Autumn = Fall

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Pine Mountain, Georgia

Finally at the end of November a frost has descended on my home, turning the emerald zoysia into a golden carpet.  However my yard still appears quite green and lush.  The bougainvilleas hang with heavy clusters of lilac flowers on my trellis. The Mexican heather is covered with migrating butterflies. Even my tender banana tree is still green. A few trees have lost their leaves, but that was only noticed by the child who had to rake them.  Their nakedness is generally cloaked by Spanish moss and clusters of mistletoe.  The overall effect is that autumn in Savannah is not the fiery-hued explosion of foliage like in the rest of the country, but instead a gradual fading to olive green.  The live oaks, which canopy this city, will cling to their leaves until spring.

Isle of Hope in Savannah, photographed on November 23th. I was impressed by the incredible greeness of Bluff Drive.

This presented an interesting dilemma as I tried to teach my younger children about the seasons.  I explained that autumn is also called “fall” because, in most places, the leaves will turn bright colors and fall off of the trees.  My younger children seemed perplexed.  Their responses were generally along the line of “You’re kidding, right?”  Of course they have  seen colored leaves, but to them a colored leaf is equivalent to a dead leaf, and not something to define an entire season.  I knew it was time for a field trip.

Where could we take our children to experience fall foliage within about 4 hour drive?  We could not take them to New England, where the maples and oaks are unequalled in their brilliance.  We had to choose a location that was a little further north and a little higher in elevation.  We decided to take the children tent camping at FDR State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia. It was the last weekend of October.

Callaway Gardens at Pine Mountain, Georgia

Visiting a state park has got to be one of the best vacation values there is.  Our experience has been that the facilities are always terrific, the setting is scenic, and park rangers are probably the nicest people on earth.  While there are a variety of activities available at different  parks, I have often found my children to be thoroughly entertained by exploring the rustic park and playing freely around the campsite.

Biking at Callaway Gardens

We only had three nights to squeeze in memories and fun.  We spent one full day biking through Callaway Gardens. We explored the extensive gardens where “Victory Gardens South” is filmed, and the butterfly pavilion, where exotic butterflies are housed indoors and native, wild butterflies are plentiful outside.  Callaway Gardens is noteworthy for the large variety of trees and native plants that grow there.  While there is golf and housing available at Callaway Gardens, it is very low key and does not intrude on the landscaping.

Seven of my nine.

 

On our second day, we traveled south to Providence Canyon, another state park that is absolutely, positively in the middle of nowhere.  What a surprise awaited us there!  Poor farming practices in the 1800’s led to severe erosion that carved a significant canyon in the land. The result is a “Mini Grand Canyon” of vivid, colored strata of soil.  There is a 7-mile, strenuous backpacking trail available and a 3-mile, strenuous hiking trail.  We took the three mile trail, but it wasn’t strenuous at all. The only challenge was a strong possibility of getting your feet quite muddy when crossing creek beds.  Even my two-year-old and four-year-old found the trail manageable, and were only carried when they became too distracted by the mud puddles.

Providence Canyon

Long-abandoned car, captured by the woods. More ecologically sound to leave it.

Our final night of camping provided an opportunity for the children to go on a hayride at FDR State Park.  The popularity of hayrides baffles me, but to my little guys it was one of their “favorite things ever”. It served to remind me that I must not underestimate the significance of even small experiences in the memories of my children.

One of the advantages to the four-hour limit on our drive was that it enabled us to attend morning worship at a church in Columbus (where we happened to run in to some dear friends- an added bonus!), and make it home in time to attend evening worship at our home church in Savannah. It is good to be with the Lord’s people on Sunday!

As I sat next to my children in church I could see remnants of twigs and leaves in their hair and smell the fragrance of campfire smoke.  I felt confident that the dirt would wash off, but also hopeful that our immersion into the leaves of autumn would serve as the fertile ground for my children’s sweet memories to flourish.

Time together and time outdoors.

Fall leaves… One of those things you’ve just got to see for yourself.

Comments (0) Nov 27 2012

My Scouting Haiku

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Webelos Weekend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Scouting Haiku

Sticks, fire, pocketknives

In the furnace of camping

Boy forged into man.

(Yeah, yeah, I know it stinks, but you get the idea and the sentiment in genuine.)

Comments (0) Nov 11 2012

Webelos Weekend

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Black Creek Scout Reservation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not, nor have I ever been, a Cub Scout.  It is with a fair amount of amusement that I find myself camping with my two sons who are Webelos on the annual Webelos Weekend. The event is designed to help Webelos make a smooth transition to Boy Scouts when they cross over in the spring.  I think it is a great idea.

 

So here I am, one of the few mothers in a sea of fathers and sons. Around the campfire I realized that my gender was out-numbered 11 to 1. Oh, everyone has been very gracious, and I am particularly thankful for the Eagle scout who helped me construct the tent.  It is a new tent. I had not put it together, nor watched my sons erect it.  So I was a bit perplexed.  Tentpoles are not Tinkertoys; there is only one correct way to assemble them. How thankful I was to get the tent assembled before the last rays of sunlight dissappeared.

A clear sky meant a cold night. Temperatures in the 30’s are unfamiliar to my Savannah-born sons.  We snuggled three of us into a two-person sleeping bag and were snuggly warm.

So where am I right now? It the tiny town of Sylvania,  eating a Veggie-delight sandwich, and recharging my electronics.  The Webelos were supposed to cook breakfast for the adults; they ran out of food and time.  Then the campfire-cooked pizza for lunch consisted of sauce on a bun; they ran out of cheese.  My body was craving something green, and I don’t mean relish!

