Kenya Humanitarian Trip 2014

Guatemala Humanitarian Trip- July 2014

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Avery and I went down to Lake Atitlan and stayed with our friends, Greg & Lucy Jensen, to volunteer at their non-profit, Mayan Eco Homestead for a couple of weeks. They teach the indigenous Mayan culture how to grow more diverse food options, like vegetables, so they can increase their nutrition. Guatemala is the 4th most undernourished country in the world, and rely heavily on corn as a staple food source. Greg teaches willing participants how to square foot garden, raise rabbits for meat, and create compost, solar water heaters and safer cooking methods to help the locals elevate their standard of living. Once a participant has completed the training, and worked sufficient hours on the teaching farm, they are gifted with the materials to build their own square foot garden at their home. It’s been a very successful project and I’m grateful we ere able to go contribute to such a worthy project.


Some of our Favorite New England Spots

Spending the last days of summer and beginning of fall in New England has been one of the highlights of our travels so far.New England main

The beginning of the fall season is upon us, and one of the best places to immerse yourself in it’s full splendor is New England. The flaming foliage and crispy air is the optimal time to visit the area and experience it’s delights. On our recent travels through the region, we found some great activities for families to enjoy in the area.

Fall Foliage:

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Of course the most popular thing to do in New England in the fall is to drive around and see the leaves changing color. The White Mountains in New Hampshire is a perfect place to do just that. The 112- Kancamagus Highway has been named one of the most scenic drives in the entire USA.

While there, you can also enjoy the foliage by hiking into the numerous trails in the gorges tucked at the base of the White Mountains. Flume Gorge is a gorgeous trail at the base of Liberty Mountain that leads to a waterfall.  The rock formations along the narrow walls and the stream running along beside you make this hike a memorable one, and who doesn’t love a waterfall at the end?

If you’d like to see the foliage from a higher vantage point, drive up the road to the Cannon Tramway and take the gondola to the top of the mountain. The views are spectacular, and on a clear day you can see the surrounding states and Canada.

If the kids need a break from all the site seeing, check out Attitash ski resort. Even if there’s no snow yet, the resort has many things to offer families in search of fun. Attitash has an alpine slide, an alpine roller coaster, Eurobungy trampolines and an air bag jump that the kids and adults love to jump off the tower into. It’s a great way to enjoy the mountains before the ski season begins.

 Fruits of the Sea

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Even with the cooling temperatures, the ocean has some great family activities. Whale feeding grounds are about 20 miles off the coast of Maine. They whales stay through October, and then migrate south. You can catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures by taking a boat tour out of Kennebunkport. We went on a First Chance Whale Watching tour out into the Atlantic and got a glimpse of a few North Atlantic Right whales and Minsk whales.

Another great sea adventure is taking a ride on a lobster boat and actually helping the crew collect lobsters from the traps. Lucky Catch Lobster tours puts it’s new “crew” to work during the tour, and you learn about the lobster fishing trade, the traps, and life cycle of lobsters in the process. Passengers have the option of putting bands on the lobster claws, holding a lobster, measuring it, clearing the traps of small critters and other tasks that keep the trip lively. The hands-on experience is one kids surely won’t forget.

Captain Tom and his crew are available to answer any question you think of, and at the end, allow guests to buy the lobsters just caught for a nominal price. We bought some and then walked off the boat and into the restaurant on the pier where they’ll cook’em right up for you to eat within minutes. It was an experience my kids won’t soon forget.

 History & Thanksgiving prep

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Fall marks the beginning of the holiday season, and planning for your upcoming Thanksgiving feast. In classrooms across America, young children will learn about the First Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and the Indians. But have you ever wanted to see where it all it began? Would you like to eat an authentic feast that’s as close to what the pilgrims actually had that first year back in 1621? Then Plimoth Plantation is the place to visit this fall.

Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts is a living history center with outdoor exhibits of a Wampanoag village and a 17th century English settlement.

The English settlement has a fort and several structures, each with it’s own purpose. As you enter each place you learn from it’s occupants what it’s used for, and to whom it belongs. We walked through the home of the William Bradford, we talked with farmers and gardeners as they tended to their animals and crops. We even got a chance to wash dishes in their primitive way. The townspeople dressed and spoke in an authentic way that transported us back to what it must have been like.

