Backpack to Buggy

Travel with the kids, not for the kids.

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The Spa at Equinox Resort, Manchester, Vermont.

September 8th, 2011 · Destinations, Experience

I fell asleep for the first time ever during a massage at the Spa at Equinox. Guess how highly I recommend this spa?!

The Spa Environment

A newer addition to the Equinox Resort, the spa did a great job of creating a peaceful, Vermont-esque environment in the locker rooms, waiting areas and treatment rooms. Think birch wood, fireplaces, forest green walls, natural sunlight where you would read a magazine and candle light in treatment rooms. If not for the rude guest who was talking on her cell phone in the locker room, (is there any way to avoid wedding guests when staying at a resort?) it would have be perfect

The Treatments

Spirit of Vermont, Signature Treatment
Described as “reflect(ing) that calming energy of Vermont,” it was the first time I tried a 100 minute massage and one of the new age-ish massage combined with Reiki, reflexology and other alternative bodywork techniques. I don’t like the deep massages where I consider crying in pain, so I found the gentle but comprehensive nature of the massage perfect. I don’t know when I fell asleep. I only remember being gently woken up at the end of the treatment and taking about 5 minutes to get off the massage table. Ahhhhhhh….

Custom Facial
A great esthetician closely examines your skin, is willing to switch products mid-treatment, and explains what she is doing and with what product every step of the way. After my massage, they could have probably smeared marshmallow on my face and I wouldn’t have noticed, but my esthetician quickly assessed my skin – rosacea and combination. Using Jurlique products, she skipped the irritating steam treatment, only did minimum extractions, explaining to me why they were there and what I could do about it at home, and finished up with an extra treatment to calm my skin. I was sent home with only a little pink and a list of all the product used, including instruction.

Cost

We had a spa discount with our room rate, but the normal treatments are definitely pricey (>$100/hour). If the spa facility has lots of extras like soaking or hot tubs, steam rooms, et cetera available, I assume that’s in the higher prices. The Spa at Equinox didn’t have all those extras, but with the second best massage I’ve ever had and a thorough facial where education was included in the treatment, I’d say it’s worth it. (And am including a Spirit of Vermont treatment in my budget for our next stay.)

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Equinox Resort, Manchester, VT: A Relaxing Getaway for Parents, Kids and Dogs.

September 7th, 2011 · Destinations

Mirielle relaxing on the porch of the Equinox Resort, Vermont.

Mirielle relaxing on the porch of the Equinox Resort, Vermont.

I fell in love with the Equinox Resort when the bellman offered to take our dog, MeiMei, to our room while I parked the car. Driving into Manchester, Vermont with it’s right out of an American history book village greenway and steepled white washed churches against the backdrop of the Green Mountains and Mt. Equinox, I fell in love with Vermont.

My whole family enjoying exploring the Equinox Resort, Vermont.

My whole family enjoying exploring the Resort.

Anytime of year, the Equinox is a relaxing getaway resort where you can experience Vermont with as little or as much activity as you want. A couple of weeks after buying our Connecticut home, weeks filled with ripping out shag carpet, cleaning, spackling, painting and unpacking, we wanted an easy, relaxing  getaway with only enough activity to keep Mirielle and our dog entertained.  For our first trip to the great state of Vermont, we found a reasonable deal at the Equinox where kids, including the furry variety, were welcomed with treats in most staff pockets.

Rooms

Bedroom in the Charles Orvis Inn, Equinox Resort.

Bedroom in the Charles Orvis Inn.

Most of the resort is housed in over 100 year old buildings, so the rooms are smaller than more modern hotels.  As Starwood Preferred Guest members (the Equinox is part of the Luxury Collection), we were upgraded to a one-bedroom suite at the Charles Orvis Inn, a few steps from the main resort buildings and the former home of Charles Orvis, founder of the outdoor equipment company.

MeiMei checking out the spa tub in our bathroom at the Equinox Resort, VT.

MeiMei checking out the spa tub in our bathroom.

The one-bedroom suite, named “The Watson’s Fancy” after one of Orvis’ fishing flies, included a living room with small eat-in kitchen area and adjacent bedroom and bath. It was cozy, comfortable and quiet, even with a driveway outside of our window.  The lobby of the Inn had coffee, tea and other beverages available all day, plus sitting rooms and an outdoor deck.

Mirielle playing office in the living room of our suite in the Charles Orvis Inn, Equinox Resort, Vermont.

