Back to School!

The crafting cabinet is stocked with Ticonderogas, pink pearls, and crayons.  The pantry is full of pretzels, apples, and whole wheat bread.  The backpacks are back and the swimsuits are stowed away. The Pioneer Children are back to school!


We love school around here.  We love notebooks and pencils, fancy pens, coloring and drawing and scissors.  We love friends and recess.  We lovelunch freshly packed in a fancy box.  We love standing by the door and waiting for the siblings to come home.  My little partner is on the floor playing Little People school bus right now, waiting for her turn to be off to school.

The littlest Pioneer Girl only turned four years old a few weeks ago, so she has had to say goodbye to the Fourth-Grader and Kindergartener every morning this week.  Preschool doesn’t begin until next week, so she has been Pioneer Mom’s partner these last few days, running errands to fill the hours and pick up the last-minute two-prong pocket folders and lunchbox treats.  We scheduled a playdate for the first day of school because we had an inkling it might be a little lonely.  That couple hours with a friend was crucial to suriving the first day.

Our Pioneer Boy started big boy school for the first time this year – my little-big Kindergartener.  It nearly breaks my heart to see that big backpack on that small body bouncing off to his classroom.  This morning he got out of the minivan, and then got back in for a good-bye hug, and then got out and ran to school, taking all of my feelings with him.

It’s day three today and I still sort of don’t know what to do with only one kid at home.  Roro doesn’t know what to do either.  She spent an hour this morning kicking a balloon around the kitchen.

Next week the real routine will start up — five full days of school for the big ones, preschool for the little one, homework and chores and piano lessons.  Next week I’ll start on those projects, too — the ones I had planned to do with all our free time this summer, the ones I quickly decided I’d wait to work on until the kids were in school.

I’m excited for the things we’ll be learning this year.  Juicy has been yearning to read on his own for months, and this year it will happen for him.  My Pickle has been invited into an advanced writing class, which is a little surprising to me given her disregard for capitalization and punctuation, but nevertheless it warms my heart.  I think it was in fourth grade in this very same school that my best friend and I wrote a six-page(!) story together that helped develop my love of writing.  What if my girl discovers she loves writing too?

We’ve been assigned wonderful teachers.  Ms. Fourth-Grade is being taught by a family friend who is in her first year with her own classroom, after having worked at the school in various capacities for the last 17 years.  We were next-door neighbors when I was young; I babysat her kids.  I know my daughter will be well loved at school — so well loved that I actually thought I better give the sweet teacher a mandate to lay down the law with my chatterbox and demand good behavior.

Kindergarten man is learning the ins and outs of school, running into old preschool friends on the playground, forgetting to bring home his lunchbox on the first day and his binder on the second day, but finding the bathroom every time.

And now it’s Friday and the afternoon carpool should be dropping them off any minute.  We’ll fill the weekend with family activities, church, maybe a few chores.  And then Monday, we’ll be…

back to school.




Something to Read: Shivers the Pirate

We picked up Shivers!: The Pirate Who’s Afraid of Everything after reading this fabulous list of books for tweens posted on Brightly.

I read the list above and put every single one of the titles on reserve at our library for our Pioneer Girl, but when I picked this one up I wondered if Pioneer Boy might be interested in it too.  He does love a good read-aloud chapter book, so the first night we invited Miss Pickle in for his nightly reading time and tried it out it.  It was an immediate hit with both of them.

Shivers is a scaredy-pirate who had the misfortune of being born into a very brave pirate family.  He was named for the very piratey saying “shiver me timbers,” but unfortunately his shivers are more of the worried sort.  His mother, father, and Brave Brother Brock are all known in pirate circles for their courageous acts of villainy on the high seas.  Shivers, however, lives on a ship called the Land Lady, which is docked in the middle of the beach in New Jersey, and his greatest adventure is the battle with the alarm clock that he relives each and every morning — until one day when he receives a message by carrier pigeon telling him that his brave family members have all been taken hostage and that he is the only one who can save the day.  Even a scaredy-pirate can’t ignore this call for help, so Shivers sets off to rescue his family.

