Category Archives: Family Fun

Rowing Off Into the Sunset

So there once was a mom who was jealous of her kids.

She was jealous because they got to have piano lessons and violin lessons and swimming lessons and soccer and tennis and etcetera.  The mom watched them learning all of these wonderful things and she wanted to learn something, too. So she decided to sign up for lessons of her own.

IMG_9127She had had her eye on rowing for a long time, and finally a friend told her about a nearby masters crew club that had lessons for novices. The only requirements were that you have to be fit, know how to swim (no one wears life jackets), and you have to be able to lift 40 pounds over your head and walk 75 yards. (The team carries the very long and heavy boat from the boathouse to the water.)

She had the first two requirements down, but she was a little nervous about the last one. (Have you seen the size of her arms? They are like broomsticks!) IMG_9105

Fortunately for her, she was not as tall as the other rowers and once they had the boat over their heads she couldn’t even reach it. A lucky break!IMG_9111

The coach was a fountain of rowing knowledge, and most of the other women were experienced rowers so there was nothing to fear. (Except catching a crab, which she did on the third day of practice. Yikes!)

There were lots new things to learn. Anyone even casually familiar with boats knows that when facing the bow the right side is starboard and the left side is port. But in a row boat you are all facing backwards. So your left side is starboard and your right side is port. It took some getting used to.

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The coach was careful to teach by degrees . . . Sometimes only two rowers would row while the other rowers kept the boat set with their oars. Then the coach increased it to four, and the six. When it wasn’t her turn to row the star of our story would close her eyes and pretend like she was Cleopatra going down the Nile.

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I am in seat number 5, right in the middle with the white hat.

It wasn’t until the third practice that the coach allowed all eight rowers to row and she could now understand why her coach had added rowers by degrees. Eight people rowing with no one to set the boat was quite exciting! And a little chaotic, at first. But eventually she got the hang of it.

IMG_9113The whole experience was a little dream come true and definitely one to repeat in the future. But now it is back to taking the kids to lessons, and watching them grow and learn. Which is not so bad, especially when you have a view like this:

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200 Miles: My 2015 New Year’s Resolution Report

I am a fair-weather runner, which means I only like to run when it is between 50 and 65 degrees, with no rain or snow, no dogs, and no hills.

Until last year when my crazy runner siblings told me that we were all going to run a New Years 5K. That means you start your run sometime after 11 pm and you try to time it so that you cross the finish line at midnight. I will also mention that this 5K was in Idaho and it was 13 below zero. I am from North Carolina where it only goes 13 below zero every ten years. But I am all for trying new things. We dressed for the occasion.

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Surprisingly, it was a great experience. And I thought to myself, if I can run in the middle of the night in Idaho when it is negative 13, I can run in any North Carolina weather. I need to stop being a pansy.

So I made a goal to run 200 miles.

That sounds impressive, but it isn’t really. It is only about four miles a week. But that is the beauty of goals, isn’t it? A big goal is simply the sum of a bunch of tiny ones.

I bought new shoes, since if I was going to run 200 miles I wanted to be as comfortable as possible, and I made a card and taped it to my kitchen cabinet so that I would be reminded of my goal.  Every time I ran I marked how many miles I went. As the year progressed things were going pretty well. Slowly but surely the tally marks increased.

But then I got sick . . . for the entire month of October. This put me behind, and I agonized that I would have to make up all of that running during the coldest months of the year.

By the time November came I still had 30 miles left to run and I was doing everything I could to catch up. My 6-foot 17-inch African brother who came for Thanksgiving said, “I’ll go running with you and help you catch up. We could 10 miles in one day.” Ha, ha, dear brother.  Remember you are from Kenya, where running was invented.

Instead I had him run with my husband so that they could wear each other out.

Then a week or so later my husband asked, “How many miles do you have left?”

“Twenty-four,” I said.

“Oh, that is easy! That is a little less than a marathon. You could do that in three hours.”

Another good joke.

