No Matter How Far I Roam…

“When I get home, I’m taking this dirty laundry out of my bag!” declares Evan.

It’s 3:45 a.m. and we’re getting a few last minute things together before we head to the airport for our return flight. My brother, already wide awake and excited to go home, is lamenting the fact that he has to carry the family’s dirty laundry in his suitcase, while the rest of us take turns getting ready.

We’ve had a fun vacation. The past few days were spent enjoying the huge redwoods. We camped near the coast on the fourth of July, and although it was a little cold, we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean from one of the huge rocks along the shore. The campground had a trail that weaved in and out of the different camping locations and back to the coast. It was a little confusing as I went for a morning run.

The whole group remained in high spirits, even though we did a lot of hiking through the forests. I guess climbing on fallen trees, whacking the side brush with stick spears, and darting in and out of trees with holes would keep anyone occupied for a while. Of course, there’s plenty of opportunities to act like a ninja, spy or Jedi Knight for the video camera. And who doesn’t want to climb a 10-foot tree stump or crawl though the trunk of a giant redwood?

Part of our hiking took us through Fern Canyon. We evaded the meandering stream (Evan using lots of fallen trees; the rest of us used the bridges) as we gazed up at the sides of the canyon covered in green ferns. It was a beautiful place filled with many cool looking rocks.

Throughout our sightseeing, we even saw two black bears. The first was an adorable bear cub on the side of the road as we drove by, and from our campsite, we observed the second climb an apple tree to get his breakfast. Those bear lockers really are necessary after all!

We survived all six nights of camping without getting poison ivy or stung by a yellow jacket. The Steller’s jays almost stole our food from the picnic table at the last campsite, but Evan took charge of chasing them away.

Between driving down many windy roads, standing in beautiful valleys, hiking and gazing at impressive mountains, looking up at the biggest trees in the world, camping in chilly places, and visiting cold beaches in the summer, this will be a very memorable trip. But as fun as being a tourist on the west coast is, I’m ready to get back to the very familiar east coast and knowing where I am.

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May the Forest be with You

“So does that mean I can keep my chapstick in my tent?” Evan asks hopefully.

It’s the start to our happy adventure in Redwood Forest. We had just stopped in the visitor center to find out interesting places to see over the next few days, and while Evan bought a “May the Forest be with You” shirt, we found out that they did not have many bears in these woods (no need for a bear locker).

Spirits high, we headed to Stout Grove, which is near where parts of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi were filmed. We got out of our van and hiked a short one-mile loop, and every moment was special. No one complained about the hike; in fact, everyone enjoyed it, and it wasn’t strenuous at all. The only small elevation change was at the very beginning; everything else was super flat. “Everyone is having fun,” as Evan put it.

Evan, who loves Star Wars almost as much as I did when I was his age, immediately began role-playing. He jumped off fallen trees (they don’t rot!), snuck through the brush, and pretended to wave a lightsaber or a blaster in his hands. The rest of us joined in too, and he didn’t have to pretend to have weapons after he stole the small wooden spear that Abby found and “attacked” him with. The video camera clicked on and off as we repeated our “scenes” many times in order to properly capture them.

Walking through the huge trees, it was easy to imagine scenes from Star Wars. The huge trees towered three hundred feet above us, and the small plants looked exactly the same as they do in the movie. The forest is beautiful, the weather was perfect, and we could have easily spent more hours climbing on the trees, quoting movies, and posing for pictures.

So day one of the Redwoods has been very successful and might overtake Lake Tahoe as the favorite place of the trip, at least according to some members of the family. Hopefully, we will maintain this energy and excitement level as we spend the next two nights camping in the majestic forest.

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The Space in Between

“I wonder if this is insulated,” Abby questions.


“Because I might consider sleeping in here!”

These past two nights we have been camping as we journey north from Yosemite to the Redwoods–first at Lassen Volcanic National Park and then Castle Crags California State Park. So I guess our nights have been a little rougher than our stay at the Chalet View Lodge in Maybe, California where I last posted.

