Posted in Ben, Grief, Joy

Fifteen Years of Rainbows and Raindrops

Fifteen years ago, I woke up after a mostly sleepless night.  I was excited about what would easily become one of the best days of my life.  It had been a late night… In fact, I had hopped into a red convertible Corvette with my soon to be husband late the night before.  We had taken a short drive away from all the family staying in the dorm I oversaw.  And we found ourselves dancing under the streetlights in a parking lot next to the Campbell University football field. 

People might think that was romantic.  Or they may think that was a silly way to spend the night before our wedding when dozens of people were in town to spend time with us.  But Ben knew that even after hours of lessons preparing for our first dance, I was still nervous to dance in front of our family and friends.  And he wanted to make sure I woke up on our wedding day without a single worry in my head. 

I forgot about that moment until last night.  I lay in bed alone, remembering back to the night before that memorable day.  A night when I saw all that I had dreamed of finally coming to fruition. 

Our wedding day… May 28, 2006

Today would have marked 15 years of marriage to the first person I ever loved.  15 years of learning about life, love, and each other.  15 years of parenting and growing our family together.  Years that weren’t perfect, but where we continued to choose each other despite everything we faced.

Today is my anniversary… but at the same time, it’s not.  Because we only got 11 years of marriage to learn and grow together.  We only got to prove to the world that we could do it all for 11 short years.

I learned a lot in those 11 years… and even more in the four years since that relationship unexpectedly ended.  And this is what I know:

  • Marriage is hard work.  In 2014, I blogged about how there was no title that I ever worked as hard for as Mrs.  I had not forgotten about earning my doctorate, but I knew that I was going to spend every day for the rest of my life working hard as a wife. 
  • Marriage is worth it.  I have not forgotten the hard moments of marriage.  The moments when you both must fight in order to keep on moving forward together.  When it feels like the world is imploding around you.  It does not matter how much work it is, it is worth it.  It is worth it to know that you get to wake up every day next to the love of your life until the end of time.
  • Life is short.  This is probably the most cliché, but it is also the best advice I can give to anyone in a relationship.  Tomorrow is never guaranteed.  In fact, today may not be either.  Do not waste a single minute.  Love big, embrace the ones you love, and enjoy every second with them.

If you are one of the lucky few who have gotten to spend more than a decade with the one you love, I applaud you.  I envy you.  I wish I was you.  I will likely shed a tear or two hearing about your 25th and 50th anniversary knowing that I will be old and gray before those celebrations will be on my radar again. 

But I will also cheer louder and harder for you then anyone else.  And I will thank God that He allowed you all to make it to that point… because marriage is hard, and while it is worth it, not everyone makes it to that point.

So here is my advice to you: Cling to those you love, remember that life is short, and celebrate every little milestone the two of you reach together. It is worth it.

Today I’m remembering moonlight dances, cheesecake, and wedding vows. And missing the man I thought I would spend the rest of my life working hard to deserve. Happy 15th Anniversary in Heaven, my love! Love you, Mean it!

Posted in Joy

Book Review: Rest for the Weary by Shay Mason

I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Rest for the Weary by Shay Mason.  This is an incredible book that shares stories of how the author has stepped out of fear into true freedom.  And how she has learned to embrace rest for her weary soul.  The truths from scripture that this book has intertwined in it’s pages have reminded me of the importance of living a life without fear, a life full of forgiveness and joy.

Fear

One of my favorite things about this book is the author’s ability to admit her own fears and shortcomings while refusing to remain in those difficult places.  She shares stories of others who have been fearless in the pursuit of life, but admits honestly, “I know I’ve not yet been made perfect, but I also know I have a Father who gives lavishly (1 John 3:1). His love is infinite and always available. The more I let him touch my heart, the more love I receive. It’s actually pretty simple, but it’s easy to get caught up in our heads trying to force a change in ourselves.”

I can honestly say that I have struggled with fear my entire life.  Fear of losing those I love.  Fear of leaving my children without parents. Even the fear of making the wrong decisions and not being able to fix the mistakes I have made.  This book reminded me that no matter what our fear is, God is always there willing to rescue us and give us hope.

Forgiveness

Throughout the last few years of my grief journey, I have openly admitted my struggle with forgiving those who have hurt my feelings and who seem oblivious to the pain others feel.  When I am not sure which of us needs to forgive the other, I have found myself trying to be content with letting those relationships die out in order to keep my own heart “at peace.”  

Woven within the pages of her story, she shares some beautiful truths about love and forgiveness that really stood out to me.  She says, “It is profoundly beautiful when God heals a person’s heart to such a degree that they can genuinely experience love and compassion for the person who hurt them. Truly, what could be more Christlike?”

I think deep down each of us knows the importance of forgiveness and how it can allow for not only our own healing, but for healing of relationships and souls as well.  The reminders in the book can not be overlooked.  Shay says, “Conversely, when we embrace forgiveness, it unleashes power for good. Lives are transformed, families restored, and nations are redeemed. Forgiveness is an inseparable component of love, and it is the work of God. While the world clambers for justice, retribution, and revenge, true forgiveness is so countercultural it can be shocking. Walking in forgiveness is kingdom living. It is radically different from what the world expects.” 

