NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Our first book published!

Not every journey is intentional, or physical.  When we embark on the great adventure of having children, we hurdle along a road at differing speeds with unpredictable twists and a confused itinerary filled with laughter, rainstorms, drama, challenges, thrills and unique experiences.  It’s not too different from a very long road trip.  This past year, we discovered writing and blogging fit into this frame as well.

Today, we proudly announce that our book (Explore The World With Your Kids!) offering parents travel advice is available on the iBooks platform!

Book-Cover-1Download_on_iBooks_Badge_US-UK_110x40_090513

 

 

 

 

 

The book provides to readers everything we know and have learned so far about traveling with kids, with specific ideas, strategies, and recommendations for discreet age ranges.  It also provides advice on how to approach resort travel, packing (including the dreaded stuffed animal dilemma), road trips, gluten-free dining, dining budgets (where strategy is essential when traveling with teen boys!), airplane travel, souvenir strategies, and security (both physical and internet/privacy issues).  It’s not merely about gear and babies.  It also covers ways to make travel fun and interesting for your elementary school kids, tweens, and teens.

Download it today and help us launch this daring adventure with a strong sales start!  Proceeds from the book will help cover the costs of the website.  If we manage to make a profit after a year, we have designated the Make-A-Wish Foundation as our preferred charity….so help us reach our goal of helping out that great charity as well!

If you had told us 18 months ago that we would become self-punished indie authors in the family travel sector, we would have laughed.  We are accidental tourists here.  It sort of feels like the morning after a long drive on a long road trip that involved an unanticipated late-night stop at a roadside hotel.  You wake up and the first practical questions that come to mind are: where are we and how did we get here?

Unlike the passing-through road-trippers, however, we are here to stay.  We know how we got here.

Last spring, we were discussing with friends family travel to the world’s great places with small kids.  We were in particular convincing one friend that it is never too early or too difficult to take small kids to major metropolitan centers like Paris, NYC, London, DC, etc. The friend then said:  you should create a website and share what you know!  Kate found the thought intriguing and looked into it on a whim.  It became quickly obvious that everything she wanted to say was too much for a website.  Work on the first draft of the site was abandoned.  This book was written by Kate, edited by Mike, and reviewed by Marguerite.  And then we went back to the website.  This website and this blog are, thus, a second edition.  They are designed to help others put into practice what the book recommends.  Even that was not enough, and so the Pinterest boards began to proliferate.  Then came the Twitter presence.  Then came the Facebook presence.  Then we added Tumblr to the party last week.

We hope the book and companion website/social media tools are helpful, particularly to young families and expats starting out on the great adventure known as traveling with kids.  We know from experience that a few simple steps and a focus on the bigger picture can help make travel with kids easier and fun whether your kids are pre-walking, pre-teen or pre-college.  We hope the book and tools we are assembling help you have more fun on the road and become smarter consumers of travel goods from gear and tech to great adventure packages and accommodations.

In the month that we have been online, we have already found a rich, welcoming, fun, and oh-so-interesting community of family travel Twitterati, bloggers, forum hosts, and people.  We look forward to getting to know everyone better.  We look foreword to contributing to the conversation about engaging family travel that inspires a thrill to explore the BIG WORLD among you and the LITTLE EYES in your family.  We have been loving the engagement so far and look forward to more of it as we continue along this unanticipated and thrilling journey!

 

SHUTTERBUG NOTES — One Four Challenge, Week 3, gaining traction!

OK, for the first time EVER I can see why Photoshop is worth the effort.  I owe it all to Digital Photography School.

First some background, for those of you just joining the saga now.  The Captivate Me! blog has started a four week challenge:  take one picture and edit it once a week, a different way each week.  OK, she is a professional photographer and so is Leanne Cole Photography, whose blog we follow and who is also participating.  Needless to say, their pictures (and how they are editing them on this challenge) are amazing.  Spoiler alert — my pictures will not be nearly so impressive

Kate joined the challenge two weeks ago, using it as the opportunity to conquer Photoshop once and for all!  HERE is the post that kicked off the photography adventure.  Reading it will help provide context and will help explain why today’s edits are such a big victory.

Last week’s efforts yielded respectable results, even if it was not the effect I was looking for.  I was aiming for black & white and ended up with an acceptable sepia.  Still preferred the simplicity of the iPhoto controls.

This week, Digital Photography School featured a post on how and why to use LAB color adjustments in Photoshop.  Well the big reason why I like the iPhoto controls is because I can adjust the black and the white balances separately.  I followed their crystal clear directions and…..voila!  THANK YOU DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL!

