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May 27th, 2008

Travel Fun: water weight

No, I don't mean the weight of the water bottles we bring through security empty (and in the bins, because those security types have a hissy when they see a metal bottle in a bag in the scanner) and fill at the drinking fountains, something I did within a very few months of the modified policy but which only now are people looking at and going, hey, that's a good idea. Initially, the response was more like, is it worth the trouble or can't you just buy one or wait for beverage service. People have now adapted to the idea that now, they really _are_ going to make this the permanent policy and yes, we still would like something to swallow our dramamine with, thank you very much.

The water weight I am referring to is what I collect internally, and which is aggravated by how much sodium I consume. At home, I've been aiming for 1000-2000 mg sodium per day. And let me just say, yes, I _do_ read the labels that carefully. I buy sodium free baking powder (Featherweight), peanut butter, bread (or make it myself). I buy no salt added soup (Health Valley Vegetable), mustard (WestBrae Stone Ground NSA) and even, most recently, deli turkey (Dietz and Watson NSA -- dry, and tastes just like turkey you might cook yourself if you don't brine it). So I can hit that 1000-2000 mg target consistently. And it works insanely well. After years of a 3 pound daily variation in weight (tell me _that's_ not water), I had it whittled down to under 1 pound while pregnant.

Travel, however, is much trickier, especially since I did not plan this trip around cooking meals but rather around socializing with friends in their homes or at restaurants. Sodium in these environments is elevated and really hard to do anything about. By the end of the trip, I was up at least 5, maybe 6 pounds. 3 pounds disappeared between arrival night and the next morning. Another 2 last night. And my ankles are no longer puffy.

Sure, some of it is traveling on airplanes across country. Sitting in one place all day just isn't good for me, and apparently not for a lot of other people either. But I doubt that was all of it, because my ankles were kinda puffy before I got on the plane for the return trip.

It's a little bit of a pain adjusting to the reduced sodium, and I wasn't doing this because of current high blood pressure problems (altho the elevated blood pressure at the end of my first pregnancy was a cause for concern and planning this time around, of course). But I've been quite surprised at how _well_ cutting sodium works, and would recommend the process to anyone else who suspects they're sodium-sensitive.

Parenting Gear/Travel Fun: CARES Harness

Around the time we went to Disneyland, when T. was 18 months old, I learned about the recently available CARES harness, a 1 pound belt and buckle device which attaches to an airplane seat and in conjunction with the lap belt is FAA approved to safely restrain a 22-44 pound, under 40 inch person who can sit up by themselves. There is no crotch strap to prevent submarining, so they are really serious about the sitting up by themselves part.

It is not cheap (about $70). It is small and light, and if your traveling partner is an engineer, you'll probably get it deployed correctly by your second flight. It probably does not make sense to buy this for a single trip, and practicing using it ahead of time (maybe on a chair?) might help a lot to get it right the first time. All that said, OMG! This is the best thing ever.

I think I've mentioned the light part. Anyone who has traveled with a baby bucket or car seat is familiar with the following problems. (1) The seat has to go in the window seat, which means the adults get to duke it out over the already uncomfortable middle seat which has become a sophisticated torture device by adding the plastic seat with its plastic edge that digs into you no matter what you do. (2) You have to transport the seat through the airport (bad enough), specifically, through security. To be fair, with the new line at some (most?) airports for families and people with special needs, you have a reasonable shot at beating the casual traveler through security these days if you pack correctly. But still.

There are a variety of devices for transporting that seat. (1) Stroller it if the kid is walking (maybe hang it off the stroller) or being carried. (2) Buy a device to wear it on your back (but then you can't wear a backpack). (3) Buy a device (I recommend this option) called the Traveling Toddler or some such to attach the carseat to a rolling carryon (make sure you get one that it fits on) and use the combination carseat-device-carryon as a stroller if you just need one part of the time. (4) Buy a device (Go Go Kidz) to attach the carseat to what is essentially a luggage cart on steroids and use the combination as a stroller (or luggage cart). Some of these options work better than others for any given family/luggage situation.

The harness enables you to contemplate two possibilities. (1) You can check (either regular or at the gate) your car seat. If you gate check, you still have to get it through the airport. (2) You can rent a carseat with your rental car, ship your carseat or otherwise arrange for a carseat at your destination, thus dodging the entire carseat transport issue. We tried the gate check option, and it got checked through, so on the return, we checked it regular. Because there are straps and such on a carseat that are prone to getting caught, we bought a bag for the carseat (it has handles, but is not padded), which was another $20 and worked well. There are parents who object to checking carseats on the theory that what baggage handlers do to luggage constitutes the equivalent of a car crash and therefore impacts the usability/safety/whathaveyou of the carseat.

