Free Egg Dye Kits with qualifying purchase!

While supplies last (I have 12).  Any Pure Play Kids order over $50 will receive a FREE egg dye kit from Natural Earth Paints ($9.95 value). I have many items under $10, and many small things perfect for Easter baskets, please check out my Easter tab. $6.95 flat rate shipping. This is my 1st Easter as new owner of this shop, I would love your help in making it a good one! New items have been listed as well, including my toothpaste & deo finally! Maybe you don’t celebrate Easter, maybe you don’t even have kids yourself. Simply sharing a link to my shop would be immensely helpful and appreciated! https://pureplaykids.com/

Poofy Organics by Jess 10% off sale!

I’m offering 10% off any Poofy Organics order placed using my link, through this Sunday night (3/24), for those who are not able to make it until the Earth Day Sale which is a month away! Also, that will fall after Easter, so I wanted to remind you that Poofy has many great, safe Easter basket fillers! For my Son’s recent 8th Birthday, he absolutely loved the Poofy package I put together just for him, it included: bath bombs, bar soaps (cotton candy & bubblegum), lip balms and his own bottle of lotion.
I cannot create my own coupon code, so to save 10%: order using my link below, shoot me a pm or email with the order # and let me know if you want the rebate (towards product total only) via check, PayPal, Poofy gift certificate towards your next order. Not to be combined with any other offers. Questions, let me know. https://ecofriendlymamausa.poofyorganics.com/
Also, don’t forget I have a new link for Poofy CBD oil, ALWAYS FREE SHIPPING: https://ecofriendlymamausa.poofycbd.com/

Welcome to the NEW Pure Play Kids!

Thank you for your patience! After purchasing the site in October (read about my journey here), I made it through my 1st Holiday season. Then I shut the site down in January while I traveled, and worked on switching website hosts to make my site more mobile-friendly & user-friendly from my end. This took much longer than I had hoped, but finally, here we are mid-March & it is fully back online, better than ever!

With Easter ~1 month away, I hope you’ll make me one of your 1st stops for shopping. I have all-natural egg dye kits, and many other fun items for your Easter baskets. I also have unique items for your kitchen, home, and self-care. Without your support, little shops like mine aren’t able to survive in this world of Amazon convenience. I promise to do my best to keep my prices as low as possible, and most orders ship same day, or next, after I receive your order!

https://pureplaykids.com/

Reflections on 7 years as a blogger!!

Tomorrow marks my 7 year blogiversary!! After shopping for my Son’s 1st Christmas & then his upcoming 1st B-day in March, I was frustrated with how much stuff I was picking up in stores was stamped with: made in China. I started researching made in USA toy companies, and to my pleasant surprise there were several great options. I thought: hey, I might as well share what I am staying up at night researching, I bet others might benefit from the info I’ve spent this time gathering. And on 2/22/12, I decided to go for it & published my original page: Eco-friendly baby/family products made in the USA.
And slowly, but surely, day-by-day, a couple new people would find me. That page now is currently just shy of 14,000 likes (although I hardly ever post there), and this group is almost at 5,000 members! My website gets ~100,000 views annually, and I’m now the proud owner of Pure Play kids. Somehow, Mike from Pure Play Kids found me very early on in my blogging journey, like in the 1st couple of weeks, I still remember the 1st time he contacted me & I fell in love with their site. It feels full circle that toys are what started me on this journey, and now I own a toy company!
I cannot express how amazing it is to have connected with so many of you over the years. Finding your “tribe” is not easy to do. I remember when I 1st started I purposely stuck to business, never discussed my family or my personal life. But over time, it has just been natural to share my journey as a mother, woman, wife, and business owner with y’all. And I learn about your family too, when you post asking for suggestions for x, y or z. I feel like I know so many of you & I KNOW we would be great friends in real life if we had the chance. I do have plans to organize some get-togethers in the coming years! I know we are all pulled so many directions on Facebook, and life in general, so it warms my heart to know how many of you value the community we’ve established online, and feel it’s a safe spot to ask any question. I started with a mission to find safe products, but we have discussed practically every topic under the sun in the group. I learn something new EVERY day, and feel compelled to share in an effort to help even 1 person, then it’s worth it to me.
I CANNOT believe my Son is about to turn 8! As we know, time flies, the years tick by incredibly fast. But I’m so excited to continue to share my journey with y’all, thanks for being along for the ride!
Here’s an online interview from 6 years ago, a little more about my mission: https://ecofriendlymamausa.com/2013/02/15/319/
And here is a 5 min clip from when I was featured on WI Life on Wi Public Tv. This was truly one of the greatest honors I’ve experienced thus far in my life: https://www.wisconsinlife.org/story/natural-and-organic-product-blogger-exposes-greenwashing/
And here’s my Safe Toys list, you can find numerous other resources by clicking around my website a bit: https://ecofriendlymamausa.com/made-in-usa-2/toy-list/

Better Belize It Part 2, 2019 Travels

*In advance I ask that you forgive any spelling or grammar errors. I’m normally a stickler for those, but this got super lengthy & no matter how many times I re-read, I find errors. It’s meant to be a general discussion, not a college essay 🙂

If truly interested in traveling to Belize and/or you missed my adventure from 2018, please read part 1, my 2018 travels. It’s good background & I don’t want to repeat things I wrote there again: https://ecofriendlymamausa.com/2018/01/26/you-better-belize-it/

One of the 1st things I hear from most who learn of my travels to Belize is: I have no idea where that is! And it makes me kinda’ sad. I’m not a geography buff, but it really is in our “back yard”, bordering Mexico. Most know where Cancun is, Belize is a bus ride from there. Mexico forms the border to the north, Guatemala to the West, Honduras to the South. Okay, geography lesson over 🙂

 

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Some things that make traveling to Belize very easy & convenient: It’s on Central time, same as me, so no jet lag traveling across many time zones! English is the official language, something I don’t necessarily love as I want to use my Spanish, but it makes it so easy to get around as road signs, etc are all in English. There are more & more direct flights, but even with a connection, we were at our final destination 12 hrs after leaving Milwaukee, WI.

Leaving I always choose a super early flight so we can arrive during daylight, you don’t want to be driving after dark your 1st day in country. Our flight left Mlke at 5:30 am, you’re supposed to be there 2 hrs in advance for international flights so we got up at 3am to get there by 3:30. I booked us a park, sleep, fly, which I feel is a great deal, $200 for the night we leave & return, but also we get to park our van there for the 28 days we’re gone at no extra charge, and they have 24/7 shuttle to & from the airport. We got there nice & early the afternoon before so the kids could swim in the pool, we could try to relax, and get to bed early for our big day. It was a bit frustrating that we got to the airport at 3:30am but Delta didn’t open their window until 4am so we could check in our 1 checked bag. So we could’ve slept an extra 1/2 hr, but I always like to be early & not running late, so it was fine. We were on time leaving which is always a blessing no matter what, but especially leaving WI in the winter, any delays & we would miss our connection in Atlanta.  I’m a fan of tight connections, knowing if there are delays, they will get us on the next possible flight outta there. We touched down in Atlanta, used the bathrooms, made our way across the airport on the tram & they were boarding the group before us when we got to our gate, and that’s how I like it. We were on the ground in Belize City a little after noon, then the long, hot line to get through immigration. Got through that, walked across the lot to get our rental car, got loaded up & we were finally on our way an hour north to our 1st destination! Such a great feeling to have that freedom of hitting the road on our own.

Another thing that is super awesome about Belize is their dollar is locked in at 2:1 vs ours. It still takes some time to get used to, but if it says $20, that means it’s $10USD. Everywhere you go accepts USD, you’ll just get your change in Belize dollars which is fine. This is much simpler than when we went to Mexico a couple years ago, the Peso was something like 22:1, and it fluctuated depending on where you went. I really like the simplicity of the exchange in Belize!

A few other interesting facts about Belize (out of many, my Hubby has read 2-3 books on the country). It was a British colony known as British Honduras until it gained full independence in 1981. So it respects English commonlaw (property ownership among other things). There is a very interesting referendum coming up this April, I’m super curious how it will turn out. Guatemala still contests that Belize should belong to it. The referendum is to decide if the matter should go before the international courts & have it decided once & for all (which would take several years), or to keep on going as they are, and just ignore Guatemala’s claim (in a nutshell, you can read more online if you want). We asked many locals about it, and all were pretty unsure how to vote, and confused. It’s a BIG deal for them either way.

