Family Camping Never Loses Its Magic

Camping is one of those great family activities that requires everyone to sacrifice a bit of their time to open a window of opportunity for some real family bonding. Often times, parents take cell phones and keep them somewhere safe on camping trips, so that the members of the family can communicate and bond without outside interference.

So why doesn’t every family go camping? Well, depending on several factors, camping can be expensive, time constraining, or unsafe. However, these are very special circumstances. For the average family, camping can be done without spending a ton of money, during a time that’s good for everyone, in a completely safe and fun way.

The most common reason for not camping is the expense factor. Camping can be extremely expensive, depending on your requirements. However, camping is about “roughing it” a little, and not having to worry about a little dirt under your nails. Tents and sleeping bags are typically the largest “required” expense for camping. It doesn’t have to be super expensive, though. For a summer camping trip, summer equipment will do just fine. You can find quality summer tents, with rain flies, big enough to sleep 4 people and their gear for as little as $80. Sleeping bags can be expensive, but, if you are summer camping, you don’t need a -40°F bag. A simple 20°F sleeping bag will work perfectly. You may even find yourself not using it at all, depending on the temperature. These summertime sleeping bags can be found for as low as $30. All together, that puts you at $200 for quality reusable gear.

Other gear you will need depends largely on the type of camping you want to do. Coolers for food can be expensive, but many campgrounds have small “general stores” to buy food from. Obviously, one of the most important things to bring is water. There are several options for water supply for a camping trip. You can bring bottled water, but there will be a lot of trash and weight. There are water-purifying bottles, but these can be very pricey. There are survival-style items, such as iodine tabs, that can be used, but most folks aren’t this into camping. There are pros and cons to each of these options. Be sure to choose the one that’s right for you.

Where camping tends to get expensive is in all the outdoors activities there are to do while camping. Typically, the price goes up with the intensity level of the activity. For example, bird-watching is only as expensive as a set of binoculars, but zip lining can be very expensive. It’s not a bad thing to spend money on things that will bring you and your family closer to each other, but you have to ensure that the things you purchase are worth the price.

ATVs, for example, aren’t exactly cheap, but they can supply 10+ years of fun for you and your family. They can bring an experience that not much else will give your family. Plus, there is a cheaper alternative; trail-worthy go karts! While not as inexpensive as a pair of binoculars, go karts will offer so much more, in terms of excitement and thrill. To top it all off, they are probably cheaper than you’d think. A good quality go kart can sell for as low as $564.77 with a company like Killer Motorsports. Just be sure to do your online shopping to find those companies that offer good products at a great price.

Remember, though, that the best part of camping is not what you bring along; it’s how you use the things you bring to create opportunities for family bonding. Kids and parents can come together, around a warm campfire, and truly learn about each other in ways that sitting in separate rooms throughout the house just can’t offer. Camping is a time that the family will cherish and remember for the rest of their lives.

Changing the Stories We Live By

Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect.
Topic:
Changing the stories we live by.
Issues: Why so many self-help programs, drug use prevention programs; teen pregnancy prevention programs, and crime reduction programs (like “scared straight”), don’t work—and may even do more harm than good; how, by making small changes to the narratives we tell ourselves, we can create lasting, positive change.

The Gold Standard of Childcare + Redirecting Our Personal Narratives

Tammy Gold, author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer.
Topic:
Finding and achieving the gold standard of care for your child.
Issues: The truth about nannies—what they do and how they think; identifying your family’s needs; conducting interviews, reference checks, trial periods, and work agreements; understanding “nanny speak”; troubleshooting to avoid drama, resolve problems, and handle any issues.



Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect.
Topic:
Changing the stories we live by.
Issues: Why so many self-help programs, drug use prevention programs; teen pregnancy prevention programs, and crime reduction programs (like “scared straight”), don’t work—and may even do more harm than good; how, by making small changes to the narratives we tell ourselves, we can create lasting, positive change.

Some Assembly Required

Building systems come in a huge variety of styles, shapes, materials, and levels of difficulty. This week we take a look at several of them—one traditional, one non-traditional, and two that offer a new twist on the classics.

