Travel With Kids

For the last few months I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to write guest articles for www.sixsuitcasetravel.com. An informative website about traveling with your large family and a great resource I have used for a few years.

My latest article was about our trip to The Poconos a few years ago.

To read the article you can find it here:

7 Must Do Magical Moments in The Poconos

Poconos Countryside

Moving To The Music

“Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.” George Carlin

The past few weeks have left many impressions upon this mom of three. How to fight colds while getting through winter. How to pack for a two-week family vacation. Surviving Disney. Surviving an extended family vacation. Combatting seasickness and keeping kiddies entertained on a large moving ship.

The list goes on and all things that many, many other parents write about. I can dispense advice on all of these things. The kid travel backpack versus the roll along suitcase. How important is it really to pack tons of toys versus one or two really good books and an iPad mini? Perhaps one day I will.  (And believe me, if anyone out there wants to read about it, I will be happy to write it. Just message me!) But today I want to write about what I learned the past few weeks as a mom to three intelligent, active youngsters.

Move to the music.

Music surrounds me every day. I’m not talking about the kind of lofty music we hear as we listen to the snow falling around us. (Although that kind of quiet music is sometimes heaven-sent.)  What I’m talking about is the actual rocking, off-key singing, flute playing, bass pounding, piano concerto music that surrounds us everyday as parents.

Our house is filled with music on a regular basis but put eight cousins together in a house, then at Disney filled with the sounds of princess ballads or on a cruise ship where latin beats wash over the sparkling decks usual parental constraints disperse until you feel yourself singing along to “Let It Go” for the hundredth time or starting to sashay your hips to “All About the Bass.” Then an amazing thing happens. You realize what a stick in the mud you’ve become.

Why shouldn’t you dance with your four-year old spinning him around and around? Who cares if all the other parents sit on the bleachers and think you’re crazy? Maybe you are for the moment. But the important lesson learnt after spending two fun-filled weeks with family, friends and kids is, move to the music.

Music is a constant in my life.  Once upon a time pre kids I filled my life with music each and every moment. I was either tinkering on the piano, in a musical theatre performance, a choir or finding the newest female singer songwriter I could adore from afar.

So I say: Parents! Embrace the silly songs and try not to roll your eyes at the ever constant songbirds (including my Mr. L) in your life! After all, if they are singing, doesn’t that mean they are happy? They are experiencing some sort of joy?

The variety of music that surrounds a parent is astonishing. Just last night, our crew decided to put on one of their famous shows where it all ended in a  dance party and the kids singing “Let’s Get This Party Started.” This was after an hour of piano practice, flut practice and my eight-year old playing over and over, “Doe a Deer” in different keys.

Even today, as I write this, I am listening to the newly downloaded Google Play on my computer that allows me to listen to new artists. How else would I have found some great new indie artists in one place? Although I enjoy meditative silence, some good music in the background can be a great muse.

Music is here to stay. Since infancy our family has been surrounded by music. Some of my fondest memories of are listening to my Great-Aunt and Grandmother tickle the ivories on the out of tune piano playing old classics from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Or of watching my parents vinyl collection spin round and round as the strains of Steppenwolf crackles from the large speakers. The first time I heard the haunting strains of Phantom of the Opera stay with me whenever my mood is dark and gloomy with a score that still gives me the chills.

Seeing my six-year-old run down the streets of the Magic Kingdom after visiting the Biddidy Bobbedy Boutique in her Elsa dress singing at the top of her lungs and spinning with a snowflake wand gripped in her small hand was a joyous occasion. So was seeing my younger guy shake his hips to a song on the radio showing his aunts and uncles his fabulous dance moves while we all drank cold beers after walking hours upon hours at Disney. These are the kind of memories I will cherish. Not how many rides we went on or even what port we stopped in in the Caribbean.

Music is built into my system. I miss it when it’s gone. So instead of dampening the music for my kids, this parent of three is going to teach them to embrace any tune (with some filtering, after all they are young kids) and move to it in whatever way they want.

The Home Stretch

Deciding to celebrate the summer solstice this year with a coupe of like-minded friends, five sleeps before our BIG family trip, we had a half-pack of kids and six adults enjoying one of the nicest days so far in our area. The weather wasn’t too hot, but the sun was wonderful. It cooled down as the adults began to eat and the kids were changed into jammies and persuaded to go downstairs to our rec room for a movie and popcorn night. Mr. L thought I was crazy.

“You’re wasting a whole Saturday getting ready for this.”
“Yes, but all the yard work that needs to get done before we leave is now complete. The house is relatively clean and I’m using up some of the food, wine and beer we have on hand.”

What I didn’t add was that I needed an adult only patio night before the onslaught of last week of school activities plus getting ready for our BIG trip. I knew no matter what, even with oodles of time, I wasn’t packing up our brood until at least a couple of days before and I would pull all nighters if I had to. We have traveled enough at this point that I know how I work. Better under pressure and doing things at the last-minute. I make lists in my head and on my phone to give me a guideline, but really it usually all comes together with a little coffee, little wine and a little crazy.

