August 17, 2017

fat Tuesday, but it was a Monday

So this most recent issue cropped up on our last night in New Orleans.  This really has nothing to do with traveling with food, unless you consider it an indirect result of our budget travel system.

On our last night in New Orleans, we planned to eat out.  We aren't accustomed to dining in restaurants - not even fast food.  I've dedicated a good deal of my blog this last few weeks to describing the lengths we will go to in order to avoid eating in restaurants - particularly when we travel, and some of the pitfalls.  It bums the kids out that we aren't like 'other families' who enjoy eating out as part of vacation plans.

I'm guessing 'other families' don't have kids who feel it necessary to hide their toothbrushes out of fear that their siblings might use them.  Just saying. 

At any rate, our budget conscious system came back to bite us.  Big time.

When in New Orleans, eating beignets is a must!
With Irish dancing behind us, we set out to explore the city of New Orleans.  Our first stop included  beignets for breakfast, because everyone told us that eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde was a must.  I can't eat them thanks to my Celiac disease, but the rest of the family raved about them.

We had been given a gift card to a restaurant by a dancer who won it when she placed on the podium.  She left town before she could use it, so we stopped at this diner in the late afternoon for a snack.  It was a bit off the beaten path, but our family is incapable of turning down free food.  The kids and Coach feasted on a basket of fried shrimp and french fries.  Since most of the food in New Orleans appeared to be fried, I was patting myself on the back for bringing my food with me. 

For dinner we chose a restaurant recommended by the concierge at the hotel.  We wanted to try some of the authentic New Orleans food.  Reggie and Curly ordered fried chicken.  Tank ate catfish.  Coach ate some form of seafood too.  Mini enjoyed some grilled chicken.  Coach decided to introduce them to fried oysters.  I ordered myself a well-deserved fillet.  For dessert the kids feasted on banana foster bread pudding.  It looked heavenly.  

Reggie refused to finish his dessert.  He told us that he was too full.  Understandably.  Curly, on the other hand, was still going strong.  

Reg had to call it quit midway thru his banana foster bread pudding
I think it is important to note that Curly rarely is able to finish an entire meal.  I sometimes wonder if she has a tendency to graze more throughout the day than the other kids.  The portions I toss on her plate each night are smaller than anyone else's in the family.  She ate the same beignets,  fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried oysters, and banana foster pudding as Reggie.  The girl was holding her own, and for once wasn't pushing her plate aside insisting that she was done.

It was a great meal and we had a great time.  We all felt incredibly full as we practically rolled back to our hotel.  We all probably overdid it a bit.  I can't help but blame the rarity of our dining out habit on what happened next . . . 

August 15, 2017

delegating to my hero

One of my all time most frustrating traveling with food incidents just occurred when we were in New Orleans.  You'd think that after years of road trips with food stashed in coolers we'd have streamlined our process.  Think again.

The first night in the hotel we were only able to get a room with one king bed.  Coach and I slept with Reggie between us.  Tank, Mini, and Curly created a fire hazard on the floor at the foot of our bed on three air mattresses.  Cozy!

In order to secure a room in the hotel that was hosting Curly's dancing competition, I made our reservations the minute the block of rooms was opened back in early February.  It wasn't until months later that we finalized our travel plans.  We were stuck with a king room for that first night.

The food.  Oh no, the food.  It occurred to me before we left that we were going to have to pull everything out of our first room's mini-fridge in order to store it during the day until our two-queen  room was ready.  I spoke to the hotel and they agreed that they could store my cold items in a fridge until our next room was ready.  Dodged that bullet!

We let the kids sleep late in the king bed room because we hadn't checked in until after midnight the night before.  Oh how I wish I could sleep late, too.  We were heading to the meat locker - I mean the WWII museum with the crazy-cranked AC, so the minute my sleepy heads were up and moving, Coach and I packed up the room, and deflated the air mattresses.  That was fun.

We dragged everything to the lobby, waited in line, and requested that our stuff be put in storage.  I was a bit anxious that Ms. Hotel Employee would grasp our need for cold storage.  Ms. Hotel Worker Lady danced her fingers across her keyboard for a minute before announcing that our room with two queens was already ready.  She offered to let us check in right away, or put our stuff in storage and check in later.

Little tickets and dog tags to remember the WWII museum.
We WERE in a hurry to get to the torture chamber, and by that I mean the WWII museum.  At the same time, I knew that it made sense that we handle arranging our food in our mini-fridge as opposed to taking the chance that someone neglect to store our meals properly while we were gone.

If this picture had a sound bite, it would be:  'Kids sit on my lap, rub my arms, if you love me you will share your body warmth with me.  Now!'
Before departing for the day, we tossed our bags into our new room.  (By the way, carrying enough food to feed your family for a few days is back breaking.  This made juggling rooms a blast).  I knelt in front of the fridge to arrange our food.  I noted to Coach that the fridge smelled funny.  Moments later we were on our way (minus our very necessary parkas) to the WWII museum.

After thawing out after the museum, I prepared dinner for the gang in the microwave while Coach ran to the kind of gourmet food store that sells gluten free stuff.  He became my hero by purchasing a few single-serving, gluten-free oatmeal containers, which saved me from starvation.

I was busy trying to feed everyone simultaneously despite using a tiny microwave that may have been powered by two hamsters running around a little wheel for all I knew.  I asked hero aka Coach to check the fridge, because I just didn't feel like the temperature was very cold.  He opened the fridge and told me that there was no dial.
Really, I'm giving the WWII museum a bad rap, it was awesome.  Just frigid!

By delegating this fridge temperature adjustment task to him, I expected him to handle it.  After all, I had booked our flights, reserved our hotel rooms, prepared all of the food, packed all of the food, packed for everyone but him, cleaned the house in preparation for the sitter to hang with the big boys, debriefed our grad-student sitter on my concerns with the big boys, and stocked the fridge at home for the big boys and the sitter.

Delegating was a mistake.  The next morning I got the girls ready to go down to the dance room at 6:30 in the morning.  I gave them some cereal with milk.  Again, I was unimpressed with the chilliness of our food.  As I gathered up our dance bags like the Sherpa that I am, I told Coach that he needed to call the front desk and demand that someone come and take a closer look at our fridge.  With bags weighing down my shoulders, I poked around at the back of the fridge a bit where it jutted out of the furniture that housed it.

