Delightful (Cheap) Diversions for Kids in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in ParisParis is an adult city in many ways. I know plenty of children live and play there, but even the youngest French citizens just seem so civilized and classy. Maybe it’s all the berets and trench coats, expensive cafes and brasseries, world-class art museums and fancy chocolatiers. But when I think of Paris, kid-friendly is about the last thing that comes to mind.

However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t travel with tots to the City of Light. You can – and should – take your children to Paris.. for the art as well as the chocolate. Just watch your wallets, and check out these inexpensive, fun things for kids to do in Paris.

The Madeline Tour

Do your kids know and love Madeline? If not, get them hooked ASAP. You might think the smallest of the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” is of no concern to boys. But mine really enjoy the story (maybe it’s the scar on her stomach?).

We pulled out the book a few weeks before our trip and read it occasionally. I made sure to pack it in my backpack so we could whip it out in front of the famous landmarks and compare the illustrations to actual places.

This turned out to be an excellent way to keep the boys interested and give them a reason why their four and six year-old selves should be interested in things like opera houses.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Examining the Garnier Opera House in the book and real life.

Tips

This website gives great information about where to find the locations illustrated in the book. However, it’s not comprehensive so you’ll need to do a bit of detective work yourself to figure out the other locations (hint: the Sacré Cœur isn’t listed on that site). See this thread in the TripAdvisor forums for comments on the location of Madeline’s house.

Cost: The DIY tour is free, but you’ll need to pay for transport to get yourself to the various sites.

Carousels

Carousels are practically a Paris institution. They can be found all over the city, and children of all ages will love whizzing around on fairy-tale horses and grungy motorcycles.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

The carousel at Montmarte.

Tips

The merry-go-rounds are scattered all over the city. Click here for a list of the six most beautiful and here for a more detailed list.

Cost: During the month of December, many of the carousels around Paris are FREE! However, we found that not all carousels were gratis; only the ones with signs stating so. Otherwise, the best value we found was 10 euros for 6 tickets (nontransferable to other carousel locations, sorry).

Auto Showrooms

The Champs Elysées may be one of the most expensive and fashionable shopping streets in Paris, but you might be surprised to learn the boulevard offers something for the young and young at heart… auto showrooms.

Car manufacturers such as Peugeot, Citroën, BMW, Toyota, and Fiat compete to have the most elaborate display of their innovative models. The best part for little boys? Some showrooms allow customers to actually sit in the cars. My boys went nuts when they got to sit in a “real racecar” at Peugeot.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Kids going for a test drive. This car is a bit above their pay grade, no?

Tips

Click here for a manly take on some of the showrooms, and here for another post with loads of photos.

Cost: Free.

Playgrounds

This is kind of a no-brainer for us. We always visit local playgrounds wherever we go. Paris has some lovely parks and play equipment, but the locations are not as plentiful in the city center as you might think. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a notable exception (for the location, not for the amazing playground) as is Luxembourg Gardens which deserves its own section below.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

A small playground can be found here, behind the Notre Dame and just to the right.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

A few other playthings are located along the south side.

Tips

A few Paris playground locations to add to your Google map:

  • Champ de Mars. Big toys are located at the non-river end of the park (with your back to the tower, it’s to the right). Pony rides, puppet shows, and go-carts are in the center of the park.
  • Parc des Buttes Chaumont. More wild and natural than your average play place.
  • Place des Vosges
  • Parc de La Villette
  • Monceau Park

Also, Lulaville has a gigantic list of Paris playgrounds that you can find here.

Cost: The playgrounds listed above are free. However, attractions such as pony rides and puppet shows cost extra.

Luxembourg Gardens

Another Madeline location, this is THE top park recommended for kids in Paris. Adults will love the peaceful atmosphere and the gorgeous fountains, statues, and monuments. Parents will appreciate the fenced-in playground for big and small kids (note the cost, below) and the bathrooms complete with changing tables and kiddie potties.

Kids will be thrilled to watch the marionette puppet show which comes highly recommended even if you don’t speak French as well as riding the park’s classic carousel and floating boats in the pond.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

An hour too late to visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Doh!

Tips

Lucky Little Travelers gives a great write-up of the park here. If you visit in winter, keep in mind the park closes quite early in the afternoon.

Cost: The Luxembourg Gardens are free, but an admission charge applies to the kids playground, carousel, and the puppet show.