But I was making progress, even if it was little by little. By this time I was running very regularly and I felt better than ever. The time I spent running became a sacred time to think and problem solve and to watch the stars.

Plus, it felt so satisfying to watch the tally marks increase on my card.

By the second week of December I had six miles left. Ironically, it was the week my husband surprised me with a 15th anniversary trip to the Bahamas.

So guess where I ran my last six miles.

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(We didn’t actually run on the beach. We ran on the roads, but this makes a better photo.)

It was a perfect ending to my year of 200 miles. I started in frigid Idaho and ended in the breezy Caribbean.

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Now what to do this year? My running sister told me I should run a 10K. I told her I would do that if she memorizes the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. A kilometer for an amendment. She said she would think about it.

We’ll see who is the most ambitious. And, in the end, the most rewarded.

Now the question is whether or not I will go running tomorrow morning . . .

 

 

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Confessions of a Xenophile

Before we begin, I have to tell you that I have passionate love/hate vibes towards those who post photos of themselves in foreign countries (ah-hem: Steve…Vanessa…Rebekah…Keri…).  I salivate just looking at passports, suitcases and maps. Photos of people I know having experiences abroad make me feel like a fish in a fish tank, watching the world go by without me. And yet, as painful as it is, I can’t look away.

So I hesitate sharing these photos with you, lest you are a fellow xenophile whose heart yearns to see photos like this yet breaks at the same time. But listen, we just have to face the fact: there is a place called the Bahamas, and somebody has to go there and help boost tourism in that country.  Hate me or love me, we are all just going to have to deal with it. Scroll through the photos if you have it in you. Like my guide said before I jumped into the Blue Hole last Friday, “it’s over quick.”

(Too quick for my liking.)

Here is the story: Scott completely took me by surprise last Wednesday morning when he handed me a pair of new sandals and said, “Pack your bags, Chelsea. Tomorrow we are going to the Bahamas!”

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This has never happened to me before–getting surprised with a trip or going to the Bahamas.

IMG_7254We went to Nassau and then to a more remote island. This might give you an idea of how big the island is:IMG_7255It is still hard to believe I was there. Sniff.IMG_0650The first day there we went kayaking, snorkeling and cliff jumping. IMG_0667IMG_0669As for accommodations, we roughed it . . . no luxury hotel for us! Instead we stayed in at “Surfer’s Haven” with our guide and his wife. He was an incredible guide. She was an incredible cook. IMG_7332I’m always trying to learn new things for my books (I write mesoamerican fantasy romances. It’s a new genre, soon to be the rage) and our hosts had a great variety of tropical plants in their yard including coconuts, orchids, lemons the size of grapefruits, pineapple plants . . . IMG_7292. . . and poisonwood, which was very well marked.IMG_7296This is Tom, our guide, surfer, kayaker, diver, and native Bahamian:IMG_0677I have to admit that the weather wasn’t ideal every day. On our last day it got a little windy. IMG_7298Here is a little surfer’s hangout at the beach. I suppose they use car seats because they are the only chairs heavy enough to not blow away. And if a hurricane came rolling through at least you could buckle up. IMG_7312IMG_7316To escape the wind our guide took us underground to a mile-long cave filled with graffiti, some of which dates back 200 years. IMG_7387Here were some of our favorite signatures. IMG_0748IMG_0770IMG_0775And this is how we got out.IMG_0776Saturday night the BYU/Utah game was on. Of course being in a foreign country on a small island was not going to stop Scott from finding a tv, even if it happens to be in a bar. We had a great time watching the game and teaching the 18-year-old bartender the rules of American football. IMG_7330We drove over the famous “glass window bridge” many times while we were there. This is the left side of the bridge (the Bahamian Bank, or the Caribbean side):IMG_0807And this is the Atlantic side of the bridge: IMG_7334On our way home we hung out in Nassau for a few hours.IMG_7361IMG_7365This is how they celebrate Christmas in the Bahamas. IMG_7367But we missed our kids so it was time to head home. IMG_7381Flying over Charleston, SC.

