travel

A page from the M family diary

It’s been a while since I’ve written one like this, a travel story from our family vault.  I don’t know how well these posts fit in with the overall cohesiveness of my blog, but since I don’t keep a journal, I enjoy looking back on these to read later.  So that’s why it’s here.

This trip caught us by surprise.  We only found out, with about two weeks notice, that N would get Veteran’s day off.  And with a baby coming at the end, but not the very end, of the school year, and a job that just started a year ago with a clean slate of vacation/sick days (i.e. very little), we have tried to use them sparingly.

So we jumped at the chance to take a mini-trip, though it almost got spoiled by a rainstorm.  Yes, the Tuesday before we left, I woke up (around 1am #murphyslaw) to an unmistakeable dripping sound coming from our kitchen.  There were at least six spots in our kitchen ceiling where the rainwater was dripping in and pooling onto the floor below (our NEW floor, mind you that we had just laid in March).  N and I worked quickly to mop up and contain the water, puzzled as to why this was happening, especially since there was a bedroom (and not a roof) directly above the most worrisome drip.

Since then, we’ve seemed to diagnose the problem (and will be getting a new roof and ceiling out of it, it seems), but of course the timing couldn’t have been worse and made us question whether we should continue on with our trip plans or just throw in the (soggy) towel.

Thankfully, my dad stepped in and was able to be at our house while we were away, to meet with insurance and roofers, and the like.  We took off across I-40 as soon as we had eaten breakfast and tried not look behind.

Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge was our ultimate destination, with our first stop being a picnic lunch in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The last hour or so of the drive was through a small town and across The Tail of the Dragon, which I later found out is an infamous stretch of road known well to motorcyclists who love the thrill of the twists and turns.

I’m not one who becomes car sick easily, but with babies growing me, I’ve always been a little more prone to feeling it.  Plus it was nearing lunchtime, which for some reason, my pregnant self confuses hunger with nausea, so I was ready to be at our destination and out of the car.  We were just at the entrance of the park when we thought we were turning into it, but instead onto another 15 mile stretch of twists and overlooks into the great park itself, but nowhere to actually breach the interior.

To compound the frustration, our cell phones completely lost service about a mile from the entrance, which meant we had no navigation nor any idea how long this road would be, other than the mile marking signs along the way.  It was just like being back in the 1990’s again, and as bad as I imagined.

Finally, we made it to the end of the parkway and were able to use more signs to guide us, more directly, into the entrance of the park.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a good parking/eating/hiking area immediately, so we kept driving.  We began to see signs for Cade’s Cove picnicking area so we blindly followed along, hoping for the best, at the end of another long and twisted 7 miles.

But we reached the end and it was as if the Heavens opened all at once.  There was a row of picnic tables, evenly spaced, with a nice bathroom (another thing on our wishlist during the last hour of the drive), an ambient stream coursing along a shallow riverbed, and beautiful sunlight streaming through the gorgeous, gilded autumn trees. We had arrived.

We ate lunch and enjoyed the sights and sounds of God’s beautiful handiwork. I don’t think there could be a more ideal picnic spot on the face of the earth.  We could hardly finish our lunch before the girls were begging to play in the stream (though we shooed them away as it was too cold, and possibly dangerous).  Instead, we followed the stream backwards, and uphill, hiking up a short incline and stretching out our car legs.  It couldn’t have been a more beautiful fall day with the leaves’ burnt reds and oranges and beginning to cover the ground.

On our way back down the incline, we saw a pack of wild turkeys, who were completely non-plussed by the sight of us, and continued to scavenge crumbs off the ground while the girls watched in fascination.

Around 4pm, the sun was beginning to arc into its descent and we decided to make our way down and out of the mountains. I’d seen a Sweet Shop at the entrance to the park and had promised the girls a treat on the way to our hotel.  We continued to navigate by signs, with no luck from our phones, and discovered, to our dismay, the shop was closed. We continued to blindly drive, back the way we came, hoping we would see signs for Pigeon Forge or our phones would pick up soon.

