A Trip to Grant’s Farm in St. Louis

The Bauernhof
The Bauernhof at Grant’s Farm

We recently spent a week at my parents’ house in Southern Illinois. I love returning to the sleepy town that I grew up in, and more specifically, to the house that I grew up in — not just because my mom cooks for us and does our laundry (thanks, Mom!). Though, those are nice perks. Going home is almost always so relaxing. The pace is much slower than our normal day-to-day.

While I welcome a slower pace with open arms, I have a two-year-old who has yet to learn the definition of “slow pace.” So I tried to think of some things to do with Nora while we were in Illinois. Grant’s Farm in St. Louis was at the top of my list. It’s a great place to take kids of all ages, including toddlers. Grant’s Farm is essentially a mini zoo with some hands-on activities. I find it to be a little bit less of a production than the St. Louis Zoo (which is also great, by the way). I hadn’t been to Grant’s Farm in probably over 20 years, but not much has changed since then.

Upon arrival, you board a tram and are driven through the area called Deer Park. We saw animals from all over the world, including cows from India and deer from China. Riding the tram was the main fascination for Nora, though, not so much the animals. The ride ends at Tier Garten, where you disembark and see other animals like llamas, camels, zebras and birds. You can also choose to ride a carousel or a camel, depending on how risky you’re feeling. There are baby goats to feed, as well as parakeets. Yes, if it strikes your fancy, you can walk into a cage full of birds and feed them.

Parakeet feeding, AKA, my worst nightmare
Parakeet feeding, AKA, my worst nightmare

I don’t think Nora even realized there was a massive cage full of birds when we walked by (phew). She was content to simply watch those that had a bit more freedom.

Checking out the macaws
Checking out the macaws

The path through Grant’s Farm ends at The Bauernhof, where you can indulge in brats and pretzels in the European-feeling courtyard. Off of the courtyard are the stables which house the famous Clydesdales, as well as the hospitality room, where you can enjoy Anheuser-Busch products (if you’re 21, of course).

We spent somewhere around an hour and a half to two hours at Grant’s Farm. There’s no admission fee but it costs $12 to park. A great little way to spend a morning!

6 Must-Haves for a Road Trip With Your Toddler

I vividly remember summer road trips when I was a kid. The first one I can recall was when I was four years old. My mom and grandma drove my two sisters and me to visit our great-aunt in Miami, Florida. It was just a wee 18-hour drive from Illinois, which was thankfully spread across two days. My two sisters and I piled into the backseat of Mom’s Ford Granada and had to keep ourselves busy. One vacation treat we always got was a new Barbie doll, but of course the novelty quickly wore off. So we would color in Barbie coloring books, play travel Connect Four, play a version of I spy, catalog other cars’ license plates in hopes of seeing one from each of the 50 states and gesture at truckers to get them to honk their horns.

I like to think Nora will do some of those same things on our road trips in years to come. We already attempted I spy on our last road trip, and that lasted for about three minutes. Luckily I had plenty of other ways for her to pass the time in my arsenal of Mom goodies.

Before we take a road trip with Nora, I pack up one reusable shopping bag full of stuff that I think might entertain her for some period of time. A trip down the dollar aisle at Target is a great place to find cheap things for road trips, but a lot of those items are geared towards older kids, and Nora’s only two. On our recent 14-hour road trip to Illinois, I was very thankful to have packed these six road trip must-haves in my Mom bag:

  1. Crayola’s Color Wonder Color & Go set is recommended for ages three and up, but Nora did just fine with it. If you’re unfamiliar with Color Wonder, the magic is that the markers only color on Color Wonder paper. So no biggie if the uncapped marker falls on the car seat, or your child is like Nora and likes to color all over herself/himself. The yellow case is perfect for travel, as it fits perfectly on little laps and has two clips to hold the paper in place.
  2. The iPad is reserved for long road trips, otherwise Nora would want to watch The Wiggles every time we drove to the grocery store. We make sure it’s loaded with plenty of videos — namely, The Wiggles and Sesame Street — and fully charged, then we pop it into this iPad headrest mount holder. Although the holder is designed to be mounted on the back of the front seat headrest, we used to jimmy it on the backseat headrest when Nora was still facing backwards in her infant car seat.
  3. Find the least offensive children’s music that you’ll be able to stomach for hours on end, and load up the iPod with tunes. Do yourself a favor and steer clear of Nora’s current favorite, Music Together’s Triangle Song Collection. Surprisingly, there is some children’s music out there that doesn’t make me want to jab my eyes out with a hot poker.
  4. … and when your kiddo’s tunes are just too much for you to take any longer without steering the car right off the road, pop these Kidz Gear headphones on her/his little head and enjoy the silence, or your own tunes. I found them at Target and we just used them for the first time. KP was skeptical but Nora thought she was pretty cool. Plus, there’s a volume control switch so you don’t have to worry about your child going deaf.
  5. It seems like a no-brainer to pack snacks, but I’m always surprised at the parents I see on airplanes who haven’t packed snacks for their kids. We try to be healthy, but rules get bent greatly for road trips. Nora is partial to these Earth’s Best Sunny Days Snack Bars.
  6. Stickers are the ultimate two-year-old treat, I’m learning. And they’re harmless, mostly. We learned that the stickers from Nora’s Sesame Street coloring book could essentially double as duct tape. We learned this after she covered her legs with them.
Do not try this at home, kids.
Do not try this at home, kids.

