Monday, October 20, 2014

Fall Photo Shoot

This year I decided to forego school pictures. I have lived places where you can see a proof of the photo before deciding to buy, but around here you pay first and are stuck with whatever weird/unfortunate face your kid decides to make when the school photographer says "say cheese" (my friend Megan's 3rd grade school picture sporting plastic vampire fangs is a cautionary tale, albeit a hilarious one). Don't get me wrong--this unpredictability is part of the charm of school photos. My nephews and nieces had some priceless ones this year. You can't buy those kinds of memories. Oh. Wait. Yes, you can (for only $40 a kid!). But, I've never been much of a gambler and I'd rather not spend our money on photos of my boys with painful fake smiles and sweaty hair because they had P.E. or recess before it was their class's turn for pictures (yes, this has happened to us before). These photographs are going to be gracing our family room walls for at least the next year, so I want them to show my boys' personalities and be somewhat pleasant to look at. So, last Monday on Columbus Day (no school!) I bribed all four of them with promises of food, (of course) to let me take a bunch of pictures at our favorite scenic locale.

I'm an amateur. I have a decent, but not great camera, but I do have good looking kids (if you'll pardon my saying so), and I was reasonably happy with how the pictures turned out. Now I just need to decide which ones I want to have printed. I took well over 200 pictures (digital cameras--a blessing and a curse) because there were roughly 150 photos where one or more of my children a.) had their eyes closed, b.) were making a weird face/talking, c.) weren't looking at the camera or d.) all of the above. Anyway, I managed to narrow the final choices down to these.

First the individual portraits:
Danny #1

Danny #2

Nate #1

Nate #2

Joel #1

Joel #2

Seth #1

Seth #2
And now the group shots:
 Group Photo #1

 Group Photo #2

 Group Photo #3

 Group Photo #4

 Group Photo #5

 Group Photo #6

 Group Photo #7

 Group Photo #8
I'd love to hear what you think. I'm having a tough time deciding. Which ones should I have printed? Chime in with opinions in the comments, please. Also, grandparents, take note: I will accept requests for your favorites as Christmas presents this year. They won't be a surprise, but I'm sure you will love them anyway.

And just for fun, here are some of the many, many outtakes--the best of the worst, if you will.
Clockwise from the top:
The Something-on-the-ground-is-more-interesting-than-the-photographer shot
The Picking-the-nose/This-is-torture shot
The Stifled-yawn shot
The Quit-distracting-your-brother shot
The Photographer-doesn't-know-what-she's-doing/This-pose-was-obviously-a-bad-idea shot
The Everyone-is-doing-something-weird-in-this-picture shot

The boys were getting tired toward the end, but we actually had a pretty fun time. It was a beautiful fall day and in between photos there was plenty of playing and running around. We laughed a lot too. I'd do it again, but probably not until next year. Or the year after that.

Do you buy school pictures or have a professional photographer do photos for you or do you just bite the bullet and do it yourself? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wherein I Once Again Freak Out Over Uninvited Guests in my Home

If I were to take one of those silly online quizzes entitled something like "Which Movie Title Best Describes Your Life," I'd put money on the result being Batman Returns. Although if we're talking about specific movie scenes, the squirrel attack in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation might win.

In the last week I nearly had a coronary, not once, but twice. I have suffered mental anguish at the hands--er, uh, wings?--of small mammals. I have found myself wondering how my life could spiral so completely out of control (well, maybe that last bit's a little mellow-dramatic) and why do Disney princesses not have mental break-downs with all the animals that are always invading their space?

The first episode occurred about a week ago. I ventured to the basement to check the suitcases for some things that have been missing since we returned from our epic road trip. As I reached for our gargantuan pink suitcase something large and gray moved just inches from my hand. I screamed (twice) and the bushy-tailed varmint scampered off across the storage shelves.  Apparently the squirrel that we thought we had rid our basement of about four months ago is back and has decided to nest on my luggage. This was somewhat surprising because when we first discovered said squirrel in our basement, my husband, David, chased the little tree rat outside with a ski pole and then patched the place under our porch stairs where we were sure it had gotten in. Upon first discovering the visitor four months ago, David had gone and purchased a live animal trap at the Tractor Supply store (one of our favorite places to shop in town--welcome to rural NY). Last week when he checked the trap the untouched bait had decomposed to a petrified, moldy mess. Evidently, this squirrel found our 50 pound bag of potatoes and our year's supply of popcorn and has been living high on the hog cob (I know that's a terrible pun, but sorry, I'm not sorry). I've been wondering if it found another way in but David thinks maybe it got in again after he chased it out and before he patched the hole and it has been trapped down there for the last four months. I have had visions of a crazed, half-starved squirrel lunging at me from the basement steps ever since. I know I'd be crazed and starved if all I had to eat for four months was raw potatoes and popcorn kernels.