Lassen wasn’t a terrible campground. After we hiked around some bubbling steam pools, we stayed close to a pretty lake, and they had nice bathrooms. They even had a small closet area with a large sink for washing dishes, where Abby made the opening comment. The problem was the tiny bugs. They stuck to our clothes, arms and legs the whole afternoon and while we were eating dinner. They were very annoying, and no matter how much we brushed them off, they kept coming back. However, we found refuge in the dish washing closet, thus prompting Abby to consider sleeping indoors. Thankfully the bugs disappeared as it got dark and we went to bed without any further incident.

We have our camping routine down. We pull up to our camping space in the late afternoon. While some of us quickly put up the two tents (the bigger one for the girls and the smaller one for the boys), others work on dinner preparation. We slowly move all of our food and scented items into the bear locker, which have all had a different kind of locking mechanism. Not difficult to open, but you have to be “smarter than your average bear,” as Caroline put it. Sometimes I help; sometimes I go for a run. There are more than enough hands to go around.

After dinner and dishes (I wash and Caroline and Abby dry), we usually pause and hang out for a bit. At Lassen we sat by the lake and skipped rocks, and at Castle Crags we drove up to Vista Point where we could look out at the scenery around us. The Crags were pretty cool, but the dormant volcano Mt. Shasta was very impressive. At over 14,000 feet, it towers in the distance.

Sometimes we get to shower (state parks!), but other times we go straight to roasting marshmallows for s’mores. We recently bought Hershey’s special dark chocolate for the s’mores, and we’re wondering why we never got it to begin with. It makes them taste much better, especially with peanut butter. And yes, we do have s’mores every night. Evan would be quite upset if we didn’t.

He was also thankful that the only hiking we did Wednesday was a short quarter-mile walk to the scenic overlook in Castle Crags. Since it was rather hot, we decided to take a break from hiking and ended up visiting with one of our friends who is volunteering at a nearby camp in California for the summer. For a trip all the way out in California, we have seen quite a few familiar faces.

It’s hard to believe our journey is more than halfway over. It has been quite an adventure, exciting and interesting, yet also a little tiring. The forest moon of Endor here we come!

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I’m Divin’ In

“It’s a little warmer if you keep coming further in,” my dad beckons to Abby and me as we dared to enter the cold water.

We’d been enjoying the beautiful scenery at Lake Tahoe while reading our books, but it wasn’t until the end of our visit that Abby, Caroline and I decided to brave the elements and get all the way in. And even though the water was chilly and we didn’t stay in for very long, it was definitely worth the plunge. It’s not every day that we get to swim in something so clean and pretty, even if it is a bit chilly.

Out of all of the places we’ve been so far on this trip, I think Lake Tahoe has been my favorite. This huge fresh water lake is crystal clear and displays a beautiful blue color that gets either darker blue or greener depending on the depth of the water. Picturesque mountains encircle the lake, their rocks providing perfect places for people to jump off into the lake. In the distance we could see where the ski trails would be during the winter.

For the past two days we’ve been camping (hence the space between posts). Our first night, we stayed just outside Yosemite in a fairly rugged campground. However, last night we camped in a California state park at Lake Tahoe. Besides being a beautiful area, we also had the opportunity to take hot showers, and it didn’t get quite as cold as it did while we were in Yosemite. In other words, we actually slept.

A question I often ask people is whether they prefer the mountains or the beach. Both are beautiful in their own way, and I have a hard time choosing which is my favorite. But at Lake Tahoe, I didn’t have to. True, the beach at the lake was a little different from the Atlantic Ocean. The water was colder and the only waves came from the boats’ wakes, but it still was a warm, sunny place with a large expanse of water. Perfect for reading a book and soaking my feet. And I’ve never gone to the beach and then hiked in the same afternoon before.

My parents and I hiked part of the Rubicon Trail, which I had run on the evening before. (Side note: if you run on a trail, other tourists assume you are a local). It wasn’t very steep, but it offered great views of the lake.