The Centre Pompidou

If you’ve flipped through photos of Paris, you’ve most likely seen the Pompidou Center, a funky building that was designed to literally be built inside out. It houses modern art that adults can (hopefully) appreciate as well as interactive exhibits just for kids.

Tips

Petit Paris offers an excellent guide to visiting the Pompidou Center with kids including a breakdown of what’s interesting for each age group.

Cost: Check the center’s website for current admission prices. If you’re on a strict budget, you can pay the nominal fee to ride the escalators to the roof for a lovely view of Paris. Or, just enjoy the vibrant atmosphere in front of the museum.

Boat Tour

Given the success of our boat tour in Brugge, I knew my boys would have loved to see Paris from the Seine. However, we plum ran out of time. I’ve already got it down on our wish list for the next visit.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Boat Tours leave from here on the Île de la Cité.

Tips

Several companies run Seine boat tours. Vedettes du Pont-Neuf seemed to be the most reasonable, offering both day and night cruises.

Cost: Prices are rather steep for walk-ups. Visit their website in advance to book decently discounted tickets for adults and children.

Love Locks

I know that love locks are a “thing” in various locations all over the world. Sheesh, there’s even a bridge practically in my own back yard that’s piled high with padlocks. But seeing as Paris is the quintessential city of love, you really should make a stop and look at the gobs of metal declaring eternal L-O-V-E.

My boys are intrigued by the concept, but they don’t quite get it. T-Rex wanted to dive to the bottom of the river to find all the keys and open all the locks. I couldn’t explain to him the sheer futility involved in that (but maybe this episode of The Amazing Race would help).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Pont des Arts in the quiet of the morning.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Tips

Visit the Pont des Arts in the early morning to have the place to yourselves. If you want to attach your own steely statement, purchase one in advance. I’ve heard vendors hawking locks can be found at the bridge, but I didn’t see any.

Cost: Free – plus the price of a lock if you so desire.

Ice Skating

At the beginning of the Christmas season, the city of Paris sets up several ice rinks for residents and visitors to enjoy. The most well-known location is in front of the Place de l’Hôtel de ville.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

T-Rex learning to ice skate.. all he wanted to do was learn tricks like the hot shot hockey players swishing around. Actually ice skating wasn’t on his agenda.

Tips

Popular ice rinks are located at Place de l’Hôtel de ville and Montparnasse.  I also noticed a small one at the Place du Trocadéro Christmas market. Since ice skating in Paris is as fun as it sounds, it’s understandably popular. The wait time for those needing rentals (especially at the Place de l’Hôtel de ville) is utterly horrendous.

Cost: Admission to the rink is free. Skate rentals cost extra (5 euros at the time of writing).

Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are all the rage in Europe, and the whole family will love walking along the stalls, admiring the wares and sampling the food. Note that some markets are still up after Christmas, but some close before the 25th of December.

We only walked through one market at the Place du Trocadéro, but I liked this location better than many other markets I’ve seen in France and Germany. Each booth had its own country as a theme and sold various treats and trinkets from that land. Delightful!

Tips

Check the Paris Info website for locations, hours, and dates of operation.

Cost: Admission – free.

Printemps and Galeries Lafayette Window Displays

If you happen to be fortunate enough to visit Paris during the Christmas holidays, make a point to walk the window displays at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. When we neared the mega-stores, I wondered what all the fuss was about. As we pressed closer, I understood… they’re animated! Music! Lights! Wonder!Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Tips

The displays are obnoxiously crowded, and you’ll have a hard time navigating with a stroller. Let the kids sit on your shoulders for a better view. And, speaking of views, don’t forget that Printemps and Galeries Lafayette have some of the most amazing free views of Paris!

Cost: Free.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Even MORE Delightful Diversions for Kids in Paris

Have your own list of budget-friendly attractions for children? Add a link in the comments below!

What’s your favorite place from the list above where you’ve already been or would like to go with your kids? Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Family Activity Advent Calendar

Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar IdeasHappy Thanksgiving week to all of my American friends!

Not to add one more thing to your (virtual) plate this week, but… psssst!  Did you know that this Sunday is December 1?  You do have your advent calendar done, don’t you?

So far, I’ve only put together three homemade advent calendars.  The first two years, I stayed up until well after midnight working on the dang thing.  You are more organized than I am, right?

I vowed to be more on top of things this year, and I set a reminder early in my calendar.  I put it off last week, but since I am not roasting a turkey this year for the big thankfulness feast, I made time to finish our family advent calendar before Thanksgiving.  Whew!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

Naughty little Big Foot, photo-bombing my project.

