Secrets and Confessions: Our Family Adventure to Disney World

I last visited Disney World 17 years ago on spring break from my second year of college.  So you can imagine how different it was when my husband and I flew to Orlando for a 48-hour visit this past May with our three-year old and four-year old.  Disney always brings the magic, there is no denying that.  But it’s a whole new ball game when you bring your young ones to experience the magic with you for the first time.

So here are some secrets we have to spill, and some confessions from our trip – things that I was surprised by, things that might surprise you, things that would surprise everyone . . . but at the end of the day, Disney is amazing.  It is always amazing.  On that note, when can we go back?

Logan and Pluto

Logan and the Plutomeister

1. Disney’s FastPass+:  Completely awesome and great for families.  Gone are the days when you have to wait in line for 45 minutes for your favorite ride.  With the advent of Disney FastPass+,  each ticketed family member can choose up to three rides per day at one park to “FastPass+.”  Fastpassing a ride allows you to to get in an expedited line for the ride of your choice at a designated time of day and, in our experience, wait no more than 15 minutes.  This changes the game completely with little kids!  No patience for lines?  No problem.  Got places to be (like a melting-down toddler who needs a bed)?  You’re in luck (more than you would be otherwise, anyway).  By taking advantage of Disney’s FastPass+ system, you and your little ones can get to the rides of your your choice, experience them without the long wait time, and be on your way.  A few tips on how to use the FastPass+ system:

  • Book your FastPass+ reservations as far in advance as you are allowed, which is up to 60 days in advance of your check-in if you are staying at a Disney Resort and up to 30 days in advance of your visit if you are staying at a non-Disney property.
  • Do you research ahead of time.  Did you know that Peter Pan’s Flight has wait times that exceed 150-180 minutes during peak season?  Yes, that is ridiculous.  Completely ridiculous.  If your kids are Peter Pan fans, then you better be FastPassing+ that one.  Also immensely popular rides that tend to have long lines?  Big Thunder, Splash Mountain and Space Mountain.  Good ones to FastPass+.  And what’s that?  You want to meet Elsa and Anna?  Well, stay at a Disney Resort and FastPass+ that sh*t right now.  Because there is no getting in to see Anna and Elsa unless you reserve a FastPass+ at 12:01am on the night you are 60 days away from check-in.  That is one hot ticket, my friend.  This list of ride wait times might come in handy when you are working out which rides to Fastpass+.  It seems accurate based on our visit, however I would say that you should definitely also Fastpass+ the Seven Dwarves Mine Train if that interests you.  Wait times always exceeded 90 minutes during our visit and no FastPasses+ were available at the time of our visit (they had all been pre-booked).
  • Showing up at your FastPass+ ride and realize the regular line is just as short as the FastPass+ line?  Take a minute to open the My Disney Experience app (more on this below) on your phone and change your FastPass+ selection to another ride for a later time.  Hop in the regular line of the ride you had originally chosen to FastPass+.  FastPass+ selections are precious; you don’t want to waste them.
  • Used all of your pre-booked FastPass+ activities for the day?  Use one of the FastPass+ kiosks in the park to create a new FastPass+ selection (yes, you can obtain more FastPass+ selections after your original three have expired; it just requires you to do so via the kiosks in the park – an awesome bit of information that many other park-goers will know nothing about).
  • Do you know how good it feels to pass people waiting in long lines for old favorites like Thunder Mountain, The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, etc?  So good.  Did I feel guilty for using our FastPass+ activities the way they were intended to be used?  Not at all.  So get on it people, study the FastPass+ system, learn it, and use it!  It makes the Disney experience all that more enjoyable with kids.

2.  Magic bands = the coolest things ever.   It’s so true.  Disney never disappoints.  In fact, they go above and beyond in nearly every respect.  This includes sending you (and each person traveling with you) personalized, color-coded “magic bands”  in the mail before your trip if you’ve made reservations to stay at a Disney resort.  How do magic bands enhance your experience?  Besides just being cool and encouraging excitement about your trip to Disney in advance, you can use them to unlock your hotel room, pay for food, drinks, gifts, and other items in the parks and at your resort, and check-in at your FastPass+ attractions.    Our kids loved the independence of being able to enter our room on their own. Similarly, they enjoyed matching the Mickey ears on the band to the Mickey ears at the FastPass+ ride entrances to get in line.  Wearing and using their bands made them feel in charge of their experience.


Can you spot our magic bands?

3.  A 48-hour trip to Disney with two kids under the age of 5 = complete hangover.  I know I’m getting older, and I’m okay with that.  But when I tell you I felt like I had a hangover  after two nights and three days of Disney, I’m not kidding.  I think our bed times over the three days averaged to nearly 11pm.  We ran on adrenaline during our time in the park, but when we got back?  Pure exhaustion!  My ability to stay up late and function normally the following day is not what it used to be!

4. I rode Dumbo five times.  Five times, ya’ll, five times.  Let’s just say that my three year old was OBSESSED with the ride and her ability to single-handedly control the flying elephant.  I am a good mom, I really am.  Why?  Because while I was riding Dumbo (five times) my husband and my son were on Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain – two of my absolute favorites!  And did I get to ride them this time?  No.  But guess what, I got to ride Dumbo five times.  I’m not bitter — at all.


Dumbo enthusiast

5. I have never suffered from whiplash so bad as when my three-year old drove at the Tomorrowland Speedway.  It was brutal.  So if you’re reading this and you’re smart, you’ll send your three-year old on the speedway with your significant other.


The second time on the Speedway my husband got the whiplash treatment!

6. Breakfast in bed still rocks. Our three year old turned three our second day at Disney.  We promised her breakfast in bed.  When the kids woke up, they placed a very excited call to room service, ordered up breakfast, and fifteen minutes later – voila!  Mickey Mouse waffles with syrup and whip cream in bed in their pjs.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.


Mickey Mouse waffles and chocolate milk for breakfast – these guys are in heaven!

7. On that note, you can’t go wrong by staying at a Disney Resort.  You can’t get Mickey Mouse waffles at a non-Disney property.  Nor can you ride the monorail or boat to the Magic Kingdom (or other parks) from a non-Disney property.  And you definitely won’t be spotting any characters or indulging in character breakfasts at non-Disney properties.  So, while prices are high, staying at a Disney resort is worth it when you have little kids.  We stayed at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.  It was perfect.  We didn’t have (nor did we need) a rental car for the weekend (we took Disney’s Magical Express bus from the airport to/from the resort). Staying at the resort allowed the kids to live the Disney experience the whole weekend.  And they loved it.  Food at the resort was top-notch and the pools were tons of fun.


Boating into the Magic Kingdom . . . it doesn’t get any better than that!

8. They weren’t kidding when they said to book dining far in advance.  So here’s the thing:  everything I read on Disney’s sites (and second-hand sights offering tips for Disney World) suggested that you book special dining occasions (say, dinner at the nicest restaurant at your Disney resort or a character breakfast in the Magic Kingdom) far in advance.  In fact, I’ve read that breakfast with the characters can often be completely booked 180 days in advance.  That is A LOT of days in advance.  Unfortunately, we only planned our trip about 50 days in advance and I disregarded all of the online advice about dining.  In the week prior to the trip, I panicked a bit and called several restaurants in the park trying to book a character meal.  Absolutely nothing was available (at a reasonable time, at least).  The best restaurants at our hotel were also fully booked at specific times (breakfast and dinner) when we arrived.  So heed my advice:  if a character meal or a nice meal at your resort is important to you, book it as soon as you know you’re making a trip to Disney.  You can always cancel when you get closer to the date if need be.

9. All girls don’t want to be (or meet) princesses.  My three-year old loves to watch the movie Cinderella.  She also sings the Frozen soundtrack in the car daily.  But that is where her love of princesses stops (at least for now).  She doesn’t want to dress up like one, she doesn’t like to pretend she’s one, and she really couldn’t care less about Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, or the myriad of other Disney princesses out there.  Since the Elsa and Anna meet and greet is such a hot ticket, I couldn’t get a FastPass+ when I tried (about 40 days out).  What I was able to get was a Cinderella meet and greet FastPass+.  My husband and I had the perfect plan to split forces and he would take our son on roller coasters while I took our daughter to meet Cinderella.  But that never happened – because our daughter never had one iota of interest in meeting Cinderella — or any other princesses in the place, for that matter.  She nearly threw a fit when I told her we were going to meet Cinderella (and not the good kind).  After asking her three times if she was absolutely sure about forgoing the experience, I switched our FastPass+ to Dumbo.  And guess what?  We ended up riding it five times (see number 4).

10. Stroller rental prices are outrageous!  But I guess this is Disney World after all, land of the over-priced lemonade and Mickey Mouse ear balloons.  We paid $31/day for a double stroller.  It was functional, but certainly did not look that comfortable.  If we had done our homework, we could have rented a much better stroller (City Mini or BOB) for a much lower price from an outside party that delivers to the park.  So if you’re looking for options, check out this site – Military Disney Tips – to get some ideas.

11.  Unexpected favorite (new) rides:  Buzz Light Year Shoot and Spin, Astro Orbiter, and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (with the spitting camels being a bonus) – all super-fun with kids and ones that were new to me.  Of course, all of my old favorites like Pirates, Thunder Mountain, It’s a Small World, etc. still stand — but these were great new additions!


Astro Orbiter – old school, but so much fun!

12.  My Disney Experience site and app:  Visit the My Disney experience website to plan your visit.  Using the site (and/or the associated mobile app), you can scope out the rides and entertainment schedule, make your FastPass+ selections, and book your dining.  Make sure that you’ve downloaded the app to your phone so that you access your itinerary, view a map of the park (which features ride wait times that seem to be generally accurate), and switch up your FastPass+ selections when you’re in the park.  Using the app while you’re on the go will help you make the most of your visit.

13.  Early May is a sweet time to go.  We avoided the big crowds and although it was in hot, we did not totally melt.

14.  A special shout-out to Disney Parks Moms Panel, which is a fantastic resource and seems to have the answer to almost any question you could ever conceive of about a visit to Disney.

15. No, we did not avoid the meltdown.  


Nap time!

Now Go!  And enjoy!

Set a Healthy Example For Your Kids, And They Will Follow

If I’ve learned anything over the past few months, it is this:  if you set an example by eating healthy, exercising, and taking care of yourself, your children will take notice and endeavor to do the same.

Let me rewind a bit.


Eight months ago, I decided it was time to lose the post-baby weight.  I began running because it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed, it challenges me, and I am fortunate enough to have a BOB double jogger, so I can do it with two of three kids in tow.  Ivy was born in March 2014.  I started jogging again in August 2014.  By October 2014, I finished my first 10K race.  In November, I completed a second 10K race nearly four minutes faster than my October time.  In December 2014, I enrolled in a distance training program which would prepare me for longer runs.  I followed a schedule of 3-4 runs/week, including a speed/track workout on Wednesday evenings and a long weekend run with colleagues.  Despite 20-degree weather in February 2014, I completed another 10k race, adding two miles pre-race and three miles post-race to achieve an a 11-mile “training” run.  In March 2015, I completed a 15km (9.3 mile) race in the sleet.  Two weeks later, I finished the New York City Half Marathon in 2 hours and 4 minutes.  This was my second half-marathon and I finished it in six minutes less than my first half marathon that was in Sydney, Australia nearly nine years ago, pre-kids (who said motherhood didn’t make mothers faster and fitter)?  This month, I completed the Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossom 10-miler.  And now, I’m working on my spring/summer running schedule, hoping to complete another half and a handful of 5ks and 10ks before our move to Krakow, Poland in August.


Beautiful day for a 10-miler. Added bonus: the cherry blossoms were out!

Ramping back up to a level of conditioning and endurance I’ve only mastered once previously has required dedication and time.  My kids watch as I lace up my shoes. They are thrilled each time I bring them post-race goodies.  They vie for spots in the double jogger.  I love that my routine to get back in shape has introduced the concept of running to them – that they understand it, they see that it is healthy, and that they want to do it with me.  Now that the winter weather is behind us, I’d like to do a 1km fun run with my four-year old, so that he can experience the same exhilaration I do when crossing a finish line.

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Ran the March 2015 NYC Half six minutes faster than my first half nine years ago, pre-kids


Regaining my fitness after each pregnancy has been a bear, but I’ve always been motivated to do it because I enjoy working out.  The area where I require more of a push is nutrition.  And it’s taken 36 years, but I think I’ve finally started to figure it out.

Over the past month, I’ve joined one of my friends, who is also a fitness instructor and nutrition coach, in a clean eating challenge.  She provided us with clean eating recipes and suggestions, nutrition tips, and fitness challenges — as well as daily motivation and a system for accountability.  We took pictures of every meal and our workout and posted it to a private Facebook group describing what we ate and the 30+ minutes of exercise we did daily for 21 days.

This challenge changed my life (thank you Sarah Mann)!  The accountability factor really made me watch what I was eating.  Knowing that I would have to share with others what I had eaten at every meal made me put more thought into grocery shopping.  With the right groceries at hand, I was able to prep on Sundays for a whole week of healthy eating.  I figured out a system for myself that worked.  Shop Sundays, food prep Sundays, make it through to Wednesday before buying fresh fruit and vegetables again, and then finish out the week.  All you have to do is put effort into planning.  Plan ahead to assure you have the right type of food in your home; prep to make sure that food is washed and ready-to-go when you need to grab something in a flash (or make four lunches in record time when little ones — and mom — are hungry after a morning out at the playground).


Accountability: breakfast, lunch, dinner and a post-run selfie

My breakfasts have become immeasurably healthier – nonfat greek yogurt with berries and agave, scrambled eggs with sauteed asparagus, mushrooms, and onions, quinoa and steel cut oats with banana, pumpkin pancakes (yum)!  Seriously.  I feel so much better about eating real food than stumbling out of bed at 5:30am with my one-year old and pouring a bowl of milk and cereal . . . because I hadn’t planned ahead of time.  My lunches have almost always become a salad with an added punch of protein, plus left over vegetables from the night before.  Think spinach salad with grilled chicken, avocado, and strawberries with a sweet potato on the side.  And dinner has become a lean meat – chicken, salmon, tilapia, lean beef – with plenty of colorful vegetables. When I feel a need for something sweet I indulge in a few squares of dark chocolate.  Snacks have also become much healthier – bell pepper strips with hummus, apple slices with almond butter, almonds and cashews, a protein bar.  Gone are the days of snacking on crackers and granola bars.  And to top it all off, I have been drinking a lot of water.  I start first thing in the morning before breakfast and continue through the day until after the kids are asleep.  I notice I’ve been much better about it since I bought a 32-ounce water bottle.


Account for your choices by sharing them with friends

So how has my healthier eating influenced the kids?  For starters, they insist on eating greek yogurt with berries and agave with me instead of having the usual toast with jam or bowl of cereal.  They are enamored with agave – that it could taste as good as honey and that it is, in fact, healthier for you.  They have been introduced to quinoa and love it.  Every time I drink from my water bottle, they ask for water of their own.  They ask me questions about what is healthy and what is not.  Our outings are planned around healthier snacks – instead of chocolate-covered granola bars we have moved to nut and dried fruit mixes (thank you Trader Joes), Larabars, Chobani kids greek yogurt, and organic apple slices (thank you Costco).  Taking the time to prepare healthier meals for myself benefits the whole family.  When I make myself a salad for lunch, I make a second one for my husband.  When I prepare hard boiled eggs, bake sweet potatoes, and cut up vegetables, I make enough for the whole family.  If I eat healthy, they eat healthy (because you know I’m not fixing four other meals at each meal to cater to different tastes)!  It’s pretty simple.

I should caveat this by saying that my goal is to eat clean 80 percent of the time, which of course, leaves me the freedom to indulge as I please 20 percent of the time.  I think that is what makes the clean eating doable for me.  It is a lifestyle change which allows for some flexibility during the week, not a strict fad diet that I’m bound to give up on after two days.

I’m in love with our new healthy lifestyle.  I want it to stick.  And I want my kids to grow up happy, active, and healthy.  So here is what I’ve committed to – a new instagram account (@coveredground) that showcases my dedication to fitness, eating clean, and teaching healthy habits to my children.  It will appear in the sidebar of my blog, but you can follow us on this journey directly through instagram as well.  Through @coveredground, I hope not only to keep myself accountable, but to inspire others to find their passion for fitness and nutrition as well.


Yesterday’s 3-mile jog to the library and back with the BOB doublejogger, 65 lbs of child, books, snacks, water, you name it!

