Adventuring through the National Parks, Part One

This week, the National Park Service celebrates #NationalParkWeek.  National Park Week is designed for you to find out more about America’s national parks.  With over 400 units in the Park system, from historic sites, monuments, battlefields, and parks, there’s a lot to discover.  You might be surprised what you can find in your own backyard by exploring nature, history, and culture.  You can find out more about these places during special events available during National Park Week.

Our family has been visiting the National Parks since our first major road trip back in July 2006.  Since then, we have explored more than 60 parks, monuments, and historic sites across the American West.  We’ve seen some of the classics, plus a few less-traveled places as well.  This week, we are going to share with you some of our favorite locations in the national park system–and why we think they are the some of the best places for your family to discover your next adventure!

With so many parks, there’s a lot to experience and enjoy.  Every family member will have their favorites for different reasons.  Here are my favorites out of the parks we’ve had some adventures in.

ROBYN’S FAVORITE NATIONAL PARKS

Welcome to ArchesArches National Park in Moab, Utah.   Arches feels like one of those places that you imagine would only be in a fairy tale.  With its red rocks and sweeping views, it’s nearly impossible to take in every single sight that mother nature whipped up. With over 2,000 sandstone arches, a day is not nearly long enough time to spend here.  Drive thru or hike up the many different trails that are for any skill levels.  While we did not hike up to the famous Delicate Arch (it is recommended for advanced hikers and can get too hot during the middle part of the day), we were able to take a beginner hike to a view point.  img_4323Our older teenagers loved climbing up the sandstone rocks, but I think they did it just to make me nervous.  We have been here twice in the past 10 years and will likely visit again!

 


 

 

img_4539Mesa Verde National Park in Cortez, Colorado.  Spanish for Green Table, Mesa Verde is so rich in history, that even our youngest kids stayed engaged as we took tour after tour to discover more about the history of the Ancestral Pueblo people.  The nearly 600 cliff dwellings have existed for over 700 years.  Although the popular Spruce Tree House closed to the public in 2015 due to excessive damage and falling rock, there are still dozens of cliff dwellings to visit.  img_4646My favorite was the ranger-led Cliff Palace, which allows visitors to look inside the doorways of the ancient dwellings and gain a better understanding of why the Pueblo people originated here then suddenly abandoned their homes.  If you prefer to stay on your own timeline and save some money, there are plenty of family hikes that you can do on your own.


 

xXcSTk+VRjG2Udcir2bP%Q_thumb_31327Glacier National Park in Northwest Montana.  Known as the Crown of the Continent, Glacier has some of the clearest, bluest water, I have ever seen.  Whether you’re choosing to hike, take a guided tour, or drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier has several days’ worth of outdoor activities and natural habitats to discover.  My favorite was Going-to-the-Sun Road, where the road hugs the cliff walls so closely I could reach out my hand and touch it as we drove up the mountains.  I’m a bit nervous on these high roads, so this really helped with my nervousness.  This drive takes about 2 hours, but with several stops along the way–to look at waterfalls, watch native wildlife like deer or mountain goats–it was well worth it.  Typically, you can only drive Going-to-the-Sun in the summer, because it takes so long to clear the road from all the snow during the winter.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3132bFrom wildlife to waterfalls, the drive does not disappoint.  Glacier now offers an audio tour to accompany you on your drive.


 

 

Whether you have your own favorite National Park or have never visited, I encourage you to get out and try something new this summer.  One of the mottos of the National Park System is #FindYourPark.  Every park is different and every park will bring out different feelings in your family.  Luckily, there are plenty of parks, which means plenty of adventures for every member of your family to enjoy.  The memories you bring home will be unforgettable, and make you want to start planning your next trip.

In Part Two, Duane will share his favorite parks we’ve experienced on our journeys.

 

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A Healthy Grilled Chicken Burger

While it’s not technically summer, as soon as the weather warms up, it’s time to grill  But if you need something different than the usual hamburgers, what are your options?

This simple grilled chicken burger (with a butter lettuce wrap) is a delicious and simple way to enjoy something delicious while staying healthy.

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Ground chicken, an egg, red pepper flakes, garlic salt, ground almonds, and a little bit of pepper for flavor are the main ingredients.  Combine in a large bowl, hand shape the patties, and toss them on the grill.  It was seriously that easy!

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For toppings, we went with pepper jack cheese, red onions, and butter lettuce.  Add ketchup or mustard if you like, and you have a perfectly healthy–and delicious–burger.  When all six of us like it, including the youngest, we know we’ve made a keeper.

What are your favorite grilling recipes as you get ready for summer?  Share in the comments below!

Grilling Season: Burger Time

Once the sun comes out, the cover comes off the grill and it’s time to get busy.  We may not be in the complete summer sunshine yet, but if it’s sunny, it’s a great reason to make burgers for the whole family.

