Paradise

Aloha!

We returned from our 5th Annual Summer Road Trip Vacation last week and now that I’ve had a few days to get the lawn under control and shuffle through a heaping pile of mail and email, I just wanted to write a quick bit about the land of Hawaii before it’s lost to me in a sea of memories tethered only by the photographs.  Yes, our National Park project finally brought us to nani Hawai’i – a combination of our family summer vacation and our 15th Wedding Anniversary celebration.  It was a special one this year, and it took us a long time to get here, but I think that’s ok.  Great even.  Sometimes it takes a long time to know that nothing that comes at us in the future could be harder than our past, and that we really are in it together, forever.

Andy, I’m so glad it was you.

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Anniversary in Hawaii, 2013.

I don’t think anything in my future could ever match the… spectrum of the last fifteen years, and I found those contrasts paralleled in Hawaii.  Please forgive the repetition for those well-versed Hawaiian travelers, but this was my first time to the islands and it obviously made an impact.  Though we only checked off four more National Parks on our countdown this summer (two in Hawaii and our last two in California), they were big ones, and worth every penny and every effort of getting there.

Hawaii is a land of contrasts:  her newest and blackest shores are birthed in the East each day from Pele’s fiery belly, while her oldest, reddest, westernmost soils rust away under the constant barrage of wind and rain and sun.  In between, she takes the shape of sharp pumice stone and delicate orchid petals, of craggy, soaring peaks and submerged coral reefs, of lush rainforests in the North and arid deserts in the South.  Her colors range from the darkest of grays to the brightest imaginable spectrum of the rainbow.  Her highest summits break even through the clouds and stand sentinel over the ocean waves crashing the beach below.  A sun-kissed man with a flowered shirt and deep creases about his eyes weaves baskets from palm leaves and speaks of ancient legends to the throng of tourists sporting Nikon cameras and Patagonia garb.  Her deceptively small islands of Paradise above the surface hide her source of great power beneath the sea, power that can not only withstand the immeasurable weight of the whole Pacific Ocean bearing down on her, but grow beneath it and produce the great web of life.

Hawaii is a land of rhythms:  an accelerated cycle of birth and death as her isles stretch desperately above the sea for nothing more than a moment before steadily sinking back beneath the waves from which they were born.  The steady beat of gourd drums echo your footsteps among her isles, usher in the sunrise and mark its set with a few moments of nothing but sound and light, between which their sound reverberates in the steady and ceaseless pounding of waves and the rhythmic stories of the hula dancers.  The wind stirs the lanai every evening.  The rain feeds the land every morning.  The tide goes out, the tide goes in, the moon chases the sun over the open sky every day, and the drums beat out the balanced dance of dark and light.  Her song becomes a part of your own rhythm, unnoticed until you cross the ocean and realize you left the rhythm of the rain and the light and the waves and the tide and the drums and the dancing women behind you, because they stay in Paradise.

Still, maybe Paradise isn’t entirely bordered by water.  Coming home to the mountains and pine trees, to our lovely parks and charming downtown, to the comforting smells of an approaching Autumn, and children anxious to go back to school was another sort of Paradise to me.  Especially with the candle burning on my desk from which I can breathe in the scent of the Hawaiian Breeze these last few days of summer.

Aloha and Mahalo.
~Cassie

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Sunset in my Paradise – Bend, OR, August 24, 2013.

Rock, Ice, Life

Let’s teach our children about the world they live in, about why the Earth looks the way it does, about why different plants grow where they do, and why different animals live where they live.  Let’s teach them about how the forces of nature have created the lands and the seas, and teach them how life is shaped to its landscape.  School will teach them the vocabulary and the process, but the opportunity for inspiration and passion to be ignited, the opportunity for the right teacher to meet the right student under the right circumstances is entirely left up to chance.  Don’t leave this to chance.  Let’s take it upon ourselves as parents to inspire passion for the world we live in.  Let’s give them just a little knowledge while they are gazing in amazement at thunderous mountains and rich verdant valleys.  Doing so will inspire the respect and wonder of nature within.  I can’t express enough how easy it is; all you have to do is talk about it a little, and what a permanent, lasting impression that your passion for the world will have on them.

Let’s get started!  Remember from my Science Friday post that I really like to have a science theme for each vacation.  I use it as a focus, like if they are going to learn just one thing on this trip, this is what it is going to be.  Throughout the journey we continue to revisit the theme as we see examples of it.  The Northwest (Itinerary #2) science theme is… Plate Tectonics!

