Wednesday, December 10, 2014

We interrupt this vacation to bring you...

Kayla's "Daughters of the American Revolution" area winning essay!  Woohoo!  She entered the DAR contest to write an essay from the point of view of a child going through Ellis Island in 1892.  The essay could be a total of 1,000 words, hers was 993 :).  Now her essay goes on to the State competition.  We're awfully excited for her!

My Dear Amalia,

     I am writing to you from Grand Central Station in New York City.  The terminal is enormous!  My family is waiting for the train to Philadelphia to arrive.  We came here from a processing building on Ellis Island.  Ellis Island is right off the coast of New York City.  We were in the building for five hours, though it felt like we were there for months!  Going through that building was the toughest thing I have ever faced.  To tell you the truth, the whole trip was awful.

     It all started when we arrived in the bustling city of Hamburg.  When we entered the harbor, we were guided to a ship entitled “Venetia.”  Before we were allowed to climb aboard, a man who spoke in short crisp phrases questioned Papa about the details of our journey.

     After we boarded, we were directed to our family quarters.  Chail started to cry when she saw the cold, damp room. Rifke, like many others, became sea sick in the first week and had to stay in bed.  Throughout our three week voyage, the whole lower level smelled of sickness and unclean bodies.  Since I couldn’t stand the smell below, I spent most of my day on deck dreaming of America.

     On July 30th, we sighted land on the horizon!  My whole family stepped up on deck with our baggage and we watched the shapeless outline turn into the industrial New York City.  In the clear blue morning light, I could see the shiny, copper lady standing with the torch in her right hand.  It is the tallest statue I have ever seen, Amalia!  I know you won’t believe me, but I bet that her face is as tall as Papa!          

     I heard a voice and turned around to see a man standing on an upturned crate shouting numbers that were used to figure out what order we would board the ferries that took us to Ellis Island.  I was given a suitcase and ordered to hold it.  Sometimes it’s no fun being second oldest. Papa, Mama, Rifke and Feidel all carried bags too. We waited for three hours before our numbers were called.  As soon as they were, we hauled our luggage onto a passenger boat, which took us to the beautiful building.  When I first saw it, I thought it was a palace! 

     I was glad to put my feet on solid ground when we landed.  There was a line that stretched all the way from where we got off the boat to the doors of the massive building.  As I shuffled along in the slowly moving line, the suitcase I carried grew heavier and heavier.

     Finally, we arrived inside the building.  It was hot and stuffy.  I felt like I was in an oven with the door closed!  Hot sweaty bodies closed in on me as I moved with the flowing crowd.  At one end of the enormous room there was a clumsy mountain of baggage.  I added my bundle to the pile with a sigh of relief.  After dropping our burdens off, we clambered up a narrow stair case.

     When we reached the last step, a police officer approached us and ordered Papa to follow him.  I silently gazed at the man who took my papa with fear and confusion.  In my head I was asking, “Why are they taking Papa away?  Why can’t they just leave us alone?”

     I became terribly afraid, Amalia, because I knew how harsh policemen could be to people.  With Papa gone, we had no protection.  I was so confused and fearful of everything. Chail cried and Mane covered her eyes to keep the tears back.  I guess we were all crying inside as we got into the line to await our medical exams.

     At the end of the line, we were ushered into an area that was screened off from the crowd.  A male doctor was there.  He asked all of us to take off our outer garments so he could check for illnesses.  We all did as he commanded and he checked Mama first.  When the doctor began examining me, I gave a nervous glance at Mama.  I didn’t feel sick at all, but I became afraid I might have some disease I didn’t know about while the doctor inspected my body.  In one of his tests he checked for lice, I didn’t have any, but unfortunately, Mane did.  He carelessly shaved off her hair.  Mane cried the whole time.

     When he finished, he sent us to a room he called the Registration room.  As soon as we got in line, I saw Papa hurrying toward us! Chail, Mane, Feidel and even baby Pesach squealed with delight, they had seen him too!  Papa came swooping in, giving us all long, loving hugs. After that I gladly waited in line, holding onto one of Papa’s hands.   I don’t think I knew what my family meant to me until today, Amalia. 

