Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homeward Bound

We’ve covered lots of miles since my last post, with limited internet access. After leaving San Francisco, we drove pretty solid for 2 days. We stopped overnight in Salt Lake City and before we left the city, we stopped by the Mormon Temple Square. The buildings and grounds were absolutely beautiful and the people were met were very genuine and kind. We talked pretty extensively with a couple of young ladies who were missionaries for their church. We obviously disagree pretty drastically with many of the tenants of their faith and we knew that going in. But, we thought it would be a good opportunity to help our children understand how something that could look and sound good doesn’t always line up with God’s Word. We looked at a lot of their displays and talked about how, in many ways, they looked like what we believe to be true, but how concerning some of the other aspects are.

Our oldest observed how sincere and kind the ladies were and how committed they were to their faith. We discussed the fact that they were prepared to answer our questions and how they had obviously spent time studying and preparing themselves for their work. We had some good conversation about the fact that we too need to be prepared to share and defend our faith. I think it was good for them to see that we must constantly be sifting what people say through the Bible and see how it compares to Gods Word. They also seemed to get that untruth can still appear very lovely and appealing. We definitely had a good discussion with our girls about the dangers of a works-based salvation and the importance of grace to our faith.

From Salt Lake City, we traveled on to Estes Park, CO where we were able to rest up for a few days before we started the longest haul of the drive back. The first full day in Estes, we didn’t do much, we were worn out and ready for a break. We were actually in an apartment type set-up with multiple rooms and bathrooms. We all enjoyed having space to spread out a bit. I cooked while we were there and we were all so glad to have home cooked food after 3 weeks of hotel breakfasts and restaurants. Of course, by the end of 2 days of cleaning up after the meals, we remembered how much we like not having dishes after we’ve eaten!

We did enjoy going in to town and exploring the shops there. I found a clearance sweatshirt for the girls and I which was a welcome addition to our layers. I had been doing more laundry than I intended to, simply because I under packed on our warm clothes. I knew the weather was going to be cool in places, but we honestly have only had one day in 3.5 weeks that we have not needed a sweatshirt. We were all pretty tired of the 2 or 3 I’d packed for each of us.

One day while we were there, we went into Rocky Mountain National Park. We had intended to do more in the park, but it was cold and rainy while we were there. We did enjoy the one day we spent there. We all agreed it was the best place we’d been for wildlife viewing. We saw no less than 100 elk, several mule deer, some big horned sheep, and a variety of cool birds.

Despite all of our efforts, this was the closest we got to seeing a bear. We kept our eyes wide open, but we never got a glimpse of a real one, the whole trip!
Just two of about a gazillion elk we saw in the Rocky Mountain area.

A mule deer
A big horn sheep. We never saw a male, only a female, but she was still pretty cool!

Our most memorable part of the afternoon was the short hike we took to Bear Lake. We tromped our way to the lake on 60+ inches of snow while more snow was pouring from the sky. The kids really enjoyed it and would have loved to frolic longer, but we simply didn’t have the proper clothing or shoes.

Hmm, glad we didn't need the trail map, since it was buried in the snow!

Cold? Who's cold? We all had on a shirt, a sweatshirt, a fleece, and a raincoat and our teeth were still chattering!

Lizzy made it to the top of the snowdrift.

They all got their Junior Ranger books done, and so they were able to get their 3rd Jr. Ranger badge for the trip. I just have to say that I love the Jr. Ranger program. It really motivates the kids to observe and record what they see. They practice writing, reading, following directions, drawing, listening, and a host of other skills, all within an authentic and relevant context.

Yesterday we left Estes Park and headed down to Colorado Springs. The kids had really been looking forward to visiting Whit’s End at the Focus on the Family Headquarters. I thought we’d be there a couple of hours, and we ended up spending about 5 hours there. We explored the Adventures in Odyssey section and ate lunch at “Mr. Whitaker’s Soda Shoppe” We also took a tour of the Administrative building and got to see where the broadcasting is done. The kids got free magazines, Odyssey CDs, books, and other goodies. However, the highlight of the day was that the 4 oldest got to record their own Adventure in Odyssey episode. They went into the Kydz Radio booth with a director and the two oldest read from a script while Isaac and Lily were the “Foleys” who made the sound effects like walking, horse hooves, and doors opening and closing. Then, when they were finished, we got a complimentary copy of their recording. It is really fun to hear their voices intermingled with Chris, Connie, and Mr. Whitaker. I don’t know how many hours they’ve spent listening to Odyssey through the years, but it’s a lot. They were delighted!

