Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Top 10 Ways to Beach Vacation with Kids Like a Boss

I have three small humans (SHs), ages on vacation 2, 4, and 7 years old.  I am married to the best BH1 (and stay at home Dad) who desperately wanted to forgo our annual cold ocean Southern California small expensive hotel room seven day beach trip for two weeks on the much closer, warm water shores of Rocky Point, Mexico.  I am admittedly not a Mexico fan with the perceived threat of death, kidnapping, or imprisonment.  I prayed to God to change my heart (seriously I prayed this ALOT), so that I could be excited to go.  As the vacation planner, my "on-boardedness" plays a huge role in our fun adventures. 

It took some time but my heart was changed and I started to get excited about the trip as I looked into beach rentals in Las Conchas on (vacation rental by owner listing #340111).  We wanted to vacation with my sister's family and sharing a large-ish house with five kids under 7 years old seemed the best way to go.

Welcome to my very own top 10 list (a must for any respectable blogger) on
The top 10 ways to beach vacation with a zillion kids like a boss:

1. Location Location Location, this is the most important factor.  Seriously.  We rented a house a 3 minute walk to the shoreline.  This allows for time to run a kid up to take a poop or refresh your margarita cup.  Someone losing their shit on the beach from exhaustion and too much sunshine? Walk them up to their bunk bed for a mid-day snooze.  Spend your money on this and ask questions before shelling out the cash.  Is the beach rocky?  Is it deep? Are the waves child-crushingly strong?  Are you going to be there during Portuguese man o' war jellyfish season?  Do you decorate your home with priceless antiques that I am going to spend five hours hiding from my kids when we get there?
We were directly behind the house that was on the water,
which we thought would be a little safer if there were escapees
Comfortable, sturdy furniture that we were not terrified of ruining the whole time
2.   Food, the second most important factor.  Duh.  Scientific research has shown that a kid on vacation has to eat (or beg for food) every three minutes and when there are five kids that equates to no less than three kids eating or begging at all times, 16 hours a day.  The “beach castle” we rented had an outfitted kitchen with full size refrigerator and dishwasher with large pots/pans to prepare those family meals.  We divided the work load of making meals and cleaning up after meals according to skills of the adults.  I am more of a cleaner-upper than a chef, so my role was clear.  My BH1 makes amazing pork chili verde which in turn makes a great soup one night, tacos another night and even breakfast burritos.  My sister is a master of slow-cooked beans.  Three days before we left Arizona to go on the trip we learned that Rocky Point has a Sam’s Club and we bought a membership.  My sister and BH1 went there and for pesos on the dollar bought two grocery carts of food that was held to US packaging/handling standards.  Yes, I live in fear of pork from Mexico and Neurocysticercosis.  We purchased a ton of snacks, fruit, juice boxes, beers, etc to keep parents and kids happy for long days on the beach. We prepared every single meal for 2-5 families for 12 days in the house and it was beautiful in its simplicity and cost savings. Pro tip:  We planned the meals and themed them around kid favorites and family that would be there.  Also in Mexico, filtered drinking water is important, but most places that cater to Americans know this and accommodate.
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The Sam's Club haul

3.    Family.  We have several immediate family members who are in school, living on a fixed income, missionaries and etc that could never afford a beach vacation.  We rented a house bigger than we needed and for a few days here and there invited those family members to get a passport and come and stay for free.  We played games on the patio with the ocean waves crashing a few feet away and laughed well into the night.  To have all those extra hands to love and nurture your kids while you take a walk on the beach with your beloved contributed to a magical experience for all.  The more people to build castles with, show your prettiest shell too and help you catch 15 man o’ war jellyfish the merrier.  Caution:  Do not make visiting family members your on-call babysitters, this is their vacation too. 
My newest nephew should be here any day now...
Mountain of fun
Favorite game with a new friend

My dad, my son and my nephew looking for man o' wars
4.    Take an EPIC selfie and a million other pics of everything in between.  I picked two times in the morning when beach play was a little slower and told individual families to head to beach for impromptu family photog session.  I am NOT a photographer but I see so much value in pictures.  I used my simple camera phone to help them make a memory and without fail the end result was always a few of my favorite pics of the whole adventure.  Pro tip: I kept my phone in a Ziploc bag the entire trip and took it out only to take pics.  I could read my Kindle app and update Facebook through the plastic bag.
MY FAVORITE of the entire trip

5.    Some beach toys you do need but most of them you don’t.  You know how they say you should get a bunch of new toys before you go on a long car ride?  The same goes for any trip.  We bought a couple boogie boards (less boarding and more pulling a cousin on the inch deep water of low tide until they fall off screaming with laughter), a beach aquarium, a bunch of nets, and a book on beach games and the results were perfect.  Don’t get nuts with buckets and shovels.  Kids want to explore and building the castle consumes 8 minutes of a 9 hour day on the beach.  Have contests to find the most beautiful shell as judged by grandma, play sharks and minnows in the sand and make art of found beach treasures.  Also flotation devices for the less strong swimmers to be worn AT ALL TIMES so if they are swept out to sea, they float.  Pro tip: For baby, I cannot recommend the inflatable duck bath enough.  You fill it with ocean water, give them some cups and they splash at your feet for hours.  GENIUS. 