'Hey, there's some kind of dial on the back of the fridge.  Maybe you can play with this and see what happens,' I called to him as I was about to walk out the door.  Coach finally moved the furniture piece out a bit and crouched down to get a closer look.

He stood up with a sheepish expression and admitted, 'The fridge wasn't plugged in.'

Ah, the beauty of my kids learning something  . . . just before we tried to poison them with food that was not properly refrigerated. 
Moldy grapes, warm milk, questionable lunch meat, and declining dinners.  That was what my 'hero' left me with.  The space in the fridge was so tight and the food was cold when it was stuck in there, so it sort of worked to stay somewhat acceptable.

If I will lick yogurt from an aging cooler while waiting in line at Disney, then you better believe that I will feed my family not-so-cold food in a pinch.  But, I wondered if the food would've been better off being cared for by the hotel staff while we allowed our body temperature to drop at the WWII museum all day.  

August 13, 2017

a chance to make fun of Mommy

For our recent trip to New Orleans, I packed bits and pieces of our food over time.  I gathered piles on the dining room table.  Apparently one morning while I made my breakfast, I prepared for our trip by loading up a bag with the fixings that I drop into my oatmeal to make it taste less 'gluten free' each morning.  I was most likely unloading the dishwasher, on hold with a doctor's office, calling up the stairs to wake someone up, and racing the clock before I had to drop someone somewhere.

At any rate, in our New Orleans hotel I pulled the old, cracked bowl out of my bag.  I keep this bowl exclusively for traveling and heating up my oatmeal.  This pesky stuff tends to overflow in the microwave, so I require a deep bowl.  My cranberries, granola, raisins, and measuring cup were all packed properly.  The only item not present and accounted for was my Ziploc bag full of oatmeal. Shit! 

This is my travel bowl.  If I ever leave it behind or if it breaks, I will not shed a tear.  It does get the job done . . . when I remember to bring the damn oatmeal!
So, the tap water in the hotel didn't offer a 'cold' option despite the standard letter 'c' on the handle.  Insufficient water.  No oatmeal.  My decision to only pack cans of mandarin oranges, some apples, and some grapes in lieu of my daily REQUIRED whole grapefruit started to make my head spin.  Of course the fact that I replaced my huge, fresh, mandatory salad at lunch with trail mix (I don't recommend for meal replacement) for packing purposes, was exasperating my 'situation'.  What situation could that be you wonder?

Seriously, if you need me to spell it out for you c-o-n-s-t-i-p-a-t-i-o-n.

We had just returned from the World War II museum when I discovered my packing mess-up.  I hadn't taken the time to make my oatmeal that morning so I was the first one off of the elevator racing to the room to cook it up in my cracked bowl.
My usual collection of items I use to make my oatmeal.  Raisins, granola, cranberries, and the elusive oatmeal!

Another tidbit to consider it that we thoroughly enjoyed the WWII museum, but I felt like I was being tortured in a meat locker by cruel kidnappers.  The museum itself was incredibly well done and informative.  My wardrobe choice created my only real problem with this visit.  You see, it was as hot as could be in New Orleans that day.  I wore a sundress.  Coach laughed at Mini and I for contemplating packing a drawstring bag with sweaters.  I am always cold, but I decided that he was right.  I'm always right.  Coach rarely.  Why, oh why, did I listen to him?

Mini and I spent our time reading the displayed information at the museum while rubbing our arms against each other for warmth.  I wanted to cry.  Literally.  It was INSANELY COLD IN THERE.  It was like the museum's way to require guests to stay awake and attend to the exhibits better.  There are several buildings at this campus.  We stepped outside between buildings and opened our drawstring bag for lunch.  I doled out mandarin oranges, Ritz crackers that I spread with peanut butter, granola bars, and my main food source - trail mix.  When we were done eating, I cringed at the thought of returning to the frigid air conditioning.

On our taxi ride back to the hotel, I asked the driver to turn off the air conditioning.  Pretty confident that he doesn't get that request very often.  As the kids made plans to go to the hotel pool, I assured them I would do nothing until I had eaten my oatmeal.  Usually I need time before I am able to laugh at a situation like this, but Tank actually had all of us in stitches moments after my upsetting realization that I HAD NO OATMEAL.

In a high pitched voice with hands flailing dramatically, he mocked me:  his mother, who delivered him vaginally despite the fact that he weighed in at 10 lbs 3 oz. Yep, he did.  His impersonation. . . and it wasn't. 

went something like this:  'Oh no!  What am I going to do now?  You know if I eat my salad too late in the day, I'm going to be up all night.  If I don't have my oatmeal, how am I going to poop?!  If I don't get enough water, then I'm all messed up.  I won't be able to sleep tonight.  What am I going to do without my grapefruit?  I need to sleep, you guys, and I can't sleep if I don't poop.  It isn't funny!!!'  But it was, and it wasn't!

August 11, 2017

licking yogurt from anywhere

A few more of my rougher experiences taking meals on the go:

7.  SPILLS:  Last summer when I was in Orlando with the youngest four, I packed our breakfast and lunch up each morning and brought it with us to the park.  We feasted on a dinner from a restaurant, but until dinner all meals and snacks were produced from a drawstring bag and a small cooler bag a bit larger than your average lunch box.  My yogurt got squished and broke open in this cooler bag.  While we waited in line to visit Belle's Castle, I discovered the mishap.  Unwilling to stand in a long food line, or spend additional money on food at Disney, I scooped up the yogurt with my hand and ate it.  This was not pretty, and probably not sanitary since I'm not sure when the last time was that bag was cleaned properly.  I essentially turned the bag inside out and licked the yogurt out of the bag.  I don't necessarily recommend this approach.  Part of me wonders if I can be seen in the background of someone's Disney photos licking yogurt off my hands.  At times I might become a tad over committed to the 'I brought this food and I'm going to eat it damn it' mindset.  
I can only share this picture of my kids enjoying their breakfast while waiting for Disney gates to open.  I do not have a photo of my yogurt disaster.  Me desperately diving head first into my cooler in order to lick up my yogurt wasn't exactly a Kodak moment, or a moment I am proud of.

