Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Utah Road Trip


Wake up early, pick up our minivan rental.  Pack it with all of our stuff & realize that there is still room to spare.

Drive.  And drive.  And drive.

Put the travel fun bag to its ultimate test.  Topher is entertained.  Every time we cross a state line, he gets a little prize or toy for further entertainment.

In Lincoln, we stop to see TJ's childhood home.  Wonder if he unknowingly grew up in the ghetto, but realize that properties have just deteriorated in his part of town over the last 25 years.  (A bit of an exaggeration, the neighborhood was totally fine, just not as he remembered it.)

Finally make it far enough into Colorado to see some mounds that we name "baby mountains."  Topher is excited to see the mommy and daddy mountains in the distance.

Stop for the night at Laura & Scott's house in Castle Rock, CO and remember how much we miss them.  We see Laura's baby belly for the last time before the twins come.


Wake up obscenely early.  4:30 am.  Not used to mountain time yet.  Pack up and back on the road bright and early.  The drive between Denver and Salt Lake is gorgeous.  Topher is thrilled that we get to drive through several mountain tunnels.

After eight scenic hours, arrive in Riverton, UT.  Stay with our friends Crishelle & Mike and their four daughters.

Topher is shy around Erin, who he hasn't seen for over a year now.  He loves the attention from all the girls.  Not to mention all the new toys and rooms to explore.


Wake up early.  TJ and I go to the Oquirrh Mountain temple.  Gorgeous.

Walk outside to endless mountain view.  Gorgeous some more.

Have lunch with our friends and then drive into Salt Lake to Temple Square.  Topher buys scriptures, the one souvenir he wants most.

Later that day, we meet up with our friends Kristin & Nate and their kids for dinner.  Elijah is Topher's best friend but has been gone for 2 years now.  The two hit it off like old pals.  So do Kristin and I.

Go straight to the King's English Bookshop where my sister has a book signing.  Watching her do what she does so well makes me cry.  I could watch her speak and sign books forever.


Reunion day.  Drive 3 hours to Altamont, UT and realize we are in the middle of nowhere.  Get lost twice.  Garmin can't find our reunion lodge.  Neither can iPhones.  Finally find Hidden Springs Ranch and wonder why anyone would build a lodge here.

The lodge is huge, maybe  millions of dollars huge, but no air conditioning.  We get lucky by having overcast days and cool nights.

Family trickles in.  The adults haven't changed.  Only the kids seem to be getting any older.  Feels like heaven having our own room but sharing a house with everyone we love.

Try out the canoe in the pond outside the front doors of the lodge before bedtime.


Go on a family hike and find the hidden spring.  Topher climbs a mountain, his goal for the trip.

 Kickball in the rain.

Pool fun.

Family talent show.  My brother dresses as Sasquatch.  On stilts.  We should have seen this coming.


Family photos.

The family wanders up to the activity barn for some rock climbing.  Amazed at who can scramble up the impossible wall.  And by who cannot.  TJ gets to the top.  I don't even come close.  Topher gives it his best shot.

My uncle Ken puts us all to shame by zipping up all three routes.  Each time takes him about 30 seconds.  We cannot stop gawking.

Bob Ross Family paint-off.  Girls vs. Boys.  Rules: no pausing the video, switch out painters every 5 minutes.  Amazed at how decent both teams did.

Family bonfire to end the evening.  Catch one more crawdad.  We decide to drive through the night and say our goodbyes.  Leave at 9:30 pm.


Topher sleeps 10pm-2pm.  Then he is awake for a couple hours playing with glo-sticks.  Sleeps a couple more hours.  Car has strange, silent, artificial-air that reminds me of a late-night aircraft flight.

TJ proves that he can drive for hours and hours and hours at a time.  Out of a 16.5 hour drive, he is at the wheel for all but one hour.

