Ski with the family: Crested Butte, Colorado!

Every winter our family makes the pilgrimage to the vast playground of western Colorado.  Since we live in New England, an area brimming with ski slopes, people always ask us why we bother to go west.  In a nutshell…  Big sky, big mountains and in the winter BIG snow. Not to mention unobstructed family time that is becoming rare.

family, ski, colorado, gunnison, crested butte, elk mountains

cousins!

 

But when the reality hits of paying for airfare, ski equipment, rental car, lift tickets, food, blah blah blah I sometimes wonder too… why are we doing this?

Well, this is why…

 

colorado, snow, ski

Beautiful Mt. Crested Butte

And this…

red lady

Not to mention that Crested Butte is a destination.  You don’t just stumble upon the town or pass through and decide to stop for lunch.  If you are there, you are meant to be there. It’s very remote and therefore has kept a lot of its original, old mining town charm.  Which they rightfully place in high regard and a trip to the local museum on Main St. will guide you through the town’s mining past.

The town is not wrought with schwanky overpriced stores, and restaurants. Although it is LOADED with incredible eateries and funky boutiques.  It bursts with color and charm and hospitality.  For as cold as it gets here in the winter, Crested Butte is still one of the warmest places we’ve visited.

troublemaker, wine, stash, pizza

The bookwall at The Secret Stash, Crested Butte, CO

The mountain itself is low-key but offers incredibly diverse terrain and a slew of outdoor activities for every age range and IT IS NOT SUPER CROWDED!!! I thankfully do not have to worry about our kids having a mid-run collision as much as I do at some of the more cramped resorts. I think this is in part to the fact that again, Crested Butte is a destination. It is far enough off the beaten path that you do not have as many weekend skiers as you do closer to Denver or in the East.

From extreme, crazy, cliff caressing, hair-on-fire skiers  to 2 year old bunnies riding the Magic Carpet, and every level of skier in between, Mt. Crested Butte does not disappoint.  Our kids are usually taking turns at one of the terrain parks.  Which is surprisingly fun even for an older, average skier like myself.  Granted the kids had to teach me  what to do and I did manage a face full of snow at one point, but still fun. And the kids LOVE it.  There are two smaller terrain parks and then there is one super colossal, mac daddy, wear your knee brace, park.  My fearless duo and their equally fearless cousins love el grande.

Lessons.  Great all around.  We’ve enrolled the kids for the past few years (ask for Todd- he’s great!) and from every lesson the kids come away with something new.  I will say that the lessons are not cheap but are totally worth every penny.  My 2 sisters-in-law and I took a powder lesson a few year’s back and loved it! Being from New England, I’m used to skiing on ice so the lesson was needed if I wanted to hang in the powder.  Learned a ton. Again, worth every penny.  If you have little littles, they have a great daytime child care program while you hit the slopes.  Plus a great “park” at the base offers skating, tubing, bungee/trampoline jumping and rock climbing.  Music’s always playing, sun is shining, life is good!family, ski, west, colorado, snow, fun, big sky, blue, mountain

Although we have never stayed in any of the Mt. Crested Butte Resort lodging (they offer the Grand Lodge, Elevation Hotel & Spa and Mountaineer Square), all of their properties are newly renovated and have breathtaking views of the mountain. The resort runs ski an stay deals quite often especially early in the season.  We opt for ski-in, ski-out condos.  Check Visit Crested Butte’s vacation homes listings or search VRBO,  Home Away, or Flip Key for more options.

For dining be sure to check out:

The Secret Stash – great pizza and very cool atmosphere. Be prepared to hang out for a while.

The Ginger Cafe – great pan-Asian food

Pitas in Paradise – Global comfort food

Camp 4 Coffee – a must have for a perfectly roasted bean. I always bring a few bags home.

stars, funky, fun, lights, nightlife, night, pizza,

 

 

Inspired by #SandOrCity travel: Opening my eyes, exploring new things.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

 

dragon fruit, thailand, red, pink, green, exotic, hmart, boston, marriott, #sandorcity

This week, in a mix of curiosity and travel fever, two of my friends grabbed me to go check out our nearby(ish) H Mart just outside Boston, MA. H Mart is an Asian grocery store/superstore/food court where you can get your hands on authentic Asian foods and dry goods. Eye-opening cultural experiences is a passion of mine and walking into the HMart felt like I stepped off a plane into a Asian food playground.  I’m ready more than ever to visit Asia firsthand.

