Monthly Archives: August 2008

August 28, 2008

one reason we travel: the kindness of strangers

With few exceptions, in our travel experiences locals are kind and helpful to us travelers. Having a child along seems to only augment locals’ desire to help disoriented foreigners as well as their desire to provide you with helpful child-rearing information.

Take a recent foray into an Argentine supermercado as an example. I was looking for plain, unsweetened, yogurt for my daughter Grace. It seemed like a very basic staple, especially in the large Western-style grocery store where I was shopping. To my dismay I faced a refrigerator case full of countless packaged yogurts, all of which boasted interesting fruity (and highly sugared) flavors. No supermarket staff was in sight so I turned to the other lone shopper in that aisle, a smartly dressed woman in her mid-40s, and in my most helpless tone struck up the following conversation. Bear in mind the entire conversation took place in two levels of Spanish – poorly (me) and fluently rapid-fire (smartly dressed woman). I have taken the liberty of translating my Spanish as if it were perfect and her Spanish as I understood it, not necessarily as she actually said it.

Me: Excuse me, I am looking for plain yogurt for my baby. Do you know where I can find that?

Woman: Oh of course, let’s see it must be here somewhere. (Proceeds to wander up and down refrigerated case peering carefully at each variety. She finally pulls one down and hands it to me). This one is good for babies.

Me: (After reading container) Oh I see, but this one contains sugar. Do you know if I can find one without sugar or without flavoring? Plain yogurt?

Woman: Oh but your baby needs sugar. She will like this flavor. (some kind of mixed fruit) Babies love this flavor.

Me: (Placing tutti-frutti, high-fructose corn syrup-laden yogurt in cart) Thank you, I will try it. But do you know if there is also any yogurt that is plain?

Woman: (Not at all flustered by my persistence) Yes, I think so. (Wanders again up and down the entire refrigerated case, finally pulling down a small carton which she hands to me). This one is plain. But I don’t think your baby will like it. Babies like sweet yogurt.

Me: (Trying to be as diplomatic as possible in bad Spanish) Thank you. We’ll try both of them.

The kind but insistent woman and I parted ways and I left the grocery store with a carton each of tutti-frutti yogurt and plain yogurt. To my delight Grace preferred the plain yogurt. It’s nice to be right but it’s even nicer to have a warm encounter with a kind stranger in a new place.

travel sites that make traveling with little citizens easier

The team at Tea has found the stories here about travel so inspiring. From photos of little citizens in Paris to memories of children’s laughter in Turkey, parents are showing us all that travel is a real possibility with kids of all ages and a perfect way to make the foreign more familiar.

Making these trips happen, though, is another story. The world’s huge, the incredible options of places to go vast, and the online information about traveling with kids, well, quite overwhelming. While you may dream of swimming in the oceans of Bali maybe you’re wondering if your kids will fit into a trip there. When you were a kid you loved visiting the Sistine Chapel, but is this still a good place for a family adventure?

If you’re dreaming of globe hopping with your little citizens and are as inspired by the stories here as we are, why not check out these sites to begin planning your next kid friendly trip? We hope they make planning travel a little easier for you and your growing world explorers:

Baby Friendly Boltholes
Ciao Bambino
Family Travel Forum
Travel for Kids

slowpoke

Eating l\'escargot.On our first day in St. Antoine de Breuilh, my nephew, Tyler, dug up snails from the yard surrounding our gîte. The next day, he ordered them off the menu, simmered in butter and Court Bouillon.

The twelve-year-old and his brother spent the last vestiges of that first afternoon searching for snails. Tirelessly searching along the vineyard’s floor, feeling along the cracks of an ancient stone wall, my nephews collected a dozen of the creatures for closer examination. Blossoming scientists, they both embraced and recoiled from the touch of the slick creatures, laughing with amazement as they expelled their toxic-yellow discharge after prodding.

This behavior I could understand. They were snails. Part of their charm is their inherent ickiness. But eating them? Ew. No way.

Sixteen years earlier, I had taken my own first journey to France. I was the same age as Tyler. I was thrilled to try red wine, cheeses that could outsmell dirty feet and a variety of root vegetables that were cooked in butter and cream. But the mere mention of l’escargot triggered my gag reflex. No matter how succulent, how delicious the advertisements, there was no getting over the fact they were snails. Slimy, oozing, disgusting snails.

