Tag Archives: Traveling with Kids

d’Orsay can you say?

20120708-154542.jpgLast week we had the chance to visit the musée D’Orsay. I’ve been musing on one of our interactions with a French family ever since. A father with three children came up to us because we were obviously visitors and asked if he could speak with us for a minute. His kids appeared to be aged about ten to 17 or so. He asked,”Where are you from?” After we told him he said, “Would you tell my son why you are here? We live in Paris, but he doesn’t have any interest in what is right here.” He turned to his son and said,”See! These people came all the way from Seattle to be here, and you don’t even want to ride the metro a few stops to get here.”

The father was clearly trying to make a point, and I didn’t have enough time to really stop and think through a response that would address the father’s obvious frustration and convey a sense of respect for the teenager. He looked friendly enough but rather embarrassed by a father who is willing to walk up to complete strangers and talk about his lack of interest in his own culture.

After Emma and I chimed in with what it was we were enjoying about the d’Orsay in particular, we added what else we had seen and why we had enjoyed it. We mentioned that it is just different, too. Let’s face it, if you put the Space Needle next to the Eiffel Tower for a side by side comparison, the Paris landmark is going to kick Seattle’s ass. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle, but it is not Paris. It’s hard to beat the immenseness of the ancient city on any number of levels. Just think of the quick list just about anyone can make about Paris–Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Jardin de Luxembourg, Sacre Coeur, le Louvre. Also, there is l’Orangerie–home to Monet’s famous enormous Water Lillies. Last time I was here with my mom, the Orangerie was closed for renovations, and the time before that I was only 16 and had no clue. Which sort of brings me back to this poor young man who seemed utterly bored and not at all interested in the lesson his father wanted us to teach him. I felt bad for the teen, though. Here he was being displayed in front of complete strangers in his second language. I said something to the effect thaf we don’t always appreciate what is in our own back yard. After all, we were in France not Seattle.

It’s always easier to think of an appropriate response after an interaction, and I would have preferred it if I could have engaged the teen a bit more directly and found some common ground with him rather than ending up being someone jumping on his dad’s bandwagon of cultural pontification. I am guessing that the overall interaction only embarrassed the teen without making much headway with the father’s agenda.

20120708-155606.jpgHowever, this got me to thinking about my own back yard for a bit. I am not particularly home sick because I am still enjoying my trip, but I think it is a valuable exercise to think through the things that I can appreciate about my own place in the world.

I know I just sort of dissed the space Needle, but it is certainly one of the Seattle landmarks that I take visitors to see. We often go to the Locks–especially if the salmon are running. The Zoo, aquarium, the troll, SAM, Boeing, EMP, Seattle Center, and Gasworks Park are all on my offering list. We love Pike Place Market, and we don’t always wait for visitors to get down there. After living in Seattle for almost 23 years, I finally saw the “gum wall.” I don’t think this particularly stinky globular and hideous bit of art is that old, but I hadn’t been in that alley since the days when we went to see a friend who was a regular in Theater Sports. The last time I was there, I was focusing on the disturbed naked man being escorted away by the police. I don’t think I would have even noticed the gum had it been there at the time.

So folks, I would like you to share where you take your visitors–and why if you are so inclined. It’s not necessary to keep it Seattle bound–might as well enjoy the larger discussion of what is not to be missed wherever you live.



Filed under Parenting, Traveling

Roadtrip Essentials: Advice from a Survivor

The Mazda was packed full.

When I was a child, getting into the car every summer is something we just did. With six of us and family across the country, summer vacation was all about visiting family, and not so much about traveling.

In spite of our recent Irish road trip, It’s not something we’ve done much of as a family. Our son doesn’t really like being in a car for long, and our daughter gets car sick if she reads while riding. We managed to get to Montana for our family reunion and back without too much friction, yelling or beatings. Okay, no beatings, though one was threatened. And, if you know me, you might imagine what it would take to get me to even make that kind of threat.

What follows are a few thoughts about getting ready and on the road. This is not comprehensive by any means, but just a few things I think worked for us.

Things to do before you go.

1. Stock up on your family’s favorite snacks and beverages. It’s not that you need a whole lot, but enough to get you through a day or two of grumbling in the car when someone gets gnoshy. Get a few not-too-messy treats for the car and make sure they are easily accessible to someone so that you aren’t stuck with a situation where everyone knows what they want but can’t get to it. Note: If your snacks contain chocolate, you might want to put them in a cooler or cooler bag to keep them from melting. Or, consider taking them inside with you if you will be out of the car in extreme heat. There’s nothing worse than sticking your hand in a bag of melted candy while still in the car. (Okay, I know what you’re thinking about worse things than a hand covered in chocolate, but I’m not covering them in this post.) You might want to add paper towels, plastic trash bags and some handiwipes to your essentials list.

2. Make sure the drivers have their sunglasses.
Summer driving often means long hours in the car heading in the direction of the sun. It doesn’t really matter whether you are heading East or West, at some point the sun is likely to be in your eyes. Avoid the strain and keep safe by having a good pair of sunglasses. I managed to get a pair of new prescription polarized glasses just the week before our most recent trip, and it saved my head.