The Design

If you’re freaking out right now, can I do that annoying thing people do and say… don’t!  An advent calendar does not have to be Pinterest-worthy.

Remember that the whole point is to slow down and make memories with your family.

So, if brown paper bags are all you have?  Use them!  Kids construction paper lying around?  Grab the stack!  White business envelopes?  Pfft, you got this!

I upcycled last year’s calendar that my husband (mostly) made by replacing the paper numbers with some cute felt ornament stickers and glitter glue I had on hand.  Not really homemade, but my kids totally do.not.care.

For another easy idea, see my not-so-crafty matchbox calendar here.  It’s just big enough to slip in scraps of paper with your chosen activities scrawled on them.Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

What Goes Inside?

The first year I put together an advent calendar for our family, I went with 50% activities and 50% candy because that’s what I knew I could handle.  Last year, the activity percentage climbed to about 65%.

We’re hovering at around 75% make-your-own-fun this year, and I’ve replaced the candy with books.  I absolutely love the idea I saw on Simple As That of wrapping up Christmas books.  I know other bloggers have done this too, but it was news to me.

P.s. – I will be getting most of my books from the local English library (keep an eye on due dates!), but I may order some from Amazon as well.Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

A List of Family Activities

In no particular order, I present you with a list of suggestions for your own family’s activity advent calendar:

  • Bake a favorite Christmas cookie recipe (or find a new one)
  • Make gourmet popcorn to eat or give as gifts
  • Decorate a gingerbread house
  • Watch Elf and eat your gingerbread house
  • Brew your own Christmas punch by simmering a combination of orange, apple, cranberry, and black currant juices spiked with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks on the stove or in the slow cooker
  • Create your family’s signature hot chocolate using white chocolate, dark chocolate, peppermint extract, chai spices, peanut butter, homemade marshmallows, etc. (just not all together… please)
  • Donate toys and clothing to children in need
  • Set up an advent wreath
  • Cut out paper snowflakes and tape them on the windows
  • Visit a Christmas market (if your city offers one)
  • Compose a silly letter to Santa (adults too!)
  • Head to your nearest St. Nick for a chat on Santa’s lap
  • Celebrate the coming of the European St. Nikolaus on December 6 by setting out stockings and reading the real story of Nicholas of Myra
  • Go sledding (geography matters on these next few, sorry)
  • Pick teams for a snowball fight and have at it
  • Make a heavenly host of snow angels
  • Find out if any local attractions feature an indoor winter wonderland
  • Experience a live nativity scene
  • Go ice skating
  • Attend a Christmas concert in your area (or put on one in your living room)
  • Get out the glitter and make Christmas cards for your neighbors
  • Host a Christmas pizza and movie night
  • Use felt or paper to make stockings for the kids to hang in their room(s)
  • Sing everyone’s favorite Christmas carols by candlelight
  • Go on an Ikea Christmas Scavenger Hunt (modify this one to include holiday merchandise which you can browse on your preferred Ikea website)
  • Construct a holiday village out of milk cartons (okay, maybe just one house) and use LED tea lights inside (like this)
  • Make luminaries for your front porch, balcony, or backyard
  • Take a drive to see the Christmas lights
  • Attend midnight mass (even if you’re not Catholic)
  • Read the real Christmas story (Luke 2)

Obviously, that’s more than 24 (or 25, if you prefer).  And, really, who has time/energy/money to do one of these every single day?  Just pick the ones that work for you, and fill the rest with books or these advent calendar devotions.  Simple or snazzy, your whole family is sure to love your activity advent calendar!

If you’re Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah instead, Sweet Happy Life has Hanukkah calendar ideas and Made by Mamaleh has a printable countdown.

What’s in your advent calendar this year?  I’d love for you to add to my running list in the comments below.Signature-MarigoldDisclaimer: At this time, I do not use affiliate links. You’ll only find honest personal recommendations in the links above.

Hiking with Kids: The Ravennaschulucht

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtI see looooooads of hiking in our family’s future.  Exploring nature – hopping over streams, listening to rushing rivers, searching for perfect walking sticks – is something every one of us enjoys.. well, except Big Foot.

He’s generally grumpy because he has to be bolted into a backpack whenever we wander about.  But I have hope that he’ll come ’round when his legs are strong enough to carry him and his will is soft enough to decide that listening and following directions really wouldn’t be so. incredibly. awful.

