Summer In The Park!

The weather is finally starting to warm and give hints of summer (although the snow on the rooftops this morning in my neighborhood wouldn’t make you think that) and it’s time to start thinking picnics!

There are so many options for picnics…
* Dining on your own patio/deck/backyard
* Daytime lunch picnics at the park
* Evening concerts in the park
* Lazy afternoons at the beach or the lake

In my younger days living in Chicago I loved the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. My friends and I would pack up bottles of wine, fruit, and sandwiches with our blankets and bug spray and enjoy awesome concerts under the stars. Girls’ Night Out at Ravinia have been replaced by family friendly movies and concerts in our local park but the enjoyment of being outside has not changed.

The only thing that brings down the otherwise festive atmosphere is the hectic hour before we leave gathering all the necessary gear and food while corralling children into the car or wagons.

If you like to picnic and plan to do so this summer, take time this month to prepare for all those festivals and outings (like Independence Day Fireworks) coming soon.

First, pick your favorite container… maybe it’s a organizational tote from Thirty-One or one of the classic Land’s End totes.

{image source: Land’s End}

Next, gather all that you need to have a great picnic.  Here are my suggestions for staples:

    1. Blanket(s).  Some places my have picnic tables but even so, a blanket can come in handy when it gets a bit chilly. My favorite blankets are washable and thick (to keep out the moisture from damp grass).
    2. Plastic Sheet or Tarp.  If you live in an area known for lots of summer rain (not you, Coloradoans!) you’ll probably want something to go under your blankets.CrateandBarrelCandleInCanSm
{image source: Crate & Barrel}
  1. Citronella Candle. Bugs can ruin an outing quickly. Keep them at bay. This adorable candle-in-can from Crate & Barrel is a great way to go. They are inexpensive enough you can buy a few and keep them on hand. Don’t forget the matches!
  2. Bug Spray. An extra layer of protection.
  3. Sun Screen.
  4. Umbrella. You may just need to make a mad dash to the car in the rain. Make it a little less crazy with an umbrella.
  5. Trash Bags. All those food wrappers need to go somewhere!  Instead of making 10 trips to the trash can, fill your bag and then dump it all at once.
  6. Sweater or Sweatshirt. Even in summer, it can get quite cool once the sun goes down. If you came in shorts and a tank top you might need a little something to help you make it through to the end of the show.
  7. Collapsible Chairs. Some type of camping chair works great. I’ve found the older I get, the less I like sitting on hard ground for several hours.
  8. Flashlight. If you do evening picnics (like for concerts) this can help as you pick up all your gear at the end of the night and make your way back to the car.
  9. Cork Screw. If you are a wine drinker, this essential will be sorely missed.
  10. Paper/Plastic Goods.  Be extra prepared by having the napkins, forks, knifes, spoons, and plates already packed in your bag. Don’t forget a few cups or glasses for wine or other drinks.
  11. Sharp Knife. The plastic knives will work fine for eating but you may want to share your apple or cut open a package of treats. Don’t bring your $200 Wusthof knife. Grab an inexpensive one at the store just for keeping in your picnic kit. Bonus points if you put it in a little plastic box to keep little hands from getting cut while reaching into your tote.
  12. Wet Wipes. Baby wipes are great for this. Kids tend to find the messiest item in any picnic area (and adults could probably use a wipe too.)
  13. Hand Sanitizer. Your kid just gave a big hug to the Border Collie the next picnic blanket over and they are about to eat their sandwich…
  14. Ziploc Bags. I always find empty bags to come in handy. They are great for holding left over food and the miscellaneous “treasures” that kids seem to acquire.
  15. Something Fun. A frisbee, deck of cards or other small item can help pass the time as you wait during intermissions.
  16. Kids Essentials. If you have kids, especially babies or toddlers, you’ll probably need a few spare diapers and a change of pants & underpants.  You probably don’t need a complete diaper bag but the essentials are good for your picnic bag.