     The room we were standing in was large and the echo of voices was deafening.  Everyone was speaking different languages.  I heard German, Russian and many others I didn’t recognize.  The line we followed swerved back and forth through the room.  It ended at the far side of the room where several men sat behind wide desks.  An interpreter stood beside the desk and asked us questions to confirm who we were.  After a million questions, he nodded with approval and told us we could go!  We are now Americans.

     I hope I’ll like the new life, Amalia.  It is all rather confusing to me. There are so many new sounds and words, but I guess one day all those words will be quite familiar.  It’s strange to think that Poland is no longer my home. I miss all of you and dear old Annapoli a whole lot.  We send you our love, and hope to see you in the future.


                        Ester Katz


Florin, Anna.  La Immigrata.  Featherwood Publishing, 1993.  Chapter 2.  iBooks.

Hamblin, B. Colin.  Ellis Island: The Official Souvenir Guide (Guide Book).  Companion Press, 1994.  Excerpted at

Island of Hope – Island of Tears (1989).  Dir. Charles Guggenheim. National Park Service, 1989.  Film. Retrieved from

“Passenger Search: Katz, Ester, 1892.”  Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. 2014.  Web.  5 Nov. 2014.  Retrieved from

United States.  Library of Congress.  America’s Story from America’s Library: The Statue of Liberty Arrived in New York Harbor June 19,1885.  US Library of Congress.  Web.   5 Nov. 2014.  Retrieved from

United States.  National Park Service. Medical Inspection on Ellis Island.  US National Park Service, 2011.  Web.  5 Nov. 2014.  Retrieved from

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

GNP Day 4–Avalanche Creek & Lake

The hike along Avalanche Creek to the Lake is 4.5 miles round trip and only has a 730 ft elevation gain.  It is a popular hike and you’ll run across more people here because it starts near a campground and is pretty easy.  The hike starts out in the woods, so we were pretty chilly.  We were also rewarded pretty quickly with little waterfalls as the creek meandered along.


Isn’t that blue water just amazing!


As the sun got higher in the sky, the colors muted, but it was still a beautiful walk.  Eventually, our wooded walk opened up to this view -


and the most fantastic stone-skipping lake :).


Because the hike was so short, we felt no need to rush kids along, so we just enjoyed soaking in the views and watching them explore.


We finished our day with a short drive to McDonald Lake where our 3 youngest swam to their hearts content and the rest of us played a game in the shadow of this majestic mountain range.


Glacier National Park Day 3 –White Water Rafting & the perfect cabin

We figured our kids would like a breather in-between our big day hikes.  And what better way to relax than white-water rafting :)  !!  After our big hike to Grinnell Glacier, we slept in a little the next morning and the kids and I hung around our cabin while Andrew got an oil change for our van.  Yes, we’d gotten an oil change before we left, but we’d already driven 3,500 miles! 

I was bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have any fruit for lunch when I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a huckleberry bush.  In Montana. huckleberries are also called “Montana Gold.”  So, I grabbed a bowl, hollered for some help and the kids and I went outside and picked huckleberries and raspberries to our hearts content. 


Yum! :)  It gave me yet another reason to be thankful we were staying at this house/cabin I found on VRBO.  It really was a fantastic location, had 3 bedrooms and a pullout couch for all of us and a lot of kitchen countertop space, which was perfect for gathering our snacks every morning.  The owners were helpful and kept the cabin well stocked.  We really loved staying there!  .


Next up – white water rafting!!!  Andrew and I rafted the Royal Gorge shortly after we got married and both of us really enjoyed it.  We had been looking forward to the day our kids were all old enough to raft with us.  And the day had finally arrived :).  

Did they enjoy it?  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:


Definitely a top 5 on our trip!  And that’s saying a lot!!

