Reviews & Giveaways (Because Free = Awesome)

Throw your name in the hat and enter to win a free copy of Vagabonding with Kids. The link to the giveaway is below.

Want to hear what Publishers Weekly has to say? Here's their full review of Vagabonding with Kids...
Armchair travel and parenting guides find unusual symbiosis in this work from Turner (Hair of the Corn Dog), in which the mother of two uses her own lively experiences traveling abroad with children to persuade readers that “long-term, nomadic travel” with little ones “fosters compassion, adaptability, perspective, gratitude, and a sense of wonder.” Parents will be easily swayed by the prospect of exposing their young brood to life abroad, as Turner recounts her tales of trips to Australia and Brazil for months at a time. The real challenge is convincing little Ivy that fried piranha is a viable snack or helping Emilia leave all her books at home. Turner also advises intrepid parents to remember the Imodium and think carefully about traveling by camper in a foreign country. Awkward diaper changes aside, Turner argues firmly in favor of the benefits extended travel had for her children. Turner’s charming tales evoke an odd mix of envy and schadenfreude; readers may simply want to stay home and keep reading.
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Vagabonding with Kids by A.K. Turner

Vagabonding with Kids

by A.K. Turner

Giveaway ends October 15, 2016.
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10 Ways to Move Your Body at Eagle Island State Park

I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me more than a decade and the esteemed title of Writer-in-Residence for Idaho State Parks to get me to Eagle Island. So lame. But at least now I know what I've been missing and I can make use of it in the future. I was shocked to see what this hidden gem has to offer, from gigantic shelters and barbecues for family reunions to snow cones of obscene proportions. Of course, it's always nice to move around in between the burgers and sugary syrups, and Eagle Island has plenty of options. Here are ten ways you can work off the gluttony while you're there.

1. Paddle Boarding - Try it, it's awesome! Don't have a paddleboard? You can rent one from the park's visitor center. And Eagle Island has plenty of calm waterways for you to paddle around and see if it's the sport for you. No crazy yoga moves required.

2. Horseback Riding - Okay, so I don't have horses. But if I did, this is where I'd take them. Eagle Island is one of twelve state parks in Idaho with trails designed for horseback riding.

3. Ziplines - Adrenaline rush or pure terror? If you're not into sailing through the sky while tethered to a line, you can paddle out into the water and watch the zipliners flying above you. Just hope no one freaks out and wets their pants while you're staring up at them.

4. Waterslide - Who doesn't love a water slide? Okay, maybe cats. Everyone else will have a blast.

5. Disc Golf - Yes, this really is a thing. It involves fairways and baskets and tee pads. I'm pretty sure there's also a lot of throwing and walking and, depending on with whom you're playing, beer drinking. Eagle Island State Park has an eighteen-hole disc golf course.

6. Volleyball - That's right. Get the Top Gun soundtrack playing and choose your teammates wisely. Talk to me, Goose!

7. Horseshoes - When you've pulled a muscle trying to be Maverick on the volleyball court and are ready to face the realities of your own limitations, you can slow it down a notch with horseshoes.

8. Hiking - There are more than five miles of trails to explore throughout the 545 acres that make up the park. The area was developed as an honor farm in 1930 for a few dozen state prison inmates. When you're out hiking, you might see some of the original structures, like the prison dorm or the warden's house. If you're disproportionately fascinated by prisons like me and want to make sure you see these, here's a map.

9. Swimming - The north and south channels of the Boise River border the park. Swimming areas are roped off from the open waterways for non-motorized boats, so you can get a good workout without getting clobbered by a wayward canoe.

10. Playground - Kids are, of course, great exercise. Chase them around the playground for awhile. You'll feel better about later treating yourself to a snow cone of obscene proportions.

Like to get out and about with the kids? 
Here's more Summer Fun in Idaho.

Vagabonding with Kids in Alaska

We're halfway through our summer trip and find ourselves living on a tiny island off of Sitka. I revel in moments like this one, when during a boat ride from town to our rented home, I say to Mike again and again, "Wait, take a picture now," because each moment of altered light seems more beautiful than the last.

We wound up through northern Idaho, into Canada where we saw deer, elk, and a lone black bear, and made the breathtaking drive from Banff to Jasper. From Prince Rupert we boarded the ferry, on which we spent a day and a half and I reprimanded an unruly and unsupervised team of young boys.