I am generally not afraid of squirrels but there's something about having a rodent that large in one's home that is disconcerting. We reset the trap, but so far nothing. So yes, the squirrel is still in my basement and I have no idea how to get it out. I make my boys go to the basement when I need something and if I'm home alone I pound on the basement door before opening it. Just in case.

The second episode happened a few nights ago. I was lying in bed reading. My bedside lamp was on and my bedroom door was open. David had fallen asleep earlier and I was thinking it was time to get some shut-eye myself when out of the corner of my eye I saw something fly into our room. My first thought was "how on earth did a bird get in my room?" My second thought came milliseconds on the heels of the first: "That's not a bird. That's a bat." And that is when I started to scream. Multiple times. Loudly.

It should be mentioned that I, like Batman, have a slight phobia of bats (chiroptophobia, if you were wondering). Unlike Batman, I have never really embraced my fear and decided to fight crime and save the world dressed as a bat. You may remember that I freaked out over a dead bat back at the end of January--flying mice with rabies and all that jazz. Imagine how much more I would be terrorized by a live one flapping around my bedroom. Now multiply that by ten because fear is not rational. Thinking back on it now I am a little surprised that the neighbors didn't call the police with all the noise I was making.

David (who, you will recall, had been sleeping soundly) leapt to his feet in a defensive stance, yelling and swinging. For a good 15 to 20 seconds he continued to shout incoherently while bobbing and weaving like a prize fighter as the bat swooped around his head. He was remarkably nimble for someone who was clearly not fully awake. Below is a fairly accurate depiction of what he looked like:

I don't know what I was yelling at that point. Something incredibly astute like "It's a bat!".  David was slowly becoming more and more awake. When he was finally fully conscious he stopped dead, looked at me with utter exasperation and rolled his eyes. My heart was still pounding but I realized that I may have over reacted just a tiny bit. I couldn't help it, despite the drama of the situation moments before--I started laughing.

He calmly grabbed the top sheet off the bed and gracefully flung it over the poor, terrified, little bat with the skill of a seasoned fisherman or an African hunter or--I don't know--someone who throws nets a lot? The bat fell to the floor under the weight of the sheet. I could see that it was struggling to escape.

David looked at me and said, "You need to choose another reaction towards bats and save that for when there is a human intruder in our house. I thought we were going to die. I thought I was going to have to fight for my life." He gently gathered up the sheet with the struggling little bat inside. "Not even a spraying skunk merits that reaction," he said as he headed downstairs to let it go outside. I was still sitting on the bed, feeling slightly stunned and laughing in bursts, when he returned from downstairs, peeked his head in the bedroom door and said, "Excuse me while I go change my shorts." Figuratively, of course.

Every time I thought of him standing there, only half awake, ready to fight an invisible foe to the death, I began laughing hysterically--tears-streaming-down-my-face-laughter. I told David he needs to ask to see the replay of that when he dies because It. Was. Awesome.

The culprit was a little brown bat, just like the one I found in our kitchen several months ago. I'm pretty sure the bat got into the attic through one of the attic window vents then found its way down the stairs, through the open door into the big boys' bedroom and then into our room.

 After getting the little boys (that I had awakened with my screaming over-reacting) back to sleep I went back to bed myself. I have been sleeping with my bedroom door closed every night since then.

So, dear reader. I survived to tell the tale with my sanity only slightly bruised. I know I am not the only one this has happened to. My brother, Rob, shares my phobia of bats and I know that he has had bats in his own home more than once in the last year. This seems to happen in older homes a lot more frequently than in newer homes. So, who else out there has survived a bat encounter? How did you deal with the situation? Did you freak out? Any resulting PTSD? I'm curious.

I am also slightly ashamed of my reaction. It was only a bat after all. They are even kind of cute when they aren't flying. Well, okay, not really. They are actually horrifying, but I'll just keep lying to myself about that and maybe one day I'll believe it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

10 Fonts with a Vintage and Hand Drawn Vibe

I thought I'd share the fonts I used in creating my niece's wedding announcement for anyone who might be interested.

