Posted in Book Reviews, Joy, parenting

Five of the Most Inspiring Books I Read in 2022

It’s been awhile since I did a book review… not because I haven’t been reading… mostly because I have been too busy reading to take time to share.  But some of the books I have read recently really deserve a shout out and were so inspiring I couldn’t keep them to myself!  Check these out and if you are looking for a good Christmas gift for someone on your list, any one of these would be a great choice. 

Please note that affiliate links are provided for each.  If you choose to purchase through the link a portion of the sale will come back to this website!

The Men We Need by Brant Hansen

Let me start by saying I recently heard a podcast by Hansen. I heard him speak and thought him a phenomenal speaker with an empowering story. Obviously this title sounds like it lends itself to a book not really intended for an audience of women. But I am a mom who wants her son to grow up as a man of godly character. These books speak to this single mom! Hansen writes a compelling book about the role of a man in families, society, and in the workplace. He discusses the importance of them fulfilling their calling, which is being keepers of the garden. Hansen outlines exactly the type of man that every woman is/should be drawn to. And then explains why every young boy should strive to grow up to be just like that. You should definitely check it out!

Healthy Me, Healthy Us by Les and Leslie Parrott

I am always looking for and reading books about how to improve my relationships.  I grabbed this book on a trip to NC earlier this year and couldn’t put it down (or stop talking about it). Half the book is highlighted and I keep going back to remind myself of the truths written there.  The authors encourage the reader to be authentic and know their significance.  The questions throughout guide the reader in determining their own health, because our relationships can only be as healthy as the people in them.  If you desire stronger relationships that are God honoring, I recommend this one!

He Still Speaks to Kids—Teach Children and Young Adults to Hear God by Wayne Drain and Tom Lane

Gateway Church recommended this book the last few months and I couldn’t wait to read it. There are great stories and reminders intertwined that guide parents/grandparents/teachers in how to teach kids to listen to God’s voice.  Along with those great reminders, the encouragement to trust Him that we will lead and raise our kids well! You can grab a copy here!

My Yes is on the Table: Moving from Fear to Faith by Jennifer Hand

Here is another great book that I highlighted and will go back to read over and over again.  If you struggle with giving up control to God and trusting him with the unknown, this book is a must read.  Jennifer takes us on a journey to figure out what is holding us back from saying yes to God.  If like me you let fear get in the way of you taking the next faith steps, these words will really encourage you!

Becoming an Intentional Family: Creating Meaningful Memories and Building Confidence in Your Kids by Anastasia Corbin

I got a preview of this book before it hit the shelves this month and absolutely love the down to earth way it is written.  Corbin grew up watching families to see what characteristics they shared that made children feel valued and loved.  She has a practical guide that asks questions and shares activities that help families to be intentional in the way they represent Christ to each other and the world.  This book was so inspiring and showed how they really live out their values! If you are interested in a copy of this book, I’m giving away a signed copy on Facebook/Instagram… so head there and check it out!

I said I only had five but I have two more that I have to give shout outs to!

Undistracted by Bob Goff

This one needs no introduction.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  If you have never read Bob Goff, you should.  Basically every time I read something of his, it becomes my favorite.  Check it out, you will thank me later!

Stop Interrupting Me: A Practical Guide to Teaching Kids Their Manners by Rebekah McClure

This is a low-cost, wonderful resource for any parent or grandparent (or even teacher).  The methods in this book not only work, but I have seen them in action, because it was authored by one of my good friends.  Her children are precious and so is she!  I actually read this book the first time last year, but since I reread it again this year, it definitely deserved a spot on the list!

Interested in seeing more of my recommendations?  “>Follow me on Goodreads to see what I have been reading this year!

Affiliate disclosure: When you make a purchase through our links, we may earn commissions from Amazon and other retailers. 

Posted in Grief, Joy

There is something about feeling empowered that’s a tad attractive!

Have you ever been so angry at yourself for your shortcomings that you could not get over yourself enough to overcome the problem you were faced with until you hit a breaking point?  I have found myself frequently in that place over the last few years. 

All summer my son was asking to go for a ride in Ben’s car.  At the start of August my girls had a day camp for a week. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for some time with my sweet boy.  Not surprisingly, the battery was dead, as I frequently forget to drive it so it doesn’t die. 

Since it is a reoccurring problem, I own a portable jumper box. I like to be able to take care of this problem without having to rely on others!  Of course I had locked the jumper box in the trunk of the car.  Getting it out was impossible, so I decided to be a big girl and jump it with my Suburban.  I opened the hood and had no idea where to put those black and red things without a visible battery. So I slammed the hood shut in a huff.    

