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,

 

 

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:

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!

 

 

 

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).

Learning to Fly: Kids, Caterpillars and Unfinished Homework

When our kids started kindergarten many moons ago, they were asked to bring in a Monarch caterpillar for their first day.  We searched and searched.  And searched.  And searched more, wandering through overgrown fields and frantically turning over the leaves of milkweed plants that the caterpillars eat. But no luck.  As a parent, I kind of felt like a failure. “Sorry kids, I know it’s your first day of full-time school and all, but we can’t hand in your first EVER homework assignment.”  Gulp.

As the years passed, I still searched for the elusive Monarch caterpillars and got that pit in my stomach every time we saw a milkweed plant.  That kind of crazy fist waving, “Ooooh, I’ll get you!” feeling. Clearly, I was tormented.

By early this summer however, as our kids prepared to enter fourth and fifth grade, my obsession faded.  I gave up hope of our family ever raising caterpillars and to witness first hand the miraculous metamorphosis of the Monarch.  I felt like it was time to throw in the towel.  My scrappy, hunting prowess had failed me.

…Until my friend Stacey tells me about her caterpillar menagerie!  (Cue the valiant trumpets!)

Stacey and I have been friends for many years and she is a fifth grade teacher so I often look to her for advice and guidance.  So when she mentioned in passing that she had LOADS of caterpillars, caterpillar eggs, milkweed plants in her yard, etc etc etc, I knew it was kismet.  She was to become my caterpillar sensei.  All hope had not been lost.

Stacey loaded us up with four caterpillars all at varying stages of growth, and a bundle of milkweed leaves to bring home.  She suggested wrapping them in a damp paper towel and storing them in a plastic air tight container in the fridge.  We did this and it worked really well.  We would replenish our supply every few days and change the caterpillars leaves daily.

Stacey taught us about their different phases, timelines for each phase and more.  We discussed the Monarch’s annual journey to Mexico, organizations that can track your butterflies, and different books  about the life of these magnificent and complicated creatures.

Our front row seats to the the circle of life exhibition performed by the monarch caterpillars was nothing short of awesome.  Doubling in size every few days, the journey was like watching our own lives in fast forward.  Egg, baby, shedding your first youthful layer, growing, getting big and fat (HA!), unzipping the outer layer you no longer need, and eventually becoming the being you were intended to be… then spreading your wings to fly.   Maybe I’ll go to Mexico too.

In the end, our kids were not scarred permanently because we did not complete their first ever homework assignment. Hooray! They were however thrilled to “raise” their caterpillar family and watch them grow, evolve and eventually fly away.  One in fact, hatched from his chrysalis in our car.  We knew he was close to breaking through and didn’t want to miss the transformation so we brought him with us. When we arrived at our destination we were in possession of a beautiful, newly emerged Monarch.

In an ironic twist our caterpillar adventure came full circle.  The afternoon after I started writing this post, I got a message from a friend, desperate, as her daughter was starting kindergarten in a few days and SHE DID NOT HAVE A CATERPILLAR!!! We still had one chubby guy in our possession. We packed him up and sent him with his new caretaker, Annie.  Grateful, she marched off with her new creature and her kindergarten homework, her first big homework assignment EVER – complete.