Travelling with a Toddler…the good, the bad and the ugly!

Blessed.  I am so deeply blessed.  This winter I was lucky enough to get to escape the never-ending Manitoba winter and head south for a couple weeks with my hubby and two year old son.  We planned a 3 day (one way so 6 days travel total) road trip down to visit my parents in Texas and I knew that I needed to be extremely organized and ahead of the game in doing so!  Here’s what I did to get ready for an extremely long amount of quality time in the truck with my kidlet and what worked the best and what was the hardest hurdles!

First off, if you’re planning a trip with young kids (or even just with adults really) I cannot say enough good things about the Utility Totes from “thirty-one”.  They literally saved my life!  I have two of them which I packed to the max and placed on the backseat floor for easy access.  I bought a few plastic baskets from the dollar store to place inside of them to keep things sectioned off and organized.  One utility tote held snacks and the other activities for my youngster.  I was able to keep things super organized and in tact for the entire trip with this system!


I also bought a canvas basket organizer to use for our diaper changing station necessities.  E isn’t potty-trained yet so I wanted to keep wipes, diapers, paper towel, hand sanitizer and hand lotion at my fingertips so that we could easily grab what we needed for bum changes at our fuel and ‘stretch’ stops!  If your child is still in diapers when you travel let me tell you, you have to change their bums a lot more frequently than you would at home…we learned that quickly…oy!


After a lot of research looking for “the perfect” carseat lap desk I decided to make my own for E.  I sewed a small pillow case, stuffed it with batting and glued strips of velcro to it and to a cookie sheet. (I wanted to be able to remove the pillow for washing!). It worked so well.  It was firm enough to play tractors on, to color, to eat his meals and snacks and to read on.  Things I had read about a lot of different styles of lap desks online stated that they were too flimsy and that the children weren’t able to do any activities on.  This homemade version ended up being so much cheaper to make and worked perfectly!


I bought a container at the dollar store that had a lid and a handle and threw a bunch of small plastic garbage bags in the bottom of.  We used this as our garbage can, removing the full bags to dispose at truck stops and then refreshing with a clean bag from the bottom.  This system was so simple yet so essential.  It kept the truck clean and organized!


Onto Activities…I knew that I would need to have quite a few new and interesting items planned to peak and keep my little’s interest for the long trip.  We also have a tv and DVD player in our truck (hello millennials…) and we packed some Disney movies along with Paw Patrol and Curious George videos.

Some activities that I packed that were a hit were:

  • Search and Find Books…the best!
  • Tractor reference Books (including the ever popular Market Book and Auction Books)
  • Story Books
  • Coloring Books with Crayons and Markers..the ‘color wonder’ type a friend gave us were awesome!
  • Sticker Activity Books
  • Re-usable Sticker Boards (Melissa and Doug)
  • Small Tractors (I kept them in a clear ‘lidded’ container which I wrote which items we packed onto the lid so I knew what needed to go back into the box when cleaning up)
  • Whiteboard and Markers

Activites that I packed that were a miss for on the road but great for when we reached our destination:

  • Lego (really tho, what was I thinking for planning this for a car activity??!!)
  • Travel Games (Trouble, Pack of Cards, Dominoes)

I packed a couple small soft-sided coolers for the refrigerated items and had plastic plates (some with divided sections for E), plastic cutlery and one sharp knife to use to use for cutting up fruit etc.  The small snack cups with rubber, split lids came in so handy for passing snacks to E and for other things like holding markers.


Snacks that we enjoyed on the road:

  • Protein balls
  • Mini muffins
  • Hummus and Veg
  • Crackers
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Gold fish crackers
  • Cookies
  • Jerky
  • Popcorn
  • Nuts
  • Licorice
  • Fruit, apples and grapes
  • Buns with Sausage or Chicken Salad
  • Cheese Sticks
  • Lots and Lots of Water Bottles (Frozen to keep the coolers cold and a large case left room temp.  We would refreeze the cooler packs in the hotel at night) Another thing that works GREAT for keeping your coolers cold is filling empty box-wine bladders with water (just press the spigot button and let water run into the bag) and then freezing them.  This genius idea was brought to us from my parents when we arrived in TX!