It was a lovely and well-deserved evening with a couple of good friends. Our kids all get along and each of ours had an age appropriate playmate. They watched two movies and we all settled back taking in the longest day of the year until the mosquitos chased us indoors. Jacob fell asleep on the couch (a first), Audrey and her friend were the night owls but all in all, a good night.

 

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice

Sunday was a blur from the late night on Saturday. One jazz recital and piano recital later and huge thank you to a mother-in-law taking the three year-old for the day, I learned never say no to a free offer to babysit if it makes your life easier, especially with three or more. Mr. L and I were amazed how easy it was with just two kids! We both had fifteen minute naps and they did, whatever. (I think they drew pictures but nothing was destroyed and they weren’t glued to the tv.) A mini break from the chaos we generally survive in.

But it gave me some good ammunition to face Monday. D-day when I know I am in crunch time. I see other parents cringe when they ask if I’m all packed and I shrug and say, “Not really.” But little do they realize I do have a plan, a sprint to the finish line! Just today I managed to get all the teacher’s gifts (Thank you LCBO gift cards!), fit in a yoga class, daily clean-up the house, get to a kindergarten end of year celebration, write this blog piece and down a cup of coffee. Next, luggage out and hit the drug store for my items before end of day and thrown a load of laundry. (Right, that’s what I have to do, unload the laundry and make dinner.) I look towards the goal, golden beaches and time with my family. No matter how crazy the next few days get, I will try to keep that in mind and let go of the mommy guilt if my kids are eating hot dogs again and watching a tv show so I can throw carry-on items in a suitcase.

 

Audrey Kindergarten Celebration

Audrey Kindergarten Celebration

After all, if I’m going to write about living in organized chaos, I should at least live it to the fullest.

A wealth of thanks.

In Canada, Thanksgiving is winding down as people across the country plunk onto their couches their bellies filled with turkey, pies and all the delicious goodness that the harvest brings. I wondered as I sat down to type this blog tonight, a cup of hot decaf early gray tea by my side, how to approach the topic of thanks. 

Of course I am thankful for my family and friends. I am also thankful to be living in a country full of such beautiful weather and colours. I am thankful we are all healthy. These are the obvious tributes of thanks this weekend. 

Our family took a different approach to Thanksgiving this year. We went on a mini trip to Ottawa, Ontario. Mr. L wanted to fit in one race this season and we stumbled upon the Fall Colour Run coordinated by Somersault Events in the colourful city of Ottawa a couple of months ago. “Why not?” we asked ourselves. A little family getaway could be fun and being a family who likes to explore new places, we booked it. 

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A part of my traditional soul regretted forgoing the crazy Thanksgiving dinner where my sister cooks a delicious meal relegating me to sous chef in my own house while trying to fit in visits to two sets of parents. I had not realized how alike my elder girl and I are when in a bout of unusual silence this weekend, she confessed missing the usual family gathering and having a traditional Thanksgiving meal. (To note she typically eats next to nothing except corn, bread and pie.) I had to admit as we munched on delicious pizza, duck breast and spaghetti  at an empty local venue, The Black Thorn, in some ways the idea of Thanksgiving on our own sounded better than it was. 

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However, the weekend was fun and for that I am thankful. Mr. L finished his race well. The kids got to do a 1 km Wylie Ryan’s Turkey Trot getting their own medals. We showed them the wonders of Parliament Hill, Byward Market and the Canadian Museum of Nature in our nation’s capital city. I am thankful I have a curious little crew who did not mind walking the streets of Ottawa with their parents finding wonder in every statue we came across.

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But, as a parent of three what am I most thankful for this weekend? Patient people. Traveling with a potty-training toddler has its ups and downs. We had a lot of downs as our increasingly vocal Jacob announced at every restaurant he had to pee or poo and then would refuse to go but still complained about his sore tummy in increasing louder tones. Multiple visits to restaurant or coffee shop washrooms passing the same smiling server. Pulling the potty out on the road at an empty park begging him to just go and the boys on bicycles passing by who pretended we were not there.  For these people, I am thankful. 

I am thankful for naps. Naps that allowed the five of us to have a bit of downtime and where all was peacefully quiet for a little while. I am thankful for the waiter who smirked in good humour as my kids hung off the bars at the Moulin De Provence in the ByWard Market while my kids munched on cookies, I tried to drink a lukewarm coffee and Mr. L scarfed down a late lunch. I am thankful for the market vendors who did not mind little hands grabbing trinkets off their tables or the people at the check-in desk at our hotel where the kids had to wait until our room was ready, pulling brochures out of their holders. 

