Ahhh!! Where did the summer go? I ask myself this question every year when Labor Day weekend is staring at me in the rearview mirror, mocking my attempts at holding on to summer a little longer. After the flurry of mindless trips to Target wandering the school supply aisles, and the frantic last minute Zappos orders are placed for school shoes, I think about the next big hurdle…
Getting my kids up EARLY. Oh the horror!
The lazy mornings of summer and sleeping in are coming to a screeching halt. And this momma has to have a plan to combat the often challenging transition from summer vacation to school year routine. I also made a decision a couple of years ago that I wanted our mornings to be structured, and as free of stress as possible while trying to get out the door.
This wasn’t something I just “decided”, however. Because goodness knows, I didn’t get the “Mom Manual” when I left the hospital with my firstborn. So I am figuring this out by making lots of mistakes. I mean GOBS of mistakes. After a couple of early years of crazy, sweaty mornings harping on the girls to move faster, eat their breakfast, and find their backpack, I knew there had to be a better way. I re-evaluated my morning routine and this is what’s currently working for me.
1. Alarm Clocks
Both of my girls have been using alarm clocks since kindergarten. Honestly, this initially came from my desire to avoid the association of me with that unpleasant moment of being awakened from a deep sleep. I also want them to learn at an early age how to be responsible with getting their day started on their own.
2. Know Your Child’s Morning Personality
I have two daughters that couldn’t be more different, and I love that. However, that also means I have to take into consideration their personalities when it comes to getting up in the morning. One flies out of bed when her alarm goes off, ready to start her day, and the other “needs her coffee” before she can function. (Don’t panic, I don’t give my girls coffee. But it’s a great analogy!) She needs to lay on the couch for ten minutes to wake up and process her morning before she hits the ground running. Because I know this about her, I set her alarm 10 minutes earlier so she can have her couch cuddle time.
3. Set the Mood
Before they come downstairs, I always have the lights in the kitchen and living room dim (I’m obsessed with dimmer switches), a candle lit, and praise and worship music playing softly in the background. I want the first thing that my daughters are exposed to in the morning to be praises to our Lord. I feel that this prepares their hearts for the day and gently awakens both their minds and their spirits.
After they come downstairs are curled up on the couch for a few minutes listening to the music, I begin slowly turning the room’s lights up from their relaxed, dim stater. I’ve found that this gradual brightening of the room helps them gently wake up and fosters a better mood for both of them.
4. The Checklist
This was probably the best addition to my morning routine. Before the “checklist” I found myself constantly nagging at them to get their teeth brushed, or put their dishes in the dishwasher, blah blah blah! I felt like a drill Sergeant barking orders and calling out commands. “Come on girls! You have five minutes! Let’s go, let’s go!” The mood was far from relaxed and I hated that they were starting their day with me yapping and yelling at them.
My solution? The checklist. I created a chart of all the things they needed to do before we walked out the door. A few things on the list include, making their beds, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, putting their dishes in the dishwasher, signing reading logs, and filling their water bottles, for a start. This list gets taped on the kitchen wall every Monday morning.
They know that they have until 7:30 am to complete and check off all of the things on the list. If they compete it on time they can earn a quarter for their piggy banks.
Mood before the checklist system was put in place…..CHAOS.
Mood after the checklist system….HEAVEN.
This was a game changer for me. Instantly, I was no longer the nagging, mean mommy. I was calm, peaceful mommy, holding two shiny quarters in my hand while two little munchkins scurried around getting stuff done! Game changer.
I continued the reward system for a little while in order to reinforce the routine, but now they just know that this is what is expected.
5. Set a Schedule
I have found that if I stick to a specific schedule each morning, almost down to the minute, then things run much more smoothly. Here’s how I break it down:
6:25: Alarms go off
6:30-6:45: Lay on the couch and gradually wake up
7:10-7:30: Complete the checklist
7:30 Out the door!
This may seem rigid to some, and obviously there are days when it needs to be adjusted, but having these time markers creates structure and structure creates peace. I’ve also found it’s very helpful when I have grandparents watching the girls overnight. It lays out the morning process for them and the girls are so familiar with it that they pretty much run the morning themselves!
6. Car Prayers
These are the last 10 minutes that I will have with my girls before they are in someone else’s hands at school for the next eight hours. So I have made it a priority to pray in the car every morning. We also recite scripture like:
Phillippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,”
Psalm 118: 24, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Getting scripture in their hearts and minds is so important, and giving them the tools to fight what may come their way each day is so important. I have found that showing my girls how to create structure in their day, and incorporating God into those first waking hours through music, scripture, and prayer is the best thing I, as a mom, can do for my kids.
I love to travel. Especially with my family. We recently got home from an eight day whirlwind trip to two of our country’s beautiful national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone. This would be the first time that my daughters would experience these incredible expanses of beauty that our nation has thankfully protected out west, and I was as excited as Teddy Roosevelt in a forest.
