Sunday, March 20, 2016

Stingrays, otters, and belugas - visiting Vancouver Aquarium

 It's spring break right now for my kids: two weeks off school, and as usual we've been roaming around locally to entertain ourselves. My kids love the Vancouver Aquarium, so last week, that's where we ended up.

There's a brand new exhibit at the aquarium: Discover Rays Touch Pool, an interactive stingray exhibit where you get to put your hand in the water and actually touch the rays when they swim up to you and soar by. It was our first time experiencing this new attraction (it only opened on March 10th this year), but it was an instant hit with the kids. Judging by the crowd around the stingray pool, it was also a big hit with everyone else.
Peekaboo, sting ray!
Of course, there are some ground rules for this exhibit: you rinse your hands and arms (up to the elbow) in the provided faucets, you remove jewelry and roll up your sleeves, and you don't grab the stingrays. The advice is to just hold your hand flat under the water and let the rays touch you as they zoom and soar by. Worked a charm for us. You definitely want to wash your hands afterwards too, using some soap and water...

While the stingrays were definitely the highlight of this particular visit, my children also loved visiting with the otters (one of them was playing rather adorably with a ball at the time), and getting a real closeup look at the belugas in the Arctic exhibit below ground.

 We had one very curious beluga come up and take a good look at us through the glass, giving me a chance to get some pretty great photos.

As usual, we ate our packed lunch on the lower floor next to the dolphin pool, looking in through the glass at Helen, the Pacific white-sided dolphin, and Chester, the false killer whale rescued from a beach last year.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and also a very busy day at the Aquarium. I learned one thing: you should renew your membership online or over the phone, not at the Aquarium itself - at least not during spring break... Let's just say the lineup for membership signups and renewals was not moving all that quickly!

Once inside, there is a lot to see for kids and grownups: the frogs, all the different kinds of jellyfish, the tropical gallery with its snakes and monkeys and parrots, and a lot more. The Vancouver Aquarium is not a cheap place to go, but it remains one of those local places my kids never really get tired of visiting.
  • For hours and rates, visit the Vancouver Aquarium's website
  • To avoid lineups, buy your tickets or memberships online, or get your tickets at the vending machines outside the Aquarium.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Protecting yourself & your kids from mosquitoes

There has been a lot of talk in the media and elsewhere about the mosquito-borne Zika virus. The virus is currently known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific, and it is carried by one specific kind of mosquito.

Here are some key facts from the WHO about the Zika virus:

  • Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.
  • People with Zika virus disease usually have symptoms that can include mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
  • There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available.
  • The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
  • The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
While the Zika virus is the one getting the most attention recently, there are many diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes, including malaria. This is list is from the organization AMCA at their website
If you are traveling anywhere where these mosquito-borne illnesses are present, you should speak with your doctor about how to protect yourself, and possible vaccines you should be aware of before heading out on your trip.

It's always a good idea to protect yourself and your children from mosquitoes: if only to avoid getting itchy and annoying mosquito bites. The three key words are: avoid, repel, treat. Avoid getting bitten, repel the mosquitoes, and treat the bites.

1. Avoid.
You can avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes by wearing clothing that covers your skin (light coloured clothing is said to be best for this purpose), and by using mosquito netting for beds, playpens, and strollers.

Use a net to cover your baby when they're in the stroller or sleeping in a crib. Covering up to avoid getting bitten is also a simple solution (though it can be a challenge if it's hot), and there are even special brands of light-weight clothing that helps keep the bugs away. For example:

2. Repel
Using mosquito repellent is a must if you're in mosquito-filled areas. Even when we're visiting Sweden in the summer (where we worry more about itchy bites than diseases), repellents are a must if we're heading into the woods. For babies and young children, you do want to pick and choose which repellents you use: certain chemicals - especially DEET - should be avoided, especially for very young kids.

There are mosquito-repellent bracelets you can use, but I haven't had much luck with these myself. Maybe my blood is just too delicious!

3. Treat
If you do get bitten, a bit of relief is always nice. I've been using After Bite since the kids were babies, and I really like their products. Here are some other products that can help stop that itch:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sun-screen & coral reefs - protecting kids & the environment

Last year, a scientific study released last year showed that oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreen, can damage coral reefs. To quote a report on the study:
The researchers found that oxybenzone, a common UV-filtering compound, is in high concentrations in the waters around the more popular coral reefs in Hawaii, and the Caribbean. The chemical not only kills the coral, it causes DNA damage in adults and deforms the DNA in coral in the larval stage, making it unlikely they can develop properly. The highest concentrations of oxybenzone were found in reefs most popular with tourists.
Cells from seven species of corals were killed by oxybenzone at concentrations similar to those detected in ocean water samples. Three of the species that the researchers tested are currently listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act.
This is bad news for the environment. Coral reefs around the world are threatened by many things: development, fishing practices, and pollution - including, it seems, oxybenzone.

Anyone who has gone swimming, snorkeling or diving with or without kids in places like Hawaii, the Caribbean, Australia, and elsewhere knows that coral reefs are home to a mind-boggling number and variety of sea-life. Protecting coral reefs, while also protecting ourselves and our kids from the sun, is an important task. 