All of this patience was a force that held up my own resistance to give into frustration (for the most part) that can come when families travel together. For the kindness and patience of others, I am thankful. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

 

Refresh and Recharge

Drinking wine at lunch on a sun-soaked patio overlooking a glorious turquoise pool. Having a nap, in the morning after a full breakfast complete with egg-white omelette that I did not make. An impromptu massage before a 9 pm dinner. Glasses of wine served in pristine glasses overlooking beautiful vineyards. Feeling a cold wave crash over your head fighting the Niagara Rapids in an open jet boat. Having a conversation with adults (including a husband) that is not interrupted by “please do not eat with your hands.”

These are a few of the precious memories this mom of three took with her into this past week from a luxurious, too-short mini trip away with Mr. L to Niagara-on-the-Lake. An agreeable grandmother who took on all three of the kids (plus the dog) for a weekend so we could sneak away for some much-needed R&R led to a weekend full of food, wine, friends and fun. And much too short….

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I could write away with abandon on everything we did, the amount of wine consumed, the delicious food, but all I will state is that if in the area, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Pillar and Post are two of my favorite things right now and if you can, run for a visit.

Poolside at Pillar and Post

Poolside at Pillar and Post

Instead, it became clear to me how much I needed a little recharging. As parents, couples well, people, I find if we don’t find a balance in life and slow down, life can turn from being busy and full to difficult and something you have to endure. As a mom home alone with three kiddies, dog and on her own for much of the time, it was a necessity.

The whole trip was based upon another couple. Good friends who were celebrating their twentieth anniversary, they had never been away from their son for one night. He is now sixteen. At dinner a winter ago, and after a cocktail or two the subject of their upcoming “china” anniversary came up. I volunteered to take them on a wine tour, something they have never done and we would make a weekend out of it. Planning is a strength for me, even in these crazy days, so with a little research I booked everything and then tacked on an extra night for Mr. L and I as a belated anniversary gift to ourselves.

From www.clipartof.com

All during the spring and early summer I looked forward to our weekend knowing that my hard work at home with the kids would be rewarded. And it was, very nicely. It was a picture-perfect weekend, (except for my red-eye due to severe allergic reaction this year to ragweed) and it seemed the weather gods had even listened providing the perfect weather to take a wine tour and enjoy the posh amenities at the Pillar and Post.

The other couple was so grateful  and had enjoyed themselves so much, another tentative trip back is planned in January. I have a feeling now that they have a taste of alone time away from the responsibilities of house/child they will crave more of it. Or perhaps they were finally at a place where they felt comfortable to leave their son for a night or two with good friends or family. Either way, the embraced the weekend.

For me, a SAHM who spends most of her time catering to the demands of four other people,  these carved out chunks of time are a welcome respite from well, normal life. I learned on this trip that it was not only me who craved and appreciated these times. Mr. L and our friends enjoyed a couple of days away from, well, the kids. Time away could be something as simple as a visit to my mother’s house, alone, but to be able to hear one’s thoughts for even a day is welcome. I have been known to take long walks to clear my head in order to achieve a little clairty.

In the everyday rush of life, I think sometimes we forget a bit of silence, rest and enjoyment from pleasures like a bike ride down a country road can work tiny miracles upon ourselves. It has done wonders for me this week. I feel calmer. My head feels a bit clearer. I can see things not as a constant to-do list but the big plans ahead with time to complete what I need to do. Life does not seem as overwhelming. I call it the “post-vacation high.” Sometimes it lasts a few days, sometimes longer. But I will soak it in while I can.

And on the upcoming days when things seem to start to spin out of control, I will close my eyes and picture the vineyards and remember I can go back. Even for a day. Soon.

A milestone – a Mom’s turn.

Milestones. We celebrate them. We reward them. We rejoice in the accomplishments of our children reaching them. The first time they sleep through the night. Potty training. Losing teeth. Riding a bike. Reading.

This past long weekend, I reached a parenting milestone. A mini getaway, just me and the kids.

Now do not misunderstand. Mr. L is always welcome and appreciated on any family adventures. Most of the time he is very present, being a hands-on modern dad. However, he is a busy guy with his own business. This past year it became apparent to me that I cannot wait for his schedule to clear on each and every family adventure we have. It is not because he does not want to come with us. It is simply he is not yet at the point in his career where he can take off on a whim for a two-day getaway. It has taken me some time to realize, admit and grudgingly accept it. It is simply our situation. My rose-coloured views one child ago of us doing absolutely everything together; not even imagining planning anything without his prescence, has been altered into a more realistic point of view.

It became apparent after a marathon and rushed planning session with Mr. L regarding day trips, camping overnighter and lots of open time to just wake up and plan our day with the simple pleasures of summer (as per his wishes) that I was left with an unsatisfied feeling. I wanted to do something else with the kids. I wanted to take them somewhere new this summer.

My childhood summer memories overflow with grainy images of camping trips, Canada’s Wonderland, my grandparent’s farm, Storybook Gardens and of course, Niagara Falls.  I also realized over the years that my mom was typically the sole parent most of the time. Or at least that is how I remember it.

Then it hit me. If I wanted to take the kids on a mini getaway, why shouldn’t I? Why did I feel as if I had to wait for Mr. L’s schedule to open up? We do not have a cottage I can simply take the kids and go to when the urge to getaway strikes. No time share in Florida. What was stopping me?

