Postcard 6: Sweet Maine

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The final leg of our trip was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated: Maine.

The kids and I took a previous roadschooling trip there 2 1/2 years ago, and they’ve longed to return ever since. I’m not sure when a place has spoken so deeply to them as did Maine (excepting the western coast of Ireland).

Acadia: the moody Atlantic, the mossy forests, the stony wind-whipped shore.

We spent a brief few days there, but it refilled our cups and readied us for the long journey home. The persistent rain that arrived before our departure was just the encouragement we needed to pack up the tent and begin our journey home.

But first, one final detour.

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Before leaving Maine, we headed to the home of some friends, and spent two days with Amanda, Steve, and their sweet family–resting, swimming, and recharging for the journey ahead.

Our visit was crowned with an authentic Maine lobster dinner, a certain highlight of the 3 1/2 week journey. (Amanda snapped the photo above before I managed to splatter my glasses, face, and shirt with lobster bits. I’m a class act, I tell you.)

They were such gracious hosts, and took good care of us before our long journey home.

And then we were off! Three long days pushing back across Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and the rest of the mid-east, until we were held in the arms of these green hills once more.

Wisconsin. The Driftless.

Home.

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How delicious it is, to be back in the familiar embrace of of home once more. The comfort of our cozy (cramped, chaotic) house; the familiar feel of favorite tea cups and worn wooden spoons; our suddenly green and overgrown landscape; our riotous overflowing garden.

4,500 miles later, and there’s no place else we would rather be.

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Postcard 5: The International Herb Symposium

IMG_9235IMG_9206We spent last weekend at the International Herb Symposium in Norton, Massachusetts. The days were brimful with wonderful people, inspiring conversations, and more good juju than we’ve seen in a long while.

I attended a couple of herb walks, but mostly the kids and I were in our booth, talking about Herbal Adventures and LüSa Organics, and and connecting with herbalists from the world around.

Of special note: Rosemary Gladstar.

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Rosemary’s books were my very first introduction to herbalism some 16 or more years ago. They were warm and approachable and made me feel like herbs were something I could delve into and fall in love with.

So many have this experience with Rosemary’s work. She makes herbs accessible and approachable to everyone.

I came to the symposium in part to meet her and thank her for the glowing endorsement she gave my book, Herbal Adventures, a snippet of which appears on the cover. We emailed back and forth last year, and I was so encouraged and inspired by her kind words (an excerpt is below), that I wanted to thank her in person.

Herbal Adventures has everything I appreciate in a good herb book: sound practical information and great remedies and recipes, all enhanced by personal stories and insights. This may be my new favorite!

– Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist and author

The best part, however, was that Rosemary and Lupine were the ones who really connected, after Lupine attended a plant walk that Rosemary led on the second day of the symposium.

Lu chimed in a few times on the walk with observations and her own experiences, and Rosemary appreciated her so. At the end of the walk she gave Lupine some props as her “co-teacher” which was fairy dust upon this twelve year old’s hearts.

The next day, I attended a class with Rosemary (without Lupine this time), and she was talking about Lu to her students, in the context of the importance of raising the next generation with a love and knowledge of plants and herbalism.

Oh, my. So sweet.

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On the last day, we found Rosemary just before we left. I told her we wanted to say goodbye and capture a photograph, and she said, “I want a photo with Lupine!”

Of course she did.

And so did Lu.

Hearts full to overflowing, we’re on to the next destination. But we’ll be back to the International Herb Symposium, and for another Rosemary hug in the next few years. Of that we are certain.

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Postcard 4: return to the Atlantic

My kids have an inexplicable, undying love of the ocean. Not your basic, everyday love, but an exhale-deeply-and-sink-into-the-sand love of sea. It’s hard to fathom they’re lifelong Wisconsinites, but perhaps that’s part of the magic.

They adore the sea. And I adore watching them there.

So when we rolled into Cape Cod last week, I was ready to chill out at the wooded campground, nesting and settling in, but they needed the beach. So we set up camp in a hurry, then found the nearest stretch of salt and sand.

The water was cold (yes!), but there were swimming, splashing seals and diving birds and so much magic to behold.

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After a couple of days exploring the cape and playing in the cold Atlantic, we headed up to Plymouth Plantation.

We wandered slowly through the Wampanoag village, then wound our way through the European settlement at Plymouth. As always on this trip, each piece of information or new-to-us perspective sparked meaningful conversations and further research to take on at home.

