Family Playlist

 

“Music has the charms to soothe the savage beast.”  Are we the only family who, while stuck in a vehicle on vacation, sometimes get on each other’s nerves?  Or have arguments start simply because one child is breathing too loud?

Can I suggest that before heading out for family road trips or vacation, that you bring some music with you?  I am not suggesting individual MP3 players or phones.  Nope, use the vehicle’s sound system.  After all, this is a family vacation and it is a time to connect with each other….not a device!  Music enjoyed together becomes a soundtrack for the vacation.  Every time I hear a certain Lady Antebellum song, I am transported back to traveling a dirt road near Glacier National Park with my kids singing along.  Glacier National Park 023

Since our vacations have themes based on location so does the music in the car/van.  My kids create a custom CD (known as a mix tape when I was growing up!) with music chosen just for that vacation.  When we were in Ireland it was Celtic Thunder and some music from our church.  In Montana, it was a great selection of country music.   Radio stations aren’t always available in the remote locations we seem to prefer for vacations and bringing our own CD’s guarantee background noise to help cover that annoying breathing!! 

My daughter has already chosen the first 6 songs for this summer’s soundtrack.  They are all from a Southern Gospel trio called “Not Easily Broken”  The group’s name itself could be a theme for our year….my mom is fighting cancer and with God’s help, she is not easily broken.  I am not sure what else Clare and the boys will add to the summer’s playlist but whatever it is, summer 2016 will be brought back to mind when we hear it in the future.

 

P.S.  If you have young children, check out Jungle Jam and Friends.  My kids could be in the foulest of moods at the end of a 10 hour car ride and these would immediately quiet everyone.  They are short stories that the kids love and adults will appreciate with fun songs.  www.fancymonkey.com 

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Camp Grandma

Once upon a time, I was listening to a good friend give talk about family legacy and what she planned to do with her future grandchildren. Camp Grandma. Brenda’s vision included crafts, special stories, activities and teaching her grandchildren about their extended family. A cool idea for a different kind of family adventure with younger children but my kids are teenagers now and wouldn’t be too thrilled with that idea.

Normally by now I would have our summer vacation plans pretty much set. A few final details and confirmations but nothing major. Well, 2016 has not been normal from day one…actually day -2.

My mom was diagnosed with a very aggressive Lymphoma on Dec. 30th. Mom began treatment shortly after that. Six cycles of in-hospital chemo followed by a bone marrow/stem cell transplant this summer. The transplant means a 30-day hospital stay and then in home isolation. Family trumps vacation. Every time. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t make it an adventure. It will just be a little different. This year we are doing our version of “Camp Grandma”.IMG_0228

My parents live on a farm in Niagara County, New York and there is always lots of work in the summer. My mom can’t do any of it so time for my kids to learn horsemanship, gardening, canning & freezing, meal preparation, haying, and navigating Buffalo roads (for my daughter who has her driving permit). There will certainly be fun times thrown in there. Day trips and a week at the cabin in Canada but our main focus will be helping the family…and learning some intangible lessons.

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Some of the horses on my family’s farm in Newfane, NY

The kids are actually looking forward to it. Ryan is planning to work out a riding schedule so that Grandma’s horses all get exercise. He even asked his sister to help. (They might learn cooperation!) Clare will be taking a few on-line college classes while also helping with gardening and kitchen chores. (time-management and basic culinary skills) She will also be trained for post-transplant caregiving. (Helpful for a future nursing student!) Sean will be working with Grandpa in the garden and the kitchen with me. (Learning to do physical work is SO important) Hopefully the lessons will include compassion, teamwork, a sense of accomplishment and turning love and service into action words.

I am looking forward to this time of watching my kids grow into adults. Life is always an adventure with my family!

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Off we go….

My theme for this summer is “Adventures are closer than you think”. Activities don’t have to be long, expensive or even on the schedule to be wonderful. Saturday was the perfect example of an impromptu adventure. A few days ago we heard about a small “fly-in” at the Lynchburg Airport sponsored by Freedom Aviation (www.flyfreedomaviation.com) and Liberty University Aviation.

We drove to the airport, were greeted by student volunteers and boarded a shuttle bus. What a pleasant surprise was waiting for us! The first person that we saw was a member of Rolling Thunder who gave each person a small American flag. There were planes used by Liberty University for flight training, vintage war planes, local emergency vehicles, displays of WWII weapons and the piece de résistance…..veterans from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

We got to walk on a huge C46 and admire the engines of some beautifully restored planes. LU airshow 004

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As a special treat for kids (ages 8 to 17) the Experimental Aircraft Association (www.eaa.org) was offering free flights. My kids were more than happy to get the chance to go up in this small Cessna.
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We are so thankful to all of the wonderful volunteers who gave up so much of their time and resources to make it a special afternoon for my family. Even though events like this one are offered free of charge to the public there most certainly are costs associated to those that sponsor them. Search out these types of events. Give the sponsors the joy of seeing people at their event and then take a few minutes of your time to thank them for the hours that they spent so that your family could enjoy an adventure!