 

img_8344-e1525546201759.jpgWe like to make everything from scratch, so we start with the freshest and healthiest ingredients we can find and go from there.  Here’s a burger I created the other day that we enjoyed.  A lot.  As in, they were all gone very quickly.  We start with grass-fed ground beef, doing our best to stay as close to organic as possible.  It costs more, but the quality is worth it.  I put together a little marinade to let it soak in overnight before getting it ready for grilling.

 

A few simple ingredients went into  the marinade:

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Garlic Salt, Kinder’s Brown Sugar BBQ Rub, Worcestershire Sauce, & BBQ Sauce.

To give the burgers a bit of consistency, you can use anything from almond flour to breadcrumbs.  We’ve been using this recently, and the added flavor plus the additional superfoods really make the burgers taste great.  Sadly, this particular one is no longer available, but similar ingredients will work just as well.  Mix them together with the ground beef and you are good to go!

 

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Find something like this that isn’t too seed-heavy.

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It will taste better than it looks right now.

 

Make sure you’ve pre-heated your grill to a nice warm temperature and then you are ready to grill.  I do like to use PAM’s Grill Spray, as it helps the burgers not stick, but that is a personal preference.  The superfood mix gives these burgers a greenish-hue, but it’s okay.  It’s all natural!  (And you won’t see it while you’re chewing it.   That’s what we tell the kids.)

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Flattened a bit with the bottom of a plate.

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Ready to cook–a bit more of that BBQ rub on top for good measure.

IMG_8352Grilling time depends on your grill, so watch them carefully, and when you’re ready, just a few moments before serving, add some cheese.  If that’s what you like.  Don’t add it if your family has issues with dairy, doesn’t like cheesburgers, or hates melted cheese.

Also, shredded cheese does melt a little bit better and faster than giant slices, so keep that in mind. This adds just a touch of flavor and keeps the burger from being overwhelmed by it.

 

Whether you like your burgers on buns or served with a salad, make sure you have everything ready pretty quickly when the burgers are ready.  They will taste better hot off the grill.  We use butter lettuce to make lettuce wraps for our burgers.  Today we added some sweet potato fries for additional somewhat-heathy yumminess.  This burger tasted great!

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Seriously, this was so good.

We have lots more ideas to share as we get ready for more sunshine eating.  What are some of your favorite recipes for burgers?  What’s a family favorite for outdoor eating?  Share them in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Adventuring Through the National Parks, Part Two

We are nearing the end of #NationalParkWeek, and it’s been fun for us to look back at our travels and where we’ve gone in the 12 years since we first started visiting what has been called “America’s Best Idea.”  In 2006 we ventured across the American West and drove over 6,000 miles.  We experienced Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and a made thousands of memories along the way.  It started a love for the National Parks that continues today.

Robyn has her favorites.  These are a few of mine.

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area and San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park– San Francisco, California.  Take one day in San Francisco and experience everything from the infamous Alcatraz to the old growth redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument to the only Civil War-era fort built on the West Coast, Fort Point.  Visit the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge or tour the history of California at The Presidio.

1Get away from the crazy hustle and bustle of the waterfront and experience the history of sailing, fishing, and so much more at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, or go directly to the coast and Lands End Lookout overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  There is literally so much to see and do in this amazing combination of monuments and historic sites, you will not be able to experience it all in one visit.

 


 

 

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Capitol Reef National Park – Torrey, Utah.  There are so many beautiful National Parks in Utah, it’s hard to choose one.  But Capitol Reef combines incredible arches, canyons, and red cliffs with a whole lot of history, which makes it tops for me.  The unique landscape of Capitol Reef made it ideal for Native American cultures, and there are countless petroglyphs visible, some just a short walk from the main road through the park.

Created more than 500 years ago, they are stunning examples of the Fremont people who lived here before the Mormon settlement of Fruita planted orchards of more than 3,000 trees.  1 (1)You can still visit one of the old houses, eat fruit right from the trees (they are maintained by the park), and then take a drive in deep red rock canyons–it’s a perfect experience for everyone.


 

Since Robyn only listed three, I’m limiting myself to three, too.  Honestly, I could list at least a dozen here, but since I only have one more choice, I have to go with the one that started it all.


yellowstone-1500x609Yellowstone National Park – Yellowstone NP, Wyoming.  Without Yellowstone, there would be no National Park system.  It was the very first National Park in the world, and it remains one of the most amazingly diverse ecosystems in America–a truly stunning combination of animals, geothermal wonders, rivers, canyons, and more.  It is one of those parks that you can’t experience just once–there is so much to see that a day’s drive from one end to the other will leave you a bit exhausted.  636559460866264567-1-Yellowstone-Kris-Wiktor-shutterstock-96972083Take time to explore the mudpots and geysers, marvel at the wateralls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and stop and stare at elk, buffalo, and countless other species that call the park home.  Yellowstone is one of the busiest National Parks, so plan ahead and make reservations for hotels around it, or for camping inside it.  You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be reminded why our National Parks have been called “America’s Best Idea.”

