Seeing Double at Fairmont Hot Springs

It’s just a coincidence that my family’s two favorite hot springs destinations are both named Fairmont Hot Springs.

Both have comfortable, and affordable, lodges for their guests. Both have large, clean pools filled with soothing hot mineral water. Both are extremely family friendly. Your vacation needs are covered either way, so you only have to decide if you want to grab your passport or not.

One of them is in Western Montana, while the other is in British Columbia, Canada.

The Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in Montana sits by itself in a small valley three miles off I-90 near Butte. Its isolated location, plus the resort’s 500 acres, gives you a real sense of the wild, untamed west that the pioneers must have experienced. That is, if they were sitting in a hot tub with a strawberry daiquiri in one hand.

The resort has 153 rooms and suites, two full-service restaurants, a spa, an 18-hole golf course, and even a miniature golf course. But you’ll probably want to spend most of your time in the water. There are two Olympic-sized pools and two super-hot soaking pools. One of each inside, and one of each outside. The pools are open to resort guests 24 hours a day.

Fairmont Hot Springs

The outdoor pool features a 350-foot water slide, although it does cost extra to use. $10.50 for an all-day pass if you’re a guest of the resort. Fairmont Hot Springs is about three hours from Yellowstone National Park, and makes a good stop before or after geyser-watching.

Not far from the resort, and on the road to Yellowstone, is Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, one of the largest limestone caverns in the northwest. It’s a 90-minute guided walk for just $5. I highly recommend making time to stop here.

Okay, so Montana’s hot springs has it going on. But what about Canada?

The Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in British Columbia, Canada, also sits in a valley, but at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, so the view is decidedly different from the Montana prairie.

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But the water is just the same. Hot and therapeutic, just like you want. In 4 different pools, which are the largest odorless natural hot mineral pools in all of Canada! The resort has 140 rooms and suites, 7 full-service restaurants, a spa, three golf courses, and a ski area.

No slides to splash down, so Canada might just get the thumbs down from your kids when mulling over the two Fairmonts. However, if you ski, this is where you’ll want to be in the winter. There’s nothing like a rejuvenating soak after a day on the slopes.

Whatever season you go, there’s plenty to do in the surrounding area. Hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting. Name a mountain activity and you can do it there. Nearby is the small town of Invermere, where you can find a range of activities. Just don’t miss the ostrich farm.

This time of year, you just can’t beat a hot springs vacation for the whole family. Whichever Fairmont you choose, you’re going to love it.

Stop Teaching Your Kids to be Mean!

When my daughter was 4 years old, a slightly older girl marched up to her in the local park and loudly proclaimed, “Your parents don’t love you.”

Not long after that, again at the park, a group of older elementary aged girls surrounded my daughter and called her an “ugly toad” and “jerk face.”

When my son was in 2nd grade, he brought a thermos full of chicken rice soup, which he really likes, for his school lunch. A kid across the table looked at it and said, “Your lunch looks like baby food.” After that, he only wanted sandwiches.

And it was just last year, during a Boy Scout camping trip, when my now 16-year-old son and a friend were having an animated discussion about the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, that another boy walked over to interrupt them with the comment, “You guys sound like a couple of girls talking about a stupid book.”

So, my kids have had their fair share of experiences with mean kids.

Mean kids are everywhere it seems. And it’s not like they’re born that way. No, mean kids are easily made by parents who don’t even realize they’re doing it.

I’m not talking about parents who bully or abuse their children. I’m talking about the everyday comments and actions of moms and dads who forget that their kids are constantly watching, and learning.

Parents, you really need to stop teaching your kids to be mean. And here are three ways you can do that.

1. Stop gossiping.

Gossiping about your friends and neighbors inevitably turns to the dark side. It just can’t be helped. You may start out talking up the news of someone’s good fortune, but it won’t be long before the, “Yes, but have you heard,” comes out, and then all the unpleasant rumors and innuendo gush forth.

