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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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!

How to Make Memories Without Even Trying

I love my family, almost to a point where if we were the only 6 left on earth, I would be totally OK with it.  I’m very protective of us and our time together, which as the kids get older and we get busier, seems to be a little bit fewer and far between. So when we are all together, either purposefully or accidentally, we are very intentional with our time.  I saw a sign today that read,

We didn’t know we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

This is my new mantra!  With that being said, let me help you create memories with your family without even trying.

1. Don’t over schedule yourself.  I can’t stress this enough.  Work, school, PTA, sports, dance, music, karate, homework, housework, yard work, … the list can go on and on.  Over scheduling yourself and your kids is easy to do.  But it’s also not necessary.  Pick one extra curricular activity for you and/or your kids. The days off are a bit more frequent when you don’t have too much going on. Believe me, I get it.  Both me and my husband work full time, both of my teenagers have jobs, my youngest daughter is involved in basketball and brand practice, so I know how easy it is to get caught up in busy.  But try to set aside one or two days per month where you and your family is 100% “off.”  Let the vacuuming wait.  The dishes are fine in the dishwasher.  And there will always be laundry to do.  Take your free day and go make a memory or two.

2. Sneak in fun things even when you have a lot going on.  As much as I would like to say the Christmas season is full of baking days and relaxation for us, it’s not.  It’s easily the busiest time of year for me.  I don’t get to drop everything and go play with my kids when they are outside making snowmen.  But I do sneak in moments with them when I can.  Whether it’s driving around looking at Christmas lights or dining out at their restaurant of choice, creating moments for them will also create memories.

3.  Document your moments so you can relive your memories. Most people have some kind of a camera on their phone.  It’s there for a reason, so use it.  You may not even realize you’re creating memories until you look back a week or two later and you are able to relive it. One of my favorite moments, which I didn’t even realize would turn into a favorite summer memory, happened two summers ago.  We took a few days to get out of town.  We stumbled upon a restaurant that we all decided looked decent enough for us to have dinner. It turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.  The kids all got along, our food was amazing, we explored the restaurant after dinner which just happened to be full of history.  But I didn’t even realize how much I loved those moments until we were able to look back at the photos (played as a screensaver on our family Mac) and remember what an amazing memory it was!

What can you do this week or even this month to create special moments with your family?  Next week, I’m going to be sharing some of our favorite things to do as a family for every budget. I’d love to hear your ideas, so send them my way!

3 Things Every Kid Needs

 

There are three things every kid needs.

I’ll assume you know the obvious ones.  (Clothes, food, a place to sleep, the occasional bath.)  But if we want our kids to grow up to be more than just clean and groomed, there are less obvious things they need–the things they need to help them grow up to be nice, genuine, and responsible people.  Those are the ones we as parents need to spend more time focusing on.  Here are three things I think every kid needs:

Kids Need a Job to Do.  Nothing will instill a work ethic better in your child than earning money.  Allowances are not a good idea.  You don’t get paid just for existing, and neither should a child.  Just getting something because you were born creates an attitude of entitlement: “I deserve this.”  Sorry, Junior, but that’s not the way the world works, and an allowance gives your kids a false expectation of what things will be like when they grow up.  So, once you feel your kids are ready to have some pocket change, have them earn it.  Whatever the age, there is an appropriate job for them to do in your family.  Washing clothes, doing dishes, feeding pets, making beds, dusting.  Menial jobs are great for kids, not because they are your servants (even though they may say this while cleaning up dog poop in the backyard), but because it helps them realize there is value in any kind of work.  Make chore lists, have them keep track of the tasks they have completed.  At the end of the week, pay them for their work.  And if they don’t work, don’t pay them.  If they didn’t complete everything you asked them to do, don’t give them their full agreed upon amount.  If they complain, remind them that if you don’t do your job each week, you don’t get paid, either.  It’s a great way to prepare them for future employment (and their future employers will thank you).  It also helps them grow as responsible, contributing members of your family.  Really surprise them by paying them for unexpected things: a piece of artwork, climbing a tree to pick cherries, or beating you at your family’s favorite board game.  This helps them learn that they can also get paid for things they enjoy, things that are fun, or artistic–great lessons before they choose a career.

Kids Need Something to Celebrate.  One of the joys of the many random holidays we have throughout the year is that kids love them.  They love St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, and all the rest.  What has happened, though, thanks to Pinterest, is that every parent believes they have to do some kind of huge extravagant thing every holiday.  When we were kids, our moms didn’t have the internet to teach them that their kids’ birthdays or school holidays had to be super creative examples of awesomeness.  They used an article out of Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens and kind of winged it.  Were our birthdays pretty and perfectly themed?  No.  Party stores didn’t exist, and you couldn’t fill an entire house with matching plates, cups, hats, games, and the rest.  We still had a great time, we still had fun.  Because kids don’t care how much it cost or how much time you spent being creative.  That’s your thing.  That’s your attempt to prove something to the other Pinterest parents and the last birthday party your child went to.  To misquote Cindi Lauper: “Kids just want to have fun.”  The Valentines from the grocery store are perfect acceptable.  The Betty Crocker cake is fine.  Adding green food coloring to the milk on St. Patrick’s Day is a great start to the morning.  Celebrating doesn’t need to be expensive.  Don’t try to be Pinterest perfect.  Just doing something fun every once in awhile.  Celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree, Mother’s Day with flowers or homemade cards.  So don’t break the bank, don’t sweat it, but celebrate the dumb holidays, even in small ways.  It’s always “National ________ Day.”  Get the free ice cream on National Ice Cream Cone Day.  Eat Hot Dogs on National Hot Dog Day.  Go to a National Park during National Park Week.  Celebrate May the Fourth with Star Wars or the first game of whatever your family’s favorite sport is.  Create reasons to celebrate or have a party for no reason.  What your kids will appreciate and remember is that you did something to break the routine and give them a reason to celebrate!

Kids Need to Say Thank You.  Gratitude is defined as a “feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.”  But when was the last time you actually saw someone show gratitude?  Sure, we celebrate Thanksgiving every November, but how often do we pause to say thank you to those around us?  Not often, which teaches kids to think that they deserve everything.  Kids already think that, because society, television, the internet all work together to create an attitude of entitlement.  Kids think they deserve that stuff you bought them, that vacation you took them on, and maybe that’s because that’s your attitude, too.  But we don’t.  Nothing we have or get to do is something that is due us.  We are blessed to have any good thing in our lives.  Teaching your kids to say thank you, for presents, for dinner, for help, for anything helps them learn to be grateful.  I like to stop and say thank you to my children’s teachers, just for putting up with them.  At a restaurant, my kids have to look the server in the eye and say thank you when their food is delivered.  When another member of the family helps them with something, they have to stop, pause, and say thanks.  It’s good to even make lists once in awhile of all the things you are grateful for–that attitude of gratitude starts with you, after all.  When you think of all that you have to be thankful for, you’ll be more likely to say thank you–and your kids will see that in you, too.  When I say thank you, I’m making a point: what I am receiving is undeserved, I understand I don’t deserve it, and I am grateful for what I have been given.

Kids need jobs.  They need fun.  And they need to say thanks.  Help them with these three things, and not only will they grow up well-groomed and well-fed, they’ll be genuinely nice people.  And that’s something the world needs.

Next week, I’ll share three things every parent needs.