Time to upload this post and return to the campfire. Not that I contribute much to the storytelling. I have never been chewed out by a drill sergeant. I have never ignited myself while wielding. I don’t know how to lubricate Gulfstream jets. But hey, I am learning a lot.

Good clean fun!

Comments (0) Nov 10 2012

Vancouver – City of Glass and Water

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Travel, Traveling with children.
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Vancouver

My husband might persuade you that there is no place worth visiting that is not a tropical paradise or a sun-drenched Mediterranean village.  I think that is because my lean, fit husband lacks personal insulation, and will don a parka when the temperature dips below 68.  So last year when I heard that my husband had a conference to attend in Vancouver, British Columbia, I was quick to declare that I and our as-yet-unborn ninth child were going with him!  Who would know when I would have another opportunity to visit that part of the world?  It certainly was not on a short list of places my husband wanted to visit, and it wasn’t exactly on the way to anywhere I am likely to go.

Vancouver is an amazing city.  The downtown area around the convention center is clean and modern, characterized by tall glass buildings that seemed to enhance the sunlight and reflect the water and sky. The climate in Vancouver is a temperate rainforest.  We visited in early November, yet it was not cold, and the vividly-colored trees still held their leaves.  While my husband attended meetings, my baby girl and I strolled for miles exploring Stanley Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.  The waterfront area had paths dedicated to walking or biking.  Even though the downtown area is densely developed, green spaces abounded.  The spaces between buildings contained beautiful gardens, ponds, and water fountains, many reflecting the Asian influences of the city’s residents.

During breaks between meetings, we loaded up in the rental car and set off to explore the mountains that border the city.  A hike up Mt. Seymour was exhilarating, offering clears views and an encounter with snow.

 

Mt. Seymour

I came prepared.  Our baby girl wore a snowsuit and was carried in a frame backpack.  We then hustled back down the mountain for a visit to a “must see” tourist destination – the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Husband and baby crossing Capilano Suspension Bridge

The bridge crosses 450 feet above the Capilano River and leads to other beautiful rainforest sites, such as Tree Adventures, a raised walk-way high in the tree canopy.

Tree Adventures

Further upstream we visited a salmon farm and walked more trails through fern-covered Pacific evergreens.  I had never before visited this part of the world, and it was a treat for the senses.  Even now I can recall the sweet, earthy smell of the moss and foliage.

On another day’s break, we visited a Chinese garden right in the middle of town. There one could find a tranquility in the midst of a hustling-bustling city.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden

After a few days of stretching our legs about the city, we were eager to try the famous Grouse Grind.  Wow.  The Grouse Grind is a steep climb up Grouse Mountain. In 1.8 miles the hike climbs 2,800 feet.  In some places the grade is 31%!  It was like climbing a steep, irregular staircase.  In fact, the climb is so steep that you are not to descend by the same path; you have to take a gondola back to the start. So I was able to push on, knowing that there was no going back.  I carried the camera, but my husband carried our six-month-old.  I exerted muscles I didn’t know I had.

Grouse Grind

The average time to climb the Grouse Grind is between 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  It took me 86 minutes.  Yeah, yeah, I know that stinks, but I live in entirely flat Savannah, Georgia.  The only hills around here are interstate ramps.  Worse, though, when I got to the top there was a chart for “Best Times” in different age and sex categories.  The record holder in my age group did it in about 35 minutes.  As I compared my time, I was discouraged to see that it ranked up there among men in their 80’s. Sigh.

View from Grouse Mountain

There were lots of things to do, besides evaporate sweat, once atop Grouse Mountain.  I love great views, and even saw a distant volcano, Mount Garibaldi.  From downtown Vancouver, I could also see Mount Baker, serving to remind me that beautiful Vancouver lies along the “Pacific Rim of Fire”.  As the sun approached the horizon, we rode the gondola to the base.  We were achy, but exhilarated.  If I had stayed a bit longer, I would liked to have done that hike again.

Descent from Grouse Mountain

Any large, modern city offers wonderful opportunities to sample the world’s cuisines. We ate at an Afghan restaurant, the best Chinese restaurant ever, and a Mongolian barbecue.  Actually, the Mongolian barbecue was so delicious, we ate there three times.  For one price you are given a bowl to fill with a variety of meats and vegetables, topped off with your favorite sauces.  You hand the bowl to a man who stir-fries it over an enormous griddle right in front of you, then hands it back to you, hot and steaming.  Amazing that something so simple could be so delicious.

A trip to Granville Island was a multicultural immersion.  Formerly an industrial site, its warehouses are now fill with arts and crafts studios and an enormous market.  I loved hearing all the accents, enjoying the colors and smells, and the challenges of identifying exotic fruits and vegetables.  Any trip to a foreign city is incomplete without a visit to where the locals shop.

Colorful city market

The highlight of my trip was taking a sea plane to visit Victoria, on Vancouver Island.  Victoria is the provincial capitol of British Columbia, but is only accessible by plane or ferry.  Our tiny plane was filled with government-bureaucrat types, for whom the plane ride was a typical morning commute.  I actually pity the men who were more absorbed in the morning paper than the spectacular views below.  I hope my senses are never dulled to such beauty.

Sea plane transportation to Victoria

Pilot's view of Victoria, BC

Victoria is packed with charm.  It is the location of the famous “Empress Hotel”, an exquisite Edwardian hotel that appears to exemplify British Imperial decorating.

The Empress Hotel

Inside the Empress Hotel

We did not take time to stop for tea!  There was too much I wanted to see!  Victoria was settled by prospectors during the Gold Rush, and still contains many historical buildings and  a vibrant China Town.