Oh yeah – and I forgot to mention.  The running + the healthy eating over the past few weeks = pre-pregnancy weight.  Bam!

The Not-So-Delicate Art of Avoiding the Minivan

It was definitely not the first, but probably not the last thing I expected my husband to do when I told him we were expecting our third – begin immediate research into upgrading our car, with a particular emphasis on avoiding the minivan.

For weeks – 36, to be exact – we ran through our alternatives. I would receive emails that said, “If we do eventually break down and end up in a minivan, the [insert minivan make and model here] doesn’t look too terrible for what it is . . . “, followed by, “How about a 1976 Porsche 928 for me and 17 Subaru Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporters for you and the kids?” We joked about buying a used super-sedan with a V-10 engine, a mini-minivan (could we get away with calling it a three-row wagon instead of a mini-minivan?), or a wagon with serious horsepower. But did we joke?

Katleyn and the Beamer

Katelyn admiring one of her favorite cars that lived on our street in Bangkok

I knew when I married my husband that I was marrying a man who came from a long line of car enthusiasts. He was born and bred to love fast, powerful automobiles. One of our first dates was to the Detroit Auto Show. The Detroit Auto Show. Pre-kids, we hosted Top Gear viewing parties. With kids, we frequented auto shows (which, by the way, are an excellent form of entertainment for little ones). Logan was able to name almost every make and model of car by the age of two and a half. Katelyn was close behind. Shameful, I know. Thus, the thought of moving to a power-starved, ghastly unattractive minivan with an abhorrent turning radius nearly physically sickened my husband. Him and me both. The truth is, I am a bit of a car snob myself. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a minivan.

Minivans are family-friendly, sure. Dual-sliding doors, space, captains chairs, reverse-sensing systems, yada yada yada. Plenty of our friends have them. Plenty of our family members have them. So, what does it say about us that we tried so hard to avoid – what is for so many – the inevitable switch to a minivan? Are we just too vain to go the minivan route? Or are we steadfast in our convictions to stick with what we prefer rather than let our family size dictate our automotive choices? Too stubborn to succumb to the pressure of practicality? Or too youthful to drive around a box on wheels? I’m pretty sure all of those explanations describe us.


Who doesn’t want a Toyota with a giant unicorn on top? At the Washington, D.C. auto show with Uncle Peter and Aunt Katie

So, what did we do in the end? Dual sliding doors be damned. We opted for a sport wagon. The kids are a bit cramped, but they’ve gotten over it.  And guess what the second most popular request, after listening to the Frozen soundtrack ad nauseam, is in our car? “Mommy/Daddy, can you put the car in sport mode?” Now tell me, minivan drivers, do you have a sport mode?


Cultivating a Love of Reading

If there is one thing you can find in nearly every room in our house, it’s a book.  Living room – books.  Bedrooms – books.  Basement – books.  Sun Room – books.  Bathroom – books.  The laundry room is about the only room in the house that doesn’t have reading material of some kind or another.


We’ve always been really committed to reading to our children.  Most days, we read to them multiple times.  Some nights, we devote an hour to reading to them before bed time.  We read everything from The Adventures of Tintin series to Where’s Spot.  Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, Richard Scarry, Mo Willems, and Julia Donaldson are our signature go-to authors. We always stock the car with books.  We potty train with books — meaning, we put them on the potty with a book — (it makes the success rate so much higher)!  We make sure that their bedroom only has stuffed animals and books.  We go to the library at least once a week.  And we try and hit up every story time (whether it be at one of the nature centers, Smithsonians, or local libraries) that we can.

Our devotion to providing such access to literature has really cultivated a love of reading in our nearly five-year old son, Logan.  He loves to be read to and will stop virtually anything that he is doing to listen to a story.  He is also beginning to read on his own, which, is such an exciting thing to watch as a parent.  Our nearly three-year old daughter, Katelyn, on the other hand, hasn’t been as enthusiastic of a reader – or so we thought.  She seems to rarely pay attention when we read (unless the book is moderately Frozen-related), and when she does take interest, it’s usually only for a few pages.  While we read, she often busies herself with her doctor’s kit or other toys.  Sometimes she’ll pick up a book or two and begin reading her own rendition of the story, which is fun to watch.  Other times, she’ll pick out a book for us to read to her, but she rarely stays around to listen to the whole story – or even more than a few pages.  My husband and I have always been puzzled by why Kate hasn’t quite developed the love of reading Logan has, but we realize that children are individuals and their interests will differ.

And then, after we had put everyone to bed the other night, I heard a little voice reading in the hallway.  It wasn’t Logan – he was fast asleep.  Instead, it was Katelyn, who had snuck out of her room (which she shares with Logan) with one of his books, nonetheless.  Not wanting to ruin the moment, I stayed at the bottom of the stairway and recorded her precious voice reading The Magic Treehouse – Tigers at Twilight.  It was her rendition of the story, of course, but it amazed me how on par her reading of the book was with what we usually read in The Magic Treehouse series (“Jack pulled out his notebook,” etc.)  It made me realize that all this time we thought Katelyn was busy doing other things, she was listening, and processing.  I was so encouraged by this.  Her love of reading might not be as obvious as Logan’s at first glance, but it exists.  She does pay attention.  She is interested.  And, as we’ve recently discovered, she’s a pretty rad storyteller.  Reading to our children is paying off.

So if you’re in a similar place with your child, don’t give up.  Even if they seem not to be paying any attention at all, their little mind is absorbing the stories and taking note of your actions and commitment to reading.  Reading is a gift at every age.  Continue to cultivate their love of reading, and hopefully one day they will thank you for it.

Here are some tips and tricks that we’ve used to allow literature to permeate our daily routine:

1. Library, library, library.  Get a library card and hit up your local libraries to check out new books weekly.  Mix it up by visiting different libraries from time to time.  Let the kids do the check-out scanning and book return – it makes the whole process so much more fun and interactive.  Hang the library story time schedule on your fridge.  Library story times usually feature more than just reading — often, librarians incorporate songs, rhymes, and educational games to teach letters, colors and/or numbers each week.

2. Put books in every room of the house.  Easy access to books = more frequent reading.

3. Instead of outfitting your car with entertainment systems or iPads, stock it with books.  In the absence of any other form of entertainment, books will hold their attention – and what a great thing that is!

4. If they are learning to use the potty, give them a book.  Not only will it relax them and perhaps (and almost always in our case) allow them to do their business, they’ll be reading.

5. Make the bedroom a read and sleep-only zone. We just started this about eight months ago and it has been awesome to see the kids reaching for books first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

6. Find story times near you.  The library isn’t the only jam for story time.  Book stores have weekly story times, nature centres hold story times, playseums hold story times, museums (even some of the Smithsonians in Washington, D.C.) hold story times.  So seek them out!  There are so many fun venues where you can hear stories.  For all of you shopping moms out there, even Pottery Barn hosts story times!

7. Listen to books on CD.  Kids love this!  They can follow along in the book as the CD plays.  Meanwhile, mom or dad can clean the kitchen and maybe even get a load of laundry in!  Books on CD are also great for the car.

8. Opt for books instead of toys when recommending gifts.  Birthdays, Christmas, Easter — whenever your relatives or friends ask what they can get for your child, recommend they get a book.  This helps build your collection.  If you are throwing a baby shower for a friend, a great way to start their child’s collection is to ask everyone who comes to bring a book (in lieu of a card) for the baby.

There are so many great ways to encourage your child to read.  If you have suggestions, please share with all by leaving a comment.

And with that, I leave you with this sweet video of Katelyn’s late-night reading:


Traveling With Young Kids: The Skinny

So we all know that this traveling with young kids thing is not easy.  Any sage advice for how to make it more bearable (dare I say, enjoyable?) is key.  Therefore, I present to you some of our travel tips — all born out of experience.  Some things we learned the hard way; some we got lucky on, but the important thing is that we have learned what works for us (mostly).

1. As you plan your trip, search the web for parenting blogs in your destination city.  They contain fantastic jewels of information about fun things to do with kids locally.


We learned about this awesome science museum in Perth through the blogosophere

2. Traveling – in and of itself – can be unpredictable, so learn to go with the flow. Pack light. When you have to tote around toddlers, babies and all of their accessories, that extra suitcase of snorkel gear and flip flops no longer seems so important.

3. Do not leave home without a baby carrier or an umbrella stroller.


Logan backpacking it through the streets of Phnom Penh

4. Do you have a long flight ahead of you with young kids? Book a night flight. Carry PJs and toothbrushes on board. Continue with the same night time routine you have at home. If the children refuse to sleep on the flight, resort to bribery to keep them calm. Allowing them free reign of the kids movies (make sure to buy them kid-sized headphones before the flight) and/or a bag full of M&Ms seems to do the trick.

5. Fly reputable international air carriers, not American ones (sorry America).


A picture is worth a thousand words

6. Always, always request early check-in and late check-out at your accommodation.

7. Speaking of accommodations, if you have a large family that will require at least two hotel rooms, have you considered booking a rental home on VRBO, Airbnb, or other similar sites instead?  If not, you should.  More space for less money.  Also, more awesome spaces for less money.


We scored this amazing place on a VRBO-like Australian site.

8. Pre-arrange transportation at your destination.  Trust me, you do not want to be waiting in a long rental car, taxi or bus line after a lengthy flight.  Along these lines, become a [insert rental car company name here] preferred member – it saves so much time, especially at destinations like LAX.

9. If you’re renting a car at your final destination, rent car seats as well.  This is SO MUCH EASIER than lugging car seats through the airport.  Most rental car companies offer this service.


We rented this Holden wagon — with car seats installed — for our western Australia road trip.

10. And last, but definitely not least, bring a grandparent (or two).  That way, maybe — just maybe — you can get a couple of hours or relaxation in.


Monkeys! AKA my traveling companions.

If you have things that have worked for you, by all means, please share them in the comments below!

Three Babies, Three Very Different Breastfeeding Experiences

To all of you moms out there who are about to try breastfeeding for the first time, remember not to be hard on yourself. It’s not easy for everyone. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It may or may not go smoothly. Just know that if it doesn’t go the way you want it to the first time, it doesn’t mean that it won’t go right the second time. Or the third or fourth time.

Three babies, three unique breastfeeding experiences


Five years ago, before our son was born, I made a commitment to breastfeed him. Very few of my friends had children at the time, so I knew very little about the process. I had never actually seen someone do it. So to prepare myself (as much as one can for that sort of thing), I read dozens of books and participated in a pre-natal breastfeeding seminar where we learned about positioning and a baby’s latch using stuffed dolls and boobs. It was a little awkward to be practicing for such a thing without an actual baby yet, but I wanted to put as much information in my knowledge bank as possible. I desperately wanted the process to go smoothly. After all, a mother feeding her baby is one of the most natural things in the world, right?


Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t simple. As prepared as I thought I was, breastfeeding my first child was extremely difficult. It took days for my milk to come in. The little guy was hungry and not gaining weight. The latch was a problem from the start. I got the cracking and the intense pain that comes along with an incorrect latch. Every time I would try to feed him, he would fall asleep. When he was awake, he was constantly hungry. I would constantly feed him, but it seemed like he was never getting enough. And the cycle continued. At the first week weigh-in, the Logan was only in the 9th percentile for weight and the pediatrician told me that I needed to supplement him for him to “thrive.” I started to supplement in small amounts, but I was determined to provide Logan a majority of what he needed through breastfeeding. Two and a half weeks in, I turned to a lactation consultant. The consultant spent an hour analyzing the way I held Logan to nurse him, the way he latched on, and teaching me techniques to keep him awake while I nursed. She weighed him before and after I nursed him. When it was clear that he wasn’t getting enough, she recommended a supplemental nursing system (SNS), which is a type of necklace that allows the baby to drink both the mother’s milk as well as a supplement simultaneously. The device requires you to tape tiny tubes carrying formula (or pumped breast milk) from the necklace to your nipples — not an exact science, but it works. She also recommended I rent a hospital-grade breast pump and pump every time after I nursed him. Finally, she told me that since he was two and half weeks old, my milk supply had more or less been established and that I might never have enough milk to solely breastfeed him.

I remember all of this like it was yesterday. And I remember feeling insufficient — every day for many, many months. I was riddled by guilt that I couldn’t provide the most basic element that a mother should be able to provide for her child – food. Wasn’t my body made to do this? Why was it so hard? Why couldn’t I feed my child? What was wrong? And what’s more was the judgement I faced from other mothers. One look at the bottle of formula and they assumed that I hadn’t chosen or even tried to breastfeed my child. That I was lazy. That I didn’t want what was best for my baby. That my child wouldn’t be as well off as their child. The number of times that I was reduced to tears, mostly from the stress I put on myself, but also from the silent pressure of others, was unhealthy.

For the first four months of Logan’s life, I had such conflicting emotions — overwhelming joy from holding this perfect baby boy in my arms, mixed with the frustration and guilt of not being able to provide him with what he needed. For nine long months I breastfed and supplemented him. I pumped every time after I breastfed him. It was challenging and time consuming. It was the definition of intense. By nine months, I was exhausted and defeated, so I chose to wean him fully. And when the process was over, I had never felt such relief.


Less than two years later, Katelyn, was born. I was even more nervous the second time than the first. Would I have enough milk? Would it come in sooner this time? Would I struggle again? Would it be easier since she was the second child and I knew what to expect? Questions abounded, but the one thing I focused on while in the hospital, was getting as much breastfeeding advice as often as possible. Nearly every time I would go to feed her, I’d call for the nurses to come in and help me do things the right way. Because we were in Thailand at the time, the nurses were amazingly helpful. I am so fortunate to have had their assistance.

I don’t remember having any pain feeding Katelyn and my milk had come in immediately — so I was feeling good about breastfeeding her. And then came her one month appointment when the pediatrician told me that she was not gaining as much weight as she should be. He said I could continue to breastfeed her for another month, but if after that she still had not averaged out, I would need supplement her. I left his office, beelined for the nursing room, and burst into tears. I thought I had done it right this time. It certainly felt right. Kate was nursing often but never seemed upset that she wasn’t getting enough. I had given my whole self to this process, literally. What more could I do?  Feelings of insufficiency haunted me. I asked myself how I could fail at this process yet again.

And then, by some godly miracle, Katelyn’s weight averaged out at the two-month mark. The pediatrician gave me the green light to continue exclusively breastfeeding her. I was elated. No, beyond elated. I’m not sure what had happened in that extra month — maybe I had figured it out, maybe she had figured it out, maybe we had both figured it out, but whatever it was, it was enough. And I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to provide her with what she needed. Nor, (vain as it is) would I have to endure the judgement of the bottle. For the first time, I was able to relax and actually enjoy the process of breastfeeding. It was no longer a love-hate relationship. I became confident and it grew easier. So easy, that I waited until 13 months to wean her. And when I weaned her, it was bittersweet.


Two years later our second daughter, Ivy, was born. I had the same breastfeeding nervousness and fears, but they were tempered by my experience and the fact that on the second try, I had eventually succeeded. I still called the nurses on nearly every occasion I fed Ivy to make sure I was getting it right from the start. A week out of the hospital, I scheduled time with a lactation consultant, to double — no, triple — check that everything was as it should be. She laughed at me (in a good way) and told me that everything was more than fine. Ivy nursed well, slept well, and rarely cried. I had no physical pain. And all of her weigh-ins were successful. I was calm. This was working. And at 11 months, it’s still working.


Something gone right – nursing sweet Ivy

Looking Back

So what made the difference in the end? Was I just nervous the first time around? Did I wait too long to get the help I needed? Did my body just not make enough milk from the start? You know what? I don’t know. Actually I have no idea. I could spend hours speculating why all of my experiences were different, but that’s not really the important part. The important part is that they were different. Just because exclusive breastfeeding didn’t work out the first time, didn’t mean that I wasn’t able to make it work the second (with some struggle) and third times. So hang in there. Be determined. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work exactly the way you want it to. It’s not necessarily an easy thing. And with every child, it is a unique experience.

Margaret River and Pemberton: Family Australia Trip Part 3

Finally, finally, finally I am getting around to posting about our time in Margaret River and Pemberton — hands-down the best part of our trip to western Australia.


There is so much for everyone in the Margaret River Valley

Margaret River Valley

After our spectacularly fun day at Busselton Jetty, we piled back into our Holden wagon and headed 50km to the Margaret River Valley.  Ahh, Margaret River . . . my favorite part of Western Australia (and I should know, it was my third time visiting)! From the wine, to the caving, canoeing, camping, abseiling, surfing, and much more, this place is most definitely off the hook.  If you are an adventurous traveler who loves the outdoors, Margaret River is for you.  If you are a wine aficionado who enjoys beautiful vineyard settings, Margaret River for you.  If you are a beach bum who loves a great surf (as well as a Great White or two), Margaret River is for you.  Honestly — this place has something for everyone.  I would go back again, and again, and again.  You get the point.

