Tag Archives: strategy

Family Vacation: How We Made it Work for Us

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These matching shirts were how we surprised the kids at Christmas with the upcoming trip!

As I was preparing to write a post about our vacation to Disney World, I came across this article Benefits of Family Vacations that extols the virtues of family vacations.  It essentially says that taking a vacation is good for child development related to exploring new places and the resulting growth in frontal lobes (I’m really paraphrasing here). It also says that happy childhood memories related to family vacations can serve as ‘happiness anchors’ in future times of distress.  Additionally, taking photos (except when it interferes with your activities) helps foster feelings of engagement and enjoyment of whatever you are doing.  The obvious need to de-stress for all family members, is also mentioned.  All this to say that I guess the kids will grow up to be happy and issue-free, all because we went on a family holiday! 😉  Such an oversimplification, however, I cannot argue with the notion that family time is valuable, whether you’re on vacation or not.

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This guy was pretty happy to watch a little Batman vs. Superman on WestJet Connect.

The point of this post was to talk about our big family trip to Disney World, and how we made it work with a kid on a pretty strict diet and also in a time of major economic slow down in Alberta, made more impactful in my family due to my leave from work.

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Travelling with teens. Enough said.

 

  1. We rented a condo through VRBO.com with a kitchen.  This was critical on so many levels I don’t even know where to start.  When you have a family member with some significant dietary restrictions, a kitchen and ability to buy and cook your own food makes life considerably easier.  It also allowed all 7 of us (my parents joined us on this trip) to have less insane mornings.  We were up early to get to the Disney Parks most days, so it was nice to be able to make breakfast and eat at the condo rather than finding a restaurant to sit down in.  Way more cost effective also.  And when someone needs more time for hair and makeup (not mentioning any names, but suffice it to say it was a teenager), or someone else is done eating and wants to play rather than sit at a table waiting for everyone else to finish, no problem.  After a long day at the park we were all hot and tired.  The kids wanted to hit the pool and the adults wanted to have a cold one and relax.
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    One of the 7 pools at the resort.  It was a mini paradise and the perfect location for a family vacation at Disney World.

    By heading back to our condo, grabbing some beverages and heading down to the pool, everyone was satisfied.  We cooked dinner in our condo each night (except for one) as well.  Kids kept swimming.  Dad and Kevin barbequed on the resort BBQs, and Mom and I put together the rest of the meal.  No worrying about Berrik’s food.  No trying to

    Grandma and Avi #selfie

    round up everyone from the pool, getting everyone dressed up and ready for dinner and then sitting in a restaurant waiting for food with tired kids, tired parents, and tired grandparents.  Our meals were simple, so it wasn’t a ton of work.  Then everything into the dishwasher, youngest kids to bed and everyone else head to the couch to relax on the couch with a movie.  (My parents were brilliant in bringing their Apple TV with them!). From a cost perspective for the accommodations, it was a very good deal.  All 7 of us stayed together (we would have required 2 hotel rooms which would have been similar in cost to what we paid for the condo) and we had the added bonus of having space for all of us to be together in the evenings.  Hotels make that nearly impossible, and certainly not comfortable.

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    These two are almost 6 years apart and don’t get a lot of time together at home so it was nice for them to reconnect.

  2. We packed lunches for the parks every day.  Not only was this necessary for Berrik, it had many benefits for the rest of us.  It was a huge time saver.  No waiting in lines for food.  In fact, at Magic Kingdom (the only park where we actually had to wait more than 10 minutes in line) we ate in the lineups.  As a mom, I was most happy that the packed lunches meant everyone was getting healthy food.  My oldest gets sick with too much sugar.  My middle one gets grouchy with crappy food.  And Berrik just can’t have it.  I think avoiding the deep fried, highly processed food at the parks helped us all have enough energy to get through the long days!  The cost savings is another obvious perk.  A hot dog at Magic Kingdom was about $7 US.  Extra for any sides.  There were options like fruit cups and veggies etc., which was nice to see, but they were also super expensive.   With 7 people travelling, those savings add up significantly.
  3. We used FastPass and timing to our advantage.  STUDIO_JTA2_20170214_398201608439You can pre-book three FastPasses per person at each park.  We got to each park at opening and went to a popular ride that lines up later in the day, first thing.  Then depending on the timing of the FastPasses, we went on rides or attractions that fit in between.  By using the FastPasses for the most popular rides (except one…the trick is to get to one popular ride as soon as the park opens), it almost eliminated our ride wait times.
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    Grandma and Grandpa are such good sports.  Especially Grandma who essentially tortured herself with ride after scary ride! #splashmountain

