Summer Family Vacation on a Tight Budget

Family on vacation

Your budget is tight but you still want to take the family on a fun vacation this summer. I can help you with that. This has been the story of my family’s summer every year, and we have found a lot of ways to save money on family trips.

The biggest expenses on the family vacation are transportation, lodging, food, and souvenirs, so I have a few thought how you can cut one or all of these costs to give your family a memorable vacation without a high price tag.

Lower Transportation Costs

The easiest way to cut your vacation costs is to stay closer to home. Do you live near a place others visit on vacation? Travel close to home and see the place like visitors see it.

If you want to travel away from home, go off-season. In the summer, go to an area known for winter vacations; in the winter, go to an area known for summer vacations. Sure, you will deal with weather, but that’s just fun.

Lower Lodging Costs

The biggest range of costs for your vacation is in where you stay. Even if you stay in a hotel or motel, you can often pull the costs down by checking discount websites or using a discount (CAA/AAA or military, for example).

The best way to save money on lodging costs on your summer vacation is to camp. Even if you don’t want to pitch a tent, a lot of campgrounds offer cabins. Cabins cost more per night than a spot to park a camper or put up a tent, but they cost less than a motel, and you don’t need to buy the extra camping equipment. You do need to be prepared with cooking (pots & pans) and sleeping equipment (sleeping bags or blankets), but cabins can save you money if you already have all of this.

Where to go? Why not just start big with the national parks of Canada. You can find spectacular beauty and sites of historic significance across the country.

Is camping a mystery to you? If you’ve never been camping and don’t quite know how, you can even find camping instructions on the Parks Canada site. They even have an app with recipes, checklists, and tips.

Lower Food Costs

One of the biggest expenses of traveling with the family is food. Feeding a family of four three meals a day can cost more than a hotel room.

Find a local grocery store and make your own meals. Even if you don’t have access to cooking equipment, you can have great uncooked meals. More than once my family has quietly rolled our cooler into a hotel.

Not only does making your own simple food save you a lot of money, you can choose high quality, whole foods rather than accepting the quality you get in an inexpensive restaurant.

Lower Souvenir Costs

Really, you don’t need souvenirs at all, but you will almost certainly hear the cries of “Mom, can I have this?” My strategy is to start out with a distraction that creates its own keepsakes. Rather than taking home stuff from the trip, we remember by taking photos.

When my kids were little, I bought them simple cameras so they could document the trip from their own point of view. The follow up at home was important. We would create albums or frame photos on their walls. I like how this gives my children freedom to frame their own experience, and it helps me see what they find significant. In the era of smart phones and tablets, you have a lot of options for equipment, but I still think it’s important to put the equipment wholly in your child’s hands.

Another idea for souvenirs is to collect small mementos of specific experiences. If you are heading to national parks or national historic sites, check out the Xplorer programs for children. When you arrive, you check in and get a booklet or equipment that leads children on activities designed to help their understand what that park has to offer. U.S. national parks have a similar program for Junior Rangers. We did a variety of activities from an hour to several days. When they returned with completed activity books, the park ranger held a little ceremony to award them patches. My kids collected those patches from their junior ranger activities and sewed them onto their backpacks. They still talk about the activities as they point out the patches.

Go Slowly

Make sure that you leave enough space in any vacation or staycation to enjoy your time together and unwind from the relentless pace of your normal life.

I’ve found that the activity that left my kids the happiest on most vacations was swimming in a motel pool. Simple, but it works wonders. Whatever you do, leave enough space that the kids can play and you can chill out. You don’t have to leave first thing every morning. A vacation shouldn’t feel like work.

The Really Cheap Summer Vacation

If you just don’t even have the option to travel because of the costs, you can still create that vacation feeling and fun summer memories. There is no requirement that you leave home each summer. Sure, it’s fun, but that pressure to do right by your kids can be stressful when you just don’t have the money to spare. You can make this a summer of fun without staying away from home.