OneFour-Challenge_week-3

The previous versions for weeks 2 and 1 respectively were:

One-Four-Challenge_week-two and OneFour-Challenge_week-1

For good measure, I also cropped the picture a bit this week.

OK, Photoshop!  You have me intrigued and you are winning me over!  I can see the color and clarity are superior with only this one adjustment.

I’m feeling lucky and ambitious.  So next week I will attempt (drum roll please) to rub out the lettering on the door plaque and replace it with our own BWLEtravel!  Wish me luck.

As a bonus, I’ll share the story of this picture and why it is a wonderful place for family travel in New England.

 

BRING IT HOME! Three Top Tips for Tweens and their Electronic Postcards

We deeply believe that the most valuable souvenirs one brings home from a trip are the memories, smiles and stories, which are priceless.  We buy little things along the way not only because we find them beautiful or funny, but because we know they will remind us of a lovely trip.

But not every souvenir is a knick-knack.

Mobile phones and tablets (not to mention GoPro and Polaroid’s new little cube) have empowered everyone on the trip to take far more pictures than anyone could possibly look at.  Readers of a certain age will remember family dinners in the 1970s where the whole family gathered to watch old movies or go through old picture books of wonderful past trips.  More than one kid could be forgiven for stealing away due to boredom over looking at static black and white pictures or films of trips they had not even been on.

The shoe is on the other foot now!  Kids are more prolific photographers than many parents. They dabble in darkroom adjustments digitally, on Instagram, iPhoto, Lightroom or….for the truly intrepid…Photoshop.  The same tweens and teens that can trend towards sullen become animated (without gif!) when handed a camera.

Put that creativity to work!  Encourage the experimentation and fun with digital images in a safe environment….AND USING A FREE APP!

Consider this collage that Kate put together over the weekend….in 15 minutes.

Click to play this Smilebox collage
Create your own collage - Powered by Smilebox
Personalize a free collage

Any tween or teen could do this.  It’s that simple.  All you need are: (i) digital pictures on your laptop or computer; (ii) the FREE app from Smilebox; (iii) some imagination or a sense of humor.  You can download the app for free from the official link provided to us by Smilebox:

Create photo collages with Smilebox.

The rest of this post provides inspiration on how to engage your kids when using the app.

Let’s start with the family vacation.  You have an hour or two before dinner after a great day exploring.  Your kids have been busy snapping pictures with their phone, tablet, GoPro or Polaroid.  Download the pictures onto the laptop or tablet in the hotel room.  Turn on the app.  Ask your kids to create a digital postcard for you to share with your parents or siblings (their grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.).  Then leave the room.

This last part is key.  Given them space to explore the various formats and music.  Return in 20-30 minutes.  Our guess is that in that time period you will have at least one digital, animated postcard to share with family and possibly with friends on Facebook.  The more enterprising social kids will have figured out that they can create cards to share with their friends as well.

We love this app.  It’s a great way to Bring It Home!  Perhaps more importantly, the content is child-safe so you don’t have to worry about your kids seeing inappropriate content while they create a fun digital image for sharing with friends and family.

Smilebox also offers other creative options for snap-happy families (like scrapbooks, slideshows, and cards).  We posted our slideshow on our website, which you can find through this link.  The point for today is just to highlight how much fun kids can have creating digital postcards for sharing with their friends (and your family) with a high quality free app.  If you fall in love with their creation, you can always order a print copy.

Enjoy!  Be sure to share your family Smilebox creations on our Facebook page as well.

 

MIKE’S MUSINGS — Five Reasons To Visit Cold Weather Destinations in Winter

Greetings fellow travelers!  Mike again.  Still musing, but Kate helped with the pictures.

The first real cold spell has finally arrived here at BWLEtravel. Whenever the weather changes, we have the habit of assessing or re-assessing our upcoming winter travel plans.  Should our winter holiday break should include a ski trip, a beach trip, or a major European or U.S. city?  In discussing that question around the family dinner table, especially during the first real cold snap, the question often comes up – do we need or want to be warm or cold during winter travel?

This question is especially important if you are in a “3 Bears Family”:  Dad loves the cold, Mom loves the heat, and baby bear only likes things that are “just right.”  Cold weather can present real challenges when traveling with children, especially smaller children:  extra clothes, extra time to deal with the clothes, complaints.  In addition, some family members may really dislike the cold and will have a hard time navigating outdoors in frigid weather.

Papa Bear might need a list to convince the other members of the family that they need to “bear” a trip to a cold weather destination in winter.

