'what's up weekly.'

This week has been full-to-the-brim with All Things Swimming Lessons, and some other stuff.

First off, though, we had our first official service as Anthem Church!  We've been having house church services each week, but 'church in the park' was our first official public service.  It was so fun!  It was also outrageously hot.  Holy cow.  Next time we plant a church in Missouri in July in the middle of a heat wave, I need to make a mental note to bring handheld fans and also human-sized tubs of ice.  Dang.

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

(Can you feel the heat just rippling off that photo above?  I'm pretty sure Todd's phone melted while taking this picture.)

Rocco sat at the table to eat with us for the first time this week.  He's had little bites of food here and there, but this was the first time sitting with us at mealtime.  He had a few little bits of hamburger on his tray, and a few more bits in his little whatever-that-chewy-thing-is.  Even with a stretch of the imagination, he was only moderately impressed.  He seriously could not care less about food at this point.

On Monday, the kids started swimming lessons, which has taken most of our week.  The big two are old pro's at this, but it is Finneas' first year doing lessons, and he took some convincing.  He spent a lot of time crying and asking to get out of the pool.  Then, all of a sudden, at the end of Tuesday's lesson, he got out, screaming, "I LOVE THE WATER! SWIMMING LESSONS ARE SO FUN!"  I have no idea what changed his mind, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the crazy goggles the teacher lent him.

Not sure about the water yet.

Still not sure.

The little kids had a decent time sitting and watching.

And Finneas made fast friends with a kid in his class (once he realized the kid in his class had permission to play games on his mom's iPhone).

Laurelai has also started developing an interest in swimming, so yesterday we went a half an hour early so we could play in the baby pool for a bit before lessons started.  She had a blast!  I don't have pictures yet, but I'll get some next week.  She is adorable splashing around in the water.

That has been the story of the week: we head out after breakfast for lessons, and get home shortly before lunch. And then there was yesterday.

We got home about 12:30.  I nursed Rocco and laid him down for nap, and about 10 minutes later, there was a knock on my door.  A young college girl was going door-to-door, doing Kirby vacuum demonstrations, and told me she had to do three in a day before she could call it quits for the afternoon.  She asked if she could do a quick demo by cleaning one item in my house, so to be nice, I told her she could clean the couch.  (Twist my arm.)  At which point, she called the rest of her team to 'come help.'  Which meant two guys drove up in a Suburban, one of the guys got out and stayed, and the girl got in and left.  So then this college guy stayed for FOUR HOURS cleaning my house. 

My kids didn't get lunch (I couldn't leave the room to make it for them) or take naps (I couldn't leave the room to lay them down).  He started his 'demonstration' by covering my couch in foam soap to 'pretreat,' then he proceeded to clean basically everything I own: floors, carpet, rugs, chairs, throw pillows, drapes, even the inside of my piano.  I felt bad asking him to leave (I know, I know, I know.  I hear your exasperated comments through the screen right now, Mom); plus, my couch was covered in foam that only he was equipped to remove.  The whole scenario was dumb and stressful and exhausting.  Lesson learned: DON'T BE AN IDIOT, PAIGE VAN VOORST.  Also, lesson learned by the Kirby Vacuum Salesmen: Don't try to manipulate Todd Van Voorst's wife into buying something out of pure exhaustion unless you want an all-out reaming from Todd Van Voorst.  I don't think those guys will ever be the same.  I love Todd for myriad reasons, but not low on the list is his ability to finally get those people out of my house.

However, the Kirby did do its job.  Annnnd that is a disgusting amount of dirt.

And that was my week.  Please be praying for me, as I'm clearly a moron and I need the prayers.

a morning at the lake.

I mentioned last week that I took the kids to a nearby lake and splashpad with some friends.  It was so fun, and much needed in the middle of this heat wave.

It is hot in Missouri.  (I mean, this summer it's hot errwherr, but Missouri is currently hotter-hot than Iowa-hot.  If that makes sense.)  Water is a must, and backyard pools are a thing here.  Like, not kiddie pools, but like actual pools.  Above-ground pools are even common, which is especially weird, but it's true.  However you can cool off, you do.

So there are tons of public pools and splash pads and swimming lakes, many of which are free, which is so great.  The park we went to had a really, really kid-friendly lake (shallow, with little fish swimming around, and lots of sand - not mud - to dig in) and an adjacent splash pad.  The kids were in heaven.  Atticus and Finneas, especially, are big fans of the water.

Laurelai, on the other hand, is not a fan of the water yet.  She spent most of her time clinging to our friend Ana, or digging in the sand. 

Rocco spent his time trying to get away from the spray.  Another poo-pooer of the water.

We packed a picnic lunch, so when everyone started getting too hot in the sun (read: I started getting heat stroke like I always do), we sat in the shade to cool off while we ate.

