Finding Hemlock Falls – A hidden waterfall of Ohio

My introduction to Hemlock Falls came from an Instagram post.  Ever since then, I’ve been scheming a time and place to see this hidden waterfall.  I’m so glad we did!  What an Ohio gem!

While Hemlock Falls is located NEAR Mohican State Park, it’s actually on private property managed by the Mohican School in the Out-of-doors.  Eventually the Falls will be on the new B & O Trail as the land was recently purchased by the Mohican Watershed Conservancy.

What does that mean for the casual traveler like me? You must call and get permission to access the site.  Don’t just show up!

The Mohican Outdoor School has field trip groups on many days and the first time I called they said we could not visit.  If you’re coming from out of town, you can call and set up a time in advance, but since we live close-by I just called on a particularly nice day to see if the site was available.

The hidden waterfall is actually across the street from the School.  My directions were to go to the school first and check-in.  Don’t do like I did and mistake someone’s home for the office!  Oye!  The school office is actually located just below the visitor parking area.  No joke- If you see a dumpster, you’re on the right track!  The director I spoke with (after opening the door to her personal home), said they are working on getting better signage.  Thank you and amen. 🙂

Hemlock Falls waterfall Ohio

After you park near the Field Trip Center (across the road from the school), you will need to follow signs that are located on tall poles or trees.  They aren’t the easiest to find!

We actually got off of the trail at one part and needed to cross the creek on foot to get back on the trail.  There are no blazes.

Hemlock Falls waterfall Ohio

Hemlock Falls waterfall Ohio

Hemlock Falls waterfall Ohio

Then, once we got to the bridge where you view the falls, there were signs saying the trail we were on was actually closed.  Uhhh???

Nonetheless, the site of a 60+ foot Hemlock Falls, one that’s not heavily visited like Big Lyon Falls at Mohican or Ash Cave in Hocking Hills, made the momentary stress of finding the waterfall dissipate.

Hemlock Falls hidden waterfall Ohio

Normally I would have turned around, but I thought I should honor the sign.  So on the way back we followed signs for the “main trail” and we ended up about 300 yards down the road from our van.  Hmmmm.

If you go, I’d ask for very clear directions from the Outdoor School.  I would not have been concerned except I was alone with my three kids AND there is no cell phone reception in this area.  That’s not the best combination!

The Hemlock Falls trail is slippery when muddy, so wear your best hiking shoe (see my favorite HERE)!  Also, our youngest is 3 and she was able to manage the trail with a little help from me.  I wouldn’t bring much younger children unless you have them in a hiking carrier.  It’s very hilly.

The # to call for Mohican School of Outdoors:  419-938-6671

Hemlock Falls is located approximately 25 minutes south of Mansfield, OH or 30 minutes north of Mount Vernon, OH.

Where to stay:  I loved my stay at the Mount Vernon Grand, a closer option would be the Hampton or Best Western on the south side of Mansfield.

Have you been to Hemlock Falls? 

 

**This is not a sponsored post but may contain affiliate links**

SAHM survival: Keeping your sanity when your husband travels

I know I normally write about family travel destinations, but there’s another aspect of travel makes me a little cray to the Z every month and that’s when my husbands travels for his job.

Ever since we just had one teeny tiny baby, Mr. YT has been leaving me for 2-3 nights per month. I know some of you have a husband that travels much more more- so I shouldn’t complain.  In reality, in 7 years it’s never gotten easier but it has gotten more manageable.

While Mr. YT was away this week, I realized that in years past I could have used a little advice on what to do on days when he wouldn’t be home in the evenings to give me a little relief.

Here are 5 things I do to maintain my sanity (and a little bit of order) whilst the husband is away:

