Traveling without kids is tough

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the time to write on Laid Back Dad, a very long time! The reason I have time now is I happen to be on the road for work and have no obligations tonight, code for I’m old and sleeping on a Friday night is actually an appealing option. Having time to write is nice but it also means I’m away from home and family, which is tough.

It’s odd that when at home and “busy” it seems like there is never time to do enough with my wife/son/dog and once I’m away for 24 hours I miss them so quickly it’s nutty. Seeing people with their kids walking around, at restaurants, grocery shopping… makes me wonder why I don’t appreciate these moments as much when they’re happening…

Bubbles are fun!
Bubbles are fun!

I started writing this on Feb 6th and just saw it incomplete in the draft box now. It’s been an even longer time and the feelings I started getting down are still there. It’s a short one but it’s nice to get a post up, even if it’s not complete.

Be nice

 

2 Year Old Skier – The Toddler Hits the Slopes

The day has finally come to test out our theory that 2 years old is old enough to start skiing. We decided to take Archer to Blue Mountain near Collingwood Ontario for his first time, which makes sense since he has a season pass.

Knowing that we wanted to keep it short we headed over around 4:30 for the start of night skiing, this gave us a less busy hill to start on. I decided that for this outing I wouldn’t bother with skis and Archer and I headed up the magic carpet with regular boots on my feet.

Archers second run gliding to and end.
Archers second run gliding to and end.

Having no idea what to expect from a toddler on his first ski day I have to say I was presently surprised. Archer was in good spirits and was just taking it all in, didn’t seem to bothered at all by the magic carpet lift and we got to the top without incident. At the top of the bunny hill I carried him over to the beginning of the hill fir his first run.

Kids a natural! Kidding, but he did manage to do the whole bunny hill without falling at the pace of me walking backwards controlling his speed. I was expecting a lot of panic, crossed tips and lack of control but was surprised when he kept his skis straight and glided down the whole hill. We’re off to a great start!

I carried him halfway back up the hill for another run then went inside for his first ever hot chocolate which he made pretty short work of (toddler tip – 3 ice cubes).

We hung out in the lodge while mommy took a few runs with some friends and enjoyed some play time before heading home. First attempt at toddler skiing is in the bag and it was a small win, looking forward to the next time.

Is 2 Years Old too Young to Ski?

In September when our 2 year old toddler Archer had just celebrated his second birthday we started discussing skiing as a family. With access to accommodations in the ski town of Collingwood, Ontario we decided that skiing might be a great family sport. The last time on skis for me was 21 years ago when I switched to snowboarding which then got replaced by snowmobiling. Connie enjoys skiing but has typically only gotten out a couple times a year.

We spent a couple of months debating and researching if two is old enough to strap on skis. I was on the pro side from the start but Connie had reservations. Long story short is we headed to the local ski store and got Archer fitted for his new sport with a pair of 70cm skis that are almost all binding. In the store he had a great time stomping around in the ski boots and was pretty intrigued when we clicked him into his new skis. Overall it was a very good shopping experience and Archer had fun.

2 year old tries on skis
2 year old Archer tries on skis

One thing that we both agreed on was not setting any expectations of progress for the first year and only focus on having fun. As most parents know if you make a rigid plan with a 2 year old they will most likely not play ball. With this in mind we agreed that Archer would set the pace and duration of the day with a goal of keeping skiing a positive experience. Let’s hope we can stick to it.

Toddlers ski equipment list:
Atomic Vantage Jr Skis – properly sized
Boots
Giro Launch Helmet
Smith Sidekick kids goggles
Warm jacket
Snow pants
Mittens
Balaclava
Base Layer (pajamas)
Sweater for cold days
Hat for apres ski

The links above are the actual products we bought for our sons first ski season.  If you click and decide to purchase I will get a very small commission. Just so ya know.

Westfalia Road Trip Day 23 San Luis Obispo CA – Los Osos CA

It’s with a heavy heart that our time in is coming to an end in San Luis Obispo, but we still had a few hours to enjoy it while Westy Werks put the final touches on our Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia.  We spent the day picking up a couple things at the shops on main street and had a great lunch in the park with Archer and Zucca.

Zucca at the park
Zucca at the park

We got the call from Westy Werks that our Westfalia was done and ready to roll. Words can’t describe the positive experience we had with this shop, not only do they know their Volkswagen’s they have perfected customer experience.  They picked me up downtown and brought me back to the shop to settle up and explain everything they did.  Although they were not cheap I felt comfortable for our upcoming trip across the desert knowing I had specialists working on our 23 year old Westy.  Money well spent.

