Traveling to Washington DC…with Kids!

Last week, our family returned from a fun trip to Washington DC. I asked for all the family members’ feedback on the places that we visited and their favorite things in hopes that you could gain some perspective on what is worth doing in the large, busy capital with kids.

During the weeks before our trip, the children helped pick the places they wanted to see during our stay in DC, and we were so pleased to go and learn more about the history of each of the places that interested them.

We were staying in Arlington, VA just across the river from DC. The evening we drove in, we walked to the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. At the cemetery, we saw several memorials, notable gravestones, and we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We found it interesting that the children had so many questions about showing honor and respect and maintaining silence while were walking through the memorials.

Most of the children found the White House to be the best part of the trip. We went there first thing the next day. Because of security, one can only get a pretty narrow view of the White House, and that from quite a distance (across the road). We got a couple good pictures, and allowed them to enjoy the hype about their visit.

We also saw most of the monuments and spent time at the Smithsonian. There are many museums (all of the Smithsonian ones are free), but we only went to American History and Natural History. Both were perfect for children.

The next day, we took the subway around 8:30am from the nearest station to the Museum of the Bible. We were worried about rush-hour traffic, but it ended up not being as bad as our experience in Chicago or Boston. The children loved the ride and it was overall an easy way to get downtown. There was a station just over a 10 minute walk from the hotel and on the same block as the museum. We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Museum of the Bible. The building has so many bathrooms, so many places to sit and wait or rest, and was very spacious for strollers and our large family to get around : )

In the late afternoon, we took the subway back and jumped in the van to nearby Mount Vernon. Buying tickets in advance and doing a quick search online for discounts saved us $30-$40! It is a gorgeous place, and well worth the visit. We underestimated how much there was to see with there being a museum/educational center and all the grounds + buildings on the estate. We stayed until they closed, and made plans to return the next day. They validated our tickets so we could do that.

The next two days were spent at the Bible Family Conference enjoying lots of good break-out sessions from great pastors and speakers as well as wonderful fellowship.

One of the nights, we drove across the bridge back into the city to get a night view of the monuments. Even though most of the kids were already in jammies, it was well worth staying up late for!

The sidewalks in Washington DC are very wide and everything is spread out and open, so getting around with children on foot was not difficult nor stressful. The staff in all the buildings and sights were so nice! Everyone took time to congratulate us for the pregnancy, recommend a favorite children’s attraction, and share something that would be of interest to the little ones. We packed all our meals for all of six days (including the travel to and from days). Except for one breakfast. I knew that Nathan would do something special one of the days : ) He did some research and found a fun donut shop in-route home. It was a treat to let the kids pick the toppings to their hot donuts!

Almost 30 weeks pregnant and 92F with humidity that felt like 99F didn’t necessarily leave me feeling like the energizer bunny, but lots of water and good shoes certainly helped. Everyone had a terrific time, and even the children have thanked God in prayer for the opportunity to visit Washington DC and have that time together as a family.

Did I say the hotel had an outdoor pool? Fist time ever, best thing ever.

with love, Damaris

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Hiking Essentials

Treading Where There Is No Path

I grew up camping and spending lots of time outdoors in the summer. Although we lived in a 9th floor, four-bedroom flat in bustling Barcelona, we went north to the hilly country during the hot summer weeks. Nathan also grew up with a passion for the outdoors by taking many trips to the mountains in Colorado. It’s important to us to share the love for camping and hiking with our kids. We always find that it’s a wonderful time to connect, regroup, refocus, and recharge.

You may remember our trip west – the kids having the run of the mountain, everyday spent outside scrambling up boulders, and climbing the trails. We recall the details of it as if it was just a few weeks ago! While in the car road-tripping back to Michigan, we made a list of all our hiking essentials. It was all fresh on our minds, so we hope you find it to be very thorough. Just a couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed a short trip and lots if hiking at a state park, which, of course, did not require as many essentials as the compiled list below. During this last trip, we were always on the park’s trails and had a map of the miles between points. Hiking in the wilderness is the best, but requires a little more preparedness.

