Category Archives for Mommy Life

Create a Family Vision Statement

Businesses do it, non-profit organizations do it, universities do it, so why shouldn’t families do it?! I’m talking about creating a vision statement for your family! If this is something you haven’t done yet, I would highly encourage you to do so. Our family created our vision and mission statements, and our core values, and they have become something that filters both how we live as a family and how we parent our children.

We decided to do this years ago when our daughters were young. Some close friends shared with us how they created their family vision statement and the intentionality behind this really impressed us. The idea of living a more intentional life, built on firm foundations, and leading our family with conviction and not leaving it up to happenstance, was very appealing. 

We have always been a family that follows God and trusts in His plan for our lives, but up until this point we didn’t make a conscious effort to put the framework of that plan in writing.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”

So yes, we know and believe that the Lord will always be the one that establishes the path for our lives, but we also feel that it’s our job to build a solid framework that becomes the scaffolding that God can build on. 

I’ll share with you how we created ours, but first let’s start with what a vision statement is. As it relates to a business, a vision statement gives the company it’s direction. It’s where that company would like to see itself in the future and what it aspires to be. The same thought process works for families. Your family vision statement should be a general statement that encompasses what your family is about and what motivates you to be better as a unit. 

After a vision statement typically comes a mission statement. This statement differs from the vision statement because it is more specific. A mission statement breaks down the company’s objectives and the approach it will take to reach those objectives. 

Lastly, are the core values. Core values are the beliefs of a person or an organization. These are essentially the nuts and bolts of how the organization is going to operate and determine what is right and wrong. 

All three of these aspects, the vision statement, mission statement, and core values should be considered and created when you’re doing this for your family. Each one provides more clarity and direction as it relates to having that “filter”, and I can tell you as a parent who is currently raising children through different phases of their life, this is so helpful. 

One of the things I loved about including our core values is they give us easy nuggets of truth that we can pull out whenever our girls need a little “behavior check”. For example, when they were still very young it was easy to remind them of one of our core values, “Be kind and love others”, when their actions were showing otherwise. Kids get that. Simple, but powerful. 

Creating your vision statement doesn’t have to be a daunting thing. When Andrew and I did it, we simply prayed and asked God to give us His wisdom. Then we got out a notebook and a pen and started jotting down favorite scriptures, and what we envisioned our family values to be. We started to see those values aligning with verses in the Bible so we starred the ones that began standing out to us. 

Then we organized them into the three categories of vision, mission, and core values. After a little more massaging and wordsmithing, we were left with what we felt really represented our goals, hopes, and desires for our family. 

At the time that we did this, our girls were too young to effectively participate in this process. However, if you have children that are old enough to give feedback and aid in the creation of your family’s core values, then by ALL MEANS include them! This will give them ownership in the process and in the final product. 

You may be thinking that this ship has sailed for your family, and that it’s too late to create something like this. Maybe your children are in high school already or even off to college. But, it’s never too late! Remember, establishing these values in writing now can be a legacy that you leave for your children’s children. It could be a family creed that gets passed down through generations. What an incredible gift you can give them!

Your family vision statement should be your own, but I will share ours with you. You are welcome to use whatever you would like if it fits the dreams and framework you would like your family to live by too. 

After we finalized each section I asked a graphic designer friend to create a piece that now hangs in our home at the base of our staircase. Every morning as we come downstairs to start our day, this is what we all see and are reminded of… 

The Dahl Family

OUR VISION

To be the family God desires us to be through faith and obedience. 

OUR MISSION STATEMENT

We are a family that intentionally utilizes our unique gifts to give God glory through hospitality, leadership, service and love. 

OUR CORE VALUES

Love Jesus with all our heart, soul and strength.

Live bravely.

Humbly serve. 

Be kind and love others.

Respect our differences and celebrate our strengths.

Faith Based Books for Girls

I tell my girls all the time, “Girls, readers are leaders!” Cue the eye roll, and “Yes mom, we know.” They may be sick of me saying it, but I firmly believe this statement, and I have always had a passion for encouraging children to read. Years ago when I lived in Texas, I worked as a second grade teacher. My favorite subject to teach was reading. Watching the light bulb go on when my students started to really get it was so exciting, and I could see a whole new world open up for them. 

During my time as a teacher, I fell in love with children’s literature. I was always personally contributing to the library in my classroom, and I made every effort to make reading fun and exciting for my students. 