Westy Werks Sign
Westy Werks Sign Says it All

One of the must stop destinations on our trip was Go Westy in Los Osos California. This is a parts supplier that I had purchased parts from before our trip and they’re the foremost supplier and manufacturer of specialty parts for Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalias in the world.  Unfortunately when we arrived they had just closed although we did manage to get a campground recommendation from an employee that was leaving the parking lot.

Although the last few nights in a hotel was a nice luxury we were looking forward to some more camping.  We headed to Montana de Oro State Park based on the recommendation, if you’re heading there it’s further down the road than you think it should be. This turned out to be a pretty plain and uneventful State Park and had a few sketchy campers there. Probably the most uneasy feeling place we have stayed so far, not bad enough to leave although I wouldn’t go again.

It was also nice to have a “home cooked” meal again on the Primus camp stove.  One more sleep by the ocean before we start heading across the desert.  Mixed Emotions!

Accommodation Cost:  Montana De Oro State Park in Los Osos $25.00.

Volkswagen Camper Sightings: Vanagons are everywhere!

 

Westfalia Road Trip Day 21,22 – San Luis Obispo CA

We love this town!  We had stopped in San Luis Obispo (SLO) on a trip a few years ago when we rented a convertible Nissan 350Z and drove California Coast, the days before a child seat was mandatory.  The San Luis Obispo of our memories was beautiful and full of very friendly people, not a bad combo.

We decided to spend a couple days here in advance which worked out well since there is a highly recommended shop that specializes in Volkswagen campers called Westy Werkz.  Our Volkswagen Westfalia had been making some noise while turning left we thought it would be good to have them check it out.  It turned out the Westy needed new Axles and brakes and would take a couple days, well at least the timing worked out.  A couple days in a hotel in one place would be a nice change.

Westy Werks
Westy Werks

Once thing we love about San Luis Obispo and is how dog friendly they are.  It seemed that most restaurants were welcoming to dogs as long as you dined on the patio.  Most of the stores we went to also allowed dogs inside, even finding it odd that we even asked before coming in.   The first night our Porty Zucca had been holding in a pee and when we couldn’t find some grass she took the initiative and made due with this bush, felt I need to explain the picture.

Zucca's gotta go!
Zucca’s gotta go!

While we were in town we celebrated our anniversary at Novo Restaurant on their beautiful Patio.  The fact that you can take your dog to a restaurant of this caliber is amazing and the service was fantastic in catering to our needs while dining with a baby.  The great reviews online are well deserved, check it out if you’re in San Luis Obispo.

Patio at Novo
Patio at Novo

Another great culinary find was a block away from the Garden Street Inn was Batch, an ice cream sandwich store…yup that’s what I said.  They make their cookies and ice cream and have have a feature flavour each day.  You pick your cookie and ice cream combo and they assemble it for you, simple but so so good.  We actually went back 3 times while we were in SLO.  When traveling with Children there is a large candy and shop called Rocket Fizz across the street with hundreds of different treats and sodas that the kids will love.

This is one of those places you visit and you wonder for days afterwards why you don’t reside there.  The weather, the people, the great VW repair shop, fabulous food, dog friendly, kid friendly and the laid back vibe all add up to make this a great town.  It lived up to our memories and to it’s title of Happiest City in America, we love it!

Accommodation Cost: $132.08 per night in San Luis Obispo

Volkswagen Camper Sightings: Vanagons are everywhere!

Note: For some reason we didn’t take many pictures while here, sorry about that.

 

 

Westfalia Road Trip Day 20 – Pescadeno CA to San Luis Obispo CA

A good nights sleep in the Westy at the KOA Costanoa and we’re back on the road heading down the Coast.  Barely on the road 15 minutes and we were already pulling off of HWY1 into Swanton Berry Farm since I had been craving Pie for a couple of days.  This place was very cool and the karma led us to one of the best Strawberry Shortcakes on the planet!  To add to the uniqueness of this stop was the fact that they had a Honor Till in an unmanned store, there is still trusting people in this world and that is very refreshing.  This is a must stop if traveling this route, must stop!

