Vacation Report- Grand Canyon

   We spent one day at the Grand Canyon. I would highly recommend setting aside at least one whole day, if not 2 or 3. We started at the visitors center, picking up the kids’ Junior Ranger Booklets. Our group was made up of 8 adults and 9 kids under the age of 12. We knew that we would not be making any long treks to the bottom, and pre-planning our trip revealed that there are a series of shuttle buses inside the park that will take you almost anywhere you want to go in the park for FREE! The shuttles allowed us to travel as a group and saved our little ones’ feet from having to walk everywhere.

The cost for our trip: packed lunches, $30 park entrance per car, $15 ice cream cones for our family of 5. Not too shabby considering all of the views!

20150810_085430 DSC01775We took the shuttle to Yavapai Point and Geology Museum, then hiked the rim trail to Shrine of the Ages where we hopped the shuttle again to Bright Angel Lodge.



We walked through the village and had ice cream, took the shuttle back to the entrance where we parked and drove out to the Desert View Watchtower. DSC01865

DSC01878My “We visited the Grand Canyon and none of my kids jumped off the edge” smile. Safety makes this mom happy!

DSC01893DSC01890Our girls took advantage of the Ranger Program at Tusayan Ruins,
completing their Junior Ranger badges.



A day at the Grand Canyon:
completely manageable, completely affordable, completely magnificent!

Family Fun in the Recording Studio

What did you do on your summer vacation? We crammed 17 people in a recording studio and laid down some tracks! Thanks to Synthesaur who provided us with studio space. If you are in the Flagstaff area and need professional recording services, check them out!

I hope you enjoy our family fun, and think of doing something out of the box on your next family vacation!


Vacation Report- Williams, AZ on Route 66

This is my second report for our 2015 southwest vacation. After visiting Mesa Verde, we drove on to Williams, AZ, the last town on Route 66 to have been bypassed by the Interstate. The downtown is full of shopping, cafes, and a great coffee shop. It was perfect for a morning of girl time window shopping and browsing with my mom, sister, and sister-in-law.

DSC01708We rented a vacation cabin with my extended family. A week with 17 people, 9 of whom were children, made for fun times and lots of busyness! The family split the cost for the house 4 ways, coming to about $780 each. We would have paid more for a hotel for 7 nights without the benefit of shared living space. I would highly recommend looking at vacation rentals wherever your destination. It is nice to have a home base, especially traveling with little ones who follow their own sleeping schedule.

Our cabin had three full bathrooms, three bedrooms, a sleeping loft and pullout sofas in the basement game room. With a nice wrap around deck and an outside play area for the kids and we had plenty of space for people to have privacy or family time as needed.

DSC01750 DSC01723

On our first full day together, we explored the trails around Williams, getting in a good 2.5 mile hike to run off the energy the kids built up riding in cars all week.DSC01730DSC01744IMG_6731Meals together gave the cousins plenty of bonding time at the nice big table.

Williams, AZ is home to several attractions, including the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel. If you start in Williams, you can ride the train right into the Grand Canyon National Park. 20150814_085929


As a bonus, while people are gathering before the train’s departure, there is a comedy gun fight show complete with outlaws and sheriff. And let’s not forget the  horses!


There is a little audience participation in the show, which just adds to the fun. In the end, as with all good western shows, good prevails and the bad guys are rousted.


After the show, the cast members are happy to pose for photos with the audience members. Best of all, this show is free whether you ride the train or not. We took full advantage, having driven to the canyon a couple of days before we visited the show.


Williams is a great place to start your journey to the Grand Canyon, whether you stay in one of the local hotels or rent a cabin like we did. You will find plenty to fill your days from hiking to shopping, relaxing and playing the tourist.

Vacation Report– Mesa Verde!

Welcome to the Sandstrom’s Amazing Vacation Report, 2015 Edition!

I wanted to give a brief overview of, as well as some completely free advertising for, the places we visited on our vacation this year. If you are looking for information, or are planning to visit Mesa Verde National Park (especially with kids!) this is for you!

We live in Emporia, KS, and every year for our vacation we pick a destination and a budget and hit the road with our family of 5. This year our kids were 11, 8, and 3 as we headed out on our adventures in the Southwest: Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, and Petrified Forrest National Parks.

Having a long drive ahead of us, and a rapidly aging mini-van, we rented a Ford Edge from Avis Rentals in Topeka, KS. With a super-sweet deal, our two week rental came to just under $500. We needed a car with enough space in the rear seat for three across without sibling bloodshed. The Edge was perfect. Car seat in the middle, both sisters still had room to breathe.

