The Most Recommended Books on Homeschooling

There are almost an endless number of books to read and philosophies to consider when getting started with homeschool. It can feel overwhelming and intimidating to know which ones are really worth your time. But these three books have been recommended to me over and over again, and now, having read them myself, I understand why! These don’t prescribe a specific methodology for homeschooling, but they do provide incredible resources, inspiration, and general know-how to any homeschool mama, or would-be homeschool mama. Here are my reviews and hearty recommendations.

The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment

This book is full of inspiration and homeschool and parenting wisdom not only from the author, but also from a whole community of mothers. It offers researched ideas about choosing an outside-the-box lifestyle and practical advice about how to create a beautiful homeschool experience for your family. It will change the way you think about education, and it is incredibly freeing, opening a new world of possibilities. If you want to homeschool, but it seems heavy, feels like drudgery, or you need a boost to get excited about it, READ THIS FIRST!

Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie

This book is a very quick read, packed with comforting content and beautiful strategies to manage a home, family and home education without panicking. It’s written from a Christian perspective, but the practical aspects could certainly apply to audiences of any belief system. The author gets what real life is like, and doesn’t push impossible ideologies, but instead very thoroughly guides you through creating an intentional, peaceful homeschool experience not in spite of life’s challenges, but because of them. If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or struggling with a perfectionistic view of homeschool, READ THIS FIRST!

Rethinking School by Susan Wise Bauer

This book is powerful! The author is a homeschool mom, college professor and researcher, and in this incredible work, she debunks common misconceptions about modern education and puts learning differences (from clinically diagnosed disabilities to extreme giftedness) into perspective. It’s packed with powerful, practical strategies to help parents customize their child’s education, even if they choose to stay in the school system, but also specifically for those who “opt out” through homeschool. If you are feeling discouraged, concerned about your child, or anxious about the efficacy of homeschooling, READ THIS FIRST!

You can’t go wrong with any of these books, and I’d recommend reading all three of them, but for starters, use the reviews to choose the one that you need first! Happy reading!

Ten Tips for Family Camping Success

This camping post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means if you purchase something though my link, I’ll receive a small commission, but your price doesn’t change. All opinions are completely mine. Thank you for supporting this blog!

For a long time I was intimidated by the idea of camping with my family. It just felt like so much work, and there were so many opportunities for things to go south. In fact, a few years enough we decided to attempt it, and had the WORST camping trip maybe ever. (Hiking in all our supplies, piles of biting fire ants everywhere, extreme heat that didn’t let up even at night, food that took too long to cook…I could go on, but I’ll spare you.). It took five years for me to gather the courage to try again (and to get over the trauma), but we learned from our mistakes, tried again, and had the BEST time! Here are our tips for family camping success:

  • Be picky about weather. Obviously you can’t control the weather, but plan your camping trip for a time of year that typically has mild weather wherever you’re going. Nothing can ruin a camping trip faster than extreme heat or pouring rain. That said, there’s a pretty wide range of acceptable weather, but try to plan for a time that’s likely to be in that zone.
Great weather makes for great camping!
  • Bring what you need to sleep comfortably. When you’re camping with kids, there’s no need to earn any badges of honor by “roughing it”. Bring an air mattress or a memory foam pad (ours isn’t exactly designed for camping, but we love it so much that it’s worth strapping to the top of our van). Extra blankets, and a battery operated sound machine. We also recommend a tent that is rated for MORE than the number of people you have. We have this “12 person” tent for our family of seven, and it gives us plenty of space for a pack and play and some extra room to spread out. Whatever your family needs to sleep as comfortably as possible will be well worth the effort!
Our twelve person tent is perfect for the seven of us (with a little room to spare.)
  • Simplify meals. Outdoor cooking can be a ton of fun but also a real headache. Someone recommended I pre-cook and prep as much as possible beforehand. We did taco salad for one meal, and I pre-cooked the taco meat and froze it in a bag. I also pre-chopped the lettuce and tomatoes, and had cheese and other toppings portioned out in small containers. It made everything come together so quickly, and gave us more time to have fun hiking, biking and playing together. We invested in a decent camp stove, but also did some cooking (like roasting hotdogs) over the campfire. And don’t forget lots of snacks. Camping can really work up an appetite (and you don’t want any hangry kids ruining the experience).
A good camp stove makes outdoor cooking easy.
Campfire cooking is always a highlight, but we keep it simple.
  • Camping is dirty business. I have no problem with a little dirt, but it’s nice to have the supplies on hand to clean up when it’s time. I’d recommend a small broom and dustpan to sweep up the dirt that kids will inevitably track into the tent. Garbage bags are a must (even if there are dumpsters on hand, you’ll want to collect trash at your site before tossing it.) A good multi-purpose cleaner (we use the all-natural and super powerful Force of Nature cleaner and highly recommend it) and paper towels, and plenty of baby wipes (even if you don’t have a baby) for those dirty and sticky hands and faces.
Camping is dirty business!
  • Bring a re-useable, wipeable tablecloth. Many campsites have picnic tables on-site, but you MIGHT not want your kiddos eating off them. Consider bringing paper plates and disposable utensils, depending on the camping situation and the number of children you’re camping with.
  • If you have a baby or toddler, a high chair is awesome to keep them off the ground for meals and time around the camp fire. We use this one from Ikea that comes apart really quickly and is easy to transport. You can also get a camping style high chair like this highly rated model.
High chairs keep babies and toddlers out of the dirt and the fire pit, especially during meals.
  • Pack clothing and camping supplies in clear plastic totes. It’s nice to be able to quickly see what you’re looking for, and to snap lids back on to keep things clean and dry.
  • Camp at a drive-up site. Unless you’re serious backpackers, it’s not a good idea to book a hike-in site. Believe me. We know.
Our drive-up camp site at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Scott’s Valley, California
  • If you have bikes, and there are bike trails available where you are camping, it’s worth the effort to bring them. It adds a lot of fun options, and a break from walking and hiking so kids don’t get too worn out (err…whiney).
Biking is a great addition to hiking, especially with kids who tire easily
  • Bring games. We packed some simple card games, like this fun twist on traditional Uno, and also played some trivia games around the camp fire (here are some fun trivia cards if you have Harry Potter fans in the family). Bubbles and sidewalk chalk are also super fun and can keep kids entertained while you’re cooking, setting up or taking down camp, or during other down time and glow sticks are always a hit after dark or as a night light.
Bed time glow stick parties double as perfect camping night lights.

Three Days in Yosemite (with Kids!)

Yosemite National Park is the perfect place to vacation this summer while social distancing. It is absolutely expansive with ample space to explore and stay away from crowds. If you’ve been, you’re probably itching to get back. If you haven’t been, you need to put it on your bucket list right now!

We recently spent three days there with our family of seven, and it was delightful. It was our second time visiting the park, and after a great visit last year, we were able to improve on our experience with some tried and true tips from longtime Yosemite lovers and lessons learned from our previous visit.

We live in the San Francisco Bay area, about 3 hours from the park, so we built that driving time into our first day. Depending on where you’re traveling from, you can adapt your itinerary but we felt like ours worked out pretty perfect. Before you go, make sure you download offline maps for the greater Yosemite area, including wherever you decide to stay. You will definitely lose service in some parts of the park, and the offline maps will be a lifesaver!

