Earning Their Wings

Getting them ready to travel on their own.  Graduating from the house.  Raising future adults.  Growing up.  All of these phrases describe one of the main goals of parenting.  Our family loves to use travel and experiences to open our kids to seeing and learning about new (to them) things.  Summer seems to lend itself for kids to be a little more open to hair-brained ideas.  I am going to propose some learning experiences that will hopefully benefit our kids for a lifetime.

Several years ago a friend planted the seed of this idea…make a list of requirements for our kids to graduate from the house.  High schools and colleges have degree completion plans that let students know exactly what they have to accomplish in order to earn their degree.  Learning skills to function as an adult are just as important but there doesn’t seem to be a structured plan.  Until now that is!!!  Introducing……

“It’s a Jungle Out There” School of Life

Get up and ready (completely) by yourself for one week

Write thank you notes (address it and send it by regular mail!)

Wash dishes

Cook an entire meal

Laundry – wash and fold

Change oil in a car or take it to get an oil change

Pump gas

Check tire pressure/put air in tire

Navigate via paper map

Use a hammer and screwdriver

Make a doctor’s appointment

Sew on a button

Iron a shirt and pants

Tie a tie

Grocery shop on a budget

This is the start of our list.  If my children complete their list prior to high school graduation, they get to choose the vacation for that summer…within reason.  Clare has a great start and has informed us that we will all be enjoying Alaska together next summer!

What would you put on your list or suggest for ours?



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Birthday Trips

This post is a little different than my usual.  Today would have been my eldest son’s 18th birthday.  Unfortunately, due to severe congenital heart defects, Ian only got to spend 7 birthdays with us here on earth and now he is celebrating in Heaven.

 I made a conscious decision that when my kids were born (an easy decision when you have a sick child) that we weren’t going to give them birthday gifts.  We were going to take birthday trips.  Just weekend getaways but it was family time vs. things.  Grandparents and aunts took care of giving a few little gifts and somehow the kids still ended up having plenty of toys.  The kids never seemed to question why we didn’t load them up with presents because that isn’t something they ever experienced.  Instead they got to experience mini-vacations at Myrtle Beach, Smoky Mountains, Orlando, Washington, DC and other places.  Our big vacations didn’t come until the kids were older and then we incorporated special “excursions” as Christmas gifts.

 In the spring of 2005, Ian and Sean wanted to ride on Thomas the Tank Engine.  We found out that the train was going to be in Medina, NY a couple of days after Ian’s 7th birthday.  It turns out that was Ian’s last birthday.  I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am that we gave Ian the gift of time instead of a toy.  ScannedImage001_001

 Memories are what stand the test of time.  Unlike toys, memories don’t get broken …or cause you to twist an ankle when you step on them in the middle of the playroom.  Shared memories create great family stories.   Don’t miss the opportunity to share life with your family.all my kids

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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

LU airshow 010
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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