Friday, June 24, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Day 5: Canyonlands National Park

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 5: We left our base camp in Moab around 9:15 am and drove to Canyonlands National Park. The entrance is a bit farther away than for Arches. We found many of the same types of formations at Canyonlands as at Arches, but less developed. There are lots of backcountry trails and campsites at Canyonlands, which would be great for a family with older kids or hiking without children. We didn't stray too far off the path.

One of my favorite pictures of the whole trip shows a river (Green or Colorado? I can't remember.) winding through Canyonlands.

Our first hike was Whale Rock. The ranger at the Visitor Center thought this would be a great place for the kids to climb and run around on their own, but Kansas Dad and I were a bit dismayed by the drop offs on every side. We climbed to the top and back down again pretty quickly without letting them have free rein. They were pretty grumpy and disappointed after the glory of Double Arch the day before.

Luckily we found Mesa Arch more to their liking. The opening of the arch frames stunning views of the canyon with an immediate cliff, so don't climb over or under it!

There was, however, a lovely rock formation off to the side where they could climb and slide.

On the way back to the van, Second Son spied a creature-home and decided a cousin of Mousy-Mouse lived there. (Mousy-Mouse is a stuffed kangaroo rat he bought at Great Sand Dunes last year. We find his relatives all over sandy and desert habitats.)

We found lots of amazing views.

First Son took some impressive pictures.

At the end of the day, the kids were less impressed with Canyonlands than with Arches. Arches is definitely easier to explore if you are less mobile and want to spend just a day or even a few hours seeing amazing rock formations. Given another chance, I think Kansas Dad and I would like to return to Canyonlands and spend more time backcountry, camping and hiking.

Total distance for day 5 - 103 miles.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Simple and Thoughful: Saints Tell their Stories

Saints Tell their Stories by Patricia Mitchell, illustrated by Maria Cristina Lo Cascio

Mater Amabilis recommends Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints for Level 1B (first grade). We've used this books often. I read them to First Son when he was in first grade. Because we were reading them in our history program when First Daughter was in kindergarten and first grade, she read the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. You can read my review of that book, but I knew it would be too much reading for Second Daughter to do on her own and more than I wanted to read aloud to her. I started looking through our shelves to find another saints book to read aloud instead and found Saints Tell their Stories.

This book contains stories of 26 saints after an introductory page on who the saints are and how we can learn from them. For each saint, there's a page of text (four to five paragraphs), a full-page illustration, and a few standard details like when they lived and their feast days. The text focuses on how a child could relate to the saint. They are arranged in chronological order and include saints from every age, including Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. St. Maximilian Kolbe's story is also included, but it's presented calmly enough for younger listeners (though you could also skip it).

I read one story once each loop to Second Daughter, about once a week, and she narrated it. They are just about the perfect length for beginning narrators.

The Once Upon a Time Saints stories intertwine myth and legend with facts, which bothers some people. While I thoroughly enjoy them and think legendary saint stories are a part of our culture, I understand the desire to avoid confusing children with mythical saints. 

Saints Tell their Stories could be a great alternative for Level 1B. Another good option would be Saints and their Stories by Patricia E. Jablonski. The illustrations in the latter are lovely! There's more legend mixed in and the stories are longer. (I received Saints and their Stories as a review copy.) I actually thought we'd get through both in first grade, but we didn't get to this book. I've read it aloud to the children at least once already, though.

The italic print: I think I bought Saints Tell their Stories used. I received Saints and their Stories as a review copy. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). Every little bit helps - thanks!

Monday, June 20, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Day 4: Arches National Park

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Originally, I was going to combine Arches and Canyonlands in one post, but Arches is just too amazing to toss it together with another one. It was, by far, the favorite national park of the entire trip for all of the children.

Day 4: We had a base camp in Moab, so there wasn't quite as much driving today, except for the miles we drove inside the park.

We left for Arches National Park around 9:15 am and started our day at the Visitor's Center. We were able to drag the children away from the statues outside just in time to drive to the Windows Trail for a guided walk. My kids were quite vocal during the talks. Second Daughter even pointed out some tiny creatures in a little puddle for everyone else to see.