I was captivated most by the medicinal herbs at Plymouth, and we all enjoyed the perspectives and thoughts shared in both the native village and the English settlement.

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The learning never ends on a trip like this.

One burst of curiosity sparks a deep dive into further questions and research, and we’re off down another rabbit hole–whether about heritage livestock breeds, medicinal herbs, or cob oven designs.

How grateful I am to walk this path with my kids, all of us learning as we go along.

 

Postcard 3: Vermont

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After the lovely Finger Lakes Region of New York State, we veered north and headed into Vermont.

As torrents of rain were in the forecast, we ditched our camping plans spent a couple of days at an Air B&B in the mountains. The rain didn’t pan out and I had non-camping guilt, but it was lovely to have some space to stretch out and I decided to let it go. We unhitched our bikes and did some riding, and explored a few rivers with bare feet in the cold, mountain water.

To all of us, Vermont was reminiscent of the forests of Northern Wisconsin overlaid on the landscape and community of the Driftless. It feels like home. And we exhaled.

From the mountains in the south we traveled northward to visit with some dear friends we haven’t seen for a couple of years. We spent a week with them on our last eastward journey 2 1/2 years ago, and we were looking forward to some time together again–for spoon carving, for coffee drinking, for laughter and conversation.

They delivered all of that and more (of course).

As the icing on the cake, on our last day, we piled in the van and they took us to Bread and Puppet. Such a feast for the senses, the heart, and the mind!

Here’s a tiny sliver of all that we saw…

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If you haven’t heard of Bread and Puppet, here is founder Peter’s own words. (Peter, pictured above, founded Bread and Puppet in 1963 and is still at the helm.)

“We are the Bread & Puppet Theater because we offer good old sourdough rye bread together with a great variety of puppetshows, some good, some not so good, but all for the good and against the bad. The art of puppetry helps women, men and children alike to overcome the established order and the obsessive submission to its politics and consequent brutalities.”

–Peter Schumann

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The performances were unapologetic, pointed, and timely. Some were humorous, others thought-provoking and most were politically sharp. They opened doors to many conversations with my kids in the following days about current immigration policies, consumerism, political action, civil disobedience, and the power of the people.

I was grateful for the opportunity to attend, and have my mind widened and heart opened just that much more.

And now, we’re bound for points further south. To the Atlantic! And to the International Herb Symposium in Norton, MA.

Perhaps I will see a few of you there? Be sure to swing by my booth and say hello. I’ll have be signing books, selling soap, and enjoying the beautiful company of this sure to be lovely event.

See you soon, dear ones!

Postcard 1: heading east

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Last Friday the kids and I departed on a 3 1/2 week road trip to New York State, Massachusetts, and Maine (then back again). So far we’ve spent plenty of time alone (just the three of us), lost in books and knitting and other quiet pursuits, as well as days visiting family and friends. We spent the night with a dear friend from elementary school, and caught up on a bit of what’s transpired since our days were consumed with Strawberry Shortcake and forts in the woods.

All of us are feeling so grateful for the kindness we are shown when we venture out of our comfort zone on journeys like this. We’ve been offered meals and beds, family cottages, and backyard yurts (and that’s just the beginning). It’s humbling, really, to be shown such generosity.

People are good.

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After a couple of long driving days, we landed in upstate New York, where we settled in at a family cabin that some friends were kind enough to share with us. The weather was perfectly moody, and we enjoyed both sunshine and rain as we explored the glens, lakes, and towns of the Finger Lakes region.

Before departing for points further east, we were lucky enough to be offered a tour of Aurora Shoes by the owner, David.

Aurora was one of the first blog sponsors I had back in the days when I posted here five times a week, and my own beloved pair of Auroras were on my feet when we arrived at the factory for our tour! (Mine are probably nine or ten years old, and still going strong. Their quality is unsurpassed.)

20190529-_RJW1007-220190529-_RJW104520190529-_RJW1012-220190529-_RJW105520190529-_RJW104020190529-_RJW1012Sage was enamored with the many creatively repurposed machines–from wood and metal working tools–as well as the vintage industrial workhorses designed for just this job. It gave me pause to consider the world we live in, where handcrafted is over overlooked for mass produced, and what is lost in that hasty downgrade. I reflected on my own business, and the parallels that exist between a simple, handcrafted items like Aurora shoes and LüSa soap.

The tour was fascinating, and we were so grateful for David’s generosity (with both his time and leather scraps for my crafty kids).

If you find yourself in Aurora, NY, they’re open to the public on Fridays (and so worth the detour).