People: Like most of the world, it is a total hodge podge of skin colors & ethnicities. There is a mix of Mayan, Garifuna (African descendents, former slaves from Haiti, etc,), Mexicans, Mestizos (mixed Spanish from Spain w/ Mayan, etc), and then there are a lot of the whitest white people you will ever see: Amish & Mennonite from Canada, PA, and Mexico. It is such a stark contrast. On one of our tours we were told that the Mennonite make up 3% of the population of the country, but produce ~60% of the food eaten in country on a daily basis. There are sects that are super strict & adhere to their traditional values (no electricity, organic farming), and progressive sects that pack a cell phone on each hip & have their own air strip. A local told us they’ve dubbed them moneynites, they just don’t call them that to their faces though. You see them all over the country, and it’s quite intriguing. Some have started intermarrying with Mayans & other locals, it totally fascinates me! There are also plenty of American ex-pats, we met them all over the country.

You hear so many languages spoken here, amongst the locals, but also people from all over the world travel here. Hearing German, French & Italian on a daily basis is the norm (and so welcomed), as is hearing Spanish, Mayan, and the other languages of the locals. It was easy to assume that when you saw another Caucasian family that they were American, but in fact, I can’t remember a single American family we met while traveling. We met many Canadians, and people from all over Europe. For them, a month of travel is routine. For us, it’s a huge deal.

Packing: We check 1 bag, it has to be under 50# so it doesn’t get you a bunch of additional charges. We learned last year to have it weigh in at home a few# under that as their scales differ, so we left it at 48# this year, and phew, it came in at 49# (it was $30 to check it via Delta). In addition, we each carry one backpack, mine serves as my purse while en route, my kids have snacks, activities & stuffies in theirs. I always make sure we have plenty of snacks & water. As I mentioned above I like tight connections, so that does not allow for time to eat while waiting for our next flight. Also, after getting stuck on a plane for a couple of hours in the past, and reading those horror stories of many hours on a tarmac, I do my best to make sure we have plenty of variety to get through a day. My Son especially gets hangry, and that’s no fun. Also a couple of empty water bottles that we fill once we get through airport security. Things that make good travel food: granola, nuts, snack mix, different chips. Also my kids insist on having a nice selection of gum to help with their ears popping while ascending & descending. I do bring some fruit too, but it gets bruised so easily so I make sure to eat it early on. We did great about eating everything we brought eventually, if not on the plane, early on in our travels.

We wear a bunch of layers on our way down, and strip them as we get to warmer zones, then reverse the process on the way back. My Hubby travels so light, seriously, he packed 2 pairs of shorts & 4 shirts! He wears these super light-weight, long-sleeve, shirts from Cabela’s that keep the sun off him but also have vents so he’s not hot. We pretty much went swimming daily, so literally spent most of the month in our swim suits. My hubby would swim in his shorts, then rinse them with fresh water once we got back to our place & within an hour they were always dry. For me sundresses, I packed 5 & I  felt that was about right, I could get by with fewer if I had to, again, we spent most of the time in our swim suits! For the kids, clothes with patterns, and dark colors, these hide stains, I packed 5 mix & match for each. We also packed 3# of coffee,  we were not at all impressed with the offerings last year so brought our own Peruvian dark already ground. Although I did buy some organic Guatemalan on our trip to Tikal. We also packed 3# of organic Love Crunch granola, that is a favorite of my picky daughter. She packed it in her carry on & it was the 1 thing that got us flagged going through TSA! There’s her little back pack pulled to the side for further inspection (they have new restrictions on powders). The lady opened the backpack & a bunch of dolls spilled out, then the bag of granola. She ran her handheld scanner over it & said: I’m glad you’re making healthy choices. That lasted my daughter quite awhile in country!

Carseat: I packed our spare high back booster for our 17 days on the mainland with our rental car, for my daughter. It’s a cheap, extremely lightweight model from Wal-Mart, and we actually left it there with a taxi driver who said he would find a good home for it. Last year I took Bubble Bum’s for both kids, and was not at all impressed with them, and the kids said they were terribly uncomfortable. My Son is about to turn 8, and is super tall, up to my chin, he went without a seat this year.  You can gate check car seats, meaning you don’t have to pay to check them like the 50# luggage piece, but you do have to lug it around until you board your plane, then you get it when you get off. Again, it was super lightweight & we piled a backpack or 2 on it & kinda’ drug it through the airport.

Below: 1st aid remedies I packed: waterproof band aids & tape leftover from my toe injury last year (kicked a doorstop & scalped my toenail off), dried elderberries to make a batch of syrup once we get there, vitamin c tabs, arnica salve, everything salve, germ fighting & immune boost EO roll-on’s, Chestal cough syrup, Poofy’s PM cream transferred out of the glass into a smaller plastic container, powder, anti-lotion stick, sunscreen in a few forms, salonsolids which is SO handy for travel, that little tube will take care of all our soap needs for the month, oscillococcinum, then my remedy kit with a few extra strength ones,  benadryl and drammamine.

 

 

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A FB update I did after 2 weeks in country: I have to say, while natural remedies are ALWAYS my 1st choice, Western remedies have their place too. I itched a bug bite on the top of my foot completely raw about 10 days ago & just have not been able to get it to heal up with Poofy’s Everything Salve & an arnica/ st. john’s wort ointment I was alternating between. The 2 pairs of shoes I alternate between rub it rawer than it is, so I have to cover it when we’re out & about which is most of the day. It was looking funkier & funkier & hurt night & day. Yesterday I broke down & went to a pharmacy for some triple antibiotic ointment & within the 1st application it started looking better. 24 hrs later & it has made amazing progress towards healing. Phewwwww, was starting to get a bit concerned about it! Just like with antibiotics, I feel they should be a last resort & only used when other remedies have been tried, but they DO have a place here & there! Speaking of… Super, super thankful that my entire family has stayed healthy during our travels. No colds, stomach bugs, nothing but sunshine & good times. Such a relief!

What I forgot to bring:  Poofy’s After Sun Spray (thankfully not needed, once I realized I forgot it I was extra hypervigilent about not getting burned) , and next year I will take at least a small travel size of peroxide (but it can be found there too). We stayed super, super healthy the entire time. I didn’t use the elderberries, or my homeopathic kit even once. Benadryl are always on me just in case of some reaction, not needed but always carried. Never used the dramamine either. But, those are all things I want just in case!

Okay, we’re there now…. 1st things 1st. You get to your destination, then what? Grocery shopping is one of the 1st errands & it’s always fun & interesting! But it’s also a bit daunting to start from scratch. Some places will have basic herbs & spices, some you’re lucky if they even have salt & pepper.  Here’s what our 1st run basics list looks like: bread, butter, eggs, mayo, cheese, milk, granola, bacon, lunch meat, S & P, garlic, onions,  spaghetti/alfredo are usually among our 1st meals,  juice. We’ll usually grab some produce there just to get us started then look for a produce stand the next day, that’s where you want to stock up on fruits/veggies.

Challenges: One major challenge is not having the choice for organic, usually the selection is pretty limited for everything & you just go into survival mode, needing to feed the family. It’s a reminder how lucky we are to have choices here in the US! Remember that things you can peel are best: bananas, watermelon, pineapple, etc. vs grapes that are sprayed directly on. I know some would not be able to cope with not eating organic for a month. I’m okay with it. I don’t let it ruin my enjoyment of the meals I’m making or what my kids are eating. But yes, a month is a whole lot longer than a week when it comes to this.

Some other challenges while traveling, for us, are: using non-stick cookware, oh how I missed my cast iron! Using a ton of paper towels. Most places don’t want to do extra laundry, so they supply paper towels. I use 0 paper towels here at home, and it’s not easy for me to use them! I think next year I’ll pack some hand towels from home at least. You just have to be careful, you start packing this & that from home & pretty soon you have an insane amount of luggage. The cast iron definitely had to stay home…

It takes a bit to get used to the heat. It takes a few days for sure. It wasn’t extremely cold when we left WI, but still, a good 50-60 degrees difference. We arrived at our 1st destination & looked at the weather forecast & it showed the following day to be clear skies, then the next several days to have very large chances of rain. So we decided we better go to Lamanai the next day, our 1st full day in country. While we didn’t have jet lag, we were definitely tired from being up since 3am the day before, and the sun was out and HOT. So it was definitely challenging. I was super happy I packed a battery-powered necklace fan for each kid, they came in handy!

