The holidays are here! And the countdown to winter break is on. The “Last Day of School” is marked on my calendar – generating excitement among my littles and raising anxiety for me. Why? Because I don’t like my kids.
No. I LOVE my kids. But you wouldn’t know it based on how I’ve behaved during past winter breaks.
I get short tempered (read as…she totally loses it). And I tend to cry…like, a lot. I seriously consider giving them coal and wonder if it’s ever actually been done by any parent in history.
How exactly are we supposed to work, prepare for the holiday and juggle kids??? Especially kids with no schedule and an endless abundance of energy?
I’m trying something new this year…a Winter Break Bucket List.
It wasn’t my idea. The kids loved their Summer Bucket List so much, they requested one for Winter Break and immediately started shouting out suggestions.
Our list includes things like making a gingerbread house, sledding (c’mon Flagstaff snow!), baking, taking a drive to see the holiday lights, etc. And while your list can feature anything you’d like, I do have one suggested rule:
Plan at least ONE (1) activity per day of Winter Break.
Planning this does two things. First, it gives you the ability to say “YES” to your children without having to say yes to every single request. Second, it gives your children something specific to look forward to each day.
“Mommmm…can you come play?”
“Yes – we’re going to build a gingerbread house in a little bit.”
“Mommmm…I want to go play in the snow!”
“Yep – we’re going to build a snowman as soon as I finish this project.”
See that…I get to say “no,” with the word “yes.”
At the moment, I face a few technical challenges…like no snow…but you and I are moms. We can figure out fun alternatives.
Will it work? I don’t know. But I know “failing to plan is planning to fail,” and trust my Winter Break Bucket List to at least help me maintain some sanity.
Plan yours using this Festive Printable! Each Bucket List features lines for activities. Enjoy!
In a year where we’ve seen an exponential increase in online shopping (hello, Amazon) due to the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, it feels important as ever to express our gratitude and appreciation for the long hours that delivery drivers work to get us what we need (and want).
A few years ago I came across an idea to set out a basket of snacks and drinks for UPS, FedEx, and USPS drivers with a little note thanking them for making our holiday shopping easier. My daughter and I went shopping together to pick out the treats and at the end of the day, we’d look to see which snacks they took to enjoy and refill the box. It was always a highlight of our day. We’ve had drivers leave us thank you notes and that always filled our cup. We’ve done it every year since.
Today we started the tradition early and put out our gratitude box. We filled it with popcorn, chips, cookies, snack bars, crackers, sparkling waters, and coffee. In past years, we’ve included things like hand warmers and $5 Starbucks gift cards (these were a hit!). It’s a small token of our appreciation for working sun up to sun down, non-stop. We hope it brightens their day (it sure brightens mine!) and gives them a little fuel to continue on their routes.
I was eight when I became a vegetarian. I did it mostly because I was a picky little kid and I didn’t like meat. But I also loved animals, and as I got older I became more aware of the negative impacts the meat industry has on the environment. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost my entire life and holidays are consistently stressful. My dietary choices are a topic of conversation and scrutiny around the holiday table.
How to be courteous of a strict diet during holiday gatherings
“Well, hot dogs aren’t real meat so you can eat that right?”
Wether you are cooking for a vegetarian or someone with a deadly nut allergy it is important that you fully understand what their dietary restrictions are, ask questions, do research and be courteous.
Don’t ask questions about why someone chose the diet they chose, unless you are legitimately curious. Often people ask me “why are you a vegetarian” just so they can segue-way into telling me they think I’m unhealthy.
Please don’t act like you are inconvenienced by someone’s diet. I guarantee that living with dietary restrictions is more inconvenient than having to accommodate them for one holiday season.
Seize the opportunity to cook outside your usual box. Side dishes are not a meal. Try cooking something new, maybe you’ll even love it enough to add it to your usual menu.
As always, Pinterest is an incredible resources for recipes. Here are a few that I’ve tried and loved.
I’ve read all about the “mental load” that women carry. In relationships, women tend to do most of the mental labor. Seasonal mental labor includes researching toys, choosing what gifts to buy family members on both sides, planning holiday visits/trips, making lists of what to pack for the trips, making lists and budgeting for large meals, taking stock of decorations, choosing and purchasing new decorations, deciding who to bake cookies for, choosing where and when to get a photo with Santa, deciding who to send Christmas cards to and getting their addresses, and on and on and on.
I enjoy some of this! I really do. But it’s a lot. And it’s on top of the regular mental load that most women carry (you know, the list you go over in your mind before bed while your husband is sound asleep next to you). For me, it’s also on top of my full-time job.
I don’t mean to husband bash, and I really don’t think it’s all their fault. Society trains women to take on this seasonal labor. Women have been in the role of managing and running a household business for a long time. Most men aren’t taught how to decorate or to keep current on the mailing addresses of their extended family members. But this can change.
I’m asking my husband to help. He’s awesome, so I’m sure he will. He will help me decide what Santa to visit, what card format to choose, who to mail them to, and so on and on and on. I have to consciously make the choice to ask him to help instead of taking all this on myself. And I’m going to teach my son how to bake, and how to decorate, and how to make a list of items for a large holiday meal.