8.  MISCALCULATING:  It is sometimes tough to predict how hungry people will be after a day of hiking in the mountains, or touring Disney, or competing in a dancing competition.  I have been forced to ration out dinner portions if I fall short of anticipating their hunger, or I go to my fall back plan of offering applesauce as a filler.  On the other hand, it can be challenging to deal with leftovers (I do always travel with extra Ziplocs or a Tupperware container).  I am not ashamed to admit that I have suggested that my family eat more than their stomachs can hold in order to deal with extra food. 

I was elated that this little rustic cabin was available . . .
9.  CHANGE OF PLANS and CHANGE OF APPETITE:  Our plans to camp at Glacier last year changed abruptly.  I can't say I minded.  After spending the longest night of my life freezing my butt off (only a slight exaggeration- and I was in a tent inside a down sleeping bag), high winds forced us to abandon our second night at the campsite.  Damn.  We were able to bunk up in a nearby cabin.  The cabin was equipped with a microwave.  It sort of killed me that I wasted miles of aluminum foil to wrap up our dinner that was intended to be cooked on our campfire.  I knelt down in front of the microwave and extracted chicken, rice, and broccoli from each campfire-ready pouch, plopped it on a plate, and heated individual portions of it up until everyone was fed and of course ready for applesauce.

 . . . even if it meant my planned campfire food was warmed in a microwave!  We all grabbed a place to sit and eat in one of two cabins that we slept in for a few nights.  Oh, it was so toasty!
 Other issues that could crop up here would be a dinner invitation from someone you are traveling with - therefore causing you to neglect your packed meal.  The headache of catering to different taste buds might also be a pain.  In our family, everyone is expected to eat what is served.  That rule doesn't change when we hit the open road with a crockpot, a cooler, and a meal plan that I'm invested in 100%. That doesn't mean I get to avoid 'hearing about' the meals I've chosen to bring along. 

August 10, 2017

Boston or bust

Well, tomorrow is the day.  Coach and I drive the Great White (our 12-seater Chevy Express, white, former-airport-shuttle van) to Boston.  We plan to depart at 5 am.  It happens to be our 21st wedding anniversary.  How romantic.

Coach usually does most of the driving.  I do most, or ALL, of the packing . . . so that means I end up in a somewhat self-induced coma for the first several hours of most lengthy trips. It's a hard earned, well deserved nap.  No matter what nonsense goes on in the car, Mommy snoozes thru it.  Blood curdling screaming that threatens to wake the dead will bring me 'round, but God help the child that is responsible.  All members of the family know that sleep is the only thing that helps me cling to my remaining sanity, especially on a long road trip.

After 15 hours of driving, we intend to arrive in Boston.  A day of touring Lexington begins our adventure.  The next two days will be devoted to downtown Boston.  The freedom trail is calling our name.  We aren't baseball people, so I'm not sure we will hit Fenway Park.  On Monday, we will check out Boston College in case Eddie decides to apply there.  

Monday afternoon we log three more hours in the van as we drive to Laddie's college an hour north of New York City.  

Because we are dropping Lad at college, the van's storage space will mostly be devoted to bins of college gear.  Last time we spoke, Coach was toying with the idea of removing half of the bench of four seats -the last row, and the only row that reaches across the entire width of the van.  

It occurs to me that if the last row is reduced to a mere two seats, then two of our children will be forced to sit next to one another without an empty, 'buffer' seat between them.  There will be accidental touching, inevitable bumping, and potential leaning against one another.  This will undoubtedly lead to moaning and groaning.  For 15 hours, no less.  Sounds horrifying, right?  

What better way to celebrate 21 years of marital bliss?  Oh, and we will be feasting on whatever meals I have slaved away to prepare in advance.  Of course, the fact that this adventure ends with our oldest being unceremoniously deposited at the school he is transferring to makes it all worthwhile.  It's been a long summer chock full of opportunities for him to ignore our basic rules and regularly behave inconsiderately.   IT IS TIME, so I accept the unpleasantness that accompanies

our Boston or bust trip.  (these pictures were taken when we drove to Glacier last summer - note there was hardly anywhere for me to sit in the front seat - can't wait to do this with college gear too!)

August 9, 2017

the importance of shells & lost and found

Here's a few more food packing no-no's we've encountered:

4.  MOLD:  I chose to pack some grapes in a baggie for our trip to New Orleans.  I became somewhat desperate for fresh fruit.  Translation:  I swallowed a few more moldy grapes than I would care to admit.  Why were the grapes moldy, you ask?  Oh, I'll get to that.
Nothing screams 'we-experienced-a-food-packing-issue' like a bag of moldy grapes.  You won't believe what happened to jeopardize the freshness of our grapes.  Saving that gem of a story for one of the last in this little segment on traveling with food.

5.  MISPLACED ITEMS:  When I visited St. Louis for an Irish dancing competition back in February, I brought grapefruit.  I packed my favorite little knife that glides ever so nicely thru my grapefruit.  It was my constant companion on my mission to eat a grapefruit each morning.  In my haste to pack our stuff up and get on the road, I misplaced the knife.  Did I throw it out when I was eliminating our paper plates from lunch in the hotel room?  I initially believed that I stuffed it into some little zippered pouch on our cooler bag on wheels.  My search of the cooler bag, my purse, and my overnight bag has produced no awesome little knife.  Since February, I am stuck using dull kitchen knives to butcher my tasty fruit. I swear one day I will replace these pathetic knives and choose to live like an adult with a real set of knives.

I still chuckle when I think of the park ranger who came across my enormous cutting board in his welcome center in Gettysburg.  My dad and I took 10 kids to Gettysburg back in 2011.  I slid my huge, handy-dandy cutting board in the car between my cooler and the passenger seat.  Rather than stop for lunch, I whipped up sandwiches on my board while my dad drove.  At one point, I dragged my lunch fixing stuff into the welcome center.  We ate lunch in the cafeteria there where I used my board as prep space.  After lunch the kids lined up to secure their junior ranger badges.  Each kid posed for a photo with the park ranger.  In order to take the photos, I leaned my cutting board against the counter.  We drove off without it.  I'm guessing that my portable lunch counter was the first of its kind to be left behind.  I must've just been overly excited to witness 10 kids achieve greatness as junior rangers.  
My nephew posing with the ranger.  In order to capture a photo of each of the ten kids in our party, I stowed my cutting board in front of his desk.  In all the excitement of seeing the kids sworn in as junior rangers, I forgot to grab my cutting board. 