In between rapids, our guide offered us the “opportunity” to jump in the water…the 40 degree, mountain snow melt water.  Yeah, no thanks.  But every one of our kids did it!  Some more than once in order to get our guide to jump in!  Good thing it was an 80+degree day. :)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hiking with Kids – when you’re not regular day-long hikers

We LOVED hiking mile after mile as a family this past summer.  Our kids are active 9, 11, 11, 13, & 15 year olds.  However, I was concerned that hiking as much as we were planning could get tiresome and difficult.  So, I did a bunch of research before we headed out and learned some valuable lessons about hiking with kids as we went along that made the experience as positive as I could think to make it.  So here, in no particular order, are my thoughts/recommendations about how to make your hike with your children truly enjoyable:
  • Hydration Packs are WONDERFUL.  We gave each of our kids (and ourselves)hydration backpacks for birthdays and even though birthdays got a bit redundant, it was well worth it.  We bought 1.5 or 2 liter packs depending on the size of the child.  They were great because our kids could easily drink as they hiked and keep some basic supplies on them.  Yes, that means that on one of our hikes a couple kids ran out of water because they were drinking a bit much (so us adults got to share), but it was still wonderful to not listen to them whine, “I’m thirsty, can’t we stop?”  5 minutes after the last stop to get out water bottles.IMG_4547
    • Keep extra water in your vehicle.  In case kids run out in their pack, it’s good to have some extra. :)

  • Pack Snacks.  Before our trip, I bought a variety of dried fruits and nuts, granola bars, nutrigrain bars, slim jims, fun fruits, etc.  Every morning each child was given a quart size ziplock baggy to fill with the nuts and dried fruits they wanted.  Plus they could pick out 4 or so of the other snack items.  They put their snacks in their packs.  When you’re planning on hiking an average of 8 miles a day, your children will have much more energy and will be MUCH more smiley when they have plenty of snacks to keep their tummies happy!

  • Pack Lunch.  Every day my husband and I, along with our 15 and 13 year old carried lunch for everyone.  Even if you think your morning hike will be quick, it’s best to be prepared and have lunch on you.  It gives you the flexibility of staying at your destination as long as you want (and let kids skip stones to their hearts’ content) without having the hungry grouchies force you to rush back to your vehicle to eat lunch.
  • Wet wipes.  You will find a myriad of uses for them on the trail.

  • Keep Jackets or sweatshirts handy.  I purchased backpacks with bungee straps on the back so we could easily tuck our an extra layer in them when we were warm and get the layer out when we were chilly. Glacier had a heat wave the week we were there, so we hardly needed our jackets (although early mornings in the forest are always cool), but Grand Tetons and Yellowstone were chilly, so we were glad to have them!


  • Consult a day backpacking site and pack the stuff they recommend.  The compass?  Yep.  We never needed it, but the kids loved using it.  In fact, I thought they would, so for a couple bucks a piece I bought each of them small compasses with carbineers to hook on their backpacks.  Of course make sure to pack the first aid kit (with large bandages), sun screen, bug spray, bear spray (if applicable), etc., etc.

  • Get a cheap pocket guide for animals/birds/whatever natural your child is interested in, so they can look the info up while going to and from hike locations or as you take little breaks on your hike.  It gets them more knowledgeable and excited about what they may see that day.  I had purchased an “animals of the northwest” book that my kids enjoyed, but the best/most popular resource was at the first house we stayed in.  They had a book called, “Who pooped in the Park?”  Our 11 yr old boys ate it up and trust me, you see a lot more scat than live animal on trails.  Our boys loved being able to figure out which animal had left their mark!

  • If you rented a cabin or house to save on food expenses - have supper waiting for you when you get home.  I planned lots of crockpot and quick grill meals for us so we could sit down and eat quickly.  The last thing I wanted to do after a day of hiking was deal with supper, so I made sure I didn't have to!

Finally, if at all possible, do an all day or half day local hike before your big trip.  A couple months before our big trip we went to Starved Rock for the day.  We don’t typically do big full day hikes, so it was invaluable to hike 6+ miles at a stretch and learn from it.  Our big take-aways from that day were to slow down and enjoy the hike itself, not just the destination and make sure we had plenty of food and water on us (not just in our vehicle).

IMG_4289(Starved Rock a couple months before we headed West)

I’d love to hear any “hiking with kids” tips you have to make our next trip even better!