Kansas Dad, scanning the sky, decided to rush back to the van to stuff all our rain coats into his backpack. Thanks goodness he did! Before the walk ended (he caught up with us quite easily), it was raining pretty heavily.

It's hard to see, but Kansas Dad and the kids are all standing under the arch.

Then it hailed.

The guided portion ends in the middle of a trail, so we just kept on walking in the rain. Charlotte Mason would be so proud of us!

We found some picnic tables near Balanced Rock and spread all our coats out to dry while we ate. We were pleased at how well our gear handled the rain and dried so quickly. Given the amount of rain we trudged through on this trip, the raincoats were a worthy investment.

Then we drove back to the Windows section to walk out to Double Arch. Here we have the highlight of the trip. The kids clambered and climbed for almost two hours on the rocks.


Kansas Dad and Second Son found lots of routes and hiding spots. Can you see them under the rocks?

I sat for most of the time, not being a climber myself. I can't tell you how many times I overheard other visitors saying things like, "Would you just look at that little girl in the blue hat go? She's climbing all over the place!" 

Yeah, that's one of mine.

Second Daughter spied a lizard on the walk back to the van. I'll never understand how that girl can seem to be going a hundred miles an hour but is always the one to see the little creatures everyone else misses.

We stopped at Fiery Furnace, where there was a tremendous view but no rocks to climb.

Finally, we hiked to Sand Arch (don't stand under it anymore; pieces have started to fall) and Broken Arch (which isn't really broken).

by Broken Arch, where we turned around
We had just enough time to stop at the Visitor's Center for the kids to get their Jr. Ranger badges before it closed. Then we drove back to base camp, where we enjoyed a lovely dinner cooked in the kitchen, out of the rain.

Total driving for day 4 - 60 miles.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Virtue in Small Bites: Education in Virtue's Virtue Cards

We've had Education in Virtue's set of small virtue cards for two years. The first year, I asked First Son and First Daughter to choose one card a week to read, but I felt like we should be able to get a greater benefit from them. This past year, I started reading one card aloud at breakfast each day, as I mentioned in an earlier post. A few people asked about the cards, so I thought I'd write a bit about what they are and how we use them.

The cards are divided into four main categories: Loving with Justice, Acting with Prudence, Contending with Fortitude, and Mastering with Temperance. For each of these four categories is a folded card with an explanation of the symbol for the category, a Scripture verse, the meaning (of justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance), a gift of the Holy Spirit for the exercise of the virtue, a list of related virtues, a prayer, and four saints that exemplified the virtue.

A varied number of cards were then created for each of the related virtues within the four main categories. For example, the related virtues for Master with Temperance are honesty, humility, meekness, moderation, modesty, orderliness, and self-control. Then, for honesty, there are seven double-sided cards. Each shows a child's drawing on the front displaying the virtue with text describing what honesty "looks like" and what it "sounds like." The "sounds like" statement is one a child might say when practicing the virtue. On the back is a prayer (the same one repeats for every card on a related virtue), a Scripture reference (sometimes repeated), and a description of one of the four saints that exemplified the virtue. Because there are seven cards for honesty, three of the saints appear twice.

The cards are 5.5" tall and 4.25" wide. They are printed in full-color and laminated for durability.

Each morning, I read one card aloud to the children. Depending on the morning, we may talk about what it means and how it might be applied in our own lives. Sometimes I just read the card and the prayer. We haven't looked up the Scripture references though it would not add much time to our study.

The descriptions and examples are generally perfect for elementary-aged children, especially first to fifth grades. My oldest (in sixth grade this year) was able to participate as well. Though some of the examples or definitions were imperfect, most were excellent and made the virtues accessible to children.

I found these cards an excellent way to make virtue study a part of every day with only a few minutes of time. They complement well all the books we read in which characters display growth of virtue (or the lack of it). I find it useful to have this small bit of time to make our discussion of virtues explicit and related to our lives.