You don’t have to do or buy anything elaborate to keep your toddler entertained while on the road. Have options so that she/he can mix it up every so often, and if all else fails, a stop to stretch the legs and breathe some fresh air always seems to help everyone in the car.

Review: Cosco Scenera Convertible Car Seat

It goes without saying, there is so much “stuff” to think about and secure when traveling with an infant. With a few flights with Nora under our belt, we’ve more or less gotten the hang of things, but of course something is always forgotten — like, how I forgot to include an extra change of clothing for her on our last trip to Texas. Upon arrival, Nora’s shirt and pants were sufficiently soiled in dried, caked-on applesauce. Oops.

And just when we have the hang of things, something changes and throws a wrench into our otherwise well-planned travel routine. The latest wrench — a new car seat. Now that Nora rides in a big girl car seat, we were in search of a new car seat for her solely for travel purposes — both in an airplane as well as a car at our destination. The Britax car seat that we use on a daily basis is way too heavy to lug around an airport, and I’m not even certain if it would fit in an airplane (or if it’s approved for air travel).

I did some light research for a new car seat on Consumer Reports and Amazon. The Cosco Scenera car seat got high ratings from both. It weighs just nine pounds and cost less than $50 on Amazon. Search over. I figured, if we hated it at least it wasn’t too expensive.

Cosco Scenera car seat

Good thing, because we hate it.

Okay, “hate” is a strong word. And there are some things about it that aren’t bad. I already mentioned how lightweight it is and the reasonable price. It was easy to install in the airplane seat, and for that portion of the trip, it worked just fine. Nora seemed comfortable and the car seat felt secure in the airplane seat.

It’s when we used the Scenera for what it is — a car seat — that it left a lot to be desired. A lot. When we first installed the seat in the car, it seemed okay. But then we put Nora in the car seat and it was impossible to tighten the harness sufficiently. No matter how hard we pulled, we simply couldn’t get a snug fit. And then we started driving and the car seat was so wobbly. I couldn’t get over how much it moved around compared to the Britax that we use at home. I insisted on sitting in the back seat next to her, as if I could do something if we were to — god forbid — get in an accident.

We tried the Scenera in two different vehicles but it didn’t make a difference. The harness didn’t fit snugly and the seat itself did not seem securely installed. We have friends who have the exact same seat and had better luck than us, and they use a rolled up towel to help the seat fit properly. Interestingly, Consumer Reports also states, “may require a rolled towel for installation at a proper recline angle.” We tried using a towel to no avail.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a Consumer Reports devotee; before we had Nora, I scoured the site for every possible item we were going to buy for her and if they didn’t rate it or if it didn’t get a good rating, then we didn’t buy it. So I’m completely shocked that they give this cheap piece of garbage a score of 62 (by the way, the highest rated car seat got a 65).

I’m not sure when this would ever be the case, but if we were to ever travel via air without the need for a car seat after we arrived at our destination, then I’d use the Cosco Scenera again. But there’s no way I’d use it as a car seat again. I may as well let Nora fly around the backseat, unrestrained, like I did as a kid and she’d be safer!

So now we’re back to the drawing board for a travel car seat. Luckily, Nora’s getting a little older and I think there may be some other options for her instead of a car seat on an airplane. I’ve heard about the CARES Airplane Safety Harness, but it was never an option before because Nora was too little. It just might be one to check out the next time we fly the friendly skies.

Baby-friendly New York City?

Central Park

I tend to really overthink things and cause myself unnecessary anxiety when we travel with Nora. How are we going to fit everything? Is she going to sleep okay? Where will she sleep? Can I take food on the plane for her? (Duh!) Is the hotel baby-friendly? What restaurants are baby-friendly? Sometimes this stress is completely unnecessary, and other times, it’s valid.