Refusing forgiveness not only keeps us from healing, it keeps God from truly speaking to us and using us the way that we can be used.  Forgiveness is finding love within ourselves to give openly and freely to everyone, no matter how much they have hurt us!

Embracing Joy

My struggle for joy in the everyday is one I write about a lot.  Shay says, “We are often led to believe that if we experience an absence of peace or joy, we must not be a “good Christian.” In response to this feeling of inadequacy, it is tempting to follow the lead of Adam and Eve by wearing metaphorical fig leaves to cover our sense of failure.”

Being transparent and allowing others to see my struggles is something that I have learned to be comfortable with the last few years.  Knowing that no matter how many times I fail, I can keep on trying.    

This book is laden with truths and great insight into the struggles each of us have with resting our weary hearts and souls.  I encourage you to read it and see for yourselves!  It released this past week and if you are still looking for a mother’s day gift for someone special in your life, it would make a great gift!

Posted in Joy

Still Striving to Be Intentional

 We fit in a lot on our weekends at home the last few weeks: movie nights, game nights, golf, chess playing, church, pedicures, reading together, wildlife rescue centers, painting dates with friends, and family time.  Not to mention laundry, cleaning, and a lot of dance and piano practicing. 

I am not trying to win any medals for being super mom, or even trying to prove anything to myself (ok maybe just a little).  Mostly, I am trying to make the few moments I have with my kids each week really count!

I have written a lot about living with intention since losing Ben.  And I have never needed to live life more intentionally than I have this year. 

If you had asked me a year ago if I would go back to work full-time outside of the home again before my kids were grown, I would have given you a resounding no.  In fact three months ago, I would have still said NO!

Teaching graduate classes online has been such a blessing the last few years.  In addition to giving us extra to travel, I could drop them off and pick them up from school every day since we stopped homeschooling.  But in the fall, I felt God calling me to agree to long-term sub a 6th grade class for a few weeks. Nine months later, I find I am still there.

This was not a part of my plan. And it was something I embarked on with a little trepidation.  I even prayed with the kids over whether it was a good choice for us.  Especially in this season of life that we are in. 

While they miss me being in the carline and dropping into their classrooms, they have not had to be in daycare for a single day.  Instead, they are picked up and brought home by my best friend each day. 

But they get home an hour before I do which means that those long afternoons together have gotten a little shorter, and our time together has become more precious. 

So as a result we have entered a season of a lot less scheduled activities and a lot more fly by the seat of our pants.  And you know what?  It has been good for all of us.  Mostly because it has caused me to be more intentional with my time. 

I have learned to navigate teaching my graduate school classes in record time. Now, I limit my grading to one block of time a week or a couple evenings after they are in bed. I have learned to let having a clean house go for a little while in exchange for togetherness. We have groceries delivered (thanks Covid) and Doordash too! And while they probably still think I say no a lot, I have tried to let myself say yes to a lot more!

In many ways, I think that my going back to work has been a blessing for us as a family.  Because I realize now that I had become complacent and scheduled.  Despite being home all the time, I took the time I had with my kids for granted. I don’t think I fully appreciated it.  Now, with less time, I find myself spending more intentional, quality time with them.

A few weeks in Bible study I was reminded of the importance of taking the Sabbath to rest. And why we need to reflect on the good in our lives. I realized that one of those goods was being able to spend time with the children that God has blessed me with!

And now we are on the downward slope of 4 final weeks of working outside the home this school year. Then it will finally be the long-awaited summer break. Those weeks may be filled with takeout and dirty floors, but happy children; and a mom who enjoys every moment with them.

I’m learning to make the most of my time. And most importantly, I have learned that when I trust God with the outcome, my days are way more blessed than I could have expected. And the return is tenfold from what I could even imagine.

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

-Matthew 6:31-34 NIV

Posted in Travel

National Parks Tour: Stop 4- Death Valley National Park

The last stop on our Spring Break National Parks tour was Death Valley.  This was not on the list of places I was dying 😉 to visit. However, it has been on my son’s bucket list for quite some time.  Like his dad, he collects random facts for fun. He was determined we needed to go to the lowest point in North America.  The fact that it was one of the hottest points in the world might have appealed to him a little as well. 😊 

Death Valley Day 1

We cleaned up the AirBnb in Utah and set out early on Friday morning.  We looked for places to stop along the way, but decided to forego the Valley of Fire Slot Canyon and head straight for Death Valley.  The kids were excited that we drove past “Area 51” enroute.

We made it to Death Valley a little after lunchtime.  Everyone was hungry and in need of bathrooms, but it was too early to check in to our hotel.  So we stopped at The Inn at Death Valley for restrooms and lunch.  The inn is gorgeous. At the time we visited California still was not allowing indoor dining. So we ate on the veranda that wrapped around the side of the building.  Lunch was pricey, but it was delicious.  We all enjoyed the chance to get out of the car and stretch our legs.