I was angry at myself for so many reasons.  But most of all I was frustrated that even after five years, I still get upset about handling things I do not think should be my problem! 

Reaching That Breaking Point

I literally thought about the car in self-pity for about two weeks. I refused to ask for help and got angry at myself for not having what I needed to fix it on my own.  Because while I try to be independent and self-sufficient, there are times when grief overwhelms. I did not plan to live this life. And I did not want to carry this weight alone.

Then one Sunday a friend attempted to jump it with my Suburban for me and told me I needed to just replace the battery (AGAIN). Still annoyed, I said I would get around to it. 

That Tuesday night when I pulled into pick up the kids from class, my Suburban died in the parking lot.  Despite several attempts, I could not get it to start.  A nice gentlemen offered to jump it for me. And the next day a friend sent their husband to jump it again so I could take it to get replaced.

Y’all there is just something powerful about when I reach a breaking point and my frustration turns to stubbornness.  While waiting for my friend’s husband to jump the Suburban again, I went into the garage and tore that dead battery out of the Corvette to take with me.  I drove to Walmart and made them exchange it (while leaving the Suburban running). Then the kids and I drove to AutoZone where I insisted on watching the worker change the Suburban battery. I wanted to know exactly how everything works.

After that, the kids and I drove home. I hooked up the battery in the Vette; and spent an hour patting myself on the back for accomplishing something I should not have had to do.

Is Empowerment Wrong?

I have always thought of the word empowerment as being synonymous with being a control freak.  And while I have always loved being in control, I have tried desperately to avoid having that label put on me by others.  But my views of a lot of things have changed since losing Ben. They have especially changed since having to take on learning things that I still have no desire to know.

And in the last few months since that empowering day, I have heard countless people recount tales of friends (especially widows and single parents) who have had to embrace challenges to overcome something they never wanted to do.  And the sense of accomplishment felt by the overcomer in each of those situations is something to behold!

His Power is Perfect in Weakness…

2 Corinthians 12:9 & 10 says, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I would like to say that I learned a lesson from that experience and embrace every challenge as it comes. But I would be lying.  I spent the last week looking at our Christmas tree on the top shelf of the garage before finally psyching myself up enough to acknowledge that as long as everyone stood clear I could probably get it down on my own 😉.  Don’t worry, I did not get a big head from that achievement. This afternoon I replaced the door handle I knocked off when something went flying off a garage shelf.  And, of course, I need to jump that dead Vette battery again.  Nothing like balance to remind me I’m still human.  😉

Do you ever have those moments when you feel empowered and need to be reminded that you can do hard things?  What was your shining moment?  Feel free to share in the comments!    

Posted in Joy

The Life I Deserved…

The other day I listened as a dear friend told me about struggles that they have faced recently.  During their story, I heard them say that maybe this is what they deserved for having the past that they do.   And while I have been working on trying to listen more than I speak, I could not let that comment go unanswered. 

Friends, in this life we do not get what we deserve.  It may seem that is what is fair and good and right, but that is just not the way it works.  Sometimes I think we find it easier to blame ourselves and our choices for the lot we have drawn in life, but that is not always the case either.

After Ben died, my sister posted this on Facebook, “I spent a lot of time being angry with God on their behalf, infertility (7 years’ worth), cancer (3 times in 2 places), difficult deliveries with life changing returns- you name it.  It was Ben Thirey reminded me of all the good that came from these things—why God shouldn’t be questioned and where he would be (and where his family would be) if it wasn’t for these trials.”

While I often still find myself questioning the why behind the things I have gone through and where I am in life, I have never questioned that it is a part of God’s plan.  For every right choice I have made in my journey as a Christian (and as a person), I have made ten wrong.  I have made choices I have deeply regretted later; but I can honestly look back on every single one of them and see how they grew me and led me to the place where I am today.

That same post from my sister said this, “Ben took Tricia from the shy quiet girl she was and pushed her into the amazing and strong woman she is now.  Her shell is gone, her heart is open and strong and Ben Thirey is to be credited for molding her into who she is.”  

While I am thankful for all the ways I grew during marriage, I believe that the challenges we faced and overcame (with God’s help not just Ben Thirey’s 😉) played a huge role in growing me into the person she saw when we lost him.