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I hope you were able to make it through the photos okay. Are you crying? I am. I know it is hard. Now that I am home I can hardly stand looking at them! The agony!

But I have to keep reminding myself that the best is yet to come. So much to do in this world. So many things to discover. What a glorious place this earth is!

I’m so glad Scott threw caution to the wind and planned this adventure for us. We have so much to celebrate this year. It was the perfect time, at the perfect place and with the perfect person.

I hope YOU are the next person to go do something memorable. Go ahead! Make it happen! I want to see your photos. Really, I do. 😉

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When I Grow Up

I just got back from vacation out West where I met with a lot of very, very old people.

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My father’s siblings and their spouses

First I met the mule man. His name is Lew. My mom wanted me and my kids to meet him since he had mules, and she thought my kids would like to come and feed them. Not my first idea of a good time, but I always do what my mother says.

We found Lew out back by the barn. I am pretty sure he was close to 800 years old. He had three mules tied up to a fence by the corral. He taught my kids how to hold their hands flat as they fed alfalfa pellets to the mules. Once they had mastered that skill he said, “I’ll teach you anther way to feed the mule, and if you can feed him like this I’ll go into the house and give you a dollar.” Then he took an alfalfa pellet, put it in his mouth, bent over, and to the horror of my children, he let the mule take the pellet from his lips.

After wiping a smile (and mule spit) from his mouth, the ancient man slung a saddle up on the mule, slung up Naomi, and then slung up Dan as easily as if they were all made of paper mache. He led the mule around in a few circles. Then Danny wanted to be in front, so Lew taught them how to switch places. He told Naomi to stand up on top of the saddle–yes, on top–and had Danny to crawl through her legs as she slid behind Danny’s back and viola! Like magic Danny was in the front. I wish you could have seen the pride shining in my children’s eyes at acquiring this novel, new skill. I could read Naomi’s mind: Now THIS is a TALENT!

After that he lifted Danny off the mule but told Naomi she could slide off the back of the mule’s rump, “but don’t ever do it on any other horse or mule unless you want to get your head kicked off.” As he was putting the saddle way he said to me, “Did you know that I have five daughters and each of them can ride a bucking horse and shoot, skin and clean their own elk. But my greatest regret is that not one of them can play the piano.” Before Naomi could say, Hey, that is not so bad! My mom piped up and said, “These girls can play piano! And they can sing for you. RIGHT NOW!”

So, since I always do what my mom tells me, we did. In Lew’s tack shed. Surrounded by saddles and ropes he made himself, while he sat misty-eyed on an old pick up truck seat. To our delight, he reciprocated by reciting a cowboy poem from memory. When it was time to go back to my Mom’s, Lew looked at my two-year-old and said, “Since you didn’t get to ride the mule I’ll take you on the four wheeler.” And then he drove my Levi back to the house, making sure they crossed under every single sprinkler a long the way. I may have had my doubts about the mule man when we arrived, but by the time we left I was his biggest fan.

Next I went to a family reunion, where I saw my Uncle John whom I have not seen for years. He engaged me in conversation in which he asked me all about my life. Then he called my children to him, looked them steadily in the eye and said, “Your grandfather had a beautiful voice, just like you. Did you know that? I knew your grandfather very well. He was a wonderful man. I know because he was a good friend of mine. And it is important that you to know how wonderful he was.”  I tell my kids every day how great my dad was, but like a lot of things, it doesn’t sink in until they can hear it from someone else. This was truly a great gift from my uncle, and one I will always be grateful for.

Finally, I attended the 90th birthday party of one of my favorite people in the world: my grandmother. Actually, she is not my grandmother. She is Scott’s grandmother, but I claim her whole heartedly. She is extremely intelligent, talented and has read almost every book ever written. When she talks to you she makes you feel like you are her absolute favorite grandchild, and that you possess talents that no one else has, and that your talents can make a difference in people’s lives and will change the world. And because she is who she is, you believe her. If you met her you would claim her as your grandmother, too.