The holidays are all about sharing, so let’s share that mental load! What’s weighing on your mind right now?
As we all are trying to spend as much time outside as we can, and holding onto the last days of outdoor weather, what has become a notable is the lack of following leash laws in public areas.
As a dog owner, you may completely believe your dog is friendly. However, the rest of us do not know your dog and it is especially distressing to watch as someone’s unleashed dog approaches a small child as the owner yells from the other side of the park,
“it’s ok, she’s friendly.”
Listen, I love dogs, have grown up with dogs and I know you love your dogs. I am not dogging on your dog. 😉 We are a dog town and I appreciate that about living in Flagstaff. However, with a young son who has had some challenging experiences with dogs who were off-leash and is now deathly afraid of dogs due to these experiences, it has become an issue for our family and as I have discovered, for others as well.
The Arizona Revised Statute requires dogs to always be on a leash when not in the confines of the private property.
A.R.S. 11-1012 D, No person in charge of any dog shall permit such dog in a public park or upon any public school property unless the dog is physically restrained by a leash, enclosed in a car, cage or similar enclosure or being exhibited or trained at a recognized kennel club event, public school or park sponsored event.
Please Flagstaff, leash your dogs for everyone’s protection, including your own.
It is the law.
If you need to let your dogs off-leash, there are a variety of dog parks around town that are made and maintained for just that.
One of my favorite things to do when I visit (or move to) a new town is to find out where the locals eat. To be fair, I’m no professional food critic, just a local mom who loves any chance to go out to eat.
We just got news here in our small town that a major west coast burger chain is coming to town which lead me to want to celebrate some of my favorite local eats.
Momma Burger is a tiny little burger joint on your way up to, or back from, Snowbowl. You will wait 20 minutes in their drive through for the best burger, natural cut fries and milkshakes in town. Don’t miss their coffee Oreo milkshake. I’m serious. Don’t.
Tourist Home All Day Cafe offers my favorite lunch combo, a cobb salad and a donut. I know. I know. A little hypocritical, but I argue, it’s all about balance. You must have a crueler donut. I’ve never tasted anything like it, and I’m a huge donut fan. They have a beautiful local bakery case, a sweet patio, consistently amazing service, live music and seriously good food.
Eat ‘N Run Cafe is a newcomer that some locals may not even be aware of because it’s not in the heart of downtown or on Milton Road (a plus for sure). I can walk to this spot from my office on 4th Street, or lately I’m finding myself calling in a curbside pick up. But they have a Waldorf salad that I crave as well as a great selection of salads, sandwiches, and gluten-free options.
Juice Pub & Eatery, in the heart of downtown, takes smoothie bowls to the next level. They are beautiful, colorful works of art with healthy and interesting combinations. If you’re adventurous, try the Dragon Bowl with cayenne honey and spicy pecans. They also serve a wonderful variety of juices and smoothies, which oddly isn’t easy to find in Flagstaff.
Stronghold Coffee boasts scratch made biscuit sandwiches, my favorite breakfast burritos in town, and, wait for it, homemade pop tarts. You may not think you need a pop tart today, but trust me, you do. They serve specialty coffee drinks with homemade nut milks. Why would you choose pre-packaged chain coffee when you can have so much better?
Fratelli Pizza is my family’s favorite pizza in town. I know pizza gets really personal. Trust me, we spent many years living in Chicago, and pizza is a touchy subject there just like baseball teams. This pizza is consistently amazing, their crust is dip-it-in-ranch worthy, and if you like to try something different, try their Flagstaff pizza. They offer a nice GF crust as well.
Josephine’s will make your special occasion noteworthy. Their lovely, lighted and ivy-dressed patio is picturesque. (Heaters make it cozy when the nights are cool.) I’m not a qualified restaurant critic, just a mom who loves to eat out and eat local, but this menu is full of variety, unexpected dishes, and extra mile flavor. Try the baklava brie appetizer and the short ribs. So good.
Sweet Shoppe is the quintessential candy store. If you’re needing a little something sweet or dessert after a day of hiking and exploring, this place will not disappoint. In addition to cases full of made-in-house chocolates, fudge and my personal favorite, caramel apples, they hand-dip 20 flavors of gelato. Dangerous perfection.
Well, that by no means is a comprehensive Flagstaff food tour. I’ll leave you to discover your own personal favorites and enjoy the local eats around Flagstaff.
Ah, the great outdoors. So peaceful and relaxing. Basking in the serenity of nature, feeling a cool raindrop on your face, letting the leaves of a fern slide between your fingers as you gently sway back and forth in your hammock… listening to the crescendoing whines of your children as they tip your hammock and bemoan the fact that they are SO HUNGRY.
Ah, the great outdoors. Making everyone hungrier since the beginning of time. Camping can be a lot of work, especially with kids that have stomachs deeper than an abyss. Why not take a little bit of the work out of camping and give a little bit of time in nature back to yourself by prepping some meals ahead of your trip. Thus, while you’re out adventuring, you can do less cooking and s’more relaxing with your family.
