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Time for a Family Meeting

I wouldn’t say last week was one of my better ones. My throat is scratchy from all the nagging and raising my voice (otherwise known as yelling) in frustration to my family. Every last one of them has been driving me nuts. Maybe you can relate? We are on each other more than normal and I’m going to own that it’s my negative energy leading the charge. It’s no way I want to live.

So, I called a Family Meeting.

It’s time to regroup as a family unit because when Momma isn’t happy, ain’t nobody going to be happy. A Family Meeting is a great way to stop and talk about the good, the bad and the ugly and come up with a plan to get back on track.

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iParenting- Our Cell Phone Contract for kids!

Did you draw up a contract with your child before handing over that cell phone? A parent-child cell phone agreement is a great way to discuss expectations and individual accountability upfront before that device ever lands in their hands.

We have been withholding the privilege of cellphones for our kids until now. We could’ve gone forever without giving in to the reality of society, but it is important to our kids, so we wanted to honor them. There are many reasons we wanted our kids to wait for this responsibility and I’ve written about that here. Our triplet sons just began 8th grade and their younger sister is in 7th. They are responsible, caring and hard working individuals deserving of this rite of passage in today’s culture.

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Love Goes

I truly thought the book I’ve been reading was called Love Goes. I even told friends they needed to go buy it. Bob Goff’s bestseller is actually titled Love Does. I didn’t even realize that I had switched a letter to make the title my own. Obviously I believe that Love Goes too. Where does love take you?

Love is why I head to Valladolid, Mexico. I go because I love the people there. I love who I’m there serving with and I love seeing my kids serving alongside me. Love is a good reason to go.

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Our first mission trip to Valladolid back in 2011.

Our family closed out our summer with a week long mission trip to the Yucatan. Unlike the two other times I have gone on this trip, I had a moment where I questioned my significance. I wondered whether my presence there was really important. Was I truly making an impact?What am I doing on a medical mission trip in a country who’s language I can’t fluently speak?

In the past I led Vacation Bible School in the villages all day long. Sometimes when we are busy, it’s easier to feel like we are making a difference. With such a large group from our church on the trip this time, I was “just” part of the soccer camp crew. I try my best to never question any role I’m given because I do believe that God puts us exactly where he wants us and it’s our job to just follow. One morning I simply felt lost without a real role to cling to. Why am I here?

Immediately the Lord quieted me and whispered, stop and look around you. Take a look at your children and husband. These five amazing people wouldn’t be here serving without you. Relax and take it in. I did and you know what, I was immediately humbled.

My eyes welled up as I walked into the room where my middle triplet was quietly cleaning the feet of local men and women as they entered the diabetes clinic. I never coerced him to go take on that role. I didn’t even know that was where he ended up until I walked in and saw him at work.

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Next, I walked out back of the clinic to see my other sons serving in the hot Mexican sun, testing all the urine of the locals. I refilled my boys waters, made them laugh and gave them sunglasses. Pride filled my heart as I watched them work together on this thankless job.

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I then went out front to see my husband tirelessly shoveling and moving gravel. The men were covering the bare land that surrounded the colorful new playground that our church had just built. They were working hard, sweating profusely and forming bonds through their teamwork. I felt pride watching my husband always working to fill any need day in and day out on his first mission trip.

My daughter was constantly loving on the village children. She helped in the diabetes and eye clinics as well as in VBS and soccer camp. She was a roamer and filled whatever need there was at the time. Here she is handing out cookies to the local kids.

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One day I chased the kids up and down and all around the hot playground as they chanted over and over… Jugar! Jugar! All they wanted was for me to play with them. At one point I was so overheated and needed a spot in the shade to cool off. The language barrier between myself and my new friends caused them to follow me to my resting place and surround me. My first thought was, how am I going to be able to cool off? And then this happened.

