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!

The Trip Binder

I’m gearing up to publish Itinerary #2 soon, but there are just a couple more things I want to get posted before doing so.  Today is about the all-important Trip Binder.  This idea is a consequence of my obsessive need to get these trips as organized as possible before taking off for weeks on end with three kids and a car stuffed full of supplies.  They keep everything in one place… itinerary, maps, reservation confirmations, and all the stuff we collect along the way.   Make sure to have your trip binder organized and ready before you leave on your vacation, and keep it close to you the whole way through!  I keep mine lodged right between the driver and passenger seats throughout the trip.

To get started, purchase one 2-inch 3-ring binder, a set of dividers, and a package of transparent sheet protectors.  First, print out a final copy of your itinerary to put in the book.  You can either place it inside the transparent front cover, or put it in a sheet protector as the first page in the binder.  If you’ve made a calendar (which sometimes helps on long trips), you can also print that out and place it inside the front or back cover.


Next, you are going to label your dividers.  I don’t make a divider for every day, but rather for every major destination.  This way each divider holds all information necessary for a few days at a time.  For example, one section might be Crater Lake National Park and hold all information for Crater Lake and your visit to nearby Bend.  Another section might be Portland, and hold everything related to your plans in the city.  Create your sections in ways that make sense to you, but make sure to line them up in chronological order of your trip!


Next start adding in your pages.  Here is a list (in order) of things I print out, 3-hole punch, and place in the binder under the appropriate divider:

  • A copy of your campground or hotel reservation so you always have proof on-hand that a reservation was made, and so that you have any posted instructions for arrival at your fingertips.
  • Directions for every drive.  I carry a road map in the car and have my phone, so this might seem redundant, but you never know when you might need them.  I still use them to cross-reference where the navigator on my phone is sending me and to drive into remote areas where my phone doesn’t always have service.  Plus your navigation devices might send you to the wrong area in the same park, so you want directions that you’ve looked at and confirmed on hand before you leave on your trip!
  • Safety information for each area you are visiting.  Make sure to look online and see if there are any posted articles about road construction or animal sightings that might influence your activities.   A lot of park websites will have handouts posted for ongoing safety issues at their park.  I often print these out and have them in the binder so I can talk to the kids about them when we are at the campsite.
  • Printed tickets for any activity for which you’ve made reservations.  I’ve pre-purchased and printed tickets out for museums, zoos, rodeos, festivals, ferry crossings, historical tours, and rafting excursions.  It’s easiest to put these in a page protector and insert into the binder.
  • Brochures, day hike lists, and maps of the specific area you will be.  Spend time researching each area online before you leave and print out the important information about things you want to do.  I love having  a list of popular day hikes for each national park we are visiting in my binder.
  • Any interesting historical or scientific information that you definitely want to share with your family while you are out.  If you can’t find a printable handout, just copy info to a word document, print it out, and stick it in your binder!  It all makes for good reading material while you are driving.  Well, not for you, obviously, but for the people in the car who aren’t driving.
  • Make sure to insert at least one extra (empty) page protector into the binder for each divider section.  I use this to store the maps, postcards, receipts, stickers, park literature, brochures, parking tickets, and other small “souvenirs” we collect a long the way.  It’s great to have one place to put all that stuff, or your car becomes cluttered with paper very quickly.


The best part of all?  When you arrive home, exhausted, and have the first day of school staring straight at you, you can rest easy knowing your ‘scrapbooking’ for the trip is basically done.  Everything is already in one place, in the order that you did it, complete with not only your plans, but all the bits and pieces you collected along the way.   If you’re like me and hate to scrapbook, then feel comfortable shelving these little binders away knowing that the job is done and neatly organized.  However, if you love to scrapbook, you can still shelve the binder away knowing that when you find the time to start the project, everything you need is there waiting for you to make something creative and beautiful with it.

DSC_0178 edit

I hope I’ve sold you on the Trip Binder concept.  When you are living out of your car for thirty days, I think it is very important that you have everything you might need at your fingertips.  Not only does it minimize potentially dangerous distractions while you are driving, but it also makes it a lot easier to keep track of all the little things related to your trip, and when you’re dog tired and have a car full of restless kids, making everything as easy as possible is just a part of good planning.

That’s it for today!  I hope everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors this weekend!

Happy Trails.


“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!


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