Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is a triple stroller right for you?

I bought a triple jogger stroller when my son was 4 months old and my twin girls were 21 months old.  I felt it was a great purchase.  I thought I would use the stroller for years.  However, I sold the stroller a year later.  Several things had changed in my life.  Even though I still loved the stroller, I couldn't use it anymore.  

From my experience I learned that various factors determine how often you will use a triple stroller.  Having three kids close in age isn't enough. 

If you are in the market for a triple stroller you are probably wondering if they are worth the cost.  I can't really answer that because it depends on your situation.  What I can do is tell you some things you should consider.  Thinking about these things will help you decide if you should buy a triple stroller.   


Is being independent important to you?
I strongly suggest getting a triple stroller if you value your independence.  The main reason I bought the stroller was so I could have a way to go places with my children while Brandon was away at Army Basic Training.  While he was gone I was able to participate in activities with my extended family without feeling like a burden on anyone.  I didn't need anyone to ride with me, or meet me in the parking lot of where ever we were going.  I could just show up, set up the stroller, buckle my kids in, and and meet up with everyone.  I could also leave whenever I wanted.  The stroller gave me a level of independence that would have been impossible without it.  

Do you usually travel with other adults?
On the other hand, if you expect have a helper along for the fun, you may want to consider buying two separate, smaller strollers.  Like a double stroller for two of your children and a single stroller for the other child.  You can push one and your spouse/mother/mother in law/sister/friend/whoever can push the other one.

Do you frequently visit places that are within walking distance?
A triple stroller can be a good alternative to driving a car.  When I first bought my stroller I used it primarily to take my kids to any of the three parks that were near our apartment.  I also loved taking my kids to church and to the library in the stroller.

However, If you drive most places, then maybe a triple stroller isn't for you. After we moved to our current neighborhood I didn't have as many reasons to use the stroller.  Our neighborhood is separate from all other areas by a busy highway, so walking to the library or grocery store isn't even an option.  Plus I am completely spoiled with a park across the street from my house.  

Do you have two cars?
One thing I liked about the triple stroller was that even though it was expensive, it was considerably cheaper than buying a second car.  The stroller gave me a lot of independence when Brandon took our car to work.  After we bought our second car the stroller wasn't so important anymore.

Do you have a large place to store the stroller?
I knew the stroller was big, but I wasn't prepared for just how large it was.  I called it the Batmobile because it reminded me of the Tumbler from Batman Begins.  It barely fit in a large space under the kitchen counter of my apartment.  When we moved to our house I usually just left it on the porch.

Will the stroller fit in the cargo space of your vehicle?
Before you get too excited about buying a triple stroller you should make sure it will fit in your car.  Most of the triple strollers on the market are very bulky and are large even when they are collapsed.  My BeBeLove model took up most of the space in the back of my Jeep Cherokee.  It fit a little better in the back of my Honda Pilot - when the third row of seats was folded down.  When the third row was up the stroller didn't fit at all.

You need to take the bulkiness of the stroller into account when you plan trips.  I originally wanted to buy the stroller to take on our 2012 road trip to Colorado.  After a while I realized that if we brought the stroller we wouldn't have much room to pack anything else.  So I waited a few more months to buy the stroller.  In 2013 we did bring the stroller on our road trip, but we didn't camp anywhere that year.  The stroller took up all the space where we would have packed our camping gear.

Can you lift bulky and heavy things?
This is another size related issue.  You'll have to lift the stroller into your car.  Are you strong enough to do that?  Depending on where you store the stroller, you may need to lift it through a doorway into your house.  Will you be able to carry it short distances?

Are you comfortable with bicycle repairs?
Most triple strollers have tires with inner-tubes.  Do you know how to patch inner-tubes?  Also, most likely you will have to take the back tires off in order to fit the stroller in your car.  The process is fairly simple, but will you be okay doing that every time you want to take the stroller somewhere?

Do you need to go inside many buildings?
Most triple strollers are too wide to fit inside of regular doorways.  So while they work great in outdoor settings like parks and zoos, they aren't so great for indoor places like museums or libraries.

I came up with a work-around that let me take my kids inside buildings without carrying my heavy son in my arms. When I took my kids to the library or church I would park and lock up the stroller outside the building.  I kept a small umbrella stroller on the sunshade of the triple stroller.  I would unfold that and put my son in it.  Then I'd wheel that into the building with my twins holding onto each handle.