This was perfect timing – I’m currently gathering info for Marriott’s #SandOrCity trip giveaway contest. My Bangkok inspiration board on Pinterest has made my dream of visiting Bangkok even stronger. Traveling to Bangkok is a dream experience for me and my husband.

One component of Thai lifestyle that I’ve always found interesting is their food. Authentic, can’t-get-it-in-the-USA Thai food. One in particular is Durian, the notorious Asian fruit and major Thai export. Needless to say I was PSYCHED that they sold Durian at the HMart. Although ours was previously frozen it was still the real deal and quite the experience getting our family to try it out. Now, we want to try a fresh, STINKY one! From a fresh fruit stand… In Bangkok.

Check out our first Durian experience here:

Monticello Unplanned – Jefferson’s Palace in the Spring & Tips For Your Visit

Our family was reunited with spring last weekend in Charlottesville, VA as we went on a quick trip to visit my brother and his family. I love Charlottesville! If you have not been there, you should go. Home to the University of Virginia, Charlottesville is vibrant cultural hub and the region’s hilly, lush landscape is reminiscent of European countrysides. family, travel, virginia, spring, monticello

Long overdue family time happily took center stage for our trip so all of our explorations and adventure’s were a hefty side-dish but definitely not the main course.

As long-time residents of Charlottesville, my brother’s family is well acquainted with Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent home. However, my immediate brood had ever been before.

Now, normally I would do the usual plan ahead, research the trip, yadda yadda yadda. But because this trip was focused on family (and because I have been “coming-in-on two-wheels” crazy, busy lately) there was NO pre-planning. No books were read, no maps were checked, no tickets bought. Nothing. Nada. And I am just fine with that.

I was so unfocused on Monticello before our trip that when we got there, we were in for a complete and welcome surprise.  The fascinating home, slave quarters and lush gardens provide a colorful backdrop from which to serve a heaping helping of American history and culture. Not to mention Thomas Jefferson was a fascinating individual and his collections from the all over the world were enthralling. From books, to taxidermy to his clever innovations, our family was captivated and curious.

monticello, virginia, jefferson, discovery, curious, kids, tweens, education

Checking out Jefferson’s Polygraph Machine.

 

discover, chess, play, history, america, south, jefferson, monticello

Playing Chess in the Griffin Discovery Room

My quick Six Tips for Monticello:

1. Plan a little. Or a lot. At least hop on their website to discover your options. Lots of great resources and links for you and your family.

2. Go early or late. When we were there, the tour busses were lining up starting around 10 am.

3. Ask what time you need to be in line to take the bus to Jefferson’s home. When you purchase your Monticello tour ticket, you are given a tour time. There are busses that bring you up the hill to the home and if you miss the bus you miss your tour and the bus lines can be LONG! Although we were fine for time, we did hear several stories of people missing their tour because they didn’t plan enough time. You can also walk to the top, but it can be a haul with kids.

4. Walk back down the hill from the home to the visitor’s center so you can check out the graveyard and the beautiful scenery.

5. Pre-purchase your tickets. Tour time slots are limited and by purchasing your tickets online ahead of time, you can be sure to get the time slot that suits your agenda.

6. Visit the Griffin Discovery Room. Even if you are not with kids. This hands-on discovery center lets you try Jefferson’s Polygraph Machine, sit in his swivel chair and see how much strength you need to “keep a fire burning” with a giant bellows.

virginia, family, cousins

A Wintery 24 Hours in #Vermont: Gymnastics, Cheese and Markets

Although I was raised in New England there are still a lot of spots in the region that I haven’t visited. Since moving back here from Texas a few years ago I made a vow that we’d take our kids to do more and see more in our area. New England is beautiful! It’s an outdoor adventure park! It has cows, maple syrup and apples! Mountains, oceans, rivers, forests! I love every ounce of New England’s charm and character.

barn, apple, red, vermont, history, farm, farmer, winter, snow, cold, roadside, travel

Sadly, I admit that we haven’t been doing the best traveling around the area so far which really bums me out.