Internal view of beach aquarium with some catch and release treasures 

6.    Do stuff you NEVER do at home.  I hate art projects at home with glitter, glue and buttons everywhere.  I hate it.  Sometimes I think that 90% of the reason we send anyone to preschool is so that they can play with play dough there.  For my niece’s birthday I bought her a glitter tattoo set and we spent an entire morning on the beach applying glitter tattoos to whatever arm or body part was thrust in our faces.  The best idea (my SH2 endorsed it as her most favorite thing the entire summer) was bringing washable non-toxic paint and collecting shells to paint right there on the beach as the extra paint washed away into the ocean depths.  I had a container of air dry clay that had been sitting on the shelf for 1.5 years and I brought it along for each of us to pick and press our favorite shell into and take home as a tangible memory of the trip.

Sometimes we colored shells but most of the time we colored us

Beautiful disaster

7.    Celebrate everything and nothing.  My daughter’s 3 year old birthday fell a few days into the trip and what a wonderful way to celebrate surrounded by a bunch of family.  A plastic tablecloth and pretty garland and viola a birthDAY is made.  We celebrated her from dawn until dusk with her favorite cereal for breakfast, dinner choice, movie, and desert choice.  Admittedly this took a little bit of coordination (I brought her gifts wrapped with us, and purchased cereal and cake mix on the Arizona side), but it was really fun and worth it.  We subsequently chose a different birthDAY for my niece and nephew who are also July birthdays and did the same thing with wrapped gifts and their special day using the same garland and table cloth.  News flash: 3 years old don’t know that it is not their ACTUAL birthday and nor do they care.
Goofy party favor sunglasses selfie

Note insta-party with banner and tablecloth

8.    Outdoor shower.  Yup, it is that simple.  YOU MUST HAVE ACCESS TO AN OUTDOOR SHOWER.  This cannot be over stated.  Every single person rinsed feet and bathing suits off in the outdoor shower before he/she every considered ascending the steps to the house.  I brought kid shampoo that was good for chlorine or ocean water and left it in the shower as well as a kid conditioner.  Swimsuits were rinsed and hung immediately and sand sprayed out of every nook and cranny a minimum of twice daily.  My kids did not take one single shower inside the entire 12 days,  My husband thinks my obsession with the outdoor shower is a little ridiculous but if I am being honest it made the trip for me.  I would be remiss in not saying that for anything over a three day vacation with kids, you also have to have a full size washer and dryer at your disposal.  For bonus points, we had opportunity to hire the cleaning crew of the home where we stayed to clean the house mid-stay for a small fee and it was worth every penny to have clean, non-sandy sheets even just for a night. 

9.    Bring every article of sun protective clothing you own and if you are sure you have enough stop and purchase more before you go.  I went so far as to have Amazon send another rash guard for me to my brother’s house so he could bring it with him when he came down a week into our trip.  Everyone in our party had at least one long sleeve and several short sleeve rash guards that were worn at all times. Everyone had hats that they were forced to wear  Yes, we religiously applied sunscreen (each family brought at least 3 large tubes/cans/sticks) but for the close-to-the-equator sun we were exposed to no amount of sunscreen would have been enough.  Not a single child was sunburned or even “pink” which made us feel like awesome parents to be truthful.  Also I brought shorts and t-shirts for everyone to wear in their down time that no one wore; they just took up valuable space in suitcases.  It was swimsuits or pajamas/lounging clothes for all.  And while we are talking about what to wear, every family member should have a water shoe that can scramble over tide pools and protect your feet from stepping on a jellyfish.  