Day trips. Take day trips to all of the tourist spots within a few hours drive. Even if you have seen the historic houses and scenic views around your region, for your children, a lot of this will be new. Help them see their own home for the first time.

Backyard camping. Have a weekly campout in the back yard. Cook your dinner over a fire and tell silly stories. Everyone will remember these nights more than random evenings spend in a crumbling motel.

Indoor camping. If you are more of the indoor type, you can still have a campout with the family. My family loves doing this. We pull the cushions from every couch in the house and cover the floor. Everyone brings their bedding, and we make one big nest. Then, we play board games, read aloud, watch a movie, or have a picnic. Anything you can do sitting on the furniture, you can do lounging on the floor. Difference makes the fun. It will seem completely silly to little kids, and they will love it.

Make Your Own Fun!

You don’t need to spend money to have fun with your family. You have a lot of choices to bring down costs and create beautiful summer memories for your children. Have fun!

Photo Family Enjoying View on Vacation – © Eric1513 | Dreamstime.com

5 Ways to Enjoy and Document Your Pregnancy

Pregnancy photo shoot

Pregnancy, especially your first pregnancy, is such an amazing time. To see your body transform can be shocking and exciting. You will want to remember how you looked, how you felt, and what you dreamed about your new little one on the way.

Before you begin your documentation project, think it through. That doesn’t take a long time. Just consider your goal.

  • Is what you are doing all about expression of the moment, or are you creating a keepsake? If you are just expressing yourself in the moment of all of that beautiful pregnancy energy, go for it! No limits.
  • If you are creating a keepsake, who will keep it? Is it for you or for your baby?

I don’t want to discourage you from documenting your pregnancy—not at all. I just want you to think now about how you you will use this later because that might help you create even better documentation while you still have a lot of choices.

#1 Baby Bump Photos

Photos showing your physical transformation are The Classic pregnancy documentation. If you’ve ever seen a pregnancy board on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen a photo montage showing belly growth. I love these because they grab the visual person and tell them exactly what you want them to know—I’m growing!

HOW: Keep the background the same and mark where you stand so your body is the only thing that changes. Or, add a chalkboard, t-shirt or some other prop that changes with you to show the number of weeks. It is also fun to put your collection of photos together as a video.

#2 Professional Photo Shoot

Your family is about to change a lot, whether you are going from just you to parent and child, a couple to a three-person family, or a family with children to a family with another child. A professional photographer can capture the essence of who you are now just before your baby arrives on the scene.

HOW: Decide whether the photos will be of just you or of the whole family. Will they be in color or do you like striking black and white photos? Set your appointment before your 37th week of pregnancy. You want to show the biggest belly possible, but you don’t want to schedule so late that you miss your pregnancy altogether if the baby comes early. If that does happen, though, you now have a photo shoot with your new family. You make the best of it!

#3 Belly Cast

A belly cast is made by covering your belly with a layer of plastic wrap then dipping gauze in plaster and covering your belly (or belly and breasts) layer by layer to create a lasting, 3D keepsake of your shape. Once the plaster dries, you can paint your belly cast. I loved doing this with both of my babies, but now I wonder what to do with it. How will you use the cast? It will become more stuff you have to haul around with you.

HOW: As with the photo shoot, you want to document the biggest belly possible without missing your pregnancy entirely. Aim for 37-38 weeks. Depending whether you mind sharing your naked self with friends, this can be a fun project to do with a group of girlfriends, or just do this as a couple. It does help to have at least one other person present.

#4 Journal

First ask who you are writing for. If you are writing only for yourself, let it all pour out. If you are writing for your baby, at what age? What would your child want to know about the pregnancy? For example, I used to play footsie with my first baby. She would press her foot against the edge of my ribs, and I would touch back. Push, touch, push, touch. That play was so precious to me, and I love to tell her about it now. That kind of story could be appropriate for a child of any age. Another thing my kids remain interested in are the names I considered for each of them. For them, these are potential lives they didn’t live—lives that have names. They are fascinated by naming ideas, and you future children might be as well. It’s all about how much you want to share when, so keep your audience in mind when you write your pregnancy journal.

