Road Trip to Canada & Maine: Quebec City

Visiting Quebec City

We have recently returned from our annual road trip, 8 kids, 2 parents in a 12-passenger van!  This year we traveled from Illinois through Michigan to Niagara Falls across Canada through Toronto and Montreal to Quebec City.  (We then traveled through Maine to Boston and back across to Illinois.) I will return in a couple of weeks with a special post on our Niagara Falls adventure. Today I’ll share about our time in Quebec City.

We arrived in Quebec City, quite late in the evening. Once we got into the province of Quebec, we noticed that the signs were no longer bilingual, just in French.  We got some carry-out pizza at a local pizza parlor in the downtown area where we were staying.  My husband brought the pizza back to his hungering brood at the hotel, and we all piled in the boys’ room to watch the Blackhawks win game 5!  Later, he asked the hotel manager when Quebec will split off from Canada and form their own country.  He said, “Soon, I hope.”

We checked out of the hotel the next morning and packed the van before heading out on our Quebec City tour.  We had a walking map of the city and also received some help from a very nice local man who seemed to walk the streets looking for tourists to assist!  We walked to a wonderful restaurant called Benedictine and had a delicious breakfast: crepes, eggs benedict, and fancy fruit.  The kids especially liked the goose made of apples.

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We then continued our walk to the old city, which was packed with people.

What a neat place! I really felt like I was in an old town in Europe.  First, we walked through part of the old city wall. We went into a couple of cathedrals (it was Sunday morning and they were holding services).  There were shops galore.  Over by the waterfront was a boardwalk.  If we had had more time, we would have studied more about what we were seeing and spent more time exploring certain sites and buildings. I highly recommend a visit to old Quebec City if you ever get the chance.


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The city wall:

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La Boutique de Noel

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St. Lawrence River

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When we returned to our van at about 1 p.m. It was time to drive to Maine.  Join us next time for: Maine!

(Post contains affiliate links.)

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”

My oldest 5 kids are performing in Spotlight Youth Theater’s Production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” this weekend and next.  We went to see it this morning, and it’s fabulous!  So fun and colorful and sweet.

I’m so proud of my oldest son who is playing Charlie Brown in the “older” kid cast.  They also cast the leads with a “younger” cast for this production.

Enjoy the Promo Video here:

My favorite parts of the show were the dancing blankets with Linus, the acting out of the Red Baron vs. Snoopy scene, the baseball game, and seeing the Peanuts comic strips coming to life!  Did you know that Charles Schulz wrote about 18,000 strips and published Peanuts for 50 years?  Such an American icon.  This show will just make you smile! :)

Here are some pictures:

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My little Woodstock is on the left in this picture.

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The Red Baron plane with M and J. (Photo credits to Welsh Studios

Some pictures from rehearsal:

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My youngest daughter loves Linus–or does she love his blanket?

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To God Be the Glory!

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Come see the show if you’re in the area.


Vacation Scrapbook: Visiting Hollywood

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I thought I had finished all the vacation posts of our California trip last summer, but I forgot Hollywood!

One afternoon, we drove around to see the different parts of the Los Angeles area–Bellaire and Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and Hollywood.  We drove by Grauman’s Chinese Theater, saw some Hollywood stars, and ate lunch at an outdoor Chick-Fil-A with sprinklers spraying water.

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I wanted so much to see the famous Hollywood sign, but no matter where we looked we couldn’t see it.  I never realized how hilly it is around there. Finally, we decided to follow the Google Maps directions even though they seemed to take us a very strange way. It worked. We drove up on the mountain and jumped out at the Observatory to take a quick picture since there were no parking places available.

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See our other California Vacation posts here:

If you’d like to read about our other summer vacation posts see here:

Here We Come (San Francisco and Sacramento)

Visiting My Sister’s family (and Mom’s funeral)


Legoland California

Los Angeles

Vacation Scrapbook: Visiting Los Angeles

imageWell, better late than never!  I’m finally finishing up our Vacation Scrapbook of our California vacation last summer.  The final leg took us from Monterey, CA to Los Angeles.