About ten minutes later, we began to read hand-lettered signs on the sides of the road, hand-tacked to poles.  It was a shop promising fudge and ice cream and all the delights a Great Smoky Mountain tourist could want. N pulled over the car, finally, in front of a shack with signs promising, “worth the stop”.  We eased the girls inside, only to find no ice cream, old and oddly-wrapped fudge, and a bowl of ring pops for a $1 each.  (MG also discovered a very old looking box of sweetarts with a garage sale sticker of $2 on the lid).  Adorning the shop were also lots of rocks, crystals, and other breakable items, right in the eyesight of Sib.  We quickly backtracked and found our way back to the van where we promised the girls we would find something better than that.

Luck was on our side about 5 minutes later when we passed a very touristy, but still an actual building promising homemade fudge and other delights.  Inside was decorated with Christmas overkill and long, counter height tables with open jars of all kinds of sauces and jellies for customers to sample.  They also had about a dozen barrels filled with assorted, old-fashioned candies, though the girls ended up choosing fudge after a free sample.  A first for them.

Shortly after, our phones finally kicked back into gear and we were able to successfully navigate our way to Pigeon Forge.  Our hotel was located at the end of a long strip of crazy looking museums and dinner theaters.  The girls kept asking if each one was Dollywood, but each time we would say no, and promised it would be better than they could imagine.

We specifically chose our hotel for its promise of a grand, indoor pool and its suite style rooms.  We willingly pay just a little extra for the extra room and when we are traveling with a pack n play and not a great out-of-crib-sleeper, it feels worth every penny to us.

As soon as we got checked in, we had to go to the pool right away.  This one was perfect because it had a 1.5 foot deep pool, shallow enough for Sibby to walk around in, a small splash pad, another shallow pool (only going up to 4 feet), and then two, two story tall water slides that started indoors, went outdoors, and then finished inside in a wading pool.  I immediately wrote off the slides, thinking the girls would be too afraid of them.  They both summed them up and said they weren’t interested. That was fine because we had a lot of swimming to do.

But about 15-20 minutes later, MG made up her mind that she wanted to try it. I thought for sure she would chicken out after getting to the top of the stairs, but instead she launched herself into the very dark tunnel and exited about 6 seconds later. She said it was awesome  and continued to go up and down, over and over again.  Well LB was not going to be left out so she had to try it too.  Once again, I waited for the moment where she would back down gracefully from the stairs, but she flung herself into the tunnel, cheeks full of air, and held her breath the entire way down.  She, too, declared it awesome, and went again and again.

An hour and a half later, we were worn out and ready for dinner.  I’d called ahead to a pizza place and they delivered to our room.  The girls took a warm bath and then devoured their extra-large slices.  N and I strategized breakfast and decided that Paula Deen’s restaurant would be our #1 choice.  He called to ask for reservations, wait times, etc.  They said they stopped serving breakfast at 10:30 and that there was usually never more than a 10 minute wait. Perfect.

Sibby was beyond exhausted at this point, having only caught a short nap in the car (ironically on the 15 mile detour that soured our pre-lunch dispositions).  She willingly went into her pack n play, but when N went back into the room to retrieve something (per my request), she was set off into a fury of tears.  The only thing that would calm her down was to rock her and she quickly fell asleep on me in our darkened room, something she hasn’t done in months but brought me quickly back to her baby days.  It was a sweet moment I savored for about 10 extra minutes before texting N.  We ended up moving her pack n play into the main room and the rest of us into the bedroom as it was past the girls’ bedtimes at home.

We pulled each one into a bed with us and N began telling stories, from our first date to our engagement, to the story of our day that very day.  We had to keep shushing the girls as their giggles got too loud.  It was a sweet moment for me, being with just them for a little bit, a taste of the old days.  Man, do we love our Sib, but she brings down our average a bit, (though it won’t always be that way), and it was nice to have some alone time with the oldest.

We all fell asleep somewhere between 9pm-10pm, and I prayed Sib would successfully make it through the night.

Sadly, my prayers were not answered as I had hoped and the first wakeup began around 1:30am.  Disorientation and diaper changes claimed the next 4 hours of sleep for me, and some for N as well. Thankfully, she did a final four hour stretch until about 9am.  The girls slept that late too, which was awesome, and promised a good start for the day.

