Backpack to Buggy

Travel with the kids, not for the kids.

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Three Tips on How to Apply Sunscreen to Squirmy Kids

June 3rd, 2011 · Experience, Misc, Tips & Tricks

High protection, low chemical sunscreen is messy and leaves streaks on clothing worse than deodorant. Avoiding streaks while applying to energetic kids is like the the game of golf where you can always improve and you can be just a smidge off and it will ruin your day. Here are some tips’ I’ve learned earned the hard way over the past two years.

1) Apply naked. Pick out the outfit your child will wear, but apply the sunscreen before you put on clothes. This reduces white streaks on clothing and it’s easy to get the sunscreen an inch or two above hems which protects skin exposed during play.

2) Give the kid a stick. While I apply sunscreen to Mirielle’s body, I give her a stick of sunscreen in one hand and mirror in the other, and ask her to take care of her own face. Kids love the independence of doing things themselves and it keeps them distracted. It is unlikely that a younger kids will apply the sunscreen evenly and everywhere, so give cheerful feedback on missed spots, like “did you stick your ears?” or “hey, there’s a naked spot between your eyebrows and hair.” Then, grab the stick to fill in the missing spots and use your fingers to spread out all the any glops.

Kids love to apply sunscreen by "myself."

Kids love to apply sunscreen by "myself."

3) Turn on and tune out. Braiding hair, applying sunscreen, cutting nails and the other dreaded personal grooming routines where a still child favors success are a great time to turn on PBS Kids and let your child zone out.

Want to know the safest sunscreens for kids?  Read about it 2009 overview and reviews here and 2011 updates here.

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The Safest Sunscreens for Kids – 2011 Update

June 2nd, 2011 · Gear

Read my 2009 article first for information on my sun protection crusade, basic sunscreen use, and a review of a few sunscreens.

Since 2009’s review of the safest sunscreens for kids, I have had one more skin cancer found and removed. Mirielle is acquiring freckles but still maintains a pasty white glow.  I have also tried out and investigated more sunscreens and have new favorites.

Sunscreen Reviews

Note – all sunscreens mentioned are SPF 30 or higher, paraben-free, and do not use chemical sunscreens.  (Find out why here.)

Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby. We tried the Neutrogena Baby sunscreens I mentioned in 2009.  I was especially excited by the stick sunscreen which a three year old can self-apply and they can be stashed in purses, glove compartments and backpacks so it is always around.  It is available in a wide variety of stores and goes on sale. Importantly, I found the Neutrogena Baby stick sunscreen provided effective sun protection.  No freckles appeared after an hour of kicking a soccer ball around in an open, sunny field.  It did, however, cause a light rash on Mirielle (though not on me) so we didn’t stock up.

Tru Kid Sunny Days. We sent Mirielle off to preschool in 2009 with a bottle of TruKid SPF 30. Rated one of the safest by EWG and about the same cost as Neutrogena Baby and Vanicream. It was available at retail in the Bay Area, CA, but definitely not in Connecticut, so I buy it online when there are specials or free shipping.  Since I first purchased TruKid, it has changed its formulation and now the liquid is a cream which goes on thicker and leaves a ghosty glow at application but fades quickly on light colored skin. We used TruKid as Mirielle’s primary sunscreen last summer and throughout our India trip with excellent results and no adverse skin reaction (A few more freckles but no sun burn and only a touch of color).

October 18, 2010, Before India

October 18, 2010, Before India

November 29, 2010, At the end of our India trip.

November 29, 2010, At the end of our India trip.

What I really love about TruKid is the stick! A touch on the greasy side, but I have learned that slickness helps kids with self-application.  The stick has a yellow tint which is great for darker colored skin.  The tubes of sunscreen comes in 3.5oz and TSA carry-on  friendly 2.0oz sizes. And, TruKid is water resistant.

Kiss My Face Kids. The 100% natural SPF 30 sun stick for kids comes in clear, pink and blue.  The pink and blue stay colored so it’s easy to tell when it’s time to reapply and if a spot is missed.  The clear went on more white than clear and greasy.  I only used it a couple of times but it seemed to pass the freckle test, leaving behind no new ones after an hour on the soccer field. I keep the one I bought to try in my glove compartment for emergencies, but it’s a last resort.

