Parenting Travel with kids

16 things you should always have in your car if you have kids



When traveling with kids, expect the unexpected.  A bloody knee in the mall parking lot.  A desperate plea to pee 30 miles from any rest area.  An impromptu picnic because the doctor’s appointment ran late, and the kids need to eat.  Now.

I always keep the van prepped and ready to go.  That way, we’re always ready for an adventure.  It makes it easier for me, too, as there’s no packing or prep when we have to go anywhere.  My list of things I keep stashed in my van:

  1. Kleenex
  2. Wipes
  3. Paper towels
  4. Full first aid kit with bandaids and a cold pack
  5. Water bottles – for emergency drinking or cleaning of wounds
  6. Umbrella
  7. Blanket – good for impromptu picnics, or snuggling if cold
  8. Small MagnaDoodle
  9. Extra jackets for each kid – we stash both a windbreaker and a fleece for each kid, and a windbreaker for each grownup
  10. Snacks: granola bars (non melty – not chocolate coated); almonds; fruit chews
  11. Potty gear: extra diapers/pull-ups (diaper cream, changing pad); pee jar (for small boys) – Peter Pan peanut butter works well (make sure it’s leak proof)
  12. Picnic pack – plates, spoons, cups, tablecloth (we use a twin sheet – can also use as an extra blanket)
  13. Pen
  14. Lipgloss
  15. Purell
  16. Plastic grocery bags to use as trash bags

Everything is stored in a specific place, so it’s out of sight, but accessible.  We use a low, flat, open cardboard box (from buying a case of Snapple) stashed under the middle seat for the wipes, Kleenex, and paper towels.  First aid kit is tucked in compartment under front passenger seat.  In the back of the van:  jackets packed in a large fabric bag that zips shut; blankets; umbrella; 24 pack of water bottles; a small bag for snacks, picnic gear, and diapers/pee jar.  MagnaDoodle goes in a seat pocket.  Pen and lipgloss go in a front dash compartment, and Purell goes in a front cupholder – so it’s easy for me to grab and pass around to the kids.   Also, my van is not a trash can – we do a quick clean out every time we go anywhere, as a rule.

What do you stash in your car to make your life easier?

Video game reviews

Reviews By Kids, For Kids: Dragon Quest IX DS: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Dragon Quest IX Sentinels of the Starry Skies is your basic medieval fantasy role playing game, with Magicians and Warriors and Martial Artists.

The game’s story is that you are an angel apprentice learning to protect mortals from monsters.  After a while, you become an actual angel and protect a town called Angel Falls.  When you go back to the Angels HQ, you find your old master and the chief angel talking, then head up to the ancient tree, Yggdrasil.  You decide to follow them.  When they are up there, they notice you tell you “You must see this, Yggdrasil is bearing fruit!”  While that is happening, the Starlight Express, a magical flying golden train, is circling the tree.  Suddenly, a dark beam shoots out from above and hits the Starlight Express and Yggdrasil, and the glowing fruit, you, and the Starlight Express all fall to the mortal world and you are stripped of most of your angel powers.  Then, you land in Angel Falls and begin your journey to get your powers back.

In the game there are 6 classes that can you start with, and 6 hidden classes.  The regular ones are Warrior, Priest, Magician, Martial Artist, Rogue, and Minstrel.  The only hidden class I have unlocked is Gladiator.  To get Gladiator, you have to use dragon slash at highest tension to a slime and kill it.  You must do that three times. Anyway, a Warrior can use a sword only.  A Gladiator can use an axe, hammer or sword – I recommend the sword.  A Martial Artist can use a pole, claw, fisticuffs, or fan – I recommend claw.  Magicians can use a staff or a wand, and Priests can use staffs or poles.  Minstrels can use fans or swords.

I like Dragon Quest IX because you can also, if you have a brother or sister, link to other people’s worlds.  Example: I can link to my brother’s world and help him do his story.  The link range is about 30 feet.  I also like that the game is very long, and if you beat the game there are many side stories.

I recommend Dragon Quest IX for ages 8 and up.

Reviewed by Peter, age 11


A little more information about Dragon Quest IX

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a Nintendo DSi game, released on 7/11/10, and rated E 10+.  Because it was one of the top rated games, all of my boys decided to buy it and have played it consistently.

DQ IX is an RPG (role playing game) with an epic storyline, and 3rd person oriented turn-based battles, including a combo/multiplier system.  The more monsters your character defeats, the stronger they become.  One of the features my kids love is that DQ IX allows you to customize your character’s gender, hair, face, body style, and equips.  You also get to choose your job – each with its own unique strengths, weaknesses, spells, and skills.  They also love that they can all play together using multiplayer, which allows up to 4 players to play together in cooperative gameplay mode using a local wireless connection.