Lake Tahoe also provided a pleasant break from the more activity filled Yosemite visits. Evan certainly enjoyed playing in the water, and the rest of us definitely appreciated this more relaxing adventure before we climbed in the car on our way to more sight seeing adventures. Who knows what awaits us at Lassen Volcanic Park?

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Community. Alive.

“I would eat Chick-fil-a every day,” Evan declares. “But what would you do on Sunday?” comes the response, paired with laughter.

We’re sitting at the dinner table with two other families from our church back home. Once our family found out that they would be in Yosemite during the same week we were, we made plans to get together. As part of the conversation during our delicious steak dinner (undoubtedly the best meal of the trip), we all took turns discussing what one meal we would eat every day for a year, if we were stuck on an island. 

Seeing friends from home was a wonderful connection to our usual community. It’s weird being in a place where we don’t know anyone else. Especially if you’re from a place where everyone seems to have at least one mutual friend. I think we’ve all had instances where we’ve seen people who look a lot like our friends back home, but of course, they turn out to be strangers. 

Many of the people visiting Yosemite are internationals. It’s really neat to walk around and hear various languages spoken around us, knowing that we are probably all talking about the gorgeous views that we can see. We met one family on our hike to Lembert Dome whom we saw the next day as we hiked up to Vernal Falls, another beautiful view but shorter than our last hiking adventure.

However, even though we are away from many of our friends (I thought of many of my friends from school as I wore my green Cru shirt today), my family provides a great source of community. We keep each other laughing most of the day, mostly through inside jokes.

For example, “Yozemight be a nut” has become the phrase of the past few days after Abby said that to Evan while he was chattering. That and our many movie references keep us very entertained while we raft down the Merced River, sit on the riverbank, view the enormous sequoias, and gaze at the valley from up high.

Yosemite is a huge national park, with many natural wonders. I felt very small while walking past and even through the sequoia trees. It’s hard to believe that many of them are about 2,000 years old. And just an hour away from Mariposa Grove was Glacier Point, where we looked down at the valley where we had spent the day before. From 3,000 feet above, the cars and rafts looked like they were part of a model set. And a sign said that we were only observing about a quarter of the park! 

Whether it’s trying to guess the Steven Curtis Chapman song that’s playing through my iPod linked to the stereo (we put several of his CDs on shuffle) or simply gazing at the beauty that God has created, this will be a trip that we won’t soon forget. And I’m glad to be sharing it with the best community of all, my family.


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Better Than Expected

“But I’m allergic to the cold!” Abby shrieks as she darts away from the frigid Pacific water.

We have made it to the west coast. Some of us were so excited that we ran the last couple hundred feet from the car to the ocean. For a family that is very used to the warm Atlantic Ocean, the cold and cliff-lined Pacific is quite different. However, we were determined to touch the water.

In general, California is different than I expected. San Francisco mostly fit with my imagination. The colorful adobe houses, tall buildings, local shops, and lots of traffic. Actually, we were moving so slowly through the business district that my brother and I were able to get out, use the bathroom, and then climb back in our car that had only moved across the intersection. But not all of California looks like this.

We’re staying in a cute little mining town about an hour and a half outside of Yosemite.  (My sisters have accomplished a lot of knitting while traveling to and from the park.) Except for a few Mexican influences, the town reminds me a lot of Appalachia. Not at all what I think of when I picture California. So it was a cool reminder that places (and people) often defy and exceed expectations.

Yosemite has done that. We spent a full day in the park today and a few hours yesterday. The valley is incredible, the rock structures are amazing, and the views are breathtaking.  There is so much to see, and everywhere we look is beautiful.

Today, we hiked around Tuolumne Meadows, the largest sub-alpine meadows in the country. Being at elevation 8,600 feet, hiking was not the easiest thing for a family used to sea level.  But we made it and even climbed Lembert Dome thanks to Evan. “This is the most strenuous hike we have planned.”—“But Dad, we didn’t plan this one!” Caroline responded.