Having your gear bag packed, all you’ll need to get ready for a picnic is the food and the friends and family.

And remember… when you get home you need to restock the bag with anything you used up.

Airline Travel Tips

I have spent the past 15 years traveling for both work and pleasure. My lifetime flight miles on my preferred airline is currently around 130,000. That doesn’t count flights I’ve taken using mileage redemption and on any number of other airlines. I’d estimate my total flight miles somewhere around 250,000. In all that time, I’ve picked up a few habits that have served me well. Here are my tips for you…

* Traveling alone with lots of luggage. It might seem like a good idea to park close to the airport. But when you park in the closest airport lot you have to manage to get all that luggage to the check-in counter on your own. If you choose a farther parking lot – either the airport provided “economy” parking or an off-site parking place, you will have a shuttle bus available to pick you up right at or very near your car. This bus will drop you right off at the sky-cap and check-in counter. A much easier way to arrive when you have more bags than hands.

* Roller-boards in the restroom. Ever tried to fit one of those carry-on bags into a tiny bathroom stall in the airport? It involves a precise navigation of bag, door and toilet. My advice – choose a more out of the way restroom and use the handicap stall. By choosing a slower traffic area you’ll be less likely to run into someone with an disability or a mother with a child waiting for the stall.

* Traveling in pairs on a 3 and 3 across plane. You and your spouse are having a nice getaway. You, of course, want to sit together. Even more ideal would be if you could have one of those rows of 3 all to yourselves. I guarantee you that if you select your seats as the window & middle or aisle & middle someone will snatch up the remaining aisle/window. Those seats are coveted. Leave one open and it’s sure to be taken. But if you select your seats as the window & aisle and leave the middle open it’s less likely to be taken by a fellow passenger. People will take all the other window/aisle seats first. If by chance the flight is full and someone does come along to sit in that middle seat, they will be thrilled when you tell them you are traveling together and would they rather have the window/aisle instead of that dreaded middle. It’s a win-win.

* Need extra legroom? Exit rows have lots of extra legroom. But if you want one, it helps to get to the airport early. Airlines only assign these seats at the airport. I believe the reason is that they want to see for themselves that you are physically of age and capable to manning the door if necessary. As soon as you arrive at the airport check-in, ask to be reassigned to an exit row. You may not get it, but you just might.

* Like to recline? Never choose the last row of the plane or the row directly in front of an exit row. Usually, these seats do not recline. That’s not universally true but better safe than sorry.

* Check-in online. You can check in online 24 hours in advance of your flight on almost every US airline. By checking in early, you can review your seat selection and perhaps snag something slightly better than you were able to get originally. Trust me, savvy business travelers are checking in as soon as possible and taking all the good seats.

* Saved money by connecting but wish you could fly direct? I try to fly direct whenever possible. But sometimes the price differential is just too great to justify. If your departure and final destination cities have a direct flight between them, you may be able to get on that plane. This works best when the departure time for the direct flight is around the same time as your ticketed flight. When you arrive, go to the ticket counter and ask if the direct flight has remaining seats available. If it does, and you ask VERY nicely, the ticket agent can move you to the direct flight. If there is a stand-by list, you can be placed on that as well. Of course, if your ticketed flight leaves before the stand-by list is called you won’t want to wait around for it.

  • You can also see if there are empty seats when you are doing your online check-in by searching for that flight as though you were going to purchase a ticket.

* Add the reservations number for the airline to your cell phone contact list. If your flight gets canceled, everyone will have to go stand in line at the counter at the gate to be re-ticketed. Get in line but as soon as you get in line, call the reservations number. There is a phone bank full of people available to help whereas at the counter there are only 1-3 gate agents helping perhaps hundreds of people. The reservations agents on the phone are able to rebook you just as easily as the gate agents. If you get to the gate agent before you reach someone on the phone, then you didn’t lose anything by sitting on hold for that time (except a few minutes of your cell phone time). But it is likely you’ll get someone on the phone first.