I do not think that all the hard things that we go through in life are meant to discipline us, but I love that they are able to shape us into who we are supposed to be.  Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” NASB

Reality is that we serve a God who has made it abundantly clear that no matter how many mistakes we have made in our pasts, we are not relegated to living the life we deserve.  And we have the choice when we come up against the storms of life to allow them to shape us into whoever it is that God is leading us to be.  We only need to embrace the possibilities and be open to what He is teaching us through the journey. 

It is truly a glorious feeling to know that no matter how I fail, my life is still redeemable and such a beautiful thing to be able to live.  And yours is too! And I have a great hope in this, that the days to come will be better than the ones I am choosing to leave behind.

If you are in a season of struggling with the unfairness of the lot that has fallen on you… or pain because you are living out a life you do not feel you deserve, I would love to pray for you!  Feel free to email me at blessingsinraindrops@outlook.com or send me a message! 

Posted in Ben, Grief, Joy

Five Years… Gone All Too Fast

It’s been five years… five years since I fell asleep on the chair next to your bed and woke up to doctors and nurses running into the room.  It’s five years that have gone by all too fast, and so incredibly slow at the same time.  I was not prepared then… and as much as I brace myself for the emotions that will come running on this day… I don’t think I am ever fully prepared for that either.

I can still remember waking up to doctors running in asking me if you had had a seizure and sending me into the hall.  I remember feeling so alone as I listened to them for what seemed like hours before going to the waiting room to call your family. How upset I was about getting locked out of your hallway for literal hours.  I remember sitting alone there listening to worship music. And waiting for the doctors to come get me; crying all the tears I had before family arrived. 

And I recall feeling hopeful before the doctors explained our options and the decisions we needed to make.  And I have never forgotten how as I agonized over how we would make decisions for your care that you literally took your last breath.  You always knew how to make decisions easier for me.  And as hard as it was to say goodbye, I have always been thankful that that was one decision you and God took out of my hands.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about you, share stories about you or just plain remember you.  Despite what some people in my life may believe, it isn’t just the pictures on the walls or talking to your family and friends that reminds me. I remember when I climb into bed alone, look into our kids eyes, or hear them say things that you would have laughed hysterically at.  All those things remind me, even at the most inopportune times.

Reality is that you have officially been gone for longer than K had you in her life. And in a few short months, the same can be said for the twins too.  They have heard so many stories and seen so many pictures, but comment all the time that they wish you were here to see this or that.  And K tells me often that she can’t wait to get to know you when she gets to heaven. It is just one more reminder that this is not the way we pictured our lives going when we fought to bring these three babies into the world.

And yet, I have not forgotten all the things I learned from you about embracing the hard and facing storms head on.  I try every day to live the way you would have, by attempting to thrive in the midst of hard times.  You are the one who taught me that death and cancer can not win if we do not let it.  You taught me that we have to live every moment to the fullest.  And you taught me the importance of surrounding myself with people who love us.  But most of all you taught me to trust God in all things, even if we do not understand. 

I think you would be thrilled to know that the kids and I have visited 45 states together. And in the past year we have been to 4 new countries.  I know you would be excited to know that we are homeschooling again. We have plans for lots of time on the road, and with family!  And I have no doubt you would be incredibly proud of how brilliant each of our kids are. Each one of them has your passion for learning new things. 

I remember early in the grieving process being told that time heals all wounds.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  I do believe that time softens the blow and lessens the scars of past heartbreak, but I do not believe that time heals them.  Because while we are happy, whole, living; you are still missed every single day! And you are never forgotten.

I hope that today and every day you know that we love you to heaven and back again!  And I am thankful for a heavenly Father who holds us (and you) in His hands. I believe you are rejoicing over each tiny victory we have in our lives!  And today and every day, I am thankful for every moment that we had you!

“Love you, mean it!”

Posted in Joy

The Healing Power of Words

Have you ever spoken words that you wished you could take back?  Words that you knew were not life giving and would cause someone else pain?

A few months before we lost Ben one of his doctors asked him whether he was being taken care of at home.  Ben replied, “no, there is no one to take care of me.”  We were at a clinic in Mexico where I had just spent weeks learning his treatment plan and how to best help him follow it on our return to the states.  Emotions were running high.  I sent him into his next treatment and poured out my heart in tears to some new friends, who were also in Mexico for treatment.

Deep down, I knew that he didn’t mean what he was saying, but there were times during that last year when he would forget that I was right there beside him through the whole process.  These new friends reminded me that the way he looked at me and the way that he talked about how much he loved me meant so much more than the words that he hastily spoke.  All he could remember in that moment was how difficult it was to be in this new place when he didn’t always remember he was sick. 

