Archives for March 2012

Climbing Inside a New England Lighthouse

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

If you’ve ever visited the New England coast, you know that lighthouses are a major part of the local charm.  One hour north of Boston in the historic village of New Castle, NH (just outside of Portsmouth, NH) at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, stand two of the areas beaming beacons: Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and Whaleback Lighthouse.

View from the beach

Both are historically significant and breathtakingly beautiful.  A postcard shot for your travelogue.  What’s even better is that Portsmouth Harbor Light is open to the public on select days during the summer months.

The Interior & Spiral Staircase of Portsmouth Harbor Light

Our kids climbed inside the spiral staircase to the top and could view the enormous light firsthand.  They loved it.

Viewing the "Candle"

Great volunteers with fun info and insight shared their knowledge and captivated our kids.  Truly an “off-the-beaten-path” destination, Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and the surrounding area are a MUST SEE destination!

For more info contact:  Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses

Family Travel Planning & Reading Lists: The Spain Edition

For us, family vacation planning is like child development.  When your child is born you first confirm that all of the large, gross motor skills are functioning then move on to assess the more detailed, fine motor skills.  With trip planning it’s generally same thing. We get the big heavies out of the way first… planes, trains, and automobiles.   When this stage of travel planning is complete  my husband & I heave a long, sigh of relief and start planning the details.  What will we see, do, eat, and experience?  This is the fun part. The “fine motor details” of the trip, necessary to having fun and being efficient with our time.  This is crucial especially when traveling with kids.

 

S reading at Shakespeare & Co., Paris

 

The development that goes into your vacation planning can foster your child’s personal development.

Reading about our destination (in a non-travel guide format) is just as much a part of travel planning as is scouting out local markets or researching historic sites.  We try to nurture our kids’ personal development, education and cultural mindfulness through our travels. Choosing captivating reading material to peruse ahead of time is a fun way to launch the adventure.

We create family book lists for all trips, domestic or international.  (Unless we’re going to Disney.  They’ve been adequately schooled.  Thanks Walt!).  If our lists are done well (and followed through with…) it’s fascinating to watch the kids’ minds puzzle together pieces from their reading, their travels and their school education.  Below is our book list for our upcoming trip to Spain.

 

The Story of Ferdinand  by Munro Leaf

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

“Ferdinand” was first published in 1936 and it weaves the tale of a young bull from Andalucia, (Ronda as it looks from the illustrations) who finds his inner strength not from being the chosen bull for the bull-fights in Madrid, but by being himself and enjoying the simple pleasures  in life that HE treasures.

 

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Don Quixote of the Mancha (Everyman's Library Children's Classic) by Miguel de Cervantes adapted by Judge Judge Parry

Classic, Spanish and fun.  Although we are feeling bad for Don Quixote right now…

 

Platero y Yo  by  Juan Ramon Jimenez

Platero y yo / Platero and I by Juan Ramon Jimenez

Jimenez paints a beautiful picture of the Andalucian countryside in his touching tale of a young man traveling with his donkey Platero. He describes the life and children of Andalucia and bits of their rich heritage.  We bought the bilingual version so we can practice our Spanish.  Honestly, this has not “grabbed” our kids yet, so excerpts from the book will do the trick.  There are more kid friendly all-Spanish versions available.  Hopefully a good read for post trip reflection.

 

Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez

Building on Nature - The Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez

“(Antoni Gaudi’s) home is in Catalonia, a place of jagged mountain peaks and silvery olive trees, splashed by the sparkling sea. The wild beauty of this landscape makes a deep impression. He thinks of it as the Great Book of Nature, and he will read from it all of his life.

Gaudí becomes an architect, learning the rules of form and structure that buildings are supposed to follow. But the shapes and colors of the natural world still inspire him, and he works them into his buildings. Leaves climb up walls. Pillars are giant animal feet. A long bench snakes around a playground.

Antoni Gaudí turned nature into art, and in the process he revolutionized the world of architecture.” (text courtesy of Rachel Victoria Rodriguez and Amazon.com)

 

Messi: The Inside Story of the Boy Who Became a Legend – (a biography) by Luca Caioli:

Messi: The Inside Story of the Boy Who Became a Legend, by Luca Caioli

Now, even though Lionel Messi is Argentinian, he has become a legend for Spanish soccer (and beyond!).  Our son adores him and this book was for his enjoyment and pre-trip excitement.  Now if we could only get our hands on four Barcelona vs. Real Madrid tickets.  Sigh.

 

The Story of the World: Volume 2:  The Middle Ages, by Susan Wise Bauer

Story of the World, Vol. 2: The Middle Ages, by Susan Wise Bauer

 

Great children’s history series!  This volume covers the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance and honestly, and I cannot wait to read it!  Again, this is another “excerpt” read for now, but the info collected in this series is really well-done and will be a great cross-over book for future European exploration with the kids.