I honestly don’t even know what the kids are singing. I asked one spanish speaking friend to translate it for me and what he told me was beautiful. I hope that you can understand it, but even if you are like me and can’t, you can still feel the love of the moment. The time I couldn’t catch a break was the time that spoke the most to me on the trip. I was loved just for being me and showing up. I sat in awe.

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We may have times in our lives that we question our significance when our roles may not seem important enough. But, sometimes all we need to do is look around and realize that showing up in love may be all that’s required of us.

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5 things I learned from sending our kids off to Summer Camp

Our kids were not happy at all about going away to a month long summer camp in Missouri. They were not happy that we were separating them in different cabins at a camp where they knew no one. Many times I questioned our parental decision to send them off because life just feels better when our kids are happy, right? Sometimes we need to remember that as parents we do know best and trudge on.

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We knew that Kanakuk was the perfect environment for our kids to grow in every important aspect of their lives. In six short years, our foursome should all be off to college and my husband and I will be left with a quiet house. Being without them for a month was tough, but it’s better to start figuring out now what being apart looks and feels like, so when that time comes I’m somewhat prepared. If you want to read my post on all the reasons WHY we decided to send our kids to sleep away summer camp, be sure to read this.

Here are 5 things I learned from sending our kids to Sleepaway Summer Camp

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1. Camp affords personal growth through opportunity and exposure

Sleepaway camp is an amazing way for kids and parents alike to grow on many levels. We will never know what we are truly capable of by always remaining in our comfort zone. Our kids were able to meet others from all over the country (mostly the midwest and south) and learn from living alongside them. The campers also got to be mentored by cool young adults every day.  Where would they ever have a chance to form close relationships with high school and college students? They also got to try new sports and outdoor activities that they just wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do at home.

2. Modesty is Hotesty

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Every night we would scroll through the camp photo website (as parents of sleep away campers do) hoping to catch a glimpse of our offspring enjoying their time in the woods. Every day I would find myself being so impressed at the pictures of the teenage girls around the pool and the lake. Seeing all these beautiful young ladies modestly dressed not only in one piece swimwear but with sports bras and running shorts over them made this Mother smile. I grew up pretty conservative in Indiana and it makes me sad the lack of modesty in our youth today. Our daughter dear is back to her bikini wearing ways, as most of the girls probably are now that they are home. But, she has learned about the value of modesty and being appropriate around the opposite sex as she grows, not just from her preaching Momma. She told me that the counselors would tell them that Modesty is Hotesty and I just love it. All of the young men also had to wear shirts anytime they were around females, unless they were in the pool or the lake. Can I get a Hallelujah?

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3. I am Third

I’m sure you’re aware that we are raising kids in a Me society. One of the main reasons we were drawn to Kanakuk, was that it is a camp for teens to grow in their Christian faith. Their teaching of I am Third is exactly how we are trying to raise our children. God first. Others second. Me Third. To find a camp that strengthens our family values was awesome. We attend church, pray in our home and serve locally and on mission trips, but the power of our kids being surrounded by like minded believers in their peer group for a month was very powerful. They were super inspired by camp President Joe White and two of our sons even chose to get baptized before coming home. I am in awe. I had the opportunity to hear Joe talk a couple times and he brought me to tears with his words and passion every time. I’m so grateful for his love and guidance for this generation.

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4. It’s awesome to read handwritten letters from your kids

Even though our four are yet to have cell phones, they love their instagram and texting capabilities on their Ipads. No technology is allowed at camp, so it’s back to basic communicating. Not being able to talk to our kids at all was the toughest part of having them away at camp. Four weeks of only communicating through the mail.