Day 1: Wawona Area

We opted to drive on past the closet entrance to the park on our first day there to explore the southern end of the park where we hadn’t been before. We passed through the town of Oakhurst (which could be a really great place to stay!) and entered the south end of the park via Hwy 41. We arrived at the Mariposa Grove welcome center just after 12pm, and ate a quick lunch in the car as we unloaded, applied sunscreen, etc. We had planned to visit Mariposa Grove to see the giant sequoias (redwoods are our favorite), but we didn’t realize that with the shuttles not running this summer, the road would still be closed to get to the trailhead for the grove. Cars with a handicap placard can drive through and park at the trailhead, but all others still need to park at the welcome center. This meant getting to the trailhead to see the giant sequoias required an extra two mile hike (one way). We decided to do it anyway, and we’re so glad we did! The trail to the trail was so beautiful, and it had much more of a wilderness feel than the more developed trail through the actual redwood grove. Be sure to fill up your water bottles at the welcome center before starting the hike, though, because water is shut off at the actual grove, so you won’t have another opportunity for a good long time.

Mariposa Grove Welcome Center at the parking lot. Fill up your water here!

It ended up being about 6-7 miles total round trip, which was quite a lot for our crew of kiddos. If you have young hikers, I’d definitely recommend a hiking backpack or baby carrier for this one. We carried our one year old in the hiking backpack most of the way, and our four year old ended up on my husband’s shoulders for a good portion of the hike as well (mostly because he was moving way too slow for us!) We did see a family using a stroller on the trail, but I would not personally recommend it, as it was not paved or flat at all. The views were beautiful, and a highlight was checking out the giant pinecones along the first stretch.

Giant pinecone on the hike to the Mariposa Grove trailhead.

Taking them home is not allowed, but my kids had fun choosing their favorite, before leaving it behind. Once we arrived at the Mariposa Grove trailhead, we rested a bit, used the outhouse style bathrooms (no running water right now), and had a snack to re-energize for the hike we had been hiking to. The grove is beautiful and very impressive, even to us, who’ve visited lots of redwoods before.

Fallen treen with giant root system along the boardwalk in Mariposa Grove

There is a short loop that has a built up boardwalk, and it’s lovely, but after hiking two miles to get there, it’s only fair to really get what you came for. There is another, longer loop, but the best strategy with kids is to hike to the Tunnel Tree, and then turn around and head back the way you came. The rest of the loop leaves the forrest, isn’t very shaded, and has an elevation raise, so you’re not getting a lot of bang for your buck by completing it.

Grizzly Giant in Mariposa Grove

Once you’ve hiked up about a mile and a half, you’ll see the Grizzly Giant, which is a stunningly beautiful, enormous tree, and just a hundred yards or so beyond it is the Tunnel Tree. Both are excellent photo ops, and very awe inspiring.

Tunnel Tree, Mariposa Grove

After you’ve admired both trees, head back down. You’ve still got another 3+ miles to get back to the parking lot, but it’s downhill this time, and was much easier for all of us.

We hiked 7 miles!

At this point, our kids were exhausted, but so proud of themselves for completing such a rigorous hike. And let me tell you, if we can do it, chances are you can do it too! We had wanted to visit the nearby Chilnualna Falls, but were running short on time.

Chilnuala Falls, Wawona.

My sister was able to go a few days later, and they loved it, so we’ll definitely make that a priority next time. What we did do, though, should probably be at the top of your list. There’s a fun swimming area under a swinging bridge with a natural rock water slide that was the highlight of our trip. After we got home, all my kids told me that part was their favorite, so that’s telling. It’s not super well known, or well marked, but remember the google offline maps I told you to download? Here’s where they come in! There’s a pin on google maps called (wait for it) “Swinging Bridge Vault Toilet”. If you navigate there, it will take you through a back road to an outhouse in a dirt parking lot (just a 15 minute drive from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Center parking lot). Walk about 1/4 mile down the trail, and you’ll find the swinging bridge that goes over a gentle, shallow part of the Merced River. There’s a somewhat steep but short opening in the trees where you can access the river before the bridge, and there’s a nice sandbar in the river where little ones can play and easily splash in the shallow water.