Pesticide fogging: We saw it in the super fancy, all-inclusive resort we stayed in in Mexico 2 years ago, saw it in Belize last year, and again this year. Either back pack sprayers, or trucks fogging hedge rows in broad daylight, they wear no protective gear. With people standing RIGHT THERE as they spray. And most of them don’t seem to notice or think anything of it. We could hear the sound of the fogging truck blocks away & would duck deep into a grocery store if we were out on the streets. If we were in our home we would quick run around & shut all the windows, but you could still smell it. Even the kids said ewwwwwwwww. If you’ve ever smelled Round-Up, you don’t forget it. Same with this stuff, whatever it is, it’s AWFUL! In addition to concerns for human health, what about the bees, and other important insects?  So yeah, as awesome as paradise is, it has drawbacks too! I remind myself I’m just a visitor here, but to many, this is their daily life. And it makes me grateful for my home with no neighbors along the river bank back here in Wisco….

Keeping  with the theme of challenges, then the rest is all the blissful parts of our trip, I promise!  I want to make sure to not gloss over the trials & challenges either, especially with kids, challenges are real…. We were given a recommendation to go visit a fishing village an hour north of here (by someone on our Lamanai tour). So  we made the drive, he said it was 1 hour, it was 2 hours, on terrrrrible roads full of potholes, like seriously 15mph was the norm. We get there, and it’s super windy, so the ocean was super mucky, the beaches were total mud. It was Sunday, so the 2 restaurants in town were closed, the kids had eaten the snacks I packed on our drive there. We explore a bit & realize it’s just not happening, we need to make the 2 hr trek back. The kids were both in tears because they wanted to swim soooo badly. But on the way back we had a great discussion about how things don’t always turn out to meet our expectations & hopes. We explored, we saw beautiful countryside, the ocean breeze & view were great, just not the swimming…

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One of the 1st questions I get when someone learns that we are in Belize for a month is: what about school for your kids? Homeschool I say… No one seems to know how to respond to that. My Son is actually getting public school credit for our homeschooling, but it is extremely flexible. I did bring one workbook with us here, but we’ve hardly cracked it, and that’s okay. I have the flexibility to catch up later, even if we have to work through the summer. And there is so much more to learning to be a well-rounded human than abc’s & 123’s. We’re worldschooling currently, and that means a LOT to my family.

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One of my biggest fails early on was leaving our carbon monoxide detector in the place we checked out of after the 1st few days. It was the one thing on my list from home to NOT FORGET. The story of the Iowa family of 4 who died in their Air BNB room in Cancun last year raised awareness on this issue, and I will never travel without one again, domestic or international. Yet I left it 4 hrs away. I contacted the host of the Air BNB we left it in,  and gave him our itinerary for the next 10 days, thinking they would send it via horseback (lol) within a week. It came on a plane, delivered to the front desk of the hotel we’re staying at, just a few hours after I let him know we left it! Amazed. And oh so happy. And will not be forgetting it again (the kids covered it in bright stickers to help it stand out a little more). Biggest surprise, it only cost $3USD to get to me, I was prepared to pay a pretty penny for it! And the host actually paid for it himself, by accident, but said to not worry about it!!!

 

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Safety:  I touch on this in last years post, so if you haven’t already read that, please do (it’s linked to in the opener). But I will share this comment I wrote recently as well:

It is a developing country like all of central & south America & most of the world. Yes, Belize City is pretty crime-riddled, you fly in & get outta there immediately. My Hubby read the Belize news daily since our trip last January, and yes, there are murders, I want to say there were something like 140 all year last year. The murders are at bar time 99% of the time, and local against local. The Mayan culture is ammmmmmazingly kind, and it’s not a fake kindness because we’re tourists, they’re are genuinely kind. I would be way more nervous ending up in the wrong part of Chicago or Milwaukee, or many other US cities. But I DID cancel 10 days in Mexico that we were going to visit prior to coming to Belize. I do not feel it is safe to take blonde-haired, blue-eyed children to Mexico right now, there are just way too many kidnappings & I can’t fathom that happening to my kids. I’m specifically talking about the greater Cancun area, which draws our desire because of all the Mayan ruins sites. Other parts of the country I would not be so nervous to visit. It hurts my heart because I have such a love for the Mexican culture & want to use my Spanish which I’m not able to in Belize since everyone speaks English.

From Cheryl: My husband is a federal police officer and prior anti-terrorism officer. We travel to Belize every couple of years. He gets information directly from the State Dept and local police agencies. We do not linger in Belize City and use common sense international traveling precautions. We have never felt threatened or unsafe. You just have to be aware of your surroundings like anywhere.

On the safety topic, my best advice is: follow your gut. One of the golden rules while traveling is that you don’t invite locals back to your place. Most of the crime (theft, assaults) that happen in the country occur in the wee hours of the morning, usually bar time or later (my Hubby has read the Belize news daily for ~2 years), and involve intoxicated individuals. It’s one thing to party with your new friends in a neutral setting, but to take them back to your place is a huge risk. Here’s what happened to us that made us very uncomfortable & resulted in us bailing on our week long stay at a very remote nature preserve outside of Hopkins.

We had an awesome 1st night there. I share a story below of befriending the Mayan family that were caretakers of the property, sharing a meal with them, and our kids having a grand time running around squealing together. There were 6 or so cabins for rent on this property, all connected by a boardwalk. The caretaker mentioned the 1st night that the only other visitor was in the cabin next to us. A lady from the US traveling by herself. I was looking forward to meeting her & hearing her story (traveling alone isn’t too common). We didn’t see her that 1st night, we saw her for the 1st time when she was leaving at 8am the next morning, as she was pulling away. Within 1/2 hr she returned, and it was like a clown car scene, people just kept pouring out of her vehicle. She brought back 8 young men from town. We were enjoying our morning coffee with the caretakers of the property while we got ready to head to the beach & explore the area for the 1st time. The Mayan Mama actually brought it to my attention 1st, saying: look how many men she brough back, this is not good, this has never happened before. By the time we left at 9am, they were drinking beers, thumping music, partying, it was Saturday morning so apparently they all had the day off. Several of them were standing outside on the boardwalk when we exited our cabin for the 1st time to go load up the car. They saw us & the kids & fell silent immediately. It was super awkward. We’re super friendly, super chatting people & love getting to know locals. But there was a really weird vibe with this group.

Our cabin wasn’t all that secure, it had glass front doors, slatted wooden windows, some had bars on the outside, some did not. We knew if anyone wanted to they could get in one way or another. There was a safe, but it easily could’ve been ripped off the closet wall & cracked open later. So we took all our valuables with us for the day (cash, passports, computers). As soon as we got in the car & off the property my Hubby admitted he was totally sketched out by the situation. We spent several hours at the beach & talked it over & decided we would go back, pack up & get outta’ there. We weren’t sure what kind of scene we would find when we returned, but we were both super nervous pulling back in. We decided that our safety was worth way more than the $400 we may forfeit for our week there. I would write the owner of the property later & try to get a refund, but knew he could absolutely say no. On our way back to the property there was a car hastily parked about 30′ off the road, straight into the tall savannah grass. It seemed like a stolen car scene, like driven off the road & abandoned. Seriously, the grass is a good 15′ tall around it. Where were the people? Nowhere to be seen. This was about 1/2 mile from the cabins. We were super nervous approaching the property, it made me even more uneasy to see how uncomfortable my Hubby was about it, we were both really sweating the situation. But we were also trying to not freak our kids out too much. We told them we had decided it wasn’t the safest of spots for us & our safety was worth more than anything, so we were going to pack up & find a new spot. They were super bummed to leave their new friend Stephanie, we had thought we’d have a week together & it turned out to just be one night, which is why I’m so grateful we had that dinner together! Thank goodness, we got back & the neighbors were not there, phewww. Still, we packed up in minutes flat, went & said bye to our Mayan friends, they were visibly sad that we were leaving but the Mama admitted she was very uneasy about the situation too, and that the lady was scheduled to be there for the entire week as we were. She also said this was a 1st in her 2 years on the property, nothing like this had happened before. On our way out, maybe 15 min later, that car was gone, which made it even weirder than ever!

