Sunday, September 29, 2013


Have you ever been excited about luggage? For one thing, it means you're going somewhere! And some luggage I just can't wait to pack and take on a trip.  I recently bought a new 28" Eagle Creek suitcase from their Gateway collection and I am super excited about it. I was excited reading about it online but it is even better in person. The way that this bag turns a 360 as I take it on a test drive around my living room is simply genius. It is the lightest suitcase I have ever owned, at 8lbs 14 oz, which says a lot because my other 3 suitcases are all Eagle Creek. And no, they are not paying me to say this! I love that it has four wheels that all turn 360. My 3 year old can push it through a carpeted hotel lobby while it's full of everything a family of five packs for an overnight. No more dragging a heavy bag on just two wheels and then fighting with it to make a turn. This bag moves! 

In the past, For all of our big trips, I pack the three kids and my stuff all in a big 31" suitcase and my husband gets a 22" size for his stuff. But the kids are getting bigger, therefore clothing is bigger, and let's face it, a family of five isn't going anywhere with only carry-ons, So I decided to get another large suitcase for our upcoming trip to Mexico. This way we can fit it all into two bags and just (hopefully) have one carry-on filled with boardom busters. Of course, we also travel with a double stroller and pack and play.

For packing I have my own system but I plan on spending a little time reading the many travel pins I have pinned, just in case someone else has a better system then me. I'll be sure to share. 

What is your tried and true packing method? And do you bring a pack and play or do you trust the one the hotel provides? 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Harkness Memorial State Park: A place for my heart

One of my favorite parks in CT is Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. The first time I went there, my then boyfriend got down on one knee and proposed. We were married there nearly ten years ago. Now it is a special place we bring our kids once a year. With beautiful buildings and gardens, a beach that is suited for digging up shells and sea glass, and a huge lawn for flying kites and picnicking, Harkness is the perfect backdrop to a day out with the family. 

You can host your big family get together at Harkness. Just get there early to claim a set of picnic tables and a cooker. We always walk past a smoking grill and probably drool a little! We definitely have to host a reunion there someday, so that our food can be the envy of other park-goers!

If you choose Harkness as your wedding destination, you can rent the outdoor stage area or the impressive mansion. Either way your guests will be wowed and your photos, beautiful. 

We have lost a kite in one of the tall trees skirting the edges of the sprawling lawn. 
On our most recent trip, last Sunday, we brought the girls' bikes and they road the big loop that passes by the stables, gift shop and gardens. The kids trotted through the Mansion gardens before the wedding that just happened to be scheduled started. They pretended to be fairies and yes , I'll admit, I was so inspired by the iron gates overgrown with ivy, the tranquil fountains and tiny pathways, I pretended to be a fairy too! Go for the entire day or just a couple of hours and know you'll have a good time regardless. 

Tips and cost:
We happened to go on the last Sunday that they were charging, but it was still only $6.00. If you were to go now, it would be free. 

Pack a lunch, kite, bikes, frisbee or throwing ball of your choice. 
Pets allowed but must be leashed and please clean up after it. 
Plan on doing a lot of walking and taking a lot of pictures! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Familyof5 Visits Santa's Village

If your kids are anything like my kids, they love birthdays! And they will talk about their birthday all year long. The invitation to a friend's birthday will start a whole new passion for their own upcoming birthday - that is really 6 months away! Jaidyn will talk about what theme her birthday will be, who she will invite, and where she will have it. And it changes with the weather!

This year, about a month before her 7th birthday, Jaidyn made a very surprising choice. She did not want to have a big birthday party with a Star Wars theme (which was the theme she had recently landed on). Instead she wanted to go on a family vacation! (A girl after my own heart ;-)

We discussed different ideas and finally decided on Santa's Village, in Jefferson New Hampshire. We had been 2 years before and had enjoyed it then, and it was just about a 5 hour drive from where we live, which is about all I can take in a car with three kids.

After doing a little research on the Santa's Village website, which is great, by the way, we discovered that if you tell them in advance that a child is celebrating a birthday, they go the extra mile to make sure it is special. When you get there, let the person in the ticket sale window know about the birthday guest. They will give them a sticker to wear, that has their name pre-printed on it.

