Is it a family adventure without the rest of the family?

Usually my adventures occur with my family.  In fact, I haven’t been on a trip by myself in 20+.  That is all about to change.  I am heading to California in March!  I love to have “adventures” but I am not an adventurous person.  I research the death out of a trip so that I am prepared.  Knowing what is around every turn is my goal.   I guess I turn adventures into experiences…. which in my mind, is just as wonderful!  I have a feeling this trip will provide me with more authentic adventures and move me out of my control-freak comfort zone.

I grew up on a farm in a small town in Western New York and now we live in a rural county at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.  Los Angeles is bound to be a whole different world.

Normally, I travel with my husband and 3 teenagers.  We like to visit friends and family while we travel but I HATE to impose on people.  This trip not only am I majorly imposing on people, these poor people are relatives that I haven’t seen for over 30 years!  My cousins graciously invited me into their homes for a nice long visit.  I worry that…they won’t like me, I have weird habits/mannerisms that will drive them crazy, I will bore them.  All sorts of insecurities that don’t normally come along with my vacations because my family has to put up with me, I belong to them!

Long Beach California 1987

Me with my cousin Melinda in 1987…my white, northern skin wasn’t used to the sunshine!

Long Beach, CA 1987

My cousin Emily and I coloring Easter eggs…in 1987. I wish I was that skinny again but I never want to see that hair again!!!

My method of planning a vacation usually begins with figuring out what types of activities we want to do and then finding lodging near those parks/attractions.  This time, I am choosing activities based on where I am staying.

Wish me (and especially my cousins) luck!

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Oh, RATs!

Random Acts of Toys! My kids are used to my strange ideas by now. This latest one may have even taken them by surprise.

This year, we read a book as a family while traveling called Loves Does by Bob Goff. There are so many wonderful stories and principles in the book but one that I grasped onto was that the supply of love and joy are not finite. However, time to share love and joy is. Time to do feet to these ideas.

Over the years an extensive collection of stuffed animals has resided in our loft. Now that the kids are older I thought that it might be time to re-home some animals. We chose the nicest ones (that were on the small side) and packed them in our luggage.

Some of the stuffed animals waiting to be delivered.

We put a tag on each toy so that people didn’t think someone was stalking them.

When we arrived at Tangle Lakes Campground in the Denali State Park, operation RAT began. To say that Tangle Lakes is in the middle of nowhere would be an understatement. Well, three young children were camping with their parents just down from us. Sean and I quietly walked by their site and placed a stuffed animal in each of the kids’ chairs. We walked back to our RV and waited. A few minutes later you could hear the squeals of happiness. They were so excited. We repeated the toy drop with a different little girl an hour later. Same wonderful result. The next night took us to Brushkana Creek. Even further into wilderness but another 3 children were nearby. Clare and Lee delivered this time. Smiles all around again. We still had a few more to go before the end of the trip but it certainly was a fun addition to our memories.

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The end of the road is a SPIT!

We drove to the end of the Kenai Peninsula, where the road ends, and out onto the Homer Spit! The Homer Spit is a long, narrow strip of land that reaches out into Kachemak Bay. We stayed at the Homer Spit Campground which was almost at the land’s end. We had a beautiful view of the bay from our RV along with a great shower house and laundry room. (Which is very important when you are traveling with 4 young adults!)

Homer has absolutely stunning views, a large marina and fun, quirky shops but the real reason I added it to our itinerary was so that I could visit a restaurant. A very, special restaurant. I love to cook and collect cookbooks on our travels. I bought a cookbook on our very first visit to Alaska with stories and recipes from a remote, wilderness resort. I fell in love with cooking and settings of the high-end resorts operated by the Dixon Family. As beautiful and wonderful as they looked, I couldn’t afford it. We travel as a family of 5 within a budget so it was out of the question. I have dreamt about eating food prepared by the Dixons for almost ten years. Well, a little while ago I found out La Baleine Café in Homer is owned and operated by Mandy Dixon. Homer was now priority on our trip. Dave and I went to a late lunch at the café while the kids explored the spit. The food did not disappoint and I was thrilled to be able to talk with Mandy Dixon for a while.

Homer was a great place to see unique shops right next to boats from the TV show Deadliest Catch. We had fun walking around…and walking off lunch.

The next morning all of us went to the café for breakfast. Followed by a walk where we stumbled across sight-seeing monks! Clare gathered a few recipe cards from a seafood market for me before we headed out for our week-long, off the grid Denali adventure.

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Water Day….rain, stream, snow, ,glacier and a lake

We arrived in Alaska in the middle of the night and headed directly to our rental RV to get some sleep in the parking lot of Great Alaskan Holidays before heading out on our adventure.