Those new friends spoke life into me at a moment when I needed it most.  They said sometimes words are spoken in haste, but his actions over a dozen years were so much more important to remember.  Their words spoke life into my very broken heart and gave me the strength to continue through such a difficult time.

After I lost Ben, I felt completely alone. And I found myself trusting God in a way I never had before.  I ended up with a brand-new circle of friends.  People who poured life and affirmations into me when I felt like I couldn’t go on anymore.  They encouraged me when I felt like I was failing as a parent. And built me up when nothing in my world seemed to be going right without him.  Those friends became my closest confidants, my kindred spirits, my reminders that I could do hard things.  They still remind me that no matter how alone I feel, I am not really.  And I know that God sent them into my life when I needed them most.

Words Can Heal or Hurt

Our words have the power to heal or to hurt.  They have the power to speak life into others or bring lasting pain.  Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” I am so thankful for those close friends who pour life into my words of affirmation heart. I am reminded that I am chosen, worthy, and loved, regardless of all my shortcomings.  One of my strongest desires in life is to grow to be more like them every day.

I really thought that I understood how much words can hurt and how to use them wisely.  But a few weeks ago, someone told me that I am unkind in my words.  They gave me enough grace to say that they thought maybe my unkindness was unintentional, but it was there nonetheless.  And while I may sincerely apologize, that maybe I speak more words in haste then I realize.  It was truly like another dagger to the heart.  I would never want others to feel that I am unkind, intentionally or not.   

I have spent a lot of time contemplating those words and the friendship that they ended.  They cannot be taken back, but they have been a reminder to me of how human I am.  I believe God sends people into our lives to show us our weaknesses so that we can grow and learn.  So I have taken the last few weeks to pray and think about what they said. 

  • Sidenote: It is important to determine whether what someone says is spoken from a place of truth or a place of hurt.  And I have really struggled with this one.  Because it was spoken by someone who I thought saw the good in me despite all my shortcomings.

That said, I am not perfect and am the first to admit that I fail every single day.  I fail at relationships, friendships and especially at parenting more than I want to admit.  The realization of all these failures makes me so much more thankful that the forgiveness of God does not come with fear or lasting anxiety.  When He forgives, past sins do not continue to be held over us the way they are on earth.  That forgiveness is seasoned with grace that surpasses anything we could imagine. 

Allow Yourself to Grow

So here I am, weeks later, continuing to let those words resonate with me. And praying that the Lord will continue to grow me to a place where my words can be life giving and encourage others rather than tear them down.  And these are the verses that have been on repeat:

  • Psalm 34:13- “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.”
  • Psalm 141:3- “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
  • Proverbs 10:19- “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” (the NLT translation of this one says, “Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”

So I pray the Lord will help me to guard my tongue and keep it from evil; that He will remind me when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak; and that I will use my words to build others up. I know how much our words have the power to heal or harm. And I really do pray that my words will truly be healing. 

I thank the Lord for giving me the grace to forget most of what is said to me in hurt.  Loss has truly made me able to forget things that initially caused pain (or maybe it’s just widow brain).  My prayer is that I am able to give the grace that the Lord has shown to me to others.  Proverbs 19:11 says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

What about you?  Do you have trouble with words?  Do you find yourself asking for forgiveness and grace a lot?  Or are you one of the lucky few who remembers to think before they speak?

Posted in Joy

Be An Example of the Believers…

A few weeks ago a first grader on the playground at recess complained that some of the other kids wouldn’t play with her because she didn’t believe in God.  She said she tried to explain that she did believe, she just didn’t follow him, but that they didn’t understand.  What ensued was a discussion of beliefs and being kind to one another despite what we believe!  But it got me thinking about what our children know about what they believe and how they share it with others.

The kids and I just finished reading through Cold Case Christianity For Kids.  The mystery of how and why we can believe the Bible is true has been fascinating for them.  Not going to lie, I have found the storytelling aspect of the book intriguing as well.  And it throws in terminology regarding investigations which I have always enjoyed learning.

Growing Up Christian

I’ve spent my whole life growing up around religion and Christianity.  Knowing what I believe and why is something that has been ingrained into me for as long as I have been walking and talking.

Religion was not something we did on Sundays and Wednesdays.  It was a part of who we were in every fiber of our being.  Making sure my kids understand what they believe and why is something I have never had to think twice about. 

Something to Believe In

The thing is kids want something to believe in.  They want to understand that there is something bigger and more powerful than them.  Unbelief is not something that even makes sense to them.  In fact, even the most literal children (I have some) cannot understand someone who says they have nothing to believe in.  The concept is foreign to them.