Mirielle playing office in the living room of our suite.

Food

We enjoyed room service, an early dinner at Marsh Tavern and a breakfast buffet at the Colonnade. My quick assessment – Yum! All the eateries at the Equinox make a successful effort at providing seasonal Vermont cuisine with locally sourced ingredients.  The room service menu was similar to the Marsh Tavern menu including lots of comfort foods and both provided a kids menu.

Colonial style bread plate at Marsh Tavern, Equinox Resort, Vermont.

Colonial style bread plate at Marsh Tavern.

Our relaxing dinner on the front porch of the Marsh Tavern got me excited about the food.  Rather than a bread basket, a colonial style wooden tray of bread, corn muffins, apples and carrots was set out, accompanied by olive oil in a stainless steel flask.  I had a hearty stew filled with chunks of seafood and seasonal veggies in a very light broth, served in a cast iron pot.

Meg's seafood stew at the Marsh Tavern, Equinox Resort, VT.

Meg's seafood stew at the Marsh Tavern.

The breakfast buffet at Colonnade was expensive, but, beverages were included, there was a huge variety of appetizing food, anything that could get cold or congealed was prepared to order, and it was high-fructose free with Vermont maple syrup and local jams available. In fact I would put this breakfast buffet in the top five, I have experienced.

Jack & Mirielle outside the Marsh Tavern after dinner.

Jack & Mirielle outside the Marsh Tavern after dinner.

One evening we tried to get a drink at the outdoor fire pits of the Falcon Bar.  The idea was Jack and I could enjoy a glass of wine while watching Mirielle run around on the lawn with our dog MeiMei.  Despite few other guests, after 30 minutes we weren’t served. Waving and the usual flagging down didn’t work, though other guests were getting drinks. I felt a little like we were being blown off because we weren’t hip enough to be hanging out at the fire pits.

(Only service dogs are welcome in dining areas.)

Recreation

Mirielle playing on the lawns in front of the pool and spa building at the Equinox Resort, Manchester, VT

Mirielle playing on the lawns in front of the pool and spa building.

Without leaving the main resort property, we enjoyed the indoor pool, a playscape, a game room, lots of lawn with little risk of running into the street, and the spa (separate review).  Adjacent or a very short walk are hiking trails that lead to Mt. Equinox, the resort golf course, an archery school, and a falconry school.  Add partnerships with Orvis for fly fishing and shooting and  the Land Rover Experience Driving School, nearby ski resorts and the Manchester Designer Outlets and there is all kinds of things to keep everyone busy.

Mirielle and MeiMei taking a break under the Equinox Resort playscape.

Mirielle and MeiMei taking a break under the Equinox Resort playscape.

Bottom Line

I would go back to the Equinox again and again, if I can find the right deal.  As a top resort, nightly room rates start well over $200.  We paid $239/night with a $50 gift certificate for the outlets and a few other perks.  I keep my eye out for Friday and Saturday night deals under $199 in any of the rooms. I’m not sure why deals are promoted separately, but keep an eye on the Inns at Equinox where I have seen mid-week rates at $169/night for the contemporary townhouse rooms.

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Bon Voyage STS-135, the Final Space Shuttle Mission.

July 8th, 2011 · Destinations, Experience, Photos

STS-135, Space Shuttle Atlantis on the Launch Pad at Kennedy Space Center, June 2011

Today NASA is scheduled to launch STS-135 Space Shuttle mission, the final mission in the 30 year Space Shuttle program. This is the orbiter Atlantis on the launch pad on Father’s day when I took my family to Kennedy Space Center to experience as much Space Shuttle as we could without attending a launch.

We had lunch with Jon McBride, a member of the first class of Space Shuttle astronauts who piloted the Challenger orbiter in 1984. We took a VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center which included an up-close view of the external tanks and the the rotating service structure encased orbiter on launch pad 39A.

I’m sad to see the program end after growing up with it and I am equally sad to miss seeing a launch live. As I sit and watch the final launch live on NASA TV, I’m happy I got to introduce Mirielle to the program that shaped my dreams of real space exploration before it is retired.  I also saw that space exploration doesn’t matter much to her yet because there aren’t any big programs, goals or destinations that both capture the imagination and are funded.

Without the compelling story which we’ve had for the past 50 years, a visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is one of the best ways to introduce our children to both the history and posibilites of space exploration.