We had a very interesting drive through some very different types of towns.  I have never seen so many grapevines in my life!  Once we got to LA the kids wanted to go to the beach, but we didn’t have any towels.  (My sister had provided the ones we used in Monterey and had taken them back with her.)  So, we went to a resale shop and picked some up.  I had expected that we could just leave them at the hotel if we couldn’t fit them in our luggage.

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I loved the sailboats we saw!

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One day we spent at Legoland California, which I have a whole post dedicated to:

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The other day we visited The Getty Villa: the ancient world of Greece and Rome.  In addition to the amazing old artifacts and artwork, there were some fun things for the kids to do.

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The world’s first laptop!

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If you’d like to read about our other summer vacation posts see here:

Here We Come (San Francisco and Sacramento)

Visiting My Sister’s family (and Mom’s funeral)


Legoland California




Field Trip to Adler Planetarium

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It’s field trip season!  I love it when the long winter ends and we can finally get out to do things again.

We finished our study of Exploring Creation With Astronomy

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by Apologia (with my elementary students), so it was definitely time to visit the planetarium.  Below are some pictures of our visit to Adler Planetarium in Chicago.  We saw two of the six shows and had time to explore some of the exhibits as well.  We got a membership (usually the cheapest way to go to museums with my family!), so I hope to return within a year so we can see what we missed.

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To learn more about how we’ve studied astronomy in our homeschool, see this post:

Outer Space Lapbook


“The Passenger” field trip to Chicago Lyric Opera

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My two oldest sons and I, along with a group from our Tapestry of Grace Fellowship Group (a homeschool co-op where we study history and literature together) went to the Chicago Lyric Opera’s production of The Passenger opera last week.

The Passenger is a moving 20th Century opera about the horrors of Auschwitz and the lingering effects on both a prisoner and guard who had been in it.  You never know what to expect from music written in the 20th Century–it’s all over the spectrum.  (I definitely know because I’ve been teaching a 20th Century music history/appreciation course this year.)  So, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be too “weird” to be enjoyable.  It wasn’t.  It was beautiful.

It certainly helped that it was performed by the world class Chicago Lyric Opera.  The singers and orchestra were fabulous.  But the set and lighting was also amazing.


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Here is a photo (of a photo that was hanging in the lobby) of one of the final scenes of the opera.  You can see both the modern day (early 1960s) ship on top.  I loved how it was all in white–the set and the costumes.  Below was the Auschwitz prison from the 1940s.  The story is that a former SS prison guard, a woman, is on board a ship taking her and her husband to their new post in Brazil where he is a German diplomat.  She sees a woman on board the ship that she thinks was a former inmate of Auschwitz.  She has never told her husband about her past.  So, as she tells him the story, it is played out below.

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The stage had train tracks which were used to move the set pieces around.  Some of the lights were part of the prison–as search lights.  It was fascinating how the set was manipulated.  They had a scale model of it in the lobby, so here are a few pictures:

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The most moving part of the story was getting to know the prisoners and their stories.  They were from all over–Poland, France, Russia, Czechoslovakia and not all were Jews.  There was a man and a woman who were engaged, and he had an amazing musical talent for playing the violin.  The heart-breaking line was, “Will anyone remember us in the future? Will they know what we went through while we were here?”  That certainly was the reason the opera was written, to remember them.

Sadly, it wasn’t to show forgiveness for the guards, repentance of the guards, or any reconciliation.  And, also sadly, the one character who had such strong faith in God seemed to lose it at the end.

But I do recommend seeing this performance if it’s ever performed in your area.  We must remember what happened, and never let it happen again.


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Here is a beautiful tapestry that hangs in front of the stage.

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In front of the Chicago River.

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“The Children of Space” – A Movie my Son is in!

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Three times a year my kids participate in a drama, dance, or singing class provided by Spotlight Youth Theater. They have such a variety of classes, and the showcases they put on at the end of each session are such fun! This last session my second son was in a film acting class, and here is his movie, written and directed by Sean Anderson.  They learned how acting for film is different from acting live on stage.  They did all of the filming at a church with a green screen, and then Sean spent countless hours editing and adding special effects!  Since the filming took place over a period of three months, the kids had to wear the same clothes to class each time–including having their hair the same.  I was so happy to finally have my son’s hair cut when they were done!

Here is what Sean says about the film “The Children of Space”:

“In the future, we sent our children to the stars. This is their story.