We’re rather fortunate to find ourselves within an easy drive of the Black Forest  in Germany which just so happens to be chock full of trails and adventures suitable for little ones.  My friend Nancy (hi, Nancy!) lent me an ADAC book on hiking in the Schwarzwald with kids (this one, if you’re interested) and insisted we take on the Ravennaschlucht.

The Ravennaschlucht is a wild and romantic gorge with a stream and several waterfalls chasing through it.  As if that wasn’t enough of a draw, the ADAC itinerary tacks on other attractions including several saw mills and a glass blowing studio… all in less than 8km.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtFancy a go at the gorge yourself?  Well, grab your trusty boots, and come along!

We followed the route set forth in the guide, starting out at Hinterzarten.  I balked at paying for parking at the train station, so we drove a bit further along Alpersbacher Str. where we discovered a free parking lot.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: Ravennaschlucht

As you walk along Löffeltalweg, you won’t be able to ignore the swelling sound of rushing water.  The Rotbach stream was used to power several saw mills located along the footpath.  My boys were in awe of the gigantic blades and completely confused as to how prickly, uneven logs turned into perfectly flat boards despite Doc Sci’s best efforts to explain.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtLeaving the mills, you’ll be treated to a series of waterfalls, several close enough to touch.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtSoon you’ll have to make a choice – continue on or face the B31.  I wasn’t sure how we’d cross three lanes of whizzing traffic on the “Hell’s Valley” highway.  Fortunately, my worries were needless – a tunnel for hikers and bikers had been constructed underneath the road.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtNext stop – the Hofgut Sternen, a small village composed of a hotel, restaurant, a large glockenspiel, and a glass blowing studio (with a gift shop, of course).  Scarf down a snack or two here, because the path through the gorge doesn’t offer many places for pit stops.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtAfter everyone is fully hydrated, have a look at the artist fashioning everything from vases to earrings to wine glasses to Christmas ornaments from the blazing hot and stringy glass.  I should mention that only well-behaved or independently wealthy children should enter the shop… Everything is within reach of the curious and clumsy.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtMake your way to the Ravennaviadukt, an imposing railway bridge that marks the entrance to the gorge.

Once you climb up the first set of steps, you’re in hand-holding territory.  Though I never felt unsafe, some parts of the path can be rather dicey with steep drop-offs and thinly railed bridges.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: Ravennaschlucht

As we hiked higher and higher, I couldn’t help but wonder when the gorge was going to end.  I don’t like being lost, and the ADAC guide only mentioned that the path would end.  Not when or how or where.

When the trail finally did terminate, I was even more surprised at the lack of information.  You’ll know you’re at the end of the gorge when a lovely biergarten with a playground appears.  I guess this is so German that the writer didn’t think to include it!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtCarrying on, we made our way back to the ferocious B31 and, again, crossed underneath it.  We found ourselves in the company of some lovely cows on the grounds of the Birklehof boarding school.  Once you see the onion dome, take a quick detour around the back of the building.  There you’ll find a fantastic playground and fire pit.

We ended the day with cookies in the car as a reward for excellent little boy behavior.  Hooray!

If you’d like to hike Ravennaschlucht yourself, I’d like to suggest a few variations from the ADAC itinerary:

  • If you have a car, park at the Hofgut Sternen and start your hike from there.  You won’t have to pay for parking near the Hinterzarten train station, and more lunch options will be available in town.
  • If you only want to hike the gorge, I’d again recommend parking at the Hofgut Sternen.  Keep in mind that you will have to double back.  This would be a good option for the littlest of legs.
  • However, if public transportation is how you’ll be traveling, then the only option is to begin and end at the train station.
  • Consider hiking the reverse of the order I’ve mentioned here.  You’ll be walking downhill instead of uphill through the steepest part of the gorge.  The slope near the saw mills is rather gentle in comparison.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtMore family-friendly places to explore in the Schwarzwald area of Germany – Triberg, Kastelburg, Staufen, Steinwasen Park and Schauinsland (from our first month here – four years ago!).

How about you?  Been on any good hikes lately?  Are they within driving distance of southwest Germany? 🙂Signature-Marigold

Children and Television – Help or Hindrance?

Screech and T-Rex “cycling” together with the Wii.

I used to be one of “those” mamas.  You know, the kind that smugly says she doesn’t need TV and her kids won’t be watching any until they are two.  If ever.

