Advice from Nature

One of my favorite things to collect from the National Parks are the “Advice from Nature” poems.  We find ones that remind us of a place we explored or an animal we saw, and I find the simplicity of their advice refreshing.  My favorite:

Advice from a TREE

Stand tall and proud
Sink your roots into the Earth
Be content with your natural beauty
Go out on a limb
Drink plenty of water
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

~Ilan Shamir

Sometimes you can find the wall-poster size at the National Park Visitor Centers and gift shops, but I usually just pick out the large postcard size.

Cards

They are cheap and frame beautifully!  I frame them with a simple $10 clear frame and a piece of cardstock.

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They make great wall-hangings for bathrooms and other small places that don’t have the wall-space for a full picture or piece of art.  The kids have also picked out their favorites for their rooms.  Now we have collected enough poems that they are sprinkled all throughout the house, and they remind us of so many of the lessons that we have learned from nature.

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In the end, we are all probably inundated with more “friendly” advice than we care to hear in a lifetime, but I find the nature poems calming on those days when I can’t be out in the woods myself,  breathing deeply, and watching the wild things roam by.

This November has been an incredibly busy month for me, and I try to remind myself to just do one thing at a time, and if I can’t get to it, then I can’t.  I’ll leave you with the advice of a sea turtle, an eternally steady animal that reminds me to stay calm under pressure.

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What’s your favorite advice for the busy times in your life?  I’d love to hear your input!

Happy Trails.
~Cassie

One Bad Apple

A boy scout leader topples rock formations in a state park and lives to laugh about it.

Yes, he’s going to serve his time, but I shudder to think about the damage he’s already done.  Some say it’s just a rock.  Maybe it’s a rock, but it’s also a natural, ancient part of the Earth that incited wonder and beauty and reflection.  What’s more incredible than that?  He is a bully of nature, and did it just because he could.  Without a thought.  Without a care.  Without remorse.

I’m happy to say that the general response by Americans has been outrage and has labeled him as an idiot who unfortunately was misdiagnosed as a troop leader and put in charge of growing young men.  But, it concerns me greatly that he’s not the only careless person who doesn’t think twice before inflicting irreparable damage on our natural places and, perhaps even more importantly, on the growth of our youngest citizens.

If a young person watches you push over a million year old rock, they are going to grow up thinking they can do it too.  If they watch you leave food open at your campsite, or steal petrified wood, or throw rocks in a geyser, or leave litter along the road, or trample delicate growth off a trail, they are going to do it too.  If they watch you laugh at your own carelessness, they are going to laugh too.  If they watch you treat our natural places as if they were disposable, they will do so too.

It’s that simple.

In order to teach our children to be respectful of nature, we have to be so too.  All of us.  After all, it only takes one bad apple to show millions of children how not to be.

Today I leave you with a photo I captured upon walking past a picnic table in Channel Islands National Park last summer.  It seems another brilliant group of people left all their food sitting out while they went touring.  Who found it?  The native Island Fox who has learned to hunt for food in the scraps of humans, instead of in the natural manner that will ensure his long-lasting health.  Another example of how the thoughtless carelessness of visitors can have lasting, permanent, negative effects on the very things we love the most, and are trying to protect.

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2013 – Channel Islands National Park [Santa Cruz Island]

We are constantly being watched by the next generation of park-goers and park-protectors.  Let’s try to set a good example.
~Cassie

The Cardboard Conundrum

This is not a travelling or a National Park post.  It’s 100% Parenting.  Is that “Blogging Taboo?”  I’m fairly new here so I’m just going to play dumb and write about what I want.  Skip it if you must.  Today is about cardboard.  I was actually going to publish this last week, but decided to follow my “think before you write” rule and held off until I was less… frustrated.

If you walked into my youngest daughters bedroom you would find (in addition to the blankets on the floor, haphazard stacks of papers heaped in the corners, grubby pencils thrown on every surface, and random assorted piles of junk) the following items: cardboard stables, cardboard tack rooms, cardboard tack bins (w/cardboard lids), cardboard dog kennels, cardboard fences, cardboard silos, cardboard storage rooms, cardboard wagons, cardboard cross ties with posts, and even a cardboard “pasture.”