As we were planning our trip, the former second grade teacher in me kicked into high gear and I immediately started concocting ways to make sure my girls would absorb as much information, and appreciation, for what they were about to see. As I often do, I put on that heavy “mom hat” called “pressure and perfection”, and started heavily focusing on my role not only as a caregiver, but in this situation, an educator.
That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Our job is to make sure that our children are being exposed to new situations, constantly learning, and soaking up absolutely everything that they can about new places and experiences. Well, yes in a perfect world, but after some reflection, following our return home, I realized I had set an unhealthy expectation for not only them, but for myself too.
I wanted them to see EVERY beautiful vista from our van. I YEARNED for them to be well-versed on geysers, fumaroles, and every other geothermal feature that they would see. I ACHED that they would remember each and every fun fact that our tour guides spewed so that their sweet impressionable minds would be blown by the vast and intricate world God so perfectly created. But then reality set in.
Instead of soaking in every gorgeous landscape from our vehicle as we traversed the wide open spaces and jagged mountain passes, I mostly saw them curled up in the back bench in the van, with their noses in a book. (Still a good thing, mind you.) And instead of becoming an instant earth scientist ready to present their dissertation on volcanic energy after our full two days in Yellowstone, they laughed and talked more about the weird, icky, bubbling mud in the ground.
The best part was, all of this was a far better outcome.
Years from now this trip will most likely be a faded memory for them, only jogged by the few thousand pictures we took. They won’t remember the facts about pine cones that the park ranger shared at the educational talk. But they will remember that we were together as a family, and the funny moments like watching me “van surf” trying to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we cruised down the highway to our next location.
They probably won’t remember all of the specific things that make our national parks so special, but they will know that we as parents, cared enough about these beautiful places and the importance of exploring our world, to make the effort to go. My parents did this for me as a child, and my hope is that this concept will now be rooted in my kids’ DNA as well. And hopefully, the process will continue as they share the wonders of God’s creation with their children someday.
This is a trip that I’ve been looking forward to doing with the girls for a long time. Exploring this beautiful country that we have the privilege of living in, and seeing its majestic wonders is a rite of passage for a child, in my mind. With so many incredible options of locations to choose from, Andrew and I landed on Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park for our first attempt at the quintessential “family road trip”. (Cue “Holiday Roooooaaad…”)
Andrew being the consummate travel planner, dove into exploring our options for best experiencing these two beautiful places and landed on a camping hybrid solution that involved living in a van. Yes, you heard that right. A van. I’ll be honest, my first reaction was “Huh?”, but once he explained the benefits of this somewhat non-traditional approach, I was sold. Essentially, to maximize our time in the parks and still get that rustic feeling of camping in nature, Andrew made arrangements to rent a Sprinter van that would act as both our transportation and our “home” for the next eight days.
These vans are equipped with convertible cots for sleeping, a small kitchenette with a stovetop, refrigerator, and microwave, and importantly a bathroom. Hallelujah. You had me at “toilet”. The really nice thing is that they are smaller than a typical RV and therefore, easier to maneuver, park, and drive. It’s especially nice for this girl who doesn’t exactly love the idea of piloting a vehicle the size of a small apartment building, containing my entire beloved family, down a busy highway at top speed. Nothing against large RV’s, but my nerves and sanity just can’t take that kind of pressure! It’s also great because we didn’t need to pack any camping equipment. The fact that were going to be on the move frequently, and knowing that we wouldn’t have to set up and break down camp each night would be very helpful.
Our plan of attack in terms of our route was to fly to Jackson Hole, WY where we would pick up our van. From there we would drive about six hours to Missoula, Montana the first night, then into Glacier National Park for three days of camping (or should I say “glam”-ping). From there we would drive to Bozeman, MT for one night, then into Yellowstone National Park for two additional nights. Then head back to Jackson Hole, for one last night and day to recover.
Picking Up Our Digs
We arrived in Jackson Hole on Thursday evening and first thing on Friday morning a very nice gentleman named Brad, dropped off our van. He spent a good hour giving us the download of how to operate the vehicle, including which battery supplied power to what, how to put the benches down to form beds, and most importantly, how to dispose of the lavatory and sink waste after every two to three days. As soon as Brad mentioned “black water” I could see Andrew shiver a bit and we both paid very close attention at this much dreaded, yet necessary piece to van camping.
He informed us that the company we rented the van from had quite a fleet of these beauties and each was named for ease of recognition by the company owner. We were told that our van was named, Shannon. This small fact immediately endured “her” to the girls. I made a point to secretly let Shannon know she had a big job ahead of her and that she better not let us down!