Fan Tan Alley, China Town, Victoria, BC

Community of houseboats

When we had covered as much ground as we could by foot, we purchased tour bus tickets for a quick visit to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Totem pole

Bald eagle on top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the bus, I actually saw a few bald eagles.  Here is one sitting atop a very tall totem pole.

Friendly seals

Gobbling fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Showing off for the camera

Looking for lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendly seals populated the waterways where locals fed them daily.

Seaplane view of Vancouver

Finally after a visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum for a good dose of Inuit education, we boarded another sea plane for our return to Vancouver.  Wouldn’t that be a great daily commute?

 

Sea plane view of our hotel

Our last full day was characterized by heavy rain.  We drove through the gardens of the campus of University of British Columbia, then headed north toward Whistler.  We did not have a goal in mind, but let our curiosity lead us.  The route north along the coast is called the Sea to Sky Highway.  It was startling to see how rapidly the population diminishes north of Vancouver.  One could reside in a modern city and so quickly access rugged, awe-inspiring landscapes.

There were many things to do and see along the way.  Most notably we visited the Britannia Mining Museum, which made such an enormous impression on me that I shall save it for another post.

Finally we stopped in an old mill town called Squamish, a peculiar little town where we bought sandwiches and coffee.  We were intrigued by all these signs and billboards we saw for a grand ocean front development.  Squamish was anything but grand.  We followed the signs past lumber mills and heaps of scrap metal, and at last found the location of some visionary’s grand dream.

"Ocean Front Village" development in Squamish

I laugh to recall this sight!  It looked more like a Superfund Clean-up Site than a luxury ocean front resort.  If you are going to dream, dream big, right?

The return drive to Vancouver provided a time of pleasant reflection.  Armed with an infant, rain gear, and great walking shoes, a guide map, and a sense of adventure, we  took in Vancouver and its surroundings, its city life, culture, and climate.  Even business trips can be an opportunity for amazing adventures.

After rain comes rainbows

How much will she remember?  Not a thing, I am sure.  But I hope her curiosity will lead her to an active life of discovery.

 

 

 

 


Comments (4) Sep 08 2011

Large Family Traveling Logistics – Controlling the Chaos

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Gathering luggage – St. Croix airport, 2007

 

 

In May my husband and I succeeded in traveling to seven parks in nine days with our nine children and a babysitter.  It was no small feat, and every previous family vacation was a rehearsal for this “big one”.  How did we do it?  I hope to share a few bits of wisdom.  I wish a had more pictures to share of things we did to simplify the complications, but at those busy times, photography was the last thing on my mind.  Instead, I shall fill in the white spaces of places we have traveled with children.  Yes, it can be done!

 

 

 

 

Grand Cayman, 2007

1.  When navigating an airport, I dress my children all in matching shirts.  You would think the older children would balk, but they actually seem to possess, instead, a “team spirit”, making the whole ordeal more fun.  The shirts allow me to quickly find children who might stray from the group, but they also enable others to identify us as a group traveling together.  One of the benefits of that is having your family singled out and moved to a shorter line for quicker processing.  That has happened more than twice.

Rum Point, Grand Cayman, 2011

2.  All domestic airports require you to remove your shoes for security screening.  Allow your younger children to wear quick, slip on shoes such as Crocs.  There is nothing like tying ten shoes or needing a shoe horn to dampen your spirits and increase your stress level.  Oh, and make sure your children can walk comfortably and quickly in the shoes they wear.  Airport transfers routinely require lengthy and brisk walks.

Island hopping with son, Bonaire and Curacao, 2007

3.  For domestic flights, allow at least one hour between connections.  Even small delays can make it impossible for you to disembark from one flight and get to the next gate in time.  For international flights, allow at least two hours.

Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL 2011

4.  When you arrive at an airport, go immediately to find your gate.  Do not buy lunch.  Do not browse for magazines.  Do not try on sunglasses.  Find your gate and check your departure time. Sometimes, for different reasons, flights are moved to a different gate.  You do not want to wait until boarding time to discover that the flight you expected to leave from A 12 is now leaving from C 28, and you will have to get a bus to transfer you there.

Edison Winter Estate, Ft. Myers, FL, 2008

5.  Pack each child’s clothing into a carry-on sized bag and specifically limit what they are to bring.  Our trip to Utah and Arizona required us to change hotels often.  We did not possess the time or space to empty and repack the contents of a suitcase each day.

Wilhemstadt, Curacao 2007

6.  Make a specific list of what children are to pack. Be specific:  9 pairs of socks, 9 pairs of underwear, 1 rain jacket, 1 warm sweater or sweatshirt, 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of shorts, 3 short-sleeved shirts, 2 long-sleeved shirts…

Dayton, TN 2009

7.  Lay the clothes out together and make sure there are outfits that match.  Expect multiple wears out of clean clothing.

George L. Smith State Park, Metter, GA 2009

8.  You will probably want to take photographs of your children when you travel, so you may want to make sure they selected clothing that actually looks good.  My boys all seem to have favorite shirts that they want to live in and somehow the older ones seem to smuggle them into their bags.  At least I can limit the choices for the little ones.

St. Croix, 2007 (I was six months pregnant)

9.  Pack each child’s socks and underpants into individual bags and LABEL THEM.  While the 3-year-old may have no qualms about wearing the 9-year-old’s underpants, the older child will likely be unwilling to squeeze into the younger child’s size 2T Superman undies.

Brevard, NC 2008

10.  Check as many bags as you can.  We flew Delta to Las Vegas, and because we have a Delta card, we were able to check up to 9 pieces of luggage without additional charge.  That made it a lot easier to board our aircraft and to make our connection.  We didn’t have to expend the time and effort getting carry-on pieces out of the overhead bins.