Before saying farewell to New York State, we detoured through Ithaca for a last hurrah (and something I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager). We headed out to lunch at the Moosewood Cafe. Squee! (Sage lacked our effervescent enthusiasm and so stepped out of our selfie, but enjoyed the food nonetheless.)

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If you’ve been around for a while, you might know that I was a vegetarian for most of a decade, from the time I moved out of my parents house. Learning to cook as a young adult was a vegetarian adventure, and a stack of Moosewood and Molly Katzen cookbooks was my guide.

Needless to say, taking my kids out to lunch at Moosewood was a delicious way to check something off my life list (and Lupine’s as well).

Finally, we detoured through a bookshop (Buffalo Street Books) before hitting the road. Delighting us all, we unexpectedly stumbled upon Herbal Adventures there! What a delightful surprise on our cross-country road trip.

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And with that, we’re off to points further east! I’ll share more the next time we find ourselves with internet. In the meantime, I’ll be posting occasional stories and posts on my Instagram feed.

See you there, friends.

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Wander-school

If you’ve been around for a while, you might already know my propensity to load our car with gear, grab my kids, and hit the road for a month full of adventures.

We sometimes call it “roadschooling” (as in: homeschooling on the road) but really it’s just a beautiful, adventuresome piece of our life.

We took our first epic road trip in a VW Beetle when the kids were just 3 and 7. That autumn we spent a month wandering our way nearly 3,000 miles across the country to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and back again.

I’m not sure what inspired me to pack up such young kids for such an epic solo-parenting adventure, but I’m grateful that I did.

Roadtrips (as you likely already know) aren’t all picture perfect sunsets and smooth sailing. But even the turbulence is part of the adventure.

On our first month-long road trip, the tent that we borrowed from friends before we embarked broke to bits in a wind storm the very first time we set it up.

Fun? No. Memorable? Most definitely.

Indeed, there are always bumps out there on the road. But despite the inevitable hiccups, this journey (and the many that followed) was an unforgettable one. On that first trip were supported by old friends and new all along our route who offered hot meals, places to sleep, laundry facilities, showers and baths, and–yes–even a loaner tent for our month-long adventure. (Thanks, Tony and Nettie!) We had a team to call on, despite being so very far from home.

And the journey, of course, was transformational.

As a mother, as kids, as citizens of this country and of the world.

Our second big trip took place when Sage and Lupine were 8 and 13. The three of us embarked for another month away, heading this time to Vermont and Maine, visiting old and new friends along the way.

Since then Pete has joined us on a couple of two, three, and four week journeys, including a month road tripping around Ireland (talk about a life-changer!) a year and a half ago, and trips to Canada, Northern Minnesota, and Cayo Costa, Florida.

And?

The kids and I are eager to do it all again.

Seeing as they won’t concede with staying the age they are now forever, and instead insist on continuing to grow, it’s now or never. In a heartbeat Sage will be an adult, off on his own adventures. So I’m seizing the heck out of this moment. Because we homeschool; because we’re self-employed.

Because we can.

And because I might not get another chance.

The trip we’re planning now will carry us eastward again. We have a few destinations in mind–namely getting my 16 year old back to the Atlantic (a place where his heart finds such ease).

We all fell hard for Maine when we visited a few years ago, and have been itching to get back, to visit old and new friends there and (hopefully!) spend a little time promoting my book along the way.

And on our return trip, I’ll be attending (and vending, books and other goodies) at the International Herb Symposium in Norton, MA.

We’re thinking four weeks should do the trick.

With that in mind, I turn to you, my friends! We are currently accepting hot tips for places to visit and things to do in upstate NY, costal Maine, Cape Cod, and possibly Montreal (as well as places between).

Bonus points if your suggestions are nature-centered, free/affordable, or have anything to do with Tesla, Norse history and mythology, blacksmithing, or sword work. (I’m joking on that last set, but only half joking, as Sage would love anything you might throw his way on those subjects.)

For my friends between here and the Atlantic: we hope to see you along the way!

Oh, Canada!


20180904-DSC_6856With our damaged trailer hitch preventing us from circling the lake with our camper in tow, we were still committed to making a trek across the border, and to spend a few days exploring the Canadian lakeshore.

I found us an off-grid cabin on Airbnb, and off we set!

And, well, it was glorious.

The lack of running water, grid power, or an indoor toilet did nothing to dampen our spirits. If anything, it only added to the charm. And to have a bit of space to stretch out in after living for a week in a pop-up, a morning coffee view that was nothing short of breathtaking, and the perfect Northwoods sauna might have just been the sweet spot of our entire vacation.