 

Trip planning and child raising both have unique development phases.  But a well developed trip can help form a well developed child.  

PLEASE feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section.  We’d love some more ideas!

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Family Kayaking in Southern France

Pont-du-Gard

When I think of traveling to France, I envision long romantic dinners,  strolling hand in hand with my husband and savoring an afternoon espresso at an outdoor cafe.  This was how I experienced France in the past. Without kids.

(Insert record scratch….)

Not this time.  Enter baseball hat, bathing suit, copious amounts of sunblock and splash-happy  kids loaded in two orange kayaks while gliding below one of the most magnificent World Heritage Sites on the planet: The Pont-du-Gard.  Because our kids led us to experience something so totally different than what I am accustomed to in France, kayaking on the Gardon River is now a favorite French memory for me.

Our family of four travelled to the Gard region last summer at the encouragement of my husband’s parents and fell in LOVE with the area.  The Gard, tucked neatly between Provence and Langudeoc,  allows for the best Provence has to offer but at the affordable Languedoc prices.  It’s also paradise for outdoor lovers.  Tons of hiking, rental bikes and vineyards to explore. And of course water to cool you off.

Before our August trip, we knew kayaking was an option and thought it would be fun for the kids to try, but didn’t know what are options were.  We researched the three outfitters on the Gardon River all of which are located in Collias and all of which looked fairly similar.  We opted for Canoes-Collias and were thrilled with our choice!  They were friendly, accommodating, reasonably priced and picked us up (on-time) at the end of the float.

Admiring the “Pont” before the adventure!

Collias, located about 8km up river from the Pont-du-Gard is where our adventure began.  Before entering the (cute – must-go-back-to-visit) village we found a  patisserie where we stopped in to grab baguettes, snacks and drinks for the voyage. We then headed on to Canoes-Collias which is easy to find and very hard to miss!  All of the outfitters have ensured their signs are posted at every roundabout and intersection.  Literally.  You cannot miss them!

Upon arrival, we parked up the hill in the private parking lot near the owner’s home.  There was plenty of parking so if you are like me and stress about finding decent parking in small European towns, you need not here.

We met with the canoe crew down by the river and since we reserved a kayak ahead of time (suggested during the busy summer months) our process of getting checked in and geared up with life vests was pretty fast.  The manager on duty was hilarious.  He knew we were from the northeastern US and promptly started cracking baseball jokes about the Red Sox and Yankees! My kind of guy.

The young college kids they have working loaded us into the kayaks (we rode 2 per boat, 1 adult & 1 kid) and then they pushed us downhill into the water.  Splash-down commenced and we were off!   Kids were a-shreakin’!

The 8km journey down river is gorgeous.

You paddle through little dips and swirling water holes, past caves (which you can lightly explore), weathered limestone cliffs and quiet, pebbled beaches.  The water is crystal clear and the kids had a blast just watching the fish swim below them.

Picnicking along the river bank was a great option for us.  We were thankful that we stopped at the patisserie in Collias for provisions.  The kayaks have a watertight plastic barrel on the back to store your essentials which makes a picnic a viable option.  We spied a little beach and swimming hole up river and paddled over to hop out. Eating ham baguettes and crisp palmiers while sipping Orangina, with an ancient chateaux behind us, the bright Mediterranean sun above us, and cool, clear water before us made for the kind of day that goes down in the record books.  Add happy, engaged kids to the mix and we were in heaven.  THIS is what family vacation is about.  Something that makes everyone burst with pure joy.

Our lunch was followed by some swimming and chatting with other kayakers floating down river.

We eventually hopped back in our boats and continued our voyage.  By the time we reached the magnificent Pont-du-Gard the crowd had grown as did our excitement.  We had visited the site the day before and witnessed THE CLIFF JUMPERS!  This had drawn the attention of our son whom, at the time, was 8 and was so desperately wanting to join the fun.

Although there is a popular spot for jumping in directly underneath the famed aqueduct, we stopped just before the Pont-du-Gard and found another spot that was just as fantastic, but less pressured.  Our eight year old son mustered the courage and finally jumped in the Gardon 12 ft. from above!  We were so happy for him!

Our daughter, who was 7 at the time opted for another jumping hole, just past the Pont near the swimming holes.  She  loved it!  Plus this spot allowed us to take advantage of some more swimming and rock wall building with new friends.  A great opportunity for the kids to try out their French with their peers.

The journey ended about a 1 km past the Pont where kayakers pull their boats out on a little beach (again, you can’t miss it) and hop in a van to go back to Collias.

Our experience on the Gardon led us to do it again a second day.  It really was that incredible!  Not only was it FUN but we were able to incorporate a bit of Roman/European history. Sneaky parents…

Overall, this was the expedition that made our family experience in France really gel.  It combined unforgettable family fun with local culture and history.  We were allowed those small moments, to laugh and learn and enjoy a different aspect of France’s rich, natural beauty that we never dreamed of experiencing.

