Getting That Toddler to Hike!

DSC02782You know that feeling when you are so excited to hit the trails?  You have everything planned out, everyone is all ready to go, the weather is perfect…and then the toddler decides it is one of those days.  The type of day where her feet must never touch the ground.  I love the snuggles, but Boo weighs over 30 lbs now.  That means 35+ lbs of baby, pack, water, stuff (babies require a lot of stuff).  Hiking like this gets exhausting…and painful…and quite a bit less fun.  I’m not saying I won’t carry her at all, it would just be nice if she’d carry her own weight from time to time, ya know?  So, my tip to get a toddler to hit the trail?  Props!

#1 – Boo’s top pick for toddler hiking gear – A hiking pole just like Mommy’s!  We have Black Diamond hiking poles.  They adjust with a simple clip, so it is super easy to break them down to Boo size!

#2 – Her very own digital camera!  I take a lot of pictures and Boo has finally noticed.  That means she steals my camera to take pictures and I am out of luck.  We ordered her a Nerf digital camera from Amazon for $10.  We ordered this exact product and got something that looks quite different, but we are quite impressed with the camera (and never even noticed the differences until just now!), so we never filed a complaint.  Seriously – this thing even has a video camera!

Most of her pictures are as expected, but occasionally she surprises me!  It is interesting to see things from the viewpoint of a 2 year old!

#3 – Kid-friendly binoculars!  This one is similar to the camera, but just different enough to keep her interested!  These were gifted to her, but there are many reasonable options on Amazon.

We also have a cheapo Dollar Tree magnifying glass ready to go, but we have never made it that far through the list!

Traveling with a Potty-Training Toddler

Keeping a toddler confined to a bathroom requires lots of “stuff”

Now that it is summer (I don’t work in the summer…woohoo!) and Boo has been showing signs for months, we decided to take on the potty training challenge!  We opted for the 3-day boot camp style.  Basically, you lock yourselves in the bathroom on the first day (the entire first day), you leave the house for an hour the second day, you leave the house twice (for an hour) the third day, and voila!  The kid is potty-trained!  This is the basic plan we chose to follow – except we added a 5-hour road trip adventure to day 6!  Seriously, who does this?!

Did I mention Husband was working, so I took on this whole potty-training, road trip adventure all by myself?  Yikes.

Boo was doing pretty good by this point.  Not perfect, but good.  She would still have 1 or 2 accidents a day and she really doesn’t have the ability to tell us when she needs to go in advance.  Most of the training has really been training for me – recognizing the signs and figuring out her needs.

My biggest fear for this road trip was the obvious – an accident in her car seat (Or worse…a #2 accident in her car seat – EEK!).  Car seats are tricky to clean, especially on the road.  So I loaded up her car seat with prefold diapers**.  I’m talking legitimate diapers here – not those Gerber prefolds that are better used as burp cloths.  Absorbancy is key here (We used to cloth diaper and developed a preference for Diaper Rite cotton prefolds).  They make special seat covers for potty-training kids, but we already had the prefolds.

Please ignore the dirty car seat.  It is in desperate need of a washing!

**Note: It is not recommended to add anything to the car seat and bulky clothing is strongly discouraged.  However, we used to cloth diaper her.  She was sitting in a diaper at least this thick and strapped into her car seat for the first 15ish months of her life.  Judgment call here, but I decided she was fine as long as everything else was snug.

My plan was to stop every hour (unless she was asleep – she has been dry for naps for several months now).  This would allow me to choose our stops (safe places!) and (hopefully) prevent any last-minute demands for bathroom breaks.

I also brought along a carefully-selected travel potty, just in case we couldn’t make it to an actual toilet.  After quite a bit of research, I chose the OXO Tot 2-in-1 Go Potty.  This potty has legs that allow it to stand alone or sit over a toilet.  It also folds reasonably small and seems like it would be great for hiking (after teaching your kid that pee and poo go in the potty, how do you teach them it is OK to go in the woods?)!

Photo credit:

After a 5-hour road trip – as well as the return trip and several lengthy side trips throughout the week – I am proud to say Boo did not have a single accident in her car seat!  (There was one close-call thanks to a leaky water bottle!)

