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There’s No Place Like Home…..

I know that we’ve been back for a couple months now and I already published the blog post about when we returned home, but I felt like our trip needed a “conclusion” post.  So here it is….

Lance and I are so thankful that we were able to do this with our kids, we recognize that it was a huge gift and we feel so blessed that it all came together.  I know that I have many great memories that I hope I always remember from this trip…..watching our kids play hide and seek among the giant redwood trees in northern California, watching the sun set through the eye of the needle on Needles highway in South Dakota, hiking with our extended family in gorgeous Colorado, being a witness to Sam having one of his best days ever when we rode on the swamp boat and held an alligator, watching all of our kids explore the tide pools along the coast of Maine and yelling “New State” every time we crossed into uncharted territory just to name a few!  Our family grew closer together over this last year and there were lots of times that the only kids they had to play with were their brothers and sisters.  They played games, built campfires, fought (sometimes it seemed like constantly), imagined together and explored this great country together.  Don’t get me wrong….we also had plenty of times that we were completely sick of each other and just wanted a little (or A LOT of) space, but the close quarters were worth it and I’m so glad we got to go on this journey together.

I hope that when our kids are older they will have fun reminiscing with each other about this trip and help each other remember what they learned and how much fun they had.  I know that I learned that this country is bigger and even more amazing than I had imagined it to be.  I loved driving through the small towns and countryside….Lance would often get off the highway and take the back roads just so we could get a better feel for the area we were in and I really enjoyed that.

I asked each member of our family what their favorite state was and why….here are the results.

Lance—Colorado because of the nature we saw and the hiking we did and Florida because of the sunshine and beautiful weather we had


Lance and I in a beautiful meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Joe—Colorado because of the climbing (Mount Garfield with Uncle Ben in Grand Junction) and hiking we did


Joe with his Uncle Ben after making it to the top of Mount Garfield in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Abby—New York, specifically New York City because of the busyness of the city and our afternoon carriage ride after stopping for a treat at Sprinkles Cupcakes


Abby, Joe, Elise and me all ready for our carriage ride through Central Park in New York City.

Sam—Colorado because of the hiking and finding cool rocks with Uncle Ben and Arkansas because of the Crater of Diamonds State park where he loved looking for diamonds


Sam holding an alligator while on a swamp boat ride in Louisiana.

Elise—Kansas (yes, I even asked her “are you sure??”) because of the fun we had in Kansas City at the Hallmark Center and the fun musical fountains outside


Elise, Abby, Ben and Sam watching the musical fountains in Kansas City.

Ben and Rose couldn’t really give me an answer to my question, but I think I can answer for Ben–his favorite place would be anywhere that he could get down and RUN.   Being in the stroller and seeing museums and big cities is definitely not his thing!  Rose sure did love being on the beach whether that was in California or Florida.  Both of those two will just need to look at the pictures in the years to come and take our word for it when we tell them “remember when we went (—-) in (—-)?”


A mischievous Ben while we were exploring Glacier National Park.  


Rose and Joe enjoying the crystal clear water at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

And as for me….it was very hard for me to pick, but I think I can narrow it down to two.  I loved our time in Washington.  I had never been there before so it was completely new to me.  I loved the thick, mossy rainforests, the snowcapped mountains and the gorgeous coastline.  I also really loved Florida; I think I could live there!  There’s no shortage of sunshine there (and being from Michigan that’s something you notice!) and I loved our time in the Keys…..I don’t think I could ever get tired of the beaches and aqua blue water.


Lance, Rose and me on our hike through the rain forest in Olympia National Park, Washington.

Now we are back home and it feels GREAT!  We are finished with all of the unpacking and the camper is empty and cleaned.   We are back to the land of home projects, playdates, sport and school activities, friends and family.  It’s a good thing and we are excited to jump back in, but there are already days that I think back on our trip and fondly remember when it was just us on a fabulous adventure….on the road without the distractions of daily life and exploring America together.

Who knows…..maybe we will do it again someday…….



Philadelphia & Washington D.C.

On Friday, June 17, after we left New York City, we picked up our camper and took off for New Jersey.  We stopped that evening in Trenton to see the capital building and then kept driving a little bit more to a Yogi Bear Jellystone park just south of Philadelphia.  We were excited to stay there….partly because we got to stay in one place for 4 nights, partly because it was Father’s Day weekend and partly because the campground was having a chocolate themed weekend!

We had been so busy with going, going, going in Boston and New York City that we decided to stay around the campground for the day on Saturday.  We were looking forward to the fun activities they had planned for the day.  We started with enjoying the great pools there and then it was time for the chocolate pudding eating contest, the chocolate milk drinking contest and the Hershey kiss eating contest.  Ben, Elise, Sam and Abby all had a lot of fun entering some of those contests and Elise won second place in the chocolate milk drinking contest!  Ben didn’t totally get what was going on, but he had a blast sticking his head into the bowl of pudding and eating as much as he could!


Elise and Ben competing in the chocolate pudding eating contest


She did it!

That evening was the main event…..the chocolate slip’n’slide!  Joe and Elise participated in this and it was a lot of fun to watch.  As kids waited in line to slide down the huge pudding covered sheet of plastic the camp workers would throw handfuls of chocolate pudding at them and squirt chocolate syrup all over them.  Joe and Elise were pretty covered by the time they even got to the slide.  Then they had a great time sliding back and forth and having their legs slip out from under them on the plastic.  It was a very fun way to end the day!


Joe and Elise enjoying the chocolate slip’n’slide….they almost look good enough to eat!

On Sunday we went to Philadelphia.  It was a super-hot day, but we still had fun walking around the city to see the sights.  We started with the visitor’s center where Elise and Sam picked up their Junior Ranger booklets.  Then we set out walking and got to go right past the cemetery where Benjamin Franklin and his wife are buried on our way to Betsy Ross’ house.  We went on a tour of her house which I thought was very interesting.  After that we went to Elfreth’s Alley which is the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in America.  From there we walked to Christ Church.  We were able to go inside and see the very pews where George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and their families sat.  Our next stop was Independence Hall which is where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both signed.  We took a short tour and learned a little more about the history made there.  Then we crossed the street and got to see the Liberty Bell.  Lastly we stopped back at the visitor’s center and Sam and Elise dropped off their completed booklets and received their new badges.  It was a good day and we really had fun seeing so much American history….even in the crazy heat!


Elise, Abby, Ben, Sam and Joe looking into the cemetery.  Benjamin Franklin’s grave is right on the other side of the fence.


Joe and Elise in front of Betsy Ross’ house


This was Betsy Ross’ Bible.  I think it’s pretty neat that something her grandchildren remembered about her was was that she was often seen reading this Bible.


Walking down the very quaint Elfreth’s Alley


Our family on Elfreth’s Alley


The inside of Christ Church.  Some of the most famous people to regularly attend services here were Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Betsy Ross.  Can’t you just imagine some of the discussions that could have gone on when they got together for church potlucks?  I would think that the patriotism, loyalty and love for America must have run deep here.


Here we are relaxing in George and Martha Washington’s pew


Independence Hall



This is the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where representatives from each of the 13 colonies met to discuss that and, later, the Constitution.  George Washington would preside over the meetings from the wooden chair that is between the two fireplaces in the front of the room.  It is the only piece of furniture left that actually was here back then.

This picture is a great representation of why we decided to come home a couple weeks early….see the look on Elise and Ben’s faces???  A cross between boredom, frustration and annoyance?  At one point Elise asked “Are we going on ANOTHER tour??  I’m tired of history!”


Our family in front of the Liberty Bell and in the background you can see Independence Hall

On Tuesday we spent a lot of time in the car stuck in traffic on our way to Dover, Delaware to see the capital there.  We stayed only one night in Delaware.

On Wednesday we headed to our next campground which was in Maryland.  We stopped on the way in Annapolis to see the capital and then had some supper at the campground after settling in.  After supper we drove to Washington D.C. to see a little bit of the city.  We found some parking and then walked to the Jefferson Memorial.  We had a great view from there of the Washington Monument too.  Before we drove back home the kids had a great time catching fireflies on the banks of the Potomac River.  It was such a pretty night to be there.


Sam and the Washington Monument


Sam and Elise in front of the Jefferson Memorial


Our family in front of the statue of Thomas Jefferson inside of the memorial


Watching the ducks, geese and sunset between the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial on a beautiful evening



Sam, Ben and Rose catching fireflies along the river, they had so much fun!!

On Thursday we had an appointment in the afternoon to tour the U.S. Capital with someone from our Representative’s office.  We had really been looking forward to it, but knew it could be tough since it started right when naptime normally starts for Ben and Rose……and it was!  We managed to learn a little about the capital building and really enjoyed seeing the old supreme court and senate chambers, standing in the rotunda and looking up at the beautiful paintings and even the tunnel under the street to get there was pretty interesting.  By the end Ben and Rose were sick of needing to be quiet and we were sick of trying to corral them.  After a stop at the capital cafeteria to recharge everyone was doing a little better.  Lance took the four older kids into the house chambers to see what that is like.  I stayed with Ben and Rose…’s a good thing they didn’t go in there, what with all of the dancing, laughing loudly and chasing each other they did together while we waited!


On our capital tour we saw where the Supreme Court used to meet


The painting at the top of the rotunda.  There was a lot of restoration going on in the dome so we were lucky to be able to see this


This is where the Senate originally met, until we added more states to the union and they needed more space


Rosemary outside the Capital building


Our family in front of the Capital building


Rosemary in front of the Supreme Court building

The next morning we decided to start with Arlington Cemetery.  It was a SUPER hot day….about 95 and dripping with humidity!  Once we got there we started walking towards JFK’s grave and it didn’t take long to see that this too was too much for Ben and Rose.  The beautiful cemetery is such hallowed ground and deserves quiet and respect and those two things are tough to get from toddlers, especially while they are wilting in the heat.  I ended up walking back to a grassy spot in the shade where they could just play and Lance kept going with the older kids to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.



The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Washington D.C. has SO MUCH to see and we had planned to spend about 6 days there to fit as much in as we could, but with how things went at the capitol building and then at Arlington, along with everyone being a little burned out with history and tours and then throw a large dose of homesickness in we made the decision to head home a little early.  It was difficult to leave D.C. when you know you didn’t do it justice, but we are hoping to head back that way in a couple of years when hopefully everyone will be a little more ready and excited to be there.

We only had one more state to see and that was Virginia so we packed up and headed to Richmond that night.  We stopped by the capital building the next morning and then went to a fun park for the afternoon.  Virginia is one of those states that has quite a bit to see so, once again, it made our decision tough, but we still felt it was the right thing to do.   We will be back Virginia!!

That evening we got to have an evening visiting with some dear friends of ours who we met about 13 years ago.  Their oldest son is Joe’s age and those two seemed to be good buddies even when they were toddlers.  We don’t get to see their family often enough, but it sure is special when we do to see the boys reconnect in no time.  We loved having supper and ice cream sundaes with the Crains and catching up with them meant an evening full of stories and laughter.  I can’t think of a better way to end our road trip.


Elise and Molly enjoying their Chick-fil-a


The Crain kids and the Kornoelje kids


Lance and I with Alex and Aileen….and Ben and Rose the photobombers!


Joe and Benjamin

We left there around 10:30 at night and set our sights on Zeeland.  Lance drove like a champion and while most of us dozed he got us closer and closer to home.


Sleeping through the ride home


We were all pretty excited to see this sign!!!

We arrived back at our very own house at 11:30 on Sunday morning, June 26th….exactly one year after we left on our big adventure.


Home, sweet home….one year later

New Hampshire to NYC

From Maine we headed south to New Hampshire.  We arrived in Dover just in time to have a late supper and a fabulous visit with a special family we knew from church during our high school years.  The Vollnogles welcomed us into their home and even their daughter (Caroline) and her family and also their daughter-in-law (Danielle) were able to come over as well.  We had a great evening catching up with their lives….we haven’t seen them in almost 20 years!  Our kids really enjoyed meeting all of them too….especially Ben who got to play with two of their grandchildren and Abby who loved holding their newest grandbaby.  We left there feeling so thankful that we had been able to see them; they are such a kind family and were a big encouragement to us.


