Visiting a National Park with a Large Family

Our Family’s Trip to Yosemite with 14 people

Guest posted over at True North, in Part 1 and Part 2

My family recently moved to California, half a continent away from my grassy South Dakota hometown. This has some benefits, as now we have the opportunity to plan a special trip when I am able to travel out to visit. This year, we chose to visit our first major national park (unless you count the Badlands in Western South Dakota, which are lovely but small and not very crowded). Eleven children, two parents and my brothers guest, who just graduated from (homeschool) high school loaded suitcases under the seats two spend a two night stay in Yosemite National Park. Every age group from nine months old to adults of the early twenties was represented in our caravan. A baby, a toddler, ten older kids, and two parents, and my 16 year old brother’s friend, fourteen people in all.

A highlight of the trip was the visit from my brother’s South Dakota friend.

The most challenging part of large family travel is getting from place to place and having enough energy to enjoy the destination. In the past, my mother has used sticker books and long lasting suckers to keep the natives happy, but this year the baby of the family-a teething nine month old with a strong set of lungs, was too young to be impressed. Squeezable baby food packets, teething biscuits, and organic dried mango helped to buy time in the carseat. Rights to the coveted front seats are rotated between the children. The privileged spot comes with the responsibility of playing with the baby. The young men of the family take the job seriously and use creativity to devise the entertainment. The newest sport on the planet, Fidora Frisbee was invented in this way. The goal of the game is to throw a hat directly on the baby’s face, to her delight. It’s probably only a matter of time till this game becomes known worldwide, from its humble birthplace in the middle benches of the blue fifteen passenger van between Stockton, CA and Yosemite National Park.
Once we arrived at Yosemite National Park, walking shorter distances rather than driving allows the family a welcome break from the car. A few of the middle school aged kids take advantage of the freedom, however, and try to branch off on their own.  This means moving as a group is sometimes more like herding sheep, and before leaving a location a headcount is mandatory. Though I believe we’ve only left someone behind once in the entire family history, there was one near miss this trip before getting on a bus. Fortunately, our family friend noticed the missing child and made quick trip to check the bathrooms seconds before we boarded.
The beginning of the day is always very enjoyable on foot, but in the afternoon the younger kids lag behind. The wide age span in the family is an advantage at this point, and the three year old and five year old enjoyed shoulder rides courtesy of the teen boys for the last half of the day, to their delight. In the past we have transported children in strollers, but my mom chose to bring a baby carrier this time for added mobility. The baby was much happier being carried close to mom, and we didn’t have to use valuable car space to store it or tote one up stairs. 
sister takes a turn in carrying the baby in the pack
Motion sickness is not a unique trouble to a large family, but the high backed seats and bumpy back rows of the fifteen passenger van are particularly rough on stomachs. After many years of enduring the smells of half digested lunches, the family now always packs a large stash of Ziplock bags. Drives through curvy mountain roads are new to the family, and in the future child friendly nausea medication will be essential.
Our family is thirteen strong and incredibly nerdy. Every path brings new subject matter for discussion, exploration, and research. Since half the family are budding entomologists, a butterfly or dragonfly causes a pause in the hike. The family welcomes these pauses as moments of wonder rather than treating it as an inconvenience or telling the kids to hurry along. Yosemite furnished a variety of spiders, butterflies, and praying mantis along the trail to please this fan club. Later on, four history nerds paused to contemplate the significance of standing next to the Grizzly Giant sequoia tree where Theodore Rosevelt had camped. Fingertips touched the plaque showing the president in the exact spot where we now stood, 115 years later. Though country and culture had transformed in this time period, the face of the natural landscape remained unchanged. Contemplation of this fact sparked a discussion on rock formation and erosion led by the amateur geologists. 
Experiencing natural wonders is much different in a large family than alone or in small groups. As we explored the dramatic monoliths of Yosemite looming above meadows of wildflowers, we also enjoyed the companionship and commentary of our tribe.
This is the famous Fidora
The friendship and camaraderie in my family creates a richness I miss when I travel alone.  The multiplicity of reactions of each family member come together to form a fuller experience than could be had in a small group with a smaller age range. I will look back at my impressions of the majestic mountains alongside the exclamations of my five year old sister. Individual experiences are flat in comparison. 
The young ones bring appreciation of the smallest things on the trail. Their eyes turned downwards to the things they can reach, and while the bigger ones pause to climb the trees they pick up sticks and rocks. ‘Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints’ is the motto in the National Parks, and It always takes some convincing to make sure the youngest comply. They are open to bartering, and we phrased it this way, “You can’t pick up rocks here, but you can at the cabin outside the park limits”. Nevertheless, they leave their mark on the park, as small drawings in the sand and stacks of leaves and pinecones mark their path.