Our digs, Bussells Bushland Cottages, in Margaret River were perfect.  P-E-R-F-E-C-T. The cottages happened to be everything we were looking for – cozy, kid-friendly, and privately situated in the bush, yet still only a five minute drive to the township.  Every morning and late afternoon we went on a bush walk around the property.  Every time we went out, we encountered kangaroos in their natural habitat, as well as beautiful birds (there was a feeder in front of our cottage that the kids could fill with seed every day).  Every evening, we built a fire and read our night time stories in the living room together.


Kangaroo-spotting out the back door of our cottage


Why, hello there


So many beautiful birds in this part of the world! This feeder was right in front of our cottage.


Fires by night in our cozy bushland cottage

And during the days? Wow. We did a lot.  Here are some of the things we did — all of which we recommend:

1. Visited local wineries and breweries.  Our favorite? Cheeky Monkey Brewery.  They had a fantastic, shaded playground just adjacent to the brewery and indoor/outdoor restaurant.  The kids played, ate, played again, and all the while we sampled the libations.  This place is first class for families. If you stay at Bussells Cottages, by the way, they will give you a list of wineries and breweries in Margaret River upon check-in.  The list denotes which wineries and breweries are kid-friendly.  Super useful.


Excellent playground at Cheeky Monkey Brewery (other great pics can be found at Kids Around Perth)


Kate enjoying her first vegemite sandwich!


Super-healthy kid fare at the brewery

2. Went caving.  So many GREAT caves in the area (Lake Cave, Jewel Cave, Ngilgi Cave, to name a few).  When I traveled to the area years ago, I abseiled into caverns and crawled my way through some tight spaces.  It was phenomenal.  With young kids, that’s not doable.  What is doable, however, is a visit to Caveworks, a visitors center that allows kids to learn about caves and try their skills at crawling through an artificial cave.  Logan and Kate spent over an hour walking and crawling through the artificial cave and looking at the eye-catching photos of caves around the world.  The visitors center is attached to a real cave (Mammouth Cave) and you can go out on the deck and take a look down into the cave, getting a sense for just how spectacular the caves really are. If your children are old enough (I’d say they’d need to be at least 5-6 years old), you can venture on down for a real caving experience.

3. Lunched at the beach (Yallingup Beach, to be exact).  Stunning, to say the least.




Oh, just another drive along the coast of western Australia

4. More than satisfied our sweet tooth at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory.  I think the photos say enough.


You know they enjoyed it when the clothes have to be removed . . .


Chocolate fondue – check. Chocolate-covered fork in hair – check.

5. Fed kangaroos, llamas, and more at Sunflowers Animal Farm.  Do not miss this.  This was a huge highlight for the kids.  In fact, we went twice!  Sunflowers also offers a farm stay.


Feeding crazy-haired llamas at Sunflowers Animal Farm


Little lambs . . . so sweet


In the bunny pit


This is why we came to Australia. So cool.

6. Meandered into Margaret River Township for dinner and a trip to the local candy store.

7. Went on many bush walks in the area, spotted marron (crawfish), and played on local playgrounds.

Alas, we only had three wonderful, fun-filled days in the Margaret River valley.  So much to do, but so little time!  If we had been able to extend our time, we also would have visited the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta, ventured into the Yalingup Maze, the Yallingup Shearing Shed, and given the Wonky Windmill Farm and Eco Park a go.


With Margaret River (sadly) behind us, we headed to Pemberton — the last stop on our  journey.  Total distance is about 140 kms and takes about two hours.


Doing our farm stay duty by feeding the donkeys!

Pemberton was the perfect final stop on our trip.  It is slower and quieter than Margaret River, but the bush is perhaps even more spectacular. There area offers a multitude of bush walks of varying distances and difficulty.  We did a 3km hike with Logan (three at the time) and Kate (18 months at the time).  Logan managed the hike on his own, while Kate rode in the Deuter Kid Comfort II.  The karri tree forests are really something special and shouldn’t be missed.  Another classic activity in the area is taking a tram ride deep into the forest.  Logan and Walter did this one afternoon and loved it.


All aboard! Pemberton Tramway takes you deep into the karri tree forest


Forest gazing



We chose to do a farm stay in Pemberton at Pump Hill Farm Cottages.  It was right up Logan’s alley — riding on a tractor-pulled hay wagon each morning to feed horses, cows, donkeys, chickens, ducks — what more could a little boy ask for?  The playground at the farm stay was fantastic as well.  Our cottage was located in front of the playground — so we grilled dinner while the kids played.  It was a welcomed mix of entertainment for the kids and relaxation for the parents. If you make it to Pemberton and you are traveling with young kids who love animals, Pump Hill is the place.


Quaint farm stay cottage — just across from a great playground for the kids


Beautiful horses just across from our cottage


Getting properly dirty at the playground (see our cottage in the background?)


Feeding donkeys in our pajamas — one of the perks of a farm stay!


Someone is happy about this tractor-pulled hay wagon ride!


Pure joy.

After two nights in Pemberton, we headed back to Perth in one day (with a stop in Bunbury for lunch).  The drive was fairly easy, but we were all fairly sad to be leaving our best vacation to date.  Western Australia.  What a magical place.


So here we are.  Back home.  In “America,” as Logan calls it.


The jet lag did them in, but otherwise they seemed to adjust quickly

For three of the five of us it’s a place we don’t know, so there is some adjusting to do. Luckily, those three are little, adaptable, and easy-going (for the most part), so the twenty-four hour travel journey, followed up by an international move, a new home, a new school, and new friends and activities didn’t phase them much. Yes, we miss Thailand (BIG time — and probably me the most), but the kids are really enjoying a change of pace and getting to reconnect with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They are also learning a thing or two about the seasons, the concept of having neighbors, the luxury of having a back yard to play in, that there are public services like water fountains provided in parks and airports (and you can actually drink the water that comes from them), what real trick-or-treating is, what a chimney is and how Santa makes his way down it, what a postman (oh, and a mailbox) looks like.  It’s the little things, really.  Every once in awhile they ask for the beach, or to swim, or for certain friends in Bangkok.  And sometimes they ask for “gai thawt” (fried chicken) with “kaow niaow” (sticky rice).  But for the most part, they seem to have adjusted well.  It’s the times I get nostalgic and show them pictures of our time in Thailand that I can tell from their reactions that they miss it, too, but perhaps not in the way that I do.


Logan was not phased by his first day in a new school and Kateyln assumed she was going, too

I found Thailand hard to leave on a number of levels – the warmth of the people, the ease of life, the year-round warm weather that allowed beach trips every month, the food, the ability to travel elsewhere in region so easily.  And then there were the people we had to say goodbye to – our friends, school mates, teachers, work colleagues and the people who worked in our home.  Uncle Noodle and the tuk-tuk tea shop lady along our street.  After all, we did see them nearly every day for almost four years.  I started to get emotional a day or two before we departed Thailand. I had an all-out emotional melt-down taking Logan to preschool the last day and saying goodbye to his teachers and other parents.  On our way back to the U.S., we stopped off in Oahu for a few days (highly recommended, by the way), and I continued to be emotional.  In fact, I didn’t really stop being emotional for a short time after that.  Now I feel adjusted, but still nostalgic for our time in Thailand.


Definitely not in Thailand anymore . . .

It took me awhile to clear my head, but I finally realized why it was so particularly hard for me to let go.  Leaving Thailand meant leaving behind a stage in our children’s lives – a young and innocent stage, a stage of their “firsts” (words, steps, day of school).  It meant leaving behind the place where two of our daughters were born and a place that nearly fully shaped the first four years of our son’s life.  It meant that our children were growing up.  And I was learning that I was going to have to start accepting that. And that is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with as a parent this year.  Not the tantrums, not the lack of sleep, not the constant demands of three little ones all at one time.  It’s the fact that they are growing up and things won’t be the way they are today come tomorrow.

The day-to-day of being a parent seems to go by so slowly, but the years go by quickly. So never forget to cherish today.  Live in today.  Be patient in solving their problems because tomorrow, it may be a problem that they can solve on their own.

Also, I am going to need to invest in Kleenex stock next year when Logan starts kindergarten.


Of Dolphin Bay Resort and the iPhone 5s’ Slo-Mo Video

A couple of quick things while I hold a sleeping baby in one hand/arm and hunt and peck with the other.

1.  We’re at the famously kid-friendly Dolphin Bay Resort in Pranburi for the very hot Songkran holiday.  This place couldn’t be more accommodating when it comes to kids – a great, beautiful beach front with no waves (which is a stark contrast to Hua Hin’s lack of a beach front), kid-friendly pools, a water slide, kids activities, bikes with children’s bike seats — as well as children’s bikes — for hire, a fantastic play ground and lawn area to play sports, an old-fashion popcorn-making machine, ice cream always within reach, and best of all — lots of friendly families with lots of other kids.  If you have a child who likes to make friends and play with others, this place is for you (side note:  it also reduces the burden on you, parents, when your children are entertained by others — we have learned this slowly over the course of our three years of vacationing in Thailand).  My husband, who has graciously always woken up early with Katelyn (now almost two years old) and allowed the rest of us to “sleep in” until 7am, said that for the first time on a vacation, he did not feel out of place walking around the resort with a toddler at 6am.  Apparently, there were plenty of other dads doing the same.  Bingo.  This is the spot if you have early-rising toddlers!


Super-awesome playground and lawn area for the kids


Kate at Dolphin Bay in 2013

Quick note on the digs:  the rooms are not lux, but we were very fortunate to get into the newly-renovated two bedroom suite (features two bedrooms, a living area, two flat screen TVs, excellent wifi, two bathrooms, and a kitchenette).  It is plenty big for a family of five and is clean, nice, and well-equipped.  If you are on your way down, ask if a newly-renovated room/suite is available.  I believe the owners are slowly renovating all of the rooms.

2.  I wanted to test out the awesome, new slo-mo video function on my iphone 5, so I captured Walter and the kids going down the slide.  Check this:

Cool, right?

3.  Vacation success?  Now being two parents with three children under the age of four, we have only lost one child on one instance during our vacation so far.  Not so bad.  #parentingstandardsareslipping #zonedefense


Maldives Underwater Video

So, remember that Maldives video I promised in my last post?  Yeah, I’m finally getting around to posting it.  At five months pregnant I was too buoyant to dive down, but my husband captured some great moments of swimming with turtles, eels, and rays.  Enjoy!


Paradise Unplugged – A Maldivian Vacation

The Maldives.  This is one of those dream vacations.  One of those I must-travel-to-before-I-die places.  One of those trips worth budgeting for for years.


Welcome to the front steps of our over-the-ocean villa

In 2006, Walter and I made a list of 100 things we wanted to do together.  Visiting the Maldives was one of them.  Partially because we’re only a four-hour direct flight away, partially because I got super-excited about a particular atoll after writing about it for Travel+Leisure in May, and partially because we know that when our family size increases to five we won’t be traveling much, we took the plunge and spent five days in the Maldives last November.  It was all that it promised to be and often more, thanks to the beautiful, spacious resort in which we stayed.   I have so many friends that have asked me about this trip, so I wanted to take you on a photo journey of our time in this beautiful paradise.


Bikes to explore Villingili Island

A couple of short thoughts prior to the photos:

1.  With or without children:  This was a hard decision for us and one that continued to weigh on me until we reached the resort.  We had never been away from Logan and Katelyn, so the decision to go without them – to a completely different country –  was really big for us. Selfishly, but in all honesty, Walter and I wanted a vacation just for the two of us, especially before the arrival of baby number three.  We completely trusted those who agreed to care for Logan and Katelyn while we’d be gone.  That being said, even a week before the trip, I wavered back and forth on whether to buy them tickets and take them with us.  Ultimately, we went without them — and I cried for about 20 minutes on take-off out of Bangkok.  However, when we settled in at the resort, Skyped with them, and realized they were doing just fine, it became clear that we made the right decision.  Walter and I were able to spend some much-needed, uninterrupted time together.  We were able to relax, sleep, swim, snorkel, bike, go on a cruise, eat dinner out every night, order room service without ketchup being smeared all over the sheets (!), finish entire books . . . you know, all the luxuries of life without having children around.


Room service with a view

2.  Resort Options:  There are so many options, so do your research.  In particular, talk to other folks who have been and find out what they did or did not like about their resort and resort island.  You’ll probably find, in general, that people loved their resort but found the island that they stayed on very small and almost claustrophobic after a few days.  We opted to stay at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort on Villingili Island on the Addu Atoll.  Addu is the southernmost atoll in the Maldives and requires an extra 70-minute flight via Dash-8 from Male to Gan.  How did we make our choice?  Addu atoll is made up of four islands – three of which are linked by a causeway – so you can cycle your way (the resort provides all guests with bikes) around Villingili Island (which is big itself) and then explore other islands as well.  The resort has a house reef — which is fabulously amazing — and which you can snorkel to from the front steps of your over-the-water villa at any time.  If you want to dive, you don’t have to go far.  The atoll is home to a WWII wreck (the British Loyalty).  And because Villingili is so much larger than other Maldivian islands by comparison, the villas are HUGE.  I think our villa had about six showers . . .  SIX SHOWERS.  Insane.  Anyway, here is a Telegraph article I ran across before booking the Shangri-La.  It will give you a flavor of Addu atoll and all it has to offer.  If you don’t want to hop the extra flight to another island, you can find plenty of five-star resort options that are a speedboat ride away from Male.  In general, I’ve heard/read that these resorts are fantastic:  The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, The Four Seasons Maldives Kuda Huara (great for families and surfers), and the Anantara Dhigu Resort and Spa Maldives.


Biking around Villingili Island

3.  Expense:  It seems nearly impossible to stay in the Maldives for less than around $1,000/night (particularly in an over-the-water-villa, which in my opinion, is the only way to go).  So yes, it’s expensive.


Over-the-ocean villas at the Shangri-La Villingili


Upon arrival, we were greeted by our own villa butler who gave us a cell phone so that we could contact him at any time


The picturesque white beach at the back of our villa


A picture of our villa from the water


Walter had lots of time to read about BMWs


I had lots of time to contemplate about how crazy our household is going to be when baby number three comes along (seven weeks from now)!


Time to snorkel out to the house reef!


The Shangri-La is the only resort in the Maldives that boasts a golf course (nine-hole)


Evening drinks at sunset


Seriously amazing sunset


This was my view from the outdoor shower every evening – stunning


More evening drinks and dinner


Spinner dolphin cruise around the atoll

Hoping to post a video from our snorkeling trips in the upcoming weeks.  Baby sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, eels, massive grouper — pretty spectacular!


So You Want to Write A Children’s Book?

Okay, so I haven’t been posting updates as often recently — but there’s a reason for that:  I’ve just finished writing a children’s picture book.


Book time at the Braunohler house

Ever since I started reading to Logan and re-discovered the world of children’s literature, I realized what an important role books play in the lives of children.  Walter, Logan, and I all treasure a good picture book (Katelyn is a little young yet).  We read it many times over, and yet it never grows old.  And we can never have enough books.  We order new children’s books from Amazon every week.  We ask for new books for birthdays, Christmas, and Easter.  Going to the book store is one of our favorite things to do.  So in love with the world of children’s literature I have become, that I am now determined to contribute to it.  I’m not saying I’ll be the next Maurice Sendak or J.K. Rowling.  I’m not saying that I’ll write anything as beautiful as Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express, as captivating as Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, or as humorous as Mo Willems Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus, but I’ve written something.  Something creative that involves a young boy who travels the world via his imagination.  And I’ll leave it at that.

time reading about the adventures of Tin Tin

Cousins Issy and Maxi introducing Logan to The Adventures of Tin Tin, now one of his favorite series!

Do I hope to get published?  Of course.  Do I think I’ll get published?  I guess we’ll find out in 6-12 months – or even longer.  In the meantime, I’d like to write about my journey as an aspiring author every now and then.  If in the process of becoming a parent you’ve also found a passion for wanting to write your own children’s book, I hope you’ll join this journey with me.  Below are some of the things that I’ve already learned from the process of writing and submitting a manuscript — and suggestions you might want to think about if you are going in a similar direction.

1. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Book Illustrators (SCBWI).  