Lance and I with Terry and Sandy Vollnogle–a very sweet couple

The next day, June 8th, we drove to a different campground that’s not too far from Plymouth, Massachusetts.  It was a sprawling place with a huge playground and baseball field right near our campsite.


Lance and the kids played baseball with some other kids in the campground on the field behind our site

On Thursday we went into Plymouth to see the sights.  We started with a stop at Plymouth Rock.  It was fun to see, but we didn’t need to spend much time there so then we walked over to the Mayflower II.  It’s a replica of the Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims from England to America.  We went on the ship and saw where the Pilgrims would have lived for those 6 weeks at sea…not much room for about 100 people.  There were people who were acting the part of pilgrims so it was fun to talk with them and ask questions about their voyage.


Sam and Elise by Plymouth Rock


Here we are in front of the Mayflower II


Elise and Rose checking out the living quarters the Pilgrims had while they crossed the ocean

On Friday we went to Plimouth Plantation (no, I’m not spelling that wrong, it’s how they spelled it back then so that’s what the plantation is called today) which was a lot of fun.  Our favorite part was the small village that was built to be as much like Plimouth in the 1600’s as they can get.  Even the layout of the buildings was according to what they have found in journals and other documents from that time.  The small houses were furnished with what they believed the pilgrims would have been able to take with them from England.  Ben had a lot of fun chasing chickens and feeding hay to the cows.  Just like at the Mayflower II there were people dressed as settlers all throughout the village who stayed in character the whole time.  Sam and Elise had fun learning a card game from two such men while we visited one of the houses.  We all had a great day learning about the Pilgrim’s lives….and also left there extra thankful that our beds aren’t made of straw, we have a refrigerator to keep food fresh and I don’t have to milk a cow for milk every morning!


Plimouth Plantation


Some of the cute gardens behind the houses


Elise in one of the small houses in the village


Ben was intrigued by this outdoor oven….he thought it was a little room and he had fun opening and closing the door


Rosemary was a little wary of this cow’s horns


One of the houses had this big Bible in the desk


Sam and Elise learning how to play cards….Pilgrim style


The beautiful view of the village and the ocean beyond

Saturday, June 11th, was one of my favorite days!  We went whale watching in a boat our of Plymouth harbor.  After about an hour out on the water we saw a Humpback whale feeding on the schools of fish near the surface of the ocean.  It was so amazing to watch this huge graceful animal come up out of the water and then slide back down with the huge tail disappearing at the end.  Ben loved keeping an eye out for him and Rose kept yelling out “shish!”  for fish.  The boat we were on had a binder with pictures of all of the named whales they have seen, so after they got a good look at the tail markings they could tell us that this whale’s name is “Shuffleboard”.  We stayed in that area for around 15 minutes and just watched him come and go…sometimes quite close to the boat.  Then the captain took us farther out to look for more whales.  The next kind we spotted were Minke whales and we saw 5-6 of those.  They look similar to dolphins, but are a bit bigger.  We also got to see a Finback whale, which are not as commonly found.  The Finback was the largest of all the whales we got to watch, but they don’t come up out of the water as much as Humpbacks so it was a little bit harder to tell.  After almost 4 hours on the water we got back to the harbor.  We really enjoyed our whale watching experience!


The kids are ready for their whale watching adventure!


The back of the Humpback Whale


and the huge tail!!


Ben and Rose looking for more “shish”!!

The evening before this we had watched the movie, Monumental, with Kirk Cameron.  We found it very interesting, especially when he is researching the founding fathers (Washington, Franklin, Adams and so on) and their faith.  It was awesome to me to see just how much they valued the Bible and based their decisions on God’s Word.  Did you know that the first Bibles printed in the United States were actually funded by Congress and were printed to be given to the schools?  Anyway….in the movie he talks about the recipe for success with forming a new country and having it thrive the way America has. It is based on God’s Word and training up your children to know and love God and from that springs morality, civil law and liberty.  The monument is in Plymouth so we went to see that after our whale watching trip.  It was a very impressive monument and if you are ever in the area I would encourage you to check it out.


Lance and I by the monument dedicated to the Pilgrims who came for civil and religious liberty


On Sunday we went into Boston for the day.  We started with Boston Commons and seeing the state capital building there.  Then we had tickets for a Duck Boat ride so we boarded that and enjoyed our tour of the city that way.  We were able to see lots of historic buildings that are on the Freedom Trail and also learn about the city’s growth over the years.  The most fun part, though, was when we went right down into the Charles River.  When we were out in the water and away from any obstacles then the captain let kids drive the boat.  Joe, Sam, Elise and Ben all gave it a try and were having a good time…..Rose, on the other hand, started screaming and crying as soon as we put her down in the seat.  She did a little better when I sat with her, but still didn’t love it.  After the duck boat ride we did some more walking and saw the graveyard where many important people are buried, like Paul Revere, John Hancock and Samuel Adams.  After that it was time for some frozen yogurt and then we drove to Rhode Island.  We saw the capital building in Providence and camped for the night, but didn’t stop to see any other of the sights there.


The kids and I ready for the duck boat ride….all except Rose who was fast asleep on my shoulder.  



In the Charles River now!


Sam, Elise, Ben and Rose all got a turn to drive


A plaque for Paul Revere


The kids in front of Samuel Adam’s grave


The cemetery, the tall monument in the middle is where Benjamin Franklin’s parents are buried.


On Monday we went to Mystic, Connecticut and visited the Mystic Seaport.  What a fun day exploring the buildings and learning about what life in a whaling and fishing village would have been like 200 years ago.  Abby and Elise had a good time with the navigational scavenger hunt which took them to many of the different buildings.  We all enjoyed our horse-drawn wagon ride through the village and it was a good time to take a break from walking for a little while.  Ben and Rose loved the little children’s museum there and didn’t want to leave when they were closing up for the day.  All in all, we had a great time there and wished we had been able to get there even earlier in the day so we could have seen that much more.  We stayed in Connecticut that night and then headed for New York City the next morning.


Joe in the Mystic Seaport village


Rose and Joe


Ben and Rose playing with the wooden boats at the water table in the activity barn


Elise using a pulley system to pull herself up off the floor


Sam got to sit up by the driver on our wagon ride


Joe, Lance and Rose in front of the only original surviving whaling vessel.


Captain Rosemary at the helm


The bunk area for the crew….Rose is in one bed and you can just see Ben’s leg in the one next to her


Ben checking things out below deck


Ben on the ship’s deck


Ben and Rose loved playing in the children’s museum, especially cooking up soup and lobster in the little kitchen


All of the kids on one of the playground boats they have there

We had a hard time deciding what to do about lodging in NYC.  There aren’t exactly a lot of campgrounds in the city….and even if there were; can you imagine trying to pull the camper through traffic there????  No thank you!!!  We ended up using almost all of our hotel points and staying at a Marriott Courtyard hotel right downtown for three nights.  We were so glad we did, even though having all 8 of us sleep in one small room was tough sometimes, it was worth it to be so close to everything.

Tuesday evening, after we settled into the hotel, we went for a walk through Times Square and had some dinner.  Then it was lights out….we knew we would have a busy day on Wednesday.


This is in Times Square after we ate supper….everyone was a little more cheerful with a full tummy!

The next morning we got going quickly (well, quickly for OUR family!!).  We had bought hop on/ hop off bus passes for all of us so we caught a bus and took that to the 9/11 Memorial.  We walked around the fountains and headed to the Tribute Center.  I thought I had bought tickets to the 9/11 Museum, but it was for this Tribute Center instead and it ended up being really neat.  We started by checking out the displays inside and reading about that day and then we went on a walking tour of the memorial.  We had two tour guides, one had been living and working in the city when it happened and one who lost a loved one and watched some of it happen.  It was very interesting, but also sad to hear their stories.


The 9/11 Memorial


Around each of the sides are the names of those who died.  When it is one of the victim’s  birthday the museum puts a white rose on the name.


Abby and Rosemary near the memorial

After that we walked to Battery Park and took the boat to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty.  Abby, Sam and Elise all did the Junior Ranger program there and we walked around the statue and enjoyed a great view of the city.  When we got back downtown we went to a great pizza place near Times Square and then headed back to the hotel.


The beautiful view from the boat on our way to Liberty Island


Our family in front of the Statue of Liberty.


Elise was very proud of her newest Junior Ranger badge!


On different trips to NYC Lance and I have gotten our girls’ names painted by artists set up on the sidewalks.  This time we were on the lookout to get the same done for Rosemary.  We had fun watching this man skillfully turn little animals into the letters of her name.

Thursday morning Lance and I were able to attend the show, The View.  We were given the opportunity by a good friend back home who is good friends with Paula Faris who is on The View.  It was fun to see how a show like that happens and a little bit of the behind the scenes.  Lance and I have pretty conservative viewpoints (and if you’ve ever watched the show you know that most of the ladies on there are more liberal minded) so sometimes we probably stuck out like a sore thumb when we weren’t clapping our approval of comments made, but we had a good time and were super glad we were able to go.


Lance and I ready for some “hot topics”!!

While we were gone Joe and Abby were babysitting the other kids in the hotel room.  When we got back to them we all left together for the Empire State building.  We went to the observation deck and had fun checking out the city from a bird’s eye view.  Unfortunately, Sam wasn’t feeling very well and Ben and Rose really needed naps so Lance took those three back to the hotel after that.


Joe on top of the Empire State building


Just keeping it real… this part of the trip Ben and Rose are getting pretty sick of museums, crowded cities and confined areas…..not the most toddler friendly part of our trip!

Joe, Abby, Elise and I walked towards Central Park, but stopped on the way at Sprinkles Cupcakes for a little treat.  Their red velvet cupcakes are delicious!!  When we got to Central Park we went for a carriage ride through the park.  We had been walking a lot so we enjoyed seeing the park while resting our feet a little. The carriage ride brought us by fountains, over bridges and past numerous statues, including the Balto statue which was a favorite since our kids like that movie.


Yummmmm, mine was the red velvet cupcake and Joe’s was the carrot cake cupcake


Abby and Elise during our carriage ride


Here’s the four of us in the pretty carriage


After the ride the driver gave Elise a carrot to feed to JoJo the horse

That evening Lance and I had a fabulous date out on the town.  We started with going to see Les Miserables.  I had heard of it, but was not familiar with the story line so it was new to me.  It was incredible; we both really loved the show.  After that we went out for a nice dinner at Carmine’s.  We had a delicious Italian dinner there and then walked around Times Square a little while before heading back to the hotel.


I loved a night out at the theater with my hubby!

The next morning Lance helped check something off Elise’s bucket list…..he took Joe, Abby and Elise for a ride on the subway.  She was so excited about that and said it was one of her favorite things about NYC.  They went to Brooklyn, changed trains and then came back to the hotel.  Not such a treat, I’m sure, for most in Manhattan, but it sure made Elise smile!

When they got back from the subway we checked out of the hotel.  It was time to say goodbye to New York City and head back to camper life.  We enjoyed out few days in The Big Apple, but it felt good to get back “home” too.

Pennsylvania to Maine

When we left Michigan on Wednesday, May 25th, we headed to Pennsylvania.

Our first place of interest was the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  We saw the crash site of the plane and wandered through the visitor’s center there to read the displays and timeline of the events on September 11, 2001.  Sam and Elise both did the Junior Ranger program there and earned their badges.  It was a sobering place to be.  Even though our kids don’t remember any of what happened that day (I was 6 months pregnant with Joe then), both Lance and I have vivid memories of the terrorist attacks and what we were doing on that morning.


The kids on the overlook at the Flight 93 Memorial.  


This is what you see from the overlook.  The plane crashed in the field behind those two white pillars.