Sweet and Simple

Stop and smell the roses, they say, and these local wildflowers make a very good start.

Tiny in size, it takes effort to notice them. There is nothing extraordinary about the dozens of tiny flowers along every sidewalk, road, and path. Yet if you do bend down to notice their world, you will be rewarded with fairy-sized beauty.

Working on finding all the names for all these, but I did find that the white ones are a member of the buttercup family, and called Meadow Anemones.

Over the Mountains

Far over the misty mountains cold

….We must away ere break of day

…To dungeons deep, and caverns old…


This song from Tolkein’s The Hobbit began in my heart the moment the plane lifted off towards the western horizon. Like Bilbo, I’ve been in awe of mountains, since I first saw the Beartooth Mountains in Montana. Perhaps simply because the terrain stands in stark contrast to the flat grassy plains where I live, I heartily believe a real adventure should involve mountains. So we piled in the fifteen passenger to brave the recent Sierra Nevada snowstorm over the heart of the range.

Me and lil’ sis, on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

Day Two and Three- Railroads and Capitol

The Railroad Museum in Sacramento is exceptional, as retired train after retired train greet you to awe you with their size. The staff sit aboard every train, and are prepared to discuss that particular engines history and travels.

History of the west and the development of the western states is woven throughout the engines.

You can go inside many of the trains, others you must be content with glimpses from the windows at the life size wax passengers inside.

Claire was very happy to have “All the sisters” in one place, though this particular photo lacks Madeleine.

The conductors seat stirs the imagination.

How many brothers can fit in one seat?

The capitol building is nestled in a garden like arena, complete with orange trees full of fruit.

The children bonding with their new state animal:

Day One-a Walk and a Baptism

After navigating through a few airports, large and small…..

I arrived to see the whole family had come out to greet me. The whole family, and one a stranger to me. Little Madeleine, born three months ago, over 1,500 miles from where all her brothers and sisters were born.

The first  day the family went in search of nature.

Johnathan aspires to the role of photographer:

Maria and I caught sight of an otter who was sunbathing in the small river that runs through the town square. Later he caught a fish and proudly enjoyed his meal.

Madeleine also had a big day.

She thought proceedings were interesting, and watched everyone carefully.

It was also slightly boring.

Child of God!

Western Books for Boys

Books for boys can be hard to find, but when I asked the young men in our family which ones they couldn’t put down, they had plenty of answers. Here was the favorite cowboy stories and westerns they couldn’t put down:

Cowboy Picture Books

Pecos Bill by Steven Kellogg



7th grade+ Cowboy Books


The Virginian


Week’s Notes

The Lenten wreath went up this afternoon, and putting away Christmas decorations now. The bitter cold and snow made it hard to part with the tree throughout the month, so I left it up extra long this year. But Lent has come, so it’s definitely time.

Several times I’ve made my own version of St. Brigid’s bread on Ash Wednesday, since the Irish saint’s feast is early February. My only change is that I used half whole wheat flour, and half oat flour (made by pouring oatmeal in the blender and pureeing for about two minutes) simply because I think it tastes  good that way. I don’t think this is the recipe I used in the past, since it was a little drier than I remember, but it still made a very nice ‘fasting bread’ for this week.

Mourning the tragic events in Florida this week. Words fail each and every time this world faces such an activity of depravity. Miserere Domine.  

Listening to this Gregorian hymn for the start of Lent. Translation here.


{p,h,f,r} February edition


The spoils of a 50% off sale at a local nursery that now inhabit my windowsill. I had been hoping to expand my indoor garden for a while, so I responded eagerly to the billboard outside advertising the sale. While I planned on bringing home one or two, somehow I brought home four. Hey, discounts that deep only come around in January, right? Carpe diem!