There are some deeper areas nearby, though, so keep a close eye on babies and toddlers, and maybe bring floaties or life jackets for pre-swimmers. If you cross the bridge, you can walk down to the river at the top of a very small, gentle fall that is basically a natural water slide. I’d definitely recommend bringing inner-tubes to go down, as the rocks aren’t completely smooth, and you could get some bumps and bruises if you go down without one. (A few people in our party attempted it, and while it wasn’t necessarily dangerous, it certainly wasn’t comfortable). Inner-tubes make it easy and so fun, so they are definitely worth bringing!

Swinging Bridge with natural water slide in the background.

We ended up being there close to sunset, which was absolutely beautiful, but I must warn that the bugs were out in full force. Pack your bug spray for this outing! My all-natural repellent didn’t seem to help with this particular variety of mosquito, and we all got plenty of bites before switching to the 40% DEET spray that my sister had with her. Going earlier in the day might also help, but we thought golden hour was worth the bugs. Before it was dark, we hiked back to our cars and headed out of the park. We packed in both lunch and dinner on this day, since there are no food options in this part of the park, but you could also stop in Oakhurst for a quick meal on your way out of the park if needed.

Day 2: Yosemite Valley

I’ve shared all the details on our day in Yosemite Valley in this post, but be sure to rest up, because you’ll need to get an early start, and it will be a jam packed day! Details on getting reservations to enter the park are also included in the Yosemite Valley Post.

Day 3: Tuolumne Meadows

By this point, everyone was tired, so it was nice to not have to rush out the door too early since we weren’t going to be looking for a parking spot in Yosemite Valley. We decided to keep the day pretty simple, since we were also traveling home that day, so we kept it to one main destination. Tuolumne Meadows was stunning. While not as popular or iconic as Yosemite Valley, it was beautiful and felt untouched. If you’re approaching from the west, you will pass Tenaya Lake on the way there, which is definitely a worthwhile destination in and of itself.

Tenaya Lake

We just stopped to take a quick look, but we saw people relaxing on the shore, paddle boarding, and otherwise enjoying the gorgeous mountain lake. When we reached Tuolumne Meadows, we parked on the side of the road near some outhouses, and then set out to find the perfect picnic spot. It happened to be Father’s Day, so we wanted a good place to celebrate my husband and my brother-in-law, and boy did we find it!

Climbing boulders with a view

We ended up crossing the most beautiful, crystal clear stream to get to a stand of trees with some fun boulders and smooth rocky terrain for climbing nearby.

Our picnic spot by the stream

We picnicked, hiked around the boulder area, and played in the stream. We didn’t see another human until we got back to the street where we parked, and it was an all around gorgeous day. The area is massive, with lots to explore, so I’m sure everyone’s experience will be different, but if you’re wondering if Tuolumne Meadows is worth the drive, I’d say if you have the time to get there, definitely yes! I wouldn’t choose it over, say, Yosemite Valley, but it was still pretty spectacular, and the drive there was breathtaking, so that time in the car is definitely not wasted.

Throwing rocks in the stream at Tuolumne Meadows

We headed home tired but happy, and so grateful for a beautiful weekend spent in one of the most majestic corners of the earth.

Itinerary at a glance:

Day 1: Wawona

12pm arrive at Mariposa Grove Welcome Center (quick car picnic lunch) and start hike to Mariposa Grove trailhead (2 miles one way to the trailhead)

1pm Arrive at Mariposa Grove, and hike to Tunnel Tree

3pm Return to parking lot at Mariposa Grove Welcome Center

3:30pm Drive to Chilnualna Falls, short hike up to waterfall

5:30pm Drive to Swinging Bridge and swim/slide in Merced River and eat a picnic dinner

8pm Drive to lodging and rest up for tomorrow

Day 2: Yosemite Valley

(See schedule here)

Day 3: Tuolumne Meadows

9am leave lodging for park and drive to Tuolumne Meadows

11am Park at meadows and explore. Water shoes are a bonus for wading across a rocky river bed.

12pm enjoy a pristine picnic area, explore the rocks and boulders and the gorgeous scenery

3pm leave Tuolumne Meadows and head to the exit gate nearest your home or the day’s final destination.