6.  PEELED EGGS:  Last May was a nutty time for us.  Reggie knocked Coach's front teeth out when a ball he was practicing pitching with took a bad bounce.  This was hours before Lad graduated from high school.  It was days before we were leaving for our family road trip to Glacier National Park.
The dentist had Coach pose for this shot before he jammed the tooth back in his mouth.  Then Coach met us at Lad's graduation.  Curly brought him a bag of ice to hold to his face during the ceremony. 
In an effort to pack healthy breakfast items for our big trip, I hard boiled dozens of eggs.  I mean DOZENS.  My kids like hard boiled eggs.  If we kept them in the cooler, I thought this would be a perfect protein to offer for breakfast.  I took my desire to simplify eating on the road one step further.  I PEELED dozens of eggs the night before we left.

We were planning to camp.  We also planned to drive around in the comfort of the family's 12 seater white van, the 'great white' before dawn to watch for wildlife.  I figured it was easier to peel eggs in advance in lieu of having kids peel their eggs in the car.  Besides, I always think peeling an egg with a splash of running water makes it easier.  There would be no running water in the car on those chilly mornings. 

I tossed huge gallon sized Ziploc bags stuffed with our eggs in the cooler.  We ate the eggs for the first few mornings out west.  Then one morning a kid complained that her egg tasted funny.  Initially I suspected that my kid was just complaining because she didn't want to eat food I packed in the backseat of a car.

Turns out those handy little shells are meant to keep the eggs fresh.  A hard boiled egg outside of its shell is just a hard boiled egg waiting to go bad and smell up your cooler and your car with the added bonus of possibly making your kids gag.

I get tired just looking at this photo of our kitchen the morning we were TRYING to depart for Glacier.  All that stuff had to go in our van.  Our awesome plumber is in the middle of the work area as he prepared to unclog the sink. 
Oh, and as a fun aside, I jammed all of the shells from our soon-to-be foul hard boiled eggs down the garbage disposal the night before we departed.  Not only was life before our trip made hectic by Coach's emergency visit to the dentist, and our garage door being pulled off the track when the little release cord from the opener got stuck inside the closed door of the great white the night, but we also got to invite our plumber over to unplug our kitchen sink because egg shells shouldn't go down the disposal - well, certainly not in mass quantities. 

August 7, 2017

traveling with food: a few of my mistakes

There is a GREAT amount of planning and prepping that goes into traveling with your own food supply, especially for a family of 8.  Running into glitches must be expected.  In case you ever decide to sacrifice your sanity to save a few bucks, I'm going to share the issues I've encountered.  I invite you to learn from my mistakes:

Exhibit A:  a flat Stanley style nutrigrain bar!
1.  OVER PACKING:  I have never actually counted the number of granola bars or snack items my kids eat on any given day.  Perhaps this is because Tank could drastically skew the results for any eating measurement guide, depending what full box of something he chose to ingest the day of the study.  This lack of information forces me to estimate.  When I travel, I grab LOTS of EVERYTHING that they munch on throughout the day.  As a result, we have abandoned a fair amount of cereal and other items in hotel rooms rather than bothering to cart it home.  Oh, the number of granola bars or Nutrigrain bars hat have been pressed into a paper thin form that no one in my family would ever eat.  As much as I love saving money on restaurants when traveling, I DETEST WASTING FOOD.  I've adjusted.  I now pack potentially squishy bars in a somewhat sturdy Tupperware container, so they don't get smashed.

2.  SHIPPING STUFF TO MYSELF:  A few times before traveling, I've shipped boxes that I've packed full of cereal, applesauce cups, goldfish crackers, granola bars, paper products, treats, etc.  I check with the hotel in advance to be sure that they will hold this box until I arrive.  Last summer when I took the four youngest to Orlando, I shipped two boxes to the hotel.  I hadn't counted on the fact that the 'package room' wouldn't be open on a Sunday, which was of course the day we arrived.  I kept calling the front desk asking about my loot.  At first I was just told to call back.  My hunger pains grew, as did my impatience.  After a few more calls, someone finally told me that I couldn't access the room that stored deliveries because it was a Sunday.  I described my health  dilemma (Celiac disease) and I pointed out that the hotel assured me that my genius food-in-a-box plan would not be a problem.  The next thing I knew I was driving in a hotel vehicle with the maintenance man to retrieve my boxes.   Just before I was forced to eat my young.

3.  FORGOTTEN ITEMS: I'm human, so a few times I have gone to a lot of trouble and forgotten something important.  Back when I took Laddie to look at two schools before he chose a college, I inadvertently left an entire cooler at home.  It was spring break, and I was bringing the other kids along with me to swim in the hotel pool and eat complimentary college cafeteria food (this is an exciting past time for them, especially if the school offers a serve-yourself frozen yogurt machine.  What can I say, they don't get out much).

Eddie decided at the last minute not to come.  I had given him the option of not attending in part because he wasn't planning to attend either of these colleges.  He was old enough to stay home during the day while Coach was at work.  This bummed me out though, because he tends to be my most helpful kid.  Coach was already at work when we were leaving.  It was tough trying to corral 5 kids and their stuff into the car on my own.  We had to meet a football coach at a specific time, so I was trying not to run late.  Speeding was out of the question.  Obviously.

If memory serves, and it usually does, I believe the car packing went kind of like this:  'Oh, that's cool, you guys just sit in the car and watch me bring EVERYTHING out - can I get you anything while I'm up, and sweating?'  This made for a grumpy start to the trip.  We still had the dry food that I had packed and the a fore mentioned meals on campus, so it wasn't a total disaster.

Typical amount of stuff I haul for a weekend away - and that's just the food!
Oh, but I'm just getting started.  I have many more lessons to share- some you might consider hair-brained.  In my next post I will describe Tank's imitation of me in a panic over another forgotten item.  Stay tuned . . .

August 5, 2017

got meals?

As we prepare for yet ANOTHER trip next week when we take Laddie to college on the east coast, I pause to consider the huge undertaking that is involved with feeding our crew on the road.  I do love a challenge.  But, oh how exhausted I get just thinking about all that's involved.  It is a long ass drive.  But, we drive a big ass car.  (Chevy Express 12 seater white van, former airport shuttle - jealous?).  I am thrilled that I will have a cooler or two and a crock pot at my disposal.  This makes feeding the masses easier.  Ah, it's the little things in the life of a budget traveling mother of 6.