Turtle Farm, Grand Cayman, 2011

11.  Because checked luggage can easily be lost or delayed, pack one outfit for each child into a backpack to be carried onto the plane.

Tybee Beach, GA 2010

12.  Make a  detailed list of your luggage and to whom it belongs:  1. Blue Samsonite – Catherine, 2. Black LL Bean – Andrew, etc.  List also what bags will be carried on, including handbags.  When you are amassing a heap of luggage at the airport, it is tough to keep a count of the bags.   And you can not expect little ones to accurately recollect that their bags have arrived or remember what they looked like.  Check that list!  Then re-use it every time you change hotels.

"King of the Mtn." on an anchor, Beaufort, SC 2010

13.  Identical ribbons or strips of fabric tied to luggage handles make bag identification simple.  Do you have any idea how many identical black bags there are on any given flight?

Ziplines, Roatan, Honduras, 2009

 

14.  Airports are designed to ease the rapid transport of large groups of people. For that reason, there are lots of signs.  Take a moment to explain to your children how to read the signs.  Engage them in actively looking for the right path, whether to the next gate, the luggage carousel, the parking lot.  This is an important skill, and will greatly reduce traveling anxiety if they should ever need to fly alone.

Scuba diving, Marathon, FL 2006

15.  You will undoubtedly encounter various clerks with a wide range of competency levels.  Sometimes you will need to “educate” them about the plan you have purchased.  Always, always bring a paper copy that spells out of terms and conditions of  your purchase.  For our 20th wedding anniversary, my husband flew us business class via KLM to go hiking in France.  The airline representative in Nice had never before seen anyone checking baby items (stroller, car seat, back pack) on business class and was quite clueless as to our allowance.  Paper-proof brought quick order to the situation.  Furthermore many airlines and hotels offer specials online, but don’t communicate what you purchased with the reservation.  I had the misfortune of having to stay in three different Courtyard by Marriot hotels in a five week time period.  In each hotel, the front desk had no record that I had purchased a breakfast buffet with my room.  Having to dig up proof each time was wearisome, to say the least.  Finally, the last hotel clerk explained to me, “We have no idea what specials they run online. No one ever tells us.”  The burden of proof may be on you.  Print it off and bring it along!

Hiking in Provence, France 2010

16.  If you require special accommodations at a hotel, call them when you are en route to communicate that you are on your way.  Perhaps you require wheelchair accessibility or a baby crib.  My older daughter plays a harp, and so when we travel with her harp, we request ground floor rooms in hotels with stairs.  There was nothing quite like arriving in a Courtyard by Marriot a few years ago without my husband,  with 8 children and a cooler full of food and discovering upon arrival that not only had they given away the suite with a refrigerator that I had reserved, but also they had placed my children and me in rooms on separate floors!  Now I make it a habit to call:  “Hello, I have reservations, we are on our way and will be arriving after supper time.  I reserved a baby crib.  Could you make sure that a crib is saved for me?  I will have a car load of very sleepy children…”

Kauai, Hawaii 2006

17.  Traveling can be stressful. Connections can be missed, flights cancels, luggage lost.  The people we encounter across the desk spend all day dealing with anxious and angry people.  It is a tough job, and I wouldn’t want to do it.  Treat them with courtesy. A calm voice, a genuine smile, and a kind “thank you” are the right way to interact with clerks, competent or otherwise.  It is the right thing to do.

Because we are a large family, many people observe us that we do not ourselves notice.  Our behavior is a testimony of whom we serve.  It is my hope that people will see how much we love Christ by how we love others.


 

Comments (2) Aug 15 2011

Large Family Traveling Logistics – Stretching the Dollar

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Trip of a lifetime!

On the final day of my family’s vacation out west we drove from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to our hotel in Las Vegas.  It was bittersweet, because it was essentially the beginning of our journey home. The long, monotonous drive lent itself well to a time of reflection.  What worked well?  What would we do differently?   Traveling with nine children (plus a babysitter) from our home in Savannah, Georgia, to Las Vegas, then traveling 1650 miles through unfamiliar territory was a logistical challenge. My husband said many times that all the family vacations that went before this felt like practice for “the big one”.  But in the end we felt that this vacation was a resounding success!

I want to share with you some of the factors that we took into account as we planned our journey, and the decisions that we made.  Few families look like my family, but I hope that you will be able to glean some advice that you can apply to your own family’s adventure. In today’s post, I am considering matters of economics.

Stretching the Dollar

1.  To fly or to drive?

For our family to drive from Savannah to Utah, tour nine days, then return, would require approximately three weeks.   During those three weeks my husband would not be earning any money, yet would be paying out large sums for gas, food, and accommodations for twelve people.  We would also have to rent a van, because our plans included using a babysitter for five young children while older children went hiking, and our passenger van only holds eleven.  For our family, it was cheaper to fly.

Eight of the eleven

2.  Airlines and their specials.

Commercial airlines are suffering financially, and seem to be making every effort to squeeze out the last dollar from paying customers.  Because of competition between carriers, specials pop up all the time; you can not predict them or rely on them.  A great buy today may be eliminated tomorrow.

My husband purchased eleven economy tickets from  Delta Airlines.  With a little research he discovered that by getting a Delta credit card, we could check up to nine pieces of luggage.  Nine pieces!  Delta currently charges $25 per ticket per bag to check luggage one-way!  So this little special saved our family $450, and made our lives much easier.  I do not know if Delta is still running that deal.  My point is that a little sleuthing can uncover savings opportunities.

Oh, and ALWAYS print off a paper copy of whatever special you are participating in.  These things pop up and disappear so quickly, and few things can be as frustrating as getting that “deer in the headlights” look from the clerk at the airline check-in counter.