When my teaching days transitioned from the classroom into my home, the love of children’s books didn’t fade. Now I had the opportunity to instill this same love into my daughters. As their reading levels began to grow, I wanted to find books that they could both relate to and that had a positive message. 

They began to transition out of picture books and into chapter books which presented the new challenge of finding more book options for them. There are so many wonderful books out there, and the choices are endless. But I wanted to be intentional about finding books that I knew would encourage my girls, grow their faith, and teach them lifelong lessons. 

Matthew 6:22 says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”

As a parent, I want to make sure that I am guiding my girls as it relates to what they are seeing and consuming. Especially when they are young, I feel it’s important to guard the gateway of their hearts and minds and be watchful of what influence is being allowed into their lives. Then teaching them to make their own decisions and to discern if something, whether it’s a movie, video game, or a book, is edifying for their spirit is the ultimate goal. 

I know from my own experience, finding chapter books that I felt checked these boxes was a bit challenging at first so I thought I would share some that I have found. And just so you know these all got the  “Lauren and Katherine stamp of approval”! 

The Glimmer Girls Series (faithgirlz by Zonderkids)

This series of four books is written by singer Natalie Grant with Naomi Kinsman and is about three sisters whose mom is a famous recording artist. The books tell of their adventures and how they solve problems using their faith in God. The book titles are London Art Chase, A Dolphin Wish, Miracle in Music City, and Light Up New York

The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls (Worthy Kids)

This is a series of eight books about siblings, Peter and Mary and their dog, Hank. These three adventurers discover ancient scrolls that transport them back to key moments in biblical history. These books are great because they help bring Bible stories to life for young readers in a way that they can relate to. This series is great for boys or girls! 

Riley Mae/The Good News Shoes Series (ZonderKids)

Riley Mae is an action loving girl that becomes a spokesperson for the Swiftwater Shoe Company. Through her many adventures, her faith and trust in God continues to grow! This series has three books, Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek, Riley Mae and the Ready Eddy Rapids, and Riley Mae and the Soul Fire Safari.

Soul Surfer Series (Zonderkids)

Inspired by surfer Bethany Hamilton, this series is about a 14 year old girl who discovers God’s love and guidance while tackling the “waves” life throws at her and her friends. There are four books in this series, Clash, Burned, Storm, and Crunch

Princess in Camo Series (Zonderkids)

This series of four books is authored by Missy Robertson, one of the stars of the TV show Duck Dynasty. The main character, Allie Carroway, lives in the Louisiana Bayou and struggles with allergies and asthma. Her family has a reality TV show called Carried Away with the Carroways, and she and her friends have many exciting adventures. The four books in the series are Allie’s Bayou Rescue, Running From Reality, Dog Show Disaster, and Finding Cabin Six. 

Lena in the Spotlight (Zonderkids)

Lena and her little sisters face challenges of everyday life while trying to realize her dream of being an actress. Throughout this series, Lena relies on her faith to help her navigate life’s tough choices and help her persevere when things get hard.

The Imagination Station (Focus on the Family)

There are multiple books in this series that will keep your reader busy for quite awhile. Cousins Patrick and Beth travel to various lands and times and have incredible adventures. What I love about these books is that they not only teach Biblical lessons, but they also teach about historical events. This is also a great series for boys or girls! 

How to Memorize Scripture with Your Kids

I was having some major mom guilt. I was kicking myself all over the place because I felt like I was failing as a mom when it came to teaching my girls scripture. This has been one of those things that I knew I wanted to do, and knew was important, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around an easy and fun way to do it. So I did nothing. Until recently.

I thought I’d share what I did. By the way, it’s working:

I started by making a list of favorite verses. Knowing that I would be challenging the girls to memorize them, I started with shorter ones, or verses that we say around the house a lot. I wanted to set them up for success to keep them motivated when it got a little more challenging. 

After I had a list of eight to ten verses, I printed them off, cut them apart, and pasted them onto pretty colored paper. Then I glued magnets on the back so they would stick to the refrigerator. My next job was to get the girls excited about it. I needed to remember that MY attitude is everything! If I acted like it was a chore, then it was going to feel like a chore. I found that if you show your kids that scripture memorization can be fun, then guess what? It’s going to be fun!