A warning from a mom….airshows are hot. Make sure that you keep your kids hydrated. We were drinking water but Sean got a little overheated. He missed the chance at a free flight because he was sitting in the air conditioned van. Since we are going to another airshow this summer in Niagara Falls, we have vowed to be more prepared. Lots of water before we even get there. Hats to help keep the sun off our heads, sunscreen, find shade where we can and never stop drinking water.

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Falling for a little adventure….

It isn’t always easy to make family time when my kids have busier social lives than their parents. One of the tricks to having family adventures as the kids get older seems to be creative…and be flexible!

A family funeral meant that we would need to be in Pittsburgh on a Saturday in April. We decided to take the long way around to find something new to visit. After looking at a map and exploring possibilities, we decided on a stop at Fallingwater.

Ryan told his history teacher that he was going to miss a day of school. She asked where he was going and he mentioned Fallingwater. She told him that they would be learning about Frank Lloyd Wright in a couple of weeks so he should take a few pictures for her.

After driving for 5 hours (according to GPS lady) we were only 4 miles away. The kids were getting anxious but then we saw something that made us stop. A little park in the town of Ohiopyle with a gorgeous river running through it.falling water 007

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Time to move on down the road to Fallingwater. There are a couple of ticket options. Grounds passes for $8/person or house tours for $25/each. Since we are a family of 5 who travels on a budget, we opted for the self-guided grounds pass. falling water 045

We had access to all around the house and even on one of the terraces. We weren’t able to go into the house or guest house. While walking past the guest house we met a lady who was a theater hostess. She was kind enough to spend time telling us about the house and Frank Lloyd Wright. When Ryan mentioned about bringing things back for his teacher, she brought Ryan some amazing things and made him promise to get an A and send her a note about it.
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The house itself defies description. Contemporary and modern is the exact opposite of my style but I still loved it. When we followed a path marked “View” we came to a small clearing and saw this…..
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My kids’ mouths literally dropped open. I can’t tell you what a great feeling it is to see discovery in a teenagers eyes. So much time is spent learning in classrooms and on-line but to see it first-hand makes an impact beyond measure.

Look for little opportunities to experience things and life first-hand. A simple picnic connecting with friends and family trumps the latest on-line game every time.

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Planning Time!

Planning vacations is one of my favorite hobbies. Okay, if I am honest, planning …planning anything….is my primary hobby.

After last year’s Wild West trip, my family talked about where we wanted to visit the summer of 2015. The decision was Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Sounded great to me. I looked online and saw a couple of houses in Boothbay Harbor, Maine that were the right size, reasonably priced and would work great for our family. For some unknown reason, I didn’t make the reservations. Normally, by this time of the year, I will have booked some plans for our summer vacation adventure. Airplane tickets if needed or a rental house.

I am still not sure why but on Sunday as I was sitting in church listening to the pastor teach about financial fitness and idea about changing our vacation plans hit me. Don’t see the connection? Neither do I but that’s how it happened. After we got home, I talked with the kids about my thoughts. I knew that Dave would go along with whatever I decided but I wanted the kids on board. They agreed and now the brainstorming begins. We have decided to stay “close to home” this summer. Well, close to my family’s farm home is more of the truth.

Some of the horses on my family's farm in Newfane, NY

Some of the horses on my family’s farm in Newfane, NY

I grew up in a wonderful area of the country named Newfane, New York.

I guess the seagulls at Olcott Beach, NY don't read too well!

I guess the seagulls at Olcott Beach, NY don’t read too well!

Most people have never heard of it but most of the world has heard of a place just 25 minutes down the road….Niagara Falls! We have been to see Niagara Falls at least once a year with the kids and we have our favorite things to do in the area but this summer we are branching out.

A picture of part of Niagara Falls from the Cave of the Winds.

A picture of part of Niagara Falls from the Cave of the Winds.

Seeing new things and going new places in an area that we thought we were familiar with. This change of plans isn’t the only thing that is changing this year. My daughter Clare (15 years old) has often said that even though I ask what activities the kids want to do, I don’t ever give them control of the planning. Duh….that’s my favorite part! Well, this year I am letting go (at least a little) and letting the kids research and plan our adventures. I will offer some guidance, suggestions, a budget and one or two rules but this vacation is their design.