  •  Sleep (or lack thereof) is super important.  You have to take the age-old advice and nap when baby naps.  If your kids are a little older, don’t feel guilt over turning on the TV or sending them to their rooms so you can get a little shut-eye.  I can go from Mommy Dearest to the Wicked Witch in about 17 seconds if I haven’t had enough sleep, so I KNOW that if I am going to make it through the marathon I have to close my eyes to the mess and just REST.
  • Eat.  Eating is my favorite.  No, really.  Mealtimes with little ones are stressful at best, downright chaotic at their worst.  I’ve noticed that in order to help with my own sanity I will eat my meal while I’m cooking for the kids.  That way, if I’m getting up and down a lot while they eat, I’ve already suppressed my own hanger (#notjoking).  Before your husband skips town, grab a frozen pizza, mac n cheese, whatever convenience foods you’re going to need to make dinner time be easy. “Snack lunch” is a personal fave of mine- cheese and crackers, grapes, single serve applesauce, yogurt, those type of things that are easy & easy to get on a plate.  This is not the time to be Julia Childs.  You can also use lunch time to do read-aloud… I read and drink coffee, they eat in peace.  Winning!
  •  Bedtimes.   There is only one of you, so start early.  My kids always try the stall method 20x worse when Daddy isn’t around so be kind, but firm–  You’re just down the hall.  I’ve found that calling Daddy right before book time can give them a happy little assurance that they can go to sleep and all is well.
  • Plan ahead for adult time.  I’m an extrovert by nature, so being inside with 3 kids for 3-4 days can be a little hairy.  Think of simple ways to speak to adults without creating a lot of work.  Playdates can work (pick a neutral place so you don’t have to clean!).  A Skype date with a faraway friend.  Asking a child-free friend to stop by after work for a coffee date.  These are all things to refuel that don’t require a lot of work.  If you have babysitters that can do daytime, this may be the time to spend a little money and head out on your own.
  • Lower your expectations.  My #1 piece of motherhood advice is also the most important for the weeks my husband travels.  This is not the time to be a screen-time martyr.  This is not the time to start the Whole 30.  This is not the time to dive into painting or reorganizing the house.  Get up. Get dressed. Be present.  Having a husband that travels is not always easy.  Try to connect with him positively – now that mostly involves my kids sending him Snapchat videos of our day or me texting him in the a.m. to remind him I miss him.

 

Does your husband travel for work?  What things do you do to save your sanity?

2017 Travel Bucket List

Where I want to go this year.

2016 was a year of big travel and big changes for our family.  We traveled Down Under in January and moved an hour away from our home of 7 years just two days after Christmas.  Now that the boxes are unpacked we’re settled in to our new city (kinda) – I wanted to share with the world our travel plans for 2017.

(Our 2016 Travel Bucket List)

Ohio 

Toledo Zoo & Aquarium  +  Oak Openings (this is one we didn’t get to last year and now that we live a little closer I’m hoping we can)

Cedar Bog Nature Preserve & Johnny Appleseed Museum – two very close attractions

Gorge Metro Park (Summit County)

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland Museum of Natural History– Specifically the new Perkins Wildlife Center

How cool does this look?!

 

In our new town of Mansfield

Kingwood Center Gardens

Richland Carrousel Park

The Blueberry Patch– Blueberry picking, a winery, and cafe.  I hear they have donuts.  Enough said.

Malabar Farm State Park

That’s some lofty travel goals!  Good thing we have 11. 5 months.

United States

Outside of Ohio, we don’t have a bunch of concrete plans.

One trip that is booked is Topsail Island, North Carolina.  Our family has been there numerous times, I think this will be Mr. YT and I’s 9th time!  On our last visit C was only 9 months old, so this time should (hopefully) be a little more relaxed- and include more sleep.

That view never gets old.

On the way to the beach I’d like to cross off New River Gorge, WV.  This National River was on my list last year, but the timing never quite worked out!  It’s only a quick jaunt off of I-77 so I don’t see why we couldn’t leave a couple of days early for NC.

Photo from nps.gov

Fort Wayne, IN-  June will take us to Fort Wayne for the Mr’s work conference. (Last year it was at Belterra Resort & Casino and we traveled alone).  We’re planning to bring the kids this time and make it a family adventure.  Did you know that Fort Wayne has one of the Top 10 zoos in the nation?

Beyond that, we hope to do another week of travel in the USA or Canada.  I’m thinking a Canadian Road Trip to Montreal and Quebec City might be fabulous, but then I get sidetracked thinking of some Southwest miles we’ve accrued and how we could use them for Texas (Joanna Gaines, I love you) or Southern California.   My van is OLD (we only buy used cars with cash) so I’m not sure it could even handle a road trip.  Maybe that will pressure is into flying!

I’ve also got my eye on a few flower festivals. Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan is fairly close to home and looks like a fun weekend.  I’d also like to head south again- New Orleans?  The Lowcountry?  Eh, first things first- we better sell our vacant home.

 

Have you made your travel plans for 2017?  Where are you headed?  Have you been to Fort Wayne?  

Travel Hacking the Canadian Rockies

A four-night, four-star trip for next-to-nothing.

I’ve been so eager to tell you how we took second-honeymoon style trip to the Canadian Rockies for pennies on the dollar.  We started travel hacking about 2 years ago and using points and miles has definitely helped with our travel game.