Elemental Herbs Zinc Sunstick. I have been hooked on their organic lip balm for years and was very excited to see that they finally came out with a higher SPF, chemical free sunscreen stick and ordered one when I restocked my lip balm. It goes on a little oily, but clear and the oils absorb within 15 minutes. I’m happy with it but haven’t tried it on Mirielle yet.

California Baby Sunscreens. I am a huge fan of California Baby products and am still buying the body wash and moisturizers for Mirielle. However, both the stick and lotion sunscreens were a big FAIL for us. The lotion is very thick and went on like I was applying paste, but I had higher hopes for the unscented stick. Freckles quickly appeared the first day we used the products.  After a couple more days trying very carefully to make sure it was properly applied, I didn’t have any better results and discontinued use.

Recommended by readers:

Dr. Robin For Kids. Dr. Robin’s sunscreens have a cult following in Southern California and get very good reviews from users who say it goes on easily and is effective. It has limited availability, but can be ordered online

Burt’s Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen. Widely available and free of chemical sunscreens and parabens, a reader commented “works but it’s a horrendous consistency.”

GO!Screen. A powder, mineral sunscreen similar to my favorite Sunforgettable but at half the price! This is on my list to try when my current powder sunscreen runs low.

What do we use now?

Mirielle uses TruKid Sunny Days cream on her body, neck and parts of her face and the TruKid Sunny Days stick on her face.  I use TruKid when we travel or if I am getting dressed at the same time Mirielle is and just apply to both of us. The rest of the time I apply Vanicream in the morning and keep my Sunforgettable brush in my purse for touch ups throughout the day. Our cars are stocked with stick sunscreens – Kiss My Face, Elemental Herbs and TruKid.

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Backpack to Buggy’s A-to-Z Family Travel Tips

April 29th, 2011 · Experience, Tips & Tricks

Inspired by CN Traveler’s A-to-Z Family Travel Contest, I put together my own list of favorite family travel tips and advice.

A is for Acidophilus, a probiotic nutrition supplement that promotes tummy health and comes in children’s chewable. Our whole family takes some every day on the road to help prevent traveler’s tummy. Eating yogurt works as well.

B is for Backing up important documents.  Scan copies of passports, visas, birth certificate, medical information and other important documents and keep the electronic files both on a thumb drive in your luggage and online in Google docs or your email.  If anything is lost, stolen, or misplaced, it can be retrieved easily online.

C is for Cabana boy, someone who’s job is to take care of my needs so I don’t have to. I learned the hard way after my first couple of “vacations” as a mom that I need at least a day, sometimes more, where someone takes care of me and my family’s needs. With a wave of my hand or a phone call, someone can do the laundry, bring me a cool drink, arrange an outing, bring my daughter lunch, et cetera.

D is for Doggie bags. Not the ones you take home from a restaurant, but the plastic pet waste bags that come in rolls. I keep at least one roll of the compact, biodegradable bags for every two weeks on vacation for wet laundry, garbage on the go, motion sickness, crinkle toys, spilled snacks, and more.

E is for Etihad and other parent-friendly airlines.  Getting off the first leg of our flight in Abu Dhabi, Etihad had strollers available at the end of the jetway to help parents transport kids between gates. The are one of the airlines where families can pool frequent flyer miles. Kingfisher Airlines carried luggage for families, to check-in in our case, and on board with another family traveling with two kids.  Gulf Air has nannies for parents traveling with kids.

Sunshade covered children's pool at Fairmont Bab al Bahr

Sunshade covered children's pool at Fairmont Bab al Bahr

F is for Fairmont Hotels. The Fairmont Hotel chain makes family-friendly a sophisticated and comfortable experience. More than just providing children’s menus, children are treated with the same attention and respect as other valued guests. Amenities like the apartments at Fairmont Heritage Place in San Francisco, the baby pool co-located with the hot tub at the Fairmont Orchid, and the concierge staff that delivered the sweets I was looking for to my room at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, keep me coming back.

