Posted in Joy, Travel

Missouri Points of Interest

              After our trip to Missouri at the end of July, I knew I wanted to make our way back up with E & B for E’s birthday and one last fun trip before the end of summer!  I did some research and decided that I wanted to visit a few places near Springfield and maybe spend a day or two in Branson, so I kept an eye out for a great Airbnb that we could rent.  We decided on one in downtown Springfield and I started planning out our drive.  I have to note, that because this was a birthday trip for E that it was our most expensive trip of the summer.  Knowing that there were several things that we knew would cost extra, we planned ahead and watched Groupon for deals on activities that were on our list (and the kids list) of possible activities.

THURSDAY

We left early on Thursday morning. The drive to Springfield was about seven hours, so we loaded down with snacks, lunch & dinner in the cooler so we could stop for fun, but we wouldn’t need to stop for meals. While all six of us had been to Oklahoma before, we hadn’t been together, so we did plan some stops through the state while we were driving.

We stopped to see the Praying Hands at Oral Roberts University and picnicked by the largest concrete totem pole (who knew that was even a thing).

Praying Hands
Largest concrete totem pole

We stopped at the intersection of Oklahoma, Kansas, & Missouri for another photo op too 😊 and then had a picnic dinner by Grand Falls in Joplin!

Intersection of Oklahoma, Kansas, & Missouri
Grand Falls in Joplin, Missouri

Our Airbnb was amazing. It reminded me of a house right off of Fixer Upper and the kids enjoyed that there were plenty of rooms for everyone to spread out (and I appreciated that I got to have my own room instead of sharing with the girls for a change 😉)!

FRIDAY

On Friday, we headed towards Branson. One of the things all of the kids agreed they wanted to do was visit the National Tiger Sanctuary. We timed it right in ordering military discounted tickets and ended up there when they were starting a feeding tour, so we got to tag along without paying the upcharge. Despite the hot morning, the hour-long tour was incredible. The kids got to see all the tigers up close and watch them eat. They heard stories of how they were rescued and how they are cared for. We got to see some lions and a few other animals they have taken in as well.

After the Tiger Sanctuary, we stopped at the Creation Experience Museum. The museum is on the small side, but free. Even though we have visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky and the ICR Discovery Center in Dallas, we still really enjoyed this stop. We got a private tour and bought a few dvds for the car ride. Our tour guide told us they are working on moving to a larger location that will allow for them to expand the exhibits that they have in the future!

The next stop was one that B requested, and all the kids agreed with. We bought tickets on Groupon for the World’s Largest Toy Museum. This was fun for all of us as we saw toys that we grew up with and that we remember seeing in our grandparents houses as well while we were growing up. The kids enjoyed seeing the massive collections of Jurassic Park toys, matchbox cars, Barbies, and pretty much every McDonald’s toy ever made.

From there we made our way to the Snowflex Park at Wolfe Mountain. While we did lots of sledding when we lived in NY, and played in lots of snow in Ohio, I had never taken the kids snow tubing. While this wasn’t exactly the same thing, it was a blast (even at 90 degrees outside) and everyone wished we could have stayed longer!

SATURDAY

Our second full day was supposed to be spent in Springfield and Sunday in Branson again, but as a last minute surprise E’s brother decided to fly out for E’s birthday and we decided to head home a day early.

So when E and I were talking about how to spend Saturday, we both decided we wanted to head back to Branson. While searching separately, we both came up with Dogwood Canyon and decided it was a sign that we should head there for the day. We had originally planned to do some hiking, caves, and an animal safari so when E found the tram ride through the Canyon we decided that it combined all the things that we were hoping to do in one and went ahead and booked it.

We packed a picnic lunch and made plans to explore and picnic before the tram ride. Dogwood Canyon is breathtaking. Pictures do not do it justice.

We spent the morning doing some hiking, exploring and then ate lunch outside of the nature center underneath the Treehouse Masters Treehouse (from Animal Planet) before boarding the tram for our tour.

The 2+ hour tour took us through the entire canyon. We stopped by waterfalls, the Wedding Chapel, Glory Hole and numerous bridges and stone crossovers.