But it’s never too late and when opportunity calls, we must seize it! So when we found out about our daughter’s gymnastics meet in Brattleboro, VT we knew we needed to jump on it and turn it into a mini-getaway.

We didn’t have a ton of time in the area, but the escape we did enjoy was beautiful and the perfect opportunity to take this area for a “test drive”. The best part of our trip was realizing that we want to go back this summer to explore more.

Here are a few highlights:

Brattleboro Winter Farmer’s Market was a really unique experience. From locally sourced foods to artisans and craftspeople, this market was a beautiful testament to sustainability, community and local lifestyle.

farmers market, farm, vermont, art, craft, local, food, asian, dumplings, dim sum, rocking chair, wood, organic

The picture above shows at left a view on the market, top-right is a wood-carver who is hand carving rockers for rocking chair and on the bottom right a plate of delicious Chinese  dumplings that we got for a snack.

Grafton Village Cheese is a beautiful series of apple red barns majestically standing near the banks of the Connecticut River. You can’t miss their complex when you drive into town. They offer a great selection of hand-crafted cheese made on- site and their 4 year cheddar is to die for! If you go during the warmer months, we were told you can watch them make cheese on weekday mornings. The cheese maker may come out to greet you and discuss the cheese making process.

cheese, vermont, cheddar, travel, visit, new england, red, barn, antique, local

cheese, girl, vermont, new england, travel, happy, cheddar, sample, store, local, food, farm, dairy

Cool landscapes abound in this region! From antique New England barns to creaking but quaint cemeteries, to small ice-fishing shacks dotting the many frozen lakes this area is simply breathtaking.

cemetery, vermont, history, new england, ghost, winter, snow, forest, cold

Now we have our sights planned for a longer voyage up to the Green Mountain State this summer. Love having a “scouting trip!”

Oh, and also, our daughter did GREAT at her gymnastics meet! Congrats to her!gymnastics, kids, floor, parallel bars, beam, vault, vermont, nh, atlantic

 

Bringing Healthy Back…

The days are long and gray. I’m tired.winter, new england, snow, storm, winter storm, white, gray, maine, happy, cold, comfort food

As I struggle to find sunshine and energy during our winter snow fest here in New England, I decided that perhaps starting my day on a healthier note is essential. Sounds like common sense to most people, but being a creature of morning routine, I usually wake up, make my way to the coffee pot, hook up my IV and kick-start my day with a jolt of caffeine on an empty stomach. Food usually doesn’t debut until 10:30. Which in and of itself is totally unhealthy.

coffee, latte, heart, Lil's Cafe, Lil's, Kittery, Maine, warm, cafe

Not my home coffee but my coffee fav, Lil’s Cafe in Kittery, ME. They make a beautiful latte!

Now I will say, I do eat well overall. At least I try to for the most part. But I have always struggled with breakfast and I’m starting to realize that my kids are noticing which is why I know I must change my ways.

So, not being a breakfast person I knew I had to start small. I also knew I had 3 big limitations to work around:

  • No gluten, sugar or dairy. We recently cut these out of our diets. Surprisingly, this limitation actually made my options easier because I had less to choose from.
  • No time. It’s the morning rush and as much as I’d like to, I know I won’t getting up earlier to cook eggs and bacon. Bad mom.
  • No desire. Keeping in mind I am content with a cup of coffee and I don’t like food first thing in the morning.