Mirielle enjoying the grass while mom eats dinner in Kona.

Mirielle enjoying the grass while mom and dad eat dinner in Kona.

G is for Grass, a patch of which is a parent’s best friend.  Wherever I sleep, eat or visit, a nearby patch of grass is my parental ‘binkie’. Excess energy or tiredness can be tantrumless-ly safely addressed by letting Mirielle run around or chill out. I don’t like to go anywhere without it.

White marble hopscotch at the Taj Mahal.

White marble hopscotch at the Taj Mahal.

H is for Hopscotch, another way to keep Mirielle not whining engaged. Remember the old game “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? Or “Hot Lava”? The beautiful marble floors in India inspired a hopscotch like games: only step on the red tiles; don’t step on the blue carpet squares; don’t step on the cracks; et cetera.  It was a great distraction when Mirielle’s had enough of a place and I haven’t.

I is for Ipod Touch, portable preschooler entrainment on demand. I don’t like unitaskers, so having one small device with long battery life where Mirielle can watch movies and videos, listen to music, play games, draw pictures, and more, was worth the $200.

J is for Job. Mirielle’s jobs on the road include making sure we take our medicine, helping fill water bottles, and making sure everyone has put on sunscreen. Adapting routines from home on the road can keep kids grounded, and the travel jobs keep them excited about the trip.

K is for Keens, my favorite travel shoe for young walkers. When figuring out what to bring on a Hawaii trip, I needed something that could go from the wet ocean, across hotel lawns, to the sharp volcanic rocks and tried a pair of Keens.  While I also brought along a dressier pair of shoes as well, they weren’t taken out of the suitcase.

L is for Language.  Kids are sponges for language. Preschooler’s brains are engineered to absorb vocabulary. Exposure to foreign languages when traveling – sounds, rhythms, a few words, songs – literally grows their brain and increases their ability to learn. One of the easiest things we do is skip the satellite channels and let Mirielle watch cartoons or variety shows in the local language.

Meltdown in Mendocino

Meltdown in Mendocino

M is for Meltdowns. I’m not talking about temper tantrums or dramatics. I’m talking about when someone passes the point of no return and just needs to cry and scream and stomp it out. It’s hard to travel with kids without them. (And yes, parents have meltdowns, too.) As long as no one gets hurt, I let it happen, but grab my camera to document the meltdown so we can laugh about it later. Also, I like to watch other kid’s meltdowns and give a supportive hand or smile, because it’s a normal part of being a kid (even if it does get you kicked off an airplane.)

N is for Nasal spray. I don’t travel without my 1.5 oz saline nasal spray. Pretty much a moisturizer for the nose, this cheap, natural remedy eases airplane and hotel nose caused by the dry environments (come on, you know, that itchy crud in your nose after a couple hours on a plane?). It also helps with allergies and colds without resorting to medicines.

3 people, 1 month of travel, all of our luggage including the Osprey (green).

3 people, 1 month of travel, all of our luggage including the Osprey (green).

O is for Osprey Meridian 22″ Wheeled Convertible Pack which is now my luggage of choice.  This carry-on sized, wheelie suitcase converts into an ergonomic backpack and has a zip off day pack. After trying on a few packs, the Osprey’s ergonomics set it apart from the competition.

P is for PBS Kids. PBS Kids is my go-to for quality preschooler content for Mirielle’s iPod. Videos of many of the TV programs like SuperWhy, Dinosaur Train, and Word Girl are available for download and the game apps are engaging and educational.

Q is for asking your child Questions at the end of the day. What was your favorite…? What did you think about…? What do you want to tell you class about…? Most of the time I asked these questions, I got something along the lines of “I don’t know” for an answer.  Drilling down with more specific questions, I made some progress, but continued asking questions each night with the hope of a breakthrough.  The breakthrough came months later when Mirielle started talking about our trip. The things she remembers most are those we “talked” about at the end of the day.

R is for Room Service. While it’s expensive, it can be so much more convenient when juggling nap & bedtimes, bad moods, long days, and other travel surprises. It’s okay to splurge on it sometimes.

