The Little Yellow School House

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My hubby M and I just got back from a week in sunny Mexico with our nearly three-year-old peanut Max. It was a trip to celebrate M’s birthday and escape winter in New Jersey.

We spent most of our time strolling through town, lounging on the beach (well, lounging as much as possible with a toddler…) and eating an excess of chips and salsa.

However, I knew that I really wanted to do something to connect with locals. Before we left I searched online for ways to volunteer in Isla Mujeres. I can’t find the original link, but reading through a few pages of travelers’ comments led me to the Little Yellow School House.

It’s a school supported entirely by donations that offers education to children with special needs including autism, down’s syndrome and other disabilities.

I emailed to ask if I could visit with Max. They said yes. I packed my yoga breathing ball and asked a Spanish-speaking friend to help me translate Rub Your Hands (Om song). We made a small donation through their paypal link.

On the day of the visit I was a little bit nervous about bringing Max. He can be a bit ahem…rowdy with other children. I told him we needed to be extra careful and nice because the kids were welcoming us into their school.

We toured the school and met all of the students. Max warmed up and played with the children in the youngest class.

He showed them how to breathe with the breathing ball and shared it freely. I didn’t tell him that the students had disabilities and that day was one of my proudest days as a mama. When his new friend jumped on him (normal behavior from toddlers…Max usually pushes or hits back) he laughed and rolled over. He left happy and worn out.

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I used to think that volunteering had to be some grand gesture. When I didn’t live up to my own expectations I felt disappointed in myself. I’ve since shifted my perspective. I now believe that cultivating connection in small ways leads to living a life of service.

How do you cultivate connection? How are you of service?

I want to hear from you, regardless of how small your actions are!

P.S. I am always looking for ways to volunteer/help others WITH my toddler. Suggestions welcome…

P.S.S. This was Max’s second trip involving a school visit. Read about Costa Rica here.

Southern Italy

In June my hubby M and I took our toddler to a little known town on the Southern coast of Italy. Tropea had breathtaking views, plenty of carbohydrates and very little English. Our vacation consisted of wine, pasta and delicious dark coffee balanced out by a daily climb up the very steep hill. We dared to venture on a three day road trip across the Straits of Messina to Sicily. Driving through this local region without much Italian or a GPS system isn’t for the faint of heart, but we loved the adventure.

IMG_3712A view of Tropea from the water

IMG_3694Our bambino waiting for his beachside panini

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IMG_3763His daily cookie with my daily espresso after our hike to town

IMG_3731Babywearing on a tour of a countryside farm

IMG_3733Local honey

IMG_3754Captivated by the juggling act in the main square of Taormina, Sicily

IMG_3759Fresh lemons outside our hotel in Sicily

IMG_3771One last glimpse of Tropea

 Did you go on any adventures this summer? Where’s the farthest place you’ve traveled with an infant or toddler? I’d love to hear your stories!

Escuelita de Verano

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Friends in boat pose

This year I vowed to give back more. I started small during my recent trip to Costa Rica. A few weeks before we left I contacted Friends of Nosara to ask if I could visit the local elementary school. In Costa Rica January is considered summer and the schools close for the month. That leaves kids with nothing to do for the day, so the Surfing Nosara Foundation sponsors a summer camp with free lunch and activities for the kiddos. The English speaking coordinator Sarah was thrilled to have us visit. We volunteered to bring a blender and fruit to make smoothies and I planned to teach a yoga class. I practiced my Spanish beforehand and looked up a few key words and phrases. I also brought along these colorful cards. On the day of our visit we stopped at a roadside stand to pick up fresh bananas and pineapples. The students loved doing yoga, despite my broken Spanish. They adored Max. We had so much fun being part of the local community for the day.

IMG_3362Savasana works in any language

_DSC3275A helper adding pineapple chunks to the mix

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Every student got the chance to assist

_DSC3267Patiently waiting

M and have traveled extensively, but only recently did I think to reach out to a local school for a day visit. A few years ago I spent a month volunteering in Peru and I guess I thought that giving had to be some grand gesture. That’s nice when you have the resources, but even one afternoon can brighten someone’s day or $20 can make a difference.

I would love to hear about your volunteer experiences!

Costa Rica with Max

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A monkey at Playa Dona Ana…the best rest stop in the world

The perfect place to stop for lunch on the way to the beach after a flight into San Jose

IMG_3326Yoga in the treetops at the Nosara Yoga Institute

IMG_3336Baby Max chasing a beach puppy at Playa Guiones

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Swinging at a family-owned restaurant in Nosara town (across the street from the air strip)

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Playing around on a long board

We stayed two nights in Tamarindo, Costa Rica’s hip surf town with a large number of expats, beach bars and surf shops. The yoga class that I took there was for the most part in Spanish with a little English and focused on hips, which I so needed after the journey. On Saturday we drove three hours through mostly dirt roads to the quaint little town of Playa Guiones near Nosara. M and I rented a long board to take turns on while Baby Max happily played in the sand. On our last day in Costa Rica we headed back to the San Jose area to a Swiss chalet…yes a European style hotel in the mountains of Heredia. The air was crisp and cool and the scenery was stunning. Although the truth is…it was quite an odyssey to get there. The internet said four hours, and after six and several trips around the same town I was starting to think a nice boring safe Marriott next to the airport wasn’t looking so bad. Baby Max was crying and everyone we asked kept saying take the main road up the hill. Problem was the main hill wasn’t labeled along with all the rest of the roads. Alas we finally made it and like always when traveling, it was worth it.