Here is what I learned:

  1. Get your kid used to the travel potty before you leave. Boo rejected it the first time I asked her to use it.
  2. Use the travel potty on every toilet.  It provides a sense of familiarity for the child.  Also, your kid is more likely to use something gross, like a port-a-potty, if it is covered with their very own travel potty!
  3. Make sure your little one goes potty before you do.  Just the sound makes Boo empty her bladder (all over the floor) every time.
  4. Listen to your kid.  If your child is really fighting the potty, maybe they actually don’t have to go.  On our return trip, Boo flipped out because I tried stopping an hour after my first potty stop.  We stopped every two hours from then on without incident.
  5. Bring lots and lots of spare clothes.  And shoes.  And wipes.  And some kind of bag to put the dirty clothes in.  You just never know.  I once walked a half-naked Boo across a parking lot because she had a second accident (How many times can such a tiny person pee in an hour?)  and I only brought one spare set of clothes.  I spent the rest of the evening washing things like her shoes, my wallet, my key chain…good times.

At times it was frustrating…very frustrating…but I think this was a huge step forward in our potty training adventure!  Boo has learned to be flexible and I have learned to trust my child’s instincts (for the most part).  We have a huge road trip/camping trip coming up in a couple weeks, so this was an awesome trial run!

Good luck in your own adventures with your potty-training little one!  Just remember: lots of planning, lots of patience, and lots of spare clothes!

Choosing Road Trip Stops for a Toddler

Toddlers have a lot of energy.  When they are strapped into a car seat for a good portion of the day, it is difficult to burn off that energy.  I get it.  Sometimes I just can’t wait to get out of the car to stretch my legs a bit!  Quality stops are necessary – especially on road trips that are going to take more than one day!

Recently, Boo and I spent two days driving to visit a friend in Indiana.    Sure, I probably could have made the trip in a day (10 hours of direct driving), but I was doing all the driving by myself and that would have meant a LOT of sitting for Boo.  So, I decided to make a trip of it!  Lots of fun stops and quality bonding time with my favorite tiny person!

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Photo courtesy of

My primary planning tool was Roadtrippers (they also have an app!).  This site is awesome because you can enter your starting point and destination and it will show you lots of stops along the way – hotels, restaurants, shopping, parks, weird gimmicks on the side of the road, etc.!  You can choose the distance you are willing to travel from your course, choose the type of stops you are looking for, and then read reviews and visit websites on any that pique your interest!

My goal was to drive about 5 to 6 hours each day and stop approximately every 2 hours for some sort of break.  First, I chose a midway point and booked a hotel for the night.  Lexington, Kentucky looked interesting for the way out and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania would have been ideal for the way back.  In the end, I settled on Cadiz, Ohio (the middle of nowhere – but it is Clark Gable’s birthplace!) for the return trip because hotel prices were cheaper.

Next, I chose a region that looked like it might meet my time requirements and I zoomed in.  I was looking for places that were safe (read more about this here), inexpensive (or free!), fairly quick, interesting for a toddler, and different from any other stop on our list.

So, here is a break down of our trip!

Day 1 Goal: Reach Lexington, Kentucky

Roanoke, VA to New River Gorge Bridge, WV: 2 hours 30 minutes

This one was surprisingly awesome because of all of those stairs!  We spent a lot of time going up and down!  There was a nice air conditioned museum to explore as well!

New River Gorge Bridge, WV to Carter Caves State Park, KY: 2 hours 40 minutes

We stopped for lunch somewhere in the middle.  Carter Caves is really neat because there are a lot of cave tours to choose from.  There are even wild caves (not rigged for electricity) to explore!  I chose the most basic X Cave tour because it was the shortest and had the least steps.  This was Boo’s first cave experience, so I was assuming I would be carrying her the whole way.  Turns out she did fantastic and didn’t even mind total darkness!  We even found some cool stumps to climb all over!

Carter Caves State Park, KY to Lexington, KY: 1 hour 36 minutes

Day 2 Goal: Reach South Bend, Indiana

Lexington, KY to Big Bone Lick State Park, KY: 1 hour 15 minutes

This is the site where Lewis and Clark met up to start their expedition west.  Lewis was also contracted by President Jefferson to perform a dig for dinosaur fossils here.  There is a short walkway explaining the area’s prehistoric history as well as a very small (but air conditioned) museum.

(Check out that lovely, morbid scene!)

Furthermore, apparently there used to be bison in Kentucky!  This state park is attempting to reestablish a herd.  Right now they have a few bison in a farm-type situation (a short walk from the parking lot) with lots of cute calves!  Thanks to this trip, Boo can now identify a bison by sight!