The Inn at Death Valley view

While we sat around eating we let the kids decide what we wanted to see over the next two days of our visit.  We decided to drive out to Badwater Basin first. The plan was to see how many places on Badwater Rd. we could visit before we needed to check into our hotel.

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America.  And even for mid-March it was incredibly hot.  We walked out on the salt flats and took some pictures and the kids took in the surrounding area.  We were not prepared for the wind and had to chase down a few hats that blew off.  The sand and salt blowing around kept us from staying outside of the car very long.

Devil’s Golf Course

From there we made the long trek back towards our hotel. We stopped at the Devil’s Golf Course so my dad could pretend to play golf 😉. We read that you can hear the salt bubbling beneath the surface of the ground here. So the kids put their ears to the ground to listen. The ground here is very hard and seems very rocky. It is also quite sharp if you fall so they did not venture out very far here either!

Listening to the ground…

Artist’s Palette

Our last stop before the hotel was Artist’s Palette.  We did get out to walk some here. E and I even climbed out into the center of the sand dunes in order to see the colors in all directions at the same time!

Artists Palette
The view back to parking from our hike over the hills!

The Ranch at Death Valley & Living History Museum

We stayed right in the National Park at the Ranch for this trip. Since Death Valley is so big we figured that it was worth the extra cost in order to be able to see a little bit more. After we checked into our rooms, we walked to the front of the property. The Ranch did not have outdoor tables, so we picnicked on a couple benches in front of the restaurant. The Ranch sprawls over quite a bit of land. All of our rooms were at the back right on the golf course. In the middle of the property is an outdoor living history museum. So we took our time walking through looking at old wagons, tools, and trains. Then made our way back to our rooms to end our evening!

Living History Museum at our hotel

Death Valley Day 2

It was too hot the first afternoon to hike the Natural Bridge hike, so we decided to start our day there first thing on Saturday. We hoped to get the hike in before it got to be too warm.  My dad was up early and grabbed us breakfast from the restaurant where we had eaten the night before.  He brought them back for us to eat in the room so we could eat as we got ready.   The breakfast burritos and waffles were amazing!

Natural Bridge Hike
When we pulled into the parking lot for the Natural Bridge there were only a couple of cars.  So we set out looking forward to having the trail to ourselves!  It was warm in the sun, but once we made our way into the canyon like part of the trail it was cooler.  We got a few pictures of the natural bridge and continued a little further past there before turning around to head back.

The Natural Bridge and some shade!

Golden Canyon Hike

The Golden Canyon is one of the places most well-known in Death Valley. Scenes from Star Wars were shot there and my dad wanted to venture on this hike. The morning warmed up fast so we did not do the entire hike, but enough of it for the kids to explore. They hid in some caves and climbed up the sides of the canyon.

Golden Canyon

Zabriskie Point Trail

From there we made our way to Zabriskie. This is a viewpoint that overlooks the far side of the Golden Canyon. While my parents took the kids to look out from the top, E and I decided to climb up another “hill” to see the view. We found ourselves heading down a trail towards the Golden Canyon and before we knew it were almost a mile down below the overlook. We never found the trail up to the top we were expecting (probably because you are not supposed to go that way 😉) but we enjoyed the hike down and back up anyways.

The view from Zabriskie
The sign we read after we hiked 😂

Stovepipe Wells Village

We drove to Stovepipe Wells Village and had a picnic lunch and did some souvenir shopping with the kids.  They picked out shirts and hats and then we made our way back towards our hotel once again!

Borax Interpretive Trail

Our final stop on the way back was the borax interpretative trail. We shared with the kids a little about the history of Death Valley and the Borax that was found there!

Borax Interpretive Trail

We decided to have a low-key afternoon and made our way to the ice cream shop at the front of the resort grounds. Then we played charades on the golf course outside our room with the kids and my parents until dinner time. My youngest even spotted a fox running across the golf course in the middle of the game! It was definitely eventful.

The view from our patio

Death Valley Day 3

We got up on our last morning early enough to pack up and get breakfast before we got on the road.

We knew we wanted to see Dante’s View on our way out of the park.  My dad grabbed another expensive breakfast from the onsite restaurant.  He delivered it to our rooms so we wouldn’t have to eat outside again.  After we finished breakfast, we loaded up the rental car to set out for the airport.  Our last stop in Death Valley was Dante’s View.  It was a brisk, chilly morning so we did not spend too much time at the viewpoint before heading back to the car.

Dante’s view

We made our way to Vegas with some extra time to kill before we needed to drop off the rental car.  So we drove around letting E and B see the hotels and resorts before we made our way back to the airport.  The Vegas airport was packed so we just grabbed a few snacks to share and waited to eat lunch on the flight home.  Our trip was over faster than we expected once again!