If you’re even thinking about voyaging into the world of writing children’s lit, this is an absolute must.  The discussion boards provide a treasure trove of information on how to go about writing your manuscript, contacting agents, forming critique groups, finding appropriate publishing houses . . . you name the subject in the world of children’s lit, and it’s been (or is being) discussed on the boards.  When I’ve posted a question, I’ve always received numerous responses — all of which are helpful.  Most of the responses come from published authors and sometimes even from editors and agents, which makes the information you receive via the boards all the more valuable.  The SCBWI offers yearly conferences where authors and illustrators can meet agents and editors, establishes local member groups for authors and illustrators to come together, critique one another’s work, and so on, keeps author and illustrators up-to-date on contests, and is a wonderful general resource and meeting place for those entering the children’s lit world.

2.  It’s not as easy as it looks.

We have our classic favorites that only the world’s most talented children’s authors could contrive, but we’ve also read some children’s books that seem so simple and effortless.  I’ve read those books and thought, “This isn’t hard.  I can do this.”  Right.  Something that is appealing to you as an adult reader of a children’s book might not also appeal to a child.  And that is the hardest part.  Getting out of the mindset of what you like to read and getting into the mindset of what a child would enjoy.  And after determining what this might be, you then have to put words on paper, write query letters, allow your manuscript to be critiqued, find appropriate publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts, etc. etc.  Trust me — it’s a lot more difficult than it at first seems.


Grandad sharing his love of aviation with Logan via children’s literature

3. Once you’ve determined your genre and developed your concept, just start writing.

I knew I wanted to write a picture book (as opposed to a middle grade novel, for example) but it took me months to develop my concept.  And by “develop my concept,” I mean just think about what story I wanted to tell children and how I would tell it.  That was the easy part.  Then I had to actually put it in writing.  Transitioning my work from my head to a written page has never been my strongest suit.  I’m not a fast writer, yet I’m a perfectionist.  This screws me in two ways.  In fact, it’s screwing me right now as I write this post.  Until I convey an idea exactly the way I want it to be conveyed (whether it be in the first sentence, second, third . . . ), I can’t move on.  This means it takes me a long time to write.  Too long, most of the time.  Instead of being like me, I would suggest (and I’ve read), it’s wiser just to get a first draft on paper — the whole thing.  Then, start revising.  If it’s awful, revise a lot.  But what matters is that your concept has been developed and written down — and you can continue to improve on it as much as you like.

4. Once you think you’ve got a good first draft, join or form a critique group.

A good critique group is worth its weight in gold.  Seriously.  The first draft of my manuscript has improved leaps and bounds since I’ve had other aspiring and published authors look at my work.  Although criticism of your writing, no matter how nicely conveyed, is difficult to swallow, trust me, this one is worth it.  How did I find a critique group?  I posted a comment through an SCBWI discussion board (there is a board specific to critique groups) and was able to find three other writers looking for critiques on their picture book manuscripts as well.  We traded manuscripts individually and responded individually via email.  It worked perfectly.  Finally, a rookie mistake I almost made:  sending it to friends and family for critiques. While I love my friends and family (and can’t wait for them to read my book), they are probably much less likely be as critical as others that you don’t know.  A not-fully-honest critique of your work won’t get you where you need to be to get published.

5. Once your manuscript is ready to go, start researching agents and/or publishing houses.

To agent or not-to-agent?  This was a big question for me.  After doing a lot of online research and talking with other published authors, I decided to give it a go without an agent.  Why?  Because I’m writing a picture book and many publishing houses — even some of the big ones — still accept unsolicited manuscripts from yet-to-be-published authors.  If I were writing a middle grade or young adult novel, I would have chosen differently. We’ll see how this works out for me in the end — but it is definitely something you need to think about before you start submitting.

Speaking of submitting, how do you know which houses to submit to?  Well, I have spent hours pouring over houses — the big five, the family-owned, the niche, independent houses — and am choosing to submit to those who: a) accept unsolicited picture book manuscripts and b) publish works similar in nature to what I’ve written.  A good place to start is the SCBWI’s Publishing Guide, which is updated online weekly for members.  From there, I checked the SCBWI’s discussion boards (in particular, the one on “Response Times”) to see which publishers I might be missing.  Once I had a tentative list, I then started checking out the houses online to make sure they were currently accepting picture book manuscripts.  If they were, I took note of their submission guidelines, editors’ names, and other picture books that they have recently published.  This is a really tedious process — but it makes much more sense (at least, in my opinion) to submit only to those houses who might have an interest in publishing what you’ve written based on what they’re looking for versus submitting blindly.  Again, we’ll see how it works out.


At one of our favorite libraries in Bangkok: Neilson Hays

6.  Format your manuscript and write your query and/or cover letters.

After you’ve selected who you’d liked to submit to (whether it be an agent or a publishing house), make sure to write proper cover and query letters to accompany your manuscript.  Is there a difference between the two?  Yes, there is — but I’ll let you do some research on that one.  Do all houses require this?  No, they don’t, but it is always polite to submit a cover letter with your manuscript — so just suck it up, and do it.  And personalize it to the house and/or editor and/or agent.  Oh, and make sure your manuscript is formatted correctly.  Don’t be sloppy!

7.  Send that manuscript out and prepare to . . . wait.

Everything in place?  Well, then it is time to submit.  And then wait — one month, three months, six months, a year.  These response times are all normal in the publishing world, so get used to it.  And in the meantime, start working on your next manuscript!

Also, one thing that has really helped me is pinning all of the great blogs and pages I have come across during my research.  I am more than happy to share this with others, so if you want a little short-cut on all of that research, here is a link to my Pinterest “Getting Published” Board:

Right now I’m in the waiting process.  I only began submitting a few days ago, so I’m not holding my breath for a response any time soon.  I figure, though, that I will keep pretty busy in the meantime with a newborn, the third mini-edition to our sweet family (nine more weeks to go)!


The Silver Lining

Have you ever stopped to listen to the sounds in your home?  I mean really stopped — not just for a minute or two, but for an hour or two?  An hour or two when you focus on nothing else but listening to what your children say, how they interact, how they play, how they fight, etc.  I know as moms and dads to young children, it is nearly impossible for us to do this.  We are always right in the middle of the action – helping our children, watching out for their safety, abating their quarrels, playing imaginary games with them.  And if we’re not, we’re usually washing dishes, cooking dinner, cleaning up toys, making up beds – you know, doing all of that other stuff that has to get done at some point or another.

At 30 weeks pregnant this week, I had a tough time after my second glucose screening test (couldn’t keep the liquid down for more than 30 minutes the first time, so had to re-test).  The second test made me so sick that I vomited twice at the hospital – once at the thought of drinking the stuff, the second time just after my blood was drawn and while I was waiting to pay at the cashier’s desk – and then seven or eight times at home that afternoon and evening.  I felt awful.  But what this forced me to do — the silver lining, if you will — was to lay in bed and listen to what went on outside my bedroom door.  My husband (I thank God everyday for that amazing man) was able to come home early and play with the kids, feed them, bathe them, and get them ready for bed.  During this time, I heard so much laughter, some singing, a lot of great solo imaginary play, some fighting (mostly from Katelyn pulling Logan’s hair), some very insightful toddler observations, and some bubble-blowing in milk at dinner time (I know it’s not good manners, but it is so much fun!).  I realized just how much joy there is in our home, and I’m so thankful for it.

So on a day when you are down and out — or just down right sick and unable to get out of bed — tune in to the sounds of your home.  The love that family members have for one another is such a special thing, and something we should never take for granted.


Lots of joy in the house this Christmas!


A Gingerbread House That Avoided Pinterest Fail Status

As a child, I always wanted to decorate a gingerbread house.  So, when I saw a friend’s pictures of her decorating a beautiful gingerbread house in Bangkok with her daughter last year I made a mental note of it and contacted her last month to find out where she and her daughter designed that beautiful house.


Now, you might be asking why I didn’t just bake my own gingerbread and attempt to construct a house that we could decorate at home.  I’ll tell you why. Because me making and constructing a gingerbread house would surely result in an epic Pinterest fail, kind of like this bad boy:  Gingerbread Fail.  So, to save me a lot of heartache (and my children a lot of disappointment), we made reservations this year to take part in a Gingerbread House Workshop at the Sheraton Grande.  It was the perfect holiday activity; not only for Logan, but for his grandmother and for me (and coincidentally, the first time any of us had ever constructed and decorated a gingerbread house).


Using our box as a foundation


Construction in progress!


Almost ready to decorate!

Upon arrival, there was a place setting for each child with a paper box that contained everything that the child needed to construct and decorate his/her house.  A friendly — and patient — pastry chef then showed the children and parents how to construct the house around the paper box using gingerbread pieces and loads of icing (note:  I think Logan ate more icing than we used to construct the house –which, in both cases, was a HUGE amount).  After the chef helped make sure everyone’s houses were stable, children had free reign to decorate their homes with a multitude (I’m talking A LOT) of different types of cookies, marshmallows, candy canes, chocolates . . . pretty much any and all types of candy you can image.


Ahh, to the best part — sticking the candy on


Intense concentration


Logan’s creative Smartie window decor


The adorable candies provided for the rooftops

I would highly recommend this activity to anyone who will be in Bangkok and is looking to do some gingerbread house-decorating next year.  The staff at the Sheraton Grande was fantastic, I was able to choose my date and buy the workshop voucher on the hotel’s website, it was a very child-friendly event (complete with a visit from the hotel’s Christmas elephant), my three-year old loved it, and we brought home a beautifully-decorated gingerbread house.  No disappointments whatsoever and a new and fun experience for all – just how I like it.


Gingerbread house decorating and a Christmas elephant? We’re sold!


Receiving some Christmas love

And I’ll have you know that the gingerbread houses don’t last that long – we made ours at 1pm today and  the candy was already taking a hit tonight after dinner.  So much fun!


Logan, proud of his creation


Kate getting in on the action

Here is the link to the workshop online:  Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Gingerbread House Workshop.  I found that the hotel’s FB page and the Bangkok Events Calendar was also helpful when planning our outing this year.


The “Real” Santa

I can’t believe I am already reading books to my children about Santa, drumming up excitement about his arrival, and best of all, will be playing Santa early on Christmas morning.  What is happening?  How am I getting this old so quickly?  Wasn’t it not that long ago that I, myself, believed in Santa, and my parents went out of their way to climb a two-story house and jingle sleigh bells outside my window (which I never did hear, much to my father’s dismay)?

We’re spending Christmas in Bangkok this year and as I write this on December 17, we have already visited with four Santas.  That’s right, four  Santas.  Four Santas who did not all look alike (to be fair, the first and fourth Santa were the same guy, but still . . . ). We are, after all, part of an American community living in Asia, so I guess Santa diversity should be expected.  However, after telling my 3-year old that we were going to see Santa for the third time this year,  he asked me a very pointed question – “Is it the real one this time, mommy?”  You can imagine my surprise as I fumbled to find an answer.  “Well, sweetheart, none of these Santas are the “real” Santas.  They are all Santa’s helpers.  The “real” Santa comes on Christmas.”  I didn’t take me long to calculate in my head just what was going on in my three year-old’s mind:  why are we seeing so many Santas, and if there is one “real” Santa, why do all of these Santas look so different from one another?”

It is amazing how clever our little ones are.  Why should I for a minute think that my smart three-year old would think that all of the Santas we’ve visited with are the same person — and moreover, that all are the “real” Santa?  And if his questions continue to be so intuitive, how will my husband and I ever keep up?  Not just with mythical traditions like Santa Claus, but with all kinds of things in life that they are still too young to know about and understand the real reason for?

Parenting.  It is certainly not for the faint of heart, nor the creatively slow.

And by the way,  I can still remember clearly when someone divulged the Santa-isn’t-real secret to me.   It was during a ride home from first grade in the back of one of those 1980’s station-wagons with a neighborhood friend named Carrie.  Carrie Wood, to be exact.  My mom was so mad at Carrie she wanted to punch her in the face.

So good luck with those holiday traditions out there and don’t forget just how quickly the wheels in our toddlers’ heads are turning.

Here is our 2013 in Santas so far:


Our first Santa 2013 encounter: AmCham Holiday Party


Second Santa 2013 encounter: Logan’s pre-school

Ikea Santa

Third Santa 2013 encounter: Ikea


Fourth Santa 2013 encounter: Embassy Holiday Party


Creative Ideas Amidst Bangkok’s Protests

Bangkok parents:  If you’re anything like me, you’re racking your brains to figure out what to do with the kids in order to avoid the daily protests, deal with school closures, and accept the fact that the major malls and play areas are closed (can you really blame Central World after what happened in 2010)?


Bangkok Protests 2013 – ugh!

So – I thought I’d throw some ideas out there for the creatively-challenged (which, by the way, definitely includes me).  Lucky for me, I have a love for Pinterest and I’m fortunate enough to have some wonderfully-inventive friends — so here are some ideas to get you through the dog days.

Getting Out

1. Good news?  The morning weather is now cool!  Another piece of good news?  For those of us who live next to Lumpini Park, the protesters have left the park area (after many months of being camped out on the park’s Silom-side), which means we can safely utilize the area without totally melting in the heat.  So, grab some friends, scooters, bug boxes, and fish food and enjoy these December days outside.  For those of you who live in Phrom Phong, the same goes for Benjasiri Park — enjoy this cool weather!

2. It’s December and do you know what that means?  Well, yes, besides wonderful — albeit some times very tacky — decorations on every corner, it is the month of the Plan Toys Factory Store (Sathorn Soi 10) big annual sale.  Protests haven’t extended towards Sathorn, so depending on where you are coming from, the area near the store should be clear.  The kids can play with all of the demo toys (including a huge train table) while moms and dads enjoy 50-80% discounts for wooden toys.  A great Christmas shopping activity!


We hit the Plan Toys Factory Store sale on day one today!

3. Go to the play groups that are still open.  One of our favorites?  Tiny Tots Play Group on Soi Convent (Silom) at Christ Church on Wednesdays and Friday mornings from 09:30-11:30.  They have a large space and an AWESOME array of toys.  The set-up is always different.  Some weeks you’ll find ice and polar animal play, other weeks you’ll find a rack full of princess dresses, and you’ll always find old favorites like Legos, ride-on toys, kitchen and house toys, etc.  The church also provides a craft activity and music for the children.  The Wednesday play session has a religious component to it (bible story to begin), but the Friday session does not.  For more information, visit the Christ Church Bangkok Playgroup Facebook Page.  Due to renovation of the church hall, the next play group dates are December 11th and 13th.  The playgroup will close for the holidays from  23rd Dec – 3rd Jan.  Please note that this is a parents and babies/toddlers group only (no nannies).  Also, there will be a craft and used toy sale at the play groups on the 11th and 13th.


Tiny Tots Playgroup on Soi Convent


Kitchen play!


Princess dresses by the dozen


Ice play


My sweet girl

4. Plan your own play dates with friends in your area and rotate houses/play areas one day per week.  I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful group of friends and we rotate homes every Wednesday afternoon for play.  This keeps the play venue fresh for kids and both moms and kids get some wonderful social time.  We planned the group so that everyone lives on the same block, which means our activities, as of yet, have not been affected by the protests.

5. Swim!  Yes, it might be a little bit more chilly out these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t utilize your pool and enjoy fun water play activities.  We are in Bangkok, folks — enjoy the ability to swim comfortably during the winter while you can!

6.  Find walkable or sky-trainable Christmas activities in your area.  There are a lot of fun holiday activities going on around the city this time of year.  Try to find some in your area.  For example, we just went to a gingerbread cookie and house-decorating activity at the Plaza Athenee Hotel on Saturday afternoon.  Children decorated cookies until their hearts were content, enjoyed a wonderful Christmas buffet, took in a magic show, listened to caroling, visited with Santa, and played in and decorated a huge gingerbread house.  In the meantime, parents enjoyed two glasses of wine, champagne or beer and watched their little ones delight in the holiday cheer.  All proceeds from the event supported a children’s orphanage.


Delighting in the tree at the Plaza Athenee Gingerbread House Decorating Event


Receiving love from a Christmas elf

Staying In

7.  Tap into Pinterest and do some craft searching.  This one is not rocket science, folks.  Are you familiar with Pinterest?  If not, get interested now.  And within Pinterest, simply search for “kids’ crafts.”  You will be amazed by the awesome activities that pop up.  For example, here is a broad selection of Christmas activities offered:  Pinterest Christmas Kids Crafts.