The Pregnancy Journal

HOW: A paper pregnancy journal is easy to use and easy to keep for the future. It’s also private. You might want to keep a public pregnancy journal as a blog or a microblog (like Tumblr). Decide who you are journalling for and choose the format that will reach your intended audience.

#5 Make a Recording

Recording your voice for your future child is another way to document the sensory experience of pregnancy. Your voice recording could be another way to create a journal, or you could make it different. Sing songs, record yourself reading a (soon-to-be) favorite story, or record an older sibling talking to the baby. My almost-three-year old made talking to the baby bump part of her nightly routine. She would tell the baby what she did that day. She would read (or recite) stories. She would talk about what fun they would have once the baby was born. I didn’t record that; now, I wish I had.

HOW: Most phones can record voice, but remember to download and backup your recording so it isn’t one of those bits of data forgotten when you switch phones. Do a test in different rooms to find the best quality. For example, a bedroom will probably absorb sound while an office might echo. You could make these recordings video rather than just audio.

Document your pregnancy. This is such a time between times, a time of great energy. Don’t get so caught up in the documentation, though, that you miss the experience of every moment. Have fun, and ride that wave.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

Celebrating His First Father’s Day

Father kissing baby

If your first baby was born within the past year, this Father’s Day will be special for the baby’s father. Becoming a father, becoming a parent, is one of those profound transformations we don’t necessarily realize we’re about to go through until the process is underway.

I’m not usually big on celebrating holidays like this, but I think there are ways to make Father’s Day and Mother’s Day special without giving in to the push to buy stuff. I also think it is important to take a moment or a day—any day you choose, really—to call attention to the transformation of becoming a father.

One of the reasons I don’t like a holiday with perfunctory gifts is that I don’t want my children to put a lot of their energy into what is for them a big gift or a big project only to create something that is thrown away or forgotten. I want to value their gifts, so I want them to learn what receivers will value.

Your baby is too young to quite be aware for gift giving yet, but you can set family habits in motion now by thinking about what this first Father’s Day really means for him.

It’s Not Just about Him

Don’t just make Father’s Day about him, as you would on his birthday; make it about his fatherhood. Make it about his transformation or his relationship with your child. If you give him a gift, make it a gift that helps him build on this new relationship he has as a father.

Or, make it a gift that helps him remember where he is now. You’ve heard that the time goes quickly. I’ll still repeat it for you: the time you have with your child does go quickly. You will be surprised when you see years behind you, and so will he. Your gift could mark the beauty of now and become a keepsake.

Daddy & Baby Photos

Remember this fleeting moment. Take him and your baby to a professional studio to get Daddy and baby photos. Then, repeat this every year. It takes discipline, but they will both love it. They will both marvel at how time changed them as they look back on these photos.

Anticipating Projects

Is he an active guy who is always involved in projects? Find him a great book of projects he can do with kids: science experiments, electronics, building outdoors, gardening, or anything else he loves doing. Sure, the baby is too young to do these things now, but you can spark his imagination now and watch the ideas grow along with your child.

Parenting Handbook

Do you talk together about how you will raise your child? At bynature.ca we carry only a few parenting books that we really value. One of them is Between Parent and Child, a book that was originally published in 1969 by renowned psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott and has since been revised and updated by Dr. Alice Ginott, clinical psychologist and wife of the late Haim Ginott, and family relationship specialist Dr. H. Wallace Goddard.

Between Parent and Child

Through 5 million sold, this book changed the way parents communicated with their children. Dr. Ginott believed that parenting was a skill that could be learned. If you baby’s father is wondering how to discipline and communicate in a way that your child will learn trust and self-confidence, this book is a gift that will help him and the whole family.

Your Message to Him

Your baby is too young to send the message, but you can let him know that he is doing well. Tell him what you appreciate about his parenting. Make sure he feels supported in this transformation into Father. You could just tell him, or you could write him a letter.