My Key Takeaways:

  • It was hot!  Mornings were the best for hiking and sightseeing not just for the temps, but because the wind blew the sand everywhere in the afternoons while we were there.
  • Stay in the park if you can.  Death Valley is huge and covers a lot of land.  Trying to sightsee from outside the park would require a lot of extra driving, and gas stations are few and far between!
  • There is so much we didn’t see, but I do not know that it is a trip we would go back to do again.  At least not in the spring!  If we go back we might try for a winter trip in hopes to see a different view of the park!
  • If you can bring a cooler with food DO! Food is expensive within Death Valley and heading out of the park for meals is quite a trek. Bring lots of snacks and easy meals if you want to save a little cash!

Fun Notes:

  • Our trip through Nevada and California marked states 38 & 39 for the kids and I to visit together!  It also marked the 32nd state that we have visited with E & B!  And we are planning to cross a few more off this summer since we had to change our international travel plans again!
  • This was the fourth National park that we visited this year AND we have about a half dozen more on our plans before the end of 2021!

What is on your travel bucket list?  Do you hope to hit every state or have you already?  Are national parks your speed or do you prefer theme parks and museums? 

Posted in Travel

National Parks Tour: Stop 3- Zion National Park and another rest day

Zion National Park was definitely the part of our trip that I was most looking forward to and it did not disappoint in the least.  This was the part of the trip that I really planned out last summer when we were in Utah, even though I had no idea if or when we would be back!

That Wednesday morning dawned early (okay.. we were up hours before dawn) so that we could head to Springdale, UT to meet two guides to go canyoneering.    

Zion Adventure Company

I spent a lot of time researching the best company to use for canyoneering since we would have kids from age 7 and grandparents along for the trip.  The more I researched, the more I kept coming back to Zion Adventure Company and after a couple of phone calls to ask questions, I was ready to book!  ZAC offers several different options, but after comparing prices and activities we decided to go with the Family Adventure Day for a full day. 

We met the guides at the shop and because the morning was chilly, they quickly invited us inside for a safety talk and provided us with the recommended gear.  Donned with boots and water proof socks (and extra layers for the kids) we loaded back up to head to Zion.

First Glimpse of Zion

The drive through the park was breathtaking.  As you drive through Zion you are greeted with beautiful views in every direction.  The highlight of the drive through for the kids was driving through the 1.1 mile tunnel through the mountain that was completed in the 1930s.  Unlike most of the tunnels they have driven through, this one has no lights other than the natural light coming in from a few openings cut into the rock!

Driving into Zion!

On the other side of the tunnel, we exited the park and found a place to park alongside our guides.

Family Adventure Day

Here we donned our backpacks, grabbed our lunches, put on our scuttle butts (yes, that is really a thing) and started the trek towards the canyons. The mile long trek was cool, but seeing the snow over the canyon and park was a beautiful way to start the day. We were all excited to take a short break before entering the narrow opening into the canyons.

Hiking to the canyon opening

By mid-morning we made it to our first rappelling stop. Our guides led our first safety lesson and then we all took turns rappelling a 20-foot rappel. The kids were impressive. Maybe the rock climbing lessons at the YMCA in Ohio really did stick with them 😊. This was definitely the highlight of my day!

Slipping through the slots and under rocks.

One of their favorite things was sliding down one of the rocks into the canyon below. They learned how to use those scuttle butts to keep from hurting their bottoms. And they proceeded to slide back and forth on as many rocks as they could (and on the snow too).

Getting ready to slide into the canyon below!

We stopped for lunch before our longest rappel of the day and picnicked in the sun, losing our coats to backpacks and enjoying the beautiful weather. We also figured out how to use natures’ best bathrooms 😉 while waiting to rappel.

After lunch we had a 90 foot rappel that made everyone a little nervous, except for the two youngest girls, and surprisingly everyone handled it like champs!   

My dad going over the edge on the 90 ft rappel!

This was the drop that brought out everyone’s fears and insecurities, but between that rappel and the end of the day everyone was able to face their fears and embrace the fun of the adventure.  Our day ended with a few rope drops and a couple of shorter rappels.  As well as rock climbing through some narrow canyons. 

When we exited the canyons, we had to make the uphill trek back to the car. This was probably the hardest part of the day. Everyone was tired and the most fun parts of our hike were behind us. Our day ended up being much longer than anticipated, but our guides were still patient with us!

Despite the weariness climbing up the hill, when our guides offered to return with a car to pick us up, most of the kids said no and instead raced the car back to where we parked!

A few highlights from our day!

We drove back through Zion to Springdale and made our way back home, stopping for dinner on the way!  By the time we made it back to the house everyone was ready to relax in the hot tub.

Zion Day Two- A Short Hike

I still had not had my fill of Zion’s beauty.  The next morning my mom offered to keep the kids in the pool at the AirBnb and I quickly accepted. We offered them the chance to go, but all of them preferred a rest day at home, even without electronics.  My dad drove E and I back to Zion. He dropped us on the far side of the tunnel through the mountain to hike to the Canyon Overlook.