S is for Sharing toiletries to keep packing light.  The whole family can share toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers, sunscreen and more.  For medications, get the children’s version and adults can take the teen dosage.

Tie die travel clothes for kids blend in everywhere.

Tie dye travel clothes for kids blend in everywhere.

T is for Tie dye which makes great travel clothing for kids because it hides dirt and stains and will always match something that is clean.

U is for Unplugging, completely.  How can I tell my daughter she can’t watch TV or play games on her iPod, when she sees me flipping through books on my Kindle for iPhone.  Put away all electronic devices – phones, readers, cameras – and explore with your family for a while. Without the distractions amazing things happen.

Mirielle's view of waiting in line at the Taj Mahal.

Mirielle's view of waiting in line at the Taj Mahal.

V is for you child’s Vantage Point. During our trip to India, we started to let Mirielle take her own photographs.  It was a great way to keep her engaged in sightseeing, but is also gave us a view of how she sees the world around her.

W is for Walking. If you child can walk, make them walk more than they think they want to. I’ve noticed a big difference between American parents and our Asian counterparts is Americans keep their kids in strollers for years. (Hello, obesity epidemic?) This is a tough one, and we fought Mirielle’s “Uppie, please” and “I’m soooooo tired,” throughout India with mixed results. Start training before your trip. Travel lighter and leave the stroller behind. (Definitely, a carrier for emergencies.) Leave enough time for short legs to get from one place to another. Don’t give in the first three times your child begs to stop or be picked up.

X is for Xmas gifts on the road. Think little stocking stuffers that can be pulled out as a surprise as a source of excitement and entertainment.  On our India trip, I pulled out gifts like a mandala coloring book and a plastic tiger. Some of our drivers contributed gifts including necklaces, a toy cobra, and a backgammon set.

Y is for Yes. Pick a day, or better yet start with an hour, where you say yes to your child’s requests.  It takes the pressure off you, makes the kid happy and it can take you to unexpected places.

You can (almost) never have enough sunscreen and why I prefer sticks.

You can (almost) never have enough sunscreen and why I prefer sticks.

Z is for Zinc Oxide. Titanium dioxide works as well, but we put on our sunscreen before heading out for the day and reapply often.  Right now my favorite is TruKid’s Sunny Days Stick which is great for travel and Mirielle applies herself.

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Taking Travel Home: Celebrating an Indian Christian Passover

April 21st, 2011 · Experience, Taking Travel Home

A couple centuries before the Catholic church in Rome established Holy Thursday to commemorate Jesus’ last supper, which was a Passover seder with his twelve apostles, Syrian Christians were celebrating Pesaha. Pesaha is the Malayalam word for Passover.

Christianity came to south India only a few decades after Jesus’ death and many of the first converts were Jews who had a large presence in the trading ports on the Malabar coast. As a result, many Jewish traditions were incorporated in the Indian version of Catholicism.

Virgin Mary & Christ child statue, Indian-style.

Virgin Mary & Christ child statue, Indian-style.

Today, many Syrian Christian families serve Pesaha appam, Passover bread, with Pesaha pal, a coconut milk drink that is like rum-free coquito.  Reading about it reminded me of one of my favorite food discoveries, pal appam, which Rena made for us at Vanilla County Plantation. (Rena also made our Masala Thanksgiving meal.)  This lacy pancake is one more example that Indians make some of the best bread in the world!

I’ve been meaning to make pal appam since coming back from India and decided to host an Indian-style Holy Thursday Pesaha.  Pal appam uses yeast to ferment the batter, so it’s not a true Pesaha meal. In a nod to Hindus and Buddhists, the meal will be vegetarian. (Ok, I just got my days of abstinence mixed up and thought Holy Thursday was meat-free.)

Christ child statue in India with local offerings.

Christ child statue in India with local offerings.

While there is something to offend everyone, I think my multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-flavor, appam-centric meal is more in the spirit of Easter than bunnies & eggs.

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Dear Katie: How About Taking the Kids to Smugglers’ Notch this Summer?