Staying with friends and family along the way is priceless! Thanks to mom for being our first stop in Wichita, and Trish for hosting us as we passed into Colorado!

Our first destination was Mesa Verde National Park. We found a great campground less than 10 minutes from the park entrance. Ancient Cedars Campground is under new management and has been undergoing renovations. We stayed in one of their camper cabins at $65 a night base rate plus $3.50 for our two older girls. The mattresses are all new pillow-tops, a wonderful surprise for us having slept on less than stellar mattresses at other campgrounds. Each cabin has a mini fridge, air conditioning, a counter-top, and access to the campground WiFi. The pool was a nice treat after hiking each morning, and the mini-golf course looked like fun.

In the park, we spent the first day on Chapin Mesa, the main tourist areas including the museum and easiest to access cliff dwelling, Spruce Tree House. Wanting to make sure we had a safe and fun trip, I had done some research on families visiting the park with small children. Much scare-mongering was to be had with people warning not to even think about taking little kids into the park. I would say that the guided tours are not for little ones, that is my judgment since they require a lot of ladder climbing (one on open cliff faces, the other with a 32 foot ladder). The Spruce Tree House, however is completely accessible and not a bit scary. Here we are standing in Spruce Tree House, thanks to the awesome park ranger who took our picture!

DSC01453Kathrina was our super-duper photographer, documenting what we saw. If she’s not in a picture, she was behind the camera!





While visiting National Parks, our girls like to participate in the Junior Ranger Programs. Kids pick up a booklet and complete learning activities to earn a badge. Here is Bella sporting her newly earned Mesa Verde Junior Ranger Badge.





Kathrina even snapped a picture of me climbing down the ladder into a kiva that is open to the public. It was pretty dark down there!




Our second day took us to the other side of the park, Wetherhill Mesa. We took the hike down the side of the mesa to Step House.

We came prepared for the hike down to Step House, which has steep drops to the side in places along a switchback trail. If you have trouble with heights, Rich would tell you it is doable, just stay to the inside of the trail. The path is wide, and paved, and our three kids walked the whole way down and back with little complaint of tiredness. Just to be on the safe side, we had brought a kid leash for our 3-year-old. It made us feel a little safer, holding his hand and having a backup plan in case he did something unpredictable.



The Ancestral Pueblo People were amazing, surviving and thriving as they lived on top of the mesas and then as they moved under the cliffs. From what they left behind, we see their ingenuity, craftsmanship and artistry.



Two days in the park, we could easily go back for a week in a few years to explore the other cliff dwellings and hike some trails with spectacular views.



Overall, my assessment is that Mesa Verde is very family-friendly. Do your research and come prepared to see the beauty of the earth as well as learn about a people who were masters of survival!

Imperfection and The First Day of School…

Moms, we’ve got to cut it out. I am serious. There are so many ways in which we compare ourselves to others unfairly as we send the kids back to school. Social media makes it oh so much more complicated and tempting, but we must band together and RESIST!

Here are some confessions which will totally ease your guilt this year.

1. My kids showered the night before the first day of school, and my husband being in charge because I was in bed sick with walking pneumonia and a migraine, did not make them wash their hair because it was washed the day before. Didn’t even sniff them before they walked out the door. You are welcome.

2. I didn’t take a first day of school photo with my 6th grader on her actual first day because it was only a half day orientation for new students at the middle school. Skipped it. You are welcome.

3. I didn’t actually take any first day of school photos. I handed my husband my phone and said, “Go take a pic with both girls at the bus stop” as I stepped in the shower at 8:20 still trying to shake my 3-day headache. He complied, what a wonderful man. So the photo on facebook, totally not my handiwork. Delegated. You are welcome.

4. Misread the school supply list when back to school shopping 3 weeks ago. So proud of myself until the night before school started and we were packing the backpacks. Yep, last minute trip to Staples the night before school started. In a panic. Made the salesperson climb a ladder to get down the cheap  on sale erasers so that I could save a buck fifty. Last minute shopping. You are welcome.

5. My kids are totally able to pick out their own clothes. I told them to do so the night before. Yay me. Absolutely did not check on their selections. Did not see them before they were walking out the door. Yep. Both wore t-shirts at least a year old. One daughter took hand-warmers that are supposed to go under gloves when it is snowing and decided they are a fashion statement. No cute matchy outfits, not even new ones to start the school year. You are welcome.

Why is this confession so important? We have got to realize there is a lot going on behind those back to school pictures. Not everyone has it all together, in fact probably none of us do. (And if you do, we love you and rejoice with you, but please keep it to yourself, mm-k?)

Back to school confessions bring camaraderie when we need it most.
Now that’s ReFreshing!

What is your back to school confession?