- Since we are a family of nine, with 4 children six years and younger, our main concern in planning a vacation is what will work for the little ones. When they are happy and in a save environment, we have a relaxed and restful vacation.
- For Christo and I, a vacation means getting out of the rat race, not rushing around from one activity to the next to entertain children and keep them busy. We want to take a break from the normal activities of home keeping. We don't want to drive a lot, clean the house, and do dishes and laundry all the time.
- For the children a vacation means to be on the beach as much as possible - a wide open beach for kite flying, golden sand to build sand castles and have imagination trips and lots of waves for boogie boarding.
- Brenton-on-Sea Cottages at Knysna's only beach, is an answer all the above expectations.
- Green grass in front of the cottage, provide a safe environment for little ones to play; I know the three bedroom cottage is big enough; the kitchen is equipped to our needs; the bathrooms are in good condition; the cottage is fully serviced once a day and clean towels and linen are supplied every day (my expectations are met and my little ones are happy and safe);
- By now, we know the best Laundromat in Knysna and we drop our washing their every second day (another expectation of mine is met);
- We don’t need to brainstorm every day to entertain our children; we don’t even need to drive the children to the beach every day. We just walk down to the beach (Christo’s expectations are met);
- The nearly 7km beach with only a few scattered rocks meets the children’s expectations.
- As a family we believe in healthy, good food - no junk food, which results in low energy and cranky MSG and sugar-high children. Therefore we draw up a menu for every day. This way we have the least effort in food preparing at the vacation;
We took along our bread machine (and 10kg spelt flour!), the espresso machine (and organic coffee beans) and our water filter.
- On our menu we plan everything. The food we eat with every meal, when we need to put ingredients in the bread machine for bread or buns or when we need to take meat out of the fridge to thaw for our daily braai. With small children we cannot afford to return back to our cottage, after 2-3 hours on the beach to find we don't have bread for lunch or the meat for the braai is still in the fridge (we don't use any microwave ovens).
- With a detailed menu it is so much easier to plan what we need for our vacation (I cannot function without lists). From the menu I made lists for buying groceries and what to pack. It also helps me not to pack unnecessary stuff. To pack a bus and trailer for nine people is no easy task and my husband trust me for only taking along the most needed stuff.
- We pack all our groceries in 25 l plastic containers. Christo finds it much easier to fit and handle the plastic containers into the bus and trailer, than cardboard boxes.
- I prefer to take everything we need for the first 3 days meals’ from home. We know from experience that the children don't want to make a trip to the supermarket on the first day of our vacation; they want to get to the beach!
- When we arrive at our destination, the menu is the first thing we stick up against a cupboard where everyone can see it. This way every family member (who can read) can check the menu and have equal responsibility to keep us to the menu.
- We enjoy spoiling the children with eat out once or twice, during the vacation. Since we don't eat junk food (MacDonald's, Kentucky or even the Spur - remember we don't need hyperactive children on our vacation, we want to enjoy our children and relax!) we are very fussy when choosing a restaurant.
- We've learned a few important things when choosing a restaurant. Firstly we prefer an Italian restaurant. The Italians just know how to prepare good food (without MSG and other junk) and we never have indigestion after real Italian food. You always receive good service at an Italian restaurant (very important to keep my husband happy and enjoying his food - he hates bad service!). The Italians know how to prepare real espresso (another preference from Christo) and a nice cappuccino (my preference). And last, but not the least, never go to an empty restaurant. So we've discovered a real Italian restaurant at the Knysna Waterfront six years ago. At Mario's you always have to book - for lunch, dinner as well as coffee, otherwise you will be disappointed with no seats available. They serve excellent coffee and the best pizzas. (Not to mention the owner, Mario’s always friendly face)
Preparation before leaving:
- I try to plan and sort out vacation clothes at least two weeks before we leave. If we do need any clothes for the vacation, I make the trip at least the week before we leave. I don’t need the extra stress of discovering one or two of the children don’t have swim suits or proper sandals the day before we leave.
- Four days before we leave, I start to focus on our vacation. No extra outings for that week, no visits, only the bare minimum in extra murals for the children and I plan to take only one trip to the grocery store.
- During the first day of this “four day focus time”, I make sure we have enough bags, suitcases and plastic containers to pack everything we need. I also plan who will share suitcases – Heidi-Mari and Danika; CJ and Josua; Christo and me; Andrew, David and Daniel.
- On the second day of my ‘focus time’, I finish all food that needs preparation. We have the tradition of taken along lamb kebabs (leg of lamb cut into cubes 2.5cm x 2.5 cm – 1 inch x 1 inch – marinated for 4days in a curry and onion marinade and then put on a wooden kebab stick) to braai for dinner on an open fire. We also take along a chicken pie and mince pie (convenient meals to just put in the oven for a quick supper or lunch).
- The third day we make sure all our vacation clothes are washed and ready for the next day to be packed in suitcases. From this day the children need to wear their oldest clothes – I don’t wash again before we leave; I also start to pack non-perishable products in our 25l containers.
- The day before we leave we pack our clothes and prepare the food we eat on our trip.
- The morning of departure we pack all the perishable food and frozen foods (meat, pies and kebabs).