How fun though to go to the mailbox and receive actual handwritten letters from your kids! It is surreal to receive a note from your daughter saying that she just went on a three day overnight canoe trip, sleeping in a tent while she had a fever of almost 100 degrees, but had a blast. One son wrote that he went on an overnight canoe trip through rapids that tipped his tin vessel and he and his cabinmate had to hold on to a log until someone came to rescue them. This was all before they climbed through a cereal box sized hole in a cave to sleep for the night. It was an awesome experience, he said. Whoa. Camp provided them with adventures and situations that built resilience and confidence. It’s difficult as a parent because I want pictures of all of the cool stuff they did and saw, but there are none. They have the memories and we get to hear their stories. It’s perfect and exactly how it should be.

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5. Dry Shirts Ain’t Hype

Ain’t no party like a K-2 party! This camp is crazy fun. Kanakuk had a themed party night every week and dance parties all of the time. The leadership counselors are high energy and everyone just has a blast. My reserved kids were not looking forward to this part at all, but they all came home talking about how much fun the parties were. At closing ceremonies, I was watching all of the campers letting loose doing the Whip and Nae Nae together for the very last time. It made me smile from ear to ear. The boys told me that the counselors would chant Dry Shirt Ain’t Hype– meaning get out there and let loose. Enjoy your life!

I receive absolutely no compensation for this post or recommendation of this camp. I truly love and believe in the experience that our family received and want to pass the blessing of it along to you, as a friend did for me. All four of my kids had me sign them up for next year before we even left the grounds. Perhaps we will see you there next summer!

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How playful is your family?

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When I think of our FAMILY and the word PLAY, I think perhaps that ship has sailed. Our kids are all in middle school, so there isn’t a lot of interest in play time anymore, is there? There’s a lot of playing around perhaps. And the term “playdate” has long been replaced with “hangout.” But, is there a need for regular family playtime?

While listening to Brene’ Brown’s The Gift of Imperfect Parenting audio CD in my car today, the importance of play in families really hit home. It made me realize that our lack of family play is exactly why we pulled out of our normal existence to take a 6 month hiatus around the USA. It was a way to regain playtime in our family. I never looked at it like that. Times of play had been hijacked by long days at school, homework, competitive sports and other extracurricular obligations. Our family had no time for regular play. Play is exactly what our family was missing.

I think it’s why so many of us love to travel and plan family vacations nowadays. It’s the only time we carve out for downtime to be together. I believe that today’s culture deprives us the regular opportunity for family play and we need to wake up to that fact and intentionally incorporate it back in. Stuart Brown is a leading expert on play who believes that the importance of play is essential through our lifetime. He even wrote a book on the science of play, and its essential role in fueling our happiness and intelligence throughout our lives. We cannot let go of relaxed, silly fun at any age. It is the piece of family life that keeps us joyful and connected.

When you think about your family, what are those activities you enjoy doing where you just lose track of time having fun together?

Here are 6 ways our family PLAYS together. Interesting how every one of them is outside in nature!

1. HIKING – who doesn’t love taking in the fresh air along a beautiful trail in a National Park.

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The beauty of hiking Bryce Canyon, Utah

2. BIKING- We enjoy the simplicity of getting on our two wheels exploring while exercising.

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Biking the Sites in Washington DC with Bike and Roll

3. GEOCACHING- the kids introduced us to this fun treasure hunt type phenomenon. We always were on the lookout for different Geocaches‘ wherever we went.

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Geocaching near the headquarters in Seattle, Washington!

4. ROPES COURSE CLIMBING – Our adventurous kids get us out doing things that we wouldn’t normally do.  We did several ropes courses during our travels, but this was one of our favorites.

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Enjoying our day at Whitefish Mountain Aerial Adventure Park in Montana!

5. WHITEWATER RAFTING – Such a fun way to spend a family day laughing together!

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Rafting down the Nantahala River, with Adventurous Fast Rivers, in North Carolina!

6. COLLECTING SEA GLASS- This is a family tradition passed down from my parents. We love to see who can find the biggest piece or the most unique color! We spend hours doing this at the beach.

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Enjoying St. Martin’s Grand Case beach!