Joe reading the stories from those who remember


Ben looking at some of the very few things recovered from the crash site.


Lance checking out the display dedicated to the military, fire and police personnel who responded that day and in the days afterwards.

That Thursday we also celebrated a very special birthday in our family.  Sam turned 9 and even though we spent a good part of the day driving we still tried to make it special.  He chose to eat at Pizza Hut for supper and a couple of days later the celebration continued with a trip to a drive-in theater with Lance and the other older kids.


Sam is a pretty cool kid who is a great big brother and a super funny guy!  We sure do love him!


Time for some cake!!

We camped near Gettysburg.  With it being Memorial Day weekend the campground was full and it was fun to be around so many other families.  Sam and Elise especially had fun making friends with other kids their age.  We enjoyed the pool, gaga ball pit and outdoor movie that they had that weekend.    On Friday evening we met a college friend of Lance’s and his family at an Amish dinner buffet.  Elise and their daughter hit it off and were chatting like old friends pretty quickly!

On Saturday, May 28th, we went to the Appalachian Trail Museum and park that was only about 10 minutes away from our campground.  The park is pretty much the half-way point of the trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia.  We checked out the small museum and walked a {very tiny} section of the Appalachian Trail.  We also met some hardcore climbers who are chipping away at their goal of hiking the whole thing by doing sections of the trail when they can get the time off work.  They told us that they had already seen a couple of rattlesnakes on the trail that morning….that’s enough to keep me on the pavement!!


Inside the museum at the Appalachian Trail halfway point


See???  We hiked the {tiniest section possible} Appalachian Trail!!

On Sunday we went to Gettysburg to see the battlefields and learn more about the history of that town.  We started with going to the short movie that they show at the visitor’s center about the battle and why it was such an important one in the Civil War.  Then we went to the Cyclorama which was very impressive.  You are in a circular room with the walls being covered by a 40 foot high canvas painting of the battle.  Then they added artifacts and plants to blend with the painting so sometimes you couldn’t even tell where they met.  It really looks like you are in the middle of the battlefield.


Sam checking out the Cyclorama


It was so amazing to see the painting and the artifacts mingled together!


Found this cute little soldier in the gift shop!

After seeing what we wanted to inside of the visitor’s center we headed outside.  We had bought an audio guide to listen to in our car while we drove around the park.  It came with a booklet to follow along with and was really informative about what side was where and how the battle progressed over the three days that it took place.  We would stop the guide whenever we got to an area that we wanted to explore further.  Lance and I were both fascinated with all of the information and sometimes you could almost picture what would have been going on back then.  At first everyone was attentive and interested (except Ben and Rose), but after three hours of driving around  the kids were less than entertained and it was time to get some supper and head home.  If you are ever headed to Gettysburg let us know and you can borrow our disc set if you want to!


Monuments were everywhere to mark the spots where specific regiments fought and where certain battles took place.


The fighting that took place on this hill, Little Round Top, was very important to the battle as a whole.  You can see that whoever held this ground definitely held the high ground.  Here’s Joe and Ben climbing around on the giant boulders.


Here’s Rosemary…..we love taking pictures like this of her, but don’t worry….there’s always someone holding onto her, you just can’t see them!  Someday she will look back at her scrapbook of this trip and think, “Wow!  Did they take any pictures of me when I wasn’t dangerously perched on top of a cliff, on top of a giant rock or up in a tree???”


Ben loved the cannons!

On Monday Lance went into town to have a work day and the kids and I stayed around the campground and enjoyed the pool.  The weather for that weekend was HOT and steamy, low 90s, so the pool felt very refreshing.

On Tuesday we packed up and headed to Harrisburg, the capital, to see the capital building.  We were quick about it…our highlight of the day was getting to Hershey which was after the capital.  When we got to Chocolate World we started out by taking a short tour on how the company began and the chocolate making process.  The tour is free and is a fun little introduction to Hershey.  After that we had purchased tickets for the Chocolate Tasting activity.  It was a fun presentation on the cocoa bean and the different kinds of chocolate.  We each had a bag that had four different chocolates in it and a small cup with some raw cocoa bits in it.  They went over how you are supposed to go through four different steps when tasting chocolate.  Look at it, smell it, listen to the sound as you break it (is it a soft break or a hard snap?), then taste it by letting a piece melt on your tongue.  We thought it was fun and definitely had our favorites and not so favorites.  Some of us (Ben and Rose) found the four steps to be too laborious and went right to step number four every time!  Well, after we were done with that we bought some Hershey chocolate from the gift shop and were back on our way.


We were excited to see what was inside this yummy smelling building!


Rose and Joe learning how they make and package the different chocolates at the Hershey factory.


Chocolate tasting….Ben just couldn’t wait any longer!

On Wednesday we entered Vermont.  We were all excited about that because up until this point every state we had been in was one that at least one of us had been in before, even if it was just driving through.  Vermont was a brand new state to all of us!  We thought it was beautiful and couldn’t stop marveling at all of the green….everywhere you looked were just more and more trees.  I can see why it’s a destination in the autumn to see the colors of the leaves as they are changing.  We stopped for a picnic at a park near Bennington and really enjoyed a few hours there.  It was a gorgeous spring day and we had the park to ourselves.  There was a huge playground and acres of thick green grass.  We left the park and started our drive to the campground.  When we were almost there we spotted a Moose grazing just 20 feet or so from the side of the road.  That was pretty exciting!!  We stayed that night at Lake Champagne Campground which is just south of Montpelier, the capital.  We really liked it there, Sam especially.  He loves water and our site wasn’t very far from the large pond they have there.  He spent a good amount of time with his slingshot shooting rocks into the water and just looking around.  After we set up the camper and had a quick supper we went to see the capital building.  It was a very pretty one and a great night to be exploring Vermont.


Willow Park was a beautiful spot to have lunch and to stretch our legs for a while. The giant wooden castle/playground is just down the hill.  The monument in the background is for the Battle of Bennington, which was in the Revolutionary War.


Joe and Rose at Lake Champagne campground.  What a pretty sky!!


A great night for seeing the capital in Vermont….again, that sky….it was such a bright blue, no filter needed!  And look at those three love each other….it does happen occasionally!!


We ended the day with a gorgeous sunset!

On Thursday we had a long day of driving, but it was worth it!  We made our way into Maine (another first for us!) and stopped in Augusta to see the capital.  Then we were back in the car to try to make it to our campground near Acadia before dark.  We just made it and were ready for bed after such a tiring day.  It’s not easy for anyone to keep two toddlers entertained for 7 hours in the car!!  (Disclaimer….we have been using the movie player in the car A LOT more often lately!!)   We stayed at a KOA just a few miles outside of Acadia National Park.  Our campground was right on the bay and was very nice.

On Friday, June 3rd, we spent our first day in Acadia National Park.  We started out by stopping by the visitor’s center so that Sam, Elise and Abby could all pick up their junior ranger booklets.  Then we decided to drive the park loop road until we got to a place we wanted to explore.  We really enjoyed our drive on the curvy road through the forests and along the rocky coast.  We stopped at Jordan Pond and went for a hike near the water.  Then we went to the Jordan Pond restaurant to try some of their famous popovers.  From there we finished the loop and had quite a treat when a doe and two very small fawns came out from the woods to cross the road.  We all oohhed and ahhed as they tentatively walked on their spindly little legs to the road and then changed their minds and turned back to the woods.   After the park we headed into Bar Harbor.  Lance and Joe wanted to try some Maine Lobster so they did that and we got some ice cream at a little place downtown.


All six of them when we were about to begin our hike


Elise loved looking for pretty rocks in the water


It was a foggy day, but still so pretty so see Jordan Pond and the bubble hills


Sam, the tough man!


Crossing back and forth over the rocks…..they loved it!


Our family on one of the many bridges in the park.  John D. Rockefeller Jr. had 45 miles of carriage roads and bridges built between 1913 and 1940.  They are too narrow for vehicles, but perfect for taking walks and riding horses on.


Trying Popovers at the restaurant near Jordan Pond


Another treat in downtown Bar Harbor

On Saturday we went back into the park and saw quite a bit more.  Our first stop was Thunder Bay.  It’s a very rocky part of the coast where there is a cave at the water level and when the tide gets to a certain point the water going in and out of the cave sounds like thunder and can spray water up to 40 feet.  It was very neat to watch the water swirling around there even though the waves weren’t big enough that day for the thunder sound.  After that we went to a ranger program where they had some spotting scopes set up so that you could try to see the Peregrine Falcons and their four babies.  When we were there the adults were out looking for food and the babies must have settled into the nest, we couldn’t see them.  From there we drove to Otter Cove in the park.  The day before, when we had gone past it, the tide had been out and it had looked like a really fun place to explore, but we couldn’t find parking so we had kept going.  On Saturday when we stopped the tide was much higher than the day before, but it was still a great place to look around.  Sam loved climbing the rocks and looking for pretty shells and stones.  Our last stop that day was the visitor’s center so that Abby, Sam and Elise could turn in their books and get their junior ranger badges.


Rose, Ben, Abby and Elise watching the water swirling in Thunder Hole


Elise, our little rock climber


Trying to get a glimpse of the falcons with the spotting scopes


Sam ready to explore Otter Cove

Back at the campground our kids were having a blast too!  With the sites going right up to the bay, there was a lot to explore, especially when the tide was out.  Sam, Elise, Ben and Rose loved taking some buckets down by the water and looking for crabs and any other little creatures they could find.  They even made some friends from another campsite who shared their passion for crab hunting!  Sam spent hours with the other two boys climbing the rocks and filling their buckets with crabs.  Then they would pick them up and one after another and marvel at their finds.  They were showing me the crabs and telling me all about them….which ones were boys, which ones were girls, which girls were laying eggs, which ones might pinch me, and so on and so on!  It was fun to see them having such a great time!


Ben and Rose playing on the stony beach with their sand toys


Ben was so excited about the shells he found


Sam was pretty excited about his finds too…here he is with a big lobster shell

Sunday is when our trip took a little detour from the plans we had made.  We packed up in the morning and prepared to drive to New Hampshire, but when we were all in the car and ready to pull away the camper wouldn’t budge.  After looking things over Lance found that a metal bracket that’s part of the frame under the camper had broken.  Well, it’s hard to find an available welder on Sunday so we settled back into our site and waited for Monday.  God sent a very interesting man our way on Monday who fixed the camper pretty quickly……but then when we went to pick it up we stopped to put gas in the car and guess what!?!?  The gas just sprayed all over the pavement!  Yep, that’s right…our gas tank was busted!  So we picked up the camper to bring it back to the campground and then on Tuesday morning Lance brought the car back and that same man fixed it up for us.  We had a couple days of frustration, but were once again reminded that God has perfect timing.  If that bracket had broken while going down the highway, it could have been dangerous and with the gas tank….at least we already had a guy we now knew who could fix it.  So that’s the bright side!!  Along with the fact that there are definitely worse places to be stranded than the beautiful coast of Maine!!

On our last night in Maine we went for a family walk along the rocky coast.  The tide was out so we all had a great time venturing out to places that you normally don’t see since they are under water.  We explored the tide pools and turned over rock after rock.  Then we watched the beautiful sunset and headed back to our camper.  We finally ended up leaving Maine on Tuesday, June 7th.


Joe and Rosemary


Sam holding a small crab he found under a rock


Lance and Rose 


Joe, Abby, Sam, Elise and Ben are all in this picture.  They loved exploring!


Elise found this tiny starfish on the side of a rock.  I put my finger by it so we could remember how small it really was.


No stone left unturned….or at least it felt that way!


Our last sunset in Maine


Atlanta to……Michigan?!?!?

On Saturday, April 2nd, we drove toward Atlanta, Georgia to see the capital, but on the way we had a fun detour stop in Knoxville, Tennessee.  We met another sweet family from home at a park there and had a great time catching up with the DeBoers.  Abby and their oldest are good friends and they very much enjoyed catching up for a couple of hours.  The rest of the kids all had a great time on the playground.  After leaving there we drove the rest of the way to Atlanta.