Here’s what I came up with for my new breakfast favorite:

Ta-daaaa! Homemade Coconut Yogurt With Fruit, Nuts, Shredded Coconut and Chia Seed!strawberry, banana, chia, coconut, yogurt, paleo, diet, healthy, walnuts, crate and barrel, food porn, foodie

I read a super easy recipe from XOJane.com on how to make coconut yogurt at home. Love it! Mine never sets up like the article says it will, but it tastes great and works perfectly. I am however looking into purchasing a yogurt maker now that I know how much I love the stuff! Trader Joe’s has Chia seeds and Organic Shredded Coconut. I used walnuts, but I bet pecans and slivered almonds would be great. Add your favorite fruit and voila! Yum! A healthy, FAST breakfast.

homemade, yogurt, xojane, mason jar, easy, diy, foodie, healthy, paleostrawberry, banana, morning, breakfast, easy, deliciouswalnuts, juliska, healthy, paleo

 Hope you try this quick, healthy little breakfast alternative! Be sure to get the recipe for the coconut yogurt HERE from the XOJane site! If you try it, be sure to post comments or suggestions below. Happy eating!

 

 

 

The Other West Texas Giant

“You just kind of drive through it. Push on the gas.” He was so calm.

west texas, ozona, sonora, el paso, marfa, bump gate, ranch, cattle, sheep, oil, livestock, dust, interstate, taylor box,

My jaw clenched,  left eyebrow frowned and good ol’ right eyebrow raised high in an arch of stubborn New England skepticism.  My future husband smirked at my reaction.  Although his lilting Texas drawl was bursting with trust, the sheer craziness of “just driving through” a 4′ tall, 10′ wide gate made of solid steel bars, was anchoring my right foot. We weren’t going anywhere. New England skepticism: 1, Texas Bump Gate: 0.

“You can do it.  Just go kinda slow, then push through.”

skull

 

Thousands of what if’s and why’s flooded my brain as I slumped my shoulders in frustrated despair.  Why can’t I just get out of the truck and open the gate?  What if I break the gate? What if I break the truck? Or the horrifying question – what if the gate swings back and hits us? This swinging behemoth of steel, wood, pulleys and cables was scaring the hell out of me.  Instinctively my future husband read my mind and said again, “You can do it.  You won’t hurt anything.”

The parched dirt below the parched tan 1975 Chevy  Silverado cracked in the scorching Texas sun. Hungry buzzards screeched overhead watching a death march below.  I felt like I was in a wild west shoot-out with steampunk villain.

rusty truck, wild west, west, vintage, texas, ozona, sonora, junction, ranch, cattle, sheep, oil, gas, classic

No, not the 1975 Silverado, but another beauty and former gate bumper.

“This is nuts!”  was the only thought reverberating to the tips of my shaky toes.  I finally hit the gas, pushed the gate open and drove through.  The back swing of the gate came inches from scratching down the side of the truck as I plowed through in a cloud of dust, gas fumes and fear. But I did it.  I opened my first Texas bump gate without killing anyone.  My future husband laughed.  This was my crash course in the rare West Texas bump gate.

Wikipedia offered this definition as to what a Texas bump gate is:

bump gate is a drive-through gate used in rural areas to provide a barrier to livestock that does not require the driver to exit the vehicle, open the gate, drive through, and then close the gate. By contacting the swinging bump gate with the front of a vehicle and then accelerating, the bump gate is pushed open, allowing the vehicle to pass. This requires some skill to avoid the gate swinging back and striking the vehicle. Accordingly, a bump gate is unsuitable for long vehicles.
The bump gate self-closing mechanism consists of two cables mounted on the gate, and also on an elevated crossbar. The gate does not swing on a conventional hinge. Instead it is fastened to cylinders that encircle a post. When the gate swings open, the swivel action causes the cables to raise the gate slightly. After the vehicle passes through, gravity causes the gate to swing like a pendulum (parallel to the ground) until it settles in the closed position.
While not a common type of gate, it has been observed in several locations in West Texas.

If you’ve never seen a bump gate before they seem to defy all logic and common sense.  Plowing through an imposing steel structure seems, well, crazy.  But then I realized that the swinging ton of rolled steel IS actually the most common sense approach to opening the gates out where the days are long, hot and lonely.

bump gate, bump, texas, dusty, dust, ranch

Approaching a gate that has clearly been bumped before.