Big Bone Lick State Park, KY to Cincinnati Zoo, OH: 38 minutes

This was a really short drive time, but there is a lot of cool stuff in this area, so I couldn’t help taking advantage.  Unfortunately, this is where our day started going downhill (more on that later!).  We had intended to stop at the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky, but my GPS couldn’t find it, so after randomly driving around for half an hour, I chose the only other thing in the area I could remember off the top of my head (I still don’t have a smart phone).

This was more money than I planned on spending.  We also should have spent the entire day at the zoo to really do it justice (and to make it worth the cost of admissions/parking/food!).  As is, we spent about 2 hours there and only saw a handful of exhibits.

Cincinnati Zoo, OH to Mass Ave Toys; Indianapolis, IN: 1 hour 50 minutes

I didn’t get any pictures (we were too busy playing!), but this toy store is awesome!  Street parking was approachable (I am not a huge fan of city driving…or parallel parking), the neighborhood is charming, and I could spend hours (and lots of money!) in this store!  We did not have time to check out any other stores or restaurants in the area, but I will definitely keep it in mind for the next time we are in the area!

Due to an unfortunate series of events (again, more on that later!), we decided to call it a day and got an unplanned hotel outside of Indianapolis.

Day 3 Goal: Make another attempt at reaching South Bend, Indiana

Indianapolis, IN to South Bend, IN: 2 hours 30 minutes

Our third day of drive was fairly quick, so we just made a midway McDonald’s stop before hitting the road again.  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but McDonald’s is one of my favorite road stops for Boo.  She loves the milk that comes in those tiny little jugs for her happy meal!

The return journey!

Day 1 Goal: Reach Cadiz, Ohio

South Bend, IN to Toledo Botanical Garden, OH: 2 hours 30 minutes

This look like a really neat place (and it was free!), but we did not stay particularly long because of the heat.  We did find this bridge over a small stream and Boo burned off some energy walking across it (over and over and over again).

Toledo Botanical Gardens, OH to Target; Avon, OH: 1 hour 38 minutes

Target is another one of my favorite road trip stops.  This time, my excuse was a new pair of sneakers for Boo.  We were unsuccessful in this endeavor, but Boo always enjoys shoe shopping!  In any case, this type of stop is always an adventure for a toddler.

Avon, OH to Cadiz, OH: 2 hours 20 minutes

There really is a whole lot of nothing in this area of Ohio.  There seem to be plenty of hikes and outdoor sort of activities, but I am a little spooked right now about hiking solo with the kid.  I keep hearing stories about solo hiking trips going poorly – thanks to shady people or even the elements.  In any case, we will wait to check out this area until we have a larger adventure crew!

Day 2 Goal: Reach Bel Air, Maryland (visiting family in my hometown!)

Cadiz, OH to National Aviary; Pittsburgh, PA: 1 hour 10 minutes

I was so excited about this stop!  I have never been to an aviary before!   This one did not disappoint!  The prices were reasonable, the birds were beautiful, and Boo had a great time exploring their habitats!

Pittsburgh, PA to Bel Air, MD: 4 hours 20 minutes

I am sad to say that I was unable to find any interesting stops in the southwestern region of Pennsylvania, so we stuck to the typical food and gas type stops.  I’m sure there is more to the region that I was unable to find, but maybe I was just burned out by this point.

There you go!  Five days of driving and every one of our stops was exciting and engaging for a toddler!  I hope this inspires you to go beyond the usual rest stops and restaurants for your next road trip!

Updating Boo’s Travel Map

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(Screen print from Roadtrippers)

Wow!  It has been awhile since I posted!  To be honest, with the end of the school year and various illnesses affecting any or all of us, we really haven’t done much adventuring.  After a fairly rough year, I really needed to escape.  Less than a week after school ended, Boo and I hit the road!  Not just one of those drive to your destination, do the vacation thing, and head home sort of trips, but an actual road trip!  Just the two of us!

How did this trip come about?  I have this best friend.  We have been friends since we were born (no joke – our pregnant moms were good friends).  She recently moved several states away from our hometown and I couldn’t wait to visit!  Google says the trip is 10 hours.  Totally possible to drive in one day, but I’m a teacher on summer break, so what’s the rush?