And you know your kids are listening. They hear you dishing the dirt and they grow to think it’s okay to talk about people that way.

It’s really not. Gossip hurts. It’s mean and spiteful and never ends well. So stop doing it.

2. Stop nitpicking.

Criticizing, in a positive way, is fine in certain situations. We all need to work on ourselves. But nitpicking is criticizing just for the sake of finding fault with someone.

And that’s mean. It seems like we can’t stand to think that someone has their life properly put together, so we look closer and closer until we find something we think isn’t quite perfect. I guess it makes us feel better about our own inadequacies.

Well, newsflash, nobody’s perfect. Not you, not them, not anyone. If you are feeling down and unsure about some part of yourself, it’s not going to be fixed by finding some small fault with others.

So, stop teaching your kids to solve their problems by bringing down those around them. Instead, teach them to raise themselves up, to become better friends, better siblings, better students.

3. Stop categorizing.

How easy is it to point out all the differences between us? It is that way simply because there aren’t that many to choose from. As human beings, whether you are a nomadic sheep herder from Mongolia or a social media manager from Manhattan, the similarities between us far outnumber the differences.

But, rather than point out how we are all the same, it seems like we automatically look to lump people into categories in order to understand them better. We usually do this instantly without really knowing all that much about the person we’re categorizing.

“Oh, he’s fat,” and “Look at the way she’s dressed, must be poor,” and “That dad must be unemployed if he’s at the park with his kids in the middle of the day.”

These assumptive efforts at labeling and separating people ultimately has a negative effect on the way we view the world around us. Like I said, instead of focusing on our similarities, we now start to see only differences.

Then you find yourself building walls of intolerance and bigotry. And isolating your kids inside there with you.

Stop doing these things. Stop teaching your kids to be mean! Whether you realize it or not, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you gossip, nitpick, and categorize.

You can do better. As a parent, you have to.

Flipped Off By A 4-Year-Old

When my kids were young, hardly a day went by without them saying or doing something awesome I could blog about. These days, as teens, most of their activities are off limits to me as a writer. So, I have to take a trip on the wayback machine to tell stories about them. This tale is originally from early 2006. Definitely one to include in Idaho Dad’s Greatest Hits.

I arrived at my son’s school today about fifteen minutes early to pick him up, so my daughter and I sat in the car and listened to a Wiggles CD. One of her favorite tracks, Where Is Thumbkin?, started playing and I turned in my seat to do the hand gestures with her.

The song starts out with:

Where is thumbkin?
Where is thumbkin?
Here I am.
Here I am.
How are you today, friend?
Very well, I thank you.
Run away.
Run away.

I played along with the song, sticking my thumb up in the air and waving it about like a finger puppet, bowing, and then making it run away behind the head rest. My daughter loved it and started imitating me.

The next part of the song introduces “Pointer”…. Where is Pointer? Where is Pointer? Here I am… etc.

We happily waved our pointer fingers all around in front of us, then made them run away.

You get where this story is going?

Next up is “Tall One”…

So here we are waving our middle fingers around, only mine is hidden between the two front seats while my daughter’s is right next to the window. I looked over at the car next to us and noticed a woman frowning disapprovingly.

I can just imagine what she said to her husband that night: “The world is going to hell. Today I was flipped off by a 4-year-old!”

The Horrors of Disneyland

Disneyland

“The tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was on my mind as we made our way from one attraction to another at Disneyland. Your first assumption is that the Magic Kingdom is all sweetness and light. After all, it bills itself as The Happiest Place on Earth.

But that can be misleading. Walking through the cheery front gates onto a bustling Main Street inevitably leads you toward a darker subtext of the Disneyland story.

And that realization really hit me for the first time on our most recent visit. I’ve been to the park dozens of times as a visitor, and I worked there for a year during high school, but for some reason I never truly noticed all the death and fear that makes up the place.

The first thing that clued me in were the skulls. They’re everywhere! Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, Pirates Lair, Peter Pan’s Flight. Piles of them! The Disneyland Hotel even had a gigantic skull-shaped rock to slide through at their pool before they remodeled and ripped it out.