Planning for our return:
- The day before we leave we clean the house. I certainly don't want to return from a relaxed holiday, only to walk into an untidy and dirty house. We vacuum the floors, wash the tiles and clean bathrooms.
- The night before we leave, I wash all dirty clothes in the laundry bin and towels and put it in the tumble dryer to dry. This way I only have the dirty clothes from our vacation when returning home, giving me a head start.
- The morning of our departure, I make sure we put all dishes in the dishwashing machine and switch it on.
- At home we take daily supplements and the same on our vacation. This is Christo’s department and he would take extra care to take make sure he packs enough of everything we take daily and also some supplements that we may need, including his specialised first aid kit.
- Supplements is essential to keep our bodies healthy and at the correct pH, this way vitamins, minerals and amino acids can be absorbed and especially help our brains function at an optimum level. On vacation we need to organize 7 very active, inquisitive children, in a foreign environment. We cannot afford losing it, because our brains cannot handle the pressure.
- We will also take extra supplements to help digestion of dairy and wheat products when we spoil the children with ice-cream, milkshakes and pizzas. We don’t want sinus due to the wheat and diary products.
- The moment we are all strapped into our seats, every one gets a turn to ask God’s Hand of protection over our vehicle and trailer, over Christo for safe driving to our destination and for the children to be patient and helpful with each other during the long drive.
- Seating the children is very important. Older ones, next to little ones, to keep them busy and help them with eating and drinking, to limit making a mess in the car and me playing musical chairs with a pregnant tummy, trying to keep every one happy.
- Regulating the children’s blood sugar levels are essential to happy, content children. The food is chosen, keeping in mind not to make a mess. That will be raisins, nuts, apples, buns, dried sausages – traditional to South Africa.
- I need to be prepared to help a little one ‘potty’ when there isn’t a stop in sight. Thus I will have a strong zip lock bag at hand, which is easy for boys to use in the car.
- Stops, either to fill up the bus with gas or go potty, is a real challenge since we have to balance the children’s need to get rid of build-up energy, with little ones’ needs to sleep as long as possible, when they do fall asleep.
Daily routine on our vacation:
- Although little ones enjoy a vacation due to the more relaxed atmosphere, it is not the safety of their home and unexpected surprises can upset them. We as parents cannot enjoy our vacation with stressed-out children.
- We do not plan a lot of activities per day, we keep the routine simple.
- We try as far as possible to keep the daily routine the same every day. This way the little ones know what to expect.
- We stick to our regular meal times, with healthy food they are used to.
- We keep the little ones to their nap times in the afternoon and to their normal sleeping time at night.
- While the little ones have their nap time, we plan special activities for the older children.
- As far as possible we do things together as a family.
- We will have breakfast, go to the beach, have a bath to wash off the sand, have lunch, nap time for little ones, go for a coffee and/or laundry/grocery trip, light up the fire for supper, braai, put little ones in bed, play a game with older children.
This is never an exciting day. To keep the vacation atmosphere as long as possible, we only pack the day of our return. We will make sure the children don’t have sugar treats the day before our return home, leaving us with seven hyperactive children in an eight passenger vehicle for six hours; On the day of our return we will get up early and have a light breakfast.
Then Christo and I and each of the older children will have a ‘department’ they are responsible for. Christo and Heidi-Mari will pack the kitchen, I will pack and sort out clothes, Josua and CJ will pick up everything in and around the cottage and clean the bus, Danika will look after the little ones and tend to their needs while every one else are busy.
On vacations I have the habit of using pillow cases for dirty laundry. The boys, girls, baby, Christo and I each have a pillow case in our cupboard for dirty laundry. The day before we leave for home, I will already have sorted out the dirty laundry in the three piles that I’m used to for my washing at home – light colours, mixed colours and dark colours – and will put it in different pillow cases. Thus we only put clean clothes in our suitcases. While Christo and CJ pack the vehicle and trailer, Heidi and I will prepare sandwiches for our trip. After everything is packed into the bus and trailer, we will have a last walk on the beach – only half an hour, but long enough to say goodbye to the waves. We try to leave still in the morning; it is a 6 hour drive home, less we have to drive into the dark evening, with tired, hungry children. I will plan again for food on our trip and unexpected potty needs. When we are all strapped into our vehicle, ready to leave, we will thank the Lord for a blessed vacation and ask for His protection on our journey home.
Making the ‘returning home’ as pleasant as possible:
Arriving at home after a nice vacation is not pleasant for any one, let alone for Mom. I therefore plan to make it as easy as possible, with the least stress possible. When we arrive at home, I immediately start to put washing, from the pillow cases, in my washing machine. This way I don’t dread the next morning of sorting out clean clothes from dirty clothes and take days to unpack suitcases. I make sure there is a dish in the freezer, to pop into the oven (NOT the microwave oven!) for a quick supper. Christo and CJ will unpack the bus and trailer and Heidi-Mari and I will start to unpack the plastic containers with kitchen stuff. Josua and Danika will put the little ones in the bath. After supper and with the little ones in bed, I only need to put the clean clothes from our suitcases, back into each one’s cupboard. The next morning almost everything is unpacked, and we just need to put away the plastic containers and suit cases and life can go on as normal. The worst part, for all of us, is to see dad drive off to work again….!