'what's up' weekly. (x2 this time.)

Last week I didn't write a weekly update post because my laptop was being a craptop.  It seems to have all-out died.  Which means I didn't have a keyboard to type on, and I didn't have access to any photos to post.  (We also didn't have access to Netflix, which made life embarrassingly difficult for a few days - it turns out, I really rely on PBS shows to babysit my kids while I make dinner, and Todd and I were getting toward the end of the last season of Chuck again, and it was unacceptable to have to wait a few days to keep watching.  So we watched on the Kindle's tiny screen.  It would appear I am in an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship with Netflix.)

(This photo was taken when we still had our functioning computer and we were all blissfully unaware of what was to come.)

We have since figured out how to get our other gimpy laptop running well enough to at least type on, and miracle of miracles, it actually has photo editing software on it, so we seem to be up and running for day-to-day use.  Unfortunately, all my homeschool planning for this coming year and previous years is on the dead computer.  All my photo editing and culling is on the dead computer.  All our music is on the dead computer.  My address book is on the dead computer.  I'm having a hard time not shaking my fist at and cursing the very name of the dead computer.

But we mustn't dwell.  Not on Rex Manning Day.  I mean, Friday.  So here's a rundown of what we've been up to.

Last week, I came down with some kind of respiratory cold that knocked me on my butt.  I seriously have not been that sick in years (excepting morning sickness).  I could barely get out of bed.  I could barely breathe or speak or function.  And Wednesday, when it was raging at its worst, I was on my own with the kids for the first time in months, as it was Todd's first day of work.  And we had no power for a few hours, as there were 70-100 mph winds ripping through.  It was a rough day. 

(This was taken at lunchtime.  Our house gets exactly zero natural light, even on a sunny day, so during the dark, stormy power outage, we got to lunch by candlelight just to see properly.  Ask me how I feel about this.)

The silver lining to all of it, though, was that I discovered the deeply healing properties of hot whiskey.  Our grandparents knew what was up, y'all: drink a Hot Toddy for a throat cold.  Thank me later.  (And keep your Hot Toddy jokes to yourself... I've already told them all and made Hot Toddy roll his eyes out of embarrassment/pure love.)

Todd spent Friday night and all day Saturday at a Connection Group leaders' retreat.  He shot a gun for the first (and second and third) time in his life.  He stayed up until 2:30 a.m. catching and spearing bullfrogs in the pitch dark with a bunch of guys, some of whom were only in their underwear.  Also, this happened:

A photo posted by Todd Van Voorst (@toddhenryvanvoorst) on

From what I can tell, men's retreats are different than women's retreats.

I have completed Week 3 of my Couch to 5k endeavor.  I'm pretty sure I could qualify for the Boston Marathon at this point.

(In all seriousness, I'm pretty proud of my progress.  I have increased my distance by over a mile, and have increased the incline at which I run, in just a few short weeks.  I'm inching closer and closer to actually running a 5k - meaning, 3.1 miles.  It's within reach!)

And yesterday, a few of the Anthem girls headed out to a nearby lake and splashpad.  I'm not going to lie, I had kind of a bad attitude about it going into it - I'm such a hermit.  I hate social gatherings.  I hate taking all the kids out if I don't need to.  I hate packing lunches and having to figure out when and how I'm going to nurse Rocco in public.  So I was totally Oscar The Grouching it on Wednesday night.  But it was so fun and the kids had an absolute ball, and I'm so glad I went.  God is stretching me to be less curmudgeonly.

Next week, I promise to finally update you about Rocco at eight months (since he's now almost nine months)!  I just lost all the photos we took that day, so I've been putting it off.  And I'll share more pictures of our time at the lake.  See you next week!

how to respond when your friend announces she's pregnant. again.

I am going to preface this post with the clarification that I am currently, absolutely, decidedly not pregnant.  I just need to throw that out there.  My womb is between renters right now.  I am but one person walking around in my skin.  I don't know how else to reiterate that I am speaking from a place of neutrality today.  Okay.  Let's consider that cleared up.

I would also like to preface this by saying, if you are struggling through a story of difficulty conceiving, or infertility, please ignore this post.  This advice isn't for you, sweet friend.  You are known and loved by those around you, and your friend will completely understand if you need a bit of space to process and even grieve. 

When your family starts growing beyond the typical two to three kids, people start getting weird when you announce a new pregnancy.  Sometimes the things people say are fine, sometimes they're awkward, and sometimes, I'm not going to lie, they can be hurtful.  When I announced I was pregnant with Laurelai, someone close to me just shrugged and responded, "I figured."  When I announced I was pregnant with Rocco, someone else's very first response was to tell me to 'not expect free babysitting.'  Um... ouch. 