Yes, Arwen is what we affectionately call, horse-crazy.

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Spring 2013 – Arwen and Secret

Before I go on, let me just say that what she’s done is… magical.  Yes, magical.  For the past year she has quite literally created for herself the world she wants to live in, and she does live there, allowing us non-cardboard village dwellers an occasional visit.  It’s very creative and sweet, and yes, I’ve fallen in-love with her community too.

BUT…but.  Do you realize how much trash is created when you save trash, to cut up the trash, to make new trash, which is just saved to make more trash?  The room is a perpetual pigsty.  Really, there are only so many cardboard cut-outs, paper scraps, unraveled yarn, material scraps, and grass clippings that one room can hold.  The first time she made a cute little tack room out of a shoebox, I thought it was amazing! Adorable!  Incredible!   This was a year ago and I couldn’t have known where it would lead.  Could I?  I’ve always known she had the heart of an artist, but not until this year did I realize she also possessed my insuppressible need to take the simplest tasks to unconscionable levels of “overboard.”

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Now I’m scared to buy anything that comes in a cardboard box, which let’s face it, is almost everything.  Half cut-up cereal boxes continue to litter her room and granola boxes get stacked in a corner to “save” with all the extra bits and pieces she’s cut out and “might” need.  It’s trash people.  Piles of trash.  My daughter’s room looks like the neighborhood reclamation center.  One time, she actually asked me to stop at the gas station to buy her a can of Pringles potato chips just so she could dump them out and use it as a grain silo.  In hindsight, I should not have acquiesced to this.  As soon as she had that silo she was out cutting up dried grass and leaves from the yard to use as hay and oats.  Yes, I’ve allowed my daughter to actually carry up piles of grass into her room.  She replenishes it when her horses have eaten it all.  What??  She is now stocking four silos.  I finally had to put my foot down when I discovered “cardboard” water barrels in her room. This whole situation has gotten completely out of hand.

Scotch Tape.  How often do you really need it?  Sporadically at best, right?  Maybe a torn letter here, a birthday present or a school project there.  Not us.  I’m buying BRICKS of it from Costco.  Do you know how many rolls of Scotch Tape come in a brick?  Twelve.  And we are always, ALWAYS, out.  It disappears into the black hole of Arwen’s room where clutter goes to rot.

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So, what to do?  I’ve tried to be really nice and lull her into cleaning.  I’ve tried being mean mommy and forcing her to clean for hours despite a continual flood of tears.  I’ve even tried just giving in and doing it myself, but she comes home and within 60 minutes the room has reverted to it’s natural state of mess.  The one time I reached a breaking point and actually tried to (God-forbid) take out the trash?  She was reduced into such a helpless state of hysterical sobbing that I actually went out to the cans and hauled the trash back up to her room myself.

Do I really nix the cardboard and associated scrap to buy her all the shiny plastic junk toys that will just clutter up her room in another manner?  No, probably not.  The fun for her is in creating it, and I know I couldn’t create a cardboard wagon with spoke wheels and a driver’s bench.  I did try buying her a beautiful wooden barn with hand-crafted stable doors and detailed hinges from a craft festival once.  She uses it for storage now.  I’m not kidding you.  It’s filled with rolls of tape, scissors, accessories that don’t fit into her cardboard tack shelves (yet) and piles of yarn, which she uses to fashion bridles and reins.

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Here I am, a year into this “stage,” with no end in site.  My already seriously debilitating lack of patience has been tested beyond reason.  The constant mess is DRIVING ME C.R.A.Z.Y!  There, I said it.  Yelled it to the world actually.  Now, perhaps I’ve coerced another year of patience from my inner Neat-Freak who knows that everything has it’s place and likes to “remind” household members of this rule on a pretty consistent (daily) basis.  In the meantime, I’ll just  resist the temptation to open her bedroom door every so often.  And when I can’t resist?  I’m going to try to focus my neat-freak blinders on her amazing creations instead of the interminable debris explosion.  This stage too shall pass, no doubt perpetuating all the nostalgia as the ones before it.  After all, life is short, but childhood is even shorter.

