6 Tips for Whale Watching with Families : A Whale of Good Time for All


I can’t say that I am sea life crazy, but my daughters love maritime creatures. My younger daughter, Tigerlily, has a particular love for sharks. Her great dream is to see the whale sharks make their passage through the Gulf of Mexico. My older daughter, perhaps an echo of her more thoughtful nature, prefers the Ocean’s great mammals–whales. And, as such, I, a mother with such severe motion sickness that I feel nauseous typing this, have found myself on animal watching adventures in two oceans and one sea. Here are some tips that I have gleaned over many a boating safari, as it were.
Whale Boat
Know your Boats and You Kids:
My daughters might love the sea more than me, but they have also gained my serious motion-sickness. (Everyone turns into their mom in the end ;>)  Whale watching can be done from a variety of boats. A variety of small boats, like Zodiacs, are fabulous to get close up to the whale. We have seen families that come spilling off the Zodiacs with smiles as big as Jacques Cousteau.  But, truth be told, can’t say that I have experienced them.  I once got close but then I chickened out. For me, the goal is that the boat is big enough that I only feel queasy enough to take 1/2 a Dramamine. I want to be sentient enough to remember the whales; and any more Dramamine, I would be snoring. That said, there is an upper limit to the size of boat. A very large boat and you will be acres away from your quarry. The ideal boat has one deck and holds about 50 people. This boat will rock less than a Zodiac but still be able to approach the whales.
Know your whales and their season:
Whale watching can be pricey if you take a boating excursion. And, even if you just watch from the shore, there is nothing worse for kids than being disappointed. I am obsessive in my research before even mentioning the possibility of whale watching.  First, understand the region that you are visiting. For example, in Saguenay in Quebec, August is THE season. If you go with your kids in December, who knows, you might see a whale. But, if it were me, I would rather be pretty darn sure that we would see a whale. As such, we went in August.
A good whale watching outfit will post sightings. Go back and check their postings for the year before your planned visit. Then check one year and one week before and after your visit, because, well, whales don’t have Google Calendar. Do these journals seem to indicate a good number of sightings? Are they surprised at the number of sightings (so something that might not happen in subsequent years)? Do they mention the frequency […]

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6 Best Audiobook Series for Family Travel Roads Trips

Over the last two years, our family has driven more than 10,000 miles. I should really say that my daughters and I have ridden 10,000 miles, because my husband does all the driving. Many people roil at the thought of driving long distance with their children. But, for our girls, you have spent countless hours driving to see their out of town grandparents, this is their normal. We have definitely had our driving melt-downs. But, audiobooks are the one thing that has most prevented a historic melee. We turn a good book series on, and like music soothes the savage beast, everyone settles in to listen. And, when you go really long haul, like Highway 1 or Highway 101, a series is particularly fun. So, here is our rundown of our favorite audiobooks.
So, here is our rundown of our favorite audiobooks, with strong stories and evocative readers.  These books will keep kids enthralled but also draw in grown-ups.

1. Ramona Quimby
Beverly Cleary’s age-old series follows Ramona and her older sister, Beezus, through their exploits in elementary school. The reader does an exceptional job making you feel like you are right there in 2nd grade. The eight-book series also catches up with the girls over the years, so for this is great for families with multiple children.
2. Harry Potter
Jim Dale is probably the premier reader, turning the Harry Potter series into a one-man radio play. These seven books are the kind of audiobooks that you can hear over and over. We particularly enjoy them on wintery drives.

3. Chasing Vermeer
The Blue Balliet series of four books are age-appropriate mysteries. The solid reader will keep you interested in this tale of child-detectives investigating art crimes.
4. The Alchemyst
This six-book series draws on some of the same mythological themes as Harry Potter, but for older children. There are some serious themes and violence. It takes place largely in the Bay Area, so this was an ideal series to enjoy while we drove Highway 1.

5.Spy School
Stuart Gibbs writes a number of different middle aged children’s series. But, we love the three-part Spy School for its light tone and strong friendships.
6. The Sixty-Eight Rooms
This four-part series features mystery, time-traveling, and dollhouses.  We loved this series, particularly due to the strong female lead. The reader does a good job playing the various roles.

