The Traveling Mom- Part One: Ellie Holcomb

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Raising Explorers is all about intentional parenting, and that often includes being intentional about the time you spend away from your children. Many of today’s careers include necessary travel, which can present interesting challenges for parents. We’ve had the opportunity to speak to several moms who travel for work, and we love the advice they have about balancing your time and preparing your family for success. (Dads, we love you as well, but we feel that the traveling, working mom demographic is underrepresented). 

To kick this series off, we’re talking to Ellie Holcomb, a singer/songwriter, wife, mom, and friend. Ellie’s job is unique, but the challenges she faces and the perspective she brings to balancing her time are oh-so-relatable. 

Tell us a little about you and your family.

Hey! I’m Ellie. I’m married to my best guy friend whom I swore I’d never date. Real glad we got married! Going on 12yrs this June. We have two sweet kids, Emmylou (5),  & Huck (2). My husband (Drew Holcomb) and I are both singer/songwriters who travel both separately and together making music and playing shows all over the country.

You have a very unique job that obviously requires some extensive travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?

Our jobs are somewhat seasonal and ever-shifting. Depending on the year and whether or not we’ve released a record that year, our travel changes. Drew travels with his band The Neighbors about 80-100 days a year , & I travel about 50-75 days. Drew’s trips are often 4-5 says, but some tours last up to 20 days at a time! I’m usually gone anywhere from 1-4 days at a time.

Drew and I never go longer than 2wks apart, but we’ve had a few stretches where he has been gone for 20+ days from the kids. My longest stents away from the kids are 7-10 days. I start missing them pretty badly at 4 days away, so 10 is always a real stretch for me !

What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?

We have an incredible community of people (an amazing nanny, sweet friends & family) who love us and our kids while we are both at home and away. We’re very aware that it takes a village, & I’m always deeply grateful for that village especially when Drew and I have to travel. We do lots of things to help our kids process where we are and how long we’ll be gone .

We have a big family calendar with both my schedule , Drew’s schedule , & our family schedule written and color-coded. Below the calendar we have a dry and erase map of the country. It’s been really fun and educational to have the kids draw where dad or mom is and where they are going. It also gives them a visual of how many days until we come back home. We’ll go through the travel schedule before we leave and the kids keep up with it as we’re gone .

If I am really on top of it, I’ll make a meal calendar for whoever is keeping the kids & have all the shopping done for them. This does NOT always happen though 😉

What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?

My daughter often gives us some token of her love for us to travel with (an animal, a picture, or a toy). As she gives it to us, she always tells us to take it so “we don’t forget her”! Hilarious, but it’s oddly comforting for her to get pictures of us with these objects wherever we go.

We’ll often bring back a small token or souvenir from longer trips we take (shells or rocks or some souvenir) from the place or places we traveled to work , & that has been a fun thing for them to look forward to as well. It’s not usually anything fancy, but it helps them know we’re always thinking of them when we’re gone. If I ever see a train, I take a picture or video and send it home as well because my son is obsessed with them.

We also keep our kids enrolled in a Mother’s Day out program a few days a week and a few activities that they love as well to keep them plugged & social while we’re away, which always seems to help when they don’t have to pause their lives while we’re gone .

We love FaceTime as well, which is a huge gift.

Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize?

It’s easier for me to get into work mode when I travel. My mindset is that if I’m on the road, I’m working, so I get a lot of writing and email work done while I travel , which is wonderful.

It’s harder for me to put on my work hat while at home . I have a vey non-traditional job, so scheduling work hours for Interviews, writing, blogging, & emails is a game changer for me. Otherwise, it all blends together and I end up not doing the mom thing or the work thing very well.

I am a late night person as well, so often I’ll get most creative or schedule co-writes at my house after I put the kids down for bed.

Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly?

Too many to count!! 😂 Our kids are very well traveled and are generally flexible souls , for which I’m grateful, but man I have made some  mistakes! The mistake I make the most often is packing too much, which turns especially airline travel into a much more stressful situation than it needs to be! I’ve learned that it is always important to pack LOTS of snacks when you travel. I’ve booked several trips that didn’t give us time to actually eat a meal all day, & those travel days were NOT my favorite.