Now, I understand that comments are not always intended to be mean.  Sometimes people are excited, but aren't sure what to say, so they say something weird.  That's totally fine.  It really is on the shoulders of an expectant mom to assume the best about people's intentions - if I get offended by something someone says, it may just be a 'me' problem.  Other times, people are just genuinely confused or curious.  That's fine, too.  We get that large families aren't for everyone!  If you have sincere questions, feel free to ask!  But sometimes, people really are purposefully withholding excitement, or have grown apathetic, and that can be deeply hurtful.

I feel like it needs to be said: a fourth baby is as exciting as a first baby.  A fifth baby is as exciting as a first baby.  A sixth or seventh or eighth or twentieth baby is as exciting as a first baby.

Each one of these birth stories was wonderfully unique, but they were all humbling, amazing, and miraculous.

So I thought I'd give you a few ideas you can use if you're ever at a loss for what to say or do when a friend announces she's pregnant.

1. Say, "Oh my word, I'm so happy for you!  How exciting!"  I mean, go ahead and use your own words.  Stuff like, "congratulations" and "that's wonderful!" and "what a huge blessing!" and "that's great news - the world can always use more of your adorable children walking around!"  are all tried-and-true winners.

2. Clarify what you mean.  Things like, "oh, wow." and "really?" and "another one??" are too ambiguous, especially on social media.  Follow it up with something from Tip #1: "Oh, wow.  Congratulations!" or "Really? That's wonderful!" or "Another one? What a huge blessing!" are better ways to express your surprise and excitement.

3. Do NOT treat this baby like 'old news' before it's even here.  Say something.  Do not say nothing.  If you're staying silent because you're having a hard time saying something nice, or because you honestly don't care, maybe you need to examine yourself and ask why.  This little life is no less miraculous and wonderful than the first baby was.  If you think it's overkill for her to be having so many babies, you may need to adjust your attitude.

4.  Only ask family planning questions if you're on her team.  Honestly, I don't care when people ask if we're done having kids.  I don't find it offensive.  It's a 'life goals' question, like asking someone what they want to be when they grow up, or if they like what they do for a living and plan on doing it for a while.  Go ahead and ask!  What I have found offensive are the occasions when people express concern for my obvious stupidity when I say my hopes for the future don't line up with what they think I ought to be hoping for. 

I have had family members ask me, in front of my kids, why I "absolutely insist on having so many."  I have had people literally ask, "You would never have another one, would you?"  I have had people ask if we know there are surgeries we could have to prevent future pregnancies.  The implication with all these questions is that I should wise up and quit procreating.  The insinuation is that I'm making poor choices.  The conclusion seems to be that at least some of my children, born or yet-to-be-born, aren't worth as much time, energy, or excitement as the first few, and that I should somehow see that.  That is offensive.  Even if you don't get it, even if you wouldn't pick it for your own life, be on your friend's team.  Do not have some horse in the race for her to stop having babies. 

5.  Steer clear of boiling her child's existence down to a number.  A baby is more than how much it costs to raise it.  It is more than how much it eats, or where it will sleep, or what it will wear.  If you're sincerely concerned with how she'll pay for it, maybe pick up a Target gift card for her the next time you're out.  Be constructive.  Which leads me to my next point...

6.  Offer to help. Yes, she probably already had a baby shower or two in her tenure as a mom.  But by the time kiddo #4 rolls into town, much of what she got at that time is in rough shape.  Many of the same kinds of things she gratefully received as a first time mom would be gratefully received now.  Or if she's still good to go on clothes and gear, offer to throw a diaper shower.  Or pick up a pack of onesies on clearance, just to show her some solidarity.  Take her kids to a park for an hour so she can maybe get a nap in, or at least barf up her saltines and ginger ale in peace.  Go with her to a doctor's appointment and sit in the waiting room with her kids so she doesn't have tons of tiny eyes staring up her exam gown.  Put together a care package with a frozen meal and/or things to keep her kids occupied for a bit.  Just be thoughtful.  Be a friend.  Don't forget about her or her pregnancy.

7.  Do not assume she has it all together.  Yes, she's had a few babies before.  But motherhood is motherhood: it stretches you to your maximum capacity, whether you're mothering one or ten.  It can be overwhelming.  You never know exactly what you're doing; you're just trying your damndest and hoping for the best.  Regardless of how many kids she's had, she needs support.  She needs love.  She needs friendship.  She needs help.  Maybe some of the 'how-to's have been ironed out, but she is mothering many, and that comes with its own challenges and moments of sheer terror.  Do not assume she's an expert.  Do not assume she doesn't need anything.