If it’s not skulls, it’s scares.

The Matterhorn features two appearances by a ferocious demon-eyed Abominable Snowman. Alice in Wonderland is like some sort of freaky LSD trip. Indiana Jones almost drops you off a bridge into a pit of fire. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride actually concludes by sending you to hell, complete with blasts of hot air and a face-to-face meeting with Satan himself.

And then there’s the dead come to life.

The classic Haunted Mansion features a killer bride who wants to rip your still-beating heart from your chest. There’s a graveyard of ghosts and ghouls popping up from underneath their headstones, eager to come home with you. And then there’s that poor sap who is about to be buried alive and pleads with you to help him escape from his coffin. When I was a young boy, I kept my eyes closed the whole way through the Mansion. Sometimes I’d even plug my ears. That place was the stuff of nightmares to me.

There’s only one truly innocent ride in Disneyland — It’s A Small World. But the case could be made that cruising through room after room of unblinking, perpetually smiling, singing dolls is actually kind of creepy. You can very well imagine the place to be populated with the offspring of Chucky and Annabelle.

Okay, okay, don’t get me wrong. I love Disneyland.

In fact, I love the place so much I would make it an annual vacation destination if allowed by family and finances. I love every ride at Disneyland, and so do my kids. We’ve been to the park five times over the past ten years, and always for multiple days because you just don’t rush through it.

And those scary rides? They’re the best. Every time we visit, those are the rides we rack up the frequent rider miles on. Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder, Indiana Jones, Snow White. We get off and get right back on. The spookier it is, the more we want to ride it. During our last trip, my son and I set a personal record for Pirates of the Caribbean. 10 times in a 10-hour day.

We always have a blast being scared and bedazzled by the skulls and snakes and man-eating whales. Part of the magic of Disney is knowing that the things that frighten are just for fun. I’ve never seen bigger smiles on my kids’ faces than when they’re jumping out of their seats after something has shocked them silly.

Of course, as you get older you start to think that the best ride is in the little circle at the end of Main Street, next to the statue of Walt and Mickey. There you can find a lovely green bench, from which you can comfortably sit and watch the crowds go by. The way tourists act and dress might just be scarier than anything else you see in the park.

An undead pirate on the Pirates Lair

An undead pirate at the Pirates Lair

A denizen of the Matterhorn

A denizen of the Matterhorn

Skulls everywhere!

Skulls everywhere!

All photos by Idaho Dad

Our Culture of Fear

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we’ve been so credulous.” – Carl Sagan

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m feeling a little bamboozled lately after reading various reports about the realities of crime and child abduction in this country.

After all, I have long recognized that America’s mass media thrives upon the Culture of Fear that it helped to create. But still, when it comes to the safety of children, I’ve been first in line to sound the alarm and spread the word about caution and awareness.

So now I learn that out of the roughly 800,000 kids that go missing in this country each year, the FBI estimates that only 100 to 200 of them are victims of the most serious type of non-family abductions, news of which fills parents with dread and distrust toward any stranger who looks twice at their children.

Better yet, violent crime in our country is at an all-time low and has been on a steady decline for the past thirty years. But you won’t see that in the headlines. TV and newspapers seem to be only interested in scaring us, rather than informing us of the real level of risk. And why would they want to do that?

Maintaining a certain level of fear and anxiety is good for corporate profits. Because behind every good newspaper, magazine, and TV station is a corporation that has something it wants to sell that will make us feel better about stepping out our front door into that great big scary world.

And the media is only giving the people what they want. Viewers are fascinated with stories of missing, murdered or abused children. It could be that busy parents, who shuttle their kids from one organized activity to another, may actually turn to these horrible news reports to comfort and allay their feelings of guilt over losing control of their own children.