Next, I presented my pretty paper verses to the girls and told them that we were all going to participate in a family challenge. Never once did I make this only about them. I explained that “I” wanted to learn more scripture and so did their Dad, and I thought it would be fun if we all did it together! 

You know your own kids and what makes them tick. For me, if I involve the whole family and not single them out when it comes to things like this, they seem to be more willing to participate. It’s about creating a culture in your home where everyone is learning and working on growing their faith. When your kids see you do it, they model what they see. 

I began by choosing a short scripture that I knew they already had down. (I know, that seems a bit like cheating, but there’s a method to my madness. Keep reading.) I put the verse on the refrigerator and during breakfast I enthusiastically said we were going to start learning it. I spent a maximum of 3 minutes on it. We each said the verse, then said it together, and I tried to make it as fun as possible. Oohh…I may have done a little goofy dance to go along with it. Then I left it alone! The next morning, I brought it up again at breakfast, and we repeated what we did the previous day. Thirty seconds, that was it. 

I revisited that verse a few more times, but not everyday. Because they already knew that verse pretty well (my sneaky plan), they felt confident moving onto another one. I really feel that this early success was helpful in the longevity of my plan. 

Once we all celebrated that the ENTIRE family had learned it, then I added another one to the fridge. I made sure to keep the first one up to show the progression knowing that as the list grew, so would their confidence in their ability to do this. 

Over the course of a few months we continued to memorize more verses. I purposely picked verses that I knew would be helpful to them and might meet them where they were in their lives. For example, knowing that one, or both of them, occasionally get a little freaked out over what might be lurking under the bed, we learned a verse about fear. Then I could strategically pull out one of those verses, in that exact moment, and show them how it could apply to whatever situation they were going through! Score! Real time application, check!

I also began taking longer passages and breaking them up into smaller sections. As we all learned each small chunk, I began putting them together. The girls were amazed that they could recite larger sections of scripture. Again, that feeling of accomplishment and success is what kept them motivated! 

Proverbs 6:20-22 says, “My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you.” 

Psalm 199:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” 

Give your kids the ammunition they need to fight the battles that will come in their lives. Scripture is the living breathing word of God and will enrich, encourage, and protect them wherever they go. 

We as parents would never let them leave the house in the dead of winter without a coat, right? Why would we let them go out into the world without the protection and guidance that God’s word provides. 

Helping to bind His words on their hearts is not hard. A little paper, glue, and 30 seconds every now and then over breakfast will give them a lifetime of blessing. 

If you’d like to know which scriptures we started with, here is the list:

  1. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

2. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

3. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Philippians 4:8

4. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

5. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. I Timothy 1:7 NKJV

6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

7. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Colossians 3:20

8. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

9. For I know the plans I have for you, “declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

10. But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Teach Your Kids to Compromise

It was a Wednesday morning, and I was dutifully going through the mom routine of making sure my kids were fed, dressed, and actually wearing sweaters, because doggone it, it’s freezing outside and it’s not even November yet. The goal of said morning routine is to make sure they are ready to leave the house for school in a relatively peaceful and timely manner. I had my morning groove rocking in full effect, which looks like soft praise and worship music playing, morning checklist out and visible, and school bags packed the night before. See my blog post:

When all of a sudden, breaking my peaceful morning mojo came a blood curdling scream from the bathroom. “Katherine! You uuusseeddd my toothbrush! Aghhh!” Well, there went my utopic version of my morning routine aspirations for the day. This statement was immediately followed by, “I DID NOT! That’s MY toothbrush!” Then, “It is not! Mine is the pink one, yours is blue and mine is WET! That’s so GROSS!” Followed by, stomping and loud grunting/screaming noises by said offender as she retreated into the other room to dissolve in a pile of tears. 

Yep. That was my “peaceful” morning. More like my morning was falling to “pieces”. So I did what every normal mother would do. I began fantasizing about running out the back door to an awaiting private jet piloted by John Travolta (from the Grease days) who was ready to fly me to Bora Bora where my over-the-water bungalow stocked with a myriad of fruit juice drinks awaited me. And then I snapped out of it. 

I did however, in a calm voice, explained to each of them that we would come up with a solution and talk about it in a civilized manner once everyone had calmed down. Right now, their job was to finish getting ready so we could get to school before it was time for lunch. 

