travelling with kids: "We're visiting your city soon, what family activities would you recommend? where can we...? how...? when...? should we do/take/choose...?".  So, after a few times of compiling brochures, website screenshots, etc. for acquaintances and friends visiting the city, he decided it was time to write a proper paperback guide!  His endeavors resulted in the amazing Discovering Barcelona: A Travel Guide for Teens, which has recently been released through Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

Discovering Barcelona is an extraordinary and comprehensive travel guide, addressing everything from history and landmarks, to snippets of local dialect and metro maps; in addition, it includes an exhaustive (in the best way!) index of all the best spots in Barcelona for young visitors!  The layout is engaging with fantastic graphics, and the guide features entertaining and useful tips, hints, and suggestions for touring the city and beyond.  It provides readers with a concise, comprehensive itinerary of possibilities, featuring everything from historical hot-spots to natural wonders to thrills and adventure.  It is the perfect guide for preparing a young traveller for a trip to Barcelona or for keeping a young traveller occupied during the voyage (preventing the dreaded "are-we-there-yets"!). 

So if you or someone you know is planning a trip to Barcelona with kids - this travel guide is a must-have; and at under $15, it is the perfect stocking stuffer!   For more information on the author, see below:

Enric Massó

Business consultant (Barcelona, 1969). Enric has always been passionate about European cities and most especially his city, Barcelona: its history, heritage, its vibrant life... With the typical charm of the Mediterraneans he proudly enjoys showing the city to his foreign friends when visiting, many of whom have teenagers. But soon he realised that, although Barcelona ranks 4th in the Euromonitor International’s Top City Destinations (January 2011), there wasn’t much information intended for teens, most guides and travel resources were aimed to grown-up travellers, so he started to gather information and put it in a format aimed just for them: easy to read, fun and entertaining.

email:  enric@discoveringbarcelona.info 

web:  www.discoveringbarcelona.info 

Safe and happy travels!

-Destination Mom

Friday, December 6, 2013

When the Elf Leaves the Shelf!

'Tis the holiday season; time to be heading over the rivers and through the woods to visit far flung family members.  And if you spend time away from home, chances are your Elf will follow!  Now Elves are magical, but they still have basic needs when hitting the road; no self-respecting Elf would leave home without luggage, a passport, tickets, and sometimes other more exotic items, such as skis, a fishing pole, or even a hot air balloon (see material list below for ideas)! 

Luggage: an Altoid's mint tin or small matchbox painted and given a handle is the perfect suitcase!

Passports and Tickets: both are easily crafted out of paper and staples (get as creative as you want!)

Skis: popsicle sticks or candy canes are perfect for hitting the slopes!

Fishing pole: a simple dowel with string is a great way to catch goldfish crackers!

Hot air balloon: a paper Chinese lantern with a plastic cup attached below by string will do - you can decorate as desired! 

In addition to "packing" it is important for your Elf to remember everything he or she may need for any hi-jinks on the road!  Planning ahead for any non-sense is imperative - be sure you have all necessary materials before you go to keep things fun!  If you're looking for ideas for hi-jinks, check out these outstanding videos of Elves caught in action on YouTube!
Safe and happy Elfing!
-Destination Mom

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Car Seat Safety!

image courtesy of kdshutterman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Do you know the best way to keep your child safe while you are in transit?  Often families get so caught up in the planning, packing, and preparations for a family getaway that they don't remember that their mode of transportation may not already be child-safe.  Airplanes, taxis, and loaner vehicles are rarely equipped with properly installed safety devices; so what is a parent to do?
Bringing your own car seat or booster is the best option!  Thankfully, there have been great strides made in developing safety seats that can be easily transported.  For example, The Car Seat Lady recommends several fabulous options ranging from infant carriers that easily snap to compact strollers to combination stroller car seat/booster options.  These are great because they not only offer a safer seating option for flights or other vehicular transport, but they can be rolled (with a child it in!) through expansive airports or along sidewalks to taxi or bus depots; freeing up parental hands, and saving backs and sanity! 

A last resort if you forget or cannot bring your own car seat or booster, is a rental car seat.  Because it is impossible to know for certain if a rental seat has sustained an impact in a crash, it is always best to bring your child's own car seat; but a rental is better than nothing at all!  If the taxi or rental car agency offers to provide a safety restraint seat for your child, be certain to check that it is appropriate for your child's age, weight, and height.  Also be certain it is properly installed and that it is in working order with no broken straps or latches.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website provides a fabulous page with age-appropriate safety seat guidelines if you are unsure of what type of seat to request.

The emergency-only option for families travelling with a child is to use whatever safety feature is available (usually a lap and/or shoulder belt).  While it is true that any restraint is better than no restraint at all, using a safety belt alone on a young child is a last resort option and should never be done if an appropriate car seat or booster seat can be obtained.  If you are in a situation where there is no option other than to use a standard seat belt, there are several important steps you can take to ensure that the restraint offers the best protection it can:
  • Never buckle more than one person into a car seat belt.  Buckling more than once person into a car seat presents the risk of the top person being fatally crushed in the event of a crash. 
  • Never put the shoulder belt behind the back or under the arm of a passenger.
  • Be vigilant about seat belt use for everyone riding in the vehicle; studies have shown that restrained passengers are 4 times more likely to die if someone else in the car is not restrained.
Used properly, car seats and seat belts save lives... a little planning and research can provide you with the knowledge you need to determine which option will best suit your unique needs. Safe travels!

- Destination Mom