That’s a lot of kids!!

On Sunday, April 3rd, we went to the Georgia capital building and then to The World of Coca-Cola.  Once inside we were all handed bottles of Coke or Diet Coke and we could keep getting more which just blew our kids’ minds!  We walked through a bottling area to see how Coke is mixed, bottled and packaged.  We also saw the vault where the secret recipe for Coke is stored and we saw the giant Coke polar bear….Ben was so excited he ran up to him before we could stop him and totally photo-bombed another family having their picture taken with him!  The best part of the tour was at the end when we entered the tasting room.  It was a very big room with many, many drink dispensers with over 200 varieties of CocaCola from all over the world.  You could try whatever you wanted and drink as much as you wanted.  Our kids were gone in five different directions (not six, but only because Rose was confined in the stroller!) and we didn’t get them all back until they had taste tested to their heart’s content.  Ben just stood by one fountain machine and filled a cup over and over with regular Coke….he didn’t even drink it all, he was just so intrigued with the drink dispenser and being allowed to use it.   We never would have guessed how high this activity would rank on our kids list of trip favorites….apparently we underestimated the power of “all you can drink pop”!!


Walking around downtown Atlanta on our way to The World of Coke


Everybody’s happy when drinking a nice cold pop!  These are the cute little pops they hand out for free when you enter.  They just keep going around with baskets of them so when one’s gone it’s on to the next!


Rose didn’t know if she liked the taste….but she really liked the bottles!


Joe, Abby, Elise and Ben in front of the vault door


Sam was intrigued with the robots bottling the Coke


Joe and Sam near the end of the tour


Ben learned real quick what that button did….and he wasn’t leaving anytime soon!

From Atlanta we drove to Nashville, Tennessee.  We got there on Sunday night and settled in at a campground outside of town.  On Monday Lance worked so the kids and I spent the day doing laundry and playing on the campground playground.  That night Lance and I went out for a date.  We went out for dinner at a place called Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant where they have up and coming country singers perform every evening.  We had a great time, but I didn’t convert Lance to a country music fan yet!  The next day we all went to see the capital building.  The capital was fine, but what really caught our attention was the building being torn down a block away.  The boys (especially Ben) were mesmerized…it was pretty interesting to watch, I have to admit.  As people went about their day we were the dorks buying hot dogs for lunch from a street vendor and sitting down on a curb to watch the giant machines work!


Rose enjoyed her hot dog from the street vendor


It was fun to watch the giant claw rip off chunks of the cement building

After Nashville we drove back to Lexington, Kentucky.  We had intended to go horseback riding.  It was a pretty rainy couple of days so we didn’t do that, but we did just enjoy a couple of nights at a nice campground out in the country.  We have stayed at a fair share of campgrounds and this one had the best playground I’ve seen!  Our site was right near it and I loved being able to watch the kids play right outside the window.


Rose loved the little wooden train!  You can see our “house” in the background!


Ben loved the ramps and bridges….he kept saying “Last time.  Last time.  Last time”  and then he would go up again and again (he might not know what “last time” means!)

On Thursday we drove into West Virginia and then on Friday, March 8th, we went to see the capital in Charleston.  It is a beautiful building and we decided to go inside and take a tour.  Things were pretty quiet in the building so we had our tour guide all to ourselves and could tour the building at a slower pace.  She was a wealth of knowledge and was very patient with all of our questions.  We learned all about the priceless materials and artifacts inside the capital and how they built the building during the great depression, but because of smart money management, they did it without going into debt.  After seeing where the house and senate convene (and learning that they have the youngest delegate in history, an 18 year old who ran right after high school and is attending college while serving her term!!) we ended with the Governor’s formal office and had fun taking some pictures there.


The gorgeous crystal chandelier in the rotunda


Elise for Governor!!!

After the capital visit we drove a little more east to Beckley, West Virginia to visit a coal mine and mining museum.  Rose and I hung out in the museum and read a lot about mining while Lance and the other kids took a train ride into a mine and had a tour.  After they were done we went to the small children’s museum right next door and played there for a while.  Even though it was super small, it had some very fun exhibits and we had fun there until they closed.


They had this fun area where you set up little houses and farm animal and then get the tops spinning through it to knock them over and see what a tornado could do.


We had WAY too much fun with this mirror!!

Saturday we left West Virginia and drove into Ohio.  We stayed one night near Columbus, Ohio to see the state capital and then drove on to Cincinnati.  We stayed a couple of nights at a very nice campground there while Lance had some work to do at one of his customers. The campground was not one with lots of bells and whistles, but one that has large sites with lots of green grass and tall trees and is very clean.  It is part of their city parks so it has miles of bike paths and trails to explore.  Unfortunately for us it rained a lot while we were there so we couldn’t take advantage of the trails, but if we ever camp in the area again we will definitely stay there.


Our peaceful campsite near Cincinnati


From there we drove to Columbus, Indiana where Lance had another customer to see.  While he was working on Wednesday, April 13th, I took Abby, Sam, Elise and Ben to the really cool children’s museum they have downtown.  It’s called Kidscommons and the kids and I had visited there once before a few years before when Lance needed to get some work done in Columbus.  The most unique exhibit is the giant toilet that kids can “flush” themselves down.  It’s part of a playhouse designed to teach kids how different things work in a house, like plumbing, heating and cooling, appliances and so on.  There are lots of other neat areas to explore there also.  We happened to be there on a school day and for most of the time we were the only visitors there.  It was so nice having the place to ourselves and it made it a ton easier to keep track of where Ben was.  Sam loved the circuit work table….he literally spent more than 2 hours putting different wires together and experimenting with what would happen.  He loved making the helicopter spin or the doorbell ring just by switching up the combinations of wires.  Ben loved the turtles, the train table and the architect workshop area where you can draw with a cad type program (I know…he’s 2 ½….maybe we have a budding architect on our hands?!?!)  The girls especially loved the art studio where you could use any of the materials they had on hand to create artwork.  We had so much fun that afternoon, if you are ever in the Columbus, Indiana area with kids I would definitely recommend visiting Kidscommons!!


Abby, Sam and Elise getting flushed down the giant toilet!


Elise and Ben painting with watercolors


Abby and Elise both had lots of fun with the hot plate stations where you could put a piece of paper and then draw with crayons on top while they melt.


This was Sam’s favorite spot in the museum, by far!!


Ben the computer whiz!


We all loved the bubble room


I’m not sure why….but Abby and Elise are real experts at playing house with a camper!!

From Columbia we headed…….north!  To Michigan!!!  My sister and I had been planning a surprise party for our parents’ 60th birthdays and the party was set for April 15th.  My mom and dad had no clue that we were coming home for a visit….in fact, I had to do some major lying to them in the time leading up to it because they knew we were in Indiana and they wanted to come visit us.  After some of our kids got sick with a “fake” stomach bug they decided not to meet up with us.  We knew that if they knew we would see them in a few days they wouldn’t want to drive all that way to see us. We got back to Zeeland on Thursday and the party on Friday was a huge success, they were VERY surprised!!  On that Saturday we moved our camper to their driveway and enjoyed the visit……..which lasted MUCH longer than we had planned.  We knew that our camper needed a few repairs and had already scheduled them with the dealer, what we hadn’t anticipated was how long it would take for them to fix them and what else would go wrong… car repairs because of funny noises and a trailer hitch that broke leaving our camper just an inch or so from the ground.  Well, God has perfect timing and even though it was frustrating at times, we were very thankful that everything happened when it did.  At least we had a great place to stay (my parent’s house) while all of the repairs were taking place and at least the hitch hadn’t broken when we were going 65 down a highway somewhere in Pennsylvania….that would have been pretty bad.

We had a great visit home and loved seeing friends and family.  The kids had fun seeing their school friends and even visiting their schools a few different times.  It was also a great time to catch up on some things like doctor appointments and enrolling the kids for school in the fall.


This happened A LOT while we were staying there!!!  A tractor ride with Grandpa is always awesome!!


Ben getting some banjo lessons from his Grandpa Kornoelje


This was a BIG DEAL…..Rose finally started walking!!!  We had been in Michigan about a week when she made the switch from her cute and crazy crawl to a toddling walk!


The kids with my Grandpa and Grandma Wolters


And here we are with my Grandpa and Grandma Haveman


Me and my kiddos on Mother’s Day…love them tons!!  As an added bonus…we got to be in Michigan over Tulip Time and I was able to Dutch Dance with my mom a couple of times on Mother’s Day!


I LOVE dressing up my babies in Dutch costumes!


Ben had a blast wearing his Dutch costume and even dancing with Grandma one night.  He loved the sound his footsteps made while he wore the wooden shoes so much that he walked around in them the whole two hours we were downtown!


While we were home we even tackled a couple of house projects.  Here’s the wrecking crew!  Joe, Josh, Isaac, Sam and Andrew (not in the picture) worked very hard for a Saturday.  They tore down our old fence and even used a jackhammer to break apart some of our sidewalk and load up broken concrete.  They earned their pay that day!

Since the camper issues were taking longer than we had anticipated we decided to take a day trip to Lansing, the capital of Michigan, and even took a tour of the capital building.


Lance and the kids inside the rotunda in the capital


It’s gorgeous inside!  Did you know that the Michigan capital building was the first state capital to have a dome?  It was modeled after the U.S. Capital building in Washington D.C.

We hit the road again on Wednesday, May 25th, and are heading east to finish out the trip with exploring the New England states.  We are excited to see new things and learn new things, but we are also looking forward to rolling back into Zeeland for good in July!

As a side note…..if you want to follow our trip on Instagram just follow Lance, Joe and myself.  @lancekornoelje, @joekorny and @susanekorn


From Florida to The Smokies

We left the Florida Keys on Wednesday, March 16th and made our way north to Sarasota, Florida.  We stayed at a fun campground there called Sun’n’Fun for a couple of nights.  While there we were excited to meet up with Lance’s cousin and his wife and also his aunt and uncle who spend their winters near there on Anna Maria Island.  Ross (Lance’s cousin) is an expert Pickle Ball player and Lance and Joe got to watch him in a match he played at the campground.  Later that afternoon the whole family went to the pool and had fun visiting with Ross and Monica, Uncle Russ and Aunt Chris and Monica’s extended family.  The kids had a great time swimming in the giant pool on such a hot, sunny day.  Later we took a drive to Venice beach to look for shark teeth, but left there empty handed….much to Sam’s disappointment.  We had some dinner and then drove out to Anna Maria Island to end the day with another family visit.  We got to see Uncle Russ and Aunt Chris’ nice condo on the island and watch the sunset from the beach.  Lance and the boys took off after that with Ross and Uncle Russ for some pickle ball lessons.  They had a great time learning the rules and playing some practice games….now they are hooked!  The girls and I went for a walk with Monica and Aunt Chris to get some ice cream.  The boys had the healthier end to the evening, but ours sure was tasty!!!  We said good bye to Ross and Monica and Uncle Russ and Aunt Chris after that, but we sure did enjoy our short visit with them.  Thank you for the hospitality and pickle ball lessons, we hope to see more of you when we get back from our trip!


Joe and Elise with Uncle Russ

On Saturday we drove to Jacksonville and spent a couple nights there. We had intended to only stop for the night and then keep moving, but the campground we ended up at was so much fun we stayed an extra night.  The kids had a blast on the little lake there that had lots on inflatables on it.

On Monday we said good bye to Florida. We spent six weeks in the Sunshine State and enjoyed every minute, but it was time to see what Georgia had to show us.  Our first stop was Fort Frederica National Monument on Saint Simons Island, which was on our way to Savannah.  We had such a great time at the fort.  Their junior ranger program is fabulous!  The kids each received a satchel with different tools, maps and a workbook to use in solving puzzles and completing the scavenger hunt.  It was an excellent way to explore the fort and learn about life there in the 1700’s.