To get you started prepping for your next adventure, here are some of my favorite make-ahead camping meals* for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Adventure is trout there!**
*The baking recipes are amended for high altitude since Flagstaff is at 7000’.
**My husband claimed this was way too cheesy to include, and he’s the master of dad jokes. I included it anyway.
A protein-packed, all-in-one, portable breakfast that will hopefully keep your tiny, hungry mischief-makers satiated until lunch. And, as a bonus, if you also make the walking tacos from the recipe listed below, you can use your topping ingredients for more than one meal.
Ingredients (to feed four):
2-3 medium potatoes, cubed
½ lb. bacon or ground sausage
1 large yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. milk
1 c. shredded cheese (Colby jack, cheddar, pepper jack – you choose your favorite!)
4 large tortillas
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the cubed potatoes appropriately for their starch content (for example, Idaho potatoes which are high in starch need extra rinsing so they don’t burn in the skillet). Brown the potatoes in a frying pan or cast iron with some oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer pan to the oven at 400°F to finish cooking (they’re done when they are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside).
Cook either the sausage on the stovetop or bake the bacon in the oven (I usually do 380°F for about 18 minutes). Dice bacon once it is cooked.
Sauté the onion until it is clear, add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add a little salt and pepper to taste.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, and add enough milk to achieve the fluffy consistency you prefer (this is usually 1 Tbsp for me). Beat the eggs and add to a warm, buttered pan. Cook low and slow until fluffy and done all the way through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Combine the potatoes, onions and garlic, meat (either cooked ground sausage or cooked bacon), and eggs into one pan. Add plenty of shredded cheese (about 1 cup for 4 burritos), and mix together until cheese is melted.
Add the mixture to the tortillas (about ⅔ – 1 cup per tortilla). You can add salsa and sour cream now, or wait and have each person add as much as they want later.
Wrap up the filled tortillas in the burrito style, and wrap each burrito in foil.
Freeze the burritos until it’s time to pack them in the cooler.
While camping, pull the burritos out of the cooler and toss directly into the fire near hot coals or into a pan on your camp stove. Rotate every now and then until heated through.
Unwrap your burrito, add additional toppings (salsa, sour cream, avocado), and enjoy hot!
High-altitude Banana Pecan Muffins
For the absolutely no-fuss breakfast that you can literally toss at your kids and be done with, these banana muffins are a great choice. If you decide to warm them up over the campfire before serving, then you may want to refrain from pitching these baseball-style to your kids unless they are wearing an oven mitt! This recipe is made with slight adaptations from the ever-so-tasty recipe by Mountain Mama Cooks (original recipe here).
1 c. all-purpose flour
⅔ c. whole wheat pastry flour (if you don’t have this, see note below for substituting a mixture of all-purpose flour and cornstarch)
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
¾ c. granulated sugar
½ c. vegetable oil
3-4 ripe bananas (peeled and mashed)
3 Tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
⅔ c. pecans, broken into smaller pieces
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Use butter or cooking spray to grease a muffin pan if not using paper muffin liners.
In a bowl, mix together both flours, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
If you don’t have pastry flour on hand, you can substitute a mixture of all-purpose flour and corn starch. The standard substitution is for every cup of pastry flour, substitute one cup of all-purpose flour with two tablespoons removed, then add back in two tablespoons of corn starch. In this case, that would be substituting ⅔ cup minus 1½ tablespoons of all-purpose flour for the whole wheat pastry flour, then adding back in 1½ tablespoons of corn starch.
Grab a large bowl and add sugar, eggs, and oil. Beat until it becomes light and airy. It will not look fluffy so much as runny.
Stir in the mashed bananas, vanilla, and sour cream.
Add in the dry ingredients until just mixed, then mix in the pecans (nuts are optional, of course). I like using pecans instead of walnuts because it gives it a slightly sweeter, more breakfast-y feel.
Fill each muffin cup with batter until approximately ⅔ full. Bake 12-13 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean.
Remove muffins from the oven, let cool completely, and store in an airtight container to be tossed in your food bin for your camping trip!
Eat cold or serve warm. I like to heat my muffins up over a morning fire or on a camp stove. It’s easy to wrap them up in foil, toss over the fire, then unwrap and eat warm with a fork.
If you get busy looking through your binoculars and forget to look at your watch, just toss a few of these energy bites into your pack, and you can still set off quickly to squeeze in a day hike before nap time. They are packed with protein to stave off hunger, and they are ridiculously easy to make ahead of time. You can even task your kids with making these bites because they are so simple.
2 c. rolled oats
½ c. ground flaxseed
½ c. honey
1 c. peanut butter
1½ tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. coconut oil
½ c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Grab a big bowl and mix together the oats and flaxseed.
Add in the honey, peanut butter, and vanilla.
Warm the coconut oil slightly – not enough that it melts, but enough that it more easily blends with the other ingredients. Add coconut oil to the bowl and mix the ingredients together.
Add in chocolate chips. Extra points if you can get your kids to mix and mash them in with their hands (if you don’t have them making this recipe by themselves already!).
Roll into bite-sized balls and refrigerate to help them maintain their shape (they do not have to stay refrigerated).