I’ve also learned to never overload the stroller because when the kids get out , it completely falls over. Actually, I still overload the stroller… but I make sure the kids are buckled in and don’t get out until I unload the stroller  first 😂 .

I can also tell you which airports have great places to pump if you are a nursing mother away from your baby…random things you learn on the road !!

While work takes you away from your kids sometimes, I know it’s also given you and your family some amazing opportunities. What are some things your kids have gotten to experience with you because of your career?

We are so thankful for the opportunities we’ve had to travel with our kids. They have both had the chance to visit about 20-30 states, & when we have them out with us, we go visit all sorts of museums and parks, and we always try to learn something about the city we’re visiting.

My favorite tour we’ve brought them on was one this past fall when Drew was opening up for Willie Nelson. They had the opportunity to meet Willie , to watch several of his shows, & to see the beautiful way a crew and team can work together on tour. Willie’s team has been with him for over 50 years, & they are truly like a family on the road. They get to interact with and meet so many people from so many places, which is always a gift.

We also got to take the kids on a cruise we were playing a few weeks ago. It was like a music festival on a boat! That was a beautiful thing to get to expose them to so much music , & to see Mexico and Belize while we were at it!

Since your husband also travels for long periods for work, you also have experience as the parent on the home front. Has being at home alone with the kids changed the way you approach traveling for work? Are there things that a partner can do before leaving for a trip to help?

Yes! Our schedule is absolutely crazy. We both have stents of single parenting while the other is working on the road, & so there is a pretty beautiful understanding of both the exhaustion that comes from holding down the home-front alone and from touring and playing shows. Gratitude is a game changer. We try to be intentional about acknowledging what the other spouse is doing, whether it’s keeping the pace of a crazy work schedule or taking care of the kids at home.

Drew is an incredibly intentional human as well, which is huge. So during seasons that are really busy , he is always scheduling rest and fun for our family on the days we do get together. A lot of times , because our work schedule is non-traditional, our “weekend” is on Monday/Tuesday. I’d say that intentionality with the kids and with each other before you leave and when you get home is a big deal.

We also try to set each other  up for success before one of us leaves. For example, Drew will always try to do an extra load of dishes and take out the trash before he goes, and those small acts of kindness go a long way. He’ll also try to have the house somewhat picked up before I return from a trip , which is a huge gift to a momma, so you don’t feel like you’re cleaning up a disaster zone when you get back from a work trip!

Also, if there are ever longer stents when one of us is keeping the kids alone, we try to schedule some childcare so the parent at home gets a few breaks and also has time to keep up with the work we have to get done at home.

Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom?

1. You are not alone.
2. It takes a village. One of the things I love about working is that there are many other loving adults in my kids lives, whom they learn from and benefit from knowing. I remind myself of that often when I get sad that I’m not with them at home.
3. You are more than just a mom, whether or not you’re working, you have passions and gifts and ideas that make up who you are and I think it’s a really beautiful thing to let your kids see you for who you are as a complex human being.
4. My faith has been a huge part of my role as a mom, mainly because if I can remember that before I am a working mom with lots of responsibilities, I am first and foremost a beloved daughter of God, it changes my perspective on everything. I love better when I remember that I am already deeply loved.
5. One of my favorite things that Drew tells our daughter when she gets sad we are leaving for work is that we go to work to use the gifts God has given us because one day we want her to go use the gifts God has given her to make the world a more beautiful place. It is a sweet thing to see her get excited about the adventures she’ll take one day, & it shifts her perspective on us having to leave as well. We want to be role models for her and her brother, putting family first , but also going out into the world to offer what we can to make it a better place.

Advice from a Military Mom.

The United States is fortunate to have a strong, volunteer military, and its citizens are forever grateful for the sacrifices made by both active duty military members and their families. As a show of gratitude, many companies and destinations offer discounts for these military families on items ranging from experiences to products. Today we’re talking to Christina Painter, wife of an Army officer, who has mastered the skill of finding and utilizing discounts for her family of four young children. 