Do you find yourself in need of good arguments to help convince your family to head north at year-end?  You are in luck!  This post is for you…..

BWLEtravel’s Top Five Reasons to Visit Cold Weather Destinations in Winter

1. Avoiding the crowds.

One of the key advantages of traveling to a tourist destination that is cold during the winter months is that you may avoid many of your fellow tourists.  This can be important when traveling with children, especially smaller children, because waiting in lines or dealing with hordes of fellow tourists is taxing on adults as well as the kids.  Fewer tourists means you and your family enjoy a more relaxed or manageable trip and perhaps the opportunity to see more.

The Grand Canyon is wonderful example of this.  It is still beautiful in the dead of winter, but not nearly as crowded as in the summer.  If you are lucky enough to visit when the weather is good the most scenic drives on the South Rim are open to private cars.  Often, you will have entire vistas and overlooks to yourself.  It is stunning.  We wrote about it HERE.  I won’t sugarcoat it….it was freezing first thing in the morning! But even tween today agrees it was worth it.

Grand-Canyon-Blue   Grance-Danyon-4

GrandCanyon-5

 

2. Seeking the bargains.

Getting discounts for travel over school holiday breaks is always an iffy proposition, since airlines and popular resort destinations know that the laws of supply and demand will allow them to charge a premium.  But this is not always true for every destination, especially for hotels during the off season.  Sometimes you will need to plan strategically and be flexible.  For example, if hotel rooms in Paris are expensive during a March spring break, look at hotels in the Loire Valley (we wrote about it HERE) or in Burgundy near Dijon. They may be less occupied and less expensive.  The weather can be dreadful, with cold wind and rain, but Vézelay and Dijon and the chateaux are just as awe-inspiring and impressive in March as  in August.  Have a look:

Vezelay-1 Vezelay-2 Vezelay-outside

 3. Being like a local.

One of the risks of tourist travel during the summer months is that you can often lose sight of the locales, especially in late July and August, when they are all off on their own holidays.  In many parts of Europe, shops close, theaters go dark, and the primary impression of the place that you are visiting is that it is “touristy.”  Well, it may be and, frankly, there is often nothing wrong with that when you yourself are there just to be a tourist.  But visiting a town during the cold months gives a good opportunity to experience the place as the locals do in their daily lives.  New York is alive all year round, but the feel of the streets and restaurants in New York in winter is very different than New York during the summer, especially on weekends.

4. Enjoying unique entertainment options.  

During the summer, it can be hard to convince kids to go inside to visit museums or watch plays or listen to concerts indoors. But in winter, they will welcome the chance to be inside enjoying some entertainment in a new place. It is no coincidence that the best concerts, plays and museum exhibitions occur during fall and winter.  For example, London (we wrote about it HERE), has wonderful children’s theaters that provide great entertainment breaks for your kids.  We wrote about our favorite ones HERE.  In addition, there are certain things that can only be done in winter.  Yes it is cold, but there is no substitute for ice skating in Central Park (or Bryant Park or Rockefeller Center) or for walking in the snow near Santa Fe at Bandalier….or seeing Santa Fe lit up with paper lanterns.

Bandalier-7

The cold also makes ducking into a warm and bustling cafe for hot chocolate that much more wonderful.  We remember fondly the hot chocolate in Heidelberg.  If you are in Europe, the Christmas markets are marvelous experiences complete with rides for little kids and amazing hot chocolate.  We still remember fondly our trip to the Cologne Christmas market and every winter we use these mugs from that market.  Yes, it was freezing, but that made the hot chocolate that much more fabulous.

Cologne-mugs-1 Cologne-mugs-2

Which brings me to….

5. Cold weather creates warm travel memories.

Yes, you will be cold and the kids will complain.  They will also have warm memories of – seeing their breath in the cold air; walking into warm restaurants; having a hot chocolate and pastry after a carriage ride in the cold;  the smell of pretzels, chestnuts, fresh bread, and crepes on the street.  The feeling of a warm crepe or a warm Belgian waffle in the hand on a cold day.

At home many younger kids seldom get to see a city lit up at night.  The cold and dark of winter sheds a special light in many places.  For many kids, the chance to be in a city that is lit up in the early evening winter hours creates a magical tableau that can provide a glimpse of the years of travel adventures that will lie ahead.  These pictures from Salzburg also appear on our website, where we provide suggestions on how to visit Salzburg with kids.  You can access that page HERE.

Salzburg-30   Salzburg_Castle-16

Let us know if these ideas help you convince your family to head north to the snow rather than south to the beach at year-end.