The family that plays together stays together! Make a list of the unique things you enjoy doing together as a family. How will you incorporate PLAYTIME back into your FAMILY if you too find it’s missing?

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How did our family sabbatical affect our marriage?

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As I reflect on our family sabbatical around the USA, I can’t help but think about how it affected our marriage. As Keith and I celebrate 17 years of matrimony today, I am in awe of how this epic trip strengthened us as husband and wife.

I knew that taking this profound journey would be great for our family. I knew it would be quality bonding time spending six months on the road together and all that was intertwined in that. I knew that we were making precious family memories that would hopefully sustain us all for a lifetime.

But, what I didn’t foresee was how amazing this trip would be for our marriage.

Marriage most certainly can feel stagnant, stale and simply safe after awhile. If you’ve been married for any length of time and have several kids, I’m sure you’re tracking with me. I knew that I was married to my best friend, but somehow on most days that didn’t even seem relevant. Keith’s NHL career obviously kept him on the road and focused on that for the first ten years of our marriage. Then for the past three years, his position with the Chicago Blackhawks had him traveling on most weekends, when I could’ve used his fatherly services the most. Weekends are a busy time around here. Nonetheless, we juggled it all just fine. Dare I say that I’m used to figuring out how to do things on my own and turning to my village of friends for help when necessary.

But, we knew we wanted more out of life than how we were doing things and the TIME WAS NOW. We talked for awhile about doing a crazy trip like this. Just leaving behind everything that was keeping us disconnected from one other.  NOW OR NEVER. The kids are growing fast and they won’t want to spend time with us like this much longer. Either we put the brakes on now or have regrets later. NO REGRETS. LET’S DO THIS.

This motorhome trip was Keith’s idea. People are always surprised by that and assume it was me that came up with the grand scheme. Always up for adventure, I am usually the mover and shaker of the family, so I can see how people would make this assumption. I hear a lot of wives say, “oh my husband would love to do that” or “I would love to do that but my husband would never.” Marriage takes teamwork and growth together to succeed. Maybe marriage is just about going along with that one crazy dream that your spouse has. Why not GO FOR IT together?

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When we were on the debate of turning the dream into reality, I told Keith, “you buy the motorhome and we’ll do this.” And do you know what? HE DID.

He figured out what needed to be done to buy the RV he wanted. He handled everything with the help of a dear friend and I wasn’t involved. I didn’t want any part of the material purchase. If he wanted this to happen, then he would have to figure out how to bring it to fruition. I honestly didn’t believe that he would.

Remember, that we had never spent one night in a motorhome camping in our lives. Keith had never even driven anything bigger than our Suburban before we headed out on this journey. He never even owned tools before this. Would he really be strong enough to leave a job with the Chicago Blackhawks to fulfill a personal dream for our family? The thought of him in charge of all this was scary to me. He honestly had really never been in charge of our family plan before.

But, he surprised me. Not with flowers or with some other mediocre sentiment. He surprised me by showing up. Day after day for six months. He was a rock star behind that wheel. For the first time, I really felt like I needed this man. I can’t say that much intimidates me, but driving Ally B and her sidekicks, the Buick and six bikes, most certainly did. Keith drove every time with utter confidence and pure enjoyment. I played flight attendant and served him coffee and snacks as we drove along America’s highways chatting and laughing. It’s no wonder I shunned my role as roadschooling Mom. This was way more fun than teaching math. Sure, go ahead and watch a movie kids. I’m busy having a good time shotgun my best friend up here.

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I have never been a hockey fan. I never married Keith because he was a hockey player. Sometimes it didn’t even equate with me that that’s what he really did for a living. He doesn’t fit the persona. My friends laugh when I say in all truth that seeing him drive and handle this RV trip was way sexier to me than any hockey game I’ve ever seen him play in. For real people. Because seeing someone try something new, fulfilling a dream that makes them genuinely happy, is extremely attractive.