The Perfect Day in Yosemite Valley (With Kids!)

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means if you purchase a product through the link provided, I will receive a small commission, but you won’t pay any extra.)

California is finally starting to open up after months of lockdown due to Covid-19, and we decided to get out of the house and spend a long weekend in Yosemite. It’s basically the perfect place to go while social distancing, because it’s absolutely expansive, and they are letting only half the usual number of people in each day, so it’s less crowded than normal. (Wearing masks is still encouraged in more crowded areas where it’s not possible to maintain physical distance, but not necessary for hiking, biking, etc.).

After our Yosemite trip last year, we made a few tweaks, and this year, basically had the perfect day in Yosemite Valley that included all the must-dos without being way too much for the kids. It was magic. And I’ve got all the details you need to plan your own trip.

Glacier Point

Reservations: This year, reservations are mandatory for day use of Yosemite National Park. They open up a month before, so on July 1, the reservations for August will become available, but June and July are basically full. There’s a loophole, however, that can snag you the reservation you want. Two days before any given day, the last 20% of the reservations become available at 7am Pacific time. So we logged on right at 7am on a Wednesday morning to get reservations to enter the park on a Friday. You can make reservations here, and it’s a good idea to make sure you have an account with beforehand so you can get through the reservation process quickly. Obviously this would be risky if you were planning to travel from far away to get to Yosemite, but if you’re within driving distance and flexible enough to add some last-minute plans to the mix, it’s a great option. You’ll have to pay the entrance fee upon making your reservation, unless you are an annual or lifetime pass holder (or have a 4th grader!), in which case you just pay a $2 reservation fee. Once you have a day reserved to enter the park, that reservation gets you in for seven days, though you do have to enter on the first day of the reservation for it to be valid. Camping and lodging inside the park appears to be fully booked, though you can always try to snag a cancelation. Otherwise there are many options of places to stay outside the park. Last year we camped in Groveland, and this year we booked an Inn in Mariposa. There are lots of lodges and airbnbs available, so book whatever seems best for your family. Just keep in mind that Yosemite is huge, and the various entrances are hours apart in driving time, so when you book lodging, check for the nearest entrance and how close it is to the parts of the park you’d like to visit. It’s normal to drive for over an hour to get from lodging to Yosemite Valley, but if you’re 3 hours away, definitely rethink your location!

Getting around the park: Once you have a park reservation and a place to stay, you need to make a plan for your time in the park. I’m a pretty spontaneous person, but as I mentioned, Yosemite is enormous, and if you don’t do any research beforehand, you’ll probably end up pretty frustrated. So you’ve come to the right place! Yosemite Valley is the most popular part of Yosemite National Park, and features the most famous attractions like Half-Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls, and Mirror Lake. Typically, shuttles run all throughout the valley, since parking is limited, and simply not available at all of the locations you’ll want to see. But due to Covid, shuttle are not running this summer. So you can either park and walk miles to each trailhead where you’ll hike more miles, or ride bikes. And if you’re going with kids, bikes are the only way to get around the Valley without losing your mind. If you have bikes and a bike rack, you can definitely bring your own to the park. We didn’t plan ahead for that, but decided to rent bikes there (around $200 for our family of 7 for one full day, and completely worth the money!). We rented five bikes and one trailer that our youngest two rode in. It was awesome because it had enough cargo space for us to tote our lunch and other supplies around. If you are planning to rent bikes, I’d plan on arriving to the park early, because they are first come first serve. Actually, just plan on arriving early either way, because even with the number of park guests drastically down, parking still fills up, and the last thing you want to do on your day in Yosemite is drive around, and around, and around looking for parking! We left our Inn in Mariposa around 7:30am to arrive in the Valley by 9am. We parked at Half-Dome Village (also known as Curry Village) and rented our bikes right there. That allowed us to access everything Yosemite Valley has to offer, while saving ourselves hours of walking and whining kids. There are paved bike trails throughout the Valley that are mostly flat and easy to navigate. We went with my sister and her family, so our group had 10 bikes total and we had no problem getting around. Plus, riding bikes through the incredible scenery and in the shadow of such majestic mountains as Half-Dome is sure to be a highlight in itself.

