Monday, September 09, 2013

Flying with Kids

Having now flown back and forth between Australia and the US several times and across Australia from Canberra to Perth, I've found a secret to traveling with children that is worth sharing.

Presents. Lots of them.

Before a flight I collect all sorts of cheap yet interesting trinkets. Here's a snapshot of the collection I amassed for our last journey to the US.

Clockwise round from the bottom middle you'll see a plastic compass watch, a toy phone, stickers, little koala toys, glow sticks, balloons, rubber ducks, foamy letter stickers, pipe cleaner, a plastic tube of insects, a toy camera, zip pouches filled with toy money, light up bouncy balls, a tape dispenser, a toy necklace, a lipstick case with mirror inside, play dough, measuring tapes, a stick-on basketball hoop, ink stamps, paper, crayons and glitter pens and a light up key chain.

Other suggestions of things kids might like include colorful paper clips to make a chain, a battery-operated fan, a lock and key, chapstick, anything with a suction cup, silly putty, Russian stacking dolls, Legos, board books or lift-the-flap books, puppets, tiny dolls or cars, a magna doodle, stretchy bracelets, wind-up toys, puzzles and magnets.

For us, the big winners were the glow sticks, the balloons, the zip pouches, half a dozen mini rubber ducks, the tape measures, the stickers and the toy cameras.

Part two of the secret plan is wrapping the presents. I wrapped each one individually in red wrapping paper. Kids love unwrapping presents and this just adds to the time that they're entertained. This time around I put each kid's presents in a separate bag because on our last flight I spent lots of time squeezing and rattling packages to remember what was inside and who it was for!

I got this idea from the fabulous Dr Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting in a post on Flying with Kids that is highly worth reading before you pack a single suitcase. Her recommendation is to bring six to eight presents for every three hours of time in the air.

Sound like too much bother? I can guarantee these presents will be worth their weight in gold! The first time I did this I must have spent $50 or more on random items but once trapped in the confines of an airplane with restless children, trust me, this will seem like the best money ever spent. You'll be grateful for every minute that your child isn't fiddling with the tray table or kicking the seat in front of them and you'll be pretty darn pleased with yourself when fellow passengers tell you how well behaved your kids were. Add a tablet computer or DVD player to your carry-on and you're as prepared as you can possibly be.

A last minute addition to our gear for the US trip was a double umbrella stroller to help us move easily around airports. It was really useful when the kids were tired and couldn't walk very far and we could hang bags and even car seats from the handles as we were moving ourselves and our things from the gate to the baggage claim to the car rental desk, for example.

Riker and Ari were absolutely fabulous while flying on this last journey. Even so, we all arrived completely and totally exhausted but I'm so glad I put the time and effort into preparing for the trip to make it as easy on everyone as possible.

PS. Some of my earlier tips and tricks for traveling with kids can be found here.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Whirlwind Tour Part Seven: Cousins

Baby Porter wasn't the only focus of my new lenses; I spent quite a bit of time trying to capture great images of each child in the McMillin clan. For the seventh and final post from our whirlwind tour to the US, I've chosen one shot of each cousin showing off their delightful personalities.

Teagan, nearly nine

Gavin, six

Cael, five

Riker, nearly four

Edward, nearly three

Ari, nearly two

Porter, six weeks

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Whirlwind Tour Part Six: Porter

With a fancy new camera in hand, I suggested that we set up a photo shoot to capture six week old baby sweetness while vacationing in the Adirondacks. Two hundred photos later, these are the highlights of little Master Porter and his many faces.

Live Laugh Love

Welcome little one! You've inherited a terrific family and I'm thrilled to know you and be your Auntie. Thanks for the smiles and cuddles. Looking forward to many, many more!

Whirlwind Tour Part Five: Adirondacks, NY

After a stop in Niagara Falls and a long days drive, we finally found ourselves at our destination - the Sunset Mountain Lodge in Brant Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

A 1920's guest house, the lodge has ten bedrooms and bathrooms, a commercial kitchen and a giant dining room. Perfect for twenty-some McMillins to have a family holiday!

A porch full of rocking chairs look out to the lake

Edward and Ari at the playground just across the street from the lodge. One of many attempts to capture these two together as we are so often reminded of Edward when we look at Ari. 