From a rancher’s perspective, why would he want stop their truck and get out to open as many as 20 or more gates on a 104 degree August afternoon? Especially when they could stay in the cover of their truck and drive through them saving precious time and energy.  It’s practical.  West Texans are practical and the bump gate’s simple reason-for-being reflects the pragmatic ideology of the ranchers using them.

But it’s also a recipe for some naive “city-slikah” Yankee to come down and really mess things up…

A few years ago my father-in-law entrusted my husband and I to drive his brand new truck down from the dealership in Dallas. My husband drove our truck and I followed him in the new one.  The 6 hour trip to Ozona, TX was smooth and uneventful.   I heaved a sigh of relief as we drove onto their ranch. We made it!

Fueled by a desire to finish the drive we rashly decided that to get up to their house (another 20 minute drive from the entryway) we should double up on the bump gates and drive both trucks through at once so we could save time and I wouldn’t damage the grill on his dad’s new truck by bumping the gates.  My husband would bump with our truck and I would follow him closely in the new truck and drive through behind him.

I think we were both a little nervous.

The gate swung open as my husband plowed through and I punched the gas and followed.  Time stopped when I saw the gate swinging back at me – FAST!  I swerved to the left to try to avoid the inevitable screech, crash, metal twisting convulsion that ensued.

Thankfully, my in-laws still talk to me.  And I think he’s had a few more bump gate mishaps judging by the fresh scars that now adorn his truck.

kids, family, ranch, texas, heat

Future gate bumpers

To me, the bump gates are an integral part of the West Texas culture.  They’re hard working, unapologetic, and strong.  Just like the landscape.  Just like the people.

ranch, west texas, rancher, family, life, work, outside, hard work, sunshine, heat, dust

Brother-in-law and niece at the ranch

 

 

 

 

 

So you want to take the kids to the Louvre, eh?

“Maybe we should just go get dinner instead…”

louvre, museum, paris, France, art, art history, da vinci, winged victory, mona lisa, denon, kids, travel, les halles, ste germaine, notre dame, glass, im pei, vacation

photo: www.louvre.fr

I sighed watching an endless line snake around the Louvre’s famed glass pyramid. The kids shuffled their feet, exhausted after a long, hot day absorbing a city that overwhelmed their young senses. Tourists clattered.  The sounds of a distant cello echoed from underneath a stone entry. Cigarette smoke carried laughter through the air. Feeling depleted, I felt my enthusiasm wane.  I just wanted some water, shade and somewhere cool to sit. But thankfully my husband, stubborn and sweet, persevered.  “We’re here.  We can do this.  Only if it’s we spend a few minutes inside, let’s at least try.” He was right.  This was our chance to bring the kids to the Louvre and rely on the pre-planning and research we did to make this moment work.

parents, kids, travel, explore, curiosity, Egypt, Egyptian art, museum, antique, archeology

For as many things as our family fumbles through while traveling, visiting the Louvre is one thing I feel like we got right.   A little strategizing and planning made our visit to the Louvre in August with kids, stress free. To be perfectly honest, I was completely (and pleasantly) shocked.

What made it work?

1. Paris Museum Pass. Our strategy started with the purchase of four Paris Museum Passes. If you are not familiar with the Paris Museum Pass, they are worth their weight in gold especially if you are traveling with kids.  You pay once for a 2, 4, or 6 day pass and have access to a myriad of Paris’s top spots (including the Louvre, Rodin, Arc d’Triomphe, Pompidou and more).  By using the pass we eliminated the pressure and cost of buying four individual tickets at each sight which, as a result, eliminated the need to make a general admission fee “pay-off”. We didn’t feel the pressure to spend max-time at any given spot and knew we could come and go as we pleased.

museum pass, paris, paris museum pass, mona lisa, easy, cheap, value, happy, travel, curiosity, train

http://en.parismuseumpass.com/

But that is not the best part.  The greatest perk of having Museum Passes at the Louvre is that you skip the general entry line.  There is a separate (and when we were there – empty) entry line for Museum Pass holders. We strolled right past that  long, snaking line in front of the glass pyramid and walked right onto the escalator down to the lobby. Right then and there the Museum Pass paid for itself!  It was like having a FastPass at Disney!  Best. Thing. Ever.