And we didn’t exactly. We planned to go to the meadows and to hike, but we left the specifics open to how we felt. Hiking Lembert Dome was definitely a little strenuous (we took lots of breaks), but when we reached the top, we were really glad that we committed. There’s nothing quite like climbing above the tree line and looking down over the meadow, seeing the river meander through it, and gazing at the mountains surrounding us on all sides.

So I’d say vacation is going well. Controlled spontaneity and a couple challenges here and there make for an exciting trip. I can’t wait to see where our next adventures will take us.

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The Glorious Unfolding

“Look girls, I can point out the water treatment plant in just a minute.” We all laugh, knowing that none of us care much about water treatment plants, except my dad. But then, it’s his job, so I guess he has the right to care. Anyway, it’s more interesting than cornfields in Kansas, which he found very exciting on our last adventure out west.

And so we’re off on our adventure. After getting up at 3:15 this morning (with less than four hours of sleep), we packed the car, drove to the airport, and boarded our first flight. We even took our first series of pictures while sitting on the shuttle to the terminal.

Getting ready for a trip is usually a tedious and slightly stressful process. Since we were only checking two bags, we had to make sure most of our items fit in our carry-ons, and the liquids did not exceed the maximum ounce requirement. “What did you bring, Evan?” “The green bag of games, clothes…and mom’s purse. It wouldn’t fit in her bag.” (I think her bag is the smallest of all of ours). Then there was the usual turning off the water, bumping up the air-conditioning a few degrees, and emptying milk that we didn’t drink. However, packing the van was easier than usual due to the smaller number of bags.

Since it was four in the morning, we were all in various moods. My brother and I were filled with adrenaline, but others were more tired. Tensions were a little a high, but that was to be expected until we were en route.

Checking in at the airport went fairly smoothly. It was Evan’s first flight ever and Caroline’s first since she was four. So we could have explained a little better about putting the electronics, shoes and liquids in the bins (it’s just a little confusing if you don’t know what’s going on), but we made it through without incident.

Watching Evan getting excited for take off was probably the highlight of my morning. He brought a notebook to record what we do and when we do it. Seeing the world through the eyes of a ten year old is often more exciting because many things are new experiences. So as we head out west and see some really big trees, I’m gonna keep my eyes open for the little things too. Because it’s often the little memories that matter most.

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We Made It!

And it’s over.  Yesterday, we finished up our 10-day detox with some peanut butter pie.  Which was probably very counterproductive, but it was also delicious and a welcome treat.

It definitely was an adventure.  When we started the detox, we didn’t really know what we had gotten ourselves into.  A few days before we had sat on the couch laughing in disbelief at some of the things we were going to eat.  Blueberry spinach flax smoothies.   Garlicky bean dip.  Crunchy chickpeas. (And yes, I don’t recommend any of these, but they weren’t that terrible).

I guess I can finally eat what I want now.  But this is where the really challenge starts.  We have to draw the lines and not eat too many carbs or sweets.  Sometimes cutting things out completely is easier than eating them in moderation.

I asked my family some things that they have learned from the detox and here is what we came up with.

  1. We need less food than we think we do.  Originally, we were all really hungry at the start of the detox, but toward the end of it, we felt content.  We’re growing more accustomed to eating smaller portions and snacks throughout the day.   And it’s kind of fun.
  2. Healthy food can taste really good. Well some of it anyway.  Eating healthy does not mean eating tasteless grains all of the time (even though it is a part of it), but if you cook it right and get creative, you can have some great meals.
  3. Sugar is in a lot of things. We had to avoid a lot of things simply because they contained added sugar.  As Americans, we’re addicted to sugar. (Trust me, I know.  I work in a candy store.  I’ve seen it all.)  But try giving it up for awhile.  When you eat it again, you realize that you don’t feel as good after you eat it again.  And sometimes things are too sweet.
  4. I CAN live without dairy. (This was mine).  I love cheese.  And yogurt.  And ice cream.  And eating cheese today never tasted so good, but I went 10 days without it, so I guess I could go the rest of my life without it, but I’d rather not.