We assessed the time and decided to go ahead and pack up our room since checkout was drawing near, then we would go visit Paula.  We also had to buy DW tickets at the front desk, so by the time this was all completed, we were leaving our hotel at 10am.  We rushed over to the restaurant, which was a 15 minute drive.  I hurried inside, asking for our name to be put on the list, but they said the earliest we could get seating was 11am and they would be serving lunch.

With great disappointment, we moved on and began the hunt for another place.  But at this point, it was nearing 10:30 local time, when most restaurants stop serving breakfast and begin transitioning to lunch.  There were a few dedicated breakfast houses, but on a saturday morning, they all had hour long waits.

Finally, we passed another little shack, of sorts, and hoped we would fare better than our shack experience yesterday.  As it turned out, they had a table immediately open for us and served breakfast all day.  We eagerly accepted.

After a smorgasbord of biscuits and gravy, inch thick pancakes, froot loops for Bea, and an omelette for me, we were happy and satisfied.  And it was time for Dollywood to open!  Perfect timing.

And…as this has already grown long and detailed, perfect timing for me to stop here. To be continued…

-smk

CA

It seems a lifetime ago we packed up what felt like too much of our little family and caught an early flight to California. 

The girls are becoming old pros at this flight stuff and we breezed through Dallas and made it to Sacramento before 11am (PST).

After experiencing an extremely rainy summer thus far, we ran to the pool with open arms.  The dry CA heat and sunshine never felt better.

The next morning, N and I kissed our girls goodbye and left them in the very capable hands of Granny and then went to the airport BY OURSELVES.  We drank coffee and ate a snack without having to share it with anyone constantly monitoring our contents.  And we strolled leisurely around when our flight was delayed an hour because IT DID NOT MATTER.  

When we did board our flight, we sat in the exit row and I read a book from gate to gate while N  prepped some doctoral work to work ahead a bit.  It was glorious.  

Our flight took us to LAX and our final destination was Marina del Rey; only about a 15 minute drive if you don’t hit traffic (a rarity in LA). We had booked our place months ago through AirBnB and we were a little excited/nervous finally see it in person.

(I need to interrupt for a minute to give a shout-out to my sister/brother in law who found our place AND sent us a ton of restaurant and entertainment ideas that really panned out for us.  THANK YOU!!)

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We were so excited when we finally cracked the door open and took in our condo for the week.  It was a one bedroom, one bath with a kitchen, eating space, and a balcony (perfect for breakfast and lunches)

We had decided in advance that we weren’t going to rent a car because of our location and the prospect of beach cruisers that came with our rental.  Biking post-kids is a luxury and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the city by bike. LA is a pretty bike friendly town and we explored all over Venice, took a bike path to Santa Monica, explored Abbott Kinney Blvd (my favorite!) and even ferried  groceries back home several times.  For the places we went to that were too far by bike, we bused (for when we had time, it rarely cost us both more than $3 for an hour+ride) and ubered (when time was important to us).  

Some of the sights outside of Marina del Rey/Santa Monica we saw were the Getty art museum and Hollywood.  

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We chose to do a bike tour of Beverly Hills (another suggestion by my personal travel agent :)) and it was my favorite thing we did.  We had our own personal tour guide who took us through celebrity neighborhoods (we saw some A-list celebrity homes, heard many celebrity stories, and saw some vintage celebrity homes as well.  No celebrity sitings, and most homes had such high privacy fences that you couldn’t see much of the home; but it was still fun to be casually riding our bikes through these mulit-million dollar streets!).  On this tour we also stopped and explored this old mansion (Greystone Manor)  that has been the site of many A-list movies.  It has beautiful grounds and a ghost story to boot.  Exploring that (and peeking in the windows) was probably my favorite part.

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(just casually riding our bikes down Rodeo Drive!)

The bike tour met in West Hollywood and afterward we made our way over to North hollywood for Graumin’s Theater and Madame Toussad’s wax museum. It was the closest we came to seeing any real celebrities.

We ate really well on this trip and got quite spoiled by all of the gluten free bakeries and ice cream shops nearby.  Our condo had a pool and we spent a few afternoons there reading and relaxing….by definition my favorite way to spend vacation.

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When our six days were up, we were ready to get back to our girls!  They hardly seemed to notice our absence; Grampy and Granny kept them entertained (swimming 2-3x a day, walks, movies, snacks, and all of the new-to-them toys {including my old barbie dolls]).  