The Wamanoag homesite is inhabited daily with Native people in historically accurate clothing. They are doing traditional activities that would’ve been done in that time period like creating shell jewelry, burning out logs for canoes and cooking meals of indigenous plants over an open fire. When I entered the village I wasn’t prepared for what I first saw, little children scurrying around in deerskins and native hairstyles-they were adorable. In addition, they spoke using some English and some native words. We met whole families who’ve grown up participating in this educational program at the living history museum and we learned so much by interacting with them. The native homesite was by far our favorite portion of Plimoth.

There’s also a full-scale replica of the Mayflower II that was built in England and sailed to America in 1957. You can walk the decks and speak to it’s crew who wear period costumes and speak as men from the time period as well. Seeing the ship up close, how small it is, and how many people were on board, really helped me understand what a hard voyage that must’ve been.

If you visit during the month of November you can enjoy a traditional harvest dinner with the pilgrims. Plimoth goes all out in planning a feast accompanied by music and verse of the time period. You can find out more details here.

As you can see, there’s plenty of ways to enjoy fall in New England. The only thing left to decide is when to go and where to start! Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy the changing of the seasons before the rush of the holidays begins.






Wisconsin Dells: The WaterPark Capitol of the World

As we travel we are constantly looking for creative ways to beat the heat this summer. Being in water seems to be the best way to stay cool, and we were asking fellow travelers for ideas. A friend recommended we check out the numerous water parks in Wisconsin Dells, WI. We immediately altered our travel plans and made our way to the middle of Wisconsin in search of refreshing temperatures and entertainment.

When we pulled into town, we quickly realized why this was called the “Waterpark Capital of the World”. It was like Vegas, if you swapped out the casinos for waterparks, and the bachelor party-goers for middle-America families.

Driving down the Dells Parkway, it’s apparent that most of it was constructed in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Some parks have expanded in the 2000’s, but the heyday was probably 20 years ago. That being said, there’s still plenty of activities to keep families entertained for days, if not weeks.

Mt. Olympus

Our first stop was the Grecian-themed, Mt. Olympus, one of the larger parks, with indoor and outdoor water slides and a fair amount of go-cart tracks. A great feature of this park is their “Stay and Play Free” program, where you can get complimentary admission tickets to the waterpark if you stay in one of their lodging accommodations. This program also included us using their RV park, so we booked a night at their no frills campground and spent two days (your passes include the day you check out as well) exploring Mt. Olympus.

The outdoor park was pretty extensive, and sprawled out over several acres. There were a decent amount of large waterslides, a lazy river, and a wave pool. There was plenty of seating options, snack shops for those who like to lounge by the pool.  Our family’s favorite attraction was the wave pool, where they practiced body surfing the massive wave that rolls out every few minutes.

On day two our mission was to ride every adult-sized go-kart track. (There are plenty of go-karts designed for kids under 48’ as well) Go-karts are a bigger deal out here than where we are from, and it was fun to ride their elaborate tracks. The most visible one takes you on ascending loops through the front of a Trojan horse, and winds down his back legs. The karts were fast, the tracks were fun, and we had a good time as a family trying to pass each other and “win” each course we rode.

We packed a lot into 2 days, and could’ve easily stayed longer, but we were eager to experience what other parks had to offer.

Noah’s Ark

Touted as the biggest park in the region, we came here last. The weather was not cooperating, and it was overcast and drizzling off and on. Our travel schedule wouldn’t allow us to stay and wait it out, so I was prepared to skip it. Dino however, is a diehard waterpark lover, and he convinced the kids to go anyways as the park was virtually empty and they could get on the rides quickly.

Instead of it taking an entire day to experience all of the adult slides, they were able to do it in 3-4 hours, and had a blast. Some of their favorite slides were Black Anaconda and Viper. The Scorpion Tale is America’s first nearly vertical waterslide loop, and was quite a thrill.  The Dark Voyage is a family raft that goes down the curvy slide in complete darkness. If you are more adventurous and like extreme rides, this is the park for you.