How old are your children?
Up until my twins turned 2 1/2 years old I NEEDED the stroller to take them anywhere that required a lot of walking.  They couldn't walk very far on their own, and they didn't listen to me very well.  I liked that I could strap them into the stroller and they had to come with me whether they wanted to or not.  The stroller was also nice in case any of my kids fell asleep as we walked. But as the twins got closer to 3 years old they were able to walk farther and follow me better.  It became a lot easier to just have them walk while I pushed my son in a little umbrella stroller.

Do you plan to have any more children?
When I bought my triple stroller I planned on using it for several years.  But less than 6 months later I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant again.  More than anything else, my pregnancy with my fourth baby was the reason I stopped using the stroller.

During most of the pregnancy I was too tired to push the stroller with all three kids in it.  Once the baby was born there wasn't any place for her to sit in the stroller.  In theory I could have put her in a baby wrap/backpack and still pushed the older three in the stroller, but the thought of how much physical exertion that required made me want to cry.  Even with Brandon around to help we really couldn't use the stroller much.  We bought our second car to make room for the baby, but with four car seats in the car we didn't have any room to transport the stroller on trips to places like the zoo.  So if you are planning on having another baby anytime in the next year or two maybe you can just find a stroller to borrow for the time being.

* * *

Hopefully these questions have helped you decide if buying a triple stroller is right for you.

Even though I didn't use my stroller as long as I thought I would, I'm still glad I bought it.  It was worth it for the few months I needed it.  We created a lot of great memories in places that the stroller allowed us to visit together.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mount Bonnell - Austin, Texas


Mount Bonnell rises 770 feet above sea level.  That make it the highest point within the Austin City limits.  Most of the height is already achieved as you drive up to the trail head.  The most climbing you will have to do is to walk up 106 steps built into the side of the mountain.  Once you reach the top you'll have an impressive view of Austin and the surrounding area.

Location: North-west corner of Austin, Texas. 3800 Mt. Bonnell Rd.

Cost: Free

Operating Seasons and Hours: Open from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm all year long.

Official Website: http://www.austinparks.org/our-parks.html?parkid=287

Date of Visit: Saturday, July 20. 2013

Recommendation: Good place for an easy hike and a great view of Austin.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Aquarena Springs - San Marcos, Texas


The water from the Edwards Aquifer is perfectly clear as it flows out of over 1000 springs that form Spring Lake.  Since 1945 people have been able to see into the depths of the water by taking tours on glass bottomed boats. You can see all sorts of fish, turtles, and even flowering plants under the water.

Location: 201 San Marcos Springs Drive, San Marcos, Texas

Cost: Boat rides are $9.00 for adults, 7.50 for seniors, $6 for children ages 3-12, and free for children under 3.  There are also glass bottom kayak tours for as low as $20.  The Meadows Center has displays and aquariums that you can look at for free.

Operating Hours: Hours vary according to the season, but usually tours run from 9:30 am to 5:00 every day.  The tours last 30 minutes and depart approximately every half hour.

Official Website: http://www.aquarena.txstate.edu/Aquarena/Aquarena.html

Date of Visit: Saturday March 16, 2013

Recommendation: The best way to see what's underwater without getting in the water yourself.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mounted Weapons Demonstration - Fort Hood, Texas


Modern Calvary is made up of tanks and other machines, but Fort Hood has a way to remind people of what the cavalry used to be like. Every Thursday they put on a free demonstration of how horses were used in warfare.  This is a fun show for any horse lover.  For people who love explosions there are gun shots and cannon blasts throughout the show.

Location: East of the Fort Hood visitor center located on TJ Mills Blvd. You don't need to go through any of the Fort Hood gates to reach the barn and stables. See the map at the bottom of this post.

Cost: Free

Operating Hours: The weapons demonstration occurs every Thursday at 10:00- weather permitting.  Tours of the stable and barn are available anytime throughout the week.

Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/pages/1st-Cavalry-Division-Horse-Cavalry-Detachment-HCD/123247444390869

Date of Visit: Thursday, April 24, 2014

Recommendation: Fun way to see some living history.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tent Camping for Beginners


First off, I guess I should confess that I have never been what you would call a "beginner camper." I was about 4 months old when my parents took me on my first camping trip. As I was growing up, I went camping with my family at least once every year. As a teenager I attended a 5 day long church camp for girls for eight years in a row. I even went to a special outdoor camp at BYU-Idaho twice. Brandon and I go camping at least twice a year.  Having kids didn't diminish my love of camping.  Each of my four children have been camping at least once before they turned 7 months old.