1. Mensch Condensed
2. Brannboll Ny
3. Fancy
4. AniShoulder Medium
5. Chalk Hand Lettering Shaded
6. Janda Curlygirl Serif
7. Blessed Day
8. Senyum
9. Honey Script Light
10. Bergamot Ornaments

Several of these fonts were used on the menus at the wedding reception as well. The menus were printed on brown paper bags and each bag was stuffed with a straw a napkin and a wooden fork. They were really cute.

Do you have a favorite vintage or hand lettered font? Please share in the comments!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Wonderful Evening to Celebrate

My oldest niece got married in June. As a wedding present to her I offered to design her wedding announcements. When I asked her what she liked, she told me her colors would be orange and blue and that she'd like something with birds and flowers and possibly a tree. She wanted it to be elegant with a vintage kind of vibe. I was at a total loss. I had no idea how to pull that all together without it looking like a hot mess. I called my sister and asked for her input and she found this inspiration piece and I went from there. I ditched the tree idea and focused more on the wording. I'm not going to lie--it took me a really long time. Partially because everything design related that I do is self-taught and partially because I am a perfectionist, but I think the end result was worth the time. My niece and sister were both really happy with it and that made me really happy.

I also did business card sized inserts for their family to put in the invitations of those friends and family that they were inviting to the actual marriage ceremony.

Because of logistics and for convenience reasons the reception was actually held the Friday night before the wedding date. Funny story (well not really): they ended up getting married on Monday, not Saturday, because they arrived at the temple and had not remembered to get their wedding license. Everything was closed for the weekend so they had to wait to get a license first thing on Monday morning. They were married Monday afternoon. It was all pretty traumatic and stressful at the time, but it worked out in the end. My husband found me a really reasonable plane ticket so that allowed me to stay for the wedding even though my original flight left on Sunday. I was able to spend more time with my parents and my sister and her family so that was a blessing as well.

Despite many hiccups the reception was gorgeous and the sealing at the temple was everything it should be-- lovely, spiritual, tender and joyful. I was so glad that I got to be a part of it all. And a little glad that I have all boys and I won't ever have the stress of being the mother-of-the-bride. ;)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Do Your Best

I have had scouting on the brain lately. I am trying to get my boys' scouting stuff all organized. Before now my system has been pretty primitive (i.e. keeping badges and cards in Ziploc bags in my dresser drawer--I wouldn't recommend organizing this way). Now it's all going into binders with trading card holders and sheet protectors. After one boy losing his scout shirt at camp and leaving his book in Utah this summer and another boy getting ready to start on an Eagle project soon I have been having all kinds of anxiety that they won't have everything they need. I am kicking myself for not starting organizing this way at the very beginning, but as the Cub Scouts say, "Do Your Best" and that is what I am doing now. I think it is a good reminder for all of us, so as my good turn for the day, I created this 8x10 "Do Your Best" poster (free for personal use) that you can print out and frame up for your favorite Boy Scout or Cub Scout.

Do you have any Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts at your house? What is the best way you have found to organize all their belt loops, pins, patches, cards, badges and other paraphernalia? Please share in the comments. I have four boys to get through the scouting program. I can use all the help I can get!

P.S. By request here is a version with the Cub Scout colors. The first one is done  in the Boy Scout colors (even though it is the Cub Scout motto) as it was designed with my older boys' room in mind.

Monday, August 11, 2014

On-the-Go Meals for a Road Trip

On our recent epic road trip across America, we decided to make the extra effort to plan our meals ahead and bring the majority of our food with us. I knew we would be spending a ton of money on gas and lodging so I wanted to look for a way to reduce some of the cost of traveling and eating on the road. Because we are cheapskates.

We have a family of six (four boys--two of them are teenagers) so even just eating fast food can cost upwards of $30.00 per meal. Do you want to super-size that? Multiply it by two meals a day (we only booked hotels that offered continental breakfast--see Tip #4 of this post) and many days on the road and we are getting close to $1,000.00+ just for food! Plus I start to feel really yucky after eating fast food too often.

