Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Family Pictures!

We each got to kinda have a wish for vacation come true...
Nana: just be together and enjoy each other
Grandpa: golf
Anita: jetski 
Brian: run on the beach
Alaric: boogie board
Amara: collect seashells
And me... all I wanted was to have beach pictures taken wearing white and tan.  Yup, that's me-big picture dork!  For YEARS I've seen other people's beach photos and loved the way the white and tan looked with the beach background and I swore then that if I ever got to have a beach vacation, pictures would be taken.  I looked into professional ones and while those would have been incredible, my budget didn't allow it.  Thanks to Dave Ramsey- we got creative and brought our own camera and tripod and did them all ourselves.  Some are professional worthy and all are loved.  Thanks to my patient family for helping me get my vacation wish!
Here are some of my favorites!

The Outer Banks!

There's no way I could possibly put into words how wonderful this vacation was.  As you know, I took HUNDREDS of pictures-each one I cherish!  But to you, a viewer- there are so many that are the same.  So many that seem redundant.  For us, each moment was precious and priceless.  See- that's part of why this vacation was so special.  We knew it would be.  We had been preparing for it for over a year.  We had been saving every penny for a year to be able to do whatever we wanted.  We had planned and organized and dreamed and envisioned.  And while some might think that could possibly lead to letdown, it was imperative for us.  We weren't going to take anything for granted.  We knew the realities.  We knew that weather could be unpredictable.  We knew dozens of things could go wrong.  But the things that we could control...our luggage, our supplies, our objectives, our moods, and our spirit-would be incredible.  And they were.  

I'm not sure who was more excited-the kids or the adults!  We had just spend days together prior to this vacation celebrating the life of Uncle George and his 95 years.  We had family on our minds and in our hearts.  We realized how special these times could be together and we knew they were rare.  At home, we had prayed about our family, prayed and discussed how special this week would be for our little family of 4 and our bigger family of 7.  We were ready!

I could talk for days just about how amazing our kids did in the van and someday, if I ever get the chance to blog by choice and not by requirement to document, I will because it was magical-really!  All the work I did to prepare for the trip was great.  AND...I didn't even need all the resourced I prepared.  The kids never once complained-NOT ONCE!  And it was 12 hours into the trip before the asked for the DVD player.  They got presents every rest stop to keep them engaged, they used their vacation books often and all of us in the van enjoyed the license plate game, they read books, listened to music, played on Ipads, sang songs, and just chilled.  We also all enjoyed the atlas we brought and info on each state.  As we yelled goodbye to one state and greeted the next ( its tradition to say something like, "Goodbye ILLINOIS, HELLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOO  INDIANA!"), we learned about the state we were entering.  Even Brian learned something new.  And on the way home, they could recall some of the details- BONUS!

This little invention that I stole from a blog was a great tool.  the kids seldom asked how much longer we had.  They just looked up at the van to see how far along it was.  There were a few times my kids asked if I needed to move the van on the string but they never asked how much longer.
The kids each got cookie sheets with sides to hold their toys or games,etc. These stackable and lockable puzzle pieces were a hit with both kids ( and I liked playing them too!)
And while I know I said I loved many of the things I prepared, this idea could have been the best!  These little craft boxes used to store small craft items, were filled with snack.  BEFORE the trip started.  They had full rein to eat when they were hungry and eat what they wished.  They were told not to ask for anything else and only Mommy would refill.  It worked amazingly well.  
Each time we took a rest stop break, we moved the kids seats so they could be with Nana and I at different times.  And then when they finally watched a movie together, they got to sit together.  Candy Crush on Ipad was fun too!
At each rest stop, we tried to get the kids to run around and be physically active.  It was so worth spending 5 extra minutes stretching and running around with the kids so they could sit still in the van.  Each rest stop they got to choose a piece of paper of something to do ( like run from every picnic bench or get a dollar from mom and dad and spend in the vending maching, or skip from one bench, then hop to a tree, then run to a garbage can) and they loved the anticipation of that.  At this beautiful rest stop, they had a pull off of mountains to view on one side and this memorial on the other with a sidewalk that went all around it.  Perfect thing for my kids to run their heart out too...thats' Alaric on the right side of the flag in the orange shirt...just running! 
Driving across the Outer Banks Bridge...we are almost there!  There were squeals of delight by all!
Let the vacation begin!
We stayed at the greatest place.  HERE is the link to see the house and each room.  My absolute favorite memory was walking out the back door of our home and seeing the kids reaction to seeing OUR beach and OUR ocean!  And then us RUNNING at full speed onto the beach and right into the ocean...clothes and all!
It was just a reaction-no thought, no permission-just JOY! Joy to be watching it, Joy to be part of it, and Joy to document it.
Here is where duplication of pictures begins.  We did alot of the same things each day.  Just ordinary beach vacation things...but for us- thats what made it EXTAOrdinary!  