But even as my nephew held a particularly large garden variety snail in hand, he emphatically told me, “Aunt Kayt, I want to try snails.” My sister told me he had admitted as much before they even crossed the Atlantic. When I asked why, Tyler only shrugged. “I want to see what they taste like. French people must like them for a reason.”

Indeed. But still – they were snails. I have consumed all manner of crazy things – grasshoppers, meal worms, large red ants. But I’ve always stopped short at snails. After all, a girl has to have some standards. As such, I imagined that Tyler’s desire for l’escargot was no more than just a boyhood fancy. That perhaps he would have the moxie to order them but when it came down to it, he would be unable to take a single bite.

The next day, as we sat in a charming outdoor café in Saint Emilion, the moment of truth came. When the garçon came by, my nephew ordered himself half a dozen snails with a s’il vous plait. I broke out the video camera, expecting to soon see defeat.

When the snails arrived, I anticipated some hesitation, followed by some protestations and perhaps even a little vomit. But after some initial trouble with the specific utensils, my nephew took a big bite and pronounced the escargot as delicious. His appraisal was even enthusiastic enough to get his 6-year-old brother to give the snails a go. He also declared them good.

Tyler offered me one, too. But despite his and his brother’s encouragement, I still couldn’t manage a bite. The repulsion was just too strong.

It’s funny, so often with children we think we are there to teach them, to encourage them to try new things. But for all of my supposed worldliness, when push came to snails, I found myself showed up by a twelve-year-old and his six-year-old brother.

the top five reasons sushi is the perfect baby food

My husband and I love to eat out at our favorite sushi restaurant at least once a week. At some point, my husband decided that this didn’t have to end even though we have a very active baby! We started taking her out for sushi when she was about 9 months old and now she is a regular! Here are our top five reasons why eating out sushi is perfect for families:

1) The food comes quickly! No worrying about packing extra food to tide your little one over, or stuffing them with the free bread. An order of edamame, the perfect finger food, is always available right away.
2) The portions are great finger foods. For beginners (early eaters): sticky rice and edamame are great. For more advanced eaters, grilled fish entrees (like hamachi), cooked sushi (like California rolls ) and veggie tempura offer a nice variety of healthy, easy foods.
3) A new place to play and explore. It’s a great new adventure with lots of things for toddlers to explore: the plates, cups and bowls are great for stacking, the chop sticks are a fun challenge (as long as you watch the eye-poking), and the hustle and bustle atmosphere is just noisy enough to drown out toddler complaints!
4) Mom and Dad get a break from eating kiddie food. While Lizzie is munching away on rice and avocado rolls, we get to indulge in our favorites, ocean trout and Atlantic char sushi!
5) Most importantly, we are introducing our daughter to a part of our life that is fun and enriching. We know that this will become an important family tradition that can continue as she gets older and more adventurous!

multicultural wedding

all dressed up and happy

Earlier this year our friends asked our son to be a participant in their June wedding. We were touched, and once we explained the honor to our son, he was excited to get a new outfit and hold hands with another little boy as they walked down the aisle together. My friend Anna was the bride, and she thoughtfully sent a navy bowtie with white polka dots for all the boys to wear. For our son’s wedding debut, I picked up his first pair of dress shoes, and my husband bought him a new suit. When the big day arrived, I think he was as excited as the bride and groom! He looked so proud and handsome.

As sweet as the children’s precious entrance and toddle down the aisle were, from my perspective, the best part of the day came during a key moment of the ceremony itself. Anna is Jewish, and her husband Kaamil is Muslim. She grew up in Santa Cruz, California, and he in Minneapolis, Minnesota, although his parents are from India originally. Anna and Kaamil had been married in a small, Muslim ceremony almost a year earlier. The day we were witnessing was a Jewish ceremony and familiar “American” reception, with a lot of Indian flavor thrown in: beautifully dressed Indian women in saris, marigolds all over, and amazing food for lunch. To close the ceremony and fulfill a Jewish tradition, Kaamil was tasked with smashing a glass wrapped in cloth. Our son was captivated by this and asked us about it for weeks after the wedding: “Why did Kaamil step on that glass? Did it break? Did anyone get hurt?”