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Photo by Faithful Joy Photos, Riverview, Florida
Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
I am Christina, and I met my husband on a blind date back in 2004.  Jeff has served as an Army officer for the past 15 years.  He deployed two months after we met, and our adventures started during his mid-deployment two week break when we toured Germany and Italy together.  When he came home, we married and started moving every two years.  My 9 year old son was born in Wisconsin.  My 7 year old daughter was born in Amberg, Germany.  My 5 year old daughter joined us in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Our final little girl is a Florida girl.  We are currently living in Seminole, Florida.  Jeff is stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.  He has deployed to the Middle East four times.  His last deployment was February through August 2017.
 I know that you are amazing at both finding and utilizing military discounts. Especially with a large family, I would imagine that these deals enable you to do things with your kids you might otherwise skip. Let’s start with the basics…how do you find discounts? Is there a website or way to search for them?
 There is no one website that I have found that gives a comprehensive list.  That should be created!  I have nearly eleven years of experience as a military spouse. Things have become so much easier as organizations have improved their Facebook and Instagram pages. I follow the pages for all of the on post organizations.  Any time that we want to go somewhere, I search the destination website, then google, and finally, I just ask.  I ask everywhere: outlet malls, hotels, theme parks, clothing stores, restaurants.   Jeff is also always watching and listening at work.  MWR (morale, welfare and recreation), the chaplains, ITT (the travel agency on post), and various other groups are always giving out discounts or tickets.  Jeff knows to be on the lookout for things we will enjoy.
 Once you’ve found a military discount, how do you go about utilizing it? Does the active duty member have to be with you?
 There are two categories of discounts: discounts for active duty service members and discounts for military dependents (the technical term for a military spouse or child).  Websites usually tell you the requirements for receiving the discount and whether dependents qualify.  Your military ID is the key to proving your status.  Most discounts are good for family members without the active duty member because there are so many times when active duty members are separated from their families.
 Have you encountered any problems using these programs? Are the people at the ticket desks usually well informed?
 I treat military discounts as a gift and not a privilege.  Discounts given directly to Jeff as the active duty service member are earned.  The discounts given to me and my children are truly gifts.  I try to research the discounts and have the necessary documentation.  However, if there is a problem in receiving the discount, I don’t freak out.  Most ticket desks have been well informed.  I have never had a problem, but I approach the ticket desk with gratitude rather than entitlement.
 I’m guessing that many discounts are at local attractions and experiences. What types of places often offer a discount to military families?
 Theme parks, museums, hotels and professional sports teams almost always offer discounts.  Attractions located near a military installation are most likely to offer discounts, but we have found great deals nation wide.  One of the best discounts we found was at a ski resort in northern Idaho far from everything!  Seasonal discounts are common, too.  Check around Memorial Day, July 4th, and in November.
 What about on a more national level? Are there any companies that offer a great military program?
 Here are a few of my favorites:
  • National Park Service: Military families are given free passes to National Parks and Recreation Areas.
  • Busch Gardens and Sea World: Military members and up to three family members get a free ticket to one theme park each calendar year.  https://wavesofhonor.com/
  • Disney World: Disney offers four and five day park hopper tickets at drastic discounts.  By buying these or any tickets at a military base ticket office, you can avoid paying sales tax.  This saved us a few hundred dollars on our season passes.
  • Blue Star Museums: https://www.arts.gov/national/blue-star-museums  This program offers free admission to select museums around the country from Memorial Day until Labor Day.  I make a list of Blue Star Museums along our road trip routes for free stops that make our trips memorable, economical and educational.
  • Armed Forces Vacation Club: www.afvclub.com   This is a site that offers vacation rentals at discounted rates.  We have stayed in three bedroom condos in Orlando and McCall, Idaho for less than $300 per week!
  • Old Navy, Famous Footwear (and various other shoe stores), Home Depot, Lowe’s, Nike: This list is by no means complete.  ASK!  It is especially important to ask at stores located near a military installation.
Are most discounts on experiences and attractions, or have you found any on goods and services?