I remember the first time a friend told my son that his mom didn’t believe in God that she believed in unicorns.  The conversation that ensued between two boys who desperately wanted to understand this broke this mama’s heart and brought both of them to me with so many questions.  For two literal little boys they did not understand how someone could believe in unicorns, or why a parent would question something their own child believed so emphatically.

Life Needs Meaning

Our kids want to see the fruit of someone’s life and know that that life has meaning.  They want to see that what they believe makes a difference in their lives.  We all want to know what we do, say, and how we live has meaning.  And not just meaning for us; but meaning for others.  No one wants to believe that everything we do is meaningless.

Don’t Push Your Beliefs on Others

The argument on the playground with first graders may sound silly, but social media is a breeding ground for voicing our strong opinions about what we believe.  And it is overflowing with well-meaning people arguing with others about what they believe.  

None of us is immune to it.  I just try to avoid engaging as much as possible in the back and forth and instead state what I believe and why.  I respect that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.  And as much as my beliefs are a part of me, I respect that theirs are a part of them.  And for that reason, I try not to be concerned with anyone who does not believe what I do. 

Over the last few years, I have had another mom tell me repeatedly not to push my beliefs on her.  And I can honestly say I do not understand.  I have never talked about my faith with this mom.  And while I cannot understand why they would want to live without hope, their unbelief is their choice not mine.   Emily Belle Freeman stated, “Maybe it is easier to live without God, to remain in bondage.  We understand the bondage.” Their beliefs are their own no matter what they are. 

Reflect What You Believe

I do not want others to think that I judge them because of my beliefs or theirs.  And I never want anyone to think I push what I believe on them.  However, I do hope that my life and my words reflect what is important to me.  And if that is what makes them uncomfortable, I will not be ashamed.  Because more than anything I want my life, and that of my children to reflect what we believe more than just our words.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Posted in Joy

All Hope Is Not Lost

I often find myself thinking about the future and what I hope it will look like.  Peace about where I am, who I am surrounded by, and that my children will grow up to be exactly what God has for them!  I long for strong relationships with other people and the ability to ground my children in the Word.  And I hope that I make the right choices…

But I have learned over the years that hope makes one vulnerable.  When we open ourselves up to dream big dreams and hope for the future, we do so knowing that we may not get the outcome that we are longing for. 

Hope can literally be terrifying. It can weigh us down like a burden and feel like it is setting us up for a big fall.

Sometimes I find myself fighting the desire to not hope for anything, because if I do not put my hope in these earthly things, then I do not have worry about the brunt of disappointment if my hopes are dashed.

When Ben and I were struggling to start our family, I can remember the hopes that were dashed month after month.  As many of my friends who have dealt with infertility know, it is hard to keep hoping in something that leaves you vulnerable to pain when it does not come to fruition. 

After a particularly hard couple of months, I remember feeling hopeless and telling Ben I no longer wanted to hope… that maybe it was time for us to grow our family a different way…

I hated being vulnerable and continuing to hope for something that was I was not getting on my terms.  Ben was used to dreaming big dreams and trusting God for the future. It was something those multiple deployments had trained him to do, and something that I still struggle with. 

1 Peter 5:10 says, “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Ben’s faith and hope was strong enough for both of us in that season, and I am incredibly thankful that our hopes became a reality that was even better than I could have imagined.

But I still long to be someone who hopes without holding back, and who trusts without trepidation.  And I pray continually that God will allow me to show my children the importance of putting our hope in the things that we cannot see, and in a God who is good even when we are not. 

Romans 8:24-25 says, “For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

What about you?  Do you live a life filled with hope in the things you do not see? Are you finding yourself waiting impatiently for them to come to fruition like I did for so many years?

Posted in Joy, Travel

The City of Brotherly Love- Philadelphia, PA

We try to visit my family in Maine at least once or twice a year if we can.  Fourth of July is one of my favorite times to be there because all the family gathers to celebrate… or did pre-pandemic. 

But flying to Maine can be an expensive roundtrip so I always try to tack an adventure on to the start or end if I can.  Pre-pandemic we flew through NYC at Christmas time and rented a car to drive up to Maine from there.  This summer we decided to fly into Philadelphia on our way.

It has been a few years since our last visit to Pennsylvania, and now that the kids are a few years older, there were some different things that I wanted to make sure we were able to do!

Post Office, Magic Gardens, Elfreth’s Alley and More

We flew in on a Saturday morning and rented a car big enough for all 6 of us and our luggage for the next week.  We chose a hotel downtown so that we would be able to walk to see as many sites as possible during our stay. 