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Wear Protection – Sun Protective Clothing

June 28th, 2011 · Gear

Dressed for Hawaii Beaches

Dressed for Hawaii Beaches

All that time you’ve spent applying sunscreen may not help prevent skin cancer if you don’t think about protective clothing as well. Clothing works two ways to protect us from the sun. First, it in-effect provides shade which protects us from the UVB (burn) rays of the sun. It also is a barrier against the UVA (aging) rays, but a light colored shirt only has an UPF of about 6. (UPF is Ultraviolet Protection Factor, a rating for how well clothing protects from both UVA & UVB rays.) Darker colors absorb more UVA as do heavier fabrics, but in the hot summer or tropical sun? Yuck!

Over the past 10 years, awareness and technology have created a market for sun protective clothing for kids and adults. To get beyond the single digit UPF of summer clothes, clothing manufactures adjust the weave, color, weight and stretch of the fabric and include UV absorbers in the material. As a result, these clothes can cover more of the body and provide more sun protection while still being comfortable in water or hot, humid weather.

Where can I find UPF clothing?

Dressed for India Beaches

Dressed for India Beaches

UPF clothing for kids’ swimwear is available almost everywhere now in a variety of styles and prices. Rash guards, or lightweight, quick dry shirts with UPF of 50+ can be purchased at discount stores for as little as $8. Sun suits, or rash guards that cover most of the body can be found in specialized stores online. Increasingly swim suits themselves are made with a UPF of 30 or greater. Search online for “UPF clothing” “UPF swim” or “sun protective” to get an idea of what’s available where and for how much.

Everyday UPF clothing for kids, a.k.a. play clothes, sadly is very limited. Land’s End introduced a Sun.Life line of UPF clothing in 2009, but have since discontinued it (ahem, please bring it back!) Cabana Life has a few UPF clothes but in light colors Mirielle I could never keep clean. SunDay Afternoons, Coolibar, Tulips & Turtles, NoZone, REI and other companies are adding beyond-the-beach clothing for kids, but it is still very limited and sells out quickly.

Apres Beach Wear

Apres Beach Wear

For adults, the selection of UPF clothing is more extensive and growing. Columbia, ExOfficio, REI, North Face, Patagonia, Mott 50, Athleta, athletic gear companies, and more are including UPF clothing in their lines. The style is improving and important to me, you can get long UPF 50+ shirts and pants that breathe well enough to be worn in 80/80 weather. (over 80 degrees and over 80% humidity).

What does Mirielle wear?

Hats with a 3-inch brim from Cabana Life most of the time and a baseball hat for soccer (though I should probably get a full brimmed hat with a strap instead.). A good sunhat should stay on when a kid plays tag while shading the face down to at least the chin (preferably down to a crew neckline.) I picked the Cabana Life hats for Mirielle because they are washable, reversible, cute, and have wide brims.

Beachwear. I have bought below the knee & elbow UPF 50+ sun suits to go over cheap swimsuits at Target, eBay, Costco and miscellaneous online sales. In the past couple of years, I have accumulated a bunch of Cabana Life matching rash guard and swimwear sets on sale so, that is the staple right now including a matching terry cover up. They wash well though the bright colors fade in chlorine pools.

Dressed for Rhode Island Beaches

Dressed for Rhode Island Beaches

Play Clothes. Right now Mirielle doesn’t have any UPF rated play clothes, because I want nice looking clothes that able to hide a little dirt and there isn’t much out there this year. I am tempted to buy a couple of women’s extra small, slim cut shirts for her outdoor summer camp this year.

Sunglasses. This is where I have failed Mirielle so far. We have a couple of 99% UV protection sunglasses that I picked up at a ski shop in Squaw Valley, but they keep getting lost. I naively assume that with Mirielle’s rigorous hat wearing, she can skip the sunglasses.

What does Mom wear?

Hat. The only mom/daughter matching clothing I own are my Cabana Life hats. I also have a crushable Mountain Hardware UPF wide brimmed straw had and and SF Giants baseball hat. All of them can be stuffed in a suitcase and I keep one in my car for forgetful days.

Meg in UPF Clothing for 95 F Weather.

Meg in UPF Clothing for 95 F Weather.

Beachwear. My first rash guard was an XCel purchased for surf camp. Over the years, I’ve added a couple from Athleta. I was shopping for a new swim suit last year and realized it doesn’t matter what I get because most of it will be covered by the rash guard. I got a Cabana Life terry cover-up as well, but it usually doesn’t make the cut when packing light.