After the huffing and stomping subsided, and the focus went from the falsely accosted toothbrush to our puppy who, thankfully likes to do goofy things at just the right moment, we successfully made it into the car.

Now I had them. You know what I mean, moms and dads. The car is our power play. The kids are strapped down, and locked into a moving vehicle that if they try to escape will cause extreme bodily harm. They are at our mercy. (Evil laugh here.)

But in all seriousness, as much as I dislike situations that cause chaos and disruption in our family; I look at them as learning opportunities. This was a perfect chance to reinforce much needed skills of communication, problem solving, and compromise. And I do this A LOT with my girls. I want them to know how to handle conflict, and be able to communicate their side of the story. More importantly, I want them to learn to listen to the other person’s side of the story and solve problems through compromise.

This is how I typically mediate these types of conversations:

First I state the problem using “I” statements. 

“Girls, I can see that there is some confusion about which toothbrush is yours in the bathroom cabinet. Is that correct?” The response from the backseat is often the offended jumping down the offender’s throat again which I immediately try to stop. I have found that if I can keep my voice calm and maintain that calm in the conversation it helps A LOT. Once we are all on the same page and each person has stated what the problem is then I move onto a question.

“How did that make you feel when (whatever the offense was) happened?”

I lay down clear guidelines that all parties are held accountable to, and those are: respect for the person speaking, eye contact, and no interrupting. After each person, including the offender, has had a chance to share their feelings then it’s time for question number two.

“What would be a good solution so that (XYZ problem) doesn’t happen again?” 

Those same guidelines of respect come into play, and each person takes a turn sharing an idea that they feel would help rectify the situation. This often takes time and usually the first ideas are pretty unrealistic, but I help guide the conversation and show the girls where each one can give a little so that ultimately THEY decide on a final plan. Did you catch that? I said, THEY, decide on the plan. Do I help direct and maybe throw a few suggestions to give them ideas that I know will be successful? Sure! But they are taking ownership in the plan so therefore, they are invested in it and the outcome.

Then lastly, we complete the loop. By that, I mean each person apologizes and asks the other for forgiveness.

Apologize and Ask Forgiveness

Don’t forget that last part! The forgiveness piece is KEY!! Start teaching your kids the importance of not only asking for forgiveness, but also giving forgiveness. Even if they don’t feel the forgiveness in their heart at that very moment, even speaking the words out loud, “I forgive you”, is healing.

Especially in the world we live in, one that is terribly divided and hurting from so much hate and anger, start teaching your children how to love one another. Learning to love one another during conflict begins with stating the problem, respectfully listening to both sides, coming up with a solution that is full of compromise, and then apologies and forgiveness. 

You may be wondering how the whole toothbrush saga turned out. The girls decided that they each needed their own shelf in the bathroom cabinet so there was no confusion over which toothbrush belonged to who in the communal toothbrush cup. How did that affect me? It meant an immediate trip to Target to buy shelf organizers, two matching cups, and alas, two clean toothbrushes. 

I was happy to take one for the team.  

Have the Tea Party!

Being a busy mom can be tough, and I think it’s very easy to get lost in all of the things we see around us that need to get done each day. But I am learning to remember the importance of going back to my most impactful job description and that’s MOM. I have one shot (cue the Eminem song) to be the best mom that I can be to my kids. Do I get it right all the time? Absolutely NOT! However, I can focus on those moments when I have the opportunity to invest in my most valuable assets. My kids. 

I had a great reminder of this recently. It was a particularly busy day, and there was a lot that I was feeling the pressure to get done. Work, clean the house, plan meals, etc. Out of the blue the girls decided that they wanted to have a tea party. Honestly, this is the dialogue that went through my mind at that very moment. 

“A what? Seriously? Do you have any idea what a mess that will be? I don’t have time for this right now. I just picked up that area of the house. This feels like it’s going to be a lot of work.”

For a split second I battled with these thoughts, and part of me reeeeaaaallly wanted to say no, but I realized that this was one of those moments that I couldn’t pass up. It was an investment moment. So instead of shutting their idea down, I said, “Done!”