The tram then crossed over into Arkansas entering Bison-Elk Country where we were able to see American bison, elk, whitetail deer and Texas longhorn. The animals walked right up next to the tram and the kids were able to see them up close and personal!

On the way back, the tram stopped crossing over a waterfall so that the kids could see the fish swimming right up next to us. The beautiful clear water was definitely something to see!

Upon arrival back at the Nature Center, we were able to see some animals up close and personal, like a couple of tarantulas and snakes!

We finished the evening with Hibachi Grill and packing up to head back to Texas!

SUNDAY

Our trip home was uneventful since we wanted to make it back in time to visit with family! If your travels and budget allow, I highly recommend a visit to Dogwood Canyon in Branson! Everyone agreed that while Missouri was not our most “affordable” trip of the summer, we can’t wait to go back to Branson again!

Posted in Joy, parenting

So Many Choices, But No Clear Answers

               It’s the first day of school for this bunch… and my first day for my online students as well.  It’s a day I have both looked forward to and dreaded for the last six months.  The number of decisions I have been responsible for during this pandemic sure have weighed heavy on my heart. I don’t know about you, but I crave options and hate them all at the same time.  No one likes being told what to do, but at the same time, I abhor making decisions.  And I am notorious for second guessing everything.

               The past two years I really struggled with the decision about where to send the kids to school.  Two years ago they attended a University model school, and last year they attended an amazing public school in our district.  Both years the Lord blessed my choice so much that I knew that the decision I had made was from Him.  And I never regretted it.  Despite all my fears about public school, all three of them had the teachers that I prayed for, that were what each needed and I could not be more thankful for the environment they were in.  And as a bonus, I got to work at their school a couple hours a week all year while keeping my university job!

               But now we have come full circle.  I decided early last year that I was going to keep them at the same school this year.  I was so excited about the options for the teachers they could each have, and then the pandemic hit.  My decision making/stressing started all over again… which leads us to today…  the first week of four weeks of remote learning before we return to in person learning in September.  To say I am sure about my decision would be a lie, but I know that when I have followed my gut in the past, I haven’t regretted it… so in the words of a dear friend, “I’m doing it scared…”

You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers Right Now 

              If you are like me and questioning your schooling decisions for this year… here’s what I want to tell you.   There are very few decisions in parenting that I have been 100% sure of.  Some of my greatest successes and my greatest failures as a parent have come from making choices I wasn’t totally sure about.  Sometimes there aren’t great options, and the choices aren’t ones that we would ever have chosen for ourselves.  It really is okay to “do it scared.” Bathe it in prayer, then live life, jump in with both feet and see where things go.  If you realize down the road you need to switch things up, that’s okay.  That may be the only way we get the confirmation that we are doing the right thing. 

               So we are starting out this school year with Philippians 4:6 as the verse for us to remember, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

               My days will be a little busier than I planned the next few weeks, but I am embracing every moment, and while I’m at it, I’ll be praying for you too!  Whatever decision you made for this year: homeschooling, in person, or remote… I’m praying you get the confirmation you need that you are doing the right thing! 

Posted in Travel

Adventures with Little House on the Prairie

               One of my fondest memories of the time Ben got to spend with the kids during his years with cancer was his nightly ritual of curling up on the couch with them and watching Little House on the Prairie.  I read them the first couple of books when they were in preschool, and they loved watching the series come to life with their dad.  He and I both loved the books.  And when Ben and I made a cross country trip a decade ago, we made a point to stop and see some of the Little House sites.  I think he might have even enjoyed those stops more than me as they were a reminder of his childhood. 

Ben at the Little House in Wisconsin, summer of 2009

               This summer the kids and I revisited the books in anticipation of a summer road trip to Kansas and Missouri to see some of those sites in July.  The kids embraced watching the series (season after season) and reminding me what was the same between the books and the movies and remarking on all the differences.  We were all excited about the opportunity to see where Laura sat to write the books, and the little house in Independence, Kansas that was like the one they lived in during their year on the prairie.