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From helenismostoshare.blogspot.com

Fear. I realized I felt fear upon hitting that milestone of traveling with the kids on my own. Fearful and overwhelmed. Granted I have three young children, but still. Me, afraid?

I found it strange to have such a feeling since I spend most of my days with the kids ,alone, and manage (most of the time) to keep us all sane and semi-put-together.  I plan things to do around town, take them on picnics, parks and hikes. My choice to be at home is a role we both agreed that I would take on, at least in their early years.  However, that does not mean I have ultimate say in their lives. Mr. L is very much involved in the important things that have to do with our children and home. He is very much present scrambling to get home to give them baths, play a goofy game of tag and tuck them in.

Yet, fear was stopping me. Fear of being able to manage while travelling further than my parent’s house and back with them. Fear of taking that step that can sometimes make a family feel more separated when one parent is more present than another. Pondering this irrational fear it struck me that most likely lingering memories of how much my mother did on her own with me and my siblings and how un-present my father was at times due to work, may have been unknowingly feeding my fear. These memories seemed to be at the forefront of my determination and fear that our family would (and should) do everything together or else “suffer the consequences.” Yes, my parents ultimately divorced. (And yes, I am a psychology major in another lifetime.)

So, I faced my fear. I talked with Mr. L, who frankly and admittedly would not undertake any trip with the three kids on his own himself, but who said, “If you want to do it, then do it. I’m okay with it.” I am not entirely sure he understood why I felt I needed to plan this mini getaway with the kids, but he was supportive and I made my plans.

Scrambling to put together an itinerary and book hotel and tickets, a mini trip to Niagara Falls was planned.  One night with Mr. L followed by a family day at Safari Niagara. Mr. L would then head home on an evening train for work the next day and for one night and day it was just me and the kids, exploring the hotel’s pool and restaurants followed by a day checking out Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls before our drive home. Nothing huge but a milestone for this mom of three whose biggest overnight adventure alone with the kids was to the small town I grew up in where we were surrounded by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Not really the same thing as being completely on your own.

Kids at Safari Niagara

Kids at Safari Niagara

All of it went without too much drama. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather on a long weekend. The second night on my own was a bit tricky as the girls were getting grumpy sharing a bed for the first time in our two-room suite at the Embassy Suites and Jacob decided to wake up at 2:45 am to “sleep” with mom. (Mr. L is the normal go-to person for middle of the night wake up calls which are fortunately, infrequent.) But I got through it. Thank goodness for Starbucks in the hotel lobby!

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The day in downtown Niagara Falls complete with Skywheel ride, Build-a-Bear, Rainforest Cafe for lunch and then Hershey Store all went off without a hitch. I was proud of my kids who for the most part, were a fun little crew to be with for a day.

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Mr. L missed us and I think was regretting his decision not to stay. (He actually considered it for a couple of minutes before leaving for his train. After all, we do love having him around and he does enjoy being with his family versus work.) I received a couple of random emails from him asking what we were doing and to send pictures, which I was glad to do telling the kids to smile big for daddy.

What this experience taught me, because let’s face it, moms are always learning new things about ourselves, was that I can do it. I can travel with my kids. I do not need to wait upon someone else’s schedule to do everything I want to do with the three of them. Of course, I would prefer having Mr. L with us, but sometimes, as is normal and realistic, it is not going to be possible. So, I need to be okay with this part of life and also realize, it does not take away from our family. But in fact, enriches it a little. A little separation from the daily grind of routine, bath times and rushed dinners is not a bad thing. It made me appreciate how much I enjoy having Mr. L with me on family adventures and how much he does when we are together as a family. Mr. L appreciated being at home and getting some work done in a quiet house. He missed us and was looking forward to our return, but sometimes he needs some quiet time as well.

The night we returned home, exhausted but brimming with stories, we sat down to a casual family dinner of pizza and I realized I had no reason to be fearful. I could embrace the experience as achieving a milestone, conquer a fear and look forward to our next family adventure, on my own or all together. Either way would be fine for our family.

Travelling with kids – an overview

Our first family overseas trip is becoming a distant memory as we immerse ourselves in the busy and humid days of an Ontario summer, it seemed like a good time to review our trip before other parts of life take over completely. The pros, the cons. The lessons and tips for other parents considering their first overseas trip with small children. A round-up of my suggested spots for families travelling to Tel Aviv, Israel. (This last one will be in a separate blog piece!)

Mr. L and I had a lot of discussion when the idea of this trip was brought up a year ago. We have family commitments in Israel and knew this would be an inevitable trip in order for our children to see their grandfather each year. There are also numerous cousins and friends whom we wanted to strengthen our connection. We chose this year, when our children were seven, five and two for a couple of reasons. 1) His father could no longer make the long flight to see us in Canada due to health reasons. 2) We hoped the older two would manage the flight well with the help of mini iPads, books and snacks leaving us to take turns dealing with our two year old.