On the Road
Once we were checked out on the vehicle and our trip odometer was set to zero we were off and running! The girls immediately staked out which parts of the van were theirs and unpacked their books, journals, and stuffed animal companions at lightning speed. We had quite a few miles to cover this first day so as “trip navigator” I mapped out the route and off we went. The girls came up with a game that consisted of Andrew calling out whenever we entered a new town. The first person to spot the name of that town either on a sign or a storefront would yell it out and whoever got it first, won. The game lasted for the first hour or so and then the girls were over it. But it was still a fun way to start the trip and I could tell they were excited about this adventure, which as a parent is pretty awesome.
With the girls settling into their new living quarters in the back of the van, Andrew and I searched iTunes for the perfect road trippin’ music and landed on Willie Nelson, of course. After that six-ish hour stretch, with a quick stop for dinner in the itty bitty town of Dillon, MT, we arrived at the campground, just south of Missoula. This is where we would be staying for the evening. It was the Beaverhill Tail State Park campground located on the Clark Fork River. We pulled in around 8 pm having absolutely no idea how this whole campground thing worked. (Don’t get me wrong, we have done plenty of camping before, but never in a vehicle with four to six wheels. So this was all new to us!) Thankfully, we had a reserved spot, but we still stopped at the entrance and looked around like a couple of complete “glam”-ping newbies. A nice couple with a rocking RV set-up, complete with potted plants by their camp chairs, came out and greeted us. They sent us in the right direction of our reserved spot and we carefully backed into our slot.
It was a beautiful place right along the rushing mountain river and we quickly got to work getting beds put into place and plugging the van into the power source located nearby. The learning curve was steep being this was our first night in the van so there was a lot of checking, double checking, and “Do you remember what Brad said about this?” questions being asked. But once we got it all dialed in, we slept like babies.
Glacier National Park
Our plan was to get up very early and begin our three hour drive into the west side of Glacier National Park. When the sun started to come over the horizon, we carefully repositioned the girls from their cots toward the front of the van back to our bed so we could turn the front seats around into a driving position. With them tucked back in and comfy we quietly pulled out of the campground with only our parking lights on as to not wake up the other campers.
There is a beautiful place to camp inside Glacier National Park called Apgar Campground. This is a first come, first serve campground so we didn’t have the luxury of making a reservation. This meant we were relying on the right timing, a little bit of luck, and a lot of prayer to get a site. This campground fills up extremely quickly so we were nervous about our chances.
At the entrance of the campground, we met a nice park ranger who said that there were a few spots available, but we would have to circle the multiple loops to find one. We slowly made our way down loop B scouring each numbered site for a post that didn’t have an “occupied” tag on it. Our hearts were pounding a bit and we were slightly on edge because we knew that finding a spot was a long-shot.
As we slowly stalked each campsite, we spotted a post with an empty clip and immediately Andrew jumped out to ask the current inhabitant if they were indeed leaving that morning. A sleepy disheveled twenty-something crawled out of his car and confirmed that he would be vacating in about a half an hour. Thank you, Lord! Andrew quickly filled out the reservation tag and clipped it to the post as the other campers lined up behind us, also looking for spots, continued their search. We felt like we had won the lottery! This was a crucial piece to our planning and if we hadn’t found a site here in the park it would have drastically changed our direction for seeing Glacier.
Once our heart rates had decreased and we could breathe a little easier, we headed into the visitor center to get the lay of the land. I always recommend hitting the visitor center first when you arrive at a national park. The rangers are super helpful and if you’re a visual person like me, they have great maps and displays to show you what you can see and do.
The national parks also have a Junior Ranger program which is a lot of fun for the kids. It consists of an educational activity book with facts about the park. If they fill out a certain number of pages and attend an informative talk given by a park ranger, they can be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive a badge or patch. Each park has their own specific booklet and the rangers do a great job making this activity really special for the kids.
Because we had arrived early that morning we were able to book a horseback ride in the park for the afternoon. This was something Lauren desperately wanted to do. This would be the first time for both of the girls to ride a true trail horse, and they were pumped. We drove to the corral and got introduced to our respective horses. Lauren was paired with Red, Katherine was matched with Chester, Andrew had Winchester, and I got the pretty caramel colored, Legend. With a few whoops and “yee-haws” from our true cowgirl trail guides we were off!
The ride was about two hours and took us through beautiful forests of lodgepole pine trees, over rivers, and past patches of wild huckleberries. We even got a visit from two large bucks with fuzzy antlers that decided to run right by our group. The girls did great. Even little Katherine whose horse Chester had a mind of his own and continually went off the trail. She was very frustrated with him, but did a great job wrangling him back on track the best she could.
After we arrived back on the stables we all dismounted and waddled back to the van smelling like sweat and horses, but happy. Lauren was officially hooked and for the remainder of the trip persistently asked if we could do it again.