               Our first stop was at the house on Rocky Ridge and the museum in Mansfield, MO.  We went on a private tour through the historic house where we got to see the house and the furniture that has been meticulously preserved.  The kids enjoyed hearing the history of it’s numerous additions where Laura and Almanzo spent much of their married life.  After our visit to the house, we visited the Little House Museum next door.  The museum is home to a timeline of Laura’s life and written works set up to let you travel through her entire life in pictures and memorabilia.  Pa’s fiddle is even housed within the museum.  We didn’t get to see the Rock House on this trip due to arriving close to the end of the day, but the museum and historic house were worth the trip all on their own! 

Little House at Rocky Ridge
Timeline of Laura’s Life at the Museum

               We stopped to overnight in Joplin, and the next day we made a stop at the state line where Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas all come together.  While there wasn’t much to see there, the kids enjoyed standing on the spot where three states meet.

               Then we set out for Independence, Kansas.  As I remembered from my visit there in 2009, the site was difficult to find, but it was worth the search.  The site where the little house replica stands also houses an old one room schoolhouse, apothecary, post office, and several covered wagons.  As always, we made a stop in the giftshop for souvenirs before we left.  This time we chose a historical video retelling of Laura’s life that we could watch on the way home from Kansas. 

Little House on the Prairie
One room school house replica
The Little House replica
A covered wagon
The sites of the Ingalls/Wilder family travels

               Whether you are a homeschool family or just a family who loves literature, there is nothing like making history come alive for your kids through travel!  If you have traveled somewhere with your children to share pieces of history and have recommendations from literature to go along with them, I would love to hear about it!

“The real things haven’t change.  It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder

Posted in Travel

Lewis and Clark and Iowa Adventuring

               This has definitely been the summer of last minute travel plan changes, but I’m learning so much about going with the flow and embracing change!  A few weeks ago the kids and I were supposed to go to Ohio to visit family and ended up having to cancel last minute.  We were all disappointed as we had plans to visit friends on the way there and back, not to mention all the family we weren’t going to get to see.  So instead of canceling the entire trip, we decided to add on some fun stops and head north to see friends in St. Louis anyways.  Since we have been to see St Louis before, we decided to stop and see some things on the way there and the way home rather than spending all of our time in the city (and mark off states 35, 36, & 37 for the four of us together).

Picnic stop in Kansas

We drove through Oklahoma and Kansas with picnic stops for lunch and dinner along the way.  Our first overnight stop was in Nebraska.  We arrived just after dinner and checked into our hotel overlooking nonstop fields!  The view was fantastic, and other than one big rig, I don’t remember ever staying somewhere where you didn’t see cars and roads in every direction!  We woke up and grabbed breakfast on our way out of the hotel, heading for the Lewis and Clark Expedition Museum in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

This was a fantastic stop and while we only intended to spend an hour or so, we ended up spending the whole morning.  We watched a documentary explaining the Lewis & Clark Expedition and then explored the three-story museum.  There were canoes, a full size keelboat replica, and even a keelboat game that they could steer and try to keep from crashing (we failed miserably)!  After exploring the museum we hiked to the overlook so we could see the Missouri River and then made our way to see the Native American earth lodge on the other side of the property. 

A map of the Lewis and Clark expeditions
Practicing steering the boat
Hiking to the Missouri River Overlook
Inside the Native American earth lodge

We finished our visit with a picnic in the parking lot and then crossed the state line into Iowa with a visit to Waubonsie State Park.  We had the park pretty much to ourselves as we hiked the Ridge and Bridge trails from the Overlook where we could see for miles!  This park allows for hikers, horseback riders, and camping.  The kids decided we should come back in the winter when they allow snowmobiling!

Waubonsie State park
Views from the Ridge Trail
Heading back to the car, hike complete

Next time we want to explore the other half of Kansas and Nebraska.  There are several places in both we would like to visit and friends who we were close to that we missed out on seeing! More trips are definitely in our future!

Posted in Travel

Travel on a Budget

People ask all the time how we can afford to travel so much or tell me nicely 😉 they wish that they could afford to travel like we can.  So I want to tell you how we afford to travel so many places without breaking the bank!

