Thursday, May 30, 2013

Road trip rules

Over Memorial Day weekend, we headed down to Iowa to help celebrate Maya's fifth birthday at an awesome pirates & mermaids party. We had a blast! I'm not going to recap the party here - Shauna did a lovely job of that already over on The Dieter Family blog. Plus, she and Clare take far better pictures than I do with my cell phone. Look, here's an example:

So, go look over there!

What I want to talk about here is road trips with kids, and how to make them survivable (and even enjoyable) by both kids and parents.

We spent quite a bit of time in the car this weekend getting to and from the party - Friday we drove to Ames (3.5 hours of drive time), Saturday from Ames to Cedar Rapids (should've been 1.5 hours, but was closer to 2 due to rain), Sunday back from CR to Ames, and then Monday back home to Minneapolis. We make the trip down to Ames a couple of times a year, and we've also done some drives recently up to Duluth (2.5 hours) and to Bemidji (4 hours). With all that driving under our belts, we feel like we're getting pretty good at kid-friendly (or friendlyish) road trips. So I figured I'd share what we've learned, and ask for your tips, too!

In our experience, there are a couple of key elements to a successful road trip with kids. If you give these some thought and get them figured out in advance of your trip, you should be able to keep the whining to a minimum. And really, what more can you ask for?

1. Plan your route

At 6.5 and almost 4, Maisie and Ella get really restless after sitting still for too long. They're good for an hour and a half in the car, maybe two hours max. But much longer than that, and they start to get antsy and whiny and crabby, which is no fun for anyone! So when we're planning a trip, we'll also look along the route and plan stops at places where the girls can run around and burn off some energy.

Many of the rest stops in Minnesota have little playgrounds, which are perfect for this - on our trips to Ames, we usually stop at the one right on the Minnesota-Iowa border. When we were traveling to & from Bemidji, we stopped at the mall in St. Cloud, which has a children's play area. In our experience, the break doesn't need to be very long - 10 or 15 minutes is often enough to get the job done.

2. Plan your departure

The right time to hit the road is going to vary from kid to kid and from trip to trip. How long is the drive? Will it overlap with meal times or naps? And of course, you have to consider weather conditions too, especially here in the upper Midwest!

When Maisie and Ella were still regular nappers, we'd try to start our trips right around naptime. After all, a sleeping child is generally a happy child who is not whining, and that makes for a great drive! Now that they're not napping consistently (Ella) or at all (Maisie), we have a little more flexibility with our departure times, so we'll consider weather conditions and when/where we want to make our stops. On Monday, for example, when we drove home from Ames, we left right after lunch. We'd rather not eat on the road, if we can avoid it. And that brings me to...

3. Plan your food

Boy, it's easy to eat a bunch of junk food on a road trip. Convenience stores and fast-food chains are everywhere, and it can be difficult to make better choices - especially if you have a little one who's begging for candy and chips and chicken nuggets. In our experience, that only leads to too much money spent (fast food can be surprisingly expensive, especially for what you get!) and upset tummies. No fun!

We like to pack a cooler with healthy, kid-friendly, car-friendly snacks. This means things that the girls will like to eat, that won't spill or crumble and make a huge mess! Some of our favorite snacks are:
  • Cheese sticks
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Bananas
  • Apple slices
  • Carrot sticks
  • Goldfish crackers (less car-friendly, but the kids love 'em)
We try to avoid anything too sugary-sweet. If you're stuck in the car for a couple of hours, you really don't need a sugar rush, or the crash that follows. Plus, our experience is that sugary snacks will lead to upset tummies more often than other snacks will.

We also make sure to bring full bottles of water, so it's easier to avoid sugary fruit juices and pops.

4. Plan their activities & entertainment

I know a lot of people rely on iPads and other electronics for kid entertainment during travel. We don't have much in the way of kid electronics (no iPad or other tablet), and Maisie and Ella are little enough that they sometimes have a hard time with using the electronics we do have (like portable DVD player) without a lot of parental help. So, those tend not to be a good fit for us for the car.