He turned this grand idea into reality and that is appealing. Yes, he had to give up his good job to do this, but that was the point of it too. To really evaluate what is important in life right now and go the distance to make sure you cease the opportunity that is only HERE AND NOW.

There are many times on the trip that I would’ve pulled over on the side of the road and given up. He, on the other hand, never felt there was a situation he couldn’t handle which totally put me at ease. I felt safe and secure and taken care of. What more can you ask for?

I’m proud of us. 

And there’s nothing better than going into your 18th year of marriage feeling like that.

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But, first let me take a selfie…… our one night away at The Dean in Providence!

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Our top 10 favorite spots from our 2014 travels around the USA!

“So, where was your favorite place?” It’s everyone’s first question to us when talking about our epic adventure around the USA. It’s almost an impossible question to answer really. There are so many wonderful parts to our country. I’m going to give you our families Top 10, listed in no particular order.  Be sure you click on the highlighted city name if you want to read the blog post from the actual time we were in that area.

JacksonHole

Jackson Hole is full of beautiful scenery and things to do for families! Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are accessible from here. This tram up the Tetons is popular as well as the local Rodeo and Alpine Slide.

Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores, AL was quite the surprise. The beach is beautiful and clean with gorgeous sunsets. There are tons of fun family friendly restaurants like this one (The Gulf). There is a lot to keep families busy here! This was one of the kids top picks!

asheville

Asheville, NC has been on my list to visit for awhile. There is so much to do here and coming here for the October fall foliage was awesome! There are many beautiful places to hike including this one at Chimney Rock State Park. Gorgeous Great Smoky National Park and the famous Blue Ridge Parkway drive is close as well. I definitely plan to get back here one day soon!

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 Ahhh… Seattle. We definitely love our big cities and Seattle is just so beautiful in the summer. Isn’t the skyline perfect at sunset from Alki Beach? Don’t forget to take the kids to the Gum Wall at Pikes Place Market and take a ride on the popular Duck Boat tour.

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Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful city with lots to do. Hiking and jumping off the rocks at Tubbs Hill was the kids favorite! We are already planning to come back here again this summer!

St. Louis

 St. Louis was a fun stop. Not only was seeing the famous Gateway Arch beautiful, but the kids loved going to the City Museum as well! Six Flags is here and nearby Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park was one of our trip favorites too.

Myrtle Beach

 Myrtle Beach was the perfect family friendly coastal town! We loved riding our bikes from the KOA here to everything and the boys loved golfing, while us girls hit the outlet mall! We ate breakfast every day at the restaurant on this pier. There are amusement and water parks here, which were closed when we were in town, so there’s even more to experience when you visit Myrtle in the summer.

Quechee

 Quechee is on here because it was one of my absolute favorites. It is such a beautiful area and there are several fun things to do! The kids learned to fly fish and loved watching the glassblowers at Simon Pearce, where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner too! We went to Sugarbush Farms and learned how maple syrup is made and went to King Arthur Flour for some yummy baked goods. I’m getting excited right now, just thinking about this place although it must be very different there right now in the snow!

NewOrleans

 New Orleans was awesome and full of life and culture. We all loved our first time here to the Big Easy and ate more beignets than we should’ve. Listening to live Zydeco music while bowling at Rock N’Bowl was a blast! Be sure to read the post to see what else kept us busy here!

Zion

Zion National Park was one of our very first stops along our cross country journey. I sometimes wonder if the newness of the trip brought so much fondness to this place. I don’t think so though. Zion is stunning and filled with amazing family hikes! We were surprised how gorgeous the state of Utah was and this park in general. I’m glad Utah is easy to get to from Arizona because we will be back!

NYC

OK, if you’re counting this is actually #11, so I’m cheating. I had to include New York City because anytime anyone asks my kids where their favorite place was, they all say the Big Apple. It confuses me, even though I’m a big lover of the city myself. I forgot what Times Square and the hustle and bustle looks like through a child’s eyes. Very exciting stuff! So, it wouldn’t be fair to them if I left this hotspot out, even though I wouldn’t necessarily include it for myself. Because if I did, then I’d have to start adding our other amazing cities like Boston, Washington DC and Philadelphia.