Whatever you choose to do, mark Father’s Day by acknowledging the importance of this new role as Father. It’s a tough job, and it helps all of us to know that we are noticed and appreciated.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

10 Easy Steps to Care for Yourself Every Day

Woman listening to music

You know you have to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. What is your oxygen mask, though?

We suggest 10 easy ways you can take care of yourself each day. Separately, each of these is a tiny step in your life. Taken together every day, these steps can help you nourish yourself, breathe deeply, and keep yourself ready to care for your children and family.

1. Sleep. When you are parenting a baby or a young child, sleep can be a difficult issue. Sleep is the most important factor in your physical and mental health, though. You need to arrange family routines so you get what you need or the rest of the structure will suffer. Sleep is your own oxygen mask.

2. Greet the Sun. Whether you do a yoga sun salutation or you just step outside to acknowledge that the day is beginning, this simple act of greeting your day consciously can heighten your awareness to keep your from drifting through your day.

3. Work Out. Does it seem impossible to get dressed, grab your yoga mat, and leave the house for an hour? If you are busy and never get through your whole list, you can easily convince yourself not to leave home for a workout. You do have other options to stay physically fit. The 7-minute workout is a scientifically based series of 12 exercises. It is intense. Turn on the online timer, and just do what the timer tells you to do.

4. Groom Yourself. Before you had children, you would not have thought that you would need to remind yourself to take basic grooming steps, but it is easy to forget when the day sneaks up on you. So, before you forget, brush your teeth, wash your face, and brush your hair. Quick. Simple. Done.

5. Write a paragraph in your notebook. What?! Don’t have a notebook? Get one. One notebook to rule them all. You have a lot to keep organized, not just information about house and family but your own thoughts. It really helps to have one constant anchor. For me, that’s a notebook, and I use the bullet journal method to keep myself organized. I think it’s important to have a physical notebook rather than a phone app. So, write a paragraph in your notebook just for you. Tell yourself about yesterday; write out loud about today; tell your worries or share your joys. Just write for you.

6. Remind Yourself. When everything is so busy that you are tired and a little cranky, it’s easy to forget that the work you are doing matters. Raising your beautiful little human beings is a job that sends ripples of positive effects through the world and through time. Take another moment to bring yourself to awareness, and remind yourself of the good you do in the lives of people around you.

7. Eat well. Not all food is equally nutritious. Especially when you are stressed and tired, you need foods that will boost your immunity so you don’t crash. The key is to stock the healthy foods rather than the low-nutrition foods. Then, when you have only a few minutes to make food for yourself, you can grab dark vegetables and fruits and make yourself a smoothie.

8. Listen to Your Music. Bring who you really are to your parenting. For a lot of us, music is a big part of identity. Forget those collections of baby songs or children yell-singing pop hits. Turn on your own music. Sing your songs to your baby. Dance to your songs with your toddler. Make driving singalong time.

9. Read a book. Before you laugh, think of the time you spend breastfeeding your baby. In addition to gazing at this beautiful little human being you get to hold, give yourself 5 minutes here and there to read a book. Fiction, non-fiction, whatever takes you away or reminds you who you are—whatever you need right now.

10. Drink a cup. At night, when the baby is finally asleep, drink a cup of Peaceful Mama tea. The chamomile, lemon balm, and oat straw are calming. Just take a few minutes by yourself to reflect on your day.

If you can’t take every step every day, it’s OK. Just keep taking steps and moving yourself forward.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

Co-sleeping Basics

Mother and Baby sleeping

If you’ve heard about co-sleeping but you just aren’t sure how to co-sleep with your baby, we have the basics for you.

Once you know the basics, you’ll realize how easy it is to satisfy the needs of baby and parent.

Among my fondest of parenting memories is sleeping with a baby on one side an a toddler on the other, feeling warm next to my two children, falling asleep loving them so much I could burst.