This crazy guy was crazy happy to be out of the car and enjoying the spring weather!!


Elise and Abby ready to begin the scavenger hunt at Fort Frederica


Joe and Ben walking to the fort ruins…what good buddies they are even though there’s 11 1/2 years between them!


Ben, Sam and Joe on one of the old cannons


I love to see the Spanish moss swaying in the breeze


Sam…one of the newest junior rangers of Fort Frederica National Monument


Lance and Rose


The visitors center was a really fun place.  There were colonial games they could play and a large chest of clothes they could try on.  Ben loved the soldier clothes, but he’s too silly to pull off that somber soldier look!

We got to Savannah that Monday evening. The next day we took a trolley ride around the city.  It was a fun way to learn the history of the city and some fun stories and trivia too.  Lance and I enjoyed the trolley ride along with the four older kids, but I don’t think we will do that again with Ben and Rose….they got too wiggly and (believe it or not) didn’t really care about the history of Savannah!  I loved the beautiful historic buildings and the many parks and squares where people can enjoy a little bit of green in the middle of the city.  After getting back to the trailer we took off for Charleston, South Carolina.  We arrived later that evening and set up camp in a KOA near the city.


Joe and Rose on the trolley ride


The kids and me on the trolley.  It was a fun way to see Savannah!

On Wednesday we went to Boone Hall Plantation. We had a little homeschool lesson on slavery in the south and also the Underground Railroad while driving there.  Then we learned more about the living conditions of slaves while at the plantation.  There was a row of sparsely furnished slave houses that you could go into that helped us understand what things would have been like 150 years ago.  We also took a tour of the plantation mansion.  We enjoyed seeing the beautiful house, but were a little disappointed that the tour only showed you four rooms and there was a lot more house left that you couldn’t see.  It was a gorgeous spring day and we wandered a little around the grounds too.  We saw a small field of cotton, horses grazing and the flower gardens.  In the end, it was a very nice day and we had fun, but we wouldn’t go back to that same plantation.  The kids (and us too) did learn a little more about slaves’ lives so all in all it was a success.  We stayed near Charleston for a couple more days and Lance and I even had the opportunity to go on a date night in the city. We had a nice evening walking downtown a little and through a street market before enjoying a delicious dinner.


It’s pretty impressive to drive up the driveway lined with these majestic oak trees.


Abby and Joe in front of the plantation house


Ben loved climbing on the trees


The row of slave houses


This one was set up as it might have looked for the slave’s church


Elise with her handful of cotton that she just picked


A quaint street in Charleston that Lance and I saw while walking around the city

On Saturday, March 26th, we drove to Columbia, South Carolina to see the capital.  It was a delightful day and the flowers were out in full bloom, especially the rhododendron and the azaleas.  The capital was one of the prettiest ones we’ve seen and across the street was an Episcopal church.  Some of the church members were decorating the inside and outside for Easter (which was the next day) and they welcomed us in to see.  The church was gorgeous, even without all of the Easter Lilies they were placing around the church.  The older gentleman who was sharing some interesting information with us about the church’s history was so sweet.  He told us about the stained glass windows and how they depicted Jesus’ life and also some of the Apostles.  He showed us what was original and what had been added on over the years since the church was built in 1846.  My favorite story that he told us was about the Civil War.  We had asked if the church had been damaged in the war and he said that no, it hadn’t because General Sherman, who was the general for the Union army was Episcopalian so he made sure to keep his cannons aimed in a different direction than the church.  When the Union army did enter Columbia, though, they sought out the First Baptist church.  They wanted to destroy it because that is where the unanimous vote for South Carolina to secede from the Union had taken place.  When they arrived at the church they were directed by the Baptist sexton to a church a few blocks away which happened to be the Methodist church.  So the army continued on to what they believed was the Baptist church and set fire to it…..problem was, they were mistaken and had actually just destroyed the Washington Street Methodist church.  The First Baptist church building survived the war just fine, but it did so because of a lie.  Anyway, I found the stories quite fascinating and I wished we could have stayed longer, but it was time to take off for Raleigh, North Carolina.


Spring has sprung in South Carolina!


Can you find the Rose hidden in the Azaleas??


Ben was having fun hiding in the flowers and chasing Robins!


Trinity Church, the church was established in 1812 and the building was erected in 1846


Some of the beautiful stained glass windows


And the beautiful sanctuary

In Raleigh we stayed at a campground outside of the city. The next morning we were looking forward to attending an Easter service at Southbridge Fellowship which is where a high school friend of Lance’s is the pastor.  A very unique thing about Southbridge is that they meet in a movie theater.  The nurseries and children’s classes were all in different theaters as well as the service.  They must have an army of volunteers each Sunday to set things up for church and then to have it all removed in time for the theater to open after lunch to show movies.  It was a great service remembering Jesus’ incredible sacrifice for us by dying on the cross and then also celebrating his glorious resurrection.

After church we stopped by the North Carolina state capital building. It looked very much like the one in Columbia, South Carolina, but it was a drizzly day so we weren’t able to enjoy exploring the outside like we had hoped.  From there we headed to dinner….no traditional ham dinner for us this year.  We headed to a Japanese Hibachi restaurant and had a fun meal there.  After dinner we picked up the camper and drove to Asheville, North Carolina.

We only stayed in Asheville for one night. On Monday Joe, Abby and I got to go to Biltmore Estate.  We did the self-guided tour and very much enjoyed it.  The mansion is very impressive with over 200 rooms (we weren’t allowed in all of them) and beautiful antique furnishings.  We wandered around the main floor with its impressive formal dining room, tapestry room and the library, which was my favorite room.  We went upstairs to see the bedrooms of the owner and his wife along with some of the many guest rooms, each with their own bathroom which was quite extraordinary for that time.  Then we headed to the basement where we saw the servant’s rooms, kitchen, bowling alley and indoor swimming pool.  We had a wonderful lunch in the restaurant they have in the former stables and then enjoyed a walk through some of the expansive gardens on the estate.  The spring bulbs were in bloom and we even stopped to smell the hyacinths on our way to the conservatory.  It was a great day and we left there very tired from all of the exploring.  I also really enjoyed hanging out with just Joe and Abby, it doesn’t happen very often that we can do that and I loved getting to talk and laugh with just them…..they’re pretty fun kids!


Me with my fellow tourists in front of the Biltmore Estate


The Library….it was so impressive and impossible to capture the grandeur in only one photo.


The cheerful conservatory…this is where I would spend many hours during the winter time if I lived there!


The formal dining room.  There was also an exhibit set up on wedding dresses in the movies so almost each room had a display set up showing some of the gowns that were from movies depicting times gone by.


The indoor swimming pool.


Some of the pretty spring flowers in bloom that we saw while walking around the gardens.


The stables turned restaurant where we had a fabulous lunch!

We left the Biltmore later in the afternoon and then we all headed out for Gatlinburg, Tennessee across the Smokey Mountains. It was a nice drive and we could see spring popping along the way in new leaves and flowering trees.  We got to our campground around supper time and right away the kids set off to explore and they were not disappointed.  There was a really cool playground, a hammock grove and a nice creek right behind our campsite.  Ben was especially enthralled with the creek….he loved to watch the water and throw rocks into it, one after another.  He was having so much fun that it was hard to get him to stop when it was dinner time.


The boys playing by the creek behind our campsite

On Tuesday, March 29th, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We headed right for Cade’s Cove which is an 11 mile one way loop through a valley and settlement from the 1800s.  As you drive you go past many historic buildings and the best part is that you can stop and go inside any of them that you want to.  We first came to an old log cabin that was about ¼ mile off of the road.  We parked the car to take a walk to the cabin and check out the inside.  After we did that we headed to the creek that was behind the cabin and this is where we spent a good chunk of time.  Lance and the older boys had lots of fun hauling logs and rocks to the water to build a dam, Abby and Elise pretended to be Indians in the woods, Rose crawled all around and got nice and dirty and Ben liked to see how many times he could cross the creek on logs and rocks without getting wet (not very many!!).  We finally left there and walked back to the car to continue our ride.  The next place we got to was a small church.  Lance and Rose stayed in the car since she needed a snack, but the other kids and I went into the church where they proceeded to pretend to have a mini church service.  After that we wandered through the cemetery behind the church and read many of the gravestones.  When we got back into the car after that we were all getting a little tired so we drove for a while and just looked from the car as we passed old homesteads and buildings.  We had been told to keep an eye out for bears, but we didn’t see any of those.  We did spot some wildlife though….a few deer in a field and also a wolf.  We were pretty excited about that!  After we had had a little rest we came upon a larger house and barn that looked pretty neat so we had to get out of the car there.  The house was a bit bigger than any we had seen yet on the loop with more rooms and a more spacious upstairs.  There were a couple small outbuildings and then a really cool cantilever barn where the kids climbed the ladder and explored the barn loft.  By this time it was supper time and we had two babies who hadn’t taken naps yet that day so we needed to leave the park and head for home, but it sure was a beautiful spring day to see the park.  I would love to go back one day, I’m sure there’s much more to see!


The first log cabin that we stopped at


Elise posing by the creek


Sam climbed a few trees!


Joe and Sam building the dam….Ben makes a great supervisor!


The small church we stopped at.  They actually still use the building today for special services.


Ben attending an impromptu church service


Joe and Ben in front of the Cantilever barn


Ben and Rosemary on a pretend ride in the wagon


Ben found a little outbuilding that was just his size


I had to post this pic….you can’t tell, but Sam is actually soaking wet!  This was just after he called to Lance and me “Hey Mom, hey Dad!!  Look!  Watch this!!”  and then he proceeded to use the branches over the creek as monkey bars until one broke at the most inopportune time and he landed on his back in the very cold water!  I’m so glad that he had told us to watch so that we happened to see it all.  It was hilarious and we were all (including Sam!) laughing about it for quite a while!

One thing Gatlinburg is not lacking are pancake restaurants.  It’s kind of a specialty there so of course we had to give one a try.  After reading some reviews we chose The Pancake Pantry and had a delicious breakfast.  Everyone enjoyed their pancakes and crepes.  After a hearty breakfast we found a place for Lance and Joe to get tattoos…..don’t worry…..they were henna tattoos!


Ben loved being near the creek whenever possible!


Breakfast at The Pancake Pantry


Joe’s henna tattoo of a cobra

On Wednesday we tried something new and a bit crazy!! We went to a place called the Outdoor Gravity Park and Lance and the four older kids all went for rides down a big hill in what looks like giant hamster balls.  They had a blast and would have done it again and again, but the line was too long so long we couldn’t wait around.  I got video of each of them rolling down the hill and Joe, Lance and Abby were also each holding a GoPro to capture what the ride was like from the inside.  It looked like a pretty crazy ride…next time I will join them!


Lance, Joe, Abby, Sam and Elise after their zorb rides down the hill.  They are wet because there is water inside the balls to keep them from getting too hot.

On Thursday we left the camper in the campground near Gatlinburg and drove a few hours north to Lexington, Kentucky. Our kids were under the impression that Lance had an unexpected meeting come up with a customer in Lexington so we all were going with him to enjoy a night in a hotel…..what was really happening had been in the works for weeks and we were excited to spring a great surprise on them!  We stopped in Frankfort, Kentucky to see the capital first and then drove to Lexington and checked into the hotel.  We ordered pizza and we waited…and waited….and waited.  Soon after the pizza came we had a knock on our hotel door and when the kids answered it the joyful squeals started!  Our very good friends, the Harrelson family, met up with us there for the night and we were all elated to see them.  Their four kids’ ages match up pretty perfectly for Joe, Abby, Sam and Ben.  After lots of hugs we had some pizza and then the kids split up….boys in one family’s room and girls in the other for their sleepovers.  Our four older kids didn’t get much sleep that night, but they definitely had their fill of fun!  The next day, after some breakfast and basketball and pickle ball and lots of chatting, we hugged our good byes, they resumed their spring break travels and we headed back to our camper in Gatlinburg.