Playmobil zoo & aquariumTake Along Zoo & Aquarium (Playmobil)
Happy 40th birthday to Playmobil! Playmobil sets are always well made, colorful, and fun to play with—what could be better than that?—and this one is no exception. What makes the Zoo & Aquarium especially unique is that it’s great for both indoor and outdoor play. It comes with trees, pools, fences, and quite a few animals (such as zebras, giraffes, lions, fish, walrus), as well as “human” caretakers. That’s a lot of pieces for one set. And there’s room for a few more, just in case your child wants to invite some other animal friends over for a visit.  When you open up the kit, one side is the zoo, the other is the aquarium, which your child can actually fill up with water and let the sea creatures (and the rest of the animals—hey, giraffes swim too) take a dip. When playtime’s over, all the pieces fit easily into the case, which (after you’ve drained and dried it) folds up for storage or easy transport. Retails for $49. http://www.playmobil.us/

nintendo captain toadCaptain Toad: Treasure Hunter (Nintendo)
Nintendo’s Mario games are kind of like Oprah, who made Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz so famous that they got their own show. Similarly, Nintendo has given quite a few Mario stars their own games. These include Yoshi, Luigi, Princess Peach, and now Captain Toad. What’s especially interesting about the Captain is that he has no particular super powers—not even jumping. He just walks, runs, and has a real knack for finding gold coins, turnips that can be used to defeat enemies, and even a blockade-busting pickaxe. He’s also something of a genius when it comes to putting things together to solve puzzles.  Captain Toad is a game for the whole family. Kids will like the simple controls and easy mechanics of the game, and adults will appreciate the puzzles and the challenges required to collect all the treasures. Captain Toad retails for around $40 and is available everywhere video games are sold, from the Wii U eShop, or at http://captaintoad.nintendo.com/

light staxLight Stax (Light Stax)
From a distance, Light Stax look like Duplo (Lego’s jumbo size bricks for preschoolers), but connect at least one Stax block to the power base, and every other block that’s connected—directly or indirectly—will light up. The base, which can run on batteries or a USB cable, has enough juice to light up at least 100 blocks. Stax are compatible with Duplo (but only the Stax blocks illuminate), but our favorite feature is the auto-shutoff, which means your child can build a completely new nightlight every night. Stax come in sets from 12 blocks to more than 100, and prices run from $35 to $250. http://lightstax.com/

 

klutz lego chain reactionLEGO Chain Reactions (Klutz)
If you liked the classic game Mousetrap, you’ll love Klutz’s very clever LEGO Chain Reaction book. The motto is “Teach Your Bricks New Tricks,” and by incorporating ordinary LEGO elements and a few other ingredients, that’s exactly what happens. What’s the point of doing ridiculously simple things like tossing a gum wrapper or bouncing a ball in one step when you can do it in 20 or 30 steps using levers, pulleys, ramps, hammers, string, tires, and funnels? An engaging, entertaining, and educational activity for the whole family. Comes with 30+ Lego elements and instructions for building 10 Rube Goldberg machines. Retails for around $20. http://klutz.com

Military Families: New Articles for February

The latest batch of great articles for military families just went up.  Here’s what you’ll find this month:

  • Information on how to transfer military education benefits. If the servicemember can’t use them, it’s now possible to transfer them to the spouse, a child, several children, or any combination. But restrictions apply, and it’s important to know what they are.
  • Creative ways military families can reduce their tax bills. There are a lot of programs that aren’t available to civilians. You’ll learn about the most important ones here, including a situation where you can actually end up paying less tax by declaring more income.
  • Strategies to steer clear of the biggest financial pitfalls many military families fall into, from having to live on one income (because it’s so hard for spouses to find and keep work) and relocation expenses, to insanely expensive childcare and predatory lenders.
  • Advice on how to weigh your options when you’re faced with a “should-I-reenlist-or-should-I-get-out?” decision. There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to both civilian and military life. We’ll help you make the choice that’s best for you and your family.
  • A guest post on the ins and outs of the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). What you don’t know could really hurt your chances of finding that perfect home.