Tuesday, August 18, 2015

International Flights with Kids

I just booked our plane tickets to head back to America for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas...
I know, I know. We just got back from America. (Like two weeks ago.)

I wanted to get a jump start on it all since flights have a higher tendency to book up around the holidays. Plus, I wanted to have a chance to choose my seats before everyone else did. I have realized that my life becomes much less stressful when I have everything organized and ready to go as far in advance as possible.

Because I am a mother traveling with two four-year-olds.

 My little angel children. All prepared to behave perfectly for the next 16 hours. Ha.

Flying filled me with anxiety and dread before I had kids. Now that I'm traveling with kids... It's a whole new ballgame, people. Especially when you are traveling out of the country.

Here are a few things that I have learned since flying internationally with the kids has become more common than ordering pizza delivery.

1. Pack light.
 No joke, last trip I packed one suitcase to check.

One... For a six week trip.

The idea of making my way through the airport, through customs, with two kids and a ridiculous amount of stuff seemed daunting. In reality, we didn't use as much as I had packed anyway. By the time it came for us to return home, I was really wishing that I had left even more back in Australia because I needed room for all of the important things that I had purchased in America...
Like Twizzlers.

2. iPads... They are a godsend.
Okay, so when Blake told me that he got an offer for the job in Australia, I started planning our move in my head. When I took my first flight with Blake to Australia for our orientation trip, I crossed out most of what I had thought about flying that distance with the twins and focused on one thing and one thing only, iPads. 

They have kept the kids entertained and happy for longer amounts of time than any other invention in this world.
Except for maybe a puppy. 
Since puppies are a little difficult to smuggle onto a plane to a foreign country, we'll stick with the iPad.

Even if you have to beg, borrow, and steal (Maybe not steal.)... Get your hands on an iPad or tablet of some sort. Load it up with new, unfamiliar apps and games for kids, download a couple of their favorite movies and enjoy. You are about to witness the miracle of quiet entertainment.

I try to forgive myself for allowing them to partake in such lengthy amounts of screen time by finding some quality, educational apps that might actually be beneficial. (I'll share some of my favorites another time.) 

3. Bring your own headphones. (And get an adapter.)
This especially applies to the kids. On the way over I kept having to untangle the wires of the headphones that they had for their iPad and the headphones that the airline passed out. It was a pain, especially after having to do it for the 40th time with little to no sleep in a 24 hour time span. 

On the way back I was more prepared. I purchased headphones for myself and for them, and it was much easier to simply unplug the headphones and plug them into the device as opposed to completely switching headphones out. 

Trust me... This will help save your sanity. 

4. Pack a little backpack for each kid. 
I found the backpack idea to be the easiest because Samantha and Easton were able to carry their own stuff through the airport, through customs, onto the plane, etc. Plus, I didn't pack an overwhelming amount of stuff since I wanted it to be manageable for them both in the sense of weight and in finding what they needed. 
Here's what I packed in each of their bags:
-A change of clothes (Just in case)
-A Pull-Up (Even though they are both potty trained, I was afraid of them really needing to go at an   inopportune time. I figured I could let them wiggle into the Pull-Up under a blanket and go in the Pull-Up if it was an emergency.)
-Their iPad and headphones
-An activity book and some crayons/markers
-One or two small toys
-Snacks, lots of snacks (There hasn't been a single airplane meal that Samantha and Easton have liked.)
-Lollipops (For takeoff and landing, although the pressure doesn't seem to bother their ears much.)
-Lovie (When they get sleepy, they get pitiful. They always want their special stuffed animal to snuggle.)

This goes into my next suggestion...

5. Don't pack "surprises".
There are a few moms out there who swear on pulling out a little surprise for their kiddo every hour or so to keep them happy and entertained. I did that on the first flight the kids ever took, but I didn't really pull anything out. (They were too into their new iPads on that trip.)
I made the decision that for us, extrinsic rewards just weren't going to work. I didn't want to set that precedent. We take long car rides and long airplane rides far too often for me to keep up with that. It would be too much. 

The kids don't expect it, and therefore, I don't do it. 

6. Don't worry too much about the people sitting around you. 
My kids are just that... kids. They are still trying to figure out everything in the world and acting appropriately on an airplane is one of those things. 
(I am also trying to help them figure out that when they have their headphones on, they don't have to yell to be heard. 
Just because it is harder for you to hear yourself, doesn't mean it is harder for me to hear you. 
That's been fun.)

Anyway... Just as I disagree with giving my kids little surprises throughout a flight, I feel the same way with the fad of giving the other passengers goodie bags just because there are two little kids sitting next to them.

I'm not going to do it. 