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5 Tips for an Family Visit to Quebec City

Quebec City is a romantic European-style city within a day’s drive of New York City. Good food, enjoyable shopping, and great museums make for a perfect family getaway. What do you need to know to do Quebec City right?
1. Walk the Old Town:
Mom & Dad: The old town is a historic Unesco site. It is immensely walkable. You can taste crepes, grab a cafe au lait, and climb the stone wall. We had beautiful weather on the summery days we were there, but the old town is equally charming in the winter. Plus, you can always duck in somewhere when you don’t want to be in the snow. (Other parts of the town are equally walkable: the Plains of Abraham and the Lower Town. In the end, we had more than 15,000 steps each day we were there.)
The Girls: Walking through the Old Town and the Lower Town is great, because there are so many shops to wander through. You can see sculptures, gems, and cloths.
2. Don’t miss the changing of the guard.
Mom & Dad: The changing of the guard in Quebec City is the only one in North America. And, unlike the English one, this one has a goat. We ended up getting there a little early, which was important. The seats are only for the elderly and disabled.
The Girls: This took longer than we expected, and you couldn’t pet the goat, but it was cool. The music was good!

3. Explore the Religous spaces.
Mom & Dad: My family is Catholic, so we ended up going to mass in a wonderful historic structure. That said, most churches allow visitors during certain hours. That said, if you are there during mass, make sure not to take pictures.
The Girls: We didn’t understand the mass but we liked looking around the church. And, we lit a candle.

4. EAT!
Mom & Dad: At some point, we will write a post about food. But, let’s say we were very full. Highlights included fondue, the cheese counter at JA Moisan, cheese pastries at a bakery, and some regional cheese at the farmer’s market. We did enjoy plenty more than cheese, but that was definitely a highlight.
The Girls: CHEESE!

5. Take a ride
Mom & Dad: The very first thing we did was take a carriage ride. We almost never do this when we see them, but I am so glad we did. The carriage driver was local and shared wonderful information. But, also, this was a charming way to understand the lay of the land quickly. After this, when we explored, we felt like we knew exactly what we were doing.
The Girls: This was fun because our horse, Savannah, loved us. We were the only ones to have a white carriage.

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The Definitive Guide to Tips for Camping on a Beach

Beach Sunset

It’s the stuff of travel journals and travel vbloggers; waking up on a deserted beach, just you, your tent, and the waves. My daughters had this dream as well, it turned out.  I am, for better or worse, the kind of parent who tries to find ways to make dreams come true. It is a disease of my generation. After weeks of beach camping, I have plenty of tips to make any other dreamers experience perfection. Here are our hard-earned tips.  Combine this with our clickable camping checklist.
Ocean Tides
Where to Camp?
Tides Happen!
Grab a tide app, like TideTrac, or take a snapshot of the posted tide schedule from the ranger station on your phone. Ideally, get to your campsite around high tide. This will help you know the outer edge of the water on the beach. That said, if you are like us, you will get there at a random time to set up camp. In that case, your childhood training in reading context clues is your friend. Look for driftwood, seaweed, and other sea refuse.
Tent on Beach
Look for Beach Creeks
Real beaches, not the ones at all-inclusive resorts, usually have a varied topography. There will be high spots, ideal for camping, certainly. But, then there will be the red herrings. As you wander around the camp-site, notice places where the sand seems to look like dry creek. Most likely, at high tide, or during particularly stormy nights, that area fills in water. Do not set up camp there.
Tent on BeachThe View from the Tent
Staying Healthy and Happy
Radiation Alert
Ideal camping sites are despoiled space, where you, and you alone, can look out onto the sea. But, that also means that you and your tent are not shaded from the reflection of the sun. Make sure to take care of yourself with sunblock.
Sand, Sand, Everywhere
Sand and children are natural partners. You are as likely to get kids to walk the dog as to get them to keep sand out of your tent. But, there are a few ways to keep the sand at bay.