After booking our trip to Australia last year, I had a bunch of American Airlines miles left.   Reading Bryce’s blog about how to use the Fairmont VISA gave me an idea- I’d been dreaming of staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise since I was a teenager- travel hacking the hotel was the ticket!

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First, I booked our flight from CMH -> Calgary using 75,000 AA miles.  Here’s what I would have paid using the same flights but paying cash.

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Instead, here’s what I paid:  75k miles + $123.60 in taxes and fees

Savings on flights:  $1,232.40

You can accrue AA Advantage miles by signing up for 2 Platinum Select Citi AAdvantage cards- if you got the business card and the personal card, you’d immediately have enough miles.  More info HERE.

Our first night of the trip was at Emerald Lake Lodge (review).  Not only was the place exquisite, it’s very pricey.  One night was $329 CAD + taxes.  Our bill at check out for one night + dinner in the lounge and breakfast in the dining room was a whopping $497.89 CAD!

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Before we left home, the Barclaycard Arrival + was offering a sign-up bonus for 50,000 miles after spending $3k in the first 3 months.  We used the card for all of our expenses on the trip, plus  all of our personal expenses and my husband’s business expenses.  After less than 2 months, we hit the minimum spend on this card- giving us 50k points/ $500 in travel credit.

The charge at Emerald Lake Lodge converted to $375.82.  See how I erased the purchase below:

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Showing we hit the minimum spend and all the points we accrued.
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You can only erase purchases that cost over $100 each. These are the options Barclay gave me.

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So for 2 nights and 2 great meals: FREE

A savings of $375.82

Next we spent 2 nights at the aforementioned Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.  This travel hack involved signing up for the Fairmont Visa Signature Card.  We applied for this card over a year ago in order to have time to earn the miles and have open availability for the resort.  This card also requires spending $3000 in the first 3 months, but with that comes a bonus of 2 FREE nights!

After achieving the minimum spend I called Fairmont and booked the two nights at the Chateau Lake Louise (you must book directly with Fairmont resorts to use your free nights).  The resort quoted me a resort fee of $13/night, but I wasn’t charged it at checkout.

Here’s what our nights would have cost without credits:

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$669 CAD is currently $501 USD per night!!  Just having this credit card saved us $1002!

Earning Premier Status also gives you breakfast and dining credits at the resorts.  We were able to use 2 of these at check-out. The parking was $30/night.  Here’s our first bill from the resort and then a second one showing what we paid after the credits were applied:

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We had horrible weather while at Lake Louise (our mountain view room became a fog-view room), so we really just enjoyed the resort and the room service (YES!).  Our bill at check-out (after Fairmont dining credits) was $163.12 CAD.  This came to $123.13 USD and we were able to erase the entire stay using the Barclay points.

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Total cost of 2 nights at the Fairmont + Dining if paid for out of pocket and without credits:  $1002 + $216 USD ($288.12 CAD) = $1218

Total spent for 2 nights at Fairmont + gluttony and room service after HACKS = ZERO

The last night of our trip was in Banff.  I had prepaid for the hotel through AAA.  In hindsight, I could have also booked the hotel with the option to pay at check-out and used the Barclay points to cover it.  However, it was the least expensive option by quite a bit- we stayed at the Banff Aspen Lodge for $133 USD.  The room and amenities were just fine, but I would recommend this more for budget travelers or families.

Total for air and 4 nights before Travel Hacking: $3082.82

Total for air and 4 nights after Travel Hacking: $256.60

Savings: $2,826.22

Bam!!  The Canadian Rockies was one of the most magical places we’ve ever visited.  I think I’ve covered everything, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section. I’m not the final authority on all things travel hacking- I recommend reading 10xtravel.com for more info!  I love them so much, I wrote a blog for them!

Have you done any travel hacking?  Maybe you’ve been the Canadian Rockies?  Maybe you cry, too, when you see a dream come true?

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** I’m undeniably one of the world’s biggest haters of debt.  We only use these credit cards with the premise that the uses are already budgeted for and the cards are paid off EVERY month.  I don’t recommend using a credit card if you lack self-control.  My husband is also self-employed so we can easily hit the minimum spends just by charging his gas and other work expenses along with our household expenses.  More HERE.  End sermon. **

 


Booking.com

Emerald Lake Lodge – A romantic getaway in the Canadian Rockies

I asked my dear, well-traveled friend where SHE would stay in the Canadian Rockies, “Oh, you must stay at Emerald Lake Lodge!”  Her suggestion was golden- I’m SO thankful for her advice.

