Saturday, December 26, 2015

Uh oh!!?!!

After Jonathan was born, it quickly became apparent that we would be visiting the hospital on occasion for patching up little boy bumps and bruises.  Compared to Spencer, Jonathan was nothing.  Spencer has had stitches twice, staples and a few brushes with super glue (they were intentional brushes).  We went in to have his head stapled at the end of August.  The triage nurse with us asked if I was a medical professional since it sounded like I knew what I was talking about.  I laughed and just said I was a mom with little boys.

This was when he got the staples.  They were in a very awkward place on his head.

First Day of School

Hannah and Jonathan are in school this year.  Jonathan is doing great in first grade.  He is doing advanced reading and writing work and is friends with just about everyone.  Hannah is also doing well.  She is doing the advanced math program and enjoying her time learning.  Both of the kids enjoy learning and facts.  Hannah is a voracious reader and Jonathan is learning to enjoy it.  He prefers building and doing things but is learning to enjoy books. 

The little people and I are enjoying a year without a kindergarten run and hopefully we'll be better at reading and wring practice along with shapes and numbers to prepare Charlotte for school next year. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Planning for a Road Trip

Reading about the logistics for Charity and Ian's 'round-the-world adventure got me thinking about how our family prepares for a 2-week road trip. It isn't quite the same, but it does feel like we spend just as much time getting ready as we do on the road. Having five children complicates things a bit, but we've got a lot of practice by this point. Here's a brief rundown of what goes on behind-the-scenes when the Wright Family goes on the road, with last summer's trip to Maine as an example.

Step 1 - Decide where we are going

There are so many awesome places to visit, and we've got a road trip bucket list at least a page long. We usually have a broad idea of where we are going on our summer road trip at least two or three years in advance, given the constraints of family reunions, solar eclipses, and other events. With a broad idea about which part of the country we want to be in, and when, we can start doing location-specific research about who to visit and what do to and see. The dates, activities and specific locations don't get resolved at this point, but it goes us a starting point for doing research.

We decided to go to Maine since shortly after moving to Pittsburgh in 2012, but the substance of the trip has changed substantially in the subsequent three years.

Step 2 - Location-specific planning

Several months before the trip date (usually a month or two after the end of the previous one), we start looking at specific locations. We talk to friends, search the internet and get a few guidebooks for the area we are visiting. Sometimes we just open the road atlas and start looking for interesting stuff. Over the course of several months, we can make a pretty large list of "must-see" locations, as well as "targets of opportunity" that we can see if we get the time or the inclination.  The second category usually becomes our fallback plans in case of weather or other changes.

A sampling of books used for our Maine trip

Making location-specific plans several months out gives us enough time for cases where advance reservations are required.  We decided to go to Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park as part of our visit to Maine, and both require advance reservations for camping spaces.  Given the size of our family, it's also important to make any hotel reservations in advance, so we can get adjoining rooms or a suite.  Making advance reservations can eliminate some of the flexibility on a trip, but with our rolling Adventuremobile packed full of camping gear, we find we can still spontaneously show up at the vast majority of campgrounds in the country.  (It also helps that the Forest Service maintains a comprehensive list of their campgrounds, including amenities.)

We also spend these months researching activities and sights in our area.  We won't get to see them all, but by having several months to collect our thoughts, we have a pretty good list to work from as we start planning our day-to-day activities.

Step 3 - Day-to-Day Activities

By a couple of months before a trip, we've got a basic idea of where we'll be, as well as some suggestions for things to do while we are there.

An important part of this entire process is recognizing our limitations.  Three years ago, while moving from Austin to Pittsburgh, we decided to ditch the traditional habit of camping each night in favor or motels, since we had a 2-month-old baby with us.  We've also had experience where we have completely skipped parts of a trip, knowing that we wouldn't be able to do them justice at our current pace.