We flew to New Orleans July 7th.  Flights limit the equipment and the stash that I can drag along with us.  Despite the hurdles, my creative determination had my family enjoying home cooked meals heated up at regular three minute intervals.  (tip:  hope that they aren't all hungry at exactly the same time.  Crock pots help with this - because everything is hot at once, damn those ridiculously convenient flights that interfere with my perfect meal plans).  We dined on paper plates in the comfort of our hotel room where I begged the offspring not to spill on the beds we planned to sleep in that night.  Does that not sound ideal?  

While the kids' firmly believe that I secretly want to deprive them of the joy of eating out, I have other motivations for packing meals to take with us on our travels.   

1.  MONEY:  Dragging food along when we head out of town saves money.  It costs a small fortune to dine out with a family of our size, so eating in restaurants is a luxury.  Hello, traveling is costly to begin with - thus our habit of checking into a hotel as a family of four.  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  We routinely ditch a few kids in the lobby and whisper our room number to them later during a covert mission.  We have trained the children to act like we aren't together.  Cutting down on dining expenses is just plain smart.  Sorry, kids.   

2.  CELIAC DISEASE:  Life with Celiac disease prevents me from taking a carefree approach to eating.  Believe it or not, puking in a hotel bathroom after eating something prepared by someone else doesn't appeal to me.  In this gluten-free bandwagon epidemic we live in, most restaurants are quite capable of whipping up something safe for me to eat, but it's still dicey.  I've been contaminated a few times in restaurants when I wasn't far from home.  I can't afford to be down and out for a day when traveling, so why risk it?

3.  TIME:  Heating dinner up in our hotel microwave, pulling lunchmeat and fruit out of the mini-fridge for lunch, or pouring milk on cereal in the room for breakfast before heading out the door saves time when traveling.  When there's lots to see and do, who wants to wait in lines, or take time away from touring to search for a restaurant?  Of course in certain cities, eating authentic food might enhance your touring experience.  I get that enjoying some of what the area has to offer makes sense.

Points 4 thru 10 are all the same:  MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, etc.  It's just that simple.  

My methods began basic enough, but they have developed over the years.  Back when the kids were tykes, we packed sandwiches to take to the zoo, the pool, or the park.  Serving up cheerios for a hotel breakfast when we stayed overnight somewhere worked great.  Portable/pack-able coolers, freezer packs, and hotel mini-fridges have aided my mission.  When possible, I register to stay in a hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast.  The kids are skilled at grabbing a yogurt, a muffin, or a bagel from the breakfast area for later.  Back in the room, we check out the loot we've gathered and enjoy a small celebration before we head out for the day. 

Last year's trip to Orlando for the same competition that we just attended in New Orleans marked the first time that I packed entire meals in soft-sided coolers in my checked bags.  A bit of crossed fingers is involved in this new venture.  I have to hope that we don't experience a delayed flight or lost luggage.  A situation like that might mean that my no-longer-cold food is now my no-longer-edible food.  

Prior to our departure for New Orleans, I made a few of the family favorite chicken dinners.  Honey mustard chicken and cheesy chicken.  I cut the chicken up, so it would be easy to heat up in a microwave.  Then I stored it in double ziplock baggies.  I baked red potatoes and stuck them in a separate ziplock.  Tin cans with peel back lids of carrots and green beans served as our vegetable.  Since Lad and Ed were staying home with our grad student sitter, I cooked mounds of food.  In consideration of the three hungry appetites that I was leaving behind, I stocked the fridge with containers filled with the same food I was hauling to New Orleans.
Does this not look like fun?

The other cold food I packed included scrambled eggs, precooked bacon, grapes, apple juice, milk chugs, a few yogurts.  These meals were rounded out with our cans of mandarin oranges, apples, granola bars, ritz crackers, danish (this hotel didn't offer a free breakfast) rice krispie treats, and trail mix.

I was stuffing fistfuls of trail mix in my face every chance I got in New Orleans.  As much as I wanted to drag my fresh salad ingredients along on the journey for my lunch, it just wasn't practical.  Trail mix was my go-to.  Tank almost lost a finger when dipping into my personal stash of trail mix.  Important lesson learned:  Don't mess with Mommy's main food source.

Maybe someday I will pen a book about how to provide your family with meals on the open road.  Of course, at least one chapter will be devoted to the pitfalls I've encountered.  Can you guess what any of them might be?  Take a stab at it by leaving a comment, and I'll enlighten you in my next post. 

August 3, 2017

splashing the baby: case of bad kids or shared pool?

The last of our three consecutive short trips in July was with Coach's family to a resort on a lake in Wisconsin called Lake Lawn Resort.  His parents will celebrate their 50th anniversary in October, so we (his folks, his 4 sibs, their spouses, and 23 grand-kids) opted to gather in the summer and celebrate a little early.  This premature celebration led to a running joke about the fact that we were counting on them to remain happily married until October. 

I spent most of the early afternoon on Tuesday with the non-golfing segment of our group:  most of  the moms, and all of the kids under 13.  We sampled the three different pools located at different parts of the grounds.  After the golfers returned, there was a lively game of volleyball.  I do not enjoy the game of volleyball, but as you know it is my life's passion to capture family moments on tape.  I recorded most of the game with my camcorder

Coach and I returned to the gang's favorite pool with our 4 youngest, a couple of nephews, and a niece for a quick dip before our presence was required back at the house for a group grand-kid photo (guess who was commissioned to snap the picture?). 

Reggie wanted to mini-golf.  I urged Coach to take Reg and the other boys mini-golfing about 30  minutes before we were expected to be back at the house.  It was a tiny course located right next to the pool, and they could easily be done in the blink on an eye.

When Tank got out of the pool, he groaned about a woman I have nicknamed 'Mona'.  Apparently Mona continuously scolded the kids for splashing her baby.  All the kids who were with us were good swimmers.  I admit that my focus was more on my book than their pool activities, although I did whip out my camera to take some cute candid pictures of the giggly cousins. Coach was in the water playing with the kids most of the time, so it wasn't like they were without supervision.  I was less than 2 feet from the pool on my chair. 