Emerald Lake Lodge is nestled in between the stately mountains of Yoho National Park, just outside of Field, British Columbia.  The drive from Calgary airport took about 2 hours. There is no parking at the lodge, overnight guests have to take a shuttle that is over 1/2 mile from the lodges.

The resort is a cluster of cabins, along with the main lodge and other outbuildings.  I haven’t felt so far away from civility since visiting the Australian Outback in my teens.  This is just the place to get away from the cares and affairs of day-to-day life.

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This bridge allows you to enter the peninsula where the lodge and cabins are. The cabin pictured is Cilantro, the upscale dining option.

Room

Our room was a king bed lake view.  I was a little nervous after reading some of the reviews online, but overall I was quite happy with the room.  The king bed was comfortable and the bedding was luxe.  The in-room wood-burning fireplace was romantic.  The lake view balcony would have been much better served in warmer weather, but added to the value.  We talked about how if we were here in summer we’d probably just sit on the deck all day.  There are no TVs or wifi in the room.  (The room also had ear plugs in it’s amenity kit so YOU CAN IMAGINE WHAT YOU WILL). 😉

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Yes, the outside of the cottages and some of the landscaping and decking could have been improved (which is what you’ll find lots of on TripAdvisor).  Absolutely.  However, I’d say your paying for the seclusion and service- not perfection.  The weather here is harsh (we experienced some of that),  so I can see why the cabins don’t look perfect.

Dining-

The main lodge houses Kicking Horse Lounge and the Mount Burgess dining room.  After arrival, we had dinner in the Kicking Horse lounge.  The serving sizes were large and the food was tasty.  My husband had the bison burger and really enjoyed it.  There is a full bar service.ell-7

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A breakfast buffet takes place in the Mount Burgess dining room. It is not included in the cost.  We decided to just order our items off of the menu.

I did think things were a little pricey, BUT understanding the views and the serenity, you see why they can charge top dollar (think $4 for a cup of coffee!  We’re not in Ohio anymore, Toto).

There’s also Cilantro on the Lake, which was not open during our stay.   This is the building pictured above that was right on the lake.

 

Out and about-

There’s numerous hiking possibilities throughout the resort and Yoho National Park.  The Natural Bridge area is just a short drive away.  The grounds also have a fitness center and outdoor hot tub.  The view from the hot tub isn’t too shabby:

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In reality, if I could do my honeymoon over again (i.e. if I could have afforded this at age 20, lol), then this is where I would come.  Secluded.  Romantic.  Inspiring.  The fog made it a a little swoon-worthy.  Men, bring your lady here, she will LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN.

Book it HERE.

xo

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**This was not a sponsored post, but does contain affiliate links**

 

Life is either a daring adventure…

A Mother’s Day Well-Lived

I’d been in a funk with a capital F the past few weeks and the mundane of life was getting to me.  So when I woke up yesterday and Mr YT asked what I wanted to do that day I said, “Maybe take a road trip.  Or go for a walk.”  “You don’t want to just rest or get out alone?”  He asked a little bewildered.  “I don’t know…let me think about it.”

The sun was shining and the post-church nap by Miss C was complete so we loaded up for a drive.  There is a small Ohio town we wanted to check out (more on that, later) so we headed an hour away and promised the kids ice cream and a park if they took the drive with ease.

We found a McDonalds – not a hard feat- and gave the kids the joy of eating inside.  I laughed to Brian that our kids were more excited to eat inside at the McDonalds of small-town Ohio than they were to go to Australia (notevenkiddingonebit).  Then we found a park and the kids enjoyed all the new slides and swings and playground equipment they’d never been on before.

We left the park with smiling, wind-blown faces.

“I mother better when I’m out of the house,” I said to Brian.

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I’ve joked with friends that most days I would consider it easier to put my kids on an airplane than get them all ready and through the doors at the Y.  It’s easier for me to do something different than to do something typical.    Going places- seeing new things and new faces, is what fills my cup.

Beyond that, the kids were different, too.  They were on an adventure with mom and dad.

Somedays I’m so worried about “using my time well” that I forget that the time I have is meant for living.

My family took a Sunday drive most spring/summer Sunday afternoons.  I always thought this was an excuse for my parents to look at used cars and get ice cream (ha!) but I realize now it was more about changing life up a little, finding something new, getting out of our comfort zone, maybe having a conversation without TV and cassettes (hey, 1990) competing for our attention.  Oh, yeah, and Mom & Dad wanted ice cream.