Given his age, my son was not yet ready for an abstract discussion about tradition or religion. However, we thought he would understand that, “at some weddings, the groom steps on a glass and breaks it. That lets the guests know that it’s time for the party to begin.” But I think, for the children (and for many of the adults), the party really started when they laid eyes on the tower of coconut cupcakes and set foot on the dance floor. It was a fabulous day!

tips for camping with kids

We just returned from our first camping trip with the kids. I have such fond memories of camping as a kid in Texas that I wanted my husband and kids to have the same experiences. But camping as a kid is not the same as camping in the parental role. This time I was in charge of all the daily tasks and making sure we took everything we needed without being loaded down with too much stuff either. Our car can only fit so much!

I recently found a book called Adventuring with Children: The Family Pack-Along Guide to the Outdoors and the World by Nan Jeffery, Foghorn Press, 1990. It’s an amazing book filled with so many practical tips and details on all sorts of adventure traveling whether it be camping, canoeing, hiking, cycling, etc. There are special sections on traveling with babies, medical care and even education for those who want to travel throughout the school year. The sections on how to prepare and pack are thorough and well thought out. I found I had everything I needed without over packing. Can you imagine – I got clothes for a family of four for two weeks into ONE suitcase! This is a miracle to me who always seems to pack too much! I’ll definitely be following this packing guide for the rest of my travels.

We chose our first camping destination – the Italian Dolomites – because I’m currently 7 months pregnant and didn’t want to go anywhere too hot this summer. We also have friends living in Bolzano that we haven’t seen for several years. The southern tyrol region is bilingual German and Italian. We get by in Italian pretty well since it is so close to French, but our German is very basic! Fortunately between Italian and English we managed quite well and the kids enjoyed picking up a few new phrases in Italian and German.

I researched the campsites online and made reservations in advance for two sites, one each week. We didn’t want to be packing and unpacking too often. Both campsites were well equipped with bathroom facilities, dish washing and laundry facilities, mini supermarket and restaurant. I also specifically chose sites that had swimming pools since I knew my kids would want to go swimming every day.

Our first week in Bolzano was wonderful and we combined hanging by the pool with day trips into the surrounding mountains and lakes. The kids loved riding the cable cars up into the mountains and the pony ride we did one day. We even spent over 5 hours at the botanical gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle in nearby Merano and hiked all over the mountainside. I couldn’t believe the kids’ stamina for this kind of thing, but they loved it! It was a cloudy but dry day which made all the difference too. If it had been sunny, I doubt we would have lasted so long! Orlando especially liked seeing the Koi fish that looked just like the one on his tea t-shirt!

Our second week we went higher up into the mountains to a small town called Sesto. D goes skiing here in the winter with his buddies and the kids were very excited to see all his favorite spots. We were a bit surprised by how much colder it was at night, but fortunately we just added layers to our clothes as Nan Jeffery advised in her book and we were warm enough! The mountains were stunning and I look forward to returning again when I’m not pregnant so that we can do more hiking and adventuring.

Overall it was a great holiday and I’m happy to have made the investment in our camping gear. We’ll be able to affordably explore much more of Europe this way. Being in a campsite allows the kids to roam around and make friends with kids from many different countries – something that staying in a hotel or rented apartment can’t provide. Efficient packing meant only a few toys. It felt great to entertain ourselves with just a few items and of course makes coming home like returning to wonderland!

So where will our next vacation take us? Olivia declared that the perfect vacation would combine swimming with bike riding each day. We’ll have baby #3 by then as well, so I’ll have to readjust the packing a bit and get the bike rack onto the car too. Hmmm….another adventure for sure!

raising little citizens

At six months old, we took our twin boys to my family’s home in southern Switzerland. The boys wore Daily Tea one-pieces on our transatlantic flight. I would recommend it to anyone traveling with an infant. The fabric was very soft and comfortable, and the design made it super easy to change them – especially in a 2 square foot airplane bathroom.

Although the boys were too young to remember the sights and sounds, I can’t help but hope that some of the images and languages embedded themselves somewhere in the deep recesses of their minds. If I were to choose one memory for them, it would be our daily walks down the cobblestone streets of Lugano. With each son tucked snugly into a bjorn, we were stopped repeatedly by smiling Swiss women who would comment on our “belli gemelli,” in Italian or “susse Zwillinge” in German. My sons are now 2 years old, and we have not gone back, but there is plenty of time for future visits. For now, I hope to keep some of the language impressions alive by speaking German to them. Perhaps with our next trip they will be able to respond themselves when someone stops us on the street.