The Children of Space is an homage to low budget B-movies and Toho science fiction films of the 1960s. ”


Here is a video of the bloopers!  I had fun watching this because it gave me more of an idea of how they actually filmed it.

Christmas Pictures 2014!

Enjoy some pictures from our Christmas this year:

Sledding down the hill:

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Mumsy in the kitchen:

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Poppy reading:

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Playing pool:

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The Tree!

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Working puzzles (and my music is on the piano):

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Performing at Christmas Eve service:

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Opening presents:

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All the cousins!

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The lovely yard display my husband made years ago:


Merry Christmas 2014!

imageMay the wonder of Christmas be yours this season!

May you know the Peace and Joy that only comes through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Twenties PhotoHave a very Merry Christmas from the Mayo Family!
(Photo Credit: Kenneth Smith Photography 847-845-5549)


10 Gifts to Buy for the Men in Your Life

Ten Top Gifts for the Men in Your Life

Men and older boys can be difficult to buy gifts for, huh?  I’ve been brainstorming some ideas for Christmas presents for these guys (and asking some friends for their ideas). Here are a few gifts that you might be able to get for those wonderful men and older boys in your life!

Gifts for Men:

1. Phone and Tablet Cases

2. Season Tickets (or just one ticket!) to a sport or musical activity they enjoy

3. An Experience they can enjoy with a child, like registration to a Father-Son Camp or Father-Daughter Dance.

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4. Clothing Items they don’t like to buy–like socks or thermal underwear!

5.  Tools (even for teens–they can save them to use for the rest of their lives!)

6. Golf Gift Certificates

7.  A Book or gift card for books or ebooks

8.  An Accessory for a Hobby they enjoy, like this smartphone mount for a bicycle or motorcycle

9.  Candy from the year they were born

10.  Grilling Accessories, like these great Grilling Gloves


And now for the awesome giveaway!

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I’m so excited that we will have 2 winners for this giveaway.  The first place winner gets $500 Paypal Cash, and the second place winner gets a $100 Amazon gift card!

a Rafflecopter giveaway




Check out some other great gift guides here:


(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.)

Come See “Oklahoma” the Musical! (And a New Hairstyle)

We are about to enter Tech Week for the new Spotlight Youth Theater musical my kids are in:  Oklahoma!  It’s the first time it’s been performed with Spotlight, and we are so excited to be involved in it!

My oldest has a small lead this time.  He’s Ike Skidmore.  My 2nd son (not pictured) is working backstage.  The next three kids are in it as well!  My husband is working Tech.  And I’m the ticket-seller!

Please get your tickets today to see “Oklahoma” at Spotlight.  The show runs November 6-16 in Zion, IL. And credit a Mayo kid!

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It’s my 8-year-old son’s first show!  He’s the youngest of 86 kids kids in the cast.  The kids range from 8-18 (or just turned 19).

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Below is one of their stage moves:

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Just imagine them with their hair and make-up done–and cowboy hats!  The dancing is awesome. And the leads are so talented.  If you are in the area, you don’t want to miss it!

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On another note, my 2-year-old daughter had her first haircut this week.  Unfortunately, it was not cut by me.  It wasn’t even sanctioned by me.  Let me just say that we were having a WONDERFUL morning of homeschooling my 6 oldest kids Monday morning.  I was just thinking how nicely (and quietly) my 4-year-old and 2-year-old were playing together in the basement.  Then, she came up looking like this.  And her brother was the guilty culprit!  I cried.  Her older sisters cried.  But, now it’s kind of growing on us.  It’s funny how he left the one long piece on the right side of her head.  I’m calling it her “Kate Gosselin” hair-do.  My husband calls her the punk rocker!

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Weekly Wrap-up: Baptism, Birthdays, and Astronomy

Weekly Wrap-up?  Ok, to be honest, it has been so long that I’ve done one of these posts that it’s really going to cover the last 2 months!

Hope you enjoy!

On August 30 my 4th child was baptized by her father in a nearby lake.  I’m so proud of her for making the decision to follow Jesus and identify with him in baptism!

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Is this little girl cute or what!  She has now decided she doesn’t need an afternoon nap anymore.  I’m not ready for that!