More travel posts are in the works… Happy Trails.

~Cassie

Anything BUT Scrapbooking

Aaahhh… we’ve come to the end of another summer.  I guess technically it’s not for a few more weeks, but school (finally) starts in three days so I’m counting it the end and welcoming in my favorite of all seasons… Autumn!  I hope you have all found enjoyment travelling with your family this summer, and if so you probably have a positive avalanche of digital photos that you’ve faithfully transferred off your phone or camera and left sitting on the computer, waiting for that elusive day when you have enough time to organize, file, edit, print and catalog them into your favorite album or scrapbook.  Yeah right.

I hate… Hate… scrapbooking.  It is my least favorite of all mommy jobs.  Yet, I continue to save pages and pages of their school work every year, I keep every team photo and concert program, and yes, I continue to collect thousands of pictures, desperately trying to preserve the moments that are ever more quickly slipping away from me.  Thirteen summers?  I’m now officially down to three for Aubrey and nine for the twins.  Ugh.  Though I can’t do much to help with the school papers and concert programs, I wanted to share what I use to preserve the digital memories of our summer trips.

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Many of you have probably already heard of Photo Books and are using them regularly, but I wanted to share this idea just in case you haven’t come across it yet.  I hadn’t heard of it until last year during a visit to Illinois and I saw the photo books my cousin had created that chronicled the first year of life for her newborn.  They were beautiful!  And what a convenient way to use all the digital photos we have instead of actually sending out for printed copies and then storing them in traditional photo albums.  Thanks Ginny for the idea!

I plan to use the photo books for all my photos, but I especially love them for our summer road trips.  I’m a faithful customer of Shutterfly.com.  They have hundreds of beautiful templates so you can pick a theme or style to make each book unique for each trip.  And they are so easy to make!  You just upload the photos that are already on your computer, drag and drop them into any layout you want, and then write comments or stories anywhere on the page to describe your photos.  You can customize the front and back cover with photos, and there are all kinds of various “scrapbooking” stickers and details with which to further customize your pages.  Furthermore, the process of creating a photo book online goes fairly quickly without the paper and glue and scissors and “scraps” of traditional scrapbooking.

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I like being able to create the book once and then order as many copies as I like.  I’ve ordered one of each trip for each child so that they have their own photo albums with which to remember our travels.  I’ve even ordered some for grandparents and other family members.  They make great Christmas presents!  I also like these books because unlike bulky photo albums, they are very neat and compact and take up very little space on the shelf.

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So, I realize that this won’t take care of all our scrapbooking projects, but if you create a Photo Book and keep the Trip Binder for each road trip, then I would call this project Done!

Wishing everyone a very smooth transition into the new school year and a very beautiful Autumn!

Happy Trails!
~Cassie

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.

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!

Thirteen Summers

“This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”
~J.R.R. Tolkien
 

This Spring I had the pleasure of reading The Hobbit to my kids and ever since we’ve all been a little more Tolkien crazy than is strictly necessary, but I find this riddle a good introduction to today’s post.  Do you know the answer?   It is our most precious and prevalent resource, our greatest opportunity, and our greatest enemy.

Time.

Today I’m here to argue that time, not money, is the limiting factor to travel.  Time is finite.  We cannot get more hours in a day, or more days in a year.  We can’t skip forward, and we can’t turn it back.  The expeditious passing of Time surprises every parent, like the shock of another school year or holiday season at our doorstep, or the moment you look at your child and realize that ‘suddenly’ he’s not a baby (toddler, child) anymore.  We have one chance, one infinitesimal moment in time, to watch not just their milestone moments, but every single one in between.  Our time with the kids is fleeting, a collection of quick moments in the great breath of life, and it is our responsibility as parents to make sure they aren’t wasted.

