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.

7 Ways to Remember

Last weekend the whole family set out for our first trail hike of the summer!  I’m ashamed to say we haven’t been out prior to this, but our Spring evenings and weekends have been filled with many dozens of softball and baseball games.  This time of year in Central Oregon is beautiful.  The snow is melted, the mosquitos are gone, the forest paths are springy and damp with wet pine needles, and the smell of rain and pine resin lingers in the crisp wintery air, which ever more frequently tastes sweetly of summer.  Black Butte is a fairly steep two-mile uphill climb to reach the top, but instead of the expected grunts and groans  as we ascended, walking the trail instantly transported the kids back to last years adventures, and they began telling a bunch of our “remember when” stories from previous trips.  That’s one of the great things about travelling together.  The very act of sharing those memories year after year strengthens your family bonds.

I started thinking about some of the traditions we’ve come of up with over the years that help us remember all the things we’ve done, and that provide some connection between our annual summer trips.   While I’m still in the beginning stage of this blog project, I thought it would be a good idea to take a moment to share some of the things we’ve started doing to preserve our memories, and some things I wish we’d been doing since the very first road trip.  Perhaps one of these ideas will work for one of you!

1.  Postcard Collection  Allow each child to pick out their favorite postcard for every single stop on your itinerary.  It’s such a simple thing to do as there are 3/$1 post card stands everywhere.  I get them a postcard from every park, museum, town, cultural site, or any random, cool place we stop that we want to remember.  The beauty of the road trip is that you get to see more than your final destination, so reinforce that with the kids!  Have them write a date on the back, and a couple words about their “mountain” for each place.  When you get home you can collect these in a special photo album, or even a dedicated shoe box.  Think of the collection the kids will have after so many years of travel!

2.  Map Collection  Our family really loves maps.  I especially love the NPS maps you get when you enter each National Park.   They are printed beautifully in color and are full of so much information about each site.  The NPS publishes them for National Parks, Monuments, Seashores, Battlefields, basically any site within their jurisdiction.  One side is a full map of the park and includes important landmarks, trails, and other park logistic information.  The other side of the map usually describes the natural and cultural history of the park, as well as any other distinguishing features that make the park unique.  Beautiful and free!  What could be better?   Store them in document protectors, photo or scrapbook albums, or again, a dedicated shoebox works perfectly.

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3.  Sticker Collection  Decorate your Yakima!  Even if you don’t like bumper stickers on your car, show off where you’ve travelled by putting stickers of the all the places you’ve visited on your storage rack.  Ours has started so many conversations about the places we’ve been, and the kids love picking them out and seeing the stickers all year long!

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4.  First Photo  Take a photo of the kids at every National Park entrance sign.  The NPS does a great job of having really unique and creative signs for each park.  After the kids are grown and you’ve seen all the parks, you’ll have an amazing collection of pictures of the kids growing throughout the years!  One day I will make a photo album of all the park entrance photos and give it to them for a random birthday after they are grown and have kids of their own.

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5.  Junior Ranger Badges  There is a Junior Ranger Program at every national park. Immediately go to a visitor center upon arrival and pick up a Junior Ranger Packet.  They are usually booklets filled with word games, scavenger hunts, and conservation activities that teach the kids important things about the park.  Have the kids work on it throughout your stay and then turn them in before you leave.  Each child that completes the required number of activities will get “sworn in” as a Junior Ranger, and receive a Junior Ranger Badge.   Anyone into girl scouts or boy scouts?  It’s the same kind of program, and it’s nice to have a place to pin all the badges the kids earn.  I would suggest having a dedicated floppy sun hat, a vest, or a bag on which the kids could collect all the badge pins.

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6.  States and Capitals  What better place to store memories than the spongy brain of a growing child!  Can you even remember all the state capitals?  I can’t.  But a cross-country road trip sure is a perfect time for learning useless trivia information!  We tell the kids the capital city every time we drive into a new state, and then we reinforce the information every day we are driving there just by asking them (again and again), what is the capital of Texas, Idaho, Washington, California, etc?  I have fond memories of my Grandparents doing the same thing when we travelled with them, and I like the idea of passing on this little tradition.  Throughout each trip, we find ways to put them through a mini-trivia contest of the things we’ve learned.   For example, are all the kids arguing over who gets the last brownie?    Throw a few questions at them about things you’ve learned on your trips and keep track of who gets the most right!  Name two National parks in Wyoming.  What is the capital of Idaho?  Name three places we’ve seen that have caves.  Which state has the largest capital building in the U.S?  You can come up with anything!  We’ve spent whole nights by a campfire trying to stump each other with questions.  It’s fun and the kids learn (and remember) a lot!

7.  Travel Journal  Have the kids keep a travel journal.    We used a simple composition notebook, but it really doesn’t matter what you start with.  Make sure you have scotch tape, glue sticks, and one pair of scissors in the car so that the kids can cut and paste stuff into their notebook.  This is a great activity to keep the kids busy on the drives between sites.  Each time we leave somewhere, I have the kids write about what they did, or saw, or learned, or liked about that place.  Kids at every age can do this!  My youngest started out just drawing pictures and writing a few sentences about what they saw, but now they are filling pages with writing about their favorite adventures.  Not only does it help shuffle some of their memories into the long-term storage pathways of the brain, but it is an excellent way to keep the kids writing over the summer.   Also, by keeping the same notebook over the course of a few trips, it’s really fun for the kids to look back and see what they wrote in previous years, and to see how much they’ve improved!  They are always giggling when they read old entries, either because they are laughing at old jokes or laughing at how they used to write.  What a confidence booster for them to see how much better they are “now” compared to before.

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Well, I have plenty more ideas to come later on, but I think that’s a good start for now!  I hope you have some memorable adventures this summer!  I can’t believe it’s already here.

Happy Trails!
~Cassie

Amazing Places!

I saw Amazing Places to Take Your Kids by Laura Sutherland sitting on an out-of-the-way bookshelf at a school book fair.  I picked it up because it was priced so inexpensively and it probably wasn’t something I would have found at my favorite large book seller.  What a discovery!  This book has helped me plan and shape every single one of our road trips!  The chapters are laid out by regions of the United States, perfect for the way in which we travel.  On almost every page, there is a different place to visit described succinctly, yet with enough information to decide if it is age-appropriate for your kids.  Also, there is a large photograph on every page that the kids love!  This is a great tool in getting them involved in the planning process  because they can actually see what the options are in that region.  Sights in the book include various national parks, museums, theme parks, beaches, and historical places.  It really is amazing because it helps you get a feel for what attractions are important to see in an unfamiliar area of the country.  It’s also great to use for any of your other travelling throughout the year.  If you are going to visit family, flying to a new city for a wedding, or just want to get out of town for a weekend somewhere, this book has great ideas on fantastic places to visit.

We also use this book as a memory-keeper for our trips.  We bring it with us on our vacations, and after visiting a site that is described the book, we turn to that page, date it, and everyone in the car signs it.   It’s kind of neat that now I have a book with signatures dating back to four years ago, and we will just keep adding to it.  I think it will be another great keepsake with which to remember our travels.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this great planning and keepsake idea.  If you’re interested, check out the publishers page or Amazon.com to purchase a copy.

Happy Trails!

~Cassie

Amazing Places