Children’s Literature Conclusion of Book 1

Buses… everywhere in Costa Rica there are buses. Buses to the cities, buses to the mountains, buses to the beaches, and to the rain forest tours. Waiting for a bus could be a little uncomfortable, but once we were on the bus, there were plenty of nice people to share conversation with. Nobody minded speaking Enlgish to us, nor did they mind our muy poquito Espanol.

One bus ride seemed almost magical. We left the beaches of Cahuita and  Puerto Viejo to go up into the mountains. We were on our way to visit an American missionary family. Norte Americano, that is– from Los Etados Unidos like us. They came to help people and had adopted many orphan children from Costa Rica. They had plans to take us to see the volcano, Mt Irazu.

The trip lasted several hours. At one point the bus driver let us get out to use the restrooms and buy bananas at a farm stand. As we rode through little villages early in the evening, everyone was outside. children were kicking balls, grown-ups walking dogs, fathers playing with their children while mothers cooked a meal. The missionaries informed us that almost everyone had a T.V. even in a poor country. Yet they didn’t seem to be occupied with t.v. They were all having fun outside!

We passed a banana field and a man boarded the bus and sat near us. He couldn’t speak English but he kept talking to us with his hands. He kept saying, “Bonita Senorita Sophia! Sophia Laurie!” “Like Sofia Loren?” “Si! Sofia Loren!” he exclaimed!This man only thought of nice things to say. “She is part Italian, and very beautiful,” Daddy said. The man was beaming and trying to tell us about his own beautiful children. I couldn’t help thinking how rough his hands were and how hard he had worked all day– even late into the evening– to take care of his own family. He must have children and grandchildren that live close by. How often do we see someone beaming from ear to ear after working so hard! And talking to complete strangers like us after being out in the fields all day!

Soon we arrived in the city. It had really gotten cooler outside. The bus stopped outside the ruins of a beautiful old cathedral that was all lit up with colorful lights.That is where we met our friends. They took us to dinner that night and to see Mount Irazu the next day.

“Mama, was Costa Rica your favorite place that we traveled to?” “So far, yes.” “Why Mama? Because it was so beautiful? Or because the people were so friendly?”

“Both,” Mama said. “Is Italy like that too?” Asked Sophia. “I think so. People like to talk. And they like to be outside going places– busy late into the evening.” “That’s how Giovina is,” Sophia said. “I think Daddy and I will paint Costa Rica first!”

Camping with Little Ones: What to Bring for Bugs

Camping always brings a sigh of relief for me. Living outdoors is refreshing. We’ve taken both our children camping when they were just four months old. I think that the biggest challenge is figuring out what to bring and getting into the car. Children always seem to sleep soundly outdoors, as I mentioned before– which was a big plus for me! And they are just fascinated with natural things; especially textures like rocks, sand, pine cones, feathers. They seem happier than ever to be outdoors, and that gives parents what they most need too– a carefree feeling!

Since the biggest hassle is what to bring and what to leave behind, I’ll have some recommendations for cooking, bug repellent, sleeping arrangements, and baby gear.

Bugs!

We’ve only had one tick in on a family member in all our years of outdoor activities: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees. Ticks are gross and a little freaky, but you’re far more likely to find them on a nature trail or in your back yard. The internet seems to say that ticks do not jump down from trees, but every doctor I’ve spoken to says they do. They can also jump up from tall grass–  but a campsite offers tick protection: frequent camp fires, shorter grass, usually away from trees. Just be informed, and you’ll be O.K. See below for more suggestions.