There were plenty of hotels available in Hopkins, we stayed at the nice B & B with a pool & slide pictured below. I wrote the owner of the property via VRBO & he immediately agreed to a refund minus the booking fees ($350 out of $400, but we had also spent 1 night there). He agreed it was a bad situation & he was not happy, he knew he would have to change the locks after she left as it was a self check-in deal, he gave us a code to get the key to help ourselves in. There is no Amazon delivery to Belize, parts can be difficult to come by, so changing the locks was going to be a big deal to him. He had his local property manager come meet me at the B & B we were at & gave the refund to me in Belize cash (the owner lived in FL). We all agreed that we hoped we were over-reacting to the situation & that no harm would come of it, especially to the gal partying with 8 men, but they totally got why we were uneasy. They felt bad, we felt bad, the locals who lived on the property felt bad. But I slept much better that night, in the safety of a hotel in town vs out at the end of that dead end road.

It was a good reminder to me when I’m booking properties: dead end, secluded properties in Belize really aren’t the best idea. It was super cheap ($400 for 7 nights), on the banks of a river that boasted great fishing, and jumped out at me as a nice, quiet fishing spot. It was about a 10min drive from town, I thought it sounded lovely. But the reality also was that we could be murdered & thrown in the river, eaten by crocodiles & never seen again. Over-reacting, yes, likely. But again, you just listen to your Mama gut always, especially when traveling.

Okay, let’s look at some of the places we stayed:

Below is our place in Orange Walk (the north), it came in at $112/night. It had a full kitchen (very sparsely stocked with utensils & absolutely nothing in terms of herbs/spices, etc, we had to start from scratch), a decent queen size bed downstairs that the kids & I claimed, and my Hubby slept upstairs. I’m not a fan of ladders & this one was definitely treacherous. But there was also a nice upstairs balcony. This place was ~50′ from the New River, where my guys spent a lot of time fishing, and where we hopped on a boat to go to Lamanai.

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Next we we were to spend a week at a rustic cabin on a nature preserve outside of Hopkins. We spent 1 night there, and you read above about why we bailed from there. We spent 2 nights at this Bed & Breakfast (in Hopkins) instead, and loved our stay there. The room just had a mini-fridge in it but there was an upstairs common area for all to use, and it was totally stocked with all utensils, oils, spices, etc that we needed to cook any meal we wanted. There was also an ice machine so we could make our own smoothies and fill our cooler before we left, which was a pretty big deal, ice isn’t easy to come by. We were able to put a bag of food in the fridge & not have anyone touch it. They served breakfast daily which was quite good, waffles or pancakes, eggs a few different ways, sausage or bacon, lots of fruit, juice, coffee. I normally am not much of a breakfast eater, but when it’s included in the price of our room I will eat & then am set until much later in the day. Then for lunch the mother-in-law of the place offered a different home-cooked meal daily for just $5USD, and it was super, super good. We only had it once (we only stayed there 2 nights) but it was stewed chicken (basically slow cooked, with a bunch of great seasonings), mashed potatoes, coleslaw, a homemade roll, and a piece of chocolate cake. For $5! This place had a fun pool with waterslide too, and the beach here was fabulous also.

That was our room, as close to the pool as we could possibly be. And the weather was absolutely perfect the couple days we were there. This was $150/night, but again, breakfast for free for the 4 of us which adds up. It had a king size bed (yes, finally!) and a couch for my Hubby 🙂

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It had a fun little side pool that my daughter spent hours in, while the guys fished & I soaked up some sun next to her or played in the pool with her.

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Free to use kitchen, put everything back where you found it, loved it!

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From there we drove another 45ish minutes south to Placencia, where we spent 7 nights. This was not cheap, $150/night. But it was right on the beach, and Placencia has the nicest beaches in the country. There was a dock for my guys to fish from, and they provided several meals of fresh caught Jack (maybe my favorite fish I’ve tried). Pools are pretty rare in Belize, especially something of this scale. Usually if there is a pool on location, it is pretty tiny. The kids had soooooooo much fun in this pool. The left side was 2′ deep for the length of it, great for young kids. The middle with the chairs was 7″, then it dipped to 4″, with a swim-up bar, the 1st I’ve seen in Belize. We had lobster ceviche & delicious drinks at that bar more than once.

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I loved how vibrant our room was. They use flowers from on the property to decorate the room:

And the artwork on the walls gave the place such a gorgeous, vibrant feel. This is one thing I simply adore about Caribbean cultures, the colors. You’ll see homes painted fuchsia pink, bright blue, turquoise. Back home, I see entire communities all looking exactly the same, every, single house is the same shade of grey, brown, BLAHHHH!

From Placencia we traveled up to San Ignacio in the very west of the country, about 6 miles from the Guatemalan border. We returned to the place we spent a week last year, for the sole purpose of going to Tikal which we didn’t make it to last year. We did have a kitchen when we stayed last year, but those rooms were all sold out when I booked for this year so we had nothing more than a mini-fridge. But I was happy we were able to push the 2 queen beds together to make for a nice, comfy spot for the 4 of us to sleep. We were here for 3 nights, it does have a nice pool & we love the restaurant next door which has cheap, good, local food & an awesome play ground, the kids played nightly with a whole bunch of different kids. $405/3 nights.

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From San Ignacio we went back to Belize City, to the airport, to drop off the rental car. Then we took a taxi to the water taxi site where we hopped on the boat to Caye Caulker. It’s an hour by boat.

Caye Caulker: our home for our final 11 nights, so happy to have a full kitchen again. We spent 4 nights here last year (on Caulker, not this place), and just knew it was a gem, we couldn’t wait to return. This was $150/night.20190121_183327.jpg

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One challenge while traveling is the fact that I bed share with my kiddos still. We have a super awesome, king size bed that we share at home. But we always have to get creative while traveling. Most of the time we’re able to push 2 beds together. This place had 3 bedrooms, so we moved the double bed from 1 room into the largest room next to the other bed, and viola, plenty of space! Messy bed photo below 🙂

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My guys spent mornings & evenings fishing from the piers. The caught us several meals of barracuda & snapper mainly,  it was excellent eating! The kids loved playing “scientists” by examining ocean life. My Son saw so much from the docks while he was fishing that he was scared to swim in the ocean: jelly fish, sting rays, eels… We always wore swim shoes to try to minimize the danger of stepping on something.

 

Main  Street, Caye Caulker. I miss the sounds, smells, and sights already. There was a man who bellowed out: Hotttttttt tammmmmmales all day, every day. I even heard him while sitting on the hammock of our place many, many blocks removed from the main street. All roads are dirt, so if it can be dusty. When it does rain, it’s very slippery walking, almost like ice.

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My daughter & I were happy to collect shells, play in the sand, walk along the beaches, it never got old! Sea shells galore, nothing huge, lots of tiny ones. But I just love looking through piles of them!

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You can rent paddle boards by the hour for $10. It served mainly as a diving board, but they had fun with it!

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We spent quite a bit of time in hammock village.DSCN0357

Sunsets never, ever get old! Caye Caulker had a nightly gathering to watch the sunset at the Split. A few nights/week they had live music, and a bonfire even! Nothing like standing next to a bonfire on a tropical island!

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It was really important to me to let the locals know that not all tourists, especially Americans, are loud, rowdy & obnoxious. That some of us are genuine & compassionate. 4 days a week, 3 catamarans from the mainland with cruise ship passengers would come dock on Caye Caulker. They had exactly 2 hrs to spend on the island. 90% of the people getting off the boats at noon were wasted drunk. Like seriously, stumbling, loud, obnoxious. We befriended a vendor who had 1 backpack of goods to his name, and a bike. When he 1st approached us to try to sell his goods we kindly said no thank you, we had bought our trinkets already & really didn’t need any more. He thanked us for acknowledging him. He said so often, people either look the other way, look through him, and just completely ignore him. Like he’s not even there.

I know it can get annoying when people are trying to sell you things, and you’re not interested. But I made damn sure that every, single time someone approached us or we walked by their stand, we kindly acknowledged them. Stopped to chat. Politely observed what they had to offer & nicely declined. We are all humans, and we all deserve that much respect. My Hubby ended up leaving a spare fishing rod & reel with the vendor on the bike I mentioned above. We saw him day after day. He stopped to fish with my guys, giving them tips for catching more fish. They all handline down there, seeing anyone with an actual rod is very rare. So while we didn’t buy anything from him, we left him a valuable gift & he was grinning ear to ear when he was given it. We cannot wait to go back to Caye Caulker again next year, and know we will be welcomed!