8. Make your own play doh and let the kids go to town.  Okay, I confess that I was a bit scared to make my own anything (play doh, bubbles, etc.), but after seeing a friend do it super-successfully, I tried my own hand at it and it worked!  I made a couple of huge batches and the kids loved cutting, forming and playing with the dough.  I gave them a whole slew of cookie cutters in all shapes and sizes to use with the dough as well, which they seemed to enjoy.  One tip for Bangkok:  when you are done playing with your homemade play doh, store it in a closed container or plastic bag in the refrigerator to avoid mold.  Here is the recipe that I used (there are tons of recipes out there): Play Doh Recipe by Family Education.

colored play doh

Home-made play doh (picture by FMO Crafts)

9. Colored rice sensory play.  This was another awesome idea by a creative friend of mine.  Instead of creating a sand pit on your balcony, why not try some colored rice sensory plan?  The good news here?  We’re in Asia, folks, so rice is everywhere!  Buy a few big bags, some rubbing alcohol, food coloring, ziploc baggies, and a big plastic tub.  Here’s a how-to:  Colored Rice Activity by Living In Gear.

colored rice

Colored Rice by Living in Gear (

10. Decorate.  That’s right.  Get the kids involved in some holiday decorating.  Put up the tree, the lights, the ornaments, the stockings . . . why not?

Now, that’s all I have in me right now.  Hopefully I gave you at least an idea or two.  Let’s all pray that these protests end soon and peacefully so that we can all enjoy the holiday season.  In the meantime, stay safe, and if you are looking for some updates on the protest/security situation, the U.S. Embassy Bangkok Facebook Page is a good place to start.


Perth, Fremantle, Balingup, Bunbury, and Busselton: Family Australia Trip – Part 2

Alright, as promised in my previous post, here are the details of our family vacation to western Australia.  Which, if you’re looking for a vacation in the region with the kids — is an excellent option.  And, if like me, you are too lazy to do all the leg-work to plan the vacation, it is all planned out for you here!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

From Bangkok, we caught a direct flight to Perth on Thai Airways:  TG481, departing Bangkok at 7:50am, arriving Perth at 3:35pm (Perth is one hour behind Bangkok).  In case you’re wondering how accommodating Thai Airways is for children . . . wonder no more.  The airline and the flight crew are wonderful with little ones!  We were given priority check-in, lots of stickers and sticker books on-board, child-friendly food when the kids decided they weren’t keen on the adult meals, and the biggest bonus?  When they weren’t serving, the staff played with the kids for a majority of the flight.  Major win for us!


It’s hard to beat Thai Airways on the child-friendliness factor

We spent eleven days and ten days in southwest Australia.  It was the perfect amount of time — just enough to explore the things we wanted to see without completely wearing out the kids.  The return flight (TG 484) departs Perth at 9:10am and arrives Bangkok at 3:05pm.

Once we landed at Perth International Airport, we grabbed our bags and headed straight to the Hertz rental car counter and picked up our full-size car, which turned out to be a brand new wagon (Holden SV6) – great for family travel.  Here’s a picture of our rental car (I’d told you I’d spare you no details, right)?


Immaculate rental car + Logan in pajamas

The Yellow Brick Road

So, if you decide to go the western Australia family vacation route, you can choose from an endless number of places to stay and explore in 10 days.  Our biggest priority was driving down the coast and spending time in Margaret River (known for its great wines and natural wonders) and Pemberton (known for its spectacular hikes among the Karri tree forests), building in some beach time and farm stays along the way.  Taking into account our priorities, here was our itinerary and routing:

Day 1:  Arrive Perth, overnight Fremantle

Day 2:  Explore Perth and Fremantle, overnight Fremantle

Day 3:  Drive from Fremantle to Bunbury, explore Bunbury, head on to Balingup, overnight Balingup

Day 4:  Explore Balingup and surrounds, overnight Balingup

Day 5:  Drive from Balingup to Busselton, explore Busselton Jetty, head on to Margaret River, overnight Margaret River

Day 6:  Explore Margaret River and surrounds, overnight Margaret River

Day 7:  Explore Margaret River and surrounds, overnight Margaret River

Day 8:  Drive from Margaret River to Pemberton, overnight Pemberton

Day 9:  Explore Pemberton, overnight Pemberton

Day 10: Drive from Pemberton to Bunbury, lunch and play in Bunbury, drive on to Perth, overnight Perth

Day 11:  Depart Perth for Bangkok

The drive map looked something like this (with Balingup situated between Nannup and Bridgetown):


Map courtesy of Big Brook Cottages

I should note that since we have young ones (and no built-in car entertainment system), we did not drive more than two hours/day, expect for the final afternoon when we returned to Perth.  If your children are older and perhaps more patient, you could make it even farther south to places like Albany (known for whale sightings).

Perth and Fremantle

We opted to spend our first two nights at a beautiful, quaint beach cottage in Fremantle.  It was perfect; truly perfect.  It was spacious (three bedrooms), had an outdoor area and grill, a washer and dryer, free wifi, and was in a nice neighborhood that is only a 5-minute walk from the beach.  The owner was wonderful to work with and very flexible.  Here is the link to the cottage via  Mole End Cottage.


A yummy dinner of grilled lamb on our back porch at Mole End Cottage

When we weren’t grilling out at Mole End Cottage, we ate at Cicerello’s Landing – a fun, laid-back fish n’ chips joint just a 10-minute drive from our cottage.  The seagulls almost got away with our dinner while Walter and the kids were feeding the fish and I was taking pictures, but we managed to salvage it with a sprint.


Fish n’ chips for dinner at Cicerello’s

Our day-time excursions in Perth and Fremantle included the following:

1. Lots of play time on Fremantle’s South Beach (a 5-minute walk or 2-minute drive from our cottage).  We opted for the dog-friendly part of the beach, as Kate and Logan LOVE dogs.  They had a blast!


Beautiful sky


The water was chilly . . . brrrr!


Dogs of all shapes and sizes!


Logan being a wonderful big brother

After our frolics on the beach, we dried off, dressed warmly, and headed to the pirate ship-themed playground at the beach entrance and had some yummy yogurt and fresh berries at the adjacent seaside snack shop.  I’m telling you, awesome playgrounds are everywhere in western Australia!


Enjoying time on the beach-side playground

2. A visit to SciTech – a children’s interactive science discovery center – in Perth.

SciTech is a wonderfully interactive and fun science museum for kids.  With everything from giant hands-on Rube Goldberg demonstrations to a baby chick incubator, this place had it all.  Such a great learning experience for the kids.


Kate trying her hand at the LED wall


Awesome plasma globe! 

3. A couple of hours running free in Perth’s Kings Park and Botanic Garden.

And who visits Perth without spending time at the city’s most iconic, beautiful, and spacious park?


A beautiful afternoon for Kings Park


Clowning around in the bushland

There are so many things to do with young children in Perth.  If your children are older, another great adventure is to hop aboard a ferry to Rottnest Island and spend some time snorkelling, swimming, fishing or just riding bikes.


On our way from Fremantle to Balingup, we stopped by Bunbury for lunch and play time at the Dolphin Discovery Center.  While we only toured the Center, you can take a Dolphin Eco Cruise and/or try your luck at being present when the wild dolphins appear in the Center’s “interaction zone” (which can happen any time of day, but seems to happen more often than not in the morning around 9-10am).  Bunbury is a charming sea-side town and was a perfect way for us to break up our day’s drive.  Per the usual, you can find great beach-side playgrounds for the kids, as well as some excellent lunch spots (we recommend Nicola’s for their good food and great kid’s menu).


Inspecting fossils at the Dolphin Discovery Center


Another awesome playground in the form of a pirate ship (at the Dolphin Discovery Center)


After some time at the beach in Fremantle and Bunbury, we chose to go inland.  We stayed in a “hilltop forest cottage” at Balingup Heights.  Our main intent was for the kids to be able to interact with animals, as well as enjoy some time in the woods.  Balingup Heights has both — as well as excellent hosts, spectacular views, and cozy accommodations.  At Balingup Heights, you can join owner/host Brian every morning to feed the sheep, horses, guinea pigs, and chickens (or “chooks” in Aussie speak) – such a great activity for the little ones.   Every evening we settled into our cottage with a wonderful fire and admired the myriad of stars from our deck.


And we are now in the country!


Feeding the horses at Balingup Heights


Cuddling with guinea pigs


Feeding chooks


Kate exploring the woods with our rental car and cabin in the background


Cozy log fires became a nightly ritual from Balingup-Pemberton

Although Balingup is not your typical tourist stop (if you’re an international visitor to western Australia), we really enjoyed our time at Balingup Heights.  We spent the days exploring not only Balingup, but Greenbushes and Bridgetown, which are close by and offer some cool outdoor activities. Take, for example, our afternoon at Greenbushes Pool – a natural water hole.  We spent hours splashing in the (cold) water, meeting locals, playing on the playground (of course there was a playground!), and walking along the nature trail.  A very fun and relaxed afternoon activity.


The Greenbushes Pool and Boardwalk — getting in touch with nature


A beautiful natural swimming hole

Another farm stay in the region (the Ferguson Valley to be exact) that I would recommend is Ferguson Farmstay.  They offer tractor rides, fishing, animal feeding, and a bunch of additional activities for the little ones.  Book early, though . . . we started a bit late and were not able to get accommodations.


After a couple of days in the countryside, we jetted back to the beach and hit up Busselton Jetty – the “longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere.”  We found this was an excellent place for the kids.  We spent loads of play time on the beach and at the beach playground (of course) and noshed on fish n’chips, indulged in Simmo’s ice cream, and rode the famous jetty train.  A very cool afternoon — especially if you are in route to/from Margaret River.


Another day, another beach playground in western Australia


Climbing – look at that blue sky!




You can swim, but the water is chilly . . .


Kate on the jetty train


On our way down the 1.8km jetty

A quick note on the train:  if you intend to do this, make buying the tickets your first priority as you arrive.   The train books up quickly and goes about every hour and a half.   You can have lunch and play while you wait.


The jetty train – oh yeah!

Okay – and that is it for tonight, folks.  More to come on Margaret River and Pemberton in the next post.  Enjoy!


A Family Vacation to Western Australia – in Three Parts

If ever we’ve made a great decision about family travel, it was our decision to spend 11 days in western Australia this October.  Aside from its utterly phenomenal natural beauty and spectacular wonders (caves, beaches, vineyards), it was exactly what we needed after a year of domestic-only travel in Thailand.  The kids ADORED it.  To the point that Logan asks me almost every third night at bedtime if we can go back, stay there “forever and ever and ever.”  The children were exposed to so many new things, and we’ve all made wonderful memories as a result.  I hope many families follow in our footsteps (it just so happened we got the idea from family friends who had done the same trip in July), because it truly was a wonderful experience.  In case you need more coaxing than the above, below, in my opinion, are the best reasons to visit (especially if you are coming from a big Asian city):


Beginning our Australian adventure in King’s Park, Perth

1.  Green space, green space – everywhere:  Oh my goodness the GREEN SPACE!  Logan and Katelyn spent the entire 11 days (aside from the time on the plane) running around parks, playgrounds, farms, forests, vineyards, and beaches.  They exhausted themselves physically.  As a result, they ate like beasts (we could not get dinner on the table fast enough!) and slept like angels every night.  They loved it.  It was wonderful to see them so physically active.


Running through King’s Park in the center of Perth on a beautiful afternoon


Enjoying the popular dog beaches!

 2. Playgrounds:  There are playgrounds – good, safe, creative playgrounds – literally on every corner.  On beaches, at breweries, at farm stays, in every town center – you can’t miss them.  We would almost always couple a lunch or an activity with play time on a playground afterwards.  And these playgrounds?  They are designed in the form of things like pirate ships, they are well-maintained, they have toddler swings, they are safe even for little ones, and there are lots of kids enjoying them, so plenty of chances for parents and children to interact.  Seriously, it was a novelty for us how fast time went by after the kids spent two hours playing at a playground after lunch or some time at the farm.


Enjoying time at a beach playground at Busselton Jetty


This was the coolest swing ever! It could go so high!


Just one example of an awesome playground at a brewery/winery


Getting properly dirty at a playground in Pemberton

3. Animals:  Logan (now 3.5 years old) and Katleyn (now 1.5 years old) have always loved animals.  In Thailand, we try to teach them a safe balance between liking animals, but being wary of soi dogs, cats, and monitor lizards.  But in Australia, there is wonderful wildlife everywhere!  At three of the four locations where we stayed, the children interacted with animals constantly.  Two of these locations were farm stays with chickens (or “chooks” in Australian speak, as we learned), horses, sheep, donkeys, ducks, dogs, alpacas, emus — you name it.  The third location was in the Margaret River Valley where wild kangaroos spent time right outside of our cabin.  There were plenty of bush walks that we could go on throughout the day to see more!  We had a bird feeder (and provided bird seed) on our front porch that the children could fill up and watch beautiful birds come by.  Finally, we went to a Dolphin Discovery Center to see some aquatic life and an Animal Farm where you could see and feed all kinds of animals (think kangaroos, pigs, bunnies, chicks, etc.)  It was really cool.


Want to feed an alpaca with a funky haircut? You got it.


When in Australia . . .




Feeding the horses at our Balingup Farm Stay


Feeding donkeys in Pemberton


Enjoying the animals at our farm stay in Pemberton


Kangaroo-spotting out back of our cabin in Margaret River


Feeding chooks

4. Activities:  We had a nice full eleven days, but even this wasn’t enough time to do everything western Australia has to offer!  We introduced the kids to the beautiful beaches (they especially loved the dog-friendly ones), spectacular caves, nature walks in Karri tree forests, the Busselton Jetty (and its train).  Oh, there is so much to do!


Searching for marron on a nature walk in Pemberton


Nothing beats a trip to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory!


Clowning around on the Busselton Jetty Train


Discovering how wind works at the jetty


Exploring a local swimming hole near Balingup

5. Ease of cabin rentals/farm stays for larger families:  Every location we rented was a home or a cabin with two or three bedrooms.  Most of the cabins had bunk beds (you have four children?  no problem!) and they all had living and dining areas, real wood fireplaces (this was a true highlight every night for us – chopping wood and lighting the fire), and great Aussie grills.  So much better than renting two hotel rooms!  The place is set up for family travel, I’m telling you.


Farm stay cottage in Pemberton


Starting our evening fire in Margaret River

6. “Short”, direct flight from Bangkok:  This summer we opted out of the insufferable 24-hour journey back to the U.S. and instead opted for the 6.5 hour direct flight to Perth on Thai Airways.  Great flight times (you leave around 8am and arrive around 3pm) and the icing on the cake?  There is only a one hour time change!  You – and the kids – won’t even notice the time difference = no time wasted!

Okay, so I have whetted your interest yet?  In my next two posts, I’ll share our itinerary (details of the flight, car rental, locations we visited, places we stayed, and activities we did).  Are you thinking about it?  Don’t think too much, just do!  It is a really wonderful way to spend a family vacation.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen our children happier than they were running free in western Australia.  Pure joy!


A Taste of the Thai Countryside

We have a lot of love for Bangkok, but lately we’ve all felt the need to get out of the urban sprawl and find some fresh air, places to run, and new things to do.  This past weekend we did just that – and it was excellent!  We visited a friend’s country home in Nakhon Nayok Province (about a 1.5 hour drive from the city) and spent the day riding ponies, playing with piglets, paddle-boating on (clean!) klongs, biking, running around, and taking in nature.  If you have the opportunity to visit the Thai countryside, do it.  It was a much needed respite from our classic weekend routine.  Below are some pictures from the day.



Traveling with Kids: A Completely Different Option from the 20+ Hour Journey


Reading time in the Braunohler home

Do all good parenting rules go out the window during 20+ hours of flight?  Yes, they do.  Should you, as a parent, feel bad about that?  No, you shouldn’t. Bribe ’em, give ’em their favorite snacks, allow technology to entertain, use the aisles for sprint practice . . . here is a piece I wrote almost a year ago that will give you some ideas on how to cope with a long journey – Enduring 20 Plus Hours of Air Travel with a Toddler (Oh Yes, and a Baby)

That being said, we are opting to take our family on vacation to western Australia this year instead of the States.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that a 6.5 hour flight was probably more tolerable than 20+ hours of flight, and that a 1 hour time change would be much more manageable than a 12-hour one.  Go figure.  Farm stays, child-friendly vineyards, a beautiful drive along the ocean, wonderful hikes, dolphin sanctuaries, wombat, wallaby, and kangaroo-spotting . . . why have we not done this before?  We’ll let you know how it goes when we get back.  What are you doing this year for fall break?