We spent the remainder of our vacation soaking up the fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk CA rays and doing more of the same; walks, swimming, shopping, and movies.  

I don’t know yet when we will be back to good ol’ California but it certainly has been good to us

-smk

Vacation 2014, part II

As promised, here is the video from our recent trip to Rosemary beach.

Rosemary Beach 2014 from Kate on Vimeo.

A few notes: MG is STILL obsessed with Sleeping Beauty.  Granny brought a Disney princess crown for her and she wore it nearly the entire time, as evidenced by the video.  When we went outlet shopping, we also took her to the Disney store and let her pick something out.  She chose a Sleeping Beauty nightgown.  Then we saw the Princess Sophia “dress-ups” were on major clearance and since she’s been very much into dress up lately, we had to have it.  (she’s never seen princess sophia but she knows who she is.  She has worn her dress-up every waking moment inside the house since our return.  I have a rule that she can’t leave the house in it…although she has tried).  Then, they got us again with $10 Sleeping Beauty dolls.  So she walked out with three things.  And it was pretty magical.

-smk

Vacation 2014

It is hard to believe but our summer break is now (more than) halfway over.  Too many fun things coupled with deceptively cool weather has lulled us into the lazy, carefree summer rhythm.

One of the highlights of this summer will be the family vacation we just returned from.  My immediate family attempts to congregate in a new location every summer and this year we chose Rosemary Beach outside of Panama City, FL.  As far as vacations go, this had to have been one of my favorites.  Easy beach access, sugar white sand, huge pool, beautiful (and beautifully decorated) beach house, bike rentals, too many good food options, frozen yogurt/sno-cones nearly every evening, and outlet shopping (always a family vacation must).  Plus, Rosemary beach and neighboring Alys Beach have lots of visual appeal with their spendy homes and amenities.  Of the two, Rosemary is the well-established, classic choice while Alys is her tonier, new-money sister.  We enjoyed several nights just walking and biking through the sidewalks, gawking at what we could peep at from the lit interiors.

As hoped, by the end we were so relaxed we were nearly catatonic.  I guess not cooking, mowing, cleaning, laundrying, and erranding will do that to you after a week.   In their favor, the girls vacationed well.  The flights (and 5 hours layovers!!!!)  both went as smoothly as possible.  MG could have spent nearly every hour digging in the sand and we learned that after Bea got over her desire to eat and drink it, she enjoyed floating in the water.  While down there, we also ran (literally, ran) into some good friends and caught up with them with the roar of the ocean in the background.   Our evenings were spent walking or biking, followed by book discussions and family Jeopardy.  It’s the same old, comfortable family vacation routine we’ve fallen into, but we have no desire to change it.

I’m working on a vacation video (which always seem to capture the feelings better than words and pictures), but in the mean time, here are a few teaser pics:

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-smk

Happy May Day!

Wow–my life certainly looks a lot different today than it did one year ago.

I can’t believe we are in Bea’s birth month and almost ready to celebrate her first birthday!!

Common to the theme of the year, we took a short, unexpected/expected jaunt to TN to say a final goodbye to one of my dear, great aunts at the beginning of this week.  I’m not sure if it is all of the curve balls or we just got especially blessed, but the girls are turning into some pretty great travelers.  We did 16 hours on the road over the course of three days…and at this point, I think I’ve spent about 20 days in my own bed in 2014.

The only hiccup we had in the trip was about 7 hours and 20 minutes into our 8 hour drive home yesterday evening.  The girls had both fallen asleep since it was past their bedtime.  Bea woke up suddenly and started crying.  Both MG and I attempted to calm and pacify her when all of a sudden, out spewed the contents of her dinner. . .all over her, all over her paci, all over her car seat.  We pulled over and I did my best to baby-wipe it up, but there was nothing I could do about the soaked car seat or smell (seriously, what do people do when this happens to them 3 hours into the trip??).

I’ll admit it, I am NOT cut out to be a nurse.  I hate, hate, hate bodily fluids (especially of the orange variety), and I fret and worry about my babies while feeling paralyzed with indecision over what to do.  But oh my goodness, it became clear to me last night that MG could have a nurse’s heart.  As soon as Bea lost it, MG was on high alert, giving me updated details from the back.  She held Bea’s hand the entire way home and was not phased by the goo it was covered in.  When Bea became upset again, MG began singing Jesus Loves Me to her as I stroked her hair.