I decided to go all out.  And knock off a few states for Boo’s travel map while we were at it!  Everyone has different criteria for checking a state off the list.  For me, a state (or country) doesn’t count unless you actually do something in that state – eat, sleep, an activity, something!  For instance, Delaware is the way we get to New Jersey, but Boo hasn’t done anything in DE yet except pay tolls (seriously…what is with all the tolls?!).

Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan all made the map this time!

Here are some clips from our road trip!

New River Gorge Bridge; Fayetteville, West Virginia (not actually a new state)
Carter Caves State Park; Olive Hill, Kentucky
Cincinnati Zoo; Cincinnati, Ohio
Splash Pad; South Bend, Indiana
Strawberry Picking; Niles, Michigan
National Aviary; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (also not a new state)

We have another epic road trip planned for later this summer!  We are so excited!

My Favorite Feeding-On-The-Go Products

As a traveling family, feeding on the go is a given.  What we look for in these products is function, ease of use, and size.  All of these products have been thoroughly road-tested by us and proven to be effective and dependable!  Read on to learn more about our top picks!

DSC00584Innobaby Packin’ SMART Stackables.  I was given a 5-tier stackable at my baby shower and I love it!  The tower is customizable, so I can use as many or as few tiers as I want.  I actually have yet to use all 5 tiers at the same time.  Each tier has a removeable pour spout, so they are easy to fill and easy to clean.  The tower is fairly skinny too, so it fits really well in a diaper bag.  It seems to keep things pretty fresh, so we always have snacks on hand when we need them!  We haven’t used this in awhile (because she eats a lot more than this!), but it was fantastic from 6 months to a year!

DSC00227Neat Solutions Sili-Stick Table Topper.  This placemat is great!  My goal was to find something that packed small for the diaper bag and provided a nice clean surface for Boo to eat on.  This particular place mat isn’t sticky really…more like grippy.  That means it doesn’t slide on most table surfaces and is a little more difficult for the baby to flip over than your standard place mat.  They are also easy to clean and inexpensive!  Sounds like a win all around!

A spill proof snack cup.  I really hesitated buying one of these because it is just one more thing to add to that never ending list of baby stuff.  I bought this one at the Dollar Tree (and it has surprisingly lasted 9 months so far!) as a spur of the moment thing before our last trip as more of an entertainment thing than a snack thing.  Boo loves it!  She thinks it is so much fun to jam her hand in and take out snacks (or pom poms or whatever).  About that spill proof thing…it might be spill proof, but when chubby little baby hands try to grab a handful of snacks, nothing can stop the mess!  At 20 months, she can now fill it herself and put the lid back on!

Inglesina Fast Table Chair with optional tray.  When looking for a high chair for camping, we wanted one that packed nicely, worked with any unknown picnic table, was reliably safe, and cleaned up nicely.  This high chair meets most of these requirements.  My one slight complaint is the cleaning thing.  This is a fabric high chair, so it doesn’t just wipe down.  It can, however, be thrown in a washing machine, which is nice!  Basically we can only spot clean while camping, but it gets a nice deep clean when we get home.  That fabric part is necessary to make it packable, so we were willing to bend on the cleaning thing.  I really like that it is easy to install on every picnic table we’ve tried!  Furthermore, if we are eating in the same place for several meals, we will leave the arms attached to the table and stash the chair part in the car in between meals.

The Original Squeeze with Eeeze.  This is our current favorite product.  We use it at least once daily…sometimes 3 or 4 times!  I found this older style on clearance at Target several months ago and have since bought the newer style as well.  This refillable squeeze pouch is awesome because it stands on its own for filling, has a wide mouth for pouring, cleans easily, and is super easy for toddlers to figure out!  The 4 ounce size is perfect for yogurt!  The company is awesome to work with, too!  My one complaint would be the screw top.  Sometimes it is difficult to get the threads to line up nicely for a good fit.  This is better on the newer version, but we still have issues sometimes.  The Original Squeeze comes with two different spout types: 6+ months and 2+ years.  The 2+ years version (“With Eeeze”) was the one I found on clearance and our 16 month old had no trouble figuring it out!  Love, love, love this thing!

I’m sure this list will keep growing and evolving as Boo gets older (and more awesome products hit the market), but we have been quite pleased with our experiences thus far!