If you are familiar with Zion National Park then you have probably heard about the infamous Angels Landing hike. We decided early in our planning that this was not a hike for the kids to go on with us. Within the month prior to our visits there were two deaths at Angel’s Landing. So it was not a hike that this mom was the least bit drawn to. The day before the guides made some recommendations for hikes to us. They said they preferred the Canyon Overlook over Angels Landing due to the smaller crowds and views just as memorable.

Zion National Park

They were right and after a short hike out we found ourselves looking out over the Canyon below. It was breathtaking and once again pictures just do not do it justice.

There were chipmunks everywhere!

My only regret was not forcing the kids to come along with us. They would have loved climbing over rocks and ducking into caves to make their way out to the Overlook.

The canyon view from the overlook!

After our short hike, we walked the road to meet my dad. Since our phones did not work on the road, we just walked until we saw him again.

Heading back out from the overlook.
The road as we finished our hike!

Then we made our way back through the tunnel. We took pictures of the overlook from below and of the tunnel we had driven back through!

Outside the tunnel!
The view from the tunnel!

Zion was definitely my favorite part of our whole trip.  If we go back we will definitely do more hiking and spend more time in the park. 

My key takeaways:

  • Plan ahead. Shuttle tickets can be hard to come by. There are parts of the park that can only be reached by shuttle.  We got them for afternoons, but no mornings!
  • Canyoneering was a fantastic splurge.  If you visit and can afford an adventure like this, I would definitely check out Zion Adventure Company.
  • There are so many incredible things to do here, but you can see amazing views just driving through the park.  If you enjoy hiking, definitely plan to spend several days.
Posted in Travel

National Parks Tour: Stop 2- Hurricane, UT; Bryce Canyon (and a rest day)

You need to add a widget, row, or prebuilt layout before you’ll see anything here. 🙂

After we left the Grand Canyon we headed north to Utah and our next stop at an AirBnb in Hurricane, UT.  This was the part of the trip that I was most excited about, and not just because of the great place we found to stay. We made it to town in time to eat dinner at a cute little café before checking into the AirBnb and getting settled for the week.

The AirBnb had 6 bedrooms which meant almost everyone had their own room which is always a blessing when we travel.  We called it an early night considering the time change so we would be able to get up the next morning for the 1.5 drive to Bryce Canyon. The drive was fairly quick and while we were on the way, we read up a little on the history of this canyon and the hoodoos that are found there.

If you have never heard of Bryce Canyon (I had not before we started planning this trip), it is not really a canyon at all!  It is actually a collection of amphitheaters that were naturally created.  While it has the appearance of a canyon it is filled with hoodoos.  Hoodoos are these tall, pole shaped columns made out of rock.  The hoodoos were what the kids were most excited to see.

Bryce is a less visited park then both Grand Canyon and Zion, so once again we did not find ourselves in large crowds of people and when we came across a natural bridge across the road we were able to jump out of the car and take pictures on the way into the park. 

Driving into Bryce Canyon

The sun was shining and despite the snow on the ground it was actually really nice out when we pulled into the first parking lot. We set out for a view of the rim leaving water bottles and gloves behind. We figured we would get a peek and then drive through the rest of the park to see the views from the different stops along the way. Though I secretly was hoping we would get to make the hike around the rim if the weather cooperated!

Once again we faced a view that pictures just can not do justice. While we were standing on the edge we could see the next little viewpoint just up and around the corner. We could not go back to the car without making our way to see the view from there!

Our first view of Bryce!

Before we knew it we were standing at Sunset Point… and looking out could see the next viewpoint a ways up… and off we were hiking through the snow to Sunrise Point.  From there we could see the Queen Victoria, Thor’s Hammer, and Wall Street.

Of course I still wasn’t finished because I could see another view point just a little further 😉. The path got a little slippery from there due to the snow and ice. Not to mention there were several places where you were climbing up at a pretty steep incline. So my parents stayed back with my youngest playing in the snow while the rest of us ventured on up the hill.

Starting the trek uphill!

The uphill trek was worth it in order to see the view from the Lower, Middle and Upper Inspiration Points. The snow covered hoodoos were breathtaking and I can see where it got its name.

Inspiration Point! Way off in the distant center you can see where we started our trek!

I am sure the kids did not appreciate the beauty of it as much as the adults. Their highlight was trying to run back downhill without sliding on their backsides. Sadly there are no videos of this cause I was trying to make it down without sliding on mine. Haha.

We could see the Queens Garden Trail and the Navajo Loop Trail from our vantage point on the rim. Both of which I would love to do when they are not icy, wet and muddy! The kids actually said that they looked like they would be fun to hike too which says a lot.

Bryce can definitely be done in a day (or over several).  There are many hiking trails with so many different views, but if you are not a hiker, there is a lot of beauty to be beheld just by driving to and from the different viewpoints along the rim.  When all was said and done, we walked over 4.5 miles, but we passed 3 different parking areas on our trek that we could have driven to if we had not wanted to hike!