Also shade, BRING SHADE!
All I see in this picture is 3 kids without their hats on
10. Go to the beach.  Get up, apply sunscreen, and just go to the beach.
Here was our daily schedule:
6:30am – Kids wake up
7:00am – Parents finally get up too (check tide schedule and inform house of low tide/hide tide), make coffee, poor cereal into bowls for kids
7:30-8:30am – Make breakfast with eggs and/or tortilla of some kind
8:30-9:00am – Wrangle kids into swimsuits and sunscreen the hell out of them, prepare first cocktail of the day to take to beach
9:00am-12:00pm – Beach
12:00-3:00pm – Shower the crew, lunch everyone, and put all kids down for a nap.  Adults go to corner store for ice and beer or walk back down for solo beach time or take a nap or read a book or play a game on the patio.  Pro tip:  With so many adults there was always one or two willing to stick around and keep an eye on the house while kids napped.
3:00-3:30pm – Wrangle back into swimsuits and reapply sunscreen
3:30-Sunset – Beach.  Pro tip: Bring cash for mango guy and ice cream bar guy who inevitably found our crew on the beach.
Sunset-8:00pm – Shower the crew, dinner, read books or watch TV and off to bed
8:00pm-?? – Porch games (our favorites were Rumors, Apples to Apples, Dominos, etc).

Have no agenda or set schedule.  I learned this from BH1.  He is master of shoving kids out the door and making them figure out what to do.  BH1 was first on the beach each morning, shoveling the ever popular sea wall for all to climb on, build tunnels through, and destroy.  I know you know that kids don’t care about fancy dinners at restaurants; they don’t want to have to sit down, behave, and color with four crayons.  Do they wish we went to Disneyland instead?  Yes, of course, but since they have yet to go they have no idea what they are missing and for as long as I am able to make the outdoors “the best vacation ever” then I am going to do it.  

What makes it a family trip vs. a vacation?  Anything you do at this stage of the game is “work”.  Ensuring that your kids live and are safe is a lot of work, but in the middle of that work is watching them experience the world and if you can enjoy the view and relax a little it really can be a vacation.  Don’t misunderstand me, there is no way the whole trip will be a vacation, but there are a few hours and even a whole day or two that can be. That being said the 1:30pm daily cocktails on the Margarita deck certainly helped. 

See you next year Mexico.  

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O Death, Where is Your Sting?

O death, where is your victory? 
O death, where is your sting? 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.                                                                                                                                                                                            1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (ESV)
My dad was critically ill in April, several days of which he spent on the ventilator due to pneumonia that had infiltrated over 90% of his lungs.  The infectious disease physician told us, “He has the captain of all pneumonia bacteria.  We have no idea how things will go.”  He walked into the emergency department with a fever of 103, oxygen saturations of 82% (and could not get them higher than 91% despite high flow oxygen) and blood pressure of 74/40, renal failure, and confusion.  Chest xray revealed severe multi-lobar pneumonia.  He was in severe septic shock.  Two days prior he was pushing two his grand-daughters on the swings at the third birthday party for his fifth grandchild.  He is still here and I know restored to better than before.  He has a new lease on life and is a changed man.
My parents on family vacation 3 months later
Delirium, ICU delirium for days and days.  He stayed awake for 72 hours straight TWICE over those two weeks as we watched every passing hour he would sink a little further into confusion.  The delirium clearly precipitated by insomnia.  He does not respond to “sedating” medications like the other 99.99%.  No amount of medication can bring him back to us and so we wait sleepless at his bedside for days praying for even 30 minutes of restorative rest.  He mumbles nonsense, makes up delusions that he will spend months convincing himself never happened.  At one point, I turned on white noise in hopes of limiting the bells/distractions in the ICU praying it would give him rest.   It did not work.  He started to reach his arm back, feel the wash of water from a hallucinated waterfall in his hospital room which he would then put his arm back in bed after shaking the imaginary dripping water off his hand.  He did this close to 300 times that night.  Ever present to help orient him over and over again, to calm him when he is tearfully yelling at “Israel follow the blue light!!”  As his children and wife there is no one else that can supplement our presence.  It is our circle and us alone that can help draw him from the depths, 24 hours a day.  The entire medical team helpless against his insomnia.  Every study you read tells you that after an experience like this (much less two very similar experiences in three years) that he will never be the same.  He has an increased risk of depression, suicide, mental slowing, permanent physical debility, and recurrence of a life threatening illness.

I wavered in my resolve and faith that he would ever sleep again or that his mind would ever come back to us.  He still recalls delusions with amazing realism and clarity to the point that we are checking to make he did not actually close the checking account as he thought during the zombie apocalypse. 
My dad has been through more than one man should in this life, he has overcome so much to bring him to where he is today.  He works diligently on his relationship with God, his wife (my mom), and his children and loves his grandchildren desperately.  In the midst of unexplainable hardship I am sure his faith has wavered as did mine when he was so sick.  God gave him an unbelievable gift.  My dad saw heaven.   Please don’t confuse this with one of his delusions or hallucinations which escalated as sleep slipped further and further out of grasp. 