SHUTTERBUG NOTES — One Four Challenge — Week 2 Success!

Sometimes, it’s the littlest steps at the start of a journey that make all the difference.

Last week, I accepted the One Four Challenge (featured in Captivate Me! and Leanne Cole Photography) to take the same image and edit it four different ways across four weeks.  I embarked on this adventure with a healthy amount of  trepidation as my previous experiences with Photoshop had been…..challenging and disappointing.  You can read last week’s post HERE.

This is the image I started with…no editing, just the raw image:

OneFour-Challenge_week-1

For week #2, I chose to start experimenting with layers in Photoshop.  I used not one, not two but THREE layers!  The first layer heightened contrast.  The second layer imposed a warming filter.  The third layer added in the text with the copyright.  Here is the outcome:

One-Four-Challenge_week-two

Success!  Experienced amateurs and professional photographers will laugh at the achievement, but for me it was no small leap.

There was just one problem.  I wanted to make the image black and white.  Couldn’t figure out how to do that……  But on the plus side, I found plenty of filters to distort my image in a million different ways.

The bottom line is that I am still not impressed with Photoshop.  The basic photo editing program that comes with my Mac makes it easy to adjust contrast three different ways (white/black balance, sharpness and clarity).  It also offers pre-set formatting that overly a frame and, with one click, turn my photo into a black and white or a sepia-hued picture.  After 20 minutes, I still could not figure out how to do that.  And I did not have 1-2 hours for searching the web and watching tutorial videos on how to achieve the look I wanted.

So Photoshop, you have improved over the years.  It is easier for a digital neophyte like me to achieve basic effects.  But you have a long way to go before you win me over!

 

 

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — The Musical Instruments Museum in #Brussels — Six Top Tips for Kids and their Parents

Last week, a birthday was celebrated around the world.  People tipped their hats (or their drinks) to remember a man who changed the world just a little bit.  You probably don’t know his name, but you know his work.  Without his innovation, we wouldn’t have a certain kind of jazz.  Without his innovation, the Tony Curtis character in “Some Like It Hot” and President Clinton would have been so much less cool.  Without his innovation, we would not have the amazing music of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, or Charlie Parker (to name just a few).

Last week was the 200th birthday of Adolphe Sax.  The inventor of the saxophone.  He was Belgian, from a small town along the Neuse River called Dinant.  The fortress and the cathedral are the distinctive features of the town. It looks like this:

Dinant_church-from-river

Dinant_from-above  Dinant_church-from-fort

The birthday inspires us to start our reviews of Brussels museums with….the Musical Instruments Museum.

Top Tips for Kids Visiting the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels

 

1.  Prepare To Have Fun! Interactive Exhibits

Actually, exhibit is not really the right word.  Visiting the Musical Instruments Museum (MIM) is a unique EXPERIENCE.

Each person receives a headset when they enter the museum. You don’t just walk through this museum reading about the instruments displayed behind plexiglass cases.  You LISTEN to the instruments being played at the same time.

Each case has a tiny little short-wave radio transmitter whose signal is received by the headset you are wearing.  So when you walk into the piano room, you hear piano music.  When you walk into the strings room, you hear violins.  And the drums?  Let’s just say its always a favorite with the kids.

We are not just talking about garden variety European musical instruments either.  When these guys thing about, say “wind” instruments, they are not just displaying the saxophone, flute, and trumpet.  They display wind instruments from around the world, like this:

photo by Daderot [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Every kind of musical instrument you can think of, from every corner of the planet (including Oceania), can be found at this museum: wind, strings, bells/carillons, percussion, piano, electronic instruments…it’s all here and it’s all part of the audio guide.  So the music comes alive.

This is why kids love this museum.  You will find them excited to move from room to room, along all four floors of the museum, excited to hear new sounds from exotic instruments….and interested to see how familiar instruments used to look a few hundred years ago.

Along the way, almost accidentally (from their perspective), they will learn to make connections between objects that initially look different (lateral thinking!).  They will learn how technological innovation impacts instrument design and sound, with the progression from harpsichord to piano providing some of the most striking and beautiful examples.  They will be having too much fun exploring sound and sight to notice they are learning anything.