8.  Ask her how she's doing.  Ask her how this pregnancy is similar to or different from her previous ones.  Ask her what she's most excited about.  Ask her what she's most nervous about.  Ask her if she needs to talk about anything.  Ask her how she felt when she discovered she was pregnant.  Ask her about her birth plan, or about how her other kids responded to the news.  Ask her what has surprised her about being a mother to so many.  Ask her to tell you the unique things she loves about each of her children.  Ask her what she wishes other people knew about her life.  If you have genuine questions about life or pregnancy or mothering a large herd, ask them.  And then listen to her answers.

We all know that pregnancy is fraught with emotions on all sides.  Both the mom-to-be and the people around her have emotional baggage that comes with the hard, hard work of conceiving and carrying and raising babies.  Announcing a pregnancy can be a vulnerable thing for everyone involved.  We should all be sensitive to this and try our best to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.  We all have seasons in our life where we're the rejoicer, and other seasons where we're the mourner.  A true friend joins appropriately in each season.  And your friend will do the same for you.

sorry to drop the ball today, but...

Hey fellas.  Life has been busy around here lately, now that we're homehome - no more vacations or trips on the agenda for the rest of the summer.  I'm wanting to get our stuff as settled in as possible before we need to start back to school, and I'm feeling overwhelmed just looking at our naked, cluttered house, so I'm feeling the time crunch.  I can run you down with more detail soon, but for right now, I'm needing to duck out and focus on the house for today.  The garage needs to be organized, the basement needs to be painted and unpacked, and I have a bunch of furniture that needs to be listed on Craigslist.  Not all can happen in a day, but I'm needing to make a major dent in my list for the sake of my sanity.

Wish me luck... and if you wouldn't mind praying that some money falls from the sky so I can go buy paint and bookshelves, that would be awesomekaythanks.

Happy Tuesday!

large family road trips with small kids: planning the itinerary.

Time for the last post in our Road Trip series! Let's talk itinerary.

 It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that 99% of you reading this have smartphones and Siri and other kinds of witchcraft at your disposal, so you may not need my old fashioned tips for planning the best routes and stops.  But as for me and my house, we will just continue to spend $25 a month on our ancient phone plan and use our crotchety old fingers to Googlysearch the cybernet for our trip planning.  Because YOLO.

All that to say, I've never used GPS or other technology on our road trips before, so I'm blissfully unaware of how much harder I'm making this on myself.  Just humor me; take any advice that might be helpful, and just smile and nod along with the rest.

If you are traveling with young kids during daytime hours, plan on stopping every two hours or so.  This year we pushed the average closer to three, but it was the first year we were able to do that.  We don't have any "questionably potty trained" kids at this moment in time, and Rocco eats about every three hours or so, so it just worked for us this year.  I would suggest ALWAYS erring on the side of stopping too frequently rather than not frequently enough. Stop before you feel like you need to, if that makes sense.  ("Kill it before it dies" is my organizational mission statement.)

Always, always make every single child go pee at every single stop. They will tell you they don't have to. They will tell you they haven't even had any sips of water since the last stop. Don't give in!! You are the grown up, and by golly, you know enough to know their acorn-sized bladder is already planning on punking you. Don't fall for it.

For our first stop, I always just plan to find a nice, civilized interstate rest area. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, since we don't stop for long. We take the kids to the bathroom, feed them a snack, let them stretch their legs, and get back on the road.  I usually search the DOT site in advance for rest areas that have amenities of some kind that tell me it's regularly maintained and supervised.

The next stop usually falls around lunchtime, though, and this is where we pull out the big guns.  We stop at a park, do a full-on picnic lunch, and let the kids play to their hearts' content.  (And then, abviously, I make them go pee again. I don't mess around.). I plan in two hours for this stop, and we usually leave feeling revived, well-fed, and ready for naps.  Smartphones are probably great for finding nearby parks while you're on the road, but I just use Google in advance to look at city maps of the larger cities we'll be driving through, to find parks that are close to the interstate. Falls Park in Sioux Falls has become our favorite lunchtime spot on our regular route.

Yes, these are photos from last year that I pulled from the blog.  Last week our computer totally crashed and I don't have access to our photos, and I've been thumb-typing this whole post on the Kindle.  Don't even get me started.