April 7th, 2011 · Destinations, Experience

Dear Katie:

We talked spending a week in Vermont with the kids during August.  While I visited Smugglers Notch recently for a winter ski trip, I think it might be the perfect family summer destination.


It’s located less than 45 minutes from Burlington on Vermont’s highest peak which provides summertime alpine activities plus easy access to other places we might want to take the kids, like the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury Center, ECHO Lake Aquarium, Shelburne Farms and Lake Champlain.


4 kids can comfortably pile into this bedroom at Smuggs

4 kids can comfortably pile into this bedroom at Smuggs

There are a range of condos available from studios which sleep 4, to 5-bedrooms which sleep an army. All of the condos have sleeper sofas, so we could get a two bedroom and have lots of flexibility on sleeping arrangements for us, the kids, and our spouses.  In addition to full kitchens, the units have laundry which will save us a lot of hassle.

There are restaurants, a deli, a pizzeria and a grocery in the village so feeding the kids will be easy if we don’t feel like cooking.  The on-demand shuttle service is great.  We probably could even put the kids on it by themselves to send them off to camp.

Scallop and apple salad at the Mountain Grill, Smugglers' Notch

Scallop and apple salad at the Mountain Grill

Entertainment for Kids

Smugglers‘ is set up as a family resort which means there are lots of activities for the whole family, activities for the kids, and activities to keep kids entertained so parents get grown-up time.  Summer isn’t summer without swimming, and Smuggs has multiple heated outdoor pools & water parks.  The Fun Zone is full of bounce houses, skee ball and mini golf.  Smuggs hosts lots kid-enchanting activities with different events every afternoon and evening (both Mirielle and Jack were hooked by Marko the Magician.)

Friendly Pirate show at Smuggs.

Friendly Pirate show at Smuggs.

Here is what really appeals to me, Smuggs’ Summer Fun University, aka, summer camp. Programs for 3-17 year olds run from 10am-4pm, 7 days a week and are segmented by age. Based on Mirielle’s ski camp experience, they really know kids.  They do a great job of mixing free play and structured activities, learning by experiencing, presenting characters & shows that keep kids attention and frankly, knowing kids well enough to know when to push them and when to let them rest.

Designed for young children, Treasures Child Care at Smuggs.

Designed for young children, Treasures Child Care at Smuggs.

And while your little girl is an easy baby, the Treasures Child Care center for 6 week- 3.5 year olds is a model for child care centers and would give you some “I’m more than just a Mommy” time.  When I toured the center, I was impressed with how clean it was at the end of the ski season.  It says how much attention the staff at Treasure’s pays to details.  There are age appropriate rooms, an outdoor playground, food made on site from an organic CSA in the summer, and an impressive, talented staff that could get 12 preschoolers to stay in one place and pay attention after snack. (A lot of the staff at Smuggs could make a living running parenting seminars.)

Flexibility for ParentsParent Free Teen Center at Smugglers' Notch

Of course, with the kids in camp or at Treasures, that leaves lots of time for us to nap, hike, kayak, hang out by the pool (or in the hot tubs), take the zip line tour, have a massage, or with wifi available, I could even work a few hours everyday.  At night, there are kid-only activities a couple of nights a week so we could eat in the adults-only dining room at Hearth & Candle. Did I tell you about the flatbread with garlic, caramelized onions, pork confit, goat cheese, pesto and balsamic reduction we had there?


There are a variety of packages available that include housing, access to facilities & events, and shuttle service and then we can look at if the camp-inclusive or camp discount would better suit our needs. The camp at Smuggs is less expensive than the one at Mirielle’s school and Smuggs has far better facilities for outdoor summer fun. We could take a budget approach and get a one bedroom, or if the men are going to join us, we could get a two or three bedroom.  The prices, packages and specials can be found out their website.

When you’re back in town, lets get our summer calendars and budgets together and see if Smuggs would work for a Vermont getaway.



Thanks to Smugglers’ Notch for teaching my family to ski.  They provided lodging, ski rentals, lessons, and lift tickets for our visit. I was not asked to write a review or express any specific opinion.

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