I only had T-Rex at the time; and, really and truly I didn’t have a need for TV.  But, then I found myself about to have another baby (that would be Screech – and he was scheduled to arrive, ahem, before T-Rex turned two).   One day while making dinner, I suddenly panicked.  What would I do with T-Rex when I needed to feed Screech, cook, or (gasp) have five minutes of time to do something for myself?

All of a sudden TV didn’t seem so “bad” anymore. 

(Just to keep things clear, when I say TV, I mean the actual television set.  We’ve never had cable, and I can’t keep track of air channel listings for the life of me.  We almost exclusively watch DVDs.)

So, I did what I could to encourage a toddler who had no interest in TV to sit still and watch a black box for a few minutes at a time.  I had no idea it would be so much.. work.  Getting a toddler boy to sit down for ten minutes seemed like a serious, award-winning accomplishment.

Fast forward a few years, and here I am today expecting baby #3.  T-Rex is four and a half and will usually watch about 30 minutes of TV if I need him to do so.  Screech, on the other hand, lasts maybe five to ten minutes max.  He’s almost three years old, and he’d much rather destroy the house than watch Lightning McQueen learn to make friends.

Speaking of friends, I one in particular here (she’s American) with three children, ages three to eight.  Her kids will watch TV for hours.  When she told me this, she probably thought I’d judge her.  We do a lot of judging each other as parents which hurts us (because we’re often wrong) and the other person.  I’m sure she was surprised when I didn’t.  Nope – I thought, lucky!

Now, she doesn’t plant the kids in front of media every day.  And nor does she do it so she can lounge in a back room, paint her nails, and check Facebook.  She works from home and due to some circumstances has no childcare for a few months.  She has no family here, and no means to afford a babysitter for even a half day for three kids, five days per week.

Come September, all of her kids will be in school again, she can work during that time, and the hours-long television fests will be a thing of the past.  She’ll only pull that trick out of the bag on special occasions.  But, mostly it will remain a memory of a desperate measure utilized at a desperate time.

Desperate.  Yes.  That’s where I find myself sometimes when I think of how on earth I will get anything done with three little boys under the age of 5.  Quiet boxes, special toys, off-limits games (like the Wii), etc. only work with my boys for so long.

About two months ago, Doc Sci suggested I have the boys choose between reading a book and watching TV every day while I make dinner to help them get used to sitting (somewhat) still for 30 minutes.   (Keep an open mind here..  Remember what I said about judging?)  No matter what the two of them chose, it rarely lasted more than 10-15 minutes.

That is, until family movie night.

We decided one Friday night to do something different with the boys.  We’d let them watch a movie with us during dinner and stay up a little later than usual.  I’m not one for animated films, so I chose The Parent Trap.

To my surprise, my two can’t-eat-enough boys barely touched their dinner.  They were mesmerized.  We only watched about 1/3 of the film that evening, but I turned it on a few times in the next week while cooking dinner.  Each time, they sat there, riveted.  When we eventually reached the end of the film, Screech immediately said, “Watch it again, Daddy!”

And then it dawned on me.  Maybe the key to a longer attention span is not to encourage a shorter one.

Everything that flashes across that screen teaches my boys something whether it be educational, moral, spiritual, etc.  All of the DVDs in my current rotation are children’s programs – short and sweet – ten to thirty minutes tops.  But maybe the propensity to cater to kids’ attention spans actually reinforces their immature tendencies.

I tested my theory this weekend when we watched several Olympic events (a rare time when the “television” function of the TV was actually in use).  Swimming, gymnastics, diving, cycling, tennis – they both sat for longer than I’ve ever seen during each event.  When we turned off the TV, they wanted to act out what they’d seen – especially the swimming and gymnastics.  And, they wanted to do it with us.

TV gets such a bad rap when it comes to children.  Among other things, it gets blamed for childhood obesity and for a lack of connection and communication in families.

I’m not saying everyone needs to train their children to sit still and watch a black box.  If you have a backyard – use it!!! I don’t have one, and I won’t have one any time soon.  If I did, I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about TV as an option to help my household run a bit smoother and my sanity to stay intact.

I’m also not suggesting to throw caution to the wind and let children watch any kind of programming.  Discretion should still be used when selecting which programs to watch.  I just think that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to choosing children’s programming because it’s been marketed to us as what kids want (and should) watch.  Parents should still be in charge of the process, even if they can’t always sit down and watch the entire program (because they’re, say, feeding a new baby or cooking for five).