Honor Till at Swanton Berry Farm
Honor Till at Swanton Berry Farm

This drive along the coast through California is beautiful and this clear sunny day was perfect for it.  Our trusty VW Westfalia camper has been holding up well and the twisty coast roads definitely taxing it’s 90hp engine.

Driving our 1990 Volkswagen Westfalia down Hwy1 California
From the Passenger Window

When traveling on a long road trip with a baby and a dog you need leave lots of wiggle room in your “schedule” for changes of plans.  We were starting to realize that our Portuguese Water Dog Zucca hadn’t had any real exercise in a few days and this breed needs to burn off energy regularly.  We had been told by someone in passing that the beach in Carmel was one of the few in California that allowed dogs, so we made sure to stop there when passing through.  Zucca went bananas and made a few doggie friends on the beach while Archer did his own thing.

Carmel Beach with baby and dog
Archer Digging in

One of the key destinations when we planed this trip was Big Sur California and unfortunately we ended up there on a weekend.  We called ahead to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and they said they were sold out but informed us there could be spots due to cancellations.  When we showed up there it seemed like we lucked out and were given a spot, but upon arrival at camp site 58 it was essentially in the parking lot of a variety store.  This park didn’t live up to our expectations, I think it’s popularity has caused it to be over populated and worn out.  We did a U-Turn and changed our plan with sites set on San Luis Obispo.  I must add that the drive through Big Sur is breathtaking.

After a couple more hours on the road and a few pit stops along the way we rolled into San Louis Obispo a little after dark.  Using Trip Advisor to find a hotel downtown we ended up at the Garden Street Inn and were greeted by a very friendly host.  We love this town and can’t wait to spend some more time here.

Accommodation Cost: $132.08

Volkswagen Camper Sightings: 3 Vanagons

 

 

Philips Avent 3-in-1 Bottle Sterilizer Review

Do you really need a sterilizer, can’t you just boil bottles?  Yup, but it’s a pain in the ass! Just spend some money and buy a stand alone sterilizer, it’s worth it. To be honest we chose the Philips Avent 3-in-1 Sterilizer because it looked the least bulky for our limited amount of counter space and it turned out to be a great value.

Bottle Sterillizer
Bottle Sterilizer

With 2 separate compartments for the bottles and all the other bits pieces and parts we found this baby gadget to be a huge help, especially in the early days of bottle feeding when you need several a day.  We would was our bottles and dry them on the Boon Lawn and once we had a few piled up they would get thrown in the sterilizer for a set it and forget it sterilizing, so easy.  The white Boon Lawn and the Sterilizer look great together on the counter.

We chose to avoid the dishwasher type since I don’t trust all the chemicals from the soap would be removed and you’re at the mercy of your dish washing cycles.  We also stay clear from anything that goes in a microwave because I just don’t trust the “science oven”.  The Avent Sterilizer just sits there ready to do it’s job whenever we need it.

The only 2 flaws that we found was the Evenflo 8 oz bottles that we started using at around 12 months were a little too tall to stand up straight so we had to sterilize them on a bit of an angle.  Don’t lie them down or water will puddle.  The second issue we had was some slight warping of the base in the section that holds the bottles.  We did have a replacement warranty but it wasn’t bad enough to bother replacing it.

I highly recommend the Avent 3-in-1 Sterilizer to new or soon to be parents.

Westfalia Road Trip Day 19 – Gualala CA to Pescadeno CA

Gualala was a great relaxing camping find, we would recommend it to anyone heading down the coast.

Today was dedicated to mostly travel and taking advantage traveling through a city and getting some free wifi to communicate with home and work.

We b-lined it to Petaluma and set up shop in a Panera simply based on the fact they had free wifi.  I hung out with Archer and did some work on the laptop while Connie took the opportunity to get her hair washed and blow dried at a salon, a little bit of luxury after “roughing it”.

Dog friendly retail store at Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma California
Dog friendly retail store at Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma California

While in Petaluma you must stop at one of the coolest craft breweries in North America, Lagunitas Brewing Company. This is great stop if you like craft beer, they also have a ton of merchandise that makes it easy to spend your hard earned.  If you can plan ahead it would be awesome to check out a band at their LaguMiniamphitheater.

Westfalia crossing the Golden Gate Bridge with Laid Back Dad
Westfalia crossing the Golden Gate Bridge with Laid Back Dad

We headed south in the VW Westfalia and traveled across a the Golden Gate Bridge and passed through San Francisco although we decided not to stop.  We chose to not stop in major cities that we have been to before or figured we would return to at some point in the next few years, San Fran was one of those.