Glacier National Park Day 2

Our first big hike.  We chose to drive 2+ hrs under GNP rather than drive 2+ hrs on the Going to the Sun Road to get to Many Glacier and hike to Grinnell Glacier.  While the GtS Rd is beautiful, it also has steep grades and is gravel in some places.  We hoped the road under GNP would be more friendly to our big van.  Thankfully we did not have the steep grades, but the road was very curvy, part of it was gravel and we were starting to wonder why we hadn’t just gone through the park when we saw:
Yes, we saw bushes, but before I took the picture of the bushes, we saw a bear!!!!  You can just barely see it in there if you look carefully.  It was running full speed along the shoulder of the road toward us.  We were SOOOOO excited!!  Then I remembered my camera, snapped a picture and got…bushes.  Major bummer.  But I was ready for the next animal.  This moose was really moving!
The Grinnell Glacier hike is roughly 10.5 miles round trip, and like many of the hikes at GNP, you hike the same trail twice – once heading in, and then to hike back out (so the actual trail is just over 5 miles).  It has nearly everything you could want in a hike – mountains of course, but right on top of beautiful emerald lakes, woods, narrow waterfalls and a glacier at the end.  Naturally, you don’t get all this beauty easily.  This hike has an elevation gain of 1,700 ft.  Not easy. at. all.  But awe-inspiringly beautiful.
While we did come across people occasionally on this hike, we had long stretches of being “alone” (if 7 people can ever be alone).  The solitary hiking led to some pretty humorous exchanges because the kids (and adults) felt comfortable being goofy, knowing no one would hear them.  It also lead to some pretty fantastic praise singing :).  Usually Kayla or Lucas would start up a Praise Song and a bunch of us would join in while we looked at the majesty around us.  Can it get any better than that?
We walked through woods, snow, & waterfalls.  We proved that 11 year old boys CANNOT walk past water without soaking themselves.
Now, scroll back to the mountain picture at the beginning of the post.  See the tiny waterfall on the right side?  Yep, this is it.  We climbed until we were above the incredibly tall waterfall and up to what looks like a snow bank, but is actually a glacier.
This is where I suffered my only disappointment in GNP.  I expected the glacier to be a massive ice mountain that I could virtually see my reflection in (probably due to watching too much Frozen).  I was bummed to just see lots of snow.  I was also exhausted.  I’m not used to hiking up 1700 ft at 7000 ft.  We stayed around to soak in the breeze off the glacier (it was 80+ degrees), take a bunch of pictures and eat some snacks.

You would think our return trip would be a bit boring because we’ve already walked the trail, right?  Actually, I found myself enjoying the views more for 2 reasons :
1) the hike was much easier because we were heading downhill.  And
2) we were at the highest part of our hike looking down at the mountains and lakes we had hiked past on our way there.  
Isn’t that just GORGEOUS!!?!!  And check out these beautiful flowers!!!
For supper we stopped at a local restaurant near Many Glacier that oozed loads of local flair – including indoor and outdoor displays of license plates from every state (and many countries inside) and a sign that my children loved:

Next up – Hiking with kids.

We LOVE Glacier National Park!

