Monday, February 27, 2012

Mexico 2012

We arrived home late (LATE) last night from a vacation in which we took our 4 children (17, 15, 13 and 10) to Mexico.  This was our third trip with the kids and I thought it would be nice for me to offer up some tips to those who might be considering a family vacation (specifically to Mexico).  I mean, c'mon, the only real "tip" that you know when traveling to Mexico is "don't drink the water".  No one tells you all the "inside" tips that really help a trip go smoothly.  So, today is your lucky day.  I'm going to share with you what I have learned.

10 Tips for a FABULOUS Vacation in Mexico

1.  You want fabulous?  Leave the kids at home.  If you're willing to settle for good-to-great, then go ahead and bring them.  And earplugs.  Because location does NOT equal lack of whining.  Choose wisely Grasshopper.

OK...the assumption is made that you did NOT choose wisely, instead decided to be self-sacrificing, and yeah, well, that's OK too.  You've just downgraded your trip but will probably get to heaven quicker so the tradeoff is worth it.  So, children ARE in attendance and we'll go forward from there.

2.  Choose an all-inclusive.  I know, I know it's more expensive BUT in the long run, you'll be happy you did.  I specifically looked for an All Inclusive that was on the smaller side and was THRILLED with what I found.  It's not super fancy, but it's clean, the staff LOVED the kids and knew them by name and, since it was smaller, it allowed us to relax a little by not worrying when we sent a child (10) back to the room by herself.  I chose The Reef Playacar (for the second time) because of its size, because of its price, because of the location (within walking distance of Playa del Carmen) and because of its uniqueness:  It is comprised of a series of 16 "villas" each with 12 rooms on 3 floors (so it only has about 200 rooms).  The main "avenue" that connects the front desk to the beach leads one through a jungle like environment.  We LOVE it.  People either love it or hate it.   AND I selfishly (yes, I know...SHOCK) chose The Reef because in all the hotels (6, I think) we have stayed at in Mexico, it has had the best beds.
3.  Yogurt.  It's your friend.  And in Mexico, it can be your BEST friend.  You don't have to look at it as a chore.  It can be a treat.  A very, very tasty treat:
That's pineapple, cantaloup, bananas, watermelon, honeydew, bananas topped with yogurt and fresh granola. My tip...find a way to include yogurt in your daily diet.  At least while in Mexico.  Now, I just need someone to make that for me every day while I'm at home.  Any volunteers?

4.  Bring a playmate for your child.  Someone who is close in (mental) age.  So they'll have someone to play with.  The girls had the girls (their cousins):
The boy had his uncle.  And dad.  They all acted about 17.
5. Involve your children in the "activities" because you never know when what was a "lark" turns into a career opportunity.  Exhibit A:

As luck would have it, the waiter at dinner that night also showed the kids how to fold napkins into chickens.
And of course what Mexico trip would be complete without a little salsa dancing.  Exhibit B:

I know, I know...WHO knew?
6.  Talk with your wait staff.  They will steer you in the direction of THE BEST food available.  Case in point:  Miguel.  When we requested someplace to eat in Playa, he suggested Fogon.  A BIT off the beaten track, but it was EXCELLENT AND inexpensive.  The specialty:  tacos el pastor: 
That is layers of pork, slow roasted on a spit and carved off gyros style with fresh pineapple on top.  YUM.  I actually had the arrachera (flank steak) with grilled spring onions, pablono chilis roasted and topped with cheese.  It.Was.Awesome.  The girls...they all RAVED about their chosen entree.  Only one person spoke any English and he helped our table of 12.  So...we tipped big.  REALLY big.

7. Sometimes, in Mexico, people want to keep you out of their property.  And they'll go to some great lengths to do so.  Lengths like this:

Those are glass bottle that have been broken then set in mortar atop of fences. My advice?  Do not allow your children to climb such walls.  Call this a safety tip.  

8.  My older kids decided they would like to para sail, so we set up it up. They were going to allow one person to be in the boat to take pictures.  So, I tucked my (pocket) camera into its case, attached it to my swimsuit, tucked it INSIDE of my swimsuit, with the life vest tightly covering both.  It worked like a charm.  I made it out to the boat and was able to get some good shots of the kids:

The wave runner trip on the way back went a little different when the driver decided to dump all 4 of us up close to the shore.  Purposefully.  Fully dunk.*  I hopped out of the water as quickly as possible and grabbed the camera (in the same place for safety) but the case was pretty damp.  Luckily, as you can tell, the pictures are fine.  The camera...well, it is currently residing in a bag of rice in the hopes that it will dry out the electronics IF they got wet enough.  This tip would be:  carry ziploc bags with you at all times.

9.  Most hotels provide fairly  nice chairs, both near the pool and on the beach and ours was no exception.  The problem was, there were 10 of us.  So if we wanted to be seated anywhere close to each other, we had to be up at Gawd Awful O'clock in the morning with towels, clothes, books or bags to save chairs in a group.  I became adept at the 530am "chair alarm" (believe it or not but it was somewhat internal) and would usually sit and watch the sunrise.  I actually thought they were all very pretty until our last day (yes, that would be the day without the camera), when it sped past "pretty" on its way to spectacular.  Initially the sky was painted muted shades of pink, orange and yellow with light reflecting off the whispy clouds, turning them lavender.  It was a sight to behold.  I could tell though that there was a thick line of clouds on the horizon so it was unlikely that I would actually see the sun, but I sat there in awe of what I did see.  Then, I glanced up in time to see this small sliver of bright red peek over the horizon and held my breath as more and more revealed itself.  My first thought was the lyrics to Shine...Heaven let your light shine down...and then I chuckled when I realized that He has quite adept at rising the Son.  Tip: take the time. Sit on the beach.  Watch the sunrise. I can show you where to look, and tell you what you will find.
10.  Ultimately, you can't control the weather.  You can't (completely) control your kids.  But you can control how you respond.  And you might just squeeze a little fun in there...somewhere:

*full disclosure...I would SO not have had a problem getting dumped had I not had my camera.  When it happened I initially thought it was funny until I realized...OH CRAP...MY CAMERA.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ugly Sweater Day

It's Snowball Week at the high school this week and that means that my children are scrambling for "costumes".  Today's costume?  Ugly sweater day.

You know what sucks?  When your wardrobe gets raided for their costumes.  It probably wouldn't bug me so much if it wasn't "UGLY" sweater day, because that implies a degree of taste (or lack thereof).

However, I will take solace where I find it.  My son chose one of my sweaters.  It was one that I haven't worn in a couple years but I never really considered it ugly.  My daughter raided her dad's wardrobe and came up with a Neal (Santa Clause movies)/Bill Cosby style sweater.  My solace?  The sweater of mine hadn't been worn in a couple years (so it is ready for Good Will) and my daughter's choice will probably garner more attention than my sons.  But ultimately, I think my kids will find that their choices were NOT ugly.  Not in the true sense and spirit of the word (as it applies to ugly sweaters).

In the end, I hope they realize that their parents sense of style, while not being completely fad conscious, aren't THAT far off the mark. Or at least one of their parents.  Ahem.

And of course, there will come a time when they are in our positions.  I hope I'm around to see it.  Because Karma, when you're on the receiving end, can be HILARIOUS!