Bangkok’s China Town

Some good old fashioned street photography and composition shots in the aisles and back alleys of China Town.

Thank you, Gyuri Szabo, for the awesome photography lessons!


The Anantara’s Annual Elephant Polo Tournament: Should You Take the Kids?

A few weeks ago, Logan and I had the distinct pleasure of spending several days as spectators at the Anantara’s 12th King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Hua Hin.  This is such a cool event for a number of reasons.  Let’s start with the fact that the annual tournament supports the Anantara’s community and charity-based initiatives, including the Thai Elephant-Assisted Therapy Project – a ground-breaking initiative that provides autistic and down syndrome children with an opportunity to develop their social and emotional skills by interacting with specially trained, rescued Thai street elephants.  Second, it is ELEPHANT polo.  That’s right.  Competitive polo matches played on elephant-back.  Pinch yourself, because an opportunity to see elephant polo doesn’t present itself every day.  Third, the tournament takes several dozen elephants off the street (a stressful environment for the nature-loving gentle giants), during which time they are well-fed, provided with a native forest environment, and receive essential vitamin supplements, full veterinary checks and care for the duration of the event. Fourth, the event is packed with star-studded celebrities and VIPs.  The famed Miss Tiffany Universe even has her own team at the event!

Ele Polo Players and Mahouts

The elephants are certainly the highlight for these three!

Now, to the part you’re really reading this for.  Is it worth a special trip?  Does it make sense to take the kids?  Well, let me break it down for you.

It is a cool event.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.  But, there are a few problems.  On the pitch, it’s hot – VERY hot, and there is very little shade.  Children – especially the little ones – will melt in the heat after an hour or two.  Elephant polo, while extremely special to watch, is also an EXTREMELY slow game to watch.  The kids will get bored pretty quickly.  There are some activities provided for the little ones on the pitch – a baby elephant camp on-site, elephant sculpture painting, and a giant blow-up slide with a Dairy Queen alongside.  So, here is my recommendation.


A beautiful day in Thailand, but temperatures are high


Checking out the children’s art contest


Painting on the pitch

  • Don’t plan a special trip around the event.  If you do, don’t expect the little ones will be kept entertained at the event for very long.
  • Do pay a visit to the event for an hour or two if you are planning on a Hua Hin or Pranburi beach weekend.  That, in my opinion, is the best way to do it.

Ahh, there you go . . . elephants and pool time – that’s more like it


Hua Hin

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From Technicals To Tummy Time: Inside My Decision to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom

Rebels, instability, armored vehicles, curfew, and no-go zones.  Four short years ago, those words dominated my daily life.  Fast forward to today and it’s:  diapers, infant Tylenol, Boogie Wipes, potty training, and Dinosaur Train.  I think we can call that a pretty significant life change.  Was it one that I saw coming?  Not necessarily.

My husband and I always knew that we wanted to have children – definitely two and probably more.  We were excited about traveling the world with them, raising them abroad, and teaching them about the importance of being open, understanding, and tolerant of other cultures.  Our Foreign Service lifestyle was perfect for this.  At the time I became pregnant with my first, we had already lived in Africa, Asia, South America, North America, Australia, and the Middle East.  We were looking forward to the adventures that lay ahead with a family in tow.  We could have a family, continue our careers, and introduce our children to so much of the world.  All the while, I could continue to do very unique and powerful work that had defined not only my career, but me as a person:  assist Mozambican businesses export jumbo prawns and cashew nuts to the U.S., bar Venezuelan drug dealers from entry into the United States, visit and speak with rebel groups and refugees in Darfur, Sudan, and be baffled – ad nauseam – by the lack of progress in U.S.-China climate negotiations.


Visiting with young girls in Darfur’s rebel-held territory

I never thought much about leaving my career to be a stay-at-home mom.  Before I was pregnant, a distant family member lambasted me for entertaining the idea I might continue my career after children came along – a judgement which deeply offended me (and still does).  Working as a U.S. diplomat, and perhaps becoming an ambassador, is always what I had wanted to do. I didn’t believe working full-time and being a mom were mutually exclusive (and for the record, I still don’t).  Why could my husband and I not continue our careers in the Service, alternating times we might need to work late to accommodate receptions and presidential visits, and raise our family in the way we wanted to?  We could.  And so it was with that mindset I worked until the day I delivered my first baby – in my final weeks until midnight, defining U.S. South China Sea policy – assured that I would be back to work after the standard three month maternity leave period ended.

However, after the birth of our son, something changed for me – something visceral; something very basic.  Once I held our baby in my arms, it became clear to me that no visits to U.S.-funded rural hospitals, Darfur peace negotiations, or U.S.-China strategic dialogues could convince me to be away from him.  While I had loved my job, my calling in life had changed  and that calling was to raise him – and other children we might have – in the best way that I could, making myself available to him as often as I could.  And as so, I changed my mind; my whole outlook on my career, and pretty much – life. I resigned from the U.S. Foreign Service and became a stay-at-home mom.

My husband and I were extremely happy with the decision, but there were many others that weren’t.  My own dad called me a quitter and repeatedly voiced his “disappointment” with my decision.  “I thought you’d be an Ambassador,” he said.  At work, others tried to call my bluff.  Why would I quit my career with the seniority I had accrued?  That wouldn’t make any sense, right?

Maybe not to a parent, I guess.

I write this not to judge others for their decision to continue to work after the birth of a baby – only to share my story.  I, so dedicated to my work and ambitious in my career goals, chose to walk away from it all after our son was born.  It was a decision that shocked me.   It was not something I saw coming – not even at 39.5 weeks pregnant; yet, something that was crystal clear when I became a mother.  I realize how important it is for parents to make their own decisions about work/life balance.  Many moms, several of my closest friends included, feel the need to balance work and parenthood equally.  I admire them for the ability to juggle both so beautifully and successfully.  I also realize that many families cannot afford for one parent to choose to stay at home.  To those families, I have the utmost respect, because I can only begin to understand how hard it might be to want to stay at home with your children, but not be able to do so.

Parenthood, motherhood, fatherhood – they change you.  You might choose to remain in your same working pattern, but you will have become a more sensitive soul.  You might decide that a Saturday trip to the park is far more enjoyable than dining at your favorite brunch spot.  And you will begin to cherish sleep more than you ever thought possible.  Welcoming a baby into your life is powerfully transformative.  Things you never gave a moment’s thought to before become incredibly important – and may even change your path, and that of your children.

So, what changed for you?


The Things We Take For Granted

Patience, humility, gratefulness, and sensitivity – that is what the last few weeks have taught me.


In a cast with nowhere to go but the bed

Four weeks ago I was walking both Logan and Katelyn to the park when I stepped off of a Bangkok side walk just the wrong way.  Two torn ligaments and a hospital visit later, I was in a cast – and largely immobile – for three weeks.  It’s a rare moment when I feel low – but this, my friends – this put me at my lowest of lows.

I know it’s extremely cliche, but it’s true:  you don’t really fully appreciate what you have until it’s gone.  And with my mobility gone for several weeks, so was my ability to play with the children, be outside, and live life the way I’m used to living it.  For someone who is out of the house ninety percent of the day, that is a big deal.  For someone who loves to run with, play with, and swim with kids, that is a big deal.  For someone who thrives on taking the kids to do new and interesting things around the city, that is a big deal.  With a cast on, my daily life was turned upside down and it was extremely frustrating and upsetting for me.  I can only imagine what it must feel like to deal with a more serious or permanent injury.

But now my cast is off and I’m wearing an ankle support for a few months.  My mobility is returning and I can keep up with Logan and Katelyn more easily than before.  And now that I can actually drum up the inspiration to write again (did you notice I have not updated in a few weeks?), I want to share with you what taking one wrong step taught me:

1. Patience.  As someone who is always on the go, this accident slowed me down – waaayyyy down.  The immobility taught me to be more patient with myself, more patient with my children, more patient with tantrums, more patient with meal times, more patient with bath time, more patient with bed time, more patient with my husband.  And you know what?  Being more patient has made life so much more enjoyable.  While I was in my cast,  this article made it’s way around the web and it couldn’t be more apropos to the situation – The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’.

2. Gratefulness.  Grateful to God that he has given everyone in my family good health.  Grateful to my husband that he is such a wonderful father and can pick up the slack when I am incapable of doing much.  And grateful that I can spend all day – every day – with my children.

3. Humility.  In my 34 years on the planet, I have never had an accident that has impaired me physically.  This was the first.  And I learned just how quickly a small thing can change a big part of your life.

4. Sensitivity.  Yes, I think this incident has caused me to be more sensitive towards others who have been – or are – injured in a similar way.  But more than that it showed me the sensitivity in my three-year old son.  Every morning when he woke up, his first words to me were – “Are you still hurt, Mommy?”  And every time I picked him up at school – “Are you still hurt, Mommy?”  And every time he walked in the door from playing outdoors, “Are you still hurt, Mommy?”  He would bring me my cane, bring me food, bring me water, buy me flowers on the street, share his toys with me, forgo active play and lie with me on the bed so that I could read to him for hours.  I learned that my son is a very sensitive soul – and for that, I am very grateful.  And Katelyn?  Well, let’s just say she needs a little work in the sensitivity category, but then I guess she is only 15 months old.

I’m so thankful to be on the mend, I’m so thankful to be able to do more with my family, and I’m so thankful to be writing again.  Expect more from me soon.  Until then . . .


Much happier to be on the mend


Alcohol-infused Cake Bites and Ice Cream Sandwiches

Say wha?  Yes, it’s true.  One of our favorite bakeries in Thailand – Sparkles Cupcakery (Sukhumvit, Soi 53) – is coming out with some new delights.  I was fortunate  enough to be part of a private tasting last week that included alcohol-infused cake bites and ice cream sandwiches.  The cake bites are petite, moist and delicious; the ice cream sandwiches – made using Sophie’s signature soft-baked cookies – are absolutely divine.  So you all better be ready, because more amazing dessert options are coming your way in this magnificent city.

For more on Sparkles Cupcakery, check out this review:  Amazing Cupcakes Delivered to Your Door (Dangerous, I Know).

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Connect Via High Tech Postcards

One of my favorite things about freelancing on the side is that I get to explore unique ideas, learn about cool, new developments I would never have learned about otherwise, and most importantly, interview some amazingly talented and creative people.  Without giving too much away, an upcoming article I’ve written focuses on the comeback of the postcard.  That’s right . . . the postcard.  Stop and ask yourself – when was the last time you sent a postcard?

Many of you reading this blog live far from friends and loved ones, particularly if you are in the same line of work that we are.  Most of us are good at posting updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and multiple other social media sites that have come to dominate our  time (and our lives)!  But the problem with capturing all of these wonderful digital images and sharing them online is that you – and your family and friends – probably only take a look at them once or twice.  Soon they get filed away in timelines, newsfeeds, and inboxes and likely never resurface; like lost treasures buried deep in our digital worlds.


My parents’ refrigerator  – they have always treasured printed photos

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Popcorn, Sofa Seating, and The Best Kids’ Movies Out There: The Happiness Theater

School’s out, which can only mean two things . . . complete exhaustion for mommy and lots and lots of fun for Logan!  During Logan’s first week of summer break, we’ve done the following:  Siam Ocean World, Kidzoona, Benjasiri Park, Chamchurri Square, Play Time, Fourth of July parties, swim play dates, jello jiggler-making, ahh and it’s making my brain hurt trying to remember everything, but trust me, it was A LOT.  And on Friday, when I was getting a little desperate for new ideas and needed a little break myself, we tried out the movies.  That’s right – our first mother-son movie date.  Where?  At the Happiness Theater.  Yeah, you heard that right, the Happiness Theater.


Popcorn, check. Drink, check. We’re ready to go!

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What do Rambutans, Rain Makers, and Wooden Trains Have in Common?

Living in Thailand with my two blonde-haired tots, we encounter some interesting opportunities.  A few cases in point . . .

Exhibit A:  Just last week when Katelyn and I took a little shopping trip to Lemon Farm, the organic grocery store down the street, a booth set up outside the store was promoting the sale of organic rambutans.  As we exited the store, their photographer asked if he could take pictures of Katelyn holding a rambutan in front of the booth.  Organic rambutan modeling?  When in Rome . . .


First solo photo shoot

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Not All That Glimmers is Gold

This post is going to be very different from most.  We’ve traveled to some incredible places and found wonderful things to do as a family in Thailand and in the region, but that’s not to say that we haven’t had our share of busts as well.    I’ve been thumbing through a lot of mom blogs lately and it is shocking how many are sponsored.    I realize that virtually all of my posts offer gleaming reviews of the places we’ve stayed and things we’ve done, and that is because I want to share our best experiences with others.

Well, not today.  Today I’m going to outline some of our not-so-great experiences.  You might be shocked by some of these; you might disagree, and that’s completely okay.  They are just things that didn’t work out for us for one reason or another.  So, let’s get this non-party started.

1. The Greenery (Khao Yai)

We are no strangers to Khao Yai.  We love Khao Yai.  Usually we stay at the Kirimaya/Muthi Maya (which I do highly recommend), but this time we wanted to do something different – so we stayed at The Greenery.  The place does a good job of luring you in with its website – fancy pictures, beautiful scenery, things for kids, etc.  What really drew us to the resort was that they have a small water park onsite – which looks like a lot of fun, but in reality, it’s not fun at all.  Every few minutes a bell rings and a huge bucket of water comes crashing down on everyone’s head.  This scared the sh*t out of my little one and it made Logan super-cautious.  To top it off,  the room was expensive and not that great.  It was a bust, for sure.

Khao Yai Golf Carts

After The Greenery, I think we’ll probably stay loyal to the Kirimaya/Muthi Maya (pictured here)

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Ahh, paradise

Phuket with Kids Done Luxe

Trapeze flying, batik painting, and organic vegetable planting.  Milk and cookies at turn-down.  A  bakery with a selection of old-school American candy.  A pool with water fountains, giant turtles, a life guard-assisted slide, and continuous bubbles.  Free popsicles from noon until three every day.  Two baby elephants walking the resort’s extensive property and occasionally playing in the surf.  A newly-renovated kids club.  Giant scoops of ice cream atop home-made waffle cones.  You guys, this is the place:  the JW Marriott Phuket.


Atop Ya-Ya at the JW Marriott Phuket


Beautiful private beach at the JW Marriott Phuket

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In Asia, It’s a Fair-Haired Child’s World

I’m guessing that many of my readers in the region will be able to relate to this piece about what it’s like to raise fair-skinned babies in Asia.

Many, many thanks to World Moms Blog, a “Must Read” by the New York Times Motherlode and listed in the Forbes Top 100 Websites for Women 2012, for publishing my piece.

In Asia, It’s a Fair-Haired Child’s World – via World Moms Blog


Kate making friends in Chiang Rai, Thailand


Ode to Asian Air Carriers


Kate enroute home from Phuket on Bangkok Airways at 13 months old

Ode to Asian Air Carriers

Oh Asian air carriers how I love you so,

You still allow my family priority boarding

so we don’t block our neighbors’ row;

You give my children stickers before take-off so they won’t throw a fit

when that seatbelt sign is on and we’re not quite cruising yet. Continue reading


Go Here Now

We just spent an excellent five days in Pran Buri, Thailand – a relaxed, picturesque, and largely undeveloped beach area just south of Hua Hin.  I have heard about the charm of Pran Buri from friends that have lived in Thailand much longer than we have, but it took us two and a half years to make it there on our own.  And now I’m glad we did it with one year in Thailand to spare.

Perhaps the best thing about Pran Buri is what it is not:  Hua Hin We’ve all been to a fancy resort in Hua Hin and enjoyed it (we sure have), but what it lacks is the ability to feel like you are far removed from Bangkok; meaning, you still get traffic, you still deal with relentless vendors (on the beach, mainly), you still get the crowds, and your view is still tall buildings (with a bit of ocean).  Pran Buri offers you something much less urban, much less fussy, and even more beautiful.  So go.  At least once.  I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.


Views from the Dolphin Bay restaurant in Pran Buri


These guys don’t know how good they have it!

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Delectable Delights: Eight Places to Indulge your Sweet Tooth in BKK

I’m gonna be honest.  Whenever we take our children out for dessert, it’s more for mom and dad.  “What’s that?  Did I hear you say you want a McDonald’s soft serve ice cream?  Well, okay then.  The Sukothai Chocolate Buffet?  Sure!”  Yes, that’s pretty much how it works.  Using this method, we have found some super-hip dessert locales that offer up some truly decadent treats.  Below I present to you our favorites.