We also let E pick out a treat a few times when we stopped at gas-stations.  This was such an easy activity for him that made him really excited and passed the time before and after the stops in the truck.  He’d plan what he was gonna pick before we would stop and slowly devour his “treat” after! And let me just say, let your kid pick the ‘sour patch kids’ even though they are 100% sugar…the faces you get from your little one add hilarity for miles!!!

My little guy has a special blanket and loves his stuffed animals so were sure to pack a few of them for quiet time and if by chance he’d nap.  We also were sure to dress him in comfy clothes and halfway through the trip I even put a plush blanket behind his back in the carseat as he was getting red marks on his back.

He really was a champ and travelled great.  There were a few times where he was cranky from being trapped so long but we’d try to stop and do some stretches to avoid this.  I found that an 8hr drive day was the perfect amount of time (we did a couple much longer days which were hard on all of us).  My biggest advice is be organized.  Have things your child loves to do and get creative with road games (there’s tons of great ideas online for older kids too)…pointing out landmarks, special vehicles (like tractors if you have a farm-nut like us), lights and landscapes.  At two (nearly three) years old E was kept interested in his surroundings.  And when all else failed we would watch “Sing” for the 8th time!! And be flexible!  Your little one is on holidays too…so with that said, we let E have much more snacky food than he normally gets, he got to have juice boxes, special little treats and a happy meal or two from mcdonalds (or old mcdonalds as he calls it) and strict routine was kind of sent wayside (although we did stick to nap time once we arrived at our destination and tried to keep him on point with mealtime eating…bedtime on the other hand was a bit of a disaster!!)


(Checking out the sunset with Noma and Bubba.)

I have to say travelling with a child is immensely gratifying.  I’ve been to TX a bunch of times but travelling with a little one means you are ‘forced’ to check out new locations and kid-friendly spots which ultimately bring out the kid in everyone.  We had an amazing vacation and I’m still reminiscing hard about the memories we made.  Here’s hoping this trip went well enough that hubby will want to take us back again soon (like next year soon??!!). Blessed.  Grateful.  Refreshed. And ready to tackle the rest of this Manitoba Winter! (Although spring is welcome ANYTIME!!)



Guinness Cheese Fondue


Cheese is quite simply always a crowd pleaser.  Ooey, gooey, melty Guinness infused cheese is on a whole new level.  I encourage you to whip up a pot of this molten goodness, chop up some of your favourite dippers and invite some of your favourite people over to cheers to THE best day of the year, St. Patrick’s Day.  Wear something green and crack open a few cans or bottles of Irish Stout and you have a party worthy of even Murphy himself!

Here’s how you make it:

  • 1/2 can (ish) Guinness
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 heaping Tbsp dijon
  • 2 Tbsp flour (or cornstarch)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 cups grated swiss
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup processed cheddar like velveeta or cheese whiz (or even cream cheese)
  • Salt and pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • In an electric fondue pot or a cast iron pot, melt the butter and saute the green onions.  Add the dijon and flour and cook slightly.  Add the Guinness and whisk until there are only ‘onion lumps’.
  • Whisk in the heavy cream and cheeses.  Stir until melted and combined and season with salt and pepper to your taste.  Add cayenne if desired

I served mine with some yummy crisp green vegetables (broccoli, snap peas, celery chunks), sliced sausage and pretzels.  Fresh bread or soft pretzels, ham and corned beef would be delicious as well.  Enjoy with cold beer or sparkling wine and be sure to toast to St. Patrick and the good of Ireland.  Once again I say “Slainte”!!!



Irish Hasselback Potatoes


I’m pretty proud of this recipe revamp.  I came up with it one night while trying to get to sleep (it’s what I do when my mind goes into overdrive…I create menus and recipes in my head!)…It came together even better than I thought and although a bit time-consuming, it’s rather simple to make and doesn’t take many ingredients.  I paired ours with fried cabbage (cooked in butter and olive oil with 1 tsp of caraway and a few dashes of W-sauce).  It was a delicious and satisfyingly festive meal!