 

Adventures: I’ll re-share this FB post: Today was one of those days we’ll remember years from now. The unplanned, unknown adventure that just happens. We drove down to Placencia proper this morning, had gelato at Tutti Frutti’s, a must-stop according to many. It definitely was good! But we didn’t love Placencia, super crowded & touristy.

What to do? We remembered seeing some waterfall signs on our way down here from the north, and they weren’t too far. It was super cloudy & cool for the 1st time today, we knew rain was imminent & there was talk of just going back to the hotel to nap & be lazy. But we thought hiking sounded like a great idea on a day like today vs a super hot sunny day like most are. So we went for it! We got there & drove out the dirt road to the waterfall spot & there were no other cars there. It started sprinkling, but it felt good. We made the 20 min hike through the jungle, admiring the flora along the way. We got out there & it was just gorgeous, and just us. Then it started pouring, and it felt so, so good. There we were, just my family, swimming in a mountain stream, in the pouring rain, in the jungle, near a very small Mayan ruins site. It was so precious.

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There was a restaurant on site on our way out from the waterfalls so we decided to have a late lunch. A couple things: just when you count on all prices being advertised in Belize dollars, they threw us a curve ball & prices were in USD. This was the one & only time this happened to us, and I wasn’t too happy about it. Normally you’d see something listed at $20 & know that was Belize dollars, so it was only $10USD. That makes a pretty big difference! I was really craving some greenery so decided to go with a ceaser salad for my lunch, and this was the one & only time during our month stay that I had belly issues later that night, I had to stick close to the toilet for several hours. But it wasn’t terrible, and the next morning I was fine, but it gave me a scare. I had joked about our recalled romaine lettuce being sent down there, and later regretted joking about it! Other than those few hours of upset tummy for me, no one had the slightest issue all month!

Blue Hole (not the one in the ocean that divers flock to off Ambergris Caye),  this is just down the road from St. Herman’s Cave. We stopped here last year but were driving by on our way from Placencia back up to San Ignacio so decided to stop in for a dip! My kids have totally turned into little minnows!

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Rio Frio Cave: This is south of San Ignacio, where we stayed for 3 nights to visit Tikal. We visited some waterfalls in the area last year, this spot was just a little further down the road from there. This basically was a huge cavern, you could see daylight on both ends so it didn’t make me nervous like the ones you truly go down into & count on your flashlight to keep you safe. The kids loved exploring here!

 

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Rio on Pools, up the road from Rio Frio cave. We visited last year but were happy to spend a few hours there again this year. It reminds us of Northern WI: granite rocks, pine trees, yet there are also palm trees & mountains, quite the mix!

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Driving through the Mayan Mountains was by far our favorite drive! This is the drive south from Belmopan to Hopkins/Placencia on the Southern Highway. Reminded me a lot of Costa Rica!

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A tiny little mountain town:

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Several one lane bridges still. You just pull over & wait your turn. Yes, I will wait until the bus passes!

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Orange groves for many, many acres. Again, the clouds + the mountains= paradise. My Hubby & I both loved our time in the Mayan moutains very much!20190118_114411

Coca Cola is  a national treasure pretty much anywhere south of the US border. I feel this pic sums it up nicely. Middle of nowhere, in the mountains, yet there is a Coca Cola delivery truck!20190118_114434

Some of the best road in country for sure. You get off it, you’re on dirt.20190118_114948

Hopkins area: savannah with the Mayan Mountains in the background= gorgeous! The clouds seemed surreal almost, not just this day, but most days!20190114_110200

Snorkeling, off Caye Caulker. I really enjoyed this day. the water was a bit choppy, so I stayed on the boat with my daughter while my Hubby & Son hopped in the water. We still gawked at the unbelievable color of the water, and were able to see the nurse sharks & rays from the boat. We made several stops: at coral gardens, shark ray alley (nurse sharks, harmless), and then a huge rock outcropping that was full of ocean life. We also went to a spot that we were able to observe sea horses and feed tarpons out of our hands. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the captain while the others swam. He was a true local, born on the island when it was just 2 blocks deep, and the rest was mangrove. He had great stories to tell, and I loved hearing them. And we saw him multiple times throughout the rest of the our stay & always stopped to chat. He also gave us his phone number in case we wanted to get hooked up with seafood at local prices instead of tourist prices. We could’ve purchased whole lobster for $7US vs $20 that the restaurant would charge. I just didn’t have the right tools in the kitchen to properly cook them so declined. The restaurant steams them 1st, then grills them, this helps the meat release from the shell. I had neither of those tools to use at our place.

Below: rays on the left, nurse sharks on the right.

 

 

 

FOOD: *note that there is a 12.5% sales tax, some places add it in to the listed price, some add it at the end. This is an area where your budget can vary widely. You can eat super cheap, or spend a lot on food. We tried to split the difference. We’d eat out & have a pretty big bill, then try to eat in & cheaply for a few days. As a family of 4, it adds up. My 8 year old Son is nicknamed PacMan, he can pack it in for sure. He also has developed a love for lobster, so he’s not a cheap date. My daughter lives on chicken strips (when eating out). I decided to not worry about what we were spending on food, and to just order whatever we wanted & enjoy the heck out of it. And yes, our grocery & dining out bill ended up being so much more than what we would spend if we were home for a month. But we ate a LOT of lobster. Reminder that we live in WI, so seafood is a rare treat, especially lobster. I hated seafood until my 20’s, really came to love it in my 30’s. And now, I looooove it. I ate lobster so many different ways. Lobster tacos multiple times, multiple ways, always amazingly delish,. Lobster flatbread, which really was like a pizza, whole lobster with twice baked potato, lobster ceviche, lobster curry (one of my absolute favorites), lobster mac-n-cheese. MMMMMMmmmmm, I’m getting hungry while typing this & looking at the pics!

 

Below, more lobster tacos, they were just so dang good! The thought occurred to me to take a photo when I was almost done with my last taco. Homemade on location corn tortillas, amazing homemade mole sauce, pico de gallo, hot sauce, onions, $8 USD for the platter of 5 of them. YUMMMM!

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Local favorites:

Garnaches are an absolute favorite of mine, not just because they’re super cheap, but because they’re super delish & I will absolutely be making them back home! I remembered them from last year at a place we returned to this year, below is my platter that cost me $3USD! A crispy corn tortilla, refried beans, chicken, a coleslaw kinda’ mixture, cheese, hot sauce to dump on to your liking. So, sooooo good! $3!!!!!

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Below is the house specialty in a local restaurant we went to: pork pibil. That means super slow roasted, in banana leaves, underground according to legend. I’m not sure how much of that is accurate these days. But it was good for sure.  A bit greasy, and could’ve used some cilantro, in my opinion. Also, empanadas which are basically little hot pockets stuffed with either chicken, fish, beans. They’re quite yummy too!

 

 

Left= shrimp curry. I rekindled my love of curry on this trip. I don’t have a pic of the lobster curry I ate out at the end of a dock one night, but it was one of my favorite meals of the trip. Sooooo tummy. Bottom right, a Coco Loco, during happy hour it was $10USD for this drink (the coconut full & the cupful). The bartender took such pride in making & presenting his beverages. All flowers were snipped from the property, as were the coconuts used in the drinks!

 

 

Below= some dang good pizzas we made at the B & B we stayed at. They provided a really good breakfast for free, gave you the option for a super cheap, local meal at lunch time, and you had free reign of the kitchen at any point during the day. Flat bread pizza, with cheese from WI!!!!

 

Below are fish tacos with pineapple (Red Snapper is the fish you’ll get 98% of the time). Fish+ pineapple+ cilantro= SO DELISH! 20190114_134400

Below is a favorite meal, because my Son & Hubby caught the fish. I only had a 2 burner to work with, but it turned out so, so good. The harder you work for something, the more enjoyable it seems to be!

Delicious drinks at every turn too. From flavored water, to pina coladas made with, and served in, the whole pineapple!