The pros as we discussed would be many. Seeing the country where their father grew up. Experiencing a different culture. Learning more about their jewish heritage. Lots of sun and beach time. Meeting family members and cousins close in age to our children. Family time together. Deciding if this was going to be an annual trip for our family as we hoped but we would not know until we did it once.

The cons were more logistic in nature. Cost of travelling with five people. Accommodations for a family with three small children. Not knowing how any of the kids would react to a twelve + hour flight (taking line-ups for customs/security and baggage into consideration). Obvious safety concerns when traveling to a middle eastern country. The heat in Israel. Language barriers.

But, in the end the pros outweighed the cons. Not every family is ready or able to take a trip like this. The most important thing when planning an overseas family trip is to be realistic about the potential cons and plan for them as best as possible. Discuss, discuss, discuss. Know your children and take their personalities into account. We are fortunate to have three fairly outgoing and adaptable children who like to talk and learn new things. Well, two out of three if I am being honest.

We do have one child, Audrey, who is a little more of an introvert and takes longer to become comfortable in new situations. (Although once she is comfortable, she can hold her own in any situation.) She also does not deal well if her “equilibrium” is upset or has not in the past dealt well with being away from home. However, being only five, we were hoping this trip with our support, her being a bit older and having her older sister as a playmate, she could find her own enjoyment.  If you have shyer, more introverted children who do not do well with an upset in their routine, waiting until they are older may be wiser for a major trip. Starting with smaller trips may be a better option.

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Some general tips I learned on our first overseas trip:

1) Pack light. We were heading to a beach culture meaning casual wear and bathing suits. I overpacked (as usual) and did not take into account a grandfather who upon our arrival had purchased enough clothes for each child on our two-week stay.

2) Take a carry on per child and if they are old enough to pull a rolling suitcase. Let them.

Mr. L thought I was crazy but I will stick to my rule of a carry-on for each person. I have been victim to luggage being lost and was thankful I had packed that extra set of clothes in my carry-on. Each child had their own little rolling suitcase, brightly coloured with a change of clothes, bathing suit, favourite sleep item, books, iPad mini/or iPod touch and change of diapers for the toddler. It was more organized and I did not have to spend time digging for each item on one big carry-on.

3) Two year-olds still need an umbrella stroller.

We had not planned to take one as our little guy favours walking over being strapped down but a neighbour of ours (and a Mom) gave us one of their strollers and told me, “You’ll thank me.” I did when we got back. Jacob wanted to sit down at times and feel safe in the stroller at a busy airport or after a long day at the beach. It was also helpful to carry things when we were out.

4) Take aloe vera, sunscreen and all medications.

Tel Aviv is a modern city by all accounts. There are pharmacies and grocery stores. But unlike us, they have sun most of the year. Hot sun. I did not take aloe vera assuming we could find one in a pharmacy if need be. Israelis do not use aloe vera, they do not need to being brown most of the year. We finally did find a small tube tucked way back in a shelf after our first day at the beach where we all spent way too much time in the strong sun.

A rotovirus hit us on our second week. I had taken all the regulars. Advil, tylenol, Gravol, but for some reason did not anticipate tummy issues. There is not much to be done with a virus, but I wish I had taken more Advil so we did not need to hunt it down at the store to help with low fevers. If you have any natural remedies to help with tummy troubles, take it with you.

5) Do not spend your first day on a beach for the whole day. You will get sunburned, even when slathering sunscreen on.

In a climate like Israel, the sun is hot and strong. We knew that. We pulled the kids under umbrellas, chased them with hats and tubes of sunblock. Yet, we all got sunburnt. Wanting to feel the fresh sea air, we overdid it. Next time, half a day will suffice.

6) Flights. If you can afford first class. Get it. Since most of us cannot, we got the bulkhead seats. Extra leg room for all of us and bags the kids needed. It also meant our kids did not bother anyone in front of them.

7) Make a general outline of what you hope to see and do for your trip before you go, but be flexible.

You may want a day out of the sun. You may get sick. In our case we had family visits so fit those into our plans. We also planned a lot of down time for our first trip. Really, a walk to a nearby park to get ice cream was fun enough for our kids. Remember, you are travelling with small children. We still have a toddler who naps and after one day we tried to see if he could go without it. It was a disaster. Having to go back to the apartment for two-hour naps cut into our day, but it was nice downtime for everyone. I napped most days, a luxury I do not get at home.

8) Family time was really great but Mr. L and I scheduled some one-on-one time when we could. We were lucky to have family to babysit so we could sneak out to dinner alone a couple of times. But if you are without that luxury, ensure your accommodations have a patio/balcony somewhere where after all the kids are asleep (usually by 8 pm) the two of you can talk, drink a glass of wine and enjoy some quiet time on your own.