Enjoying some playtime outside after their sleepovers


Elise and Gretta


Abby and Bekah


All of the kids together…we love spending time with the Harrelsons and have gone on trips together before.  When we are all together we call our group The Kornelsons!

One thing we had been looking forward to since the beginning of the trip last June was going zip lining in the Smoky Mountains. When it came right down to it I opted to stay with Ben and Rose….someone had to and, let’s be honest, it sounds a little scary!  Lance and the four olders had a great time on their zip lining adventure.


Abby ready for her turn


Sam zipping away!


They survived!!!

That concludes our adventures from Florida all the way to the Great Smoky Mountains….from there we headed to Atlanta and beyond.


The Florida Keys

This entry will be about my favorite section of our trip so far…..The Florida Keys.

As we drove down through Florida we met up with my mom and dad just south of Orlando. How exciting to see them again and know that they would be camping with us for more than two weeks!!  We started crossing bridge after bridge, passing island after island and the water just seemed to get more clear and aqua blue the farther we drove.  Our home for the next four weeks (February 15-March 16) was on Knight’s Key in Marathon which is right in the middle of all of the keys.  Our campsite had mangroves right behind it and the ocean beyond that.  It was warm and sunny and humid and we were ready to just enjoy being in one place for the next month.


Sam really wanted to do a project so the guys went to the hardware store to get supplies and before we knew it we had a cute little picnic table….just right for Ben and Rose. 


Ben loved that little table.  When we left we gave it to the church and he cried as we left the parking lot, sobbing for his table.

The first two weeks we were there we enjoyed hanging out with my parents and also exploring the keys with them. The kids loved riding their bikes over to Grandpa and Grandma’s or taking Rosie (their dog) for walks.  There was a large iguana that lived in the tree in my parent’s site so it was fun to try to spot him and also the smaller and faster lizards that quickly scurried around.  The campground had a harbor on one side of it and it was a great place to watch the pelicans and to see what the fishermen had caught (which is also why the pelicans were hanging out there).


We saw quite a few of these guys on the islands


Our campground had a nice clubhouse and the kids loved to go there to hang out….they would do puzzles, work on their school work and play lots of pool and ping pong.


Ben and Rose watching the pelicans that came to watch the fishermen clean their fish

One day we went to check out Key West. We bought a Key Lime pie and all sat at some outdoor tables to share it.  We also walked through the town to the southernmost point in the USA.  After that we found a beach nearby and cooled off in the water.


Enjoying our Key Lime Pie in Key West


Ben outside “Kermit’s” where you can find the best key lime pie in the keys


Everyone at the southernmost point in the USA, 90 miles from Cuba

Another day we chartered a catamaran boat for a few hours and got to sail to a lone island. We waded through the crystal clear water to explore the island, it was kind of neat to be the only ones there.   The kids also did a little snorkeling near the boat and saw a huge orange starfish.


All aboard and ready for our “three hour tour”


Grandma and Rosemary


We had fun watching the water zip by while looking through the net


This is the closest the boat could get to the island so we waded in, the water was pretty shallow


Elise did a little snorkeling near the boat and found this awesome starfish…..don’t worry, she was very careful to put it right back where she found it.


Grandpa and Ben

We loved having our bikes to ride around the campground and the island. We took a ride one day to get sno-cones.  It was a first for our kids and they loved them.  We also took a couple rides out on the 7 mile bridge which was right by our campground.  If it was a calm day then the water was extra clear and one day we were out on the bridge and saw a huge sting ray, a sea turtle and even a shark.


Enjoying some sno-cones after a bike ride on a hot day


Elise and Grandpa riding bikes on the seven mile bridge

While camping near us, my parents did us a HUGE favor and took care of the kids while Lance and I had a night away. We left our kids (who became more angelic with each mile we drove) in good hands and took off for a night at a resort in Key West.  We REALLY enjoyed our time away.  We sat on the beach and read books, went out for a delicious (and quiet) dinner and slept in without being woken up by babies crawling on us.  It was a fabulous getaway and just what we needed.  Thank you Mom and Dad!!


Enjoying a nice dinner on our night away….he still makes my heart skip a beat!

While in Marathon we were blessed to find a great church to attend. Calvary Baptist Church is a small church with a huge heart!  They warmly welcomed us and allowed us to be a part of their church family for our time in the keys.  We really loved being able to attend the same church, even for a little while, it was so nice to have some predictability. It was also really great to get more involved, even though it was for such a short time.  If we ever move to Marathon (which I would be in favor of!!) then we know they are a church we would love to be a part of.

What’s a trip to the keys without enjoying the beach???? We went to a few, but my favorite by far was at Bahia Honda State Park.  It was about 15 minutes away from the campground.  We spent quite a few (but not near enough!!) days camped out on the sand and splashing in the clear blue water.  The water stayed shallow for quite a while so it was perfect for Ben’s little legs and Rose could crawl all around in the water without it getting in her face.  A couple different days we rented kayaks and had fun paddling around.  We all loved it there!


Ben and Rose doing some digging


We had fun celebrating my mom’s birthday with a nice dinner out and a day at the beach


Ready to set sail……doesn’t it look like Ben is gazing off into the distance and daydreaming of great adventures to be had out on his boat?


Joe, the super cool big brother, and Rose, his little sidekick

Before my mom and dad left we fit in a snorkeling trip which was so cool. It was a beautiful sunny and hot day….perfect for a boat ride to the reef.  We saw lots of pretty different fish and even a couple sea turtles.  We also saw quite a few Barracuda which freaked us out a little bit, but the captain reassured everyone that we were fine.  The kids shared an underwater camera and had fun taking pictures, most turned out a little blurry, but a few are definitely keepers.  It was a really nice day.


Ready for some snorkeling


Sam and Elise swimming with some yellow tail snapper


Here’s a cool shot of a sea turtle swimming around by the reef


Sam underwater


Here you can see some fish, including a barracuda


Sam really liked Marvin, the parrot who hung out by the boats

On Thursday, February 18th, it was time for my parents to leave.  We decided to have one more adventure with them and drove to the mainland where we all went on an airboat ride in the Everglades.  We saw a few alligators, some of them babies, while out on the boat.  We also watched a show with alligators and other animals that was pretty interesting.  The kids, once again, had the chance to hold a small alligator.  Rose was so excited to watch them move around, but when we held up the baby alligator for her to tough she shrunk back as far as she could.  We had a good time, but soon it was time to say good bye to my mom and dad.  After a couple rounds of hugs (and a few tears, since we would not be seeing them again until July) they drove away and we left to head back to Marathon.


Lance and Rose ready for the airboat ride to start


The boat ride was LOUD….so earplugs and ear phones were a must


Joe checking out the baby alligator in the water


We all enjoyed the little gator show after the boat ride


Sam enjoyed every minute!


Ben was a little more hesitant this time around


And Rose was definitely NOT going to touch this baby alligator!


Elise and the peacock that wandered around the park


Ben on an airboat


One last group pic by a giant Banyan tree

It’s a good thing we had such an amazing place to go back to, it helped take my mind off of my mom and dad’s departure! For the next two weeks we went to the state park beach often.  Sam and Elise would often meet other kids their age and go looking for hermit crabs together.  Then they would all put their catches in little habitats they made.  Sometimes they would catch 7 or 8 before the end of the day when they would let them go.  Lance and Joe played a lot of catch with the football out in the shallow water.  Abby enjoyed reading her book while sitting on a chair in the water.  Ben and Rose had fun playing with sand toys on the beach and in the water and also watching whatever creatures Sam and Elise had caught.  I just loved being in the warm sun, reading and watching the kids play in such a beautiful place.


Elise loved building castles


Ben watching the hermit crabs in one of the many “habitats” that Sam, Elise and their friends made to keep the crabs in

Lance took Abby, Sam and Elise snorkeling again one day.  They had a great time and saw quite a few fish, including more barracuda.  They also got to see dolphins while on the boat ride which was pretty neat.

While we stayed in Marathon it was Abby’s turn to have her Christmas present activity.  Since we only have one car on this trip we rented a car….and since we were in a tropical paradise the car we rented was a Mustang convertible.  We had a blast driving next to the water and over the bridges with the top down on our way to Miami for a girl’s night away.  We stayed in a hotel, had mani/pedis and did some shopping.  It was a great time away with her and we had lots of fun together.


Me and my girl enjoying our ride with the top down.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take any other pics on our time away….but our nails sure were pretty!


I’m not sure which one of these two was more sad to see the convertible be returned at the end of our rental

At the campground we happened to be there at the same time that the Horseshoe Crabs came onto the beach to mate and lay their eggs…how lucky right??  Ben loved to go and watch them burrow into the sand and do their thing.  He would often pet the back of the male crab that was sticking out of the sand.  Sometimes we could count 25 or so crabs at once.  It was interesting….but when Ben asked us what they were doing we did not take the opportunity to turn it into a homeschool health science lesson!


Ben checking on the Horseshoe crabs

On Saturday, March 5th, Joe ran the Sombrero Beach 5K in Marathon.  He did great and placed first for his age group.   It was fun to see him get a medal for a job well done!  Abby and I did the 5K walk so we got our exercise in for the day too!


All ready for the 5K to begin


Joe and his 1st place medal


As we were waiting for Joe’s age group to be announced I was trying to find Elise and we all of a sudden realized that she was up in the front with the organizers.  The announcer introduced her and where she was from and we were just watching, thinking….what??  How did she get so involved so quickly?  I guess we’re locals now, she had fun handing out medals for more than half an hour!

On Sunday, March 13th, we packed in a lot of fun things after church.  We drove to Big Pine Key which was about 30 minutes away and went to a flea market there.  A couple at the campground had recommended it to us and we thought it sounded fun to check out.  It was almost closing time when we got there, but quite a few vendors were still open.  There were a few cool things to look at and also a lot of junk.  I did find a treasure though….a booth that had all little air plants hanging in cute little containers.  I bought a couple to be a souvenir of our time in the keys.  So far they are still alive!  After the flea market we went to see the Key Deer.  They look like regular white tail deer, but much smaller.  We drove up and down some streets that surrounded a preserve for them and we did see a few of them.  They were pretty cute, and pretty tame as well.  We stayed in the car, but they would just stand there in the road while you drove around them.  While driving back towards Marathon we were going right past Bahia Honda so we decided to stop for a bit and cool off in the water.  When you’re in the keys you should always keep a swimsuit and towel in the car….it quite often came in very handy!!


Elise checking out the flea market



One of the Key Deer right near our car

On one of the last days that we were in Marathon Lance, Abby, Sam and Elise all went shark fishing. They had an amazing time!  Captain Scott took them out on a smaller boat and actually put down the anchor right near the 7 mile bridge and not very far from our campground.  They went at night since that’s when sharks like to eat.  Using fish heads from what had been caught earlier in the day they caught 7 sharks.  Four were Lemon sharks and three were Nurse sharks.  The Nurse sharks got to be pretty big….one was 7 feet long and one was about 8-9 feet long.  Those big ones made them work for it….lots of muscle and about half an hour to reel in.  Once they were up on the boat they would take out the hook, snap a few pictures and throw them back in.  They had so much fun….Lance says that it was his favorite adventure yet on this trip.


Some of my favorite people


Sam with Captain Scott and one of the lemon sharks


Reeling in a big one…this was one of the nurse sharks

On Wednesday, March 16th, we packed up and said good bye to the keys.  It was hard to leave, it had been such a wonderful month!  I hope that we get back there many times in the years to come, I just loved it!


A beautiful sunset over the seven mile bridge

Time to head north…..