We left shortly after finishing our lunch because Rocco was needing to nurse again, and if there's one thing that's worse than nursing in public, it's nursing in public when it's one million degrees out, and you and your baby are both smothered to death by your nursing cover and each other's body heat.  Blech.  So we high-tailed it home, where I fed Rocco in the air conditioning, and then all the little kids conked out for the rest of the afternoon.

It was such a fun day, and we're looking forward to going back soon!

rocco's modern life: eight months.

So, Rocco has been eight months old for a while.  For like three weeks.  Whoops-o.  But better late than never, amiright?  Please forgive the lack of photos; the computer with all our photos crashed and we haven't gotten it fixed yet.  (BTW, if you could send up a quick prayer that we'd be able to recover everything, that would be much appreciated.)

This sweet boy is sleeping through the night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Yeah, it warrants that many exclamation points.  He usually eats and goes down for the night around 7:00, and then I wake him to feed him around 11:30 before we go to bed.  Then I don't hear a peep from him until around 8:30 the next morning.  Yes.  Life is grand.

He has stopped spending all his waking time spitting up the entire contents of his stomach, which I'm truly grateful for.  (It's a good thing we haven't had a rug down in the living room since we moved, or that thing would be toast by now.)  There are still one or two good stomach-emptyings a day, but nothing compared to what it was.  I don't know if it's because he's usually more upright now, or what, but I. will. take. it. 

He is outrageously mobile at this point, crawling fast and cruising around the furniture.  He doesn't seem to be super interested in walking yet, which is fantastic (this is around the time Atticus started walking!) but I know it's coming sooner than I'll be prepared to handle.  He dances to music by bouncing up and down and waving his hands around.  And gosh darnit if I don't swear he has tried to clap a couple of times.

He's not super babbly, but he sometimes coos at me still, which melts me every time.  He still sleeps on his belly, and has declared the pacifier a decisive winner over his first finger in the battle for his heart.  He is snuggly and spends a few hours each day strapped to me in the Ergo carrier.  (Which I borrowed from a friend who needs it back in a couple weeks. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  I don't know what we're going to do at that point, because that thing has been a lifesaver.)  We've casually started baby-led weaning, where we give him small bits of soft foods the rest of us are eating.  The other night he tried hamburger.  He'll tolerate small tastes, but he's pretty disinterested in big-kid foods still.

We have pulled out the cloth diapers for the first time since Penelope.  We're not using them all the time - public outings and night times are still "Disposables: Very Yes."  But during the day when we're at home, I've been diapering his tiny butt with cloth.  And dang, do I love to see a baby in a cloth diaper.  They're so round and squishy.

He's pretty tiny; even with a cloth diaper on, he is in 3-6 month clothing.  I'm not sure exactly what he weighs, as he hasn't had a weight check since his 6-month check-up, but he's growing slowly.  I don't think he numbers among the tiniest of the kids at this age, though, which is nice.  I'm kind of dreading his 9-month check next month with a new pediatrician.  Whenever we switch peds, it takes an eternity to convince them that nothing is wrong and our kids are just small.

And that is Rocco at 8 months!

school for homies, by homies, at homie.

*this is a repost from here.

welcome to Van Voorst HomieSchool Homeschool.  we are located at North End, Living/Dining Room, Van Voorst Home, CF.  want to join us for a virtual tour?  okay, let's go!

i know i don't show you this end of our living room/dining room often. or, probably, ever.  i don't know why, i just don't.  so sue me.  anyway, this is our only family living space.  it's obviously small, and now it's going to have to house bookshelves and other rando stuff necessary for educating my children.  (whatever happened to the good old days when you just handed a kid a stick and after a few years they were competent to sustain themselves and a giant family?  now we need watercolors and manipulatives and all kinds of other stuff that would have gotten scorned/burned for warmth by our ancestors.)  so i borrowed a janky old bookshelf from our entryway closet and got down to business trying to make it look cute enough that i could at least stand having all our homeschool stuff in here.

i lovelovelovelovelove that big picasso print and have carted it around to every room/dorm/apartment/home i've lived in since high school because it has part of my heart.  but it doesn't match the rest of my decor, and plus, i'm pretty sure everyone else hates it.  one friend even suggested it might be more at home upstairs.  you know, out of sight of the general populace.  but i'm all like, FORGET ALL Y'ALL.  ME AND THAT WONKADONK PICTURE ARE INSEPARABLE AND I CAN ALWAYS GET NEW FRIENDS.

the hilarious sign was a gift from my mother-in-law, and i originally planned to put it in the girls' room (once there becomes a designated 'girls' room'), but for now it lives here where i can laugh at it, and where todd can worry all the livelong day that it is offensive to fat people.