I’m not gonna lie, that seamed a little anticlimactic.  Still, just wait until you learn how really cool it is!  (Yes, I might be modeling super-uncool mom enthusiasm here.)  I’ve also listed some more opportunities to point out unique ecosystems during the second half of the trip, using the vocabulary we discussed in the Science Friday post I prepared for Itinerary #1.  I chose this theme because the first half of the trip involves travelling up the beautiful Cascade Mountain Range, a range of mountainous volcanoes that were created by shifting of the Earth’s plates.  Our trip theme of plate tectonics gives us the opportunity to talk the kids about why the continents look the way they do and a whole lot of opportunities for them to see the evidence themselves.  I do have a very colorful powerpoint posted on plate tectonics here on my old teacher website.   However, allow me to give you a very brief explanation of the scientific theory for our purposes.

Plate Tectonics explains the large scale movement and change of shape in Earth’s plates.  The most superficial layer of the Earth is called the Lithosphere, and is composed of a very thin outer layer of mantle and the entire Earth’s crust.  The lithosphere is not one single large piece, but is actually broken into about 15 different pieces that we call plates, which can move and float across the mantle underneath them.  There are three types of boundaries between these plates and their movement gives texture to the surface of the Earth.  First, boundaries can diverge, where two plates are actually moving away from each other, like in the Red Sea.  Second, two plates can simply slide past each other as in the San Andreas Fault, which is called a transform boundary.  Third, two plates can converge where two neighboring plates collide.  If two continental plates collide, the edges will crumple and create folded mountain ranges, as in the Himalayan Mountains.  If two oceanic plates collide, one plate will subduct under another and magma will rise to the surface forming Island arcs.  Japan is an example of this.  Finally, if an ocean plate collides with a continental plate it will create a subduction zone where the ocean plate sinks underneath the less dense continental plate, and volcanic mountains will form as magma rises to the surface through the continental crust.  This last example is what formed the Cascade Mountain Range of the Pacific Northwest, which you will be hiking across throughout your Northwest Adventure!

Below are listed ways to make the science accessible to your children as you explore the National Parks on the Northwest Itinerary.  Good luck and have fun while you are learning!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

  • As the name implies, show the kids the volcanoes of Lassen!  All four types of volcanoes found in the world are represented in Lassen – shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome.  Although there have not been any recent volcanic eruptions, there are steam vents, boiling springs, and bubbling mudpots that are currently active and accessible to visitors.  Check out the Lassen NPS science page for more info before you leave, and ask the rangers at the visitor center where you can go to explore each type!
  • Make sure the kids feel the rocks!  All the rocks in Lassen originated from volcanoes.  Have the kids try to identify the different examples of pumice, basalt, and other rocks as you hike around the park.  Study different rock types at the visitor center before you head out!

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2010, Lassen Volcanic National Park – Kids climbing up a boulder blown off of Lassen Peak in the 1915 Eruption

Crater Lake National Park

  • Many children think that Crater Lake was formed from a crater hitting the Earth, but of course it was not.  The great Mt. Mazama was a volcano formed of succeeding eruptions that continued for over half a million years!  The last eruption blew so much material out of the top that everything left behind settled into a deep, bowl-shaped depression called a caldera.  Over the centuries this caldera filled with rain water and snow melt to form what is now the deepest lake in the United States, Crater Lake!  While you are walking around the rim trail and gazing at the exquisite views, talk to the kids about how this lake is different from other lakes they’ve seen.
  • Follow the paved pathway from the Rim Visitor Center to the Sinnott Memorial Overlook.  I think this is the best exhibit in the park!  Not only does it have an awesome kid-friendly video showing the growth of Mt. Mazama and the events that lead to the formation of Crater Lake, but it also has amazing exhibits on the Ring of Fire.  The Ring of Fire is a horseshoe shaped outline of the Pacific Ocean where much of the worlds volcanic and earthquake activity occur as a result of the movement between  tectonic plate boundaries.  The volcanoes associated with the Cascade Mountain Range are a part of the Ring of Fire.

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2010, Crater Lake National Park – Clemans Crew on the rim of Crater Lake.