    I believe we waited about 30-40 minutes for Space Mountain and less than 30 minutes for Splash Mountain, but otherwise didn’t really wait for anything.  Very little lining up and standing around meant an overall happier group of people.  Apropos considering we were at the happiest place on earth!

  4. We rented a van.  Easier than airport transfers with all our luggage (although I must brag that our family of 5 were able to pack everything into 3 suitcases!).  There were shuttles from our resort to all the parks. The resort was not a Disney resort, but it was located within the park gates, so was very close to all parks.  With 7 people, the cost of the shuttle back and forth each day almost covered the cost of the van.  And the van eliminated the need to wait for shuttles and risk not all 7 of us fitting on the shuttle.  We could go to the park when we wanted, and leave when we wanted without worrying about timing.  It costs $20/day to park at the parks.  Additionally, we went  to Legoland which is a 45 minute drive away from Disney.  There were shuttles for that too, but more expensive, less times in each direction (so if you miss one, you could be stuck with an expensive cab ride!), and of course sitting in a bus for an hour both ways wasn’t that appealing either.
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    #legoland plus #ninjago = #happyplaceforthisguy

    Grocery shopping was also simpler this way.  My parents arrived in Florida first so they did the first (and major) grocery shop.  Kevin and I went mid week to grab a few extra things.  And finally, on the weekend when the parks were slated to be the most busy, we took the van and drove a couple hours west to Clearwater Beach for the day.

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    #sisters

    White sand, warm clear water, and a lot of lazing around in the sun.  It was perfect after 4 days of parks and busyness.  Without the van this would have not been an option.  So the van was well worth its cost.

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Mickey on the beach

This family vacation was the best one we have had.  The kids are all old enough that they aren’t much work to travel with, especially compared to the days of car seats, strollers, diapers and all the other baby and toddler related items that one needs – not to mention the need for naps and inability or lack of desire to wait patiently in lines etc.  None of these were factors this time.  Having my parents there was a huge help as well.  With three kids it is incredibly helpful to have extra ‘adults’ to ensure all kids get lots of attention and get to check the ‘must dos’ off of each of their lists.  My kids are very close to my parents and we so appreciate and value the time spent with them. My parents have unending energy and a knack for making their grandkids feel extra special and loved.  I think I speak for all of us when I say we have created a whole pile of ‘happiness anchors’ to keep us grounded when more challenging times arise in the ups and downs of life.

Have a magical day!

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies (gluten free)


Berrik was having his two best buddies over for a sleepover and I was going to be spending the day at dance dress rehearsal where one of my dance mom friends cannot eat gluten.  So before we headed off to the rehearsal hall, I whipped up a batch of these gluten-free and refined sugar-free cookies.  I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, Monique at AmbitiousKitchen.com.  You can find the original recipe here.   I haven’t made it as it is written, but based on all other recipes I’ve tried from this blog, I am positive it will be delicious as is.  img_8523

The only changes I made was to use Nut and Seed Butter from Costco in place of almond butter, Nuts4Nat_NutSeedButter_1-595x595raw local honey in place of the coconut sugar, and I used stevia sweetened chocolate chips.  Monique at Ambitious Kitchen made her cookies in a food processor, but I was too lazy and rushed to even grab mine out of the cupboard, so I hand stirred and it worked just fine.