If television is used as a tool – for a determined purpose and time – I believe it really can be a help instead of a hindrance.

What about you? Do your kids watch TV at home? Have you found some programs to be more successful or beneficial than others?  Do you think the short format of children’s shows helps or hinders their attention span, growth, and development?

Ten Travel Books for Twenty Twelve

I’ve been on a serious book binge lately.  I checked out three (thick-ish) books from the English library over Christmas break and read.them.ALL.  I find myself back at this (small-ish) library every week, searching for my next fix.

I’ve always loved to read, but with two kids, who has time?  Apparently me!  And maybe you, too.

Since I currently have NO travel plans (sniff, sniff), I thought perhaps I could drown out the call to wander with books.  About wandering.  Arm-chair-road-warrior-grade.

I’ve compiled a list below and shared it with you, oh fellow want-to-but-can’t-right-now traveler.  However, I should come clean that there IS a caveat: I have not read all of these books.  In fact, I’ve only read the first one on the list (which was fantastic, by the way).  The rest are to (hopefully) discover.

If you’ve read any of those mentioned below, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below with your two cents.  Did I leave a book off the list you would’ve included?  Leave that in the comments as well.

Black Earth by Andrew Meier.  “A compassionate glimpse into the extremes where the new Russia meets the old,” writes Robert Legvold (Foreign Affairs) about Andrew Meier’s enthralling new work. Journeying across a resurgent and reputedly free land, Meier has produced a virtuosic mix of nuanced history, lyric travelogue, and unflinching reportage. Throughout, Meier captures the country’s present limbo—a land rich in potential but on the brink of staggering back into tyranny—in an account that is by turns heartrending and celebratory, comic and terrifying.

3mph: The Adventures of One Woman’s Walk Around the World by Polly Letofsky.  In 1974, as a 12-year-old growing up in Minneapolis, Polly Letofsky was inspired by a Minnesota man who had become the first man to walk around the world. Twenty-five years later, she left her home in Colorado, to begin her life-long dream to walk around the world. Letofsky s five-year adventure would take her across four continents, 22 countries and more than 14,000 miles. Touched by several family members and friends who had breast cancer, she also shared her passion for increasing awareness of the disease and raised more than $250,000 for various breast cancer programs throughout the world. Letofsky s long-awaited book, 3MPH: The Adventures of One Woman s Walk Around the World, is filled with humor, drama, adventure, and most of all, inspiration. With razor-sharp observation, she writes with complete honesty, taking her readers through the pain and glory of being a woman in search of all that the world had to offer.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison.  Whatever You Do, Don’t Run is a hilarious collection of true tales from top ­safari guide Peter Allison. In a place where the wrong behavior could get you eaten, Allison has survived face-to-face encounters with big cats, angry ­elephants, and the world’s most unpredictable animals-herds of untamed tourists and foolhardy guides whose outrageous antics sometimes make them even more dangerous than a pride of hungry lions !Join Allison as he faces down charging lions-twice; drives a Land Rover full of tourists into a lagoon full of hippos; and adopts the most ­vicious animal in Africa as his “pet.” Full of lively humor and a genuine love and respect for Botswana and its rich wildlife, Whatever You Do, Don’t Run takes you to where the wild things are and introduces you to a place where every day is a new adventure!

I Never Intended to Be Brave: A Woman’s Bicycle Journey Through Southern Africa by Heather Andersen.  Not yet ready to return to the States after her service as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Heather Andersen sets her dream of exploring southern Africa by bicycle in motion. Her group dwindles to just two before the trip even starts and she finds herself traveling with a man she’s never met before. Tension between them builds until the inevitable split, and Heather continues on alone through unfamiliar lands. With great appreciation and understanding, she vividly describes her surroundings, the colorful people she encounters, and the adventure of traveling in foreign cultures as a solo woman on a bicycle. With the question of whether it’s safe never far from her mind, she forges her own path through southern Africa—and life. Along the way, she trusts her intuition and the kindness of strangers, appreciates the rhythm of an unscheduled life on the road, and rediscovers her commitment to leading the life she wants.