I love the furry rhizomes that slip over the edge of the plant’s pot, and give the Rabbit Foot Fern a name almost as charming as the foliage. Maria has a different idea, however, and has dubbed this my “tarantula plant.”


I’m on the countdown to a trip out to visit my family’s new home. I’ll also get to meet my youngest sister, born about three months ago at the beginning of November, just three weeks after the family transplanted from Midwest to the hometown of the California gold rush.


My feathered friend Gamgee, who came all the way from Virginia on Delta airlines last October to be my friend. A true people parrot, there’s no shenanigan he won’t devise in order to get some attention from me. He’s just getting in some new brighter plumage on his face, and will be shedding his duller baby feathers over the next few months.


This morning, I wanted to take off my coat and shout, ‘spring!!!’ That’s what 30 degrees with sun feels like after shivering through -5 degree mornings.


~ {pretty, happy, funny, real} ~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~


I am off to a terrible start with my New Year’s resolution to post at least four times a month. Life lately has not been overly busy, but it has been disorienting to say the least.

I rigidly controlled my routine through college, as the structure was the scaffolding preventing me from tumbling from the cliffs of textbooks into the whirlpool of homework. Now, I have to let go of that expectation to embrace a rotating work life.


Antipodes: the parts of the earth diametrically opposite, the exact opposite or contrary


Night shift, day shift. Routine, flexibility. Order, chaos. Hospitals never close, so much of my time is spent in the rocky transition period between polar schedules. Sometimes every gear in circadian rhythm protests loudly, preferring to run like clockwork.

I’ve never realized how much energy is saved by having routines. I’ve never had to debate whether I should wake up in the morning, but deciding when to start the day when “morning” is 7pm is exhausting. The first few months of this schedule I felt I walked on alternating sides of a fault line between nightlife and daytime, with seismic activity during each transition.

Now I’m beginning to have a set of routines around my new needs, and have begun getting up an extra half hour before starting out to enjoy the morning, making sure it includes coffee and Gregorian chant. And I know just how much of the day I can use ahead of an all night jaunt, and it often includes a trip to the gym to get some extra energy to start off.

Homeschoolers on Field Trips

I have taught and nannied many groups over the year, coming in contact with students from all educational backgrounds. I’ve taught a homeschooled science day camp three years in a row, and ballet classes four five year with a mix of student backgrounds. I’ve nannied for children who attend private and public schools, as well as for many homeschool families. Throughout these visits, several consistent themes emerged in what set the homeschooled children apart from their peers.

The differences can be subtle, yet they are distinct enough that I am usually able to guess a child doesn’t attend traditional school. Here are a few of the differences I noticed in taking both homeschool and public school students on field trips.

  • Homeschooled children spent much more time in the moment. I spent an hour putting together a picnic lunch, we unpacked it and at beside the small waterfall at the center of our city. Had I done this for my siblings, or any of the homeschooled children I’d spent time with before, they would have loved every minute of this. I’m used to watching children explore the area and make the most of new surroundings. Usually, they would choreograph movie scenes on the rocking landscapes, look for new shells or insects, or collect sticks and build a miniature fortress. Instead, these children finished their lunch and promptly wanted to return home to their previously planned activities for the day.
  • Homeschooled kids asked more questions. Walks with a homeschool group turn into an interrogative session quickly. Usually, research and discussion on the topics continue long past the conclusion of the field trip.
  • Children in traditional school seemed habituated to field trips in and new experiences in comparison with those I grew up around. I noticed how they were used to being served field trips in an almost prepackaged format, being funneled through in a group with little time for personal decisions on where to linger and learn.  I took a family of public schooled children to the zoo, and was astonished at the way they simply walked through the exhibits. They never paused to read any of the signs or watch how the animals were behaving.
  • Children who are homeschooled are used to being in mixed age groups. One effect of this is I notice that on trips they often spend a lot of time teaching the younger students what they know as they walk along. Since they are comfortable with many age ranges, can strike up a conversation with a peer their age, much older, or younger. Even a conversation with an adult is not daunting.