Instead, we've found a couple of other ways to keep the kids entertained and pass the time.
  • Word games: I Spy is always fun! But unfortunately, there's not a ton of variety on the drive between Minneapolis and Ames, so we've come up with a few others. The girls like rhyming, so I'll give them a word and ask for rhymes. Maisie's also working on isolating beginning sounds of words, so I might give her a word and ask her to think of another that starts with the same sound. She and Ella can play this kind of game for a surprisingly long time - I get bored with it long before they do!
  • Books on tape: This is something new we tried on this trip, and it was a hit! Our library has a great selection of children's audio books. They were especially good when we were in pouring rain with huge wind gusts. The audio book kept Maisie occupied so I could concentrate on driving. On the way home from Ames, listening to the story also let Ella relax enough to take a sorely needed nap. Naps for the win!!
  • New coloring books & crayons: This one is probably age-dependent... but it works for now, and is a fairly inexpensive way to keep them happily occupied. Coloring books and crayons can be found for about a buck apiece at Michael's or similar stores. And everyone likes a new box of crayons, right?
  • Drawing: Both Maisie and Ella really like to draw. A little notebook and a pen will keep them occupied for quite a while, but pens tend to get dropped. We got them travel Magna Doodles, which have been a great substitute for pen & paper - the attached pen means that it won't get dropped and lost!
So, that's how we've managed to take road trips from a necessary evil to be endured to something that's actually fun. Please share your road trip tips & tricks, too!

Getting there is half the fun, come share it with me!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Marriage Equality Day at the Capitol!

This post will probably be full of exclamation marks! Because I am SO! EXCITED! AND HAPPY!!!!

Last November, you may remember, we here in Minnesota had two ugly Constitutional amendments on our ballot. One was to require voter ID at the polls, and the other was to prohibit same-sex marriage. This anti-marriage amendment created a groundswell of grassroots activism for its defeat. But once the amendment (both amendments, actually!) was defeated, the thought became, "why stop here? why not change the statute?"

As it currently stands, marriage in Minnesota is defined by Minn. Stat. 517.01, which states in part:
Marriage . . . is a civil contract between a man and a woman . . . . Lawful marriage may only be contracted between persons of the opposite sex and only when a license has been obtained as provided by law . . . .
In the current session, a bill was introduced to change that to read:
A civil marriage . . . is a civil contract between two persons . . . .  Lawful marriage may only be contracted when a license has been obtained as provided by law . . . .
It's a small change, but it makes a BIG difference!

Last week, the bill passed the House of Representatives and headed to the Senate. With a pro-marriage DFL majority, passage was as certain as anything in politics can be. So Maisie and I took the day off from our respective school/work obligations, and headed with Ella to the Capitol, to join the celebration.

It was a beautiful day, too - sunny and not too hot!
 We got there around 10:00 a.m. I thought we'd be on the early side - the Senate wasn't convening until noon! - but the party was already in full swing! At this point, I'd guess that the pro-marriage equality "Vote Yes!" folks outnumbered the "Vote No" people by 2:1 or 3:1. It was the highest proportion we'd see all day. (If you can't read the signs in these pictures, the marriage equality people were either wearing orange and blue or rainbow colors. "Vote No" was in pink.)

We met up with my college friend Jo and her older son Tristan, who was carrying a sign he made that said "VOTE YES so that my moms can get married!" We hung out on the steps, checked out people's signs, petted some cute dogs... it was a friendly and relaxed crowd, for the most part.

We had to get off the Capitol steps by 11, because another group had them reserved (Falun Gong, as it turns out). So after a quick peek at the crowd that was gathering in the Capitol rotunda...

hmmm, that's not too crowded...
 ..we headed off to visit the office of our senator, Patricia Torres Ray.
Senator Torres Ray wasn't in the office, but we were pretty clear about where she stood on the issue. :) She even had a little snack station set up in her office! The girls picked up some cookies for themselves and for Tristan. They are now huge fans of Senator Torres Ray. Thanks for the Oreos!!

Hm, starting to get a little more crowded...

After a brief lunch break/potty stop at my mom's nearby apartment, we headed back to the Capitol for the long haul. By now, the Senate had convened and all we had to do was wait. We hung out, sang songs... and waited.

Singing "This Land Is Your Land" - probably 5:1 "Vote Yes"
 As you can see, the place was really filling up! And it was getting hot and stuffy in there, too. It's a huge building with a huge open space, but the sheer numbers of people there really managed to warm it up.

Speaking of people, we saw a lot of folks there who we knew! I said hi to friends Brian & Geri, Carleton classmates Bruce, Willy, and Kacia, multiple neighborhood moms with their kids, and Legal Aid director Cathy Haukedahl. I also saw a law school prof (but didn't say hi), and I know there were a bunch of other folks there who I know but didn't manage to run into.

The girls started to get a little antsy and asked to head back to "our Senator's office... you know, with the cookies?"