As a side note, these are all VERY well behaved kids.  My one niece and nephew are incredibly quiet.  They tend to converse more when they are surrounded by their cousins and the grown ups are out of earshot.  I would be SHOCKED if they ever behave badly - let alone in public.

A few minutes after the boys left to mini-golf, I heard it.  Mona hollered at my two girls and my quiet niece.  The girls had just jumped into the pool after exiting the nearby hot tub.  They were in their own world.  Being playful.  Being KIDS!  They weren't being rude or disrespectful or intentional splashers.  

It was approaching dinner time, so the crowd in the pool had thinned out considerably.  Mona was standing in the pool pushing her tiny two month old baby around on a float.  This infant was laying on her back on this flotation-like raft.  She was too small to sit up in the common baby floats that resemble a boat.  It was hot.  Very hot.  Still, this was NOT her backyard pool.  There were other hotel guests cooling off in the pool.  I was shocked when I heard her reprimand the girls.

'Girls!  Girls!  This is like the 5th time!  You're splashing the baby!'  I was appalled!  I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled out to her, 'It's a pool!  It's a pool!'  She looked over at me somewhat stunned that I was challenging her authority over the hotel's splashing policy.

She didn't have much to say.  'If you don't want your baby to be splashed, then take her out of the pool,' I continued.  Wasn't that obvious?  Seriously?  Looking back, I think I could've offered her even more suggestions.  Like:  no one is jumping into the pool near the stairs in the shallow end, why not steer your just-fresh-from-the-womb baby over to the stairs to shield her from the deeper area where kids are playing?

Reggie with some air!
The hoop was broken when we visited a few years ago - this time big fun!

 I'll be honest.  I have no trouble reprimanding other people's kids.  AND I have no issue with other people correcting MY KIDS . . . provided that my children are misbehaving or not following the rules.  It has happened, and on those occasions I've been embarrassed to realize that my kids were at fault.  My apology to the offended adult is followed quickly by the scowl I flash at my kids.

Just before the baby splashing incident, I watched as a couple of unsupervised boys hang on the rim of the two basketball hoops cemented in the ground near the pool.  Just to be clear, I did tell a few of the boys in our group earlier in the day to lay off the rims.  Coach called out to the boys first.  The hoops were right in front of our chairs, so the hanging on the nets and the rims was happening right under our noses.  Coach gently asked the boys not to be so rough, because he was afraid the hoops would break.  They ignored him.  

When their careless play continued, I joined the conversation.  I made sure I had their full attention before I spoke:  'Don't hang on the rims or the nets boys.  If the hoops break, then no one can use them.'  They stared at me like I was the freak that my children claim that I am.  I could tell my message wasn't being taken seriously.  So I let them know I was serious.  I made them all  nod at me that they understood my directions.  They finally stopped staring at me blankly.  'OK,' they responded.  There was no more hoop hanging after that.  Hey maintenance department at Lake Lawn, you're welcome!

After I reminded Mona that she wasn't the only person utilizing the pool, Mini gave me a look that I translated to mean:  'OK, thanks Mom.  Now be quiet.  This is embarrassing.'  The odd thing was, this woman had older kids.  You'd expect that kind of 'splash-reaction' from a first-time mom, not a seasoned one.  Although on the other hand, a first time mom wouldn't have wiped the after-birth off of her newborn and then stuck her on a raft in a resort pool.  Right?

I went back to reading my book, relaxing at the pool, thinking crazy mom had realized the err of her way.  I tend to lose track of time when I am reclined at the pool.  Or more accurately, I push the time continuum to the very limit.  I decided I could get dressed for dinner in record time.  A few more minutes at the pool would work just fine.  Besides, the picture scheduled of the 23 cousins in color coordinated t-shirts was happening before dinner.  I was banking on it taking several minutes for the kids to assemble in age order.

Finally, I jumped up and decided I better jog back to our room.

I reached the gate, and called over my shoulder to the girls that they needed to dry off and bring the beach bag back to the house.  Just as I walked thru the gate, Ms. Mona walked by inside the gate.  At first I didn't realize that she was talking to me.  Then it clicked.  

''Way to go!  Way to raise conscientious kids!' she spewed.  Little Ms. Mona the Brave didn't bother to look in my direction as she insulted my parenting skills.  Oh, that was just too much.  I don't handle rude people well.  I also struggle with people who are WRONG.  I guess I attribute that to being a middle child.  I always had to fight my own battles.

I spun on my heel despite the fact that I was running late.  I re-entered the pool area thru the gate.  Her back was to me.  I took a few steps towards her and then I shouted after her:  'How dare you!  You don't know these kids at all.  They are nothing but courteous, but they are just playing in the pool being kids.  If you don't want your baby splashed, then don't put her in the pool!  You have no business yelling at these kids!'  I turned and marched back to the house.  

Even after I walked the length of the property to the room, I was still steamed.

The next afternoon, all family members opted to visit the pool after checking out of the rooms.  There was no sign of Mona and infant.  There were a few older women sitting on the patio outside their hotel room that was a stone's throw from the pool deck.  One of them waived me over.  'What did that woman say to you yesterday?' she asked.  I described the situation, and she and her friend were disgusted.  They agreed that the woman had no business scolding my girls for enjoying their pool time.    

Earlier that morning as we were loading our cars, I suggested to our extended family that we chose our pool based on where Mona and her baby were chilling.  I was hoping for a 23 cousin synchronized cannonball in whatever pool they were hanging in.  Just kidding!!!

I have looked through the hundreds of photos I took.  Mona and newbie-baby are not in the background of any of them.  You will have to use your imagination.  Instead I decided to share this relaxing photo of a few cousins hanging out on the dock with Tank. He is a little kid/baby magnet. 

August 1, 2017

I'm not shy . . .

I'm not shy.  I mean . . . I rarely spoke during junior high, but I don't think that counts.  I blame my quiet phase on the fact that my school was full of snobby, preppy, wealthy kids who looked down their noses at me.  I wore hand-me-down, thin, Peter Pan-collared white uniform blouses while they sported crisp, heavy cotton, white Izod uniform blouses.  I feared their sneers, so I rarely made a peep.  When I hit high school, I came out of my shell.  I have yet to look back, and I don't miss the safety of my shell.  
I don't think this sketch comes close to doing my reality justice.  I stood out in a big way in grade school!

I no longer fear sneers.  