After picking up the rental car we made our way towards our hotel, the Wyndham Philadelphia in the Historic District.  We had a couple of places we knew we wanted to see that wouldn’t be open the next day.  For starters, we wanted the kids to see the oldest post office in the United States. They still hand-stamp mail there and we wanted the kids to send themselves a postcard!

We found a place to parallel park a few blocks away and stopped at a small drug store in search of postcards. The post office was under construction, but the kids enjoyed seeing some of the items that were on display. We taught them how to address letters and postcards before watching them get stamped (y’all, I had no idea that my children had never been taught how to do this before!).

Our next stop was the Philadelphia Magic Gardens.  The Magic Gardens is a mosaicked indoor/outdoor art exhibit.  Artist Isaiah Zagar created the gardens which cover about a half a city block.  Walking around the outside of the Garden gates, you can see how the art exhibit spills over into the buildings both beside and behind the Magic Gardens.  The kids enjoyed seeing all the mosaicked art and trying to figure out what was being pictured!

After those stops we made our way to check into our hotel. I researched a highly recommended Ramen place about 10 blocks from the hotel, so after checking and dropping our luggage, we made our way to Terakawa Ramen.

The kids were excited to find out that the Christ Church Burial Ground was right next to our hotel and they could see Benjamin Franklin’s grave on the way to dinner.

Dinner was about a 45 min wait, so we walked the streets of downtown seeing the Chinatown Friendship Gate and finding Boba Tea while we waited. The kids could not have been more excited when we finally got to have dinner. The restaurant was worth the wait and the service was great.

The walk back to the hotel was leisurely because it was still early for us. I wanted them to see a few other things while the streets were less crowded.

We made our way to Elfreth’s Alley and were pretty much the only people there exploring and checking out some of the oldest homes/shops in the country. The homes were built between the 1720s and 1830s. Despite their age, they have been well preserved and they continue to be lived in to date!

On the way back to the hotel we passed the Betsy Ross house and the Fireman’s museum.

We called it a night and headed to bed early!

CityPass, Liberty Bell & Independence Hall

Our second morning dawned bright and early. Since we were on east coast time, we decided to grab breakfast on our way to see the Liberty Bell. The line wrapped around the building by the time we arrived. But it moved fairly fast once they opened the doors! The kids took in Independence Historical Park and the view of Independence Hall while we took turns waiting in line.

Attendance was limited due to covid. This actually was nice. It meant we were not waiting to get pictures or to view the exhibits on the way to the bell!  We could take our time, look at everything and get pictures with just us in the room!

A few days before our trip I was able to get tickets to the new Legoland opening in NY for Monday. So we decided to cut our trip in Philly down to two days instead of three! Due to our limited time in Philadelphia AND the fact that we wanted the best deal for all the things we wanted to accomplish we decided to do the CityPass for the day. The City Pass allows for on/off privileges on the city buses AND entrance to most of the museums and historical attractions in the city.

So from the Liberty Bell we made our way to the bus stop on the corner to set off on our tour of the city!

This was a unique and fun way for the kids to hear about the city and its history.  Due to covid all the buses were operating together. This meant any tour company with a bus in the city we could hop on off of all day!  We climbed on the first bus we saw and found seats in the front row!

We decided to hop off at the Reading Terminal. The terminal is set up like a market and we purchased some pastries and Challah bread to snack on throughout the day! 

Franklin Institute and Eastern State Penitentiary

Our next stop was the Franklin Institute. The kids and I had visited when they were younger, but I figured they didn’t remember. But I did, and I knew they would enjoy the exhibits. We spent a couple of hours here enjoying the interactive exhibits (trying to see how fast we could run, how high we could jump, and how hard we could hit a ball). There is also a replica of the heart that you can walk through. And there is a glow in the dark brain you can climb through. We even took the time to sit and watch some science experiments in the main atrium downstairs.

When the kids had their fill, we climbed back aboard the open-air bus and set off for the Eastern State Penitentiary. The kids really enjoyed their stop here. Each person received their own listening device to do the walking tour. This allowed the kids to learn about the different exhibits at their own pace. It was interesting to see how elaborate the prison was. It was once the largest, most expensive prison of it’s kind. The walls have the stories of prisoners who were housed there. And the kids saw where Al Capone was supposedly housed.