Most of the time here in Sitka it feels like living in a cloud, but occasionally we get views from our deck like this one...

We've fished, hiked, watched eagles, collected sea stars, spied sea lions, picked berries, and on rainy days played hours of board games before giving our children their first showing of The Goonies. Still to come: a production of Guys and Dolls, a visit to Fortress of the Bear, more fishing, rain, and torturing of sea stars. On August 4th I'll read and sign from my forthcoming book at Old Harbor Books.

What's that? Why, yes. Yes, it IS available for pre-order

Then we'll have two days of my husband's high school reunion before the return trip to Idaho. When the kids are back in school (PRAISE BE TO ALL THAT IS SACRED ON THIS EARTH!!!!!), I'll begin my own studies in Spanish for upcoming trips. 

The halfway point of any trip is a mix of emotions: gratitude that we haven't had occasion to use the bear spray, balanced with fear that we might yet have occasion to use the bear spray. We'll only be home a day or two before planning the next adventure (which won't require bear spray, but rattlesnake antivenin would be nice). There will be aspects of island life that I'll surely miss, but I also know that we're tied to Alaska for life. And we'll be back. 

Want impractical tips on traveling with kids? 

Want practical tips on traveling with kids?

Summer Fun in Idaho: Farragut State Park

If you’re not thrilled about the idea of tent camping (Ouch, my back!), but you can’t fathom an actual RV (Ouch, my wallet!), there is a middle ground that might be right for you. Behold, the cabin.

We spent two nights in this little gem in Farragut State Park. The cabin itself is charming. That’s not just a kindly way of saying it’s tiny; it possesses genuine charm, first evidenced by the discovery of the porch swing.

It’s not roomy inside, but clean. It has comfortable beds (sleeps five, bring your own bedding), electricity, and air conditioning. Already you can tell that we’re taking “camping” to another level. The site has the usual amenities of fire pit, picnic table, and water spigot. The neighbors aren’t too close, the facilities aren’t too far, and our particular cabin (“Kestrel”) bordered a large open meadow, perfect for throwing a Frisbee and kicking around a soccer ball, as long as you remain conscious of the ground squirrel burrows, which threaten to twist an ankle if you stumble upon one unaware.

Yes, we play soccer in mismatched and/or ill-fitting pajamas. And dress shoes. 
Farragut has over 45 miles of maintained trails, disc golf courses, and plenty of opportunities for water play on Lake Pend Oreille. We chose Beaver Bay Beach for paddle boarding.

Because we went early in the morning, we had the pristine, shallow waters largely to ourselves. This was a perfect spot for small children, with an incredible backdrop of the mountains of the Coeur D’Alene National Forest.

If you want to add an educational component to your trip, there are plenty of resources within the park to learn about the area history on mining, the Naval Training Station, aquifers, steam ships, and the introduction of mountain goats in the 1960s. Ivy and I perused some of this information in the Visitor Center while Emilia conducted an interview for her upcoming podcast Girl Around the World. She’s nine, after all, so it’s high time she has her own podcast. Kim, on duty at the Visitor Center at the time, was exceedingly kind and indulgent.

Farragut is ideally situated if you want to explore Northern Idaho, halfway between Coeur D’Alene and Sandpoint, and we checked out both during our stay. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit Farragut again, though I’m also keen to check out the cabins available at other Idaho State Parks. It’s an easy means of camping, a delightful way of escaping screens and experiencing nature, and when it comes to your wallet, back, or anything else, it won’t hurt a bit.

Summer Fun in Idaho: 6 Ways to Master the Staycation

Last summer I wrote about Boise’s Best Family Staycation. We've been itching for warm weather just to repeat the experience and temperatures last week reached the triple digits, so over the weekend we returned to the The Riverside Hotel to kick off the summer. Through my exhaustive and laborious research, I’ve determined that there are right and wrong ways to go about the staycation with kids. It’s an art, really. Here are my findings:

1. Amenities Are Key: A pool is a must (though I’ll likely dip a toe, declare it too cold, then retire to a lounge chair with a cocktail – my natural habitat). But not just any pool; outdoor is non-negotiable. You don’t want to spend an afternoon in the chlorinated confines of an indoor pool. The reason we return again and again to The Riverside is that the pool is not only big and beautiful, but the poolside areas complement the space, complete with oversized hot tub, staff to bring you drinks and food, and live music from the adjacent Sandbar, a small, outdoor bar and grill on the hotel grounds.

