A cornfield. Rainy Pennsylvania fir tree forest. The tracks of the Santa Fe line with trains rushing by. Humungous crickets. A lightning storm. With each new destination, the view outside of our hotel, motel, or inn window held wonder.

Well, with the exception of the Rodeway Inn in Salina, UT. That was a last-ditch, drove-a-bit-too-long stop and completely disgusting with sheets that had been unchanged for goodness knows how long (found a pubic hair when I turned down the bed and some stains on the pillows and sheets). So that’s that.

But back to the sights and experiences that gave us wonder…

We began our peripatetic journey on Saturday, July 14th and came home yesterday afternoon. I cherish our adventures and memories, but oh it is lovely to be home! Though packing up the car each morning gave me a bit of a thrill as I thought excitedly about what new places we would see that day, I find comfort in being settled in my home and seeing my mom, dad, and all of my family again. For two weeks I have thought about meeting my newest cousin Chelsea and seeing my Nana and my Benefield cousins (who were recently abroad in Thailand for five months). On trips I find that I can adapt to new beds, new food, and new rhythms—adapt to anything, really, except for missing my extended family. I enjoyed discovering that at 32-years-old, I can still feel homesick for my family and friends-like-family.

Exercising (I went for a run before 6:00 AM this morning) and eating my non-road-trip food last night (a big bowl of quinoa with chilled rooibos tea and steamed carrots and cold peas) feels great, too.

Here is our rough itinerary:

DAY 1 : CA to AZ

DAY 2: AZ to TX

DAY 3: TX to OK to AR

DAY 4: AR to TN

DAY 5: TN to VA

DAY 6: VA to WV to MD to PA

DAY 7: PA for Shil and Nipa’s wedding

DAY 8: PA for Shil and Nipa’s wedding

DAY 9: PA to WV to Ohio

DAY 10: OH to IN to IL to MS

Day 11: MS to KS to CO

Day 12: CO to UT

Day 13: UT to CA

Some of our numbers:

18 = number of states we experienced

7 = number of Apple devices we brought on the trip

6,000 = approximate number of miles we traveled

111 = in degrees, the hottest temperature we experienced (though we enjoyed a surprising amount of rain, as well)

6 = high school friends meeting in PA for Shil’s wedding

3 = days of wedding festivities

12 = highest number of hours driving

42 = different state license plates we found

5 = trips to McDonald’s (kind of a lot, considering that in her life Katie has only been there once and Eric never has! By the last trip, Eric added a new word to his growing collection: “clown”).

1.1 = pounds that Bill LOST on the trip

1.5 = pounds that I gained (I discovered sweet tea in Tennessee, what can I say?)

9 = Music Together CDs (kiddos loved both the familiar music from their class, as well as many other albums)

13 = days on the road

8 = complementary breakfasts

20 = years of friendship with Shil

272 = words in the Gettysburg Address

570 = in feet, the depth of the Meteor Crater in Arizona

For my family and friends and for whomever else might find it interesting, I hope to post several entries over the next week that give the details of each part of our trip, along with how we turned our car into our traveling classroom for our kiddos (4.5 and almost 2). We had a great time with our Katie and our Eric and they did extremely well: no major meltdowns (unless you count Eric screaming for “Mama, more beans!” He calls M&Ms “beans” and discovered their joys on this trip…he did not often feel ready to accept the fact that the bag was empty, LOL). In fact, we had fewer between-sibling tiffs in the car than we had been having lately at home. It was all such a great chance to spend time together and rely on one another.

Although it is work, and although we often have to adapt whatever we are doing to be kid-friendly (I am fairly childlike myself, so this isn’t difficult for me), I love to travel with my children. I believe novelty is essential for their brain growth and development. I had a feeling that Eric would experience his language explosion on this trip, and he did. On July 24th, he seemed to have a new word every few minutes. We have known for awhile that he understands almost everything we tell him or ask of him, but until lately his spoken words remained in the dozens. This has been a very exciting pay-off with respect to this trip.

Katie, too, showed an increase in maturity. She could be relied upon to help her brother in the car, often sharing or giving him her things if he showed signs of discontentment. During Eric’s nap time, one of our family norms was to try to have quieter moments in the car—a time of rest—where we could read or sit quietly in our seats (I was turned around in my seat quite often, either teaching or playing or both). Katie would entertain herself with playing dolls or practicing her reading for a couple of hours.