Biking with a view of Half-Dome

Itinerary: From Half-Dome Village, load up whatever you need for the day in your backpack or bike trailer and head to Yosemite Falls. If you stop near the bathrooms at the trailhead, there are bike racks (no bikes allowed on the trail to the falls), and there’s a huge boulder that has a natural slide on one side. My kids love climbing to the top and then sliding down over and over.

Boulder at the trailhead to Lower Yosemite Falls

The walk to the falls is mostly paved and has just a slight incline, but the payoff is huge! Lower Yosemite Falls is absolutely gorgeous! Enjoy the view, snap some photos and head back the way you came, or complete the loop trail when you’re done.

Lower Yosemite Falls

Hop back on your bikes and head toward Mirror Lake. If you packed swimsuits (you should) consider changing into them at the Yosemite Falls bathrooms. If you’re not ready for that, or don’t want to change yet, there are bathrooms at Mirror Lake, but they are outhouses, so not quite as pleasant. We stopped on the way to the lake for a picnic, but you could easily picnic there as well, just depending on when you’re ready to eat. If you rent your bikes, they are not allowed all the way up the hill to the Mirror Lake trail. It’s a pretty easy walk, so not a problem to stop at the bike racks at the bottom of the hill, but if you bring your own bikes, you can ride to the top of the hill to the trailhead. There you will find the outhouses, and a beautiful and popular swimming area.

Mirror Lake, near the trailhead

But if you walk a bit up the trail, there are more opportunities to swim that might be less crowded.

Mirror Lake, a short walk down the trail

All of it is pristine, and has shallow areas gentle enough for toddlers to play as well as deeper areas where the more adventurous can swim and jump off rocks. This paradise in the shadow of Half-Dome is not to be missed!

At this point, you have a couple of options. A very popular hike in Yosemite Valley is the Mist Trail leading up to Vernal Falls. It’s fairly steep, and features a long series of stone steps that lead up the mountain alongside the beautiful falls. They tend to be wet and can be a bit slippery, and you’ll need to plan on getting wet (it’s called the “Mist Trail” for a reason). On cooler days, bring ponchos, or just stay in your swimsuits on a hot day. It’s about 1.6 miles to the lookout point, but fairly steep, and this summer to promote social distancing, the steps are one-way only (up) from 9am to 4pm, so if you go between those hours, you’ll have to continue up for several more miles of steep trail with no shade to loop around to the John Muir trail. I wouldn’t recommend that with kids, so the best bet is to start the hike around 3pm. You’ll arrive at the lookout by 4pm and then are free to turn around and go back down the way you came. My sister and her family chose to hike the Mist Trail this way, and it worked out great.

Vernal Falls near the top of the Mist Trail

We did this hike last summer, and it was definitely a highlight, but since we had completed a really strenuous hike with our kids the day before, we opted for a different adventure, which is equally majestic, and possibly a better option if you have really young kids or unenthusiastic hikers.

We opted for a “Tour-de-Yosemite”. We loaded our littles into the bike trailer, and rode the entire bike path around Yosemite Valley. It might have been my favorite activity of the day. It was a breathtaking ride, and we got familiar with parts of the park I hadn’t seen before.

Meadow along the Yosemite Valley Bike Path

As a bonus, our toddler and preschooler both took a nice nap in the bike trailer while we rode, and woke up refreshed for more adventures, since we packed the day really full. We stopped at Yosemite Village for popsicles on our way back to Half-Dome Village, which was the perfect refreshment for our kids and a nice reward for many miles logged on those bikes.