I am sure that this year’s adventures will be just as interesting as before so stayed tuned!

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Going to the Sun

Up early for a ranger led hike to Avalanche Lake. The meeting place was at the trailhead where there were bathrooms and a picnic area. There were a lot of parking places so I was very surprised that we got one of the last parking spots…at 8:30 in the morning! A large group assembled for the 5 mile hike. Our ranger did a great job pointing out the different types of trees and rocks along with evidence of fires and avalanches.
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It was a beautiful walk through huge forests and past rushing streams. After a while we were rewarded with the most amazing sight. A serene, high mountain lake fed by 7 or more waterfalls. I wish that my pictures could do it justice. It was just wonderful to be there. The kids took their shoes off to walk in the water. Brrr….Glacier National Park 099Glacier National Park 122Glacier National Park 129Glacier National Park 140Glacier National Park 147Glacier National Park 134
There were chipmunks running all around and Sean spotted this Stellar Jay. I didn’t know what kind of bird it was but Sean never hesitated in its identification. Guess reading the Audubon Guide to North American Birds paid off!Glacier National Park 155Glacier National Park 151We had received some good news…the Going to the Sun Road opened less than 12 hours before. We were going to be able to drive the entire length of the historic scenic highway on its opening day for 2014! What a road!!! At first we followed a river but then the road began to rise. It seem like we had only gone up for a few minutes and when we turned (another) corner, the river looked so far below us. The road curved and climbed up the mountains.
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We passed waterfalls coming from the snow melt, got up to the snow line until we reached the summit at Logan’s Pass. The snow was well over our heads. This was July 3rd!!! It is fun to be able to play in the snow when it is 80 degrees outside!Glacier National Park 220Glacier National Park 241
We start down the mountain and discover Lake Mary. The turquoise color is so vibrant. Glacier National Park 245

We exit the park so that we can drive north to another entrance. The area of the park called Many Glaciers can’t be reached from other roads in Glacier. Once there we find another grand lodge perched on another turquoise lake. There was a park ranger that gives a guided tour of the hotel. I don’t have to be asked twice!
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We are a long way from our cabin but the drive back through the Blackfoot Indian Reservation is beautiful.
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. It was getting late and the kids were getting hungry but when we were only a few miles from the West Glacier entrance, I looked up a hill that we were driving by and thought I saw a mountain goat. Dave stopped the car and we got out to see if there really was a mountain goat. Well, it wasn’t just one mountain goat but a whole group of mothers and babies. They were climbing a hill right next to the road. Our hunger was forgotten while we watched these absolutely adorable babies.
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What a great way to end a long day!!

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Getting a taste of Glacier….

We can see Glacier National Park from out rental cabin but after a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon, it is time to actually go in. Twelve miles back down our dirt road is a lesser known, unattended entrance to the park, Camas Road. It was so nice to be able to get into the park without waiting in line.
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Our first stop was at the Apgar Visitor Center. Clare and Sean signed up for the Junior Ranger Program and we got the park paper with a listing of Ranger Programs and available hikes. Going to the Sun Road is the most famous attraction at Glacier. It is an amazingly scenic road that crosses the center of the park, winding along rivers and climbing mountains. Unfortunately, the road was still closed due to avalanche activity and snow at Logan Pass. Did I mention that this was JULY 2nd?!?

It was a beautiful day so we found a parking place (easier said than done) near the Lake McDonald boat dock at Apgar Village. We unpacked our picnic lunch and found a large log to serve as our table/bench. The kids were less than excited about the prospect of yet another sandwich (day 11 in a row) but I had fixed a little bit of a surprise for them…chicken salad, cheese, lettuce and flour tortillas for wraps. Happy kids enjoyed their lunch with an amazing view!
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It was sunny and warm so off came the shoes and feet went in the water. The water may have looked inviting but it was cold. I guess that makes sense since the lake was being fed by snow melt from the surrounding mountains. We met a couple who had recently moved from Massachusetts to the area near Glacier. We had fun chatting with them and then the kids helped them launch their oversized, motorized canoe.
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We attended a ranger talk about the bears that live in the park. This was our second ranger presentation (we went to one in Grand Tetons earlier) about bears but despite the rangers’ assurances that there were large numbers of bears we had yet to see one.
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The western National Parks are known for their grand old lodges. We didn’t stay in any of these (not exactly budget and family friendly) but I certainly wanted to see one. We drove a few miles up the road to the other end of the lake and went into Lake McDonald Lodge. Wow! It was massive, gorgeous and beyond impressive. Maybe, sometime when the kids are grown, I will get to stay in one of these masterpieces. In the meanwhile, I got a cookbook of recipes from the lodges to keep me dreaming…and cooking!
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