Employees who saw Jaidyn's birthday sticker wished her a happy birthday. When we went into the Polar Theatre, the employee had the entire audience sing "Happy Birthday" to her. At the end of our day we stopped in to see Santa and he had a special gift just for Jaidyn. All of this was at no extra cost. The only downside was that poor little Addy didn't quite understand why her big sister was getting so much extra attention, and when Santa asked her what she wanted for Christmas this year, she replied "a birthday." Of course, in the fashion of every little child, she has been talking about her birthday all summer, and how she wants to go to Santa's Village. I shiver just thinking about it because her birthday is in January!

Overall, we love this theme park for a family trip with small children. It is clean, which is huge on my list. It is easy to get around and the grounds are beautifully maintained with gorgeous flowers. All the rides are appropriate for young children, so if you have an older child who enjoys thrill rides, they may not be so thrilled. Unless of course they like watersides. A fairly new attraction to to the park is the water play area. There are two big slides as well as two little slides and even a baby area! Its perfect for cooling down on a hot day. For unprepared parents, the gift shop sells towels, suits and swim diapers. But we were prepared - this time - two years before Jaidyn left in wet clothes!

My favorite part of the park is meeting Santa's Reindeer. I really had never seen actual reindeer and they are so cute! For a little extra you can buy them food and feed them by hand.

Human food at the park is reasonably priced with many healthy options, but there are also many areas to sit and open up your cooler packed with snacks and sandwiches.

If you get there when they open, or shortly after, one day is really all you need. Lines are not bad, at least they weren't the weekend when we went, and if you have a couple days in New Hampshire, you might want to bring the family on a short hike or drive up Mt. Washington.

We stayed at The Royalty Inn, just as we had our previous visit. We liked it because it has an indoor, heated pool, which many of the area motels do not, and all rooms had a fridge and microwave, at no extra cost. Also, coffee in the lobby every morning was a plus for tired mommy! We did not, however, like the restaurant next door. The food was greasy and the dining area was in the same open room as the very rowdy bar, which I would not expose my children to. I ordered food to go and we ate at one of the tables next to the outdoor pool.

In two years I plan on bringing everyone up to New Hampshire again, maybe enjoy some of the other area attractions, maybe do a little camping and hiking. Use the Santa's Village website to plan your trip. It lists all types of places to stay or camp.

Trip Tips:

1. Pack entertainment bags for each kid for the long car ride.
2. Try to plan the car ride to include at least one nap time.
3. A movie in the car, your phone, or a portable DVD player goes a long way, so make sure all batteries are fully charged.
4. Plan on taking a stretch break every two hours.
5. Plan games to play in the car with your kids, when naps are had and movies are over. We like to play eye spy. Singing is fun too. For a minute.

If you have ideas for long car rides I would love for you to add them in the comment box. I am not so good with the long car rides, I tend to go coo coo before the kids do!

6. For Santa's Village pack waters for everyone, swim stuff and maybe a picnic lunch.

Have fun!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fair Day

Besides back to school shopping, perhaps one of the true signs that summer has reached its end is that presence of local fairs. We have always gone to fairs. Before we had kids my husband and I liked to go to the Big E. For those of you that are not from this area, the Big E is a huge fair in Springfield, Mass, and all the New England states participate. We like to look at the venders in the Lifestyle building. There is always some new gadget to get. The first year we went to the Big E together, I spent $250 on a "Bamix." I thought it was the best kitchen tool ever. They must not have had a good patent on it, because less then a year later the "Magic Bullet" came out and was sold on T.V. for $19.99! It was essentially the same thing.

Another year we went and bought these two swinging patio chairs. They were over $200 a piece but were super comfortable. We hung them from our pergola on our deck, and enjoyed them for a summer, but by the following season they were ruined. Not meant to get wet, apparently. My point is that the Big E is not a very budget friendly place. Go there planning to spend money, not save it. Even if you somehow manage to not buy anything (which you will not), they charge you to park, it is expensive to get in, and of course you will be buying food. Not to mention the gas it takes to get there if you live two hours away like we do.