            If you’re looking for a family-friendly, water-filled vacation spot in the mid-West, take a look at the Wisconsin Dells. Look past the cheesy themes and dated décor, and consider the memories you can make riding waterslides and go-karts with your kids all day. If they’re under 8 yrs. old, chances are this will be as entertaining for them as a roller-coaster theme park. Plus, you can work on your tan, or catch up on your summer reading by the pool, does it get any better than that?

In addition to waterparks, Wisconsin Dells is known for the actual Dells- the gorgeous cliffs surrounding the Wisconsin river. There’s plenty to do on that water as well; DUCK rides, water cruises, and jet boat tours are just some of attractions in the area.

For those who might be looking for a holiday or winter getaway, many of the waterparks have indoor waterslides as well so they can remain open in the cold weather. I’m not sure that this wimpy California girl could brave the walk from the waterpark to my hotel room with wet hair, but those who are acclimated to cold climates would probably enjoy a dip in a warm Jacuzzi during the dead of winter.

For more information on the Wisconsin Dells, go to and see what the Water Capital of the World has in store for you.

Have you been to the Dells? What was your experience like? What were your favorite attractions? I’d love to hear your story and advice for the next time we go. Leave your wisdom in the comments area below, I read every post!



Disclaimer: WisDells tourism board gave us admission tickets to Noah’s Ark waterpark, but the opinions are strictly my own.

Things I Never Did Before Travel

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Travel opens up numerous opportunities to explore new lands and new parts within ourselves. Each new adventure  we embark on changes us in small ways. I’ve  been mentally cataloging some of the ways our  family’s small, daily tasks have been altered by full-time RV travel.  Life inside a rolling 36 foot box can’t, and shouldn’t be, the same as living in a bricks ‘n sticks back home.

Here’s just a few of the things I’ve been reflecting on this week.

 Before travel I never:


Thought about Finite Resources-

Of course when I lived in a house I tried to be mindful of how much energy or water I was consuming so that I didn’t have to pay a high utility bill, but I never thought about it in terms of their being a limit to it. The RV has a finite amount of water it can hold, and electricity is only available if we buy it (stay at an RV park) or run our gas generator, which we can only store a few gallons at a time.So we quickly became aware of how much we use on a daily basis and we’ve grown accustomed to the quirky changes our daily routines have made.For example:

  • Amps have their limits. Usually we have to turn off most the lights to run the microwave or blow dry our hair. AC won’t work off a battery. I know more about kilowatt usage, and acceptable power payloads than any other mom I know. 
  • Water is precious commodity- 5 showers and 1 round of dishes will completely fill up our grey tank, so sometimes we shower every other day to stretch out our water tanks. Every time we wash our hands or flush our toilets, we are consciously aware that we are that much closer to needing to find a dump/fill station.
  • Free wifi is a premium-We try to only use our portable WiFi hubs for work or online school, so we are constantly on the hunt for free wifi we can use for recreational surfing, watching TV online, etc.
  • Laundry- Machines aren’t always available, so we can’t just throw a load in whenever. We’ve learned to wear things more than once, or make sure it is indeed dirty before haphazardly throwing it in the dirty clothes basket.
  • Sewage. Not a pretty subject, or something I ever thought about back home. I just knew when I flushed it went off to some faraway place that I never had to worry about it. Now that we are in charge of disposing of it in designated places, we’ve become keenly grateful of modern plumbing, and empathetic of those who live in worse sanitation circumstances than this.

Used public resources regularly


Living in a traditional home we are more autonomous and self-contained. Being on the road we’ve needed to rely on outside resources to get some of our needs met.

  • laundry mats- Never used them before, but are a great way to get 6 loads done at once. Not as scary as I’d perceived, and met some really nice people in them.
  • parking lots- Didn’t realize people slept in store parking lots, or that I’d be joining them several nights each month.
  • campground showers- Showering in a public bath house would’ve been at the very bottom of my comfort list before full-time travel. But now, it’s the only time I get to linger in hot water and take the time to shave my legs. (remember the limited RV water?)
  • library- Sure I went occasionally to pick up books for my kids, but I never hung out there. Now, we frequent them in order to get school work done or print stuff off the computer.
  • Chain stores-(starbucks- B&N, Apple store, McDonalds) Once again I’d only visit these placed if I had something specific to buy, but now they are staples in our weekly schedule as they offer free wifi and it’s sometimes easier to spread the kids out in a more spacious environment, and let them tackle their work load. They’ve become good at self-monitoring their learning and schedules.