After a little more than two weeks of a chapter a night, we finished Shivers this evening.  I asked each of the big kids what they liked best about it, and they named particular scenes of piratey grossness that I will leave you to discover for yourself.

My favorite part of the book, though, was Margo.  We meet Margo in chapter two, when she is the only one willing to help Shivers with his quest.  Margo has always wanted to save the day, but being a regular police officer’s daughter, she hasn’t lead the life of a pirate.  She is only too happy to take the clues Shivers receives and lead the way to adventure.  As Shivers gives Margo the adventure she’s been craving, she lends him a little of the courage he’s been seeking.  Along the way they develop a sweet friendship as they rescue each other from mishaps and one-eyed pirates and giant squids.

I was so glad to get to know Shivers and Margo and to have such brave, kind characters in our lives for a couple of weeks.  I hope we’ll meet them again in future books.  For now, this was a fun, silly adventure the whole family could enjoy, with a message of kindness and courage at its core and a strong female character to make it even more appealing.


Day Six #thirteenstates: Indianapolis (part two)

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Memorializing in Indiana.

Today we had five priorities when we walked out of the hotel: Chocolate shop, Indianapolis Temple, Trader Joe’s, playtime at a park, covered bridge.

Once the people finally woke up (10am, thank you 11pm bedtime and hotel blackout curtains), we went out for the day. We started off at The Best Chocolate in Town, where we loaded up on chocolate-covered pretzels. Then we popped in at Trader Joe’s where we loaded up on some snacks and picnic supplies and hunted for the elusive state-specific Trader Joe’s reusable shopping bag, but alas, there is no Indiana version.  (I have a Texas one and an Arizone one.  Does your state have one?)

I looked on coveredbridgemap for a covered bridge nearby and found one not too far from the area we were heading to, near the Indy suburbs of Fishers and Carmel. We headed up that way only to discover that the bridge we were looking for was in the fantastic Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.

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Nothing says Indiana like a covered bridge.

We pulled in just as the field trip buses were loading up to take the fieldtrippers back to school, so by the time we got in we had the place nearly to ourselvecs. Inside there was a lovely imaginary play area with forts and art stations and reading areas, and RoRo’s favorite, a playhouse.  This child is never happier than when she is hosting a tea party.

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Once we ventured outside, the kids played with a week-old lamb and petted a calf in the barns as we explored the grounds.

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We crossed the covered bridge to “Dupont, Indiana,” which depicts the Confederate Morgan’s Raid that came into the Indiana and the North from Kentucky in 1863. They had a fun little indoor playground where the kids dressed in period costumes and put each other in jail for various crimes. This little Miss Pickle was delighted to finally be able to model the fashions of the day after spending the previous two days in her bonnet from St. Louis.

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Then, my favorite, we wandered into Prairietown, 2015-05-19 14.23.33an 1836 frontier Indiana town. Emma Higbee was born in 1836 (though on the frontier of western Missouri), so the kids got to see a town representing her era.  They explored a general store and a small schoolhouse, spoke with some townspeople and helped sweep and cleanup a prairie home.

The best moment was when they helped some boys who were chopping firewood at the Eagle Inn.  They boys cut the kindling, and then my kids helped stack it on the wood porch of the Inn.  As they worked, they asked us, “Where have you traveled from?”
I answered, “Arizona,” but then said, “Well, Arizona Territory.”
Then I did the math again and realized that in 1836 Arizona was still decidedly part of Mexico, so I said, “Well, Mexico right now, I guess.”
The innkeeper rested his axe on the stump and looked at me: “Ah, Spaniards.”

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A possum alseep in a little house on the prairie.

Too soon it was 5pm and time to leave Conner Prairie — but again, thanks to Daylight Savings, we still had hours of daylight to burn.  We took toys and picnics to a nearby park where the kids made immediate friends with a bunch of Indianans.  They played and swung and cartwheeled and slid and climbed and somersaulted, explored in the woods and hid in the prairie, and barely had time to eat a peanut butter sandwich.

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(This person travels by cartwheel.  No grass is safe.)

Hours later as the sun began to set, we left the park in Fishers and headed to Carmel, Indiana, where the Indianapolis Temple is almost finished.  The open house will be held in just a few weeks, but even though they’re just finishing up construction we still wanted to go over and see it.