Getting instuctions from the director.
Listening carefully

Ready to make the sounds effects

Just outside the Administrative building. Look at the view!

This morning, we began the first of 3 long days of driving. We stopped by the Garden of the Gods before leaving Colorado Springs so the kids could walk some wiggles off. Then, we hit the road and drove the 8 hours to Topeka, KS. Let me just say, Kansas must have more museums than any other state in the union. I don’t know if it’s their effort to make up for the lack of scenery, but there is a museum billboard before nearly every exit. There’s one for nearly everything you can imagine: pioneers, famous folks from astronauts to senators to presidents, farm equipment, famous battles, the Wizard of Oz, etc.

Posing beside "Balance Rock" the most photographed rock in The Garden of the Gods.
Called the Siamese twins, I think this was my favorite rock formation that we saw today.
Handsome boy in front of beautiful scenery. I'm ready to go back to NC, but I sure will miss the amazing landscapes!

Lizzy has been hoping we’d find another Fazolis on the way home. We used our GPS to locate one in Salina, KS. It was a couple miles out of our way, but we decided to make the detour to satisfy her breadstick craving. Well, our trusted GPS led us astray and there was no Fazolis when it announced that we had reached our destination. We had one very frustrated 10 year old and we needed dinner. It ended up being a happy accident because we found some place called Freddy’s Frozen Custard which had some yummy food and ice cream treats. Tomorrow holds no sightseeing except the highway, so it should be a long day. Lizzy is determined that it will be okay because we’ve promised her we’ll find another Fazolis along the way.

Friday, April 15, 2011

San Francisco

We’ve spent the last two days exploring San Francisco, and we’ve loved it. I have to say that we liked it much better than L.A.! It is such an easy city to navigate, parking was always readily available, and there was lots to do in a compact area. It’s a lovely city with tons of character and history!

We got into the city yesterday afternoon about 2:30. We immediately went over to the Golden Gate Bridge and walked about 1/4 of the way out. We took lots of photos. It was simply too windy for me to handle going any further. We enjoyed reading all of the statistics about the amount of cable that was used in constructing it, it really was an engineering wonder.

After that, we headed up to the Golden Gate Park and explored the Japanese Tea Garden. It was neat, but we all agreed that it was much less impressive than the Sarah P. Duke gardens in Durham, which are much more extensive and they’re FREE. The one thing that the kids did love about the Japanese Tea Garden was the drum bridge. They insisted on going up and down several times. Once was enough for me, The going up was fine, but the coming down was a little less dignified.

Our last stop before heading to our hotel was to jolt over to Alamo Square and photograph the “Painted Ladies.” The kids enjoyed playing on a playground just across the street from the Ladies. They especially loved the fact that their were tons of dogs and they even enjoyed petting a few.

The highlight of the evening was definitely driving the hills. I knew that the city was hilly, but seriously, it is hilly! Like, roller coaster grade hilly. Ryan got a real thrill out of getting to the top of a hill where we couldn’t see over the edge and then gunning it, just long enough to get squeals from all of us. There were honestly a couple of times when I thought that the back end was going to flip over the front end. It was insane, but we definitely made some memories!

This morning, we rode the ferry over to Alcatraz. The kids have a book about it that they’ve read over and over, so they taught Ryan and I a few things while we were waiting to board the boat. It really is a neat place. A 45 minute audio tour of the cell house is included with the ferry ride ticket, and it really makes the place come alive. We all agreed it was something we would recommend to friends.

Alcatraz, from the ferry.

Abe, trying out a cell at Alcatraz.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city. We ate a lunch complete with Boudin’s sourdough- a San Francisco standard. Ryan tried the classic clam chowder bread bowl, while I opted for a sandwich. We really enjoyed watching them craft the breads through the factory window as we explored the Fisherman’s Wharf area. We also got to see the sea lions that migrate into the pier area. That was a hit with the kiddos!

Yummy sourdough bread bowl

The bread baker was making sea turtles while we were watching.

Of course, we made a detour to Ghiradelli Square where we forced ourselves to consume some delicious chocolate treats. Oh my, I can’t believe that Hershey would have anything on that stuff! It was insanely good, and the worst part was deciding which of the 3 Ghiradelli stores on the block to explore.