3.  Hotels with complimentary  breakfasts.

It costs time and money to take twelve people to a restaurant for breakfast every morning.  As often as possible we reserved rooms in hotels that provided breakfast.  Because of the level of activity that we were undertaking each day, it was so valuable to make sure the children were well provisioned each morning.

4.  Pack a lunch.

One of our first stops after arriving in Las Vegas was to go to a grocery store and purchase staples for lunch.  Our typical mid-day meal consisted of peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, apples, pretzels, and water.  Between meals we supplemented with crackers and granola bars.  While it was a dull diet, it was filling and nutrious and allowed us to travel through remote areas, not worrying about meal times and restaurant availability.

Shopping at chain grocery stores was always more economical than small markets near the parks.  I observed that the price of items like granola bars actually tripled near park entrances.  Backpacking staples, like trail mix or tuna, were outrageous!

Remote but beautiful

5.  Sit down to satisfying supper.

At the end of the day we usually ate at a restaurant where we could sit down, enjoy a satisfying meal, recount the day’s adventures, and talk about plans for the next.  I do not feed my children fast food, which is neither satisfying nor inexpensive.  Even though the areas we traveled through were quite remote, we typically found family restaurants near our hotels.  The closest we came to fast food was eating sandwiches and salads at Subway one night.

6.  Purchase the Interagency Family Pass.

For $80 you can purchase an annual family pass for entrance into the national parks and monuments.  I would not have known about this had the man who rented the van not told me.  It is not well advertised. It is also called the “America the Beautiful” pass.

Priceless views at Zion

7.  Join a natural history association!

Each national park gift shop we visited partnered with a natural history association.  If you purchase a membership to that association, you get discounts at other gift shops that cooperate with the association.  For $35 we purchased a membership to Bryce Canyon National History Association.  We were given four posters, two mugs, some pins, and 15% off our purchases.  It did not take many t-shirts later for that membership to have paid for itself.  Furthermore, we were able to use it at Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Arches, and the Grand Canyon.  (Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park, and not part of that network.)

With my oldest son at Canyonlands

 

Our trip out west to the Grand Canyon and other national parks was not inexpensive.  It was, in so many ways, the trip of a lifetime.  My husband and I got to revel in the natural beauty with all of our children before our oldest children leave home.  And we got to see our youngest children delight in the creation.  I do not know how much they will remember, but I hope that I will never forget!

Baby girl loved sliding down rocks

Comments (1) Jul 14 2011

Wheelchair/Stroller Friendly Day Trips from Savannah

Posted: under Day trips, Traveling with children.
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Car loaded - ready for adventure!

A dear friend asked for my insight on traveling with children.  Her oldest son requires a wheelchair, and she wanted to know if I could recommend “outdoorsy” trips that her family could enjoy, given the limitations of his wheelchair.  While I have never had a child in a wheelchair, I have pushed a child in a stroller almost daily for twenty years now!  There is a side of me that is always looking for a ramp!

I thought long and hard about outdoorsy day trips, and what would make such a trip a success. I came up with three major requirements.

1.  Destination reachable in less than 3 hours.

An ideal schedule might be to awaken at 7 a.m., be on the road by 8, and arrive at the destination before 11.  That would include time for a bathroom break.  Also the timing would increase the likelihood that babies would be lulled comfortably into a morning nap.

I do not feed my children fast food, so I would rather have a picnic lunch in the car upon arrival.  Not only is that economical, but it is comforting to the children to eat familiar foods.

After the adventure, we aim to be  back on the road by 3 or 4 p.m.  The car is filled with weary, ready-to-nap children,  and we arrive home for supper and a comfortable night in our own beds.

2. The Schlepping Factor

It is important that the effort required for the trip not overwhelm the joy of the experience.    Parking must be safe and readily available.  Few things will dampen your adventurous spirits like having to park in a seedy section of town, or discovering that parking requires a form of payment that you do not have, like quarters-only parking meters.

Wheelchair accessibility is required.  “Paved” does not necessarily mean wheelchair or stroller friendly.  Last spring my husband and I visited France with our 10-week-old daughter.  Our first day we hiked from a seaside town called Menton to the Principality of Monaco.  The five mile “stroll” was on a path that the guide book described as paved and easy.  Since my daughter was travel-weary, we chose to use a stroller.  Big mistake!  The guide book failed to mention the many times we would be required to carry the stroller up and down dozens of stairs.  Working together, we could do it, but it wasn’t pleasant for my baby girl.  Once we arrived at Monte Carlo the path was luxurious and the trip was worthwhile.  But we could not bear the idea of dragging her stroller up and down the path to Menton again, so we took a train.

Path to Monaco

Breath-taking Monte Carlo

 

How difficult will it be to navigate your family through the trip?  It can frustrating to try to compete with hordes of tourists (such as at the Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day Parade), or  constantly have to lift a child up so that he or she can see.  Everything worth doing requires effort, but not every outing is worth the effort.  There must be balance.

3.  Memory-making Potential

A good close view - Alligator Farm

Are the children able to interact in a way that makes the trip meaningful? A trip to a fine art museum may be comfortably climate-controlled and wheelchair accessible, but may fail to impress young children.  Similarly a trip to a historic site may engage older children but require a level of restraint for younger children that would make it unpleasant or inappropriate.  The goal is to have fun and make memories, right?  The places I recommend are not only child-friendly, but are perfectly suited to accommodate noise and wiggles.