We spent alot, I mean ALOT of time right here- in our backyard.  In the pool playing games, swimming, sitting, laying out, etc.  
Our deck was always occupied with someone reading, sitting, watching the ocean, eating at the table, or just being!
Our meals each night were together, at the table.  We took turns preparing our meals and loved each one.
some evenings were spent walking the beach at dusk
Any many mornings were spent the same way- just as day was breaking!
Each evening was happy hour- at the pool- complete with snacks that went with our dinner theme and drinks all around!
We were able to leave our beach home occassionally and go exploring.  Even to a local carnival-where we acted like kids and loved it!
Alaric even got to drive his own race car!
Sometimes we just hung out at home...watching a movie or playing Wii together
Always aware of where we were and how blessed we were to be part of a coastal vacation.  This is the moon. 
We planned a sunrise breakfast, which Brian and I prepared.  We woke well before the sun to get all the food ready and woke everyone to meet us on the beach and watch the sun rise up from the ocean, for us- a moment we did not take for granted.  Then back to our deck to eat together and watch the sun rise more onto our day.
Bob, Brian and Anita got to golf on an Outer Banks course one day and Nana and the kids and I played our own golf- and NAPPED!  
Brian, Anita, and I woke early one morning and ran in a 5K.  I ran the most I had ran in over a year and Anita got her best time ever!  
We watched donuts be made and got to hand select just how we wanted them!
Thats them boxing up our custom order!
We played in the sand-ALOT! And Mara and I looked for shells-ALOT!
Brian and I got to be together- just us.  Stolen moments where the kids had walked ahead of us on the Beach or sitting quietly, alone watching the sun come up before the kids got up.  Each moment together was for us.
We buried each other in the sand
And made incredible fortresses...even enlisting the help of the neighbor boy next door.
We layed out alot ( and we went through 2 bottles of 50 SPF sunscreen)
And played in the water- forever and ever it seemed like!
I think we all just felt better in the ocean or the water
The jacuzzi was a favorite place too!
We enjoyed the ocean and learned to respect the waves, observe them, and have fun in them.
Bubba learned to Boogie Board!

We worked with our kids in the kitchen and

And on the sand...just hanging out, talking about life, looking at our surroundings.
We got to do stuff like this...get to our knees in the sand each morning and snap pictures!
And see this!
We even got to do this....run on the sand!
The trip wasn't perfect...there were 2 trips to the convienent care for ear infections and allergic reactions.  The kids did bicker and no matter how late we stayed up, they still rose at 6am.  We did get rain one day ( but we danced in it anyway) and we even got hungover and crabby!  But mostly it was incredible...because it was ours!  

Instead of dividing up the trip home in 2 days, we pushed through- all 17 hours.  And the kids, once again did amazing- with little to no complaints at all.  And when we got home, we were relieved.  To be back in our own beds in our own little piece of heaven in Monticello.  But the void of the ocean, the ache of not having our own pool, our own beach, our own coastal oasis was there...and still is.  Could another beach vacation be planned in the future-absolutely!  But until then, we cherish the memories and the time we had with our wonderful family.  What an amazing trip!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Are We There Yet? Getting Ready for a Long Road Trip!

In just a few short days, 6 of us will pile into a van for a 16 hour road trip from Monticello, IL to Outer Banks, NC!  I don't mind road tripping...some great conversation and good music and hours can pass like minutes.  But put a 5 year old and a 7 year old and booster seats and no attention spans in the van, and you've got a problem.  I'm hoping that my hard work to keep them occupied pays off.  Its better to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, right?

I turned a simple little clipart van with a family into our theme for the trip and simply added some text.  This laminated paper will be added to a piece of ribbon and tied to the side of the back of the van where the kids will be sitting.  

Like this....
As we progress through our trip, I will move the van along the ribbon and the kids will be able to see how far we've gone and how much farther we have to go.