3. Make a playlist (or two or three) for the car.
Almost everyone has an mp3 device of some sort. Make up several playlists if needed, but put some thought into what you’ll need for the journey. We didn’t do this ahead of time. On the final day of our most recent trip, the husband put together one pretty quickly on my iphone, and it literally saved my sanity and kept our 8YO from inciting me to violence. There’s something about music and singing together in the car that creates a positive atmosphere. We use a tuner connector that plays through the radio. The presence of these devices has most likely killed the need for anyone to ever sing “99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall,” something for which we can all be grateful.

4. Figure out where you are heading, have a paper map or a plan that doesn’t rely on cellular service.
This may sound archaic in the day of GPS and all that, but my brother called me from downtown Seeley asking me where the resort was. His TomTom had told him he had arrived when he was still a couple miles away. Most of America is well serviced by our cellular network, but there are pockets where we had no service whatsoever. Don’t count on technology to be there 100%. And, don’t always count on there being a person around to ask for directions if you get lost.

While Traveling:

The view of the hotel from our 6th story room.

1. Break up your trip as much as you can.
The destination is important, but don’t let that rule you so much you forget to enjoy the journey. I mean this literally and not as some trite life metaphor. This can take many forms and be customized for your particular family situation. For us, it means stopping frequently at rest stops that have enough room to toss a frisbee for a while. We get out, stretch our legs, use the toilets, and move around a bit. We were blessed with being on I-90 where there are regular rest stops along the way that are, more or less, dependable. Some are even staffed with people selling coffee, lemonade and cookies for one service organization or another. If you’re traveling along some of America’s more scenic routes, stop and look at those historical markers and roadside oddities. Visit that castle made of bottle caps or places that tout marvels of the universe. It breaks up the boredom.

We also like to stop in hotels with swimming pools. I love to swim, so this is as much about my own sanity as it is anyone else’s. I also discovered that doing a cartwheel under water in just the right way can also crack my back perfectly—the persistent pain between my shoulders from the first day of driving completely disappeared until we were just a few hours from home.

2. Use SLEEP to your advantage.

If you have little kids who can sleep while in the car, drive…just drive while you can and go as safely as you can without getting caught speeding or doing anything insane. This advice also works for some teens. Get up early. EARLY, like 4:00-5:00 early and put the teens in the car. The natural tendency for them is to just sleep through the morning while you drive. (This is from my brother who was traveling with four, yes, FOUR, teenage girls.) This didn’t really work for us as my son can’t sleep while upright unless we are five minutes from home. When be was younger we did have some success working around his sleep times.

3. Try not to sweat the small stuff and ignore your backseat drivers as much as possible.

I find this particularly hard, but it really is best to just let that camper trailer think be can pass the big rig if he pulls in front of you. It’s not really that long before he’ll pull back in front of the 18 wheeler and you can speed ahead. I hate being behind big vehicles. I like being able to see as far ahead as possible, so I am almost always trying to get ahead of them. The thing about summer is the roads are filled with truckers and campers. My hubby was constantly making motions to indicate what he would be doing differently. I think I only snapped at him a few times, and I never once pulled over, tossed the keys at him and told him to drive instead.

4. Use google and tripadvisor to find yummy hole in the wall eateries.
We had one fast food stop–at a Wendy’s because we needed the toilet and they have really good iced tea. The rest of our dining options were found through a quick Internet search, and we found some good places to eat. Sure, you might know what to expect at a McDonald’s, but…you know what to expect at a McDonald’s. I realize this advice relies on you having a phone or something that can connect to the web while in the car, but, it is possible to plan out stops way ahead and do some research before you go. Unfortunately, the Internet is cluttered with old information, so you might consider calling a restaurant before spending a lot of time driving around a town. When we got into Ritzville, we realized that our chosen place was closed and opted for the less than superb restaurant that was open instead. In Spokane, the Greek restaurant that promised awesome gyros was closed with no explanation.

5. Try to maintain a sense of humor.

When our son asked, for the 80 gagillionth time, “When will we get there?” The hubby said something like,”You’ve asked that a thousand times…” Our son replied,”But, that’s what kids my age are supposed to do.”
What else could we do but laugh?

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A short time Central Park could provide inspiration for a dozen stories. Just sitting on one bench for an hour introduced me to a couple of new characters I’m tucking away for later use. We are just two blocks from Central Park, and we are traveling with a seven-year-old, so we are seeing a lot of the park.

One of my favorite activities is to walk by the benches slowly enough to read the little plaques. (I am assuming that donors to the park were given a plaque in return for their gifts.) There are the predictable “Celebrating ten years of marriage” and quite a lot of simple memorials. There have been quit a few that are delectable morsels of short-short stories that peak the imagination.

One row of about ten benches all sported memorials to one guy named Andy, who died well loved by his “women walking buddies” various family and friends. Beyond that we don’t learn much about Andy other than he walked around Jerusalem and appeared to have died young.

This pair, found on two benches next to each other–a story of lovely, anonymous hope:

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