Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vacation Yellowstone!!

When you hear the word "vacation" most people conjure up imagines of relaxing, taking it easy, and basically having a break from daily life.  For me, a "vacation" with my kids is really nothing other than taking care of them in a different location.  The problems are the same.  They need food, clean clothing, entertainment and a referee.  The only real difference is that life is taking place in a new locale where you are sure not to have all the things you need. 

When Denny and I decided to take the kids on an RV trip to Yellowstone National Park, I assumed this vacation would not be different from any other.  Our preparation included the usual shopping for items we needed (especially going into a colder climate), searching through boxes for things we already have, and my personal favorite... trying to fit it all into a suitcase. One thing that made the prep slightly easier is knowing that we would have access to any store we needed once we got there. That actually helped a lot.

Since we fly 'space available' on jetBlue, the trip out included the usual waiting in airport(s). The kids are experienced enough travelers to know how to do this with little complaint.  I wish they would have choosen an edifying outlet like reading, but I suppose iPods would have to do.

Passing time before our flight to Salt Lake City, UT
Our first stop after picking up the RV was to where else? Walmart.  It wasn't easy figuring out exactly what we would need over the next week, but we managed to get quite a few things that turned out to be good purchases.  We headed east and north through Wyoming hoping to get a great view of the Tetons; however, due to a nearby fire we only saw haze and a few foot hills.   

The Tetons are in the distance. The smoke was from a nearby fire.
One thing we learned very quickly is that driving in a RV does NOT go quickly. We had hoped to make it to West Yellowstone by the evening but after several hours it became clear that we would be nowhere close.  Thankfully we found a great spot to overnight just south of the Tetons National Park.  It was our first evening in the RV and we grossly underestimated how cold it would get overnight.  I don't think I slept a wink but instead plotted my escape to a hot shower at daybreak. Thankfully, the facilities were close, clean, and unoccupied.  A small miracle in my mind.

The next morning we arrived at the south entrance to Yellowstone and began to take in all the park had to offer. The kids had their iPods, but no WiFi so as far as we were concerned they were as 'unplugged' as we could get them.  At this point they weren't overly impressed with the views out the windows but we kept driving until we arrived at Old Faithful. From there we raced up to the viewing spot and parked ourselves hoping we wouldn't wait too long. A bathroom break was needed by all, but no one wanted to miss the eruption. After 35 minutes, we finally got a to see what the fuss was all about. I had never seen it myself, so it was a treat for me too.

The area was full of boardwalks that led to amazing pools of hot springs, more geysers, and other geological wonders. It would have been a nice walk for all of us if Kat hadn't discovered that she had outgrown her tennis shoes and was now wearing flat fashion boots that were killing her feet. I offered to head back with her - whining in tow - while Dennis went the long way with Emily and James. It didn't take long before I received a text with a picture, no words. Here's the shot sent from Denny's phone:

It was our first wildlife spotting and it was very, very, close to my son!  I was excited, jealous, and completely scared all at the same time.  You'll have to read James's blog to hear his side of the story. By the time we made our exit from the park into the town of West Yellowstone, we had run across several more bison and this adorable female elk.

Our campground, The Wagon Wheel, was excellent.  Clean facilities, lots of trees, and a friendly guy named Ken who gave us all the info we needed.  Our evening was far more enjoyable too as we had stocked up on more sleeping bags and extra pillows.  We got up when we felt like it, made a quick bowl of cereal and even found a close by store to get Kat some new hiking shoes. They were super cheap and super cute.
Mammoth was the next stop in the park. It's very close to the north end of the park and had wonderful sights to see.  Among my favorite were the elk.  There was a bull elk bugling and charging at anything that got in his way while the female elk hung around in a group grazing unaware or uninterested that crowds of people had stopped to take their picture. 

By far the most curious thing around Mammoth included a swimming area where the Boiling River and the Gardiner River comes together. If you move your foot too close to the Boiling River it was hot enough to scald your skin. If you move your foot towards the Gardiner River it was freezing.  Right in the middle was the perfect mix.

Back at the campground it was back to work... sort of.  There was laundry to do and dinner to cook but with no set schedule, few dinner options, and the kids busy playing pool in the game room it wasn't too bad. Matter of fact, it was somewhat enjoyable. The only tense moments seemed to come in the evening when we were ready to settle down and kids were still spooled up.  You wouldn't think giggling and chatting could get on your nerves, but after a long day in close quarters, it can.

We choose Saturday to stay in town and check out the local color.  Dennis needed a break from RV driving and we were in need of yet another pair of shoes. This time it was Emily whose boots decided to fall apart in the middle of a walk.  She ended up ripping the soles off her shoes which were later put back on with 'shoe goo'. 
We took in an Imax movie about Yellowstone and also went to the Grizzly Bear Sanctuary where we were able to see some small bears and two packs of wolves.  These two types of animals can be seen in the park but are not often easily spotted. 