And the most important thing to remember when traveling…..

* Niceness goes a long way with airline and airport personnel. I know it’s easy to lose your cool when you’ve been bumped, delayed or otherwise maligned. But remember that these people have a job to do, just like you do. They are trying their best to get you where you need to be. And if they have a choice between helping a shouting, cursing, red-in-the-face bully or a mild-mannered person who asks with a smile and a please…. well, you guess who they are going to feel more inclined to assist.

Quick Tip Thursday

Vacation Reboot

About that summer vacation we just planned and packed for. How many times have you arrived back from vacation just to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done getting life back to normal? How long have you continued to live out of your suitcase for a week after your return?

This summer, when you get home, put away everything the same day. If you happen to arrive home in the middle of the night, do it first thing in the morning. I know it seems overwhelming but I promise your transition back to the daily grind will be so much nicer if you aren’t dealing with remnants of your vacation.

Take one hour to do the following:

1. Set the timer for 15 minutes (20-30 minutes if mom & dad need to unpack the kids stuff) and have everyone set off to their own room to unpack their stuff.

2. Throw in a load of laundry. If you think of it beforehand, designate a dirty laundry bag on your trip. Instead of having everyone repack their own suitcases with their own clothes, designate one bag to be the dirty laundry bag. As soon as you unload the car, take that bag to the laundry room and throw it all in to wash. (better yet, if you are staying with family or friends do laundry the night before your departure & come home with clean clothes.)

3. Sit down at the table for a quick break and an easy snack (microwave popcorn, a few pieces of fruit or cheese & crackers are good choices). Sitting at the table is key for this. If you let yourselves get comfortable on the couch in front of the tv you’ll be unlikely to get back up.

4. Set the timer for another 15-30 minutes (depending on whether your kids can help and how much stuff you packed) and get to work putting everything else away.

I’ll be surprised if your travel gear isn’t entirely unpacked and put away after this hour (aside from what’s churning away in the washing machine). If this one hour vacation reboot doesn’t leave you with everything put away you’ll be darn close. And you’ll be able to get back to your life with a sense of peace.

Traveling With Kids

Planning a summer vacation? If you are traveling with kids, there is an overwhelming amount of things to bring with you – Bottles, sippy cups, diapers, toys, snacks, portable cribs, etc, etc. Here are a few tips to help make planning and packing a little easier.

1. Document your day. At least a week before your trip, write down everything you use over the course of two days. This will be the basis of your packing list.

2. Prepare an “overnight kit” for yourself and for your children. You can do this today – even if you aren’t vacationing for several weeks or months. Just be sure to check expiration dates. Include duplicates or travel sizes of your toiletries – shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, haircare products, shower products, disposable razor, shaving cream, over-the-counter medications (especially things like Children’s Tylenol/Motrin). If your travel usually involves flying, make sure the liquid products comply with FAA standards for carry-on luggage (3 oz containers in one quart sized bag per person). Keep this kit packed and ready to go. If you travel for work frequently, your probably already have this.

3. Borrow or buy it there. If you will be staying with friends or family, consider which items you can skip bringing (like a hair dryer). Or if you visit the same people frequently (like your parents or children), make a list of things you usually use on your visits and plan to make a run to the store upon your arrival to pick up those items. Buy a small clear tub to store your items in an out of the way place at your host’s house. Things you might want to keep there include – toiletries, dental care items, blowdryer, brush, baby bottle dishwasher rack, sippy cups, baby bottles, diapers, wipes, booster seat, toilet seat topper (for potty-training toddlers) and over the counter medicines.

4. Pack a family overnight bag. If you will have an overnight stop-over before reaching your final destination pack a separate bag with a change of clothes and toiletries for the whole family. This will keep you from having to dig out all the suitcases just for a one night stop.

5. Plan for the journey, not just the destination. Don’t forget to pack a car/plane-ride bag for the trip there – things like snacks, toys, CDs or MP3 players, DVDs, books, a change of underwear (just in case of an unexpected layover when flying), bottles & sippys.