We ended the day with Thai food and then went back to the AirBnb to soak our tired bones in the hot tub.

***Our second day in Hurricane was a rest day (we always make sure to plan those so that everyone can relax, recharge, and enjoy the vacation). We woke up to snow falling, but it quickly melted so we could enjoy the outdoors. In addition to the heated pool and hot tub, the AirBnb had miniature golf, volleyball, horseshoes and a firepit in the backyard so there was plenty to do around there. In the afternoon we took an adventure to nearby St. George to look for dinosaur tracks and ended up off-roading through the mud… but that’s an adventure for another day 😉.

Posted in Joy, Travel

National Parks Tour: Stop 1- Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Day One:

               As soon as we returned from Utah last summer, I started planning out a trip to go back.  I knew we wanted to go explore some of the National parks we missed on our last trip, but when the weather was cooler for hiking and being outside!  For spring break we decided we would make a trip out west to visit several of our country’s national parks.  My parents bought a new RV last fall and I started encouraging them to make a trip out to Texas. I joked that we would hop in and travel with them. 

The planning got underway and I laid out our trek west in detail, getting more and more excited. I looked at renting an RV and traveling out west to visit the parks. I started to plan and lay out the schedule, and decided that for a short 10 to 12-day trip, we would be able to do more and see more without the extra drive time added on to either end! So, we purchased flights and my parents made the trip out to Texas to fly with us from here!

Our fifteen hour roadtrip map!

               We decided to fly roundtrip to Vegas because it was central to all the places we wanted to see. And flying there was cost-effective for both the flight and a SUV large enough to hold 8 people!  Plus, I wanted the kids to see the Hoover Dam. What better way then by driving over it on our way to our first stop at the Grand Canyon! 

What we did not anticipate was that our morning flight would arrive without my luggage. So we decided to grab lunch and wait for it. Otherwise we could not be sure that we would have our winter gear and hiking stuff the next morning. This was obviously not part of our plan. However, we decided that it only added to our adventure and it also meant that we got to see the Hoover Dam at sundown before crossing into Arizona!

Sundown at Hoover Dam and the twisty road we drove to get there!

We made a quick stop at the Hoover Dam and then made the trek to our hotel in Williams, AZ. It had been almost two decades since I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. I knew I wanted the first visit to be unique for the kids. In researching places to stay nearby and ways to see the park, I knew I wanted them to get their first view on a train ride from Williams. They have all ridden trains before, but nothing like this one. This ride begins with a Wild West shootout in town before boarding the train to the canyon. And as a bonus it would alleviate us having to drive in and park to see the canyon.

For convenience we decided to stay the night at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (they also have an RV park for those who do make the trek by RV 😉).  The hotel was nothing fancy, but the lobby has a beautiful fireplace and the kids loved that we could see the train right outside!

Day Two:

Saturday dawned bright and COLD! We woke up to snow on the ground and a very chilly morning. But it did not keep us from enjoying the Wild West show and the train ride!

The Marshall facing off with the Cataract Creek gang

We boarded the train a little after 9 for a 2-hour trip to the canyon. The train is still socially distancing their passengers. That meant we had a few empty rows in front of and behind our party of 8. My parents upgraded us to first-class for the train and we were treated to hot chocolate, cider, drinks and breakfast on the trip!

Our view from the train!

Our car had our very own passenger service attendant. He was fantastic and made sure we were well taken care of.  He gave us recommendations of what we should be sure to see while we were in the village.  There was even some musical serenading during the ride.  We watched as it snowed outside throughout most of the trip. And the kids took some fun videos of the scenery as we journeyed while reading more about the Grand Canyon’s history.

We disembarked in Grand Canyon village and I hurried everyone to see the view. Despite the heavy fog and snow, it was still a beautiful sight.

The view of the canyon
Climbing trees and enjoying every moment… even the cold ones!
Me preparing to hike down the rim trail… but unable to convince anyone to come with me 😉

We hit up all the gift stores and museums to stay warm. And made the trek back and forth on the rim and determined that we would change our plans to come back the following morning if the weather improved before we drove on to Utah!

Our train ride back to Williams was just as eventful and fun as the ride out. We ate snacks and prepared to be attacked by the Cataract Creek gang of wild west outlaws. They escaped while we were at the canyon 😉. The kids enjoyed playing along and even pulled out money to “hide” as the robbers came through our first-class cabin. The Marshal finally caught up with them and took them into custody as we pulled back into the station.

               We had dinner at the Fred Harvey restaurant after our return. Then we let the kids shop for souvenirs with their travel budget before heading to bed for the night.

Day Three:

The next morning dawned chilly, but clear. I-40 closed in both directions due to the icy roads. That meant the only direction we could go from the hotel was to the canyon. Serendipity!

We set out early and found the roads fairly clear all the way up. We stopped at several overlooks to take pictures before returning to the Grand Canyon Village.

