Tag Archives: travel

My Tango With Traditions

2 Dec

By Renée Gotcher

I love the idea of traditions just as much as the next person, and the warm and fuzzy feelings that word evokes in my heart. However I’ll admit that try as I might to establish and keep traditions, I’ve really struggled over the years with consistency. Which is a problem when you consider the fact that a tradition is all about consistency — right? If you aren’t consistent about it, can you really call it a tradition?

When I reflect on my own childhood, I realize my mother had the same challenges maintaining traditions in our family. I don’t imagine that it was easy in a family of eight children, with extended family living nearby who maintained traditions of their own that my parents often felt compelled to participate in.

When it comes to Christmas, we had several traditions that endured for a while but then faded as children got older. For example, most years we spent Christmas Eve with my step-dad’s family, and “Santa” (my uncle) showed up with a bag of gifts for us and our cousins, then we’d open family gifts from every uncle and aunt — one by one — until well past midnight. It was certainly all about the gifts, and in years when my parents were struggling financially, it was extremely stressful and burdensome.

All grown up: My family and my sister Cristina’s family (at right) with my Mom and sister Bethany during one of our post-Christmas gatherings.

As we got older, my mom desired for us to focus more on the “reason for the season” and less on the gifts, but her attempts were met with a lot of resistance. Not just from the younger kids, which was to be expected, but my step-dad as well — seeing as the gift-centric traditions came from his family. We tried different approaches over the years, such as skipping Christmas Eve gift time with his family altogether and attending a church service instead, baking Christmas treats for family members instead of buying token gifts, and once we even sang Christmas carols at a nursing home while handing out wrapped bibles to the residents. But nothing ever stuck.

Looking back now, I can completely relate to where my mom was coming from — and I’m disappointed in myself as the eldest child in the family not to have been more understanding and supportive of her efforts. Today, my struggles with Christmas traditions in my own family are very similar.

Being the only sibling in my family born from my mom’s first marriage, I have the added challenge of having another family competing for our attention around the holidays: My birth dad’s family. And that family is also divided between his father and mother, who have been divorced since he was just a toddler and aren’t on speaking terms. That makes at least three different family celebrations to attend in a span of 24 hours around Christmas Day. Oh, and did I mention they are all in California — and we live in Colorado?

Spending Christmas Eve with my dad, his dad and my half-sister Marel.

Needless to say, Christmases have been hectic and completely non-traditional over the years that we’ve attempted to pack up all our children — and a load of gifts — and spend it in California with my family. We’ve had Christmas dinners in hotel banquet rooms and restaurants. We’ve opened gifts around a mini Christmas tree in hotel suites and had to pack large toys into extra luggage purchased specifically to get it home on an airplane. We’ve driven from San Diego (where my Grandma lived) all the way up to the central coast (where my mom lives) in the same day to eat two different Christmas dinners — it’s a 5 1/2 hour drive. You get the picture.

We also take a huge financial hit: Each of these trips, whether we drive or fly, costs us in the thousands. When you add up travel expenses, gift expenses, meals out, trips to local attractions like Disneyland (which we’ve done a couple of times while there), it’s a significant investment. Christmas is not only mostly about gifts, but about cramming as much California fun as we can into one week. Talk about holiday stress! As much as I love my family and spending time with them — and I know how disappointed they are when we don’t travel out — we’ve determined that it’s a tradition we can’t always keep up with, especially if all signs point to staying home.

Opening gifts with my husband’s family on Christmas Day 2002: Audrey’s playing the drums while her cousins chime in.

One year we decided to spend Christmas with my husband’s family in Oklahoma, and although they don’t often gather as an extended family for the holidays, this year our visit brought everyone together. Our family, the families of my husband’s two sisters, and his parents all under one roof. It was delightfully stress free and fun, and we enjoyed participating in my sister-in-law Rosanna’s Christmas traditions, but one thing was still missing. We still didn’t have our own family traditions to share.

Which brings me to my mission this year: Establish Christmas traditions that are meaningful to our family and mostly repeatable no matter where we actually end up on Christmas Day. When it comes to traditions we’ve attempted over the years or picked up from others, we’ll keep the ones that are meaningful to our family and let go of the rest.

One request from the girls this year is to make a new nativity scene.

I also realized that homeschooling gives us the freedom to incorporate Christmas fun into our everyday learning. I have my sister-in-law Rosanna to thank for that idea (see her post about Rethinking the Holiday Session). Rather than continuing our traditional school days right up until our designated “Christmas break,” which is what I did last year, we will be incorporating Christmas celebration and themes into our daily school activities. And while I want to have lots of fun with the girls and enjoy more family bonding time, I also want to take the focus off the commercialism and put it back where it belongs — celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

So that’s the plan: Whether we accomplish it or not, only time will tell. But it’s my prayer that as I turn this project over to the Lord and ask Him to guide our family during this time, traditions will be born that not only stand the test of time, but bless others as much as they bless us. May our family’s actions bring more glory to Him and reflect His light in a time when most people completely miss the point.

Have you ever struggled with establishing or maintaining your own family traditions at Christmas? What traditions have stuck with you? Have any of your traditions changed or been influenced by homeschooling?

Stay tuned: This month I will chronicle some of our new traditions as they unfold throughout our Christmas celebrations. And in case you’re wondering, we are not attempting a California Christmas this year!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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Homeschool Traveling

3 Nov

By Rosanna Ward

When I was 16 and soon to be a homeschool graduate, my dad planned the ultimate homeschool “field trip” for our family. He planned it for months and had every minute of the trip planned out, literally. When it was time, our family of five loaded up in a 1971 Dodge Van and drove east out of Tulsa. We were all pretty excited to be taking this big of a trip, but I don’t think anybody was excited as our dad, who had planned it for so long.