I planned our meals, did the shopping and then put everything non-refrigerated that I would need for each meal together in a labelled paper bag ("Lunch, Day 1", etc). I labelled the things in the cooler with a sharpie as much as I could and had a master list of the meals we had planned to help me stay organized (and because I am a little crazy when it comes to things like this.) Initially the bags took up quite a bit of room in the car, but I wasn't opposed to my little boys practically sitting on top of each other in the back seat for a couple of days so that we could save some money for their college tuitions. Dividing the meals into bags made it easier for me to keep track of what we had available to eat and when. This helped ensure that we ate the food in the cooler before the shelf stable food. Doing it that way meant we only had to buy ice a couple of times--Holla! (If you wanted though you could probably use the hotel's ice maker to fill your cooler. We just didn't want to go to the hassle of bringing the cooler in every night). We also utilized the small refrigerators in our hotel rooms for refreezing ice packs, chilling our water bottles, fruit, butter and other small things. A couple of times we went to grocery stores in the towns we were staying in to pick up some fresh food for the evening or the next day. I also had a smaller insulated bag that we kept in the front seat that we could put string cheese, fruit or cans of soda in along with the ice packs.

For lunches we had things like sandwiches and for dinner each night we had a main course that could be cooked in one pan: my electric skillet. If you don't have one, you need one. Really. You never know when you are going to go on a girls' trip to Toronto and need that puppy to cook eggs and bacon for your besties for breakfast. We also brought things like fresh fruit and vegetables, those squeeze packets of applesauce--because who doesn't love slurping applesauce?--and cookies and other treats for desserts.

We wanted simple, reasonably balanced meals that wouldn't be hard to put together. In addition to my electric skillet (and it's cord--I didn't bother to bring the lid), I had a bag that contained a spatula, salt and pepper (the kind in cardboard shakers that you might take camping or on a picnic), a tub of butter, a travel bottle of dish soap, a dishcloth and dish towel, a good knife with a cover and a can opener. I also brought a plastic one cup measuring cup, a washed out cool whip container to use as a disposable bowl (for chicken salad day and heating things in the hotel room microwave) plastic utensils, paper plates, paper towels and disinfecting wipes (for cleaning surfaces before and after prepping food). Each night after I cooked, I just washed out the skillet and washed off the spatula in the hotel room's bathroom sink.

I'm not going to include what we ate while we were camping in this post because cooking while camping is a little different than cooking in a hotel room, but I will share some of the lunches and skillet meals we cooked.

What We Ate:
Lunch Ideas

  • Spinach garlic bagels with cream cheese (between the six of us we used an entire one of those small containers of whipped cream cheese so there was no waste) and watermelon cubes.
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches (Elvis Presley's favorite!), baby carrots, string cheese, fruit snacks. No need to refrigerate bananas like you would have to for jam.
  • Chicken salad on Ritz crackers. I used canned chicken (drained) and mayonnaise and Wickles pickle relish (if you haven't tried Wickles pickles I highly recommend them--so delicious!). I just bought the smallest jar of mayo I could find, but if you can find those individual packets of mayo like they have at some fast food places those would work great too. We also had blueberries in plastic cups.
  • Whole grain pita pockets with ham, cheese and bagged salad, served with ranch dressing so the pitas wouldn't be so dry. We bought the individual snack cups of dressing to avoid wasting a whole bottle of dressing. We ended up using all of them. Some of my boys may or may not have just drunk cups of dressing--the rest got used up with the carrot sticks. We also had baby cucumbers and chips and Twinkies (*bleh*) that day.
  • Submarine sandwiches (we bought delicious fresh bread at a grocery store), SunChips, cherries (we spit our pits into plastic cups) and cookies.
  • Grocery store rotisserie chicken, crackers, grapes, olives, and mini dill pickles (you can get them in little plastic cups like fruit and applesauce come in).
  • Banana bread, yogurt, apples and cheese.
  • Bagged salad--We had this at our hotel one day along with some fresh fruit and crusty rolls. Just buy what you will eat that day. We bought several different kits. They come complete with toppings and dressing and can be served in a paper bowl with a fork and some bakery bread.
  • We did Lunchables one day on the road because I knew my kids would be excited about that.
  • As an alternative to Lunchables (which really are kind of meh, in my opinion) you could have summer sausage, good cheese (like Tillamook) and crackers. This is exactly what we ate, along with fresh Oregon fruit, the day we went to Cannon Beach. It would work great in the car as well.