Enjoy when hunger strikes!
Other Simple Lunch Ideas
Include these items for additional quick snack bites:
Apples, pears, and clementines come in nature’s packaging and are a big hit with kids. Blueberries and grapes are easy to toss in a bag. If you have room in your cooler, you can pre-cut fruits like cantaloupe, watermelon, and pineapple for easy serving later.
Ants on a log
Celery layered with peanut butter and raisins on top.
Grab a tortilla, slather it with hummus, and add sliced avocados, everything bagel seasoning, and your favorite lunch meat
Good ol’ PB&J (or PB & honey) are great to eat at any temperature (no worries if they get hot in your backpack), so don’t feel like you have to get fancy
A family classic, and a good crowd-pleaser. If you want more than just mac n’ cheese as the main event, you can also serve with hot dogs roasted over the fire. In case you don’t have the time to prep your own cheese sauce, grab a family-sized box of pre-packaged macaroni and cheese – just make sure to buy the kind with the liquid, squeezy cheese (like Velveeta or Kraft Deluxe). Use foil pans for effortless cooking and cleanup.
Ingredients (to feed four):
8 oz. (half a box) elbow macaroni
½ lb. Velveeta cheese, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp. garlic powder
4 Tbsp. cold butter, cubed
1 c. shredded cheese (cheddar, Colby jack, gouda – pick your favorite!)
Cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain.
Stir in cubed Velveeta cheese until melted and spread evenly over macaroni.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic powder for a bit of extra flavor. Stir into macaroni.
Spray foil pans with nonstick cooking spray, and pour pasta into the pans. You can use one large foil pan for the whole family, or smaller foil pans for each person.
Add butter cubes to each foil pan.
Sprinkle shredded cheese on top. For individual pans, each person can add their favorite shredded cheese and then write their name on top of their pan.
Wrap pans tightly with foil, leaving some extra to create a rolled foil handle on top so the pans are easy to grab out of the fire.
Refrigerate until it’s time to pack them in the cooler.
When out camping, place pans wrapped in foil directly onto the coals of the fire until the mac n’ cheese is hot and bubbly!
Tacos can be messy, especially for people like me who don’t know when to stop adding toppings. Walking tacos help with the mess by being portable and contained, so instead of feeding the wildlife, you can just feed your family. Biggest bonus: toppings make this meal ultra-customizable for picky eaters. If you made the breakfast burrito recipe listed above, you can reuse toppings for your tacos! It’s a win-win!
Ingredients (to feed four):
1 lb. ground beef
1 packet of taco or chili seasoning
4 individual bags of Doritos or Fritos + extra for the hungry bears in your family
Shredded jack cheese or queso
Shredded lettuce or cabbage
Chopped green onions
1 can Rotel
1 can corn
1 can sliced black olives
THE LIST COULD GO ON – add any other toppings you like
At home, add ground beef to a skillet to begin browning.
While the meat cooks, chop lettuce or cabbage and green onions. Place in small containers or baggies that will fit in your cooler (we use these reusable silicone Stasher bags).
You can also open up the canned goods and place in other containers if you don’t want to deal with opening cans while camping. Otherwise, remember to bring a few extra containers for the leftovers that aren’t eaten!
I recommend leaving the avocado intact until you are at your campsite as avocados turn brown quickly after cutting.
Once the meat is cooked through, drain the excess fat. Add in the taco or chili seasoning and stir. Let cool, and then transfer to a container or baggie, and store in the refrigerator until it’s time to put it in the cooler.
At your campsite, warm up the meat over the campfire or on a camp stove by adding a little bit of water until it’s heated through. If you chose to use queso, you can stir it into the meat prior to heating.
Have each person open up their own bag of Doritos or Fritos and start layering the meat and all the toppings in! Some people like to crush up their chips before adding in goodies so it’s easier to get a bite on a fork. Mix it all up and chow down!
Imagine taking a deep breath and smelling the fresh pine trees, wood smoke from your campfire, and freshly baked cake. Wait, what? Do these scents go together? Never in my life have I come across a candle that mixes those scents, but it’s because candle makers never envisioned fresh cake in the wilderness. Well, they should start dreaming bigger because it’s totally achievable and completely delicious!
Can you make batter ahead of time? The short answer is yes. Pre-mixing batter won’t much affect the way your cake turns out when using cake mix because it has additives that give it stability. Making batter from scratch, on the other hand, will not include those additives. The chemical reactions between leaveners and acids, and the air added from whipping your homemade batter won’t be preserved well if the batter is stored instead of baked right away. Though let’s be honest, cooking cake over a campfire isn’t an exact science anyway. Heat will differ depending on where your orange cake is placed in the fire, and how hot your campfire coals are. Either way, give yourself a deserved break and use a packaged cake mix because this is one time that it will likely turn out better than homemade batter! You can choose any flavor cake mix. I use chocolate because chocolate and oranges just go together like peas and carrots.