How to Co-sleep

Designate a space. The baby shouldn’t go between two adults. I put my baby on the outside of me, toward the wall, and my toddler between me and my husband. When our babies were a bit older, we also used sheepies from our cousins in New Zealand (and ALL babies in New Zealand sleep on sheepskins), so the sleeping space was clearly marked. My sheepie = my space.

Get rid of heavy covers. Not only can heavy blankets or comforters be a risk for your baby, most babies will wiggly off even a light blanket. A baby sleeping bag will keep your baby warm. You might wish for your own sleeping bag.

Remove pillows. Usually your baby will be sleeping lower than your pillow (mouth to breast, most likely), but make sure there is no chance of your baby creeping under a pillow. If you can sleep without, you can prevent that happening.

Separate the siblings. When your baby is young (under one year), you should separate siblings. Your baby needs a responsible adult nearby.

Remove toys. First of all, very young babies don’t need toys. More important, you shouldn’t have hard or soft objects like that near the sleeping space.

Should You Co-Sleep with Your Baby?

You are the one who should decide. You will probably get opinions from healthcare providers, family, and others. Just make sure you understand that we are emerging from an era of pressure NOT to sleep anywhere near our children into a time of more open acknowledgment of the benefits of co-sleeping.

Even Dr. Richard Ferber, for whom “Ferberizing” (the cry-it-out method of sleep training) is named, changed his mind about co-sleeping in his 2006 revision of his oft-misused book on infant sleep. He acknowledges that there are many healthy ways for a family to sleep.

Knowing this, you can look for opinions that are based in the 21st century and based on fulfilling the needs of babies and families.

In addition to giving your baby what she or he wants—YOU—sleeping near one another makes your life easier.

For breastfeeding mothers, it is so convenient to have your baby right next to you at night. You don’t need to wake up all of the way, get up in the cold, go to a differet room to answer a baby who is distressed enough to cry so you will hear. Baby fusses, mother wakes enough to feed the baby, then everyone falls back asleep.

When You Shouldn’t Co-sleep with Your Baby

There can be risks when a big person sleeps next to a small person or when a small person could slip into soft spaces. If any of the risks are present, co-sleeping is not recommended.

Some issues involve the bed and bedding. Do not co-sleep with:

  • No bed. Do not sleep with your baby on a soft surface when the baby can slip into spaces (such as between cushions).
  • Loose pillows
  • Heavy blankets or covers

Some issues involve the adult sleeping with the baby. The adult nees to be able to wake easily. Do not co-sleep if:

  • Adult is a smoker
  • Adult has been drinking or has taken drugs, even prescription sedatives
  • Adult is over tired
  • Adult is morbidly obese

In some of these situations, you can still have your baby nearby on a separate surface without risk.

More Co-sleeping Help

Because there is so much misinformation about babies and sleep in western cultures, it has taken some time to pull the norm back to a place it can benefits babies and families.

One place working to help parents and healthcare providers get accurate research on normal, healthy sleep is the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at University of Notre Dame. Their focus is “how sleeping environments reflect and respond to family needs—in particular how they affect mothers, breastfeeding, and infants’ physiological and psychological well-being and development.”

If you want to know more about the science of sleeping next to a baby, this is a great resource. If you need information (downloadable articles, links to videos) for family or doctor, you will find those here as well.

Also, Dr. Sears (the multiple Drs. Sears) share stories of co-sleeping from their own family and from parents in “Co-sleeping: Yes, No, Sometimes?”

Why Co-sleeping

Last week, in our post “Helping Your Baby Sleep with Love and Compassion,” we mentioned co-sleeping or family bed—the practice of sleeping with your child. This post was more about the fact that co-sleeping helps a lot of families get more sleep more calmly. It touches on why families share a bed.

That got us thinking that some parents might just be looking for a basic how-to guide. We hope this helps.

If you are interested to know how the North American reluctance to share a family bed compares to the rest of the world, I repeat my recommendation that you read Christine Gross-Loh’s Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents around the World Can Teach Us (2013). The chapter “Sleep Time: Keep Our Babies Close or Give Them Space?” is a gentle survey of world practices.

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