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I love the way the new temples are incorporating local culture into their architecture, and the Indy temple was no exception.  When I first saw renderings of the temple it kind of reminded me of the Phoenix Temple — long and low with a single spire.  But when we drove up on it the spire was much more substantial than it had looked in drawings, and it called to my mind monuments we had seen when we’d arrived in Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis World War Memorial and the Soldier’s and Sailors’ Monument are beautiful, iconic structures, and the temple spire draws inspiration from these two local institutions.

After taking some photos and loving the temple, it was finally time for the sun to set and for us to get ourselves to bed.  We drove through a tunnel of trees on our way back south into the city, and the kids were amazed at the greenery.
We had a great time exploring Indianapolis, but tomorrow we will pack up the car and begin the #PioneerGirl and Emma Higbee days of our trip.  We are so excited!

Day Five #thirteenstates: Indianapolis (part one)

Blessings from above, the kids slept until about 10 this morning.  The poor dad of the family had to go to meetings at 8am, but the rest of us enjoyed a leisurely morning. We received tickets to the Indianapolis Children’s … Continue reading

Day Four #thirteenstates: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana

Sunday morning we woke up in a St. Louis suburb and continued east.  We’d told our people about the Gateway Arch, and our little pilot-in-waiting was super excited to get so high up and see out the windows. We went … Continue reading

Day Three, #thirteenstates: Fancy Kansas and Missouri

We woke this morning around 9:30am in “Fancy Kansas.” We’re still rocking West Coast time, which means we travel late and wake up late, which is great for our purposes. Hotel blackout curtains are super helpful.

Once the car was packed up, we headed across state lines into Kansas City, Missouri, to Arthur Bryants Barbecue — for breakfast.


We opened the place up at 11am and beat the crowd (family motto), imageincluding getting in before the busload of Kansas City Barbecue Tourists. It’s a real thing, and the tour guide wears a shirt with a pig on the back. I love the idea, but I don’t know how much barbecue I could eat in one day. Especially after pigging out at whatever the first stop was, I’m sure. But if you can pace yourself I’m sure it’s a delight.

After barbecue breakfast we went to Independence, Missouri, where the early Saints created a community of faith for about two years beginning in 1831, until the Missourians ran them out of the county and then the state for “disturbing the peace,” “treason,” and other unlikely offenses. The LDS visitors center there is lovely, with an imagination-play children’s area that kept us busy for a full hour. The people were only lulled away by the promise of an outdoor park and ice cream.

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While the children were playing Pioneer in the basement of the visitors center, the dad of the family took a few quiet moments to go over to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library a few blocks away. I kept the pioneers busy for him so I can’t talk about how great it was, but we’ll just say the presidential history-buff was impressed.

On our way to the park we stopped in to the temple of the Community of Christ. They have a small museum with artifcats from the lives of Joseph and Emma Smith, and the boy especially enjoyed testing the accoustics of their seashell-shaped sanctuary.

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imageAfter snacks and a few minutes at the Independence park, we hit the road again bound for Liberty, Missouri. The Church has recreated Liberty Jail in a visitors center there, where Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum and three other church leaders were falsely imprisoned for four torturous winter months in 1834-1835. Revelations recorded in Doctrine and Covenants Sections 121-123 were received there, and it was a life-altering experience for the prophet. Seeing a life-size representation of the conditions he and his followers lived in during that time was very moving.


While we were in the area I thought a lot about my own family from that era. Emma Higbee was born in 1836 near the Missouri River in Caldwell County, just to the north, and her family was forced to leave Missouri with the Saints two years later. She recounted the story of their crossing the river and going to Quincy, Illinois many times to her children and grandchildren. It was very interesting to be in these peaceful little towns, both of them with churches of every denomination on every other corner, and recall the frontier atmosphere and complete turmoil that her family lived in during those days. It would have been so very different from what we see here now, though the landscape I’m sure hasn’t changed much at all.

After Liberty we wanted to make one more stop, to see the Kansas City temple recently built by the Church. The grounds were lovely and peaceful, and it was reassuring to know that even after the history in this area, the gospel is thriving here and temple work is being done by faithful men and women.