Also across the street was a sandy beach and huge lake. The lodge gave us use of a paddle boat, two kayaks, a sail boat and plenty of life vests. Here, Brian and I get some kid free time to enjoy the water.

With the luxury of family around to look after the kids, Brian and I each enjoyed some solo time out on the water as well. I love the ocean, but something about a mountain lake makes my spirits soar. 

Heather and I paddle off for some sister time on the water.

Brian gets some sailing in but had to craft a replacement centerboard and use an oar as a rudder. He kept the boat upright despite having to manage the sail and the makeshift rudder.

Heather and Joan. Joan has now married all of us and is a much loved part of the clan. 

Keith and Ross. So great to see our New York based family.

Carl and Porter have a quiet moment in the usually bustling kitchen. Not surprisingly, everyone tends to gather where the food is!

Family dinners. Our crew included Grandpa Carl and Grammy Jan and all their children and grandchildren, Joan and Ross, Aunt Leah and the mothers of both my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Barbara and Penny. Everyone had responsibility for dinner one night and we usually ate as a big group.

One of Heather's MANY fabulous desserts!

The birthday boy savors a bite

Heather made matching shirts for all the kids with their birth order number. Teagan, number 1 as the oldest and Porter, the youngest was number 7.

All the kids wore their shirts on our visit to the Magic Forest Family Fun Park in Lake George, NY.

Set in a beautiful wooded property, the park was shady and cool and the perfect place for six year old Gavin to spend his birthday.

The park was dotted with quirky old characters leading us to believe that this must be the premier place for retired circus and amusement park exhibits.

The first ride we saw upon entering was this little caterpillar ride that went gently around in a circle up and down over little bumps. No one was tending to it when we got there and the kids were bursting to get on it so we found the on switch and sneakily gave the kids a short ride before the operator came back from lunch.

All the kids liked this simple ride but Ari loved it most of all. He must have gone on it fifteen times, once dragging me halfway across the park to go back to it!

The park was heaven for the age group of kids we have and featured dozens of rides they could go on themselves that provided just the right amount of freedom and adventure!

The classic Tilt-a-Whirl

One of the surprising oddities of the park, the sign reads "The Nation's Only Diving Horse." Surely this sort of thing is no longer allowed(!) but yes, that really is a horse diving into a pool. 

Brian, Riker and Ari make their way toward lunch. At this point, we were down three people as poor Edward split his lip open on some bleachers and Keith and Liz had to rush to the nearest hospital for stitches! He was fine and so were his parents when we finally saw them again back at the lodge.

The boys ride the train through the trees.

  Riker and Ari starting to get worn out at the end of long day.

While at first we thought the entry fee was a bit much for a park with a bunch of old rides, by the end of the day we were all raving about the place. There were no lines and the kids could ride over and over again and it was great to have an activity that catered for all the kids, big and little.

After one last adventure riding a tram through the woods full of random characters with perhaps the oddest commentary possible, Ari was asleep in my arms and all the kids were thoroughly exhausted from a delightful day and most were asleep on the drive home.

Back at the lodge, Porter and Joan have a cuddle

The little look-alike cousins, Edward and Ari

Heather keeps the boys in blue busy with a new game in the lodge family room

Edward, Cael, Ari and Riker - four good men in the making :)

This retreat was one of the major reasons we made the long trek back to the US and it was worth it! Thanks to everyone for such a memorable week!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Whirlwind Tour Part Four: Niagara Falls

After our short stay in Cleveland, we set off on the eight hour drive to the lodge we were renting for a week in upstate New York. To break up the drive, we decided to first take a short detour into Canada to see Niagara Falls and spend the night. Even though this was my third time visiting the area, I never tire of seeing such an impressively beautiful landmark.

Ari rides in style

Love my sister Liz!

A view of the falls with a spectacular double rainbow

Look Ari, a rainbow!

Riker and daddy share a laugh

My boys

The following morning we made a stop at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory before driving the rest of the way to New York.

Couldn't tell you what types of butterflies these are but we had lots of fun photographing them!

Edward and Liz

Riker just loves spending time with Gavin and Edward

Next stop - the Adirondacks for seven days with the extended McMillin clan!