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Three brothers:


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Worship in the Park:

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Our family supporting her baptism day:

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My kids with a young lady who was heading off to college:

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We’ve been studying astronomy with the elementary kids.  Here are my meager attempts at photos of the recent lunar eclipse:



And a few other projects we’ve done for astronomy.  Balloons representing the sun and planets:

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Solar eclipse.  We were shining a flashlight toward the earth with the moon in between.

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A salt dough model of Mercury which has been hit with many asteroids (it doesn’t have an atmosphere):

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Dropping “asteroids” onto the surface of a “planet”:

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In September and October we have several celebrations.  My husband and I have been married 16 years!



This pretty one is six:

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This sweet boy is 8:

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And here is our new 11-year-old:

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Check out my 2-year-old singing “Happy Birthday.”  She’s getting pretty good at it!

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And, last but not least, Dad!  (With the biggest cake fail ever.):

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My two oldest sons presented speeches for their Young Speakers Guild assignments (part of the Institute for Cultural Communicators).  Here is “The History of Musical Theater.”

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And a recitation of  “The Remarkable Farkle McBride” by John Lithgow:

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I love this baseball painting that my daughter made at our Tapestry of Grace Fellowship Group (co-op).  It has a quote by Babe Ruth:

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Here is my loving 4-year-old:

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And this is what I’m looking like these days:

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I’m having a ball teaching the toddlers music at Tapestry:

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My oldest daughter has made some dresses for her doll:

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And we’re taking advantage of the great weather to play in the park each week while my oldest takes his saxophone lesson:

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My second son has started a few projects:  taking Nerf guns apart, repainting them, and changing them:



Next week is the Showcase for the theater classes my kids started back in August.  My two oldest girls have LOVED their theater makup class!


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And a brand new hairstyle for the girls!

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Please leave me a comment letting me know your favorite part of our “Weekly” Wrap-up!


(Linked to Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers, Hip Homeschool Moms, My Week in Review at Home to 4 Kiddos, Fellowship Friday, Whole-Hearted Home


Sfzorzando String Camp (Morton Arboretum & Naper Settlement)

A couple of weeks ago my violinists partcipated in their first string camp. I also had 2 of my little ones who haven’t played yet be in the Pre-Twinkles program. It was a great Christian camp called Sfzorzando String Camp. It was about an hour from our house–so that was the hardest part of it for me. Also, since I had kids in all 5 different levels, they finished at 5 different times of the day. So, we hung out a lot at the church–at the playground, in the nursery, in the gym, and in the van!

They had a pretty strict dress code. I had to do quite a bit of shopping to prepare for the camp! I found some at the resale shop and made the girls’ black skirts. It was nice to see the kids looking so pretty and spiffy! I also loved that my older kids got to play in orchestras for the first time. The directors were really fine. The older kids also had choir, theory class, composition class, and chapel. My oldest son played in a chamber group (trio) as well as the orchestra. sfz camp and morton arboretum 052 sfz camp and morton arboretum 051 sfz camp and morton arboretum 045 sfz camp and morton arboretum 042

One of the neatest pieces the kids played was called a “wrap-around” piece because the three lower orchestras stood around the auditorium (with cellists in the middle) while the advanced orchestra was on the stage.

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I really loved that my kids got to participate in a choir.

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Here is the advanced orchestra playing hymns by ear.

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The Pre-Twinkles class was fun for my 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.  My son was the youngest kid and the only boy.  He almost dropped his violin during the final performance!

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He sure is adorable, isn’t he?

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The Advanced orchestra:

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Intermediate orchestra:

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The Beginning orchestra:

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I also took advantage of the location to go on a couple of field trips with the younger kids in the afternoons when the intermediate and advanced orchestras were still practicing.  Here is the Children’s Garden at the Morton Arboretum:

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And going back to the “Little House on the Prairie” days at Naper Settlement:

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Vacation Scrapbook: Visiting Monterey, California

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After we finished our time at my sister’s house (including my Mom’s funeral), we headed out to Monterey, CA for a fun vacation time!  There were 10 in our van and 6 in my sister’s car.  I counted to 12 (the kids) over and over and over during our time there.  And there always seemed to be someone missing that we had to search for!