Recommended Day Trips from Savannah, Georgia

1. The Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida

The Alligator Farm

Beautiful, historic Saint Augustine holds the possibility of adventure for people of all ages!  It is one of my favorite destinations to recommend for a romantic, weekend get-away for two.  It also offers many kid-pleasing possibilities.  And what could be more exciting that visiting the Alligator Farm!

The Alligator Farm is a zoological park that features every kind of known crocodilian.  There are familiar American Alligators as well as exotic crocodiles, garials, and caimans.  The park also houses other reptiles, exotic birds, and monkeys.  A nice path leads through a rookery, a large swampy area where wild birds come to nest.  These birds are protected from natural predators, such as raccoons, by the throngs of alligators that lounge about the tree roots.  It really is a sight to behold.

Gators guard the rookery

Educational and entertaining programs are offered at different times of the day, but the event not to be missed is Alligator Feeding Time!  Even if you leave the park to eat or visit somewhere else, it is worth getting your hands stamped so that you can return to see this spectacle.

Mesmerized at feeding time

It appears to me that the Alligator Farm was designed to accommodate the whole family.  The paths are concrete or wooden plank, the enclosures make viewing accessible to small children, and even the bathrooms have changing stations.  I think it is a hit.  What could be more thrilling and memorable than alligators of all shapes and sizes?

The St. Augustine lighthouse is a short distance from the Alligator Farm.  I have walked to it, but I would not recommend it.  The path lacks continuous sidewalks, and it can be a congested area for traffic.     I have climbed the lighthouse several times.  It is expensive and younger are not allowed to climb.  It is worth driving by the lighthouse, because it is really a beautiful sight.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

St. Augustine is rich in history and natural beauty.  An Old Town Trolley Tour is an excellent way to visit the city without having to get in and out and in and out of the car.  You can get tickets at the newly-renovated Visitor’s Center and ride the guided tour to see Flagler College, the Castille de San Marcos, the Spanish Quarter,  the Fountain of Youth, and other points of interests.  My children thoroughly enjoyed the trolley tour, perhaps primarily because they got to see the whole city without having to pound the pavement on a hot summer day.

 

2.  The Jacksonville Zoo

Jacksonville Zoo

The Jacksonville Zoo is not huge;  its size will not overwhelm you.  Yet given its modest size, it possesses a fabulous and interesting collection of animals.  The enclosures are constructed for clear viewing and there is an observation area, the Giraffe Overlook, where you can even pet the head of a giraffe.

Giraffe Overlook

Up close and personal

 

 

 

 

 

 

An aviary excited  my children.  They were able to pet and feed exotic birds.

Aviary at Jax Zoo

Feeding the birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite specimen was an anteater.  In all the zoos I have visited, I have never before seen an anteater up close.  My husband, however, was charmed by the kudus, which explains why I have lots of photographs of kudus and none of the anteater.

Kudos to the kudus

When I last visited the zoo, they were constructing a play area with a splash ground.  I have every expectation that a splash ground would be a welcome delight on a hot Florida summer day.

Our younger, smaller family at Jax Zoo

3.  Charleston, South Carolina:  the Children’s Museum of the Low Country and South Carolina Aquarium

Children's Museum of the Low Country

My last  recommendation for child-delighting day trips is not actually “outdoorsy”.  However I think it is worth naming, because sometimes you feel like you have exhausted the offerings of Savannah and really need to experience something new.  Savannah lacks a children’s museum; Charleston has a wonderful children’s museum called “Children’s Museum of the Low Country”.  It is a short distance from the visitor’s center, but I have always had luck finding street parking nearby, even for my enormous passenger van.  Some of the exhibits rotate, making it worth visiting more than once.  My children of all ages have enjoyed exploring the museum, and I have appreciated the dedicated toddler room with accommodations for nursing mothers.  An additional bonus – the price is reasonable!

Hands-on fun

Baby-friendly

Savannah also lacks an aquarium (the fish tanks at Skidaway don’t count).  The South Carolina Aquarium is a wonderful resource, and only two hours away!  The exhibits are easy to see, and I have never experienced large crowds or rowdy school children there.  There is a touch-tank that adds a tactile component that many children will appreciate.

Charleston is a beautiful city and the downtown area lends itself to both casual strolls or self-guided, architectural walking tours.   The sidewalks seem to be always in tip-top condition.  While some routes are brick, I have not encountered any of that bone-jarring, wheel breaking ballast rock like they have along Savannah’s river front.   My boys are always delighted to look out at Fort Sumter and to visit the Battery.

Boys at the Battery

Sometimes you go on adventures with your children, introducing them to all sorts of wonders of the world, and you wonder how much they enjoyed it, and how much they will remember.  A couple of years ago we visited the aquarium and had a lunch at a  hole-in-the-wall pizza place called “Pizzeria di Giovanni”.  The pizza was enormous and oh so delicious!  Then a couple years later I announced to my children that we were going to Charleston for the day.  “Get ready!” I told them.  “Put on your walking shoes.  The sun is shining.  The flowers are in full bloom.  We are going to Charleston and take a walking tour of architectural highlights!”  I can not say that my boys were thrilled with the prospect, but then they chimed in, “Sure, we’ll go.  Are you going to buy us a giant pizza?”

The biggest pizza ever?

Of course we bought a giant pizza.  Isn’t that what makes childhood memories become treasures?  Not just remembering them, but reliving them together.

Biggest pizza ever - Part 2

Comments (0) Jul 10 2011

Grand Canyon

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Travel, Traveling with children.
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South Rim of the Grand Canyon

A fervent desire to visit the Grand Canyon and to share the experience with all of my children was the impetus for undertaking our family adventure out west.  I wanted to stand beside them and gaze into the mighty gorge, and so seal that into our collective family memories.  My expectations were high, and with good reason.    I know a woman who took her children to all fifty states and to them the Grand Canyon was the favorite destination.  A few years ago a former governor of Maine loaded his family into an RV and they traveled around North America for a year.  He chronicled his experience on NPR, and I still remember him saying the Grand Canyon was the greatest;  nothing else was a close second.  Like I said, my expectations were high.