The italic print: I purchased these cards at full price and receive nothing if you choose to purchase them or anything else from Education in Virtue.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Kansans in Rome

Originally, we intended our Grand Adventure to last five weeks. We modified our plans, cutting a whole week from our trip, when we were offered the opportunity to accompany some graduate theology students from Kansas Dad's university on a guided trip to Rome.

Worth every minute.

We have hundreds of pictures, of course. Here are a just a handful of my favorites.

This is an armadillo, representative of the New World, sculpted by people who had never seen an actual armadillo, on Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona.

Here's one of only two pictures of Kansas Dad and me. Despite 17 people willing and able to take our picture. We were too busy actually looking at everything.

 We spent most of our time in churches, but we didn't neglect the Forum and Coliseum entirely.

Below is the front of St. John Lateran, the site of one of four sets of Holy Doors in Rome we were able to enter during the Year of Mercy.

One of my favorite church crosses ever - Sant'Eustachio, patron saint of hunters. This is a good picture for Kansans in Rome. An excellent coffee shop is right across the plaza.

Below is the Oratory of the Crib in St. Mary Major. We attended a sung Sunday mass there, absolutely beautiful. One of my favorite mosaics in Rome is there, on the triumphal arch. I failed to get a good picture, though, after they turned off the lights at the end of the Mass. One side shows Jerusalem and the other Bethlehem.

The dome of St. Peters in its entirety, as it was meant to be. (This picture is from inside the Vatican Museum.)

Below is one of the stained glass windows in Assisi, one of my favorite places on earth. In addition to the tombs of St. Clare and St. Francis in Assisi, we prayed before St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Monica, St. Agnes, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Peter Claver, St. Cosmas, St. Damien, and others in Rome.

We saw the Pope, too.

We have really had the most amazing spring, but we're glad to be home for a while. It's time to dive into summer!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Solid, Dependable, and Never Needing Qualifying: Following Christ, Faith and Life book 6

Following Christ (Faith and Life book 6) from Ignatius Press

We've been using the Faith and Life series for years and I continue to find it solid and dependable. We don't use the activity book. First Son would read one chapter about once a week then narrate it to me. We have the second edition, without the changes due to the Missal's revision. The helpful people at Ignatius provided a document listing all the changes to I could adjust the text myself.

This book has 31 chapters plus two additional chapters devoted to Advent and Christmas to schedule at the appropriate time (found at the end of the book). There's also an appendix on liturgical colors and vestments.

The first sixteen chapters focus on The Ten Commandments. They include examples of saints appropriate for each commandment. There are also examples of sins against each of the commandments that might be committed by a late elementary or early middle school aged child. Chapter 13 covers adultery and coveting. Though there is nothing explicit in the chapter, it won't make much sense or will lead to questions if the subject of marital intimacy and conception have not been discussed or explained. St. Maria Goretti is mentioned in this chapter, which frustrates me a little. I prefer her example as one of forgiveness rather than purity as I worry a young girl who is overpowered and attacked may erroneously blame herself.

There is also a small paragraph on secrets in chapter 15 that's not exactly bad, but I wish it had specified not keeping secrets about someone being hurt or hurting someone else. It might also have mentioned that discussing something uncomfortable or distressing with a priest can be helpful. The Confessional is protected by a vow of silence and the priest can help discern if someone else should be told.

The remaining chapters address the Mass, walking the student through each part of the liturgy. The Mass is placed in relationship to the Old Testament sacrifices.
The lamb was slaughtered to offer it up. But this was not all. To complete the religious ritual or celebration of the sacrifice, the people would eat the lamb. The gift that they offered was received back as a gift.
Mass is even greater sacrifice, but the ritual is not complete without receiving the Eucharist.
We join the priest in offering Jesus to the Father; the Father accepts our gift and gives it back to us to eat....Holy Communion is normally meant to be received in the communal religious service which is the Mass. We are to go forward as God's family--not alone but in company.
Later, in chapter 20, the discussion of the Mass continues.
Those who feed on his Body and Blood have life in him--Christ's life, which does not destroy our personality, but perfects, enriches, and preserves it to life everlasting.
First Son reads well but not particularly quickly and he was usually able to read a chapter in ten to fifteen minutes followed by a few minutes of narration. We participate in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and CCD classes at our parish, but I believe the  Faith and Life books complement those classes with excellent material presented clearly in a small amount of time. Every time I consider dropping them, I decide to continue.

