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…

 

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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.

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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,

 

 

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.

 

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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

 

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!

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!

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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.

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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).

Pools… Beach style! #FriFotos

When I saw that today’s #FriFotos segment was focusing on pools, I thought – TIDAL POOLS! Being raised in coastal New England and now living here again with my Texan husband and kids, this type of “pool” has become an integral part of our family’s summer fun and a symbol for our lives.  They grow life, foster curiosity and change with every tide.

When I was a kid we spent every summer soaking up the sun (harvesting our winter supply of Vitamin D!) on the granite sand beaches of New Hampshire.  Tidal pools offered us an opportunity to find star fish, crabs, and krill during the day and a quiet place to reflect in the early evening.

Kind of like nature’s infinity pool!

 

Quiet and peaceful

searching for crabs

 

You never know what you’ll find at the beach.

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