these are only a few of our books, as amazon has taken nearly a full month to ship all the stuff i ordered.  i still don't have about half of what i need, and i'm about ready to take a baseball bat to amazon's virtual kneecaps.  if i don't have it by next monday, someone in customer service is going to have to speak to a very disgruntled paige van voorst.  (which, contrary to what my frequent ranting and sarcasm on the blog would have you believe, sounds something like, 'um, hi, um, i was really hoping that maybe someone could tell me why my stuff hasn't shipped yet, but if not, i mean, no big deal.  i mean, i really do kind of need it, though, but seriously it's okay.  just forget about it.  i'm really sorry i called.  i hope you have a nice day.  kay, sorry again, bye.'  so this threat is not empty but also not at all scary, either.)

here are our math manipulatives.  they are very cute and colorful and also downright terrifying.

here are our nature journals.  mine turned out looking like it belongs to a ten-year-old boy with an only marginally crafty mother.  the one on the left actually does say atticus' name, but i accidentally photographed it upside down.  class-act.

and here, friends; here is where homeschooling will really test me.  those are tempura paints.  (on the bottom shelf, no less; easily accessible to children of the smaller and more destructive sort.  that is 100% certainly a bad idea.)  i also have markers, sharpies, glue, colored pencils and an obscene number of different types of papers.  we are going to try crafty stuff.  good gracious.

and i know that all kinds of internet moms are all, 'this is so exciting for me!' and 'here, here are some tips for you from little old me,' and 'homeschooling is like licking rainbows!'  and i'm going to try to keep my chin up and join their ranks...

but this is how i really feel about getting started...

so, as of september 8, we will be a homeschooling family.  beginning on that day, i will resort to only calling atticus by 'Homeboy' and penelope by 'Homegirl,' and i will only answer to the name of 'Teach.'  as it is also todd's first day of being a pastor, he will go by 'Preach.'  and as it will be finn's first day of learning how to use the toilet like a civilized human being, he will go as 'Street Ice.'  i don't know why, and i don't know if that means something bad or not, because it very well could.  maybe i should look that up before assigning him a homie name.

prepping for homeschool, 2016-2017.

Well, it's that time of year again, folks: Homeschool Planning Time.  Arrrrrgh.

I am still trying to get my homeschool legs under me.  I feel like I still have no idea what I'm doing half the time.  Plus, we didn't finish out the year last year - we fizzled out in early March when stuff got really crazy with the move, and we haven't picked it up since then.  So really, we're not even starting a new year, we're just picking up where we left off with last year's work.  And while Missouri has pretty flexible homeschool laws, there are a few new hoops I'm having to jump through and navigate.

But, it has to be done.  The kids are begging for structure.  (Seriously.  They literally keep begging for their chore clipboards.  You know stuff is dire when your kids are like, "Pleeeease let us do some chores," and you're all, "NOT NOW!")  We really need to get back into the routine of things.

That being said, I'm hoping this year goes better than last year.  (I mean, I hope it goes longer than last year, at the very least.)  So, for accountability's sake, here are my goals:

1.  Incorporate a "morning basket" or circle time, where everyone participates, and we check some of the more random daily stuff off the list instead of letting it fall through the cracks.

2.  Do a weekly nature walk.  Charlotte Mason was, like, all about nature study and nature walks, and I've been calling myself a CM educator without actually doing some of the stuff she says is most important.  NO MORE HYPOCRISY, DO YOU HEAR ME?!  Plus, now that we live in Missouri, which numbers among the most geologically diverse states in the nation, I really have no excuse.  We're gonna see some stuff, daggummit.

3.  Keep better record of what the heck is happening.  In addition to now having to document our school hours (BLEHHHHHHHHHHHHH), I'd like to start a Calender of Firsts, a Family Diary/five-year journal, a commonplace book, and my own nature journal.  Now, how to figure out how to force myself to sit down and write.  It's a sensory thing - I hate physically writing anything down.  Maybe I should try using a fountain pen.  I've heard that can help with the sensory part of writing.  Anyone have any experience with fountain pens?

4.  Focus more on fine arts than I have the past few years.  Actually do the assigned art and music study instead of slacking off like a loser.

5.  Not burn myself out.  Not burn myself out.  Not burn myself out.  (I like to call this bullet point "Operation: Keep On Keepin' On, Paige Van Voorst.")  I love being at home with my kids.  I love educating them.  But I get burnt out on the planning and prepping part so quickly.  Sometimes I think I'm better cut out for School-In-A-Box type curriculum, but I feel so strongly about the Charlotte Mason approach that I have to figure out a way to reconcile the fact that my teaching personality seems too laid back to actually accomplish it. 

Tomorrow I'll repost a tour of our homeschool area in our old house.  I will not be showing you around our homeschool area here in our new house quite yet, because our house still looks like it was hit by a bomb and then covered in garbage.  The house is not pretty yet, to put it nicely, and it frankly makes me mad, so give me some time before I show you all what it looks like around here.

And if you're curious, here's a post on the homeschool curriculum we use.

Who else is getting ready for the impending school year?

'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 than 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.