We try to plan at least one fun or unusual stop into the rest of our day.  Sometimes state tourism websites will tell you what there is to see along a specific road. Other times, I use sites like and to find quirky places to check out (keeping in mind the distance between stops).

For dinner, we often stop for hot food somewhere. A hot meal just revives tiny people (and grown ups) like nothing else can.  To find good places to eat, I look ahead at where we'll be around dinnertime, and check TripAdvisor for yummy spots.  Sometimes you can find some great hole-in-the-wall places; other times you end up being like, 'meh.' But you're fed and everyone has had a break from the car (and, obviously, gone pee again), so you're still winning.

I usually spend an afternoon or so planning our whole trip- both there and back.  I like to have the planning done at least a few days in advance.  Then I print out our maps and directions (because, as should be clear by now, I live with abandon about a decade behind the times).  I also print a shorthand schedule, mostly for my own crazy town brain to keep things organized.

I like to overestimate our times so that I feel awesome about making good time.  It's how I feel like I'm winning at life.

And that's how I plan our itinerary to keep things running as smoothly as possible, and to try to provide opportunities for the kids to make some fun memories! If anyone has any other itinerary hacks, or even smartphone tips and apps for traveling that you'd like to share with other readers, post them in the comments!

Other posts in this series:
how to take a large family road trip with small children.
ideas for food and snacks. (gluten- and grain-free!)
master packing list and favorite first aid items.
planning the itinerary.

large family road trip with small kids: master packing list and favorite first aid items.

After the first or second time we took Atticus anywhere - anywhere - I realized that this whole "being a prepared mom" game was no joke.  You can't just take the baby.  You have to have the car seat, and the diapers, and the wipes, and the changing pad, and an extra change of clothes for both you and the baby, and a pack and play, and a breast pump, and bottles and bottle liners and extra pacifiers and OHMYWORDMAKEITSTOP.  Pretty soon, you learn to just ball up in the fetal position out of pure animalian fear any time you have to go to Walmart.

And then comes The Weekend Away To Grandma's.  The Family Vacation.  The Road Trip.  And you're basically paralyzed from the heavy responsibility of it all and you turn in your mom badge and check into the insane asylum for the rest of your livelong days just to avoid having to pack.


I'm here for you.  Together, we can save your family a lot of grief and a lot of sad frozen dinners while you're away at the looney bin.  I promise you can do this.  Because... it's really, really simple.  Check it out.

Click to enlarge.  If you would like a full-size PDF or Google Doc of this, just shoot me an email at paigejvanvoorst AT gmail DOT com.  Maybe put something like "packing list pdf" in the subject line so I don't think you're spamming me, because I can sometimes be an inadvertent email jerk.

Let me give you a rundown of what you're looking at.

First, this is a list based on a summer trip, so you'd need to adapt it if you need to pack all-weather attire.  Second, this list calls for packing half the clothes you will need, assuming you will have access to laundry services at least once on your week-long trip. This is especially easy if you're going to visit family or something, but even if you're not, I strongly suggest even hunting down a laundromat if you need to while you're gone.  It cuts your packing in half, and it saves you a ton of headache once you get home and are slapped in the face with the reality of being back to normal life - less to pack, less to wash, less to put away.  Win-win-win.

Okay, with that being said, the above list is for a week(ish)-long trip.  I can get all my stuff AND all the kids' stuff AND the diapers for the trip into one normal-sized suitcase.  Todd packs his stuff in a separate, smaller suitcase, and then we have a small toiletries bag/backpack.  We like to pack light because it makes it easy to get to the cooler on the road since it's not covered in stuff.  Plus, we usually buy something to commemorate our trip, and we like to make sure we'll have room for it on the way home.  (Last year it was a buffalo skull, so we're not messing around when we say 'leave room for new stuff.')

Make sure you print off an age-appropriate list for each child, so you can just check things off as you go.

Each year there are one or two things that get crossed off or added - like this year, I crossed "bottles and feeding accessories" off the list, since Rocco is still breastfeeding, and I added "box fan," since he sleeps SO much better when the din of the other kids is well-muffled.  All that to say, this list is meant to be tweaked and modified however it needs to be, depending on the specific trip and the specific kids and the specific year.  But it's a great jumping-off point.  The heavy lifting has been done.

And here's how we organize some of the smaller, first aid-type items that are handy to have in my purse or right up front in the van with me:

changing pad | kleenex | toilet paper | diapers | wipes | glasses cleaner | sunscreen
(this is last year's photo - we have since switched to this sunscreen and won't be going back!)