+ Ingredients on cake mix label (usually eggs and oil, sometimes milk)
+ All-purpose flour (usually a couple extra tablespoons are needed to follow high-altitude recipes)
4-8 oranges (enough for the whole family and then some because there is batter for plenty of orange cakes)
2 Hershey’s chocolate bars
Plan when you are going to tackle this. If you are only refrigerating your batter before tossing it into the cooler, try to make the batter the night before you leave for your camping trip. If you aren’t going to eat your cake on the very first night of your trip, then you can freeze your batter for up to a few days. On your trip, it will slowly defrost in your cooler until you’re ready to use it.
Mix up cake batter according to high-altitude directions on box.
Pour the batter into a durable, double-zippered baggie. Store in fridge or place in freezer until it’s time to pack in the cooler.
At your campsite, give your kids a fun, messy activity by having them hollow out the oranges. If they aren’t old enough to use a knife yet, first cut an approximately 2-3” circle (large enough to get in there with a spoon) out of the top of the orange. Hand the orange and a spoon (advantage to the person who has a grapefruit spoon) to your child, and let them hollow out the “guts”. You can put all of the orange’s insides into a bowl for everyone to dig into while they’re waiting for cake to bake.
Give the batter a good mixing massage in the bag. Cut off a bottom corner of the bag, and squeeze an equal amount of batter into each of the prepped oranges. Be careful not to fill too full (no more than ⅔ full), or the cake that oozes out the top will likely burn.
Take a couple of squares of a Hershey bar, and break them up into smaller pieces. Drop these pieces into a batter-filled orange. This will give extra chocolatey-ness and moisture to your treat. Do this for each orange.
Place the caps back on the oranges. Wrap each one in foil while making sure to leave a little extra foil at the top to roll into a handle. This helps to always know which way is up and to prevent cake from spilling out before cooking.
Using tongs, place the foil-wrapped oranges into the coals of your campfire. The orange cakes will likely need at least 10 minutes to bake, but this depends on how hot the campfire is burning. Rotate the oranges every few minutes to cook the cakes evenly.
Using tongs, remove the orange cakes from the fire, take off the caps, and enjoy hot!
If you would like a slightly healthier dessert, or at least more fiber for a day, try something more savory, like elote (roasted sweet corn). This recipe is adapted from a recipe published on The Kitchn.
Ingredients (to feed four):
4 ears of corn
½ c. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. chili powder (or to taste)
1 Tbsp. cumin (or to taste)
¼ c. melted butter
½ c. Cotija cheese (or you can use parmesan in a pinch)
½ lime, cut into four wedges
Salt to taste
At home, mix mayonnaise, chili powder, and cumin. Place mixture into a container and refrigerate until it’s time to pack it in the cooler.
At your campsite, determine your cooking method. If cooking on a camp grill, you can leave the corn in the husks. If cooking over the fire, shuck the corn. Then either wrap each ear in foil and place on hot coals, or put on roasting sticks and roast over the fire.
Cook corn 10-15 minutes, until it is hot and bright yellow (or until husks are blackened).
When the corn is done cooking, remove husks (if still on), and roll corn in melted butter.
Slather with the pre-made mayonnaise mixture, then sprinkle on salt and cheese to taste. Squeeze lime wedge on your ear (no not yourear, the ear of corn!).
If you’re new to Flagstaff, or new to babies, you might be feeling a little apprehensive about snow. After a few years of trial and error, I feel confident that I’ve found a pretty good system to keep my little ones toasty.
Winter Base Layers
Start with wool base layers. It sounds itchy but I swear to you, wool is magical. It is moisture wicking, odor resistant, and naturally antibacterial. Wool will keep your babies warm, even when wet. It’s worth it to invest in some nice wool base layers and socks. And knit or crochet wool hats are a fun DIY project. Not only can it be used as a cozy base layer, we use our wool pants as cloth diaper covers, making one less layer to fuss with.
The next layer should be fleece. Like wool, it stays warm even when wet. Many baby buntings are fleece or have a fleece layer. For older kids, we often just use fleece footy pajamas under a snow suit.
Water Resistant Layer
These can run really expensive, but if your kids are well layered underneath you don’t really need to invest in a super waterproof snowsuit. Whatever they have at the thrift store will be fine. I got lucky and found a Patagonia bunting at a garage sale but you don’t need something so fancy.
Older kids who want to sled and build snow forts will need some good gloves. And honestly, I have yet to try anything that I was really happy about. Kid gloves are hard to get on, too easy to get off and rarely very warm. But someone recommended these to me and I am excited to try them this winter.
Keep Them Close
If you are taking your infant for a long winter adventure (or even just a stroll downtown on an especially frigid night) it is critical to keep them close so you can tell if they are getting cold. Don’t be tempted to put them in a backpack style carrier or stroller where you can’t easily feel their temperature. Keep them tightly against your body in a soft-structure carrier or a wrap style carrier. I made a video tutorial on how to tie a wrap.
In Mexico, Dia De Muertos (the “los” is mostly used in the U.S), is a pre-hispanic Aztec tradition that took place on different dates. After the Spanish came, they incorporated their religion with this tradition, and thus came what we now celebrate on November 1st and 2nd. Traditions such as altar building and offerings were ancient traditions that carried over to this holiday. The Catrina has become a very popular icon and is often used to represent this day. While there is a queen of the underground, this particular Catrina was drawn up in 1910 by a Mexican political cartoonist named Jose Guadalupe Posada. This Holiday is now widely celebrated throughout Mexico and Latin America.