I think stressing about traveling to New York City with a baby was legitimate — even though we chose to take her there. Now, there are plenty of people who rave that it’s a perfectly baby-friendly city, like the bellman at our hotel who, when questioned about baby-friendly restaurants in the area, responded, “all of them!” Oh fantastic! Let me just pop Nora in her stroller and we’ll head right over to Le Bernardin, then. I wouldn’t call New York City un-baby-friendly, but I definitely think other cities are much easier with a baby in tow.

What makes Manhattan with a baby so challenging? Well, for starters, the people, the crowds. By our last day, it was just easier to let Nora play with her toys in our hotel room rather than battle the crowds with her stroller.  And all of those people want to go to the same shops and restaurants that you do. Trying to quickly grab lunch at Pret-a-Manger was navigating a mob scene. And you know how New York City has earned the title, “the city that never sleeps?” That’s because it’s noisy, all the time. All day and all night there are horns honking, sirens blaring — just noise. Nora got that memo loud and clear and partook by not sleeping much herself on our first night.

That said, I think we did quite alright on our brief stay in the Big Apple. Here is a list of where we stayed, ate, explored and shopped (by shop, I mean for things like groceries!) while in New York City, all of which I found to be baby-friendly.

Warwick New York Hotel

Right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, Warwick New York Hotel is within walking distance of Central Park, one of my favorite baby-friendly spots in New York City. We find it easiest to stay in a suite when we travel with Nora, and Warwick often has deals on suites on Jetsetter. Take “deals” as a relative term — it’s still New York City, after all. Though the lobby is a little cramped, it’s easy enough to maneuver a stroller through, as are the hallways. The elevators are a bit small but we didn’t have any issues. There’s an accessible entrance on 6th Avenue, which is actually better for coming and going because most other guests seem to use the main entrance on 54th Street. We had a premier suite which was incredibly spacious, with more than enough room for our endless amount of “stuff,” and Nora had plenty of space to crawl. Best of all, there wasn’t much baby-proofing that needed to be done, and nearly all of the furniture had rounded edges, save for the mirrored coffee table. The crib that the hotel supplied was one of the nicer ones that’s actually like a mini crib, not a pack ‘n play.

Bistro Milano

We liked Bistro Milano so much that we ate there twice. Admittedly, when Nora and I first strolled by, my knee-jerk reaction was that it wasn’t baby-friendly due to the white tablecloths and the fact that I didn’t see any highchairs. But the bellman at the hotel recommended it for dinner, so we gave it a go. It ended up being a great choice. We sat in the outdoor café, the food (Northern Italian) was good and KP and I enjoyed summer sangria (delicious on that particularly muggy Manhattan evening). Stroller space — both for maneuvering and parking — wasn’t an issue. And Nora devoured an entire piece of pizza (sans crust) — a first!

Ray’s Pizza

One of my favorite New York City spots, Ray’s was a must for a slice. We didn’t dine in since our hotel was so close by, but you definitely could with a baby. There are several locations throughout the city.

53rd Street Gourmet Deli

Throwing all Weight Watchers caution to the wind, I was determined to get my hands on a proper New York bagel with a schmear. I foolishly bought one from a street vendor and promptly threw it in the garbage after one bite. It tasted like a cigarette-infused piece of cardboard. I wouldn’t allow that to be Nora’s first New York bagel experience. So we popped into 53rd Street Deli for the real deal. Nora and I shared a delicious toasted whole wheat bagel with what felt like an entire brick of cream cheese in the middle. They have more than just bagels, though — it’s a full deli with seating inside and out.

Ernest Klein Supermarket

I was stupidly happy to stumble upon Ernest Klein Supermarket, located just across the street from Warwick New York Hotel. It was one of our first stops to stock up on milk, fruit and cheese sticks. In addition to grocery items, there’s a deli, sushi bar and prepared foods. Silly as it may sound, having this supermarket so close by made my day. You never know what you’re going to need when you have a baby…

Duane Reade

Let me reiterate: you never know what you’re going to need when you have a baby… So having not one, but two Duane Reades right near our hotel was very convenient. There are Duane Reades all over the city, though, so no matter where you stay, you’ll probably be covered.

Central Park

I love Central Park. And I loved it even more after this trip since it was right up the street from our hotel, and I often found myself itching to escape the crowds with Nora. So we spent a morning and afternoon in the park. As always, it was so peaceful to just get away from everyone and everything else and enjoy the calm.