I don't remember what it's like to camp for the first time, but I do know a lot about how to have a successful camping trip. I'm hoping I can pass on some of what I know to those of you who may be new to camping.

Expectations
Welcome Home!
What is the point of your camping trip? Are you visiting a special landmark, experiencing nature, hanging out with family/friends, and/or trying to avoid the cost of a hotel? The type of trip you are planning will determine where you should put your efforts.

For example: If you are looking forward to some quality time with friends you are going to want to make sure you have plenty of wood to keep the campfire burning while you stay up late and talk. On the other hand, if you are visiting a landmark you'll probably spend more time sightseeing than sitting around your campground.

Figuring out expectations ahead of time can help you avoid a lot of stress later. I suggest talking the trip over with every member of your family to make sure you are all on the same page. It would be awkward if you envisioned hiking 6 miles in one day while your spouse was interested in lounging in a camp chair and reading a book.

And while we're talking about expectations let me tell you a little secret: camping is A LOT of work. There is a tent to set up, food to cook, water to boil, garbage to throw away, sleeping bags to unroll, fires to make, etc. Even going to the bathroom usually involves a long walk down the road to what ever facilities are available. Make sure you discuss the work assignments with everyone who will be in your group.

Where to Stay
If you are new to camping it can be a little daunting to decide where to go. Campsites basically fall into three categories.

1. Public campgrounds: These are campgrounds that are either federal or state owned. Most federal and state campgrounds are listed on http://www.reserveamerica.com/ That's also the website you use to reserve a campsite. I highly recommend reserving a campsite ahead of time - especially for weekend trips.  Some states, like Texas, have their own reservation website. (ie: Texas's is http://texas.reserveworld.com/)

All this for under 20 bucks
Prices and amenities vary by campground, but generally you will pay about $20 per night. You will usually get a campsite that has a picnic table, a spot for a tent, and a fire pit.

Keep in mind that you might have to pay some fees on top of the cost of the site. Some campgrounds will require you to pay a reservation fee. State parks, national parks, and some other areas will require you to pay their entrance fees in addition to paying for the campsite.


2. Private campgrounds: These are campgrounds that are owned by a person or organisation. KOA kampgrounds are probably the most well known. Some private campgrounds show up on reserveamerica.com, but I've found it is also helpful to google "tent/rv campgrounds in (certain area)."

These campgrounds usually have more amenities than publicly owned campgrounds. That makes them more expensive. However, it can be worth the extra cost if having access to wifi, showers, a pool, laundry facilities, a store, etc is important to you.

3. Back woods/primitive camping: If you are a beginner camper I think you should steer clear of this type of camping for now. The only amenities are the ones you bring with you.  Make sure you are okay sleeping in a tent before you embark on this type of adventure.  But just so you know, there are places you can camp either for free or for the cost of entering the park/wilderness area. You can usually only find out about these places through word of mouth. So ask your friends, talk to park rangers, google things to do in certain areas, etc.  Some areas require permits before you can do back woods camping in them.  Make sure you are in an area that you are allowed to visit.

Equipment
There is virtually an unlimited amount of camping gear you can buy. If this is your first time camping I suggest just borrowing most things from a friend. That way you don't invest a lot of money into something that you may never do again.

Here is a packing list of the basic things you will need.
  • Tent
  • Hammer for pounding tent stakes into the ground
  • Sleeping bags or blankets
  • Air mattress or foam pad to sleep on
  • A flashlight or lantern
  • A cooler to keep your food cold
  • Dishes/utensils (I recommend paper and plastic products because washing dishes is a pain.)
  • Firewood (if you want a fire)
  • Matches
  • Bug spray and sunblock
Depending on your plans you may also need:
  • A camp stove for cooking
  • Fuel for the stove
  • Pots and pans
  • A can opener
  • Other things for preparing your food
  • Marshmallow/hot dog roasting sticks
  • Camp chairs (picnic benches aren't very comfortable)

The Tent
This is what a can of
water-proofing spray looks like.
Whether you own a tent or you borrow it, you should practice setting it up before you go camping. Tent technology has improved a lot over the years, but getting the correct poles into the correct places can still be a daunting task. The last thing you want is to have your whole family waiting for you to figure out the tent.