2.   Discuss: Is It An Art Museum

The museum’s current home may be an old (renovated) building, but the museum itself has only been here since 2000.  Exhibits are set out lovingly and beautifully, featuring highly embellished instruments in an elegant setting.  If it were not for the music in your ears, you would be forgiven for thinking that you were in an art museum.

or Is It A Music Museum

Going through this museum listening to music is as much a journey through time (listening to music made from original instruments) as it is a journey through space (the museum exhibits).  When we visited years ago, our daughter was 4.  She had great fun exploring new sounds and matching up those sounds with sometimes wild looking instruments.  But we had  wonderful time hearing, thinking, and talking about how music had evolved over the centuries and across continents.  Go in the morning or late afternoon in order to guarantee a really interesting discussion over lunch or dinner.

or Is It A Musical Instrument Museum?

You decide.  Spoiler alert:  there is no wrong answer.

3.  Don’t Forget The History!

The building may have been renovated recently, but make no mistake….this is an OLD collection.  The museum itself was created in 1877 to join two collections of instruments.  One collection had been amassed by a private citizen (a prominent Belgian musicologist) over nearly one hundred years.  The second collection belonged to the King of Belgium, including numerous instruments given to him as a gift by a Raja of India in 1876. In other words: the museum was global and multi-cultural from the beginning, long before it was fashionable.

4.  Ask for Kid-Oriented Materials

This museum loves kids.  When we were there, they had set aside an entire room filled with a range of electric and acoustic musical instruments for kids to experiment with.  We don’t know if they still have that level of interactivity, but we do know that their commitment to making the museum fun remains in play today (so to speak).

From now until late 2015, a special exhibition honoring Adolphe Sax will be on display at the museum.  Check out the special activity booklet they created for the exhibit, complete with excellent instructions for kids on how to make their own saxophone using everyday objects:  MIM_kid activity.

5.  Check out the “Instrument of the Month” on their website

Once a month the museum features a different instrument.  The October instrument was the Harmonica.  A bit of text (aimed at adults) is paired with a music clip of two of the instrument being played.  Before you head to museum, check out the website for the instrument of the month.

6.  Bring it Home: Museum CDs

Do you have an audiophile in the family?  If so, this is the place to do your holiday shopping for them!  It is also a nice way to Bring It Home! if you enjoyed your visit to the museum.  In addition to the usual trinkets, the museum has an understandably broad and deep selection of CDs.  They also have drawings of every (or nearly every) musical instrument on display.

This was one of our favorite museums in Belgium.  We hope you and your kids enjoy it as well.  Let us know whether they liked it.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Why Kids Should Visit War Memorials, Especially on Veterans/Remembrance Days

Today is Veterans Day.  The date commemorates the end of World War I, which is still observed in England (Armistice Day) and in Australia (Remembrance Day).  But here in the USA, we do not limit ourselves to just one war.  And we do not limit ourselves to fallen heroes.  We honor all veterans from all wars on November 11, saving Memorial Day in May to honor those who died in the service of our country.

This year in Washington, HBO is producing a huge free concert on the Mall honoring our veterans.  In England, the Tower of London has a sea of red poppies, symbolizing all of the soldiers who died in World War I.

Veterans Day is an excellent day to visit memorials near home with kids.  In Washington DC we have quite a number of them in close proximity to each other: Vietnam War, Korean War. World War II.

WDC_guidepost

Yet visiting war memorials makes many queasy.  They worry about glorifying war.  They worry that the visit may raise difficult questions.  They worry their kids will be bored or will get the wrong message. It is true that visiting a war memorial can raise hard questions. So today we focus on….

Why Kids Should Visit A War Memorial

Sacrifice, Honor, Bravery and Duty

These words are rarely used these days, which is too bad but understandable.  We live in a world in which the selfie is ubiquitous, where lack of broadband or WiFi is considered by some to be a hardship.

In the United States and other parts of the world, we are fortunate to fret about frivolous things because we do not have to place our lives on the line to vote, to express an opinion, or to purchase private property.  This can make it hard to fathom why and how otherwise intelligent people would literally risk life and limb in defense of those concepts and why they have been doing so since 1776.

It may be counter-cultural.  It may be revolutionary, even.  But we believe there is a huge value in honoring the service of our military men and women.  It is an opportunity to teach your children that there are things in this world that are larger than themselves and their families.  It teaches them the important role that soldiers play in keeping their country free.

Visiting a war memorial teaches our kids that history is not an amorphous aggregation of dates and places. It teaches them that an event was important enough to fight for, to die for, and to remember.

NOT the Glorification of War

Until the 20th century, statutes and memorials commemorating wars usually focused on the leaders and the the victories.  One of the largest such memorials is in London (Trafalgar Square).  We have our fair share of military men on horseback in DC, including just opposite the White House featuring none other than President Andrew Jackson when he was a military leader:

WDC_Jackson-in-Lafayette-Square

  WDC_Jackson-close-up

Today, our war memorials are far more somber and appropriate.  Starting with the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, they commemorate the soldiers who served in war.  They commemorate struggle and courage. They do NOT romanticize war.