2. Go late.  The Louvre is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays.  The last entry is at 10pm. We arrived at 8 and although it was late, the crowds and mammoth tour groups had waned.  We were grateful. The absence of tour groups was apparent when viewing famed works like the Mona Lisa. Don’t get me wrong, it was still crowded, but not enough that our kids couldn’t get a front row, close-up look at the famous smirking lady.  The lighter crowds were manageable.

And because the crowds are lighter, the Louvre lets artists set up in the main halls to paint under the canopy of the world’s greatest masterpieces.  Our kids were witness to some amazing art; past, present and future.  It was pretty incredible.

3. Know what you want to see.  We planned for three scenarios: must see, would like to see, and will see if the kids haven’t crashed yet. Of course the Mona Lisa which is housed in the Denon Wing was the primary piece we wanted the kids to see.  Most of the other pieces we chose were also in the Denon Wing, and we knew that keeping our visit isolated to one wing was probably the best idea for our family.  The Louvre is vast and paring our visit down helped tremendously.

summer, louvre, mona lisa, crowds, France, Paris, denon, travel, explore

4. Read ahead.  Give your kids an idea of the pieces they will see before you visit.  This helped because we didn’t have to spend our limited time getting them up to speed on what they were seeing.  It gave us the opportunity to revisit the work and talk about things we already discussed. We could prompt them with a few, “remember when we talked about XYZ?” It piqued their curiosity, and they asked a few questions but we didn’t feel the need to recite a diatribe about the who, what, where, and when of each piece.  Our reading let us sit back and enjoy what we saw.

5. What we forgot to do?  Study the Louvre map for exits and bathrooms!  It sounds so basic.  This was the only “ugh!” of our time there.  We got caught up in the artwork and the crowds and before we knew it, we were stuck in the Egyptian section and couldn’t find a fast route out.  We all had to use a bathroom.  We were all ready to go.  I checked our map, but every “Sortie” only led to more tunnels and corridors. Next time we visit, I will study the map like a HAWK.

map, paris, louvre, wing, art, lost, found, denon, sully, richelieu, children, travel, museum

theotherparis.net

As with any trip (with or without kids), a little planning goes a long way and the Louvre is certainly a testament to that.

Do you have any tips to share? Please do in the comments below!

 

What’s In My Bag? Essentials for a (Make Believe) Day Trip.

Let me preface this by saying the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. Our family is really excited for our holiday break this week and I really want to take our kids on a super fun adventure of spontaneous outings. But in this case we can translate spontaneous into “I’ve planned nothing” and adventure into, “Guess where we’re going? The grocery store!” I wish I had some tricks up my sleeve… sigh.

However, since I do try to have the best of intentions and am still trying to convince myself that we will make it out of our pajamas this week, I’ve packed dreamed up a very basic bag of essentials so that when the time is right, we can grab it and go. My make believe Christmas is gettin’ real!

So what is in said bag o’ tricks? Again, super basic but covers most of the bases.

craft, pen, journal, scissors, glue, color, A few craft and journaling essentials. Notebook, glue stick, markers, scissors. We like to log our adventures plus having a few extra supplies gives the kids have something to do while we’re traveling. They still like to cut out pictures or glue ticket stubs into their journals plus they can play games while we’re on the road.

winter, health, cold, kids, travelI’m sure a few things could be added to this group. Sanitizer perhaps (not for us – we like germs), or Neosporin. Winter is dry where we live so lip balm, tissues and hand cream are a must. As long as we have Puffs Plus Lotion travel size tissues and some water, we’re covered. We like the lotion tissues because they work well for painful winter cuts. They’re also absorbent for clean-ups and soft on runny noses.

snacks, kids, travel, healthy, food, oranage, almonds, appleHealthy snacks 101. Packing a few small snacks extends the outing and save us money. We love our Klean Kanteen for water.