It was Father’s Day when we left town, so we stopped at a Father’s Day adventure for the kids to explore the planes, helicopters, and trucks.  My brother-in-law is a forest fire fighter, so he gave us a lot of first-hand information.  Here is one of the helicopters he flies in.

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And here is the heavy backpack that he carries when on duty.

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One of the things my husband and I loved about driving around California were the wonderful orchards, fields of fruits and vegetables, and grapevines all over.  We stopped at a luscious farm stand where we bought pistachios, cherries, and blackberries that lasted us for rest of the trip!

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After arriving at Monterey and settling in to the KOA cabins in Salinas (which I do NOT recommend), we slept and got up early the next morning to explore.  Our first adventure was to drive out to Big Sur and then do a little hike at the State Park there.

The drive along Hwy. 1 is so beautiful.

We had the ultimate tour guides in my sister and her husband.  They were constantly texting us to give us information about the places we were driving by.  Occasionally, they even pulled over and came back to our van to tell a story.  Below is a picture of a military compound.  During World War II they used this spot to search the ocean for Japanese submarines.

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At the Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park, we walked over on this trail to see this pretty waterfall going into the ocean.  A couple had built a house during the early 1900’s that had this view out their bedroom window.  Pretty, huh?

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Then, not too far away in the same park was a redwood forest!

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Next we drove over to the beach in Monterey to let the kids explore the waves and sand.  Of course, they got completely into the water.  Here my sister and I are discussing why we didn’t have them change into their swimsuits first–which we had in the car!

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Playing football in the water:

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Getting buried in the sand–because it was pretty cold out there!

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We headed back to the cabins for a quick dip in the pool and then to dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

The next morning it worked out perfectly that low-tide was about an hour before the aquarium opened.  My sister and her husband knew an awesome spot to go tide-pooling.  It was such a wonderful place to explore!

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Then it was time to head over to the Monterey Aquarium.  It made more financial sense for my family to buy a membership, even though we won’t be able to make it back there within a year and they don’t have any reciprocal memberships.  The total amount is tax-deductible, though.

The Monterey Aquarium was wonderful.  If you’re ever in the area, you’ll have to go there!

First, you can see all these seals sunning themselves right outside the building:

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Here the kids are sitting under a wave which simulates the tides.  (An extra child snuck in on the far right!)

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My mom loved puffins.  We had seen them in their own habitat when we lived in Alaska.  So, it was special to me to see this puffin exhibit here at the aquarium.

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We went at feeding time to the deep sea exhibit.  A lady was explaining to us how they feed the different types of fish in there.  For some of them, they just drop cut up pieces of food in.  For others, they use a tool to get the fish to swim up to the top of the tank and they feed them up there.  There is also a huge school of sardines that just swarm around the tank.  They are supposed to stay away while the mahi-mahi are feeding.  Right at the end of the presentation, one sardine was suddenly left all alone.  The lady said, “I hope he makes it.”  And right then a mahi-mahi chomped him right down as everyone was watching!

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Next we walked out to another beach for them to explore.  They didn’t get too wet this time.  Then we got some ice cream.

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Here are the Twelve!

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We decided to do one more touristy thing and visit the Mission in Carmel before getting pizza for dinner.

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Later that night we headed back to the beach to watch the sunset.  A perfect ending to our Monterey vacation!

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Stay tuned for the last leg of our vacation scrapbook: Los Angeles.  And check out our Legoland California post, too!

Vacation Scrapbook: Visiting My Sister’s Family

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One of the most wonderful parts of our California vacation was getting to spend time — five full days — with my sister and her family.  It has been four years since we last saw them.  We had never met her two adopted kids, and they hadn’t met my two youngest.

They live in a beautiful community in the mountains about an hour from Reno, Nevada.  It was very pretty there.  The dads and kids spent a lot of time exploring nature while my sister and I went through some of my mom’s things.

The cousins (12 of them ranging in age from 2-13) got along so well!

They have a zipline and trampoline on their property.

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And they have chickens!

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The girls doing their nails:

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My sister and I going through old pictures:

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Exploring nature:

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My brother-in-law is a forest fire fighter.  His son created this sign that was put up as a billboard!  Here he is posing with it:

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This was my Mom’s wedding dress.  My daughter is modeling it here:

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This is the trailer where my Mom lived, right next to my sister’s house.