After this stop we hopped back on the bus to find some lunch. I had heard wonderful things about Max Brenner’s. We all needed ice cream after all the walking in the heat, so we made our way there to have a late lunch. The food and service did not disappoint, and I highly recommend the restaurant.

After lunch we rode past the Magic Gardens. We saw a few other historic buildings and made a stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We made it to Museum of the American Revolution shortly before closing. They offered to give us a full speed tour of the entire museum in under 30 min.

After watching a short video, we had our own personal tour guide lead us through the museum. They stopped just long enough to explain everything we were seeing.  This is probably the speed the kids would have gone anyways. And this way we were able to learn about everything we were seeing while chasing them through 😉

We took our time walking back to our hotel from the museum and had dinner in the hotel lobby before calling it a night. 

It was a whirlwind weekend start to lead into our trip to Maine. But we packed a lot into our two days in the city!

For younger kids, I definitely recommend the Please Touch Museum. We visited there on our last trip to the city and the kids still remember some of the exhibits they got to play with when we were there!

Posted in Joy, Travel

Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico

A trip to Carlsbad Caverns has been on my radar since we moved to Texas a few years ago.  We looked at making a trip in 2020, but due to the pandemic decided to put it off a year.

We spent the first two weeks of June on the east coast split between Florida and the beach. And were heading to the northeast for the 4th of July! So we decided to stay closer to Texas for the second part of June. We decided a long weekend in New Mexico wouldn’t wear us out too much in the middle of all that travel!

We made the seven-hour trek down on a Friday afternoon excited to get settled into the Airbnb.  The drive from the DFW area took us through endless desert land.  Pretty sure we only saw a couple of stop lights and gas stations during the entire trek.  When we arrived at the Airbnb, we were disappointed to find that it was not going to work out for us for the night. 

Without going into too much detail, the back door to the house was open when we arrived. The house was unclean. And the locks on the windows were not in working order!

We ended up cancelling the reservation (this is a first for me) and getting rooms at a nearby hotel instead! With the temps nearing the 100s, this ended up being a good choice since the hotel had a pool! I love when there is a silver lining 😉

Carlsbad Caverns

We settled into the hotel and went out for dinner before wearing the kids out at the pool before bed!

On Saturday, we had late morning reservations to get into Carlsbad.

  • If I haven’t mentioned it before, I highly recommend getting a National Parks pass.  We have used it repeatedly this year and have gotten our money’s worth about 10x over!   

We checked in at the desk and got our tickets. Then we walked outside in the sunshine to start our trek down into the caverns.

You have two options to get into the caverns. You can make the 1.25 mile steep trek downhill (the equivalent of about 75 flights of stairs). Or you can take the elevator. Being that we had kids with us, we absolutely made the walk down! The view walking down into the caverns was incredible.

For much of the walk we were not within viewing or hearing distance of anyone else. It was cool and calming. And even the kids enjoyed it!

The amphitheater steps leading down towards the caverns.
The descent into Devils Den

When we made it to the bottom, we linked up with the Big Room Trail. This trail explores the caverns and is another 1.25 miles, mostly flat as you go through the different “rooms” of the caverns. The views were incredible and once again I stood in awe of nature.

Pictures do not do this place justice. It’s something you truly have to see to appreciate!

When we finished, we agreed to ride the elevator up. The kids thought it would be neat to take an elevator up over 750 feet! Our obligatory visit to the gift shop was followed by the kids turning in their Jr. Ranger books in order to receive their Junior Ranger pins.

  • If you have not looked into the Junior Ranger program at the national parks, check it out.  It is free at most parks and encourages the kids to answer questions and learn about the park as you are visiting!  They are rewarded at the end with a patch or pin from the park!     

We ate lunch and then made our way back to the hotel to do some afternoon swimming. We decided to return to the park in the late evening to see the bat flight program at sunset. This is one of the more challenging activities to do with kids. They encourage you to get there early before the sun sets, but you must remain still and quiet the entire time. Quiet is essential to not disturb the bats as they are waking up. We ended up at the program the same night as National Geographic had a photographer present to capture the view. Viewers are not allowed to take pictures or have cell phones at the bat flight so you have to imagine the view of 1000s of bats taking off in semi-dark sky!

Sitting Bull Falls

Sunday morning we packed a picnic lunch and made our way to Sitting Bull Falls.  The falls are a short drive from Carlsbad and are unique in that they are located in a canyon.  Sitting Bull is a collection of falls that are in the Lincoln National Forest and are open to the public for swimming.  We all wore our bathing suits because it was going to be another triple digit day! 