All of these encounters make me wonder if I am cut out to be a good old person.

What kind of old lady will I be?  Will I be the old lady that complains about everything and tells the younger generation to take their shoes off and get out of my flowers or don’t touch my breakable things and eat your vegetables? Or will I have something wiser to say like “I remember your grandfather and he was a good singer and a good friend” or “you, my dear, have talents that will change the world” or “let me show you how to switch places on a mule.”

On the Forth of July I entered a 5K race. So did my husband, many of my in-laws and most of my kids and nieces and nephews. My athletic in-laws and competitive husband took off, leaving me behind with the smell their burned rubber, and I was on my own to pad my way amongst strangers down the streets of Manti. Before long footsteps came from behind and I looked to see my nephew, Max.

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There was no way I was going to be beaten by an 8-year-old. Especially one who is related to me. I broke away from him for a while, but a half mile later I heard those shoes coming up behind me again. So I let him keep pace with me, and we talked about the weather, the pros of stretching before a race, and how often he practiced running. Throughout all this I always made sure I was slightly ahead of him at all times. When there was a mile left he was still on my tail. (Inconceivable!) I debated what I should do. Should I pick up my pace and leave him behind?  After all, I do have a 28-minute personal best that I needed either meet or surpass. Besides that, if I came in too late I knew I would have to prepare a good verbal comeback for my husband when he asks if I stopped to pick flowers.

“How you doing, Max?”

“Okay.”

“Are you feeling good?”

“Yes.”

He looked good. His pace was good. He wasn’t limping, he wasn’t complaining. I measured up the situation, calculated the risks.

Then I asked,”You want to sprint the last part with me?”

“Yah.”

“Are you sure you can do it?”

“I’m sure.”

So as we rounded the corner to the finish line, we sprinted. I still could have left him and crossed first, but we ran side by side until right before the finish line when I pulled back and let him cross first.

Now he can say he can beat his aunt.

It is a start, I guess. Luckily, I am only 37. I have a lot of years still to learn how those 80 and 90 year olds do it. But hopefully, when I grow up and become an old lady, I will be a good one.

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By the way, my enchanting niece who also happens to be Idaho’s Miss Outstanding Teen, is doing a project called Bridging Generations. You should check it out. #BridgingGenerations

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The Burning of the Parthenon

For a school project Sophie and a friend were required to make a scale model of the Parthenon.

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There was some good father/daughter time involved, and a beautiful replica was created. This was at Christmastime.

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It is now April.

And we still have the Parthenon.

It migrated around our house, going from the dining room to the living room until finally finding a temporary home under the coffee table.

“We have to do something with the Parthenon,”  I finally told Scott.

“Let’s burn it,” he said. “With gasoline.”

“No,” I said.

“With starting fluid.”

“No,” I said.

“With lighters.”

“I can’t use a lighter,” chimed in my 5-year-old son, “Let’s use matches!”

“Who taught you to use matches?” I said.

“Uncle Seth.”

Thanks a lot, dear brother.

So for Family Home Evening (something we do every Monday night) we took a box of matches and commenced the destruction of the Parthenon.

Since we are responsible parents, we also used this as an opportunity to teach the kids how to use a fire extinguisher.

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It was pretty exciting for everyone involved, and filled with valuable teaching moments.

We wanted to let the flames consume as much of the Parthenon as possible before we let the kids use the extinguisher, so we let it burn.

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There were photos taken, and some merry-making.IMG_6638

The flames rose higher.

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And higher.IMG_6640

At one point the merry-making stopped and we all watched the fire with a growing sense of unease.

“Perhaps we should not have done this so close to our house,” I murmured.

“Nah, it will be fine,” said my husband.

When the flames started to melt the aluminum barricade that stood between the Parthenon and our deck I thought this was the perfect time to share a little family history.