It was surprising how well the kiddos traveled on this trip, if only because I know how accustomed they are to having freedom in our house and yard and how much they enjoy their routines. Katie adapted early on and kept saying how much she loved it—she is a born adventuress. Eric settled in, too, though at the end expressed that he wanted to go home and see Nani (his name for Amie) and Boppa and his bed. I decided to go into this believing fully that we could make 80 hours on the road work for us, just like I used to go into my classroom believing that I could teach and manage large groups of teenagers. There comes a point when you just have to believe you CAN (despite doubts and insecurities), and that belief itself (and the confidence that comes with it) can actually be powerful enough to make the teaching and classroom management work. Optimism and tenacity are powerful tools.

Although I have so much to say about each state that we visited, here are a few highlights for now:

The Meteor Crater in Arizona. Katie LOVED this, as she has a passion for anything space-related.

Looking down into the crater

We stayed at the ultra-campy and retro Wigwam Hotel in Holbrook, AZ along old Route 66. The train tracks were right behind us, and the kiddos loved watching the trains speed by. Katie thought it was SO COOL to be sleeping in a concrete wigwam.

“Standing on the corner of Winslow, Arizona…”  Music history buffs, we HAD to go do this.

“It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford/Slowing down to take a look at me…” At this intersection, they have Eagles and 80s Don Henley playing continuously. Very awesome.

New Mexico

A park in Sayre, OK. Oklahoma was one of my favorite states…

Playing with paper dolls on the way from Amarillo, TX to Waldron, AR

We found the graves of Bill’s ancestors in a small cemetery in the little town of Waldron, AR, land of the McGaughs. Here, Katie and Eric are pictured with their Great-Grandfather Earl Reeves McGaugh’s gravesite. Family history for the kiddos!

Bill and Katie with the grave of Bill’s Uncle Dewey, who was the County Clerk. Bill remembers visiting his Uncle Dewey when he was about 14 years old.

Katie and her Daddy at lunch in Tennessee, where we discovered sweet tea, hush puppies, and fried catfish!

Working on schoolwork as we drive through beautiful TN. I love homeschooling, which gives us such freedom. Here, Katie is working on long vowel words. We loved reviewing many of our tall tales, as well, as we drove through the states from which those American heroes hailed. Katie also had fun making up her own “tall tale” sentences.

Playing soccer in Memphis, TN right by the Mississippi River.

A park in Salem, VA

We made masks with feathers and gem-stickers as we drove to VA. Katie also discovered the fun of Mad-Libs! She  learned the differences between nouns and adjectives on this trip (though we will need to keep reinforcing that learning this coming year)!

Swimming in the hotel pool in Virginia. A kiddo for each arm—I certainly had a workout this evening!

Perhaps our coziest night of the trip: we took early baths after swimming, went out to get cheap Mexican food in our jammies, and came back to eat it on the window seat while watching this amazing lightning and rain storm in Virginia. SOOOOOOOO cozy! Then we cuddled and read books and watched a Word World (Eric’s favorite episode on their iPad is called “Runaway O”—he would say, “More Run O! More Run O!”)

A favorite part of the trip: Lancaster County, home of the Amish. We visited Good N Plenty in Smoketown, PA, which I have been dreaming about ever since first visiting in college. I identify strongly with my Amish and Mennonite ancestors on the Yoder side, and visiting Amish country feels a bit like being home. We mailed a postcard from the next village over, coincidentally called Bird-In-Hand (the name of my blog). The Amish values largely speak to me.

Katie and Eric playing with a wooden horse and buggy. We saw several real horses and buggies, which Eric called “Neighs!”  I have many pictures from this experience, but I will need to write more about Lancaster later.

We also visited Gettysburg, PA. Although I have studied the Gettysburg Address many times, I cried for the first time while trying to read it to Katie at the National Cemetery. I get it now.

Hugging Shil on the first night of the wedding. What a blessing to have this beautiful friendship in my life. More on that later, too.

On the second day, we watched Shil receive his blessings and participate in the Hindu auspicious ceremonies.

He was painted in turmeric by his family ladies

Shil and Nipa

At the garba (dance) on the second night of the wedding

Katie and our friend Marguerite (Katie is smitten with her) dance at the garba. Marguerite has also been a friend for over 20 years, an amazing spirit.

At the reception in a loft of an art gallery on the last night of the wedding, Katie was one of the first on the dance floor. When the DJ asked us to make some noise, Katie put both her hands in the air, threw back her head, and screamed. Love this little firelight girl.

Driving through Ohio, eating “beans” and listening to the story of Johnny Appleseed.

Daddy and Eric in Terre Haute, IN

Sweet tea at the Cracker Barrel in IN. Cracker Barrel is a revelation. I had pinto beans, cornbread, and sautéed greens with vinegar. LOVE!

Cracker Jacks in vintage looking boxes


Katie’s first and Eric’s first ice cream cone—and eaten in Kansas!