Now we need to find somewhere to go. I want to pack this stuff. In a real bag not a pretend one.

Happy 2014!

White Christmas

winter, new england, snow, white, barn, shed, fence, forest, peace, holiday, MaineWinter’s snow is an unavoidable evil blessing in New England. You know it’s coming, but only Mother Nature (and the Farmer’s Almanac) knows when it will arrive. This year, we were fortunate enough to have two beautiful, fluff producing storms just 1.5 weeks before the holiday. A White Christmas for 2013 indeed.

snowman, winter, snow, maine, white, happy, kids, outdoorsHappy Holidays!

Spend Less, Play On! 5 Free Family Adventures For Summer.

Summer break is still weeks away and your family has already said “adios!” to copious amounts of cash for airline tickets, accommodations, kid’s camps and new summer threads.  You’re wondering what will be left in the bank by the time you’re ready to go. Fear not fellow travelers!  Money can take a backseat for these fun, fabulous and free family outings.  You can still get the most out of your summer and enjoy meaningful family experiences whether you’re on the road or staying home.  Spend less and play on!

DSC_0171

1. Letterboxing –   Let your kids unleash their inner Indiana Jones! Letterboxing, or “low-tech geo-caching” for kids, blends clue decoding, mapping, journaling and treasure hunting.  The best part?  The leg-work is already done! Here is what to do: 1. Visit  Letterboxing.org.  2. Find your location on their website (locations include the entire US and worldwide) 3. Your destination will likely show several clue trails you can choose from. Click on the trail of clues you’d like to follow & print them.  4.  Head outside on your hunt.

What you will need:  a journal, a rubber stamp & ink pad and a ballpoint pen (weather proof). And of course any other fun treasure hunting equipment you want to bring (compass, canteen, fancy crumpled hat)

So what’s the treasure? Once you’ve followed your trail of clues to the end, you will uncover a box that has a journal with a stamp inside.   Stamp your journal with their stamp and vice versa.  Your Letterboxing journal will become something of an explorer’s passport.  Keep in mind: Letterboxing members create these scavenger hunts for the public, so once you’ve conquered a few hunts of your own, you may consider designing one for future letterboxers.

My friend, and fellow blogger, Dianne (Random History and Offbeat Trivia) introduced our family to Letterboxing a few years back when she invited us on a hike up Mt. Blue Job in southern NH. Armed with a trail of clues, sense of adventure and some delicious snacks, Dianne had us ALL hooked!  The hike went from “just hiking up a hot, giant hill” to “hey, check out this cool tree (or flower, or animal track).” Letterboxing is a great activity to incorporate on a day hike or family picnic.

DSC_0796

 

2. Local Outdoor Markets– I love markets and our family frequents them both at home and when we travel.  We could spend hours roaming through tented rows of vendors checking out the local foods, crafts and music.  From squawking chickens to vibrant flowers  or spicy garlic wafting through the air, local markets are a feast for the senses and  a savory slice of local culture.

When we visited the Saturday market in Uzes, France a few summers ago, our kids talked futbol with locals, sampled local cheese, danced to folk music, played with kids and dogs and had an authentic connection to their surroundings.  Plus we filled up on some tasty (and very affordable) street food and brought home some lovely olive wood spoons.

Do your research!  Near and far, community markets are easy to find and enjoy. Find out if your destination has a standing market day or if there are any craft fairs or flea markets being held while you are visiting.  Search local event calendars, blogs and even trip planning websites (such as Trip Advisor) for up-to-date information and reviews.

Olives at the Saturday market in Uzes, France

Olives at the Saturday market in Uzes, France

 

Visiting the candy stand.

Visiting the candy stand.

3. Historic Sites – So this may not sound super thrilling for kids but in can be; especially if you dot it around a hike, picnic, trip to a playground, etc.  It’s also a great way to connect with their school curriculum or great books themed around your location. Do your research before your adventure and find out what places of significance or historical importance are at your destination.  Whether it’s a colonial meeting house, place of worship, lighthouse, battlefield, or geographic point, historical landmarks abound as do the stories they hold.