There is a parking area for the falls with restrooms and cabanas with picnic tables close to the parking. The falls are only a short hike from the parking area and you as you walk into the canyon you can see wild goats running back and forth across the canyon walls.

We picked a spot to set our stuff and then the kids ran to dip their feet in the water. They each took turns going out to the waterfall and coming back while playing near the shore.

After we sat and watched the goats climbing the canyon walls. Watching them maintain their footing while running back and forth was truly mesmerizing.

See if you can spot them!

We decided to venture back to Carlsbad for the afternoon and found our way to the water park in town.  Admission was only $5 a person and there were almost no lines for the slides all afternoon.  The kids (and adults) had a blast in the water.  We ended the evening with a nicer dinner in town and made our way back to the hotel to get some rest since we would have a long drive home in the morning.  We enjoyed a leisurely drive back through the barren desert after the kids were all up and moving! 

This is definitely a trip that we enjoyed. Like Death Valley though, is not something I would make a special trip back to do again.

Posted in Joy, Prayer

Remembering to Live…

My word for 2021 was live. 2021 was supposed to be the year I remembered I was still alive. I started the year still living in fear of the unknown and ended the year remembering how important it is to make every moment count.

If we are friends, you know I have talked a lot the last few years about not living in fear.  I have tried to focus on the good and joyful instead of being afraid of what could or would happen. 

2020 threw me for a loop. Everywhere I looked, there was fear and death.  It took a toll on me both physically and mentally.  I spent two years making every moment count. Then in a few short weeks, was told that it was best for us to stay home and do nothing.

I had to put aside everything we planned and embrace a “new normal.” And normal consisted of staying close to home and not being around the people that we loved. 

2020 was the year fear came back in. I allowed myself to worry about my decisions, my plans, and the long-term effects of my actions… it was also the year that I realized how much both the kids and I had lost when their dad died.  2020 was the year that I really forgot that I was still alive.  The pain was truly heart-wrenching and we did not see an end in sight.

And then at the start of 2021, we lost my father-in-law.  I got on a plane to Ohio with the kids and realized that a whole year of visits home had been cancelled because of fear.  We had lost out on so many moments of sharing life with him because we were in fear of death.  And I realized that I didn’t want 2021 to end the way 2020 did. 

I woke up the morning we flew to Ohio and realized that I wanted my kids to know that we could be smart and still embrace living.  We didn’t have to stay home alone and miss out on so many moments with loved ones.   

So in 2021, we made 5 trips to visit our loved ones in Ohio; 5 trips to see my family in NC; and 2 trips to visit my grandparents in Maine.  We took 2 extended road trips with my parents and took time to fly to see friends across the country.  Our family stepped foot in over 30 states last year and visited one international country. We didn’t go everywhere we planned, but we did get to expand our horizons over the course of the last 12 months.

And in between trips we stayed close to home without any extracurriculars outside of church and school.  We were safe, but we made every moment count.  And the kids loved it.  We found a normal in living again and embracing time with the people that we love, including each other.

We spend a lot of time talking about what we remember about their dad.  They remember a trip to Disney with my parents and Ben when they were 2 & 4 years old.  They remember going to the beach in NC with my family a few months before he died.  Their memories consist of photos of moments spent together.  And those same photos remind us of how he embraced every moment he had with them.

I know if Ben was here today, he would be living every moment to the fullest.  He embraced life.  He would jump on every opportunity to see the world (as safely as possible) while still living. 

I do not fault anyone for choosing to stay in the bubble of protection close to home.  But I have watched as countless friends have lost loved ones who did everything a certain way and they still got sick.  I believe my husband did everything right and still got cancer.

I have spent countless hours worrying about my children losing another parent to sickness… but I know that our days are all numbered.  And the truth is, I would worry whether I was sitting at home homeschooling or running all over town at every opportunity.

We can do everything right and still suffer pain and heartache.  I pray every day for the health of me and the kids as we go about living, but I cannot stop living any more.  Because I have learned when I sit still, I forget that I am still alive.

So 2021 was truly the year I remembered I am alive.  I am thankful for every memory from this year. Grateful for every moment spent with the people we love. And I appreciate every treasured photo they will have to look back on many years from now. 

I needed to live in 2021… and I pray that in 2022 we will be able to keep on living and embracing every moment. I want 2022 to be the year we do more than live…. I want it to be the year we thrive!!

**You may not agree with my sentiments in this post, but please know I respect your choices and do not fault you for them.  Everyone has to make the choices they feel are best for their family. I just know we have already lost so much and I can’t allow us to lose the chance to live (safely) while we can!