What does this holiday mean to you?
Christina: This holiday to me means the celebration of our loved ones that have passed and honoring their lives. Bringing together generations and continuing a tradition and carrying forth the lives of ancestors and loved ones.
Shirley: For me, it is a day to really sit down and honor your ancestors. To talk and reflect on their lives and how their actions led to you being where you are. You come together with family to talk and share stories and pass down your history. I think about them year-round, this day, we celebrate that they lived, instead of mourning that they are gone
Did you celebrate it growing up?
Christina: I wasn’t aware of this holiday until I was in my early teens. Growing up we didn’t celebrate a lot of the traditions in Mexican culture, it just wasn’t incorporated. I wish I had an answer to that question, but I’m sure my parents had some validity as to why. But now that I have kids of my own, I’m trying to change that and make sure they’re aware of their culture and express that appreciation. In doing so, building an ofrenda with him and giving him a history lesson on the meaning of Dia de los Muertos, I feel I’m excelling at what my upbringing did not.
Shirley: Not really, no. I knew about it because my mom would always talk about how my aunts would go and clean up graves and put out jarritos de leche for the kids. As we got older, my aunt would start sending us pan de muerto, each piece personalized with our names. So it wasn’t until I was older that I started questioning why we did not take part of these traditions. My mom let me know that when they arrived from Mexico, they had no community to continue these traditions with, so they stopped because it wasn’t “the American way”. She acknowledges that it was hard to let go. Religion played a part in it too, but that’s kind of a lengthy topic on how I feel about that. Haha. Now, we do small things here and there together, mainly focusing on building an altar for our loved ones since we can’t go to Mexico every year to partake in the tradition of cleaning and decorating the graves.
What traditions do you carry on, or what traditions have you created?
Christina: I’ve incorporated what I consider a ‘year round ofrenda,’ which is an altar dedicated to our friends and family who have passed. Even though Dia de los Muertos is important, I also believe that keeping their memories alive every day is important. So I’ve dedicated a whole table specifically for this reason. I’ve adorned it with marigolds and various other flowers and have kept it free of anything other than what I’ve intended it for.
Shirley: Well, this holiday is celebrated differently all across Mexico (and across Latin America, including parts of the Caribbean). My family (from what has been shared) gets together to clean up the graves and decorate. Afterward, they drop flores de cempasuchil to make a path for the spirits to follow home. They make altars that include pictures and food favorites of those who have moved on. So the one tradition we have been able to keep up with is the altar. I can’t have food out, or the dog and cat will get to it, so I’ll do drinks and fruits. My son is really getting into sugar skulls, so I have to learn how to make them. I’ve made it an effort to start going to events or parades where we can celebrate with the community, so I guess that is one tradition we are starting.
Thoughts on Dia de Muertos in the U.S.? Appreciation or Appropriation?
Christina: This is a mouthful! I’ll try to explain why I feel there is misappropriation within the U.S. I feel that it has become synonymous with Halloween since both fall on the same day, but Dia de los Muertos continues on until November 2nd. They’re two separate holidays that come from separate cultures. Within my household, I celebrate both individually, as well as decorate for each. Which also, can be a hindrance, since I don’t and can’t find everything I want specifically for Dia de los Muertos or Halloween for that matter. When it comes to decorating or finding things that are specific to this holiday, can be frustrating. If someone wants to participate in this celebration, just research events in your community and incorporate things within your home.
Shirley: I definitely feel that Dia De Muertos has been appropriated in the U.S! You’ll see Catrina costumes for sale at retail stores, you’ll see sugar skulls used to advertise for restaurant specials, and so on and so forth. A Holiday that brings reverence and respect for our loved ones who have passed has become a cash cow for retailers across the country. This holiday is NOT “Mexican Halloween” and it shouldn’t be treated as such. With that being said, you most definitely can appreciate the holiday by learning about what it means. Look up traditions from different places that celebrate the holiday. Support artists who are not benefitting from another culture. Look up events in your area and attend the celebrations! Nuestras Raices in Flagstaff puts on cultural displays at the Northern Arizona Museum, filled with altares and much much more.
A beautiful representation of what an ofrenda can look like, is shown below. Honoring your family includes placing favorite foods or drinks on the altar and incorporating marigolds, which attract the souls of the dead and allowing the souls of our loved ones to cross over. This holiday amongst the Latin communities is a treasured time but it’s not inclusive and we implore those interested to indulge in this holiday and research the beauty of honoring and respecting our loved ones that have passed.
A – ACCEPT that there is a lot of work involved in camping with littles. Acquiesce to the fact that, unlike the carefree trips of your youth, it will be a bit exhausting (because now you get to do all the work your parents did, and your kids are the carefree ones!). The adventure is still out there, it’s just a different kind.
B – BE PREPARED for every eventuality. Over-pack because nothing spells misery for you like a miserable kid in the woods.