In the midst of the craziness of the world right now, I am choosing to find the beautiful moments in my life. This was definitely one of them. Even though my house looked like a disaster, dirty dishes were piled in the sink, my To Do list was endless, and I had ZERO plans prepared for dinner, I chose to let all of that go. ⁣

Instead, I dug out my fine china, rummaged  in the attic for a fancy gown, and had tea with my sweet girls. We talked in funny accents, and danced a waltz in the sunroom. But most importantly, we had a moment. ⁣

Maybe you’re a momma of boys that love sports. Get out that football and run around in the yard with them. Whatever makes your kids tick should be on your radar. Figure out what they love and engage on their level. Even if you think stabbing your eye with a chopstick sounds more appealing than sitting down and playing a video game; pick up that joypad and go to town.  

For me, this tea party was a moment with my girls that I will cherish for a long time. Even though our world has “slowed” for a minute, life is still going by fast. Don’t miss out on the opportunities to be present with the ones you are with. And here’s a tip, doing it in a funny accent makes it even that much better. ⁣

Day 25 of COVID Quarantine: UPDATE

I haven’t posted in awhile mainly because I’m still flying by the seat of my pants with our ”new normal”. Every morning when I wake up and look at the clock I feel like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. It’s all been a bit surreal, a tad challenging, and a lot enlightening. To spare you from a monstrously long post I thought I would give you a few of my random thoughts/realizations, and a smattering of pictures from the last few weeks. So here we go:

1. I’m realizing I need some better loungewear. Maybe even something that actually matches.

2. Man, do you go through a lot of dishes when the majority of your family is home ALL DAY LONG!

3. I have no idea what day it is. 

4. I never thought I would get so excited about getting in the car to pick up dinner. It’s officially an “OUTING”! 

5. My kids thought homeschooling was super cool for about the first 24 hours. Yeaaahhhh….now…..not so much. 

6. Our dog is getting massively spoiled with having us home ALL THE TIME. This is not going to be good once things go back to normal. She may need therapy. 

7. I might be binge eating chips and salsa. Okay, I am. Yikes. My elastic waist loungewear “look” may need to extend through the summer. 

8. I am deeply grateful for our medical and essential workers that are putting their lives on the line for all of us. THANK YOU. 

9. Yep. My kids get ”TV Time” EVERYDAY. Not ashamed. Don’t judge. It’s this non-drinking mom’s version of a glass of wine.  So there. 

10. My husband is a rockstar, and I’m so proud of how he is handling the stress that has come from all of this. Not only as a leader at his business, but here at home too. He seeks God daily and I see how life-giving it is for him. 

(Lately he’s been asking me if I feel comfortable cutting hair. Nope. Not unless he likes mohawks.) 

11. I am LOVING this time with the girls. It’s given me an opportunity to pour into them in ways I’ve always wanted to, but “never had the time.” It’s taught me that there is always time. Especially when you make it a priority. 

12. I really miss my friends and seeing their actual faces. I never want to take for granted the ability to spend quality time with people, in person. 

13. My faith in God and His promises to carry us through any and all trials has only deepened. Even those times when stress and anxiety want to creep in, He reminds me of 2 Corinthians 12:9…”But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

I am FAR from strong and my house often looks like a tornado hit it, but I‘m doing my best and trusting that like ALL things….

GOD’S GOT IT.

She has become an expert egg maker and makes eggs for us almost every morning. I’m loving her independence and comfort in the kitchen! So fun!

Train a Dog, Train a Child

We did something utterly insane a few months ago. We got a puppy. Some would argue that that is either insanely crazy or insanely wonderful. I say it’s both. Our daughters have been asking, or should I say desperately groveling, for a puppy for years, but we have always told them, “No.” “But when, Mommy?”, they ask. “When pink flamingos start driving Ubers”, I say. Okay, I didn’t really say that, but there were definite moments that those were my specific thoughts. 

Andrew and I grew up with dogs, and we are dog lovers at heart, but we also knew that having a puppy is a LOT OF WORK. We wanted the girls to be a bit older before we pulled the dog-ownership trigger. We felt it was important for them to learn about the amount of responsibility it takes to care for an animal, and we also wanted to have peace with the decision. So for many years it was a hard, NO. But then we met our match….

A praying child. 

Darn it! All those lessons we try to teach our kids about the power of prayer are obviously sticking! Lauren started praying for a dog and low and behold, our hearts started softening to the idea. Before I knew it I was on Amazon buying dog treats and portable dog dishes. Then entered Luna. Our mini double doodle. 