The dollar store and garage sales have been my best friend for the past few months.  I've wrapped up TWENTY gifts for each child to open ( remember, we have to travel 16 hours there and 16 hours back!).  These wrapped items are very very very simple things such as books ( my kids adore books and can read all the time so the 25 cent bin at a garage sale or the thrift store was a great place for me), small toys to play with, sticker books, DVD's, etc.
 I think I only spent around $12 for all 20 gifts.  And I've been collecting for months.  Remember, its not about what it really is but rather how much time it will occupy them.  One of Alaric's books is a joke book.  That will last him a LONG time.  Amara has one of those sticker doll dress up books.  Those will be good ones.  Many items are also things they can engage with the adults on.  
Nana did help me with one larger gift for each of the kids.  Amara LOVES to dig and play in the sand.  While she wont really be able to use this in the car, she will open it on the way there. 
Alaric is receiving a lego Beach set.  He can build it on the way there.  Each child will also get a cookie sheet with sides to use as their work space.  The cookie sheet will contain their legos or crayons or whatever and is skinny enough to fit under or along side a seat.
They each will be given their old backpacks on the morning of our trip.
 Inside each bag as everything they will need to start the trip off right
 Each has an age appropriate atlas.  As we pass through states, the can look at the map, read about the state and follow along.  ( I picked these up at a garage sale too)
 A pencil bag with a few crayons and markers for anything they may need later.
 A few books they requested for the trip ( they will add to these along the way)
 Clipboards!  These will be great for lots of things.  They allow them to have a surface to write or color on or to pass something back and forth too.
 I made each of them their very own Road Trip Binder with our van, their names, and the date!
 Inside is another pencil box with some supplies- including post it tabs for games later.
 The book has tons of different things to work on at their own pace.  Many things I created myself and many I simply printed off line.  They each start with a map with our starting and ending points so they can use their dry erase markers and follow along how far we've gone.  They each have age appropriate games too (Amara's are simplified versions of Alaric's)
 I made word finds for each child that are personalized to them and our trip.  I also printed more than a dozen age appropriate school worksheets to do.  Nothing too challenging but things to actually train their brain too.
 They each have scavenger hunts to look for ( Mara's have pictures, Bubba's just words), MadLibs, and the License Plate Game)
 A few different versions of bingo and also a blank page for every single day of the trip so they can keep a journal of pictures and words.  
 In addition to them getting a gift every once in awhile and having the binder, they will also have time with the iPad, Leapsters,  and portable DVD player.  

I too have a bag of tricks.  Its my job to make sure I'm relaxing and enjoying the road trip when they are self soothing and content and I'm on point and ready to go with another activity before things get crazy...it's imperative for us to keep in the car and moving and not dealing with screaming kids. 
First, I have my very own clipboard where I have written down lots of different ideas of things to do on a moments notice with one or both kids.  Some will last minutes and others quite awhile, depending.  The clipboard serves as my reference and also a work space for me too.  The adults hope to put together our meals and grocery list on the trip too.  I tried to think of unique things to bring for the kids to play with and explore.  You can make some pretty incredible things with a roll of aluminum foil.  Every given a kid 2 or 3 pipe cleaners and let them explore?  really impressive.  How about a stack of post its and let them post the windows, the seats or each other?  ( Post its come off everything without leaving residue).  Even just a roll of tape can be a blast.  I also have a roll of receipt tape.  Who knows what that an a marker will do.  I also have songs and I'd rather questions and all sorts of ideas. 
 Don't forget about the basics....coloring books, pads of paper for hangman, tick tac, toe, dots,etc.  Flashcards will be a big one for us this year too as both kids have come so far academically and are so capable. 
 I also bought two of these bead/ accessory organizers.  One came from a garage sale for 50 cents brand new and the other I got at hobby lobby.  SNACKS keep my kids content!  Knowing they will not be denied food and that the snacks they get are ones they like will make for happy Fulton children.  I will fill these tiny spots with some of their favorites...and mix in some healthy things too....gold fish, raisins, yogurt melts, peanuts, graham crackers, etc.  
Like this....
We will also have apples and oranges and drinks, etc in the cooler.  We aren't stopping for any sit down meals on our roadtrip.  Sandwiches will be premade and consumed while driving.  Rest stop visits along the way will be the only time the kids will be able to be free and get some exercise.  If we find rest stops with play areas, we will definitely let the kids stop and play for awhile and burn off some steam but they will also be able to pick one ( or two) of these rest stop activities to do before getting out of the car....
   I plan on switching car seats around in the back of the van at each stop as well so they have a different view, a different person next to them, etc. 

This little green bag also contains my scissors and extra tape and smaller items for the trip.

The kids are so excited to get in the car and get to North Carolina.  Who knows, maybe I won't need any of this stuff.  Better to be safe them sorry!  Can't wait for Saturday's big trip!  I'm ready!