To which I say, hey. Your call.

I love me some CARES. Because T. is a 50 percentile baby height and weight, I expect to get about another year of use out of it with him, and then A. (baby on the way) will have her shot at it. I'd be willing to consider loaning it out to a friend who was traveling in the interim, and expect that when we're done with it, there will be a lively used market (assuming there hasn't been a recall in the meantime) for occasionally used CARES harnesses.
2 years ago next month, we were planning a trip out to NH from our then home in Seattle. We knew that a few months after that, we'd be moving out to NH (in September). Because I am seriously paranoid, I wanted a connectivity solution for my recently acquired MacBook (February before) that would work where there was no wireless (specifically, at our house in NH, which we had not sold, and would be staying in during our trip, and living in upon our return). While a number of people suggested getting a smartphone that could be used as a tethered modem, all my efforts to find one that (a) could be used as a modem (b) with a MacBook and (c) Verizon Wireless (with US Cellular, the only good cell coverage at the NH house) came to naught. Specifically, left me screaming in frustration at R., because he kept thinking this should be easy. Come on. It was May/June of 2006. _Nothing_ involving EVDO was easy.

Fast forward two years. Holy f*ck! It's 2008. Wow. Okay. I'm better now. The contract has now expired, so I'm considering replacement options.

(1) Who needs EVDO? There's wireless everywhere. And you can pay a lot for it and still have it be cheaper than a 2 year contract on an EVDO Verizon Wireless data plan. Trust me on this.
(2) Wait -- unless we get a rental house on our next trip to (name some place, but especially Seattle). Toddler running in hotel halls gets complaint calls to parents and I Do Not Like That. We're going VRBO again, and figuring on de-tchotcke-ing (I bet that's spelled wrong) the house on arrival, which sucks, but hey. Probably no wireless in the rental house, and quite possibly no connectivity.
(3) SmartPhone with a tethered modem. This one gives me the heebies, but is kind of cool, so I investigated.

First off, we haven't moved yet (altho we are thinking about it), so if I get a phone now, it's got to be Verizon Wireless. Their set up is you pay for a data plan for the cell phone ($45 or thereabouts) and then another amount to tether it ($15). Effectively no savings over what I have, so I could just stall and keep using the card. If we move, I might no longer be limited to Verizon (altho they will always have the widest service, so from a rental house perspective, might still be a good call. But broadband through VZW is kinda lame.).

Second, and more crucially, there are still major issues connecting a smartphone to a MacBook, and most of the solutions involve Bluetooth which slows things down somewhat (I could live with that) and, more importantly, I do not have on this laptop.

Screw the smartphone idea. Back to the standalone modem idea.

One of the components of the How to Travel with a Toddler and an Infant Plan involves downsizing to a secondary laptop (I have my eye on the new Asus EEE 900, as I think I previously noted in a post). Ultraportables such as the Asus don't typically have the kind of slot my current EVDO modem requires (PCMCIA, old school). However, they _do_ have USB slots, as does my current computer. Are there EVDO USB modems? Why yes! There are! Some of them supporting Verizon Wireless which may or may not be necessary/desirable. I've got a month to contemplate the tradeoffs, but I think one of these gadgets may be in my future.

Travel Fun: Smarte Cartes

You've seen 'em: they kinda look like small grocery carts. At Woodland Park Zoo, they're available as rental strollers. At the airport (pick just about any domestic airport of reasonable size), they're available as luggage carts. I've always ignored them. My toddler does not.

For reasons best -- and only -- known to T., after months of flat out refusing anything to do with any stroller of any sort, he insisted on climbing into one of these devices at the Zoo. All right. $4 with $1 bounty to return it. We can do that. At SeaTac, when I was busy spazzing about the broken elevator, the inappropriately assembled gear (R. persists in refusing to attach the carseat to the rolling luggage using the strap purchased for this purpose because he knows he'll have to disassemble it at security and thinks he can manage everything. He is wrong. The result is I get stuck carrying my laptop bag, which otherwise attachs to the top of that rolling luggage.), and the plastic bag with the lunch whose handle broke and whose contents included T.'s breakfast which was leaking (french toast with maple syrup). Where was I? Oh, while I was having an emotional breakdown over the broken elevators and how to get all of us and all our crap to the elevators so we could check most of the crap and then proceed in a more relaxed fashion to the gate, I walked away from R. and T. in search of a Smarte Carte which my friend I. had pointed out to me existed in airports everywhere, often near banks of elevators.