  • If you’re worried about bugs, don’t go camping during the hot, humid season. Why add complications? May/ June, or September/ October are better times to go camping in my opinion. Days are a more comfortable temperature, and cool nights can be good for sleeping. Most campgrounds open in April and stay open through October. Here is a good website to help plan for trips: http://www.allcampgrounds.com/articles.
  • Inspect your tent for small holes or places that don’t zip. Be sure to repair these areas.
  • Don’t put your tent near standing water, trees or light poles, as these things attract bugs.
  • Keep lanterns and flashlights away from the entrance to the tent, so as not to attract bugs. If possible get into and out of your tent before turning on the flashlight, or have a tiny pen-light for this purpose if you need it. We always hang a lantern inside the center of the tent if we plan on staying awake, but make sure everyone is in first.
  • Don’t eat or drink inside the tent or near it, so as not to attract bugs. You can store sealed food inside your tent.
  • A campfire or citronella candles don’t completely keep bugs away, but they do help.
  • You are no more likely to get ticks at a campground than anywhere else. The grass at a campsite is short so its more likely to get them on a nature trail or just playing outdoors. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to check around in your tent and on yourselves before going to bed, especially if you’ve been hiking that day.
  • We’ve had success removing a tick with a tick key. Here is a link to Amazon’s tick removal section: tick remover We’ve only had one tick in our family in our lives: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees.
  • Carry activated charcoal with you for tick or bug bites. You will want to put it on dry and not diluted. It is helpful to remove toxins through the skin. It relieves itching from mosquito bites by pulling the toxins out. It is a good first aid for tick bites, once the tick has been carefully removed (you will want to read up on tick removal). Drawing any toxins out immediately removes a lot of fear and concern. Of course, first aid is first aid. You will probably want to follow up with doctor after a tick bite, especially if you see a rash. Be informed.
  • Bug repellents have various levels of effectiveness. We prefer natural ones, but have not found any type that works perfectly. Feel free to comment if you know of a good one!
  • If you still want to take some extra steps, here are some good baby bug products: Natural Repellent bracelet for babies All natural mosquito repellent bracelets (10 pack) for kids, Z Show pop up mosquito net tent for baby

As you can imagine, we were not quite this obsessive; ) and everything turned out fine : )

Fall Camping: Places to Go

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Take a deep breath and get ready to welcome fall! Less bugs, cooler evenings, changing colors– the perfect time for a camping trip! If your little ones are not in school yet, what a great time for a family trip. If they have started school, then take advantage of a long weekend, like Columbus Day, for family bonding.

Where to Go:

If you’ve had a busy summer, it might be nice to pick somewhere within three hours of home. Depending on whether you have children in school, this might make a difference too. It’s nice to slow down a little during the fall season, and pick peaceful places in which to enjoy the changing seasons. You may want to have some warmer clothes, rain gear, and hardier food choices, but I’ll go over what to bring in my next post.

Places to See:

Here is a list of the best places we’ve been camping in autumn:

  • Traverse City, Michigan: Beautiful colors, lakes, fishing, boats, vineyards, rolling hills, rustic scenery. Jim and I got up at dawn to photograph the sunrise over the lake filled with fishing boats.
  • Door County, Wisconsin: scenic lighthouses, and lots of activities to do here!
  • Galena, Illinois: a river town with historic sites such as Ulysses S. Grant’s home, and ghost tours of the city in late October
  • Cheekwood near Nashville, Tennessee: Leaves turn color later in October to November, so take advantage of the warmer weather! Cheekwood has a scarecrow contest, outdoor sculptures, historic buildings and beautiful gardens. Although you can’t camp at Cheekwood itself, there are many state parks and outdoor activities nearby.
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: cascading waterfalls, October still has the feel of summer, except that the salmon are running! (fascinating to watch these fish wrestle their way North into the hatcheries!) Scenic harbors, lots of hiking.
  • Leavenworth, Washington: Bavarian style renovated village in the mountains. We stayed in Wenatchee State Park and hiked in that area, then ejoyed the boutiques and restaurants, on authentic Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Amana Colonies, Iowa: historic German village built by settlers. Has art galleries, boating, cave tours, shops and authentic German food; really comes to life for Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: beautiful all year and still warm in October, we camped nearby, hiked up above Multnomah Falls (shown in picture) and got to see the salmon running (when they return North to spawn in the fall.) Scenic waterways, hiking, good restaurants, and only two hours inland from the Oregon Coast.

Another thing we like to do in fall is to find Pioneer festivals and reenactments, to show the kids how people used to live. Some festivals can be quite elaborate and make a great learning experience. These tend to be hosted in or near state parks, and usually have camping and fishing opportunities nearby.