I still love New York City, but now that I have a baby and have experienced it with her, I think it will remain a mom and dad-only destination for the foreseeable future. Sure, it could’ve been worse, but it also could’ve been better. We ate some yummy food and I got to see some friends, but I really don’t know that Nora much enjoyed it, so why bother? I’m pretty sure she thoroughly enjoyed shredding the hotel magazines in our room, though, and for that, I apologize to housekeeping.

When in Dallas…

Giddy'upWhen we were recently in Texas, I was determined to get some kind of small souvenir for Nora, in keeping with the tradition my mom started when she took my sisters and me on vacations when we were little. I still fondly remember the cat gum parkers that we got maybe in Florida?

I digress.

On our first stop in Dallas, I spotted these adorable onesies that had a pair of cowboy boots in red bandana print on the front. But we had to race to another terminal for our next flight. I figured I could always pick it up on our return trip. Or not. The terminal we departed from only had shops with these kind of hilarious onesies, instead. Admittedly, Nora would’ve looked pretty damn cute, but I love my daughter too much to subject her to this.

 

Five Tips to Entertain Baby on an Airplane

Nora has now officially logged two domestic airplane trips, her first at 13 weeks and her second at nearly nine months. And we’re already thinking about where to go next.

Our recent trip to Texas was by no means difficult. Nora is a good little traveler for the most part and doesn’t get any crankier than I do (my husband might say less so). That said, this trip was slightly easier because we splurged and got her her own seat. Technically, she can be a lap child until age two, but her squirming around doesn’t jive with a two-hour flight in my or my husband’s lap. So we were able to bring her car seat on board so that she could sit in it the entire time, which she mostly did.

Even still, we needed to have some tricks up our sleeves to keep her entertained. None of these things are terribly revolutionary, but sometimes when feeling crazed, you can’t even think of the most obvious things.

iPad entertainment

  • A game of peek-a-boo is totally underrated. Yes, peek-a-boo! Either that, or my daughter is way too easily entertained. She loves this, and all it takes is a Taggie or little blanket. Plus, she lets out one of her big belly laughs that I can guarantee fellow passengers prefer much over crying.
  • Before I had a child, I thought WubbaNubs were the most obnoxious things. I still kind of do, but Nora loves her caterpillar and the poor girl needs something to suck on during takeoff and landing. I prefer the WubbaNub to a regular pacifier for this age (nine months) because she can easily grip it herself and it’s less likely to get tossed on the disgusting floor.
  • I hate the idea of Nora becoming glued to devices at a young age, so we try not to let her have our iPhones or iPad. The one exception? In flight! I will pretty much do whatever it takes to keep her happy when we’re on a flight, and if that means letting her play Peekaboo Barn (there’s that peek-a-boo game again), so be it. We also downloaded a few Laurie Berkner and Sesame Street videos, neither of which were even needed (thank god).
  • If you’re more of a stickler about devices than I am, you can always opt for good old-fashioned books. Nora loves books and the small board books that fit in her little hands are perfect for an airplane.
  • It’s just worked out that our flights have always coincided with Nora’s feeding. Not entertainment, but feeding takes up a fair amount of time and keeps the bambino occupied.

If all else fails, you can always go into a flight prepared to preemptively ask for your fellow passengers’ sympathy like these parents did.

Baby Travel Essentials

Must-Haves for Traveling with a Baby

My husband and I traveled quite a bit in our pre-baby days. We’d try to log two trips to Europe plus a handful of domestic trips every year. And while we’re not quite that zealous now that we have a baby (yet!), it’s important to us to get our daughter equally intrigued by travel. After all, we’d feel kind of guilty leaving her at home with a baby-sitter when we go to Italy or another destination du jour for two weeks.

Thus far, she’s been on a small handful of short-ish road trips (five hours max, give or take) and one airplane trip. She’s only three months old; give her some time! Those few trips have taught me a lot, though, in terms of absolute must-haves for traveling with a baby. You might feel like the Clampetts — or a pack mule, as my husband refers to himself — because babies are pretty high-maintenance in terms of their travel essentials. But all of this stuff will no doubt make your life much easier en route or when you arrive at your destination.