Pont-du-Gard, France

QUICK FACTS:

Canoe Collias:  http://www.canoe-collias.com/

Prices: 20 Euros per adult, 17 Euros for children 13-17, 12 Euros children 6-12.

Distance from Uzes: just under 10 Km (8 miles) about 15 minutes

Distance from Avignon: just over 23 km (17 miles) about half an hour

Distance from Nimes: about 16 km (10 miles) about 20 minutes

Food Options: Picnic, or wait until you reach the Pont-du-Gard for restaurant service.  There is a nice outdoor restaurant on the Right Bank, Les Terrasses.  Food is ok, a little pricey, but great views and laid back atmosphere. http://www.pontdugard.fr/fr/content/restaurant-les-terrasses

 

 

 

Daily Photo – Flea Markets in Southern France

Flea Market Finds

On a recent family trip to France, we visited the bustling flea market in Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue near Avignon.  This charming town, complete with fairy tale streams and antique water wheels is worth a visit any day of the week, but the Saturday flea market is exceptional.  The prices were a little high, but the kids haggled in French (thankfully, the people were very kind and adore kids!) and they found some reasonably priced treasures.  Here is a picture our daughter ‘s favorite vintage soda bottles.

Bouncy Balls for Snow Balls

Pink Bouncy Ball!

It’s 2 March and we just had our first snow day (no school) of the year which is pretty unheard of, this late in the season, in our part of the world.  I’ve been waiting for this day all winter!  The first snow day is unique because you haven’t been jaded by the wrath of snow and cold and you’re still happy to see some of the white, fluffy stuff and snuggle by a fire.  However, this usually happens in November. Not March.  But I’ll take it.

The first snow day (for us anyway!) is a day of celebration.  It means family fun, food, games and crafts.  So when we found a recipe  online for making polymer bouncy balls(here is original recipe from About .com) we all agreed it was a perfect snow day activity.

Although the balls were not super bouncy, nor were they clear like the original picture I saw on the recipe the project was a lot of fun and we had a great time experimenting.

Here are the basic ingredients:

The Ingredients

  •  borax (in the laundry section at a grocery store or superstore)
  • school glue (we used clear and Elmer’s Gel which is blue.  White is supposed to make them opaque, but ours were anyway so I’m not sure it makes a difference.)
  • Cornstarch
  • Disposable cups for mixing (I recommend clear small Solo cups, but any paper cup will do)
  • Food coloring
  • Warm water
  • Spoon or craft stick or mixing
  • Ruler (to measure the bounce!)
  • Zip tight sandwich bags to store the balls in when your done.

Here is my really ingenious tip for organizing ahead of time.  Get your ingredients out of their store bought container and put them into something that is easy for your kids to scoop from.  Probably a tip that most people would figure out ahead of time, but it took us one round until this one registered upstairs…

But I digress…

First, label your mixing cups – one with borax mixture and one with ball mixture.  Next combine 2 Tbsp. of water in you borax mixture cup.

Mixing the Borax Solution

Then add 1/2 tsp. of Borax powder.  Stir the until borax is dissolved as much as you can. (Ours never dissolved completely but it was ok).  Add some food coloring.  We did about 5 heavy drops.

Next grab your ball mixture cup and add 1 Tbsp of glue.  Then add 1/2 tsp. of the borax solution you just made.

Measuring the glue

Next, add 1 Tbsp. of cornstarch to your ball mixture.

Adding the Cornstarch

Do not mix.  Wait 10-15 seconds and watch the chemical reaction take place.  This is why I suggest using clear plastic cups over paper or colored plastic; you can see the reaction through the bottom of the cup.

Checking out the chemistry

After you’ve waited a few seconds you can stir the mixture until it becomes difficult or impossible to stir.

Take your mixture out of the cup and begin to knead with your hands.   This will be REALLY sticky at first but after a minute or so your creation will solidify and begin to form a firm consistency.

A Fantastic Sticky Mess!

Super Sticky in the cup

Form it into a ball and bounce away!

Observations:  Does the length of kneading it affect the bounce?  How high does it bounce?  Does it bounce in different directions and why?  Just a few observations we made.  Please feel free to post your own observations below!

Store in a zip close sandwich bag.  FYI – they flatten out when not used but you can easily remold for extended play.

Have fun!!

 

 

The Final Product!

 

Daily Photo – March 2, 2012

S & S checking out the Rockies in Wyoming

 

In like a lion, out like a lamb!  March is here and that means summer vacation is just around the corner.  Here is a photo of our kids just before we entered Jackson, WY last summer.  We visited Grand Teton National Park and then headed south to Crested Butte, CO.  Idyllic summer break.  Fresh air, big sky and endless outdoor adventures.  We’ll trek out west again this summer and we can’t wait!