Washington-DC_Iwo-Jima-at-dusk

Washington-DC_Korean-War-Memorial

Somewhere in the middle school or high school years your child may express the opinion that “all war is bad” and that they do not want to visit a war memorial.  This is exactly the time when your child needs to visit a war memorial – because it is a reminder that war is bad, but that sometimes wars have to be fought against harmful aggressors, usually at the cost of great personal sacrifice.  We would start with the Korean War Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC (which is featured above).

Visiting a war memorial is an opportunity to teach kids why wars occur; how people try to avoid them; and what happens when they are fought. It’s an opportunity to teach kids how awful war can be, and why it is important to avoid it when possible.

Yes, your kids will ask hard questions.  This is your job as a parent: to answer the questions.

The sad truth is that sometimes war cannot be avoided.  Some threats are so dire, some actions so dreadful, that the use of force becomes necessary in order to defend the principles on which the country was founded. Those wars have inspired these moving memorials.  You don’t have to agree with whether the war was a good idea, but if you respect your kids you will give them the information they need to make up their own minds.

Gratitude

Here is another word not often used on a daily basis in our modern world.  When a child visits a war memorial, that child is the future generation that is remembering the deeds of those who served their country.

The most important reason for visiting a war memorial with your child is to simply say “thank you” to the soldiers that the memorial honors and to those to whom we owe so much.

Because we live in Washington DC, Kate and Mike have found themselves at Reagan National Airport more than once in the last year as an “Honor Flight” is arriving.  A non-profit organization (www.honorflight.org) arranges for World War II and terminally ill veterans an opportunity to fly to Washington DC to visit the monuments and war memorials.  They don’t just arrange for the flight…..they greet the flight with flags and a small band.

And then the most amazing thing happens.  Every one in the terminal gets up and starts clapping. Every time.  Spontaneously.  World War II veterans enter the airport terminal to a standing ovation.  People shake their hands.  These guys get off the plane walking with with canes, with walkers, sometimes in wheel chairs, sometimes with oxygen tubes in their noses. The entire plane unloads and the entire terminal applauds.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Random strangers sharing in the 21st century respect and honor for the brave men to stood up against tyranny (and far worse) in Europe and the Pacific.

We can only hope that veterans from our more recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t have to wait half a century for their service also to be honored like this by a grateful nation.  In the meantime, wonderful organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project work quietly, with dignity and determination, here in the United States to help veterans back home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Washington Post today has a lovely story about their own efforts to help veterans at America’s airports.  The USO also works quietly and diligently.

Veterans Day is the day when the rest of America can show their support for the quiet courage it takes to defend the liberties established as “inalienable rights” by the Founding Fathers in the 18th century and expanded into “human rights” in the 20th century.  The truth is that noone likes war.  Honoring Veterans Day is not about articulating a love of war, its about expressing gratitude for those who take it upon themselves to participate in America’s all-volunteer military force to ensure that the next generation of kids can innovate freely, take self-absorbed pictures, and express their views even when their parents are horrified.

Take a break from the politics and be grateful for the generations of men and women that have served this country honorably and without fanfare so that Americans and others can engage in the pursuit of happiness freely, without censorship.

So go take your kids to a war memorial in your home town if you can.  Be certain to visit the impressive ones we have here in DC.

 

But most of all, remember to respect and honor the courage it takes to defend the freedoms we hold so dear.

 

BRING IT HOME! Why Digital and 3-D Souvenirs are Necessary for #FamilyTravel

Berlin-Wall-2

This weekend, Conde Nast Traveler published an inspiring article for every parent who has hoped to make a memory book about a marvelous trip (“The Art of the Travel Journal“).  You’ll have to read to the bottom of this post to find out what a travel journal and the picture above of the Berlin Wall have in common.

The Conde Nast story has an astonishingly simple idea at its core.  Don’t wait until you get home to create the memory book…..create it WHILE you are on the road!  Use your down time on planes and trains or at tea time to tape a few mementos from the previous day into a book.  Personal reflections are optional.

Moms with day jobs outside the house like Kate will particularly appreciate the”low intensity” nature of this activity.  The end result may not be the “perfect” scrapbook, but it will be good enough.

The idea will not appeal to everyone, of course.  Avid amateur photographers will want to use their own pictures to generate creative family travel souvenirs like suitcases (we wrote about that here) and holiday gifts (we wrote about that here), digital scrapbook pages (we will write about that SOON) and, of course, the digital postcard for sharing on social media (we will write about that NEXT WEEK!).