Louisiana To Florida

On January 22 we left Arkansas and drove south into Louisiana. Our whole family are big fans of the show “Duck Dynasty” so we wanted to explore West Monroe a little bit.  We camped there for a few nights and had fun checking out some of the places you see in the show.  Our first night there we went to Excalibur Family Fun Center which is like a Chuck E. Cheese….you use tokens to play games and you eat mediocre pizza.  It was pretty fun though!  One morning we picked up donuts at Haskell’s Donuts and they were delicious!!!  A trip to West Monroe wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Duck Commander warehouse and then on Sunday we attended White Ferry Baptist Church which is also where the Robertsons go.  We did see quite a few members of their family there which was pretty cool, but we liked the church even more for what it was….very welcoming, enthusiastic in worship and a Bible preaching church.  We would definitely go back if we are ever in that part of Louisiana again.


Excalibur Family Fun Center


Our family at the Duck Commander Warehouse  (Ben doesn’t usually wear Lance’s white t-shirt, but diapers don’t always do their job and then it becomes necessary to wear other clothes!)


Lance didn’t actually talk to Willie….it just looks like they are best of friends!

After leaving West Monroe we crossed into Jackson, Mississippi to see their capital. We only stayed one night there and then went back into Louisiana.  We headed south to Baton Rouge for a stop at the capital.  There was quite a bit of construction going on near the capital building so we ended up parking with the camper a couple of blocks away at a spot that happened to be right in front of the governor’s mansion.  We walked as close as we could to the capital and did the picture thing and then started back to the car.  The kids had lots of energy from being in the car for a few hours so they were running all around on the grass and chasing birds.  Next thing we know Ben is playing and climbing on the fence that surrounds the governor’s mansion.  Within about one minute we had secret service vehicles boxing in our car and camper and three guys in black suits asking us who we were and what we were doing.  After answering their questions and them realizing that we were not a threat (except to peace and quiet!) they got a little less stern and asked us about our trip.  We left there with two bags of freshly made chocolate chip cookies from the governor’s chef which we enjoyed while driving to New Orleans.


The Governor’s Mansion in Louisiana


The would-be intruder

We camped just outside of New Orleans and were very excited to have Lance’s parents and sister meet up with us there. We looked forward to exploring the city together.  First we did some driving by the pretty historic houses and then stopped to walk through an old cemetery.  After that we parked downtown and walked around the French Quarter, Bourbon Street and Jackson Square.  We really enjoyed listening to the street musicians, especially Ben….we could hardly pull him away.  Joe even sat down and played his tuba for awhile….he ended up with $3 in his Zeeland Chix hat when he was done.  We ended our time downtown with beignets  from the famous Café Du Monde .  It was a delicious way to end our day in New Orleans.



Elise walking through the cemetery


Three generations of Kornoeljes….so cute!


Our favorite musicians


Our family on Bourbon Street


This guy had Ben, Elise and Abby dancing


Joe playing his tuba with Sam holding the music


Aunt Alecia with Ben saying HI to the horses


The whole crew at the end of the day

On Friday we went on a swamp boat ride. We saw a few alligators out in the wild, lots of turtles , pretty birds and some pretty big fish.  The captain of the boat took out a huge snapping turtle shell and alligator head for everyone to touch and pass around.  Then he pulled out a real alligator that we all had a chance to hold.  Ben was so exicted…..I’m pretty sure that alligator never got so many hugs as he did from Ben that day!  Sam was having the time of his life too, later he told us that the boat ride was his favorite thing so far on this road trip!


Starting out on the boat ride


There’s an alligator in the water right in the middle of the picture


Ben caught feeding the alligator cheetos


I would guess that this alligator has never felt so loved!


Sam in his glory!


Elise helping Ben wear the snapping turtle shell

Well, Mardi Gras was just getting started in New Orleans so it was time for those of us with young children to get out of town!  We drove to Mobile, Alabama for one night and then on to Montgomery the next day to see the capital.  We really wanted to teach the kids a little about civil rights while there.  Lance did a short history lesson as we drove to Selma, Alabama.  We all learned a lot about Bloody Sunday and the courageous people there who got back on that bridge afterwards and bravely walked across.   ***Just as a sidenote….Lance and I watched the movie “Selma” to preview it and then watched it again with Joe and Abby.  Even though it has some bad language and some very violent scenes, we felt it was a great way for them to see what life in the south would have been like for black people back then and also how important MLK and the march were in the fight for civil rights.


While in Mobile we went to Lambert’s for dinner….home of the throwed rolls


Lance ordered frog legs for everyone to try….by the look on Sam’s face I think we can assume that he was a little grossed out!


The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama


Walking across the bridge


Sam and Elise checking our a mural at a memorial park near the bridge

After leaving Alabama it was time to enter the Sunshine State….Florida! And, boy were we ready for that!!  We stayed one night in Tallahassee to see the capital and then headed down to Orlando.  Lance’s parents and sister stayed with us for a few more nights there.  Before they headed home we were able to meet up with Lance’s brother and his family.  They happened to be on a short vacation to Clearwater, Florida.  Before meeting them for supper we went to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for the afternoon and had fun seeing sea turtles, otters and sting rays….but the highlight was seeing the dolphins.  Winter and Hope are the inspiration for the movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2.  We had fun watching a show with a different dolphin and left there A LOT more wet than when we arrived!


Rosemary on the dolphin


Ben was loving this turtle


Hope is the dolphin on the left, Winter is on the right


Sam asked them to make the dolphin splash….and boy did he get wet!!


Touching the sting rays


Lovely cousins

The next morning we said good bye to Rich, Barb and Alecia and they started their drive back to snowy Michigan.

On Friday morning Elise woke up with an extra spring in her step and very quickly was ready for the day….her motivation???? It was her special day, the day Lance was taking her to the Magic Kingdom for her Christmas present!  They were there all day and managed to fit in quite a bit….a trip to the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique to have her hair and make-up done, riding all of her top choice rides and having dinner with Cinderella and her princess friends in the castle.  She came home exhausted, but so very happy!



At the beginning of her wonderful day


Elise enjoying the rides at the Magic Kingdom


Elise and Cinderella

The next week was a really nice one. We had gotten a good deal on a house for rent in Kissimmee so we moved in there on Saturday.  What a nice treat to have a break from trailer living and we were all very content to just retreat to different areas of the house and enjoy some solitude (a very rare thing in the camper!).  Lance needed to fly to Kansas City for much of that week for a customer visit. The kids and I missed him, but  just enjoyed the house and pool in sunny Florida without him.  We sure were glad to have him back home at the end of that week though!


Enjoying the pool at our house for the week


Reading books together


In the camper we don’t really bake because the oven doesn’t cook very evenly so it was really nice to make some chocolate chip cookies…..this guy couldn’t wait!

On Saturday, February 13th, we had to leave the house and move back into our camper.  We stayed one more night in a campground near Orlando and then started driving south.  I’ll tell you all about it next time…….

New Mexico & Beyond

After Tombstone, on January 6th, we drove east to Las Cruses, New Mexico. We had intended to start with Santa Fe and then head  south, but it was cold and snowy in northern New Mexico so we didn’t want to pull the trailer around up there.  While camping in Las Cruses Lance and the four older kids went to White Sands National Monument.  It’s a unique spot with rolling hills of only white sand.  They brought some sleds and did some sledding on the big hills.  When they came home they were excited to tell me all about it, they had a great time!


They even saw a rainbow while at White Sands National Monument


Abby and Elise ready to go!


Lance got in on the sledding too!

We ended up leaving our camper in Las Cruses while we drove up to Santa Fe.  We arrived in Santa Fe on January 8th and checked into a hotel for the next couple of nights.

The next day was a special one for Sam… was his Christmas present activity and he was VERY excited! That boy loves snowboarding and, even though he hasn’t gone very many times, he has no fear and is pretty good at it.  He and Lance took a shuttle to a ski area in the mountains about an hour away and spent the day together there.  They came back that night pretty tired, but with lots of fun stories and memories.




Sam and Lance had a great day on the slopes together!

The next day we stopped to see the capital and drove around a historic area of Santa Fe. We had hoped to spend a couple of days exploring the old town, but with the yucky weather we settled for the view from our  car window.  We headed south, back to Las Cruces to pick up our camper, but stopped on the way in Truth or Consequences.  It’s a small town between Albequerque and Las Cruces and we were intriqued with the name.  Turns out the story behind the name isn’t as interesting as we assumed it would be, but it was still a nice place to stop and stretch our legs.IMG_8440IMG_8444

Some of the adobe buildings we saw in Santa Fe


Now our kids have been to Truth or Consequences 🙂


After hitching up the trailer we kept driving into the night. We don’t drive somewhere new every day, but when we do we like to keep the time in the car to around 4 hours or less.  That way we have much of the day left to enjoy where we are and it also means we don’t have to travel with crabby kids as often!  This time, however, we just kept on driving.  If you’ve ever driven through Texas it doesn’t take long to realize…..hey, this state is HUGE!!  Since we didn’t leave with the camper until bedtime and the babies were falling asleep anyway we decided to just keep on trucking.  Lance even got us a few hours past our goal for the night and we finally pulled over around 3:00am.  Morning came quickly, but it sure was nice to know we would be arriving in San Antonio much earlier than we had anticipated.

We stayed at a nice KOA in San Antonio. Our site was right across from the playground and not too far from the downtown area and all the things we wanted to see.

I had read about some unique restaurants in the San Antonio area and that first night in town we decided to try one of them.  Chacho’s & Chalucci’s is a Mexican restaurant, but what makes it really special is the humungous indoor playground that kids can explore while you wait for your food.  I had also read that they have a big indoor soccer field, but that was not open while we were there.  Abby, Sam, Elise and Ben all were kept busy playing there before we ate and after we were done.  One thing they are famous for is their nachos plate.  It’s the largest plate of nachos I’ve ever seen piled high with chips, meat and different kinds of cheese.  Lance and Joe ordered one to split for dinner, but they could barely make a dent in it.


I think Rose’s eyes were bigger than her stomach!

The next morning we went to LuLu’s Café where they are famous for their gigantic cinammin rolls.  Each one is 3 ½ pounds of delicious soft roll and gooey frosting.  We ordered two for all of us to share and, once again, there was a lot left.


This is all for me?  Thanks guys!


Ready to dig in!

After breakfast (or maybe I should call it The Sugar Coma) we went to the Alamo and Riverwalk. We had been listening to a book on CD about Davey Crockett on the way to San Antonio so it was especially interesting to then go and see where the battle took place and picture the fight going on.  We didn’t spend a lot of time on the Riverwalk since Ben and Rose were getting pretty cranky and tired.  We instead drove around a bit through the historic district and admired the big old houses.  After that we went to San Jaun’s Mission which is part of a National Park that connects five missions together with trails.  This ended up being our favorite site for the day.  The ruins were really cool to walk through or play tag in, both of which happened while we were there.  Since it was such a nice warm and sunny day we spread out a blanket and had some snacks and soaked up the sunshine.  There was also a little chapel which is still used for services to this day and we were able to check that out too.


Our family in front of The Alamo.  You weren’t allowed to take pictures inside so that’s why we don’t have very many.


Rose and me in front of the chapel at San Juan’s Mission which is part of the Missions National Historic Park


Ben….I guess he’s waiting for church to start 🙂

Now, when you see where we went for supper that evening you are going to think that all we did in San Antonio was eat, eat, eat….. It just so happens that along with huge plates of nachos and gigantic cinnamon rolls there are also pizzas bigger than we had EVER seen!  At Big Lou’s Pizza they are known for their BIG pizzas and we had to check that out so we ordered one pizza for all of us to share.  As we waited at our table we saw a few getting brought out to other tables and we watched in amazement as the pizza took over the table with little room left for plates or drinks.  Finally it was our turn and the 42 inch (yes, that’s right…42 inches!!!) pizza was brought to our table.  The looks on our kids’ faces were priceless!  We all dug in, but just like with the nachos and the cinnamon rolls….we had a lot left.  In this case we took home more than half of the pizza.  That capped off our adventures for the day, we were tired out and headed home to bed.


That’s a BIG pizza!!