Dinner Ideas

  • Pizzadillas, i.e. quesadillas made with pizza sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. These were a favorite among my boys. Serve the pizzadillas with the extra pizza sauce for dipping. 
  • Tuna Helper. I got the kind that is basically macaroni and cheese and tuna. It called for milk, so I brought a baggie of powdered milk with the exact amount that I needed and measured water to reconstitute. We honestly couldn't taste the difference. We also had canned fruit. 
  • Bacon, Eggs and Pancakes. I bought two containers of shake and pour pancake mix. I brought some syrup in a disposable plastic container. We had lots of leftover pancakes and snacked on them in the car the next day.
  • Taco Tuesday (Everything is awesome!). You could buy hamburger in the morning and keep it in the cooler until dinner (just make sure it is well refrigerated unless you are a fan of food poisoning), but for convenience I would substitute canned chicken. Use either crunchy taco shells or flour tortillas. Serve with bagged salad, cheese and tomato (or salsa).
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches. I wanted to do grilled sharp cheddar cheese and granny smith apple sandwiches on ciabatta bread but apparently Wall, South Dakota does not have ciabatta bread. No big surprise there, I guess. Have potato chips and fresh fruit to round it out.
  • Frozen tamales, steamed and served with avocado, shredded lettuce, cheese, salsa and sour cream. This was probably my favorite thing we made in the skillet. It was so delicious. We procured some foil for steaming them from somewhere since I didn't bring my lid.
  • Smoked salmon, crackers (a few of my favorites are Ritz, Triscuits or club crackers but just choose what you and your family like), fruit, raw vegetables (carrots, celery, cucumbers, radishes, etc.), cheese. 
  • We ended up eating fast food a couple of times when we knew we were going to be very late arriving to our hotel. I was not all that sad about it because we got to have Chick-Fil-A.
  • Once we met up with our extended family we had a lot of dinners together and home cooked meals. Sometimes we prepared food together. Sometimes someone made a meal for us (like when my sister-in-law made sauerkraut casserole for everyone). Occasionally we ate out since we were on vacation.

Other Ideas That Would Probably Work

  • Beef stew or chicken and dumplings from a can. Heat and eat. Add some grocery store rolls for a heartier meal.
  • Canned ravioli or spaghetti o's. My brother-in-law recommends the Disney Princess kind.
  • Pork chops. Buy them fresh at a grocery store and fry them up with salt and pepper. That's my favorite way to eat them. My mom always let us eat them with our fingers like fried chicken when we were kids. 
  • Make yourself a dang quesadilla. Gosh.
  • Vegetable stir fry--buy a frozen kit that day or buy fresh vegetables to make your own. If you wanted to add rice I'm pretty sure you could do minute rice in a hotel room microwave or even in the skillet.
  • Salted tube steaks (a.k.a. hot dogs). I don't particularly like hot dogs, but they would be easy to cook in a skillet and my kids and husband love them.
  • Wraps. We had sandwich bread, but it was hard to keep it from getting smashed with all the other things in the car. Using tortillas instead would be a good alternative.
  • How 'bout some sloppy joes--extra sloppy?
  • You can always heat canned vegetables in the hotel room microwave (in a plastic container) or the skillet or add bagged salad to the meal if you feel you are lacking in the vegetable department.

What Not to Bring

  • Melon--unless you are going to eat it right away. It starts to ferment quickly once sliced if not refrigerated. We ended up tossing a bunch of watermelon that had started to get sparkly. For the record, do not try to flush fermented watermelon cubes down the toilet. Or be prepared to take the walk of shame to the hotel's front desk to ask for a plunger.
  • Juicy fruits like peaches, plums, etc.-- Opt for things that won't drip juice everywhere like apricots, apples, grapes, blueberries and cherries (we used plastic cups to spit our pits into).
  • Mini sweet peppers--Don't get me wrong--I love these--but unless you plan to eat them the first day, don't do it. They get stinky fast and the smell permeates everything. Ugh.
  • Seasoned lunch meat like roast beef. Unless you want to smell like a department store Santa impersonator. Again, the smell can be overpowering.
  • Anything that might give you food poisoning if the ice in your cooler completely melts before you have a chance to replenish it.
Which of these ideas sound good to you? What other foods do you think would travel well or make good one-skillet-meals? Please feel free to share in the comments! Also, I didn't mention many of our snacks in this post. What are your favorite go-to road trip snacks? 