 I am always shocked by the number of discounts I find on goods and services.  Shoes are almost always discounted.  Nearly every national shoe store offers a discount.  Salons and barber shops are also common discount locations.  Restaurants near military bases are always trying to attract the crowd with a discount.  The key to any discount is truly just asking.  I actually got free fingerprinting at a background check location because I showed my military ID instead of my drivers license at the check out.
 Your husband was deployed last year. Were there any special programs for the spouses of deployed military members that you found out about and would like to pass along?
 Deployed families should stay connected to the local military installation.   There are frequent support services offered through the chapel and MWR for respite care and support.  The National Military Family Association offers Operation Purple Camps for kids with deploying parents.  My children were too young to be interested, but I think this would be an amazing experience for kids nearing middle school.  The most useful group I found during our last deployment was Project Evergreen (www.projectevergreen.org).  This charity provides free lawn service or snow removal to families with a deployed spouse.  For six months, my grass was mowed every two weeks.  That was such a relief to me and Jeff.
 Speaking of deployment, do you have any advice for spouses of deployed members of the armed services who are a little intimated about going on family adventures as the solo parent? What are some lessons you have learned during your husband’s deployments?
 When a spouse is deployed, expect everything to go crazy.  However, don’t stop living.  Your children will remember everything you try to do for them alone.  It is terrifying, but staying at home is even worse.  I took my four children on a 3,700 mile, 17 day road trip through ten states without Jeff.   It definitely helped that my oldest was nine.  He was a great help, but wow that trip was an adventure.  We went to the emergency room twice and came home with one broken arm.
 People are kind to parents traveling alone with kids.  My youngest freaked out while we were touring a coal mine.  The tour guide took responsibility for my three oldest and allowed me to escape with my youngest.  Accept help even if it is hard.  Trust humanity a little more than you might in other situations.  Also realize that maybe a coal mine isn’t the best place for a one year old.  She hated her hard hat.
 Jeff’s third deployment came just six months after my oldest was born.  I learned so quickly how to be the “home” parent.  I drove Nathan to several different countries alone!  I remember the ease once Jeff returned!  I could actually go downstairs to get a drink in the hotel while the baby slept. Unbelievably easy.  Deployments make you strong.  They make you value the delight of dual parent vacations.  Don’t let the entire six months, year or fifteen months pass without joy.  Your deployed spouse wants you to be happy and have fun without them.  Jeff was thrilled to get emails with pictures of us in a cave, a hotel pool, and feeding April the giraffe.
 What is one thing that being a part of the military has enabled you to do with your kids that really stands out to you? What is one of your most cherished adventures?
 The benefits of military life for us far outweigh the costs.  We have lived in Georgia, Wisconsin, two places in Germany, Virginia, Ohio and Florida.  By moving all the time, even our local adventures change frequently.  My kids have a global perspective.  I am thrilled to give them this advantage.  I think what stands out to me most right now are the conversations the kids have among themselves about where we should move next.  Individually, some of them do not look forward to leaving friends, but collectively they create dreams about our adventures in a snowy place next time.  I don’t understand why they don’t want to stay in the comfortable warmth!
 For me, the cherished adventures are innumerable. The military is who we are not just what Jeff does.  Three moments stand out for me.  I nursed Nathan on a gondola to the top of a volcano on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  We were traveling during Jeff’s midtour break of his third deployment.  I just remember being amazed that I lived in Germany and was standing on a volcano with the two men I loved the most.  Another day, Jeff, Nathan, Suzanna and I skied on the Zugspitze glacier in Germany.  I felt like we were standing on top of the world with our two year old on adorable skis and our baby in a bjorn against my chest.  It was a magical experience on a gorgeous winter day.  While less grandiose, two weeks ago my kids got to ride on a float in the Gasparilla children’s parade thanks to having a military parent.  The joy on their faces was unbelievable.  I got to watch in a crowd of tens of thousands as my kids rode by.  I was a simple bystander watching their fun.  I love being able to do that.
 Thank you so much for sharing your unique insight, Christina. I know this could help other military parents, especially new parents, as they begin navigating this world.