I am blessed to still have an income coming in from Ben’s pension each month.  That income pays for most of our regular living expenses, but is NOT enough to pay for the extras like travel and fun educational and sports classes that the kids enjoy so much!  So for all these bonus expenses, I work!  I teach online classes and am a guest educator/tutor in my kid’s school district.  We budget for travel and we look for deals for wherever we want to go months in advance, even if we aren’t ready to pull the trigger on purchasing them yet! (Right now I am tracking on 4 different trips stateside that I’m price checking and waiting for the right time to take them!)

We had planned to travel internationally (to Europe) twice this year and budgeted for the trips since we moved to Texas.  Since the pandemic hit and cancelled a lot of those travel plans, we have quite a bit of money in flight credits waiting for us, and it freed up some cash that we could use to take some local trips throughout the United States in the meantime. 

I’ve mentioned before that we look for cheap lodging (but if you like camping you can definitely find lodging that is even cheaper!), and try to book things on AirBnB and other similar sites that allow us to save money overall.

Here are a few ways to save money:

  • FIND FRIENDS.  Sharing an AirBnb can eliminate half of your cost and you can split cooking as well so it still feels like a vacation. OR go visit family or friends who will let you spend a few days crashing with them for free while you sightsee in their area!
  • BRING YOUR OWN FOOD.  Pack a cooler of food, snacks, drinks and lunches so that you don’t have to eat out.  If you are in an Airbnb, plan some easy meals and pack the ingredients.  It does not have to cost anymore than eating at home does!
  • THINK FREE!  Look for state parks, national parks, and other free activities wherever you are traveling.  You don’t have to do expensive tours and excursions.  There are so many blogs and websites out there that will tell you all the free things to do in a location that will more than keep you busy!
  • ALWAYS HAVE AN EYE OPEN FOR DEALS.  If you have the ability to book last minute, it can save you a ton.  Many places will lower rates at the last minute so that they don’t have empty rooms.  I always check Groupon and other sites where we are traveling to see if I can get a good deal on an activity that we really want to do.  If you have never taken a cruise before, I highly recommend trying to book one last minute if your schedule allows it (I took a week long $300 cruise to Alaska one summer because I booked a balcony room last minute!  Cruises are one place that will drop rates incredibly low in order to fill every room… but maybe save it til the world is a healthier place😉). 

Places you can find deals:

  • Airbnb.com (if you want $35 off your first stay, ask someone to refer you! Or you can use this link: https://abnb.me/e/X9L069kq08!). Then share your link with everyone you know. If they sign up, you will get credits to use with Airbnb.com in the future too!
  • Groupon.com has deals on all sorts of activities. I always price compare to make sure the Groupon price is lower than what we would pay buying on site.
  • Museum Memberships. We have a membership to two different museums that get us into museums all around the country. These memberships cost about $180 total, but last I totaled we saved over $600 in museum visits by using the passes just last year!
  • State/National Park passes. Look up what these cost in your area. Ask for them for birthday/Christmas from family because they are the gift that keeps on giving!
  • We have booked some travel through military sites that are available to use since Ben retired military.
  • I have also heard great things about bookvip.com, but I have never used them. They are on my list to check out!

**As a reference, I recently took a 4 day trip with the kids to Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, & Kansas.  We paid for a couple of activities and spent three nights in hotels, with food, gas, lodging and entertainment I spent under $600 for the four of us! We could have saved money by staying at cheaper hotels/camping and by not doing things that cost extra money, but it was still an affordable trip!

I encourage everyone I know to travel with their families, no matter how old the kids are OR how short the trip is.  Traveling with your families makes memories that last a lifetime!

Anyone else have money saving tips they want to share?

Posted in Joy

Three Long Years Have Gone So Fast

Psalm 23:4, NIV: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Three years ago, I woke up in a hospital room to nurses and doctors rushing in to tell me my husband was struggling to breathe. So much changed in a matter of hours and I was not prepared for the day ahead, especially not calling family to come and say goodbye.

I don’t know if you can ever be prepared to say goodbye to someone that you love. 