Longwood Gardens

DSC01827Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA is one of my reset places.  I can always rely on a trip to the gardens to simultaneously free my mind from everyday stresses and inspire me with a million and one ideas for my dream garden back home (even when I didn’t have a garden or home of my own).  Like Shenandoah National Park, Longwood Gardens is one of my most favorite places in the world.

kristen3I don’t get to make this trip as often as I would like (now that I live in southwestern Virginia), but I do visit every time an opportunity presents itself.  Boo was 6 weeks old for her first trip.  She slept almost the whole time and I got my first taste of public breastfeeding.  I could be wrong, but I don’t imagine she will remember much of this trip.

We recently made the trip now that Boo is a toddler (19 months at the time).  She might not remember this one either, but I know I will!  It is one of those special moments when your child realizes that magic and fairies really do exist in the real world – because how else can this place be so amazing?!  Hopefully her memories of Longwood Gardens will be like mine – so many little memories gathered from so many different trips coming together to make one big happy memory!  Like that time there were hidden Wizard of Oz topiaries all over the place.  Or the time my little sister fell into the fountain.  Or the time we released our wild box turtle onto the grounds because we couldn’t think of a happier home for the little guy.  Just a whole bunch of happy.

I guess the magic (for Boo) first began in the bathrooms of the conservatory.  This sounds really bizarre, but my mom had been raving about the bathrooms since lunch at the cafe.  “Wait to change her diaper until we get to the conservatory!  They won best bathroom!”  I totally fact-checked her when we got home.  True story.  Who knew this even existed?  So we made it to the bathrooms and they were impressive-looking, but I did not see a formal changing table in the family bathroom.  Instead, there was a strange flat surface with a dent in it.DSC01822

Am I really suppose to change her in this?  It seems inconvenient to have to reach around in there to try to clean her tushie.  Ok, I’ll give it a shot.DSC01821

Boo seems satisfied!  I must say, I have never changed her on a public changing table without lots of screaming.  Longwood Gardens for the win!

Now the conservatory itself – always my favorite part of the trip!  It’s like a jungle…or a rainforest…or just something else completely wonderful.  Boo took off exploring the instant her feet touched the ground.


The conservatory has a special section reserved as the “Children’s Garden.”  This existed when I was a kid and I loved it.  It had a maze and some fun fountains you could stick your hands in.  It has now been completely revamped!  At first, I was distraught (why mess with a good thing and all that), but the new version is completely magical…for everyone!

Here are some other pictures of our day.  I can’t wait to go back!

I Bought My Kid a Leash.

DSC01896Along with every other decision in the parenting world, parents walking their children around on leashes get judged.  “Why are you treating your child like a dog?”  Or “Stop being lazy and just watch your kid!”  Or even “You shouldn’t have children if you can’t handle them.”  You know the sort.  Anyhow, I bought my kid a leash.

Boo is a toddler.  This joyful time in life comes with many positives, but there are also new, challenging waters to navigate.  By definition, toddlers can walk, but 100%, accident-free walking is still a ways off.  Let me put it this way: Boo is clumsy.  She is also a little defiant sometimes – if she is in a grumpy mood, or really can’t resist whatever it is she wants to do, or sometimes just because she thinks it’s funny.  And fear of heights?  Apparently that doesn’t kick in until later.  Toddlers have no concept of mortality.

In my post about conquering McAfee’s Knob, I wrote about the difficulties of hiking with a toddler.  They want to walk, but sometimes it just isn’t safe to let them.  For instance, we frequently find ourselves in this type of situation.  Not exactly toddler friendly.DSC01006

Anyhow, I am all about giving Boo some freedom, allowing her to explore her world, and burn off some excess energy (Read more about that here), but in the hiking world, sometimes complete freedom really isn’t a great idea.  I cringe at the idea of Boo tripping over her own feet and falling off a mountain.  Or racing to the edge of a cliff in a moment of defiance.  Yeah, I don’t even want to think about it.

So now we have a leash.  After a lot of hunting around (and realizing that toddler rock climbing harnesses are difficult to find AND out of my price range), we chose the Zicac Toddler Safety Harness.  I like that this harness is very adjustable, uses buckles (instead of velcro) to fasten, and has a detachable leash.  As a bonus, we chose the frog harness (which happens to come in a not-so-subtle shade of florescent green) making Boo easier to see if the need ever arises (you just never know).DSC01897

We have yet to actually use the leash because we haven’t needed to, but we want her to consider the harness as part of her regular hiking gear.  She seems to be adjusting just fine!

So, my take on toddler leashes?  If it gives your toddler some freedom and yourself a little peace of mind, I’m all for it!