C – CHECKLIST check. Make a list and shop ahead of time to avoid stress. Methodically check off items on your list.
The first time my husband and I took my daughter camping, she was seven months old. We were anxious to go because my third-trimester pregnancy the previous summer had more or less precluded camping while I was feeling so uncomfortable. That first camping trip with an infant was a major feat. It took a lot of prep to ensure her happiness and safety while we ventured off the grid. We had to bring an incredible amount of water – enough to clean bottles and breast pump parts. The entire spring was unbelievably cold, so we toted along a propane heater to make sure our baby would be warm. My husband built a mini-crib to prevent her from rolling anywhere unsafe. I had to accept that each night, after putting the baby to bed, I wouldn’t get to relax under starlight right away – instead I had to sit in the car with my breast pump while my husband and friends hung out by the fire. It was exhausting. But not even a month later, we turned around and went camping again. And then again. Now this year we have been able to go camping with her as a toddler. Her needs are different, but the amount of work hasn’t changed, and we still had to operate around her schedule to maintain a happy, balanced toddler attitude.
I wouldn’t give up a second of any of those trips. Watching my daughter interact with the natural world, spending quality bonding time, making art out of pinecones, snuggling in sleeping bags, splashing in streams, playing in the rain… all moments made possible by camping. But my absolute favorite? Feeling like a supermom hiking her around to so many different places. My crowning moment was when she got hungry during a hike back from Delicate Arch. I nursed her while she was strapped to my body as I hiked down that giant slab in approaching twilight. I had a feeling like I was capable of anything, and I was joyously reliving her megawatt smiles that I witnessed against the backdrop of one of my favorite places. These are precious moments that I will never forget, that give me the conviction to say, I’m going to continue giving myself and my daughter these experiences as she grows up.
This brings me back to the ABC’s of camping, which can set you up for success while adventuring with your littles.
A) If you ACCEPT beforehand the amount of work involved in camping with little kids, and that things probably won’t go exactly as planned (because kids, the weather, swarms of bugs, diaper blowouts, and many other things are unpredictable), then you will set your expectations in the right place. Having realistic expectations is important for feeling like you had a fun, successful trip. Acquiescing to the fact that it is tiring (because it takes more effort to put excited kids down for a nap, to make meals out of messy camping bins, or to pack up a bag for a day hike with prepped bottles and a mountain of items for diapering) and that things may not go according to plan will help you roll with the punches a little easier.
B) I cannot emphasize enough that BEING PREPARED is a key to unlocking the best kind of experience when camping with littles. Gone are the days of “Let’s go camping tomorrow!” and voila, you’re packed and ready in less than an hour without caring about what you forgot as long as you have extra socks. Planning ahead will greatly increase your chances of successfully pulling off a camping trip that you and your little one(s) enjoy. This means grocery shopping ahead of time, prepping meals beforehand to make life infinitely easier while you are camping (you have a million duties when it comes to little kids – being able to throw something on your campfire or portable grill will expedite everyone’s happiness). Chop vegetables ahead of time, make breakfast burritos and freeze them to keep other items in your cooler chilled, pre-boil any noodles, bake easy banana muffins, etc. Dedicate one night on the weekend before your trip to do meal prep, and you will thank yourself 1000x over while you are camping. Go shopping (whether in-store or online) the week before to make sure you have everything you need instead of having to stop on your way to your destination, thereby adding additional car time and grumpiness to your child’s attitude. Fill your propane, get your biodegradable soaps and toilet paper, and knock out all your errands ahead of time. Which brings me to the final point.
C) Make a CHECKLIST. On my first trip out with my daughter, I forgot an important item. My friends camping with us asked, “Well, was it on the list?” Nope, it wasn’t. Their response: “Well if it’s not on the list, how are you supposed to remember to bring it?” I now have a living document (meaning a dynamic document that is constantly edited and updated) on Google Sheets that is called “Packing Lists”. The baby has a list. My husband and I have a list. The dog has a list. On each person’s (or dog’s!) list are a categorical breakdown of other lists for different types of trips (e.g., my daughter has categorical lists for clothing, sleeping, playing, diapering, feeding, camping, and flying). Every time someone remembers something else to add, it immediately is put onto our living list so whatever it isn’t forgotten next time. Every trip we take, we only have to refer to the lists already made and don’t need to put much thought into it because the work has already been done! This is one of my absolute favorite things, and it takes a lot of the stress out of camping. To help get you jump-started, see the printable Baby and Toddler Camping Checklist on this post.
Camping with little kids isn’t for the faint of heart. You must be committed to the fun you know you can have while you’re out adventuring in the wild, whether it’s immediate or retroactive (yes, there is more than one type of fun). You must be committed to the all the preparations beforehand and the work that goes into it while you’re out there so your little ones can be comfortable and everyone can be happy campers.
You don’t need to convince yourself it’s worth it. It totally, utterly is. The adventure awaits!
I’ve been documenting my meal planning for the last few years trying to unlock the secret to making it quick and headache-free. Currently, my family has been using this formula, and while it’s quite broad, it does help to narrow down a household of opinions.