Here are my Purse Packs:

yeah, yeah, yeah, I've already showed you the Dramamine, but that was in the console.  This is in my purse.  Because carsickness is Persona Non Grata in these parts.  And TYLENOL?!?! Billy, don't be a hero.  After paying a million bucks for a bottle at Wall Drug that first year we made the trip because Penelope was screaming her head off and I had a migraine, I got less idealistic.  Pack the Tylenol.

arnica gel | motion eaze oil blend | melagel | Tide pen | more bandaids because: Kids.

Not all of these are 'essential' oils (harhar).  If you're just going for the essentials, pack peppermint (for headaches and nausea), lavender (for skin issues and sunburn), and tea tree (for open owies) - and I have a dropper bottle of carrier oil in there, too - don't forget to dilute oils used on kids!  As for the brand, we use and love Edens Garden.

(As an only-slightly-related sidenote, we all know the wonderful MLM companies that sell oils, and the quality of those is outstanding.  But there are a couple really high quality brands out there if MLMs aren't your thing - Edens Garden, Plant Therapy, Veriditas, Native American Nutritionals, and Mountain Rose Herbs all make very, very high quality oils as well.  Just my two cents.  Not looking to pick a fight, though, so use whatever oils you're most comfortable with, if any.)

And there you have it!  My master packing list for large-family trips, and some of my favorite first aid/health products.  Anyone have any products they love taking on trips that I didn't mention?

Next week, I'll wrap up the Road Trip series with some tips on how to plan a fun itinerary to keep the day interesting.  In the meantime, check out any of the other posts in this series you may have missed:

how to take a large family road trip with small children.
ideas for food and snacks. (gluten- and grain-free!)
master packing list and favorite first aid items.
planning the itinerary.

large family road trip with small kids: ideas for food and snacks. (gluten-free, grain-free!)

One thing that seems to stump me every. single. year. as I get ready to pack for our road trip to South Dakota is what on earth to feed everybody on the way.  Feeding seven people on a daily basis is hard enough, but once you factor in needing to pack foods that won't melt, rot, stain or smell, and that don't pose the risk of choking, and that can be easily passed back and forth without spilling... ugh.  And add to that the fact that I'm very strictly gluten-free, and this year the kids have been mostly grain-free... well, I felt a little overwhelmed when it came time to plan for food.  But it really didn't end up being that complicated!

We pack a box of dry foods in the front of the van, and a cooler of refrigerated stuff in the back.  If you pack light (which I will talk more about tomorrow), you'll have plenty of room for a cooler.

This is all I packed for a family of seven for a week and a half away from home.  (There is a pack and play behind the cooler.)  I'll show you my packing list tomorrow!

For breakfast, we just do something simple like granola or Larabars and water while we drive our first stretch.  It kills time, and it doesn't make a huge mess.  Then I'll frequently let the kids have a snack at our first rest stop a few hours later, which is usually just something small like an applesauce pouch or a fruit leather, with water.  (I'll talk more about planning your itinerary next week.)

We usually take a much longer break over lunchtime to eat a picnic lunch and play at a park.  That's when we'll pull out the cooler and dole out stuff like deli meat, string cheese, fruits and veggies, a small soda, etc.

For our post-naptime afternoon stop, I may or may not let the kids have a snack, since I don't want them to spoil their appetite for dinner (we don't usually serve snacks at all at home, so they're used going for longer periods without needing something).  For dinner, we usually stop somewhere quick for hot food, which seems to revive everyone enough to make it through until we get to our destination.

So you see that, other than breakfast, the kids aren't really eating in the car at all.  They're not making a huge mess.  They're not getting grouchy from boredom-eating.  They're still eating healthfully.  It's a win-win-win.

Most of this stuff was found at Aldi, and while all of it is strictly gluten-free, it is not all strictly grain-free (some contains corn oil, etc.)  Make sure you check ingredients for yourself!

Here are some of the foods that have worked really well for our kids:

Dry foods:
Dried apple slices
Gluten-free granola and granola bars*
Potato and sweet potato chips
Fruit leather
Applesauce pouches
Beef sticks
Beef jerky
Veggie crisps
Freeze-dried fruit
Dried seaweed (um, we only tried this once.  Never again, but maybe your kids will love it.)
Bark Thins chocolate (just for grown ups!)
Almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, peanuts
Rice cake snacks*
Pouched tuna or tuna salad

Cooler foods:
Hard boiled eggs
Deli meat or salami
String cheese
Grapes (or other easy-to-eat-without-getting-sticky fruit)
Baby carrots
Cold drinks

*Gluten-free, but not grain-free

I also make sure I have ample chocolate on hand for myself, and sour gummy worms for Todd, because: Road Trip with Tons of Little Kids.  Grown ups need special fuel.