“Mommy, Bea’s not sleeping!”

“I know, buddy, she just doesn’t feel well right now.”

“Should we just keep petting her?”

We made it home (shout-out to N who raced us there and then stripped and washed the car seat and pukey clothes for me at 11pm!!)  and almost immediately had another repeat incident.

But then?  We all slept well and everybody else is still standing.  Just a random fluke (puke?) I suppose….

Or a reminder to be thankful for the unique giftings of my eldest.

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-smk

 

Last Week…

…we enjoyed a wonderful visit to sunny California!

Each year, my parents, sister and brother-in-law, and us try to go on a vacation together.  This year it was quickly decided that our location should be my parents’ house in California.  We’d never done that altogether in the summer before..which lent itself to lots of new fun.

Plus, with Bea only being 6 weeks old, it was nice to be in a “homey” environment and meant less stuff to bring with us.  In fact, we survived with only carry-ons.  If you knew me prior to 2009, you know that is no small success 🙂

Many thought we were crazy flying two under three cross country on a plane.   But we just smiled at their sympathy.  This was going to be the easiest trip yet!  And it was!  Bea was smiley or sleeping both flights there and literally slept the entire two flights back.  MG had her own seat and is old enough to stay engaged with snacks, a new toy, art activities, and videos for all four flights.  Plus, having an entire row to ourselves now that MG gets her own seat was downright luxurious :).

Instead of overwhelming you with pictures, here is a little video I compiled.  Although, WARNING, might be a  little boring if you’re not family 🙂

{note: the firework monologue at the end cracks me up.  I tried to explain fireworks to her before we left and eventually showed her a youtube video to help her visualize them.   This was the result.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/69860941%5D

And after all that….times she covered her ears during the twenty minute show?  Zero}

I used Instagram video for some of the video clips in the movie which is one of my new favorite things…but more on that later.  Also, some of my new favorite mommy products, the complete transition to MG’s big girl bed, and lots of other stuff coming your way soon 🙂

Surviving Mamaland: Airplanes

Airplanes.  Did you just involuntarily shudder?
I know I did.

There’s no form of travel I hate more then by sky.

It’s not that I’m afraid to fly…although…when you inevitably hit that patch of turbulence and you begin confessing things you didn’t even know you had done, then I do start to wonder about my brazen attitude towards it.

It’s just that I hate the whole darn rigmarole. I hate getting to the airport and never knowing if you are going to be on time or not.  I hate getting up at 3:45am to drive 45 minutes, to wait in line 10 minutes, to wait in line 30 minutes, to remove clothing articles in front of/with strangers, to walk barefoot all over the nasty floor (why do I always forget to bring socks??), to smile with confidence, but not too much confidence at the security guard (please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me), to skimpily packing in order to not have to pay a checked baggage fee, to never bringing what I want because my desired items will never make it through the scanner, to waiting an hour for my flight (if I’m lucky), to potluck seating, to recycled air, to airplane lavatories, to being in close confinement with strangers (I’ve got a book AND headphones in…please, please, don’t make small talk with me), to uncomfortable seats, to arriving unfashionably late and weary.  And this was pre-kids.

Now take all of this, PLUS add in the unbending schedule of a toddler, PLUS add in extra security so you can bring a water-bottle and a gazillion snacks through, PLUS add in the germs..oh the germs. And MINUS the one part of airplane travel I did actually enjoy: uninterrupted time to sleep/read.  Sounds like fun, no?

Thankfully, my parents moved clear across the country about 4 years ago…so I’ve had to come to terms with this whole flying business.  AND once we get there, the perks are pretty amazing.  But how do you survive UNTIL you get there?

 

MG has flown with us at 4, 8, and 16 months (I guess we like the “divisible by four” months).  Each had its own set of challenges and eases.  These are no ordinary non-stop 2 hour flights, mind you.  These are 10-hour door-to-door, 1 or two stops with 1-3 hour layovers in between.  They are work.  While we are by no means experts, here are some things we learned along the way that may hopefully help one or two of you out there in the future.