Make a “no shoes” rule—no exceptions.
Brush off all your limbs before getting into the tent.
Keep beach prizes (like shells, stones, etc) out of the tent.
Brush out the tent before setting up sleeping bags. Brush out before striking your tent.
Turn your tent inside out before packing up to shake out the tent.

Bear Box
Creature Comforts
Keep the Animals Out
Camping beaches are often quite remote. It’s just you, the tent, the sea, and all the animals that come out at night. There is nothing more frightening than waking up with the thin piece of cloth separating you from a hungry raccoon. Keep from having this experience by hiding food in a bear box or bear canister. Do the same with the garbage b/c those coons love junk.
Beach Fire

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7 Seattle Murals Worth Visiting

Seattle is a town well-known for its quirky side from the gum-wall to the Freemont Troll. We were really struck by the amazing murals, often commissioned by restaurants and stores. This tour gives you a taste of murals from north to south Seattle.
Map of the Tour

Guide to the Murals

This 65-foot Chameleon was created by Hawaiian artist Oasis with Seattle artist Graves33 as the assistant. The artist chose the chameleon for the subject of this mural because it’s the most chill animal in the jungle. While chill, this chameleon has a psychedelic robot vibe.

Old Ballard:
Old Ballard and Freemont have so many murals on stores and shops. One of the best known Seattle mural artists, henry, (the moniker for the most prolific muralist in town Ryan Henry Ward) created this bar scene populated by the best and kookiest of the animal kingdom. This scene is hidden behind a smoke shop with an awesome mural map of the region.

I couldn’t help but pick another henry mural, because, well, sasquatch. This one is near one of the best burgers in Seattle at Uneeda. Be warned, the parking lot is usually full, so it is hard to get a good image of it. But, you can wind your way through cars to stay eye to eye with Washington State’s most famous imaginary creature.

First Hill and The International District
Internationally known muralists, like John Sarkis, fill walls along local artists throughout town. The Sarkis mural, done in acrylic and spray paint, is an enormous patchwork man. It is a wonderful counterpart to some of the more realistic murals nearby.

This industrial neighborhood is ripe with murals. One could spend a whole afternoon tooling around catching the variety with a range of themes and styles. We had a wonderful argument about which was best. I loved the clean, crisp look of the OK, Yes, Go mural. My youngest daughter loved the monster with the pink nails.

Industrial District
Freeway underpasses and old warehouses are festooned in this area. It’s worth mentioning that this is an area that has a number of houseless neighborhoods of tents. I suggest that you are considerate of the tents, being careful not to trespass upon their space when taking pictures.

Industrial District West & West Seattle
Some of my favorite murals in town are in this area. We grabbed breakfast near this outdoorsy scene with the happy bear by Jesse Link. We didn’t spy […]

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Road Trip : 10 Stops Not To Miss Stops on the Highway 101

Highway 101 is one of the main arteries along Pacific Coast. There are other iconic road trips.  There are more scenic (Lost Coast, Highway 1). There are quicker (Highway 5). But, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, Highway 101 is a great way to hit rainforests, rivers, breweries, beaches, and plenty more.  Set aside 2.5 weeks for a road trip to get from Seattle to San Francisco for maximum joy and minimum stress. Obviously, you can do less in less time. Road trips are about knowing your limits :>
Washington State:
Highlights Seattle, Olympic National Park, and Cape Disappointment

Mom & Dad: Seattle is a great place to start. This city is fairly walkable. Given the number of coffee shops, your caffeinated self will have all the vigor needed to hike up the hills. While Seattle is a wonderful place for art, we also enjoyed the broad range of museums from the Pinball Museum to the Living Computers: Museum & Labs.
Girls: We loved the variety of cool ice cream shops. We also made a game of trying to find the space needle from around town. We found it from the sculpture garden, from Ferris wheel, and from Museum of History and Industry.

Olympic National Park
Mom & Dad: This extraordinary national park has so much variety,  unspoiled beaches, hot springs, rain forests, and ridge trails. You could spend a solid week being in a completely different environment each day.
Girls: This was a great place because you can earn a badge AND a patch for doing an activity book. Also, you can sleep ON A BEACH. We were on the beach by ourselves, and we made a fire from driftwood. Waking up on the beach was amazing.