I'm also not going to let my kids kick the back of your seat, run up and down the aisles, scream at the top of their lungs for fun, and constantly adjust the back of their chair in an obnoxious manner. With that in mind, I just hope that people forgive us of any little "learning opportunities"... If not, sounds like a personal problem to me. 

7. Take a pen. 
Make sure that you bring a pen with you so that you can fill out any forms that you'll need to complete for entry into a country. 

I know that with Qantas, they pass those forms out to you early into the flight to allow you the opportunity to fill them out at your convenience. Since everyone, including children, needs to complete certain forms, that means that I have at least three forms that need to be completed. Since the Ebola outbreak, I have had a minimum of six forms that have to be finished before I can enter into Australia. These things actually take a little time and thought. 
Avoid the hassle of borrowing a pen or filling out the forms after you've gotten off the aircraft. Bring your own pen and fill everything out before you land. Trust me.

8. Pack toothbrushes. 
Everyone feels a bit more human after a 15+ hour flight if they have a chance to brush their teeth... Including my kids.
Just a personal preference. 

I don't want to sugarcoat it... These flights aren't easy. Unless you're flying in business class, it has been my experience that you aren't going to get much (if any) sleep. Not to worry, though. Things will hopefully be uneventful, and you'll only need to combat the boredom that goes hand-in-hand with flights of this length. (iPads!) 

Hopefully, a little insight into how our flights have been and what I do to make our flights as easy as possible will encourage you to not dread an upcoming international flight as much... 

Like maybe an international flight to Australia? 

To visit your good buddy Kim and her adorable four-year-old twins? 
Oh, and Blake too... He's pretty great, I guess. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Three Week Australia Visit

When you travel to Australia to visit I may or may not be inclined to create an extremely detailed itinerary for your visit...

Partly because I want you to know what we are going to be doing each day, so that you can give me a heads up if I have missed anything or if you don't want to spend time doing something in particular.  It is also helpful for packing purposes.

Mostly because I have pretty strong OCD tendencies.
... Just so you know ...

Anyway, I thought that I would post the itinerary that I came up with for Blake's parents' visit. 

They were in Australia for three weeks, and after that, Mrs. Kathy and I flew with Samantha and Easton back to Texas. 
(The kids and I will be in the States until the end of July visiting family and friends.)
Mr. Rick was encouraged and then decided to spend a couple of extra weeks in Australia so that he and Blake could explore a little more without having to make the compromises that you have to make when you have two four-year-olds in tow.

Without further ado...
So maybe my not-so-secret agenda behind showing this to you is to make you think, 
"Hmm... Wow! How fun! I think that I want to go to Australia!" 
You then call/message/email me, and I am like, "Yes! Come, please!" 
And then you come visit us in Australia so I don't have to miss you that much!

Sneaky, huh? ... I await your contact.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

New York City

If you've been keeping up, you know that I traveled from Melbourne last week to New York City to surprise my sweet mother-in-law for her 60th birthday. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can check out my previous post by clicking here.

We had a crazy great time. It was one of those crazy great times that you can only have with a group of girls that are anxious to explore a new place and drink a bottle or two of really good wine at each meal.
Breakfast may or may not have been included in this generalization.

Our first full day was on Sunday, May 3th, and we started the day with a walk towards Macy's - The World's Largest Store. We walked most of the way along Broadway, admiring the buzz and vibrancy which is everything that you might imagine that it would be, only more.

We stood outside of Macy's for a few moments before making the turn towards the Empire State Building. (That's right... We didn't even make it inside of Macy's - The World's Largest Store, people. We had bigger buildings to see.) The lines at the Empire State Building were short so early on a Sunday morning, and we were on the elevator going up before we knew it.

 We purchased the cheesy tourist photo because it is fabulous! 
(I mean who wouldn't pay $30 for this jewel?)
The views were, of course, awesome.
Can you see the teeny, tiny, Statue of Liberty?

After the Empire State Building and then lunch (fried mozzarella!), we went to go see Les Miserables, and it was so wonderful, so perfect that I sang the songs for the next week. I couldn't get them out of my head! 
It was definitely my favorite show out of the three that we saw!

We finished the day with dinner at Nocello Italian Restaurant (penne pasta with pink sauce!) and then walked the few short blocks to take a late night carriage ride through Central Park. 

 Our group split into two groups that took two carriages. 
I'm not going to mention that the two carriages spent a part of the time "racing". 
I also won't mention that the other carriage was significantly rowdier than our carriage...

On Monday, May 4th, our second full day in the Big Apple, we hailed a couple of cabs and spent the morning at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The museum was perfect in every sense. There wasn't a single detail that was overlooked, and I am in complete awe of every aspect from the presentation of information, the respectful way the people who lost their lives that day were remembered and honored, and the peaceful air that settled where such a horrible event had occurred almost 14 years ago.