Below was one of my (and the kids) favorite meals. We befriended the Mayan caretakers of the property immediately. It was a very secluded, remote location & they only had a bike so the Mama admitted they very rarely made it to town, and most who stayed at this location, known as a nature preserve didn’t have kids. They hadn’t seen kids in many months actually. The little girl, Stephanie (same name as my Mom), was 4. She got so, so excited as soon as she saw my kiddos & they immediately took to playing, 1st chasing around the dog of the property, then kicking around a ball, playing tag, eventually they asked if she could come in & play. It was a gradual process of allowing her & her Mom to come in onto our screened-in porch to color, then inside our cabin, and before long the kids were jumping on the bed & building forts while we sat at the table & had coffee with her Mom.

We had several fish to cook that night, that we had brought with us from Placencia. My daughter had not been able to get enough of the fish, she just loved it, and tonight was going to be the night that we feasted & she was going to be able to eat as much as her little belly desired. But they begged me to invite Stephanie & her Mom. We had just met them a couple hours prior, and I felt awkward inviting them in. It seemed a bit soon for a dinner date. Her Mom asked if I had found tortillas in town, I hadn’t, the Chinese store owner acted like she had never heard of them. Stephanie’s Mom left for a bit & the kids played while I cooked dinner. No words had been spoken about sharing dinner, but it just came together. I had put together a tossed salad, boiled some sweet corn, and fried the fish. Stephanie’s Mom showed up with freshly made flour tortillas, just as her husband Juan returned from work & we all sat down at the table together & enjoyed fish tacos.

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Afterwards the guys went & did some night fishing on the dock outside. Stephanie’s Mom (Lucinda) and I did the dishes & cleaned up, and my daughter & Stephanie ran around & played like crazy girls. There was so much laughing, squealing, jumping on beds (a lamp was kicked over & the bulb broke, a true sign of a good time). We said good night & as I was laying down with my kids at the end of the night my daughter said: Mom, I didn’t understand a word she said (she spoke Mayan, very little English). And I said: it doesn’t matter, you can still have fun without speaking the same language. And it’s true, this is our 3rd year of traveling outside of the U.S, and each year it has proven true. My kids have been able to play with other kids that they do not share the same language with. There is a common language among kids, and it’s so beautiful.

RUINS: Last year we went to 2 Mayan sites, this year we went to five more! The kids honestly were burned out on them. But I never could be! There are no words to describe what it feels like to visit these sacred, ancient Mayan sites. We visited 2 much smaller sites that were previously unheard of to me, but just being there & putting my hands on the stones that still exist today, that were laid there by the hands of a human long, long gone, it’s just such an amazing feeling! It is $5/person to get in when you show up on your own, show up as part of a tour & it’ll surely cost you much more.

Our 2nd day in country we went to Lamanai. It previously was only accessible by boat (2 hr ride), there is now a 28 mile, pothole-laden road if you want to go that route. We chose the boat which we boarded 50′ from our cabana in Orange Walk. The boat ride was so much fun itself, our guide stopped numerous times to point out wildlife. Here’s my Son jotting down notes on what we saw in his travel journal:

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The thing that most blew my mind about Lamanai is we got to walk by/on 6 out of 800, yes 8 HUNDRED structures there, many still being unearthed. This is what is so intriguing to me, the unearthing of the Mayan ruins in Belize is still in its infancy!

 

Below: About an hour south of Lamanai is Altun Ha, we hopped in our car & drove to check it out the day after Lamanai. These ruins are on the label on Belikin Beer.

 

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Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun, an hour south of Placencia. One fascinating fact about Nim Li Punit is that the largest stela in the country were found there, and very well preserved. Stela are like pages from books. They recorded important events. They found numerous stela at this site, something other sites did not produce (maybe lost to weather & time). They are AMAZING to look at. They were not replicas, they were the real deal:

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Below we are standing on the central spot for their ball court. Almost every Mayan ruin site features a ball court, some way larger than others. But they all differ slightly! They made a ball from the sap of the rubber tree, this thing was like 8# or so, and it was kinda’ like soccer. You could use your elbows & hips only, to try to get this suuuper heavy ball through some hoops many feet up in the air. Legend differs, some say the captain of the winning team was sacrificed, some say it was the losing team, no one knows for sure. What is for sure is they took this game pretty seriously. (as you can see, my family members like Crocs)…

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There were huge differences in construction from site to site. These 2 sites in the south did not use mortar, they just stacked the rocks. And due to that, many of the buildings are in complete ruin, just a pile of bricks. But they are still super cool.

 

 

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Tikal, the grand finale, and rightfully so: mind. blown.

Below, crossing the Guatemalan border.

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We were picked up in a small van at our hotel ~6 miles from the border. It was my family & a couple who turned out to be from Chicago. We drove to the border, parked on the Belize side. Got out, walked through the immigration & customs windows, boarded a different van on the Guatemalan side, with our original guide still, but a new driver. Then we reversed the process on the return. It was definitely interesting. The $4oo we paid to go to Tikal included border crossing fees, admittance to the park, and lunch.

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Guatemala is a VERY heavily armed country. Not easy to get used to…

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2 hr drive into Guatemala to get to Tikal, but gorgeous scenery. I can’t remember the name of this lake, but it’s huge, and gorgeous.20190119_092254

Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage site. They’re allowed to restore no more than 25% of each structure, to keep them from completely crumbling, but also to keep them as authentic as possible. So the brighter white mortar you see is that.

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There are no words to describe the feeling of coming around a corner on your walk & seeing this sticking out of the canopy. It TRULY is breathtaking!

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Again: Breath. Taking. This was the view from the top of one of the temples.

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Many of the sites are still being reclaimed from the jungle. It can take years to properly, carefully, unearth these buildings. There are trees growing out of them, their roots penetrating deep into the rocks. It is a slow, steady, continual process. If I could choose an alternative career right now, it would be working on these sites, it fascinates me to no end! I’m hoping maybe this early influence on my kiddos will leave a lasting impression & maybe they’ll make a career out of it 🙂 A Mama can dream, right?!

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Some ruins you’re allowed to climb right on, but when thousands of people/day do that, it contributes to the erosion of the stone. So at Tikal & some others they’ve built staircases to get you up to the top without actually climbing the structure itself. Good exercise!!

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From there:

We traded in our Isuzu turbo diesel for a golf cart on Caye Caulker. One thing to note is gas is ~$5/gal, US prices. Diesel is cheaper than unleaded, but not by much. It was $350 to rent the golf cart for 12 days, the island is small enough that you could walk everywhere if you wanted to eliminate this expense. Other options are renting bicycles, our kids are just a bit young for that but in the coming years that will absolutely be what we choose. Also you can call a taxi golf cart & go anywhere on the island for $5. It really was handy as the guys would go fishing on the other side of the island in the morning & evening. We could cruise back to our place quickly to grab food or beverages. But it’s not 100% essential to life on the island. My Hubby & I both picked others up many times, when we didn’t have anyone in back. You’d see people who had obviously just gotten off the boat, leaded down with their backpacks, walking to a hostel, and they were happy to accept a ride. It was a fun way to meet new people & they were always grateful for a lift.

 

EXPENSES: So, what did this all cost, and how did we afford it?! Right around $10,000, which is a LOT of money. My Hubby & I split all bills in 1/2, so $5,000 each, for a month of memories with our family= PRICELESS!! This includes airfare & checked baggage fees, rental car on the mainland & golf cart on the island (we weren’t without wheels our entire stay), taxi & water taxi from airport to island, food (eating out & groceries), excursions (ruins, snorkeling), souvenirs. How we make this work? Basically, we live simply back here in WI. I bought my house when I was 21, and made my last mortgage payment a couple years ago, at age 37. So we have no mortgage. We don’t buy vehicles unless we can afford them in cash. My hubby is an amazing mechanic so will pick up a Subaru Outback, for example, with high miles & needing some work, for $1500. He’ll fix it up, and we’ll drive it for years. We made our most expensive vehicle purchase in years recently, $3500 for a suuuuuper loaded van (heated seats, sunroof, DVD players in back for the kids, totally loaded, but high miles), with a hitch, so we can pull our pop-up camper to do all of our summer camping this year. For us, that is an expensive vehicle. But this is all thanks to the fact that my Hubby can maintain them. We watch expenses. There have been many times I’ve been close to checking out with an item in a cart & stopped myself. Do I REALLY need this, or do I just want it. Usually it’s a want. I DARE you to go through the last year, or 2, of your Amazon purchases & list wants vs needs, and see how much you might possibly have been able to do without. I also am a huge 2nd hand shopper, it is super rare for me to buy anything new. I go to thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, Ebay, and save a lot of money vs buying new. And I feel good about reusing items vs purchasing new, it’s more eco-friendly. I also focus on reusable items. Sure something might have a higher price tag up front, but if you can reuse it over & over, it saves you in the long run!