The tube was removed from his airway at approximately 10:00am on a Sunday at the exact time that multiple congregations had joined in prayer for his healing.  He had just rested for the past 4 days in a coma-induced sleep.  My older brother and I watched expectantly for how he would act and feel.  He was doing great, confused about what had happened and where he was, tearful and scared but then he started to tell us…

My Dad:  I saw heaven.  I saw heaven.  I saw heaven.   It was so bright, so bright, so bright.  It was amazing, so amazing.  Everyone was there, Honey and Zion (pets we had loved and lost) they were leaping and jumping, leaping and jumping, leaping and jumping.

Me: What did you hear?

Dad:  I heard a chorus or angels singing Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah (raises both arms in the sky).

My brother: Were you scared? Or was it amazing?

Dad:  It was amazing, I was never ever scared.  It was so bright.  

Okay so like us, you are hopeful but skeptical at this point.  It all sounds pretty legit and he is not hallucinating or describing any other type of delusion and he has just gotten four entire days of sleep. 
A few minutes later looking my older brother genuinely surprised:

Dad: Son you are fat?

Me:  Dad that is not nice, you need to apologize.

Dad: Oh Son I am so sorry I said that. 

A few minutes later (looking at his legs and feet and moving them about to confirm they are his):

Dad: These are my legs?  But these are old man legs…

Watching a familiar TV news anchor a few minutes later: 

Dad:  He is so old, is he still alive?  I can’t believe he is still alive, he is so old and bald.

So to you this disjointed series of comments has no relevance but to me it confirmed that he saw heaven.  He saw a glorious world of resurrection bodies that are beautiful and perfect; people and angels whose only purpose is to glorify God.  There is no one overweight, no one old, no one bald.  He was pulled back from that glorious place and awoke in an ICU room and nothing was how it had been in heaven.

My brother: Did you ever doubt that there was a heaven?

In a whispered tone he replied.

Dad: Yes, but never again.  I saw heaven and it is real.

We all doubt and I bet that some will accuse me of wanting to believe in what he saw for my own selfish reassurance that God and heaven is real.  I cannot deny those claims because yes I do believe heaven is real as is God.  Not because of what he saw but because of what I saw.  I saw a man on the brink of death come back restored.  I saw answered prayers by the thousands.  People reached out to me that I had not spoken to in years to provide comfort and prayer; strangers in countries across the globe were praying for his restoration.  I heard the word that God gave my sister that would be home and whole in 7 days.  I couldn’t even utter those words as a possibility because to me they were too big to dream.  A few days later, I was begging God in prayer to know if his will for my father was to live or die as I truly did not know.  He was discharged to home 3 days later which was exactly 7 days after my sister received that word from God.  God comforted me through songs when I was too tired to pray.  “This is going to be a glorious unfolding, just you wait and see and you will be amazed.  You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over so hold on to every promise God has made to us and watch his glorious unfolding.” Glorious Unfolding by Steven Curtis Chapman. 

My dad received the best gift he could ever receive… an opportunity to know with certainty that there is better than this broken and lost world and a fire instilled to pursue that future with every fiber of who he is.  I too was given an amazing gift; I know why all this happened.  My God is jealous for me.
Grandsons and Grandpa 

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Do Not Count Your Chickens Before They Are Free Range

We have chickens.  We had five and now we have four.  One of them was a bad bird, a real mean S.O.B.

When we picked out our little chicks we gave each of them names and then as they grew up, they each were given personalities.  Inky was by far the kindest and smartest, so patient to be squeezed just a little too tight by a two year old.  Bonnie and Dottie are the little old ladies of the group, the conversations I envision are quite caddy.  Diva(n) is nervous and the biggest, a stick to herself kind of gal who likes to preen.  Laughingly their names match their ridiculous made-up personalities.
Everybody loves a baby chick
Now that you have some background, I will tell you about our fifth chicken, Chicken Little (so named by SH1).  Chicken Little, later nick-named "Red" was always a personality struggle.  He liked to herd the other chickens and was always pushing them out in front of the bus so to speak (the bus being the damp hands of a two year old SH3 desperate for chicken affection).
SH3's favorite place to be
My husband (BH1) came to me with this chicken drama, so we made the move to the great outdoor coup to see if a bit more space and time was what the ladies needed to settle in.  Things went from bad to worse and Red started pulling feathers and making chickens bleed with merciless pecks for no reason.  My chicken ladies started acting like Red was the abusive partner, making sure she was in front of them and they always had her in their sights, segregating away from her in a group.  Poor sweet Inky took the brunt of Red's attacks; her feathers being pulled out and protecting her friends from the same fate.