**Disclaimer: I know these meals are not perfectly balanced and some of the choices might not be exactly healthy (uh, hello? Twinkies?), but in comparison to fast food, I felt we did pretty well. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

15 Road Trip Tips from an Almost Expert

I've heard that spending 10,000 hours at anything makes one an expert. After our recent five week road trip from coast to coast, with our four boys I think I almost qualify.
The thought occurred to me that others might benefit from my vast knowledge in this area (in other words, I really need to write everything down for future reference before I forget it). So, here are a few tips that made our trip easier, more pleasant and more cost efficient--and a few things we learned that we'll do better next time around.

  1. PLAN AHEAD: I arranged for someone to mow our lawn and take care of our plants and pets. I weeded our flower beds. We let our neighbors know we were leaving so they could keep their eyes open for us. We put a hold on your mail at the post office. I also cleaned out our fridge and made sure there were no dirty dishes or laundry to make our house stinky while we were gone. 
  2. GET YOUR VEHICLE READY: A week before we planned to leave I made an appointment to have my tires rotated, the car aligned, the oil changed and the fluids filled. I knew we'd be putting a lot of miles on the car and doing those things gave me peace of mind. A few days before leaving I detailed the car. I knew our car was bound to get messy. I thought starting off with it clean would keep the mess from becoming too overwhelming. We made sure we had our current insurance information in the glove compartment and stocked our car with change for toll roads, since we knew we would be traveling on them.
  3. MAP OUT YOUR ROUTE: We looked at where we wanted to stop and how many hours we were willing to drive each day and then booked our hotels accordingly. We camped at Acadia National Park when we were in Maine, but stayed in hotels the rest of the time. We used Travelocity ahead of time to help us get the best deals. You can sign up for deal alerts from travel sites and save that way. After the first leg of our trip, I got an email for 15% off our next booking, so keep your eyes open for deals before you book.
  4. RESEARCH HOTELS BEFORE BOOKING: This isn't as complicated as I'm making it sound. It boils down to two words: continental breakfast. We figured with our family of six (four boys--two of them teenagers) we could save quite a bit of money by making sure the hotels we stayed in offered free breakfast. Our other main requirement was free WiFi (our phones don't have data plans). Other considerations are: a pool--is it indoor or outdoor? do you care?, roll away beds--some places charge extra for these, but if you have a lot of people in your family it might be worth it, and laundry facilities--these are especially nice if you have kids or if you like packing light. We did laundry at a hotel once (and many more times at the homes we stayed at). We had to use quarters for the machines in the hotel laundry, but when we asked about laundry soap at the desk, they just gave us some. That is probably not the case in most places, but as we like to say in our family, "if you don't ask, the answer's 'no'."
  5. BUY PASSES: If you plan on stopping at museums or zoos or national or state parks you might want to look into buying a pass. Many museums and zoos offer reciprocal benefits (either free or reduced rates) in other states. Our zoo membership has reciprocity at over 150 zoos, aquariums, parks, botanical gardens and aviaries in the US and Canada. A lot of museums do the same thing. We also purchased a national parks pass for $80. It's good for a year and we have already gotten more than our money's worth, so for our family it was a good buy. 
    The national parks pass works at most national monuments as well,
    but you have to pay for parking at Mount Rushmore.
  6. STAY WITH FRIENDS OR FAMILY: No one wants to impose or cause inconvenience, but if you get offers from family or friends to stay with them instead of a hotel, take them up on it. Depending on how comfortable you are, you may even ask family members or friends if you can crash on their floor. Heck, they may even pull out the air mattress for you. We have stayed with friends lots of times. We stayed at my brother's house in Illinois on our drive home. Staying with people you know is fun and economical. If we had friends in town visiting we would love to have them stay with us. 
  7. USE APPS TO MAKE LIFE BETTER: Some of the apps I have used are  GasBuddy, TripIt and KAYAK. These can be great for planning your itinerary and saving money. Roadside America will ensure you don't miss out on seeing the world's largest ball of twine or the prehistoric rock garden. PepperPlate helped me plan my meals for the trip and 360 Panorama allowed us to take cool panoramic pictures of all the amazing things we saw along the way.
  8. INVEST IN AN ATLAS: Some areas don't have phone coverage. GPS may fail. Internet directions aren't always accurate (ask me how I know). Printed directions don't allow for changes of plans. We used our atlas every single day that we were driving. One person can drive and another can navigate. You can take turns if you want. Yeah! Besides, maps are interesting. Our boys enjoyed checking it out and we had fun quizzing each other on different information about the states we were driving through. But, then again we are all total nerds.