9) Let your kids be comfortable at their own pace. Tel Aviv is a busy and dense city. I loved it, but I could see it was a bit overwhelming for our kids. We made our outings in the less busier times or in short durations going out longer as the kids became more accostomed to city life. We went places early in the morning or after dinner. Saturday is unusually quiet in Tel Aviv as most of the businesses are shut down for the Sabbath. Not a great time to hit the beach as everyone is there, but a good time to see other sites.

10) Try to remember through tantrums, complaining and illness to watch your kids splash in the waves or dig in the sand. Enjoy how they charm the people you meet or family members and most importantly remember that this is only the first of many future family adventures. It can only get easier and better. (We hope!)

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As the sun sets in Tel Aviv.

Being the first day everyone seemed to be feeling better and after lounging poolside for most of a day, Mr. L and I leaped at the opportunity to sneak out for dinner on our own. My in-laws were kind enough to offer to babysit, so after showers and tucking them into bed with kisses on their sunburnt cheeks, I finally got to play dress-up with one of the few dresses we had bought on our shopping trip.

Mr. L and I chose a restaurant close by and within walking distance. Just in case we needed to make a quick escape home. After all, we were coming off all three kids not feeling well and it was the first time his father and his wife had looked after our kids. As we walked hand in hand we ventured through Nahlat Binyamin, a lovely pedestrian area full of textile shops where an Arts and Craft market sets-up twice a week.

Nahlat Binyamin

Nahlat Binyamin

Continuing on, we came upon, Tracklin, a romantic candlelit restaurant. We were seated and promptly greeted by a charming server who introduced us to a local Israeli wine. Sipping our glasses we placed our order and settled in. It was refreshing to be out on our own enjoying each other’s company, good food and wine. A plate of warm bread was placed before us and we nearly devoured it.

Tracklin Restaurant

Tracklin Restaurant

A delicious combination of Italian artichokes with goat cheese later and a melt-in-your-mouth slow-cooked ribs that was one of the specials of the night later we were feeling very full so we nearly passed on dessert. I am so glad we chose not to! On the dessert menu was a chocolate mousse, a dessert that is my kryptonite, so we decided to share it. Although in hearing about the dessert choice, I had inquired about a dessert I did not recognize, (Shocking but true!) called Mallibee.  Mallibee is a custard dessert that is garnished with fruit, fruit sauces, dates, nuts – pretty much any topping. Our kind server brought us one “to try” and we were delighted not only with the service, but the dessert. Mallibbee will be my new favorite dessert when eating out in Tel Aviv.  Later that week when telling Mr. L’s family about it, D. our host at one brunch, made this “little piece of heaven” for our last family get-together. We so much enjoyed it that I am currently trying to score the recipe. After a pleasant night out and feeling re-energized, we were ready to continue our family adventures in Tel Aviv.

Italian Artichokes Appetizer

Italian Artichokes Appetizer

Slow-cooked ribs

Slow-cooked ribs

Walks on the boardwalk after dinner one night, trips to Carmel market where Elizabeth took her cherished ten shekels she had been saving to buy a large cup of freshly squeezed orange juice and visits to the park we soon found ourselves in the last few days before our trip back to Canada.

Elizabeth loving the orange juice stand!

Elizabeth loving the orange juice stand!

Jacob on the boardwalk.

Jacob on the boardwalk.

Low-grade fevers prevented some of our pre-planned activities from happening, but we did manage to get out to the Arts and Crafts market. Another great place to spend a morning when travelling with kids (or solo!). But ensure to get there early! By eleven am the place is busy and hot! Amongst the jewellery stands, hand-glass blown vendors and dragging our kids away from the people making huge bubbles with bubble sticks, we managed to pick up a few gifts for loved ones back home. The kids also got to see a glass artist torching his pieces of glass to make unique necklace pendants or animal shapes. A must-see for any visitor to the market.

Arts and Craft Market

Arts and Craft Market

Stained glass art.

Stained glass art.

Our last few days were filled with family/friend visits where we lingered trying to get in our last piece of conversations and make plans for future trips. The kids were spoiled with treats and hugs from the warmest people I have had the pleasure to meet and we lamented that our visit had to end so soon.

Jacob with Israeli cousins.

Jacob with Israeli cousins.

Mr. L and I managed to get in one last dinner out. Dutifully researching via TripAdvisor, he had chosen a place that was again walking distance again from our apartment. Upon sharing his choice with the cousins one sunny afternoon lounging in the backyard looking upon a lemon tree, they chastised him for choosing a good, but too casual of a place for a date night with your wife. A phone call later from M. and we had scored a table at one of Tel Aviv’s top restaurants by the sea, Raphael.

Getting fancied up in my LBD, (another new purchase courtesy of my FIL), we hailed a taxi and walked down the steps into a modern, low-lit restaurant decorated in black and whites. In no rush and ordering one of our last plates of humus, I enjoyed a wrapped vine-leaf appetizer stuffed with fragrant rice and lamb followed by a light and refreshing dish of white fish. Deciding to go easier on the desserts, we opted for a gelato dessert and I ordered a pot of delicious mint tea that came in a stunning silver tea set. Walking down the boardwalk after dinner, we talked about our trip and plans for next year.