After that, we finally made our way to a cable car and rode our way up to Chinatown. By this point, we were a good distance from our car and I had some serious calories to purge. So, we started our way back across town on foot. We walked at least 25 blocks both UPhill and down, just enjoying Chinatown, North Beach, Coit Tower, and meandering our way back to the pier. Our biggest adventure in that part of the day was definitely when we had to find a potty. We went into one of these little booth things that are randomly scattered across the city. We were quite the sight trying to figure out how to get the push button door open, closed, secure, etc. If we didn’t already look like tourists, I’m sure the photo we snapped before we walked away secured our tourist status.

Here are the men turning the car before we got on.

The entrance to Chinatown
The source of our toilet adventure

As we were leaving the city, we hopped on I-80 East and it hit me that we are officially headed home at this point. All this time, we’ve been making our way west, and now, we have made a definitive turn back toward the Atlantic. We all agreed that while we’ve had a great time, it’s time to turn toward home. Though, the adventures aren’t over yet, we’ve still got a few cool things to see as we spend a week traveling home!


I know I’ve already posted about our initial afternoon in Yosemite, but we had such a great time there, I wanted to share just a little bit more. Let me just say, we loved this place. Of all of the places we’ve been, this is definitely the one I would love to come back and spend a week or two in. It’s just absolutely beautiful and around absolutely every corner there is something new and beautiful.

We spent our second day there exploring the valley. We started out by hiking to Mirror Lake and the kids spent quite a bit of time just scaling rocks and running around. Then, we made our way towards the visitor’s center, detouring for an occasional fallen tree or snow patch. My rule following child kept panicking what we were off the path again as Ryan just kept leading the way to another adventure.
The view from Mirror Lake.
Lily found this round rock and loved it.
Ryan and the 3 oldest managed to scale this steep rock.

Resting at the top of another rock

After lunch, we explored the vistor’s center and the Indian Culture area. While we were there, and older Indian lady named Julia was there doing some basket weaving. As she worked she told the kids the legend of how her people came to be in the valley. It was really quite amazing to have her share with the kids as she sat and wove.
Julia, our storyteller

By then, we were ready for our second hike, so we headed over to the base of the Yosemite Falls. Those falls are at peak right now, since we were there during the snowmelt. Right now, the water falls over the edge at the rate of about 2,400 gallons per minute. Since it is fed entirely be snowmelt, the falls will likely be dried up by the end of the summer. When it’s running, it is the tallest waterfall in the US and the 5th tallest in the world. It truly is breathtaking. The kids really enjoyed veering off the path again and exploring the rocks in the forest floor just beside of the waterfall.
Playing in a rock patch
Yosemite Falls

Let me just say, if you have never been to Yosemite, do what you can to get there. It is amazing, beautiful, inspiring, energizing, etc., etc,. etc. Save your pennies, skip a trip to the beach or Orlando. Eat scrambled eggs for dinner twice a week and save your grocery money. But, go! It’s worth it. Our pictures can’t begin to do it justice. Go take your own. Seriously!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Today has been a great one! We headed out of the city and made a six hour drive to Yosemite. The drive was absolutely gorgeous. We drove through mountains and vineyards and then as we got closer, sleepy snowy towns. We were all impressed.

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much here. After the views we’ve seen the last couple of weeks, I wasn’t sure big rocks and stones were really going to be that impressive. I was wrong, again! This place is absolutely captivating. The fact that there is still snow everywhere only adds to the charm. The waterfalls and streams are swollen with the spring melt and around every corner is another breathtaking view. I understand why Ansel Adams chose this valley for so much of his work.

We got into the park from the south entrance, which is about 45 minutes from the village area. That gave us lots of opportunity to catch some incredible vistas. We spotted our first wolf, some deer, and an awesome view of the valley. We did a little hike to the Bridalveil Falls, got soaked with the blowing mist as it tumbled over the rock, and then caught a glimpse of a rainbow. Spectacular!

Our first glimpse of the Half Dome. This was taken from the spot they call Tunnel View.

This is Bridalveil Falls, later we walked in much closer. It is absolutely gorgeous!

A big rock on our walk to the falls.
Can you see the rainbow in the mist of the falls?

We’re actually staying in the park this time and we are so glad. We were a little nervous about our accommodations, but they are just great. We’re staying in the Curry Village section, which is mostly tents, but we had made reservations for one of the few hotel rooms in that area. It’s exactly what one would expect at a place like this. We are excited about exploring the park tomorrow and seeing what other beautiful scenes we can spot!