Mt. Rainier National Park

  • Mt. Rainier is the highest volcano in the Cascade Range and the 2nd most active, after Mt. St. Helens, experiencing about 20 small earthquakes a year.  Use the information at the visitor centers to teach the kids about how we study volcano’s, specifically all the research on the seismic activity of Mt. Rainier.  Have them look at the large relief map and brainstorm how they think the surrounding communities would be effected should the volcano explode in the future.
  • There are 25 named glaciers on Mt. Rainier.  It is the largest glacial system on a single mountain in the United States outside of Alaska.  A glacier is a sheet of slowly moving rock and ice.  They are formed when the snow built up in the winter doesn’t completely melt in the summer, and then gets compacted into ice as more snow is accumulated in the following seasons.  Before you visit, have the kids watch this really excellent video that gives information on how and why scientists monitor the glaciers so closely.  Almost all the hikes in Mt. Rainier give you breathtaking views of one of its many glaciers.
  • The rivers formed on Mt. Rainier are shallow, wide, and full of all kinds of rocks and boulders to climb around on.  This is because the rivers are formed from the runoff of melting glaciers.  When the glaciers melt, they release huge amounts of rock that were trapped in the ice into the river beds, where it is gradually tumbled downstream.  This gradual build-up of rock in the park’s riverbeds is called aggradation, and it causes the glacial riverbeds to be wide and rocky.  While you are out hiking with the kids, ask them why these rivers look so different from other ones they’ve seen, and try to guide them towards some of these answers!

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2010, Mt. Rainier National Park – Climbing around the aggradation.

North Cascades National Park

  • Though these mountains are not volcanic, the shape of them mountains is partly attributed to the movement of the many glaciers in the region.  As the glaciers move, they slowly gouge out huge rifts in the land, and scrape along the rock carving the deep valleys.  As you are standing at viewpoints around the park, have the kids try to identify some valleys that look like they have been carved out by a moving glacier.
  • The North Cascades are home to tremendous biodiversity, a word that describes the variation of life within a region.  Its ecosystems range from wetlands and marshes to high alpine meadows, housing a huge variety of habitats within.  This page gives you a list of hikes to do within different life zones of the park.  Make plans to take the kids to an old-growth forest or follow the Cascade Pass Trail to the Alpine ecosystems in the park.

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2010, North Cascades National Park – Diablo Lake from the top of Thunder Knob Trail

Olympic National Park

  • The landscape and diverse ecosystems at the Olympics makes it one of my favorite parks!  The benches and trails at Hurricane Ridge give you the highest and best views of the magnificent Olympics!  See if you can spot Mt. Olympus!  Below the glacial-topped peaks you’ll see scattered alpine meadows and lakes.  Point out the treeline to the kids and explain why this divides the alpine meadows from the sub-alpine forests.  Why can’t the trees grow at a higher elevation?  What does having the trees there allow (and not-allow) to grow?  Have the kids try to identify the living and nonliving factors that contribute to the different ecosystems found in the mountains.  Another interesting thing to point out is that these mountains are also not volcanic in nature, but were born in the sea and uplifted and shaped over millions of years!
  • The Olympics are home to some incredible forests!  This page describes five different forest ecosystems within the Olympics.  Research some species that are indicators of each forest type and while you are hiking around try to have the kids find those species of plants and identify what type of forest they are in!  My favorite teaching experience at Olympic N.P. was at the Hoh Rainforest.  The Sitka Spruce is an indicator species for the Northwest temperate rainforest, which means that unless that tree is growing there, it cannot be identified as the rainforest.  These large, majestic trees dominate the landscape, as do nurse logs.  Nurse logs are found lying on the forest floor and as they decay they grow more trees where seeds have germinated on them.  After the nurse logs rots away, you’ll see a colonnade, or a row of trees that sprouted together on the nurse log.
  • The precious piece of wilderness along the Olympic coastline is full of coastal forests, rocky outlets, sea stacks, beaches, and tidepools stacked with life.   In one tidepool you could see hundreds of animals!  Let the kids walk around each of these different ecosystems along the coastline and get them thinking about the great biodiversity that is sheltered by this land.  Have each of them stand in a different spot and without moving name or point to all the different species of life they can see at that moment.  Be ready to be amazed!

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2010, Olympic National Park – A colonnade in the Hoh Rainforest.

Redwoods National Park

  • The Redwoods provide a great opportunity to talk with the kids about the importance of conservation.  Today, there is only about 4% left of old-growth redwood forest that used to cover two million acres in North America.  Go to the visitor center and talk to the kids about the difference between human consumption and conservation.  Ask them what they think is necessary consumption and ask them ways that they think we can protect what remains of this majestic forest.
  • Since the trees are the highlight in this park, take the time to teach them a little about them!  This is another great place to study populations.  Ask the kids what factors they think contribute to the trees growing so tall (some reaching 360 ft!) or living so long (some live to 2000 years old!)?  Their resistance to insect and fire damage are important ones, as well as their ability to use both sexual and asexual reproduction aid in their survival.  They also live in a richly populated forest with complex soils, and the dense coastal fog that settles in the forest during the summer months provide water for survival.
  • In order to relate the Redwoods back to our geology theme, remind the kids that this park is located about 100 miles from where three different tectonic plates are joined.  The shifting and sliding between these plates creates more earthquakes in the this region of California than any other area of the United States.