I still remember being in a daze two weeks later when I shared this post about losing him:

I was not ready that day, nor was I prepared for all the days to come in the last three years, but in reflection this is what I can tell you three years later:

  • Grief does not end.  Finding happiness can not replace the years that you were supposed to have together.  I will always feel a pain in my chest when people talk about how many years they have been married and what anniversary they are on.  I got 11 years and then the counter reset to 0.  You never stop wishing for those years back.
  • Pain does subside some.  You can find joy again.  Every day will not be riddled with pain for the rest of time.  If you choose to keep living and find a way to push through the pain, one day you wake up and realize that you having been crying a little less and smiling a whole lot more.
  • I will always grieve what my kids lost.  Nothing can ever replace the loss of a parent.  Nothing.  No one.  While I am thankful for those who have stepped in to share in loving my children alongside me, I will always be sad for the days and years ahead that they didn’t get to have their daddy there as a part of it.
  • God provided everything I needed.  He provided even when I didn’t realize He was providing it.  Friends who would chat in the middle of the night.  Neighbors who mowed my yard for me.  A new home and a fresh start with a strong support system to help lift us up when we needed it.
  • God is still a good God.  I do not know why Ben had to get cancer.  I do not know why he had to die.  He was one of the healthiest people I have known in my life.  But I do know God is still good.  I do know He is still on the throne.  And I do believe that He still has a purpose and a plan for my life and that of my children.  And maybe, just maybe that purpose would not have come to fruition if he had been able to stay here with us.
  • Ben prepared us in ways I didn’t even realize til recently. He taught me how to embrace life in the midst of hard times.  He taught me that cancer and death can’t win if we don’t let it.  He made me realize the importance of living every day to the fullest and surrounding ourselves with people who love us.  And most importantly he reminded me every day to trust God with the outcome.

I would like to believe Ben is looking down from heaven on us now.  I am sure he is proud of all that we have accomplished and overcome in the last three years.  I believe he would be smiling about the fact that we have kept on living life.  I know he would be incredibly proud of our three beautiful kids.  And I hope he knows how much we love and miss him even now, three years later.

Posted in Joy, Prayer

Is This Really My Life?

(A repost, but in light of Covid, I couldn’t resist resharing)

There are days when it seems I can’t get over the fact that this is not the life I signed up for…

I signed up for a marriage that was going to last forever…

I signed up to be a crunchy, homeschooling mom of a half dozen or more kids who respected their elders, said please and thank you and NEVER talked back.

I signed up for the house with the white picket fence and enough rooms for everyone we know to visit.

I signed up for kids who wouldn’t know heartache and pain and who would grow up being empathetic without having to go through tragedy to get there.

And I signed up for all that planning to do it with the same man for the rest of my life…

the man who affirmed me every day of our marriage and who without sometimes I don’t know how to survive this parenting gig…

BUT somehow that contract got lost in the mail and what I got instead was a quiet house with too many empty rooms,

kids who have been through more then their share of pain…

(And talk back every chance they get…)

Kids who have had more than enough sugar and processed food the past two years to make up for the five years of deprivation,

And who went to public school last year so that I have time to work to pay the extra bills that come along with being a single mom…

And now, in the midst of a pandemic, we have come back around full circle and I am having to pray and trust God all over again with every decision and every move that I make…

I didn’t sign up for this!

I’m Making the Most of It

But this life that I didn’t imagine… the one I didn’t expect or think I deserved… has forced  me to trust God more than I ever have before…

I have learned to bathe every decision I make in prayer and faith.

I got the kids that talk back so I would remember to ask Jesus to help me with them every single day,

I got the empty house so that I will have quiet nights to pray and seek God’s help daily…

I got the kids who have truly suffered a loss so that God could show me how to handle pain, both mine and theirs, especially now.

This is not what I signed up for, but because it isn’t the life I wanted, I have to trust the Lord to bring about His purpose and plan every single day. 

Momma, if this isn’t the life you expected or deserve, I’m praying for you… that you will be able to let go of what you think should have been and make every minute of what is count too…

Posted in Joy

The Blessing of Family

When I chose to marry someone in the military I knew it was going to be hard… I knew it would mean missing out on important events and time with family… it was one of the reasons that I said for years I would never do it. My dream was for my kids to grow up down the street from their grandparents where they would have unlimited spoiling and I would have all the free babysitting I could possibly need.