When our family arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, after a long drive from Moab, Utah, we rushed to the first available observation point to experience the sensation.  We arrived shortly before sunset, an ideal time to capture the moment.  And as we gazed out across the Grand Canyon it was… anticlimactic.

Sunset

Now don’t get me wrong!  The Grand Canyon is sensational!  But it is sort of like pursuing a big name celebrity and overlooking the genuine talent of parks like Bryce, Zion, and Canyonlands.  The Grand Canyon was not the star of the show.  Instead it was just one of the components that made our trip out west a completely satisfying experience.

Dusk

Last glimmer of sun

Traveling with many young children had its limitations.  It would have been impractical for us to hike rim to rim, to ride mules to the canyon floor, or to raft down the Colorado River.  Lord willing, I hope one day to return with those little ones for some big kid fun.   However traveling with a babysitter opened up hiking opportunities we otherwise could not have enjoyed.  Our formula for each day was similar to the other parks.  The older kids, my husband, and I would rise early and hike a strenuous trail.  The little ones would sleep in, watch cartoons, then join us for easy hikes in the afternoon.

Three oldest sons on South Rim

Water break at Skeleton Point

 

Our first morning we hiked the South Kaibob Trail.  We started at Yaki Point, descended three miles, ending at Skeleton Point.  The downhill jolting of our joints was unpleasant.

Unending switchbacks

My oldest son developed blisters and my husband was suspecting stress fractures. The uphill climb, while strenuous, felt like a relief!  That afternoon we took our children on a five mile stroll along the rim.  We were able to push the stroller, which gave the youngest ones a rest.

3-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter

Everyone enjoys the Rim Trail

The next morning was our last and biggest hike of all.  We hiked Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point.  The trail was 12.2 miles, and an elevation change of 3000 feet.  Even though we were at the trailhead at 6:00 in the morning, we had a sense of urgency as we hiked.  We needed to reconnect with the babysitter and leave the park around noon.  So this trail that usually takes 8 hours or more was hiked by us an average of 6 hours.  And it was tough!  It felt like I was climbing up irregular stairs for 4.5 miles.

Looking DOWN to Plateau Point

View from Plateau Point

Plateau Point - rest for the weary

The shadeless plateau

Everywhere you look around the Grand Canyon, there are warnings about the potential for death.  Countless signs warn about the possibility of death if you attempt to hike to the river and back in one day.  There are even photographs of people who have died  attempting that, include a fit, athletic female marathoner.  Of course we didn’t even try that, but I could see how quickly a hiker could be overtaken by the heat and exertion.  As we descended, the temperature increased steadily.  By the time we reached the last 1.5 miles to Plateau Point, it was quite warm and our trail was entirely shadeless.  Furthermore, the dry air made me require more water than I typically consume while hiking.  Bright Angel Trail has rest areas about every 1.5 miles where water supplies can usually be replenished. (Apparently the availability is seasonal, but we had no difficulty getting water.)  I drank 4 liters of water on my ascent to the top.  I can see how quickly someone could be overwhelmed by heat exhaustion if not sufficiently hydrated.

My macabre fifteen-year-old son

My fifteen-year-old son has a fascination with macabre facts.  Throughout our trip out west, he regaled us with statistics about death and injury in national parks.   It is true – wild America can be dangerous.  It would be easy to forget that as you are mesmerized by the dreamy landscapes.  Hence the constant reminders.  In fact the newspaper headlines at the Grand Canyon noted that a body found earlier that month  in one of the canyons had been identified.  When browsing through books in a gift store, we discovered the perfect pleasure read for him-  Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.  It was a hefty tome.  No one wanted to haul it back in their luggage.  So with a few clicks through Amazon.com, the book was ordered.  It arrived at our home before we did!

Not exactly great literature...

Leaving the Grand Canyon felt bittersweet.  The trip of a lifetime had been realized.   In 9 days we visited 7 parks with our 9 children, drove 1650 miles,  hiked over 70 miles, and took 1700 photographs.  The trip had unfolded without complication. What could we possibly do next?  It was intensely satisfying when my seven-year-old son chimed up from the backseat, “Can we do this again next year?”

Seven-year-old eager traveler

 

 

 

Comments (0) Jun 28 2011

Monument Valley

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Traveling with children.
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Monument Valley

It was high noon when my family arrived at Monument Valley.  That was the perfect time to enjoy this parched, sun-drenched desert land in all its blazing glory.

Mesas, buttes, and spires

Monument Valley is not part of the national park system.  It is a Navajo Tribal Park, located near Four Corners.  Originally we intended to pass by Monument Valley as we made a long driving trek from Moab, Utah, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  But the children wanted to stop and visit, and I am glad we did.  It was unlike the other parks we saw, and a great opportunity to get out and stretch our legs.

View from visitor's center

 

The price of admission allowed us to drive a 17-mile dirt road of erosion-sculpted mesas, buttes, and spires.  As we headed to the entrance of the scenic drive, a man offered to take us on a two and a half hour tour of the park in his open-air, four-wheel-drive vehicle for just $75 per person.  You don’t have to be a math whiz to know that that is a huge chunk of money for our party of twelve.  When my  husband declined,  the man dropped his price to $25 per person.  I could see that my husband was actually considering it, so I spoke up and firmly asserted, “No, thank you.”  The idea of holding a toddler and three-year-old for 2 1/2 hours through clouds of billowing red dust as we are jostled mercilessly along a primitive road in a shadeless tour vehicle sounded like a recipe for agony.