“You know . . . ” I said. “The mountains around Malibu often catch on fire, and when my mom was a little girl her dad would sometimes stand on the roof with a hose to wet it down so their house didn’t burn.”

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“I think I’ll go get a hose,” said Scott.

Once the side of the house and the deck were hosed down we felt better.

Then we decided it was time for the kids to do their own fire fighting.

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Family Night didn’t last too long–maybe 20 minutes at most. By the end the Parthenon was an ashy pile of black ruins. Although it became a little dicey there for a moment, now we have four kids who can wield a fire extinguisher.

And our house is still standing.

All’s well that ends well.

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Camping With Kids

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

When I say the words “camping with kids” what images come to mind?

Inconsolable babies? Thunderstorms? Full diapers, mysterious rashes, tick bites? Mosquitoes, bats, burned food, no food, rustic latrines with no toilet paper, snakes, mountains of laundry . . . shall I go on? Would you rather not talk about it?

For parents, camping with kids can be one of the most pointless, frustrating and miserable things you may ever do in your lifetime. Why would you take your entire family out of their normal schedule and air-conditioned environment and purposely put them in a situation where they are cold, wet, dirty, hungry and as uncomfortable as possible?

Scott and I have taken our kids camping in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

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Sinks Canyon, Wyoming

We’ve camped in bitter cold, pounding rain, merciless wind and catastrophic thunderstorms. We’ve camped in the mountains, on beaches and in the swamp.  And we still go out for more. We can’t get enough of it. We love it.

Perhaps we are insane.

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Hurricane Campground, Virginia

I understand if you say that camping with kids is not for you. It is a lot of work. When we go camping we only take the things we know we will use and it still looks like we are planning a three-week vacation to the moon.  You’ll have to bring diapers and bikes and pack-and-plays and books and sleeping bags and tents and extra clothes and food and stoves and dutch ovens and coolers and propane tanks . . . you get the idea.  And remember, you will need at least an entire day to prepare for your camping trip and two entire days to clean up when you get back!

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And then there are the nights! Oh, the agony!

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Hurricane Campground, Virginia

It will most likely be one of the Top Three Most Horrible Nights of Your Life, right up there with the other two times you went camping with kids. You will either be freezing cold, sweltering hot or getting eaten alive by invisible bugs. You will hear strange noises, have weird neighbors, and there will almost always be someone who needs help finding the outhouse (hopefully it will be one of your own children and not someone from the next camp). And if you bring a baby, even one that regularly sleeps through the night, expect that just when you finally drift off to sleep he will wake up with a 4-alarm cry. If you expect to sleep through the night, you are in trouble.

Better instead to expect to have a great story to tell everyone else at breakfast.

And speaking of breakfast, did you know camping has a magical effect on food? There is something about not having an option for food for miles and miles that makes any scrap of food taste unbelievable. Dirt and charcoal become flavor enhancers instead of reasons to throw food away. It is miraculous how the outdoors changes your perception of “tasty.”

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

And when food does turn out perfectly, well, you eat like kings. Grateful, ravenous kings.

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

If the above scenarios seem unappealing to you, than camping with kids is not for you. But then, isn’t that the point? It isn’t for you, right?

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

What you see as a world of work, your children will see as a world of discovery.

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Eastatoe Falls, North Carolina

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Grayson Highlands, Virginia

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Merchants Millpond, North Carolina

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Stone Mountain, North Carolina

Camping gives kids the opportunity to do a lot of things that are normally off-limits. They can get as dirty as they want. There is no schedule to adhere to, no clocks, no lessons, no school.   Boys can swing from trees and girls can find their inner Amazon. They can revert to their carnal nature that their parents are always trying to suppress.  They get to sleep outside, pee outside, eat with dirty hands. They howl at the moon. They worship fire.

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Camping builds character exponentially and fosters gratitude. Little things become big things: a zipper that zips up–a miracle! A warm sleeping bag–a luxury!  A spoon–incredible! Dry socks–to die for!! A flashlight with batteries–heaven!!