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I’m thankful for these kids, for the sleepless nights, for the early mornings, for the long days indoors and the adventures far away.  They’ve taught me so much.  They make me die a little bit to self every day.  I hope for so much for them- in the least that they continue to let me take them along on excursions- big and small.

xo

 

A Walking Tour of Melbourne- with kids

Oh, Melbourne.  When we began planning our family trip to Australia the husband made one condition- if we were spending the big bucks to take a family of five Down Under, we’d 1.) Go in summer and 2.) Go to the Australian Open.  Knowing those two stipulations, we knew we’d go in January and we’d have to make a stop in Melbourne.  While I’d been to Melbourne with my parents in 2006, this was Mr YT’s first trip to the second largest city in Australia.

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On our first full day in Melbourne we spent the morning catching up on correspondence and enjoying our spacious digs while we waited for some showers to pass.  Here’s the walking tour we created that will give you a small taste of what Melbourne has to offer. NOTE: I’ve based this trek on staying at the Quest on William hotel on William St.  However, you can use my map and just depart from wherever you’d like.  That said, I loved the hotel.  It was by no means “fancy,” but having a 2-bedroom apartment with all the amenities of home (Heellooo washer and dryer) was exceptional.

Melbourne walking tour

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That’s the Eureka Tower in the background!

William Street is mostly offices and bank buildings, but head south towards the South Bank.  The kids (and Daddy) were excited about going up in a “big, big tower” to view the city from a different perspective.  The Eureka Skydeck is is on the 88th floor of the highest residential tower in the Southern Hemisphere.  On top of that, the elevator takes you from the main floor to the skydeck in just 38 seconds- holy ear popping!  Once you’re 300 meters (984 ft) above the city you have a superb view of not only the city, but the mountains to the northeast and the ocean to the south!  If you want to add on to your walking tour, this is a great way to get an extra perspective of the things your family will want to see.

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Melbourne below us
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Of course I wasn’t yelling at Jackson to stop leaning against the windows. 😉

We exited the Eureka Tower just in time for the clouds to cover over and a brief rainstorm.  We sought cover from Flinders Street station, but I don’t recommend crossing over the Yarra River there, because the walkway has lots of stairs and it’s definitely NOT stroller friendly.  Instead, cross at the St Kilda Road bridge, or, if you’re getting tired, you can take the Melbourne Visitor Shuttle Bus Route from the Arts Centre of Melbourne and get off at Federation Square.  Either way, you must get a good look at Flinders Street Station, as it’s one of the most iconic buildings in Melbourne.

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Once you’re in Federation Square, feel free to pop a squat and enjoy some serious people-watching.  Our kids were famished (and I was a little hangry myself), so we hit up Mr Burger’s food truck for some seriously delicious burgers and fries.  FYI- the burgers are huge- our kids (all three) split one kids meal.  Federation Square is home to a giant telly (as the Aussies say) and we were eager to catch up on what was happening at the Australian Open.

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After crossing off Federation Square and Flinders Street Station, you can easily cross Flinders Street and enjoy the history and architecture of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It may not be the best place for kids (they ask for quiet- oye!) but they do have a little table with a few coloring books if you have children that will sit still for a few minutes.  We just made a quick look around the parameter of the sanctuary.  I know everyone says, “you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all,” but I don’t easily tire of the amazing structures men built before modern construction

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From the Cathedral, you’ll head up Swanston Street through City Square.  This is a well-trafficked area and another great place to people-watch.  If you’re desperate for a taste of home, there is also a Starbucks and McDonald’s (aka Maccas)- and what says “family travel” more than a Happy Meal. Lol.

By this time our kiddos were starting to lose their minds a little- another reality of traveling with small children- excursions must be short OR include a time to nap.  We headed back to our place, but first wanted to take in a little window shopping on Collins Street.  Now, Collins in not the type of place you take 3 raggedy children after a long day, but if you just want to JUST window shop, it works.  If you’d like to do some more family-friendly shopping, ignore my map and travel one more square to the Bourke Street mall.  This is not an enclosed “mall” like we think of in America, but an area where the road is closed off to traffic where big-name Aussie stores like David Jones or Myer reside.

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Window shopping on Collins Street- I wanted Brian to buy me one of these chocolate tennis balls to commemorate our trip to the Australian Open, but you don’t typically try to travel with chocolate in the Australian summer.

So that’s our walking tour of Melbourne!  Have you been to Melbourne before?  What would you recommend?  