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After that peaceful moment it was time to leave the KCMO area and put down some more miles. We took I-70 east out of town, passing traffic for the afternoon’s Royals game, and crossed “the wide Missouri” a few times as we headed for St. Louis.



Missouri River, Missouri

We stopped for the night in a suburb and let the kids burn some energy in the hotel pool before getting everyone to bed… at 11pm. Another busy day tomorrow!



Day Two, #thirteenstates: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas

Cadillac Ranch Amarillo, Texas

We are a flexible travel family.  We go and we find and we do.  If we learn about something we need to experience, we head out and experience it.

Today we started with a plan… and our plan changed.

We woke up in Amarillo, about five minutes from the Cadillac Ranch art installation. Since we go and find and do, even though it was a little backtrack we went to see this Americana landmark. You can’t not, right?  

It was muddy and wet from the previous night’s thunderstorm, but that only made it more appealing to these flip-flop people.  They scavenged for spray paint cans and added their own elements to the work. Next time you’re there, seek out the “E,” “J,” and “C” on the westernmost Caddy.  

After the Ranch we stopped in at the Cavendar’s to find Texas Boy a Texas Shirt, but we had no luck.  That’s what the Internet is for, right?  One of these will be waiting for Texas Boy when we get home.

Then it was time to get on the road.  These western states are huge, y’all, and if we’re going to make it through #thirteenstates we have to log some miles.

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Oklahoma countryside

We cruised through the Texas Panhandle and on into Oklahoma.  2015-05-15 12.08.23-1We had planned to head straight through to Okmulgee and Muscogee, towns that were of interest to me because of my family history, but when we checked the map and realized we’d be driving right through Oklahoma City, we added a stop.

On April 19, 1995, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism was committed in downtown Oklahoma City.  When a truck bomb detonated outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, 168 people were killed, 19 of whom were children under the age of six.   In the place of that destruction now stands a beautiful memorial that we wanted to witness.

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Oklahoma City Skyline

If we were going to go visit this place and take our three little children, we knew we had to tell them that it was a memorial and tell them how to behave there.  If we told them it was a memorial and a quiet, reverent place, we were going to have to tell them what happened there.  We’re kind of shelter-y parents.  We talk a lot more now with Miss Pickle about world events because she hears about them at school, but we don’t bring up a lot of sad or scary events with the kids.  I prefer to allow them to have a quieter, less stressful childhood, so unless I know something is going to come up at school and I think she should hear it from me first, we pretty much let her stay a kid.  But taking the kids into this place, we knew we needed to prepare them.

About an hour before we arrived in OKC I turned around in the front seat to talk to my kids.  I told them about the angry men who were upset with the government and decided to use violence to make a statement.  I told them about the innocent people who were injured and killed there, including children.  I told them how the place where it happened became a memorial, and that they needed to be respectful of the sad thing that happened there that day.

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Survivor Tree. May 15, 2015

And then I told them about Survivor Tree.

Survivor Tree is a hundred-year-old American elm that stood in a parking lot across the street from the Murrah building.  People would come in to work early to find a parking spot in the tree’s shade, a little bit of respite from the sun.  The day of the attack, Survivor Tree was nearly destroyed.  Evidence from the blast was embedded in its trunk, its limbs were blown off by the force of the explosion, and fire from the cars parked near it that day charred it so badly that people didn’t think it would live.

But, I told my kids, a year later when victims and friends and loved ones gathered for a memorial service there, they noticed blossoms forming.  Survivor Tree survived, and now it stands as a symbol of the resilience of the people of Oklahoma and of the United States.  It stands as a symbol to us that if our roots are deep and strong, we can survive hard things and come back even more beautiful than before.

We asked if they wanted to go see this place and if they would have appropriate behavior there, and they all said they did and they would, so we headed for downtown Oklahoma City.

A few minutes after I finished telling them the story and turned back to help our driver navigate, a voice called out from the backseat.  It was my five-year-old son.