This was our first night sleeping in this particular campground which unlike our previous one the night before, didn’t have any electrical hookups. Our van was equipped with batteries that were designed to supply power to necessary items, like the refrigerator, throughout the night, but we still hadn’t gotten the hang of how to “do nighttime” in the van off the grid. So, at 5 am we were startled awake by the sound of a loud beeping. We jumped up, disoriented, and fumbled around in the dark trying to figure out what was happening. We were able to discern that it was the CO2 detector that was beeping because the battery that supplies it had run low due to the van not being plugged into a power source the whole night. It was similar to that annoying chirp from your home smoke detector that ALWAYS inconveniently happens in the middle of the night instead of a more manageable mid-afternoon time.
We were dying inside because the loud beeping was carrying through this quiet campground of other exhausted campers probably trying to sleep and here we were completely disturbing the peace. Ugh! So mortifying! Thankfully, we figured out how to disconnect the main battery to finally stop the beeping. We didn’t feel as bad a few days later when some poor soul set off their car alarm at about the same unruly time in the morning. It was way louder than our annoying beep, and Andrew and I both commented, “At least we weren’t that guy!”
Going to the Sun Road and the Red Bus Tour
This was the one thing in Glacier that I desperately wanted to do. I had heard so much about the beautiful Going to the Sun Road and I wanted to experience it on the famed Red Bus Tour. I’m so glad we did. We boarded the super cool, vintage, 1930’s bus and gazed up at the sky through the open roof. Andrew was particularly geeking out because these vintage buses had been refurbished by Ford Motor Company and being a Ford family, he felt right at home.
Our seasoned driver began the four hour tour up the mountains to Logan’s Pass and the continental divide. It was absolutely beautiful and honestly, pictures don’t do it all justice. Periodically, our driver would pull off on the side of the road and let us “prairie dog up”, which meant we could stand and stick our bodies out of the top of the bus to get a good photo. We passed waterfalls, weeping rocks, dall sheep, and a lot of nervous drivers creeping along, staring into the steep mountain canyons below. I was in heaven soaking up the beauty. The girls were in heaven because the driver gave them huckleberry licorice.
IT’S TIME FOR THE DUMP!
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on what I’m sure you all want to know, and that’s “How did the dump go?” By “the dump” I mean the removal of the dreaded van wastewater that I mentioned earlier. Yes, that oh-so fun, necessary task that we knew was coming sooner than later. Being the consummate rule followers, and knowing that we were supposed to empty these tanks every two to three days, we decided that today was the day. (The fact that the gauges read FULL was a slight motivator too.) I think we were more afraid of the potential sanitary repercussions for our living quarters than we were about disobeying Brad’s directions.
So with that we reluctantly drove to the dumping station at the entrance to the campground. We pulled up to the station, which consisted of a few hoses and a couple of holes in the ground covered by small cap and a stick, and I did what few people do. I got out the instruction manual. Yep. You heard that right. We were that desperate. I narrated the steps while Andrew gloved up with the supplied black rubber gloves. Here is how the conversation went.
Andrew: “Okay, now I open this hatch under here, right?”
Me: “Yes, don’t forget to prop it up so it doesn’t close on you.”
Andrew: “Got it.”
Me: As I’m reading from the manual… “Alright, now pull the hose out of the van and stick the nozzle in the hole.”
Andrew: (removes the cap and stick from the hole with flies swarming around and looks up at me with nose wrinkled)
Me: “Now open the valve, and I’ll push this red button here on the door. Wait, do you push the button then open the valve, or open the valve, then push the button?”
Andrew: “Brad said to open the valve, then push the button.”
Me: “Okay, open the valve then push the bottom. Got it.” (Pushing button) “Is anything happening?”
Andrew: “I think I hear some gurgling.”
Me: “That’s good, right?”
Andrew: “Yes babe, that’s good.”
Me: “How long do I hold this button?”
Andrew: “Till the gurgling stops, babe.”
Me: “Oh, okay.”
(Andrew is standing with his foot on the end of the hose that’s stuck in the hole so it doesn’t unexpectantly fly out. The hose begins to vibrate and shake as liquid begins traveling through it. The gurgling slows. I’m still pushing the button.)
Andrew: “I think it’s empty and you can stop pushing the button.”
Me: “But are you really SURE it’s empty? I mean, how do you really know?”
Andrew: “Trust me, I think it’s empty.” (He pushes the hose back into the van, closes the hatch and with that same wrinkled nose face gingerly peels off the black latex gloves and discards them.)
Oh my gosh. We did it. We drove away from that little dumping station with grins on our faces and all the satisfying feels one might have if they had just landed a spacecraft on the moon. We were officially seasoned “van campers” and we were ready to take on the world.
Avalanche Lake Hike
The next day we decided to attempt the hike to Avalanche Lake. We packed our pack with plenty of water, lunches, and snacks, and caught the shuttle from the visitor center up to the Avalanche Lake trailhead. There were plenty of other people with the same idea, so we were definitely not alone. The hike is approximately 4.5 miles round trip and the girls bounded down the boardwalks of the Trail of the Cedars with loads of energy. They bounced from rock to rock as I sounded like the proverbial worried mother, “Careful girls, whoa, hold on, don’t step there, get off of that boulder, you’re too close to the edge…blah, blah, blah…” In between the mini heart attacks I soaked in the gorgeous cedars, massive rock walls, rushing streams, and wild flowers as we ascended the mountain trail.