View of the Ocean
A Bad Picture of the View of the Ocean

We ended our day at the KOA Costanoa in Pescadeno California.  This was a very interesting KOA that was part of a resort which included a fancy hotel and restaurant.  Since we arrived fairly late we decided take advantage of the Cascade Restaurant and we ended up with a fantastic meal backed up with great service.  Overall this was a nice resort with a great view and had very clean facilities, reminiscent of a higher end hotel.  You will pay a premium to stay here.

Another great day on the road!

Volkswagen Camper Sightings: 1 Vanagon, 1 Eurovan, 1 Split Window

Accommodation Cost: $51.00

Westfalia Road Trip Day 18 – Willits CA to Gualala CA

Well we had a great stay at the Willits KOA including a chance to relax in the hot tub before making breakfast and hitting the road.  As would be expected with a 1 year old, trips to the hot tub happen in shifts but are still worth the effort.  Now that the labour day weekend has passed we anticipate easier access to campsites like we experienced at Willits KOA.  Off we go!

Zucca and Archer ready to roll
Zucca and Archer ready to roll

From Willits we headed over to Fort Bragg and made a left on Highway 1 towards Elk California for a late lunch stop at Queenies Roadhouse.  This place is a great little restaurant that was very busy for a weekday and for good reason, the food was delicious and the service was great.

Queenies Roadhouse Cafe
Queenies Roadhouse Cafe

After a tasty lunch we hit the highway southbound along another stretch of beautiful coastal driving.  We were pushing the limits of time a 1 year old will tolerate his car seat and decided to stop for the night at Gualala Point Regional Park.

This small park is part of Sonoma County Regional Parks and although small with only 19 spots it was a great find.  The campground portion of the park is covered with very cool Laurel Trees which we have never seen before and it sits alongside the Gualala River which is almost entirely dried up this time of year.

Laurel Trees in Gualala
Laurel Trees in Gualala

We went for a 5km hike to the beach on the Pacific Ocean which turned out to be a little further than anticipated.  It was kind of cool to walk on the dried up riverbed which Archer and Zucca both enjoyed.  One interesting thing to mention here is the signs for “sleeper waves” which apparently can sneak up and carry you out into the Ocean, be safe kids.

Connie and Zucca on the Gualala River
Connie and Zucca on the Gualala River

Camping mid week after the kids are back in school makes for some peaceful camping.  We made a nice big campfire for warmth while we made dinner on the Primus.  Full of food and a sleepy baby, life is good.

Volkswagen Camper Sightings:

Accommodation Cost: $41.00 including firewood and dog fee (odd)

 

Westfalia Road Trip Day 17 – Crescent City CA to Willits CA

Nothing much to report about our night at Hiouchi RV Resort in Crescent City but they did have Wifi (after moving spots to catch the signal) and the showers were hot.  Westfalia away!

When in the land of the giant redwoods on a road trip you must drive through one, just cuz.  Well that was the plan when we took the Westfalia to Chandelier Tree in Leggett California.  Apparently when they designed this 2400 year old tree they didn’t have the Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia in mind, we didn’t fit through.  Oh well at least they had another gift shop to add to our list.

A really tight fit...too tight
A really tight fit…too tight

After the indescribable excitement of almost driving through a tree we b-lined it to the KOA in Willits California.  We have never stayed at a KOA style campground before and we didn’t know what to expect.  The Willits KOA definitely exceeded our expectations even though it didn’t offer the natural environment we’re getting used to in the Provincial and State parks.

Little Westy in a Big RV Spot
Lonely Little Westy in a Big RV Spot

It was an interesting change with all of the family programing that they have at this KOA, Fishing Pond, Arcade, Wild West Show, Mini Golf, Pool, Hot Tub, Splash Pad, Playground, Petting Zoo, Dog Park…really, there is more.  Our favorite thing was the Ice Cream Social and the Outdoor movie after the sun goes down.  Archer had a blast and it was nice to be able to watch a movie while he slept in our lap.  I’m not sure if all KOA’s are like this but if they are I can see the appeal, especially for family camping.

1990 Volkswagen Westfalia KOA
Willits KOA Fishing Pond

Weather’s warmer and it’s starting to feel like California, it’s crazy the distance we’ve traveled so far.  ZZzzzzz