Unlike some RPGs where you follow a set path each time to beat the game, with DQ IX gameplay can be different for each player, each time through.  Players encounter different stories based on their choices in game – which NPCs they interact with and which quests they choose.  Essential to the storyline and game progression, quests unlock rare items and hidden occupations and are either earned through gameplay, or can be downloaded.

DQ IX was designed with online functionality, and has a wireless feature that allows you to download new items and quests every day.  Using wireless broadband Internet access, players can visit an online shop to buy new items (using in-game money) or download (for free) additional quests.  Quests vary between continuing the main storyline, side quests, standalone missions, or seasonal themes.  As a parent, I appreciate that the online shop was designed to use in-game currency, and not real cash.

One feature my kids haven’t used yet is Tag Mode, which allows you to passively share content with other players.  Tag Mode allows players to keep the game active, even with their DSi stored in their pocket, or backpack.  “When two players come within range of one another, Tag Mode enables them to wirelessly–and automatically–exchange character information, customized greetings and treasure maps. These treasure maps allow players to find otherwise inaccessible dungeons called grottoes featuring special boss monsters and even rare items“.  All in good time.

DS IX is well rated, well designed, and fun to play.  If your child is looking for a good E rated DS game, check it out.  And if you’re kids get stuck, don’t forget you can always access the FAQs and forums at Gamefaqs for a quick assist.

Cooking with kids

Cooking With Kids: Lemon cheesecake


This is the best cheesecake I’ve EVER made, and it’s perfect for little helpers.  You’ll need to plan ahead for this delicious dessert – if you want this cake for dinner, then cook it before lunch.  This recipe takes time to soften the cream cheese, 20 minutes to make, 1 hr 15 minutes to bake, an hour to cool, then a couple hours in the fridge before eating.  Plus, everything takes longer when cooking with kids, and you don’t want to rush and get stressed out.  The goal is to have fun, and end up with something tasty to eat.


¼ cup melted butter (that’s ½ stick)
1 pack graham crackers (they come 3 packs to a box usually), crumbled
Have your child open the pack of graham crackers and put them into a freezer (sturdy) ziplock baggie (at least as big as quart size).  Squeeze air out of the bag, then have your kid put the baggie on the floor and dance on it, til the crackers are stomped to bits.  (If crumbs start coming out, stop immediately, and get a new baggie.)
¼ cup sugar (for crust)
1 ½ cups sugar (for cake mixture)
3 packages cream cheese, 8 oz each, softened
A couple hours before, pull 3 packages of cream cheese out of the fridge, and place on the counter to warm up and soften.  (If you forget, just unwrap and microwave each pack for 15-30 seconds until soft.)
4 eggs
¼ cup lemon juice, or juce from 1 lemon
Zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


9” springform cheesecake pan; spray with nonstick cooking spray.
3 bowls – 1 small plastic, 1 medium glass, 1 large mixing.
Rubber spatula

Step 1:
Melt butter in medium glass bowl in microwave.
Add graham cracker crumbs.
Add ¼ c. sugar.
Dump crumbs into cheesecake pan, and press down with the back of a spoon evenly until flattened.

Step 2:
Unwrap 3 packages of cream cheese and put in large mixing bowl.
Beat till fluffy.
Add 1 ½ cups sugar.
Add eggs.
Never have kids break eggs directly into the mixing bowl – break eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl.  Pick out any stray eggshells, then they can dump the egg into the mixing bowl.
Add lemon juice and lemon zest.
Add vanilla.
Mix on low.
Pour on top of graham crust in cheesecake pan.

Step 3:
Place in oven at 300 degrees for 1 hr 15 min – I do bottom rack for 1 hour, then top rack for 15 minutes.
After cooking, set on top of the stove to cool, and take a knife and carefully run it around the outside edge of the cheesecake.  This will keep it from cracking as it settles and cools.  When cool, place in the fridge for a couple hours, then enjoy!


Cheesecake photo: by Juanelos.

Lemon photo: by Axhaaarry.

Cooking with kids

Cooking With Kids: Blueberry muffins

It’s almost blueberry season here, and this is our favorite blueberry muffin recipe.  Easy to make with kids, and fabulously delicious.  Throw some blueberries in your freezer, and you can even make these in the middle of winter.

Blueberry muffins
(Makes 12 regular or 6 jumbo muffins)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease muffin pan.

In a large bowl mix:
1 ¾ cup flour
¾ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoon butter (soft)

With 2 butter knives, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.

In a small bowl beat:
1 egg
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel or 1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir egg mixture into flour mixture, until flour is moistened (will be lumpy).

Fold in 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries.

Spoon batter into muffin cups.

Bake until golden – 20 minutes for regular, 25 minutes for jumbo.