Our favorite days in the Rocky Mountains were spent in the wild. We left the cabin after breakfast with lunches packed and ready backpacks. Since are family grows by one more every other year (we love it!), we required two backpacks to fit all of the essentials. We have found that poor quality backpacks are not worth it. We go through them quickly (they get torn at the seams or zippers break), and they hurt one’s shoulders and back. Good backpacks are full of compartments and pockets and have a chest strap to help distribute the weight.

In this list I don’t mention the obvious such as water bottles and packed lunches/snacks. When we go on hikes, we always have with us:

  • bug spray (too many times stumbling into a swampy area has taught us a lesson!)

  • sunscreen (especially with babies that don’t keep their hat on)

  • first-aid (nicely compact)

  • survival kit

  • cigarette lighter

  • camera

  • watch

  • cellphone (even if there is no coverage, phones will call 9-1-1)

  • flashlight

  • compact knife

  • binoculars (if you would enjoy the view from the summit or side of a ridge)

  • high-calorie bars (we like these)

  • water shoes (unavoidably, there will be a spot for wading)

  • topographic map

  • hats

  • chap stick with sunscreen (this one worked great this year)

  • air-horn and bear spray (if you’re trekking in bear country)

  • a pack of tissues (runny noses or inevitable potty break)

When we arrive at the cabin, the children are all to wear a small whistle hanging around their necks. We also learn to watch for changes in the clouds and feel for the wind. Both of these could mean impending storms which are quickly upon you in the mountains.

So next time you’re headed out, I hope you’ll let us know what was indispensable on your hike!

with love. Damaris


Hocking Hills: Camping Trip + Fireside Peach Pie

Last week, we got away for few days to Hocking Hills. We had never heard of it until a couple months ago, and it’s a spectacular state park in southeastern Ohio. Hocking Hills is only a four-hour drive for us, and so we were bound for the perfect camping trip! The rock formations and waterfalls make it a scenic wonderland.

The cool of the deep gorges was a nice respite from the sun, although the trails were also mostly wooded and shaded. We hiked through forestland framed by spectacular sandstone rock recess and caves. I was surprised at how potentially dangerous the deep cliffs were! The names of the trails are so mysterious. How could we leave without making it through all of them?! Old Man’s Cave, Conckle’s Hollow, Whispering Cave, Devil’s Bathtub, Ash Cave, Rock House, Cantwell Cliffs, and Cedar Falls did not disappoint.

We each had a favorite hike, but mostly the children can’t stop talking about the wading in clean, clear water and filling their canteens and water bottles at the many springs and waterfalls. We were surrounded by what seemed like a jungle. So much moss and fern made everything feel exotic and tropical. Can you tell one of the kids had just finished reading Jurassic Park?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a camping trip without roasting marshmallows and a late-afternoon fishing. Nathan grilled our hearty suppers over the fire. Burgers and brats never tasted so good!

As we made our way back home through gentle hills and rolling emerald pastures, we shared our blessings and the joy of spending time together. Having breakfast and Bible reading, the girls learning to pack lunches (waaaaay too much mayonnaise), and encouraging each other on to keep going as we all felt tired (6 hours of hiking each day) are some of the sweetest memories of our camping trip. Kudos to Nathan who carried Samuel in the back-carrier for all of it!

Fireside Peach Pie (Nathan’s creation – yum!)

  • peach pie filling can

  • white sandwich bread loaf

  • butter

  • Cinnamon sugar

Butter the bread slices, and add two or three spoonfuls of pie filling to one of the unbuttered sides of the bread. Top with the other unbuttered side. Sprinkle each buttered side with cinnamon sugar. Place pie in the cast iron sandwich maker (here). Cook for 3 or so minutes over the embers or until golden (grilled cheese looking). Enjoy the warm pie!

with love. Damaris


Family Currents: Early Spring at the Capitol

Some of you might have heard of the program called TeenPact. We were able to take Alexander this year. It is a civics program for junior high and high school students hosted at state capitals around the country. He participated in the one day political communications course and loved it so much. The students get to practice writing bills and resolutions and defend them in debates.

While we were in Lansing for Alexander to attend TeenPact at the capitol, Nathan came with us, and we spent the day with the other children at Impression 5 Science Center. The kids loved creating, experimenting, and discovering. The hands-on experience took all day with a little break to eat a packed lunch.