Our room, there is another bed at the top of the stairs. The kids had a time working out who got to sleep up there first, but they figured it out.
Yosemite has LOTS of bears. We had to sign a bear policy agreeing not to leave any food, toiletries, trash, coolers, (even if they are empty), and a variety of other items in the car. Apparently, the bears will do great damage to your car if they are in there. We scoured the Suburban for anything that might have a scent. We certainly don't want to get the $5,000 fine that comes with failing to follow the rules. We found this friendlier bear and Lily enjoyed having her photo made with the him after getting her hot chocolate.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Crying "Uncle"

Today we were supposed to be in Sequoia. I wanted to see the big trees, I really did. But, the bottom line is, one family can only push so hard, and I guess we hit a wall. We were tired when I read the forecast Thursday night which was forecasting snow there, and we just decided it was one stop we were going to have to forego. Maybe one of my children will take me to see them when I'm old and gray. Or maybe not. But, the bottom line is, we decided to cut out a move and stay longer in the LA area, just so that we could rest a little.

So, here's what we did instead...
Saturday, we got up and went into downtown LA. We stopped off in the Hollywood area, just long enough to realize that we're not Hollywood people. But, we took the iconic photos, we can say we've been there, and we did eat some fabulous cupcakes we found at the Kodak Theater.

This surely needs no explanation. Though the ride to get this shot was definitely memorable.
Our favorite star in front of the Kodak Theater
Graumann's theater, where the famous handprints and footprints are.
The kids wanted to find this one and we did. According to the date, she did this in 1935 and her hands and feet were teeny tiny!
Here I am choosing our cupcake flavors from this adorable bakery at the Kodak Theater. Abby and I have totally been swept up in the cupcake craze.

Here are the four I chose for us to sample. Abe had fallen asleep, so the other 6 of us sampled them on the ride across town. I cut each of them 6 ways, like a pie and we each tried a few bites. The ovewhelming favorite was the bottom left, it was called "black-bottom cheesecake." The close second was the "squiggle" flavor which is that pretty Hostess cupcake looking thingy.

Then, we hopped back in the vehicle and drove over to the Le Brea tar pits where there are literally just puddles of tar oozing out of the ground. It was cool, and sorta weird, and one of my children found out the hard way that tar stains clothes, terribly. There is a museum there where they display tons of fossils they've dug out of the pits. We didn't go, we've already seen some cool fossils this trip. Instead, the children ran up and down the grassy hills leading up to the museum, while trying to ignore the strong scent of tar.

This was one of those bright orange traffic cones once upon a time, then it found it's way into one of the tar patches, pretty cool, huh?
Running down the Le Brea hills.

After that, we drove over to Santa Monica and grabbed some dinner before we walked out to the pier. The kids romped in the sand long enough to say they've been to the Pacific Ocean, and then, because it was frigid, we coaxed them back to the car. We drove up the coast a little bit and Ryan and I came up with a plan in case the new job thing doesn't work out. We've decided that if we need a back-up plan, he'll buy a Spiderman Costume, I'll buy a Wonder Woman costume, and we'll make a living getting our photos made with the tourists strolling on Venice Beach. With our earnings, we'll buy a humble home in Marina Del Ray, since the views there are so pretty.

The mountains and the beach, beautiful!
We made it to the other side! Isaac discovered that seagull footprints look the same on either edge of the country.

I have to say, that the beach in Santa Monica totally appealed to me because I am a mountain lover. It was absolutely breathtaking to see the mountains at the beach. I don't know how I missed that there were so many visible mountains in the LA area, but I had. They are beautiful and I understand why people would want to live here. Sort of. I definitely would pick it over NYC as far as livability, but as a tourist, I like NYC about 10,000 times better.

Yesterday, we decided to drive about 25 minutes to Lake Forest and hear Rick Warren preach at Saddleback. It was well worth the drive. Afterward, we ate at this amazing restaurant someone had recommended to us (thank you Striplings!) It was called Claimjumper and it honestly is a very good thing that we don't have them in NC. I ate the best country fried steak I have ever had in my life and the 2 desserts we ordered to share were too much for the 7 of us to eat. All I have to say is, chocolate chip calzones are a very clever invention and mile high ice cream pie isn't too shabby either.

Intelligent woman that I am, I have somehow managed to lose one tennis shoe on this trip. We searched the hotel room where I last had them both high and low and it has vanished. I have tried to convince Ryan that the brownies or the elves took it, but he's not convinced. Anyway, we're headed toward colder weather and rougher terrain and since I had somehow managed to lose one tennis shoe, shopping was a necessity. That was a pretty ordinary way to spend our last afternoon in LA, but frankly, I was ready for something that resembled ordinary.

Today we pack up and move on, out of the city. And I'm looking forward to getting back to nature again!