If by some chance this blog has reached you and peaked your interest in travelling with your kids to the National Parks, then I’d like to focus on what is probably your biggest obstacle:  simply finding the time.  As Americans we all work, a lot, our kids are very busy, and all too often we face a positive avalanche of responsibilities to handle.  I’ve seen To Do lists that rival the Democratic National Agenda!  (My own included.)  So much of our “time off” is already filled with chores before we can even stop and think about what we want to do.  But, think about how quickly the time has already passed, and how much you have left to achieve on your bucket list of goals.  Have you looked at the list of parks on my Countdown page?  How many do you want to explore?  Five?  Twenty?  All fifty-nine?  Take a moment and think about exactly how much time you have with them for future trips.  The itineraries I publish are geared towards travelling with school-age children.  No one really wants to travel too long on the road with an infant or toddler.  Pre-school is a perfect time to fit in short but magical trips to places like Disneyland.  Also, although I know there can be benefits to travelling during the school year, I would never voluntarily plan a trip during a time that would take them out of the classroom, and if you save school breaks and long holiday weekends for visiting family members and exploring some favorite local jaunts, you’re left with 13 summers.

Thirteen summers between the day they finish Kindergarten until the day you drive them to their first day of college.  Thirteen summers to teach them things they can’t learn in school.  Thirteen summers to take them to a new place in the country and show them the world they live in.  Thirteen opportunities to model what you think is the most important way to use your precious time.  Thirteen chances to bring an adventure into their lives.  Thirteen possibilities for amazing, life-changing, attitude-changing vacations.  Thirteen moments to make the decision to go.  When you stop and think about how fast your kids grow, how quickly time passes, thirteen summers is not very much time.  We must treat it as the precious resource it is, and fight the hard fight to get as much out of it as we can.

Have I mentioned yet that between my three kids, we are involved with five different ball teams?  My husband and I have attended almost 120 ball games this Spring, plus practices.  I admit – that is crazy!  If I’m not careful, lessons, camps, practices, and tournaments could take over the entire summer too.  I love that my kids are at the ages where they want to be part of teams, and that they are working towards goals together, but each year I have to stop everything and just say Enough.  The only way to start carving out time in your schedule, is to start saying No.  It’s not easy to fit in a vacation every summer, much less a month-long one.  All too often we actually feel guilty for taking a vacation with our families while shelving all other responsibilities.  Determining the start and end dates of the trip is the hardest part of planning, but it has to be your first step.   Even if after all your efforts you can only secure a week of two, you are still teaching your kids something invaluable:  that the thing you want most to do with your extra time is to spend it with them,  away from all that other stuff,  sharing new experiences together, learning together, and being inspired together as you experience the remarkable, majestic beauty of this gorgeous country.

Let’s talk about work.  I was fortunate enough to be a teacher when I started taking long trips during the summer.  Though teachers do work a lot over the summer, I did have the freedom to leave for an extended road trip.  Now my husband and I are small business owners, so again, we are grateful to have the freedom to make our own schedule.  However, we do work through our trips.  Payroll must be made, fires must be put out, phone calls and emails must be returned.   Free WiFi is available at almost all KOA’s, hotels, and Starbucks,  and a pit-stop at a coffee shop is usually well-received by everyone.   A big point of these trips is to get away from technology, but if the only way to take them is to do some work now and then, then find a hotspot and plug in that laptop for a few hours!

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Great Falls KOA, 2012 – Everyone getting some work done at a campsite in Montana.

So, say you are not a teacher, or a business owner, or otherwise able to simply re-arrange your schedule to take off for a long summer trip.  What can you do?   I understand how much harder it is going to be to travel with your family, but unfortunately we all have the same 13 summers, time doesn’t make exceptions or excuses.   If you make the decision now to travel next year, what are some things you can do to start collecting that precious time off?  Here are some places to start:

  1. Talk with your employers.  Let them know what you plan to do each summer, and how very important it is to you.  They may just be inspired and willing to help!  Perhaps they would allow you to pick up extra shifts at different times throughout the year, or allow you to telecommute some of the days.  Asking them can never hurt if it is done respectfully and knowledgeably.  The thing is, the only way to create a culture of change in corporate America is to start demanding it.  Ask for more maternity leave, paternity leave, vacation time, and sick time while your kids are growing.  So often I hear teachers being blamed for lethargic, unmotivated, and troubled youth.  But, it is the parents responsibility for fostering a healthy attitude and outlook in our kids.  The only way we can do this is to spend time with them.  A lot of time.  It’s time for the workforce to change.  With all our advances in technology, employers could offer a certain number of telecommuting days and not suffer in productivity.  There are already examples of companies that are offering unlimited vacation days, and it is working.   I realize I’m digressing here and I could write an entire blog post on this topic alone, but I just hope that both employers and employees realize that parents have the right to take time off to raise healthy children in healthy families.
  2. Obviously save every extra vacation and sick day that you can, and then use them all at once during the summer.  Some of us receive so much vacation time that we don’t even use it all over the course of a year and we get these huge roll-over accounts of unused sick and vacation time.  I used to do it!  Why?  What are we saving it for?  Use all your time, every year.  We can never, ever, get the time missed with our kids back again.
  3. Ask grandparents or other family members to help when the kids have a school holiday that you don’t have off.  You can also use extended day programs at the school or extracurricular day camps to keep kids busy when you are trying not to leave work.
  4. Adjust the length of time you spend in any given region of the U.S.  I’ve been averaging about 4-5 national parks per trip because I schedule in a lot of extra stops at other places along the way.  For example, we made the drive to South Dakota to see Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks, but  we also saw the Mt. Rushmore Memorial, the Crazy Horse memorial, Custer State Park, the Mammoth Site, and Wounded Knee.  I think every area of the country has a valuable lesson to teach about natural history, cultural history, biology, and geology.  If you can, take the time with your family to see it when you’re in the area.  However, if you are looking for ways to cut time and get to more parks, then just drive right on through!
  5. If you’re married or in an amicable co-parenting arrangement, think about staggering your vacation time.  If you don’t actually have a lot of vacation time each then this might be the best use of it once every few years or so.  Think about it.  If you each can get close to 10 days, you could start the trip on a weekend, and spend the first stop of the trip together, then one spouse goes back to work, the other continues on with the road trip.  When it’s time for the vacationing spouse to return to work, you can meet up at a mid-way point, spend a couple days together as the whole family, then he or she heads back to work while the other one finishes the last half of the trip.   It would take extra coordination and planning, but this way the kids could fit in a much longer trip during the summer, and get to spend time with each parent.  Meanwhile, the parent that has a week of work with the house to him or herself in the evenings is, I’m positive, not entirely unhappy.  Fifteen years into my own marriage with three active kids and a joint business, a week with the house to myself at night would be nothing less than luxury.  One other cost benefit to this is that you won’t have to pay for pet boarding or for house sitters to take care of your dogs and cats as someone will be home.
  6. If you’re a single parent, first of all,  I applaud you.  My mother was a single parent of four, and I understand the effort it takes.  I do hope you have realized by now that you can do these trips totally on your own.  I’ve done it and greatly enjoyed it.   However, the time issues will be an even bigger obstacle for you.  As a single parent you have to use up more of your sick and vacation time during the year for things like doctor appointments, school programs, and the stomach flu.  I understand this, and I think the most important thing you can do for yourself is not feel guilty about the amount of time you’ve saved for your summer vacation.  Do the best you can, and then work with the days you have.   If you can only do a seven day trip each summer, then enjoy it!  At least it’s seven days where you’re out exploring new areas of the country, making memories together, and getting to know each other a little better.  When they are older, you’re kids will remember that even though you only had one week of vacation each year, you spent it out on a road trip together, camping in the woods, not watching TV.  You may not fit in every park and everything you want to see, but you can at least expose the kids to a different area of the country each year, creating priceless memories along the way.  And if the most you’ve done is inspire them to take their own kids on trips to our parks, then I think you’ve succeeded.

Well, my family is waiting for me to put the computer away so we can head out for our next softball tournament.  Happy First Day of Summer by the way!  Can you believe it’s already here?