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Here is a display that we had at my Mom’s memorial service.  My family (with nieces and nephews) sang “Come to Jesus” by Chris Rice.  We sang some great hymns that my Mom loved.  Some friends of hers sang another beautiful song as well.  My sister shared some wonderful words.  It was a great blessing to meet some of her friends and to hear how she had affected their lives.

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And lest you think my kids are little angels–here they are after the funeral.  My niece really didn’t want to wear this dress because she said it made her feel like she was in jail.  :)  My son wet his pants, and all I could find for him was a diaper in the church nursery.  And I think my 2-year-old decided to roll in the dirt.

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My daughter LOVED their dog!


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Some more wonderful pictures of our time there:

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Join me next time when I share about our travels to Monterey, CA!

Here is California Post #1–San Francisco and Sacramento

Here are my Money-Saving tips to Legoland California

Visiting My Sister’s family (and Mom’s funeral)

Los Angeles

Vacation Scrapbook: California, Here We Come!!!

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Well, after what seems like a hundred sponsored posts, I’m happy to share some fun times about our family!  We recently returned from a trip to California.  My sister and her family live out there.  We’ve been wanting to visit for years, but it isn’t easy to get our big family from Chicago to California so we hadn’t done it before.

Then, my mom (who also lived in California) suddenly passed away.  Since she had spent her last 5 years out there, we decided to have the funeral there.

I called the airlines to see what they could do about getting us flights with our frequent flier miles.  We were able to get 6 free tickets, buy 3, and the baby could ride free!  What I didn’t realize until we had everything set was that the flight leaving here left at 10 p.m. and the one coming home left at 8 a.m.  Not the best times for a young family to travel!  However, God was gracious and worked out so many details for us.  The plane travel wasn’t nearly as stressful as I expected it to be.

We had a friend from church drive our van and drop us off at the airport.  We quickly figured out a routine of who was carrying what or pushing which stroller.  My husband led and I brought up the rear.  I was so afraid of losing a child–or a piece of luggage.  We had 4 carseats, 2 strollers, 3 big suitcases.  At one point I counted that we had 16 items to carry on the plane!

The first hurdle was that the 10 p.m. flight was delayed to midnight.  When we were waiting in line to get on the plane we were next to a really nice older lady who just loved my kids.  She ended up being the seatmate of my baby and me!  Perfect!

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We arrived in San Francisco at 4 a.m. and finally made it to the hotel (in 2 different mini-van cabs).

I highly recommend the hotel we stayed at in both San Francisco and Los Angeles--Staybridge Suites.

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Opening some presents:

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The next day we explored San Francisco!

The Golden Gate Bridge:

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Stinson Beach:

It was a really neat, scenic drive to Stinson Beach:

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These bathroom signs really made us laugh.  My daughter is trying to decide which side to go into.

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The Warming Hut (where my uncle–my mom’s brother– works):

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We did a LOT of driving this day to see as much of the city as we could.  We drove through Fisherman’s Wharf, over to Oakland, and saw several college campuses.  I think we drove over every different bridge–just to say we did. :)

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The next morning we woke up early and drove to Sacramento.  We had a funny situation with the van we rented.  We were supposed to get a 12-passenger, but they gave us a 15-passenger.  It was awful–about 150,000 miles and didn’t drive well at all.  Since we were going to be driving all over California, after the first day they came and switched it out for us.  It was still a 15-passenger van, but drove better.  Then when we were on our way to Sacramento the next morning they called and said they had a 12-passenger and wanted to switch with us again. We had a deadline, so we couldn’t stop for long to meet up with them.  Everytime we stopped, they weren’t there yet, so they ended up chasing us all the way to Sacramento!

When we got there we had lunch at Carl’s Jr. (for the 1st of 3 times on the trip) and then my husband dropped me and my four oldest kids at the theater to see. . .  Wicked!  My sister met us there.  We had spent the previous few weeks at home listening to the soundtrack over and over and memorizing every word.  It was so good!  (By the way, don’t read the book.  It is nothing like the musical.)

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While we watched the show, my husband switched out the van, drove around Sacramento, and played in the park with the kids.  They even saw these awesome redwood trees!