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“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Layovers & Baby Love

IMG_3307Two days later…finally in Costa Rica with a gorgeous view at a roadside stop for lunch

Our vacation got off to a slow start with a delayed flight out of Atlantic City due to fog. The first leg of the trip was scheduled to depart at 7 a.m. and we ended up leaving around 11:30 in the morning. That’s an extra 4 hours of entertaining baby at the airport, but surprisingly things went pretty well. The AC airport is small and there aren’t many flights scheduled at the same time so there was plenty of room for Baby Max to crawl around and play. For the first half of the three-hour plane ride to Fort Lauderdale he was energetic but happy. Then at last, the nap came.

IMG_1113Airport fun; meeting new friends

Travel tips that work for us:

  • Hide a few toys in the days leading up to travel. Take them out one at a time on the flight.
  • Water bottle fun: shake it, peel the label off, drink it
  • Nurse for takeoff and landing (it’s supposed to help alleviate pressure in the ears).
  • Bring plenty of snacks, but try to wait as long as possible to break these out. My goal is to wait until at least the second half of the flight. I also dole them out very slowly.

IMG_1115Publix stop on the way to the hotel for an avocado roll

We missed our connection and ended up staying the night in Fort Lauderdale. Exhausted but excited and unwilling to waste our one night in South Florida we headed out for dinner and a stroll through South Beach. Max hung out in the Ergo for the evening and M and I found amazing veggie risotto.

IMG_1120He loves avocado sushi

Normally when I travel I can be a bit of an introvert. I never talk my seatmates. I’m usually reading or wearing headphones. However, traveling with a baby is a little lot different. No books and no headphones. Traveling with a baby is all about living in the present moment. And so far I’ve learned that almost everyone loves babies, even that thuggish looking guy with the backwards hat and tattoos. On our way to Costa Rica M and I ended up chatting the whole way with a soon-to-be groom on the way to his bachelor weekend. The conversation started when he asked us how old Max was. He sipped mixed drinks while we entertained Max and the flight passed pretty quickly.

Costa Rica is a baby friendly nation. Upon arrival we (and another family with an infant) were whisked to the front of the customs line. The rental car guys oohed and aawed and strangers all around stopped us to say hi to Max.

IMG_1123Since he was up most of the plane ride he napped for a big part of our 5 hour ride the the beach

There were a few tough moments, but overall the trip here went pretty well. Now it’s off for some fish tacos and fruit smoothies.

Traveling with Baby

I’m super excited and somewhat nervous about this Wednesday’s trip to Costa Rica. M and I are taking Baby Max south for 10 days of sun & surf. This will be my fourth trip to the most peaceful little nation in Central America. I love the people, fresh fruit and expansive coastline. We are headed to the touristy beach town of Tamarindo for the weekend, followed by the quiet village of Nosara for nearly a week. We rented a modern condo in Tamarindo and a private house in Nosara. Baby Max has been traveling with us to and from Florida since around six weeks, but this will be his first passport stamp. And his first long plane ride, with a layover. Once we arrive in San Jose it’s a 4-5 hour drive to the Pacific coast. We might be a little crazy to attempt this type of trip with a ten  month old, but it’s been a while since we had an adventure and we’re itching for one.

IMG_0934We won’t be needing the hat and jacket next week

The past few days I have read this blog up and down for advice and inspiration: Have Baby Will Travel. It’s full tips for everything from what to pack, whether to bring your own car seat (yes) and how to entertain little ones through security and on the plane. Speaking of car seats, ours is a bit to bulky to lug around the airport so we picked up a cheapie at Burlington Coat Factory Baby Depot. Until now we’ve been squeezing our little 20-pounder into an infant car seat stroller system at the airport, which he is way too old and big for. The journey is worth it…once we’re there I’m looking forward to yoga, waves and spiked tropical smoothies.

Do you have any advice for traveling with an infant?

Isla Mujeres

M and I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. It’s one of our favorite spots in the whole world with its blend of European chic, friendly Mexican smiles and laid back tropical beauty. After three nights we ventured to a new destination that a cool couple told us about years ago. Whenever we meet avid travelers we ask them their favorite places and jot them down in a file. It’s led us to a few far-flung destinations we would have never known about. This time it brought us on a short ferry ride from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, translated as Island of Women. It’s a laid back little island with an eclectic mix of boutique hotels and youth hostels. M loved that we could rent a golf cart to cruise around in and I loved the sexy vibe of our hotel.