Finally, we reached the top and the girls’ energy by this point had significantly waned. The last stretch was a bit steep and the complaining, or should I say whining, was kicking into high gear. I used this moment to get all “mom philosophical” on them and reminded them that life can be hard and paths aren’t always easy, but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other you’ll reach a great reward. (Insert eye rolls, and grunts here.) Keep sowing the seeds, mommas. Even if you don’t think your kids are listening, your words are sinking into those sweet heads and hearts of theirs.
When we turned the corner at the top, the scene before us opened up and it literally took my breath away for a minute. A turquoise lake surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs covered in trees and waterfalls was a gorgeous site. We found a spot in the shade and ate our lunch with a couple of curious chipmunks. The girls took off their shoes and waded in the glacier fed water as Andrew snapped pictures. I was thoroughly entertained by two, slightly overweight, gentlemen hikers precariously lounging on a large rock in the water taking pictures of themselves with a long selfie stick. I was secretly hoping one would roll off and find himself drenched in the knee high water. (I know. I’m terrible. But it would have made for a great story, and a good chuckle!)
Once we had taken in our fill of the fantastic view we started back down the trail. I reminded the girls that it’s way easier going down than up, so thankfully the trek wasn’t quite as strenuous this time around. We made it back to our campsite and Andrew cooked a great meal on our van’s two burner stove and we made campfire s’mores for dessert.
As we left the park the next morning, Andrew made a point to find a poor circling camper looking for a spot. Knowing the stress we went through to insure our coveted campsite, we wanted to bless someone else with our soon to be vacated spot. He noticed a gentleman earlier in a silver truck slowly circling our loop with that familiar worried look in his eye and Andrew stopped him. He chatted briefly and then asked the man if he was a father. He said, “Yes, my wife and kids are still sleeping and I’m trying to find a spot for my family.” Bingo. Andrew told him it was his lucky day and the relief that came over his face was almost comical. We pulled out as he pulled in behind us and both smiled at each other. Good deed for the day….check!
We left the campsite and drove through a small town outside of the park entrance. Andrew spotted a sign for huckleberry pie so quickly stopped. Everything in this part of the country is “huckleberry” so when in Rome, do as the Romans do! Eat huckleberry pie! It was quite a treat devouring it in the van on the way to the next stop. We headed to the east side of Glacier National Park near the Two Medicine lake. We again stopped and had a picnic lunch, skipped rocks in the lake, and hiked to Running Eagle Falls. Katherine spotted a snake on the trail and came running back to us with wide eyes! We also had a fun encounter with a mountain goat in a parking lot as we were leaving.
We stopped at the small visitor center and the girls got sworn in as Junior Rangers by Ranger Jake. He went through their completed activity books with them, asked them questions, and had them hold up their right hand and repeat the Junior Ranger oath. I could almost feel the embarrassment exploding out of Lauren as she repeated the words and I think if she could have, she would have crawled under the rangers desk as fast as you could say “endangered species”. The girls were great sports however, and Andrew was beaming and recording every awkward moment for posterity. (And for further embarrassment in their wedding video someday, of course.) It’s actually a really fantastic program and super educational for the kids. I highly recommend encouraging/forcing your children to do it. It completely filled my elementary teacher bucket from my “past life”.
We jumped back into Shannon (our van if you forgot), and headed toward Bozeman, MT. The drive would be about five hours and the girls’ entertained themselves with the mountains of library books we brought (still haven’t done a book count to see if they all made it home, yikes) and a couple hours of season three of Little House on the Prairie. I figured if I was going to let them watch any TV on this trip, it would be during a long drive stretch and it was going to be something educational with good morals. Thankfully, they are as addicted to Laura Ingals Wilder as I was at that age.
We didn’t have much time in Bozeman so we grabbed dinner at a restaurant that was a recommendation from friends, and then found our campsite at the Bozeman Hotsprings Campground. This was a completely different feel from our site in Glacier so a good experience for us newbie van-campers. Thankfully, the campground was right next door to the Bozeman Hot Springs so we put our swimsuits on, and tried to keep up with the girls as they ran for the entrance. All we had to say was “pool and hot tub” and they were off like a shot. It felt SO amazing to soak in the naturally heated pools after previous days of hiking, horseback riding, and sleeping in a van. The shower felt extra amazing, and the girls got an education on showering in a public “locker room”. Broadening their horizons, folks.
Yellowstone National Park
After a good night’s sleep we were up early again to find a Starbucks and get back on the road. Our next stop would be Yellowstone National Park. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for quite some time. I knew it would be a highlight for the girls and it had been years since I had been to the park myself.