Nathan, his Dad and the boys boiled over 70 gallons of sap on Saturday! It was a gloriously sunny day and cold. They bottled the maple syrup, and it’s been going to happy homes. They’ll continue to make more maple syrup for the next few weeks, boiling as the collection tubs fill up. Later this month, we will have a full post on the beautiful and interesting process of making maple syrup.

We’ve been doing Whole30. We’re more three weeks in and living our best life…Who am I kidding?? It’s not any kind of fun without pizza. I’ll be writing a post very soon about the whole family’s experience, what we ate, and must-haves for survival.

with love. Damaris


Paths Not Forgotten

A few weeks ago, our family road tripped to the East Coast (read about it here). Everyone had so much anticipation for visiting New Hampshire and walking on Nathan’s childhood paths. He had not forgotten even the slightest details of the centennial rock walls or the trees or the thick moss carpets of the New Hampshire woods! It was magical for all of us to walk behind him, listening to his every memory and sigh. It far exceeded our expectations that these were dreamy woods to be lost at play in, listening to The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe read aloud, and playing games of pretend. In this great quietness, where he could dwell in stories of his own, Nathan was so happy. Staying curious and full of wonder in these woods of New Hampshire. Here is where he breathed the magic and beauty of childhood -unrushed. As the children and I walked behind him, we collected leaves of all shapes and sizes with the most brilliant colors. We counted one for each of the nineteen cousins and giggled at all the fun we would have pressing and laminating them as little tokens of our love. All around us, the naked oak trees were so old and laden with acorns so big that we gathered handfuls from the mossy floor to decorate our table with back home. We will plant a couple of them too!

The quiet treading in the woods all ablaze, inspired me to push against the busyness and the pressures, and be intentional about simply creating together, learning together, making together and keeping the beautiful childhood magic alive. As a former child myself, I believe childhood should be full of laughing and sunshine, running and climbing, and all the wanderlust. Looking up, enchanted by the sparkling waving leaves, having visions of greatness so overwhelming that one’s soul hurts. We should be training them to experience and know true happiness – not pursue it for a lifetime. This means that sometimes I make myself get down on the floor and play, sometimes I get under the covers with them and tell dreams. Simply looking kindly into their eyes and knowing them, or pressing their head against my chest till their breathing and my heart are in sink fuels my vision for the wonder of childhood. It’s a wonderful gift to share these short years with them, and prepare them for joy-filled ones to come!

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place

where colors are brighter, the air softer,

and the morning more fragrant than ever again.

– E. Lawrence

with love. Damaris


Autumn in Olde Towne

Is it too soon to be planning our next trip to Boston!? If you have been there, you know how charming it is! We walked, and we walked. We learned, and we were awe-struck.

Nathan had a work conference in Boston, and we had been making plans to go with him. We prepared meals and packed 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 6 suppers allowing for a seafood dinner- which did not disappoint! We stayed in a suite-style room with a small kitchenette and two rooms. The accommodations were perfect for our family!

Boston was not rushed, giant, nor overly touristy which made it perfect for our family of nine to enjoy and soak-in the history. Of course, it wasn’t me driving us in and out of the city everyday- hehe! Since it was founded in 1630, we enjoyed learning about events, people, and the charming architecture of one of the oldest cities in America! We are studying U.S. history this year, and so many of the places we visited on the Freedom Trail were fresh in the children’s memories from these past few weeks of school! The dramatic events that took place in Boston are certainly more real and meaningful to all of us now. Climbing to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, Fort Independence in Castle Island, JFK Presidential Museum and Library, playing on the pebbled beach, Boston Commons and the Public Gardens, and getting aboard the WWII destroyer Cassin Young and the USS Constitution (war of 1812) were each of the kids’ favorite sights in Boston.

For me, it was the weathered facades, the tree-lined avenues, and the glistening city lights reflected on the Charles River. The highly symmetrical Georgian architecture, the row-houses with pristine glossy front doors, and the lovely people that charmed me. If you asked, “Why was it so magical, Damaris?” I would very matter-of-factly admit that being raised in a metropolitan city did something to my soul from which I can’t escape. When city air fills my body, it makes my eyes open wider and my heart beats faster. It makes me feel more alive.