 

advent art

I wrote this two years ago when I had three children under three and another on the way, and it still rings oh so true for me.

It’s advent.  God tells us that advent is a time of waiting, being still, preparing our hearts for the Lord.  Pinterest and facebook, however, tell a different story.  If you follow many moms on social media, you know that advent has become a peak season in the world of competitive parenting.  Preparing for Christmas is filled with purchasing perfect red outfits, getting the best Santa photo, and of course creating pinterest worthy crafts with our little ones.  After all, it’s not Christmas without a handmade felt tree and a perfect reindeer footprint.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities.  Sharing the magic of Santa as you wait in line to meet him, spending time sitting together and creating a Christmas craft, these are good things.  These are some great moments in parenting.  The problem creeps in when we are too focused on choosing an instagram filter to notice how amazed our toddler is by the texture of cotton balls.  Or even worse, when we fail to even try to make a special moment because we know our effort won’t look like anything on our “holiday” pinterest board.

As a recovering perfectionist, this is one of my struggles: learning that my kids don’t need a picture perfect effort, that they are so proud of the result no matter how crazy it looks.  But with three under three, I’m learning to embrace their perspective a bit more.  As advent began this year, I browsed through all the adorable things I had pinned over the year.  And then I returned to real life.  So for our first advent art project, we made cookies.  Slice and bakes, to be exact.  I sliced them onto a cookie sheet and let the twins cover them in store-bought Christmas sprinkles.  And….they loved it!  For the 15 minutes we were decorating those cookies and talking about how we cook things, they thought I was an awesome mom.  Our next advent art was painting ornaments….that I bought at the craft store.  I literally peeled a sticker off each ornament and plopped out some finger paint.  And the twins were AMAZED.  So far, other projects have included decorating paper trees and ornaments from the Target dollar section, coloring pages from our Christmas coloring book, and literally gluing cotton balls onto a purple piece of paper (this was snow art on the day it snowed, and was actually a crowd favorite).  Trust me when I say that none of these would be pin-worthy.  Not even close.  But my kids loved each project.  They loved having me sit at their mini table.  They loved having my full attention.  They loved talking about Christmas and trees and ornaments and Jesus’ birthday.  And isn’t that the point?  Isn’t the point of this season to slow down enough to love our family well, to treasure the gifts God has given us, to take the time to talk to our little ones about precious baby Jesus.

So mommy friends, remember that your kids don’t need a pinterest Christmas.  They just need you.  If your reindeer rolo/pretzel creations turn out less than recognizable, who cares!  Kids enjoy the process, not the result, and we would be wise to remember that.  In fact, perhaps we should ban pictures of crafting results, and instead only capture those precious process moments.  The way our little ones look when they are trying to figure out the perfect place for their next spot of glue.  Their pride when they pour sprinkles on their cookies all by themselves.  The way their face lights up when you tell them how much dad will love seeing their latest creation when he gets home from work.   Perhaps there should be a pinterest board for that.

ten lessons on faith

Jessica Shafer Photo

As parents, we constantly think about the things we want to teach our children. There are the literal lessons—shapes, math, reading, sports. And then there are the less concrete ones—how to treat others, how to be part of a family, how to be a good friend.

For our family faith is a central anchor, and the faith teachings we want to pass to our kids are some of the lessons I think about most. For now, we are teaching them what we believe. But as they grow and begin their own faith journeys, there are ten lessons that I hope, as a parent, to truly instill in my sweet children.

1) Believe. For your father and me, Jesus is our truth, and it will of course make my soul sing if one day you choose this truth as well. But most of all I want you to believe. Believe in something. Believe in something more than yourself, something bigger than anything you can see. This world can be a hard place, but it is also quite magnificent. Look around; realize your smallness; see the miraculous way things work together; know that a higher power must be behind the beauty we get to experience each day. And if someday you decide to subscribe to a different faith, know that we will love and support you, learn as much as we can about your life path, and be ready to celebrate every milestone.

2) Question your faith. Never be afraid to question. Ask questions about what you believe, why you believe, whether you always believe. Questions are good. Questions are where we allow ourselves to be honest. An incredibly wise woman once told me that if you’ve never questioned your faith, you’ve never owned it. Never be so afraid of an answer that you refuse to ask the question. A true faith can withstand the questions, the answers, and the ambiguity that may follow.

3) Ambiguity is okay. This is a lesson I continue to learn each day. I am a black & white, everything has an order kind of person. But here’s the thing…truly believing in something that you can’t see or touch or fully explain is never going to be black & white. There will inevitably be gray, and that is just fine. As you live and grow, learning to embrace that ambiguity will enrich both your life and your faith.