Roll into our driveway at 2pm.  Topher sleeps 15 hours straight, a personal life record.  Recovering from entire week.  Relief at being home is mixed with disappointment of trip ending.

All said, wonderful and memorable trip.  Would not have changed a single thing.
Nope, not one.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Travel Fun Bag

On Monday we will be renting a minivan and loading up our bags.  We will travel 10 hours to Colorado the first night and stay with friends.  Then we will head to Salt Lake (8 more hours) and stay with friends for two nights.  After that we will go to Altamont, Utah (3 more hours) for a three-night family reunion.  Then on Sunday we will be driving 16 hours straight home.

Now you might think that I am worried about keeping Topher entertained in the car as we cross the stimulating state of Nebraska.

You would be right.

For the past 6 weeks or so I have been assembling a travel fun bag for Topher.  This is his first big road trip and we want to make it a wonderful experience.

And it all starts with a travel binder.

These are all over Pinterest, so I took the ideas I liked from each, added a few of my own, and customized this binder for Topher.

It starts with MAPS.  For every leg of the trip, Topher has a map of where we are going and how we will get there.  He has surprised me by asking to see these maps multiple times already and tracing the routes with his fingers, telling me all the stops along the way.  He definitely has some of my dad in him.

Next is a MAZE section. This is by far the fattest section of the binder. Topher LOVES mazes.  He loves to figure them out and he loves creating his own and then watching me "struggle" through them during church.  I started out by browsing the web and printing off a lot of free mazes.

Then I was at Target and I saw a maze book with 96 double-sided pages of mazes (all in full color) for $6.  So I bought it, tore out all the pages, and doubled them into sheet protectors.  When he does all the mazes he can see, I can just take them out, flip them all around, and he will have a whole new set to try.  I'm thinking I may need to do this on our looooooong trip home.  A few times.

**I should mention here that EVERYTHING in this binder is either laminated or in a sheet protector.  Either way, you can draw and erase on everything with dry-erase markers.  So the fun can be had again and again!!**

The next section of the binder is HIDDEN PICTURES.  Another favorite game for Topher.  I went to and printed out about 20 free pictures.  Again, which he can play over and over.

The next section is POM POM PICTURES.  Have you seen these?  You print out these color pictures (free ones all over the web) and then glue magnets onto colored pom poms and then your child puts the picture onto a cookie sheet and fills in all the circles with pom poms.  I found a whole printable alphabet with awesome pictures and had it printed out at our local copy shop for $8.  Then I laminated the sheets and 3-hole punched them to store in the binder.  
**If I could do this again, I would just put them into sheet protectors because the magnets stick better through sheet protectors than they do through lamination.  Still works either way, though.**

To go along with any magnetic games, I bought Topher a small cookie sheet from the dollar store.  I also cut a piece of grippy shelf liner to fit in it.  So if he's not playing magnetic games, he can line the cookie sheet and play his puzzles (or anything else he doesn't want shifting around).  On the underside of the cookie sheet, I just hot-glued a piece of batting and then a piece of felt so it's softer on his lap and won't slide around.

The last section of the binder is GAMES for lack of a better description.  This includes tic-tac-toe, a blank face to doodle on, a blank clock because he needs to learn how to tell time, some easy mad-libs to play, some additional car bingo games I found online, some Angry Bird math worksheets, and an  i-spy car trip game that Topher made with me of the things he wanted to find on our trip.  

 I made a surprise i-spy jar game I found on Pinterest.  It's really easy!  You just find some random things around the house (paperclips, pen caps, etc.) and toss them in a jar.  Then you fill the jar up with rice and let the kids shake the jar all around and find whatever you hid inside.  
**Before you lose all the object in the rice, lay them out and take a picture of them so your child knows what to look for!**

I also made a little mailbox for Topher to play with on the road.  It has lots of little envelopes to "mail" with little letters inside.  Each one is made out to a friend or family member and you can open them, read the letter, close them up, and drop them in the slot.