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6 Things you Need to pull off a Family Sabbatical!

Our family returned home to Arizona two weeks ago after a 6 month motorhome journey around the entire USA. My blog will now be a place for reflection and inspiration based on our experiences from the road!

1. Tenacity

It takes a lot of determination to follow through with a journey such as ours. People will think you are crazy and will tell you to your face. Others will be so intrigued and look at you through googly eyes. They will make bets on how long you will last and some will give you advice on how they think it should be done. Whatever. Do your thing. It’s your heart. Your family. Your dream. God will bless you through it all if you have the tenacity to make your family sabbatical happen. Just remember you’re talking about a very small portion of your life here. What can feel like an eternity definitely comes to an end. I know because I’m home now. Don’t give up.

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2. Flexibility

Obviously you can plan and plot away and things will happen to alter your course. Weather, breakdowns, sickness and the list goes on. If you aren’t ready to go with the flow, then you’d better stay put. Living as a family of six in basically two rooms for half a year is not what I would call easy. By no means were we roughing it, but by no means was it living as usual. Flexibility is the key to staying sane and happy.

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Rainy nights meant eating dinner inside sharing a tv tray.

3. A sense of adventure

If you’re going to take a family sabbatical, you might as well get out of your comfort zone once in awhile. I was apprehensive to go ziplining, caving or anything to do with heights, but I put myself in all those situations and survived. I figured if I’m out here doing this then I’d do it to the best of my ability and amuse my kids in the process. I still wouldn’t say I will seek out ziplining excursions in the future but I can at least say I’ve done it. Our kids are adventure junkies so this piece came easy to them!

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At Whitefish Aerial Adventures in Montana!

4. A nest egg

Yes, you will need some money in the bank if you plan to take off around the country in an RV with your loved ones. Things will happen that cause you to spend outside of your planned gas, food, lodging and entertainment budget. We had minor things break on the rig that had to be fixed immediately, causing us repair costs and hotel stays as well. You do not want to be in these situations and then stressed about the money going out to fix the problems either. You’re already tenacious, flexible and adventurous, right? You will make it through anything, but it will just be easier to do so if you have a nest egg set aside for unforeseen mishaps. Do not let money stop you from taking your dream sabbatical though. We met many a family out there living life together with little in their pocket!

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We got hit by a trailer coming out of St Louis and lost our passenger mirror!
Thank God this was the only time something like this happened as it was very minor.

5. Willingness to be a team player

This sabbatical is not about you or any individual bearing your same last name. It’s about unity. Yes, you will have to put yourself on the back burner for a bit in the name of the family sabbatical. It’s the point, right? You will wake up some days and look around you and “they” will all still be there. No one is going off to school or work. Your days and nights are spent together. It is a definite adjustment and some days feel amazing while others cause you to want to run screaming into the hills. Luckily, when you are surrounded by nature in the campgrounds it’s always easy to clear your mind and regroup. Many times I had to have talks with myself. “Amy, you got this. This isn’t forever. Embrace the day and the moments you have with your kids as it will be gone tomorrow.” My inner coach really got me through and most likely you’ll have to have talks with yourself too. Your personal time awaits you when you get home. Don’t worry it will be there. My yoga mat still functions and my nail tech is still accepting appointments.

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Hiking through the Narrows in Zion National Park!

6. A sense of humor

You had better be able to laugh if you take on a family adventure like this. The best times we had were when we were all cracking up about something together. Hearing the kids laughing amongst themselves, in between their quarrels, made it all worthwhile. Laughter is always the best medicine and you will definitely need that prescription along the way!

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Enjoying some zydeco music in New Orleans!