Catching Up, On the Road; Denver

Wow! Summer is flying by! I apologize for my “blog lag,” as I have just returned from a trip to Denver for my brother’s wedding reception! I am still catching up, and this short post is just meant to share what we’ve been doing as I catch up from our trip. Though I did some writing, it was nearly impossible to post anything on this trip due to the late hours we kept and the technical issues I continually had with my laptop. I was forced to slow down, but it was worth it for spending quality time with relatives… I will be sharing some pictures soon since they are so much more exciting.

We had a great time and got to do some sightseeing: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo– built into a mountainside, is a beautiful hilly walk, with great experiences for the kids with animals in very natural habitats. The views over the city of Colorado Springs alone are worth the hike. I’ve never seen so many giraffes in one place, and we were there at the right time to see three new baby lion cubs! Coming from the Chicago area, we’ve had many zoo experiences, but I’d have to say this is the best one. I recommend bringing water, as this is all outdoors and they charge a steep price for water bottles.

The Denver Aquarium too, is amazing. I really marvel at the design of the exhibits, and the interactive kid friendly atmosphere. Not being a very urban type of person, I felt more comfortable in the more laid back Denver than in Chicago. The way the sea creatures are displayed is a work of art in itself. Everywhere, there is something to look, even above your head! Everything had a natural feel, and drew us in.

The Denver Art Museum was very exciting. Every floor had projects that gave kids a chance to create. At the entrance, kids could get one backpack per family and the backpacks contained projects and scavenger hunt activities corresponding a a floor of the museum. Each floor had a little reading room/ play area decorated with different types of art corresponding to the theme of that floor. It gave us a chance to relax and read the art books, and let the children play. I really admired the variety of exhibits in the museum, the interior design meant to feel homey, and the activities to keep children busy and let them learn.

Restaurants: We had dinner at the Irish Snug on Colfax Street and heard Irish singer Brian Clancy, who is there almost every Saturday. Luckily we had a baby sitter that night, as a we celebrated with my bro and his wife, to the tune of good old Irish drinking, fighting and love songs amidst the chorus of audience participants. Brian Clancy is a great singer, and a lively local legend.

Another fun, eclectic place we tried was Buenos Aires Pizzeria on 1319 22nd St, Denver 80205. Surprisingly great pizza and Italian food, sandwiches and Argentinian food with many choices. The bread and pesto sauce were amazing! And real, freshly made gelato ice cream for desert!

Camping with Baby, Under Tree Tops…

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Sophia 2 years old

Baby sleeps soundly, loving rain drops…

I mentioned in earlier in my blog how we took our daughter camping for the first time when she was four months old.  (I have a picture from this adventure– will post it when I find it!) Why do you think they like the song “Rock-a-bye Baby in a Treetop”? There’s nothing like going to sleep to the sound of rustling trees! Labor Day weekend held a steady downpour that year. But our baby fell asleep early, and slept through the night (such a thing was not heard of at home!) Mommy awoke well-rested, and that made for a peaceful, enjoyable weekend with friends.

There is nothing out of the ordinary being out in nature with a little one. Trees and rain are more comforting than night lights,  electrical things running, parents downstairs washing dishes and talking.

I grew up camping, (although not starting till we were older). So it was not new for me. But it was a fun challenge taking a baby, and made me look at life and duties as a mom differently. It was so peaceful.

Is camping only for “outdoorsy” people?

No, it doesn’t have to be. Our family likes hiking and canoeing, but that is not a complete picture of who we are. We like cultural events, festivals, quaint towns, and new places– as long as there is something worth seeing. We camp nearby to save money, and to have a connection with nature.

KOA campgrounds are nice for children because of their community feel, breakfast, mini-golf, swimming pools, and nice bathrooms. They are a good starting point if you’ve never camped, and its easy to find them. But there is nothing wrong with state parks and other campgrounds.

Why go camping?

If the above mentioned reasons are not enough, here are some more to think about.