If you’re looking for a beautiful park to add a picnic lunch to your day, I highly recommend Fitzroy Gardens.  We just ran out of time on this trip and didn’t make it there.  

 

A recap of our trip to Australia

How did the kids do?  What worked well? What would I change?

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been back from Australia for 6 weeks.  Time travels quickly!  While things are still fresh in my mind, I thought I would review our trip in the hopes that it would help others planning a trip Down Under, but also to serve as a future reference for myself!

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The kids hanging out in Federation Square. That Bubba with his hand in his pocket. Future model.

How did the kids do?

Despite the jokes before our departure that we were “gluttons for punishment” and braver than the masses, the kids did exceptionally well on the flights.  The trip over went so smoothly.  We arrived in Dallas with about 2 hours until our connecting flight.  This served as a very quick turnaround considering we needed to change terminals, eat something, and change the kids into their jammies (in hindsight we could have done this on the plane). We heard Qantas reps offering premium economy over the loudspeaker so we asked at the gate if there was a chance they could upgrade all 7 of us (Did you know my parents went, too?).  The gate agent told us there was no premium economy, but for $250 TOTAL he would give us a row across of 10 seats!  SOLD!  This was really a brilliant upgrade.  Qantas made some extra money and we were assured that no one could try to squeeze into our space.

The kids were extremely excited to have their own TVs and remotes, and after a few hours they hunkered down with their blankies and fell asleep.  The flight from Dallas was about 16.5 hours (although scheduled for 17).  They woke up with nearly 5 hours to go and were entertained by Transformers, Peppa Pig, and the like.  Kudos to my mom for packing some Lucky Charms because C chomped down on them while waiting for breakfast service.  I will say, Qantas has exemplary safety records and comfortable planes, but their food service could use a 1-up.  I had to go scouting for a cup of coffee about 14 hours into the flight.  It seemed like the food/beverage service was pretty non-exist from hour 4 to hour 14.

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C totally relaxed on the flight to Dallas- the Kindle with Peppa helped.

The first day in Australia we were all walking zombies and in bed by 7 pm.  The first morning the kids were up bright and early at 4:45.  The next day they made it to 5:45 am.  The first week was full of early mornings as they adjusted to the time change.  January is summer Down Under so it was daylight for much longer, whereas we’d just come from darkness at 5:30 pm.  Overall though, sleep was not an issue with the kids.  They shared a space everywhere we traveled and we only had a few nights where we had to tell them to settle down!

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Loved our 2 bedroom apartment rental in Melbourne. The kids were able to lounge while we got ready each morning.

Probably my favorite part was seeing my sociable oldest make so many new friends.  Our last trip to Australia was in 2008 and since then, most everyone has had babies!  He is still talking about his new buddies.  Probably the most heart-warming thing he said to me was just a couple of weeks ago when we were talking about the trip and I was lamenting how much I miss Australia he said to me, “Mommy, the problem is we have friends in Australia and here.  When we are here we miss them but if we move there we will miss our friends here.”  He is wise beyond his years.

What would I change?

Is there a way this mom of three could make airport security non-existent?  Ha.  I love the idea of airport security because it makes us safer, however, going through security SIX times in 3 weeks was A LOT.  Even though we packed light, we didn’t pack light enough and there just weren’t enough hands to manage our luggage and the kids.  Our family packed 2 medium suitcases and 4 carry-ons and a camera bag  However, my mom and dad each had a suitcase and carry-on so no one really had a hand free to push the stroller or hold a tired kiddo.  Thank goodness we could hang some of the carry-ons from the stroller!  Then to go through security we’d have to pull out the laptop, the toiletries, and fold-up the stroller.  C holds on to her monkey and blankie ALL DAY and each time they’d take it off of us to put through the machines so on top of it all, I’d have a crying, cranky 2 yr old.  I realize this is totally a #firstworldproblem, but it definitely tested my patience, and made getting through the airports always the most stressful time of our trip.

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My dad carrying C through Sydney airport. Hes really a lot nicer than he looks. Ha!

In hindsight, I think we would have changed our itinerary to include driving from Sydney to Melbourne.  I know this would have added two days of travel, but we could have avoided the drama of getting through Sydney airport.  It would have also given us a chance to see some of Australia we’ve never visited before.  In fact, when we go back (it’s not an if) we hope to road trip the entire time.

We’re so thankful that one of the families we know in Australia allowed us to borrow their 7-passenger SUV while we were in the Hunter Valley.  This saved us money and was a huge convenience.  It even made the time we spent visiting host families more like being “home.”