I doubled this recipe, and used a bit less than half a cup of honey. Truth be told, I didn’t measure the chocolate chips.  I just dumped some in until it seemed like enough.  If you aren’t sure if it’s sweet enough, just give the batter a taste. If the batter tastes sweet enough, then the cookie will too.  If not, add a bit more

Berrik hasn’t had sweets/refined sugar for 14 months, so even a slightly sweet cookie tastes sweet to him.  But I handed them out to the dance moms at rehearsal and they liked them….and my girls really liked them too.  They are a bit cakey in texture. Next time I might add coconut and/or crushed nuts for some more crunch and texture, not to mention flavor, but it certainly isn’t necessary.  Dried fruits would also work well.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups Nut and Seed Butter
  • 1/2 cup raw local honey
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • 2/3 cup Stevia sweetened chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium sized bowl put in nut and seed butter, honey and coconut oil; hand mix until combined. Add in eggs and stir again.
  3. Next, add in coconut flour, baking soda and salt; stir again until a dough forms. Gently fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Use a cookie scoop to drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet. You can flatten dough with the palm of your hand or you can leave the dough as is and cookies will be a bit puffier.  I left them as is.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies turn slightly golden brown around the edges. Allow them to cool on cookie sheet for at least 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes around 36 cookies.

 

Teach for Mastery, Not Test Scores

I will admit that I am a bit of a Ted Talk junkie.  Add to that a healthy respect for and frequent use of the Khan Academy learning materials and you’ll understand why I LOVE this particular Ted Talk by Sal Khan:

I recommend watching the Ted Talk – it’s 10 minutes of simple brilliance.  But the general overview is that our current education system that teaches for test scores rather than mastery is causing a multitude of issues that could be overcome with a shift in mindset.  My favourite analogy in the talk is about Math.  Kids learn math concepts from an early age.  They are tested.  Let’s say they get 75%.  That’s a good grade.  They move on.  After a few years of 75% mastery, you can imagine that the 25% gaps in knowledge will create some critical issues.  Without mastery of earlier concepts, at some point, more complex concepts will become extremely difficult, and you will start to hear kids say, “I’m just not good at math.”  You can apply this to many subjects.  If kids were expected to achieve mastery before moving on (by using technology and any number of free and easily accessible resources – thank you, world wide web!), then nearly 100% of the population would be able to read, do calculus, organic chemistry etc.  He goes on to talk also about the benefits of kids learning to seek the information they need, the perseverance, taking agency over their own learning, as critical life skills.

As a homeschooling mom of a kid who has had significant challenges learning to read, and as a result also struggled in math, I fully subscribe to this philosophy of mastery over test scores.  My first introduction to this concept, or at least the first time it was articulated to me in a way that really hit home, was in Sound Connections.  Berrik does not move on to a more complex concept until he has mastered the concept he is currently working on.  And we constantly review earlier concepts as full mastery and ability to quickly access those concepts results in faster and more successful mastery of more complex concepts.

Imagine a kid who has trouble learning to read due to a learning disability that is diagnosed in grade 3.  In a typical classroom, that kid who may now have accommodations or therapies is just starting to learn to read.  What are the chances that anyone at school will go right back to the beginning…the early reading skills that kids are exposed to in preschool, kindergarten and grade 1?  Slim.  There just isn’t time. So unless he’s in a program like Sound Connections, there are going to be some gaps that will make things more challenging down the road.

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If only all kids were given the opportunity to master all pre-reading concepts and then early reading concepts and so on and so on!  Watching my kid go from low self confidence and feeling as though he was ‘stupid’ to successfully reading, and learning to decode words, and understanding advanced sound rules (and learning that the rules are all made to be broken in the English language), and learning to spell and write stories has been an incredible journey.  Yes, I homeschool so I have time.  But it’s not the time so much as the access to resources and guidance that have allowed us to efficiently work on mastering concepts. We are playing catch up.  But if these resources and methods were implemented in all kindergartens and grade 1 classes, the foundations would be strong for all kids.