In the front pocket of the binder, I put a couple Lego magazines that Topher hasn't seen yet.  In the back pocket of the binder, I made a few games to play.  One is checkers because Topher recently discovered this game and seems to love it.  I couldn't find a printable checker board so I made one on Excel.  Then I bought button magnets and stuck some of those neon round stickers on them for pieces.

The other game I made is Chutes & Ladders.  This is a game we never go long without playing, and I wanted him to have it on the road.  So I got out his board, took a picture, cropped it down, and printed it out to fit a normal size piece of paper.  It turned out perfectly, just a tiny little version of his favorite game!  Then I laminated it and made magnetic pieces for it by gluing some Sesame Street pics on the button magnets.  Even I am excited to play this one in the car!  

**Instead of a spinner, I just put dice into a little Tupperware container so you can shake it up and "roll" without losing the dice.  As an alternative, I bought some giant foam dice at the dollar store that won't easily get lost in the car.**

And one other thing I HAD to add to the binder was a food order.  Now whenever we stop for food, Topher can use his dry-erase marker to fill in his order and pass it up to the front seat.  (Please ignore the lack of healthiness, it's a vacation!)

Okay, so that is the gist of the binder.  In hindsight, I should have bought a thicker binder because the 1" one is full to bursting.  With awesomeness.  Oh well, at least I thought to get one with the "easy open" ring tab so Topher can get things in and out of the binder by himself.

As for the rest of the fun bag, there are assorted things to keep busy.

Beads and pipe cleaners (so he can make bracelets or monsters or whatever he wants):

Some modeling compound that is hard to describe.  It is a lot of little foam balls in a sticky base that you can mold similar to clay, but it doesn't dry out and it doesn't grind into car seats or carpets.  The stickiness keeps the foam beads together, but it doesn't transfer to your hands.  I don't know, it's pretty cool stuff and Topher is excited to make "sand castles" out of it.  We grabbed three different colors at the dollar store and transferred them into Tupperware containers.

Some super-hero lacing cards that I made by printing out some pics, laminating them, and punching holes around the edges.  Then I just tied on some yarn from my knitting stash.

A pipe cleaner game that was inspired by Pinterest.  In my version, you feed the monsters "worms" in their same color.  (It's just an empty butter tub with some clipart monsters edited to match the colors of the pipe cleaners I had.  Then an X-shaped slit for each of their mouths.)

Jumbo craft stick puzzles.  I tore pages out of some old Lego magazines and cut them into 1" strips.  Then I glued them onto the sticks and put magnets on the back so he can put them back together on his cookie sheet.  It's kind of fun and more challenging than a normal puzzle.  I really like these.

Regular puzzles from the dollar store.  Each one is in a Ziploc bag to contain the pieces, just like they do at our library.

A cute car bingo game I found at Tuesday Morning for $5.  The pieces are all contained so you can't lose anything in the car.

Some magnetic numbers and letters from Michael's dollar bin.

New coloring books, crayons, notebooks, and I'll add some stickers too.  And a big bag of assorted dry-erase markers and erasers.  I will also throw in some hand towels and a water bottle to clean the pages.  And one thing of baby wipes, because that will be easier for Topher to grab and clean with.

A clipboard, in case he wants to take a sheet out of his binder and just work on it solo.

I think that's all for now!  What do you travel with?  The only thing I wish I could add would be a Leapfrog or kid tablet or something electronic, but it might be better this way.  We will have the DVD player and movies (and headphones) in case he just wants to chill.

How fun to have a little boy who is old enough to understand where we are going, and who can entertain himself along the way.  



P.S. If you want to make a travel binder too, here is a list of links I used for mine!

Mazes  (I got mine from all over by Googling “preschool printable mazes” and such but finally found this sight that had a great compilation of mazes to choose from)
Hidden Pictures  (The “check out more” tab at the bottom will take you to a page with many more!)
Road Trip Bingo (vehicle types):