  • Dapple Surface Wipes and Pacifier Wipes are in my diaper bag at all times, whether or not we’re traveling. I love that their products are natural and non-toxic, and unlike some “green” products, they don’t cost an arm and a leg. I can’t tell you how many times we used the pacifier wipes on a recent flight. Lifesavers!
  • Travel bags for strollers and car seats are well worth the money. We bought one of each but don’t be fooled, they aren’t nearly as streamlined as the pictures on the boxes might portray. Our Britax bags are big and cumbersome. You will not look like any of these people casually strolling through the airport with your happy family. Again, think about the Clampetts because that’s what you’ll look like. You will, however, arrive at your destination with your stroller and car seat in perfect condition.
  • Travel size diaper wipes, formula, medicine — you name it. Anything you can buy in a travel size will make your life easier. Your diaper bag will be so jam-packed that it will be impossible to fit full-size wipes along with everything else you need. I especially like the packets of powdered baby formula; you can fit tons of those in your diaper bag.
  • aden + anais swaddles are my favorite day in and day out (and they were long before Prince George started causing them to sell out), but they’re especially great for travel. The light muslin fabric makes a perfect “tent” over your stroller, and I like to drape mine over my daughter when she sleeps on the plane (I wish I had a photo to share because she kept pushing it off her forehead and she looked like Mother Theresa). The muslin fabric will keep your baby cool in the summer and warm in the winter. (aden + anais has other great products besides swaddles, too, like muslin crib sheets, bibs and more – love it all!)
  • Dog poop bags serve double duty as dirty diaper bags when you’re in a bind. And since the roll is so compact, you can easily fit a few in your diaper bag.
  • Some sort of entertainment is a must if you’re traveling by plane, and exactly what that entertainment is will vary depending on your child’s age. But dear god, please do not let your child be the one who is supposed to be entertained by a packet of peanuts (besides, most airlines don’t even hand them out anymore). Our three-month old loves her Taggies blanket right now.
  • The Trunki is genius. It’s luggage! It’s a ride-on toy! It will keep your tot entertained at the airport! Our daughter will have one of these when she is old enough.
  • A Baby Bjorn or other type of carrier will not only be useful on your trip, but also en route. If you gate check your stroller, it’s very convenient to pop your baby into the carrier until the stroller arrives. I personally love the Baby Bjorn Active Carrier because it offers a little extra back support.

The Broadmoor with a Baby

The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs

Our daughter is lucky to have a mommy who works in the travel industry. Because my first trip as a child not only wasn’t when I was a wee 14 weeks old, but it also wasn’t to a AAA Five-Diamond resort! I’m pretty sure I was four years old or so, and we drove to Florida to visit my Great-Aunt Marge. Oh yeah, and Disney World.

The Broadmoor

But nothing but the best for our little one! The Broadmoor or bust.

Some people looked at us like we each had eight heads when we said we were taking our 14-week old daughter on vacation. But plenty of other people have traveled with babies younger than ours — and for greater distances. Our flight from Chicago to Denver was only about two hours, which is precisely why we decided to go to Colorado. And backing up a step further, we decided we wanted to travel with her when she’s this young because we travel a lot. And we want her to learn how to travel and to enjoy it as much as we do. That, and plenty of people told us to travel with your child when she’s really young because it’s easiest.

Once we decided to go to Colorado, we quickly pinpointed The Broadmoor. I had heard nothing but good things about it and the fact that it’s family-friendly catapulted it to the top of our list. What I didn’t realize is that The Broadmoor is really like its own little community within Colorado Springs. When you drive up to the property, you really get a sense of its grandeur.

We booked a suite, which was one of our smarter splurges, and it was in the west tower versus the main building. This ended up being a very good thing, I learned, near the end of our trip. The main building is just a lot buzzier and it seemed like there was a constant flow of people in and out. While the west tower was occasionally busy, it was incredibly easy to maneuver Nora’s stroller down the long, wide hallways (of fame) without batting an eye (or worrying about running into someone).

Hall of Fame at The Broadmoor
Hall of Fame

It’s a toss-up as to the best part of our suite — either the balcony with the incredible view (hello, mountains!), or the fact that there was a crib in the bedroom so we could put Nora to bed, close the door and hang out in the living room.

Nora's accommodations

Hotels like The Broadmoor that offer cribs are brilliant, in my opinion. And note, it’s actually a crib, not a pack ‘n play (although they offered those, too, if that’s what you fancy). Lugging a pack ‘n play along on your trip is one less thing you have to worry about.

Back to the view — it wasn’t too shabby. In fact, we ordered room service and dined al fresco our first night there.

Our viewWhile there are so many tourist attractions close by (Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds, to name a few), we opted to mostly hang out and relax on property when we were there. The poolside drinks — and the view — at the infinity pool certainly didn’t disappoint.

The Broadmoor infinity pool