2. Don’t Try to Do Everything: Had we endless energy, we could have ridden bikes along the Greenbelt (Boise’s endless miles of paved path along the river), rented paddleboards or kayaks at Quinn’s pond, used the gym (don’t laugh, I actually did it once during a previous staycation and yes, I’m still chubby), and knocked a few work-related items off of our lists. But when you try to do everything, your staycation starts to feel less like a vacation and more like a marathon. Incorporating adventure into your weekend is fun, but downtime is, too.

3. Do More than Nothing: On the other hand, while lounging by the pool is fun, breaking it up with occasional entertainment makes the staycation something special. We had nachos and drinks at the aforementioned Sandbar in the evening, with front row seats to a set by Rebecca Scott

Yes, I recommend the sangria.
Evening settled on us with cooler temperatures, so we ventured inside for dessert (and more drinks, because that's the glory of the staycation - no one has to drive), where guitarist Ben Burdick played a jazzed and spirited version of the Sesame Street theme for our kids. We followed this with a game of chess at one of the lobby’s oversized game boards. 

The following day I played checkers with my daughter on an even bigger game board outside.

Yes, I let her win.
4. Pack Light and Smart: One of the beautiful things about a staycation is that when you return home, you don't have to unpack to the extent necessary after a vacation, which to me has always seemed terribly anticlimactic. But a staycation should allow even the worst over-packers to wrangle their possessions into one manageable backpack. Okay, and one personal item. But if you're driving five minutes to a hotel in the town in which you live with more luggage than you'd be allowed to carry on a plane, you have a serious problem. The good news is that unlike airports, your hotel room allows liquids. Pack that mini-fridge with juice boxes and champagne. You can offset otherwise (ahem) excessive bar tabs, while still allowing both kids and adults to live it up. 

Matthew Tutsky preps his harp to accompany the Riverside's killer brunch. 
The harp pairs well with bottomless mimosas.
5. Be Weather Independent: In the days leading up to our staycation, the forecast changed dramatically. Gone were the triple digit days, replaced by predictions in the low seventies. Instead of whining about the weather, we embraced it and NEWS FLASH: It turns out that one can still get a respectable sunburn with temperatures in the low seventies. It was an ideal day for hanging out by the pool, enough sun to warm me but not so much as to turn me into a wilted, sweaty mess, which has never been my best look. My daughters didn't mind, happy for the opportunity to frolic in a pool and hot tub no matter the temperature, in that steel-skinned oblivion to cold that only children seem to possess. The weather might have scared off others, as we had the pool largely to ourselves, which worked out just fine. The point is that you can't control the weather, so there's no point in worrying about it. Commit to having fun, come what may.

6. Look for Deals: A staycation saves you money on transportation costs and theme park admissions. Take it a step further by looking for actual staycation deals. We love the Riverside because for $150 during the week or $170 on the weekend, you get the room, all of the amenities, and a darling little tote with pool accessories, like sunscreen, water bottles, and an inflatable beach ball, but you also get a $50 credit toward food and drink and a complimentary breakfast buffet. And I'm not talking about a crappy continental breakfast. I'm talking bottomless mimosas, prime rib, benedicts, omelets to order, and a donut station. Yes, you heard me right. Donut. Station. Like little pastries with different sauces to dip them in. It should be illegal, but I'm glad it's not. A quick internet search with the name of your town and the word "staycation" might shine a light on just the perfect place.

I'm a big fan of exploring, be it the world or your backyard. Every now and then you want some of the logistics handled for you or maybe a full vacation isn't in the budget. If that's the case, try putting a staycation on the calendar. Like any art, mastering the staycation takes practice. Finding the right place for your family doesn't always happen on the first try, but it's a heck of a lot of fun to figure out along the way. 

For more Summer Fun in Idaho, check out Boise's Best Beach.

Summer Fun in Idaho: Boise's Best Beach

Wait. Isn’t Idaho landlocked?
Well, yes. Yes, it is.