What a difference 24 hours made!
There is so much beauty in creation that can not be captured in photos.

It was not crowded at all for a spring break weekend. We even beat the train into town. We ate a leisurely lunch while the kids played in the snow. This time we could walk the rim and see everything clearly.

After lunch we took an abundance of pictures. Then we did some walking before getting back on the road towards Utah and the second stop on our great National Parks Tour!

Key Takeaways:

  • The Grand Canyon covered with snow was gorgeous, but prepare yourself for the lower temps if you go in winter!
  • If you can afford to splurge on a train ride, it is absolutely worth it. First class isn’t necessary as all the train cars have the same great service. You just might have to pack your own breakfast and snacks!
  • Do not rush your visit! One day was definitely not enough, even though you can see a lot in one day!
  • If you can afford to stay at the El Tovar hotel, it has a wonderful restaurant. It also has some gorgeous views of the canyon! It is now on my future bucket list 😉 There are definitely affordable options in and around Flagstaff and Williams to stay OR camp.
  • And the town of Williams has lots of great things to do. I highly recommend a visit there if you make your way out to the Grand Canyon. We did not take advantage of all the options, but there is always next time 😉

Posted in Joy, parenting

Should I Shelter My Kids From Pain?

               I recently got heart-breaking news delivered right as my sixth graders returned from lunch.  I had not processed the news enough myself to even know how to respond when the students came barreling in and saw me crying as I hung up the phone.  I left school quickly, fully expecting someone would tell them why I was upset so that they would understand. 

               I received so many emails from students in the subsequent hours.  Students who had not even seen me that day, or who were in my morning classes, were emailing because they heard I was crying.  They wanted to make sure that I was okay.  And they all wanted to make sure that I would be coming back to school the next day.  I was told to tell them I had a family emergency and would be back next week.

               There was a time a few years ago when I thought I needed to shelter my kids from any kind of sadness and suffering.  I tried for several years to shelter them from their dad’s seizures and cancer.  I did not think they needed to know he was sick.  I wanted them to have a carefree childhood free of pain and suffering.  But when my twins were only three years old, their dad took them on a walk through the neighborhood and had a seizure.  He fell off the curb into the road.  They sat with strangers and watched as he was loaded into an ambulance and waited for me to arrive to pick them up.  I realized when they explained it to me that they knew far more than I realized and that sheltering them only made them more afraid.

Here is what I have learned about sheltering my kids:

  • Loss and pain is a very real part of life. It is everywhere. You cannot hide from loss and you cannot run away from it. Someday they will have to face pain. And when they do have to face it head on, they need to know how to process it.
  • Sheltering them makes them think we should ignore hard things. When we shelter our kids, we are teaching them it is not acceptable to talk about hard things. It is teaching them that pain and loss and things to be avoided. When my kids first started school, I remember a teacher telling me that my son needed to go to counseling because he was always telling people his dad was dead. I remember saying, “but he is.” The teacher told me that it was not healthy for a six-year-old to talk about loss so much. But speaking that truth is necessary for us to process it as reality. The last thing I ever want is for my children to grow up thinking that they cannot talk about hard things or that they should avoid them because it might make others uncomfortable. That loss is a part of who they are.
  • Letting my children feel the pain and loss of others has developed compassion in them. It has taught them to feel for others who have lost. It is teaching them to be kind individuals. When I told my kids about losing their grandfather recently, the first words out of my 7 year old’s mouth were, “That is so sad for Grandma. Now she has lost her son and her husband. She must be very sad. Are we going to go see her so we can hug her?” And I cried. Not only for our loss, but for her loss, and for my mother-in-law’s loss. And because my children have had to process so much pain already in their young lives.

               The last few years I have struggled with whether to shelter or expose my children to pain and loss and suffering.  But pain and loss are very real parts of life.  They will not be able to avoid those difficult moments as the get older and they have to know how to persevere through hard things and come out stronger. 

               I still pray that difficult moments will not find them.  I pray that we will not have to face the loss of anyone else that we love and I pray they will not have to mourn lost relationships.  I try to make sure that my kids lives are filled with as much sunshine, confetti and roses as possible and I try to teach them to embrace every single day head first.  But when those difficult moments come, so much more frequently than I would hope, I hope I have taught them to face them head on too.  We cry the tears, we embrace the sadness, we hug each other a little tighter, and we learn the lessons… together, one heartbreak at a time. 

Posted in Joy

Cookies For Santa, Cause We All Need Something To Believe In

 Last week when I picked up my kids from school, my youngest asked me if we were going to leave out cookies for Santa this year.  She caught me off guard as we have never really encouraged a belief in Santa in our house.  In true big brother fashion, my oldest quickly told her that Santa isn’t real and looked to me to back him up.  And over the next few moments, a million thoughts ran through my head before I could respond.

My first thought was if I tell the truth will it end up like it did when she told everyone at school what she thought were our thoughts on Halloween? (if you haven’t heard that story yet, it’s a good one… 😊 I’ll save it for another day).  Or will she get in trouble like her brother for touching the class elf to prove there is no magic there? 