Raphael Restaurant, Tel Aviv

Raphael Restaurant, Tel Aviv

Tea Time

Tea Time

Our last day in Israel was spent, where else? At the beach. We relented and got the kids their heart’s desire, frozen ice cream treats from the guy shouting on the beach, and they devoured them in between eating snacks and ordering our last meal beach side.

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Audrey looking at the waves.

Jacob and I.

Jacob and I.

Elizabeth enjoying ice cream at the beach.

Elizabeth enjoying ice cream at the beach.

As we packed up the apartment, trying to stuff extra clothes and gifts into already full luggage, doling out Advil to still lingering low-grade fevers we dealt with the onset of tummy troubles that would follow us on the plane and home to Canada for a week. The kids were awesome going through line-up after line-up at Israeli security and enduring a twelve-hour flight.

We arrived home at YYZ (Toronto) just in time for Canada Day and are now straight into the first week of summer vacation.

One trip was over. The biggest trip this Mom with three kids has taken and we not only endured but I learned a lot about my kids and our family. Most importantly was that we can do it. We can travel, survive and have a good time. We will be planning our next family adventure soon.

Last sunset overlooking Tel Aviv.

Last sunset overlooking Tel Aviv.

Through illness and hot days we continued…

The morning I woke up with the feeling that someone was stabbing knives into my stomach, I knew that was it. I was going to be down and out for the day. My new mother-in-law’s words came floating back to my mind the night before at dinner, “You are looking pale. Are you okay?” (Translated by Mr. L as she speaks only Romanian or Hebrew.) I had brushed aside her comment with a smile stating, “I am always pale.” Being a freckled redhead I am quite used to these comments.

Yet, here I was, the morning after, clutching my stomach in pain and cursing a very contagious viral bug we had all picked up. Steeling myself, I made a decision to try to at least make something of another beautiful day in Tel Aviv for the rest of the family. After all, had not we dragged two ill girls to a family meeting a couple of days before? If they could do that, I could do this.  Certainly I could return the favour. So after a shower, two sips of coffee and breakfast of plain toast, we piled everyone into the rented large vehicle to check out Old Yafo.

Mr. L and I had been here on our last trip eight years ago and I had loved the old buildings and stone staircases. It is one of the must-see tourist attractions  when visiting Tel Aviv. Feeling my adrenaline (and Advil) kick-in we walked down by the old Yafo Port by the boats and warehouses that are being turned into artist spaces and lounge-type restaurants. Finally finding the staircases up to the square, we made a go in the increasing heat with Mr. L carrying the stroller and me carrying Jacob when his legs got tired. Step after step the girls were squealing in delight at the secret passageways and doorways that opened up into artist studios.

Old Yafo-Tel Aviv

Old Yafo-Tel Aviv

Finally reaching the top, we felt the full force of the heat as it radiated off the white stone and the kids ran to the fountain in the hopes of feeling a spray of water on their faces. Feeling light-headed myself I looked anywhere for shade when Mr. L suggested an ice cream stop at a nearby umbrella-clad Gelato place. Sitting under the shade as I sipped water to calm my rumbling stomach the kids tried to eat their ice cream before it melted. Knowing I had reached the end of my ability to be out, I suggested we walk back to the car, quickly. Although not feeling well, I could appreciate the open square and remembered the main staircase from our last trip. I lamented it would be nice to come back for dinner to one of the many restaurants looking over the sea.

Staircase to Old Yafo

Staircase to Old Yafo

However, we walked back down the hilly street to the waiting car and I made it back to the apartment just in time and put myself to bed for the rest of the day.

The next day, I was feeling shaky and but we decided to head out for a morning at the beach to get some fresh air. Afterwards we met up for dinner with my in-laws for an Italian dinner on Rothschild Avenue. The deliciously fresh spaghetti mariana with fresh mozzarella cheese felt like heaven in my empty stomach. Jacob was getting a bit grouchy, so I took my girls up to the rooftop patio for ice cream as we looked at the sunset. As they drew pictures of the sunset and ate their dripping ice cream bars, I relaxed knowing that even though illness had hit our little family, we could still enjoy something simple as ice cream and a sunset.

Spagetti - good for an empty stomach!

Spagetti – good for an empty stomach!

 

Post-dinner ice cream.

Post-dinner ice cream.

Taking advantage of a day when we all seemed to be feeling well, Mr. L suggested we take a break from the beach and head to the Gordon Pool.  Packing up our gear and picnic lunch, we navigated traffic, parked nearby and walked down towards the pool. An oasis from the sand and sun in downtown Tel Aviv the lounging chairs and large umbrellas provided a luxurious and kid-friendly environment. Overlooking the marina and sea, it is a beautiful place to take in the sun, play in the kiddie pool, splash around in the salt water pool or swim your lap at the designated swimming lanes. Clean change rooms and showers  inside the corresponding health club made a nice change from the quick beach-side showers we had become accustomed. It was a pleasant way to spend a day after the last few days of illness for nearly everyone.