And if you live there or have visited, would you share your favorite places in Boston? I would love to hear your recommendations!

with love. Damaris


Family Currents: Roadtripping History

This last week we had the privilege of hitting the road for a historically-inspired tour through New England! We’ve had a blast and just returned. Here are a few snapshots of our two thousand mile journey. God gave us safety and grace the whole way through, sunshine & rain, harbors and cupcakes, fall foliage and Atlantic surf!

a thought from Nathan


Future Men

If you have or have had the blessing of raising boys, I hope you’ve enjoyed the boyishness of them! When our boys were little, nurturing them seemed natural, but as they’re getting taller than me and far stronger, I find myself praying for wisdom! I’ve sought out much wisdom in raising boys because my childhood memories offer no sage guidance. I wasn’t raised in a rambunctious house or amongst the shepherding of little men. Yet, God has given me to these sons and these sons to me, and I seek to find blessing in this relationship for each of us.

But boys are different, and God intends for them to serve and glorify Him differently than girls. Accordingly, Nathan and I aim to see and raise our boys as future men. Hopefully this doesn’t strike you as chauvinist or gruff. Masculinity is not tough to the extent of rude. It isn’t lacking in respectful communication. Not gross or uncourteous. Teaching boys coarseness or callousness to the point of harm is as destructive as not teaching them the purposes of manhood at all.

We teach our children the same general principles and responsibilities especially while they’re little. Both boys and girls learn to obey, share, help. Of course they are taught to make their beds, empty trash bins, wash dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher), dust, sweep, and vacuum. At the same time, Nathan and I know that there is distinction in God’s design for boys and girls, so we also strive to reflect those distinctions in how we train them.

Boys intuitively know honor, and they can thrive under authority that doesn’t drive them to resentment. Cutting remarks will not foster this strength. There is one thing in particular that we teach our boys that we don’t teach our girls. It goes back to the original garden – we teach our boys to protect others, especially those who should be able to rely on their protection. They begin with their sisters.

This is a distinct responsibility and even young boys can be trained to rise to it. The manifestations of it as they grow is that boys will open and hold doors for others, walk on the sidewalk between a girl and traffic, carry bags for mom w/o her asking, push the grocery store cart, when its overloaded, shield those who are weaker from verbal or physical abuse – essentially what I Peter 3:7 says: treating women as honored creations of great value, and John 15:14 says: giving of themselves for the aid of others.

During our trip to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, we hiked some steep trails that required really good shoes and expert skill (of which I have neither!). Not only that, but for most of our excursions, I had Baby Samuel (10 months old) strapped to my chest in his baby carrier! One late afternoon hike took us trekking down an old ski run. About halfway – and a dozen switchbacks – down the run, I felt my feet begin to slip on some granite shards. Suddenly the harness of Samuel’s baby carrier was jerked from behind and held taught. Alexander had noticed me slipping. He reached out and held the back-strap of the baby carrier the rest of the way down the slope. I was quietly proud in that moment – experiencing the fruit of some of the lessons we had been teaching and witnessing one of the boys protect without request.

God allows these little affirmations throughout our trials of faithfulness. Nathan and I wish you the same quiet joys of his grace in your endeavors, too!

Nathan & Damaris


Family Currents

We thought we had a great plan and told the kids that they’d earned a reward of a day at the beach for all of their hard work this summer – and then it turned cold! Grey weekends seemed to be all we had for August, and Damaris and I (and the kiddos) were sure we’d missed our chance. You can imagine the little girls with their floaty toys and snorkels and disappointed faces : (

Who would have thought that the end of September would bring us 90 degree weather?! What a blessing – here we were, mid-September, and we finally made it! The beach was pleasantly secluded in that we had the whole lake to ourselves! Most of our kiddos are not swimmers yet, but there was no need to keep track them. This was the first time I can remember actually being relaxed around water!


Kittens!

Kittens playing. Kittens tumbling. Kittens climbing. Kittens sneaking. Kittens meowing. Kittens purrrrrrring. Kittens peaking.

Kitten playmates. Kitten baby dolls. Kitten jesters. Kitten sleepmates.

Kitten Joy!