But I fell in love with someone in the military and we started married life 12 hours from my family and 6 from his. Despite our desire to travel the world, we made a commitment to put family first and that meant at least 2 trips a year to visit each family and splitting the holidays between them! It wasn’t long before we started convincing my family that those visits should consist of family cruises for Christmas so we could get family time while seeing the world.

Then babies finally came along and even though it was hard, we continued our commitment to making a trip to see all of them as many times a year as possible with 2 (and then 3) babies in tow (and with only one driver after Ben’s diagnosis).

We could have stayed home and expected everyone to come visit us. Especially after Ben got sick. People would have understood, but family was important and we wanted them to know that!  We wanted them to know we would make the sacrifice to come to them as often as we could so that if it got to the point where we couldn’t, they would know it wasn’t because we were choosing to stay away. 

When Ben got sick, family stepped in to help as much as they could.  And when there was more than they could physically do, they offered finances to help us make it day to day without struggling.  Even when the days were long and lonely, I have always known I was loved by my parents and that if I needed something all I had to do was ask and they would do their best to provide it.

The other big decision we made when we got married was that we would always have a guest room… we would settle into a new house and I would post pictures and invite all our friends and families back home to come visit. Some of them saw every house we ever lived in and others never saw any of them. We made sure to throw a big birthday bash for all four January birthdays every year to give people a reason to make a trip out to visit… and our parents made it almost every year! 

There have been times the past few years when I have felt upset because people have not made a point to see us since losing Ben.  But I realized that I can look back and reflect on the times they didn’t come, or when they sent money because they had other important things to do… or I can make the choice to remember the good.  And to be honest, I don’t remember the times they didn’t show up, because I make it a point to focus on all the times they DID show up, which is more times then I can count.

My parents are rockstars… and while the kids and I will never get to see them as much as we would like, I make sure that I tell them how amazing their grandparents are as often as I can.  We tell stories and pick up the phone to Facetime when I remember (which isn’t often enough, because I’m not as good a daughter as they are parents).  And my kids never ask when are they coming to see us… instead they ask when can we go see them, because they know the road works both ways, and they have been brought up to understand that it’s our job to make people know how much we love and appreciate them.

So because I don’t say it nearly enough, and my dad’s not on Facebook, but he follows my blog… I just want you to know that I love you all bunches and can’t wait to see you really soon, but not nearly soon enough!    

***And I’m really sorry that I didn’t do a great job of remembering Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this year, but I love and am thankful for you both every day 😉

Posted in Travel

Travel: Arizona Points & Kanab, Utah

Our trip to Utah was probably my favorite trip of the last few years, and was planned in only 24 hours! We typically spend every 4th of July in Maine with family, but this year even first class plane tickets didn’t give me a peace about flying. So, I made the decision at the last minute to spend the holiday somewhere else. The kids were prepped and ready to leave on Friday, so I started researching places we could drive to for the fourth that still had fireworks and a low amount of covid cases. I mentioned Utah to a friend, and she immediately started telling me about their trip there a few years ago. I was sold! I booked an Airbnb only 24 hours before we set out on our way and I researched what to do along the route, planning to play it by ear once we got there!

This truly was an amazing trip and I wish we could have stayed longer! We got on the road Friday morning and stopped for a picnic lunch and dinner before stopping the night in Gallup, New Mexico, just short of the Arizona border. (Due to the 14 day quarantine and state parks being closed to out of state visitors, there were not many options for things we could do in New Mexico. There were even places that would not allow us to use their restrooms due to us being from out of state).

On Saturday, we set out for Kanab, driving through part of the Petrified Forest and stopping in Winslow, AZ at the Meteor Crater. The kids enjoyed seeing the crater, but it is not something I would recommend paying the money for if it isn’t something you are really interested in. There is a small museum and you can take a tour, but it was expensive for only spending 30min to an hour there!