Red was placed in solitary confinement, a fate not fair to a social animal and so after countless hours of reading on the futility of chicken rehabilitation, the decision was sadly made to dispose of Red.  Her death was quick and painless and not viewed by any SHs.  Red was dead.   I was nervous about what I would find when I got home from work.  Were the SHs going to be okay with this news?  Would I be expected to eat it?  I sure hope he doesn't expect me to eat it!

I was mainly worried how my sweet SH2, by far the most introverted and introspective of her sibling crew, would take the news.  BH1's education on the circle of life and expectations of being a member of our family clearly shone through when she calmly explained to me, "She was a mean chicken; Daddy said he had to kill her to stop hurting the other chickens."  Not hurting others.  She was right.  We don't hurt others.  A lesson that weighs heavily on this tender hearted SH2.  I wonder if she thought the punishment fit the crime.  
SH2 holding her favorite Inky
The chickens roam freely under the watchful eye of my husband for a few hours in the morning.  The dogs have recently viewed there movements with interested reservation.  I am loading SH1 into the car and BH1 alerts me to the fact that our Great Dane has just eaten a chicken and he was not sure if it was still alive.  He then jumps in the car to take SH1 to school.  I rush in the house to find a Great Dane and Mastiff with their heads hanging low in shame.  Bonnie and Dottie were over by the chicken coup clucking in hushed tones about the events that had just transpired.  My small human ladies were pressed against the sliding glass window nervously watching.  I saw a small commotion in the hedge and found Diva(n) and Inky huddled in terror.  Inky's chest was wet with dog drool.  I picked her up and let the small humans outside to help me calm them down.  We spoke softly to Inky and after a bit I set her down and watched her limp away, no longer scared.  New rule:  The dogs are not allowed outside when the chickens are roaming. 

We don't hurt living beings, but I couldn't help but be slightly troubled by the double standard we had created.  Red lost his life because he hurt the other chickens, the Great Dane did not.  You could say the dog was doing what was instinctual, but then again so was the chicken--he lived in the same home and had the same upbringing as the other four, no one made him a bad bird, he simply was.  How do you resolve this when the "natural order" of things breaks down?  Thankfully the kids didn't ask me any of those questions.  In the Bible, Solomon asked for wisdom above all things and his words weighed on my heart, 
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?                                                        I Kings 3:9 

We still have four chickens, three small humans and two dogs.  SH2 came over to me with a serious look on her face and told me, "Mom, I am not eating those chickens."  I sighed and scooped her up to whisper in her ear, "Me neither, baby, me neither."  

Please God give me a mind to govern this your great people.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Is More Really Merrier? (AKA: Should we have a third child?)

“Should I have a third?”

My answer is always the same, “It depends; it is a game changer.”  I don’t regret a single minute of my world with SH3 in it—not one single minute.   She is by far my worst sleeper.  She wakes up early and yells at her sister until she wakes up too.  She strips her diaper off, clogs the toilet and poops on the floor.  She pushes a chair to the counter and in a bin of 100 washable pens finds the Sharpie and hides to ruin furniture, walls, and clothes in peace.  She eats dirt, play-dough, beads, anything really.  I have nightmares of her eating a button battery and my sleep deprived mind invents the unbelievably horrific sequelae that will ensue (honest truth—multiple nightmares).   We have to tell ourselves, BH1 and I, not to let her, SH1, or SH2 over hear us call her “trouble” or “the destroyer of fun” under our breath because that is likely not good for any child’s psyche.
Yes that is Desitin...head to toe purple tube Desitin
She gets to keep her pacifier far longer than we ever thought of letting the other two have one.  We tried potty training for a week and gave up until “she is ready”.   I have been known to look away when I see her hit her sibling in hopes that they won’t tattle and I won’t have to punish her.   Time out for her is mere seconds and certainly not the requisite two minutes her siblings would have sat.  She doesn’t have to sit in the high chair or wear a bib although she is the messiest eater.  We watch what she wants on TV because her cries for “Peep and The Big Wide World” are loudest.  She has this ridiculous ugly stuffed rabbit with plastic scratched off eyes that is lovingly called “Babbit” and we all take to searching the ends of the earth to find it when it goes missing.   Some part of me wants to say that she has clearly taken the fight out of me, but maybe that is good.  Maybe she took the fight out of me for all the fights that don’t need to be had.  I may be close to admitting that my two year old has taught me to pick my battles.