    Do you know South Dakota's state nickname? You can find it in your atlas!
  9. REST UP: It's amazing how exhausting sitting in a car all day can be. Make sure you get sufficient rest. Remember your vitamins too--I forgot mine and struggled with fatigue a lot during this trip. It is easy to get grumpy and even physically ill when travelling and then everyone is miserable. We didn't feel guilty about sleeping in a bit on several mornings, especially when we got to our hotel late the previous evening.
  10. STOCK UP ON EMERGENCY SUPPLIES: I always keep gallon zip top bags in my car. I have children who are prone to stomach upsets. A friend once advised me that plastic bags are way better than a bucket for sickness. No spilling or splashing or having to rinse out the bucket; just zip the top and throw it in the nearest trash can. These have saved me more times than I care to count. For other spills and messes I also relied on good old paper towels and occasionally wet wipes. A small flashlight, painkillers and bandages will all probably fit easily into your glove compartment. If anyone in your family suffers from motion sickness, you might want to pick up some Dramamine. They make it formulated for children as well.
  11. BUY GROCERIES: Before we went out of town I bought food for most of the lunches and dinners that we would eat on the road. I brought my electric skillet and one spatula and cooked dinner in the hotel room each night with those two tools. We brought our cooler full of groceries but also picked some things up fresh at local grocery stores. We ate more frugally and had more healthy meals than we would have otherwise. We also had some junk food and treats because what are road trips for? We mostly drank just water--less mess if it spills. Every member of the family has his/her own water bottle and we refilled as needed. Most gas stations don't have a problem with you using the water at their soda fountain to fill your bottle.
  12. GET COMFY: Pillows can squish small and not take up a lot of room and they make travelling so much more comfortable. We only brought one and we all had to take turns. In the future we might bring more. Also, I wished that we had brought a blanket or two. We have dual temperature control in our vehicle, but someone was almost always colder than everyone else. 
  13. BRING ENTERTAINMENT: As much as I would have just loved my kids to look out the windows and "ooh" and "ahh" at the beautiful country we live in for the whole trip, I knew it wasn't going to happen that way. We brought books on CD and portable DVD players for the times when everyone just wanted to zone out. This was good for morale since it kept kids from arguing and allowed the adults some quiet time. When we go on trips like this I usually try to bring some small surprises to open along the way, but keep in mind that less junk in the car allows everyone more room to spread out. We are also not above playing good old fashioned road trip games occasionally when the mood strikes ("The Alphabet Game", "The License Plate Game", our own modified version of "I Spy" and "20 Questions").
  14. BE FLEXIBLE: When I asked my kids what made our time in the car the most enjoyable, my seven year old said, "being able to go to the bathroom when we needed to." Amen. Schedules are great, but it worked better for us to go with windows of time instead of precise times. If you see one of those cheesy roadside attractions and you need a break, take a few minutes to stretch your legs while getting a dose of quirky Americana. Being flexible allowed us to meet up with our friends from Alabama at Mount Rushmore when we found out they were also travelling I-90 west from Ohio and were just a couple of hours behind us. We hadn't seen them since we both moved last summer, so that was worth it to us to be a little behind on our plan for the day. 
    Corn mural under construction, Mitchell, South Dakota. We made an impromptu stop at The Corn Palace on our trip. I'm thinking this place must be where the word "corny" originated. 
  15. PLAN AHEAD FOR YOUR RETURN: Plan to come home to a clean house. Unpacking is overwhelming enough. If you aren't as lucky as I am to have a friend offer to bring you dinner when you get back, you might want to make a couple of freezer meals before you leave for when you get home. You will probably be low on groceries and will be too tired to want to cook, but chances are fast food isn't going to sound all that appetizing either. Allow yourself a few days before any major commitments or appointments if you have the luxury to do so. 
BONUS TIP: Hide a spare key on your car somewhere (those little magnetic boxes are good for that) and save your money for something other than a locksmith.

So what do you think? Which tips have you found the most helpful in your travels? Have you been on a great road trip lately? Please share in the comments.
Look how happy we are. Travelling agreed with us. Well, most of us anyway. ;) 
P.S. If there is interest, I'd love to share some more details about what we ate and the logistics of cooking while traveling in a future post.