One thing I love about these times of year, when you cross the bridge from one season to the next, is changing out the…..library : ) Sure we change out lots of other things with new seasons: bedding, decorations, linens, etc. But ordering a fresh set of books from the library to inaugurate a new season and all the it will have in store for us is such a satisfying joy. The kids gobble up the new books. Their excitement mounts for pumpkin carving, geese coursing south through the sky, leaf kaleidoscopes, final harvests, and on and on.

a note from Nathan


Please Exit Through the Gift Shop

I haven’t been to Rockaway Beach, New York.

I haven’t been to Trestles Surfing in California (let alone the championship).

I haven’t been to Ibiza, Spain.

But I do have a collection of $5 t-shirts from Old Navy that make me look like the hippest world traveler!

I don’t think I own even one t-shirt from any of the places I’ve actually traveled to! That goes for the family trips, for sure (of course, if Costco sold t-shirts…)
Truth is, I’m always a little sheepish (and surprised) when people ask me if I’ve visited any of these places. My response is usually something like: “$5. Old Navy. I’m cheap.”

Most of the places we vacation as a family aren’t the t-shirt shop places, anyway. A few have been, but we’ve been blessed over the past couple of years to spend that rare and special time in a cool way with the whole family – family conferences. Yes, you read that right – a conference for families.

photo credits: Noah Conference 2016

What? and Why?

OK, so if you’re picturing TED Talks on how to up your sales game, or grown men running around in comic book hero costumes, or lectures on the newest dental implants hardware…this is not that type of conference. There are several organizations which host Family Conferences around the U.S. and other countries: Generations.org, NCFIC, Teach Them Diligently, state home education associations (like CHEC), and Voice of the Martyrs for example. These conferences all vary in subject and program, but the ones that our family have attended have held sessions over the course of several days on biblical parenting, discipling children, apologetics, worldview, mentorship, science, life-skills for teens, and fostering entrepreneurship in the home.

Some of the conferences have had teen learning paths or kids programs, as well.

Alexander would probably say one of his favorite conference sessions was in Denver from a professor at the University of Colorado. He spoke of advanced mathematics’ revealing a universe of intelligence and design (Fibonacci numbers, etc.).

Damaris would say that her favorite sessions have been related to tips and truths for moms on how to thrive in the busy years of raising little ones.

Probably the most motivating reason that Damaris and I have focused our efforts of vacation planning on family conferences is because our time with our kids is so short and there is so much to learn! It has been fun to see the older kids enjoy choosing sessions to attend and then holding discussion afterward about what they took away.

As Americans, our first-world challenges always seem to be choosing between limitless options of…toothpaste, potato chips, cell phone plans, and where to spend our time (and $$) on vacation. In the sea of vacation spots, condo rentals, and destination ‘”been-there, done-that’s” it can be an up-hill battle to be purposeful and intentional in how we spend our family ‘down-time’.

Making it a Success

Traveling across country (or at least out of state) with 7 kids, 12yo and under to stay at a hotel for 4 days of conference sessions takes some serious planning, as you can appreciate! Maybe Damaris will share some secrets to success on a future post – we’ve had some great experiences and some lessons-learned.

A few things I would throw out there would be:

  1. Plan for downtime – for the sake of everyone’s sanity, plan beaks from the schedule and a place/way to spend those breaks.

  2. Put your Bug-Out bag to use – spending an entire day at a conference center is not exactly conducive to nap-takers, diaper-doers, or seat-squirmers. You’re essentially camping in a building. Meals have to be prepared, snacks stocked up, crayons and dolls in-queue! Over-prepared is under-prepared.

  3. Become a Local – the hotel pool saves the day…every day for us. Local tourist spots (museums, cool parks, city centers, donut and ice cream shops) are an awesome way to break-up the conference schedule and make the trip even more memorable.

Take-Aways

It’s worth looking into! We’ve enjoyed the close family time that attending conferences has afforded us. We’ve loved the mix of fun and relaxation with challenge and stimulation. We’ve felt the satisfaction at the end of the vacation, knowing that we’ve made some decisions of how to spend our free-time which will, we pray, produce fruit where seeds have been planted. We’ve met some great folks from all over the country and talked about God, family life, businesses, farm animals…you name it!

a thought, Nathan