Cape Disappointment
Mom & Dad: We went […]

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Camp Packing List

Packing List

Car Camping Packing List


Tent mat
Heavy Duty Garbage Bags
Sleeping bags (1 per person/ or double for parents)
Sleeping mats (1 per person)
2 extra blankets


Ace bandage
Antibiotic Cream
Ambesol/ Tooth Cream
Tylenol/ Motrin
Insect Repellent


Towel (1 per person)
Toiletry bottles
Disposable razor (faces)
Disposable razor (legs/body)
Towel (packable)
Toilet Paper


Folding water bottle
Fire tripod
Disposable food
Waterproof Matches
Firewood (if allowed)
Water jug
Storage bin for food
Pots & pans
Plates, bowls, and utensils
Cooking Utensils
Cutting board/ knife
Can opener
Wine opener
Mixing bowl


Mobile phone
Wire/gadget organization system
USB battery packs


Travel binoculars
Packable daypack
Pens/ Pencils


Sturdy Shoes


Compression sacks
Sewing kit
Laundry detergent
Duct tape
Pocket Knife
Spare batteries


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Father’s Day Present : Modern Design Inspired Ties

The Story
Father’s Day is always a hard one. My husband and my dad want experiences (go out to dinner, enjoy an afternoon together) and my children want to make gifts. So, I find myself trying to blend each of these group’s desires.  Isn’t it always like that as a mom?

This year, I went with functional presents, and as always, they had to be homemade. Along with our sunglasses case, we also decorated ties. I wanted then to be inspired by something in our lives, so we decided to look to our travels–an ideal source of inspiration.  Our recent trip to Columbus Indiana had reignited my interest in the American textile designer Alexander Girard.
Girard might not be a household name, but his work for the modern furniture firm, Herman Miller, made his aesthetic famous. He used bright colors and simple forms to create an unmistakable joy.  But, rather than being a slave to function, Girard was also very focused on function.  He famously said, “Art is only art if it is synonymous with living.”
The Process
Start with a plain white tie, like the ones gawky teenage boys buy to match their date’s dress at prom. Use fabric markers to create your pattern. Voila! We drew directly on the ties, but you can preplan your designs on paper.  We decided to be intrepid; or we were impatient. You decide :>

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Cities of the Midwest : 7 Must See Murals in Cincinnati

So, first things first, we have a give away!  Finish this survey about travel that we are doing for a future post, and be entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card. 
And now on to even more fun stuff! I married into a Cincinnati family. With scores of relatives and family events by the arm load, I don’t get as much time as I would like to enjoy the arts and culture of the Queen City.  Luckily, Cincinnati is a veritable travelers museum, with more than 100 large-scale murals in 36 neighborhoods.

This initiative is run by a non-profit called ArtWorks, and the organization has put $1.4MM back into the local economy in wages. What a way to put your money where your paint brush is!  While these are my 10 favorites, there are scores more.  You can make your own plan using this handy dandy downloadable map.   I also have a few prompts that you can use with your family when you wander around town.

Mr. Tarbell Tips His Hat
This man tipping his hat to all and sundry in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood was a local politician Jim Tarbell. Even if you don’t know the history, there is something about his jolly gesture that makes this one so enjoyable. Try: Taking your picture is the same pose. Designed by Tim Parsley, located at 1109 Vine St.

Fresh Harvest
Downtown Kroger’s has a photorealistic take on produce to adorn the walls of its downtown location.  The artist really plays with space, making it look like the corn and other car-sized vegetables are gingerly poised on a giant shelf. Try: Estimating how big the zucchini is! Designed by Jonathan Queen, located at 1014 Vine St.

This mural by Brazillian artist Eduardo Kobra is inspired by Ohioan Neil Armstrong. The Apollo astronaut is given the rainbow treatment in this artwork.  Try: taking pictures of the mural from different angles. On Walnut Street