1. For the culinary adventurer and appreciator of arts


This place is too cool for school.  Seriously.  At IceDEA, ice cream is not just served; it is designed and shaped into a variety of foods.  Medium-rare U.S. steak with a side of  fries?  You got it.  Japanese Tonkatsu?  No problem.  Pizza supreme?  Easy.  Not only is the ice cream sculpted to perfection, the flavors offered are creative and eclectic.  Wasabi, roasted coconut, earl grey . . . you get the idea.  This place brings the word unique to a new level.  Go and try it.  You will be amazed.


Looks like a real hamburger and fries, right?


The IceDEA cafe at BACC

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Royal Villa? Stunning Garden? Why Not?

You’ve had a cup of coffee from a Doi Tung coffee shop before, right?  Ever wondered why the name Doi Tung?  Why the coffee is a little bit more expensive?  Why do they sell key chains, t-shirts, and sustainable cloth bags?   Well, if you happen to find yourself visiting Chiang Rai or the Golden Triangle, you can find out first hand.  Rent a car and driver and spend a morning on Doi Tung (“flag peak”) Mountain, visiting H.R.H the Princess Mother’s Doi Tung Royal Villa and the adjacent and stunning Mae Fah Luang Garden.  The Princess Mother (mother of Thailand’s current reigning King)  built the Doi Tung Royal Villa as her summer palace, and it is now open to the public as a museum.  She dedicated herself to the Doi Tung Development Project, which focused on reforestation and creating sustainable livelihoods for the local population (read:  once prevalent opium crops have been replaced by crops such as coffee, teak, and various fruits).

Enough with the history lesson because even I’m now falling asleep.  Go to Doi Tung because the villa is a cool Thai-style replica of a chalet you would see in the Swiss Alps.  From the outdoor balcony, there are excellent views of Burma.  And the Mae Fah Luang Garden is to-die-for beautiful.  It is a great place for kids to expel some energy by running free amidst gorgeous and colorful flowers, fountains, and statues.

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Some tips?

    • It is a windy, steep road to the top of Doi Tung, so if you get car sick . . . be prepared.
    • Doi Tung is about a 30 minute drive from the town of Chiang Rai.
    • If it’s the hot season, bring hats and sunscreen, as the gardens are in the direct sun.
    • There are lots of Doi Tung coffee shops and a few places to eat atop the mountain.
    • Dress modestly (long sleeves, long pants) to enter the Royal Villa, or you will have to don an oversized 1980s jean jacket, like the one you see me in below (even Kate knows this jacket is not fashion-forward).



My Favorite Travel Destinations

How many favorite places on the planet do you have?  I fall in love with new and exotic places easily, but whenever I’m asked for my favorite places, I instantly know what to respond with:  El Calafate, Argentina and the Namib Desert, Namibia.  And as of a few days ago, I added The Golden Triangle, northern Thailand to that list.

We just returned from a wonderful four days at the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort and Spa in northern Thailand.  If you regularly read my blog, you know that I’ve talked this place up before, but I wholeheartedly believe it needs to be reinforced to the masses just how awesome this place is – for adults, children, and the lone wanderer.  My husband always gets on my case for broadcasting our favorite spots, worried that the additional publicity will cause them to become crowded and difficult to book (he gives my blog too much credit), but I feel that I have some kind of responsibility to the world to share the awesome things in life that we, the Braunohlers, stumble upon, and the Anantara Golden Triangle is one of them.

At the risk of repeating what I’ve already said about this place, here is a short list of what made the experience super special for us this time around:

1. Mahout Training Class:  Unlike the last time we visited the Golden Triangle (December 2011), I was not pregnant this time around which meant that elephant trekking was not out of the question.  Meandering through the bamboo forests atop elephant back, followed by bathing them in the river.  You tell me.  Is there a cooler way to spend two hours?


Is this really happening?


Hitting up the river


Needless to say, my elephant had great aim


Case in point

2. The Staff:  A-MAZING.  Wonderful with kids.  From the servers who help out at breakfast to the transportation gurus who take you to different locations on the hotel property, these folks know how to interact with children.  The breakfast staff gave Logan a constant supply of fruit to feed the baby elephant at breakfast, while the jeep driver took us on our own private safari to see water buffalo and elephants in the forest.


The mahout providing Logan with food for baby ele Meena


Hotel staff member escorting Logan to the site of the water buffalo


On our own little private jeep safari


Elephant spotting


Logan has a very cool solo experience with a baby elephant and his mahout

3. The Beauty of the Hotel and Surrounds:  I love this place.  It is majestic in the early morning, captivating during the day, and enchanting at night.

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4. The Pool:  Because our visit fell during the hot season, we made daily use of the pool.  It has a real jacuzzi (hard to find in Thailand) and a separate area that bubbles up, creating a kind of massage for your whole body (which, by the way, is a huge hit with kids of all ages).   Servers come around with (complimentary) chilled face towels, sorbets, snacks, and juices at different times during the day.  And from the pool you will almost always see an elephant hanging about in the forest below.  Seeing this never gets old folks; it never gets old.


Gorgeous pool area that overlooks the elephant forest


One happy swimmer

Have I convinced you yet?


A Morning Out at Neilson Hays

Logan and I took refuge from the heat last week by spending a morning at the Neilson Hays Library in Silom.  They have a well-stocked children’s corner adorned with the best children’s lit, comfy bean bag chairs, and sweet, sweet air conditioning.  If you’re a non-member, you can relax and read all the books your heart desires for a 50 baht donation. We hit up the cafe next door for an art walk-through and sweet treat before heading home.  Fun and calming activity on a busy and hot Bangkok morning.


Logan at the entry to the beautiful Neilson Hays Library

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Dealing with the Dropped Nap

It’s every parents’ nightmare – the dropped nap.  What do you do when, after a full morning and early afternoon of vigorous activity, your toddler suddenly refuses to lay down for a couple of hours of sweet, sweet sleep?

Now, allow me to start with a disclaimer.  I am certainly the last person in the world you want to take kids’ sleeping advice from.   Neither of my children sleep.  I love sleep.  They certainly do not take after me in this regard.  However, recently I have had one victory in the sleep department, and that is bringing back my two and a half year old’s afternoon nap (praise Jesus).  Many of my good friends have sleep angels; this will not apply to them.  But I do hope this applies to at least one struggling parent out there who is trying to figure out a successful way to bring back that ever-important, sanity-enhancing afternoon nap.  Here goes:

Logan began to get difficult about naps when we returned to the U.S. for Christmas holidays.  He was exactly two and a half.  I guess you can’t really blame the guy because there was a lot going on:  a full-on twelve-hour time change; snow versus EXTREME Bangkok heat; cousins who no longer napped running around the house (this was a killer); and so many new things to do and experience.  While we tried our best to get him to nap on vacation, it just wasn’t happening.  After a couple of weeks, we decided not to fret over it too much and assumed he’d be back to his napping routine when we returned to Bangkok.  Wrong.  When we returned to Bangkok and kissed jetlag goodbye after a week of readjusting, Logan still refused to nap.  I could lay with him for an hour and he just — would — not — nap.  Parenting is full of joy, but it has its moments of frustrations.  For me, this was one of them.  It was clear to me that Logan still needed to nap.  Without the nap, he would become destructive and difficult in the late afternoon leading to a full-on melt down around 5pm.  That was not fun for anybody.  Plus, I had read that most children nap until at least three; and others – four.  Two and a half seemed a bit young to be dropping the nap, but not altogether impossible, I guess.

So what did I do?  I busted out the baby gate.  Yes, the one still wrapped in plastic that we had never bothered to open.  I put the gate up at the entry way to his room.  When it came time for his nap, I would ask him if he’d like to nap or have one hour of quiet time.  Every time I presented him with the option, he chose quiet time.  Our quiet time guidelines looked something like this:  1. Logan had to stay in his room for one hour (I closed the gate so he could not come out, but I left his bedroom door wide open); 2. he was not allowed TV or music during this time; 3. his quiet time had to be done alone.  I usually tended to Katelyn or stayed in my room with my door open if she was sleeping so that Logan could see I was nearby and having my own “quiet time.”   The first few days went swell and he didn’t complain;  he would only call to ask that I play puzzles or color with him (I responded that I was in my “quiet time” too, and emphasized that quiet times had to be done solo).  After about a week, though, quiet time started to get old (and frankly, very boring) for Logan.  At this point, he played for about fifteen minutes alone and then would come to the gate  and cry for the other forty-five (not fun).  Call me cruel, but I know the only way to be successful in a situation like this is to be consistent, so this went on for a few days.  After the full realization that quiet time was not what it was cracked up to be (about three weeks in), I began trying naps again.  And guess what folks?  It worked.  And since that day in January, Logan has missed maybe one or two naps total.  Sweet victory.  My life and his late afternoon temperament are back to some standard of normal.

Kids are smart; much smarter than we give them credit for.  I’ve no doubt that when Logan realized what quiet time was all about, he settled for the nap instead.  By the way, at what point do you think kids/adults realize that napping is awesome?  If I ever resisted my naps when I was little, I am now kicking myself.

And since my kids are THE WORST sleepers, I thought I ought to provide you with some proof that this actually worked.  This is a picture of Logan napping last week (I promise I did not ask him to pose):


And this is the real proof; as you can tell I woke him up while snapping away (I need to get my hands on one of those silent mirror-less cameras):


So there you are.  Good luck to you in bringing back that nap.  You can do it!


Kidzania: All Shades of Awesome

Logan and I are *just* back from Kidzania.  ALL KINDS OF AWESOME.   I am so excited about this place that I am writing about it immediately so that you don’t waste a minute partaking in the magic that it is.  Kidzania is – literally – an entire village for little people.  It is a fantastical place where kids can try their hand at any number of trades, from being a postal courier or dentist to an airline hostess or firefighter.


Firefighting awesomeness

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Thai aubergines

Inside Klong Toey Market

It was hot.  It was smelly.  I ended up with splashes of I don’t know what on my legs.  But it was worth it.  If you haven’t spent a morning at Klong Toey market, you should.  The people are wonderful; the meat and produce unending.  The market would even be a good experience for tots.


Beat the Heat

In case you hadn’t noticed everyone, summer’s here.  Just one foot out the door and you’re sweating.  Five minutes out and you’re drenched.  Here are some ideas that might help you beat the heat with the kids as we move into this very, very hot time of year.


Ayyee Mom, it is hot out here!

1. Pool – This one is not rocket science, folks.  When it’s hot, go to the pool.  Bring lots of snacks, toys, bikes, trikes, scooters, and lunch and play in the water for hours.  Yes, you do have to be mindful of the strong sun so make sure the kids are fully sun-blocked and have on their SPF-50 shirts and a hat.  Starting early (say, 8am) or late (say, 4pm) can help you avoid the strong rays.  I was nine months pregnant with Katelyn this time last year and I took Logan to the pool everyday.  Everyday.  I bobbed while he swam.  It was heaven for both of us.

2. Find a Good Indoor Play Area – Try the fairly new Kidzoona at Gateway Ekkami or the brand new Kidzania (opening March 29, 2013) at Siam Paragon.  A good play area should hold the kids’ attention for hours.


On a hot day, Kidzoona delivers

3.  Reading nooks –  Have an avid reader?  Mosey on down to the beautiful Neilson Hays Library in Silom and spend a morning browsing through their selection and reading some new literature.  On Saturday mornings at 1030am, the library hosts a story-telling hour followed by a craft activity.  There is a nice gallery cafe adjacent to the library where you can lunch post-reading.  For a more local experience, hit up TK Park on the top floor of Central World.  It houses a kids reading room with a good selection of English and Thai books, as well as a treehouse of nooks for the adventurous reader-climber.

4. Siam Ocean World – If you regularly read Toddle Joy, you know this is a favorite place of ours.  Fantastic indoor aquarium with exhibits that change frequently in the basement of one of the best malls in Bangkok.  What’s not to love?  Logan and I just traversed the shark tank on the glass bottom boat for the first time last week; worth it.  Very cool.


Anxiously waiting to board the glass bottom boat

5.  Cool way down and give Sub Zero Ice Skate Club in Ekami a whirl.  140 baht/adult and 100 baht/child per hour (weekday prices; a little bit more expensive on the weekends).  The rink is located at Major Ekami Mall on Sukhumvit soi 61; accessible via Ekami BTS.

6. Visit the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC) – The BACC is a cool place for parents and children to visit together.  Kids can release some energy by running up the spiral walk adorned with art (it would be hard to break anything) while parents get their art-fix on.  The current exhibit is on Thai cartoons.  There are restaurants in the building so you can grab a quick bite before leaving.  BACC is connected to the skywalk at the National Stadium BTS exit (directly across from MBK).

7.  Find a yummy child-friendly restaurant and spoil them.  That’s right.  Go all out and order them ice cream or cake.  Great new places for this?  Mr. Jones’ Orphanage (both in Thong Lor and at Siam Center) caters to children with its eye-catching dessert table, swinging teddy bears, and home made vanilla, spearmint, chocolate, or bubblegum milk ; the brand new Magnum Cafe in Siam Center allows you to make your own Magnum Bar and choose from over 20 toppings.  Y–U–M.


Entranced by the dessert table at Mr. Jones’ Orphanage Thong Lor

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Kit-Kat M&M cake: a child’s delight

8.  Get creative indoors – Build pillow forts and race tracks, finger paint, sculpt with Wikki Stix.  If you have a big enough balcony, cultivate your child’s green thumb. You know,  just get creative.   Pinterest is the ultimate tool for finding new ideas when it comes to kids’ crafts.  Embrace it.

Things you probably don’t want to do this time of year?  Ancient Siam, Dusit Zoo, any park, the Crocodile Farm, the Floating Market, Jatujak Market, visiting wats along the Chao Praya.  Don’t do it folks.  You and your children will melt.  And you will all be cranky.  Cranky x 100.

Anybody else have good ideas on how to beat the heat?  Please sound off in the comments if so.


Better Yourself

It’s no secret that moms and dads do not have copious amounts of free time.  We are constantly on the go and often forget to do things for ourselves.  But every once in awhile when life slows down a tad – a baby starts sleeping through the night; children start napping on a regular schedule; a toddler begins pre-school a few days a week – it’s time for you to think about doing something for yourself.  And yes, a two-hour massage or extravagant lunch with a friend might do it.  But I’m talking about doing something to better yourself in the long run.  Bangkok is a the perfect place for this.  You can find classes on everything from Muay Thai to gingerbread house-making in this town; and most are affordable.  Here are some of my recommendations:

1. Take a photography class – I’m in the midst of taking a basic photography course, and I love it.  Five sessions total, one day per week, two hours per class.  Now that is doable.  After just a couple of classes, my photos have improved drastically.  I’m finally feeling like I know something about this pricey digital SLR we bought years ago.  And my photos of Logan and Katelyn are about 1,000 times better.  Score for the whole family (including my husband who has always been slightly annoyed that I never really knew how to take a good picture).  Classes are taught by the ultra personable and knowledgeable Gyuri Szabo.  The environment is casual and Gyuri is patient.  I highly recommend learning through Gyuri.  This is such a fun thing to do each week.  Details here.


My first (presentable) panning shot


Learning to use aperture priority with sweet Kate as my willing subject


Rule of thirds

2. Learn Thai – What a difference just being able to speak a few phrases makes.  I was fortunate enough to study eight months of Thai one-on-one for four hours/day in my home when I first arrived (this was part of my job before I resigned).  I love being able to speak Thai.  It makes my time in Thailand so much more fulfilling and fun.  It is great being able to chat with  street-side vendors I see everyday, bargain in the market, communicate with taxi drivers in a non-frustrating manner, and talk about Thai politics, culture, and society with my teachers.  Opt to take a 90 minute class once/week and have the teacher come to your home or work place for an additional 100 baht.  Details: Jentana & Associates Thai Language School

3. Beautify yourself – In 33 years, I never professionally had my make-up done.  Ever.  Not even at a counter at a department store.  So, when I heard about the great Francisco Zacarias, I jumped at the opportunity to learn a thing or two about make-up.  With a vibrant personality and and infectious energy and humor, Francisco is highly talented at what he does:  make-up artistry.  He has been a member of the beauty industry for 26 years and worked alongside renown fashion designers such as Randolph Duke, Cynthia Rowley, Betsey Johnson and Giorgio Armani.  In addition, he has done make-up on some of the most famous faces in Hollywood such as Drew Barrymore, Heidi Klum, Adriana Lima, and Natalie Portman.  Francisco teaches make-up application and  helps you choose colors and textures that best suit your skin type.  He can do a one-on-one session at his home studio or can come to you and a group of friends to teach a specific effect, like the smoky eye.  Francisco’s contact details:  Email or call 0897942049.