The italic print: I received this book for free from our parish when they purchased the third edition for each of the classes. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). Every little bit helps - thanks!

Monday, June 6, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 1-3: Mesa Verde and Four Corners

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 1: We drove 441 miles to Lathrop State Park in Colorado, where it was windy and cold. We searched for a while before finding a campsite that seemed relatively sheltered for our tall tent. This seems like a nice state park, though we didn't stay long enough to explore. We expected the temperature to be chilly, but everyone woke in the middle of the night too cold to sleep and we were digging through bags for more clothes to add on. Checking online, I see the low temperature for the night was 23 F.

In the morning, as we were trying to get everyone up and going after a wakeful night, First Daughter stole First Son's pillow...and he just kept right on sleeping.

Mountain through van window, by child
Day 2: After a quick breakfast, we drove 260 miles to Mesa Verde National Park, our first official destination. Though the distance was less, the elevation was greater. We drove through the North La Veta Pass (9,413 ft) and the Wolf Creek Pass (10,856 ft, and snow). This was our first trip (of many) over the Continental Divide.

Again, we braved rain and cold at Mesa Verde. Generally the temperature overnight was in the 40s with periods of heavy rain, though it dipped down into the 30s at least a little. The campground here is really nice and has lots of amenities available during the season, which started the day after we arrived.

Day 3: Second Daughter woke us at 6:10 am so at least we got as early a start as possible. We ate breakfast and broke camp before visiting Mesa Verde proper. The drive to Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum alone was impressive for our Kansas kids.

We walked up to Park Point, the highest point in the park at 8,572 ft, from which we were able to see Shiprock. This formation had been in First Daughter's science reading for the year, so I was excited to see it with my own eyes (more than she was).

We walked out behind the museum to see Spruce Tree House (closed to visitors, so we just looked at it from afar), then followed the Mesa Top Loop Road to see a few of the sites, though we didn't have time for everything.

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde
The inhabitants not only carved out the palaces and dwellings, they would sometimes climb to the top to maintain their fields without ladders!

After a morning exploring, we climbed into our van for the drive to Four Corners. To get there, we drove through some of the emptiest landscape of the United States. It was cold and windy at Four Corners, too.

So argumentative we made them go to different states!
There's not much in Four Corners, but all the children enjoyed standing in four states at the same time. (We have a picture of each of them.) Then, we hopped back in the van to drive to Moab, where it was rainy and cold and muddy. Luckily, I had booked a campsite at a private campground with a communal kitchen. Thank goodness for dry meals! Total driving for day 3 - 248 miles.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Background Music for Adventure

We have a subscription to Spotify and spend many an hour of evening chores listening to playlists we've created there. Thinking about our summer travel plans, including the Grand Adventure, I decided to purchase a few of our favorite songs and make a CD to take along with us. Not only would we fill some of the driving time with music, we'd be giving the children a soundtrack of our own for our Grand Adventure.

After making the first CD of songs Kansas Dad and I especially like, I realized it might be fun for the children to choose some favorite songs as well.

In the interests of revealing exactly the kind of people we are, here are our 2016 playlists.

Kansas Dad and Kansas Mom's Vacation CD
We also took a number of CDs that we own, particularly those by Christopher Williams and Carolyn Arends. My Christopher Williams favorites are The Silence in Between and When I was Everything. We often saw him perform years and years ago in Boston and New York. I happily packed along Just Getting Started, which you can download for free here. (I contributed to the campaign to create the album. You're welcome.)

I asked each of the children to choose three songs for their own vacation CD. I could almost have made this CD without asking. I love how this collection of songs perfectly captures who they are right now.
I also purchased And Now It's Time for Silly Songs with Larry because it was a recent favorite and inexpensive.