We arrived at the West Yellowstone and headed straight for the visitor center. We hadn’t officially entered the park yet, but we wanted to get our bearings and figure out the best route to take with the two and a half days that we had. We spoke with a nice ranger that gave us the lay of the land and a suggested route. She asked Lauren what grade in school she was going into. Lauren responded, “Fourth,” at which the ranger replied, “Well, little lady, you qualify for the Every Kid in a Park program! You and your entire family can enjoy the national parks for free!” Oh yeah! Way to go Lauren! I had heard of this program, but I didn’t think she qualified because she wasn’t officially in her fourth grade year of school yet, but evidently she did! She saved us $35 which she continued to remind us of, and then tried to justify reasons for why she thought we owed her money. Hmmm… Nice try kid.
Because we came in on the west entrance we decided to start heading north toward the upper loop beginning with Norris and the Artist Paintpots. This ended up being a favorite of Lauren’s. The bubbling mud pots were fascinating to all of us and my teacher hat went on again as I tried to explain all of the geological reasons behind what we were seeing.
Thankfully, before we left on our adventure, we had downloaded a fantastic app called Gypsy Guide that gave us a narrated tour through the entire park. It was not only educational with fun facts and park information, but it also helped us as drivers to navigate which sites were ahead and what the “must see” stops were. I highly recommend downloading this app if you are traveling in any national park. But do it before you enter the park and have access to WiFi. You will not be able to download it once you are in the park.
We continued to head north toward Mammoth Hot Springs and around the loop through Tower-Roosevelt. This drive was absolutely spectacular and the landscape was vast. I was a little nervous on the narrow and windy roads as we went up in elevation, but Andrew handled the van like a champ.
As we made our way through this part of the park we came across a large field that was full of bison. Our helpful Gypsy Guide app informed us that August is rutting season for bison and that we may see quite a few at this time. Well, they weren’t kidding. We saw babies, two males forcefully head butting each other, and another right alongside our car. Lauren thought they were “Soooo cuuuuttee!!!”
We also saw a black bear not far off the road with a good handful of “not so smart” tourists out of their cars taking pictures. Really people. Did you not see the umpteen-million signs of sad stick figures flying over the head of a bucking bison that say, “Give the animals their space!”?
The next stop was Canyon Village and the famed Inspiration Point and Artist Falls. This is that picture you always see of the yellow, stone canyon and gorgeous rushing waterfall pouring into the valley. This was definitely a must see.
Andrew was getting pretty exhausted from all of the driving for the day so thankfully we were near our stop for the night. We stayed at Lake Lodge situated in Lake Village on Lake Yellowstone. The little cabin we found ourselves in was an adorable throwback to the 50’s and to be able to spread out in a real room with two beds with bedside tables was a total treat. We slept great and were ready to continue our adventure in the morning after hitting the cafe and coffee shop in the hotel.
All we had left to explore, of this amazing place, was the bottom half of the lower loop which consisted of Old Faithful and the Upper, Middle, and Lower Geyser Basins. Since we were staying at Old Faithful that night we drove right past it to hit the geyser basins first.
A highlight here was of course, the Grand Prismatic Spring. Not only were we completely impressed by the sheer size of this feature, but the colors were just gorgeous. I tried explaining to the girls how the colors were formed by the different bacteria living at different water temperatures, and I think they got it, but they were most disturbed by the rotten egg smell emanating from everywhere the went. In spite of the smell, this beautiful site was a favorite for all of us.
We made our way through the geyser basins and back toward Old Faithful and the Old Faithful Inn. We were lucky enough to secure a room last minute and I was super excited to stay in this iconic place. I was telling the girls that this building was one of the largest log-style structures in the world and has been around since the early 1900’s. Their response was, “But what about the Disney Wilderness Lodge?” Isn’t that the biggest log building? “Uhh…well…this is the real deal kids.”
The lobby is nothing short of impressive and what got me the most excited was reading the history of the crows nest located at the top of the vaulted ceiling. Many years ago in the heyday of the Inn, orchestras would play in the crows nest to dancing guests in the lobby below. Oh, be still my heart. I would have given up my portion of the huckleberry pie to go back in time to experience that.
After sucking down some ice cream cones, we went outside to catch the show that everyone was there for. Good “Old Faithful”. And that she was. We were even able to catch it again later that night as a rainstorm blew in complete with a double rainbow. Thank you, Lord!
The girls completed their new Yellowstone Junior Ranger books and graciously obliged their parents by doing the swearing in, once again, with Ranger Randy. This time he threw in that they would promise to eat their vegetables. Yes. Thank you, Ranger Randy.
Grand Teton National Park
Our trip was coming to an end and we spent the last day on the road driving south through the beautiful Grand Teton National Park. Our family has always had a thing for Jackson Hole and the Teton Mountain Range so being able to end our trip staring at those massive, snow capped peaks was such a treat. It felt like a fitting way to finish our journey.