Every corner of this cabin was it’s own work of art. Every drawer pull, every window sill, every handrail: intricately carved, painted, or otherwise adorned. We were entranced. And the birds just beyond the deck railing bordered on tame, nibbling seeds from Lupine’s hands and delighting us with their antics just a few feet from our chairs.

In short, it was perfect.

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The cabin, situated at the top of Sibley Peninsula, was perfectly placed for us to enjoy the Thunder Bay region and all that it has to offer, without our needing to set foot on the busy city streets.

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Rain! It’s the theme of this trip, I tell you.

But also there was sun. Thank goodness! Sun for hiking, sun for wading in the Big Lake, sun for picking rocks along the shore. And we relished it.

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After a few days across the border, it was time for one last lingering visit to the sauna, to sip a final cup of coffee on the deck, then pile in the car and drive south toward Minnesota once again. We took one more detour through Fort William Historic Park (a place I haven’t visited since I was Lupine’s age), and then rolled back into our friends’ driveway and our awaiting camper just before bedtime.

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This weekend we’ll be wrapping up our last few days of travel. We’re repacking our gear, saying goodbye to our over-the-top generous friends who have hosted us (and/or our empty camper) for the majority of this ill-fated trip, and heading back to the Driftless.

We’ll be home by Monday–one week and one circle tour around the Big Lake short of our original plans.

Plans change. And the theme we established for our first ever month-long road trip back in 2009, remains our road trip motto: “go with the flow”.

And so we did.

Plan G


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Well, hello there! It’s been a while.

Low on data on our cell phone plan and living largely WIFI-free out on the road, we’ve been off-line for most of our trip. It’s been both a treat and a challenge, depending on what’s going on outside of our little bubble that requires our attention.

Mostly it’s been a simple pleasure, like navigating with paper maps for the first time in more than a decade (I know! Paper maps!), and having abundant face-to-face time as a family, without phones or laptops or work to distract us.

Plugged in again today, I thought an update was in order.

20180830-DSC_609720180830-DSC_610520180829-DSC_606720180829-DSC_6083After a soggy few northbound days, we rolled into safe harbor: a friends’ homestead on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We set up camp in their driveway, dried out our gear, and did a few loads of wash.

What a difference dry socks, some home-grown/home-cooked meals, and a hot bath can make!

Pete even found someone willing to weld our trailer hitch back into place, hopefully in the next few days. (Did I even mention that it was breaking? This trip, I tell you. I’ve honestly lost track.)

With a few of our many troubles mitigated, we were able to lace up our hiking boots and take a proper tromp along the shore–at long last.

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A hike, some rest beside the waterfalls, and a touch of much needed sunshine worked wonders! And all the while our family mulled over our next move, contemplating what now must be plans E, F, and G for the remainder of our trip.

The flooding, you see, continues at home. More rain is coming tonight, and the river nearest our home is over the bridge once more. Our house, we hear, is doing fine, but it’s been terrible for so many of our friends and neighbors. We’re feeling the pull to head back much sooner than we originally planned in order to be there for whatever comes next.

I’m afraid I’m rambling a bit. It’s hard to go a week without blogging and know where to even begin! While I ramble, let’s jump here: a birthday just happened as well.

Without want of fanfare, Sage quietly turned 16 while we were on the shore.

The day was spent with friends in a bog (on a bog?), gathering yellow foot chanterrels (and a few pocketfuls of usnea and labrador), casting for trout, and otherwise being in awe of this wet, misty, magical wonderland.

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We arrived home tired, wet (again!), and more calm and centered than we’d felt we started packing for this journey north.

It was a perfect day made even better (because it ended with cake).

I feel so grateful for friends that welcomed our sorry, soggy lot in, help us get dried out and back in proper shape for our journey, share birthday festivities with us, and otherwise help hold our floundering little craft together.

Grateful, I tell you. May I be half this gracious when friends show up in similar shape at our door!

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And then? It’s off to Canada with us! More on that in the coming days…

Until then, stay dry, my friends. We’ll hope to do the same.

Love,
Rachel

The first few days


Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 9.20.10 AMWe departed last weekend on what was intended to be a circle tour around Lake Superior.

The theme, in a way, was water, as we circled the largest freshwater lake in the world.

How much the theme would become water had yet to be seen.