Just weeks before we left for Hong Kong last year, we learned that Andrew's company had begun a new policy of giving 2 weeks paid paternity leave for adoptions.  First we were floored!  Then we started planning :).  We decided to add one of our regular vacation weeks onto the 2 weeks and have an epic trip to the Northwest.  I spent a ton of time planning and researching and booking and finally early in the morning on July 26th, we groggily hauled ourselves into the big van and started driving.  First destination stop - Glacier National Park!!! DISCLAIMER - *****I apologize for the travel-logue-y-ness of these posts, but my goal is to remember what we did each day and help those who may be planning a similar trip (I’ve had a number of requests for our itinerary).  So, I most likely won’t be sharing Lucas stories and they’ll be pretty low on emotion….but they will be full of beautiful scenery pictures.  You have now been warned. *****
Glacier is in the far northwest corner of Montana.  It is home to the Northern Rockies Mountain Range and literally hundreds of miles of hiking trails.  It is chock full of God's beauty at its best.  Nearly every day we drove the Going to the Sun Road, but it’s impossible to complain about a commute when you see this all along your drive! IMG_4534
I just kept ooohing, aaahing and wowing and telling kids – “Seriously, you have got to be looking out the windows because this is just gorgeous!!”  I’m not sure they were into it as much as I was, but I heard some pretty excited voices coming from the back with every new turn in the road (ps. – stock up on Dramamine).
From the very beginning, we planned to do a lot of hiking on this trip.  We wanted to ease our kids in a bit, so we started with 2 smallish hikes our first day in the Park.  We drove up to Logan’s Pass and barely got a parking space.  True, this park is the least visited of all the National Parks, but it also has the smallest parking lots.  We quickly learned if we wanted a good parking spot, we needed to be at our destination by 8:30 or so. 
First hike - Hidden Lake Trail. This has to be one of the busiest trails in the park because there is little elevation change, it is right behind the Logans Pass Visitor Center and it’s pretty short (just under 3 miles round trip).  A view of the trail, and yes, we hiked through some of that snow.  This large Mountain Goat also thought the boardwalk portion of the trail was the easiest way to travel, so we just kept a respectful distance and enjoyed watching him :).
A little stop off as we hiked & watched a mom and kid -
Below is Hidden Lake.  Isn’t it just gorgeous!!!  We couldn’t hike down to the lake because of bear activity (they hung a rope to block the trail), which was a bummer, but we thoroughly enjoyed soaking all this in while we ate our lunch.
After lunch we hiked back down the trail to Logan’s Pass and grabbed a shuttle to the St Mary Falls Trail Head.  The St Mary & Virginia Falls trails are also about 3 miles round trip and have very little elevation change so it is also a busier trail, but again, it is beautiful!!!  First we hiked through a bunch of trees with this majestic mountain towering over us.  Before too long we heard, and then saw, St Mary Falls.
One of the nice things about sharing the trail with a few other people is that they are willing to take pictures of your family for you :).  Yet, there are few enough people that it is easy to get a picture without anyone else in it.
Virginia Falls -
Perspective – the top section of the falls is 50+ feet.  It is really beautiful!  We ate a prolonged snack and just enjoyed watching this waterfall for a good 1/2 hr. 
We ended  the day back at the house we had rented and wolfed down the crockpot meal that was ready for us.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"That go down hill very fun!!!"

This month (January) we have had TERRIBLY cold temperatures and our family has had nasty coughs for a good portion of the month too.  So, not much fun has happened.  December was much better! 

As temperatures dropped, Lucas placed a cup of water outside to show Isaac that it would, in fact, freeze.  Isaac was pretty floored when we brought the cup back inside 2 hours later and it was solid ice!  Then he was confused as to why we didn't have snow.  Fortunately he didn't have to wait too long.  The first week of December we got a little snow.  Isaac was SO excited to watch the snow coming down!  He, Lucas and Alyssa played in that snow as much as kids can possibly play in an inch or two of snow. 

The second week of December we got a lot of snow!  The Friday the snow came, Isaac spent a lot of time at the windows exclaiming how much (or little) it was snowing and what the ground looked like and asking when he could go outside to play in it.  Unfortunately the snow was pretty on and off all Friday evening, so by the time there was enough to play in, it was dark.  Most of it came while we were sleeping. 

But you should have heard the excitement in the house when we awoke to several inches of snow!  That's when some reality hit...before we could really play in the snow, we needed to work.  Timothy and Lucas had been trying to explain that snow is fun, but it's a lot of work too.  Isaac had a hard time grasping that until Saturday morning.  We spent the first couple hours of the morning packing up Christmas gift baskets for needy families in our area and then it was time to scoop!!  First we attacked our drive, then different grandparents.  We didn't finish scooping until 2.  We grabbed our sleds as quickly as we could and hit the sledding hill in town.  Isaac spent the next hour+ sledding down the hill every which way he could think of.  Sitting, lying down, standing up, forward & backward, by himself & with others.  Lots of laughter. 
As the sun began to set, we headed home.  We got into the van, all still bubbling about the great time we had and the stunts we had tried.  In the midst of the conversation, I heard Isaac exclaim, "That...ummm...that go down hill very fun! Woohoo!!!"  It sure was :)