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Woman’s Adventures in the Oldest City on Earth by Jennifer Steil.   Restless in her career and her life, Jennifer, a gregarious, liberal New Yorker, initially accepts a short-term opportunity in 2006 to teach a journalism class to the staff of The Yemen Observer in Sana’a, the beautiful, ancient, and very conservative capital of Yemen. Seduced by the eager reporters and the challenging prospect of teaching a free speech model of journalism there, she extends her stay to a year as the paper’s editor-in-chief. But she is quickly confronted with the realities of Yemen–and their surprising advantages.  In teaching the basics of fair and balanced journalism to a staff that included plagiarists and polemicists, she falls in love with her career again. In confronting the blatant mistreatment and strict governance of women by their male counterparts, she learns to appreciate the strength of Arab women in the workplace. And in forging surprisingly deep friendships with women and men whose traditions and beliefs are in total opposition to her own, she learns a cultural appreciation she never could have predicted.

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City by David Lebovitz.  Like so many others, David Lebovitz dreamed about living in Paris ever since he first visited the city in the 1980s. Finally, after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, he moved to Paris to start a new life. Having crammed all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment in the lively Bastille neighborhood.  But he soon discovered it’s a different world en France.  From learning the ironclad rules of social conduct to the mysteries of men’s footwear, from shopkeepers who work so hard not to sell you anything to the etiquette of working the right way around the cheese plate, here is David’s story of how he came to fall in love with—and even understand—this glorious, yet sometimes maddening, city.

Invisible China: A Journey Through Ethnic Borderlands by Colin Legerton and Jacob Rawson.  In this eloquent and eye-opening adventure narrative, Colin Legerton and Jacob Rawson, two Americans fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and Uyghur, throw away the guidebook and bring a hitherto unexplored side of China to light. They journey over 14,000 miles by bus and train to the farthest reaches of the country to meet the minority peoples who dwell there, talking to farmers in their fields, monks in their monasteries, fishermen on their skiffs, and herders on the steppe.  In Invisible China, they engage in a heated discussion of human rights with Daur and Ewenki village cadres; celebrate Muhammad’s birthday with aging Dongxiang hajjis who recount the government’s razing of their mosque; attend mass with old Catholic Kinh fishermen at a church that has been forty years without a priest; hike around high-altitude Lugu Lake to farm with the matrilineal Mosuo women; and descend into a dry riverbed to hunt for jade with Muslim Uyghur merchants. As they uncover surprising facts about China’s hidden minorities and their complex position in Chinese society, they discover the social ramifications of inconsistent government policies–and some deep human truths as well.

Life is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel by Judith Fein.  (No decent description available, so here is a short biography.)  Judith Fein was born with a pen in her mouth. She’s been publishing since the age of 6. Judith lived in Europe and North Africa for 9 years, where she wrote plays and ran a theatre company. She was a successful Hollywood screenwriter, playwright and speaker, and, for the past decade, she has been an award-winning travel journalist and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 international publications. She occasionally takes people on exotic trips with her, gives inspirational talks, leads workshops, makes films and teaches travel writing (with her husband Paul Ross, who teaches travel photography).  Judith is a travel addict, and her blogs and articles are full of the humor and cultural discoveries that are her trademark.

The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011: True Stories from Around the World edited by Lavinia Spalding.  This title is the seventh in an annual series—The Best Women’s Travel Writing—that presents inspiring and uplifting adventures from women who have traveled to the ends of the earth to discover new places, peoples, and facets of themselves. The common threads are a woman’s perspective and compelling storytelling to make the reader laugh, weep, wish she were there, or be glad she wasn’t.

The Travel Book from Lonely Planet Publications. Celebrate the world. 229 countries & destinations to explore, 817 beautiful images to inspire. Bigger, brighter and bolder than ever, the second edition of Lonely Planet’s definitive travel pictorial has been revised and updated to be even more inspiring than the last. The Travel Book captures the essence of every country on the planet through stunning photographs and atmospheric text. User-friendly A-to-Z coverage and double-page spreads of every country make this book a total delight.

(Descriptions from amazon.com.  I make no money on these links; they are purely for your convenience.)

A Day in the Life

What I ate for lunch last Tuesday. Leftover homemade veggie/beef burger, homemade bun, spicy German potato snacks (not homemade), and a homemade rehydration drink in an imported bottle.  I really should get out of the kitchen.

I am many things.  I’m determined, organized, creative, tired, a reader, a close friend, a wannabe runner, busy, creative…  And a cheapskate, passport-obsessed Mama.  Duh.  But I would never, ever, forever put scrapper on the end of that list.