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After the show, we ate at Chili’s and then drove to my sister’s house in the Sierra Nevada’s.  I’ll share about the adventures we had there next time!

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Here are our other California scrapbook posts:

Visiting My Sister’s family (and Mom’s funeral)


Legoland California

Los Angeles


Giveaway “Summer Family Fun Pack” from Chicago Botanic Garden

Botanic Gardens Summer Family Fun Pack


I’m happy to offer a Giveaway “Summer Family Fun Pack” from Chicago Botanic Garden.  You probably know the Botanic Garden is one of our Favorite field trip destinations!  It’s one of the great wonders of the Chicago area, and if you haven’t been there (or haven’t been there lately), you need to go!  I’m excited to get out there again soon.  Last time we were there we missed the Fruit and Vegetable garden, which will be in full growth in a few weeks!


We also love the Model Railroad Garden and Butterflies & Blooms.  The Garden itself is free–and it’s huge.  But there is a cost for parking and for the special exhibits Model Railroad Garden and Butterflies & Blooms.  That’s where Summer Family Fun Pack comes in.  You can save 30-40% off with the special.  It includes parking for one car and tickets for 5 to the Model Railroad Garden and Butterflies & Blooms.  Valid through September 1, 2014.  It costs $50/family (limit of 5 people).


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Enter to win on the Rafflecopter app below.  Please only enter if you live in the area–or will be visiting before September 1!  The winner will be chosen on 7/20/14 and will have 24 hours to respond to my email.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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(Disclosure:  I received a Summer Family Fun Pack for my family.)

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Preschoolers Getting Bored? Try This!

ABC Say it With Me: Bible Memory Verses is one of those DVDs that I don’t feel guilty having my little guys watch over and over.

What you’ll find are fun little vignettes, one for each letter of the alphabet that has a Bible verse associated with it. Kids learn to understand the meaning of the verse and the repetition helps them memorize it. Check out the website for samples of the videos!


You can even get some free coloring sheets to go along with the DVD!

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(I am an affiliate of Moore Family Films, and they sponsor I Choose Joy!  This post contains affiliate links.)

Linked to

Free Kindle Book on Minecraft

Are your kids Minecraft lovers like mine? We just started using a new safe and educational server that I’ll be sharing about soon. But in the meantime, pick up this free book on Minecraft secrets on Amazon– the Kindle version. You don’t need a Kindle to read it, though. Your computer works just fine!

Minecraft: Ultimate Book of Secrets: Unbelievable Minecraft Secrets You Coudn’t Imagine Before!

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Vacation Scrapbook: Legoland California

Legoland California


For the next few weeks I’ll be sharing about our recent California trip.  I thought I’d start today with the last thing we did–visit Legoland California!
As you can see from this picture, the lines to buy tickets weren’t too long. We arrived about 10:30 a.m. (The gates had opened at 10 a.m.) And we stayed until they closed at 6 p.m.!  I had visited the Lego Store near us and picked up 3 Lego magazines in order to get the coupons for “Buy one adult ticket, get one child ticket free.”  We were also blessed by Legoland California to get two free tickets in exchange for this honest revew.  So, our admission price was half what it would have been!  (I’ll share at the end of the post some different ways to get discounted tickets.)

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One thing you will definitely see all through Legoland California are some incredible sculptures made of Legos.

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The first ride we went on was Fairy Tale Brook.  We rode in little boats and saw fairy tale creatures built of Legos.  They were even moving!

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We enjoyed getting our picture taken with Emmet.  My daughter didn’t want to stop holding his hand!

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This cute train ride was in Duplo Village.  Sometimes when the younger children were on a ride, the older kids went to look in the stores which were spread throughout the park.

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Another thing in the Duplo Village were Water Works:

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Both the older and younger kids did the Driving School (called Junior Driving School for ages 3-5).  It was so cute to see my 3-year-old son driving a car!

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We ate at the Fun Town Market Restaurant.  The hamburgers were huge and really filled us up. We even got free cups of ice water, so it wasn’t too expensive.

We all enjoyed visiting Miniland USA which included several U.S. city’s landmarks built of Legos.  Really cool!

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Some of these Miniland buildings we saw while we were riding in the Coast Cruise as well.  Our boat captain was pretty funny and kept making fun of my son’s Yankee ball-cap.