Play Clothes. Last year I got to buy a new wardrobe after losing almost 50 lbs (go me!) I started with the Athleta summer sale and supplemented with a few fun pieces from REI’s summer sale. Almost all of the clothes I picked out were UPF 50+ including skirts, dresses, t-shirts and very lightweight jackets. Not purposefully, all of the clothes I packed for my India trip were Athleta UPF 50+ (and matched well with the clothes I bought in India.) When will they make kids clothes with the same level of style, comfort and sun protection?

Sunglasses. After years of sub-$20 (aka breakable/loseable) glasses from Target, under my eye doctor’s recommendation, I upgraded to polarized lens sunglasses that cost about $120. Not to jinx it, but I’ve had them over a year and a half without losing or damaging them and love wearing them.

Dressed for the Waterslide

Dressed for the Waterslide

Where to do find Sun Protective Clothing for your family? What is the most important sun protection to you? Do you think the sun-paranoia is overblown? What does a parent have to do to get fashionable UPF 50+ clothing for kids?

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Celebrate World Oceans Day the New England Aquarium, Boston, MA

June 6th, 2011 · Destinations, Experience

June 8 is World Oceans Day and a great day to visit Boston’s New England Aquarium. This compact attraction packs a lot of enjoyment and education into its small space on the Boston Harbor front.

Inside the New England Aquarium

Inside the New England Aquarium

The aquarium is centered around a circular Giant Ocean Tank with a ramp and viewing windows winding up three stories. On the ground floor, the tank is surrounded by penguin exhibits and additional exhibits are on the outer walls on three levels. This is a popular attraction, but crowds don’t pick up until an hour after opening on weekends and holidays.

Our New England Aquarium highlights:

“Chasing” the Atlantic Harbor Seals. In an outdoor tank (no admission needed) behind the ticket booths, harbor seals swim and play. They are clearly comfortable hamming for visitors, the youngest who like following the seals up and around the tank. It’s a great occupation for kids while mom waits in line to buy tickets.

Playing the light game with the African Penguins. It’s easily overlooked but along the railing of the African Penguin pool, right before you get to the Little Blue Penguin pool, is a joystick and red button. The joystick guides the light along the bottom of the pool, and penguins chase after it like a dog after a mailman. Mirielle I must have spent 15 minutes playing with the aquatic birds, giggling up a storm the whole time. The penguins seemed just as amused.

Count the rows of teeth (and be thankful for the thick glass).

Count the rows of teeth (and be thankful for the thick glass).

Watching divers feed the Sharks. It must have been the first time Mirielle saw a scuba diver, but she became instantly fascinated with what they were doing with the fish, how they were breathing underwater, how many were in the tank, what kind of clothes they were wearing, etc. I loved sitting in the windows with Mirielle waiting for the sharks to swim by the window, close enough to count all three rows of teeth.

Mirielle chats with a Honu (Hawaiian for Sea Turtle.)

Mirielle chats with a Honu (Hawaiian for Sea Turtle.)

Counting Giant Pacific Octopus legs. The octopus is an under appreciated animal. It’s funny looking and moves slowly, but it’s one of the smartest (and tastiest if prepared well) fish in the sea. There is nothing more beautiful than watching the octopus “walk” by curling and uncurling it’s legs and Mirielle was excited to work with nearby kids to count the legs.

Forget life imitating art, Jellyfish are where life is art.

Forget life imitating art, Jellyfish are where life is art.

Trippin’ out with the Jellyfish. I avoid them in the water, but love to watch their fluid play in stylishly lit tanks. They were tucked away in a corner of the aquarium, but worth searching out.

We are looking forward to visiting the new Shark & Ray Touch Tank on our next visit and maybe taking a Whale Watching Tour. Adjacent to the aquarium is an IMAX theater which shows aquatic & naturalist films. Admission is extra and buy in advance.

Lunch at Harbor View Cafe.

Lunch at Harbor View Cafe.

Also on site is the Harbor View Cafe which serves a variety of foods including sustainable seafood in a pleasant environment designed to keep the whole family happy.

Even penguins take showers.

Even penguins take showers.

New England Aquarium, 1 Central Wharf, Boston, MA, (617) 973-5206. Take the T to the Blue Line Aquarium stop. Check the website for hours and admission at http://www.neaq.org/index.php.

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