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2010, Redwood National Park – The trees, the fog, the kids. Love.

So, I realize this was a lot of science for one day but I wanted to get all the science stuff for Itinerary #2 posted at once!  We are very excited to be leaving on our 5th annual summer road trip tomorrow!  If I can find the time to blog while travelling then I will, otherwise I’ll report back at the end of August.

Happy Trails!
~Cassie

Tripping towards Self-Reliance

Sometimes I think that despite having the best intentions, we do too much for our kids.  I know I do.  Naturally, we want to see them succeed in school, athletics, music, or whatever else our children spend their time doing.  We want them to grow up better than we did, and to see them become productive citizens.  However, not only do we shop, cook, and clean for them, plan their activities, and taxi them around town, we also act as their alarm clocks, monitor their homework, remind them about due dates and practice schedules, organize their backpacks, double-check that they have their gym-shoes, instruments, lunches and school projects for the day, and even arrange their play-dates.  As a teacher I know that parental involvement is the number one indicator of student academic success, but I also know that there are a lot of young adults that struggle when it comes to managing their own responsibilities and successfully working towards a goal.  Although there is a lot of good that comes from parental involvement, we also have to give them the opportunity to be independent and self-reliant.  How do we do this?  Many, many ways, one of which is a “good, old-fashioned, family” road trip.

The trips described in this blog won’t actually be successful if all the work that needs to get done is dependent upon one person.  It’s like the perfect storm of chores.  When you are setting up a new campsite every few days, eating virtually every meal out of a cooler or over a campfire, and living out of your car for a month at a time , everyone has to be responsible not only for themselves, but also for assigned chores within the family.  If the kids don’t work together and take responsibility for their own selves, there are going to be a lot of serious mommy meltdowns.  After being in the car for hours at a time, sometimes fighting the stress of traffic or trying to navigate your way to a new destination, and then finally arriving at a site with a list of chores to get done before the fun begins, you have to have a system in place to make it happen smoothly and calmly.  That system is everyone knowing their jobs for the family, and being responsible enough to get them done without constant reminders, nagging, shouting, and crying.

Below is a list of ways that I expect the kids to be self-reliant on our family road trips:

  1. The kids are responsible for their own clothes bag.  I give the kids a packing list and they lay out everything that is on the list in piles on the floor.   After I quickly check over it and make sure the clothes are appropriate, they pack their bag.  Then for the rest of their trip, they are responsible for their own clothes and re-packing the bag at each stop.  It is no longer my responsibility.
  2. The kids are responsible for their own activity bag.  I allow each child to pack one back-pack with books, toys, coloring, or other activities that they want for the car rides and down time.  I check each backpack before we leave to make sure it is all road-trip appropriate, as I don’t allow electronic games, crayons that could melt, Legos, or any games with small pieces.  For the rest of the trip, they have to keep track of all their own stuff, keep it picked up, and shuttle it from car to tent and back again on their own.
  3. The kids have to keep the car clean.  Everyone is responsible for their own space and their own activity bag.  This means keeping track of their own stuff, picking up any trash in their area, and not invading the space of others.
  4. The kids have to help set-up camp.  We have setting up camp down to a science, and can generally get the whole thing done in less than 30 minutes.  Upon arrival, two or three of us lay out the tarp and set up the tent.  The other two clean the trash out the car, pick up anything that stills needs to be put away from the drive, and start pulling out camp chairs and coolers from the car.  After the tent is up, Aubrey usually goes inside to organize sleeping spaces,  while the twins run back and forth between the car and the tent carrying the mats, bedrolls, sleeping bags, and pillows that I pull out of the Yakima.  Once everything is inside the tent, the kids finish organizing it and I have time to re-organize any driving directions I had out and start reviewing the information I need for our new location.
  5. The kids have to help with meals.  They can collect firewood, prepare vegetables, and pull supplies out the cooler and boxes.  After eating they have to clean their own dishes and utensils, and help put away other supplies.
  6. The kids carry what they need for all hikes and outings.    Each kid has their own Camelback that is large enough to carry enough water for them on long hikes and has zippered storage compartments.  In the storage compartments I’ve put a whistle, small first aid package, sunscreen, and chapstick.  They can also carry their own snacks if desired, but I usually carry any picnic snacks in my camelback.
  7. The kids have to help break-down camp.  Packing up the campsite will take longer than setting it up.  We can usually have it done in 45 minutes if everyone helps.  Each kid packs his/her clothing bag, rolls up the yoga mat and sleeping bag, and sets everything they used on the picnic table, ready to be loaded into the car.  Once everything is out of the tent, Aubrey (or Andy) and I take it down and pack it up.  During this time, the kids are folding up the camp chairs, picking up trash, and putting any other gear or toys away. The kids bring me all the stuff that goes into the Yakima while I pack it away.  Then they haul in the coolers, food box, and pack the trunk.