As we pulled into our final stop in Teton Village, we climbed out of our faithful van, Shannon, and wearily unpacked our little mobile abode. We were exhausted, but completely filled with a sense of awe and accomplishment at what we had just done. The logistics of a trip like this are pretty massive, and I was so proud of my husband for pulling it all together. We were a great team, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience with the dearest three people in my life.
I was reflecting recently on this crazy job called “parenting” that my husband and I have been given, and as our girls grow I have decided that one of my favorite things to do is to speak life into them. I definitely don’t get this whole “parenting thing” right all the time, and I will be the first to admit that. But, I do know how powerful our words can be.
Words have the incredible ability to build up, or tear down. Your words are a powerful tool that you have, at your disposal, in any given moment. When it comes to our words, we must “choose wisely”. (Cue the music from the famous scene about the Holy Grail, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.)
I love using words to build up my children and speak life over them. Some “statements” are easy to say and come out of my mouth very freely. Here are my top three statements I speak over them, almost daily.
Do they occasionally roll their eyes and say, “Yea, mom. I know. I know.” Of course. But, more often they listen. I know that somewhere it’s sinking into their hearts and their heads. And when difficult times come, or lies from the enemy try to penetrate their thoughts, I know that I have done my best to build a strong foundation of truth in their hearts.
As I mentioned earlier, some statements are easy to say, but there are others that take a little more effort. These are the words that you use to break down barriers, or change behaviors. These can be tough.
One of my challenges, being a mother of young daughters, is dinnertime. I have one daughter that tends to be a “picky eater”, and one that is only slightly adventurous when it comes to trying new cuisine. I refuse to be a short-order cook, so usually, what’s for dinner is what’s for dinner. Unfortunately, this isn’t always received with open arms and eager forks, so oftentimes a small battle ensues.
When we sit down to the table, and I see their deflated faces and hear their grumbles over the veggie laden casserole I just spent all afternoon slaving over, my blood begins to boil. The devil on my shoulder wants to scream, “Stop being a picky eater”! But, guess what? If you tell your child they are a picky eater, then they will probably be a picky eater! They will believe what you say, and you begin to unintentionally reinforce their behavior. Those words become seeded in their heart, and they become what you say they are.
So instead of using negative words to reinforce unwanted behaviors, I started using positive words like, “You’re a LEARNING EATER.” Then we explain what a learning eater is, and how learning eaters try everything and learn to eventually like new foods.
Learning eaters have fun experimenting with ingredients and trying things NOT on the children’s menu at restaurants. And sure enough, the girls are becoming more adventurous and starting to believe that they are truly “learning eaters.”
This works for so many other instances too. If you tell your child they are impossible, naughty, driving you crazy, (fill in the blank), then that is quite possibly what they will begin to believe, and live up to. During these times it is that much more important to speak the positive behavior over them.
When siblings are arguing and stealing each other’s toys, (I’ve NEVER experienced this. Only read about it. Kidding.) remind them that they are KIND, THOUGHTFUL, FORGIVING, and great at SHARING. Begin each statement with, “You.” “Suzie, you are such a great sister. You are loving, kind, and so good at sharing your dolls with Katie.” Even if you feel that what you’re saying is so far from reality, keep saying it! Eventually, your child will believe you, and those words will become a part of their identity.
My youngest daughter struggled early on with learning to read. My oldest picked it up incredibly fast, and honestly, I was a little nervous about whether or not my youngest was going to be a successful reader. She knew she was struggling, and would fight me when I tried to work with her. I could tell she didn’t want to fail. She was also comparing herself to her sister’s success, and was seeing the lack of her own successes.
I began telling her, “Katherine, you are a READER.” I repeated this phrase over and over, even when her reply was, “No, I’m not.” When talking with friends or family members I would let her hear me say, “Katherine is a reader.” And slowly, she started to warm up to the idea of spending a little more time breaking down words with me.
Over a period of a few months, she had a breakthrough. One night I was reading a small chapter book to her before bed, and I stopped. I looked at her, and said, “Katherine, you can read this book.” She gingerly took it out of my hands and began to read. Doggone it, she did it!
She began to read that book with a fluency that I had never heard before. I had to help her with a few harder words, but the look of sheer surprise and delight on her face was priceless. She jumped down, book in hand, and ran to her bedroom. Needless to say, she has been devouring books ever since, and is officially the family bookworm.
The power of words.
Be careful how you choose your words, and SPEAK LIFE into those sweet little souls. When you do, be ready to watch them bloom.
A part of my heart will always be in New York City. I considered myself a New Yorker years ago when I lived here to pursue my dream of dancing professionally. There was something about this incredible city that immediately drew me in. It captivated me with it’s energy, grittiness, and unrelenting life pulse.