I put the box of dry food somewhere that I can reach it from my seat, and where it won't get trampled by little legs or feet.  You can also see in the picture below that I pack a jug of water - it makes it easy to refill water bottles without needing to use rest stop bathrooms (gross!), and when you're traveling with bottle-fed babies like we have in the past, it makes it a breeze to just mix up a bottle when you need to.  (Or, if your baby is picky about temp, heat up some extra water before you leave and keep it in a Yeti or Thermos.)  Last year, I found an awesome jug of water with an easy-pour spigot, which made things even simpler.

Tomorrow I'll show you the master packing list I always use for packing the van and our suitcases.  It makes it so much easier to make sure I'm packing light (but not too light), and that I'm not forgetting anything.  It's easy to lose track of something when you're trying to organize travel for so many people!  This list makes my life a million times easier, plus I've found a couple products I can't live without on our trips that I'll tell you about.  Next week, I can walk you through how I plan a fun itinerary for the day so that we make good time, but also make good memories along the way.  See you tomorrow!

Check out all the posts in this series:
how to take a large family road trip with small children.
ideas for food and snacks. (gluten-free, grain-free!)
master packing list and favorite first aid items.
planning the itinerary.

how to take a large family road trip with small children.

The first year we made our annual trip to South Dakota, Atticus was two and Penelope was 16 months old.  (The other kids were but a glimmer in Todd's eye, so we had tons of leg-room in the van.)  Penelope spent six hours each way screaming her tiny head off, and approximately forty minutes total sleeping.  Considering it was a sixteen-hour drive (one way!), it got really long, really quick.  I was all, NEVAH AGAINNNN!

But the draw of getting to spend so much time with Todd's parents each year kept pulling us back, and we've now made that long drive four or five times.  It has actually gotten easier each time, even though we add a new kid to the crew pretty much every year.  I have gotten much better at preparing for and organizing our trips, and it has made a world of difference, so I thought I'd spend a couple of posts sharing some of the wisdom I've gained from the School of Road Trip Hard Knocks.  Today, let's talk about what to actually have in the van to make it more likely everyone survives the day.

Car bags: I pack a bag of stuff for each kid (and myself!) to keep everyone as occupied as possible over the long-haul.  Usually I let the kids pick one or two toys and books of their own to take, but then I fill the rest of the space in their bags with dollar store items that are kept a surprise until the morning we leave.  Here are some of the items that have been winners for our kids:

*Coloring books and crayons
*Pencils and notebooks
*Window stickers
*Barbies, dolls, action figures
*Where's Waldo? books
*I Spy books
*Board books or chapter books, depending on the age of the reader

Food and drink: On an all-day trip, we usually eat a simple breakfast in the car, a picnic lunch at a park on the way, and dinner from a drive through or restaurant.  We also shake up our normal routine a little and allow for a snack or two throughout the day.  I try to pack food that doesn't smell, rot, stain, or melt if spilled, and I try to limit the carbs, since everyone gets crabby if they're chowing down sugar and starch all day.  Things like beef jerky, hard boiled eggs, fruit and veggies, nuts, deli meat, string cheese, Larabars, and a limited amount of raisins, chips or crackers have worked well for us.  I will do a more in-depth post soon about this, including how to road trip while grain-free.

Latching pencil cases make great road trip plates.  You can load them up with food, and then close them in order to pass them back and forth from the front to the back of the van without spilling stuff everywhere.  Plus, they're easily washed, and they stack pretty flat when not in use.

I only let the kids have water in the car, for two reasons: 1) if it spills, it doesn't stain or smell, and 2) they don't "bored-chug" water.  They really only drink when they're thirsty, so then we're making fewer unexpected pee breaks.  For lunch, I usually pack each of them a small soda.  They almost never get soda the rest of the year except for occasional little sips of mine or Todd's, so they really look forward to having their own, and it's become a special road trip tradition.  I've loved packing those little mini cans of 7-Up, or small bottles of real-sugar New York Seltzer.  Whatever it is, I make sure it's clear so it doesn't stain their clothes if it spills.

we do pack DVDs, but we really try to push them as long as possible before putting one in.  If you start the DVDs too soon into the day, they get super bored and antsy and grumpy.  Since we try to drive in two- to three-hour stretches, we let them spend the first stretch without a movie, which usually goes well.  They spend the time eating breakfast, then digging through the new stuff in their bags.  But then the second stretch is 'movie time,' and we alternate the stretches this way throughout the day.  We don't put a movie in after lunch, since the kids are more likely to fall asleep if they're not watching something.  We make sure to pack full-length movies and episodic stuff.  This year, the kids really liked watching the old 60's episodes of Batman.