My Hubby & I both work MULTIPLE jobs to make ends meet. I help my Dad in his greenhouse business every spring, from mid-April until the beginning of June I work every, single day, usually 3-6 hrs depending what needs to be done, but 7 days/week! We are both committed to raising our children without day care, they’ve never gone a day in their lives, and being creative. We file multiple 1099’s each year. We are a great example of thinking outside of the box to make ends meet, something that not everyone is able to do. Most of the people we grew up with here in rural WI moved away after high school, for “real” jobs in the city. Yes, they might be making big bucks, but likely are not enjoying the quality of life we are. I guarantee there are people earning 2, 4, 10x what we earn annually, who would say they could not afford this vacation. It’s simply a matter of choices. We do a lot of camping throughout the year, which is great, quality family time, and very cheap. We don’t smoke, we don’t go out to bars, our largest expense is our monthly grocery bill.

A major factor in making these expenses possible is chipping  away at them throughout the year.  I book all of our lodging through Air BNB (mostly, 1 was through VRBO). I book my lodging 1st. I started booking places in May, and had finished by July.  I’ve found that I save money by doing it so early. I’ve had several property owners let me know the price I’m seeing in May is actually the low season quote, but since that’s what it’s showing they give it to me. If you wait until Oct-Nov to book, you’re going to pay more, the high season prices. The general rule of thumb for booking airfares (at least the advice I’ve been given) is: 1 month in advance for domestic, 2-3 months in advance for international. And indeed, I booked our airfare in early October.

I had hoped to use my 100,000+ American Airlines miles I had saved up all year for our plane tickets. I was super disappointed that there were plenty of options for flights when I was doing a general search, but when I selected the tab that said I wanted to redeem miles, it narrowed that to ONE FLIGHT! No joke. And that flight had a 12 hr overnight layover in Dallas. I considered taking it, and getting a hotel room in Dallas for the night, but then decided that was ridiculous! It made me very frustrated, but I ended up using those miles to cover most of the 17 days of car rental, so it worked out. I found a much better deal on airfare vs last year: $1400 vs $2600 last year. That was part of my realization that we needed to stay as long as possible. Getting there is a huge chunk of the budget. You can stay a week, or stay a month, airfare is still the same! I have now switched to a way more flexible credit card that you can use the miles on a huge varitey of flights, or cash them out. EVERYTHING goes on there, then gets paid off immediately.

Some spend thousands of dollars on Christmas. Not me! This year more than ever I decided to reign in my spending & most of the gifts they received were related to things they could use on our trip: snorkel/goggles, new swim suits, shell collecting bags, books. Then, out of nowhere, my daughter woke up vomiting in the wee hours of Christmas Eve. My Son followed 24 hrs later, then my Hubby. I, of course, did not get it, but they were all super miserable for 24 hrs. All of our Christmas with family (I was going to host this year) got canceled. I was thankful this all happened a week before our trip, they got it out of the way. But all of us walked away from the experience feeling like Christmas was cursed. Like maybe we should just skip it going forward. Personally, I’m moving more towards celebrating the Solstice, and the New Year. We’re looking to make new traditions next year, and all are on board!

We have $0 in credit card debt. We use our credit card for everything, to get the points & use them for travel, but we pay it off every month. If we can’t afford it, we don’t purchase it.  We have very, very little personal debt (student loans in Income Based Repayment Plans). I also am not sticking a bunch of money into IRA’s, the Stock Market, or other retirement plans. Yes, that $10,000 could’ve went into a retirement account, that’s not my thing. I could write a whole separate essay on this, but I have seen way too many people save, save, save for retirement, only to die of cancer, or a heart attack, before they get to enjoy that money. I recently was chatting with a Mama via my inbox who has stage 4 breast cancer, she’s younger than me, with 4 kids (the youngest is 3). Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us, and I sure the heck am not living for tomorrow. I live for the now, and don’t really worry/think about 10-20 years from now so much. Being we own our home, and know how to raise a garden & hunt wild game, I know that no matter what, we will survive, with, or without a huge IRA. So there’s that. I know others reading this would likely have stuck away the money we spent on this trip, saving it for their future. That’s up to you!

I always appreciate perspective, so will share this comparison. My favorite band (Widespread Panic) plays for 4 nights on a beach in Riviera Maya every  year, 8 years running now (a few years were in the Dominican). They were there while I was in Belize, I was soooo close yet so far away! I followed a thread regarding peoples budgets for this 4 night event. Many fly down for just those 4 days, some go a couple days early. On the low end, people reported a $2500 budget for just the 4 days, on the high end people reported $8000/couple for 4 days. And many have not missed one out of the 8 that have been held, and report they would go at any cost.

2 years ago we did our 1st trip south of the border, to Mexico. And I went all out & booked a very nice all-inclusive for 4 nights. It was $400/night, I’m still surprised at myself that I sprung for it, so $1600 for 4 nights, but we didn’t have to spend a dime on anything inside, there were 4 restaurants on the property, it was divine.

At the opposite end, you can also find beach bungalows for $40/night, you might have a hot plate & mini-fridge, if you’re lucky. You can eat rice, beans & stewed chicken for a few bucks. So you really can do this to fit any budget & lifestyle. I feel like we choose the middle ground. Not super fancy or all-inclusive, but I have to have a kitchen, AC (it can get HOT mid-day), and we want to be comfy. Our lodging bill came in at just a little over $4000 for 30 nights (including the hotel stay on each end of the trip).

I booked all our stays through Air BNB, 1 via VRBO. It is good to check both, I’ve found VRBO to have a lot more hidden service charges that don’t pop up until the end. A couple things the kids love about traveling: we don’t have cable at home, nor a microwave. So microwave popcorn while watching TV is a huge, huge hit with them.

Some random tidbits that didn’t fit the above categories:

When you can’t find any beach toys, you get creative. We hit up the kitchen aisle at the local “super” market (a bit of everything), and found these buckets, bowls, and ice cream scoopers. Regular ol’ plastic cups go a long way too!

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I got braids! It’ll be nice & relaxing I thought, you know, it feels good when someone else does your hair. WRONG. It hurt super bad, she wrenched on them harder than I thought possible. On the 1st of 6 I almost said nevermind. Just a PSA if you’re ever thinking of getting yours done.

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They lasted little over 24 hrs, based on the advice I got in my closed group (migraines, hair breaking & falling out) I decided to take them out. They cost $15USD, no reason to leave them in. My kids helped me take them out the following day, insisting I looked so beautiful with them, then with my suuuuper frizzy hair after taking them out. NEVER again! A swim in the ocean & all was back to normal!

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Laundry. I handwashed a few loads in our sink & hung it out in the sun or put it in front of fans in our room, with AC running items would dry out pretty quickly. I located a laundromat on Caulker at the end of our stay, previously I had only seen drop-off spots. I don’t know why, but dropping our dirty laundry off with someone, and seeing our undies hung out on their lines to dry, just makes me uncomfy:

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We live in a small, small world. We have run into the same people in Belize, on opposite sides of this super small country. But NOTHING can prepare you for sitting at a restaurant, on an island an hour out from the mainland, and seeing a familiar face from back home. Not just any familiar face, but your family doc. Indescribable. I adore this woman so much, she has always been an inspiration to me. She homeschooled her 2 kids who are now in college, doing super great. She backpacked to Machu Picchu with them when they were teens. She volunteered to go to Africa during the ebola crisis a few years ago. She is a hero of mine, and there she appeared. I’ve always wanted to see her outside of the clinic where I usually see her, and suddenly I had my chance. I took my Hubby & kids back to our home, and went back to spend a couple of hours with her on a dock outside where she was staying, she was only there 2 nights, and was leaving the next morning. We observed the unbelievable night sky, above an amazing night ocean, and had great conversation that I was sad to have to end. Then we parted ways & said: see you back home. Life. Is. AMAZING!!!

Back home: We missed the polar vortex! But leaving our home for a month, especially in the middle of winter, does have concerns.