It wasn’t really an option, because our total trip was 23 days, but I would have loved two or three more days in Tasmania.  I underestimated how much there was to see and our 4 days there really only allowed us to explore Hobart, Port Arthur, and Richmond.  I guess that’s just another reason to go back?!

What worked well?

Again, the kids did so well.  And we lucked out on the weather because NSW had it’s rainiest January but it usually happened on a down day or in the morning before our plans.  I think the most important thing for us was having the kids in a separate room– except for our accommodation in Sydney.  Being able to put the kids to bed and then have our own space is important to us.  Luckily in Sydney my parents got a connecting room and so still were able to do this– even though it wasn’t long until we went to bed after walking 7 miles on Australia Day.

I think one of the reasons things went well is because we stayed 3+ nights at every stop and did not expect the kids to do repeated early mornings or late nights.  What we missed out in sightseeing opportunities, we made up for in sanity. 😉  In the past year of traveling with the kids, the most important thing I’ve learned is, whatever your expectations are…lower them.  Ha!  It’s true though, if you go into a travel experience just hoping to have a great time with the ones you love, you’ll usually have a good time.  If you go into it hoping to cross of x amount of destinations and experiences, you’ll probably leave disappointed.  Most important for us was having time to spend with my host families and friends and then getting to experience some new things like Australia Day, the Australian Open, and Tasmania.  Beyond that, I didn’t have a clear list of to-dos.

kids on boat
I’ve learned that you must ALWAYS have something for the kids to do. You can’t tell, but we’re on a boat.

Our flight schedules worked well until the last day when our flight was cancelled from Sydney to Dallas and we were rerouted from Melbourne to LAX.  From Los Angeles, they had Brian and I on two different flights!  Yikes!  I spent two hours in Melbourne getting us all on the same flight, which actually worked for the better.  However, we had two hours in LAX to clear customs, go through security again, then walk a mile to a new terminal.  It was hectic!  We had no relax time and the four hours from LAX- Columbus were not the best.  I may have been more cranky than the kids!  I didn’t have time to upload new shows or anything for the kids and they were hungry (or maybe more truthful, hangry!).  Nonetheless. we made it back in one piece after 28 hours of travel!

Probably the hardest part of the entire trip was once we returned home.  Jet lag is legit!  While we didn’t feel it so much on the way there, it took the kids a solid week to return to normal.  The first night I was watching cartoons with Jackson and C at 3 am.  The next night was 1 am.  I felt bad for feeding my baby dinner at 9 pm, but boy were our bodies messed up.  I did enjoy those few days of sleeping in until noon.  That was a first since becoming a mother!

Overall, the trip exceeded our expectations.  We loved seeing our kids play with our kids’ friends and growing their bond with my Aussie bff.  We saw more beautiful places and had some wonderful experiences.  We were truly blessed to take this vacation with our family.  And, thanks to a great exchange rate and friends who abundantly took care of us for the 10 days in Maitland, we were able to come home WAY under budget!  Woohoo!

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Have you taken a major trip with your kids?  How did it go?  Did your kids get excited about the bells and whistles on the plane?  What do you do to keep them entertained?

2016 Travel Plans

New year, new places

Continuing on with my 2016 goals, I’d like to share my travel aspirations.  The first two are for sure BOOKED, the others are wishful. 🙂  As with everything, timing and finances will play a role.  Since we’re taking a big trip to Australia to start the year, Brian’s time off will be limited – and because we have some big financial goals, travels we do take will be “beans and rice” in nature!

International

Australia

We’re crossing off a few things on the Bucket List by heading to Australia this month.  We have tickets to the Australian Open, which has been one of  Mr. Yoder Toter’s top choices…and we’ll get to spend Australia Day in Sydney (kinda like the Aussie version of July 4th except THE WIGGLES WILL BE THERE), which has always been on my Bucket List (the holiday not The Wiggles, sorry Simon).  Our trip is also rounded out by Tasmania.  We’re staying in Hobart and we’ll have four days to explore “Tassie.”  I’m thankful Richelle directed  me to this blog, Tasmania is incredible and you should go there now, or I may have missed it altogether.

Alberta, Canada

I’m so completely pumped about going to see Banff and the Canadian Rockies!  We’re not going until October – and maybe even more exciting, this trip is sans kids!!  We had some airline miles that were due to expire so I nabbed a couple seats and we’re off for a quick 4-night getaway.  The Fairmont Lake Louise has been on my Bucket List for ages, so we’ll stay a couple nights there, too.  I’m calling this our 12 year anniversary trip! 🙂

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More of Canada

The US Dollar is really strong, saving Americans about 25% on a trip to Canada.  I’m dying to see Quebec City and Montreal, but I’m not sure it’s in the cards for this year as those places would probably require a full week away.  We shall see what happens- maybe 2017?  It’s a 14-hour drive from our city, so I’ve even looked into flying to Boston and then road-tripping from there.