Yes, my broadest day of the week, but these are the communities I grew up with and the foods are a comfort (and a hit!)
Current favorites: Chilaquiles, Taco Tuesday or sweet potato and black bean enchiladas; Pancit, pad see ew, stir fry or fried rice.
Wednesday: It’s Italian
I’m Sicilian so my culture gets its own reoccurring night. How would this night look for your family?
Current rotation: Spaghetti, pesto, ravioli or pasta salad.
Thursday: Salad night
To be honest, I hate salad, but this is my attempt at making healthy positive changes for myself and my family. Jazz it up how you like. Don’t get bored.
This week: Taco salad.
Friday: Rice and beans or leftovers
We use Fridays to be penitent and mindful of what we have that others don’t.
Current rotation: Beans and rice burritos, beans and rice with veggies, leftovers thrown in a tortilla or with eggs.
Saturday and Sunday: It’s the weekend!
Something a little bit bigger and a little more special that takes more time to throw together. BBQ, casseroles, Sunday gravy, lasagna, moussaka or take out! This week my kids chose breakfast for dinner for Saturday followed by Diablo Burger for Sunday.
Every Halloween season there is a fresh new controversy over what is or isn’t an appropriate costume. What is cultural appropriation? It’s complex and confusing, to say the least.
Let’s start with a definition:
Wikipedia says that “Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of a minorityculture by members of the dominant culture. Because of the presence of power imbalances that are a byproduct of colonialism and oppression, cultural appropriation is distinct from an equal cultural exchange.”
Cambridge dictionary defines it as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”
So it is NOT black and white. This isn’t easy. Intent, knowledge, respect and power imbalance all play a part in defining something as appropriation.
Avoid appropriation this Halloween:
Is the costume a culture, ethnicity, or stereotype?
These are always disrespectful. This includes dressing as a Gypsy, Native-American, person of color, Mexican, Muslim, Catholic, if the costume says “urban” on it. ANYTHING that involves stereotyping a group of people is not an acceptable Halloween costume. BUT there is an exception to this rule. If you yourself are of native decent and you chose to wear the traditional regalia of your people that is obviously fine. Intent and power imbalance are important.
Does the costume involve anything sacred?
The sacred should always be off limits. Do your research. Unless it is your culture you may not wear a feather headdress or a bindi, and you may not paint your face like Calaveras (Mexican sugar skulls.)
Is the costume a specific non-fictional person?
This is a grey area and intent and power balance play important roles here. If you or your child is dressing as a historical figure they should be doing so with respect. The costume should not be a caricature that exploits stereotypes, should not involve hairstyles or accessories that are significant to marginalized peoples and it should not EVER involve blackface.
So what is an OK costume?
Unicorns, ghosts, vampires, super heroes, space aliens, wizards, just about anything imaginary. Fictional characters and fantastic beasts are safe with a few exceptions. What if your kid wants to be Moana or Jasmine? Because these are specific fictional characters dressing as them is not exactly cultural appropriation. But, because they represent marginalized peoples, it’s not really an ideal costume for a child who is not a member of the marginalized group. If you can’t talk your kid out of it, make sure that you are really sensitive about the costume and do your best to be tasteful about it. Just do your research.
We have recently joined the world of food allergies and restrictions. We are facing our first Halloween since the diagnoses. While I was aware of the Teal Pumpkin Project and the idea of offering safe and non-food items for trick-or-treaters, it’s obviously become a lot more important to me now.
Food restrictions can be isolating for anyone, but especially for kids. I didn’t realize how much food is integrated into kids activities until we were faced with trying to let our kids participate in a safe way. Birthdays, school parties, social events and holidays- like Halloween. If you’re not in this situation with your kid, you may not realize the planning, preparation and bandwidth that food restrictions take up in a parent’s mind. If your child’s health depends on what they eat- or don’t eat- your energy is going to both keeping them safe but also trying to let them be kids and to enjoy “normal” things other kids can do. By making your house safe for kids with food restrictions on Halloween, you can help take some of that load off of another parent’s shoulders, even for an evening.
The Teal Pumpkin Project advocates offering non-food items for trick-or-treaters. Ideas include stickers, temporary tattoos, pencils, glow sticks. These items are usually available in multi-packs at the dollar store. I also shop the clearance after Halloween and stock up, then I sock those things away for the following year.
There are also lots of candies that avoid the 8 most common allergens (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy) that account for 90% of food allergies. Starburst, skittles, dum dums, nerds all fit that bill.
This is also a great opportunity to model compassion and community to kids. Food allergy and celiac families did not choose this, and it means the world for others to consider our families in planning celebrations. I never, ever expect someone to go out of their way to accommodate us, but it is so meaningful when they do. What if kids learned Halloween is more than just a chance to dress up and gorge on candy, it’s also a chance to look out for other kids and make sure everyone can have fun?
It’s not an all-or-nothing game, either. You can have a bowl of whatever candy you prefer, one of top 8 allergen-free candy, and some non-food treats. Making Halloween more inclusive doesn’t mean giving up your family’s traditions, it just means making it a fun night where all kids can just be kids.