Last year we came home to a frozen drainfield. When we’re home we use wood to heat our home, but we do have an LP furnace for backup. My Hubby realized that the condensation that dripped from our furnace was the issue last year, it was such a slow drip that it had time to freeze. So this year we shut all the water off coming into the house, put a bucket under the furnace to catch the condensation there, and left our furnace at 65, higher than last year, to try to keep the house warm. My father-in-law came over a couple times/week to check on everything too, and to monitor our Lp level as we have our own tank & knew the furnace probably was running pretty much non-stop. It had been a pretty mellow winter up until mid-Jan, when temps plummeted below zero & then there was a “polar vortex”, the coldest temps WI had seen in at least 20 years, which is the age of my house. So yes, we were nervous, our house had not been through anything this drastic, and no humans were there to see it through. And indeed, we did need to call & get a tank refill a week before we got back, so I’m so thankful we had someone to monitor it.

What we came home to: all was well! My father-in-law had kindly shoveled a path up our driveway so we could get to our front door, there was 2′ of snow on the ground that wasn’t there when we left. We turned the water back on room by room, for little periods of time, to make sure all drains were working & nothing backed up. Everything worked, yay! That was a huge relief!

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The only thing that had happened was we fattened up some mice. Living out in the country, mice are constantly moving in, and my Hubby always has multiple traps out nightly, we catch a lot of them. Of course we couldn’t leave any set while we were gone, but we tried to make sure we had everything shut up tightly, I store all my bulk goods in glass anyway. We thought we had closed all cupboards tightly so nothing could get inside them but 1 cupboard apparently wasn’t tightly shut, it’s one we keep snacks in & I’m assuming one of us went for a last snack & it just didn’t get shut completely tight. We came home to bags of almonds & pistachio bags gnawed through, and found almonds scattered to all corners of the house. The mice we’ve caught since we have been back are very plump indeed. But, if that’s the worst of leaving our house for a month, I’m happy!

 

Okay, this is already SUPER lengthy. To wrap it up, here are my final thoughts…. Yes, it ended up being a lot of money to spend a month out of country. We had told ourselves that we would likely be satisfied with our time in country after this trip, and never return. There are so many places on this earth we want to explore, why go back to the same ones? As our plane was leaving the country, I could not control my tears. I looked over at my Hubby & expected some look of disbelief at how ridiculous I was at that moment, but instead got a head nod of understanding. He later admitted he felt the same as me, just no tears (you know, being a man & all). My kids never expressed missing home once, none of us wanted to leave. We do not know what 2020 will bring, but we all know we cannot fathom not coming back to this country.

And finally, for those that say how brave I am for traveling outside of the U.S with my kiddos, I’ll just leave you with this. Something I recently stumbled across in my newsfeed.

‘Beccie, Steve and their eleven children left behind life in rural Tasmania to take to the high seas on their 13-metre boat and now full-time home ‘Sumbawa’.
Three-day-old baby girl ‘Squeak’ is the first of the siblings to be born on the boat.
Here, they take a break from their travels, anchoring off Chinaman’s Beach in Sydney, Australia. February 2018.’

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I’d LOVE to know what questions, comments, concerns you have. What did I not address? What experiences do you have to share with us? Connect with me at: ecofriendlymamausa@gmail.com

Poofy Organics 1 day sale!!!

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In honor of the namesake of the company celebrating another trip around the sun tomorrow (Mariah’s nickname was Poofy as a young child), there will be a 1-day sale: 10% off orders tomorrow, 1/30 12:00 AM EST – 11:59 PM EST. Use code: SPREADLOVE. https://ecofriendlyusa.poofyorganics.com/
 
One thing that makes me love this company so much, as a woman myself, is supporting a fellow woman-owned business. Poofy was started by Kristina, in her basement, in an attempt to stay home with her Son instead of returning to teach college classes. It has taken her over a decade & more hard work than we know, to get Poofy to where it is today. I personally have never, ever been happier with all that Poofy stands for. Day in, Day out. This isn’t a fad, this is daily life for so many of us.
 
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MARIAH!!!!!

Vejibag Review

It’s so easy to get off track in holding true to our values & beliefs. It’s important to be able to take a step back & look at our lives from time to time and make sure we’re where we wanna’ be. Most of you know I’m very passionate about living as plastic-free as I possibly can. Over the last few months I’d resorted to buying those bagged salad mixes (organic of course), you know, they come with some crunchy things for the top, ususally some dried cranberries or pumpkin seeds, and a pack of salad dressing included. So convenient, no chopping of multiple things, and really tasty too, I was really digging them. I felt good about putting an organic salad on the table….

Until a few nights ago when I threw one together, then took a good look at the mound of plastic on my counter: 4 different plastic bags laying there, for 1 salad. NO MORE. I’ve banned myself from purchasing them.

(Pic below as an example, from Google images):

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Yesterday I shopped at my local food co-op & brought home a pile of fresh produce with 0 plastic bags, it just felt so much more in line with my beliefs.

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Vejibags came into my life at the perfect time for this plastic-reduction mission! I love what they are made from, and that it is truly a made in USA product from start to finish!! Made from: Undyed, Unbleached, 100% organic french terry cotton, grown by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, and hand sewn by employee-owned Opportunity Threads, in Valdese, North Carolina. There is nothing to not love about that!

How they work, in their words from their website: OUR ORGANIC COTTON KEEPS PRODUCE VIBRANT FOR UP TO TWO WEEKS WITHOUT PLASTIC. While conventional plastic bags and boxes suffocate vegetables by trapping stale air and ethylene gas, our damp cotton bag keeps moisture-loving vegetables alive and crisp in a high humidity, breathable environment. Just like cut flowers, vegetables need water to stay vibrant. The key to keeping veggies crisp is moisture. When damp, the cloth Vejibag keeps moisture-loving vegetables moist and crisp in a breathable but high humidity environment. Moisture slowly evaporates from the surface of the bag to circulate air and keep the vegetables “breathing.” The slightly moist environment of the bag keeps vegetables crisp far longer than vegetables stored in a plastic bag.

And indeed, they really truly do what they say! I’m super in love with my Vejibags! I prepped salad for the week on Sunday, we finished it up on  Thursday and it was as perfectly fresh as when I chopped it on Sunday! We had a salad nightly, on Tuesday we did taco pizza & I was able to just grab a handful & throw it on top & viola, done! I’m soooo happy to be cutting plastic out of this equation, saving money on the produce vs buying the pre-bagged salad mixes I had fallen into a rut of purchasing, and I know these bags will pay for themselves in no time!!

Below: top left= prepped salad for several days in the Standard Bag. Top right= a head of lettuce, a bunch of kale, a couple bell peppers, a couple cucumbers, the “bulk” veggies left after the salad prep was done. They will be used up in other meals throughout the week, this is the XL bag. The bowl in the front is an example of our nightly salad. The already chopped, mixed greens/veggies get topped with feta, pumpkin seeds that we roast ourselves, avocado, sprouts if we have them, then dressing of course.

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And to think, I just learned of these a few short weeks ago, thanks to a post in my closed group page on Fb, where I learn new stuff daily! https://www.facebook.com/groups/944480978913682/

A Facebook update I did: Tonight we finished up the salad that I prepped on Sunday. It’s Thursday, so that was 5 nights of salad. It looked absolutely as wonderful tonight as it did when I made it on Sunday. I’m a believer in the Vejibags 100%. Expensive yes, but any replacement to plastic is worth it to me!! I know I will be using these for years to come.

Below pic= what was left on Thu.

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The XL bag is HUGE. There are 2 heads of lettuce, 1 bunch of kale & parsley, 3 cukes & all the broccoli in here (from the above pic showing what I brought home from the food co-op plastic-free)!

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Below is my crisper drawer, the XL bag with all the above & the smaller ‘standard’ bag with the week’s prepped, chopped salad  both take up the entirely of 1 crisper drawer. The other has things like grapes & other fruit (one area hard to get away from plastic, I’ve never found raspberries for example that are not in a plastic clam shell). But, we do what we can, when we can, where we can. And being aware of plastic use is HUGE on my awareness agenda!

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These bags have become part of my daily life, and to think I just learned of them recently! Discovering new (to me), homegrown, organic, plastic-free goods will never, ever, EVER get old to me. I place so much value in what Vejibags have to offer, and want to encourage you to support them if your values align as well. These also make excellent gifts for that certain someone who seems to have everything. They likely don’t have 1 of these! https://www.vejibag.com/products/

Finally, thank YOU for taking the time to read my thoughts!

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