Saturday night we had a pizza delivered to the campsite for the kids while Dennis and I went to a local restaurant.  It was nice to get a way for a few hours and reflect on the trip thus far.  We both agreed that something was different this time.  It was easier, more relaxing, less hectic, and definitely less work.  I actually felt like I was on vacation.
Sunday was our last day in the park.  There were so many wonderful things to see. My favorite quotes from the back seat were "Hey!  Look out the window!"  and "Wow! Did you see that!?"  After 6 days on vacation the wonder of all things around them returned. They had fresh questions and a new spark for life and learning. They were inquisitive, engaged, and energetic.   It reminded us both of why we homeschool and why we want to keep the curriculum flexible enough to take vacations and learn on the fly.  As we were about to exit the park we turned around and saw this:
What a wonderful reminder that this place is God's country!  I felt so blessed on this vacation. Between the wonders of all the surrounding features and animals to the wonder that was stirred up in he hearts of our three kids, it was truly a break from daily life and a reminder of what is out there. 
Monday morning we broke camp early and headed down towards Salt Lake City. It was my task to pack up the suitcases and prepare the boxes of all the goodies we had purchased to make RV life livable.  Unfortunately, this is where my vacation ended. The stress of getting it all packed, cleaning the RV, and trying not to leave anything behind ruined the last few hours of the trip. My poor attitude and frustration set back in as I was reminded of how working against the clock often works against my personality.  Nevertheless, everything was completed in the nick of time and we were off to the airport. Our plan was to spend a night in Long Beach, CA, (two hotel rooms were reserved) and then head back to Orlando the next day.  Even though Dennis checked flight loads several times, when we got to the counter (with 5 suitcases and 3 large boxes in tow) there were zero seats for standby travellers.  Flying "space available" can earn you victory or defeat, and it is usually by a razor thin margin.  Thankfully, my quick thinking husband found a way to take advantage of a new policy allowing us to purchase standby tickets on a different airline. Praise the Lord, there was a direct flight to Orlando leaving in less than an hour with seats available.  We made it on board and were home several hours later. 
Lessons learned: 
1. Traveling off season (or just before the season closes) has many advantages.
2. Clean hot showers and a warm bed makes a huge difference.
3. $20 worth of quarters is not enough when laundry and a game room is in play.
4. Wildlife is more interesting up close.
5. If you're near a grocery store, it is better to buy less and pick up what you need later.
6. A trip to the shower may take several tries as it is easy to forget one or two items.
7. There is no privacy in an RV. Every move and every word will be felt and heard.
8. Good quality shoes that fit can make or break a day.
9. Getting up to use the restroom in the middle of the night is not pleasant when temperatures are low.
10. Space is only available when you are actually sitting in your seat on the airplane. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Time for a Little Celebration

verb (used with object)
1. to observe (a day) or commemorate (an event) with ceremonies or festivities.

Don't you just love a celebration?  It's a special time set aside to honor an accomplishment.  As homeschoolers it might be easy to overlook such a time since our days can be filled with many accomplishments OR perhaps on a not so good day, we might feel like we have accomplished nothing at all.  Whether our schedules are jammed packed full of activities or perhaps carefree and easy with little structure, it makes sense to find certain place markers for both you and your students to honor what you have accomplished together.  Granted everyday can't be a "party day" or else it would cease to be special; however, waiting till the end of the school year might not make sense either.  Finding a spot where you can stop and say, "Hey, we did it!" is going to vary from each family along with the frequency of its occurrence.  Just make sure you do it!

Our family has chosen to use our math curriculum as a place marker for celebration.  Math does not come easily for the girls in the LeRoy household.  Our son fares much better with numbers but there are still challenging days for him as well. Our curriculum of choice is Math-U-See.  We love the way they have divided the material into books that are titled by the Greek alphabet and do not necessarily correspond to a particular grade or age.  This allows us to work through them at our own pace without fear of falling behind or finishing too early.  Sometimes a workbook might take us 4 or 5 months to master, and other times it's a little longer.   At the completion of a workbook we have a family tradition of celebrating their accomplishment by baking a cake that is decorated to reflect the book we have just completed.   We've had an Alpha cake using light green icing and Math-U-See blocks to reflect its theme.  Our Beta cake had orange icing and blocks inverted to show subtraction.  Our Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon cakes also reflected the math they had learned.  This year our oldest daughter baked and decorated a Zeta cake all by herself. 

Next time your student reaches a goal in a subject they have been working hard in, consider setting aside some time for a celebration.  It's a great way to mark their accomplishment and honor the time and effort they have put into their studies.  Happy Homeschooling!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Prayer Jar

One of my favorite times each day is the time I spend with each one of my kids saying goodnight.  Sure it's usually past their bedtime and I'm tried and sometimes cranky that they're still up, but when I go into their room and close the door I know it's going to be time well spent. This is the moment when they quiet down, reflect on the day, share their thoughts, and we pray together.  It's this last area I've come to realize we need a little help with.  I admit I'm guilty of something sometimes referred to as "drive by praying".  You know what I mean;  you bow your head and start off with something like, "Dear Jesus, thank you for this day... blah, blah, blah... in Jesus name we pray, Amen."  I want our prayer time to be meaningful and thoughtful, but in those last moments of the day I confess it unintentionally becomes very hurried, scattered, and sometimes lacking in substance.

Yesterday I was reading a devotion book to my youngest, Katherine, and it suggested the idea of a prayer jar.  I had heard of this before but like many good ideas, I had filed it away in my mind for another time only to be completely forgotten.  So when the idea resurfaced, I knew it would be a good project for Kat to present to the family.  She loved the idea so off we went to get the supplies.  Here's what you need:  1) a jar with an opening large enough to fit your hand inside, and 2) several slips of paper listing prayer requests.  It's that easy. 

Kat spent some time decorating our jar (which happened to be a water pitcher we rarely use), cut up slips of paper, and together we wrote down people we wanted to pray for.  Most of them are family and friends but we also included our country, it's leaders, our church, upcoming events, and anything else that was on our hearts.  We tried to include at least three specific things we are praying for about the person or subject on our paper.  Then Kat folded them up, put them in the jar, and made a presentation to our family. 

The LeRoy Family Prayer Jar

Everyone agreed this is a great way to make sure we are praying with purpose.  Each evening the kids get to pick a request out of the jar and pray specifically for that item.  When there are no more slips of paper in the jar we will know that each person or topic has been prayed for. Then we can fill it back up and start all over again.  A great idea at just the right time.