Happy Trails.
~Cassie

Teaching Stewardship

Within three days of becoming a ‘blogger’ I found myself involved in a controversial discussion over the use of our National Parks and I’ve been feeling rather contentious ever since.  However, today I went to a very restorative yoga session where all we did was lay on our backs and hug pillows, so I’m  currently lounging in a state of gratitude and graciousness; much better for writing sensibly.  I think.

It all stemmed from the publication of this article by John Lemons in the online magazine Aeon.  The article essentially calls into question the idea of whether the NPS has actually “preserved unimpaired” the wildernesses it was designed to protect.  Their mission states:

“The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

Are the footprints of humanity changing, and perhaps damaging, the land “preserved” by the National Park System?  Without question, yes.

If you sell ice cream, they will come.  The first time I recognized this phenomenon was while exploring the Columbia River Gorge during our 2010 Northwest trip.  This incredibly beautiful area of Oregon is packed with lush foliage, dozens of cascading waterfalls, and breathtaking views of the Columbia River.  We saw four different waterfalls that day, including the infamous Multnomah Falls.  Multnomah is a truly spectacular view, and deserving of the hype and attention it gets, but Multnomah sells ice cream.  And coffee.  And beer.  Multnomah had hundreds of visitors the day we were there, but just a short hike into the same forest brought us to beautiful Wahkeena Falls, and the utter joy of observing a waterfall in relative solitude.

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Wahkeena Falls, 2010 – Jack experiencing an Oregon waterfall.

Though I respect the credentials of Mr. Lemons, and agree with a lot of what he has to say, I don’t believe the crowds in some of our parks are necessarily a bad thing.  This is why.

The National Parks protect America’s Greatest Treasures, and by greatest, I mean the places in our country that inspire great thoughts and deeds, that hold the secrets of our history, that will be our last true wildernesses, and that provide a safe, natural habitat for animals that would otherwise be lost to land development. As our population grows, the parks are never going to look like they once did.  We can accept that, and then focus on ensuring the least destructive ways to accommodate the visitors, or we cannot accept it and continue to fight a battle of ideals while the hotel and dining concessioners plan their next move.  I want the parks to be visited, because it is the parks themselves that inspire stewardship, and that is what we so desperately need in the next generation.

Stewardship is an internal awareness of ownership and obligation.  Merriam-Webster defines it as the “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”    Our children today are much more well-versed in conservation than we ever were.  They are exposed to regular news stories on global warming, deforestation, and polluted resources.  They complete endangered species projects at school.   They recycle everything.  They go to high school and participate in mock panel discussions and lab simulations over the problems associated with an exponentially growing world population and finite resources.

Yet, despite being knowledgeable, how many of them will grow up to really care enough to put that knowledge to good use?  How many of them will grow up to feel ownership and responsibility for our wildernesses?   As our population grows, the decisions required to maintain our parks and other wild places are going to become more and more unpleasant.  How can we ask them to fight these battles, make the tough decisions, and to forge new pathways in conservation if they are not passionate about saving them?  Our country will need both leaders and voters that are truly inspired by nature, that consider themselves stewards of nature.  The only way to teach this is to get our children outside.  Stewardship has to come from experience, because only then will you know what you are missing if it is gone.

So yes, the crowds at Multnomah can be frustrating, but they don’t take away from the absolutely awe-inspiring spectacle of the plummeting waterfall.  If people want to meet their friends and family there, get married there, photograph or picnic there, I think it’s fabulous.   The same goes for Yosemite Valley, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Old Faithful of Yellowstone.  In fact, with so many man-made attractions vying for their attention,  a few well-known spots in nature that will turn our children’s heads the other way are a good thing.  There are still thousands more where those that desire it can walk alone for days and contemplate the connections between life.  Like here.

I would love to see the dining and hotel concessioners ousted from our National Parks altogether, or at least prevented from any further development within park boundaries.  Also, I would be completely in favor of an annual visitor cap at our most congested parks, perhaps raffled off in lottery fashion each year like our hunting tag system.  But, I do believe we have to protect our parks for the people, not in spite of them, and I think that all too often the importance of the parks to humans gets overshadowed by the more passionate environmental perspective.  It’s not just important to us, it’s vital.   Our children are growing up in a world with a constant barrage of unrealistic Hollywood movies, video games, and plastic toys, and there could be nothing more vital to their emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being than getting the kids inspired by something truly unique and remarkable in nature, something that will light that fire of ownership within them.  We must give them the opportunity to realize that the nations greatest treasures are also their greatest treasures.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to everyone!  I hope you all have a chance to step away from your obligations for a bit and find your own little piece of nature.