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Eno River, North Carolina

Camping makes work meaningful and concentrates the big, grand, hard-to-fathom Law of the Harvest into a small period of time that they can comprehend. Would you like a fire to get warm? Gather fire wood. Would you like a tent to sleep in? Set it up. Want to get across the lake? Paddle.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

 

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

But getting kids to do that stuff is easy. The hard part is getting everyone to fold up the tents when we are done, because seriously, who wants to go home?

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

Have I convinced you yet? No? Well then I know what you are thinking . . . the cost!  Surely it must cost a lot of money to get all the camping paraphernalia you need to go out in the wild, especially for kids. But I guarantee that it will cost you less to take your family camping, even if you had to buy all the gear from scratch, than it would take to get your family to Disneyworld. And you can use your camping stuff over and over and over again.

Plus, when you are outside and you don’t have electronics and time commitments, strange things start happening. Kids talk to each other. Kids talk to you. They play games with real, live people.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

They get to use things like knives and axes; tools that were used for hundreds of years before computers. Tools every child knew how to use by the time they were twelve. Tools that built civilizations.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

Then, if you really want to see something cool, give your kid a camera and tell them to go far a way. Then see what they bring back.

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Ferron Reservoir in Utah, taken by Sophie

For me it is worth it just to see how excited they are to sleep in hammocks or see the light on my son’s face when he says, “You mean I can go to the bathroom in the WOODS?! Awesome!” (Granted, my daughters’ reaction is quite different.)

When they are 75 years old they may not remember the video game or the toy or the book you gave them, but they will remember the tree that almost hit your car (true story!) and the time you fell in the creek, and they will remember listening to the coyotes howl and they will remember the way that trout wriggled when they touched it. And every miserable act of suffering will become a legend in the grand hallways of your family history.

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Duck Fork, Utah

But when it all comes down to it, the reason I go camping with kids is for the adventure. There are not enough adventures in our current lifestyle. Why? Because all we do is push buttons.  We push buttons for work, for fun, for social needs, for school. Believe me, unless you are breaking the code of the Enigma, it is hard to have an adventure pushing buttons.

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Some place in North Carolina

So go on. Get out there. Suffer. Be miserable.

And make adventure happen.

 

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Shovel Your Way To Washington, D.C.

Usually when we have a snow day it is really exciting and there is cheering, cartwheels and confetti throwing. But when you have snow day after snow day after snow day . . .

By the eighth snow day my kids’ brains were beginning to atrophy. They were counting bricks in the dining room (there aren’t any) and chasing each other with kitchen utensils, while I was curled up in a little ball in my closet nibbling frantically on chocolate.

We had planned a trip to DC planned this weekend, but because of the snow we didn’t think we’d even be able to get our mini van out of our cul-de-sac. You see, we live at the bottom of a hill where even snowplows dare not go (at least for the fist two days after a storm . . . sometimes more) and we were stuck. Scott would still be going to DC (because he was going for business) in his 4×4 truck, but we would be stuck at home.

Stuck. At. Home.

To humor us Scott tried four times to get the van up the hill to prove that it was hopeless. “There is just too much ice on the road,” he said.

But Sophie was determined. She rounded up her sisters and they all took shovels to the top of the hill. And for the better part of an hour they cleared two tire tracks in the snow.

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Five hours later we arrived in Washington, D.C.

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We saw the White House. (Free)

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The Museum of Natural Science. (Free)

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The Library of Congress (Free)

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We surreptitiously ended up at Ford’s Theater. Not part of the original plan, but a great bonus. (Also free) IMG_4873IMG_4868

The International Spy Museum (A great hit, but not free.)

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And The Red Velvet Cupcakery (Not free but worth it.)

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To end our whirlwind 2-day trip we stopped off at the temple.

We saw the model:

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And the real thing:

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“Did you learn as much as you would have if you had gone to school for those two weeks?” I asked the kids as we drove home.

“More!” They said.

All because a girl and her sisters were willing to shovel.

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Thanks, Sophie!

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