Knowing that mastery is the key has changed the way we approach everything.  This is the true beauty of homeschooling for me.  We do NOT move on until a concept is mastered.  And there is no one telling me I have to.  And not surprisingly, ensuring mastery along the way has resulted in Berrik moving more quickly (especially in math) even as concepts get more complex.  We are still unravelling the puzzle pieces of why Berrik struggles so much with reading and writing – more on vision therapy and other things later.  However, in Math, we started in September doing Grade 1 Math.  We are now working on Grade 2 Math and I expect Berrik to be ready for Grade 3 Math in September when he enters Grade 3.

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My two older daughters both do well in school.  Even so, Khan’s example rang true for both of them with regard to Math.  Lack of mastery of some concepts (like memorizing timestables, for example) took 3-4 years before it truly came back to bite them. Suddenly more advanced math concepts that require an ability to recall single digit multiplication became onerous and challenging.  I remember McKenna at one point, maybe in grade 7, realizing that knowing multiplication tables like the back of her hand was a critical skill, so she took the time (on her own time, because that is a grade 3 concept!) to memorize them.  This year in Grade 8, Math is one of her strongest subjects.

It is so very simple, and it is now scalable in the classroom like it never has been in history.  It simply requires a shift in thinking.  An example Khan talks about is hearing from teachers who started assigning the Khan Academy math videos as homework and then doing the practice in class time, instead of the typical method of lecturing and teaching concepts in class and sending kids home to practice on their own with their busy and bewildered parents.  It’s no surprise that this resulted in significantly higher success rates.  And as a parent who has spent many an hour at the table doing math with kids (in spanish no less), I would be over the moon if our homework was to watch the video instead of do the practice.  For the record, many times I had to Google translate the instructions to english and then watch a Khan Academy video to teach myself what my daughters were supposed to be practicing, and then try to help them! PAINFUL.

I think a lot of homeschoolers choose homeschooling for this ability to allow kids to learn at their own pace, and achieve mastery before moving on.  It has been life changing for us this year.

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I am going to throw in a final plug for the Khan Academy.  This website/app is FREE, and you can learn just about anything.  We are using it for math and it’s pretty fantastic.  Sal has created videos about concepts which you can watch as many times as you need to. Then you practice.  A specific number of correct answers identifies mastery.  If you struggle, there are links back to the videos right in the questions, and there are also hints to help you. If you have an account, your data is tracked and you can access and analyze your child’s (or your own) progress.  Even better, the site has been gameified which I know from my L&D world is excellent for motivation and engagement.

My engineer husband who works in the construction industry would never consider building a skyscraper on a foundation that is 80% complete, so why are we building the minds of our children on these faulty, incomplete foundations?

Let’s KISS

Keep it simple, stupid.  Having had a child who felt he was ‘stupid’ based on his school experience, I tend to dislike the word.  I still feel an emotional response to hearing it, because it takes me back to 8 months ago when Berrik told me he was too stupid for school and that the kids didn’t like him because he was stupid.  I worry that the word will always be a trigger for him, like it now is for me.  In spite of that, I have always loved the KISS principle.  I like the simplicity of the statement and how much applicability it has to pretty much everything.

KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid” as a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960.[1][2] The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

That said, I am pretty darned terrible about applying it.  In fact, I would say I have a tendency to overcomplicate most things in my life.  This past year with Berrik’s diet changes, supplements, and schoolwork, I have ventured down the path of overcomplication a few times, but I am happy to say that I am slowly getting better at keeping it simple.  It is my tendency to start out with a simple plan, and then I will find myself complicating the situation, and then I pull back and reset.  Again.  I suspect I will do this over and over for the rest of my life.  The key for me is recognizing it sooner and resetting more quickly.