An unexpected side benefit of our travels is that I believe these experiences have made them more adaptable and resourceful perhaps than their same-aged counterparts. When the time comes I’m confident they’ll be ready for college, missions, voluntary service, marriage, travel and whatever the future holds for them.

Grateful for the really small things

  • Quarters- I never gave a second thought to loose change before now, but quarters have become a precious commodity in our household. Between laundry and toll roads, quarters pass through our hands like water. Finding one in my the bottom of my purse is as delightful as discovering a treasure chest.
  • Streets w/o low branches- Visually, I love driving down tree-lined streets and basking in the beauty of the mature trees. As co-pilot of a 13 ft. tall vehicle, it can be a nightmare navigating through streets riddled with low hanging branches that are begging to rip through the roof of the RV. I thank the heavens every time we turn down a residential street that’s open and clear.
  • Towns w/o low bridges- Growing up in the Southwest it’d never occurred to me that low bridges would become my biggest nemesis once we crossed into the Mid-west and East coast. Most of our travel nightmares have been caused by low bridges, so I say a silent prayer of gratitude in each city we don’t have to worry about clearance issues.
  • Tires- They are an unglamorous part of any vehicle, but the work horse in any situation. We’ve put ours through a lot- Numerous surfaces, weather conditions, and situations. Usually they come out ok, but after 23, 000 miles, 4 flat tires and a cracked rim, I’ve come to appreciate and think about them more now than ever before. Tires are my friends!


These are just some of the ways my awareness levels have been raised through our travels. Each adjustment has brought it’s own teaching moment, and I’m grateful for what traveling has taught me and given my family.

What are some things you’ve done, or do now, that you never did before traveling? I’d love to hear your responses!



How to Get Started: 5 Homeschool Tips


Homeschooling can be a daunting undertaking, but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I started when my kids were elementary school aged, and currently I’m homeschooling my three teenagers while traveling with them for a year in an RV as we tour America immersing ourselves in it’s history.

If you are new to homeschooling, or are considering it, here are my 5 tips for how to successfully start.

Tip #1 Know your local regulations

Every state has different laws on homeschooling, and you need to be familiar with them. Some will make you jump through hoops to get approved, and others just require you to sign a notice at your school board office letting them know you are opting out of public education and taking the responsibility on yourself.

My school district in Utah was even willing to give me a disk  Read on

Is the Alamo still important?


While visiting San Antonio we couldn’t miss the chance to visit the Alamo. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but until this trip I think my kids biggest reference to the Alamo comes from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure movie. I’m not sure we even fully grasped the phrase, “Remember the Alamo” before arriving. I was eager to understand why the Alamo, and this one battle among many fought in the U.S., remains an important part of our history. I got my answer, and so much more.

#1 Something doesn’t have to be flashy to garnish attention

Upon arriving at the Alamo my first impressions weren’t what I’d expected. As the biggest tourist attraction in Texas, I guess I’d expected it to be well, BIG. Instead, the building is smaller and humbler than I’d anticipated.  There were no flashy, touristy signs trying to lure us into the venue like at so many tourist attractions. On the contrary, it possessed a quiet, unassuming entrance on a busy street full of other buildings.

#2 Reverence in a loud world is still possible

However, once we got in line to go in, the amount of reverence and respect for this historic site was immediately felt. For starters, no photos are allowed to be taken inside. Also, they ask for complete silence once you walk through the doors in order to preserve sanctity for those who died there. In this day and age when public standards of behavior can be pretty low, and obsession with handheld tech devices is incredibly high, it was refreshing to see how the public abided by the museum’s request for reverence.

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#3 Leave a legacy by believing in something bigger than yourself

In that silence I was able to read and ponder about the details of what happened there and could feel the spirit of the men who had laid down their lives for what they believed in, for a cause that was bigger than their individual lives. This is a lesson I want to instill in my children, but it’s hard lesson to teach verbally, it must be experienced.  We felt it here. These men left a legacy by believing and acting in a cause bigger than their individual lives.