Using make-up tips Francisco taught for a night out with my hubby

4. Learn to cook Thai food –  I haven’t gotten around to this one yet; although I plan to before I leave.  A friend of mine highly recommends the Helping Hands Thai Cooking School.  Not only do you learn a skill, you help others in the process.  Details here.

5. Train for an athletic event – Whether it be the Bangkok Marathon or a local 5k, set a goal and find the time to train for it.  My personal goal is the Angkor Wat half marathon in December 2013. Can’t beat that scenery  (Vi Than is going to join me; Vi I have now committed you publicly to this race, there is no backing out)!  Try Jog and Joy for in-Thailand races and Go Adventure Asia for larger races in Thailand and the region.

 So find what it is that appeals to you and go for it.  Investing in yourself  also means investing in your children; as you will one day be able to pass on these skills to them.


Driving Massive Construction Equipment? Check.

Those of us who live in Bangkok have probably been to Lumpini Park more times than we care to count.  And when we get there, we usually do normal park things:  jog, bike, visit the playground, feed the fish, take in the local aerobics and tai chi classes.  But here is something I bet you didn’t know you could do in Lumpini:

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Operate massive construction equipment . . . every little boy’s dream.  Thank you, Lumpini Park, for delivering!


The Most Toddler-Friendly Restaurant in Town

As Katelyn was hosting a Valentine’s Day play date today, which looked something like this –


Reading, playing the piano and eating biscuits . . . a great start to a play date

– I got some inspiration for the following post (thank you, ladies!).  I was surprised to find out that many of my friends are unfamiliar with what I consider the most child-friendly restaurant in Bangkok . . . Cafe Tartine.  So, this one is for all of you.

We were lucky to learn of  Cafe Tartine early on.  It was described to us as a great lunch spot with yummy salads and sandwiches.  We soon came to find out that that characterization was absolutely true, but what impressed us then and continues to impress us now is how easily you can eat at Cafe Tartine with children in tow, especially toddlers.


Mommy, Logan and Daddy sharing a Valentines lunch at Cafe Tartine (Daddy had the photography honors)

On the culinary front, Cafe Tartine is awesome because the food is always fresh and of the highest quality.  You can create your own salad from an extensive list of ingredients ranging from brie to grilled chicken, parisian ham, and sundried tomatoes.  The first food I had post-delivery with Katelyn was a Cafe Tartine salad.  That’s saying something!  The sandwiches are equally as tasty – ham and brie, pork tenderloin, prosciutto raclette.  And for dessert?  The BEST lemon meringue pie you’ve ever tasted.  Oh, and chocolate mousse.  Is anyone hungry yet?  Their home-made mint lemonade is an excellent beverage option, especially when it is hot outside.  Oh right, that’s all the time.


This picture is making me hungry

So to sum it up on the food, it’s fantastic.  But let’s face it, that’s probably not why you’re reading this blog.  So let’s talk about the child front.  Cafe Tartine has real highchairs.  That’s right.  Not the kind of “high chairs” you usually find in most Bangkok restaurants – the taller chairs with no safety strap that end up being more of a hazard than seating your child in a regular adult chair.  This place has the real deal high chairs with safety straps.  Secondly, Cafe Tartine has a children’s movie running . . . at all times.  Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Monsters, Inc.  A healthy children’s menu for 169 baht.  Staff that is super with children.  Children’s books, crayons and coloring pages.  Milkshakes.  Smoothies.  Oh, yes, and chocolate mousse.


Toddler draw? Children’s movies on repeat (don’t worry, there is no sound, so it won’t ruin your dining experience)


Children’s menu

Cafe Tartine has never let us down.  It has been superbly consistent in the quality of food that is offered and how friendly the staff and restaurant space is for children.  Another bonus is that it is open everyday from 8-8.  It can be a challenge to find a place to go with little ones when they wake up so early.  Well, Tartine has that covered.   Tartine is on Soi Ruamrudee, conveniently located to the Ploenchit BTS station.  If you are looking for a place to go for a good meal and a place that will allow you to actually eat while you have your toddler with you, go to Cafe Tartine.  One trip and you’ll become a regular.  Trust me.


Logan entranced by Monsters, Inc. while indulging in chocolate mousse

Logan meeting Mina

Of Elephants and Mountain Mist

Without question, the most enchanting place we’ve visited in Thailand has been The Golden Triangle.   With family in town over the Christmas 2011 holidays, we wanted to do something extra special — and extra special it was.  So much so, in fact, that we have promised ourselves to return again before we leave Thailand in 2014.  The Golden Triangle is the perfect mix of majestic mountains, elephants, cool weather, and relaxing boat rides along the Mekong, all in a tri-state area.  You know what they say:  breakfast in Burma, lunch in Laos, and dinner in Thailand.  It’s all possible from this location.


Welcome drinks upon arrival at the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort


Bamboo Christmas trees at the Anantara

We stayed at the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa, which in itself is a phenomenal experience.  Situated on a hilltop in the jungle with views of Burma and Laos, the resort is breathtakingly beautiful.  We arrived at the resort in the late afternoon and from our balcony we could hear elephants trumpeting in the valley below.  At night, you can hear monkeys chattering in the distance.  You are fantastically removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and transported to a serene wilderness.  This is such a special and memorable place for children.  We spent hours listening to and spotting nature.  What a joy it was to watch Logan anticipate and appreciate the wildlife around him.


Views of Burma and Laos from our balcony


Elephant spotting

A tremendous highlight for the little ones at the Anantara is that a baby elephant greets guests every morning at breakfast.  The staff, whom are fantastic with children,  provide bananas and other buffet goodies for the children to feed the elephant.  There is an elephant camp that you can visit any time of the day just steps from the guest rooms. Older children and adults can opt to take elephant treks through the jungle.  For extra excitement, the resort offers a day-long mahout training class, the highlight of which is taking a plunge with the elephants in a nearby river (note:  do not wear your best clothes for this activity)!  Really, this place is like Disney World, only a hundred times better because the things happening around you are real!

Had your fill of elephant activities?  No problem.  Take a longtail boat trip along the Mekong, embark on a three-country tour, go mountain biking, or just relax at the resort spa, which, by the way, is one of the best in Thailand.


Highlight of the trip for Logan: feeding baby Mina bananas every morning

Logan meeting Mina

QT with the mahout


Daddy getting doused by his elephant during a river bath

If you live in Thailand, visit the Golden Triangle and stay at the Anantara.  I’m telling you now, you will regret it if you don’t.  Honestly, I cannot emphasize how special this place is.  And once you arrive, say hello to Mina, the baby elephant for us.  Tell her we’ll see her again over Songkran . . . because we just made our reservations to return, this time with Katelyn out of the womb.  Yeah!

If you are thinking about a trip yourself, click here to see more pictures of our trip.

P.S. – For those Bachelor fans of you out there, the second-to-last episode of the current season filmed at the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort (yes, I’m obsessed enough to read the spoilers).  If you are planning to make a trip, negotiate room rates and book now.  Once the episode airs, I am sure resort prices will skyrocket.

How to get there:  Hop a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai via Air Asia; rent a van to drive you from Chiang Rai Airport to the Anantara (about an hour drive).

Accommodation:  Anantara Golden Triangle Resort; cost fluctuates wildly based on the time of year you choose to visit (rooms range from around USD 150++/night – USD 1000++/night based on the season).  Also, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.  They will try to sell you on an expensive package; just keep reinforcing you would like a regular room rate for X number of nights.  Good luck!

Activities:  Well, I think we covered that above.

Logan swimming at six months

The Single Best Thing We’ve Done for our Toddler in Bangkok?

Teach him to swim.

Thailand is teeming with pools and beautiful beach destinations.  The weather is magnificent for swimming year round.  We’re fortunate enough to have a pool in our apartment complex.  With so much access to water, it would be silly not to enjoy it.

After arriving in November almost a year and a half ago, I was anxious to find activities for Logan.  The problem was, he was only four months old and the only things available to us were playgroups.  Sure playgroups are all well and good, but let’s face it – after two or three playgroups of drooling, grunting, pooping babies a week – Logan and I were both ready for something more.

Then I heard about a little organization called Bangkok Dolphins.  And to be honest, our lives haven’t been the same since.

At the tender age of five months, Logan began infant swim classes.  He started in a Tuesday class of about six children (with parents by their side), taught by an enthusiastic and endearing British swim instructor named Teacher Tom.   Every Tuesday since then, minus a few missed weeks for vacation and runny noses here and there, Logan and I both have looked forward to our Tuesday swim outings.  Logan has developed a love for the water, acquired the fundamentals of swimming, and has learned about water safety at a very early age.  Walter and I have had so much fun swimming with him. I was even fortunate enough to meet some of my best friends in Bangkok (I’m talking about you, Natalia, Barbara, and Alejandra) during infant swim classes.

Watching Logan’s evolution over the past year and a half has been awesome.  Here’s a little clip of Logan swimming at about 10 months of age.

And here are a couple of videos of Logan swimming more recently.

If you have access to a pool and/or swim school nearby, I highly encourage you to give your child the gift of swim lessons.  Enjoying the water at home and on vacation has greatly enriched Logan’s infant and toddler years.  Below are some pictures of our fun times in the water together over the past two years.

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Discovering Kanchanaburi

Three Toddler-Friendly Weekend Escapes from Bangkok

Bangkok.  Bustling, boisterous, beguiling Bangkok.  A vibrant, exciting city to live in, but let’s face it, sometimes you just need to a break; an escape for the soul, if you will.  About once a month when we decide a weekend excursion out of the city is in order, we generally look for a place that Bangkok is not:  calm, quiet, and green.  We aspire for our toddler to hear, see and experience nature, to star-gaze, to bob in the ocean, to sink his feet into green grass, to run, trip, and tumble across great expanses.  If you want to get technical, you can do almost all of those things in Lumpini Park, but bobbing in the murky green water with the monitor lizards is not really the kind of nature we’re looking for.

During our first year and a half in Thailand, we’ve discovered many getaway gems, but it is the following ones that keep us going back for more.  They are toddler-friendly, reasonably-priced, and an easy two-to-three hour drive out of town.  They require minimal planning and reward with maximum enjoyment; altogether a pretty sweet deal.

  1. Rim Phae Beach, Rayong

When the sand and surf call, we head southeast.  Our family has traveled to Rim Phae Beach at least half a dozen times; enough to consider it our “home away from home.”  We stay in a small community of large homes on the beach.  The three-story, three-bedroom homes are ideal for a quiet family-only getaway, or can easily accommodate two-to-three families for a regaling weekend away.  We spend our days swimming in the pool, playing in the sand, taking dips in the ocean, grilling on our patio, strolling down the beach in search of local cuisine, admiring the bright orange sunsets – you get the point.  When it’s too hot out to play, we jump in the car and visit Rayong Aquarium (for 30 baht/person, admission is a steal!), check out surrounding local villages, or nap.  If we’re feeling particularly adventurous, we hire a speedboat from our beachfront to Koh Samet – a 20-minute jaunt away.

Giggles on Rim Phae Beach

Crystal Beach is lush, serene, and private.  While it pains me to give away details on our best kept getaway secret, I would feel remiss in my toddlejoy duties if I didn’t, so here goes:

  • Drive:  2.5 hours (part highway, part local roads)
  • Stay:  The Crystal Beach House or Rayong Beach Villa
  • Expect to pay:  Around 6,000 baht/night (if you share with another family, split the cost and it becomes 3,000 baht/night, etc. etc.)
  • Bring:  sunscreen, beach/pool toys, food for grilling

2. Khao Yai

When the mountains call, we head northeast.  Billing itself as Thailand’s wine and cowboy country, Khao Yai boasts an eclectic mix of steakhouses and wineries.  As you drive past vacation homes and restaurants, you are oddly-reminded of Tuscany, Napa, and Bordeaux.  Khao Yai is also home to Thailand’s largest national park, Khao Yai National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site.  The air is fresh, the surrounds are green and rolling, and the wildlife is plentiful.  Khao Yai is where we go to really relax.  And dare I forget to mention, Khao Yai is where Logan goes to get his tractor and golf cart fix (as evidenced by the pictures below).  There is plenty to do in Khao Yai, but what you should not miss is the following:  a trip to Khao Yai National Park (whether a two-hour drive in the park to satisfy a baby/toddler nap session or a guided hike); an afternoon lunching at PB Valley Khao Yai Winery (eat the food, perhaps skip the wine); and a visit to Chokchai Farm (if you’re not up for the entire three-hour tour of Chokchai, you can ask to meet up with the tour at specific points, such as the petting zoo).  There are a bundle of places to stay in Khao Yai, so make sure to do your research.  Use Agoda to book in order to get the best deals.  We have been so spoiled by one resort in particular, that we refuse to stay anywhere else (details below).

In tractor heaven at PB Valley Winery

Sweet electric ride at the Muthi Maya

  • Drive:  2 hours (mostly highway)
  • Stay: Kirimaya Resort (hotel) or Muthi Maya Resort (private pool villas)
  • Expect to pay:  On Agoda, rates usually run USD 148/night for a standard room at the Kirimaya, and USD 237/night for a private pool villa at Muthi Maya
  • Bring:  hiking clothes, bathingsuits, bug spray

3. Kanchanaburi

When we’re tired of going east, we go northwest.  In a full admission of honesty, we’ve done Kanchanaburi far fewer times than Rayong and Khao Yai.  In fact, we’ve only done it once.  But I can tell you, one trip is enough to know we’ll be going back.  Although a little bit more difficult to reach than Khao Yai, it has all of the natural beauty of Khao Yai and then some.  It is not as crowded or as developed as Khao Yai, and if you’re a true adventurer, it offers bundles of waterfalls, springs, and day-hikes to explore.  If you’re the athletic type, keep an eye out for the River Kwai International Half Marathon, which takes place in Kanchanaburi every year.  Couple a short getaway with the success of completing a half-marathon, and I’d say you have a pretty good weekend on your hands.  As for accommodations, utilize Agoda to find the best deals and the resort of your choice.  We really enjoyed the private pool villa at the Mida Resort (details below), which is located on a beautiful swath of the River Kwai.

Enjoying the natural beauty of the River Kwai

Checking out the resort with mommy

Swimming at our private pool villa (yes, colorful balls included)!

  • Drive:  2.5-3 hours (some highway, mostly local roads)
  • Stay:  Mida Resort
  • Expect to pay:  On Agoda, rates usually run USD 59/night for a superior room or USD 157/night for a one-bedroom private pool villa
  • Bring:  hiking clothes, bathingsuits, bug spray
Sukothai chocolate buffet

Found: True Toddler Joys in Bangkok

Time and time again, the following activities prove to be a true joy for our little one in Bangkok.  You must give them a try!

1. Siam Ocean World – At first glance, the place is pricey.  After all, it is just an aquarium in the basement of a mall . . . or is it?  If you’re a Thai resident, make sure to bring proof of residency and ask for the resident rate.  If you and your family enjoy it, splurge and become a “Siam Ocean World Member” for 1,500 baht/person/year (young children are free) and visit as many times as you like.  We’ve found the yearly membership to be especially helpful when our little guy is:  a) just up for a quick visit; b) gets cranky mid-way through and we have to bail early; and/or c) is only interested in racing to the end of the aquarium in order to drive the fish tuk-tuk.  Yes, folks, there are penguins, sharks, and stingrays, but you’ll soon see that most toddlers prefer the fish tuk-tuk to anything else.  C’est la vie.

Logan driving the toddler-captivating fish tuk-tuk

2. Sukothai Chocolate Buffet – Okay, so you can probably only indulge in something this rich once a year, but let me tell you, it is definitely worth it!  From the sushi spread on the savory side to the delectable concoctions of everything chocolate on the sweet side, there is something for everyone, trust me.

Yum! Destroying Christmas cupcakes at the chocolate buffet!

3. Concerts in the Park – From mid-December through mid-February each year, the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra holds outdoor concerts in Lumpini Park for free on Sunday evenings beginning at 5:30pm.  Bring snacks, libations, bikes, scooters, and trikes and meet up with your friends to enjoy live music from Phantom of the Opera, Indiana Jones, Chicago, the Sound of Music, and other well-known classics.  The cool weather and open space make it an ideal location for toddlers to run free, make new friends, grab snacks from nearby neighbors, and test out other childrens’ ride-on toys!