Some key areas where I (attempt to) apply the KISS principle in our family life are as follows:

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  1. Food.  While Berrik’s diet may sound complicated, it’s actually incredibly simple.  Is it real food in it’s original form?  Great, he can eat it.  It’s really that simple.  In pretty much every restaurant (less so in fast food, but we avoid those place for many reasons and always have) will have the option to order a protein and vegetables.  It won’t likely be on the menu, but ask for a grilled chicken breast and some steamed or raw veggies, and almost everyone will accommodate, no questions asked.  When I do this, I usually get a chef or manager coming out to ask about allergies.  I confess that I don’t outright lie, but I do let assumptions work in my favor.  “Exposure to gluten or refined sugar will make him very unwell.”  This is 100% truth, however, the assumption is often that these things would be life threatening or that he has Celiac disease.  I feel ok with that if it means that Berrik can have a regular piece of meat without any breading or unknown additions.  More importantly, at home, this way of eating is very, very simple.  Once you get into the swing of things, you start to change your ideas about what convenience food is as well.  For me, convenience food is making enough dinner to have a day or two of leftovers in the fridge for lunches so I’m not scrambling or feeling like I have to resort to something processed because there is nothing else and I don’t have time to prepare real food.  Having a lot of fresh produce in the house at all times requires a bit of planning, but is also very convenient.  As are nuts and seeds.  We use SPUD.ca for produce delivery every week, so I know that even if I can’t get out to the store, we will still have produce (as well as many other items from SPUD.ca). I know not everyone is into baking like I am, but I find it convenient to make a large volume of ‘treats’ like coconut balls or ‘fat bombs’, and keeping them in the freezer.  Last minute play date where the kids are having cookies?  No problem.  I pull out a couple frozen treats and send them with Berrik.  It can be quite simple.  It should be simple.  All kids are better off with this simplicity in my opinion.  Not to say there should be no ‘treats’ ever, but I do think we can redefine what ‘treat’ means, and I feel like many of us misuse or misunderstand the term moderation.  Everything in moderation is a common adage these days.  The problem is that most of us take every category of ‘treat’ and have a moderate amount of each of those treats regularly.  Moderate consumption of each of bagged snack food (chips), fast food, processed foods, and sugar on a regular basis is no longer moderation.  Let’s say we have 3-4 things from each of the above mentioned categories on a weekly basis (and I would venture to guess that most of us eat more than that), we are eating up to 16 servings of ‘treats’ each week. The reality is, in my opinion, that we need to combine all ‘treats’ into one category and choose 3-4 per week.  Would it take some planning and a major lifestyle change?  Of course.  Would it be just too expensive?  Nope…it’s actually not that expensive to eat only real food.  Processed foods and eating out are more expensive in the long run.  We would all feel better and many of the diet related issues that plague North Americans would be minimized.pexels-photo-199093
  2. Schedule.  Oh how I struggle keeping a simple schedule.  Our family calendar is a gong show.  But where I implement ‘simple’ is we use one digital iCal. Anyone with iCloud can access it.  This means everyone in the family has access to it.  Kevin isn’t an apple user, but he can log into the calendar through iCloud in his browser, and see exactly who is doing what, where and when.  He and I both add all of our activities in it as well, so when we are planning something, we can instantly see what is happening on that date and decide if we can add another item or not.  This keeps things relatively simple, and we rarely forget to take ourselves or one of the kids to where they need to go.  Our day to day lives are not simple.  McKenna dances pretty much every day.  Avi has choir, basketball and sewing club every week.  Berrik has Cub Scouts, karate and of course his school activities every week, plus skiing and skating when there is time. Super complicated.  However, it is all in the calendar so we have a relatively simple system that works for us.  We carpool where we can which further simplifies life.   Simple doesn’t always have to mean doing less.  In this context, simple is just finding the most efficient way to manage our crazy lives, simplifying wherever we possibly can.image
