We travel often to visit family and over the years I have found there is a list of tasks and procedures I always complete as I prepare for each trip.

One week before departure, I start washing dirty clothes I might want to pack. Then I move on to any other dirty clothes, followed by towels, bed linens and the final load of laundry the day before leaving consists of any clothes we dirtied during the last few days.  
Goal= Leave no dirty laundry 

I pack each child about 5 days before departure.  I lay everything out organized by day making sure everything is there that they might need (underwear, socks, accessories).  Then I check to see what shoes I need to take based on all the outfits chosen.  I try to pack only 2 pairs of shoes per child (tennis shoes and dressy shoes) so, I try to keep that in mind as I choose outfits.  Finally, I pack their toiletries and bedtime items.
Goal= Kid's suitcases packed and set aside 4-5 days prior to departure

My husband finds it amusing how much cleaning I do in order to LEAVE on a trip.  In truth, it is probably more detailed than when guests are coming over to our house. I cannot stand leaving a dirty house and find it very refreshing to come home to a clean house with fresh linens after traveling for a week or more.  The downside is this preference makes for some mad cleaning for 3 days before a trip.  Floors are swept, mopped, vacuumed in all rooms.  Baseboards are cleaned.  Every surface is dusted.  Kitchen gets a deep cleaning (refrigerator, stove, cabinets, etc.) and all bathrooms are scrubbed.  All the toys and miscellaneous items are organized and put away.  Finally, right before we leave every dirty dish is cleaned and fresh linens are put on every bed.  The added bonus to all this cleaning is that it allows me to relax the day after returning home because there aren't any tasks to be done!  Most of the time, I don't even have laundry to complete upon returning because I wash all our clothes at Nana's house before heading home.
Goal= Leave a clean house; return to a clean house

Travel Bags
Regardless of which side of the family we are going to visit, the drive is long and having plenty of in-car entertainment is vital.  Two to three days before embarking, I put together a bag for each child and and an electronics bag.  The kids' bags have coloring supplies, books, small toys and a few new items as a surprise. We take two Tag Jr reading bags as well.  The electronics bag holds the iPad, nook, chargers, laptop, cameras, etc.  These bags combined with our van's movie screens and dvds help make for a very pleasant trip. :)
Goal= Happy Passengers

More Packing
I wait to pack the suitcase for my husband and I 1-2 days before leaving.  I pack in a similar fashion as when I pack the kids.  Our suitcase isn't completely finished until the morning of departure when the toiletry bag is added.  I also grab our pillows that morning.
Goal= Parent suitcase and ready by morning of departure

Snack Bags/Cooler
The day before leaving, I pack a snack bag for the ride.  I choose things that are not super junky and not messy.  I also make sure and have some special driver snacks like sunflower seeds or peanuts.  My kids rarely eat in their carseats so it is a special treat to have snacks in the car on long trips.  I pack a cooler with drinks and add ice on our way out.
Goal= Occupy kids and buy time between stops; keep the driver awake

Load the Car
Hooray!  The time has come.  All the preparations are finished and we load the car the night before leaving.  If we have multiple stops, we keep that in mind making sure things we need first our last to be packed.  All travel bags and snacks are accessible to the passenger and all that's left is to leave.
Goal= Be prepared to hop in the car and leave bright and early

For me, all of these tasks pay off in the end.  The drive goes well, we enjoy our vacation and I love coming home to my spotless house!

There are many good people in the world and I know that people show love and compassion to others daily, but those moments do not get broadcast because the media chooses to air more sensational stories.  That being said, I couldn't help but be saddened when I heard the details surrounding the death of Ki-Suck Han.

The photographer is receiving a lot of heat for snapping a picture of the man as he was attempting to climb up off the tracks while the train is coming at him.  I agree with those saying it was wrong for the photographer to be snapping photos while a man needed help.  I know many in the world of photojournalism would disagree and view it as their responsibility to document and report truthfully and objectively.  
*Disclaimer: the photographer says he was attempting to use his flash to alert the train

I am even more stirred to disappointment by the fact that these choices were rewarded by the NY Post as they published the photo depicting the moment before Han was struck and killed without ANYONE coming to his aid. This, in my opinion, points to a bigger problem and that is the issue that saddens me most: We live in an every man for himself culture.  The subway is a busy place and all it would have taken to save Ki-Suck Han was a few good people who, in the heat of the moment, quickly stepped in to lend a hand.  If this had happened, instead of a lone man struggling to climb up off the tracks, the photographer would have snapped a picture of people working together to pull the man up.  This story would have sparked an entirely different, more positive discussion.  

Where were people who were willing to jump in and help a fellow person?  In the heat of the moment why was EVERY person waiting for the train too paralyzed to help?  Was it fear, self-preservation, shock, self-involvment?  Why don't we value the life of others in the same way Jesus values us?  It comes down to a heart issue that Jesus illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  We need to love each other as much as we love ourselves.  We need to be willing to step in and help someone when we see a need.  If every one of us carried this message in our hearts and lived by this belief, there would be far less stories of people suffering.

I have never been placed in a situation like what happened in the NY subway, so it is easy to say, "I'd find a way to help," but even as I'm tempted to think that, I feel a prick in my conscience forcing me to ask myself, "Would I really?"  How many times have I passed by a person in need and ignored the need because I was too busy or because it would require more of me than I wanted to give. Ouch!  Even worse, how many times have I not helped another because I had already passed judgement on them.  Finally, there are the needs I never even saw because I wasn't looking beyond my self.  Everyday, there are people in need that cross our paths- strangers and friends.  Maybe the need is money, food, a caring word, a listening ear, time...  

During the Christmas season more needs are highlighted and more people are in the giving mood.  What a great time to start looking beyond ourselves and asking how we can love our neighbor!  I want to walk in a greater awareness of the needs around me and a willingness to help where I'm able.  Will you join me in becoming a "good Samaritan" this Christmas season and BEYOND? 

                                    Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same"
                                                                                     Luke 10:37