Moms with multiple kids or demanding careers may sigh and ask why they should bother at all to create such items when kids as young as 2 are busy snapping pictures with the family digital camera (or their own kid-sized version).  This leads us to…..

Top Four Reasons Why Souvenirs Are Necessary for Family Travel

 

1.  Kids Will Forget

It does not matter how spectacular the trip might be, and it does not matter how old your kids are….they will forget parts of the trip.  Do  not be offended.

As kids grow, their brains are growing as well.  They are absorbing information — literally — at an amazing rate.  Bits of knowledge and information not used routinely fall prey to an anatomical version of “use it or lose it.”  Having some kind of travel memento from a trip helps them over the years remember the fun they had on the trip.  The trip becomes a part of their personal history.  You need the souvenirs if you want the benefits of the trip to stick with your kids over the years.

2.  You Will Forget, and You Will Enjoy Remembering

Kids are not the only ones with multiple demands on their random access memories.  And not every action you take in life needs to be justified solely in terms of your kids.  The fact is that you will forget details of even the best trip.  But stumbling across mementos from a great trip years later will make you happy.  We know it sounds sentimental, but it’s true.

3.  It’s Relaxing, for kids and parents alike

Part of the value of going on vacation, even frenetic trips, is to break free of the daily routine.  It literally gives your brain a break.  The same is true for creative activities.  Doing something creative can be a nice way to unwind from the day’s activities.  It can also provide the family with a nice thing to talk about at dinner as you consider which items are included in the trip memory book or the digital postcard to grandma.

One reason why we love the Conde Nast article is that it shows how easy it can be do this while on-the-road.  Technically, all you really need is a book, tape and a pen.  They are much more creative at Conde Nast, of course.  They apparently travel with watercolors, crayons and markers.  But then again, don’t all parents travel at least with crayons when their kids are young?  How many of us have given a small child a coloring book or a blank piece of paper for art work at dinner?

Kids literally use art to process what they have been seeing all day.  It’s part of the reason why we recommend in our book (Explore The World With Your Kids! on KINDLE and on IBOOKS/ITUNES) that the hour before dinner provide some quiet time while on a trip.

Not every drawing produced at a restaurant or during afternoon quiet time will be a masterpiece, of course.  But a few will be fabulous reminders of the trip and a particular moment in time.  We wish we had done this when Tween was little!

4.  You Never Know What Will Trigger A Smile Later

Sometimes, the silliest things will bring a smile to your face or your child’s face years after a trip.  If you read this blog, the chances are pretty good that you already visit spectacular places full of history.  When you visit those places, the history of the place becomes a small part of your personal history as well.

Consider the picture at the top of this post.  When Kate visited Berlin on a business trip in the early 2000s, she bought an unabashedly touristy fragment of the Berlin Wall at the airport.  We have joked for years about whether it is even genuine.  It would be the ultimate triumph of capitalism to be selling fake pieces of the Wall to tourists!

This weekend’s anniversary inspired us to drag the touristy memento out of the shadows and give it a place in the sun.  It’s a tiny tangible piece of history that one can touch a reminder, of the trip on which it was acquired as well as the history it represents.  At home.  After a trip.

This is how souvenirs and memory books (digital as well as physical) make it possible to Bring it Home!  If a little tourist trinket can to that, imagine what a hand-prepared travel journal or a digital scrapbook page will do for you and your kids in ten years!

 

FLIP IT! MAGAZINE published!

Here it is folks, the latest edition of our weekly Flip It! magazine.

http://flip.it/3dq4d

Plenty of Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving items as well as the assortment of European and American (but no Pacific/Asian) items for inspiration this week.

Gluten Free readers in Europe will want to have a look at our sole item….there’s a luxury hotel in England’s country side that is certified gluten free AND is doing a special GFREE! gourmet weekend in November.  If we were in Europe right now, we would find time to go.

Our articles on photography spike this week, now that Kate has entered a four-week photo editing challenge on WordPress.  The Disney articles spike now that Disney is rolling out its holiday options.  And the tech section includes a safety item you will want to use when traveling!

Enjoy!  And let us know which is your favorite article.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Seeing #Paris With the ParisPass

Here at BWLEtravel, we are finicky about the affiliate relationships we seek and those we will accept.  Our regular readers know this already.

When the opportunity arose to be an affiliate of the Paris Pass, we accepted happily.