My favorite part of the museum was an art piece that took up the wall that connects the north side and the south side of the museum.The artist painted individual squares the color that he remembers the sky being on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Every square turned into a different shade of blue with each attempt. Every square represents one person who perished that day at the Twin Towers and during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. There are 2,983 squares for the 2,983 people. In the middle of the squares was a quote. "No day shall erase you from the memory of time."  It was a beautiful piece. I love all that is symbolized. 
You can see and read more about that particular piece here.

I was blown away by how much I learned, how much I didn't know, and how horrible that day really was.
I think that maybe you can never truly understand the horror of such an event until you experience it or something like it yourself. Being in the museum, in the location where everything happened, however, puts you in a new position to try to wrap your head around that day. 
9/11 was a tragedy beyond comprehension. 

After the museum, lunch, and the Disney Store where I purchased the promised "surprises" for Samantha and Easton, the group changed clothes and headed to see "Mamma Mia". It was fun, light-hearted, and had a bunch of guys running around in little Speedos. It was a win-win-win! 

"Mamma Mia" !

After the play we stopped at a little place to eat near our hotels and shared a few appetizers (cheese, fruit, and crackers!) while we laughed and talked through a few glasses of wine and martinis.

On our final full day in the city, Tuesday, May 5th, it was Mrs. Kathy's 60th birthday, so we woke up extra early and arrived outside Rockefeller Center with hopes of being on The Today Show. Everyone wore their bright green "60 is the New 30" shirts (except for me since I was a last minute surprise, and all), and we held up our signs until we finally caught the eye of the camera crew.  As you might have seen... We made it on air!

I was on national television! Woo hoo!

Here's a picture of us on my friend, Shannon's, television!

We were pretty excited when notifications from Facebook and text messages started coming in from friends and family who had seen us on television. We were also pumped to see all The Today Show anchors* and even Wrangler, the dog. 
*Except for Savannah, who was ironically in Australia.

We wandered away once the show started to focus on a singer that we didn't know anything about. 

   Here we all are! 
(Everyone in their green shirts and me with my crazy clever sign...)

After leaving the plaza, we had a great breakfast (American bacon!) and then we headed to 5th Avenue for a little shopping.

Would you believe that the only thing I bought was for the newest, littlest, unborn member of our family?... 
(Erica and Jonathan's baby. Not mine. Just wanted to clear up any confusion there.)

After shopping, we stopped by Mrs. Kathy's favorite little pub in the city (club sandwich!), sang "Happy Birthday", curbed Mrs. Kathy's needed for the french onion soup, ate some huge cupcakes, all before heading back to our hotels to shower and change before our final night. 
To cap off Mrs. Kathy's birthday we went to see "The Phantom of the Opera" and had dinner at Carmine's. 

 "The Phantom of the Opera"!

I have to admit that the final dinner of our trip was probably my favorite. The atmosphere was fun and loud, which was really appropriate for our group. 

All of the other restaurants that we had gone to were really nice, but we were always the loudest.
Who am I kidding?
We were still the loudest at Carmine's, just maybe not the ONLY loud group.

We had spaghetti (with extra sauce per Mrs. Kathy) and too many drinks to count ... 
We took a cab back to the hotel. No worries.
... And we were ultimately kicked out long after the restaurant had closed their front doors. However, we didn't leave before toasting to Mrs. Kathy, singing another round of "Happy Birthday", and toasting to Mary when midnight (and thus her birthday, the day after Mrs. Kathy's birthday) arrived.

The final morning, as we all packed up our bags to go home, we reflected on how fabulous our time together truly had been. 

My father-in-law, Mr. Rick, did a wonderful job on proposing the idea for this trip so long ago and making the arrangements for it to come together. (And for watching Lincoln, Bailey and Whiskey even though the cat was mad at you for having to share your attention.) And, Blake, thank you for watching the kids while I flew from one side of the world to the other and back again. 

We had a blast! 

*Extra Note: Oh, Lord. There were so many things said and done that were hilariously embarrassing for all those in our party, including myself. We adopted the Las Vegas mantra "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas", but, of course, with the location changed to New York. 

I am true to my word so I won't embarrass anyone on the blog, but if you see me and ask, I will happily tell you a story or two. I might share with you the one where we were all walking along 7th Avenue and Mrs. Kathy couldn't get a response from her iPhone ("Siri. Siri. Why isn't Siri working?!") Or maybe I could tell you about Heather and the horrible red straws in her cocktails... (She can drink like a big girl, y'all.) Or maybe I could share Mary's favorite parts of "Mamma Mia". (Hint: They were hidden beneath red spandex.) 

I could go on and on... But I won't. 
For now. Dun dun duhhhhh...