As people, we never stop learning and finding new and better ways to do things.  This detox was a stepping stone in our food journey. And our life journey.  I’m looking forward to the next adventure that comes our way.  Redwoods here we come!

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Late Night Thought for Food

As the detox is nearing to a close (only one more day!), we’re starting to ask ourselves, What’s next?  How do we adapt our diet so that it’s healthier than what it was before, but something that is also appetizing?

As I’ve said before, some of the recipes have been really good.  We enjoy a lot of the vegetables.  However, some of the leafier, greener vegetables take some getting used to, and some of us like them better than others.  We want to find the balance between eating healthily, but also enjoying what we eat.  And not eating the same thing over and over again.  The detox is helping me to examine what I think about food and how we eat it.

Meals are fun when they are spent together. Although my family is busy with lots of different activities, when Caroline and I are home from college, we usually try to have at least one meal when all of us eat together.  However, with the detox, we have eaten several of our dinners together.  It’s been great; I like spending time with my family.

I also believe that we were meant to enjoy food.  I mean, we have taste buds.  In general there are foods we like a lot, and others that we don’t care for as much.  Obviously, just because we like some foods doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good for us, but when we eat them appropriately, we can appreciate them. 

Thinking about what I eat isn’t new for me.  I’ve been analyzing the healthiness of what I eat for a couple years.  But the detox has given me more options that I hadn’t thought of before.  There are many ways to eat healthy, so it doesn’t have to involve eating the same five things over and over again.  The detox has also taught me to appreciate food, but not to rely on it.  I don’t need to snack when I’m bored.  A glass of water will do just as well.  And I do feel better when I’m eating a lot of vegetables and barely any sugar.  And trust me, you don’t need that chocolate fudge (or whatever sweet thing you crave).

While this blog post has been a bunch of ramblings about food, it all boils down to the fact that food isn’t everything.  We’re gonna create some guidelines, follow some recipe ideas, and if we deviate a little, oh well.  Food can have a powerful impact on our lives, but it shouldn’t be our master.  Creating a new routine will take some getting used to and some adjustment, but once we create a routine, hopefully, we won’t think about it as much as we do now.

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Don’t Try This……Alone

“So what exactly can you eat again?”

This weekend, I went back up to school with several of my friends for my small group leader’s (from freshman year) wedding.  As we were hanging out, I had to explain my strange eating habits to them, so they wouldn’t think I was starving myself.  In case you’re wondering, here’s what we’re not eating for the detox: no dairy, no sugar/preservatives and no gluten.  The only grains I have eaten so far are quinoa, rice and oats.  The rest of my family tried gluten-free pancakes this morning.

Needless to say, most of this weekend I subsisted on fruits, vegetables and nuts.  I did also bring a little leftover beef stew and turkey burgers, as well as some salmon, so it really wasn’t that bad. 

The hardest part was following the detox by myself.  I couldn’t try the tomato basil string cheese, the raspberry cheesecake ice cream or the exquisite wedding cupcakes.  I realized that it was a lot easier to stick to the plan when I was with my family and we were all eating the same thing.  (Well most of us anyway.  However, Evan’s Kraft mac and cheese looked a whole lot less appetizing today than it did on Tuesday, so maybe the detox is working after all).

The fact that my family was doing the detox also kept me going this weekend.  I was determined to keep it up because I knew that they were at home doing it as well.  They are my support system.

Support systems are very useful, and I would argue that they are necessary.  Maybe not in every situation, but I have found that they are very helpful and motivating.  Whether it’s my small group, church or cross country team, they keep me going when I feel like quitting.  As so many wise people have said before me, we were meant to live in community.  We can be as stubborn and determined as we want (and trust me, I am both), but by ourselves we will eventually run out of will power.  However, if we surround ourselves with people who will encourage us when it’s tough, then we will probably last longer.

So who’s helping you?

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