I. was correct. (Boy, I. must think I'm remedial never to have noticed, or not to have thought of using these.) One credit card swipe later ($3 -- apparently this is a theme), T. was screaming at me because he wanted to ride in the stroller. Which wasn't a stroller. Except, when I took a closer look at it, _was a stroller_. Hey! Load it up with a couple of bags, pop the toddler in the top, make R. carry everything else but T.'s breakfast and we're on our way to a working bank of elevators.

As we touched down in Manchester, NH two flights later, I proposed to R. that he take the two shoulder bags and the rolling bag (one of the shoulder bags, as you may recall, fits nicely on the rolling bag) and go retrieve our car while I shepherded our toddler to baggage claim to retrieve our two checked bags and car seat. I had a plan. It involved a Smarte Carte which I was betting would be cleverly available Right At Baggage Claim. Which it was.

But it was _not_ a f*cking stroller! WTF! There may be e-mail in my future to Smarte Carte about design consistency and expectations. In the meantime, I stacked the bags, put my screaming toddler into the basket (which _was present_, it just didn't have leg openings) to let him discover for himself that it was _not_ a stroller but which he _does not believe me when I tell him so he has to learn for himself_ (this is why people like R. and I should not reproduce. We get ourselves. It is not pretty.). After which we negotiated that he would ride sitting on top of the stack of bags, which made me nervous, but was at least quieter. We then proceeded out to be picked up (eventually; R. had indeed forgotten where we parked, which is why I asked him to write it down, which he did not because he figured he would remember; I, by contrast, expecting to forget, had neither written it down -- nor forgotten) and returned home.

I do like me some Smarte Cartes. But I wish they were all strollers, instead of just some of them. They form a significant component of my How to Travel with a Toddler and an Infant plan.
I've mentioned this Plan in a couple of earlier posts today (this is brain dump day; shortly, I need to go grocery shopping, but right now, I am decluttering my head). On the last day of our visit to Seattle, two friends with three children between them (all grown) were casually dismissive of my assertion that we-won't-be-traveling-for-awhile. They seemed to believe we'd just find another arm. I was openly skeptical. Okay, I flat out accused them of blocking out the memories, not having relevant experience and generally being delusional (really!). They did have some experience (a Seattle-Phoenix run one adult two small children that was miserable start to finish), but most of their travel involved 4 year olds and older.

Let me just say, dude. Not the same. No baby buckets. No car seats.

T. slept a lot on the long leg home, and was stunningly quiet on the short leg, giving me a substantial amount of dramamine laced awake-but-sleepy time (I'm not irresponsible about the pregnancy; I took 1/4 tab each leg so 1/2 tablet total for the day and this med is supposed to be safe for during pregnancy). I started working through the constraints: I know the gear you have to have with an infant. I've got a handle on the toddler gear. I know what R. and I want on a trip. How to make it all fit?

Step 1: reduce the electronics. This is why I want an Asus EEE, and why I was contemplating a smartphone instead (but I really don't like going that small). R.'s laptop, my laptop, a kindle, 2-3 iPods (depending on how you count them), cameras, videocamera, chargers for everything (I'd like to plug the Cable Stable right now. Really amazing.) -- it's insane how much weight is involved and it is almost all carryon (we will check the Cable Stable with chargers, batteries and so forth). I'm currently schlepping a MacBook, which is Teh Awesome but isn't that light.

Step 2: replace my checked bag. I currently have a Victorinox rolling bag/backpack with attachable day bag. On SW, it could be carried on as two items; in practice, I check the base. From past experience, I know I won't be able to use it as a backpack while nursing an under one year old (mastitis/plugged duct risk). I'll be replacing it with better rolling bag with an old skool handle that you can actually attach a carryon to and have it stay put.

Step 3: get out the baby bucket stroller. Use the basket for some of the gear (probably that carryon post bag check). Transport infant in bucket on top, or at least transport bucket if the baby is in a soft carrier on someone's body. The baby bucket stroller itself can be gate checked. I'm currently contemplating replacing it, if the Britax Companion fits on the Maclaren Easy Traveler, which is in doubt. I looked hard at the Vigour and the Preview and the reviews do not impress me.

Step 4: and possibly most important, use the freaking luggage carts. Thank you, I., for civilly, and with no mockery whatsoever, pointing out that these are available. Everywhere.

I think this gets us down to rolling bag+shoulder bag on top, stroller frame+baby bucket+othercarryon. One person can manage all of that (I know. Trust me, I know), leaving one person free to chase down a rampaging 3 year old. Dunno what we'll do after that. Hopefully the rampaging 4 year old will be a little less likely to hare off on his own.