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And, of course, we also loved Lego Star Wars!

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I got to sit and take a break while the kids played at The Hideaways.  I also spent some time exploring the free Legoland California iPhone app and discovered they updated the wait times for the rides throughout the day.  That was quite useful as we decided how to plan the rest of our time there.

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My oldest even went down this slide, although he said it was a tight squeeze!

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While the older kids went on the totally awesome Lego Technic Coaster, the younger ones did the Bionicle Blaster twirly ride and Dune Raiders slide.

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And one of the highlights was visiting the set of The Lego Movie.

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Another ride that I did with the kids was Kid Power Towers. We set out to do the Sky Crusier, which is probably the post popular ride. It didn’t have less than an hour wait all day long. So we headed next door to the Kid Power Towers. You ride it in pairs. I was with my 3-year-old. You pull yourself up with a rope and then let go to float to the bottom. I was proud of myself for doing this one since I’m afraid of heights!
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Toward the end of the day a few kids rode on Captain Cranky’s Challenge while others played in the Skipper School (and another slept):

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There are a few rides where you can get wet, and the Aquazone Wave Racers was one of them!

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So, we left Legoland California happy that we had gone there over the more popular California theme park.  It was the right place for the kids’ ages, 13 down to 2.  My oldest was a little bored since there were so many “little kid” rides, but the little kids were thrilled to get to do almost everything!  The park wasn’t too crowded.  We did wait in line for different rides, but not too long.  My older kids tried three roller coasters and definitely like the Technic Coaster the best.  They love Legos, so they loved Legoland.

Here’s the Technic Coaster:

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By the way there are 3 other attractions connected with Legoland California that we didn’t check out:  the Chima Water Park, the Sealife Aquarium, and the Legoland Hotel.  We only went to the main park and only did about 1/2 of it even though we were there all day.  Some coupons and specials give you options for 2 or 3 days.  You could definitely spend that much time there!

Ways to Save MONEY at Legoland California:

– American Tire Depot: IN-STORE PROMOTION – if you purchase a certain
dollar amount at the American Tire Depot or Evans Tires, you can fill
out a form online or in-store to receive 2 or 4 LEGOLAND tickets
directly from ATD/Evans Tires.  If the form is completed online, you
will receive an email stating “Thanks for your submission, please allow
us 6-8 weeks to process.” Promotion runs through December 31, 2014.

– Buy 3 Merlin Annual Passes, Get 1 Child Merlin Annual Pass FREE: not
valid on the monthly payment option or with any other promotions,
discounts or offers. 4 Merlin Annual Passes must be purchased in the
same transaction and must include at least one adult Merlin Annual Pass.
Promotion runs through August 31, 2014 and expires 8/31/2014

– Circle K / Unilever Promotion: Free Child with Paid Adult “Pick One
Hopper” to LEGOLAND California Resort. Coupon offer available at Circle
K locations in California with the purchase of any Good Humor, Popsicle
or Fruttare brand product. Promo runs through June 30, 2014 and expires

– Wendy’s: Free Child with Paid Adult “Pick One Hopper” to LEGOLAND
California Resort. Coupon offer available on Wendy’s 30 oz cup,
trayliners and on coupons inside all San Diego, Orange County, Inland
Empire, Los Angeles, Ventura, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield
and El Centro restaurants. 

– LEGO Store & Free Child with Paid Adult to LEGOLAND
California Resort 1-day Pick One Hopper. (Valid 1 for 1). Receive this
offer with ANY LEGO purchase inside a LEGO Store (Does not include
LEGOLAND Attractions) in North America, AND/OR on with
any LEGO purchase. Promotion runs through June 30, 2014 and expires

Sign up at to receive their free magazine.  It includes a coupon for Free Child with Paid Adult.  You can also sometimes get the magazines at Lego Stores and Discovery Centers.

Also, children under 3 get in to the park FREE!

Read our other California vacation posts:

Here We Come (San Francisco and Sacramento)

Visiting My Sister’s family (and Mom’s funeral)


Los Angeles

Post linked to Summer Family Fun and Hip Homeschool Moms 

(Disclosure:  I received 2 free tickets to Legoland California in exchange for this honest review.)