Why?  Because we believe that the pass offers traveling families great value.  But don’t just take our word for it…..check out what a New York Times travel writer had to say about it the other day:

“I found the Paris Museum Pass to be the best deal, offering free entry with priority access to over 60 museums and monuments including the Louvre, Ste.-Chapelle, Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin, Centre Pompidou and Versailles. This pass also allows for an unlimited number of visits, a plus for tourists who want to spread out a tour of the Louvre over two or three days — not a bad idea with this easily overwhelming museum. Available for two consecutive days (42 euros), four days (56 euros) or six days (69 euros), the pass gives visitors about twice as much time as similarly priced passes in Amsterdam and Madrid. First-time visitors will almost surely come out ahead with the pass, but tourists with fewer museums on the itinerary should do the math before buying.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/04/travel/are-european-museum-passes-worth-the-money.html?ref=travel

And remember to click on the link below if you are traveling to Paris.  The guidebook provides good advice on how to use the Paris Pass. When the NYTimes and BWLEtravel both agree on something, you know it has to be a good deal. We will provide more specific advice next week, so stay tuned!

Save $$$ In Paris - Paris Pass, Buy Now

SHUTTERBUG NOTES — Taking the One Four Challenge (Week 1)

Greetings world!  Kate here.  Mike has his Musings, but I have been wanting to focus on Shutterbug Notes for a while.  In case you had not noticed, I am a bit of a shutterbug.  But I have been dragged inch-by-inch into the digital photography world.  Today, I dip my toe into digital photography a bit more seriously by joining the “One Four Challenge.”C

The challenge made its way onto my radar screen via Leanne Cole Photography (whose blog I follow), but the originator of the challenge is the blog Captivate Me.  The idea is simple.  Choose one picture.  Each week, for four weeks in a row, the image is processed four different ways.

How hard can this be?

Photoshop and I have a checkered history. To be fair, I probably entered into the relationship with a chip on my shoulder.

The Dark(room) Ages

I learned photography the old fashioned way, with a manual DSLR and a dark room.  Both required patience.  I loved the learning the art of burn-and-dodge.  I was entranced by how different an image could look based solely on the amount of light permitted onto the film from the aperture and then, a second time, by adjusting the amount of light absorbed by the paper.  I loved the magic of watching the image slowly materialize beneath a liquid chemical bath.  I’ve never had my own darkroom, but I remember well how one worked.

Photoshop, Take One

But when tween was born in 2002, it quickly became obvious that the interval between taking a picture and having it developed was an eternity. My maternity leave coincided with the release of a newly designed iMac.  Time to get with the 21st century!  I bought the computer as a maternity leave gift to myself together with Photoshop. I’ll just learn the program while on maternity leave.

Moms everywhere and Photoshop pros are laughing right now.  In 2002, Photoshop was famous for its convoluted manual and its non-friendly user interface.  And those reviews came from people getting more than 3 hours of continuous sleep per day.  The digital camera was a simple little Canon Sure shot, but for serious pictures my trusty Nikon and Fuji film were indispensible.  Simple contrast adjustment and color saturation was all I needed and that came bundled with my iMac.  Work and life and baby crowded out photography.  Ritz Camera and I had a great relationship.  I gave up on Photoshop.

Photoshop, Take Two

Last year, I bought a new iMac.  I had a fit of exuberant optimism.  I don’t have any more free time than I did when Tween was a baby, but I am smarter now!  I understand technology better!  Everyone says that Photoshop is more user-friendly!  So here I go again….

The good news is that I have figured out (compliments of a few bloggers) how to water mark a picture in Photoshop.  But its the most rudimentary of markings.  It’s not that nifty beautiful translucent image that skitters diagonally but not obtrusively across the image.  But to work with Photoshop means I need to understand layers.

Here is why there is hope for me to understand Photoshop.  For forty years, I have been thinking about a picture as a two dimensional image on a flat piece of paper.  Depth is an optical illusion created by artful composition and sharp contrast.  It occurs to me now that one of the magical things Photoshop does is slice the image into a 3-D tower.  Photoshop sees images like a painter would see it: as a compilation of different paints, one on top of each other.  My impression is that the number of layers in theory is thus infinite.  Sadly, the amount of time I have for hobbies is far less than infinite.

Photoshop, Take Three

 

Perhaps the third time will be the charm?

The One Four Challenge has inspired me to try again.

So here is the base picture.  Zero adjustments this week.

OneFour-Challenge_week-1

Watch over the next four weeks as I attempt to learn how to use Photoshop.  Again.

Wish me luck!  If you know how Photoshop works and want to suggest projects for the next few weeks, just leave them in the comments section.

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