She changed her door sign.
Sadly, the cookies were all gone! But a television was on in her office, showing the debate, and bunch of people were in there watching. I wanted to watch, so we sat for a minute. The girls complained (quietly) about the lack of cookies until one of her staffers brought them some Dove chocolates.

 I was watching the discussion when I heard Maisie say, "Oh, Ella." I looked over to see Ellie playing with her chocolate, rolling it around in her hands.

After a bathroom stop for washing up, we took a peek at the growing crowd....
Pretty much entirely "vote yes!"
  And found Tristan and Jo again.

Tristan and the girls hung out, drew and colored...
Watched the crowd, and sang songs.

We ended up leaving around 3:30. It had been a long day, and the debate was still ongoing. We'd hoped to stay for the whole thing, but the kids were pretty much done (and to be honest, so were we). So we all headed home, listening to the discussion on MPR the whole way.

It finally headed for a vote after we'd gotten home, and we all heard that it passed around 4:30. Tears were shed and all my social media outlets simultaneously went "Woo hoo!" :) And so Minnesota became the 12th state to pass marriage equality. Yes Iowa, you got there first. But we finally caught up! On July 1, marriage licenses will be issued to same-sex couples, and on August 1, those couples will be able to get married.

Governor Mark Dayton has scheduled a signing ceremony for 5:00 this afternoon. We won't be able to attend (ukelele class conflict!), but I'm so glad that we went to the Capitol yesterday. I feel so strongly about the importance of this - I've heard it said multiple times that gay rights are the civil rights movement of our times, and I believe that to be true, and I'm so glad that the girls were able to witness all the love and support behind this movement. People in same-sex relationships, and their children, can now have the same legal protections as Aaron and I do, and as Maisie and Ella. Inheritance rights, tax breaks, medical decision-making... there are so many rights conferred by marriage that can't be won any other way. And not only that, it's a recognition of legitimacy and validation.

I'm so proud to be a Minnesotan most of the time. But yesterday and today, SO much!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Vacation: Duluth

This past Monday, May 6, Maisie had the day off school for one of those random record-keeping or teacher in-service days. I figured I might as well give myself the day off, too. So we headed up north to Duluth, where we'd made a reservation at one of the girls' favorite places - Edgewater Resort & Waterpark. We stayed there Saturday through Monday.

We had a blast playing in the water park! You'll have to take my word for it, though - I didn't manage to take any pictures.

I did manage to get some pictures on Sunday afternoon, though, when we took a break from playing in the water to head down to Canal Park, which is a semi-touristy area right on the waterfront.

 One of Duluth's unique attractions is the aerial lift bridge. When a ship needs to come through that's too tall for the bridge, instead of it breaking in the middle and the two halves pulling up, the whole bottom part lifts straight up!

Ella as "Balance Panda"
So first, of course, we had to watch the bridge go up and down as a ship came through. It was kind of chilly, though, so once the bridge was on its way back down, we headed indoors to the Lake Superior Maritime Museum, which is far more interesting than I thought it would be. It presents the history of shipping on the Great Lakes. So on the top level, there's telescopes so you can watch the ships come in, and some fun hands-on exhibits.

Shipping on Lake Superior is not without its tragedies, of course. The museum displays multiple artifacts that have been recovered from shipwrecks... including this very famous wreck.

Once we'd had our fill of the museum, we went down to the lakeside to climb on rocks and to look for additions to our rock collection!

There's a wooden lakewalk that goes quite a ways down the length of the waterfront, and then these HUGE boulders all piled from the lakewalk to the shore that are oh-so-tempting to climb on.
See? really huge!

Some of the rocks have these holes drilled in them. I wasn't sure what they were from at first, but I think I figured it out.

A sign said that the rocks were from when MN-DOT was finishing Interstate 35's route through the east side of Duluth. So my guess is that the holes were drilled for blasting through the hillsides. What do you think?

As we walked, we all looked at the little rocks, too, for interesting additions to our rock collection. We found a LOT of different rocks (and I emptied a lot of rocks out of the girls' pockets!). Here are the ones we ended up bringing home:
Clockwise from the top: sea glass, gabbro, an agate!, quartz that might reveal some hematite bands if we take a rock hammer to it (a.k.a. stealth agate!!), red & black basalt? rhyolite, and either basalt or flint.

Geology rocks!

We headed back on Monday after a fun, relaxing long weekend. And for all the fun we had at the water park, Maisie and Ella both said that their favorite part of the trip was climbing on the rocks. It was a great time, and we're already planning our next Duluth adventure.