Most of the time my outgoing approach serves me well.  I make friends easily.  I can chat with anyone . . . and I usually do.  I've learned that being social sure beats clamming up and worrying about being judged.

As a mother, I like to think my outspoken nature benefits others.  Outside my kids' junior high, I often witness sweaty kids exiting the building after a practice.  If they are cool, I mean REALLY cool, then they wait for their ride without wearing a totally necessary winter coat.  This is Chicago people!  I don't hesitate to instruct these kids, who like to demonstrate just how cool they are in below zero temps, to put their coat on.  I am even kind enough to wait until they oblige.  Meanwhile, my kids crouch down on the floor of the car for fear they will be associated with me.  

Back when my kids were itty bitty, I was basically corralled in the gated baby pool area of our local pool.  My sole responsibility was to keep my crew afloat.  Once an hour, the lifeguards at the main pool took a 15 minute break.  When that whistle blew to signal adult swim, the baby pool would suddenly be overpopulated by older kids.  These hoodlums chose to splash around in the baby pool despite the posted age limits.  Apparently in the world of preteen boys, waiting 15 minutes to cool off in the pool was impossible.  

As graduates of the baby pool, the mothers of these rascals focused less on their offspring and more on conversations with friends, reading magazines, or sunbathing.  Part of me was jealous of these mothers and their freedom, but the other part of me thought 'What the Hell?'  The tidal wave their unsupervised kids created in the one foot pool left this once safe arena a tad dangerous.  In the absence of parental controls, I stepped in to give orders.

I didn't hesitate to instruct them out of the baby pool.  Sometimes I demanded that they release the little kids' toys from their destructive big-kid hands.  No fear, little local pool, Ernie has it covered.  

The scope of my bossiness isn't limited to winter coats and rule-breaking preteens.  I've scolded teen drivers for their reckless abandon while behind the wheel.  I once followed a kid thru my neighborhood to point out that the stop sign he ignored outside our home was in deed official -not just there for show.  

Am I alone in my willingness to rid the world of naughty, disruptive, and dangerous kids?  Do you ever feel compelled to step in and correct someone else's kid?  I'm not a Hillary follower (please don't count that as a politically charged statement - I'm not about to debate politics here, or anywhere for that matter), but I guess I do subscribe to the 'It takes a Village' mentality.

There is a reason I'm describing my corrective nature.  I've shared this info with you now, so that you can appreciate my latest encounter . . . coming soon, in my next post.  

July 29, 2017

would the redo be awarded?

My little trooper marched - literally marched just as her private lesson teacher had showed her - commanded the judges' attention, threw her shoulders back, aimed her chin up, plastered a big smile across her face, and pointed her toe.  I think I held my breath.  

She danced steps that were unpracticed.  They weren't reviewed in the many private lessons Curly took leading up to Nationals.  My suspicions that these steps were more remedial than her original White Blanket set were confirmed when Reggie mumbled, 'Oh, this is what I danced at the Oireachtas (midwest championships in November).'  Reggie couldn't be bothered to learn a set in addition to his hard shoe dance, so he did the same hard shoe steps to the set music when he got a recall.  Swell.   

Reggie actually qualified to compete at Nationals just like Curly, but unlike his little sister, his heart wasn't in it.  His heart was in basketball - big time.  He opted to retire his dance shoes at the young age of 11.  Nuts, because what a waste of his awesome birthday - January 9th!

When Curly bowed, I exhaled.  NOW she was done.  She had been the only dancer required to redo her set.  She pulled it off - AMAZING!  This re-do round may have been more basic, but it looked incredible.  There was no hesitation, no deer-in-the-headlights look, and no timing to the music issues.  I stood up from my chair and cheered like the water polo mom that I am.  Um, yeah . . . I go nuts at water polo games.  Very verbal, over-the-top, loud.  That kind of cheering isn't common at Irish dancing events.  Still, it felt totally appropriate.

Curly got off stage and the smiley-face persona disappeared.  She wilted.  Her posture slumped.  Her face just spoke volumes:  damn, why did that happen?  I loved my White Blanket set. (click on those words to go to an earlier post with a video clip of Curly dancing the set . . .  in case you missed it).

Cara hugged her.  She apologized profusely for the oversight on the new rule.  She also built Curly back up by pointing out a few things.  1.  The judges cannot un-see what they had already seen.  2.  The judges were given the option of having Curly dance again, or simply disqualifying her.  They knew she was a good dancer, and they asked to see her dance again.  They wanted her dance to count.  3.  It showed real maturity on Curly's part to be able to get up and dance something that she hadn't prepared.  She probably impressed the judges with her recall, and her poise.  

NOW we waited for results.  Despite all of Cara's encouraging words, I worried that this set mix-up would count against her.  The awards are announced in reverse order.  They started with 38th place and worked their way up.  

My brain hurt.  I just didn't want Curly's name to be called first.  It wasn't.  As each dancer was called to come up and collect her award, my heart beat a bit faster.  Curly wasn't announced in the 30's or the 20's.  Mini and I exchanged a glance when they asked for applause for the top 20.  Curly came in 19th place.  She was thrilled!  She hadn't shared with me that her goal was to be in the top 20, but that had been her goal all along.  And there she was.  Beaming on stage!  My brave Curly, who spent three weeks in a boot, and who held up under incredible pressure, accepted her award on stage like a champ!  

We celebrated with hugs and pictures.  Finally, I looked forward to getting caught up on my sleep.  (Below are the two awards Curly received:  a Waterford Crystal Fleur De Lys ornament and a medal.  Only the top 20 got the ornament)

July 27, 2017

the nightmare of the white blanket

Curly stepped on the Nationals stage for her final round with confidence and a huge smile.  Her set was incredible.  Mini, who attends the same class as Curly, beamed.  'That's the best I've ever seen her do it!'  Phew.  I texted my sister, who was acting as communication liaison with my folks during the competition.  'Her set was amazing!  So glad she's done.  Now we just need to wait until awards.'

Coach headed up to the hotel room.  Tank and Reggie were still lingering.  I had promised them an ice cream treat on the way back up to our room, since being brothers at these all-day dancing events leaves a lot to be desired.  

I unzipped my sweaty, breathless kid from her dress and folded it into her bag.  She wanted to take her hard shoes off.  Putting hard shoes on is a process.  'Can't you just keep them on until awards?' I begged.  She shrugged, agreeing to keep them on.