“Mommy, I like the story about Survivor Tree.  I was afraid when you told us about it that the tree would die, but I’m glad it was a happy ending.  I’m glad Survivor Tree is still there to make people feel better.  I want to go see it.”

We had lunch at the delightful Kitchen No. 324, where we were seated outside near a small grassy area where the wiggly among us could wiggle.  It was perfect since we knew we were going to let them walk around the memorial but not run and jump and somersault and cartwheel, which they really needed to do.  We enjoyed the “Oklahoma fluffies” and let the wind come roaring down the plains and through our hair.

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After lunch we went to the memorial.  2015-05-15 15.52.13As we approached it from the east, the kids were drawn to an outdoor chapel on the ground of First Church.  That boy who was touched by the story of Survivor Tree asked if we could kneel in the sanctuary and pray.  He offered the sweetest, simplest prayer for the people affected on that day and for the tree that brought hope.  It was the perfect way to start our visit to the memorial — where somehow they all managed to behave.

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After OKC, it was time to get on the road again.  2015-05-15 18.03.44-1We went to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, which is the government seat of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, where I am a tribal member.  My great-great-grandmother was named on the 1906 Dawes Indian Census, along with two sisters and a brother.  Her family a few generations back had come to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, and her descendants remained there until as a young boy my Gramps left Oklahoma with his family during the Dust Bowl, headed for California.  California was a little too far to travel, it seems.  The family ended up settling in Arizona, and now here we are.

2015-05-15 17.43.06In Okmulgee we went to the Creek Council House, which was erected in 1878 shortly after their arrival in Oklahoma Territory.  It was very moving to be in the place where my family had been for many years, which I had never seen.  Gramps died when I was young and any memories of his life in Oklahoma are lost to me for now, but researching that part of my family history has been very meaningful to me.  I feel a connection to that great-great-grandmother, and I’m so glad I got to walk in the place where she lived.2015-05-15 17.48.53-1

We had intended to continue on to Muscogee, Oklahoma, where the Five Civilized Tribes Museum honors those who were relocated to Indian Territory during the Trail of Tears — the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole.  Our stops in OKC and Muscogee put us behind schedule, though, and we would have arrived in Muscogee after the museum had closed, so we decided to turn north and head into Kansas.

2015-05-15 20.10.11-1We crossed the state line into Kansas at Coffeyville, where I missed my “Welcome to Kansas” picture and made the driver turn around to give me a second try.  Whew!  We marveled at the W.P.Brown Mansion as we cruised through, an enormous home built in 1906 by a local natural gas magnate.  Late night Kansas backroads took us up to Overland Park (“Fancy Kansas,” according to my favorite Kansan), where we rolled in well past everyone’s bedtimes and promptly got to bed.

Day One #ThirteenStates – Arizona, New Mexico, Texas

After 12 travel hours, a carsick cleanup stop and a late lunch in Albuquerque, we have made it to Texas!  Our Pioneer Boy was born in Houston five years ago, so although he’s a solid day’s travel from his birthplace, he still feels at home.  Number one priority today: Find a size-five tshirt with an outline of Texas on it for our Texas boy.  Also, we might have to buy some kids their first umbrellas.

We saw the countryside change a lot today.  We left Phoenix’s “Valley of the Sun” in the heart of the Sonoran Desert and climbed through the ponderosa pine forest of northeastern Arizona until we reached I-40 in Holbrook.  We passed the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Parks (which we have visited on previous trips and highly recommend if you’re in the area).

Four Peaks, northeast of Phoenix

This person is the reason they invented Dramamine.

I-40 east of Holbrook, Arizona

It took us about 4 hours to get through that part of Arizona.  We crossed into New Mexico and drove 373.51 miles on I-40, watching the landscape change from the high deserts of the Navajo Nation to the Llano Estacado, the beginning of the Great Plains.  At sunset we passed through Tucumcari, a town famous in the Route 66 days for having more hotel rooms than residents.

State Two of #thirteenstates!