As always, we took complete copies of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Fiddler on the Roof, both CDs we've own for (cough) decades.

In order to save space, I sometimes burned MP3 copies of CDs with multiple CDs on the same disk. Going forward, I think I'd sacrifice space to have just one album on each disk because we often got tired of listening to the same kind of music and wanted to switch but then it was hard to find our spot on the CD again. Obviously, if you have a fancy phone or music-playing technological doodad, this is less of a problem. (We bought a smartphone for the trip, but without the kind of memory we'd need to put the music on it.)

I do wish we had taken along some classical music particularly suited to the landscape. There were times I wanted something like Beethoven or Mozart, but I hadn't brought anything along. We're hoping to visit Rocky Mountain National Park later this summer (since we missed it on the Grand Adventure) so if you have recommendations for a classical piece evocative of mountains and alpine environments, please let me know.

* purchased on iTunes
** purchased on Amazon with a free MP3 credit
*** owned on CD

The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). Every little bit helps - thanks!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Grand Adventure 2016 Home Page

There's so much to write about our Grand Adventure I decided to give the trip it's own "home page." I'll add links to the posts here as I get around to writing them.

Link to the overall post (showing the mileage and other numbers)

Our Adventure Day by Day
I debated about whether to write detailed posts on our adventures, but decided I wanted them on the blog so I'm afraid you'll have to endure them.

  • Days 1-3: Mesa Verde National Park and Four Corners
  • Day 4: Arches National Park
  • Day 5: Canyonlands National Park
  • Days 6-8: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Grand Canyon National Park
  • Days 9-10: Hoover Dam and Death Valley National Park
  • Days 11-12: Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park
  • Days 13-14: Yosemite National Park and visiting friends in the valley
  • Days 15-16: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Kirby Cove campground, and family
  • Days 17-18: Redwoods National Park and whale watching
  • Days 19-20: Mt. St. Helens and Olympic National Park (Hoh Rainforest and Ruby Beach)
  • Days 21-23: Vancouver
  • Days 24-26: Museum of the Rockies, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park
  • Days 27-29: Sinks Canyon State Park, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, family, and driving home

Planning and Preparation for a Grand Adventure

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature by Helen Olsson is a fantastic resource for planning camping trips with kids. I highly recommend it. I created pages of checklists, all based originally on the ones available in this book. Most of the book focuses on shorter camping trips, though, and many long-term camping articles and posts online assume you're in an RV rather than tent camping, so here are a few ideas I might expand into actual posts on preparing for a long tent camping trip with four children.

  • Clothing for six for a month - prairie, mountains, desert, rainforest, tide pools, cities, hiking, swimming
  • Feeding six with a camp stove and a cooler
  • Keeping clean at a campground
  • Washing dishes at a campground
  • Staying unplugged and sane on long drives between campgrounds
  • Junior Ranger program - Fantastic or a Hassle?

Am I missing anything?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Our Grand Adventure 2016

Kansas Dad was on sabbatical this spring, so we planned a Grand Adventure. We drove from Kansas to Vancouver and back again, visiting as many national parks as we could manage along with some friends and family along the way.

1 van with over 200,000 miles on it before the journey began
2 adults
6 kids
1 large tent

29 days
5823 miles (not counting the rental when our van broke down)
6 hotels
1 cabin
11 campsites 
11 states
11 national parks
1 national monument
1 national recreational area
4 state parks
1 aquarium
3 science and nature museums
Hoover Dam
whale watching
a ferry ride (van and all)
and another country (Vancouver, BC)

We have well over a thousand pictures to wade through, but here are a few to get started.

Kansas, ready for adventure
Canyonlands National Park
Death Valley National Park
Yosemite National Park

Kirby Cove campground, nestled under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Yellowstone National Park
I prepared some posts to run while we were away, but now they're all used up and I'm wading through mountains of laundry, camping gear, mail, and the usual detritus of every-day life, so while I have lots I want to share about our adventure, the blog probably won't be very active for a few weeks.

If there's anything in particular you want to know about car camping or traveling for a month with four kids, let me know and I'll be sure to write about what we did and how it went.