This is a lesson I want to instill in my children, but it’s hard lesson to teach verbally, it must be experienced.  We felt it here.


The tour inside the Alamo is short, but there’s more to see outside on the grounds. There’s an annex building that has great information about the war and the history of the Alamo. The gift shop also contains display cases with artifacts from the time period.

I encourage you to visit this historical place at least once. I will definitely “Remember the Alamo” as a special day in my travels.

My Top 5 places to see California Wildlife

The following article was a part of Family Trek’s California Extravaganza blog series. Thanks to Clark Vandeventer for allowing me to be a guest blogger on his site. Love what they’re doing over there.


California is known for many things; the glamour of Hollywood, the beautiful coastline, the Mediterranean weather, and the list goes on. There’s something for everyone here, and Clark has dedicated several blog posts to exploring the great things to see and do in the Golden State.

San Simeon, California by Shannon Watt

Being a California native, I’ve had the chance to experience many of these places and I find that my number one favorite thing about being there is the ability to go for a stroll and see marine wildlife living in their natural environment, not in a zoo or aquarium.

I’ll never forget our family vacations back in the ’80’s when we’d camp on the bluffs of San Louis Obispo and nature was our only entertainment. We’d wake up at dawn and watch a pod of Orcas hunt sea lions all the way into the breaker waves on the beach. It was as if an episode of National Geographic was unfolding before our eyes. From that moment on, I’ve sought out opportunities to view animals in their natural habitat whenever possible.

Most visitors to California don’t realize that amid the city lights and dazzling tourist attractions, there’s an abundance of marine animals dwelling so close to civilization you can literally walk out your backyard and find them.

I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 places to watch California wildlife along the coast.  

Continue reading

Willis Tower in Chicago~ Going out on a Ledge

Would you be willing to step out on a ledge at the top of this??

It wasn’t as easy as I’d thought.


One thing I strive for in life is to get out of my comfort zone and stretch myself regularly. Our year of travel is, in itself, a big stretch but even within that we’ve built routines and created habits that become familiar and lull me back into comfortable complacency. So when an opportunity arises to get uncomfortable, experience new things, and ultimately grow as a human being I usually go for it. While In Chicago, I had a chance to do just that.
IMG_1214 2We got passes to theSkydeck atop the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. We joined the 1.5 million annual visitors, and rode the one-minute, 20 mph elevator to the 103rd floor observation deck. It was spectacular being able to gaze out of floor length windows in every direction, and see far into the distance, where a view of the surrounding four states is possible on a clear day. However, the real thrill was the chance to step out on The Ledge.


One wall of the Skydeck consists of 4 special glass balconies that were constructed in 2009, and they protrude over four feet out over the city. Stepping inside puts you 1350 feet above ground, and gives you a unique view of Chicago below and all around you.


While waiting in line for my turn, I watched others walk out and I believed this would be an easy feat. However, when I got my chance to step out onto the glass floor, all kinds of buttons were being triggered inside of me.  Fear, lack of trust, and a shot of vertigo coursed through my veins as my mind tried to make sense of my surroundings. My brain was having a hard time computing what it was seeing, the ant-like cars below, the low hanging clouds hovering above me, and the vast water and endless urban sprawl before me. It was dizzying.

As I looked across to the person in the glass balcony beside me, I remember thinking how fragile they looked, encased in a clear cocoon, attached to an enormous metal tree.   The power and vulnerability of humanity were perfectly blended in that brief moment.


It took a few moments to get my sea legs back after coming in from the ledge. I’m not sure if my mind will ever recover, or if that moment will be indelibly imprinted on it. I’m hoping for the latter

What I do know is that once again, when faced with fear and discomfort, I forged ahead and didn’t let it stop me. And that my friends, is why getting out of my comfort zone is so rewarding.

MORE:  Get to Know the Watts }

What do you think? Is getting out of your comfort zone easy or hard? What ways are you stretching your comfort level and growing yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

MORE:  Leaping Into the Great Unknown }

Photo a Day- Montezuma Castle, Arizona