A quick (okay, in all honesty it was a fairly extensive) stop at Wal-mart for groceries and we headed out of Anchorage. Morning rain that changed our hiking plans gave way to one of the most quintessential camping days. As we drove along Cook Inlet to Portage, the sun came out and the sky turned brilliantly blue. We had lunch in the RV before taking a 5 or 6 mile hike to Byron Glacier. We walked along a beautiful stream and then started up a snowy slope to the glacier. Can I tell you how much fun it is to play in the snow while it is a sunny, warm June day?

We enjoyed hiking along this stream to the foot of Byron Glacier

Our kids aren’t little anymore!

Our stop for that night was at Quartz Creek Campground in Cooper Landing. This is a popular campground later in the season but since it was early June, there were very few people and we had a prime spot right on Kenai Lake. The kids set up hammocks in the trees and Dave found driftwood along the lake for a camp fire. Smores were in order for dessert!! I took some time to explore the lakeshore and came across lots of moose scat and bear paw prints. No sleeping in the hammocks overnight!

I have heard this referred to as a bear version of a soft taco!

So beautiful and serene

My kids aren’t babies anymore. This trip to Alaska was Clare’s high school graduation gift. As I sat watching them around the campfire, I knew this was a special time as their relationships transitioned into more friendship rather than simply siblings.

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Waiting Game!

We had one of the best layovers EVER! Jet Blue threw us for a loop early this spring when they called to tell us that one leg of our trip to Alaska had been cancelled. After a whole bunch of work on both ends, we came up with flights that gave us a 47-hour layover in Portland, Oregon. No, we did not stay in the airport. Yuck! Instead we headed for the coast.

Our first stop was the Tillamook Creamery. Our family loves farms, cows, cheese and ice cream so this was a place made just for us! The real visitor center is under construction but the temporary one is so much fun. There were displays (a Kubota tractor that Ryan thought looked too shiny to have ever been driven on a dairy farm) and a cheese tasting! Yummy! We all had different favorites so we had to buy several kinds to take with us….to Alaska! (What family doesn’t take special cheese on a plane to a rental RV just so that Sean can attempt to make us the best grilled cheese ever?)

There is also a café and an ice cream shop that we just had to try. The sacrifices that we have to make to ensure that our kids have a memorable vacation!

Next stop…the adorable beach town of Manzanita, Oregon. We spent the day (and evening) walking along various beaches, accidently swimming in the CHILLY ocean, climbing on rocks and massive driftwood, basically having fun.

The next day found us at Cannon Beach checking out the anemones at Haystack Rock. Back to Portland in the afternoon to catch our evening flight to Anchorage. So much better than waiting in the airport for 47 hours!!


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Traveling = Juggling

TRAVELING with small children is tough.  There are tons of things to bring with you and schedules to juggle while on the road.  The logistics of traveling with teenagers is a lot easier…they can pack and carry their own bags, naps are no longer an issue (except maybe for mom), museums are more interesting, and you can let them do some things on their own.

PLANNING a trip with teenagers is a lot more difficult!  When the kids were little, I was able to research where we were going and chose what I thought would be fun for everyone.  Now I have to try to juggle 5 different opinions about where to go, what to see, what to do and what not to do.  And almost worse is when they have no opinion. 

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At a waterfall near Valdez, Alaska in 2011

I want to fill our days but not overschedule.  I want family time but not so much that we get on each other’s nerves.  I want to save money by cooking our meals (we are renting an rv) but not make it feel like normal meals.  Lots of things to juggle.


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The kids with some sled dogs at the Iditarod Headquarters

This summer we are heading for Alaska and I want it to be a dream vacation without breaking the bank.  That will take some creativity and cooperation.  Over the next week, I am hoping to sketch out a tentative itinerary and then hand it over for editing!  I do, however, think that Mom should always retain the right of final decision.



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And the planning begins


My first task in planning a family vacation is figuring out how we will get where we are going.  This summer we are going to Alaska and since we have limited vacation days, airports will be in our future. 


Mapes Family in Buffalo


When I first started pricing flights they were almost $800 per person.  (We fly out of Buffalo so that my dogs can have their own vacation on my parents’ farm)  An overwhelming price tag when you are flying with 5 people!  I was thrilled when I found a round trip flight for $500…until I noticed that there was a 23-hour layover in Portland, Oregon.  Ugh.  My heart sank.  Who wants to spend 23 hours in an airport, let alone with 3 teenagers?  I thought that it might be a deal-breaker but then an idea hit. We can get a hotel and a rental car for one night and take the kids to see Cannon Beach, Oregon on our way to Alaska. A trip within a trip…and we still save money!


Sometimes it is all a matter of perspective.


As a mom, I want to give my kids all of the experiences that I can.  As a responsible person, I refuse to go broke doing it.  I am learning to take my time and try to think of different ways to fulfill wishes affordably. 


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