Most scrapbooks are so kitschy crafty.  I gag at bling, buttons, and bows all over quality photographs.  Maybe you like it.  I’m cool with that.  I just probably won’t want to go to that weekend-long scrapbooking lock-in you’re raving about.  Just sayin’.

But, unfortunately, that leaves me with a dilemma.  How do I organize and preserve memories of our family?

One idea I found about a year and a half ago is something called A Day in the Life.  You pick one day and take photographs all day long.  Shove a camera in your family’s face.  Introduce your three year-old to what it’s like to be stalked by the paparazzi.  Then maybe he will definitely-sorta-hopefully think twice about trying out for American Idol.

Once you have your whole day photographed, organize the pictures into a digital photo book (bling, buttons, and bows optional).  Order one, and stick it in a box somewhere to be discovered by your then seventeen year-old son’s girlfriend.  Order two for the grandparents and cross their names off your Christmas list.

I’m in the midst of working on my second-annual edition, so the finished project isn’t ready for visitors.  But, I found two sites for you here and here with more information and ideas.

Several twists on this theme:

  • A Day in the Life.. of each person in your family.  This might be a bit much for me as I like to keep it simple and this could easily become four photo books.
  • A Week in the Life.  This way you can capture Emily’s dance lessons and Jack’s baseball practices even though they aren’t on the same day.  Keep it simple though – you don’t need seven pictures of breakfast.  Unless you’re an awesome breakfast chef.  Then you should come over to my house, make breakfast, and take pictures.  But not of me in the morning.  I like French Toast, thanks for asking.
  • Month or Year by the day.  Take one photograph for each day of a month or a year.  December is a good month especially if you have lots of events and family visiting.  But, that could just be one more thing to add to an already-full schedule.  Personally, I’m intrigued by the year idea.  It would have been great to do that for our year in Germany.  Ah, well, next adventure.

Once you have all your photos ready to go, remember to look for deals.  I have used Artscow (out of Hong Kong!) many times.  The quality is decent and the price can’t be beat.  They often have deals where the book is free; you pay the shipping (on par with US companies).  Or you pay a nominal fee for the book and shipping is free.  Either way, you can get a decent book for under $10 (provided it’s not fifty gazillion pages) if you just take some time to search around.

So, what do you think of this idea?  Have you ever done a photo book like this before?  If you don’t do this, what do you do to preserve family memories?

The Way of the Wild Heart

I might know a little something about saving money.  I may even hold a scrap or two of travel smarts.  But I will be the first to tell you I know zip, zero, zilch about raising boys.

As such, I’ve recently began reading again.  In the years before reading became mountainous, monotonous, and mandatory, I could tear up a book in a day.  Though the joy is still there, the time is severely lacking.  But I’m making the time for important books that give me a glimpse into the weird world of boys.

One of the books that seemed worth its weight in our move to Germany was John Eldredge’s book, The Way of the Wild Heart.  I’ve read his other, more famous one, but for some reason I am enjoying this book so much more.  I’m three-quarters of the way through, and I’ve found something to learn from every chapter.

Though Eldredge writes man to man, he totally makes me want to climb mountains, swim in mountain lakes, camp under the stars, and grow a beard.  Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

Fortunately, the culture here in my corner of Germany is very outdoorsy.  Sundays are spent outside walking, hiking, biking, skiing, etc., unless the weather is utterly atrocious.  Sometimes we join in, sometimes we just want to take a really, really long afternoon nap.

But yesterday, due to a special Sunday at church that would have not been tolerated well by squirmy little wormies, we decided to take the Sunday off and go with our little men to the woods.

To get to the woods, you cross the train tracks. Pedestrian traffic is such the norm here that the crossings have pedestrian gates as well as car gates.

After lunch (because what boys can do anything without FOOD?), T-Rex found some sticks and (after a bit of coaxing from the 'rents) shared with Screech.

Doc Sci and T-Rex then invented some kind of soccer-golf-cricket hybrid game. I think it should just be called Whack It 'Til You Make It.

Not wanting to be left out, Screech stepped up. This kid could care less about talking but he can kick and throw a ball as well as his big bro.

I then found out how much of a tree hugger my husband really is. To think he hid that all this time...

I thought the boys might go for a sword fight, an epic duel in the woods. Nope. They just stared at each other. We'll chalk it up to brotherly love and call it a day. There'll be many fights down the road, of that I am sure.

My biggest adventure of the day was allowing T-Rex to take some pictures with my camera. Here's his portrait of Little Bro. Not bad, my man, not bad at all.