What are your favorite National Parks?  What tips can we share about any visits you might be planning this summer?  Let us know!

Parenting Connected Kids: Surviving the Digital Minefield

This connected age we live in is absolutely amazing.

I love the ways I am able to connect instantly with friends and family via my iPhone.  I love the way I can share pictures and memories and what I’m eating for dinner with my friends on Facebook.  I enjoy tweeting directly to celebrities and theme parks via Twitter, find hundreds of people who want to share #disneygrams with me on Instagram.

I love Timehop for reminders of previous years’ posts, Pinterest for ideas on things I can’t possibly figure out how to do as good as the picture, and Swarm because I’m the mayor of one of my favorite Disneyland hotels. (And I confess, I do have a Snapchat, but only so my kids can take silly pictures of themselves with those infectious filters.)

I can’t imagine what entertainment would be without my Xbox One, Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, and the ability to stream from anywhere in the world.  I’m a huge fan of nearly every digital innovation that has enabled me to bring information closer, enjoy life in a whole new way.  Even this blog is a result of that digital revolution, allowing us to share our adventures with people around the world.

But as a parent, this digital age can be rather daunting.  There are so many ways to connect online, and so many ways kids want to connect, that it can feel like a parental minefield.  What games do you let your kids play?  What ratings of TV shows do you let them watch on Netflix or Hulu–and how much binge-watching do you allow?  Do they get to play online via Xbox Live or Roblox?  What about email?  Cell phones?  Texting?  This is truly a “connected generation.”

It’s a challenge.  The digital age makes it that much harder for parents and kids to stay the course.  To not grow weary of doing good.  Because there’s just so many cool things we can do.  On my iPhone alone there are just too many awesome ways to do things and have fun with other people.

So how do we weather it?  How do we help out children stay strong, make wise choices, and do what God asks them to do when there are just so many awesome–yet potentially dangerous–ways to connect, have fun, and enjoy the digital world?

In my role as Children and Family Pastor at a church in Seattle, I interact with kids–elementary age kids–who are dealing with more stuff than I even dreamed about when I was their age.  They are being forced to grow up faster than they should, and many of them are struggling with very “adult” issues.
Kids struggling with pornography. Self-image issues. Parental abuse. Divorce, drugs, sex, stealing, lying, and stuff that I had no idea existed when I was in the 4th grade.  It breaks my heart to see them struggle.  These are good kids who need their parents to engage in the conversation, help them stay strong and follow the better way that God has created for them.  I’ve watched my own kids struggle in their own ways, and I’ve realized through a lot of trial and error what these connected kids need from us as parents.

They need us to help them find ways to enjoy this crazy new connected world without sacrificing their principles and staying true to their core values.

For my next several posts, I will be talking about just that.  From apps to texts to phone rules and how to handle those Xbox Live friends, I’ll give you our top ten tips for surviving the minefield that is our contemporary digital landscape.  Buckle your seat belts–it could get a bit bumpy.

Too Much of a Good Thing

As a parent, I frequently think about what my kids pay attention to.

I can tell when they begin to spend too much time thinking about things that distract them from what’s important.  When they think too much about a video game, I limit their game time.  When they get obsessive over an artist or song, I limit how often they get to listen to it.  Television, food, candy, sugar, social media–you get the picture.

This is a biblical idea.  Solomon wrote in Proverbs: “If you find honey, eat just enough. If you eat too much of it, you will throw up.”  Short, sweet, and vivid.  You can have too much of a good thing.

Whether it’s honey or the video game Undertale or the musical Hamilton or Facebook or their latest fave on Netflix–none of those things by themselves are bad.  But too much of those things?  Not good for them.

It’s easy to see this as a parent.  We are quick to see what our kids need to stop doing, because we how it affects them.  Their schoolwork suffers, their relationships with others go south, they sleep poorly–you get the idea.

It’s harder for us as adults to catch this for ourselves.

Seahawks.
Exercise.
Television.
Career.
Disneyland.
Candy Crush.
Money.
Politics.

All of these things are fine, in themselves.  Rooting for a team is great.  Being healthy is awesome.  Enjoying a good show is relaxing.  Having a job is always a plus.  Getting away from it all is good.  A few minutes with an app is a fun way to kill time.  Money sure helps take care of the bills.  And we kind of need to make sure our country has leaders.