USA

New River Gorge, West Virginia

We’ve driven past this area probably 20 times on our way to the beach, but we’ve never made the stop.  I would like to spend a weekend and stay at Hawks Nest State Park and plus hike throughout the various state parks.

Pittsburgh, PA

I’ve had my eye on Pittsburgh thanks to the Children’s and Andy Warhol museum.  I’ve been watching for a hotel sale via Groupon or Travelzoo and maybe we’ll make an overnight trip.

Western KY/Southern IN road trip

Mr YT brought home a brochure from Marengo Caves while he was out and about in Indiana.  This National Landmark in Southern Indiana would make a nice combo with checking out the West Baden Springs Resort (Ok, maybe we won’t take the kids there).   I think the boys would also enjoy the Louisville Slugger Museum and Louisville isn’t too far across the Ohio River.  Sounds like a fun long weekend.  I think we’ll save the longer road trips for when the kids have their own iPads (#kiddingnotkidding).

 

OH-10 (by region)

Some of my favorite Aussies refer to Ohio as O.H.- 10.  Who knew that Ohio was so hard to pronounce with that sweet accent?  I digress.

Guys, gas is under $2/gallon.  They are practically GIVING IT AWAY.  There is no reason not to at least see your own state.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park-– done- May 2016!  5 Favorite Spots

Football Hall of Fame (for our 5 yr old world’s greatest football fan)

Columbus Museum of Art (they just did a revamp- haven’t been there since college).

Toledo Zoo and Oak Openings Preserve Metropark

Logan County Transportation Museum and Cedar Bog Nature Preserve

Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve

 

Have you been to any of these places?  What’s on your 2016 travel radar?

 

Take the kids out of school for vacation? Yay or Nay?

 

A few weeks ago on Facebook, another blogger posted this video from the Today Show in which the anchors discussed whether parents should be able to pull their kids out of school for family vacations.  It’s not just that the absences would be considered unexcused, it is actually considered illegal in some states.

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As a homeschooling family, I find this debate really compelling.  It seems to me it is one more situation in America where parents are ultimately losing the right to make decisions for their family.  I also find it interesting that we relate merely time in the classroom to the ultimate measure of what is “learned.”  You can be one of the valedictorians of your high school and still have much to learn upon graduation.  (*Cough* Cough* ME *).

I spoke to a few friends of mine that are educators – one in the US and one in Australia.  They feel that taking children away from school creates a difficult scenario for the teachers because oftentimes the kids come back from the trip and are behind in their work and then the parents expect the teacher to catch the child up.   (Oh, no no no) I can see how this can create a problem.

Last year when we traveled to Australia, Jackson would have missed close to 20 days of school (17 for travel, a few extra for jet-lag since we were up til 2 am the first few nights).  As a way to supplement, we did school for one week of Christmas break, and while we still finished up at Memorial Day, we started up again the 2nd week of July.  I don’t think our 4 weeks break suffered him anything but rich experience.

Also, when I was at my parents house not too long ago, I found my report card from my year on exchange.  I missed 23 days of class!  I’m sure I made it up in the social skills I learned while living with people I’d never met (yikes!) and giving impromptu speeches.  I also learned so much about the culture and political environment and industry.  23 days was nothing!

Now I realize that this experience is out of the norm, but I think we totally disregard skills learned during travel.  At the least of things- how about real world skills like boarding an airplane, figuring out distance and time to the destination, exchanging currency (if applicable).

If going to the ocean there are so many things to learn- tides, ecosystems, maybe even just more time spent as a family to hone cooking skills with mom or learn the physics of flying a kite with dad.

Yes, these things could be done at home or in school, but in a world of rushed families where many parents both work full-time, doesn’t family time win?  Don’t studies show that even if Junior has dinner with mom and dad 5 nights a week he will be more successful than someone who scores all A’s in school?

What do you think- should parents have full-range to pull kids out from school for family travel?  Should there be different restrictions- i.e. going to a National Park v. going to Disney World?  Or maybe you homeschool for this very reason- the flexibility of your time for travel and outings?dsc_0758

 Want more information?  Check out this article in the Boston Globe or this blog from a retired teacher.