Yei Bi Chei and Totem Pole

 

The landscape was bare.  The sun beamed down like a laser, illuminating in stark contrast the deep blue sky and intensely red earth. It was stunning.

East Mitten

The scenic drive passes by the noteworthy buttes and mesas, which bore a variety of unlikely names, such as Elephant Butte, Camel Butte, or Totem Pole (a characteristic of Northwestern tribes and not the Navajo).  The East Mitten and West Mitten are self-explanatory.

West Mitten

The Three Sisters Spires are said to represent a Catholic nun and her novices.

Three Sisters

 

We parked the car and hiked the Wildcat Trail, which encircles the West Mitten Butte.  While fairly level and only 3.2 miles, the trail proved to be very tiring to my younger children.  The parched soil was very soft and made it difficult for them to travel without dragging their feet.  The sunshine was unrelenting.  It was warm, not hot, and I was thankful that I wore long sleeves to shield my arms.  The air was intensely dry, filling our eyes with grit and coating our smiles with pink dirt.

Hiking buddies

It was a wonderful opportunity, though, to experience a desert habitat up close, to walk amid the sparse vegetation and to see lizards scampering about.  That any tribe of people chose to make the place their home is impressive.  Perhaps they were gripped by the riveting beauty and captivating solitude.

Wildcat Trail

 

Two  hours proved to be plenty of time for us to enjoy Monument Valley.  If the photographs look familiar, it is probably because this land served as a backdrop to many westerns.  I must tell you that the entire time I was there, and even  now as I look at the photographs, the voice of Johnny Cash singing “Ghost Rider in the Sky” plays a continuous loop in my head.  Can’t you just hear it?

“Yippie yi ohhhh, Yippie yi yaaay, Ghost Riders in the Sky…”

Oldest son contemplates nomenclature

 

Comments (2) Jun 21 2011

Canyonlands

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Traveling with children.
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Canyonlands

Canyonlands seemed  otherworldly.  I hiked up onto a sandstone dome  called Whale Rock and I turned around and around, gazing as far as my eyes could see.  Except for the small section of parking lot visible right below, I could see no other signs of human activity.  If the national park system was founded to preserve “wild America”, this was what it was all about.

The park is enormous and is separated into three distinct land districts by the juncture of the Green River and the Colorado River.  If you imagine the shape of a lower case letter “y”, the Green River flows southeast to join the Colorado River.  Each district has its own personality and you can not cross directly from one section of the park into the other.  Our family visited the section called “Island in the Sky”.  What a perfect name!  It is an enormous mesa accessible by a narrow neck of land.  The sides of the mesa are sheer, dropping about 1000 feet to a lower plateau, which then drops about 1000 feet to the river basin.

1000 feet drop separates plateaus

 

 

At one time cattle and sheep were raised upon the mesa.  Containing the livestock would certainly be easy, but feeding them would be a different matter altogether.  A ranger at the visitor’s center gave us a brief overview of edible plants of Canyonlands.  Believe me, it was very brief.  A meal might be made of pine nuts, prickly pear cactus, and juniper berries, then washed down with Mormon tea, which is a stimulant and powerful diuretic. Um, no thanks.

The Canyonlands diet

 

There are two other land districts in the park.  The Needles, which lies to the southeast, has paved roads, a visitor’s center, and established hiking trails.  Its skyline is characterized by jagged sandstone pillars, hence the name.

Monument Basin with the Needles in distant left

The other district, the Maze, is not for the faint-hearted or ill-prepared.  It is accessible only by rugged roads for four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicles.  There are no facilities whatsoever, and the trails are primitive.  The park literature stresses that the Maze is only for those experienced and self-reliant.  “Be prepared to self rescue.”  Self rescue?! While that notion opens up a huge theological can of worms, I think the rangers have in mind a willingness to hack off your own  boulder-trapped arm with a pocket knife, so that you can rappel to the canyon floor and hike to rescue.  Hey, it’s been done.

The Maze lies beyond the Green River

 

We chose to visit Island in the Sky because it was the most accessible by car, offering many viewing areas to enjoy and short hikes for all the children.  My children were awestruck by Upheaval Dome, an unusual rock formation that may actually be a meteorite impact crater.

View from Upheaval Rock

Awesome view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Upheaval Dome

 

The family favorite, though, was the Mesa Arch Trail.  This trail can be enjoyed on so many levels.  The easy path has abundant desert wildflowers and interesting rock formations.

Mesa Arch viewed from afar

The Mesa Arch is, itself, lovely.

Mesa Arch

If you look through the arch, you see the Washer Woman Arch.  See how there appears to be a woman leaning over her wash bucket?

Washer Woman Arch

And beyond there is a breath-taking view of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains.

La Sal Mountains through Mesa Arch

Hiking companions

What climbs up must climb down...

What is noteworthy about this last picture is what is not in view.  To the left there was a tall, slender woman.  She was barefoot and dressed in yoga clothes.  She and her photographer spent an enormous amount of time composing her picture.  They would adjust the camera, test the settings, adjust the camera.  Finally she stepped in front of the camera and bent over into a back bend.  What took me by surprise was how she groaned, and moaned, and grunted!  She would check the photos, then unsatisfied with the result, she would strike the pose again, complete with grunts and groans.  I think she was trying to replicate the gentle curve  of the arch.  She looked anything but graceful.  In fact, her face was turning purple from the effort.  I dare say she is the only one who wasn’t enjoying the view.

I am ENJOYING the view!

Comments (0) Jun 16 2011