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Driving through Wyoming

We were driving through Wyoming last summer and stumbled (clumsily) upon Sacajawea’s grave in the Wind River Reservation.  Our son had just completed a unit on Native Americans in third grade, and our daughter was about to start.  Because of their class work and several Lewis & Clark books we had read together, finding her grave site gave a touch of reality to a vast and vague history and they forged a deep connection. The unexpected detour became one of the highlights of the drive and a significant learning opportunity for both the kids and my husband and me.

Kids viewing Sacajawea's grave.

Kids viewing Sacajawea’s grave.

 

Color and spirit dot the dry and windswept landscape in this Wind River Reservation cemetery  - the site of Sacajawea's grave.

Color and spirit dot the dry and windswept landscape in this Wind River Reservation cemetery – the site of Sacajawea’s grave.

4. Artist Studios and Studio Tours– Have you ever seen a glass blower create a wineglass from a blob of molten glass or watched a potter magically transform a hunk of clay into a beautiful vase?  Have your kids seen paint splattered studios, heard violins being tuned, or watched the heavy but delicate hand of a blacksmith shaping beauty from a chunk of red-hot metal?   Witnessing art in action is captivating and energizing.  There are talented artists everywhere  happy to demonstrate their technique and inspire budding artists.  Check listings for artist co-ops that house several (or many) artists renting space or source out individual studios.  This is also a great opportunity to buy a one-of-a-kind treasure from your adventure and a great way to support a local arts economy.   We’ve been fortunate to find beautiful pieces of functional and decorative art at very affordable prices.  Art studios have become our favorite destination for buying gifts and souvenirs.

Watching a blacksmith create his art.

Watching a blacksmith create his art.

5. Museums – Yes, they can be free (or at least cheap)! Whether you are on the road or wandering out your back door, most cities or regions have museums that offer periodic free admission (or great discounts) throughout the year.  Specifically, many offer “Free Fridays” on the first of the month, or after school free hours.  Plus, if you are visiting a museum close to home, check your local library for free passes. Museum web sites will post deals and discounts, but take note – sometimes the deal dates are tricky to find.  Check the museums calendar of events or make a call!

Museum memberships have their perks. If you purchase a family membership at an ASTC (Association of Science – Technology Centers), AZA (Associations of Zoos and Aquariums) or ACM (Association of Children’s Museums) associated museum, your membership will get you into hundreds of reciprocating museums nationwide.

Check out the links at the bottom of this post for a few sources to get you started on a budget friendly museum stop.

American Museum of Natural History, NYC

American Museum of Natural History, NYC

So, don’t let the burden of expense wear you down on your next family trip!  There are loads of free or inexpensive opportunities at your fingertips.  Have fun, spend less and play on! 

HELPFUL MUSEUM LINKS:

US – Nationwide:  If you are a Bank of America customer, check out this link to find free admission to over 150 museums nationwide during the first full weekend of each month.  A perk indeed.  http://museums.bankofamerica.com/

Also, check out Target’s sponsored museum days.  They offer free or reduced admission to different museums and theaters nationwide.  Check here for details

New York:

http://www.ny.com/museums/free.html

http://freemuseumday.org/nyc.html

http://gonyc.about.com/od/museums/ss/Free-Admission-And-Discounted-Admission-At-New-York-City-Museums.htm

Chicago:

http://thelocaltourist.com/chicagofreemuseums#

London:

http://www.eurocheapo.com/blog/london-budget-survival-guide-20-free-museums.html http://golondon.about.com/od/londonforfree/tp/Best_Free_Museums.htm

Paris:

http://www.parislogue.com/free-paris (great round-up of “always free”, “sometimes free” and “almost free” listings).

Rome:

http://www.activitaly.com/inglese/home_ing.html (this website gives great tips for visiting Rome’s sites as well as contact info for the museums to find out if any deals are being offered).