4) Be able to explain why you believe what you believe. While ambiguity is good and necessary, your faith must have roots. Analyze yourself, your God, and your choices enough that you can explain your faith to others.

5) Respect other faiths. Each and every life philosophy has something to teach you. Remember this. Never foolishly assume that you and your faith have a monopoly on truth and wisdom. At the end of the day, most of us share much more commonality than difference.

6) Do not judge someone based on their faith. Wise ones walk many paths. Keep your eyes and mind open so that you can learn from all with lessons to teach, no matter their background. Surrounding yourself with people who only think or believe like you will belittle your world, and you will miss much of the richness your Creator intends for you.

7) Be open to change. People evolve, and their beliefs do as well. Throughout our lives, we experience situations we could have never imagined. Each of these situations changes us, sometimes to our core. Know that the shape of your soul will shift over the years. Truths that you once held to be sacrosanct may one day come crashing down. Expect your faith to shift and change and grow. Just as a tree may grow in different directions, gain and lose branches, and shift with the wind, your beliefs will inevitably vary. But with good, deep roots, you will be able to hold on to the essentials.

8) Find a community. Here’s the thing—we were made as individuals, but we were not made to live individually. We crave community and thrive when we find people with whom to do life. While you should never refuse associations with those outside your faith, it is vital that you find a faith community to join. Life can get hard and ugly. Hanging onto your God when things feel completely broken is difficult. There will be times when you need a community to lift you up and remind you of God’s promises. And communities are also great for celebrating.

9) Hold onto your faith in the good times, too. It’s easy to look to God when you need something. When life gets difficult, prayer seems to be a natural response. But remember to maintain that line of communication in the good times. When life is grooving along, all easy peasy, keep talking to your God. You see, in these good times you will often hear and know God most clearly. When you aren’t full of petitions, when you aren’t doing all the talking and are quiet enough to hear, you may find new depths of faith.

10) Love. Please, no matter what you do, remember that it all comes down to love. Love your Creator. Love your neighbors. Really, just love everyone. Live a life full of service borne from love. There is no better way to share your faith than to act with true, no-strings-attached love.

squeezing out summer

pics for family week3
our visit to Cotton and Snow, Nashville, Tennessee

Guys. We are just ten days from Labor Day. Flip flops are being packed away, and boots are making their initial appearances. So as August draws to a close, it’s time to help our children squeeze the last bit of summer fun out of these next few weeks.

You may have had a summer bucket list. Hopefully you were able to take advantage of the high temperatures and sunshine to do some major exploring with your littles. Or maybe summer was crazy for your family and you feel like it slipped away before you could even make it to the park. Either way, you still have time for some fun, classic summer adventures. Today we’re sharing ten ideas for some last minute summer exploration.

  1. Go get a snow cone! What kid (or adult) doesn’t love some finely-shaved, flavored ice? While some snow cone vendors may be open a little past Labor Day, many are seasonal and will be hibernating soon.
  2. Take one last (or one first) trip to the pool or water park. Most of these venues will be closing in just ten days, so get one more swim in with your kids. Pool toys are on major clearance at all stores right now, so maybe even pick up a new gadget to try out. Grab some new sinking rings and pretend you are pirates searching for lost treasure!
  3. Visit your local splash park or spray ground! Many local parks and recreation departments have opened these amazing places around the country, and they are ALWAYS a hit with kids. Most will be closing on Labor Day, though, so if you want to try one out you need to do it soon. If you have very little children, go during the week when most big kids will be at school if you can. It will be less crowded and intimidating, and thus far more fun!
  4. Cheer on your local baseball team. Most minor league teams have a few games left, and nothing says summer like an afternoon at the ball park (with ALL the concession stand treats, of course)!
  5. Shop at your local farmers’ market. Most markets are seasonal, so check to see when yours closes. Kids love the adventure of shopping in a market instead of a grocery store! You can even make a game of it, seeing who can find the most colors of fruits and vegetables!
  6. Catch fireflies one evening. My children have always been a bit scared of bugs, but these are great introductory critters! They fly relatively slowly and are easy to catch without squashing. They’ll disappear soon, so take your kids out one night in their pajamas for some old-fashioned lightning bug chasing!
  7. Do you live near a regional or small amusement park? If so, try to fit in one last visit! Many smaller parks are seasonal and will soon close or be operating at significantly reduced hours.
  8. Watch a movie outside! You may need bug spray, but there’s something magical about an outdoor viewing. Check for a nearby drive-in (which are hard to find), see if your local parks are screening anything, or just take a TV or projector into your own backyard.
  9. Grab dinner from a food truck. Buying from a food truck can be such an adventure that your child may even try a new food! Take a blanket, make a picnic, and make a fun summer memory.
  10. Try something new outside. The outdoors clearly won’t be closing at Labor Day, but as school picks up and sports begin, it’s harder to find time for a family outing. Try a new park, hike a new trail, visit a State Park you haven’t yet explored, go canoeing. The possibilities are truly endless!