Popsicle Stop in Yosemite Village

Daily rental bikes are due back by 5:45, so we met back up with my sister and her family around 5:30 to return bikes and grab dinner at Half-Dome Village. There is also a nice eatery at Yosemite Village, so if you weren’t meeting back up with another party you could easily get dinner there on the way back. I’ve eaten at both villages and they both had pretty good food, but Degnan’s Kitchen at Yosemite Village is the newest and nicest of the options I’ve seen, so that’s a great place to grab a pizza, sandwich or wrap.

We wrapped up dinner around 6:30, and jumped back in our cars (conveniently parked right there), and headed up to Glacier Point. It’s about an hour drive straight up from Yosemite Valley, and offers the most iconic views of the park. Sunset is arguably the best time to go, since the setting sun casts an orange glow on Half-Dome and makes the waterfalls sparkle. It’s pretty spectacular and well worth the drive. When we arrived at the top, we changed kids into pajamas before enjoying the view and the sunset together.

Glacier Point at Sunset

This area will likely have more crowds than many other parts of the park, so consider bringing your masks, or just stay away from the more crowded viewing areas.

We left Glacier Point by 9pm, making sure to use the bathrooms there before starting the drive back to our Inn. Day use of the park requires exit by 11pm, so make sure you have time to reach your desired gate by that time. All our kids were sound asleep before we got down the mountain, but once we were back in the valley, we made sure to pull over and get out to stargaze for a few minutes. Another huge payoff for a very small effort. That night sky is incomparable!

We got back to our Inn by 11, carried our sleeping kids to their beds, and then collapsed into ours after a full, perfect day!

Top 10 Tips for a Family Day in Yosemite Valley:

  1. Bike through the Valley! I’m never going without bikes again, shuttles or no shuttles.
  2. Pack lunch (and lots of water and snacks) and buy dinner. It’s nice to have the flexibility to picnic wherever for lunch, but buying dinner lightens up your load a bit.
  3. Arrive at the park EARLY! Aim to be at the gates by 8am so you don’t miss out on parking spots.
  4. Bring swimsuits. There are so many incredible water features, and on a summer day kids and adults alike will want to jump in! We skipped the towels to save on space though, and just air dried.
  5. Download the greater Yosemite area to your google maps before going. You will definitely lose service in parts of the park, and navigating by map can be a bit confusing, so having offline maps will save you!
  6. Don’t forget the sunscreen and insect repellent. I generally prefer an all natural insect repellent, but 20+ bites later, we went for the DEET (in moderation) and that seemed to do the trick with those extra-wild bugs at the park.
  7. If you have anyone with sensitive feet, water shoes will make the water activities much more pleasant. Here are some good ones for little kids, a nice pair for bigger kids, and my husband swears by these for adults.
  8. Pack extra clothes and pajamas for the kids. You can leave them in the car, but they might come in handy!
  9. Be prepared if any of your kids experience motion sickness. There are some curvy roads to be driven. We like using these anti-nausea wristbands (this version is a fraction of the price of the name brand, and works just as well!) Or, consider using children’s dramamine.
  10. Bring a portable phone charger. Even though you’ll lose service in parts of the park, many parts of Yosemite Valley will have coverage. You’ll probably be taking lots of pictures and videos and which can run your battery down, so an extra charge can save you in case you get separated from your group and your battery is running low. This is a great one.

Perfect Day in Yosemite Valley At-A-Glance

8am- Arrive at the entrance gates

9am- Park at Half-Dome Village (Curry Village) and rent bikes and pack up for a day of adventure.

10am- Bike to the trailhead for Lower Yosemite Falls (climb on boulder at trailhead) and walk to falls

12pm- Bike to Mirror Lake. Have picnic lunch and swim and play in the lake.

2:30pm- Bike to Mist Trail trailhead and hike to Vernal Falls (start hike around 3pm, moderate difficulty) OR ride bikes around the long loop through Yosemite Valley (easy).

5:30pm- Return rental bikes and grab dinner at Half-Dome Village

6:30pm- Drive to Glacier Point for sunset.