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A barefoot sunset

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Breakfast in (an outdoor) bed at the Hotel Secreto

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What’s not to love?

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Of course being pregnant meant this trip was a little different than our usual tequila-drinking Mexican jaunts. Not having a hangover every morning means plenty of time for yoga, true relaxation, reading and reflecting. I brought along copies of Yoga Journal and Yoga International. Yoga Journal had a great article about letting go of past mistakes and bringing in the new year with positive intentions. The article suggested spending a few moments in reflection about how difficult situations were handled in 2012, not so that we can beat ourselves up but so that we can learn from them and think about how we want to grow. I want to be the best mother possible and I believe that starts with being a vibrant, positive, healthy person. Part of personal happiness is getting rid of crap I don’t need whether it’s clutter, excess sugar or negative conversations. Alicia Silverstone shares my sentiments in this blog post. And on a side note, here’s one change I’m currently making: starting the day off with warm water & lemon.

Happy 2013! Do you have anything you are getting rid of? Do you have an intention for the new year? Do you have any new year’s traditions or rituals?

Nicaraguan Babymoon

Babymoon~ a vacation taken during pregnancy with your significant other

Road trip; Central America

M and I spent the week on quite an adventure in Nicaragua. We flew into the capital city of Managua (pronounce muh-naw-wah) and drove through city, countryside and small towns for four hours to Aqua Wellness Resort, an eco-friendly hotel along the Pacific coast. A fellow traveler posted on Frommer’s that driving in Nicaragua is not for the faint of heart, and I give M a lot of credit for chauffeuring me around this week (Frommer’s is my most trusted source of travel info). After three nights of quiet relaxation we headed to the colonial city of Granada for historical architecture and some hustle and bustle.

Here are the highlights:

Passionfruit ginger smoothie

Granola with locally grown cashews

Always ripe fresh fruit

Best food & drink:

Jugo natural: fruit juices usually blended up on the spot, cheap and delicious!
Gallo pinto with maduros: rice and beans with fried plantains
Juicy pineapple, watermelon and papaya

Top Three Nica Experiences:

Watching the monkeys swing through the trees at dusk right outside our villa
Three days of 8 am yoga on a platform overlooking the ocean
Splashing around in the warm waters of Laguna Apoyo, a crater lake at the base of a volcano

Best value:

One hour couples massage in San Juan Del Sur: $50
Tire patched in Granada: $2

San Juan Del Sur~ Nicaragua’s “touristy” town

Biggest Surprise:

The rental car company did not provide a map (three gas stations and a hotel later we found one)

Know Before You Go:

How to change a tire if you plan to rent a car
A few Spanish phrases; especially left, right and straight

Thank goodness for my manly man


Granada

Juice at Laguna Apoyo; a warm-water crater lake outside of Granada

A magical spot

Baby-related highlight from the trip:

I felt him/her move for the first time…and then many times after that

A woman working at our hotel in Granada asked me if I knew the baby’s sex yet. She made a prediction based on my belly, which M found amazing that she even knew I was pregnant since I kind of look like I’ve gained the freshman 15. Anyway, I wouldn’t tell him what she said (the conversation was in Spanish) but we’ll find out the answer this week. My appointment’s tomorrow and I plan to have the technician write the sex on a paper and seal it in an envelope. M and I will find out along with friends and family this Saturday at our “Gender Reveal” party. In case you haven’t heard yet, they’re all the rage for expecting moms and dads.

Have you been to Nicaragua or another Central American country? Please share travel highlights and experiences!

 Would you find out the sex of your baby or wait until they’re born?

Taking the Taco Bus

It’s the last day of a whirlwind trip home to the Tampa Bay area spending time with friends and family. I’ve seen just about every wedding venue and tried on bridal gowns at three dress shops. I also took a mini four-hour road trip with my mom to visit my cousin and her brand new baby. My heart just melted. Today’s pictures are from yesterday’s amazing lunch at The Taco Bus on Central Avenue in St. Pete. This place is open 24 hours on the weekends and I can only imagine the crowd.

Agua de pina

We all need direction sometimes

The taco plate with one vegan tempeh and one butternut squash

Sweet!

Wild Woodstock

Last week I spent a few days in Woodstock, New York. I took three days of workshops with Jivamukti teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life. I’ll share what I learned in my next post. Today it’s all about the delicious food:

Falafel at Joshua’s Cafe

Sea salted caramel & Thai iced tea with almond milk

The best selection of books ever…

Couldn’t leave without one

Sunfrost Farms; the perfect breakfast spot

The Power Shot: ginger, lemon, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper

Granola, almond milk, berries & apple slices