Whatever the explanation, it certainly seems to be a vicious circle of corporate marketers, mass media, and viewers/readers. I don’t believe those first two entities are willing to accurately analyze and report the reality of our world, so it’s up to the audience, especially parents, to refuse to be bamboozled.

The first step is to stop watching TV news, the worst offenders of exaggerating the incidence of child abductions. After that, find news organizations that deal in facts and figures. Become more optimistic and seek out the truth about the world around you. It’s not such a bad place.

10 Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the crown jewel of our National Park System. It was the first of its kind, and remains the most unique and diverse wilderness experience that you will find in this country.

It’s also an extremely cool place for kids.

But with almost 3500 square miles of lakes, geysers, canyons, and hot springs, there’s too much to see in one short stay. So, after four visits to Yellowstone, and consultation with my own children, I have compiled the following list of park sights and activities that will make your family trip an especially memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids (and Grown-Ups) in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Dragon's Mouth Spring

How can you resist telling your kids that a dragon lives in a cave near a mud volcano? It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this cavern, with its growls and thumps, and spitting steam, might just hold a real dragon.

2. Fishing Cone

Yellowstone Fishing Cone

It’s probably just a tall tale, but the story goes that the early trappers and explorers would catch fish in Yellowstone Lake, swing them directly into the Fishing Cone geyser just off shore, and have a meal of boiled fish in just minutes. “Hook and cook,” they called it. Like the dragon cave, another cool sight that will fire up the imagination.

3. Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn lobby as seen from Bat's Alley; Jim Peaco; October 2003

What kid won’t love the largest log hotel in the world? Just walk inside the 100-year-old Inn’s lobby, with its four stories of lodgepole pine balconies and 500-ton stone fireplace, and your kids might just want to sit for awhile. Preferably in one of the many handmade wood rocking chairs. Better yet, stay in one of the Inn’s rooms. Prices are reasonable, and the food in the dining room is first-class.
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Whose Life Is It To Share?

We share so much of ourselves these days.

Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, blogs, email, and texts, it’s easy to have almost every aspect of our lives spread all over the Internet for the enjoyment of family and friends.

And strangers.

Because so much of what you’re sharing is wide open to anyone anywhere with a computer or smart phone.

But that’s okay, right? It’s your choice to share yourself with the world. If your Facebook posts and Instagram photos are set to “public” or your Pinterest page features personal photos, that’s your business.

And if you write a mom or dad blog, with your personal thoughts about parenting, you have it set to publish to the world, to gain as big an audience as possible. I know I do.

This is where my question comes in. Whose life is it to share? I’m not talking about yours. That’s an easy answer. It’s your life to share.

But what about your kids? Did you ask them if it was okay to share their life with the world?

I started my dad blog nearly eleven years ago, when my kids were 5 and 2. It never occurred to me to ask for their permission. I certainly took some precautions to shield them from fame by not revealing their names, and to not feature close-up photos of their faces.

My kids have always known about my blog. They’ve just never been terribly interested in it. I blather on enough in real life, they don’t need to read even more of my daddy musings. They’ve lived through it already.

Several days ago, however, my daughter decided to read my blog. The first post she saw was about her having a very public meltdown over a spider when she was a 3-year-old.

“Well, that was embarrassing,” she told me. “I hope none of my friends see that.”

I was perplexed. I mean, she was a toddler. It was a decade ago. I asked her why it was embarrassing.

In her infinite teenage wisdom, she replied, “It just is! It’s my life!”

She makes a very strong point.

Now, I’m not going to go back through thousands of posts to edit or delete anything that might elicit a response from my daughter of, “Oh my god, Dad, why did you say that about me, I’m going to die!”

Because I’m confident there aren’t that many of those. Also, I don’t have the time.

But it sure has me thinking about what right a parent has to share so much of their child with the world.

Simply look to Hollywood and the world of former child stars who have struggled with being in the public eye at such a young age. Many of them either had no choice, or didn’t understand the ramifications of sharing so much of themselves with the world.

