The Longest Birthday

As a rule we try not to travel over major holidays and birthdays. With six people in our family, we always seem to be carrying a lot of stuff with us, even though we have rules to keep our luggage light. Everyone gets one carry-on bag. Each child has their own, unique, rolling bag from the Disney Store. They are bright and colorful so there is less chance of mistaken luggage. Each adult has one travel backpack. We designed these family travel rules to maximize our mobility, and to teach our children responsibility for their own belongings while traveling.

It is in part because of our desire to travel light that we don’t want to travel over Christmas Day or one of the children’s birthdays. We don’t want to have to bring extra things with us for the holiday/birthday, only to take them back home again.

Last year, we decided to travel to France during the winter break. We left the day after Christmas, and returned on January 6th. Schedules both with school and my husband’s job dictated in part our travel dates. The only problem? January 6th is our oldest daughter’s birthday.

We came up with a plan that would uniquely celebrate her birthday and minimize how long we would have to carry a birthday present around. Flying to Europe, we take a long flight to Heathrow, and then a shorter flight to our final destination. Our flight flies into Terminal 5 in Heathrow, where there is a delightful toy store. Our children are always begging us to buy them toys from there. As we passed through Heathrow on our way to Paris, we told our daughter that since we would be flying home through Heathrow, on her birthday she could pick out a toy from this toy store. We tried to create extra enthusiasm for this plan by telling her how special this birthday was. Because we were traveling west, her birthday would be the longest birthday ever! We thought we were brilliant. And bonus, we combined a lesson about planetary motion with our birthday plan! All during our trip, we tried to build excitement for her. She would have the longest birthday ever!

She was excited to have the longest birthday ever. She still thinks it is cool and special that her birthday lasted for about 36 hours instead of the traditional 24. The rest of our plan, however, did not go so smoothly.

It is true that on the way to Paris we traveled through Terminal 5. Unlike previous trips, however, we did not return through Terminal 5. We returned through Terminal 3. Now, Terminal 3 is a very nice terminal. We ate a delicious brunch. We perused a branch of Harrod’s. There was a kids’ area for them to play and get their squiggles out. The problem? There was no toy store. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Our plan was ruined! What could we do?

As luck would have it, there was a book store with a decent children’s section. While in France, none of our hotels offered the Disney Channel with shows our children are used to watching while we travel. Instead, our children discovered Ninjago. The book store had a book about the characters of Ninjago. So our daughter chose this book to be her birthday present. And she loved it. She still loves Ninjago. In fact, we made a special trip to Legoland when Ninjago World opened.

These are the lessons I take away from this experience:

  • It is a good idea to avoid travel on birthdays
  • If you must travel on a birthday, bring a small, suitable present with you
  • Do NOT rely on airport shops to buy a present
  • Having a longer birthday because of time changes is really cool for children (and adults)
  • You can never prepare for every situation, so be adaptable
  • Teach your children to be adaptable

What are your experiences traveling on a birthday or holiday?

 

 

Our Christmas Tree Travel Log: A Christmas Tradition

DSC_0196There are some family traditions that are created through a definitive decision, and intentionally implemented into family culture. There are other family traditions that grow organically through experiences and a multitude of smaller decisions made across a period of time. Our Christmas tree tradition is one of the latter. Here is our story.

When my husband and I were first married we lived in New York City. We were both students at the time, so money was pretty much not available in any kind of significant quantity. I love Christmas trees. Every year I would drag my poor husband through the icy cold of a windy, snowy New York winter to see the tree at Rockefeller Center with me. This particular Christmas, our first as a married couple, we went to Macy’s to look at the Christmas decorations. We went only to look at the Christmas decorations, with no intention to buy any.

On the top floor of the very large Macy’s at 34th Street and 8th Avenue, was a veritable Christmas wonderland with Santa’s workshop, fake snow, and a parade of Christmas trees full decorated with ornaments, angels and stars that you could purchase. One Christmas tree was fully decorated with symbols of New York, including the Statue of Liberty, taxi cabs, and……..pigeons. Yes, that’s right. Pigeons. It was NOTĀ a tree that I liked very much, aside from reminding me of New York City, which I happen to love very much. My husband, however, decided that he really wanted one particular ornament on the tree. The pigeon. The gray pigeon with a bobbly head and I “heart” NY written on the side. I thought it was one of the most hideous things ever. But I loved my husband and so I consented to buying the pigeon, it being the only Christmas ornament we would purchase that year. But there was a deal involved. Next year, I would pick out an ornament to add to our collection.

That is how it started. The next year we had moved to another location, and decided it would be fitting to find a Christmas tree ornament that captured some of the essence of our new home.