Here’s how you make it:

  • Using 2 wooden spoons as a brace, thinly slice a scrubbed potato (this recipe makes four), the spoons will help you to not cut the entire way through the potato.
  • Melt 1/3 cup butter with 2 chopped green onions, 2 Tbsp dried or fresh dill, salt and pepper.  Drizzle over the par sliced potatoes and bake at 350 for 1 hr.
  • Cut strips of deli-style corned beef into squares and push into some of the slices in the potato. (I used a butter knife to help me with this.  Be gentle so you don’t wreck the part-way slices!)
  • Bake for another 20-30 mins.  I ‘basted’ the potatoes with some of the butter that drizzled into the bottom of the baking dish a couple times.
  • Top each potato with grated cheese (I used a combination of sharp cheddar and Swiss). Bake another 15-20mins or until the cheese is bubbly and golden.  Serve with fried cabbage or a tossed salad and a frothing mug of Guinness! Slainte! (Cheers!)

Fun-Filled St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes


What’s a holiday without a little chocolate?! And what’s even better than chocolate is Guinness and chocolate with caramel!  These cupcake treats are moist, festive and literally FULL of fun!  They’re relatively easy to make and as far as scratch-made cakes, this is one of my favourite recipes.  I love how they are sweet and chocolatey but that the flavour of the Guinness is still prevalent!  They are a perfect addition to this St. Patrick’s Day week!


Using my previously posted recipe for Guinness Chocolate Cake I scooped the batter into paper lined muffin tins (recipe makes 24 cupcakes…just search for “Guinness chocolate cake” and bake for 15-20 mins at 350) and then using a paring knife I cut into each cooled cupcake to create a little pocket to fill with rainbow sprinkles.  I sliced the cutout so that it was a thin lid, placed it on the sprinkle filled cupcakes and frosted them with my tried and true delicious (and up until now, secret) icing.  Decorate as you like and then watch the pure joy as someone you love bites into one!


THE best icing you’ll make:

  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 1 pkg instant vanilla pudding mix (or any other flavour as desired)
  • optional flavourings: I used caramel extract with these cupcakes but you can also use vanilla, cinnamon, almond extract etc.
  • Combine all ingredients and whip with an electric mixer until thick.  Whip until it is thicker than whipped cream, to the point where it resembles buttercream.  Best served within 24 hours of frosting (store in fridge until consumed).


On a side note, Tupperware’s large spice containers work extremely well for storing your sprinkles…especially if you have a bit of an addiction like me and have ALOT of varieties of sprinkles floating around in your cupboards!!



Irish Onion Soup


By now you know that I am in love with all things Irish…ok maybe not ALL things, I haven’t acquired a love for black pudding yet…but I do love cheese and am learning to love Guinness and I definitely love St. Patrick’s Day.  So here’s my rendition of Irish Onion Soup, a spin on the classic French Onion Soup.  It’s an easy and hearty bowl of deliciousness and it’s a great way to kickstart my favourite time of the year!

Here’s the recipe:

  • 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup guinness
  • 2 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dijon
  • 1 cube or 1 heaping tsp of your favourite beef base or boullion
  • 1.5 Litres of water
  • 2-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • For the garnish: thinly sliced baguette brushed with olive oil or butter and dijon and toasted, 1 cup grated sharp white cheddar
  • In a large pot caramelize the onions in the butter and olive oil.  Low and slow, steady wins the race.  It takes awhile but by cooking them slow you are bringing out all the natural sugars and the onions get really silky and luxurious and dang do they smell good!
  • Add the Guinness, tomato paste and mustard and cook out for awhile.  Add the beef base and water, fresh thyme and season with salt and pepper and let simmer for at least 2 hours. Remove sprigs of thyme before serving.
  • Ladel into oven safe crocks or French onion soup bowls.  Top with toasted baguette slices and cheese and broil until cheese is bubbly.  Serve with a crisp fresh salad (check out some of my earlier posts for some great dressing recipes)!