pics for family week2

Eclipse Party Time!

Unless you’re living with no access to television or internet, you know that America will experience a solar eclipse this Monday, August 21st. For a large band of the country (including our home) this will be a total eclipse–a rare event that won’t occur again in America until 2024! I still remember watching an eclipse in fourth grade, and I’m thrilled to share this experience with our children. We’re prepping our home and our kids to get the most out of this truly educational experience, and we want to help you do the same!

  • Learn about the eclipse beforehand. Spend a little time this weekend teaching your kids about the sun, the moon, and the cause of the eclipse. Read together about what to expect as the earth darkens, and make predictions together about what might happen at your viewing spot. Try an experiment with balls as the earth and moon and a flashlight as the sun, attempting to create a mini version of the eclipse. For more ideas, check out the The Mom Creative’s roundup, including links to printables.
  • Decorate. Decorations make everything feel a little more festive, even an eclipse! Let your kids help make some homemade decor, like sunshines or yellow and black paper chains. If you’re tight on time or want an easier solution, stop by a party store for some yellow and black party items. I’m planning a run to Dollar Tree tonight to grab yellow and black plates, napkins, and a few hanging pom-poms like these. At $1 for a two-pack, they’re a festive steal!
  • Consider your clothing. If you really want to go all in, several retailers (including most Wal-Marts) are selling eclipse shirts. If you want to increase the fun factor without buying specialty shirts, plan to all wear yellow and/or black, or even pick up some cheap tees at your local craft store and let your children draw a sun on them.
  • Plan your snacks. All parents know that any event with kids requires snacks. No one wants to watch the eclipse with a hungry, grumpy little one! Make your snacks fun and on theme with ideas like moon pies, sun chips, cheese balls, melon balls, or sandwiches cut with a sun or moon cookie cutter.
  • Double check your gear. Make sure you have everything on hand to fully enjoy this exciting event–check your glasses, check your refrigerator, and try to avoid a last-minute trip to the store. Experts are predicting heavy traffic as people move towards the areas of totality, so making your preparations this weekend will allow you to more comfortably enjoy sharing the eclipse with your child.

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floats and buckets and all things beach

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Nothing says summer (or end of summer) like a trip to the beach, and as all parents of young children know, a beach trip with kids requires gear. Lots of gear. With four kids in the pool and several beach trips this summer, I knew our beach gear budget could easily get out of control, so I hustled a bit as soon as summer products were stocked to ensure that we would have fun gear at a low price.

For a trip to the beach, we find it easier if each child has their own bucket for the sand and float for the pool. And once you blow up that float or fill that bucket with sand, you know it’s never going to pack correctly again. Below is the strategy I used this year that worked really well for us.