Luna’s mother is a mini labradoodle, mini goldendoodle mix and her father is a mini poodle. She’s cute as bug, full of energy, loves chasing ice cubes on the kitchen floor, and has a boyfriend at doggy daycare. (He’s a morkie named Turbo. We’re SO not ready for her to date yet.) 

And like most new “mothers” I dove into all the puppy training books and materials I could find in search of the best tips for cultivating the perfectly behaved pooch. Hmm. We’re still working on that last piece, but I will say I learned a lot from all of the different sources I drew on. 

One was the book, The Art of Raising A Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. There was so much wonderful information in this book and it became my nighttime reading for quite some time before we picked up our new addition. 

I also relied heavily on the trainer that had Luna before we picked her up. She gave us a great document of training tips and tricks to help address everything from barking to housebreaking. 

As I immersed myself in these resources I began to have a very interesting revelation. 

Training dogs is like training kids!

Wait, what? Did I just say that? How can training a four legged furbaby who can’t speak English, squats on your rug, and eats other animals’ poop be anything like training your sweet child, you say? Oh, sister. I thought the same thing until now. Let me break it down for you. Ready? Here we go…


1.“Look At Me”

Dogs: Multiple sources that I read talked about the importance of eye contact with your dog both when enforcing discipline and creating emotional connection. When teaching your dog a new trick for example, having them look at you first brings their attention to the upcoming task at hand. It also helps block out distractions like blowing leaves or squirrels that may vie for your dog’s focus. So I started saying to Luna, “Look at me”, to draw her eyes on mine before I attempted to teach her to do something. 

Eye contact with your dog can also be a comforting thing if they are scared or unsure of a situation. There are many times when I’m on a walk with her that she will look back and check to see if I’m still there. A different kind of eye contact can also be a way of correction when she’s doing something wrong. I have definitely given Luna “the look” when she trots into the kitchen with yet another hair scrunchie in her mouth that she sneakily stole off the living room hassock. 

Kids: This was the first training concept that made me start to realize that there was a similarity between training dogs and parenting. Moms, how many times have you told your kids to do something whether it was to set the table, or turn off the TV, and your request was met with zero movement and crickets? You know, that selective hearing that our kids love to turn off and on at their convenience. 

Well, I put on my dog training hat and changed my approach. Now whenever I have a request or a task for my kids to do I say, “Girls, look at me.” I get their eyes and then I give them the direction. OH MY GOODNESS. This was a game changer. Something so simple got them focused quickly on what I needed them to do and I was no longer Charlie Brown’s teacher (waaa waa waa waaaa) as their eyes glazed over looking off in another direction. 

It also made me think about the importance of connection with my kids. As much as I try to give them my full attention at all times, that just doesn’t happen. I’m still guilty of having one eye on them and the other either on my phone or on the stove cooking dinner. And I know that my inattentiveness and lack of full eye contact is not creating meaningful connection for them. So when they need you or just want to talk, give them both of your eyes. It matters. Oh, and the look of correction? Ya’ll don’t need me to go into that one. I think we moms all have our “look of death” pretty perfected! 

2. “Say It Once”

Dogs: This was a big learning moment for me. We had a local dog trainer come to the house to work with Luna when we first brought her home and she taught us something that kind of blew my mind. “Say it once.” She showed us that if we want Luna to sit, then we were to say her name, then the command sit, and wait. I had been doing this all wrong. My impatient self would say the command, and if she didn’t respond in the next millisecond I would say it again, and again, and again until she and I both got frustrated and nowhere. The trainer taught me that it’s better to give the dog a chance to think about what you’re saying and mentally process what you’re asking it to do. This teaches the dog to be a thinking dog. And doggone it (pun intended) it worked. 

Kids: My children have the advantage over most animals that they can actually speak English. Therefore, they know exactly what I’m saying when I ask or tell them to do something. But how many times have I found myself constantly repeating my commands to them simply because I am not patient enough to just let them do it?! I am now working on stopping that tendency and not repeating myself until I know they have had adequate time to process and act on what I’ve said. In taming my own lack of patience I hope to raise kids who can find peace in this fast paced, anxiety laden world. 

3. “Give Them Treats!”

Dogs: Well, this one is pretty obvious. Training your puppy requires a lot of positive reinforcement. This can come in actual edible treat form or in verbal praise and petting. I knew I was in full puppy training mode when I went to a semi-fancy event recently, and when I reached into my coat pocket I found a ziploc baggie full of dog treats. Yep. I’m that girl. 