But Boise also has lakes, rivers, streams, waterparks, and reservoirs. Hands down one of the best places to enjoy the water, especially when small children are involved, is Sandy Point in Lucky Peak State Park. Here’s what makes it an excellent pick for a day at the beach with little ones:

  • ·      It’s a ten-minute drive from Boise, sparing you the “Are we there yet?” syndrome.
  • ·      No dogs allowed. Maybe that’s a minus for hardcore dog-loving families, but if you have a toddler who is canine skittish, the freedom from unknown pets bounding toward you or stepping in poop is welcome.
  • ·      No hard bottom boats allowed. Discovery Park, also within Lucky Peak State Park, is the perfect place for boaters. But at Sandy Point, you have no worry of boating accidents. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring rafts and inflatables.
  • ·      Plenty of shallow water and no waves. It’s a toddler’s paradise. Bring your sand toys.
  • ·      A giant fountain and equipment on one side of the beach that sprays a trickle of water at you. The type of thing that keeps a two-year-old happy for hours.
  • ·      You’ll also find restrooms, grills, and picnic tables, making it easy to spend the day there.

Over the years, Sandy Point has been a favorite destination to celebrate birthdays. Here’s my daughter eating sand in honor of her 2nd birthday. But we don’t need a holiday or special occasion to enjoy the day there, either.

If you want to give it a shot, be sure to pack all of the usual things you’d take when heading for a day at the beach: sunscreen, shade tent or umbrella, towels, beach toys, cooler (no glass bottles, but all else is fair game), and any rafts or tubes you might have. Floating lazily around is what summer’s all about, right?

If you're an Idaho resident, be sure to get your Idaho State Parks Passport when you renew your vehicle registration. It's only $10 and gets you into all 30 Idaho State Parks for a full year. When you take the time to explore what's around you, you'll find that being landlocked feels pretty good. 

Artwork by Ward Hooper

Summer Fun in Idaho: Garden Valley’s Hidden Adventure

For years my family has enjoyed escaping to Garden Valley. And for years, truth be told, there hasn’t been much there beyond exploring the outdoors via a good old fashioned hike, which is kind of why we like it. As our kids creep ever closer toward tweendom, however, we’ve started getting hints of eye rolls. I can already hear the lament, “Not another hike.” My own eyes roll just thinking about it.

A former snow-tubing hill under new ownership, the park still offers winter fun, for those strange and hearty folk who enjoy being cold. For the rest of us, the park now offers summer activities. 

The belle of the ball is the three hundred-foot bumper tubing lane. I can do that, I thought. Going down a slide in an inner tube sounds fun! What I forgot, however, is that I am a monumental wimp. Not a problem in and of itself, but this tubing lane goes fast. I did it once, then spent the next half hour trying to recover with a beer, while my six-year-old did it repeatedly, arriving at the bottom of the lane each time with a belly laugh that turned heads.

Photos courtesy of Idaho X-Sports. This is not one of my children and I have no idea why this child isn’t expressing pure terror.

The next favorite attraction on the day we visited was the Freedom Jump. This consists of four bungee trampoline stations. You’re hooked into a harness and begin jumping on a trampoline, but the bungees attached to you allow you to jump higher than you could on your own. You can do mid-air somersaults and backflips. I mean, I didn’t, but surely you could.

When my six-year-old had tubed down the hill forty-eight times in a row, we convinced her to take a break and try the Freedom Jump. This next picture is her (photo credit to Mike Turner). I think she might have enjoyed herself.

As you can see, the view while you’re enjoying yourself at the park isn’t too shabby. They also have a bouncy house, Middlefork River tube rentals, mountain bike rentals (including two fat tire electric mountain bikes), and a mountain bike park nearing completion. If you’re a wimp like me, you can stick closer to the food and drinks (all types of drinks), ladder ball, bocce court, and campfire. Future park developments include the addition of a zipline and canopy tour. Their winter offerings include snowshoeing, snow tubing, cross country skiing, and snow biking.

My only worry for Idaho X-Sports is that they garner the attendance needed to sustain their operations. As I may have mentioned, there isn’t much more going on in Garden Valley, and the new owners will largely be dependent on day-trippers. As it is, with the word not fully out, the park makes an excellent destination. You have all the benefits of the adventure they offer, with little to no crowds with which to contend. As much as we loved having the run of the place, I hope that the next time we visit, Idaho X-Sports is enjoying waves of thrill-seekers. And who knows, maybe by then my six-year-old will talk me into the Freedom Jump.