  • In the spring, get a good idea of how many times we would go to the beach this summer. For us, we were looking at three or four trips.
  • For each trip, I plan to get one bucket and one new float per child. So, I was looking for 16 buckets and 16 floats for our family trips.
  • Watch your local Dollar Tree and hit it up as soon as they stock their pool supplies. Their floats are just $1 each….with four kids, that’s a huge savings! We’ve found some really fun designs there, including pizza, orange slices, watermelon, donuts, and ocean creatures. They also have great buckets and usually have more than one style. This year our favorites were the glitter buckets and the tie-dyed ones that looked like castles.
    • One note on the Dollar Tree floats is that they are not the best option for bigger kids. They typically stock 20 inch and 30 inch round floats, which are idea for kids up to around 8-years-old.
    • If you have older kids, I would check out the selection at Five Below. They have some adorable summer floats that would even work for adults, with nothing costing more than $5–still a great price! (They still have several options in stock on their website!)
  • Purchase the number of floats and buckets you need all in one trip. The one downside of discount stores is that they usually don’t restock, so you have to grab seasonal items while they are available. I bout all 32 of my buckets and floats in May, and while I may have looked like a crazy person walking out of the store, I only spent $32 on all the beach necessities for our summer trips!
  • While you’re in the store, check out the other goodies. You can usually find diving toys, water squirters, and all sorts of other fun items!
  • Store the buckets and floats somewhere that your kids won’t get into them. The whole point is to have clean, nicely folded items that are easy to pack!
  • When it’s time for your trip, simply pull out one set of goodies–your kids will be excited and you’ll be thankful that you aren’t scrambling around or purchasing things at overpriced beach stores!
  • Note- I even take our own buckets on plane trips. If you stack them together and pack clothes inside, they barely take up any room, and since they were only $1 I don’t sweat leaving them at the hotel at the end of our trip. While in Mexico, we noticed that buckets in the resort gift shop were around $8/each, so we saved $28 by packing our own!

While this information is most useful in the spring, many families still have one more vacation planned or are heading somewhere tropical for fall break or the holidays. Hit up the end of season sales, grab some summer goodies before they are all replaced with pumpkins, and rest easy knowing that you’ve already prepared for your adventure.

Exploring not-so-child-centered museums.

This morning we spent an hour exploring the Lane Motor Museum, a local museum in Nashville filled with unique antique cars, motorcycles, and a small kids area. This is NOT a traditional children’s museum, and it’s definitely not going to keep kids occupied for a whole day, but my littles were intrigued by the different types of cars (especially the one powered by a propeller and the one with snow skis attached). In a short time they learned a few things, played with a few toys that we don’t have at home, and gained the confidence to explore a bit on their own.

It’s easy to find children’s museums, but discovering places to explore beyond the child-centered that are entertaining yet age appropriate can be a challenge. When trying to move beyond the children’s museum routine, there are a few extra considerations. Below is our list of tips for visiting not-so-child-centered museums.

  • How to find them:
    • Google, of course, is your best friend. Try a google search for museums, taking out the “children’s” or “kids'” modifier. You can then quickly browse the results and look for names that pop out as things that might interest your children.
    • Follow parent-related Instagram and/or Facebook accounts that are specific to your city. One great place to find adventure ideas is in Instagram stories. If a local blogger shares a picture that intrigues you, don’t hesitate to send a message and find out where the picture was taken!
    • Scan your local parenting magazine’s events pages. If a venue is holding an event for children or families, chances are that would be a great place to visit with kids anytime! You may not be able to attend the noted event, or you may simply want to avoid crowds, but you can add the venue to your list of things to explore in your city.
    • Talk to other parents! The most fool-proof way to find local places to explore is by recommendation. Ask other parents at school, the park, or even online if they know of any must-dos in your city.
  • Know before you go:
    • While children’s museums are usually accustomed to goldfish crumbs in their floors, the policies at more adult-based museums are likely different. Check the museum’s website before you go and know whether snacks are allowed. Also, check their “touching” policy and warn your kids beforehand if exhibits are hands off–no one enjoys being kicked out of a museum!
    • Speaking of snacks…check to see if the museum has a cafe or snack machine, or come prepared with snacks in the car. We all know how quickly a preschooler can go from happy to hungry, so it’s best to have a plan in place for food. I like to use my maps app to locate a restaurant nearby and have a plan for where we might grab lunch or dinner after our visit.
    • Check the website to see if the museum has a kids’ area. Even a small space with a few toys can save an otherwise disaster of a day!
    • Check the admission prices before you go. Unless your kids are far more cultured than mine, a trip to a non-child-based museum is probably not going to last too long, maybe 1-2 hours. Add up your expected admission and make sure you are okay with the financial investment to potential enjoyment ratio.
    • Most importantly, adjust your expectations. When trying a new museum that is not designed for children, realize that it may be amazing, but it may also be a total bust. Remember that the failed adventures often make for the best memories!
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making our best race car faces