Camping out at Redbird Mission

Our first stop was Cumberland Gap, Tennessee: We played in the Cumberland Falls, which were beautiful. Then it was on to Beverly, Kentucky, where I was born. At the time when I was born my parents were dorm parents in a boys dormitory at Red Bird Mission near Beverly, Kentucky. It was cool seeing the mission campus, which is still a mission school today, and standing in front of the tiny hospital where I was born.

When we stopped for the night, it was mostly at campgrounds where we could tent camp. At 16, the tenting got old rather quick, but looking back it was actually pretty fun. I rarely go camping now, and I find that I miss it sometimes. Growing up, our family went camping quite a bit.

After Kentucky we headed to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and took an afternoon audio drive tour through the Gettysburg battle fields. I think we bought the tape at the beginning of the tour and listened to it in the van as we drove through. Then we traveled on to Washington D.C., where we actually stayed in a hotel in the middle of the city. I remember it had a pool on the roof!

My mom and us kids on the Capitol building steps

We spent the whole next day touring the state capital: It was hot, and I remember thinking my parents could just leave me at the Library of Congress and I would be perfectly happy. In one afternoon, we hit all the hot spots, including the Smithsonian, Lincoln and Washington Memorials, Capitol Hill, and the outside of the White House, where Reagan was president at the time. Other than the Library of Congress, I don’t really remember a lot about the tour. I wish now that I had paid more attention or that we could have spent more time in D.C. This is definitely a place I want to go back to.

Our next stop was Boston. The traffic was crazythere, so we took a bus tour, as well as a tour of Old Ironsides at the USS Constitution Museum. Then we stopped at Plymouth Rock on the waterfront in Plymouth, Mass., and looked around. I remember camping on the beach in Connecticut, I believe. It was my first time camping on the beach and other than the mosquitos, it was a pretty neat experience.

Manassas Monument

Then it was on up the East Coast, where we saw many beautiful lighthouses. We stopped and toured the eastern most lighthouse somewhere in Maine. After that we drove on up to the tip of Maine, where we camped out before catching a ferry to Prince Edward Island, Canada. We spent several days on Prince Edward Island in a cabin, touring and relaxing. This was our big destination, as the author of my favorite series of books, L.M. Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables, had lived here.  It was a beautiful island, and we spent enough time here to thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

Our family at the base of Niagra Falls

When we came back to the states, we drove to Niagara Falls, then west and down to Iowa to visit my grandparents. My grandpa had a heart attack while we were visiting. He had a triple bypass and thankfully, is a fairly healthy 81-year-old today. Being there when he had his heart attack was a scary experience, but the adults were pretty calm and at the time, I didn’t know that much about what had happened to him. We left when we knew he was going to be okay.

On the way home, we stopped at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. I was too motion sick to enjoy my time there and was glad when we finally made it home. In all, I believe we weren’t gone much longer than two weeks, and it was a very low-budget trip. We ate at a few restaurants, but for the most part, it was roadside picnics. However, I learned a lot on that trip, and I look back fondly on it now. In fact, I can’t wait to take my own children on a driving tour of the eastern United States!

As homeschoolers, our options are limited only by our imaginations. We have very flexible schedules, and the world can be our classroom. But I can’t say that for us, traveling as a homeschool family now is really any different than traveling back when we were not homeschooling. Maybe that’s because I was a homeschooled student myself, and with that background, I have just always treated traveling as an educational experience.

For two years, my husband was the Northwest Region’s Sales Manager for the Daylight Donut Flour Company. He traveled pretty much all the time and thankfully, he was able — and even encouraged — to take the family along when possible. The girls were in grade school at the time (why we didn’t homeschool them back then is beyond me), so we only got to travel with him during the summer and spring and fall break.

Sometimes the girls went with their dad, and I got some blessed quiet time at home. But when I went with them, I know I was educationally minded about the trip. I remember traveling along Snake River in Washington and asking the girls to imagine what it would have been like traveling here by covered wagon. We talked about the Oregon Trail experiences. We learned about each state we traveled through: the capitol, its main crop, history, state bird, etc.

The girls went to Yellowstone with their dad, and we visited Yosemite several times because their great grandparents have a cabin there. We also went to the Grand Canyon several years ago. The girls learned a lot about the western half of the United States in those two years of traveling — mostly on Daylight Donut’s dime. And they were in public school at the time.

Today, I teach my kids a lot of history, and I really can’t wait to be able to travel east with them. I think we have pretty much “done” the west and the midwest, but my children have never traveled further east than Nashville — and that was just this past summer and not for educational purposes.

I have several friends and family members out east that claim they would love to have us come visit. One lives just an hour outside of Washington D.C. It is hard for my husband to get away from our business, and when he does, he would really just rather visit his family in Oregon at the beach. But I am hoping to talk him into a trip east before the girls get too old to want to go with us.

Traveling is hard to do on a budget: Gas prices are high, my family doesn’t like tent camping, etc. But it can be done with some advance planning. I believe that traveling is one of the greatest educational tools we have available to us, and no matter how hard it might be, it is definitely worth doing.

— Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are currently homeschooled. Her oldest daughter is a homeschool graduate, and her youngest son is a toddler. Rosanna is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for six years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy, and currently resides in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

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