Traveling with kids. That very statement conjures of fear in the minds of many parents. The stress of keeping track of fast moving little bodies in a crowded museum or park is a real concern for those of us who travel with kids. Over the years, I have developed a few key strategies that help keep my crazy levels from climbing too high. The list includes many of the standards, like teaching the kids to ask for parental permission before they talk to strangers and making sure the kids know your cell number, address, etc. These are all things that we have heard a million times. But for me, there is a single change that I find mission critical for kid tracking in crowded venues. MATCHING COLORED OUTFITS!
My mind is very simple, and it likes to organize things into neat little compartments. My eyes are immediately attracted to the 3 little girls in matching shirts or hats, and truth be told, so are most other peoples. The benefits are two fold. It makes it easier for me to see the kids quickly in a crowd AND it lets everyone else know that those 3 little kids belong together. If someone tried to hold one of their hands and pull them out of the crowd, other people would notice, because they have already noticed the 3 little girls that look alike and a dressed alike, and made a mental note of them. EVERYONE KNOWS THESE KIDS BELONG TO ONE FAMILY!
BUT DOESN'T THAT GET EXPENSIVE? Nope! I am always on the lookout for cheap matching kid shirts or outfits in the 3 sizes I need, but often that doesn't work out. For the concept to work, the outfits don't have to be identical, just in the same color group. Frequently I can't find 3 identical shirts, but it is very easy in a house of all girls to find 3 pink shirts! Below, the girls are wearing completely different outfits, but are all in red white and blue. It still works. In the next picture they have on different styles of sweatshirts, most are hand-me-downs even, but it gets the job done! (Notice, they each have an orange t-shirt underneath in case it warms up).
BUT I CAN RARELY FIND CLEAN UNDERWEAR ON THE ROAD, HOW ON EARTH WILL I FIND MATCHING OUTFITS? Aha...and here is my biggest secret. This takes a little planning. Before we leave on a long trip, I make clothing bundles for each day for each kid. I have seen people do this in quart size ziplock bags, but that seems expensive to me. I just tie them up with yarn. Each bundle is complete with socks, underwear shorts and shirts. I pack warm day and cold day bundles, so that all I need to do is grab the appropriate bundles and hand them out in the morning. THIS SAVES ME HOURS of pawing through suitcases trying to find socks and underwear for each person. The bundles stay neat and organized and clothes stay folded for the entire trip. When we get back home, the outfits that are still bundled I know for sure are still clean.
While on the road, we put all the dirty clothes into a sack, and when we find a campsite with laundry facilities, we wash everything and bundle them back up with yarn. (We do bring extra socks though, because if your kids are like mine, they end up muddy and jammed into the seat pockets in the back of the car by Day 3!
I think that most people have a point in time in their lives that they wish they could turn back the clock to and relive...even if only a single day. For me, that time period would be the year that our little family spent living in an old cabin by the side of the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.
This place will forever represent freedom, peace, and retreat for me. Don't get me wrong, spending a year living with no running water or electricity with a three year old,a two year old and a third child on the way had its rough spots, for sure...but the sanctity of this place and the connection I felt with my soul, my creator and my family during this year was worth every moment of discomfort and sacrifice.
We were blessed in beginning of our marriage to find ourselves with great jobs, (as a IT Operations Manager for a profitable company and a Grant Director at the University at Buffalo) a beautiful home, and 2 beautiful little girls born 17 months apart. We knew that we could live this suburban life, and we could imagine pretty well how things might progress. Maybe the predictableness of it all got to us, or maybe we, like most people, just wanted an escape from the 9-5 drudgery and the trap that left us paying someone else to spend their days with our children during their formative years. The motivations were so plentiful, that I can't even remember now which one was the primary driving force behind our lifestyle change, but one thing is for sure, change it did.
In 2007 we decided almost on a whim to sell our 4,000 Sq Ft Victorian brick home, cash out our retirement plans and use the money from both to build an off-grid cabin in the woods that would have no mortgage and no utility bills. We were young, energetic and stupid...mostly stupid, but we will get to that later.
I don't have a ton a pictures from the year in the cabin...at the time, most of our experiences during this lonely year bordered between unglamorous and down-right embarrassing. But in hindsight, I remember the quiet afternoons with the girls napping in the cabin...the sparkles dancing on the river water every afternoon like a private firework show that nature was displaying for me personally. I remember learning how to bake my own bread because having quit my job, we just couldn't afford to pay $5 for a loaf of bread at a convenience store. I remember long mornings nestled up by the wood stove reading Little House on the Prairie to the girls for hours because it was too cold to go outside, too dangerous to take the kids out on the unplowed 4 mile dirt road we lived on, and no television or radio in the house. Even if we had had one, there was no power to run them. We read by kerosene lantern and propane lights, cooked on propane, and did without modern necessities like hair dryers, toasters, blenders and microwaves...and we loved it.
Have you ever slept in a house with no water pump, no refrigerator, no clocks, no outside mechanical noises? There is a deep sleep that comes with this type of quiet...we call it woodsy sleep. This time living in the hunting cabin...these were the quiet years...these are the years that taught my girls to love nature, to sing at the top of their lungs because there is no one in the woods to judge them, and to be flexible and tolerant when things are a little uncomfortable. These are the lessons the woods has to teach, for those that take the time to learn.