Happy Trails.
~Cassie

Welcome!

“In the end we will only conserve what we love; we will only love what we understand; and we will only understand what we have been taught.”
~Baba Dioum, Senegalese Environmentalist and Poet

Welcome and Happy Mothers Day!

One of my New Year Resolutions for the year was to figure out what to do with all my vacation itineraries.  The obvious answer is to write a travel book, publish it, make a million dollars, retire early, travel more.  Unfortunately, since I haven’t yet reached the status of nationally syndicated radio talk show host or famous daytime pop psychologist,  getting the attention of a literary agent is basically impossible.  So, I’ve decided to launch this blog instead.  Thank you for taking the time stop by.

Parents have many ambitions when it comes to raising children.   Personally, I want my kids to be self-reliant, to have a solid understanding of why the world looks the way it does, to be responsible with money, to live an active and healthy life, to be passionate about protecting our environment, to be proud citizens of these United States, to laugh easily, and to love spending time with their family.   I mean I’m not asking for much.  In light of these parenting goals, I made the decision four years ago to change the way we do family vacations.  My long term project is to explore all 59 U.S. National Parks before the kids graduate from high school.   Maybe this strategy isn’t going to guarantee that they’ll possess all these traits by the time they’re grown, but I figure it might help, and so every summer we head out into the world to experience real eye-opening, strength-testing, character building, Took-loving adventures! (Yes, I often look for ways to reference Tolkein.)

Dreams and high expectations are as much a part of motherhood as are guilt, diapers and chauffeuring.  So I’m pretty sure that most of you share many of these same dreams for your own kids.  For the sake of introducing what is to come here, let me just say that this project is centered around the following three child-rearing priorities:

  1. Nothing is more important than finding the time and money to explore the world with your kids.
  2. The best way to improve our country is to teach our children to understand it and care about it.
  3. Adventure is necessary food for the soul.

Every day I read articles relating to how anxiety-ridden, secluded, dependent, overweight, fussy, and/or depressed so many of our children are becoming.  I realize the problem is complex and the solutions will have to be daring and multi-faceted, but in the meantime I wage my own battle here in my little claim on the world.  I will show my children that we work hard to play hard and that the beauty of life can only be discovered through the guts of experience.   I will teach them that they are stronger than they think they are, and that happiness has nothing to do with a mattress and a flat-screen TV.

“Mountains and Valleys” is a phrase we coined at some point along one of our trips.  Now we use it to describe all of our high and low points.  Your Mountain is the best part of your day, trip, school year, year, whatever.  The Valley is the worst.  I hope most of what I share with you are mountains, but I think its also good to remind ourselves that valleys are just that – a low point that we’ll hike out of before we climb our next mountain.

I have a very messy collection of plans, tidbits, advice, lessons, photos, parenting commentary, and travel writing currently scattered all over my notebooks and desktop.  I aim to use this blog as a vehicle to get my own writing organized, but also as a method of sharing my ideas with others that may find it useful.  As a former teacher, I very strongly believe in the idea of building off the work that we “borrow” from others.   Please share or borrow anything here that you like!

I still have a day job and three kids and five ball team schedules to work around, so my posting probably won’t be as consistent as I wish, but I think there’s enough here to start with.  The categories listed on the right are fairly empty at the moment, but keep checking back in because I will be adding posts!  Our first trip itinerary is available for download on the Itineraries page, so stop by and take a look if you’re interested.

Again, thank you for visiting.   I hope that in these pages you find a little inspiration and a lot of help in planning your family’s next Great Adventure, and I always look forward to any feedback, comments, or ideas of your own that you want to share.

Happy Trails!

~Cassie

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Glacier National Park, 2012 – Clemans Clan at the disappearing Grinnell Glacier