Will we be seeing a new generation of children angry with their parents for placing them front and center on a parent blog, or a YouTube channel, or anywhere a devoted following of fans can grow on the Internet?

As a parent blog reader, I’ve intruded onto some very intimate moments in some children’s lives. From bed-wetting to kindergarten crushes to pre-teen depression, there are any number of subjects that you wouldn’t normally discuss outside of your family or circle of friends. And yet, some bloggers do just that, whether to seek advice or commiseration or even fame.

As my daughter said, it’s her life. I’ve been careful over the years to maintain her privacy, but maybe not careful enough. For as much enjoyment I receive from keeping this blog, it’s not worth it if one of my kids feels that I’ve broken that unwritten confidentiality agreement that all members of a family should have with each other.

I wouldn’t be very happy if my daughter started a blog and wrote humorous out-of-context anecdotes about my piggish ice cream eating habits, or the unholy mess on my office desk, or the not-so-funny comment I made about the neighbor down the street.

It’s my life, and it’s up to me if I want to share it with the world.

Now go back and re-read that sentence in the voice of your child. If you want your kids to respect your privacy, it’s only fair for you to respect theirs. Next time you post a picture or story to the general public, think about whose life it really is to share.

The Great War For Kids

There’s one thing about history that my daughter quickly learned in her early elementary school days. Humans seem to always be fighting each other.

It’s an unpleasant subject on the surface, but if you’re going to instill a love of history in your children, you can’t avoid the fact that they will, inevitably, be reading about war.

And they will find it utterly fascinating. Continue reading

Walking the Wall, Again

Walking the Wall, Again

It was a little over a year ago that I spent a week walking the width of England, following the National Trail that runs along Hadrian’s Wall.

It was a memorable adventure that raised a lot of money for charity. But as I hiked those scenic crags, it always felt like something was missing. I soon realized that I wanted my family to be there with me to experience the ancient Roman wall and the breathtaking English countryside.

Almost a year later, I was able to share the walk with my wife and kids. Well, maybe not the entire 91 miles. In fact, we just walked the best bits of the wall. 5 miles of it in total.

Oh, and this time I left home the stiff boots and overweight backpack.

We started out at Birdoswald Fort, touring the museum there while we waited out an early morning rain shower. After the sun appeared, we walked east to the village of Gilsland, where the kids rejoiced over an ice cream shop.

From there, a short bus ride deposited us at Housesteads Fort, a dazzling Roman site which includes one of the best preserved latrines from nearly 2000 years ago.

Roman latrines

You wouldn’t think we could get excited over an old army latrine, but it was kind of cool to see where the Centurions did their business.

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Beachcombing

Beachcombing along the Thames

Of all the things we experienced in England, my kids talk most about the couple of hours we spent shuffling slowly along the muddy beaches of the River Thames, our heads hung low, our eyes sharply focused on the ground.

We were beachcombing, or mudlarking as some call it, along the shores of the river that runs through central London. After thousands of years of stuff being tossed into the Thames, it’s no surprise that some of it washes back up along the banks.

When the tide is out, it’s easy to play archaeologist and search for little treasures. And odds are always good that you’ll find something.

We descended into the muck somewhere near the Tate Modern and immediately my son picked up a small piece of china. Then my daughter found an old clay pipe stem. Then I spotted a mineralized cow tooth.

We actually found dozens of old bones. I assumed our little stretch of beach had once been the outlet for a slaughter house.

My son theorized that it was a dumping ground for executed prisoners.

More clay pipe stems were found, along with polished glass, twisted bits of metal, bottles, and part of a deer antler.

After just a few hours of picking through the muddy rocks, we had several bags worth of goodies to take home. All little bits of history that sparked my kids’ imagination in a big way.

If you’re visiting London, don’t hesitate to step off the paved paths and get your hands dirty on the banks of the Thames. It’s one of the best ways to experience the history of this ancient place.

Best of all, aside from any valuable artifacts, you get to keep the treasures you find! Here are some that my son has proudly displayed on his shelves…

Thames Treasures