Our departure was planned for 10 am last Saturday. Naturally, this means that by the time we finished loading the car and worked out the many bugs of pulling a pop-up camper for the first time, we rolled out of town at 5:30 PM.

Miraculously, everyone was still smiling. A good sign for the (inevitable) future bumps along our journey.

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Despite our late departure, we couldn’t resist a couple of detours along the way, then spent our first night in a free public campground somewhere between home and the lake.

The next morning we drove the final stretch to the Big Lake, and began our circle tour in Bayfield, WI, at a friend’s coffee shop (which seemed a logical place to start).

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We went to the lake for a wade/swim, then started moving westward along the shore.

And then the rains began.

As we worked out way toward Duluth-Superior and our second camping stop, it rained.

And rained, and rained.

We set up camp in the deluge, our rain gear failing, our mattresses damp, and weathered the next two days of flash flooding, as our phones alerted us again and again to “seek high ground” from the storm.

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In that imperfect way that we humans so often do, we saw this as an inconvenience for us, dampening our spirits and soaking our camping gear. It was raining (as it were) on our parade.

In truth, we had it easy.

We received news the next morning that the flash flooding we experienced on the south shore was nothing compared to what was going on at home. The Driftless, which has experienced multiple 100- and 500-year floods since we moved there in 2006, was underwater once again, at record levels even for this flood-prone region.

Our farm-sitter reports that aside from our driveway being rutted by runoff, we’ve faired quite well, but many of our friends and neighbors have not been so lucky.

This knowledge of how things are going at home, paired with our wet camper and wet gear as well as some hopefully minor car troubles that I’ll space you the details of, makes us feel pulled back homeward, perhaps sooner than we originally planned.

As this trip is our plan C already (after the fires chased us away from the Southwest and then the Canadian Rockies), we’re now mulling over the idea of a plan D: going only partway around the lake, then doubling back toward home to clean up from the floods (if we can get home at all, with all the bridges that are gone, that is).

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Tomorrow there is more rain in the forecast.

Today, however, we have sunshine.

So we’re headed back to the lake. To hike, to pick rocks, to regroup, and watch the waves.

Where we go tomorrow has yet to be seen, but we’ll make the most of this break in the clouds, and send dry wishes home to our loved ones in the Driftless.

Off we go!


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Those of you who have been around for a while know that while I am a undisputed homebody, I also love to take long road trips with my kids whenever I can.

When they were just 3 and 7 we spent a month wandering our way nearly 3,000 miles across the country to the Outer Banks and back. When they were 8 and 13 the three of us embarked for another month on the road, heading this time to Vermont and Maine.

And then last September all four of us packed up, boarded our first plane as a family, and spent a month exploring Ireland.

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So, so good. Each and every trip.

And today? My nearly 16 year old, high school-aged kid is continuing his homeschooling path. We’re still together–nearly every day. But in just 2 years he’ll be 18, and Lupine will be high school-aged. Who knows? She many just might opt-in to formal schooling.

That means that than in just a couple short years, these luxurious month-long family road trips may be a thing of the past.

So we’re going for it. This year, and (I hope) every year until someone’s schedule dictates otherwise, we’re taking September and hitting the road.

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As for where we’re bound now, we contemplated a return to Maine, a return to the mid-Atlantic, and a trip to the California coast. Ultimately we settled on the Rockies. I’ll save you the details, but the fires and smoke out west had us change our plans at the very last minute, so instead of points westward, we’re heading North: for a trip all the way around our favorite lake of all. Lake Superior.

We’ll visit with friends, pick rocks, swim in waterfalls, get our kayak paddles wet, and otherwise explore this beautiful territory that begins just a few hours drive from home.

We can’t wait.

As for our digs for the month, Pete spent the summer restoring a pop-up camper that we were gifted. (The little 1990’s RV we bought for our trip to Maine is sadly too small to accommodate the four of us.)

An old and ragged camper in need of some love came into our lives a year ago. Once Pete dug in on the restoration we realized it had moisture issues and wasn’t easily salvaged. Amazingly, a second pop-ip of the same model was up for grabs from my parents, and between the two Pete was able to create one, beautiful new/vintage camper.

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* Before *

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* During *

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* After *

(I’ll share photos of the inside during our trip.) For now, however, I’ve got a car to load, some knitting to cast on, and a lake to visit.

Want to follow along? Subscribe to my blog below. Then I’ll send you an email each time I post about our trip around the Big Lake.  You can find postcards from previous roadschooling adventures here.

See you from the road, friends!

Love,
Rachel