Bring a really wide playlist of music everyone in your family likes.  Don't just pack those horrible preschool singsongy tunes.  Our whole family loves Family Force 5, if you're needing some inspiration.  We spent hours listening through their albums on this last trip.

Other necessities: Pack a potty chair and some plastic bags to line it with.  You probably won't need it, but on the off-chance you do, you'll be super grateful you have it.  Even big kids can use it in urgency/emergency situations.  Don't forget toilet paper and flushable wipes!

Kids' Dramamine, a barf bucket (with a plastic bag for a liner), and an old towel have also been necessities for us. This year, we also had some success with Altoids for the littler kids, and letting them sniff peppermint essential oil.  I think next year, I'll try adding child-sized Seabands and ginger chews to our arsenal.  The last things you want in the van are sad, barfy kids and the pervasive, wafting scent of vomit on a long drive.  Ask me how I know.

Scissors, quart-sized ziplocks, paper towels, and plastic grocery sacks can cover a multitude of travel problems.  Pack more of each than you think you'll need.

Surprise Fun Attacks: I like to pack some special things in my personal bag for when some of the stretches get really, really desperate.  Usually, this happens on the way home.  Everyone is tired, and grouchy, and sick of being in the car.  At this point, I'll pull out some funny items I've packed for this very reason.  Some of the things that have been hits with our kids:

*Nose glasses
*Paper crowns (the kids spent over an hour covering these in stickers)
*Stick-on mustaches
*Glow sticks and glow bracelets
*Glittery, holographic or bubble stickers

But most importantly, keep calm yourself.  Pack yourself some coffee and chocolate.  Road trips with kids can be really, really fun, and they're making great memories, but it's also chaotic to organize it all.  See the funny in stuff - just laugh about it as best you can.  Because that's the stuff you'll remember - I remember laughing so hard my stomach hurt, and my face ached, when Finneas was sitting on that potty chair in the Badlands.  Yeah, it meant we had to carry a turd in a plastic bag in our van for a few hours before there was an available trash can, and we had to throw his undies away, and everything kind of smelled like poop.  But daaaang, that photo op was hilarious.  Your kids will feed off of your mood, and you can set the tone for a really fun day - or a really crappy one.  So choose to have a blast!

Tomorrow I'll be posting about great road trip snacks and foods for kids, including the gluten-free and grain-free set.  Thursday, I'll give you a run-down of the master packing list I use to make sure nothing gets forgotten when packing for a large family - but it's easily adapted to smaller families as well!  Stay tuned!

In case you've missed the other posts in this series:

how to take a large family road trip with small children.
ideas for food and snacks.  (gluten-free, grain-free!)
master packing list and favorite first aid items.
planning the itinerary.

the black hills: day four.

This day in Custer was just spent hanging around Todd's parents' house.  I love that about being up there - there are so many fun things to do out and about, but there are also so many fun things to do around home.  We don't have to pack our days full of touristy stuff in order to have an absolute blast. 

The boys spent time riding the tractor...

Laurelai spent all her time, well, looking beautiful and chatting with her Grandma.

The ATV and the Gator were huge hits.  Major shocker.

This little mermaid spent all her time in the water.

And the kids played - and napped - in the teepee.

And then, that perennial favorite, Pile of Rocks!!!!!!!!!!!

That evening before dinner, we headed out to drive through the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop.  You can get up close and personal with deer, buffalo, wild burros, prairie dogs, and strangely enough, the military.  (They were running some kind of practice drills or something, which we didn't know about until we crested this hill and all of a sudden there were all these soldiers with major weaponry walking through the grass on either side of the road.  And then there were tanks and hummers and helicopters.  And then also buffalo.  Because: South Dakota.)

When we came up on the group? pack? herd? of wild burros, we were at the ready: Todd's dad had sent us with some bread to feed them, and they knew it.  They swarmed the van, begging for a tiny morsel.  (I swear, they had Oliver Twist accents.)

Todd gave our last piece to one particularly desperate fellow, who then got ticked we didn't have anymore and blew snot all over Todd's head.  I started laughing really, really hard, only to turn around and discover a different burro had stuck his head in my window, and his face was rightnextomine.  I haven't screamed that loudly in a while.  Luckily my screams didn't incite a stampede or a scared donkey-bite or anything, and the burros moved along.  BUT SRRSLY.  Stealth donkeys are the leading cause of heart attacks inside the Wildlife Loop.  It's true.  I saw it on the news.