Meteor Crater in Arizona

We got back on the road and made our next stop in Horseshoe Bend, AZ. It was mid-day and hot (100+ degrees) when we set out on this hike, but it was so worth it. We took water and made sure everyone had sunscreen before we set out. There is a new path here that has covered benches on the pathway so we could stop for some shade on the way out and back. The walk took us about 20 min each way, but we did let the kids sit in the shade of some rocks while we took pictures of the view of the bend. The pathway takes you right to the top of the bend and depending on the time of day, the coloring of the bend can vary. Because it was mid-day we saw kayakers and rafters resting below when we got there. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be at sunrise and sunset!

Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

Our next stop was in Kanab at our Airbnb. We unloaded and settled in for a little bit, and then grabbed pizza outside at Peekaboo Canyon Wood Fired Grill. The pizza was amazing (and provided my breakfast for a couple days 😉). The neighbors at the Airbnb told us that we would be able to see the fireworks right from the house so we settled in to play a Washer Toss game and Uno Flip while we waited for them to start. We were able to see fireworks in all directions once they started, to include at the neighbors house, right next door. It was a fantastic way to enjoy the fourth! Before the kids went to bed we had them look through printouts of all the places we could go and they picked where they wanted to go on Sunday!

Fireworks from our yard!

Sunday morning our first stop was the Belly of the Dragon. The Belly of the Dragon once served as a drainage system for the highway it runs under, and we walked the full length of the tunnel to the dead end on the other side. There are points in the tunnel where you need a flashlight to see where you are walking, but the lighting varies as you travel through it which made for some fantastic pictures and videos! The path continues for another ¼- ½ mile past the tunnel and at the end there is a shaded alcove area where people had built towers of rocks. We stopped here for a snack and for the kids to build their own towers/designs before turning around to head back.

Belly of the Dragon
Belly of the Dragon
Rock creation where the trail dead ends off of Belly of the Dragon

From there we set out for the Moqui Caverns (also known as the Sand Caves) near the Moqui Cave tourist spot. For these we parked on the side of the road and made the climb up to caves in the side of the rock. This gave all the kids an opportunity to act like monkeys, and me a chance to face some fears and have a few small panic attacks. J/k. It was a lot of fun as long as you didn’t look down while you were climbing! The caves were amazing and there were several little tunnels the kids could crawl through. The sand in the caves was nice and cool and we enjoyed exploring through these. The kids read the writing on the wall and were even able to find a couple of their names already carved into the walls when we arrived. After a short stay, we scaled our way back down and back to the car!

View of the sand caves up above the trees
View from the caves after the climb

It was another picnic lunch day before we set out to drive around the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. We did not schedule a tour due to covid, but we were still allowed to drive around, hike through the property and see some of the animals. The views here were also amazing and this is where we saw the turtle rock!

Turtle Rock At the Best Friends Sanctuary

We called it an early evening and picked up takeout from Vermillion 45 in Kanab before having a movie night at the Airbnb. This meal was amazing and is another highly recommended restaurant if you ever find yourself in Kanab.

Monday morning we set out on what we expected to be the hardest of our ventures. We made our way to Wire Pass Slot Canyon; a part of the Paria Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. The parking for the Wire Pass was 8 miles down an unpaved road that was slow going even with a 4wd, but we eventually made it. The Wire Pass dead ends into Buckskin Gulch which is noted to be the longest slot canyon in the world. The route to the Wire Pass from the parking was a little over a mile and was the least rewarding part of the trek, but the views were still beautiful and we enjoyed seeing wildlife along our walk. We passed quite a few people on our way to the canyon who warned us that we might not be able to make the drop down into the canyon with kids, but we were not going to give up so easily after making it that far. We waited on a couple with dogs to give up and turn around once we reached the canyon and then we jumped right in to try. Another couple recommended putting our backs against one side of the canyon and our feet on the other side to lower us down, so I started out trying that first. I ended up deciding to put one foot on either side and dropped down with no trouble! E helped all the kids over the rock and they dropped down to me with him following at the end!