Kids: This was a good reminder for me regarding positive reinforcement. So often as parents we are quick to jump on the things our kids do wrong. And yes, there are times when there needs to be a consequence for bad decisions or behavior, but it’s so easy to forget to praise them for the good things they do. This can be very valuable when you’re talking about parenting currency. 

For example, I have been trying to teach my daughters to be aware of others especially when going through doorways. We constantly stress the importance of simple etiquette like opening and holding doors for people. The concept was not hitting home and I continued to watch my kids fly through doors with no regard for the people behind them. It was driving me crazy! But then I noticed one of my daughters very slightly hold the door for another student when I dropped them off at school one morning. Now mind you, this was a barely there door hold and the poor kid may have gotten their bottom bumped by the door as it closed quickly behind them due to the lack of being held open properly by my child however, it was a start. 

Well, don’t you know I praised the heck out of that shoddy door hold when the girls got home from school. I made a very obvious point to say how incredibly proud I was of the unbelievably selfless act of opening the door for a fellow student, and how it made my momma’s heart beam with unexplainable pride for the stellar manners that my daughter displayed that day. *Cough, choke, sputter*. 

As I praised her for even that small step toward greatness I could see her little heart swell and by golly, that next morning you should have seen the door hold!! She swung that door open, stood by it straight like a Queen’s Guard at Kensington Palace and let not one, but THREE students walk into the school ahead of her. Praise Jesus! The power of a little positive reinforcement. Bottomline, be quicker to praise for the good things, (even if they’re small), and always look for opportunities to call your children up!

4. “Saddle Up Beside”

Dogs: Many of the resources I read talked about the right way to approach or greet a dog. One of the wrong things to do is to hover over it or come at it from the front, especially if it’s a dog you’ve never met. Instead it’s best to come to the dog’s side and not greet it face-to-face. This face-to-face approach could actually be interpreted as confrontational to a dog. 

Kids: I immediately saw the parallel with this one to parenting. Some of the best conversations that I’ve ever had with my girls are when I’m either walking alongside them strolling in the neighborhood, or snuggled next to them at bedtime. It’s when I have the approach that “I’m here to walk alongside you in this life”, and not the confrontational in-your-face posture that they tend to open up and be more receptive to teachable moments. 

5. “Rub the Heart, Not the Head”

Dogs: I never knew this. Some dogs don’t like to be pet on the head! Some much prefer to be rubbed under their neck and chest instead. I just always assumed that the act of petting a dog’s head was loved by all dogs and they found great pleasure in it. Now I’m sure there are many that love a good head petting, but I can definitely tell that mine is not in that camp! She will let you pet her, of course, but she really loves it more when you rub her under her chest. 

Kids: My desire, like most parents, is to have children who grow up to be smart, kind, loving members of society who use their heads to contribute their time, talent and treasure for the greater good. But what does that mean exactly? That’s such a vague statement. I too want them to work hard and do well in school and in life, using their heads and brains to make wise choices and add their creative flair to this world, but truthfully I care more about their hearts. 

I want my children to have a heart for God and everything that He is and stands for. I want their hearts to be open and receptive to His wisdom and His calling on their lives, and strong enough to withstand the opposition this world will throw at them because of it. I want their hearts to be tender to His voice and His gentle leading, and to break for the things that break His. I pray that their hearts will love others above themselves, and for hearts that put serving before being served. This is far more valuable in my eyes. 

So Lord, help me not to only pat their heads, but instead stroke and nurture their hearts for YOU. 

So there you have it. Train a dog, train a child. Oh, and mine just threw up on the couch. Totally not kidding. I’ll leave it up to you to guess which one. 

Creating Peace in My Kids’ Morning Routine

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

6:45-7:10: Breakfast

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,”

Or…

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. 

The Biggest Lesson I Learned on Our Family Trip

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. 

Our Glacier National Park and Yellowstone Family Road Trip Adventure

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. 

The Plan

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.

Home for the next three days.
We found a site!
Breakfast time!

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. 

Horseback Riding

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! 

Getting a lesson from a true cowgirl.
Discussing who is going to be boss.

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. 

Lake McDonald Lodge

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. 

Leaving Glacier

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”. 

Bozeman, MT

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.