  3. School.  Homeschooling is simple.  Or it can be.  I have overcomplicated it a few times in our short homeschooling career, but I know that we both fare significantly better if we KISS school.  We have developed a routine and a rhythm that works for both of us and is proving to be highly effective.  The three R’s of my childhood (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic – Um, who determined this was the three R’s???) make the foundation of what we do on a daily basis.  While the details of each may seem complicated, they really aren’t as they all are areas of learning that have a foundation from which you continually build in increments.  Quite simple once you wrap your head around it.  Science, social studies, art, phys.ed, music, all can stem from the three R’s.  Reading and writing about social studies topics, music is very mathematical, art and science can include all sorts of information about scale, measurements, estimation, and pretty much every other foundational math skill that exists. I have learned that it is not necessary to do a separate ‘class’ for each subject.  We integrate the three R’s into all subjects and so everything we do has some math, some writing and some reading.  We learn about scientific process, making inferences, geography, community, culture, art, physical activity, music etc., throughout our days in different ways, using those basic skills.  The huge benefit of homeschool is the ability to make it simple in the way that works best for Berrik.  He needs considerably more time spent on reading and writing than on math, so we integrate that into more of our activities on a daily basis.  It works for us and he is thriving.image
  4. Family time.  This is also simple.  It did not used to be, but because we decided it was a priority, it has become more simple.  We eat together almost every day at dinnertime.  No technology is allowed and we catch up with everyone about their day. All other family time is scheduled in a different way – daddy time with Berrik or the girls or just one of the girls whenever there is a window of opportunity.  Bedtime chats with the girls most nights (individually), so they can tell me about what is going on in their heads, in their relationships, in their lives.  It’s such a short amount of time.  Sometimes only 5 minutes.  But it’s frequent and almost always available to them, so it works. Trying to schedule whole family outings is nearly impossible. So I stopped trying to do it beyond our dinnertime.  No need to complicate it.  And as we see that one or more of the kids (or Kevin and I) need more time together, we find the time in the schedule and we do it.  I will say that being home this year has facilitated this, but even if I was working, it’s more the commitment to it and doing it no matter what that keeps it simple.  “Can I go to a friends after school?”  “Not tonight honey, I want you home for dinner.”  It’s really that simple.  I hoard and protect that time because it’s my only guaranteed time.image
  5. Relationships.  I am fortunate to have a pretty large circle of pretty cool friends.  Some I see regularly thanks to dance or other kids activities that we both have kids involved in.  Some I see regularly because of a shared activity that we (the adults) participate in.  Some I see only once or twice a year, and a few even less than that.  The beauty is that all of my friends seem to look at our relationship in a similar way.  We don’t complain or berate each other when we haven’t seen each other for  weeks or months. We just take our opportunities where we can, and enjoy the time we have when we have it.  Not to say we passively await a perfect storm of opportunity, we sometimes make considerable effort to find a time that works, commit to it, and make it happen.  But on the same token, I never feel pressure.  I know we would all like more time together, but we are each prioritizing our lives in a way that makes sense for our families or ourselves, and I rarely feel that anyone is frustrated or upset about time span between visits.  I guess the KISS principle application is that you need to surround with friends who share your outlook, who love you no matter how much they see you (and vice versa), who are there when you need them (and vice versa), and who can pick up where you left off no matter if it’s been 2 days or 2 years. Make a simple list of the most important qualities you want in a friend, and if anyone doesn’t meet the criteria, (hint: if they don’t meet yours, you likely don’t meet theirs either) then keep them at acquaintance level and move on.

Every time I write a blog post like this one, I read and reread, and often feel like whatever I’m writing about sounds way easier than it is.  This post is no exception. My philosophy is really that everything is a journey and that we can only do what we can do.  Some people are the masters of simplification, right down to having only a handful of outfits and just rotating through them…or like Mr. Facebook himself, wearing the same thing every single day to remove the need to make a fashion decision on a daily basis. Or having limited ‘stuff’ in their house, or even limiting activities or friends!  Simple is relative.  Simplify where you can, in baby steps. And because you’re human, things will likely get complicated, so when they do, step back and figure out where you can simplify again.  Keeping it simple is anything but simple.  Ironically, it can start out quite complicated!  Do what makes sense for you and forget the rest.  It’s that simple ;-).

And for all my friends who I haven’t seen in awhile (assuming any of you actually read my blog!), I can’t wait to see you again.  Call me, or I’ll call you.  Soon.  (TG, stay by your phone.  We are due).