We were just about to leave the ball room to go up to our hotel room when Cara approached.  'Stay here, stay here,' she mumbled.  I had a few bags on my shoulders, but I stood there.  'Do you know Emily's set?' she asked Curly.  'She can't do that set,' she stuttered.  Mini was standing behind me.  She leaned forward and whispered, 'Oh, poor Emily.'  

But it wasn't Emily whose set was in question.  It was Curly's set.  Someone had called to alert the officials that Curly wasn't allowed to do a hornpipe based set.  She was supposed to do a treble jig based set.  Long story, but it was a new rule, and Cara hadn't realized that it applied to this competition.  The other teachers from other schools who she was sitting with were also unaware of the new rule.  Their dancers had just happened to learn a treble jig based set, so they were in the clear.

I was dumbfounded.  My hands shook as I zipped Curly back into her dress.  Thankfully her hard shoes were still on her feet.  Cara kept grilling her.  'Think, think.'  I actually believe that she was saying this more to herself than to Curly.  'Do you remember this step?'  Cara used her hands to 'dance' the step out on her abdomen.  Curly groaned, 'Um, just the beginning part.'  Once Curly admitted that she still remembered her trouble jig steps that she hadn't practiced since November, Cara steered her to the back stage area.

I followed.  I assured Curly on our short walk, 'It's going to be fine.  Just do your best.' Curly was still crying.  Her hands shook as she wiped away her tears.  I entered the black curtained area.  Cara turned to me and looked surprised that I was still following them, 'No parents allowed back here.'  'I'm going to stick around until she's done crying,' I insisted.  

Curly has one of the worst possible birthdays in the world of Irish dancing.  December 19th.  The cut off is January 1.  Had Curly arrived a few weeks later, she would dance as one of the oldest in her competition.  Instead, she is one of the youngest.  Performing a dance for 7 judges even though it hasn't been practiced in 7 months would be tough for any dancer.   But this whip-up-a-dance-on-the-spot was being required of one of the youngest competitors in the under 10 competition.

My 9 1/2 year old was not going to stand behind a black curtain and sob without her mother.  I grabbed Curly's face.  'Take a deep breath.  No more crying.  Do whatever Cara tells you.  You'll do great.'  Then I walked back to my seat where I used my very shaky hands to text Coach, 'OMG she's dancing again in a few minutes.  Her set wasn't allowed.'  Then I texted something similar to my sister.  
Text to Coach while I was FREAKING OUT!

I sat nervously next to Mini wondering how this was going to go.  A few minutes later, Coach surfaced from our room on the 24th floor.  His face was contorted to say 'What the heck?'  Just when I think I've explained the process to him, a loophole like this crops up.  A major setback for his Irish dancing comprehension.  Cara appeared from back stage.  'She's going to do fine,' she assured me.  

Then it happened . . .I promise the last post about this epic dance competition is heading your way next. 

July 25, 2017

at last, the set

I wasn't surprised that Curly's number was called as a recalled dancer.  Having said that, it's never a sure thing.  My gut filled with butterflies as the woman read thru the numbers, just in case this was going to be one of those surprise fail-to-recall days.  We celebrated her success with a big hug.  A few minutes later her teacher brought her into the hall to review the step she would dance in the last round of Irish Dancing National Championships.

This next round would include a hard shoe dance, called a set dance.  In the first two rounds the dancers shared the stage with other dancers.  This time thru, they wouldn't share the spotlight.  Knowing that this last performance would be a huge focus for the judges, Curly's teacher, Cara Truly, gave Curly a very advanced, complicated set dance.  It was called 'the White Blanket.'  

So . . . like I stated in a previous post, I rarely write about Irish dancing because there is just so much 'splaining to do.  Here's a bit more background on our dancing experience . . .

Our dancing teacher's real name is not Cara Truly.  The word 'Cara' in Gaelic means 'friend'.  I adjusted her name for my blog, because I felt that it was a good fit.

Some or most of my kids have Irish danced for 8 years.  There was a time when I had 5 dancers.  Laddie is our only kid who never Irish danced.  Although switching dancing schools is frowned upon and a difficult road to navigate, we are on our third school.  I have nicknamed our dancing teacher Cara for my blog, because she is a woman who:
     doesn't play favorites,
     doesn't beat around the bush,
     doesn't belittle children,
     doesn't resort to verbal abuse,
     and doesn't cater strictly to parents with deep pockets.
Unfortunately, the other two schools we danced for prior to our current school utilized every one of these awful tactics.  So I will refer to our current, wonderful teacher with the blog name of Cara Truly.  
Yes, this ACTUALLY happened.  A teacher said this exact thing to my three young dancers.  Curly was only 7.  My kids find mean spirited losers far from motivating.  Thus, the new dance school. 

Back in January when Curly began preparing for Nationals, I remember her coming home from a dance class brimming with excitement.  She was getting an awesome set dance. When I came to pick the girls up after the next class, Cara invited me into the studio.  She asked if I had a minute to watch Curly show off her new set.  Another classmate, Emily, who is Curly's age, was pouting because she wanted to be given permission to do the same set as Curly.  Cara knew that Emily couldn't handle it - it was too complicated.  I watched as Curly danced the White Blanket alongside a senior in high school . . . one of the school's most amazing dancers.  When the music stopped, everyone congratulated Curly on how well she was catching on to the new step.

This is a video of Curly dancing part of her White Blanket set just hours before we boarded the plane for New Orleans.  I happened to capture this video of her practice session, because video during competition is not allowed for fear idiot people would video other schools' steps and adapt them to their own school version.   I'm telling you, I've opened Pandora's box sharing some of the Irish dancing nonsense with you.  Just when you thought the world was a normal, rainbow-filled, well-adjusted place to co-exist with other people and teach children about their cultural heritage.  Don't get me started on leg tanning, make-up, and wigs . . . because Irish people are so well known for their deep tans. 

Now that Curly had earned a recall in her under 10 competition, she would get the opportunity to dance her amazing set.  Entire private lessons were dedicated to fine-tuning this set.  I tried to breathe as I forced my young, focused dancer to take a swig of water.  I stood by as Mini taped her shoes in preparations for the stage.  The end was in sight.  I looked forward to reclaiming my nervous system.  With any luck, my sleep patterns would return to normal.