Anyway, we got home and ate a wonderful meal, the kids went to bed, and then Todd and I stayed up way too late binge-watching the Game Show Network, because: Vacation Y'all.

weekly what's up. and i'm not going to lie and say 'nothing much happened this week.'

This week held some big, big stuff.  I loved this week.

First off, Lauren got married last Friday.  All of that planning and prayer paid off, and it was perfect.  I mean, really, actually perfect.  God has given me so many 'best day's of my life - the day I got engaged, the day I got married, the day each of my kiddos were born, and last Friday.  I am so, so lucky to have had so many best days.

Unfortunately, because there was so much going on, I literally got two photos of anything wedding-related that entire week leading up to it.  They're both blurry, and they're just of Lauren, me, and our mom sitting in pedicure chairs.  So imagine it if you feel like it; you're not missing much if you don't.

Luckily, Todd was on the job with the camera on Saturday, when we went to Lauren's studio for the gift opening brunch.  

We had a makeshift picnic lunch on the floor (because asking a Van Voorst child to balance a plate on their lap while sitting on a chair is basically a deposit guaranteeing that EVERYTHING will end up covered in ketchup, even if no ketchup was served), and all the kids were feeling kind of saucy from dancing their little hearts out until midnight the night before.

My cousin Nick rocked the Ergo (and the Rocco).

After the brunch, Lauren's new brother-in-law Parker, a police officer, offered to show the kids around the Ankeny police station.  Uh, OKAY!  The kids had a freaking blast.  Again, unfortunately, we only had the camera on hand for part of the visit, but just for your enjoyment, we managed to get a shot of all the kids locked in a real jail cell.  What this picture doesn't show you is that the key to open the door wasn't turning in the lock even after many, many attempts, and I genuinely started to panic that they would be stuck in there forever.  But, obviously, as I'm not currently telling you about how my kids are, at this moment, starving to death in an Ankeny jail cell, things clearly worked out okay in the end.

Rocco's world is changing at the speed of light.  He turned eight months old on Monday, he is pulling himself up to standing and seems like he'll start cruising around the furniture soon.  And this week I decided to pull out the cloth diapers again after they'd been a long time in storage.  (I think Penelope's was the last baby bottom to grace them.)  

Cloth diapers definitely have their myriad drawbacks, but daaaang, you can't out-cute a baby in a cloth diaper, even if the photo is blurry and the baby is only barely paying attention to the photographer.  This blurry photo is still cuter than a clear photo of a baby in a dumb disposable diaper, amiright?

Yesterday, the fam took a trip up to the Amish community near here to hunt and gather.  Just like when the pioneers used to drive their minivans to someone else's homestead to purchase things produced at the hands of others.  It made me feel so gritty and down-to-earth.

I definitely think we'll be making that drive once a week to pick up fresh milk, cream, butter, eggs and produce.

You have to be prepared before heading up to the Amish: you need a cooler and ice packs, your own sterilized glass bottles for milk, egg cartons to trade in, and enough cash to cover everything.  It may surprise you, but the Amish don't usually host ATMs or take credit cards.  Usually.

This milk is so. stinking. amazing.  The kids complain about normal store bought milk now, since it is nothing compared to this.  (All the kids except Laurelai, that is, who definitely takes more of a grace-based approach to vetting her milk.  No milk is bad enough to fall out of the scope of Laurelai Van Voorst's love.)

Also?  Speaking of her, Laurelai is adorab-lai.

I started Couch to 5k, and I'm feeling really good about it!  I'm going a little farther and a little faster each time I run, and I'm feeling stronger.  I can tell you more about it soon!

And, as if all of that wonderful wonderfulness wasn't enough for this week, TODD GOT A JOB OFFER!!!  Y'all may not have known this, but Todd has not been working since mid-May.  It has been so, so great for us - we were able to take time to settle here, and go to the Black Hills, and be at all of the fun stuff at Lauren's wedding.  We were able to hunker down as a family for a little while as we all transitioned to living in Missouri, and Laurelai has especially benefited from having Todd home all day to cuddle her, as I think she's had a rough time with the transition and she has really needed her daddy.  But, we were living off of savings, and we had a lot of major expenses in a short amount of time, and I was starting to wonder when, exactly, God was going to come through with a job for us.

And then, lo and behold, perfect timing.  As soon as the wedding craziness was over and there was nothing left on the agenda to have to go do this summer, a job.  God has been so good to us!

Such a great week!  Hope yours was wonderful as well!