DSC_0225We ended up with this little beauty. So instead of our Christmas tree tradition being a taking of turns to add a new ornament, each year we pick an ornament that symbolizes something momentous that happened that year. The general overall look of the tree also was developed to somewhat camouflage the pigeon, blue and silver with highlights of red. I still didn’t like the pigeon and somewhat resented having it on my beautiful Christmas tree.

DSC_0227When we had our first beautiful little baby, we of course had to have an ornament that celebrated her birth. Subsequently, each of our children have their own special ornament on the tree that they get to hang up each year. It celebrates the joyous occasion when they first joined our family. Each child knows which ornament is theirs and loves to find a special place for it on the tree.

In years that we are not moving or having a new baby join our family, we spend a lot more time traveling. We often go on a large international trip or to an exotic location. These family adventures are also all memorialized with their very own Christmas tree ornament. As we decorate our tree each year, each ornament rekindles memories of the various destinations and adventures we have experienced together. We have a lot of fun reminiscing and then discussing where we want to go for our next grand adventure. Here are some of our favorite travel ornaments.

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I have come to love this family tradition, which is a log of our traveling adventures and how we have grown as a family. I have even developed some fondness for the pigeon, which somehow started it all.

How do youĀ remember your traveling adventures? What are some of your family’s Christmas traditions?

Travel for Christmas, Do You or Don’t You?

Ready, Set, Done!

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We don’t. Travel for Christmas. When my husband and I were married we literally lived across the country from both sets of parents. I decided that I wanted Christmas to be a joyous celebration within our own home. I wanted to have our own Christmas tree and open presents in our apartment on Christmas morning. This had less to do with avoiding the hassle of traveling at Christmas and more to do with establishing our own family with our own traditions. Now that we have four children, I’m glad we established Christmas as a celebration in our own home with our own family. Partially because transporting Christmas presents for the entire family to and from a location where driving for a trip of short duration is out of the question, is out of the question. And I’m not sure how you could even make that happen with air travel. As a family, we like to travel as lightly as possible. Sometimes I feel a little bad for depriving the grandparents of the joy of seeing their small grandchildren light up with joy and excitement on Christmas morning, bare little feet running down the hall to see what Santa has brought. They could come to us, but we are the only ones living in this area of the country. Every single one of my brothers and sisters (there are 5 of us) live within a 2 hour travel time of my parents. My husbands family is not as geographically condensed, but still a lot closer than we are. So, it doesn’t make sense to ask them to travel during such a hectic travel season, leaving behind the majority of their family. Of course it is much warmer here, so that could be an added incentive for making the trip. Which means, it is much colder there. That is a definite deterrent. So for now, we will maintain our tradition of enjoying Christmas morning with just our own beautiful little children. I’m not going to feel too bad for the grandparents, at least for this year. At the end of January, we’ll be meeting them all in Disneyworld.

All Aboard for Christmas Fun

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I love trains. There is something so freeing about leaving behind a car and allowing a train to transport you from one location to another. When traveling internationally, we depend on trains and buses for transportation almost exclusively. I think the one time we rented a car in another country was when we traveled to Trinidad and Tobago. On Tobago, a car is a necessity if you want to leave the resort areas by the airport and explore the rest of the island.

But, I digress. The movie “The Polar Express” was very popular a few years ago. My mother-in-law sent the movie to my girls as a present. Now, while it is not my favorite movie, my daughters became entranced with the idea of riding a train to the North Pole to see Santa Claus. Sometimes, what seems kind of cheesy and unbelievable to adults, is pure magic to our children.

My husband and I decided to take our girls on the North Pole Express, an event train experience provided by the Essex Steam Train in Essex, CT. We dressed our girls in their pajamas and headed up to the train. The train is pulled by a steam powered engine. How is that for drawing your mind to a different era?

An elf greeted the travelers in each car. While en route to the North Pole, passengers were treated to a musical rendition of “The Night Before Christmas”. Sleepy elves traveled through the train cars providing hot chocolate and cookies made by Mrs. Claus herself. The magic and excitement grew as the train travels closer and closer to the North Pole. Lighted Christmas figures are placed outside the train car en route to the North Pole. Once at the North Pole, Santa and Mrs. Claus climbed aboard the train for the return journey.

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They greeted each child, and gave a special gift, a bell from Santa’s sleigh. Our children’s excitement was so endearing as we made this magical excursion together! On the way home to the train depot the passengers sang Christmas carols together.

Riding the Essex Steam Train North Pole Express has been one of my favorite Christmas experiences with my children. Short of going to the North Pole itself to meet Santa Claus, this is much preferable to seeing Santa at the Mall or other more commercial settings. I love how the gift itself is so simple, and a symbol of the power of a child’s belief. The bells our girls received on this magical Christmas ride have outlasted many of the more expensive Christmas gifts that they have received. Experiences are far more enduring than things. That is one of the reasons our family loves to travel together. We build amazing memories together. Memories last a lifetime.

http://essexsteamtrain.com