“T” on the butte at Tucumcari, New Mexico

As we traveled east toward the Texas state line, the weather changed.  The puffy white clouds and blue skies of the deserts gave way to menacing clouds.  We even saw a tiny piece of rainbow

Llano Estacado near Tucumcari, NM

We’ve safely arrived in Texas.  Amarillo greeted us with a lightning show and thunderstorm.  We were a bit too late to see Cadillac Ranch, but we’re hoping to run over this morning and take a peek before we continue east into Oklahoma.

Welcome to Texas, state three of #thirteenstates

We’d love you to follow along in real-ish time as we visit sites and post photos on Facebook.  We’re posting at, under the hashtags #PioneerGirls and #ThirteenStates.  Drop by and comment on and share your favorite photos, or give us recommendations on things to do and see in areas you’re familiar with.  We’re always up for an adventure!

And we’re off!

Today we’re headed east on a tour of the middle of America!  We hope you’ll follow along over the next couple of weeks as we explore the history of the westward migration across the U.S.   We’ll start with a quick … Continue reading

Record Your Travel! – Make Your Own U.S. States Passport

We’re hitting the road this week.  The dad of the family has a conference in Indiana, and we’ve decided to road-trip along with him.  We’ve made the trek into a family history/U.S. history research trip, and we are so excited to be off-schedule for a while and visit new places in late spring while the weather is nice.  (It has already hit the triple-digits here in Arizona. Ugh, already.)

Two years ago we made our first cross-country trip in a minivan with three kids (then 7, 3, and almost-2), traveling from Phoenix to St. Petersburg, Florida.  Other than the dearth of excitement in West Texas, it was a great trip.  We listened to our bodies and to the kids to know when we needed a break, and made good use of refueling and lunch stops.  We ate from our “food box,” so at least one meal per day was a picnic at a local or national park.  (We take our National Parks seriously.)  As we traveled, if the kids needed to stop and wiggle, we stopped.  If we saw an interesting roadside attraction, we visited it.  We played with cousins in Houston, ate beignets in New Orleans, swam in the Gulf of Mexico on a stunningly beautiful beach in Destin, and visited Winter the dolphin in Clearwater.

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We kept a map of our route and traced each day’s progress with the kids.  Our destination was St.Pete, but we had little plans to do other things along the way so each day had something to look forward to.

In high school I made a goal of visiting all 50 states.  It’s not an easy concept out here in the West.  I can drive for four or five hours and not make it out of Arizona.  (Don’t even get me started on Texas.)  When I moved to the Washington, D.C. area after college the goal suddenly seemed feasible.  I could go north from Arlington, Virginia, where I lived, and knock out four states, not including Virginia or the District, in that amount of time.  My husband’s family is from Florida, so we took the I-95 trip south from D.C. several times in the 9 years we lived there, including delightful stays in Charleston, Savannah, and North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

So as I’ve continued to check visits to different states off my list, I’ve started recording our travel for my kids, too, hoping that they’ll have the same goal eventually.  Before we set off for trips to Colorado and Florida in 2013, I created a “passport” for each of my kids.

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Each page has the name of a state at the top.  (They’re in alphabetical order for ease in finding them when traveling.)  I put each kid’s photo inside the front cover and had them each sign their name.  (Super legible when you’re not yet 2.) Whenever we stopped and got out of the car, we grabbed the bag of passports and carried it with us.  When we had a moment — waiting for our food at a restuarant, playing in a park, whatever — we got the passports out and wrote down the city we were in and the date, and then the kids stamped that page of their book.

Another awesome benefit to this that I didn’t even anticipate is that the National Parks Service (serious nerds over here, folks) has put out their own National Parks Passport, so as we visit those, they have their own stamp we can log in our passports.  Of course we also bought one of their passports, so there’s just hours of stamping fun whenever we get out of the car.

This year I found these great printable stickers we can use.  2015-05-11 13.58.09Super nice because they’re the perfect size to use with a 1″ hole punch.  Each kid will get a set that we’ll keep with their passports, for this trip and future trips.

The kids love all the stamping and stickering, of course, but I hope that they will be glad to have this record of the places they’ve been and the things they’ve seen.  We have our family photo albums, but this is a fun way for the kids to record their travel and when they visited each place.

And hopefully someday they’ll each have an international passport, too, and I’ll get to watch as they explore the world and fill their books with even more stamps.