So what do you do if you want to enjoy the ocean, and the coral reefs, without killing or damaging them?

1. Use clothing to cover up, even in the water.
Rashguards are a great for both kids and adults to wear at the beach. For my kids, I like the ones that are long-sleeved, or at least 3/4 sleeves, and preferably with a little collar around the neck for extra protection.

2. Use sun-screens without oxybenzone.
Sunscreens with titanium oxide or zinc oxide do not damage coral, and I'm thinking there will be a lot more "coral friendly" sunscreens on the market soon.

3. Find some shade
Even if you're not going in the water, sun-screen residue can still end up in the water, through run-off and sewers. This means that avoiding sunscreen products with oxybenzone even if you're just hanging on the beach is probably a good idea. Some ways to reduce the need for sunscreen is to use hats, cover-ups, parasols, beach umbrellas and beach-tents for shade and sun-protection.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings... all the best to you.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday. Here's to more wonderful travel and adventures and experiences with friends and family in the future!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Three bookish gift-ideas for traveling (and non-traveling) kids

Books always make lovely gifts, no matter what the occasion, and they also make great travel companions. Whether you bring along one or more paperbacks or hardcovers for a long trip, or whether you load up your e-reader or tablet with some bookish enjoyment, it's always a good way to pass the time: on board the airplane, at the airport, at the hotel, on the train, or wherever else you find yourself.

There are so many good books out there for children, but here are three that have really caught my eye lately, and have also received a stamp of approval from my kids.

The Fox and the Star, by Coralie Bickford-Smith

About the book:
"From the award-winning designer of the iconic Penguin Hardcover Classics comes a beautifully illustrated fable about loss, friendship, and courage."

My take:
This is an absolutely gorgeous book that should definitely be judged by its cover. The illustrations by Coralie Bickford-Smith are strikingly beautiful, and the story itself is touching, heart-warming, and wistful. This books is available in both ebook format, and as a hardcover, and it would make an amazing gift in any format, but the hardcover might be the way to go for this one: illustrations of this quality and caliber do look their best in actual paper-format. Its a book that would work well for kids who are reading by themselves or with some help, and it would also make a lovely book for reading out loud.

Wings of Fire Boxset, Books 1-5, by Tui T. Sutherland

About the book:
"A war has been raging between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia for years. According to a prophecy, five dragonets will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny discover the truth about their unusual, secret upbringing, they might choose freedom over fate -- and find a way to save their world in their own way."

My take:
I've just started reading this series of books with my 8 year old, and she absolutely loves them. At this point, she could read them herself (they are listed as being for kids 8-12 years old), but she still enjoys having her bedtime read-out-loud stories, and I'm not going to argue with that. The books are engaging, easy to read, and very well written: the dragons talk and behave much like human tweens and teens, but their struggles and their adventures all take place in the fantasy world of Pyrrhia, where dragons are the main characters and humans are only mentioned in passing as "scavengers". I would highly recommend these books to any and all young readers with an interest in fantasy, and especially for dragon-lovers! The box set contains the first five books: there are two more available right now, and an 8th one being published in early 2016.

Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older

About the book:
"Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears... Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one -- and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family's past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come."

My take:
This young adult fantasy novel set in present-day Brooklyn is a terrific read for both young readers and adults. Daniel José Older weaves in some amazing magic into this tale as the young and talented high-school student and mural painter Sierra Santiago begins to realize that she has some extraordinary powers. There are good and bad spirits on the loose, and also good and bad human beings: determining who is good and who is not so good isn't always easy for Sierra, but she has to learn fast or the entire city is in peril. The book is full of real and likable characters that are also complex, the dialogue is often fast and funny, and the relationships - friendships, family ties, and some romance - are all written in a way that feels real and true to life. Shadowshaper pulls you in from the first page and moves at a very quick pace: some of the scenes here are rather breathtaking. It would make a great gift for any young reader on your list. Or pick it up for yourself: I hugely enjoyed this story and will be checking out more books by Older.

For some more reading- and book-tips, check out these posts:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Flying with kids - a collection of travel tips for the holidays

The holiday season is upon us, and anyone who has traveled by plane - with or without kids - during this busy season knows it can be a challenge. Long lineups, weather related delays, and security concerns can all end up turning your holidays into a stressful ordeal. I'm sharing several links to some of my gathered travel advice and travel experiences over the years, but my number one tip is this:
  • Give yourself enough time. Arrive earlier than you think necessary at the airport. It's a lot better to be bored and have to spend time at the gate or sitting in a play area in the airport, than to run frantically to make it to your departure gate!

And in case you're looking for a way to brighten up your time on board:
And if you're looking for some gifts for the traveling people in your life:

And in case you end up delayed at the airport, here are a couple of posts with tips and advice:
Finally, whatever happens on board or at the airport, if your kids are driving you nuts, or if you're driving your kids nuts, or if your flight is stuck on the tarmac, or indefinitely delayed because of snow, fog, ice, rain, strikes, technical problems, or whatever else... try to take care of yourself and your family and not stress yourself out too much. Remember:

 Happy travels this holiday season, and may all your flights be on time!
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