 

Bring only, and I mean only, the necessities.  When you arrive, buy what you need: i.e. diapers, food, etc.  Or, if you’re lucky (us), your final destination will have all of these things for you already. (thanks, Mom!)  Often hotels will provide pack ‘n plays and high chairs.  And does your baby really need many toys when they are at a new place?  Traveling calls for a little creativity and you can get by with less.

Deal with it for a day.  Flying calls me to step outside my bounds and live a little.  The schedule goes out the window.  New foods are introduced (I’ve got two words for you: dum-dums) to keep little hands busy.  Vomit bags transform into paper puppets. And you better believe when we arrive, she gets a bath to wash off all of the ‘travel germs’…but until then….we just deal with it!

Let the baby suck during take-off and landing.  And by suck, I don’t mean kick and scream (although sometimes that just happens).  If they are still nursing or bottle-feeding, let them do it during this time because the sucking reflex helps their ears adjust to the air pressure.  This is trickier then it sounds, though.  MG could drain me dry in about 5 minutes, so I really had to time it right.  Note to self: when the captain says to “prepare for descent”, you still actually have about 15 minutes until you need to prepare for descent.  Also, can I just add that there’s nothing more uncomfortable then trying to nurse a 28″ baby in the confinement of a 20″ seat with a neighbor on each side.  {Hopefully you’ll sit next to a Mama or Grandma who won’t mind the occasional kick or jab.}  Once they have outgrown the bottle stage, use either a pacifier (if they still take one) or some kind of food or drink (or the dum-dums, don’t forget the dum-dums!!)

Bring something new that she’s never seen before:  For this last trip, I packed only 2 toys in the diaper bag (and 3 books if you count those as toys).  Both of them were new.  I saved them for the 4.5 hour (shoot me) flight. When we were on hour 3 and running out of fun ideas, I pulled one out.  The excitement lasted for about 20 minutes, but when your child has an attention span of about 2, a twenty minute interlude is heavenly!  While your child is preoccupied with something, always have the next thing in mind for her to do.  After about an hour, you can revisit old ideas. Let’s just say that by the end of the flight you will be more tired then…well…a baby who missed her nap…but I think you can measure your success by how long your seatmate napped (3 out of 4.5 hours…success!)

Buy an extra seat if you can/want to afford it.  This is more of a luxury than a necessity, and one I have to admit we’ve always been too cheap to do.  Thankfully, we’ve flown some pretty early, random flights and had empty rows or seats so we could spread out a little.  Having an extra seat makes a huge difference to a wiggly toddler.  MG’s never been much of a lap baby but always has been pretty happy in her car seat.  When she was younger, if we’d had her car seat and an extra seat between us, I’m pretty sure she would have snoozed the entire trip.  So if you’re like us and too cheap to buy a seat for the little one, pray for extra ones!

Things that did not work for us:
-Videos: MG doesn’t really watch TV (yet) at home, so she doesn’t really seem interested in it on planes.  Darn!!!  What did work (for about 5 minutes) was showing her pictures of herself on the iPad and videotaping her where she could watch herself perform.  We’ll take it!
-Constant entertainment: At some point during this 10 hour day, we all hit our walls.  Nothing is going to distract her from being tired and this is when Daddy takes over.  He takes her in the back of the plane and rocks her to sleep standing up(only because this seems to be the only position she will fall asleep in….but every baby is different).  Thankfully, I haven’t had to attempt this trip by myself yet, but if I did, we would just make it work, I guess!

 

I do have to say: there’s nothing like flying with a baby to have your faith restored in humanity.  From the kind stewardesses who sanitized MG’s dropped paci in scalding water, to the Grandmas who played peek-a-boo with her when I was about out of ideas, to the comments from strangers on the easy flights “Oh what a good baby!  You are such a good baby!”  Most of us who fly know that it is a less than ideal situation for both the parent and the child so we are willing to accommodate.  Those who don’t understand…well…you’ll never see those people again in your life. So don’t sweat it!

 

Having a baby doesn’t have to keep you from traveling the “friendly” skies.  And sometimes, it’s downright worth the speed and efficiency.  But let’s all pray they come up with a better method of travel.  Fast.