9pm- Leave Glacier Point to head out of the park. Pull over in the valley to stargaze, before exiting the park by 11pm.

Relaxing at Mirror Lake

Our Homeschool Life

Before having babies, I taught Spanish at a public high school. I sent my kids to preschool at three and four, and when it came time for my oldest to start kindergarten, we spent a lot of time researching, pondering, and praying about how we should approach her education. We decided to move forward with public school, and for the next five years, our kids would attend three different public schools in three different states. While most of our experiences were positive, we found the mornings to be extremely stressful and I felt like I hardly knew what was happening in my kids’ lives, with them away from home for most of the day. Most afternoons, my kids were stressed, tired and came home with homework, straining our schedule even further. I felt my motherhood slipping away from me, and our family time dwindling. When one of our daughters experienced some trauma at school, we felt compelled to rethink our decision to send our kids to public school, and began to feel drawn to homeschool. I loved the idea of the freedom we would have, and actually getting to see my kids during their more cheerful hours of the day, but just thinking about figuring out how to homeschool felt completely overwhelming. Even though I had been trained as an educator, I still felt inadequate to plan lessons (what was I even supposed to teach?), juggle three different grade levels at once (was that even possible?), and manage my baby and toddler all while teaching all day. Still, the thought would not leave me, so I sought out other homeschoolers, begged them to share their wisdom, read up on anything I could, started researching curriculum, and bought a ticket to a homeschoolers’ retreat (and felt completely fraudulent…after all, I wasn’t really a homeschooler…yet). I learned that I didn’t have to know exactly what to teach, because we could rely on our curriculum to guide us and adjust as we went. I found that juggling three grade levels was busy, but completely doable. And I learned that being a mom to a baby and a toddler is hard, but a little bit easier when there are three older “helpers” around all day, and no school pickups to destroy nap time. In short, we dove in, despite our reservations and inadequacies, and we haven’t looked back. Homeschooling has given us so much freedom as a family. It has helped me to enjoy motherhood again. And best of all, our children are thriving mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. If it weren’t so much work, I’d say it was a miracle. But the work is meaningful and fulfilling. I cry just thinking about the beauty it’s brought to our lives. I don’t believe that homeschooling is the only good way to educate your children, and it’s certainly not the only good way to mother, but it is a really excellent way to do both! I feel passionately that anyone who has a desire to homeschool their children can do it! I understand feeling inadequate. I understand feeling overwhelmed. But if the idea has been floating around in your head, don’t be afraid to dive in! I’ve packaged up all my hard earned wisdom, trial and error of our first year, and some of the best practical tips I’ve found in my “How To Get Started With Homeschooling” printable workbook. It’s 50 pages walking you through everything you need to consider to get started, from choosing (or not choosing) a homeschool method, to legally homeschooling in your state, to finding the curriculum that’s right for you. And so much more! It’s the workbook I wish I’d had when we started. I promise that once you work through it, you’ll feel empowered to start your homeschool journey too. You can find it under the “Shop” tab on the menu. Happy homeschooling!

Hey, I’m Sarah.

Hello friends.  My name is Sarah, mom of five, facing my fears every day as I navigate the messy, soul-stretching journey of motherhood. In my decade plus of parenting, I’ve learned many lessons, but learning to look the scary parts of raising children square in the eye and act without fear has been the most valuable.  I’ve learned that big changes require bold steps, and that with the right outlook, those steps aren’t as scary as they might seem. Over the last twelve years, our family has grown from just my husband and me eating pizza on a cardboard-box-of-a-table in our first apartment by the Chesapeake Bay to a thriving (sometimes just surviving) family of seven living our California dream in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re a coast to coast family that loves outdoor adventures, road trips, and (still) pizza. I love the life I’ve chosen, and I am passionate about helping others moms curate a life they love, while fighting the good fight.  Every family is unique, and every family will face challenges. The way we respond to those can change everything.  Join me in facing them without fear!