It became the perfect example of a “love/hate” relationship. I loved the hard pavement under my feet and the rush of the subway each time it arrived in the station. And the endless opportunities the city heralds were intoxicating.
But, I also struggled with never seeing the horizon and how that eventually feels like slow suffocation. Having grown up in place full of rivers, lakes and bluffs, it eventually took it’s toll. However, I still have an intense love for this city. Being able to come back with my daughters and to watch them experience it for the first time was priceless.
Before we arrived I was very clear with the girls on what our expectations were in order to keep them safe. So as we drove into the city for the first time that night Katherine promptly reiterated the rules. “Mommy, rule number one is to stay close to Mommy and Daddy. Rule number two is don’t get distracted. Rule number three is follow rule number one and number two.” Yep, baby girl, you’ve got it.
We woke up the first morning and hit the streets with both girls in hand. As I figured I would, I got emotional. (I tend to do that a lot lately. No judging. No apologies.) I was feeling nostalgic and completely comfortable back in the environment I still feel is “home”. Knowing that I was about to pull back the curtain on a past life and share it with my girls got to me.
We had a packed weekend that included the American Museum of Natural History, and getting pretzels in Central Park. Then some New York pizza, the Empire State Building at night, and riding the subway, taxis, and pedicabs. Times Square was next as we strategically maneuvering them to avoid some of the more “interesting” sites. And then we took them to their first official Broadway shows.
The first was Disney’s Aladdin, and it was fantastic. At intermission the girls were like magpies chirping and gesturing in the line for the restroom completely overwhelmed and excited about everything they were seeing. They belly laughed and cheered through the entire performance. We chuckled as they danced their way out of the theater as I followed with my heart bursting.
The second show was My Fair Lady. Through a friend of a friend, Andrew was able to get us backstage to meet one of the actors. We were able to get a tour of the magic that goes into making a Broadway show a reality.
When we stood on the beautiful stage in Lincoln Center, I watched Katherine standing alone, gazing up at the empty seats knowing what was going through her head. And as if to confirm my suspicions, when we walked exited the stage, she said to me, “I want to sing on this stage someday, even if there aren’t any people in the seats.” Since the day she was born, this child has been “acting”.
I don’t know where this passion or gift will take her. But, I only hope this experience will be one of many that may shape who she will become someday.
One of my goals of this trip was to teach my girls about confidence. I want them to learn how to not shy away from new experiences. My desire is to raise strong, independent women who are both gracious and street smart.
So they each had their own Metro card and were responsible for getting themselves in and out of the subway turnstiles. They had to navigate the crowds, and find the exits. (You can stop hyperventilating. We had our eyes and hands on them like white on rice so don’t call CPS on us.)
Lauren in particular loved the subway. I showed her how to determine if we should ride the Uptown train or the Downtown train. Before long, she was our “tour guide” of the underground.
The other goal was to help cast vision for them. They may never find themselves in a place like New York City, but by exposing them to the opportunities that this world can offer them I’m helping them dream. I wan them to dream big.
God has big plans for all of us. My job as a parent is to give my children that strong breeze that will help their wings take flight.
So, now as I watch the beautiful cityscape shrink in the distance, and sip my airplane ginger ale, I feel a little sad that this experience is over. But, I know the Big Apple hasn’t seen the last of us.
I’m tickled pink that my girls have a new appreciation for, and maybe a twinge of a crush, on a city that I love. I will never push my path on their lives. Finding their path is God’s job, but if I can open their eyes to the endless possibilities out there…..
then I’ve done mine.
Moms out there, this one’s for you.
My daughter recently did a writing assignment for her first grade class at school. The teacher asked them to write about who they considered their hero. She hadn’t told me about this project until she nonchalantly pointed to her paper on the wall in the hallway at school as I dropped her off one morning.
I stopped to look, as she skipped off to class, thinking it was just another cute art project, but when I read it, I proceeded to dissolve into a hot mess of tears and an ugly, runny nose disaster. I had NO idea that my daughter felt this way. Here is what she wrote:
“My hero is my mom Jamie Dahl. She was able to fight and beat cancer! Jamie was very brave. My mom is friendly to everyone she meets. I want to be brave like her.”
Moms, you don’t have overcome a big hurdle in your life to be your child’s hero.
You already are.
You are still their hero! Even on those days when you feel like a complete “mom fail”, and boy do I have PLENTY of those. They love you even when you make mistakes and sometimes even more in those times.
They want you to be real with them. They want you to laugh with them, cry with them, and ask their forgiveness when you screw up. It’s okay to not get right all the time. I don’t know about you, but nobody gave me a “How To Do This Mom Thing” book when I left the hospital with my newborn.
You are their hero just because you are their mom.
So remember, YOU’RE DOING A GOOD JOB. Even on those days when the house is a disaster, the dog pooped all over the rug, you’re late getting the kids to soccer practice and dinner MIGHT happen if you can get to the take-and-bake pizza place on time…
you are still their hero.