6. Don’t reinvent the wheel. After you make your packing list and have all your items packed DON’T THROW AWAY THE LIST. Keep it in a safe place. When you get back from your trip review the list and see if there were things you really could have done without or things you forgot. Add or subtract those from the list. Then keep the list to use as a first draft for your next trip.

Here’s a sample packing list for a driving trip to visit grandma (3 states away) with a baby, toddler and grade-schooler in tow.

CAR QUICK-GRAB BOX (I like to use a small box – like the kind that holds CD jewel cases). This box will sit up front with the driver & passenger.
– favorite CDs or your MP3 player
– book
– small snacks (I love the Snack-Traps for things like cheerios, grapes, and goldfish crackers for the toddler)
– water bottle and No-Spill Bottle Caps (great for the toddler)
– baby bottle
– extra pacifier (if your baby takes one)
– 1 diaper in each size necessary
– small pack of wipes (can also be used to clean of messy hands)
– wet dishtowel stored in a zip-top storage bag (for inevitable spills)
– 1-3 empty zip-top bags – these are great for all manner of things – wet clothes, dirty smelly diapers, trash, an unavoidable car sickness incident, etc.
– handheld manual pump for breastfeeding moms

CAR PACK
These are the extras you need for pit stops but not necessarily at the ready while driving
– extra diapers & wipes
– extra sippy cup
– small can of formula or a few bags of breastmilk (of course you’ll need the BM to go in a cooler)
– extra water bottles
– small bag with a few ponytail holders and hair clips (for mom or girls)
– sunscreen (for that “quick stop” to see the world’s largest ball of twine)
– camera

KIDS BOX (you’ll probably want one for each kid. In this example, the baby & toddler could share)
– 2-4 small books
– 1-2 small favorite toys
– 2-4 small new toys. These don’t need to be expensive, just something fun that they haven’t seen before. Preferably things that don’t make a mess. Etch-a-sketch type pads are great, as are water coloring books, puzzle books (for the older child), a Rubik’s cube).
– 1-3 self contained snacks. Include as many as you would allow the child to eat for the duration of the trip (one way). This works well for older kids as they can decide when to eat and what they prefer without you having to dig through everything. It also sets a clear limit on how much snacking they can do. When the snacks are gone, they are gone. Pre-packaged snacks work well but don’t forget about fruit (bananas, grapes in a storage baggie, apples, etc) and veggies (carrot sticks, edemame) too.

OVERNIGHT BAG – this is just a single bag for the whole family.
– One change of clothes for each family member
– A few extra diapers
– Toiletry kits
– swimsuits & flip flops (in case the hotel has a pool)
– a few $1 bills for the vending machines (you know that grade-schooler is going to beg for a snack on the way back from the pool!)
– favorite stuffed animals or blankies that are a must for bedtime
– extra pacifier – no one wants to dig through the backseat for a lost one when you arrive at the hotel at 9pm.
– jar(s) of baby food & spoon
– prescription medications
– mom’s makeup bag

SUITCASES
This is your usual stuff
– clothes
– shoes
– haircare stuff (brushes, blowdryer)
– extra undies
– extra socks
– a few more diapers (can you tell I think you should have a diaper handy in any bag you open.)

OTHER GEAR
This can go in suitcases if you have room or you can make it a separate bag.
– bottles and/or bottle liners
– a few sippy cups
– toddler utensils (if your kid needs them)
– dishwasher rack for bottles & sippy parts
– toilet seat topper (for potty training toddlers)
– stroller
– baby-wearing device (if you use one)

I know this seems like a lot. It is. Traveling with kids is not easy but it is so worth it to see your little ones meet their cousins for the first time or taste Grandma’s apple pie or experience the Grand Canyon. If you follow the tips at the beginning of this entry you may be able to cut down on the gear you need to bring.

May this summer be full of fun and laughter for you and your family. Happy Travels!