If you own your own tent take advantage of the "practice run" to water proof your tent. You can find cans of water proofing spray at most stores on either the camping aisle or in the shoe section. Spray the water-proofing stuff on all the seams of your tent and let it dry. If it starts to rain during your trip you will be very grateful you took the time to do this.

When you are camping you don't want to store any food type things in your tent. This includes everything from snacks to deodorant - pretty much anything that smells good. Little (and big) animals will want to find it and eat it. They wont have a problem chewing through your tent to get to the food.

Food
I don't care how easy Pinterest says it is, your first camping trip is NOT the time to try to cook your first dutch oven meal. It's not the time to cook anything you haven't tried cooking at home.

This is your kitchen
Here's the thing about cooking and camping. Imagine you are in your kitchen at home, but the fridge and all the cupboards and drawers are empty. Everything you need to use is piled into a cooler and a box that you packed several hours ago. Did you remember to pack a cutting board? What about a carrot peeler? And oh yeah, you have to walk at least 10 feet to fill up a container of water. Not to mention that there is dirt everywhere. On top of all that, you better hope it's not raining.

Do you get the picture? Cooking while camping is difficult. Do yourself a favor and go easy on the cooking.

For a beginning camper (and any busy experienced campers) I recommend the following menu:
  • Dinner: Sandwiches from Subway (cold lunch meats taste better than another other cold fast food)
  • Breakfast: Cold cereal and milk
  • Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
If that seems like too much of a cop-out then here are some other options.

Dinners:
  • Tinfoil dinners - the trick is to cut everything as thin as possible so it will cook fast. Make these at home, cook them in your oven, and then pack them. When you get to the campsite all you have to do is warm up your dinner.
  • Pasta and sauce - this is one of my favorite things to eat with my family when we are camping as part of a road trip. Just boil water, cook the pasta, heat up the sauce, and mix.
  • Canned Stew, Chili, or Soup - preparing food doesn't get any easier than opening up a can and heating up the contents. That is, as long as you remember to bring the can opener.
Breakfasts
  • Eggs - eggs can be a little bit of a pain to transport, but they are easy to cook.
  • Bacon - if you can cook it at home you can cook it on a camp stove.
  • Sausage - buy the pre-cooked kind so it doesn't take as long to cook.
  • Pancakes - either pre-mix all the dry ingredients at home or just buy pancake mix at the store.
  • Hot Cocoa - mornings are usually really cold! Bring along some hot chocolate so you can warm up.
  • Oatmeal - I love packets of instant oatmeal. Just add boiling water and ta da - breakfast is ready.
Lunches
Brandon and I don't usually eat lunches when we are camping. We've found that we prefer to just snack between breakfast and dinner. (More about that in a second.) If you are a lunch person here are some ideas.
Nothing beats a fresh taco salad when
you've been on the road for a few days.
  • Taco Salad - this was a perennial favorite at all the church camps I attended as a teenager. It's nice because you don't have to actually cook anything. If you want meat with your salad then pre-cook it at home and then keep it cool in the cooler.
  • Sandwiches - peanut butter and honey don't need to be refrigerated so they are at the top of my list for things to eat. Jelly is a close second. We never bother to refrigerate it when we are camping and so far we haven't noticed a problem. If you are just planning an overnight trip then lunch meat and cheese will probably stay cool enough in a cooler.
Snacks and Goodies
Home made trail mix is one of
 my favorite things to eat on vacation
One thing that makes camping so fun for Brandon and me is that we allow ourselves to buy all sorts of goodies that we usually avoid because they are either too processed or too expensive. This is the time for nutty bars, capri sun, trail mix, jolly ranchers, soda pop, and anything else that we have been craving.

And don't forget to bring along marshmallows, graham cracker, and chocolate so you can make s'mores.


Entertainment
Campfires create the perfect
setting for great conversations
For heavens sake, do not, I repeat, do not bring along electronics to keep yourself or your kids entertained. One of the wonderful things about camping is the chance to slow down and enjoy the simple things about nature. Trees, bugs, birds, rocks, even dirt can all be a lot more entertaining than any movie, tv show, or song.

Go on walks, draw pictures, go fishing, go hiking, throw rocks in a lake, make up a game, play cards, read a book, or just stay at the campsite and relax.