Our current family situation with lots of young children, means we can do roughly two 2- or 3-hour activities per day, plus a couple hours of travel if we're moving between locations.  Anything more than that, and we feel a bit rushed, and if one of the activities is underwhelming or doesn't last as long as we thought, we can always find a city park somewhere and let the kids run around for a bit.

Step 4 - Food

Heather handles the food preparation for our long family trips, and honestly, I've no idea how she does it. I'm going to defer a complete explanation on this topic for a subsequent post by her.  Suffice it to say that we come loaded for bear, but we also know we can restock along the way. (Grocery shopping in another place is sometimes part of the adventure!)

The pre-trip food staging area.
Since we tend to camp and cook our own food, we want to do as much preparation before we go as possible, since this reduces the amount of time and effort we need to spend cooking and cleaning on the road. Heather isn't afraid to experiment, and for our Maine trip, we spent weeks dehydrating all kinds of different foods and organizing them into individual meals. Tasty!

Step 5 - Gear

We use the front room in our house as a staging area for the durable gear for our trip: clothes, camping supplies, diapers and other items.  As we collect them in the days preceding our trip, we put them in a staging area, usually the front room of our house.  To make things easier, we try to pack away and replace any consumables right after the previous trip, so that we know they will be ready for the next time we go.

As children have gotten older, we've given them increased responsibility for their own belongings.  We still need to do a pre-trip shakedown to avoid somebody taking 10 pairs of socks and no underwear, but we generally like to let them do whatever they can in getting ready.  We plan for an entire week of laundry, knowing that our only chance might be at our weekly motel stop or a laundromat somewhere on our off day.  As with most trips, the key to minimizing clothes is a willingness to be flexible.

At times, it feels like the collection won't fit in our car.

Step 6 - Packing

We usually wait until the day or two before the trip to start loading the car, since we need it for running errands and other tasks before the trip.  When we're camping, we put "the bubble" on top of the van and load gear into it.  I usually put the camping gear in the bubble, since it means we can just leave the bubble closed during periods of the trip where we are not camping by staying with friends or in a motel.

On our trip to Maine, it felt like the car was packed to the gills with gear, food and people, and we sometimes got creative to make sure everything fit.  For example, propane cylinders went under the back seat, or we put a cooler behind Benjamin, since he didn't need the leg space.  The car tends to open up a little as we eat our way through our food stores and other consumables over the course of the trip, but smart packing is certainly worth the effort that goes into it.  By the time we're ready to go, the Adventuremobile is ready to be our home on wheels.

On the Road

Even though we put a lot of effort into planning ahead, we try really hard to be flexible as the trip progresses. Weather, illness, car malfunction, road closures, and just general trip fatigue all contribute to changes to our plan while en route. Being prepared for these circumstances helps, but having flexibility and fallback plans makes it easier to change direction when needed. I try to keep in mind two axioms:
  1. As soon as we leave the house, it's all adventure.
  2. There will be another time: we can always come back again.
In spite of all our planning, we may not get to see what we planned, we may discover something more interesting while on the road, or things just won't go our way. That's part of the adventure! If we miss something we want to see, there will always be another opportunity.

So that's a rough idea of how we plan a family road trip. It isn't the easiest thing in the world, but we've found it worth it. From getting rained out in the Guadalupe Mountains, to driving the Beartooth Highway out of Yellowstone, to spending a couple of days on the north shore of Lake Superior, we've had great experiences together that will last a lifetime. Much of that is due to thorough preparation.

(Coming soon: a post about how to prepare children for two weeks in the car.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

End of Summer Adventures

With the busyness of our summer, we came home and had a lot to catch up on.  There was canning to do, school supplies to buy, birthdays to celebrate and one more trip for the summer. 

Happy Birthda, Hannah.  I can't believe she's 9!

We did our school shopping and got ready to start school then, in time for Hannah's birthday, we headed to my parents.  Aunt Kallie was there and it made for a great birthday party.  The kids splashed in the creek, rode bikes, and made new friends. Hyrum, Kallie and I hauled water to the parched garden.   Hyrum left after a few days on the last trip of the summer and Kallie, mom and I, picked and canned beans and peaches.  It was great to spend a week with my parents working and playing.  It's funny how tasks I hated as a kid, namely weeding and snipping beans, is now something I look forward to.  I enjoy sitting in the garden or in the backyard with my mom, philosophizing and talking about life.  