But too much of any of these things will make you sick.  And I don’t just mean feeling sick when your favorite team doesn’t do well.  Anything–anything–that you get too much of will hurt you.  Each of these things can consume you, become all you think about–and that’s the deepest trouble: they will distract you from what really matters.

Time with the kids.
Talking with your spouse.
Growing in your faith.
Deepening friendships.
Trusting in and relying on God.

You can have too much of a good thing.  Solomon learned this the hard way.  Once he filled his life with wealth, women, success, power, he lost his way.  He stopped focusing on the one who gave him all of that, and his kingdom fell apart.  He didn’t listen to his own warning.

I’d never want that for my kids.  But God also doesn’t want that for me–or you.  He’s not out to dispense heavenly Pepto-Bismol so we can feel better about ourselves after overindulging.  He’d rather we make the wise choice to begin with.

So, before you lecture your kids on how much Xbox they play, or that singer they’re obsessing over, take a second to think about the “honey” in your own life.  What’s distracting you from what really matters?  It might be time to admit that you have too much of a good thing.

And stop before you throw up.  Because that’s just gross.

Making Memories On Any Budget

If you’ve known us or followed us for any length of time, you know that we love Disney.  We have a little history with Disney, though. Duane and I met working at The Disney Store back in 1996 and we were married just two short years later in Disneyland.  We have raised our kids in a “Disney home,” following many of Walt’s own traditions.  And we visit the Happiest Place on Earth whenever we can get away for a few short days.  Many people wonder how we can afford it, but we’ve visited so often that we know how to spend and save money. Also, working for Disney allows us several benefits that not all guests can afford.  And even though Disneyland will always be our go-to vacation, we also love going on other adventures outside of Disneyland.  So, how does one go on adventures on a budget?  I’m going to share with you my top 5 money-saving adventures.  And yes, Disneyland is one of them.

  1. DAY DRIVES.  I think one of our favorite things to do as a family is to find a place just a couple hours away and take a day drive.  It’s always fun exploring new things.  Last week’s blog was about how to make memories anywhere and this is one of the easiest, and cheapest ways to do it.  Usually all it takes is a full tank of gas and some research.  Pack a lunch, grab your smart phone for directions, and you’re off!  Here in the Seattle area some of our favorites are Leavenworth, Mt. Rainier, any place a ferry can go, or even the city itself.  You just need to get creative.
  2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SEASONS.  Every town, city, state offers seasonal adventures.  In the fall, visit your local pumpkin patch.  Summer time is great for fruit or veggie picking.  Regardless of the season, find something new and fun and go for it.  Again, with just a little research, you can find adventure just about anywhere and at any time.
  3. VENTURE OUT TO A NEARBY BIG CITY.  One of our favorite getaways as a family is Portland, OR. If we have a couple of days off in a row, we try to head out of town. Portland offers great shopping and dining.  And it doesn’t matter how often we go, the kids love staying in hotels.  It’s a different experience for them. And who doesn’t love going for a swim or soak in the hot tub after a long hard day of eating and playing?
  4. GO FIND YOUR PARK!  Did you know that you can purchase an annual park pass for the entire family for just $80?  And it pays for itself in 2 park visits.  Every state offers several national parks, historic sites, or historic reserves.  Again, just pack a lunch, several snacks, water bottles, jackets and/or hats, and fill up the car.  The National Park Service also offers a Junior Ranger program with fun activities and adventures for your kids and an opportunity for them to earn a Jr. Ranger badge.  All of my kids, including my 17-year old, love earning their Jr. Ranger badges! Just visit The National Park Service to find out more information and programs near you!
  5. DISNEYLAND!  OK, you knew I had to! Like I said, we visit Disneyland as frequently as we can.  Each visit is different and depending on the kids, they all experience something new.  So, how can we afford it?  Before I was worked for Disney, we had annual passes.  If you visit the park more than 5 days, you will have paid for your annual pass.  Plus the annual pass gets you discounts on food and store purchases.  There are several hotel offerings around Disneyland Resort, so just choose the one that best suits your family’s budget and needs.  For our family, I’m all about saving as much money as we can.  I bring a backpack with me filled with snacks and waters to save on food purchases.  Our kids have learned to split meals so we only end up purchasing 3 meals at a time instead of one for each of us.  If they’re still hungry, they can have a snack, but most times, they’re just fine.  And I’m not big on souvenirs, but we give each of our kids a $25 gift card to spend on souvenirs, dole whip, churros, etc.  And the biggest money saver for us is transportation.  We load up all 4 kids in the minivan for a 18-hour-straight-thru drive.  We have done this so often that we know where to find the cheapest gas, cheapest food, and best times to travel to save time. I guess you could say we’re experts on Disneyland on budget!

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to find adventure!  Just a little imagination and research.  Now go find adventure!  It’s out there just waiting for you!