One of the narrowest parts of Wire Pass
The end of Wire Pass and the start of Buckskin Gulch

The slot canyon was such a fun adventure. The temperature in the slot canyon was cool so we took our time walking through. The end of Wire Pass opened up into a nice cool large opening before joining with Buckskin Gulch. We walked part of Buckskin Gulch and then made our way back to the large opening to sit and eat our picnic lunch. We made our way back to the opening of the canyon and climbed up the 8 feet out with E and I helping the kids. The mile walk back in the heat of the day was the hardest part of the hike, and because we had had some water casualties along the way (kids dumping it over their heads, and two spilled water bottles) everyone was out of water by the time we reached the car! We grabbed drinks out of the cooler and settled in for the slow drive back out to the highway. We took it easy the rest of the afternoon, had dinner at Wild Thyme in downtown Kanab (I highly recommend the salted caramel cheesecake), took the kids souvenir shopping, and loaded the car to start home Tuesday morning!

Tuesday, we checked out of our Airbnb and headed for Lake Powell in Arizona. We spent the morning at Lone Rock. This is a fantastic beach where you can drive right down the sand to the water and can even camp out right on the beach. It was gorgeous and we could have spent a whole day tubing or floating here if we had had the time! Next trip we will definitely plan to spend more time here!

The beach we drove down to at Lone Rock

We spent the night in New Mexico again on the way home, drove past the Route 66 Auto Museum in the morning and then finished our drive home!

*** The Kanab, UT Visitors Center is fantastic. I definitely recommend stopping there if you are planning to spend anytime in Kanab. The staff are super helpful and can tell you the conditions of all of the canyons on a given day, they can also set you up with tours or guides for any of the trips that would require extra help. There are several canyons that can only be reached by ATV or canyoneering. I have already started planning our next trip back here since there is so much more we want to experience there!

Posted in Joy

Change Brings Unexpected Blessings

               Ask any widow and they will tell you that there is a sometimes subtle change that starts happening after they lose their spouse.  They grow and adapt and learn new skills, and while it doesn’t change the heart of who they are, there is definitely a transition that takes place.  And those changes can be for the better.

               This week in my Bible study I was asked to reflect back on who I was a year or two ago and how I have changed since then… and what is so significant about that change.  I sat down with a pen and paper to start thinking about the me of today compared to the me of two years ago.  And this is what I came up with:

  1. I’m more independent then I have ever been before.  I have learned that I can do many things on my own, and whenever possible, I choose to do them alone, even when I don’t have to.
  2. I’m more of an overachiever than I have ever been before. I set high goals and I strive to achieve them.  I want to be successful at whatever I undertake and I want to do it all, and do it well.
  3. I’m less focused then I have ever been before.  It takes me twice as long to complete anything these days.  Call it mom brain, widow brain, or whatever you want, but I have the hardest time sitting down to complete any task on time and without distractions. 
  4. I’m more outspoken then I have ever been in my life.  While you won’t get me on a soapbox about politics and my other strongly held beliefs in the public realm, you will definitely see them if we are friends.  If I’m not happy about the way you are treating someone or handling something, I am way more likely to tell you then I have ever been before… but I will try to tell you kindly.
  5. I’m less of a people pleaser than I ever was before.  I still want to please people, but I am not going to sacrifice what I think or believe in order to make you like me.  Instead, I have learned to stand up for myself and refuse to be treated badly.  I have learned that being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to repeatedly let others hurt you just so you can be friends!
  6. I have learned to say no. If there is something that I don’t want to do, I am more likely then ever to just say no.  I have turned down opportunities for higher paying jobs and better benefits, because it wasn’t something that I thought was best for my family in the long run.  If it isn’t going to bring me joy and peace, chances are I am going to walk away from it!
  7. I have learned to do a lot of hard things.  Burying my husband and raising my kids alone is just the start.  Navigating being a mom and making all the hard choices for my family and myself in the midst of grief is still a struggle.
  8. I have learned that the only person who can measure my success is ME.  And if I am happy and living the life that God has called me to live, then I don’t have to answer to the masses of people who surround me.  All I have to know is that He holds me in the palm of His hand and He guides me.

As an educator, I have always argued that we never stop learning.  That once we become satisfied with where we are in life, we should keep looking for new ways to grow.  I am excited to see what the me of two years from now looks like, and how the Lord will continue to grow and change me in light of all life sends our way.   What about you?  Have you gone thought something that has changed you over the last few years? Are there ways that you are praying you will keep growing and changing?