Midway Park, nostalgic activity

Ice cream after working hard to pick peaches

The peach orchard

Some of the food Kallie, Mom and I canned from the garden and our peach picking.

While the kids and I played at my parents, Hyrum was hiking in the Central Cascades in Washington state with some college buddies.  They have always talked about going backpacking together on a "Man Trip" and finally after 10 years of talk it worked out.  Our dehydrator came in handy again for the guys food.

 The pictures from Hyrum's trip are amazing.  There were too many to choose from.  Hyrum had a great time and hopefully it doesn't take ten years to get together again. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Maine or Bust--St. John, Acadia National Park, and Home

After leaving Baxter State Park, we did laundry and disposed of our garbage.  Then we drove north to St. John, Canada.  Why, you may ask, mostly, because we could.  It was a nice drive but we were ready to get to our hotel and showers.  We stopped at an old train station just over the border.  It was a good place to stretch our legs.

McAdams Railway Station, Canada

We went to check out the Reversing Falls in St. John and saw it a couple of times.  Nature is so fascinating.  We went to church there on Sunday and everyone was very friendly.  Mostly people were perplexed as to why we'd driven to St. John for church.  So was I : )  We just like to drive and what is a road trip without a stop over in another country when it's so close--yes a couple of hours is close.

Morning walk along the ocean

That Sunday night we drove back down to the States and set up camp in Acadia National Park.  We decided to do a 3 mile hike from Sand Beach, up and around, Gorham Mountain.  Along the coast there were several little trails leading to granite outcroppings and tide pools.  The tide was out so we were able to explore a bit.  It was really quite fun.  I hope to do it again when I don't have a baby strapped to me.  It was a nice morning but gradually the fog rolled in while we were at ground level.  It burned off a bit as we got higher up the mountain but we still couldn't see very far at the top.  On the mountain, we found wild blueberries, for which Maine is famous.  The kids loved to stop and pick them though we were anxious they keep moving.

Granite Blocks.  These were really fun to climb and jump around on.

Tide pools among the granite.

Hiking up the mountain

Wild blueberries

Almost there!!

We walked down to Sand Beach after going up the mountain.  It was the carrot to keep the kids going.  We ate lunch and the kids played on the beach.  There were quite a few people swimming but the water was cold.   After a bit the sun came out and burned off the rest of the fog.  That night we enjoyed our first and possibly only Lobster Dinner.  We drove to the far end of the island and while the kids dined on grilled cheese and hot dogs, I ate a Maine Lobster Roll and Hyrum cracked his way through a lobster dinner.  We were both underwhelmed by the lobster but the experience was fun and one we will remember forever.

Playing in the sand

Rocks near the lighthouse on Mount Desert Island

The only lighthouse we saw on our trip

Lobster dinner!!

Night falls on the lobster boats

The next day we had hoped to take the kids on a carriage ride among the many carriage roads established by John D. Rockefeller.  Apparently though, they are quite popular and were booked until after we left.  We decided to hike around Jordan Pond, in which we included some walking on the carriage roads.  We were able to take in the interesting bridges and enjoy nature.  At one stop on a bridge over a stream we saw several toads.  The day started sunny but the fog found us again.  This time it was extremely thick and oppressive.  we drove up Cadillac mountain hoping to see some great views but we were very disappointed.  We went back to camp for dinner.  We soon found our beds as the fog was so thick that all night we had so much water dripping on our tent, it sounded like it was raining.

Fog is cold and makes us all feel a little foggy!