Then my mind moved on to… is this something she needs to believe in?  And is this belief going to hurt her?

I honestly don’t remember if my parents told us Santa was real or not when we were growing up.  I do know that Ben and I decided early on that we would tell our kids the truth about things like this.  But I also know that whatever my parents told me, it obviously didn’t leave any lasting damage.  And I know that as children (and even as adults) we all need something to believe in.    

Now I don’t by any means equate Santa as being up there with God on things that give us hope.  But I do know that in her short 6 years of life, this little girl has had a lot of things taken from her.  She has faced more loss and pain then someone her age should have had to…  And if I am being honest, there have been more times than I can count as an adult when I have wanted to believe in my own little fairytale.

Over the last few years, I have learned that no matter what comes at me in life, I can find a steadfast hope and belief in the things unseen.  I am thankful for a heavenly father that gives me that hope and that I can trust in Him when things are tough.  That belief is what has helped me live through the hardest moments of my life, and is the reason I can still find a reason to smile at the end of each day.

So of course, my mom brain went a million miles a minute as I analyzed what I should say and do.  And on that five-minute ride home from school I asked her… do you want to believe Santa is real?  And she said she did because she wanted to leave him some cookies.  I told her that I was not going to tell her that Santa was real, but that if she wanted to believe that he was this year, that she could.

The presents have been wrapped and under the tree for days.  And not once has a child asked me if Santa would be bringing anything for them… because they know that the spirit of this season in our home is in giving.  And they know that this holiday is a celebration of Christ’s birth. 

They didn’t ask about what Santa would be doing for them, instead they only asked could they leave him some cookies.

So today we decorated cookies and she and her sister picked out the ones they wanted to leave out for Santa. Their big brother reminded me before he went to bed that they would be disappointed if I forgot to put them out. And when I went to tuck him in one last time, he asked if I was really going to eat all those cookies… since they all know that I am really Santa 😉

So this Christmas, I am grateful for children who believe in the things they can not see.  I am thankful that they look to me to always tell them the truth no matter what.  And it warms my mama heart that she was able to tell me that yes, she wanted to believe in this, this year… because I think one of the hardest things that I have learned through grief is that it is okay to believe in something again. 

And tomorrow, we will wake up and read the Christmas story over breakfast before they open any gifts… and we will talk about the true meaning for this holiday… and I will pray that this sweet little baby of mine will always remember that we always have Someone to believe in…

I don’t know if you still believe in Santa Claus 😉 or if you know that there is Someone greater that you just can’t “see.”   I am praying for you today, that God reminds you that He is the reason for this season, and He is all you really need!  Merry Christmas!

Posted in Joy, parenting

Is A Surprise Worth A Lie?

We have been talking a lot about telling the truth around our house lately… about what the truth is and when it is okay to tell a lie. 

The kids have asked why sometimes parents lie to their kids and why adults would lie to each other.  It has brought up a lot of hard conversations that I have tried to handle with grace.  I have been learning to share my thoughts carefully these days since my kids love to share exactly what I say with everyone they know. 

Last night they asked if there are good lies and bad lies and how to tell the difference.

First, I do not think that lying to our children is ever a good practice.  It causes them to lose their trust in us and it can even cause them to lose their faith in people in general. 

But, we talked about how sometimes parents will lie to their children to keep something a surprise… by maybe telling them they are going one place when they are really going somewhere else.  The parents mean well and don’t consider that lying, but later on the child may only remember that their parents told them something different.  Why did they lie to me? 

Do I lie?  Sometimes…

I take a different approach with my kids… and I tell them outright if I am going to lie to them… which they reminded me of during this conversation.  Whenever I take them on a surprise trip, they love to try to guess where we are going.  I tell them upfront, even if they guess the surprise, I will not tell them and ruin the surprise.  Sometimes I will even say, one of your twenty guesses was correct, but I’m not going to tell you which one. 

Telling the truth builds trust.

I think it is important to build the element of trust with my kids.  If they are going to the dentist to have work done on their teeth, I tell them that yes, it is going to hurt.  If we are going to have to face a fear, I address it head on rather than letting it be a last minute surprise. 

When their dad was sick and they told me that they were scared of him dying, I never promised them that he was going to be okay.  Instead I told them that I got scared sometimes too, but that I prayed that God would heal him and I knew that no matter what, WE would be okay.  As a rule, I never make promises that I’m not sure I can keep to them.  If I’m not sure about something, I tell them upfront I don’t know.  And I rarely say never…

Proverbs 12:22 says, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people that are trustworthy.”

I would take that verse a step further and say that our children delight in us too when they know they can trust us to follow thru on our words. 

So in answer to the kids question, no I don’t think that there are good lies and bad lies… I think it is important to speak truth to them so that they will grow up to be adults of strong character as well.

What do you think?  Are there situations when you think it would be okay to not tell the truth to a child?  Times when you think that there are “good” lies?