It sounds like a lot written out like this, but once you establish expectations with the kids, and everyone sees each other working hard and doing their chores, they will settle in, work together, and get it done quite quickly.  They might even have some fun.  Getting to a new campsite is always exciting for us and we are all usually in a good mood.  The kids are finally freed from the car and I let them run around for a few minutes to explore and burn off a little energy before we set up camp.  It amazes me that the kids can find ways to make the chores fun too.  For example, they actually fight for the job of setting up the tent so they can try out silly sleeping arrangements and change who is sleeping next to whom.

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2009, Fernwood Campground – I couldn’t resist posting this darling oldie of the kids “setting up the tent.”

Ultimately, through all of the work and the shared responsibilities, the kids naturally feel more involved in the success of the family, and more responsible for themselves.  They learn to trust and depend on themselves, and that’s a lesson that can’t be learned through any other method than experience.  When you finally make it to that elusive hotel night, and you can take a long, hot shower, enjoy a soft bed and heavy comforters,  a hot meal that you don’t have to cook and clean up after, their appreciation for the simple pleasures of home suddenly skyrockets. The experiences of these long trips teach them self-reliance, but the hard work also teaches them to be really grateful for all the conveniences of home, and that lesson is priceless.

Happy Trails.
~Cassie

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2009, Yosemite National Park – Killer firewood haul.  Great job kids!

The Fun Fund Jar

Our summer is in full swing with lots of hiking and river floating, beach days, summer festivals, Musical Mondays, farmers markets, waffle breakfasts, and of course… lemonade stands!

lemonade stand

The kids have finally realized that we only have about two weeks left before our summer vacation and they are suddenly budding little capitalists.  There is not a chore on the planet that they wouldn’t do right now for an extra buck or two.  Seriously.  All for a little thing called the Fun Fund Jar.

About five years ago I decided I was done listening to the continuous requests for gifts, tshirts, treats, toys, and other souvenirs while we travel.   I mean seriously, how many times can one kid ask for the same thing?  A lot, apparently.  So naturally I decided it was time to do something about it, and drank a jug of wine.  No really, I did.  For good purpose though:  we rinsed it out, the kids decorated it with all kinds of trip-related stickers that we picked up from a scrapbooking store, and we implemented the Fun Fund Jar strategy.  All year long, the kids find ways to contribute to the Fun Fund.   Their extra chore money and lemonade stand profits go towards the jar, we use it as a “loose change” jar, and as a “bad word” jar, so my husband and I get to contribute fairly regularly as well.    Then each summer we count it up, cash it in, and split it evenly between all three kids.   This is the only “spending” money we give them for the trips.  They are each responsible for handling their share throughout the whole vacation, and they can spend it on anything they want, but when its gone, its gone, and they can’t ask me for anything else.

Fun Fund

The jar has worked wonders.  I think each year the kids have actually come home with leftover money to start the next years fund.  They are so much more conservative in regards to picking out the things they want to spend money on when it is their own!   It has taught them to make thoughtful  decisions about spending and not to spend everything they have at the first stop, not to mention that we have completely eliminated all the little “can I have this” requests.  Whether it is a visitor center, museum gift shop, or truck stop, they bring in their envelopes and decide their own purchases.  I also really like that this jar gives them an opportunity to save spending money for their vacations that is separate then what they are saving in their bank accounts.  The kids aren’t spending money they’ve received for birthdays, or earned for grades or from working.

That’s it for today!  I feel like I’m getting a little behind in my posting with so much going on throughout the summer, but there is a lot in the works!  I hope all of you are enjoying a great summer too.

Happy Trails!
~Cassie