Our Wednesday adventure took us over the sand bar causeway to Bar Island.  On the way over we stopped and looked among the tide pools for shells and living creatures.  We did see a small crab and a hermit crab.  The kids found plenty of shells to bring home.  We hiked on the island and made it safely back before the tide came in.  We wandered around Bar Harbor for bit, bought some souvenirs and truffles for the kids.  We decided we'd give Cadillac Mountain another try and after waiting a bit for parking, enjoyed much clearer views than the day before.  The wind was going though and we only spent a bit of time there before the kids and I drove back to our campsite.   Hyrum decided this was a prime opportunity to practice hiking without little feet as he was preparing for a backpacking trip with some buddies a few weeks later.

to Bar Island

Looking from Bar Island to Bar Harbor

View from Cadillac Mountain

The next day we broke camp and headed down the coast.  We met some Texas friends at Seabago Lake and enjoyed some time with them before heading back to their house for a couple of days.  The kids warmed up fast and it was great to visit with the Josh and Reianna and their kids.  Good friends are hard to come by and we have been so happy to see a couple of ours this summer.  It was hard to leave the Cambridges but we were ready to get home. 

Kids enjoying popcorn and an afternoon movie while it rained outside

The kids and their buddies

We drove south and stopped at Battleship Cove.  Jonathan had been really disappointed about not being able to take the carriage ride so we found a place with several WWII era naval boats.  Jonathan has been really interested in WWII so it was a perfect stop for him.   On Sunday we drove through NYC.  It was really my first time seeing the city in daylight.  It was really fun though we only drove through it.  We drove right by the Empire State Building.  Someday I'll go back and experience the city.  Late Sunday night we pulled into our house.  It was good to be back in our own beds.

NYC--Empire State Building in the background

This trip was such a blessing for our family.  We saw wonderful things and spent quality time together as a family.  The challenge is maintaining that connection all the time.  There were hard moments and tests of our strength and character but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. 

Maine or Bust--Katahdin

We spent the next night in New Hampshire and then the next day we went into Maine.  Our first Maine adventure was staying in primitive Baxter State Park in north/central Maine.  It was probably our most adventurous adventure thus far because the nearest town is 18 miles away, no garbage service, no running water, no bathrooms.  We were only people with small children anywhere near there.  We had dehydrated our food before going and borrowed a high capacity water filter from my parents.  I was a bit nervous about it but it was really a lot of fun.  It's amazing how great it can be to really unplug and enjoy nature.

Our main purpose for stopping in Baxter is that it is the home of the highest point in Maine.  Mount Katahdin is the highest point in Maine and the northern most point of the Appalachian Trail.  Hyrum, Hannah and Jonathan had been preparing for a couple of months to make the hike.  It was 11 miles round trip and took them 11 hours to complete.  Hannah and Jonathan were by far the youngest people on the mountain that day.  By all accounts, it was tough and really hard but the kids both agree it was awesome and the best part of the trip for them. 

Northeast trails, just go over it!

At the top

We did it!!

While they were hiking, the little kids and I decided to take a shorter hike around our campground.  I was hoping for a moose sighting and the kids were just looking for a good hike.  We walked to a lake and enjoyed the views then hiked further up the trail.  We hiked far enough that the kids were beginning to complain.  we enjoyed our lunch of beef jerky, dried pineapple, and sandwiches, then turned around and started back.  Near the lake we'd seen early on the hike there was a big rock.  When we first stopped, there were quite a few people, and a snake on the rock.   This time, we had it all to our selves.   We sat and enjoyed a few more snacks.  Just as I decided it was time to get back to camp I looked out to the lake.  There was a moose, enjoying her lunch.  We sat and watched her for a little while and then quietly headed back to the trail.  That just about made my day. (I have no pictures because the camera was with Hyrum and I left my phone in the car)

Enjoying the fire after a long day

Who's ready to hike?

The next day we did just a little bit of hiking since Hannah, Jonathan and Hyrum were still a bit worn out from their hike the day before.  It was really gorgeous and indescribable.  It really was a great place to spend a few days.

The Big Rock

Looking towards Katahdin

One foot in front of the other.