Gordon Pool, Tel Aviv

Gordon Pool, Tel Aviv

More to come….

In the heart of Tel Aviv lived a family…for awhile.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv, Israel

Downtown Tel Aviv is a compact city full of white cement buildings. Laundry hangs from rooftop lines or on patios and you quickly get used to hearing the clanging of pots through open windows as neighbours prepare dinner.  The nearby sea provides an occasional breeze during the heat of late June and is beautiful backdrop full of ever-changing shades of blue. The Kerem neighbourhood near the Carmel Market is busy as people hurry to buy flowers, wine or cheese from the local cheese stand and our family quickly became part of the ebb and flow of people walking around the neighbourhood. One morning the corner coffee shop barista started making my morning cappuccino as I sluggishly walked towards his shop and he cracked a long-awaited smile confirming, “One sugar? To go?” I knew then we were starting to feel at home in downtown Tel Aviv as I placed my ten shekels on the glass deli counter with a nod in exchange for a piping hot cup saying “Ken. Toda!” and made my way back to the apartment we had rented up the street.

Around the corner from our apartment is the Shuk (Carmel Market) and is a hub of activity from early in the morning until end of day. You can buy pretty much anything you need at the market and it is very convenient to be able to run out on a moments notice to pick up food or supplies. Trays of freshly baked chocolate croissants or burekas lay in tidy rows or various piles of fresh olives to taste to help you choose just the right one to take home are hard to resist amidst the fruit and vegetable stands. If you cannot wait until later to eat, there are falafel stands or fresh melon grilled right in front of you to appease hungry stomachs. The best tip for heading to the Carmel market is to go early before the crowds appear and you are swimming like fish upstream trying to pile your groceries into your cart or stroller. When travelling with kids it can be a bit overwhelming and hot for little ones so going early is a must. For older kids it can be an interesting experience once they realize they can dip into that bag from the baked goods stand and munch on fresh pita or know that the juice guy will toss them a slice of freshly cut orange as they squeeze a frothy concoction of apple and orange juice into a plastic cup. Elizabeth quickly got used to our daily morning stroll as the two of us joined the crowds to grab croissants still warm from the oven for breakfast, coffee for Mom and a glass of fresh juice for eight shekels, which she insisted on paying for herself. We would navigate around the forklifts delivering produce to the stands and motorcyclists heading to work carrying our groceries the short walk back to our apartment.

Baked goods at Carmel Market

Baked goods at Carmel Market

Fresh olives and eggs.

Fresh olives and eggs.

After one particular morning, we thought a reprieve at the nearby park was a must for our kids after a larger grocery day letting them munch on snacks as Mr. L quickly took our groceries back to the apartment. A huge benefit to having an apartment in the heart of downtown Tel Aviv is everything is five minutes away.

Park near our apartment.

Park near our apartment.

One evening we decided it was time to check out one of the other fabulous beaches near my in-laws. As much as I enjoyed the downtown Tel Aviv beach, it was a fabulous break to go to Tel Baruch Beach on the north side of the city. Reminding me of downtown Miami with palm trees and manicured lawns and streets lined with pristine apartment buildings, this particular area is popular with seniors and families.

The beach was quieter and very family oriented with a playground. Heading away from the lifeguard area to a quieter area on the other side of the cove, the water was warm and although a little deeper, the kids had a blast finally seeing sea shells to collect. The nearby restaurant, Blue, was relaxing with couches to lounge in for a casual dinner after our swim. There was a huge sand pit for the kids in the middle of the restaurant complete with cube shaped bean bag chairs and we enjoyed dinner as the kids ran in between the table and the sand pit. It was a lovely way to end the day.

Little man checking out another beach.

Little man checking out another beach.

Blue Restaurant, North Tel Aviv, Israel

Blue Restaurant, North Tel Aviv, Israel

Unfortunately, the tummy troubles hit again the next day and although we attempted a morning in Old Yafo and managed to explore the oldest stone staircases of Tel Aviv grabbing ice cream to cool off, we quickly headed home where I was put to bed for the rest of the day.

Climbing the steps in Yafo-Tel Aviv, Israel

Climbing the steps in Yafo-Tel Aviv, Israel

Entrance to main square in Yafo-Tel Aviv, Israel

Entrance to main square in Yafo-Tel Aviv, Israel

The duration of the trip we spent changing plans as on again and off again low-grade fevers combined with rotovirus symptoms hit most of us. Unfortunately it did cast a bit of a shadow on the rest of our trip, but we managed to take things day by day and see how different family members felt. Dealing with illnesses, thankfully not serious, while travelling means you quickly learn to just enjoy each day or sometimes each hour. The times when the five of us could all go out together became quickly limited as Mr. L and I switched off being at home with one or two of the kids while the rest of the family went out, even if only for a stroll to the park.

More to come….