After San Antonio we drove north, to Waco. I had been eagerly anticipating this stop because I am a huge fan of the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” and Chip and Joanna Gaines.  They have a store in Waco that I couldn’t wait to check out called Magnolia Market and The Silos.  We got to Waco on Thursday, January 14 and decided to drive by Magnolia, even though we were planning on me going for a longer period of time the next day.  We had fun looking around a little bit and even though we thought we would run into Chip and Joanna at any second, we never did!  After that we took a drive out to Crawford, Texas which is where President George and Laura Bush’s ranch is.  We were able to drive up to the gates and that’s about it….from there Lance had a great chat with the secret service agent manning the gate.


Lance by the Crawford, Texas sign


Lance and his new friend….the secret service agent

The next day Abby and I set out for a fun day of shopping at Magnolia!! We happened to be there when they were having a “scratch & dent” sale so they opened up a large storage area filled with those items.  What fun we had looking through things and finding our treasures!  Abby bought a small glass candle holder and I bought a hanging chalkboard, various small vases with a tray, a very pretty butter dish and a couple of t-shirts.  After checking out, we headed outside to their lawn area.  There are several food vendor trucks set up there and lots of picnic tables.  It was a beautiful day so we shared a crepe while enjoying the sunshine.  After we left there we drove to HARP design.  We didn’t go inside, but just stopped and took a couple of pictures.  What a fun day we had!!


The warehouse area where the sale was going on


Some pics of the regular store


Abby and me at Magnolia


After doing some shopping


Our crepe and some of the food trucks in the background


The garden area at Magnolia was pretty too

We drove to Dallas next. I stayed home with Ben and Rose since they had colds, but Lance and the other kids got to go to church at Stonebriar Community Church which is where Chuck Swindoll is a pastor.  Lance said it was a little surreal hearing a voice that’s so familiar and finally putting it with a face.

From Dallas we stayed one night in Texarkana, which is where we were all excited to meet up with my mom and dad….Yeah!!!! They had been visiting my brother and his family in Colorado so it was a spur of the moment idea for them to meet up with us and I’m so glad they did!

We caravanned together to Arkansas on Monday, January 18th . Our first stop was at the Crater of Diamonds State Park.  This had been on Sam’s wish list of stops since before we left last June!  That boy is completely in his element when panning, digging, or chipping away rock with a hammer all in search of gems, gold or just pretty stones.  If you find any diamonds at the state park you may keep them and there is a list of notable finds that was pretty impressive.  Sam’s hopes were high! It was a cloudy and very cool day to be there.   All of the other kids were done after about 45 minutes….but not Sam!  He spent about 5 hours hunting for diamonds and closed the place down.  Unfortunately, we left empty handed.  Sam was disappointed, but still had a very good day, now he says he wants to move to Arkansas when he grows up so he can go there whenever he wants!


Sam out there busy with his pick ax


Sam, Lance, Rosie the dog and my dad all on the hunt for diamonds

Our next capital to see was Little Rock. Our camper needed some repairs so we had a great excuse to stay in a hotel.  My parents stayed at the same one and we had fun in Little Rock together.  They left on Thursday to head back to Michigan.


Abby, Elise and my mom playing Ticket To Ride at the hotel


Grandpa playing trucks with Ben


My mom and sleepy Rose

Abby and I enjoy the show “19 Kids and Counting” and she so badly wanted to meet them. After her emails and letters went unanswered we decided to just drive to Tontitown and see what we could see.  It was 3 hours away from where we were staying in Little Rock and Abby and I enjoyed our own mini road trip.  We found the Duggar’s house and could even see them building a tree house.  Unfortunately, we didn’t run into any Duggars while in town, but it was good time with my {little} girl.


The Duggar’s house

So, I know I’m VERY behind on these updates…I’m writing about what happened in January and it’s already the beginning of April, but I am determined to catch up in the next few weeks!! Just you watch!

Mexico and Arizona

After leaving San Diego we drove into Arizona on December 12th.  Our camper needed some repairs so we left it with a dealer in Phoenix and then drove south, into Mexico.  We had gotten a fabulous deal on a condo near Puerto Penasco right on the Gulf of California.  While at the resort we enjoyed the many different activities available, but our favorite part was all of the space!!  A small, two-bedroom condo might not sound like much room for 8 people….but when those eight people usually live in a 38 foot camping trailer it seems enormous!!!  We loved having two bathrooms, a comfy couch and the beach view….and having a shower big enough to turn around in didn’t hurt either!  We stuck close to home that week other than one day when we ventured into town to have lunch and check out the street market.  The kids had fun bartering for a better price and they each ended up with their own special souvenior.


Lance and Ben checking out the pool


The view from our balcony


The kids had a blast on the bungee trampoline….here’s Ben doing some pretty sweet jumps!


Joe and Sam really enjoyed meeting other kids who loved playing soccer just like they do!


Ben loved playing on the beach



Lunch at The Friendly Dolphin while exploring the town of Puerto Penasco for the day.


Abby trying out one of the ukuleles


Some of the pretty shells we found on the beach


The beautiful sunset on the last evening we were there

While in Mexico we got to celebrate Abby’s 12th birthday on December 15 and Joe’s 14th birthday on December 19.  It was a special place to have a birthday and we had fun at both of our mini celebrations.


Abby’s birthday dinner

On Sunday, December 20th we drove the few hours back to Phoenix.  We picked up our camper and started our week at a campground in Tucson.  We were excited to be there and also to be staying put for a while so it was time to decorate for Christmas.  Because of limited space we had not brought many of the Christmas decorations that we would normally use with us, but we did bring our stockings which we hung on the towel hooks on the back of the bathroom door.  We also had a couple of random things like Christmas dish towels and window clings.  Jingle, our Elf on the Shelf in Zeeland, couldn’t make the trip, but thankfully he sent Missy (his elf cousin) in his place!  We also went hunting for the perfect *tiny* Christmas tree.  We ended up with a live tree that we decorated with lots of cute handmade ornaments the kids had made, a couple of strings of popcorn and some lights.  It was a pretty cute little tree and, even though it made our camper even more crowded, we were excited to have it around.


Having fun while picking out our Christmas tree


Here is the cute little tree we ended up choosing.  Since it was a live tree it got to stay with the cousins…Dave and Liz, and hopefully they will enjoy it for years to come!


Rosemary and Joe while she shows off her new little stocking ornament from Grandpa and Grandma Haveman.    Now we know….Rosemary is one of those names that you can’t find personalized ornaments for….so this one has it written in 🙂

On December 22nd we celebrated Rosemary’s 1st birthday.  We went to Red Robin for dinner and then came home for cupcakes and present time.  Her first taste of cake was a success and after a few exploratory finger jabs it wasn’t long before the frosting was gone….in her tummy and all over her face.  What a quiet party compared to the birthday bashes we have had for the other five, but it was very nice.


Our sweet ONE year old!


She really enjoyed her first taste of red velvet cake!

Rosemary high res-0004

While in Tucson, we were able to get Rosemary’s 1 year pictures taken.  I love having that milestone captured forever.

While in Tucson, we were so glad that we got to visit with my cousin Essie, her husband, Hsin-Fu and their two boys. It was great to see their new house and meet their youngest little guy, they had never met Rosemary before that either.  We were even able to go out on a double date with Hsin-Fu and Essie a few nights later which was a great time to catch up without the distraction of kiddos running around.


Abby selfie with Hsin-Fu, Essie, their boys and most of our family!


Date night with Hsin-Fu and Essie at the historic Arizona Inn in Tucson

Our Christmas celebration was a special one. Usually our holiday is full of many different family gatherings, and while it’s lots of fun, it’s also very busy.  This year we were very intentional about what we included and what we didn’t and we had a really great Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus as a family.


Christmas Eve memories


This little guy is super excited about opening his stocking on Christmas day!

The Saturday after Christmas Lance and the kids went to the Tucson Desert Museum. They had a great day learning about the desert landscape and animals and especially liked watching the falcons show off their awesome flight and diving skills. 


One of the falcons at the Desert Museum


Crazy kids with a saguaro cactus


The pretty desert landscape

One thing we really enjoyed about our campground in Tucson were the fruit trees all around. There were orange, lemon and grapefruit trees and we were told we could pick as much as we wanted to.  When we first arrived it took the kids less than 5 minutes to start picking bowls of lemons and planning their lemonade stand.  They were very busy the first couple of days picking, squeezing and mixing to make the lemonade.  They made $7 total, but I think it was more about the process than the cash!


Sam managing the lemonade stand


We had some craft time to make Christmas ornaments.  One of their new friends from the campground joined in.

On December 27th we left Tucson and went to Phoenix for a few days.  I have another cousin who lives there and we had a fantastic  time visiting them.  Dave, Liz and their two girls (with another joining the family soon!) were very welcoming and we loved hanging out with them.  Abby got to try babysitting for the first time (for someone else’s kids) which she really liked.  We also had a fun New Year’s Eve party there with good food, games, fireworks and lots of laughter.  We were able to park our camper right outside their house for that night so it was super convenient to just walk outside to our house and go to bed after we watched the ball drop.


Olive Garden for dinner with Dave, Liz and their girls


Abby frosting the cupcakes she had made the night before


Ben, Liz, Karen and River decorating cupcakes


New Year’s Eve bonfire and fireworks

The next day (January 1st) we said good bye to Dave and Liz and headed west a couple of hours to Brenda, Arizona.  My Uncle Dave and Aunt Maud live in Phoenix, but have a trailer there to escape to when they want to be in the middle of the desert.  We camped there for a few nights and had a great time with them.  Uncle Dave and Lance took turns taking the four older kids out for trail rides with his ATVs which they loved.  While they were doing that Aunt Maud and I went for a walk on the trails in the desert with Ben, Rose and Elise.  One of the days we were with them we went to a Rock and Gem show in Quartzite.  If you know our Sam at all, you probably know that he is very interested in rocks….finding them, cleaning them, identifying them, breaking  them open, displaying them and sometimes selling them.  It was fun to watch Sam at the Rock show, he was totally in his element and could have spent hours more just wandering through the vendors and admiring the cool rocks.  He used some of his Christmas money to buy a few that really caught his attention and is looking forward to displaying them in his room when we get home.


Uncle Dave and Abby all ready for some off-roading


Joe out on the trail


Elise and Ben exploring the desert on our walk


Checking out the merchandise at the Rock Show in Quartzite


Driving a hard bargain…..


Sam pretty happy with his purchase!


Aunt Maud and Rosemary

We left on Tuesday after having a very nice time with my aunt and uncle. The kids really enjoyed hanging out with them….playing games, doing puzzles or talking rocks (a passion that Sam and Uncle Dave share!) and Lance and I had fun visiting with them in the evenings after the kids were in bed.  Thank you Uncle Dave and Aunt Maud for your hospitality!


Uncle Dave, Aunt Maud and our family right before we left for Tombstone

From Brenda we headed southeast to Tombstone, Arizona. We only stayed there one night, but packed a lot in.  Our campground was only two blocks away from the historic downtown street so we went for a walk in the evening to check things out.  We ended up exploring the Bird Cage Theatre which is now a museum in the old saloon.  There are legends that say it’s haunted, but we never spotted any ghosts!  It was pretty interesting though, to see the many antiques from Tombstone including the horse-drawn hearse used during the time of Wyatt Earp, guns, portraits of the many famous town residents and we even saw a mummified merman (although I’m not really sure what that has to do with an old western town!!)


Inside the Bird Cage Theatre



A Merman??????


A posted notice to the “shady ladies”


The stagecoach on the street of Tombstone

The next day we walked back into town and did something that was on my list to do sometime during this trip…..have an old-time picture taken of our family. We all had a lot of fun with the outfits, it was like playing dress-up.  Ben loved the hat he got to wear…..but not as much as he and Sam loved holding guns in the pictures!  Ben liked it so much that afterwards we could hardly get him to give them back so he ended up buying a toy gun with some of his Christmas money!


Our “Wild West” family  🙂

Well, I know I’m pretty behind in my entries, but this will help to catch us up a little bit….the next state we tackled was New Mexico and I’ll get to that next time!