  • It’s a good bonding experience for the family. When a baby is born, both parents are usually very exhausted. Home routines become rushed and perfunctory. Mommy and Daddy both have very different roles for those first few months, and Daddies even tend to feel excluded.
  • Since camping traditionally is more of a man’s role, it gives Daddy not only some relaxation, but a place of honor. He’d probably rather start a campfire and set up a tent than cook meals and make the beds at home. Its a great way for family to come together and put aside all the distractions.
  • Camping saves money, and if you don’t care for outdoorsy activity, you can camp near a festival, near a town where you’d like to do sightseeing.
  • You can make it a social event. It’s a lot less work than hosting a dinner party, and you can spend time telling stories and experiencing nature. It makes you feel freer!

Birthday Book Bash: Travel and Camping Theme

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Our birthday book bash was great fun! Thanks to all those who came out to celebrate our son’s birthday! Our little guy was so excited about his party, it took a while for him to fall asleep afterwards! He kept hugging me and thanking me for the great party! Although shy at first, he warmed up to all his friends and was thrilled about all the beautiful books! I will give some tips about camping with kids in this blog series. But first, I thought I would share a few birthday party ideas we tried.

How to Incorporate Books Into Your Child’s Party:

1. Put books on your wishlist to show you are seriously fun!

2. Scope out your spot. We picked a great outdoor location ahead of time. A beautiful park with big shade trees over us, a playground nearby, bathrooms nearby. The park wanted to charge us $230 to rent a picnic shelter (which is usually full of flies and bugs.) No thanks! Natural shade from the oak  trees was exactly what we needed! Besides, no one can gather around to hear good books at a shelter with rows of tables.

3. Bring picnic blankets, a tarp, and ask adults to bring chairs. In case it rains before you arrive, you don’t really want to sit on wet ground. We thought it best to bring a tarp and put the picnic blankets on top. (We also planned a back up indoor location.)

4. We read books that had to do with camping, outdoors, and adventure. The What If Monster story from Usborne, and the Shine a Light Books by Usborne– which have to do with learning about nature- we read inside our tent.

5. For older kids, you could do a variation on the learning theme, using books about wilderness survival and outdoor skills; even having one of the dads– or moms– demonstrate some outdoor skills.

6. We ate a s’more cake! Marshmallows were toasted on a propane camp stove. Read on for more information!

Which Usborne Books to Choose:

So at our party we read some great Usborne books! In the What If Monster story they pass around a little green What If monster. The book goes through all the bad scenarios that could happen. Each time the kids hear “what if” they pass the monster to the next person. Then the child in the story begins to change his thinking to good thoughts– What if I am successful? What if I meet my very best friend? The child who ends up with the monster at the end of the story wins a prize! What If’s can be a good thing– it just depends on your thinking! What a great concept for a real camping trip! Animally was another cute story we read. My son loved the pirate story

Why Make a S’more Cake?

Other than being just plain fun, it’s easy, cheap, and it all gets eaten! Think about it– you buy a really beautiful cake from Jewel or somewhere. It’s good for two minutes and then you have little paper plates with gobs of icing stuck to cake left over everywhere and you throw half the cake away. Adults don’t want to eat it for fear of gaining weight. Most kids are smart enough to know the icing is bad for them– they leave it behind. Our family can’t tolerate sugar very well and the kids are gluten intolerant. But we decided to have a little fun with s’mores. I arranged the Chocolate (which of course was left on ice until the right time), graham crackers, gluten-free snicker doodles, and marshmallows on a large tray in sections. The compartment in the middle of the tray had a bunch of marshmallows, and we stuck the four candles in the top marshmallows! It created a lot of excitement!

Safety tip:

A campfire was out of the question as this was in a public park. A big BBQ grill wouldn’t be worth the effort, and too hard for kids to reach. So we just brought a little propane camp stove and placed it on the picnic table. We formed three lines of kids and had adults to supervise while they toasted marshmallows. We had a hibachi charcoal grill too, but it took too long. The propane stove was easy to set up, and cooked the marshmallows quickly!

Flash Light Books:

After the s’more cake, kids came back to read the Shine a Light Books from Usborne. I only wish I had gone to the effort to set up a bigger tent. But the books work even in sunlight, just hold the flashlight close! Camping and good books just go together!