One final bit of advise
There is one final thing I want to tell you. Sometimes there are moments when camping trips aren't all that fun.  It rains, the nights get cold, the food tastes weird, air mattresses deflate, kids cry, the list can go on and on. When those things happen I find myself repeating the mantra: "it's just for one night." I tell myself that night won't last forever and eventually everything will be okay again.  And without fail, the sun eventually comes up and everything seems better.  So if things are a little rough on your first camping trip just tell yourself "it's just for one night."  I promise you will get through it.

You might wonder if all the work of camping is worth it. Let me tell you, IT IS! There is nothing like staying up late talking around a camp fire. Or waking up in the morning and hearing birds chirping two feet away. Or feeling a burden lifted off of your soul because you are miles away from everything that normally distracts you. No matter how uncomfortable your first camping trip might be, you might just find yourself thinking, "I want to do that again."

This was originally published on my personal blog on July 1, 2013

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Space Saving Stroller

Packing light is one of the most important keys to a successful vacation.  However, when you are vacationing with babies, packing light is almost impossible.  Babies require quite a few accessories.  Regardless of what you are doing, babies usually need diapers, wipes, bottles or nursing covers, special food, bibs, blankets, toys, clothes and extra clothes, and a stroller.

A bulky stroller can be a huge waste of valuable space inside a car.  Even if you are packing for a short trip you may not want to give up all the space that a stroller requires.

I have four kids and drive a Honda Pilot.  I love my Pilot, but it's one flaw is that there is hardly any room in the back when the third row seating is in use.  Even if I wanted to I couldn't bring a large bulky stroller with me to use for my baby.  Fortunately, I learned a trick a few years ago that has saved me a lot of stress.

The trick is to combine a regular rear facing car seat with an umbrella stroller to create a stroller that is easy to store and easy to set up.  As an added bonus it allows you to move your baby from the car to the stroller without getting them out of the car seat.  This is especially nice when the weather is cold or when you have a sleeping baby that you don't want to wake up.
You start with an umbrella stroller.  You can find these for under $20.  These are a good investment because they fold up small.  Even pre-school age kids fit in these strollers so this stroller will be useful long after your baby outgrows his car seat.
Next you take a regular rear facing car seat.  Sorry, but this trick wont work with the convertible front/rear facing seats.

Here are the three easy steps to combine your car seat and umbrella stroller.

Step 1: Move the car seat handle to the lowest position.

Step 2: Carefully place the handle of the car seat over the umbrella stroller handles.  This is a little tricky, especially with a baby sleeping in the car seat, but I promise, it can be done.  You might want to practice with an empty car seat in your living room before you try to do this for real in a parking lot.    
This is what the car seat and stroller will look like once you've placed the stroller handles through the car seat handle.

Step 3: Slide the car seat so the bottom is resting on the seat of the umbrella stroller.  Make sure everything is secure, and you are good to go.

I use a car seat cover to keep my baby warm in the car.  When I put the car seat on the umbrella stroller the cover continues to keep her warm.  I love that I don't have to expose her to the cold.
Here is my beautiful baby modeling the stroller in use.  This picture is from our trip to Utah back in December.  This stroller was so useful because it hardly took up any room in the Honda, it kept her warm amid all the snow, and we didn't have to wake up a sleeping 3 month old every time we needed to get in or out of the car.   
I hope this trick helps you out as you plan your next adventure.

In future posts I'll talk about other ways to bring your baby along for the fun.  I'll talk about front and back packs, double strollers, and even triple strollers.  Trust me, after carting a triple stroller around for a year, it's heavenly to only need  an umbrella stroller these days.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mesa Falls - Ashton, Idaho


If you are visiting Yellowstone make sure you take time to visit the sights on the way into the park.  Mesa Falls is located within an hour of the west entrance to the park.  This spectacular waterfall rivals many of the falls within the park.

Location: Eastern Idaho. One hour north of Idaho Falls, one hour south of West Yellowstone, 90 minutes north of Jackson, Wyoming.

Cost: $5.00 per car.  Free with America the Beautiful National Parks pass.

Operating Seasons and Hours: Mid May to Labor Day 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM.  In the winter the road is groomed for snowmobiling.

Official Website: http://www.visitidaho.org/attraction/waterfall/mesa-falls/

Date of Visit: Monday, May 19. 2008


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