So our family has come to enjoy going to one small local fair a year. The kids love to see the animals, we get a little taste of the fatty fair foods, and enjoy a few kiddie rides. Most years we go to the Haddam Neck fair. They have a dog agility show, pony rides, face painting, a small circus performance, the racing pig show, a few rides, and all your favorite fair foods. Last year we went with the girls and I was 8 months pregnant with Grayson. It was nice not to have to do too much walking. Its out in a grassy field, so there's plenty of places to lay a blanket out and rest with the kiddos.

This year we thought we would try something different and go to the Chester fair. Its small as well, even smaller then the Haddam neck fair. Parking was free and it was only $8 each for the adults to get in, kids were free. Love places that let kids in for free! Someone out there knows that when you have kids you will be spending a lot more money inside the fair gates then people going in without kids. They should charge those people extra!

The nice thing about fairs is the "free" entertainment. There was a clown sort of character, putting on a show for the kids. The racing pigs were there. They had the dog agility show. And of course the calves, goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, chickens and roosters. Once the kids had there fill of animals, we lathered up with Purel and headed to the food venders. Trying to pick out a somewhat healthy option at a fair can be challenging. I gave up and allowed the girls to have fried dough, which was $6. They were going to share. Jimmy had the Taste of Thai, which was probably the healthiest food there (and yummiest) and I had perogies (I thought they would be something special, but they were basically the kind you can buy in the freezer section of the grocery store). His was $7 and mine was $4.00. So we spent $17 on our lunch. Thank goodness I had brought waters for everyone, or it would be another $3 per person.

On to the kiddie rides. It was $25 for a sheet of 20 tickets. and rides were 3 tickets each. I ended up one ticket short and had to spend an extra $2.00 for an additional ticket. Each girl went on 3 rides and I went on one with them. I definitely did not feel like it was money well spent. I can't even imagine how much it is going to cost in two more years, when Grayson will be going on rides as well (and eating regular food). We never do the games, even though the kids always bug us to. We don't need any more stuffed animals in this house and if the kids lose, they cry. After about 30 minutes we were out of tickets, so we figured it was time to get everyone a little treat. If they didn't get us on the food, they got us on the ice cream, because of course everyone wants their own. And poof! Another $20.00 added to our tally. I think I used half a box of wipes to clean the ice cream sundae mess off the girls. But that is all a part of the fun.

It seems a familyof5 can do a small country fair for around $80.00, plus gas, if you bring your own water, don't go crazy with the rides, and one of the kids isn't riding or eating (Grayson is still eating baby foods, but did have a little of Jimmy's Thai chicken).

As I ponder how we fared at the fair, I feel a little let down. It was still a nice day, but was it worth eighty dollars? Would we have enjoyed ourselves more if we had gone to the Big E, with its big circus tent, its horse show, its Lifestyle building of gadgets and gismos? Maybe next year. But one fair a year is all I want to budget for. And I will not put this down as a budget friendly staycation idea. But it is definitely something the family can enjoy together.

Tips for going to the fair:
Try to choose a cooler day. Hot days at fairs are not fun.
Pack water (freeze a bottle, so it is cold longer and keeps the other bottle cold)
Bring snacks, and maybe food for the picky eater in the family. I bring GoGo squeezes for everyone. They are all natural, just applesauce. Even 10 month old Grayson can handle it on his own.
Pack hats, sunscreen, wipes & Purel.
Bring a blanket to sit on (We have one we bought at Costco long ago, and we bring it everywhere we go. It has a nylon bottom, so it doesn't get gross, and still works if the ground is damp. If you ever see one of these, I highly recommend it).
If your kids are older and really love rides, look into buying them each a wrist band, so they can go as many times as they want.
If you are going to one of the bigger fairs, such as the Big E, speak with your spouse ahead of time about what you might be spending there. Those spontaneous purchases can kill a family on a budget and start an argument. And since you're at a fair, they're usually not returnable.

Soon I plan on doing a blog about how budgeting keeps us on track. I would love to share how budgeting and going debt free has changed our lives forever.

"You never know who you'll see at the fair!" "A goat watching me." "Baby calf" and "Kiddie rides."